Thursday, July 18, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 10 & Pics

Chapter 10 – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
Cedar Key, FL – December
“I’m glad you called, Mom. There’s something I need to tell you...”
My heart stopped when I realized what Bella was about to do. Maybe it was that fucking scary because we’d always been a secret – something hidden. And now we were free to Plus, telling our parents made it real, made it heavier somehow, and that was frightening. I didn’t want anything to screw this up. Everything with Bella was more important, fragile. I couldn’t lose her, especially if her mother wasn’t okay with it.
We crossed the street, but Bella silently indicated that we were heading to Kona Joe’s. She kissed my lips once, gesturing for me to go on in. She was nervous, but she looked determined. I took the closest booth in order to keep an eye on her while she paced on the back deck.

“Hey, Edward,” I heard before Alice slid into the seat opposite from me. “Who’s she talking to?”
“Her mom,” I answered, gazing over at her. “She’s telling her about me.”
Alice laughed, shaking her head. “You look as nervous as a whore in church. Relax, honey. Renee’s pretty laid back. Beer?”
I grinned and nodded. “Oh, God, definitely.”
“Hungry?” she offered, but when I could only stare at her wide-eyed, she patted my hand before getting up. “Never mind. I’ll come up with something for you.”
My eyes drifted back to Bella, who was still talking and pacing, and then my gaze drifted around Joe’s. It was somewhere between lunch and dinner, so the place was quiet. I recognized some of the faces I’d met the first time I’d come in with Bella, but I couldn’t recall names. There was plenty of chatter in the kitchen, but no one was behind the bar this time.
A cold mug of beer landed in front of me, along with a bowl of what looked like clam chowder. Alice slid back into the seat across from me.
“Thanks,” I told her.
She nodded, glancing out at Bella. “I take it you’re staying.”
“As long as she wants me here, I am,” I answered honestly, stirring my soup.
“That’s good, ’cause she does,” Alice responded, smiling sadly when I glanced up at her. “She was a mess when she first got here.” She leaned on her elbows, resting her chin on her hands. “Until Rose showed up. Then I’d never seen such a change in someone.”
“I never lied to her, Alice,” I said softly, taking a sip of my beer. “But it’s better that she came here,” I admitted. “She’s happy here, and she was away from the warzone.”
Alice snorted. “Yeah, I can imagine. And we only saw bits and pieces.”
Nodding, I sighed and then took a spoonful of soup. “Mm, that’s good.”
“Thank you,” a male voice said from the bar. “Welcome back, Edward,” Jasper said, pouring himself a soda from the tap. He joined us at the table, looking sweaty from being in the kitchen, but I shook his hand. “My dad’s old recipe,” he stated, pointing to the bowl.
“Edward was just telling me that he’s staying in Cedar Key,” Alice told him, laying her head on her husband’s shoulder.
“Ah, excellent.” He grinned, giving Bella a look. “Renee?”
“Yes,” I snorted. “There’s no yelling yet. I hope that means good news.”
Alice giggled. “Renee used to talk about Bella a lot before she moved away. She suspected her daughter was seeing someone, but wasn’t spilling. She was over-the-moon with the mere idea of it. She only wants Bella to be happy. I told you to stop worrying.”
I liked them both. A lot. They were opposites, yet complemented each other perfectly. Alice, while hyper and giggly, was kind. Jasper, who was rather quiet, was easy to be around.
Bella’s voice raised, but when I looked up at her, she was smiling, which caused my whole demeanor to relax. The last few last words were with a smile on her face, and then the call ended. Bella walked inside the restaurant, sliding gracefully into the seat next to me. She brought with her the smell of sunshine and ocean water.
She snatched up my beer, practically draining it, which caused the whole table to chuckle.
“That bad, Sunshine?” I asked with a laugh.
She rolled those beautiful brown eyes up at me after slamming the almost empty mug down. “It was touch and go there for a second.”
“This, I have to hear,” Alice teased her.
Bella grabbed the beer up again, finishing it off, which made Jasper laugh and get up to fill it again, this time bringing her one of her own.
“My mother’s never been...pushy, or one of those moms that auctioned their daughter off to the first single doctor, but she always wanted to know details about my love life.” Bella rolled her eyes. “But she’s very perceptive. She knew I was seeing someone in Chicago,” Bella went on, her eyes locking with mine, but Alice smirked in the background. “But when I called her about this place, she also kinda figured I was...”
“Heartbroken,” Alice provided.
“Yeah... When I moved here,” Bella sighed, gazing down at her beer. “Anyway, I told her about you, about everything.”
“And?” Alice and I asked at the same time, but Jasper merely grinned.
“And she wasn’t happy about...our beginning, but she knows me. She knows that if I say I’m doing something, about someone, I mean it. I told her you’re here to stay,” she stated, smiling up at me. “She said if you’ve proven yourself to me, then she’s okay with it.”
Smiling, I leaned into her ear. “Have I?”
“Yes.” She giggled, nodding a bit.
“That’s good, Bells,” Jasper said softly. “You hungry, darlin’?” he asked, pointing toward my bowl.
Bella nodded, and he slid out of the booth, walking into the kitchen.
When he returned, he said, “Well, since you’re staying...” He grinned crookedly. “You should join us for New Year’s Eve. Some of the guys will be setting off fireworks at midnight, right on the beach. I’m sure they’ll build another bonfire. Joe’s will stay open. Pete wants me to grill, so I’ll probably be barbecuing ribs that night. You guys are welcome to come.”
I looked to Bella, and she smiled up at him as she stirred her soup. “Yeah, I kinda have to be here for the paper. Victoria wants pictures of the whole thing.” She looked to me. “Are you okay with that?”
I chuckled, shaking my head. “Yeah, baby. Of course.” I glanced up at Jasper. “Guess we’ll be here.”
“Hey, Edward?” Bella called from the kitchen.
“Hmm?” I glanced inside the condo from the deck as I worked on my laptop.
All my things I’d asked my brother to send had arrived that morning. I was working on a few preliminary ideas for Mrs. Cope, but nothing major yet. I still needed to sit down with her to see exactly how she wanted her classes to go. I’d always worked with children with special needs, so this would be a little different for me. I was looking forward to the challenge. But she’d told me not to come to her until after the first of the year. Tomorrow night was New Year’s Eve, and I’d wanted to get a jump on things.
Bella carried a few pans into the kitchen, but then joined me on the deck. “I’m going to be in the spare bathroom. You can’t open the door.”
Grinning, I couldn’t resist pulling her between my legs and teasing her. “What’cha doin’ in there, Sunshine?”
Her giggle was silly and sweet. “Developing pictures, you perv.”
“Oh.” I smiled up at her, receiving a kiss to my lips.
“Right. Oh.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes at me. “I really need to work on Jessica’s stuff.”
Curiosity got the best of me, and I couldn’t help but ask, “You have everything in there to do that?”
She nodded happily, crawling onto my lap. “Yeah. I’ve sealed that whole room off, too, in order to keep the light out. It’s a pretty detailed process, but it’s relaxing for me.” She lovingly ran her fingers through my hair. “I got most of my equipment when I was at Northwestern. I never really used it at the house in Chicago. Then again, I wasn’t really taking pictures for myself there.”
I sat back, rubbing the outside of her thighs over her jeans. “So you use digital for work, but film for your own stuff?”
“Mmhm,” she hummed, nodding. “Film has a better look for my stuff. Digital is better for newspapers. They can load them up, crop them, edit them, and put them in the articles easier. With all your art classes, you never took photography?”
“No,” I said sadly. “There wasn’t time in my curriculum. I had friends that did. The process of developing their own pictures from film to paper fascinated me, but I’ve never seen it.”
“Wanna come with?”
“Yeah! I don’t want to bug you, though.”
“You won’t, but once you’re in, you’re in, mister. You’ll be trapped with me,” she teased with narrowed eyes, and I chuckled at her.
My phone rang on the deck table next to my computer, and once again, my girl froze in fear, her hand gripping my shirt sleeve.
“Hey,” I said, snatching it up with one hand while my other cupped the side of her face. “I know where this reaction comes from, but you have nothing to fear, baby. No one can take me from you anymore. Understand? No phone call will do that ever again.” I held it up. “It’s my mom, Sunshine. Okay?”
She nodded, starting to get up off my lap.
“No, stay,” I begged, gripping her hip. “It’s my turn now. And...I’d like you to hear me. Please?”
When she stayed put, I kissed her quickly and then answered the call. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hey, Edward,” she replied. “I hate to interrupt you.”
“You’re not interrupting,” I countered, playing with Bella’s ponytail. “I’ve been meaning to call you.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, Edward Anthony. I am your mother... I should know whether you arrived in Florida safely. You could’ve called me when you got there,” she huffed, but I knew she was teasing.
“Now that would’ve been interrupting,” I told her with a laugh, grinning when my mom’s musical chuckle met my ears, but then she groaned.
“I take it all went well with Bella?” she asked. “I mean, you aren’t back here, so...”
“Bella knew everything,” I said over the phone, my gaze on the worried brown eyes watching me carefully. “Remind me to buy Rose something really expensive for her birthday.”
Bella snickered, shaking her head.
“Ah, I had a feeling Rose was more involved than she let on. That’s good news, son. I’m happy for you,” Mom said, still sounding a bit concerned, but she went on. “Well, if Rose helped you, then why is your brother mad at you?”
I snorted. “Emmett’s not mad at me – he’s pouting, Mom.”
“Why on earth is he pouting? Because he looked pretty upset.”
“Because I told him I was staying in Florida,” I stated bluntly, shaking my head at Bella when she gasped in shock.
My mother was silent on the other end for a few moments. I knew her; she was thinking through everything she should say, could say, but choosing what she was actually going to say. She wasn’t a hovering, controlling mother, but she’d always been protective of Emmett and me. I could imagine she was worried. But she’d always given me enough freedom to make my own choices, so I was pretty sure she’d take the news okay, offering me her opinion, just like she had on Christmas.
“Edward, are you sure that’s what you want?” she asked slowly and carefully.
“Yes. It’s exactly what I want,” I stated firmly, but kept my voice calm and my eyes on Bella, whose fingers toyed with the hem of my sweatshirt nervously.
“I can’t say I’m happy about you being so far away, son,” she sighed sadly. “I’m aware that there’s not much – aside from your family – that’s holding you here. What about the art center?”
Placing my hand over Bella’s fidgety ones, I said, “I’ll have to fly back occasionally, but James runs it just fine without me. He’s surrounded himself with really good people.”
“What about...your things, sweetheart? Don’t you need your car, your clothes?” she asked, sounding more and more worried.
“Mom... Mom, wait. Yes, I do. I need all of that, and I will come back for it, but only when Bella’s ready to come with me,” I said, silently begging the girl on my lap to agree. “Please?” I mouthed to her, but continuing with my mother. “I want you guys to meet her, but with all that’s happened, she’s just not ready yet, okay?”
I wasn’t an idiot. I knew Bella was in no way ready to meet my family. All of it was too damn soon. We needed time for just us. The last few days had been just this shy of blissful fucking heaven, but we were shaky. Her reaction every time my phone rang was proof of that.
“Well, on that point,” my mom chortled, “you’d do best to wait. Things are still pretty heated around here. Sterling Gallery is promoting a new art show for Jane, who’s due soon with that baby, and the media is eyeing her over all of it. They’re wondering how it will go without you there. The fact that you can’t be found is driving them to follow us.”
I grimaced. “I’m not bringing Bella into that. I can’t do that to her. If I show up with her now, they’ll know exactly who she is. No. Not a chance.”
“And then there’s Marcus...”
“Don’t mention Marcus to me, Mom. I know what he’s capable of,” I sneered, my eyes meeting warm, concerned brown as she leaned forward to kiss me softly.
Bella pressed her forehead to mine, and I closed my eyes at just how calm that made me.
“Mom, we’ll be back. Just not...not while all that is going on, okay? It’s better I stay away, anyway. They’ll back off of you eventually,” I said into the phone.
My mother chuckled a bit, but said, “Your father guessed you’d do this. He said you were in too big of a hurry to finish the divorce, to get it all over with and leave on Christmas. He said you’d stay if Bella wanted you to.”
Smiling, I opened my eyes back up to look at my Sunshine. “Yeah. Tell him he was right.”
“Hell, no!” she teased back loud enough that my Bella’s mouth fell open, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “I hate it when your father’s right. He gets all egotistical...”
“Mom! Just tell him!” I cracked up, my head falling back to the chair’s head rest. “Look, I’ll email you all the new info, okay? Just...give us time. Please?”
Mom sighed deeply over the line. “I love you, Edward. She’d better take good care of you.”
“She takes better care of me than I deserve,” I stated softly, trailing the backs of my fingers down Bella’s beautiful face. “I’ll call you soon, I promise.”
“Okay, sweetheart.”
Once we said our goodbyes, I tossed my phone onto the table. Bella was so, so quiet, her gaze not quite meeting mine. Placing my fingers under her chin, I tilted her head up to look her in the eyes.
“I’m...” She sighed deeply, still fidgeting with my sweatshirt. “I’m not ready to go back there, Edward.”
“I know you’re not.” I sat up straight, kissing her lips. “I’m not ready to go back,” I told her in a whisper. “I don’t think I could handle how the media would treat you. And personally, I’m kinda good right fucking here. To have you all to myself...”
The smile that curled up her lips was just about the most adorable, yet sexy thing I’d ever seen on her – and I’d seen her in just about every way imaginable. Her cheeks blushed, and her eyes averted my gaze. Suddenly, my girl was shy.
“You didn’t think I wanted the same thing in Chicago?” I guessed – or asked, really. “To have just you...all the time? I did. I promise you that I did.”
She nodded, leaning forward to lean on my chest.
“I love you, Sun—”
Her lips suddenly met mine in a harsh, but deep kiss. “Shut up, Edward,” she hissed against my mouth with a touch of a giggle to her tone. “I know, okay?” she asked desperately. “I should’ve seen it. I love you, much. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t want her apologies anymore, but I didn’t get a chance to say so, because suddenly, we were kissing on that back deck like we’d never come up for air. Her hands slipped underneath my shirt, while mine cupped her ass, tugging her forcefully closer. I wanted to feel her, but more importantly, I wanted her to feel just what holding her, kissing her, did to me.
Just as my own hand started for her breast, the shuffling of footsteps behind us made us come apart with a sound not unlike a vacuum hose. We both turned to look.
“Hey, Bob,” we both mumbled.
I chuckled, shaking my head as the big guy waddled his way up the steps, a small rumbling sound escaping him.
“What’cha doin’, Bob?” Bella asked, hugging me, but she giggled when he ruffled his feathers and stretched his wings. “I swear he shrugs.”
Laughing, I sat up, cupping her face. “Maybe,” I said softly, brushing my lips across hers. “Sunshine, if you’ve got work to do, you’d better get to it, because I won’t be held responsible for my actions if you’re on my lap much longer.”
A wicked, evil grin spread over her face, but she sighed and stood up from my lap. “Okay, okay. You still coming with?” she asked, offering me her hand.
My eyebrows shot up, but I nodded excitedly. “Hell, yes.”
I tried to help her where I could, but really, she was quite efficient at setting everything up. And she worked so quietly. I filled pans with water, solutions, and chemicals, but simply tried to stay out of the way. Once she was ready, the door was closed, an eerie red light came on, and all outside sources of light were blocked out.
I could see why she’d picked that particular room. There was plenty of counter space, considering there was a vanity along the wall on the far side, and the only window in the room was small enough that she’d been able to completely seal it up.
Bella started with the two rolls of film, putting them in a black box.
“Come here,” she said softly, gazing over her shoulder. “Follow my arms to my hands. This all has to be done by feel.”
I stepped up behind her, doing as she asked. “What are we doing, Sunshine?” I asked in her ear, not completely unaffected by how close I was standing behind her.
“Removing the film so I can turn it into negatives,” she explained.
She did so without batting an eye. Once she was done, she really got to work. There were timers and frames and processes I didn’t quite get, and even though she tried to explain what she was doing, I merely leaned back against the wall and watched her. She was calm, knowledgeable, and happy, and it was a heady combination on her.
I was pretty damn sure I’d just fallen in love with a completely different part of her. Bella’s photos were always stunning, but to see them coming to fruition from the ground up was impressive. The first time I saw her, I’d thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. When she first smiled at me, my heart stopped and my brow broke out into a sweat. Getting to know her had been so easy, so comfortable, like stepping into a warm bath. Bella was smart, witty and, above all else, kind. She’d told me that watching me with Sarah had been her undoing, that I was so good with the kids. Watching Bella do what she did best was completely unraveling me.
With every finished, wet picture hung up on the drying lines, a small sliver of skin would be exposed between her shirt and her low jeans at the small of her back. She’d twisted her long hair up into a messy knot, but a few locks had fallen out, which she constantly tucked behind her ear. Her face was intense as she concentrated on her task. And something about all of that combined was just fucking sexy.
It was becoming harder and harder to resist reaching out and simply touching her. It didn’t help that the red light around us added some sort of strange forbidden feel to it. Shoving my hands into the front pockets of my jeans, I warred within myself not to kiss the living shit out of her. My resolve snapped when her happy, voice met my ears.
“There! Last one,” she sang, putting her hands on her hips as she gazed up at all the hanging photos. “Once they’re dry, I’ll let Jess pick out which ones she wants.”
I stepped up behind her, my mouth at her ear. “When?”
“When I call her,” she answered, looking back at me, but the small moan she let out when I tugged her back against me was loud in that small room.
“So...not now?” I asked, unable to control the tone of my voice. I knew it sounded harsh, but I couldn’t help it.
She grinned, but it fell quickly when my fingers loosened that knot in her hair. “Did you have something planned, Edward?” she purred in a falsely innocent tone, suddenly catching up to my mood.
“Yes,” was all I could say back as I threaded my fingers in her hair, pulling her head to the side as my lips skimmed up soft, sweet skin.
“And what’s that?”
I grinned, swirling my tongue around her earlobe. “I want to see what you look like naked in this light. And then...I’m going to fuck you so hard. Right here.”
“Uhng,” she groaned, her hips pressing back against me, which made me grind into her just a little. That caused her hands to slap down onto the counter in front of her.
With a flat hand, I slipped beneath her shirt, up between her breasts, and back down, only to toy with the button of her jeans. “Your kisses outside were a tease, Sunshine. And right now, I don’t think I can stop myself from touching you.”
Quickly, the button was popped open, the zipper was dragged down, and my fingers slid inside.
“Jesus, baby...really?” I asked incredulously, because my fingers met wet, swollen, and very, very hot.
“Yeah.” Her voice was breathy, but one of her hands slipped into my hair, while the other rubbed the outside of my jeans, where my cock was aching for her. “I can’t help it.”
I knew what she meant. It was almost overwhelming to be at each other’s complete disposal twenty-four-seven. I’d wanted it. God, had I wanted it! But to actually have it, without interruption, with the freedom of being untethered to anyone, it was sometimes too much to comprehend. We took advantage of it. Often. And it had only been a week.
She pulled at my hair, bringing my lips to hers. She kissed me, and despite the angle, it was deep, with heavy pushes of air against my cheek and her sweet tongue tangling with mine. The more I kissed her, the more I needed her, and it became impossible to stop my hands from removing her clothes. She broke away from my mouth just enough that I was able to wrench her shirt off over her head and drop it to the floor. She was already barefoot, so her jeans were kicked out of promptly. The red glow from the light bulb highlighted every inch of her. She looked like the devil herself as she turned in front me. Hell, I couldn’t even tell what color her bra and thong were, though my fingertips reveled in lace and something silky.
Bella’s eyes were heated, completely black in that lighting, as she pushed at my sweatshirt until I relented and reached back to tug it off over my head. It fell to the floor at the same time that she dropped to her knees in front of me.
“Fuck,” I hissed, squeezing my eyes closed.
My jeans fell down around my ankles, as did my underwear, but my breathing stopped when her hand wrapped around my dick. I loved her mouth on me. The first time she’d ever done it, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But she teased this time – a long, slow lick from the base to the tip, swirling around the head in order to taste what was already leaking from me. If she’d wanted me to come, she would’ve sunk completely down over me, but her eyes told me she wanted what I wanted. She wanted me inside her. And soon.
“So beautiful,” I murmured, cupping her face and dragging a thumb over her cheek as she gave the tip of my cock a long, slow, open-mouthed kiss. “Sunshine, please...”
She stood up in front of me, dropping kisses up my stomach and chest along the way. Dragging her teeth across my throat, she whispered, “How?” There was a touch of amusement in her voice, simply because of where we were.
“Turn around, baby,” I begged in a whisper, grabbing her hips and spinning her. “And fuck, you’d better hold on to something somewhere.”
My hands cupped her sweet ass, kneading it, groping it, before my fingers latched onto that thong and wrenched it to the side. Bella’s hands slapped down onto the counter when I lined up at her entrance and slid home deep inside her.
“God, yes!” she cried out as my head fell to her shoulder.
She gripped me like a warm vise as I started to move. And I wasn’t gentle. There was something about being trapped in that room that completely wrecked me. The sound of skin meeting skin over and over, along with every encouraging word I could muster, seemed to echo in such a small space.
Bella held on, her hips meeting mine with every thrust, but my own hands pulled down the cups of her bra, rolling and pinching her nipples with one hand while the other sought out her clit.
“Come, Sunshine. Please. I need to feel it. You have no idea how good you feel like this,” I panted in her ear, but it didn’t take much to feel the flutter of her pussy around me.
Standing up straight, I gripped her hips to pull her to me over and over, not giving her a chance to come down from her climax, but instead, rode it out.
“So good, baby. So fucking good.” I leaned forward, dropping an open-mouthed kiss to her shoulder blade. “I love being able to have you like this, Bella. Anytime. Anywhere. Any way I can. Don’t you?” I grinned against her skin when she couldn’t answer. “Tell me, Sunshine.”
“Yes, Edward... I can’t get enough...”
“Good. Then come for me one more time,” I pleaded, gripping her ass and pounding into her. When one of her hands left the counter to touch herself, I knew I was almost done. It wouldn’t take much more. “Please, please... Catch up, baby...” I chanted, sweat falling from my brow to her back and slowly dripping down her spine.
When Bella came again, her knees shook and her arm buckled. I had to wrap my forearm around her middle to keep her from falling as I finally lost it all. Stars blinded me behind my lids, and my sweaty forehead fell to her shoulder.
“Fuck me... I swear to God, it never gets old,” I rambled against her skin.
A sexy, breathy laugh met my ears. Bella’s head turned to meet my gaze when I lifted my head up. The light in the room was still eerie, but I could see her mirth, her adorable smirk.
“Love you,” I whispered, nuzzling her nose with my own.
“Love you, too, but if this happens every time you come in here with me, Edward,” she panted, kissing my lips, “I’ll never get anything done.”
“I waited!” I argued, smiling when she laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll try to behave.”
She giggled against my cheek. “Never. I don’t want you to.”
I set my empty bottle of beer down onto the bar of Joe’s, smiling at the excited chaos around me. Inside were mostly regulars, chatting and laughing with each other. The back deck and the sand that led all the way to the water was pretty packed with locals and a few tourists. The bonfire was bright, Jasper’s grill smelled incredible, and the music varied, with everything from pop to country.
Glancing at the stool next to me, Alec looked upset. No, he looked damn pissed off for a little kid. He had a stack of what looked like plain white printer paper and a box of beat up and broken crayons, but he wasn’t doing much with it except doodling.
“Don’t mind him, Edward,” Alice huffed, switching my empty bottle for a new cold one. “He’s in time out.”
“Oh,” I said, my eyebrows raising up, but I met Alec’s narrowed, pouting look. “What’d you do?” I whispered, ignoring Alice’s snort.
“I didn’t do anything!” he growled, glaring toward his mother, but collapsed in defeat when she shot him an angry look and a raised eyebrow. “Okay, so I wasn’t suh-pposed to light fireworks off unless a grownup was with me, but I did anyway. Paul had a box of smoke bombs...” His voice trailed off.
I fought my smile when Alice silently dared me to argue. I didn’t, but I wanted to. If she only knew my brother and the shit we’d done as kids, she’d never let me talk to Alec.
“So now I hafta stay inside for thirty minutes!” he declared, like it was the worst thing in the world.
“And you’re drawing?” I asked him, taking a sip of my beer and setting it back down.
“I’m too old for crayons!” he pouted, pushing the paper and box away a few inches. Again, he gave his mother a pouting look, but she looked like she wasn’t budging on the matter.
“No one’s too old for crayons,” I countered, dragging the box closer. “Watch.”
Bella had told me all about the kid. It was obvious she’d grown attached to little Alec...and he to her. He liked his sports, his superheroes, and his dinosaurs. He leaned closer when I slid the paper to me, taking out the colors of crayons I’d need.
Using some old tricks with the sides of the crayons instead of the tips, I drew him a few dinosaurs in a jungle in no time. I’d always loved to draw, but I had a better eye for someone else’s talent than what I could produce. And teaching the simple parts to kids was easy.
“Whoa...” he gasped, pulling the paper away from me. “Show me!”
Chuckling, I gave him the green crayon in my hand. “Use the side. It’s easier to make trees that way.”
Alec had the hang of it in no time, and soon, he’d drawn a beach with surfers on it. Grinning, I glanced up at the clock.
“And...thirty minutes is up,” I told him, patting his back.
“Awesome!” he gushed, looking up at me. “Will you show me more?”
“Oh, sure. Anytime,” I vowed.
“Can I go now?” he begged Alice, who waved him away. He was off the stool and out the door in no time.
She looked to me. “Thanks. He’s more like me than I like to admit. Can’t sit still for anything, especially when he’s being made to.”
I chuckled and nodded, picking up my beer to head back out to find Bella. “He’s a good kid. And I won’t tell you what my brother did with smoke bombs one time...”
She laughed. “Fair enough. Oh! Hey, would you take this case of beer to Peter? The cooler’s out there by the grill, but I can’t seem to get away.” She gestured to all the people inside.
“Yeah, no problem,” I told her, tucking the case under my arm and heading outside.
I dodged a few people, making my way off the deck and onto the sand. The night was chilly, but nothing like Chicago. It was comfortable, and the breeze coming off the water was crisp and salty smelling. I found Jasper working the grill, but no Peter, not that he’d been around much since I’d arrived.
“Hey, Edward. Here,” Jasper said, dropping the tongs and taking the beer from me. “Alice put you to work?” he asked with a laugh and a crooked smile.
“Nah, she’s just busy. I was coming out to look for Bella anyway.”
He jerked his chin. “She’s with Alec. He came flying outside, dragging her off to supervise sparklers.”
Chuckling, I nodded and took another sip of beer. “Thanks.”
Walking away, I watched Bella with the kids. There were five of them with her, including Alec, his rambunctious friend Paul, and another little boy their age I didn’t know. But there were two younger little girls, and that was who Bella was tending to, showing them how to hold the sparklers without getting burned. She was beautiful and patient and sweet, smiling when the taller of the girls wrote her name in the air.
“That’s the happiest she’s been since she got here,” I heard beside me, and I glanced over to see Peter standing next to me.
Nodding, I studied his expression. When Bella told me about him, how he’d asked her out, how he’d tried to kiss her, I’d instantly hated the man. But then, she’d told me about his wife and losing their child, too. And something about that was heartbreaking. With all that I’d been through, with everything I’d done to get back to Bella, to lose her like that would kill me...absolutely destroy me. He was a stronger man than I bet he was even willing to admit. I understood that he was trying to move on, but he just couldn’t move on...with Bella.
“She told me how she was when she got here,” I told him, my gaze slipping over to Bella again. “She told me everything.” I leaned on the last word, feeling his gaze on me.
He snickered softly. “She was loyal to you, even when she didn’t want to be.”
Nodding, I smiled a little. “Yeah. She said that, too. I’m...very lucky.”
“Yes, you are.” His voice was firm, almost angry, but when I looked at him, his gaze was unreadable. “If something happens this time, I’m not sure she’ll take it as well as the last time.”
I took a long drink from my beer, squaring my shoulders when I faced him. “I’m not going anywhere. If something happens this time? It’ll be her decision if I stay or go.”
He smiled and nodded, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his pants. “I was hoping you wouldn’t show. But she knew you would.” He laughed softly when I smirked at him. “But doesn’t matter. I thought she was my chance at something...normal, but she’s not. As beautiful as I think she is, I know she’s not for me.” He paused, glancing down at his feet. “She’s yours.”
I wrinkled my nose, but I nodded. “She came out of nowhere,” I admitted to him, shrugging a shoulder. “I wasn’t...ready for her. Now I am. Now I can give her what she wants.”
“What’s that?”
“All of me,” I stated simply with a small smile and a shrug. “That’s all she’s ever asked for. I could hand her anything, but all she wants is me.”
Peter smirked, but nodded. “Makes sense, considering how you met...” He sighed when Bella’s attention was torn away from the kids and onto us and she started our way. “Good luck, Edward,” he said solemnly, offering me his hand.
“You, too,” I stated, shaking it firmly. I laughed when he looked at me curiously. “I didn’t think I’d get a second chance, so I know it’s not too late for you.”
He nodded, but looked disbelieving for a second. However, our attention was drawn to the brunette walking up to us.
“Hey,” she sighed happily, shifting her camera out of the way and kissing my lips. “It’s almost midnight.”
“I’d better get back to help pass around the drinks,” Peter muttered, giving Bella a wave. “Happy New Year.”
“You, too, Peter,” she said, leaning into me. Once he was out of ear-shot, she gazed up at me. “Everything okay?”
“Mmhm,” I hummed, pulling her close. “He was basically telling me I’d better not screw up.”
She tsked, rolling her eyes. “I told him—”
“Hush, Sunshine,” I soothed her, kissing her forehead. “He knows you don’t feel the same, but he – like everyone around here – feels protective of you. It’s understandable.”
Bella fidgeted uncomfortably, but nodded. “I guess. I wasn’t... I didn’t have friends like this in Chicago.”
“I know, baby,” I sighed, wrapping my arms around her waist. “And it didn’t help that everything about us was secret.” She nodded, but I went on. “Bella...I want... This is important to me. Do you know how important?”
“You’ve proven it, Edward.”
“I sure as fuck hope so,” I sighed, grinning when she giggled. “This is our first holiday together...for real together...and it’s fitting that it’s the start to a new year. Don’t you think?” I asked, tilting my head at her as the crowd around us starting counting down from ten. “You’re all I want, Sunshine. You’re everything to me. And starting now, it’s everything...together. Okay?”
Her smile was my reward. It was brighter than the bonfire off to our right. It was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. But my own matching smile fell quickly.
“I wasn’t a good husband. I should’ve never done the things that I did, Bella, but I want to be good for you. With you. Starting now,” I vowed, but there was a pleading tone to my voice.
Bella wrapped her arms around my neck as the crowd celebrated the new year that had just started. “I wasn’t perfect, either, baby,” she whispered, with a furrowed brow. “But yeah...” She smiled and nodded. “Starting now.”
I kissed her slowly, taking my time. Cheers, whoops, and catcalls roared around us, along with the snaps and pops of people letting off fireworks. I needed to convey all that I felt for her in that one kiss. The promise that it was a new start, a do-over, but the right way – free and clear of all we’d left behind in Chicago. I knew we needed to go back, but I’d only go when she was ready.
We pulled back, but I couldn’t help but sweep my lips over hers – top lip, bottom lip, a quick swirl of tongues.
“Happy New Year, Sunshine,” I barely said aloud against her mouth as I held her close, my forehead pressed to hers.
She smiled and then bit her bottom lip before saying, “Happy New Year, Edward.”


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