Monday, August 5, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 15 & Pics

Chapter 15 – Welcome Home
Cedar Key, FL – July
“C’mon, Sarah! Paul and I will show you the best place to find shells!” Alec yelled from up the beach.
Smiling, I brought my camera up, snapping off several pictures – shots I couldn’t resist taking just for me. They were probably for Edward, too, but sometimes, I was selfish when it came to what I stored away in my heart.
Alice and I had worried about Alec meeting Sarah. He was a rambunctious little boy that had just turned ten, and he was rough and tough like any boy that age, despite how sweet and silly he could be. Alec also tended to “go along with the crowd” on certain things, so we weren’t sure how he’d receive the sweet little girl with Down Syndrome. We’d worried for nothing. The second the two were introduced, a sort of realization dawned on Alec’s face, and he’d simply accepted her, which in turn had caused his friends to accept her. They’d been protective as a pack of wolves over her the entire four days she and James had been there. No one was allowed to tease her or look at her funny, or there would be hell to pay.

I took several more shots – Alec smiling with Paul and James, Sarah finding a sand dollar, Edward and Jasper tossing Alec into the water as he screamed bloody murder. The latter led to every kid wanting a turn. I took those pictures, too.
As always, my lens centered on Edward. He was extraordinarily photogenic. The camera loved him, or maybe I loved him so much that it came through every picture I took of him. Damp hair sticking up everywhere from swimming, sun glinting off water droplets that clung to his smooth skin, lean muscles, black board shorts that sat low on his hips, toned legs, broad shoulders, strong arms – every inch of him was beautiful, but it was the smile on his face that I loved the most. Edward was happy.
For so long, I’d thought I was taking him away from Chicago, from his life, his family. I knew better now. I’d given him someplace to settle. I was his home, a safe port in the storm, and Cedar Key had become our fresh start. Together.
A bottle of water appeared in front of me, and I smiled up at Alice, taking it from her with a thank you. She settled beside me on the blanket, shaking her head at her son and husband as they wrestled in the water.
“When do they go home?” she asked, gazing over at me.
“They have to be back Monday.” I took a long sip of water, nodding once. “But James promised Sarah he’d take her to Disney, so they’re leaving day after tomorrow for Orlando. They’ll fly home from there on Sunday.”
The shuffle of feet in the sand made us look to our left.
“Hey, Bob,” Alice and I sang together.
He grumbled low, his feathers ruffling from head to toe and ending with a shimmy of his tail and, of course, a stretch of his wings that looked like a shrug of indifference. With another grumble, he continued his way down toward the beach where the guys and kids were playing.
“He’s getting cranky in his old age,” Alice muttered, smiling when I laughed. She was quiet for a moment, but wrapped her arms around her bent knees, laying her cheek on top. “So...happy anniversary.”
My brow wrinkled in confusion, only to shoot up into my hairline. “Oh damn, it’s been a year?”
“Yeah.” She nodded, lifting her head. “And a crazy year, at that.”
“No shit.” We laughed together, but I sighed deeply in contentment.
My eyes landed on Edward again with that realization. The first part of that year had been torture – my first few months in Cedar Key were a depressing blur – but the last seven months had been nothing short of perfection, even with the trip back to Chicago and all that went down with Marcus.
“Speaking of crazy,” Alice chortled, “what do you hear from back home?”
Grinning over at her, I took a quick sip of water. “You scare me sometimes,” I told her bluntly. “I was just thinking about that.” She snickered, but waited patiently for me to go on. “Which one? Bat-shit crazy number one or two?”
“Either. Both!”
Chuckling, I nodded. “Edward’s ex surrendered custody of her son to the father. The shit slinging started almost the day after we left Chicago. Her actions caught on that TV show – not to mention Emmett subpoenaed several witnesses claiming that she, not unfit, but just...I don’t know...not all that motherly – was too much to fight. When he questioned her on her original intent to abort the baby, she had nothing to say.” I shrugged a shoulder. “She gave up. Last Edward heard, she was ‘vacationing’ at a spa just outside Chicago, though he thinks she’s hiding. She’s not allowed to go far; she’s supposed to testify against her father.”
“Oh hell...”
“Yeah.” I nodded her way. “Marcus is in more trouble than my picture ever dreamed of getting him into. I don’t even know – or understand – most of the charges against him at this point. He’s been removed from his position, and his second-in-command or whatever has taken his place. They arrested him, but he was bailed out only on the condition that he surrender his passport. Not that he can go anywhere, because they’ve frozen his assets, which includes—”
“Edward’s old art gallery,” Alice finished for me.
“Yes, ma’am.” I snorted softly, shaking my head. “Edward’s dad called a few weeks ago, saying he was really grateful that they were no longer tied to Marcus and Jane. It would’ve dragged the Cullen name through the mud. He apologized to Edward, told him he should’ve known some of Marcus’s activities weren’t on the up and up. If he’d known, he wouldn’t have let Edward go through with the wedding, no matter how much he’d wanted it at the time.”
“And the mother-in-law?” Alice asked, dismissing that last bit, because we all knew how Edward regretted his actions then, but he just didn’t regret meeting me. Alice had beamed with self-satisfaction at having been right all along, even before she’d met Edward. She’d chalked up our affair to simple and unfortunate bad timing. And it had been.
“May... Yeah, she’s a ‘stand by your man’ kinda woman,” I murmured wryly, rolling my eyes. “God knows, I can’t judge anyone on anything, but Marcus didn’t just cheat with one person, like Edward and I did. He had a multitude of women. Some they’re thinking were underage at some point, but too much time has gone by to charge him with statutory rape. And some of the women that have come forward date back to his college days. However, his lawyer is claiming sex addiction at this point, so maybe his wife knew all along that he was some sort of sexual deviant.”
Alice cracked up. “That’s a technical way of saying he’s a disgusting horn-dog.”
“That, too.” I giggled. “But Mr. Censor-Everything-Sexual-and-Nude got busted with a shit-ton of porn on his work computer.” I wrinkled my nose a bit. “Anyway, there are charges over money, like giving his wife a job that paid a seriously ridiculous salary. The list is endless. I’m so glad Edward’s name isn’t attached to any of that anymore.”
“Will Edward have to testify?”
“No, not now,” I told her with a sigh of relief. “Emmett was going to call him in for Jane’s custody hearing, but since she agreed to give the baby to Jacob and his wife, then Edward doesn’t have to go. And he’s not exactly the best character witness for Marcus.”
Alice laughed, her head falling back. “No, I wouldn’t think so.” She frowned for a moment. “So wait. This Jacob guy’s wife...she’s staying with him?”
“I guess.” I shrugged a shoulder. “Apparently, he told Edward they were seeing a marriage counselor. Emmett said she moved back into the house with the kids. To be honest, I think the only, Leah didn’t kill him over that year-long affair was that they really did want another kid, so this was like having a surrogate mother. However, I heard a rumor that they’re moving to Seattle once things have settled down with Marcus and Jane.”
“Damn, these tangled webs!” she snorted, shaking her head. “His wife is either a pushover, or she’ll hold that shit over his head the rest of their lives.”
“Well, yeah, but according to Emmett, Leah has already fallen in love with baby Seth. And honestly, the kid needs a mom like that,” I explained with a sigh.
Alice nodded. “Right, 'cause 'Mommy Dearest' Jane wasn't going to chance breaking a nail while giving a hug.”
Grinning, I nodded in agreement. My smile stayed spread across my face as my eyes fell to the massive sandcastle that was now under serious construction. The kids were packing buckets full of sand and filling a few with water as Edward, James, and Jasper dug a moat that appeared to be about five feet in diameter. Bob looked like he was supervising everyone.
“They’ve all regressed to ten years old,” Alice muttered, shaking her head with a chuckle. “Edward’s amazing with Sarah.”
“Oh, God, I know!” I gushed, watching him teach the little girl how to mold the sand into something that resembled a castle tower. “She just adores him, like she can see through to the real Edward; I noticed it even when I first met him.”
Alice smiled, but jerked her chin toward James. “And what’s her brother’s story? He’s a saint with her.”
“James took custody of Sarah when their parents died in a car accident a few years ago. Poor thing was just out of college, but he couldn’t bear to lose her in the system. There’s like thirteen years between them.” I shrugged, not knowing how to explain it without my heart shattering.
“He’s a handsome thing, though. No girlfriend?” she asked.
I smiled because I’d asked the same thing of Edward on our way home from Chicago back in February. “ James is gay.” I snickered at her shocked expression. “It’s not something he advertises. Edward knew, of course, but he kept it secret. James caught a shit-storm of hell over it when he was trying to gain custody of Sarah, so he’s a little wary of coming out publicly. So he doesn’t really say much about it, and as far as I know, he’s single.”
“Oh damn. So all that on top of taking care of his sister, who I can imagine is a full time responsibility...” Her voice trailed off, but we both knew James didn’t exactly have it easy.
“Alice! Bella!” Jasper and Edward called.
We glanced up to see James talking to Sarah, but pointing our way.
Edward mouthed the word, “Bathroom,” and Alice and I stood up at the same time as Sarah trudged through the beach sand toward us. She was so cute in her little one-piece swimsuit that was covered in bright blue flowers, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Smiling at her and putting on a pair of shorts over my bikini, I asked, “You gotta go?”
“Yeah,” she said with her usual happy grin, pulling on an oversized T-shirt.
“Well, come on, sweetie,” Alice crooned. “I should check in with Peter anyway. We’ll go back to Joe’s, and you can go there. Okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed easily, taking my hand.
Tossing a wave back up the beach, I smiled when Edward mouthed, “I love you.” It was so reminiscent of the night of the art show so long ago that my cheeks burned with a flush that made my face hot, and that was on top of the steamy, sunny day. Those memories, along with the revelation that it had been a year since I’d arrived in Cedar Key, caused my mind to wander.
Everything about Edward and me had only gotten stronger – our love, our faith in each other, our mutual pursuit of a normal, everyday life, and our want for one another. Deep down, I worried needlessly that how we’d met, how our relationship had started, was what fed the need to be together, but it wasn’t like that at all. Again, Alice had been right; our hearts had simply found one another at the wrong time and place. We belonged to each other. However, it just happened to have taken a really long and winding road to get here.
The air conditioning in Joe’s was almost a shock to my sweaty skin after being in the sun for so long. I helped Sarah to the bathroom, and we came back out into the restaurant to see that it was pretty slow for late in the afternoon. So when Sarah’s stomach let out a low growl, even Peter heard from behind the bar.
“Well, someone’s hungry,” he teased her.
Laughing, I gazed over at her. “You want something to eat, sweetie?”
She nodded enthusiastically, grinning when I led her to a booth at the long, windowed wall.
Peter came over with two sodas and eyed her for a second. “I bet you’re like Alec: burger and fries?” he asked her, and when she nodded shyly at him, he turned to me. “You, too, Bells?”
“Yeah, why not?” I shrugged a shoulder, thanking him for the drink.
Alice brought her the box of crayons she kept around for Alec and a few place-mats, turning them over so they were blank. Sarah quietly lost herself to drawing as Peter headed back into the kitchen.
Since Edward’s arrival in Cedar Key, Peter had finally backed off and simply become a good friend. Alice had laughed about the fact that it had been a bigger cock in the hen house, and we’d dissolved into hysterics over her way of putting it. However, I didn’t think that was the case. I was damned certain Peter was just unbelievably lonely and had tried to force something that simply wasn’t there. He and Edward got along pretty well, though Edward had more in common with Jasper and tended to hang out with him a bit more.
Alice and I chatted aimlessly about easy subjects – the upcoming Fourth of July party, the progress on the little art school Edward and Mrs. Cope were adding on to her gallery, which would be completed in a few weeks, and Jessica’s book that would be out next month. By the time Peter had dropped off our plates, several sweaty, suntanned boys trudged in off the beach.
“Oh ho! I see how it is!” Edward said with a chuckle, sliding in next to me. He’d put on a T-shirt, but he still smelled like sun and sand and salt water, not to mention a touch of suntan lotion. “You girls stick together and eat without us.”
I popped a fry in my mouth, smiling over at him as I chewed. “Mmhm.”
“My tummy growled, Mr. Edward. It was time to eat,” Sarah told him, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
He grinned over at her. “Then, by all means, pretty!”
Another table was dragged over and chairs pulled up, and soon, the empty restaurant was filled with chatter from Alec, Paul, and their buddy, Tyler. Peter put the TV on to the sports channel, and Jasper helped him whip up more burgers and fries as Alice got the adults a few beers and the kids some sodas. It was loud and fun, different conversations flowing freely. It reminded me of being with Alice’s family for Thanksgiving, and that thought made me lay my head on Edward’s upper arm. It had been a blast, but I’d been missing him to the point of it being painful, because by that time, I knew all that he’d been going through since I’d left Chicago.
A warm, strong arm wrapped around me, pulling me closer to his side, and a kiss was dropped to the top of my head.
“You okay, Sunshine?” he asked softly in my ear.
I nodded, leaning into more kisses to my temple. “Yup. Just fine.” I gazed up at him, his sweet smile and deep green eyes melting me almost to a puddle of goo. “But I think I’ll leave you guys to it. I promised Mrs. Cope I’d have more pictures for her tomorrow, and I still have that roll of film to develop. I also need to call Victoria and see what she wants from me this week.”
“Baby, I can come with you,” he whispered, giving me his complete, undivided attention, despite the loud conversations going on around us.
“No, stay. You only have them for today and tomorrow, so take advantage of that, Edward. Go play with her. She’s missed you. I get you all the time,” I told him with a giggly kiss to his cheek.
His smile was shy and sweet, but he nodded, standing up to let me out of the booth. I told everyone goodbye, smiling when I received an enthusiastic hug from Sarah. Edward, however, walked me outside, handing me my camera bag.
“Sweetheart, is something wrong?” he asked, tilting my face up.
“No, not at all. I hate that I have shit to do, but...” When he chuckled sexily, I grinned, giving him a brief kiss. I left him on the back deck of Joe’s, though I was pretty sure he watched me walk all the way back home next door.
After a shower and the change into something comfortable, I called Victoria to find out that she really didn’t have much for me yet, and then I got to work in my darkroom. The roll turned out several shots that I was sure Mrs. Cope would want. When I was done, I emailed a few pictures to Kate, who had set up the most beautiful web site for me, simply to show off my work. So far, it had helped me sell a handful of photographs to Art dot com, though I had to laugh that none of them were of Edward this time.
At some point, I must have fallen asleep on the sofa, because I awoke the next morning in the bedroom, with rain pelting heavily against the window, thunder rolling deep, and strong arms holding onto me from behind. Edward had to have carried me to our room.
Rolling over, I reached up to brush the stubborn lock that always fell to his forehead, despite the fact that he’d just gotten it cut. His arm tightened around me, and our legs tangled together, but his long eyelashes still rested against his cheeks. When we’d first started our relationship – whether it was right or wrong – my only wish was to wake up in his arms at least one time. Now that we lived together, I discovered it was my most favorite thing in the world. It seemed to be Edward’s too, because he wouldn’t let me sneak out of bed for anything – not to pee, brush my teeth, or start coffee – until he’d opened his eyes and seen me.
Grinning, I poked the middle of his forehead. “, let me up.”
My giggle shook us both, and it really didn’t help my need for the bathroom. “I’ll pee on you.”
His arm was instantly off me, and I scurried into the bathroom to do what I needed to do, along with brushing my teeth. When I stepped back into the bedroom, his eyes were still closed, but he was pointing to my vacated spot.
“Right back here. I’m not fucking kidding, Sunshine.” His voice was always so damn deep, raspy, and sexy first thing in the morning.
Finally, one green eye opened to the dimly lit room. “It can wait.”
“Damn, you’re grumpy,” I sighed dramatically, slipping back under the covers, only to squeak when I was yanked right back to where I’d been – my entire body pressed to the front of his.
His eyes closed again, but a slow, crooked smile crept up his face. “No, I was simply happy where you were.” Nuzzling into my neck, he sighed deeply.
Just when I thought he’d fallen back asleep, his hands started to move at the same time as his lips pressed kisses to my neck. My own body reacted all on its own. Hands skimmed beneath the waistband of his boxer-briefs, my leg hitched up around his hip, my nipples hardened beneath my T-shirt – all of it made me surge forward to get closer. I simply couldn’t help myself, because sweet Jesus, he felt good first thing in the morning.
“See, Sunshine? Not grumpy.” He chuckled low against my throat as his cock was now very hard and heavy against my stomach.
We shifted as one in moves so practiced and perfect that they seemed choreographed. I rolled onto my back at the same time his hands pushed my T-shirt up and off of me, underwear was shoved down to the foot of the bed and lost in the covers, and Edward settled between my legs, bracing his elbow on the bed beside my pillow. His lips immediately attached themselves to my nipple, while the other was cupped and loved with an expert hand. The feel of his strong ass flexing under my hands as he thrust over and over made me moan, my head falling back as his cock slipped between my legs to hit me exactly where I wanted him.
“Want more, baby?” he rasped against the top of my breast, and all I could do was nod frantically as he thrust through my wet folds slowly once again. Dark, needy green eyes locked onto my face as his tongue swirled around my nipple. “What was that, Sunshine? I didn’t quite hear you...”
“Ungh...” I moaned shamelessly, a few other inarticulate sounds escaping me when he nipped at the peak gently with his teeth. Finally, I settled on, “Edward, dammit!”
I felt his grin against my skin. “Yes, ma’am.”
When he lined himself up, he thrust again, his cock filling me so completely that my eyes rolled back. Sounds of pure bliss sighed out of us, but he took his time, setting a steady, deep, yet slow pace. His tongue teased the skin just below my ear, words of encouragement to come for him pushing out warm air.
Thunder rumbled outside, along with the still very heavy rain smacking the windows, and we pushed and pulled and begged for each other to do something, anything. My climax bowled me over unexpectedly when his fingers found my clit. I gasped, my head pressing back into the pillow, my legs squeezing around him, and my toes curling so hard they almost cramped.
“Fuck, fuck,” he chanted, his face buried in my neck as he started to lose his rhythm. When I dug my fingers into his ass, he finally thrust once, twice, and buried himself completely on the third time, coming so hard I thought he’d stopped breathing for a second.
“Christ almighty,” he panted into the crook of my neck.
Tears leaked from my eyes at how occasionally, I loved him too much for it to be contained. “Love you.”
His head lifted, and his sweet smile was comforting. “Shh, baby.” He slipped out of me, lining up along my side, his hand flat on my stomach as he kissed away my tears. “I love you, too, Sunshine.”
I turned to look out the window. “So much for the beach for Sarah today.”
“We kinda saw this coming,” he murmured softly. “Alice had the news on last night at Joe’s. James said Sarah would be just fine with a movie and some indoor games. We were considering Gainesville.”
Nodding, I buried my face back into his neck, just simply loving the warm, lazy feel of the morning. “Sounds perfect. I’m in. I just have to see Mrs. Cope before we leave town.”
“Yeah, me, too,” he sighed, kissing my forehead. “Now it’s your turn to let me up before I pee on you.”
Snorting, I let him up and curled up under the covers. He was back soon, pulling my head to his chest as his fingers grazed lightly up and down my spine. The room was still a dark gray due to the rain and the early hour, and the heavy, comforting thump of Edward’s heart was lulling me back to sleep.
“So it’s been a year,” he murmured so very softly, but my eyes snapped open.
“Alice told you.”
“Mmhm,” he hummed, his fingers never ceasing their gentle path up and down my back. “Want to talk about it?” he asked, and I turned so that I was gazing up at his beautiful face. His expression was loving, yet a touch sheepish.
“Do we need to?” I countered, shrugging a shoulder. “I mean, I arrived here a year ago thinking one thing and never, ever expected to be here a year later. So...” I gestured with a single finger to the bed and the fact that we were still completely naked under the covers.
He chuckled softly, his fingers leaving my back and opting for my cheek. “Just checking, Sunshine. You seemed...not upset yesterday, just...”
“Contemplative,” I answered for him, scooting up to kiss his lips and then giving in and lying atop of him. He welcomed me with strong arms wrapping around me and a crooked smile. “That’s it. That’s all, baby. Promise.”
He waited quietly, raising an eyebrow at me to elaborate.
“Okay, okay,” I sighed. “Being in Joe’s with everyone reminded me of Thanksgiving. Alice’s and Jasper’s family came in, and they were great, but by then, I knew all about what you’d gone through, and I was missing you. Alice bringing up the fact that it had been a year just made me count my blessings, that’s all, Edward.”
Edward’s smile was warm and sweet...and then devious when his hands cupped my ass, giving it a squeeze. “You are...quite blessed, Bella...”
Giggling and rolling my eyes, I shook my head at him. “Yeah, ’cause that’s totally what I meant.”
I started to scramble off of him, but he held onto me with a bear hug and a laugh that shook us both. But in reality, that laugh, that moment of silly, sexy teasing meant the whole world to me. Edward was free-spirited, lighthearted, and so loving. It was as if he’d become a new man since he’d moved down to Florida with me.
Since we considered the first of the year our new beginning, we’d now been together for seven months. We weren’t perfect, by any means. We still argued occasionally, only this time, it wasn’t about Jane, but stupid, silly shit. Sex and love and talking were easy; living together was a new experience and something that had taken a while to get used to. Edward was kind of a neat freak, something I’d never known, and I tended to let stuff clutter up before cleaning. He couldn’t cook, so meals became my responsibility. These were subjects that sometimes caused spats, but never anything big.
On the positive side, Edward was my biggest supporter. He’d always had an amazing eye for art. He was better at choosing my shots than even Mrs. Cope. He knew what should be enlarged or turned into postcards, what would sell online, and what should be displayed at Sea Breeze. Because he was so good at it, Mrs. Cope took him on part time to rearrange her showroom, bring in new local artists, and set up a web site with Kate for the little gallery. Like me, Edward had settled into this small community with ease, like the two of us had always belonged.
He wrestled with me as I squealed with laughter, finally pinning me down to the bed.
Giggling, I wriggled beneath him, but he stopped, gazing down at me, still smiling.
“So you didn’t think we’d get here?” he asked, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip.
“Nope,” I said with a grin. “You?”
His face morphed into something sober and a touch sad as he took a deep breath and let it out. “No, I wasn’t sure, Sunshine. But I would’ve stayed, whether you’d taken me back or not. I would’ve worked my ass off to get here, no matter how long it took.”
That earned him a kiss. And I cupped his face, wrapping my legs around his to hold him close. As the rain still continued to fall outside, we lost ourselves to each other once again.
Cedar Key, FL – August
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Jessica stated when she opened the door to her house.
Chuckling, I waved her back inside. “Then get it over with.”
She ran a shaky hand over her hair. “How are you not nervous?” she asked, practically yelling.
“I’m only a credit on the book, Jess. You organized your dad’s notes, put it down into something readable, and arranged it all brilliantly. This is your baby.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “No, it was my dad’s,” she sighed, giving the house a glance. “He grew up here, loved this place, the history, so he started researching just before he got sick.”
Nodding, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders. I knew that stuff, of course, and it didn’t help that she was so painfully shy, but Jessica didn’t give herself enough credit. I’d seen her father’s notes; they’d been messy and unorganized and all over the place. She’d sorted it all into something the Travel Channel now wanted to advertise. She’d done an amazing job. My photos merely captured in color what her black-and-white words were saying.
Giving her a moment, I rubbed her arm, smiling when she glanced up at me and then the clock on the wall.
“We’d better get going,” she whispered. “I promised Mrs. Cope that we wouldn’t be late. I don’t know why she thinks it’ll be a big deal. It’s just a tourist book.”
“Get in the car,” I told her with a laugh after we stepped outside. “It’s a big deal because Mrs. Cope loves local art and success.”
We drove in silence all the way to Sea Breeze, but she made no move to get out of the car as she eyed the damn full parking lot.
“He’s here,” she barely breathed aloud.
“There’s lots of people here, Jess. Just relax. We probably know them all,” I said with a laugh, thinking everyone from Joe’s and all of Mrs. Cope’s friends were here. But Jessica’s gaze was locked onto a group just outside. A smile curled up on my face as Jasper, Peter, and Edward stood outside laughing with each other. “Peter,” I stated, spinning my gaze back to her. “You like him.”
The poor thing looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck. “What?” she squeaked. “No, no... I just...” She looked pained. “Yeah. Since high school. Not that he remembers me.”
I turned to face her in the car. “Spill, woman.”
She groaned, looking down at her wringing hands. “Oh, Bella... He married his high school sweetheart. He was with her then. I was a couple of years behind them. And crushing badly! Oh my God, it was terrible. His locker was like two down from mine, and I saw him every damn day. Never said a word. I...I...I couldn’t!”
“Oh,” I moaned in sympathy, because every girl had at least one crush in her life like that. “Okay, Jess?” When her gaze snapped to mine, I continued, “High school is over. And he’s a really, really nice guy. He’s not perfect, he’s kinda lonely, and he could probably use a friend from way back when, you know? I think he’s sealed himself off a bit since his wife passed away.”
“Mhm,” I hummed, jumping a bit when my car door was opened suddenly. Turning to Edward, I said, “Dammit, you scared the shit out of me!”
“Sorry, Sunshine.” His laugh was shameless. “Well, come on, you two. Mrs. Cope has set up a table for you.”
“Okay,” we both answered him, getting out of the car.
Edward offered me his hand with a smile, but I tugged a bit, letting Jessica move on ahead so she had no choice but to speak to Peter, who was opening the door for her. My smile was wicked when she turned ten shades of red, but smiled at him.
I was pulled to a stop and glanced curiously up at Edward.
He ran a hand through his hair nervously, gazing around the parking lot. “Baby, I just...before we go in, I wanted to say something to you.” When I nodded, he went on. “I’m so fucking proud of you,” he stated firmly, cupping my face and pressing his forehead to mine. “I know it’s Jess’s book, but your work on it is stunning. I love you, and I just...needed you to know. Okay?”
Kissing his lips softly, I nodded again. “Thanks. And I love you, too, Edward.”
A wicked smirk crept up his face, his eyes drifting passed me. “I certainly hope so, ’cause I have a surprise for you.”
He chuckled, turning me around. “I kinda pulled a few strings, Sunshine. You know, called in a few favors.”
In front of me were our friends from Chicago – Kate and Garrett, with little Irina, Rose and Emmett, Tanya, and even Edward’s parents were there. All of them were piling out of several rental cars. But it was who was riding with Esme and Carlisle that caused my heart to stop.
I spun to Edward, gaping unabashedly. “You brought my mom?”
He grinned and shrugged one shoulder, his face blushing a little. “Yeah, and I think I earned a brownie point or two. Sorry that I kept it from you, but...”
Ohmigod, I love you! Thank you!” I gushed, kissing him roughly, but then bolted across the lot.
“Bella-boo,” she sighed once I was in her arms. “I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed much,” I mumbled into her shoulder. I pulled back, smiling at her, barely hearing anyone else around us.
Her smile was sweet, but mischievous. “I’m proud of you, sweetie. And um...I don’t think I’m the only one,” she whispered, biting her lip just like I did.
Giggling, we both glanced over at Edward, who was greeting his family, but I turned back to Mom. “Come. Meet him. He’s...the best thing that ever happened to me.”
She cupped my face, tearing up a little as she studied my face. “I can see that.” She gestured for us to go. “Lead the way, baby.”


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