A/N… I'm glad you guys liked the pool party. ;) Some aren't quite so forgiving of Renee, and some of you saw that she was simply proud of her daughter. Maggie, on the other hand, was a closure of sorts.

Anyway…back to school. This picks up with the train ride with Esme…

~oooOOOooo ~

Chapter 32

August 2002


Esme and I found a couple of empty seats toward the middle of the train. Taking my seat, I had to smile at the familiarity that washed over me. It had been with Esme that I'd ridden to Masen Manor the first time. I'd been scared, nervous, and completely silent then. A lot had happened in a year.

Opening my backpack as Esme checked in with Carlisle on her cell phone, I couldn't help but smile. Right next to the now completely full blue journal Edward and I had written in was a brand new one. I pulled out the pristine red notebook, fighting a laugh and my blush when I saw that Edward had already started it.

My love,

It's a new school year; your last one, at that. I wanted to start us off the right way. There are things about us that I never, ever want to change or forget. This journal…these notes to one another are important to me. They've always given us a chance to say things that we couldn't always say aloud. Despite your newly found, yet beautiful voice, I know that you still like your quiet, your internal silence. And I can completely understand that, Bella. Truly.

So much has changed since the last time you took this train ride with Esme. You're no longer the scared girl from a year ago. You've always been the strongest thing I've ever known, but now, I think you know it. You feel it. You've told me more than once that you are able to be yourself with me, that I helped you heal, but I don't think I did much. I hate taking that credit, because I think it was inside of you all along. I just happened to be the lucky one to hold your hand while you figured it out.

I want you to know that whatever you decide when it comes to speaking in class is completely up to you, but I will support you, no matter what. Senior year is tough enough without adding extra stress to it, but I promised you that I'd help, and I meant it. I want you to attack this year, revel in it, soak up every minute of it. It's an important year, full of choices and learning experiences and big decisions.

We've talked about the future, about college, about us. We've met your past head-on and conquered it. My sweet girl, you're safe now from men hiding behind masks and wielding knives. No one will ever touch you like that again. I swear it on my life.

However, my biggest fear is that I'll be the one to hurt you. It would never be intentional, never with malice or anger, but simply by losing myself in my love for you. Bella, you have no idea how badly I wish I could explain it all. You're the one thing I've waited for my whole life, and it would destroy me if anything I did or said hurt you. I'm not a fool, though. I'm not arrogant enough to assume that I can make us wait forever. My entire being aches for you, and I know you feel it, too. I see it in your warm eyes, hear it in your voice, your heartbeat, and I feel it in your kisses, your touch. It's building slowly like a spark starts a forest fire, and I need you to set the pace, because sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with it all. I love you, need you too much. It's in those moments that I need your voice the most. I need to hear what scares you, what's too much; I need to hear that you're okay.

Lastly, I want to thank you, my sweet girl. I need to thank you for the most amazing year, for your friendship first, and then for loving me. Thank you for every smile, laugh, and kiss you've given me. Every time you held my hand, told me you loved me, and held me close… It's those moments that mean so much. For a long time, you were the ghost that I never thought would appear. You were this unattainable perfection that took so long to reach me. I wish I'd known just how amazing it would turn out when Giselle first predicted my future. It would've made waiting for you easier. Then again, would I appreciate it as much as I do now? I don't have that answer. All I know is that I'm not the same man Giselle met over a hundred years ago. I'm a better one with you by my side. I need to thank you for that, as well, but I honestly don't think words would do it justice.

No matter what this next year brings, know that I'll be next to you every step. I realize that some things must remain a secret, that MG must once again roam the hallways in shadow for the most part, but from the moment you get off the train, the whole world can know we're together, that you're mine and I'm yours. No more pretenses with that, my love. No more tutor/student, no more hiding.

They can know the truth: I love you. Always.


I felt Esme's eyes on me as I wiped away tears – good tears. Smiling, I glanced her way, saying, "He kills me sometimes with how sweet he is."

She laughed lightly. "He's a good boy. He always has been – even when he didn't think so."

The tone of her voice carried the reverence and love of a mother. It was unconditional love personified. I knew her story, about the loss of her child, and I wondered if Edward filled the space in her heart. If he didn't completely fill it, I was willing to bet he came really close.

"It's been amazing for Carlisle and me to watch the two of you." There was a sad smile on her face as she toyed with her cell phone on the table. "I told you before, I didn't place much faith in those predictions, Bella. I just… Carlisle believed them, simply because he'd seen some things come to fruition, but I was afraid for Edward. I watched him want them to be true so badly, but long years took their toll on him." She chuckled a little, shaking her head slowly. "It didn't help that he's so damned sweet and loyal and kind on top of how handsome he is, so women – both human and otherwise – were drawn to him, like flies to honey."

Giggling, I nodded. "Um…Esme, they still are!"

Her laughter was light and sweet, sounding like Alice and me when we were up to no good.

"Believe me, I understand," she chortled. "Carlisle is the same way." She reached for my hand, her fingers trailing across my charms. "But Edward, he was different. He wanted to believe you were coming, but where some men could have taken advantage of how women saw him, he didn't."

"Reading their thoughts stopped him a lot, he told me," I added with a grimace.

She hummed in agreement, wrinkling her nose. "I can't imagine what he's heard or seen. Poor thing used to answer my questions before I asked them. It drove me crazy until I realized just how awful that must be." Both of us nodded in agreement as the train started to pull away from the station, but she went on. "Since we're on the subject… With his inability to read your mind, I know he worries about the two of you. Edward's always worried too much, overthinking the simplest things, but I've tried to reassure him that he's doing just fine."

"How worried?" I asked her, frowning.

Esme glanced around us, but no one was paying us any attention. "Your relationship isn't normal, Bella. It never will be. However, it's perfect and unwavering. For you…as a human, it can be overwhelming, but…" She sighed,squeezing my hand gently. "What I'm saying is… Don't let him frustrate you, sweetheart. Don't let his overthinking override his heart. He'll talk himself out of anything. Don't let him."

Smiling, I sighed, but my brow furrowed a little. "Are you talking about our relationship? Or my humanity?"

She chuckled. "Both. All of it. Just…" She tapped her temple. "He's always had an advantage, sweetheart, so without knowing what you're thinking, he's bound to panic."

Laughing, I sat back a little. "Yeah, he hates it sometimes. But he told me once about what we are, that we're…mated. Soul mates. He told me that he could see what it was like, you know, for you and Carlisle. He said that we can have faith in each other. Always."

"Does that bother you? You're young, Bella. Girls your age are worried about dates and dances and…"

"No. Not at all." I smiled at her, but then glanced out the window as the city flew by. I placed a hand on my chest. "I can feel it. Especially, when he's nearby. It's been there since our first piano lesson. He's…my home." I met her gaze, smiling when she looked like she'd be crying if she were able. "He felt right…from the first time he shook my hand. Everything in me clicked into place. It took meeting him to know that I wasn't alone anymore."

Frowning, I played with the heart charm Edward had given me at Christmas. My thoughts centered around the man whose ears had to be burning – a thought that made me smile.

"I'm not…normal. I've seen things I hope no one ever sees, so I can't compare myself to them," I stated, gesturing to some girls who were giggling at the back of our train car. "I just can't." I shrugged a shoulder. "But Edward… he's my normal."

Esme was quiet for a moment, but finally nodded. "Which brings me to another point, sweetheart. I…um…" She looked nervous, but she met my worried gaze. "You're a senior this year, and as much as I'd love to have you as dorm captain, I decided that it would be too much for you. I hope you understand why…"

I laughed, shaking my head. "No, I'm okay with it. I can't exactly tell my classmates to stay in their rooms at night when I'm using the passageways to sneak into the east wing."

She grinned, but nodded. "Fair point, Bella. And what should I tell your teachers?"

I thought about it, eying the new red notebook Edward had given me. "Tell them…I'll try, but…"

She held up a hand. "Say no more. That's enough for me." She squeezed my hand one more time. "Welcome to senior year, Bella."


September 2002

Edward and Esme had been right. Senior year was much busier, much harder, and it was only the second week of classes. Most of my teachers were the same ones from the year before, so they didn't give much thought when I stayed quiet in class. I'd answered a few questions once or twice – much to the shock of my classmates – but I wasn't quite comfortable enough to give oral reports at the front of the room just yet. Therefore, my teachers still allowed extra assignments in order to make up for it.

Looking around the library, I took in new faces. Some looked so young, but others were just as nervous as I'd felt my first week. Tyler, who was now the boys' dorm captain, had to have shot up an inch or two over the summer. He was still with Lauren, I noticed, but it was obvious that he brought out the best in her. The girls' dorm captain sat with them. Audrey. I didn't know much about her. She was quiet, with reddish hair and freckles across her nose. She seemed sweet, but tended to keep to herself.

Things were strange without Rose and Emmett around, even more without Alice. Losing her last spring still didn't feel right, simply because I talked to her all the time on the phone. Sundays were still our phone call days.

A glance up at the clock made me scowl, but I packed up my things, including the new red journal I'd been writing in.

Angela looked up from her textbook, blinking at me behind her thick glasses.

"Piano," I sighed, wrinkling my nose, but grinned when she laughed lightly.

"Well, Mr. Harris isn't exactly in the same league as your handsome thing from last year," she stated with pure sarcasm.

"Uh, no," I chortled, shaking my head, but I could feel the heat in my cheeks. "But no one is."

Angela grinned. "How is Edward?"

"He's good," I replied softly, smiling her way. She was the only friend I really chatted with anymore. "He's busy, but he's coming for my birthday…and probably Thanksgiving."

She smiled again and nodded. She was the first person at school to ask about Edward and the first I'd told that Edward and I were together. She hadn't exactly been shocked, and now it was already old news in the rumor mill. With the framed picture of the two of us on my nightstand in my dorm room, it wasn't a secret anymore. The secret was that he was just upstairs in the east wing…and most likely pacing his living quarters at the fact that someone else was teaching me piano.

I shot Angela a wave and made my way out of the library to the auditorium, shouldering my backpack. Mr. Harris was already there, finishing up with another student. Luke was a freshman, tiny, with big blue eyes and curly hair the color of beach sand. He was a nervous thing, but from what I could hear, he was a good piano player. I'd seen him in the hallways; he'd already made friends with Brady and Eric.

Mr. Harris called their lesson over, and Luke smiled at me on the way out.

"Ah, Bella…" Mr. Harris said, smiling my way. "I know I'm not really teaching you, but I wanted to see where you were this year. I spoke to Edward a couple of days ago, and he and I went over a few things. He says you're working on another new composition…something you two started together over the summer, am I correct?"

I nodded, taking a seat at the piano and setting my backpack on the floor. "Yes, but it's not finished yet."

His surprise at my voice was almost comical, but he covered it quickly. "O-Okay. Well, I just wanted to see where you stood, and I wanted you to check back with me just before Thanksgiving break."

I handed him the sheet music, but played the song by heart. It made me smile, simply because it was just so…us. It was playful and light, blending into something sexy and sweet. It wasn't finished, though. Edward and I hadn't worked on it much toward the end of my summer break. There was something missing from it, something I needed to work on, but it was fun and beautiful nonetheless. I liked playing it because it was so different than the song I'd worked on last year. It wasn't as emotional or heartbreaking. It wasn't heavy.

Mr. Harris paced as I played, but then turned when I stopped. "It's good, Bella. Really good. You think you'll be able to finish it by the end of the year?"

I nodded with a small smile. I couldn't tell him that my writing partner was itching to help me, nor could I explain that the same writing partner had installed a state-of-the-art electronic piano upstairs so that we could work on it together.

"All right, then," he said softly, smiling a little. "If you need anything, you know where to find me."

Nodding, I gathered my things, and he handed me back my sheet music that had scribbles from Edward and me all over the edges. I eyed the costume closet, wondering just how watched Mr. Harris was for a second, but I left the auditorium without looking back. I had to make an appearance in my dorm, so I made my way through the halls. I stepped up onto the third-floor landing, waving to a few friends, and then locked the door behind me. Quickly, I walked to my closet, entering the hidden door at the back. The hidden passageway echoed with every step, and I couldn't help but giggle at the tall, lean form waiting for me against his old broken piano when I stepped into the east wing.

"Let me guess… You need better locks on your haunted side of the castle," I teased him.

His laugh was deep and sexy. "Nope. I don't think so." He cupped my face, kissing me quickly. "How'd it go?"

Scowling, I shrugged, linking our fingers together as he led us upstairs to his door. "It felt a bit like cheating."

He snorted. "Hardly, Bella."

"No, it really did," I said with a laugh. "I'm glad he's only checking in a couple of times asemester." I shrugged a shoulder. "He's okay, but he's just not…you."

Edward's smile was sweet and shy, but he kissed my forehead before opening the door. There was a mix of the two of us in his living quarters now. I still had a dorm room, still had to make it look like I was locking myself in every night, but I slept in his wing, in the bed Esme had put in there. My books, my computer, my clothes were mostly there, including my bathroom stuff. I'd repeatedly asked him if I should keep my belongings in my room, but he claimed that he loved it, loved the smell of me surrounding him when I was in class.

I set my things down on the floor, falling into the corner of the couch, and Edward sat with me. Glancing over at him, I had to do a double-take and then crawl into his lap.

Holding his face in my hands, I studied him, smiling when he chuckled softly. "You hunted today."

"I did," he whispered, his eyes sparkling with mirth and love and just sweetness.

But it was the color of his eyes that caught my attention. Beautiful warm, golden honey. They were the color that I loved. They were bright and happy and filled with pride. Insanely long dark eyelashes framed them, as did the heavy brows that wrinkled a little at my staring.

"They're back," I whispered in awe, my eyes welling up at how much love was staring back at me. "God, I'd forgotten how beautiful they were."

He smiled a little, but kissed me sweetly. "Thank you, my love."

"Does that mean…"

He kissed me again, and this time, it was deep and breathtaking. His tongue claimed my mouth, and we both moaned. His purr turned into a rumbling growl when my hands slipped into his hair, gripping him and holding him to me. When we pulled back, he swept his lips over my top one, then bottom, finally nuzzling my nose with his own.

"It means that the human blood is gone from my body," he stated, but his crooked, sexy smile made me roll my eyes.

"Fine, smart ass," I sighed, starting to get off his lap, but his arms tightened around me and his laugh shook us both.

I found myself pressed into the soft leather of his couch, with a highly amused vampire looming over me.

"It means…no more contact lenses." His grin was silly and adorable.

I laughed at him, my head falling back. We knew what it meant. It meant everything, but I knew he was still worried. I wrapped everything around him when he laid his ear over my heart. My fingers raked through his hair and down his back. And I smiled against the top of his head when he purred softly.

"I'm proud of you," I stated softly, meeting his gaze when he pulled back to look at me. "Carlisle says it's ridiculously difficult to do what you did."

Edward frowned, bracing his elbows on either side of my head, but his fingers toyed with my hair. "What I did was…a means to an end, my love. No matter how Alice and I spun it, the man had to die. And I…I hated him, Bella. He was…too familiar and callous. The fact that he purposefully tried to scare you, tried to kill you…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "I couldn't let him succeed. He'd come damn close too many times."

I pushed his hair from his forehead, trailing my fingers down his face, but I stayed quiet.

"I lost myself in the moment," he admitted, shrugging one shoulder. "I let my instincts rule me. I…I didn't like it, but I couldn't stop it. I used every bit of them against him – my speed, my strength, my sense of revenge, my need to protect you. All of it. In doing that, I scared myself, Bella. I…couldn't stop. I never wanted you to see me that way, and I never want to lose myself like that again, especially when it could hurt you."

I placed my hands flat on either side of his handsome face, kissing his lips. "You won't. You never have, and before you argue with me, think back, Edward. Remember how I drove you crazy last year…how I frustrated you to the point of madness. Think about how upset and angry you got when I realized exactly who you were, what you were…and that you were MG. Not once, not even when you tried to stop me from leaving the auditorium was I scared of you. How you are with me, how you treat me is different than anyone else on this planet." I shrugged, smiling up at him. "You know it's true."

"Bella, those same instincts are still here," he argued, gesturing a long, graceful finger between us. "I could so easily lose myself again…"

"Is that what scares you? When we finally…"

"Yes," he breathed against my lips, his eyes squeezing closed. "It's intense enough between two humans…between two immortals. I could… Bella, there was a moment in your house that I didn't even know my own name. What if…"

He didn't finish, but he didn't have to. I knew what he was saying, but I interrupted him with a kiss.

"I tell you what, Edward," I started, soothing him again with my fingers through his hair. "Why don't you ask Leah…or Alice, for that matter. Let's go back to what you've learned to depend on and have them check on you. Alice would be better; you just have to make the decision. Leah's already told you things work out."

He laughed softly. "A second opinion, my sweet girl?"

I shrugged, pushing at him until he sat up on his knees to allow me to sit up. "I love you, and I have faith in you, but you don't have it in yourself. Personally, I think those instincts are completely different. One was a defense mechanism, but between the two of us, I think it means you'll be exactly what you need to be, Edward."

Edward's eyes narrowed on me. His mouth opened and then snapped shut when I stood up off the sofa. "You've been talking to Carlisle."

Grinning, I simply said, "Maybe."

I'd actually talked to both Carlisle and Esme, but it didn't matter. Both had told me to have patience with Edward, and I was doing my best. He reached out and pulled me to stand between his legs, his gaze curious and sweet and slightly innocent; it was a sexy, heady mix on him.

"What'd he say?"

Smiling, I placed a hand on his chest. "That you have to trust this…" I then tapped his temple. "Not this."

I started to step away, but he stopped me. "Where you going?"

Chuckling, I pointed to my backpack. "I have a sick amount of homework, Edward. And then I have to make an appearance in the dining hall."

He frowned, but he played with the charms on my bracelet. "Okay, but you should know… You got mail today, or rather… I got mail today. Bella, are you sure about this?"

I smiled. "Did they do what I asked?" When he nodded, I kissed him. "Then, yes. Sign it and send it back, Edward."

He nodded, finally letting go so I could grab my things. I could feel his eyes on me as I walked to the bed. I sat down, pulling out my books so that I could finish two assignments before dinner. When I glanced over at him, he was pulling paperwork out of a manila envelope.



I studied the papers in my hands, shaking my head. Bella's eighteenth birthday was just days away. She'd officially inherit millions at the stroke of midnight, but the papers in my hand changed everything around from the way Charlie Swan had originally planned it. For a brief moment, I wondered what he'd think of her changes.

According to the pages, Bella had set up healthy-sized accounts for both Chelsea and Renee. Neither would ever need worry about money again, and it barely made a dent in what was left over. However, the biggest change was that Bella was releasing the accountant that Charlie had originally hired. He was no longer needed. She'd hired a new one. Me. The legal papers in my hands put every dime she'd receive into my accounting firm – the false one that I'd established to hide my attachment to Masen Academy. Bella had put her life in my hands for safekeeping.

When I'd originally questioned that decision, she'd simply smiled, kissed me, and ruffled my hair. She'd said that she trusted me more than anyone else, and since I was her future, it only made sense that I handle that side of things.

Bella was planning ahead…way ahead. She was planning on more than one lifetime ahead, and I couldn't help but swallow nervously at just how comfortable and smart that made her. And with one last glance over at my beautiful girl as she worked quietly on her homework, I finally picked up a pen and scrawled my name across the allotted line.

I stared at my name for a few moments, knowing that one day, I'd ask her to take it. Frowning, I wondered what name we'd use – Masen or Cullen. I shrugged to myself, thinking it didn't matter. All that mattered was that she'd say yes, and I knew she would, but there were other things that needed to be addressed first.

Standing up, I slid the papers back into their envelope. Walking to Bella, I leaned down to drop a kiss to the top of her head.

"I'm going to have Esme notarize this, love. I'll be back after you've had dinner, okay?" I smiled when her sweet face tilted up from her books. "Love you."

She smiled. "Love you, too."

I took the back way to Esme's office. She was working at her desk when I stepped inside the room. Her smile was sweet and patient when she glanced up from a stack of papers.

"Edward," she greeted. "How'd it go with Harris?"

I chuckled, taking a seat in the chair in front of her desk. "Bella said it felt like cheating on me."

She laughed lightly. "Well, you were the best teacher for her. Harris is—"

"He'll do fine," I said with a grin, holding up a hand. "He's just monitoring her progress. I'll still be working with her behind the scenes."

She nodded, still wearing a small smile. "So…what can I do for you?"

I handed her the envelope. "I need something notarized, please."

"Ah, she did it," she murmured to herself as she took the contract out. She opened a drawer and pulled out her stamp. "This is the smartest choice, son. You know that, right? You look skeptical."

I nodded, but let out a deep sigh. "I know, but it's…"

"It brings the reality to the whole thing, I know," she said wisely. "She's a smart girl, Edward. She's well aware of what your relationship is, and she's not taking any of it lightly."

My head tilted as she showed me the conversation she'd had on the train with Bella. The way she talked about herself, about how she wasn't normal, but that I made her complete, whole…it made my chest constrict. She had no desire to be like other girls, girls her own age. It simply wasn't in her. She'd experienced too much too early, and it made her different. Belonging to me made her different, but in a way that made her absolutely and completely happy. I could see it all over her sweet, beautiful face as she spoke to Esme.

Esme's thoughts were cut off, and I frowned up at her.

"Some things are not for you, dear Edward. Girl talk should remain between…girls."

Laughing, I raised my hands in surrender, but took the contract when she handed it back. "Thank you."

"Anytime," she sang back with a smile. "Now…since you're here… How's that birthday surprise coming?"

I groaned, resting my elbows on my knees and staring down at the manila envelope without seeing it. "It's…" I snorted, shaking my head. "Well, it's coming. I'll have a better idea soon. Alice better be right about this, or…"

"Say no more. Just tell me when and where," she told me.

"Leah's cottage. Tomorrow after classes," I said, standing up from the chair. "I'll bring Bella."

"Your father and I wouldn't miss it."


I watched the clock click over to midnight, my eyes drifting to the sleeping birthday girl. She was now, as of that moment, eighteen…and I was still twenty-two.

Smiling I remembered what she'd said the day she finally heard the very bare-bones truth from me.

I won't always be seventeen. You, however, will always be twenty-two.

Leaning over, I whispered, "Happy birthday, my love," against her hair so softly that she didn't even stir.

Her sweet, sleeping face was turned my way as she slept on her stomach. She'd kicked out of the covers, and one long, smooth leg was exposed. It was all I could do not to reach out and touch. Her nightmares had all but dissipated since she'd been back at Masen Manor. I wasn't sure if it was my constant presence or the fact that the threats against her were all gone. But I could tell she was dreaming. A twitch of her fingers and toes, the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, and the deep breaths that pushed out across my face as I sank down into the covers next to her all told me that she was living in another dimension at the moment. The thought made me insanely curious, yet completely proud that it wasn't tears and kicks and sweat. I'd seen enough of that to last another hundred years.

The pull to her was too strong, the need to touch, to claim, to kiss every inch of her was overwhelming. The more I gazed at her, the more I wanted her. The more I touched – a brush of her hair back from her face, a light trail across her bottom lip, or a tentative graze along her wrist where her charm bracelet forever rested – the more I needed.

In order to leave her alone, I slid silently from the bed, smiling when she shifted with me, almost like a magnet. Her arms reached, seeking and searching, but settled unconsciously for my pillow. She wrapped it up and pulled it close, burying her face in it.

I walked to the window, gazing up at the star I always sought out. My fight was leaving me. I knew it, I could feel the call to my mate to the point it was almost painful, but my fears caused my forehead to fall to the pane of glass in front of me with a light thump. It was more than the fear of hurting her, more than just losing my sense of self… It was what mating with her truly meant.

We'd forever be bound to one another, even more so than we already were. It would be physical and emotional. It would be a massive feeling, and despite the fact that I knew she was mine, I also knew that it would change everything between us. There would be no going back, and I'd never let her go. And it would work the same for her. All her choices would be gone like a puff of smoke…not that my girl wanted any choices. She simply wanted me.

Without removing my head from the glass, I turned to look at her sleeping form. If my heart could beat, it would've been pounding out of my chest. Had I been waiting for her birthday the whole time? Or was I simply unable to stay away from her any longer?

My cell phone buzzed across my desk behind me, and I turned to snatch it up. I smirked, but sighed a breath of relief at the message.

A – You'll be fine, Edward. Stop worrying. But AFTER her birthday party. ;)

Bella was right; I'd needed a second opinion, of sorts, and it came wrapped up in Alice's visions. If there was anyone that came close to loving Bella as much as I did, it was Alice. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she'd never let me hurt her. I sent a quick thank you back to her, preparing myself for the rest of the day.

I kept myself busy while Bella slept, but as dawn approached, I slipped back into bed, only this time, I had her present with me. My girl immediately discarded my pillow, curling herself on my chest, and I smiled when sleepy brown eyes opened.

"Ah, the birthday princess," I crooned, kissing her forehead and laughing when she snorted and rolled her eyes.

She stretched languidly against me, and it was all I could do not to wrap her up and kiss her until she couldn't breathe. She yawned, slipping out of bed awkwardly and stumbling sleepily into the bathroom. When she reemerged, she looked more awake, with a freshly washed face, her hair pulled back, and her teeth brushed.

"C'mere, sweet girl," I said, patting the space between my legs as I pushed myself up to lean back against the headboard. "I plan on spoiling you the entire day, Bella, so you might as well…what did you say to me once? Oh, yeah, suck it up, buttercup."

Her giggle was like music, but she crawled up the bed to situate herself where I'd pointed.

"That wasn't me! That was Esme," she said, still giggling as she leaned back against my chest.

I wrapped an arm around her, bending to kiss her cheek at the same time I set a bright pink gift bag into her hands. She pulled out the tissue paper, reaching in for the small velvet box inside. I set my chin on her shoulder as she opened it.

I reached over and toyed with it. "It's another charm for your bracelet. I wanted…a promise ring of sorts, but…this seemed perfect. I practically beat my head against the wall for this. I wasn't sure…something music related, but this…" I rambled nervously.

Her sweet squeak and beautiful grin was my reward. The charm was of a small ring, containing both of our birthstones – Alexandrite and Sapphire.

"Help me," she said excitedly, holding out her wrist and the charm at the same time. "I love it, Edward! Thank you."

She kissed me until I'd forgotten what I was supposed to be doing, but giggled when she shoved the box with the charm at me. Once it was attached to her bracelet next to the heart I'd given her for Christmas – my mother's heart – I kissed the inside of her wrist, meeting her gaze.

"This is my promise to you, Bella," I said solemnly, swallowing nervously. "I… You're my past, present, and future. You're it for me, love. This… This is my vow that one day, we'll be bound to one another in every way – human and immortal. I want…everything, sweetheart. I want to give you everything. And I can't wait to figure out each step with you – college, marriage, immortality. Always. Everything. Us."

Bella's eyes welled up with hot, salty tears, but her smile told me they were good tears, happy ones. She poked at the new charm, but then met my gaze.

"Always," she said with a sniffle and laugh, kissing me softly.

I grinned, patting her bare leg lightly. "School time, my love," I told her. "When you're done, meet me out front. I've got more surprises in store for you."

She groaned, but nodded. "Well, thanks, Edward… That'll just make the day crawl."

Laughing, I tickled her until she squirmed away and off the bed. "You'll live, I assure you."

I kept watch over her through the minds of her fellow students and teachers throughout the day while I stayed on the phone to get ready for her surprise. The only person that she'd truly spoken to was Angela Weber, who had gushed over the charm I'd given her. She was also the only person that walked with her to the front doors of the school at the end of the day.

The late afternoon was overcast, with fall quickly approaching, but it allowed me out in the daytime…and allowed me to pick her up in a car she'd never seen – my classic Mustang convertible. Her smirk was hilarious when she caught sight of it, but she rushed to my arms the second she stepped out of the building.

"So this is the Batmobile you've so carefully kept from me," she stated with a laugh. "Oh God, my dad would hate you for this. He wanted one, but my mom told him no a million times."

I laughed, kissing her lips. "He'd hate it even more knowing I bought the damn thing brand new off the showroom floor."

"Oh," she groaned, shaking her head as I didn't even bother opening the door; I just set her down in the passenger seat. "Oh yeah, probably."

Chuckling, I kissed her, knowing we were being watched by a few of her classmates. "Seat belt, my birthday girl."

I walked to the driver's side got in. "Don't even ask, Bella. You'll see. It's not a long ride, I promise."

She laughed, but nodded, clicking her seat belt into place as I started the car and pulled out of Masen's long driveway. I hadn't been kidding. The drive was short, but I'd wanted to spoil her today. I turned down Leah's private driveway that wound through the woods on the outside of the castle walls.

When I stopped the car and shut it off, Bella's gaze met mine. "I have a surprise for you, but…I need you to do as I tell you, okay? It's important that we do this my way," I instructed, but my voice was loud enough to carry to my family, who was waiting for her just inside the old metal gate, especially one person, whose mind was nervous, but prepared.

"Okay," she whispered, her brow furrowing at me. Her faith in me was ridiculous and scary, but I kissed her for it anyway.

I hopped out of the car, foregoing opening the door. I checked the minds waiting for us, but helped Bella out of the car, wrapping an arm around her. The gate was now repaired, thanks to Jacob, but open. As we stepped inside, I heard her breath catch.

Looking down at her, I whispered, "Happy birthday, Bella," before setting my hands on her shoulders to keep her still.

"Oh, God…Alice," Bella whispered, her voice thick with emotion.

The girl in question stepped forward, her visions assaulting her mind, but every outcome was the same: everyone was fine. She'd worked her ass off to get to this point. She'd wanted so badly to see Bella, and her eyes were the bright gold to prove it. Tanya and Irina, even Carlisle, had tested her repeatedly by taking her closer and closer to humans until she could manage to keep herself in check. It was quicker than any immortal we knew.

Bella shifted out of my grasp – although she seemed to know better than to take a step forward – and with a raised eyebrow at Alice, who immediately nodded, I let her go. My family moved in closer, as did Jasper and I, just to keep a close watch, but Alice and Bella were finally face to face after almost six months.

Alice tentatively hugged Bella, holding her breath just in case, but pulled back with a grin. "Happy birthday, Bella."


A/N… Edward's almost there. ;) You're a smart bunch, so I'm sure you can tell what's ahead. And yes, we'll see Alice…and more. This is the last cliffie of the story, though this one…well, it's a good one.

Questions… 1. Why wasn't Renee investigated? She was. It was in the original police report that Carlisle went over in Chapter 9 at the same time he went over the autopsy report with Edward. Her alibi was checked out, including receipts and parking stubs. Why didn't they make Bella give her statement? You can't make a witness talk/write, even if it's for their own good. Many a rape has gone unreported due to that very fact.

Okay, so see you guys again Sunday. Until then… Mooches, Deb ;)