Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
It's been a very long time, I know. For those of you who are still reading, thank you so much for your patience.
Quick recap: Edward and Bella have vanquished the Volturi. Heidi escaped and is now in Alaska, trying to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle with the help of the Cullens.
Edward and Bella have decided they want to tell Bella's parents about their engagement in person and have travelled to the US for Thanksgiving, and to share their news.
On a cloudy Chicago morning...
A sharp Chicago wind was blowing as we walked along a street lined with trees and beautifully restored Victorian houses. Edward pulled me closer, opening his long dark coat and tucking me into his side, bringing me into his warmth.
"It's a lazy wind," he murmured, kissing the top of my head.
"Mm hm. Doesn't bother going around, just cuts straight through you."
"You've never heard that expression?"
I shook my head. "Nope. But it's a good one."
"And an old one." He smiled down at me. "My mother used to say it all the time."
I smiled too, and squeezed my arm tight around his waist. "Is it much further?" I asked, excitement bubbling through me.
"No, just up here."
We passed three more houses, and then Edward came to a stop outside a tall two-storey home with attic windows in the roof and an enormous oak tree in the front yard.
He cleared his throat. "So, um, yeah...this is me." He gave me that crooked smile that I loved so much. "This is my house."
Two weeks earlier, as we'd planned our trip home for Thanksgiving, Edward had asked shyly if I'd like to see where he'd grown up.
He didn't need to ask twice. I'd squealed "oh my God, yes!" before he'd barely finished getting the question out. So a two-night Chicago stop-over had been worked into the itinerary, after Jacksonville and before Forks. And even though I'd known I was going to see a house, it still wasn't what I'd expected.
The classic Victorian had been so lovingly kept in its original style with the stonework and red brick, and the ornate wood trim that framed the windows and detailed the wide porch. All separated from the street by a formal garden and a wrought-iron fence.
"It's gorgeous," I whispered as we stood at the front gate. I imagined a young Edward running down the porch steps and up the path.
"It's been modernised inside." Grown-up Edward stood behind me, arms hugging me to his chest as he rested his chin on top of my head. "Updated colour scheme. I've had a couple of walls knocked down so it's more open plan. Kitchen and bathroom have been brought into the twenty first century and there's modern heating. My parents probably wouldn't recognise parts of the inside now, but I've still kept some of the original features, like the fireplace and hearth. The mosaic tiles in the entry hall. Mailbox." He tapped his long fingers on the lid of the cast iron mailbox set in the fence.
"Were they servants quarters?" I pointed to the attic windows, up high.
"Probably, once, before we lived here. We didn't have servants. I think...Mrs Sutherland came three times a week to cook and clean, but that was all. The attic space was just an open area, my father stored a lot of his legal library up there."
I wished we could see inside and wondered vaguely what the owners would think about a snap landlord's inspection.
"Which was your room?"
He pointed to a window on the middle floor, to the left.
"See the oak tree," he said. "See how the branch over there stretches right up to my bedroom window? Sometimes at night I'd climb out and sit there to look at the moon."
The wind came up again. I shivered and Edward hugged me tighter.
"You did that in summer, I'm guessing?"
"Oh yeah. Definitely summer."
I imagined him, sitting there, moon gazing. It seemed like such an Edward thing to do.
"What did you think about when you looked at the moon?"
He took in a deep breath. "Well, aeroplanes were a new thing back then, new and very exciting, and I wondered if there'd ever be a plane that would fly to the moon. I'd stare at the moon and work out where it would land. Of course I didn't know anything about zero gravity or the lack of oxygen, but I did think it might be cold up there. I thought, if I went, I'd have to wear a woollen hat beneath my leather aviator cap."
I tried not to giggle, his face was so earnest as he stared up at the tree and sky beyond, but the picture he painted with his words was so adorable.
"And maybe a woollen scarf?" I asked, biting my lip. He shot me an amused look.
"I think the scarf goes without saying, Bella."
"I love that you were thinking of walking on the moon back then. A man ahead of his time."
"And past his time, too, when you think about it."
"A man who's here, now, with me." I nestled in close to him. "What else?" I said.
"That window over the other side at the front?" He pointed. "That's the room where I was born. My parents' bedroom."
So this, here, was where Edward's story really started; where he made his entrance into the world. For some reason I felt strangely moved as I stared up at the window.
"I've never thought of you as having a beginning."
"Um..." Edward rubbed his hand over the top of his head, his face confused. "You what?"
"That sounded ridiculous, didn't it?" I shook my head. "I mean, I can't imagine a time when you didn't exist. Is that weird?"
"I don't know. You didn't know I existed before you moved to Forks."
"I know, but now it's like...you're such a thing in my life, and...I dunno, maybe because you used to be immortal..."
"A thing? I'm a thing?"
His eyes were teasing me as he pretended to be offended. I stepped back, whacking him playfully in the chest.
"I think you know what I mean."
He gathered me close again, his nose gently nuzzling my cheek, the softness of his breath washing over my skin as he spoke. "I think I do. I think it's like me, not being able to imagine a world without you in it."
I nodded. That was pretty much it.
I looked back towards the window. "There should be a plaque," I murmured. "On the fence here, next to the mailbox."
He laughed. "Birthplace of Edward Masen? I can just imagine what else it would say."
"Only good things," I said, smiling. "Now tell me more about your house."
Edward considered a moment. "I used to swing on this gate." He ran his hand along the railings. "Well, not this actual gate. This one's a replacement."
"What happened to the original?"
"It sagged. Someone kept swinging on it."
He winked and I giggled.
His words came quickly, with warmth and affection, as he began to describe memories of his childhood home. The smells of the kitchen. The creak of the stairs that warned him his parents were going up to bed and he should turn off his lamp and pretend he hadn't been reading way past his bedtime. How the Christmas tree would stand in the bay window of the parlour with brightly wrapped presents beneath.
The screen door on the back porch.
"I'd always let it slam, much to my mother's annoyance," he said. "I hardly ever used the front door, so I'd come rushing through the kitchen, on my way to play ball, or running for school, and she'd call out, 'don't let that door slam, Edward, you'll have it off its hinges'. But I always did. Not deliberately. I just...didn't stop to think about it." The wind blew up and played in his hair and he shook it out of his eyes. When that wasn't enough, he let go of me so he could drag his fingers through the strands,
"What was she like? Your mother?"
"Warm," he said immediately. "Kind and comforting, she always seemed to know the right thing to say. Always ready with a hug. We shared a love of books and music and art. When I was small, she'd read me stories and she'd do all the voices." He smiled softly to himself. "She had a sharp mind, very good at reading people...I often saw her size someone up with just a look. And she'd let them know what she thought, but subtly, diplomatically." He leant on the fence, chin resting on his folded arms. "Lots of society ladies organised charity balls for widows and orphans, and they'd wear their good deeds like badges of honour, but Mom wasn't like that. She'd actually roll up her sleeves and go into the orphanage, and the poor house, and help, hands-on. And then she'd come home and go to the balls." He straightened then, hooking his hands round the fence railing and leaning back, arms stretched out, swaying ever so slightly from side-to-side and I could just imagine him swinging on the gate. Or even this, now. The pose seemed familiar to him, comfortable, like he'd slipped into it without realising.
He kept his gaze on the house. "She taught me the importance of good manners, and always offering a kind word. A kind word never goes astray, she'd say. I've let her down pretty badly on that one."
"Oh, I don't know, I've always thought your manners were impeccable. It was one of the first things I noticed about you."
"It was a facade, a lot of the time. For show. Especially when I was...especially before."
"Well, I think we've all done that sometime. Put on a facade. It just makes you human. Even when you weren't."
His lips twitched, his profile hinting at a smile. He let go of the fence, and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"You telling me your shy, polite demeanour isn't always real, Bella?"
"Mm, lets just say...I worked in a coffee shop for a while in college and when I had a difficult customer I'd smile and be polite and daydream about spitting in their latte."
Edward arched a brow. "And did you ever?"
He laughed and it was such a beautiful sound.
"I can't imagine that you would."
"Yeah? Well..." I gave him a playful poke in the chest. "...just don't tell me you asked for a skinny cap when we both know you ordered a long black."
He wrapped his arms around me now. "I wouldn't dare, now that you've warned me."
"Smart man. And Your mom sounds lovely. I wish I'd met her."
"I wish that, too."
"What about your dad? What was he like?"
"He was a good father." Edward gave a quick nod of his head. "A very good provider. He worked hard and made sure we never wanted for anything. He was tall, like me, and had a moustache. He liked chess and occasionally we played a game together. He usually won." Edward shrugged, like that was all there was to know. "Come on," he said, and took my hand. "Let me show you my Robin Hood tree."
By now I should have been used to the whiplash subject changes, but as Edward lead me along the pavement until we could see down the side of the house and into the back yard, I was still thrown. Especially after such an affectionate description of his mother. I'd expected something similar for his father and the lack of warmth, or even any real information, made me wonder why. But before I could ask anything more, or even wonder if I should ask more, Edward was pointing out another old oak tree. This one with a canopy that seemed to cover half the back yard.
"There!" he said as I did a quick mental shift, focusing now on the tree instead of Edward Masen Snr.
"I'd spend hours in that tree," Edward said fondly. "With William and Henry and Tom, we'd climb the branches, playing Robin Hood. Sometimes pirates."
"With a little imagination, a tree makes a great ship. Everything's a mast. And sometimes we'd just sit in the branches and use a sling shot on the neighbour's chimney. We'd see who could hit the chimney pot and take a piece out of it."
"Edward! You didn't?"
He grinned, clearly delighted by my reaction. "You're shocked?"
"That you'd deliberately damage someone else's property? Yes!"
"The neighbours never knew," he said dismissively.
I peered at the terracotta chimney pot on next door's roof. It was weathered with age and rough in parts, as if, surprisingly, it might have been hit from a sling shot once or twice in days gone by. Despite Edward's apparent disregard for the property of others, this evidence of the boy he'd been made me smile.
"So you were a brat," I said.
"Hmm..." I nudged him playfully in the ribs. "And now I've got a million questions about what else you got up to."
"I'll answer whatever I can." He pushed back some hair that had blown in my face. "But a lot of my memories have faded. Some are so clear but others...I try to catch them but..." He shook his head. "It's like looking at them through a silk curtain. I can see the outline, I know they're there, but there's no substance, no detail. When I try to grab them, they turn to smoke between my fingers."
"Well, it sounds like you've kept all the important ones."
I took his hand, leading back along the pavement so I could see the windows again. "Christmas and family and friends. Chimney pots. I love seeing where you grew up. I love seeing your window. And your Robin Hood tree. Thank you for showing me."
"I wanted you to have my whole story," he whispered. "I want you to have all of me. Or as much as I can give you."
I lifted his hand to my lips, kissing his palm and smiling as I studied his long fingers and the pale crescent moons at the base of his nails. Strangely, those little crescents hadn't been there when he was a vampire, but they would have been there when he'd climbed trees and shot rocks at chimney caps.
He watched me with tender emerald eyes, curling his fingers around mine.
"If I'd known you back then, it would have been so different." The corner of his mouth lifted in a small, almost wistful, smile. "I would have escorted you to dances, and picnics, and walked you home again afterwards. On Sunday afternoons we'd take a stroll through the park, or sit together on your front porch, sipping lemonade. I would have gifted you books of poetry, and brought you flowers. Maybe a ribbon for your hair." He glanced down, his thumb stroking gently over my knuckles, over the sapphire he'd placed there. "After a few months of courtship I would have gone to your father, clumsy and nervous, and asked for your hand. Then, I would have got down on one knee, offered you my heart, and asked you to be my wife. And, assuming you said yes, I would have asked to kiss you."
He slowly lifted his gaze.
"May I kiss you, Isabella?"
His words, the emotion in his eyes, stole my breath away. Heart too full for words, I simply nodded as Edward lowered his head, and kissed me sweetly by his front gate.
He looked very pleased with himself when he pulled back, and gently brushed the back of his fingers across my cheek while I tried to calm the flutter in my stomach. There was something to be said for old-fashioned romance, I decided.
"Come on," he whispered. "There's more to show you."
He gave the mailbox another drum of his fingers, as if to say a cheery goodbye, then we strolled back to the rental car, arm-in-arm, like it was a Sunday afternoon in 1918. Edward held the door for me as I slid into my seat. As he climbed behind the steering wheel, my phone beeped with a text, and I was jolted back sharply into the 21st century.
"Renee?" Edward asked with a smirk as I fumbled with the phone.
"How did you..." I didn't bother finishing that sentence. I already knew the answer.
We'd left Florida this morning, and my mother had texted me 11 times in the five hours since we'd said goodbye.
"More wedding dresses?"
"Flowers this time. Actually, alternatives to flowers. Apparently balloon bouquets are a thing."
"Balloons?" Edward chuckled. "I love your mother," he said as we pulled away from the curb. "I think she's almost as excited about this wedding as I am."
"Yeah, she's totally on board."
"On board? She's practically captain of the ship."
Back in Sydney, when I'd told her over Skype that I was coming home for Thanksgiving, she'd squealed with delight. When I said Edward was coming with me, there'd been surprise. As I explained how we'd run into each other again she'd given a joyful laugh and talked about fate, destiny and the universe. It had left me feeling positive about how she might react when we told her we were engaged, although our announcement hadn't gone quite as planned.
It was early evening when the taxi pulled up outside the stylish bungalow that Renee and Phil called home and I'd barely stepped onto the pavement before the red front door was flung wide open.
My mother came running down the path, scarves billowing behind her, amber beads swinging.
She swept me into her arms and I dropped my satchel bag so I could hug her back.
"Oh, honey, it's so good to see you." She rocked us, side-to-side. "This is going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving. Wonderful." She pulled back, holding me at arms length, grinning. "You look amazing. Happy. And...that's Edward?" She glanced over to where he was paying the driver and getting our luggage out of the trunk. "Wow. He looks taller than I remember. And bigger. Not so lean."
"He's older," I said, clearing my throat. "Not seventeen anymore. He works out now and, you know, you only saw him that one time, for a few days in Phoenix." I felt my face flush as I manipulated the truth and wondered if I was over-explaining.
Renee nodded. "True," she murmured. "He was usually curled up asleep in that hospital chair in the corner. He hardly left your side, I remember."
The taxi drove away, Edward set our bags on the footpath and came forward to greet my mother.
"Mrs Dwyer," he said, extending his hand. "It's lovely to see..."
"Oh, it's Renee, please. And handshakes are for business deals." She embraced him warmly. "Welcome, Edward, it's good to have you here. I hope you like turkey samosas and pumpkin egg rolls, I'm trying something experimental for Thanksgiving this year."
"Sounds great. Thank you," he said and he beamed at me over her shoulder.
"Now lets go inside." She let Edward go, patting him on the arm as she stepped back. "We'll have dinner and catch up and I'll show you the clock I told you about, Bella." She started heading up the path, talking as she went. "Edward, has Bella mentioned my new passion to you? I'm collecting vintage decor from the fifties and sixties. I believe you're very familiar with the mid-century period." She began describing her replica of a George Nelson sunburst clock while Edward threw me a slightly startled look. I rolled my eyes.
"I said he knows a lot about music from the period, Mom." I turned to Edward. "We were talking about a vintage record player she's seen."
"I'm watching it on eBay," Renee explained, turning to face us as she walked backwards up the path. "I'm planning to bid at the last minute."
"Ah." Edward nodded. "Well, music I can talk about, Renee, but I'm afraid mid-century décor isn't really my area of expertise."
"Oh that's alright. I can..."
She stumbled, her feet tripping over themselves. Edward and I both grabbed for her at once, each of us grabbing an arm.
"Silly me," she said and took my hand as she straightened. "That'll teach me to walk backwar..."
Her fingers caught on my ring and suddenly the sapphire had all her attention.
Her head snapped up and she looked quickly from me to Edward and back to me. "Is this what it looks like? Because it looks like an engagement ring. And a serious one. Am I right?"
Now I was flustered as I took back my hand to clasp Edward's.
Crap. This wasn't the plan. We were supposed to tell her and Phil over dinner, with the wine we'd bought specially to celebrate, but as her eyes pinned me in place, Edward gave me a wink and took the lead.
"Renee, we realise it will come as a surprise, and this wasn't how we planned to tell you, but yes, you're right." He shot a quick, beaming smile at me. "I love your daughter very much, and by some miracle that I don't dare question, she feels the same way about me. We're getting married, and we hope we have your blessing."
Renee went uncharacteristically quiet and my heart stopped, waiting for her response. I wished I could read her mind – was she remembering all the times I'd said I didn't believe in marriage? I gripped Edward's hand tight. His thumb made circles on my skin, trying to soothe, then he gave a quick double squeeze, reminding me to breathe, and I sucked in a quick breath.
I watched my mother as she processed our news; as her blank expression slowly became...smug.
"Well, I can't say I'm completely surprised," she finally said. "When you told me you were back together and both coming to Thanksgiving, I did wonder. Oh Bella, baby..." She pulled me into a rib-crushing hug that left me relieved and gasping, and with the imprint of her beads against my neck.
"Oh, sorry." She let go quickly, laughing, clasping her hands to her chest. "You absolutely have my blessing. I just want you to be happy sweetheart, and it's obvious that you are. And so in love. It's in every line of your face." She reached out, her eyes shining as she touched my cheek. "And if you're wondering if I think it's too soon..."
"Er, actually I wasn't..."
"I don't think it is," she went on, not missing a beat. "You've always known your own mind and you never make decisions lightly, I know that very well. But once you do make a decision it's because it's right for you, I know that too. You've obviously overcome your issues from the past, and that's a big test to pass, so...oh, come here!"
She hugged me again, a little more gently this time, and I sank into her, relieved and revelling in her love and warmth. There really was no-one like my mom and I was beyond happy that I could share this moment with her.
"And you too, Edward," she said, letting me go after a moment and turning to him. "Welcome to the family." She wrapped him in her arms again, even more enthusiastically this time, and once more he was beaming at me over her shoulder as he hugged her back. I laughed when this time he added a thumbs-up.
"Have you decided on a date?" she asked, turning to me again. "Or where? In Australia?"
"Er, not decided yet."
"Then you're open to ideas?"
There was a different spark in her eye now and I was instantly wary.
"Well, that depends on the idea, Mom."
She laughed again. "Oh, don't worry, I'll control myself. And why are we still standing outside! Come on, lets go and celebrate, and look at wedding websites."
She walked forwards now and we followed her up the steps, towing our bags behind us, smiling at each other while Renee talked again about the universe and destiny, love and fate. As we walked into the entry hall, she stopped, and gently touched Edward's cheek.
"You're an old soul, like Bella. I can see it in your eyes." Her gaze went over him, appraising now that she was over all the initial shock and excitement. She dropped her hand. "I'm sorry," she said with a self-conscious laugh. "I know I'm staring but you're just so...different."
"I grew up," Edward said quickly.
"No, it's more than that." Renee waved away his explanation. "More than filling out and getting taller and me not remembering you clearly."
Shit! My joy took a quick back seat as my stomach dropped. Only ten minutes with my mother and I felt like I'd ridden the roller coaster at Six Flags. Twice.
"There's something, I don't know... calmer about you? All that intensity has faded."
"It was a stressful time in Phoenix," Edward said. "Not good for the teen angst."
"True." She smiled a little. "But your eyes, they used to be..."
"It's amazing what laser surgery can do these days. Goodbye tinted contacts." Edward's lie came easily, smoothly, and with a smile, while I chewed my thumbnail and tapped my foot.
"Really?" Renee continued. "That unusual amber colour was contacts? Did you have a problem with depth perception? I had a student once who needed yellow tinted glasses to help with that. I didn't realise contacts could do the same thing."
Edward's smile never faltered, but the tension showed faintly now in the lines round those different eyes. "It's just another option. Oh, hey!" He pointed at the coffee table. "Is that an original Mathmos Astro lava lamp?"
I was laughing softly to myself now, remembering that evening as I looked at her texts.
"What's funny?" Edward asked as we stopped at a red light.
"My mother. And your sudden, surprisingly detailed knowledge of mid-century décor, specifically lava lamps."
He exhaled in a gust. "Alice had one," he said. "Until Emmett broke it. And your mother is sharp. You might call her erratic and hare-brained, but she's one of the most perceptive people I've ever come across. It was like she could see right through me." He shot me a look, the tension echoing in his eyes again, before he shook his head and chuckled.
"But the lava lamp saved the day." I grinned.
"Fortunately, Renee's as easily distracted as she is perceptive."
"Well, you were very enthusiastic about it. For a moment there I thought we were going to end up with a lava lamp themed wedding."
"Sixties psychedelia," he said. "You could wear a white mini dress and go-go boots."
"What would you wear?"
"Flares, cheesecloth. A string of love beads."
I cocked my head, studying him with a grin.
"Did you wear flares and cheesecloth in the sixties?"
Edward cleared his throat. "Once or twice, maybe. For appearance sake. It's not something I'm proud of."
"Are there photos?"
"Oh God, I hope not."
I snorted, and made a mental note to ask Alice next time I saw her, though I wasn't sure when that would be. There'd been no word from the Cullens for a couple of weeks.
My phone beeped again.
"Um, no. It's a bouquet of chocolates, now. In the shapes of hearts and flowers."
"In case you get hungry during your vows?"
"I swear, she's like Alice, on steroids."
Edward threw his head back and laughed.
I shuddered. "Imagine if the two of them got together to plan?"
"We'd have to elope," he said without missing a beat.
"Yep. Or we'd be caught up in some sort of wedding wonderland with dancing doves and drones dropping flower petals during the ceremony. Belly dancers at the reception. Fireworks after dinner."
"Sounds like a theme park," Edward said. "Or a circus."
"And they'd be the ring masters."
"And we'd be the monkeys." He chuckled darkly. "Performing tricks for the guests. Probably best that we keep Alice and Renee well and truly apart."
I pictured the two of them, pouring over fabric swatches and bridal magazines. Before she'd left Sydney, Alice had talked about wedding venues in Switzerland and exclusive dress designers. Edward had politely told her to back-off. It seemed that she had.
"I'm kind of surprised we haven't heard anything from Alice."
Edward shrugged. "Heidi will be keeping them busy. It'll take more than a couple of weeks to rein in five hundred years of vampire instinct." He reached out to turn on the radio. "It's like an addict going cold turkey, the craving will make her more volatile, and there's always the possibility she won't be able to change, no matter how much she might think she wants to." He changed gears and accelerated as the light went green. "In many ways, it's like dealing with a newborn, and my family can't let their attention be diverted from her, even for a second. Even for our wedding."
There was a subtle tightness around his eyes.
"Are you worried about them?"
"They know what they're doing," he said quickly and kissed my knuckles. "They'll be in contact when there's news." Then he chuckled softly as my phone beeped with a new text. "Another bouquet alternative?" he asked.
"Er, no." I smiled down at the screen, my thoughts diverted again. "She's sent a picture of a house this time."
It had turned out that Edward and I weren't the only ones with big news.
Once we'd finished our special celebratory engagement wine, Renee had brought out a bottle of champagne and announced that she and Phil were moving to Honolulu.
It had been my turn to stare, mouth swinging open, as she explained how Phil had scored a permanent position as baseball coach for a University there, and they were going to sell Jacksonville and make Hawaii their forever home. And then Phil had chimed in, explaining how Renee had already registered with the Hawaii Department of Education.
"She'll be eligible for a permanent teaching role once we're settled, with a permanent address," he said.
"So..." Renee was watching me closely. "What do you think, Bella, honey?"
What did I think? For a moment I wasn't sure. There'd been so many moves over the years, and I'd thought she was settled at last in Jacksonville. As I sat at her dining room table with Edward's hand on my knee squeezing gently, I remembered all the times we'd packed up the car and driven somewhere new, seemingly at a moment's notice. But this, now, wasn't about following some whim, or the weather. This was a real life decision, with a secure job waiting for Phil, and teaching prospects for my mom, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought Renee and island life were a good fit.
"Oh my gosh, I think this is perfect for you guys! You'll love Hawaii!"
I got out of my chair and went to hug her and Phil.
"I know!" Renee giggled. "And it's only a nine-hour flight from Sydney," she said. "Instead of twenty. We'll be so much closer, at least for the next couple of years. Maybe forever, if you decided to stay in Australia. And you know, wherever I am in the world sweetie, there'll always be a home for you there. Now, I've been researching," she went on as my shock faded and we clinked glasses."I already know the area we'd like to live in, and we might not be able to get exactly the same as we have here, we might have to go a little smaller, a little older, might have to give up two full bathrooms and have one and a half instead, but that's okay! It's the island lifestyle we're buying, not a mansion!"
"What's this place like?" Edward asked, throwing a quick glance at my phone.
"Like all the others. Small. Two bedrooms One-and-a-half bathrooms. The kitchen's been renovated, though. Not too far from the beach. Looks like she's starting to take your advice on board."
While our days in Jacksonville had been about showing Edward my old haunts and braving the Thanksgiving sales with Renee, our evenings had alternated between wedding and real estate websites. Renee had clearly had her rose-coloured glasses on, and Phil didn't have a head for real estate, so Edward had occasionally brought her back to earth with gentle suggestions about pest and building inspections, and reminders that there could be more to peeling paint in the bathroom than just a chance to redecorate.
"It looks well-maintained," I added. "The garden's really nice."
"How old is it?"
He nodded, but said nothing.
I replied to my mom with a smiley face. Great garden, I typed. Love the kitchen countertops.
Then I turned my phone off, and slipped it away. No doubt we'd be skyping later and I wanted no more distractions right now as I focused back on the Chicago skyline, and the reason for our visit.
"Okay," I said. "Where to next?"
His father's law firm.
The building was still there. Listed by the historical society, the three-storey stone building looked like it must have when Edward Masen Snr had walked its floors. I wondered if now, in this place, the son might be more forthcoming about his father.
"It's a firm of architects, now," Edward said as he parked the car and we got out. He took my hand and led me across the street so we stood in the building's shadow.
"He worked hard," Edward said softly. "Six days a week and lots of evenings buried in his study after dinner." He flashed me a quick smile. "Once I turned thirteen I worked here after school, two days a week. More days during vacation. Running errands. Delivering messages and letters and contracts all over town."
"Yeah? This was your first job, here?" I walked over to the three wide stone steps that led up to a tiled entry alcove with a pair of fancy-panelled wooden doors beyond. "You walked up and down these steps..."
"Not the bottom one. I always jumped that. I thought it was unlucky. Can't remember why."
"You were superstitious?"
His lips twitched. "I guess so. Kind of ironic, huh?"
I made my way across the mosaic-tiled alcove and curled my hand around the long, highly-polished brass door handle; feeling the same cold smoothness Edward would have felt, over a hundred years before.
"Did you like it? Working here?" I glanced back at him over my shoulder.
"I liked the pocket money. A dime a day." He leant against the wall of the alcove, arms folded across his chest. "But looking back now, I think it was also an opportunity to see more of my father, and for him to see more of me."
"Oh?" Was this the 'more information' I'd been hoping for? Or at least, the start of more? When Edward stayed silent, I went for a gentle prompt.
"You, er, said he was a good provider. Back at the house."
Edward eyed me keenly.
"That probably sounded cold."
"Er, a little, yeah. Especially after hearing so much about your mom."
"I can see how it might seem that way, but it was a very different time," he said. "You can't measure Edwardian society by modern-day standards."
He had a point, I supposed. Back then, society demanded different things of men and women.
"But you're not convinced, are you?"
I shrugged. His comments still seemed cold, and I wasn't sure how to respond without offending him.
"It just didn't sound like you knew your father very well."
Edward shrugged, too. "I probably didn't," he said matter-of-factly. "There was some distance there, definitely. But he was a man of his time and back then, the greatest thing a man could be was a good protector and provider for his family. Food on the table, roof over our heads. I had all that, plus the music lessons and the best private schools. By Edwardian standards, he was an excellent father." He smiled a little, the formality in his voice softened. "He was the best."
"And he liked to have you working here." I smiled a little too, understanding better now.
Edward nodded and looked down, rubbing his foot over the mosaic tiles. "He expected me to join the firm one day. Masen and Son, Attorneys at Law. That was my future. Did I ever tell you that?"
"Not really." He'd mentioned so little of his human life back in Forks. "But you weren't interested in being a lawyer, were you?"
"Lets say that, as time went on, I had other ideas."
He nodded. "We used to argue about it, actually. A lot." He pushed away from the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets. "His plans for me were very clear and always had been. I'd never thought much about it when I was younger, it was just sort of accepted, but once I turned sixteen, things changed. Well, I changed. And suddenly I knew the law wasn't for me, after all. The war had started and I was becoming more aware of the world." His brow furrowed. "But my awareness was through the eyes of an inexperienced youth and fighting an enemy on foreign soil seemed far more exciting than pushing paper in an office. When America officially joined the war in 1917, I decided the army was what I wanted. Not the law."
"And your father didn't agree?"
"No. He didn't."
"What about your mom?"
"She didn't want to lose her son to battle." He sighed softly and, coming forward, reached out to the door handle, his touch almost affectionate as he gently ran his fingers over the brass. "Things became strained between us and I stopped coming here. But despite all that, despite the arguments, and what you might see as coldness, I was never in any doubt that my father loved me. I think he knew I loved him, too. I think he understood. I hope he did."
"I'm sure he did," I whispered.
Edward seemed lost in thought, though a small smile tugged on his lips. Then he let go of the door handle and, taking my hand, walked us back down the steps to the footpath.
"Which was his office?" I asked, looking upwards.
"That one, there." Edward pointed to a large window beside the alcove. It looked out over the street.
"Your father's firm was on the first floor? No city views?" Not that the third floor would have much of a look-out, but still.
"The first floor was prime position, back then," Edward said. "In the days before elevators, the first floor meant you didn't have to climb the stairs. Rents got cheaper and the prestige got less, the higher up you went."
"Ah." I nodded. "Got it."
Edward tucked me close into his side now, as we began to stroll along the street.
"The post office was in the next block. Every afternoon I'd take the day's mail to be stamped and posted." He chuckled softly.
"Well, the mail run wasn't exactly exciting, so I used to play a game. Turned it into a personal challenge by timing myself, seeing how fast I could get there."
"You had a stopwatch?"
"No. I, er...sang."
I spluttered a laugh. "You sang?"
"Quietly, in my head. Same song each time. I'd try to get from here to the corner before I got to the end of the first verse. Then to the post office before I got to the end of the chorus. As long as there was no traffic when I wanted to cross the street, I was good. If there was a horse and cart in the way, or a truck, it'd put me into the second verse. Unless I could dodge round them – that was always an added challenge. I slipped in horse manure once, right in the middle of that intersection up there. I'd run between two carts, fell and split my pants, all while being yelled at by the cart drivers because I was scaring the horses. But the mail got through and I still made it before the end of the second verse."
It had happened over a hundred years ago, but I could still sense the faintest trace of pride in his voice.
"You were born competitive, weren't you? What song did you sing?"
"Take Me Out To The Ballgame."
He began to hum, and I recognised the tune. Then Edward began to sing, very softly, under his breath.
"Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks, I don't care if I never get back..."
"Are you walking faster?"
"You are! You're speeding up."
He stopped abruptly and grinned down at me. "Old habits."
"Very old," I teased.
He arched an indignant brow. "Not that old."
"We're talking about life before traffic lights, Edward." Then I reached round and squeezed his gorgeous backside. "But you're looking pretty good for your age, Mr Masen."
He squeezed my butt in return. "And I can still get the girl," he said.
On our way to get lunch we drove past a shopping mall where, apparently, there'd once been a pond, and where Edward had bloodied his nose more than once.
"Sledding," he said. "We'd have races down the slope and over the little snowbank at the bottom, onto the ice. The winner was the one whose sled made it furthest across the pond but if you missed and hit the edge of the snowbank at the wrong angle the sled would tip and throw you onto the ice." He grimaced and gave a theatrical shiver. "I missed a lot."
A few blocks further on, we stopped outside the fancy iron gates of a private school. A large red-brick, ivy-covered building declared itself established in 1833.
"Where I spent a lot of my formative years," Edward said as we stood on the sidewalk. "I'd ride my bike through those gates every day, satchel on my back."
"Did you have a uniform?"
"I bet you were a good student. All A's?"
"Would it sound arrogant of me if I said yes?"
I laughed and peered closer through the gates. "This place looks like something out of Downton Abbey. Forks High must have seemed pretty shabby after this."
"Oh, I don't know." He gave me a wink. "Forks High had it's good points."
A little further away, amongst a block of office buildings, was a parking lot which had once been the field where he had played baseball, hit a home run in 1914, and apparently had his first fist fight.
"I can't remember what the fight was about," he said. "But I do know I got at least one good punch in before I got my lip split."
Around the corner was the church where he'd attended Sunday school, played the organ at a couple of Christmas services, and gone to Saturday night dances in the hall.
"Not that I danced much," he said as we sat on the stone wall that surrounded the churchyard. "I mostly stood in the corner with a cup of lemonade."
"You were a wallflower? I can't imagine that."
"I was sixteen, all arms and legs and on the wrong side of clumsy. Girls were a complete mystery to me,I didn't know how to act around them, didn't know what to say. I wasn't the only one like that, though." He chuckled. "There were a lot of us grouped around that lemonade table."
I cocked my head, studying him The elegant lines of his body. It was true, as a human he sometimes stumbled into things, but the dancing he'd done that night in his kitchen had been smooth and easy.
"Nope. I really can't imagine it."
Edward scrunched up his nose. "Actually, maybe it's better if you don't try."
Lunch was at a restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan and while Edward took a human moment I admired the view, and switched my phone back on.
There were no more messages from Renee, but there was one from Charlie.
I'm getting some groceries in. Is Edward still on that special diet?
My father's reaction to learning Edward and I were dating again had been both predictable, and surprising. There'd been shock, anger, and demands to know what the hell I thought I was doing.
"Have you forgotten what he did to you, Bella? Because I haven't!"
I'd expected exactly that response, which was why I'd chosen to skype with him while Edward was at work.
Immediately, I'd launched into a prepared speech; it was a long time ago, we were just kids, but we never stopped caring about each other.
"And since then?" Charlie had snapped. "If he cared so much why did you have to track him down?"
I'd been prepared for that too, but the surprise had come after I'd explained about the Facebook post, and the picture of me with Alexander and my grandmother's ring.
"He thought I was engaged, Dad. He stayed away because he believed I was happier without him. He thought I was better off."
I'd waited for another put-down, a sarcastic comment, but instead Charlie had fallen silent for a long time, his face wearing the same look I'd seen the night I left for Phoenix when James came after me. A look of hurt, almost defeat, that had made my heart lurch. But then he'd shaken himself, and rubbed his hand roughly over his face. He'd asked if Edward was who I really wanted; if he truly made me happy. I'd bitten my lip, feeling my eyes fill. When I said yes, Charlie had answered with a nod.
"I'll clear my fishing gear out of your room. And I'll make up the sofa-bed in the living room. For Edward."
I didn't understand the sudden change of heart and, knowing my dad, the reason behind it would probably remain a mystery, so I just hoped that it lasted, especially after we told him we were engaged.
I texted back...
No more special diet. But thank you for asking.
I added a smiley face.
"Everything okay?" Edward slid back into the seat opposite me, wincing as he banged his leg on the table. It was probably good that he'd stayed by the lemonade table back in 1917.
I held up my phone. "Charlie's asking what you eat these days. That's a good sign."
Despite my father's seeming acceptance of Edward's return, the visit to Forks could still be problematic. We both knew that. It was hanging over us like a cloud but this text from Charlie was like a silver lining.
"It's very thoughtful," Edward agreed.
"You seem wary, though."
"Because I am wary." He sighed. "Bella, I'm not going to assume anything. Your father seems fine now but once he hears our news, that could change. Dating me again is one thing. Marriage is something else altogether. And when Jacob and the wolves hear I'm back in town, and that we're together..." He studied me over the top of his menu. "Are you sure it's a good idea not to prepare them in advance?"
This was something I'd gone back-and-forth about a lot – whether to tell Jake now, before we arrived, that Edward was back in my life, and human. I'd decided, in the end, that the element of surprise would work to our advantage, and had sworn Charlie to secrecy about Edward coming home with me, saying I wanted to tell people in my own time, in my own way. I'd even asked him not to tell Sue.
"Yes, I'm sure," I said and under the table I nudged his foot playfully with mine. "Telling them anything now just gives them time to get the pitchforks ready before we arrive." My teasing was answered with a wry smile.
"Pitchforks? I think you mean wooden stakes and holy water." He cocked his head. "You're being very optimistic. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Optimistic doesn't mean I'm not realistic." I took a sip of soda. "Things could go either way, I know there might be trouble but I'm not going looking for it in advance. I just don't...what are you thinking?" Edward had glanced away, towards the windows and the view.
"I'm thinking..." He turned back to me slowly, his eyes bright with emotion. "That you've always been that way."
"Looking for the silver linings. Hoping for the best." He reached out to take my hand. "Seeing the man in the monster."
I smiled and rubbed my thumb over his. "Now you say I'm optimistic, but there was a time you called me crazy. And hang on...I thought you'd decided you weren't a monster."
"You're right, I wasn't. But I thought I was, back when I also thought you were crazy." He leaned close across the table, lowering his voice. "But even though you're optimistic, I'm still wary. For your sake, not mine. I don't want you to lose friends. Or family. Being human will make the treaty void. I'm no longer their mortal enemy and I'm definitely no threat, but even so, I know they won't be welcoming me with open arms."
"That's okay." I nudged his foot again. "Because I will."
My phone beeped again. Another Charlie text. "Oh, wow..." I held up the phone so Edward could see. "He's seriously making an effort," I said. "So, what do I answer? What beer do you like?"
"What does your father like?"
After lunch we drove across town and I was surprised when Edward pulled into the parking lot of the Stroger Hospital.
I looked at him curiously. "Lunch didn't agree with you?"
He smirked a little. "This is just the last stop on the Edward Masen grand tour," he said as he came to open my door.
We held hands as we walked through the parking lot, past the main hospital buildings and smaller medical centres, into the street behind, which seemed to be from a different world.
We stopped in front of a vast building that had clearly once been grand, but was now derelict. Eerie, like something from a horror film, it stood empty and shuttered, fenced off from the world. It wasn't until I saw Edward's sombre eyes, that I understood where we were. My stomach lurched. This really had been the last stop for Edward Masen.
"You...this is where..."
"Cook County Hospital," he said. "This is where Carlisle found me. Somewhere on the third floor." He pointed. "I don't remember arriving, but I have some very cloudy memories of my last days as a human. Carlisle is one of those memories."
My eyes scanned the broken third floor windows, as if I might see into the past if I looked hard enough.
"It was his voice mostly, that I remember. My vision was almost gone so I couldn't really make out his face, but his voice..."
I squeezed Edward's hand, pressing my fingers hard against his, not sure if it was for his comfort, or mine. I wished there was something I could say, but there were no words for something like this, so I just held on as he talked.
"There was a blue jug, too. I remember that. It was on the table beside my bed and the nurse would pour water from it for me to drink. Like I said, my vision was almost gone, but I could still make out the blue. Then one day, I couldn't. That night, Carlisle came for me."
The shiver that ran along my spine had nothing to do with the cold.
"Did...he didn't do it there though, did he?"
"No." Edward's eyes were focused on the windows of that third floor. "I don't remember, but he's told me he wheeled my bed towards the morgue – no-one noticed I was still breathing and with so many dying, no-one questioned him. But then he slipped out a back door and carried me away over the rooftops. What I do remember, is when the night air hit me. It was cold. So cold. I didn't know what was happening, and by that stage I was too far gone to care, but after the heat of the fevers that cold night air felt like relief."
I let go of Edward's hand, wrapped my arms around him, and squeezed as hard as I could.
"I debated whether to bring you here," he said. "I wondered if it seemed morbid but if I was sharing all of my story with you, then this was part of it. A big part." His gaze dropped, his eyes dark. "Is it alright?" he asked. "That I brought you here."
"Of course. I want all of you. Every part."
Edward hugged me closer.
"What about your parents?" I asked, hoping it wasn't an insensitive question.
He looked at me quizzically. "They died."
"No, I mean, um...where are they buried. Do you want to go and visit them while you're in town?"
Visit them? Like he was going to drop in for a cup of coffee? Seriously, couldn't I think of a better choice of words?
"I've already visited them," he said. "In my own way." He smiled softly and I was left wondering what he meant. My mind went back over the previous few hours.
"Oh!" I blinked, remembering how he'd so gently touched the door handle at his father's office, and tapped a happy rhythm on the mailbox at his house. "At the office, and the mailbox. You were saying hello?"
He nodded. "I don't need to sit by a grave to remember. And even if I did..." He exhaled sharply and stared down at the ground. "There's nowhere to sit."
I didn't understand. "Your parents don't have graves?"
"They do. I just don't know where they are. Back then, at the peak of the epidemic, the city couldn't cope. People were dying at such a rate the hospitals, morgues, undertakers, couldn't keep up. Whole families could be wiped out in a matter of days. With me so sick and then gone, there was no-one left to make proper arrangements for my parents. There was no-one to claim them."
This was something I'd never even thought about but of course, who would have arranged funerals for Edward's parents?
"Was busy with me." He gave a sad smile.
"Oh, Edward..." My voice cracked and I wrapped myself around him. "What do you think happened to them?"
"The most likely scenario? They're in one of the Cook County communal cemeteries, with lots of other people who were in the same circumstances. I've tried a few times over the years to find them. Carlisle's helped. We've searched through archives but there was so much chaos back then, records were lost or not kept at all. Their deaths were recorded, I have the certificates, but beyond that..." He cleared his throat. "I felt incredibly guilty. Carlisle would tell me that there was nothing I could have done, that I truly had no control over the situation and my parents would understand. It took me a long while before I believed that, but eventually, I did."
He reached into his pocket and took out his phone. His thumb scrolled over the screen, and then he held it up for me to see.
It was the University of Chicago website. Specifically, the page for the law faculty.
"The Edward J Masen Scholarship," I read out. "Your father?"
Edward nodded. Then he scrolled over the phone again. Once more, he held it up.
"The Elizabeth Masen Music Scholarship."
Curious, I took the phone from him so I could read more. Both scholarships were awarded every year to students from disadvantaged and low income backgrounds.
"Four years of tuition, fees, accommodation, books, supplies, oh my gosh, Edward, this is the full-ride!"
"I wanted there to be something that said my parents had been here. I thought this might be a good way."
"It's an incredible way." I handed back the phone, my head spinning.
He tucked the phone back in his pocket. "I feel closer to them when I'm managing the scholarships, and when I visit the house or the office, than I ever would sitting beside a grave. Even if I knew where to sit." He gave me a half smile as I hugged him again.
"Why didn't you tell me about this?"
"I was always going to, but it's not the sort of thing that just comes up in conversation. Hi, I like climbing mountains and drinking merlot, oh, and I set up scholarships in my parents' names." His lips twitched with a smirk. "I was waiting for the right moment."
He looked back at the hospital, rocking me in his arms as he stared at the third floor windows. He took one deep breath, then another.
"Lets go," he said quietly and kissed me as we turned away.
The Drake Hotel was a work of art.
As the valet took the car keys, Edward took my hand.
"Did you ever come here?" I asked as we walked into the grand foyer. "Before?"
"No. It opened in 1920, but it's somewhere I would have brought you." He winked. "If we'd both been alive back then."
While Edward checked us in I explored the lobby, wandered over to the doors of the Palm Court Restaurant, and peeked in.
Fine china and white linen. Dark timber and chandeliers. Opulence and classic elegance. Suddenly, I found myself wondering what it might be like to have a wedding here. Maybe that was an option – get married in Edward's old home town. Sort of like coming full circle, I thought.
"Do you like it?" Edward's voice was soft in my ear.
"It's beautiful," I whispered.
He dangled a key in front of me. "Wait until you see our suite."
The studio suite was absolutely something else; an exercise in true luxury, and Edward beamed as he looked around. "It certainly lives up to the photos on the website."
I kicked off my shoes, my bare feet sinking into the plush carpet as I wandered slowly around, admiring the stunning mix of elegant contemporary décor with art deco details, like fluted brass doorknobs and bevel edged wall mirrors.
The king-sized bed was piled with pillows and set on a podium, in a generous alcove, with sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
I stood close to the glass, watching the choppy, white-tipped waves crest and break. Edward came up behind me, brushing my hair back from my neck so he could kiss beneath my ear. I moaned and pressed back against his hips. My eyes fluttered closed when I heard him hiss.
He slid the jacket from my shoulders, dropping it on the floor. "I've booked the restaurant for dinner..." He nudged my shirt aside with his nose and bit down gently on the curve of my shoulder. "But now I'm thinking room service might be a better..."
My phone sounded from the depths of my bag, Renee's ringtone interrupting him, and he stilled. Then he straightened and gave a resigned chuckle while I sighed.
I'd switched my phone back on when we'd pulled up at the hotel. There had been three messages from her – two wedding dress pictures and another house listing. "She's probably wondering why I haven't responded to any of her texts."
The phone stopped, but Edward stepped back.
"You'd better answer," he said. "She's probably getting worried."
"I'll just text her. Let her know we're busy and I'll call later." But Edward was shaking his head.
"We'll wait," he said.
"I don't want to wait, and it's pretty obvious you don't, either." I gave a pointed glance at the bulge in his jeans.
"I'm fine," he said, a faint blush colouring his cheeks. "I'll take a shower while you talk."
"A cold shower?" I lifted my hand and stroked the collar of his coat. "You're not the only one who wants this right now." I stopped, and bit my lip. "It's been ages, Edward."
He pushed my hair back, tucking it over my shoulder as he smiled.
"It's been a week, Bella. And it was you who said no sex while we were in Jacksonville."
"Our room was right next to theirs. They would have heard."
He took a step closer, clasping my hand that held his collar. His other hand roamed over my side, inching upwards towards my breast as he lowered his face to kiss me.
The phone sounded again. Edward stilled once more, his lips hovering over mine, then slowly let me go. My hand fell to my side.
"Talk to her," he said gently. "We have all night." He began to back away, towards the bathroom with the over-sized tub and the double shower. Frustration burned through me.
"How can you be so patient?"
"A hundred years of practice."
He shrugged out of his coat and tossed it over the back of the sofa. Then he pulled his sweater over his head, revealing the perfect, sculpted body beneath as he continued on his way.
"Now you're teasing me," I said.
He dropped the sweater and his hand moved to the waistband of his jeans. As he popped the top button, he winked.
"Think of it as building anticipation," he said, and kicked shut the bathroom door.
When Edward emerged just five minutes later, with damp hair and a towel around his hips, I was still on the call with my mother. My tablet was on the coffee table displaying the website Renee had directed me to, and I pushed it across to Edward as he sat beside me on the leather sofa.
"They think they've found the house," I mouthed. "They're planning to fly over there next week to take a look." Edward nodded as I turned back to the phone. "Yeah, Mom, I'm still here. No, I agree, the garden looks great, even better than the other one."
Edward flicked through the photo gallery of the neat, two bedroom house with a lime green kitchen, one and a half bathrooms and a small glimpse of the ocean from the living room window.
"This one's only two streets back from the beach," I whispered to him. "Yeah Mom, you could definitely turn part of the screened porch into a third bedroom, sure."
I shrugged at Edward who was frowning at the pictures, his brow tightly puckered.
"Can you put your mother on speaker?"
I did as he asked and Renee was delighted to have his input.
"So, Edward, what do you think?" she asked. "We're thinking of flying over there next week to take a look. Isn't the garden wonderful? Like a mini rainforest. And that view! We'll be able to hear the ocean as we fall asleep at night."
"The garden's very lush," Edward said. "There's a lot of shade."
There was a pause from my mother, then...
"Oh." So much wariness in that single syllable. "The shade. You're saying there could be a moisture problem. Like that other house we saw with the purple front door."
"Well, with that many trees so close to the house, and the lack of direct sunlight, it's a distinct possibility. I'm not saying there is a moisture problem, but it's certainly something to check. I'd suggest you get an independent building report before you book a flight."
"Ah," she said, and that syllable was filled with disappointment. "We don't want to buy someone else's problems, you're right, of course. We'd better get the report before we do anything else." But she didn't stay down for long. "There is another place," she said. "It needs a new kitchen too, but there's lots of sun. There's no view though, it's a bit further back from the beach, but still walking distance."
Edward got up and went to his suitcase. He pulled out his laptop, and a clean t-shirt and jeans, and got dressed before he came to sit down again. He set the laptop on the coffee table, flipped it open and turned it on.
"Renee, can we skype?"
"Oh, er, yes. Just give me a minute..."
A moment later her face appeared on Edward's screen.
"Hello!" She waved and I moved closer so she could see both of us. "Bella, honey, hi again! How's Chicago, by the way? I forgot to ask."
We talked a moment about lunch by the shore and the lovely hotel and then Edward got serious. He was using the voice I'd heard him use when he was on the phone with work and it was a little bit hot.
"Renee, I'd like to put an idea to you, and Phil."
He directed her to a different real estate website and set it up so they were both looking at the same screen together. Then he began to scroll, image after image flying past.
"Here," he said, stopping at the photo of a gorgeous, contemporary town house of timber and glass with absolute beach frontage and a generous rear garden. It was the one I'd seen her secretly looking at, over and over, while we were staying with her. Edward must have noticed her interest in it, too.
"What about this one?" he said.
My mouth fell open, surprised to see he was completely serious.
Renee just laughed. Obviously she and I were thinking the same thing.
"Yeah, sure, I'll take that one," she said, shaking her head until her laugh became a sigh. "I've looked at it before. It is stunning but it also says Price On Application, and we all know that's just code for 'you can't afford it'. I'm flattered you think it's in our ballpark, Edward, but I think we can pass that one by. It is beautiful, though. Look at that cathedral ceiling." Her voice became wistful as Edward clicked through the slide-show. Three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms. Gourmet kitchen. Open plan living with uninterrupted ocean views. Huge deck. Only two years old. "But it's just my fantasy house," she said. "Back to reality now. You can close the slide-show."
Edward didn't close the side-show. Instead, he sat back, arms folded across his chest, his speculative expression making me curious.
"Would you consider a lease agreement?" he asked.
"You mean renting?" Renee's brow furrowed. "No. I've rented a lot over the years, Phil has too, with all his travelling. These days we prefer the security of owning a place. That's why we bought in Jacksonville."
Edward nodded. "I can understand that, but what if it were a ninety-nine year lease with owner's rights?"
All this time I'd been wondering what he was getting at, and now I realised where this was going, my heart skipped a beat. I pressed my foot gently over his and he nudged my leg with his knee.
Renee, however, was lost. "I don't think I understand," she said, looking from him to me.
Edward leant forward now, closer to the screen.
"After looking at all those properties online with you last week, I've become interested in investing in Hawaii and I'm wondering if we could come to an arrangement." He stared down at the coffee table where he traced circles with his finger. "What if I were to purchase a property, like this one with the cathedral ceiling, and offer it to you as a long-term lease on the understanding that it would eventually go to our children, your grandchildren, once you and Phil have both passed. You'd effectively be safe-keeping it for them, and I would know it was always in good hands. And under the terms of the contract you would have an owner's rights to decorate, furnish, and alter the property and its gardens however you saw fit. Now, before you say no..."
He glanced up, his finger stilling mid-spiral on the table's surface as Renee opened, then closed, her mouth.
"An arrangement like this would allow you to keep the funds from the sale of your Jacksonville house. You could still buy a property in Hawaii, and rent it out. Or you could keep Jacksonville, and rent it out. The income from that would supplement your regular salaries, setting you up for a comfortable retirement. And that way, if you ever wanted to end our arrangement, you'd still have your own place to sell. Or move into.
I squeezed Edward's thigh, my heart dancing in my chest as I blinked back excited tears.
But Renee sat silent. A deer in headlights.
"I don't understand," she said. "Have you seen the price tag on this house? It's seven figures, Edward."
"Renee, if I told you I was very wealthy, and this property was within my means..."
"Is that what you're telling me?"
She was clearly sceptical. "You're seriously wealthy?"
He smiled but Renee looked unconvinced. So he leant even closer and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Renee, I don't normally discuss money, and I don't wish to sound vulgar, but my account balance is longer than your phone number."
Her jaw dropped.
"Oh." She blinked. "With area code, or without?"
Edward laughed, a full rich laugh. "With area code," he said.
"Well...um..." Renee was frowning and didn't seem to know where to look. "I knew engineering was well-paid but..."
"It's mostly from property investments," Edward said. "And some inheritances."
I'd seen his property portfolio. It read like an international realtor's database.
"Bricks and mortar are usually a more sound investment than the stock market," Edward explained. "Although I do have shares, too."
Renee exhaled slowly, her expression all shock and disbelief.
"Oh my," she breathed. "Oh my, then why do you work? If you clearly don't need to?"
It was such a Renee question, I just barely managed to stop rolling my eyes. Edward shrugged and shifted a little in his seat.
"I like having something to do," he said simply.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry...about your finances or your work..."
"Not at all." he gave her a reassuring smile.
"I...excuse me a moment."
She disappeared from view and Edward quickly turned to me.
"I know we haven't had a chance to discuss it but..."
I cut him off with a kiss.
"So you're good with this then?" he asked, smiling as he pulled back.
"Oh my God, Edward I'm better than good, this is just...thank you." I sniffed back some more tears. "Thank you so much for this."
He looked almost offended by my gratitude, so I hugged him instead. Threw my arms around his neck and squeezed until he made a choking sound.
"S'okay," he coughed.
"I'm back." Renee was in view again, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and sipping a glass of water. Edward and I resettled ourselves, holding hands on the sofa as we watched her take a deep breath.
"Edward, I can't thank you enough," she said. "It's...it's all...very generous. Very, very, generous. And, er, surprising. But we couldn't. We just couldn't. It's...too much. Way too much."
I opened my mouth to protest, but Edward stopped me with a hand on my knee.
"Not really," he said gently. "The way I see it, I'm going to buy the house anyway, it's going to be part of our children's inheritance and I can't think of anyone better to safeguard that inheritance, than their grandparents." He grinned. "You'd be doing us a favour."
Renee's eyes were glossy as her throat worked. After a moment she spoke again.
"We'd have to pay something," she whispered. "Some sort of rent...some contribution..."
Edward shook his head affectionately. "I thought you might say that," he murmured. "How about a family rate of, say, a hundred dollars a month? Twelve hundred a year."
"That's not enough."
"Family rate, remember? It's all I'll accept. So please consider it. Talk to Phil, see what he thinks, but it would mean so much to us."
Renee's questioning eyes fell on me and I nodded.
"It really would. Please, Mom?" Then I grinned. "It'll give us a great place to stay when we visit."
She smiled and rolled her eyes.
"Well, in that case...we'll think about it. I promise."
There was a little more conversation, Renee asked how we were enjoying Chicago and then we said goodbye. Edward shut the laptop and set it aside.
I turned to him, still stunned by what had just happened. "I love you so much."
"I love you, too." He brushed my hair back from my face, letting his finger graze against the skin of my neck.
"This is...you're amazing."
"Not really." His fingers trailed down my arm to my hand.
"Yes, you are! Don't brush it off, just listen so I can thank you! Okay?"
"Okay." He kissed the tip of each of my fingers as he held my gaze.
"Um," Now I was struggling to keep focused. "What...what you did was incredibly generous. And thoughtful."
"Uh huh." His tongue swirled lightly over the veins of my wrist. My eyes fluttered closed.
"And...kind. So kind."
"Thank you." He leant in and nuzzled my neck.
"Diplomatic too." His teeth gently bit down on my earlobe. "The...oh God...um..." My whole body shivered. "The...the way you presented all that to Renee was perfect."
"I'm happy to help." He lifted his head. "Bella?"
He kissed me. A deep, possessive kiss that left me breathless and wanting.
"Are you done thanking me?"
"Good." He stood and lifted me into his arms so swiftly, I gasped. "Because it's been ages," he said as we headed for the bed. "And I've been patient long enough."
A/N: I know this chapter took a ridiculously stupid long time and I want to thank you for your patience. It's been a bit of a year at my end. There's been lots of real life stuff happening, combined with a hefty dose of writer's block. Thankfully, my friend Melanie Moreland came to the rescue. She suggested I write something else for a bit, so I went back to the novel I'd started some time ago, and worked on that for a while. And she was right. It helped clear the block and at last chapter 29 was completed.
Some information about Edward's parents came from the Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide.
Information about the Spanish influenza came from Google.
The Drake Hotel is a real place, but Edward and Bella's room is my own description.
Next chapter is already started and I hope it'll be up in a week or two : ) : )