An entire day of wedding planning was tough on any bride-to-be, but it was especially tough when that bride-to-be had an overeager vampire helping her make all the decisions.
Unfortunately for Bella Swan, that was just the kind of day she'd experienced.
Alice Cullen had arrived at her house bright and early that morning in her yellow Porche with a bunch of wedding magazines and the future husband sitting in the backseat. Charlie had left early that morning and was scheduled to be gone most of the day at the police station in the small town of Forks, Washington. Since he didn't often like to think about his daughter's upcoming nuptials, Alice had decided it was the perfect time to help (and by help, she meant force) Bella to think about the wedding.
Bella would have been perfectly content to sit back and simply let Alice make all the decisions. It had certainly worked up until that point. The invitations had already been sent—gaudy, frilly things that Bella would have never picked herself, but then she had also never wanted to pick, so it evened out. The dress was already made; even miser Bella had to admit that it was beautiful.
The only part of the wedding Bella cared about, the location, was already set—she wanted a small, intimate ceremony in the meadow that Edward had showed her months before. Of course, having it during the day was not an option. At least, not unless she wanted to explain to all of her guests why her husband was sparkly. Being married by the light of the moon was more romantic, anyway, Alice assured her.
Those were the only three major things Bella wanted to make sure were finished: the invitations, so people knew how to get there; the dress, so she wasn't naked; and the location, which was the only part so far that actually held an in-depth meaning for her. She'd assumed, perhaps too hopefully, that Alice would simply take the reigns and make the rest of the decisions on her own, but that unfortunately didn't happen.
As soon as both Cullens walked inside her house, Bella was subjected to hour after torturous hour of "wedding business." Edward wandered to a corner, bemused smile etched across his perfect face, topaz eyes glinting with amusement, as he watched his sister coerce his fiancé into making decisions about shoes, and hairstyles, and bridesmaids gowns…
It was enough to drive Bella insane. Everything Alice picked out was too perfect, too over the top, too…expensive. When the vampire had pointed to a bridesmaid's dress that cost very close to a thousand dollars, Bella put her foot down.
"No, Alice." She said sternly. "I will not let you and Rosalie wear those things. They're…"
"Ostentatious?" Edward suggested helpfully from the corner.
Bella fixed a glare on him, her tone cold. "They cost too much. I couldn't ask that of your family."
Alice looked over her shoulder at Edward, shrugging hopelessly. "When will she accept that spending our money on her is no problem whatsoever?"
"Perhaps when you stop speaking about her like she isn't in the room?" Bella interjected, closing the magazine firmly. "I'm done for now." Alice opened her mouth to object, but Bella shook her head. "No, Alice, please. I really am. No more today. Please?"
Sighing, Alice began to collect the magazines that were scattered around the floor. She flipped through a few pages of them as she picked them up, glancing wistfully at the various wedding items. "Oh, Bella, I have no idea how you cannot appreciate this. Aren't you remotely excited?"
"Please, Alice. Please. Can we not do this right now?" Bella rubbed her temples wearily, her eyebrows drawn together as she worried her lower lip. "We've been talking about all of this for hours, and I'm not sure if I can take it for another minute."
With a shrug, Alice relented. "Oh, fine." She said. With the last of the magazines in her hands, she traveled toward the front door. Bella got up to let her out, Edward trailing a few steps behind.
"I think I'll stay here for awhile, if that's alright, Alice." Edward said, coming to stand behind Bella. His arms encircled her waist, drawing her close.
Alice rolled her eyes. "Alright, alright. Just be home later tonight." A faraway expression crossed her face. "Oh, it's going to thunderstorm!" she smiled, showing all her teeth. "Baseball!"
Turning and bounding down the driveway into her obnoxiously bright car, Alice gave a cheery wave and then took off down the road, careening away at a breakneck pace. Edward wasted no time, planting soft, ice cold kisses to the back of Bella's neck.
Bella turned in his arms so that she was facing him. "Don't think you're going to get off the hook that easily." She sniffed, breaking loose and walking back into the kitchen.
Though he tried to control the smirk that was playing at the corner of his lips, Edward was clearly amused. "What did I do?"
"Why did you let her come over here?" Bella asked, exasperated. Planning a wedding was tiring business, and she let out a long yawn. "You know I don't want to make any decisions—I was promised I wouldn't have to."
Everything was forgiven the moment Edward flashed her his crooked smile. She gravitated back into his arms. "She just wishes you were more excited. You do seem slightly…underwhelmed, love."
His tone was loving and did not hold an ounce of chastisement, but Bella still felt as though he was pleading for her to be as anxious for their wedding day as he was. It was frustrating—marriage was not something Bella had been raised to see in a positive light, especially a marriage between two teenagers. Plus, it all seemed so…trivial, when compared to the truly life-altering, more permanent change she was planning on making soon after her wedding…with a sigh, she fell back into Edward's waiting arms.
"I'm just tired." She mumbled against his chest. "Would you mind terribly if I took a nap?"
"Of course not." He answered.
Taking her hand, he led her up the steps to her room. He drew the blinds for her, though it was hardly necessary—it was a typical rainy day in Forks. She laid down in bed, him quickly following. Within moments she was curled up beside him, head on his chest, asleep.
She was faintly mumbling against his chest, insisting to Alice in her sleep that she and Rosalie were not allowed to wear those bridesmaids gowns.
"Already…prettier." She sighed, "Outshine me…my wedding day…"
Hearing her confess something like that made Edward frown deeply. Were those the kinds of things she worried about? In his eyes, she was the single most irresistible woman on the face of the planet—ever. Rosalie and Alice couldn't compare. He'd seen how she looked in her wedding dress through Alice's thoughts and knew for a fact that Bella would be the epitome of loveliness on their wedding day.
Edward sighed and drew the sleeping girl nearer to him, making sure she was still neatly wrapped in the blanket. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost didn't hear the doorbell ring. He sniffed the air once.
A werewolf. Maybe two.
For a moment, it was tempting to simply ignore the impatient knocking, the doorbell ringing. It didn't take much consideration, however, for Edward to realize that if he could smell them, they could most certainly smell him. Pressing a few brief kisses to Bella's temple, he nudged her awake.
"Bella," he whispered in her ear, "there are people at the door."
She groaned. "Ignore them."
That got her attention. Sitting up quickly, Bella looked Edward in the eyes. "Who is it, can you tell yet?"
Her anticipation was obvious, and though he'd never admit it to her aloud, it hurt him. She was asking "who is it?" but what she meant was "is it him?"
Bella hadn't heard from Jacob since their last conversation a few weeks earlier, the day after the battle with the newborn vampires. She liked to pretend that it didn't bother her, and it was one of the rare times that Edward was glad he couldn't read her mind; he couldn't imagine what it would feel like to know for sure just how much being apart from him hurt her. He didn't want to imagine it.
Tuning his thoughts to the werewolves outside, Edward could hear them in his mind. It was Quil and Embry, he was fairly certain; they were blaming "the bloodsucker" for Bella not opening the door.
"It's Quil and Embry." He replied, making sure to keep his face impassive when she suddenly looked very disappointed.
Crawling out of bed and down the stairs, Bella threw open the door. Edward remained hidden in the shadows of the staircase, not wanting to deal with the two young werewolves. While the Cullens and the werewolves of La Push were not actively fighting one another, they still did not want to associate more than necessary.
"Quil, Embry," Bella said. "What's going on?"
Quil spoke first. "Look, we're sorry to show up like this, but we had to tell you. He told us not to, but…well, you're going to hear about it soon enough."
Concern crept into Bella's voice. "Jacob? What…what's wrong? Is he alright? He's not hurt, is he?"
"Depends on your definition of 'hurt'." Embry said. His tone was acidic; from his place on the staircase, Edward could already tell exactly what was going on. Both boys were being very forthright in their thoughts.
Apparently, Quil could see that Embry was too upset to be calm, so he quickly interjected before the other boy could say anything harmful. "He's been…upset, you know. About you. For more reasons than you understand. He…ran off. Yesterday. Just phased and took off."
"What?" Bella was dumbfounded. "Can't you stop him? Can't you…phase, and talk to him and bring him back? Where is he? Is he alright?"
"You don't think we tried?" Embry ground out. "We all noticed he was gone. I phased and tried to talk to him, but he was long gone. Said he didn't want to come back and live some human lie. Said he'd rather be a wolf. Because of you and the bloodsucker."
Edward didn't need to be a mind reader to know that what Embry said had hurt Bella. For a moment, he considered running down the stairs and scaring off the two annoying teenager wolves, but thought better of it. This wasn't his business; they hadn't come to talk to him.
"Where is he now?" she asked, dejected.
Quil shifted his weight back and forth. "Won't tell us. Far away, though. Canada, somewhere.
Her voice was deadpan. "He's hundreds of miles away."
Both boys nodded somberly.
"We were hoping," Quil continued, "that you might have a message or something that would bring him back?" his voice was optimistic; in his thoughts, he was thinking 'ditch the leech, ditch the leech' over and over.
"I'm not leaving Edward." Bella said. She sounded remarkably steady, considering just how frenzied with worry she truly was.
Embry couldn't control himself any longer. "I knew this was pointless."
"Embry…" Quil tried to placate his friend, but was interrupted.
"No! We should just tell her. Screw what Jake said. He's not the Alpha. We don't have to obey his every order." He laughed coldly. "And even if we did, the bloodsucker's under no obligation. And he knows, Jake said that he has to know, that he had to have read it in his thoughts…"
He was taunting her deliberately, Bella knew it. Still, his words struck a chord with her. Edward had learned some secret about Jake that he'd kept to himself? She wouldn't give in to their cruelty.
Leveling a steely glare at both boys, she finally said, "Edward doesn't keep things from me. I'm sure he has no idea what you're talking about. Furthermore, shouldn't you be a bit more worried about Jake and less so about my fiancé?"
"Shouldn't you?" Embry tossed back at her.
"I am worried about him!" her voice went up slightly. "But you aren't telling me anything useful. I don't know how to help him."
Quil bit his lower lip. "You know, we could relay a message. He'd probably come back, if you asked him to. If you wanted him to."
"I do want him to. Please tell him so." The boys looked hopeful, but she shook her head. "But not so that I can be with him. I can't…I can't be with him. I can't love him." Unshed tears built up behind her eyes. "Jake understood that—why can't you?"
Embry let a low laugh; it sounded almost like a bark. "She thinks he understood." Another laugh, just as bitter as the first. "That's priceless." Looking over her shoulder and back into the recesses of her house, he called out, "You never told her, huh, bloodsucker?"
Within an instant, Edward was by her side, having moved too fast for any of them to see. He wrapped a protective arm around her waist. "He asked me not to. It was not my secret to tell." Bella's eyes widened and she turned to him slowly. The guilt written on his face confirmed everything. "I'm sorry, Bella."
She stared at him for a moment, held his gaze, then nodded. "If he didn't want me to know, then I'm glad you didn't tell me."
Both Quil and Embry's jaws dropped. The former found his voice first. "So…that's it? You forgive him? You're not even going to ask what the secret is? Not even when it could change everything, when it might be enough for you to want him to come back?"
Bella stepped toward Edward. "I already want Jacob to come back."
"I meant come back for you, specifically." Quil amended.
"Please, don't do this anymore." She said in a hushed tone. "I…I'm sorry, but I'm done for right now. Don't let him get too far. Ask him to come back. Tell him…tell him that I miss the sun. It's been cloudy lately."
The both stared at her, dumbfounded. Embry shook his head. "You're as cold as he is." He said, gesturing his head toward Edward.
Bella stepped forward and firmly closed the door. Turning, she leaned herself against it, tears threatening to spill out onto her cheeks. She slid against the door to the floor and curled her knees to her chest, letting the tears soak through the denim material of her jeans.
"Bella?" Edward asked, crouching beside her. He gathered her into his arms and pulled her into his lap. His cold embrace was comforting. "I'm sorry. Please, I would have told you, you must believe me."
"I do." She formed the words against his chest, and they came out muddled.
He sighed. "I didn't hear it intentionally. He was thinking about it, that night in the tent. Taunting me, almost. I think he was doing it to show that he could convince you to be with him, that all he had to do was say the words…"
The crying girl in his arms curled into a tighter ball. "Oh yeah? Well then how come he never did?"
"It was his last resort. He didn't think he would need to use it to win you." Edward explained patiently, stroking her hair softly and occasionally planting a kiss on the top of her head. "But then that next morning, he heard us talking about our engagement…"
"You mentioned it on purpose." Her voice was emotionless.
"Well, yes." he admitted, "He was so smug, in his head, thinking he had this trump card."
Placing her hands on his hard chest, Bella pushed herself up so that they were eye to eye. "If I ask you his secret, will you tell me?" he nodded, but she continued to search his eyes, "The absolute truth? Do you promise?"
"Yes." He tried to sound confident, but it came out as more of a whisper.
With a shuddering breath, Bella asked, "Edward, what is his secret?"
Edward shut his beautiful topaz eyes, collecting himself, then replied, "He imprinted."
That hadn't been the news she'd been expecting, and Bella wasn't sure if she was more happy or sad about it. It was a good thing, of course; he'd imprinted, which meant that there was another woman. As much as that was a dagger through her heart, it also meant that he could be happy and move on, and that she could be with Edward without guilt.
She smiled sadly. "Who is it?"
Though he didn't want to say, Edward had promised her the truth, and he delivered. "You, Bella. You."
A tense silence filled the room, then, "That's not funny, Edward."
"I'm not joking." He muttered grimly, running a hand through his copper colored hair. "He imprinted on you awhile ago, when I was…still away." Clearing his throat uncomfortably, he continued, "He did not tell you because he knew you were so upset about what happened between you and me. I think he wanted you to come around of your own accord; he didn't want to coerce you. But then I returned…"
Unfurling herself from Edward's embrace, Bella made a move as if to stand. He grabbed her hand, gently tugging her back toward the floor. She snatched her hand away. "I need to think for a moment." She said, more coldly than she intended.
Her tone affected him. "Please, Bella," his eyes were soft and pleading as they stared up at her, "That morning, after he heard us and got upset, I went after him. When I found him, he asked me not to tell you." He patted the spot on the floor next to him, and she begrudgingly obliged.
"But then why!?" she seethed, not knowing with whom she was more angry. "Why go through all the trouble of making sure I'm completely clueless if he was going to go ahead and kiss me anyway? Why not let me be blissfully unaware of my feelings, why did he make me realize that I lov—"
She stopped herself. Edward had to know how she felt about Jacob, even if she'd never spelled it out for him directly. His blank stare and empty face indicated that he working very hard to keep his emotions in check. Inside, she kicked herself for hurting him. Even if she was annoyed with him, Bella never wanted to hurt Edward.
"He's only sixteen." Edward said, ever objective. He was looking at a spot beyond her head, his face devoid of any kind of feeling. "I'm sure he didn't realize the damage he was doing to you."
Bella let her head sink into her hands and fought back the tears that were threatening to spill. She blinked rapidly and caught the one rogue tear that managed to escape, wiping it away decidedly. The conversation she'd had with Jacob months before, just after Quil had imprinted, came back to her. What had he said—what woman would turn down an imprinted wolf, someone who would love them, protect them, cherish them above anyone else for the rest of their lives?
Her gaze shifted back to Edward, and she considered him solemnly. He was beautiful, without a doubt; even standing in her hallway, his face as lifeless as a mannequin, he was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. And he was perfect—well, as close as a being could get, she supposed. Loyal and strong, loving, self-effacing, patient, tender. He was the kind of man every girl grew up dreaming they'd marry. Except, of course, that he wasn't a man, but that was hardly his fault.
Jacob was handsome, too, of course, but he wasn't perfect. He was jealous and cocky, and he was more stubborn than any human being needed to be. A small smile painted its way across her face; no, he was far from perfect. More like he was…lovably flawed. For though he had his share of imperfections, he was funny and warm and high-spirited. He brought out some sort of carefree part of her personality; he made he want to laugh more, live more. He'd been her light in a dark place.
It was too much; she let out a deep groan. "Why didn't he just tell me?" she asked miserably as she fell back onto Edward's chest.
He stared down at her, surprised. He hadn't expected her to be quite so forgiving. "I don't know. I admire him for restraining himself, as he did."
Bella stared at her fiancé incredulously. "Excuse me?"
"I don't mean anything by it," he said quickly, "please don't be offended. I merely meant that…he was good to you, when I wasn't, and…" his voice trailed off and Bella knew he was thinking about the months he'd been gone and how much he regretted his actions. "…it just simply would have been easy, to tell you. I don't know if a single girl has ever turned down a love like the one that comes with imprinting. But he didn't do what was easy. He wanted you to love him, not the fact that he had imprinted. He resisted. He did what was best for you."
Her frustration dissipated slightly. Jake had done what he thought was best. He had ultimately let her make her own choices. It was unfortunate that the one she'd made hurt him more than anyone else.
Edward looked at a random point behind her head. His eyes were unfocused; he was faraway, in though. With a sigh, she rested her cheek against his cold chest. "What's the matter?' she asked.
Snapping out of his reverie, Edward shook his head. "Nothing."
She took a deep breath, inhaling his sweet scent. "You're lying."
"A little." He admitted, chuckling. She could feel the vibration in his chest against her face. For a long moment, he was quiet. "I wish I'd stayed away."
Bella felt as though he'd punched her in the stomach. She pushed her palms against his chest so that she could face him. "What?" her voice was tiny.
He kissed her quickly on the lips. "Please don't fret. I'm not leaving. I never will, never again." Tracing the curve of her face with the bad of his thumb, he kissed her again, this time on the forehead.
The panic that had seized Bella when he'd said that was indescribable. She could feel her lip shaking as she tried to control herself. She managed to nod dumbly, but continued to stare at him, hoping he'd finish what he'd started to say.
He took the hint. "I simply mean that…well, Jacob took the high road. Instead of doing what would make him happy and confessing to you that he'd imprinted on you, he let you decide without influencing you."
She snorted. "Hardly without influence."
It was hard to suppress a small grin, but the severity of the situation returned to Edward and he sobered. "Well, without forcing you to deal with the added burden of his imprint." Gently, he threaded his freezing fingers through her hair. She could feel the tips brush the back of her neck and shuddered lightly. "He was able to think of your before himself. And I didn't."
"What do you mean?" her voice was quiet, serious.
"Had I never returned," he said, so softly that she could barely hear him, "You would have recovered." When she moved to protest he pressed a finger to her lips. "I don't doubt how deeply you feel for me, Bella, and I don't mean to insult you. I can't imagine how devastated you were, and frankly I don't really want to. It upsets me to think about how much I hurt you when I left."
She wrapped her arms around his middle. "And that is why you can never leave, ever again." Her words were unintelligible when mumbled into the rock-solidness of his chest.
"I won't." he reassured. "I know my leaving hurt you, but when I came back, you were just starting to recover. I caught your friend Angela glaring at me in class one time, and when I read her mind…you had just begun to come around. She saw such a positive change in you, when you began to hang out with Jacob. She hated me for leaving you."
Still pressed against him, Bella muttered, "She didn't understand the whole situation."
"I know. I'm not angry about it." He sighed. "I'm off track again. What I'm trying to say is that, had I stayed away long enough, you would have been alright. You'd probably be with Jacob right now. And you both would have been happy. He wouldn't have run away, and you wouldn't have to miss him…"
Tears were pushing against the back of her eyelids. Bella fought them; she refused to cry. "I would have never loved him like I love you." She whispered with so much conviction that Edward wrapped his arms around her and squeezed.
"But you would have loved him." He stroked her hair. "Don't you see, Bella? I came back because I am weak, because once I knew you were alive I couldn't part with you again. I came back for myself." He sounded increasingly bitter, "Jacob denied his every instinct to afford you a choice—but everything I've done has been for my own benefit."
Bella could never understand what Edward saw to be so eternally flawed inside himself; so far as she could tell, he was perfect. At his confession, she heaved a deep sigh of relief. Had he left again, she wouldn't have survived.
"I love you." She whispered.
"And I love you." He said, "So much."
Her hands clutched at his shoulders. "And you'll never leave again?"
"Never." He promised. He pressed a series of tiny kisses to the top of her head, down the side of her face to her cheek. The chill of his skin against hers almost made her shiver. He pulled away, topaz eyes gazing seriously into her own. "And the imprinting…does it change anything?"
Bella considered the question for a moment: did the fact that Jacob had imprinted upon her change anything? Honestly, yes. But she wouldn't think of that now. Instead, she focused on the intense beauty of Edward's face, the purity of his soul behind the pale skin, the dazzling smile. Her heartbeat quickened at the thought of it all, and she smiled slowly; imprinting or not, she was hopelessly in love with Edward Cullen.
"No," she told him, "it does not change a thing."
Disclaimer: I do not own the Twilight series.
A/N: This is my first Twilight fic. I'm really not sure how I did, so any and all feedback would be helpful. If this is well-received, I may write a few more in the genre. Thanks for reading and please review!