I didn't even notice the raindrops stinging my face as we sped through the forest

Chapter 1: Meadow

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Carl Sandburg Under the Harvest Moon

I didn't even notice the raindrops stinging my face as we sped through the forest. Cradled in his arms, I was entirely preoccupied: I could have sworn I could feel his silent heart beating with mine. The pounding of my pulse proclaimed the thrilling news of our engagement. He looked at me longingly and I blushed with the idea that this exquisite, generous, and loving man has chosen me to be at his side, forever…what more happiness could this or any life promise?

Edward stepped out of the forest and onto the wide expanse of green. The sweeping lawn that stretched from the Cullen's blue stone patio to the tree line and down to the river was a long lush carpet glimmering with dew under the twilight sky. The light rain settled into a gentle fog, painting the scene with mysterious diaphanous clouds swirling up from the warm earth.

It was a truly magical night.

Within the limits of my all too human sight, I could almost see to the house where Alice was darting about like a dragonfly, completely unhinged with excitement; and utterly incapable of containing her pixie delight. The patio was illuminated by a multitude of candles. A hauntingly beautiful melody wafted outside from the piano. I often wonder how she manages to manufacture such perfection on short notice. The whole family gathered in a beehive of activity on the patio. From the looks of things, they were preparing for a celebration.

My heart sunk.

"She's told them…" I grumbled softly with a bitter disappointment that threatened to deflate my emotional high.

Even though I had made such a fuss about not wanting to get married at all I couldn't wait to share my excitement. I was a little miffed to be robbed of the thrill of announcing our engagement to the world….

I know Alice would never purposefully intrude on our intimacy, but judging by the lilting steps of the entire clan as they gathered to rendezvous with us mid field, our surprise was not a surprise to anyone. Edward's sheepish silence confirmed my suspicions. The news was out.

My face screwed up in annoyance as I considered two theories. Either she could not resist the temptation to sneak a peek or her vision was strong enough to break through any artificial wall of diversion she could devise. I just don't see how a little thing like an engagement ring could be more interesting than translating the Qur'an into Mandarin sign language. But then again, Alice is easily distracted by shiny objects.

Of course I understood that Alice's visioning was largely involuntary, but at times like these, my sister's psychic gift was quite inconvenient.

What I didn't understand was how Edward seemed completely unphased by the anticlimactic announcement? I would have thought that he more than I would be disappointed about the leak of our surprise. Maybe he was used to this sort of thing. Alice made it apparent that the concept of 'private time' didn't exist in her universe and her clairvoyant gifts, as formidable as his, were unavoidable. So, he generally just made the best of it, using her ability to his advantage when she could manage it.

Was it possible that… did Edward tell her?

"After we are married, I sure hope she finds something that sufficiently occupies that mind of hers at least occasionally..." I whispered seductively in his ear, painting his long lovely neck with kisses. Unskilled in seduction as I was, however, I wanted to be sure he'd gotten my meaning. For emphasis of my salacious intent, my lips wound their way to his earlobe, my eyes squinted tightly as a wide smile bared my teeth and without so much as a pause, they sunk somewhat forcefully into his flesh.

I regretted biting him almost instantly. In hindsight, it was a pretty stupid thing to do. An overly-quick reaction or leap of surprise could have sent me flying through the air and landing me in the hospital—if I was lucky, of course! I could have broken my front teeth on his marble skin! Worse yet, it never occurred to me that this playful action could have pushed him over the edge and I could have been half way to transformation on the night of my engagement!

But nothing happened; everything was fine, well, as fine as it could be considering I had just bitten my vampire fiancé.

The stillness was unbearable. His hands were balled up, fists pressed severely against his thighs in a posture that seemed more like bottled rage than passion. His eyes were averted. I feared he was hiding the fact that the butterscotch irises of happiness were now clouded by the black onyx of thirst. I floated between panic and worry because I had violated his carefully prescript boundaries which afforded him sufficient control to maintain my safety. The sight of his body reeling with shock and disbelief at my biting him was unbearable. I was horrified at my own stupidity to have mindlessly dared to cross such a taboo.

Yet, on another level, twisted as it is, I have to admit I was enjoying the whole absurd situation. I did not like causing him pain of course, but it was the unprecedented nature of his surprise that captivated me. The mere fact that he, Edward Cullen, the great clairvoyant and master of "mind over matter" could be so utterly done in by an unexpected human…nibble.?

I was enormously proud of myself and of him as well. It was fun to see him react so… humanly. At least it was fun for me.

At first,…

After the horror of what I had done passed over us like a blazing rocket, Edward was entirely consumed with a lusty revenge fueled by the specific nature of my indiscretion. A low persistent growl rumbled in his chest as he taunted me, delicately fingering a stray curl from my face.

"Bella, are you sure you want to play like that…with me?"

The black velvet monotone shimmered with a menacing delight. I blinked repeatedly as his words sunk into my consciousness. His eyes glared with onyx depthhorror, which was entirely understandable—his venom was aroused by my assault. A heavy, unmistakable scent of danger lingered. Then, in a moment of surreal horror, his pink tongue emerged tentatively to lick his thin lips.

I was terrified of the monster I saw before calculating my demise. I was filled with a sense of impending doom. Fight or flight. .?

I should have remembered from extensive personal experience that running away from a vampire who is intent on capturing you is not only a statistical impossibility; it is a grave tactical error. Moreover, it is a futile waste of energy.

I ran, nonetheless, hoping to evade capture and his inevitable retaliation. My personal mantra was chanting in my head: Nothing is impossible…

He chased me, of course, though it hardly worth the effort of contest. He enjoyed toying with me, building up a false hope of getting away, playing with me, like teasing a kitten with a ball of string. Edward knew me so well he easily played on all the primal of monsters that fed my fears of such creatures-- his eyes ogling out of their sockets like a cartoon villain and his perfectly white teeth snapping at me like a turtle. I squealed like a little girl each time he came close to trapping me, but each time he condescendingly allowing me to wriggle out of his grasp just to delay the inevitable.

"What's the matter Bella, don't you want to play..?" His pouting was diabolical.

Emmett was right. Edward did enjoy playing with his food.

Finally, it was time to end the charade of my escape. Once the decision was made to end the game, he easily scooped me up into his arms and he tackled me to the ground—taking great care to protect me the crushing weight of his body against the wet grass.

Edward enjoyed chasing me. Lucky for me I enjoy being caught…by him.

We must have looked like recess on the playground—chasing each other in circles, out in the middle of the field in the rain, rolling around in the wet grass after he tackled me, howling with laughter and delight. We certainly weren't behaving like two young adults preparing to announce their betrothal.

But we didn't care. We were in love. We were going to be married. That all that matters.

The fog slowly passed into the night as we lay there in the grass, laughing, kissing, and watching the stars peeking out overhead. I was moved once again by the staggering reality that in my average, not very special way, I had discovered my destiny. I have found the best myself I can be in the love of a magnificent and beautiful man who wanted to make me his bride for all eternity.

I never stop wondering: what does he see in me?

Brushing off the bits of debris clinging to our clothes, we meandered a bit, admiring the night and each other, hand in hand, not really covering any ground towards meeting the family.

"They are coming to greet us…" He whispered delicately in my ear and took my hand, pulling me along .

Without warning, a silent alarm in my heart sounded and my feet abruptly halted in place, refusing to go forward. Darkness settled in my brow, quickly spreading over my face. Aware of my abrupt pause, but not the reason behind it, Edward squeezed my hand gently to coax me forward into the fray.

"Don't worry, lovedarling,' Edward prodded. "They won't bite."

For emphasis, he pronounced the word with altogether too many vowels…His dead pan delivery made his statement all the more incorrigible. He was quite pleased with himself and he chuckled to himself.

"Not funny, Edward…." I said, sarcastically, not really enjoying his teasing me on a subject all to close to home, especially as my mood had so radically changed direction. "…not funny, at all!"

My words trailed off into silence as my attention faded and I walked a few steps away, searching my thoughts for the source of my unexplained anxiety.

"Oh, I see," he said with mock injustice in his tone, "you are allowed to bite me, but if I want to play…"

He was surprised when I didn't respond to his provocation and he backed away from the game, seeing that another emotion had taken center stage in my mind. He genuinely felt bad that he had hurt me feelings. To soothe me, he kissed the back of my hand, knowing it was just such gallantry that would earn him instantaneous forgiveness for any offense. When his cool lips parted from the kiss, he could not help but admire the sight of his mother's ring on my finger, and he brushed his thumb lovingly over the stones. With elegance and flattery intended to rekindle the spirit of joy, he played as a courtly suitor, bowing low as his offered his sincere apology, my hand, cradled in his like a precious bird, received an extended kiss.

"Oh, mademoiselle," he intoned in magnificent Parisian French, "what a lucky man it is that has persuaded you to become an honest woman…!"

His excitement had taken on a new spirit of a dangerous liaison. He still wanted to play. It was so unlike him, yet it was more unlike me to pass up the invitation to surrender to his charms which are normallyalways so irresistible.

"Bella?" he said, quietly trying to draw me out of the silence.

I didn't mean to ignore him. That was never my intention. In fact, my brain was somehow so completely occupied elsewhere, though I wasn't sure exactly where, I didn't notice his concern. I was preoccupied with the thought that had yet to form completely in my mind. I tried to smile but was sure my face twisted at best into a lemony grimace.

"Bella, darling…?" he felt compelled to repeat his call, thinking perhaps I didn't hear him.

He was as confused as I was by my unexplained hesitance, my mini withdrawal, and my apparent unwillingness to answer his question. Already in overdrive from the evenings events and perplexed by the sudden shift in my mood, Edward tried to explain away my decent from levity to concern. Frantic, he began searching for a clue to unlock whatever random thought was buzzing through my head that had the power to stop me in my tracks.

"Are you alright?" his concern was escalating to worry, lingering only a short step shy of fear. "Is there something wrong?"

Even after his second question I found I couldn't respond as I was somehow lost in my head. My face was quiet, a blank expression masking my conflicting feelings. I was mute. I looked in his face but my mouth did not move. I could not think.

"Bella, tell me what you are thinking?" he begged with all the dignity he could muster, though it didn't help him feel any better.

His majestic face twinkled faintly the fading light, but his butterscotch eyes declared he was afraid. Looking dreamily into my eyes, hoping I suppose to find there a way inside my head, he studied me with a growing anxiety, terrified of what he would find there if he could only gain access to my thoughts. I touched my palm to his face, squeezing his cheek and smiled weakly.

"Bella, please, you are scaring me. What is going on? Bella!"

How it tortured him that the one person who could completely hide from his scrutiny was the only person he desired to know most of all!! If there was one magical gift I could grant I would willingly give him the one thing he desired more than any other. Since he already had the key to my heart I would give him the key to my mind. Maybe he would be able to help me sort things out when I had trouble doing so?

It must have been an excruciating time for him, both maddening and frustrating, waiting for his suddenly mute fiancé to regain the capacity for speech. Hot tears instantly appeared and rolled over my crimson cheek unabashedly confirming there was trouble ahead. He was determined to find out why I stopped short of our destination and what horror in my head had stolen my voice. In emotional agony, he summoned the courage to ask the question he feared more than any other. With dread, he whispered the unthinkable.

"Darling," he said, involuntarily stammering, "…have you changed your mind?"

His velvet voice trembled, the words instantly dissolving into the wetness of the night. My eyes darted to see his face. Suddenly, filled with horror, the sound of his voice and the image of his pain, the present here-and-now reality instantly pulled me out from my daydream.

I gasped, "What have I done!"

"Oh Edward, NO!" I cried emphatically. "no, no…oh, my darling, I am so sorry" I said, trying to reassure him, drawing him close to me, wrapping by arms around his neck, utterly embarrassed by cruel self absorption, plying him with soft kisses of penance.

"Oh, …good," he huffed with a deep sigh of relief, "I was so afraid that you…"

There was no way to complete that sentence; he just couldn't form the cruel words.

I felt terrible. I held his face in my hands, running my fingers through his hair. I had made him frantic and I hadn't even noticed. What a beast I am!

"shhhh," I tried to soothe him, "No, baby,…its nothing like that!"

Every second of every day, Edward lived in fear of causing me pain and yet I seemed to be destined to cause him to suffer repeatedly from my many human frailties. I stumbled in my emotions and just couldn't find the words to express myself. I had inadvertently tortured him with my self absorption and silence.

What had I ever done to deserve him?

My down-cast eyes inadequately masked my confusion and did nothing to resolve his worry over my reluctance to move forward. He deserved an explanation. I was not entirely sure I had one to give, but I managed to fumble through a woefully inadequate response.

"It is just that…" I stumbled before I started, "oh, I don't know…"

Fresh tears tangled in a heavy sigh of self pity. I longed to find the words to salve the injury I had made, the words that he sought so hungrily that would ease his doubt. He was so beautiful in his anguish that I could not help but touch his temple to brush away the furrow of his brow. Although twisted in tension, his eyes peered down with love that simultaneously consumed my reason and elevated my spirit. I smiled, knowing that I didn't deserve the momentary pleasure of his gaze.

"I will never understand what you see in me, Edward." I thought almost aloud.

"Look at me, Bella." He pulled me by the shoulders, his tortured eyes scanning very aspect of my expression for a hint of what lies beneath. He pitifully begged for mercy.

"Whatever it is, please, tell me before I collapse…I beg you, tell me what is wrong?" His pitiable state overwhelmed me with guilt for the agony that I caused I did not understand myself.

How could I put this moment into words? How could I explain to him that I was afraid that the vast joy of expectation we shared right now would be soon dashed by the reality of life creeping in…Oh, how I wanted the magic to last!

Every second of every moment I wanted to bottle and hold forever like a treasure so that I would never leave this meadow, this feeling! Even though time was fleeting, and all memories fade, this was our moment of triumph, the moment we had both longed for, the moment when we would proclaim to the world that we wanted to be together…forever. And now that it was here, it was slipping away. With every step the Cullen clan drew closer across the field, I knew that very soon this precious wisp of time will be displaced, lost in the sea of emotion and the chaos of wedding-making.

"I just want to savor our moment, Edward, you know… before…" My voice trailed off, not quite sure if anything could begin to explain my confusion. "…you know…".

He was exasperated to madness; "No, I don't know! …before what, Bella?" He held me by the shoulders trying to connect with my averted, slightly embarrassed face, frantically trying to catch the fat tears that rolled slowly off my chin.

"It seems silly to say it out loud," I sniffled, wishing that I had been a better able to disguise these kinds of things and angry with myself for being so obtuse and such a baby simultaneously. I could not look in his face.

"I think…well, maybe… I just don't want to share yet!" The excuse was empty, but honest.

I sounded like a two-year old and then to complete the picture, I pouted, which only reinforced my vision of childishness. I struggled unsuccessfully to overcome my character flaw which threatened the happiest day of my life.

"I don't want to let it go, Edward! I don't want to lose…this feeling I have right now. I want to hold onto it forever. I don't want it to go away, and I know it will be lost when all the craziness begins…and then, I'm afraid, I will forget what I feel right now…that's all."

Sheepishly, I buried my face in his chest and held on tightly, hoping against hope that he would not turn and run away from the craziest human on the planet whom he stupidly proposed to and was now stuck with for all eternity.

"I am a selfish, greedy, utterly unworthy human. I am sorry…"

But instead of condemnation, a tender sympathy enveloped him and he smiled sweetly, perhaps in admiration of my naïveté. As he held my face close to his, my hot cheeks scalding his cool palms, his sad eyes fading into a twinkling delight, his words caressed my fears and soothed my agitation.

"Oh, my sweet Bella" he said as he pulled me close to take my mouth into his, "Don't you know, that it is my job to never let you forget—for always?"

A new volley of tears tumbled out, my pursed lids relaxed with his understanding and his unconditional love cradled me in kindness. Our lips met softly at first, and then pressing with driving intent. Our passion, melding the fire and ice of our connection, pushed almost to the edge of the fervent hunger that we mutually longed to satiate. My pounding heart paused unnaturally and I gasped for want of oxygen.

As he stood in contemplation of the hyper-sensitivity of his bride, he stroked my cheek with his tops of his long cool fingers. I melted into his steady protection and sighed contentedly to be relieved of the burden of my emotional tension. His touch alone washed away my fears, his kiss stole my capacity for speech, but his promise was the greatest gift of all….his promise to love me forever no matter how stupid I am—this is a priceless gift, indeed.

I should have kept my mind focused on his mouth, but once again I failed him. Even without superhuman perception Edward knew what I was thinking. My face expresses too much, giving away what I most wanted to hide. The fanciful idea to extend this moment as long as possible, quickly popped like a balloon when my thoughts drifted. My mind was flooded with images of the chaos the next few weeks would bring. Alice's planning for our wedding would be thorough and spectacular, but would certainly entail countless tortured moments. As I was assaulted with bridal horrors that awaited me, I surrendered my resistance.

"Well," I sighed with resignation, "I guess I have been through a lot worse, right?

My voice was grim with the memories best forgotten, thoughts entirely inappropriate for this moment—while passionately kissing my fiancé under the stars on the evening of our engagement. I half-heartedly mumbled, "I guess I can handle it…for one day, right?"

Although what I said was perfectly accurate, my words created a new opportunity to hurt him. I didn't mean that I thought our wedding was something to be 'endured' like a trial, but I fear it came out that way. If he was insulted, he didn't let on.

"Oh, yes…it will be crazy, of course, you are right." Edward's cool mouth, tripping lazily along my collar bone, successfully dispelled the tidal wave of anxiety, if only momentarily. His kisses, marked with a perfumed waft of my personal ambrosia, burned hot against my skin.. "But it's wonderful too, don't you think?"

My hopelessly romantic fiancé's eyes peered deeply into mine. His long black lashes batted softly on my cheek. I giggled—he was tickling me with his butterfly kisses. "I can't wait to see you…my bride." He beamed. "I have dreamt of that moment…"

There were no straight answers, but there would be no debate: nothing but craziness will follow the announcement of our impending wedding in little more than a month.

There will be the obvious small town/small minded and sordid rumors that we 'had to' get married. Being the Chief's daughter and Doctor Cullen's son, the social pressures to include all the good citizens Forks in every celebration will be suffocating. To pull off a wedding worthy of Alice's approval, there was a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time. The madness of extravagance and the endless days of bridal insanity with Alice in the lead were assured. I was exhausted already! There was also the minor matter of facing my parents who I expect will either drop dead, start a war, and/or kill me on the spot. Finally, the mountain of wedding planning brings closer the shadow of events to follow the wedding: my changing.

I shuttered, anxiety overwhelming my already stressed out body…and we haven't even told anybody yet!

But once again the diversion of Edward's kiss was insufficient to have a lasting effect on my mood.affect. If my sweaty palms were not enough of a clue, certainly the body tension that gripped me must have tipped him off to the fact that I was obsessing again on the ordeal that lay ahead of us. As distracting and inviting as he was, even Edward could only provide a momentary respite from the wedding machine and he knew it.

"You know…." he mused, nuzzling his face into my collar bone, sending me into another fit of ticklish giggles. "My original proposal still stands,…" he whispered hauntingly, his cool tongue tracing the crevices he found there. "We could be in Vegas by morning," he murmured invitingly, "…find a little wedding chapel… just you, me, and Elvis."

"I love it when you laugh at your own jokes." I interjected, but he didn't break his rhythm.

"…you could wear these fabulously well-tailored blue jeans", he said, tugging on my belt loops to press my hips suggestively against his.

"We could do it…" his eyebrows curled, impressed with his own innuendo and a little moan slipped out me on a fast gasp for air.

His electric touch pushed my already hyper sensitized brain almost to the edge of reason. His delicious sweet breath was a cool breeze delightfully dancing over me . His tongue dangerously traced the route of my pounding pulse and the play of his teeth so near to my blood created a whirl-wind, the opposing emotions of fear and desire that left me breathless. I could scarcely concentrate on his words.

"Let's get married—tonight!" He said with great enthusiasm. I believed his invitation was entirely earnest, although I was more interested in my body's response to his discovery of my desire than anything he was talking about. I wanted him so much I could taste it.

"Vegas or Reno, whatever…we'll get one of those motels…a heart shaped bed?…a champagne-glass hot tub ?" His uncharacteristic manic exuberance could not be restrained, not even for this the most harebrained of wedding schemes.

Now who is going off the deep end, eh?

"I can't believe you!" shocked back to my senses with the image of Edward in one of these tacky places and I began to protest in earnest, pushing him away from me. But before I could adequately register my feelings, I was sidetracked by something so absolutely unexpected that even Alice's visions could not have foreseen this as possible..

Right there, in the middle of the field, as his family was approaching en masse, Edward knelt at my feet and serenaded me. He was having a field day… He was deadly serious in his invitation and in his song. It was too much.

"Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice" he sang at the top of his lungs …Welcome to the Hotel California…"

I never realized Edward harbored an inner rock star.

"You are completely absurd!" I squealed, barely able to keep from screaming in laughter at this obvious display of post-engagement psychosis.

"I dunno," he said, trying to sound hip and casual, "…sounds pretty romantic to me?" He purred extravagantly, whisking me off the ground in a dizzying spin, he continued unabashedly, once again crying out in a loud voice.

"we are all just prisoners here,… of our own device…"

I had to smile, not just at the gross solution he proposed or his highly suspect choice of song, but I delighted to witness his complete surrender to wedding madness.

"Don't you like my song? Oh well, let me see…" He began to hum softly his new favorite songs of twisted romance, inappropriate for the moment, perhaps, but definitely entertaining.

"I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a million stars all around….I get a peaceful easy feeling…"

He is nothing but adorable when he is trying so hard to make me laugh.

"And when did you start listening to the Eagles?" I enquired haughtily. Surely changing speech patterns was one thing, but listening to modern music…that was shocking behavior and another obvious sign of how his association with me was corrupting him.

"It was on your Ipod…so, it has to be good." His eyes were wide with wonder. I had to laugh out loud. The hyperbole of his innocence was completely adorable. Tonight, Edward was in rare form; shifting emotional gears smoother than Alice's Porsche, skating effortlessly from one ridiculous idea to the next. I loved it when he gave in to his inner teenager.

"If I didn't know better, Edward, I'd say you been drinking!" I scolded him in mock contempt. It was so rare that I was given the opportunity to be the adult I relished shaking my finger at him. But he was quick to turn the tables on me.

"If I am drunk, my darling," he whispered, turning my face to meet his gaze, his cool fingers softly lingering on my cheek. "It is because I am intoxicated by you."

In his welcoming embrace, captivating me with his sweet scent, he was relentless in pursuit of the dissolution of my stress. It was working, too. I virtually forgotten what was troubling me, so engrossed I was in his shenanigans.

"I hope that Carlisle has his bag with him…you need to be sedated…" I sneered with false seriousness.

Secretly, I was more than delighted to see my darling, husband-to-be, practically levitating in the rapture that I always felt since he came into my life. Rising from his knees, he pulled me closer, his fingers lashed in exposed belt loops and his hypnotic stare dazzling me with the magnetic pull of his presence, I found myself slipping easily into his arms, and once again, I was reminded how I am eternally breathless with desire for him.

"How's about it, Bella? He cocked his head back and forth like a cocker spaniel

"Vegas? …Maybe Reno would be better…?"

Although, it was tempting to run away, my feeling on the matter was absolutely clear, non negotiable and all together surprising.

"Not a chance, Edward." I said. My eyes scowled, mocking a growl of discontent, as if I felt he was trying to back out of the bargain. "Not a chance in the world. It's the whole package, or nothing."

He had no self control to reign in his feelings. I think he was afraid I would take him up on the expedient, if tacky, alternative wedding plan. He tried to not seem too smug in his victory, but smug he was…I wanted a wedding and I would be his bride.

I was more surprised than he. I knew how much the wedding meant to him and I was not going to deny him the pleasure of human experience it would bring. And then there was Alice to consider—if we ran away, would she decide to go square dancing with a wood chipper or she would hunt me down and kill me first. And then what about Charlie and Renee? The argument to convince them we are grown up enough to be married was not going to be helped if we ran away to Vegas.

No, a wedding it must be.

"Oh, ok…my darling, we'll do it your way, then…since it means that much to you." He tried to suppress his glee as he smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.

"It does." I sighed with all seriousness. "If we are getting married, we will do it the right way. Nothing less. That is what I want."

I wrapped my arms tightly around his waist and pulled him closer and simply affirmed the revelation of my feelings about the wedding. No matter what might happen, there was little chance of masking his delight and I had no interest in trying. We took a few steps, the mist of the evening's fog building a wall, obscuring the house from view; the candle light diffusing into a mysterious haze.

"Well, well,…," he said down shifting from his mania, "… it appears we have overcome our impasse and we have a successful resolution to our predicament!"

He clapped his hands, rubbing them conspiratorially.

"The only question that remains is…are you ready to face the music?" A nod of his head indicated what he meant—the Cullen's were fast approaching and the time had come to face our family.

"Resolution—are you kidding me?" I whispered in a fury almost inaudibly. "We are starting a revolution!

"Never fear, mademoiselle" he said with fortitude, bowing graciously, "I will protect you!" I could almost see the cape floating in the wind. He stood with his hands on his hips like a very beautiful Captain America.

"I am serious Edward…what have you got to worry about? You're bullet proof."

Although I wanted to convey to him my strong conviction that confronting my parents with the news of my upcoming wedding would be infinitely more dangerous than fighting off an army of newborn vampires; however my intuition told me this was neither the time nor place. The Cullen's were almost here.

Out of a wall of fog which rolled and bounced as if it were alive they emerged like a corps of warriors crossing a field of battle. In their tight formation, I was surprised to see the pairs walking hand in hand. Although their admiration and care for each other were seen in every interaction they had, I had never before seen this kind of physical and intimate personal connections between them—as couples. They carried a golden torches whose candle flames burned brightly through antique glass globes. The light cast an amber glow that was both ancient and mysterious.

It was a strange and breathtaking sight.

Clad in heavy silk robes reminiscent of shogun samurai, they surrounded us. A different color palate guided the decoration of each individual's garment. I would learn later that the heraldic colors were ripe with meaning. The decorations were intricate, lavishly embroidered with symbols and scenes. I could not see the details in the dim candlelight, but standing as a group, even in the dark, the seemed like ancient warriors from another era and place.

The odd circumstances of this meeting did not perturb him; he seemed perfectly at ease, yet I sensed something important was about to happen. At, but at the time, I had no idea I was about to be the centerpiece of a sacred ritual gathering which was enacted only on the most momentous occasions. It is rare that a coven initiates a new member or celebrates a betrothal. Tonight, we would be celebrating twice.

Esme held in her arms a robe of the most exquisite white silk and she enveloped me in its delicate folds. A magnificent bird, embroidered in red and gold emblazoned the shoulders. "Come, Bella." As Alice and Rose helped me undress with speed, Esme soothed my anxiety by offering me some details. She lead me on to the answer before I even saw the embroidery.

"Your avatar is the phoenix, the sign of rebirth and resurrection." She explained, taking particular care arranging the luscious folds, "It is a talisman of protection…for your changing, the red of course is the miracle of your blood running even now among us…and the gold, well, you are more than precious, Bella. And of course, the butterflies of transformation… On the breast, is your flower, can you guess? "

My smile sparked with instant recognition. Freesia.Fresia.

She nodded, knowing I knew. "I think it is perfect for you…" she said, with a tinge of concern, offering a graceful escape, "I do hope you like it."

In a flash of intuition, I knew that Esme had lovingly made this gown just for me. "Oh, Esme, thank you, it is more than beautiful." She smiled again knowing that I understood that she had painstakingly created this masterpiece in anticipation of this very moment.

Once the robe was in place, she constructed the obi, the wide sash tied tightly at the waist which held the gown in place. It reminded me of Edward's strong embrace. I would learn later that the sash is the symbol of the binding that ties us together; intricately woven like the obi we are strong, balanced, and unified.

Though it would take hours of close inspection to examine the mythology of the details of the embroidery, and to discover the symbolic meanings the elements for the individual members of the family, the colors selection was easy to understand.

As the women fussed over my gown, Esme quickly offered me a lesson in the symbols and heraldic colors. "The colors of my robe represent affinity to the natural world, the harmony in mother earth and her attraction to the nurturing power of her maternal love," she said.

The choice could not have been better suited to her. Carlisle's color was blue, representing the depth of both the sea and the sky, and symbolized his wisdom, faith in the truth, and sincerity. There could be no doubt that Alice's sunshine yellow robe reflected her exuberant spirit, the energetic glow boundless enthusiasm and her fierce dedication. Equally appropriate was the scarlet that spoke of Jasper's connection to the fire of his blood, his courage in the face of danger and the intensity of his capacity to love.

As I listened intently to Esme, I was amazed at how well the colors each captured the wearer and how the partners seemed to complement each other. Orange, the color of harvest and abundance, absolutely belonged to Emmett, even before I found out it was associated with the strength and endurance. Rosalie was regal in her purple combining the stability of blue with the energy of red, it symbolized the adoration of her radiant beauty, power, and the extravagance of luxury, fierce independence and magic

I smiled to realized only the color black remained and there was only one Cullen left to dress. Black which represents formality, mystery, and elegance; it is a duality of nature, as it brings symbols of death and grief as well as prestige and power. There could be no other color to express Edward's being.

I learned later that the robes were presented only at the time of commitment to the coven and although technically it could be thought of as premature for me to be accepted as I had not yet made the change, it was unanimously decided that this fact was inconsequential. I belonged to them whether or not I was one of them.

When I heard this, I wept.

But at the time, I was overwhelmed by the depth of symbols and of the richness of the family rite that I stumbled upon, been welcomed to join, and now, into which I am ready to belong. I could not express myself, jumbled emotions bouncing into one another and my poor human mind, limited in scope in so many ways, struggled to keep up. I wanted to breathe it all in and hold it captive so I would not miss a nuance of meaning.

"Esme," I called her attention and she opened her lovely eyes to me. I realized just then how infrequently I had ever exchanged, ever looked into her eyes—I am sure it had to be related to blood lust, perhaps she never wanted me to see her thirst. I hardly ever thought about Esme in that way—as a creature with thirst.

"Esme, how can I tell you how much I am grateful that you take care of me in this and so many ways?" She smiled as memories flooded her with the moments we had found together. My voice, swimming with emotion did not waiver, "I love you, Esme, my mother.." She trembled as we embraced.

Carlisle'sCarlyle's warm and resonant voice broke the silence of the night narrating the ritual as it unfolded around me like a blossoming flower, floating aloft in the fog and the dappled light of the moon.

"We meet here this night, in the field of our fathers, to acknowledge, celebrate, and bless the sacred union of Isabella Marie Swan and Edward Masen Cullen on the occasion of their betrothal. It is good that we make this time, in this sacred place, to acknowledge also the admittance of one to our fraternal circle and to invite her to the initiation of our circle of light."

"We come to honor infinite mystery of the eternal union we share. To remind us of our oneness and the bonds that connect us."

"We come in thanksgiving to celebrate the many blessings of Isabella in our lives"

"We offer ourselves as caretakers for Isabella's spirit on her journey of initiation to our way of life."

"As we set aside ourselves in this time of prayer, joy and thanksgiving, we clothe ourselves in ceremonial garments. We are each a part of the light, a part of the one, and our energetic natures combine in the mystery of a circle of light."

"Each of us has brought the energy of color to the circle, each feeding into the unity of our singularity. And now, making our wheel of light complete, there is Isabella,"

Carlisle's words filled me with surprise and wonder. As if on cue, his speech seemed to directly answer my question.

"You, Isabella Swan, whose countenance could only speak of one color is the universe, our dearest Bella, you are the color of innocence, faith and goodness. You are the light of the world brought home to us, a hope for the future, an expression of perfection and purity in the human condition that we had not dreamed to find in our existence. Yet, in a depth of mystery that I cannot yet fathom, having fallen upon our secret you have accepted us and loved us unconditionally, without fear and without judgment. You are an embodiment of divine grace and we are all changed by your very presence here among us."

"Isabella, may this robe be a sign of your everlasting and eternal essence. May it express your essential nature in its symbols we your family see your soul.. Wear it as a symbol your place in our sacred circle and as a sign of our bond."

CarlisleCarlyle offered his hand to me, his glorious smile glowing with love, as he melted my heart with his words.

"We have waited for you, Bella. Now and forever, we rejoice that you are here."

Esme offered her hand to Edward, beaming with a bittersweet smile befitting the mother of the groom. They lead us to the center of the tight circle surrounding us.

Edward, dressed in his black silk kimono and white obi was bubbling with anticipation. He stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders. He squeezed lightly against the tension creeping up my neck as I confronted the unknowns of my future: marriage and vampires. I shrugged and kissed his fingers acknowledging his massaging caress; but I was too intent on reading the faces of the loving family that surrounded us to say anything to him.

"My children, sweet Isabella and dear Edward, the journey you have made together, fraught with peril of every incarnation, has brought you to this moment and has instilled in you the courage to look out into the unknown to dream together of a future to share in partnership. It is a time to put away childish things, to embrace a serious commitment to your love and to enter into that commitment with a clean and strong heart.

"It has been our joy to watch your love has grown in you and to witness how you have each grown in your love. "

"We marvel at the resiliency of your bond—a connection made so quickly, so absolutely, and so organically human."

In the presence of the Cullen's to Cullens o be called 'human' was always a complement.

"We ask for blessings to shower down from the heavens and that in a darkened world the light of your love, a miracle in of itself, your love you share will be a beacon, a gift of light and healing to all the world."

I scanned their beautiful faces, hoping to find a hint of emotion in their expression. With the exception of Rosalie, who zealously argued her opposition to my choice to become like them but who had in recent days begun to come around to accept me, I absolutely understood that I was welcomed and I was wanted among them.

"Isabella, in your love for this man, might he find in himself a greater sense of who he is meant to be, so he may accept himselfwho he is, and embrace who he shall become, and thus be healed and made strong by your love."

"And so it is with you, Edward. Bella is God's gift to you. You are asked to love this woman so she may see she is created in perfection, beautiful, brave and true, that the entire world is so blessed by her power and presence. May she forever find peace in your arms and knowledge that there is one on whose love she can depend forever."

It seemed as if the wind itself stirred thoughts in my head in an instant and I once again floated in the sea of enormity that was this most emotional moment of my life. Our wedding was made all the more important because it signaled that my changing was imminent. I wondered if I could truly be accepted as an equal because my path was so diametrically different than theirs.

"May the angels dance between you and rejoice in your love so that the dance of life you do together and may all the world may be blessed hereby your example."love.

"May we who gather here today nurture this young love as it blossoms in the circle of light that surrounds them in preparation for the day of their wedding."

"May we all here gathered tonight recall the day of our union in the mystery of mating and in witnessing the birth of this mating we recall and rededicate ourselves to this glorious institution" Carlisle smiled at Esme whose face lit up with love.

"We pledge to journey with you as you commit before this family that from this moment you will live as one."

"Commitment to vow is central to our living and fundamental to our survival both as individuals, married partners and as a family unit. So, in preparation for your marriage union we commemorate here tonight yet another vow of dedication. We offer you Isabella a solemn vow of commitment as an equal member of our society."

"Isabella Marie Swan, is it your intention to seek membership in the fellowship of our coven?"

It is not that I wasn't prepared for the question, but it was certainly a surprise, and not for the obvious reasons. I suspected that there must be some formal vow made to become a a member of the coven. Their living together in harmony with the principles Carlisle had established demanded it. But after all that we had experienced together, the many trials that forever bound us one to another, this was a question I never expected to be formally asked. I had made my feelings known long ago. Yet, in the context of the ritual that was unfolding, I understood that it was vital to the ceremony.

"Bella…?" Edward prompted me to respond in my own words.

Swallowing the cascading emotions threatening to disrupt my breath and steal my voice, I summoned all my attention to respond intelligibly. I had not formally prepared and I worried that my response would be adequate, but preparation was not needed. My reply was formed intuitively and flowed from me without hesitation.

"Most gracious father, Carlisle, Esme, my loving mother, all my siblings, and my darling, Edward," I said, my voice ripe with conviction and affection, "in your family I have a home like no other, I have found my beloved, my destiny, and I have discovered a greater understanding of myself. It would be my greatest joy to be accepted as a part of your family and to dedicate myself to you."

"Isabella Marie Swan is it your intention to bring your spirit to our fraternity as an equal partner, to abide by the principles we have divined to keep from harm and to protect our way of being above all things? The vow of secrecy is primary to our safety. To jeopardize even in the simplest inadvertent slip is to endanger the family and our way of life. Against this we much protect ourselves above all. Are you prepared to accept this responsibility?"

"I am."

"Very well, Bella." Carlisle said glowing with happy resignation.

"Cradled in light, hope and faith you begin now your journey as an initiate to the society of our fellowship."

Edward drew me closer and whispered softly, "Don't be afraid, Bella. You are safe with us, now and always."

Startled and confused, I turned to face him, but was met with resistance from his firm hand. Before I could react, a white silk blindfold blocked my view. I was not afraid, but it was very disorienting to be thrust into the darkness. . I felt Edward's hands slip away leaving me in alone and exposed. In physical separation from him, I felt suddenly self conscious and slightly embarrassed by the intense gaze of so many eyes on me.

"Stand forth, Isabella Swan," Carlisle's voice called me into the circle and with tentative blind steps I turned toward his voice

"Come forward, Bella." My hands extended in front of me, stepping more boldly in blindness, and I found his welcoming arms waiting to receive me.

"As you prepare to enter our world you will encounter obstacles and challenges that will be true trials of your resolve. Draw strength from those who come before. Rely on those who endeavor to guide you."

A strange sensation devoured by confidence. I felt the earth spinning below my feet. I began to feel constrained in my arms and my legs. Suddenly, I could not move my hands, my arms, and then my legs. The air swirled around me with their scents mixing together. I was dizzy from the feeling that I struggled to identify.

In darkness, my heart raced with the natural adrenaline response that was overtaking my body. I suffered two fears—I knew I was protected and surrounded by the ones I loved and trusted, yet I was still afraid; did that mean I didn't really trust them? And if I didn't trust them, how could I ever become an equal among them?

Just as he spoke, I realized: I was being bound.

"We bind your hands, as a sign of your submission to the collective will. We bind your legs to root you to our path. We bind your body to bring you to your inner sanctum, your spirit guide within you will protect and guide you on the journey."

I could heard Carlisle's words calling me from far away.

Though they could not penetrate these dark thoughts, my racing heart gave me away. I could not hide my feelings or fears and I guessed later that that was the point of surrender. There would be and could not be any secrets.

"We come to ask blessings for you from the one source of power to illuminate your path as you bond your life with ours."

With a gentle nudge, familiar hands at my waist to lead me around the circle, walking the circumference multiple times, many times, and each time changing direction vector and orientation. I have no control over my travel, I am at the mercy of the familiar hands guiding me. Soon, many cool fingers are lightly touching me from every angle directing me forward toward some unseen goal. They are the familiar hands of my family guiding my way in safety. When I faltered, they supported me and set me back on track.

"Bella, know that although troubles and challenges will bind you in struggle and fear, you will not bear these alone. You are born into a family, a net, a web of strength, where no one is alone."

Without any special reference to anchor me, I was completely lost disoriented by the constant movement. My head began to spin up with possibilities. The unexpected warning brought a pang of anxiety. Something was about to happen.

My body continued to fold in upon itself, wrapped in a cocoon, my knees drawn close to my face; a fetal position, yet, my body did not touch the ground. Even though I had not the freedom of movement, constricted as I was by the boundaries of my silken egg, I was buoyant, floating, supported by my family.

"May you always remember that in our vow, you are surrounded by helping hands, wisdom and counsel to help you navigate the unknown."

I felt the rhythm of his cool breath washing over me and Jasper's balm for tranquility as I rested, suspended in the safety of their supportive touch. What was only a moment ago a posture of fear and panic was now the deepest peace I had ever experienced.

This is what it must be like to be in the womb…

"We ask for blessings to shower upon you to protect and guide you; for strength and wisdom, patience and grace."

"Rooted in truth we join our hearts with yours: you are loved and you are cared for."

"As a family of individuals we have chosen to pledge our fidelity to each other and vow to abide by the governing principles that guide our family."

I understood why Carlisle's language sounded more than just formal: this was a sacred ritual. A ritual reserved for bringing a newborn into the coven—an initiation?

"By your presence, your unconditional acceptance of our unique fraternity and its precepts, and your dedication to protect us from harm, we rejoice in the knowledge that with your joining, our family circle is complete."

"Soon, the day may come when you will enter into this circle on another level, and we will journey with you wherever it may lead, and then joyfully welcome you home to us once again; but our love for you, our allegiance to you and our collective vow to protect your eternal life, the pure white light, a symbol of the love which envelops you now at this moment will never leave you for all the rest of your days. That is our sworn pledge of fidelity to you."

"And we ask you, Sacred Mother Earth, may the blessing of the new born rain upon your daughter Isabella and by her entrance into our world that a mantle of peace might embrace this family in her making."

My feet touched down on the ground just as the scarf slipped away from my eyes, revealing the topaz eyes that I have memorized. He is so beautiful.

"You enter our world a new creation, Isabella."

"We welcome you dear child to the mystical union of our souls. We have awaited you. We rejoice that you are here."

My heart wanted to explode. I have never experienced such a public and meaningful declaration of relationship and love. Magically, the candles danced with a heavenly glow illuminating the loving embrace of the family that I have been destined to find, to love, and to protect. I belonged here, among these remarkable people.

"From ancient times a ritual kiss of fidelity conferred on the lips untied communities with an expression of sharing not only of our selves, but in the greater spirit that unites us. We offer you now Bella, an expression of our connection together as one family, united in purpose and dedicated to each other. With this kiss we bind ourselves as one sacred circle of love."

The lights flickered gently as they came closer, the circle of light tightening around me, their initiate, their daughter, sister, and bride. I was not afraid to be so surrounded by these people, not creatures, but human people who have brought me into their trust, their lives and their love.

Esme was the first to kiss me, touching my face with motherly affection, her eyes squinting with tears that would not form. "My dear child," she murmured, "you are so very loved by all you touch, we are blessed to have you love us."

Carlisle held me close and I was filled with the memories of finding safety in his arms that have nursed me and made me whole! He looked at me, holding my shoulders and kissed me saying, "I am pleased more than you know to have you here in our family, today and always."

Jasper approached me cautiously, perhaps he wished to erase the past, or maybe he worried that I was afraid of him, but he had no cause for such thoughts. When; and when he kissed me, I said, "Jasper, I am glad to be here with you—you protected me in Arizona and I will never forget." He smiled as if a great burden had been lifted from him.

Alice with uncharacteristic restraint took me by the hand and kissed me without words knowing that no pledge of love in words was needed between us. I think she wanted to cry.

Emmett jumped in with a crushing embrace that took my breath away and in midair his enthusiastic kiss took me by surprise by its tenderness. "Welcome aboard, kid!"

The giggles of his enthusiasm still lingering in the air, Rosalie touched my shoulder and I turned to face her. Unsure what to expect she toppled my defenses when her smile radiated such warmth I was astonished. Without hesitation and with genuine affection she wrapped her arms around my shoulders. I was so moved with emotion, tears welling in my eyes, I felt my weight transfer to her strong embrace.

She held me for a long moment, supporting me. I thought my knees would fail but she was, holding me upright and then she whispered, "I really do care about you Bella. I am very glad that you are here, as a part of our family, really I am. I have always wanted you the have the very best life that you can have, that's all--because you deserve it." She released her embrace and looking square in my eyes, she kissed me briefly on the lips.

I don't think any one of the Cullen's could hide their surprise at her expression of love towards me--Edward not the least of all.

In the center of my family's circle, the stars coming out above our heads, I felt familiar cool hands at my waist, turning me to face him. His dazzling eyes peered into my soul in a sacred connection

"You are not only mine, Bella. You belong to all of us. And we belong to you." His sweet kiss on my lips, his breath in me and mine in his, sealed this moment in my memory for eternity.

"It is with the greatest joy that we gather in this sacred circle to welcome you, Isabella Marie Swan, to our family. The love that we share together for you is infinite and eternal. As a family of individuals we have chosen to pledge our fidelity to each other and vow to abide by the governing principles that guide our family. It is with complete trust and open hearts we welcome you."

"May the world honor you for who you are…"

"May you always consider us your loving friends…"

"May you find your home your talents, your joy…"

"And so it is…AMEN!

Never again would I fear being abandoned. I belonged. I have found myself.

If I have fears about the changing that would bring me into this coven, make me, be their equal, they are the specifics of the ordeal of the changing itself. How will I manage the pain I will have to endure—with courage or in shame? Will the changing of every aspect of my life be manageable—including the sacrificing of a living being for my own sustenance? Would I be a monster? What of the spiritual death that Edward feared I would suffer by voluntarily extinguishing my human existence—if he believed that he was doomed by the accident of his changing, how would I be judged for actively choosing to become a vampire?

In the arms of this loving family, with my Edward at my side, I had no doubt of my choice or that I would fulfill that choice. I will willingly, gladly, and eagerly give myself to him and my new family to join them as an immortal, no matter what the cost.

I am forever part of the circle of light that is the Cullen family.

I am blessed.

Page 34 of 34

Chapter 1 "Meadow" from Evening Star an original novel

by Patricia Finn Rapiejko based on the world of Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" SagaRevised 9/10/2008