A/N: Twilight and all of its characters are owned by Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
My move didn't go as smoothly as I expected it to. I always think things are going to be easy when the truth is that things are rarely simple or easy. My apologies for the length between updates.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has left a review on this story. I am truly grateful for the feedback and your support has meant a lot to me. My intention was always to reply to every single review, and for many of the chapters I have done just that. Unfortunately, I have my doubts that I will be able to catch up completely, life being what it is. I hope you can understand. Please see the author's note at the end of the chapter for some special thank yous.
"Why are you videotaping me?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at Edward and trying not to look too irritated. I patted the bed, inviting him back to me, unwilling to give up the calm of his arms so soon. I wasn't quite ready to face reality. Edward left the bed under the pretense of needing to check on something, but taping me was not the something I was expecting. Besides, as cute as he was, I was not in the mood to be filmed with sex hair, even if he did think it was appealing.
"For Charlie," he answered nonchalantly.
"For Charlie? You really think he wants to see me half-naked in your bed," I snarked.
"Your tank top is on, and he can't tell you have no bottoms on."
"You just told him," I informed him, laughing.
"I suppose I did," he agreed, laughing along with me and turning off the camera. "I guess I'll have to start over."
Edward placed the camera onto the dresser and slid into bed beside me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. There was no other feeling like the bliss of our bodies connecting. It was like cashmere, or diamonds, or chocolate – the very best of what life had to offer. His arms gave me the security and comfort of feeling like I was where I belonged, the euphoria of being tipsy and the excitement of a first kiss all wrapped up in one. It was love and relief and desire and excitement. It was completion. It was Edward. It was home.
"So why are you videotaping me for Charlie anyway?"
"So he can see for himself that you're okay. It will be a while before you can safely be near him."
"He's my dad, Edward. I'm not going to hurt him," I defended.
"I know you would never hurt him on purpose, but newborns aren't generally known for very good control over their bloodlust."
"How long will I have to wait?" I wondered, hoping it didn't sound like a complaint.
"I'm not sure...when you're psychologically stronger, after you've hunted more and lived this life for a while. We'll know when you're ready."
Even though he sounded sure of himself, I could tell he was putting me off, so I took a guess at his apprehension.
"You're going to test me on another human first, aren't you?"
"Yes," he admitted quietly. "It's the only way to know for certain that you won't hurt Charlie. I know it sounds cruel, but hurting Charlie would torture you, and I won't put you through that."
"I'm going to be so out of control that I would hurt my own father?" I asked, horrified.
"It's possible. I know it's difficult and probably frightening for you to imagine losing control of your own actions like that, especially given how much you care for him. That's why you have to experience the temptation of human blood firsthand, so you'll understand the obstacles you'll be up against. You need to become familiar with the ways your body and mind will be stimulated so you can learn the tricks to moderate your reactions."
"Sounds peachy," I conceded sarcastically, rolling my eyes.
It was impossible to get my head wrapped around the idea of wanting to attack my own father and drink his blood, but I knew I had to trust Edward; I didn't understand the compulsion the way he did, and I didn't want to fuck things up after Edward worked so hard to arrange this second chance for me.
"Sorry," I mumbled, staring up at him with remorseful eyes. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful. It's just hard to get my head adjusted to some parts of my new life, like the one where I might hurt someone I love."
"I won't let that happen, Bella. You have my word on that."
He stared back at me with such steadfastness that it was impossible not to believe him.
"I know you won't," I whispered.
"I know Charlie would like to hear from you. Are you ready to call him?" Edward wondered, his concern for me evident on his face.
I was as ready as I would ever be, still struggling with the fact that Charlie was alone. I would have much rather stood face to face with him so he could see I was okay with his own eyes, but I understood that wasn't safe for either of us.
Edward handed me the phone and curled himself around the back of me as I sat up. He was trying to seem nonchalant but he was completely focused on me, and the tension in his muscles made his anxiety obvious. I tried to reassure him I was ready by smiling at him. As I dialed Charlie's cell number, Edward picked up my free hand and pulled my fingers to his lips, kissing them gently. I blew out a big breath, trying to relax myself, and brought the phone to my ear. Without consciously choosing to do it, I began to chew on my bottom lip as I listened to the phone ring. Edward rubbed my back and gave my hand a supportive squeeze.
"Bella?" Charlie's voice was hoarse and hesitant.
"It's me," I whispered. Finding the volume to make my reply sound convincing was impossible. The pressure of everything that had preceded the moment came crashing down on me the second I heard Charlie speak my name.
"Bella," Charlie mumbled, full on sobbing into the receiver.
It was horrible to hear him crying, but I understood the relief he was feeling, and I didn't want him to try to hold it together for my sake. I really just wanted him to be okay, and to comfort him so he wouldn't have to feel alone. As if Edward could read my mind, he whispered into my ear that Alice was with Charlie.
"Is Alice with you?" I asked.
Charlie's sobs continued to echo through the phone, so I pushed myself to fill the silence to give him a chance to collect himself.
"Edward said Alice should be there with you, and I hope she is. You shouldn't be alone at a time like this. You should be with…well, you should be with family," I told him quietly, swallowing hard to dislodge the lump that had formed in my throat. "I'm fine. Edward took care of everything, and I…well, I…I'm okay."
I wanted to tell Charlie the truth right off, but Edward told me I couldn't, explaining that it went against the only rule of our kind – to stay under the radar. The rule didn't meant shit to me until Edward told me Charlie's life would be in danger if he knew the truth, and then it suddenly became the most important thing to me. I didn't want to lie to Charlie though, so finding the right words seemed virtually impossible.
Charlie's sobs started to soften and dwindle as he worked to control himself. He alternated between holding his breath and gasping as he tried to calm down.
"Edward said you went back to Phoenix. I think it was a good way to handle things, so you didn't have to face everyone in Forks. We're in Lake Ozette right now, but I'm not well enough to see you. It's too much for my system to have visitors yet."
The explanation wasn't total fiction. I couldn't see him in my current newborn state. The lie was in the risk; it was his life that was in danger, not mine.
"When can I see you, Bells?" he rasped, beginning to sound much closer to being composed.
"I don't know yet, Char…Dad. I really just called to tell you I was okay so you wouldn't worry. I know these last three days must have been hell for you."
"Hell," he agreed quietly.
"And I'm fine, so no more crying. Crying is for pussies," I added, laughing. I hoped that hearing me joke with him would make him feel better. "The bad shit is behind us, I promise."
"Can I speak to Edward for a moment?" he asked, clearing his throat with a rough cough.
"You don't believe your own daughter?" I teased.
"My own daughter lies through her fucking teeth sometimes, and is dumb enough to think she fools me."
"Ha, ha, very funny. Here he is." I handed the phone to Edward.
"Hello?" Edward greeted.
"Give it to me straight, Edward. Don't pull any punches. Is she really okay?" Charlie wondered hesitantly.
I could hear Charlie's voice as well as if I still had the phone to my ear. I felt intrusive and guilty, like I was eavesdropping, even though the increased sensitivity of my new hearing was simply a part of me now.
"She's fine, Charlie," Edward assured him. "One hundred percent your Bella, complete with cursing, attitude and stubbornness."
I whacked Edward's shoulder for his comment to Charlie, even if it was true. He grimaced and rubbed the spot where I'd hit him.
"Sorry, newborn strength," I whispered, grinning remorselessly.
"Then why can't I see her yet?" Charlie demanded.
"Just as Bella said, her system is still adjusting, and she's not up to visitors just yet."
I knew Edward would be able to convince Charlie that I was okay with his reassuring tone, the same way he always could with me, and it reminded me of how much I owed him. Seeking his forgiveness, I offered my apology in the form of a kiss to the spot I'd hit on his shoulder. Edward squeezed my hand to convey my absolution.
"How much time are we talking?" Charlie asked.
"I'm not sure," Edward explained. "It's too early to tell, but we will keep you well informed."
Edward's answer seemed to alleviate Charlie's worries.
"Can you do something for me?" Charlie asked.
"Of course," Edward agreed.
"Tell her that I love her, and that I can't wait to see her?"
"You could tell her yourself?" Edward suggested.
"Next time," Charlie offered, clearing his throat again.
"I'll tell her. We'll talk to you again soon."
Edward closed the phone and whispered Charlie's words to me.
"Charlie wanted you to know that he loves you and that he can't wait to see you." He kissed the top of my head and then pulled me closer to him. "I know it's hard," he murmured. "It's hard for both of you, but it will only be hard for a little while."
At Edward's request, Alice arrived the next morning. She was happy to see me, making a beeline for me as soon as she came through the door and pulling me into a super tight hug. Edward had mentioned that she never doubted his ability to change me, but she wasn't smug about it, just content and positive.
"Hey, Bella. What took you so long?" she teased.
"Oh, you know, just taking my time becoming immortal is all. You can't rush these things."
"I'm glad you're okay," she told me softly, "but I was always sure you would be."
"We don't all have the gift of clairvoyance," I mocked. "And Edward took good care of me."
"Yes, he did," she agreed, spinning me around and looking me over from head to toe. "Good job, Edward."
Edward rolled his eyes at her, but grinned in spite of himself.
"I'm grateful that she's still here with us," he affirmed.
"And this life seems to agree with her," Alice decided with a smile before she turned back to me. "Come on. We have loads to discuss."
Alice brought clothing and money, and, most importantly for me, contacts to change my eye colour. At least with the contacts we could film me to send something to Charlie that would give him some peace of mind without making him think I had become a possessed psychopath from a B horror movie.
I played the part of the sick patient as well as I could. I stayed in bed with the covers tucked in around my body and tried to look tired and lethargic. At least looking pale was simple. Edward came to sit on the bed with me while Alice filmed us. He was better at playing the part than I was, remembering to say plenty of reassuring sentiments to the camera, things like I was looking better, that I'd gotten a good night's sleep and that I was happy. I did a lot of smiling at Edward and the camera, and tried to echo some of the things that Edward said. We kept it short, just enough time to show Charlie that I was alive without giving away too much. We all knew my acting skills were not stellar.
Alice only stayed the morning, promising to take the tape back to Charlie as soon as she got back to Forks. We talked a lot before she left, and she made me realize just how many decisions Edward and I had ahead of us. There were so many things to be careful of. As always, nothing with Edward and I was ever simple. The difference now was that Edward and I were a team, and we could decide our future together.
Over the course of the next couple of months, Edward and I found a new place to live. We headed to Canada, to a place called Prince Rupert in British Columbia. He swears he chose it was because he knew someone in the area, but I still think he chose it because of its proximity to the nearby Port Edward. I made a big joke out of it, pretending it made him feel important, and I constantly razzed him about it.
Prince Rupert was a small city, located on an island, with just over twelve thousand residents. Truthfully, the place reminded me a lot of Forks, not only in size but in weather conditions. It was cloudy a lot, which made it easier to go outside and pretend we were normal. The mainland that flanked the island was mostly Indian reserves and provided us with anonymity and ample hunting grounds.
We found a small farmhouse for sale in the middle of nowhere. It was a perfect location – no nosy neighbours to wonder too much about us, but close enough for us to drive into town when we needed something. Edward took me hunting every two or three days, trying to help me hone my skills and keep my thirst satisfied. We always hunted at night so we wouldn't be around any humans, even accidentally. He was very careful to keep me safe and protected.
With the school year coming to an end, Alice and Jasper were planning to come and stay the summer with us. Emmett planned to visit, too, although I suspected Rosalie would talk him out of it if the opportunity arose. I wrote to Esme and invited Carlisle and her to come as well. I could tell that Edward was missing his family and I hoped that my personal invitation might convince them to come.
"Would you like to go for a walk?" Edward whispered, coming up behind me and smoothing his hands over my shoulders.
"Sure," I agreed.
"Good. There is something I wanted to talk to you about."
He took my hand and led me out back, heading through the field towards town. He was talking so animatedly about the upcoming visit with his family that I didn't realize how close we'd gotten to town. When the scent hit me I stiffened, and suddenly I knew exactly what Edward had planned.
It was barely there, just a hint of it brought in by the gentle breeze that was blowing. I let the appealing aroma settle into my palette. I didn't need Edward to tell me what the scent was. Instinct told me I'd never smelled it before, and my sense told me it was forbidden to me.
"It's overwhelming, isn't it?" Edward prompted me, no doubt watching me and trying to discern my reaction.
I closed my eyes, bracing myself and locking my knees, and tried to push away what my instinct was trying to get me to recognize. The scent was controlling, caressing my tongue as I struggled against it. My body reacted against my will, my venom gushing, my throat burning, and my muscles coiling like a spring.
"She's too far away for you to hurt her," Edward told me in a quiet and reassuring tone.
I wondered how he knew she was female, or how far away she was; as if he'd planned this even more carefully then I was aware of. My mind was focused on the smell and it took all of my energy to keep myself still.
"I can hear her mind," he continued. "She's just a young girl, about fourteen, thinking about a boy at school and how she might get him to notice her."
She was innocent and naïve, and it was easy to empathize with who she might be, or might become. I forced myself to imagine what she might look like and tried to use the knowledge that the scent belonged to this young girl to somehow change its appeal for me. I didn't want to find it appetizing, but it was.
"It's much more difficult to consider attacking someone when you humanize them. A deer is just a deer, simple prey. It's almost impossible to think of a human as prey when you think about the lives that intertwine with theirs."
Edward was almost musing now. I was still controlled by the scent, morally battling with my nature. He pulled my chin up, forcing me to look at him.
"She is the light of her father's life," he told me.
I knew he wanted me to make the connection between this young girl and myself, and not in a faithless way. He just wanted to prevent me from acting on my impulses, to persuade me to see her for who she was, not merely as a source of blood. I looked up at him, at his compassionate and non-judgemental eyes, and felt completely undeserving of his trust, because I would attack this girl. I would kill her and take her away from her father. My instincts would take over where my will failed if I allowed myself one more moment to waiver. Her scent was just too much for me to handle. I turned and ran, not only from the smell of her blood but from Edward's belief in me. He would be ashamed of me if he knew how much I wanted to indulge my bloodlust. I ran for the farmhouse, running faster than I should have allowed myself to be seen, but I didn't care. Killing that girl would be far worse than getting caught, I was sure of it.
I hid in the bedroom, curling up in a ball and drowning myself in guilt and shame. I could understand Edward's aversion to this life now much better than before, why he wouldn't want it for me, and why he had trouble accepting what he was. It was hard to see goodness in yourself when murder was in your mind.
Edward gave me a few minutes to myself before he came and found me. He didn't say a word, just tucked himself in around me and held me. I had the urge to push him away, feeling entirely unworthy of his affection, of anyone's affection, but he wasn't to blame here, and I refused to make him feel like he'd done something wrong.
We laid there over an hour. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds as it disappeared beneath the horizon, announcing to the world that the night had arrived. I watched the shadows advance outside the window, wishing they'd take me along with them to the secret place they hid away in while the sun was on the other side of the world. At least there I couldn't hurt anyone.
"You won't agree with me, but you're stronger than you think you are," Edward finally whispered. "I wasn't physically restraining you or holding you back in any way. You could have gone searching for her, you could have found her and attacked her and maybe even have killed her, but you didn't. You made the choice to turn away to keep yourself from hurting her. That took an immense amount of strength and courage to make that decision."
"I couldn't take her from her Dad," I mumbled repentantly.
"I know," he explained softly. "You'll get used to the way it stimulates you. It's not as simple as willpower, but it is almost always as simple as a choice to do the right thing."
I rolled over to look at him, hoping to borrow some of his confidence in me, plus I wanted him to see the fear in my eyes. I didn't want to keep it from him.
"What if the next one has no family ties? What if you aren't there to tell me who she is, or to stop me from hurting her?"
"You saved yourself today. You didn't need my help, but if you ever do, I'll be there right beside you to give you whatever you need."
"Yes, I promise. I'll be right there beside you, for forever."
I smiled at him, trying to believe that his faith in me was enough for the both of us, but I felt no courage or fortitude.
"And just so you know, I would have done everything within my power to stop you from hurting the girl today, even though I knew you wouldn't need my help."
"Thank you," I whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. "It helps to hear that you would have tried to stop me from hurting someone."
"Just as you would do for me, I will always do whatever I can to keep you safe and happy. Perhaps when Alice arrives you can talk to her about it and ask her what she foresees for your future. Though I have to warn you, her visions are not perfect. Every decision affects the future, so Alice's visions are often unreliable, and she is not always able to see every danger."
"Still, it's something," I mumbled, feeling a little bit calmer with the idea of Alice's gift to help guide me. "When will she be here?"
"Three days. Are you looking forward to the visit?" he wondered.
"I am," I told him decidedly. It would be great to see Alice, but it would be even better to see Edward's happiness. I knew how much he missed his family. He deserved some kind of reward for the sacrifices that he'd made, and I hoped that would include a visit from his parents. "Have you heard from Esme or Carlisle?" I inquired.
"Nothing yet. Perhaps they haven't finalized their plans yet."
"Well I hope they can make it up with Alice and Jasper."
There would be no perfect moment, and I wasn't foolish enough to believe in one, only in the opportunity for a well planned and executed strategy. I had exhausted every avenue of analysis while I constructed the plan, but in the end, the outcome rested with Bella. I had great faith in her strength, and even though Bella saw herself as weak and uncontrolled, I fiercely believed that she was ready to face her father.
Alice and Jasper were due to arrive in a few hours. I had purposely avoided telling Bella that Esme and Carlisle would follow shortly after. For my plan to work, I needed her relaxed and focused on my siblings, rather than absorbed in the excited anxiety of anticipating my parent's arrival. It was better if she knew nothing of their visit, or of the fact that they would be bringing her father, for as sure as I was that Bella would do well around Charlie, I was even more sure that she would undermine herself before she ever gave herself a chance if she knew he was coming to visit. I wasn't overlooking the danger the situation posed to both Charlie and Bella. I had my bases covered. Emmett would accompany Jasper and Alice. Between the three of us, my two brothers and I would surely be able to combat Bella's newborn strength, and Esme and Carlisle would be waiting in the wings to whisk Charlie away in the event of an emergency. Everyone knew their job, and both Charlie and Bella would be amply protected.
I would further support Bella's fragile state by making sure she fed gluttonously just prior to their arrival. Alice was in close contact with me. I was on top every moment before it happened, and I would do everything within my power to shepherd Bella as closely as possible.
"Why don't we go out and hunt one last time before Alice and Jasper get here?" I suggested nonchalantly.
"What's it been like five minutes since we hunted?" Bella joked sarcastically.
"It's been less than a day," I conceded, "but better we don't have to bother ourselves with the worry of hunting while we have company."
"It's not as if we have to hide it from them. They'll have to feed just like we do, won't they?"
"Alice and Jasper have a thorough understanding of their bodily requirements. It's not uncommon for them to go two weeks between hunts."
"Yes," I assured her. "Besides, I know you're still quite shy about hunting. I wouldn't want you to feel as if you were on display in front of my brother and sister if you need to feed. One last hunt can't hurt."
I felt caddish for picking on her insecurities. She was still quite bothered by the fact that she couldn't hunt as neatly as I could. I needed her thoroughly satiated to protect her though, and keeping her safe was much more important than a moment of self-conscious chagrin.
"I know you're right, but I don't even feel thirsty."
As she spoke, her eyes moved from my face to the ground and her voice became timid. My words had shaken her confidence more than I intended, but I couldn't relent. I had to make her see my idea as a good one.
"I think it would be best to hunt one more time before our guests arrive," I coaxed. I could see the submission on her face as my words registered.
"I'd rather crawl into bed and have my way with you than drag myself out of the house to hunt," she hedged, a last ditch effort to try to change my mind.
"While your offer sounds entirely tempting, I think our time would be better spent feeding."
"So that's where I fall in the line of things, eh? Feeding and then sex?" Bella teased, trying to hide her disappointment from me.
I needed to re-instill her confidence, as it was especially important today, and I was sure that I could give her what she requested.
"Everything else in my life falls in line behind you, and that includes feeding. I think, if we are focused and don't dawdle, we might have time to satisfy both desires."
"Now that's an offer I'll take you up on," she agreed enthusiastically, rising to her feet and coming to stand beside me.
I bent forward to kiss her forehead, but before my lips met their intended mark, Bella grabbed my hand and tugged me towards the door.
"Come on, Romeo. We've got prey to catch before sun up."
"I think we can take time for one small kiss," I complained, pretending to be upset by her actions.
"You're not fooling me, Edward. You're the one who said we had to concentrate on feeding, so you're the one who will have to wait to kiss me," she quipped, sticking her tongue out at me as she pulled me out the door.
"Again," she pleaded in a soft whisper. I could feel her breath on my skin as she panted shallowly into my neck, trying to regain control of her body. She was limp on top of me, and she was exactly where I wanted her to be. Beyond the bliss of our current position, Bella was confident, relaxed, and in the moment, emotionally centered and fulfilled.
"Our guests will be here very soon," I murmured repentantly, knowing I couldn't give her what she wanted.
"What guests?" she challenged, playing innocent and snickering.
"I can hear Alice's mind already, and Jasper's, too. They are getting close, not even fifteen minutes away."
"Just fifteen minutes?"
Bella raised her head to look at me. I could see the excitement in her eyes, and nodded in agreement.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I wanted you to have what you needed," I replied honestly. She didn't need to know that keeping her busy was a bonus of making love to her, and I had thoroughly enjoyed my task.
With a soft kiss on my cheek, she rolled off of me and slid off the mattress. I watched her as she moved about the room, delighting in the view and in the buzz of Bella's excitement. After she gathered her clothing, she carefully laid the pieces she'd selected on the bed beside me and settled down at her dressing table. My eyes were glued to her exquisite reflection as she brushed her long hair with careful strokes.
"Aren't you getting up?" she wondered, glancing at my reflection in the mirror.
"I don't need but a moment to dress, and I'm rather enjoying watching you."
"It was your idea to get out of bed," she reminded me with playful disapproval. "I would have gladly stayed in bed and ignored the door."
"You don't really think I believe your false immodesty, do you?"
"Me, immodest?" she teased, her eyes wide and innocent.
"Yes, you," I agreed, slipping out of bed under the pretense of getting dressed. I had to touch her. She was too beautiful to resist.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied in mock indignation, biting her lip to stop herself from smiling.
I wrapped my arms around her torso and pulled her tightly against my chest, listening for the quiet gasp that always left her lips when our skin met. She didn't disappoint me.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," I teased playfully, burying my face in her freshly brushed hair to kiss her neck. "You would not only be unable to ignore the knock at the door knowing Alice was on the other side of it, you would leave me mid-act, unfulfilled and begging for your touch just to get to her."
Bella laughed a loud and joyful chortle.
"But I'd pay you back later," she bargained, oozing sweetness from her smiling lips.
"Or I'd make you pay," I suggested casually.
"Is that a threat or a promise?"
"Take it any way you wish," I whispered quietly against her ear, meeting her eyes in the mirror as she appraised the honesty of my expression. "Whether you offer payment freely or I have to work for it, I will never get enough of you."
I smiled as I felt her tremble against my chest, her attempt to shake off the shiver my admission had caused, and kissed her neck one more time. Grabbing my clothing off the back of the chair, I left her to her primping and went to dress in the bathroom. I needed to check in with Carlisle anyway.
A quick phone call assured me that my father was on schedule. Keeping up their human façade, he and Esme had departed from Forks yesterday with Charlie, and stopped for the night just outside of Prince George. After an early start, they would arrive within about thirty minutes of my brothers and sister. Without the scrutiny of Charlie's eyes, Alice, Jasper and Emmett didn't have to keep to the speed limit or pretend they needed to rest and had elected to drive straight through. I could hear Alice's mind clearly as she and Jasper debated the correctness of the directions from the GPS. Even after all of their years together, Alice still didn't see that Jasper pushed her buttons on purpose. I laughed to myself as she complained that he didn't trust her instincts. She was such an easy mark.
"What are you laughing at?" Bella wondered as she joined me in the living room.
"Jasper and Alice are arguing over the GPS directions."
"Let me guess…Alice thinks the GPS is wrong?"
"Exactly, and Jasper is…" Bella cut me off.
"Jasper is giving Alice a hard time for the sake of entertainment."
"You've noticed that?" I asked, surprised.
"Jasper's not the only one who finds it entertaining." She smiled a wide and happy smile at me.
"Would you like to wait on the porch? They'll be here any moment."
She scooped my hand and tugged me towards the front door.
"I'll take that as a yes."
I stood behind Bella and wrapped my arms around her, holding her while we waited in silence. I could almost feel the excitement bubbling through her body and that made it easy for me to stay relaxed as my plan commenced.
"I have a surprise for you," I whispered.
"Emmett?" Bella squealed, turning to smile at me as she recognized the jeep that was pulling in. She wiggled out of my arms and ran for the truck.
Alice flitted out first, before Jasper had even come to a full stop, and launched herself into Bella's waiting arms. I think Bella was even more excited to see Alice than I was, or perhaps I was simply more focused on the visitors that would follow Alice. Jasper parked and quietly came to stand beside me, allowing Bella and Alice some privacy for their reunion. Emmett followed suit, giving Bella and Alice a moment before he emerged from the back seat. Once he got out, Bella threw her arms around Emmett's neck with such exuberance that it took me off guard. As Jasper turned to look at me, I heard everything Bella was feeling in his mind. I hadn't factored in what Emmett's presence would mean to Bella. Merely by being here, but also in choosing to go against Rosalie's wishes, Emmett was giving Bella the validation she needed. It was like he was agreeing with who she was and what she had become. Finally, Bella came to Jasper and hugged him in a gentle embrace, whispering a soft thank you close to his ear. Although Jasper didn't outwardly show it, he was flattered by her sincerity. I quickly hugged Alice and Emmett and then put my arm around Jasper's shoulders, happy to have them there but concentrating on what was to come. Bella walked to the house arm in arm with Alice, talking and gesturing animatedly. I let them move away from us so she wouldn't hear me speak.
"How is she, Jasper?"
"She's very happy, Edward. Peaceful even. She's in very good emotional shape. You're sure she's ready for this?"
I didn't blame my brother for having doubts. He understood too well how easy a mistake could occur around a human.
"I wouldn't put Charlie in any undue danger. Bella is more than strong enough to see him, even if she doesn't know it."
"You're taking a big chance, Bro," Emmett decided. "But who doesn't love a good bloodbath once in a while?"
Jasper whacked Emmett in the back of the head before I had the chance to.
"What?" Emmett asked, a confused look on his face as he rubbed the base of his skull.
"We're trying to be positive here, Emmett. It's no time for joking," Jasper scolded.
I could hear the remorse in Emmett's mind but he didn't express it out loud.
"Chill, Jazz. Edward said Bella is ready so she's ready. I wouldn't bet against her."
"I'm not betting against her," Jasper defended. I raised my hand to cut him off.
"You don't need to justify your behaviour, Jasper. I respect your experience in this situation and appreciate your cautious approach." I turned to my other brother. "Emmett, your laid back manner is exactly what Bella needs right now. I know she's pleased you're both here."
"When is Carlisle due in?" Jasper inquired.
"He'll be here in about fifteen minutes," I estimated. "Until then, we need to keep Bella happy. It's imperative that she doesn't know what is coming."
"That means you need to knock off the teasing, Emmett," Jasper stipulated. "You'll weaken her self-possession without meaning to if you're not careful."
"Damn it, Jasper! Will you give me a little bit of credit? I'm not an idiot. I know how important this is. I'm not going to say anything in front of Bella."
They both thought of Bella as a beloved sister, as part of our family. It was strange to hear the alteration in their thoughts given their qualms with her when Bella first came into my life, although no stranger than the immense change she brought in me I supposed. I broke into their conversation, interrupting them before they got any angrier at one another.
"Gentleman, let's go find the girls, shall we? Our energy would be much better spent on them than each other."
I led them into the house, finding Bella and Alice sitting in the living room.
"Bella, why don't we sit outside?" I suggested.
She looked up at me, one eyebrow quirked in surprise, and I wondered what was going through her mind, fearing I had drawn attention to my plan without meaning to.
"The day is already warm and there's more seating on the patio," I explained, working quickly to justify my suggestion by downplaying its emphasis.
"Good point," she acknowledged, smiling at me.
I breathed a mental sigh of relief that I hadn't tipped my hand to her. Her first meeting with Charlie since becoming a vampire was better held out of doors, where his scent couldn't be trapped and intensified by the four walls of our living room.
Carlisle was close, not more than five minutes away, and hailing me frantically to alert me of his location and imminent arrival. He wasn't alarmed; merely wanted me amply prepared. I saw the images of his arrival flip through Alice's mind. She appeared calm but her thoughts betrayed her worries. Jasper, so attuned to his mate, engulfed us all in his gentle calming influence. It was Jasper's way of telling Alice not to worry, and I smiled at him to thank him. Not only would it decrease Alice's stress, it would help to extend Bella's peaceful state at well.
We all made our way outside. I was carefully monitoring everyone's thoughts. Jasper was contemplating which chair Bella might choose so he could determine where Alice would sit. Alice had already seen the seating arrangement and was lingering back so I could set my plan in motion. I pulled out the chair that flanked Emmett and offered it to Bella. Alice knew I wanted Jasper at my side and discreetly finessed Jasper's hand to her chair so he could pull it out for her, leaving an empty chair for Jasper to take once he'd finished helping her. On the surface, the scene was all very natural, nothing more fantastic than a family sitting down at a table to chat. I stood behind Bella, my hands caressing her shoulders lovingly. I was too anxious to sit. Carlisle would be pulling up in before I knew it.
"I love you," I whispered, bending to Bella's ear so I could speak softly. I had picked an inopportune moment for doubt and remorse. It was too late to change what was coming. It had been too late the second I granted Charlie the permission to visit. Perhaps the decision had been weakness on my part, knowing how difficult it would be to live without his daughter had I been in his shoes, or a moment of condemnable egotism that I could protect her no matter what. I was sure that Bella was mentally strong enough to deal with the situation, but what if she wasn't emotionally ready to be put into it? Conceit had made me sure that she would thank me for the opportunity in the end, but what if she was angry with me for putting Charlie at risk?
"I love you too," she whispered, smiling sheepishly as her eyes darted around the table to the faces of my brothers and sister before they locked on mine. I recognized the look in her eyes. It was more than trust and happiness, and the true peacefulness I saw there moved me beyond my guilt. These faces, mine included, were the ones that gave her life meaning, and within moments I would be able to give her the sense of completeness that she lacked by returning her to her father.
"I have a rather large surprise for you," I announced. My father was just pulling into the driveway.
Bella's eyes were still focused on mine and I saw the flicker of excitement erupt in them. I took her hand and pulled her up to stand beside me, walking her around the table so the breeze was blowing from behind her. I wanted to keep her blind to her father's presence for as long as possible. Alice had seen the slight alteration in my plan and gently persuaded Jasper to follow me. Emmett moved to stand several feet away from us, ready to be the physical intermediary if the situation required it. We were all calm and focused on Bella.
Her eyes were filled with wonder as they searched mine for some hint of what I was referring to.
"Are you happy with our life?" I wondered rhetorically.
"I want you to have everything you need to make it perfect."
"It is perfect," she insisted stubbornly, misunderstanding my intent.
"It can't be perfect until you have your father back," I whispered.
"I'm not ready for that yet though," she decided before she questioned the idea more thoroughly. "Am I?"
"You are," I assured her, and spun her around to face the spot where her father would appear in mere seconds.
She sampled the air as I expected she would, and I felt her stiffen ever so slightly in my hands as she assessed the mixture of aromas carefully.
"Carlisle and Esme," she murmured. Her voice was so soft I knew I wasn't meant to hear her words, but I answered her anyway.
"Yes, and they've brought the biggest surprise of all."
At the same moment that Bella trusted her instincts enough to believe she recognized his scent, Charlie and my parents rounded the corner of the house.
Charlie stopped dead in his tracks, tears instantly welling in his eyes as they fell upon the sight of the daughter he almost lost.
He forced her name out roughly before his tears began to fall. Esme's hand moved to Charlie's shoulder, softly patting it to comfort him.
The gravity of the situation pressed down on me but I intentionally refused to acknowledge it. I couldn't afford to be emotional and risk losing control of myself. Charlie represented the one bit of normalcy from her human life that I could still give to Bella, and I couldn't let my fear destroy this opportunity for her. Instead, I surrendered to circumstance, focusing on what mattered most to me, Bella. I relinquished everything else to my family, even the supervision of Charlie.
Time seemed to halt somehow, each thing around me manifesting distinctly and significantly in my mind.
Although I registered no change in her, my hands tightened on Bella's shoulders reflexively and I braced myself for her response. I felt a spate of calm settle in around us and, for a split second, I worried that I was not reading Bella correctly, that I was somehow failing to notice the difficulty she was having with her bloodlust. In the same instant, I heard the struggle in Jasper's head, his thoughts calling the all too familiar burn of his thirst to the forefront of my consciousness. He was anticipating an obdurate explosion of Bella's innate appetite, although his response was as much for himself as it was for Bella and Charlie. He went over and over every emotional current that radiated from Bella, absorbing and analyzing each emotion, growing more perplexed with each sample. He was confounded by her nominal instinctual response, particularly since even after all this time he was still internally tortured by the scent of human blood.
Like a stone sentry, Emmett remained stoical and patient, wholly focused on Bella as he waited for her reaction. My parents were silent on either side of Charlie. Esme was lost in the tenderness of the reunion, while Carlisle's thoughts and expression projected his optimism towards a favourable outcome for all parties involved. Charlie was lost in grief. Even though he'd spoken to Bella and seen videos of her, he had refused to believe she was truly okay until he finally saw her for himself. He was taking in every detail of her, recreating her image in his mind to prove to himself it was really Bella. Alice was already sure of the future and whispered her guarantees about Charlie's safety and Jasper's competence to Jasper, too quietly for anyone to hear. I only heard the sentiments in her mind. Jasper's focus shifted back to Bella and I felt a second stronger wave of calm engulf us as his confidence returned.
The moment Bella began to advance to escape my hands it became impossible to stay calm. In a panic, I slid both of my arms around her torso to hold her to me, trying to still her. I redirected my energy towards counteracting the physical movements of her body so that I could protect her from hurting Charlie. The remotest parts of my mind continued to survey everyone around me.
Charlie saw my arms encircle Bella and to him it looked like an affectionate gesture more than the cage it was intended to be. Emmett bent his knees and readied to spring so he could use the full force of his strength against Bella if she broke free from my hold. Carlisle's once cautious thoughts began to crumble and reveal his fears that I could not control the situation. He began to consider initiating the emergency plan of action we had discussed, stopping short of physically restraining Charlie from moving forward, but only because Charlie seemed frozen in place. Esme held tightly to the goodness in the situation – to Charlie's vast love for Bella and all of the sacrifices he'd agreed to so selflessly to keep his little girl in his life, to the life altering changes that Bella had endured without her permission and the enormous strength she had shown in accepting them, and to my deep and enduring bond with Bella. For Esme, the situation had to work out. There was no other outcome but a positive one. The interaction between Bella and I had shaken Alice's confidence and she retreated inwards to search through the next few moments of time for something she might have missed.
Only a second of time hand passed.
Bella began labouring against the confines of my arms. I tightened my grip on her as much as I could without hurting her, silently begging for her to relax with the desperation of my grasp. I couldn't say anything aloud without alerting Charlie, and that was the last thing any of us wanted. I furiously scanned Alice's mind as she searched the future, looking for the outcome of our endeavour so I could decide my next move. Jasper held a defensive stance, shielding Alice with his body. He had discarded the plan entirely. Alice's safety was his only concern now and I couldn't fault him for that. He wanted to protect his mate the same way I wanted to protect mine.
Emmett took a step forward. His manner was casual but his thoughts were tense. He was blind to the information that Jasper, Alice and I had gathered and believed Jasper's stance meant I was losing my hold on Bella. His eyes followed the movements of my arms as he tried to assess the stability and cogency of my efforts. A low warning growl left Jasper's lips, but it was drowned out by the noise of Charlie's crying.
Carlisle's hand moved to Charlie's other shoulder. He wanted to comfort Charlie but he also knew the position gave him physical control over Charlie if he needed to get Charlie out of the situation for safety reasons. Poor Charlie was a mess, shoulders hunched and shaking as sobs poured out of him. He wanted to be strong for Bella but the wall of fears that had been holding him together had crumbled. Spent and unsteady, he fell to his knees. Esme bent down to him and put her arms around him, whispering kind words to soothe his turmoil.
Bella was still resisting the incarceration of my arms, twisting her body against mine in an effort to free herself. It was becoming increasingly difficult to neutralize Bella's actions. My movements felt awkward and clumsy, my body lacking its normal fluidity. As I struggled with holding Bella still, I noticed Jasper's posture relax out of the corner of my eye. There had been no indication in Alice's visions that I could let down my guard. I was still fighting the instinct to hold Bella tighter, and the urge to flee from the potential danger was overwhelmingly strong. It was my fault she wanted to hurt Charlie and my responsibility to ensure she didn't do something she would regret. I reminded myself that she had to face Charlie, yet the only thing I could think of was removing her from the current situation for her own protection.
Bella's body felt heavy against mine and I knew her strength would overpower mine soon. I wasn't sure what had kept me in control thus far save for sheer will. I was considering a verbal plea when Alice called to me in her mind. She was pushing strings of images at me, but they only reinforced what I already knew. Charlie was extremely upset and Bella was gunning for him. I had to find a way to hold Bella back until she was calm and sure of herself. She would never forgive me if I allowed something bad happen to Charlie.
Bella's quietly stern voice broke through my concentration. It was not strained or uncontrolled as I expected it would be.
"Let me go, please," she requested respectfully.
I paused to consider her appeal and in my stillness realized that her body was inert. She wasn't fighting me any longer; her body was virtually limp in my arms as she allowed me to hold her up. Part of me wondered if she was trying to trick me into releasing her. It didn't feel right to let her go. It went against my instincts.
'It's okay, Edward,' Alice assured me silently.
She showed me her vision again, but this time I scrutinized it more carefully. Bella was hugging Charlie. They were both smiling, and while Charlie had tears running down his cheeks, he seemed joyful.
Without completely unlocking my arms, I loosened my hold on Bella and she turned to face me.
"I'm okay, Edward," Bella whispered, using the quietest of voices to ensure only I would hear. Her eyes were filled with honesty.
I looked at her, feeling bewildered and afraid, functionally unable to let her go.
"I'm only thinking of you…of Charlie," I murmured, hoping she'd understand that I couldn't risk her happiness by letting her go.
She seemed to understand.
"Check with Alice, please," she pleaded softly, glancing over at her friend quickly before her eyes went back to her father who was falling to pieces in Esme's arms.
Alice pushed her vision at me again, slowing it down so I would pay closer attention, focusing on the movement of my hands. The images replayed again and again, my hands straining against Bella's body. I didn't understand what she was trying to show me.
I looked into Bella's eyes again and recognized the same peaceful look I'd seen earlier. Knowing how much she loved Charlie, I knew she couldn't feel peaceful if she was afraid of hurting him, so why was she looking for Alice's assurance? The picture of my hands on Bella flashed again in my mind and I tried to connect it to what was happening. What made my hands on Bella so significant?
I felt as if I couldn't trust anything, not even my own instincts, so I checked Jasper's mind, sure that he wouldn't be able to disguise Bella's intentions. Jasper's thoughts were cautious and circumspect, swimming in the emotions projected by everyone – Esme's compassion, Carlisle's integrity, Charlie's grief-ridden relief, Emmett's impatience, Alice's assuredness, and his own astonishment. The two strongest emotions were love and peacefulness. The notion confounded me.
The strongest emotions were coming from Bella and myself. If she was the one who was peaceful then the love had to be emanating from me, and that seemed wrong. I felt afraid and anxious and frantic, not loving. The love that Jasper was reading was affectionate and cherishing and devoted. The only amorous emotion I could associate with easily was ardency, but in a fierce and vehement sense, not in a passionate sense. My sole purpose was to protect Bella and it was my grave duty to fulfill that responsibility.
Bella twisted her arms free from my hold and brought her hands to my face. She held my cheeks tenderly, gifting me all of her kindness and understanding with her manner and in the way she looked up at me.
"Did Alice show you that I won't hurt Charlie?" she asked.
There was something in her tone that stood out to me. It was significant, perhaps more so that the actual question. She wasn't asking me to tell her whether or not she would hurt Charlie. She was asking if Alice showed me that she did not hurt him.
"Yes, " I admitted quietly. "But I'm still wary of letting you go. I know you don't want to hurt him."
"He was never in danger," she told me with great confidence. "I know you only held me back because you love me."
Her words confused me further. I held her back so she wouldn't hurt her father. While I couldn't deny that love was the driving force behind my actions, it was the last thing on my mind when I wrapped my arms around her torso to keep her from lunging at Charlie.
"I was only trying to prevent you from doing something you'd regret," I mumbled.
Bella nodded in recognition of my words but said nothing, her eyes patient and expectant. There was something more she wanted me to understand, that much was clear, but that was the only thing that was clear to me.
I re-examined Bella's words, trying to figure out what I had missed. She had asked me if Alice had shown me that she would not hurt Charlie. She was sure she wouldn't hurt him, that he was never in danger. I understood Bella's statement to be one of desire, not fact. She had no way to know what Alice had seen, but she was sure of Charlie's safety regardless. What she really wanted to know was if I knew of Charlie's safety.
It was easy to understand why Alice was sure that Bella wouldn't hurt Charlie; she could see the future before it happened. I had taken the images Alice had shown me as a warning not to let Bella go since Alice was focusing on something that happened prior to Bella and Charlie's hug. If it wasn't a warning then what was she trying to get me to see?
The image of my hands holding tightly to Bella replayed in my mind. I studied how my hands grasped at her body, pulling her against me and clutching at her desperately. My hands. Alice was trying to show me that the answer was in that image. I searched Alice's mind, separating her visions from what she had seen with her eyes, as she had been watching Bella and me carefully. At first, Bella seemed to be one step ahead of my movements, but as I studied the images as they repeated more slowly, I realized that her body was not really astir. The dynamics of her movements were in response to the force of my arms and body. The image of my hands on Bella's body finally clicked with the intent of Bella's statement.
"But you didn't need my help. Charlie was never in danger because you were always in control of your thirst," I whispered, realizing my role in the altercation. I had overreacted. I was so concerned with protecting Bella that I didn't give her a chance to do the right thing. For a brief moment, not more than a few seconds to those who were watching, I had forgotten the courage and fortitude that Bella possessed, and once again she showed me how amazing she really was.
Again, Bella nodded, a gentle smile on her lips.
"But if I hadn't been in control, your actions would have saved Charlie and me, and I think you know how much that means to me."
It still felt strange to let her go, but I did just that, letting my hands fall away from Bella's body so she could go to Charlie. She kissed me softly before she went to her father, and I watched as she wrapped her arms around him in a loving embrace. She whispered assurances, repeating that she was okay over and over again until Charlie finally raised his head and agreed with her. I didn't need Jasper's abilities to feel the joy that radiated from both father and daughter. I could see it in the way Charlie's eyes wrinkled at the corners because of his wide smile and hear it in Bella's laugh.
Somehow, beyond logic and reason, Bella was absolutely fine with Charlie. Perhaps, just like it had been for me, love moved her beyond her thirst and the instinct dissolved into nuisance in the face of it. Or maybe, as in so many other ways, Bella was the exception to the rule. Either way, she was where she belonged, stuck somewhere between the human and vampire worlds, keeping the same secrets as the rest of us but lucky enough to have a father who loved her enough not to question the oddities.
I watched from across the patio as the tender words and gestures passed between Bella and her father. In fleeting distracted moments, Charlie was thinking about how to thank my parents, but for the most part his mind was wholly focused on his daughter and the enormous relief brought by knowing she was okay. Charlie was so grateful to have Bella in his arms and back in his life that the changes in Bella's appearance barely registered, and certainly not in a negative fashion. He attributed the majority of the variances to Bella simply maturing. I suppose the last few months apart from her helped to veil her exact image in his memory.
Jasper and Alice had fallen back from the group, trying to give Bella and Charlie some privacy while still remaining nearby in case of an emergency. My parents remained close to Charlie. Carlisle was still in a cautious state of mind but Esme was simply glowing with happiness. Emmett chose to stay at Bella's side; his buoyant personality soaking up the jovial atmosphere created by the reunion with her father. He was content to watch them in silence, dismissing even the remotest chance of danger caused by Bella losing control. It was much more difficult for me to remain on-guard with Emmett's carefree thoughts in my head.
I was still focused on Bella, enjoying her smiles and the serenity she radiated. I was happy for her, but I wouldn't feel that same peacefulness until I was able to apologize for my behaviour. I knew she understood and that she was not angry with me for overreacting, but I was angry with myself. I didn't want her to think I had no faith in her. I had simply lost sight of my faith when I let my fear rule, but if anyone understood how fear could control someone, it was Bella.
Charlie's mind shifted to the gift he'd brought for Bella, and I heard him excuse himself to get it from the car. The token was a silver filigree heart locket that he bought with a particular sentiment in mind. The sterling silver represented Bella's strength and the delicate scrolls and arabesques symbolized the intertwining of their lives. It was a beautiful piece that I was sure she would love. Bella waited for Charlie to disappear around the corner of the house and then walked over to me.
"You sneaky little shit," she whispered.
"Can you…" Bella cut me off before I could say anything more.
"Don't even say it," she threatened in a low tone, even though she was smiling from ear to ear.
"That you're sorry."
"But I am sorry."
I slipped my hands around her waist and pulled her against me, needing the physical connection to her to express my remorse in a tangible way.
"You did nothing wrong."
"On the contrary. I overreacted. I let my fear get in the way and behaved as is I had no faith in you."
"How strangely human of you," she mocked playfully.
"I don't want you to think I don't believe in you."
"Edward, I know you believe in me. Hell, you believe in me more than I do."
"My behaviour was atrocious. It was inconsiderate and reprehensible."
"And if I had made one false move? Would your actions be considered to be quite so irresponsible then?"
"But that's not what happened."
"It's what could have happened so easily, and what I feared would happen! The situation is not so black and white, Edward. It could have played out a hundred different ways. You were trying to protect my dad and stop me from doing something I couldn't control. How can I fault you for that?"
"I could have made better choices."
"When the choices count, you have always made the right ones."
I wasn't sure I agreed with her. I felt as if I'd made so many bad choices over the months. In my selfish desire to love Bella, I exposed her to a dangerous world without her knowledge and kept secrets that hurt her deeply. From the moment I met her, I only wanted to spare her the hell of what I was, and, in the end, my choices and actions precipitated exactly the end I wanted to avoid. I didn't regret having her with me, or changing her so she wouldn't die, but I did regret that it wasn't her choice.
Even today I had taken a great risk with Bella's happiness by allowing Charlie to visit without her knowledge. If today had gone badly, I could have lost Bella forever, and she would have been well within her rights to despise me for putting Charlie in danger. Perhaps letting Charlie visit was a poor choice too, although it was hard to see it as one in hindsight. Bella had her father back, we had each other, and there was nothing left to fear.
There was risk in every step of our journey together. When I first met Bella, there was risk in just being around her. Now, it was the antithesis of that; the risk was in being without her. With every choice there was risk, but for every risk, there was reward. When I gave my heart to Bella, when I took chances to be close to her and to love her, when I kept my secret and told my truths, with every choice I made, she was my reward, and she was worth every risk.
Edward had done it. He'd given my father back to me just like he promised to do. Feeling grateful to him didn't seem like enough. How do you thank someone for saving you from yourself? How do you express your gratitude to someone for seeing the best in you when you couldn't see it yourself? How do you repay someone for loving all of you, for fixing the broken parts and making the good parts better?
"I may not have always made the right choices, but the choices I made I did so for the right reason," he offered.
"And what were the right reasons?" I challenged.
"Every choice I made was because I love you."
"You love me?" I teased playfully.
"I do," he assured me softly, smiling and kissing my forehead gently.
"Thank you for giving me my father back. I owe you."
"You owe me nothing," he refuted stubbornly.
"I owe you everything, and you'll just have to suck it up and let me try to pay you back."
"And if I refuse?" he mused.
"Silly old vampire, and I stress the word 'old,' I'll still be stronger than you for at least a while longer. If you force me to hold you down so I can repay you then so be it." I couldn't keep myself from giggling.
A wide smile spread across his handsome face.
"I'm always at your whim; the holding down would simply be a bonus, but we'll have to talk about that later. Charlie is on his way back."
"I love you, Edward," I whispered softly, hoping the quiet tone of my voice brought more intimacy to the words. "If it takes forever, I'll never stop trying to show you how much you mean to me."
"Or you, me," he murmured, pressing a kiss to my lips.
"That'll be enough of that mushy romantic crap," Charlie announced, rounding the corner of the house into the backyard. "Just because you love the guy doesn't mean the rest of us want to see your PDAs."
"Okay, Dad," I agreed reluctantly, pulling away from Edward's kiss but staying in his arms. "Let's call it what is though, shall we? You're just jealous because you're not getting laid."
"Definitely still our Bella, Edward, complete with attitude just like you said."
"And cursing," Charlie and Edward said in unison.
I grinned remorselessly and shrugged.
"You guys wouldn't recognize me without the expletives."
Choices are a fickle thing. It's easy to take them for granted, but they can change on a dime or disappear in the blink of an eye. It took my mom's death to wake me from that delusion. When she died, the smorgasbord of choices that had always lived at my fingertips dissolved away into dust, and my whole world slid out of focus. For the first time in my life, I felt real fear, and it took a hold of me and wouldn't let go.
In the absence of choices, I felt backed into a corner. I looked at the singular option as the enemy; like there was no way that it could work to my advantage or be good or right in any way. I felt forced into it. I felt controlled by it. I felt trapped by it.
But I was looking at it wrong.
I might not have been able to control every choice in my life, but I sure as hell had choices I could control. I had the choice to make things better for myself. I had the choice to take risks. I had the choice to live.
Edward was the one who made me realize that I wanted more. He made me understand that living in fear was no life at all. In that way we were alike, living a half-life. I guess, for us, two half-lives made a whole.
Given the chance to go back and do things differently, I wouldn't change a single one of my decisions. I understand now that I was on the path that brought me to Edward. I was never one to believe in fate or karma or even have faith. In fact, I used to believe that crap would happen just because it could. After what I'd been through the last year, it was difficult to ignore the faith that had evolved in me. I trusted Edward and what we had together. There were no doubts. I would spend the rest of my life loving him and trying to show him how much he meant to me. I wasn't afraid any longer. I was meant to be with him.
I don't know exactly what the future holds for Edward and me. I don't think we're supposed to know every step of every journey, regardless of what Alice believes. I know I won't be alone. I know I'll have Edward and that I'll never take him or Charlie or the Cullens for granted. The rest will work itself out somehow. With Edward by my side I'm ready to face whatever comes. Sometimes you just have to fly by the seat of your pants and enjoy the journey. Life is about the journey.
It's about choices.
A/N: Writing Out of Choices has been a really cathartic learning experience for me. I've made some friends, I've shed a few tears, and I hope that I've become a better writer. I couldn't finish this story without making a few special thank yous…
Mad4Hugh – Your never-ending support has meant more to me than you could ever understand. Thank you for always being there and making me believe in what I was doing.
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