It was the eve of Christmas Eve.
It was freezing. Even with every piece of scrap cloth stuffed into the cracks and crevices of the 200 year old house, the draft could not be stopped. Edward had cut down the last of the suitable trees on the property, but the firewood had to be used sparingly. There would be no money this year for extra wood in the fireplace, or for gas for the furnace. Not that any other year we'd been overflowing in money, but this year had been particularly hard.
I was a new teacher, a job that I loved, but didn't exactly put me in a high tax bracket. Unfortunately, the school district I had worked in for two years was suffering from cutbacks that cost anyone with less than 10 years seniority their job. It wasn't fair to us, and it wasn't fair to the kids who now had to double up in their classrooms, but it happened, never the less. I'd been out of work this entire school year. No one was even looking for substitutes.
Every time I'd suggested looking for another job, Edward insisted I wait until next summer and apply for another teaching job for the fall term, then, if it didn't work, he would be ok with me looking for some other form of employment. My dear Edward, he knew how much teaching meant to me. How much I loved being with the kids, helping them learn and how to appreciate all the things about reading that I did. Reading was a joy and a passion for me. I'd read thousands of books by hundreds of authors.
My personal treasure is an almost complete collection of first edition Jane Austen novels. The only one I lack is Pride and Prejudice. Being the most widely known, thanks to the many movie adaptations, the price for a first edition of that novel was astronomical. That's if you could even find one. Luckily for me, or rather unluckily for me, as rare as it was, we happened to have a little family owned bookstore locally that had a copy. It had been on display, up on a shelf, tempting and taunting me for the whole three years we'd been living in this house.
Edward is a musician. He lives, breathes, and dreams music. Piano is his instrument of choice, but he's taught himself to play a multitude of instruments. His parents arranged for lessons for him as a child on his grandparent's piano. That piano is a part of Edward's heart and still sits in the music room of the house his grandparents built, now our house. It's his favorite place to play and write. It's where he composes melodies and harmonies that tell stories all their own. His dream is to someday record his compositions and hopefully sell them to someone for a show or movie.
Poor Edward is in a sticky employment situation of his own. He drives an hour every day from our quiet little New England town to work in the city. He's a piano instructor at what used to be a prestigious music academy. Unfortunately, we don't hold the monopoly on hard times, and the academy has lost so many of it's clients that Edward only has three consistent students a week. The rest of the time he tries to keep busy doing paperwork and cleaning. Anything to keep himself useful for fear of being laid off all together.
Only two days until Christmas. After paying all the bills and making sure we had food for the rest of the month, I barely had enough money to keep our bank account open, let alone buy a gift for Edward. I'd been putting out notices on the sly to the local businesses offering to clean offices and even the employees homes for extra money, but no calls. I'd waited until the very last minute to get a gift in hopes that I'd have some extra money to add to my stash, but no such luck. What in the world could I get the love of my life with less than $25?
I only had today to find something. Tomorrow we would be spending the day with Edward's family cooking and serving meals at a shelter in the city near his work. Remembering this, thinking of those people we'd be seeing tomorrow who truly had nothing, I felt suddenly ashamed. We didn't have much, but we had a home, and we had family, and we had just enough to get us by. The possessions we had were just that, possessions. Things. We were fond of the things we owned, but none of them could replace the happiness and love we had for each other or our family. I started thinking of the things I owned, and what I would give to see Edward surprised and happy on Christmas Day. I'd give anything. Then it hit me.
There would be an empty space on my bookshelf, but only until I could buy other, less expensive books to fill it. They were just things, after all. For now, I just rearranged the books I had to disguise where my first editions used to lived. Rationally, I knew it was silly to mourn their loss. It's not like I didn't have another copy of each of the novels. I'd read them all multiple times, practically had the words memorized. And yet I couldn't stop a tear or two from falling as I left the bookstore and made the 60 minute drive into the city to find Edward's gift. It would be worth it on Christmas day.
I had $1225 now. Money that simultaneously broke my heart and healed it. I'd seen Edward looking longingly at the machines available for professionally recording and duplicating original music. As much as playing and writing was an act of love for him, it was more than that. He looked at his compositions as a way to provide for us, for our family. He was so sure that he could make a better life for us if he could just get his music out for the public and music industry to hear. He felt like he was letting us down because he couldn't help our employment situations. His self esteem had taken a blow, but I believed in him.
Walking into the music store was a bit intimidating. I wasn't sure what all the technical terms were, but the salesperson seemed genuinely interested in what Edward's plans were with the machine and tried to find the best option for us. 30 minutes later I was leaving with Edward's gift feeling happier than I had in a very long time. I just hoped he didn't have a heart attack when he found out how much it cost, or what I'd given up to get it. I'd managed to find the perfect thing for him, and still managed to have $200 to put in the bank. Rationally, the money could have been better spent, but in my heart I just knew I had to do this for him. This gift would make him happy, but it would also give him the tools he needed to repair his damaged spirit.
During dinner that night I couldn't help the smile that kept crawling onto my face. Edward questioned me and I credited the "holiday spirit" with improving my mood. We discussed plans for our day with his family. The Cullens were such caring people, it was no wonder they spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day helping at the local shelters and food banks in the city. I would be meeting them first thing to help prepare the food. Edward had a few things to take care of in the morning, so he would be joining us around lunchtime.
I fell asleep that night, wrapped in Edward's loving arms, thinking about the day ahead. Contentment makes for wonderful dreams.
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Christmas Eve was beautiful. I woke up to cold sunshine and snow on the ground. Not too much to cause problems, but enough to make it feel like Christmas. Edward had already gotten up, started a fire, cooked breakfast, and was in the music room. As I watched him silently from the doorway, I couldn't help but feel a bit of sorrow in the music he was playing. His music was always an extension of himself, so the weeping melody concerned me.
I crossed the room and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. He was a bit startled, wrapped up in himself he hadn't heard me enter. Sitting next to him he played my Lullaby, the song he wrote for me when we first fell in love. It had never sounded sweeter than it did this morning. Something about the way he played it then sounded more loving, and more hopeful than it ever had before. His eyes seemed a little misty when he softly whispered, "I love you, Bella, more than anything."
We finished our morning "to do's" and I headed off to meet Edward's parents and siblings.
Carlisle and Esme Cullen were caring, generous people. They had a loving marriage and amazing children. They truly had it all. All except money. They had been wealthy in their early days, money passed down from Carlisle's family, but hard times and their generous nature had relieved them of their excess. These days they struggled like the rest of us, but seemed happier for it.
They had a very, very large family, made of all sons and their partners. Peter, who was the spitting image of his father, and his wife Rachel, Emmett who was dating Rosalie, Kellan and his wife Anna, Jasper who was engaged to Alice, Jackson and his wife Samantha, my Edward, and Edward's twin brother Robert and his wife Nicole. The Cullen wives had started a homeless shelter / food bank a few years ago. They partnered with the women's shelter that Rosalie and Alice ran to make sure everyone who needed help and hope received it.
"Thank you so much for coming, Bella, we really appreciate all your help." Esme said as we pulled more of the donated food out of the ovens at the shelter, "we're so lucky Edward fell in love with such a giving young woman. I just wish you two lived closer. We miss having you around, I feel like we only see you for holidays." Edward and I had chosen to live in the family home, rather than sell it, after his grandparents passed away. We loved the old house and the small town, but it meant we were an hour away from the rest of the family.
"I wish we could spend more time together too, Esme, maybe we can make that our New Year's resolution." I replied. I really did love spending time with them. They were refined and proper when the occasion dictated, but I wasn't fooled, those Cullens knew how to cut loose as well. I'd heard the stories. Back when they had the means, there were crazy camping / hunting trips in the mountains of the northwest, trips to Italy at the drop of a hat, arm wrestling contests that ended in all out destruction, romantic island getaways, and speed races through their small hometown in exotic cars. Not to mention all the jokes and pranks they played on each other on a daily basis. I suppose that's to be expected with a family full of grown-up boys.
"Think of the devils and they shall appear," I giggled to myself. The boys all rushed into the kitchen with smiles on their faces and snowballs in their hands. Shushing us, they silently crept through the kitchen and proceeded to bombard their other halves with the smuggled ammunition as they were decorating the large Christmas tree in the entryway of the shelter. Carlisle was with them, snowball in hand, but stopped just in front of Esme. One warning look was all it took for the aim of his throw to change from his wife to the kitchen sink. What he did hit her with was a tender kiss that made me blush and look away. I missed Edward. I wonder what he had to take care of first thing this morning.
Later in the day, the shelter was full of people, we hurried trying to get food to everyone. Kellan, Anna, Peter and Rachel were out taking food to the people on the street who hadn't been able to make it to the shelter. Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper, and Alice were manning the women's shelter, making sure everyone there was fed and safe. Edward was helping the rest of us here at the main homeless shelter. When he arrived his mood seemed to alternate between sadness and excitement. It was an odd combination from him. His demeanor improved as he spent more time around his family and he focused on the tasks at hand. He soon became the warm, happy Edward I knew and loved.
Eventually, everyone present had eaten and the influx of new hungry mouths had slowed. Edward led the crowd in choruses of classic Christmas songs, and we all listened as Carlisle and Esme read the story of the first Christmas. We were then treated to an impromptu, obviously unrehearsed, performance of "It's A Wonderful Life" by the Cullen siblings and their wives. Emmett as the drunken and stumbling "George Bailey" was more comical than humble, but all in all they managed to convey the spirit of the story. It was a special day, shared with special people.
Edward and I had driven separately to the city, so we had to drive separately home. I loved the time with our family, but I was anxious to get home and give Edward his gift. I knew he would love it, but that little bit of apprehension about me spending so much money, and what he would think about me selling my books, made me just a little nervous.
He drove much faster than I did, much to my constant dismay, so he was already home when I pulled in the yard. I walked into the living room to find Edward lighting the last of about a dozen candles. There was a fire in the fireplace and a comforter on the floor covered in pillows from every bed in the house. On the coffee table was a selection of deserts and wine. My Edward. I just stood there in the doorway and smiled at him. He returned the smile, walked to me, pulled me close and shut the door behind me.
"Look up." He instructed.
Of course, I should have known. Mistletoe was hanging above me. He kissed me softly and whispered "Merry Christmas, love" into my ear. His gesture sent shivers down my spine. I never got tired of his lips on mine or his arms around me. "Merry Christmas." I whispered back, as I leaned up for another kiss.
We laid on the floor in front of the fire and he fed me scrumptious deserts until I couldn't eat anymore. I managed to get a few into him as well, but he seemed determined to make this a treat just for me. We talked and joked about his family and the day we'd had. We both felt very lucky to have what little we could call our own and promised to make a more concentrated effort to keep in closer touch with the family, and help out more with the shelters.
Just as midnight started to ding-dong from the grandfather clock in the hall, I jumped up and ran to the storage closet where I'd hidden Edward's gifts. I'd gotten the recording machine itself and all the microphone attachments, along with discs, cases, and label making software to duplicate the music and distribute it. There was a lot to juggle and the look of amusement of his face when he saw me coming back to him, lopsided and almost stumbling was priceless.
That look lasted only a second, when it occurred to him that these presents were for him. He obviously knew what our bank account looked like, so I had been preparing for the look that immediately followed.
"Bella, what is all this?" He questioned.
"Before you say anything else, I just want to say I love you more than anything, and I wanted to make this a special Christmas for you, and for us. I know we don't have a lot of money to throw around, but I made a decision, and I hope you can just be happy. Just open your Christmas presents, Edward, please, and don't look at me like that."
Edward had that "what am I going to do with you" look on his face, but I was so excited that I don't think I gave him much of a chance to come back with anything but a sincere, "thank you, love." We sat down and he started to open the gifts. I couldn't quite put my finger on the expression on his face. It was somewhere between shock and nausea. This was a bit stronger a response than I had expected.
"Wait, before you get upset, I know you want this. You can set up all the equipment in the music room. The salesperson helped me pick out the right thing to record from your microphone and piano. You can record all the amazing compositions you've been writing. And there are enough discs to send out to anyone you think can help you get your music heard. I know we could have used the money elsewhere, but this will pay off in the long run, I just know it. This is a good thing, Edward, please, just be happy."
"Bella, before we go any further, thank you, and I love it, I really do," he leaned over and kissed me, "now if you'll go get the package out of the cabinet under the pantry, I'd appreciate it. After you open your gift, we'll talk."
I walked over to the, usually unused, lower pantry cabinet and pulled out a beautifully wrapped gift. Edward pulled me down onto his lap and I started to unwrap it. Tears. Gasps. There's no way. Sitting in my hands was the first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice that completed my collection. A collection I no longer had. I couldn't stop crying. I knew what this cost, I'd practically drooled on the display case every time I walked into the bookstore. How had Edward been able to get this for me? And how could I tell him I'd sold my other books?
"Oh, Edward!" I reached around and wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. "I love it, oh my gosh, how did you do this? Oh, Edward, you're going to kill me!" I was panicking now. My voice started to raise in octaves and I could feel my face getting red. "Edward, please, please promise you won't get mad. I love my gift, more than you could possibly know, but you have to promise to let me say everything before you get upset with me."
"Bella, I need to go first, I need show you something, and explain something to you. I hope you understand and don't get upset with me, then you can tell me what you think you've done." Edward wiped my tears away from my face and tenderly kissed me one more time before he lifted me up and led me by the hand to his music room. A room that was now empty.
"Edward, where is your piano?" I gasped.
"I sold it. The parent's of one of my students wanted to buy a piano for their son to practice on at home. They were going to buy one new, but I convinced them that I had one that was perfectly in tune and was a great piano for learning on. This boy has great potential, he loves music like I do. I needed money to buy your gift, and I knew the piano would be going to someone who appreciated it. They came to pick it up this morning. There was a little money left over to put into savings, but I really just wanted you to have that book, Bella. You're so proud of your collection, and I hated seeing you looking at that in the bookstore and not be able to give it to you. Please don't be too upset with me, love." He looked at me hopefully.
I couldn't move, I couldn't breathe. The tears started again as I silently pulled him away from the music room and started down the hall to the small den that housed our "library."
"Bella, please say something. Maybe I can set up to record from one of the pianos at the academy. If I do it after hours I'm sure they won't mind. Please, honey, say anything." He was starting to worry about my silence.
As we entered the den, I took a deep breath and pointed Edward in the direction of the shelf where my collection had been. Even filled with miscellaneous books, I could feel the ghosts of my first editions haunting their previous space. I was pressed against Edward's back, with my arms wrapped around him. I could feel him gasp as he saw the change on the shelf.
"Oh, Bella, what have you done?" He asked, although when he pulled me to stand in front of him, he wore a knowing look.
"I had to Edward. I have other copies to read, but I just had to. I needed the money to buy your gift. I know how much you want to share your music, how much it would mean to you to be able to sell your compositions. I had to do what I could to help." I couldn't stop the sobbing now.
Edward just held me. He lifted my face to him, all red and wet, and kissed me deeply.
"Bella, you are amazing. A foolish, remarkable, amazing woman and I love you. Merry Christmas."
"We certainly are a pair, aren't we? I love you, too, more than anything. Merry Christmas, Edward."