My name is Edward Masen, and I was born to love Isabella Swan. It sounds funny to say that when you consider that I only met her a couple of months ago, but it's the truth. My entire life – a life that I now know to be false – I felt incomplete, as if the most vital part of me was missing. Then this wonderful girl fainted in front of me, and as I held her in my arms, she awoke and looked up at me with the most incredible chocolate brown eyes I had ever seen. I was finally home, lost in those eyes, and I didn't want to be found.
The whole time we were together, I knew she was hiding something from me. I could see it on her face – evidence of a tragedy so great that she might never recover. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and take away her pain, even as I sometimes wondered if I was the source of it. I recognized her, you see. She was what I had been missing, and once she walked back into my life I heard music and dreamt of frightening creatures and events that made no sense in the daylight world. I didn't understand it right away, but somehow I knew that I was intimately involved with the grief that had shattered her heart.
She had been about to tell me the truth, that last night in her apartment; I could sense it. I had lost my temper, something I'm not proud of. With tears in her eyes, she had prepared to tell me what I demanded to know, but the phone interrupted us. Her father had been seriously injured in the line of duty, and as the girl of my dreams shattered in my arms, I stepped into the role of protector and made arrangements to take care of her and her family. We traveled to Forks, where I came face to face with my nightmares.
I overreacted about Dr. Cullen, again behaving in a way that would have shamed my parents if they could have seen me. My only excuse is that I could see the way Bella responded to him, and it caused my would-be lover's heart to ache with dread. Here was someone who was irrevocably associated with Bella's past, who had some bearing on the dreadful secret she carried. I could sense the truth of it, no matter what she said. So I acted in the worst possible of ways, making Bella cry and leaving her alone when she was at her most vulnerable. I drove to her father's house, inwardly seething as I thought about Carlisle Cullen. If he had harmed her, if he had touched even a single hair on her precious head, I was going to tear him apart. I didn't care if he was a physician and a respected member of the community; if he had hurt Bella, nothing would stop me from going after him. I had opened the velvet bag I found in Bella's purse, knowing that it would have the answers I sought.
And to my horror, I discovered that I was the monster who had destroyed Bella's life.
She came home, and in my fear I was cold and terrible to her. I was sickened to discover that I was this creature, this thing that lurked in my subconscious. Pale and trembling, Bella tried to explain, but I almost couldn't hear her over the screaming in my head. I didn't want to be a vampire. I didn't want to be the man who had broken Bella's heart and placed her in such life-threatening danger. I had plans for us – weddings and houses with white picket fences and babies with Bella's eyes and her beautiful smile. You might find it impossible to believe that a seventeen-year-old boy would hope for such things, but I haven't really been a boy since the day my brother died. I'm a man now, filled with adult longings and desires, and Bella is the beginning and the ending and the entire story of my life.
I listened as she told me the truth in the gray light of her childhood bedroom, shaking and sobbing as she poured out her grief. I loved her, even as I wondered if I should hate her for lying to me. I ached to hold and comfort her even as I thought of running away and leaving her to face the consequences of her deception. In the end, what I wanted most of all was for us to return to our normal, human life. I would have given everything I possessed in that moment if the nightmare could have been exactly that…just a bad dream.
The harsh light of morning woke us, and I faced my first day living with the knowledge that I had once been a cold-blooded killer. That was the unyielding truth of it: I was a murderer, and nothing Bella could say would change that basic fact. As I struggled with the realization that I would have to live with this for the rest of my life, we made plans to go see the Cullens. Bella's friends. I would not – ever – think of them as my family.
There were some good things that happened during the visit, but honestly, for the most part, it was horrible. No matter how charming the Cullens might act, nothing could change the fact that my instincts were screaming of something unnatural, something alien. Every moment reinforced for me the terrible truth of what I had been. I struggled through the day, trying to manage not only for Bella's sake but because I needed answers. The breaking point was my former bedroom. I had already accepted what Bella had told me, but all day I think I had subconsciously been looking for an out – something that would prove the nightmare false. If I could have found some kind of irrefutable proof that none of this was true, then we could have returned to our normal, happy, human lives. Instead, I had stared at the room that had been mine, and hope had finally died.
Interestingly enough, the room looked remarkably similar to my room back in Phoenix. The music, the casual, scholarly feel of it – everything about it felt familiar to me. I think that was the moment when I finally acknowledged that Edward Cullen was real.
Then I saw the bed.
I broke. Shattered into a million anguished pieces. It was all true, every bit of it, and I was helpless to deny it. Even worse, Bella had loved him first…had chosen him before I even existed. Shared God only knew what with him in this lover's bed. Even the bed itself broke my heart, because it was exactly like something I would have chosen. There was no escaping the fact that he was me, except that I didn't want to be him and I didn't want him to have been first.
So the visit didn't end well. Bella and I worked our way through some things later that night, though, and I decided to return. I knew she wanted to see the Cullens again, and I needed to try and make peace with my past. The second day was a little easier; it was almost impossible not to enjoy the wonder of vampire baseball. I had a few unguarded moments where I wondered what I would have looked like out on the field. What would it have been like, not having human limitations? Immediately I tried to push the thought away, but it wouldn't leave completely. Here then was one positive thing from my past – proof that it hadn't all been bad.
Then Rosalie – the coldest of the siblings, but also the one who somehow felt the most real – gave me my music. I struggled with dual feelings of resignation and inadequacy: the former because I recognized the music as my own, and the latter because I realized that I would never, as a human, be able to play it as it was written. However, I looked into Bella's shining eyes as I played, and I realized that it didn't matter. I could play well enough for her, and maybe…just maybe…I could make peace with the man I had been through the shared language of our music. I went to bed that night filled with cautious hope. Bella and I had made our declarations to each other, and I knew we were in this together, for the rest of our lives. Before I fell asleep, I promised myself that I would make her happy…that I would never give her cause to regret choosing me. I wrapped my arms around her and allowed myself to believe that everything was going to be okay.
I thought of all these things as I returned from the store on my first morning as an engaged man, and then I locked those memories away. I had purchased items to make Bella a delicious breakfast in bed, and I intended to pamper her thoroughly. So when I walked into the house and found Alice Cullen waiting for me, I was not pleased. I wanted just this one, blissful morning to focus on the future with the woman I loved.
The look on Alice's face, however, told me that the past wasn't finished with us.
"Bella's gone," she said, agonized. "I saw them come and take her, and there's nothing any of us can do to stop it. Oh, Edward." She buried her face in her hands.
My first instinct was anger, because fear hurt too much. Of course Bella wasn't gone, or if she was, then of course I would find a way to get her back. Anything else was unacceptable. "Who?" I demanded harshly. "What are you talking about, Alice?"
"The Volturi," she replied. Her terrified eyes met mine. "Bella told you about them?"
I nodded shakily. "Why would they come for her? If they didn't even remember–"
Alice shook her head. "They do remember. I don't know how, but I saw it. They came looking for her, because she knew about us."
Fear won the battle with anger. "And the rules say that if she knows…"
"She either has to become a vampire or die," Alice finished on a whisper. "Edward, I'm so sorry."
"No," I said roughly. "There has to be something we can do. Why are you just sitting there? Where's the rest of the family?"
She sighed. "Carlisle's in surgery, and Jasper and Emmett went hunting. Esme was upset after you left last night, so she and Rose planned a shopping trip. They're on a plane to New York right now. I stayed home because I wanted to spend some more time trying to see your future. It worried me that I couldn't see what would happen, but I never thought…" She twisted her hands in her lap. "Even if they were here, though, it wouldn't matter."
I stared at her. "What do you mean?"
"We can't fight them, Edward; they're too powerful. Maybe if we'd had time to plan, if I'd seen it coming…" Her lips trembled; she looked ashamed. Finally she squared her shoulders and looked directly at me. "Even then, we couldn't have fought them on this. This is the most important of our laws, and we have to abide by it. If they didn't know about Bella, but since they do…"
"Change or die," I said tightly.
She nodded miserably. "I've looked at it every way I know how; I've made hundreds of decisions in the past twenty minutes…nothing works."
I stared down at the floor, thinking furiously. My mind heard what Alice was saying, but I refused to accept it. The idea of Bella dying was so painful that I couldn't even think about it. If she became a vampire…could we make that work? "She'll get to choose, right? Don't they give you a choice?"
"Not always." Alice couldn't quite meet my eyes. "Bella will be offered the choice."
My heart skipped a beat. "And?" When Alice still wouldn't look at me, I commanded, "Look at me, Alice. What does she do?"
She lifted her head, and I read the terrible truth in her eyes.
"No," I whispered hoarsely. Suddenly I had no strength in my legs; placing my shaking hand on the edge of the sofa, I sat down. In some horrible way, I understood it. Bella wouldn't want forever, not without me, and she would never ask me to make this choice. Somehow death became the better of the two options for her. Oh Bella, how could you ever think I would want this…
I glared at Alice. "Take me to her."
"I knew you were going to ask me that," she said tiredly.
"Then you should know that I'm going to win this argument," I replied firmly.
"It won't do any good," she pleaded. "You won't be able to stop them." She held up her hand to stop my protest. "Bella probably wouldn't want me to tell you this, but I think you should know. When I saw them come for her this morning…she was the one who suggested they leave and go somewhere else. She's trying to protect you. As her former best friend, I think I owe it to her to keep you safe."
"I don't want to be safe!" I roared. "She's out there all by herself, terrified, and I can't just sit here and do nothing. Even if I can't change anything, I don't want…" My voice trailed off; my spirit was broken. "I don't want her to be alone."
"I know," she said quietly. "That's why I'd already decided to take you with me. But," she said harshly as she saw my look of hope, "you have to understand that nothing has changed. We can't save her, and I won't let you throw away your life trying. I also won't let them capture you and use you as a weapon against her. I've seen that I can protect you, but you must promise to be absolutely quiet and do everything that I tell you to do. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I said, nodding eagerly. There might still be a chance; Bella said that Alice's visions weren't perfect.
"Promise me, Edward," she said sternly. "Because if you try anything, I'll stop you myself. I won't let Bella's last…" Her voice faltered, and she drew a shaky breath. "I won't let her think she failed at the end."
I couldn't speak for a moment as her eyes held mine. She really meant it; she would stop me from trying to help Bella. I looked at her grieving face, and I realized that she was telling me the truth – there was nothing we could do. Could I handle this? Could I watch the woman I loved die and do nothing to save her? My jaw clenched. I didn't know for sure what I would do when we got there, but if nothing else, I refused to let Bella go through this alone. "I promise."
The short drive to find Bella felt like it took hours, and I stared in disbelief as Alice told me what she had planned. Staring through the car window at the trees around us, I said, "You can't be serious."
"It's the only way it will work," she replied firmly. "I looked at every possible option, but this is the only way I can get you close enough to see without them hearing. Even that might not have worked, but they'll be so focused on Bella that they won't be using their senses to full range."
I glared at her. "But I won't be able to hear or see anything! And Bella won't know that I'm here."
She held up a pair of binoculars. "These will help, and I can tell you what they're saying as long as I whisper. As for Bella knowing…I think the last thing she would want to know is that you were here for this." Her brow wrinkled. "Edward, are you sure? I wasn't kidding when I said that there's nothing we can do, and you shouldn't have to see this. I know Bella wouldn't want you to."
"I'm sure," I said roughly. "If you don't want to help me, I'll do it myself."
I tried to get out of the car, but she moved too fast for me. Her delicate hand wrapped around my arm, strong as steel, and the message was humiliatingly clear. I wasn't going anywhere unless she let me. Closing my eyes, I nodded tightly.
She was out of the car and coming around to my side before I could even open my eyes; I hadn't heard her make a sound. I climbed onto her back and held on tight as she started climbing the tree nearest the car. Once we were far enough above the ground, she made her way across by leaping from tree to tree. At that point, I decided it would be better to just keep my eyes closed. No matter how focused the Volturi were on vengeance, they might notice if vomit started falling from the sky.
Finally Alice murmured, "We're here," and I opened my eyes to peer down an impossible distance to a postage-stamp of a clearing below us. Peering through the binoculars, I saw Bella standing in front of several figures dressed in black. They were horrifying, these creatures – full of man's quest for violence but gifted with vampire strength to carry it out. I felt my heart stop in my chest; if Alice hadn't wrapped her arm around my waist, I would have fallen.
I knew then that Bella was going to die while I watched helplessly. Everything faded away – anger, denial, hope – all that remained was a devastating sorrow.
Alice was whispering to me, telling me what was being said, but I barely heard her. My heart clenched as I heard Bella lie to protect me. I felt insanely proud of her when she refused Aro's offer to join him, even as I knew she had signed her own death warrant.
Then it was time, and Alice stiffened at my side, her lips clenched tightly and her eyes bleak with despair. The white-haired monster approached my Bella, and I watched as he bent low over the delicate beauty of her neck. I would have given us away then – I could no longer control it – but Alice was true to her word. She held me in an unyielding embrace, hands clamped over my mouth and pressing down against my chest so that I couldn't draw in a breath to scream. I could only watch, hot tears pouring down my cheeks, as my love was murdered.
I left my mind for awhile. Eventually I realized that Alice was carrying me away, flying through the trees, her eyes black as midnight. "Alice, where are we going? We have to go back!"
She just shook her head and kept going.
"Alice!" I started struggling against her, using all of my strength against her in a useless bid for freedom. "They have Bella's…" I stumbled over the word. "We can't just leave her there. Please!"
"We can't get her, Edward," she said miserably. "They'll…do things, to make sure that her death doesn't look like what it is." Her eyes hardened. "I won't let you watch that."
"I don't care!" I protested, beyond grief, but Alice just tightened her grip on me and kept moving. Somehow the truth of her words reached me then: Bella was really gone, and I wouldn't even be allowed to hold her body and grieve. I stopped fighting.
Finally we reached our destination, a small hunter's cabin in the woods. Alice forced the door open with a gentle push of her hand and didn't let go of me until she had hauled me into the room and placed me on the small bed in the corner. "We can't go back to the car," she said, speaking so quickly that I almost couldn't understand her.
"Why not?" I asked dully. My response was instinctual; I didn't really care about her answer.
"Because I finally saw the rest of the future, while we were watching…" Clenching her fists, she said, "It didn't work. I never really thought it would, but I couldn't be sure because I couldn't see. They're going to visit Carlisle; Aro will read his mind." She looked at me, her eyes stricken. "They're going to find you, Edward. I'm so sorry…"
She continued talking, but I didn't hear the rest. Honestly, as soon as I'd realized what she was upset about, I lost all interest. It didn't matter if they killed me; in fact, I would welcome it. I couldn't face living without her.
Bella's voice echoed in my mind: it almost destroyed me when he was gone.
Finally, finally I understood what she had been trying to tell me that night we had argued about Shakespeare. It was impossible to judge Romeo now, as I sat with an empty void where my heart used to be. I wanted nothing more than to follow my beloved into death.
"Edward?" Alice said sharply as she tried to get my attention. "Edward, listen to me; this is important. I have to leave for a few minutes. My cell phone doesn't work up here, and I need to call Jasper. I've looked ahead, and you should be safe. Nothing happens while I'm gone."
I nodded slowly, not really caring what she did. "That's fine," I said quietly. It felt like I hadn't spoken in a thousand years. "I'll just…wait here."
She touched her hand to mine. "I'm not giving up, Edward. I couldn't save Bella, but I'll do everything I can do to protect you."
The silence pressed in around me after she left, but I wasn't afraid of it. I knew this silence; it had been there after Edmund died, too. Nobody ever tells you that death is quiet. There's the buildup to the event of course, with everyone frantically rushing around, calling loved ones and making deals with God. You say all the things you want to say, or you spend time worrying because you didn't get to say what needed to be said, and you make a thousand useless arrangements. It all seems very busy, at first. Eventually it's over, and you're left with nothing but silence. I closed my eyes and let it wash over me.
"It's time to make a choice, Edward."
The voice was low and even, and I think I knew who she was even before I saw her. Then I opened my eyes, and I was sure. Fontaine stood before me, looking exactly as Bella had described her with short black hair and blue eyes that saw too much.
I was standing and had her pinned against the wall before I even had time to think. "You," I whispered furiously. "You caused all of this. Bella died because of you!"
Her face showed no evidence of fear or anger; she merely looked back at me with careful sympathy as she said, "What else did Bella tell you the night you discussed Romeo? 'He had his reasons.' Well, I have my reasons. I can explain some of it to you, but you'll have to be willing to listen."
"Why should I listen to you?" I growled. In that moment, I wished I were still a vampire. It would be so much easier to kill…
"Because I'm the one who can change things," she said quietly. "I never wanted to hurt you, although I realized that was inevitable. I'll do what I can to fix it, but it would be a lot easier if you'd let go of me."
I realized my hand was still at her neck. If I gave just the slightest push…clenching my jaw, I stepped back. With a sigh, I ran my hand through my hair. "How are you even here? Alice didn't see anything."
"Alice saw what I wanted her to see. I needed her to go away for awhile so we could talk." For a moment her eyes scanned my face, almost hungrily. Then she gave the slightest shake of her head, like she was ending an argument with herself. "We need to discuss your options; you have two. I can fix it so that the Cullens and the Volturi don't know about you – none of them will remember."
I laughed harshly. "Yeah, because you did such a great job of that the first time."
Exasperation flashed across her face. "Everything happened the first time exactly as it was supposed to."
I stared at her. "You made Bella remember? It wasn't because of her mind?"
She shrugged. "The way her mind works was an extra challenge, but I could have taken her memories if necessary. That wasn't part of the plan." Before I could tell her what I thought of her plan, she continued sharply, "Focus on the choice, Edward. Understand that if you make this decision, you won't remember anything either. You'll be back in Phoenix, living the normal life that Bella tried to give you."
Her words stole the breath from my lungs, ending any thought I'd had of arguing with her. She would take away my memories of Bella? I would go back to the way things were before, oblivious to the fact that I had met and lost the great love of my life. I wouldn't have to hurt anymore, because I wouldn't know that she had died. But I also wouldn't know that she'd lived…
Shaking my head, I asked, "What's my other option?"
She told me, her eyes filled with a terrible sympathy.
The answer horrified me. My whole body trembled as I considered it; the idea frightened me so much that I almost retched. How could she ask this of me? "Why?" I choked out. "Why would you do this to us, why would you have put us through all of this, if you knew what the result was going to be? What was the point?"
Her voice was quiet but firm. "Bella had to know that she could make a decision without you and be able to face the consequences. And you needed to learn that there is nothing in the world worse than not having Bella at your side."
"I already knew that!" I protested.
"No. You thought you knew it, you gave voice to it often, but what you really believed is that you and Bella were destined for failure." She looked at me with an expression I'd often seen on my mother's face, the look that told me that I could fool everyone in the world except for her. "You kept trying to arrange things to fit your own version of the future, rather than accepting what you'd been given. You wanted to be human, you wanted Bella to be human, you thought Bella would be better off without you…it's amazing, really, how hard you tried to sabotage your own happiness. And if things had continued without Bella making her wish, you would have faced a challenge that neither of you would have survived intact."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"There was something coming," she said gently. "You were about to face something wonderful but incredibly frightening, and you were going to try to handle it the wrong way. It would have torn you apart."
Frustrated, I shook my head. "I don't understand."
She looked at me for a long moment before finally speaking softly. "There was going to be a child." Ignoring my shocked gasp, she continued, "You didn't know – didn't think there was any reason for a vampire and a human to need birth control. Bella became pregnant on your honeymoon."
Horror raced through me. "But she couldn't! It would have killed her! There had to be some way to…it had to be stopped."
Her eyes met mine with sorrowful wisdom. "That's what you thought, yes." She sighed. "Neither of you knew how to handle it; you were both too afraid of losing each other."
Something about her expression made my chest tighten with fear. "And?"
"It didn't end well. The damage was…catastrophic." The thin press of her lips told me that she wouldn't say any more.
I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the details, anyway. A look at the bleak horror on her face made nausea churn in my stomach. I swallowed hard and whispered, "And now?"
She smiled gently, and her voice was kind. "As I said, the whole point of the wish was to buy time…to give you both a chance to grow. Now you would still handle it badly, but it would work out. Eventually you would remember to listen with your whole heart, to let Bella be the wife and equal partner she wants to be, and you would survive, together." Her eyes were bright with what looked like unshed tears. "You'd walk through hell first, but in the end you would be happy, Edward. I promise."
I wanted to believe her, but… "How? If we don't remember what we've learned, then how can it have any bearing on our happiness?"
"You'll remember. Not consciously or even in dreams, like you did this time, but it will be there just the same." Her lips curved in a grin that seemed oddly familiar. "I really can control memories, you know."
I looked at her for a long moment before speaking. "And my family? Did you create them to suit your purpose?" I couldn't bear to think that the brother for whom I had grieved so deeply didn't exist.
"John and Susan Masen are the descendents of your father's brother – your uncle. They have a daughter named Elizabeth. Their son, Edmund, died just as you remember it." She paused. "They never had a younger son."
My jaw clenched. "I won't remember them."
"No, nor they you." Her tone was final.
I nodded, thinking for a long moment before I met her gaze. "So…is it time for me to choose?"
Something dark flashed across her face as she replied, "Before you can decide, I have to show you something."
"What?" I asked warily. What more? God, what else could I possibly be asked to endure?
"This." Approaching me cautiously, she held out her hand and placed it against my temple. "I'm sorry."
Dark. The alley was dark with the filth and disease of forgotten humanity. Anger coursed through veins where blood used to flow as I heard the vile thoughts of the human before me. I knew what he was, and I would feed from him as I rid the world of his evil. He didn't see me approach, even though I used less caution than I might have. He was too busy planning the rape and murder of a girl who worked at the café on the corner. She passed this way as she walked home each night.
I let him see me for just a moment before I attacked, so that I could watch his eyes widen in fear. His blood was thick, tainted with an iniquity that no prayer, no penitence could ever fully cleanse. I drank it in, taking the evil inside of my own immoral vessel where it couldn't hurt anyone else. As I feasted, I gave myself over to the inhuman glory of my vampire nature. Reveling in the blood that poured down my throat, I told myself that I had saved an innocent life tonight. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that I was better than the monster I had just killed. Surely it was better not to have a soul at all than to have one so hideously twisted and corrupt…
The memory shifted, and my chest burned with agony as I saw Bella's lovely face before me. We were in the meadow, enjoying an ordinary spring day as young lovers. I stared at her, eagerly basking in the beauty that I had too recently seen turn pale under death's hand. I wanted to live in this memory, stay in this one moment for the rest of my life. Then I noticed her scent, and I realized that not all of the burning in my chest was because of what I had lost. It was my vampire self that burned – throat, lungs, instinct – that ached to rip the tender flesh of the girl who rested so trustingly in my arms. Even as we kissed, I struggled with the part of myself who always, always thought of killing…
I pulled myself from the memory with a horrified groan. Falling to the floor, I trembled under the sickening weight of what I had just witnessed. This was what I had been. As bad as I had thought that it might be, it was a million times worse. My hands were stretched out before me, clawing at the splintered wooden floor. I stared at them, tracing muscle and sinew and veins as I wondered how much blood had been spilt by these hands. I realized I was sobbing, saying the same words over and over again. "Why? Why would you show me that? Why would you be so deliberately cruel? Why?"
"Because you needed to see it." She did not kneel beside me, and her voice never wavered. "You can't make the choice unless you remember what you were. It has to be a conscious decision; otherwise it doesn't mean anything."
I bowed my head, acknowledging the truth of her words. Standing, I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand as images flashed through my mind...a slideshow of what my life might be like if I returned to Phoenix. I could see myself standing with my sister on her wedding day, laughing as Mark aimed the garter directly at me. I saw my parents beaming with pride at my graduation, tears rolling down my mother's cheeks as she thought about how far I'd come. Farther into the future I wandered, sifting through possibilities of houses and children and the hazy possibility of finding someone to love. Could I do it? Would I be able to love again, if I didn't know that Bella had existed? It felt like a betrayal.
The alternative, though, was so horrifying it could hardly be considered.
Blue eyes pierced through me. "Have you made your choice?"
I had to ask, one more time. Just in case. "We can't…there's no way that we can be together as humans?" I longed for it. With every fiber of my being, I ached for it.
She shook her head. "No. I'm sorry. I wish you could – please believe me – but that was never a possibility for you."
I nodded; it was what I had expected. Taking a deep breath, I said the words that would shape the man I would become.
She smiled at me; her eyes seemed almost proud. "It's done." She took my hands in hers as the light shifted and the wind roared around us. I found myself holding on with all my strength as every moment of my life was measured, judged, and rewritten.
As my world went black, I prayed with all my heart that I had made the right choice.
The young man and woman who strolled through the dusty rows of booths looked like so many other couples who had been drawn to the romance of a small town carnival, but the differences could be seen if you paid attention. The boy was startlingly handsome and was quite distinctively something other than human; even those who didn't realize what he was unconsciously knew to give him a wide berth. The girl seemed ordinary enough, but the glow on her face made her radiant, gracing her with a bit of the boy's otherworldly beauty. There was a feel of transition about her, as if she were about to make a very significant change. The couple was fascinating, but exclusive; there was no room for anyone else in the private intimacy of their world. They were legend, even as they were also just a boy and a girl enjoying a simple date on a summer evening.
The girl's arms were wrapped around a giant stuffed lion, and the boy smiled down at her. "Are you sure you don't want me to carry it?"
She shook her head, absurdly pleased with her prize. "No, thank you. This," she buried her face in the lion's fur, "is this softest, cuddliest, sweetest gift I've ever been given." She pulled back to rub the lion's nose with her own.
The boy mumbled something, and the girl looked up at him. "I'm sorry; did you say something?"
He growled. "I can't believe I'm jealous of a stuffed animal."
Her delighted laughter pealed into the night. When she finally regained control of herself, she gasped, "So what's next?"
"I thought we could try the carousel…"
The boy's voice faded into the background as a sign over one of the tents caught the girl's attention. It was a perfectly ordinary sign to find at a roadside carnival: pink with silver stars and a promise of secrets told. The girl stared at it for a long moment, trying to understand why the sign didn't make sense. It was the wrong sign, wasn't it? Wasn't there supposed to be something else there?
The boy, having noticed her preoccupation, called her name a few times to get her attention. His eyes were focused on her face; he was searching her anxiously for any sign of distress or injury.
The girl shook her head. "Nothing. It's…nothing."
The boy noticed the sign and smirked. "Lady Beatrice tells your future?" His voice was filled with amused derision as he read. "You might not have noticed, but we have a perfectly good fortune teller at home."
She smiled. "You're right; I don't know what I was thinking." Slipping her arm in his, she said, "You promised me adventures, you know. I wonder if they'll let us take Eddie on the carousel."
"You are not naming him Eddie," he growled, and he reached over to tickle her.
She laughed joyously, taking a few steps away from him even though it was obvious that she wanted to be caught. When the boy obliged and wrapped her in his arms, something in her expression caught his eye.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I don't know," she answered. Her eyes met his, searching. "All of the sudden, I just feel so…right." A brilliant smile spread across her face. "I'm so happy."
He smiled, the glorious smile of a redeemed man, and he whispered, "I'm happy, too." Then he kissed her, fast and deep and thoroughly enough to leave her breathless, before he picked her up and twirled her around as her laughter climbed into the night. When he finally set her back down, he took her hand with a mischievous grin. Together they walked down the lane and lost themselves in the eager crowd.
If they had looked behind them, they would have seen a woman standing outside the tent that had caught the girl's attention. The girl wouldn't have recognized her, because she no longer looked like she did when they had met. The boy, however…the boy would have known her, from a memory of long ago. The woman loved them both – the girl because she loved the boy enough to save him, and the boy simply because of who he was. Her eyes filled with tears as she watched them walk away, and she whispered, "Be happy."
Then her image faded, shimmering like the finest mist until nothing remained but a lingering cool brush of air where a spirit had once been. And the night went on, and the boy and girl fell even deeper in love, and all was as it should be.
Author's note: Whew. I'm having a hard time believing it's over. I want to thank everyone who read, replied, emailed, or simply just hung in until the end, and I'm truly sorry it took so long to finish. I know some of you will be disappointed that the story ended the way that it did; believe it or not, I'm a little sad too! I began to care very much for human Edward, and I loved human Bella and Edward together so much more than I expected. However, I've known from day one how the story would end, and the story itself refused to let me deviate from that. To me, this journey was based on the idea that you can't always change what the future has in store for you, but you can decide how you will choose to respond to it.
Again, thank you all so much for making the journey with me.
This story was written for Carolyn. I could not change the amount of time we had together; I could not alter the course of the disease that stole your life. However, I could and did love you every moment of the time we shared, and I miss you still. It is an honor and a privilege to be your daughter. Thank you.