I'd like to thank all the people at The Lazy Yet Discerning Ficster for their recommnedations, most ecspecially Jess Meyer. You all are awesome. To Project Team Beta, who helped with a lot of this story, another stunning group of people. And special thanks to JMeyer, hellecullen and Pamela 0201, who were fantastic!
It was a beautiful day for a wedding. A cloudless sunny day in Forks which is nearly a miracle. We were dressing at Charlie's house, the guys had gone over to Billy's house to get ready. The limo was waiting outside to take us the church, but Sue was fussing over the hem on Leah's dress.
"Leave it already, Ma," Leah complained. "It'll be fine."
Sue stood up and took at step back to examine her quick repair. "Yes, it'll have to do."
She turned to me. "What shoes did you find?"
I stuck my foot out. We'd already had one disaster; as I had come down the staircase, my foot had slipped and the heel on my shoe had broken off. The high-heeled sandals I had stashed in the closet of my room would have to do.
"Looks fine. Nobody will even notice," Sue assured me as she finally came to a stop. "Are you nervous? I'm nervous. I can't believe I'm nervous."
Leah and I looked at each other and exchanged a tentative smile. Sue had been hyper like this for the last three days but trying to put a wedding together in three months had been a challenge, even for her.
"I'm not nervous," I chirped.
"Me, neither," Leah said.
Sue looked sternly at both of us over her glasses. Then her face softened. "You girls look so beautiful."
"You do, too, Mom," Leah agreed.
Sue was dressed in an elegantly tailored ivory suit that had a lace overlay on the bodice. Her hair was done up in a chignon with baby's breath.
"You think the ivory is okay, right? It's not like I'm a virgin bride," Sue said, turning to the mirror on the dresser behind her. She moved back and forth, inspecting her reflection.
"Charlie will love it," I assured her.
"Come on, we should get going, already," Leah said, grabbing the bouquets off the bed.
She handed the simplest one to Sue, who swept out the door, saying "I wonder if the cake is going to make it to the council house okay…"
Leah handed me my bouquet of daises and ferns. "Here you go."
Our fingers accidentally brushed as I grasped the bouquet. "Oh, sorry," I murmured.
Leah and I were not what I'd call good friends. I don't know if I would ever be able to forgive the part she had played in the loss of so many of my parents' kind. An informal truce between us had been declared for the sake of this wedding but I was glad she'd moved to Clallam Bay where I didn't run into her often. With any kind of advanced warning, I usually managed to be out of the house when she came to visit her mother.
"No," Leah said, looking at me intently, "I'm sorry."
Surprised, I looked at her face, where her sincere gaze met my eyes. Suddenly, I got the impression she was talking about more than our accidental brush of fingers. We both stared at each other for a moment, history replaying in our heads.
Leah's eyes shifted to the floor and she opened her mouth to speak, when Sue's voice came up the stairs. "Am I the only one going to this wedding? Let's go!"
Our eyes met again, and she opened her mouth as if to speak again, before thinking better of it and turning away. I followed down the stairs, wondering what it was she had been going to say.
Walking down the aisle of the church, my hands clasped around the bouquet I was holding, it was easy to see which was the groom's side and which was the bride's side. Sue's side was packed with Quileutes, relatives and her friends from the office where she worked.
Charlie's side held a handful of the guys from the station and his two elderly aunts who had come up from Tacoma. Mom and Dad were there, of course, looking impossibly beautiful and young. Next to the crowd of normal humans, the pale perfection and flawlessness of their features was almost startling. It was hard to believe they passed among humans; they looked as out of place as supermodels in a buffet line. Their stunning good looks created an air of untouchability around them, and I saw Charlie's Aunt Lucille stealing glimpses of my parents, incredulity written on her face.
Up at the altar, Charlie was standing with his hands clasped awkwardly in front of him. I'm sure he was wishing this was all over, but I could see the change in his face when he caught sight of Sue as she started down the aisle on Seth's arm. It was obvious that suddenly the only thing he could see was Sue as she walked behind me and Leah in time with the wedding march.
Next to Charlie was Billy in his chair, looking spiffy in a suit and tie. To his right stood Jacob, towering over the other two. He'd sprung for a suit for the occasion as well and he was breathtaking as he stood with his hands clasped in front of him. With his hair held back in a neat ponytail, the white collar of his shirt played up how warm and brown his skin was. He met my eyes and smiled.
I felt a tingle down my spine but I kept my composure as I walked into my position at the altar, followed by Leah and Sue. Seth kissed Sue's cheek and moved to the front pew, where Sue's sisters and their families sat. The reverend raised his hands and began the evocation.
All through the ceremony, I couldn't keep my eyes off Jacob and we spent most of the time gazing at each other and grinning. I couldn't help thinking about how much I loved him and how blessed I was to have him in my life. I couldn't watch him without melting inside.
Raising his hands over Charlie and Sue, the reverend said the words, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Charlie leaned over to Sue for a quick chaste kiss, but she had different ideas. She grabbed him around the neck and planted a big one on him. His hands opened with surprise, but then he wrapped his arms around her and even leaned her back a bit with the intensity of his kiss. The church broke into applause and hoots. He set her back on her feet and Sue grabbed her bouquet from Leah. Charlie was grinning widely and blushing furiously as he took Sue's arm and they headed down the aisle to the general approval of the congregation.
The reception line passed in a blur. We filed out only to file back in at the insistence of the photographer, so the crowd was standing in groups out on the church lawn when we were finally released. Jacob and Seth were carrying Billy's chair down the steps when I spotted Dad and Mom standing off by themselves, in the shade of a huge vine maple. They each held a hat in their hands, a minor concession to the brightness of the day.
I trotted over to them and we exchanged hugs and kisses. We had spent all yesterday together with Charlie and Sue, as my parents would not attend the reception held at the Quileute Akalat center.
"Are you sure you won't come?" I pleaded. "It's really going to be more like a huge picnic than a reception. I'm sure Sam won't mind."
"No," Bella said. "It really is best this way. Besides, we'll all be together soon. You're coming to San Francisco in just two weeks."
The rest of my family was living in San Francisco now. Jacob and I went down to see them at least once a month. Even though my life was full with friends, school and Jacob, I missed them all terribly.
They were busy traveling quite a bit. With the disintegration of the Volturi, it became evident that some kind of order was needed within the vampire world. They had attended a convocation in Paris last month along with as many covens as they could contact and it had been decided that the policing duties that the Volturi had handled would be decentralized. Among others, Siobhan and the Irish would handle Europe, Benjamin and Tia would take Africa and the Cullens would handle North and Central America. Already Emmett, Alice and Jasper had gone to Costa Rica to prevent a 'situation' from happening. Each coven could call any of the others if assistance was needed, so together they formed a loose protective net.
"Doesn't Sue look beautiful?" I asked Mom, who was watching Charlie and Sue talking with Sue's friends across the lawn.
"I've never seen Charlie so happy," she said wistfully. Dad put his arm around her shoulder. "And you?" she asked as she brushed a tendril of hair from my face. "Are you happy?"
"Yes, Mom, so happy," I told her. A look of intense sadness crossed her face. "Oh, Mom. Please don't be sad."
"You know we love you more than words can say."
"If you need anything at all, call us," my father said.
I wrapped my arms around the both of them and showed them my memory of my fifth birthday. Just the three of us had gone camping by the Grand Canyon. "I love you," I whispered.
"Love you too" and "I will always love you," they whispered back.
I released them and Dad started to pull my mother toward the church. "Two weeks," she promised. "We'll see you in two weeks." They both donned the brimmed hats they held.
I nodded. "Two weeks," my voice echoed in response.
I watched as they crossed the lawn and said their goodbyes to Charlie and Sue. They headed for their car and Edward put his arm around Bella's shoulders as she snaked her arm around his waist. Watching their backs, I saw the wind lightly stir wisps of Bella's hair. Other than that, they seemed untouched by the world around them. Like angels, they were beautiful, aloof and other-worldly. The love they felt for each other surrounded them like a gossamer bubble. They walked in their own private world, a world that was complete as long as the other was in it. Two beautiful immortals, sharing a love as immortal as they were.
Embry Call's five-year-old niece, Karina, came running up to me, all bouncy in her frilly dress and pigtails. She stopped in front of me, her eyes wide. "Nessie, you're coming to the party, right?"
I squatted down in front of her. "I wouldn't miss it for the world." I grinned back at her as a smile crossed her face.
"Will you show us a story?" she asked excitedly.
"You betcha," I said, as I reached out to lightly tickle her ribs.
She laughed and ran away to report our conversation to the group of young girls standing on the sidewalk.
Jacob came up and put his arm around me. "They look happy, don't they?" he asked, motioning with his chin towards Charlie and Sue, who were laughing and talking with Billy, Seth and Brady.
"Yes," I said, wrapping my arms around his waist. "But you look absolutely stunning."
He bent down to brush his lips against mine. "Not as good as you," he said in my ear. A shiver ran down my spine.
"Hey Jacob!" Brady came trotting over to us from across the lawn. He came to stand in front of us, his hands on his hips. "Hey, Renesmee." He nodded at me.
"What's up?" Jacob greeted him.
Brady glanced behind him before leaning in to us. "I just heard from Nikki that Solomon got six months in county."
"County?" I asked.
"County jail," Brady explained. "His sentencing was yesterday."
Jacob was shaking his head. "What about the others?
"Perry got ninety days and Del got probation. Jimmy's charges were dropped."
That couldn't be right. "That's it?" I asked. "That doesn't seem nearly long enough."
Brady shrugged. "Well, they were first-time offenders, so I guess the judge went easy on them."
Jacob scuffed the ground. "Well, I sincerely doubt it'll be the last time they see a judge. Pretty sketchy bunch."
"Well, if they have any sense, they'll stay the hell out of Forks. Beating up the chief isn't exactly going to endear you to the local police force." Brady smiled at me, before turning to where Colin was shouting his name across the lawn.
Colin was waving his arm. "Brady, come on! We're supposed to be helping with set-up."
"Hey, gotta run." Brady started trotting away. "See you there!"
The crowd on the lawn was definitely thinner, and I spied Charlie and Sue getting into Sue's Taurus to head over to where the party was being held.
"We should probably head over as well," Jacob said.
I nodded in agreement. "I've got my clothes inside. I'll change and be right back out."
I met Jacob at the curb, where he sat straddling his motorcycle. My stomach flipped at the sight of him, casually sitting on the bike, looking like a rebel movie star. I strapped on the helmet and threw my leg over the seat. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I felt his hard lean body underneath my hands as I pressed my belly and thighs against him. With a smooth twist of the throttle, we were off.
The meeting room in the hall was decorated with paper bells, crepe paper and there were fresh flowers on the tables. The food was being set out on buffet tables, and I could see a bunch of Sue's female relatives scurrying back and forth from the kitchen. Just beyond the double doors leading to the field, Billy and his friends had a pig roasting. I could hear the drumming group getting started down the hall and a DJ was setting up equipment in a corner. People were starting to arrive in droves and it seemed to be shaping up into a fine party.
I'd had about an hour or so of mingling and laughing with the guests when Karina, accompanied by six other girls tugged at the hem of my tee shirt.
"You promised a story," she said plaintively.
I leaned down to her. "I did, didn't I?"
She nodded solemnly.
I grabbed her hand. "Well come on then." We walked to a quiet corner of the hall, the rest of the children trailing us. I settled down on the floor and pulled Karina into my lap. "Come on," I gestured to the rest of them to come closer. I pushed the sleeves of my shirt up and rolled my pant legs up so there was plenty of skin to touch. They flocked around me and several more children saw us and came over as well. Gradually they settled around me, each of them placing their small hot hands somewhere on my skin. One small boy held back, several paces from us.
He looked unhappy and distrustful. "She smells funny," he said, his bottom lip pouting.
"Come on," urged Keenan, Jared's brother and one of the older boys in the group surrounding me. "She's cool. You'll get used to it."
He tentatively stepped towards me and gingerly sat down, reaching out a hand toward my ankle. From across the table in front of us, I heard Sue's sister say, "Looks like the kids talked Nessie into a story."
Another voice answered. "Good, that'll keep them out from underfoot for a while."
"Tell the one about when Thunderbird catches the whale," urged Keenan.
"No, tell about when Raven gets caught by the fox," said a small voice to my left.
"Hmmm," I temporized. "I know. Once upon a time there was an old lady who…."
The group around me protested. "No, no," they all chorused. "Show us the story."
"All right, then," I said to the children surrounding me. "This is a story about Bear. He was traveling through the forest one day when Beaver came rushing up to him, all excited." As I spoke, I let the images in my mind project to the kids, showing them what happened as my tale progressed. I spoke along as I showed them the story; these were Quileute stories that they would one day tell to their children.
Across the room, I saw Jacob talking to Sam and Quil, a beer in his hand. My eyes caught his and the two of us smiled at each other across the distance. I felt that familiar jump in my stomach as I contemplated the boyfriend who was my soul mate. I felt warm and welcome, a part of this rich and human community, and knew I had found my place.
Thanks to all who reviewed! Your support has been invaluable.
To all the wonderful people I have met while posting this story MWAH!