Title: "Of Broken Hearts and Leaping Starts"
Author: Veritas Found
Rating: K Plus / PG / All Ages
Characters/Pairings: Esme Cullen, Bella Swan; Esme x Bella (familial), Carlisle x Esme (off-screen), Edward x Bella (off-screen)
Summary: Shortly after their return to Forks, Esme confronts Bella about her cliff diving escapade.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note/Warnings: New Moon, set during the interim time in the epilogue but before Jake pulls the motorbike stunt. BPOV. TBW; dark themes (according to Esme's back-story). Apologies for any inconsistencies on Esme's past; I'm going from the information provided on the Twilight Lexicon (which is comprised of information gathered from both the books and personal correspondences with Meyer) along with slight embellishments, for the story's sake. I was going for a Bella/Esme bonding scene; it turned into an Eclipse-styled missing scene where Esme gets her chance to tell her story. Thanks a zil to Daddyzlilgurl, who beta-d this for me.

"Of Broken Hearts and Leaping Starts"

I was, for lack of a better term, bored.

I was still under house arrest for my time abroad, and I currently found myself in that murky middle time on days I didn't have to work; that time between coming home from school (being dropped off by Edward) and Charlie's return home from work (my designated visiting hours, when I could see Edward again). I would argue that Charlie wasn't home, and as long as Edward left before he was within catching distance, he could stay with me during this middle time. Edward, however, feared that he had incurred enough of Charlie's wrath over the past few months and had no desire to anger my dad even more. That thought was hilarious to me, that Edward (my vampire boyfriend) could be scared of Charlie (my human father), but Edward was determined. It was important to him that Charlie had a good opinion of him (instead of just the other Cullens, like Alice, Carlisle, or Esme).

That didn't solve my current problem of boredom, though, and with my homework finished and no Edward to distract me I was left channel surfing in the living room. My old Jane Austen anthology was lying next to me, unopened and untouched since I had placed it there half an hour ago; I wasn't really in the mood for reading today. I also wasn't really in the mood to watch TV, but it was as good an option as any – except for the fact that nothing good was on. I jumped when a knock sounded on the door, and I frowned as I realized someone was outside. I left the TV on the channel I had flipped to before the knock, some old black and white movie, and stood to answer the door. Who would be visiting me now? Most everyone knew about my house arrest, though Charlie's 'no visitors' rule really only applied to Edward (and I knew he wouldn't budge on his unwillingness to bend the rules – he never did); Alice was free to come and go as she pleased, so maybe she was the one outside?

I opened the door, shocked as I realized I had guessed the wrong Cullen. Standing on the porch with a warm – though slightly nervous – smile was Esme.

"Esme?" I asked, startled by her visit. I couldn't remember a single time she had ever been here; why now? "What are you…I mean, would you like to come in?"

"Thank you, Bella," she said, nodding as she stepped inside. "I hope I'm not causing any trouble. Alice said Charlie was a bit more…lenient with the rest of us Cullens when it comes to your punishment."

"Yeah," I said, leading her into the living room. She sat in Charlie's armchair, while I sat back down on the couch. "As long as it's not Edward, he doesn't care who else is in here when he's gone. He would probably even let Victoria here with me alone before he lets Edward."

"I sincerely doubt that, Bella," Esme said, her smile vanishing in an instant at my bad choice of a joke. I frowned with her; I knew she was right, or at least would be if Charlie had any idea who Victoria was, but I doubt I was far off. Edward really wasn't one of Charlie's favorite people right now. I glanced up to notice Esme looking around the room. "You have a lovely home."

"Thanks," I said, though I didn't really believe her; Charlie's decorating style was more family photos and hunting lodge, while Esme's was more deserving of a degree in interior design. Thanks to her architectural skills and artistic eye, the Cullen house was worlds 'lovelier' than my little home. This was…awkward. I had no idea what had prompted her sudden visit, but I didn't want to just ask. That would be rude, and I didn't want to be rude to Esme. She just sat there smiling, though she still looked nervous; what in the world could be bothering her? A knot of fear tangled in my stomach; was it Victoria? "Esme, are you…all right? You look like something's up. Did something happen? Is…did Victoria show up again?"

"Oh, no – everything's fine!" she said with another smile; she must have picked up on the sudden note of panic in my voice. I breathed a sigh of relief, and her smile drooped a bit. "It's just…I haven't really had a chance to talk to you, since our return. I was…concerned."

"Concerned?" I asked, my interest piqued. She nodded, and I frowned as confusion colored my mind. "About what?"

"You, dear," she said, and my frown deepened. She sighed and looked down at her hands, which were folded neatly in her lap. I noticed she was gripping them in near fists. "You already know Alice told us what prompted her…visit. I've been meaning to speak with you for a while now, but it was either not the right time or I…well, chickened out. And I've been meaning to apologize to you, Bella."

"Apologize?" I asked, my shock growing with every new thing she said. She reached out, her cold hand clasping mine; I didn't shy away, though. I didn't think I'd ever be able to shy away from their touch again, having gone so long without it. They were my family – she was my mother; you don't turn away from your mother's touch. "For what?"

"Because we left, Bella," she said. Her eyes closed, but that didn't fully block the pain in her expression. "We never should have listened to Edward, dear one. And when Alice told me how bad it had gotten…that you were jumping off cliffs…Bella, I can't express how sorry I am that I didn't try harder to make him stay. That I didn't refuse his request that we all leave with him. It was the most idiotic decision I ever could have made, and I am so sorry."

"Esme, no," I said, moving from my seat to kneel before her. I wrapped my arms around her waist, lying my head in her lap and hugging her as tight as I could. "Edward was the idiot – I was the idiot. Don't blame yourself, please. You came back, all of you, and that's all that matters."

She returned my hug, though not as fiercely so she wouldn't break me. Her hand rubbed my back while the other smoothed down my hair, and I smiled. I nodded when she whispered a thank you, and after another moment I was back on the couch. I frowned again.

"So…what did you want to talk to me about?" I asked, thinking back to the other thing she had said, and her smile became guarded.

"Alice told us she saw you jumping off a cliff, and that when she got here you didn't deny it," she said. She bit her lip, glancing down before returning her gaze to mine. "Is…is this true, Bella? Did you really jump off a cliff?"

"Alice didn't tell you it was just recreational?" I asked, and her frown deepened.

"Bella," she said, her voice chastising. I sighed and shrugged.

"Did Edward tell you what I told him? About…about hearing his voice, while he was gone?" I asked. I didn't like talking to Esme about this; I felt like the child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. I knew the story had to have worried her, and I was suddenly overcame by an intense wave of guilt – like I'd had when I'd first woke up after returning from Italy. My death, had Jacob not pulled me out of the ocean or if he'd been just a moment later, would have affected her, too – just like it would have Charlie or Renée. Esme just nodded, her forehead puckered in a frown.

"He mentioned something about that, yes," she said. Her expression turned sympathetic. "He's been…reluctant to discuss that day, understandably."

"Understandably," I agreed, and her lips quirked slightly. I sighed and shrugged. "I didn't plan on killing myself, Esme. Jake had already told me he was going to take me cliff diving some time, and I'll admit I should have waited for him. I should have paid closer attention to the weather before I jumped. I was just so…I wasn't in my right mind, you could say. I'm sorry for any pain my reckless decision caused you, Esme. That was the last thing on my mind that day, believe me."

"Bella, did Edward ever tell you how I was changed?" she asked, and the question was so random and different from our previous conversation that I jumped at it. I frowned as I shook my head, confused; what did that have to do with my cliff…oh. Oh. Oh, Esme…

I instantly felt like the cruelest person in the world, alive or dead.

"He…he said you fell from a cliff," I choked out, swallowing thickly around the lump that had risen in my throat. Her smile remained sympathetic; I didn't deserve it. "They thought you were dead, so they took you to the morgue. He said Carlisle discovered you were still alive, but…so he turned you."

"He didn't tell you why?" she asked, her voice calm, and the question threw me for another loop. Wasn't it obvious? Carlisle hadn't wanted her to die, so he had saved her the only way he knew how: he had changed her.

"Why…why Carlisle changed you?" I asked, insanely confused.

"Why I 'fell', Bella," she said, her lips quirking in a half-hearted, slightly amused sort of look. Oh. Duh.

"N-no, he never told me that part," I stumbled over the words. "I just assumed…well, I thought you had tripped or something."

Her laugh was sudden and unexpected, and it only confused me more.

"Would you like to hear my story, Bella?" she asked, and I was suddenly nervous. I would love to, yeah, but I was afraid. Afraid it would be too painful for her (but why would she offer to share?). Afraid I wouldn't like what I'd hear (even looking at her, knowing she was fine, I didn't like thinking about any past pain on her part). But I had done this to her, had scared her with my own foolishness, so – slowly, hesitantly – I nodded. It was something she felt I needed to know, so I would listen. Esme took an unnecessary, steadying breath before starting.

"I was born Esme Anne Platt in 1895," she began. She looked at me, maybe searching for some sign that I wasn't ready to hear this, and once she was satisfied she relaxed and continued. "I grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. My story doesn't really start until I was sixteen, when I fell out of a tree and broke my leg. I had climbed it on a dare from a friend, but when I neared the top I slipped and couldn't catch myself in time. There was a doctor practicing in a nearby clinic, but he had been out of town when this happened, so my parents took me to the hospital in Columbus. That was the first time I met Carlisle. He set my leg for me and sent me on my way, and I didn't see him for another decade after that."

"Why not?" I asked, unable to stop myself from interrupting. She smiled gently at me.

"It was his last month practicing there, and as I said: we lived on the outskirts of town; it took us nearly an entire day to reach the hospital. And I wasn't as accident-prone a human as you are, Bella. Any further ailments could have been treated by the local doctor, so I really had no reason to go see Carlisle again. I never forgot him, though. He was a very good doctor," she said, her smile warming. I grinned at that; I wondered if 'very good' was her way of saying 'very handsome'. But I knew Carlisle and had been his patient, too; it was easy to believe she meant both.

"After that, I went on with my life. I helped my family with the farm, I spent my extra time with my friends, and I lived. I watched as my friends fell in love and married, but I…was having trouble, you could say, finding that match. None of the boys interested me, and while I was happy for my friends I was also envious. I wanted that, Bella. I wanted to be a good wife, a good mother, but I was beginning to think I'd never find a good husband. So I thought maybe I'd leave Columbus, maybe go west to a new town with new prospects, if you will. And if I couldn't find a husband and have my own children, perhaps I could be a schoolteacher and help guide those children, instead," Esme said, her smile warming as she drifted back through the years in her mind. I was amazed she could remember her human life so accurately; Edward had told me once their human memories tended to fade the longer they lived. Perhaps if the memories were important enough, or you just thought about them a lot once you had that perfect vampire memory, they'd stay? "My father didn't approve, of course. He said it wasn't respectable for a young woman to live in the wilderness alone. I told him I'd be in a town, but he said it was still the 'untamed West'. He told me no daughter of his would do something so uncouth – it was a point we disputed over for a long time. My relationship with my father…towards the end of my life, and even then, wasn't very good. I respected him, as all daughters should, but that respect came more from fear than love. I have very few memories of my parents, Bella, and even less that are happy.

"My parents were good friends with the family that owned a neighboring farm, the Evensons. They had a son, Charles, who wasn't much older than I had been. Charles had always been fond of me, I suppose you could say, but I never really cared much for him. He seemed perfectly respectable, and in all regards it seemed a smart match, but there had been something about him that just felt…wrong. I refused his advances for a long time, but he was persistent, and my parents were adamant. They wanted their daughter married, they wanted grandchildren, they wanted the acknowledgment that their daughter would be financially secure…they wanted everything but what I wanted, Bella, but I let them convince me that their wants were mine, and I finally agreed to marry Charles," she said, and that knot reformed and twisted in my stomach. She was looking at her hands again, clenching them together as she relived the memories; I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the rest. I was scared to find out what this Charles had done to such a wonderful, good person.

"But…Esme, what does this have to do with your change?" I asked, confused. It was a stupid question, I knew; I knew I had to understand the backstory to understand why she had fallen from that cliff. But I was stalling, because there was that little part of me that still didn't want to know. That didn't want to imagine something so horrible happening to the woman who would be my 'mother' – something that would make her jump.

She gave me a smile, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. She said, "I'm getting to that, Bella, dear."

I smiled sheepishly, trying to look repentant, and Esme continued.

"I married Charles Evenson in 1917. The wedding was lovely, a little ceremony on my family's back porch in the spring. I was happy because I was making my family happy, but even then I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was making a mistake. Charles was lovely, at first…but then time wore on, and it wasn't long before his true colors started showing. He was the perfect gentleman to anyone in the public, anyone who mattered, but I was…well. I was really nothing more than property to him, I guess you could say," she said, her smile turning pained as she again focused on her lap. I reached out and placed a hand over hers, squeezing gently (for her; I was actually using quite a bit of force). I tried to imagine Esme battered and bruised, but I couldn't. I just couldn't picture her lovely face sporting the purplish disfigurations – but then again, I knew enough to know the marks probably weren't on her face. According to Charlie, abusers usually got away with it because they knew to hit where it couldn't be easily seen. My gut twisted even further at that idea, the thought that anyone could do such a thing to Esme sickening. "He...hurt me, physically and emotionally, and…I tried to get out. I tried to say something, to leave him, but my parents…they refused to believe me. They said Charles would never, and even if he did…our public image was too important to sully with such shameful tales.

"'Be a good wife and keep quiet,' they told me. Good wives don't accuse their husbands of beating them. Good wives understand that sometimes they must be punished for misgivings. I found it hypocritical, as I never remembered my father ever laying a hand on my mother, but I still respected my parents and did as they told me. I stayed with Charles, and I suffered in silence. When the nation decided to assist in the Great War and Charles was drafted, I had never been happier," she said, laughing darkly at the memory. She looked up at me then, and a chill raced down my spin at the look in her tawny eyes. "Bella, I am not ashamed to admit that I fervently hoped – prayed, even – that my husband would be killed in the War. One of the blackest days of my human life was the day he returned home alive and well – or at least as well as he ever could have been.

"He came back different, Bella – as most men had – but still so much the same. He was worse. The War had left him with terrible memories, like most of the soldiers back then. Have you ever studied the Great War?" she asked, and I shrugged.

"Not in-depth. I've studied the cursory look they give you in basic World History, but I've never done much more research than that," I answered. Esme's look turned dark.

"We called it the 'War to End All Wars', because at the time we thought it was. It was horrible, Bella. We didn't experience the aftershocks nearly as bad as Europe did, as they were fighting over there, but…when it was finally over, we all swore no one would be foolish enough to cause such a catastrophe again. Of course, you know how history goes, but at the time…it was awful, Bella," she said. Her eyes closed, her face twisting in a grimace of pain for the soldiers and families affected. "So many boys filled with the patriotic, idealistic zealousness for war, the glory of the soldier. So many boys killed, and those that weren't returned wishing they had been. They were changed men, Bella. Charles was a changed man. He was bad before, but when he returned with the nightmares of the trenches still so fresh in his mind…"

She stopped, and I watched as a shudder shook her body. Her shoulders jerked, and I knew if she had tears to shed they would be running down her face now. I didn't know if the tears would have been for Charles or for the other men who had suffered the same fate, or maybe for both – or if they were for her and the families that had suffered because of the change. Selfishly, my mind immediately went to Edward; he had said once that he had been ready to leave for the War when he got sick. I wondered how different he would be, had he had those same experiences to jade him, and a shiver raced through me. Was it possible that he would be like Esme's Charles? I didn't want to think like that, to imagine my Edward in some dark, fetid trench or screaming with the memories of them; to think that he could be so irrevocably changed for the worse. It was selfish, but a part of me was glad he had fallen ill before he had had the chance to go.

After another minute, Esme took a steadying breath and continued.

"He took up drinking, and that only made him angrier. He took more liberties, with his words and actions…forcing himself on me more and always saying such vile, hurtful things…but by this point, I had just…stopped caring. I couldn't stop him, and no one would listen, so why should I fight him? How could I fight him? I let him get away with it, Bella, something I still regret, even now. I gave up, but then something wonderful happened," Esme paused, a small smile curling her lips. Her eyes were distant, again lost in her past, and she laughed weakly. "I was pregnant, Bella. Not long after he came back, maybe a few months at the most, I realized I was pregnant. And a part of me was furious, that such a violent man could be capable of reproducing life, but…the baby wouldn't be like his father. He could be different. He could be better. So, with fear for my child my only thought, I gathered enough courage to run. I kept a bag hidden in the closet near the door, waiting for the chance to flee. One night, a few days after my discovery and decision, he drank himself unconscious, and I took my chance.

"I had a second cousin living in Wisconsin, out in Milwaukee, and I went to her for help. I was safe for a time, until her mother came by and discovered me. She told my parents, but I was gone before they could even start to plan their trip to retrieve me. I went a bit further north, up around the northernmost border of Lake Superior. I stayed in a small town outside Ashland, and I decided to follow my original plan of being a teacher. I blended in easily; there were many war widows in those days, and no one questioned why I was there pregnant and alone. If they did, I simply told them my husband had died overseas," she said. Her smile warmed slightly while thinking on those days, and I found I was scooting a bit closer to the edge of the couch closest to the armchair she sat in. I reached out for her hand again, and she looked up at me, her smile natural but still pained. "Those were probably the best months of my human life, Bella. I was free of my parents, I was free of Charles, I had a baby on the way, and I was doing what I loved. It was a good time for me.

"I carried my baby to term, and oh, Bella, you should have seen him," she said, and her grin was so large I saw every one of her razor-sharp teeth. "He was beautiful, my own little angel. I loved him terribly, and I was so sure things would only get better from there. And then the doctors told me something was wrong, and we discovered he was ill. There was an infection in his lungs, and it…he…it killed him, a few days after…"

She stopped, and I could feel her hands clenching tightly under mine. She was shaking with suppressed sobs, and she was trying desperately to get her breathing under control. She shook her head back and forth, as if in denial of her dark past, and a strangled noise escaped her as her breath hitched. I stood and sat on the armrest of the chair, wrapping my arms around her and holding her close; I didn't know what else to do. I hated seeing her this way, but I understood that she felt this was something I needed to know. Maybe, hopefully, sharing the story could help her heal – maybe not. I had to hope for the best, though, so I just held her until her sobs subsided.

"After he…I was broken, Bella. I couldn't see any reason to continue on. My husband was a monster, and my family just wanted me to return to him. My beautiful baby was…I couldn't cope. I didn't want to," she said, taking a deep breath. She placed a hand near my elbow, squeezing gently. "I wasn't really planning anything when I left the house. I just started walking, no real destination in mind, and soon I found myself along a series of cliffs that overlooked the lake. I wasn't too far from town, but I was far enough that no one would be able to stop me. The idea seemed so appealing at the time – I would be with my baby, and we'd be safe from Charles and my family. It was too easy to let go, so I did. I jumped, but I hadn't been counting on the small sandbar directly below the cliffs."

"No, Esme…" I gasped, and I could feel my face twisting in horror as realization dawned. The unbidden image of Esme, twisted and mangled against the rocky sand, sprung to the front of my mind, and my stomach twisted fiercely. No…not Esme. Not Esme…

"Edward had been correct on that part of my story," Esme continued, her gaze shifting to the front window and a slight smile turning her lips. "I was so out of it; I didn't fully realize what was happening until Carlisle told me later. He said some fishermen had been coming in for the day when they saw me fall from the cliff. They hadn't realized I'd meant to jump, and when they reached the shore I was on they were terrified for me, afraid that they were too late. They took me as quick as they could to the hospital in Ashland, but once we got there I was so close to death…they couldn't find a pulse, and my breathing was too light. They thought I was dead, and they left me in the morgue.

"Carlisle had had a patient that hadn't made it through surgery, and he had been bringing him down to the morgue. When he saw me…he said it was the darkest moment of his life. He remembered me – of course he did, given our memories – but…it was more than that. He told me I had been special to him, even then, and seeing me on that table devastated him – and then he heard my heart, faint but there, and he decided he would make me like him. He wouldn't let me die because he couldn't let me die – much like Edward wouldn't be able to let you," she said, finally looking at me again. Her smile was knowing, and I could feel the blood rushing to my face. Even knowing he loved me, I wished I could be that sure; Edward still refused to make me like him unless I married him (because he knew that was the one condition that would make me hesitate, thus prolonging my human life), and while I understood the only thing holding him back was fear for my soul…it was frustrating. "I don't really remember any of this, like I said – I remember falling, and then pain. I remember the pain weakening as I slipped closer to death, and then blazing out in an inferno for reasons that, at the time, I couldn't understand.

"I wondered, during the change, what I had done to deserve hell," she said, chuckling darkly. My eyebrows scrunched together at that; I couldn't see someone as wonderful as Esme in hell. "But then the pain started to lessen, and then it was gone – and when I opened my eyes, Carlisle was looking down at me. I still didn't understand anything, but I knew if Carlisle was there it couldn't be hell. He was…well, adorable, really, though at the time I didn't think so. He wouldn't stop apologizing, and he asked if I remembered him. He said I had been nearly dead, and that he couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let me go. He told me he had snuck me out of the morgue and had brought me to his home, where he had changed me.

"I wasn't so…accepting of my fate at first. I didn't want to believe him, and it took me a long time to come to terms with everything. I wasn't upset, just…disturbed," she said, nodding as she found a term she was ok using. "I had a hard time adjusting, but I was happy to be with Carlisle. I was happy to discover he had cared for me all those years, much as I had him – he had always remained a fond memory of a dream man, I suppose you could say. Edward was hesitant around me at first, but he could tell how happy I made Carlisle, and that made it easier for him – and truly, I adored Edward. It was easy to see him as the son I could have had, though it took me a long time to admit that. The pain was still too close, but he understood. They were both patient with me, and…well, you know the rest."

"How old were you, Esme?" I asked. I couldn't stop the question, even if it was rude and trivial.

"I was twenty-six when Carlisle found me in that morgue," she said, and my heart hurt for her. She noticed the look of anguish on my face, and she smiled warmly at me as she opened her arms. I fell onto her lap and let her hold me, and I clung to her as pained sobs shook me. "Oh, Bella…dearest Bella, I did not tell you this to make you sad. I just wanted you to understand why Alice's news bothered me so much. You are my daughter, Bella. I love you so, and imagining you in such a dark place that you would leap from a cliff into a hurricane…it terrified me, Bella. It absolutely terrified me, and I wanted nothing more than to wring Edward's neck for doing that to you."

We laughed at that, the idea absolutely absurd; Esme would never hurt Edward, no matter how angry with him she was. He was her child, too.

"I wasn't trying to kill myself," I said, and she didn't speak, waiting for me to continue. I took a steadying breath and looked at the arm of the chair we were in. "I was…it's hard to explain. You said Edward told you what I told him? About trying to hear his voice?"

"He said you were risking your life to hear voices, because it made you feel closer to him," she said, and I laughed at that. Typical Edward.

"It was just his voice, and…well, yeah. He had asked me to stay safe before he left, but I found when I did something dangerous I could hear his voice. I could remember him better, or at least his angry side. I think it was my subconscious trying to tell me he did still love me, but…at the time, I was just glad to hear him. It made me feel like he was still protecting me, and that made things easier," I said. I smiled weakly and shrugged. "It sounds ridiculous, I know, but…that's how it was. I didn't want to kill myself – I just wanted to be close to Edward again."

"Oh, Bella," Esme sighed, holding me closer. I didn't fight her; I'd missed her, too. "Edward was such a fool. But…I'm glad to hear that, dear. That you weren't trying to…well. You know we will never leave you again, don't you? That when we do have to leave Forks, you are coming with us?"

"Of course," I said, smiling. "You all voted me into the family, remember?"

"We did," she said with a laugh.

It hit me, then, just how similar we were. Despite the fact that we were from different times, despite the fact that she was Edward's 'mother' and I was his…whatever, despite the fact that she had lived so much longer than I had…we were so very similar. We'd both had our hearts broken by people we'd loved; we'd both leapt from cliffs because of it. While our reasons may have been different, the end result was the same; in that moment, I saw Esme clearer than I ever had before. She wasn't just a mother figure; she was…me. Something in me felt I should be scared for that, maybe because we both knew that dark place that'd caused us to jump in the first place, but – strangely – I wasn't. It was comforting, knowing that I shared that connection with Esme. Knowing that there was someone I could talk to who would understand. I loved Alice, but it wasn't the same, talking to her about this – and I couldn't talk to Edward. Well…I could, and I had, but I didn't like to; it was still too fresh for the both of us, too painful. But now I knew I could talk to Esme, and that meant something. I hugged her tighter, comforted by this revelation and the fact that she was willing to share this part of herself with me.

She really did want me in her family.

Her head perked up, and she looked towards the door. "I do believe your father just pulled up. Edward should be walking up now."

"Edward?" I asked, confused, and she winked at me.

"He came with me," she said. "Alice said Charlie would be home by the time we finished talking, so he's been waiting in the car. I'm to come pick him up in a few hours."

I laughed at that; Edward was…silly, when he wanted to be. Ridiculous.

"…ank you for keeping to the rules, but if Esme is inside I don't see why you couldn't have gone in," we heard Charlie say as the front door opened. "I trust her."

"Thank you, sir, but Esme wished to speak to Bella alone," Edward said as he followed Charlie inside. My face lit up when I saw him, and I heard Esme chuckle. She gave me another quick hug before nudging me off her lap (before Charlie noticed), and we stood to greet them. Edward smiled as he looked at me, and without a thought to Charlie I ran to him. He caught me easily, holding me as close as was safe. "Hello."

"Hi," I said, squeezing him. Charlie raised an eyebrow at me, and I grinned at him. "Hi, Dad."

"Bells," he said, nodding at me. He looked at Esme and gave her a nod as well. "Esme."

"Charlie," she said, smiling. She walked over to us and looked at Edward. "I'll be back around nine for you, all right?"

"Yes, Mom," he said, not once releasing his hold in the slightest. I elbowed him, and he gave me a frustrated look as I motioned for him to let go. He did, reluctantly, and I stepped over to Esme. I gave her a final hug.

"Thanks, Mom," I said, whispering the final word so only she – and, undoubtedly, Edward – could hear. I felt her smile against my cheek, and I knew a similar expression would be on Edward's perfect face. "I love you."

"Any time, my dear Bella," she said, holding me tight. "I love you, too."

Charlie gave me a look as I let her go, and she nodded at him with another smile. They exchanged pleasantries by the door as Edward led me to the kitchen table for another night of filling out college applications. He was chuckling, though, and I gave him a curious look.

"What?" I asked, and he shook his head as he pulled out a chair for me. I gave him another look, annoyed at being left out, and he grinned at me.

"Esme was just telling me what a wonderful catch I've found," he whispered so Charlie wouldn't hear. I smirked at that. "And she was telling me I best not 'screw it up' again. I must say, I have to agree with her."

"You better not," I said tersely, and he smiled as he leaned down and kissed me. I grinned against his lips, any ire melting away with the gesture. I would never tire of his kisses – ever. Or him, for that matter.

"I won't," he whispered, his lips ghosting over mine as he spoke. He kissed me once more before taking a seat beside me and handing the first application my way. I groaned and flopped my head back. "Now, for these applications…"

Then again…