Three years later.
"Close your eyes. I have a present."
Edward closed them. Bella climbed onto the bed and sat cross-legged, her knees to his knees. It was six am and their houseguests were asleep (the vampires only pretending to be asleep, for appearance's sake).
She placed a leather-and-linen notebook in his hands, tied up with a raffia bow. "Okay, you can look."
"Mm, intriguing." He turned it over. "And beautifully bound. Your writing I presume."
Bella nodded, hunching up her shoulders.
"I am delighted, my love, thank you." He leaned forward to give her a quick kiss on the lips.
She closed her eyes momentarily. "You don't know what's written in it yet." .
"True." He raised his eyebrows; her nervousness aroused his curiosity. "Is this a wedding gift or a graduation gift?"
He took the end of the bow in his fingers. "Shall I read it now or after the ceremony? Ceremonies, I should say."
They had decided to combine the two events into one busy week. Charlie and Sue would only have to fly out once. Esme had naturally wanted the wedding in Forks, Alice had hoped for a glamorous New York wedding and Renee had lobbied for a sunny Florida beach party (impossible of course). Bella and Edward had declined all three.
Hanover had been their home, the place where their relationship had matured from a giddy fairytale to an enduring partnership, and therefore the most meaningful place for their official union. Their college friends could affordably attend, too – which by now numbered around a dozen, mostly from the English Department, but with a few good friends representing the Physical Therapy School, too.
Freja, now a strict teetotaller, was driving out from Madison, accompanied by her new University of Wisconsin boyfriend. Bella was looking forward to her reunion with her friend, as their friendship had been conducted online ever since the day Freja had departed in her Volkswagen with Jake in tow.
Jake was attending too, but with Alison, a girl from a British Columbian Chinook tribe who reportedly guessed his lupine affliction after their first month together. Alison was his third declaration as the 'true' imprint. Freja had been his second, but after he had helped her fight her alcoholic urges, he had found that he didn't like her sober persona as much as her tipsy one. This was fine with Freja; she and her Wisconsin family were too inquisitive to tolerate his constant, melodramatic secrecy. The odd couple had lasted six months, with Jacob's 'imprint' ending the day he decided to apply to Peninsula Community College, Port Angeles. Edward had wryly commented that Jacob's imprinting was more like an Etch a Sketch: shake it once and it was gone.
Early this morning, Bella, cognizant of a houseful of guests and the events of the coming two days, hadn't been able to sleep. She and Edward had gone for a quiet morning swim and now sat on the bed in matching terry robes (DKNY, thick and soft, a shower gift from Alice), while Bella combed her out her wet hair and Edward read The New York Times in the pale morning light. Restless and anxious for his response, Bella had suddenly leapt from the bed and had fished out the booklet from her bottom drawer.
Now he sat patiently, knee to knee with Bella, his thumb on the corner of her precious, carefully constructed work.
"Okay, God, you can read it now – NO, wait. No, I don't know!" she wailed softly, curling her fingers against his knees. "I want you to like it."
"You've let me read all your assignments so far," he reminded her, amused and now terribly, terribly curious. "Both fiction and non. Old Prufrock is the far more exacting critic."
"This is fictionalized non-fiction. Like a BBC documentary, with some re-enactments."
"Okay. I'm opening it now…" he warned.
"I'll be in the bathroom!" she cried, leaping up.
But suddenly she was sideways atop his lap, locked firmly in his embrace, with the book held in front of them. Slowly, he pulled on the raffia tie. She shrieked and giggled, unable to squirm away.
"An Abridged Account of the history of Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, as told to Bella Swan," he read the title page. He let that sink in for a moment. "Really?"
"Yeah, really," she said nervously, curled against the cradle of his body. "It's about you."
"But…" He resisted turning the page, both pleased and embarrassed. "I haven't exactly accomplished anything to write about. He tracked a deer, he read a book, he played a song. It's all in my journals."
"Your journals," she said, laying her head against his shoulder, "are full of severe self-criticism. And you left out whole decades. The fifties and the seventies."
"That's because my life was a yawning, colorless tedium. It lacked you." He turned his head and gave her a sweet, lingering kiss.
"I disagree," she tried to protest, though it came out more like a breathy moan. She kissed him back, until she began to feel his erection stirring against her. They opened their eyes and pulled back, having agreed to a two day abstinence pact while her parents were staying with them. Edward gave a resigned sigh and turned his attention back to the notebook.
Bella cleared her throat. "You've had an amazing life, and it should be recorded for posterity. Even if humans can't ever read it."
"Hm." He moved her off his lap, but still kept her prisoner in the circle of his arms. He let it fall open to a random page.
"I left the back side of each page blank, in case you wanted to make corrections to my interpretation of events. You can cross parts out if you disagree…" She trailed off, afraid to look at him while he read.
"You know," she continued, "all those road rally races with Rosalie? And your disturbing encounters with released Gulag prisoners in 1950's USSR? What about you and Emmett in Hiroshima after the destruction? It's all far more interesting than Pepys' Diaries."
She was babbling now. She lifted her chin to look at him; his eyes ran back and forth speedily over her writing, his mouth slightly open. He flipped to another page, his eyes riveted to her handwritten text.
"Say something," she begged, squirming on his lap. "Are you upset?"
"Uh, no…flabbergasted, maybe," he murmured. "You've recalled an astonishing amount of detail. Pepys, by the way, was a self-centered philanderer." Edward reclined against the pillows, the notebook held aloft and started back at the beginning. She slipped quietly from his arms and scooted back to the end of the bed, as if giving him some privacy to read about his own life.
She picked up the Times and opened it, attempting to read, but really she was watching him. His robe was carelessly open, except where it caught on his half-mast erection, and she let her eyes roam over the pale Adonis in her bed. He was her virile and attentive lover, her intelligent and unconventional vampire. In less than forty eight hours, he would be her husband.
Bella smiled to herself. He was, she felt sure, a future legend, whether he ruled the Volturi or not. Whether she accompanied him through eternity or not. Such an extraordinary man should be represented in words, she had decided in the last year of her degree. So she had begun a frank account of his tales, including the stories of Consuela and Miss Harrow. Tanya's destruction she had pieced together from what Irina had told her and the occasional, sober reference to the event from Edward. She had written it all in the library, or scribbled hurriedly when he hunted, or more carefully when she spent the rare week or two away from him over the summers.
In recent years he had slowly and fully revealed himself, sometimes through his stories of the past, which he would recount either in the darkness of their bedroom or while they lay spent in each other's arms among the grasses of their New Hampshire meadow. Sometimes he was ashamed and sometimes he was scathing of his past behaviour, but always he was honest. She found courage and honor in his conduct, but also naïveté and an impractical pride. She loved him, oh she loved him! When she stated her vows tomorrow, she would also vow – to herself and to God – to be worthy of him.
He chuckled at some passage he was reading and she looked up. 'Is it okay?" she asked.
"I can tell that you love me," he replied dryly, his eyes never leaving the page. "But, despite that particular influence, it's…" He paused and shook his head in wonder, "It's brilliant."
Alice blocked Edward from the moment she arrived in Hanover. All through the commencement speeches, through the photos in the Quad, through the mockery of consuming cake and coffee with the Swan and Dwyer humans back at Starbucks, she managed a stream of useless information. An impenetrable self-discipline! She smiled and chatted with all, but Edward noted a repressed emotion around his sister's eyes. Worse, Jasper was at her side, demonstrating a husbandly comfort, and Edward was going to demand to know what she was hiding the minute they got back to the house.
He didn't have to wait. Alice was standing beside the Vanquish when Bella emerged from the passenger side. "You have mail," she said, taking Bella's hand and squeezing it.
Bella turned to Edward and gasped. The stared at one another over the roof of the Vanquish. "So soon," she whispered.
"Something wrong?" said Charlie, shutting the door of his rental car and taking in Bella and Edward's expressions.
"Not at all," said Edward smoothly. "We were just wondering if we'd hear from Mr. Singleton today."
"The Denver Post, Dad," said Bella breathlessly. "My job interview." She shrugged. "My only job interview."
"Bells. Don't beat yourself up. There's a recession ongoing, and well… you majored in, heh, English Literature. So, it's pretty good you even got one interview that involves actual writing." He shoved his hands in his pockets, while Sue put a quelling hand on his shoulder. He was trying to be helpful, Bella knew, but at the moment she couldn't even acknowledge his comment. Her eyes were locked with Edward's.
Charlie was unaware of the momentous decision that rested upon the letter now sitting in the mailbox. A decision of life or death. Of immortality now or immortality later.
Bella and Edward had wrangled over the decision for the past year. If she were changed now, would she appear old enough to have a career? (One of Edward's bitterest complaints about appearing seventeen was the lack of respect from colleagues in any profession he pursued.) Writing Edward's history down had compelled a new perspective on his immortality. She both desired and rejected vampirism; she was both horrified and inspired by his past.
Did Bella want a baby? She declared up and down that the answer was no. If the child wasn't Edward's, then she could live without one, she'd said. Edward was less certain she wouldn't change her mind. They debated and gathered opinions from Alice, Esme, Carlisle, Rosalie and even Kate.
All the while, Carlisle had kept his ear to the ground, attuned to any rumours that might reach the Volturi. They'd heard of Tanya's death by now, and the inscription on the harpoon. Aro thought it a charming and daring love story, and seemed to forget to even ask if Bella had been changed. Carlisle felt he owed Edward some recompense; he lied and persuaded and redirected his former comrade convincingly enough—for now.
Unable to make a decision, Bella and Edward briefly considered leaving it to the chaos of fate. They would balance their decision upon something random and uncontrollable, they proposed. A horse race. They would flip a coin. They would ask a stranger 'now' or 'later' and see which word came first from his mouth.
But Edward couldn't bring himself to agree. To rest Bella's mortality upon such cold and disinterested banality was an insult to the sanctity of life.
In April of their final year, not long after a passing visit from Kate, Bella had submitted an opinion piece on women in higher education in Russia to The Dartmouth (America's oldest college newspaper). Published, it generated some controversy, including a testy exchange of communication from a Dartmouth alum in Colorado. That alum turned out to be a newspaper magnate, who declared he wanted Bella on his Denver Post, a paper with the tenth highest circulation in the United States. Bella had interviewed just two weeks ago and thought the job unobtainable. It was mostly fiction she had submitted as examples, not non-fiction, and certainly not anything that could be called 'journalistic reporting'.
Edward was more optimistic. He had lingered in the shade of the building, pacing, worried that her nerves would mask a true representation of her able mind. He eavesdropped and was placated by the editor's unspoken opinion, though the man had not made a decision there and then. Afterwards, Bella had insisted upon checking out every Physical Therapy facility in the city. It was time, she had persuaded, that Edward tried actual employment again.
That night, over mushroom ravioli in a downtown Denver Italian restaurant, they agreed. It was James Stapleton, editor of The Denver Post, who would decide her fate. If she got the job, she would stay human for a few more years. If she didn't get the job, they would make her immortal.
Now, standing in the driveway, Alice's mind told Edward it was indeed a letter from Stapleton sitting in their little classic aluminium post box. What was inside the letter, Alice blocked with some highly irritating boy band song.
"Shall I get the mail?" asked Jasper, when no one moved or spoke for almost a minute.
"Yeah," said Bella, raising her chin. "Get the mail."
They all gathered around the hood of the Vanquish, once Jasper had brought the mail up the walk.
"Oh look, you might have won a million dollars," said Emmett, pushing the pile around with his giant fingers. Only Renee and Phil laughed, and Rosalie gave Emmett a little flick on the arm. They all stared at the innocuous letter, with The Denver Post logo printed in the corner.
"You gonna open the thing or what?" said Charlie curtly, suddenly as nervous as anyone else. Sue guessed what was going on; Edward saw the moment the penny dropped In her mind. Sue was glad Jake wasn't going to arrive for several more hours.
"Courage, my Bella-sweet," said Edward softly. He smiled at her, trying to convey all his love and support in his eyes. She raised her eyes and smiled back. She looked around her, at all the beautiful, capable, immortal Cullens. At her vulnerable human parents, whom she might have to leave soon forever.
With a little laugh (or was it a sob?), she grabbed it, ripped it open and unfolded the letter. "I'm…I'm in," she said, after reading the first line. She looked up at Edward again. "I'm in! I got the job. We're moving to Denver."
The celebrations, along with a few tears, went on well into the night.
The following afternoon, Bella and Edward joined hands and stood before God, friends and family, with optimism and love in their hearts and minds. They spoke traditional vows aloud, but made further vows in their minds, ones they had shared spontaneously with one another in the sanctuary of their soundproof bedroom, in each other's arms in the wee hours the night before.
"My dearest Isabella Marie Swan," he'd said, his palms cupping her face. "To this marriage, I bring you my past, my history, my wisdom and my foolishness. My protection and support, my lust and bloodlust. I bring my faults and my talents, those that are intrinsically mine and those bestowed upon me by the fate of my condition. I declare my unswerving devotion to your well being and happiness, at whatever cost to myself. I love you, now and forever."
"My dear Edward Anthony Masen Cullen," she'd replied. "I give you my future, all of it, no matter how short or how long. I bring you what I am, my human weaknesses and my human strengths, and what I will become, as your immortal mate. I devote my mind, heart and body to you, to your happiness and contentment, unselfishly without reservation. I love you, now and forever."
"Now kiss me, my darling. We are joy itself!"
Edited Dec 2013: So what happens next for our AU couple? Well, I'm currently posting a new story, The Donor, which could be considered a sequel. It stands entirely alone as well, and just occasionally makes references to events in An Abridged Account.
Thanks for reading everyone. Thanks for even going beyond the second chapter, when it looked like it was just a flashback story of Edward's history and a bunch of original characters. I'll probably go back and fix all errors (all my fault, never my betas', btw) and repost on A Different Forest. I might take out the paintball glove scenes, as I lose more readers on that chapter than any other. Should I take it out? I would be happy to hear your opinion.
Thank you to my betas and supporters who have stuck with me for so long. Thanks to LIttlechoo, and Kristie and Antebellum of PTB. Thanks to BelleDean for stepping in as beta for the last several chapters. Thanks to you fabulous reviewers, particularly those who review often and with detail – you make me sing!