AN: Part three awaits... oh Edward, please breathe! And Bella, with her nerves... will she actually be able to go through with a wedding, especially with her Dad not there? Will Rose tell Emmett? Will Alice throw a tantrum over being last and elope too? Find out, as we return one last time to the world of Tattoos Like Mile Markers...
Previously, in Vegas...
Edward chuckled, satisfied with himself apparently, as Bella lay limp, her heart racing wildly. Even a quickie from Edward far surpassed any other sex she'd had. Bella wondered if the love between them was the secret ingredient, that spark that started the brushfire whenever their bodies touched. Whatever it was, she wanted it forever. Rolling onto her side lazily, Bella's vision mostly righted itself as she sought the naked form of her future husband, finding him perfectly still, hand poised over the ice bucket as if time had stopped.
He didn't speak, and Bella suddenly understood why: his gaze was locked on the trash. The trash containing the positive pregnancy test. Oh, shit!
"It's not mine!" Bella immediately blurted out, her brains suddenly back in their rightful home – her skull.
Edward's shoulders relaxed slightly as he turned around, his features ashen. "Bella?"
"It's Rosalie's," Bella said quickly. "I didn't have a chance to talk to you yet." At Edward's continued staring, she waved him closer urgently. "Come sit down and I'll fill you in. I'm not pregnant, Edward."
That seemed to do the trick, much to Bella's relief. Edward shook himself and returned to the end of the bed, sitting down beside her, water forgotten in hand. Bella stole the bottle from him, parched from exertion and cotton-mouthed from nerves.
"Rosalie came by this afternoon in a panic," Bella began, taking a gulp of water. "You know how she's been sick since we got here? Well, she realized she was late."
Edward's eyes widened. "But she told me—"
"And she told me it too. She believed it. Regardless, the test is positive, Edward. Rose is pregnant. But she's too terrified to enjoy it."
"Of course," Edward replied, his words rushing out. "It could be ectopic, given the state of her uterus, or could miscarry easily, or even be a false positive..."
"Exactly, Dr. Edward," Bella teased gently. "She didn't even want to tell Emmett until she saw a doctor, but I convinced her that she should have support. She needs us in her corner, either way. She wants this badly, Edward," Bella added. "God, I hope it... well, the baby makes it."
Edward's arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her against his bare chest. "You're a sweetheart, you know. And just think: a year ago, you hated each other. Hell, I hated her!"
"Bridge, water, insert metaphor," Bella replied casually. "So, Ronan and Emily don't know, okay? Just the Cullen entourage."
"Zipped, got it." Edward laughed, shaking his head. "I was about to have a fucking heart attack when I saw that."
"I can imagine! I don't even know if I want kids at all," Bella confessed.
Edward smiled. "You know, me neither. I kind of like just us, at least for a long, long time."
Bella grinned. "Sounds heavenly to me. And we'll get right on that time starting tomorrow... But now, I have half an hour to find food and shower before joining Emily in being tortured with hairstyles by Alice."
Bella threw a pillow at Edward's head in a huff. "Screw you! I'm bathing now, and just for that, you are not welcome to join me!"
Edward's face fell. "Hey, I'm sorry. I was teasing. Come on," he pleaded as Bella started the shower, shaking her head at him. "Bella, you can't deny me this last bit of time. Please?"
Rolling her eyes and giggling, Bella stepped into the shower. "Fine, but no nookie, and I mean it!"
Edward hurriedly joined her in the large stall, immediately reaching for the soap. With a sly grin, he lathered her breasts, earning a raised eyebrow from Bella.
"I said no nookie," Bella reminded him.
"I'm helping," Edward answered, smiling innocently as his hands drifted along her stomach. "You said you didn't have much time. Wash your hair."
"Cheater! Fine, then," Bella acquiesced, squirting shampoo into her palm and working it into her long waves. "This is a good idea, right? Eloping?"
Edward nodded. "I actually thought of it before proposing, to be honest. And it better be fine, because we already threw down a little extra cash for more photographer time and a little extra for the hotel and officiant."
"It wasn't too bad, was it?" Bella asked nervously. "I didn't even think of that. Stupid!"
"Bella, I have an enormous trust fund and access to Carlisle's credit. It wasn't any trouble at all, and far cheaper than a full wedding later on. I even switched our room for tomorrow night."
"Wait, what? What do you mean, switched?"
Edward's soapy hands pressed into the small of her back, "I got us a little extra for tomorrow. It's a Monday, so the hotel was not troubled at all. I'm not saying another word on it, so you'll just have to wait."
Bella huffed, rinsing her hair. "Meanie."
"You love me for it."
Bella sighed as she hunted down the conditioner. "I wish we'd planned this out, though. I hate Charlie and Carlisle not being here, you know?"
Edward frowned. "Yeah, that's the downside to this. But hey, it gives me an excuse to remarry you in front of them, and that makes me smile."
Bella froze suddenly, eyes wild and panicked. "Rings! Edward, we don't have rings!"
Edward shrugged. "Yes we do."
"No, we don't! This wasn't planned! And we haven't even looked at any!"
"Bella, shh! I took care of it," Edward soothed, holding her close. "Breathe, baby. Everything is ready for tomorrow, okay?"
Bella frowned. "I have money too, you know! And opinions!"
"I know you do, and if you hate them, we'll just buy another set and remarry with those. As for money, if it means a lot, you can put more money into the honeymoon later then, deal?"
"Deal," Bella relented, rinsing her hair free of conditioner. "And don't you dare think I'll forget later on down the road, mister! I make decent deniro at Breaking Dawn Designs now that I'm a full artist. I can ink up a honeymoon fund quite fast, alright?"
"Yes, sugar mama!" Edward teased with a mock salute.
"Outta my way; time to dry off," Bella ordered him, intentionally shaking her ass in his face.
"Cruelty..." Edward sighed, admiring the tattoo across her lower back as she reached for a towel. "You are in so much trouble tomorrow night."
Tossing her damp hair over her shoulder, Bella looked back at him and winked. "I'm counting on it."
With a shudder, Edward nudged the cold water higher, closing his eyes as lukewarm water drizzled down his skin. Sensory overload... Gotta calm down before big brother Ronan gets here. Rinsing his bronze hair quickly, Edward watched as Bella tucked her hair into a twist and clipped it in place, a scant few ringlets grazing her neck. Think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts... His mental orders went ignored as Bella slid into a push-up bra that ought to be declared criminal for the plunging cleavage it created, then stepped into matching panties.
"You're killing me here!" Edward groused, killing the hot water completely in desperation.
"Will you calm down if I promise you can deflower me before the big dinner out?" Bella cooed, batting her eyes.
"Not enough," he complained, gesturing to the semi-erection struggling against the shrinking powers of a cold stream of water.
"Fine, let me help you: Lilian Hale naked."
Edward shuddered violently, striking the side of his head as he killed the shower. "That was just cruel. Total Bitchella moment."
Smoothing her t-shirt over her denim shorts, Bella smirked, "You're welcome!" Padding across the room, Bella pressed onto her toes, kissing his lips gently. "Goodnight, Edward. I love you."
"Love you too, you wicked woman," Edward murmured, caressing her cheek. "I'll meet you on the Terraza tomorrow, say, two pm?"
"I'll be the one in white," Bella answered with trepidation. "If I don't faint and fall on my face."
"Just breathe," Edward whispered. "It's us and a few friends. We can do this."
With a little shake, Bella stuffed her toiletries into her carry-on bag along with a few clothing items from her suitcase. Edward watched her hesitate as he began towelling off, noticing her biting her lip as she often did when stressed, and wondered for a moment if the whole wedding rush was a bad idea. Bella did struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, even if they'd drastically improved throughout the previous year.
"We don't have to do this," he offered up as consolation.
With a shy smile, Bella replied, "I want to. I'll just miss you. It's been a long time since we slept apart."
He moved closer, pressing his lips to the top of her head. "With any luck, it will be the last. Now go, before Alice kills me."
With one last kiss, Bella walked out the door, the automatic hinge slamming it behind her. The finality of it carved a hole in his heart. Even one night without Bella was one night too long, especially after he'd come so close to losing her last fall, on that horrible morning she'd given up on life and nearly surrendered to dozens of pills. Too close, he thought sadly. But that was the past; now, they had a wonderful future to look to. Together.
He dressed slowly, his mind wandering away to the afternoon, to the moment she'd called him and sprung elopement upon him. Somehow, Jasper was not surprised in the slightest; perhaps Alice had figured a double wedding to be in the offing? A few quick changes and an arrangement to pick up a licence in the morning, and all was set for the ceremony itself. Even the rings had panned out beautifully; the Bellagio had a Tiffany and Co. Store, and he was able to secure the bands matching Bella's engagement ring rather easily. Hopefully, she'd like them as much as he did; she did love her current ring, judging from the goofy grin that crossed her lips whenever she stared at it.
"Bella will love anything," he reminded himself as he zipped his jeans. Her lack of concern with the material was one of her many endearing qualities, even if it led to squabbles when he spoiled her, as she so richly deserved.
A firm rapping on the door signalled Ronan's arrival, and Edward rushed for the door then froze. If he sees that test, I'll be castrated! Edward thought as he rushed back, ramming the test inside a paper bag on the chair and burying it under candy bar wrappers. Sucking in a deep breath, Edward threw open the door, smiling as he saw what Ronan swung in his right hand.
"Liquid courage?" he asked, offering up the large bottle of scotch.
"Hell yes. Come on in."
He'd faked it well for Bella, but the butterflies were nesting in his stomach too. A little drunken relaxation sounded like the perfect remedy for the proverbial fluttering pests. Watching as Ronan doled out the glasses from the cabinet and filled them halfway, Edward smiled to himself. He had Ronan to thank for Bella's presence in his life; without him fighting with Emily in the bar, there never would have been the demand to keep Bella occupied, and without that conversation...
"Well Cullen, this seems rather fitting," Ronan commented, passing Edward a glass. "I introduced you two properly, and you two convinced me to man up and propose."
"I was just thinking of that, and how I owe you for Bella," Edward mused aloud.
"As long as Emily doesn't run screaming for the hills tomorrow, I'd say we're even now." Ronan knocked back his double in a single gulp and immediately poured another. "I really love her, you know. I knew when I met her – in my gut – that I had to be with her."
"I know the feeling. How did you two meet, anyway?" Edward asked, throwing back his glass and wincing at the burn.
Ronan laughed, averting his gaze as he mumbled, "Abarfight."
"I'm sorry, what?"
Ronan sighed, raising his voice. "A bar fight. Like a typical Irish guy, I got into a fight with some prick running his mouth. Knocked him out cold."
Ronan shrugged. "She was his girlfriend."
Edward nearly dropped the scotch in his hand. "You stole his girlfriend after knocking him out? Nice!"
"It's not as bad as it sounds!" Ronan protested. "He was calling her some pretty horrible things at the pool table beside me and my mates. I told him to watch his fucking mouth around a lady, and the rest is history."
Edward shook his head. "The things we do for women..."
"Ain't that the fuckin' truth. Cheers."
And with a clinking of glasses, the two grooms toasted the end of their bachelorhood. Neither one of them regretted it.
August 23rd, 2010
"Are you nervous yet? Nervous? How about now?"
Edward wished for Jasper's mediating presence, cursing the fact he'd been volunteered by Alice to meet with the planner and officiant prior to the ceremony to finalize things. Emmett was a dog with a bone, teasing Edward as he knotted his tie before the full-length mirror. Edward loved his brother, but given the nerves that he refused to drink away, he was about thirty seconds away from sucker-punching him.
Well, that, and the fact his dad would have none of it.
Edward smiled faintly to himself as he flipped Emmett off casually, looking to the edge of the mirror; he could see his father standing against the wall opposite it, dressed in a black suit, his hair perfectly styled – a fact that forever irritated Edward, given his own unruly locks. A knocking at the hotel room door circa eight in the morning had roused Ronan and him from their slightly hung-over slumber; awaiting them on the other side of the door was a perky pixie, beaming as she presented two surprise guests: Carlisle Cullen and Charlie Swan.
"Huh?" was the best Edward had managed.
"What the fuck?" Ronan had cursed, shaking his head. "Cullen, am I seeing shit? God, did I drink that much? Em'll kill my ass—"
"No son, we're actually here – and you both need a goddamn shower," Charlie had declared, shaking his head. "Not that I'm surprised you gave your mutual bachelorhood an Irish wake."
Edward had then pulled Ronan to the side, admitting his sister and the two fathers. "But how—?"
Alice rolled her eyes and shoved Edward playfully. "Oh, please! Did you really think I wouldn't have pegged Bella for elopement? I had two tickets booked in case for them. When you agreed to the double wedding whammy, I had Jasper shoot Dad a text, and he notified Charlie."
"Does Bella know?"
"Nope! So don't spoil it, alright?"
Edward had quickly pulled his sister against him, embracing her tightly. "She's going to be so happy, Tink. Thank you." To Charlie and Carlisle, he'd added, "I'm so glad Alice pulled this off; it was our only regret about deciding to do this."
With a clapping of hands upon Edward's shoulders, Charlie Swan had dispelled all fears of lingering resentment between them:
"It would have been my only regret as well, Edward. Now, both of you, get the coffee brewing and sober it up. That's an order!"
Glancing now at his almost father-in-law – shit, less than an hour, he realized – Edward heaved a deep breath of relief. It was as if they were meant to elope, the way everything had fallen into place. Even the wedding itself was easily adjusted – which left Edward wondering if a certain meddling sister and her fiancé had pre-arranged that. In the end, it didn't matter: Bella would be his wife in scant minutes, and that was all he needed to know.
"I need a drink," Ronan grumbled. "I need ten."
"Not before the ceremony," Emmett rebutted. "Trust me; you won't want it anymore when you see her. You'll be impatient for it once she appears."
"My brother, the wuss," Edward teased, dodging a shove in retaliation.
"Fuck you, man! You know I'm right on this."
Edward shrugged, refusing to give in, but his brother was right. Even picking up the licence three hours ago he'd been mesmerized, his heart skipping and racing at the sight of Bella; her auburn waves fell messily about her shoulders, her tiny tank top and tight jeans framing her curves to a perfection on par with the Sistine Chapel, as far as he was concerned. Alice had insisted they not kiss prior to their nuptials, complaining that the last-minute licencing was bad enough in her books; Bella had flipped her off, kissed her fingertips, then pressed them to Edward's waiting lips with a sly grin.
"Nah, nah," Bella had whispered.
His vivacious Bella, sassy and sarcastic, but also loving and generous: she was the perfect woman for him.
"Time, guys," Edward's father announced, tapping his wrist. "We need to get you out there before the ladies head out."
With a noticeable gulp, Ronan shuffled towards the door, fidgeting with the rings in his pocket as Charlie chastised him. Edward looked to his father, then rushed him for a hug, a scarce gesture between them but one he needed now. If Edward were successful at all at marriage, his father and mother would be the reason why. Carlisle's arms were strong, sturdy, safe; it was reassuring to know that support was here for him now, as it had always been.
"I'm proud of you," Carlisle said quietly.
"Thank you for never giving up on me, Dad," Edward replied softly, fighting off tears.
"I will always be in your corner," Carlisle insisted. "Just remember this: you are a team. You will fight, and you will face difficult days, but as long as you remember to face them together, with love and mutual respect, you will be happy."
Emmett slapped Edward's back affectionately. "True words, bro. Dad knows what he's talking about."
Edward turned towards Emmett, nodding. "You also have us in your team, come whatever with Rose..."
He kept his comment vague, given the promise to keep Rosalie's delicate condition private, but Emmett picked up on it. "I only need Rose," Emmett said. "Everything else is gravy."
"Shall we?" Carlisle asked, gesturing to the door.
Pausing briefly to check for the wedding bands in his own pocket, Edward nodded resolutely. "Absolutely."
Bella's jaw fell open as Alice finally allowed her to examine her carefully crafted make-up and hairstyle, her fingertips reaching up to graze the soft ringlets framing her face. Why she had doubted her for even a moment, Bella didn't know; Alice knew her tastes, and as much as she loved to torment Bella by playing Barbie, when it mattered most, Alice was true to Bella's desires. The soft lilac shadow was a mere dusting across her lids, complimenting the pale shimmery gloss upon her heart-shaped lips. Her pale features were played up with a hint of blush upon her cheekbones, so faint it appeared perfectly natural. Her hair was swept into a loose mess of curls secured near the nape of her neck, a few tendrils roaming free – "To keep you cool out there," Alice had declared before pouncing.
"You're welcome!" Alice trilled happily, turning now to Emily with her eye shadow palette. "You've cried yours off again! Stop that!"
"I can't help it," Emily whimpered, dabbing at stray tears. "I just... I never thought this day would come, and it's here and I love Ro so much—"
"Oh, go easy on her!" Rosalie interjected. "I almost threw up on you on my big day, remember? A bride should be this happy." Kneeling beside Emily, Rose's expression grew stern, although her tone remained playful. "Now cut it the fuck out!"
Emily chuckled as Alice quickly dusted pink over Emily's eyes, scrutinizing her handiwork. "It'll have to suffice. We're due out there in ten minutes, and I need to secure your veil still."
Bella smiled encouragingly at her fellow bride, smoothing over her dress anxiously. The ivory white cocktail dress was thigh-length, with hints of silver woven through the skirt. The empire waist hugged her breasts and pushed them up somehow, lending an extra half cup to her décolletage, its thin spaghetti straps embellished with black lace. She'd refused a veil, insisting it was not her style, but Emily had gone for the whole package, insisting on a veil and tiara combo adorning her chin-length blonde waves. Her strapless dress hugged her slender frame to her knees, the sweetheart neckline giving way to lightly embroidered skirting and a frilly hemline. It was far more feminine than Bella's choice, but also quirky enough for an artist's quickly-chosen wedding ensemble.
Alice and Rosalie had both splurged on new dresses in spite of packing their own, unable to resist the temptation of their Visas. Alice's silky cerulean garment swished about her thighs, the diamond-encrusted halter her idea of 'Vegas maid of honour'; Rosalie had chosen a crimson silk number of her own, the plunging neckline accenting her ample cleavage while flaring out at the waist to conceal her stomach – which Alice had noted was a little bump-ish, much to Rosalie's hopeful delight. As Emily had showered that morning, Rosalie had confided to Bella and Alice that Emmett had reacted wonderfully to her news; he'd held her tightly, assuring her that she was every bit the woman he wanted, no matter what happened or didn't happen down the line. He'd then texted his father, informing him of the news and requesting he arrange an examination for their arrival home. Not that Bella had expected any differently from Emmett: he was a teddy bear at heart, and worshipped Rosalie.
"Flowers," Rosalie announced, pulling Bella from her reverie.
Bella's hand shook as she accepted the small twine-bound bouquet of calla lilies. "Yeah, right. Flowers. There's flowers at weddings."
"Breathe, Bella," Alice encouraged her.
"I am," Bella insisted, "I can breathe. I have to stay calm."
Rosalie grinned. "Just follow your own advice to me: think dirty thoughts of Edward."
Hmm... Shower sex... God, he looked hot in the shower last night! Bella licked her lips unconsciously, triggering a burst of laughter from the ladies. I definitely enjoy thinking of him naked. Anxiety? What's that? And just like that, Bella felt her shoulders release.
"Alright, we've got something old – your own jewellery; something new – dresses, of course; something borrowed – the clutches you two swapped to be sneaky—" Alice paused, shaking her head in amusement as Bella and Emily high-fived. "—And something blue is covered by the garter belts that are purely for show and male amusement. We're almost set, except for one more thing: I have a gift for you, Bella."
Bella frowned. "Alice, I thought I told you no gifts were necessary from any of you."
Alice shrugged. "Like I ever obey anyone! One sec, okay?"
Alice darted from the prep room provided by the MGM Grand, an armoire and changing area situated near the indoor chapels that they'd been gracious enough to supply. Bella turned immediately to Rosalie, demanding answers.
"I have no idea, Bella."
"Rose," Bella warned.
"No, seriously! Alice told me there was a gift, but refused to clue me in because she figured I'd cave!" Rosalie elaborated, throwing her hands up. "You only have a few moments to wait."
A knocking on the door startled Bella. "Did it lock her out?" she asked.
"It shouldn't have," Rosalie murmured, confused.
Impatiently, Bella briskly marched towards the door in her mercifully low wedge heels, considering physical violence as a means of punishing Alice for her overly generous ways. Upon opening the door, however, Bella froze, the air knocked clear out of her lungs.
"Dad?" she whispered hoarsely.
"Hey, Bells," Charlie Swan said gently. "Don't I get a hug?"
Embracing him tightly, tears welling up, Bella noticed a second unexpected guest lingering behind her father. Gasping, Bella steadied her weak knees with her father's assistance as she greeted his companion.
"Carlisle! How did you..." Bella stopped herself as Alice skipped back into view, her own eyes moist. "My gift?"
"You really didn't think I'd let your dads miss this, did you?" Alice chided lovingly.
"But it was so last minute!" Bella insisted, shaking her head. "How did you both get here on time?"
"When Alice told me she wanted me on standby to fly to Vegas, I thought she was nuts. 'No way my Bells will marry so quickly after a proposal,' I told her," Charlie began lovingly. "But she said, 'Trust me, and clear your calendar, Chief.' So I did, and sure enough, Dr. Cullen calls yesterday, telling me to pack my bag."
"No one bets against Alice, Dad. I keep telling you that," Bella murmured.
"It's so good to see you, Chief," Emily gushed, moving forward to greet Bella's father. "Ronan will be thrilled."
"Is thrilled," Carlisle corrected. "The men have known about our presence for several hours now. That aside, Charlie was telling me that your own father is no longer with us, Emily."
Emily nodded, her features clouding slightly. "He overdosed when I was little; my mother abandoned me soon after. Chief Swan's been my dad of sorts for some time."
"Well, I know we're not as well acquainted, but it would be a privilege to escort you to the altar today, if you wish," Carlisle offered warmly.
Emily nodded wordlessly, beaming as Bella chuckled. "I'd take that as a yes, Carlisle," Bella quipped.
"Ladies, it's a minute to two!" Rosalie announced. "Haul ass!"
Bella's arm slid through her father's as Carlisle took Emily with him. Her hand trembled as they made their way across the lobby and towards the mirrored doors to the Terraza, despite all of her father's reassurances. It wasn't marriage she feared now; Bella was simply overwhelmed at the incredible love in her family, at how much they'd given her, even though she'd often hurt them in the past with her actions. Unconditional love, the psychologists called it, and she had it in spades.
Rosalie and Alice slipped outside first to join their men, leaving the two brides nervously awaiting their time to move. Moments later, the Grand's on-site planner stepped inside, smiling warmly in her emerald green suit jacket and skirt.
"Are we ready ladies?" she asked cheerfully.
Emily nodded firmly. "Let's do it. Music, electronic maestros!"
The planner gave the indication and the traditional wedding march began to play in the courtyard. Emily's hand sought Bella's, squeezing it quickly in a gesture of support.
"You," Bella insisted. "Definitely you."
Carlisle stepped through the door, his hand reaching for Emily's as he pulled her out into the sun-drenched courtyard. Bella bit her lip and turned to her father, seeking words of comfort; she was not disappointed.
"You've made a wise choice, Bella," he said. "You're going to be so happy."
"Thank you, Daddy," Bella answered, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "Time to go."
The first thing she saw was Edward, despite no foreknowledge of the layout of the space. It was as if her heart sent out a beacon, its own form of sonar, pinging off his eagerly waiting body. His eyes met hers immediately, his smile widening as he took the sight of her in, and she giggled in spite of herself. She wanted to run down the small aisle crafted between a single row of chairs, run into his strong arms and tell him how proud she was to become his wife. How sure she was of this, of them. Her father kept their pace steady, albeit a little brisk, as Charlie perhaps sensed his daughter's eagerness. As Emily joined Ronan just ahead, Bella's heart melted at the way they stared at each other, oblivious to all others now that they'd been reunited.
She understood; as her father pressed her hand into Edward's, all sense of time and place faded from Bella's mind. The world was Edward and her, and their passion for each other.
"Let us begin," the officiant declared, and Bella rocked on her heels, remembering the rest of their assembled group.
The ceremony was non-religious and basic, keeping with Bella and Emily's mutual preference for minimalism. The one exception to the stripped-down exchange of vows and intent was Edward and Bella's choice to quote song lyrics for each other, a decision agreed upon by text during the morning's bustling madness.
As Edward took her left hand and slid the diamond-adorned platinum band onto her finger, he recited his chosen lyrics: "Don't ask me what you know is true. Don't need to tell you that I love your precious heart. I was standing; you were there. Two worlds collided, and they can never tear us apart."
"I love you," Bella whispered, taking Edward's band from the officiant and placing it on his finger. "I am aglow with the taste of the demons driven out, and happily replaced with the presence of real love – the only one that saves."
As both couples were pronounced husband and wife, a smattering of applause (and Emmett hooting) broke out as each union sealed with a kiss. Propriety be damned as far as Bella was concerned, she threw her arms around Edward's neck, their tongues meeting in a fiery, furious kiss, Bella teasing her husband with her tongue bar, lightly dragging it along his lower lip. Her mind drifted back to the night they'd first come together, passion born of desperation and despair; she remembered the way he'd held her, the way her torso crushed against his, their limbs creeping ivy around the walls of their respective hearts.
I was his before I was born, she thought suddenly. My life was a journey, Edward the destination.
Surfacing from the bliss of their first kiss as a married couple, Bella drank in the sight of their smiling family and friends – including Ronan, who'd swept Emily up into his arms, her legs dangling to his left – and felt the last vestiges of her mental bulwark crumble into ether. Every moment, pained and precious, that had brought her to this place in time was worth the struggle. The best part of it, she mused as she hugged her father, was that, in spite of the rocky three years marking her entry into adulthood, her life had only just begun. Bella planned to enjoy every single second of it to the fullest.
"Well, Mrs. Cullen," Edward whispered in her ear, "I believe you made a promise yesterday before blue-balling me."
Bella feigned innocence, batting her eyes at Edward. "Oh? I have no idea what you mean, Mr. Cullen."
"You wicked woman... I'll show you soon – shit, Emily wants you," Edward murmured. "But we're not done this discussion."
"Bella!" Emily squealed, throwing her arms around her. "We did it! We actually did it!"
"And I even managed not to vomit on anyone's shoes," Bella snarked. "I'm pretty proud of myself for that one."
"Oh, I know! I almost keeled over when the guy started the ceremony," Emily confessed. "Thank you for doing this; it made the day even more perfect. And you!" Emily added, hugging Edward. "You've come quite a way, you manwhore!"
"I was never that bad," Edward protested, eyeing Ronan for assistance. Ronan merely rubbed his shaved head and grinned, forever a cocky Irishman. Mick the Prick, Edward groused inwardly, borrowing Bella's moniker for him.
Emily giggled. "He was a ladykiller; don't let him deny it, Bella. All teasing aside, I'm so happy for you both. I used to worry about you two – separately, of course; this was before I knocked Ronan in the head with a stool and you connected – and now, you're just... Gah! I'm being a girl!" Emily admonished herself, flushing crimson.
"You are a girl, Em," Ronan teased, pulling Bella into a hug. "There's no way tucking would work for this many years."
"I don't know, Mick; you aren't that bright," Bella quipped, kissing his cheek. "And she does kick your ass on a regular basis."
"Stuff it, brat!" Ronan gently ordered her. "It's been a long time since you pulled your bitch act on First Beach with me, huh?"
"God, I know. All teasing aside, you are the best brother I could have ever adopted, Ronan O'Leary," Bella replied. "Except for your taste in music – but that's improved, though, courtesy of moi."
"Um, who introduced you to The Gathering?" Ronan countered.
"Who woke your ass up to Arcade Fire?" Bella fired back.
"Edward, we may need to take cover," Emily cautioned, stifling a laugh. "They can get nasty..."
"I'm the one who turned you on to Guano Apes, missy. Never mind Cursive."
Bella snickered, "Yeah, but I made you aware of Tim Kasher's superior band, The Good Life."
Ronan playfully poked Bella's chest, driving her back a step. "You never would have had a clue about The Red Paintings if I hadn't driven you to see The Dresden Dolls and insisted on seeing the bloody opener!"
Bella huffed, her face flushed. "And I dragged you to Amon Amarth early to see Eluveitie open!"
"Congrats!" Alice chirped from behind Edward. Bella and Ronan remained oblivious, prompting her to poke her brother and demand answers.
"They're arguing over whose music taste was more shaped by whom," Edward explained, shaking his head.
"Bella will win," Alice remarked casually. "So, how's it feel to be married?"
From a few feet away, Bella threatened to spike Ronan with her heel, declaring, "I freaking introduced you to the entirety of awesome that is Canadian alternative, mister! That's dozens of bands, including Fallacy Flow!"
Edward grinned, "It's perfect, but you knew that would be my answer, Tink."
"Eeyore no more?" Alice teased. "Will you be my Tigger now?"
"Maybe Simba," Edward conceded, "But after he owns Scar on Pride Rock, not the whiny phase."
"I can live with that," Alice said, beaming.
Ronan and Bella returned at last, the former looking appropriately browbeaten, while the latter held her head high in triumph. Apparently, the winning card she'd played, according to Edward's proud bride, was Skindred, a band Ronan explained was 'reggae metal'—a genre Edward had never heard of, and was somewhat frightened to experience.
"I hate to burst the bubble here, but the photographer is on a schedule," Carlisle called out from across the Terraza, gesturing to the lanky man toting a digital SLR.
"I demand a group shot," Bella shouted. "And that means you, Emmett! Stop molesting Rosalie because you are not as discreet as you think you are."
The photographer flushed as Emmett muttered something obscene enough to earn a slap from Rosalie. With her hand firmly on his tie, she dragged him over to the waiting entourage, reminding him of their own union. "They did a hell of a lot for us, Emmett Cullen; you can grope me later," she reprimanded him.
"Yeah, but I can't grope you on this Terraza later," Emmett protested, winking.
"Emmett, so help me I will tell everyone about the porn I found on your computer when you were a teenage pervert if you're not smiling pretty in ten seconds!" Alice threatened as Edward choked; he unfortunately was privy to this secret as well, courtesy of the drunken ramblings of a young sister in overshare mode.
"EVERYONE, STOP!" Charlie bellowed. The entire group fell into a stunned silence as he gestured to the photographer. "Fire away, sir."
"Um, thanks... If you all could bunch a little closer..."
Flanked either side by the fathers, the four couples fell into easy formation, each woman embraced by her man from behind in nearly identical poses. Within the minute differences lay their personalities: Emmett the protective flirt wrapped one arm beneath Rosalie's breasts, the other hand coming to rest on her abdomen; Alice struck a giddy expression before the relaxed warmth of Jasper, her rock; Emily playfully grabbed Ronan's tie, clearly the pants in their new marriage; and Bella's hands reached up and behind her, wrapping around Edward's neck in a reciprocal gesture – for they supported each other equally.
"Smile!" the photographer called out happily, pressing the shutter.
They did so, without any hesitations, laughing between poses, a playful jostling and banter punctuating each still frame reminder of beauty and love, of family and friendship. For scant minutes, they lived in the present, all past pains and future woes set aside, each vowing that this freedom found in Vegas would not remain in the city of sin.
They would not merely live happily; they would live fearlessly ever after.
It's done... Well, it has been for some time, but it now feels more complete online... I will not be writing any sequels and all outtakes are already posted in that 'story' in my profile. Doucheward and Bitchella are off to live their musical every after.
I wanted to say, again, thank you for supporting this story, for reading it, for enjoying it. It was a labour of love and a partial exorcism of personal demons, and I treasure it for that role in my life. It also revived my Muse after years of block, which is awesome, too. Quoting Florence Welch, "It's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off."
I'm posting teasers soon for my novel on my author blog/site; I'm not certain how to describe it, but it's safe to say that if one could throw Veronica Mars into a blender and shake in a dash of Silent Hill, a little Girl, Interrupted and a little High Fidelity, you'd probably come close. The prologue is available to read online, and I'm also releasing chapter one on March 3rd!
To stay updated on Change of Season, including soundtracks, insights, teasers and of course, when and where you can purchase it, set your bookmarks here: autumnbrody[dot]wordpress[dot]com
Follow me on Twitter for details of the novel and general babble: dillonac