"Don't worry, Renee, it's still all under control," I could hear Esme saying from the kitchen as I stepped in the back door. "You have no idea how organized and determined Alice can be when she sets her mind to it. They didn't give her much time, but Alice doesn't need much…I know there are only a few days left before the wedding, but I'm certain that's all we'll need."
Only a few days left, I repeated in my mind, walking in the direction of the kitchen. I was already exhilarated from my afternoon hunt, and that thought lifted my spirits even higher. Only a few days to go until Bella and I would be married. Finally. Given that I'd only met her a year and half earlier, it shouldn't feel like I'd waited an eternity for this day, but in a sense I had. Ninety years or so, anyway.
Esme was perched on a stool near the telephone, a pen in her hand as she scribbled notes in the notebook she had been using for wedding preparations. She and Bella's mother, Renee, had been spending hours on the phone lately exchanging ideas and making plans, although it was quite clear to me, at least, that Alice was the one really in charge. She was good enough to indulge the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom, however, and either tried to incorporate their ideas or gave a very good reason for rejecting them.
I knew Bella was amazed by how her mother had become so engaged in the planning, since she had expected Renee, of all people, to be utterly horrified by our decision to marry so soon after high school. I had had some trepidation in that regard myself, fearing that when Bella told her mother, her mother's negative reaction might shake Bella's agreement to my proposal.
To both our surprise, however, Renee had taken the news well. Perhaps better than well. From what Bella had told me of their conversation, Renee seemed to have been expecting it ever since our visit to Florida earlier in the year, and had assured Bella that she trusted Bella's judgment to do what was right for her. To my delight, the relief at her mother's acceptance had allowed Bella to relax at least slightly and even begin to enjoy being a small part of the wedding planning discussions.
Not quite enough to take over the wedding planning herself, of course. But I was grateful for whatever I could get in terms of enthusiasm.
Charlie, on the other hand, had been a little more grudging in his acceptance of the idea that his only daughter was getting married at the age of eighteen…to me. He was slowly getting over it, but he was still harboring a fair amount of resentment toward me as a result of a number of incidents over the past eighteen months or so. Bella's sudden departure from Forks and the subsequent "accident" in Phoenix that had kept her hospitalized for a week. The pain I had put Bella through when I left Forks last fall. The impromptu three-day disappearing act she had pulled when she and Alice abruptly went to Volterra to stop me from…engaging the Volturi.
Not that I was thrilled by any of those things, either. That meant that I could hardly blame Charlie for his feelings toward me, even when I heard them broadcast loud and clear from his thoughts. All I could do was resolve to try and change his mind in the future.
If we ever saw Charlie again after the wedding. That would depend on how Bella did with her transformation, and how long we had to keep her separated from those she loved so that she wouldn't injure them in a moment of lapsed self-control.
Despite my compromise with Bella, I still hated to think too much about her transformation, even though it was now probably only a few weeks away, at most. Although the most selfish part of me looked forward to it and to making her truly a part of my forever, the rest of me – the larger part – could hardly bear to consider the last few beats of her warm, human heart.
Something Charlie had said when we had told him about the wedding had made that prospect seem even worse, when I had thought the idea couldn't get any more abhorrent to me.
Bella and I had sat on the couch in Chief Swan's living room that day, waiting for him to get home. Bella was practically leaping out of her skin by the time we heard his car pull up, and then waited for him to clomp up the sidewalk from his car to the front door. Her heart had been pounding with anxiety, and I had tried not to be insulted by her apparent fear that her father would think her marrying me was so incredibly awful. Even though I got to hear his thoughts about me on a regular basis, I really believed that she was overreacting.
"Stop fidgeting, Bella. Please try to remember that you're not confessing to a murder here," I had muttered to her, tightening my grip on her hand.
"Easy for you to say," she had grumbled in response. Her palms had started to sweat.
Her heart rate increased further when she heard the sound of Charlie's key in the lock.
"Calm down, Bella."
She jumped when the doorknob turned and Charlie took a step inside, flinging the door open so that it banged against the wall.
Suppressing a sigh, I called out her father's name. She hissed at me under her breath. "No!"
"Wait till he hangs his gun up!"
I chuckled at the idea that I should be afraid of a bullet. Although with Bella's luck, it would probably ricochet off me and hit her.
"Hey, kids. What's up?" Charlie said as he walked into the room. His voice was casual and his thoughts had been random, wondering what was for dinner tonight, until he caught sight of us sitting together on the loveseat, Bella's eyes wide and her face flushed with anxiety.
"We'd like to talk to you," I told him. "We have some good news."
Charlie's eyes had narrowed at us. "Good news?" he repeated.
"Have a seat, Dad," Bella had managed to choke out.
Charlie stared at Bella for a long moment, then reluctantly went to his recliner and perched on the very edge.
"Don't get worked up, Dad," she had continued. "Everything's okay." I frowned slightly and shot a look at her. Things were much better than okay.
"Sure it is, Bella, sure it is. If everything is so great, then why are you sweating bullets?"
"I'm not sweating," she protested weakly. She was such a poor liar. She leaned in my direction as if she'd like to crawl under me to avoid Charlie's scowl.
I'll kill him, Charlie had thought instantly, taking me off guard with the clearness and the intensity of it. I knew it. I'll kill him. I realized what conclusion had pushed him to that thought just as he blurted it out himself. "You're pregnant! You're pregnant, aren't you?"
I might have laughed at the absurdity of that idea – farther off base than he could possibly imagine – if it weren't for Bella half-starting out of her seat in horror. "No! Of course I'm not!" she exclaimed. She flushed crimson in embarrassment.
Charlie seemed to relax slightly. To his credit, he seemed to know when his daughter was not lying. "Oh. Sorry."
"Apology accepted," she replied, and her heart rate slowed from panicked to merely frantic.
For a long moment, none of us said anything further. Bella's mouth hung open as she seemed to be trying to find the words, and Charlie was simply glaring at me, pointing thought-daggers in my direction. She seems to be telling the truth…but what else could it be…she looks like she's about to faint…knew this was trouble…damn kids today…so stupid…not careful at all…
Realizing that Bella had become unable to speak and that Charlie really was considering going back to the hallway for his gun belt, I had figured it would be up to me then to explain our engagement. With everything else that had been happening and the rather unusual way my proposal and Bella's acceptance had come about, I had realized that I had been terribly ungentlemanly not to have asked for Charlie's permission ahead of time, and was actually grateful for the opportunity to ask for his blessing then. As such, I had given her a reassuring smile and then turned to Charlie.
"Charlie, I realize that I've gone about this out of order. Traditionally, I should have asked you first. I mean no disrespect, but since Bella has already said yes and I don't want to diminish her choice in the matter, instead of asking you for her hand, I'm asking you for your blessing. We're getting married, Charlie. I love her more than anything in the world, more than my own life, and – by some miracle – she loves me that way, too. Will you give us your blessing?"
I wasn't unaware that this kind of approach to a woman's father was no longer common in this day and age, but it was the way I had been raised. It seemed perfectly appropriate, and I had hoped that the message was received with as much sincerity as I had delivered it.
Nevertheless, I wasn't surprised that Charlie slowly turned purple as he seemed to notice Bella's ring for the first time. What the…eighteen years old! What are they thinking? Utterly insane…not my little girl…she's just a child…kids today! Idiots! His thoughts were an angry – no, an enraged – jumble as he stared at the ring and processed what I had just said. A succession of thought-daggers were pointed once again in my direction, many of them involving language not appropriate to recount here.
Gradually, however, the tenor of his thoughts started to settle down. Who am I kidding? I knew full well it was coming to this…never seen kids so intense about each other…
Bella had started to get up to go over to where her father sat, but I squeezed her hand so she would stay put. "Give him a minute," I murmured, knowing that he was trying to gather his wits about him. His blood pressure had shot through the roof, but I could hear his heartbeat slowly leveling off. His face started to regain its natural colour as he thought about his daughter, and me, and everything he had seen between us in the last year and a half. He very clearly thought we were much, much too young, but seemed to be arriving at the conclusion that Bella was more mature than her years, and that she could be trusted to do the right thing for herself.
To my surprise, he also seemed to be arriving at the conclusion that I wasn't so bad after all. Always so polite, no matter what I say…respectful…hard-working…good family…smart, sure to be successful…no doubt he loves her…
I hadn't realized that I had been rather tense myself as Charlie absorbed the news, and felt myself relax slightly. It was also very interesting to see myself from his perspective, not having the least clue what I really was. Instead of panicking over the idea that his only daughter wanted to marry a vampire – which he would have been fully right to do – he was simply considering me as a young man who loved her. He was considering my prospects, and the life I could offer her.
I regretted that he was proceeding on false assumptions, but there was nothing I could do about that. The situation was what it was.
"Guess I'm not that surprised," Charlie had finally said, his tone accepting but grudging. "Knew I'd have to deal with something like this soon enough."
As Bella exhaled, he gave her a sharp look. "You sure about this?"
"I'm one hundred percent sure about Edward," she replied, without a moment's hesitation. I suppressed a very satisfied smile.
"Getting married, though? What's the rush?" Charlie's eyes narrowed at her again, carefully scanning her expression for the trace of a lie. Says she's not pregnant…but why else…
Bella was at a loss for a reply. For me, it wasn't a question of there being a "rush" – there was just no reason to wait. Or wait any longer. After decades of solitude, I'd found the one I was meant to be with.
But for Bella, the rush was the deal we had made. She didn't want to get any older, she wanted me to be the one to change her, and she knew I wouldn't do it unless we were married. Obviously, these were not things she could tell her father.
"We're going away to Dartmouth together in the fall, Charlie," I finally volunteered, to save her trying to come up with a viable answer. "I'd like to do that, well, the right way. It's how I was raised."
Well, how in the hell am I supposed to argue with that? Charlie thought clearly. They've got me there.
"Knew this was coming," he grumbled under his breath. He still wasn't thrilled, but he seemed to have concluded that there wasn't much more he could say.
But his next thought had him rocking with sudden laughter: Renee! I don't have to say another thing! Now she has to contend with Renee!
He doubled over laughing as he thought about what he was sure his ex-wife would have to say about this news.
"Dad?" Bella asked, glancing up at me to see if I knew what was so funny. I had to hold back a laugh of my own as I heard Charlie's gleeful thoughts about Bella dealing with Renee. I wasn't sure that part of it would be so funny, but Charlie's reaction now certainly was.
"Okay, fine," Charlie finally managed to say between bursts of laughter. "Get married. But…"
"But what?" Bella demanded.
"But you have to tell your mom! I'm not saying one word to Renee! That's all yours!"
Even though Charlie's source of solace had been the idea that Bella's mother would give Bella enough grief about her decision for both of them, none of us had foreseen how wrong he would turn out to be on that point.
But it was Charlie's initial error that stayed with me for days afterwards: his assumption that Bella had gotten pregnant.
It hadn't happened, of course. Nor would it. Ever. The chance at motherhood was yet another thing I'd be taking away from Bella with her humanity. If it weren't that I'd made a deal and a promise – and that I knew she'd just go to Carlisle or Alice anyway – that realization might have been the last straw, the thing that caused me to refuse to change her once and for all.
Esme smiled at me when she saw me, and tried to wrap up her conversation with Renee. Hi, son…I'm almost done here…Renee's enthusiasm is outshone only by Alice's…
I nodded and sat down next to her to wait and find out what the latest plans were. I couldn't pick them clearly out of her mind, as the possibilities and ideas were all jumbled together, along with her thoughts of a mother-of-the-groom outfit, consideration of ways for all the vampire guests to fake eating the reception meal and the wedding cake, ensuring things were ready for us on the island, wondering when Carlisle would be home from the hospital…and so on.
The island. I smiled slightly to myself as Esme thought of it, its warmth, its beauty…the peace and quiet. It seemed too good to be true that Bella and I would be there shortly for our honeymoon, and I'd have her all to myself…for a couple of weeks.
Esme leaned over to kiss my forehead in her motherly way as she finally hung up the phone. "I have to tell you, Edward…I'm thoroughly enjoying being part of these plans, but between Bella's mother and Alice…if I could become exhausted, I think I almost would be before this wedding even starts."
"I know Bella appreciates you three taking on the burden. It's not her thing at all."
"Oh, we know that. That's part of why we're doing it. Besides, it's fun to plan a first wedding again…it's been decades since we've done that."
Probably about six or seven decades, since the first time Rosalie and Emmett had gotten married. Neither Esme and Carlisle nor Alice and Jasper had ever bothered to have a wedding after their first ones. It was kind of ironic that Alice had never been interested in having numerous weddings given how much she enjoyed throwing a party and getting dressed up, but I knew she thought it was kind of silly and self-indulgent that Rosalie liked to have one every ten years or so just so that she could once again be the center of attention. Alice wasn't anywhere near that vain.
"Once Carlisle is home, you need to go with him and your brothers to pick up your new tuxedos in Port Angeles."
"I know. I got that from Alice earlier. Where is she, anyway?"
"I think she's at Bella's house, actually, doing fittings for her and Charlie. She knows Bella is out running errands this afternoon and was hoping to catch her when she got home."
"Catch her" indeed. I had no doubt that standing around while Alice hemmed and pinned would be the last way Bella would like to spend a day.
"Actually, Alice just pulled into the garage. She's done with Bella and Charlie." I had just caught Alice's thoughts as she had neared the house. Like Esme's, they were a jumbled list of things to do and people to call. Where I could help it, I had actually been doing my best to stay out of Alice's thoughts lately, as I knew that she might let slip a vision of Bella in her wedding gown that I was not supposed to see yet. It was supposed to be bad luck for the groom to see the bride's dress before the wedding, and we certainly didn't need any more bad luck in our lives.
Before I could make the effort to shut Alice out, however, I caught one last image of something she had seen today in downtown Forks: scores of handmade posters of Jacob Black, with the words, "Have you seen this boy?" in large black letters across the top. Chief Swan had been blanketing the town with them, despite the efforts Billy Black had made to convince Charlie that Jacob would come back in his own time.
Quite frankly, I didn't miss Jacob Black one bit. He had been unapologetic and downright shameless in his efforts to steal Bella away from me for himself, employing tactics of which I had never thought someone his age capable. In my opinion, he had exploited Bella's very best qualities to use against her – well, against us: her empathy, her compassion, her desperate need to avoid causing anyone she loved the least bit of pain.
Moreover, she loved him. I had come to accept and believe that she loved me more, but the truth was, the fact that she loved him at all made me bitterly envious. I didn't want to have to share even one small part of her. It was especially galling to me because I knew that it was my own fault that she felt about him the way that she did. My leaving her last fall had literally driven her into his arms. If I hadn't made such an asinine mistake, they would probably still be no more than childhood acquaintances who ran into one another when their fathers visited each other. Because of that, I couldn't really be angry with either of them…although I still wished periodically that I had had an excuse to break Jacob's jaw as I had promised him I would if he ever kissed Bella again.
Despite all that, I regretted Jacob's absence, if only because it hurt Bella so much. She had made her choice and she didn't appear inclined to change her mind, but it was clear that she desperately wanted him to be okay. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew that she felt horribly guilty for being the cause of his decision to run away. For that reason alone, I wished he would come back. I had no personal desire to have him at my wedding, but I had sent him an invitation myself anyway, because I knew it would make her happier than any gift anyone else could give her. There was no way to know if he would actually come, however, since Alice was unable to see any of the werewolves as she could see virtually everyone else.
Alice looked quite preoccupied when she stepped into the kitchen and dumped an armload of plastic bags on the countertop. They appeared to be full of white fabric and wide, white ribbon.
"Oh, you found it!" Esme exclaimed happily, opening the first bag. "I was afraid one of us would have to go all the way to Seattle for this."
"I did go to Seattle," Alice sighed. "Of course, neither Forks nor Port Angeles had anything like what I was looking for."
"I'm sorry you had to drive all that way by yourself. I would have gone with you," Esme said.
"It's all right," Alice smiled. "It gave me a chance to see what that Porsche could do on the highway."
I chuckled slightly to myself. One thing we all had in common was a love of driving a fast car. Bella didn't share that love now, but I had a feeling that once she'd been changed she'd feel differently…hence the Ferrari that was her "after" car, waiting for her under a sheet in the garage. I could hardly wait to try it out myself.
"And at least I was able to see Charlie and catch up with Bella," Alice had continued, speaking aloud for Esme's benefit, since she knew that I would already know that. "I wasn't sure I would at first." She sighed again. "I hate to admit it, but lately I'm having some trouble keeping track of everyone like I usually do."
"You have too much on your mind, dear," Esme said, reaching out to caress Alice's cheek. "You're working so hard on all of this."
"Really, Alice, it's not necessary to stress yourself out like this," I told her. "You know Bella and I don't care if…"
She held up her tiny hand to stop me from saying anything else. "I know you don't. But I do. And you guys gave me carte blanche, so I plan to use it. This is going to be a wedding no one will forget." She turned suddenly toward the doorway that led to the front room. "Oh! Speak of the devil…Bella is here."
As she said the words, I heard the Mercedes Bella was driving as her loaner "before" car creeping carefully up our driveway, and laughed quietly to myself. She had been so used to that ancient truck of hers and its annoying inability to go faster than fifty miles an hour that she was having significant trouble driving something of a superior quality. I knew she suspected me of purposely disabling her truck so that she would have to accept this new vehicle as we had agreed, but truly, the sad beast had died a natural death on its own. Not that I hadn't been tempted…
I suppressed the urge to dash to the front door and sweep her into my arms to bring her inside, and instead waited while she let herself in. She had only recently accepted Esme's and Carlisle's insistence that she come and go as she pleased without knocking, since this would very shortly be her home, too. I wanted her to get some practice at it and become comfortable with it.
"Hello?" I heard her call as she stepped inside.
"In here, Bella!" Alice replied, before I could say anything.
Clad in jeans and a blue t-shirt, my Bella's natural beauty struck me momentarily silent, as always, when she came into the kitchen. I could hear her heart rate accelerate slightly when she saw me and walked immediately to my side. It quickened further when I pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head, breathing deeply of her scent.
"Finished hunting already?" she murmured softly. I could feel her body relax against me.
"Yes. Finished your errands?"
"Yes. And I was hoping you'd be back, actually. That car…" she pulled away so she could frown at me. "What's the big idea, getting me an armoured tank? Do you have any idea how embarrassing…"
As Alice and Esme both chuckled, I stopped her with a kiss to her forehead, where her brow had creased. "A deal's a deal," I stated simply. "There were no holds barred as to what kind of vehicle I could choose for you."
"Well, did you have to pick something quite so conspicuous? A couple of guys at the gas station insisted on having their pictures taken with it for gosh sakes!"
Now that was funny. She would have hated every second of that kind of attention. "They were just envious, love."
"They thought I was a drug lord! Or a terrorist!"
"Better that than the accident-prone fiancée of a hundred-year-old vampire, no?" I teased.
"I'm glad you came over, Bella," Alice said, gesturing to the bags of fabric and ribbon. "I forgot to show you what I've got for the bower and the rows of chairs for the guests at the ceremony."
Bella hesitated. She didn't want to offend Alice, but the look on her face was less than enthusiastic. I decided to rescue her from the ordeal of pretending to look interested. "Sorry, Alice, but I haven't seen my fiancée all day. She's mine for now." I stood up and took Bella's hand to lead her from the room, thinking we could go upstairs to listen to some music or something.
Bella glanced at me gratefully, then turned to Alice with the most apologetic expression she could muster. "I'm sure whatever you have planned will be fine, Alice. Better than fine. I trust your judgment."
I knew that she trusted Alice's judgment with some reservation, convinced that while whatever Alice did would be wonderful, it would also be way over the top for her simple tastes. However, it was the right thing to say, and Alice looked content to let her off the hook and share her purchases with Esme instead.
"You know, Bella," I said to her quietly as we headed for the stairs, hoping that Alice wouldn't be listening to us. "Any time you want to put a stop to this and pursue the expedited option, we can get in the car and be in Vegas in a matter of hours."
"I know, you keep saying that. And it's tempting, believe me." She was whispering, apparently also hoping that Alice wouldn't hear her. "But everything's almost ready now. I don't want to disappoint anyone."
I frowned. "You really need to stop worrying so much about everyone else, and just focus on yourself once in a while. It's okay to do what you want, you know."
"This is what I want," she insisted, turning to wrap her arms around my neck as soon as we got to my room. "I want to be with you, and I want the people I love to get what they want, too. In the scheme of things, it's not such a big deal to put up with a bit of fuss."
I knew her smile was intended to be reassuring, and tried to take it that way. "I just don't want this to cause you to get scared off the whole idea of marrying me…I keep thinking that you're only one dress fitting or one piece of ribbon away from running for the hills."
She stood on her toes and craned her neck up to kiss me. "Let's not have that conversation again, okay? I told you: I made a deal, I'm sticking to it."
I kissed her back, but it was probably obvious that my mind was elsewhere, uncertain and worried.
"Just go to your happy place, Edward. That's what I've been doing," she murmured in between kisses.
"You know…a mental image of something happy that you can focus on to keep yourself positive. Like our meadow. That's one of my personal favourites. Or a tropical beach or something."
I considered that for a moment. Yes, the meadow was certainly a happy place…but it was the idea of a tropical beach that made me grin. She had no idea as yet where we were going for our honeymoon, but I certainly had expectations that the tropical beaches of the island would soon be happy places indeed.
With that thought in mind, I was quite able to focus properly on kissing my eager fiancée.