The war is over and Paris is alive again with artists, writers and musicians. Rosalie Hale has come abroad to study in this exciting and romantic city, but instead she vanishes without a trace. Now her best friend Bella has come on her own to find her. She teams up with Rose's spunky roommate, and they are joined in the search by an American businessman, a battle-scarred reporter, and a handsome painter with his own mysterious past. Following a trail of clues left behind by Rose's letters, they plunge into the dark side of the City of Lights. Who is Royce? What secrets is he hiding? Why did Rose really leave? The search for Rose and life in Paris might just change Bella in ways she never imagined.
Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story. The remainder is our original work. Copyright 2009 by spanglemaker9 and justaskalice. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without our express written authorization.
June 3, 1955
Bowling Green, Ohio
I hope this reaches you before Edward's birthday. Emmett wanted to be at Edward's opening so badly, but with the children so young it's really impossible. Once Helen is older, we'll bring her and Imogene to visit their Aunt Bella. Genie loves the picture books you sent for her last birthday, by the way. Her newest plan is to live at the top of the Eiffel Tower and eat nothing but chocolate and crêpes every day. Originally, she wanted pancakes, but I told her crêpes would be more French. We even made them for breakfast the other day. She was particularly happy about the whipped cream Emmett put on top of the crêpes. He spoils her so much.
Emmett's mother says she's exactly like he was as a child, all unruly brown curls and crazy smiles. And such an imagination, Bella! Her stories could give you a run for your money, although you'd probably have to work to understand her. Between her little lisp and the words that she invents from thin air, sometimes it's a challenge.
Speaking of stories, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your book. Thank you for sending the signed copy, it's sitting in a place of honor on our coffee table. I had to read it slowly— I'll confess that between my students, my husband, and my children I rarely get a moment to myself. In the end, I was glad I did it that way... both because of the memories it made me relive and the way it made me feel closer to you and wonderful Paris. Now whenever I miss you I open your book and flip through the pages. I haven't seen you in too long. Any chance we can convince you to visit Ohio?
I've enclosed a photo of the whole family (little Helen's first family portrait!) and our present to Edward.
All my love,
p.s.: Emmett says to tell Edward to drink the scotch slowly—now that he's such an old man, his hangovers will be much worse. I told him he should be careful who he's calling old, as he's two years older than Edward.
I stared at the little family portrait, taking in the subtle changes that time had wrought on Emmett and Rose. Rose's long hair had been cut off at her chin in a charming little bob after their first child, Genie, was born. She said she couldn't be bothered trying to keep it up anymore, and short hair was becoming fashionable anyway. They both looked a little more careworn, and there were lines around Emmett's eyes and mouth that hadn't been there when they left Paris four years ago.
Edward and I had returned from our visit to London to find Emmett and Rose very obviously in love. Their interactions were full of teasing little comments and soft touches. She still gave him hell for trying to carry her everywhere, and he still insisted she was too stubborn for her own good. But even though the words hadn't changed, the attitude behind them had.
Rose went back to school, just like she had planned, finishing her degree with flying colors. Emmett proposed right before her graduation, and Esme outdid herself with the biggest party she'd thrown since before the war. Edward, Emmett, Jasper and Carlisle were walking around with icepacks on their foreheads for a full day afterwards, and Edward couldn't even look at a bottle of champagne for months.
It was shortly after that night that we got news from Edward's father that Royce King, who had been put in prison for various charges of blackmail, war profiteering, and a couple particularly ugly charges involving conspiracy to commit murder, had been killed by a fellow inmate in Pentonville prison. Apparently he had been up to his old tricks, supplying contraband to the prisoners for a price, when he cheated the wrong guy. When we told Rose, she made an odd little whimper –part anger, part relief, and part sadness—before straightening up and nodded.
"Well," she said slowly, smiling up at Emmett. "That's one less thing on my to-do list, isn't it?"
Emmett just laughed and pulled her into a tight hug, kissing her hair. "That's my girl," he said fondly, shaking his head a little and looking at her in slight disbelief.
I didn't get to see Rose marry Emmett. His company called him home to Ohio, and they left in June to start their lives together. They had a little civil ceremony in Bowling Green with his mother and my parents, who made the trip to see their surrogate daughter get married. My mother made it a point to tell me how happy she was that Rose was happily married. I didn't miss the wistfulness in her voice when she told me what a beautiful bride Rose made.
When the topic came up now, I sidestepped it with practiced ease. It was a bit of a sore subject for several people in my life... including my boyfriend.
Edward walked out into our tiny living room, his suspenders hanging loosing around his waist. I looked up from Rose's letter and felt my heart flutter a little at the sight of him. There was something about Edward in formalwear that made me feel like I was seeing him for the first time. Tonight he was wearing crisply pressed black slacks, shiny black shoes, and a fresh white dress shirt. A tie hung loosely from his neck, and he frowned as he tugged on the ends.
"Do you need help?" I laughed. He looked up and sighed heavily.
"Please? I don't see why I have to wear a tie. I'm not going to be fooling anyone."
I stood up and started looping his tie into a simple knot. "Because you're the artist of honor, that's why. It won't kill your reputation if you wear a tie for one night. It's your first gallery opening."
He sighed again, so I tugged on his tie and pushed my mouth up by his ear. "Plus, the tie is kind of sexy."
I was rewarded with a light chuckle. Edward grabbed my left hand and brought it up to his mouth, kissing my palm lightly before flipping it over and letting his lips linger on my third finger. Then it was my turn to sigh.
"You look very handsome," I said quietly, straightening the knot and letting his tie drop. "I need to get changed and then we'll head over to the gallery. Esme said she was planning on getting there early with the champagne."
Slipping around him, I headed into the bedroom and closed the door softly behind me. We'd moved into this flat about three years ago, when Edward had started making a small but steady income from his paintings. I was able to sell a few short stories to supplement our income, and back then I was still working at the café almost every day. We made enough to get by, and our tiny apartment was cozy and just right for two, although at the beginning I missed the constant company of Esme's place.
I made my way over to the wardrobe, where a picture of Edward and me sat smiling into the room. It was taken that first August on a sunny, perfect summer day. Jasper had unearthed a 35mm camera and we had taken turns playing around with it. Alice snapped that picture and declared it "perfect" before ever getting the film developed. As usual, she was right.
The very next day, our world got turned upside down. Jacob appeared in the street outside of Esme's house looking ragged and exhausted and slightly terrified. Esme, not knowing who he was or why he was looking for me, made him wait on the front steps until she found me.
Edward was painting on the Seine, so I brought him inside and got him a hot cup of coffee. He watched me as I bustled around the kitchen, eyes getting sadder by the second. He was a little more shaggy than the Jacob I remembered—his hair had grown out of his careful crew cut and his clothes were dirty, probably from his trip.
When I had his coffee, I sat down across from him with a sigh. "Now," I started, then stopped, unsure of what to say. "Jacob...what are you doing here?"
"I'm here to get you back," he said forcefully. He didn't touch his coffee.
"No, Bells, I'm serious. What are you doing here? This place... it's not you. There are so many people, the streets are dirty, no one speaks English...and what are you wearing?"
I looked down at myself, surprised by the accusation in his voice. It was a dress that Alice had brought me from work, a simple silk thing with a full skirt that I liked a lot. It was one of Edward's favorites. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"It's not you," he said again, waving his hands at me. "You're not some fancy, snooty city girl."
I rolled my eyes. "Did my dad send you here? I told him, and you, for that matter, that I'm staying here. I met someone else, Jake. I'm in love with him. I love Paris. It's not dirty or crowded. And I'm actually getting quite good at speaking French."
"Charlie didn't send me; I just couldn't stand to see you throw your life away like this."
That's when Edward walked in. It only took a moment for them to recognize each other for who they were—I had described Jacob to Edward, and Jake didn't miss the way Edward walked right to me for a kiss hello. Somehow I managed to keep them from killing each other right there in Esme's kitchen, but it was a close call. I was standing in between them with my hands extended by the time Esme arrived to take control of the situation.
In the end, Jake only stayed for two weeks. Esme set him up in Emmett's old room, and I convinced my friends to take turns babysitting him while I was at work. Babysitting was the right word, too. He was never quite comfortable. He didn't like the food, the coffee was too strong, the streets were too wide, the river was too narrow.
Edward tolerated his presence with quickly evaporating patience. They scowled at each other every morning at breakfast, and Edward became more territorial every day. If he wasn't touching me, he was kissing my neck or playing with my hair.
In the end, though, Edward wasn't what convinced Jacob to leave. I was at the café that afternoon, scribbling away in my notebook and waiting on the few regular customers who hadn't abandoned the city for the month of August. It was a beautiful, sunny day, although the breeze coming in from the west felt like rain. I was untying my apron at the end of my shift when I saw Jacob sit down at one of my tables. He had his suitcase with him.
"Jake? What are you doing here?"
He looked up at me with a sad little smile. "Sit down."
I pulled out the chair across from him and sat slowly, still staring at his suitcase.
"I'm going home, Bella. You were right. You belong here, and I don't. You... you belong with him now."
My eyebrows pulled together and I gaped at him for a moment. We had fought the night before, again, because he thought Edward was a bad influence on me. He was lucky that Edward was at the club and Esme and Carlisle were out, or things could have gotten out of hand very quickly.
"What brought this on? Not that it's not nice to hear."
"I've been sitting across the street all afternoon," he said quietly, "watching you. I haven't been able to really watch you in your life here, you know? I know that's my fault, but... I didn't want to believe it."
"That you're happy. That you want this." He laughed, but it was a bitter sound. "You must think I'm an idiot."
I covered his hand with mine and sighed. "Oh, Jake. You're not an idiot. This has nothing to do with you. We just weren't right for each other. You'll find someone who'll make you so much happier. Just wait."
I walked him to the train station and kissed him goodbye, one last time. Edward was overjoyed to come home to a Jacob-free house, and even happier when I told him what he had said before leaving.
Jake was married a year later to a pretty red-headed girl he called Nessie. They sent me a wedding announcement, complete with a picture of the happy couple. Jake had signed it with a little note.
–You were right. Thank you.
It seemed like everyone we knew was getting married and having children. Everyone but Edward and me, that is.
I pinned my hair up and examined my face in the mirror. I was twenty-seven, and there was no denying that I looked different than the fresh-faced and terrified girl who stepped off the Paris metro in 1950. Edward was about to turn twenty-nine, and for some reason he had been increasingly fixated on his age. It was almost like he felt a timer had started running somewhere, like he had things he had to accomplish before he turned thirty and he only just realized what a short amount of time he really had.
I slid my rings on, laughing a little as I realized how much more like Esme I became every day. My third finger on my left hand I left empty, sighing a little as I stared at my hands.
Edward had asked me to marry him exactly twenty times since that first almost-proposal on the Île de la Cité. He asked me over dinner, at the market, and one memorable Bastille Day under the fireworks near the Eiffel Tower. Some of his proposals seemed carefully planned, while other times were more spur of the moment. He dropped to his knees on the metro once and asked me cheerfully.
I told him no every time.
It wasn't that I didn't want to marry him. I did...eventually. We had been living together for almost five years. We had a life together. Everything we owned, we owned together.
At first, I decided I wanted to make a name for myself. Publish my first book. Then I could be a wife. I told him as much, and for a while after that his proposals took on a teasing, laughing edge. Like he knew I would say no, but just wanted me to know that he would marry me whenever I wanted.
My book was published last year, and since then I had sensed an increasing frustration behind some of our interactions. Meanwhile, I clung to my unconventionality. Marriage still seemed like a cage, and I wanted to remain free and independent for as long as I could. I didn't need a wedding license to tell me I belonged to Edward. I didn't need a chapel or a white dress. But it was slowly beginning to dawn on me that maybe Edward did need those things.
I opened our bedroom door and poked my head out into the apartment. "Edward, do you know where my stockings went? They were right next to the bed, and I can't find them."
"I was doing some washing earlier and grabbed them. They're drying on the bathtub."
In the bathroom, I found my stockings exactly where he said they'd be. I was about to put them on when the complete banality of the moment struck me, and I started to laugh.
Edward had washed my delicates, without being asked or pestering me about how to do it. I cooked him dinner every night. We had silly arguments over curtains and bedclothes and how he never picked his clothes up at night. We spent every evening together, and most days we worked side-by-side, him painting while I wrote.
The independence that I clung to was a myth. I was no more a single woman than Rose was, except Rose had a wedding band and two children. And just like that, standing in the middle of my tiny bathroom staring at my equally-tiny bathtub, I knew that I was ready. It wasn't a blinding revelation; it was more like wrapping myself in a warm blanket. The next time he asked, I would say yes.
He walked into the bathroom then, staring at me like he was wondering if I had finally lost it. I couldn't blame him—I was laughing hysterically in the bathroom, hugging my stockings to my chest, tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes.
"Everything alright, love? I didn't put a run in your hose, did I?"
The question made me laugh even harder, and I started to hiccup. He thumped me on the back helpfully, and after I caught my breath, I smiled up at him.
"No runs. I'm wonderful. Would you get my wrap from the closet? I'm almost ready."
He gave me one more slightly wary glance, then nodded and walked back toward our bedroom. I pulled on my stockings and checked my makeup in the mirror. My eyes were bright and my mouth was stretched into a happy grin.
"Mrs. Bella Cullen," I whispered, trying the name out on my tongue. The girl in the mirror seemed to approve; her smile grew and I swear she winked at me.
"Okay, Edward," I called out, making my way toward the front door. "I'm ready."
I scowled at my reflection in the spotted little mirror over the dresser and yanked my tie loose again. Stupid, bloody thing. The whole point of being a vagabond painter for a living was to avoid spending your life strangled by a necktie. I wasn't sure why I needed to celebrate finally achieving some small modicum of success as a painter by strangling myself with one of those very same neckties. But Bella had been very clear about what was expected of me tonight, and Alice would brook no arguments about my outfit, so I was trying to suppress the grumbling and get myself dressed. The bloody necktie was defeating me, though.
As I took a deep breath and centered it around my collar again, my eyes fell to the side-by-side framed snapshots on our dresser; Bella's parents in one, my parents in the other. My relationship with my parents had steadily improved ever since my dad came to help with Rose all those years ago. Bella never gave it a moment to backslide, working right from the start at building a relationship with my mother. It wasn't hard; my mother adored Bella. She would have adored her no matter what, since it was Bella who finally managed to get me back home to England and speaking to my parents again. But ever since that first visit, Bella and my mother had established a steady correspondence, exchanging letters every few weeks. About twice a year my parents came to Paris to visit and Bella and I usually managed to make it back to London at least once a year.
It was great having them back in my life, and even better that they were so accepting now of my choice to live in Paris. I think they actually really enjoyed their visits. Esme always insisted that they stay with her and Carlisle, even after Bella and I had moved out. Every morning I'd find my parents bleary-eyed and exhausted, but happy, so I suspected Esme and Carlisle kept them up half the night drinking and reminiscing. I didn't mind. I loved seeing them grow close, the years of silence nearly forgotten.
The closeness we'd established with my parents made me feel even guiltier about Bella's parents. We'd been together for five years and still hadn't made it to America to meet them. Renee insisted that they understood how very expensive the trip was and how long it took to get there. Even Charlie managed to keep his grousing about Bella's prolonged absence in control, only occasionally accusing me of kidnapping his daughter. I ignored his ribbing but I still felt terrible about Bella's long absence. Now Bella was the one who hadn't seen her parents in five years. We were saving for the trip, and if all went well with her next book, we were hoping to make it for Christmas this year.
Which brought me back to the other thing making me feel guilty. Bella might be having fun thumbing her nose at convention by staying single for so long, but I couldn't shake feeling that it would be wrong somehow to go home to meet her family while we were still "living in sin," as she had put it so succinctly so long ago.
I didn't begrudge her choice for one second. I never had. I really hadn't minded when she refused my first proposal. I fully understood why she didn't want to get married, and I hadn't been quite ready myself. And I never harbored any ill will for any of her subsequent refusals. In fact, her turning me down had become kind of "our thing." I liked to think up the strangest, most unexpected places to propose, choose the moment when she'd be least expecting it. Then I'd drop to one knee in front of a stunned, breathless crowd and ask her to marry me, smirking, because I knew full well what her answer would be. She'd roll her eyes and say no, the crowd around us would audibly deflate in disappointment, and the two of us would laugh about it for the rest of the night. It was all good fun. Except I wasn't quite feeling the humor anymore.
Everybody else was married already! First Rose and Emmett, which was hardly surprising. Then Alice and Jasper tied the knot a couple of years ago, which raised a few eyebrows at first, but in the end seemed exactly right. And then six months ago even Esme and Carlisle had done it. When Carlisle turned fifty, he suddenly got it in his head that he wanted to marry Esme. She'd laughed and rolled her eyes at him, but when she realized he was serious, and that it meant a lot to him, she'd made the initial inquiries to obtain an annulment of her first marriage. They'd quickly discovered that her husband had died two years earlier and she was free. They were quietly married in a small side chapel of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois in January.
Now, with my twenty-ninth birthday bearing down on me, I was starting to feel some of Carlisle's anxiety. Being free-living bohemians, happily shucking off society's rules, had been good fun in my twenties. But now, what, exactly, were we waiting for? We lived together, every bit as domestic as Rose and Emmett…and now they had two kids to boot! I really didn't want to show up in Forks still being introduced as just her boyfriend, especially when that prat, Jacob was also now happily married with children. Maybe it was juvenile of me and I'm sure Marguerite would tell me it was my latent, repressed masculine uber-ego fighting to surface or whatever, but I didn't care. I wanted my ring on her finger, my name attached to hers, her beloved unconventionality be damned. But she still brushed off every suggestion of it. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but making her my wife had somehow become important to me. I just wasn't sure how to convince her to do it, to follow me into traditional domesticity.
I growled in frustration, both at my tie and at my stupid, wayward thoughts. If we didn't get a move-on, I'd be late to my own opening. I wandered out into the living room and only had to cast one helpless, lost look at her and she was on her feet, fixing my tie for me. She always seemed to know exactly what I needed…well, in most things.
Twenty minutes later, we were finally on our way. I'd had to break Bella out of whatever odd trance she'd lapsed into in the bathroom, but after that she got dressed fairly quickly and we got out the door.
It was still early when we got to the tiny Galerie des Près, but we needed to help set up. Carlisle and Esme were already there, arranging bottles of champagne and crystal flutes on a table. I took a quick, nervous glance around. The two small rooms were lined with my paintings. It was a very modest little show, but it was the first time I was showing completely solo. Every painting in the place was mine. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. I wanted to go take a closer look at everything, to make sure it was all properly labeled and hanging where we'd decided, but Bella was pulling me over to the table to greet Carlisle and Esme.
Carlisle clapped a friendly hand on my shoulder in greeting.
"How are you holding up, Edward?"
"Good. Alright. A little anxious," I smiled nervously and rubbed my hands together.
"Well, here. This should relax you a bit. Just have a breather."
"I should help you finish setting up," I protested.
Carlisle waved me off. "We're nearly done. Esme's a tyrant about party-planning."
Esme's delighted coo made us both look at her. Bella had produced the new snapshot of Rose and Emmett and the kids. Esme had her hand clamped to her chest and if I wasn't mistaken, her eyes were a little teary.
"Ah, mes chères!" she sighed. Carlisle stepped up behind her, settling his arm around her shoulders. "Carlisle, as soon as the little one is old enough, they must come to visit. We'll take the babies and chase Rose and Emmett off on their own for a bit, yes?"
Carlisle chuckled and kissed her temple gently. "Of course, darling. Whenever you'd like. It would be wonderful to have the house filled with children."
"Mais oui," she murmured, staring lovingly at the photograph as Bella looked on, her face glowing. She looked for all the world like she couldn't wait for Esme to coo over her children, although she never seemed in any hurry to get started on that project.
We heard Jasper's boisterous laughter through the door before he and Alice ever entered. It still struck me as odd sometimes to see him so happy, even though the dark, taciturn man I'd first met five years ago was mostly a thing of the past. Alice stumbled through the door, laughing, with Jasper's arms around her waist. I couldn't tell if he was helping to hold her up or causing her to fall over. Neither of them seemed certain either. They were both dressed to the nines, Jasper striking in a sharp black suit and Alice in a shiny red satin dress, glittering with jewelry.
"Did you see his face?" Alice was shrieking with delight, which only caused Jasper to laugh harder. "I thought he was going to deck you!"
"What happened?" I asked with a chuckle. You never knew what kind of trouble the two of them had found. Alice had developed a reputation for setting fire to any party she showed up at, so, consequently, they were invited everywhere and were out nearly every night of the week. Jasper was still writing for the wire service as the new head of the Paris desk. He held court at the center of a large community of ex-pat American journalists in Paris, and Alice was always at his side: his witty, charming American wife. They were the toast of the Parisian nightclub scene.
"Oh, Jasper was …and then this fella…" Alice was waving her hands helplessly in front of her face, laughing and trying to explain at the same time. "And then I said….and then he…" Finally she threw her hands up in defeat. "Oh, never mind. You had to be there."
"Alice," Bella called out to distract her, "come and see!"
Alice crossed to see the new picture of Rose's family and immediately fell into shrieks of delight. Jasper rolled his eyes dramatically, but smiled as he accepted a champagne flute from Carlisle and craned his neck to peer over Alice's shoulder.
We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I excused myself to take a look around the gallery before people started arriving. On the whole, I was pleased with the collection. I'd worked hard, and although there were always things I wished I could change or do better, I felt proud of the show. Five years of good, solid work.
As I walked the perimeter of the room, letting my eyes flicker over the familiar canvases, I felt like I could see little flashes of my life with Bella in every one. That splash of russet in the corner of that canvas; I remembered looking up from the canvas and seeing the light pouring through the window onto her as she bent over her desk, writing. The sunlight set off highlights in her hair that were exactly that color. And in the next canvas, the mysterious, half-formed hands in the foreground; those were Bella's hands. She was there, in some way, in every canvas.
People were beginning to arrive, I heard voices and laughter and shouted hellos. I knew I should head back to the front and mingle, but I hung back for just a few minutes longer. I heard Marguerite arrive before I saw her, her booming, gravelly voice impossible to miss in the tiny gallery. She scooped Bella up, kissing her soundly on both cheeks before releasing her to take the champagne Carlisle was offering. She had stayed a constant friend and advisor to Bella, always happy to read something for her and offer an opinion, or advise her on her writing when she got stuck. Early on she'd introduced Bella to her group of writers and literary critics, and it was through them that Bella had made the first contact that eventually led to her publishing deal. We owed Marguerite a lot. Yet another odd member of our peculiar Parisian family.
Over her shoulder I could see Julian talking with Alice. Of course he would show up if there was free liquor involved. I was delighted to have him here, though, just as long as he abstained from the bird calls tonight. I didn't think I could handle that. I saw several other familiar faces in the crowd, all friends from our many nights at Esme's, all the creative, artistic people that made our life here so worthwhile.
I really needed to get out of my corner and go mingle, but just then I saw Bella disentangling herself from a conversation and start to make her way back to me. I was happy to get another minute alone with her, smiling at her when she reached me.
"Hey, you," she said softly, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss me chastely.
"Hey, you. Come and take a look."
I took her hand and pulled her along behind me to look at the paintings.
"They look amazing, Edward," she said earnestly. "I'm so proud of you."
I smiled down at her. "Thank you, but it wouldn't have happened without you."
She scoffed. "Don't be silly! You're the painter. I can't do any of this." She waved a hand at the canvases as we strolled past.
"But I was thinking earlier, and you're in every one, you know? Everything I look at, I see something of you in it. You're always there, Bella."
She pulled me to a stop, staring at me, her mouth slightly open. "Edward," she breathed, "You always say the most amazing things to me."
I shrugged. "It's just true." Then I pointed to the painting in the center of the back wall, a few feet from where we'd stopped. "Like that. That painting was nothing. And then you stepped into it and gave it a purpose. Just the way you stepped into my life and gave me a purpose."
She turned her head to see which one I was pointing to. It was Girl with a Red Umbrella, the painting I'd been working on the first night I saw her. Bella drifted forward until she was right in front of it and I followed. We stood side by side for a few minutes, looking and remembering. The cold, the rain, her pale cheek, her dark coat, the red umbrella…
"You know, you did the same for me, too," she said, softly.
"Gave me a purpose. I was just as lost, I just didn't know it then. And then I stumbled into that park and saw you and found exactly what I didn't even realize I'd been looking for."
I looked at her sideways and smiled, and she squeezed my hand.
"I love you, Bella."
"I love you, too."
"And someday," I continued, lightening my voice, trying to make a joke to shake us out of our serious moment, "if I badger you enough, I might finally get you to agree to marry me. Eventually you'll give in, you know. It's just a matter of time."
"I know," she murmured. "It's time."
"You heard me."
I grabbed her arms with my hands, turning her to face me. "Be serious, Bella. Did you…did you just say yes?"
She smiled, huge and beaming. "I said yes."
"And you're not teasing? This isn't you getting back at me for proposing to you on the metro that time?"
She laughed and shook her head, moving forward into my arms, bringing her own up around my waist. "It's no joke, Edward. I love you. I'll love you forever. I want to marry you, if you'll still have me."
I was having a hard time controlling my grin. It was threatening to consume my face. The loud, happy chatter of the crowd around me, the importance of tonight, it all faded away in the magnitude of this moment.
"Have you? Just try getting rid of me! Come on!" I started to pull her towards the front of the room. "Let's get some champagne and celebrate!"
"Wait!" She tugged back on my hand. "Not here. Not tonight. This is your night and I want it to be all about you. Tomorrow we'll get everybody over to Esme's and we'll celebrate then, okay?"
"Okay. Whatever you want, just no backing out." I pointed a warning finger at her and she grabbed it with her own hand, laughing.
"I promise. You're stuck with me, Edward Cullen," she said. Then she leaned in to my ear as she hooked one arm around my neck. "And tonight I'll take you home and we'll seal the deal…any way you want to."
I groaned softly. The effect this woman had on my body never lessened and never ceased to amaze me. Suddenly tonight, my big night, seemed absolutely endless.
"We have forever, Edward," she whispered. "Now let's go mingle."
I sighed and let her go, and she pulled me into the crowd. We were quickly swallowed up by the people, all our friends who pressed in to shake my hand and congratulate me on my success. But through it all I never let go of Bella's hand, content now in the knowledge that now I never would. We would walk through the rest of our days, wherever they led us, just like this, side-by-side and hand-in-hand.
A/N: So that's the end. It's hard to believe, and it's been an incredible experience for us. We've loved time traveling with you, and we hope you've enjoyed the ride. Thank you to all of you who read, to those of you who reviewed every week, to everyone who threw out crazy theories and raged out at Royce and swooned over Edward in the park.
Thank you to all the wonderful women who rec'ed this story along the way: ignora on Twilighted and Random Acts of Rob, yeah_yeah143 at Edwardville, feathers_mmmm at Twigasm, WriteOnTime and Kassiah at The Fictionators, and ciao_bella27 at The Little Known Ficster. Thank you to Mr. Spanglemaker for all his expert jazz advice. Thank you as well to anyone who told their friends to read this fic, who tweeted about the updates, and who spread the word without our knowledge. You're all fabulous.
And lastly, on a personal note, thank you to my partner in crime, spangley. Our partnership started out as a random fic connection and a couple of black and white photos last September, and the result is something I will forever be proud of. She is responsible for mountains of photographic research, Edward's sheer swooniness, and the essence of what has become my favorite Esme of all time. She's always patient, helpful, and absolutely brilliant. I'm so glad she decided to overlook her normal prejudice against vampires and pick up Twilight. We'll always have Paris, bb.
If you haven't checked out our extras, feel free to do it now.
Esme outtake by spanglemaker9: La Resistance http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/5723397/1/La_Resistance
Jasper outtake by justaskalice: Frozen http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/5807871/1/Frozen
Livejournal site with music, historical facts, and more pictures than you can shake a stick at: http://spanglemaker9(dot)livejournal(dot)com/