Sadly, I don't own Twilight or any of the characters in it. Those are the sole property of Ms. Meyers and I merely play in her sandbox (gosh that sounded dirty!). Anyway, I don't make any money from my scribblings, but I do get a lot of joy. So here you go.
I knelt by the gravestone, my fingers running over the words etched there. It did not seem like it had been seventy years since I had seen her, but her life had been lived and was now over and mine was…exactly the same – empty and meaningless. "Bella." I said her name for the first time in decades; I allowed her memory to fill me up.
Closing my eyes, I could almost smell her again, that tantalizing scent of flowers and something else I could never identify that was simply Bella. I heard her laughter in the wind, saw her face in my mind, and for just that instant, we were reunited.
"She always told me you'd come." The words came from behind me, spoken by a voice that was soft and musical, holding just a hint of disbelief. I surged to my feet and whirled around to face the speaker.
"Excuse me?" I asked, wondering why this young woman looked familiar – but not.
"Nana Bells," the young woman said, pointing to the grave stone. "She always told me that you'd come back." She smiled at me. "And she wanted me to give you a message."
"I…" I swallowed hard. "The message?"
The young woman looked at me for a moment and then shook her head. "Not yet," she murmured. "Later, if I think you're ready for it, I'll tell you."
"Who are you to decide if-"
"I'm her great-granddaughter, Cassie," she said. "And you're Edward Cullen." A sly smile slid into place. "You're the vampire my great-grandmother loved."
I felt the earth shift under my feet. This girl knew. What had Bella told her? And why? To what purpose? I looked at Bella's grave as if she might give me the answers.
"Don't worry," came Cassie's soft reassurance. "I'm the only one she told."
"Why? What did she tell you?" I could not help the words from spilling from my lips.
Instead of answering me, Cassie knelt by the grave and placed some flowers I had not noticed she was carrying tenderly by the stone. She paused for a moment and I saw her lips moving, but I could not tell if she was actually speaking. Suddenly, she looked up at me, her expression curious. "Can you hear me?" she asked. "I mean, my thoughts. Can you hear what I'm thinking?"
And for the second time in my existence, I listened intently and heard…nothing.
Cassie saw my answer on my face and laughed softly. "Oh, Nana Bells always wondered if her brain quirk, as she called it, would be inherited." There was a note of smug satisfaction in Cassie's voice. "She'd be thrilled to know that it was."
With unexpected grace, she was Bella's descendent after all, Cassie rose to her feet. She was taller than Bella had been, probably only about five inches shorter than me. Her body was long and lean and willowy, a strong body. Her eyes were shaped like Bella's, large and doe-like, but they were very dark, almost black. Her hair was also dark, hanging down in her back in an inky, straight waterfall. Her skin was darker than Bella's, a soft peach where Bella's had been purest ivory. I could see subtle signs of Bella in her face, but this young woman was entirely her own being, her Quileute blood blending beautifully with Bella's. "I'm Cassie McBride," she said, holding out her hand.
I took it out of habit, still reeling from what this self-possessed young woman had revealed to me.
"So…" I hardly knew where to begin. "Bella married Jacob."
Cassie laughed and casually put her arm through mine as if we were the oldest and best of friends. "Ah yes, Papa Jake," she said with great fondness. "They were married about three years after you left."
I looked down at her, bemused. "You seem to know much about me," I could not help the note of sourness in my voice and she laughed yet again. "But I don't know anything about you."
"Well then, let's put us on a little more even playing field, shall we?" Cassie seemed to find my words amusing, though I was beginning to think that she found pretty much everything funny. She looked up at me through her lashes and bit her lip. It is a gesture that is heartbreakingly familiar. "You really are as serious as Nana Bells said you were."
"I'm glad I amuse you," I muttered.
Cassie's laughter, a sound I was fast becoming accustomed to, rang out with delighted abandon. "It's almost too easy to tease you," she said. Then her expression grew solemn. "All right then, let me fill you in on the details of the life of Bella Swan Black."
Just the sound of her name, with the addition of his name, caused the sorrow return.
"All right, I told you that she married Papa Jacob when she was twenty-one," Cassie continued blithely. "Well, my grandfather was born about two years later. His name was Charles William Black."
"Named after their fathers," I noted.
"Exactly," Cassie replied. "They never had any more kids; she never told me why." Cassie's voice grew contemplative. "Anyway, their son died when he was twenty-five – cancer. He went fast, but not before his wife gave birth to a daughter…my mother."
"Bella must have been devastated," I said quietly. "I didn't want her to-"
Cassie stopped walking and looked at me, her eyes capturing mine. "You wanted her to have a human life," she said softly. "Human lives are often messy and sad. You got your wish – she lived a perfectly human life."
I flinched from the unintentional cruelty of her words.
Her hand came up to cradle my jaw. She didn't fear me, even knowing what I was. I wondered if the absence of any sense of self-preservation was simply a family trait. And if so, how had the line survived this long?
With an obvious air of beginning again, she turned and began walking, pulling me with her. "Nana Bells and Papa Jake raised my mother, since her own mother wasn't in the picture much. My mom was named Mackenzie."
"I'm getting to that," Cassie assured me. "So my mother did one of those student exchange programs and ended up in Ireland…where she met my father, Ian McBride. They got married a year later."
"So your mother was Mackenzie McBride?" I asked, a grin already tugging at my lips.
"I know! It's like something out of a bad romance novel, isn't it?" Cassie shook her head. "But they were very much in love and quite happy. I remember that there was always laughter in our house." Her dark eyes were far away.
"They're dead, aren't they?" I asked. I did not need to read her thoughts to interpret the sadness in her voice.
"Yes," Cassie said softly. "When I was twelve…a car accident."
"What happened to you then?"
"Well, Nana Bells faced off with Aunt Rachel and the Irish relatives and told the family that she and Papa Jake would be raising me and there wasn't a damn thing anyone could do to stop her." Cassie's head tilted. "I think they gave in mostly because they knew that Bella and Jake had already lost so many…so much." She shook her head as if banishing unpleasant thoughts.
"And they did," Cassie replied with a smirk. "Nana and Papa raised me and loved me and gave me a home."
I had seen Jake's headstone right beside Bella's, his rightful place. I envied him, even dead. "And your great-grandfather?"
Cassie's face grew troubled, but her words were casual enough. "He died of a heart attack about five years ago."
We stopped because Cassie simply quit walking, her hand still resting in the crook of my elbow. "She sort of…faded away, I guess."
We were both silent for a moment, each of us wrapped up in the memories of the woman we loved in such very different ways. "When did she tell you about…about me?"
Once more, we began walking, now out of the cemetery and moving closer to the thick woods that bordered it. "Soon after Papa Jake died," Cassie said softly. "I had my heart broken – or at least I thought I did – by some stupid boy at school."
"And she told you about the stupid boy who had hurt her?" I asked.
"No," Cassie replied. "It wasn't like that." She paused. "I suppose…I suppose that I always knew there was something….missing between them – Nana Bells and Papa Jake, I mean."
"But she loved him?" God help me, why did I want the answer to be no?
"She loved him," Cassie answered carefully. "But…"
"It was like he was always trying so hard and yet there was always this part of her – a small part, but he knew it was there – that she held back." She stopped and looked at me. "And after he died, she told me about you, and I knew that you were that part of her that she kept tucked away from him."
"So they weren't…happy?" Had my sacrifice been for nothing then? Had I condemned her to a flickering human existence that had brought her only sadness?
"They were happy," Cassie said. "But not as happy as they might have been if…if she could have forgotten." She squeezed my arm reassuringly. "She didn't blame you, of course. She understood, and she was grateful that she was there with her father in his last years. He didn't live long after she married Jake, but he lived to see his grandson so he was content."
So much sorrow, so much loss – and such a fleeting number of years. Would it have been better to give into my selfish nature and change Bella, to give her an eternity? It was a question to which I would never know the answer.
"Anyway," Cassie continued. "Nana Bells and I started talking because it was just the two of us and neither one of us really had a lot of friends." She smiled. "And then one day, she took out this…journal, I'd guess you'd call it. It started off with her moving to Forks and it ended with the day she went to the cliffs."
"On the rez, there are some cliffs, and the boys try to impress each other – and the girls – by jumping off of them into the water. Nana Bells was going to jump." Cassie stopped yet again and looked at me. "I never worked up the nerve to ask her if she wanted to die that day, or if she was just going for the adrenaline rush because she wanted to hear-" Abruptly, Cassie stopped. "Never mind, we'll get to that later. Anyway, Papa Jake stopped her at the last minute and from then on… Well, let's just say it pretty much accepted that they'd eventually end up together."
"And they did." I could not help the note of bitterness in my voice.
"They did," Cassie said. "But sometimes I wondered…"
I did not question her, sensing that her answer would not please me.
"Anyway, she told me about you, about meeting you, you saving her life, figuring out what you were, and falling in love with you," Cassie explained. "And she told me about the birthday party and what happened after that."
I could say nothing in my own defense, either for endangering Bella's life to begin with or my abandonment of her. I had been cold and cruel and harsh, but I had been so out of love. I loved Bella, I still did.
I always would.
"Before she died, she told me you'd come back, if only to say good-bye. And I knew she was right. I know things, you see," Cassie told me with a mischievous glint to her dark eyes. "Nana Bells always said it was the fey blood of Ireland in me. I'm not psychic or anything. I can't touch objects and tell you anything about who owned it. But I get…hunches, I guess you'd say. I just know things. Stupid, useless things mostly, but every now and then I know something useful." She looked at me and her lips quirked. "Just like I knew where I'd find you and when."
"I already told you, Nana Bells wanted me to give you a message," Cassie said. "And maybe…" Once more, her words trailed off. "No," she said almost to herself, shaking her head. "Time enough for that later, Cassie McBride."
Gently, tenderly, her long, slender hand, the color of peaches and cream, reached up to cradle my face. "I've come to you for her, Edward Cullen. I'm here because she can't be, and because she trusted me with your secrets."
Cassie smiled and I smiled back though I wasn't sure why.
"You're even more beautiful than I expected," Cassie confessed. "And my expectations were quite high indeed. Your pictures don't do you justice."
Cassie laughed at my expression. "You didn't think they'd stay hidden beneath that floorboard forever, did you?"