Many thanks to Juno Magic for being such a wonderful beta.
I make no money off this.
I am very devoted to the Volturi. They are my family, after all. Yet sometimes I don't like what they are about. Valentine's Day. What a pile of rubbish. Even the Catholic Church has removed that feast from its calendar. Nowadays it's just an excuse for humans to increase sales between Christmas and Easter. Why Aro wants to follow the trend is beyond me. Well, there's a difference concerning how he follows the trend, but I'd rather he forgets about it altogether: he's asked Heidi and Chelsea to bring us back couples for dinner so that the ones of us who have a mate will share a romantic meal. As a result, our hunters are later than usual, and I'm so, so thirsty. I wonder if I'll be given a couple just for me, or if I'll have to content myself with just one human, since I don't have a mate.
My temper is flaring, but I can't take it out on just anyone.
…The humans will do.
I've been singing since I've been up this morning. The days have been growing longer, and the dim light of the cloudy sky is just enough to make dinner without artificial light. Tomorrow is a Saturday, so Ben and I will both be at home.
"What's gotten into you?" Ben asks affectionately from the kitchen doorway.
Should I tell him? Won't I sound a bit childish? But I can't help myself, I'm so happy. I launch myself at him.
"Tomorrow is my first Valentine's Day as your wife!"
He catches me and spins me around our small living-room. My hip bumps into a piece of furniture or two, but I don't care. I laugh, and my husband laughs with me.
I had ceased to believe in romantic love, at least for me, until I met Emmett. As soon as I saw him battling that bear—and losing—I knew he was the One. You see, Emmett is a simple man. What he thinks is written all over his face, unlike some other scums whose name I will not utter. He has simple desires and expectations and isn't shy about sharing them with me. Honestly, I was never one for the brooding type.
Except that this year, I'm the one brooding.
Faking the life of a teenager has forced me to endure all the lovey-dovey hoopla around Valentine's Day. To my greatest inner shame, I am jealous of them. Oh, I don't envy the awkwardness and enthusiasm they have for their young love. I have Emmett's undying love, after all. What need do I have for their hormone-ridden feelings? Besides, I know too well they'll probably be disappointed one day by the "love of their life". Yet, in spite of all their shortcomings, the Humans can do one thing I cannot on Valentine's Day: share a meal in a fine restaurant. I know it's petty of me. Most humans don't have half the things I possess: beauty, money, love, cars… Emmett. I just can't help it. What? It's true. And stop spying on me! I wish Edward hadn't caught that.
The evening of Valentine's Day isn't that bad. Emmett has proposed we go for a romantic stroll under the stars. No hunting. Just the two of us. For once, the weather is cooperative: no clouds mar the sky. The half-moon and the stars adorn the dark background of the night. They provide just enough light for human eyes to discern the outline of the trees. My vampire eyes can see them as well as in daylight. We walk in silence, savoring the each other's company. Honestly, I don't understand how I could miss dinner in a restaurant. This is so much better. Until we come out into a meadow.
"Stay here, baby."
Emmett dashes to a table and two chairs, a black spot on the snow. He lights three candles, then beckons me to join him. I'm at his side in less than a second. Silver cutlery, China plates, crystal glasses, fine clothes and no food.
Emmett holds out a chair. "Please, sit down."
I am speechless. I just do as I'm told. He sits in front of me. His hand reaches out for mine and caresses it lightly. "Is this to your liking?" he asks, anxious.
"It's perfect," I exclaim as soon as my voice is back.
There is no food, but I have a meal in the finest restaurant on earth with the love of my life. Can a girl ask for more?
"Be ready at seven," Jacob told me this morning. "I have reservations at L'Ambroisie tonight."
Tonight has become now. I sigh with annoyance. I really don't understand all the fuss my husband makes about Valentine's Day. I don't need dinner in a fancy, expensive restaurant. I'd rather we stay inside, exchange sweet nothings across a quarter of a pillow and make love all night. But oh no! Since he got his degree in business and was appointed manager of the Cullens' European investments, he feels like he needs to show off his nouveau riche status … to me. Jacob is a show-off, but only to me. This is so illogical. I mean, I'm the only one on earth he has nothing to prove to. I love him unconditionally, even if my father insists that Jacob was the one to imprint on me and not the other way around.
My husband appears in the doorframe. "You're splendid," he whispers, eyeing how my little black dress hugs my body. He doesn't look bad himself. He only looks better when he is naked.
He laughs. "Later." He knows how to read me too well.
"Honestly, I don't want to go. We don't have to act like sheep. It's indecent for a wolf and a half-vampire."
His lips curve up. He's learned to appreciate my quirky sense of humor, something I got from my mother.
"Perhaps I'd like to role-play." He winks.
His ability to make me laugh so hard with a couple of words that I have to sit down is uncanny. Tears smear my mascara and my belly is in knots.
He looks smug.
Once I've calmed down, I point at my face. "I can't go out like that," I complain.
"You can't," he agrees. "We're lucky we still have time before we go."
"I don't want to go." Did I just whine? It seems so.
"Please. For me?"
He's so adorable when he pouts. I swear, he must be related to Aunt Alice. "Fine. You win. But we won't celebrate Valentine's Day for at least another century after this one." Hopefully, that feast will be old-fashioned by then.
"It'll be forty dollars and fifty cents."
The guy takes his wallet out of his pocket and pays his bunch of supermarket roses with a credit card. He signs his slip absentmindedly, obviously preoccupied by the reaction his gift won't miss to arouse, whereas I'll have to spend the evening alone. Doc Johnson doesn't count as company. At least I managed to foist the children off to Mike this year. There will be no fooling around with his skank for him. If I don't get some on Valentine's Day, neither will my ex-husband!
It hasn't escaped my notice that he's replaced me with a Bella Swan look-alike girl. He can pretend all he likes that it isn't like that, that she has blue eyes, unlike Bella who has brown eyes, etc., etc. How does he remember what color Bella's eyes were, by the way? I can't even remember her face after all these years. She made the good choice, marrying into that rich family and leaving Forks. I should have done the same. Not marrying a Cullen, but marrying some rich douche and get the hell out of here.
"It'll be twenty-four dollars."
Stupid lock of hair has escaped its tie again. Some days, it annoys me so much that I think of cropping my hair, but it's no more than a fleeting thought I quickly shove back somewhere in my subconscious. Short hair reminds me of a time when I phased into a wolf, when vampires were running around in the area, when Sam's and Emily's happiness was a constant psychological torture. It was convenient then to have short hair.
Nowadays, I'm just a kindergarten teacher at the Quileute reservation. Who would have thought I'd be suited to take care of the next—next, next by now—generation? I absolutely fucking love my job. There's nothing like the contentment I feel when a kid learns a new song or how to draw the sun thanks to me.
Contentment is the key word. I had enough passion for a life-time when I was younger. Losing Sam to my cousin has torn me apart. Though I was only a teen, he had all my heart. The bastard never gave it back to me. I've tried to move on after the debacle with the Volturis, but no man could make my heart beat like Sam. After five years, I gave up. I've been single ever since.
I've never told anyone that I still love Sam after all this time. Seeing him nearly every day on the Reservation might have prevented me from carrying on with my life. Yet, I can't leave. The one year I've spent in Seattle, when I was still trying to get away from… everything I guess, had been hell. Sam wasn't there, but he haunted my dreams all the same. I couldn't get decent sleep. As soon as I was back here, I felt better, and the feeling has grown with time. I can even speak with Sam or Emily now without feeling like punching or insulting them. It wouldn't do to harm my charges' grandparents, after all. They're happy, and I've found it in me to be happy for them. It only took me thirty years to get there.
There, perfect. Jasper will love it. It's just a bouquet of red roses surrounded by aromatic candles, but it looks so pretty on the vanity in our bedroom. This year, there will be no outing for Valentine's Day. No concert, no stroll in the moonlight. Just the two of us and the scent of roses. The evening can't come soon enough.
When Jasper comes back home from his hunting trip, he isn't alone. I frown: why is Seth Clearwater with my husband? Then I squeal. Jasper is with a shape-shifter because they can block my gift, so I won't see beforehand what he's planned for us. Isn't it sweet of him?
The waves of the Pacific Ocean rock my soul to rest. I watch as they crash against the shore again and again and again in a never ending rush. Their sound—sssshhhhhh-plasssshhhh, sssshhhhhh-plasssshhhh, sssshhhhhh-plasssshhhh—is a powerful lullaby that soothes my troubled mind. A violent wind sweeps leaves and twigs around my feet.
But I'm grounded. I won't fall. Minute by minute the events of the day fade in my memory, leaving my emotions raw, naked, and unencumbered by facts. After all the mental clutter has left me, the answer to Quil's revelation appears, as obvious as the oxygen in my lungs and the blood in my veins. Even though he hasn't chosen me, I belong with him, and he with me.
I collapse on the sofa, completely exhausted. My three rambunctious boys are in bed, at last. I love them to pieces, but they like to cause troubles. Today the two eldest have been caught bullying that scrawny Newton kid. I had to put up with Jessica's whining about how the barely visible bruises her little Jackson got because of my kids and about I should have a better hold of my "offspring". I snort. As if her kid was a saint.
"Tired, baby?" Tyler joins me on the sofa. I snuggle against him.
"Exhausted. Robert and Kellan got into a spot of trouble in the parking lot while I was grocery shopping. Their stunt cost me two hours of my time. I had to rush to make lunch, do the laundry, the ironing, sorting out the bedrooms, …"
Tyler interrupts me. "Shhh, I get it. Do you want a massage?"
There was a reason I married that guy and gave him three kids.
When I went to bed, I was so relaxed that I fell asleep before my head hit my pillow. It only dawned on me when I woke up, that the previous day had been Valentine's Day.
Phil wakes up after a night of restless sleep. The poor soul hasn't been sleeping well since my demise a couple of months ago.
Today is Valentine's Day. Because we met on Valentine's Day forty years ago, it used to be a special day for us. To celebrate our good fortune, we always went to that restaurant near the sea where he first glimpsed me. The owners had changed too many times to count, and there were a couple of years when the food was dreadful, but it was where we met and where we came back religiously. Then we would walk along the beach. We would make out like teenagers, and he would buy me a rose from a street vendor. I have thirty-nine at home, carefully dried. I'll never get the fortieth.
My—I can't say late husband, can I?—husband gets up. I can see the determination in his eyes. Today is the day when he tries to say good bye and carry on with his life. He was so much younger than I am. It would be unfair for him to be prisoner of our past, however glorious it has been.
And so he goes to the restaurant. Alone. The waitress recognizes him, but also the grief that envelops her customer and leaves him to eat in peace. Afterwards, he walks along the beach. Alone. He glances at the couples strolling by, jealousy and pain etched on his sweet face. He buys a rose from a street vendor and drives back home.
As soon as he closes the front door behind him, he clutches the rose to his chest with all his might. Blood drips from where the thorns stabbed him. I know he doesn't care, even though a grimace twists his face. Suddenly, he collapses on his knees, the rose still in his hands. Sobs wrack his chest. Tears and snot slide down his face. What I feared most happens before my dead eyes: Phil is in pain, and probably will be until he leaves this world and, maybe, joins me. I'd like to lessen his suffering, but I'm totally powerless. Is this place hell?
I was a bit shocked first when Carlisle bought me an island. It didn't take me long to comprehend the benefits of it, though. Here we don't have to hide. We can make love in the sea, lounge on the beach naked, and forget we have brought clothes altogether—we even give the cleaner days off when we're here. That's why we've been coming on Isle Esme on Valentine's Day for the last ten years.
"What are you thinking of?" Carlisle asks me, never ceasing to stroke my hip.
"If the children ever imagine us being so … wild." I giggle. He chortles.
"I'm pretty sure they manage not to imagine some things."
His hands are becoming more insistent as they edge closer to the juncture of my legs.
"And I'd rather do those things than imagine them," I breathe.
Harry was never one to celebrate Valentine's Day. He used to say it wasn't a Quileute tradition, therefore we ignored it. I can't say I missed it. Life with Harry was Valentine's Day every day in spite of him telling me he loved me only every two years or so. But Harry is gone, hopefully to a better place. Our children are adults now. They've left the house to have their own place, though they often drop by to take advantage of my cooking skills, they say. I know it's their way of showing me they haven't forgotten their old mum.
An old mum who has a date on Valentine's Day for the first time of her life.
He's going to pick me up in half an hour, but I'm already dressed and ready. I still love my Harry dearly, and I always will, but I won't let a second chance at love pass me by.
Sam doesn't phase anymore. He stopped when the Cullens left Forks, taking with them the threat the vampires had posed. As a result, he started to age like any other man, and now we both have grey hair. It doesn't matter. We're growing old together, together being the important part of it. I shudder when I think about the all too numerous occasions he could have died—or of the one occasion I could have died, when he lost his temper and phased into his wolf form in front of me. I am so grateful that all of this belongs to the past.
That's why I don't care it's Valentine's Day today, and why I've never cared about that holiday. Being with Sam, alive and happy, surrounded by children and grandchildren, is celebration enough.
After several decades of insistence on Edward's part, I have finally given in: I will let him surprise me and won't offer him anything in return. This year. As soon as I accepted, Edward started acting like a giddy kid on Christmas morning. It is both infuriating and adorable. He has promised me I will love what he had in store for me. Curiously, the closer Valentine's Day comes, the more impatient I have grown to find out about my surprise. I never thought I could be that anxious about the unexpected.
In the evening of February the twelfth, Edward parks a—nowadays—vintage silver Aston Martin V12 Vanquish in front of our house. He isn't going to recreate Prom, is he? He notices my discomfited expression.
"Something's wrong, love?" he asks anxiously.
"We're not reenacting Prom." I'm tempted to stomp my foot.
He chuckles. "No, we're not. I just thought we'd recall the nice times of our courtship before it's impossible to find those cars anymore."
Always the gentleman, he holds my door open while I climb in. I nearly ask where we're going and barely manage to keep my mouth shut. Edward must have seen my intent on my expression. "I won't tell anything before we're there."
I decide to relax and enjoy the ride, until I notice the direction he has taken. "We're driving south?"
Edward interrupts me. "No buts, love. I promised you would like my surprise."
"But," I can't help to insist, "Forks is south."
He takes my hand in his. "We're not going to Forks per se," he says cryptically.
I decide to believe him. I spend the rest of the drive mulling over what he might have planned for us. I am so lost in my thoughts that I barely notice when he turned into a lane. When he stops the car, I recognize the place. Oh, how I love that man! I get out of the car before he does so himself. I do a happy dance, not worrying about being like a child, and I jump in his arms. We both fall down, laughing with joy.
"We're going to our meadow!" I exclaim.
He beams at me, excited that I love his surprise.
"Let's run?" he suggests.
We set off. I'll never tire of the sensation I feel when I run. The wind on my face is both soothing and exhilarating. I am more aware of my body, its grace and speed, than ever. It feels as if I am more alive. The only thing that beats running is making love to Edward. Wait? Our meadow, alone with Edward? My icy body heats up suddenly. I run faster, but Edward is still ahead of me.
When I arrive at our meadow, my breath, or what's left of it, is taken away. It's more beautiful than in my memories. The rising sun peeks out from between theclouds, and the grey is suddenly bathed in warm hues of yellow, red, and orange. The grass is a vivid green in my vampire eyes, and the naked trees a welcoming shade of brown. Even the lack of flowers—the season is still too cold— and the waterlogged ground cannot destroy the feeling of happiness I associate with our meadow.
"I had planned for a romantic"—translation: sexy—"day together, but," he gestured at the ground, "I think I've been thwarted by the weather." Edward smiles ruefully, regretfully. I won't have any of it.
"It's not as if the cold bothers us." I hope my expression is sly enough.
"What about our clothes?"
"We take them off first."
"We'll still be dirty and wet."
"Don't tell me you haven't thought of it."
Out of nowhere, he produces a couple of towels. This is the best Valentine's Day ever.