I don't own these characters. They are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. I only borrow them. No humans are permanently harmed through my actions, though I do confess to harassing, annoying, torturing, and exasperating them – just because it's fun. I make no money from my little stories, sad day. I only play in the sandbox, I didn't build it.
We all stood there for a long moment, the silence growing uncomfortable and then decidedly strained. I finally looked around and noticed the others. I gave my father a stiff nod of my head, which he returned with a rather dazed look upon his face. I became aware of Isabella at my side, her hand clutching at mine in bewilderment.
There was Emmett...and Rose. Her eyes met mine and I saw compassion and understanding in them. Hardly aware of Jasper and the dark-haired woman at his side, I embraced Rosalie when she approached. She stood up on her toes and whispered, "You once did me a great kindness. Thank you, and I hope I can help you now, too."
Then she stepped back and gave a trilling laugh as if I had told her the most amusing joke in the world. "Well, Alice," she said to the small dark-haired woman at my brother Jasper's side. "It looks as if our surprise worked!"
Alice seemed to catch on instantly and she gave a little clap of her hands in enthusiastic delight. She turned to the assembled guests, who were starting to ascertain that something unusual had happened and gave them a gracious smile. "My husband Jasper and I will continue to entertain you, but I hope you understand that the rest of our family would like to enjoy their surprise reunion."
With those few words, I felt Emmett behind me, ushering us all – Father, Mother, Isabella, Rose, and I – toward another room. I was helpless to fight him and not sure if I wanted to in any case. How often had I dreamed of seeing my family again? But could I have them back and still keep Isabella in my life? I glanced at Bella, hoping that she would forgive me for my deception, my duplicity.
Her expression was strained and confused, but not angry – at least not yet.
The door closed behind us and I noticed we were in a study. My mother approached me once more and cradled my face in her hands. "Edward, I've missed you so," she murmured. Her fingers traced over my cheekbones and then she stepped away to study me. "You've been out in the sun," she observed. She tilted her head and pinned me beneath her sharp, green gaze before letting her eyes shift to Bella. "I think we have a lot to discuss."
An understatement of vast proportions indeed.
I shifted on my feet. "Mother, what are you doing in Pennsylvania?" That was my first question. They were supposed to be safely at home in New York. If I had had any inkling that they were here, I would have... I sighed, knowing that I would still have wanted to accompany Bella and the boys.
Mother's eyes moved back to me while Father remained curiously silent in the background. Due to the shadows, I could not see his expression, but I could only guess at the anger that must be glittering in his eyes at the moment. We had not parted on the best of terms, and he could hardly be happy to see the prodigal son returned.
"Well, Edward, I could ask you the same question," Mother said gently.
I took a deep breath and tugged at Isabella's hand. Bella might refute my statement, but if she did then I would just beg and plead myself back into her good graces. "Mother, Father...this is Bella Black, the woman I intend to marry."
I waited for Bella to pull her hand from mine or to gasp out an indignant refutation. Instead, her fingers tightened around mine and I took that as a good sign.
To my shock, it was my father who stepped forward and embraced Bella first. "Welcome to the family, my dear," he said quietly. "We're not usually so...dramatic," he added dryly. If it had not been beyond the realm of possibility, I would have said I heard laughter in his voice.
But no, that was not possible. Father did not have a sense of humor about such things. Ever.
"Why are you here?" I asked again.
"Well, if you must know, I had learned that a woman – a friend from long ago actually - I went to school with recently passed away and we had come to make sure that her affairs were taken care of and that her daughter was not left destitute, but the daughter is long gone, to the west, God forbid, and Rose wasn't feeling well, so we rented a house for the season and decided to stay for a bit rather than travel while Rose is under the weather." I glanced at Rose, who looked absolutely radiant to me.
"I'm better now," Rose explained and her hand fell to her abdomen in that gesture that was universally recognized to indicate a woman was with child, a topic that was not meant for polite conversation.
"Ah," I said. Then a thought occurred to me. "What was the name of this friend?"
"Oh, you never knew her," Mother replied. "We both went to the same finishing school, Mrs. Bartram's Academy, but she moved to Pennsylvania years ago when she married. We kept up correspondence for a while, but as so often happens we lost touch eventually." Mother sighed and shook her head. "I would never have known except the mayor's wife also attended the school and mentioned something in a letter. Eventually, I discovered that the woman Mrs. Paulson was discussing was in fact the girl I went to school with and I knew she had a daughter. You might not believe this, but when you were quite young, my friend and I even used to discuss marrying you to her daughter if you suited. But of course, that came to naught and things happened and well...here we are in any case."
My mother's tendency to nurture, mother, and coddle everyone in her sphere was well known. I imagined that my father had argued with her for a few moments and then surrendered to her indomitable but tender-hearted will. "The name of the friend?" I pressed, checking a smile at my mother's rather rambling and typical answer.
"Oh, I didn't answer your question, did I?" Mother said with a little laugh. "Well her name when I knew her was Renee Robertson, but she married a Charles Swan and-"
At my side, Isabella burst into giggles. My own laughter wanted desperately to be set free, but I knew I had to set some things straight first. "Mother, meet Renee's daughter, Isabella." I lifted Bella's hand and kissed it. "It seems that you and your friend Renee will get your wish after all." Hopefully.
Rose began laughing then too, and to my great shock, my father's large booming laugh soon overshadowed us all. It was from him that Emmett had inherited the laughter that shook the rafters, though we heard Father's rather less often. After the laughter finally died, and we stood there awkwardly, Father finally stepped forward and approached me.
My hand tightened around Isabella's and I was quite sure she felt the heat and dampness of my palm. "Son," he said in a husky voice. "I've missed you."
Nothing my father said could have surprised me more and the next thing I knew I was enfolded into his familiar embrace, inhaling the scent of pipe smoke and peppermint that was a constant from my childhood. When he pulled away, Father looked at Rose and smiled. "When you left, I was angry," he admitted. "But Rose...Rosalie came to me and told me why you left and that you had done it so she would be happy."
I could sense Bella's confusion and I knew that a full confession was needed immediately. I could only hope she would still consent to be my wife when she heard it. Rosalie came forward, obviously ready to reveal her part in the story.
"Hello, Isabella," she said warmly, embracing Bella closely. "You're marrying the most wonderful man, you should know that." Then Rose stepped back and into Emmett's arms. "You see Edward left the family for my sake."
Emmett spoke for the first time, clearing his throat and then looking at Bella as he explained. "See, Edward here is the oldest son, and Rosie's father...well he had a bee in his bonnet that his Rosie would only marry the oldest, the heir."
"But Edward and I..." Rose shook her head and laughed. "We didn't suit, not at all, certainly not as husband and wife."
"But you couldn't tell Ulysses Hale anything, much less that his only child was going to marry the younger son and not the oldest, and Rosie here was a good enough daughter that she would have gone along with it," Emmett added with a shake of his head.
"My father was quite ill," Rose added. "And I couldn't bear to break his heart by following my own." She glanced up at Emmett. "So I let things proceed, though it made me desperately unhappy." Rose looked at me. "But Edward was as miserable as I was, and far more courageous, and so he left – so that I could be happy."
"My brother sacrificed his own happiness so that Rose and I could be together," Emmett said. "It's a debt I can never repay," he added gruffly.
"My son, you see," Father chimed in. "Was under the mistaken impression that I was too old and set in my ways to understand love." He shot me a severe look. "It's true, I harped on the concepts of honor and duty while they were growing up, but I would certainly never have wanted him to be unhappy." His shoulders drooped. "If you had told me that you knew Rose loved Emmett and he loved her, I would have relented, Edward. But I thought you were merely reluctant to settle down and give up your bachelor status. I would have..." He sighed. "I wish you would have told me, Edward. We could have worked it out to everyone's satisfaction."
I felt ashamed at how I'd misread my father, and how quickly I had abandoned them all. Still, I thought, it had brought me untold happiness. Unless Isabella couldn't live with a man who had done what I had done.
"But what my stubborn son didn't realize is," Mother grabbed Father's hand, "that his father and I married over parental objections as well, and we would have honored his feelings on the matter. Still, Rose was able to marry Emmett with her father's blessing before he died, and I know that meant a lot to her."
"We tried to find you, Edward," Father added. "We tried very hard, but you were always so damnably clever...and pig-headed." I had to laugh at that, because Father and I had butted heads countless times over the years. I had gotten my stubborn streak from him and well he knew it.
I turned to Bella, taking both of her hands in mine. "The long and short of it is that I left my family, Bella. I left them because I could not bear to marry where my heart was not engaged. You have claimed me, love, you have put your mark on my heart and it is there forever. If you'll still have me, I would be very honored to call myself your husband."
Bella was silent for a long moment, much too long. Her teeth worried at her lower lip as her eyes drifted from my parents to Emmett and Rosalie and then back to me. She looked up at me with all solemnity. "You did tell me once that you would reveal your secrets to me." She smiled at my mother and my heart clenched with hope. "I suppose this is as good a way as any to learn them." She pulled my hands to her lips and pressed tender kisses to them. "But I must know...what will our last name truly be?"
Then she smiled and I knew all was forgiven and right.