As if there was ever another way, I ask my mother to come into town with me the very next day. She agrees, and when I tell her what we're going for, her eyes light up. But first, before anything is arranged or decided on, I ask Jacob if I can speak to him privately. He agrees, and we go into the garden. Bella has been tired today, and my father insisted she remain in bed for the morning. He doesn't think anything is wrong, but for now, especially for Bella, there must be as little exertion as possible. So, if she is tired, she must rest, regardless of how much she might protest. He compromised, saying that if she felt better after lunch she may get up, but only if getting up involves her sitting in a chair in the shade of the garden. But it's still not eleven, so Alice is sitting with her. I think they're doing a big, complicated jigsaw together. Jacob sits down in a chair, and I take the one in front of him.
"What have you to discuss?" he asks, his voice still as accented as Bella's, despite some months in England. September is drawing to a close now.
"It is not to discuss, but I have a question to ask you."
"I see," he says, nodding slowly. He surveys me thoughtfully. I clear my throat a little, and fidget about.
"I'm not entirely sure how to go about beginning."
"Perhaps, then, you should simply ask the question you have to ask, rather than spending time trying to introduce it." His eyes are gleaming, and I'm pretty sure he's guessed anyway. I clear my throat again, and blurt it out.
"I'd like to ask for your permission. I'd like to ask your sister to marry me, and I want your blessing to do so." He sits back in his chair, and his sweeping look this time is contemplative.
"You've only known her six months."
"I barely knew her three days before I decided that she is the bravest woman I've ever met. I realised I loved her the day you found her. I didn't need six months."
"It should be my father that you ask this of. Not me."
"I know. But I wanted to do this right, and my father said that as I couldn't ask her father, I should come to you, as her closest male relative."
"Does she know this is your intention?"
"She does not. I intend to surprise her tonight. My mother and I are going to chose the ring, you'd be more than welcome to come with us." He gets to his feet, and holds out his hand, grinning.
"Then, we had best be making haste. You have a ring to buy."
"You give me your permission?" I ask, getting up, wanting to make absolutely certain. His smile broadens.
" I give you my permission, as Isabella's brother, to ask my sister for her hand in marriage." We shake hands, and I grin back at him.
"Thank you, Jacob. It means a great deal to me."
He, my mother, and I spend a happy day in town, looking in the windows of various jewellers. Finally, I spot one that we all agree is just perfect for Bella. It's simple, shaped like a star - although Mother thinks it's more a flowery shape - with a central diamond and smaller ones clustered around it. The band is gold.
"Can you afford it?" Jacob asks, looking a bit breathless at the price asked.
"Yes. Come on." We go inside, and the assistant is only too happy to help, placing the ring in a pretty box and wishing me a happy marriage and good luck. When we get back to the house, she's relocated from the house to the garden, and I decide to wait until after dinner to ask her.
Bella lets Dad take her into the study to look her over when he gets back from house calls before dinner. She had been up, but only to sit in the lounge and knit and chatter with Alice. I help Mother set up the dinner table and then help her carry the food in. We're still rationed, but apparently Mother has considered this a valid occasion to use either all her extensive charm or a lot of ration coupons to get some veal. There are vegetables from the garden, Cook's speciality gravy and there are even Yorkshire puddings.
"What's the occasion"? Jasper demands, sitting down after Bella has said Grace. We never particularly went in for it - I can't remember the last time I even set foot in a church, but Bella holds her faith close, and she says the simple blessing more for them than us, although nobody has ever objected.
"No occasion," Mum says, innocently. "Does there need to be an occasion?"
"Well, I suppose not. It's very nice."
"It's delicious," Bella says, smiling. For the first time, she finishes all of her dinner and even manages a slice of cake. Dad nods approvingly, but doesn't say anything to her. It's nearly sunset when we finish dinner, and Dad submits to Mum's suggestion that Bella go outside and sit on the lawn until it has set, as so far, she hasn't been outside. He insists Bella puts on a cardigan and allow him to tuck a rug about her legs, but doesn't make any other protests. Trick slumps right at Bella's feet, and I sigh. He would pick right there. Oh well, he'll just have to move. Either Mum or Jacob has warned the others, or they genuinely don't want to come outside, because it ends up just being me and Bella. I'm going with the they were warned theory, as I can see various figures standing in the window of the lounge, probably all straining their ears to hear each and every word. Bella gets comfortable, and tips her head back, looking over the trees to see the orange sky. I couldn't have possibly picked a better time. I pat my pocket, make sure the box is still there. I nudge Trick away, and get down on one knee. Obviously the movement of Trick distracts her from the sky, because she looks down, and then gasps.
"Emmett!" I open the ring box and extend it up to her. Her eyes widen.
"OK, don't interrupt, it might take me a while to get this out right. I did this properly, asked Jacob's permission and everything. I know I haven't known you very long, but I want you to know that I have known I loved you from almost the very start, and now I want that to be official. I want to take care of you and I want us to have our lives together. Isabella - will you marry me?" There is a rather horrible silence, in which she gazes at me with her mouth a little open, obvious shock on her face. Then a brilliant, slow smile spreads across her face, her wonderful eyes light up and she holds her hand out.
"Yes," she says, very softly. "I will marry you - nothing would make me happier than to have you as my husband." I fumble getting the ring out of its bed of satin, and drop the box, pick it up, and finally manage to slide the ring onto her fourth finger. She smiles at me, and admires the ring, angling it to catch the last rays of sunshine. "It's beautiful."
"I know. I bought it because its just like you - beautiful, precious and unique." She blushes.
"Hush. You could charm the birds from the air if you chose." She leans forward in her chair, and kisses me gently. I respond, sliding my hands into her hair and feel her smile curve under my lips. "I cannot wait to be your wife," she whispers, when we break apart.
"I can't wait for you to be my wife," I reply, resting my forehead on hers and exhaling on a sigh. "Thank God you said yes," I mutter, and she giggles.
"I would never have said anything else." I get to my feet, and hold out my hand to her.
"Come on. We have to go back inside, I'm sure they're all bursting to know what you said. Besides, the sun's gone now, and Dad would want you back in." She lets me help her to her feet, and tucks her arm through mine, looking up at me with a glittering smile.
"Better not keep them waiting, one would not want them to burst."
"We'll have some time," I promise her. "I'll take you out for a day on the beach, and we can have some time alone." She squeezes my arm in agreement, but hasn't time to respond, because almost before we're in the house, my mother sets on us and snatches up Bella's hand. She inspects the ring and smiles, kissing her warmly. Dad smiles too, taking her into his arms while I get several handshakes and some backslapping from my brothers and Jacob. Alice kisses my cheek and embraces Bella enthusiastically.
"I'm so very happy for you both."
"I'm very happy too," Bella says, beaming at me. Mum actually starts tearing up at that, and I swallow the lump in my throat manfully.
"So am I. The most beautiful girl agreed to be my wife." I spy Jasper miming being sick behind Dad. Hmm. I'll get him later.
"So, you two, have you thought up a date?" Mum asks, Alice bobbing eagerly at her shoulder. Bella and I look at each other.
"We hadn't really discussed that. Perhaps next summer?"
"A long engagement!"
"Well, a winter wedding doesn't appeal to me - does it to you, darling?" I ask Bella.
"No, I'd like a summer wedding. We could have an outdoor reception."
"A year it is. Oh, a wedding!" Mum actually claps her hands with excitement. "There's so much to plan. The dress, the guests, the venue, the cake, the suits - goodness!" Bella allows my mother and Alice to drag her off into the drawing room, no doubt to talk about that long list of things and make decisions about that long list of things, while Dad pours some of the good brandy as a 'small celebration' of my good news.
"Well, the first of my sons to get married." He raises his glass. "May you know all the happiness that I've been fortunate enough to find with your mother."
"I'll drink to that," Jacob says, smiling at me. "But as her brother, God help you if you hurt her."
"Message received," I say, chuckling with the rest of them. "But you have no need to fear of that. I'll protect her forever, and I'll never hurt her nor allow her to be hurt."
"Good," he says, smiling, extending a hand. "Brother."
"Brother," I say, grinning. A year seems a long time to wait for her to be my wife, but if that's how long I need to wait, then so be it.
Alice and Esme are wildly excited, and they bear me off to the drawing room, where Esme pours us each a glass of wine.
"It's a special occasion!" she giggles, when Alice mildly half-protests. "And it's only one glass." Alice takes it and sips, smiling at me.
"I can't believe you're engaged. Let me see the ring again!" I extend my hand, and both she and Esme fuss over it. "It's so beautiful and you're so lucky."
"Well, you'll probably be next," Esme remarks over the top of her wine glass. Alice blushes, and busies herself with arranging her skirt. Esme is tactful enough not to push the issue, instead turning back to me. "A summer wedding then? Perhaps July?"
"I thought August - a higher chance of nicer weather."
"Perhaps it would be a little too hot?"
"Not if we have the ceremony in the afternoon. The reception could then be in the later afternoon, and the evening, and it would be cooler."
"A good idea! You could have the reception here, in the garden."
"Thank you," I say, quietly. "I know that that would mean a very great deal to Emmett, and as indeed it does to me." Esme waves her hand.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Alice takes up the cudgels then.
"Now, your dress. I thought - and do say no if you'd rather not - that I could make your dress," she says, smiling at me. "You're my sister as much as it matters, and I'd like to do this for you."
"Of course you can, if you're sure it wouldn't be a trouble for you."
"Bella, I would be pleased to make your dress."
"May I help?" Esme asks.
"Of course!" Alice cries. "I can see Bella in muslin - something plain but pretty, with a satin trim and lace for the sleeves."
"Yes! Absolutely yes."
"I have something to ask," I say, laughing. "Will you both be my bridesmaids?"
"Oh, well, dear, I'd think I'm a little old - Alice is much younger -"
"No, Esme," I say, firmly. "I would like it a very great deal for you to be my bridesmaid, to pair with Alice. And I will make those dresses."
"Then I'd be honoured. Will your brother give you away?"
"Yes, he shall. Well, I have not asked him yet, but I hope he will agree anyway."
"I'm sure he will. And your guests, of course, we must discuss guests."
"Everyone I have left in this world is in this house, with the exception of my cousin Rosalie and her son James. Even they are local. As long as this family and they are there, the guests must be left to Emmett."
"I have a question that may perhaps be a little insensitive or inappropriate. But I feel it should be asked."
"Um, alright," Esme says, frowning. I think I know what Alice's question might be.
"What ceremony shall it be? I mean - shall it be Jewish or Christian?"
"I think I shall have to discuss that with Emmett, and I cannot answer that now. That is a bridge we will cross after discussion with the Father and the Rabbi. But it's not something I can decide on now." I cast a slightly worried look at Esme. "Do you have a preference?"
"No. As you say, darling, that decision will rest with you and with Emmett. And whatever you decide, we will arrange."
When I go to bed that night, after Emmett has kissed my hand very properly and then kissed my lips in a fleeting stolen moment while my brother is out of sight, all I can think of is that I'm getting married, that I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man. I stretch out my hand, admire the ring in the darkness. I'm really getting married.
How I wish I could tell my mother.