Ring Galaxy: A galaxy that has a ring-like appearance. The ring usually contains luminous blue stars. Ring galaxies are believed to have been formed by collisions with other galaxies.
There's something about weddings that make me feel like everything is right in the world. Maybe it's all the dancing, the smiles, and the promises of forever, or maybe it's the never-ending flow of liquor from the open bar. In the end, it doesn't really matter. Outside of this room, bills, emergencies, and everyday life can wait. We're all safe in here, living, loving, and celebrating Emmett and Rose's new life together.
We're having a hell of a time doing it, too.
Round tables hug the perimeter of the dance floor on three sides, and elegant white linens are draped over them like fresh blankets of snow. Vibrant purple bouquets of hydrangeas pop out of crystal vases set among champagne flutes and fine china, and now that dinner's over, Rose's carefully planned seating chart has been thrown out the window. Everyone's scattered; old friends and relatives catch up with each other's lives, crowding the tables in intimate, lively circles, chatting and laughing so loudly that I can hear them over the music.
My arms are wrapped around my brother as we dance, and I watch my family beneath the bright, crystalline lights that hang from the ceiling, twinkling like stars. I've been looking at some of these faces for as long as I can remember, and some I'm just seeing for the first time today. Then there's the one—all green-eyed and perfect—that I want to be looking at for the rest of my life. The man that perfect face belongs to is leading my mother in the most graceful moves she's ever managed, and he's grinning as the two of them make their way over to my brother and me.
"Photographers are taking pictures, Bella," Mom says, somehow managing to make herself heard over the loud swell of music pumping through the speakers on either side of us. "You need to put on more lipstick."
She smiles like someone has a camera in our faces right this very moment, and Edward mouths that he's sorry, his eyes all sympathetic and sweet. Emmett, good brother that he is, quickly turns us to the right, away from Mom and Edward. The dance lessons Rose made him take have paid off, because with deft maneuvers I never would've imagined he was capable of, he moves us through the crowd until at least ten couples separate my mother and me.
"Don't fight tonight," Em says, grinning. "The reception's almost over, and Rosie will kill you if that chocolate fountain gets knocked over in a brawl."
"Yeah, sure. Rose will kill me. Don't think I haven't seen you dipping everything under the sun in that thing."
He rolls his eyes in that playful, Emmett kind of way, the one that lets you know he thinks you're full of shit, but loves you too much to call you out on it.
"Besides, Mom and I don't brawl, okay? We're more like a game of Survivor, trying to see who can outlast who," I tell him, laughing.
"I would pay to see either one of you eat a beetle; or go two days without a shower, for that matter."
"I've gone two days without a shower. Don't you remember that fishing trip we took with Dad out to Hog Canyon?"
"That doesn't count. You swam in the lake," Emmett says, completely blowing me off.
"It does too count. Fish poop in lake water. That's not getting clean, it's...it's marinating."
"I didn't think anyone could ever turn me off of swimming, but you've just done it."
"I can't believe we're talking about poop at a wedding," I say, sighing.
"Right? The whole reason we took this party out of Forks was so that we could class it up a bit. Way to go, Bella."
He looks at me like he did when we were kids, like he wants to put me in a headlock and rub the top of my head with his knuckles until we're on the ground laughing and I'm screaming for Dad.
I turn my head and immediately find Edward in the crowd, like my eyes just want to be looking at him all the time. He and Mom are still swaying to the music on the other side of the dance floor. He's smiling and politely nodding at whatever it is that she's saying to him. Mom's always talking his ear off about something, and the two of them together make me smile. She honestly likes him and enjoys his company, and he listens to her with an enthusiasm that's sometimes hard for me to muster.
"Look at Edward," I say, nodding in his direction. "He's just smiling away, like she's not nagging the hell out of him."
"She's probably not. You're the only one around here who's had the distinct honor of gestating in her body. Nagging comes with the territory."
"Gestating?" I laugh. "Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?"
He looks a little surprised with himself, too. "I think getting married has made me smarter."
His gaze drifts over to Rose, so stunning in her long white dress, laughing as she dances with my father. She catches Em's eye as Dad twirls her, and they look at each other in a way that makes me think of the future, of the day that they'll be at some other wedding for some other couple. Their children will be running around, drinking Shirley Temples and playing hide-and-seek under the tables like Rose's nieces and nephews are doing right now.
Emmett can't tear his eyes away from his wife; he's looking at her all googly-eyed, like the biggest, cutest doof ever. I look over at Edward, my face probably just as googly-eyed and doofy as my brother's, and when Edward's eyes meet mine, my stomach does a little flip. I hope that he always does this to me, makes me feel like my insides are a jumbled-up mess that only he can unscramble.
"Thanks for being my Lady of Honor," Emmett says, all light and happy.
Even though I hate that nickname, the fact that he wanted me up there with him while he took the biggest step of his life makes my heart feel so full, even though tears prick at my eyes. They're the happy kind of tears, though, the ones people don't cry enough of in their lifetime.
"You promised you wouldn't do that!" he says as the two of us swipe at our eyes.
"I know, I know. It's just that…you're married."
"That's what happens at a wedding?" His face is full of mock panic, and just like that, my brother is back. "I've been tricked!"
"You know, little sister, I could fling you over my shoulder and spin you around until you barf, like I did when we were kids. Then the last thing Mom would be concerned about is your lipstick."
Well, he's right about that.
"Photographers are taking pictures of us, Emmett," I say, doing my best impression of our mother. "Make sure your sister's ass is a little higher in the air, so they can get her good side."
The two of us crack up, and we're pathetically uncoordinated, making some lame attempt to spin as the song ends. This lightheartedness is a perfect example of what our family always can be, and sometimes is. This is what I hope someone takes a picture of.
Rose is almost immediately by Emmett's side, and I wonder if she even waited for the last note to fade before she rushed over here, not that I could blame her if she didn't. She's just beaming from ear to ear, like all the love from the day has taken root inside of her, making her glow from the inside out.
"Mind if I steal him?" she asks. As if anything could possibly keep her from him right now.
"He's all yours." She leans in to give me a hug, and as I wrap my arms around her I whisper, "Take good care of him."
She nods, and there's not a doubt in my mind that my brother has given his heart to the one person who could possibly treasure it as much as my family and I do.
Emmett and Rose hold hands as they walk towards the table where her parents are sitting, and maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like everyone clears the way for them so that they can keep their eyes on each other instead of having to watch where they're going.
It's not long before Edward's fingers slide down the inside of my arm to twine with mine, and he turns me so we're facing each other. God, he looks so good in this suit, so pressed and perfect with his crisp white shirt and red tie. I reach up and straighten that tie, my cheeks hurting from the smile I can't stop smiling.
"Who's that my mom's talking to?" he asks, glancing over at the corner of the ballroom where Esme, Mom, and Mrs. Parker sit, chatting.
"That's Mrs. Parker. She owns the bakery in Forks."
"The bakery in Forks?" he asks with that cute, teasing glint in his eyes.
"Yes, the bakery," I say, tugging on his lapel. "Her husband runs a bait-and-tackle shop out of the back room."
"Is that next door to the gas station-slash-DMV?"
"Actually, that's across the street."
We laugh, and I love the easiness of it, the way it makes the air feel fresher as it flows in and out of my lungs.
"They look like they're having a good time," he says, grinning.
And he's right, they really do.
Esme is so beautiful in her blue dress; it makes her skin look like cream, and the way light bounces off of the caramel-colored curls in her hair shaves about ten years off her face. Looking at her now, it's hard to believe that so much tragedy has touched her life. Even though scars will always mar parts of her skin, tonight she looks fresh, like she's ready to open the door to a whole new world. The way she laughs—lips stretched out into a perfect smile as her head's thrown back, hair tumbling over her shoulders—is proof positive that no matter what happens to you, if your light burns bright enough, nothing can take it away.
Her recovery has sped up since she's been home, and she's always happy and ready to try new things. She's taking this second chance life has given her, and she's doing the most with it. Now, instead of bills, and nurses, and worry, she's talking about getting a job, and finding her own apartment. She's living life, loving it, and it's all I could've ever wanted for her.
When Edward and I walk up to the table, Esme smiles like we're the only two people in the world she wants to see.
"Edward," she says, her voice all breathy from laughing. "This is Betty. Betty, this is my son, Edward."
"Pleased to meet you," Betty says, reaching out to take Edward's hand. "Good to see you again, Bella."
I tell her it's been too long, and Edward tells her he's glad to meet her, too.
"You two make quite the couple out there." She looks between Edward and me, and when I thank her, all I can do is grin and give in to the blush that creeps up my cheeks, heating my skin.
"They do, don't they?" Mom says as I take the seat beside her.
Even though she's just given me a compliment, she doesn't even try to be discreet as she hands me her compact and lipstick, and I try so desperately not to roll my eyes. Things have gotten infinitely better between us over the past couple of months, and I suppose that she's never going to stop nagging me about something. In all honesty though, I'd much rather have her nag me about my makeup than my life, and these days, I take the little victories where I can get them.
After I put on the lipstick, I give the compact back to my mother. Then, like the universe is giving me some small reward for complying without putting up a fight, Edward reaches over and laces our fingers together, bringing our hands to rest on his knee.
"You're beautiful," he whispers right into my ear, and his breath on my skin warms every cell in my body. I touch his face and kiss him softly, because there's something about watching two people promise to love each other forever that makes you want to be in love. Forever.
And we are. I know we are.
"You're beautiful," I tell him, skimming my thumb across his lower lip. Oh, that lip is so soft and pouty. I think I could spend weeks studying it, the way it makes my heart flutter when it brushes against mine, and how it feels against my skin when he brings me to life the way that only he can.
I look over, and Alice is just beaming at Edward and me. Jasper's beside her, being all attentive, and grinning like a fool as she eats.
"Are you feeling okay?" Edward asks.
As far as I know, Edward's the only one in this place who has any kind of medical training, and even though Alice still has a month and a half to go, Jasper made Edward swear up and down that he knew the basics of childbirth before he'd agree to drive out here for this wedding. I wanted to tell Jasper that he'd have a better shot at making margaritas in Hell before he'd keep Alice away from something she wanted to do, but I figured that was probably a lesson he'd learned many times throughout their years together.
Alice just looks at Edward like she'd love to smack him, but thankfully he's intuitive.
"I'm just making sure," he says, kind of laughing.
"Honestly, I'd feel great if I had some more of those tartlets," she says, licking her fingers.
"I'll find some for you if you dance with me," Jasper replies, southern charm out in full force. "Just a couple of minutes, Al. And I'll massage your back when we get to the room tonight. Deal?"
Alice looks between her plate and Jasper, probably trying to decide if a dance is worth it. Ultimately, I guess it is, even though the smile on her face makes this seem like a pretty small sacrifice.
"Deal," she says, and he helps her out of her seat just in time for the next slow song.
They make their way out onto the dance floor along with the other couples flocking there for what's probably going to be one of the last few songs, since Emmett and Rose are due to leave soon. My heart sinks a little when I see Esme looking longingly out at them. She's told me she loves to dance, but there don't seem to be many singles here tonight.
Edward stands and starts to lead me out too, but I stop him. Instead, I give his arm a little tug, and he leans down close, his ear next to my lips.
"I think you should ask your mother to dance," I whisper.
He pulls away, and it's obvious this is the first time he's thought about it. I guess it's a little unconventional, given that Esme still uses a cane to get around most of the time, but there's not a doubt in my mind that it would make her day. I nod in her direction, and when he sees her face, he understands.
"Why don't we show 'em how it's done?" he says, holding his hand out toward her. Esme grins, but she shakes her head.
"I don't know, Edward."
"Come on," he teases, giving her that smile no one can resist. I bet it got him out of trouble when he was younger. "I won't let you fall."
And when she takes his hand, it's because she knows. He won't let her fall. Ever.
They walk a few steps, just to the edge of the dance floor, close to the chairs in case Esme needs to sit down. He wraps his arm around her waist, and slowly, they move.
"Did Edward tell you that I invited Esme to stay with us for the week?" Mom asks.
"No, he didn't," I reply, unable to hide my surprise.
"I thought it'd be a welcome change of pace for her, and…it'd be good for us to keep each other company for a little while."
Esme and Mom immediately hit it off when they first met, so it's not exactly surprising that she'd want Esme to stick around. I'm not even suspicious of her motives like I would've been a few months ago, and this deep, relieved sigh finds its way through my lips. It's so freeing to be able trust this, to be able to accept her offer without wondering what strings are attached.
She and I have always been all wrapped up in this delicate dance, and our rhythm is so easily interrupted. If we're not careful, our feet get tangled and we fall. What I've learned over the past few months is that when she takes a step, I need to take one, too.
"We could come up next weekend to get her," I offer, and I love the way Mom's face lights up, the way those words make her features so warm and beautiful.
"That's exactly what I was hoping you'd say. Of course, this is all just part of my plan to get you home more often."
I feel so at peace when she says things like that, because she's beginning to understand how loved words like those make me feel. That I soak them up, and that they keep all the things inside of me working the way that they should.
"I like that plan," I say, smiling. During moments like these, when she's just being my mom, it's impossible for me not to smile. "Oh, but...Esme has physical therapy on Tuesday and Thursday."
"I've already talked this over with Edward, Bella," she says, putting her hand over mine. "I'll take care of her, and make sure she gets to her appointments." She takes a sip of her drink, and smoothes the cocktail napkin a few times before she speaks again. "When you come up next weekend, we could go shopping, and as long as Esme's up for it, maybe we could have lunch afterward. A little girl-time would be fun, don't you think?"
"That does sound like fun," I say, smiling, and my beautiful mother smiles right back.
"So, Bella," Mrs. Parker says, swirling her glass of wine. "Your mother was just telling me that you recently got a new job."
"I did, and I love it," I explain, sounding way more excited than I'm used to sounding when I'm talking about work. But I can't help myself; it's the kind of place I love waking up to go to in the morning, and this is the first time that's ever happened to me. To top it off, the transition hasn't been nearly as hard as I thought it would be; it's wonderful not having to sneak around anymore, and my work is so engaging, which is something I haven't been able to say, well...ever.
I guess this is what happens when you're happy in your personal life. All that happiness spreads, filling in the cracks that pop up everywhere else.
"I've only been there a few weeks, so I'm still learning the ropes. But it's just…amazing."
My mom gently taps my arm, and my eyes are drawn to Edward and Esme, who are just beyond our table, barely moving. I can tell that she's tired but doesn't want to sit down. Edward notices too, but instead of insisting that she rest for a while, he lifts her so she's standing on his shoes, and he holds her up, just like he always has.
I don't even try to stop my tears, because I'll never get tired of seeing the two of them like this. The weakness in one has always brought out the strength in the other, but that always worked against them, because they both kept everything all bottled up. She's shown him that he can't wait for happiness to come to him, he's got to reach out and take it. And for her, now there's no shame in needing a little support every once in a while.
And this particular kind of support is so perfect, because it's a burden on his body, not his spirit.
Edward whispers something in Esme's ear, and as they laugh, all I can do is look at that light in his eyes. They were so dull six months ago, and now that light is all I can see.
"Look at that," Mom says.
"Yeah." I'm smiling, even though my eyes are blurry. "I'm pretty lucky."
She turns my head toward her, cupping my face in her hands, and she kisses my forehead. "I think he's the lucky one."
As I hug my mother, and breathe in that jasmine perfume that shaped so many of my good childhood memories, I realize that nowadays, my spirit's pretty light, too.
After the song ends, we all clink our forks against our glasses, and Rose and Em kiss one last time in front of all of us before they have to rush out to catch their flight to Hawaii. And when we've all piled out onto the hotel's front steps to wave goodbye, we watch as the taillights of their limo wind down the long, curvy driveway. While everyone slowly makes their way back inside, I notice Mom and Dad standing on the very bottom step, where Dad's leaning against the railing, and Mom's leaning against him.
Seeing the two of them together like this, sentimental smiles on their faces as they watch their son drive away towards his new life, I realize how hard it must be to be a parent. How difficult it has to be to raise a person, then set them free into the world and hope that you gave them a strong enough foundation to build on. My parents gave the two of us the strongest foundation they could, stronger than most, and I want to make sure they know that.
I wrap my arms around my mother's waist, resting my head on her shoulder, and soon Dad wraps his arms around me. I want them to know how much I love them, and tell them that even though we're grown now, there's some part of Emmett and me that will always be theirs.
"Remember when you used to take us camping near Hog Canyon?"
Mom says yes, but Dad just hums.
"We should do that again sometime soon."
"All of us," Mom says.
All of us. This group of people I love so much who turned into a family while none of us were looking.
I lean over and kiss Mom, then Dad.
"What was that for?" Dad asks. His mustache scratches my forehead, and it makes me feel twelve again.
"I just felt like it," I tell him.
As if Mom magically knows what I'm thinking, she whispers in my ear, "You'll always be my baby girl."
Fights over lipstick and the length of the hem of my dress don't matter at all. Because I'm hers, and I always will be. She takes Dad's place, wrapping her arms around me and holding me tight.
"What was that for?" I ask.
"I just felt like it," she answers, and kisses my cheek.
When Mom lets go, Edward's waiting for me just inside the door. He touches my face, and the sweep of his thumb across my cheek sends this shiver through me that squeezes my lungs and leaves me the best kind of breathless.
"I want to show you something," he says, that sly, mischievous look in his eyes. I'd follow him anywhere like this, and he knows it.
He takes my hand and leads me through the hallway, past gold-framed oil paintings of fields and flowers. At the end, we come to a stop in the doorway of a small, elegant banquet hall. All the tables and chairs are pushed up against the far wall, and the only light in the room is shining on the stage, spotlighting the beautiful, black-lacquered baby grand piano. It looks kind of majestic up there, reflecting the cool blues and purples of the stage lights, and this nervous, excited little jolt buzzes across my skin, because I know exactly what Edward wants to show me.
"C'mon," he says, and I follow him up the stairs and across the creaky wooden floorboards.
The high-pitched scrape of the bench's legs as Edward pulls it out seems to echo in the room, highlighting how alone we are. And I'm glad, because I want to be the only one who hears what he's going to play.
"Is it okay for us to be in here?" I whisper, eyeing the doorway. I want to make sure there won't be any prying eyes or interruptions.
He smiles. "Yes."
I must give him some kind of unintentionally skeptical look, because he kisses me, and when his forehead rests against mine, he says, "I've played weddings all over the western half of this state, Bella. I called in a favor."
"Well, then…play me something pretty," I tell him, as if he could do anything else.
I don't recognize the melody, but I'm so familiar with that fire in his eyes, and the easy smile that makes my heart melt as his fingers brush against those ivory keys. The way those fingers arch is beautiful, and I wonder how one man could be given such talented hands. I'm in awe of the way he brings this instrument to life.
The first time I saw him play in that rehearsal studio with Emmett and Rose, I didn't recognize all this passion, or even begin to understand where it came from. By now, I've memorized that crease in his brow that comes out when he's concentrating, and the flex of his muscles when he loosens up and lets all that passion he keeps pent up inside flow through him.
His whole body responds to the music; his head and shoulders dip along with the melody, and when the notes turn light and happy, so does he. And it's a damn shame that we have bills, and rent, and a future to plan for, because all I want is for him to do the things that make him look like this for the rest of his life.
He closes his eyes and bows his head as he presses the final key, and I turn on the bench, running the back of my finger across his cheek.
"That was beautiful." A tinkling of notes ring out as I place my hand on his, because some part of me wants to touch that music I just heard, to be a part of what made it. "Did you write it?"
"No," he sighs. "I haven't written anything in years. I haven't had the time."
"Soon you will." He's given Tanya his notice, and his last babysitting job is at the end of the month. After that, he'll have time to write, and play, and do anything he wants to. It's been so long since he's had free time that I'm not even sure if he'll know what to do with it.
I know I've got plenty of ideas.
"Yeah," he says, grinning. He turns toward me and presses our foreheads together, and I love how green his eyes are when he's this close, how the gold flecks in them look so deep under the lights.
"I could listen to you forever," I whisper.
"I would play for you forever."
He kisses me, and when we part, I touch the smooth white piano keys. I press one, then two, then three together, but the noise they make is horribly flat.
"I can teach you, you know," he says, his lips brushing my ear.
"That'd probably take…forever."
There's so much forever around us tonight.
"I've got time," he says, brushing his lips against mine.
He's right. We've got all the time in the world.
We leave in the morning after having breakfast with my family, and the trip back to Seattle passes quickly. I'm so exhausted that I fall asleep halfway through the ride, and I don't wake up until we're home. And it's the best wake-up ever, because Edward's whispering sweet words that make my eyes flutter open, touching me with sweet touches that make my body forget what it feels like to rest.
Inside, Edward starts a load of laundry while I stare at the huge stack of boxes in the corner of the dining room, the ones that I've been putting off unpacking since I moved in here three weeks ago. My furniture is in storage, ready to move in when Esme decides that she wants to move out. I really should go through them today, but it's been too long since we've had an afternoon to ourselves that wasn't hurried by doctor's appointments, work, or all the things in life that take us away from each other.
So, instead of emptying those boxes, Edward and I fall into a heap on the couch, and he wraps his arms around me as he flips through the channels on the television. He finally settles on some movie we've both probably seen a hundred times, so we watch some, sleep some, and snuggle some. In the late afternoon, when the sun's shining through the living room window, warming our faces, Edward sits up and suggests that we go out to eat.
Only he doesn't have a restaurant in mind.
I sit on the kitchen counter as he makes our dinner, and I laugh as he spreads mayonnaise on the bread, explaining what he's doing in some high-pitched Julia Childs-esque voice. When he's finished, he packs everything in a tote bag, looking awfully pleased with himself for someone who just pulled off the tremendous task of making a couple of sandwiches. His bravado's kind of cute, and I tease him about his new found domesticity as we walk to our favorite park, for reservations for two underneath our favorite tree.
The early autumn breeze is cool despite the sun, and I breathe it in, letting the crisp air fill my lungs. Soon the leaves will fall, and the rain will settle in for the next couple of months, so I can't think of a better way to spend the end of one of the last fairly warm days we'll see for a while.
After we've eaten, Edward slides his sweatshirt over my head, and I huddle up close to him, our chests pressed together.
"That was a nice wedding," Edward says, resting his chin on the top of my head. "I should know. I've been to a ton of them."
"It really was. It would've been better if they'd had a piano playing during the ceremony, though."
He laughs a little and says, "I don't know, I liked the violins. Besides, from where I was sitting, I had a much better view of the Lady of Honor." He looks so amused, because he knows how much I hate that nickname Emmett gave me.
"I conned the caterer into giving me the recipe for that soup you liked, by the way."
"Too bad you couldn't get the recipe for the cake. I think they put addictive substances in it."
"It's probably a trick of the trade," I tell him, running my finger along the skin above the neck of his shirt. "They have to put something in there to make you forget that it cost two thousand dollars."
"Or not care that it cost two thousand dollars."
"Exactly. But that frosting alone was worth whatever it is that they paid."
"Mmm," he hums against my neck, and the shiver that rushes across my skin isn't from the breeze. "I wonder what some of that frosting would taste like here." He kisses the spot just behind my ear, and then moves those warm, perfect lips along the crook of my neck. "Or here."
"Such a sweet face and dirty mind," I tease. "One of the many things I love about you."
"What else do you love about me?"
"Let me see," I say, tapping my chin as if I have to think about it. And just to torture him a little, I take my sweet time. "I love your smile, and the way my heart flips whenever I hear you laughing. I love that you try to pass off all the bad music on your iPod as something you needed to rehearse for a wedding."
"I did need to rehearse some of that stuff!" He sounds kind of offended, but I see the playfulness in his eyes.
"Richard Marx? No one's played a song of his at a wedding since nineteen eighty-eight."
"Clearly you don't know much about the people of Port Angeles."
"Okay," I laugh. "I'll give you that one."
"Go on," he says, running his fingers up and down my back.
"I love that look on your face right before I wake you up in the morning, when your lips are parted just a little bit and your eyelids are still. Sometimes I run my fingers through your hair, and you press your cheek against my hand, like even in your sleep you were just waiting for me to touch you. And I love that you drive the long way home from work because you know how much I like the trees in that park off of Matthews Street."
"I didn't know you knew I did that," he says, his voice all quiet.
"I do. And I love that you danced with my mother last night, because my father hates suits and every kind of formal function known to man."
He brushes my hair away from my face, and it's the kind of feeling that makes me wish that the wind would always blow, so he can do this over and over again. And when he looks into my eyes, it's much too intense, but being lost in all that green makes me forget that there's a whole world outside the two of us.
"What are you thinking?"
"Your mom, she told me something about you last night while we were dancing, and now I understand your affection for trees a little more," he says, looking at the red-rimmed leaves above us.
"What'd she say?" My heart sinks so far I'm afraid I might make a dent in the ground, because I've got a pretty good idea of what it was.
"She told me about trees," he says, tracing the shell of my ear with his finger. "One tree in particular."
I'm not surprised that she shared this story with him, but I am surprised by how eager I am to tell my own version of it. My mother, she has a good memory, but she can only tell him what trails we took to get there, and how many pairs of jeans my brother and I ruined by hanging upside-down off of thick, crooked branches.
But I think I could make him fall in love with that place, too.
"We have a picture of that tree on our mantle in Forks."
"I'd like to see it," he whispers.
"We had to hike up a trail to get there; this winding, overgrown path that was off the road about halfway between Forks and Port Angeles. Dad knows all those trails like the back of his hand. Mom would pack us lunch, and on the rare days when it wasn't raining, we'd spend our Saturday afternoons in a clearing off that path. It was always so quiet, it made me feel like the words that we said mattered more, because they stayed in the air longer. And sometimes the sun would come out and shine right in this spot in the middle of all these old, beautiful trees, and that little ray was almost too perfect to touch," I explain, and I can almost smell the humidity, feel the damp air in my lungs.
"She didn't tell me any of that."
"I don't think she remembers it the same way I do." Edward twists a strand of my hair around his fingers, and I continue. "Mom and Dad got into a fight while we were there one afternoon, and my dad took Emmett off along one of the other trails, and Mom and I sat at that tree. The trunk wound its way into the ground in this odd tangle of bark, and it made the perfect place to sit. So, we sat there together, and she ran her fingers through my hair. My friend Amanda's parents were getting a divorce, and I asked Mom if she and Dad were going to get one, too."
"That must've freaked her out," Edward says.
"She was so different back then, you know? And she had the perfect answer. She told me that she and my father were like that tree. They met each other, they grew and grew, and they put down roots with Emmett and me. She and Dad would fight, just like leaves fall, but they always come back, more vibrant than they were the year before. She told me the most important thing was that the longer the tree was there, the stronger it got. The thing is," I say, swallowing against this knot in my throat, "it might be a little cheesy or overly symbolic, but it was such a poetic sentiment, especially coming from her. And...I figured that if I was ever going to get married, I wanted to get married there."
He's quiet for a moment, before something pulls him back to me. "No big ceremony with violins, a deejay, and two-thousand-dollar cake?"
"Nah," I tell him, shaking my head. "I've always wanted the roots, and the leaves, and the strength."
"Do you still think about that?"
"What, getting married under it?"
"Well, yeah. But...just...getting married in general. Do you think about it?"
He's so close, I wonder if he can hear the quickness of my breath, the way my heart's pound, pound, pounding in my chest.
"To anyone in particular, or..."
"To me, Bella." The words come out quickly, like he's been dying to know the answer to this question his entire life.
I, on the other hand, am dying to be asked a question, one I've never wanted to answer so badly until now.
"Sometimes, but...when I think about you I'm usually not thinking about weddings."
He swallows, and I swear I can hear it. "What do you think about?"
This peaceful wave washes over me, because there's some special kind of comfort in talking about the future with the person you know you're going to be sharing it with.
"I think about how sexy you'll look with a streak of gray right here," I say as I run my fingers through his soft hair, right above his left ear. "I think about sitting on a swing on our front porch, and what our house will smell like at Christmas. And most of all," I say, sliding my fingertips along my favorite spot on his cheek, "I think about what this dimple will look like when you're ninety. So, no. I don't think about getting married to you, Edward. I think about being married to you."
He kisses me, all warm and slow, his hands threading through my hair, and then our foreheads touch.
"Tell me what you want," he whispers.
And this is it. Even though part of me has always known that I would spend the rest of my life with him, this is the first time I'm actually saying it. I thought I'd be nervous, or scared, but there's not a trace of either of those things. I don't know why I ever expected to feel that way, because how can I be nervous when the man who can give me everything I've always wanted opens his arms and tells me to take it?
As I look at him, this slow smile pulls at my lips, and I move a little closer because I'll never be able to get close enough. I knit my fingers through his, and he's so warm. Everything about him is just so warm, and he loosens me up in ways that I never thought possible.
"What I want is...for you to make me couch beds when I'm sick," I say, and we both laugh this quick, quiet little laugh that's more tentative than either one of us is used to. "I want you to smile at me every day, and kiss me every night. I want us to huddle up close like this often, because we're always better when we're together. I want a mantle full of pictures, and pencil marks on the doorway of our pantry that show our kids growing up. And when we're really old, wearing diapers, and can't find our teeth, and days like this are foggy in our ancient minds, I want you to help me remember this. How the air felt crisp, and that the leaves were changing, and that we smiled like a couple of goofs because we had our whole lives in front of us."
"What if my mind goes first?" he asks.
"Then I'll be your memory," I whisper. "Tell me what you want."
The warmth of his breath brushes my cheek as he looks into my eyes, and my gaze flickers to his lips, because I'm so desperate to hear the words that are going to pass through them.
"I want you to wake me up every morning, because you kissing me is so much better than an alarm clock," he says, laughing. "I want a house with a banister our kids can slide down, and a treehouse they can climb up into. I want a back porch that's big enough for a telescope, so they can look at the sky and know just how big the universe is. I want a basketball hoop in our driveway, and I want to brush my teeth with you every night."
"What about when our teeth are gone?"
"Then we'll brush our dentures together, and every once in a while I'll come out of the bathroom in the morning wearing yours, just to make you laugh."
"That sounds like a deal," I say, laughing already.
And then he cradles my face between his hands, and makes this moment perfect.
"Most of all," he says, smiling, "I want to be your husband."
There's so much want between us, and for the very first time I feel like we can grasp at the air around us and make those dreams come true. I want all of them with him.
"I want to be your wife."
He untangles himself from me, and it makes my heart ache.
"No, no, no, no, no. Where are you going?" I'm tugging on his arm, he's laughing, and what he really needs to do is just get back down here where he belongs.
"I want to do this right."
"You're doing it right," I say, pulling him to me. "This is the right way to do it."
He takes a deep breath, trying to decide if he wants to give up tradition and just do what I'm asking him to. Finally, he sits down, and I scootch in, wrapping my arms around him so he can't move again.
But he does move, and when he pulls a small, black, velvet box out of his pocket, all the air is sucked out of the atmosphere.
He presses his finger against my lips, because he knows what I'm about to say, but I don't try to argue with him. I just listen.
"This belonged to my Grandmother Platt," he says, eyes shining. "She and my grandfather were married for seventy years." He somehow manages to slip the ring onto my finger, despite my shaking hand, and once it's on, his smile is more brilliant than the diamond. "And I want seventy more."
"It's beautiful," I whisper, even though that word doesn't come close to doing the ring justice, doesn't even come close to describing it. It's a round diamond in a platinum setting, with small diamonds that stretch along the length of the band. Looking at it now, it's exactly what I would've picked if I'd been able to pick it, and the fact that I have so much Edward wrapped around my finger makes me smile and sigh.
"My mom told me it's Edwardian, but she probably made that up to make it sound more romantic." He traces along the edge of the setting, and I think he likes seeing this ring on me almost as much as I like wearing it.
"Nah," I tell him, wrapping my arms around his neck. "Nothing could make this more romantic."
"Marry me," he whispers, his lips a breath from mine.
It doesn't even take me a second to answer, "Yes."
We both let out these quick, quiet laughs, and Edward holds my face in his hands as he says, louder this time, "Marry me."
"Yes," I repeat, matching my volume to his.
"Marry me!" he shouts, his lips stretched out into the widest smile I've ever seen.
"Yes!" I shout back, because I want the whole world to hear it.
We're all kisses, and pounding hearts, and promises, and forever. And I cry those happy tears, because I can't believe I get to have this for the rest of my life.
His thumbs wipe my tears away, and his lips wipe my words away, and we hold each other close.
"I'll give you roots," he says.
"You already do."
We practically float home, and once we're through the front door, we slip out of our clothes and into the bed. Our lips, and limbs, and bodies, and lives come together under the blanket of stars that light the night sky outside of our window. And as we lie together, muscles weak and hearts happy, skin against skin, I wrap my arms around my forever, and my forever wraps his arms around me.
I wake up sometime in the middle of the night, and even though I'm freezing, Edward's soft snores make me smile. He's all tangled up in the covers, leg flung off the side of the bed, hair a beautiful mess. Gently, with a technique I've perfected over the past couple of months, I slowly begin to extricate him from the knot of sheets. It usually works like a charm, but tonight, everything's different. I figure a steady pull will free the quilt, so I wrap it around my arm, careful not to wake Edward up.
When he doesn't budge, I pull harder, and then harder still until he rolls right off onto the floor with a loud thump. For some reason, I cover my mouth to hide my laugh, as if it would be humanly possible for him to sleep through that.
"What the fuck," he says in that cute, sleep-hazed voice as he sits up, rubbing his shoulder.
My first instinct is to lower myself back down onto the bed, to pretend like I wasn't responsible. But he hears me laughing because I can't even lie when I don't have to speak.
"You think this is funny?" he asks, trying to sound serious. "I've got some goods here that you definitely don't want to get damaged."
"Aw," I say in mock sympathetic voice that's annoyingly sweet. "I'll kiss your boo-boos and make them better if you quit being such a cover hog."
"I've got a better idea," he says, jumping on the bed and holding himself over me. "Human blanket!"
He goes limp on top of me for just a second, and even though the weight of him is nearly too much for me to handle, I don't push him away. I want to feel every inch of him, for the shape of my body to be imprinted on his.
Too soon he flips me over, and now I'm hovering over him, straddling his hips. We're all breathless from laughing, and in the quiet, he laces our fingers together. When he kisses the stretch of skin just above his grandmother's ring, I see the rest of our lives in his eyes.
"Where does it hurt?" I whisper.
His mouth turns up in that crooked smile that lights me up inside, and he points to his wrist, and then the place on the inside of his arm just above that. And then the place just above that, and the place above that, too. He wants me to take my time, and I can do this all night, because this is the only place we have to be in the morning.
As my lips kiss a trail along his warm, smooth skin, and my heart races in my chest, turning on every switch in my body, I realize that we had it all wrong when we were standing on Tanya's front porch all those months ago, dreaming about moments like this one.
After all that we've been through together, we'll always look forward to the simple things that other couples take for granted, like movie nights on the couch, wrapped up in blankets, followed by lazy Sunday mornings in bed, wrapped up in each other. Maybe our future is full of those, I don't know. But I do know this.
Edward and I will never be ordinary.
I'm sad to say that this is the end of their story. There will be no epilogue.
Thanks to Emily who has been so patient while she waited for me to finish this story. She's the best person a gal could ever ask to be auctioned off to. WriteOnTime is my amazing beta, and Beth has the unfortunate task of prereading. As always, I edit the crap out of this, so if there are any mistakes, they belong to me, not them. Thanks to everyone who put up with me and listened to my neuroses while I was writing this (Nina, Beth, Ser, Anya, and Katie to name a few).
And thank you all for sharing your kind words about this story with me. If you have a minute, I'd love to hear from you one last time!
I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.