The cake was demolished, and the music playing over the hidden speakers shifted to fun dancey numbers to compliment the amount of sugar that had just been consumed.
I was enveloped in Edward's arms amidst a small crowd of dancers. The two of us stole brief kisses and secret smiles, and I mostly forgot to move my feet. "People are staring," I said.
"You're beautiful. I'm staring." Edward trailed his fingertips over the top lace trim of my dress for the thousandth time. It turned out that he did indeed appreciate the dress's neckline.
"I'm supposed to change into a traveling outfit or something," I said a bit fuzzily. The details were too much for me to keep straight. I'd been depending on Alice to make sure I didn't forget anything. But as I glanced around the room, she was nowhere to be seen. "Where's Alice?"
Edward closed his eyes a moment, I supposed in search of his sister. "Ah. Esme saw her and Jasper sneak out after the toast."
"Sneak out? Why?"
Edward cracked a crooked grin at me. "Because I rather overwhelmed Jasper's delicate sensibilities earlier when I removed the garter from your leg, and he could no longer stand to wait," Edward answered.
I remained puzzled but just as I was about to ask another question, Alice appeared. The careful finger-waves that had been set into her short hair earlier were gone, and in their stead was a more rocked-out 'do that suited her equally well.
"Come on." She took hold of my arm in a death-grip as though worried she'd have to physically pry me away from Edward. "Time to pack up for the honeymoon!" And with that, the moxie little sprite dragged me up the stairs.
Even my human ears could hear the party going on below as I stood in Alice's room, watching her flutter from closet to dresser and back again.
I could hear Jessica Stanley's drunken guffaw, and didn't bother to ask Alice if Jessica was drunk on champagne or Jasper's help. The music played on and people laughed and said farewells, oblivious to the fact that they were in the company of vampires or werewolves or massive bouts of preternatural tension that could explode in some kind of mythic war at any moment.
"Okay, Official Sister," Alice said, zipping up a surprisingly modest sized suitcase. "I think this is everything you'll need."
"Is my husband in there?" I joked with a limp smile.
I hadn't realized I would take to calling Edward that like I had in my head over the past hour. I liked it.
"Edward is talking over the implications of our uninvited guest."
"What? With whom? Does he think he can shove me away in a room and-"
"Bella, don't get upset. I'm not there either," Alice shrugged. "This is what you should wear for the trip." She held up some clothes that I ignored. "The matching jacket is right on top in your suitcase. I think you'll like Alaska. You've already met everyone but Irina."
"Am I even going to Alaska? What are they talking about? Is that clock right?" I babbled, my thoughts jumbled and my stomach in knots.
"Of course you are. And you'll want a book for the journey." She disappeared in a blur then reappeared before I could even wonder where she'd gone. In her arms was the stack of books I bought at the Port Angeles book store the day before: my freshman reading list.
I crossed over to her lamp table and picked up Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
"She was your age when that was first published, you know," Alice said. "I'll ship the rest to you."
With a shrug, I tossed the paperback at my suitcase. I was expressly determined not to be distracted from my annoyance at being left out or shielded or whatever was going on.
At that moment, the door opened and the very subject of my thoughts came striding briskly in with Jasper behind him. He opened his mouth to speak, then paused and looked at me for a moment.
I stared back, and watched as a breathtaking smile slowly unfurled on his face.
"Hi," I said meekly, forgetting the irritation and suddenly feeling shy in the hold of his vibrant eyes.
"Hi," he repeated.
Funny, how in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle and imminent war or fake helicopter crash, that a giddy feeling of jubilant love deep in my stomach still danced there for him.
Edward blinked once slowly from across the room, just watching me for a moment, and I stared right back.
His bowtie had been unknotted and left limp around the still crisp shirt collar. Two buttons were open at his throat, and the jacket was unbuttoned. And somehow, he managed to look relaxed.
No, more than relaxed.
He looked happy.
I smiled back, and in an instant he was across the room and holding my hand.
"I'll go check on the departing guests," Alice said quietly before flitting out of the room with Jasper's hand in hers.
I gazed up at Edward, foolishly trying to read his inscrutable face. "Will you kiss me?"
Edward took a deep breath and pulled me into his arms, resting his chin atop my head while he spoke.
"Why start denying you now?" Edward asked.
His cool lips found mine, and when I pulled myself into him, he didn't pause or pull away. He let me cling to him and he kissed me with a new kind of fervor that felt like a new kind of fever.
My mind flashed back to the time in the woods when I'd scratched my palm and he bandaged my hand and kissed over the wound.
It hadn't bothered him at all.
Therefore, it quickly occurred to me that for quite some time, his resistance to our physical relationship was based solely on the fact that we weren't married.
And now we were.
And now there was just no reason to stop.
His icy mouth left my lips, but only to travel to the side of my neck and then the center of my throat. I felt his fingers graze up to the back of my neck, then into my hair.
I heard the tiny clicks and clacks of hair pins falling to the floor while he carried on at my collar bone and shoulders with his lips.
I was fairly certain my knees gave way a while ago, but it didn't matter, because he held me up and angled my body in ways that suited his own.
"Can we?" I panted. "Right now?"
Edward didn't answer me with words, instead my back arched and he supported my weight with one hand and kissed down until he reached my modest cleavage.
I made an embarrassing noise, and I felt his breathing stop. No longer was his cool breath ghosting along my skin with the rest of him.
"Don't stop," I urged him on, and then his face turned to the side, his cheek resting against my chest.
He was listening to my heart, and it was the very last thing I wanted on his mind right now.
"No," I whispered.
He lifted his head, and I expected to see sad, unwilling eyes, but I didn't.
There was a darker shade swirled deeply in the topaz, and he lifted one eyebrow at me.
"The days for this are numbered," he said.
"Thank god," I murmured back.
He sighed heavily then did something Edward had never done before. His tongue ran from my cleavage to my collarbone and I turned into dead weight in his arms.
I heard him laugh, slow and soft, and I wound my fingers in his hair, pulling him up to kiss me.
"Dammit," he muttered, just before I was able to get my lips to his.
Suddenly, I was upright and Edward ran his hand down the back of my hair, trying to smooth it while I made a sound between the words "what" and "no".
Then the door opened.
Jessica Stanley stumbled in with Mike Newton directly behind her; both of them looking a little disheveled themselves.
"Hey—oh! Whoa! This isn't the bathroom," Mike said.
"It's the honeymoon," Jessica chortled. "Wow. Bella. Nice."
"Oh my gosh," I muttered, trying to hide my red face in Edwards side, who must've enjoyed this because he actually dodged so I couldn't hide behind him.
"Congratulations. This is like the best party in the history of Forks," Mike said, and Edward reached out to shake his hand.
"Yeah. Congratulations," Jessica repeated to me, then gave a not-so-discreet thumbs-up as she jerked her head not very subtly in Edward's direction.
Or in the direction of his lap.
That must've been why he wouldn't let me hide behind him. He wanted to hide behind me.
"Uh, thanks," I said.
"Sucks about the weather, but then you know, I figured the indoor thing was so much more Bella," Jessica said. "I mean, you slipped going down the aisle indoors; can you imagine in the drizzle? And anyway, it's totally The. Event. down there. I heard at least ten girls saying they wanted a wedding just like it. Everyone's gonna have pictures of those flowers on their Facebooks tomorrow."
"Yeah, and everybody's following your lead and ditching their shoes to dance barefoot on the flower petals," Mike said, wiggling his toes in the air.
"Yeah, so you're probably better off up here," Jessica giggled. "Normally I'd never say anything, but Tyler's feet are really ripe."
"Right. Thanks," I said.
Mike tugged on her arm, but Jessica was undaunted. "I guess you won't be coming back down to the party though, huh? What time's your flight? We can just tell people you got too overcome with honeymoon nerves to stand down there and say bye to everyone."
My mouth opened without producing any sound, so Edward answered for me. "You're a great help, Jessica."
"No problem. I used to cover for my cousin and her boyfriend all the time on holidays when they got 'too nervous' to hang with everybody, too." Jessica not only made air quotes with her fingers, she also whispered her conspiratorial promise so loudly that the party guests had probably all heard it over the music. "I'm a pro at this."
"Oh, god," I muttered while Edward just stared at her in amusement.
"Well, you two have fun," she winked, and while Mike ushered her out, I distinctly heard her say, "Told you so."
"Well. That was humiliating," I mumbled when the door shut behind them.
"But I learned yet another benefit of being married to you," Edward smiled.
"What?" I asked, warily.
"Driving Newton practically insane. That boy has a huge issue with coveting," Edward smirked.
I tugged on Edward's collar. "I don't want to think about Mike Newton right now."
"Where were we?" I asked, going for the third button on his shirt.
"We were getting way too carried away, if I recall," he said, brushing my hands away.
"What?" I gasped. "What on earth kind of excuse could you possibly have now?"
"Don't be ridiculous, I'm not making excuses. I'm just saying maybe you wouldn't want to have any more Forks High alumni join us on our ''honeymoon' or your parents, for that matter. Not to mention my nosey family of eavesdroppers."
"Well then, what would you like to do with me—" I stopped and thought for a moment. "I won't call you Mr. Cullen because that's like everyone in your family, so what will you do with me, husband?"
He smiled brightly at me. "Maybe I'd like another dance with my beautiful bride on my wedding day," Edward said.
He put my arms around his neck and I took my place on his feet and he swayed us slowly. Every once in a while he'd whisper the happenings of what was going on downstairs, things his hearing was privy to, into my ear.
"Angela is trying to get Ben to do the Macarena," he said. "It isn't going to happen."
I smiled at the thought of Angela downstairs, smiling and laughing, enjoying Ben in a carefree way that almost, but not quite, made me jealous.
"Sue pulled Charlie out to dance; he's actually not that bad."
"Charlie is dancing?" I bleated out. "Actual dancing? With steps? Not just standing in place and waving side to side?"
"Two whole steps. He's counting them out as he dances!" Edward laughed lightly at me. "He gets along quite well with Sue."
"Yes, they've always had a friendly acquaintance thing," I shrugged.
"Yeah—wait. Wait. Does Charlie…like Sue?"
"Sue's lonely since Harry's death," Edward said slowly, and I could tell, even from up here, he was in their thoughts.
"Wow," I mumbled. "Are they…"
"That wouldn't be fair, Bella. Besides, do you really want to know?"
"I want to know Charlie's happy," I ventured slowly. "But that's all."
"I think… Charlie is going to be very happy."
"Okay… good. Were you having some kind of summit meeting without me?" I changed the subject, hoping for a real answer.
Edward pulled away from me just enough to peer down into my eyes for a moment.
"You said you wanted to change clothes, so I was catching up with the situation." He ran his hands up and down my back, allowing his arms to reach to their fullest length, meaning his hands enjoyed a caress of my hips and bottom. "But I'm glad you still have the dress on. I like it."
My heart pounded against his chest, trying to break in.
"Ah, and the—ah- situation?"
"The family is discreetly taking turns running concentric circles around the area."
I tilted my head to one side and peered at him.
"Why?" I asked slowly in one long, drawn-out syllable.
"To make sure no one was traveling with Gianna. Or tracking her, rather. She mentioned that Demitri preceded her as far as Utah. But right now, as far as she knows, she's alone. However, if the Volturi are close by, we need to know. Alice thinks not. She sees Gianna sliding her passport through a self check-in kiosk at the airport and discovering that she has been booked to Florence via Chicago."
"Jake didn't stick around for cake."
"No. Leah got wind of his return and nabbed him for a word before he could run off again."
I actually felt my face drain of color.
"In case he takes off again," Edward corrected upon seeing my reaction. "He doesn't plan to. Jacob means to stick around and protect you from me."
Half-heartedly changing the subject, I asked if they'd found any sign of when the Volturi were planning to drop in.
"We've found no sign of anything but the Pack. Last time Carlisle stopped in, he said he scented five different wolves running their boundary. Jake must've filled Sam in as soon as he left here. Seth says they're on the alert for any new vampires in the area, but there's been nothing."
"He's come and gone a few times. Kid's a bundle of energy."
"Hmmm," I hummed against his chest and closed my eyes; with the strategic debriefing done for the time being my head swam with visions of darting vampires and wolves.
"Mike and Jessica are still in the upstairs bathroom. Esme isn't going to be happy about that mess."
"Oh, ick!" I laughed. The tension was broken just like that.
"I won't even tell you what happened in the pantry."
I knew Edward was distracting me, but I let him. To dwell on the intrigue and all the impending plans would surely leave me in a panicked ball of nerves. So I let his voice and the small, light-hearted tidbits of information from downstairs soothe me, distract me.
"Deputy Mark thought the caviar was boysenberries. He vomited in the east hedge."
As twilight descended on the house, the sound of the door opening and closing and of Esme and Carlisle telling people to drive safely became more common.
"It seems Renee has celebrated a bit too much," he said, nearly wincing. "Phil is coaxing her into going back to the hotel… he's promised her you'll call as soon as we return."
"But there won't be a return," I whispered.
"She's leaving now, Bella."
"Okay," I said, my voice cracking.
"Do you want to say goodbye again—"
"No! No. This is… just…"
And then I was crying right into his fancy tuxedo shirt.
"She's gone," he murmured, and we were no longer dancing, but he cradled and rocked me back and forth while I cried.
I cried for Renee, and her naivety to the whole situation and how I felt some kind of rip in my stomach the moment Edward said she had left.
I cried for what I knew that she didn't. That the next phone call concerning me that she got would be to report my death.
Edward murmured the names of each guest walking out the door, a slow trickle that picked up pace over time while I alternately cried or sniffled, saying a final good bye to each of them.
Edward didn't ask again if I was okay or if I wanted to go downstairs, he let me drip tears on his shirt and say goodbye, the whole time looking as if his own heart were breaking.
"I'm sorry," I said, wiping at my face.
"Don't be sorry. Take as long as you need. You can take forever."
"My forever," I said, sniffling back a sob, "is going to be much happier than this."
"I should hope so," Edward smiled in a brave way that almost teased, and I smiled back through my almost-broken heart and flood of tears.
"I want you to know," I said, "that all of that, wasn't as hard as losing you. Just so you're sure. So you know."
He kind of winced then nodded slowly.
"I didn't say that to make you feel bad. I told you so you know I'm sure. I've made the right choice."
"I just hate that there had to be a choice at all. Most people don't have to make such sacrifices just to-"
"Most people don't get to have a love like this, either."
Edward's eyes snapped to mine, and he was silent for a moment, then his fingers swiftly swiped under my eyelids, sweeping away the tears.
"That, Isabella Cullen," he said, "is a very good point." He softly kissed my eyelids and brows.
Author's note: Hi, I just wanted to remind everyone that this story is a few weeks ahead over on A Different Forest. You can find it under jandco on the "Storytelling" page at www [dot] adifferentforest [dot] com and for tweets on updates here at FanFiction or at A Different Forest, you can follow this story on twitter: HighNoon_