Chapter 18 Bars and Wars

The wedding is finally here. When we reach the Cullen's house it is already an organized chaos. The photographer and florist are each setting up for photos. Alice was calmer than I had expected. I suspect Carlisle may have dosed her. The words she kept repeating certainly don't sound like the Alice I knew.

"Well, I did everything I could for it to be perfect, what happens, happens now Bella." She even looked like she was convinced herself.

Our makeup and hair were done and Carlisle pokes his head in to say that it was almost time for the photographer. Esme and I help Alice into her dress and she looks even more beautiful with the hair and makeup done. As she steps into her heels, she turns and looks into the mirror and smiles.

"You look so beautiful Alice. I look at her for a long moment and think how different it is from my wedding day all those years ago. I could never imagine going through what Alice did to plan this day, but as I look at her I think "now that is how a bride is meant to look."

Esme began to cry, looking at her only daughter. Alice hugs her and tells her not to mess up her makeup. We began to laugh and Alice grins, winking at her mother and announcing it is time.

The photographer takes more pictures than I can count and we haven't even left the house yet.

I could already feel my face straining with the smiles. We quickly make our way to the backdrop Alice had decided on for the outdoor pictures in the back yard. Esme had gone to a lot of work designing a beautiful landscape just for the occasion. I couldn't help but chuckle thinking of how differently Charlie would have handled a wedding. I could just imagine kegs lining the back deck.

As last the final outdoor picture is snapped, Jasper walking toward me in a tux stops me cold. He looks so handsome. Catching the naughty grin he was shooting me I have a feeling he is having similar thoughts about me. I barely notice the flashes out of the corner of my eye when Jasper pulls me into his arms kissing me and turning me against his chest, my back against him, his head on my shoulder. I hear a soft chorus of awes and realize that the entire family is watching us and the photographer is snapping away at Jasper and I.

The blush on my cheeks burns and I can't help but drop my head attempting to hide my embarrassment. Jasper only lifts my chin with his delicate touch and whispers into my ear, only causing the blush to turn from pink to crimson.

Carlisle is finally the one to rescue me. He claps his hands together and announces it is time to go if we are getting to the wedding venue on time. As if on cue the limousines pull up in the front drive and Edward turns his back walking into the house, the rest of the group following closely. Jasper kept my hand in his and holds us back a minute. "You look so beautiful Bella, I am so sorry you never got this pomp and circumstance with our wedding."

"Jasper this is a bit extreme, I would have never wanted this, I mean can you even picture Charlie then with all this?" I waved my hand around the yard and toward the house and laughed as Jasper shudders.

"True, but my mom would have taken over anyway, you know that, right?" Jasper starts walking toward the house, leading me at his side.

I pull on Jasper's hand stopping him just before we walk into the house. "Jasper, I don't regret a thing about the way we did things, don't you ever think that I do. I married my best friend that day."

Jasper turns to face me, his hands on my hips, his eyes looking into mine. "Bella, the one thing I have done in this life that I have no doubts about, is marrying you." His forehead leans in and rests against mine for a moment. "Let's go watch your friends tie the knot."

We slide into the limousine and the never ending excited chatter that fills the air as we make our way to the venue. Jasper ends up across the seat from me with Carlisle listing all the things that Jasper needs to check on. I watch as he listens intently, a polite nod here and there and I smile.

Esme begins a teary journey down memory lane, recounting Alice as a child and then as a young teen, of her first dance and first boyfriend. Edward grimaces and turns his eyes out the opposite window.

The rest of the bridal party in the following limousine can be heard singing out the windows. I half wish I were with them and laugh at the knowing look Alice shoots at me.

Before I know it we are waiting at the closed doors of the ceremony site, the guests have all been seated, the music playing. I hear the signal and adjust Alice's dress, Carlisle stepping in to offer his arm. I watch the doors open and the girls in front of me start their way down the aisle.

It is my turn and I look to the front, Edward standing there, looking toward me, an empty gaze to his eyes. I look at the rows of seated guests catching sight of Jasper, his eyes moving between Edward and myself. I can see the slight furrow of his brow and the turn to a smile as he faces me.

I place one foot in front of the other and begin to walk the length of the runner to the front, stopping just before Edward, taking his arm to walk the remaining few feet in silence. He never so much as acknowledges me before dropping his arm as we separate to take our places, turning to watch Alice.

I can hear the soft intake of breath from Peter as Alice steps to the doorway and beams radiantly. Esme chokes back a quiet sob and the march begins, every guest standing at once, all eyes on Alice and Carlisle as they make their way to the front, to Peter.

Try as I might to listen to the words spoken, the memories of years ago dull the prose and blind me to anything other than a young soldier, short clipped words announcing us husband and wife and the wide eyed innocence of two kids. I can't help but smile and glance back at Jasper. To find his eyes on me, ignoring the ceremony as did I, sends a shudder along my spine starting at the base of my neck and slowing into a burning rolling at my core.

I turn quickly away; sure my cheeks were glowing with the thoughts running through my mind.

Alice turns to me, handing over her bouquet, "Pay attention Bella," she giggles and turns back to Peter.

I bite my lip and watch as the rings are blessed and exchanged and vows recited. I adjust Alice's train a couple times; making sure it is perfect for her. Although the ceremony is beautiful, I can't help but think how true my words to Jasper earlier were. What we had may have been simple and not fitting Alice for sure, it was perfect for us. This, this was too much. Every eye is on the bride and groom, whispers and approvals floating on the air, all the time in preparations and the money. My God, the money spent was enough to make me dizzy. I doubt Jasper and I have spent as much throughout our entire marriage.

By the time the ceremony was ending I was grinning and I am sure it seemed like I was happy for the couple. I was, very happy for Alice and Peter but I was also realizing that Jasper and I are not everyone else and that was exactly why we worked. It was time I put more faith in us and stopped worrying about what anyone else told me was normal or right.

Taking Edward's obligatorily proffered arm, I scoff at him. He actually blinks and stutters for a moment, I grin and wink at Jasper as we pass by and dropping Edward's arm at the front of the aisle I turn and wait for Jasper.

The moment he makes it to the aisle I grab him and kiss him, "Thank you for never putting me through all that." We laugh and take the bottles of bubbles from the basket held out by one of the other bridesmaids. Jasper begins blowing bubbles at Alice and Peter and the cameras start flashing in our eyes once more.

The bubbles seem to float and carry us from the back of the ceremony to the cocktail hour. Everywhere a consistent buzz filled with oohs and ahhs over Alice's dress, the rings, and the flowers. Alice is beaming and Peter looks like the cat that ate the canary. I think back to the library and suddenly laugh at the image of Peter, coffee and books piled high. I can't help but remember the first time he and Alice met. I know they each found their other half that night sitting at my bar.

I can hear the whispered murmurs about Edward's solemn behavior, the musings on his coming dateless and who he will be leaving with and follow the conversation to his back. He stands at the bar and I watch as he downs a double with barely a breath and sigh hoping he doesn't do something stupid and ruin Alice's day.

The next thing I know I am being pulled along behind the bride with a chorus of instructions on readying her for the receiving line and touching up makeup. She is positively buzzing with energy and excitement and I decide to make no mention of the brooding best man bellied up to the bar already.

With an efficiency known only to the best of the bridezillas Alice has me walked through bustling her train and adjusting her headpiece and removing the veiling. As she pulls me to her in a tight squeeze beaming about how happy she is and kisses my cheek, she takes my hands and looks at me for a long moment.

"Bella, do not let my jackass of a brother get to you. Not today, not ever. His problems are his problems, they are not yours, promise me that." I just look at her and furrow my brow wondering why she is bringing this up now. Maybe she saw him moping at the house or sitting disengaged in the limo. Maybe she saw him at the bar after all.

"No worries, he isn't bothering me one bit. Jasper will put him in his place if he steps out of line today Alice, don't you worry, we won't let him put a damper on your day," I said.

Alice stares at me without saying a word, and finally declares that it is time for us to stand in the receiving line. I follow along and take a place just before Alice and Peter at the front of the line and greet their guests until the last one, Jasper. He kisses me lightly and together we make our way down the remainder of the receiving line congratulating the newlyweds and their family.

Jasper escorts me to the bridal party table and kisses the tip of my nose before making his way to his seat with Carlisle and Esme. I suddenly remember to be nervous about the toasts to come and find myself pleasantly surprised when Edward offers the most magnanimous speech and I can see the tears well in Alice's eyes. I glance to Carlisle and Esme as he makes mention of their parents and see Esme sobbing. Jasper is watching Edward and there is a look of concern and perplexity lining his face, his eyes dart from one Cullen to the next and finally land on me and he looks surprised to see me watching him. Gone are the odd looks I can't quite explain replaced with a genuine smile.

The toasts conclude and all through dinner I can feel this sense of foreboding. I push it to the side and focus on Alice and the amazing meal, but something is gnawing at me slowly, deep down.

The minute dinner is over I join Jasper and only leave his side to attend Alice and pose for pictures. The night seems to be moving so fast, before I know it there is a call for the wedding party to come to the dance floor. I smile watching Peter twirl Alice around the floor and leave Jasper at the edge of the floor to join Edward as Best Man and Matron of Honor in the obligatory dance. The thought of strangling Alice for picking the longest song in history goes through my mind.

Edward wraps his arms around me and pulls me just a little too close. I swallow the lump in my throat and pray he doesn't pull something. I place one hand on his shoulder, the other at his waist and startle as I feel his warm breath on my neck and his whispered words in my ear.

"Bella, don't say anything, just listen." I nod in agreement with his words, my stomach flipping over and over.

"I have been offered a position in LA, it is a once in a lifetime kind of offer Bella. I have to tell them Monday. I can't accept it without telling you, I love you Bella, I have been in love with you since your freshman year, hell since I first met you. I know he is your husband, I know you love him, but I know you feel something for me too. Bella tell me I have a chance, tell me to stay and I will turn it down. Tell me you love him and will never leave him and I will go and never bring it up again. Bella please, I know I can make you happy, I will always be here for you, I won't ever leave you alone, please Bella."

I feel like I am going to be sick. That feeling of my stomach dropping, my jaw slack, I thank God Edward cannot see my face. I step on his toe and stumble, his strong hands catch me and he recovers keeping us floating around the dance floor as though he hadn't just pulled the rug out from under both our lives.

"Say something, please Bella." Edward sounds as though he is pleading for his life and in a way, I realize he is. I wonder what would have happened if I had never moved with Charlie, had I never met Jasper in high school, had I met Edward Cullen the first day of my freshman year. I close my eyes and know; I would have ended up with him. I would have married him. But that isn't the way life played out. I did move to Forks, I did meet Jasper and I love him. No matter what difficulties we have had, no matter what difficulties are yet to come, I love my husband.

I take a deep breath break his heart. "Edward, had things been different, I would have fallen for you that first day. I didn't because I love Jasper, I have always loved Jasper and I will always love Jasper. I am so sorry, Edward, if you love me, please find someone that can give you their heart the way you deserve. I am always going to care about you; I just want you to find someone that can be what you deserve."

"Well, I couldn't leave without trying. I promise Bella, this is the last we will ever discuss it. Friends?" He asks as the music comes to an end and he steps back and smiles that dazzling smile at me.

"Friends." I return his smile, replying and suddenly feel Peter take my elbow and whisper that it is his turn, his bride wants to dance with her brother.

I take Peter's lead and feel him whisper in my ear, "Are you alright? He told you didn't he?"

I wasn't quite sure whether Peter meant Edward telling me he was moving or that he was in love with me, and decide it didn't really matter. "Yes, he told me, and yes I am alright, thanks." We finished the dance in silence and before I knew it I was in Carlisle's arms as Edward took his mother for a spin around the floor. I looked at them and saw them both smiling and laughing. Carlisle expertly moves us away from the fray and tells me how proud he is of me, his third child, his other daughter and hopes that that role will never change. I smile and say "I'd like that dad."

Jasper steps up at the end of the dance and takes my hands in his. We begin to dance and midway through the song he stops, looks at me and asks, "Bella will you marry me?" I laugh and push playfully at his chest and we begin to dance again.

"I am serious Bella. So much has happened, we have spent so many years apart. If we had it to do over again, I would marry you all over, so what do you say, let's start fresh, let's do it again, marry me?"

I say the only thing I will ever say to Jasper, "Yes."

Author's Note: I really hope that you enjoyed the story. This one took a lot out of me personally and I struggled with finishing it. There you have it, a happily ever after, because what I have come to realize is that you don't get a happily ever after without hard work, trials and tribulations.

It is ironic that when this story first started pulling at me and inching its way into my heart, I had no idea just how life would imitate art. I am happy to report that since I first had this idea, our son is now proudly serving in the US Army, has married a wonderful girl and we now have a beautiful granddaughter. I am now seeing close to firsthand just how difficult the life of a military wife and family is. I had absolutely no clue when I started this as an outline that when I finished it my own family would be spending sleepless nights worrying about someone we love across the world in harm's way. My thanks to all who have made the sacrifices to serve and protect every one of us. My prayers for the safety of not only our son, but every member of the armed forces wherever you may be. God bless you and thank you.