A/N: Thank you so much again for your reviews and alert and attention, everyone, they all mean a lot! I added pics of Bella's dress and shoes to my profile so make sure to have a look at those. Also, I'm currently working on a few more Twilight pieces, so keep an eye on those alerts!
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
The garden exploded with cheers when Alice and Jasper's kiss sealed the service. I only pretended to be part of the mayhem. The sound got stuck halfway up my throat, blocked by this lump that had formed there halfway through the service. I clutched my bouquet tighter and watched them through a veil of tears. I was glad Alice's attention was diverted. At least she wouldn't be able to yell at me I was ruining the makeup she'd spent hours applying. I caught the eye of her maid of honor, one of her cousins I hadn't known until four days ago. She smiled sympathetically as if she knew exactly how I felt.
I stepped aside once family members dashed forward to congratulate the happy couple. It didn't seem right to barge in to this private moment. I'd have enough time to hug both of them later. My eyes flew over the strangers now, trying to hunt that pair of emerald eyes that had kept me distracted throughout the service. He should be easy to spot with his cerulean blue dress shirt, probably with Angela and Ben someplace because he didn't know anyone here too. But then I saw them, laughing about something across the garden, without him.
I lay my bouquet on one of the seats in the front row, biting my lip as I straightened up. My feet were killing me. I couldn't understand how it was possible, considering I'd been wearing these damn shoes for two hours each day in the passing week just to avoid the pain and blisters today. Considering how awful it felt now, it didn't do much good. They looked innocent enough – small and satin and matching my dress – but I'd never worn anything more lethal. I couldn't wait to find our table and crash into my seat for the rest of the day.
I was still lost in this thought when his arms were suddenly around me. I started, but my yelp was swallowed by the clamor. I wasn't expecting him to appear from right behind me. I spun to face him and threw my arms around him, still half crying, but half laughing too. He laughed softly and pulled me closer. I lay my cheek against his chest and exhaled slowly as he tightened his embrace. Days of anxiety and stress and stage fright dissolved into thin air when he held me.
"Relieved?" he asked, gently pulling away, as he flashed his crooked smile at me.
"Does that mean you'll finally come over tonight?" he whispered seductively. His grin widened as if he noticed me shiver.
Although in the past month or so we'd been spending nights at each other's apartments, the last week had been so hectic that it forced us to part. I'd spent the last three nights at Alice's, occupied by wedding preparations. Looking up at him, it seemed as if the last few nights had taken their toll on him as well. I grinned and pressed myself closer against him as I stood on tiptoes to whisper in his ear, cringing only slightly at the pain that shot right through me. "Yes, I think that can be managed."
He leaned over ever so slightly; so did I. His eyes met mine, and I could see a similar intention reflecting in his stare, but before either of us could act on it, I heard Angela calling my name, waving at us from what I assumed was our table. I looked up at him again, and shrugged. He grinned; there was promise in his eyes. Later.
The Newtons intercepted me halfway to our table. Mike, surprisingly (and yet, thankfully), was nowhere to be seen, but I'd caught a glimpse of him earlier with Lauren Mallory. Mrs. Newton asked me who my friend was, all the while eyeing Edward openly and curiously. Mr. Newton surprised me when he told her who he was. There was appreciation in his eyes when they met mine. There was something strangely reassuring in knowing he thought I'd chosen well.
Lunch was served shortly afterwards, after a few toasts by Alice's dad and Jasper's best man. I only caught a glimpse of Alice; she didn't seem willing to leave Jasper's side, and I didn't want to interrupt. Besides, I had tons of catching up to do with Angela, after a week of constantly missing each other. At some point, between the appetizers and the main dish, Ben and I switched seats because Edward teased us about speaking over his head while he could be speaking to Ben instead of trying to keep up with us.
Edward, like me, didn't make friends easily. This was why it surprised me how quickly he bonded with Ben. They had a lot in common, apparently. They liked the same baseball team, and had a secret passion for old comic books. It was actually kind of great because this way we could all hang out together. At first I feared that being with Edward would keep me away from my friends, because I wanted to be with him all the time. But with him getting along so well with them, there was no reason for me to be away.
"So Bella, are you in?" Ben asked me when Angela and I eventually tried to catch up on their conversation.
"In on what?" I asked, a bit confused, as I looked from him to Edward.
"I'm sorry?" I blinked, unsure if I heard Ben correctly.
"We want to go fishing," he replied, shrugging. Between us, Edward nodded seriously, irresistibly.
"You want to go fishing," I repeated slowly, trying my best not to laugh. "Well that's… random," I added, looking up at Edward. "Since when do you like fishing?"
He laughed softly. "There are a few things you don't know about me yet."
"Fishing?" I asked again, skeptically.
"I used to be quite good at it… when I was thirteen."
I was immediately distracted by a vision of thirteen year old Edward trying to handle a fishing rod twice his size.
"Come on, Bella, don't be such a girl," Ben complained, and I realized to my horror he was serious.
"Camping," I said, half to myself, half to them, still in that doubtful sort of tone. I sighed, and glanced at Angela, who looked amused by the whole exchange.
"Well, I do have some days off I haven't used yet. I guess we could go in August at some point."
"Awesome!" Ben rejoiced, and slapped Edward a high five as if they were both eight. It was quite cute actually.
This got them all excited, and for the past hour or so they sat there prattling like two old ladies, discussing routes and reservations and cabins. I just sat there watching them incredulously, wondering how I'd got myself into it. Then at some point lunch was over and the music resumed. Ben, who had to let some of that energy off, wanted to dance, so Angela and him left. I looked after them, smiling at the sight of Angela's lavender sundress. I really liked this one; it fit her well.
There was a shift to my right, and suddenly his breath was hot against my neck. I started; I didn't realize he was sitting so close. I looked around us, embarrassed, but we were the only ones around the table. The dance floor suddenly looked packed. I looked up at him, well aware of the fact my face was probably still flushed bright pink.
"Dance with me," he whispered, dazzling me with that smoldering stare again.
"No," I said, softly so he wouldn't be offended. Then I cracked a smile; he did too. This wasn't a new argument. He'd known the answer before he asked it.
"I heard all your silly excuses. If you want me to stop asking, you'll have to come up with a good one."
"My feet are killing me in those stupid shoes."
"Take them off," he reasoned.
I sulked. "And risk Alice hunting me down? No way. She made us promise we wouldn't take them off. They're original Manolo Blahnik, you know."
He rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything further. Instead, his eyes scanned the dance floor over my shoulder. Then, a moment later, his lips curled in a mischievous grin. He stood up and held out his hand. "Come on."
"Edward, no – "
"Come on. Trust me."
"But those shoes – "
"You won't need them." I eyed him dubiously, suspiciously. He held his own. "Trust me."
Sighing, I placed my hand in his. His grip was confident, and he had that smug grin on as if he knew he was going to win. He slowed down his pace so I could follow better, half walking, half limping in those god-awful shoes. To my horror, he headed straight to the floor. I meant to tell him there was no way I would be submitting myself to this, but then held the protest back because we simply crossed it through the swaying, sweaty bodies.
"Where are you taking me?" I giggled. He threw me a look from over his shoulder, but said nothing. He turned away before I could even make sense of his expression.
A moment later, I had my answer. I gasped, then halted, and stared at the familiar structure with my jaw dropped. I'd seen the gazebo before, of course; the service had taken place right next to it. But I hadn't thought much of it before he led me there. I hesitantly followed him up the three stairs, and hoped he wouldn't be able to feel the racing rhythm of my heart.
He motioned to the stone bench that circled the gazebo's length. I sat down, still in a daze, and he knelt in front of me. Slowly, he pulled my right leg up and lay it on his thigh. His touch was light, gentle, tickling my ankle. He eased the straps off my skin, taking first one shoe off, then the other. All the while I was watching his movements, oddly transfixed. "Better?" he asked as he slipped the second one off.
Unable to speak, I simply nodded. When he held out his hand for me, I shyly took it, and let him pull me to my feet. There was certain relief in being barefoot, but it was still an impulse to glance frantically around, fearing Alice would find out. Luckily, it was growing dark; it would be difficult to spot us in our temporary sanctuary. I lay my head against his chest as he held me closer, and we began to slowly sway to the sound of some unknown song that was playing on the dance floor.
I could hardly believe he'd talked me into this. I wasn't much of a dancer. It could be quite complex for the uncoordinated, so I avoided it by habit. No one had ever managed to convince me to go on a dance floor, not even in my senior prom. And yet there I was, dancing with him in this gazebo at twilight –
Hmm. Hold on a second.
In a gazebo.
It was like being inside a dream. My dream.
I chuckled as apprehension slowly descended. It helped. The sound was a confirmation of sorts; it was really happening.
"What?" he asked, and his grip around me tightened just a little. It took me a moment to realize he'd been questioning my laughter.
But I couldn't possibly tell him the truth, that this was exactly what I'd envisioned, my Sound of Music fantasy coming to life, that he had made it come to life. If everything else hadn't made him run off, I was sure this would, and I couldn't risk that. I wouldn't. So I came up with this elaborated background story, one that would make me appear less crazy in his eyes. I looked up at him once it was ready to be told, and let my eyes meet his. His gaze was blazing, somehow intense even in the fading light.
Suddenly I wanted to say something else entirely.
"I love you."
His body went rigid. His eyes widened in shock. We kept moving, but his arms felt different, frozen around me, almost as if he couldn't decide if he should keep them there.
I was paralyzed with panic. I wasn't sure where the hell it came from, but knew from his expression that sticking to the true version might actually have been better. If my intention was not to scare him away, I wasn't doing such a great job.
I peeked at him, now embarrassed, and tried to read his face as the words slowly sank in, in my mind as well as in his. I tried to feel something, regret maybe, or guilt for scaring him, but there was nothing but this swell of emotion, raw and new and impossible to shake off. It had only just dawned on me that it had always been there, at the back of my mind, but only after I uttered them, I realized how true those words were. I had loved him. More than I realized. More than I probably should, after such a short time.
But there was still no response on his side, and although it had been only seconds, suddenly I was dreading his reaction. I was already mortified by my confession, which felt hastier with each passing second. Taking the words back would only make things worse because he already knew –
I started when his finger was suddenly against my chin, gently lifting it up. My panicked eyes met his more serene ones. I mentally braced myself for his inevitable rejection.
"I love you, too."
I blinked, and then gaped at him. The words echoed in my ears, refusing to sink in. It made him laugh.
"I wasn't planning on telling you so soon, though. I almost did… before." His cheeks flushed ever so slightly, and I remembered that morning a bit over a month ago. "But given you've just said it first, well…" He flashed the sweetest smile at me. "I thought you'd want me to say it back."
Laughter lingered in his eyes, but there was something else there, some seriousness that made it all more real, more than just a friendly banter. A tiny gasp escaped me when I noticed it. I let my fingers flutter across his cheek, the one I had slapped weeks ago, wondering how on earth we got from there… to this.
"Tell me what you're thinking," he pleaded, his voice breaking a little towards the end.
And I couldn't, because my head was suddenly reeling. In my mind, it was all a blur. Small moments replayed themselves like slides, as if someone had clicked some unknown fast forward button. The first time I noticed him in the office across the street. The first time I thought I learned the truth about his life. The first time he approached me, and I hit him. The first time I realized how harsh I'd been. Our first kiss at Emmett's place. The first night at his place, and the words he couldn't speak the next morning.
And now this.
"I'm thinking… that it probably is too soon for declarations like that," I said honestly, and watched his face fall ever so slightly. "But I don't care." His eyes lit up; it made me smile. "I'm also thinking," I inched closer, "that I really want to kiss you."
For a brief moment, I could see my words surprised him. Then, as if he recognized them as his own, he chuckled. "I really want you to kiss me."
So I did.
And in an instant, without planning it or seeing it coming, my fairytale had suddenly become complete.