I tipped my head back blissfully, basking in the heat of the Jacksonville sun. Next to me, Renee shifted, then sighed contentedly.
"You know Bella, I know it's selfish, but I'm really glad you decided not to go to Alaska. You wouldn't get winters like this up there."
I bit my lip, guilt and amusement washing through me in equal measure. It had been three and a half years since the day Edward had asked me to marry him. Three and a half years since I realized that even though I loved Edward, I wasn't ready for immortality just yet. Three and a half years since he had smiled, hugged me, expressed his extreme approval of my continued humanity and put the acceptance letter from Dartmouth in my hand.
It had been three and a half years since I broke Jake's heart.
The reminder of Jake stung, a dark spot on my glorious, sunny Christmas vacation, and I firmly pushed it out of my head. I hadn't talked to Jacob Black since I walked out of his room three and a half years ago, and I wasn't going to let the ache in my heart where my best friend used to be ruin what might be the last holiday I got to spend with Renee.
Graduation was sneaking up quickly, and with it came the knowledge that I was going to have to put up or shut up where Edward was concerned. We'd finally told Charlie and Renee about our engagement a year or so ago. I knew Charlie still wasn't thrilled-he'd never forgiven Edward for leaving-but what can you say when your 22 year old daughter comes up to you and tells you she and the man she's been dating for the past 4 years are getting married?
Charlie had begrudgingly given us his blessing. Alice, Esme and Renee were burning up the phone lines between Jacksonville and Forks planning my wedding. The dress had been purchased, the date had been set. We were planning on tying the knot in Forks in October, far enough past graduation that no one would feel rushed. Edward was determined to enjoy my graduation as thoroughly as possible, since it was going to be my first.
Speaking of which…
"So, Bella, have you made any plans for after graduation?"
"You mean aside from emptying out my dorm room, booking the caterer, moving to Illinois and getting married? Nope, no plans, no plans at all."
Renee reached over from the lounge chair she was reclining on, half-heartedly swatting my leg.
"I meant actually getting a job, smart ass."
Oh yeah, employment. I knew as Edward's wife I'd never have to work-would actually have a hard time establishing myself, since we had to move so often-but since I just plain couldn't stand the thought of spending the rest of my very, very long life living on the Cullens' good graces I had decided on a degree in education. No one really expected a teacher to stay in one place too long anyway. Carlisle had agreed to help me forge my papers and references when the time came to move on, as he did his. It was perfect.
"I've started looking around. There are a bunch of schools in Chicago that are desperate for teachers right now. I've dropped resumes off at a few of them, and they're talking about arranging interviews in the spring and summer."
"That's right, you're student teaching this spring, aren't you?"
Renee laughed at the exhausted satisfaction in my voice, hoisting herself out of her seat and raising her glass as she stumbled.
"My Bella, shaping the next generation. May they not be as clumsy as we are. Do you want anything else to drink?"
I shook my head, smiling as she bopped back inside to the steel drum rhythms echoing from her ancient stereo. Renee was going through her Jamaican phase right now, and I relaxed to the soothing beat as I kicked back. Coming to Jacksonville over Christmas had been a great idea. I'd missed Renee, horribly, and sitting in her lawn in the bright December sunshine I couldn't shake the melancholy that came from knowing I was going to miss this next year.
It was weird to realize that I'd be hoisting a glass of O neg rather than eggnog next Christmas.
Renee's voice drifted over to me, and I frowned at the tone of her voice. Plucking my sunglasses off of my nose, I spun around to where she was standing hesitantly in the doorway to the backyard.
"What is it Mom?"
She walked over to me quickly, glancing furtively over her shoulder.
"There's someone here to see you, but I'm really not sure I should let him in. He looks like trouble."
I started to laugh, but it caught in my throat. The memory of a large, muscled teenager in ratty jeans on a black bike standing in the school parking lot swam through my mind, and my eyes stung for a second as I blinked back tears. It couldn't be…could it?
"Whats'a matter, Bells? Don't tell me you're afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
I froze, spinning slowly to stare into the smirking black eyes of the man peering at me over Renee's backyard fence.