A Lantern Once Lit
by Mackenzie L.
I have been asked very politely to write a mother/daughter conversation between Bella and Esme before Bella is about to get married. I suppose that makes this a kind of "missing moment" conversation that would take place at the beginning of Breaking Dawn.
This one-shot is written for a very special reader of mine who has taken the time to send me the most elaborate and extensive messages for nearly every chapter I have written, sharing her thoughts and feedback, and readily offering advice whenever I ask it of her.
This is all for you, Heather. You've hung with me for a very long time, and you still never fail to give me insight and feedback for everything I write. I have told you time and time again how much your messages mean to me, but I still cannot thank you enough.
*The Twilight Saga and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer
Bella had taken this path so many times before.
This familiar, winding path that led through the woods to the Cullens' house.
The first time she had visited, she had tripped four times on the way up.
On her second visit, she had tripped three times.
By the third and fourth visits, she had grown more comfortable with the path, remembering which spots would cause trouble for her feet.
This time, she had not stumbled once. This time she was sure of her every step.
Bella walked directly behind Edward as they approached the house from the driveway. It was rare that Edward ever let her walk anywhere but directly beside him. Even if he did, she was always in front, where he could watch her every move. His eyes, it seemed, thirsted for her to be always in their field of vision. When she changed direction unpredictably, there was something so hurt in his gaze – as if her doing so had thrown everything in his world off axis... just by that one innocent, accidental movement.
Here, now, she was walking directly behind him. Edward was eager to reach the house, eager to bring Bella out of the soft, muted rain that misted down from the gray Washington sky. He was eager to be the first to reach the handle of that door and pull it open for her.
Bella took advantage of her rare position to watch Edward carefully as he walked. She could see, clearly, the strain of his speed being contained for her sake. He was trying to walk slowly for her. He was doing everything he could to stay at least close enough that she was within arm's distance from him at all times. In the case that she would suddenly reach out with her hand, her fingers would clutch onto the pine green plaid of the jacket he wore so well...
It was entertaining walking back here, she thought. There was something noteworthy in every wrinkle that tainted his clothing with every step he took. Something sweet about the way his legs propelled him forth in a steady but lopsided pace. He was as lovely from behind as he was from the front. He was moving, breathing, eager artwork, heading for the door of his house. And all the while, Bella could tell that he knew she was behind him. He was most certainly aware of every nuance about her, even though he could not see her.
That was how in tune they both were now.
"Darling." A welcoming word floated from the front door – the familiar chime of Edward's mother's voice urging her son forward. Edward's feet picked up, just a little faster to reach her waiting arms.
Bella smiled discreetly as Esme caught her eye over Edward's shoulder. Esme wasted no time between the release of one embrace in exchange for another. Her arms found Bella next, and Bella submitted willingly.
Esme's arms sometimes forgot to ease back on their strength when she hugged Bella. She was so used to hugging her own children, never having to worry that she might crack one of their ribs as she did so... Bella suppressed a laugh as she struggled, suggesting in the kindest way that Esme loosen her grip.
But it was wonderful when Bella had to remind Esme that her grip was too tight.
Because Bella knew she was so, so loved.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Esme whispered apologetically, as the force in her embrace became lighter, more tentative.
"It's okay," Bella assured, taking a step back to face her soon-to-be mother-in-law.
Thrown completely by the power of the sparkle in Esme's eyes as she underwent unprecedented appraisal, Bella bit her lip and looked to Edward in uncertainty. He looked mildly amused, but more than that, he looked...could it be? Content.
Yes, he looked utterly content.
It had been so long since they both had a moment like this, where everything seemed like it was going to work out. Nothing was pressuring them into action, nothing was breathing down their necks, rushing them forward. Everything was just the way they wanted it to be. Calm. Easy. Simple.
Esme was the first to begin speaking business. "I know Alice has a thousand things she wants to discuss with you, Bella." Her smile widened as she said this. "But after some negotiations, I convinced her that we could have some time to ourselves before she stole you away. Is that all right?"
"Of course," Bella said, a bit too eagerly, " I think I could use a quiet moment to mentally prepare." She winced and looked to the stairs. "Don't tell Alice I said that."
"Already heard you!" Alice's bell-like voice called from two floors above.
Edward grinned awkwardly as he moved for the stairs. After sharing a significant glance with his mother, he removed his jacket and started up the steps. "I'll leave you two for a while."
As much as Bella had tried to hide her confusion, it seemed Esme was already eager to put her at ease.
"You know, it looks like it just stopped raining – why don't we walk outside for a while?"
Bella turned to glance at the appealing view just outside the glass curtain wall. "Sure," she agreed, heading back toward the door.
"Bella?" Esme called gently.
"Hm?" Bella turned quickly to see Esme by the banister, holding Edward's discarded jacket almost lovingly in her hands.
"I think he left this here for you," she said with a knowing smile.
"Oh." Bella blushed as she accepted the cold flannel-lined coat from Esme's offering hands. With her help, she shrugged her arms into the sleeves, not bothering to zip it up.
Esme stopped by the closet to cover herself in an elegant white cashmere sweater, in case someone should happen across them outside on this chilly morning.
"Okay, then." Esme sighed as she reached for the door.
Bella could probably count on one hand the number of times she had been allowed to touch a door handle in this house.
"Thanks," Bella murmured as she walked down the porch steps and onto the moist path. The rain had finally let up, leaving in its wake the fresh, dewy perfume of a damp forest.
"Have you ever been up this way before?" Esme asked, gesturing in the opposite direction of the road where they usually took walks.
"I don't think so."
"Well, let's go up here, then."
As the distance grew between Bella and the place where Edward resided, she could not help but feel a little emptier with every step. It was the silliest way to feel, as she was being led further away from the house, but she had no control over the sensitivity of her own heart.
This pull that existed between them could never be explained. Even Edward could not explain what they had. But that was exactly the way love should be. At least Bella thought so.
Bella was smart enough to realize that Edward was not sure about everything. He was in no way infallible – he had his moments of weakness, his insecurities, his uncertainties. But Bella loved him for these qualities. She would not want a man who was painfully perfect in every way, for no man who was perfect could ever truly need a woman to complete him. Edward did need her. For reasons unfathomable, Edward wanted to place his life in her hands. He wanted to be so close to her that their hearts would brush against one another with every move they made. He desired not one thing in this world more than he desired her, and that was both frightening and wonderful to Bella.
This feeling of being wanted.
And not only by Edward, but by a new family as well. They each wanted her to join them – for eternity, no less. There existed no greater compliment than this; to receive invitation from seven souls – seven souls who were asking for her to complete them all.
She was a missing piece. Instead of feeling as though something was missing, Bella was now the one being called upon to solve a century-old puzzle.
This made her feel important. Needed. A little brave... But most of all, loved.
"You're so quiet today, Bella. Is everything all right?" the woman who walked by her side finally interrupted her thoughts.
"Hm? Oh, yeah. I'm sorry...I was just thinking."
"I can see that," Esme remarked softly. "I was almost afraid to disturb you – you looked so...consumed."
Bella laughed a bit nervously. She was always consumed these days...
"Come this way," Esme beckoned as she picked up her pace. "I want to show you something."
As they slipped between a particularly tight thicket of overgrowth surrounding the trees, a clearing appeared at the end of the path. Protected by a circle of tall trees with drape-like leaves was a small but elaborate garden – it looked as if they had stepped out of Forks and into a woodland fairytale. There were hundreds of violets and enchanting wildflowers, neatly lining the path behind waves of smooth gray and blue stones. Beside the path, hand-crafted Oriental lanterns had been placed to light the way at night, each decorated with vines of green ivy, twisting playfully around its base.
Bella blinked, testing to see if what she saw was just a figment of her imagination. "Wow. I had no idea any of this was up here."
"I call it my secret garden for a reason," Esme said with a clandestine smile.
"It's gorgeous. How do you grow flowers like this in Forks?"
"I have my ways."
Noticing the old-fashioned tinderbox beside the base of the first lantern, Bella bent to tap the stone pagoda in suggestion. "Can we light one of the lanterns?"
Esme smiled and bent on one knee to retrieve the box. "I was just thinking of that."
With expert hands, she removed the moon-shaped charred cloth and placed it on top of a nest of wood chips and leaves inside the lantern head.
"Wouldn't a box of matches be a little simpler?" Bella asked teasingly as Esme began scraping the flint against a steel file to make a spark.
"Carlisle lived for a full century without using matches," She explained fondly. "He likes to insist we do it the old-fashioned way when in nature."
Bella giggled and scooted closer to the lantern. "Can I try?"
"Sure. Be careful not to burn yourself."
Esme handed the flint to Bella, who promptly started a spark on her second try.
"You're a natural, Bella!"
"Charlie likes to brag about his survival skills," she explained a bit bashfully. "He's forced me to go camping with him a couple times before."
Bella bowed her head to carefully blow the first tiny flames, encouraging them to rise from the tinder.
"Perfect." Esme gave her approval, brushing the rest of the wood chips off her jeans.
"Did you make these lanterns?" Bella asked, tracing the edge of one curved stone with fascinated fingers.
"Carlisle made them, actually." At Bella's surprised look, Esme explained, "His father was a sculptor – he's very passionate about keeping with tradition."
Bella marveled at the intricacies of the lantern as she ran her fingers across the shimmering filigree of silver and blue. "So I'm guessing you painted them?"
"You know me better than you think, Bella." Esme chuckled. "These are all replicas of one original that he kept from Japan. Can you tell which one is the original?"
Bella thoughtfully scanned the path with her eyes, taking in each identical stone lantern until she reached the very last one, sitting by the base of the small plated fountain. "That one on the end."
"The colors gave it away, didn't they?"
"Yeah, they're darker looking...more aged." She turned back to Esme with a fascinated look. "So you've been to Japan?"
She shook her head. "Only Carlisle. He's promised to take me there someday. We're working our way around the globe slowly – it will take more than a few decades to visit every country," she sighed with a chary smile. "Plus, we have to wait for the rainy season depending on where we want to go."
Bella briefly fantasized about traveling the world with Edward one day. They could go anywhere they wished to go, all by themselves, together... It was almost too incredible to consider that this could be their reality one day.
"Sit down with me," Esme gently urged, bringing Bella out of yet another reverie to settle beside her on the bench by the fountain.
The trickle of water combined with the song of chirping birds above was repetitive, yet there was something comforting about the repetition. It could be trusted; it was consistent. It was the same tender pair of notes, over and over, always faithful to the ears who listened.
"It's so peaceful up here," Bella sighed, opening her eyes to the faint beams of sunlight that streamed through the canopy of trees overhead.
"Isn't it?" Esme crossed her legs, looking around the clearing with the eyes of one who had visited the same place countless times. "We all need a refuge, I think. Even if it's as simple a place as this."
"Simple is good."
Esme chuckled in approval. "You are wise, Bella."
"Well, you know me – I'm that kinda girl," she joked.
Bella promptly turned to meet the kind amber gaze beside her.
"You're a woman, now, Bella," she whispered sincerely.
There was a disturbing new meaning to these words now, as Bella approached the day of her wedding. It was not something that they openly acknowledged of course, but they both knew very well the implications of such a statement.
"Better not say that in front of Charlie," Bella warned, hoping to ease the sudden seriousness of the conversation.
Esme giggled affectionately – a lovely, infectious sound. "For as distant as you two were over the years, he's just as awfully overprotective as any other father."
Bella could not argue with that. "Yeah."
"He loves you," Esme said with a simple shrug. "You're very lucky to have so much love in your life now. Some of us lived without that for a very long time." Her warm golden eyes grew distant as she fixed her gaze on the one glowing lantern in front of them.
"I can't even imagine...what that would be like," Bella murmured sympathetically.
"It has permanent changes on a person's heart. But some say it makes the moment when you finally find love even more beautiful." Esme folded her hands in her lap and tilted her head to the side in thought. "I think that many people miss the true meaning of love. You have to want to know what love is. You have to be curious, and insatiable, and demanding of answers. You have to search for it – even after you think you've found it. You have to keep searching for a meaning deeper than the one before it."
Bella smiled to herself as she pondered the passionate words. "There's no way anyone who has you in their life could ever doubt what love means, Esme."
From the corner of her eye, Bella saw Esme's head turn to face her. Their gazes met naturally, sharing a hidden thought that perhaps no outside witness would have understood. Esme had never looked so grateful before, and Bella felt an astounding pang fill her heart at the look in her gentle eyes.
"Bella, that is one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me." Her voice was quiet and cherishing, "I can't express how fulfilling it is for me to know you feel that way about me."
Suddenly feeling more comfortable with their seclusion, Bella found the strange need to share her private thoughts more openly. "I've been wanting to tell you how much I appreciate you for a while now. I want to be closer to you. All of you. I think I need to find a moment like this with everyone. You know, just sit down and really understand each of you for who you are." She rubbed her ankles together awkwardly beneath the bench, drawing her eyes away. "Sometimes I feel like you all know me so much more than I know all of you."
"We do feel as though we know you, Bella," Esme concluded. "Edward has made us aware in that way. But this should not be intimidating to you. Remember, you have an eternity to learn everything there is to know about our family. We are doing more than just accepting you; we are welcoming you – fiercely." The tenderness in Esme's voice was undeniable, ensuring that everything she said sounded like nothing less than utter truth.
Bella twisted her fingers self-consciously in her lap. "I feel like I've been waiting for this my whole life. And now that it's here, I'm...not having second thoughts...but I guess...I guess I'm just realizing how much I still don't know."
Bella often struggled to express her feelings in a coherent way. With any other person listening, she might have felt frustration…but with Esme, she knew everything that was said would be understood.
Esme's eyes seemed to glow as she smiled a most perfect, empathetic smile. "But that is one of the most wonderful things about this time in your life. You're leaving your childhood behind. Every other young woman in your place is experiencing these same feelings – though it goes without saying they will be particularly stronger for you."
"I just feel this need to know more. About everything – my future, my feelings. But most of all, I think…I want to know Edward better."
"Oh, Bella." The wisdom in that single sigh tore Bella's eyes away from the denim in her lap to the earnest face of the woman beside her. "You will know him, sweetheart. There will come a time when you swear you know him better than you know your own self..."
While the thought of knowing Edward so intimately was fantastically appealing to Bella, she still felt a stiff trepidation surrounding the idea. It was something she could not put a name to, nor put a finger on.
Bella was silent as Esme allowed her to receive the words, sensing that more needed to be said.
"These are the moments before you know him," Esme emphasized, her voice soft yet eager to share her knowledge of this mystery. "Believe it or not, you don't know him yet, Bella. You know just enough to know that he loves you, and you love him. This is very important, but it is only the first step. You do not know him fully just yet." She paused, allowing a moment for the thought to sink in. "But when you do come to know him, as a wife knows her husband, you will be the only soul in this world who truly does."
Bella exhaled heavily into the awe-filled silence, her mind full of new thoughts, both frightening and delightful.
"I know my son well, but I have only seen the surface of his soul," Esme confided. "Only his true love will have the power to look within his soul."
The mystique surrounding such a proposition was impossibly intriguing. But a timely shudder disrupted Bella's intense intrigue as she recalled something – a minor but distressing hindrance that slipped ice over the flame.
"Edward is...unsure about his soul," she timidly stuttered. Her eyes turned pleadingly to Esme, trusting that hope could still be found.
"Yes, he has a slightly different faith than we do," Esme nodded solemnly, her eyes patient. "But this does not mean that he cannot be convinced otherwise. As his wife, it will be your obligation to show him that his soul does indeed exist."
Bella's eyes gaped for a moment, slightly stunned at the weight of Esme's words. Such a load to bear...
"How can I do that?" Her voice sounded small in the quiet forest, not even enough to create an echo. She felt as if she were asking for a well-kept secret, a cure to an incurable illness, an answer to an unasked question.
"You will learn so many things along the way, Bella," Esme reassured, her tone full of both wonder and comfort. "There are no fixed rules in marriage. You will both discover a balance of power between you, and you will come to know the ways in which you and Edward share that power."
Esme laughed softly as she reconsidered her words. "I understand. But you must never feel the need to think of it that way." A glorious smile crossed her lips, permitting her hidden dimples to dance in her cheeks. "Trust me, there will be nothing more natural to you, so long as your love is true."
"Our love is true," Bella confirmed resolutely, pleased that her voice was more than steady. "It always has been. I've never been surer of it than I am right now."
"That you are able to admit that so freely is a blessing, Bella. You have never felt any shame surrounding your love – even when forces were working against you. You are so steadfast in your love for him. Edward knows that. I assure you, he knows."
"Then he's spoken to you about me? About us?"
"Oh, yes. He has confided in me about many things over the years. Since he's met you, you are practically the only thing he ever wants to talk about."
Bella swallowed, filled with strange sensation of pride and warmth.
Esme's voice was quiet when she spoke again. "One thing you must remember, Bella – your marriage will be sacred. It will be untouchable to anyone but you and Edward. The mated bond is one that can never be broken, and once it is sealed, you are bound for eternity."
"I think I've said this before, but that sounds almost too romantic to be true," Bella laughed lightly.
Esme's eyes twinkled in amused agreement. "It is an appealing concept. Some would even go so far as to call it dangerous. But to those who do not fear love's power, who are willing to submit to their hearts entirely – it is the greatest gift a couple will ever receive."
Taking a shaky breath, Bella looked to the small fire she had lit in the lantern, her eyes almost hypnotized by the trembling golden flames.
"I know I'm ready..." she whispered steadily before her gaze wandered back to the woman seated close beside her. "But is it a sign of weakness that I'm still nervous for it?"
"Absolutely not." The firmness with which she refuted this was beyond relieving to Bella. Esme smiled a bit mysteriously then. "And you must trust me when I tell you that no matter how nervous you are, I can guarantee that you are not more nervous than I was before my wedding."
Bella laughed gently in disbelief, eyebrows raised in doubt. "You were nervous?" Esme gave a small nod of confirmation, still smiling in reassurance. "But you married Carlisle..."
Esme lifted a lock of her caramel colored hair and twisted it idly around her finger, looking oddly just as much a teenager in that moment as one of her daughters. "That was precisely why I was so nervous," she murmured, staring at something unseen in the distance.
There was something distressingly intimate about the moment, which drew Bella's eyes to look away.
"But everything...turned out fine. Didn't it?" she asked, hoping to sound as unintrusive as she could.
"Yes. Everything was perfect." Another tide of relief warmed Bella at the positive response. "And it will be just the same for you, Bella. I know it will be. But you must keep in mind that sometimes the things we believe to be imperfect at first will in fact change us for the better when the time comes."
Bella nodded resolutely, feeling oddly as though she were trying to impress a teacher. "I do believe that. I've seen it firsthand...too many times, if I'm being honest."
"You and Edward both have had far more experience than most...in matters of life and death," Esme consented thoughtfully. "You should have faith that this is a good thing. I don't doubt that it has strengthened your bond further. Together you have already conquered so many obstacles – anything that will present itself before you from this point on can be of little harm to you now." Her eyes raised to meet Bella's as she continued with gently emphasized words. "But you must trust Edward in everything – and not only must you trust him, but you must also trust yourself, Bella. Do you trust your own decisions, and the wills of your own heart?"
The question sounded uncannily like something Bella had overhead Carlisle asking Edward once before. A question loaded with such wisdom deserved a wise enough answer.
"My decisions have gotten me this far," Bella began with a faint shrug of one shoulder. "A lot of them probably weren't the best to make at the time, but I guess we can only look at the end result, right?"
"That's a very good point." Esme smiled a little. "My husband always says that it can sometimes be discouraging to look at where you've been when where you are is where you want to be." Her smile did not disappear, but there was a noticeable firmness in her eyes. "But I know if Carlisle were here he would say that you must take care not to mistake this for ignorance. It is important that you remember where you have come from, and to acknowledge some things from your past that you may not be comfortable with sharing at first." Her eyes closed for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "I cannot stress how vital this is to marriage. Those who neglect that openness with each other often find themselves drifting apart. And there certainly can be distance between mated vampires. Our bonds may be unbreakable, but that does not mean they are always sturdy."
"I don't see Edward and me growing distant," Bella said truthfully. "I tell Edward everything. I'm honest with him because I have no need to hide. He knows who I am. He doesn't need to read my mind to know me."
"No, of course not," Esme agreed. "If that were true then every other marriage in history would have failed."
They shared a lighthearted laugh.
"But there is something deeper than mind reading that comes with being bound to one's soul mate," Esme continued, her voice drifting again. "You won't need words. Sometimes you won't even need sight or hearing. You learn to trust without your senses, without thought or feeling. You may find everything to be very confusing at first...but it will all make perfect sense to you. I can't even explain how – it just will." A passive beauty settled into her youthful features as she repeated softly. "Perfect sense..."
Her words seemed to imply something far out of the realm of a simple kiss now, and Bella grew nervous. She swallowed hard before asking, "Do you think it will feel the same way...for me? As—as a human?"
Esme's delicate eyebrows narrowed in deep thought.
"I cannot speak from experience in your case. But I believe that your love will manifest itself in much the same way," she supposed. "You have nothing to feel insecure about, Bella. Your heart is worthy of your trust – and most certainly worthy of Edward's trust as well."
Something plagued Bella further yet, and carefully, she asked the searing question. "Do you think it will be very different for me... after?"
Esme sent her a significant glance. "When you are changed?"
Bella nodded as a blush consumed her cheeks, grateful that Esme was aware of her concerns without profuse wording.
"Yes." The tiny word sent a chill racing up Bella's spine. "Yes, I do think it will be different then."
"How?" Bella inquired in the smallest, most timid voice. If Esme had not possessed a vampire's sense of hearing, she wouldn't have caught it.
The answer Esme provided was as profound as it was vague. "As a vampire you will have an entirely new wavelength of needs that must be fulfilled. It will be...strange to you at first. You will feel things you've never felt before. You will have a deep connection with him – it will be more powerful than you can comprehend, and it will frighten you."
Using humor to calm her anxiety, Bella responded with a shaky half-smile. "I take fear pretty well."
"I know you do," Esme smiled fondly. "But this fear will be different. You may find it exciting...but it is a very delicate emotion and it should not be taken lightly."
Bella's head was all but spinning with disjointed questions of every nature, most of which begged her to inquire about Edward's emotions. Would they be compatible with her own? Would they frighten him as well? Would he feel just as new to everything when the time came for them to profess their love in the only way they had not yet explored...?
"Will it be the same for him?" Bella finally found the courage to ask.
"Yes," Esme replied in her soothing voice. "Ask him to tell you when the time comes. Ask him what he feels. If he is willing to be open with you, then you will discover so much more about yourself through him..." Her words became lost in a splendor unseen behind her cloudy amber eyes. "It is a most exquisite thing."
Bella had never known Esme to be the keeper of such wisdom. She had only ever heard Carlisle speak in such a manner – with that irrefutable strength, softened by care, kindled by age. But Bella had forgotten that Esme also had her share of decades by which to gain knowledge in all things. It was strange to hear Esme sharing this profound language with another, but somehow comforting as well. Perhaps never more than at this crucial point in her life, Bella was eternally grateful to have Esme as her mother figure.
Esme reached for Bella's hand, the chill of her pale skin somehow reassuring. "Whether you are human or vampire, you are always welcome in this family, Bella. Edward will always love you either way, and we will always accept you either way."
"Thank you, Esme," Bella murmured as she initiated a warm embrace. "Thank you so much."
"I love you, Bella. Anything you need, it is yours. I have never been more ready to call you my daughter. I already think of you as such."
"And I already think of you as a mother," Bella confirmed, breathing in the very love of which they spoke. Her lungs grew heavy with its sweet scent as she laid her head to rest on the vampire's slender shoulder. "I can't imagine us any other way now."
"I'm glad to hear it," Esme whispered, careful not to hold too tightly.
After a prolonged moment, they drew apart, the young woman drinking in the last of the wisdom offered by her eternal mother. The bond between mates was not the only bond Bella had more to learn about, nor was it the only bond that required light and love to bring to life. Bella had many bonds to kindle with her new family – Edward was only one of many. He would always come first, but the rest would be just as needed.
With the smile of an angel, Esme lovingly stroked a single tear of joy from Bella's cheek.
"He's waiting for you," she said.
And Bella walked her well-lit path to meet the one who waited for her.
She did not stumble once.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading. I know this is a little different than what I usually write, but I enjoyed exploring the mother/daughter relationship between Esme and Bella, and I was very intrigued to take on the challenge when it was presented to me.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this piece. It took a lot of pondering and many drafts for me to render it into something I found satisfying.
Thank you again to Heather for the prompt, and to all of my readers who serve as endless inspiration for me.