"Thank you for coming with me, Bella. I know my cousin will want to meet you." I looked to her from the grey late autumn sky.
She smiled at me, her warm brown eyes full of love. "I can't wait to meet him. I love weddings." I put an arm around her shoulders as the train pulled into the station and kept it there until I grabbed our bags to disembark.
Aunt Lynn was waiting on the platform with one of my many cousins, Alice. "Edward!" my aunt called, waving. I nudged Bella in her direction and followed with my burdens. "You must be Isabella," she said, hugging Bella. "Edward said he'd hoped you'd come with him."
"It was here or Washington, and my father agreed, this would be a nicer respite for the holidays." Bella patted my aunt's back and then smiled at me.
"Oh, come on, Edward, let's get those in the car." Aunt Lynn led us from the platform.
I rode in the back seat with Bella, but my cousin continued to stare at us over the seat. Bella leaned into me and whispered, "I think she's waiting for you to kiss me." She giggled and my cousin did the same.
"Well, I wouldn't keep her waiting." Holding the back of Bella's neck, I caught her lips in my own. We kept it mostly chaste, but when Bella's tongue swept my lip, I almost embarrassed us both.
"Vixen," I murmured, touching my forehead to hers.
"You bring out the best in me," she taunted in return.
"Here we are," my aunt declared, oblivious to the entire exchange. "Bella, you'll be sharing Alice's room. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not," Bella said with grace, following my cousin into the house.
"And you, Edward, will have Emmett's room. It'll be empty after the wedding, but we have a cot in there 'til then."
I nodded to my aunt as I pulled our bags from the trunk and followed her into the house.
I froze inside the door. Esme Cullen was helping another of my cousins prepare buns for the oven. She was as beautiful as I remembered, but much thicker in the middle. My stomach turned in fear and dread.
I relaxed slightly as I noticed more women from town bustling around the farm's large kitchen. Some made salads, others were stuffing a trio of turkeys. Bella was disappearing up the stairs with Alice, so I followed with her bag, leaving mine on the landing.
"Don't let her talk your ear off," I warned.
"I won't," Bella laughed. She frowned slightly. "Is something wrong?"
"You seem troubled. Wedding jitters?" she teased.
I laughed in return. "No, not that." Rosalie had planned a huge wedding, so I'd been recruited as one of the groomsmen.
"Then what?" she asked again, rubbing my arms. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"It's nothing, really. Why don't you change? You'll feel better out of your travel things." I kissed her forehead, trying to reassure her.
"All right," she said with a sigh, turning into Alice's room.
I carried my bag to Emmett's room and kicked enough of his things out of the way to set it on the floor. He'd even piled items on the cot my aunt had managed to cram in. I didn't bother changing, needing to know if my fears were founded.
"Hello, Mrs. Clearwater," I greeted the grocer's wife. "Mrs. Hale." Rosalie's mother was helping, as well. "Mrs. Cullen." Esme nodded to me, giving me no more mind than any of the others. I found my aunt, just donning her apron. "Aunt Lynn, does Mrs. Cullen look different to you, or is it just because I've been gone so long?"
My aunt smiled. "I think it's just you, dear." She moved to the sink to peel carrots as the other women each bustled at her own chore.
Bella descended in a pretty green dress and latched onto my hand. "Save me?" she whispered.
I chuckled and herded her into the mud room, away from my cousin, who was summoned to peel carrots with her mother. "Absolutely. I think they'd rather we weren't underfoot."
Leading her through town, I found my cousin and his bride-to-be.
"You made it!" Emmett boomed, grabbing me in a bear hug. "This must be Bella. It's wonderful to meet you. How do you stand him?" he asked, sticking a thumb in my direction.
I thumped him on the back, but he just laughed. Rosalie cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow.
"Shit," Emmett cussed. "Bella, I'd like you to meet Rosalie, my wo... wonderful wife." I was certain he'd been about to say 'woman,' but Rosalie had obviously made improvements on his manners.
"Charmed," Rosalie said with a false smile, taking Bella's hand lightly.
Bella's eyes flicked to me, but I had no way to help her. The icy blonde had always been a little full of herself. In truth, I never understood why my cousin went for her. Even more surprising was her accepting him.
"Congratulations," Bella finally managed with a small smile. "It is lovely to meet you both."
"Would you like to see the flowers they've brought in for me?" Rosalie asked Bella, brightening. "They've been growing in a hot house for weeks. Come," she beckoned. Bella shot me a look that demanded I follow. I wouldn't leave her with Rosalie in any case, but I did lag behind to talk with Emmett.
"Is Esme...?" I wasn't sure how to ask.
"She hasn't said two words to me since September," Emmett said bitterly. "Simply ignores me and walks away most of the time. I don't get much chance to see her anyway. The mill sends me out a lot. I don't think she is."
At least he knew my fear and shared it. He walked as stiffly as I did. Rosalie continued to chatter at Bella, and I wondered if this was any better than my cousin. It probably wasn't.
"Say, the boys at the mill are throwing me a party tonight. You should come. No dames, though," he said, shooting a look at Bella. "Sort of a 'last rites' deal." He hung his head as though he were giving life rather than just his bachelor status.
I snorted. "Maybe. I don't really want to leave Bella. You know Alice," I reminded him.
He pulled a face. "Yeah, good point."
"Emmett," Rosalie called and my cousin trotted up.
Bella fell back beside me. "Is he sure he wants to do this?" she asked.
I chuckled. "He seems sure. He's been chasing after Rosalie for years and she's been stringing him along almost as long. I'm not surprised he jumped when she said yes."
Bella nodded, regarding the couple. Then she smiled. "She's different with him than with me. Calmer, less proud."
I kissed her temple, always amazed at her intuition.
"Now, will you tell me what is bothering you?" she asked, crossing her arms.
I sighed heavily. "It's not really something that's easy to say, Bella."
She held her hard expression for another minute, but when I didn't budge, she eased up and patted my cheek. "Try? Sometime soon?"
"I'll try," I promised. How was I supposed to tell her that the older woman I had dallied with in the summer might be carrying my child? I could barely fathom it myself.
As I led Bella back to the farmhouse, the object of my distraction approached.
"Hello, Edward. Who is your friend?" she asked, smiling at Bella.
"This is Isabella Swan. She's attending Princeton." Bella offered Esme her hand and they shook amicably.
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Swan. I'm Mrs. Esme Cullen. I hope you enjoy your stay here." Esme's eyes inspected Bella from the curls peeking out from under her hat to the buckles on her shoes. Then she looked to me and nodded once.
"I'm sure I will," Bella agreed, wrapping an arm around my waist. Mine curved around her shoulders reflexively. I stiffened, though, thinking about holding Bella in front of Esme.
"Good day," Esme bid us both, passing.
"Wait," I called turning. Esme paused, both eyebrows raised as she looked over her shoulder at me. "Are you well, Mrs. Cullen?" How else could I ask?
Her expression softened, a smile on her full lips. Memories of kissing them returned to me. "I'm in fine health. Thank you for asking, Edward." With that, she continued on her way.
"You have a lot of explaining to do, Edward Masen," Bella muttered, tone cool as she strode half a step ahead of me.
"Wh-what?" I trotted to keep up with her.
"Who was that?" she asked.
I took a deep breath. "A path not taken," I answered poetically.
Bella's eyes narrowed. "Oh, I think you went down that path." She stomped a little harder.
"And I came back to this one. I stayed on this one," I reminded her. "I'm here with you."
She stopped abruptly and I had to take a step back. "You're sure?" she asked, seeming to stare right through me. I didn't know what Bella was thinking, but it seemed certain she would see through anything I said.
"I wasn't, but I am now." I held my breath as she weighed my response.
She nodded and looped an arm through mine. "You're going to Emmett's party tonight?" she asked next.
I stumbled. "How did you know?"
She shook her head. "Your conversation wasn't quiet, and I wasn't really listening to Rosalie droning about roses and rosemary."
I smiled and stopped, turning her into my arms in the deserted lane. I held her to me and kissed her as I'd been unwilling to in the car. "I love you, Bella Swan."
She smiled. "I think I love you, too."
Live, be happy, I remembered Esme telling me.