A very special thank you to Ragsstone and showtunesJesus. Thank you for your assistance, mentoring, and advice. It has been an invaluable education.
Thanks, hugs, and eternal devotion to Bower_of_Bliss. You have been a source of inspiration and aspiration, and I will never be able to say how much your support has bolstered, reassured and calmed me.
Congratulations to my lovely friend Panda on the momentous arrival of her dream, baby Basil.
Hugs and tickles to another lovely friend, Mother Wolf, as she recovers from surgery xxx
And lastly, but most importantly, THANK YOU, dear reader. I have appreciated all your kind words, your votes, the wonderful and addictive reviews, the pimpage and the chats. Thanks for taking a chance on an unknown and green author. This had been a rich and rewarding experience for me because of all of you :)
The link for the outfits for this chapter are on my profile page.
The kitchen was a hive of activity. Steam curled in lazy wisps, light glinted off shiny copper cookware, and mouthwatering aromas abounded. Music played softly in the background but was almost completely eclipsed by the sounds of laughter and happy conversation. I stood in the doorway for a moment, observing everyone from my vantage point. Alice and Carlisle were swapping stories as they drained the steamed vegetables. Rose and Jasper were preparing the salads, ribbing each other about who made the best looking radish roses. Emmett and Esme were dancing over near the windows, the sounds of Esme's laughter ringing out as Emmett dipped her in a theatrical gesture. I couldn't help but smile at the familiar and relaxed scene.
Suddenly, another tantalizing scent overlaid the wonderful smells of food cooking. It was accompanied by radiating warmth and a sense of comfort. Then I felt the delicious pressure and subtle heat of a firm body pressed full-length along my back as Edward's arm circled my waist, drawing me back against his chest.
His breath tickled my ear as he nuzzled me.
"What are you doing standing there, beautiful girl?"
"Just watching. I love seeing how your family is together."
"They're your family, too, now," Edward insisted, and I turned my face to kiss him.
As if he had heard our exchange, Carlisle looked up and smiled at us.
"There you two are. We can't do this without you, you know."
And just like that, I was drawn in and effortlessly embraced again. Having grown up with mostly just my mom and me, I had never known what it truly felt like to be a part of a family, let alone such a close one. I had been lonely for a long time, the empty, unacknowledged ache inside my only company for far too long. Had I known the depth of what I had been missing, I think I would have despaired even more. Hand in hand with Edward, we joined the others, serving up food and carrying laden dishes into the dining room.
It was a Saturday, but since Esme and Carlisle were leaving for their trip to Brazil the next day and Glenvale's fundraiser was on that evening, Sunday Supper had been brought forward to the only time left available. We were having lunch together instead of the usual evening meal. The dining room was decorated in accents of red and gold, and vases of flowers and Chinese lanterns decorated every flat surface. Every October, the Cullen family had a "good fortune" celebration. This year, there seemed even more reasons to celebrate, Esme informed me.
The last few weeks had been tumultuous to say the least. Almost a month had passed since the climactic events at Risdon. There had been endless follow-up interviews with the police, some just by phone, but others that meant a trip into the precinct. The media attention was much more intrusive, and we frequently had to dodge the multitude of media hounds still hanging around, clamoring for an inside scoop. Since the story had been syndicated worldwide we had received numerous offers for the movie rights and book deals. We would all be glad when the hype died down.
To Edward's chagrin, I had also insisted on returning to school. The university was still in turmoil, and rumors buzzed around like annoying and determined mosquitos. That three people associated with the university had preyed on its students, and that lives had been lost as a result, hit everyone hard. Numerous new security measures had been initiated and a counseling center set up. Both Edward and I were having therapy privately; Edward once a week but more often at times for me. My deliberate actions in ending Aro's life and strategizing Renate's demise still weighed heavily on my conscience, despite everyone's reassurances that I had acted instinctively to fight for my life. I needed some outlet to express my guilt, and also to purge my lingering fears. My nightmares of Snape had been replaced by new ones, dark and terrifying ones where I was too late to save Edward. Dissecting them all with Dr. Zarafina helped me work through them. She also helped me realize that the minute I had decided to take proactive steps to prepare myself to fight back, I had ceased being a victim and started being a survivor.
I had been worried that Edward wouldn't feel the same about me when he heard how things ended with the stalker, worried that he would see me as hard and calculating, and view my behavior as mercenary. I should never have underestimated the unconditional nature of his love for me, his words, manner and actions showing that he accepted every part of me, even the part that had been hard enough to end another. There were times I was almost glad he had suffered through his parallel ordeal. Having endured it together, we intuitively understood how the other felt−the guilt, the self-doubts, and the anger.
Edward was still off work with his fractured collarbone, but the official clearance regarding his role in the events had finally arrived the day before. Although he had been ambushed, captured, and affected by illicit drugs, he still acted to protect the life of a civilian under threat, a fact that mitigated almost everything else. Edward was cleared to return to work as soon as he wanted. He would be confined to a desk job until his shoulder healed, but I could tell the forced inactivity chafed him, and he would be glad to get back to policing in any capacity possible.
After we had loaded the table with overflowing dishes and sat down, Carlisle cleared his throat and stood with a glass in hand.
"As members of this family, most of you have participated in more than one of these celebrations. This year, we have much more to celebrate than usual. Today, I'd like to start by acknowledging how thankful we are to have everyone together. Some of us might be battered and bruised, but we are still hale and hearty enough to fight another day." He winked in my direction before turning to Edward.
"Thank you, Edward, for saving Bella's life. Even though she is endlessly resourceful and has proven herself more than capable of looking after herself, love means putting yourself on the line to protect another."
With murmurs of "Here, here," we all raised our glasses in a toast to Edward. Carlisle left his place by the table and came to stand behind me, placing one of his hands on my shoulder. I twisted in my chair to look up at him in question.
"Bella, my sons knew there was something special about you from the very beginning. Over time, Edward fell in love with your specialness, and we watched as it transformed him." I felt Edward's hand grab and gently squeeze my own, where it had been curled in my lap.
"After you joined us and we got to know you better, we all came to see what they saw. We watched as you blossomed with care and guidance, reaching out to grasp life with both hands, taking every opportunity to grow and learn."
I could feel a lump of emotion settling in my throat as tears welled in my eyes.
"Although you lived under a cloud for some time, you never let it hold you back and when catastrophe befell you and Edward, you didn't let it hinder you. Instead, you acted to protect yourself, and our son and brother." He tenderly squeezed my shoulder as he whispered his next words.
"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sheltering and defending Edward. Thank you for fighting so hard, and for never giving in. It would have devastated us all to lose you both."
A sniffly and emotional round of "Here, here's" followed, and when it had quieted down again, Carlisle continued.
"I've talked with Edward to make sure you were ready and would welcome this. Now it is time for us as a family to acknowledge our intentions. Bella, would you do us the honor of officially joining our family?"
I gasped in surprise. "What?" I blurted out so eloquently.
"It simply means that we love you for you, Bella, not just because Edward does. You will always have a place with us, regardless of where your life may lead you."
I couldn't hold the tears back any longer, and as I kissed and hugged everyone, they were bathed in the signs of my joy. I thanked them all for helping me find my way in my new life, and for giving me courage and a sense of belief in myself. I had gained so much more than a place to stay, and I was truly honored by their formal invitation. As Edward held me while I attempted to compose myself, he ruined my shaky efforts by whispering in my ear that I better ready myself for further statements of intentions, since he planned to make his own very soon.
After things eventually settled again, Esme brought out a red and gold box, opening it to reveal a pile of fortune cookies. Handing the box around with great ceremony, she explained for my benefit that this was a traditional part of their yearly celebration, ensuring we all had a piece of good fortune to carry with us for the next twelve months.
Esme broke hers open first, reading it aloud. "If you continually give, you will have," she recited. "That's true," she agreed, looking around the table at all of us and smiling. "I have so much. What does yours say, Carlisle?"
"Mine says−Your ability to juggle many tasks will take you far. You know, I actually did learn to juggle in med school. It was great for stress relief."
Alice laughed as she scanned the small slip of paper she held in her hands. "Trust your intuition. The universe is guiding your life. See, I told you I'm not psychic, I just have friends in high places!"
"Well, I suppose that's better than 'I see dead people,'" Emmett added in a mock-spooky voice.
Rose reached out to brush my hand. "Mine says something about friends. A friend is a present you give yourself." She looked at me meaningfully. I was really touched by her simple acceptance, especially since I knew how hard she found it to trust others after her own experiences.
"I got a great one this year. You are never selfish with your advice or your help," Emmett read out. "See, even the cookie knew I was born to be a counselor."
Edward was sitting next to Emmett, so I looked over to him to see him staring at his fortune with an intense look on his face.
"What message did the universe send you, Edward?" asked Alice, a note of teasing in her voice.
"Love is like a wildflower…it is often found in the most unlikely of places," he whispered, before his eyes rose slowly to capture mine.
I would never grow tired of the effect he had on me. One look from him was enough to make me float on a cloud of love and overwhelming emotion. Other times his gaze made stand tall, ready and eager to conquer the world. Sometimes, like now, it made everything melt and liquefy within me, desperate to run to him to share the heat building inside. During these intimate moments, the world around us would fade into oblivion, the only things worthy of notice and attention being the feelings and thoughts we shared through the window of our souls.
"Yeah, that's got to be a Hallmark moment. Cue the oohs and aahs," Emmett chuckled. "So I can add crime scenes to the list of places to pick up girls."
Rose and Esme both reached over to slap him on his meaty upper arms, while Alice threw her napkin ring at him, and Jasper called him an oaf.
I just smiled and shrugged, knowing he meant no disrespect. "To quote someone wise," I countered, "Shit happens."
"So what piece of enlightenment did you draw, Bella," Carlisle asked.
I carefully cracked open my cookie, and pulling the strip of paper out, I read it. My message was slightly longer than the others, and the truth of the words strongly resonated with me. Wordlessly, I handed it to Edward. He peered at it cautiously, my reaction making him wary. A look of relief and then pride changed his frown into a big smile.
"Yep, that's you alright," he agreed before handing it on to Emmett.
He frowned in concentration as he read the words and then nodded sagely. "Profound."
My message did the rounds of the table, leaving everyone silent and thoughtful for a moment.
Wanting to lighten the atmosphere, I looked over to Jasper.
"We haven't heard yours yet. What did you get?" I asked him.
He laughed. "I got conned! Mine says If you think we are going to sum up your whole life on this little piece of paper, you're crazy!"
I had been an afternoon of firsts for me. After lunch, the women of the Cullen family had departed for an afternoon of pampering in preparation for the night's gala event. Some of it was lovely, such as the massage and having my hair done, but after hours of being examined and inspected from every angle, it was time for something else. After I had been prodded and primped within an inch of my life, we returned home to dress. Rose, Alice and I would be departing first, since current and former residents whose work was on display were required to be available before the first guests and potential buyers attended. Rose was overseeing several artists like me who works were being exhibited, and Alice was working as a part of the clinic's staff liaison team. The other members of the family were arriving later. Rose was adamant that Edward not see me until the gala was in full swing, wanting to heighten the impact of my sophisticated new look.
I had never owned or worn a formal gown before. As I stood in front of the mirror, I barely recognized the polished and poised young woman who stared back at me. My hair was piled on top of my head in soft curls, artfully messy, a few tendrils falling in loose ringlets here and there. My make-up was subtle and light, but my lashes looked ten times longer, framing my eyes and making them stand out more. The vivid blue of my dress added a hint of radiance to my skin. It was strapless and had a black organza overlay that ended in a pretty flower pattern at the hem. The lightly ruched bodice and cinched-in waist gave me a more womanly silhouette. My legs were encased in sheer black stockings and matching heels, which both covered my scars and made my legs look slender and twice as long. I felt elegant and grown-up, which sounded silly coming from a twenty-one year old woman who had lived independently from the age of seventeen. My confident look just underscored how much I had changed over the last few months. Being dressed like this felt like a declaration to the world−here is Bella Swan, finally transformed into the woman she always had the potential to be, but who previously lacked the self-confidence and ability to strive toward.
I couldn't help but arm myself though; I tucked my new lock picks into my tiny clutch, along with a small can of pepper spray that looked like a tube of lipstick. I also pinned my Celtic serpent pendant inside the sash of my dress so it was an invisible but a reassuring presence. The thin coil of garrote wire was secreted in the underwire casing of my lacy black strapless bra. Although I knew Aro and his follower were gone, my eyes had been opened to the sickness of others in the most painful of ways. I didn't think I would ever completely shake the twinge of paranoia when surrounded by strangers, but I had grown more adept at hiding and dealing with it. Even a few token weapons did much to maintain my sense of equipping and protecting myself, of being vigilant at all times, and I immediately felt calmer and more prepared.
I joined Alice and Rose in the foyer to wait for our ride. Alice sparkled from head to toe in a dress of varying shades of gold. Rose looked like a supermodel in her dress of draped green satin. It was simple and understated, showing neither cleavage nor too much leg, but made her look both regal and alluring. The real surprise, though, was Esme. I gasped aloud when I took in the sight of her scarlet dress. It had capped sleeves and finished at the knee, however, there was nothing demure or matronly about it. It was fitted and had a deep neckline that highlighted the curves hidden beneath, and suited her perfectly. Alice wolf whistled as her mother sashayed toward us, the sounds of her matching stilettos clicking on the tile floor.
"What?" she asked coyly. "There's plenty of life in the old girl yet!"
"Dad will never let you out of the house looking like that," Alice teased.
"We're beyond the whole ripping our clothes thing off and getting side-tracked stage, darling. It's all about building the anticipation." She winked. "Watch me and learn."
She then flittered around taking pictures, telling me that since I had never been to prom, tonight was going to be my equivalent coming out, and should therefore be photographically documented for posterity.
I enjoyed the limousine ride to the gallery, the novelty of it making me grin like an idiot during the all-too-brief trip. Rose and Alice smiled at me indulgently. They had attended many similar events, while it was a completely new and exciting experience for me on so many levels.
I had never been to such a fancy event and was rendered speechless by the grandness of it all. A string quartet played on a raised platform, the notes lingeringly beautifully in the vaulted space, mingling with the muted sounds of tinkling glasses and murmuring voices. I stood in the elegantly decorated gallery, nervously smoothing down the front of my dress as I waited, watching as the stylishly dressed patrons began to filter in. I was standing in front of the six pieces I had chosen to donate to the fundraiser. Although privately run, Glenvale took a few non-insured residents per year, providing all the required care from a special trust fund, the beneficiary of tonight's efforts.
In what seemed like no time, I was surrounded by people viewing my work and I made polite conversation with several of them to reduce my initial self-consciousness. As I was talking to an enthusiastic elderly gentleman who kept trying to look down my dress, I caught a glimpse of a man leading his wife to stand in front of one of the paintings. It was the very first one I had done, where I was lying injured, being tended by the angelic figure of my nurse. The woman's profile looked familiar, and I caught myself staring as the man whispered something into her ear. Whatever he said seemed to make her happy, and she gave him a brief kiss before approaching me. Grateful to have a polite reason to ditch the lecher, I excused myself and turned to the couple, finally recognizing the woman when she was facing me. It was Wendy, the nurse who had looked after me after the attack. I had mailed an invitation and photo of the picture to her at the hospital. It seemed her husband had surprised her, buying the painting as an anniversary present. He explained that, because Wendy loathed having her photo taken, it had been difficult for him to get a permanent keepsake of her. With pride in his eyes, he told me all the things she did as extras for her work, saying how happy he was that someone else saw her as he did, recognizing not just her skill but her compassion and empathy. It gave me a warm glow that they were both happy with their purchase, and that it held as much sentiment for them as it did me.
After they left, I noted a gorgeous woman with long, straight dark hair staring intently at another of my paintings. It was one I had done of Jacob. He was bare-chested and wearing just a pair of jogging shorts as he sat in his wheelchair, bulging and rippling muscles prominent in his meaty forearms, tight abs, and well-defined thighs. On his foot, which was perched on an elevated leg support bracket, was a gaily colored hand-knitted sock with a fuzzy pom-pom on the end. His head was bent over his task, a look of fierce concentration on his face as he knitted a tiny pink angora baby bootie. It was a study of contrasts, the strong-looking and impressively built young man obviously injured and working with such absorption on delicate handiwork.
The woman began taking pictures of the painting on her iPhone as I studied her. Her burnished tan skin was displayed to its best advantage by the deep V of the back of her stunning lace gown, her figure toned yet feminine. She focused on her phone for a few minutes as it dinged with incoming texts, before rushing off abruptly as I watched, perplexed. After a few minutes, she returned, dragging a huge man in a dark suit with her.
"Bella?" a familiar voice asked.
"Jake! How are you?" We shared a friendly hug, but one of his arms remained firmly around the intriguing woman "And who is the lovely lady?" I asked.
"Oh, this is my girlfriend, Veronica." He blushed as he puffed out his chest.
We shook hands politely as Jake made the introductions. He explained that all of his wood sculptures had been snapped up early by a dealer specializing in indigenous art, leaving him more time to socialize. We made small talk, and when I asked about his recovery, Jake shared how he and Veronica had met after his physician became worried about the stiffness in his fractured pelvis and leg as they healed. Needing to limber up and improve his flexibility, he had impulsively signed up for Latin dancing in a class Veronica taught.
Veronica gestured to Jake's likeness.
"I just saw your picture of Jake, and I couldn't help myself! I texted a few girlfriends of mine and we formed a syndicate to buy it. They all love drooling over him in his tight dance pants, so I can't wait 'til they see this up close! Now we'll have some eye candy to brighten up the studio wall. If you'll excuse me for a minute, I have to go and arrange payment."
"Wow, Jake. She's beautiful and talented. Don't tell me one of your abysmal pick-up lines actually worked?"
"Ah, no," he admitted, flushing an even deeper red. "Actually, I was so awestruck when we met, I couldn't say a thing. Apparently, she likes her men tall, dark, and mysterious."
I snorted in reply. "So she's been helping loosen up your pelvis…"
The look on his face made me laugh, and it felt nice to turn the tables on him for once after enduring weeks of corny and innuendo-laden pick-up lines. The sound of my laughter was abruptly cut off as I caught sight of Edward as he walked toward me.
Edward in a tux.
The overhead lights made his hair blaze umber, russet, and auburn, and his emerald green eyes burned into mine. Even the black sling supporting his injured arm could not detract from the inherent sexiness of such a strikingly handsome man dressed in such beautiful and simple finery. All the breath left my body as tingling warmth flared to life deep in my belly. I was lost and home at the same time. When he reached me, he enfolded me in his arms, and kissed me in a way I should have been embarrassed about but wasn't, considering the audience and venue.
Jake cleared his throat loudly several times in an unsuccessful move to gain my attention. I heard Jasper's voice give him a friendly warning. I hadn't even noticed his arrival, caught up as I was with Edward's.
"I wouldn't get between those two if I were you, Jake. They've killed for each other, you know." His tone was light and meant to be joking, but the inherent truth of his words was undeniable.
Pulling back slightly, Edward's eyes swept over every inch of my body.
"You look…you are a vision of loveliness. Both stunning and sinful."
I met and matched the longing look in his eyes.
"Yeah? You're looking both fabulous and wicked yourself." I moved in closer to whisper in his ear. "Want to go find an empty service room somewhere? I promise I'll service you like no other…"
Edward's mouth fell open, and he quirked an eyebrow.
"My, you have come a long way Ms. Swan," he said and smiled appreciatively.
Our intimate and playful bubble was broken by the arrival of the rest of the family. With Edward's arm firmly anchoring me to his side, I related the theme of my work.
"As much as I hate to subscribe to the cliché, these pieces all represent various points in my journey. They show people who have helped me, and who opened my eyes to my potential to help others. The last one symbolizes how everything has affected me, of how far I have come."
The portraits of Wendy and Jake had already sold. I had also done one of Emmett. I was inspired to paint it after visiting him at work on day. It depicted him leading a string of small children through a muddy area of the playground. The kids walked behind him, trying to place their small battered sneakers and galoshes into the large muddy footprints he left trailing behind him. The expressions on their faces were priceless. I had wanted to capture the joy of childhood, but what it illustrated instead was hero worship. Like little fluffy ducklings, the children were attempting to mimic the steps of their idol. They were lucky, those children, to have a teacher who cared so much about each of them.
We all gazed at it silently, until Emmett let out a quiet and almost reverent-sounding "Wow."
"Do you like it?" I hesitantly queried, nervous but wanting his approval.
"I'm honored," he assured me as he nodded. "Do they really look at me like that?" he asked in an almost shy voice.
"Of course they do. They love you," I insisted. "You're a great teacher and counselor. I should know."
The next picture was the one I had painted of Alice in the garden, the day that Edward and I had our first argument. She was sitting cross-legged on the lush, verdant green blanket of grass. She had pulled her baggy hot pink t-shirt over her legs, making her look like a thinner version of all-knowing Buddha wearing a robe. Spiraling around her was a drift of white and pink, the petals of the cherry blossoms that had gusted in on a random breath of warm wind. Against the brilliant cerulean blue of the sky, the golden ball of the sun, and the darker green of the bordering hedge, the bold colors made everything sparkle like a jewel. The look of peace and wisdom on Alice's face made the simple scene complete.
I hadn't intended to include that one, since all exhibits were shown on the proviso that they were available for purchase. I had wanted to give it to her as a gift, but Alice insisted it be shown, explaining that it would be her only opportunity to see her own likeness displayed at such a prestigious venue "just like Mona Lisa." I think she had another ulterior motive as well, and my hunch was soon confirmed. A very frustrated Jasper asked if I had any veto powers over sales, since he had slipped away to try to buy it, only to be informed it had already sold. He then started interrogating every member of the family, trying to work out who had beaten him to it. Something in Edward's answering smile must have given him away, and a war of friendly haggling ensued.
Carlisle just ignored them, linking my arm with his and steering Esme and me onto the next one. We looked at it silently, and when I looked over at them to gauge their reaction, I could see how much it affected them.
It was my personal take on Michelangelo's Pieta. A lanky blond-haired policeman sat on the ground, his head bent and his face a mask of grief and distress. In his arms he supported the form of his fallen comrade, whose blue uniform shirt was dirt-stained and spotted with blood. The look on his face and his posture made his concern for his partner palpable. The other man's face was turned into the seated officer's side, only the disarray of his copper-colored hair hinting at his identity.
"It's called 'Brothers in Arms,'" I murmured. "I know neither was in uniform when it happened, but they may as well have been. When I regained consciousness, that's what I saw. I'm sure Jasper would have carried Edward to the ambulance if they had let him. Painting this has been like therapy for me since that day, but I can't bear to look at it all the time. Too many raw memories, you know? Someone has already approached me about buying it and donating it to the national law enforcement officer's memorial. I hope it's okay with you that I told them yes."
"It's a very fitting tribute. It deserves to go somewhere like that," Carlisle replied, lifting up his hand to squeeze my shoulder. Esme just gave me a watery smile. Emmett, sensing we needed a distraction, cleared his throat and asked about my final piece. We walked over it, Edward and Jasper joining us after finally settling their negotiations. Alice and Rose also came over, taking a minute from their duties to join the family for a while.
The final portrait was large, almost life size, taking up a significant portion of the wall on which it was hung. It was a self-portrait, the only one I had ever ventured to do so far. In it, I stood partially facing a large, marble-edged mirror. The Bella at the fore-front was dressed as I had been the day I first went back to school, wearing my battle gear replete with pockets. Bright sunlight streamed through a window on the right, sparkling off various items in the picture and surrounding the featured figures. Hints of my armor could be seen−the silver of my picks visible through my messy top knot, the red glint of the stone set in Edward's gift of strength and eternity, the light reflecting off the shiny surface of a miniature whistle, and the black tip of a telescopic metal baton peeking out of its pocket on my thigh. My chin was lifted slightly in an almost defiant angle and my hands were held in loose fists at my side. I looked self-assured and in control. Standing just behind me and mirroring my posture was Edward. He was looking at me, his face conveying both his love and pride, seeming to add to this Bella's aura of strength and purpose.
The mirror image Bella was slightly hazy, a somewhat distorted image of smaller stature. Secondary Bella was a bland replica, bowed and apathetic-looking, just as I had been in what I now thought of as my previous life. Instead of having a supportive and equal Edward by her side, all the other Bella had was a dark elongated shadow, an effect of the shaft of buttery light that highlighted the figures in the fore-ground. The shadow looked menacing, a representation of the stalker that had plagued me. Everything surrounding bland Bella looked gloomy and featureless, poor imitations of the items represented so vividly on the other side.
"I've called this one 'Through a glass, darkly.' It symbolizes my evolution over the past months. Before I was attacked, I had a distorted view of life, and of myself. I was scared of everything−of trying, of failing, and most of all, of living. Then, I died and realized that there were worse things to fear."
I looked around at the circle of people that surrounded me, sending up a silent prayer of thanks that I had been lucky enough to find my way to these people. To love and be loved. To be happy.
"When I died, my soul was released, and I was born into a new life. I might not be in heaven, but every day, I think that I could be. I see it all around me and do what I can to deserve it. Does that make sense?"
Edward pulled me close again and kissed my temple. "You always make perfect sense to me."
Fishing down the front of my dress, I pulled out a small slip of paper, warmed from where it had been tucked against my heart.
"Now I know I was right to think that way, the fortune cookie confirmed it." I read the message aloud, my voice ringing with sincerity as I shared my new mantra for living, knowing I achieved so much of it already.
"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it."