Not sure if you like to read and listen to music, but I had a small piece of music on repeat while I wrote this chapter and I think it fits the mood really well. (Esp. the latter half) If you're interested, there's a video on You Tube called Carter, See You Next Fall and it's from the soundtrack from an old, old, old, ER episode. I found it completely by accident and couldn't stop listening to it. It's pretty short, so you'll probably have to repeat it a few times :0
Chapter 40 - Absolution
If I had ever had the gift of foresight, if I could have been made aware of the consequences to every decision I made, then what would I have done differently?
The honest, painful truth to that question was probably nothing. Having now had Edward Cullen in my life, I simply couldn't imagine it without him.
At the time, deciding to go to London to celebrate my eighteenth birthday had been so trivial, so meaningless in the grand scheme of things, yet it had impacted my life forever. Was it not for that weekend, I would never have met James Hunter, the death of my mother would not have been my fault and I would never have left England to escape the guilt. I wouldn't have spent seven years in constant fear or lived through a truly horrifying near-death experience, but the most prominent factor was I would never have met Edward and I would never have found this life in New York.
It had been a tough road to travel. There were months of nightmares, panic attacks, and a constant battle to accept the fact that this time, James was really gone for good, but now I could see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I was going to put this behind me once and for all, I had to stop living in the past and look forward to the future.
I had a fantastic group of family and friends who helped me every step of the way. They knew when I needed to talk and, just as importantly, they recognised when I needed to be alone. There were still some things that I was working on; darkness for one. If I woke up in the dark, for one split second I would re-live that night with perfect clarity. It never happened much during the day, just when I was surrounded by the dark. Even Edwards's unbreakable hold in bed couldn't keep the fear away.
People who knew me, now knew never to approach me from behind. It hadn't even been an issue until a few nights after I arrived home. I had been standing gazing out on Central Park when Edward suddenly appeared behind me, his voice in my ear had quite literally terrified me and I almost passed out after suffering a rather intense panic attack.
But, for the most part, I was doing well. I hadn't returned to work at Arts, although I did want to at some point, I knew that I still needed to work on putting myself back together, one piece at a time.
I had several appointments with a therapist called Dr. Gerandy—a personal favour called in by my father—and we attempted to discuss everything about that night and how it had affected me. However, I never laid all my cards bare on the table. Purely because one thing in particular I wouldn't be ready to discuss for a long time to come; death. Not my own experience with it, but the fact that four people had lost their lives at my expense.
First and foremost, was my mother, obviously, I would bear those scars for the rest of my life. Then there was Felix and Harry. Two men doing what they had been asked to do; watch and protect me and they were dead because of it. Two more families ripped apart just like that…because of me.
However, my guilt for the death of the fourth person, no one understood. Yes, James Hunter had been the ultimate bad guy, yes he had destroyed my life and very nearly taken it, but still, the guilt remained. He had acted in that way because of some obsession with me. It may have been a psychiatric disorder; it may have been nothing more than he was a fucking monster, but still, because of his obsession with me, it had affected so many lives, so many people. Irrespective of blame, James Hunter was still dead and dead because of me. Period.
If it hadn't been you, it might have been someone else. Someone who didn't have an Edward, an Alice, or an Angela to help them survive.
I should also point out, that in my conversations with Dr. Gerandy, I coincidentally forgot to mention Inner-Bella. I did imagine how that conversation would have gone down on more than one occasion
So yeah, I feel guilty that the sick fuck who tried to kill me is dead, oh and I don't know if it's important but I can hear voices in my head. They're pretty much harmless; it's just my inner-me trying to persuade me to straddle my fiancé, Edward at every opportunity. Did I mention that she's a horny little witch?
Some of her ramblings had certainly made me smile, midsession, earning me a peculiar look from Dr. Gerandy. I persisted with the appointments, attending the minimum number that he recommended, but they weren't really helping.
Only one person ever really helped me and I didn't need to pay him $300 an hour for the trouble.
Edward was my rock. Not once during these past few months had he ever expected too much of me. He knew instinctively if I needed a hug or if I just needed a minute to myself. He would listen if I wanted, or distract me if I asked him to, and every single day I couldn't believe my god damn good luck that I'd found him.
Surprisingly, James' estate had been settled quickly. He was survived by no other family members so no one had contested the Will. His father's long time business partner Laurent Victoire, had bought my share of the law practice, the apartment in London had been sold and the contents of James' bank accounts had been transferred into one of my own. My father had hired an attorney to oversee my side of things and after Estate tax and charitable donations; I was looking at $29,683,026—oh and thirty seven cents.
My feelings in regard to the money never changed, and I didn't spend a penny of it on myself. I had tried to give some to Alice but she refused. I had attempted to go through Jasper, her parents, and even making an anonymous donation into her bank account, but she was adamant she wanted nothing.
As I was investing in Rosalie's new venture, she gave me a fantastic idea. Alice loved clothes, Alice loved shopping, and Alice loved New York. So, we three became partners. I bought the premises, Rosalie designed the clothes, and Alice would be running the store. She just didn't know it yet.
Thanks to Rosalie, we managed to secure a small little shop, which had just become vacant. It was in a perfect spot from a retail perspective and it was situated on Fifth, literally a stone's throw from Edward's apartment.
We had it decorated and fitted out in a matter of weeks. Rose was still working on her own line of clothing, but she somehow managed to persuade Irina Perovski to allow us to stock some of her creations to sell. As soon as people heard she was part of our range, we were literally bombarded with requests from other designers and we actually had to turn some away.
The day we unveiled the store to Alice, I finally felt like I was giving her something back. A thank you for everything she had shouldered over the years, without ever complaining. She had unashamedly burst into tears and squealed in delight at the same time. As we were locked in the mother of all hugs I found I was crying too.
Yea, you do that a lot these days.
"This is too much, Bella, I mean it must have cost..." Alice began to protest, her eyes wide with excitement, which she was unable to conceal.
I cut her off quickly, "Look, you wouldn't let me give you the money, so let me give you this. If you hate it, get fed up or whatever, then it's yours to do as you wish. I need to thank you, Alice, but even this won't ever be enough for what you did for me."
"You're my best friend, Bella. You know you would have done exactly the same thing." She looked around the room and blew out her cheeks. "What if I fuck up?"
"Alice, this will work. We have Irina on board, how can it not work?" Rosalie was almost as excited as Alice.
"No more on-line travel agent?" Alice grinned. "Oh, how will I endure that?"
"You're in?" I clarified and she responded with the most exhilarating smile I had ever seen from her.
"If course I'm in. As if I could ever turn down the chance to work anywhere involving designer clothing. Tut, tut, I thought you'd know me better than to even ask, Isabella Swan." She ushered the three of us into a hug and then began to plan the grand opening in true Alice style.
That had been two weeks ago, now we were approaching the end of May. I didn't have much of the money left. I had given some to Angela, Phil, and Sarah. I also donated a large chunk to the hospital and the rescue service that had pulled me from the water. I had donated money to organisations all over the place—cancer research, animal cruelty, homeless shelters, and children's charities to mention just a few. Edward was as eager to rid every last dime from my account and I wholly agreed with him. It was time to put James behind us once and for all.
We were about to take our trip to the Maldives, courtesy of Edwards parents and I couldn't wait. Alice had tried to warn us that we were going amidst their rainy season but I didn't care. Two weeks away from everything would be perfect, and in all honesty, I wasn't intending on spending much time out of the bedroom, so it didn't really matter if it rained or not.
That's what I'm talking about. Mr. Delicious naked, sweaty, and all ours.
Much to my annoyance, I had become the latest model for Rosalie's new designs. She insisted on using me because she couldn't trust anyone else. I had pointed out to her over and over again that I was nowhere near tall enough or skinny enough to be a model in any universe, but still each week she would measure me and pin an assortment of fabrics across my frame, but never actually let me see the finished product.
Four days before our trip I woke alone, with a note from Edward on the bed beside me.
I had a little something to take care of, but I will see you for lunch though.
I grumbled to myself and padded to the kitchen. I hated to admit it, but whenever he wasn't there, I was lost. These past few months, I had literally spent every minute of the day with him and it had been perfect. We hadn't argued or sent each other crazy, it just felt right. We would be having words later though. Something to take care of? What the hell was that?
I was standing out on the balcony, overlooking the park. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and I was basking in the glorious sunshine when my phone rang. Like the loved up fool it was, I answered immediately hoping to hear Edward's voice.
"Bella? Let us up," Alice barked. "We're downstairs."
"Why on earth are you here at this time?" I muttered. "Wait a second, who the hell is us?"
"Just do it will you, my arms are killing me"
I huffed and because I couldn't be bothered to traipse all the way downstairs, I put the key into the lock for our floor and sent the elevator down. As soon as the doors shut and the elevator began its descent I started to panic.
It was so irrational, I knew James was dead, yet, I couldn't help but feel like I'd just given him an open invitation to the apartment. I ran to the kitchen and hovered near the block of knives, waiting for the doors to open again.
Of course, when they did open, it was Alice and Angela who emerged, donned with all sorts of crap. Small cases, bigger cases, and a bag which looked to be holding clothes.
"Are you two moving in or something?" I asked nervously.
"Hey, that's an idea. Just think how much closer I'd be to the boutique." Alice laughed and then fished around in one of her bags before throwing something at me. "Here, this is for you."
I looked down at the envelope and opened it, not even trying to figure out what was going on. Edward, it seemed, had gone all romantic on me, it was a very formal invitation to lunch in Central Park. I was to meet him there at one o'clock sharp.
"Okay, so Edward and I are going on a date?" I looked at them and they nodded enthusiastically. "And you guys are here, why?"
Angela laughed and Alice rolled her eyes in disgust. "Bella, please. We're here to help you get ready. If it we left it to you you'd show up in a pair of shorts and one of Edward's sweaters. First things first, go and shower." She pointed toward to bathroom and waited for me to make a move.
"Wow, this is going to be such fun," I retorted sarcastically.
Three hours of torture later, I was ready. Why Alice felt the need to go to such extreme measures was beyond me. But, I suppose, this was Alice and she loved nothing more than playing dress up.
"Do I at least get to see?" I strained my neck around her as she fiddled with my hair. She had been curling it for a while, concentrating on every last strand. She put in a small piece of hair jewellery into the side of my head and then began to spray the whole thing furiously with hairspray. "Isn't this a bit much for lunch?"
"Trust me, Bella, it's perfect. Oh, shit, look at the time." Alice swore a few more times and then spun me away from the mirror and towed me to the elevator. "We're late."
"Alice, I'm not even dressed yet!" I protested but she ignored me.
Angela was quiet too, strangely so, something was going on here but I had no idea what.
As soon as we reached the lobby, I was dragged to a waiting car outside. Franz had the door opened and I was rather ungraciously shoved inside. Alice shuffled in beside me and then Angela followed.
"Jesus Christ, where's the fire?" I cursed, "And can you tell me why we're going anywhere when I've still got these on?" I gestured to my sweat pants and sleeveless top.
"I brought your clothes, Bella, don't worry." Angela was actually beaming as she spoke.
I tried to demand more answers but received no response from either of my so-called friends.
Sulking, I turned my attention outside. I didn't drive around Manhattan, but I did know enough to recognise we weren't heading towards the Boat House or any of the other few places we tended to eat.
"Alice, I swear to God if you don't tell me where we're going..."
"Please, Bella, for once just let it go. A few more minutes and you won't have any more questions. Please," she pleaded with me.
I shook my head, but kept my mouth shut. I was such a pushover. I was still scalding myself when I felt the car slow to a stop.
"Let's go," Alice commanded and didn't even wait for Franz to open our door before she jumped out of the car.
I followed reluctantly, feeling extremely self-conscious and nervous because it would seem I was the only one who had no clue what was happening.
Then I saw him and the panic and nerves evaporated in an instant. Edward smiled and then walked over. He was dressed in a very smart suit, complete with cuff links and very shiny shoes.
"We never said anything, Edward. The stage is all yours." Alice could barely conceal the excitement in her voice. "But you'd better explain, 'cos she's a little pissed."
Edward laughed and then held out his hand to me. "Can we take a walk?"
I nodded hesitantly and stepped closer. "Edward, will you please tell me what's going on? I thought we were going on a date."
"We are." He looked nervous and it was a few minutes before he said anything else.
I was just about going mad with confusion when he finally spoke. "Bella, I love you. I promised you a date, something romantic without any ties to anything. Well today is the 24th May. It's not either of our birthday, it's not our anniversary, or Valentine's Day. It's just another day that I love you even more. Marry me?"
I was baffled. "Um, Edward. You already asked me that at Christmas." I waggled my finger at him. "I said yes."
He rolled his eyes and sighed. "No, Bella. I mean marry me today. Marry me now, right here."
Well fuck me sideways. I certainly didn't see that one coming.
I let out a nervous gasp of laughter. "Here? Now? Like this?" I was in sweatpants for crying out loud. Even I wouldn't get married in sweat pants. "I can't...I mean look at me..."
"Already taken care of," he stated smugly. "Alice." I whirled around and saw Alice holding up a garment bag, an even smugger smile on her face. "Please, Bella."
He looked at me so intently, that I almost melted into a puddle on the floor. His eyes were so vulnerable for that split second that I couldn't have said no if I wanted to. But, I had no doubt in me at all, I really did want to. I wanted to be Mrs. Cullen.
I waited a little too long to answer and obviously Edward took that as a no.
"It's okay. I don't want to pressure you, Bella." He desperately tried to hide the sting of rejection. "If you don't feel ready to get married it's fine. Really it is."
"Give a girl chance to answer. Jeez." I giggled and his eyes lit up. "Okay, let's do it."
"Yeah?" he breathed.
"Yeah." I nodded furiously and he smiled, such a breath taking, smile that I knew straight away that this was the right thing to do. I loved him, I wanted to marry him, and holy shit I was going to marry him right now. "I'd love to marry you, Edward Cullen."
"Right, Edward, go. We'll need ten minutes to finish getting her ready, and then she's all yours." Alice chirped in my ear and motioned for Edward to leave.
He stole a quick kiss before he left, leaving me floating on the spot.
"You knew?" I accused, not particularly caring for her answer. It didn't matter.
"Yeah, he needed some help. He's been planning this for so long, Bella. I promise you, he arranged everything himself; I just gave him a helping hand. The only thing he had nothing to do with was your dress." She unzipped the bag. "Rose and I took care of that along with another co-conspirator."
"Rose?" Suddenly, I realised what the "modelling" had really been about; making sure the bloody dress fit. "Sneaky cow. Who else knows?"
"Just those who matter, Bella. Edward wanted to make it special for you, so he told people who he thought you would want to be here."
"Wow." I sniffed and had to wipe away a tear.
"Come on, you need to get dressed." Alice pulled me off the path and into a slightly obscured part of the park. "Angela, bring that sheet."
Angela held out a huge sheet and it kept me hidden from any passers-by. "This is so exciting, Bella."
Alice carefully removed the dress and I brought my hands to my mouth. It was beautiful, and simple and perfectly me.
I traced the edges of the material. It was a sleek silk material in ivory, with a strapless top. A thick belt of lace hugged my waist and then the silky material fell to just below my knees, the hem line was trimmed with another thick band of the intricately woven lace. Without even a thought to anyone who could be watching, I slipped out of my casual clothes and let Alice carefully pull the dress over my head. It fit perfectly and I knew instantly who I had to thank for designing it.
"Irina?" I smiled and Alice nodded.
"Rose called her, and she jumped at the chance to design a dress for you. She got Rose to check the measurements so you wouldn't figure it all out. Here, put these shoes on and you're all set, Bella." Alice crouched down and put a pair of low heeled strappy sandals on my feet. "The silver in the shoe, matches the piece in your hair."
Alice and Angela took turns changing their clothes, as I continued to try and absorb what was about to happen. Strangely, I felt no nerves, and no feelings of panic began to set in. Everything just felt meant to be.
"Alice, how will I be walking down the aisle?" I asked, "Is Dad here?"
"Of course he is, Edward told him ages ago," Alice responded as if it was glaringly obvious. "As if your dad would have missed this."
Wow, Mr. Delicious needs to pay a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive his knighthood in person.
"Right, let's go." Alice clapped her hands like a kid at Christmas and then helped me manoeuvre my way out of the bushes without catching my dress.
I knew where we were going, the place I had always thought would have been the perfect place to get married, but never actually thought it would happen.
"Shakespeare Garden?" I whispered.
"See, he did everything you'd ever wanted. It's going to be amazing, Bella. Wait here, your dad's coming to meet you. I need to go and tell everyone we're good to go." Alice hugged me quickly and then skipped away with Angela.
They had just rounded the corner when my dad appeared. "Bella. You look just like...you're beautiful," he said, and held out his arm with a proud smile on his face.
"I'm really happy for you. I know I was an ass with the guy at first, but I can see what he's done for you and how happy he makes you. I can't fault him for that." He patted my hand and then we began to walk forward.
The flowers were in full bloom, a range of colours so vast it was surreal. I saw a few people gathered near the foot of the Shakespearean staircase. Emmett, Rose, Carlisle, Esme, Caitlyn, and Edward's nan. Jasper, Ben, Art, Seth, Garrett, and Johnny, too. They were all smiling at me, Alice was right—the people here were the ones that mattered to us.
I smiled as soon as I saw Phil, Sarah, and her husband, and, then a few tears ran down my face. As pleased as I was to see their faces, it wasn't for them that I shed that tear. A single seat had been left empty on the front row, and on it sat a photo. I was about five years old and wrapped up in my mother's arms, smiling like I had everything I ever needed. I smiled, because I knew that she was here with me…somewhere. She wouldn't miss this.
"Edward's idea," Dad whispered in my ear.
I looked up and saw the minister standing on the bottom step and then I saw Edward, waiting for me. The sun which filtered in between the blossom on the tree shone down on him like a spotlight. He looked so relaxed and happy, and so strangely different. I couldn't quite understand at first, he was in the same suit as I'd just seen, his hair was in its typically messy style but he looked like a different man. Then I saw his heart-breaking smile, his smouldering eyes, and I swear I could feel the happiness radiating from him.
I took Edward's hand and he pulled me close to him, neither of us caring for the official version of events. He placed a kiss on the tip of my nose.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Are you ready to begin?" the minister asked and with one more look of contentment, we nodded.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today, to celebrate the union of Edward and Isabella," he began.
Yeah, yeah, get on with it, man. We want to hurry up and get on with the whole lifetime of leaping, ripping, and straddling, of Mr. Delicious…our husband!
Ah, Inner-Bella and Mr. Delicious, a match made in heaven. I smiled up at Edward, and I was that girl in the photo again, because thanks to him, I really did have everything I would ever need.
Despite everything, Isabella Swan was finally going to get her happy ever after.
A/N Thanks to Prettyflour for prereading and to you guys for sticking with me during the repost.
I know it seems like a strange place to end, but after 40 chapters I was exhausted and think it was a good place to finish...hopefully you agree :0 I will probably write an epi at some point, and I was thinking of an outtake of the wedding/reception but for now I'll hit the complete button.
Bye and thanks again,