Alice flew at me before I was all the way through the front door. From the conclave-style semicircle the others were standing in, I concluded they had already been debriefed by Alice. Details of my engagement had officially been made known and were under discussion. Feeling the onslaught of a variety of thoughts from them, mostly happy thoughts, I mentally braced myself. At least it would be easier than informing Charlie. I spared a moment to worry about Bella, who I'd just left behind to calm her father and get him used to the idea of marrying off his barely-adult daughter to someone he viewed with deep suspicion.
"Edward!" Alice grabbed both my hands and tried to drag me further into the room. "Come on, you've got to get the congratulations over with so we can start talking wedding plans."
Esme threw her arms around me. "Oh, I'm so happy, I could burst! Edward, it's the most wonderful news!" She hugged me ferociously. Carlisle just placed a hand on my shoulder with a quiet "Congratulations," but his thoughts were an uproar of joy, relief, love and pride.
"I'm very happy for you both, Edward," Rosalie said. No hug from Rose, but she was being more cordial than I would have expected. Even her thoughts were mostly benevolent.
"Yeah, nice going, my brother!" Emmett grinned and gave me a punch on the arm. "About time!" As usual, Emmett's thoughts and his words were perfectly synchronized. He said no more or less than he meant.
Jasper contented himself with a smile and a handshake, but happiness at my good fortune filled his thoughts. Being Jasper, these thoughts were set against a backdrop of rapid strategic planning, as he sifted through the ramifications of holding a public inter-species wedding, avoiding the lethal vengeance of the Quileutes, arranging the disappearance of a local police chief's newly married daughter, and safely managing a capricious and dangerous newborn vampire while moving the entire family across country without leaving a trace. He was mentally juggling up to thirty-seven possible combinations of tactics, depending on how circumstances went, but his pleasure at the prospect of accepting Bella as a sister was still prominent in his thoughts. As was relief at seeing an end to what he thought of as exhausting, nonstop drama, and the unpleasant emotional climate that came with it. I gripped his hand and smiled back, trying not to dwell on the problems he was contemplating.
"I told them I had to talk you two out of eloping," Alice said severely. "I hope that's not still in question."
"No. Bella agreed to a wedding, and as long as you can stay within your limits, she's comfortable with that decision."
"Here at the house?" Esme asked eagerly.
"Preferably. It's less public, which Bella likes, and less conspicuous, which is good for us."
"Who would actually be there?" Esme asked. "Just the eight of us?"
"Bella wants her parents present. She thinks it might help give them some closure, if they're not able to see her again afterward." I tried to sound unconcerned.
Alice nodded. "Okay, we can do that. We'll have to provide food, and make it look like we're eating it, but that can be managed."
"Maybe we could include Tanya's family," Esme suggested tentatively. "If you and Bella wouldn't mind. They're practically part of our own family, and they'll be so glad to see it worked out between you."
"I'm sure that would be fine." Well, fairly sure. Bella still had issues with Tanya.
"What about Bella's friends?" Alice asked. "People from school?"
"I'll ask her." I was hoping Alice wouldn't inquire about Jacob Black.
"Good," Alice said briskly. "So. Religious or secular ceremony?"
"You realize we haven't had a chance to talk about any of this yet? We'll have to get back to you."
"Does her father know?" Carlisle asked me.
"He does now. I've just come back from breaking the news."
Emmett snickered. "That doesn't sound too good. How'd he take it?"
I sighed. "Bella's talking him down as we speak."
"Really?" Esme looked worried. "He wasn't pleased?"
"Nothing serious," I reassured her. "It was a bit of a surprise, that's all. He doesn't actually object, although I'm not his first choice as a son-in-law."
Alice was still running through wedding details. "Can you also ask about an officiant? Priest, minister, rabbi, Justice of the Peace, all of the above? Speaking of Charlie, is he attached to any particular denomination?"
"Good question," Carlisle said. "We should take that into account."
"He's Lutheran, I believe."
"Okay," Alice noted, "I'll look into that."
"Into what, Lutheranism?" I joked.
"Into getting a minister, idiot!"
"So," Emmett put in, "she's putting off getting changed until after the wedding."
"That's right. How did you know?"
He jerked his head at Alice. "What's the timeline?"
"That remains to be decided." I was a little hesitant to explain our agreement.
Alice cut in, "Okay, I have enough to get started. I'll have to talk with Bella about some of the details, and get a preliminary dress fitting done. Ask her to come by tomorrow, Edward, will you?"
"Esme, Rose, can you help me get started on planning the decor?" The three of them headed off to the foot of the stairs, apparently a central focus of the event, Esme pausing to give me one more hug on her way by.
Carlisle stood watching them for a moment. "You would not believe how much happiness this has given the family."
"Yes, I would, actually." I could hear it in every thought they had. Even Rosalie's.
He smiled, and we wandered aimlessly, together, toward the windows, looking out at the setting sun. "If you don't mind my asking, what made you two decide to marry before Bella was changed? Not that I mind in the least, but it's something of an innovation."
Here we go, I thought. "It was part of our agreement."
Carlisle looked puzzled. "Yours and Bella's?"
"Yes. She was a little uncomfortable with the idea of an actual wedding." I decided to let him think, for now, that she had preferred a private elopement, rather than simple cohabitation. "We managed to hammer out a contract."
"What was your part of the compromise?"
"She very much wanted me to be the one who actually changed her." The other part of the agreement, consummation of the marriage prior to the change, I would save for when I was speaking with Carlisle privately. I might need a little fatherly advice.
Carlisle nodded. "I can understand why she might want that."
"It would let her know you fully accepted her decision, for one thing."
Yes, it probably would at that. Was that why it was so important to Bella?
"But," Carlisle continued hesitantly, "I'm a little surprised you agreed to it."
"Considering the way you feel about having her change. Your concern about her losing her immortal soul in the process."
"Well..." I was uncomfortably aware that the others could hear every word. "The thing is, I find I have to reconsider that, er, hypothesis."
He raised his eyebrows, and I saw Jasper look at me in surprise. "Why is that?"
"Bella pointed out a certain inconsistency in my thinking on that subject."
"Bella did?" Carlisle looked closely at me. "I'm surprised to hear she takes a position on the matter. I confess, I took her to be, essentially, an agnostic, like most people her age."
"Oh, she is. Although she does subscribe to an interesting view on the nature of truth. Not a well-defined belief; more of a personal perception of the world. She sees truth as a kind of active, living force which, given the opportunity, will often make itself known in spite of any efforts to suppress it."
"Interesting," Carlisle agreed. "Rather like some of the doctrines of the Society of Friends." He contemplated a moment. "But what argument did she make against your theory?"
"Not an argument, in that sense. She didn't take the position that I had or had not lost my soul; only that I did not truly, in my heart of hearts, believe that it was lost."
"Really? Based on what?"
"It was something that happened while we were in Italy." I saw they were all listening avidly now. "When Bella first encountered me, at Volterra..."
Alice snorted. "By 'encountered' you mean she slammed into you like a speeding train and started screaming at you to get the hell inside?"
I smiled at her. "Exactly. When she first slammed into me, then. Bella's position is that, if I had genuinely believed I had no soul, I would have almost immediately understood what was going on. Instead of assuming, as I did..." I broke off, a little ashamed. "You see, when Bella arrived at the doorway where I stood, it was at the same moment that I stepped out into the piazza." Esme clenched her eyes shut for a moment at the memory that brought to the surface. "I assumed, you see, that the Volturi must have acted precipitately. So quickly that I was not even aware of it. I thought..." I hesitated.
Carlisle looked at me in amazement. "You thought they had killed you instantly, and you had found yourself in Heaven, with her!"
They all stared at me for a moment, then Emmett threw back his head and roared with laughter. I felt a little annoyed, but had to admit it was an appropriate response.
"Oh!" Alice exclaimed. "That would explain what she was saying." She turned to Esme. "When I got within hearing range of the clock tower, there was Bella, trying to push Edward back through the doorway, yelling 'No! No! We're not dead yet!' I wondered what on earth she must have meant by it."
The rest of them joined Emmett in laughing. "You poor sap!" he exclaimed. "All that endless debate with Carlisle about being a dead, soulless whatever, and the first thing that occurs to you when something unexpected happens is that you must've been knocked headfirst into the afterlife!" He howled. At least I provided amusement.
"I thought she was dead," I said weakly.
"So after you got her back home, she called you on it?" Jasper asked.
"She did. She said that deep down, I retained hope in spite of myself, and suggested...well, that we simply be hopeful together." I looked at Carlisle. "It must seem ridiculous, after all the arguments we've had on the subject, to decide I may have unconsciously agreed with you all along."
"Not ridiculous at all. But are you really at peace with this decision? I would hate to think you were compromising your principles in order to comply with Bella's request."
"It feels right to me. Bella says I feel hope in spite of myself, and I suppose I do. It may not make much sense to feel that way. I don't know any more. All I know is, I'm following Bella's lead on this. And I'm holding onto hope until it's taken from me by force."
Emmett grinned at me suddenly. "What's so funny?" I asked.
"Nah, not funny. I'm just remembering. You came back from Bella's place one night, after being so miserable and bound up all those weeks, and I tried to figure out that weird expression you were wearing. I decided you looked hopeful. Hadn't seen that look on your face for a long, long time."
I nodded. I remembered hearing his thoughts at the time. "Well, I imagine you'll be seeing it more often from now on."
"Edward!" Alice snapped at me. "Will you please focus! You have more important things to worry about." She shoved an opened bridal magazine under my nose. "Black tuxes, or grey?"