I have never been known as a disappointing gift giver, though I say it myself. Even when choosing presents for people with interests I do not share, I usually manage to come through with something that pleases the recipient.
My brothers and sisters have suggested that being able to read minds gives me an unfair advantage. I cannot deny it; but even once I know what the other person is consciously wishing for, I still have to distinguish between serious desires and random whims, and then weed out items the person would rather buy for himself, or would have lost interest in before the gift was given. After culling the inappropriate, redundant, unavailable, or merely cheap, I usually have little trouble finding a gift that will be happily received.
My family were always easy to finds gifts for. Alice, because she will cheerfully and openly announce what she wants. Carlisle and Esme, because they love anything I give them. Rosalie, because she is happy as long as what she receives is beautiful and expensive. Emmett, because his wants, like the rest of his mind, are an open book. Jasper is the trickiest, but since he has a few unusual hobbies and collections, I can always come through by finding an addition to those.
However, a few years ago, after a lifetime of success in the area of gift giving, I found myself completely at a loss. Bella, the one person I most wanted to please, wanted to provide with things which would give her pleasure or make her life easier, was also the most troublesome and complicated and sometimes impossible to find offerings for. That fact continued throughout our courtship.
The first string of difficulties were simple but frustrating:
She disliked receiving gifts.
She especially disliked receiving expensive gifts.
She most particularly disliked receiving expensive gifts from me.
The second string consisted of two confounding facts about Bella herself:
She was the only person on earth whose thoughts, and therefore wishes, I could not read.
She was inordinately reluctant to ever express needs or wishes directly to me.
(That last is still the case, to some extent. She is open about her desires only when they are for things she already possesses, like my metaphorical heart and my long since captured and subjugated body.)
If that were not problematic enough, my beloved was a person of idiosyncratic tastes. She could be indifferent to rare or valuable items which would impress and delight most women, yet moved to tears by a $4 trinket, a small but thoughtful favour from a friend, a piece of music. She is hardly what one would call materialistic. It is a quality that only makes me love her more, but it also makes choosing presents for her confusing, even now, years later, when she has overcome most of her resistance to receiving things from me.
My family has, by now, set aside most ritual gift giving. We no longer keep birthdays, since none of us are, properly speaking, growing older each year. We stopped exchanging Christmas presents some time ago, with rare exceptions. At Esme's suggestion, we agreed to take turns naming a favourite charity, and jointly donating an agreed upon amount as our mutual holiday gift. Apart from occasional disagreements about the worthiness of a proposed charity, and Emmett's attempts to turn the event into a joke the first few years, it has worked out very well, and we are all satisfied with the arrangement.
Presents are sometimes offered in special circumstances, as when the family built Bella and myself a honeymoon cottage as a combination wedding present for both of us, and a welcome for Bella; and couples might exchange gifts when they feel the occasion calls for it.
I was preparing to observe just such an occasion.
We were approaching our fifth wedding anniversary. This date closely coincided with Bella's former birthday and the birthday of our daughter, and with the date of what might be called her birth into a new life. I wanted to commemorate this multiple anniversary by doing something which should have been laughably simple: give my wife a present she would like.
While Bella was out buying school supplies with Nessie, I approached Alice for help, explaining the situation.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked. "I don't know what she'd like any more than you do."
"I thought you might see what she'd prefer to receive, in advance."
"Edward, you know how this works. What she receives depends on what you decide to give her. You haven't decided anything yet. Choose something, and I might be able to tell you what she'll think of it."
I let my mind wander to one of the items I had considered: a Ferrari FF, custom painted metallic blue. Alice's eyes focused on a far distant point for a moment.
"I can't tell what she's feeling, of course, but I don't think she's exactly overwhelmed. She's being very nice and grateful and everything, but you know what a lousy actress she is."
"Yes, I do. What about this?" I concentrated on purchasing, wrapping and presenting an antique emerald necklace currently being auctioned by Christie's. I'd imagined it looking glorious around Bella's lovely neck.
"Well, she's acting even more happy about the jewelry, but I don't see her wearing it, except right after she gets it, probably to please you."
"She feels too conspicuous with something like that on." Alice smirked. "I certainly wouldn't mind, but you know how she is." She gave me a sympathetic look. "Keep trying. I'll let you know if something clicks."
Rosalie and Emmett, in the next room searching for something on the internet, had overheard. "Maybe you should keep trying with the jewelry," Rosalie suggested. "You might not have hit on the right item yet."
"Maybe. Is there anything you know she's admired, in particular?"
"Me? No. I just tend to assume jewelry is always the answer."
Emmett laughed at that. "My baby loves those shiny rocks!" He turned back to me. "What about a vacation? Would Bella like a private getaway with you? Maybe some time away from the bosom of the family?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, just in case I hadn't picked up his meaning the first time.
"Actually, we've talked about doing that at some point, but not right now. We don't like to be away from Nessie for too long, not when her childhood's practically down to its last minutes."
Rosalie nodded. "It went fast, didn't it?"
I sighed. Seeing my daughter become an adult was bittersweet. And soon I'd have to start worrying about her relationship with Jacob Black. Or with someone else. I set that matter aside for now.
Esme was in the kitchen with her sketchbook. I wandered in her direction. "You heard?"
"Yes, dear. I was just thinking it over, in fact. She loves books, and music, but they don't seem the kind of thing you're thinking of."
"No. I want something a bit more momentous for this occasion."
Carlisle came down the stairs from his study, holding an open book. "Have you considered artwork?"
"That's an interesting idea. I'm not sure I know what would be special to her, though. Her likes and dislikes are so mixed."
Emmett and Rosalie left the computer and came to join us. "Bella's so incredibly hard to shop for!" Rosalie said. "I don't mean she's hard to please - just the opposite. She's perfectly happy with whatever you give her, so it's difficult to find something she really gets excited about."
"That's the problem. And she's not impressed by the value of the gift."
Carlisle set his book aside. "The perfect gift doesn't have to be extravagant."
"Says the man who bought his wife an island!" Emmett laughed.
"I said it doesn't have to be. It just has to be right for the individual."
"Bella has strange tastes," Rosalie said.
"Really?" I was a little offended.
"Don't get miffed, Edward. I don't mean it in a bad way. She's unusual, that's all."
"It's true," Esme said thoughtfully. "Her idea of beauty is uncommon."
I considered this. "When I first started talking to Bella, trying to find out more about her, I started asking her a series of questions. You know: what is your favourite book, your favourite musical work, gemstone, flower. That kind of thing."
Emmett snickered. "Such a smooth talker. You romance a girl by making her feel like she's at a job interview?"
"I was going into it blind. Sadly, I neglected to tap into your vast expertise." He laughed uproariously at that. "She was a little wary at first."
"Can't imagine why," Rosalie smirked.
I gave her a look. "...and gave very brief answers. Then I asked her about her home back in Arizona. It was the first time she spoke at any length. She forgot her shyness and talked for some twenty minutes about the area outside Phoenix. She told me the desert was incredibly beautiful. I said most people would find it drab and barren, but she became quite passionate on the subject. She described it in detail, a landscape that she found beautiful because of its barrenness and simplicity, not in spite of it. My point is, you're right; her aesthetic sense is a little unusual."
Rosalie nodded. "Your cottage back in Forks, for example. Esme knew Bella would like it just as it was, a little pile of stones with a doorway, like a gnome's house or something."
"Or that trash heap of a truck," Emmett chuckled. "She loved that thing, hated us making fun of it! She said it had character."
"And look at which paintings are her favourites," Esme said. "Never the ones a museum would highlight, but she's picked out qualities I've missed in some insignificant works. If you are giving her jewelry, Edward, it probably should not be the glittering gemstones variety. Probably something much more understated."
Alice grinned. "You'd have to suppress your natural impulse to bury her in three carat diamonds, unfortunately. Bella's no Lorelei Lee."
"Did you have something in mind?"
Esme went to the computer and put in a search. "This. It's an Art Nouveau necklace by Georg Jensen. Classic and old fashioned, a little unusual. Pretty and graceful, but simple. She'd love it."
Alice looked. "Beautiful, but she wouldn't feel too Zsa Zsa wearing it. Exactly right for her."
I studied the photograph on the screen. "That seems perfect." As Alice had suggested, I tried to set aside my desire to dazzle her with precious gems. This was something Bella would actually like wearing.
"Unfortunately," Esme went on, "it's one of a kind, and not available at any price." I stared at her in mock outrage, and she laughed. "But that doesn't mean you couldn't have an approximate replica made for Bella. The inconvenience would make it more of a gift. The original is in silver, but you could have it done in platinum."
"To satisfy your need for extravagance," Alice giggled. I looked at her questioningly, wanting confirmation that this was the right choice, and she let her eyes glaze over a moment. "Next year," she said.
"She'll love it for next year. Really love it. But not now."
"I don't know. You know I can't tell what someone is feeling, or the reason behind their actions; only what they do. Plan on giving her the necklace next summer, but something else for now."
I sighed. Well, at least I had one gift taken care of a year in advance. It might take that long to get the replica made, in any case. "I'll have to give it some more thought."
Carlisle frowned. "One thing seems to emerge from this discussion. Generosity is not quite enough. The perfect gift for Bella, or for anyone I suppose, is one which is intended specifically for her. It does not try to force the recipient to be something she is not, in order to indulge the giver. It acknowledges and, you might say, celebrates the person's individual traits and preferences."
Trust Carlisle to find an ethical philosophy behind the search for an anniversary present.
Esme smiled at him. "That's exactly right. A gift like that sends a message; not only 'I love you' but 'I love you just as you are'."
And with that, I knew exactly what I had to give Bella.
Unfortunately, I could not do it by myself, but Bella would appreciate an anniversary present no less if it came from her entire family.
"Edward?" Rosalie frowned at my sudden dazed look.
"I've got it," I said. "I've absolutely got it. Can all of you help me, though? I have less than a month."
"Of course we'll help you," Esme said. "Help you with what?"
I smiled at her, and proceeded to fill them in. "Alice?"
She was already tuned out, looking ahead. She focused again and smiled at us, showing all her teeth. "Oh, yes. That's it. Definitely."
"Okay." Rosalie took on a look of determination. "Let's get started. We've got a lot of work to do."
The night before our anniversary was spent as most of our nights are spent - which is to say, together. The only difference in our routine was that I began to initiate our morning separation a little earlier than usual. Although she managed to lure me back for one final, er, nocturnal discussion, we still left our room before dawn.
"I don't understand what the hurry is," she protested as we started down the stairs. "We don't have to wake Nessie for school for another hour."
"She has her alarm set for three minutes from now," I told her smugly. "She remembers what day this is, even if you've forgotten."
She glared at me. "Of course I haven't forgotten! How could I forget? As if I could miss all the whispering and snickering and dropped hints. Some of you are worse than children."
I could hear Alice giggle in the distance.
A clock radio began quietly playing Imogen Heap in a room overhead. The music was switched off, followed by a familiar series of thumps from upstairs as Nessie rolled off her bed, performed her usual two minute on-the-run wash and dress routine, and came trotting downstairs, tying her hair back as she went. "Morning, Momma." She threw her arms around Bella's neck. "Morning, Poppa." She hugged me as well. "Happy anniversary."
"Thanks, my sweet."
The rest of the family began to appear. "Not just a wedding anniversary," Alice noted. "Today is the combined celebration of Bella's birthday, her surviving her marriage ceremony, having her and Edward's daughter, and joining the Cullen family for good and all."
"At least I get all the festivities over at once," Bella quipped, but she wasn't distressed by the extra attention as she would have been at one time. "Why are we all up so early?"
"So we could open presents before Nessie has to leave for school," Alice told her. "Obviously."
"Good thinking." Bella reached into the pocket of her jeans and took out a small, black satin box.
"Ooh, Edward gets the shiny rocks this time!" Emmett remarked.
"It's not shiny," Bella said, looking a little uncertain about her gift. "Or new. It's not even a hand me down. Just something that got lost."
I frowned, puzzled, and opened the box. I didn't recognize it at first. It seemed to be a piece of old brass chain, with a coin or token attached to one end. It looked as if pains had been taken to clean and polish it, but it was still roughened by age and wear. I took it out and examined it. There was something vaguely familiar about it.
When I read the partly obscured inscription on the metal token, it all came back to me, and I explained to the family what I was holding. "It's Edward, Senior's watch chain!" Carlisle had saved my father's pocket watch for me, but the watch chain had been lost at some time during his final hospitalization. This was that very chain. The metal disc attached to it was an engraved thanks for a law case he had handled pro bono. The chain and fob were cheap; I remembered them always looking shabby next to my father's gold watch. He would use no other chain, however, because he was proud of the case he had taken, one which no other lawyer in the area would accept: defending a young black man against criminal charges brought by a white businessman. The engraved message and the inexpensive chain were purchased by the client's church taking up a collection for the purpose. I described all this, then turned to Bella in amazement. "This has been lost since he died! How on earth did you find it?"
"Detective work," she giggled, delighted at my response. "I started by calling pawnshops near the hospital in Chicago, and moved outward from there. I found it attached to a different watch, one from the 1940's."
"That's amazing!" Carlisle said.
Emmett nodded. "Not bad, Bella."
"It is amazing," I agreed. "But how did you know it even existed? I don't think I've ever mentioned it. Carlisle, did you...?" He shook his head.
"A combination of internet research and library microfilm. Your father wasn't famous, but he was prominent at the time. This case he took made the local newspapers, and so did the gift his client gave him. I thought you'd like to have it back."
I looked down at the battered chain. The memories it brought back were vague and disjointed, but I could recall growing old enough to understand why my father treasured this chain, to be proud of him for it. He had been a good man, and Bella had gifted me with better understanding of that fact. "Thank you." I could think of nothing more to say.
She smiled. "Happy anniversary."
I pulled her into my arms a moment. How had I ever managed to deserve her? I saved my more heartfelt thanks for when we were alone. "Can I give you your present now?" I asked, releasing her. She nodded, not exactly eager but much less reluctant that when we first knew each other. "It's not a hand me down, I'm afraid."
"That's okay. I don't mind new so much any more." She grinned at me, adorable and perfect, and all mine. In consideration of the presence of the entire family, I refrained from kissing her violently and at length, and merely took her hand and began to lead her out of the house, the others following.
"It's also not a gift only from me. You might be able to track down an unremarkable century-old piece of metal single handedly, but I required the assistance of the entire family. The gift is from all of us." I led her into the oversized garage.
"But from Esme, Rosalie and Edward especially," Alice put in.
I stopped in front of a large object covered with a sheet. I could see her preparing herself to act convincingly happy and grateful, and hoped I'd been right this time. "Happy anniversary, love." I pulled the sheet away.
At first, Bella stood there looking, her eyes wide, her mouth fallen open in a perfect O shape. "It's my...truck," she whispered.
Strictly speaking, it wasn't her truck. That particular vehicle was long gone, probably recycled into fence posts by this time. It was, however, a genuine 1953 Chevy pickup, in all its ugly, bulbous, non-aerodynamic glory.
True, it had evolved a bit since falling into our hands. After purchasing the vehicle, I had had it detailed, the body smoothed and sanded to perfection, the undercarriage, chrome, headlights and windows replaced, and the body painted candy-apple red and white. Fifties style white side-wall tires were added.
Rosalie and I, working under her supervision, with Emmett running automotive errands several times a day, had replaced every moving part under the hood and elsewhere, and Rosalie had performed improvements on the engine which would allow it to operate without a shocking roar, and to almost give Bella's Ferrari a run for its money.
Esme had dealt with most of the interior. The cab had the kind of bench seat original to the truck, upholstered in red and white textured leather which, ironically, was chosen to resemble the cheaper vinyl seating the truck would have come with. The dashboard was now polished wood with brass fittings, in place of the badly damaged bakelite, and the non-functioning radio had been replaced with a good stereo system, well camouflaged and operated by means of fifties-style push buttons, something Rosalie and Esme had put their heads together to produce. Every interior detail was new, but perfectly consistent with a 1953 pickup.
As Bella would later comment, it was exactly as her old truck would look if it had received a syringe full of venom. But at that moment, she was making no rational observations of that kind.
"It's! My! TRUCK!"
Never had I seen her respond that way to a gift. She shrieked with joy. She jumped up and down. She dashed around the truck as if she could not wait to see every side of it. She threw herself into my arms, thanking me and hugging me ferociously. Then she did the same to Esme and Rosalie. Then, out of sheer exuberance, to every other member of the family. Then she hugged her truck. Nobody doubted her sincerity. Bella could never have pulled off such a convincing acting job.
I handed her the key, probably grinning like a lunatic, and naturally nothing would do but to take the vehicle out for a spin immediately. It was a good thing we got up as early as we did.
So in the end, I finally, at long last, succeeded in this most difficult of endeavours. I should have realized it was my own selfishness holding me back all along. For myself, I would much rather see her driving a sleek Italian sports car, something more appropriate to her beauty and grace. But, as Carlisle rightly pointed out, a gift is not meant to indulge the giver, but to celebrate the recipient. Even the most confident gift-giver can stand to take a little instruction.