So sorry this chapter has taken so long.
To recap very quickly...Bella went home for Thanksgiving. Edward's memory and mind reading came back when he was searching for her in the woods outside Forks. At the end of the last chapter Edward came to see Bella in her old bedroom after taking some time to deal with what's happened. The chapter ended with them making love on the bedroom floor.
Now, on to the next morning...
Edward is curled around me when I wake. Like most mornings he's bunched up the quilt so it's a barrier between us, keeping me from the cold, but even through the layer of cotton and feathers I can feel him. Feel how he wraps around me, how his body fits so perfectly with mine.
Smiling, I yawn, and rub my feet over his. "Edward, how you could ever have doubted this, us, I really don't know."
My eyes open slowly as I feel him move closer, the layer of quilt flattening out and thinning as he pulls my back to his chest. His nose nudges the hair from my neck. He kisses the throbbing pulse beneath my jaw.
"Sometimes, I'm not very bright," he murmurs, and presses more slow kisses over my shoulder. His hand slips beneath the quilt and I giggle when the flat of his icy palm rests low over my belly. "Too cold?"
I shift and turn, tangling myself in the sheets as I try to face him. He chuckles as I fight the linen that covers my face and his long fingers graze my cheek as he pulls it away. And now I'm staring into amber eyes that are warm and beautiful and happy.
"Hi," I whisper.
"Hi." He kisses me and sighs. "Hello."
His hair is a mess and when I tell him this he moves his head lower on the pillow so I can run my fingers through it, trying to straighten it out.
"You know it's pointless," he mumbles into my chest.
"I know," I sigh. "And it never gets knots in it. It just gets...messy. Is this a vampire thing? You told me before that it was flatter when you were human."
"Only because I wore it slicked back, with hair cream, so it never got the chance to go wild."
"You would call it gel. Or product."
He looks up at me through those lashes, grinning as I laugh. "You wore hair product in 1918?"
"I suppose I did." He's still smiling, but I watch the tightness appear around his eyes. I run my hands through his hair again.
"Something I said?"
"No," he shakes his head. "How are you this morning?"
I pull back a little and study him closely.
"I'm great. What's going on?"
But it's not 'nothing'. "You've been wallowing, haven't you?"
Last night ended perfectly. This morning has started the same way. But I'd be naive to think that the pain and confusion he felt yesterday with the return of his memory, would evaporate overnight. Even for a vampire, it's a lot to come to terms with.
"A little bit," he shrugs, looking down at the sheet.
"Nothing. It all seems stupid now."
"Oh? What seems stupid?"
He shrugs again.
Slowly, he lifts his eyes to mine. "You've outgrown who I used to be," he whispers.
This isn't what I was expecting. I open my mouth to deny it, to tell him he's wrong, but when I think about his words, I have to admit he's right.
"You're right," I whisper. "I have outgrown who you used to be. But Edward, you've outgrown him too."
He's very still, I don't even think he's breathing, as he studies my face. Then he nods slowly. "The way we were before...if we'd stayed together I would have made you unhappy. Desperately unhappy." I try to interrupt but he stops me with one cool finger against my lips. "Maybe not at first, but it would come." He drops his hand. "And I would have always been scared."
The scorching pain in his eyes is almost too much to bear. I swallow hard and my hand claws at the sheets. "Scared of what?"
Suddenly I feel colder than Edward. "This is what you were thinking last night?"
"For a while. It was being back here, in your room. Memories."
"I think what bothered me the most..." I can barely hear his voice, and there's a shadow of fear in his features that makes me uneasy as he trails off.
He swallows, and threads his fingers through mine, holding on hard. It's an endless moment or two before he speaks.
"Bella, I think I'm almost glad that things happened the way they did, and I can't let myself feel that way."
Suddenly his hand is gone from mine and he's sitting up, pulling both his hands through his hair. I sit up too and wrap my arms around him. I know it'll be like this for a while, him swinging back and forth this way. I'll just have to be ready for it and I hold him tightly now, letting him feel me, all of me; my naked skin against his, my heart's steady beat.
"I hurt you so much," he says, voice breaking, as he brings his arms down to curl around me, too. He leans his head against mine, eyes closed. I pull him even closer.
"Don't let go," he whispers.
"I won't." And I flex my arms around him. I'm just so glad he's seeking comfort, instead of punishing himself with distance.
"I can't be glad about what happened," he goes on. "And I never will be, but if I hadn't left, if I hadn't lost my memory..."
He groans and buries his face in my hair. My heart twists and burns, my stomach knots.
"Edward, no..." I whisper. "Don't do this." I pull back and grab his face, cradling him between my hands and he looks at me, surprised. "You told me not to let you slip back."
"I'm not," he says quickly. "I'm not slipping back." He frowns and shakes his head. "Am I?" He groans again and closes his eyes. "I handled things so badly when I left you, but last night, while I watched you sleep, I began to think..." He takes a deep breath and his chest shudders. I don't think he can get the words out, so I take over.
"Edward, for me, I think in some ways, it was the best thing that could have happened."
His eyes spring open. His face floods with shock. And then, a long moment later, relief.
"Is that really how you see it?" he asks. "Because, I'm starting to believe...but I don't want to see it like that."
"But it's true. It's so true."
He's blinking at me, like I've spoken a foreign language.
"Edward, you and me, we suck at break-ups. But we're good at making up, and seeing where we went wrong. And that's the important part. And, I mean, look at us..." I glance down at the sheets rumpled around our hips, glimpses of bare legs and thighs. "We're naked in my bed, so we must be doing something right. Right? This, what we have now, is beautiful."
He stares at me, still shocked, it seems. And while he stares, my heart holds still, waiting. Finally, he looks down, too. A slow, meandering gaze that takes in every inch of us together. The corner of his mouth lifts in what might be the start of a smile.
"I think it's unfair to say that we suck at break-ups, Bella." His eyes travel back to mine. "The sucky part was all mine, I'm afraid."
I almost choke on a laugh. "The sucky part?" Edward Cullen said sucky and I giggle.
He nods as the smile struggles to take shape. He leans in, nuzzling his face against my neck and I sigh. My fingers stroke slowly over his back and shoulders and into his hair.
"So that's why you were wallowing? Because you believe good things came out of our break up?" When he nods against me my face almost splits in two, my smile is so wide. "Then I would call that progress, Edward – in a strange sort of way. The old you would never have looked at it like that."
He sighs heavily, his cool breath washes over my skin. "I suppose so." He lifts his head. "The old me would never have been naked in your bed."
"I know." I lean in and kiss him. He curls his hand in my hair, holding me to him as he kisses me back. When I need to breathe, he pulls away.
"Why were you never angry with me?" he asks as he cradles me against his chest.
"You mean about breaking up?"
"Yes. And the way I treated you before that."
I exhale sharply and drop back onto the pillow. Edward stays sitting.
"You want me angry? I was pretty angry the day I saw you outside the library and you took back the bookmark without recognising me. I lost some good crockery over that."
He blinks, surprised. "Oh."
"And Carlisle and Alice were outside the door while it was going on – you'll probably read the gist of it in their thoughts sometime."
His face darkens. "Oh," he says again. And he's staring at me, waiting for...I don't know what. I push up on my elbows.
"Edward, right now, I'm just happy, okay? If you do something to make me angry, I'll let you know."
His face brightens and he smiles.
I start to chuckle. "That makes you happy? That if I'm angry with you I'll let you know?"
He nods eagerly. The chuckle becomes a laugh and I drop back on the pillows again. This time he joins me.
"You've been angry with me before, I know. Like the night of the prom. But I was always manipulative and you always gave in." He grimaces.
"Yeah, well...I was stupid then." I give him a wink and he smiles. "You won't get off so easy next time."
"Good." He leans in and kisses me softly, even running his tongue over my bottom lip. I keep very still. His eyes darken when he pulls back.
"Edward, do you remember how you always used to kiss me with your mouth closed?"
"Well...I was stupid then."
When I laugh his smile widens, but a second later he's serious again...and the whiplash twinges.
"I couldn't do anything more than that," he says. "I remember now how your scent affected me. Like I could lose control at any moment. It got easier the longer we were together, but it was always there..." He trails off and I don't miss the way his hand claws slowly at the sheet.
"But it's different now, right?"
"Your scent is beautiful," he whispers, running his nose along my throat. "It still entices me, but in a different way." He runs a row of kisses along my collar bone. My eyes flutter closed as I arch my neck, moaning softly.
"Do you think it will change back again?" I ask. "Carlisle said stress can change a person's scent. If I'm not stressed anymore..."
"I don't think it will be exactly the same again," Edward says. "Human scents change subtly over the years anyway, as the body changes. Your body, for instance..." He runs one hand lightly over my breasts, across my belly and hips. I know what he means. I've re-gained the weight I lost after he left, but it seems to have redistributed itself. I'm not as straight up and down as I was. I curve where I didn't used to. I don't look like a teenager anymore. "Your body is different now. And so beautiful." He lowers his head and kisses over my breasts. Beneath the sheets his fingers slip between my thighs. "And this morning, your scent is all about last night. You smell of sex...and me."
It's like he's lit a fire inside me. His words, his lips and fingers, have me moaning, head pushed back in the pillow as I clutch at his hair. But I squeal when his icy tongue flicks over my nipple.
"Ssh," he smiles, lifting his face. "You said last night that you could be quiet." I'm panting, hoping he'll keep going, but he turns his head towards Charlie's room. "Your father's stirring." He sighs as I pout, then rolls onto his back and folds his arms behind his head. He bends his knees so the sheet tents over them. There's a good three inches of space between us and he stares, almost glaring, at the ceiling.
"What are you doing?"
"Counting the cracks."
He shuts his eyes and grits his teeth. "Bella..."
"Oh..." I realise and giggle again. "So we don't get to finish?"
He turns his face to look at me, amber eyes blazing.
"Oh, we'll finish," he says. "Just not now."
He looks back at the ceiling while I dissolve in a puddle of need and anticipation. "Three hundred and twenty one, three hundred and twenty two..." Edward whispers. I roll onto my back and try to count some cracks of my own. But I can't see more than two or three.
At three hundred and forty six Edward climbs out of bed and into his clothes.
"Do you have to go?"
"Just for a while," he says. "I should tell my family my news."
"They don't know yet?"
"No." He shakes his head and then a sly grin curves his lips. "I'm considering keeping quiet about the mind reading. That could be fun for a while."
"Edward!" I toss a pillow at him. He grabs it neatly and tosses it back.
"I'll be back later," he chuckles. "And I should speak with your father when I do."
"I think he's starting to come round," I say eagerly. "About us, I mean."
"We'll see." His eyes flicker towards Charlie's room. "Even in his dreams he hates me."
"No…" I shake my head, but I wonder what it is he sees in my dad's mind. "He just needs time."
Edward kisses me again and then suddenly I'm alone and the curtain at my window is swinging. Just like old times.
Tucking the quilt around me, I climb out of the bed and look out, but the street is empty in the cloudy morning light.
"Edward?" I whisper. "I love you."
From somewhere I hear his voice, almost like it's carried on the breeze...
Charlie is in the kitchen when I come downstairs. He nurses a cup of coffee. I eat toast standing up while I start pulling together a potato bake – my contribution for Thanksgiving lunch at La Push.
Neither of us has ever been good at small talk, and with yesterday's events hanging over us, things are especially quiet. And polite. Charlie asks how I slept, and then he takes a knife and offers to help.
"Heard from Edward?" he asks as we stand, side by side, peeling potatoes together.
"He's going to come over this morning." I try to gauge my father's reaction as he nods but doesn't look up from his task. I think back over our conversation from the night before, how he'd realised that Edward and I were a package deal. How he'd asked me when the wedding would be.
"You'll be nice to him when he gets here, won't you?"
"I won't get my gun out, if that's what you mean."
I shake my head and decide not to bother. "He wants to talk to you," I say, stiffly. "Will you listen?"
Charlie pours another cup of coffee when there's a familiar triple-knock on the door. "Guess that's him," he sighs.
"Be nice," I hiss.
In the front hall Edward gives me a quick kiss on the cheek.
"I've brought your truck," he says. "It's out front. Is now a good time to see your father?"
I reach up and tap my finger to his temple. "You'd have a better idea than me, but I think it is, yes."
Edward gives me a wry smile and glances towards the living room. "There'll never be a good time," he murmurs and straightens to his full height.
Charlie comes into the hall and Edward offers his hand.
"Chief Swan..." It's a long few seconds before my father reaches out and accepts the gesture. "May I speak with you?" Edward asks.
"Bella said you might want to." Charlie nods and heads back to the living room. I start to follow but Edward stops me.
"I'd like to do this alone," he says.
"Why? This involves me, too."
"Please…" Edward's eyes implore me. He takes hold of my hand. "My decision to leave affected him, too. There are things he might want to say to me that he wouldn't want you to hear."
I'm about to protest. What could Charlie possibly have to say…but then I realise. And I blush because it seems Edward knows my father better than I do. Charlie will want to be able to say what he wants, without having to worry about my feelings. This needs to be an honest conversation between them, I understand that. Edward is still watching me, waiting for my okay. So I stand on my toes and kiss his cheek and whisper "good luck", and go check on the potato bake.
It's all quiet from the living room. I nibble some cheese. I rearrange the pantry and empty the dishwasher. When the phone rings I think it might be Jake, but it's Renee.
"Oh, Bella honey, are you okay? I've been so worried."
"Yeah, I'm fine. Dad called you last night, didn't he?"
"He did, but I was still worried. You were bogged? And lost in the woods? Oh, Bella, there are wild animals in those woods, when I think what could have hap..."
"But nothing did happen." I cut her off quickly. "Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. How are you and Phil celebrating?"
Distraction usually works with my mother and my lost hours in the woods are pushed aside as she tells me about the new recipe for pumpkin pie that she's found. As we talk I keep an ear cocked for sounds from the living room, but Renee has my full attention when she asks me if I'm dating anyone.
"You're young, Bella. You shouldn't be alone, you should be out there having fun."
"I am having fun, Mom, actually..." I take a deep breath, screw my eyes shut, and tell her about my fiancé. It's the same version of the truth I gave Charlie and I also explain how it was Edward who found me in the woods. When I'm finished I listen to the silence at the end of the phone. I twist the curly cord around my finger until the tip turns purple. "Mom? Are you there?" My voice is small, like I'm five years old again.
Charlie's reaction was easy to anticipate. With Renee, I have no idea. I uncurl the cord from my finger, just as my mother finally speaks.
"You're not serious, Bella. Are you?"
Her words aren't encouraging and my heart drops.
"Yeah, I am."
"He left you in the woods, and then he found you in the woods?"
I frown, not sure what she's getting at. "Um, yeah...I guess..."
"And you're getting married? No. This is just..."
"Mom, please, if you could..."
"This is just incredible!"
"The symmetry, Bella. The symmetry. It's incredible. Unbelievable!"
Now it's my turn for shocked silence. I have no idea what she's talking about, but I'm about to find out.
Renee's voice rises an octave like it always does when she's excited. "The universe has brought things back into balance, Bella. Maybe it's not quite symmetry...more of a reversal. Or coming full circle, yes!"
"I'm reading a book..." Of course she is. "It's about the secret messages in relationships. Things we don't always see because we're too close."
"Yeah, Mom, I got bogged and I needed to pee." Renee's not listening. She's busy telling me about symbiotic relationships. Finally, she stops to draw breath.
"I guess what I'm trying to say, Bella, is, the universe wants this for you. It's righted a wrong. Corrected a glitch. You've taken a detour and the universe has brought you back on track, using familiar circumstances, like being lost in the woods, to help you recognise the return to balance." Her voice is triumphant, but it's hard to know if she's happy about my engagement, or about her new theories being proved right.
"So, you're okay with this? With me marrying Edward?"
"Honey, if you're happy, then I'm happy. You're a smart girl, and you've always thought through your decisions carefully. I believe if you and Edward are back together it's because you're meant to be."
"Oh, okay. Well...good."
"And you've obviously worked out what went wrong in the first place."
Somehow, through all the talk of the balance of the universe, my mom has managed to hit the nail on the head with that last sentence.
"Um, yeah, we have. We've worked through a lot of stuff."
"And will the wedding be in Forks? Would you consider Florida? We could have something on the beach."
It's almost dizzying, the way she jumps from one thing to the next.
"Mm, not the beach. Honestly Mom, we haven't got that far yet. I still have college..."
"Of course. Of course. Ooh! I have to go!" she says suddenly. "I can the smell turkey burning! Love you, Bella! And I'm happy for you darling. We'll have to talk weddings soon."
The line goes quiet but I keep the phone pressed to my ear as I try to process the conversation. I'm still haven't moved when Edward walks into the kitchen. He smiles.
"You okay?" he asks.
I nod as he takes the phone and hangs it on the cradle.
"I told my mom."
"I know. I heard. We have a symbiotic relationship. The universe has righted all wrongs." His arms engulf me and he kisses my neck. "She may have a point."
"Maybe," I giggle. "I'm just glad she's happy for us." I smile as Edward pulls back and brushes my hair back from my face. "Everything okay with Charlie? You seem to be in one piece."
He nods. "We've reached an understanding. Charlie basically wants you to be happy. He just wishes the thing that makes you happy wasn't me."
"It's okay," he smiles down at me. "He admires me for coming to speak with him. And you were right this morning when you said he's coming round. He is. Just very, very slowly."
"I'm glad. Did you tell your family?"
But Edward lets go of me suddenly when Charlie comes in. Now, instead of hugging me close, he holds my hand.
"Who was on the phone?" Charlie asks.
He nods. "You tell her your news?"
"Um, she's happy for us."
Charlie scowls. "Yeah, well, we'd better get going, Bella," he says gruffly and trudges towards the front door.
"Is he okay?" I ask Edward.
"He will be. Like you told me before, he just needs time." He kisses my cheek. "I'll see you tonight."
"Wait! What did your family say?"
"Later," he says. "I'll be at the old house. Call me when you're home and I'll come over."
I shake my head. "Why don't I come to you?" I could do without the tension of having Charlie and Edward in the same place.
"No heating, remember," he says. "And no furniture."
"We can light the fireplace and sit on the floor."
He seems uncertain, pulling his hands through his hair. "That wouldn't be very comfortable for you."
I wonder if it's the memory of the last time we were together in that house that has him so uneasy. Memories of broken glass and blood and fear. Or if it is just the lack of armchairs and footstools.
Edward drops his hand from his hair and nods. "Call me before you come," he says. "I'll meet you at the driveway. The place is so overgrown you'll never find the turn off."
"Bella!" Charlie calls from the front yard and Edward kisses me quickly once more.
"Are you going to tell Jacob about us?" he asks, backing away, smiling.
"I don't know. Maybe not today. He's going to be pretty shocked, I need to choose the time and place. And anyway, I don't want to compete with his big news. You know, him and Beth..."
Edward nods. "Of course. That's a good point," he says. "But I should tell you, he'll know anyway."
He walks backwards down the hall, pulling me along by the hand, still smiling.
"Oh? How will he know?"
Edward's nostrils flare slightly, then he wrinkles his nose in the sexiest way. "I'm all over you," he mouths. My knees almost give out just as Charlie comes to see what's taking me so long.
"I hate being late," Charlie grumbles as he guides the cruiser towards La Push.
"Sorry. I just felt like I needed to freshen up."
After Edward had gone I'd rushed upstairs to quickly shower and change while Charlie had waited in the driveway with the engine running.
"I guess I got distracted with the cooking and Edward coming over..." I shrug. "Sorry."
Charlie nods and changes down a gear.
"Looks like it might rain," he says.
He glides the cruiser carefully around a sharp bend.
"Edward got your truck out of the mud."
"Couldn't have been easy, on his own."
The cruiser takes another bend. The predicted rain begins to fall, spotting the windshield.
"You know, that boy has a lot more backbone than I thought." Charlie says suddenly, surprising me. "He doesn't shy away from what he did, or the hurt he caused."
I hold on tightly to the dish of potato bake on my lap, not sure where this change of conversation will take me.
"He's very perceptive." Charlie goes on, frowning, and I get the feeling Edward has used his newly-recovered mind reading to full advantage. "And he loves you, I can see that." And that fact seems to annoy my father. He's almost scowling.
"I love him, too."
There's silence and Charlie's frown deepens. "Every father wants the best for their daughter. And I know it's old fashioned…" he waves away any protests before they come. "And I know you can look after yourself, but I want to know that you'll be looked after, too. And, er, loved." He clears his throat. This is hard for him, I know. It's hard for me too, this sort of conversation with my dad. I try to make it easier on both of us by looking out the window as he continues. "You're both still very young. But the way Edward looks when he talks about you…that's what I would want to see in a son-in-law." In the glass I see his hands tighten on the steering wheel. "He's learned from his mistake, I think."
"He has. We both have." Turning in my seat, I look at him now. "Um, so does this mean you're really okay with everything?"
"He's not the same boy he was back then, I can see that."
He hasn't actually answered my question, but I think this is as good as I'm going to get for now. So I take it, and I grin.
"You going to tell people your news at lunch today?"
"No," I shake my head. "I think I'll leave the announcements to Jake."
Charlie gives me an almost-smile, and turns on the radio.
Jacob and Beth make their announcement between turkey and dessert.
"Hey! Why does no-one look surprised?" Jake beams around the table as he hugs Beth and we all shout congratulations. Billy couldn't look prouder and Charlie grins and claps him on the back.
"Only surprise is how long you took to announce it," Sam says and everybody laughs.
Beth's ring is an elegant row of sapphires set in a silver band. It looks beautiful on her hand as she flashes it for all to see, but though the stones sparkle, they're no match for the shine in her eyes as she smiles at Jacob. I've turned my own ring around so the diamond sits against my palm. Now isn't the time for my werewolf friend to know I'm marrying a vampire. I'll tell him in my own time. But now my happiness for Jake is suddenly tinged with sadness – I realise our friendship might not survive once he knows my news.
I get up from my seat and join the group of people waiting to hug the happy couple. Emily is laughing and sharing the story of how Sam proposed to her. Kim giggles as she reminds Paul how she used to draw hearts with his name in them, all over her schoolbooks. Leah is smiling a rare smile and I wonder if it has something to do with the all the texting she's been doing under the table. It makes me think of Jared's comment during lunch, about someone called Ethan, that had made Leah uncharacteristically shy.
In all the excitement I notice Charlie pull Sue into his arms and kiss her quickly, sweetly. It's the first display of real affection I've seen between them and it stops me in my tracks. Actually, it's the first time I've seen my father like that at all. Ever. I don't remember the years when he and Renee were together. My heart swells for him, and I know, for certain now, that when I can't be around anymore, Charlie will be alright.
"So, does this turn into an engagement party now?" I ask as Jake pulls me into his arms.
"Sort of," he chuckles. "I've missed having you around, Bells. I'm so glad you could be here today."
"I've missed you too. And I'm so happy for you, Jake. So happy."
He pulls out of the hug and gives me the smile that kept me going through those dark months without Edward.
"We'll come visit," he promises and passes me over to his fiancee.
I like Beth. She's one of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met, and a perfect match for Jacob. After hugging her hard I take her hand and admire the ring up close.
"Wow, did he choose this himself?"
"He did," she says proudly.
"He chose well."
"Well, he knows I love sapphires." She caresses the band with her thumb. "But the wedding ring will be plain...um, a bit like that."
She looks curiously at the platinum that circles my wedding finger. "Something you want to tell us?" She smiles and I feel my cheeks heat as Edward's diamond presses against my palm.
"No," I laugh, dropping my hand to my side and quickly asking her when the wedding will be. March, she tells me. Spring.
The celebration goes way past dessert. There's music and laughter. Stories are shared. I borrow Charlie's phone and take photos. Of everyone. Tonight will be something I want to keep with me for the next thousand years. And the thousand after that. I even give the phone to Sue, and ask her to take some pictures of me and Jacob together.
It's well after dark when we say goodnight and drive away.
"That was a good Thanksgiving," Charlie says.
"It was. And Jacob and Beth are so good together. I'm happy for them."
"They're young," Charlie says. "But I think they'll be alright." He flexes his fingers against the steering wheel and he frowns. "The way he looked at her...it's like how Edward looks at you." The colour rises in my cheeks. Charlie sighs. "I'm glad you were here today, Bells."
"Me too, Dad."
On the console between us his phone beeps and he picks it up to check the text.
"Isn't there a law against texting and driving?" I ask.
"Yeah, well..." he gives me a lazy look. "Who you gonna tell?"
I laugh and he smiles...until he reads the message.
"What on earth...?" His face clouds and he pulls over to the side of the road.
"What is it? What?"
He stares down at the phone in his hand.
"Is she okay?"
"Oh, she's okay," he growls. "She wants to know what I think of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle for your wedding...she's got an estimate." His face pales as he looks at me. "So soon? And you want the Fairmont?"
"No," I say quickly. "No, Dad, this is just Mom being Mom. We never talked about a wedding. Edward and I haven't set any sort of date yet, you know that."
Charlie looks back at the phone. "Because if that's what you wanted, well..." He rubs his hand over his chin. "I could always..."
"No! Dad, you know me, I'm not into big and fancy." Certainly not into five star luxury hotels. I shrug and give him a smile. "Maybe a barbeque in the backyard? You can wear your fishing hat? I could wear my sneakers under my dress?"
Charlie keeps staring blankly at the screen. Finally he shakes his head and a small, Charlie-style smile steals over his lips. "Yep," he says. "That sounds good to me."
On my way to Edward's place, I realise I'm nervous. Not a lot, just a little. He's been alone all day and I don't know where his mind will be when I arrive. I don't know what dark thoughts might have come calling.
It's a relief when I see him waving and smiling to me from the roadside near his driveway. He climbs into the truck and I expect him to want to take over and drive the long, overgrown track up to the house, but he doesn't. He just tells me to look out for low branches and rests his hand lightly on the back of my neck, making soft strokes over my skin, as I shift into first gear. I concentrate on the windy path. It seems narrower than it used to. Edward doesn't speak – no doubt he doesn't want to distract me. And it's not lost on me that at one time he would have insisted on taking over the wheel rather than let me drive over a rocky, indistinct track in the dark. But I'm sure his decision to sit beside me while I do it is a compromise between the old and new Edward.
The house begins to appear through the trees, flashes of white in my headlights. I pull to a stop and stare at the house. This isn't how I remembered the Cullen place.
"It looks a bit worse for wear, doesn't it?" Edward says quietly.
The paint is starting to peel. There are leaves and branches littering the porch and with the headlights still on I can see that cobwebs decorate the railings. Only a faint glow coming from inside stops it looking too ghostly.
Edward reaches over and turns off the lights.
"It looks better inside. I've tidied up," he says. "Dusted and swept, anyway. I've lit a fire in the fireplace. It'll look better with the lights on. Or, we could go back to Charlie's if you'd rather not..."
"No. No, I want to come in." I wonder what Esme would think if she could see the place now.
He holds my hand tightly as we walk through the front door. When he goes to flick the light switch I stop him.
"No, leave it. I like it like this," I say.
The place does look better inside even though the rooms are empty. The fire gives a warm, friendly glow and there's a silky rug and some satin cushions scattered in front of it.
Edward helps me out of my coat and he rests it over the only remaining piece of furniture in the place; his piano. It stands, covered in a dustsheet, on its platform in the corner of the room.
Edward pulls his hand through his hair. He points to the cosy set up in front of the fireplace. "I found them in a cupboard in Alice and Jasper's room," he says. "And I got some things to eat from the gas station. Juice and chocolate bars." He shrugs. "It was the only place open."
He seems nervous. Anxious even. I take his hand and squeeze.
"It's lovely. Thank you."
I lower myself onto the cushions and pull him down with me. But when he sits he lets go of my grasp and holds his hands out to warm in front of the flames.
"It was a shock for you, seeing the house this way," he says.
"Yeah, a bit."
"There were racoons nesting under the porch when I arrived." He smiles. "They left pretty quickly." He looks around. "It's always like this at first, when we come back to a place. But it doesn't take much to bring things back to order." He takes my hand again. His is warm now and I hold it to my cheek. He strokes his thumb over my skin. "Paint," he says. "A few nails." He leans in and kisses me gently. "How was Thanksgiving?"
He listens closely as I fill him in on my day. Charlie and Sue. Jacob's happiness. Renee's text to Charlie and his reaction. Edward laughs.
"Sounds like your father is well and truly resigned to the idea of us being together," he says.
Reaching up, I push my fingers through his hair, brushing it out of his eyes.
"Tell me about your day. I didn't like leaving you alone."
"I was fine," he says. "I knew you were nearby." He narrows his eyes slightly. "You were worried I'd wallow again?"
I shrug. "Did you?"
He hesitates, then nods. "For a little while, on and off, but I knew I couldn't let myself slip back. I won't do that to you." He swallows hard. "Or to me," he whispers. He gives me a sad, lopsided smile. "But sometimes I feel like I don't fit my own skin anymore. It's going to take me a while, I think."
I tousle his hair and he bends his head so I can scratch the back of his neck. He's always liked that. He sinks lower with every stroke I make, until his head is almost in my lap.
"That's nice," he whispers and for a while we just sit, and listen to the crackle of the fire. Feel its warmth. Soon Edward shifts, lying down and stretching out and resting his head properly in my lap. He closes his eyes while I play with his hair. There's a soft smile on his lips. He could almost be sleeping. Dreaming. He sighs and nestles deeper into me. After a while he speaks.
"You wanted to know what my family said when I told them." He opens his eyes. "Shocked silence is probably the best way of putting it," he says. "Followed by lots of questions. Carlisle wanted details and I gave him what I thought was necessary." He gives a mock sigh of exasperation. "He'll want to shine lights in my eyes and feel my head when I get back."
I laugh and he smiles a small smile. "They're happy for me," he goes on. "But it will make things interesting when I'm at home. Their thoughts have been their own for a long time. It'll be another adjustment to make." The smile fades. In the firelight, his beautiful face shadows now in a soft frown. "They've been through a lot because of me."
"They love you."
"I know they do. That's why they put up with me."
"Put up with you?" I roll my eyes. "Yeah, I'm sure it's a terrible burden for them, having to live with you."
He chuckles. "But you haven't lived with me properly yet. You mightn't be mocking me once you do."
"I'm sure I'll cope."
The flames flicker in the fireplace. Edward reaches up and touches the loose strands of hair that hang over my shoulder.
"You know, despite Alice's attempts, we haven't talked much about the wedding," he says. "What you said before, about a barbeque in the backyard, is that what you'd like?"
I twist some of his hair gently around my finger and watch it flop over his forehead and into his eyes when I let go. He frowns, purses his lips and blows it out of the way.
"It doesn't have to be that exactly," I say, smiling. "It's more that I want something small. Intimate."
"I like the sound of that," he says quietly. "You don't like big celebrations. You didn't want your eighteenth birthday party."
His words are unexpected. But honest.
"No. I didn't."
He nods. "I know you've told me what happened, but now I remember how it felt. I remember what I thought."
"What did you think?"
"That you didn't know what you wanted. And once you got here you'd realise I was right." He lifts his hand to touch my cheek. "I really believed that. I'm sorry."
Before he gets the chance to wallow again I lean down and kiss him on the tip of his perfect nose. My hair swings around our faces, cocooning us. The fire gives a golden glow to our little world. Nose to nose, we stare into each other's eyes and the past fades away.
"Play the piano for me, Edward?" His momentary surprise dissolves into a smile and I pull back again, tucking my hair behind my ears. "Please?"
"Okay." He stands, pulling me to my feet.
We sit side by side on the piano stool while Edward plays my lullaby, with the new, lighter, happier ending he'd hummed to me that night in my apartment. I'm determined not to cry, but a single tear slips down my cheek. I wipe it away quickly, hoping Edward won't see, but I'm sure he does. Even so, he doesn't mention it. I lean my head on his shoulder and he gives my hand a squeeze.
He follows the lullaby with some Mozart. And then Debussy. Some Red Hot Chilli Peppers. In the empty room the notes are louder and I feel them vibrate in my chest. I watch Edward's fingers on the keys. There's something so beautiful in the way he plays. Sexy even. I've never told him that. There are quite a few things I've never told him. Some of them involve this piano.
"Why didn't you take this with you when you moved?" I ask once he's hit the final note of Heavy Glow.
"I didn't think I'd play it again."
He shrugs and I get the message.
"So, you're saying, this the first time you've played since you left Forks?"
He nods and runs the backs of his fingers along the keys, one end to the other, in a jarring cacophony as he smiles. "And it feels good."
I laugh as he begins to bang out a jazz piece I recognise.
"That's from the festival in Olympia! That new band we saw…"
He nods, grinning.
"I loved this one."
"I know. You were almost dancing in the crowd. I thought I might have to clear a space for the safety of others."
I poke out my tongue and he laughs.
I can practically see the piano vibrating. I stand and, closing my eyes, touch the polished wood of the lid, feeling it pulse under my palm. And I'm so glad he's thinking of the fun we had that day, and not what came after the festival. The bad times don't mean the good times weren't good. I'm glad he's getting that.
When the jazz finishes Edward starts something new. Something soft and light, it starts as a whisper.
"In honour of the night I took you ice skating," he says. "The night I knew for certain that I loved you."
My heart skips. I fold my arms on the piano lid and lean forward, smiling.
"What is it?"
"I've heard of that, but I can't place…"
"It's famous from the 1984 Winter…
"Torvill and Dean!" I shout and Edward almost looks startled.
"Er, yes," he says.
"Alison told me all about them." I remember the impromptu skating lesson that day in The Drum. "They won the gold medal in the figure skating."
"But we weren't as good them. Well, I wasn't. You probably could be."
Bolero swirls around us. A whisper no more, the music grows, swelling and building. I close my eyes and remember the night we skated. How Edward held me for the first time. His touch. His eyes. Under my hands the piano throbs. The vibrations run up my arms. The rhythm consumes me. It climbs and reaches. It roars, growing in intensity until I feel I could explode.
The climax comes. Edward plays the final notes. The music ends. But my body is still humming. In the deafening silence my eyes stay closed. Until I feel Edward's arms around my waist. He kisses the back of my neck and my eyelids flutter.
My stomach goes into free fall.
He murmurs in my ear.
"You liked that?" he whispers and I nod. "I'm glad." He nuzzles the curve of my neck. "Bella?"
You said before that you wanted a small, intimate wedding..."
He turns me to face him. I open my eyes as he bends his head and trails slow kisses over my jaw.
"Do you want to set a date?" he asks, lips moving softly against my skin. My eyes close again as I tilt my head back, arching my throat for him as I whisper…
He kisses me now. Hard. His mouth moving eagerly with mine. Electricity scorches through me and when my knees buckle he lifts me and sits me on the piano. His hands are on my hips as his nose nudges my shirt open and he kisses over the skin he exposes. I tangle my hands in his hair.
"When?" he breathes between kisses. "Next year. The year after. Just tell me when. I'll be there."
When? Through the haze of heat and desire that is engulfing me right now, the answer comes suddenly.
"Christmas eve," I whisper.
He lifts his face from between my breasts and smiles up at me, puzzled, I think.
"Do you mean this Christmas eve?"
I don't know. Do I? It's kind of soon. But why wait? We don't need to organise much if we're keeping it small. And it's not like I'm going to change my mind. We both want this.
"Too soon?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "Not soon enough," he says, beaming. "Lets celebrate."
He kisses me again. A long, slow kiss that leaves me breathless and almost dizzy. Then he places a hand on my chest and gently pushes me backwards so I'm lying on the piano. Slowly, he unbuttons my shirt and unhooks my bra. I lock my legs around his waist. I want him so badly.
"There's something I never told you."
"I used to wonder sometimes...what it would be like to make love on your piano."
His hands stop. I lift my head and almost laugh at the look of shock on his face.
"You're serious?" he asks.
I nod, biting my lip. "I am. Did you ever...?"
"No," he shakes his head, pulling his hand through his hair.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"No," he says, but the corner of his mouth lifts. "You surprised me, that's all." He frowns at the piano. "Honestly, I never thought I'd be able to be with you that way. Any fantasies I had were very...tame."
A fireball explodes in my chest.
"You had fantasies?" Why have we never had this conversation before?
"Very tame," he repeats.
He gives a wry laugh. "Just...being able to kiss you was a fantasy at first. Then..." he shrugs and lifts his hand. He touches a finger to the hollow of my throat and slowly trails it down between my breasts. "Touching you...like this." His hand dips inside my shirt and I moan. "I wanted to...do this." He leans down and kisses my breasts, his tongue swirling smoothly over one nipple, then the other.
"You want to make love on my piano?"
"I don't think it's a good idea."
I push up on my elbows and look at him.
"I don't think it could handle it. But…" He grabs my hips and pulls me towards him. "We could improvise."
He slides me off the lid and spins me around so I'm standing with my back to his chest. Then he trails his hands up the backs of my thighs.
"We just need to think laterally," he says. When his right hand finds the zipper of my jeans I think I'm going to combust. I can feel him behind me, pressed against me, hard and wanting.
"You have to tell me, Bella..." He slides the denim down my legs and kicks the jeans aside. "If you're not comfortable." His fingers tease me before he relieves me of my undies, too. "If you want me to stop..." He slides my shirt from my shoulders, kissing my skin as he goes. A second later I feel the bare skin of his hard chest pressed against me. "...just say so."
I hear his zipper. From the corner of my eye I see his jeans join the growing pile of clothes by the piano stool.
He sighs. "So beautiful," he murmurs, and I moan as his hands make a slow journey from my knees, along my thighs, over my hips and up to my breasts. He moves my hair over my shoulder and kisses the back of my neck. His hands tease my nipples. I push back against him and he groans.
"You like the piano?" he asks, breathless.
I can only moan my answer, and his name, as I feel him slowly slide inside.
He kisses my ear, my jaw, as he fills me. His hands grip the edge of the piano lid.
"Just tell me one thing, Bella?" His voice is strained and my heart's in overdrive as he presses his body against the length of mine. Into mine. "How would you like me to play this? Allegro or adagio?"
He bends us lower over the piano and whispers in my ear...
"Fast or slow?"
I have never felt as boneless as I do now. Wrapped in the satiny blanket, I am curled deep in the arms of a naked Edward as we lie in front of the fire.
I never want to move from here. Ever.
I feel Edward's lips in my hair. "Are you alright?" he asks.
"Mm…never better." I kiss his chest, over the place his heart would beat if it could, and revel in the sound of his sigh.
"I wasn't sure...was it..."
"Fast was good," I whisper, looking up at him. "Very good."
A slow, satisfied smile stretches across his face. "I'll bring the piano with us, when we move into a place of our own."
"Definitely," I grin, and snuggle against him once more. "It wouldn't fit in my apartment now, would it?"
He chuckles. "The only piano that would fit in your apartment would be an upright. And I don't think that would work." I glance at Edward, see the mischief in his eyes, and suddenly we're both laughing hard.
When we're quiet again, Edward threads his fingers through mine. "So...," he says lazily. "The twenty fourth of December?"
"Any particular reason you chose that date?"
He kisses my knuckles.
"I think it was inspired by today."
I nod and stroke my fingers over Edward's arm, following the faint blue line of vein that travels along the inside of his forearm.
"Thanksgiving will always be extra special now for Jake and Beth." I trace the vein as it crosses Edward's wrist and disappears into his hand.
"We can all be together for Christmas. My family and yours. I've not had a Christmas with both my parents together since I was two. So, Christmas and a wedding, it would be a nice memory. For them too, when they don't see me anymore. A good memory for after I'm...changed."
Edward nods and kisses the inside of my wrist. "It will," he says, and I'm glad his words came with no hesitation. No flicker of the old Edward who might ask me if I was still sure.
"What?" he asks.
"Nothing. It's just...I thought you might slip back, you know, when I mention 'changing'."
"No," he says. "No slippage. Not about that." He kisses me again. "Not about that."
The fire starts to fade as I start to yawn, and though I'd like to stay here the night Edward's right when he says it's just not going to be comfortable.
"I can keep the fire going all night, that's no problem," he says. "But the floor isn't going to get softer. Neither am I."
So he drives us back to Charlie's. After we say goodnight at the door he climbs through my window and is waiting for me when I walk through my bedroom door.
I change into my baggy old t-shirt. Edward pulls back the covers and tucks me in and sings me to sleep with my lullaby.
I wake with a headache. Not a surprise really, given the drama of the last couple of days. It's bound to catch up with me somehow.
I sit up and see Edward cross-legged on the end of my bed, frowning down at his phone.
"Problem?" I ask.
"Not really," he says, looking up. "Just something unexpected."
"Oh? What's unexpected."
He comes to lie beside me. "Message from Carlisle. You remember he was trying to track down Joham?"
"The scientist vampire? I remember. Carlisle thought he might know something about your memory. And hybrids."
Edward nods. "Well, it seems Joham has found Carlisle. He's planning to visit Portland." He frowns again. "Word has obviously got round."
"Is this a bad thing?" I reach over and touch the pucker between Edward's eyebrows.
"Not necessarily. Although we don't usually encourage vampires to come visit us. The difference in lifestyle and diet makes things...awkward."
I could see how that would be the case.
"And the visit seems redundant now, since I've regained my memory. But Carlisle would still like me to meet him." He sighs and drops his phone onto the night stand.
"Can I meet him too?"
Edward's turns his head so sharply I almost flinch.
"No," he says. "Absolutely not."
I'm completely taken aback by the vehemence of his words. And it must show because immediately, Edward is contrite.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't have spoken like that, but I can't let you meet him."
"Why? You can't keep me from..."
"Bella, please, be guided by me on this."
"Let you make the decision for me, you mean?"
He shakes his head, exasperated. "The risks are too great."
"But this involves me, too, if you're going to discuss hybrid babies..."
"I will not knowingly put you in the path of another vampire!" His eyes flash and his jaw sets hard. "And before you say anything about me slipping back to my old ways, I promise you it's not the case."
"Really?" I drench the word with as much scepticism as I can.
"Really." He sits up and pulls his hand through his hair as I stare at him, trying to process what's happening here. "Think about it," he says, more calmly now. "Think hard. Think what I've told you about Joham. Apart from the fact that he leads a traditional lifestyle, wouldn't he be very interested in someone like you? A human involved with a vampire? Think of the women who died while he was experimenting with his hybrid theories."
I sit up too. "Oh, you're not serious Edward, surely you don't think he'd..."
"I don't know the man," he snaps. "I don't know what he'd think. Or do. But he's a vampire, like me. So I know what he's capable of doing."
"He's not like you. Don't be ridiculous."
Edward leans closer, eyes boring into mine. "I choose to live differently, but I know what I'm capable of, Bella. That's the point." His eyes, his message, send an unexpected chill down my spine. "That's why I won't let you near him." He sits back again. "And if you still think this is me slipping back, I'd have to ask if you're slipping back too."
His final words surprise and sting. My mouth hangs open and I'm ready to argue, to tell him he can't treat me like a child and decide who I see and where I go...and suddenly this all feels familiar. Too familiar.
Our conversation replays in my pounding head. I close my eyes, rub my temples and try to think this through. Part of me says this is the twenty first century and my fiancé can't dictate to me. It says we're a team, equals, and we should deal with this together. Because that's what twenty first century couples do.
But we're not your average couple. This is not your average situation. And when I look at this situation as it really is, suddenly I see things very differently.
Suddenly I see the sense of Edward's words. And his words are honest.
I know what I'm capable of Bella.
I know so well who Edward is, it's easy to forget sometimes what he is. I open my eyes. I touch his face. His eyes are amber, but I know they've been red. I know what he's capable of.
I realise too that there was a time when he wouldn't have told me what was in Carlisle's message. He'd have made something up and had Alice get me out of the way for a day.
"You're right. I don't need to put myself at risk."
His jaw relaxes. His body sags and he drops back down on the pillow.
"Thank God," he murmurs and shuts his eyes. I flop down beside him and he turns his face to look at me. "You'll be guided by me on this?"
"Well, you're the expert in the field. So, yeah."
He cracks a small smile. "Thank you," he whispers.
"No problem." He pulls me into his arms and his cool chest feels good against my head. "Thank you for being honest with me."
"You know, not spinning me a story and organising Alice to take me to a spa for the day or...something."
He chuckles softly, rolls onto his back and drapes one arm over his eyes.
"I thought about it," he says. "For a moment I thought about it." He pulls his arm away and looks at me. "But it was a concert in Seattle, not a day at a spa."
My surprise that he had actually considered subterfuge is outweighed by his admission. And now I laugh too. "Music versus massage. Mm, which one..."
He shakes his head, grinning. "The music," he says. "Always the music. Never the massage."
"Because, Bella..." He smooths the flat of his palm over my bare breasts and belly. "No-one massages you but me." He kisses my belly as I giggle. He runs his tongue around my navel. "Are we going home today?" he asks.
It's hard to answer as he makes a path of kisses towards my hip. "Um, this afternoon? Is that okay?
"Very okay." He lifts his head, eyes shining. "Can we tell Charlie our Christmas Eve news before we go?"
Of course, Charlie is shocked. But not as shocked as I'd expected and I wonder if Jake and Beth's engagement has mellowed him a little. I think he's especially pleased about our plan for something small and simple. I ask him not spread the word just yet.
"What about your mother?" he asks.
I roll my eyes. "That's different. Of course I'll tell Mom."
"Good," he says, and then insists I call Renee now, right away, before she books the New York Plaza.
"Or Buckingham Palace," he adds, under his breath.
By the time Renee has squealed her delight down the phone, my head is throbbing again and it's hard to listen to her ideas for a winter wonderland theme. I make a mental note to keep her and Alice away from each other.
Edward excuses himself when Sue arrives with Thanksgiving leftovers. He tells us he's forgotten something at his house and goes through the backdoor as Sue pulls up out front. She's brought Thanksgiving leftovers for Charlie and we laugh as we try to fit it all in his freezer.
"Thank you for looking after him," I say when Charlie's out of the room.
Sue hugs me. "He looks after me too," she says. "He's a good man." And suddenly I want to tell her about Edward and me. I think she'd understand. But I keep quiet because I want to tell Jake first and I need time to prepare for that.
When Sue leaves Edward returns. I pop some more aspirin while he loads my bag into the car. I hug Charlie and we farewell Forks just as the rain starts.
Edward's Honda keeps a steady pace behind my truck as we drive. The rain gets heavier and the cabin feels damp inside.
I'm sneezing again by the time we reach Aberdeen. My headache is back when we hit Centralia. By St Helens my throat feels like it's on fire and I realise this isn't drama catching up with me. I have caught a cold.
I've gone through all the tissues in my bag by the time we arrive at Vancouver. And my nose is as red as Rudolph's.
When I pull up outside my apartment building, Edward opens my door. "Bella? What's wrong?" I sneeze loudly as he helps me onto the footpath.
"I've caught a cold." I sniff and sneeze again and rub at my pounding temples. "I just need some sleep."
Edward's gaze runs over me. "You're sure?"
"Yep. Just some sleep."
He grabs my overnight bag and we go upstairs. He holds me close and says he'll stay with me.
"No," I say. "You go and see your family. I'm not going to be much company."
I finally persuade him to leave and collapse into bed as soon as he's gone. I tug the quilt around me and a second later I'm unconscious.
A phone is ringing somewhere.
My eyelids feel like lead as they creep open. It's dark and I'm cold. So cold. But my pillow feels wet. My clothes are soaked.
The phone stops ringing just as I grab it. I fumble for the bedside lamp and peer at the screen where it tells me I have one missed call and a voicemail message. From Edward.
"I'm on my way now. I want to tell you...I have news. I'll see you soon."
"News?" My voice is a croak and pain shoots down my throat when I speak. There's a jackhammer in my head. "What news?" I collapse back onto the pillow.
I should get up. Shower. Change my clothes. But everything hurts. The ache in my head has spread through my body. An icy ache that feels bone deep. I shut my eyes and a moment later I hear Edward's voice. I try to smile as the mattress dips down beside me.
"Bella?" he whispers. "Are you alright?"
"S'a cold," I rasp.
He pulls me into his arms. "Bella...fuck..."
He never swears. I open my eyes and see the panic blazing in his.
"This isn't a cold," he says. "This is influenza."
A/N: Thank you for your patience when this chapter took so long. I'm so sorry about the wait. Real life has been over-the-top busy for the past few months, so I really appreciate you sticking with me :)
And thank you Melanie for your brilliant beta'ing and for listening patiently when I was so undecided about which direction to go with a plot point.
Have you met Fenceward? He's starring in Melanie's (Edward's Eternal) latest fic, The Other Side of the Fence. It not, go take a look, you'll love him :)
And I keep forgetting to mention...I'm on twitter these days... windchymes11...if you're interested.
The next chapter won't take so long, I promise.