Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
THREE YEARS LATER….
This will never get old.
The speed is incredible, inhuman and effortless – closer to flying than running. My hair streams behind me in a mahogany wave. My feet barely touch the ground, they leave no mark, no sign that I've been here. As I race through the woods the world should be a blur, but I can see every vein on every leaf of every tree I pass. Some miles ahead, there's a creek. I can hear it. And smell it. From the sound I can judge its depth and width. It's about eighteen feet across, maybe twenty, but I'll jump it like I was stepping over a garden hose.
No, this will never get old.
Behind me the woods are silent. The sound of Edward's footfalls has disappeared and I grin. If I stick with my plan then today I will win. My first victory. And won't I rub it in afterwards, when he has to make good on our bet.
I breathe deeply, pulling the chill Alaskan air into my lungs. The scent of early spring makes me smile and along with wildflowers and pine, my nose tells me there's caribou a couple of miles east. But I won't be bothering them. I've had my fill for now. I can still taste bison and bear on my tongue.
My feet carry me forward and now that creek comes into view – crystal water chattering over mossy rocks. A second later it's behind me and my feet aren't even wet.
Town isn't far now. I can hear the distant rumble of a bus, and the faint jingle of the bell over the post office door. There are murmurs of conversation and the thump of something being loaded into the back of a pick-up. The town is coming to life and the day is starting for the people of Healy. Judging by the pale light from a cloud-covered sun, it's about nine in the morning. Edward and I have been hunting since midnight. Well, not just hunting. My skin tingles as I remember him naked in the moonlight, his hard body against mine…
My foot falters on a rock and I quickly shut the memory down because I can't let myself get distracted now. I glance over my shoulder, hair whipping my face as I check for Edward, though I know he's not there. Even so, when I see the empty woods behind me, a new grin spreads across my face. I really think I've got him this time.
This race is mine.
We do this sometimes; split up after a hunt and race each other back to the car. In the two years since my change there have been eleven races and Edward has won each of them; the speeds he can reach are incredible. Even during my newborn phase, when my strength and speed were at their peak, he was still so much faster. I'll never beat him unless I use cunning. And that's what I'm doing now. I've changed the course he'd expect me to take, looking like I've gone out of my way before cutting back sharp, arriving at the other end of town and walking down the main street to where the car is parked at the head of a tourist trail. This route isn't as direct, but the woods this way are much thinner. I'll have a clearer path, less to dodge. I won't win by much, but I will win.
The first glimpse of buildings appears through the branches. A second later I break through the tree line and slow to a brisk walk, laughing quietly to myself. In the distance is our steel-grey Jeep, all alone in the small parking lot, beneath the sign that says 'Tourist Trail This Way', and there's no gloating Edward in sight. Yes!
The morning is cool, so I zip my jacket and shove my hands in my pockets, like a human would do. With purpose, I walk past Daisy's Diner and the post-office, then cross the road, making a steady beeline for that Jeep. We're going to collect the mail while we're in town, and grab some supplies from the general store, but I don't dare stop now, just in case. Edward and I can run errands together, quickly, after I've won. Then we'll hurry home and Alexander will greet us with hugs and giggles after spending the night with Aunty Rose and Uncle Em. My still heart swells and I almost hug myself as I think about cuddling my son in my arms.
From the front pocket of my jeans, Edward's ringtone plays at the same time I hear the muffled sound of my name.
A woman is hurrying out of the diner, bundled up in a thick jacket, with a beanie pulled down low and a scarf over the bottom half of her face – like she's ready for an arctic winter instead of an Alaskan spring. The phone keeps ringing. The woman is waving and calling. While my mind quickly shuffles through the few residents and shopkeepers of Healy that I've seen or met, looking for a match, her scarf falls away and my jaw drops.
"Oh my God." A shattering mix of panic and joy rushes through me. I feel like I've grabbed hold of a live wire and my knees almost buckle. "Mom?"
This isn't supposed to happen. I was never supposed to see her again. After that last visit two Christmases ago it was supposed to be all emails and texts and blurry photos before my faked death next year. We thought it was best to stay in Alaska until then. Renee's always hated the cold.
I'd cried for a week after that last visit. Edward had cried with me. Now, my eyes prickle and burn and I'm blinking fast, and though no tears come I feel the quiver of my bottom lip.
My phone stops. Edward can't be far, and I realise now that he's probably picked up on Renee's thoughts. Or maybe Alice has called him. But the warning has come too late.
"Bella!" She's coming closer. Her heart is thrumming an excited beat, the blood singing in her veins. Her eyes are shining, full of love.
A mother's love.
I know exactly how that feels.
But I also know exactly what I have to do here. I have to turn my head and hurry away. Disappear quickly, changing my posture so completely as I walk that Renee will be certain she's made a mistake. But I can't move. My feet that were so swift a moment ago, are suddenly rooted to the pavement. My phone is ringing again, U2 somehow sounding more frantic this time. Renee's beaming at me, while my heart does battle with my brain and my feet stay still.
"Bella! Honey, it's me!"
A broken sob escapes me. "Mom!"
Now my feet are moving. Moving fast. Towards her. Renee flings her arms wide and in just a few steps I'm across the road and swept into her embrace.
She hugs me tight and my words are lost. I just wrap my arms around her and absorb her warmth and her love, and her scent which burns in my throat though I barely notice. I'm wrapped up in faded memories of her and me and suddenly I'm nine years old and arriving home from summer camp. I've missed her so much. My body shakes as I sob silently against her shoulder and she rocks us back and forth.
"Bella," she croons as I gulp sharp, shaky breaths.
"Wh…what are you…how…?" I can't think straight. I'm so overwhelmed I can barely form a sentence. The words I do find, come straight from my heart. "Oh Mom, it's so good to see you." So good.
She chuckles. "It's good to see you too. And it's been so long. I know we text and email, but I've missed you and I've been looking at old photos and I couldn't wait another year for your research project to finish, and I know it's hard for you to get away because of it, so I thought I'd come to you." She pulls back, holding me at arms length as we stand on the sidewalk. "Surprise!" She laughs. "I've booked three nights at the Healy Welcome Inn." There are tears in her eyes, but as she wipes them away her laughter fades and that beaming smile slowly dissolves into a confused frown. There's a quick skip in her pulse as she studies me closely now. My joy vanishes and I feel a stab of fresh panic as I wonder how to explain why I don't look quite the same; why my features are sharper, more refined.
"Oh, Bella," Renee whispers, leaning in close. "Honey have you had botox?"
My mother has always been a little scatter-brained. Impulsive and erratic. But her instincts have always been sharp. Like at our wedding, when she told me quietly that Alice was almost other worldly, and Esme seemed like she was from a different time. She'd said similar things about Edward and Carlisle… "It's almost like they don't quite belong here with us mere mortals." She'd laughed as she'd spoken, but her eyes had been curious.
"No," she murmurs now, searching my face. "This is more than botox."
I look down, letting my hair become a curtain. Maybe I should say I've had some work done – plastic surgery after an accident I didn't want to worry her about. Would that work?
I can hear Edward in the distance now as he crashes through the trees about three miles south.
"And your eyes…"
"Contacts," I lie quickly. "I found out last year I needed glasses, so I got contacts. Thought I'd go for a different colour. For fun. You know…"
My laugh is shaky. Renee's smile is uncertain.
She reaches up to gently touch my face. As she makes contact, her frown deepens, her voice is hesitant as she continues. "Um, so a couple of nights ago there were ads on the TV for cheap air fares to Alaska. It was almost like a sign from the universe. Bella, are you okay? You seem a little…distracted." Her thumb strokes tenderly across my cheek and though I struggle to know what to do, I still lean into her touch.
"I'm fine. Just, you know, surprised."
She nods slowly, her thumb keeping up its gentle caress. "Well, okay then," she says. "So anyway, the airport bus dropped me here just a little while ago. I was going to call you while I had a coffee and I couldn't believe it when I saw you through the window. Oh, honey, you're so cold. Colder than the weather."
My vampire mind, normally so clear and calm, is all chaos. I want to tell my mom everything; about me, about her grandson, but all I can offer her is lies. But what lies exactly? How do I play this? And where is Edward? I feel like my heart is going to break. But I fix a smile on my face and keep on lying.
"I've just been outside too long." Renee drops her hand as I rub mine together quickly, then cup them at my mouth to blow into them. "It's from the wind-chill. Makes everything feel colder, that's all. " As I make another show of blowing into my hands, the sleeve of my jacket shifts and the bracelet on my wrist comes into view, distracting Renee. She grins, and I feel a very fragile sense of relief.
"Oh my, now that takes me back about twenty years," she says, touching the bright band of colour. "Sarah Black…you remember Jacob's mother? She had one just like it and I thought it was the prettiest thing. Did this come from La Push?"
"Um…" I nod vaguely. The bracelet, intricately woven and delicately beaded in traditional Quileute style, had been made by Kim. It represents family and was a gift from her and Jared when Alexander was born.
"We should get you inside, out of the cold." Renee changes the subject again as she takes my hand in hers. Her eyes are suddenly speculative once more as my bracelet is forgotten and her gaze focuses on my face, then drops to our hands. She looks up again, meeting my eyes, and her heart starts a rapid, panicked beat as a sharp gasp escapes her lips. I don't know where it's come from, but I see the truth begin to dawn in her eyes. The colour drains from her face. My own chest tightens and burns with dread. She drops my hand as she takes a fast step back and the small distance between us feels like miles. Each second is a century. She covers her mouth with her hands as her eyes do a long drag from my head to my feet and back again – like she's looking at me for the first time, and is scared of what she's seeing. Her expression is painful to see and I can taste her fear. It's acrid and sharp on my tongue. I don't know what to say, or do. I wring my hands as my mother's heart pounds like it will break her ribs.
"No," she gasps. "It can't be…"
I hold out a trembling hand. "Mom, I…I'm still me."
Thank God Edward is near the edge of the woods now, down by the tourist trail. I catch his scent and I know the second he comes into view, though my back is to him.
"Hey!" he calls brightly.
Renee's head turns sharply in his direction and I follow her gaze. He's jogging down the middle of the road, a well-practiced smile on his face. To anyone else it would seem like my mother's sudden appearance has made his day. But I can see the tension in his eyes, and in the set of his shoulders, and the way his feet hit the road, and I'm desperate to know what he sees in my mother's mind. When he reaches us, he curls his arm tightly around my waist and pulls me in close.
"Renee…" he says quietly, though there's the subtlest shake in his voice. Her eyes rake his body, top to toes. "Why don't we go somewhere…," he begins, but she shakes her head, holding up her hand for him to stop. Then she faces me once more, her eyes staring deep into mine.
There's a change in her expression, a shift in her posture. She takes a deep breath as Edward exhales and his body almost sags into mine.
"What?" I look between the two of them – Edward staring at Renee, Renee starting at me. And I can't seem to stop shaking.
Surprisingly, her heart begins to slow and calm. Her fear fades and her scent changes. She offers me a shaky, disbelieving smile. Then she opens her arms and pulls me into a fierce, fierce hug. "It's okay, honey," she whispers. "Don't be frightened."
Edward's hand is on my thigh, squeezing reassuringly, as we sit in a quiet corner booth of Daisy's Diner. We're the only customers and while the staff are occupied with an incorrect order of tinned tuna chunks, Renee drinks strong coffee and talks. I had thought it would be us doing the explaining while she listened, but after a quick explanation about our human-friendly diet and why we're wandering around in the daylight, we've been mostly silent while my mother tells us about the picture of a wolf that once hung on the Black's living room wall, her curiosity about the tribe's traditions and history, her flirtation with spirit animals, and stories from Sarah of the Cold Ones and the wolves.
"It was your bracelet that reminded me," she says, nodding at my wrist as we hold hands across the laminate. "Sarah said they were only legends, but legends have to start somewhere, don't they? I've always thought that. And today, when I saw the bracelet…you know, sometimes the smallest things tell the biggest stories." She gives my hands a squeeze. "You were so frightened for my reaction, I could see the fear in your eyes." A tear escapes and falls down her cheek. "I love you, doesn't matter what you eat or the colour of your eyes. I never want you to be frightened of me Bella."
The sweet irony. The human telling the vampire not to be afraid. That is so my mother.
Renee sits back in her seat. "So, I guess this means the werewolves are real too?"
Edward and I exchange a glance, and that's enough for Renee. She nods. "Of course they are. How could one half of the legend be true without the other? It wouldn't make sense. So I'm assuming Charlie knows? He'd have to, being married to Sue now."
"He knows," Edward confirms quietly.
"But it's not that we decided to tell him and not you," I add quickly. "After he married into the tribe, it was kind of inevitable." Especially when one of the werewolves is his step-son.
"How did he take it?" Renee asks.
"We weren't there when he found out," I say. "But according to Jake he just said it explained a few things then went very quiet for a while. Quieter than usual."
"Processing." Renee nods. "That's what he does."
And when he'd processed, he'd come straight to Alaska, driving through the night to see me and make sure I was okay, and that my change had been my choice. He and Sue are regular visitors now, and Alexander already has his own fishing rod.
Renee exhales and shakes her head a little, as though clearing her thoughts. "I understand how Charlie found out, and obviously I know this isn't something to announce on Facebook, but honestly, Bella, why didn't you tell me? What were you going to do? Were you going to just disappear forever? Think I'd forget about you? Fake a death…oh…" She pauses as I drop my eyes. "That was the plan, wasn't it?" Her face pales.
"I'm so sorry." My whisper breaks, my voice disappearing.
"Do you realize what that would do to me?"
I think of Alex, and yes, I know exactly what that would do to her. She looks away and shuts her eyes. And while I want to break down and tell her everything, I'm still not sure how much she can know. Edward and I haven't had a chance to talk and I'm not sure how much more protocol I can breach. It's not just Edward and me who're affected by this, after all.
"Just the thought of getting that call…" She shudders, then throws me an accusing glare. "You know, if anyone is going to accept the supernatural, it's me. I've been embracing the weird and wonderful my whole life."
"Who taught you to read tea leaves?"
"Did we make trips into the desert to look for signs of UFO landings?"
"And what did I say that time about the house with the blue shutters?"
I sift quickly through cloudy human memories…blue shutters, blue shutters…I can't remember, but I can guess.
"You thought it was haunted?"
"Exactly!" Renee folds her arms across her chest as if this is final proof that she should have been trusted with the news of my change. "That's why I wouldn't rent it, even though I loved the mosaic tiles in the bathroom." She turns to Edward. "There was a sunburst behind the sink. But the energy was wrong. All wrong."
"It's not that we thought you wouldn't accept Bella's change," Edward says gently. "It's for your own safety that we couldn't tell you."
"My safety?" She looks from Edward to me, frowning. "I'm confused."
"You're in no danger from us, but there are those of our kind who will kill to keep our existence secret."
"Oh…" Renee jerks in her seat as Edward continues.
"And you must understand that other humans aren't as accepting as you."
"No," she murmurs. "They're not. But I wouldn't tell anyone. Not even Phil."
"People slip-up sometimes, without even realizing it."
She blinks at us, and I see a new realization in her eyes. "So if too many people knew and word spread and got back to these others that you talked about…"
Edward nods, clearly reading the rest of the sentence in her thoughts. "Bella would be in danger, too, yes."
"And the rest of your family?"
Renee inhales sharply. Her eyes widen. Edward angles his head slightly as he speaks quietly to me. "Your mother's protective instincts are incredibly strong," he says. "So is her resolve. She won't be slipping up." He chuckles softly. "Actually, I don't think I'd like Aro's chances if he tried to mess with you, or anyone else in her family."
Sweet relief flows through me and I lean into him, nestling against his shoulder. He kisses the top of my head. Renee takes a long pull at her coffee and Edward and I continue our quick, under-our-breath, vampire style conversation.
"You picked up on her thoughts while you were in the woods, didn't you? That's why you were trying to call me."
He gives an almost imperceptible nod of his head. "But you didn't answer and then I got a call from Alice." With Jared away on one his La Push visits for a couple of weeks, Alice's visions have been getting a work-out. "She'd seen that you were like a deer in headlights and didn't know why."
"You told her?"
"That your mother was in town looking for you, yes. They'll be waiting to hear what's next." And as Edward's phone has stayed silent, I'm guessing Alice hasn't seen anything else.
Renee puts her mug down and smiles at us.
"You look so right together. I've always known the universe had something more planned for you, Bella. Something extraordinary." She sighs. "Is there anything else I need to know?"
Edward and I exchange a look. I'm not sure what else he wants to reveal so I'm kind of surprised when he leans forward and tells her quietly, without any preamble, that he can read minds.
Renee's eyebrows almost hit the ceiling. She stares at him and he smirks. "Forty two," he says. "Pamela Anderson…Yellow Submarine…fish and chips…er, no, it's not a vampire thing, it's just me…it can't be learned, no." Renee's eyes flick towards me and Edward laughs. "Yes, except hers is the one mind I can't read…no, we don't know why…"He laughs again. "It used to frustrate me, but I think I like it that way now."
"Excuse me, I am right here." I wave my hand in the air. "Hello."
Edward gives me a sheepish look. Renee looks slightly abashed.
"Sorry, honey. That was rude of me, talking to Edward in his head in front of you. But this is amazing. I always thought ESP was a possibility if a person was really tuned in. I've read books about it. I even went to that seminar once. Remember Bella? That lecture on ESP And You." She pauses for a quick breath. "I guess this means I should be careful what I think around you now, Edward." Then she shuts her eyes and gives a dismissive wave of her hand as she chuckles. "What am I saying; everything I think comes right out of my mouth anyway."
I've always suspected that was true.
The discussion over the tinned tuna is becoming more heated. A waitress escapes the tension, stomps her way to our table and demands to know if anyone wants to order more coffee. Renee's drained her mug, Edward's and mine are untouched. We all decline and the waitress stomps away again. "Well she's a little ray of sunshine," Renee mutters. "I can do without a cupful of her anger, quite honestly. Tell me what she's thinking, Edward?"
"You can't do that," I hiss, leaning across the table. "It's like reading her mail."
"Oh, it is not," she retorts. "And I'm sure he's kept you in the loop with people's thoughts sometimes. Don't tell me you've never asked the same question."
I sit back in my seat and fold my arms. Edward's trying not to laugh. Renee nudges my foot under the table and suddenly I'm smiling.
"This is like old times, isn't it?" she says.
She reaches across the table and I put my hand in hers. "I've missed you," she says.
"Missed you too." And I didn't realize how much until I saw her in the street half an hour ago. Or maybe I just wouldn't admit how much.
"Renee, Bella and I want you to stay with us while you're here." Edward smiles at me as he addresses my mother and a bubble of happiness swells in my chest.
"I get to keep my Mom," I whisper so only Edward will hear. He leans over, kisses my temple, and turns to face Renee.
"I didn't want to be in the way," she says. "That's why I booked the hotel."
Edward shakes his head. "Not going to happen. Our place isn't large, but there's a study that converts to a guest room. You'll stay with us. And besides, there's someone we want you to meet."
In the backseat of the Jeep, Renee is still shell-shocked.
"A grandson," she mutters for the eighth time. "How old? I know you told me, but…a grandson."
"He's two." Sitting sideways in the passenger seat, I beam at her and then at Edward.
"Alexander," she says. "Alexander Masen. Alex Masen. That's a good strong name."
"We thought so too."
"A grandson," she whispers again. "Oh! Stop the car. I should bring him something!"
"Mom, you don't have…"
"Yes I do! I can't meet him empty handed, what sort of grandma would that make me? Now, what sorts of things does he like? Edward, turn this car around."
"Seriously, Mom, he doesn't need…"
"He likes painting," Edward interrupts quietly. "If you offer to paint a picture with him, he'll love it."
"Oh…" Renee loses some of her bluster. "You know, that's a lovely idea. I used to paint with Bella all the time."
She settles back in her seat again. "A grandson," she mutters.
All is silent for a while and I wonder if Renee might actually fall asleep from her early start, long flight, and overload of supernatural revelations. But no. She's just gathering her thoughts because a few miles from home, the rapid-fire questions start.
I answer all the clichés about crucifixes, fangs and garlic. She's fascinated about the speed and strength, vision and hearing. Then I gloss over some basic info about vampire pregnancy and birth. I leave out the agony of my three day transition. And then she's curious about my newborn phase.
"Were there any…did you…you know…" She waves her hand around vaguely, trying not to spell things out. "Slip? I mean, I'd understand if you did…"
"No. No slip-ups. Clean slate." Though there were a couple of very close calls, and one time it took both Edward and Emmett to hold me back from going after a hiker who'd wandered too far from the track. But Edward kept the promise he made while I was human, and made sure I never did anything I'd regret.
The conversation moves on and Renee's excited by my plans to write children's books and Edward's recent appointment, thanks to some forged documents, as an online course co-ordinator for the psychology department in Chicago University's distance education program.
While we talk, Edward calls Carlisle and fills him in. Thank goodness for vampire brains. Part of me is focused on Renee and explaining to her that vampires don't need dentists, while another part listens in to Edward's whispered call. After Alice's vision and her call with Edward, they'd been waiting to hear the outcome. I'm nervous for Carlisle's reaction to our decision, but after a long pause he says he understands, and there's almost a sense of inevitability in his tone. "It will be good for Alex to know his grandmother," he says. "I'll let everyone know here. And tell Renee we're looking forward to seeing her again." Edward thanks him before slipping the phone away. He rubs his hand back and forth over my thigh.
The change in relationship between Carlisle and Edward has been subtle and though I know it started back when Edward lost and then regained his memories, the new dynamic has become clearer since our marriage and Alex's birth. Carlisle will always be like a father to Edward. His opinion will always be valued, and his advice sometimes sought, but Edward is his own man now. He's Edward Masen, head of his own family, protector and provider, and his relationship with Carlisle is as one man to another, not as a father to a teenage son. I lean over and kiss Edward's cheek. In some ways, he's so far removed from the boy I knew in Forks, I barely recognise him. And not just because my memories are cloudy.
"You know," Renee says, shaking her head and smiling. "I thought I was the one with the surprise, coming here unannounced. But all this?" She motions between Edward and me. "All this really trumps my ready-saver air fare."
When we pull up outside our house deep in the woods, Renee is all oohs and aahs. The Cullen's original stone house is large and was built a hundred years ago, but a separate wing has been added for us and Alex. And another one for Kim and Jared. Emmett calls it the Cullen Compound.
While Edward goes to collect Alex from his aunty and uncle next door, I take Renee inside for a tour.
"Oh, this is lovely." She moves slowly around the living room with its oversized armchairs and built-in bookshelves, and goes to stand by the stone fireplace. "Very nice." She gives her approval to the small kitchen that I designed with Esme's help and gets teary as we stand in the doorway of Alexander's room. "Such a pretty quilt on the bed," she says. "I love all the little appliqued sailboats. Does he like boats?" She looks at the samples of her grandson's artwork that we've displayed on the walls and chuckles. "Looks like he does."
"He's crazy about them. We took him to Port Juneau just last week." It had been the best day, with rows of boats all shapes and sizes and Alex had been so excited. The resulting photos used up almost all the memory on my camera.
"Is that…it is! You've painted Winnie the Pooh's tree house on the wall! And look…" She goes to the dresser and picks up the jack-in-the-box. "I haven't seen one of these for years. It looks antique."
"It is. It was Edward's. It was his favourite toy when he was small."
She looks at me, surprised. "A sentimental vampire," she smiles.
"He kept a few special things. In storage. When Alex is a bit older he'll inherit a complete set of tin soldiers and the complete works of Jules Verne."
We move onto the study and together we pull out the queen size sofa bed and make it up.
"Is this where you'll always live?" Renee asks as we take a side each and tuck in the sheets.
"No. We still have the house in Bowery Lane and we always will. It's like our home base and we'll inherit it from ourselves every fifty years or so."
"Clever." Renee nods approvingly and I can't believe I'm having this conversation with my mother.
"And then Edward still has his childhood home in Chicago. The Cullens have other places scattered across the country." And now that I think of it, with Renee knowing the truth and us not having to keep hiding away here, we can probably move back to Bowery Lane and its lime green bedroom sooner than we thought.
As we toss the pillows in place, there's the sound of laughter from outside, and the excited squeals of a small boy.
"Is that him?" Renee asks, looking up. I nod and we hurry to the living room window and my heart swells at what I see. Alex is riding on his father's shoulders as Edward jogs across the grounds. Both of them laughing, their faces lit up, shining, like this is the best game in the world.
"More!" Alex cries out. "More, Dad!"
So Edward gives him more; changing direction, zig-gagging along the driveway, throwing in some jumps here and there, so Alex bounces up and down.
"Oh, he's gorgeous," Renee whispers. "He has Edward's hair colour."
"I know. And his eyes are brown. Edward says they're my eyes."
Renee grabs my hand and squeezes. "Listen to him," she says. "That laughter…I've never heard anything so…it's like music." She starts sniffing and rummages in her pocket for a tissue. "He's beautiful. But I can't tell…how is he different?"
"It's not obvious," I say, chuckling as I watch my husband become a horse for his own amusement I think, as much as our son's. "He's a little more advanced than the average two year old, but not so much that it would seem too unusual."
"You're saying he's smart," Renee says and I have to agree.
"Yeah. He's smart. And his heart rate is slower than a human child's, and his body temperature is lower. He eats human food but he doesn't need as much sleep, six hours a night and he's good to go. Apart from that…" I shrug. "We'll have to wait and see."
"Does he sparkle?"
"Can Edward read his mind, too?"
That's something we're not sure about. "So far, no. He does get flashes of his thoughts here and there, but that's all. Whether that will change, we don't know."
Renee nods, her eyes transfixed on the scene going on in the driveway.
"He must have been a beautiful baby."
Around my neck is the antique silver locket that Edward gave me the morning Alexander was born. I tug it gently from beneath my sweater and open it.
"We have lots of other baby pictures," I say as my Mom takes a close look. "But this is Alex when he was only a day old."
Her eyes mist over again. "Adorable. You can see the faint tint in his hair even there can't you?"
I smile. Alex didn't have a lot of hair when he was born, but what he did have had definitely come from his father. It was the first thing I noticed when Edward put him in my arms.
Outside, Edward slides Alex from his shoulders and they begin a game of tag around the car. Edward allows himself to be caught and then it's his turn to chase Alex, who darts in and out between the Jeep and my Honda on his chubby little legs.
"Does he have friends?" Renee asks. "Does he get to play with other children?"
"Not a lot." My heart clenches a little. No story is perfect and this is the catch to having a hybrid baby. "We go the park and if there are kids there his age he'll play. And he'll go to school when it's time, but right now, while he's so young, it's too risky for him to interact too much with human children."
"Because he might say something to raise people's suspicions?"
I nod. "But Jacob and Beth visit a lot with their son, Nicholas. He's the same age and the boys play well together." And his uncles are like big kids. Jared phases so Alex can ride on his back. Kim and Alice paint and draw with him. Some days Edward and I barely get a chance to see him! "He's well loved. And there are other kids like him out there in the world, we just have to find them."
"Is that difficult?"
"Carlisle and Edward are making discreet enquiries." I punctuate the last words with air quotes and Renee smiles.
When at last they come inside, Alex runs into my arms.
"Mama!" I lift him up and he wraps his arms around my neck and squeezes as tight as he can. "You getta bear?"
"I did get a bear," I say, nuzzling his downy cheek with my nose and breathing him in. "A big brown one. Did you have fun with Aunty Rose and Uncle Em?" He nods and holds his little hands out wide. "That much fun, huh?" He nods again, more vigorously this time. "What did you have for breakfast?"
"Scrambled eggs? Yum!"
If I could hold him forever, I would, but a second later he's wriggling to get down so I set him on the floor and he makes a beeline for his wooden train set laid out in the corner near the bookshelves. He gets busy with the string of carriages, pushing them back and forth along the tracks, round the figure-eight, making toot-toot sounds as he goes.
Renee is standing back, almost hidden in the doorway to the hall, watching on. She's enraptured, it seems; a look of silent wonder on her face. I've never seen her without words before.
"Alexander," Edward goes to crouch beside him on the floor. "There's someone here who'd like to say hello." He motions for Renee to come forward. "This is Grandma Renee."
"She's my mommy," I add, to hopefully give him some context.
There's curiosity in Alex's eyes, but a smile on his lips as Renee crouches down too, and says a quiet hello. The grin I'm wearing is so wide it almost hurts.
"You inna photo." Alex drops his train and goes to the bookshelf, tugging out an album from the bottom shelf where we keep his Dr Seuss collection and Winnie The Pooh. "Look, Renny."
"Renny," Renee whispers, looking up at me through tears. "He calls me Renny. I love it." She wipes at her eyes and then gives her full attention to Alex and the pictures.
The photo albums are a big part of our life. They tell stories, not just of major events like the wedding or my pregnancy, but little every day moments too. It was Edward's idea to keep a visual record of as much of my human life as possible, to help me keep as many memories as I could, and to share them with Alex.
Edward knows what it's like to be without memories.
And looking through the pictures is one of Alex's favourite things to do; he's fascinated that he can see the same person in real life, and in a picture, at the same time.
He flops down on his bottom, clumsily turning the pages, going past my graduation, and Edward's, and photos of the day we moved into Bowery Lane, until he comes to a shot of our wedding. He points triumphantly to the image of Edward and me with Renee and Phil.
"Yes, that's me," Renee says, delighted. "And who's that?"
"And this man," Renee points at Phil. "This is a friend of mine."
"Phil," Alex says clearly. Renee blinks and glances up at me.
"We have told him about you both," I say. She smiles, wide and warm, and turns back to the album.
"Jacob. Beff." Alex points at another photo. "Gampa Charlie. Sue. Billy."
"Lots of friends and family," Renee smiles. "And look at that tree behind us all. It's a big tree, isn't it?"
Alex nods and spreads his arms wide again. "Dis big. Bigga than Daddy."
"It is bigger than Daddy, you're right. And doesn't Mama look beautiful?"
Alex nods again. "She holding flowas. She likes flowas. We pick some yestaday."
We did. While we'd been walking through the woods. The vase of little yellow spring wildflowers is sitting on the coffee table. Along with a couple of rocks and a piece of stick that caught Alex's fancy and couldn't be left behind.
Edward rubs a gentle hand over his son's coppery head, then he straightens and comes to stand behind me. Wrapping his arms around my waist he rests his chin on my shoulder. "She's good with kids," he says.
"She is. Always has been."
Alex pushes the photo album aside and stands up. "I got swings. Come and I show you, Renny."
Renee shoots us a beaming smile as she takes his hand and together they walk through the French doors, across the patio and beyond, to the world's most elaborate swing set. Alex scrambles onto the seat and Renee gently pushes.
"This feels so surreal," I whisper.
"More surreal than becoming a vampire?"
A soft chuckle rolls through me. "It's up there."
Edward pulls me down with him onto the squishy leather sofa. He settles me comfortably across his lap, then reaches for the discarded photo album.
"You did look beautiful," he says.
"It was a beautiful wedding."
Dusk in the back garden of our home in Bowery Lane. Fairy lights in the trees. A wooden dance floor beneath the stars. Jasper had played guitar while Rosalie sang and I'd waltzed with Edward in the moonlight. The love in his eyes that night is one human memory that's crystal clear.
"The honeymoon was pretty good, too." Edward leans in and kisses my neck.
"Mm, can't remember," I tease.
He growls and his voice rumbles up from deep in his chest. "I'll make sure to remind you later."
I giggle and turn the page. "Oh look, Isle Esme, now I remember." Photos of me sitting on the beach. Paddling in a lagoon. Eating a mango. There's Edward by the edge of a waterfall. Another of him lying in a hammock. "You won't have to remind me after all."
"Mm, I was thinking I'd remind you of the other photos. The ones in the private album."
"The ones with me in the blue bikini?"
He traces a slow circle over my hip. "Uh huh."
It suddenly feels hot in here and I turn the page quickly, remembering that my Mom and Alex are just fifty yards away. They've abandoned the swing and he's demonstrating how he can hang upside down from the monkey bars while she hovers beneath, arms outstretched.
"I love this photo of you," Edward says.
"I was huge."
"You were gorgeous."
Except for a few brief, enforced hunting trips, he hadn't left my side for a second of the pregnancy. And he'd taken a photo almost every day. Only a selection had made it into the album.
"My feet swelled. And my hands."
"Are we talking about the same pregnancy, Edward?" He chuckles softly. "I mean, you were there, by my side, every single second. You sure you didn't notice the swelling?"
He shakes his head, grinning. "Only in your belly."
I give a very deliberate eye roll and he chuckles.
"I did enjoy the foot massages, though. And the shoulder rubs. The tummy rubs, too; they were good. And the baths together; they were bliss."
Edward winks at me. "Still are." And though I don't blush, my skin tingles. I glance down at the album.
"Ah, now this is a photo I love." It had been taken by Esme, not long after Alex was born. His tiny body wrapped in a blue blanket, he lays nestled in his father's arms. The look of gentle disbelief, the overwhelming joy and love, in Edward's face makes my skin tingle.
"I was euphoric. And terrified," he whispers, staring at the photo. "I'd never known joy like it, to hold my son in my arms, and then lay him in your arms, but I also knew what was coming next. And that terrified me."
I touch his face and he nuzzles against my palm. "It's all a bit hazy, but I think…you were trembling when you bit me."
"I was shaking so much I could barely see your jugular."
"But your voice was steady when you told me to grab you hand and hold on. And when you said you loved me. I remember that clearly. It's my last human memory."
He smiles and kisses me softly, sweetly. Outside there are laughs and giggles as Renee spins Alex gently on the little round-a-bout and Edward and I smile as we watch.
"Is the rest of the family okay about Renee?" I ask. "What did they say when you went to get Alex?"
"There's no problem with Renee," Edward says. "They all like her, you know that. And they're glad for you, and for Alex, that she's in our lives. But there'll always be concerns when a human knows we exist. Not just for us, but for her." He curls a strand of my hair around his finger slowly. "But I told them what I've seen in her thoughts. How strong her protective instincts are, and Jasper had picked up on her psyche at the wedding and he agreed, she's flighty in a lot of ways, but once her mind is set, that's it.
It's a pretty accurate assessment of my mother, really.
"Has Alice seen anything else apart from me in a state of shock?"
"Only that she and Esme are going to Fairbanks with you and Renee tomorrow afternoon to see an art exhibition." There's a smirk on Edward's lips and I throw my head back and laugh.
"I don't think that's a vision. That's a plan. But Renee would like that. It's kind of Alice to think of it."
"They'll all come over in the morning to see her and say hello, after she's had today with you and Alex."
Edward shifts slightly, pulling me closer, but frowns as he does so. "What the…?" He reaches behind him, beneath the sofa cushion, and pulls out two rocks – one black and rough, the other grey and smooth. He stares down at them, eyebrows slightly raised. "Looks like he's found a new place for his secret stash." He chuckles, and leans across me to set the rocks with the others on the coffee table. "At least it's not in the toilet this time, thank God. I don't think the plumbing could take any more rocks."
When Alex has had enough of spinning around he stumbles off, takes Renny's hand and leads her to the spring flower beds that Esme's worked so hard on. They sit together on the wooden bench, pointing at the plants and chatting. Alex is telling her about the picture of a boat he and Daddy painted yesterday. "S'on my wall," he says. "Wif ticky tape."
"You know what? I think we should buy a boat," Edward says suddenly. "We'll moor it somewhere and we'll take Alex out on it. And sometimes…" He flashes me a cheeky smile. "Just you and me. We can lie on the deck in the sun. Dive off and swim." He threads his fingers through mine. "We can take Alex to discover hidden coves on deserted islands."
"Are there any deserted islands left in the world?"
"If there are, we'll find them."
He kisses my knuckles and I snuggle closer. Outside, Alex is showing Renny how high he can jump, while she claps and cheers. He's so cute, with a huge smile, his hair flopping and his arms flapping as he bounces up and down. Though we didn't think he was cute yesterday morning when he drew a picture on our bedroom wall with his oatmeal. That stuff sets like concrete and pulls paintwork off with it.
"I can't imagine life without him," I whisper. "Edward, do you ever think about how close we came to not having this?" He looks at me, puzzled. "All the near-misses," I explain. "All the things that could have broken us apart. I mean, what are the odds, after you left Forks, that we'd find each other again?" Not very good, I would think.
Edward shakes his head quickly. "I try not to think about it. I don't want to remember how…fragile, things were." He tightens his hold on me. "Just think about now. What we have and how far we've come."
"I think about that every single day and I'm beyond thankful, but sometimes I can't stop myself remembering, and it scares me how close we've come to..."
"Knock, knock," he says suddenly.
I look up, startled, and see the mischief in his eyes.
"Knock, knock," he says again.
My lips twitch with a smile as I'm taken back to a hazy memory of ink blots and bad jokes. "Who's there?"
Edward grins. "Interrupting cow."
My smile becomes giggles. "Interup…."
He swoops in quickly and kisses me so hard that I'm breathless when he pulls back. He's breathless too, eyes dark, and his hair tumbles into his eyes as he smiles down at me.
"Moo," he finishes quietly.
"Moo," I whisper back.
He kisses me again. Softer this time.
"Dad! Dad! Airp'ane! Show Renny the airp'ane!" Alex is jumping on the trampoline, waving his arms as Renee beams at him like he's Christmas and New Years all rolled into one.
"You've been summoned."
"I have." Edward presses his lips to my forehead. "But I'll be back to finish this later. Promise." He eases me off his lap and walks across the room, stepping over blocks and the train set. "Here I come!" he calls as he jogs through the French doors. Alex squeals and claps his hands, reaching out to his father who scoops him up and makes zoom-zoom noises as he flies him around in big circles round the swing set.
The heat of Edward's kiss is still on my lips.
We have come a long way. And as I listen to Edward be an aeroplane, and Alex's delighted squeals, I catch sight of The House At Pooh Corner, sitting on the bookshelf. My leather bookmark, the one that brought Edward back into my life, sticks out from the top. It's marking the place where Alex and Edward left off last night. And tonight I'll start the next chapter, in which Piglet does a very grand thing. The bookmark's looking a bit rough these days, with chew marks on the corner, courtesy of young Alexander Edward Masen, but it makes me smile as I realise my mother is right…sometimes it's the smallest things that tell the biggest stories.
A/N: That's it. All done. After two years I can't believe it's over. Think I might need a glass of wine and quiet moment.
Huge hugs, and thank you to everyone who's taken The Keepsake journey with me. It's been a long journey, some of the chapters have been a long time coming, but I truly appreciate your support and your patience, and your reviews and PM's – they've all meant so much to me, I can't even begin to tell you. Thank you.
And thank you Melanie, for your betaing skills, and your friendship. You're a star!
If you're interested, you can check out my original work, Over The Edge by Suzanne Carroll. It's a modern-day love story with a laugh.
And if you haven't already, please check out Melanie's original work, a tender love story called Into The Storm by Melanie Moreland.
I hope you've enjoyed the epilogue. I'm hoping Bella and Edward do buy that boat, and if they do, I like to think they'll call it the SS Interrupting Cow :)