Seven A.M., September 13. I climbed out of bed, pausing to look into the bedroom mirror. A woman looked back at me - a woman, not a girl. Still attractive, but clearly no longer young. Her brown hair was showing some grey; there were crinkles around her eyes, faint lines in her forehead and at the corners of her mouth. The skin of her neck was becoming less firm. Everything else was following its inevitable surrender to the forces of gravity.
Behind my mirror image, I could see Edward, shirtless and magnificent, cross the room and approach me, smiling. He took my shoulders gently in his hands, leaned over and kissed my cheek.
"Happy birthday," he whispered.
Forty. The Big Four-Oh. There was a time when the very idea of turning thirty, or even twenty, had terrified me. Now, it was just a number. That was one thing about living four decades: it put things in a different perspective.
I would probably not be celebrating another birthday. After years of argument with Edward, years of negotiations and pleading and attempted bribery on my part, all met with steadfast refusal on his, he had finally agreed to my demand. I had almost given up. When Edward told me he'd changed his mind, it had taken me a minute to move on from disbelief to happiness and triumph. A slightly subdued triumph, after twenty years of waiting, and not completely unmixed with reluctance. Just a tiny, fleeting bit of reluctance. I'd become attached to my human life, and wasn't as casual about tossing it aside as I had been when I was eighteen. My mind had almost immediately moved on to practical details, loose ends I had to tie up before the momentous event.
There weren't many loose ends. Being a Cullen, even a human one, meant avoiding close friendships; and I no longer had family ties to speak of. Phil had been killed in an accident six years earlier. Not long after that, my mother had begun to develop early onset Alzheimer's. She now lived in a managed care facility, one that Carlisle had recommended as the best money could buy. Money, of course, wasn't a problem for me any longer, and I was glad I could do my best for Mom. She was relatively happy, and as comfortable as I could make her. I went to visit her as often as I could, although she seldom recognized me any more.
Two years ago, Charlie had died of a heart attack. At least I'd been able to keep seeing him until the end - one of the reasons Edward had wanted me to remain human.
I wondered if Renee's situation was one reason Edward had finally given in. The condition could be hereditary, and maybe Edward couldn't face the idea of watching me lose my memory, become unable to recognize him.
I would be the oldest person in the entire Cullen family, technically - and by a fairly wide margin. Esme had been only twenty-six when she was changed. She'd once seemed so mature and motherly to me, but now I noticed mostly how youthful she was. They all were. Especially Edward.
When I first married Edward, we could appear in public as a married couple. As time passed, Alice began dressing Edward to appear more mature, and me to appear younger. That worked for a few years. But as I approached thirty, Alice finally told me diplomatically - for Alice - that it was no longer possible to camouflage my age completely.
We eventually had to change our cover story to make me Edward's older sister, which meant avoiding public displays of affection. Later, the story was changed again, and I became his aunt. Being transformed isn't going to solve this problem. I asked Alice about it once, privately. I'll be strong and beautiful, but I'll still appear to be a woman of around forty. An unusually well preserved and gorgeous woman of forty, but clearly too old for Edward. We'll have to work around that.
But there are bigger issues than the difference in our appearance.
The Cullens were all permanently frozen at the age they'd been when they were changed, and not just physically. It had been explained to me dozens of times. Their tastes, their temperaments all remained static. They'd lived so long, learned and experienced so much, it was easy to forget that - particularly when I was young myself. Now I was starting to understand just what 'frozen' meant.
Carlisle must have been an exceptionally mature young man for twenty-three. He occupied the role of father and leader effortlessly. Still, I had eventually begun to notice his youthful qualities: his enthusiasm for novel information and ideas, his delight in the new and different. And Esme, in spite of her experience as a wife and mother, retained a distinctly youthful optimism, a naive quality nothing could alter.
The other family members were more discernibly youthful, for all their education and all their worldly experience. "It's like what your mother used to tell you," Rosalie explained to me once. "That if the wind changes, your face will freeze in whatever expression it has at the time."
"I've heard that," I agreed, although it wasn't the kind of thing Renee would tell me.
"Well, when we get changed, it's our personalities that freeze. Whatever age we are at the time, that's the age we stay forever."
"But your age isn't your personality," I'd objected.
"It's part of it. A big part. Remember when Carlisle told you about the Immortal Children?"
I shuddered. "Sure."
"The whole problem was that they stayed little children, toddlers, forever. Their outlook never matured. It couldn't."
"So they couldn't be taught? No matter how long they lived?"
"Oh, they could learn. Their intelligence was normal - vampire normal - and they'd learn as much as they cared to. Languages, sciences, whatever could sustain their interest. But their outlook was always that of a baby. They could never accept the idea that their desires might have to be suppressed, even for a short time; that their wishes might have to take second place to someone else's. No matter how much they learned, how long they lived, they never developed emotionally beyond that point.
"We're the same way, although we were frozen much older. I still see things the way I did when I was nineteen. Even when I know it's a silly way of looking at life, I can't help it. Emmett," she smiled fondly, "he's the same unruly juvenile he was when I found him. And Edward, even after a century, is still a melodramatic, romantic, idealistic teenager.
"Carlisle and Esme really are the parents of the family: they were at least adults when they were changed, with an adult's perspective on things."
I suddenly realized what Esme reminded me of: Wendy, playing mother to the Lost Boys.
"Humans change with time," Rosalie went one. "Old people see the world differently than young ones. We can never do that. It's not just our appearance that doesn't change. We stay the same age on the inside."
I was twenty-one when Rosalie had this talk with me, but I didn't understand its significance until years later.
I never stopped loving Edward; but only as I got older did I begin to recognize that his love for me was, and always would be, that of a teenaged boy. He was passionate, tender, endlessly fascinated by my every word and act; but also sentimental, intense, ready at every moment to throw himself into some impulsive act of self-sacrifice. In many ways, Edward was the perfect lover, the perfect husband; but he was also, for a middle aged woman like myself, kind of exhausting. I occasionally found myself wishing for an easy, comfortable relationship with a forty year old Edward, one whose love had changed and matured with time, along with mine.
Edward's love was unchanging - that was one thing I could rely on. My aging, my appearance meant nothing to him. He could never feel differently about me. My own feelings, on the other hand, had mellowed. They were human and therefore changeable. I had come to accept the fact that I was, at least theoretically, capable of loving someone else, of being happy with someone else. Maybe happier than I could be with Edward. I didn't struggle with the knowledge, or feel guilty over it, as I might have years ago. I accepted that life was complicated, full of uncertainties and shades of grey.
Edward had done everything he could to ensure I did not miss any significant human experiences. He'd come through on his promise that we'd have a real marriage, in every way. To an extent. He insisted that some things were still too dangerous, so our sex life was limited to activities many people wouldn't even consider real sex. It was real enough for me; Edward, aside from his WWI-era scruples about premarital activities, was an ardent, playful, generous and completely delightful lover. Considering how difficult lovemaking was for him, how rigidly he had to control himself at all times, I had no excuse for complaining about my nominal virginity.
I could now acknowledge to myself that there were a few experiences I regretted missing. With my biological clock winding down fast, I sometimes thought of motherhood. The regret was not very keen. I found I could think about the children I could have had, and feel at once sad and content. It was an attitude I was unfamiliar with twenty years earlier.
I saw Jacob back in Forks a couple of years ago, the last time I visited Charlie before his heart attack. I was out shopping for something for Charlie at a chain store, and there he was, walking through the school supplies aisle with his two daughters, pretty little girls of around eight or nine. They were treating their father with affectionate disdain, as daughters will do, and he was following them indulgently, grinning at their remarks. I knew Jake was married, that he'd stopped phasing after he met his wife, so he could grow older along with her. He was no longer a supernatural creature; just a guy. He'd lost a lot of his muscle, and had even developed a bit of a paunch. He looked tired but happy. I didn't speak to him or do anything to draw his attention, just made my purchase and left. Once again, I felt both sad and content.
I try not to feel resentful of Edward for delaying his decision so long. It's not just the fact that I'll look old enough to be his mother. That no longer seems as important to me as it once did. It's that I've left him behind, just a little. Our feelings had once been perfectly synchronized. We'd lived together in a bubble of mutual emotion, endlessly fervent, obsessive, full of joy and tragedy. If I'd been changed then, we would have lived forever in that bubble, permanently frozen in the rapture of first love. Instead, my love had matured along with myself, while Edward's had remained crystallized just as it had been. I felt at once guilty and offended and envious.
I want that eternal, perfect bubble. At the same time, I treasure my human experiences and my changing perspective, and wouldn't want to have missed them.
I adore Edward. I also resent the fact that being with him has placed so many limits on my existence, required so many compromises.
I look forward eagerly to being Edward's equal at last, his true partner. And I'm saddened to recognize that he will always seem just a little bit juvenile to me. Adorable, wonderful, but full of the slightly foolish hyperbole of youth. I'll never be able to turn back time, and stop seeing it.
Maybe it wasn't fear of Alzheimer's that made Edward change his mind. Maybe he could see the direction I was taking as I matured, and wanted to stop the process before I outgrew him completely. I'm glad he didn't wait any longer.
It goes without saying, I'll never tell any of this to Edward. I'm old enough to know better.