There was a 'keep' pile, a 'discard' pile, and a 'give away' pile. Everything I owned was going into one of the three, in preparation for my leaving Charlie's house and moving to New Hampshire, and from there to points beyond. The 'keep' pile was as small as I could manage, although I was taking most of my books with me. Several boxes of them were stacked by my bedroom door.
Charlie was at work, and Edward and his family were hunting, so I'd decided to devote the day to sorting and packing. A load of laundry was in the washer and another in the dryer, and I was giving my bedroom a good final cleaning. An open suitcase was on my bed, half full.
I'd been told by Alice to bring minimal clothing along, since she planned to do a complete wardrobe makeover on me following the move, so my 'after' self would be properly dressed until I was fit to go shopping again. Accordingly, I'd assigned most of the clothes I owned, including the more fashion forward of Alice's contributions, to be given away, and kept only essentials, like jeans and tee shirts. Edward had wiped my computer hard drive and taken back any borrowed CD's which might be found and give rise to questions.
I was ready to go. In fact, I was beyond ready. I was so excited about my future, I had to act a little bit subdued around Charlie. He'd find my anticipation too keen even for the prospect of attending an ivy-league school. Which, of course, I would not actually be attending.
Edward had made one last-ditch attempt to change my mind, suggesting that I could at least wait an extra year and experience college from a human perspective. He hadn't made much headway.
As I was carrying my laundry back upstairs, I passed the living-room display of family photographs Charlie had set out on the fake mantlepiece above the fake fireplace. The arrangement that had remained in place for almost eighteen years had finally been shifted. Now Mom was present only in one of my baby pictures, the wedding photograph had been put away, my graduation photo had been framed and added, along with an informal snapshot of Sue Clearwater in a pretty pewter frame.
The picture of Sue had been there about a week. I hadn't mentioned it to Charlie, not directly. I just picked it up one day and looked at it, while Charlie was sitting nearby on the sofa, smiled and put it carefully back in place. I figured that showed my approval clearly enough without requiring any kind of actual conversation about it. I had made a lot of headway in learning to open up to people, but Charlie hadn't changed, and I knew enough to stick with the indirect approach.
I was back in my room, sorting clothes, when the image of Mom holding the two-month-old me in her arms passed through my mind. I stopped working as a sudden realization hit me: I was never going to be a mother. I'd known that for some time, and I'd never had much interest in motherhood anyway, but the fact that I would be irrevocably cut off from the possibility struck me forcefully all at once. I remembered the little daydream I'd had once, of meeting the human Edward and having a family with him, beautiful babies with his reddish-brown hair and the green eyes he'd once possessed. The dream overwhelmed me with its sweetness, and its impossibility. To my surprise and embarrassment, tears began flowing down my face, and the more I tried to control myself, the faster they came.
I'd been so focused on the new life I was fighting to have, I'd almost ignored the old life I was leaving behind. Now the many things I was throwing in the 'discard' pile began to run through my mind, one by one, and I became intensely aware of their value. I was very glad nobody else was in the house as I began to cry harder, sobbing aloud.
At first I cried over important things. I cried because I would never see my parents again. I cried at the thought of Mom and Charlie grieving over my supposed death.
I cried because I would remain a teenager forever, and never gain the perspective and insight of a mature woman, like Sue; or the wisdom of old age, like Old Quil. I might gain knowledge and experience, but never real change. I was just beginning to appreciate how important that was, and what I was losing by remaining eternally eighteen.
I sat down on the bed, crying noisily, as the enormity of the loss overcame me. I gave up trying to stop, just let the tears have their way with me.
After ten minutes or so, Edward came through my window, startling me. "Alice saw you," he explained briefly, sitting on the bed and taking me into his arms. Even though I hated having him see me like this, I clung to him, his presence making me feel safe and grounded in the middle of my uncontrollable grief.
Fresh tears began each time I thought of another part of my human life I was renouncing. I even cried for silly, insignificant things. That I could never go out in public on a sunny day. That I would never taste lobster again. That I could never impetuously decide to have my hair cut, knowing it would grow back. That I would never again sleep, or dream, or blush, or get the hiccups, or have a pulse, or get a brain freeze, or trip and fall, or forget.
I even cried because I wasn't sad enough over what I was giving up. I knew in my heart that there was nothing I wanted more than to be strong and beautiful, like Edward; to be a perpetually young, eternally lovestruck teenager. I was eager to leave all these human things behind so I could live with Edward in that unchanging bubble of perfect love and devotion. I wanted it, and I felt a little ashamed that I wasn't more reluctant to throw away the potential my human life represented. Even though I finally recognized the value of that life, it wasn't nearly enough to make me reconsider.
Last, and silliest, of all, I realized that soon I would be unable to cry tears, and at that thought my sobs grew loud and uncontrollable, a final burst of violent sorrow before my weeping gradually slowed, and stopped.
I rested quietly in Edward's arms for a minute, waiting, but it was definitely over. I sat up and looked at him, wiping my eyes. "I'm sorry about all that. It's done now." Before he could speak, I got up and went to the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face and blew my nose. I came back to find him standing uncertainly in the middle of the bedroom. "It's okay, Edward, really."
He sat down in the rocking chair and I curled up in his lap with a sigh. "Bella, you can't just leave it at that! I've never seen you so unhappy. Please tell me what's going on."
I hesitated. "I would, but I'm afraid you'll misunderstand and get all weird about it."
He raised an eyebrow. "I'll do my best to avoid that." He brushed my hair gently away from my face. "Tell me, Bella."
"It's hard to explain but…I guess I was saying goodbye to my human life."
His face became grave. "And it upset you to this extent?"
"Well…it was mostly the way everything hit me at once. I told you before that I'm good at repressing unpleasant things." He nodded, giving me a half smile. "I guess I did too good a job of repressing all this. I started thinking about a couple of things I was leaving behind, and it sort of escalated. I kept going over all the human things I'd be letting go of, and crying over every single one." I grimaced. "It was pretty silly, I guess."
"Bella, no part of this is silly." He looked down at me, his face serious. "You're telling me you've reconsidered?"
It took me a moment to grasp what he meant. "No! Of course not! How can you even ask that? After everything we've gone through - after the way I fought with you, and your family, and the Quileutes - how can you think for one second that I would reconsider?"
"Bella, love, it doesn't matter. You're free to change your mind. Nothing you've said or done before obligates you to proceed. It's entirely your choice."
"It is my choice, Edward. That hasn't changed."
"But if it causes you this much pain, how can it be the right decision?"
"Just because it's the right decision, doesn't mean it's an easy one."
He looked uncertain. "When I see you grieving like this, I have to wonder."
"But I should grieve! I'm saying goodbye to my human life, and I ought to be sad. I kind of brushed it off before, because I was so busy looking forward; but I realize that a human life is a wonderful thing, and it's worth grieving over. That doesn't mean I'm doing the wrong thing. It's sad like…like giving up your childhood and becoming an adult is sad. You understand that, don't you?"
"I do understand, love. I just don't want you to regret your decision later."
"Edward, I want this more than anything. I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do." I touched his face. "Maybe you could understand better if you put yourself in my place." He looked puzzled. "If you were the one who was human, would you do it? Let yourself be changed, so you could be with me forever?"
"Without the slightest hesitation."
"And it wouldn't seem like a sacrifice, would it?" I kissed him softly, and he pulled me closer. "Not if you felt about me the way I do about you. It would seem like…being offered the Hawaiian Islands in exchange for whatever cash was in your wallet at the time."
He laughed. "An interesting metaphor."
"But you'd still have to open your wallet and fork over that money. Nothing's free."
He sighed. "I understand. Will you just promise me, for my own peace of mind…"
"If you do reconsider, you'll speak up? Even if you're seconds from being changed, you can simply say you've decided not to go through with it, and nothing more will be said."
"If that makes you feel better, I promise." He rocked me for a while. "Can I tell you something else, without you gloating over it?"
He grinned. "I make no promises. I'll have to hear it first."
"I'm glad you didn't change me earlier, when I wanted you to. I'm glad we waited this long."
"I think I can refrain from gloating over that; but why?"
"There were things I needed to do first."
"You had a to-do-before-becoming-immortal list?"
"I didn't know I had, until recently."
"What was it you needed to do?"
"Well, the obvious: finish school and move away, so we could resolve things with my parents." I sighed, and he rubbed my shoulder soothingly. "It will be bad for them, but a little better than if we had to fake my sudden disappearance while I was still living here."
"We'll find a way to make it as painless as possible for them."
"I had to…well, this is hard to explain." I thought a moment. "I told you about the time Rosalie came and talked to me." He nodded. "She warned me that any serious emotional baggage I had now would be carried over with me after the change, and I might not be able to get rid of it then. She used herself as an extreme example. Poor Rosalie!" I added impulsively. "Well, Alice told me some things along those lines, and a couple of others too, indirectly. Alice said I put up walls." He looked a little offended, and I added, "It's true. Even with the people I love most, I keep a little distance. I didn't want to be like that, especially not forever, so I tried to work on it."
"Work on it, how?"
"I did some real soul-searching, and even used your professor's technique to let my subconscious surface, if that's what you call it."
"I started with my feelings about you, because you're the centre of the universe, right?" He grinned. "I realized I'd made a bit of a breakthrough when I stopped being jealous of Lauren or Tanya, or anybody else, for that matter. I didn't have to be insecure about other women, because I knew how you really felt about me. I told you about that."
He smiled, touching my cheek. "You did."
"So I…this will probably sound weird, but I started picturing the walls I kept up. I mean, picturing them as actual walls, and figuring out why they're there, and taking them down."
"Like dismantling the Berlin Wall."
I giggled. "Exactly like that. I realized I could take the walls away, because I had nothing to be afraid of. You came back to me. You weren't going to leave me again. I can't do anything to make you stop loving me." He cupped my head, looking into my eyes, and I found I had to look away in order to remember what I was saying. "I realized it was unfair to you, keeping up barriers. Knowing how much you love me, I should feel safe saying anything to you, doing anything. I should be the most confident woman in the whole world. I should feel like a goddess."
I looked into his eyes again, and quickly looked away.
"I always felt like I didn't quite deserve your love. Partly it was just because you were so wonderful, I felt unworthy. Partly it was because I was taught to mistrust those emotions. And also, it seemed like it was because…this is going to sound really stupid!" I warned, blushing.
"Because you thought yourself an accident?"
I gaped at him. "How did you know?"
"I did earn a degree in psychology."
"Only to the BA level," I muttered, and he laughed.
"I also gained some additional insight from the journals you gave me."
"Oh! Well, you're right. Somehow that idea kept surfacing. I never thought it bothered me that much, but I started to remember Renee talking to Charlie on the phone, and saying she got 'trapped' in Forks. Trapped by me, that is."
He frowned. "She shouldn't have said those things in front of you."
"She didn't know I was listening. Anyway, she warned me from the time I was thirteen about being careful, and gave me all these talks about, er, protection, and how important it was to prevent 'accidents,' and to avoid youthful commitments and early marriage. Mom wasn't the kind of parent who lectured very often, but this subject was the one exception, so it made an impression, I guess. I didn't understand how much it affected me.
"It was the resistance to marriage that was the most obvious thing I was working on, but I started to see that it was only the tip of the iceberg. It was love I didn't trust. Letting myself be loved. I knew there was no reason to feel that way, not with you. So I…started to take the wall down."
I let myself look into his eyes again. Potent.
"I gave you my journals, because I knew you'd like to have them, but also because they were so secret. It was taking away another barrier between us.
"Once I'd done that, I was able to let the walls down between me and…other things. Your family, and the way they love me, for example."
"I'm very glad."
"And I think, once my Berlin Wall was down, it let in all the feelings about being human that I'd kept at a distance. And that's not a bad thing," I said, as his expression became sad. "I had a chance to really know what I was saying goodbye to. If there was anything I'd seriously regret losing, I should know about it now, not later."
I hesitated before bringing up another matter. "You felt a little bit like that, at least when we first met."
"Like you were unworthy, didn't deserve to have me love you."
"That was rather different. I was a danger to you."
"Is that the only reason?" He looked at me warily. "You thought you were a monster, and being in my life could only be bad for me. That's why you left." He nodded. "You felt guilty for loving me. Am I wrong?"
He was silent a long time, seeming to be lost in thought. I waited as patiently as I could.
"You're not wrong," he said at last, in a different, subdued voice. "I had a Berlin Wall of my own; but I didn't dismantle mine. You did that for me, brick by brick.
"When I first knew you, and realized I loved you, I thought of myself as an intrusion on your life. I believed the ideal thing would be to leave you alone altogether, to go on loving you forever without your ever becoming aware of me. I was too weak to achieve that end, but my goal, at that time, was to have as little influence on your life as possible, because I believed I could only diminish your life, not enrich it."
I looked at him reproachfully, and he smiled and kissed my fingers.
"Things began to change for me one night when I'd stolen into your room while you slept. You began to talk in your sleep. You said my name." He held my face gently between his hands and looked at me. "You asked me to stay with you. In your dream, I was with you, and you welcomed my presence. Somehow that knowledge overwhelmed me. It was then that I was changed forever.
"Bit by bit, you took down the wall between us. You refused to see me as the monster I knew myself to be. You gave me your heart without a second thought. You gave me yourself, and in doing that, you gave me back myself - my humanity, in a sense - until I began to see myself as you see me. As a man, not a monster. And the last brick came down when…" He sat quietly a moment.
"Early in the spring," he continued slowly, almost reluctantly, "I asked you to talk about your feelings regarding marriage, and our wedding. At the end, you spoke about the bridegroom you were going to meet: me. You were half asleep for part of it, so I'm not certain how much you remember."
"You said something that affected me very deeply. You said I was your reward."
"I don't remember saying that; but of course, you are."
He fixed his eyes on a far corner of the room. "When I first knew I loved you, I struggled with my place in your life. I wanted to be with you more than anything, but I felt I could only hurt you. Every moment with you was Heaven and Hell at the same time. Learning that you loved me in return was intense joy - but also shame, because I'd somehow insinuated my way into your heart, where I didn't belong. I couldn't bring myself to leave you alone; and soon I realized that your luck was so incredibly bad, I had an excuse for staying with you, for your own protection.
"In those days, I had an image that kept going through my mind - something out of a fairy tale, a metaphor that represented our situation. I saw you burdened with a sort of goblin, some evil personification of Fate that had attached itself to you. It brought you terrible luck, placed you in dangerous situations, and finally, as the most malevolent act of all, caused you to fall in love with a vampire. In my image, I was the instrument this foul harpy was using against you; and yet I helped it to forward its plan, because I could not stay away from you. You can't imagine how I hated myself for that."
It was hard to stay quiet, but I realized he was telling me something important, something he found difficult to relate; so I remained still and listened.
"One night, while thinking of something else, I suddenly saw my fairy tale differently. It was like a tapestry that shows an image on one side, but a different image, made from the same threads, on the reverse side. I saw the same circumstances interpreted in another way." He looked at me to see if I was following, and I nodded. "In this new daydream, fate wasn't being turned against you by a vindictive harpy; it was being guided by a guardian angel of sorts. A reckless angel, and one with an odd sense of humour, but with no evil intentions. She wasn't leading you to disaster; she was only leading you to me. Placing you in my path."
He met my eyes for a moment, and this time he was the one who had to look away.
"In that version of my daydream, I wasn't your punishment. Instead, you were my reward.
"The fancy only lasted a minute, and of course I dismissed it. It was a long time before I could accept that it might actually be true. But…" He finally looked at me directly and held my gaze. "Never, for one second, did it occur to me to imagine that I might be your reward."
I met his eyes. "And can you believe it now?"
"I can. It seems almost too incredible to be true, but yes. I can accept that we're one another's reward."
We sat still, holding each other and basking in the sense of well being that always came with being together.
"So," he said finally, "am I right in thinking you've overcome your resistance to marriage for good and all? That the idea of a wedding no longer terrifies you?"
"Yes. I'm still not crazy about the big, showy wedding extravaganza, but I'm actually happy we're getting married." I blushed at the joyful expression on his face. "I could even face the white dress and bridal bouquet thing, if necessary."
"As I've told you before, love, I don't care what kind of wedding we have, as long as we're married at the end of it. I'd be cautious about revealing your thoughts to Alice, however."
I laughed. "I will. And once I've fulfilled that obligation, there's nothing to delay the final step."
"You're really certain about that?"
"I am. I've said goodbye to…anything I need to say goodbye to. I couldn't be more sure of my decision. All that remains is the fateful bite."
He grinned wryly. "That's been hanging over your head since that first day in Biology class."
"Well, you'll have your chance at last. But what about you? Are you really prepared to do that…to do it without remorse? Can you actually be happy to do it?"
"Just as you can manage to be happy about being a bride?"
I looked him in the eye. "You're avoiding my question."
"Not for the reasons you're suspecting, love. I'm just…embarrassed. I'm looking forward to your change immensely, and it feels selfish. I feel as if I should be battling my own feelings and fighting it to the bitter end, but I can't. I can hardly wait to have you with me as an equal; as a real member of my family; as my wife. To no longer have to constantly worry about your safety. To share everything with you." He held me tighter. "To have a genuine honeymoon."
I blinked. "That's kind of…too much to think about right now. But yes, definitely." I sighed as he began kissing my throat. "And after that, maybe I'll reconsider your offer of a new car."
That got his attention. He raised his head. "Really? You're planning to get rid of the truck?"
"No. I still love my truck. But it doesn't seem so strange any more to think about riding around in a Maserati."
He laughed delightedly. "You really have moved on!"
"Yes. That may have been my last holdout, but it's gone now."
"And that means…"
"I'm ready," I said, with absolute confidence.
"We're ready," he corrected.
"Yes. We're ready."