It all began around the time of my daughter's fifth birthday. That was when the fantasy I had so carefully constructed and concocted began to unravel. Renesmee's birthday happened to be the anniversary of my human death, or my "rebirth", as I preferred to call it. Those first few years had marked a joyous time for me, an initiation into an adventurous new life.
But for the first time, amidst the smiles, the presents and the "happy birthdays," I couldn't shake a feeling of sadness.
It was as if the rosy hue of my metaphorical glasses had irrevocably dimmed and a monotonous shade of gray had settled in. I wondered if this was the equivalent of my newborn status wearing off. I'd never gone through a traditional phase of implacable thirst and bloodlust. Nor did I lose my memories of my previous human life. They had dimmed somewhat; the angst, worry and guilt that I constantly put myself through had faded, but the relationships, along with the myriad of emotional ties to the people in my life, remained. I was ecstatic that my physical attraction to Edward had not diminished.
It was with more than a pinch of anxiety that the same four words kept ringing unbidden through my head:
What have I done?
There were fifteen candles on Renesmee's cake. It was a rough estimate derived from Carlisle's monthly exams of her. If left to his own devices, Carlisle would check her measurements and vital statistics daily, as he still found her mere existence fascinating. But once she was nine – three in chronological years – she began to find them embarrassing and invasive. So once a month became decided upon.
The birthday girl sat at the head of the table, her eyes ceiling-ward and her finger twirling her long red hair absently as she thought of a wish to make while blowing out her candles. She was not sly enough just yet for any of us to miss the coquettish glance she threw Jacob's way. Apparently, he played a major part in her wish.
Rosalie had bought her a black lace bustier to wear that I found totally inappropriate. But, like my sister pointed out, it was just us here; what was the harm? What we denied Renesmee in social acclimation we made up for in every other way. Every other way. Hardly anything, short of that which would harm her, was denied her. We practically tripped over each other to make her happy.
"What did you wish for, angel?" Jacob asked.
Once upon a time, I used to be "honey." She was now his "angel."
"I can't tell, Jax! It won't come true if I tell." It was her nickname for him – last year, he had been repairing one of our many cars – I forget which one, now – and when he'd lifted the back end up with his bare hands, I told him he should use a jack for that. Renesmee asked me what a jack was, and I explained it was used to lift extremely heavy things, like cars. She then told us both that Jacob didn't need jacks; he was the strongest man in the world. The nickname stuck. I didn't know why it made me cringe when she called him that, but it did.
"You can tell me." He chucked her affectionately under the chin.
Her cheeks reddened and she looked at the floor as we all watched her. "I'll tell you later," she murmured.
I glanced at Edward. Was Jacob really that naïve, that he wasn't getting the obvious romantic intentions behind her embarrassed blush?
Edward shook his head, mouthing, "It's innocent."
"Maybe for him," I replied a little too loudly. Nine pairs of eyes turned my way. I stuttered as they all looked at me curiously. "N-nothing. Sorry. Excuse us," I said to the room as I tugged on Edward's arm, pulling him away.
I glared at Jacob before I turned and led Edward toward the stairs. Jacob looked at me, confused.
The problem with living among supernatural beings with sensitized hearing was it was very hard to act casual while hauling my husband far enough away to avoid being overheard. The speed with which I could do it, however, worked in my favor.
"What's going on?" I demanded once we hit the creek, about a mile away.
Edward sighed. "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Edward, I don't have to read minds to recognize the look on our daughter's face. What is going on?"
"Nothing. Now let's go back to the house and we'll talk about this later."
"That was not nothing. Did something happen that you're not telling me about?" I almost added that it wouldn't be the first time he'd kept something from me, but that wasn't fair. Edward was always trying to protect me. It was sweet, but also annoying and unnecessary. I wasn't breakable anymore. Not that I ever was.
He turned to face me. "Do you think Jacob would still be sitting in that chair, oblivious, if I thought there was something going on?" Edward very rarely lost his temper, but his voice was raised and his teeth clenched. "Look." He softened and placed his hand on my shoulder. "We'll talk about this later. Alright, love? Now, let's go back before she opens her presents."
I stood, steadfast. "So Jacob isn't…?"
He shook his head. "No," he murmured.
We quickly made our way back to the party. Alice looked at me curiously, cocking her head and raising an eyebrow, as I sat back down in my chair. I smiled and shook my head to tell her everything was fine.
I looked over at Jacob to see if he was getting any of this, but he was watching Renesmee as she dipped her finger cautiously into a dollop of frosting that was stuck to the cardboard box the cake had come in. She lifted it gingerly to her mouth and made a face at the taste, wiping the excess onto her napkin.
Alice took the elaborate and extremely expensive English castle-structured cake away. European castles were Renesmee's newest obsession. After removing the fifteen pink candles, Alice cut a generous slice for Jacob and the birthday girl. I knew Renesmee wouldn't touch hers; she was a finicky eater, much preferring blood, just like when she was little. She would occasionally eat meat; T-bones were her and Jacob's favorite. But it had to be blood rare, just barely seared on either side, and still cold and bright red in the center.
Alice set the two pieces of cake before them. Jacob picked up his fork and attacked his with gusto, while Renesmee took a small nibble of hers and wrinkled up her nose, pushing her plate away.
"You don't like it?" Alice pushed her lower lip out, pouting.
"It was beautiful, Auntie Alice! But you know I don't like sweets."
Alice sighed. "I had them make this special. I told them to go easy on the sugar."
"It's a good thing we've got a dog in the house," Rosalie muttered softly. "It'll get eaten," she reassured Alice.
Jacob shot Rosalie a dirty look, but let the snide comment slide.
"Hunt with me later, Jax?"
He reached out, pushing her hair out of her face, behind her ear. "Of course."
"Presents!" Alice twittered, gracefully dancing an armload of gifts to the table. There were clothes and books and jewelry, all the things that Renesmee had voiced enthusiasm at over the last year while going through catalogues, browsing online, and the always-looked-forward-to shopping trips with Auntie Alice. These were usually out of town trips, mostly out of the country trips that Renesmee loved, as she was allowed to wander freely in public. Home was usually like a lockdown for the poor thing. We tried to plan as many trips throughout the year as possible, so she was able to be among other people. One of my worst fears was that she would become like one of those high-strung little dogs who tremble and panic at the sight of anyone but their owners.
Unfortunately, unless she was with Jacob, most of this wandering and sight-seeing was done on gloomy, rainy days or at night.
"Daddy! Mama! I love it!" She stood up from her seat in excitement at the three-foot high picture book of castles that I'd picked out for her. I knew she'd love it.
"Wow, now that's a book. Where did you find that?" Jacob asked me.
"Online," I said, shrugging.
"These two are my favorite!" She held up the book I'd gotten her and a faux fur throw for her bed that was the exact shade of russet as Jacob's wolf fur. Jacob had gotten her the throw, along with a silver castle necklace on a chain with a diamond in the top turret. He'd had the necklace made for her, and the diamond was from his mother's wedding ring.
"Nessie," Edward chastised her.
"But I love all of them!" She enthused to the rest of her family. As testament to the fact, she kicked her shoes off and pulled on a pair of hiking boots that Emmett had picked out for her. Most of our gifts indulged her girly feminine side, but her uncles always managed to cater to her more tomboyish nature.
"Jax!" She held out her hand for Jacob. "Hunt! I'm hungry!"
Alice sighed. She had had an array of food catered for this occasion, hoping to appease any craving that Renesmee may have had in the "real food" arena. But most of it had been picked up, sniffed, nibbled and put back on her plate. Thank goodness Jacob had a hearty appetite.
"I'm kinda stuffed, Ness. Can it wait just a bit?"
Her bottom lip came out and she plunked unceremoniously back into her seat, sulking. She was obscenely mature in so many ways, but I had to remind myself that regardless of her intelligence and her physical maturity, she was really only five years old.
"Okay, but don't nag when my full belly holds me back." He acquiesced. I knew he would.
"I won't!" She jumped back up, all grins. She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the stairs. "Deer or bear?" I heard her voice as they headed for the front door.
"We're not going that far…" Jacob's voice faded as they walked from the house towards the woods.
"When they get back, I have a card for her from Seth. I forgot to give it to her," I told Edward.
That first crazy year after Renesmee was born, Leah and Seth stayed here with Jacob, considering themselves part of his pack. But once things calmed down, Leah and Seth had no reason to remain, as a pack wasn't really needed. Especially Leah, considering the way she felt about us. Jacob kept encouraging her to go back to school, and finally she relented, enrolling in some psychology courses, as well as finishing her general ed. I supposed being inside the heads and emotions of so many people, not to mention all the turmoil she'd been through personally, would naturally pull Leah in that direction. I thought it was a perfect choice for her. If anyone could use some self-reflection, it was Leah. I hoped it would make her a little more empathetic toward others as well.
Seth, on the other hand, loved not only all of us, but beamed with pride every time Renesmee called him Uncle Seth. He adored her, and was a frequent companion to Jacob and Nessie before he left to go to school as well. If psychology was a good choice for Leah, Seth was perfect for his career path. He went into medicine, hoping to become a veterinarian. Carlisle was tickled and excited to have someone else to talk medicine with when Seth came to visit. He also helped out quite a bit financially in both Seth's and Leah's educations. With all they'd done for us, he'd insisted upon it, and their mother, Sue, had encouraged them to accept his gifts.
Edward watched a game on the television with Jasper while Alice, Esme and I cleaned up the kitchen. I gathered all of Renesmee's presents and put them in a garbage bag to bring up to her room later. She had a room here at the big house as well as one at the cottage, but she was spending more and more time here. Maybe I would have to put a stop to that and insist she use her room with us, to keep a sharper eye on her. Not that she could get away with much here, living with six vampires, but still.
When I went into the TV room to get Edward, Jasper said he had already left. So I made my way to the cottage, alone. I could hear the lilting melody long before I quietly closed the front door behind me. Edward sat at the piano, playing Beethoven from memory. His eyes were shut, but he smiled as he heard me come into the room.
I sat beside him, watching his fingers glide over the keys so nimbly. What was it about hands? I obviously was attracted to men who were good with their hands. I caught the thought in my head and corrected it quickly and harshly. I was attracted to one man who was good with his hands.
Edward had changed his shirt, switching from a button-down sea foam green collared shirt to a casual gray t-shirt. I liked the green one, as I knew that the green exactly matched his human eye color, since Carlisle mentioned it once. But with the wrinkled tee and jeans, he looked like the perfect 17-year-old boy I had met and fallen instantly in love with one rainy afternoon in the Forks High cafeteria.
I leaned in and breathed into his ear, ready to steer him into the bedroom, when Edward stopped abruptly.
"I think Nessie needs to spend more time here at the cottage, instead of sleeping at the big house."
I pulled back surprised. "I agree. I was just thinking that earlier. But why would you say that?"
He hesitated, like he was trying to find the right words. "She's getting older, love. But she's still very young in so many ways. I just think that Nessie can be… impulsive. She does things sometimes without thinking them through."
"Gee, sounds like a typical teenager." I smiled. "And she is impulsive, but of course she would be with so many of us trying to give her everything she wants before she even knows what to ask for." I shook my head. "She's never going to learn anything but instant gratification."
Edward stared at me. "Yes. That's what I'm afraid of."
"Edward, what are you saying? Is something going on between Renesmee and Jacob that you didn't tell me about?" I felt dread in the pit of my stomach.
"No," he hedged. There was a long silence as I waited for him to say something I knew I didn't want to hear. "Not yet."
"Not yet? Not yet!" My voice rose, slightly panicked. Edward heard it, too.
"Love." He tried to reassure me. "We knew this was coming. Eventually the ramifications of the imprint were going to play out."
I jumped up from the piano bench, not sure what I was feeling. Emotions were sometimes confusing to a vampire, as your body couldn't give you clues anymore. A blush, a quickened heart rate, eyes moistening with tears: all those little hints were non-existent.
"How can we stop it? Edward." I could hear the panic in my own voice. "He can't say no to her! He. Can't. Say. No! God! How can you stay so calm?"
"Why are you getting so hysterical? I told you, Jacob doesn't see it. And it's… mostly innocent what she's thinking."
"Just… kissing. Things like that. She's curious. She has thoughts beyond that, but I don't think she really understands them."
I couldn't help myself. "What is she thinking about beyond kissing?"
He shook his head, trying to shake me off. He saw my expression and knew I wasn't backing down. "She's curious in a… an anatomical way."
"An anatomical way? What does that mean? His werewolf genetics?"
"No." He chuckled without humor. "More along the lines of men's anatomies."
"Naked? She wants to know what he looks like naked? "
"Don't panic, love. It's normal. I've discussed this with Carlisle and he assures me-"
"You discussed it with Carlisle? You knew this already? I thought this was just from today? How long has she been thinking these things?"
If I could cry, I definitely would have. Having a husband who could read minds was torture. These were things I shouldn't even know; the things you hide from your parents. I shouldn't have to worry about these things.
"Bella, calm down," he told me wearily, pinching the bridge of his nose. I looked up as he stood before me, his gaze never wavering from my eyes. "Is it really because she's so young? Or is there another reason why you're reacting this way?" he asked me quietly.
"She's too young," I answered quickly.
"Okay." He placed his hands on my shoulders. "Don't worry, then. It's under control."
I wished I believed him.
The house shook and the windows rattled as the door slamming at full force knocked me from my meditative state. I hadn't noticed that it had grown dark outside.
"Ness?" I heard Edward call her.
"I'm going upstairs to clean up!" she yelled. Her voice sounded tight and it wavered as she spoke. I sat up in my chair, listening.
"Are you alright?"
I turned toward the front entry. Edward was at the foot of the stairs, having just come from the library. Renesmee was halfway up the staircase, her head down and her back to him.
"I'm fine, Dad. I just want to take a shower. There's blood in my hair." She ran the rest of the way up the stairs before he could respond.
I heard him make a sound that was halfway between a sigh and a moan.
"Rejection hurts," was all he said. Then he turned and went back into the library.