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If it’s a child she wants, she can have it. She can have half a dozen babies. Anything she wants. She can have pup pies if that’s what it takes!” - Edward “What wouldn’t I give to be able to see in to your mind for just this one moment?” - Edward “I leaned into him, ducking my head under his arm and cuddling into his side. He w rapped his arms around me to pull me closer.” -Bella “We’ll go to Vegas - you can were old jeans and we’ll go to the chapel with the drivethrough window. I just want it to be official - that you belong to me and no one else.” - Edward “Isabella Swan? I promise to love you forever and every single day of forever. Wil l you marry me?” - Edward “As long as she wants me, I’m here.” - Edward “All my best nights have happened since I met you.” -Edward “I didn’t want you to see that. I know it must have terrified you.” -Edward “Well, Gran, you may have noticed my boyfriend glitters, it’s just something he does in the sun.” -Bella “I’d rather die than to be with anyone but you.” -Bella “You’re wounding my ego Bella, I just proposed to you, and you think it’s a joke.” -Edward “I’ve been waiting a century to marry you, Miss Swan.” -Edward “I tried to comprehend, though the film of tears blinding me, the surreal fact tha t this amazing person is mine.” -Bella “We took turns shoving cake into each other’s faces, Edward manfully swallowed his p ortion.” - Bella “You’re monopolizing the bride. Let me dance with my little sister.” -Emmett “I wouldn’t use the word beautiful, not with you standing here in comparison.” -Edward “Do you want me to sing to you?” -Edward “The only parents in the world who don’t need sleep, and our child already sleeps th rough the night.” - Edward “Aro, would you ask Jane to stop attacking my wife?” - Edward “But most significant in this tidal wave of happiness was the surest fact of all: I was with Edward. Forever.” - Bella “Now you know. No one has ever loved anyone as much as I love you.” - Bella “That revolting stench meant that James would never again be able to hurt my preci ous angel.” -Edward “You re too beautiful for words, my love.” -Edward “I m in control, Edward. I promise you, no amount of thirst will disarm me like th
at ever again, at least not where Bella is concerned. I ll never forgive myself for all the pain that one moment of weakness cost the two of you, and I won t ev er allow it to happen again.” -Jasper “Good morning, my darling.” “Always, when you re here” -Edward and Bella “They could only prove my love for her more completely.” -Edward “So... it s not that you re afraid you won t... like me as much when I m different – when I m not soft and warm and I don t smell the same? You really do want to ke ep me, no matter how I turn out?” “You were worried I wouldn t like you?” I gasped, di sbelieving even as I repeated her words. A part of me was furious at myself, bec ause if she could think such a thing then I must not be doing enough to assure h er of my love. It had never crossed my mind that she took my refusal to change h er to mean I was questioning that I wanted her by my side forever. -Edward and Bella “Good morning, my love.” -Edward “I let my thoughts wander back to that which I longed for most – to be here, like th is forever. My life, my love. My wife.” -Edward “As the hours passed and the light of morning crept in through the window, she beg an to murmur in her sleep. I traced her cheekbones lightly, and then let my fing ers run through her silky hair. Talk to me, my love…” -Edward “Esme wishes you pleasant dreams. As do I, my love.” -Edward “Under normal circumstances, it would have been so easy to whisk her away, even if only for the day, to somewhere we could just be together and in love.” -Edward “Would you first do me the honor of becoming my wife? Be mine, as I am yours, fore ver?” -Edward “It all seemed so simple. We d found each other, we were in love; we both knew we would never want anyone else for the rest of eternity... so what was stopping us ? Bella was more than willing to give up everything in her human life for immort ality, yet she couldn t fathom binding herself to me in this way. The conundrum once again filled me with doubts that my rational mind couldn t silence. Did she really want me forever, or did she simply want forever?” -Edward They stared at each other for a long moment, and although Bella couldn t hear th eir silent declarations of love as I could, I knew she could see it in their eye s. There was something so pure and beautiful in the way they watched each other, and I had to admit that for many decades I d been jealous of what they shared. Whether I hadn t considered myself worthy or simply doubted that a match as perf ect as Alice was for Jasper existed for me, I never imagined someone would look at me that way. Yet somehow I d found Bella, who – impossibly, wonderfully – stared at me with much the same look in her eyes.” -Edward “Jasper shows up, covered in battle scars, towing this little freak!” -Edward I d already seen Carlisle invite us to stay, asking just seemed redundant. I smiled at her. She d never been one for formalities. “When I got home, all my th ings were in the garage.” “Your room had the best view,” she said with a shrug, and I joined in their laughter. -Edward and Alice For the first time, I had a flash of fear for my own life. Not because I was afr aid of what it would mean, that I might finally find out the true fate of our so uls. I was afraid because I d made a promise to Bella. I told her I d never leav
e her again, that I would always be there to protect her. As I stared at her, th e one who had made all the difference, I knew I would fight with every ounce of strength in my being, and nothing would stop me from coming home to her. I d be damned before any army, no matter how strong, made me break my promise. -Edward “If it meant her protection, I would leave without a second thought. My family wou ld understand. They would have to.” -Edward “When are you going?” I heard Bella ask, though my attention was, admittedly, elsewh ere. “A week. That ought to give us enough time.” “You look kind of green, Bella,” Alice said. Focus, Edward. She s a nervous wreck. I quickly pulled Bella close to me, banishing every thought but those of her. Alice was right, she needed comfort r ight now, and I d been doing a poor job of giving it to her. “It s going to be fin e, Bella. Trust me.” She sank into me despairingly, until some hidden thought chan ged her posture. -Edward “I pulled her into me and softly touched her cheeks, willing her pain away.” -Edward “I forced myself into the best distraction I currently had available – staring at my mother s wedding ring and imagining it on Bella s finger.” -Edward “It was a welcome break from the stresses of the day, listening to her talk with R enée. Or rather, listening to Renée talk while Bella occasionally interjected quick words of reassurance that she wasn t upset about her missing graduation. Every o nce in awhile, Bella would look up at me apologetically, but I just smiled and r an my fingers through her hair, secretly loving the way it still made her heart race. As I listened, I caught myself wondering what Renée would say if Bella calle d her one day, telling her that she and I were engaged. Would she be happy for B ella, or would she warn her not to make the same mistake she had, getting marrie d so young? And even if she had her doubts, would she at least be able to accept me as the man who loves her daughter, someone who will always protect Bella no matter what? Strangely, it felt nice to worry about something so normal. In this one thing, at least, I was like every other man who d contemplated the future w ith the woman he loves. -Edward “We were talking about eternity, after all, and my greatest hope was that she woul d always look at me with the same eyes of never ending love the way I knew I wou ld always look upon her.” -Edward “It seemed a paradox that it could be so easy for us to proclaim our love for each other every day, yet we couldn t discuss marriage.” -Edward “I didn t realize that while I was away, Jacob was going to be declaring his love to my Bella.” -Edward “I assured her, touching her cheek, thrilled by her smile and the heat in her skin beneath my fingers.” -Edward "But if you ever bring her back damaged again – and I don t care whose fault it is ; I don t care if she merely trips, or if a meteor falls out of the sky and hits her in the head – if you return her to me in less than the perfect condition that I left her in, you will be running with three legs. Do you understand that, mon grel?" -Edward “Jacob smiled as he imagined Bella running up to his house. The door opened and sh e flew into his arms kissing him the way he wished she had today.” -Edward “Bella was mine, now and forever. I wasn t about to let her go.” -Edward “She was already giving me forever, what reason was there not to promise eternity
as my wife?” -Edward "You are so beautiful," I told her. -Edward “I was about to add in a whisper that if this was the last graduation she ever wan ted to attend, that was fine with me.” -Edward “His mind was playing images like they were old home movies, reminiscing about his little girl – the times they d spent together, and the time he was only now reali zing he d lost.” -Edward “Bella had been the only part of my Forks High experience that had broken the mono tony. Still, Forks had brought me to Bella, and for that, I would be forever in its debt. Wherever we ended up after she was changed, this would be the place Be lla and I had fallen in love, where we d beat the odds stacked so high against u s – where she d been human, in love with a vampire.” -Edward “I walked up behind Bella and wrapped my arms around her.” "Congratulations," I said softly, my lips brushing against her ear. "Um, thanks." -Edward "Bella!" he was shouting. "Congratulations, baby!" -Charlie “Her beauty, her voice, her kindness, her love for me – all of it would remain, and it would be mine to cherish forever.” -Edward “I held Bella tightly, hoping she believed me when I assured her that nothing woul d make her more beautiful in my eyes than she already was.” -Edward “He couldn t help but think of the time right after I d fled Forks, leaving Bella behind. He had tried to console me, make me feel more at peace with my decision, but it was as if his powers were blocked by the intensity with which I was long ing for her.” -Edward “Are they going to college together? Maybe the fascination will wear off and she l l come to her senses.” “Can t last forever. I mean, look at him clinging to her. That s got to get old ev entually, right?” “I felt my grip around Bella s waist tighten instinctively, and was thrilled when I felt her sink further into my arms. I was counting on this lasting forever, an d I hoped that when forever became more than just a concept to her, she would st ill be happy to have my arms around her.” -Edward “We were just a couple in love, celebrating the end of one chapter and the beginni ng of the next.” -Edward “Doing my best to keep the smile on my face, I wrapped my arms around Bella s wais t and kissed the top of her head gently.” -Edward “If it meant she was safe – and could remain human until she was completely ready – I could endure anything.” -Edward “My arm was around Bella s waist, my fingers running lightly through her hair.” -Edward “Bella, my love," I whispered, nuzzling into her hair. "I know you re upset, but p eople are starting to notice the commotion." She shut her eyes tightly, taking i n three deep, steady breaths. "You re right," she finally sighed. "I m sorry.” -Edward “Come here," she said, smiling and pulling me toward the bed instead. Her hands pr essed against my chest, and before I knew it, she was curled up in my arms, sigh
ing. I wrapped her quilt around her to warm her up, wishing she would simply dri ft off to sleep.” -Edward "Only Aro knows exactly how Alice s visions work." "Aro would know best, but wouldn t Tanya and Irina and the rest of your friends in Denali know enough? Laurent lived with them for so long. And if he was still friendly enough with Victoria to be doing favors for her, why wouldn t he also t ell her everything he knew? "It wasn t Victoria in your room," I promised her. "She can t make new friends? Think about it, Edward. If it is Victoria doing th is in Seattle, she s made a lot of new friends. She s created them." -Edward and Bella “It was the first moment since I d known her that her presence wasn t the stronges t force around me.” -Edward “My perfect, fragile love, standing in a field, watching monsters learn how to fig ht.” -Edward “It was despicable that I d forgotten her presence for even a moment.” -Edward “That s enough! Sam shouted. My apologies, he continued, eyes locked with mine. Yo u and your family have been nothing but kind to us today. I believe what Paul wh at trying to ask was, in the heat of battle, with everything happening so quickl y, what if we find it difficult to distinguish between you and the others? Would it be possible to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with your particular s cents?” -Edward “All right, Jasper thought, glancing in my direction as he watched the wolves wari ly. If any of them get any bright ideas you ll let me know, right? I rolled my e yes and nodded. Way too close for comfort in my opinion. They d better be worth it. I mean, we haven t actually seen them fight. This is fantastic, Emmett thoug ht, grinning slyly. Get a whiff of this, hairballs.” -Edward, Jasper, and Emmett “She looked absolutely beautiful as the afternoon light bounced off her hair, turn ing it to a shimmering golden color.” -Edward “Ugh, I m a mess," she suddenly said, her eyes widening as she looked at her refle ction in the toaster. I wanted to disagree, to tell her that she was as beautifu l as ever.” -Edward “Why did I have to be in love with the most aggravating woman on the face of the E arth?” -Edward “Even when he was with the pack, even when he d been training with my family, a pa rt of his mind was always on Emily. She was like an ever present echo in his min d, whispering reminders that even when they weren t at each others side, they we re together. It had been almost painful at times, reminding me so much of how I love Bella, and how nothing had silenced my longing for her when we d been apart . Sam and Emily s love was unstoppable, inevitable – like fate had designed them s pecifically for each other.” -Edward “Okay, look, Edward. Here s the thing... I ve already gone crazy once. I know what my limits are. And I can t stand it if you leave me again," I think I d opened my mouth to say something to her, but before the words had formed, she was in my arms. I didn t even realize I had moved. My hands were running up and down her arms, touching her cheeks, brushing through her hair. I had to make her understa nd that this was different, that I was coming back. There was nothing in the uni verse strong enough to take me away from her again. Not after what I d done. Not
after having promised her forever. "You know it s not like that, Bella," I plea ded. "I won t be far, and it will be over quickly." "I can t stand it," she repe ated, her voice strained and miserable. "Not knowing whether or not you ll come back. How do I live through that, no matter how quickly it s over?" -Edward and Bella “I took her face in my hands, felt her warm cheeks under my touch, and stared into the eyes of the woman I loved. It was agonizing as I realized, yet again, that I had never and would never deserve her absolute and unyielding love for me.” -Edward “I smiled and pulled her close to me, wrapping my arms tightly around her and kiss ing the back of her neck. She shivered, giggling as my cool breath tickled her. We stayed like that for nearly an hour, laughing softly, and me showering her wi th frozen kisses.” -Edward “What s wrong, beautiful?” -Jacob “My heart was singing to her.” -Edward “Just as I was about to chance another glimpse at her, I felt her finger brush aga inst the back of my hand. My eyes flew open and I gazed wide eyed at her.” -Edward “She always told me the truth, absurd as it might be.” -Edward “Her touch was the greatest feeling I d experienced in the whole of my existence.” -Edward “Slowly, I reached up to touch the side of her neck. Her skin was so soft, so deli cate, and I wondered what it would be like to brush against it with my nose. My lips…” -Edward “All I could think about was how I wanted to touch her more and make her heart rac e faster.” -Edward I opened my eyes and could feel them shamefully begging her for more. Did she h ave any idea what she was doing to me? I wanted to wrap my arms around her, pull her close, and inhale her luscious scent until it drove me mad. -Edward Something of my inner turmoil must have shown on my face, and being the compassi onate soul that she was, her next gesture was one of pure comfort. She leaned in to me, slowly as was our understood standard, and rested her cheek on my chest. I wished I could make my heart beat for her. -Edward I wanted to wrap her up in my arms and tell her how much I needed her...her soft , warm, perfect body and her adoring eyes. It was beyond any need I d ever felt. -Edward I wouldn t say it out loud for fear of scaring her away, but I wanted her to bel ong to me like I had so completely given myself to her. -Edward “You seem more...optimistic that usual. I haven t seen you like this before.” Didn t she understand yet? This day had changed everything. And every second I spent l oving her more and more made it all seem that much easier. “Isn t it supposed to b e like this? The glory of first love, and all that. It s incredible, isn t it, t he difference between reading about something, seeing it in the pictures, and ex periencing it?” -Edward “And then,” I said, hoping my disclosing the details of her sleep talking wouldn t i ncite the same reaction as earlier, “as you were sleeping, you said my name.” I clos ed my eyes for a moment, remembering how that was the moment I d first realized I loved her. It had awoken the man in me, the part of me that wanted to be every thing for her. “You spoke so clearly, at first I thought you d woken. But you roll
ed over restlessly and mumbled my name once more, and sighed. The feeling that c oursed through me then was unnerving, staggering. And I knew I couldn t ignore y ou any longer.” -Edward How did she not yet know she was everything to me? -Edward “Of course Rosalie is beautiful in her way, but even if she wasn t like a sister t o me, even if Emmett didn t belong with her, she could never have one tenth, no, one hundredth of the attraction you hold for me.” -Edward I d spent so long feeling like everything was pointless, not even trying to find a partner because what good could it possibly do? All those years of loneliness , of trying to make peace with my solitude, were worth it because they had led m e to her. -Edward “For almost ninety years I ve walked among my kind and yours...all the time thinki ng I was complete in myself, not realizing what I was seeking. And not finding a nything, because you weren t alive yet.” -Edward She really didn t feel like she was giving anything up to be with me. But what a bout when she wanted more? We could never be together the way a man and a woman should be. We could never have a family together, or even grow old together. How long could she stay happy, growing older while watching me stay frozen in time? -Edward “Carlisle brought his compassion. Esme brought her ability to love passionately. Emmett brought his strength, Rosalie her...tenacity,” I said through clenched teet h. There were a lot of other words for it, but I was in the presence of a lady. “O r you could call it pigheadedness,” I laughed, unable to resist. -Edward “Are you sure you won t vanish in the morning? You are mythical, after all.” -Edward “Her voice was teasing, but I knew it was something she was genuinely worried abou t. I wanted to make the point very clear. I was hers, absolutely and uncondition ally. I wasn t going anywhere unless she ordered me away. “I won t leave you,” I sai d solemnly. -Edward “What is it?” I asked the curiosity almost unbearable. “No, forget it. I changed my mi nd.” “Bella, you can ask me anything,” I urged. -Edward “Well, I did wonder...about you and me...someday...” “I don t think that...that...woul d be possible for us,” I finally said, utterly defeated. “Because it would be too ha rd for you, if I were that...close?” Oh, Bella, you had to say it, didn t you? I d been trying to answer her very pragmatically, speaking from a purely logistical , theoretical standpoint. Now I was thinking about her, wondering what it would be like, wishing it were possible. Didn t she know she was driving me crazy, too ? -Edward She made a low murmur, and then startled me by flipping completely over and turn ing into me. She wrapped her arm around my waist and buried her face into my che st. I was frozen, shocked at how tightly she was holding me. Then, it happened. She said my name. Without thinking, I reached up to run my fingers through her h air and she sighed, nuzzling further into my chest. When she said my name again I responded, hoping that somewhere in her subconscious she could hear me. “I m her e, Bella. I m here, I ve got you,” I said softly. -Edward My fingers continued their slow rhythm in her hair as I started softly singing t o her again. She was so warm, so beautiful, I felt like my silent heart was goin g to suddenly start beating again. Then, just when I thought the night couldn t get any more perfect, I heard her speak the words I d been longing to hear. “I lov
e you,” she breathed, and I felt my own breath catch. I marveled at her words, and then whispered, “I love you, too, Bella. I m always going to love you.” “Mmmm...” It wa s the greatest moment of my entire existence. -Edward “Alice saw you...embracing the girl. She said you were quite in control.” “Yes, I held her,” I said, wishing I wasn t being forced to provide so many details. “I showed h er what we look like in the sun and she wasn t afraid. She was...fascinated. She touched my skin.” “That s wonderful.” So why didn t it sound like he thought it was w onderful. “What s wrong, Carlisle?” I asked, hoping he wouldn t ruin my blissful moo d. “I just think you should be...careful.” “I am being careful. All I m being is caref ul. I mind every second I m with her.” I could feel the sharpness of my tone and I hated using it with Carlisle of all people, but it sounded like he doubted me. I couldn t understand why when he d given me nothing but encouragement, and assu rance that I was strong enough not to hurt her. “You love her.” It wasn t a question . “Yes, I love her. More than anything. And I m not going to do anything to harm h er.” “I didn t say you were.” “Then what s the problem?” He was asking if I d found my mat e, the one I wanted to spend forever with. Logically it made no sense at all; th e two of us were so different, so physically incompatible. Yet all I could think was, yes. I ve found her. And I m never letting her go. “Yes, everything is different now,” I finally said, answering his question. -Edward My mind was already focused on getting back to the girl I loved. She was sleepi ng, quietly waiting for me, and I couldn t wait to hold her in my arms again and bury my face in her soft hair. -Edward “Edward! You stayed!” she cried ecstatically. Then more quickly that I d ever seen h er move, she was flying across the room and into my lap. She threw her arms arou nd my neck and squeezed me, her head burrowed into my shoulder. Then with a horr ified look, her eyes darted up to me, obviously wondering if our “no sudden moveme nts” rule was still in effect. I laughed because as surprising as it was, her enth usiasm was nothing but enjoyable. Even if it did wake up the gnawing pain in my throat, it was worth it. “Of course,” I grinned, letting my hands trace across her b ack and she nuzzled further into my chest and took several deep breaths. -Edward I reached my still outstretched arms out even further to her, inviting her in, m issing her warmth against my body. After a few staggered beats of her heart she climbed back into my lap and I wrapped my arms completely around her. It was ama zing how well she fit into my embrace, like she was made to be there, safe and p rotected. -Edward “You left?” “I could hardly leave in the clothes I came in – what would the neighbors th ink?” I decided to leave out the part about checking in, not sure she would want t o think about how some of them thought I wouldn t bring her back alive. She frow ned, apparently not liking the idea of me having left at all. If she only knew j ust how fast I ran through those trees. I may have actually broken my own record . -Edward “You said you loved me,” I told her gently. “You knew that already,” she said shyly, low ering her gaze. “It was nice to hear, just the same.” Nice didn t even begin to desc ribe it. I longed to hear it again but didn t want to push her if she wasn t rea dy. Once again giving me everything I needed but didn t deserve, she pressed her face more closely to my shoulder and breathed, “I love you.” It was even more beaut iful than hearing it while she dreamed, because this time I knew she wanted me t o hear it, feel it, and cherish it. “You are my life now,” I told her, hoping she wa s starting to feel the depth of what that meant. She was everything to me and I d devote my existence to keeping her safe, and making sure she always knows how much she s loved. -Edward I lifted her face to mine, trying to reassure her with my stare that if I could, I would shout it to the world.
-Edward She was so beautiful, so utterly lovable; I wished I never had to leave. -Edward Yet I would spend forever holding her, caressing her, telling her again and agai n how precious she is. I sighed and watched her expression closely. “As long as yo u want me,” I said simply, wishing there was some way to keep her from ever doubti ng me. “I ll always want you,” she said softly. “Forever.” -Edward I knew forever. It was exactly how long I would love her, even when time stole h er away from me and left me stranded in eternity without her. -Edward I pulled her into me and let my fingers trace down her back. She relaxed into my arms and hugged me back. It was enough to almost make me forget about the whole meeting the family thing. I was tempted to scoop her up and take her back to he r room so we could lie together blissfully again, wrapped up in each other and f orgetting the world. -Edward She was beautiful, warm, and wonderful, and she was in love with me. -Edward I ran my fingers up and down her back, enjoying the way it played with her errat ic heartbeat. I felt myself instinctively start breathing harder as she brought her hands to my chest, touching me lightly and looking at me with such longing. Slowly I leaned into her and my lips met hers. It was completely different than the last time when I was so preoccupied with controlling my other desire. I wasn t worried at all about the burn in my throat this time. I was too absorbed in t he way her soft, perfect lips caressed mine. So confident in my control, I allow ed my mouth to open just slightly and took one slow, beautiful breath of her. -Edward It was crazy, yet I loved her even more because of it. -Edward I reached up and gently stroked her hair, hoping she could feel that I was back in control. That I loved her, and I was sorry. -Edward “You look beautiful no matter what you choose” -Edward We are just so in love and I just want her to know that even in public, I’m not ju st another guy, I’m different. I also need her to know that she is special and wor th anything I have to go through for her. She is the one for me, now and forever . -Edward “Bella, sweetheart, we re home.” -Edward “I ll see you soon?” Bella asked with a smile. “Very soon,” I promised, kissing her. -Edward and Bella “That s it, really. The rest is kind of a blur. I just know I was relieved when I woke up, and I was happy you were here to warm me up.” I laughed. “I warmed you up?” I asked skeptically. “But I m freezing.” She ducked her eyes away from me, blushing, and I realized what she meant. “Your skin might be,” she said shyly, “but I still feel warm and safe when you re here with me.” “I m always here, Bella,” I said, leaning do wn to press my lips to hers. -Edward
“Don t be a baby about this. No tantrums.” “Now I m scared.” “So you re – I mean we re – ha g a graduation party. It s no big thing. Nothing to freak out over. But I saw th at you would freak out if I tried to make it a surprise party.” I mean really, tal k about taking things for granted. I wish someone could surprise me with a party , but unless someone spontaneously decides... -Edward and Alice
Bella looked utterly defeated. “Is there any point in arguing?” “None at all,” Alice ans wered angelically. “Okay, Alice. I ll be there. And I ll hate every minute of it. Promise.” Although I knew she was being purposely difficult, I couldn t help but w onder if the party was a mistake. Was I once again pushing her into something sh e had no interest in, simply because I thought it was an important experience? “Th at s the spirit!” Alice said enthusiastically. I would have almost believed it if it weren t for the fact that she was simultaneously thinking, so stubborn. “By the way, I love my gift. You shouldn t have.” “Alice, I didn t!” “Oh, I know that. But you will.” -Edward, Bella, and Alice “Amazing,” I sighed. “How can someone so tiny be so annoying?” “It s a talent.” -Edward If there were any way for me to become human for you – no matter what the price wa s, I would pay it.” -Edward It was more honest than I d allowed myself to be with her – more honest even than I was with myself most of the time – and admitting that changing her was what my h eart truly desired tore me apart. Could she forgive me for my selfish desires if she understood the only reason I wanted it was because I couldn t live without her? -Edward “Certainly, there are things I ll miss,” I said sadly, brushing my fingers across he r cheek as I tried to memorize the exact feel of her soft, warm skin. “This for on e...” She blushed under my touch and I laughed in spite of myself, as I thought ab out a time when her reactions wouldn t be so obvious to me. “And the sound of your heart. It s the most significant sound in my world. I m so attuned to it now; I swear I could pick it out from miles away. But neither of these things matter. This,” I said, cradling her face. My one love. My reason for everything. “You. That s what I m keeping. You ll always be my Bella; you ll just be a little more dura ble.” She closed her eyes, peaceful and serene as I traced my fingertips across he r skin. Soon, I would never have to worry about losing her again. She would be m ine, forever. -Edward “You don t want to be my wife.” It was amazing how much it hurt to say it aloud. She gasped and I heard her heart jump, skipping a beat while she regained her co mposure. After a moment, she said, “That s not a question,” throwing my own words fr om earlier back to me. I slowly laced my fingers with hers, continuing in the sa me manner. “I was worrying about why you felt that way,” I repeated. “That s not a que stion, either,” she said, stalling. We could keep dancing around what we both knew I was asking, but every second she evaded me, my silent heart seemed to break f urther. She said she wanted forever, yet I couldn t stop the little voice in the back of my mind from repeating, she doesn t want to be your wife... -Edward Terms and conditions – it was starting to sound more like a business arrangement t han two people in love discussing their future together. -Edward It was the first time I saw a glimpse of our future together, Alice thought to h erself as a smile lit up her face. I still had a long wait ahead of me, but that was the decision that would eventually lead him to me. Everything was so much b etter once I knew he was coming. Jasper couldn t hear her words but he could cer tainly feel her love, making it easier to talk about those final years of his ol d life – before he found Alice, before everything changed. -Edward and Alice She gazed at him with empathy and understanding in her eyes, and I loved her all the more for it. Jasper was telling her in brutal honesty about the lives he d taken, yet the emotion on her face was nothing but pity for the way he d suffere d. -Edward Instead, Jasper s mind went straight to the diner where he d first met Alice. He
remembered the look on her face that day in perfect clarity. In his mind, she w as perfection – an angel sitting alone, waiting for him. His memory of that first moment was so personal, so intimate, I felt as if I were intruding by listening to it. -Edward “I was in Philadelphia. There was a storm, and I was out during the day something I was not completely comfortable with yet. I knew standing in the rain would att ract attention, so I ducked into a little half-empty diner. My eyes were dark en ough that no one would notice them, though this meant I was thirsty, and that wo rried me a little. She was there – expecting me, naturally.” -Jasper “She hopped down from the high stool at the counter as soon as I walked in and cam e directly toward me. It shocked me. I was not sure if she meant to attack. That s the only interpretation of her behavior my past had to offer. But she was smi ling. And the emotions that were emanating from her were like nothing I d ever f elt before.” -Jasper I was already in love with you, silly, she thought. I smiled, wishing for just o ne moment that Jasper could be the mind reader, though I was sure Alice had told him many times. For her, their love story had begun long before they met. -Edward “ You ve kept me waiting a long time, she said.” Jasper grinned as he quoted Alice s first words to him, and I wondered if he noticed the way she mouthed them righ t along with him. Alice had been inching closer to Jasper, needing to be close t o him but not wanting to interrupt until it was time for her part of the story. She stopped a few steps away from Bella and gazed at Jasper with a mixture of pl ayful affection and the deep, undeniable passion they shared. “And you ducked your head, like a good Southern gentleman, and said, I m sorry, ma am, ” Alice said, laughing. My own personal savior, Jasper thought, staring at Alice. Waitin g, ready to help me make this miserable existence worthwhile. “You held out your h and,” he continued, reaching out to her as he spoke, “and I took it without stopping to make sense of what I was doing. For the first time in almost a century, I fe lt hope.” “I was just relieved. I thought you were never going to show up,” she said w ith a smile. -Edward and Alice “This isn t good,” he said, almost to himself. “It s too even a fight. We d have the u pper hand in skill, but not numbers. We d win, but at what price?” He glanced for the briefest of seconds at Alice. Without her, I m nothing. -Edward I listened as Bella took several deep, calming breaths. As I watched, I realized that saving her from a party she had no interest in attending was only part of the reason I wanted to escape with her for awhile. We d both spent far too much of our time lately worrying over the state of things in Seattle, and whoever had been in her room, not to mention a possible visit from the Volturi. With so muc h going on around us, we d had hardly any time to focus on simply being together . We still had our nights, but even those were tainted to some degree by the fea r I could tell Bella was still feeling. She tried to hide it from me, but I coul dn t ignore the way she jumped every time there was a noise outside her window. And while I enjoyed how tightly she held onto me as she drifted off to sleep, I knew it was as much out of need for comfort and protection as it was a gesture o f love. -Edward I ll do whatever is necessary to protect my family. He recited it over and over in his mind, his own personal mantra. His constant reminder that, although it we nt against his very nature, sometimes violence was the only answer. -Edward “Oh,” Alice said, irritation creeping into her tone. “I hate last-minute cancellations . So that puts the party attendance list down to sixty-five...” “Sixty-five!” Bella sh rieked. “Who canceled?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation light. “Renée.” “What?” “S s going to surprise you for your graduation, but something went wrong. You ll ha
ve a message when you get home.” Edward, Bella, and Alice When she finally hung up the phone, she didn t waste any time closing the distan ce between us. She stretched up toward me until her lips met mine, and I lifted her onto the counter, too eager to be closer to her. Her arms and legs quickly w rapped around me, and for a few moments, I allowed myself to simply revel in the warmth of her touch and the feeling of her fingers in my hair. The way she sigh ed when she sunk into me made me ache to hold her tighter, which, unfortunately, meant I needed to do exactly the opposite. -Edward It was odd to think that not long ago; my biggest fear was being unable to contr ol my thirst. If someone had told me that any desire existed more powerful than that one, I wouldn t have believed them. Lately, however, the burn was second to the all-consuming need to hold her tighter, to never let go. Knowing her human days were numbered should have granted me patience. Soon, my strength would no l onger threaten her safety. Yet somehow, knowing I had only a short time to cares s her warm skin, breathe in her scent that has always been both pleasure and pai n, it was agony not to let myself revel in every aspect of her humanity without restraint. My muscles twitched to pull her back into me, let her wrap her arms a nd legs around me again. So, with a deep breath to summon my willpower, I change d the subject to a safer topic. -Edward She smiled up at me, gently brushing her fingers below my eyes. “Are you thirsty a lready?” she asked, scrutinizing my face. It would never cease to amaze me how eas ily she spoke of my deplorable thirst, how calm she was discussing the thing I d once been so afraid to talk to her about. I should have known that she was alwa ys watching for signs of my thirst and that she would question this particular t rip. Bella didn t like to see my eyes get too shadowy, or my irises too black. S he worried about me in ways I d never deserved, and although it would have been easier to answer, “Yes, I m thirsty,” because I owed her everything, I could only sp eak the truth. I didn t show the usual signs because this hunting trip had a far different purpose. -Bella “How strong will I be?” she asked with a grin. Then, something remarkable occurred. Hearing her excitement, seeing the light in her eyes, made me excited about what her life would soon be like. For that one moment, I didn t feel any fear or reg ret for what she was losing. All I felt was happiness, and maybe even a touch of pride at Bella s ability to always focus on the positive. “Stronger than I am,” I a nswered, barely able to contain my sudden euphoria. I would finally be able to hold her, kiss her the way I d always wanted to, the way she deserved. I could shower her my endless affection without holding back. -Edward and Bella “Stronger than Emmett?” she asked, and my grin widened. Bella was going to be extrao rdinary, and I couldn t wait to see it. “Yes,” I promised. “Do me a favor and challeng e him to an arm-wrestling match. It would be a good experience for him.” She laugh ed, probably in disbelief, which would make it that much more entertaining when she crushed him. -Edward and Bella I let my mind wander while she pored over her books, answering any questions she had idly as my thoughts drifted to the future ahead. Unfortunately, there was o ne detail that remained missing from what would be an otherwise perfect vision. Bella still didn t seem any closer to accepting my proposal... not that I d actu ally asked again. -Edward “So he s letting you off house arrest, is he?” he asked. Bella blushed, turning her gaze away from me. “Leave it alone, Jake,” she said quietly. “Just tell me what time I can come over.” “You can come yesterday, as far as I m concerned,” he teased. “You know you re always welcome. School s out for us, anyway, so come as soon as you can.” “O kay, I ll be over right after school.” -Jacob and Bella
“I guess we might as well go now,” she said dejectedly. “The sooner you leave, the soo ner you can come home, right?” I put my arm around her and kissed the top of her h ead. I knew she was looking forward to visiting Jacob, and maybe it had only bee n for my benefit, but those few simple words had changed my whole outlook on the day. She called Jacob to let him know we were on our way, her fingers entwined with mine as she spoke. I drove slower than usual, wanting to hang on just a lit tle bit longer. I was glad today s hunting trip would be a short one. -Edward and Bella I ll just tell her. That s all I can do. I mean, I have to, right? Would never f orgive myself if I let her turn herself into a disgusting bloodsucker without kn owing she had another option. A better option. -Jacob Just then, Jacob honked his horn impatiently. “That s impolite,” I said, foot twitch ing above the gas pedal. I didn t really need to go hunting today. “That s Jacob,” B ella muttered, getting out of the car before I could change my mind about leavin g her there. -Jacob and Edward I ll give you a call when she wants to come home. Or should I say, if she wants to come home, he added with a smirk. -Jacob You know I m not worried about the fight, Emmett grinned. I m just here for the extra meal. I rolled my eyes, but a smile crept onto my face. No matter what lay ahead, Emmett could always eat. "You might not be, but Carlisle certainly is," I said quietly. As much as I hated to admit it, and although I would always rema in the picture of confidence around Bella, I was concerned as well. Yeah, well h e worries too much. "That may be true, but is it possible you don t worry quite enough?" Highly unlikely. -Edward and Emmett "I know you think we re strong enough to fight off an army of unknown numbers an d strength, and I hope you re right, but what if we aren t ready for them? What if something happens to one of us? To Rose?" His smile didn t waver for a moment , but I could hear the brief flash of panic in his mind. He could put on a brave front all he wanted, act casual and aloof morning till’ night, but I knew Rosalie was his world. Emmett had given me a hard time about my pleas to the Volturi, c alled me overdramatic, but if something took Rose away from him, he d be on the next plane to Italy himself. -Edward and Emmett Jacob is telling Bella he loves her! I wanted to believe it wouldn t matter, tha t her heart would still be mine, but I d be a fool to think it wouldn t have at least some affect on her. I saw the way she looked at him, how her eyes lit up w hen she saw him waiting at the border for her. I knew how miserable she d been w hen they weren t spending any time together, and how upset she d been with me fo r trying to keep them apart. Worst of all, I heard his name slip from her lips f rom time to time when she was sleeping. He was in her life and in her dreams – and after today, she would know exactly how he felt about her. -Edward "Oh, come on," she scoffed, all traces of seriousness vanished. "After all this time, after everything you two have been through... when she s on the brink of g etting exactly what she s been wanting from the very start, now you doubt her? I may not be able to see her reaction to that mangy hairball, but I can guess wit h a fair amount of confidence that it won t end well for him." -Alice "I d like to think so, and most of the time I have complete faith in her feeling s for me, but Alice, I left her. The whole time I was away, Jacob was there for her. She loves him, I know she does. Sometimes she talks about him in her sleep. She misses him, worries about him, and wants him to be happy." "But she chose y ou. She s chosen you time and again. Yes, you left, but when you came back, how long did it take for her to forgive you?" "She gave me forgiveness I didn t dese rve." "No arguments there." "What makes this all so much worse is that there was a time when I might have said Jacob was a better fit for Bella." I was staring
at the ground, speaking more to myself than to Alice. "Before he changed, if he was just a kid in love – if he was safe for her, a part of me might have wanted he r to pick him. I d do anything to protect her, even watch her love someone else. But he s no better for her than I am. He and his pack are a threat to her safet y – even if he is considerably more in control than I fathomed possible." Edward and Alice I wasn t as certain as Alice seemed to be that Bella would want to talk about wh at happened, but I knew in that moment how necessary it was. Assuming Bella turn ed Jacob down – which, for my sanity, I had to believe – I wanted her to know that I understood if his confession had made her question her options. She had to know I wasn t upset with her, that honestly, I would expect nothing less. The import ant thing was that she knew what her heart wanted. As long as I was still who sh e wished to spend forever with, we could put everything else behind us. -Edward "You ll tell the others?" I hedged. "I mean, you ll make them understand why I h ad to leave?" "Consider it done. I ve already seen their reactions. Em and Jazz aren t going to let this one go easily. Carlisle, however, will smile and make s ome offhanded comment about the whims of young love." "Thanks," I breathed. "Wha t kind of a sister would I be if I wasn t willing to make excuses for my patheti c, love-sick brother?" -Edward and Alice My fists clenched, almost painfully with the effort it was taking to restrain my self from breaking the door down... and then breaking Jacob. Yet, when she opene d the door, the moment I saw her kind eyes – no fury, only love for me – I knew taki ng care of her was the only thing I needed to worry about. Dealing with Jacob co uld wait. "Let me see," I said softly, lifting her hand with more care than I d ever taken with her, fragile as she d always been. It was the first time I was g rateful for my icy skin. I could see the relief on her face as I touched it soft ly. There was a fair amount of swelling, and I could already feel a bruise formi ng below the surface. "I think you re right about the break. I m proud of you. Y ou must have put some force behind this." I kissed her hand lightly, letting my cool breath wash over her injury. I wanted to take all her pain away, and as I l ooked into her eyes, I felt a flash of excitement that soon, she would not be so delicate. When she was changed, she could punch that mongrel properly. -Edward Then, I heard it; a shift in the tenor of his thoughts. It happened when he saw the way I has holding onto Bella, gently guiding her through the door and down t he stairs. Something registered, if only for a moment, and I could hear that he understood. I was Bella s protector. I was taking every precaution, bound and de termined not to let anything hurt her more than she already was – and Jacob was ju st standing there with a sly grin on his face. Charlie glanced at Jacob, a flick er of irritation passing over him, followed by an uncharacteristic wave of guilt . -Edward "It would bother you in the morning," I assured her, touching her cheek, thrille d by her smile and he heat in her skin beneath my fingers. Jacob was trying to k eep his thoughts from me, but from what I heard, that exchange hurt him more tha n anything else she d said. I turned back to Jacob, his expression seething. -Edward and Bella "But if you ever bring her back damaged again – and I don t care whose fault it is ; I don t care if she merely trips, or if a meteor falls out of the sky and hits her in the head – if you return her to me in less than the perfect condition that I left her in, you will be running with three legs. Do you understand that, mon grel?" Jacob rolled his eyes but I could hear a trace of fear as he processed my words. He knew I could break him like a twig, and without Bella urging me not t o, I had no reason to keep my impulses in check. "Who s going back?" Bella murmu red from the car. "And if you ever kiss her again, I will break your jaw for her ." Wow, jealous much? Can t handle a little competition? His cockiness had retur ned, but I could hear every thought as it jumped through his mind. He was afraid – not just of me, but that he might have actually lost Bella over his juvenile st
unt. I saw it; the moment he kissed her and the thing he himself didn t want to admit – Bella hadn t reciprocated the kiss, even for an instant. -Jacob, Edward, and Bella The curiosity was eating away at me, but I didn t want to say anything to upset Bella more than she already was. When he arrived home, Emmett was helping Rose w ork on the Jeep – well, not so much helping as holding it up while she did all the work. It was a good thing he didn t seem to have any self-esteem issues, since Rose was better than him at basically everything. Well, this ought to be good, E mmett thought, watching as I carefully helped Bella out of the car. I glared at him, silently begging him to drop it, but Emmett couldn t be stopped. "Fall down again, Bella?" Bella s glare put mine to shame. "No, Emmett. I punched a werewo lf in the face." He was startled for a moment, trying to figure out if she was s erious. Then, he burst into a fit of laughter. Well, what do you know? The girl s got a spine after all, Rose thought, still under the car. "Jasper s going to win the bet," she said. I could tell she was grinning. Emmett s laughte r stopped. No. Just because she s got a bit of a temper doesn t mean she s going to go all homicidal. -Emmett and Rosalie "You don t need to worry about it now," I said, hugging her tightly to me. "In f act, you don t have to worry about it ever, if you don t want to." Bella made a pained sound and I realized that in my panic, I had forgotten about her injured hand. I quickly hurried her into the house, where Carlisle was already waiting. Alice was standing beside him, an extremely prideful expression on her face as s he looked at Bella. I couldn t see it until you two were alone, she thought, bea ming at me. Told you didn t have anything to worry about. Sure wish I could have seen that punch, though. The look on Jacob s face must have been priceless. I s miled back, more than a little proud myself, and then walked with Bella into Car lisle s office. He had everything he needed to examine her hand there. I would n ever admit it, and I hoped it never occurred to her, but before Bella, Carlisle had never kept many medical supplies on hand – just a few things for when he broug ht his work home with him. There had never been any need. Now, his office was pr actically a second hospital. -Alice and Edward She was staring at me with a strange longing I d never seen before. It seemed Ca rlisle felt the tension in the air as well, because he disappeared without anoth er word. "Bella?" I asked, suddenly nervous. "Do you want me to take you home?" She shook her head, eyes never leaving mine. I took two steps, closing the dista nce between us, and hugged her gently. When I went to pull away, she muttered, " No," almost silently, and pressed herself to me, holding on even tighter than us ual. Silently, with her uninjured hand, she took hold of mine, and pulled me tow ard my room. I didn t ask what was bothering her. We didn t say another word the rest of the evening. We simply held each other – and I was left wondering what se cret thoughts she was hiding, and what I could do to take that look of unknown s adness from her eyes. -Edward and Bella I knew it was coming, but I still felt assaulted as we neared the parking lot. T here were few times when people s minds were racing more than at a high school g raduation, even one as small as this. Every student and every parent was going o ver checklists and thinking about the future. It was also a time for nostalgia a nd reminiscing about the past four years. After so many decades, it shouldn t st ill bother me, but I couldn t fight off the twinge of bitterness. For everyone e lse, it was the end of one era and the start of the next. Their lives were movin g forward while mine stayed forever locked in place. This time, however, I would have Bella by my side. My constant, beautiful, perfect reminder that my unchang ing life was finally about to take a step forward. I looked toward her with a sm ile, but her expression made all my feelings of comfort disappear. I wanted to b elieve that it was just nerves, but it seemed like there was something more just under the surface. She was staring absently out the window, and every once in a while, her eyes would widen and she looked as if she were trying to focus in on something.
-Edward When Bella walked onto that stage, her cheeks adorably red and her eyes pointed to the ground, I felt a surge of pride. Whatever happened, at least she d gotten to have this human experience. I heard Charlie, Jacob, and Billy cheering for h er, and caught a smile fluttering across her lips. Then, she glanced toward my r ow briefly, meeting my eyes for only a moment before they began searching again. -Edward "Knowing Alice," she said quietly, still not meeting my gaze, "she ll probably t ry to keep this from you until after the party. But since I m all for the party being canceled – well, don t go berserk, regardless, okay? It s always better to k now as much as possible. It has to help somehow." She was babbling, clearly avoi ding the subject. "What are you talking about?" "Just stay calm, okay?" Nothing good has every followed those words. I nodded, not because I wanted her to conti nue, but because I needed her to. Whatever was coming for us, she had to know I would protect her. There was no need to rush into things out of fear. -Bella and Edward "I think you re wrong about things coming at us from all sides. I think it s mos tly coming at us from one side... and I think it s coming at me, really. It s al l connected, it has to be. It s just one person who s messing with Alice s visio ns. The stranger in my room was a test, to see if someone could get around her. It s got to be the same one who keeps changing his mind, and the newborns, and s tealing my clothes – all of it goes together. My scent is for them." -Bella He shoved me aside, though I was still reaching toward Bella. Normally in far be tter control on my emotions, I shudder to think what showed on my face. Fortunat ely, no one was looking at me – no one except Bella, that is. She was watching me warily as Charlie worked to exclude me from the celebration. As I watched Bella with Charlie, her desperate attempt to appear normal though she must be terrifie d, I found myself furious. Her nervousness, all of her sideways glances, everyth ing I hadn t been able to read on her face now made sense. Whoever was after her had managed to ruin this day for her, perhaps her last real human milestone, an d for that, I d never been more determined to destroy them. -Edward "Assuming they really are only interested in Bella, then all we have to do to en sure they come to us, is keep Bella here." "That should be easy enough," Rosalie added sarcastically. "It s not like he s going to let her leave the house now t hat he knows they re after her. And we thought he was over-protective before..." "Rose, be kind. Your cynicism isn t going to help anyone." Not cynicism if it s true... -Carlisle and Rosalie "So Bella will just stay here and be your bait?" I regretted it the moment I spo ke, and the flash of agony in Carlisle s eyes made my guilt that much worse. Of course he would never endanger Bella. He loved her as a daughter. -Edward "Whatever you two are discussing, do you think we could possibly finish it later ? We have a party to get ready for!" Both Carlisle and I rolled our eyes. Only A lice could think of the party at a time like this. "Don t you think coming up wi th a new strategy is a little more important than a graduation party?" I asked. "Doesn t matter. It s too late to cancel. People will be on their way soon. Spea king of which, shouldn t you be picking Bella up? They ll be finishing dinner an y time, and she s expecting you." I sighed. There was no point arguing with her, and if people were already getting ready, I knew there was no hope of canceling . I hurried to the restaurant where Bella and Charlie were eating, and waited fo r them to finish. Emmett was still pacing around outside, his mind a strange mix ture of focus and boredom. He was the only one not particularly enthused with ou r new "wait for them to come" plan. "Anything unusual?" I asked him. Nothing. No t a single twig out of place. It was difficult not to be irritated that he sound ed disappointed. He must have read the frustration on my face because he turned instantly remorseful. I m sorry, it s not like you think, really. I just want th is all to be over. "Well, I m definitely in agreement with you there." I m not g
onna lie, I m excited about the fight. It ll be nice to get out there are actual ly do something, Hunting elk in the park is getting pretty boring. -Alice, Edward, and Emmett "Anyway," he continued casually, standing up. "Bella is in there making excuses to bolt from dinner, and she s been not-so-subtly looking around for you for abo ut a half an hour. I think she d rather see you than me waiting for her when she gets outside. I ll meet you two back at the house." -Emmett A few minutes passed before I saw Bella step outside, her hair flowing in the li ght breeze. I caught her scent drifting toward me, pleasure and agony as it alwa ys was, and felt the familiar twinge of sadness that soon, it would no longer to rture me. This time, though, my despair was silenced by the reminder that everyt hing else – her beauty, her voice, her kindness, her love for me – all of it would r emain, and it would be mine to cherish forever. -Edward I was suddenly overtaken by the need to be with her. Paying no attention to who was around, I stepped out of the darkness and pulled her to me. I worried for a moment that I had startled her, but she quickly melted into my embrace. I kissed her perhaps a little too hard, forgetting my strength – forgetting everything – for that moment. It wasn t until I released her that I reminded myself she was stil l fragile, and there was still danger. For now, at least. -Edward I ran behind the car, listening with quiet amusement to their conversation. Char lie was letting his emotions show to a small degree, and I was fairly certain Be lla knew that it was only a shadow of all he was feeling. He loved her, was prou d of her, and would always be grateful that she d chosen to spend this time of h er life with him. She expressed her gratitude, and I tried not to hear the sadne ss behind the words I recognized as a sort of good-bye. -Edward As Charlie drove away, a wide array of emotions fluttered through his mind as he processed the events of the night. He d never say it aloud, but amid his ling ering thoughts of dislike toward me, as he glanced in his rear-view mirror at ou r house, I could feel his gratitude toward my family. He was happy to know Bella was taken care of, and though he didn t understand it entirely, he could feel h ow well she fit in with us. He wanted Bella to have whatever made her happy, and in that moment, he started to accept that we were exactly that. -Edward Over the decades, my family and I had all gotten used to pretending. Every day, I pretended to be human, acted like a teenager, and feigned interest in subjects I knew more about than most of the teachers. Still, pretending things were norm al – that everything wasn t crashing down on us – giving the illusion that we were a ll just normal seniors enjoying our graduation party was going to be a very diff icult task. As I watched Bella walk up the stairs to my house, a look of sheer d etermination on her face, I thought about how much pretending she had already do ne in order to keep the realities of our world a secret. She constantly lied to Charlie, if not outright, then by omission. She played the part as if she were p lanning on attending college rather than joining my family in eternity. Now, she was about to walk into what should have been a celebration, but instead would a mount to an evening of pretending she wasn t fearing for her life yet again. I w anted to be happy, to help her end this chapter of her life with joy and accepta nce, but instead, I was plagued with guilt as I stared at her expression. She wa s straining to put on the mask of normalcy the way we d all learned to over the years. She wasn t even one of us yet, and she already felt the weight of our sec rets. -Edward "Bella?" I whispered, coming up behind her and wrapping my arms around her. She hadn t said a word before my lips were on hers. I was frantic, desperately tryin g to grant her one moment of happiness, one promise that not everything in our w orld was a lie. She looked startled when I pulled away, and I was about to kiss her again when she muttered, "Let s get this stupid party over with." I held her
face in my hands, not letting her break my gaze. "I won t let anything happen t o you," I promised. She smiled, reaching up to touch my lips, and I felt that fa miliar spark of electricity her skin had always given me. "I m not worried about myself so much," she said softly. "Why am I not surprised by that?" She scowled at me slightly, and I took a deep breath, knowing our quiet moment was at an en d. It was time for both of us to put on our best fake smiles. Together, we would get through this evening and then, we could focus of what was to come next. "Re ady to celebrate?" She groaned, and I pulled her close, knowing she wasn t going to be happy with the scene Alice had set. If Bella was hoping for subtle, or an ything resembling a normal graduation party for that matter, she was about to be very disappointed. While the rest of us still saw the advantages of keeping up appearances, Alice s attitude was that it didn t particularly matter anymore if we blended in, since high school was over and Bella was about to disappear forev er. -Edward and Bella I looked at Bella who was watching Alice with a look I recognized. It was a look that said, this is too much. I don t deserve this. "I think I m underdressed," she muttered. I certainly hoped her self-esteem issues would be resolved when sh e was a vampire. She was a vision in the blue outfit Alice had given her. "You r e perfect." "You ll do," Alice added, and I shot her a warning glare. "Thanks," Bella sighed -Bella, Edward, and Alice She was quietly hoping Bella would put on makeup, or do something different with her hair. I held Bella tightly, hoping she believed me when I assured her that nothing would make her more beautiful in my eyes than she already was. -Edward “No amount of mood control is going to make Irina feel better if she was really as attached to Laurent as Tanya says. My abilities aren t powerful enough to have any noticeable effect when the emotions are that strong." He tried to hide it, b ut he couldn t help but think of the time right after I d fled Forks, leaving Be lla behind. He had tried to console me, make me feel more at peace with my decis ion, but it was as if his powers were blocked by the intensity with which I was longing for her. -Jasper and Edward A mansion in the middle of the forest? Weird, even for the Cullen’s. He met my eye for a split second before turning away nervously. Always figured they were frea ks, but what are they hiding out here? -Mike Don t know why Dr. Cullen didn t just home-school them all. Not like they get al ong with anyone anyway. Some place to call a home away from home. No wonder Bell a puts up with Edward s crazy... Must be worth more than the whole town put toge ther...Wow. Just wow. -Classmates The vision Alice had was so clear, I could see it as if it were my own. As soon as I saw the hoard of newborns heading toward Forks, I felt my fists begin to cl ench. Afraid I would hurt Bella; I forced myself to loosen my grip on her. One a t the front of the line was holding Bella s shirt, a sadistic and very determine d look in her blood-red eyes. -Edward "Now. Explain," he snapped. That was all it took. I raced out the door and down the stairs. "Jacob, I don t know everything," she said nervously, her eyes looki ng around her. Looking for me. Is that wise? Alice asked, stopping me just befor e I raced into the crowd. "Do I care?" I don t really care what you do, but ever yone keeps telling me we re still supposed to be acting normal. You flying acros s the room in a blur and decapitating a werewolf in front of all Bella s friends probably wouldn t be considered normal. "He raised his voice to her, Alice." I know. But there are people around. What exactly are you planning on doing? A med ley of things I d like to do played through my mind, but of course, she was righ t. There was nothing I could do, nothing really I should even say, with so many of Bella s friends nearby. They were suspicious enough as it was. Go back to Car
lisle, keep working on a strategy. We need to figure out our plan of action, qui ckly. Jasper and I will take care of Bella. I d been so focused on Bella; I hadn t even noticed Jasper was right beside me. I ll mellow them out, he thought wit h a smirk. Whether they like it or not. -Edward, Alice, and Jasper "Always the peacekeeper," Carlisle remarked, smiling. There was a swell of pride and affection in his voice. "She never ceases to amaze me. You ve chosen your m ate well, Edward." "Thank you. I only hope she still feels she s chosen well whe n she realizes what kind of life she s bound herself to." -Carlisle and Edward Well, look who decided to join the party, Jacob thought, glowering at me. Ready for the fight, bloodsucker? I can t believe you were going to leave us out. This is our one chance to finally treat at least some vampires the way they re suppo sed to be treated. Doing my best to keep the smile on my face, I wrapped my arms around Bella s waist and kissed the top of her head gently. -Jacob and Edward Well, look who decided to join the party, Jacob thought, glowering at me. Ready for the fight, bloodsucker? I can t believe you were going to leave us out. This is our one chance to finally treat at least some vampires the way they re suppo sed to be treated. Doing my best to keep the smile on my face, I wrapped my arms around Bella s waist and kissed the top of her head gently. -Jacob A spasm of pain shot through me at the thought of it: Bella with a human husband . A little child with Bella’s gorgeous eyes but another man’s nose, mouth, hair… Bella’s body wrapped around this stranger; loving him, swapping rings with him, giving her very soul to him, while he gave her everything I wanted for her and everythi ng I could never give. -Edward "All right. The humans are gone, present company excluded," he added, grinning a t Bella. "Time to get the real party started!" -Emmett "What s to prepare?" Emmett asked. "Jasper knows how to kill these new guys. He ll teach us everything he knows, and those idiot dogs are gonna sit there and wa tch, pretending they aren t scared to death of us. Like I said, sounds like a pa rty to me." -Emmett "Oh, come on, Bella," Emmett laughed. "Why should you be the only one getting to fight with werewolves? It s our turn now!" -Emmett "Don t you worry about a thing, dear," Esme said, kissing her forehead in a very motherly gesture that made my heart soar. I loved to see how deeply Esme cared for Bella. "Everything will be perfectly fine, and this mess will all be over be fore you know it." Then, we can finally get back to the happy task of welcoming you officially into the family, she added, with an almost imperceptible wink in my direction. -Esme And Bella… Her mind was as blank as ever as she shuddered against my side. Shudder ing… of course. She was freezing, the poor thing. She’d shown such exceptional brave ry traveling here to end my idiocy, and she was the one paying the price for my selfishness. I pulled away reluctantly, keeping only her hand in my palm. No mat ter how much I needed Bella by my side, I didn’t want her to suffer from it. “N-n-no !” She cried, throwing her frail arms back around my body. I nearly smiled. She di dn’t want us to be apart any longer- and I knew the feeling. Still, I brushed my f ingers up and down her arms, determined to find some way to provide for her the heat she truly deserved. -Edward and Bella "That had to be the longest party in the history of the world," she finally mumb led. "It s over now," I said softly, my fingers now tracing up her arm. I hoped the evening had worn her out enough to help her get a restful night s sleep, eve n without me there to hum her lullaby. I didn t know how long we would be out to
night, but it seemed safe to assume I wouldn t be back before dawn. This would b e the first night we d spent apart in a very long time. -Edward "If you won t take me, then I ll call Jacob." Her voice was flat, her face expre ssionless, though she must have known what her words would do to me. My grip tig htened on the wheel as I realized I was powerless. Jacob would give her whatever she asked for; take her anywhere she wanted to go, no matter how dangerous. It wasn t that I thought he didn t care about her, but rather that he was arrogant enough to believe nothing could harm her while he was around. I pulled into Bell a s driveway without saying a word. We both knew she d won. -Bella and Edward It always amazed me how those brief moments without her, when I knew she was in the room right next to me, dragged on, and how when she finally joined me in her room, everything in my world felt right again. She always looked at me with the oddest mixture of relief and elation, like she still couldn t believe I was sit ting in her rocking chair waiting for her, though I d been here every night sinc e we d returned home from Italy. I opened my arms, hoping she would join me. She was tired enough that I might be able to rock her to sleep. "Come here," she sa id, smiling and pulling me toward the bed instead. Her hands pressed against my chest, and before I knew it, she was curled up in my arms, sighing. I wrapped he r quilt around her to warm her up, wishing she would simply drift off to sleep. -Edward and Bella When we reached the clearing, I heard Emmett laughing as Jasper and Alice chased each other around. Alice looked like a pouncing kitten, and, although I knew Ja sper was fast enough to outrun her, it was clear he was having more fun being ca ught. -Edward Emmett and Jasper had never had to worry about losing Rose or Alice. The concept of eternity with their perfect partners was a given - an irrefutable fact. Goin g into this fight, especially before we d gained the help of the wolves, was pro bably the first time either of them had had to consider what their existence wou ld be like if they were forced to continue it alone. It was a fear I lived with constantly. -Edward "Maybe I m just reacting to this place," she said, suddenly second guessing hers elf. She looked around warily, and when she continued, her voice was shaking. "I t makes me feel like she s close by... like she sees me now." Every muscle in my body tensed at the idea. "She ll never touch you, Bella," I promised, instincti vely searching the shadows for signs of any uninvited guests. It was unsettling, having to question whether we were alone. There was a time when I thought our f amily was almost impenetrable. Between Alice seeing the moment anyone decided to come near us and me hearing them when they were close enough to worry about, it seemed we were invincible. Even Jasper tasting a change in the atmosphere was h elpful for keeping out those who wanted to harm us. Not this time, though. Whoev er was in Bella s room had found a way around all of us, and for that, I would h ave given anything to end this nightmare here and now. -Bella and Edward So what now? – This is such a waste of time – would you guys please chill, this is c ool – like, partying with the enemy, cool? – Jake, check it out, your girlfriend s h olding onto that leech pretty tight – shut up, Leah! -Wolf Pack "Fascinating," I whispered, unable to control my surprise. I guess I d always as sumed it was only the males who carried the gene. The fact that there was a fema le among them was something I never could have foreseen. -Edward You shut up, Jake. You know you re totally jealous. Look who s talking about jea lousy! Thinking about Sam much? Shut UP! -Jacob and Leah There was Sam, and I could feel, rather than hear her love for him. I could tell she d been his, sometime long ago, but his heart belonged to someone else now.
The girl Leah saw was someone I d caught glimpses of in Sam s mind, but it was o nly through Leah that I had a name to put with the face. Emily. Leave it alone, Leah, just for this one night; we ve got work to do. Jacob s voice startled me, and I realized I d been listening with rapt attention to the strange love story playing through Leah s mind. She d lost Sam, and it haunted her. -Edward, Leah, Jacob Apparently, there was some question as to which member of the tribe had fathered Embry, and it didn t take me long to realize that the issue had been causing qu ite a bit of drama throughout the pack. -Edward Is anyone ever going to learn to mind their own business around here? - you say that like it s even possible - just because we all know about something, doesn t mean we need to discuss it all the time - oh come on, there hasn t been a scand al this big since Sam imprinted on Emily Enough! Not another word. -Wolf Pack Now that Sam s was the only voice I could hear, he was even clearer than before. He d silenced the pack out of frustration, but there was another emotion there, hiding just under the surface. His mind drifted to his love - his Emily - and I was suddenly seeing her through his eyes. The way he saw her, the complete and pure adoration, made me feel voyeuristic in a way I never had before. She belong ed to him so completely; it felt wrong that I should even be allowed to see her through the medium of his mind. I d heard the wolves discuss imprinting before, but it wasn t until that moment that I understood it. -Edward We will watch and listen, but no more, Sam continued. Now confident in my abilit y to translate, he was looking straight at Carlisle. That is the most we can ask of our self control. "That is more than enough," Carlisle said. "My son Jasper has experience in this area. He will teach us how they fight, how they are to be defeated. I m sure you can apply this to your own hunting style." -Sam and Carlisle We are willing to take more than our share, if necessary. I fought back the grow l that threatened to follow. The rumblings of enthusiastic agreement seemed to s uggest the wolves considered themselves stronger fighters than us. -Sam and Edward They re fast – faster than I wanted them to be – interesting tactics – why wouldn t he plan his next move? – are they all going to be that big? -Wolf Pack "Back to work," he sighed. "We ll call it a draw." I was taking it easy on you s o you wouldn t look bad in front of Bella, he added with a smirk. Sure he was. -Jasper She worried about her children, she even felt concern for the wolves, but mostly she worried about Carlisle being too hesitant. What if he gets hurt because of his unwillingness to kill? It soon became clear to me that her determination to fight as hard and as strong as possible was because she was expecting Carlisle n ot to. If the moment came when she feared for his safety, she would do whatever was necessary to protect him. -Esme Isn t one night with these leeches enough? - are you kidding, this is awesome I can t believe they re letting us in on all this - what are you talking about – a ll this is a whole lot of training for a fight that s gonna be over before we ve had time to have any real fun - speaking of fun, did anyone stop to think what will happen if we accidentally have too much fun? -Wolf Pack Bella, he sighed as his eyes closed. He was practically purring. As Bella contin ued to stroke his fur, Jacob regained his senses. His eyes were locked with hers , but his thoughts were directed at me. I know you told me to wait for her to as k, but is it technically a kiss if I don t have lips? -Jacob Before I had time to stop him, Jacob was licking Bella. Licking her! I was about to fulfill my promise to break his jaw, but Bella shouted, "Ew! Gross, Jake!" a
nd smacked him in the face. At least she didn t appear to have hurt her hand thi s time. -Jacob and Bella You gonna let him lick your girl like that? Emmett added, clearly only half teas ing. -Emmett Dude, so uncalled for - she s hanging out with vampires and you re practically m arking her - give it up, Jake. -Wolf Pack The two of them were laughing as my family watched in horror. So disgusting, Ali ce thought. The smell will never come out. She s going to have to burn that outf it. Not that it s much of a loss. -Alice "Wait," Bella shouted after him. "Why did he leave?" she asked dismally. It kill ed me to hear the disappointment in her voice. -Bella He laughed humorlessly. You seem to have forgotten that we were born to kill vam pires. We are always ready for them and there is no way one is getting by me. I shook my head defiantly. "Okay, so leave her on the reservation," he conceded. " We re making Collin and Brady stay behind anyway. She ll be safe there." "Are yo u talking about me?" Bella asked her voice scathing. "I just want to know what h e plans to do with you during the fight," Jacob replied. "Do with me?" "You can t stay in Forks, Bella." She seemed furious, but she had to have known this was coming. There was absolutely no way she was staying anywhere near this fight. "T hey know where to look for you there. What if someone slipped by us?" -Edward, Jacob, and Bella You probably don t really want to hear about what he s feeling right now, right? Jasper asked sarcastically. "Not unless you want the wolf count to be down by o ne." He does smell revolting. You know you owe me one for this. -Edward and Jasper "Best two out of three?" he was laughing, and Jacob groaned. Nice family, he tho ught, seething. Really putting Bella s safety first. "Jasper looks at things fro m a military perspective," I told him, suddenly feeling defensive, though even I d been furious with Jasper only moments before. "He looks at all the options its thoroughness, not callousness." Right. Awesome strategy. Why didn t I think of using Bella as bait? -Jasper, Jacob, and Edward Bella was exhausted. She was swaying at my side, her eyes half closed, though of course insisted she was perfectly fine. Still, there was no way I trusted her t o hang onto me as tired as she was, so I carried her in my arms on the run home. Thankfully, she was tired enough not to argue with me and she sighed as she snu ggled closer to my chest. I felt her body go limp about halfway to her house, an d I slowed down, letting myself take a moment to enjoy the quiet peacefulness th at came over her. She d once been terrified to run with me, and now she trusted me enough to fall asleep in my arms. It was a wonderful feeling. -Edward There were a few moments where I was certain she was waking up. Her eyes even st arted to flutter open several times, but she always squinted at the light coming in through her window, groaned, and fell back asleep. I was perfectly all right with her taking a day off from the world, so I rubbed her back and ran my finge rs through her hair until she slipped back into a deep sleep. It wasn t long bef ore she was sleep talking more clearly, her head resting on my shoulder. -Edward "Have you noticed the inequality? Because I certainly have." I hadn t meant for my voice to sound so sharp, but it was hard to fight the feelings of frustration . Why was she so unwilling to let me give her gifts? "What inequality?" she aske d. "Everyone else is able to get away with giving you things. Everyone but me. I would have loved to get you a graduation present, but I didn t. I knew it would have upset you more than if anyone else did. That s utterly unfair. How do you explain yourself?" "Easy. You re more important than everyone else. And you ve g
iven me you. That s already more than I deserve, and anything else you give me j ust throws us more out of balance." Her tone had been so matter-of-fact, that it took me a moment to realize what she was saying. How she could still see hersel f as the winner rather than the prize was beyond me. I rolled my eyes. "The way you regard me is ludicrous." -Edward and Bella "Looking out for all of Bella s stupid choices is starting to turn into a full t ime job. I might demand another car if this keeps up." I sighed, waiting for her to finish her rant. All I really cared about was finding out what absurd stunt Bella was planning, and what I would need to do to stop her. "You know, I though t she d started to develop a little better sense of self-preservation," she cont inued. "I hadn t seen her making any life threatening decisions in such a long t ime, but I guess I was wrong. All last night, I kept getting visions of Bella st umbling around; trying to find the clearing like Jasper was talking about. Appar ently, she thinks all we need is a nice tasty little distraction for the newborn s, and we ll have this fight in the bag. I never actually saw her reach the clea ring because, well, it s Bella, but lately she s been doing a lot of thinking ab out jamming a rock into her hand, which of course is brilliant, because then we d all be running around like bloodthirsty newborns. She really doesn t think thi ngs through very well, does she? I just hope becoming a vampire will help her co mmon sense a bit. Anyway, that army is busy wiping itself out – they re down to ni neteen by the way – and they re basically doing our job for us. There s absolutely nothing to worry about, and if you could possibly try to get that through Bella s head, I d appreciate it." -Alice I found Jasper outside, leading a private training session with Rosalie. In a lo t of ways, she was the least skilled for combat, having no special abilities to use to her advantage, and having never been in a real fight before. She wasn t w orried, but Emmett had insisted Jasper spend some extra time with her. "Always k eep your eyes moving," he instructed her. "They re not going to sneak up on you, so as long as you re paying attention, they won t catch you off guard." "I don t really see the need for all this training. You know Emmett s never going to le t anything close enough to me to do any harm." Jasper laughed. "That may be true , but he s going to pummel me if I don t get you as prepared as possible." I joi ned in Jasper s laughter, and they both turned toward me. -Jasper and Rosalie “Shh, Bella, shh,” I soothed, trying to guide her towards the sofa Alice had indicat ed. She didn’t seem to want to move. “I think she’s having hysterics,” Alice said unhelp fully. “Maybe you should slap her.” -Edward and Alice “Shh,” I whispered in her ear. “It’s all right, Bella. Everything’s okay. I’m here.” -Edward Bella frowned, reaching forward to touch my face with one slender, warm hand. Co uld she see the longing behind my carefully composed expression? Would she pull away from the filthy creature she had finally realized I was? Was she about to t ell me now that there was no hope for reconciliation? I braced myself for the wr ath I knew I was about to incur. And then she burst into tears again. “Oh, Edward!” She sobbed, clutching my arm as her entire body shook in a disjointed rhythm to her pounding heartbeat. I sighed – half-relived that in her anguish she had pulled me closer, but also dreading the moment she pulled away. “What’s wrong?” I asked her, worriedly. I wrapped my arms around her tiny form and stroked her back in what I hoped was a soothing manner. Her own arms wrapped themselves around my neck – I could feel her pulse through the skin of her wrists and I reveled in the fiery w armth burning through my own dead flesh. -Edward and Bella “I know exactly what you mean,” I told her truthfully. “But we have lots of reasons to be happy. For one, we’re alive.” “Yes,” she breathed. Her warm breath ignited the fires beneath my chest once more. “That’s a good one.” “And together,” I added, lightly. Bella hesitated, and then nodded, almost unwillingly. I waited in trepidation for a re ply that did not come.
-Edward and Bella “You look so tired,” I whispered, half-unwilling to disturb the delicate silence tha t had settled over us. I tenderly traced the purple bruises under her eyelids. P ale and beautiful as she was, she could have passed for one of my own kind, had it not been for the steady beats of her heart, the depths of her wide, coco brow n eyes… “And you look thirsty,” she whispered back, her forehead creasing with worry a s she leant forward, eyes burning into my own. -Edward and Bella “It’s nothing,” I told her, even as my throat burned behind my breath. But the burn wa s unimportant. There was another burn, its fires more deadly, threatening to ove rwhelm. It resided in my stomach, churning, unraveling, getting warmer every sec ond she lay in my arms… my body’s hunger for Bella far out-burnt any desire I might have once had for her blood. -Edward “They have a name for someone who smells the way Bella does to me,” I said, speaking slower and louder on Bella’s behalf. “They call her my singer – because her blood sin gs for me.” -Edward Bella nuzzled her chin further into my shoulder, tilting her head to look me in the eyes. A gorgeous pink blush ghosted over her cheek, inches away from my lips , and the burn within my chest flickered once more. I wanted to kiss that cheek. Would she let me? -Edward She had jumped off a cliff to end the suffering I had caused by abandoning her. But now… now, I had no idea. She claimed to have jumped from a cliff for fun. That wasn’t my Bella… what if she had changed too much in the past six months for me to hold any interest for her? What if she was angry with me for endangering her lif e, again? -Edward Bella, indeed, he thought dryly. What beauty there is in her name obviously does not correspond to her features. Maybe when she is one of us… -Alec True to her word, Bella did not fall asleep once. She spent the car journey rest ing by my side, eyes wide open and interlocking with mine. I spent the journey c ompletely entranced by the vision before me, the way passing streetlamps glowed amber against her skin… It felt wrong… impious almost, to gaze upon such a sight. I couldn’t… couldn’t dare to look directly in the face of such beauty. Bella… my sweet, da rling Bella, pure and chaste as Artemis the huntress, yet seductive as Aphrodite . But no goddess – neither Artemis nor Aphrodite – could compare to her. Bella was a bove such comparisons. I’d tried before to express her magnificence in words, and yet, I would keep trying. My attempts were doomed – Bella’s perfection was such that no words could come close to describing it adequately. -Edward “Are you feeling okay?” I asked her, worried that I was not paying enough attention to her health. “Is it motion sickness? Are you dehydrated?” Bella shook her head wit h an amused smile. “No, no,” she assured me. “I’m fine.” “Are you sure?” I asked. She nodde n reply, but neglected to say anything further on the matter until the drinks ca rt made its way towards our seats. “Could I have a Coke, please?” “Bella,” I said in an accusatory tone. -Edward and Bella It was with masochistic enthusiasm that I anticipated our arrival – I kept searchi ng through the jungle of greenery outside the car window, waiting to see a famil iar hunting ground or a peaceful meadow I’d found in our time here. But the places I sought out brought back memories; times of happiness that was now long past. With each passing second I doubted my place in Bella’s life. Why did she not respo nd to my touches? Why was she so distant when I spoke to her? Could she have mov ed on? And if so, could I begrudge her for doing as I’d asked? -Edward It was late in the morning when we reached the outskirts of Forks. In less than a minute more, Emmett had driven us to a halt outside Bella’s front door. I looked
up at the house and fought back the rush of thick emotions. The bedroom I’d snuck into one late February night last year… the very place I’d first fallen in love wit h her. And though I tried not to look, from the corner of my eye I could see the swell of forestry tracing along the back of her garden. The dark undergrowth mo cked me, reminding me of my sins. The best and worst periods of my life, confine d to one small patch of land. My love and my loss, both here, together. With Bel la. -Edward “What’s wrong with her?” He asked, puzzled. He was no doubt wondering why my Bella was n’t in a fit state to walk unassisted. No. Not my Bella. Not anymore. She was his Bella, too. -Charlie and Edward Charlie seemed to take offence at my words. “Don’t tell me what to do! Give her to m e. Get your hands off her!” Not wanting to cause offence to Bella’s father, I did as he said immediately – or at least, I tried to. Bella gripped my shirt with stubbo rn fingers as I lifted her. Still furious, Charlie yanked on her unrelenting arm . -Charlie and Edward The crippling sense of loss I felt as she slid out of my arms was immediately re placed by fear as it became apparent that she would not make it up the stairs, e xhausted as she was. I watched her sway, stumble through two steps, before tippi ng headfirst towards the concrete. She was back in my arms before Charlie could even blink. “Just let me get her upstairs,” I begged, glad to be given an excuse to hold her once more. “Then I’ll leave.” Bella blanched, as she choked out one word. “No!” “I won’t be far,” I assured her. I kept my voice low so Charlie would have no hope of h earing. But he frowned anyway, obviously displeased at being left out. “Fine,” Charl ie spat. “Go.” He waved his arm in the direction of the house, indicating that I sho uld lead the way. -Edward, Bella, Charlie I’d taken my time with Bella, but now, Charlie’s impatient cough brought me back to my surroundings. I lay her down on the familiar bed, the memories haunting me as I did so. Her eyelids closed as I pried her fingers gently from my shirt. I kis sed both hands before resting them by her sides. “I’ll be back,” I promised in a whisp er, before making a swift exit past her father, still lurking on the stairwell. -Edward Bella’s bedroom, though cramped and messy, had become my sanctuary from the moment I stepped foot in it, just over a year ago. I could still remember my first vis it – the careful monitoring of each breath I took, the confusion and elation I’d fel t when she whispered my name into the darkness… It was good to be back. -Edward If I thought things with Bella would be awkward, it was nothing compared to my t attered relationship with her father. Charlie Swan did not like me at all – that m uch was clear from the start of my courtship of his daughter. But by leaving, I had evidently caused him pain too – his burbling thoughts spoke only of rage and a nguish. I discerned from the haze through which I read Charlie’s mind that he was still suffering the repercussions of my actions. He’d been there to pick up the pi eces when I’d left Bella in the woods. He’d seen her in her most fragile state of mi nd, and I was the cause. He hated me. -Edward I still recalled his last words to me earlier today, as he slammed the door in m y face… “I don’t want you anywhere near her! You’re not to walk through my door again, C ullen, you hear me?” Well, never walking through the front door would pose a bit o f a challenge, I determined. But as Emmett would tell me, a Cullen never surrend ered easily. Besides – I had reasoned to myself later, as I scaled the wall outsid e Bella’s window – it wasn’t as if I used the front door frequently in the past. Why b reak that habit now? And as for staying away from Bella… well that was just imposs ible. Surely Chief Swan could see that in my pained expression. I could not leav e. Not now. It was a miracle I’d managed to do so once before. To my relief, Bella eased out of her immobile posture and sighed softly in her sleep. She rolled ov
er to face me and my eyes greedily soaked up her sleeping features. -Charlie and Edward “Edward? Edward, get down here!” I jumped up, alarmed. “Emmett?” I hissed, though I made no move to the window. My brother weighed up the options in his mind, but he’d ne ver been one for patience. I heard a sigh, followed by a quiet rustling getting closer; he had begun stealthily climbing the wall to Bella’s window. Not a second more had passed before he was yanking the window open and bundling himself throu gh with a grin. “So, this is your secret hideaway, huh?” Emmett said loudly, poking around. It was strange seeing him in Bella’s bedroom. He looked so absurdly out of place; too large for his surroundings. “I like it. Very… Bella. And it smells of he r, too. No wonder you’d rather spend all your time up here.” “Emmett,” I hissed, nodding pointedly at the sleeping girl on the bed. “Quiet.” He snorted. Loudly. “Come on, bro ther. You and I both know I don’t do quiet.” I sighed. You’re wanted up at the house. We haven’t seen you in a while. “What about Bella? I’m needed here.” Emmett cracked a gr in. “Alice knew you’d pull that excuse out. She said to tell you that Bella won’t be w aking for another five hours. Plenty of time to catch up with us first.” -Edward and Emmett “All right,” I relented. “I’ll come with you. Just let me say goodbye to Bella.” Emmett sc runched his nose up. “But she’s asleep,” he protested. I ignored him. “Goodnight,” I breat hed, planting a kiss on her forehead. “Goodnight, my Bella. I’ll be back soon.” Emmett rolled his eyes. Alright, alright, I get that you haven’t seen her in six months. But it’s not like she can hear you while she’s sleeping. Can we go now? I ignored h im again. “Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be ’mor row,” I whispered, leaning in for one last kiss. “Oh God, enough already!” Emmett whin ed loudly. “Dude, you’re quoting Shakespeare at her now? You have issues, you know t hat, right?” I laughed. “Emmett, I’m 104 years old and in love with an eighteen-year-o ld girl. I’m a dead man, she’s alive and mortal. I tried to commit suicide, not thre e days ago. And you think I have issues because I’m quoting Shakespeare?” “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Emmett said with a laugh. I envied his easy dismissal of my worries. W hat I wouldn’t give to be as carefree as my brother. With one last glance at my lo ve, we were through the window and running at a steady pace through the forest b ehind her house. -Emmett and Edward “You know, Edward, you haven’t spoken to the rest of us in months, either,” Emmett cro wed as he ran. “You’re not going to start quoting Shakespeare to us all, are you? “It’s called affection, Emmett,” I called back. “You might want to try it with Rosalie som etime.” Emmett snorted at this. “Please. Like I could start spouting Shakespeare to Rosalie. You know she’d whack me around the head with her crowbar if I so much as tried.” I grinned at the mental image he provided. “Besides,” Emmett concurred, deviou sly. “Rose and I have our own way of showing affection.” The mental image was sudden ly not so pleasant. “Errgh, Emmett!” I groaned. “Can you at least warn me before you s tart thinking of that?” Emmett laughed. “So, how’d things go with the Chief once we le ft?” he asked, changing the subject with a grin. “Gotta say: he was looking pretty d angerous earlier – even for a human.” “I didn’t let him see me; not after what happened earlier,” I said. “I’ll have to think of a way to settle things with him if…” I trailed of f. Emmett said nothing, but I heard the words I did not want to speak in his min d: if she takes you back. -Edward and Emmett It was all so confusing and complicated. Of all the people whose minds I couldn’t read, did it have to be Bella? Of all the minds I found hard to distinguish, did it have to be Charlie’s? Life would be so much simpler with no exceptions to my g ift. Then again, life was so much simpler before Bella. But I would never want t o go back to the way I was before. I’d deal with any complications to be with her. -Edward “You still don’t get it, do you?” he asked, shaking his head. “You’re a prude and you over -complicate things and you take the fun out of everything, but you’re still my bro ther, Edward. You don’t have to apologize to me for anything. Alice stopped us fro m intervening this time, but we would have come to Italy too. Rose and I were al ready halfway to the airport when Jasper told us about her plans. We would’ve gone after you. We all would. And don’t think I’m going to let you get away with it agai
n.” I was touched by the sentiment of his words, but I knew Emmett wouldn’t apprecia te a heart-to heart, so instead, I asked, and “What makes you think I’ll try again? Bella’s alive.” -Edward and Emmett “Edward, I know you. You’ll do something idiotic to ‘protect’ her and end up putting her in danger and hating yourself for it. So just… don’t. Don’t do anything stupid and do n’t underestimate the rest of us.” His words made sense. Out of everyone in our fami ly, Emmett was the one to tell things the way they were. He could sum up even th e most complicated situation with one blunt sentence. He and Rose were the most frank people I’d ever met. Their minds were very similar: blunt, yet sincere. -Emmett I have seen a medicine, that’s able to breathe life into a stone. Alice quoted. Yo u have a body of stone, but she breathes for you. You need her, Edward. You need ed her then, too. -Alice And yet, seeing her exquisite face, so close to mine, I could find no fear. Only beauty, confusion and sleepiness were to be found in her open eyes. She blinked , once, twice, three times. Her mouth opened, and then closed, forming silent wo rds from the one mind I couldn’t even begin to fathom. What I wouldn’t give to hear that mind, so good, so kind, and speaking with her voice. Bella’s mind would be wo nderful, I knew. She was so pure of heart and soul; and that voice – such tenderne ss from the mouth of an angel – -Edward She grimaced. “Well... if you were, after all, just a dream, that’s exactly the kind of thing you would say. My imagination must be used up.” She reasoned. Her expres sion was very thoughtful. She seemed utterly convinced of this dream theory. It made a change from the absurd, extravagant theories she’d thought up before she kn ew the truth about me. She was so convinced of her mundane dream theory... but i t made sense. Bella had been through far too much. Supposed that the idea of a d ream was a lot nicer for her than the truth. No, Bella, don’t think that. I’m not ju st a dream. I’m here and I love you. Please believe in me. Don’t hate me. Please wan t me. -Edward and Bella “Don’t you remember anything I told you before?” I asked quietly, brokenly. If Bella t hought I didn’t love her… if that blank, far-away expression in her eyes was directed at me – a plat onic indifference to my presence in her bedroom, on her bed… it was almost as pain ful as saying goodbye had been. “I remember everything you told me,” she replied cal mly, and my mind wept. Everything… everything. She remembered every touch, every k iss, and yet, she was cold and impervious to my touch. Did she recall our ruined relationship with fondness or scorn? Would she allow me to restate my affection s or turn away, disgusted with what she used to hold so dear? I looked down at h er blank face, and found reassurance. Despite everything, she had returned to me . She had knowingly, recklessly risked her life to save mine. Even if she didn’t l ove me any more, we could work up to that. I would wait. I would do anything by her. Cautiously, trying to gouge a reaction from the expressive eyes behind her mask, I brushed her lips with one finger. A beautiful blush spread quickly acros s her cheeks and I almost laughed in relief. There was a chance. We could be sav ed. -Edward and Bella “Bella, you seem to be under a misapprehension,” I told her, shaking my head in hone st confusion. “I thought I’d explained it clearly before. Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist.” If I had been happy for the brief second I was touching her, my happiness was quelled almost instantly when she pulled away, a frown marring her brow. “I am… confused.” “I’m a good liar, Bella. I have to be.” I had intended these words to be comf orting, revealing. But, surprising me once again, my Bella was automatically rig id in my arms, gasping for air as if the supply was not plentiful. Her mask melt ed away and the pain in her eyes told me all I needed to know, as I realized tha
t she had misconstrued my words. I cursed myself for my foolishness. In attempti ng to explain, I had only furthered her irrational belief of rejection. -Edward and Bella “Let me finish!” I begged as she whimpered in my arms. “I’m a good liar, but still… for yo u to believe me so quickly…” “You… don’t… want me?” “…that was excruciating.” She didn’t move. H re immobilized, wrapped around her chest. It looked as though she was trying to cradle something there. “when we were in the forest, when I was telling you goodby e –” I didn’t want it to happen; I struggled to keep myself firmly in the present, to forget the past. But unbidden, my mind lurched back to that moment, her face, he r eyes, her pleas… “What happened with Jasper – that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!” “This is about my soul, isn’t it? Carlisle told me about that, and I don’t care, Edward. I don’t care!” “You can have my soul. I don’t want it without you – it’s yours already!” “Yo en’t going to let go,” I said, watching her as in my mind her pleas rang out, haunti ngly beautiful and pointless. “I could see that. I didn t want to do it – it felt li ke it would kill me to do it – but I knew that if I couldn t convince you that I d idn t love you anymore, it would just take you that much longer to get on with y our life. I hoped that, if you thought I d moved on, so would you.” Saying the wor ds now, it seemed ridiculous that this absurd notion had ever made sense. I had underestimated her emotions, thought them to be weak and flexible, but I could s ee now how hypocritical I had been. After all, there was a very real possibility now that Bella had moved on. Did that make me love her any less? No. I would al ways love her, powerfully. Forever. “A clean break,” she whispered, and I remembered the moment my plans for her safety went so terribly awry. A clean break. One, s imple stab wound. That’s what I’d told myself. How did that one wound become a stabb ing frenzy, a torture I couldn’t escape from? I shuddered. “Exactly. But I never ima gined it would be so easy to do! I thought it would be next to impossible – that y ou would be so sure of the truth that I would have to lie through my teeth for h ours to even plant the seed of doubt in your head. I lied, and I m so sorry – sorr y because I hurt you, sorry because it was a worthless effort. Sorry that I coul dn t protect you from what I am. I lied to save you, and it didn t work. I m sor ry.” -Edward and Bella “But how could you believe me?” I asked incredulously. “After all the thousand times I ve told you I love you, how could you let one word break your faith in me?” -Edward “I could see it in your eyes – that you honestly believed that I didn’t want you anymo re,” I said, hating myself for bringing it up again, but unable to stop. “The most absurd, ridi culous concept – as if there were any way that I could exist without needing you!” Bella was still frozen in place, but her bottom lip trembled. “Bella,” I pleaded now, shaking her ev er-so-gently, still aware of her fragility under my fingertips. “Really, what were you thinking?” -Edward “I kn-knew it!” she exclaimed, still weeping. “I knew I was dreaming.” It took a moment for her reaction to sink in, and then I was laughing in bitter frustration at th e absurdity of everything. “You’re impossible!” I sighed, deciding to resort to making my intentions clear in the simplest of terms. “How can I put this so you’ll believe me? You’re not asleep, and you’re not dead. I’m here and I love you.” She stiffened in my arms at this, and I thought I heard the tiniest of whimpers escape from betwe en her breathless sobs, stifled against her pillow. I raised her head and gently cupped her cheek, forcing her to meet my eyes. My voice grew gentler as I spoke . “I have always loved you and I will always love you. I was thinking of you, seei ng your face in my mind, every second that I was away. When I told you that I di dn’t want you, it was the very blackest kind of blasphemy.” -Edward and Bella “You don’t believe me, do you?” I asked, already knowing the terrible answer. “Why can y ou believe the lie, but not the truth?” She gasped in air for a little while befor e answering, and her voice broke twice, but her reply was spoken with utter conv
iction. “It never made sense for you to love me. I always knew that.” My mind was in utter turmoil now, questioning her every word and breath. Did she love me, or n ot? Did she believe me or not? Well, if I couldn’t persuade her with words, perhap s actions would make her see sense. “I’ll prove you’re awake,” I promised, with an almos t angry growl as I raised her face to meet my own. Her eyes widened in shock, an d she leant away slightly, but I was determined. More than that – I was almost cra zed. Bella didn’t believe I loved her. Bella didn’t think herself worthy of my love. And as if that was not outrageous enough, I’d been reunited with my angel for ove r twenty four hours now, and was still yet to kiss her properly; the way I desir ed most. I clasped her tiny face between my hands and met her fearful reluctance with blazing determination. She was so beautiful up close; her eyes glistened a nd a few subtle freckles dotted her pale face. Her lips were millimeters away fr om my own; I leant forward, closer, I moved in – “Please don’t.” I stopped. If it weren’t for the pleading nature of her tone, I wasn’t sure I would ever have found the str ength within me to resist closing the space between us. She was asking – no, beggi ng – me to stop. But this was the closest I’d been to her in six months. Her heart w as thumping against my chest. Adrenaline sped through her veins, pressed against mine. Her breath was hot and sweet against my cheek. I wasn’t sure I could stop. “W hy not?” I asked, mostly to distract myself from the enormous temptation she provi ded. She sighed. “When I wake up” – I opened my mouth to voice my frustration, but she caught sight of my expression and quickly changed tack – “okay, forget that one. Wh en you leave again, it’s going to be hard enough without this, too.” -Edward and Bella “Yesterday,” I began, steeling myself for her refusal of my affections, “when I would touch you, you were so… hesitant, so careful, and yet still the same. I need to know why. Is it because I’m too late? Because I’ve hurt you too much? Because you have moved on, as I meant fo r you to? That would be…” heartbreaking, torturous, devastating, “quite fair. I won’t contest your decision. So don’t try to spare my feelings, please – just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I’ve done to you. Can you?” -Edward “What kind of an idiotic question is that?” She asked. Was she stalling my pain? Pro longing it as I deserved? “Just answer it. Please.” She glared at me for a few seconds, and I could have sworn I felt my heart flutter, preparing for the break that was to come. Th is was it. This was the moment. She was about to tell me that she hated me, that she was long over any ridiculous feelings she might have harbored for me in the past. That the only reason she went to Volterra to save me was out of pity and her unrelenting kindness that I no longer deserved… “The way I feel about you will n ever change.” She said quietly at last. “Of course I love you – and there’s nothing you can do about it!” She loved me. She loved me. Still. “That’s all I needed to hear,” was all I managed to breathe before I crushed my lips to hers in an almost violent t empest of pleasure spurred on by the cruelty of our prolonged reunion. And I kne w in that moment that I had been wrong. The dungeons of Volterra were not hell. Wrapping my arms around Bella’s sunlit form was not heaven. This was both. The tas te of Bella’s lips beneath my own was the heaven I had been craving, the bliss I h ad sought for by my death. Bella’s face beneath my fingers, and her own fingers tr acing my skin were the perfect remedy to the fires burning at my flesh. Her sigh s of my name soothed the scorching pain I had carried with me for the last dark months of my existence. But it was hellish too. Because this was the furthest we could go in our reunion. It was the very closest we could possibly be, and it w asn’t enough. I wanted more. Selfish and greedy as I was, I wanted more of my Bell a than these kisses. More than there could possibly be. I wanted her bare skin b eneath my own, my last name tacked onto hers, our names side by side on an old f amily tree. I wanted a little brown-eyed child on my knee and a house to ourselv es in the sunlit city of her childhood that she so loved. I wanted to be with he r in every sense. I wanted to be like her. The same as her. I wanted to wed her,
to make love to her, to die with her. I wanted the impossible. And her lips par ting feverishly beneath my own were tribute to this unspoken wish. “Bella…Bella… Oh, B ella…” I murmured frantically between kisses, barely aware of my own voice uttering her name, over and over again. -Edward and Bella Thus with a kiss, I die. Yes, maybe there was something to be said for Romeo and Juliet, after all. In that quote, I had my answer. And with this kiss, the man I had been for the past six months was dead. I was a new Edward – not quite the sa me as I was with Bella, but nothing like the man I was before her, or without he r. I was happy again, at last, but also much, much more selfish. Much more prote ctive of my love, and forever haunted by my past, but looking forward to a futur e with her. I would not leave her again. If it weren’t for Bella’s bothersome need f or oxygen, I would never have parted my lips from hers. Her body beneath my own was far too tempting – her slender waist, curvaceous hips, her legs entwined with mine… her body was a paradise I would never tire of. Unfortunately though, our kis s had to come to an end. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to part from her for too l ong. Instead, I relinquished my grip on her hair and brought my head down to res t above the ever-thumping heartbeat I was re-memorizing. I couldn’t help but lean my ear closer to her chest, listening in with breathless tranquility to the most perfect sound my mind could have possibly dredged up. The proof that she was he re, alive and well, with me. -Edward “By the way,” I told her, as her heart rate slowed. “I’m not leaving you.” I kept my tone casual, so that she would see the easy truth behind my words. But she said nothi ng in reply, and her silence was loud enough to voice a million doubts. “I’m not goi ng anywhere,” I assured her, cupping her chin with my hand to look into the brilli ant brown depths of her eyes. “Not without you. I only left you in the first place because I wanted you to have a chance at a normal, happy, human life. I could s ee what I was doing to you – keeping you constantly on the edge of danger, taking you away from the world you belonged in, risking your life every moment I was wi th you. So I had to try. I had to do something, and it seemed like leaving was t he only way. If I hadn’t thought you would be better off, I could never have made myself leave. I’m much too selfish. Only you could be more important than what I w anted… what I needed.” -Edward “What I want and need is to be with you, and I know I’ll never be strong enough to l eave again,” I continued with a smile. “I have too many excuses to stay – thank heaven for that! It seems you can’t be safe, no matter how many miles I put between us.” -Edward “It isn’t as if you hadn’t thought the first decision through, is it?” She guessed, as I recalled, with painful trepidation, those endless yet fleeting three days of to rment – trying and failing to withdraw myself from her side. “You’ll end up doing what you think is right.” “I’m not as strong a s you give me credit for,” I confessed sadly. “Right and wrong have ceased to mean m uch to me; I was coming back anyway. Before Rosalie told me the news, I was alre ady past trying to live through one week at a time, or even one day. I was fight ing to make it through a single hour. It was only a matter of time – and not much of it – before I showed up at your window and begged you to take me back. I’d be hap py to beg now, if you’d like that.” -Edward and Bella She scrunched her nose up in an adorable gesture of distaste. “Be serious, please.” “O h, I am,” I told her, glaring now at the doubtful expression on her face. “Will you please try to hear what I’m telling you? Will you let me attempt to explain what y ou mean to me?” -Edward and Bella “Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were s tars – points of light and reason… And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everythi ng was on
fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteo r had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but m y eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.” As I finished my speech, she was very still. I thoug ht I saw a flicker of… recognition in her eyes, but as I waited for her to speak, it dimmed. “Your eyes will adjust,” she mumbled. She sounded so sad at the thought. “T hat’s just the problem,” I told her gently. “They can’t.” -Edward and Bella “Just part of the lie, love,” I explained. We vampires usually were very easily dist racted – so many heightened senses to explore. But how could anything not remind me of Bella? “Ther e was no distraction from the… agony. My heart hasn t beat in almost ninety years, but this was different. It was like my heart was gone – like I was hollow. Like I’d left everything that was in side me here with you.” Bella frowned. “That’s funny.” I arched an eyebrow. As far as I was concerned , nothing had been funny for months. “Funny?” “I meant strange,” she clarified. “I thought it was just me. Lots of pieces of me went missing, too. I haven’t been able to re ally breathe in so long.” She took a deep breath, as if testing the air before sig hing almost happily in triumph. I now understood the luxuriating breaths she’d bee n taking since my arrival. “And my heart,” she continued, “That was definitely lost.” -Edward and Bella I didn’t see how such a thing could be possible, how such a loving creature could lose contact with the steady beats beneath her breast, but I didn’t question it. Instead, I res ted my head against her chest once more, closing my eyes and reveling in the bea utiful, steady beats I could hear there. Wherever it had been before, Bella’s hear t was back in place now. There was no doubt about it. And I would give anything to hear that sound for the rest of my existence with her. -Edward My suspicions and fears were confirmed: Bella was far too invested in this... as sociation... with the wolves. It was as unhealthy as her friendship with my fami ly, only whereas she could easily acknowledge the danger we posed to her, Bella thought her new pets to be no more than harmless dogs. Oh, Bella. When will you learn? Don’t trust him. Don’t trust me. Don’t even trust yourself – it’s been proven how f aulty your judgment is. Just run away and never look back. I was angry again – wit h her, with myself... and with him. The dog. I longed to explain the dangers of her friendship with him. I wanted to beg her to tell me everything: her even gre ater problem, the exact nature of her relationship with this ‘Jake’, every detail of her life since I had left her in September... I wanted to shake her and demand her to cut all ties with the adolescent wolves she spoke of, but I would never f orce her, and besides, I knew it would do no good. Bella was stubborn: too stubb orn for her own good. -Edward “You don’t have to be afraid,” I said anxiously, as, yet again, tears welled up behind her eyes. “I won’t let them hurt you.” “While you’re here,” she choked. I fought back a groan. How many times would I have to say it before she finally trusted me again? Not that I de served her trust. I knew that. “I. Will. Never. Leave. You. Again.” I told her empha tically. Never. She sniffled, but her eyes gleamed a little brighter. “But you sai d thirty,” she whispered. “What? You’re going to stay, but let me get all old anyway? Right.” Any emphatic response I could have used died in my throat as I remembered just how irrationally insecure Bella was over her age and appearance. She wasn’t t he vain or girly type, but her confidence had always been surprisingly low. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” I told her – staying with Bella for the remainder of he r life sounded like heaven, after all. “What choice have I? I cannot be without yo u, but I will not destroy your soul.” She looked as though she sincerely doubted t he authenticity of my claim. “Is this really...” she began, but then, infuriatingly, she broke off, mid-sentence. “?Yes?” I prompted. She didn’t elaborate, but switched t
acks. “But what about when I get so old that people think I’m your mother?” She whispe red. “You’re Grandmother?” She sounded revolted at the idea and her cheeks were as whi te as my own, only sparkling with tears instead of sunlight. I stared at her. Co uld she not see the beauty of old age? I allowed myself to imagine what growing old with Bella would be like. Giving her my mother’s ring, gently making love with her on our wedding night, buying our first house together, Bella giving birth t o our children, Bella teasing me about my age, Bella’s hair slowly turning grey… No. It was too much to think about, if only for a second. But I want it so much. I kissed her wet cheeks. “That doesn’t mean anything to me,” I whispered. “You will always be the most beautiful thing in my world.” -Edward and Bella “Of course, if you outgrew me...” I began, flinching as the pain flashed through me once more. But I knew I had to say this. “If you wanted something more... I would understand that, Bella. I promise I wouldn’t stand in your way if you wanted to le ave me.” It was the least I could offer, but also the hardest. Even ninety years o ld, withered and wrinkled, I knew without a doubt that I would long for her. I a lways would. I was a creature of stone. Unbendable. Irreversible. I would not ch ange. Bella’s eyes flickered open. They were shocked and suspicious. I couldn’t blam e her. “You do realize that I’ll die eventually, right?” She demanded. Yes. “I’ll follow a fter as soon as I can,” I promised. The Volturi shall see to that. I would die in sunlight, loved by Bella. It was a perfect ending. It is better to have loved a nd lost, than never to have loved at all. “That is seriously... sick.” “Bella,” I began, “it’s the only right way left –” “Let’s just back up for a minute,” she said loudly. She l ed furious. It seemed as though in her anger, she’d forgotten to whisper for Charl ie’s sake. “You do remember the Volturi, right? I can’t stay human forever. They’ll kill me. Even if they don’t think of me till I’m thirty, do you really think they’ll forge t?” I shook my head, slowly. “No, but...” “But?” I grinned at her angry impatience. Silly Bella. Of course I remembered the Volturi. But they were my escape route from th e pain of her death, not the cause of the agony I would undoubtedly suffer. And I was quite certain that they would never touch Bella again. “I have a few plans,” I admitted, still unable to hide my grin. Her glare was bitter enough to rival th at of Medusa, if it weren’t for the fact that Bella was impossibly lovelier. “And th ese... plans,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “These plans all center on me stayi ng human.” I glared, my humor forgotten. “Naturally.” We stared at each other for a fe w moments, exploring this new stalemate before us. Another impasse. A beat passe d. Bella pushed me away. “Do you want me to leave?” I asked her sadly, though I did my best to hide the pain. “No. I’m leaving,” she replied angrily, climbing out of bed to search for her shoes. My stomach dropped. No. No. No, Bella, no. Don’t leave me . No. “May I ask where you’re going?” I asked, trying to force the lump in my throat d own. This wasn’t it. Bella still loved me. We could sort through our problems toge ther. This wasn’t the end. It couldn’t be. “I’m going to your house,” she said irately, an d I relaxed. Noting the trouble she was having in the dull light, I jumped up to help with her search. “Here are your shoes,” I offered, though I was still uncomfor table with this situation. -Edward and Bella “How did you plan to get there?” “My truck.” “That will probably wake Charlie,” I countered It seemed to deter her for a brief second, but I could tell from the fiery glin t in her eye that she had decided on something, and nothing, not even common sen se, would change her mind. I’d seen this type of determination in her eyes before – driving home from Port Angeles, a lifetime ago. It was reckless and dangerous an d lovely. “I know. But honestly, I’ll be grounded for weeks as it is. How much more trouble can I really get in?” “None,” I protested, grasping at straws. “He’ll blame me, no t you.” I’ll make sure he doesn’t blame you. She raised her eyebrows, apparently not c onvinced. “If you have a better idea, I’m all ears.” “Stay here,” I pleaded. But I already knew her answer. “No dice. But you go ahead and make yourself at home.” She turned to leave, but I couldn’t let her. I was blocking her path before I was even aware of my movements. She glared at me and headed over to the window. But I’d seen her jump once before, and it was a sight that I would both never forget, and never w ant to repeat. “Okay,” I relented. “I’ll give you a ride.” Bella just shrugged, as if unco mmitted. “Either way. But you probably should be there too.” I knew what she was doi
ng; she was Hephaestus, forging her trap and waiting for me to fall into it. The bed we had been lying on was hung with invisible chains, waiting to ensnare me, and yet I couldn’t stop her. I was still completely in the dark, and while I stil l had a few tricks up my sleeve, her plan was a mystery to me. But I took her ba it anyway. “And why is that?” “Because you’re extraordinarily opinionated, and I’m sure yo u’ll want a chance to air your views.” The chains were already wrapping themselves a round me, but I couldn’t break free. She was still baiting me, toying with my unce rtainty. She was a stubborn and determined and obstinate little trickster and it was infuriating, yet I loved her for it. -Edward and Bella As if she could read my mind – as if she were the mind reader – she dropped her head onto my shoulder and chastely kissed the side of my neck. I closed my eyes, rel ishing in the warmth there – letting my other senses guide us safely through the t rees. “Thank you,” I told her. For the kiss or the transformation she had inspired i n me? For both. My latest epiphany was still clear in my mind. Bella’s scent was a ll around me, but I welcomed the fire she brought. It made the experience all th e more powerful, all the more real. Speaking of which... “Does that mean you’ve deci ded you’re awake?” She laughed – a beautiful sound. “Not really,” she admitted. “More that, either way, I’m not trying to wake up. Not tonight.” I sighed. I still couldn’t quite believe how backwards our situation had become. Bella believed she wasn’t worthy o f my love, refused to believe that I wouldn’t abandon her again! OF all the absurd , ridiculous ideas she’d had in the past, this was by far the most unrealistic. Ye t, I knew that it was my entire fault. And if Bella’s lack of faith was the bigges t consequence of my actions, it was a price I’d gladly pay to feel her in my arms again. Still... “I’ll earn your trust back somehow,” I vowed, thinking aloud. “If it’s my final act.” I felt Bella’s hair brush against my shoulders as she shook her head beh ind me. “I trust you,” she assured me. “It’s me I don’t trust.” -Edward and Bella “Explain that, please.” She fiddled nervously with the strands of hair at the nape o f my neck. “Well... I don’t trust myself to be enough,” she explained, as my heart dro pped like a weight. “To... deserve you. There’s nothing about me that could hold you .” I let the absurdity of her statement sink in. Nothing? Not one thing? Oh, Bella . How little you know me. How little you know yourself. Scooping her from my bac k and onto her feet, I barely gave her the chance to steady herself before pulli ng her into an embrace. Just a simple hug weakened my defenses around her. Could she not see how deeply affected I was by her very presence? Could she not feel that pull between our bodies? “Your hold is permanent and unbreakable,” I told her. “N ever doubt that.” -Edward “You never did tell me...,” I murmured, almost to myself. Her eyes fluttered open. “Wh at?” “What your greatest problem is.” She smiled sweetly, as if our conversation were about something she loved rather than loathed. “I’ll give you one guess,” she murmured , reaching up to tap my nose affectionately. I understood her meaning and fought hard to conceal my chagrin. “I’m worse than the Volturi,” I sighed with a grim nod of realization. “I guess I’ve earned that.” And I knew without a doubt that I had. I’d put Bella’s life in so much danger, leaving her unprotected and alone. Bella rolled h er eyes and shook her head at me. “The worst the Volturi can do is kill me,” she sai d, as if that explained everything. I waited impatiently for a more illuminating explanation. “You can leave me,” she finally concluded. “The Volturi, Victoria... the y’re nothing compared to that.” If it were possible, her words stung more than they had when I’d assumed she hated me. Because although it was now painfully obvious t hat she did return my feelings, I found myself wondering. How could she love me, when all her love did was cause her pain? Pain that I could see in her eyes – dep thless and unfathomable. “Don’t,” she whispered, reaching for me, igniting fire with h er touch. “Don’t be sad.” I tried to shape my expression into a smile, for Bella’s sake, but I knew I couldn’t fool her. How could she see through my lies so well, and ye t fail to grasp the undeniable truth? “If there was only some way to make you see that I can’t leave you,” I said, still leaning into her touch. “Time, I suppose, will be the way to convince you.” “Okay,” Bella said, so quickly that I couldn’t resist retur ning her smile, strained though it was. Time with Bella sounded good... but then
, our time so far had been so very short, and our time to come would be short, t oo. I had no doubts now that I was not made for eternity. I would survive until Bella’s death and no further. There was not enough time for us in eternity. -Edward and Bella My daughter inadvertently rescues me from a purposeless afternoon by leaving Ja cob to his lunch preparations and crawling into my lap. In her tiny hands she c lutches one of Esme s sketchpads and a box of crayons. Setting the pad neatly o n her outstretched legs, Renesmee positions the flipped open box beside my righ t hip and touches my forearm as she peruses her color choices with the same int ensity of any artist. I see in her mind that she wants to draw a picture of our family, so I pluck a pale almond crayon from the box and offer it to her, sugg esting, "Why don t you start with Momma?" She twists around to beam up at me a nd then sets herself to the task at hand. I can tell from the way she holds the crayon that she has been paying attention to Esme – and she may possess the creat ive talent naturally, I speculate to myself as she outlines an amazingly propor tionate version of Bella on the paper. "What color should we make her hair?" I say to the little girl, though my eyes have already picked out the shade that m ost closely resembles the rich brown of Bella s silken tresses. Renesmee ponder s for a moment, studying her options, and then selects that precise color, addin g a long mass of chocolate hair to the drawn figure. A vibrant blue catches my eye, and immediately I pull it from the box, the crystalline memory of cream-an d-roses skin swathed in indigo chiffon dancing We go on in this fashion – Renesmee creating small images of each member of our family and me offering suggestions about which colors to use – until it is time for the finishing touches. Very car efully, she adds facial features to every face, beginning with the black-haired pixie at the far end of the paper. Unlike the last time she saw her aunt, Renes mee draws a wide smile on Alice s face, making her eyes a metallic gold that im itates the sparkle that always seems to light up her entire countenance. As sh e moves on to Jasper, I brush my thumb along the edge of my sister s smiling fi gure, wishing that I could know where she is, if she is safe, if we ll ever see her or my brother again… A small hand pats my arm impatiently, and I awaken from my somber reverie. Renesmee has finished with every face except for her mother s. She pictures Bella in her mind, emphasizing the vivid scarlet-amber hue of h er eyes, and wonders if she should make them that color in the illustration, or if they should be the same as mine. "They ll be gold soon, sweetheart," I rem ind her softly. "Why don t you make them that color in your picture so you can see how pretty Momma will look." Thinking that a grand idea, the little girl pr omptly wields the gold crayon and colors in Bella s eyes, her sense of pride sw elling as she surveys her finished product. No detail has been overlooked. Even the representation of herself has a yellow-gold cord around her neck, with a t iny circle dangling beneath her throat. "A masterpiece," I assure her, kissing the top of her curly head. The brilliance of her smile rivals the radiant glow of the sun. "But an artist should always sign her work," I remark, thoughtful. The upturned corners of her mouth droop a little. "I don t know how," she admit s aloud sadly. Renesmee understands letters and the written word, but has yet t o learn how to form them with her own hand. "I ll help you." Enclosing her sma ll hand with mine, I guide her crayon across the bottom of the paper, explainin g as we go, "This is R, then E, then N…E – S – M – E – E. See? Renesmee." For good measu re, we add her last name as well, and then I encourage her to show her masterpie ce to Esme and Carlisle. Their awed exclamations ring joyfully through the lowe r part of the house, and I laugh quietly when Esme declares that she has to fin d a frame for the picture, wasting no time as she whisks Renesmee upstairs to h er studio. -Edward and Renessmee “My family is almost home” I told Bella. Then I lifted her hand’s up to my lips and ki ssed it. “I had a lovely evening with you. I can’t wait for this to be officially yo ur home, too” -Edward She huffed, sinking down onto her bed, and pulled her knee’s to her chest. “I expect ed him to be angry, disappointed, even furious, but to laugh? How could I expect
anyone to take me seriously if my own father…” “Shh” I soothed, sitting beside her and wrapping my arm around her shoulders. ”It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. I love you, and I want to make you my wife, if that’s what you want too than that’s all th at matters.” “I know, your right” she said, nuzzling into my chest. -Edward and Bella “I ll see you tomorrow,” she said dismally, and the same look she d had when I first told her I was leaving was back on her face. “It seems like a long time to you, d oesn t it?” I asked, still in disbelief that she was so eager to be with me. I sm iled when she nodded, thinking about how hours and days used to pass by in a blu r, but now, even minutes spent away from Bella felt like an eternity. -Edward She was my Bella and I was her Edward. -Edward It was the eve of my wedding, our wedding. I was marrying the most beautiful wom an in the world. She wanted me and I more than wanted her and nothing was going to change that. -Edward I allowed myself to imagine what growing old with Bella would be like. Giving he r my mother’s ring, gently making love with her on our wedding night, buying our f irst house together, Bella giving birth to our children, Bella teasing me about my age, Bella’s hair slowly turning grey… -Edward Bella the most beautiful, wonderful, and perfect creature in the world wanted to marry me. This beautiful earth bound angle wanted to marry me. Me! -Edward Who was I to deserve her? She was so kind, giving, and loving -Edward I couldn’t wait to marry her -Edward I miss my mom’s crazy cooking, the way that even though he rarely showed it my dad cared about me more than anything in the world, the way my mom would have crazy ideas, like once we planned this whole big trip to Mexico we never went but it was fun to plan, and when Jake took me out on our first date my dad said ‘if you t ry anything with my daughter, I will kill you’’ -Bella She already married you once. why would she want to do it again? -Emmett I love you.” I told Edward as we danced. “I love you too.” He said -Edward and Bella Bella you need to leave this place you will die if you stay. I’ll be fine Edward, I promised to stay with you in sickness and in health. I’m not leaving you just b ecause you are sick. He gave up arguing when Carlisle walked up. -Edward and Bella Edward, you are about to be in an intense amount of pain, but it will be all rig ht and I will be here the whole time -Bella I placed my hands on her stomach, drawn by something deep inside me. I needed, w anted to hear more, to understand. Bella s voice was remembered again and again, and radiant happiness flowed through the mind into mine. The f- I paused, reali zing even as I spoke something crucial was altering. Suddenly, I could not use t hat word, and the cold anger it represented. It… The word stuck in my throat. Tent atively, not really sure yet what I was saying, what I was acknowledging, I chos e the term that had fallen from Bella and Rosalie s lips so many times before, b ut never from mine. The baby likes the sound of your voice," I whispered in a ro ugh voice, my hands feeling the gentle, minute movements under Bella s skin, as the universe swirled -Edward "It…he or she," I paused. Could I tell that the mind was male, or was it just Bell a s surety that influenced my thoughts? I looked up into her eyes. They were cre sting with unmistakable emotion, glowing with adoration and happiness. I felt so
me sort of guard, some barrier, beginning to slip, move away. The fact of what I saw in this mind was so incredible, so unexpected, but so simple. "He s happy," I said, my voice sounding so unlike my own, curving with wonder I didn t know e xisted. Diamond tears formed in Bella s eyes, gliding down her cheeks, each shim mering with their own individual prism of light and color. -Edward "He loves you," I said softly, feeling the absolute truth of the words flow thro ugh me, and spread out to fill the space surrounding us with wonder. "He absolut ely adores you." -Edward We were one now, the three of us. Our lives would be forever entwined. I gave my self over to the miracle, and was consumed by a fierce love and tenderness for b oth of them. And then, barely distinguishable from the thundering of Bella s blo od, it emerged, strong and alive - the quick flutter of a separate heart. -Edward "Where s he going?" whispered Bella. I turned back, and her eyes were troubled. I knelt back quickly beside her. "Shh," I murmured, pressing a hand to her chee k. "He just needs to get out, get some air. Let him go, Bella." Let him go. I pu t my other hand on her stomach, caressing gently, and her gaze softened as she l ooked down. Her happiness was too overwhelming to keep at bay right now. -Edward and Bella Too tight. Discomfort suddenly creased the child s thoughts, slightly overwhelmi ng, the unavoidable urge to… Bella gasped, grabbing her stomach, teeth clenched to gether. "Oh," she panted. The child was desperately trying to restrain his movem ents, control slowly being regained. The pressure ceased, and Bella s face relax ed, color slowly returning. Remorse, cold and unhappy, washed through the child s mind. I marveled at his stunning ability to understand the effect of his actio ns. Amazing. "It s Ok, little one," I murmured, stroking my hand over Bella s st omach. -Edward and Bella "Oh, Edward," Bella breathed. Her heartbeat quickened, and she reached out and c lenched my hand with hers. "And you, really, now…you re happy? You…want him?" "It s hard to describe," I said quietly. "I see, now, that he belongs with us. I see t hat he is good, and kind, and how much he loves you. Just like I do." I closed m y eyes, almost wishing for a moment I could come down into his world where there was truly nothing but her. -Edward and Bella Rosalie sat up. "See, Edward," she said. "You were totally wrong about him!" "Oh , Bella," I whispered, looking down at her in despair. Bella grew still, her eye s on mine. "Rose, could you give us a moment alone, please," she said softly. "O h, Bella," I whispered, looking down at her in despair. Bella grew still, her ey es on mine. "Rose, could you give us a moment alone, please," she said softly. R ose evaluated me for a second, and then got up silently and left. I took a coupl e of steps backward, almost feeling as though I should leave. I was a wretched c urse on her, something that could do no right. She shouldn t want me near her, o r our baby. I was a menace to those I loved. "Edward," Bella groaned. "Please, don t do this." "But Bella," I choked out. "After what I wanted to do, after wha t I tried to do when we got home from the island…" "It s OK, Edward," Bella said s oothingly. "I understand, I always understood." "Bella." My voice was rough. "I m so, so…" "No, Edward," Bella said firmly, although tears were beginning to spark le again in her eyes. "Do not apologize. You were just trying to keep me safe. I know that." "Bella," I moaned. "I was wrong, again. Always wrong, always trying to help you but ultimately hurting you. You needed me so badly during this time , and I wasn t there for you. I didn t trust you or listen to you. I tried to un dermine everything you wanted." I looked up at the ceiling, shaking my head. "Bl ind, and stupid, unable and unwilling to try to understand." I looked back and s aw tears rolling down her cheeks, her head slowly moving from side to side. "You are so forgiving, so kind," I whispered. "But I was wrong." "No," Bella said, h er voice coarse with tears. "There is nothing to forgive. You don t need to be s orry. You didn t know, then." "Do you understand now, though," she said softly,
"what I felt in that moment when I knew I wanted him?" "Yes," I whispered. "Then that s all I need to know." -Edward, Bella, and Rosalie "Please, Bella," I said gently. "I am so, so sorry. I should have listened to yo u, trusted your instincts." I paused, trying to frame my thoughts, understand wh at I was striving for. "I am your husband, and I need to do more than just prote ct you. I need to hear you. To see you." I moved my hand up to curve around her cheek. "You are the whole world to me, and I should have supported you. I m sorr y." "You don t need to apologize, but...thank you." Her acceptance washed over me, pushing the darkness aside, and, for now, I let the light in. I felt a smile form on my face, and her expression filled with delight. My phone buzzed in my pocket again. Ignoring it, I leant down and pressed my lips to Bella s, breathin g her in, tasting her on my tongue. -Edward and Bella "I love you, I love you, I love you," I said, kissing her cheeks and eyes and ne ck. Her hands gripped my shoulders. "I love you, too, Edward," she sighed. "So m uch." -Edward and Bella I lay my head on her stomach again, closing my eyes. Bella s hands caressed my h ead, and she laughed. "What is he thinking now?" she said. But it was dark and q uiet inside her now, peaceful, a musical murmur of sounds like water running thr ough a brook cascading through the mind. "Resting, I think," I said, chuckling. I felt a deep and fundamental satisfaction. "I can t wait to hold him," she muse d. -Edward and Bella I grasped Bella s hands in mine. "I will save you, Bella. Both of you. You will hold him in your arms. I promise you that." "You really want to save him, too?" Bella said, her voice cracking, eyes beacons of trust. I nodded, but then I felt a strange tearing inside, as a terrible thought, a newly exposed edge to my pri orities lanced through me like a blade. What if I could not save them both at th e same time? What if I was handed the power of deciding who to save? I had to be lieve that fate would not be so cruel. Bella sucked in her breath, seeing the su dden conflict in my eyes, knowing me too well, and a look of desperation flashed on her face. The child, more alert from Bella s anxiety, shifted slightly, eyes open, watching the stars within his own private galaxy. Bella grabbed at me, ca tching my sleeve with her hand and twisting it in her fist. -Edward and Bella
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