“Renesmee Carlie Cullen, if I hear one more word of complaint, I will turn this into a two-day trip,” Aunt Alice threatened, her dark-gold eyes narrowing.
I winced at the idea, and promptly shut my mouth.
“Wise decision,” Mom murmured as we slid into the backseat of Aunt Alice’s freshly-polished Porsche.
“This is completely ridiculous, Renesmee. We’re not even out of Vancouver yet, and you’re already whining,” Aunt Alice continued.
I blanched. “What do you mean, ‘out of Vancouver yet’? Aren’t we shopping here?”
She and Adelaide laughed. “Nessie, you dear child, of course not.”
“Where are we going?”
“Edmonton is very nice this time of year,” Adelaide said.
“Edmonton? You’re taking us all the way to Edmonton?”
“It’s only three hours.”
I did the calculation quickly in my head. “Sure, if you’re going at top speed!”
I groaned. My family was notorious for being speed maniacs. Uncle Emmett’s love for speed had been the demise of his Jeep Wrangler several years earlier. He’d been drag racing with Jacob through the forests of Washington when, according to his version of the story, Jacob had distracted him and he had crashed it into a tree while going one hundred and fifty-five miles an hour. According to Jacob, Uncle Emmett had turned around in his seat to make an impolite gesture, and then had slammed into the tree. Of the two, Jacob’s seemed far more believable.
I sighed and glanced out the window. The sun threatened to burst through the veil of clouds, but Aunt Alice had assured us that we would be fine on that front. As if I should be so lucky.
“So where’re the guys going, anyway?” asked Mom. “Edward said that they have something planned for today.”
“Well, I think they were going to go for a hunt first –” Aunt Alice began to say as she pulled out of the garage. Aunt Rose, Tara and Grandma Esme followed in Aunt Rose’s shiny red convertible.
“Wait a second,” Mom said. “They get to hunt while you torture us with a shopping trip?”
“If you’d let me finish,” Aunt Alice said icily, “I would have told you that after they hunt, they’re going shopping as well.”
I grimaced. Poor Jacob.
“Well why does Carlisle get to stay home?” Mom asked as we passed Grandpa Carlisle’s Mercedes.
“He doesn’t. He’s going with them.”
“How did you manage to convince them to go shopping?” asked Adelaide with genuine interest.
Aunt Alice’s eyes rested on me in the mirror briefly. “Uh…well, something’s going to happen, for which a present will be required.”
I thought for a moment. Nobody had a birthday coming up that I knew of, or an anniversary, although I was still a little shaky on the Winters’ significant dates. And why had Aunt Alice looked at me? “When did you and Rob get married, Adelaide?”
Adelaide glanced at me. “June 25, 1977. Why?”
“No reason, I just wanted to make sure that I had all of the dates straight in my head. What about Ian and Tara?”
“April 11, 1989, but it was hardly a wedding,” she said. “It was a ceremony beside a pond in Moose Jaw. There were hardly even any guests.”
“What?” Aunt Alice asked in genuine horror. “Why haven’t you spoken of this before?”
Tara just gets defensive if I bring it up.”
“That is completely unacceptable!” Aunt Alice exclaimed. “We have to rectify this situation.”
Adelaide’s eyes sparkled with interest. “What did you have in mind?”
Aunt Alice smiled brilliantly, exposing her perfect white teeth. “We need to plan a second wedding for her.”
“Oh dear,” Mom grumbled.
“Bella, don’t make me come back there,” Aunt Alice said sternly, glaring at Mom in the mirror. “I said no complaining.”
Mom didn’t voice her thoughts aloud again, but I heard her mumbling unintelligibly.
I was afraid to look out the window. High speeds had never been something that I’d particularly enjoyed, although Uncle Emmett, Dad and Jacob had been trying valiantly to change that for as long as I could remember.
I sighed. This was going to be a very long day without my Jacob.
Mom glanced at me. “You okay?”
I’m just missing Jacob, I told her using my gift.
She half-smiled. “You really love him, don’t you?”
It took me a moment to process the fact that she was really asking. “I really do,” I replied. How could this possibly be a question?
Mom sighed now. She muttered something under her breath. I couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like, “My baby…”
I half-smiled and laid my head on her shoulder. “I’ll always be here, Momma.”
She patted my hand. “I know. I’m just being sentimental again.”
I awoke with a start. I hadn’t realized that I’d fallen asleep.
“Nessie, we’re here,” Adelaide said, turning around in her seat to shake me gently.
I straightened up slowly. My neck was stiff from having leaned on my mother for the past three hours.
“So, where do you want to go first?” Aunt Alice asked as we climbed out of the Porsche. “It’s your choice, Nessie.”
My heart sank as I took in my surroundings. Trendy designer storefronts lined either side of the bustling street. Sky scrapers rose in every direction. The sky was veiled in dark clouds that promised a storm. The cold bite in the air seemed to confirm it.
I recognized some of the names on the elegant signs hung above the stores; it was the consequence of having lived with Aunt Alice my entire life. “Uh…let’s go with…that one,” I said, pointing to a random shop.
“Excellent choice,” Aunt Alice said, hooking her arm through mine. Mom and I exchanged glances as Aunt Alice dragged us down the street in the direction of the store I’d chosen.
“Where’re the others?” asked Mom as we wove our way through the throng of pedestrians.
“They’re only a few minutes away,” Aunt Alice said. “I’m going to call them in two minutes to let them know where we are.”
As we stepped through the glass doors of the boutique, a strange rush of smells hit me: cotton, metal, denim, leather, wool, window cleaner, paper, the clerk’s scent and a collection of perfumes.
The blonde clerk looked up from the magazine she’d been reading. She smiled at us. “Hello. Can I help you with anything?”
“I think we’re just fine, thank you,” Aunt Alice said politely as she unhooked her arm from mine. She and Adelaide raced ahead of Mom and me and began scouring the racks.
“So what do we do now?” I whispered to Mom.
in my unfortunate experience, we just stand here and try things on when told.”
Aunt Rose, Grandma Esme and Tara appeared just as Aunt Alice had said. Aunt Rose stood with us at first, but I caught her looking longingly at the endless rows of merchandise.
“Rose,” Mom said. “It’s okay. You can go with them.”
Aunt Rose sighed in relief. “Thanks, Bella.” She rushed to join Aunt Alice and Adelaide, Grandma Esme trailing after her.
“Tara, we should probably warn you,” Mom said as Tara joined us. “Adelaide spilled the beans about your wedding. She and Alice are planning you another one.”
Aunt Alice’s head snapped in our direction. She cast Mom a disapproving glare. “Thanks a lot, Bella,” I heard her mutter.
Tara grimaced. “I knew it would happen sooner or later.”
I grimaced sympathetically. My breath caught in my throat as I realized that in a little less than a year, it would be my turn.
Several hours of aimless meandering ensued. We had to refocus Aunt Alice and Adelaide several times, but they were generally good about staying on task. By midday, the Porsche’s trunk was nearly filled to capacity.
“So,” I said as I surveyed the array of shopping bags crammed together. “We’re done, right?” I ought to have known better.
“Not nearly,” Aunt Alice said brightly as Adelaide passed her yet another shopping bag. “We still have to get to the west side.”
I concentrated on not groaning as I played with my promise bracelet.
Finally, after four long, unbearable hours, I heard Aunt Alice give an elated gasp. “I – I don’t quite believe it,” she stammered. “But I think I’ve found it! Adelaide! Rose!”
Adelaide flashed to Aunt Alice’s side. After a brief of inspection, a brilliant smile illuminated her face. “I think you’re right, Alice.”
I felt a spark of hope.
“Nessie, put this on,” Aunt Alice said excitedly.
My hope crashed and burned. I cringed away from it and shot her a dark look.
Aunt Alice’s excitement faded. She glared at Mom suddenly. “Do you see what you’ve done here, Bella?”
Mom sensibly kept whatever reply she’d been planning tacit.
“Just put it on, Nessie.”
Adelaide and Aunt Alice both stared at me uncomprehendingly. In my peripheral vision, I saw Tara, Mom, Aunt Rose and Grandma Esme flinch.
“No?” Aunt Alice asked after a long moment of unnerving silence. “I don’t follow you…”
For a second, I contemplated surrendering. “No, I will not wear the dress,” I clarified warily.
Her eyes narrowed to slits instantly. “Oh, you will wear the dress. Now, you may hate ever moment that you spend in it, but you will look fabulous. So trust me when I tell you, Renesmee Carlie Cullen, you will wear that dress.”
I knew rationally that Aunt Alice would never harm me, but the menace in her voice and the terrifyingly-vampiric expression with which she scalded made that particularly difficult to reassure myself of. Combined with the bone-chilling, hair-raising glare that my rebellion had merited from Adelaide, I swiftly forgot whatever grounds I’d had for an objection.
“I can scarcely believe it, but she actually doesn’t like the dress,” Adelaide said coldly, her eyes still locked on me.
“I know,” Aunt Alice replied calmly. “But by all that is holy, Nessie, I will undo the years of fashion-deprivation that Bella has inflicted upon you.” She sighed and looked away sadly. “I knew it was a mistake to let the four of you vacation alone last summer.”
“What happened?” Adelaide asked hesitantly, her gaze shifting to Aunt Alice.
Aunt Alice shuddered visibly. “Bella and Nessie came back with…sweat pants and T-shirts.”
Adelaide gasped in over-dramatic horror.
“Oh come on, you guys, it’s not like I bought her heroin,” Mom said, rolling her eyes.
“You may as well have,” Aunt Alice said sourly. “They’re equally destructive. Bella, when she was a baby, you promised me–”
“Begrudgingly promised you,” Mom added.
“But you promised nonetheless,” Aunt Alice continued. “That you would allow me to dress her.”
I looked at my mother in horrified disbelief. Surely she would never sell me out like that? “You did what?”
Mom flinched. “Your…beloved aunt threatened–”
“Offered,” Aunt Alice corrected.
Mom glowered at her. “–To take, no kidnap me and force me to go on a two-week shopping spree across Europe if I didn’t. I’m sorry. I truly thought she’d go easier on you.”
I had to admit, that was a brilliant, albeit gruesome ultimatum. I probably would have done the same.
Adelaide shrieked suddenly from across the room.
I started, as did the clerk. I hadn’t noticed her move.
“I’ve found another one!” she crowed joyfully.
Aunt Alice thrust the dress at me again, which I took unquestioningly as she pranced over to Adelaide, Aunt Rose following.
“Do you want to make a run for it?” Mom asked after we’d listened to the little huddle’s gasps of approval and steady stream of critical conversation for several tortuous moments.
“Bella, you will do no such thing,” Aunt Alice said over her shoulder.
Mom cursed quietly.
“You will do no such thing because we have just found you the perfect dress,” Adelaide said as she proudly displayed the garment.
Mom blinked. “It’s…poufy.”
I patted her arm comfortingly. “Don’t worry, Momma, I’m sure Dad won’t make you go.”
“Au contraire, my dear niece,” Aunt Alice said with a diabolical grin. “He already has.”
Mom and I gasped. “No....Alice, tell me you’re lying.”
“She’s not,” Adelaide interjected. “I would know.” She tapped her temple.
Mom blanched as she stared at Aunt Alice, who was becoming more amused by the moment. “Wh-Wh…How? How did you get Edward to agree to this?”
“You know, it’s quite shocking what Edward will agree to when one threatens the shiny silver paint job on his Volvo with, say…a rock?”
“Damn, that was crafty!” Mom muttered.
There were really only two things that would motivate my father enough to agree to something like this, and they were A) threatening his family and B) threatening his cars, which Aunt Alice well knew.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said. “But maybe it won’t be so bad.”
“Renesmee Cullen,” said Aunt Alice, only now noticing that I was still there. “Why aren’t you wearing that dress yet?” She whisked me off to the change rooms before I had a chance to reply.
I changed slowly, just to annoy her, and was rewarded with several exasperated sighs and more than the occasional insistence that I hurry up.
When I finally opened the door and stepped out, everyone gasped. The clerk dropped the cell phone she’d been speaking into. Colour rushed to my face. “That bad?” I asked self-consciously, instinctively shrinking back towards the changing stall.
Aunt Alice stared at me in complete amazement. “That good,” she whispered. “Turn,” she commanded, motioning with her finger.
“Alice…” Adelaide said, drifting dazedly towards me. “Alice, we did it. She looks…” After grasping at words for several seconds, she finished with, “Unbelievable.”
I studied myself in the massive mirror that took up the entire back wall. The dress was a white halter-style floor-length number, decorated with glitter. Even I had to admit, it was beautiful.
Aunt Alice turned towards the changing room that was adjacent mine. “Bella, how’s it coming?”
“Alice, you are pure evil.”
Aunt Alice grinned. “That well? Excellent.”
I changed back quickly and handed Aunt Alice the dress. She went to purchase it as we waited for Mom to emerge.
My jaw fell open. Her dress was cream-coloured and strapless, and was decorated with an elaborate beaded pattern at the waist and hem. She looked absolutely magnificent. “Wow, Mom.”
She sighed, flustered. “Alice, can I take this ridiculous thing off yet?”
“Yes, yes,” Aunt Alice said dismissively, although a smile stretched across her face from ear-to-ear.
“I hate high school,” Mom mumbled darkly.
* * *
The day of the winter formal arrived. Over the weeks leading up to the dreaded day, it was impossible to walk down through the school hallways without seeing a poster taped to a locker or a news board, announcing in bold black letters the date of the winter formal and encouraging the students to purchase their tickets before they ran out.
“OW!” I cried out in pain as Aunt Alice took out her excitement on my long bronze ringlets with a hairbrush.
She sighed irately. “If you would just hold still…”
“OW!” I snatched the brush from her. “You’re fired.” I handed it to Aunt Rose with a pleading look as my scalp tingled painfully.
“Well if you hadn’t been so late getting up, I wouldn’t have had to rush, now would I?” Aunt Alice said as she set about sorting through her collection of hair products.
I had no reply for that. Aunt Rose guided the brush carefully through my hair. “It always amazes me how exactly your hair colour matches Edward’s.”
“Where is Dad, anyway?” I inquired.
I caught Aunt Alice and Aunt Rose exchange a look that I clearly was not supposed to have seen. “He’s uh…out,” Aunt Alice informed me.
“I’m not sure, exactly,” Aunt Alice said, pursing her lips.
I glanced at Aunt Rose for an explanation, but she ignored me and continued brushing.
Alarm bells exploded through my head as I saw Aunt Alice pick up a tube of facial cream. “No,” I said flatly. “Aunt Alice, I thought I said no skin treatments.”
“Oh grow a backbone, Nessie,” she said chidingly as she opened it with an ominous crack. “It’s not like I’m trying to slather acid on your face.”
“That would be preferable,” I said, my eyes following the bottle.
She rolled her eyes and began to cover my face with the stuff.
By seven o’clock that evening, we were ready. I still hadn’t seen Jacob all day, and I was anxious to see how he would look. I couldn’t imagine him being any handsomer than he usually was, but Aunt Alice had told me to expect to be pleasantly surprised.
The women of the house – with the exception of Grandma Esme – were congregated in the bathroom. Aunt Alice, Aunt Rose and Adelaide were making the final touches to their appearances. As I looked around, I felt appropriately plain amongst all of the raging beauties in my family.
Aunt Rose had chosen a flattering shiny red dress and ridiculously high heeled black stiletto shoes. Her honey-coloured hair styled into an elegant bun, diamond earrings glittering at her ears. Aunt Alice had opted for a dramatic purple silk dress littered with rhinestones and sequins that fell just above her knees. Her shoes were a glossy black and silver and made her almost as tall as me. Mom, who had admitted defeat, wore the dress purchased for her and even allowed Aunt Alice to lend her a pair of white shoes and jewellery. Tara wore an enviably-simple teal dress and strappy black shoes. Apparently Adelaide had let her off easy. Adelaide’s dress was dark blue, to match one of the many shades in her stunning blue eyes. It bordered on ridiculous with its flowery sequined pattern. Like Aunt Alice’s, it glittered with rhinestones. At her throat was an elaborate crystal choker.
“So, who’s going with whom?” I asked finally.
“I’m sure Edward will have that arranged by now,” Aunt Alice said. “Let’s ask.”
I threaded my arms through the sleeves of a dress coat from the rack hung by the door as we followed their voices outside to the front of the house.
I blinked in surprise. There were six unfamiliar cars parked across the snowy lawn.
“Oh, they brought my car!” Adelaide squealed from behind me as she bounded out of the house, gathering her skirt up as she hastened down the steps.
Dad, Jacob, Rob, Uncle Emmett and Uncle Jasper were discussing cars in the doorway of the open garage. They all wore differently-styled black tuxes with vests the same colour as the dress of their respective dates, but for me, there was one obvious stand-out.
Jacob was reminiscent of a russet-skinned god in his expensive-looking black tuxedo, even better than Aunt Alice had promised.
I watched with amusement as Rob’s eyes widened when he caught sight of Adelaide, who was opening the door of a grey convertible. I could hardly blame him; she looked stunning.
“Whoa!” Jacob shouted suddenly.
My eyes flashed back to him quickly, wondering at the cause of the disturbance. I felt a familiar blush light my face as I realized that he was staring at me, his mouth in the shape of an “O”. He began to stumble towards us as though in a trance.
Aunt Alice beamed proudly at me.
I rolled my eyes.
“Wo-ow,” Jacob said, stretching the word out appreciatively as he stood back to look at me. I shifted uncomfortably, my face and ears blazing. “Nessie, you look…wow.”
“Wow yourself,” I said, still blushing as I looked over his tuxedo again.
“Sure, sure,” he said sarcastically, although I caught sight of a slight blush spreading under his skin. He tried again. “You look…yeah, still drawing a blank.”
I giggled as he wove his warm fingers through mine.
Dad was smiling as he joined us. “He’s right, Nessie,” he said softly. His liquid butterscotch eyes flickered to Jacob. “Jacob, I think Alice would like to know who will be going in which cars. Perhaps you could inform her of the arrangements?”
I glanced over at Aunt Alice, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the grey car, watching the exchange between Dad, Jacob and me with a smug smile. I could practically hear the “I told you so” radiating off of her.
“Okay,” Jacob said reluctantly as he released my hand. He cast me another lingering glance over his shoulder as he crossed the yard.
Dad sighed slightly, his eyes growing sad.
I frowned. “What is it, Daddy?”
He brushed my cheek with his frigid fingers. “Every time I blink, you get more grown up. I think I finally understand your Grandpa Charlie a little better.”
grinned and hugged him. “It was bound to happen eventually.”
He slid his arms around me. “I know.” After a moment, we drew apart. “Where’s your mother?”
“Right here,” Mom said as she descended the front steps carefully. She was as graceful a vampire as I’d ever seen, but old habits died hard.
Shock and delight spread across my father’s face. “Just when I become convinced that you can’t get anymore beautiful…” he trailed off.
I shuffled away from them. I didn’t want to be there when things got awkward. I made my way over to Jacob, who was still talking with Aunt Alice and Adelaide. I shook my head and chuckled. The yard looked like a parking lot. “So are these really all your cars?” I asked Adelaide with disbelief.
She nodded as she followed my gaze. “Yes. My husband has a bit of a car problem.”
She opened the door and got out. “I’ll show you which one belongs to whom.” She pointed first to a slinky black car with an impossibly glossy paintjob that looked impressive despite the gathering darkness. “That’s Rob’s Rolls-Royce Phantom. It’s probably the most lavish luxury car that money can afford. It’s a wonderful car, really. He lets me borrow if from time to time.” She pointed to the red car parked adjacent it. “That’s Rob’s other car. He uses that when the occasion calls for more subtlety.” Subtle was hardly a word that I would ever have connected to such a vehicle. “It’s a Novitec Rosso Ferrari 599 GTB. It’s got lots of lovely features, but he likes it because it goes fast.” I had no trouble believing that based on its streamlined appearance.
She identified the gunmetal-coloured car at its side as Ian and Tara’s Mercedes Benz, her own BMW, Tara’s Lexus, Rob’s Phantom and Ian’s Audi.
I frowned. “Wait, so if Ian has a car and Tara has a car, why do Ian and Tara share a car?”
Adelaide shrugged. “Rob gets a little irrational when placed in an environment with highly-priced cars.” She paused to consider that statement. “Well, to be honest, it’s rather like putting an alcoholic in a liquor store.”
I laughed. “Or you and Aunt Alice in a boutique?”
She shrugged, forced to concede to that point.
“Hey!” Uncle Emmett called from the garage. “We’re going to be late if we don’t get going soon!”
Suddenly, Jacob was at my side again. “Come on,” he urged. “I want to take you somewhere before we go to the dance.”
I frowned with mild confusion, but followed willingly. When I glanced back over my shoulder, everyone had stopped to watch us. My aunts exchanged knowing glances with my parents.
Whatever was going on, it was big. I felt a little thrill of excitement as I followed Jacob behind the house and in the direction of our trail.
“Close your eyes,” he said gently.
Now I was really suspicious. Nevertheless, I closed my eyes obediently and allowed him to guide me for a while, my mind racing with possibilities.
“Okay,” his voice, suddenly nervous, whispered in my ear. “You can open your eyes.”
I gasped at what I saw. The surrounding trees were strung with white lights, illuminating the clearing with a picturesque glow. Snow began to drift in fat, lazy white puffs from the black star-studded sky. The ground was littered with red rose petals.
“Jacob, this is amazing.”
He shifted his weight nervously. “Yeah, well…most of it was Alice and Esme.”
I continued to look around, drinking in the beauty that surrounded me. It was, unquestionably, the most beautiful sight I’d ever beheld.
He reclaimed my attention as he took a deep breath. “Um…there’s something I have to ask you.”
There was something about the tone of his voice that made my pulse race. “All right,” I said anxiously.
He sucked in another breath as he took my hands in his. I was surprised to notice that they were trembling slightly. “Nessie, I’ve literally loved you all your life. From the day you were born, you have been the most wonderful, beautiful part of my life. I know I should have told you about the imprinting and my history with Bella,”
Pain twisted my heart as the horrible memories of the biggest mistake of my life flashed through my head. I glanced at our joined hands quickly as tears began to cloud my eyes. I hoped that Aunt Alice had used waterproof mascara.
“But I never wanted you to feel pressured to choose me. If you hadn’t, I would have understood. I would have let you go, but by some miracle, you say that you want me too.”
What was he saying? Of course I wanted him! Who else was there in the world like my Jacob? Who else would I want besides him?
He looked around us. “It was right here that we had our almost-kiss, remember?” he chuckled nervously.
I grinned in response. As if I would forget. It was one of the best memories of my life, and also one of the most embarrassing.
“Well, it was then that I first felt any hope that you might feel something for me like I felt for you. So that’s why I chose to ask you here.”
The confusion, which had been temporarily diverted by the surreal magnificence of the clearing, returned. “Ask me what?”
“I already talked to your dad, and he told me that he wants you to wait a year, which I’m totally okay with, but I wanted to ask anyway.” He exhaled apprehensively as he slid to one knee, his left hand disappearing into the pocket of his tuxedo.
My eyes widened as I realized what was happening. I had seen this happen in countless human movies. My limbs froze with an overpowering combination of shock, indescribable rapture, disbelief, awe and amazement.
“Renesmee Carlie Cullen,” he began slowly. “Will you marry me?”