"Will you marry me?" A tiny blue box appeared in his hand. He flipped the top open to reveal a glittering white-gold diamond engagement ring.
I stared at him for a long moment, my heart pounding. I was completely unable to think. Was this happening? Was it even possible that he'd really want to be with me forever?
I already knew it was; he'd told me so many times. But it was still difficult to grasp. I began to tremble. Then suddenly, to my disgust, I burst into tears.
Jacob's face fell. "Is that a no?"
"I'm so sorry," I said as I bawled idiotically.
He sighed, his shoulders drooping. "Why?"
"No, no, no!" I panicked as I realized that he'd misunderstood. "I'm sorry…because this…is the most perfect…moment of my entire life and…I'm blubbering like an idiot!"
Jacob stared at me for a moment, and then burst into peals of resplendent laughter. "Oh Nessie." My heart threatened to explode out of my chest as it pounded with happiness when he spoke those words. "You're ridiculous." He laughed again.
"I'm not silly," I insisted, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. "I'm overwhelmed."
He laughed again. "Well you're very cute when you're overwhelmed."
Naturally, I blushed.
He chuckled and stroked my flushed cheek. "So is that a yes?"
He chuckled again and pressed his warm lips to mine. I wrapped my arms around his neck and deepened the kiss as my heart began to race faster.
When our lips parted, I was trembling violently. My shallow breaths were cloudy plumes in the cold winter air, but I barely noticed the punishing temperature. I was too happy to really notice anything aside from the tall, handsome werewolf that had just offered to be mine for the rest of eternity, to be really mine.
"I hate to do this," he said apologetically. "But I promised Alice that I'd get you to the dance. Besides," he said, grinning as he took in my dress, "It'd be pretty selfish of me to not show you off, especially when you're looking like this."
Not even the horrific prospect of a dance could dampen this warm, glittering joy. I'd known that Jacob and I would be always together; the dynamics of our relationship had been the only question. After I'd learned that he loved me as I loved him, I'd assumed that marriage was on our horizon. But to have it confirmed...it was almost more than I could comprehend, given how close we'd come - and how recently we'd come - to total disaster.
"Ness?" he asked hesitantly.
I blinked, realizing that he was waiting for an answer. "Oh. Yeah, okay."
He narrowed his eyes slightly. "'Okay'?"
"I told you before," I reminded him. "As long as you're there, I can suck it up."
He laughed. "Well, sorry anyway." He took my hand and led me back towards the massive garage, which looked strangely deserted. His silver Aston Martin DBS, Mom's red Ferrari F430 and Dad's Volvo were the only cars left. Even Grandpa Carlisle's Mercedes was missing; he'd taken Grandma Esme out for the evening. Jacob's car was parked in the back left-hand corner of the vast garage. He didn't use it often, but he treasured the rare occasions on which he had the opportunity to use it.
"So you actually asked my dad about your plans to propose?"
"And you're still alive?"
He chuckled. "Apparently. He was actually pretty cool about it. He told me about the age thing and he explained in detail what he'd do to me if I tried anything before we're married." He laughed again.
I rolled my eyes. So typical.
"Here we are," he said as we turned into the crowded parking lot in front of the brightly-lit banquet hall.
I groaned as I caught sight of my family crowding near the entrance. My entire family was crowded around the cars, watching us with huge smiles. Well, Uncle Emmett's was more of a smirk. I shuddered involuntarily. I didn't even want to think about the jokes that he was undoubtedly formulating already.
Jacob chuckled at my expression. "Ten bucks says Adelaide, Alice and Rosalie already have the wedding half-planned."
I blinked in surprise. Since when did he call Aunt Rose "Rosalie"? He'd called her Blondie for as long as I could remember.
Jacob got out first and then came around to open my door for me. I stepped out of the car carefully so as not to step on the train of my dress, heart pounding but still blissfully happy. I inhaled deeply and hooked my arm through his.
I was barely a foot away from the car door when they swarmed us. Aunt Alice did a lot of excited shrieking as the family bombarded us with questions, but I scarcely heard them. I was going to marry Jacob Black. Judging by the heart-wrenchingly beautiful smile on his face, I could tell that he was still just as happy as I was.
"Congratulations, honey," Mom said, beaming. She and Dad took turns hugging me. "I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks, Mom," I said. I knew how hard this was for them. I was surprised that they were doing as well as they were. I had fully expected Dad to have one of his overly-paternal meltdowns.
"I haven't ruled it out," he muttered.
I laughed and hugged him again. "Well, thanks for letting us have our minute."
"I'm glad you're happy," he smiled.
Next in the crowd of our well-wishers were Aunt Rose…and Uncle Emmett. I sucked in a tiny breath. I was quite literally in my happy place. I would not allow him to ruin anything with his awful jokes.
Aunt Rose hugged me tightly. "I maintain that you will always be much too good for the mutt," she muttered. "But if he makes you happy…well, I'll get used to him."
I felt my smile widen. "Thank you, Aunt Rose, really." I knew this wouldn't be easy for her either. The fact that she was willing to overlook her passionate dislike of Jacob gave me hope of a truce between them.
"Are you going to make her stand there all night or am I going to get to get to dance with my fiancée?" asked Jacob.
Aunt Rose pursed her lips and took a step back, her teeth grinding together as she forced a smile. "Dance away. Away," she said.
I smiled slightly and touched Jacob's arm. "Let's go," I said. Let's not push it, I told him through my gift.
Jacob smirked slightly and led the way into the banquet hall, Mom and Dad just behind us, followed by Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper, Aunt Rose and Uncle Emmett, Tara and Ian and Adelaide and Rob. The interior was dim, a stark contrast to the luminous exterior.
Several of the humans towards the fringes of the throng that had been dancing to a rhythmic techno beat stopped dead to stare at us.
Jacob snorted smugly. "I told you that you looked stunning."
I rolled my eyes. "Please. They're probably staring at you."
Dad's teeth snapped together behind me. "The male on the left is decidedly not."
I towed Jacob out of arms-reach of the gawking human before he had a chance to do anything unwise. "So how do we do this, exactly?" I asked him.
"I have no idea," he laughed. "I haven't done a whole lot of partying in my twenty-one years. To be honest, the last party of this nature that I went to was probably your mom's graduation party."
"Were you into her back then?" I asked nonchalantly, and for once, I truly felt nonchalant about asking it, now that I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that he had no lingering feelings for her.
He studied my face carefully before answering. "Yeah. It was kind of a competition between Edward and me back then. 'Back then' being the key words there."
I smiled slightly. "I believe you. Do you regret giving in?"
"Not for a second," he replied. "If he hadn't won, I wouldn't have either," he said, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear.
"Me neither," I said quietly.
The song abruptly changed from the lively techno beat to a much slower, quieter tune.
"I know how to do this, at least," Jacob grinned awkwardly, wrapping one warm arm around my waist and taking my hand. Nevertheless, we moved gracefully around the dance floor, nearly managing to forget the other dancers swaying together all about us. Of course, my family had completely thrown caution to the wind and were dancing with a finesse that would have earned the enmity of many a professional dancer. I glanced over just in time to see Rob twirling Adelaide and smiled slightly.
I watched my parents for a few moments. They had always been my example of what love ought to be. They had as unconventional a past as was possible, and yet their love had managed to survive inconceivable odds. It was a love of that strength and calibre that I had dreamed about as a young child.
I sighed contentedly. I'd also always known that I was incredibly lucky. There weren't many girls that had their fairytale ending, albeit a gothic fairytale ending, handed to them on a silver platter.
"Hey, check that out," Jacob said amusedly, interrupting my thoughts.
I glanced in the indicated direction. Melina, dressed in a flattering black and white dress, and Jeff, looking extremely uncomfortable in an expensive tuxedo, were entering arm-in-arm.
I struggled to keep from laughing. "What is this, revenge?"
"You've got it exactly," Dad chortled as he and Mom glided past us.
I looked next at Ian and Tara, who were staring deep into the each others' eyes, completely oblivious to the world around them as they danced with more elegance than a human would ever have been able to manage. Tara glanced at her sister suddenly, as though she'd called her. The two stared at each other for a moment, and then both laughed.
I frowned with confusion. I hadn't heard either of them speak a word. I'd seen them do this several times since they'd come to live with us, but I still couldn't make sense of it.
"Is he suicidal?" Jacob asked suddenly.
I glanced over. Jeff was approaching Ian and Tara. Ian was watching him through narrowed eyes. Tara was beet-red. She glanced up at him. "Hurting, Ian," she murmured.
He relaxed his grip on her hand and her waist, but his glare never left Jeff.
"So, um I was wondering…could I uh, you know, maybe call you later?" I heard Jeff ask.
My mouth fell open. "Tell me I heard him wrong."
Jacob covered his mouth to muffle his laughter. "Nope," he snickered.
Several things happened at once. Ian's eyes grew wide and began to throw himself into a crouch at the same time as Rob forced him back against the wall.
"Ian, no!" he snarled at the precise moment that the music became louder. I glanced at the DJ table to see Aunt Alice handing the DJ a fifty dollar bill.
"Jasper!" I heard Dad call, but quietly enough so as not to arouse the attention of the humans, who were still dancing, blithely unaware of what was happening – including Jeff, to my incredulity.
Uncle Jasper, who had also paused to watch the exchange, walked at a very human pace to where Rob was restraining the snarling Ian.
"Oh dear," I muttered.
"Ian, get a hold of yourself!" Rob hissed up at him. It amazed me that Rob, who looked so small in comparison to Ian, was actually managing to keep him pinned. My amazement lessened as I remembered what Rob had been.
"I won't hurt him," Ian said in between growls. "At least, it won't hurt for very long."
I glanced at Jeff to see Adelaide dazzling his attention away from the scene behind her.
"So...if you're sisters, why do you sound British?" Jeff was asking Adelaide.
She smiled charmingly. "Have you ever seen The Parent Trap?"
I snorted. Adelaide flashed me a warning look, and I quickly quieted my snickers.
Dad glanced at Uncle Jasper again. "Jasper?"
Uncle Jasper nodded, his eyes flicking to Ian. He began to relax against his will.
Ian cleared his throat slightly and looked down at Rob. "You can let go any time now."
Rob didn't move.
"Rob, I'm fine."
Rob continued to glare at him.
"Getting awkward now."
"Are you in control of yourself?"
"Yes. Seriously, if you wanted to dance with me, all you had to do was ask."
Uncle Emmett laughed as he and Aunt Rose began to dance again.
Rob rolled his eyes and then stepped back. "Shut up, and don't do anything stupid."
Ian smoothed his suit and his hair and then looked at Jeff, Adelaide and Tara. "Thanks, Ade, I've got this. Here," Ian said to Jeff, who was looking at him somewhat nervously. "Let me write down that number for you."
Dad chuckled suddenly.
I looked at him and frowned. "What? What's going on?"
"He's giving him the number for something called the Rejection Hotline," he said in between chortles. "If only I'd known that number back when Mike Newton was an issue…"
"Was he that idiot that came to the movies with us, Bells?" Jacob asked Mom.
I glanced back at Jeff, who was beaming spectacularly. "Awesome."
"Yes it will be," Ian said with a dark smile.
"Thanks, man," Jeff said.
"Any time," Ian replied in a sinister tone. He watched Jeff as he sauntered off happily into the crowd of dancing teens.
"Well-played," Rob agreed, patting his brother on the back.
"I liked my first idea better."
"Ian..." Rob said warningly.
"Oh relax, will you?" he said in amazement. "It's a bit rich, you lecturing me about the non-violent approach."
Rob looked at him sharply and then lowered his eyes. I winced. I knew how much Uncle Jasper hated those memories. How much worse it must have been for Rob, having lost his sister.
Adelaide hissed and hit Ian's arm. "Nice," she said sarcastically, glowering at him. "Really bloody sensitive."
"Ade, leave it," Rob said. "Come on." He led her onto the dance floor again.
"Please, Ian, don't kill him," Tara said quietly. "Not even Jeff deserves to be prey. And you're better than that."
Ian tore his eyes away from Jeff to look at Tara, his expression immediately softening. He exhaled. "Let's dance, before I do something less than wise."
Jacob sighed. "I guess that means there won't be a fight."
"Jacob!" I scolded.
"What?" he said defensively. "I didn't say it was a good thing, I just think it would've been fun to watch, that's all."
"You're as bad as Uncle Emmett, you know."
"No one's as bad as Emmett."
He had a point.
He offered me his hand. "Shall we?"
"Definitely." We rejoined the mass of dancing adolescents, and I quickly found myself lost in my happiness once again.
We'd only been dancing a few moments when Aunt Alice gave a horrified gasp. Jacob and I stopped in the middle of the dance floor and looked at her. Her face was frozen into a mask of shock, and whiter than I'd ever seen it.
Uncle Jasper was already at her side. "Alice, what is it?" he asked urgently. He looked from Dad, who bore an identical expression. "Someone please explain what's going on."
"They're coming," Aunt Alice choked. "Again."
"For the Winters," Dad finished.