I was in a much better mood when I woke up Tuesday morning. Each day with Edward was like a precious gift. I wasn't about to waste a single one of them grieving for the future.
"Good morning, my love."
I smiled into his chest. "Yes, it is." I felt his arms tighten around me a little.
"I have been thinking about how I would like us to spend your last evening here. But first, I wish to ask you a question."
I nodded, and then I was being encouraged to sit up. I did so, a bit reluctantly.
There was a slight tug at his lips, and then he just stared back at me for the longest time. He seemed to be gathering his courage. It made my curiosity pique.
"Will you allow me to take you to your prom?" His eyes glimmered expectantly.
"I can't dance." I responded automatically. Defensively. Without thinking. Stupid reflexivity.
He seemed to realize that. His amusement flashed briefly. "I will teach you."
I could imagine him teaching me. Holding me tight to him, us swaying to soft music. Me stepping on his feet. I pushed that last thought aside.
"You're assuming I can be taught." I smirked. "But if you're game, I'm game."
His smile was beaming. When he pulled me into his arms, I climbed into his lap, straddling him.
I could picture it. Him in a suit, looking every bit the proper gentleman that he was. Oh, I'd be there, too, in that Colonial blue dress Alice would let me borrow, my hair and makeup done by her to a nauseating degree, but where my focus remained, was on Edward.
He would be gorgeous, of course, and I would be on his arm. In his eyes as he stared lovingly at me. In his embrace as we danced, as I tried not to kill him or myself. It was a good picture.
And then a new image, a new thought, popped into my head.
I could feel him again. My body pressed against his had affected him. Carefully, experimentally, I rolled my hips a little. I felt the rumble deep from within him, but no sound actually came out.
Optimistic that maybe, just maybe, there would be a chance to take things a little further, I started nuzzling his neck, but that just seemed to serve as a wakeup call.
He took me by the waist, gently, then rolled us both so that we were side-by-side.
I sighed in frustration. So much for that.
But my disillusionment barely had a chance to take hold. His hands were suddenly roaming. Caressing. Fondling. I liquefied. Ignited.
And then he was kissing me, in that perfect, loving, luring way that literally took my breath away.
Breathing was overrated.
I didn't even try to be quiet at the end. The Cullens, were they in the house, would have already known by then what we were doing anyway.
I moaned. My back arched. And then I collapsed.
He gathered my limp body into his arms, and then he settled his cheek against mine. His lips were right at my ear.
"You will be late for school."
"I'm not going to school," I said. "And don't even try to tell me I am. I can make my own decisions. This is my last full day here. I want to spend it with you."
He chuckled a little. "I'm too selfish to argue with you. I want to spend the day with you as well."
"Then it's settled," I whispered. Then I sighed contentedly.
We were both quiet for a million years.
"Do I please you, Bella?"
I laughed. "Oh, boy, do you ever please me." He laughed then, too.
"You're happy again today."
I nodded. "I'm sorry for my poor mood yesterday. I lost a whole day with you because of it. That's another reason why I want to stay home today. To make up for that lost time."
"How would you like to spend it?"
I pulled back a little and smiled up at him. "Learning to dance?"
Okay, Fred Astaire had nothing on Edward. He even made me look good, not that I was actually dancing. I was standing on his feet while he danced.
I fell off a bunch of times – don't ask me how; gravity has never been my friend – but when I did we just laughed about it. It felt good to laugh.
Edward seemed to revel in it. Every time I so much as smiled, he grinned widely. Like my happiness really was of the utmost importance to him.
The close proximity to him was intoxicating. His hand was on the small of my back, pressing me into his body. My cheek was against his chest. His chin rested atop my head.
When I would tire, we sat on the chaise at the back of the piano room, him behind me, me leaning against him, his arms wrapped protectively around me.
At lunch time, we stopped so I could eat. Esme smiled so sweetly at me as she set the plate containing my sandwich in front of me. Then she touched my shoulder before leaving the room.
Yeah, she definitely approved.
The meal was delicious, as always, but I mostly just ate it to appease Edward. And my stomach. I wanted to get back to learning.
Edward was an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, my feet refused to be taught. He had the patience of a saint, though, I had to give it to him. He never gave up on me, no matter how many times I zigged when I should have zagged. No matter how many times I stomped on his toes, or almost fell on my face.
He rescued me from my imminent face-plants every time.
"I'm never going to get this." I wasn't exactly frustrated. I figured as much.
"Shhh, love…" He held me tighter. We were still swaying, but our feet were firmly planted. It was like a hug set in motion. "We have time still."
I was pretty sure I wouldn't improve after years, but I nodded anyway.
"May I ask you a question?"
I nodded again.
"You were so sad yesterday. What happened to change that?"
I worded my response carefully. "I just decided to be happy. I want to be happy."
"Then we share that in common. I want you to be happy as well."
I smirked. "I know. Your love for me amazes me sometimes. All the time," I corrected.
"Is it too much? I don't wish to overwhelm you."
"No. It's not too much. It's perfect. You're perfect. That's the amazing part."
"I'm not perfect, Bella. I wish I was. You deserve perfection."
He was wrong. I didn't deserve perfection. Not by a long shot. But the fact that he thought I did… The fact that he thought I deserved him…
My heart rate soared. My breaths shuddered. I stretched up and buried my face in his neck.
We didn't even make it to the bedroom. We barely made it to the chaise in the corner.
It was frantic to start with, but then it just slowed into this sweet, sort of… exploration. I finally braved forward into uncharted territory… just a little. Briefly. He liked that. I did, too.
He eventually nuzzled my neck, but he kept the affection of that very gentle. Tentative. Like he was testing to see where his line of control was. After planting a few soft kisses, he moved away.
Progress. At least he was trying.
I reciprocated in the exact same way. What we were doing didn't seem to be about some magical final end. We were acquainting ourselves with each other.
He allowed me to slip my hand up under the hem of his shirt, and it was then that I realized… I had chosen the right adjective before. His skin was unyielding. But yet it was also yielding.
I likened it to a mixture of cornstarch. It seems like a thick liquid, but when you smack it with a spoon, it has the consistency of something hard. But then if you just gently press the spoon against it, it sinks right in.
That wasn't the right analogy, but it was the only one I could come up with. His skin, like cornstarch, was a complete contradiction.
I marveled at the feel of him beneath my fingertips. I soaked up every sigh and moan he made. Reveled in every deep inhale he took.
I think we carried on like that for hours. Time didn't make sense again. The CD of his music we had been dancing to started over at least twice. No one ever disturbed us.
I don't remember the exact moment we stopped. We did at some point, though, because next I was aware, we were just holding each other, our hands still, our bodies at peace.
"I'm never going to school again," I whispered. I grinned when he laughed.
"Your education is necessary, my love."
I didn't care. Not right then, anyway. Maybe I would later in life, when no employer would hire me due to my lack of a diploma. But right then…
"Yeah, so you keep saying."
"Would you be opposed to me enrolling in your school?"
My smile dropped so abruptly, it almost cracked my face. I pushed up on my elbow so that I could look at him. "Are you serious?"
Sure, Angela had joked with him about that, and he stared back at me intently after he had responded to her, but…
"Yes, if you're not opposed to it. If you would rather have that time for yourself, for space between us, I will understand—"
I didn't even let him finish. I just attacked his lips with mine. "Yes," I muttered against him. And then I repeated myself three more times, punctuating each of them with a kiss. I could feel him smiling.
"I will ask Carlisle and Esme to make the arrangements tomorrow. I will most probably be able to start by next week."
I snuggled up to him again, my head back to resting on his chest. "We'll probably have at least a few classes together…"
"Love, we will have every class together."
I grinned a little. "You guys have that kind of pull?"
He laughed at that. "We can be very persuasive, trust me."
I did. Explicitly. I sighed contentedly.
"Does this make you happy, my love?"
To the point of bursting. "Yes," I whispered.
The idea of it thrilled me. Every moment with Edward was precious. The more time I was able to spend with him each day, the better. Gym might be embarrassing – I doubted any girlfriend would want their boyfriend to see them face-plant on a daily basis – but that was a small price to pay.
We could be lab partners in Biology. We could do homework assignments together. We could walk hand in hand to each class, and have lunch and drive to and from school together.
It seemed I was back to happy. I was glad for it. Depression sucked. I had wasted an entire day with Edward because of it. I couldn't get that day back, but I vowed to myself as we snuggled with each other, on the chaise, in the piano room, until dinner time, that I would never let that happen again.
My mind was made up. I knew what I wanted. And what I wanted was to be happy. With Edward. For better or for worse. Until death – my death – do us part.
And then I remembered Alice's teasing comments from the other night. Had she seen something? Had a vision? Was that where Edward and I were headed? Marriage?
I wasn't exactly opposed to the idea – a thought that surprised me, actually – but getting married to Edward presented a unique set of complications. If I wanted to have any family or friends in attendance, we wouldn't be able to wait too many more years before doing it. If we waited too long, his youthful appearance would call too much attention. But if we got married too soon, people would probably assume that I had gotten knocked up. In time, they would see that I hadn't, but still, that would call too much attention as well.
I needed to stop thinking about it. Depression was lurking nearby, threatening to creep in again. I pushed all thoughts away save one. Being in Edward's arms. That made me happy. And since being happy was the goal…
I soaked up every detail. Every nuance. The way he held me with delicate adoration. The way his fingers gently pressed into my arm. The way his thumb brushed across my skin. The way his legs entwined with mine.
Even though I was hungry – the smells wafting through the house indicated that dinner was almost ready – I didn't want to eat. I was too comfortable. Too at peace. Too unwilling to give up my connection to Edward.
Esme insisted. Apparently. She never entered the room. She had only thought it, and Edward passed her motherly concerns along to me.
But dinnertime was actually fun. Since it was to be my last evening meal at their house – my parents' plane was due to come in while I was at school tomorrow – we, or rather I, ate in the dining room again, like I had my first two nights there. All the Cullens joined me, with the exception of Rosalie.
And then they all regaled me with stories.
Jasper shared of when he and Alice first met. She'd had a vision, and was waiting for him to show up. She teased him when he finally did, joking that he'd kept her waiting. They really did seem to be in love. His eyes expressed absolute adoration for Alice, like Edward's eyes did for me.
Carlisle – he insisted I call him that instead of Dr. Cullen – shared of when Edward had graduated high school. The first time. How proud he was. His standing ovation and enthusiastic applause when Edward went up to accept his diploma was, apparently, still joked about. He laughed it off good naturedly, though. He was clearly a very dedicated father to his adopted children.
Esme's story was the most touching. And the most depressing, though the mood in the room never followed. That was probably Jasper's doing.
When she was still human, she had given birth to a son, but he died a few days later from a lung infection. Her love for that son she never really got the chance to know transferred over to Edward after she was changed into a vampire. She almost smothered him with her motherly affections.
Initially, Edward was accepting of that because he felt sympathy for her, but he soon found that he enjoyed having that type of parent/child bond again. A bond that was clearly still intact to this day.
Alice's story was the most humorous.
"I'd had a vision, and needed to talk to Carlisle about it. He was on shift at the hospital, so Edward agreed to go down there with me. Now, keep in mind, this was nineteen-sixty-five. The hippie era."
She grinned a little. "We were asked to sit in the waiting room, which was full of patients waiting to be seen. We found our seats, me next to a woman who obviously had a fever, Edward next to an empty chair. He was quite pleased that he didn't have to sit right up next to someone like I did. Well, he was punished for his smugness, let me tell you!"
Edward rolled his eyes.
"Two minutes later, and here comes this guy that is just stoned every which way one can be. He reeked of it! But apparently, he didn't feel he was quite stoned enough. He whipped out a joint and lit it, right there in front of everyone! That made Edward very uncomfortable. Stoners can be unpredictable. If they get the munchies, they'll eat the buttons right off their own shirts!"
Everyone laughed… except Edward. He seemed a little annoyed.
"Unpredictable stoner guy was a very generous man. He wanted to share his high with others. After taking a couple hits, he tried to pass it to Edward! Edward was ignoring him, but the guy just kept pushing the thing closer and closer, almost right up in his face! Like Edward just didn't see it or something!"
Apparently, the punch-line was coming. Her eyes grew brighter and her smile widened.
"I could see each decision as he considered how to handle the situation. Politely refuse. Impolitely refuse. Get up and leave. Grab the thing from the guy and stomp it out. Finally, he decides on intimidation. He turns to the guy, and with all his vampire abilities, growls at him. Normal people would have fled. Run away. Nope. Not this guy. He just looks at Edward for a moment, then extends the thing even closer to his face. 'Dude, take it,'" she said in an altered, deeper voice. "'You need it more than me.'"
Emmett laughed. "You can't even scare off a stoner! And they're usually paranoid!"
"He thought I was irritated over the wait to be seen," Edward stated calmly.
Everyone burst into laughter. Again, except for Edward. He did smirk a little, though.
"Okay, okay, I got one!" Emmett announced excitedly. "Eddie and I were in Alaska chasing polar bears…"
"What?" Emmett asked. "Everyone else gets to embarrass you but I don't?"
Edward's eyes were very firm. At first, I thought this was because Emmett was about to share a hunting story. The one taboo subject Edward refused to discuss with me.
"Oh, what? She's not going to care! Anyway…" Emmett turned away from Edward and faced me again. "There we are, ready to make our move, when out of nowhere, Edward stops mid hunt. The shocked look on his face is enough to make me stop, too. So I ask him what's wrong, but before he can even answer, Tanya appears out of nowhere and tackles Edward to the ground. She's always had a thing for him. Any chance to roll around with him…"
He laughed hard at that. Edward's eyes grew darker.
"The bears take off, so we give chase. I swear, it was hard to tell if Edward was running away from Tanya or after the hunt! I found out! He's faster than most… he zooms right by the bears and just keeps on going! I didn't see him again for three days!"
Emmett kept on laughing, seemingly oblivious to Edward's irritation. Everyone else seemed tense.
A joke was in order. "Maybe he needed a break from his annoying sibling."
I smirked at Emmett when he stopped laughing, his expression showing both surprise and confusion. I think he was trying to decide if I was insulting him. Edward softened a little. Everyone else laughed.
"Okay," I said as I pushed off my seat, "I need to… have myself a human moment. I'll be right back."
Forever the gentleman, Edward stood as I left the room.
They probably had a downstairs bathroom, but I went to the one upstairs. Familiarity.
As I… tended to business… I stared at the nothing in front of me.
I could picture her. Tanya. Even though I had no idea what she looked like. She was gorgeous, as I was sure all vampires were, if the Cullens were any indication.
And she wanted Edward. My Edward. He clearly didn't want her, but… What if some other beautiful vampire showed up, and Edward came to realize just how ordinary I really was?
The thought of it sent a shudder down my spine.
I finished up, washed my hands, then headed for the door.
Crap! How many Cullens were going to scare me like that?
"Rosalie!" I gasped. "You scared me!"
She just stood there, in front of the door, looking…
Not angry. I thought maybe sad, but that didn't seem to be it, either.
"We all have choices to make, Bella," she said.
My name wasn't even out of her mouth when I caught movement out of my peripheral vision. Every other Cullen in the house was standing in the entrance to the hall just off the stairs. My eyes stayed on Rosalie.
"I don't hate you," she continued. "I hate the choices you're about to make."
Her eyes flashed over towards Carlisle when he said her name. Then I felt Edward's hands on my shoulders.
I followed numbly, confused, as he guided me towards his room.
To be continued…
Sorry if there are more mistakes than usual in this chapter. I'm still beta-ing for myself, and I'm currently struggling with a huge bout of depression. But I wanted to keep my promise to update daily, so here it is, in all its probable suckiness.
Golden Perception: MTLBYAKY = May The Lord Bless You And Keep You
For those following my progress… still not smoking. Now I'm on the seven mg patches. They're small. Not much bigger than an inoculation band-aid.
Well, guys, we're nearing the end now. Five more chapters to go after this one. I want to thank you all, for giving this story a chance and for all the wonderful reviews and support.