My body exploded. My heart lurched. My breathing stopped.
But my mind raced.
Edward in a tuxedo. Me in a flowing white dress. My father giving me away. Angela as my Maid of Honor. Alice as my bridesmaid. Jasper and Emmett as Edward's best men. My mom, Carlisle, and Esme, beaming at us from the first row.
The images assaulted me, one after the other.
That was a condition? He would change me, I would get to be with him forever, and I would get to be married to him?
Right. Breathing. Good idea.
I gasped in air. My lungs hurt. My head spun.
"You don't have to answer now."
Wait. Didn't I already answer him? I tried to remember, but my brain wasn't functioning properly.
I shifted back a little and locked eyes with him. "Yes."
The sweetest smile took over his face. And then I was vertical. We both were. The movement was so fluid, I didn't even realize it until we were spinning.
He set me onto my feet, and then he was staring at me, his eyes intense, his hand in my hair.
"I don't wish for you to feel pressured into marrying me," he said. He was suddenly very serious.
I smiled, reassuringly, hoping to ease his concerns. "I don't. I want you to change me, but I also want to be married to you."
He smiled then, too. With relief. I wrapped my arms around his neck when he leaned in and pressed his lips to mine. But the kiss was short lived.
His eyes were steady on mine for a moment, and then they shifted a little to the left. His expression held the slightest hint of annoyance. It confused me.
He had barely said her name when I heard giggling and rustling in the near distance. And then she was there, right in front of us, looking like she was about to explode with joy.
"Come on!" she squealed. "Everyone's waiting!"
She near about threw me onto Edward's back, and then we were running.
Edward kept pace with her, even though he was faster than she was.
All the rest of the Cullens were waiting for us when we got to the house. Everyone was wearing wide smiles except for Rosalie.
"I hear congratulations are in order?"
Carlisle said this like a question. Alice squeaked.
Edward knew I was uncomfortable. His grip on my hand tightened.
I glanced at Alice before dropping my attention to the ground. "Um, yeah."
Their level of excitement told me they approved, but of the wedding or my wanting to be changed I wasn't sure. I needed to be sure.
"Since you all obviously know what's going on, I'd like to get your… opinions." I continued to stare at the floor.
I wanted more than just their opinions. I wanted them on my side. If the Cullens were okay with me being a member of their family – truly a member – then maybe Edward wouldn't be so against the idea.
"The only way I can think of for it to be fair, is to put it up for a vote." I finally braved a glance around the room. Everyone was still smiling. Again, except for Rosalie, but I already knew what her vote was going to be.
Emmett leapt forward, and then I was suddenly in his arms and the room was spinning.
"I vote 'hell yeah'! Keep him on his toes, little one!"
When he set me back down, I felt a little unstable. Edward wrapped his arm around my waist to steady me.
"I already consider you my sister," Alice chirped. "My vote is, of course, yes."
"I vote yes," Jasper said. He was trying to smile, but it looked strained. "It would be nice to not want to kill you all the time."
I was sure he meant that a little like a joke, but he was also very serious. It was also a helpful thing for him to say. I knew then for sure that they all realized what I was asking.
"I'm sorry," Rosalie said. "I know my opinion won't matter, but I vote no."
I felt a surge of sympathy for Rosalie. The sadness in her tone made me want to console her, but I knew there were no words I could say that would. She would never be able to understand my choices, because her circumstances were different from mine, even though I wasn't exactly sure what hers were.
I could only assume she had been near death at the time, since Edward had said that Carlisle would never change someone who had another choice.
I averted my eyes as I gave a nod, then I looked to Esme. Her smile put me at ease a little.
"I already consider you a part of the family. Yes."
All eyes in the room then landed on Carlisle. He took two steps forward, his expression serious but kind.
My adrenalin spiked.
I'd had a pretty good idea of what the others would say, and I had guessed right, but Carlisle was still a bit of a mystery to me. I held my breath nervously as I waited for him to speak.
When he finally did, he surprised me.
"I know what this means to you, son. When the time comes, are you sure you can see it through?"
I knew he wasn't talking about the wedding. I looked up at Edward, interested in the answer to that question as well.
"I'm hoping she will change her mind," he said. His eyes never left Carlisle's.
"And if she doesn't?"
A slight, pained sigh escaped him. "I will keep my promise to her."
Carlisle then turned to me. My heart sputtered and my breath caught.
"Are you certain this is what you want?"
I nodded, then forced my voice not to fail. "Yes." The confidence I had hoped to show was completely absent. I tried again. "I promised him I would take the next year to consider the pros and cons. But, yes, I'm sure."
There. That sounded better.
Or maybe it didn't.
"I will support whatever decision you make, but this isn't to be taken lightly."
Edward seemed grateful for the fatherly words I had been given. He pulled me a little closer to him and nuzzled my hair.
"I know," I whispered. I dropped my gaze to the ground again. "I'm not taking it lightly."
Carlisle nodded. His smile grew a little and his seriousness eased slightly. "I'm pleased to hear that you will be taking a year to consider what this will mean." He closed the gap between us and wrapped his arms around me.
It felt good. I felt accepted.
"If there is anything you should need from me, don't hesitate to ask."
I nodded. The tension seemed to dissipate after that. Alice came bounding over to me again as Carlisle stepped away. Then she pulled me into the center of the room.
"Okay," she said excitedly, "a white dress, that's a given." She spun me around. "A short train. Don't want you to kill yourself on the way to the altar!"
Edward growled, but Alice ignored him. She started messing with my hair.
"Hair up, maybe with flowers in it. Oh, and—"
"Alice." Edward's tone was harsh. Scolding. "She could still change her mind."
She waved her hand at him dismissively. "You know she's not going to. You can see my visions as clearly as I can. And stop looking!" she snapped.
Edward rolled his eyes.
"What are your thoughts on cleavage?" she asked me. My face burst into flames.
Edward growled again, and then he was at my side. He wrapped his arm around my waist and started leading me towards the stairs.
"Oh, fine!" Alice huffed. "There's plenty of time still."
Apparently, Alice was going to be my wedding coordinator. I didn't mind. She would certainly be better at it than I would be, and cheaper than a professional. I doubted she would charge me. Really, the only thing it would probably end up costing me was my dignity.
A small price to pay, as long as Edward was on the other end of the room when I walked down the aisle.
The second we stepped foot inside his bedroom, Edward gathered me into his arms.
"I'm sorry if she overwhelmed you," he whispered.
I shook my head. "She didn't. I'm not going to change my mind, you know," I added quickly.
I knew he would understand what I meant by that. I wasn't just referring to marrying him.
He sighed heavily. His arms tightened around me.
Yeah, he knew.
"I will continue to hope, until the moment before it happens, that you will."
"Will you be upset with me when I don't?" I asked.
He sighed again. When he pulled back, his eyes were intense. He looked frustrated.
That was a yes.
"No. I won't be upset with you."
Okay, maybe not. Or maybe he was lying to me. My eyes narrowed on him incredulously.
He made a tiny scoffing sound in response. "Yes, I will be upset, but not with you. Never with you."
That was a split-hair debate I didn't even know where to begin to argue. Shifting out of his embrace, I plopped myself down on the edge of his bed. He joined me.
"I wish you could read my mind right now. If you could, you would know how sure I am about this. Then, maybe, you wouldn't be so against it."
"I don't doubt that you are certain of this decision now. What about later? What will your thoughts be like decades from now, when it is too late to change your mind?"
"If you are by my side decades from now, I won't regret it."
"I will always be by your side. Willingly. Happily. You don't have to change for that to be so."
"But I won't always be by your side. Unless I'm changed."
That hurt my case more than it helped it. He sighed despondently.
"Can you not see how this might upset me? It is because of me that you're doing this. You're giving up your humanity for me."
"I'm not just doing this for you."
He seemed shocked by that. To be honest, I was, too. Yes, he had been the main motivation for making the decision, but he wasn't the only motivation.
"Not to minimize your importance, but you're not the only reason I want to do this."
My thoughts weren't at all gathered or formed, but I started explaining myself anyway. He was waiting for me to, and my heart seemed to understand things better than my brain did anyway.
"I've never felt comfortable in my own skin. I've literally spent my whole life stumbling through each day. I've never felt normal. Because I'm not normal. But with you, while with you, while in your world, I've actually felt normal for the first time, ever. This is where I'm meant to be. What I'm meant to be. Not just with you, but like you. The whole idea of it just… makes sense."
His pained expression eased considerably. He actually cracked a hint of a smile.
"So, it's not just about me?" he asked.
Emmett laughed. As Edward's smile dropped, mine grew.
"Shut up, Emmett. In a year, I will be able to kill you."
Edward's smile returned. We both ignored the laughter from downstairs as we fell into each other's arms.
"No, it's not just about you," I whispered. "I'll still spend the next year thinking about it. Talking to your family. Learning all that I can. Weighing the pros and cons. But I won't be changing my mind, Edward. I know I won't. Nothing has ever felt so right in my life."
He nodded against me, and then he brushed my hair aside and began to nuzzle my neck.
My heart started racing. I exhaled shakily.
"You're safe," he whispered.
I knew I was – I knew he wouldn't do anything before he absolutely had to – but the idea of it still sent a thrill of fear through me.
My body's reactions, contradictory as they were, betrayed me. I trembled as I offered myself to him. I could feel him smiling against my skin.
He planted a gentle kiss above my pounding pulse. "Not tonight, my love. I must return you to Charlie as you were when you left him."
A pang of guilt hit me. In a year's time, I would be leaving my dad, just like my mom was now. He would be all alone. I might be able to keep in touch through letters and phone calls, but I probably wouldn't be able to see him anymore. He would know something was different. I wouldn't look the same. And I wouldn't be able to explain the what or why to him.
There was also the real possibility that I would be dangerous to him. My new vampire instincts will have kicked in. Jasper didn't want to attack me, but he almost did. If it wasn't for his wife and siblings, he would have.
Would I be able to resist the urge with my own father?
"After I've changed, I won't be able to see him anymore, will I?"
He held me tighter. Consolingly. That alone gave me my answer.
Yeah, I figured. That stung a little, but really, would it be so very different if I were to remain human? Charlie would be expecting me to leave eventually. College, a job, starting a life of my own… that was usually how things worked.
At least my parents would be able to see me get married first, before I disappeared on them forever.
"Are you having second thoughts?" He sounded hopeful.
I shook my head as I pushed out of his arms. "No. Just thinking."
"Will you share with me?"
That didn't seem like a good idea at all. He was already struggling with my decision. I didn't want to add to that.
I shook my head again, then grabbed for my suitcase. He immediately moved to help me.
His eyes never left me as I started packing up my crap.
Esme had washed my clothes again. All of them but the ones I was wearing. They were all neatly folded where the pile I created had been. I dropped them in the case, on top of my scattered headbands, and spread them out evenly.
My toiletry bag ended up on top of his stack of journals. I tossed that in next.
My camera, my copy of Wuthering Heights, my cell phone charger…
"Bella, please. This decision concerns me as well."
Ugh. He was right. I hated that he was, but…
An argument was coming, I could sense it.
"I'll miss my parents," I admitted. I didn't look at him when I said it. I couldn't. I just stared at my half-packed suitcase.
Once again, he surprised me.
"It might be possible for you to see them again, once you've learned to control your instincts."
Okay, but was that just lip service? I looked up at him, trying to determine if it was. There seemed to be a bit of wishful thinking mixed in, but there was also sincerity. It gave me hope.
"I guess, if not, we'll just add that to the cons list."
He scowled at me. I knew why. He didn't like it when I made light of things he found to be serious. And it's not that I didn't think the situation was, but joking about it lightened my tension.
I rolled my eyes and resumed packing.
The box my bracelet from Edward came in. The paper it was wrapped in. The key ring charm Alice made for me…
I bent down and attached that to one of the zipper pulls on my laptop bag.
When I stood up, Edward pulled me into his arms. He didn't seem to be offering comfort. He was seeking it.
We were in for a long year.
"Edward, relax. You're going to drive yourself insane."
Not a far drive, it seemed.
"I want to be accepting of your decision…"
He sounded like he was in hell again. Okay, so maybe he wouldn't even need to get into the car, let alone drive anywhere.
"In a year from now, you'll see that all this worry and pain is for nothing, okay? Relax. It'll all work out."
I was sure of that somehow. I just didn't know how to convince Edward of it.
He carried all my crap down the stairs for me, then waited by the door as I said goodbye to everyone. Rosalie stood at the back of the room. I wasn't expecting much in the way of a sendoff from her, anyway.
"This isn't goodbye," Alice said as she hugged me. "We'll be seeing each other lots! I have so many great ideas! We'll have a sleepover real soon, okay?"
I nodded, fighting back tears. Why in the hell did I have to be so emotional?
"You're welcome any time," Esme said, then she gathered me into a hug as well.
I believed her. It really felt like she considered me her daughter.
Even Jasper hugged me, though it was brief and he held his breath the entire time. But it was heartfelt. I could tell.
Emmett spun me around as he hugged me. I was going to need to invest in anti-nausea tablets if he kept doing that. The thought made me smirk.
"Eddie'll come around, little one. Don't worry. We'll work on him from this end."
I glanced at Edward over Emmett's shoulder as I nodded.
As soon as he set me back onto my feet, my eyes landed on Carlisle. Like before, his expression was serious but kind.
I barely blinked and there he was, right in front of me. And then he wrapped his arms around me.
"Thank you," he whispered.
That surprised me. I had no idea what he was thanking me for. I didn't feel like I could ask him, though, so I just muttered 'you're welcome' in response.
"Thank you for having me," I added.
For some reason, he chuckled at that.
"It was our pleasure, Bella."
I wasn't going to be able to hold back the tears for much longer. I could feel them pooling. I averted my eyes and darted out the door. Edward followed.
We were silent for most of the trip back to my house.
"Will you share your thoughts with me?"
I sighed, my gaze remaining out the passenger side window. "I'm going to miss your family. I know I'll see them again, but it really felt like I was home there."
He said nothing as he offered me his hand. I took it, and that's when the tears broke loose. He tightened his hold but still said nothing.
The quaint house I had always considered my home came into view, and my stomach dropped a little. It didn't feel like I belonged there anymore.
My mom wouldn't be in there when I went inside. My dad wouldn't be glued to some sports game or cleaning his police-issue gun or hunting rifle. Nothing would be like it was two weeks ago.
Edward parked, cut the engine, and then exited the car. I waited for him to open my door. Anything to prolong going inside.
He helped me out, and then gathered me into his arms. I didn't want to leave the comfort of his embrace, ever. I felt safe there. I felt right.
"It won't be so very different, I promise."
I sighed as I pushed out of his arms, then I swiped at my tears. I nodded, though I didn't believe him. He had no idea just how different everything was. Everything was different. My house, my family, myself. My entire life, my entire outlook on it, had completely changed in the course of fourteen days.
He grabbed my stuff from the trunk and followed me up to the door. When I pushed it open, he set my belongings down just inside. I heard my dad get up from the couch, and then I heard his footsteps as he approached.
"Bells? Are you okay?"
I nodded without looking at him.
"Thanks, Edward," I whispered. I couldn't look at him, either. "I'll see you at school tomorrow."
Watching him walk away was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do. It felt like I would never see him again, even though I knew I would.
When I bent down to grab my crap, my dad reached to help. I didn't argue. I just led the way to my room.
He didn't leave at first, after putting my suitcase down by my bed. We just stood there in awkward silence. Forty-eight seconds passed.
"Did she leave?" I asked. I saw him nod out of my peripheral vision. "Does she hate me?"
"No, but she thinks you hate her."
"I don't hate her." I sighed as I dropped down onto the corner of my bed. "I'm just…"
Angry? Sad? Lost? Frustrated? Confused? Irritated?
"I know," he said. Fifty-two seconds passed. "I'll let you get unpacked and settled back in. I'll… see'ya in the morning."
I shut and locked the door as soon as he left, then I threw myself onto my bed, face down. Seconds later, I felt someone climb in with me.
I almost shrieked. Startled, I bolted up into a sitting position, fists clenched, ready to attack.
But then Edward gently took both of my wrists, stopping me from striking him. In shock, I stared back at him for three years before launching into his arms.
"You're here," I whispered.
"I'm here," he whispered back. He pulled me tighter to him, consolingly. "I promised you it wouldn't be so very different."
"But, Charlie is—"
"I can hear his thoughts, Bella. I will know when he's coming to check on you."
Plus my door had a lock on it. Not that my dad would ever just barge in.
I kicked off my shoes as we settled in. I didn't even bother to change into my nightclothes. I just clung to Edward as I cried.
Everything had just come crashing down on me. Everything, all at once.
Waylon's death. The existence of vampires. Edward's love. My parents' divorce. My dad's sorrow. Leaving the Cullen house. My life changing decision. Edward's anxieties over that decision. Rosalie. Jake. Jessica. The look on my mom's face.
"What can I do?"
I only shook my head in answer. There was nothing he could do. It was just something I needed to work through. I needed to get it out of my system.
I eventually did, but for how long I had carried on like that I couldn't say. It seemed like hours. Maybe it was years.
He never stopped holding me. He nuzzled and stroked my hair. He told me he loved me countless times. When I finally pulled myself together, he wiped my tears away with the pad of his thumb. He kissed every inch of my face, leaving my lips for last.
He wasn't trying to excite me. He was comforting me.
And then we just stared at each other, connecting in that profound way that made words unnecessary.
It was then that I realized…
We weren't like the lion and the lamb after all. We weren't like the starving man and the steak. Or the rose and the weed.
We weren't the epitome of Mother Nature's cruel sense of humor. Our love story wasn't even like Romeo and Juliet's.
We were Edward and Bella. Created to fit perfectly. Destined to be together. Drawn to each other by some design of fate.
Me, a human, with a flawed sense of self-preservation so that I could look beyond what Edward was potentially capable of.
Edward, a vampire, whose morality was such that he could fight off his most basic instincts and love me instead of kill me.
In what other universe could that be possible?
In no other universe, was the answer.
We were meant to be.
The contentedness washed over me. My eyelids grew heavy. I smiled.
"What are you thinking?"
I hummed in response. "Good thoughts," I murmured.
He hummed right back, and my eyelids grew heavier.
"You can sleep. I'll still be here when you wake up."
The last thing I saw before sleep enveloped me was Edward's angelic smile.
To be continued…
The journey is almost at an end now. Just the epilogue chapter left to go. I'm excited to share, but sad at the same time. It feels a little like I'm saying goodbye to a group of friends I might not ever see again.
(wipes tear from eye)
ADarnell: LOL! OMG, I nearly ruined my laptop spraying soda all over it! Try going on seven years, with no prospects in sight! Not to be too depressing, but with my disabilities and such, there isn't a single person on this planet who would want me. I've put myself out there a few times since butt-munch ex-hubby left me, but… yeah, they all just ran screaming in the opposite direction. I don't need a crowbar upside my head to get the point.
Megajonastwihard: I am literally the last person on this planet who should be giving out writing tips, LOL! I don't follow the rules as closely as I probably should. I just write what sounds good inside my head.
But, if I were to give any piece of advice, it would be this: Know your characters. Climb inside their heads and get a feel for them. How they think, depths of emotions, likely reactions to any given situation. Believable characters and dialog can make or break a story, in my humble opinion. The rest is just 'scenery'. If they're in a meadow, describe a meadow. If they're in an office building, describe an office building. Give enough, and the reader will imagine what they wish to. But if your characters lack depth, the reader will often times detach, and you don't want that. They won't care if Jack and Jill are traipsing up a hill to fetch a pail of water if they don't care enough about Jack and Jill in the first place. Give a back story, and some depth – give the reader a reason to care about Jack and Jill – and then when they traipse up the hill, it will matter. See what I mean?
Yeah, like I said, I am the last person on this planet who should be giving out writing tips.
Sorry for babbling on.
Please review! And MTLBYAKY