Never before had I imagined myself in a scene of domestic bliss. Even in my human life, when family was an expected part of life and young men my age were already beginning to seek out potential wives, I had been more interested in becoming a soldier than settling down. Yet now, it felt like my day was highlighted by all the clichéd little routines that came with having children. Bedtime stories and playtime suddenly became incredibly important; I spent as much time as possible with Nessie, Lizzie and EJ while they were still young enough to enjoy it, before their accelerated ageing launched them into the general apathy of puberty. Of course my brothers, particularly Emmett, laughed at me and called me soft, but I ignored them – there was no way they could ever hope to understand.
New Years was spent with the same group of people as Christmas, though this time we convened at the Swan home; Charlie had insisted, despite Esme's repeated offers to host a second gathering. She and Bella spent most of the morning there helping Sue prepare enough food to feed an army – or a wolf pack at the very least – and only returned briefly to change before we all left for the actually party. When she came home, Bella was beaming, excitedly telling me all about how close her father and Sue Clearwater had become.
“They've always been friends of course,” she rambled as she pulled on the Alice approved dress selected from the closet in our new home. “But with everything changing all of a sudden... I guess she's acting as a familiar face to guide him through all the unknown. She's good for his health, at least. Perhaps with Sue around he won't starve or kill himself with too much junk food.”
Cars were parked all the way up Charlie's side of the street by the time everyone had arrived. He'd moved the cruiser to the side of the house to free up some space in the driveway, but the truck was a conspicuous dead weight that no one could really do anything about. Rosalie cringed when I suggested towing it back to our house just to get it out of the way, imagining the great monstrosity sharing garage space with her beloved M3, and Bella grinned, probably contemplating the best way to convince Jacob to attempt a revival of the beast. I didn't care much; I had already lost a fair chunk of my dignity when I had been forced to buy a minivan, due to the fact that the back seat of the Volvo wasn't big enough to accommodate three car seats. Having to look at the truck everyday was mild by comparison.
The party was a surprising success. It was a relatively mild night, and all the back windows and doors were open to allow people to flow in and out of the house as they pleased. Nessie, Lizzie and EJ filled themselves to the brim with candy and soda so they could stay up as late as possible, and we all watched the ball drop at midnight on Charlie's flatscreen. The noise of everyone counting down the last ten seconds together was deafening, but the scorching kiss I shared with Bella and the enormous smile on her face were more than worth the quasi-headache. A bonfire was lit up outside, and we had a full telling of the Quileute legends, a mystifying event that meant more to my family and I than anyone else realised. Then there was informal chatter, people relating various amusing stories from days gone by, lots of laughter and more than a bit of cringing in embarrassment. The children finally passed out around four in the morning, and the party dissolved itself just before dawn, everyone making there way blearily to their cars filled with just enough coffee to keep them awake until they got home.
All in all, things were going well. Moving into the cottage had been far less hassle than anyone had expected, and we'd gotten settled almost instantly. The place had undergone several phases of renovation, now no longer resembling the original dilapidated ruin that Esme had found in the woods two years ago at all. The tangled wild ivy that had covered the stonework had been torn away, replaced with climbing roses that rambled up the walls in a curtain of green leaves and vines, interspersed with soft pink flowers that gave out a delicious fragrance. A small patch had been dug up in front of the house and planted with more sweet smelling flowers and decorative herbs, to the point where walking to the front door was rather like passing through a florist. The planting was the first thing that was done, so that the plants could get established to Esme's liking before the house was handed over. Inside, the floor plan had been altered more than once as the potential inhabitants of the house changed; what had originally been planned for two vampires was changed to accommodate first one half-human child, and then three, resulting in the addition of a previously absent bathroom and small kitchen. Alice’s plan for a walk-in closet in the master bedroom big enough to rival her own had to be revised due to the need for more bedroom space, much to her disgruntlement. A solar generator and a water tank that recycled collected rain water were installed, backed up by secondary systems running from the main house. For being in the middle of nowhere, it was a very comfortable little house; the only thing it didn't have was road access, and since we could quite easily run to the main house in about five minutes, that was no great tragedy.
By far my favourite moments were the times when I could watch unnoticed as my family interacted, like one happy afternoon in early January. The light filtered down through the trees into the cottage clearing as I stood at the door of my home watching my wife and my children laugh and play. The air was fresh but not freezing, for the moment at least. Lizzie was learning to walk, wobbling around clutching Bella’s hands, while EJ toddled happily after Nessie, trying to keep up as she explored the undergrowth at the edge of the trees.
Perhaps it was the significance of that day, an anniversary that I had only registered on checking the date that morning; perhaps that was why I felt sentimental and dreamy. I had the urge to go back in time, exactly two years earlier, to the day when Bella first tripped and stumbled her way into my life, to see the cynical, jaded creature I was back then and tell him that the innocent devil sat beside him, with her mind so silent and her eyes so deep, was going to change his world forever. I grinned as I imagined my own scornful response, the incredulous scoff and the refusal to listen. For so long, I had been so lost in my own head, my own stubbornness. I saw myself as evil, and so assumed that everyone else saw me the same way; that I was evil, and at some point everyone was going to realise it and run away from me. I simply wouldn't listen to anyone who told me otherwise, and eventually everyone gave up.
She never gave up, never let me believe that being a vampire made me inherently evil, always believed that nothing I created could ever be ugly or monstrous. And she was right. So very right, and I was so very grateful. Her determination had given me everything I saw before me, all the things I had never dared to dream of having but was so proud to call mine.
“Dada!” Lizzie shouted, breaking my reverie as she spotted me lingering and began heading determinedly in my direction. I crouched down low and held out my arms, smiling as my precious baby girl made her way slowly across the grass. Bella followed along, then used Lizzie's distraction to slowly release first one and then both of her little hands. Lizzie travelled the last few feet entirely on her own, before falling into my arms with a happy squeal.
“Did it, Dada!” she cried excitedly, hugging my neck as I lifted her off the floor.
“Yes precious, you did it.” I replied with a smile, kissing her cheek. “I’m so proud of you, little love.”
Bella slipped her arm around my waist and I nuzzled her hair.
“Two years today, you changed my world,” I whispered, and she squeezed me tighter. “And you've gone on changing it every day since. Thank you Bella. For you, for them, for all of this.”
She didn't say a word, just smiled and pulled me in for a kiss. But that was all I needed to know she felt exactly the same.
I had promised her forever. But for us, forever was just the beginning.