The problem, Edward Cullen decided as he paced across his spartan living room, wasn't that they were leaving - it was that he wasn't going with them. He would have no problem leaving this place behind. The one bedroom apartment suited his needs and nothing more, its living room holding a black leather chair and a black bookcase full of hard bound books that held little interest to him, its pitiful excuse for a bedroom hiding his grand piano away from prying eyes. He'd left the walls white, a stark contrast to the furniture, with no art or photos of any kind adorning them.
The only personalization the place held were two metal-framed photos that stood side by side on the small table beside his chair. Equally beautiful brides smiled out from the photos, standing in the same place, even wearing the same dress. On the right, a gorgeous woman with bronze curls piled atop her head posed on the arm of a dark skinned man, and on the left…
On the left, the most beautiful woman in history stood with an arm around him on the happiest day of his life, nearly two decades ago.
A quiet thump sounded from the bathroom, followed by a soft curse. Without a blink, Edward moved with supernatural speed to the door of the bathroom, peering in nervously. The worry fell from his face, and he swallowed a laugh as he stared at the woman laying on the bathroom floor.
"What are you doing, Renesmee?" he asked, raising a single bronze eyebrow at his daughter. The bronze-haired beauty in the photo had found herself laying on her stomach on the black-and-white checkered floor, peering into an open cabinet under the sink. She had one arm in the cabinet, reaching into the darkness. Her brown eyes are narrowed in concentration until, with a quiet "a-ha!" she withdrew her hand and held up a thin platinum band.
"Took my ring off to wash my hands," she explained, sitting up and slipping it onto her finger. "Knocked it down and it bounced down here." When Edward didn't say anything, just watched in silence as she rose and brushed her jeans off, she admitted, "I knocked my head against a pipe when I was looking for it."
This time, Edward didn't bother trying to hide his laughter. Shaking his head, he stepped aside, letting her leave the bathroom ahead of him. "You are, perhaps, the only clumsy vampire in existence, my dear." She laughed with him, turning to face him when she reached the point where the hall to the door, the living room, and the bathroom's entrance met.
"It's in my blood," she told him with a wink. For a brief moment, Edward froze at the reference, but he recovered before even a second had passed and settled for an easy smile in response. The way she studied him told him that she had not missed his reaction. Reaching over, she took his hand, squeezing it gently. In his mind, the image of him laughing moments before played for him. I like this, she thought, knowing he would hear it. He nodded, then changed the subject on her.
"You will call when you get there, right?" he asked, studying her intently.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Come on, Dad. I'm not 10."
"You weren't ten when you were ten, Nessie. Humor me," he chastised. "This is the first time you and Jacob have not been down the road." In truth, he was not really afraid for her safety; her clumsy streak aside, she was as fast and as strong as any vampire, and her shape-shifting husband was able to take care of any threat that she did not. It bothered him, however, to be away from her for any amount of time. She had been his reason for living, his whole world, and he wasn't sure how he would get by without her.
An image came to his mind unbidden of his brothers and sisters, and Renesmee smiled, accurately reading his expression. "Jasper is even enrolling in classes," she reminded him. "You can, I don't know, do lunch or something if you need a pick-me-up." The image in his mind changed, and Edward sat in a booth across from his blonde-haired brother, napkins spread on their laps, a waiter standing at their side, with a mountain lion laying on the table between them. He laughed again, and his daughter squeezed his hand once more before letting it go.
"Much better," she said with a firm nod. "I still think you should have moved in with them." There was little conviction in her words; this was a months' old argument between the two of them, and he knew she no more expected him to relent than she expected him to order pizza for dinner. Always one to pander to her, he pretended to consider for a moment, touching one finger to his chin.
"Let me see. I can enjoy the silence and privacy of my own abode, or share a house with two incredibly amorous couples." He grinned at her. "I will move in if you do."
She made a face at him. "Please! I don't need my aunts and uncles listening in on my marriage!"
"And I do not need to listen in on theirs," he concluded, patting her on the shoulder. "I will be fine. Go – you deserve some time to yourself." He pulled her into an embrace, his cold skin meeting the heat of hers like yin and yang, two opposites that were never uncomfortable together. She wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him tightly, then pulled back to place a kiss on his cheek.
"Thank you," she told him. "I love you all, but Jake and I… We need some time to ourselves. We've been together ten years now and have never been on our own!"
"I know, I know." He shook his head as he stepped away from her. "Now get out of here before that husband of yours shows up and makes my apartment smell of dog." Renesmee socked him gently on the shoulder and turned, picked her green Armada purse up off the floor and settling it on her shoulder.
"I love you, Dad," she told him, and he nodded.
"I love you too, Nessie."
She let herself out, and he threw the deadbolt behind her, then stood by the door listening. He gave her mind as much privacy as he could, refusing to listen in to her thoughts, but he tracked her heartbeat as she retreated down the hall and out of the building. It took a lot of will power not to go to the window and watch as she slid into the car with Jacob and drive away; the image of her rolling away from him and disappearing into the distance would be worse than the silence that settled over him in place of her fluttering heartbeat.
When the purr of the engine was gone, Edward let out a long, low sigh and went to his chair. Collapsing back into it, he ignored the groan of the reinforced structure Esme had built into it and leaned his head back into the cushion.
His eyes found their favorite place on the ceiling, an uneven bump in the plaster ceiling that looked, with some imagination, like the curve of a pair of lips, and let his mind shut down. His breathing stopped, the natural-looking ticks of blinking and shifting ceased, and he sat still as stone, allowing the time to pass him by.
Renesmee was gone, off to Florida to enjoy the sun and the beach without having to feel guilty for leaving her vampire family behind. It would be good for her, he knew, and certainly good for Jacob to be away from the rest of them. He had never settled fully into the family, remaining close because of his imprinted bond with Edward's daughter but never truly bonding with any of them… Except Renesmee, of course. He was the glue between them all.
Just like her mother had been.
Edward closed his eyes and, in his perfect memory, began to relive his time with Bella once again. He always felt like his memory had missed some vital aspect of her, that the picture in his mind never lived up to what had been the reality of her despite being photographic. Still, he let the memories sweep him away as he often did.
Time spent away from Renesmee was spent this way with Bella, hearing her voice, seeing her smile. He secluded himself, spending hours if not days, days if not weeks replaying every minute of their time together. The stabbing pain it left in his hollow chest was matched only by the emptiness of his hands as he longed to touch her, to feel her one more time.
It was better than living in the reality of this purgatory without her.
At least, with his daughter, he could pretend to be…not happy, everyone knew him too well to believe him happy, but he would pretend that life carried on without Bella.
A knock sounded at the door, and Edward snarled as he was pulled out of his memories. He didn't bother to open his eyes as he muttered, "Go away, Alice."
You have a class this morning, she reminded him brusquely, then knocked on the door again to keep up appearances. You promised, Edward.
Pushing himself to his feet, he stalked over to the door, unlocking it and yanking it open roughly. "I shouldn't have," he grumbled at her, staring darkly into her golden eyes. She sniffed in disdain, staring back at him from beneath her wild black hair. She'd put on bright eye shadow and ruby lipstick, and some brand of blush that gave her pale skin a faint rosy hue.
"If you're trying to intimidate me, it isn't working," she informed him, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. She gave him a shove from behind. "Go. Get your bag and meet me at the car in 5 minutes. We didn't go back to school for you to ditch."
Edward muttered darkly as he followed her orders, retrieving a black bag from the closet that held his tablet computer – a slim thing that was no larger than a note pad, with a stylus that fit into the top corner and a touch screen – and a pair of sunglasses. He shouldered the bag, then thought better of it, setting it down and pulling on a heavy jacket first. It had been years since he'd had to maintain any kind of human charade, and he was still getting back into old habits. Picking up his bag again, he grabbed the keys from a hook by the door and let himself out, locking up behind him.
Not for the first time, Edward wondered why he had allowed his siblings – mostly Alice – to talk him into returning to school after so long. The days were long and tedious, filled with the buzz of painfully shallow thoughts and the drone of professors who were outmatched only by Edward in their cynicism. Of course, the idea had thrilled Carlisle and Esme, especially since he was studying medicine; it had been so long since the scent of human blood had even remotely appealed to him that he would finally complete a residency, after beginning degrees a handful of times for Carlisle and dropping out when it came time to do anything hands-on. A part of him wondered if that was a part of why Bella had died. For all his theoretical knowledge, he had little experience, and maybe that would have made the difference…
In the end, he had given in to his sister's meddling and applied to Dartmouth's medical school, telling himself that it would benefit him if anything ever happened to Renesmee. The look on Charlie's face when Carlisle had told him his daughter had died haunted Edward constantly, one particular memory he wished he had not found in his father's mind. Edward wasn't sure how he had survived losing Bella, but he knew he would not survive losing Renesmee as well.
"You're late, and you're brooding," Alice commented as she opened the door to the back seat of their new black Porsche. You're supposed to be happy today! she told him silently, and her stern expression cracked into a smile. Briefly, he wondered what she meant by that, but she had started to go through her schedule for the day in her mind and pick out all the moments she would be able to steal away with her husband. "Let's go."
Striding past her, Edward sat down in the back of the car, nodding to Jasper and reaching for his seat belt. He returned the nod, and a brief pulse of calm eased Edward's hesitation. "Thanks," he muttered as Alice let herself into the passenger seat.
"Nessie get on the road all right?" he asked, turning forward and starting the car. He touched the navigation screen and let the system take control, gliding the car onto the street.
"They left this morning," Edward confirmed for them. His face twisted for a moment before he caught himself, staring out the window as the scenery slipped by at a painfully slow pace. The automatic control of cars was a safety boon, but to most of the Cullens, it was one of the first modifications they made to any new cars. Jasper had only arrived the day before, returning from a brief trip to Denali to check on their cousins up north, and obviously had not had time to work on the car yet.
I'm sorry, Jasper offered. "Did she say when they would be visiting?"
"Christmas," Alice announced. "I've seen it. Oh! And I'm going to love the present she brings back for me!" Jasper chuckled, reaching over and squeezing her knee fondly. Taking his hand into her own, Alice beamed.
"Quit peeking," Jasper chastised her warmly, looking over at her and shaking his head. "You know she likes trying to surprise you."
Alice pouted. "You know I can't help it, Jazz! Besides, I think our brother here is the only one that could surprise me right now." She turned on him and said, "I would be very happily surprised if you decided to come out with us tonight!"
Edward rolled his eyes and continued to stare out the window. When Alice sighed and turned away, she grumbled, "I'm just trying to help." As much as he knew it, it didn't irritate him any less, and Edward let himself fall back into his memories rather than dwell on her well-meant annoyance. They would 'wake' him when they arrived on campus and he had to fill another tedious day with classes.