The wedding flowed into the reception party smoothly-proof of Alice's flawless planning. It was just twilight over the river; the ceremony had lasted exactly the right amount of time, allowing the sun to set behind the trees. The lights in the trees glimmered as Edward let me through the glass back doors, making the white flowers glow. There were another ten thousand flowers out here, serving as a fragrant, airy tent over the dance floor set up on the grass under two of the ancient cedars.
Things slowed down, relaxed as the mellow August evening surrounded us. The little crowd spread out under the soft shine of the twinkle lights, and we were greeted again by the friends we'd just embraced. There was time to talk now, to laugh.
"Congrats, guys," Seth Clearwater told us, ducking his head under the edge of a flower garland. His mother, Sue, was tight by his side, eyeing the guests with wary intensity. Her face was thin and fierce, an expression that was accented by her short, severe hairstyle; it was as short as her daughter Leah's-I wondered if she'd cut it the same way in a show of solidarity. Billy Black, on Seth's other side, was not as tense as Sue.
When I looked at Jacob's father, I always felt like I was seeing two people rather than just one. There was the old man in the wheelchair with the lined face and the white smile that everyone else saw. And then there was the direct descendant of a long line of powerful, magical chieftains, cloaked in the authority he'd been born with. Though the magic had-in the absence of a catalyst-skipped his generation, Billy was still a part of the power and the legent. It flowed straight through him. It flowed to his son, the heir to the magic, who had turned his back on it. That had overtaken Sam Uley to act as the chief of legends and magic now...
Billy seemed oddly at ease considering the company and the event-his black eyes sparkled like he'd just gotten some good news. I was impressed by his composure. This wedding must have seemed a very bad thing, the worst thing that could happen to his best friend's daughter, in Billy's eyes.
I knew it wasn't easy for him to restrain his feelings, considering the challenge this event foreshadowed to the ancient treaty between the Cullens and the Quileutes-the treaty that prohibited the Cullens from ever creating another vampire. The wolves knew a breach was coming, but the Cullens had no idea how they would react.
As if in response to that thought, Seth leaned toward Edward, arms extended.
Edward returned the hug with his free arm. The other had Nessie snuggled into his chest.
I saw Sue shudder delicately.
"It's good to see things work out for you, man," Seth said. "I'm happy for you."
"Thank you, Seth, That means a lot to me." Edward pulled away from Seth and looked at Sue and Billy. "Thank you, as well. For letting Seth come. For supporting Bella today."
"You're welcome," Billy said in his deep, gravelly voice, and I was surprised at the optimism in his tone. Perhaps a stronger truce was on the horizon.
A bit of a line was forming, so Seth waved goodbye and wheeled Billy toward the food. Sue kept one hand on each of them.
Angela and Ben were the next to claim us, followed by Angela's parents and then Mike and Jessica-who were, to my surprise, holding hands. I hadn't heard that they were together again. That was nice.
All the standard traditions were kept. I was blinded by flashbulbs as we held the knife over a spectacular cake-too grand, I thought, for our relatively intimate group of friends and family. We took turns shoving cake in each other's faces; Edward manfully swallowed his portion as I watched in disbelief. I threw my bouquet with a typical skill, right into Angela's surprised hands. Emmett and Jasper howled with laughter at my blush while Edward removed my borrowed garter-which I'd shimmied down nearly to my ankle-very carefully with his teeth. With a quick wink at me, he shot it straight into Mike Newton's face.
And when the music started, Edward pulled me into his arms for the customary first dance; I went willingly, despite my fear of dancing-especially dancing in front of an audience-just happy to have him holding me. He did all the work, and I twirled effortlessly under the glow of a canopy of lights and the bright flashes from the cameras.
"Enjoying the party, Mrs. Cullen?" he whispered in my ear.
I laughed. "That will take a while to get used to."
"We have a while," he reminded me, his voice exultant, and he leaned down to kiss me while we danced. Cameras clicked feverishly. The music changed, and Charlie tapped on Edward's shoulder.
It wasn't nearly as easy to dance with Charlie. He was no better at it than I was, so we moved safely from side to side in a tiny square formation. Edward and Esme spun around us like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
"I'm going to miss you at home, Bella. I'm already lonely."
I spoke through a tight throat, trying to make a joke of it. "I feel just horrible, leaving you to cook for yourself-it's practically criminal negligence. You could arrest me."
He grinned. "I suppose I'll survive the food. Just call me whenever you can. And bring Nessie by as much as you can."
I was honestly very happy with how much he had come around about the whole pregnancy and being a grandpa thing. The first time he held Nessie he was hooked. I had seen it in his eyes.
It seemed like I danced with everyone. It was good to see all my old friends, but I really wanted to be with Edward more than anything else. I was happy when he finally cut in, just half a minute after a new dance started.
"Still not that fond of Mike, eh?" I commented as Edward whirled me away from him.
"Not when I have to listen to his thoughts. He's lucky I didn't kick him out. Or worse."
"Have you had a chance to look at yourself?"
"Um. No, I guess not. Why?"
"Then I suppose you don't realize how utterly, heart-breakingly beautiful you are tonight. I'm not surprised Mike's having difficulty with improper thoughts about a married woman. I am disappointed that Alice didn't make sure you were forced to look in a mirror."
"You are very biased, you know."
He sighed and then paused and turned me around to face the house. The wall of glass reflected the party back like a long mirror. Edward pointed to the couple in the mirror directly across from us.
"Biased, am I?"
I caught just a glimpse of Edward's reflection-a perfect duplicate of his perfect face-with a dark-haired beauty at his side. Her skin was cream and roses, her eyes were huge with excitement and framed with thick lashes. The narrow sheath of the shimmering white dress flared out subtly at the train almost like an inverted calla lily, cut so skillfully that her body looked elegant and graceful-while it was motionless, at least.
Before I could blink and make the beauty turn back into me, Edward suddenly stiffened and turned automatically in the other direction, as if someone had called his name.
"Oh!" he said, His brow furrowed for an instant and then smoothed out just as quickly.
Suddenly, he was smiling a brilliant smile.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Someone else wants a dance with the bride."
He didn't answer; he just started dancing again, spinning me the opposite way we'd been headed before, away from the lights and then into the deep swath of night that ringed the luminous dance floor.
He didn't pause until we reached the other side of the dance floor. Then Edward looked straight behind me.
"Thank you," Edward said to someone behind me. "This is very...kind of you."
"Kind is my middle name," a husky familiar voice answered from the black night. "Can I cut in?"
"Of course. Besides, Rosalie won't forgive me if she doesn't get her official turn on the dance floor," Edward murmured, and I knew he was leaving us, giving me a gift of his own-a moment with Jacob.
Jacob pulled back a little bit and straightened up. He left one hand on the small of my back and grabbed my right hand with the other. He cradled our hands to his chest; I could feel his heartbeat under my palm, and I guessed that he hadn't placed my hand there accidentally.
"I don't know if I get more than just this one dance," he said, and he began pulling me around in a slow circle that didn't match the tempo of the music coming from behind us. "I'd better make the best of it."
We moved to the rhythm of his heart under my hand.
My eyes were adjusting, and I could see his face now, higher up than I expected. Was it possible he'd grown in the last week? He had to be closer to seven feet than to six. It was a relief to see his familiar features again after all this time-his deep set eyes shadowed under his shaggy black brows, his high cheekbones, his full lips stretched over his bright teeth in the sarcastic smile that matched his tone.
I'd never done anything good enough to deserve a friend like Jacob.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me.
"Hey where's Leah?" I asked looking around.
"Don't worry, she's over doting over your daughter. She can't wait to have our baby." he said with a smile.
"You're excited too, I can tell." I said noticing the pure bliss in his eyes.
He smiled and looked down for a second before looking me in the eyes again.
"I think I am. I mean, raising a kid while I'm finishing up my senior year isn't exactly the way I planned it, but we're so connected we know we can make it work." he said looking at Leah.
I glanced over to see her blow him a kiss.
We revolved steadily.
"It would have been a shame to miss seeing you like this, though. You look unbelievable, Bella. So beautiful."
"Alice invested a lot of time in me today. The dark helps, too."
"It's not so dark for me, you know."
"Right." Werewolf senses. It was easy to forget all the things he could do, he seemed so human. Especially right now.
"You cut your hair," I noted.
"Yeah. Easier, you know. Thought I'd better take advantage of the hands."
"It looks good," I lied.
He snorted. "Right. I did it myself, with rusty kitchen shears. Leah almost killed me when she walked in and saw it." He grinned widely for a moment, and then his smile faded. His expression turned serious.
"I'm glad I came," Jacob said quietly after a moment. "It's good to see you so happy. I wanted to make sure Edward could make you happy and now I see he will, for the rest of your days."
I knew he said that last part on purpose.
He smiled before replying. "Yeah, But enough about me. You're the star today." He chuckled. "I bet you're just loving that. Center of attention."
"Yeah. Can't get enough attention."
He laughed and then stared over my head. With pursed lips, he studied the shimmering glow of the reception party, the graceful whirl of the dancers, the fluttering petals falling from the garlands; I looked with him. It all seemed very distant from this black, quiet space. Almost like watching the white flurries swirling inside a snow globe.
"I'll give them this much," he said. "They know how to throw a party."
"Alice is an unstoppable force of nature."
He sighed. "Song's over. Do you think I get another one? Or is that asking too much?"
I tightened my hand around his. "You can have as many dances as you want."
He laughed. "That would be interesting. I think I'd better stick with two, though. Don't want to start talk."
We turned in another circle.
"I'm going to try to remember you like this. Pretend that..."
"That what? That I died?"
"No," he finally answered. "But I'll see you this way in my head. Pink cheeks. Heartbeat. Two left feet. All of that."
I deliberately stomped on his foot as hard as I could.
He smiled. "That's my girl."
He started to say something else and then snapped his mouth closed. Struggling again, teeth gritted against the words he didn't want to say.
"What is it, Jake? Just tell me. You can tell me anything."
"I-I...don't have anything to tell you."
"Oh please. Spit it out."
"It's true. It's not... it's-it's a question. It's something I want you to tell me."
He struggled for another minute and then exhaled. "I shouldn't. It doesn't matter. I'm just morbidly curious."
Because I knew him so well, I understood.
"It's not tonight, Jacob," I whispered.
"Oh," he said, trying to smother his relief. "Oh."
A new song started playing, but he didn't notice the change this time.
"When?" he whispered.
"I don't know for sure. A week or two, maybe."
His voice changed, took on a defensive, mocking edge. "What's the holdup?"
"I just didn't want to spend my honeymoon writhing in pain."
"You'd rather spend it how? Playing checkers? Ha ha."
"Kidding, Bells. But, honestly, I don't see the point. You can't have a real honeymoon with your vampire, so why go through the motions? Call a spade a spade. This isn't the first time you've put this off. That's a good thing, though," he said, suddenly earnest. "Don't be embarrassed about it."
"I'm not putting anything off," I snapped. "And yes I can have a real honeymoon! I can do anything I want! Butt out!"
He stopped our slow circling abruptly. For a moment, I wondered if he'd finally noticed the music change. Then his eyes bulged wide with a strange kind of confused horror.
"What?" he gasped. "What did you say?"
"About what...? Jake? What's wrong?"
"What do you mean? Have a real honeymoon? While you're still human? Are you kidding? That's a sick joke, Bella!"
I glared at him. "I said butt out, Jake. This is so not your business. I shouldn't have...we shouldn't even be talking about this. It's private-"
He looked up and got a look on his face. I could tell he was thinking hard about something.
"You know what? You're right. That is private, and you guys already have Nessie-which I don't need to know too much about her creation." he said the last smirking.
"Good, cause I don't give out those kind of details." I said smiling.
"I'm sorry Bella, that was completely out of line." he apologized.
"It's ok. I understand. The ancient rivalry is hard to overcome, even for a few hours." I said smiling.
"May I have my bride back?" I heard Edward's velvet voice ask behind me.
"If you must." Jacob said as Leah walked up behind him.
"I must. Besides, I think someone else would like to dance with you." Edward said smiling at Leah.
He put his arms around me and let me back to the light. When we passed under the twinkle lights, he spun me gently onto the dance floor. We melted in with the other dancers as if our dance had never been interrupted.
I melted into Edward's chest as he spun me around during the slow song playing.
I took deep breaths and smiled. "By the way, I love you." I whispered into his chest.
I felt him kiss my head and felt his lips turn into a smile before he replied. "That's why we're here."
"You're monopolizing the bride," Emmett said, coming up behind Edward's shoulder. "Let me dance with my little sister. This could be my last chance to make her blush." He laughed loudly, as unaffected as he usually was by any serious atmosphere.
It turned out there were actually lots of people I hadn't danced with yet, and that gave me a chance to truly compose and resolve myself. After dancing with Jasper and Carlisle, Edward claimed me again. As he wrapped his arms around me, I was able to continue in my sense of joy, my certainty that everything in my life was in the right place tonight. I smiled and laid my head against his chest again. His arms tightened.
"I could get used to this," I said.
"Don't tell me you've gotten over your dancing issues?"
"Dancing isn't so bad-with you. But I was thinking more of this,"-and I pressed myself into him even tighter-"of never having to let you go."
"Never," he promised, and he leaned down to kiss me.
It was a serious kind of kiss-intense, slow but building...
I'd pretty much forgotten where I was when I heard Alice call, "Bella! It's time!"
I felt a brief flicker of irritation with my new sister for the interruption.
Edward ignored her; his lips were hard against mine, more urgent than before.
My heart broke into a sprint and my palms were slick against his marble neck.
"Do you want to miss your plane?" Alice demanded, right next to me now. "I'm sure you'll have a lovely honeymoon camped out in the airport waiting for another flight."
Edward turned his face slightly to murmur, "Go away, Alice," and then pressed his lips to mine again.
"Bella, do you want to wear that dress on the airplane?" she demanded.
I wasn't really paying much attention. At the moment, I simply didn't care.
Alice growled quietly. "I'll tell her where you're taking her, Edward. So help me, I will."
He froze. Then he lifted his face from mine and glared at his favorite sister.
"You're awfully small to be so hugely irritating."
"I didn't pick out the perfect going-away dress to have it wasted," she snapped back, taking my hand. "Come with me, Bella."
I tugged against her hold, stretching up on my toes to kiss him one more time.
She jerked my arm impatiently, hauling me away from him. There were a few chuckles from the watching guests. I gave up then and let her lead me into the empty house.
She looked annoyed.
"Sorry, Alice," I apologized.
"I don't blame you, Bella." she sighed. "You don't seem to be able to help yourself." I giggled at her martyred expression, and she scowled.
"Thank you, Alice. It was the most beautiful wedding anyone ever had," I told her earnestly. "Everything was exactly right. You're the best, smartest, most talented sister in the whole world."
That thawed her out; she smiled a huge smile. "I'm glad you liked it." Renee and Esme were waiting upstairs with Nessie. The three of them quickly had me out of my dress and into Alice's deep blue going-away ensemble. I was grateful when someone pulled the pins out of my hair and let it fall loose down my back, wavy from the braids, saving me from a hairpin headache later. My mother's tears streamed without a break the entire time.
"I'll call you when I know where I'm going," I promised as I hugged her goodbye. I knew the honeymoon secret was probably driving her crazy; my mother hated secrets, unless she was in on them.
"I'll tell you as soon as she's safely away," Alice outdid me, smirking at my wounded expression. How unfair, for me to be the last to know.
"You have to visit me and Phil very, very soon. It's your turn to go south-see the sun for once," Renee said.
"It didn't rain today," I reminded her, avoiding her request.
"Everything's ready," Alice said. "Your suitcases are in the car-Jasper's bringing it around."
At this I grabbed Nessie, hugging her tightly and kissing her numerous times. This was going to be the hard part, being away from her for a whole month. I carried her out of the room for Edward to give her his goodbye hugs and kisses before we left.
Edward was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. I handed Nessie to him as I turned to my mom.
"I love you, Mom," I whispered as we embraced. "I'm so glad you have Phil. Take care of each other."
"I love you, too, Bella, honey."
"Goodbye, Mom. I love you," I said again, my throat thick.
I saw Edward hand Nessie to Rosalie before turning to me. I took his outstretched hand but leaned away, scanning the little crowd that was waiting to see us off.
"Dad?" I asked, my eyes searching.
"Over here," Edward murmured. He pulled me through the guests; they made a pathway for us. We found Charlie leaning awkwardly against the wall behind everyone else, looking a little like he was hiding. The red rims around his eyes explained why.
I hugged him around the waist, tears streaming again-I was crying so much tonight. He patted my back.
"There, now. You don't want to miss your plane."
It was hard to talk about love with Charlie-we were so much alike, always reverting to trivial things to avoid embarrassing emotional displays. But this was no time for being self-conscious.
"I love you forever, Dad," I told him. "Don't forget that."
"You, too, Bells. Always have, always will."
I kissed his cheek at the same time that he kissed mine.
"Call me," he said.
"Soon," I promised, knowing this was all I could promise. Just a phone call. My father and my mother could not be allowed to see me again; I would be too different, and much, much too dangerous.
"Go on, then," he said gruffly. "Don't want to be late."
The guests made another aisle for us. Edward pulled me close to his side as we made our escape.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"I am," I said, and I knew that it was true.
Everyone applauded when Edward kissed me on the doorstep. Then he rushed me to the car as the rice storm began. Most of it went wide, but someone, probably Emmett, threw with uncanny precision, and I caught a lot of the ricochets off Edward's back.
The car was decorated with more flowers that trailed in streamers along its length, and long gossamer ribbons that were tied to a dozen shoes-designer shoes that looked brand-new-dangling behind the bumper.
Edward shielded me from the rice while I climbed in, and then he was in and we were speeding away as I waved out the window and called "I love you" to the porch, where my families waved back.
The last image I registered was one of my parents. Phil had both arms wrapped tenderly around Renee. She had one arm tight around his waist but had her free hand reached out to hold Charlie's. So many different kinds of love, harmonious in this one moment. It seemed a very hopeful picture to me.
Edward squeezed my hand.
"I love you," he said.
I leaned my head against his arm. "That's why we're here," I quoted him.
He kissed my hair.
As we turned onto the black highway and Edward really hit the accelerator, I leaned into his shoulder, still reveling in the pure bliss and happiness I was feeling from this day.