I DIDN’T GET VERY FAR BEFORE DRIVING BECAME IMPOSsible.
When I couldn’t see anymore, I let my tires find the rough shoulder and rolled slowly to a stop. I slumped over on the seat and allowed the weakness I’d fought in Jacob’s room crush me. It was worse that I’d thought — the force of it took me by surprise. Yes, I had been right to hide this from Jacob. No one should ever see this.
But I wasn’t alone for very long — just exactly long enough for Alice to see me here, and then the few minutes it took him to arrive. The door creaked open, and he pulled me into his arms.
At first it was worse. Because there was that smaller part of me — smaller, but getting louder and angrier every minute, screaming at the rest of me — that craved a different set of arms. So then there was fresh guilt to season the pain.
He didn’t say anything, he just let me sob until I began to blubber out Charlie’s name.
“Are you really ready to go home?” he asked doubtfully.
I managed to convey, after several attempts, that it wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon. I needed to get past Charlie before it got late enough for him to call Billy.
So he drove me home — for once not even getting close to my truck’s internal speed limit — keeping one arm wrapped tightly around me. The whole way, I fought for control. It seemed to be a doomed effort at first, but I didn’t give up. Just a few seconds, I told myself. Just time for a few excuses, or a few lies, and then I could break down again. I had to be able to do that much. I scrambled around in my head, searching desperately for a reserve of strength.
There was just enough for me to quiet the sobs — hold them back but not end them. The tears didn’t slow. I couldn’t seem to find any handle to even begin to work with those.
“Wait for me upstairs,” I mumbled when we were in front of the house.
He hugged me closer for one minute, and then he was gone.
Once inside, I headed straight for the stairs.
“Bella?” Charlie called after me from his usual place on the sofa as I walked by.
I turned to look at him without speaking. His eyes bugged wide, and he lurched to his feet.
“What happened? Is Jacob . . . ?” he demanded.
I shook my head furiously, trying to find my voice. “He’s fine, he’s fine,” I promised, my voice low and husky. And Jacob was fine, physically, which is all Charlie was worried about at the moment.
“But what happened?” He grabbed my shoulders, his eyes still anxious and wide. “What happened to you?”
I must look worse than I’d imagined.
“Nothing, Dad. I . . . just had to talk to Jacob about . . . some things that were hard. I’m fine.”
The anxiety calmed, and was replaced by disapproval.
“Was this really the best time?” he asked.
“Probably not, Dad, but I didn’t have any alternatives — it just got to the point where I had to choose. . . . Sometimes, there isn’t any way to compromise.”
He shook his head slowly. “How did he handle it?”
I didn’t answer.
He looked at my face for a minute, and then nodded. That must have been answer enough.
“I hope you didn’t mess up his recovery.”
“He’s a quick healer,” I mumbled.
I could feel the control slipping.
“I’ll be in my room,” I told him, shrugging out from underneath his hands.
“’Kay,” Charlie agreed. He could probably see the waterworks starting to escalate. Nothing scared Charlie worse than tears.
I made my way to my room, blind and stumbling.
Once inside, I fought with the clasp on my bracelet, trying to undo it with shaking fingers.
“No, Bella,” Edward whispered, capturing my hands. “It’s part of who you are.”
He pulled me into the cradle of his arms as the sobs broke free again.
This longest of days seemed to stretch on and on and on. I wondered if it would ever end.
But, though the night dragged relentlessly, it was not the worst night of my life. I took comfort from that. And I was not alone. There was a great deal of comfort in that, too.
Charlie’s fear of emotional outbursts kept him from checking on me, though I was not quiet — he probably got no more sleep than I did.
My hindsight seemed unbearably clear tonight. I could see every mistake I’d made, every bit of harm I’d done, the small things and the big things. Each pain I’d caused Jacob, each wound I’d given Edward, stacked up into neat piles that I could not ignore or deny.
And I realized that I’d been wrong all along about the magnets. It had not been Edward and Jacob that I’d been trying to force together, it was the two parts of myself, Edward’s Bella and Jacob’s Bella. But they could not exist together, and I never should have tried.
I’d done so much damage.
At some point in the night, I remembered the promise I’d made to myself early this morning — that I would never make Edward see me shed another tear for Jacob Black. The thought brought on a round of hysteria which frightened Edward more than the weeping. But it passed, too, when it had run its course.
Edward said little; he just held me on the bed and let me ruin his shirt, staining it with salt water.
It took longer than I thought it would for that smaller, broken part of me to cry herself out. It happened, though, and I was eventually exhausted enough to sleep. Unconsciousness did not bring full relief from the pain, just a numbing, dulling ease, like medicine. Made it more bearable. But it was still there; I was aware of it, even asleep, and that helped me to make the adjustments I needed to make.
The morning brought with it, if not a brighter outlook, as least a measure of control, some acceptance. Instinctively, I knew that the new tear in my heart would always ache. That was just going to be a part of me now. Time would make it easier — that’s what everyone always said. But I didn’t care if time healed me or not, so long as Jacob could get better. Could be happy again.
When I woke up, there was no disorientation. I opened my eyes — finally dry — and met his anxious gaze.
“Hey,” I said. My voice was hoarse. I cleared my throat.
He didn’t answer. He watched me, waiting for it to start.
“No, I’m fine,” I promised. “That won’t happen again.”
His eyes tightened at my words.
“I’m sorry that you had to see that,” I said. “That wasn’t fair to you.”
He put his hands on either side of my face.
“Bella . . . are you sure? Did you make the right choice? I’ve never seen you in so much pain —” His voice broke on the last word.
But I had known worse pain.
I touched his lips. “Yes.”
“I don’t know. . . .” His brow creased. “If it hurts you so much, how can it possibly be the right thing for you?”
“Edward, I know who I can’t live without.”
“But . . .”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand. You may be brave enough or strong enough to live without me, if that’s what’s best. But I could never be that self-sacrificing. I have to be with you. It’s the only way I can live.”
He still looked dubious. I should never have let him stay with me last night. But I had needed him so much. . . .
“Hand me that book, will you?” I asked, pointing over his shoulder.
His eyebrows pulled together in confusion, but he gave it to me quickly.
“This again?” he asked.
“I just wanted to find this one part I remembered . . . to see how she said it. . . .” I flipped through the book, finding the page I wanted easily. The corner was dog-eared from the many times I’d stopped here. “Cathy’s a monster, but there were a few things she got right,” I muttered. I read the lines quietly, mostly to myself. “‘If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.’” I nodded, again to myself. “I know exactly what she means. And I know who I can’t live without.”
Edward took the book from my hands and flipped it across the room — it landed with a light thud on my desk. He wrapped his arms around my waist.
A small smile lit his perfect face, though worry still lined his forehead. “Heathcliff had his moments, too,” he said. He didn’t need the book to get it word perfect. He pulled me closer and whispered in my ear, “‘I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!’”
“Yes,” I said quietly. “That’s my point.”
“Bella, I can’t stand for you to be miserable. Maybe . . .”
“No, Edward. I’ve made a real mess of things, and I’m going to have to live with that. But I know what I want and what I need . . . and what I’m going to do now.”
“What are we going to do now?”
I smiled just a bit at his correction, and then I sighed. “We are going to go see Alice.”
Alice was on the bottom porch step, too hyper to wait for us inside. She looked about to break into a celebration dance, so excited was she about the news she knew I was there to deliver.
“Thank you, Bella!” she sang as we got out of the truck.
“Hold it, Alice,” I warned her, lifting a hand up to halt her glee. “I’ve got a few limitations for you.”
“I know, I know, I know. I only have until August thirteenth at the latest, you have veto power on the guest list, and if I go overboard on anything, you’ll never speak to me again.”
“Oh, okay. Well, yeah. You know the rules, then.”
“Don’t worry, Bella, it will be perfect. Do you want to see your dress?”
I had to take a few deep breaths. Whatever makes her happy, I said to myself.
Alice’s smile was smug.
“Um, Alice,” I said, keeping the casual, unruffled tone in my voice. “When did you get me a dress?”
It probably wasn’t much of a show. Edward squeezed my hand.
Alice led the way inside, heading for the stairs. “These things take time, Bella,” Alice explained. Her tone seemed . . . evasive. “I mean, I wasn’t sure things were going to turn out this way, but there was a distinct possibility. . . .”
“When?” I asked again.
“Perrine Bruyere has a waiting list, you know,” she said, defensive now. “Fabric masterpieces don’t happen overnight. If I hadn’t thought ahead, you’d be wearing something off the rack!”
It didn’t look like I was going to get a straight answer. “Per — who?”
“He’s not a major designer, Bella, so there’s no need to throw a hissy fit. He’s got promise, though, and he specializes in what I needed.”
“I’m not throwing a fit.”
“No, you’re not.” She eyed my calm face suspiciously. Then, as we walked into her room, she turned on Edward.
“You — out.”
“Why?” I demanded.
“Bella,” she groaned. “You know the rules. He’s not supposed to see the dress till the day of.”
I took another deep breath. “It doesn’t matter to me. And you know he’s already seen it in your head. But if that’s how you want it. . . .”
She shoved Edward back out the door. He didn’t even look at her — his eyes were on me, wary, afraid to leave me alone.
I nodded, hoping my expression was tranquil enough to reassure him.
Alice shut the door in his face.
“All right!” she muttered. “C’mon.”
She grabbed my wrist and towed me to her closet — which was bigger than my bedroom — and then dragged me to the back corner, where a long white garment bag had a rack all to itself.
She unzipped the bag in one sweeping movement, and then slipped it carefully off the hanger. She took a step back, holding her hand out to the dress like she was a game show hostess.
“Well?” she asked breathlessly.
I appraised it for a long moment, playing with her a bit. Her expression turned worried.
“Ah,” I said, and I smiled, letting her relax. “I see.”
“What do you think?” she demanded.
It was my Anne of Green Gables vision all over again.
“It’s perfect, of course. Exactly right. You’re a genius.”
She grinned. “I know.”
“Nineteen-eighteen?” I guessed.
“More or less,” she said, nodding. “Some of it is my design, the train, the veil. . . .” She touched the white satin as she spoke. “The lace is vintage. Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful. It’s just right for him.”
“But is it just right for you?” she insisted.
“Yes, I think it is, Alice. I think it’s just what I need. I know you’ll do a great job with this . . . if you can keep yourself in check.”
“Can I see your dress?” I asked.
She blinked, her face blank.
“Didn’t you order your bridesmaid dress at the same time? I wouldn’t want my maid of honor to wear something off the rack.” I pretended to wince in horror.
She threw her arms around my waist. “Thank you, Bella!”
“How could you not see that one coming?” I teased, kissing her spiky hair. “Some psychic you are!”
Alice danced back, and her face was bright with fresh enthusiasm. “I’ve got so much to do! Go play with Edward. I have to get to work.”
She dashed out of the room, yelling, “Esme!” as she disappeared.
I followed at my own pace. Edward was waiting for me in the hallway, leaning against the wood-paneled wall.
“That was very, very nice of you,” he told me.
“She seems happy,” I agreed.
He touched my face; his eyes — too dark, it had been so long since he’d left me — searched my expression minutely.
“Let’s get out of here,” he suddenly suggested. “Let’s go to our meadow.”
It sounded very appealing. “I guess I don’t have to hide out anymore, do I?”
“No. The danger is behind us.”
He was quiet, thoughtful, as he ran. The wind blew on my face, warmer now that the storm had really passed. The clouds covered the sky, the way they usually did.
The meadow was a peaceful, happy place today. Patches of summer daisies interrupted the grass with splashes of white and yellow. I lay back, ignoring the slight dampness of the ground, and looked for pictures in the clouds. They were too even, too smooth. No pictures, just a soft, gray blanket.
Edward lay next to me and held my hand.
“August thirteenth?” he asked casually after a few minutes of comfortable silence.
“That gives me a month till my birthday. I didn’t want to cut it too close.”
He sighed. “Esme is three years older than Carlisle — technically. Did you know that?”
I shook my head.
“It hasn’t made any difference to them.”
My voice was serene, a counterpoint to his anxiety. “My age is not really that important. Edward, I’m ready. I’ve chosen my life — now I want to start living it.”
He stroked my hair. “The guest list veto?”
“I don’t care really, but I . . .” I hesitated, not wanting to explain this one. Best to get it over with. “I’m not sure if Alice would feel the need to invite . . . a few werewolves. I don’t know if . . . Jake would feel like . . . like he should come. Like that’s the right thing to do, or that I’d get my feelings hurt if he didn’t. He shouldn’t have to go through that.”
Edward was quiet for a minute. I stared at the tips of the treetops, almost black against the light gray of the sky.
Suddenly, Edward grabbed me around the waist and pulled me onto his chest.
“Tell me why you’re doing this, Bella. Why did you decide, now, to give Alice free reign?”
I repeated for him the conversation I had with Charlie last night before I’d gone to see Jacob.
“It wouldn’t be fair to keep Charlie out of this,” I concluded. “And that means Renée and Phil. I might as well let Alice have her fun, too. Maybe it will make the whole thing easier for Charlie if he gets his proper goodbye. Even if he thinks it’s much too early, I wouldn’t want to cheat him out of the chance to walk me down the aisle.” I grimaced at the words, then took another deep breath. “At least my mom and dad and my friends will know the best part of my choice, the most I’m allowed to tell them. They’ll know I chose you, and they’ll know we’re together. They’ll know I’m happy, wherever I am. I think that’s the best I can do for them.”
Edward held my face, searching it for a brief time.
“Deal’s off,” he said abruptly.
“What?” I gasped. “You’re backing out? No!”
“I’m not backing out, Bella. I’ll still keep my side of the bargain. But you’re off the hook. Whatever you want, no strings attached.”
“Bella, I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to make everyone else happy. And I don’t care about anyone else’s feelings. I only need you to be happy. Don’t worry about breaking the news to Alice. I’ll take care of it. I promise she won’t make you feel guilty.”
“But I —”
“No. We’re doing this your way. Because my way doesn’t work. I call you stubborn, but look at what I’ve done. I’ve clung with such idiotic obstinacy to my idea of what’s best for you, though it’s only hurt you. Hurt you so deeply, time and time again. I don’t trust myself anymore. You can have happiness your way. My way is always wrong. So.” He shifted under me, squaring his shoulders. “We’re doing it your way, Bella. Tonight. Today. The sooner the better. I’ll speak to Carlisle. I was thinking that maybe if we gave you enough morphine, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s worth a try.” He gritted his teeth.
“Edward, no —”
He put his finger to my lips. “Don’t worry, Bella, love. I haven’t forgotten the rest of your demands.”
His hands were in my hair, his lips moving softly — but very seriously — against mine, before I realized what he was saying. What he was doing.
There wasn’t much time to act. If I waited too long, I wouldn’t be able to remember why I needed to stop him. Already, I couldn’t breathe right. My hands were gripping his arms, pulling myself tighter to him, my mouth glued to his and answering every unspoken question his asked.
I tried to clear my head, to find a way to speak.
He rolled gently, pressing me into the cool grass.
Oh, never mind! my less noble side exulted. My head was full of the sweetness of his breath.
No, no, no, I argued with myself. I shook my head, and his mouth moved to my neck, giving me a chance to breathe.
“Stop, Edward. Wait.” My voice was as weak as my will.
“Why?” he whispered into the hollow of my throat.
I labored to put some resolve into my tone. “I don’t want to do this now.”
“Don’t you?” he asked, a smile in his voice. He moved his lips back to mine and made speaking impossible. Heat coursed through my veins, burning where my skin touched his.
I made myself focus. It took a great deal of effort just to force my hands to free themselves from his hair, to move them to his chest. But I did it. And then I shoved against him, trying to push him away. I could not succeed alone, but he responded as I knew he would.
He pulled back a few inches to look at me, and his eyes did nothing to help my resolve. They were black fire. They smoldered.
“Why?” he asked again, his voice low and rough. “I love you. I want you. Right now.”
The butterflies in my stomach flooded my throat. He took advantage of my speechlessness.
“Wait, wait,” I tried to say around his lips.
“Not for me,” he murmured in disagreement.
“Please?” I gasped.
He groaned, and pushed himself away from me, rolling onto his back again.
We both lay there for a minute, trying to slow our breathing.
“Tell me why not, Bella,” he demanded. “This had better not be about me.”
Everything in my world was about him. What a silly thing to expect.
“Edward, this is very important to me. I am going to do this right.”
“Who’s definition of right?”
He rolled onto his elbow and stared at me, his expression disapproving.
“How are you going to do this right?”
I took a deep breath. “Responsibly. Everything in the right order. I will not leave Charlie and Renée without the best resolution I can give them. I won’t deny Alice her fun, if I’m having a wedding anyway. And I will tie myself to you in every human way, before I ask you to make me immortal. I’m following all the rules, Edward. Your soul is far, far too important to me to take chances with. You’re not going to budge me on this.”
“I’ll bet I could,” he murmured, his eyes burning again.
“But you wouldn’t,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “Not knowing that this is what I really need.”
“You don’t fight fair,” he accused.
I grinned at him. “Never said I did.”
He smiled back, wistful. “If you change your mind . . .”
“You’ll be the first to know,” I promised.
The rain started to drip through the clouds just then, a few scattered drops that made faint thuds as they struck the grass.
I glowered at the sky.
“I’ll get you home.” He brushed the tiny beads of water from my cheeks.
“Rain’s not the problem,” I grumbled. “It just means that it’s time to go do something that will be very unpleasant and possibly even highly dangerous.”
His eyes widened in alarm.
“It’s a good thing you’re bulletproof.” I sighed. “I’m going to need that ring. It’s time to tell Charlie.”
He laughed at the expression on my face. “Highly dangerous,” he agreed. He laughed again and then reached into the pocket of his jeans. “But as least there’s no need for a side trip.”
He once again slid my ring into place on the third finger of my left hand.
Where it would stay — conceivably for the rest of eternity.