My own eyes flew open.
I lay shivering and gasping in my warm bed for several minutes, trying to break free of the dream. The sky outside my window turned gray and then pale pink while I waited for my heart to slow.
When I was fully back to the reality of my messy, familiar room, I was a little annoyed with myself. What a dream to have the night before my wedding! That’s what I got for obsessing over disturbing stories in the middle of the night.
Eager to shake off the nightmare, I got dressed and headed down to the kitchen long before I needed to. First I cleaned the already tidy rooms, and then when Charlie was up I made him pancakes. I was much too keyed up to have any interest in eating breakfast myself—I sat bouncing in my seat while he ate.
“You’re picking up Mr. Weber at three o’clock,” I reminded him.
“I don’t have that much to do today besides bring the minister, Bells. I’m not likely to forget my only job.” Charlie had taken the entire day off for the wedding, and he was definitely at loose ends. Now and then, his eyes flickered furtively to the closet under the stairs, where he kept his fishing gear.
“That’s not your only job. You also have to be dressed and presentable.”
He scowled into his cereal bowl and muttered the words “monkey suit” under his breath.
There was a brisk tapping on the front door.
“You think you have it bad,” I said, grimacing as I rose. “Alice will be working on me all day long.”
Charlie nodded thoughtfully, conceding that he did have the lesser ordeal. I ducked in to kiss the top of his head as I passed—he blushed and harrumph ed—and then continued on to get the door for my best girlfriend and soon-to-be sister.
Alice’s short black hair was not in its usual spiky do—it was smoothed into sleek pin curls around her pixie face, which wore a contrastingly businesslike expression. She dragged me from the house with barely a “Hey, Charlie” called over her shoulder.
Alice appraised me as I got into her Porsche.
“Oh, hell, look at your eyes!” She tsk ed in reproach. “What did you do ? Stay up all night?”
She glowered. “I’ve only allotted so much time to make you stunning, Bella—you might have taken better care of my raw material.”
“No one expects me to be stunning. I think the bigger problem is that I might fall asleep during the ceremony and not be able to say ‘I do’ at the right part, and then Edward will make his escape.”
She laughed. “I’ll throw my bouquet at you when it gets close.”
“At least you’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane tomorrow.”
I raised one eyebrow. Tomorrow , I mused. If we were heading out tonight after the reception, and we would still be on a plane tomorrow… well, we weren’t going to Boise, Idaho. Edward hadn’t dropped a single hint. I wasn’t too stressed about the mystery, but it was strange not knowing where I would be sleeping tomorrow night. Or hopefully not sleeping . . .
Alice realized that she’d given something away, and she frowned.
“You’re all packed and ready,” she said to distract me.
It worked. “Alice, I wish you would let me pack my own things!”
“It would have given too much away.”
“And denied you an opportunity to shop.”
“You’ll be my sister officially in ten short hours… it’s about time to get over this aversion to new clothes.”
I glowered groggily out the windshield until we were almost to the house.
“Is he back yet?” I asked.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be there before the music starts. But you don’t get to see him, no matter when he gets back. We’re doing this the traditional way.”
I snorted. “Traditional!”
“Okay, aside from the bride and groom.”
“You know he’s already peeked.”
“Oh no—that’s why I’m the only one who’s seen you in the dress. I’ve been very careful to not think about it when he’s around.”
“Well,” I said as we turned into the drive, “I see you got to reuse your graduation decorations.” Three miles of drive were once again wrapped in hundreds of thousands of twinkle lights. This time, she’d added white satin bows.
“Waste not, want not. Enjoy this, because you don’t get to see the inside decorations until it’s time.” She pulled into the cavernous garage north of the main house; Emmett’s big Jeep was still gone.
“Since when is the bride not allowed to see the decorations?” I protested.
“Since she put me in charge. I want you to get the full impact coming down the stairs.”
She clapped her hand over my eyes before she let me inside the kitchen. I was immediately assailed by the scent.
“What is that ?” I wondered as she guided me into the house.
“Is it too much?” Alice’s voice was abruptly worried. “You’re the first human in here; I hope I got it right.”
“It smells wonderful!” I assured her—almost intoxicating, but not at all overwhelming, the balance of the different fragrances was subtle and flawless. “Orange blossoms… lilac… and something else—am I right?”
“Very good, Bella. You only missed the freesia and the roses.”
She didn’t uncover my eyes until we were in her oversized bathroom. I stared at the long counter, covered in all the paraphernalia of a beauty salon, and began to feel my sleepless night.
“Is this really necessary? I’m going to look plain next to him no matter what.”
She pushed me down into a low pink chair. “No one will dare to call you plain when I’m through with you.”
“Only because they’re afraid you’ll suck their blood,” I muttered. I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes, hoping I’d be able to nap through it. I did drift in and out a little bit while she masked, buffed, and polished every surface of my body.
It was after lunchtime when Rosalie glided past the bathroom door in a shimmery silver gown with her golden hair piled up in a soft crown on top of her head. She was so beautiful it made me want to cry. What was even the point of dressing up with Rosalie around?
“They’re back,” Rosalie said, and immediately my childish fit of despair passed. Edward was home.
“Keep him out of here!”
“He won’t cross you today,” Rosalie reassured her. “He values his life too much. Esme’s got them finishing things up out back. Do you want some help? I could do her hair.”
My jaw fell open. I floundered around in my head, trying to remember how to close it.
I had never been Rosalie’s favorite person in the world. Then, making things even more strained between us, she was personally offended by the choice I was making now. Though she had her impossible beauty, her loving family, and her soul mate in Emmett, she would have traded it all to be human. And here I was, callously throwing away everything she wanted in life like it was garbage. It didn’t exactly warm her to me.
“Sure,” Alice said easily. “You can start braiding. I want it intricate. The veil goes here, underneath.” Her hands started combing through my hair, hefting it, twisting it, illustrating in detail what she wanted. When she was done, Rosalie’s hands replaced hers, shaping my hair with a feather-light touch. Alice moved back to my face.
Once Rosalie received Alice’s commendation on my hair, she was sent off to retrieve my dress and then to locate Jasper, who had been dispatched to pick up my mother and her husband, Phil, from their hotel. Downstairs, I could faintly hear the door opening and closing over and over. Voices began to float up to us.
Alice made me stand so that she could ease the dress over my hair and makeup. My knees shook so badly as she fastened the long line of pearl buttons up my back that the satin quivered in little wavelets down to the floor.
“Deep breaths, Bella,” Alice said. “And try to lower your heart rate. You’re going to sweat off your new face.”
I gave her the best sarcastic expression I could manage. “I’ll get right on that.”
“I have to get dressed now. Can you hold yourself together for two minutes?”
She rolled her eyes and darted out the door.
I concentrated on my breathing, counting each movement of my lungs, and stared at the patterns that the bathroom light made on the shiny fabric of my skirt. I was afraid to look in the mirror—afraid the image of myself in the wedding dress would send me over the edge into a full-scale panic attack.
Alice was back before I had taken two hundred breaths, in a dress that flowed down her slender body like a silvery waterfall.
“It’s nothing. No one will be looking at me today. Not while you’re in the room.”
“Now, are you in control of yourself, or do I have to bring Jasper up here?”
“They’re back? Is my mom here?”
“She just walked in the door. She’s on her way up.”
Renée had flown in two days ago, and I’d spent every minute I could with her—every minute that I could pry her away from Esme and the decorations, in other words. As far as I could tell, she was having more fun with this than a kid locked inside Disneyland overnight. In a way, I felt almost as cheated as Charlie. All that wasted terror over her reaction . . .
“Oh, Bella!” she squealed now, gushing before she was all the way through the door. “Oh, honey, you’re so beautiful! Oh, I’m going to cry! Alice, you’re amazing! You and Esme should go into business as wedding planners. Where did you find this dress? It’s gorgeous! So graceful, so elegant. Bella, you look like you just stepped out of an Austen movie.” My mother’s voice sounded a little distance away, and everything in the room was slightly blurry. “Such a creative idea, designing the theme around Bella’s ring. So romantic! To think it’s been in Edward’s family since the eighteen hundreds!”
Alice and I exchanged a brief conspiratorial look. My mom was off on the dress style by more than a hundred years. The wedding wasn’t actually centered around the ring, but around Edward himself.
There was a loud, gruff throat-clearing in the doorway.
“Renée, Esme said it’s time you got settled down there,” Charlie said.
“Well, Charlie, don’t you look dashing!” Renée said in a tone that was almost shocked. That might have explained the crustiness of Charlie’s answer.
“Alice got to me.”
“Is it really time already?” Renée said to herself, sounding almost as nervous as I felt. “This has all gone so fast. I feel dizzy.”
That made two of us.
“Give me a hug before I go down,” Renée insisted. “Carefully now, don’t tear anything.”
My mother squeezed me gently around the waist, then wheeled for the door, only to complete the spin and face me again.
“Oh goodness, I almost forgot! Charlie, where’s the box?”
My dad rummaged in his pockets for a minute and then produced a small white box, which he handed to Renée. Renée lifted the lid and held it out to me.
“Something blue,” she said.
“Something old, too. They were your Grandma Swan’s,” Charlie added. “We had a jeweler replace the paste stones with sapphires.”
Inside the box were two heavy silver hair combs. Dark blue sapphires were clustered into intricate floral shapes atop the teeth.
My throat got all thick. “Mom, Dad… you shouldn’t have.”
“Alice wouldn’t let us do anything else,” Renée said. “Every time we tried, she all but ripped our throats out.”
A hysterical giggle burst through my lips.
Alice stepped up and quickly slid both combs into my hair under the edge of the thick braids. “That’s something old and something blue,” Alice mused, taking a few steps back to admire me. “And your dress is new… so here—”
She flicked something at me. I held my hands out automatically, and the filmy white garter landed in my palms.
“That’s mine and I want it back,” Alice told me.
“There,” Alice said with satisfaction. “A little color—that’s all you needed. You are officially perfect.” With a little self-congratulatory smile, she turned to my parents. “Renée, you need to get downstairs.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Renée blew me a kiss and hurried out the door.
“Charlie, would you grab the flowers, please?”
While Charlie was out of the room, Alice hooked the garter out of my hands and then ducked under my skirt. I gasped and tottered as her cold hand caught my ankle; she yanked the garter into place.
She was back on her feet before Charlie returned with the two frothy white bouquets. The scent of roses and orange blossom and freesia enveloped me in a soft mist.
Rosalie—the best musician in the family next to Edward—began playing the piano downstairs. Pachelbel’s Canon. I began hyperventilating.
“Easy, Bells,” Charlie said. He turned to Alice nervously. “She looks a little sick. Do you think she’s going to make it?”
His voice sounded far away. I couldn’t feel my legs.
Alice stood right in front of me, on her tiptoes to better stare me in the eye, and gripped my wrists in her hard hands.
“Focus, Bella. Edward is waiting for you down there.”
I took a deep breath, willing myself into composure.
The music slowly morphed into a new song. Charlie nudged me. “Bells, we’re up to bat.”
“Bella?” Alice asked, still holding my gaze.
“Yes,” I squeaked. “Edward. Okay.” I let her pull me from the room, with Charlie tagging along at my elbow.
The music was louder in the hall. It floated up the stairs along with the fragrance of a million flowers. I concentrated on the idea of Edward waiting below to get my feet to shuffle forward.
The music was familiar, Wagner’s traditional march surrounded by a flood of embellishments.
“It’s my turn,” Alice chimed. “Count to five and follow me.” She began a slow, graceful dance down the staircase. I should have realized that having Alice as my only bridesmaid was a mistake. I would look that much more uncoordinated coming behind her.
A sudden fanfare trilled through the soaring music. I recognized my cue.
“Don’t let me fall, Dad,” I whispered. Charlie pulled my hand through his arm and then grasped it tightly.
One step at a time , I told myself as we began to descend to the slow tempo of the march. I didn’t lift my eyes until my feet were safely on the flat ground, though I could hear the murmurs and rustling of the audience as I came into view. Blood flooded my cheeks at the sound; of course I could be counted on to be the blushing bride.
As soon as my feet were past the treacherous stairs, I was looking for him. For a brief second, I was distracted by the profusion of white blossoms that hung in garlands from everything in the room that wasn’t alive, dripping with long lines of white gossamer ribbons. But I tore my eyes from the bowery canopy and searched across the rows of satin-draped chairs—blushing more deeply as I took in the crowd of faces all focused on me—until I found him at last, standing before an arch overflowing with more flowers, more gossamer.
I was barely conscious that Carlisle stood by his side, and Angela’s father behind them both. I didn’t see my mother where she must have been sitting in the front row, or my new family, or any of the guests—they would have to wait till later.
All I really saw was Edward’s face; it filled my vision and overwhelmed my mind. His eyes were a buttery, burning gold; his perfect face was almost severe with the depth of his emotion. And then, as he met my awed gaze, he broke into a breathtaking smile of exultation.
Suddenly, it was only the pressure of Charlie’s hand on mine that kept me from sprinting headlong down the aisle.
The march was too slow as I struggled to pace my steps to its rhythm. Mercifully, the aisle was very short. And then, at last, at last, I was there. Edward held out his hand. Charlie took my hand and, in a symbol as old as the world, placed it in Edward’s. I touched the cool miracle of his skin, and I was home.
Our vows were the simple, traditional words that had been spoken a million times, though never by a couple quite like us. We’d asked Mr. Weber to make only one small change. He obligingly traded the line “till death do us part” for the more appropriate “as long as we both shall live.”
In that moment, as the minister said his part, my world, which had been upside down for so long now, seemed to settle into its proper position. I saw just how silly I’d been for fearing this—as if it were an unwanted birthday gift or an embarrassing exhibition, like the prom. I looked into Edward’s shining, triumphant eyes and knew that I was winning, too. Because nothing else mattered but that I could stay with him.
I didn’t realize I was crying until it was time to say the binding words.
“I do,” I managed to choke out in a nearly unintelligible whisper, blinking my eyes clear so I could see his face.
When it was his turn to speak, the words rang clear and victorious.
“I do,” he vowed.
Mr. Weber declared us husband and wife, and then Edward’s hands reached up to cradle my face, carefully, as if it were as delicate as the white petals swaying above our heads. I tried to comprehend, through the film of tears blinding me, the surreal fact that this amazing person was mine . His golden eyes looked as if they would have tears, too, if such a thing were not impossible. He bent his head toward mine, and I stretched up on the tips of my toes, throwing my arms—bouquet and all—around his neck.
He kissed me tenderly, adoringly; I forgot the crowd, the place, the time, the reason… only remembering that he loved me, that he wanted me, that I was his.
He began the kiss, and he had to end it; I clung to him, ignoring the titters and the throat-clearing in the audience. Finally, his hands restrained my face and he pulled back—too soon—to look at me. On the surface his sudden smile was amused, almost a smirk. But underneath his momentary entertainment at my public exhibition was a deep joy that echoed my own.
The crowd erupted into applause, and he turned our bodies to face our friends and family. I couldn’t look away from his face to see them.
My mother’s arms were the first to find me, her tear-streaked face the first thing I saw when I finally tore my eyes unwillingly from Edward. And then I was handed through the crowd, passed from embrace to embrace, only vaguely aware of who held me, my attention centered on Edward’s hand clutched tightly in my own. I did recognize the difference between the soft, warm hugs of my human friends and the gentle, cool embraces of my new family.
One scorching hug stood out from all the others—Seth Clearwater had braved the throng of vampires to stand in for my lost werewolf friend.