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 led 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 legend. It flowed straight through him. It flowed to his son, the heir to the magic, who had turned his back on it. That left 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. Before the alliance, it would have meant an immediate attack. A war. But now that they knew each other better, would there be forgiveness instead?
As if in response to that thought, Seth leaned toward Edward, arms extended. Edward returned the hug with his free arm.
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.
Behind my human friends were my new cousins-in-law, the Denali vampire clan. I realized I was holding my breath as the vampire in front—Tanya, I assumed from the strawberry tint in her blond curls—reached out to embrace Edward. Next to her, three other vampires with golden eyes stared at me with open curiosity. One woman had long, pale blond hair, straight as corn silk. The other woman and the man beside her were both black-haired, with a hint of an olive tone to their chalky complexions.
And they were all four so beautiful that it made my stomach hurt.
Tanya was still holding Edward.
“Ah, Edward,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”
Edward chuckled and deftly maneuvered out of the hug, placing his hand lightly on her shoulder and stepping back, as if to get a better look at her. “It’s been too long, Tanya. You look well.”
“So do you.”
“Let me introduce you to my wife.” It was the first time Edward had said that word since it was officially true; he seemed like he would explode with satisfaction saying it now. The Denalis all laughed lightly in response. “Tanya, this is my Bella.”
Tanya was every bit as lovely as my worst nightmares had predicted. She eyed me with a look that was much more speculative than it was resigned, and then reached out to take my hand.
“Welcome to the family, Bella.” She smiled, a little rueful. “We consider ourselves Carlisle’s extended family, and I am sorry about the, er, recent incident when we did not behave as such. We should have met you sooner. Can you forgive us?”
“Of course,” I said breathlessly. “It’s so nice to meet you.”
“The Cullens are all evened up in numbers now. Perhaps it will be our turn next, eh, Kate?” She grinned at the blonde.
“Keep the dream alive,” Kate said with a roll of her golden eyes. She took my hand from Tanya’s and squeezed it gently. “Welcome, Bella.”
The dark-haired woman put her hand on top of Kate’s. “I’m Carmen, this is Eleazar. We’re all so very pleased to finally meet you.”
“M-me, too,” I stuttered.
Tanya glanced at the people waiting behind her—Charlie’s deputy, Mark, and his wife. Their eyes were huge as they took in the Denali clan.
“We’ll get to know each other later. We’ll have eons of time for that!” Tanya laughed as she and her family moved on.
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 atypical 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.”
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.
“A surprise wedding gift.”
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 dark side of one of the huge cedars. Then Edward looked straight into the blackest shadow.
“Thank you,” Edward said to the darkness. “This is very… kind of you.”
“Kind is my middle name,” a husky familiar voice answered from the black night. “Can I cut in?”
My hand flew up to my throat, and if Edward hadn’t been holding me I would have collapsed.
“Jacob!” I choked as soon as I could breathe. “Jacob!”
“Hey there, Bells.”
I stumbled toward the sound of his voice. Edward kept his grip under my elbow until another set of strong hands caught me in the darkness. The heat from Jacob’s skin burned right through the thin satin dress as he pulled me close. He made no effort to dance; he just hugged me while I buried my face in his chest. He leaned down to press his cheek to the top of my head.
“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—this moment with Jacob.
“Oh, Jacob.” I was crying now; I couldn’t get the words out clearly. “Thank you.”
“Stop blubbering, Bella. You’ll ruin your dress. It’s just me.”
“Just? Oh, Jake! Everything is perfect now.”
He snorted. “Yeah—the party can start. The best man finally made it.”
“Now everyone I love is here.”
I felt his lips brush my hair. “Sorry I’m late, honey.”
“I’m just so happy you came!”
“That was the idea.”
I glanced toward the guests, but I couldn’t see through the dancers to the spot where I’d last seen Jacob’s father. I didn’t know if he’d stayed. “Does Billy know you’re here?” As soon as I asked, I knew that he must have—it was the only way to explain his uplifted expression before.
“I’m sure Sam’s told him. I’ll go see him when… when the party’s over.”
“He’ll be so glad you’re home.”
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 heart beat 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.
“I’m glad I came,” Jacob said quietly after a moment. “I didn’t think I would be. But it’s good to see you… one more time. Not as sad as I’d thought it would be.”
“I don’t want you to feel sad.”
“I know that. And I didn’t come tonight to make you feel guilty.”
“No—it makes me very happy that you came. It’s the best gift you could have given me.”
He laughed. “That’s good, because I didn’t have time to stop for a real present.”
My eyes were adjusting, and I could see his face now, higher up than I expected. Was it possible that he was still growing? 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. His eyes were tight around the edges—careful; I could see that he was being very careful tonight. He was doing all he could to make me happy, to not slip and show how much this cost him.
I’d never done anything good enough to deserve a friend like Jacob.
“When did you decide to come back?”
“Consciously or subconsciously?” He took a deep breath before he answered his own question. “I don’t really know. I guess I’ve been wandering back this direction for a while, and maybe it’s because I was headed here. But it wasn’t until this morning that I really started running . I didn’t know if I could make it.” He laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how weird this feels—walking around on two legs again. And clothes! And then it’s more bizarre because it feels weird. I didn’t expect that. I’m out of practice with the whole human thing.”
We revolved steadily.
“It would have been a shame to miss seeing you like this, though. That’s worth the trip right there. 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.” He grinned widely for a moment, and then his smile faded. His expression turned serious. “Are you happy, Bella?”
“Okay.” I felt his shoulders shrug. “That’s the main thing, I guess.”
“How are you, Jacob? Really?”
“I’m fine, Bella, really. You don’t need to worry about me anymore. You can stop bugging Seth.”
“I’m not just bugging him because of you. I like Seth.”
“He’s a good kid. Better company than some. I tell you, if I could get rid of the voices in my head, being a wolf would be about perfect.”
I laughed at the way it sounded. “Yeah, I can’t get mine to shut up, either.”
“In your case, that would mean you’re insane. Of course, I already knew that you were insane,” he teased.
“Insanity is probably easier than sharing a pack mind. Crazy people’s voices don’t send babysitters to watch them.”
“Sam’s out there. And some of the others. Just in case, you know.”
“In case of what?”
“In case I can’t keep it together, something like that. In case I decide to trash the party.” He flashed a quick smile at what was probably an appealing thought to him. “But I’m not here to ruin your wedding, Bella. I’m here to . . .” He trailed off.
“To make it perfect.”
“That’s a tall order.”
“Good thing you’re so tall.”
He groaned at my bad joke and then sighed. “I’m just here to be your friend. Your best friend, one last time.”
“Sam should give you more credit.”
“Well, maybe I’m being oversensitive. Maybe they’d be here anyway, to keep an eye on Seth. There are a lot of vampires here. Seth doesn’t take that as seriously as he should.”
“Seth knows that he’s not in any danger. He understands the Cullens better than Sam does.”
“Sure, sure,” Jacob said, making peace before it could turn into a fight.
It was strange to have him being the diplomat.
“Sorry about those voices,” I said. “Wish I could make it better.” In so many ways.
“It’s not that bad. I’m just whining a little.”
“Close enough. 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.
“You’d think I’d be used to telling you goodbye by now,” he murmured.
I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, but I couldn’t force it down.
Jacob looked at me and frowned. He wiped his fingers across my cheek, catching the tears there.
“You’re not supposed to be the one crying, Bella.”
“Everyone cries at weddings,” I said thickly.
“This is what you want, right?”
I tried. He laughed at my grimace.
“I’m going to try to remember you like this. Pretend that . . .”
“That what? That I died?”
He clenched his teeth. He was struggling with himself—with his decision to make his presence here a gift and not a judgment. I could guess what he wanted to say.
“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.
My relationship with Jacob used to be so easy. Natural as breathing. But since Edward had come back into my life, it was a constant strain. Because—in Jacob’s eyes—by choosing Edward, I was choosing a fate that was worse than death, or at least equivalent to it.
“What is it, Jake? Just tell me. You can tell me anything.”
“I—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.
Jacob was even more obsessed with my humanity than Edward. He treasured every one of my heartbeats, knowing that they were numbered.
“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, and I scrambled in my head for a way to patch up our little tiff before he said goodbye to me. We shouldn’t part on this note.
And 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—”
His enormous hands gripped the tops of my arms, wrapping all the way around, fingers overlapping.
“Ow, Jake! Let go!”
He shook me.
“Bella! Have you lost your mind? You can’t be that stupid! Tell me you’re joking!”
He shook me again. His hands, tight as tourniquets, were quivering, sending vibrations deep into my bones.
The darkness was suddenly very crowded.
“Take your hands off her!” Edward’s voice was cold as ice, sharp as razors.
Behind Jacob, there was a low snarl from the black night, and then another, overlapping the first.
“Jake, bro, back away,” I heard Seth Clearwater urge. “You’re losing it.”
Jacob seemed frozen as he was, his horrified eyes wide and staring.
“You’ll hurt her,” Seth whispered. “Let her go.”
“Now!” Edward snarled.
Jacob’s hands dropped to his sides, and the sudden gush of blood through my waiting veins was almost painful. Before I could register more than that, cold hands replaced the hot ones, and the air was suddenly whooshing past me.
I blinked, and I was on my feet a half dozen feet away from where I’d been standing. Edward was tensed in front of me. There were two enormous wolves braced between him and Jacob, but they did not seem aggressive to me. More like they were trying to prevent the fight.
And Seth—gangly, fifteen-year-old Seth—had his long arms around Jacob’s shaking body, and he was tugging him away. If Jacob phased with Seth so close…
“C’mon, Jake. Let’s go.”
“I’ll kill you,” Jacob said, his voice so choked with rage that it was low as a whisper. His eyes, focused on Edward, burned with fury. “I’ll kill you myself! I’ll do it now!” He shuddered convulsively.
The biggest wolf, the black one, growled sharply.
“Seth, get out of the way,” Edward hissed.
Seth tugged on Jacob again. Jacob was so bewildered with rage that Seth was able to yank him a few feet farther back. “Don’t do it, Jake. Walk away. C’mon.”
Sam—the bigger wolf, the black one—joined Seth then. He put his massive head against Jacob’s chest and shoved.
The three of them—Seth towing, Jake trembling, Sam pushing—disappeared swiftly into the darkness.
The other wolf stared after them. I wasn’t sure, in the weak light, about the color of his fur—chocolate brown, maybe? Was it Quil, then?
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the wolf.
“It’s all right now, Bella,” Edward murmured.
The wolf looked at Edward. His gaze was not friendly. Edward gave him one cold nod. The wolf huffed and then turned to follow the others, vanishing as they had.
“All right,” Edward said to himself, and then he looked at me. “Let’s get back.”
“Sam has him in hand. He’s gone.”
“Edward, I’m so sorry. I was stupid—”
“You did nothing wrong—”
“I have such a big mouth! Why would I… I shouldn’t have let him get to me like that. What was I thinking?”
“Don’t worry.” He touched my face. “We need to get back to the reception before someone notices our absence.”
I shook my head, trying to reorient myself. Before someone noticed? Had anyone missed that?
Then, as I thought about it, I realized the confrontation that had seemed so catastrophic to me had, in reality, been very quiet and short here in the shadows.
“Give me two seconds,” I pleaded.
My insides were chaotic with panic and grief, but that didn’t matter—only the outside mattered right now. Putting on a good show was something I knew I had to master.
“You look fine. Not a hair out of place.”
I took two deep breaths. “Okay. Let’s go.”
He put his arms around me and led 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 glanced around at the guests, but no one seemed shocked or frightened. Only the very palest faces there showed any signs of stress, and they hid it well. Jasper and Emmett were on the edge of the floor, close together, and I guessed that they had been nearby during the confrontation.
“I’m fine,” I promised. “I can’t believe I did that. What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you .”
I’d been so glad to see Jacob here. I knew the sacrifice it had taken him. And then I’d ruined it, turned his gift into a disaster. I should be quarantined.
But my idiocy would not ruin anything else tonight. I would put this away, shove it in a drawer and lock it up to deal with later. There would be plenty of time to flagellate myself for this, and nothing I could do now would help.
“It’s over,” I said. “Let’s not think of it again tonight.”
I expected a quick agreement from Edward, but he was silent.
He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to mine. “Jacob is right,” he whispered. “What am I thinking?”
“He is not.” I tried to keep my face smooth for the watching crowd of friends. “Jacob is way too prejudiced to see anything clearly.”
He mumbled something low that sounded almost like “should let him kill me for even thinking . . .”
“Stop it,” I said fiercely. I grabbed his face in my hands and waited until he opened his eyes. “You and me. That’s the only thing that matters. The only thing you’re allowed to think about now. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” he sighed.
“Forget Jacob came.” I could do that. I would do that. “For me. Promise that you’ll let this go.”
He stared into my eyes for a moment before answering. “I promise.”
“Thank you. Edward, I’m not afraid.”
“I am,” he whispered.
“Don’t be.” I took deep breath and smiled. “By the way, I love you.”
He smiled just a little in return. “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. When Edward claimed me again, I found that the Jacob-drawer was shut nice and tight. As he wrapped his arms around me, I was able to unearth my earlier 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. 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 to 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 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.”
Renée and Esme were waiting upstairs. 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,” Renée 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.” She pulled me back toward the stairs with Renée following, still halfway embracing me.
“I love you, Mom,” I whispered as we descended. “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.
Edward was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. 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 Renée. 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 heard a noise over the purr of the engine, coming from the forest behind us. If I could hear it, then he certainly could. But he said nothing as the sound slowly faded in the distance. I said nothing, either.
The piercing, heartbroken howling grew fainter and then disappeared entirely.