capitolo quarantuno

Andare in basso

capitolo quarantuno

Messaggio  simona80 il Dom 13 Mar 2011, 02:20

Chapter Forty-One
She looked up at him in surprise.
"What?"
"I won't make love to you again until I regain your trust."
"Come again?"
At least, that's what Bella wanted to say, but given the context she held her tongue. Somehow, her remark didn't quite seem consonant with his declaration.
Edward lifted her chin so that he could see her eyes. "I understand that you want things to change between us. So do I. And I'm worried that if we have sex too soon, it will short circuit the kind of changes we need to make."
Bella gaped like a largemouth bass.
"So … you're saying that you want to wait?"
He looked at her rather uncomfortably.
"No. I want to make love to you now and for the rest of the day. But I know that we should wait."
An old, familiar smirk spread across his lips. "What do you want, Miss Swan?"
"Well, I wasn't intending on doing that today. I agree, we need some time…" She blushed a little. "But I've missed you. I've missed being close to you."
He kissed her forehead tenderly. "I've missed being close to you, too. You have no idea. But if you want to be partners, there has to be trust. If you don't trust me with your mind, how can you trust me with your body?"
"That sounds like something you said a long time ago."
"We've come full circle." He cleared his throat. "And so there isn't a misunderstanding, when I say trust, I mean completely. I am absolutely aching to reconnect with you – to feel you in my arms, to be joined with you, body and soul. But when I look into your eyes as we're wrapped around each other, I want you to be able to see me and know that I will never leave you. That you are mine and I am yours, forever."
His voice grew rough. "That we're married."
"Come again?"
This time, Bella's slightly inappropriate remark came out unbidden.
He shifted slightly and Bella felt his concern tremble his body. "I want to marry you. When I make love to you again, I want to be your husband."
When she gaped at him again in stone cold surprise, he continued more quickly.
"If we go back to being lovers, we'll end up living together and it will be much easier to put off a wedding, possibly forever. But I would be cheating you. You deserve to have promises made to you and to have those promises kept. You deserve to have vows said to you before God and our families. Not a secret union, but a public one. It's what you deserved from the very beginning and what I failed to give you."
"But Edward, I told you, that's too far off. You've only just returned. I can't even contemplate marrying you. I need to learn how to be with you again …"
He smiled sadly. "I understand that and my intention is not to rush you. As much as I'd like to say that I'm fine, I'm not. Even if I decided to make love to you, I doubt it would be possible until my leg has healed and this cast has come off. You know that our lovemaking was always fairly – ah – vigorous."
Bella laughed and Edward felt his heart swell.
"Do you remember the first time we made love?" His mouth was pressed against her ear, and he toyed with her diamond earring.
"Yes."
"What do you remember?"
She paused and closed her eyes. "You were very – intense, but kind. You planned everything out, even down to that ridiculous cranberry juice."
Edward pursed his lips, but said nothing, choosing rather to run his fingers through her hair, finally resting his hand against her cheek so that he could run his thumb slowly along the curve.
She trembled.
"You were worried about hurting me. I remember that you were arched over me, looking into my eyes while you moved … and you said that you loved me over and over. I'll never forget those moments for as long as I live."
She hid her face against his soap-scented skin.
"Are you shy now?" he asked, tracing the symmetry of her jaw with a single finger.
"A little, maybe."
"Why are you shy? As you remarked before, I've seen you naked. And I have worshipped every beautiful inch of what I have seen."
"Being naked physically is different from being naked emotionally," she murmured.
"That's true. But why would you think that it would be easier to be physically naked with me when you don't trust me? You forget, my love, that I know you. And you are not the type of woman to place your body where your heart will not go.
"Do you remember our last time together? You told me that you felt like a whore – that I'd fucked you. Give me time to earn back your trust, to redeem our erotic, physical love. The next time I have you naked in my bed, I want you to know without doubt that our union is borne of love and not lust, and that I won't leave you afterwards. That I will never leave you."
At this, Edward stopped and drew a deep breath. "If you don't think you can ever trust me again, then you need to let me go. Which would be another reason why we shouldn't be making love. Because the act would be a lie."
Bella sighed and covered her eyes.
Edward leaned forward to whisper in her ear.
"You're afraid I'm going to hurt you. I need to prove myself to you and you need time to heal.
"Isabella, I would love to be able to promise that I will never hurt you again, that I will always be good and that our life together will be celestial. But I can't. I can promise to love you and to stay with you. I can promise to be your husband and that I will always try to put you first. But I will fail and I will need your forgiveness. Can you learn to trust me knowing that?"
She looked over at him, chewing her lip thoughtfully.
"I don't expect you to be perfect, Edward. And I'm all too aware of my own failings. I just want to feel as if my thoughts and feelings matter to you. That I'm a partner and not a child or someone who is not sensible of her own distress."
Edward gazed at her carefully, recognizing his own words coming back to him, and then lovingly pushed her hair back from her face, exposing her neck.
"You aren't Ophelia; you're my beloved." He kissed her throat softly. "When I said that you weren't sensible of your own distress, I was referring only to the fact that Aro and Marcus could have ended your career. And losing your career would have crushed you, in the long run if not immediately.
"Your thoughts and feelings matter to me, Isabella. So much. We just have to find a way to balance my need to care for you as a lover, and hopefully one day, as a husband, with your need to be my partner and to have your voice taken seriously. We both want the best. The question is how to bring that about."
He caressed her neck, tracing fingers up and down.
"It will take time to work these things out, which is one more reason why we shouldn't jump back into a sexual relationship. You need to decide if you're going to trust me or not. And I don't want to do anything that would manipulate or sway that decision in one direction or the other." Edward's voice was low but serious.
"Withholding sex would be considered by some to be not only unilateral but very, very manipulative," she countered.
Edward's eyes brightened considerably.
"I suppose I should be flattered by your characterization of me as a lover, Miss Swan. But I'm not withholding sex. If we were married, you'd have theological and legal grounds to demand consummation. But since we aren't, I'm not obligated to..." His eyes darkened slightly. "Don't you think that an individual should be able to determine for himself when to have sex? If you were declaring that you weren't ready to sleep with me and I tried to pressure you, I'd be a manipulative jackass. Shouldn't I be allowed to wait to have sex with you until our relationship is repaired, and to have that choice respected? Or does 'no means no' only apply to women?"
Bella had to admit that he had a point, which was a primary disadvantage of dating someone so intelligent. And so stubborn.
Her voice took on an exasperated tone. "I wouldn't pressure you if you had an objection to having sex. And you were more than patient with me when I wasn't ready to sleep with you. But what about make-up sex? Isn't that a customary way to make up after a fight?"
She expected him to laugh, but he didn't. He merely brought his face very close to hers.
"Make-up sex, Isabella?"
The heat of his gaze almost scorched her skin.
"Is that what you want?" his voice rasped.
Welcome back, Professor Masen.
"Um … yes?"
He took a single long, thin finger and traced her trembling lower lip. "Tell me," he prompted.
She blinked a few times, if only to break the magnetic pull his verdant eyes had on her. But he had rendered her speechless.
"Your request seems more than reasonable. I want nothing more than to spend days and nights devoted to your pleasure, exploring your body, worshipping you. And I will. On our honeymoon you will find me the most attentive, inventive lover. All my arts will be at your service and I will endeavour to undo all wrongs when I take you to my bed, as my wife."
Bella placed her head just over the place where his tattoo lay hidden underneath his crisp white shirt.
"What you're saying about waiting seems so – cold."
Edward rolled her so that she was wholly in his arms and on top of his chest, their upper bodies pressed together.
He kissed her gently at first, soft skin gliding over softer skin before he pulled her lower lip between his, drawing on it slightly. And then as his embrace became more heated, his hand clasped around her neck, stroking up and down until he felt her relax.
The barest tip of his tongue moved forward hesitantly to tease her upper lip, the act of a gentleman who was unsure how he would be received.
He needn't have worried. Bella welcomed him and he began to explore her mouth with purpose and intensity, catching her almost unawares, before pulling back suddenly without warning.
"Does that seem cold to you?" His warm breath blew across her cheek, a hungry look in his eyes. "Does that feel as if I don't want you?"
She would have shaken her head if she could have found it.
Edward moved his lips against her jaw, her chin, and then painstakingly slowly down the left side of her neck until he was kissing her lightly against the hollow at the base of her throat.
"And this? Does this seem cold to you?" His mouth moved against the surface of her skin.
"N-no." She shivered.
He traced his nose up to her ear where he kissed her twice and then began to nibble, in between whispered erotic adorations.
"And this? Surely this must be an expression of my total lack of desire for you."
Bella made an incoherent response.
"And this." His right hand slowly descended down her side, tracing each rib as if it were precious or perhaps as if he were searching for the primordial one Adam had lost, before coming to rest on the curve of her backside. He shifted her slightly so that her thigh slid over his hip, coming into contact with the undeniable evidence of his ardour.
"Can you deny this?"
"No."
Edward gazed at her heatedly.
"Now that we're clear on that point, I'm interested to hear your response."
Bella found it slightly difficult to reason clasped to his body the way that she was. She began to squirm slightly until a thought suddenly occurred to her.
"I need to tell you that I haven't been completely honest about something."
"Really?" Edward's tone grew slightly stiff.
"Um, when I mentioned that Peter kissed me, I left out the part where I kissed him back."
Bella watched as Edward's jaw hardened.
"Oh, really?" he said coolly.
"I'm sorry, Edward."
His chest rumbled in response but Bella couldn't understand what he was saying. It was possible he was only growling. Or saying Angelfucker.
"I'm not going to make excuses. Peter kissed me and I kissed him back. I know that hearing this hurts you and I'm sorry for that. But I couldn't keep it secret from you."
Edward shifted her so that she was no longer on top of him.
"Are you sure you don't want Peter, Isabella? It isn't too late for you to choose him. He's younger and full of potential. He's a gentleman who clearly has a less sordid past. Perhaps you'd rather not be with a crippled old addict." His voice was clipped and stoic.
"You aren't crippled and the only thing old about you is your soul. Do you really think so poorly of me that I would leave you if you were handicapped?"
Edward wore a grim look but said nothing.
Bella shook her head.
"Peter is wonderful. I can't deny it. But I don't love him the way that I should. Why would I condemn him and myself to a half-life? He deserves to be loved unreservedly and I can't give him that. Not now. Not ever."
Edward's posture visibly relaxed.
"Did you care for him at all?"
"Of course I cared for him. We were friends from the beginning and he was very kind to me. He dragged me out of my depression when I had no one. But the way I cared for him is not the way I care for you."
Edward clenched his jaw slightly. "Then I suppose I have a confession to make, too."
Bella withdrew from his neck so that she could look into his eyes. "I'm not sure I'm ready for another confession after everything we've talked about."
"My love." He kissed her wrinkled brow. "There was no one else. My arms were full of you even when I was alone. But I do have some things to tell you, some of which I'll keep for later."
She held her breath and nodded.
"I tried to pass money to you through James and Victoria."
"Money?"
"I asked James to use whatever means necessary to convince you to take it. He approached Victoria and she was supposed to tell you that the University wanted to offer you a settlement."
He propped himself up on one elbow to bring his face closer to hers.
"I knew you wouldn't take the money from me, so I conspired with the lawyers to pass it to you. But it was underhanded and deceptive and certainly not the kind of thing one does if one wants to build trust. I apologize. I won't be doing something like that again."
Bella gazed at him quizzically.
"So the money wasn't from the VOLTURI?"
"No."
She opened her mouth to say something and then closed it.
"My intentions were good. I was worried that the VOLTURI would try to take the bursary away from you. I was worried about how you would support yourself once your scholarship ended in April. When James told me that you'd declined the settlement, I tried to pass the money through Charlie."
"Charlie never mentioned anything."
Edward frowned. "Because I needed a mediator and Carlisle refused. He would only help me transfer the money to Charlie if I made my peace with you first, and beholden as I was to Professor Santos, I couldn't do that. I knew better than to contact your father directly, so I gave up." He gazed at the ceiling thoughtfully. "It was one of the few times in my life when I felt truly helpless."
Bella shifted backwards on the bed, straining Edward's reach. "But Victoria offered me the money long after the Tribunal, at the end of March."
He shrugged.
"You tried to give me money, secretly, even after you thought that I didn't want you? That I read your inscriptions in the books and decided not to wait for you?"
"Yes," he said, avoiding her eyes.
"Why would you do that, Edward?"
He rolled onto his back. "I thought that you might go hungry, or have to give up things in order to live, or even worse, to have to turn down Harvard." He rubbed his eyes with both hands. "I was haunted by the image of you having to live in a room without a kitchen all summer because you couldn't afford anything better."
"If you thought I didn't love you anymore, if you thought I might be seeing Peter, why would you care?"
He grimaced as if he were in pain and dropped his voice to just above a whisper. "I didn't stop loving you just because I thought you didn't want me anymore. I'll love you forever, Isabella, whether you love me or not. That's my heaven. And my hell."
The room echoed with silence for several minutes and then Bella placed a shuddering hand over her mouth and clenched her eyes shut. Slow, steady tears began to pour down her face.
"What is it?" He tugged at her free hand a couple of times before he was able to coax her to cry against his chest.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to hurt you." His voice was desperate, conflicted, as he quickly began to rub his hand up and down her arm, trying to comfort her.
"I would have gone to Charlie if I thought he'd listen to me. As it was, I decided to wait until I could speak to you again and then I would try to persuade you to let me help you. Even though I knew you'd refuse me."
It took a few minutes for Bella to be able to compose herself enough to speak and when she did, she looked up at him through tear-soaked lashes.
"You love me."
Edward's face immediately contorted in confusion and he searched her face quickly.
"Is that a question?" he asked, frowning at her in dismay.
When she didn't respond him, he began to panic.
"You didn't believe that I loved you?" he asked slowly. "But I told you that I loved you over and over again. I tried to show you with my actions, with my words, with my body. Did you not believe me?"
She shook her head from side to side, as if indicating that he didn't understand her sudden realization.
"Did you ever believe me? When we were in Italy? When we were in Belize?" He tugged painfully at his hair. "My God, Bella, did you give me your virginity thinking that I merely liked you?"
"No."
"I've been buying you gifts since before we were together. You didn't assume that I loved you then, and those gifts were far more personal than a bank draft. Why do you only believe that I love you now?"
She sniffled.
"Those gifts were your way of solving a problem, of fixing me. But how many people would give money anonymously to care for an ex-girlfriend thinking that she didn't love him anymore? Thinking that she might have moved on with someone else?"
Two tears streamed down her cheek and Edward caught them unthinkingly with his fingers.
"I misjudged you, Edward. I knew that you loved me, but I didn't understand that you loved me with all four loves, and not just three.
"That was the part of your lecture in Florence I never understood, when you spoke of agape and sacrificial love. It didn't seem possible for human beings to love one another that much. And I certainly didn't imagine that anyone could love me like that. Not even you."
She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and Edward watched a teardrop slide over the wedding ring she was wearing on her thumb.
"When I found the Botticelli illustration you placed in that book, I didn't understand why you put it there. Why would you send me an image of Beatrice holding Dante when he stumbles? It didn't make sense. All this time you thought that I was Beatrice, but you were wrong. Don't you see? You're Beatrice. Even when you thought I didn't love you anymore, you still loved me. You tried to help me, to keep me from going hungry or having to turn down Harvard, thinking that I would never come back to you and that I would never know about your generosity."
She wiped her face again and shook her head.
"I've been so stupid. So blind. All I did was worry about the cost of your gifts and how I could never repay you, when the deepest gift of all was in front of me the whole time." She inhaled deeply, fighting back a sob. "You."
"Bella, I …" Edward's protestation was cut short by the warmth of Isabella's lips melting against his. It was chaste and sorrowful, erotic and joyous.
She had never felt herself worthy of agape before. It wasn't a goal she aspired to or a grail that she sought. When Edward had first told her that he loved her, she believed him. But the magnitude and depth of his love was not readily apparent. It had only become clear to her at this moment, and with that revelation came a tremendous sense of awe and peace.
Perhaps Edward's love had always been sacrificial. Or perhaps it had grown over time, just like the old apple tree that had fed them on that night so long ago in the meadow, and she just hadn't noticed how much it had grown. How much he had changed.
At that moment, the genesis of his sacrificial love didn't seem to matter. Having been confronted with what she could only describe as something very deep and very profound, she knew that she could never doubt his love now. Edward loved her as he knew her, fully, completely, and without question.
He gently pulled away, pressing his palm to her face.
"I'm not Beatrice, Isabella. Far from it. But the love I have for you, whatever you choose to name it, can't be turned off. Of course I still loved you and wanted to care for you. I didn't want you to have to give up Harvard as you had to this past year. And when you wouldn't take the money and my family wouldn't help me, I resolved to try to find another way. When I came to you on July first, my intention was to tell you that I loved you and to see that you were well looked after. And then if you sent me away …" He looked at her tremulously and took a deep breath. "I'd go."
He begged her with his eyes to see that he was telling the truth.
She nodded against his hand and then moved so that he was cradling her against his chest.
"I think your realization about love probably has more to do with how you view yourself than how you view me, darling," he suggested gently. "But regardless, I'm glad we understand one another now."
"I'm sorry I doubted you," she whispered.
"I'm sorry I left you," he said.
She hummed lightly and then the two of them were silent for a long while.
Edward fell asleep, emotionally and physically spent. When his breathing became regular and almost deep, Bella let herself drift.
Hours later, she awoke to see the late afternoon sun streaming through Edward's bedroom windows.
She stirred in his arms and he groaned his protest, tightening his grip around her.
"I should go," she whispered. "You need your rest."
His arms tightened once more.
"Stay," he murmured.
"I'll be back Wednesday night after work."
"Work?" His eyes fluttered open.
"I have a job at Peet's coffee house, across from my apartment. I'll be working every day this week to make up for the shifts I missed this weekend. But I promise we'll see each other soon."
"Take the Land Rover. Rebecca has the keys. Then you'll have a way to come back to me."
She hesitated.
"It's just sitting in the driveway. If you'll be visiting me this week it would be good for you to have a car."
"Okay, but I should go. J. D. is waiting for me and I have some schoolwork to do tonight."
"J. D.?"
Bella smiled at Edward's emergent jealousy, which was telegraphed by two anxious green eyes. "My betta. My pet fish. I need to go home and feed him."
"You have a fish?"
"Um, Peter gave him to me."
Edward scowled.
"There was a time when I wanted to buy you a pet. You wouldn't let me."
"Maybe I should buy you a pet. A nice, fluffy bunny to celebrate your belated birthday."
"Screw my birthday. Why did you let him buy you a fish?"
Bella sighed and lightly ran her fingers through his hair.
"Peter didn't ask me first. He just showed up on my doorstep with a fish bowl, saying that I needed pet therapy. Someone to come home to and take care of."
"What does J. D. stand for? Just duckie?"
Bella laughed. "No, J. D. Salinger."
Edward rolled his eyes, but Bella was pleased to see that a reluctant smile had begun at the corners of his mouth as she kissed away his irritation.
-x-x-x-x-
In the days and weeks that followed, Bella and Edward saw each other as much as they could, but between his recuperation and her extended shifts at Peet's, most of their contact was mediated via telephone and email.
Which was not necessarily a bad thing.
Bella continued her counselling sessions with Dr. Walters, which took on a new dimension upon Edward's return. And Edward and Bella began couple's counselling, as well, on a weekly basis, which rapidly morphed into (unofficial) pre-marital preparations.
By the time Bella moved into one of the graduate student residences at Harvard, on the third floor of Richards Hall, she and Edward had managed to address several of their previous communication problems. But their collective obstinance remained. Edward held obstinately to his decision that he wouldn't sleep with Bella until they were married and Bella held obstinately to her wish to move their physical relationship forward – if not to sex than to sharing a bed regularly – while they adjusted to their togetherness. Edward had been loath to share a bed with her except on occasion and then only reluctantly, with the grim visage of a martyr.
In her quieter moments, Bella blamed both Graham Greene and Sheldon Vanauken for Edward's newfound celibacy. But the true source of his conversion was to be found in a much higher realm.
No matter the source, she had to admit that abstinence with Edward was rewarding and sometimes exciting as well as frustrating, for even in his injured state he was constantly trying to find new and ingenious ways to demonstrate his love for her, both physically and non-physically.
Although he refused to even entertain the notion of spending the night with her inside her small dorm room, he would drop in on occasion with flowers or food that had been prepared by Rebecca and they would picnic on the floor.
He took her to the movies, (even deigning to see a non-subtitled domestically produced romantic comedy), and afterwards kissed her goodnight like a teenager on the front steps of her building.
On her birthday, she was surprised by a delivery of helium filled balloons just before breakfast. And later that evening, Edward took her to the ballet to see a performance of Onegin, before taking her to a small, family run Italian restaurant in the south end of Boston.
And on more than one occasion, he spent a Friday or Saturday evening in the library with her, writing his new book while she prepared for Professor Simonetti's seminar.
Bella was being wooed in word and deed and she liked it.
Nevertheless, much to their unified dismay, Edward's cast was not ready to be removed by the time they left Boston for Alice's wedding and so he would have to accessorize his very distinguished tuxedo with crutches.
Bella took no joy in his continued impairment, for many reasons.
As they walked into the lobby of Hotel 1000 on First Avenue three days before the wedding, Bella was stunned to find Charlie sitting in a wing chair reading the Seattle Times.
"Edward, my dad is here," she hissed, hoping to give him enough of a head start so that he could hobble towards the elevators before Charlie took out his service weapon and shot him.
Dead.
"I know. I called him."
She turned to Edward in wide-eyed disbelief.
"Why would you do that? He's going to shoot you. Or something."
Edward paused on his crutches and pulled himself up to his full height. "Isabella, I want to marry you. That means that I need to make amends with your family. I want to be able to be in the same room with your father without him attempting to arrest me. Or castrate me."
"This is not a good time to ask Charlie if you can marry me. If you're lucky he'll forego castration in order to remove your uninjured leg – with his hunting knife!"
"I'm not going to ask him for his permission to marry you; that decision rests with you. But would you really want to marry a man who your father despises?"
She chewed at the inside of her cheek uncomfortably.
He leaned over to speak in her ear.
"Let me do some damage control so that it isn't beyond the realm of possibility for him to accept our relationship. You're going to want him to walk you down the aisle at our wedding. And if he refuses, it will crush you."
No sooner had the words left Edward's lips then Charlie saw the couple standing together. He smiled at his little girl widely, then glanced at Edward and scowled. As he stood to his feet, he brushed his jacket back so that his hands could rest on his hips. The movement allowed his gun to become visible in its arm holster.
"Scheisse," thought Bella.
Edward boldly leaned over to press his lips to Bella's forehead while staring Charlie straight in the eye.
Charlie fixed him with a murderous expression.
"Dad! Hi." Bella walked over to him quickly and hugged him.
"Hi, Bells." He hugged her back before pulling her behind him protectively. "Edward."
Undeterred by Charlie's unfriendly tone, Edward stuck his hand out.
Charlie simply stared at it as if it were felonious.
"I think we should find a quiet corner in the bar. I don't want an audience for what I have to say to you. Bells, do you need help carrying your luggage?"
"No, the porter has it. I'm, um, just going to check in. Edward, I'll let you check into your room yourself, okay?"
He nodded, noting that Charlie's scowl relaxed slightly at the news that his daughter was not currently cohabitating with Satan.
"Um, just for the record, I love both of you. And you're both important to me. So I'd really like it if you didn't destroy one another." Bella looked warily between the two men and when neither failed to answer she shook her head and walked over to the front desk. Her first order of business was to find out how well stocked the mini-bar was in her hotel room.
-x-x-x-x-
Although Alice and Jasper's wedding reception and dance were being held at the Fairmont Olympic hotel, Edward preferred to stay with Bella at Hotel 1000 for sentimental reasons. Before making the reservation, he asked Bella if she would allow him to reserve the same luxury room they had shared the previous November for her while he took a room across the hall. She was so surprised and pleased that he asked her before booking it she accepted his generosity graciously. Although she vocalized her disappointment that he was reserving two rooms rather than one.
Later that evening, after a somewhat tense but not unpleasant dinner with her father, Bella availed herself of the gift basket of lavender bath products Edward had sent to her room, complete with virginal lavender poof. She laughed when she thought of the first time he had poofed her.
And then she sobered when she realized that he had purchased lavender items rather than strawberry, despite the fact that he preferred strawberry on her to any other scent.
She was soaking in the large, pedestal bathtub when her iPhone rang. Luckily, the accursed device was well within reach.
"What are you doing?" Edward's smooth voice filled her ears. And her heart.
"Enjoying a bubble bath in my magnificent tub. Thank you for the gift basket, by the way. How are you?"
He paused.
"I can't say my conversation with Charlie was enjoyable, but it was necessary. I gave him the chance to curse me out and tell me that I'm a no good cokehead who doesn't deserve you, and then I did my best to explain what happened. By the end of our conversation, he begrudgingly bought me a beer."
"You're kidding."
"I'm not."
"I can't imagine Charlie paying ten dollars for a Chimay Première."
Edward chuckled. "It was Budweiser, actually. And not the original Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic. He ordered for me."
Bella grinned. "I guess you must love me, then, if you're willing to give up your pretentious European imports for appalling bath water."
"Drinking a domestic beer is the least I could do. Although I don't think your father will ever forgive me for hurting you, hopefully things will improve by the next time we meet. I told him that I want to marry you. Did he mention that?"
She hesitated.
"He told me that I was his little girl and that he wanted to protect me. And then he said … other things that weren't very complimentary."
Edward gritted his teeth.
"But my dad also admitted that I am an adult and that I need to live my own life. He said it was clear to him that you'd changed – even since he'd seen you last. And then he mumbled something about respecting you for speaking to him 'man to man.' I think you surprised him. And Chief Swan is not used to being surprised."
"I'm sorry, Isabella." Edward's voice was pained.
"Sorry for what?"
"For not being the kind of man you could bring home to your father."
Bella inhaled quickly.
"Listen, Edward, my father thought the sun shone out of Jacob's ass. He isn't exactly the best judge of character. And he doesn't know you as I know you."
"But he's your father."
"When the time comes, I'll handle my father. Don't worry about it."
Edward was quiet for a moment as he contemplated her response.
"My conversation with Charlie was a good warm up for dinner with my family."
"Oh, no. How did that go?"
He paused. "Talking to Emmett on the telephone is one thing, but having dinner with him is something else. Alice already smoothed things over with Jasper and Rose. But I think my dear brother will continue to be sceptical until he has a chance to see us together and to talk to you."
"He's just protective of me. I'll talk to him."
Edward sighed.
"We talked about my Mom. Dad asked me to offer a toast to her at the wedding dinner. We also talked about Emmett and Rose's wedding. I apologized to them for not coming and I arranged to send them a gift – even though it's several years late."
"Making a toast to Esme is going to be hard, Edward. Are you sure you want to do that?"
Bella heard silence for a moment on the other end of the line.
"I have some things I need to say. Things almost thirty years in the making. Now is my chance."
"So you've kissed and made up with everyone?"
"Basically. Dad and I made our peace back at the hospital in Cambridge. We're closer than we've ever been."
"How is your new nephew?"
Edward snorted into the phone in a very unprofessorlike manner. "Carlisle Cullen the Second chose my shoulder as the preferred place to spit up on after he had his dinner. Perhaps Emmett coached him to make his feelings about me known."
Bella giggled. "Your nephew spat up on you?"
"All over my new Armani suit and the beautiful silk tie you gave me in Florence."
Edward paused as Bella dissolved into peals of laughter at the thought of the very elegant, very particular Professor being spat upon by his newborn nephew.
"Is it wrong that I didn't care that much? I mean about the suit, not about the tie. Your gift means a lot to me and I was distressed that it might be ruined."
Bella stopped laughing abruptly.
"What did you do with clothes?" she asked.
"The concierge sent everything to be dry-cleaned. I've been assured that breast milk comes out of wool crepe and silk but I'm not holding my breath. Suits can be replaced, people can't …" Edward's voice trailed off.
"You surprise me, Professor."
"How so?"
"You're so – sweet."
"Isabella, I always try to be sweet with you," he reproached her.
"That's true. But I've never seen you around children."
"No," he said quickly. "And I guess it hasn't come up in our counselling sessions yet, has it?"
"No, it hasn't."
"You'd make beautiful babies, Isabella. Little girls and boys with big brown eyes and pink cheeks."
Bella's sharp intake of breath whistled in Edward's ear.
His voice almost caught in his throat. "Is it premature to have this conversation?"
She fidgeted slightly in the tub.
"Isabella?"
"Edward, my hesitation about marriage isn't over having children. It comes from what happened between us this spring. And watching my parents' marriage disintegrate. They loved each other once, I think, and then they ended up hating each other."
"Esme and Carlisle were married happily for years."
"That's true. If I could have a marriage like theirs –"
"We can have a marriage like theirs," Edward corrected her. "That's what I want. And I want it with you."
Bella exhaled slowly. "If you had asked me to marry you before, I would have said yes. I would have said yes to everything. But I can't yet. There's so much we still need to work through and I'm already stressed out about starting grad school."
"I don't mean to stress you out. I'm just trying to tell you what I want for the future." His voice was soft but slightly strained.
"When I thought I was pregnant, it forced me to think about the possibility of having children. I went from being terrified to hopeful to disappointed. When the tests were negative, I cried. It wouldn't have been the best situation, but the thought of having a baby with you made me … happy."
Bella could hear Edward's breath exit his lungs with a loud gasp. "Really?"
"Really. I know we talked about adoption once. Seeing what Esme and Carlisle did with you and your siblings, I'd be interested in adopting some day. Just not while I'm a student."
"The adoption would have to be private. I doubt a respectable agency would place a child with a drug addict."
"Edward, you have no idea what is possible until you try. But do you really want children? Are you sure?"
"With you? Absolutely. " He cleared his throat, for it had grown hoarse. "If we were married I would consider having my vasectomy reversed. It was done many years ago and so I don't know how successful a reversal might be. But once we're married I'd like to try – with your blessing."
Bella paused.
"I think it's premature to have that conversation."
The two were silent for a moment.
"You said that you were bathing, Bathsheba. Do you need help washing your back? Or your long brown hair?" He changed the subject smoothly.
Bella inhaled sharply into the phone, for his change in tone surprised her.
"Um – I thought you didn't want to um, get your cast … wet."
"I think my cast is the least of my worries. Don't you?"
She shivered silently.
He sighed. "But you're right. I'd be playing with fire. Well, I'm across the hall feeling lonely and sad in case you need anything."
"Anything?" she whispered. "I think I might need help turning down the bed or finding my robe once I get out of the tub. Can you come over and help me?"
Edward groaned in frustration. "Isabella, I need to go. Have a good night."
"Good night."
Bella shook her head somewhat resignedly as she ended the call.
-x-x-x-x-
The afternoon before the wedding, Rose, Bella and Carlisle Junior watched Alice get dressed in her suite while the men lazed around the hotel pool nd had a leisurely lunch.
"You look beautiful," said Rose, jostling Carlisle on her hip as Alice stood, resplendent in a white strapless gown with a beaded bodice.
"Gorgeous," chimed Bella, as Alice slowly spun around in front of the full-length mirror. When she stopped spinning, she stood quietly, gazing at herself in the mirror.
The silence and the lack of movement were very out of character for her.
Then she placed her hands over her face and burst into tears.
"What is it?"
"What's wrong?"
Her friends rushed forward, placing arms around her slight form and rubbing her back in an attempt to comfort her.
"My mom," she managed, in between sobs.
Rose and Bella exchanged a look.
Alice's reaction was understandable. Almost every young woman dreams of sharing such a moment with her mother. And Esme would never see Alice in her wedding gown or help her adjust her veil or watch her father walk her down the aisle. Seeing herself in her wedding dress brought the reality home.
"She knows. She sees you and she's happy for you," Bella whispered, hugging Alice tightly.
"That's right. You think she'd miss this day? Look outside. I'll bet Esme cashed in all of her chips just to send you sunshine." Rose pointed to the window, to the beautiful rays that were streaming through the glass and spilling on the floor by Alice's feet. "She's smiling down on you."
Alice looked out the large window through her tears and was surprised at how cheerful the warm light was. She let it wash over her.
"The sunshine has to be from her. Nothing else could explain it." She wiped her face and giggled slightly.
The three friends smiled at one another in agreement as Alice composed herself and sat in front of the dressing table so she could fix her make up.
"I'd like to see my dad," she said softly, as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. "Could one of you go and find him?"
"I'll find him," Bella offered, rushing out of the suite.
After Carlisle arrived, he and his daughter spent a few precious, private moments together before she finished getting ready.
And then there were no more tears.
-x-x-x-x-
Despite the absence of her mother, Alice had a fairy-tale wedding. She and Jasper were married in a beautiful garden in Seattle and although Jasper had initially rejected the idea of having fifty doves released at the moment the priest pronounced them husband and wife, Alice had worn him down.
At least none of his relatives who were packing heat decided to practice their target shooting.
As maid of honour and groomsman, Bella and Edward found themselves standing near the bride and groom, flanked by Rose and Emmett, respectively.
Bella spent much of the ceremony peeking over at Edward and he stared at her unashamedly, smiling widely.
When the priest asked Jasper, "Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together according to God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?",Edward gave Bella a look that was so intense, so tender, that tears sprang to her eyes.
She tried to communicate through her smile that she loved him, and the two of them stared at one another as if they were the only people on earth before they turned their attention back to the ceremony.
After all the photographs had been taken, the wedding party and guests travelled to the hotel for the reception and dinner.
After the dinner and toasts were complete, Alice and Jasper enjoyed the first dance, smiling widely and melting into one another's arms before their parents were invited to join them on the dance floor.
There was a moment of nervousness amongst the guests when Carlisle stood, alone, before walking over to Bella and asking if she would honour him by being his partner. She was stunned by his request, as she had assumed that he would choose an aging aunt or friend or even Rosalie, but she accepted quickly.
Ever the consummate gentleman, Carlisle held Bella firmly but respectfully as he moved her expertly across the dance floor.
"Your father seems to be enjoying himself." He nodded at Charlie, who was standing with a drink in his hand and engaged in an animated conversation with one of the nurses from Forks hospital.
"Thank you for inviting him," she said shyly as they danced to the strains of Etta James' At Last.
"He's an old friend and a good friend. Esme and I owe him a great deal from when we were having trouble with Edward."
Bella nodded and tried to concentrate on her feet, lest she stumble. "Edward's toast to Esme was very moving."
Carlisle smiled down at her. "He never referred to us as Mom and Dad before, even when he was a boy. Tonight was a first. I'm sure that Esme is watching us and that she's very, very happy. And I know that part of her happiness is seeing the transformation in our son. You brought that about, Bella. Thank you."
She smiled but shook her head. "I can't take credit for that. Some things are beyond all of us."
He nodded knowingly. "I don't disagree. But sometimes human relationships can be conduits of grace and I know you've been one for my son. So thank you."
He squeezed her hand tightly.
"It took a long time for Edward to finally forgive himself for what happened to Maia and for not being with Esme when she died. But he's finally found peace. I don't need to tell you that he's a very different man than he was a year ago. The transformation is – miraculous."
Bella nodded.
"I hope that I will be able to dance with you at another wedding in the near future. One in which you and my son take centre stage." He looked at her kindly.
She blushed. "We're taking things one day at a time, but I love him. There's only ever been him."
"Then be sure that you don't wait too long, my dear. Life takes unexpected turns and we don't always have the time we think we have." Carlisle smiled sadly and as the song ended, he kissed the back of her hand and led her back to Edward.
Bella wiped a tear from her eye as she sat down.
Instantly, Edward's lips were at her ear. "Is my father making you cry?"
"No. He's just reminding me of what's important." She wound their hands together and then brought their connection to her mouth so she could kiss his knuckles. "I love you, Edward."
"I love you too, my sweet girl." He leaned over to kiss her and for a moment they forgot where they were as she reached up to wind her arm around his neck and pull him closer.
As their lips met and their breath commingled, the noise of the room slipped away. Edward pulled Bella so that she was leaning across his lap, clasping her to his heart as he kissed her passionately.
When they came apart, they were both breathing heavily.
"I had no idea weddings brought out such reactions." He smirked. "Or I would have taken you to one sooner."
Bella rolled her eyes and giggled.
"I think I have one dance in me. Would you …?" He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Of course. I'll save the last slow dance for you."
He smiled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, tucking her into his side. "That's all I need."
While Edward watched with resigned envy, Bella danced with Emmett and with Jasper, and finally, with her father. It was clear that Charlie and Bella had a lot to say to one another, and their expressions weren't always happy ones. But by the end of the dance they seemed to have come to some sort of understanding and Edward felt marginally relieved when she returned to him with a peaceful expression on her face.
Near the end of the evening, Jasper requested Marc Cohn's True Companion and dedicated it to Alice. Immediately, a throng of married couples scurried toward the dance floor.
Rose surprised everyone by bringing little Carlisle over to Bella and asking her to hold him while she danced with her husband.
Bella was afraid that she'd break him.
"He looks good on you," Edward whispered as his nephew snuggled into Bella's neck, sound asleep.
"I'm afraid I'll drop him."
"You won't drop him." Edward reached over to lightly stroke the peach fuzz that decorated his nephew's head, smiling widely as the baby seemed to offer a contented sigh.
"Why do you want to get married and have children all of a sudden?" Bella hadn't meant to blurt the question out exactly like that, but so she did.
"Things happened while we were separated. I realized what was important – what I wanted for a happy life. And I went to Chicago."
"Chicago? Why?"
"I went to see my sister."
Bella's jaw dropped. "You didn't tell me about that."
"It wasn't a secret. I simply needed some time to process it. I tracked down my father's family in Chicago through my lawyer. His wife is still living and so are my half-siblings, a girl and a boy. Or I should say, a middle-aged woman and a middle-aged man. They're several years older than I am."
"What happened when you contacted them?"
"I wrote to my half-siblings and told them who I was and asked if I could meet them. I didn't expect a response, but my sister replied immediately, saying that she had known my mother and that she was willing to see me."
Bella's face telegraphed her surprise.
"So I flew to Chicago and we had lunch."
"What was your sister like?"
"Very elegant. Kelly is a prominent lawyer with a family of her own. She's tall like me and has hair my colour. Apparently, we inherited it from my father. She knew my mother. My mother was a secretary to our father and well known to his family. I guess Kelly was eleven or twelve when I was born."
"Was she nice?"
"Very nice. Very welcoming. Despite the fact that my birth precipitated a lot of unrest between her own parents. It sounds as if her mother gave our father an ultimatum and that's why he cut off contact with my mother. When our father died his family discovered that I was one of the primary beneficiaries of his estate, so my letter didn't exactly surprise them."
Bella reached out her free hand and clasped his hand in hers.
"I'm really sorry about your parents."
Edward was quiet for a moment and then he turned and gently touched his nephew's head.
"They aren't my parents. My father is here. My family is here. I know a few things about Edward Senior now and Kelly is more than willing to share information with me, should I require it. But I know who my real family is."
He smiled and kissed baby Carlisle's head.
Just before the last dance, Edward shuffled over to the DJ and spoke to him in hushed tones, pressing money into his hand.
Then, with a wide smile on his face, he returned to Bella, leaned his crutches against an empty chair and extended his hand.
They walked slowly onto the dance floor just as Dean Martin's voice filled the air. Bella didn't recognize the song, but she blushed at the words please come back, bella mia.
Because of Edward's injured leg, they were barely moving side to side, swaying gently in one another's arms to the music. It was vaguely like a junior high dance, minus the pimples and awkwardness.
"I'm surprised you didn't choose Besame Mucho," she said, grinning.
Edward gazed into her eyes intensely and with no little heat. "I thought that we needed a new song. A new song for a new chapter."
"I remember the first time we danced."
"I was an ass that entire evening. When I think of how I behaved …" Edward's tone was remorseful. "I had – a strong reaction to you but I didn't know how to act around you."
"You know how to act around me now." She touched his face with her hand and then pressed their lips together, before tentatively fingering his black silk bow tie. "I remember admiring your bow ties when I was just your student. You always dressed impeccably."
Edward caught her hand in his and pressed his open mouth to her palm. "Isabella, you were never just my student. You're my soul mate. My bashert."
He pulled her tightly to his chest and she hummed against his tuxedo. And when Dean Martin switched to Italian, it was Edward's voice that gently sang in her ear.
-x-x-x-x-
As Edward stood outside of Bella's hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, he looked at her appraisingly. Her long, curled dark hair, her beautiful skin and flushed cheeks, her eyes sparkling with champagne and happiness. The way her brilliant blue strapless dress complemented her figure and her complexion.
Even after all this time his brown-eyed angel still had the power to enchant him.
As he gently caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, she gazed up into the hazy green eyes he was now hiding behind his glasses. He was so handsome in his tuxedo. So very, very beautiful.
Boldly, she reached out to pull the edge of his bow tie and felt the silk come apart in her fingers. She wrapped the tie around her hand once to tug his lips to hers.
As they kissed, Bella suddenly realized how difficult it must have been at the beginning of their relationship for Edward to keep his hands off her. The boiling of blood and the heating of flesh when one knew what lay beyond kissing and stroking one's lover over clothes in the voluptuary dance that was foreplay.
She could barely contain her need for him.
"Please," she whispered, straining on tiptoe to place tiny kisses across his neck as she tugged on his tie once again.
He groaned.
"Not tonight. Don't tempt me."
She kissed his ear and then began to whisper. "I promise I'll be gentle."
Edward laughed gruffly. "This is a stunning reversal."
"We've waited a respectable amount of time. I love you. And I want you."
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes," she said breathlessly.
"Then marry me."
"Edward, I …"
He cut her off with his kiss, dropping his crutches to the floor. Somehow his hands were in her hair, clutching her tightly. And then as he gently slid his hands to caress her naked shoulders, he tentatively pressed into her mouth.
Bella released his bow tie to wrap her arms around his neck, tugging him until their bodies were flush against one another. She nibbled his full lower lip and moaned as his tongue slowly traced the curve of her mouth.
Suddenly, his hands were tracing her collarbones and moving to her back, gliding across the surface of her skin back and forth as it began to flush and heat.
"Let me do things the right way," he pleaded, his hands cupping her face.
"How could this be wrong?" she whispered back, chest heaving, eyes dark and desperate.
He kissed her again and this time she shamelessly wound her right leg around his hip, trying to recreate their tango against a wall from the Royal Ontario Museum.
He pressed forward until her back was flush against the door to her room, his hands roaming up and down her thighs before pulling back suddenly.
"You deserve the fairy tale. The proper proposal and engagement ring and a lover who isn't in a cast. I can't tonight, Isabella. Please don't ask me."
Bella removed his glasses in order to smooth the creases around his eyes, and saw heat, passion, conflict, and love staring back at her. She unwound her leg from his hip and pressed their lower bodies together.
"Edward."
He blinked at the sound of her voice, as if she was awakening him from a dream.
"There are many things we can do short of making love." She tugged brazenly at the waistband of his trousers.
Edward's passion-fuelled brain flitted back to one of their nights in Umbria. And to a shower they had shared.
"No," he said quietly.
"But I want to. For you."
He took her hand by the wrist and brought it to his mouth, kissing it tenderly.
"Now is not the time to be redrawing boundaries, darling, when we've been drinking champagne and surrounded by lovers for three days."
"It's my gift to give," she protested.
"Yes, but do you really want to make up with me that way? Wouldn't that act best be saved for after we've come together completely?"
"I don't want to wait anymore."
"Neither do I. But I won't treat you the way he treated you. And I won't take advantage of your frustration.
"I want you in my bed, wholly mine, while we give ourselves to each other completely and mutually. If you don't trust me enough to marry me, then you don't trust me enough to give me what you're offering."
He gazed at her with an expression that was so deep, so kind, that tears suddenly filled her eyes.
The contrast between her past and her present made her heart clench painfully.
"Edward," she cried, suppressing a sob.
He wrapped his arms around her and she pressed her cheek against the lapel of his tuxedo while he cradled her head, stroking her hair.
"Some day," he whispered, pressing his lips to her forehead before wrapping his arms around her waist. "We'll give everything to one another, knowing that we have forever. That's my gift to you, my love. Please let me give it to you."
She was silent as she leaned against his chest, until a few hotel guests filtered past them and disappeared into their rooms.
Bella twisted the fabric of the back of his jacket in her hand. "Spend the night with me. Nights are so cold without you."
He remained perfectly still, staring down into eyes that were filled with sadness and longing.
"I'm trying to be strong for both of us," he whispered. "But when you look at me like that … you undo me. Completely."
He kissed her lips softly and then nodded his acquiescence as she fumbled for her slide card, and the two of them disappeared behind her hotel room door.
They made short work of their clothes, and Edward slipped beneath the crisp white sheets in his undershirt and boxer shorts while Bella washed her face and brushed her teeth.
Soon she was beside him, wearing a modest, thigh length chemise of white eyelet.
"You look beautiful," he murmured, his fingers tracing the bare skin of her arms. "I've never seen this before."
"A new nightgown for a new chapter." She smiled and then kissed him again.
"I've missed sharing a bed with you," he said, as he lifted his right arm so that she could mould to his side.
"I've missed you, too, love." She rested her head against his upper chest comfortably.
"Did you enjoy the wedding?"
"Very much."
"Have you given any thought to … our wedding?" Edward's voice was hesitant.
It took a minute or two for Bella to gather her thoughts, but when she did, she lifted her head so that she could make eye contact.
"I would like something small, with just our family."
"That suits me. Have you thought about where? Here? Forks? Cambridge? We could get married at Harvard." He moved his hand so that he was rubbing it across her lower back.
She squirmed slightly.
"I'm pressuring you. Forgive me." Edward began to remove his hand, albeit reluctantly, when Bella caught it with her own.
"No, it isn't that."
"Then what is it, love? Tell me." He smiled at her cautiously.
"I don't know if it would be feasible, and certainly it would be something we'd have to talk to our families about, but I was thinking about … Italy."
Now Edward was grinning in delight. "Italy sounds marvellous. Where? Florence?"
"I was thinking about Assisi."
He nodded knowingly and kissed her twice.
"That would be my preference as well."
Bella smiled against his shirt.
"When you're ready, say the word and we can begin to make the arrangements," he whispered. "Together."
He nuzzled her neck and then the two former lovers fell asleep nested in the centre of the large comfortable bed.
-x-x-x-x-
Early the next morning, Bella left the comfort of Edward's warm embrace to tip toe to the washroom. When she returned, she found him wide-awake and gazing at her with concern.
"Are you alright?" he whispered.
"Perfectly fine."
"Then come here." He opened his arms and she snuggled close, placing a leg carefully over his uninjured one.
He groaned inaudibly.
"Edward?"
"Yes?"
"Do you remember the first time we made love?"
"Of course, darling."
"What do you remember?"
He kissed her forehead. "I remember thinking how beautiful you are. Far more beautiful than I had imagined. I wanted everything to be perfect for your first time. That's probably why I went a little overboard."
He looked sheepish.
"It was perfect. Thank you," she murmured.
"I remember how it felt to be one with you for the first time. It was intense and exciting and … it might sound pretentious, but it was transcendent. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this beautiful, sweet girl."
"You knew that?" She searched his eyes.
"Yes." He kissed her nose. "The morning after I kept thinking of the vows from the Book of Common Prayer. And how they were already true."
They ceased talking as his words seemed to settle over them like a warm blanket.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you in the hallway."
"You didn't embarrass me." The urgency of his tone took Bella aback. "I've never been embarrassed by you. Never."
"I think we gave some of the other guests a bit of a show." She bit her lip hesitantly.
"And some inspiration," he whispered against her lips, kissing her softly.
She kissed him back and then rested her head on his shoulder.
He hugged her closer.
"Do you remember when I told you that I had a few confessions to make?"
She nodded.
"I told you about the money. I told you about meeting my half-sister. But I have something else to tell you," he said, his fingers gently running up and down her bare arm. "Something strange."
Her eyebrows knit together curiously.
"Go ahead."
"While I was unconscious after the car accident, I saw something."
"While you were unconscious? What could you see?"
He paused uncomfortably.
"Promise me you'll keep an open mind."
"Of course."
Edward took a deep breath.
"I thought it was a dream. And then when I woke up, I wondered if it was a vision."
She blinked. "Like when you thought you saw me in Assisi?"
He shook his head. "No. Like what you told me about the Gentileschi painting while we were in Florence, about Maia being with Esme."
Bella's eyes grew wide and round.
"I saw Esme. We were in my old room back in Forks. And Esme told me …" Edward's voice broke as tears escaped his eyes. He wiped them away, quickly.
"She told me that she knew that I loved her, even though I wasn't there when she died."
"Of course she did," Bella murmured, kissing his cheek where the tears had fallen. "Esme knew that you loved her."
"And then she introduced someone to me. A young girl. She told me that she was happy but that she wanted to know me – and Tanya. She said that she would see me again."
"Who was she?"
Edward swallowed roughly. "Maia."
Bella gasped.
"What do you think it means?"
"I don't know."
"Have you spoken to Tanya about it?"
"No. She made her peace with what happened and moved on. She's found happiness. I don't want to bring up the past."
Bella nodded, deep in thought. She wiped a stray tear from Edward's face and then kissed him softly.
"It's one thing to read what Dante wrote about Paradise and the children who populate heaven and another thing to believe it. Maybe God knew that you needed this in order to be able to forgive yourself – you needed to see that Esme and Maia had already forgiven you. And that Maia was happy."
She lowered her voice and clasped his hand.
"I believe, Edward. I don't know how it's possible or how one could explain it, but I believe that you saw the truth. Somehow."
Edward broke down and in the quiet darkness of the early morning Bella did her best to comfort him.


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