"Edward, I'm going! That's all there is to it. I have to go!" The clothes I'd pulled out of the closet were folded and stacked in the suitcase before I even finished speaking.
"It's too risky. The whole town will be there - someone will see you!" Edward was begging but I could hear the hint of defeat in his voice. He knew this was over.
"Carlisle thinks it will be safe enough. He trusts me, why can't you?"
Edward's carefully controlled calm face crumbled. "You think I don't trust you?" he whispered. He pulled the suitcase from my hands and embraced me. I didn't resist. "I'm only afraid for your safety, love."
I swallowed hard. I didn't want to fight. I wasn't really angry with Edward, I was just taking out my shock and grief on him. "I know." I pulled back to look at his face and those beautiful golden eyes that were now clouded with pain. "Come with me. I can't do this without you."
If the words hadn't been the absolute truth, I wouldn't have been able to speak them. I pleaded with my eyes as well as my voice. "Please, Edward? I need to do this, and I need you to be with me."
The last shred of resistance left his eyes, as I knew it would. "I would never make you go alone. But Renesmee stays here. It's one thing to risk exposing ourselves. She is another matter entirely."
I nodded. "Of course. Thank you, Edward," I whispered as I wrapped my arms around him again, wanting him to hold me tight. I squeezed my eyes shut as I crushed myself against his chest. The words flashed in front of me in the darkness. Chief of Police Charles Swan, 52, was killed in the line of duty Monday night...
Tearless sobs began to shake my body.
* * *
This was the first time in several years that I'd been back to Forks during the daytime. We'd driven all night to arrive here before dawn. If Edward had driven at his usual speed, we could have been here in less than two hours, but he seemed to sense my dread, despite my need to be here. We didn't speak the entire car ride; words simply weren’t necessary. Edward held my hand the whole time, rubbing circles with his thumb.
When Edward pulled into curvy driveway of the deserted Cullen house, there was still an hour of darkness left before the sunlight would make it difficult for us to walk around town unseen. He pulled in as far as he could before the overgrowth of the surrounding vegetation all but covered the path. He looked at me and, again, no words were necessary. Hand-in-hand, we ran through the forest to find our cottage.
The gardens surrounding our cottage were overgrown with weeds, but the inside was just as we left it. It was still as magical as it had been the first time I saw it, ten years ago. It was home.
Edward lifted me into his arms and carried me to our old bedroom, our first bedroom. He laid me gently on the bed, stroking my hair as he lay beside me. I knew he was willing to just lay with me and hold me, but I couldn't ignore the sparks of electricity that surged under my skin every place he touched me. I pressed my lips urgently to his, and he responded just as passionately. We made love slowly and softly that morning, yet somehow still full of the urgency we felt for each other.
He held me close afterwards. I wished for time to stop right here, right now. I wished that I could stay here, with Edward, in our own secret cottage, and never have to watch my father's body being lowered into the ground. But reality was a necessary evil. I knew I needed closure on my father's death, and I knew that it was time to go, before sunrise.
Forks Cemetery was backed by forest, where we waited out the remaining hours before the funeral was scheduled to begin. I could see the grave already dug in preparation. The tall trees would provide us shelter, but I hoped to be able to attend the funeral.
"Bella, you can't be seen. You must stay in the forest."
My fingers tightened on the wide brim of the black hat I'd brought with me. "No one will recognize me. The veil will cover my face and I'll stay in the back. I'll be just another mourner."
"You will stand out and draw more attention to yourself," Edward argued.
"They may wonder, but they won't know who I am. That's all that matters, isn't it?"
Edward sighed. He knew he couldn't win. If I wanted to be there, I would be, and he couldn't stop me. I’d be covered from head to toe but he wouldn't be. He could only hope to change my mind.
In the end, it was a cruel twist of fate that kept me in the shadows of the forest. Only thirty minutes before the ceremony's start time, the clouds parted and the sun shown brightly over the entire cemetery. Why, of all days, does it have to be sunny in Forks today? The veil would not hide the light reflecting off my face.
Edward felt me stiffen against him.
"I'm sorry, love," he whispered in my ear.
"Why today? Today should be the gloomiest, rainiest day ever." My voice cracked.
Edward wrapped his arms around me tightly. "Don't think of it that way. Think of it as a reflection of Charlie's soul, shining down on all of us."
I turned to face him so I could bury my face into his chest. He always knew the words to say. I stayed like that, pressed against him, until I heard people gathering at the burial site. I turned my back to him to watch the ceremony, but I leaned against him for strength. He tightened his arms around my waist and held me close to him.
Edward was right; it looked like the entire town of Forks was here. But one person's presence shocked me above all others. Right up front, near Reverend Weber, stood Renee. Phil's arm was around her waist and it seemed as though he was holding her up. Never was I more grateful for Phil than I was in that moment.
I hadn't seen my mother since the day of my wedding. The last ten years had taken the childlike quality out of her face. Tears streaked down from her eyes.
"She always loved Charlie, in her own way," Edward whispered in my ear. "She's thinking of you, too, and the last time she spoke to Charlie, almost a year after we disappeared. She wanted to believe that you were still alive somewhere, that you'd somehow survived the plane crash."
I trembled against Edward. I remembered Charlie telling us about that argument they had. He'd hated having to lie to her, telling her I was dead. I hadn't realized that was the last time they'd spoken to each other. I didn't take my eyes off my mother's face, nor did I pay attention to any of the words spoken.
I jumped when the bugle began to play "Taps". Deputy Mark removed the American flag from the casket and folded it into a neat triangle with precision. I sucked in my breath when he presented the flag to my mother. The tears that had been silently flowing down her face came faster as she began to sob openly. Phil strengthened his hold on her and accepted the flag on her behalf.
I watched my father's casket being lowered into the ground, and I sank to my knees along with it. Just like that, my father was gone. Like a rainbow, fading in the twinkling of an eye. Gone too soon...
The next time I looked up, I was sitting in Edward's lap, deeper in the forest. His hand was rubbing my back, up and down, up and down, in a constant, soothing rhythm. The sky was already darkening.
"When it's dark enough, I want to go to the house," I said. My voice sounded rough.
For once, Edward didn't argue with me. He knew, as I did, this would be my last chance to go to Charlie's house. Neither of us was sure what would happen to the house and everything in it; we didn't know if he'd changed his will since my alleged death seven years ago. Everything would go to the state, probably to an auction, if I remained the sole beneficiary.
"It won't be long now. The day is almost over."
I lay my head back against his chest as he continued rubbing.
* * *
I opened the front door, as if nothing were different. Edward, however, scaled the front of the house and slipped through my old bedroom window. I paused in the doorway and watched him in awe, thinking about all the times he'd done that in the two years I'd lived here. He seemed to sense my questioning gaze.
"For old time's sake," he said simply from inside the house.
He was already beside me, wrapping his arm around me, as I closed the front door. I knew Charlie had been in this very kitchen just three days ago, however the air already felt stale, old, deserted.
I walked through the house slowly, as if in a daze. My eyes fell on the photos lining the mantle, especially the latest addition. It was a photo from my wedding. Charlie looked so handsome in his tuxedo. His arm was around my waist, in an awkward, yet sweet, way. I could see that he had been proud and happy, but sad at the same time. This was the last day Charlie had seen me as a human.
I felt a strange yearning to take this photo with me, even though I had the same one - and many more - at home. I felt a twinge of guilt as I realized I hadn't bothered to unpack my wedding photos from our most recent move. There was something about this particular photo, though, the fact that it had been Charlie's, that he had framed it and put it on display, that made me want to never let it go.
I set the photo on the kitchen table and walked upstairs. My old bedroom looked just the same it had last time I was here, just a few years ago when Renesmee spent the night at her Grandpa Charlie’s house. Faded human memories bombarded me but the one that I remembered the most was the morning after the day Edward had taken me to the meadow. I looked at the empty rocking chair in the corner, remembering how I'd felt when I saw him sitting there, realizing he had spent all night with me. I couldn't help smiling as I thought about my reaction that morning, wanting so badly to be in his arms and yet feeling the need to brush my teeth.
Edward came up behind me and put his arm around my waist. "I almost miss watching you sleep, but I'm so happy with our life together now. I do miss your sleep talking, though." He chuckled softly.
"I'll bet you do," I retorted as I playfully pushed him away. Talking in my sleep was one of many things I didn't miss about being human.
I'd already taken everything I'd wanted to keep from my room years ago, so I walked across the hall to Charlie's. It felt strange being in his room; I hadn't been in here since I was a young girl.
On his nightstand was a picture of Renesmee. That Charlie would keep a photo of her, right next to his bed, made me smile. There were no other pictures of her in the entire house; he definitely understood the idea of keeping her existence a secret. I handed the picture to Edward; it couldn't be left here for someone to ask questions about.
There was a small box on his dresser. I hesitated before opening the lid, pushing away feelings of guilt for invading Charlie's privacy. I thought there might be some jewelry inside, or some other item of sentimental value. There was, indeed, some jewelry: a ring I'm sure belonged to my grandmother and a watch that probably belonged to my grandfather. I passed them along to Edward, who placed them carefully into his pocket.
Under the watch, there was a piece of paper, folded several times over. Pushing away those feelings of guilt again, I unfolded the paper and smoothed it out. I recognized Charlie's scrawl right away. It was a letter he’d written, and it was dated August 12, 2006 - the day before my wedding.
I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Not long after, your mother left and took you with her. You were gone too soon, I'd only just begun to get to know you although I loved you from the moment I knew your mother was pregnant. Every year, I looked forward to the two weeks we would spend together. They were the highlights of my year.
When you came to live with me, it was like your birth day all over again. My baby girl was coming home to me. I couldn't have been more pleased to have you live here with me, even if I didn't understand your reasons.
It's never easy for a father to watch his daughter grow from his little girl into a beautiful woman, but time marches on and growing older is inevitable. I could not be more proud of the woman you have become. I am honored to have been able to be here with you these last two years.
Tomorrow you will walk down the aisle and I will have to give you away. Another man will have the privilege of watching over you every day. Once again, I feel you will be gone too soon. You've only just arrived, and yet you are ready to start your own family. I know Edward knows how lucky he is to have you, and I know he will take the best care of you he possibly can. I could see his love for you written all over his face on your very first date. Knowing you will be in such good hands is the only way I could let you go.
I love you, Bells. More than I could ever tell you.
I clutched the paper to my chest, heaving with sobs though my eyes were dry. Why had he never given me this letter? It was all the words he wanted to say, but couldn't. The best part was knowing that he approved of my choice, that deep down he approved of Edward. Knowing that meant more to me than I ever dreamed possible.
Suddenly, Edward grabbed me around the waist and pulled me back into my old bedroom.
He clapped his hand over my mouth. "Shhh! Renee's coming!" he whispered as the front door opened and the kitchen light flicked on.
He turned us so we could see out the window and still hide in the shadows. Phil was sitting in the car in the driveway. We couldn’t jump out of the window without being seen.
"She wanted time alone to grieve.” Edward whispered. “For Charlie...and for you."
I couldn't speak. Poor Renee. A kitchen chair slid against the floor.
"What's this doing here?" Renee wondered aloud. Crap. I'd left the wedding photo on the kitchen table. "Oh, my Bella." She began to sob.
I ached for her. I wanted nothing more than to go to her and let her see that I still existed, that I was here.
"She misses you so much," Edward whispered. "She's remembering how happy you were on our wedding day. She's hoping you were just as happy when..." His voice cracked and he couldn't finish the sentence.
I took advantage of his distraction, knowing I’d never be able to get away if I’d indicated my desire to see my mother. I ran down the stairs and stopped in the darkness of the living room, where she couldn't see me. The speed from my running ruffled the curtains in the living room. Renee lifted her head from her hands. Her eyes, red from crying, were wide in surprise.
"Who's there?" she called timidly.
I held my breath and stayed perfectly still, watching her. Her eyes passed right over me, but I knew it was too dark for her to see me.
"I know you're there, I heard you." Her voice was a little stronger now. "I've seen all those ghost shows, you know. You don't frighten me, Charlie."
I almost laughed. It was just like Renee to believe in ghosts, but it gave me an idea. Edward would be angry with me, but I had to do it. I had to ease my mother's pain.
"I'm not Charlie," I whispered.
Renee gasped, and her face went white. "Bella?! Honey, is that you?"
"Yes, Mom. It's me."
Tears formed in Renee's eyes again, threatening to brim over. She began to stand; her knees were shaky. I took a step backwards, further into the shadows. “Can I see you?”
“No!” I said so quickly I forgot to whisper. My bell-like vampire voice did not sound ghostly at all. I regained my control and whispered, “I’m sorry, but you can’t see me.”
She sank back into the chair. "Have you been here the whole time, since...since..."
"No. I just came for today. And I can't stay."
Renee began to sob again.
"Mom, I need you to know...please don't be sad for me. I'm in a happier place. I'm with Edward. I don't regret anything. Be happy for me, not sad." I struggled to get all the words out, but she needed to hear them.
"I love you, Mom." I ran to her, kissed her cheek, and ran back up the stairs. I knew she would see nothing, only feel my cool breath on her cheek. If by chance she did see any kind of blur, it would only fuel her ghost theory.
I heard her gasp as my cool touch registered in her brain. "Gone so soon?" she whispered.
I stopped in the doorway of my room. Edward didn’t turn from the window, but I knew he knew I was there. I was glad; I didn’t want to see the anger in his face.
Renee stayed only a few more minutes, sobbing softly. “Thank you, Bella,” she whispered just before she closed the front door. After Phil turned the corner, Edward turned and held his hand out to me. I still refused to look him in the face, but I was eager to take his hand. We jumped out of the window together and ran back to the cottage.
At the cottage door, I turned to him, still afraid to look in his eyes yet also desperately needing to. "Are you mad?"
"You cannot take risks like that, Bella, not even for Renee." He sighed. "But I know why you did it. How could I be angry with you, with intentions so pure?"
He stroked my cheek, and I melted in his eyes.
"Let's spend one more night here, and drive home tomorrow," I whispered. The sight of our cottage and the way his eyes burned into mine brought my desire for Edward to the forefront despite the sadness of the day.
* * *
Edward presented me with a gift on the one-month anniversary of my father's death. I raised my eyebrows. He knew how I felt about gifts.
"Just open it," he said softly.
I peeled the paper off hesitantly. It took a minute for me to realize what was inside. It was Charlie's letter, encased in glass. I thought I’d left it in my bedroom in my haste to go to Renee.
"It’s preserved with the highest quality museum archival technology available today. We’ll keep it preserved as best we can as the technology improves, so that you may keep it for eternity."
My voice caught in my throat. I hoped my eyes were able to tell Edward everything I was unable to.
“You once told me I was very lucky to have Carlisle and Esme as parents. You were just as fortunate to have Renee and Charlie. Charlie would have done anything for you. He was immensely grateful that he was able to be in your life after…after your transformation.”
I placed the letter down gently and threw myself into his arms. "Thank you, Edward," I whispered when my voice finally returned. This, at least, would be one piece of Charlie that wouldn't be gone too soon.