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Epilogue:An Occasion

Epilogue:An Occasion

  Edward helped me into his car, being very careful of the wisps of silkand chiffon, the flowers he'd just pinned into my elaborately styledcurls, and my bulky walking cast. He ignored the angry set of my mouth.

  When he had me settled, he got in the driver's seat and headed back outthe long, narrow drive.

  "At what point exactly are you going to tell me what's going on?" I askedgrumpily. I really hated surprises. And he knew that.

  "I'm shocked that you haven't figured it out yet." He threw a mockingsmile in my direction, and my breath caught in my throat. Would I everget used to his perfection?

  "I did mention that you looked very nice, didn't I?" I verified.

  "Yes." He grinned again. I'd never seen him dress in black before, and,with the contrast against his pale skin, his beauty was absolutelysurreal. That much I couldn't deny, even if the fact that he was wearinga tuxedo made me very nervous.

  Not quite as nervous as the dress. Or the shoe. Only one shoe, as myother foot was still securely encased in plaster. But the stiletto heel,held on only by satin ribbons, certainly wasn't going to help me as Itried to hobble around.

  "I'm not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like GuineaPig Barbie when I do," I griped. I'd spent the better part of the day inAlice's staggeringly vast bathroom, a helpless victim as she playedhairdresser and cosmetician. Whenever I fidgeted or complained, shereminded me that she didn't have any memories of being human, and askedme not to ruin her vicarious fun. Then she'd dressed me in the mostridiculous dress — deep blue, frilly and off the shoulders, with Frenchtags I couldn't read — a dress more suitable for a runway than Forks.

  Nothing good could come of our formal attire, of that I was sure. Unless…but I was afraid to put my suspicions into words, even in my own head.

  I was distracted then by the sound of a phone ringing. Edward pulled hiscell phone from a pocket inside his jacket, looking briefly at the callerID before answering.

  "Hello, Charlie," he said warily.

  "Charlie?" I frowned.

  Charlie had been… difficult since my return to Forks. He had compartmentalized my bad experience into two defined reactions. TowardCarlisle he was almost worshipfully grateful. On the other hand, he wasstubbornly convinced that Edward was at fault — because, if not for him,I wouldn't have left home in the first place. And Edward was far fromdisagreeing with him. These days I had rules that hadn't existed before:

  curfews… visiting hours.

  Something Charlie was saying made Edward's eyes widen in disbelief, andthen a grin spread across his face.

  "You're kidding!" He laughed.

  "What is it?" I demanded.

  He ignored me. "Why don't you let me talk to him?" Edward suggested withevident pleasure. He waited for a few seconds.

  "Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen." His voice was very friendly, onthe surface. I knew it well enough to catch the soft edge of menace. Whatwas Tyler doing at my house? The awful truth began to dawn on me. Ilooked again at the inappropriate dress Alice had forced me into.

  "I'm sorry if there's been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella isunavailable tonight." Edward's tone changed, and the threat in his voicewas suddenly much more evident as he continued. "To be perfectly honest,she'll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself isconcerned. No offense. And I'm sorry about your evening." He didn't soundsorry at all. And then he snapped the phone shut, a huge smirk on hisface.

  My face and neck flushed crimson with anger. I could feel therage-induced tears starting to fill my eyes.

  He looked at me in surprise. "Was that last part a bit too much? I didn'tmean to offend you."I ignored that.

  "You're taking me to the prom!" I yelled.

  It was embarrassingly obvious now. If I'd been paying any attention atall, I'm sure I would have noticed the date on the posters that decoratedthe school buildings. But I'd never dreamed he was thinking of subjectingme to this. Didn't he know me at all?

  He wasn't expecting the force of my reaction, that was clear. He pressedhis lips together and his eyes narrowed. "Don't be difficult, Bella."My eyes flashed to the window; we were halfway to the school already.

  "Why are you doing this to me?" I demanded in horror.

  He gestured to his tuxedo. "Honestly, Bella, what did you think we weredoing?"I was mortified. First, because I'd missed the obvious. And also becausethe vague suspicions — expectations, really — that I'd been forming allday, as Alice tried to transform me into a beauty queen, were so far wideof the mark. My half-fearful hopes seemed very silly now.

  I'd guessed there was some kind of occasion brewing. But prom! That wasthe furthest thing from my mind.

  The angry tears rolled over my cheeks. I remembered with dismay that Iwas very uncharacteristically wearing mascara. I wiped quickly under myeyes to prevent any smudges. My hand was unblackened when I pulled itaway; maybe Alice had known I would need waterproof makeup.

  "This is completely ridiculous. Why are you crying?" he demanded infrustration.

  "Because I'm mad!" "Bella." He turned the full force of his scorching golden eyes on me.

  "What?" I muttered, distracted.

  "Humor me," he insisted.

  His eyes were melting all my fury. It was impossible to fight with himwhen he cheated like that. I gave in with poor grace.

  "Fine," I pouted, unable to glare as effectively as I would have liked.

  "I'll go quietly. But you'll see. I'm way overdue for more bad luck. I'llprobably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It's a death trap!" Iheld out my good leg as evidence.

  "Hmmm." He stared at my leg longer than was necessary. "Remind me tothank Alice for that tonight.""Alice is going to be there?" That comforted me slightly.

  "With Jasper, and Emmett… and Rosalie," he admitted.

  The feeling of comfort disappeared. There had been no progress withRosalie, though I was on quite good terms with her sometimes-husband.

  Emmett enjoyed having me around — he thought my bizarre human reactionswere hilarious… or maybe it was just the fact that I fell down a lot thathe found so funny. Rosalie acted as if I didn't exist. While I shook myhead to dispel the direction my thoughts had taken, I thought ofsomething else.

  "Is Charlie in on this?" I asked, suddenly suspicious.

  "Of course." He grinned, and then chuckled. "Apparently Tyler wasn't,though."I gritted my teeth. How Tyler could be so delusional, I couldn't imagine.

  At school, where Charlie couldn't interfere, Edward and I wereinseparable — except for those rare sunny days.

  We were at the school now; Rosalie's red convertible was conspicuous inthe parking lot. The clouds were thin today, a few streaks of sunlightescaping through far away in the west.

  He got out and walked around the car to open my door. He held out hishand.

  I sat stubbornly in my seat, arms folded, feeling a secret twinge ofsmugness. The lot was crowded with people in formal dress: witnesses. Hecouldn't remove me forcibly from the car as he might have if we'd beenalone.

  He sighed. "When someone wants to kill you, you're brave as a lion — andthen when someone mentions dancing…" He shook his head.

  I gulped. Dancing.

  "Bella, I won't let anything hurt you — not even yourself. I won't let goof you once, I promise."I thought about that and suddenly felt much better. He could see that inmy face.

  "There, now," he said gently, "it won't be so bad." He leaned down andwrapped one arm around my waist. I took his other hand and let him liftme from the car.

  He kept his arm tightly around me, supporting me as I limped toward theschool.

  In Phoenix, they held proms in hotel ballrooms. This dance was in thegym, of course. It was probably the only room in town big enough for adance. When we got inside, I giggled. There were actual balloon arches and twisted garlands of pastel crepe paper festooning the walls.

  "This looks like a horror movie waiting to happen," I snickered.

  "Well," he muttered as we slowly approached the ticket table — he wascarrying most of my weight, but I still had to shuffle and wobble my feetforward — "there are more than enough vampires present."I looked at the dance floor; a wide gap had formed in the center of thefloor, where two couples whirled gracefully. The other dancers pressed tothe sides of the room to give them space — no one wanted to stand incontrast with such radiance. Emmett and Jasper were intimidating andflawless in classic tuxedos. Alice was striking in a black satin dresswith geometric cutouts that bared large triangles of her snowy whiteskin. And Rosalie was… well, Rosalie. She was beyond belief. Her vividscarlet dress was backless, tight to her calves where it flared into awide ruffled train, with a neckline that plunged to her waist. I pitiedevery girl in the room, myself included.

  "Do you want me to bolt the doors so you can massacre the unsuspectingtownsfolk?" I whispered conspiratorially.

  "And where do you fit into that scheme?" He glared.

  "Oh, I'm with the vampires, of course."He smiled reluctantly. "Anything to get out of dancing.""Anything."He bought our tickets, then turned me toward the dance floor. I cringedagainst his arm and dragged my feet.

  "I've got all night," he warned.

  Eventually he towed me out to where his family was twirling elegantly —if in a style totally unsuitable to the present time and music. I watchedin horror.

  "Edward." My throat was so dry I could only manage a whisper. "I honestlycan't dance!" I could feel the panic bubbling up inside my chest.

  "Don't worry, silly," he whispered back. "I can." He put my arms aroundhis neck and lifted me to slide his feet under mine.

  And then we were whirling, too.

  "I feel like I'm five years old," I laughed after a few minutes ofeffortless waltzing.

  "You don't look five," he murmured, pulling me closer for a second, sothat my feet were briefly a foot from the ground.

  Alice caught my eye on a turn and smiled in encouragement — I smiledback. I was surprised to realize that I was actually enjoying myself… alittle.

  "Okay, this isn't half bad," I admitted.

  But Edward was staring toward the doors, and his face was angry.

  "What is it?" I wondered aloud. I followed his gaze, disoriented by thespinning, but finally I could see what was bothering him. Jacob Black,not in a tux, but in a long-sleeved white shirt and tie, his hairsmoothed back into his usual ponytail, was crossing the floor toward us.

  After the first shock of recognition, I couldn't help but feel bad forJacob. He was clearly uncomfortable — excruciatingly so. His face wasapologetic as his eyes met mine.

  Edward snarled very quietly.

   "Behave!" I hissed.

  Edward's voice was scathing. "He wants to chat with you."Jacob reached us then, the embarrassment and apology even more evident onhis face.

  "Hey, Bella, I was hoping you would be here." Jacob sounded like he'dbeen hoping the exact opposite. But his smile was just as warm as ever.

  "Hi, Jacob." I smiled back. "What's up?""Can I cut in?" he asked tentatively, glancing at Edward for the firsttime. I was shocked to notice that Jacob didn't have to look up. He musthave grown half a foot since the first time I'd seen him.

  Edward's face was composed, his expression blank. His only answer was toset me carefully on my feet, and take a step back.

  "Thanks," Jacob said amiably.

  Edward just nodded, looking at me intently before he turned to walk away.

  Jacob put his hands on my waist, and I reached up to put my hands on hisshoulders.

  "Wow, Jake, how tall are you now?"He was smug. "Six-two."We weren't really dancing — my leg made that impossible. Instead weswayed awkwardly from side to side without moving our feet. It was justas well; the recent growth spurt had left him looking gangly anduncoordinated, he was probably no better a dancer than I was.

  "So, how did you end up here tonight?" I asked without true curiosity.

  Considering Edward's reaction, I could guess.

  "Can you believe my dad paid me twenty bucks to come to your prom?" headmitted, slightly ashamed.

  "Yes, I can," I muttered. "Well, I hope you're enjoying yourself, atleast. Seen anything you like?" I teased, nodding toward a group of girlslined up against the wall like pastel confections.

  "Yeah," he sighed. "But she's taken."He glanced down to meet my curious gaze for just a second — then we bothlooked away, embarrassed.

  "You look really pretty, by the way," he added shyly.

  "Um, thanks. So why did Billy pay you to come here?" I asked quickly,though I knew the answer.

  Jacob didn't seem grateful for the subject change; he looked away,uncomfortable again. "He said it was a 'safe' place to talk to you. Iswear the old man is losing his mind."I joined in his laughter weakly.

  "Anyway, he said that if I told you something, he would get me thatmaster cylinder I need," he confessed with a sheepish grin.

  "Tell me, then. I want you to get your car finished." I grinned back. Atleast Jacob didn't believe any of this. It made the situation a biteasier. Against the wall, Edward was watching my face, his own faceexpressionless. I saw a sophomore in a pink dress eyeing him with timidspeculation, but he didn't seem to be aware of her.

  Jacob looked away again, ashamed. "Don't get mad, okay?" "There's no way I'll be mad at you, Jacob," I assured him. "I won't evenbe mad at Billy. Just say what you have to.""Well — this is so stupid, I'm sorry, Bella — he wants you to break upwith your boyfriend. He asked me to tell you 'please.'" He shook his headin disgust.

  "He's still superstitious, eh?""Yeah. He was… kind of over the top when you got hurt down in Phoenix. Hedidn't believe…"Jacob trailed off self-consciously.

  My eyes narrowed. "I fell.""I know that," Jacob said quickly.

  "He thinks Edward had something to do with me getting hurt." It wasn't aquestion, and despite my promise, I was angry.

  Jacob wouldn't meet my eyes. We weren't even bothering to sway to themusic, though his hands were still on my waist, and mine around his neck.

  "Look, Jacob, I know Billy probably won't believe this, but just so youknow" — he looked at me now, responding to the new earnestness in myvoice — "Edward really did save my life. If it weren't for Edward and hisfather, I'd be dead.""I know," he claimed, but he sounded like my sincere words had affectedhim some. Maybe he'd be able to convince Billy of this much, at least.

  "Hey, I'm sorry you had to come do this, Jacob," I apologized. "At anyrate, you get your parts, right?""Yeah," he muttered. He was still looking awkward… upset.

  "There's more?" I asked in disbelief.

  "Forget it," he mumbled, "I'll get a job and save the money myself."I glared at him until he met my gaze. "Just spit it out, Jacob.""It's so bad.""I don't care. Tell me," I insisted.

  "Okay… but, geez, this sounds bad." He shook his head. "He said to tellyou, no, to warn you, that — and this is his plural, not mine" — helifted one hand from my waist and made little quotations marks in the air— '"We'll be watching.'" He watched warily for my reaction.

  It sounded like something from a mafia movie. I laughed out loud.

  "Sorry you had to do this, Jake," I snickered.

  "I don't mind that much." He grinned in relief. His eyes were appraisingas they raked quickly over my dress. "So, should I tell him you said tobutt the hell out?" he asked hopefully.

  "No," I sighed. "Tell him I said thanks. I know he means well."The song ended, and I dropped my arms.

  His hands hesitated at my waist, and he glanced at my bum leg. "Do youwant to dance again? Or can I help you get somewhere?"Edward answered for me. "That's all right, Jacob. I'll take it from here."Jacob flinched, and stared wide-eyed at Edward, who stood just beside us.

  "Hey, I didn't see you there," he mumbled. "I guess I'll see you around,Bella." He stepped back, waving halfheartedly.

   I smiled. "Yeah, I'll see you later.""Sorry," he said again before he turned for the door.

  Edward's arms wound around me as the next song started. It was a littleup-tempo for slow dancing, but that didn't seem to concern him. I leanedmy head against his chest, content.

  "Feeling better?" I teased.

  "Not really," he said tersely.

  "Don't be mad at Billy," I sighed. "He just worries about me forCharlie's sake. It's nothing personal.""I'm not mad at Billy," he corrected in a clipped voice. "But his son isirritating me."I pulled back to look at him. His face was very serious.

  "Why?""First of all, he made me break my promise."I stared at him in confusion.

  He half-smiled. "I promised I wouldn't let go of you tonight," heexplained.

  "Oh. Well, I forgive you.""Thanks. But there's something else." Edward frowned.

  I waited patiently.

  "He called you pretty," he finally continued, his frown deepening.

  "That's practically an insult, the way you look right now. You're muchmore than beautiful."I laughed. "You might be a little biased.""I don't think that's it. Besides, I have excellent eyesight."We were twirling again, my feet on his as he held me close.

  "So are you going to explain the reason for all of this?" I wondered.

  He looked down at me, confused, and I glared meaningfully at the crepepaper.

  He considered for a moment, and then changed direction, spinning methrough the crowd to the back door of the gym. I caught a glimpse ofJessica and Mike dancing, staring at me curiously. Jessica waved, and Ismiled back quickly. Angela was there, too, looking blissfully happy inthe arms of little Ben Cheney; she didn't look up from his eyes, a headlower than hers. Lee and Samantha, Lauren, glaring toward us, withConner; I could name every face that spiraled past me. And then we wereoutdoors, in the cool, dim light of a fading sunset.

  As soon as we were alone, he swung me up into his arms, and carried meacross the dark grounds till he reached the bench beneath the shadow ofthe madrone trees. He sat there, keeping me cradled against his chest.

  The moon was already up, visible through the gauzy clouds, and his faceglowed pale in the white light. His mouth was hard, his eyes troubled.

  "The point?" I prompted softly.

  He ignored me, staring up at the moon.

  "Twilight, again," he murmured. "Another ending. No matter how perfectthe day is, it always has to end." "Some things don't have to end," I muttered through my teeth, instantlytense.

  He sighed.

  "I brought you to the prom," he said slowly, finally answering myquestion, "because I don't want you to miss anything. I don't want mypresence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you tobe human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I'd died innineteen-eighteen like I should have."I shuddered at his words, and then shook my head angrily. "In whatstrange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own freewill? If you weren't a thousand times stronger than me, I would neverhave let you get away with this."He smiled briefly, but it didn't touch his eyes. "It wasn't so bad, yousaid so yourself.""That's because I was with you."We were quiet for a minute; he stared at the moon and I stared at him. Iwished there was some way to explain how very uninterested I was in anormal human life.

  "Will you tell me something?" he asked, glancing down at me with a slightsmile.

  "Don't I always?""Just promise you'll tell me," he insisted, grinning.

  I knew I was going to regret this almost instantly. "Fine.""You seemed honestly surprised when you figured out that I was taking youhere," he began.

  "I was," I interjected.

  "Exactly," he agreed. "But you must have had some other theory… I'mcurious — what did you think I was dressing you up for?"Yes, instant regret. I pursed my lips, hesitating. "I don't want to tellyou.""You promised," he objected.

  "I know.""What's the problem?"I knew he thought it was mere embarrassment holding me back. "I think itwill make you mad — or sad."His brows pulled together over his eyes as he thought that through. "Istill want to know. Please?"I sighed. He waited.

  "Well… I assumed it was some kind of… occasion. But I didn't think itwould be some trite human thing… prom!" I scoffed.

  "Human?" he asked flatly. He'd picked up on the key word.

  I looked down at my dress, fidgeting with a stray piece of chiffon. Hewaited in silence.

  "Okay," I confessed in a rush. "So I was hoping that you might havechanged your mind… that you were going to change me, after all."A dozen emotions played across his face. Some I recognized: anger… pain…and then he seemed to collect himself and his expression became amused.

   "You thought that would be a black tie occasion, did you?" he teased,touching the lapel of his tuxedo jacket.

  I scowled to hide my embarrassment. "I don't know how these things work.

  To me, at least, it seems more rational than prom does." He was stillgrinning. "It's not funny," I said.

  "No, you're right, it's not," he agreed, his smile fading. "I'd rathertreat it like a joke, though, than believe you're serious.""But I am serious."He sighed deeply. "I know. And you're really that willing?"The pain was back in his eyes. I bit my lip and nodded.

  "So ready for this to be the end," he murmured, almost to himself, "forthis to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barelystarted. You're ready to give up everything.""It's not the end, it's the beginning," I disagreed under my breath.

  "I'm not worth it," he said sadly.

  "Do you remember when you told me that I didn't see myself very clearly?"I asked, raising my eyebrows. "You obviously have the same blindness.""I know what I am."I sighed.

  But his mercurial mood shifted on me. He pursed his lips, and his eyeswere probing. He examined my face for a long moment.

  "You're ready now, then?" he asked.

  "Um." I gulped. "Yes?"He smiled, and inclined his head slowly until his cold lips brushedagainst the skin just under the corner of my jaw.

  "Right now?" he whispered, his breath blowing cool on my neck. I shiveredinvoluntarily.

  "Yes," I whispered, so my voice wouldn't have a chance to break. If hethought I was bluffing, he was going to be disappointed. I'd already madethis decision, and I was sure. It didn't matter that my body was rigid asa plank, my hands balled into fists, my breathing erratic…He chuckled darkly, and leaned away. His face did look disappointed.

  "You can't really believe that I would give in so easily," he said with asour edge to his mocking tone.

  "A girl can dream."His eyebrows rose. "Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?""Not exactly," I said, frowning at his word choice. Monster, indeed.

  "Mostly I dream about being with you forever."His expression changed, softened and saddened by the subtle ache in myvoice.

  "Bella." His fingers lightly traced the shape of my lips. "I will staywith you — isn't that enough?"I smiled under his fingertips. "Enough for now."He frowned at my tenacity. No one was going to surrender tonight. Heexhaled, and the sound was practically a growl.

  I touched his face. "Look," I said. "I love you more than everything elsein the world combined. Isn't that enough?""Yes, it is enough," he answered, smiling. "Enough for forever."And he leaned down to press his cold lips once more to my throat.