A/N: And, putting this up as a combo with the preface. (The prefaces are so short, it doesn't really seem fair to put it up as its own chapter. And it's nice to get some momentum going with the first few posts.) Posts will probably continue to run at about four-week intervals, though if I get the later chapters edited to a place I feel more comfortable, I may go back to the old three-week schedule, we'll see.
Again, starting out here things will be pretty similar to the original, up through about Chapter 4. From there, expect to start seeing quite a few differences. (Whether you'll find that a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.)
Again, thanks so much to everyone who's kept up with these Reimagined stories all this time, and to any new readers out there, welcome! We're starting in on the final leg now—hope you enjoy, and see you at the end! C:
Chapter 1: Sacrifices
I stared straight ahead, at the red stoplight—one of only about three traffic lights in town—with what I hoped was a nonchalant, nondescript expression. The kind of expression a perfectly ordinary guy wore when he was driving on a routine trip to the gas station. An ordinary guy that no one would have any possible reason to stare at.
Relax, I told myself. No one is staring at you. It's just a normal, everyday trip to the gas station.
Unfortunately, I couldn't quite control my eyes, and they flickered once to the side—instantly dispelling my flimsy attempts at self-delusion.
I saw Reverend Weber and his wife in the minivan directly to my right, and they were both turned fully in my direction, staring with undisguised amazement, eyes round, mouths slightly agape.
I might have wondered at the rudeness of staring so openly—the Webers were, like their son Allen, normally the epitome of good manners—but the fact was that the windows of my current vehicle were so darkly tinted, they probably couldn't see me in here. The one blessing of this monstrosity I was currently driving—no one could see that my face was as bright red as the stoplight.
They weren't staring at me, naturally, but the car. Or, The Car, as I liked to think of it. Because it was the king of all other merely mortal cars, and could not even enter town without drawing the attention of all the meager inhabitants to its glossy black frame, as though it had its own entourage of escorts trumpeting fanfare as it went.
In my mind, The Car had already taken on a personality of its own, and its opinions were often strangely similar to opinions that I imagined Royal—my soon to be brother-in-law—wouldn't have disagreed with. I tried not to think about how The Car must feel, with the indignity of being driven by me.
I couldn't stand looking at the Webers anymore, especially now that the twin girls had also popped up their heads from the backseat to stare with wide eyes, so I turned my head back around to the left, and immediately regretted it.
Two pedestrians had frozen on the sidewalk, missing their chance to cross the street as they gaped, and behind them, Mrs. Marshall was gawking through the window of her little souvenir shop. I thought I imagined I saw her hand itching toward the phone, to call all her friends from the beauty parlor to spread the gossip.
I was in such a hurry to escape, the moment the light turned green, I punched the gas pedal, like I would have in my ancient Chevy to get it moving.
Big mistake. The engine snarled like an angry panther, then shot forward so fast that I was flattened against the leather seat. I felt like a jet pilot.
Cautiously, I barely tapped the break, but, as I'd been trying to avoid, it lurched to a standstill anyway. I imagined The Car gnashing its teeth in frustration. So much potential, all completely wasted on me.
I pulled quickly up to the gas station, fumbling with the gas cap and my credit card in my hurry to be done and gone—before anyone who knew me could connect me to the black king sitting beside me on the asphalt.
Two guys were standing by their own pump, openly gawking. Finally, they glanced at each other, and one produced a professional-looking camera from among some backpacking equipment, and started over.
I sighed. I really missed my truck.
It was barely mid-summer after I'd graduated high school, and even though my favorite, good old Chevy had chugged faithfully away for the last half century at least, it had chosen to finally give up the ghost a couple weeks back. Course, I had reason to suspect foul play—there was someone I knew who had both means and motive to see my truck with its fifty-five mile-per-hour limit dead—but as there had been no autopsy, I never could have my suspicions confirmed. I really knew only one mechanic, and she—
I cut that thought off where it was. I had plenty to worry about—stress about—without adding more to the list. Driving around a hunk of steel with missile-proof glass for windows and four thousand pounds of body armor, designed mainly with Middle East diplomats and drug lords in mind, was one concern. The fact I was getting married in a few days was another.
I wasn't afraid of commitment. Even if marriage might seem a bit early, barely after high school graduation, it was exactly what I wanted. I knew the girl I wanted to be with—she was my future.
No, my anxiety about the marriage thing was a bit different. According to my past record, I didn't do so hot when it came to ceremonial occasions. Being so uncoordinated you tripped over your own feet, one tended to accumulate a lot of scarring experiences when it came to anything that was supposed to be remotely formal or solemn.
However, there was more attached to this than any of my human family or friends realized. Because Edythe had promised that, sometime after we were married, she would change me. Make me like her—graceful, strong, beautiful. Without a heartbeat. A vampire.
It was what I had asked for, and I wasn't getting cold feet. And yet—a lot was about to change in a big way. I knew I was about to get what I'd been asking for for months now, and a part of me was excited, and yet I couldn't quite escape the feeling that my execution day was approaching. In order for me to become Beau Cullen, clever, powerful new vampire, Edythe's equal, Beaufort Swan, clumsy oaf who tripped over his own shoes and went red at the drop of a dime, would have to die. And ordinary and uninteresting a guy as he was, he was going to be leaving some people behind.
As I drove away from the gas station—I'd let the guys who'd come up to the car take turns taking pictures with it, like it was some celebrity, and only just escaped—and turned onto the last road back home, I couldn't stop my eyes from wandering to the side of the road, to the line of fliers stapled to telephone poles and taped to street signs. Most were now faded with rain, and yet the single face on all of them jumped out at me, like a sharp knife in my conscience.
Missing posters—the kind I used to see in the neighborhood back in Phoenix, for children who had disappeared, for runaway pets and teenagers. My dad, the police chief of our little town, had been the one to get them printed and put up. He was worried about the girl who was the daughter of one of his closest friends, the girl who also happened to be my best friend.
I was worried about her, too, but not for the same reasons he was. Maybe a normal sixteen-year-old girl runaway would have been in quite a bit of danger—falling in with a bad crowd, getting taken advantage of or attacked down a dark alley—but Julie Black was not most sixteen-year-old girls. Any ordinary human who tried to threaten her could potentially get his face ripped off. Not that anyone in his right mind would ever try to approach a giant wolf running through the forest.
But I was still crazy with worry. Because, even though I'd made my choice, that didn't change the fact that she was my best friend, and I knew better than anyone how so often emotional pain was so much worse than physical.
As I pulled closer to my house, I saw my dad's police cruiser in the driveway—it was Saturday, and apparently there were no emergencies he'd been called in to take care of. For the last few weeks, he hadn't been going out fishing as he usually did. I couldn't tell if this was his way of protesting the speedy wedding, or because he simply wanted to be around the house more because he realized how soon it would be empty again. He hadn't pushed for any quality time together, but then, when it came to the sensitive or sentimental, he wasn't always the most direct person in the world.
I pulled up on the curb behind the silent relic of my old Chevy, and turned off the engine. I scanned the surrounding area once, quickly. Then, feeling like a criminal, I quickly pulled the cellphone Edythe had given me for emergencies out of the glove compartment. I had a call to make which I couldn't make with Charlie around, and I preferred not to make with Edythe close by—I didn't like to worry her, and when she saw me worried, she worried too. Fortunately, she was away for the weekend on one of her hunting trips.
I punched in the familiar number quickly, and listened to the dial tone, ready to hit End if I didn't get the person I was hoping for.
I breathed a silent sigh of relief at Sarah Clearwater's voice. Sarah was probably about the only one in the entire wolf pack who didn't hate my guts, but her brother Lee was on a different level. He made Royal look like my best friend.
"Hey, Sarah, it's Beau."
"Oh hey, Beau!" I could hear the grin in her voice. "How are you?"
There wasn't a hint of surprise in her voice—ever since Jules had run off, I'd been calling her every chance I got. She was my only connection to make sure Jules was still out there, and relatively okay. "Fine," I said. It was only partially a lie.
"So," she said. "I guess you're wanting to find out how Jules is doing, huh?" Her cheerful tone was a touch more serious.
I gripped the phone a little tighter. "Is everything okay?"
Sarah sighed. "About the same. She hears us, but she won't talk to us. She's trying not to think human, and when she does, she just thinks the same things over and over."
I hesitated. "Things?" I repeated cautiously.
Sarah paused, as if she wasn't sure how much she ought to say. "Mostly worrying about you," she confessed at last.
Worrying about me—course she was. Course she would be worrying about me, when I was the last person who needed worrying, and hardly deserved it if I did.
I waited for more, but Sarah didn't continue. Finally I said, "Do you know where she is now?"
"Not really. She hasn't really been paying all that close attention to exactly where she is. But it's somewhere in northern Canada."
I nodded. Then, because I had to ask, I added, "Has she had any thoughts about...you know...coming back?"
I didn't answer for a moment, trying to keep my throat from closing up. "Let me know if she does."
"Sure," Sarah answered. "I will. We're all waiting. The others miss her, too."
"Thanks for doing this for me," I said. "And for talking to me." I hesitated. "The others don't give you crap about it, do they?"
She laughed, and her momentarily glum tone was cheerful again. "Paula grumbles about it. But she grumbles about everything. And Lee too, but I never care what he thinks anyway, so he doesn't count."
"Sorry," I muttered, horrified I might be putting Sarah in a situation where she was getting bullied by one of her fellow sisters in the wolf pack, and her older brother.
Sarah laughed again. "I don't care what they think. They've all had such a bad attitude about this—I mean, you made your choice, and Jules made hers. Jules doesn't like how they've been acting, either."
This made me start a little. "She's...aware of what you all are thinking? I thought she wasn't talking to you."
"She tries not to." I could almost see Sarah shrug. "But she can't shut us out completely, any more than we can shut her out. Like I said, she keeps worrying about you. And she's also kind of peeved that you keep checking up on her."
I winced a little. So, she knew about this. I was glad she knew I hadn't just forgotten her, but I wondered if I was just making things harder on her. Again.
"Well," I said at last. "I guess I'll see you at the...the..."
"Wedding?" Sarah prompted, and again I could almost see her grin.
"Yeah," I said. "That."
"Tell Edythe I'm totally stoked about it," she said with enthusiasm. "I've never been a flower girl before. My dad is coming, too."
"Sure, I'll tell her," I said, smiling. When Edythe had told me she'd put them on the guest list and asked Sarah to help out, I'd been pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't have thought of inviting any of the wolves to the wedding, let alone having one participate. To most of the wolves, this was a travesty against nature, and I was making the biggest mistake of my life. It would be great to have Sarah there, as a reminder that at least one member of my wolf family didn't hate my vampire family. And, though I wouldn't have said it out loud, it would also be nice to have someone there with some connection to my missing best friend.
Sarah paused a second, and in the background I thought I heard a door slam.
Then Sarah said, "Well, Beau, I've got to go." She emphasized my name. "And like I said, be sure to tell Edythe thanks so much for letting us come, and for letting me be a part of it—we're really looking forward to it. Lee's so jealous he's not getting to go, he practically begged me to ask Edythe to get him an invitation, but—"
I heard a growling voice in the background letting fly a string of epithets, followed by what sounded like a struggle over the phone. I could hear Sarah laughing.
"Sorry," I whispered.
"See you at the wedding, Beau!" I heard Sarah call, though it sounded distant, like she didn't have her mouth very close to the mouthpiece.
I could hear Lee's hostile voice in the background. "Sorry? I'll give you sorry, you little—"
The line abruptly cut off.
I sighed. Sarah was definitely all wolf. Only a wolf would be brave enough to go out of her way to antagonize her brother like she did. Sarah had gotten a little taller in the past month, but it was nothing like her brother. He was like one of those ripped guys on the cover of Muscle and Fitness, with biceps that should have had their own zip code—well, maybe that was a slight exaggeration. From a distance, tall as he was, he still looked pretty wiry. Maybe knowing he would have liked to see me fall off a cliff just made him look more intimidating.
I sighed deeply, leaning my head back against the headrest. So, Jules was still okay, at least physically. And still in too much pain to be human. And worrying about me, even though I was the one who had wrenched out her heart and crushed it into powder.
I shook my head. I had to get myself out of this mood before Edythe got back. We were getting married in a few days. I needed to be happy, for Edythe's sake if nothing else.
It wasn't really hard to be happy, excited—I was. It was just, at moments like this, it was a guilty kind of happy that just didn't feel quite right. Yet, it felt unfair to Edythe to let myself dwell on it at a time like this. As much as I knew I should hate myself for what I had done, when I hated myself too much and Edythe noticed, then Edythe hated herself, and everything just kind of sucked.
I sighed. Everything was so complicated.
I got out of the car and turned toward the house, where I knew my dad would be waiting. In the past, whenever I got home in the evening I usually expected to find him planted in front of the television, relaxing after a long day at work. However, more and more lately, I'd come in to find him just sitting on the couch, frowning deeply as though ruminating very hard over something. Then he would seem to come to himself and finally turn on the television, though even then it often felt like he wasn't really watching it.
I could only assume he was still processing—getting used to—the new state of things. Still thinking on that moment when Edythe and I had given him the news a few weeks back that, while couldn't have been entirely unexpected, changed everything.
Edythe and I sat in the living room as we both heard the sound of the police cruiser pull into the drive. No doubt Charlie had seen Edythe's car parked out front, and knew she was here. Still, I doubted he was ready for this bombshell.
I was rigid as a board, staring straight ahead at the blank television, and Edythe stroked my arm soothingly. "Relax," she murmured into my ear. "I really don't know what you're so agitated about. Surely there are worse things to have to tell your father than that you're getting married. Or do you think allowing yourself to be caught so easily will make him lose respect for you as a man?"
I sighed and shook my head. Of course she didn't understand. She wasn't going to be the one living in this house for the next month with a dad who was totally going to think I was doing something stupid and reckless. Even if it didn't blow up into a huge fight right now, I had a feeling there would soon be an underlying current of quietly simmering wrath from now until then—not a prospect I was looking forward to.
Theoretically, I knew I shouldn't let it bother me, what with everything else I had to worry about, but knowing how things should be and how it actually was were two different things.
I heard clumping feet down the hall, and the clinking and rustling of a gun holster being taken off and hung.
Charlie came around the corner then and, seeing us sitting on the couch together, did his best to put on a friendly face. He'd been doing his level best to be nicer these days, and put his unspoken animosity toward Edythe to rest. I hoped what we were about to tell him didn't completely smash all the progress we had made.
Sensing my feelings, Edythe reached over and took my hand.
"Hello, Edythe," Charlie said. He paused then, evidently noticing the odd way we were sitting, on the couch in front of the blank television not doing anything. "Everything all right?" he asked cautiously.
"Yes, thank you, Charlie," Edythe said, smiling back.
There was another pause, and I realized I was supposed to say something.
"Um, hey Dad," I began. "We kind of have something we wanted to tell you."
His slightly perplexed expression instantly clouded with suspicion. Eying us warily, he stepped carefully into the room, then sat himself down on the very edge of the recliner. He was nearly as tense as I was.
Edythe never stopped smiling, so perfectly relaxed it should have been a crime.
"So," I said, after another pause, fighting to make my tone light. "So, Dad. Edythe and I have been talking. And, uh...well...there's this thing..."
Charlie's eyebrows rose a notch.
Edythe seemed to realize I wasn't going to get anywhere at this rate, and took over. She said softly, "Beau and I have decided to get married, Charlie."
"This summer," she continued. "Before Beau and I go to Dartmouth."
Again, the room was quiet. For once, it wasn't raining outside, and so even the yard was quiet, not even the rumble of a passing car. When Charlie finally found his voice, the would-be polite tone had a moving-a-four-hundred-pound-refrigerator edge of strain to it. "Why the rush?"
His eyes suddenly widened fractionally, then narrowed to slits. His gaze flickered from me to Edythe, then back to me. I didn't need to be a mind-reader to know what theories were likely occuring to him, and I was suddenly glad we'd given him a chance to hang up his gun before springing this on him. Edythe might have been bulletproof, but I definitely wasn't.
A bit indignant at the assumptions I could already see working themselves through his brain, and not wanting them to get any further, I felt a bit of my courage rise.
"We want to get married before we go to Dartmouth this fall," I explained. I gripped Edythe's hand a little more tightly. "I think it would be better that way."
His still-narrowed eyes once again shifted from one of us to the other and back. "Married," he muttered. He seemed to have found his voice again as, voice now more accusing than polite, he asked, "Who's idea was this?"
"Mine," Edythe answered at the same time I said, "Both of ours."
Charlie glanced between the two of us again, uncertain.
"Look, Dad," I said into the pause, "we've put a lot of thought into this, and we've decided this is what we want to do." I added, because I figured this was something he could understand, "And I think it would make Earnest feel better."
Charlie hesitated. "Well..." he said slowly, reluctantly.
I pressed my advantage. "You're the one who said I should be ready to take responsibility for things, and this is the most responsible thing I can do."
A second too late, I realized what this probably had to sound like, and I wished I'd thought that through a little more.
"I mean," I plunged on quickly, "like I said...when we'll be going to Dartmouth together... And we want to get a place together..."
Charlie was silent, his narrowed eyes not looking at us, but squinting at the far corner of the room. I knew this was a lot to take in, so suddenly. I couldn't imagine having said anything about this decision earlier—when we were still in high school—but I did feel bad, giving him so little advanced warning.
I opened my mouth to say more, but Edythe squeezed my hand again, and gripped my arm with her other hand. Signaling me to give him a minute.
Charlie glanced back at us again, and as he did, his eyes fell on Edythe's hand on my arm, her left hand. He saw the ring.
That detail must have made it real. For a long minute he stared at it. His face, already tense with suppressed emotion, turned slowly to red, then purple, and I braced myself for the inevitable explosion. However, shade by shade, the color returned to a normal hue, and his shoulders at last slumped in defeat.
"Have you set a day?" he muttered sullenly.
"Not precisely, just yet," Edythe replied. "But early August, we think. That will give us at least two weeks for our honeymoon, and a little time after that to prepare for our move before the semester starts at Dartmouth. We can have the wedding at my mother and father's house, so that will save us the trouble of trying to book a venue on such short notice."
She continued, "However, we will have to pick out a date very soon—we'll want to start sending out the invitations as soon as possible. I think we'll ask Reverend Weber, Allen's father, to oversee the ceremony and perform the reading of the vows. Also—I've already compiled most of the guest list on our family's end, but you and Beau might want to look at it, and add any other family you have who you would like to come."
Charlie and I both stared. I could tell Charlie wasn't sure whether to be impressed or scared. Suddenly this announcement of our engagement had turned into a business meeting.
"Sounds like you've got a definite plan of action," he mumbled. He added, "Is Carine going to be helping at all with the preparations?"
"A little," Edythe said. "But her work keeps her busy. And my sisters—while they are both very talented and I love them, and they will technically both be acting as my joint Maids of Honor, the finery of weddings is not exactly their area of expertise." She smiled a little wryly. "Earnest will do his best to help me—he has incredible design sense, of course, and he did quite a bit of the planning for his and Carine's wedding, so I've been told—but for the most part, I plan to take care of most of the details myself."
Charlie glanced once at me, then back at Edythe. His mouth was hanging slightly open. "Wow," he muttered at last.
Edythe smiled. "There is a lot of work to do."
Charlie's eyes were slightly wide for a moment longer, then he shook his head and his gaze shifted back to me. "Have you told your mother yet?"
He could tell by my expression what the answer was. He raised an eyebrow.
"You're going to have to tell her sometime," he pointed out. "And soon."
I swallowed. "I will."
"Maybe you should call her right now," he hinted. Maybe it was having such huge news sprung on him so last-minute, but I thought I detected just a hint of vindictive glee in the way his mouth twitched.
I could feel the panic bubbling in my stomach. "Maybe tomorrow morning."
"Maybe as soon as possible would be best," Edythe said gently, squeezing my heand to try to take the edge off the betrayal.
"She might want to be involved in the wedding preparations," Charlie pushed.
Edythe smiled brightly at that, dimples flashing. "I would love that. That would be so wonderful."
He glanced back at her, worry suddenly accidentally slipping into his expression. His eyes returned to me with an expression that plainly said, Didn't you warn her?
Edythe added, "Unless, of course, as Beau seems to think, she is absolutely opposed to the idea, and more inclined to verbal violence where the subject is concerned."
Worries assuaged, Charlie leaned back. However, he gave me another look, eyebrows raised. I sighed.
"Fine, I'll call her today," I grumbled. "Happy?"
Edythe touched my arm again. "It will be fine," she said softly.
Charlie pushed himself up from the recliner. "Well, while you're doing that, I think I'll just go out and give the cruiser a good scrub down. She's been needing a wash for awhile, and it's a nice day out." He added, looking just a little too smug, "Good luck."
"Thanks so much, Dad," I grumbled sourly.
Charlie headed toward the door, humming to himself, then paused. He turned back to give the two of us an appraising look. "So," he said. He looked from me to Edythe, then back again. "When can we start expecting some grandkids?"
My mouth dropped open. "Dad!" I hissed, and I glowered at him as I felt the heat creeping up my face. "Please."
"It's a fair question," he muttered, unrepentant.
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a flash of pain flit across Edythe's face, too fast for Charlie to catch. Then her expression settled into one of mild amusement.
"We'll see what we can do," she said, with a bit of a smile.
When he was gone, I groaned, slumping down and putting my head in my hands. "Ugh," I muttered. "Seriously. I thought it was just my mom, but it's both of them."
She glanced back at me, uncertain. "What?"
I sighed, and leaned back against the couch. "They both compete on who can embarrass me the most."
She smiled then and laughed. "They care about you," she said softly. "Just remember that when you're telling your mother about our plans. Even if she is upset, it's simply because she's concerned for your welfare."
"Grandkids, though," I grumbled. "Isn't that a little premature? I mean, we just told him we were getting married five minutes ago, and he's already asking about kids. Seriously. Okay, tell me the truth. When we first told him we were getting married, he looked at you and thought you were pregnant."
Edythe's eyes dropped from mine, and she glanced away. "I'm not sure," she said slowly.
My eyebrows came down, confused. "What do you mean, you're not sure? Like, you weren't paying attention?"
She smiled a little ruefully. "Your father's mind isn't silent the way yours is, but his thoughts have always been partially masked from me. I don't hear precise words, I just get general emotions. I feel their intensity, but his mental voice is muffled."
I stared at her. "Really? Has it always been that way?"
She nodded. "Always. Though I didn't notice his thoughts were clouded until I met you—I never paid enough attention to him before to realize."
I sat there for a long minute, digesting this new bit of information I'd never known before. "So..." I said at last.
"So I've wondered if whatever it is that keeps me out of your head may be genetic," she said with a smile.
I shook my head. "That is so...how come you never told me?"
She shrugged. "You never asked."
I snorted, but let it go for now. "Never mind. So, you couldn't tell exactly what he was thinking when you said that? Like you couldn't hear him thinking, 'She's gotta be pregnant'?"
Her smile disappeared. "No," she said quietly. "Though based on the intensity of the array of emotions he was feeling, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case."
I really looked at her for the first time. Her face was smooth, composed, but her eyes were pained. She was upset about something.
I put my hand gingerly to her face, and tried to get her to look up at me. She complied, and the deep sadness in her golden eyes was only more pronounced.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "I thought you were happy. You know, about this."
She put her hand over mine, sighing. "Oh, I am, Beau. I'm just sorry that...Charlie couldn't have been right."
I stared down at her, thoroughly bewildered.
"I mean that we..." she began slowly, haltingly. "That is to say I... wish I had that potential. To give you children."
I looked down at her seriously. "I've chosen you. I don't need anything else."
Edythe's eyes dropped from mine again, and she pulled her head away from my hand, though she kept her hand linked with mine as they dropped to her lap. "You feel that way now," she murmured.
She glared at the blank television, and she blinked twice. "I just hate it," she said after a moment. "I hate...you having to make sacrifices for me. I want to give things to you, not take them away."
I drew her in and put my arm around her slender shoulders. "Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get what you really want," I said. "Sometimes making sacrifices is the only way you can be happy. So long as I get to choose what sacrifices I'm making, I'm good. And think of all the sacrifices you've had to make for me. You've had this way harder than I have. It's my turn."
Edythe took a shaky breath, and she took my hand, pressing it to her face and inhaling deeply.
We sat a minute in silence, and I listened to the sound of water running outside. At last, I sighed deeply. "Well, I guess I better go do it. Things kind of went better than I expected with Charlie, so I guess that means I should expect things to go doubly worse with my mom."
Edythe laughed, and she seemed past her momentarily dark mood, at least for now. "I can see it's a good thing it wasn't your optimism I fell in love with."
"Pessimism is a good emotional defense," I said. "If you expect the absolute worst, then things always turn out better than you expect. Or, if they do turn out the worst, at least you aren't disappointed."
She leaned up and kissed me on the cheek. "Good luck. And tell your mother she's more than welcome to help with any of the preparations, if she would like. I would love her help."
"I'll pass that along," I muttered as I got up and headed over to the kitchen phone. "If she stops yelling long enough for me to get a word in edgewise."
Having shut the cellphone and returned it to my pocket, I now pushed the door into the house and stepped inside.
I was smiling a bit to myself—I remembered how I dreaded telling my mom about our plans. She had married young, and she'd always drilled into me that it wasn't a good decision—while she didn't regret it in the slightest, because she'd gotten me in the deal, she was always adamant that marriage was something you didn't take lightly. You waited until you were old enough to really understand what you were doing.
So I'd been expecting a huge lecture, some crying and wondering about where she'd gone wrong, and some blistering arguments. However, in the end, she'd been even more mellow than my dad, even excited.
"Oh, honey. All those things I said, I was talking about me. You—you've always been responsible and known how to take things seriously. You know what you want. I'm not worried about you—I know you'll be happy."
And then she was asking when she could come up, and how much she could help in the wedding, and if it would be rude for the mother of the groom to be too involved—it took me a while to get over my shock enough to try to answer her questions.
What kept bothering me more now was Edythe, and what she had said. Even though I'd repeatedly warned him not to, Charlie had taken to periodically bringing up when he could start expecting us to give him grandchildren. He had never before in his life mentioned wanting grandchildren that I could ever remember, but the anticipation of this seemed to be what was helping him cope with the shock of our sudden engagement. And whenever he did, Edythe always had some reaction. Either she would flinch, or look down, or her eyes would fill with sudden agony. Always too fast for Charlie to register, before she would cover it with amusement. So I knew Edythe was still worrying over it.
I also knew that wasn't the only sacrifice Edythe was worried about. In the last month, she had barely mentioned our honeymoon. I was afraid to ask about it, because whenever the subject came up, she sometimes got that same look on her face as when Charlie mentioned grandkids.
I knew we weren't going to be having a real honeymoon, not while I was human. We'd already had that conversation. I had no clue what our honeymoon would be then—maybe we would just be spending time together, alone. I guessed that could be nice too, and I tried to focus on the fact I'd be spending time with Edythe. We would get our honeymoon when I was changed, and less breakable. I just had to make myself be satisfied with that—I only hoped that, when I was changed, I'd still be myself enough for it to be the same.
I really wished now I hadn't said anything about my fears to Edythe. Whenever she got that pained look in her eyes on the subject of our honeymoon, I had a feeling she was thinking about that conversation, torturing herself with it. A part of me wanted to bring the subject up again, to try to make her feel better, to assure her everything was okay. But I didn't trust myself. It was just like those first few times she'd kissed me—I'd always started out telling myself I needed to try to make things easier on her, but before I knew what I was doing, my instincts had taken over and all her warnings about safety had gone out the window. The same way, I knew if I brought up the subject, I might end up pushing for an actual honeymoon again. Try to convince her to at least consider trying.
I didn't want to do that to her. It wasn't that I thought she would ever, could ever hurt me—I couldn't see a real honeymoon going wrong, the way she was afraid it would. I thought she could afford to give herself more credit than she did. But at the same time, I hated the idea of pressuring her into doing something she obviously thought was too risky, even wrong. I didn't want to make her feel trapped, or intensify the guilt she already felt. Not having a real honeymoon was a sacrifice for more than just me, of that I was pretty sure—so if Edythe was willing to give it up to ensure my safety, it felt like the right thing to do to let her. Even if it was kind of a letdown.
"Yo, Dad," I called as I stepped in the house and kicked off my shoes. "I'm back."
Even though I was getting used to it, not having the television going when I got home still made the house feel oddly quiet. It was a moment before he answered, and he sounded distracted. "Oh, hey kid."
I poked my head into the living room. Today, he wasn't sitting on the couch, but on the recliner, staring at nothing.
"Hey, Dad," I said uncertainly. "Um, isn't there a game on today?"
He paused, staring back at me for a second. He blinked, as though he'd just realized where he was.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I think so." He reached over the arm of the recliner like he would on the couch, where the remote was always stashed in the side pocket. Then he seemed to remember where he was sitting, and got up quickly, grumbling to himself as he went to sit in his usual place on the couch instead.
I hesitated. "Um, I guess I'll get started on dinner then. What do you think about steak? I already have some thawing in the fridge."
"Sounds good," he grunted, as he pulled out the remote.
I hesitated there a moment awkwardly, then started to turn back for the kitchen.
A second before he hit the power button, he called in a gruff voice he obviously meant to be casual, "Oh, hey there, Beau. Think you could come in here a second? I forgot, I wanted to talk to you."
I turned back. "Um, sure Dad." I entered the living room. After a second, I warily sank down on the edge of the recliner. "What is it?"
His eyes were on the blank television, but he forced himself to turn more toward me. However, his eyes stayed down.
"So," he said at last.
"So," I echoed.
He continued finally, "You're getting married in a few days."
He finally looked up at me then. He seemed to consider a moment, then asked gruffly, "How do you feel about it?"
I shrugged. "Good, I guess."
I shifted uncomfortably. Charlie wasn't usually the type to start these kinds of awkward conversations, so I wasn't used to them. But I guess he considered this an important enough occasion to press for more of a heart-to-heart.
I sighed deeply. "Look, Dad, you know how I feel about this. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want to."
He frowned, his eyes on the worn material of the couch again. "I know how you feel about her, kid. But how do you feel about getting married?"
I shrugged. "I thought we already had this conversation, Dad." It was true—almost as soon as Edythe was gone that day we'd made our announcement, he'd had quite a few questions. All kinds of awkward, touchy-feely, un-Charlie-esque type of questions.
He raised his gaze again and looked me in the eye. "I know. I just want to make sure you're sure. Are you getting married because you really want to get married, or because she wants to get married? Because it might be better to brave Earnest's wrath than to do something you're really not ready for. Because getting married, and then things not working out—it leaves a pretty big mess behind."
While my dad and I didn't always see eye-to-eye on everything, I knew this was something he knew about first-hand. He'd never said anything, but there were moments that made me sure that, even all these years later, the split with my mom still hurt, even though they had been separated for over seventeen years now and hadn't even been married two.
I nodded slowly. And, maybe it was because his tone was so serious, I didn't feel quite so awkward as I answered with just as much solemnity, "I know, Dad. I'm not taking this lightly. I know it might seem like Edythe is driving this whole thing, but that's just because she's less stupid and not so embarrassed about saying all the corny stuff out loud—maybe because it doesn't sound corny when she says it. I mean it when I say that I want this just as much as she does. There's going to be a lot of changes, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but I'm ready for them. It's what I want."
Charlie was quiet for a long moment. Then at last, he nodded once. He held up the remote, and flipped on the TV then, and immediately the announcer started droning on about the score of some game. Charlie was looking at the screen, but as often was the case these days, he didn't seem to be really seeing it.
I left to go put the steaks on, then I went back and sat with Charlie to watch the game. I did my best to get interested in the players and the ebb and flow of the score, but my thoughts kept wandering. I kept glancing back toward my dad, feeling a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. Yeah, I could sacrifice having kids. I could even put off having a real honeymoon. But this was going to be the hardest part. Saying goodbye to my dad, to my mom. And would I even get to say goodbye? Probably not. They couldn't know that I knew that very soon I would...disappear.
I felt my throat burn as I stared at the screen. I found myself thinking of my mom, how excited she was. After not too much coaxing from Edythe, she'd become surprisingly involved with the wedding plans, and she and Edythe had spent hours on the phone getting everything squared away. I knew it was like a dream come true for her—the one regret she'd had about having a boy instead of a girl was that she'd had to resign herself to never having much of a part in an eventual wedding.
My mom had also found out not too long ago that she was pregnant—she wasn't showing yet, and it was way too soon to see if it was a boy or a girl, but apparently I had a little brother or sister on the way. I'd always wanted a little sister, not that I'd ever told anyone that.
I tried to force it all from my mind. I couldn't have both Edythe and my old human world. I had to choose one or the other, and I had already made my choice.
I concentrated on breathing deeply and evenly and, though I hadn't been allowed to see it yet, a mental image of Edythe in her wedding dress. I kept it firmly rooted in my mind, and tried not to think of the sacrifices.
A/N: And, there's the first chapter.
On the Beau Cullen reference—
A bit of an awkward thing with the gender-swap, on whose name gets changed and so on. The way I picture it, when Beau and Edythe get married, Edythe will take on Beau's name in the traditional way as far as Charlie and Beau's other human family/friends are concerned, but within the Cullen family, Beau will consider himself a Cullen and take on the Cullen name, just like Bella does.
Thanks so much for reading! It's been a long time in coming, and I can't even say how excited I am to finally be here. If you have a moment, let me know what you thought, and see you next time!