The Road Not Taken
Epilogue: “She didn’t really seem like that sort of girl,” Tanya commented, her tone just a tad sour, and Demetri quirked a smile.
“I get the feeling there’s a lot more to her than we’ve suspected.” Sequel to The Road Less Traveled by Daintress of tm_switzerland.
23. Chapter 23
Rating 5/5 Word Count 2178 Review this Chapter
But even though he could have interrupted them at any time to give Bella her ring, and even though he was extremely anxious to see it on her finger again, he waited. Bella’s sudden insecurity in Tanya’s presence, and Tanya’s treatment of Bella upon first meeting her had him ever so slightly agitated. He waited because he wanted to be sure Tanya was there to see just how happy it made him to put that ring back on Bella’s finger.
Jasper came through the door first, grimacing, and Edward knew why at once. Dinnertime had not been the best time for him to arrive. They met each other’s eyes for a moment. “Do you need to hunt tonight?” he asked his brother anxiously, before realizing that it wasn’t really all that worrisome if Jasper happened to be thirsty. It wasn’t as if there was any chance of him viewing Bella as food anymore, and there was no one else nearby that would fit that category either. He grinned, casting a look at Bella, who raised an eyebrow.
“Not edible,” she quipped, pointing at her chest. Jasper laughed and the tension melted. Edward tightened his arms around her briefly, which made her smile, but after only another moment, she extracted herself from his grip to stand and hug Jasper. “I’ve missed you,” she said sincerely. And she had. For all that Jasper had been the loose canon in the Cullen household, he’d also been very good to her – protecting her from James in spite of his own discomfort in her presence. She wouldn’t ever forget that.
Tanya closed the door behind them and everyone’s attention turned to her. Edward looked away first, more than a little shocked. Tanya had changed clothes, and the plunging neckline of the top she’d chosen would have made him blush, if such a thing were possible. He’d seen that much skin on Heidi once or twice as she went out to round up tourists, and he’d seen it on Rosalie, when she’d wanted to round up Emmett. But he had a sneaking suspicion this was entirely for his benefit, so he spent as little time looking at it as was vampirically possible.
Bella blinked twice, viewing the spectacle for the first time over Jasper’s shoulder. Jasper felt the renewed tension and sent a wave of calm into the room, making Bella feel comfortable enough to chuckle slightly. The astounding speed with which Edward had looked away, as if his eyes were burning, really HAD been funny.
“You know,” she said, pulling away from Jasper and catching his worried expression. She winked at him before continuing, and he relaxed. “There really aren’t enough chairs in here. We should bring over the couch from my sitting room, so we can all sit comfortably. Alice shouldn’t have to sit on the floor.” Predictably, Edward and Jasper were both quick to escape from the room, and they took an inordinate about of time to reappear, considering that either of them could have carried the couch alone.
Bella and Alice exchanged a glance as they left and then carefully avoided looking at Tanya, both of them trying not to laugh. Now that they were watching for trouble, thanks to Alice’s vision, they could both see that this would have been part of the argument. If not for the talk she and Edward had just had, Bella knew she’d have been intimidated by Tanya’s wardrobe, and she also knew she’d have never wanted to admit to it. This would have been part of the fight. Now, it was just a joke she and Alice were sharing.
As they rearranged the furniture in preparation for the addition, Tanya fumed. Not only was Bella not made uncomfortable by her provocative attire, she appeared to be amused by it. She’d made Jasper uncomfortable all the way back to Volterra, so she was sure the problem wasn’t that her top was not shocking enough. And Edward’s reaction had not been at all what she’d hoped. Previous attempts at seducing him had been fairly subtle. He was still innocent back then. But she’d assumed that after three years living here with the girl, he’d be susceptible to a more direct approach. Clearly she’d been mistaken. And now that she’d thought about it so clearly, there was no way it was going to work. Edward would certainly be on his guard now. She stifled a sigh and swallowed her pride.
“Bella?” she asked, keeping her voice pleasant, “I noticed on the way here that Jasper was a little uncomfortable, and I imagine it was because of my shirt. Do you happen to have something I could borrow until we head back to the hotel?”
Bella smiled at her, also flawlessly polite. “I’m sure I can find something for you. Hang on just a minute.” She exchanged another glance with Alice, and disappeared for her own room. It would give her a chance to find out what was taking Edward and Jasper so long.
What was taking them so long turned out to be embarrassment. As soon as she was through the door, Edward caught her around the waist. “I am so sorry,” he said with feeling. But Jasper had sensed her amusement with the situation, and he was already chuckling. Bella laughed, too.
“It isn’t your fault women fall all over themselves around you,” she said jokingly, but continued in a whisper so as not to be heard from across the hall. “And anyway, it looks like she’s giving up for now. She wants to borrow a shirt. I almost wish I had something that trashy to give her, so she’d have to keep making a fool of herself.” She retrieved a soft, but generously proportioned long sleeved shirt from her dresser, and smirked at Edward as she passed him. He and Jasper were whispering together, and she didn’t want to interrupt. Just before she reached the door, Edward shot out a hand and grabbed her elbow.
“We should just move everything over there, while we’re at it,” Edward suggested, when she’d turned to face him, grinning crookedly. Bella could see the hopefulness in his eyes, and couldn’t think of a reason to disappoint him. She nodded, and he leaned even closer. “Breathe, Bella,” he whispered, but he didn’t give her a chance to comply, catching her lips quickly. His fingers danced around the ring in his pocket as he kissed her, but he left it where it was, waiting. Jasper could sense his anticipation, and had looked away in embarrassment, assuming it was a much different type of anticipation. Edward pulled away. “We’ll be over in a minute,” he promised. Bella blinked, grinned, and disappeared out the door.
Once the furniture was rearranged in every room, Tanya helping resignedly if not cheerfully, they resumed wedding planning. Bella thought Alice should have her own war room for just such occasions. It would give her a place to hang the map of the gardens she was unfolding on the floor in front of them.
Bella had tried to sit down on the couch, out of respect for Tanya’s feelings, but as soon as Edward finished putting her bookshelf against the wall in the corner, he scooped her up and cradled her in his lap. She didn’t resist. She wasn’t that concerned about Tanya’s feelings. She only shook her head at her own uncharitable thoughts, and tried to pay attention to what Alice was asking while Edward dragged his fingers through her hair.
Edward was impatient, and he was making Jasper nervous. He tried to force his mind to think of something else, but in his hands, hidden in plain sight as he held Bella, was the ring he wanted to give her. Finally the point came when he couldn’t wait another moment. He set her on her feet abruptly. “Sorry, Alice,” he said quickly. “Be right back.” His sister gave him that pitiful look that said, You’re ruining my fun, just as clearly as her thoughts did. He ignored both the look and the thought, and pulled Bella a short distance away from the others. Still well within hearing distance, obviously. That was part of the point. A very small part, suddenly, as he thought about how he’d felt the last time he’d slipped this ring on her finger.
Bella watched Edward’s face curiously. He looked like he was stifling his excitement over something. She waited.
“Alice brought something from Forks that belongs to you,” he whispered, staring down into her eyes. Bella smiled, although what, exactly he was referring to escaped her. She just loved looking into his eyes. She felt him take her left hand, the one he always held, now, and thought nothing of it until he brought it up between them, forcing her to take a small step back. She watched, her face falling into a more serious expression as his chill fingers slid his mother’s ring into place.
Edward kept his eyes on Bella’s face. He didn’t need to watch what he was doing – he knew exactly where that ring belonged. She wasn’t breathing again. That was the only physical indication he had, now that her heart was silenced, to tell him how affected she was by him. He raised her hand slowly to his lips and kissed her ring finger, letting his eyes fall closed for just a second. Something inside of him that had been bruised a long time ago felt as if it had suddenly been healed.
Bella’s eyes had followed her hand and she was staring into his, her lips slightly parted. But her expression wasn’t what he expected. He was about to ask what she was thinking when her hands reached for his face, her thumbs caressing his temples on either side of his eyes as she pulled him closer. Then he understood. Something she saw there had changed. “Oh Edward, I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
He hushed her and put her arms around her waist, smiling against her hair as her hands traveled to the back of his neck. “You’ve got no reason to be. Everything’s right, now.” He breathed in deeply, appreciating again how similar her scent was to the more human scent he remembered. He knew that if she’d already been changed when he first met her, he’d still have been drawn to her. As he held her, feeling her even breathing, he could hear the thoughts of the others. Jasper was immensely pleased. The atmosphere of love was one he enjoyed, and he was exchanging a glance with Alice, whose eyes absolutely sparkled with happiness on their behalf. And Tanya. Tanya was feeling guilty, as he’d hoped, for trying to take this away from him. He held her in silence while the others continued looking at pictures of the wedding site, and discussing which area of the gardens would be best in muted tones.
Bella fiddled with the engagement ring with her thumb, turning it around. She kept her eyes closed and her cheek pressed against Edward’s chest. Everything’s right, he’d said. She felt a pang of guilt for agreeing. She wondered what it said about her love for Jacob that she was so extraordinarily happy right now, and then put the thought aside. Jake would have wanted her to be happy. Go with Edward. Don’t look back. She tightened her arms around him and heard him sigh.
“Bella? I brought you a bunch of other stuff, too,” Alice exclaimed, breaking through the bubble of contentment that seemed to have enclosed them. Edward pulled away, grinning. “Tomorrow night we’ll ride back over to the hotel and I’ll show you.”
Bella looked over at Alice and she knew her well enough to read the rest of that phrase on her face even as Edward was hearing it in her head. ...but for now, please come and help with this, or we’ll never get done in time.... They exchanged a glance and Edward took her hand, leading her back to the others. Bella sat enveloped in his arms and answered questions as fast as Alice could think of them. The planning continued well into the next day.
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