“To the left!” Alice ordered the boys. “No, Emmett, the other left!”
My face tipped up in the cold mist as I watched Jasper, Emmett, and my boyfriend Edward decorate the Cullens’ house with Christmas lights.
It was snowing now, which was made everyone at school buzz with the excitement that there might be snow on Christmas. A white Christmas in the dreary wet of Forks, Washington. It was unlikely; clouds already threatened to wash it away with the constant mist of rain that kept this part of the country gray in the skies and green everywhere else.
I had begrudgingly grown to love the wet, overcast climate. Each waft of the musty petrichor in the early morning and the thick clouds overhead and the deep emerald of the trees reminded me of the only thing that mattered in my world: Edward Cullen.
I watched him now. He was a blur of crimson hoodie and dark red hair as he moved too quickly for my eyes to comprehend on top of the roof of his family’s pristine house. Jasper, one of his adopted brothers and Alice’s mate, held the lights in place as Edward stapled them to the top frame. The hulking brute that was Emmett, Edward’s other brother was trying to center an life-sized inflatable Santa sleigh on the rooftop.
Alice gave a noise next to me that was part frustration, part amusement. Her pale, beautiful face twisted underneath the red beanie she was wearing. I watched her jog towards the house and spring up, nimbly landing on the rooftop. “Over here, Emmett.” She started to pull the sleigh to the east part of the house.
I stood frozen in the middle of the Cullens’ front yard, obediently following Edward’s clear instructions to not move. I was an accident-prone danger magnet, apparently. And it would be my luck that something fell off the roof and crushed me in an unfortunate Christmas decoration accident.
Edward stopped to take in his handy work, spinning the staple gun on his fingertip like he was a wild west gunslinger. He turned to face me “How does it look?”
“Well, there not on.” I said at a conversational level. He would still hear me, even though he was fifty yards and two stories away. “But, I assume they’re just fine.”
He jumped down to the ground, landing on the balls of his feet like a cat and walked over to me at a pace I could comprehend. At his house, outside of the eyes of curious humans who didn’t know who or what he was, he was free to act how he pleased. And unlike me – who was bundled up like Randy from the Christmas Story -- he didn’t have to dress for the bitter cold weather. Today, he was in a simple hoodie with HARVARD printed over the chest and jeans.
Even in aggressively casual clothes, he looked like a one of Homer’s demigod incarnated into flesh and blood. He had high cheekbones and smooth nose and eyes that sucked me in and didn’t let go. He was perfect and beautiful and no human words could describe him.
I unabashedly ogled him as he ran his fingers through his tousled reddish hair and looked at the lights. “Where’s the extension cord, Jasper?”
“On the porch.” Jasper answered and jumped off the roof himself, doing a front flip on the way down.
“Show off.” Alice said and lightly bounced down next to him, not even making a print in the grass.
Emmett was the last to come down. His landing sounded like a rockslide down a mountain’s face, but he was as graceful as the rest of them, landing like a jaguar out of a tree.
They all took their place next to me in front of the house. A row of impossibly beautiful mythological beings and one dull, ordinary human. I must’ve looked like a troll standing amongst angels.
“Bella,” Edward purred my name as he held out the female part of the string lights and the male part of the extension cords. “Will you do the honors?”
It was very National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, completely childish and unnecessary, but I grinned and yanked them out of Edward’s white fingers. “Sure.”
“Alright, light ‘er up!” Emmett clapped his large hands.
It had started to snow harder and the big clumps of snowflakes stuck to my eyelashes and the hair around my face and the edge of my upper lip. I blinked back the cold wet, suck in a breath of apprehension and stuck the two cord ends together.
With a snap, the house lit up from the left to the right. Rainbow lights danced in a pattern, flashing back and forth. The spotlight that show on the inflatable sleigh that was perfectly centered on the roof clicked on. The candy-canes that lined the front yard shone red and white. In the fading light of the dusk, the house glowed with warmth and yuletide greetings
Emmett whooped and Jasper clapped hands together with Alice.
But, that’s not why I gasped. I was looking at Edward and he was looking at me. The colors of the Christmas lights reflected on his alabaster skin and made him look otherworldly. He grinned my favorite smile and his dark eyes smoldered in contrast to the heavenly lights dancing on his skin. I moved to touch his face, only stopped when I heard the crash of the front door.
“Are you guys done?” Rosalie asked, the most beautiful one of them all. A radiant, breathtaking specimen of beauty. DaVinci would eat his heart out at the sight of her, screw the Vitruvian Man. Or are you just gonna stand there staring at the lights like idiots for the rest of the night?”
Edward grabbed my hand that still hung in the air, frozen on its quest to my face. “Shall we get warm?”
I smiled back at him. That question was one-sided, even though he spoke in plurals. He was never warm, instead his skin was almost the same temperature of the snow that fell around us. “It depends,” I teased. “Are you going to try and make me hot cocoa again?”
I was referring to the other night where he failed to put water in with a Swiss Miss packet before microwaving it, causing the little dehydrated marshmallows to congeal to the bottom of Charlie’s favorite mug. I took the blame for that one – I didn’t want another strike against Edward on Charlie’s very long list of Why Edward Was the Absolute Worst Thing for My Daughter.
He rolled his eyes at me, humor flashing in them. “You have to cut me a little slack.” He smiled and started pulling me towards the house. “Instant hot cocoa wasn’t invented yet when I was a human.”
We made it inside. A fire blazed in the Cullens’ living room fireplace and the whole room was nice and toasty. I shed my moist jacket with Edward’s help and he draped it on the back of one of dining room chairs and then disappeared in a flash into the kitchen.
I took a moment to take everything in.
Alice outdid herself when it came to decorating the inside, as if the Cullens’ house wasn’t pretty by itself. A gigantic Christmas tree dominated the corner of the living room by Edward’s piano and it dripped in different shades of golds and silvers. The rest of the room was done up the same, gold tinsel wrapped along the staircase handle and the couch cushions replaced to match. Bowls of festive potpourri were scattered, giving the house a light cinnamon scent.
It perfectly matched the scene outside as a panoramic window that made up the north wall framed the picturesque Olympic mountain range that silhouetted in the distance.
I moved to the fireplace to shake off the last bit of cold and to look at the stockings. Each family member had a gold or silver stocking that hung symmetrically on the edge of the mantle, the Cullens’ names artfully embroidered into the cuff. Carlisle, then Esme. Jasper, Alice, Emmett, Rosalie, Edward and then Bella. They had a stocking made for me. I smiled at the gesture, even though I wasn’t apart of their family…yet.
My smile faded and I bit my lip. I wanted so desperately to join their family. To become a vampire like one of them. It would solve so many issues, the first being my insufferable fallibility and the last being the all-powerful royal vampire family that expected me to be turned at some point. Edward, on the other hand, was not on board with this idea. He wanted to keep me human, upset at the very thought of me joining him in the world of the mythological.
I pushed it from my mind though. For now. Edward made me promise that Christmas break was for Christmas and that we should enjoy the holidays. It was a ploy to bide time so that he could push off making me a vampire. But, I agreed. And I didn’t want to break promises, especially to the most important person of my life.
“One hot cocoa,” Edward vaporized next to me, a coffee mug in his hand. “I hope this meets your expectations this time.”
The mug was brimming with tiny marshmallows – the real ones – and had a cinnamon stick jammed in it like a straw. I took the drink from him, letting it warm my cold fingers and took a sip. It was creamy and chocolate-y and delicious and not Swiss Miss. “This is good, Edward.” I said as I sipped on it.
“I Googled a recipe,” He said sheepishly as he wrapped one of his cool arms around my waist. “’Old-fashion hot cocoa’”
“It’s perfect.” I said over the edge of the mug.
And it was. Everything was perfect. He was perfect. This fire was perfect. This mug in my palm was perfect. The mountains outside was perfect. Perfect.
Edward held up a small remote and Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ piped in from hidden speakers embedded into the wall. All of a sudden the mug I was holding was out of my hand and I was being spun around the open living room.
“Edward,” I hissed with wide eyes, my awkward feet unable to keep up with his grace. I thought about the fireplace. I thought about myself accidently tripping into the fireplace. I was too big a hazard to be moving like this around an open flame. “What are you doing?”
He grinned. “Making the yuletide gay.” His arm looped steadily around my waist, and he pulled me around, slowing his pace to a steady rock.
I looked up at his face and his eyes looked down into mine. He was thirsty, his eyes the color of ebony, and circles were starting to form under them. They were supposed to repulse low-minded humans like myself -- a warning sign of the danger, a marker to flee. But, I always found myself so captivated by Edward’s eyes. They sucked me in, wiping away any coherent thoughts. I couldn’t tell if I was different because I was destined to love him, or if it was because I was an idiot. Both. I smiled at my own private joke.
“What are thinking about?” He asked as he gently spun me with the song.
“I’m disappointed in the lack of mistletoe.” I lied.
“We have to,” His perfect brows came together in chagrin. “Otherwise Emmett and Rosalie…”
“Nope,” I interrupted. “That’s weird.”
He rolled his eyes and rocked me back and forth. “Try being in their heads.”
I moved my hands so I could lace my fingers around the back of his neck. He responded by wrapping his arms tighter around me. I could smell the musky, sweet, beautiful scent of him. The song faded out and the beginning of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ replaced the Christmas jingle. We continued to dance slowly, but Edward picked up just a smidge to match the beat of this old song.
He pressed his cheek against my head and sung the lyrics – velvet and soft – in my ear. “You are all I long for, all I worship and adore.” I sighed and melted against him, letting him push and pull me around.
“I want to stay like this forever.” I murmured against his chest.
“In other words, please be true.” He sang perfectly and then chuckled. “Forever is a long time.” He noted. “I’m afraid you’d get tired of me.”
“Never.” I breathed and squeezed in tighter, my body fitting against his like two puzzle pieces finally finding their mate.
He spun me around. “In other words.” He sang. “In other words…I love you.”
Firmly grasped in his arms, while supporting most of my weight, he dipped me at the end note of the song. I opened my eyes to see my world had turned upside down and giggled that he managed to dip me, Bella Swan, klutziest person this side of the Mississippi River. Incredible.
And then my upside down world moved in a blur and I hit the hardwood floor, the back of my head impacting with smack. It wasn’t hard – I was already pretty close to the floor – but the surprise of being dropped knocked the wind out of me for a second. “Oof.” I managed, my hand automatically coming up to rub the back of my head.
“Bella, I’m so-,” The sheer horror in Edward’s voice made me sit up suddenly.
Edward’s shoulders jerked in two different directions, his left one stiffly going up, while his right one went down. His face twisted. I had only seen that face on him before – in Volterra as he jumped in front of me to save me from Jane’s torturous stare.
Pain. But, more than that.