Edward's arms wound around me as the next song started. It was a little up-tempo for slow dancing, but that didn't seem to concern him. I leaned my 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 for Charlie's sake. It's nothing personal."
"I'm not mad at Billy," he corrected in a clipped voice. "But his son is irritating me."
I pulled back to look at him. His face was very serious.
"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," he explained.
"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 much more 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 crepe paper.
He considered for a moment, and then changed direction, spinning me through the crowd to the back door of the gym. I caught a glimpse of Jessica and Mike dancing, staring at me curiously. Jessica waved, and I smiled back quickly. Angela was there, too, looking blissfully happy in the arms of little Ben Cheney; she didn't look up from his eyes, a head lower than hers. Lee and Samantha, Lauren, glaring toward us, with Conner; I could name every face that spiraled past me. And then we were outdoors, in the cool, dim light of a fading sunset.
As soon as we were alone, he swung me up into his arms, and carried me across the dark grounds till he reached the bench beneath the shadow of the madrone trees. He sat there, keeping me cradled against his chest. The moon was already up, visible through the gauzy clouds, and his face glowed 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 perfect the day is, it always has to end."
"Some things don't have to end," I muttered through my teeth, instantly tense.
"I brought you to the prom," he said slowly, finally answering my question, "because I don't want you to miss anything. I don't want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I'd died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have."
I shuddered at his words, and then shook my head angrily. "In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren't a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this."
He smiled briefly, but it didn't touch his eyes. "It wasn't so bad, you said 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. I wished there was some way to explain how very uninterested I was in a normal human life.
"Will you tell me something?" he asked, glancing down at me with a slight smile.
"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 you here," he began.
"I was," I interjected.
"Exactly," he agreed. "But you must have had some other theory… I'm curious — what did you think I was dressing you up for?"
Yes, instant regret. I pursed my lips, hesitating. "I don't want to tell you."
"You promised," he objected.
"What's the problem?"
I knew he thought it was mere embarrassment holding me back. "I think it will make you mad — or sad."
His brows pulled together over his eyes as he thought that through. "I still want to know. Please?"
I sighed. He waited.
"Well… I assumed it was some kind of… occasion. But I didn't think it would 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. He waited in silence.
"Okay," I confessed in a rush. "So I was hoping that you might have changed 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 still grinning. "It's not funny," I said.
"No, you're right, it's not," he agreed, his smile fading. "I'd rather treat 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, "for this to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barely started. 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."
But his mercurial mood shifted on me. He pursed his lips, and his eyes were 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 brushed against the skin just under the corner of my jaw.
"Right now?" he whispered, his breath blowing cool on my neck. I shivered involuntarily.
"Yes," I whispered, so my voice wouldn't have a chance to break. If he thought I was bluffing, he was going to be disappointed. I'd already made this decision, and I was sure. It didn't matter that my body was rigid as a 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 a sour 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 my voice.
"Bella." His fingers lightly traced the shape of my lips. "I will stay with 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. He exhaled, and the sound was practically a growl.
I touched his face. "Look," I said. "I love you more than everything else in 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.