Bella wanted me to settle into medical school before undertaking a “major life-changing event” such as marriage, so I didn’t broach the subject again until after I completed my first year. By then, she was starting graduate school and “couldn’t even think about” planning a wedding until she got used to being a student again.
At that point, there was no denying Scenario Three was upon me. If I weren’t sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with how she felt about me, I would have been livid. At least, I was sure it had nothing to do with how she felt about who I was. I didn’t pretend for moment it had nothing to do with how she felt about what I had.
It was the one thing we had yet to share, and it was always going to be there. Even if I hadn’t inherited my father’s wealth, I was going to be a doctor. She was a teacher. Our earnings would never be in the same ballpark, even after she completed her master’s degree. This wasn’t the sort of thing she could just will away.
Then Thanksgiving happened and, well, it was Thanksgiving. Jack and Kitty made their annual pilgrimage to my mother’s house for dinner, and of course it wasn’t long before they asked if we’d set a date. Rather than confirm that we hadn’t, I looked at Bella. It was spiteful and maybe a little immature of me, but I was tired of making excuses. Since she wanted to be equals in every way, it was only fair she take a turn.
“We have,” Bella said. “But then I spilled a martini on my iPhone and oops! There went my calender. We just can’t seem to remember when it was.” Shrugging, she let out an exaggerated sigh. “We’ll figure it out eventually. Maybe we’ll just squeeze it in between Edward’s rotations.”
“You can’t be too spontaneous,” Jack said. “There’s still some paperwork that needs to be taken care of.”
Bella’s eyes became huge and her lower lip started to twitch. Based on past experience, I knew I had about six seconds to intervene before she flipped out. I couldn’t let that happen—it would just make things worse.
There was a detachment gene that ran through my father’s family. No matter what they did to each other—be it lies, blackmail, larceny, or even corporate espionage—they always remained civilized to the point of detachment. If Jack saw Bella become angry, it would only widen his perceived distance between her class and ours. And if Jack saw me become angry, he’d lose all respect he had for me. I knew from my mother how even limited dealings with Jack could be a nightmare, and though he wasn’t the world’s greatest human being, he was a tie to my father I wasn’t ready to give up. Therefore, I felt I had no choice but to pretend he didn’t just imply my fiancèe was a whore.
“Though I appreciate the reminder, Jack, it’s not necessary. I have no intention of asking Bella to sign anything.”
“Edward, you’re far too intelligent not to make decisions with the head on your shoulders–”
“Why don’t you come for a walk with me, Bella?” Kitty asked, rising to her feet. “I doubt their conversation is of concern to us.”
“The hell it’s not!” Bella yelled.
“I’m sure they’ll provide a summary if asked.” She extended her hand to Bella. “Come. I know I’d love a cigarette, and my arthritis gives me such trouble with the lighter.”
To my infinite relief, Bella took my grandmother’s hand and went outside. I was about to exhale when I realized I was now alone with Jack. I’d only been given what my parents referred to as the “Jackhammer” once, after I broke up with Kate. Then I was able to remain calm, but I hadn’t been filled with rage the way I was now.
“I know how it is,” he said. “You think I can’t possibly understand how you feel.”
“Well, you’re wrong. You think I haven’t been there? You look at me, and you see an old man. But we only change on the outside. There isn’t a thing you could feel that your father hadn’t felt before you, that I hadn’t felt before him. You don’t understand this, because you’re too inexperienced to know you’re inexperienced.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Exactly. Do you think girls without vacancies between their ears don’t know exactly how to use the god-given vacancies between their legs? Meanwhile, any man with a modicum of self-awareness knows the only thing he feels more strongly than avarice is lust, so he’s willing to cough up a little rent. It’s nothing more than basic commodity trading.”
“Bella doesn’t want my money.”
“Bella doesn’t know what your money can do, therefore you don’t know what she’ll do. I know you don’t want to believe me—you consider yourself a romantic, just like your father did. So I’ll say to you the same thing I said to him. Are you opposed to safe sex?”
“I rest my case. Pre-nuptial agreements are the rubbers of the ruling class.”
It took seven minutes to get away from Jack. I went straight to the porch, where Kitty and Bella were sitting on the steps. My grandmother had an arm around Bella, and held her flask in her free hand. Much to my surprise, Bella was the one with a cigarette between her lips.
“I’ve never seen you smoke,” I said as I sat beside them. “I never thought I would.”
Bella wouldn’t even look at me and, though I knew she’d be upset with me, I hadn’t expected the silent treatment.
“Now don’t you give her a hard time for taking pity on an old lady who doesn’t like to smoke alone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make sure Esme has things under control in the kitchen.”
Bella turned to Kitty and let out a small laugh. “And if she doesn’t?”
“I’ll mix her a cocktail, of course.” Her arm tightened around Bella in the closest thing to a hug I’d ever seen her give, and she went inside.
“I’m sorry,” I said, after I heard the door close.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“You have to be kidding.” She flicked her ash onto the pavement, then took another drag. “Let’s see. You could be sorry for putting me on the spot about setting a wedding date, or you could mean you’re sorry you didn’t to stand up to your grandfather when he implied you were letting your dick make decisions for you. Add to it the fact it’s Thanksgiving, and I have no choice but to wonder if on a sub-conscious level, you’re punishing me– ”
“Not intentionally, but if the fear of commitment fits–”
“I am committed to you.”
“Then marry me.”
“I plan to.”
“When, Bella? We’ve been engaged over a year.”
“As soon as I’m over that.” She waved her cigarette toward the house.
“There are always going to be people like Jack.”
“I know.” She covered her face with her hands, sighing. “And I can blow it off now because I’ve never taken a cent from you. But once that changes…” She dropped her butt on the ground and stomped it out with the toe of her shoe. “I just need to get to a place where I know I won’t let what other people think affect my self-image. If you could just wait a little longer.”
I felt like I was sixteen again, but it didn’t matter. Then and now, I knew it would be worth it.
“I will wait for you,” I said. “I would wait forever.”
“I don’t want to stick my nose in your business, but–”
“Oh, this should be good.”
My mom feigned surprised. “What?”
“You never have any problem sticking your nose in my business.”
“If not for me, you wouldn’t have any business. Remember that.”
“Fair enough. So what it is?”
“I’m trying to avoid a repeat of last Thanksgiving–”
“Are you uninviting Jack and Kitty to Thanksgiving dinner?”
“I wish,” she said, sighing. “But unfortunately, I can’t. It’s their way of feeling connected to your father; I won’t deny them that. I am, however, going to try to head them off at the pass by addressing any questions they may have about your wedding date before you and Bella arrive, then making it clear that I will pour the Kettle One down the drain if the subject is brought up in your presence.”
“To pull this off, there’s something I need to know. Are you and Bella trying to set a record for the world’s longest engagement?”
The only thing worse than getting shit from my mom was getting shit from my mom over something I couldn’t control.
“Not intentionally.” I flashed her the smile I knew she loved, hoping she’d let conversation go.
Of course, my mother never lets anything go until she’s good and ready. “What exactly are you waiting for?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to her. On the one hand, I wasn’t waiting for anything. I’d be married by now if it were up to me. On the other, blaming it on Bella would be an immature cop-out, even if Bella was the reason we hadn’t made any moves toward matrimony.
“There are issues we need to resolve,” I said.
“Typically, people in healthy relationships try to resolve these things before they make a commitment. Engagements may not be a legal contract the way marriages are, but they’re promises nonetheless. If either of you have doubts–”
“We don’t have doubts. Not like that.”
I turned to the mantle and pretended to look at the family pictures on display there—anything to take the attention off the topic at hand. Everyone who formed my world was accounted for in small, silver frames: There were my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ wedding pictures, family portraits featuring pint-sized versions of Dad and my uncle, Mom and Maggie as high-school seniors, the engagement photo for which Bella only grudgingly agreed to pose, and my parents when they were dating.
“This is different,” I said, pointing to the one of my parents. “You used to have your wedding picture up here.”
“That is our wedding picture.”
I picked it up to take a closer look; it definitely wasn’t the one I was used to seeing. In that one, my mom was wearing a veil, and though I wouldn’t be able to describe her dress if my life depended on it, there was no doubt she looked bridal. In this one, she looked more like she was going to a party.
“Did you have two different dresses?” I asked.
“No, we had two different weddings. One was what your father wanted—the one you’re looking at now. We got married on the observation deck of City Hall. He thought it would be romantic to do it at the highest floor in Philly.”
“And the other one was for you?”
She snorted. “The other one was for Jack and Kitty. I didn’t want to bother with any of that nonsense, but Jack had people he wanted to invite, and neither of them were thrilled it wasn’t officiated by clergy. The whole thing was a pain in the ass, but your father and I got the last laugh, though. The guy who performed the ceremony at Jack’s country club wasn’t a priest, either. He was an out-of-work actor Maggie used to date.”
“I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry.”
“Oh, you should laugh. I’m laughing—the whole thing was hilarious.” She took the picture from my hands and placed it back on the mantle. “You know, vows aren’t always made in front of hundreds of people—that’s just a byproduct of commercialism. True vows are made in ghetto apartments, in piece-of-shit cars, on crowded sidewalks in rush hour or even hospital waiting rooms. Commitments don’t become real because a guy with a funny robe proclaims them such or because they’re sealed with church tongue. The true contract isn’t a piece of paper—that just makes it easier to deal with banks and property and people who don’t believe in your relationship. When you dropped to your knee and offered Bella forever, that promise was as real as it gets. If there’s something holding you back from making it legal, the two of you need to be in counseling so you can either work through it or move on.”
“That’s not the problem, Mom. We’re committed, and we believe in each other.”
“Then what are you waiting for?”
“For her to believe in herself enough to not be affected when she hears comments about marrying well. She wants to sign a pre-nup only because she thinks having one will cut down on that sort of thing. I won’t let her, because I know it won’t make a difference.”
“Oh.” She visibly relaxed. “She’ll get there.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I believe in her, and I believe in love.” She turned to the mantel, and when her eyes went to the picture of her and my father, she smiled. “I also believe in compromise, but if that’s not possible, a little theatricality never hurt anyone.”
“I’m so excited to have you to myself for ten whole days.” Careful to avoid disrupting the gear shift, Bella leaned over the center console and rested her head on my shoulder.
It was a nice change. She’d been completely on edge the past week, but since we’d packed up the car to head down the shore, she seemed like a different person.
“You won’t have me entirely to yourself, you know. My mother’s planning to join us on the Fourth and stay until the weekend.”
“That means she’ll be there on the fifth.”
“Yes. Why, did you have something planned?”
“Not exactly planned, but I did have something in mind, but it will take a little bit of work. I made us an appointment with the clerk for this afternoon; even if we get caught in traffic, we can easily make it. Our license will be issued in seventy-two hours, and we’ll be good to go. I already have a dress, your ring, and an officiant. All I need is a groom.”
She lifted her head from my shoulder and turned angled her body so she was facing me. “I was thinking we could…you know…get married on the fifth. It’s the eight year anniversary of when we first…you know…”
I was sure I was hallucinating. Still gripping the steering wheel, I turned to Bella. She was looking at me while scraping the cuticle of her ring finger with her thumbnail, nervously awaiting my response. Then something pulled my focus back to the road, and I saw the car in front of me had stopped.
“Fuck!” I yelled, slamming on the breaks.
Though I reacted quickly enough to avoid hitting the car in front of us, we did feel a slight bump as we were rear-ended by the car behind us.
“Well, yes, we did fuck,” Bella said, laughing. “But I was thinking more that you told me you loved me.”
I knew I should get out of the car to check for damage and make sure no one in the car behind us was hurt, and I was planning on it—as soon as I finished kissing her. Never did I imagine that the happiest moment of my life would occur during a fender-bender on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Five days later, it was usurped by something greater than I could have imagined. Bella and I had been intimate for years. I knew every curve of her body and each freckle of her skin. I knew how her face looked when she was truly happy and how it differed from when she was feigning joy to spare my feelings. I knew Bella, and though I’d guessed how I’d feel seeing her walk toward me on our wedding day, nothing prepared me for the reality. As Vivaldi’s Guitar Concerto swirled on the breeze around me, I got the first glimpse of my bride.
She took my breath away.
Her white dress hugged her curves, and her hair whipped behind her in the wind. Her shoulders were bare, and she held a small cluster of blue flowers. Her walk was steady and confident—if she was at all nervous, it didn’t show. When Bella arrived at my side, she gave her bouquet to my mother. I faced her and we clasped hands. Hers trembled, and I knew she was terrified. When my eyes met hers, I expected her to tell me she couldn’t do this. I studied her face, waiting for her lips to move. When they did, it was only to form a smile.
“Repeat after me,” the officiant said. “I, Edward Anthony Cullen…”
“I, Edward Anthony Cullen.”
“Take you, Isabella Marie Swan…”
“Take you, Isabella Marie Swan.” I looked over at the justice of the peace. “I think I’ve got it from here.” Then brought my eyes back to Bella. We hadn’t discussed writing our own vows, and honestly, I had nothing prepared. I just knew what I wanted to say to her.
“I, Edward take you, Isabella to be my wife.” My eyes started to fill as I said the words. “My wife,” I repeated.
Bella nodded, laughing.
“And I’ll love you, protect you, adore you, respect you, worship you, forsaking all others for every second of my life.”
The officiant turned to Bella. “I, Isabella Marie Swan…”
Bella closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, they were damp. “I, Isabella Marie Swan…”
Her voice was so quiet it was hard to hear her over the crash of the surf; I doubted my mother or the guitarist who was serving as our second witness could make out her words. It didn’t matter, though. They were meant only for me.
“…take you, Edward Anthony Cullen, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to blow from this day forward. To love and to cherish in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, for as long as I live.”
He handed me with the narrow platinum band I’d chosen for Bella.
“Place this ring on Bella’s finger and repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
“With this ring, I thee wed.” I paused to look up at Bella’s face. She didn’t want my worldly goods. In fact, she insisted on signing a pre-nup to “protect herself” from my worldly goods. It didn’t work, though. My mom made sure of that. Yes, Bella signed a pre-nup, but my mom had it on authority that the only bars the ‘attorney’ who witnessed it ever passed were the ones without Happy Hour specials. He was a decent actor, though. Even I didn’t know it wasn’t legit until afterward, and Bella still had no idea. “And all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
“Bella, place this ring on Edward’s finger and repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed, and all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
Still trembling, she reached for my hand. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
I splayed my fingers to make it easier for her, but instead knock the ring out of her hand.
“Fuck,” she said.
I fell to my knees to pick the ring up, and she followed suit, causing the sand to shift and the ring to disappear from sight. Instead of combing through the sand, she reaches for me, and clasps my hand.
“We’ve been here before,” she whispered.
And we had. Eight years ago, in this very spot, I declared my love for the woman I was about to take as my wife. Then, she responded the only way she knew how—by falling to her knees and opening my fly. Something told me response today would be different if I used the same words I used then. So I did.
“I love you, Bella. I love you with everything that I am.”
The breeze caused the sand to shift, exposing a sliver of platinum. Bella grabbed my wedding ring from the sand and slid it right onto my finger.
“My name is Edward,” she whispered, smiling.. “I am Mrs. You.”
Hands clasped, we returned to our feet.
“By the power invested in my by the state of New Jersey, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
We didn’t kiss. At least, not right away. We hugged each other tightly, then we pulled my mother into our embrace.
“Your father’s smiling right now,” my mom whispered. “I just know it.”
After we said our goodbyes, we climbed into a limousine that was waiting to take us to Atlantic City for our wedding night. It was the first time we’d been alone since the ceremony, and there were two things I wanted to know.
“‘I am Mrs. You?” I asked.
“It’s from Les Miserables. Hugo expressed the sentiment I wanted far better than I ever could. In fact, I had it engraved on the inside of your wedding ring, but there I used the original French.” She shrugged, laughing. “You know I’m purist when it comes to literature–”
“But not when it comes to wedding vows,” I teased. “Tell me, Mrs. Cullen. Did you say ‘to have and to blow’ intentionally, or did you misspeak because you were nervous?”
She slid off the seat and knelt between my legs. “What do you think, Mr. Cullen?”
When her hands opened the fly of my linen pants, I thought I had my answer.
“I was really nervous,” she admitted. “I don’t think you’ll ever realize how much. So no, I didn’t mean to take you ‘to have and to blow,’ but alas, I did. And since marriage vows are sacred…”
“I suppose I should honor mine.” She took my cock out of my pants and licked it across the tip.
“Finally,” I said.
“What? I told you I’d get around to fellating you in a car eventually.”
“No, I meant we’re finally married.”
“Indeed we are. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, and all that stuff. And this…” She gave me a squeeze. “Is my cock. I like having a cock. I think I want to kiss it.”
I laughed. “You’ve considered my cock yours since day one.”
“Maybe. But now I get to put a ring on it.”
My eyes widened. “You get to what?”
“You’ll see,” she said, flashing me her best bad-girl smile. “You’re going to love being married.”
She took me into her mouth and I knew.
I loved it already.