"Yes, ma'am." Renee blew me a kiss and hurried out the door.
"Charlie, would you grab the flowers, please?"
While Charlie was out of the room, Alice hooked the garter out of my hands and then ducked under my skirt. I gasped and tottered as her cold hand caught my ankle; she yanked the garter into place.
She was back on her feet before Charlie returned with the two frothy white bouquets. The scent of roses and orange blossom and freesia enveloped me in a soft mist.
Rosalie - the best musician in the family next to Edward - began playing the piano downstairs. Pachelbel's Canon. I began hyperventilating.
"Easy, Bells," Charlie said. He turned to Alice nervously. "She looks a little sick. Do you think she's going to make it?"
His voice sounded far away. I couldn't feel my legs.
Alice stood right in front of me, on her tiptoes to better stare me in the eye, and gripped my wrists in her hard hands.
"Focus, Bella. Edward is waiting for you down there."
1 took a deep breath, willing myself into composure.
The music slowly morphed into a new song. Charlie nudged me. "Bells, we're up to bat."
"Bella?" Alice asked, still holding my gaze.
"Yes," I squeaked. "Edward. Okay." I let her pull me from the room, with Charlie tagging along at my elbow.
The music was louder in the hall. It floated up the stairs along with the fragrance of a million flowers. I concentrated on the idea of Edward waiting below to get my feet to shuffle forward.
The music was familiar, Wagner's traditional march surrounded by a flood of embellishments.
"It's my turn," Alice chimed. "Count to five and follow me." She began a slow, graceful dance down the staircase. I should have realized that having Alice as my only bridesmaid was a mistake. I would look that much more uncoordinated coming behind her.
A sudden fanfare trilled through the soaring music. I recognized my cue.
"Don't let me fall, Dad," I whispered. Charlie pulled my hand through his arm and then grasped it tightly.
One step ata time, I told myself as we began to descend to the slow tempo of the march. I didn't lift my eyes until my feet were safely on the flat ground, though I could hear the murmurs and rustling of the audience as I came into view. Blood flooded my cheeks at the sound; of course I could be counted on to be the blushing bride.
As soon as my feet were past the treacherous stairs, I was looking for him. For a brief second, I was distracted by the profusion of white blossoms that hung in garlands from everything in the room that wasn't alive, dripping with long lines of white gossamer ribbons. But I tore my eyes from the bowery canopy and searched across the rows of satin-draped chairs - blushing more deeply as I took in the crowd of faces all focused on me - until I found him at last, standing before an arch overflowing with more flowers, more gossamer.
I was barely conscious that Carlisle stood by his side, and Angela's father behind them both. I didn't see my mother where she must have been sitting in the front row, or my new family, or any of the guests - they would have to wait till later.
All I really saw was Edward's face; it filled my vision and overwhelmed my mind. His eyes were a buttery, burning gold; his perfect face was almost severe with the depth of his emotion. And then, as he met my awed gaze, he broke into a breathtaking smile of exultation.
Suddenly, it was only the pressure of Charlie's hand on mine that kept me from sprinting headlong down the aisle.
The march was too slow as I struggled to pace my steps to its rhythm. Mercifully, the aisle was very short. And then, at last, at last, I was there. Edward held out his hand. Charlie took my hand and, in a symbol as old as the world, placed it in Edward's. I touched the cool miracle of his skin, and I was home.
Our vows were the simple, traditional words that had been spoken a million times, though never by a couple quite like us. We'd asked Mr. Weber to make only one small change. He obligingly traded the line "till death do us
part" for the more appropriate "as long as we both shall live."
In that moment, as the minister said his part, my world, which had been upside down for so long now, seemed to settle into its proper position. I saw just how silly I'd been for fearing this - as if it were an unwanted birthday gift or an embarrassing exhibition, like the prom. I looked into Edward's shining, triumphant eyes and knew that I was winning, too. Because nothing else mattered but that I could stay withhim.
I didn't realize I was crying until it was time to say the binding words.
"I do," I managed to choke out in a nearly unintelligible whisper, blinking my eyes clear so I could see his face.
When it was his turn to speak, the words rang clear and victorious.
"I do," he vowed.
Mr. Weber declared us husband and wife, and then Edward's hands reached up to cradle my face, carefully, as if it were as delicate as the white petals swaying above our heads. I tried to comprehend, through the film of tears blinding me, the surreal fact that this amazing person was mine. His golden eyes looked as if they would have tears, too, if such a thing were not impossible. He bent his head toward mine, and I stretched up on the tips of my toes, throwing my arms - bouquet and all - around his neck.
He kissed me tenderly, adoringly; I forgot the crowd, the place, the time, the reason... only remembering that he loved me, that he wanted me, that I was his.
He began the kiss, and he had to end it; I clung to him, ignoring the titters and the throat-clearing in the audience. Finally, his hands restrained my face and he pulled back - too soon - to look at me. On the surface his sudden smile was amused, almost a smirk. But underneath his momentary entertainment at my public exhibition was a deep joy that echoed my own.