The car was decorated with more flowers that trailed in streamers along its length, and long gossamer ribbons that were tied to a dozen shoes - designer shoes that looked brand-new - dangling behind the bumper.
Edward shielded me from the rice while I climbed in, and then he was in and we were speeding away as I waved out the window and called "I love you" to the porch, where my families waved back.
The last image I registered was one of my parents. Phil had both arms wrapped tenderly around Renee. She had one arm tight around his waist but had her free hand reached out to hold Charlie's. So many different kinds of love, harmonious in this one moment. It seemed a very hopeful picture to me.
Edward squeezed my hand.
"I love you," he said.
I leaned my head against his arm. 'That's why we're here," I quoted him.
He kissed my hair.
As we turned onto the black highway and Edward really hit the accelerator, I heard a noise over the purr of the engine, coming from the forest behind us. If I could hear it, then he certainly could. But he said nothing as the sound slowly faded in the distance. I said nothing, either.
The piercing, heartbroken howling grew fainter and then disappeared entirely.
5. ISLE ESME
"Houston?" I asked, raising my eyebrows when we reached the gate in Seattle.
"Just a stop along the way," Edward assured me with a grin.
It felt like I'd barely fallen asleep when he woke me. I was groggy as he pulled me through the terminals, struggling to remember how to open my eyes after every blink. It took me a few minutes to catch up with what was going on when we stopped at the international counter to check in for our next flight.
"Rio de Janeiro?" I asked with slightly more trepidation.
"Another stop," he told me.
The flight to South America was long but comfortable in the wide first-class seat, with Edward's arms cradled around me. I slept myself out and awoke unusually alert as we circled toward the airport with the light of the setting sun slanting through the plane's windows.
We didn't stay in the airport to connect with another flight as I'd expected. Instead we took a taxi through the dark, teeming, living streets of Rio. Unable to understand a word of Edward's Portuguese instructions to the driver, I guessed that we were off to find a hotel before the next leg of our journey. A sharp twinge of something very close to stage fright twisted in the pit of my stomach as I considered that. The taxi continued through the swarming crowds until they thinned somewhat, and we appeared to be nearing the extreme western edge of the city, heading into the ocean.
We stopped at the docks.
Edward led the way down the long line of white yachts moored in the night-blackened water. The boat he stopped at was smaller than the others, sleeker, obviously built for speed instead of space. Still luxurious, though, and more graceful than the rest. He leaped in lightly, despite the heavy bags he carried. He dropped those on the deck and turned to help me carefully over the edge.
I watched in silence while he prepared the boat for departure, surprised at how skilled and comfortable he seemed, because he'd never mentioned an interest in boating before. But then again, he was good at just about everything.
As we headed due east into the open ocean, I reviewed basic geography in my head. As far as I could remember, there wasn't much east of Brazil... until you got to Africa.
But Edward sped forward while the lights of Rio faded and ultimately disappeared behind us. On his face was a familiar exhilarated smile, the one produced by any form of speed. The boat plunged through the waves and I was showered with sea spray.
Finally the curiosity I'd suppressed so long got the best of me.
"Are we going much farther?" I asked.
It wasn't like him to forget that I was human, but I wondered if he planned for us to live on this small craft for any length of time.
"About another half hour." His eyes took in my hands, clenched on the seat, and he grinned.
Oh well, I thought to myself. He was a vampire, after all. Maybe we were going to Atlantis.
Twenty minutes later, he called my name over the roar of the engine.
"Bella, look there." He pointed straight ahead.
I saw only blackness at first, and the moon's white trail across the water. But I searched the space where he pointed until I found a low black shape breaking into the sheen of moonlight on the waves. As I squinted into the darkness, the silhouette became more detailed. The shape grew into a squat, irregular triangle, with one side trailing longer than the other before sinking into the waves. We drew closer, and I could see the outline was feathery, swaying to the light breeze.
And then my eyes refocused and the pieces all made sense: a small island rose out of the water ahead of us, waving with palm fronds, a beach glowing pale in the light of the moon.
"Where are we?" I murmured in wonder while he shifted course, heading around to the north end of the island.
He heard me, despite the noise of the engine, and smiled a wide smile that gleamed in the moonlight.
"This is Isle Esme."
The boat slowed dramatically, drawing with precision into position against a short dock constructed of wooden planks, bleached into whiteness by the moon. The engine cut off, and the silence that followed was profound. There was nothing but the waves, slapping lightly against the boat, and the rustle of the breeze in the palms. The air was warm, moist, and fragrant - like the steam left behind after a hot shower.
"Isle Esme?" My voice was low, but it still sounded too loud as it broke into the quiet night.
"A gift from Carlisle - Esme offered to let us borrow it."
A gift. Who gives an island as a gift? I frowned. I hadn't realized that Edward's extreme generosity was a learned behavior.