She didn't know what time it was, but it didn't matter. She was home, under the covers in her tiny bedroom. Her father was softly snoring in the next room. She had never felt safer.
She was exhausted, but she couldn't sleep. Her mind was too attentive to the noises outside the house. She was waiting for the soft sound of crunching leaves and branches, and yet knew it was probably in vain. He had never made a sound while sneaking in through her bedroom window.
She knew he would be coming eventually, that he was probably waiting for her to surrender to a much deserved slumber, but there was no chance for that. It was a cold night and she wrapped her blanket tighter around herself, bringing it all the way to her nose. Her eyes were set on her window, alert and waiting.
She must have drifted for a moment because the softest of noises made her jolt awake. Her eyes snapped open instantly, quickly adjusting to the darkness that wrapped so completely around her. Her lips curled instinctively at the sight of a white hand pushing her window aside. A moment later, he slipped gracefully, noiselessly, into her room. His eyes were searching as soon as his feet touched the floor.
"Hi," she whispered, smiling, hoping to soften the reproach she had found in his expression when he realized she was awake.
"You should be asleep," he told her, shaking his head in dismay.
"I wanted to wait for you," she said, sitting up. He didn't reply, as though he knew there was no point arguing with her. She watched him as he removed his shoes and leather jacket. By the time he was walking towards her bed, she could detect a tiny smile curling at the corner of his lips. She pulled her blanket aside and scooted a little to let him in. She smiled timidly as he opened his arms for her. The top of her head fit perfectly into the crook of his neck. She sighed contentedly. He placed his chin on top of her head, inhaling.
"What a day, huh?"
"Are Jack and Rose okay?"
"Both are sleeping soundly in the guest room. Alice thinks they would leave in a day or two. Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper will be able to return home." He began stroking her back gently, probably hoping to put her to sleep this way. "How was the rest of your evening?"
She looked up, laughing softly. "Eventful." She paused, testing his face. "I told Charlie."
His face turned impossibly whiter, visible even in the darkness. "You told Charlie..."
"I told him that you asked me to marry you and that I said yes." She laughed a little at the shock that dominated his expression. There was a nervous edge to the sound. "I know we decided to wait before telling everyone, but you know what a terrible liar I am. I couldn't pretend nothing was going on. It was making me paranoid and I just wanted it off my chest," she said, smiling bashfully. "You're not mad, are you?"
"Of course I'm not mad," he said, shaking his head. "I just... I wanted to properly ask him for your hand. This is what men used to do back in my time and... Well, there's nothing traditional about the two of us, I suppose, but your father doesn't think very highly on me to begin with and I wanted to do this part right."
"Oh, I'm sure you could still do that. He would want to talk to you."
"What did he say when you told him?"
"He almost got a heart attack at first. He thought I was joking. I think he was waiting for me to take it back. And then, when he realized I was serious, he asked me if we were... if I was... pregnant." She whispered the last word, blushing scarlet. She wanted to forget that part of the exchange had never taken place. "I think I got him convinced eventually. I promised we wouldn't do anything before graduation, anyway, that we won't even think about it or start planning until school ends. He's sleeping quite peacefully now so I think it went well." She beamed proudly. She was proud of herself. In a way it was important to her to stand up to her father without Edward's support. She needed to know she was capable of it as an adult. She owed it to herself.
"You're looking a little smug, Miss Swan," he murmured, not without humor.
"Well, it felt good," she admitted. "I was sure he would kick me out as soon as I told him."
"He wouldn't have done that. He loves you too much."
She shook her head, somewhat embarrassed to make an actual reply to his comment.
"You have no second thoughts, do you?"
She turned to face him. He was dead serious, staring at her intently, as though trying to read any hint of cowardice in her face. "Would I have risked my relatively steady relationship with my father if I had second thoughts?"
A smile broke his grave expression, but only briefly. "No, I suppose you wouldn't." He reached out to brush a lock of hair away from her face. "It's just that... I thought things would seem different to you once we're home; that you said you'd marry me in the heat of the moment and – "
She placed her thumb on his lips, and his voice trailed at once. "Everything seems different to me here, except for one thing." She paused for impact and removed her finger when she was sure she had his attention. "You. Us. The way I feel about you hasn't changed. It will never change."
He seemed moved by the words, even though he must know them already. He was slow to respond, but eventually he smiled. "Well, in that case, you wouldn't mind if I leave your side for a second."
"Leave?" She echoed uncomprehendingly. She actually did mind, but he was already out of bed and by the rocking chair where his jacket lay discarded. He fumbled with it for a moment before he returned, smiling meekly. Something glimmered in the darkness and she gasped, already guessing what he was going to do next.
"It was my mother's," he said, opening his fist.
The ring that lay in his palm took her breath away. She took in its oval shape and the dozens of tiny diamonds, sparking into the night. She reached out for it, but didn't dare touching it. Her finger lingered just above the ring.
"I don't expect you to wear it to school or anywhere you don't wish to. If you want to start wearing it only after we make things official, that's fine by me. Whenever you decide to wear it, it's yours. I won't make a fuss." There must have been surprise in her eyes, for he shook his head, laughing softly. "You said yes," he explained somewhat sheepishly as though he still hadn't grasped that fact. "That's all I could ever ask for."
He reached for her hand with his free hand, and slipped the ring onto her finger. She didn't dare breathing until it sat perfectly in place. It was as though it belonged there. "A perfect fit," he murmured, looking transfixed.
"You're looking a little smug, Mr. Cullen," she taunted, echoing his previous words.
He scooped her in his arms, laughing. "I've never dreamt I would give this ring to anyone, let alone that it would fit so well."
"Fate," she grinned at him, putting her hand in front the two of them to observe the ring. She glanced at him from over her shoulder. His smile was so blinding it was almost glowing in the dark.
"After graduation?" he asked her. She nodded and snuggled against him, her hands against his chest. "And then forever."
"A thousand forevers, as far as I'm concerned," she said, yawning. She was unbelievingly tired. If he had made any reply, she didn't hear it.
When she was drifting off to sleep shortly afterwards, with her head against his chest, she was still wearing the ring, their ring, a promise to never let go.
It was a perfect spring day in New York and the streets were swarming with people. Some of them were locals and speaking with a heavy New York accent. Some were immigrants and their English carried the obvious lilt of a foreign language, their mother tongue, never to be forgotten. The rest were tourists, speaking and shouting and crying out unfamiliar words in exotic languages. The final result was chaotic. One would get dizzy from just looking at the hubbub they were creating in each and every street as their ways crossed paths again and again.
She took it all in through her new sunglasses, one of Alice's many departure gifts. She wore a white sundress and pretty lavender colored sandals, also courtesy of Alice. Her hair was streaming down her back, her curls loose and untamed. Despite her concerns, she seemed to be blending in just fine. Jack could easily be mistaken for a student on a holiday as well in his khaki cutoffs and a blue shirt. She smiled to herself as their images reflected against a shop window they passed. They looked like any other person on the busy street.
It was their first taste of the real world in the twentieth century. They arrived at New York early that morning, and although it was only lunchtime, she felt as though they had been there for days. It was so different to the noiseless seclusion of the Cullen residence in godforsaken Forks. This city was vibrant and alive. She could feel its energy reverberating through the sidewalk beneath her feet. It made her feel alive as well.
"Shall we go to the park?" she asked Jack after they had lunch at McDonald's. It was silly to start their culinary explorations there, she knew, but she was too curious to let it go. They both loved every second of their first taste of junk food.
"Sure," replied Jack, checking his new watch. "I think we won't be able to make it to the museum today; there's too much to see outside."
"It's alright," she said, reaching for his hand. Her heart still lifted at the sensation of skin against skin, but it no longer made her blush. As far as she was concerned, it was quite a progress. "We have all the time in the world."
Instead of giving him a chance to respond, she pulled at his arm and led the way towards Central Park.
They had a suitcase each, filled with necessities Esme and Alice had both packed for them, and they dropped them at their hotel before heading out to explore the city. Carlisle even let them borrow a camera he had in his possession, and they had spent the morning taking photos of the buildings and of each other, or asking strangers to take photos of the two of them. Then they took them to be printed and spent nearly an hour reveling at yet another marvel of modern technology.
They wandered aimlessly around the enormous park, taking more photos and just fooling around as young people their age would. They stopped to rest in the shade of an enormous tree by the pond. Jack sketched a few stray birds and chipmunks, and even her while she was napping in the shade.
Although they had no concrete itinerary for their first day in town, there was one thing she had intended to do today. It didn't leave her mind ever since Edward had mentioned it several days ago, and she knew she wouldn't be able to fully enjoy herself before she did it.
When they finally stood in front of the lighthouse commemorating the victims of the Titanic, she released the breath she didn't know she was holding. The structure wasn't strange to her; they had seen it on the internet while planning their journey with the Cullens and with Bella. And yet she looked at the time ball on top of the lighthouse as though she had seen it for the very first time. Chills ran down her spine as she read the plaque on the stone. Until that moment it was easy to believe the Titanic disaster was nothing but a story, but seeing the words now turned it into a reality. Her eyes filled with tears, but she wiped them away angrily. She had no right to cry. Her life had been spared.
Jack's hand slipped along her arm until he finally found her hand. He laced their fingers together and gave her hand a squeeze of encouragement.
"Molly is incredible, isn't she?" Her voice was trembling despite her attempt to compose herself. She would not fall apart here, she told herself fiercely. Her story had a happy ending.
"The best," said Jack. "I read that she had lived in New York until she died. We could try and find out where she's buried, if you want. We can bring her flowers."
"That will be nice," she agreed.
They stood there a moment longer, watching the lighthouse in silence, remembering. Neither of them suggested taking a photo, as though by a wordless agreement. She was thinking of the last time she had seen her mother, right after dinner on the day of the sinking. She didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. Bella told her that her mother was sick with worry when she had seen her shortly after the sinking. It was somewhat reassuring that despite everything, her mother did care for her, in her own odd way.
"Come on," said Jack, shaking her out of her reverie. "Let's sit down for a while."
She followed him to a bench close by, one which was surprisingly unoccupied by the many pedestrians that swarmed the area.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, looking into her eyes.
"Yes. Better. I think."
"It's alright to be shaken."
"I think we can't help it, really," she laughed softly. "We're only human." He nodded distractedly; only now she could see there was something clouding the brightness in his eyes. "What is it?"
He blushed, as though he wasn't expecting to get caught. "There's... something I've been trying to tell you since we got here, but I don't seem able to find the words."
"Oh?" she asked, suddenly filled with curiosity. He looked so fretful. It was unlike him. "Well, have you found them now?"
"I think so," he said quietly, glancing up at her. Then he laughed nervously. "I'm scared you'll freak out. It's an expression Bella and Alice taught me," he added as though he saw the confusion in her stare. "It means... going crazy, but not really. Anyway."
She laughed. She couldn't help it. He was adorable while appearing so insecure.
"You remember what I told you on Sunday morning, don't you?"
She nodded, thinking back of their hasty conversation at the gym. Her heart was pounding the whole time, partly with fear of getting caught there, partly with the affect his words had on her. They echoed in her mind throughout the day, until eventually she realized she had no other choice but finding him.
"I didn't tell you everything then. You wouldn't let me," he added bitterly, and she laughed a little at his dismayed expression. "But I know you know what I'd wanted to say."
She nodded slowly, unable to look away from him.
"I wanted to tell you I was in love with you," he said quietly. "But now... it goes much deeper than that." He peeked at her and his cheeks colored beneath their recently added tan. "I know it's very early to talk about such things, but I thought you should know... I'd like to be married to you one day."
His confession shouldn't have caught her so off guard. Wasn't she thinking the exact same thing just the other night, right before she drifted off to sleep in his arms? And yet hearing the words spoken, a confirmation that the sentiment was mutual... It made her head spin. She laughed nervously.
She paused to rearrange her thoughts, realizing he had left her speechless. It was a moment before she remembered what it was she had wanted to say.
"I love you too," she said softly and the words rang solid and true in her ears. As of right now, it was the only thing that made sense in her suddenly erratic life. "But I think we shouldn't... I mean, of course I would want to be married to you someday, but I think it would be best if we didn't rush things. I'm only seventeen, and if I've learned something from these passed few days is that my life is only just starting. I think we both need to see much more of the world before we even consider it. There's so much more I want to do, so many things you promised to teach me."
"I know. That's why I said it was very early to speak of such things." He didn't seem mad or offended, which added to her relief. Then a tiny smile broke the seriousness of his gaze. "But generally speaking..."
"Generally speaking I think it's quite obvious I won't have it any other way, isn't it?" She scooted closer and wrapped her arms around him. His freckles looked more prominent this way, his nose slightly sunburned. She grinned at him. "If you jump, I jump, right?"
He pressed his forehead to hers, a wordless reply. He kissed her temple as she lay her head against his shoulder, and held her tighter against him. Peaceful serenity washed over her as they watched the lighthouse, an eternal relic for the enormous ship which had brought them together. Her mind was buzzing with thoughts of the future, things they could do and places they could go. Of course, she had already learned life had other plans for one sometimes, but somehow she knew she would always be able to get through. She was capable of anything, so long as they were together. Together, and never letting go.