As the following days turn into weeks we settle into a rhythm, alternating where we sleep, though more often than not we end up at my place. Edward starts his new job, thriving in his environment. We cook and clean together, spend our evenings quietly at home with Brutus. We visit with Rose and Emmett a few times, and even have dinner at Edward’s parents’ place – something that, despite Elizabeth’s apology and welcome, still has me nervous, though as it turns out, Edward Sr. is very much like his son, and I’m left feeling truly a part of Edward’s family.

All in all, I feel happier than I ever recall being, and I yearn for more, though I’m unsure how to broach the subject with Edward. The more I think about it, the more I’m certain about us – about having a future together – and I want to cement that somehow. Just how is where I’m stumped. I know that the idea of us each having an apartment is becoming more and more ludicrous, considering we’re always at one place or the other anyway. But with Edward, I start to feel that I need more than just living with him, something that I have somewhat of a hard time coming to terms with, because with Liam I never felt that need. Just sharing home and bed together had been enough with him, but now…

And there’s the matter of Esme, who still hasn’t spoken to me since the night I told her about Edward. Randall calls us every other week, but the news on that front is always the same: Esme is still mad as a hornet, as he puts it. I know she’s told our mother about Edward, as the few times I’ve spoken with Mother have been curt at best and laced with disapproval, something that cuts me to the core. Especially after having to hear from Randall that Mother’s health is declining. It pains me to think that I might lose her and have her think ill of me, so I try to reach out to her. It’s during a strained phone conversation with Mother that Edward quietly suggests we visit her. When I ask her if she’d be okay with that, she agrees, albeit reluctantly, and we set a date for Saturday.

The days leading up to our visit, I become anxious again, all the ‘what if’s running through my head. Edward and Brutus both try to calm me, but even Edward’s quiet assurances do little to soothe me. I want so desperately to have my family again – I miss them, and it hurts to know the depth of their disappointment in me. When Saturday morning arrives, and we stand in front of the doors to the retirement home Mother lives in, I pause, turning to Edward. “Are you sure you want to do this? It isn’t likely going to be pleasant,” I say quietly, equal parts hopeful that he’ll decide to wait for me, and go with me. I hate the idea of being the cause of any discomfort for him, but the appeal of his support is undeniable.

Edward wraps his hand around the back of my neck, pulling my face to his until our foreheads touch. “Babe, I told you. I’m here for you. Don’t worry about me, okay?” I smile in spite of myself. “I love you, you know that?” I murmur. Edward grins, pecking my lips. “Yep, I do. I love you, too. Now come on, your mom’ll be waiting.” Taking a deep breath, I nod, straighten myself, and walk through the automatic doors.

When we get to Mother’s room, her door is open and she’s sitting in her favorite chair by the window, crocheting on what I can only guess is a blanket of some sort. After one more steadying breath, I knock to get her attention and put on my best smile. “Mother? May we come in?” She looks up, her eyes narrowing as she takes us in. Edward’s fingers are laced with mine and he squeezes my hand in support. When I glance at him, I see him smile despite the scrutiny he’s under. I try to let his composure lend the strength I need to face my mother.

She makes a quiet noise of disapproval even as she nods and tilts her head toward the loveseat – the only other place to sit, besides her bed, as the room is very small. We quietly make our way to it and sit down. Clearing my throat, I try to smile as I say, “Mother, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Edward Masen. Edward, this is my mother, Abigail Cullen.” My heart thunders in my throat, and I fight the urge to wipe my palms on my pants as Edward holds out his hand to her. “Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cullen,” his voice all politeness and warmth. I wince at her curt, “Edward,” as she shakes his hand with just her fingers before turning her attention back to her work.

We sit in silence for a few uncomfortable minutes, during which Mother watches us like a hawk. I’m sitting on the edge of the loveseat, feeling like I’m about ready to jump out of my skin, while Edward appears to be relaxed and utterly at ease. He rubs my back in soothing circles as he breaks the silence, asking, “What is that you’re working on, Mrs. Cullen?” She looks up, one eyebrow arched as she holds up her work and says, “It’s a baby blanket for Mrs. Figgins’ grandchild that’s due next month.” Edward leans forward to get a closer look, his smile genuine and wide as he says, “That’s very kind of you to do. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it alot.”

This garners a small smile from my Mother, though she quickly reverts back to her stern demeanor. I stifle a groan, closing my eyes. Edward squeezes my thigh reassuringly as he continues to ask questions. It’s clear from the things he’s asking that he’s noticed the various handiwork visible in Mother’s room and that he’s trying to break the ice, something I’m tremendously grateful for. It seems to work, as the more answers he gains from her, the more she seems to unwind and with that, the atmosphere in the room eases up considerably.

As Edward and Mother make polite conversation with minimal input from me, I watch her, finally able to take in the small signs that confirm what Randall has told me. Her skin is lackluster, her cheeks shallower than I remember. Her voice sounds weaker, too, and it makes me worry. Finally, I can’t stand it anymore and I have to know. “Mother?” I interrupt, “Sorry, but… what’s wrong? You look like you’ve fallen ill.”

She rolls her eyes, waving her hand at me dismissively. “Nothing to worry about. I’m getting old, Carlisle, that’s all.” I frown, my throat tightening. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I manage hoarsely, fearing the answer. Edward wraps his arm around my shoulders, pulling me into his side. Mother notices and something about her seems to soften at the sight. “Yes, son, I’m sure,” she says quietly. My breath catches at her words, and I could weep at hearing her call me son again, the first time since Esme talked to her about Edward.

Edward, sensing my mood, smiles and says, “Please let us know if you need anything, Mrs. Cullen.” Mother smiles, inclining her head graciously. “Call me Abigail, please, Edward.” My eyes widen at this concession, since she only ever had allowed Liam to call her by her given name before. Edward’s smile widens as he says, “Thank you, Abigail.”

With that, conversation becomes easier, natural. Mother shows genuine interest in how we met, Edward’s work, his family. She even offers to make the newborn twins some blankets of their own which Edward and I happily accept on Rose and Emmett’s behalf. When lunch is ready, we join Mother in the cafeteria where she introduces us to several of her friends. By this time, I’m all but floating with joy at seeing Edward and Mother getting along so well. To have her acceptance at least means the world to me, though I wish I could have Esme’s, too.

After lunch, we return to Mother’s room where Edward goes into further detail about the frame I made for his parents’ anniversary as well as the one I made for the twins. We’re both sitting on the loveseat again, though this time far more relaxed as we lean back, Edward tucked against my side with my arm around his shoulder, and Edward’s hand resting on my thigh. I chuckle as Edward relates Emmett’s response to our gift, and press my lips against his temple. When I turn to look at Mother again, I freeze, my eyes locked on the figure in the doorframe.

Esme stands, right hand poised to knock, her eyes wide and a curious mix of emotions playing on her face as she watches us. Her left hand covers her mouth as her eyes meet mine. Edward glances up as he senses the change in me, and from the corner of my eye I can see his eyebrows rise, his mouth forming a quiet, “Oh…”

Right as Mother turns to see what brought on the sudden silence, Esme spins on her heel and rushes away. Without knowing what I’m doing, I bolt after her, calling out, “Esme, wait! Please!” She doesn’t stop until she’s all the way at the edge of the small park that borders the retirement home. When I catch up to her she raises her head, but refuses to turn around. Her posture is stiff, unyielding, and I feel something in me crumble as I silently beg for her to listen. To understand. To love me again.

Closing my eyes, I take a wavering breath and whisper, “Please, Es. Don’t do this.” Opening my eyes again, I’m shocked to see her shoulders shake, though she’s making no sound that I can detect. “I love Edward,” I say, my voice barely audible. “Why can’t you accept that?” She shakes her head, still not speaking, so I try again. “Esme, you’re my sister. You supported me when I first came out, why can’t you do it now? What is it that is so wrong about what Edward and I have?”

She shakes her head again, but this time she turns around, her face wet with tears, her eyes filled with shame. I recoil, my throat suddenly dry as the surety of having lost her hits me and incomprehension fills me. I truly don’t understand why she has so much against me being with Edward, despite what Randall said. Yes, it made sense, but on this level?

Esme wipes furiously at her eyes and cheeks in an attempt to stem the flow of tears. Her voice is thick and hoarse as she asks, “Do you really, Carlisle? Love Edward? How is that even possible? How can he love you? You’re old enough to be his father!” I cringe, feeling sick to my stomach, but I’m determined to get this out and done, one way or the other. “That doesn’t matter to either of us, Esme. Edward is an amazing young man. He’s passionate, loyal, kind, generous, and a million other things. You have no idea how lucky I am to have found him. For him to love me. He makes me feel again, Es.”

Esme snorts, her eyes darting to the side. “I never would have expected this from you, Carlisle. That you would use someone that way. What’s going to happen when he gets older, huh? Will you choose a younger model that makes you feel?” I stumble back as if she’s physically struck a blow. “H-how could you say such a thing, Esme? Is that really what you think this is? That Edward is just some boy-toy to make me feel young again?”

Her jaw flexes, but she doesn’t answer. As hurt as I’ve been by her reaction, anger starts to bubble up. “You don’t know anything, Esme. After all this time, you should know me better than that, at least. Don’t you get it? You’re the one that’s been telling me for years – years! – that I should get over Liam. That I needed to find someone again. All this time, I’ve been lonely, sis. Not one guy captured my heart the way Edward has! Not one! Edward has given me so much-”

My voice breaks, and I have to take several deep breaths before I can continue. “That man understands me better than Liam ever did. He‘s put me first, supported me when I needed it. Loved me when I didn’t think I deserved it – especially when I didn’t deserve it, like when I didn’t tell you about him.” “And why didn’t you, huh?” she interrupts. “Because you knew you were wrong!”

My voice trembles, though I’m beyond being able to tell whether it’s from pain or anger. “No. Because I feared your reaction, and I didn’t want to have him hurt because of it. I thought you of all people would be happy for me that I found love again, Esme. I guess I was wrong. I didn’t put Edward’s needs before my own by not telling you about him. That won’t be a mistake I’ll ever make again. He deserves nothing but my love – my everything, the same as he’s giving me. If you can’t – or won’t – understand that, then I’m sorry.”

Esme stares at me, her jaw working as the words settle between us. Her eyes flit past me briefly, her brow furrowing as she looks at me again. “Do you really love him, Carbunkle?” she asks quietly, much more calmly than only seconds earlier. I nod. “I do, Es. With all my heart,” I say, my voice matching hers. Her gaze flickers behind me again as she says, “And he loves you?”

“Yes, I do,” Edward’s voice says quietly, and I startle, turning my head to find Edward standing about a foot behind me. My cheeks heat as I wonder how much of this he’s heard, but when I look into his eyes I see nothing but understanding, compassion, and love for me. I give him a small smile, reaching a hand out to him which he takes as he steps up to me, facing Esme. Edward sighs almost inaudibly, then says, “Esme, I’m sorry we couldn’t meet under better circumstances, and I’m sorry if you don’t approve of Carlisle and me, but whether you do or not won’t change how either of us feels for the other. It won’t stop us from being together. You have to know that all of this hurts your brother more than he’d ever tell you.”

To my surprise, Esme nods, silent tears coursing down her cheeks again. She takes a steadying breath, her voice ragged as she says, “I do.” Clearing her throat, she adds, “I can’t say I approve, Carlisle. At least, not yet. I’m sorry.” Swallowing hard, I nod, clasping Edward’s hand tight in mine. “That said…” she pauses. “That said, I can see that there is more here than I initially thought. Mother seems to believe that, too, from what I could tell.”

I wait, not daring to hope for a change of heart from my sister, but unable to stop myself from doing just that, regardless. “Carlisle… Edward… if you both are willing, I’d like to invite you to dinner. Maybe, if I get to know you better, Edward, and see for myself, I’ll be able to get past my initial… reaction.”

Stunned, I look at Edward, who’s smiling. When his eyes meet mine, he nods and raises an eyebrow in silent question, leaving the decision to me. This is more than I’d dared hope for, so after only a slight hesitation, I nod and murmur, “Okay. When?” Esme gives us a watery smile. “How about tonight, seven? I baked a cherry pie this morning,” she adds, as if I’d need any extra convincing. After checking with Edward, we agree.

Esme nods to herself, then says, “Alright, tonight it is, then. Carlisle, please tell Mother I’ll stop by early next week, instead? I’m going to need to run by the store for a few things.” “Alright,” I say, smiling with relief as I wrap an arm around Edward’s waist and feel him do the same with me. With that, Esme takes her leave.

Turning, Edward puts his other arm around me, too, holding me close. We stand like that for a few minutes, just breathing each other in as I let the day’s events settle in my mind. Finally, Edward kisses me gently and asks, “Are you okay?” I nod, able to give him a faint smile. “Yeah… I think I am. Or at least, I will be.” “Good,” he says, pecking my lips again. “Come on, your Mother’s worried about you. That’s why I was out here to begin with.” He mock-scowls as he adds, “She’s one tough lady to say no to, isn’t she?” I laugh. “She is, indeed, love. She is indeed.”

We head back inside, walking hand-in-hand. Mother’s eyes watch me sharply as we enter her room, but she remains silent. While Edward sits down on the sofa, I lean in to hug her. My heart leaps in my chest when I feel her arms around me. Kissing her cheek, I whisper, “I’m alright, Mother. Esme, too.” She pats my back gently for a moment, then grabs me by the shoulders to look me square in the eye and says, “Carlisle, you are my son. I only want to know one thing.”

Surprised, I nod. “Are you happy?” she asks. I smile, nodding again. “Very.” Mother watches me carefully, then nods, too, a smile gracing her lips. “Then that’s all that matters, Son. I apologize for how I acted, and I’ll have a word with your sister, too. I think I know what’s happened, and she has to answer for her part in it.” I blink, shaking my head. “Mother, no, don’t worry about-” Mother holds up a finger, frowning as she scolds me. “Nonsense, boy. I’ll have a talk with her and that’s that.”

I can hear Edward stifle a chuckle and sure enough, when I glance at him he has his hand covering his mouth, and his eyes are twinkling with mirth. Narrowing mine, I stick the tip of my tongue out – the most I dare do in front of my mother. Edward’s shoulders shake with repressed laughter, causing me to roll my eyes. I have to school my expression, however, when I turn back to face my mother, though the twinkle in her eyes tells me that she hasn’t missed a thing – as usual.

Sighing, I take my seat next to Edward again who hugs me to him and kisses my cheek with a murmured, “Love you.” Unable to help myself, I smile and mouth back, “Love you, too.” I blush when I notice the way Mother’s looking at us, but Edward appears to take it all in stride.

We sit for another hour or so, talking until I glance at the clock. “Sweetheart, I think we’d better get going if we’re going walk Brutus and make it to Esme’s on time.” Edward looks at the time and nods. “You’re right. I’m sure he’s dying to get out for a bit by now.” “Brutus?” Mother asks. Edward grins, explaining quickly who Brutus is and ends up promising to bring him with us the next time we visit.

After we say goodbye and are on our way home, I feel lighter than I have in a long time. Brutus’s enthusiasm as we walk through the door is catching, and we decide to take him for a quick run rather than walk. We change quickly into our running gear and head out on the short route through the park. It is exhilarating and just what I need to bolster myself for the upcoming evening.

By the time we make it back home, I feel centered and ready to face my sister again. Edward and I take a quick shower, but as much as I might like to take advantage of having him under the spray with me, we manage to behave ourselves. Finally dressed again, we head out once more, this time to walk over to Esme’s house. Unlike last time, I walk right up to the door without hesitation, though I hold Edward’s hand tightly clasped in mine as I knock.

Charles opens the door with an abashed smile. “Carlisle, Esme said you’d be stopping by tonight. And this must be your Edward,” Charles says, holding his hand out to Edward. Shaking it, he nods. “That’s right, and you must be Charles. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

At this, Charles raises an eyebrow at me and I shrug. Shaking his head, he grins as he looks at Edward again and says, “Nothing too horrible, I hope.” Edward laughs. “Nah, all good, promise. Carlisle thinks highly of you. And of Esme.” That brings out a warm smile, both from myself and from Charles, who nods appreciatively.

“Come in, come in. You know the way, Carlisle. Esme’s just finishing up as usual. Make yourselves at home while I see if there’s anything I can help her with,” says Charles, gesturing toward the dining room. Edward follows me there while Charles heads to the kitchen. We can hear them talking, but their voices are too low for us to make out what they’re saying.

The memory of the last time I was here has me tensing up, something that Edward picks up on immediately. Wrapping his arms around me gently, he kisses me on the forehead and whispers, “Shh. It’ll be okay, baby, you’ll see. Just relax, okay?” Taking a shuddering breath, I nod and put my arms around his waist, hugging him tight.

“Carlisle?” Esme calls from the kitchen. “Would you be a dear and open the wine? It’s on the counter.” “Of course, sis,” I call out, sighing. Not because I don’t want to do as she asks, but because I’m not quite ready to let go of Edward yet. He chuckles and kisses the tip of my nose before patting my ass, murmuring, “Go on, you.”

After letting Edward know where to sit, I head to the kitchen to get the wine. When I get there, I see Esme plating the roasted potatoes while Charles has been set to carve and plate the rack of lamb. Esme smiles tentatively at me as I open the wine. It feels odd to have things be so strained between us. I don’t care for it at all and pray that after tonight things will go back to normal.

The wine opened, I head back to Edward, not wanting to leave him alone too long, but mostly because I need his support. Esme and Charles follow not long after. It’s clear from Esme’s posture that she still isn’t comfortable with the idea of Edward, but it’s equally apparent that she’s trying as she greets him. She smiles apologetically as she says, “I hope you like lamb, Edward. I had no idea what you might enjoy, so I decided to just go with one of my favored dishes.”

Edward smiles as he says, “Lamb sounds fine to me. It usually is reserved for special occasions in our family, and I’d say this would qualify as one.” While I know perfectly well that Edward was being sincere and by no means meant his comment as a jibe, I can’t help but feel some gratification at seeing the blush form on my sister’s cheeks.

Thankfully, Esme makes no comment on it other than a, “I hope you like it,” as she holds out the platter to him so he can serve himself. After all the dishes have made it around the table, we eat, the meal devoid of its usual chatter until Edward turns to Esme and says, “This is wonderful, Esme. What did you use besides Dijon, garlic, and rosemary?”

Esme pauses, her fork halfway to her mouth as she stares at Edward in surprise. Blinking, she puts her fork down and says, “Thank you… just some salt, pepper, and oregano.” She glances from Edward to me. I smile proudly back at her. When she turns her attention back to Edward she asks quietly, “You cook?”

Edward chuckles, nodding even as I say, “Yes, he does, and very well I might add. His family runs La Tua Cantante.” Esme’s eyes widen, flickering briefly to Charles who says, “Really? You remember that place, right hon? We went there to celebrate our anniversary after my cancer went into remission.” Esme nods. “Yes, yes, of course I do. I’m still amazed you managed to get us a table there, to be honest.”

Charles shrugs, grinning as he looks at Edward, “I’d been in remission for only a month by the time our anniversary rolled around. I wanted to do something special for Esme, what with everything she’d been put through and all, so I called the restaurant and spoke to… what was his name again? It was something strange… began with an A, I think.”

Edward, laughing, offers, “Aro?” “Yes! That’s it,” says Charles, snapping his fingers. “Anyway, I told him a little about the situation and before I’d even finished he insisted we have dinner there. Truth be told, I didn’t do much beyond making that call, but when we got there, we had the best table, a bottle of champagne, and the man himself served us. When I asked for the check, he refused to give it. Said something about it being his honor and for us to enjoy life… at least, I think that’s what he said.” Charles chuckles, adding, “It was part-English, part-Italian, so I’m not a hundred percent sure.”

At Esme’s wide-eyed stare, Charles’s cheeks flush slightly as he admits, “I never did tell you that, did I?” Clearing his throat, he adds sheepishly, “I knew it was going to be expensive, and I didn’t want to worry you about the cost, so I asked for the check while you were in the restroom. Sorry, sweetheart.”

Gaping, Esme shakes her head. “I can’t believe you,” she says with fond exasperation. Charles laughs and soon we all join in. After a minute or so, Edward says with a grin, “That doesn’t surprise me, really. Aro’s always been a softy at heart.” Esme tilts her head slightly, observing Edward as she asks, “And Aro is your..?” “Great-Uncle,” Edward offers. “He’s the one that owns the restaurant, and most of the family is involved in the running of it in some form or other. Or have been, at some point, at least.”

Through the rest of dinner, Esme and Charles both ask Edward questions about the restaurant, his family, his education, his work, his hobbies. I’d be annoyed if it weren’t for the fact that Edward’s taking it all in stride, never once showing even the slightest hint of annoyance or resentment. And if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that the questions are put more out of genuine curiosity than anything else.

I’ve long since finished eating and simply sit back as Edward fields every inquiry with grace and patience. I allow myself to watch and listen, and I must confess that I’m learning a few things about him myself, despite the hours and hours we’ve spoken about these very topics. It feels… nice. I’m surprised to find myself comfortable enough to relax, even going so far as to put my arm on the back of his chair and play with the hairs at the nape of his neck while he talks. He smiles at me as if to say, “Told you it’d be fine.” Rolling my eyes, I grin back.

My eyes flicker toward Esme when I hear her inhale sharply. She blushes, carefully putting her cutlery on her plate before fidgeting with her napkin. “Edward, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to put you through the third degree like that.” Edward waves her off with a warm smile. “Quite alright, I didn’t mind.” “Yes, well,” she says, clearly flustered. She glances around at each of us as she adds, “Are you ready for some dessert?”

At our nods, she gets up and starts clearing the table. Edward pushes back his chair, grabbing his plate, but Esme stops to give him a stern look, though her voice is kind. “You sit back down, Edward. You’re our guest.” Edward glances at me briefly, his eyes widened slightly as he notices me trying to stifle a grin. Turning to Esme again, he nods even as he settles back in his seat with a, “Yes, ma’am.” As soon as she and Charles have gone into the kitchen, Edward leans over and whispers, “Wow, she’s as bad as your mother.”

I can’t help it. I laugh, pulling him in for a kiss. Esme gives me a questioning look as she enters the dining room, but she doesn’t comment. She quietly hands first Edward, then me a plate with a piece of cherry pie, and I can’t help but smile when I notice that my slice is a little bigger than normal. When I glance up at Esme, she’s pointedly not acknowledging me, but I can see her cheeks are tinted pink. Edward nudges my side, nodding slightly to indicate he noticed, too. His smile warms me almost as much as this token from Esme.

Conversation during dessert goes along more familiar lines for me as Edward asks after Randall and Esme goes into proud-mama-mode. Edward and I already know how he’s doing, of course, but it seems to warm her up to him even more, for which I’m grateful. Once we’re all done, I offer to help with the dishes. Esme waffles, but Charles quickly gets up, clasping Edward’s shoulder with a grin as he says, “C’mon, Edward, lets give these two some time alone.” Then he leans in to mock-whisper, “It’ll give me a chance to dish some dirt on these Cullens.”

Esme’s eyes are wide, her arms akimbo as she stares at her husband, while I’m torn between wanting to laugh and groan. Edward, however, looks both intrigued and amused, and is quick to follow Charles into the living room after pecking my cheek and whispering he loves me. I clear my throat and start to gather the dishes in order to break the sudden, awkward silence. Esme joins me in the kitchen, equally quiet and uncomfortable.

We’re halfway through the dishes when she finally speaks up and says quietly, “I still don’t know what to make of things, Carbunkle.” She pauses, then adds, “You’re different with him.” I smile to myself as I carefully dry the serving plate she hands me. “Yeah, I guess I am.” Another silence falls upon us until Esme finally asks in a low voice, “Are you happy with him, Car? Really?”

I take my time, giving her question serious thought. It wouldn’t do to answer too quickly, though I’m sure of my answer. Still, I think hard before saying, “Yeah, Es, I really am. I can’t remember a time where I’ve been this happy or content. Not even with Liam, hard as it is to admit that. You know how much I loved Liam, Esme, but Edward…” My voice trails off, unable to put words to my thoughts or feelings.

Taking a deep breath, I turn to smile at my sister, who’s looking up at me with a slight frown. “Like I told you, Es. Edward gets me. He’s there for me. Loves me. He gives me everything and then some. I-I feel like I’ve been waiting for him, Esme. After Liam… I was waiting for Edward to come along and now… I can’t imagine life without him. He’s everything to me.”

Esme studies my face for several silent minutes before she gives me a timid smile and cups my cheek with her hand. I wrinkle my nose a little because her hand’s still damp from doing dishes, though she seems to have forgotten. She laughs quietly, murmuring, “Sorry, Carbunkle,” even as she wipes her hands dry, only to resume her position as soon as she’s done. Brushing my cheekbone with her thumb, she sighs. “Carlisle… I can’t honestly say that I’m okay with the age thing – don’t ask me why, because I just… I’m not.”

My face falls, as does my heart as I fear what she’ll say next. Esme takes a sharp breath, then quickly adds, “That said, however… I can see that there’s something there between you. As I said before, you’re different with him. I think… I think that over time, maybe I’ll see things differently, but for now… I love you, dearheart, and I do want you to be happy. I’m sorry if I hurt you, Carbunkle. Do you think you can find it in you to forgive me?”

We stare at each other as the seconds tick away. I’m struggling to grasp this mix of emotions that’s whirling inside of me. Esme no longer seems to harbor the resentment from before, for which I’m grateful. Yet she’s not given me her acceptance – only the possibility of it. It hurts to know that she still disapproves, but the thought of not having her in my life hurts much more.

My voice is hoarse as I try to speak. “Esme…” I have to take a couple of wavering breaths before I can continue. “You’re my sister and I love you… Your support over the years has meant the world to me. I don’t think I could’ve made it through losing Liam without you.” Esme wraps her arms around my waist, patting my back and making shushing sounds as I hug her back. We stand like that for a while as I allow myself to be comforted by her. “Es,” I sigh. “I’m not going to say that I can’t do this without you, because I can, and I will if I have to. But I don’t want to have to.”

I hold my breath, anxious for her response. It’s the first time I’ve let myself acknowledge that if it came between her and Edward, I’d choose him. I’ve lived without love for so long, and now that I have found it again, I don’t want to be without. As close as Esme and I are, I know that Edward is where my future lies – and I refuse to give him up.

Esme pulls back to look up at me with a half-smile. “You won’t have to, dearheart. Just… give me some time, okay? I promise, I won’t shut you out again – it was wrong of me to do that, and I’m so very sorry. I’ll try, okay?” I nod, feeling as if a huge load has lifted off my shoulders. For a while, I’d been worried I would never even get so much as this concession from her. I won’t turn my back on it now.

After hugging each other again, Esme starts a pot of coffee before we set about finishing the dishes. Once we’re done, she tells me to go see what Charles and Edward are up to while she gets the tray together for coffee. When I get to the living room, I pause to watch Edward for a moment. Charles is sitting in his favorite chair, while Edward’s seated on the couch. They’re both leaning forward, talking quietly while Charles points at a picture in an album that’s open on the coffee table. Edward looks completely at ease, and I can’t help but wonder at his ability to just fit in in any given situation.

He glances up and his smile widens as he spots me. “Hey, you. Everything okay?” he asks, his eyes searching mine as I walk over to him and sit down beside him. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I pull him to me to kiss his temple. “Yeah, baby, everything’s fine. What have you been up to?” Edward chuckles. “Oh, nothing, really. Charles was telling me about the time he was in hospital, and you were hanging out with Randall and stuff. Showed a couple of pictures of you and Randy having a good time.”

I look at Charles in surprise. That was not what I was expecting from him, but I’m inordinately pleased by his gesture. My eyebrows are raised and a smirk is playing on my lips as I ask, “I hope you didn’t exaggerate too much.” Charles grins back, nodding toward the picture he’d shown Edward as I walked in. “Nope, no need to. Picture says it all.” Glancing down, I groan, then laugh as I shake my head. Randall and I are staring back at me, both of us wearing helmets, elbow and knee pads, and rollerblades. Randall looks decidedly more surefooted than I do, but it’s clear to see we were having a blast, and it’s equally clear how much Randy looked up to me.

Edward nudges me, chuckling. “You really were the cool uncle, huh?” Blushing, I shrug. “I suppose so. Randall was a great kid – still is.” Esme walks in and, having overheard our conversation, agrees wholeheartedly. Talk soon resumes as we drink coffee, and this time it’s Edward that learns more about me – and my family.

As the evening progresses, I relax more and more. I know that things between Esme and me won’t be back to how it used to be for a while, but I have hope that eventually we’ll get there. Edward’s tucked into my side, his hand resting on my knee and my arm around his shoulder. It feels right, and my heart is fuller than I’d ever thought possible. Glancing at him, I smile. Edward’s answering smile when he looks at me warms me, and I know.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Edward is my forever.

And I plan to show him that for the rest of my days.