“You know, this graduation ceremony would go a lot more quickly if your last name were ‘Cullen’ instead of ‘Swan.’” I gave Bella a grumpy look.
“It wouldn’t go any faster,” she corrected me, her face twisted with concentration as she stood before the mirror, trying to bobby-pin her graduation cap in place atop her head. “We’d just be able to pass the time more quickly by whispering about everyone behind their backs.”
“Exactly my point,” I sighed, hating the fact that we would be seated alphabetically halfway across the stadium from each other during the sure-to-be-interminable UAA graduation.
“Tell you what: I’ll let you read my mind during the ceremony, and I’ll promise to make it worth your while,” her reflection grinned at me, tugging on the mortar board to make sure it wouldn’t budge.
“Thank God for graduation robes,” I chuckled, quirking a suggestive eyebrow. “They should be able to hide a multitude of sins.”
It had seemed like only yesterday that we were moving into the dorms, Bella rooming with Angela Weber, and I in a single room in the boys’ wing. Needless to say, she spent quite a bit of time in my room, and Angela was only too happy to have some quiet study time. Charlie and I were of the same mind on the matter of Bella’s education. We both wanted her to have the complete college experience, as much as was possible. And for that matter, I figured I owed the same to Edward Masen, even though I still felt a certain distance from my human life, regardless of the return of my memories. So Bella and I suffered through two years of dorm life before getting our own apartment together junior year. Charlie was none too pleased at that development, but by then he had given up hope of his daughter ever having eyes for any man but me.
It wasn’t too difficult scheduling classes late in the afternoon and evening so that we wouldn’t have to worry about missing them due to the unfortunate presence of sunshine. During the winter months, there was barely any daylight to worry about anyway. I found work in a bar similar to Jake’s so I’d have some spending money while I studied music and art. Carlisle had insisted on paying my tuition to the University of Alaska, with the only caveat that I keep a B average. I rewarded his generosity with nearly straight A’s, graduating in the top 10 percent of my class. In my free time I wrote songs and performed them on the Gibson my dad had given me, loving the freedom of expression that came with performing to the small but appreciative bar crowd.
Bella made a little extra money doing some free-lance writing while studying English and biochemistry. She also began journaling more and more, and soon had pages filled with incredible stories about fantastical creatures with superhuman talents. When I read them, I was positive she had a surefire top-selling work of “fiction” on her hands. Her goal after graduation was to get her first book published. As for me, I would be touring America over the summer with a group of college musicians as their pianist. Bella was excited to see the country with me while looking for free-lance writing jobs. After that, it was anyone’s guess. We would simply play it by ear.
We had managed to build as normal a life as possible for ourselves, all things considered. We often joked that if we became famous someday, we’d eventually have to disappear and become reclusive, never-seen-in-public, eccentric artists. And then, after a few decades, we could reinvent ourselves and start all over again.
But for now, we were still passing for young-looking college grads, ready to go out and make our mark on the world. I had spent the last four years entreating Bella to marry me, and she had spent them teasing me mercilessly by putting me off. It became our secret running joke; I coming up with inventive ways to ask her, she finding new ways to refuse. I threw paper airplanes with proposals written on them to her in lecture hall. I shouted the request through noisy bars. I spelled it out in shaving cream letters on the bathroom mirror, even though I had to buy a can of shave cream especially for the task. I even had the scoreboard at a home hockey game flash the question in neon lights: Bella, will you marry me? And with the game-cam pointed right at us in the crowd, she shook her head and answered, “Someday,” before I cut her off with a kiss. With endless amounts of time on our hands, there really was no rush. And yet I couldn’t quell the desire to have my mother’s ring securely on her finger instead of on a chain around her neck. I wanted to wear her ring as well. She owned me completely, and I considered it a privilege.
I continued to watch her in the mirror until she was satisfied that her graduation cap could be removed only by an act of God, or vampire, whichever happened first. She was used to me staring at her by now. I often caught her gazing at me as well. We had yet to tire of each other. I kept waiting for the day that familiarity would render her less dazzling to me, but it never came. I was quite certain it never would.
“You look beautiful,” I told her, turning my head sideways so as to avoid the mortar board and carefully kissing her cheek.
“I look like a dork,” she replied with a laugh. “You, of course, will be heart-breakingly handsome in your cap, whenever you decide to put it on.”
“You are biased, my dear,” I answered evenly. “And this thing can wait until I have to walk out on the field.” I waved my graduation hat and tassel at her, then took her arm and led her to the door of our apartment.
We had to be at Mulcahy Stadium before 10 a.m. for rehearsal even though the ceremony didn’t start until 3 p.m. UAA graduation was being held outdoors this year while Sullivan Arena underwent some repairs. A lot of the students were happy that the graduation would be out in the open air, though the possibility of sun made Bella and I nervous that we might not be able to attend. We would have a lot of explaining to do to Renee and Phil, and Charlie for that matter, if we suddenly ditched our commencement when they had traveled so far to see us. Luckily, the forecast was for an overcast day, with possible showers later. I hoped that our caps and gowns would keep us sufficiently shadowed in the event of an occasional glimpse of sunshine.
Rehearsal was as dull as I expected, and I was glad that Bella and I didn’t have to partake of the wilted catered lunch afterward. The Liberal Arts students were all lumped together, and comprised nearly as big a group as the Nursing College. As I predicted, Bella and I were seated far across the field from each other. Of course, she had become rather skilled at sending me her thoughts when she wished. She never could get inside my mind though, and of that I was glad. She had claimed every other part of me so thoroughly that I had to retain something as my own.
Finally it was time for all 2,036 students to file out to their seats. I was thankful for my superior eyesight as I scanned the crowd in the bleachers, looking for the Cullens. They had all managed to make it here today, since Alice’s pre-med classes at the University of Minnesota had ended last week. I singled their thoughts out in the crowd and my eyes followed; they were seated not far from me, and Bella’s parents were with them. They would all have a good view of us walking across the stage to receive our diplomas. Carlisle and Esme were beaming proudly; Emmett hooted and hollered while Rosalie waved demurely; Jasper was fiddling with the new zoom lens he’d just bought for his camera; and Alice, curiously, was reciting “The Tempest” to herself. That could only mean one thing: she was intentionally blocking me from discovering something that her precognitive mind had seen. I glowered at her from across the stadium, which she roundly ignored as her brain bombarded me with “Flout 'em and scout 'em, And scout 'em and flout 'em, Thought is free.”
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
I ignored her as my name was called, rising to my feet and striding purposefully toward the stage. I could feel a stirring of excitement in my gut as I marched up the stairs, and I thought of my parents, hoping that there was, in fact, a heaven from which they could look down and see me. I was grateful for my adoptive family beaming at me from a few rows back behind the stage as I approached the dean. I accepted the diploma from him and shook his hand gently, observing, as always, his brief look of surprise at the temperature of my skin. We smiled at one another, and I took a step as if to descend the stage. Then I stopped and turned to my left, peering through the sea of faces until I found the one I was looking for.
I grinned broadly and numerous people in the first few rows laughed and cheered. Bella’s lips twisted as she tried to fight back her smile, giving me a warning look and shaking her head slightly. I laughed at our little joke as I always did, then exited the stage, finding my seat again.
I waited through the long, ponderous procession of humans whose names fell between “Cullen” and “Swan,” beginning to feel in earnest some irritation that her name and mine were not already one and the same--especially when Alice began torturing me with Shakespeare’s sonnets in her demented mind. But my heart still swelled with pride when Bella gracefully ascended the stairs, not tripping or even bobbling in her modest heels as she had needlessly feared. She quickly found my face in the crowd and grinned at her victory. I gave her a quick thumbs-up as she made her way to the dean. I glanced at Bella’s parents in the audience, and I could see Renee’s tears of happiness and the lump in Charlie’s throat from yards away. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face when the dean handed my little writer her diploma, but my grin didn’t begin to compare to the shocked smile of elation that soon replaced it.
Bella stopped in the exact same spot I had on the stage, turned, found me and looked me deeply in the eyes. She lifted her left hand up, palm facing her, the tops of her fingers facing the crowd. The glint of a my mother’s diamond was impossible to miss as she waggled her fingers at me. Her voice rang out clear as a bell over the rows of students seated in front of me.
I stared at her for a stunned second, wondering if I had heard her correctly. Her gaze was completely serious, but her slow smile was infectious.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, more loudly than I had intended. Students all around me hollered and clapped their approval, while Bella began to laugh at the look on my face. My vampire family had matching looks of elation, while Alice sighed “Finally!” with relief. All sense of decorum left me, and I leapt up, tore the mortar board off my head and hurled it up in the air. Students cheered as it hurtled so high in the sky that it vanished. I heard the quick rationalizations in their heads: “Look how a gust of wind just carried it away!”
Bella laughed again, her musical sounds of amusement carrying over all the others to my sensitive ears. Her excited eyes still glued to mine, she yanked the hat off of her own head and did the same, flinging it forcefully upward so that it, too, disappeared. The graduates watched in amazement when the second hat never came back to earth. Suddenly, a euphoric anarchy seemed to overtake them as dozens, then hundreds, of hats joined ours, tossed joyously into the air by those who hadn’t even received their diplomas yet, as well as those who had.
Bella raced to the edge of the stage and down the steps, while I pardoned my way past all the people sitting in my way as I hurried to meet her.
“Of course I did,” she grinned, throwing her arms around my neck. “I promised you I would.”
“And I promise you that I will spend eternity making sure you never regret it.”
I kissed her exultantly as I whirled her around and around. The celebrating throng paid us no mind, camouflaged as we were in a sea of humanity, a shower of graduation caps raining down on us from the heavens above.
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure,
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better'd that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.