“You know,” Jasper said. “Bella hates surprises.”
I ignored him, beckoning with my hand for him to hand me another piece of tape. Carlisle and Esme had already tried—and failed—to convince me that a party for Bella wasn’t the best of choices. He sighed and did as I asked.
Without looking at him, I fumbled for the piece of tape and smoothed it over the end of a pink streamer, trying to attach it from a corner of the ceiling to the middle. The other streamers were all going to meet in the center, all eighteen of them—that is, if the last streamer would stay put. The ladder under my feet wobbled unsteadily.
“Isn’t this supposed to be her party, anyway?” He sighed.
“No,” I barked. “Yes. It’s about her, yes, but no. This is my party. I’m having too much fun decorating.”
Jasper laughed weakly. “That made absolutely no sense.”
I exhaled through my mouth as I finally stuck the last damn streamer into place. “Got it,” I whispered to myself, then backflipped off the ladder and landed in front of Jasper.
“You know what? I think this room is finished.” Jasper nodded, wrapping his arms around my stomach from behind me. I put my hands over his and scoped the area.
It was finished, indeed. It was perfect. Every surface was covered in pink. Pink tablecloths, pink candles, pink streamers… the list only went on and on. There was even a pink cake, with cylinders of stacked glass plates next to it. All of the presents—wrapped in boxes and ready to open—were waiting on a nearby table, and flowers dotted every available space.
“You’re so right, Jazz. This room is done,” I agreed. I clapped my hands and broke away from him. “Now we get to do the driveway!”
He groaned and rolled his eyes, then picked me up and slung me over his shoulder. “Alice, you are relentless. Take a break.”
“I don’t need a break! This is fun.” I pounded on his back playfully.
“Give me a break, then.”
“What if I say no?”
He thought for a moment. “If you say no, I’d have to decorate the driveway with you. I’m sure if you say yes, I’d still somehow end up decorating the driveway with you. So does it really matter?”
“Nope, not at all. Good boy,” I reached back and mussed his hair before he set me down on my feet in front of a large cardboard box that held dozens of Japanese-style lanterns, all connected by a wire running across the top. I walked the box out of the room and stopped on the porch, Jasper behind me.
“Help me, will you?” I asked casually, ducking to pick up the first white lantern. He nodded, and then hoisted me up until I was sitting his shoulders. “Thanks, love,” I said around the wire that I held between my teeth. I strung the first lantern along the porch eaves, then added the rest as Jasper walked me down the line. The entire porch was covered in a matter of minutes.
After I was done hanging the lantern line, Jasper stepped back, keeping me on his shoulders. “This looks lovely. Positively conspicuous. She’s going to hate it. Excellent work.” He patted my leg.
“Why, thank you.” I kissed the top of his head, then he helped me down, careful not to set me down on one of the large bowls filled with flowers that lined the edges of the steps.
Emmett and Rosalie came out onto the porch then, joining us. “Hey, not bad, pixie,” Emmett offered. Rosalie remained silent, pressing her lips together and folding her arms across her chest.
Rose and Emmett had just gotten back from a little getaway in Africa. They’d spent the summer there, as a little “after-graduation” celebration. In truth, they’d just needed their husband-and-wife-alone-time, and Esme just didn’t want to build them another house.
Rosalie was obviously not too happy about their return. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be attending Bella’s eighteenth birthday party, either.
I ignored her. “Thanks, Em.”
Edward suddenly stepped out onto the porch, jingling the keys to his Volvo. “Ready to go?”
“Wait!” I pushed past everyone, running back into the house and calling over my shoulder. “I forgot one thing! Be right back!”
I darted up to my room and pulled open dresser drawers, looking for it frantically, before spotting it lying on the floor near my bed.
Oops. It must’ve fallen off last night, when Jasper had—never mind.
I grabbed it and bolted back to my siblings, holding the small, silver box up in my right hand. “Got it!”
“Yay,” Rose rolled her eyes. “Let’s leave.”
I skipped to the Volvo, triumphant. Bella was going to love her presents, all of them—even if she didn’t want them at the moment. She would grow to like them. I was certain.
As per usual, Edward drove, Rosalie and Emmett snuggled in the back, and I folded myself on Jasper’s lap. Well, this wasn’t always the usual—either Bella rode in the passenger seat with Edward, when she was with us, or I sat up there sometimes.
The past summer had been amazing—one of the happiest summers of my life. After moving on beyond the James fiasco, Bella had gotten her cast off, and she’d been able to help referee multiple baseball games across the season. I’d even forced her into shopping in Seattle and Port Angeles a few times, with minimal groans and complaints. Not only had my friendship with Bella grown immensely, but I’d spent lots of time with my husband, too. We didn’t need Africa like some people; we could manage without all the intricacies. I was very crafty with our given resources—and I was awesome at making makeshift handcuffs.
“Edward, can you believe it? Bella’s older than you!” I laughed.
Emmett scoffed. “She’s a cougar.”
Edward smirked. “I’ve always had a thing for mountain lions and various jungle cats. You should know—you’ve got a slight bear fetish, am I correct?”
Rosalie gritted her teeth, but the rest of us burst into laughter.
Then, Emmett’s innuendos started. He feigned a cough. “Sex kitten”— cough —"Mmmeeooowwww!”
I leaned back into Jasper. I was good at making cat ears, too.
Edward read my mind. “Alice, shut up.”
I smirked. “Sorry.” I so wasn’t. I swiveled my head around and kissed Jazz on the mouth. He leapt into it with as much enthusiasm as he could muster in the confined space.
We were forced to break away when we pulled into the Forks High parking lot. The rain pounded on the windows, and as soon as we pulled into a spot, Rose and Emmett ducked out and ran indoors. Jasper held my hand and gave it a final squeeze before running off with them. “I know you want to wait for Bella,” he murmured, kissing my forehead. “See you later.”
Edward casually leaned against the trunk of the Volvo, his hands in the pockets of his raincoat. I gave Jasper a quick kiss on the nose and then watched him walk away before joining Edward.
“Are you excited to give Bella your present?” I asked, barely able to sit still.
“She probably won’t even open it.” He shrugged. “And it’s yours as much as it is mine.”
“Boo freaking hoo,” I tsked. “She’ll have to open it. And she’s gonna love the whole idea—we didn’t spend any money, it’s not huge…”
In truth, we didn’t spend any money at all. Our collaborative present—well, Edward’s present that I wrapped and was going to present her with—was just a CD with recordings of Edward playing the piano, all of Bella’s favorites. DeBussy, Bella’s lullaby, Esme’s favorite—they were all on there. I knew she wouldn’t accept any present from me, so I stuck my name on it anyway.
Suddenly, I had a vision. “Bella will be pulling into the parking lot in two minutes.”
“I know,” Edward smiled. “You don’t need to see the future to get that. Listen.”
Sure enough, there was that unmistakable thundering of Bella’s ’53 Chevy about four miles away. I laughed.
Edward leaned forward, as if in anticipation of her arrival. I mentally “awww”ed whenever he had little moments like this, even after six months of being close to their couple-ness. I couldn’t help it. It was just too damn cute.
Sure enough, Bella rumbled in and deliberately pulled into a parking spot far away from us. She’d seen me holding the present, I presumed.
When she slammed the door to her truck, causing an array of red pain chips to fall to the blacktop, she walked very slowly towards us.
I wasn’t having it. I was too impatient.
I bounded up to her, exuberant, and squeezed her tightly. “Happy birthday, Bella!” I squealed.
“Shh!” She hissed, glancing around to make sure nobody had heard me.
I ignored her. “Do you want to open your present now or later?” I asked, holding it out. We began to walk back to Edward.
“No presents,” she managed, too consumed with looking at her Edward. And just being as frustratingly stubborn as always.
“Okay… later, then.” Well, she wasn’t killing my mood. “Did you like the scrapbook your mom sent you? And the camera from Charlie?” I’d seen her open these presents this morning unenthusiastically.
“Yeah. They’re great.”
“I think it’s a nice idea. You’re only a senior once. Might as well document the experience.”
“How many times have you been a senior?” she countered.
“That’s different.” I shrugged.
We finally reached Edward, who extended his hand to Bella. She took it, gazing into his eyes, and he traced the outline of her lips with his fingers. “So, as discussed, I am not allowed to wish you a happy birthday, is that correct?”
“Yes. That is correct.” She glared at me.
“Just checking.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You might have changed your mind. Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts.”
I laughed. “Of course you’ll enjoy it. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Bella. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Honestly. Was someone going to stab her with a party hat? The girl needed to calm down.
“Getting older,” she answered. Edward’s smile tightened into a hard line.
There was an awkward silence. Likewise, I was the one to break it. “Eighteen isn’t very old. Don’t women usually wait till they’re twenty-nine to get upset over birthdays?”
“It’s older than Edward,” she mumbled.
I stifled a laugh. Cougar! I thought. Edward sighed.
I recovered before I answered. “Technically! Just by one little year, though.” I kept my tone light. “So. What time will you be at the house?”
She frowned. “I didn’t know I had plans to be there.”
“Oh, be fair, Bella!” I complained. “You aren’t going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?”
“I thought my birthday was about what I want,” she protested.
Edward looked at me conspiratorially. “I’ll get her from Charlie’s right after school.”
“I… have to work.” Bella scrambled for an excuse.
I smiled darkly. “You don’t, actually. I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She’s trading your shifts. She told me to tell you ‘Happy Birthday.’”
“I—I still can’t come over,” Bella tried. “I, well, I haven’t watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English.”
I snorted. “Pshh. You have Romeo and Juliet memorized.”
“But, um, Mr. Berty said we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it. That’s how Shakespeare intended it to be presented.” Bella fumbled for words. Edward rolled his eyes.
“You’ve already seen the movie,” I accused, still smug.
“But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty said it was the best.”
Okay, this was getting ridiculous. The smug smile evaporated from my face. “This can be easy, or this can be hard, Bella, but one way or the other—”
Edward caught my eye, hearing what I was thinking, and interrupted me before I could scare his girlfriend away. “Relax, Alice. If Bella wants to watch a movie, then she can. It’s her birthday.”
“So there.” Bella crossed her arms, trying to look firm.
But I could see Edward’s intentions. I held in a laugh.
“I’ll bring her over around seven,” Edward continued. “That will give you more time to set up.”
I couldn’t contain my laughter after seeing Bella’s face. Plus, I was already done setting up. “Sounds good. See you tonight, Bella! It’ll be fun, you’ll see.” I smiled hugely, pecked her cheek, and danced away.