Actions

Work Header

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Chapter Text

"Bella, sweetie, are you sure you brought everything that you need?" My mother asked, for what I was sure was the twelfth time that day. She pulled my lone duffel bag from the trunk of the taxicab, lifting it up high above her head to emphasize how lightly I had packed. The only other thing that I carried was a small backpack I was wearing. "This seems a bit empty... I could have sworn I saw your phone charger sitting out somewhere, you did grab it didn't you? I need to be able to get in touch with you if anything goes wrong."

I took a deep breath, shoving down my irritation; Her unending stream of concerns on the way to the airport was grating on my already frayed nerves. She was just worried, I knew that. So, I couldn’t bring myself to stay annoyed when I looked at her face. Her hazel eyes were wide, her brow furrowed with stress. I smiled gently, trying to reassure her, careful to keep any attitude out of my tone when I answered.

“Mom, that was your charger.” I told her. “It was on top of your new house keys and the plane tickets. You put them there so you wouldn’t forget.”

Her face dropped, as did my duffel. She ran her hands frantically across her body, even though she didn’t have pockets anywhere on her short denim shorts. Only fake ones, sewn in to be 'decorative.' Before she could get herself worked up, her new husband- Phil, a large, muscular man with rosy skin and a buzz cut- put a hand on her arm.

“I got em, babe.” He said, pulling the tickets from his cargo shorts to show her. “No worries.”

“Oh, thank god.” She exhaled and put a hand on her chest. Turning back to me with a glowing smile, she said, “Good thing he’ll be around to keep me from losing my own head once you’re gone… I’m really going to miss you, honey.”

“I’ll miss you too mom…” I said. She pulled me into her shoulder in a tight hug. My throat tightened as I hugged her back.

“Alright, ladies,” Phil interjected, putting a hand on mom’s back. “I love you both, but we do have a schedule to keep- Don’t want her to miss her plane, Renee.”

“Well maybe I do.” My mother argued, squeezing me tighter. “Then she can come with me instead.”

I laughed lightly, gently disentangling myself from her grip. Phil had all three of their bags on one muscular arm, and was holding my duffel in the other. Mom looped her arm through his less burdened one, and we set off together through the terminal.

As Phil put all four bags on the conveyor belt leading to the x-ray machines, I considered my decision to leave my mother; I would miss her terribly. We had never been apart from each other for more than a few weeks since I was born. She was, in many ways, my best friend. I had never really made friends with kids my own age, since we’d moved around a lot in my earlier years. When the popular girls of whatever new school I enrolled at made fun of my cheap clothes, she would storm into the principal’s office in a fury, demanding to speak to their parents herself. When one of her boyfriends broke up with her, or she lost a job, I’d fix her a huge bowl of cookie-dough ice cream with chocolate sauce- her favorite- and we’d watch sappy rom coms until she passed out on the couch with an empty wine bottle hanging from her hand. In the morning, I’d make cinnamon apple pancakes for us, like she did for me when I got sick.

Though it was a relief that she had Phil now, it didn’t completely ease my anxiety about leaving her... Sure, he would make sure that the bills would get paid, and there would be food in the fridge, or at least protein powder- But she never handled being alone very well, and he would be busy training with his new minor-league baseball team most days of the week. I supposed she’d be fine, once she found a job that made her happy- Something that usually took a try or two.

Once we’d made it past the invasive security checkpoints, I pulled out my own ticket and looked at the destination printed in the corner; Olympia Airport. An hour or so drive from Forks, Washington- my new home and prison sentence. My father, Charlie Swan- Captain of the Clallum County Fire Department- lived there alone. I would be moving in with him while I finished High School, something I was only doing for the greater good.

My first choice would’ve been to go with Mom and Phil to Jacksonville, Florida. However, due to a court order filed by Charlie when I was about seven or eight, Mom wasn’t permitted to move out of Arizona with me without his consent. This was the reason we had to settle in Phoenix in the first place. Our days of travelling and seeing the world were ended, and I was bounced around schools while my mom bounced around jobs.

When she’d called to tell Charlie she was moving to Florida with Phil, a huge fight had broken out. He didn't like the idea of me being left alone for days while Mom went with Phil to away games- which of course was ridiculous. I had been home alone before plenty of times when I was much younger. They didn’t stop arguing about it for weeks. Phil had tried to make things easier- offering to go by himself and fly back when he could- but Mom didn't like that idea. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and had come up with the compromise we’d all agreed with; Mom would go with Phil to Florida. It wasn’t fair for her to be separated from her husband, and it wasn’t fair to Phil to have to travel back and forth every week. I would go to Forks to live with Charlie. Mom had been upset for a few days, but she’d come around eventually- after I’d promised to call her every day and send her lots of pictures.

I loved my dad, though I detested Forks itself. It was sunless, much too green, and boring. Being there felt like you were trapped inside a fishbowl. There were dense woods around the whole town, and nothing to do unless you liked fishing and hunting, which I did not. I’d spent two weeks there with Charlie almost every summer up until I was twelve, when I’d put my foot down about ever going back. Charlie did his best to take it well, and started visiting me in Phoenix in the summer instead. He also came down for a few days around my birthday, Easter, and Christmas. He didn’t enjoy the extra time around Mom, but they both put on good faces for my sake. He and Phil got along like a house on fire, something that Mom hadn’t been sure how to handle at first.

My daydreaming was interrupted by my mom grabbing my hand and steering Phil and I towards a Cinnabon in the corner. I could smell the coffee brewing and inhaled deeply, hoping the caffeine would magically float through the air into my static-filled brain. We sat down at a booth, Phil unloading the bags in one of the seats.

“We don’t have too long, so we’ll have to eat quick.” Phil said. He kissed mom on the cheek before she sat down, then turned to me. “Iced coffee, almond milk, three sugars, yes? Any food?”

“No to food, yes please on the coffee.” I sank into the booth next to the bags, leaning against them lazily. I checked the time on my phone- Phil was right. There was about ten minutes until my flight began boarding. Mom and Phil’s plane would depart an hour after mine did.

Phil’s meticulous scheduling was a real godsend- something that usually would’ve agitated my free-wheeling, impulsive mother. She used to throw a fit when Charlie would rush her if they were late, or if she couldn’t get me to him for the weekend because she couldn’t work out her schedule. Yet, when Phil wanted to get somewhere twenty minutes early to be polite, or when he organized her coffee mugs by size and color, she found it endearing- teasing him playfully about being a stuffy old man and offering to buy him some cardigans and a pipe at the Goodwill. He would always laugh, since she was older than him by about six years. 

He returned with my coffee, and an enormous cinnamon roll for mom. She squealed in delight and dug in, using her glittery pink nails to tear off a huge, sticky piece. I blew my straw wrapper at Phil before sticking the straw through the cup and drinking greedily. Despite it being nearly two in the afternoon, I was still sluggish and tired. It was probably just the stress. I wondered absently if I could chug down another large coffee before my plane took off, potential heart attack be damned.

My phone’s alarm went off as my straw started sucking up air, ruining my plans for another coffee- or four. I switched it off and shoved it back in my jeans pocket. Phil gathered the trash- Mom grabbing a last tear of hot cinnamon roll as he took it away- and I stood, swinging my duffel back over my shoulder.

“Alrighty, team,” Phil clapped his hands together, then hooked the overstuffed bags back on his arm. “Let’s go!”

Ohhhhhh,” Mom whined, wrapping her arms around me again and pouting dramatically. “I’m not ready. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want my baby to leave.”

Mom.” I groaned, the tightness in my throat returning.

“Come on, Renee, don’t make her cry.” Phil wrapped his free arm around her and gave her a squeeze.

She let me go, sniffling lightly. We walked hand in hand to my gate, where most people had already boarded.

“Tell Charlie I say hey.” Phil told me. He took his free arm from mom’s shoulders and hugged be briefly.

“I will.” I choked out. My mom hugged me one more time, nearly squeezing the life from me with her skinny arms.

I gave my ticket to the lady at the desk, who said something that I didn’t quite hear. I smiled and nodded, hoping that it was an appropriate response. Once I stepped carefully into the plane, I made my way down the criminally small aisle, looking for my seat number. It was near the middle, a window seat next to two middle aged women who were bantering back and forth. I smiled sheepishly at them as I lifted my bag into the overhead compartment- once again grateful that I had packed light. I tried to apologize for boarding late when they stood up for me, but they waved my concerns away, assuring me that they didn’t mind. The one closest to me- a thicker set woman with a round, rosy face and bright blue eyes- offered me a hard candy from her purse. I took it and popped it in my mouth, putting the wrapper in my pocket. She turned back to the other woman- who was tall and much darker skinned, with a thousand small braids in her hair- and kissed her swiftly on the cheek. They dissolved into quiet giggles, glancing around to be sure they hadn’t been seen. I blushed and tried to pretend that I hadn’t been watching.

I tried to focus on my view out the small window- Drinking in what I was sure was going to be my last view of the sun for some time. It was high in the sky, rays of light breaking through the fluffy white clouds. The plane jerked, and the pilot’s voice echoed over the intercom. I sighed and closed the window shade. Watching the takeoff always made me nauseous, and throwing up on the nice women next to me would be poor repayment for their kindness. I listened to the flight instructions I’d had memorized for years- I had been on plenty of solo flights to see Charlie when I was a kid. My seatbelt was fastened, my backpack under my feet, and my tray was upright. Before the plane reached the runway, I pulled out my phone for a quick text to mom; ‘Be safe. I love you.’

I shut my phone off and put it away as the plane grew louder, speeding faster and faster down the strip. I closed my eyes and kept my breathing even. My organs pressed uncomfortably into my tailbone as we rose, and I hummed quietly to myself to help my ears pop. Once we were at a cruising altitude, I spent most of the flight reading. When I’d been younger, Mom would drop me off at the public library when she had to work late. I would spend hours pouring over whatever book I could get my hands on. The book I was reading now was one of many that we had never returned- Either Mom would forget, or I would love them too much to give them back. It was a personal favorite- a battered copy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with the library label still on the spine, though the numbers had long faded.

I was so engrossed in the story that I hadn’t realized we were descending until the wheels skidded on the ground. I placed the old receipt that I was using as a bookmark between the pages and put it carefully back in my backpack. When I pulled the window shade back up, it was just as bleak as I had anticipated. Not a single ray of light was visible through the gray clouds.

Passengers departed slowly, and I waited patiently in my seat for my turn to get up. For extra measure, I let most of the people behind me get off too. The less people there were waiting behind me, the less likely I was to rush myself and trip over my own feet. Once the aisle was clear, I scooted out and stood up, pulling my duffel from the overhead bin. The flight attendant smiled mechanically at me as I shuffled off, probably eager for her next break. I had given that same customer service smile myself plenty of times, and I was familiar with the blank, void-like stare behind her green eyes.

Olympia’s airport wasn’t large, and I easily found my way to the front door where people were being picked up and dropped off. I searched the sea of faces looking for Charlie. He was standing by the baggage claim, a huge grin beneath his thick handlebar mustache that made the corners of his brown eyes wrinkle.

“Hey, Bells!” He called out, rushing the few steps forward to swing me up into his arms. I smiled and hugged him back, breathing in the familiar smell of campfire smoke and Irish Spring. “God, I missed you.”

“Hey, Dad.” I mumbled into his shoulder. “I missed you too.”

He set me down, holding me out at arm’s length and looking at me up and down; We hadn’t seen each other since Christmas, about three months ago. He looked the same; Brown hair thinning on the crown of his head, the same brown leather jacket and brown boots. I was happy to see that he was out of uniform, though I knew his shift had to have just ended.

“You look good, Dad.” I told him.

“Your old man always looks good.” He struck a pose and winked.

Dad.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, ‘Don’t embarrass me, dad.’” He teased.

We walked out to the parking lot, and I looked around for his old Harley- expecting that he’d have the sidecar attached for me. Instead, a familiar green minivan stood out from the smaller vehicles. Standing on the backseat with his torso sticking through the sunroof, was my childhood friend, Jacob Black. There were many things that I hated about Forks, but Jacob had been a rare spot of sun in the small, cloudy town. His father, Billy- a longtime friend of Charlie's- was sitting in the front passenger seat, his head bobbing to a song that I didn’t recognize that featured a heavy bass and a lot of screaming.

Bella!” Jacob shouted when he saw me, his lanky arms waving in the air to get my attention.

“Renee told me very specifically not to take you home on the bike.” Charlie explained, answering my unspoken question and rolling his eyes. “Don’t know why. Not like she hasn’t been on it herself over a dozen times- Anyways, Billy was nice enough to let me use The Machine.”

I smirked at the moniker they had given to the green van that was even older than they were. He, Billy, and some other friends of theirs had used for ‘gigs’ back when they were in their band in high school. It's full title was, ‘The Green Machine,’ which Mom had told me was intended as a double entendre.

“About time, Swan!” Jacob said as we approached. “I’m getting old here.”

“Oh, sure you are.” I joked, rolling my eyes at him. “You look ancient- Completely decrepit. Could’ve texted me and told me you’d be with my dad. I’d have brought you an airport souvenir.”

You could’ve told me you were moving here.” He waved his finger at me, still grinning.

And ruin the surprise? What’s the fun in that?”

Alright, you two.” Charlie interrupted. “Load up. Time to go.”

I chucked my duffel bag up to Jacob. His good coordination made up for my terrible aim, and he caught it by the strap, ducking inside to toss it in the back with Billy’s wheelchair. I got in next to him and shut the sliding door, yanking it past the point where it stuck.

“Good to have you back.” Jacob said, his wide lopsided grin becoming infectious the more I looked at it. I hadn’t seen him in person for about four years, though we did text occasionally. He was a lot taller, and his long black hair was pulled back in a braid.

“You, too.” I grinned back, then gestured to his ridiculously tall frame. “What did you do, visit the Wonka factory?”

Jealous, short stack?” He teased.

Concerned- Steroids are really bad for you, you know.”

“So is not getting enough vitamin D.” He countered, placing his brown arm next to my very pale one. “Really, Bella, all that time in Phoenix for nothing.

I punched his arm lightly as Charlie climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Hey, now,” Charlie cautioned, looking at us in the rear-view mirror and raising a bushy eyebrow. “No violence in The Machine. She’s a vessel of peace.

Billy snorted a laugh. “That’s terrible.

“You loved it, don’t lie.” Charlie teased, bumping his leg lightly with his fist.

I spent most of the drive to Forks catching up with Jacob. I told him about Mom and Phil, and he told me everything happening at the Quileute reservation where he and Billy lived. His older twin sisters- Rachel and Rebecca- had graduated last year. Jacob hadn’t minded when they’d moved away, since that meant that he got their bedroom.

Charlie pulled The Green Machine onto the side of the road by the house. It was just as I’d remembered it; Worn white wood with green trim and a dark green door. Something I did not recognize, was an old red truck sitting in the driveway. I wondered if Charlie had finally caved to Mom’s pressure and gotten a more ‘practical’ mode of transportation. But then, why hadn’t he used it to pick me up if that was the case?

“Whose is that?” I asked as I climbed out, pulling my duffel and backpack from the back. When no one answered me, I turned to see them all smiling at me. I froze. “What?

“Well Bella,” Billy began, his deep slow voice rumbling in his barrel chest. “It was mine, till it broke down a few years ago. Jake here fixed it up, and when he heard you were comin’ back, he asked if he could sell it to Charlie to give to you- as a welcome home present.”

My jaw dropped. Sure, my sixteenth birthday had been in September, but I’d never expected to actually get a car. Any money I’d managed to earn back home with Mom had gone to help pay the bills or put food on the table. I had been expecting to just ride the bus or get dropped off by Charlie on the back of his Harley. Stunned, I stared from the three of them to the truck- It was huge, bulky, made of the heavy metal the older model cars had. The kind of car that pulverized others in an accident. It was perfect. Exactly the kind of car someone with my accident-prone streak needed.

Seriously?” I breathed, still shocked. “That’s for me?”

“Do you like it?” Jacob asked, grin faltering for a moment.

“I love it.” I assured him, dropping my bags and reaching up to put my arms around his neck- Not an easy task. I pulled back and looked at him, returning his goofy grin. “Thank you.”

I turned to hug Charlie too.

“Thanks Dad.” I said, squeezing him tight.

“You’re welcome, Bells.” He mumbled, clearing a catch in his throat as he pulled away. I pretended not to notice while I leaned in through the passenger window to hug Billy too. Then I turned and grabbed Jacob’s hand, dragging him over to show me my new truck. Normally, I wouldn’t accept a gift this big- or any gift that I couldn’t return in equal measure- But I’d been dreading shopping for a car myself, as I knew nothing about them at all. I’d expected to have Charlie for help, but I’d never expected him to just buy me a car himself.

Letting go of Jacob’s hand, I pulled on the door handle. The heavy metal groaned as the door swung open, and I got my first look inside. There was one long bench seat made from a brownish-red corduroy fabric, only a few tears here and there. The steering wheel was large, and I saw the extra pedal on the floor that indicated it was a stick shift. I was thankful that one of Phil’s bonding exercises early in our relationship had been teaching me to drive in his old Miata, doing circles in empty parking lots until I could shift smoothly.

“You have to double pump the clutch when you shift,” Jake instructed, leaning in through the passenger window and pointing at the floorboard. “But other than that, you should be fine- Oh, and don’t push her over sixty.”

“No issues there,” I said, then a thought occurred to me. “Do you want a ride to school tomorrow? I could pick you up if you wanted.”

His face fell slightly. “Oh, well, I kinda go to school on the reservation…”

“Oh yeah…” I said, remembering as he said it. The Quileute reservation had their own school. I would be going to Mom and Charlie’s alma mater, Forks High School. “That’s too bad. It would’ve been nice to know at least one person.”

Jacob was about to say something else but was cut off by a sharp whistle from Billy.

“Let’s go, son!” He called, voice booming in the quiet of the street. “Harry and Sue are waitin’ on us.”

I got out of the truck- my new truck- and followed Jacob back to where Charlie and Billy were talking.

“Come see me sometime.” Jacob told me as he got into the driver’s seat.

“I will.” I promised. “First chance I get.”

Charlie squeezed Billy’s hand in farewell, then came to stand next to me.

“Careful on the drive home, Jake.” He said, waving.

“I make no promises.” Jacob smirked.

We watched as they drove away. When the van turned the corner, Charlie picked my bags off the ground and headed to the front door with me right behind him. He unlocked it, and it swung open with a creak. The inside was just as unchanged as the outside; The living room was to my right, stained blue carpet covering the floor. There was an old beat-up couch, Charlie’s recliner, and a small TV mounted to the far wall over the fireplace. A desk with an old computer sat in the corner. To my left was the kitchen, which was all crisp and white except for the cabinets- They were a bright, lemon yellow. Mom had painted them when she and Charlie had first moved in here. She had been desperate for any colors aside from brown and green. I didn’t blame her. I was already disoriented from the blue hazy light bathing everything in a depressing glow.

I followed Charlie upstairs to where both bedrooms and the only bathroom were. My room was on the left; The light teal walls and yellow lace curtains were familiar, as was the white dresser in the corner that had been Grandma Swan’s- If you looked at it up close, you could see where the paint had peeled and Charlie had painted over it. A larger bed had been moved in recently and was fitted with deep purple sheets and a plush duvet. Another new addition was a small writing desk facing the back window.

“Sales lady helped with the bed stuff,” Charlie said, setting my bags down on it and rocking back on his heels, hands in his pockets. “Ya like purple, right?”

“Purple’s cool.” I agreed. He smiled warmly at me again, letting out a breath.

There was a moment of awkward silence before he said, “Well, I’ll let you get unpacked, then. Dinner in twenty?”

I nodded, stepping to the side so that he could pass me and get downstairs. That was the best thing about Charlie- He didn’t hover. Trying to get a moment alone when my mother was around was nearly impossible, especially after her third glass of wine. She loved company. That wasn’t a problem with my dad. We shared a deep dislike of small talk and had no problems with long silences.

Grateful for the time alone, I walked over to my backpack and unzipped it, pulling out a picture of myself, Mom, and Phil. Our first and only trip to Disneyland, courtesy of Phil shortly after he’d proposed. I put it on the desk, turning it at what I hoped was an aesthetically pleasing angle. I delved back into the bag and pulled out a cutting of one of our cactuses from the yard- carefully planted in a terra cotta pot- and placed it next to the photo.

There.” I said to myself. “Home sweet home, I guess.”

I spent some time mechanically putting what little clothes I’d brought into my dresser before I heard Charlie calling my name, and the smell of the food wafted up the stairs. I wiped my eyes to dry them and I went down to join him for dinner.

Chapter Text

I was jolted awake by my alarm the next morning and rolled over with a groan to turn it off. As I lay face down in my much too comfortable bed, I debated if a high school education was really necessary. Mom never got her diploma, technically, so she probably wouldn’t care too much if I dropped out- even as a sophomore. Maybe I could get my GED online, join the circus- anything to get out of what I had to do today. Imagining the lecture that I would get from Charlie ended those delusions. He’d kill me, then Mom for being a bad example, then ground me for a year. I comforted myself by remembering that this would be that last time I would be ‘the new kid.’ I would never have to do this again.

My stiff muscles protested as I sat up and rolled my shoulders, trying to stretch them out. I flung the heavy blankets off and shuffled to the bathroom to shower, turning the water as hot as I could handle, hoping that it would release some of the tension in my body. When I no longer felt as if I’d been hit by a truck and a half, I spent a few seconds in the freezing water to wake myself up before getting out.

It hadn’t been my choice to go directly from a plane ride to my first day at a new high school. I’d wanted to fly in Saturday and have a chance to look around- but Mom had begged me to spend just one more day with her, wanting as much time with me as she could get before I moved in with Charlie. I hadn’t had the heart to turn her down when I’d looked at her pleading eyes. Not when I’d already felt guilty enough for leaving her in the first place. So, I’d given in. It had ended up being a good day too- Phil had driven us to Castles -n- Coasters, and we’d spent the day playing miniature golf and riding the carousel. I watched our things and ate cotton candy while Mom and Phil went to conquer the Sky Diver. Mom threw up, but she felt fine after a soft pretzel they shared, dunking chunks of it in bright yellow cheese sauce.

There was a fluffy green towel hanging on the bar, and I wrapped it around my chest and went back to my room. My clothes had been laid out the night before; Jeans, a gray tank top, and my favorite blue flannel were draped over my chair. I dressed quickly, pulling on my black canvas shoes and putting on the old leather watch I’d gotten at a Goodwill. The black leather was cracking, and the face had a small crack running down the center. I was still in the habit of wearing it, even though I’d finally gotten myself a cellphone last year. I didn’t like taking it to school, though. I didn't like the distraction. 

I sent a quick good morning text to my mom before I put it in my desk drawer, then went downstairs to make myself breakfast. I whipped up a quick two-egg burrito, sprinkling some shredded cheese on it from a bag in the fridge. I ate without really tasting it, sucking in air to cool off the bites that were still too hot. I pulled the directions to the school I’d written down from my jeans pocket. It wasn’t far. Like most things in Forks, it was right off the highway. It shouldn’t be too hard to find. I shoved the last bite of burrito in my mouth and looked down at my watch; Nearly six-thirty. I wanted to get there early, so that I’d have time to look around and hopefully avoid most of the staring that was sure to come my way.

I washed my plate and set it in the sink, then grabbed my keys from the hook by the door. I noticed that Charlie had added a small decoration; A tiny plastic firetruck keychain, about an inch long and bright red. My backpack was packed and ready on the end table where I’d left it, and I swung it over my shoulder, locking the door behind me and jiggling it to make sure that it had latched properly.

The drive to the school was short, but I’d nearly driven right past it. There was only one small wooden sign indicating the series of stone buildings as a high school. I found a parking space easily, as there were only a few other cars here this early. I was glad to see that my giant red truck did not stick out here, as it would have back home in Phoenix. There, most kids fortunate enough to have cars drove BMW’s, fancy sports models, or other extravagant G-wagons bought for them by their parents for their sweet-sixteen’s. The fanciest car in this lot looked to be a bright red convertible that I was almost positive was a classic, maybe from the seventies or eighties. Whoever it belonged to clearly put a lot of love into it to keep it running. Jacob would probably flip if he saw it up close. Momentarily, I regretted not having my phone- I could’ve sent him a picture.

My first objective today was to check in at the front desk so I could get my class schedule. Rather than wander aimlessly and make myself look stupid, I squinted out my window for signs that would tell me where the office was. I had parked near what I had assumed was the front, and had gotten lucky- I could barely see the rusted iron letters that said ‘Main Office’ on the building directly to my right. A breath finally released from my thudding chest, and I turned off my truck and got out.

Inside, I walked up to the desk. The girl behind it looked like a student- She had blonde hair, but the inch of root showing was a sandy brown, and it was tied in a loose knot at the top of her head. Her tan face was dotted with freckles across her nose and under her blue eyes. She looked like she should be the one moving here from Phoenix, not me.

“Good morning!” She said in a sing-song tone when she saw me. How any person could be this perky this early in the morning was beyond me. “How can I help you?”

“Hi,” My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat before continuing, “I’m Bella Swan, I’m here to- “

OH!” She exclaimed, smacking her palm against her forehead. “Right, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot you were starting today, one second.”

To my horror, she whipped her head over her shoulder and yelled to someone in the back office, at the top of her voice, “MRS. FINLEY! ISABELLA SWAN IS HERE!”

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. This was the exact opposite of what I had wanted. Before I could sink into the wall and become part of the gaudy olive-green wallpaper, another, older woman’s voice yelled back to her, “ALRIGHT, GO AHEAD, DEAR.”

The girl turned on her heel and almost skipped around the desk to stand in front of me, where my feet were nailed to the floor and my breath was frozen in my lungs. I tried to recover so that I didn’t look crazy, returning her smile politely. She was about my height, maybe an inch or two taller.

“My name is Jessica Stanley.” She said, smiling so wide it exposed a small gap in her front teeth. “My friends call me Jess. I’m the office aide, so I'm supposed to help you out your first day here. Give you the grand tour and stuff, ya know?”

“That’s really not necessary,” I rushed out before I could stop myself. “I mean, I don’t want to be any extra trouble- I’m used to figuring things out for myself. Really, it’s no problem-”

Her bright smile dimmed, the corners of her pink-glossed lips pulling down. “Oh, well… If you’re sure… You can come find me later if you change your mind.”

I felt guilty for my less-than-friendly reaction to her hospitality- when was the last time a new student had come to school here, a complete stranger? How often did she get to do this part of her job, anyway? She’d seemed as though she'd prepared for my arrival for days, and here I was- being an asshole and raining on her parade. I’d be here until I graduated, and I was starting off by offending the first person I’d met. Great job, Bella.

“On second thought,” I backpedaled, looking at the schedule she’d handed me. “I could use a little help, I guess… If you’re not busy or anything.”

Her smile returned, and I let out the breath I’d been holding.

“So, Isabella.” She said.

“Just Bella,” I corrected, hoping that I didn’t come off as rude.

“Bella,” She amended, still smiling. “What’s your first class?”

“Uh… English with Ms. Sawyer.”

Oh, you’ll be with my friend Angela, she’s in that class now! You’ll like her, she’s really nice. Oh, Sawyer has a thing about gum-chewing, so don’t do it unless you want detention, also- “

She kept up a running string of commentary all the way across campus as she walked me to English, giving me details about every teacher on my schedule. We shared a Geometry class, and she told me she’d save me a spot. By the time we’d reached the English building, I was shocked she still had the breath to keep speaking. We entered the classroom, and Jessica led me to a girl sitting in the back of the class.

“Angie!” Jessica waved between the girl’s face and the thick book she was reading. She looked up, dark brown eyes rolling at her friend.

What, Jess?” She asked. She had shoulder-length black hair and oval shaped glasses. I noticed a red pen stuck behind her left ear, which was ornamented with silver piercings. “I swear if this is about the feature for the school newsletter again- “

“It’s not,” Jess interrupted her. “But I am right about that by the way- This is Bella Swan. She just moved here.”

She gestured to me standing awkwardly beside her, and Angela nodded at me once, smiled warmly and said, “Hey, Bella. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too.” I said, shifting my weight to the other foot.

“I should get to History,” Jessica said, glancing down at her phone to check the time. She turned back to me and said, “You’ll be fine with Ange, she’s the best. I’ll see you in Geometry, okay?”

I nodded, and she weaved her way back around the desks to leave. I stood there for a moment, looking for a place to sit that didn’t look claimed by anyone else.

“This one is free.” Angela offered, kicking the desk on her left with her boot and smiling at me reassuringly. “The only other empty one is right up front.”

I sank gratefully into the plastic chair next to her, hoping I that would be able to go mostly unnoticed for now. As more students filed in, my hopes were crushed; Some of them turned completely around in their chairs to stare at me, not seeming to care about common courtesy or manners. I had to walk up to the front to let Ms. Sawyer sign off on my schedule, and tripped on someone’s backpack on the way back- drawing several snickers from my classmates- and sank back into my seat with my cheeks burning.

There were no AP courses in Forks- the class sizes were too small and there weren’t enough teachers to divide up- so most of the material we were going over was familiar to me. I let my mind wander, wishing that I had brought a book like Angela had. We paired up together for a reading exercise, and I was surprised to find that we had a lot in common; We both hated the rain, we were both vegetarian, and it turns out that she was an Austen fan as well. When my stomach started complaining about my meager breakfast, she reached inside her backpack with a conspiratorial wink- pulling out a bag of trail-mix that we shared under the desk.

When the bell rang, she gave me directions to Geometry, where I met back up with Jessica. She had saved me a seat as she’d said, in between her and a boy with sandy blonde hair and pink cheeks who introduced himself as Mike Newton. He had apparently moved down here two years ago from California, so he understood how I felt about losing the brightness and warmth of the sun.

The worksheet we were handed was almost an exact copy of one I’d done two weeks ago back in Phoenix. I filled it out quickly, doing most of the math in my head. When I was finished, I let Mike- who was looking at me like I’d grown bat wings- copy my answers. Jess was scandalized, and Mike teased her playfully under his breath for being a goody-two-shoes. She then used those goody-two-shoes to kick him under the table.

My next class was Spanish, on the other end of campus. I barely made it in before the bell rang, and I sat in a seat by the window. A few people introduced themselves, but I didn’t retain any of their names. By lunchtime I was starving again, and I powerwalked to the cafeteria- not caring if I knocked someone or something over in my haste, as long as I got some carbs in my empty stomach. Jessica waved me over to join her and Mike in line, babling animatedly as we got our food- asking how I was so far, and if I was liking it here- and we went to sit at a table with her friends. Angela was already there, as well as a kid named Eric I recognized from Spanish. They were putting grapes in their plastic spoon and launching them at a skinny dark-skinned boy across from them- Tyler something.

My attention was diverted from my new friend’s banter by a group of people in the far back corner of the cafeteria. All five of them were inhumanly gorgeous, staring blankly into space, their trays of food forgotten. Two boys sat back-to-back scrolling through their phones; A huge, muscular, olive-skinned boy with curly black hair that looked like he should be in college rather than high school, and a skinny, pale boy with ginger hair that stuck out in every direction. One boy I recognized from my Spanish class as well, remembering that he sat next to Eric in the back of the class. He had dirty blonde, wavy hair that hung to his shoulders, and looked well over six feet tall even though he was sitting down. He had his arm draped casually around the miniscule, frail-looking girl next to him with a doll-like face, her black hair cut so short it was almost buzzed.

In the middle of the two couples, was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. She had ivory skin, and ice blonde hair that fell down her back in loose curls. Her face reminded me of the lead actresses in all the old movies that I used to watch with Grandma Marie- high cheekbones with a slight pink tint beneath them, full lips with a cupid’s bow, one small freckle just above the left corner of her mouth. I closed my mouth; unaware it had dropped open at the sight of her- Thank god she hadn’t seen that. I took another glance up at her from beneath my lashes- She was still staring at her tray, leaning back in her chair and twirling a lock of her hair in her perfectly manicured red nails.

“Hey, Jess,” I said, hoping I sounded casual as she turned to look at me. “Who are they?”

She looked over to where I had indicated, and her cheeks turned pink as she and the girl across from her giggled behind their hands.

“They’re the Cullens.” She hissed the name quietly under her breath. “They moved down here from Alaska, like, two years ago.”

“So, they’re family?” I asked, raising an eyebrow and glancing back at them. The ginger boy was staring directly at me, and I looked away quickly.

Sort of,” Jess leaned her elbow on the table and covered her mouth with her hand, muttering quietly. “Jasper and Rosalie- the blondes- they’re the only biological kids that Doctor and Mrs. Cullen had. Emmett- that big one- he’s Mrs. Cullen’s nephew. They took him in when his mom died, when he was about ten, I think. His boyfriend Edward- and the other girl Alice- were in a bad foster home back in Alaska, so they took custody of them. They all sort of keep to themselves- None of them are in any extra curriculars or anything.”

“Yeah, because they’re all too busy making out.” The other girl who had laughed- a strawberry blonde with green eyes- joked as she took another bite of pizza, a sly smile on her face.

Lauren!” Angela scolded, smacking her arm lightly.

What?” She raised her hands up by her shoulders, shrugging. “I’m just saying, they let their kid’s partners move in with them. It’s weird.”

“Not if you’re in a cult.” Mike countered, grinning mischievously and wiggling his eyebrows at Lauren. “That sort of thing happens a lot.”

“They are not in a cult.” Angela insisted, narrowing her dark eyes at Mike. “They’re just shy. I think it’s horrible how everyone treats them, like they’ve got the plague or something.”

“They should stop acting like they have the plague or something,” Tyler said. “Maybe if they actually talked to people- “

The table dissolved into more discussion of the Cullen’s odd behavior, and I risked another glance at their table to see if the ginger- Edward- was still staring at me. He was, and I had a moment of panic where I was sure that he had overheard us before I reminded myself that was impossible. Then, I became more focused on his expression; It wasn’t the innocent curiosity over a new student that I’d gotten from most people today. His brow was furrowed, his eyes narrowed. His mouth was pressed into a thin line, the corner pulled up in a scowl. The ferocity of his gaze made my blood run cold, and I dropped my eyes back down to my tray of food, though my appetite was lost. I did my best to engage in conversation with Jessica and the others, trying to ignore him. Every time I glanced up to check if he was still watching me, his expression grew more and more intense. Finally, I grew impatient and started glaring back at him- to see how he liked it for a change. We’d been locked in a silent battle of wills for two whole minutes when the bigger one- Emmett- noticed our face-off and elbowed Edward in the ribs, breaking his gaze from mine.

The bell rang then, signaling the end of the lunch period. I picked up my half-eaten tray and dumped the contents in the trash. My next class was Biology, which Mike was headed to as well. We walked there together, entering the lab a bit later than the rest of the class, who were already seated at the tall black-top tables. I handed my schedule to the teacher- Mr. Molina- to sign off on.

“Ah, Isabella Swan.” He said, scanning the paper and scribbling next to his class with his pen.

“Just Bella,” I corrected.

“Well, ‘Just Bella,’” He pointed to the right side of the classroom next to a row of large windows. “You can join Rosalie, there. She’ll finally have a lab partner now, isn’t that nice?”

My heart thudded to a dead stop. Rosalie Cullen, the drop-dead gorgeous Rosalie Cullen- was my lab partner. Steadying my breath, I made my way slowly to where she sat, staring blankly out the window. As soon as I sat next to her, her head snapped around to stare at me. I looked up at her, intending to introduce myself, maybe apologize for making her jump. Those plans stalled when I caught sight of her expression; It was murderous. Furious. The angriest I’d ever seen a person. Her coal-black eyes were narrowed, and my cheeks heated as I turned quickly back to face the front board.

Mr. Molina had begun his lecture, pulling down the big screen for the projector and making a big show of feigned frustration when it wouldn’t stay down. The students laughed appreciatively, and Mike got up to help him. I tried to focus on the class, my notebook open in front of me- but it remained blank, my every conscious thought on the avenging angel sitting next to me. Fifteen minutes into the lesson, I risked another glance at her from the corner of my eye; She was still as a statue, her body angled away from me and her hands clenched firmly on the edge of her chair. Her eyes were still blazing, burning a hole into the side of my head, and I looked away again.

When the class was finally- mercifully- over, Rosalie sprang from her seat as if she’d been electrocuted and made a beeline for the door. Hot, angry tears pricked behind my eyes, and I blinked rapidly to hold them back. I would not cry my first day at a new school- at least not publicly.

Jesus,” Mike said, appearing behind me and putting his hand on the back of my chair. “What’s with her? You stab her with your pen or something?”

I shrugged, trying to seem unbothered. 

I went to Health class alone, then met back up with Mike in Gym. Mike was unfortunately paired with me for tennis doubles- even though I had informed the teacher that handing me a tennis racquet and unleashing me on my fellow students was not the best idea. I did my best to stay out of his way as he chivalrously bobbed and weaved on the court, making sure I didn’t have to do anything that would give myself or others a minor injury. I was proud of myself for only falling once, when Emma Dowden- a tall, muscular girl with vibrant red hair- aimed the ball right at me, and I had pitched forward onto my knees after swinging too hard. I would bruise, but I’d had worse.

After Gym, my World History class passed in a blur. When the last bell rang, I headed back to the front office to turn in the signed copy of my schedule. The grey sky was beginning to darken, and I sped up, hoping to avoid the rain on the drive home. When I got inside, Mrs. Finley was already occupied- talking to a tall, curvy girl with icy blonde hair.

“-any other time?” Rosalie’s voice was pleading- but was sharp with an edge that suggested she was losing patience. “Chemistry? Physics? Perhaps I could rearrange my math class as well- “

“I’m sorry, dear.” Mrs. Finley said, pushing her cat-eye glasses higher on her nose. “All the other science classes are at capacity. I’m afraid you’ll have to stay in Biology.”

I froze- She couldn’t be serious. She couldn’t honestly be trying to change her entire schedule just to avoid me, could she? I hadn’t even been here a whole day. I hadn’t said two words to her, or her stupid brother. How could they hate me so much after only spending one hour not even talking to me?

Rosalie’s perfect body stiffened, and her ice blonde waves swung gracefully as she turned her head to glare at me over her shoulder. She turned back to Mrs. Finley and said, in a controlled, calm voice, “Very well. Thank you for trying.”

She turned on her red high heels and stalked past me, slamming the door behind her. I swallowed a lump in my throat and tried to blink back the angry tears threatening to escape. At the front desk, Mrs. Finley was waving me forward, smiling politely. I took a shaky deep breath, plastered a fake smile on my face, and handed her the signed schedule.

“Did you have a nice first day, love?” She asked, head tilted and eyes sparkling.

“Yes ma’am, thank you.” I lied, hoping my voice sounded properly cheery.

When I got inside my truck, I finally let the frustrated tears fall down my face into my lap- hitting the steering wheel a few times to let off some steam. Stupid Cullens. First Edward stares at me during lunch like he’s trying to undress my brain, now his sister has it out for me, too. Lovely. Fantastic. Just what I needed, to make mortal enemies my first day at a school that I’d be at till I graduated. Perfect.

Everyone else had drawn the impression that the Cullens- all of them- were freaks, that they didn’t like anyone... but I couldn’t shake the irrational feeling that this was somehow personal. Rosalie hadn’t been angry before she’d seen me, that I was sure of. She had looked bored- aloof maybe, but certainly not angry. Not seething with blind fury like she had been when I’d looked into her black eyes. Maybe Mike was right, and they were in a cult, and I was going to be their next victim. On the other hand, Angela and Charlie were right too- I shouldn’t be so quick to judge them. Maybe I was just being paranoid.

I took a few deep breaths to steady myself before driving off, making sure that I was in the right headspace. Never drive angry, I heard my mother’s voice in my head. I turned my key in the ignition, the deep roar of the engine covering up the chatter and laughter of the other students around me. I pulled carefully out of the parking lot and drove away, trying not to notice the blonde head sitting in the shiny red convertible in my rearview mirror.

Chapter Text

The next day at school, I was dreading having to face Rosalie again. My first few classes passed without my rattled brain retaining any of the information provided to me. In Geometry, I was so zoned out that Jessica had to elbow me in the ribs to get my attention- a feat that the teacher had been attempting for a while, it seemed. I was so flustered that I got the question wrong, although it was a basic equation that I could’ve normally solved in my sleep. I melted back into my seat and tried to disappear as some members of the class giggled and Jess shushed them. 

The hands on the clock seemed to move in slow motion, taunting me. My left leg bounced at a frequency that would rival a hummingbird’s wings, and I tried to force time to move faster so that I could get this over with. In Spanish class, I noticed Rosalie’s brother- Jasper- sitting in the far back corner of the room; He was spinning his pen in his fingers, so fast that it almost blurred out of my sight. He and the other Cullens didn’t seem to hold the same hostility for me that Rosalie and Edward apparently did. A comforting fact, but not entirely reassuring. I tried to take notes, but I just ended up doodling on the corner of my spiral.

When I went to the cafeteria for lunch, my eyes were drawn to the table in the back, and my stomach dropped when I realized that Rosalie was not sitting there with the rest of her family. Aside from her absence, they looked exactly as they had the day before; Full trays of food ignored, all staring in different directions, with one exception; Edward was glaring furiously at me. His black eyes were locked on me as I moved through the line to get my food, and he only looked away when Jessica and I sat down. I engaged in as much conversation as I could, but my mind was reeling. Where was Rosalie? Was she gone because of me? Or was her absence a coincidence? Maybe she just had lunch detention. And why was Edward looking at me like that?

Rosalie was not in Biology either, and my feeling of unease worsened. Had she been so desperate to avoid me that she had transferred schools or something? How had I offended her so badly? I shook my head and told myself not to be so shallow; There was probably a perfectly good explanation for her behavior that had nothing to do with me. I took my seat, trying to ignore the empty space beside me. In case she was just sick, I took notes for her- also hoping the repetitiveness of it would calm my mind.

My strategy seemed to work, and while the morning had dragged, the afternoon rushed past me. I sat in my truck, waiting for the line of cars to move ahead so that I could merge onto the busy highway. A few drivers honked impatiently, and I noticed that the car directly in front of me was a bright red convertible. Rosalie’s car. My heart skipped a beat before I realized that she, of course, wasn’t the one driving. Her other brother- Emmett- was at the wheel, his left arm slung casually over the door as he bobbed his head to a song with a heavy bass. As soon as Tyler’s van cleared their path, he whipped the convertible into the flow of traffic without bothering to take his turn at the stop sign. There were a few angry honks from the other drivers as he sped off.

I had a small detour after school; Downtown, to find a job. Charlie had fought me on it at first- insisting that I needed to focus on school, and that there would be plenty of time for a job after I'd graduated. After I’d pointed out to him how much the gas for my ancient truck would cost, he’d given in- with the stipulation that I keep my average above a B at all times. I was grateful- I was used to having my own source of income, even though most of my paychecks back home went to helping Mom with the bills, until Phil came along. Besides, the thought of having to ask him for cash every time I needed something made me cringe.

I pulled into one of the angled parking spaces on the side of the single strip of road that served as the downtown area. There was an assortment of small businesses lined up on both sides; A small barber shop, an insurance firm, a bakery, and a sporting goods store were all the closest to me. I was sure that you needed licenses for the first two, and baking was fine, but I didn’t want to have to make things that I wouldn’t get to eat. I would start at the sporting goods store and look around some more if that didn’t pan out. As I walked up to the door, I saw the wooden sign above the door that read, ‘Newton’s Olympic Outfitters.’

Examining my reflection in the rearview mirror to make sure that I looked professional, I got out of my truck, stepping carefully in case the snow was turning to ice. The bell chimed musically as I went inside, and I was instantly warmed by a wave of hot air that smelled like cinnamon and cloves. There were rows and rows of hiking, fishing, and hunting gear. Thankfully, I was familiar with most of it thanks to Charlie. The woman behind the counter- auburn haired and plump with bright blue eyes who looked like she was in her late thirties- looked up at me as I walked in.

“Hello, dear, welcome to Newton’s!” She said in a lilted voice. “Let me know if you need help.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you were hiring?” I’d phrased it like a question, and it hadn’t sounded very confident. I held myself taller to make up for it and walked over to the counter. “I just moved here. I’m looking for some part-time work if you have any.”

“Oh, excellent!” She said, ducking under the counter and returning with an application and a pen in hand. “We had an employee quit recently, you couldn’t’ve had better timing, actually- Can you work on Mondays?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I told her, taking the application with a grateful smile. As I was filling out the address and she was telling me all about my prospective duties, the doorbell chimed its musical tone again, and I looked up to see who had entered.

Bella!” Mike called as he swaggered in, his backpack slung casually over one shoulder. “What’s up, Arizona?”

“Hey, Mike.” I said, waving with the hand still holding the pen. His gaze shifted downwards to the application. I thought he might be about to apologize for interrupting my impromptu interview, but instead, his face lit up in a broad grin.

Well,” He said, looking back up at me and winking. “Gonna come work with me, huh, Bella?”

The dots connected as he finished speaking- Mike Newton. Newton Outfitters. This store had to be owned by his family. A lightbulb clicked on above my head, and I grinned back at him. I had really lucked out; Mike vouching for me to his family couldn’t hurt my chances of getting hired.

“As long as you don’t mind the competition.” I teased.

“Mikey, you know her?” The woman asked, looking between the two of us and patiently waiting to be introduced.

“Yeah,” He said, turning to her. “Aunt Sadie, this is Bella Swan, Captain Swan’s daughter. She just moved here.”

“Oh, yes!” Sadie said, eyes brightening as she turned to look me up and down. “Goodness, you do look just like him. I knew Charlie back in school, your mother too. How are they doing? I only see your dad once in a blue moon down at the diner.”

“They’re good,” I told her. “Mom is in Florida with my stepdad.”

She nodded in understanding.

“Florida does suit your mother’s aura better. I’m glad she’s doing well.” She looked back down at my half-done application, then said, “Well, I suppose since you have such good references, the job is yours, Bella. You can start next Monday with Mikey. He can train you.”

Elated with my success, I drove home with the radio blaring, singing along horribly with the band over the static. Upstairs in my room, I tossed my backpack onto my bed and kicked off my shoes. I changed into my favorite grey sweatpants and pulled my hair up into a messy ponytail. Once I was comfortable, I walked over to my desk and checked the messages on my phone; There were several missed texts and calls from my mom, and I scrolled up to read them from the beginning.

7:45am- ‘Bella, I miss you sooo much! Call me today!’

8:34am- A photo of her breakfast with Phil on a hotel balcony.

10:22am- ‘4 homeruns so far! Woo!’

10:36am- A photo of her and Phil’s team mascot.

12:17pm- A photo of her lunch.

12:51pm- ‘Phil is training and I have an interview in an hour!’

12:51pm- ‘Do I wear my blue dress or the grey suit???’

12:54pm- ‘Bella???? Help!!!’

1:30pm- ‘Oh yeah you leave your phone at home that’s right. :( Strange teenager.’

1:30pm- ‘Blue dress it is!’ And a photo of her wearing it.

3:04pm- ‘Well that sucked a fat one.’

3:05pm- ‘Manager told me all weekends were mandatory, I can’t miss Phil’s game days!’

3:06pm- ‘I have another interview in a few days, so fingers crossed for your mom!’

3:21pm- ‘Bellaaaaaaa, call your mommyyy!’

I sighed and pressed the call button. It barely rang twice before she picked up, and I heard her turn the television down in the background. The familiar bickering of desperate housewives faded into nothing.

Bellaaa, hi sweetie!” She exclaimed. “I miss you so much, how are you?”

“Hey, Mom.” I said. I was happy to hear her voice, and I blinked back a few tears that threatened to escape and swallowed a lump in my throat before continuing. “Sorry about your interview.”

“Oh, baloney.” She said, and I could almost see her waving her hands dismissively and rolling her eyes. “There are other interviews. Not every job is a perfect fit. How are you doing in boring old Forks? Making any friends?”

“A few.” I said, then decided to share some news of my own. “Guess what? I had an interview today too.”

“Oh, good! How did it go?”

I told her all about the ease I’d had getting the job, and passed along Sadie’s well-wishes. Mom made me promise to send her own back, and I promised her that I would on my first shift. She had a lot of questions about Mike, and I had to assure her many times that he was just a friend. She had been desperate to bond over my first boyfriend ever since I hit puberty.

When I’d run out of things to tell her and the sky began to darken, I excused myself to go make dinner for myself and Charlie. We had decided on my first night here that we would split that duty- alternating nights and eating at the diner on Fridays. I had just plated the salmon and asparagus I had made when I heard the rumble of his Harley come down the road and stop in our driveway.

“Hey, Dad!” I called as he walked in. “Dinner is ready.”

“Smells great, Bells.” He said, inhaling deeply as he entered the kitchen, smelling the garlic and herbs. “Lemme get my uniform off real quick, I’ll be right back.”

He went upstairs to change, and I put the food on the small dining table by the bay window. When he came back down, he was wearing a crisp white shirt and his rattiest red flannel pants. He joined me at the table and dug in, grunting appreciatively as he took the first bite of buttery fish.

Really good.” He praised.

“Thanks.” I took a bite myself. It had turned out better than I’d expected it would. I hadn’t tried this recipe before. “How was your day, Dad?”

“Good, good,” He said as he cut another bite. “Rescued a few cats from trees, got someone back into their house after they got locked out. Only a small electrical fire today, nothin' too bad. How about you? Makin’ any new friends?”

“A few.” I said, then added. “I got a job at the Newton’s store today.”

“Sadie’s place? That hiking store?”

“Yep. My friend Mike is her nephew.”

“Good kid.” He complimented through a too-large bite of asparagus. “Sadie and her partner really did a good job with him.”

A thought occurred to me, and I tried to sound nonchalant as I said, “And there’s this girl in my Biology class, Rosalie Cullen… but no one seems to like her or her family much.”

I could not have predicted Charlie’s reaction; He rolled his eyes and scoffed, stabbing the salmon a bit harder than necessary.

People in this town,” He spat. “Doctor Cullen’s been a goddamn gift to this community, and so has his wife Esme. A man that gifted at what he does- he could’ve gone anywhere he wanted, made millions. Lucky for us his wife wanted to live in a small town for the kids- Not that it did 'em any good, old farts givin’ 'em crap just for existing. Never had an issue with any one of 'em, and they still get labeled as ‘troubled’ just 'cause they’re fosters- Just ‘cause they’re a little reclusive.”

I was silent for the duration of his rant, my fork frozen halfway to my mouth. Carefully, I prodded, “So, you know Doctor Cullen well, then?”

“I see more of his wife, actually." He said, calming down a bit as he took a sip of water. "She’s a teacher down at the elementary school, the kids really love her. I go down there for fire-safety talks and stuff, Smokey the Bear and all. Anyway, she’s the nicest lady- bakes her students cupcakes when they do well on tests, pizza parties every Friday. I do see the Doc some, usually when I’ve gotta transport a bad burn victim. Listen Bells, if you wanna try to be friends with Rosalie Cullen, don’t let this town’s bullshit stop you. I'm sure she's a perfectly nice girl, all those kids are.”

Although I wanted to heed Charlie’s advice, it didn’t look like I would get the chance; Rosalie was not in school the next day, or for the rest of the week. By Friday, I was beginning to get anxious. I spent all of Spanish class glancing surreptitiously over at her brother Jasper, weighing my decision in my head. By the time Eric and I had finished our assignment- which they basically did themselves and was generous enough to let me copy- I had made up my mind. I stood by the water fountain outside the door, waiting for him to come out. As soon as he stepped into the hallway, I seized my chance.

“Hey, Jasper?” I asked. He turned and looked down at me- He was taller that I’d expected.

“Yes?” He asked, in a voice that was so smooth it should be illegal. He was so imposing; If his height weren’t enough, there was just something about him…

Uh…” I hadn’t thought I’d get this far, and I struggled to find an explanation that didn’t sound like I was borderline obsessed with his sister. “I’m Bella, I have Bio with Rosalie? I was just wondering if she was okay, she hasn’t been in class lately and we have a, uh- project coming up.”

I swallowed convulsively, hoping that he wouldn’t see through me. He considered me for a moment, then glanced around the nearly empty hallway. Leaning down, he whispered, “I’d rather not speak about that publicly, if you don’t mind… If you come with me, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

A wave of satisfaction washed over me at his words, and I smiled up at him; Finally. Answers. I nodded vigorously, and the answering smile he gave me was serene, calming. He offered me his arm and I took it without hesitation; This Cullen was very nice. He was going to tell me anything I wanted to know, he’d said so. He led us through the halls, and I followed without looking at where we were headed; I wasn’t even sure that I cared. We could end up in a broom closet, as long as I finally discovered the mystery behind Rosalie’s absence, as well as Edward’s mysterious grudge.

We were nearing the end of a hallway with only one set of double doors in the back. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been to this part of the school before. Jasper had one hand on the door handle, when there was a voice from behind us.

Jasper!”

I turned to see Alice skipping towards us, her yellow sundress flowing around her tiny frame. She had a crown of what looked like real yellow roses on her head, and when I looked down, I saw that she was wearing ridiculously tall yellow high heels that made me wonder how she had been able to skip in the first place; The effect was jarring, but in a pleasant way.

“Jasper, what are you doing?” She asked, hands on her hips. “We have a lunch detention. You can’t skip it again, they’ll call Esme.”

Yes… I suppose you’re right.” He said, shifting his gaze downward. He dropped my arm and went to stand beside her. A bit of my earlier unease returned as he looked back at me, staring blankly into my eyes. “My apologies, Bella. We’ll have to continue this another time.”

“Hello, Bella!” Alice said cheerily, waving the hand not wrapped around Jasper’s. “I’m Alice. Sorry I had to interrupt, but I really need to take Jasper now. Rosalie will be back at school on Monday. She just has the flu.”

“Oh.” I said flatly. Well, this was anti-climactic. “Okay, um… Thank you.”

Alice nodded, then steered Jasper away. I was surprised that she could, given their size difference. As soon as they had turned the corner, the weight that had settled in my stomach before I had spoken to Jasper returned. Something still didn’t seem right to me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I reminded myself that I was probably just being paranoid. After all, Alice had told me what was wrong with Rosalie; She had a flu.

Except, Alice hadn’t been around to overhear me ask Jasper about her. And even if she had been, why would Jasper have led me all the way down here just to tell me she was sick? It was hardly a private family matter if it was just a flu. Curiously, I pushed the door Jasper had been meaning to open- It led to an alleyway behind the campus, with a thin trail through the dense forest just behind the dumpster. Huh- A long way just to tell me about a silly flu, for sure.

Miss Swan!” A sharp voice snapped me back to my senses, and I turned to see the librarian striding toward me waving his finger. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I, um… I-“

“Back to lunch.” He snapped again, ushering me away from the door and pulling a set of keys from his pocket.

The rest of the school day was dull, though their curriculum was finally catching up with where I’d been in Phoenix. I rushed back to my car after school, covering my head with my bag to avoid the rain. I tried to keep my strange encounter with two of the other Cullens out of my head, but it kept creeping into my thoughts over the weekend. On Saturday, I was graced with a full day of distractions down at La Push; Rachel and Rebecca had come home for Billy’s birthday. Jacob and I spent most of the time not stuffing ourselves with cake and sodas down at the beach, combing for seashells and wading in the cold surf.

Sunday was harder. Charlie was pulling a double shift, so I had the small, quiet house all to myself. After I’d completed and double-checked all of the homework I’d been given, I got busy on the housework. I started a load of laundry, vacuumed, dusted, did the pile of dishes in the sink, and reorganized Charlie’s CD’s. When I ran out of things to do in the house, I went down to the store to get a few things to make dinner. When Monday finally did come, I was vibrating with repressed tension. I skipped breakfast and drove straight to school, barely driving the speed limit and hoping time would miraculously slow like it had before.

My day got worse when I left English to see white flurries of snow beginning to form a thin layer on the ground. I blended with a group of people who were avoiding some of the other students- which included Mike- chucking snowballs at each other, and I was able to make it to Geometry without being soaked. While Jess, Mike, and the rest of the class lamented about being stuck inside, I was focused on what was sure to be a treacherous drive to work.

When it was time for lunch, I saw that Rosalie was indeed back, just as Alice had said- sitting with the rest of her family at their table in the back of the cafeteria. There was, however, a major difference that seized my attention; Instead of staring blankly in opposite directions, they were laughing and talking just like everyone else. Their food did not go uneaten. Emmett had what looked like a whole bag of hard-boiled eggs in front of him on the table and was tossing them into his mouth whole. Jesus, he took his protein seriously. It certainly explained why he was so big.

As I ate, I risked only a few glances over at them. Every time I did, I saw Edward looking quickly away from me, glaring down at his plate of food. When lunch ended, I headed to Biology with Mike. I hesitated for a moment by the door, peering inside. She was already there, staring out the window at the falling snow. I took a deep breath and went in, taking my seat without looking at her.

“Alright, class,” Mr. Molina began his lecture as soon as the bell rang, kicking the doorstop with his foot so that it would swing shut. “Today we’ll be studying the phases of mitosis, if you’ll all look up at the board-“

“Hello.” Rosalie’s voice- though soft and gentle- made me jump, and I turned to see that she had turned towards me, a hesitant half-smile on her perfect face. “I’m Rosalie. You’re Bella?”

Unable to form words, I nodded. Something was different about her, but I couldn’t tell what- A new haircut maybe?

“-team completes the worksheet the quickest, will win...” Mr. Molina was saying, striding through the desks with something behind his back. I tried to focus my attention back onto him just as he lifted something small and shiny into the air over his head. “The Golden Onion!”

There was a mixed reaction from the class- some students groaned, booed, and shook their heads, while others laughed and clapped appreciatively. He passed the worksheets out, one per table, and the pairs of students huddled around the shared microscopes on their desks. Next to me, Rosalie delicately placed the first slide into the clips on our microscope. She had barely glanced down the eyepiece for two seconds when she turned to me again with a dazzling smile that made my heart skip a beat.

“Prophase.” She said.

“Do you mind if I check?” I asked her, not trusting the brief glance that she’d given the sample. She nodded and pushed the microscope towards me. Taking as little time as possible, I looked down the eyepiece; Damn. She was right. “Prophase it is.”

She wrote the answer on our worksheet, and I noticed that her handwriting was almost as gorgeous as she was. How may people still used cursive? She deftly replaced the identified slide with the next one, and I reached for the scope and leaned in.

“Anaphase.”

“May I?” She asked, the corners of her mouth twitching up. I shrugged. Her next look through the scope was even shorter than her first. “So it is.”

I reached for the next slide at the same time she did, and I jerked my hand back when it came into sudden contact with hers. It was cold, like she’d just removed it from a bucket of ice. I looked up at her, holding my breath, hoping that I hadn’t offended her. Her mouth was pressed into a thin line, her brow furrowed. She replaced the slides carefully, moving slower than before, and angled it towards me.

“Sorry…” I told her.

Her gaze softened as she looked back at me, and her tight lips loosened into a smile. “My mistake. Don't worry about it.”

I exhaled in relief and checked the next slide. “Metaphase. Do you want to check?”

“I believe you.”

“So... are you feeling better?”

Hm?”

“Your flu. You were gone for a while, was it bad?”

Oh… Yes, it was.” She switched up the slides again and identified another, scrawling it in her stupidly perfect penmanship on our paper.

“I like your contacts.” I said, then blushed as she looked at me again, the difference I hadn’t noticed before now clear; Her eyes were now a bright, amber gold.

“Oh, those… Thank you.” She said, then continued. “So, you moved here from Phoenix?”

“Yeah, to live with my dad.” I said.

“And your mother is back in Phoenix?”

“No, she moved to Florida with my stepdad.”

“I see. And you didn’t want to go with them?” She asked, the slides forgotten on the table as she stared at me.

“No, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to,” I said, sighing. “It’s complicated... This was the best choice for everyone involved. Phil- my stepdad- he plays professional baseball and got traded to Jacksonville. Charlie wasn’t happy with the idea of me basically living on my own, since they’d be travelling a lot for his away games and stuff. They fought about it for a while, until I told them that I was old enough to choose for myself. So, here I am…”

I finished my unexpected rambling and blushed. When I looked at her, I expected to find her looking bored, waiting for me to finish. Instead, she was leaning her elbow on the desk with her chin in her hand, her whole body turned to face me.

“And are you happy with your decision?” She asked, golden eyes sparkling in the fluorescent light.

I considered her for a moment. “Not completely- But is anyone ever a hundred percent happy with their decisions?”

“I suppose not.” She agreed, then glanced down the microscope for an impossibly short time, barely a fraction of a second. “Telophase. So, are you liking Forks at least?”

“It’s a little wet.” I said blankly, glaring out the window at the evil snow flurries.

She laughed, and the sound made my breath catch in my throat. It was musical, enchanting, and made several other people turn in their seats to look at us. She grinned and raised an eyebrow at me. “Only a little?”

I couldn’t help but grin back at her, feeling my cheeks flush and my heart skip every other beat.

Touché.” I conceded, trying to remember how breathing worked. “I envy people in floods.”

“And how are things over here?” Mr. Molina asked, coming up behind me to look at our paper. I expected him to chastise us for goofing off when we were supposed to be working- but when I looked down, our worksheet was completely filled out, although we’d barely made it halfway through. Mr. Molina straightened up, satisfied. “We have some winners!”

He handed me the onion covered in gold spray paint. The bell rang, and people started to pack up.

“Nice job, partner.” Rosalie said, putting her things in her bag and standing up. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah- Oh, wait a sec!” I dove into my backpack for the notes I’d taken for every lesson she’d missed- carefully paperclipped together so that nothing got lost- and held them out to her. “I know I’d have wanted someone to take notes for me… If I were sick, I mean... You don’t have to take them if you don’t want them.”

“Thank you.” She said, giving me one last breathtaking smile, then took them and tucked them safely in her binder. “That was very kind of you, Bella... I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye…” I muttered as she turned and left.

My conversation with Rosalie played in repeat in my head for the rest of the day. When it was over, I rushed back to my truck- hoping to get a glimpse of her in the parking lot before work. She was standing by her convertible, waiting on the rest of her family, who were making their way down the sidewalk towards her. Mike was right behind them, and he sped up when he saw me.

“Hey, Arizona!” He greeted, tossing his backpack in the bed of my truck. “Ready for work?”

“Yeah,” I said distractedly, still watching the Cullens. They piled into the car, but not before Edward- stupid, annoying Edward- glared in my direction. Alice noticed him and dragged him into the backseat by his wrist. It was this simple action that reminded me that, as okay as Rosalie seemed now, there was something else going on there for sure- Jasper’s secrecy, Edward’s open hostility, even Alice’s apparent omnipotence… It was something I would have to watch out for. 

Chapter Text

My first day working at Newton’s ended up being a lot more fun that I’d expected. I was already familiar with all the in’s and out’s of retail, so Mike and I spent most of the shift making sure that things were stocked, playing with the intercom when the store was empty, and going over all the popular hiking trails so that I could give recommendations for customers. Aunt Sadie- she refused to let me call her Mrs. Newton- made us some homemade banana bread. We heated large chunks in the microwave, covering them in butter. A couple of customers came in, but they were few and far between. Mike assured me that it was much busier on the weekends, when both locals and tourists alike came in to stock up on supplies.

Back home that night, Charlie had made us chocolate chip pancakes for dinner- so big that they almost didn’t fit on the plate. Breakfast for dinner was a foreign concept to Mom, but I loved it. It was always the thing that I looked forward to the most about coming to Forks as a kid. That, and our trips down to La Push to see Billy and Jake. We covered them in maple syrup and peanut butter, and Charlie asked me all about my first day at work. When I went to bed that night, I was so full that I fell asleep immediately.

The next morning, I looked out my window and groaned when I saw that the fluffy, innocent snow flurries from yesterday had melted, forming a hazardous layer of ice on the black asphalt. I pulled my favorite dark green sweater over my head, knowing that I’d need the extra layer of warmth. On the road, I drove as carefully as I could, going five miles per hour under the speed limit as an extra precaution. When I’d pulled into the parking lot and gotten out, I saw why I’d had such an easy time getting here; There were small silver chains crisscrossed across my tires. Though I’d had no use for them in Phoenix- where snow only fell once in a blue moon and melted in an hour- I recognized them as snow chains. Charlie must have gotten up early before his shift to put them on for me.

Tears pricked at my eyes at his unspoken concern; I wasn’t used to being taken care of like that. Mom barely remembered to eat half the time, much less think about the potential dangers of an icy road. Usually it was me moving her keys and wallet by the door so that she wouldn’t forget them, or making giant casseroles from canned vegetables so that we could eat off of it for a week. I took a deep breath and straightened up, blinking rapidly to dry my eyes as I reached for my backpack in the passenger seat.

I had just swung my bag over my shoulder and closed my door when a high-pitched screeching broke the silence of the quiet morning. I whipped around, searching for the source of the noise, and found it; Tyler’s huge blue minivan was careening towards me, skidding on the ice and fishtailing as Tyler hopelessly tried to regain control. My body froze in place. The van- as cliché as it was- looked like it was coming at me in slow motion, though I knew that I had no time to run. Across the parking lot, I saw Rosalie standing by her car with the rest of her family. At least I got to see her one last time before I was crushed to death. Her beautiful face was fixed in a horrified mask, staring at me with her eyes wide as the gap between me and the van got smaller and smaller.

I heard people screaming, and a voice shout, “No!

Not knowing what else to do, I closed my eyes. I hoped that it would be quick, that I wouldn’t be in too much agony before it ended. I felt the impact- but it came from the side, not from the front. It was softer than I’d expected, but still knocked the wind out of me. My head smacked the ground, making me wince. Dazed, I glanced around to see what had happened. Above me, I saw a flash of ice blonde hair, and two pale hands shot out and made contact with the side of the van. The metal folded around them like paper, the sound of it hurting my ears. Rosalie cursed, and the word sounded wrong in her delicate voice. I stared up at her as she turned to me, her expression and tone frantic.

“Bella, are you alright?” She asked.

How did you-“ I breathed, still in shock. I tried to sit up, but Rosalie put a hand on my shoulder, pushing me back down. Grunting, I tried to shove her hand away, but she was too strong for me. “Let me up, Rosalie, I’m fine.”

“You hit your head, Bella. I heard it. You should stay down for now, please.” She was still looking at me, her gold eyes scanning my body for further injuries.

When she reminded me, the back of my head throbbed, and I reached around to feel a lump growing at the base of my skull. I groaned, and Rosalie’s eyes abandoned their search and snapped back to my face.

Bella? Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay.” I assured her. “Just sore.”

Around us, I heard anxious voices yelling and people screaming, telling each other to call 911. Footsteps thundered in our direction, and Rosalie looked up just as Jessica climbed into the bed of my truck to get a better look at us. Her expression switched from horror to relief, and she put on hand over her heart and exhaled.

“They’re okay!” She called to the crowd. “Someone get Tyler out of the van!”

“I’ve got 911 on the phone!”

“Did she say they? I only saw Bella-“

“It’s Rosalie!”

Cullen!?

“Yeah-“

“Where did she come from?”

“I didn’t see-“

“What happened?”

“Get them out-“

“Tyler’s bleeding, help-“

The voices blurred into an incomprehensible buzzing as I stared up at Rosalie. She was watching the chaos around us, her golden eyes wide. I remembered seeing her just before the crash, impossibly far away... There was no way she could’ve gotten to me that quickly. It just wasn’t possible. My eyes moved to the large dent in the van’s door, remembering how it had folded around her hands like it was nothing. No one was that strong- especially not Rosalie, who, though intimidating, didn’t look like she could hurt a fly. I looked back up at her as the sirens got louder. She was looking in the direction the ambulance was coming, her face blank. There was something behind her eyes that she was holding back, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. The danger was now passed... But why did she still look scared?

The van creaked as the entire football team- led by Mike- lifted the front bumper and slid the van to the side so they could get to us. Once we were visible, I saw that nearly the whole school was crowded around the accident, some craning their necks to see what had happened. Towards the back of the crowd, Eric put a comforting arm around Angela. She was wiping tears from her eyes and taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. The wail of the ambulance’s siren got louder as it pulled in, honking to disperse the crowd. Rosalie moved her restraining hand from my shoulder, shifting so that the paramedics could load me onto the stretcher. I glared at her ruefully when she told them about my head injury.

“It’s not that bad.” I insisted, though no one listened to me. Rosalie rolled her eyes and smirked, but did give me an apologetic smile when they fixed the foam collar around my neck. My cheeks flushed and for a second, I wished that the van had crushed me.

“I’m going with her.” Rosalie said, climbing in after me without waiting for permission. No one fought her on it. They probably knew who she was. That was also probably why she wasn't on a stretcher in an ambulance of her own.

Before the doors closed, she looked back over her shoulder at the rest of her family, still standing by her red convertible. My stomach sank as I saw Edward’s face, contorted in rage, eyes burning a hole through my already injured head. Emmett had both hands clasped firmly around his upper arms, staring at Rosalie with one eyebrow raised. Beside them, Alice and Jasper were having a hurried, whispered argument. Jasper glanced over at us and rolled his eyes. Their reactions made no sense... Their sister had nearly been crushed by a van, and not one of them looked concerned at all.

The ride to the hospital was short. Rosalie held my hand in hers as the EMT’s poked and prodded at me on the way there. She didn’t look at me- instead fixing her golden gaze on the back doors, her brow furrowed and her jaw clenched. I didn’t understand any of it- She almost looked guilty. I remembered Edward’s and Jasper’s reactions and wondered if the two were connected.

The ambulance stopped and unloaded me from the back, wheeling me through a set of double doors and through a hallway. The EMT’s gave the nurses my vitals, and I was handed off, Rosalie still by my side.

“I’m going to get my father.” She addressed one of the nurses- a tall, willow-y redhead with pins in her hair. “Please take her directly to his floor- she hit her head on the ground, hard.”

“It’s a bump.” I insisted, rolling my eyes even though my head was still throbbing. She was still holding my hand, and I didn’t seem to want to let go. I squeezed it, looking up at her gratefully; However she’d done it- she’d saved my life.

She looked in my eyes for the first time since the accident, and hers melted- hard amber turning to smooth honey. Tucking a stray lock of my hair behind my ear, she said, “I’ll come right back. I promise. Listen to the nurses, Bella.”

I watched her as she walked away, starting to jog the last few steps before she turned the corner. They wheeled me into a small room with four beds and transferred me over to the one closest to the back window. A few moments later, Tyler was brought in; He didn’t look good. There was a gash on his forehead that was bleeding through the bandages, and his leg looked broken. When he saw that I was there, he began apologizing profusely- promising that he would make it up to me somehow. Before I could assure him that I was fine, the door slammed against the wall and Charlie burst into the room, his eyes wide as they settled on me.

Bella!” He shouted, running over to my side.

“I’m okay, Dad, calm down.” I said. “I have a bump on my head, that’s all. We both know I’ve had way worse. Breathe.”

He sighed and pressed his lips against my hair, his mustache irritating my scalp. “Thank god, Bells… What happened?”

“I-“ I cut myself off. The truth would make me sound nuts. If I told Charlie that Rosalie had made it across the parking lot in a split second and stopped the van with her bare hands, he would insist on several scans for my head injury, and I’d be here for the rest of the day. I knew what I had seen, but I also knew that no one would believe me- not even Charlie.

Before I could decide on what to tell him, Rosalie returned- followed by a man who looked like he’d just walked off the set of Grey’s Anatomy. He was very good looking, and I guessed he was in his mid-thirties. He was maybe six feet tall give or take, with blonde hair and the same golden eyes as his daughter.

“Hello, Bella.” He said, coming to stand next to me across from Charlie. “My name is Doctor Carlisle Cullen, I’m Rosalie’s father. She’s told me a lot about you.”

“Hey, Doc.” Charlie greeted him, nodding in his direction. “Thanks for comin’.”

“Of course, Charlie.” He said, looking through the medical chart in his hands. He turned to me, gave me a reassuring smile and asked, “How is your head, Bella? Can you rate your pain on a scale on one to ten for me?”

I considered for a moment as I focused on the throbbing on my head; It really wasn’t that bad. I’d fallen off my bike once and the handlebar had hit my sternum, making it impossible to breathe. That had definitely been worse than this. “Three or four… It’s not terrible.”

Dr. Cullen nodded, making a few notes on his chart. “Any dizziness, nausea?”

“No.”

“Look here for me.” He pulled out a pen light and shined it in my eyes while I focused on the finger he was holding up just in front of my nose. He made a satisfied noise, made another note on his chart, then tucked the pen back in his pocket. “Well Bella, everything looks alright, all things considered. Do you remember exactly what happened before the crash? I want to be sure your short-term memory hasn’t been affected.”

“Yeah, I do…” I said, then glanced at Rosalie out of the corner of my eye; She had retaken her place by my side, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was staring blankly somewhere around the foot of the hospital bed, sitting still as the first day I’d met her. The looks on her family’s faces after the crash flashed in front of me, and I remembered the horrified glint in her golden eyes as the van was pulled away. I made up my mind. After all, I owed her. I tried to fill my voice with as much confidence as I could manage. “Rosalie and I were talking by my truck, going over the Biology notes I gave her. We were about to walk to class, but Tyler’s van came out of nowhere. I froze, but Rosalie pulled me out of the way at the last second…”

Rosalie’s eyes locked on mine, her lips parted in shock. She recovered quickly when Charlie looked at her, fat tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

“You did?” He asked, looking at her like she had sprouted a halo and fluffy white wings.

Rosalie smiled sheepishly back at him, shrugging nonchalantly as she said, “It was nothing, Chief Swan. It was just luck I was able to think that quickly.”

Nothing?” He scoffed, bursting into relieved hysterics and wiping his eyes. “You, young lady, can officially get away with one count of arson, my treat. Just make sure you do it in Clallum County, ‘kay?”

Carlisle laughed along with him, but I saw his eyes focus on me for a just a moment. It didn’t feel right, like he was x-raying me. Did he know that I had lied? Surely, if his daughter had some sort of inhuman power, he would know, wouldn’t he? Was that why he’d asked about my short-term memory? To make sure that I would stay quiet?

He made a few more notes on my chart before clicking the pen closed, then turned to me and said, “Well, Miss Swan, you seem alright to me. I see no reason not to discharge you immediately. However, I would like you to stay awake for the next twenty-four hours, to monitor for signs of concussion. I’ll write you an excuse note for missing school today and tomorrow.”

“What are those symptoms exactly?” Charlie asked, pulling out a pen of his own and rolling up his sleeve to use his forearm as a notepad. Carlisle listed them out for him, finishing by giving him his personal cell number, in case he had any more questions. They shook hands, Charlie thanking him again for coming so quickly.

“Rose,” Dr. Cullen said, turning to his daughter. “Edward is downstairs in the lobby. He’s been very worried.”

I remembered Edward’s face before we left- Worried wasn’t exactly the word I would’ve used. Still, Rosalie nodded and stood up, then looked down at me again. For once, she looked almost as in awe of me as I always was of her. She smiled gently, squeezed my hand one more time, and said, “I’ll see you later, Bella… I’m glad you’re alright.”

I watched her as she walked away, and I heard Dr. Cullen go to the next bed to assess the extent of Tyler’s injuries; I had a feeling that he wouldn’t be lucky enough to be immediately discharged as I had been.

Charlie took a deep breath, and when I turned to look at him, he had his hands in his pockets- looking sideways at me with a guilty expression.

What?” I asked, knowing what that look had to mean, but hoping I was wrong.

“You… need to call your mother.”

“Oh, Dad!” I groaned, yanking the foam collar off my neck and getting up.

“I panicked, Bells, give me a break here!” He pleaded, putting his palms up in surrender. “I mean seriously honey, you’ve barely been with me a month and you almost get crushed by a van. Jesus, I damn near had a heart attack!”

“I’m fine, Dad.” My frustration with him faded quickly, and I wrapped my arms around his waist. He squeezed me back, resting his chin on the top of my head. Hoping to cheer him up, I said, “But you owe me one count of arson for having to calm her down. It’s going to take at least an hour, minimum.”

He chuckled into my hair. “Sounds fair.”

We walked down the hall together, Charlie explaining how he had taken his rig here. He had been on a call at the time, and had left his crew to help an old woman who had locked herself out of her car. In the lobby, I saw Rosalie again, having a hushed conversation with Edward. Neither of them had noticed me yet. I bit my lip, then decided.

“Hey, Dad, could you give me a minute?” I asked. “I just want to talk to Rosalie again.”

“Sure honey, I’ll pull around.” He left out the set of double doors, and I shuffled hesitantly over to where Edward was hissing furiously at Rosalie.

“-don’t even know why you bothered.” He was saying. “She’s going to die eventually. You’re only delaying the inevitable.”

I froze mid-step. God, that was harsh- What the hell had I ever done to him?

“I couldn’t just let her get hit.” Rosalie hissed back. “You know that, Edward.”

“You could’ve run away from it. You didn’t have to swoop in like that, this isn’t just about you, Rosalie! This is about all of us!

I wasn’t sure that I should eavesdrop anymore, so I cleared my throat quietly. Edward whipped around, and the look that he gave me was scathing. Rosalie smacked his arm and glared at him.

“Go get the car, Edward.” She told her brother. “I’ll be out in a moment.”

Edward rolled his eyes at her, but did as she said, stalking towards the doors and squeezing through them before they had fully opened. Rosalie looked down at me, shrugging and rolling her eyes. As I replayed his hissed argument in my head, I remembered the voice that had shouted ‘No!’ just before Rosalie had saved me; At the time, I thought that it had been her... But after hearing Edward’s angry voice again, I realized it had been him. He had been shouting no at Rosalie, telling her not to save me. I swallowed, trying to keep my breathing even.

“Don’t mind him.” She said. “He’s just going through a phase.”

“Terrible two’s?” I asked, making her laugh. The sound eased my nerves, making my heart beat double time as it had before. “I’m sorry for interrupting, I just… Well, I wanted to say thank you… For saving me. You didn’t have to do that.”

She considered me, her amber eyes blazing. “You’re welcome, Bella… I suppose that I should thank you as well… You didn’t have to lie for me like that.”

I shrugged, my cheeks flushing. “It was the least I could do…”

“I should go.” She said, glancing behind me at the doors. “Edward is probably throwing another fit.”

I walked outside with her, waving as I went to the bright red firetruck that Charlie was waiting in. He dropped me off at the house, then drove back to the station to get his Harley. Inside, I went straight up to my room to call Mom. She was hysterical, bursting into relieved tears when she heard my voice on the phone. After assuring her that I was fine and giving her every- admittedly half-true- detail on my accident, I went to the bathroom to wash off the hospital smell. Washing my hair was painful, and I gently scrubbed around the golf-ball sized knot on the back of my head.

When I was done, I stepped out into the hall to the sound of a pan sizzling. Judging by the smell, Charlie was making veggie burgers for me- my favorite. Back in my room, he had laid out an ice pack for me, wrapped in a thin green towel. I pressed it to my head gratefully, moaning slightly when it made contact. I sat in my damp towel on my bed for a few minutes, scrolling through my phone answering texts from well-wishers and assuring Angela and Jess that I was fine. They promised that they would take notes for me in the classes that we shared, and Mike agreed to take my shift for the next day.

I heard Charlie washing the pan, and I hurried to get dressed, throwing on my comfiest pajamas; Light pink cotton pants and a matching tank top with frayed lace on the edges. Mom had gotten them for me years ago, and it was comforting having a piece of her with me now, since I’d almost died. As I was heading down the stairs, I heard a familiar rumble coming down the road. I halted, my foot dangling over the next step. The roar of my truck’s engine got louder, cutting off in my driveway. But if Charlie was in the kitchen, then who was bringing my truck home?

I rushed down the stairs, swinging open the door before whoever was there could knock. Standing there, her hand outstretched and an amused look on her face, was Rosalie. She smiled, dangling my keys from her bright red nails.

“Hello, Bella. I thought you might like these.”

Chapter Text

I gaped at her, unable to form words. Suddenly very conscious of what I was wearing, I tried to straighten out the many wrinkles in my shirt. As I scrambled for something to say, Charlie unknowingly came to my rescue.

“Bella? Who’s at the door?” He came out of the kitchen, drying his hands on the yellow checkered apron he was wearing over his sweats. When he poked his head around the door and saw Rosalie standing there, his face lit up. “Well, hey, Rosalie! What can we do for ya?”

She smiled back at him, jingling my keys in her outstretched hand. “I took the liberty of bringing Bella’s truck home for her- I hope I’m not intruding.”

“Oh, no, not at all!” Charlie said, taking the keys from her and hanging them on the hook by the door.

“I also brought these…” Rosalie held up a basket she had been holding in her other hand. Inside was a huge pile of snacks, an energy drink, and a few DVD’s. “Since Bella will have to remain conscious for twenty-four hours, I thought she might need some sugar and caffeine.”

“Thank you…” I said, finally finding my voice. I took the basket from her, touched by her unexpected gesture. “This is really nice of you.”

Very.” Charlie said, then narrowed his eyes as he looked behind Rosalie. “Did someone else follow you here? How will ya get home?”

He stood on tip toe and craned his neck to look around the yard- expecting to find another car waiting for her with the engine running. When he didn’t find one, he looked back at Rosalie with his dark eyes full of concern.

“Oh, I can walk from here.” She said, waving a manicured hand dismissively. “It’s not very far.”

“In this weather?” He gestured to the wet, icy road, and the ominous clouds signaling that there was more to come. “You don’t even have a jacket, honey, are you sure?”

He was right. She wasn’t wearing a jacket, or even long sleeves; A thin black t-shirt was the only protection she had from the icy wind. At least she was wearing jeans and high heeled black boots. I wondered if she really did live within reasonable walking distance from here, or if she was lying for Charlie’s benefit. Either way, I’d been presented with an excellent opportunity, and I decided to use his fatherly concern for my own purposes.

“She can stay here for a while, can’t she, Dad?” I asked, looking up at him and hoping my puppy-eyes were still effective on him. He melted.

“’Course she can.” He said, looking back up at Rosalie who was waiting politely on the front steps. “I made extra veggie burgers. You’re welcome to one if you want.”

“I’d love one, thank you.” She said, and Charlie and I stood to the side so that she could come in.

We ate lunch at the tiny kitchen table, Charlie sitting in the rolling chair he’d brought in from the living room. I let him do most of the talking, as the questions that I wanted to ask Rosalie were hardly appropriate mealtime conversation. When we finished, she offered to help me clean up. She washed the dishes, and I dried them and put them away. Charlie had to go back to work, now that he knew that I was okay. Rosalie offered to stay with me until he got back, and he gratefully accepted, asking her to call him on my phone if there were any issues. After he left, we went to the living room to watch one of the movies she’d brought. Inside the basket was an odd mashup of genres; I saw Kill Bill’s one and two, the Errol Flynn version of The Prince and The Pauper, the original Snow White, the first collection of Steamboat Willie, and what looked like the whole Scream series.

“Classics and murder, huh?” I teased, shuffling through the movies to get to the snacks. I tore open the bag of sour patch kids and popped a handful in my mouth, puckering as the sour powder coated my tongue. “Mm, how did you know I love these?”

“I saw you eating them at lunch one day.” She explained, casually taking a seat on the couch.

Huh- I didn’t remember ever having these at school, but I couldn’t see how else she’d know. Selecting one of the movies without looking at it, I slid it into the DVD player and sat next to her. Although I’d left nearly a foot of space between us, I was hyper-aware of her presence. The whole right side of my body was tingling, like I was covered in ants. As we watched Errol make his entrance, Rosalie tucked her legs up underneath her and angled her body toward me.

“Are you a fan of the classics?” She asked. When I looked at her, I almost forgot what she’d asked; She was even more beautiful when we were this close. I lost myself in the curve of her lips and the dimples in her cheeks that only appeared when she smiled like that.

“My grandma Marie loved them.” I told her, trying to catch my breath. “She’d always have them on while she was watching me for Mom. Fred Austere was her favorite.”

“What’s your favorite movie?”

I considered that for a moment, sorting the top choices in my head. “The Wizard of Oz. The one with Judy Garland.”

“Why’s that?”

“The Cowardly Lion makes me laugh.” I shrugged. “It was one of the few movies I was able to convince Mom to buy. Everything else was a Blockbuster rental.”

We talked for a while, but the conversation died, and we went back to watching the movie in silence. When it was over, I insisted that Rosalie take a turn picking the movie. She put in the first Kill Bill, clapping for The Bride as she cut through her wrong-doers one by one. I watched her from the corner of my eye, trying to hold in my laughter. Usually she was so reserved, so proper. It was intoxicating to watch her let loose like this. When the first one was over and it was my turn to pick again, I put in the sequel. Uma Thurman was just about to claw herself out of a coffin, when I finally asked the question that had been burning a hole in my brain all day.

Rosalie…?” I bit my lip, wondering if I was being rude by pushing the subject. She had shown a very clear avoidance of it, and the reactions that I’d seen from her family after the accident had been suspicious at best- and malicious at worst.

She looked at me, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow raised as she took in my expression. “What is it, Bella?”

I swallowed, took a deep breath, and rushed out, “I was just wondering- and I won’t tell anyone, I swear, it’s really none of my business anyway… But how did you save me, really?”

There was silence. When I looked at her, I noticed that her posture mimicked mine; Arms and legs crossed, her head turned to look at me. Her perfect face was unreadable, but she didn’t look upset. I held my breath as I waited for her answer.

“I ran over and pushed you out of the way.” She stated, shrugging.

I rolled my eyes. “Well, duh. I meant how, specifically- You were too far away to get to me in time. I’m not stupid, Rosalie.”

She looked back at the TV, watching the massacre on the screen. “I can’t tell you that, Bella… I’m sorry. I really am.”

I deflated into the couch cushions and went back to looking at the screen. We watched in silence for a moment or two before Rosalie said, “It’s not that I don’t trust you… But I know you overheard my brother… and as childish and rude as he was being, he was right about one thing; This isn’t just my secret to tell. I realize that you didn’t have to lie to everyone for me, and I appreciate it… In return, I won’t lie to you, I promise… But, I can’t tell you the truth either.”

She sounded sincere. Although my curiosity was eating me alive, I decided to let it go. After all, she had at least been honest with me, even if she couldn’t tell me the whole truth.

“Okay.” I conceded. “I can live with that.”

“You’re not angry?”

“Did you expect me to be?”

Well,” She chuckled, and the sound made my heart race. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you strike me as a very stubborn person, Bella.”

Her comment caught me off guard, and I burst out laughing, hastily covering my mouth when I accidentally snorted. “Well, you’re not wrong on that… But you saved my life. So, the least I can do is let you keep your secrets.”

“Thank you.” She was smiling at me, cherubic dimples appearing in her cheeks again. It was impossible to resist grinning back at her.

“In the spirit of honesty,” I said, remembering what she had said earlier. “How did you really know that Sour Patch Kids are my favorite? I know I never had them at school.”

“Ah,” The corner of her mouth twitched up as she gave me an apologetic grin. “Honestly… That was my sister, Alice. She’s very… intuitive.”

Intuitive?”

Her golden eyes sparkled, and she shrugged. “That’s all I can say.”

Knowing that I would get nothing else from her, we went back to watching the movie. Charlie got home around five-thirty, during which time Rosalie and I ate our way through a whole bag of skittles and two bags of kettle corn, and nearly finished the Steamboat Willie cartoons. He dragged his feet over the threshold, dropping his bag unceremoniously on the hall floor.

“Hey, you two.” He called. As he came to the living room to join us, I caught a whiff of smoke coming off of his uniform. “How do you feel, Bells?”

“Were you in a fire today?” I asked him, scanning him for any clear injuries. “You’re not supposed to be doing the heavy lifting anymore, remember? You said the doctor told you it was bad for your back.”

“My back is fine,” Charlie rolled his eyes, then placed a gentle kiss on top of my head. “I’m tip-top shape. Got prescribed a yoga routine, been pretty helpful so far- Anyways, it was just a small brush-fire. Don’t change the subject. How’s your head?”

“She hasn’t shown any symptoms of concussion.” Rosalie told him. “I’ve been watching.”

“Thanks, hon.” Charlie beamed at her. “I called your mom on my way home by the way. She’s on her way over to pick you up, she just got done at work.”

Rosalie thanked him, and we followed him to the kitchen to help him unpack groceries. Among the fresh vegetables and cheap boxes of pasta, was a whole gallon of cookie dough ice cream. I fixed myself a large bowl immediately, taking large bites while Charlie put everything where it belonged. As he and Rosalie were discussing her favorite subjects in school, there was a knock at the door. Swallowing a large bite so quickly that I got an instant brain freeze, I followed Rosalie to the front door.

Standing on the porch was a middle-aged woman so beautiful she had to be Rosalie’s mother; She had long, caramel colored hair that hung in ringlets down her face. Her skin was lightly tanned, and she had kind, deep-set eyes that made their golden color brighter somehow. She immediately reached out and pulled her daughter into her thin arms. I noticed she was just a few inches shorter than Rosalie.

“Hello, dear,” She said to me, releasing Rosalie and extending her hand to me. I took it, concealing my reaction to its temperature. 'Bad circulation' must run in the family. “Rose told me what happened this morning. I’m so glad to see you’re alright.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Cullen.” I said. Strange- She didn’t seem that concerned for Rosalie’s safety either. Her siblings, now even her parents, hadn’t once acted as if they’d feared for her life. My mother had been nearly inconsolable, and it didn’t seem like Mrs. Cullen had even left work to go check on her daughter.

“Oh, call me Esme, sweetheart.” She said, then addressed Charlie, who had snuck up behind me without my noticing. “Thank you for letting Rosalie stay here, Charlie. You were right that I wouldn’t want her walking home in these conditions.”

“Our pleasure!” He beamed at the pair of them. “She’s welcome back any time- Hell, if she saves Bella’s life one more time, she can move in for all I care.”

We all laughed, then Esme confirmed with him some plans they had for teaching her second-grade class about fire safety. When her mother went back to start the beige minivan sitting in our driveway behind my truck, Rosalie turned to say goodbye to me.

“I’ll see you on Thursday, Bella.” She said, standing there awkwardly for a second before heading to the van.

“Wait!” I called after her, taking a few steps outside after her like I was being pulled by magnets. My cheeks reddened when she turned back to me, one eyebrow raised.

“Yes?”

I cleared my throat, then asked, “Will you take notes for me in Bio tomorrow? I don’t want to fall behind…”

She grinned. “Of course, I’d be happy to.”

I watched her as she got into the van with Esme, and my eyes followed them as they drove down the street and turned the corner onto the main road.

“I told you, Bells,” Charlie said jovially, closing the door and locking it behind him. “I knew I had a good feeling about that girl.”

Before I had registered it, six weeks had passed. Rosalie and I made excellent lab partners; We were both naturally competitive, and as a result I’d never had a better grade in a science class. Although we’d both technically been in the accident, most people were ignoring Rosalie’s involvement altogether. No one else had seen her with me before the crash, but I kept my promise to her; I told everyone who asked me that she had been standing right next to me, they just must not have seen her. Lying to my friends made me feel guilty. Especially Angela, who crushed my ribcage in a tight hug the second I got to English on my first day back.

Mike had been acting the strangest; He’d insisted on carrying my books to the classes we’d shared for the first week after my accident, and had been hovering around me like I had my own gravitational pull that affected only him. I was shelving returns one day at work when he approached me, puffing his chest out and holding himself as tall as possible.

“Hey, Bella?” He asked, his voice wavering slightly. “Would you be planning on asking anyone to the… uh… Sadie Hawkins dance next Saturday?”

I nearly dropped the bucket of fish bait I was holding as I spun to face him, my eyes wide. I could see where this was going and I didn’t know how to handle it. “Uh, not really… I don’t really dance… You’ve seen me in gym class, I’m a hazard to the public.”

Oh, well…” He said, shuffling his feet and staring down at them with his cheeks flushing. “I was just going to say… If you had asked me, I would’ve said yes… No big deal though- if it’s not your thing.”

He grinned sheepishly, peering up at me from beneath his long lashes. I felt bad; He’d probably worked up the courage to ask me all day. Thankfully, something I’d been told earlier at school popped into my head.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to step on Jess’s toes...” I said casually, going back to my task.

Mike perked up a little. “What do you mean? Did she say something to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” I teased. “Only that she’s going to ask you to the dance tomorrow at lunch… Not a big deal.”

What?” He asked, eyes going wide. “What exactly did she say? Like, did she want to go as friends, or does she like, like me?”

Mike pressed me for every detail about Jessica’s supposed feelings for him, and it made the rest of the shift pass quickly. Once I got home, I rushed through my homework, too tired to try as hard as I should have. The next morning, I made myself a fruit smoothie for breakfast, drinking it in my truck on the way to school. As I was heading to English, I was intercepted by Tyler, who had been annoyingly underfoot ever since he’d almost flattened me with his van. His intentions were good I supposed, but it was beginning to annoy me.

“Hey, Bella!” He called, rushing to catch up to me in the hall. I noticed that he no longer needed his crutches and that he had traded his cast for a boot. “How are ya?”

“Good, Tyler.” I said patiently. I knew he felt bad, but his constant hounding had been grating on my nerves for a while, and I’d told him frequently that it wasn’t necessary. “What’s up?”

“Well, I was just thinking, and I may have found the perfect way to make up for our little accident.” He told me, wiggling his thick eyebrows and grinning. “I know it’s girl’s choice technically, but… Would you wanna go to the dance with me next Saturday?”

Oh, come on. There was no way this was happening to me twice. Not wanting to get into the details of my refusal, I made up a lie on the spot. Trying my best to sound less annoyed than I was, I said, “No thanks, Tyler. I’ll be out of town that day actually, I’ll be going to Seattle.”

Behind him, I saw an ice blonde head turn in our direction; Rosalie was watching us, her golden eyes narrowed at the back of Tyler’s head. She noticed me watching her and turned away, heading down the hall with Alice by her side.

“Oh, okay.” Tyler shrugged, unbothered. “I guess there’s always Prom.”

Before I could assure him that I wouldn’t be attending any dance over the course of my high school career- and definitely not with the guy that nearly crushed me to death and couldn’t take a hint- he had bounced off to his first class. Fuming, I stalked off to English, wondering if he’d consider us even if I nearly ran him over after school. When I finally got to lunch, my stomach was filing formal complaints with me, and I piled my tray high with an extra two slices of square pizza. As I ate, I caught Rosalie glancing over at me more than she usually did. When I joined her in Biology, it didn’t take me long to find out why that was.

“So, what’s in Seattle?” She asked, casually slicing open the frog we were dissecting. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Oh,” I was surprised that she’d been close enough to overhear that- Then again, maybe she hadn’t been within normal hearing distance. “Nothing, really… I just need to pick up a few things that are hard to find around here. Plus, it means I’ll be unavailable if anyone else asks me to the dance that weekend.”

She smirked, pinning the frog’s skin down to the tray. “You’re not a fan of school dances?”

Any dances, really.” I handed her the tools to remove the heart, knowing by know she had much steadier hands than me.

“I see.” She said. “Would you mind if I accompanied you? To Seattle, I mean. I’ve been meaning to go to the city myself… if you’re alright with that.”

I stared at her. Sure, we had been friendly since the accident, and I had kept my promise to her- but she’d been incredibly determined to keep me at arm’s length until now. Still, I wasn’t about to turn her down. “Sure, if you want to.”

“Excellent.” She said, then bit her lip and glanced at me from the corner of her eye as she asked, “Would you mind if we took my car? I don’t mean to disparage your truck, Bella- whoever restored it did beautifully, really- But it doesn’t look exactly… highway capable.”

I was a bit offended at first, but she did have a point; My truck wasn’t great on gas mileage, and I was sure that a trip that long would require several stops. Jake had also told me not to push it over sixty, and most of the roads to Seattle had at least a seventy mile per hour speed limit.

“You do have a point.” I told her, and her eyebrows raised slightly. “My mechanic told me not to push the speed on it over sixty, so we probably should take your car.”

“It’s a date, then.” Rosalie said, and butterflies began to flutter in my stomach while I watched her make a few notes on our paper. “Your mechanic, are they local? The one in Port Angeles really overcharges… I’d be happy to take a look at your truck if you ever have any issues.”

“No, my mechanic is in La Push, he’s an old family friend… You know how to fix cars?”

I do.” She smiled at me, her golden eyes filled with pride. “I taught myself how. I fixed my Mustang by myself. It’s a ’76.”

My eyebrows raised; That was impressive. Phil had tried to show me how to change my own oil once on his car, and my brain had instantly ceased to function. It occurred to me that her and Jacob would probably get along really well, and I made a mental note to introduce them in the future.

I jumped when the bell rang, making Rosalie laugh. She took our completed paper to Mr. Molina, and I hurried to pack my things away. The frog that we had dissected was still on the tray, it’s vital organs in silver bowls around it.

“I’ll take care of it.” Rosalie said, indicating the mess on the blacktop. “I have History next- there’s a review that I wouldn’t mind missing.”

“You sure?” I asked, feeling a bit guilty since I hadn’t done much to help with the actual work today either. I could at least be the one to clean up.

“I’ve got it.” She assured me, smiling my favorite smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

On my way home that day, I stopped by the store to pick up a few things for dinner. I moved through the aisles in a daze, barely noticing what I had grabbed. When I got back to the house, I stared at my mishmash of groceries and tried to piece together a meal; We had a large container of brown rice in the fridge, so I measured out a cup of it and put it in a pot to boil. I chopped up some of the vegetables that I’d grabbed, mixed them up with some broth and a can of mushroom soup, put them in a dish on top of the cooked rice, and threw it in the oven with a layer of breadcrumbs on top; Thankfully, it wasn’t half bad, and Charlie and I sat next to each other on the living room couch eating large helpings. We were in the middle of a Lord of The Rings marathon and had just started the extended version of The Two Towers.

“Hey, Dad?” I asked in between bites.

“Hmm?”

“Would it be okay if I went to Seattle next Saturday?”

Seattle?” He turned his head to look at me skeptically. “Why Seattle? And isn’t the dance next Saturday? Don’t you wanna go with your friends or something?”

I raised my eyebrow at him. “You know I don’t dance, Dad. I get that from you.”

“Touché.” He took another bite, then continued speaking as he chewed. “But I dunno, Bells… Didn’t Jake say somethin’ about a low speed limit on your truck? That’s a long drive, honey, are ya sure ya don’t want me to ask Billy if Jake can borrow The Machine?”

“No, that’s not necessary.” I told him. “Rosalie needs to go to Seattle too, so she offered to drive us in her car instead.”

Oh, well that’s okay then.” He said, waving his fork and going back to watching the movie. “Have a good time, be back by ten-thirty- And tell her I say hi.”

I did the dishes after I ate, then went up to my room to do my homework. After re-reading the same paragraph three times and still not retaining a word, I gave up and laid upside down on my bed, answering texts from mom; Phil had a few days off soon, and they were planning a short cruise. I told her about my plans to visit Seattle with Rosalie, and she was happy I’d managed to make such a good friend after only being here a few months. When my eyelids mercifully began to droop, I changed into a tank top and shorts and got into bed. I was asleep within minutes.

Chapter Text

The next day at lunch, I looked over at the table where Rosalie usually sat with her family to wave to her like I always did- only to discover that she wasn’t sitting with them. Scanning the cafeteria, I finally found her sitting at an empty table by herself. When she saw me notice her, she grinned, winked, and curled her index finger twice to invite me to join her. Eric- seeing what was happening- put two fingers to their mouth and wolf-whistled. Angela smacked their arm playfully.

Oh. My. God, Bella.” Jess said, her eyes wide while she evaluated our silent exchange. “She means you. Oh my god, the Cullens never sit with anyone else, this is nuts! What’s going on with you two, anyway? You've both been very friendly recently-“

Nothing, Jess, we’re just friends.” I insisted, but my cheeks flushed at her assumption; I wondered what Rosalie would say if she was asked the same question. Somehow, I didn’t think she’d be interested in someone like me- Not like that.

Well, what are you waiting for, Arizona?” Mike asked from my other side, nudging me in the ribs with his sharp elbow. “Go over there.”

“Ask her where she got her boots while you’re at it.” Angela chimed in, smiling over at Rosalie and waving. “They’re killer and I need a pair.”

Picking up my tray of food, I got up and weaved my way through the other tables over to where Rosalie was waiting. I sat down opposite her, sliding into the seat awkwardly.

“Hello.” She said, smiling that damn smile that made my lungs forget how to function.

“Hey,” I smiled back at her. “So, this is new… Are you mad at your family or something?”

Rosalie rolled her eyes and glared over her shoulder at where her family sat. Edward’s dark eyes were locked on mine, his mouth twisted into an ugly scowl. Rosalie hissed through her teeth in his direction, making him turn back to his untouched plate of food. The other Cullens paid us no attention at all.

“Or something.” She confirmed, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder and turning back to face me. “Actually, they’re the ones upset with me for the moment- Not that I care, of course. It’s mostly just Edward, really, and upsetting him happens to be a hobby of mine anyway.”

Her smile was dazzling, but I felt a crushing weight in my stomach despite her reassurances. I poked aimlessly at my cup of fruit with my fork, then whispered, “Is that because of… Well, because of what we can’t talk about?”

“Yes… But if I want to be your friend, that’s between you and I, don’t you think?” She pierced a grape with one of her sharp red nails and popped it into her mouth, still smiling at me with her head tilted to one side. “Besides, you’ve kept your word- Emma Dowden asked me if I wanted to join the basketball team last week. She’s under the impression that my ‘fast reflexes’ will help them get to State this year.”

“What did you say?”

“I politely declined, of course. Sports aren’t really my thing.”

“Mine, either.” I said, pushing my food around with my plastic fork. Biting my lip anxiously, I continued, “About me keeping my word…”

Rosalie froze, though her face was unreadable.

“I’m still going to!” I assured her, stumbling over my words. “But- Well, I can’t help but want to know the truth, just for myself… You can’t tell me, I know that, and I understand- But I’d be lying if I told you that I hadn’t been trying to figure it out on my own…”

Holding my breath, my muscles so stiff that they began to ache, I waited for her response. When I looked up at her through my lashes, I was relieved to see that she didn’t look upset; Her blonde head was tilted curiously, the corner of her mouth twitching up.

“Well… Honestly, I can’t say I expected any less of you, Bella.” She chuckled and rolled her eyes, taking a bite of the mediocre cafeteria hamburger. “Just out of curiosity, what are some of your theories?”

My relief at her reaction to my prying vanished, replaced by an embarrassment so heavy it pinned me to my seat. I busied myself with taking a large bite of my veggie wrap, trying to hide behind my hair so that she wouldn’t see me blush.

What?” She pressed, raising an eyebrow. “Come on now, it can’t be that bad.”

I swallowed. “Toxic Waste?”

She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. I narrowed my eyes at her as my cheeks flushed deeper.

Sorry, sorry!” She said, sitting up straighter and trying to compose herself. “I just wasn’t expecting that- Please, continue.”

“You laughed.”

“I promise I’ll be on my best behavior.” She folded her hands in her lap and waited patiently.

Fine… Bitten by a radioactive spider?” I asked.

She smiled but didn’t laugh. “No.”

“Secretly a Kryptonian?”

“Nope. Try again.”

“Ancient amulet giving you magic powers?”

Creative, but no.”

“You’re not really giving me a lot to work with here.”

“You’re clever. You’ll be alright without my assistance.”

I fell silent at her compliment; She thought that I was clever. Around me, I noticed the other tables clearing as people collected their things and headed to their next class. Checking my watch, I saw that we only had a few minutes to get across the campus to Biology. I stood to dump my tray, but Rosalie didn’t move.

“Are you coming?” I asked, gesturing at the nearly empty cafeteria.

“Not today, no.” Rosalie picked up her own tray and dumped it into the trash, then pulled her car keys from her jacket pocket. “I’m not really feeling up to Biology today- I’m going to skip.”

My eyebrows rose. “Won’t you get in trouble?”

“With the school, maybe.” She shrugged. “My parents trust my judgement. They don’t mind my missing a class or two, so long as I keep my average above a C.”

“That must be nice.”

“It is.” She hesitated for a moment, then said, “Would you like to join me? A bit of teenage rebellion is good for the developing brain, you know.”

Her offer was tempting- especially when she was looking at me like that- but somehow, I doubted that Charlie would be as cool with my skipping class as her parents seemed to be. “I really shouldn’t… Do you want me to take notes for you?”

“I’d like that, thank you, Bella. I’ll see you later.” She flashed her heart-stopping smile at me one more time, grabbed her bag from the table, and walked out the set of double doors leading to the parking lot.

I got to class just as the bell rang, catching the door with my foot as it swung shut. Mr. Molina congratulated me on making it on time, giving me an over-dramatic round of applause as I sat down at the table by myself.

“Alrighty then, missing two today it looks like.” He said, eyeing Rosalie’s empty seat and one more next to Mike. “Rosalie and Tara- We have a lab today so, Mike, why don’t you pair up with Bella.”

Mike grabbed his backpack and moved to sit next to me while Mr. Molina dove under his desk and returned with a small box. He placed it the table in front of him, then gestured to the white board; The words, ‘Blood Types’ were written in black marker.

Oh, no.

“As you all can see, we’ll be discovering your blood types today.” He was saying, pulling out a second box marked, ‘Lancets.’

No. Anything else, please. The room had already started to spin, Mr. Molina’s voice getting hazy as it was replaced by a sharp ringing. There were cards being passed back. Mike took two and placing one in front of me. He was saying something that I could tell was supposed to be funny by his tone, but I couldn’t make out the individual words. I was focusing on the door, weighing my chances of making it out of here before I collapsed.

Mike placed his hand on my shoulder, making me jump. “Uh, Bella? You don’t look so good… You okay?”

No…” I groaned, resting my elbows on the table and putting my head in my hands.

Mike flagged down Mr. Molina, who was over at Lauren’s table showing them how to use the lancets. Next to her, Tyler seemed a little too enthusiastic. He came over to us, kneeling down to check on me.

“Not a fan of needles, Bella?” He asked.

I shook my head.

“Do you need to go to the nurse?”

I nodded.

“Okay then.” He stood up, then told Mike, “Take Bella up to the nurse’s office, then come right back. No dilly-dallying Mr. Newton.”

Mike helped me stand up, draping my arm over his shoulders and leading me out the door into the hallway. I leaned on him as we walked, trying to focus on staying upright as the ground shifted under my feet.

Damn, Bella- All this over a little needle?” He joked.

“Oh, shut up.” I groaned. The dizziness was getting overwhelming. “Let me sit for a minute, or you’ll end up carrying me the rest of the way.”

We were outside now, and Mike helped me down onto a bench facing the parking lot. I put my head between my legs and took deep breaths, inhaling the crisp afternoon air. Just as the ringing in my ears was beginning to subside, I heard the rhythmic clacking of high heels as fast footsteps headed towards us.

Bella?” The familiar voice was concerned, and I felt a cold hand on my back. “Is she alright?”

“Fainted. Blood-typing day.” Mike told her. “I was just taking her to the nurse, but she had to sit down for a minute- Skipping class today, huh?”

“Indeed.” Rosalie said, her eyes not straying from mine. They looked darker than normal, making her anxious gaze more intense. “How are you feeling, Bella? Can you walk?”

“I think so…” My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat. “I feel a bit better, but I’m still dizzy.”

“I can take her the rest of the way, if you’d like to get back to class.” She told Mike, giving him her signature smile. “I’m not busy, after all.”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” Mike stuttered, dazed at Rosalie’s unexpected friendliness. Looking down at me again, he asked, “That okay with you?”

I nodded, and Rosalie helped me to my feet. She pulled one of my arms over her shoulders and held me around my waist for extra support. Her close proximity made me shiver, and I hoped she would assume it was because of the wind. As we headed towards the office, I looked back over my shoulder at Mike; He was grinning, giving me two thumbs up and a wink before turning and going back to Biology. When Rosalie had guided me around the corner, she glanced around before effortlessly scooping me into her arms, taking my breath away.

Woah!” I yelped, trying to get my bearings as she picked up the pace. “A little warning next time, please- And you don’t have to carry me, I can still walk.”

“Yes, but for how long?” She asked, smirking down at me and winking. “Best to save your strength- You’re likely trip over your own feet on a good day. I’d rather not press your luck when you’re seconds from unconsciousness.”

“I feel fine.” I lied. The room spun as she opened the door, holding all of my weight in one arm. I blushed as I wondered how muscular she was under her long-sleeved white sweater.

She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Uh huh, sure.”

I narrowed my eyes and tried to come up with a witty reply, but we had reached the nurse’s office. She set me gently on my feet, keeping a supporting arm around my waist as she knocked on the door. The nurse- a short, dark-skinned woman with very curly hair and a kind smile- ushered us inside, helping me onto a paper-covered table. Rosalie sat in the chair in the corner, ignoring the nurse’s instructions to return to class.

“I’m supposed to stay with her.” She lied.

The nurse shrugged and gave me a bottle of water, fussing over me, checking my pulse and feeling my forehead.

“We always have at least one every time, don’t feel bad honey.” She was saying, shining a pen light in my eyes. “Last year I had ten kids in one class, nightmare of a day- Drink your water, dear, and eat these crackers. I have to go to the supply closet for a sec, get some refills for the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

She bustled out the door, leaving Rosalie and I alone. I sat there awkwardly, taking small sips of my water and taking deep breaths.

“Feeling better?” She asked.

“A bit.”

“Wishing you’d taken me up on my offer?” She teased, her amber eyes sparkling.

“You have no idea.” I took another big gulp of water. My head felt much clearer, and the walls had finally stopped swaying. “What were you doing, anyway?”

“I was in my car listening to music.” She shrugged. “I also got my English essay a bit more refined- I should pull a pretty good grade from it.”

Just then, the door opened. It wasn’t the nurse returning with the refills for the bathroom; It was Mike, supporting Eric by the elbow. They were getting pale, their dark eyes unfocused.

Rosalie leapt to her feet, her body stiff. “Go outside, Bella. Now.”

I did as she said, squeezing past Mike and Eric while I held my breath. When I was safely out in the hallway, I exhaled in relief. Rosalie joined me, placing a cool hand on my back.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “We can’t go back in if you pass out- That would be counter-productive.”

“I’m okay.” Thankfully, I had made it out before the room could start spinning again. I looked back up at Rosalie; Her expression was frozen somewhere between concerned and curious.

“You didn’t argue with me just now.” She said. “When I told you to leave.”

It wasn’t a question, but I assumed she wanted an answer. “I could smell the blood.”

A crease appeared in her brow as she stared at me. “That’s impossible, Bella. Humans can’t smell blood- I mean, you’re not a shark.”

“I can smell it.” I insisted, narrowing my eyes back at her. “It smells like rust, and salt- It makes me nauseous.”

The nurse returned, rushing past us with her arms full. A second later, Mike came out of the office, holding my backpack in his arm. He handed it to me and I took it gratefully.

“Didn’t think you’d want to go back in there.” He said, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “Feelin’ better, Bella?”

“Yeah, a bit.” I said, swinging the bag over my shoulder.

“So, what are you gonna do?” He asked, glancing between me and Rosalie. “You two just gonna hang out until next class?”

“I think it might be best if you head home for the day, Bella.” Rosalie said before I could answer Mike. I stared at her, baffled.

“Why?” I asked. “I feel fine now.”

“Students will be blood-typing all day.” She explained, shrugging. “Given your sensitivity to that sort of thing, I just thought you may want to avoid further discomfort.”

I had to admit, she had a point. All it would take would be one person taking their band aid off too soon, too close to me, and I would be back at square one. Besides, we were doing volleyball later in gym. If I didn’t end up in the nurse’s office again because of that, someone else would for sure.

“You might be right.” I conceded, making Rosalie smile.

“Well, if you’re sure.” Mike shrugged. Then a mischievous grin appeared on his face as he looked back at Rosalie. “Oh, and Bella- Angie wanted to get everyone together this weekend at First Beach. Do you wanna go?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” I said. I would be able to visit Jacob while I was there, and he would be able to check on the truck.

“Great.” Mike said. “We’re trying to get a big group together. So if you think of anyone else you want to bring-“

“Yeah, got it, Mike, thanks.” I interrupted, hoping Rosalie hadn’t noticed his insinuation. A quick glance at her face told me that she had, and my cheeks flushed.

“See ya later, then.” Mike said, turning on his heel and strutting back to class.

Rosalie held the door open for me as we went back out to the parking lot. We had almost made it to where my truck was parked when she asked, “Would you mind if I drove you home?”

I stopped walking abruptly. “Why? I can still drive, you know. It’s not like I hit my head again.”

“Call it an abundance of caution.” She grinned. “Dizziness and driving don’t make good neighbors. Will you please let me make sure you get home safely? Alice and I will be sure that your truck is returned after school.

I couldn’t turn her down, not when she was looking at me like she was now. Besides, letting her drive me home meant that I would be spending more time with her- Which, for reasons I couldn’t fully understand, I wasn’t willing to pass up.

“Okay, fine.” I said. “But my truck had better be back before five. Charlie’s been a little helicopter-y after the accident, I don’t want to give him a reason to worry.”

“Deal.” Rosalie led me to her red convertible, parked only a few spaces down from my truck. She opened the passenger door for me, and I slid inside, tucking my backpack between my knees. She circled around to the drivers’ side and joined me, pulling carefully out of the parking lot and onto the freeway. When we took the exit towards my house, I finally took a deep breath and blurted out the question I’d been trying to figure out how to ask.

So, if you wanted to come with me- I mean, us- Me and Mike, and whoever else- You can… To the beach, I mean. This weekend.” Shit. That could’ve gone better. Good job, Bella. Smooth. I tried to blend into the soft leather of the seat while I waited for her answer.

Rosalie was smiling gently, her eyes softening as she looked over at me. “Unfortunately, I won’t be available this weekend... My mother is taking my sister and I on a hiking trip to Goat Rocks.”

Oh.” I said, torn between relief and disappointment. On one hand, I had really wanted her to come with us. I really enjoyed getting to know more about her. On the other hand, if I did something stupid at the beach, I didn’t know if I could handle the embarrassment of her witnessing it.

“I am looking forward to next weekend, though.” She amended, glancing over at me again and winking, her smile highlighting the dimples in her cheeks. My blush returned, accompanied by a drum solo in my chest.

“Yeah, me too.” I breathed, then joked, “My mom is glad that I’ll be getting out of Forks for a while. She’s worried about me getting paler- like that’s possible.”

“I’m sure.” She laughed. “And how are your mom and Phil liking Jacksonville?”

I was impressed that she’d remembered those details. We hadn’t talked about my mom and stepdad since that first day in Biology. “They’re good. They’re going on a cruise soon- to the Bahamas, I think. He’s been good for her. She likes to travel a lot, and his job is perfect for that.”

“Not so perfect for you, though.” She observed. Her statement caught me off guard, and I stared at her. Her answering smile was apologetic. “Sorry. That was rude of me.”

“It’s okay- I mean, you’re not wrong, really- But I’m okay with the way things worked out, it was all for the best. I missed my dad anyway, and mom was miserable staying home with me while Phil traveled. He makes her happy. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy.”

“That’s very selfless.” Rosalie said, her whole body turned in my direction. I was about to panic and tell her to focus on the road, when I noticed that we were parked in my driveway already. “Forgive me if I’m being rude again, Bella- But do you think that she would give you the same courtesy? Accept whoever you chose, so long as they made you happy?”

There was no hesitation in my answer. “Of course, she would. It’s always been us against the world, she’d always support me.”

“That’s good.” Rosalie nodded, sitting back in her seat. “I won’t be in class tomorrow, by the way. We’re starting our girl’s trip early. Would you mind taking notes for me again? You can text me a picture of them.”

“Yeah, sure.” I said. “I don’t have my phone on me, though. It’s in the house.”

Rosalie pulled her own cellphone from her jacket pocket, pulled up the contacts page, and handed it to me. I typed in my number and handed it back.

“Why leave your phone at home?” She asked, tucking hers back into her pocket. “Seems like a strange thing to leave behind.”

“Only when I’m at school.” I explained. “I still take it with me to work or if I go out, but I got it confiscated by a teacher once and I hated it. It drove me nuts all day, and mom had to come up to the office so I could get it back- She was super pissed. Anyway, you don’t really need your phone at school, it's only a distraction- I have a watch if I need to tell the time.”

I held up my wrist, where the worn leather watch was still ticking away despite its age.

“I suppose that’s fair.” Rosalie said, then after a moment of silence said, “So, I’ll see you on Monday?”

“Yeah, see you then.” I grabbed my backpack and opened the car door, stepping out into the misty air.

Rosalie waited until I had opened the front door to drive away, honking twice and sticking her hand out the window to wave to me as she sped off. Inside, I busied myself with straightening up my room- I had really been neglecting my cleaning routine since the accident. Charlie was handling dinner tonight, so I took my time doing my laundry, taking out the trash, and even took the time to organize my desk.

Around three forty-five, I started listening for my truck, folding laundry in the kitchen. When I didn’t hear it pull up, I glanced out the window to see if it was there. Shocked, I saw that it was parked in my driveway, just as Rosalie had promised. Maybe I just hadn’t heard it over the sound of the dryer.

I remembered that I had to make my daily call to mom and ran upstairs to check my phone. I pulled it out of my desk drawer and plopped down on my bed. Along with mom’s daily stream-of-consciousness texts, there was one message from an unknown number, and I opened it to read what it said.

2:18PM ‘See you on Monday, Bella. Please refrain from any life-threatening activities until I get back. -Rose’

Chapter Text

Charlie got home at five o’clock, right on schedule. I had just barely finished my homework- the geometry assignment was so hard that I almost threw it away and gave up- when he hollered up the stairs for me to come fix my dinner. He had gotten up early that morning to make fresh pizza dough, and it had been in the fridge resting while he’d been at work. It was now on the kitchen counter, cut into smaller portions and rolled out into single rounds. Grampa Swan’s famous homemade pizza sauce was bubbling away in a pot on the stove, and I poured a large helping onto my own round, covering it in a thick layer of mozzarella and mushrooms. While it cooked in the oven with Charlie’s, I did the dishes that I had left in the sink that morning.

“Enjoying your fungus pizza?” Charlie asked, sneering in disgust as I took a too-large bite and burned the roof of my mouth. I sucked in air through my lips as I chewed, trying to cool it off.

When I’d managed to swallow- with the help of a large gulp of soda- I raised my eyebrow at his own pizza, covered in anchovies and banana peppers. “Enjoying your fish pepper pizza?”

Absolutely.” He took another bite, making dramatic satisfied noises as he chewed. He swallowed, then asked, “So, how’s things? Any big plans for this weekend? Any wild teenage parties I should know about? I won’t narc, honest.”

“No, no wild parties.” I said. “But I do have plans to go down to La Push on Saturday afternoon with a few friends from school.”

“Oh, good- You gonna give Jake the heads’ up?”

“Well, duh, Dad- I wouldn’t go to La Push without seeing him.”

“Who else is goin’?”

“Mike, Angela, Jess, and a few others.” I shrugged. “I invited Rosalie, but she’s going on a hiking trip to Goat Rocks with her mother and sister- they’ll be leaving tomorrow, actually.”

Charlie looked up at me suddenly, one eyebrow raised as he took a large swig of his beer. “Goat Rocks? You sure, honey?”

My confused expression mirrored his. “Uh, I think so- Why? Is there something wrong with Goat Rocks?”

“The terrain up there’s usually too rough for hiking or camping.” He said, taking another bite of his pizza and rambling on, “Plus, there’s bears all over Mount Rainer. If they’re bringing food instead of hunting for it, they’re bound to attract a few… Maybe I should give Esme a call, make sure she has everything she needs... Not that I’m sayin’ she doesn’t know what she’s doin’- Just to be on the safe side, ya know.”

“I’m sure I must have just heard her wrong.” I shrugged, taking a few gulps of my Dr. Pepper while I tried to connect the dots in my head.

Bears, huh? Somehow, I didn’t think any bear would be a problem for Rosalie; If she could stop a two-ton truck from crushing me to death, fighting off your average grizzly should be a walk in the park for her. I did- like Charlie- have my worries about Alice and Esme, however. Neither of them looked like they could hurt a fly, and I doubted Esme would ever want to. Unless, of course, they had the same mysterious supernatural abilities as Rosalie.

Early Saturday afternoon, I rushed through a quick lunch before meeting up with everyone in the parking lot at Newton’s. Almost everyone was already there, hanging out by the back of Tyler’s van. I could still see the large dent in the side, even after they had tried to pop it out in the shop. I got out of my truck and sat next to Angela while we waited for Mike and Jess to show up- Apparently, they’d been spending quite a lot of time together since she’d asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. They got there about fifteen minutes after I did, swinging into the parking lot in Jess’ white VW bug.

We all piled into the two vehicles with the most room; My truck and Tyler’s van. After making him promise not to cause another accident- something I was only half joking about- he followed my lead down to La Push. Angela, Mike, and Jessica squeezed into the bench seat of my truck, with Jess sitting on Mike’s lap. On the way there, Angela told me all about an internship she was hoping to get at a newspaper downtown, that she and I both agreed would look fantastic on her college applications.

Jacob was waiting at the entrance to First Beach, with what looked like a half-dozen of his friends. I pulled my truck next to the old beat-up sedan they were leaning against, Tyler parking his van on my other side.

“Bella!” Jacob waved his arms in greeting and I grinned, waving back with equal enthusiasm. We all spilled out of our over-stuffed cars, and I bounced over to give Jacob a tight hug.

“Guys, this is Jacob Black, an old family friend.” I said.

Introductions were exchanged among both groups. Jacob immediately dragged me over to introduce me to his two best friends on the reservation; Quil and Embry. Both girls had the same dark hair and eyes, though Quil’s was cropped short and swooped to one side, and Embry’s was so long it hung just below her waist. Embry was also much taller and curvier than Quil, who I noticed was missing her entire left leg- replaced by a prosthetic that had been intricately painted with gorgeous detail.

“So, you’re the famous Bella Swan.” Quil said, looking me up and down curiously. “Jacob didn’t exaggerate- You are kinda cute, aren’t you?”

“Quil, stop it.” Embry scolded. Her eyes were narrowed, but the corner of her mouth was twitching. “Jacob didn’t say cute- He said, ‘totally beautiful.’”

“Ugh, guys, stop- she’s like my sister.” Jacob rolled his eyes and I nodded in agreement at his words. He turned to me and said, “Listen, they asked me if you were good-looking- What was I going to do, say no?

I pretended to look offended, raising a hand to clutch at my imaginary pearls and dropping my jaw. “Are you saying that I’m not ‘cute’ and ‘totally beautiful’?”

“Yeah, Jake, rude.” Embry said.

Completely.” Quil chimed in.

“Okay, no- This is not happening.” Jacob said, gesturing to the three of us all grinning at him and trying not to laugh. “You are not ganging up on me two seconds after I introduce you.”

“Oh, I think we are, Jakie-poo.” Quil said, sliding up to me and putting an arm around my waist. “Or I could keep Bella all to myself, if you prefer.”

She winked up at me, making me blush and Embry burst out laughing at Jacob’s expression. We followed the others down to the water, joking and laughing at Jacob’s expense, much to his chagrin. Some of the older Quileute boys made a bonfire, assisted by Mike and Jess. Angela gathered kindling and lit it with the box of matches in her leather jacket, gently nudging Tyler out of the way. He had been fruitlessly rubbing two sticks together, the crease in his brow deepening by the second. Lauren pulled out a grocery bag and began handing out the ingredients for smores, while Angela took turns sharpening everyone’s sticks for them with the pocketknife she kept in her boot.

We’d all eaten enough smores to feed a small village, when Quil stood up and suggested a trip to the tide pools, just a short hike away. A few people- Lauren and Jessica among them- wanted to stay by the fire and keep warm. Angela was among the others who stood up to join Quil.

“So, more smores or tide-pools?” Jacob asked, stuffing another smore into his mouth whole and struggling to swallow.

I considered for moment, examining the contents of each group; The people staying behind looked like mostly couples- Mike and Jess were snuggling on a scratchy blanket, and Lauren was getting very close with a boy I’d never spoken to before. “Tide pools.”

“Okie-dokie!” Jacob hopped up, holding out his hands for me. He was stronger than I expected, nearly lifting me six inches off the ground before setting me on my feet. We walked over to join the pro-hiking group, where Tyler and one of the other Quileute boys- Paul, I think- were competing to see who could throw the largest log over their head. Mike looked up at me curiously as we passed and called to me over Jess’ shoulder, making me stop just behind them.

“You’re hiking, Bella?” He asked, one eyebrow raised at me while he craned his neck to see around Jess’ head. “You sure that’s the best idea? Your girlfriend’s not here to catch you if you trip.”

“Oh, shut up, Mike!” I said, kicking a little sand at him while he laughed.

Girlfriend?” Jess asked, perking up and pouncing on the subject like a bloodhound on a fox. “When did this happen, Bella? You didn’t tell me-“

“Nothing happened, Jess, Mike is just being an ass.” I insisted, glaring at Mike while he snickered. “I invited Rosalie, yeah, but just as friends.”

“Rosalie Cullen?” One of the older Quileutes- Sam Uley, a tall muscular man who liked maybe nineteen or twenty- asked in a deep voice.

“Uh, yeah.” I said. “Do you know her?”

“Yes.” He stated, his eyes as hard as his words. “The Cullens don’t come here.”

His response was firm, indisputable. The way he said it didn’t sound like the Cullens just didn’t like the beach- It was almost like they weren’t allowed to be here. A heavy unease fell into the pit of my stomach, but it didn’t seem like anyone other than me had noticed Sam’s apparent disdain for the Cullens.

Our little hiking group was heading away, and Jacob had to tap my shoulder to get my attention. He had to help me navigate the rough terrain, keeping one hand gripping my upper arm as I stepped over roots and large rocks. When we finally reached the tide pools, my legs were throbbing. I sank gratefully onto one of the large flat rocks by one of the biggest pools, watching the starfish and sea urchins at the bottom. Jacob sat down next to me while the rest of our group ventured further out.

So…” Jacob turned to me, an all to familiar grin spreading on his face. “Since when are you ‘friends’ with Rosalie Cullen?”

I blushed in spite of myself. “Since a few months ago, I guess- Why?”

“Oh, nothing.” He wiggled his eyebrows, his grin widening. “Just looking out for you, ya know? Wouldn’t want you to get involved with some cult or something… Or worse.”

I stared at him suspiciously as I recalled Sam’s harsh dismissal when Rosalie had been mentioned, and asked, “Does this have anything to do with what Sam said back at the bonfire? ‘The Cullens don’t come here.’?”

I did my best impersonation of Sam’s deep voice, puffing out my chest and crossing my arms for emphasis. Jacob burst out laughing.

“Yeah, kinda.” He said, rolling his eyes. “It’s part of this old superstitious legend the Elders have- It sounds ridiculous if you ask me, they Cullens are just... eccentric.”

“Angela says the same thing.” I said, considering his answer and trying to put all the fragmented pieces together in my head; The crazy cult rumors at school, Rosalie’s own insistence on complete secrecy, the fact that they didn’t seem to be allowed on Quileute land- and now they had a legend about the Cullens? I tried to keep my tone neutral as I asked, “So, what’s the legend?”

I don’t know…” Jacob said, hissing in a sharp breath between his clenched teeth and stretching his arms behind his head. “I’m really not supposed to talk about it- Plus, I wouldn’t wanna give you any nightmares.”

I rolled me eyes. “Oh, please, Jacob. I’m not the one who hid behind the couch the first time we watched The Mummy.”

“Touché.” He conceded, taking a deep breath, and adopting a tone associated with haunted houses. “It all began long ago… On a dark, stormy night-“

Jacob-“

“Okay, okay.” He laughed, holding his hands up in surrender. “But for real, I’ll have to start with some of the tribe’s old histories- It won’t make sense otherwise.”

I nodded, turning towards him, and getting as comfortable as I could on the rocks. Jacob mimicked me, leaning back on the thick tree root behind him while he watched the rest of our group explore the farther pools.

“It starts with one of our- well, I guess you could call him a god, just to simplify things; His name is Q’waeti’.” Jacob’s voice took on a subtle reverence that made my spine tingle; It reminded me of Billy, when he used to tell these stories to us around his fireplace with Rachel and Rebecca, on the long summer nights we would get rained in and stay at their house for the night. “He traveled the land, telling people how they should live. One day, he came across Beaver, sharpening his stone knife. Q’waeti’ asked what Beaver was doing, and Beaver said, ‘I am sharpening this knife to kill Q’waeti’.”

“Wait,” I interrupted, smirking. “This beaver just straight up told a god that he was planning on killing him? To that god’s face?”

“Essentially.” Jacob shrugged, grinning. “Anyway, Q’waeti’ took the stone from Beaver and stuck it to his tail. Then he told Beaver, ‘You shall always have this stuck to your tail. You will be able to do nothing but slap the water with your tail, and you will dive and hide when people come.'

“Then one day he came upon Deer, who was sharpening her shell on the rocks. Q’waeti’ asked what she was sharpening it for, and Deer said, ‘I am going to kill Q’waeti’.

“Okay, seriously, do all of these animals want to fight a god?” I asked. “That doesn’t seem like a very sound strategy for beating natural selection.”

“The local wildlife has a death wish- Can I keep going?”

I pretended to zip my lips, throwing the invisible key over my shoulder.

“Q’waeti’ took the shell and stuck it behind Deer’s ears, and told her, ‘When you see people you will be frozen in fear, unable to run.’ Then Q’waeti’ went on his way… to the Quileute lands.” Jacob smiled, and I knew we had arrived at the information I craved. “He saw two wolves on the beach, but no people to be seen. The wolves were kind to Q’waeti’, sitting with him and letting him drink from their river. Q’waeti' reached out and touched the wolves, and they transformed into people.”

“The Quileutes were wolves?” I asked incredulously.

“According to the legends.” Jacob said, shrugging. “Q’waeti’ told the people, ‘You shall be brave, because you have the hearts of wolves- In every way you shall be strong and true.’ Q’waeti' showed them how to use the land, and the tribe chose their first Elder. Q’waeti' went on his way, and our tribe lived peacefully for many years… Until a monster wandered into our territory.”

I realized I was holding my breath and tried to steady myself- I didn’t want to make to satisfied grin on Jacob’s face any bigger.

“The monster was pale, with bright red eyes that glowed in the darkness,” Jacob may as well have a flashlight under his chin at his point; I was surprised he wasn’t making spooky wind sounds like when we were kids. “It could move faster than any human, and could crush whole boulders with it’s bare hands- But that wasn’t the worst part... The monster had taken multiple women from the tribe. Their bodies were discovered a mile or so away, completely drained of blood.”

I swallowed. “How did the Quileutes escape?”

“They didn’t.” Jacob grinned. “They killed it.”

How?

“Well, over time, the first Quileutes realized that they could shift back into their wolf forms- only they were much stronger, just as Q’waeti’ promised. They were able to hunt the monster down and tear him apart, but they had to burn the pieces to finish the job.”

I stared, still confused. “I don’t get it… What does this have to do with the Cullens?”

“I’m getting to that.” Jacob said, rolling his eyes. “God, always so impatient- Anyway, sometime when my grandfather was Chief of the tribe when a group of the same monsters wandered onto our territory. He led a group of warriors into the woods to kill them, but when they found them, they were feeding on a deer- not a human like the others of their kind had over the years.

“The warriors’ hesitation gave the monsters’ leader a chance to speak. He told my grandfather that he and the others of his clan were peaceful and meant no harm to any human. My grandfather trusted him- for whatever reason, I don’t really know- and made a treaty with them; They would be able to live in peace, as long as they stayed away from Quileute land and never harmed a human. They’ve kept their word… So far, anyway.”

He stopped, gauging my reaction. I just stared at him, blinking stupidly.

“So, the Cullens are descended from this… enemy clan?” I asked.

No.” Jacob said. “They are the same clan. The same monsters from the story.”

“I don’t get it.” I said. “Didn’t the Cullens just move here?”

“Or just moved back.” Jacob wiggled his eyebrows. “I’m just saying, Bella, you might want to watch your back around that girlfriend of yours- or watch your neck, in this case.”

I was completely silent, and I must've looked pretty freaked out because Jacob said, "It's just a story Bella- I promise, if I turn into a wolf any time soon, you'll be the first person I tell."

Our conversation was cut off by a sharp scream from lower down the rocks, breaking the spell from Jacob’s story and making me jump- Tyler was chasing Angela up the shore, with what looked like a foot-long worm in his outstretched hand. Eric was right behind them, their camera out and aimed in our direction as they headed towards us.

“Bella! Help!” Angela cried, screaming again as he began to catch up to her. “Bella, make him stop, please!

She screamed again, louder than before, as the tip of the wriggling worm touched her arm. I jumped up to help her, slipping down the rocks- Not that I was able to physically stop Tyler, but he owed me about a million for nearly killing me. After I’d reached them- with an impressive scrape on my knee- I scolded Tyler until he was hanging his head in shame. I made him apologize, then we headed back to the beach where the others were waiting.

“You’re afraid of worms?” I asked Ange once we were back on stable terrain.

“Worms, slugs, just bugs in general.” She clarified, shuddering. I tried very hard not to laugh.

The couples at the bonfire had done as I’d expected and had broken out into a full-blown make out party. Lauren was completely wrapped around her partner, straddling his lap in a way that made me a little uncomfortable. Jessica and Mike were a bit more reserved but were gazing into each other’s eyes in a way that was equally sickening. Angela and I exchanged an eye-roll and began gathering everyone’s stuff.

I said a quick goodbye to Jacob, and exchanged a few playful jabs with Quil and Embry before we all piled back into the cars and drove off, driving as carefully as we could through the thick fog. We got back to Newton’s around six. Charlie was working a double shift tonight, so he wouldn’t be home until late. Knowing that I would have minimal distractions from my racing thoughts at home, I searched for another option to occupy my time.

Once everyone but Mike and I had gone our separate ways, I turned to him and asked, “Do you think Aunt Sadie would let me clock in for a few hours? I want to kill some time.”

“I don’t know about that, but you can take my shift if you want.” Mike said. “Jess wanted to get dinner, but I had to say no because of work.”

“Deal.”

“Wait, seriously?

“Yeah, go!” I insisted, nudging him. “Take Jess to dinner. Get her a strawberry-banana shake, they’re her favorite.”

“You’re the best, Arizona.” Mike said, whipping out his phone to call Jessica. “I owe you one.”

I went inside, feeling the warm air thaw my ears and nose. Aunt Sadie was at the counter, helping Mrs. Finley decide which bug repellant to get. I tried to eavesdrop so I could get one for Angela. Aunt Sadie waved when she saw me but looked confused when I joined her behind the counter and slipped my apron on over my clothes.

“Hi there, Bella.” She said after Mrs. Finley left, armed with enough bug spray to destroy an ecosystem. “I thought I had scheduled Mikey today.”

“You did.” I said, smiling and shrugging. “I wanted to kill some time, so he gave me his shift. He wanted to take Jess out anyway.”

“Jess?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “Mikey is dating?”

Oh no, what have I done? I thought as Sadie stared me down. Sorry, Mike.

I had to dodge her questions for a half hour until she finally gave up. “Well, alright. You have to be loyal to your friends I suppose- I have to do some inventory in the back room, will you be alright up here all by yourself?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She smiled and patted my arm. “Well, yell if anything combusts; I’ll leave the door open.”

She squeezed past me and into the storeroom, leaving me alone at the register. I immediately busied myself with the reshelving, trying to keep my mind off of my mysterious, gorgeous, potentially deadly new friend.

Chapter Text

I got home late that night, after Charlie had called me around nine-thirty asking where I was; I’d forgotten to tell him about my last-minute shift at Newton’s, and my phone had been on vibrate while I was working. He was sitting in the armchair in the living room, fiddling absently on his guitar while he watched the news.

“Well, there you are!” He said as I came in, taking off my muddy shoes by the door. “How was La Push? Jake doin’ okay?”

“Yeah, Jake is good.” I said, walking over to stand next to him. “La Push was good. Then I took Mike’s shift afterwards so he could go out with Jessica- That’s why I’m so late, I’m sorry I forgot to tell you.”

“It’s fine, honey.” Charlie shrugged, doing a jazzy riff on his guitar and smiling up at me. “You’re home safe now- no harm, no foul, just don’t forget next time. Wouldn’t want your old man to die of a heart attack, would ya?”

“Of course not.” I said, smirking and grateful I wasn't in trouble.

He gestured to the kitchen. “I brought home some takeout from the diner. Got you a garden burger, your favorite. Extra pickles.”

“I’ll save it for lunch tomorrow.” I said, my stomach still too knotted from stress to even consider eating. “I had a lot of smores with Jacob. If I eat anything else, I’m going to pop.”

I knelt to give him a quick hug and a peck on the top of his head before going up to my room. I tried to go to bed immediately, wanting to shut my brain off before it started working in overdrive. After tossing and turning for almost an hour, I yanked my phone off the charger and queued up an album Phil had gotten me last Christmas; Some rock band that he liked that I had never heard of. It wasn’t bad. I focused on the heavy drumbeats and complicated riffs until I finally dozed off.

In my dream, I was running through the dense forest, Jacob pulling me along by my hand. I tried to will myself to run faster, but it was like I was walking through quicksand. The muscles in my legs were stiff, mechanical, fighting against my every effort to move them forward. Behind me, I heard voices calling my name- I could hear Angela’s voice, and Mike’s, standing out louder than the others. They were begging me for help, to come back for them. I tried to turn around, to go to them, even if I couldn’t do anything- but Jacob pulled me harder in the other direction, his eyes darting frantically around us.

“You can’t help them, Bella!” He shouted, his voice echoing like we were driving through a tunnel. “You’ve got to run! Hurry!”

I tried to do as he said, but I ran right into his back as he stopped dead in his tracks. When I looked up at him, his face was frozen in terror, eyes wide and fixed on a point in the darkness. I followed his gaze, staring into the path we had been trying to run down. Emerging from the trees, her dark red dress sparkling in the moonlight, was Rosalie. Her ice blonde hair was loose, blowing in the light breeze as she stared up at the stars with a serene smile on her face.

I stared at her, unable and unwilling to look away from her; She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was only vaguely aware of my friends’ screams fading behind me, and Jacob’s hand trembling in mine- I was too fixated on her beauty.

Rosalie’s eyes locked on mine, and I realized that they were not their usual golden, or even black as they had been on that first day in Biology... They were a bright crimson. When she smiled, she exposed two long, sharp fangs where her canines should have been. Everything about her screamed ‘danger,’ and yet, I didn’t feel even a hint of fear as I looked back at her. Rosalie- my Rosalie, the Rosalie that saved my life, held my hand in the ambulance, brought me snacks and movies after she learned I had a concussion- would never hurt me. She took a few steps forward, her dress flowing behind her and revealing she was barefoot despite the sticks and rocks littering the ground. She extended a hand to me and tilted her head, waiting for me to take it.

I took a step in her direction, trying to pull away from Jacob’s trembling grip. He let go, but there was a deep, rumbling sound coming from his chest that made me freeze. When I turned to look at him, he was gone. In Jacob’s place, was a huge, bear-sized, reddish-brown wolf. It was snarling at Rosalie with its teeth bared, its black eyes glinting. Rosalie hissed back at it, her red lips curving into a sinister smile. Suddenly, the wolf-Jacob lunged for her, aiming for her neck-

I cried out, the shock causing me to jolt upright in bed, my heart trying to launch itself at the opposite wall as I took some deep breaths and tried to calm down. The clock on my phone told me that it was barely five in the morning. Charlie had the day off, and I could hear his deep, rumbling snores from across the hall. His dreams hadn’t been plagued by legends about the undead.

Too worked up now to even have a prayer of going back to sleep, I threw off the heavy comforter and sat down at my desk, pulling my dented silver laptop from the drawer. The internet server immediately opened to the pre-programmed search engine, and I typed in a single word; Vampires.

My screen was filled with thousands of results in a second, and I scrolled through them slowly. I clicked on link after link trying to find something that matched both Jacob’s story, and my own experiences with the Cullens. Some of them were similar, but wildly inaccurate on the smaller details. After exhausting my search for almost an hour, my brain was so overworked that I could feel it pressing against the back of my eyes. I rubbed them with my palms, trying to relieve some of the strain. I needed to think. I knew that there was a small trail leading into a small wooded are behind the house- a perfect place for a long walk, where I could let my mind wander without a chance of interruption.

I got dressed as quietly as I could, pulling my favorite lumpy green sweater over my head and zipping up the hiking boots I’d bought from work at a discount. Charlie was still snoring, so I left my bedroom door open a crack and tip-toed down the stairs so I wouldn’t wake him up.

Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten, but the blue haze caused by the constant cloud cover remained. A cool breeze made the trees ahead of me sway in welcome as I walked towards the trail just behind Charlie’s shed. The path was narrow, and I had to watch my feet to be careful not to trip over exposed tree roots as my nightmare replayed itself in my head. Had it just been a combination of a scary story and a poor music selection before bed? Or had it been my subconscious trying to tell me that both Jacob’s legend and my own intuition were correct?

Even with all the evidence to the contrary, Rosalie had never felt dangerous to me at all- not even in my nightmare, gliding towards us with glowing red eyes and sharp fangs. With a jolt, I realized why I had cried out in my sleep, and more importantly, who I had cried out for... I hadn’t been afraid for the wolf, even though it was obviously the more vulnerable of the two. I hadn’t even cried out for my own safety as I had stood there frozen, a sitting duck for any would-be attacker. I had been trying to warn Rosalie, to tell her to run, duck, do something to save herself- I had been afraid for her. I didn’t want to see her hurt, to be torn to pieces and burned like Jacob’s legend. The mere thought of it sent chills down my spine, making me shudder.

That realization steeled my resolve, and I headed back to the house with a new bounce in my step; Rosalie was my friend, and I didn’t give a damn what she was beyond that. It wasn’t just the fact that she had saved my life, although it was definitely a factor. She was funny, smart, and kind in a way I hadn’t expected. She seemed to care about me, too, or else why would she have risked exposing her secret to save me? How could I- one insignificant human girl- matter so much to such to someone like her?

In the kitchen, Charlie was at the stove, making eggs in a nest while his favorite oldies rock station poured from the radio. He looked up at I came in, raising one eyebrow suspiciously.

“Where’ve you been?” He asked. “Bit early for a weekend don’t cha think?”

“Couldn’t go back to sleep- Besides, it was a nice morning, so I wanted to go on a walk.” Technically, I wasn’t lying. I busied myself with setting the table so he wouldn’t ask why I was smiling.

“I’m goin’ down to La Push to get Billy and Harry in a bit,” Charlie was saying, plating the food and bringing it to the table, sitting down opposite me. “You wanna come with me? You could stay and keep Jake company, keep him outta trouble.”

“Do I have to ride in the side car?” I grimaced. “I feel like a kid when I get in that thing.”

Charlie hissed a breath through his gritted teeth, then sighed in resignation. “I won’t tell your mother if you don’t.”

“Deal.”

The drive down to La Push was a lot shorter on the Harley that it would’ve been in my truck. I was barely able to make out the individual trees as we sped past them. We weren’t speeding, but the current pulling around me made me cling as tight as I could to Charlie’s waist. When we got to the Jacob’s house, I pulled off my helmet and tried to detangle my thick hair. I was trying to wrestle my ring back from an impressive knot in the back of my head, when Jacob came bounding out of the house.

“Hey!” He pulled me into a tight hug, lifting me a few inches off the ground. “Good to see ya!”

“Yeah, yeah, put me down already.” I said, kicking my feet for emphasis. Jacob laughed and did as I asked.

Billy rolled himself down the ramp and over towards the Green Machine, where Charlie was opening the passenger door and getting the lift ready.

“Hey there, Bella.” He said, pausing and tipping his hat in my direction. “How’re things? School goin’ okay?”

“Yeah, school’s great.” I told him, leaning down to give him a hug. “How are you?”

“Oh, ya know, just rollin’ with the punches.” He grinned, winking while I giggled at his joke.

“Yeah, Dad, real funny.” Jacob rolled his eyes. “Like I haven’t heard that before.”

“You’ll hear it ‘til I get tired of it.” Billy said, punching his son’s arm lightly. “Stay outta trouble. Do your homework. I left pizza money on the table. Best order it now, I’ll be bringin’ home Harry’s fish fry and the biggest fish I can catch.”

“Yes, sir.” Jacob saluted sarcastically. Billy rolled his eyes and wheeled over to where Charlie was waiting. When they had driven off and could no longer see us, Jacob turned to me and said, “So… N64?”

“It still works?”

We played for the better part of the day, devouring two whole mushroom pizzas and an entire bag of peanut M&M’s. Jacob only paused to do his homework at my insistence, but we were back to goofing off within the hour. When Charlie and Billy got home, they had brought not only Harry Clearwater’s fish fry, but Harry Clearwater himself- as well as his wife Sue and their youngest, Seth. His older sister, Leah, was busy working a double shift at the pet store. She was in her senior year, and- according to her mom- was going to study to become a veterinarian.

My stomach was so full by the end of the night I could barely make it up the stairs to bed, weighed down by all the carbs. It seemed like I had just barely shut my eyes when I awoke to see my room bathed in a warm, yellow light. I hopped out of bed and threw my window open, looking up at the sky, for once not covered in a thick layer of clouds. The sun was shining so brightly it hurt my eyes- so I closed them, letting the warm sunlight hit my face and inhaling the crisp morning air.

I dug through my dresser and put on my favorite denim shorts and a plain white t-shirt, ignoring the warmer clothes I had set out the day before. I grabbed a banana from the kitchen and took a jacket just in case, then drove to school with my windows down and my stereo blaring. The parking lot was almost empty, since I’d gotten here so early, so I sat on my tailgate doing my homework while I waited. I was halfway through a rough draft of my English essay- which wasn’t due for another week- when I was startled by a voice calling my name.

“Bella!” Mike was jogging over to me from the crowded drop-off line where Aunt Sadie was pulling away, sticking her arm out the window to wave at me as she drove off. I waved back, grinning at Mike as he got closer.

“What’s up, California?” I asked, starting to pack all my stuff back into my backpack. I’d lost track of the time, and by the look of things, it was almost time for class. “How was your weekend?”

“Oh, good, good.” He said, still grinning, but putting his hands on his hips and narrowing his eyes like her was mad. “Had a really fun dinner with Aunt Sadie and Blake… They grilled me for hours about my new ‘girlfriend.’”

My stomach dropped; I hadn’t met anyone named Blake, but I assumed they were Sadie’s partner. Over my hectic weekend, I’d completely forgotten about my accidental slip at work. “I’m so sorry, Mike! In my defense, I didn’t say anything about a girlfriend, only that you were going out to dinner.”

He laughed, rolling his eyes and shrugging it off. “Aunt Sadie likes to jump to conclusions. You should see her watching true crime shows, it drives Blake nuts.”

I exhaled in relief, swinging my bag over my shoulder and heading off to class. Mike- even though I knew he had a class on the other side of campus- tagged along with me, his hands in his pockets looking aimlessly around us.

“What?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is there something else?”

Kinda…” He said, and I was surprised to see a pink hue appear on his cheeks. “Well, it’s about the whole ‘girlfriend’ thing.”

“What about it?”

Well,” He said, rubbing the back of his neck and blushing harder. “Jess and I haven’t really, you know, had the ‘exclusivity’ conversation yet, and I was just wondering- well I was hoping you could tell me how to, like, do… that. Like, make it official…”

I had never in my life met anyone that could blush harder than I did. Mike looked like a cartoon the way it had spread up his face and was disappearing into his hairline.

“You aren’t yet?” I asked in disbelief. They had been spending so much time together lately, and I doubted that I was the only one who had seen the way they looked at each other. “Official, I mean.”

“No…” Mike said, kicking at the ground with his shoe. “Jess is sort of the first girl I’ve ever dated… I know we’re going to the dance together, and dinner on Saturday was amazing- I’m just worried about moving too fast, ya know?”

I stared at him blankly. “Why are you asking me, though? You know I’ve never dated anyone either.”

“I just thought, maybe- Since you’re her friend too, maybe she might’ve said something about it…” He shrugged, trying to look anywhere but at me. “Jess talks about everything, ya know… If you’ve been sworn to secrecy I understand- I respect the Girl Code and all- I just thought I’d ask.”

His sincere confession tugged at my heartstrings. In truth, Jessica had sent me no less than a hundred messages over the weekend, gushing about Mike; How sweet he was, how funny his jokes were, how good he smelled, on and on until my sub-par responses caused her to shift her enthusiasm to Angela. I had not, however, been sworn to any ‘code,’ gendered or otherwise.

“Alright, listen carefully- because I don’t like getting in the middle of things like this, and I’m only going to do it one time.” I said, taking a deep breath. “Jess is a very direct person, so she appreciates honesty- If you feel this strongly about her, you should tell her. I can promise you she won’t shoot you down, she didn’t shut up about you all weekend.”

“Really?” Mike brightened, his voice jumping an octave as relief washed over him. “What did she say?”

“Ask her.” I shrugged, smiling and gently pushing him in the direction of his first class. “Get going, we’re gonna be late.”

“Thanks, Arizona, you’re the best.” Mike practically skipped away from me as the bell rang, and I rushed to English, apologizing for being slow and taking my usual seat next to Angela.

By lunch, the results of my meddling were clear; Jessica and Mike were sitting so close that they may as well have been Velcro-ed together. They were feeding each other bites of food off of their forks, not seeming to care that the other people near them were also trying to eat. I looked around the cafeteria as I ignored the nauseating display of PDA, when my eyes landed on the Cullens’ usual table; It was completely empty. Now that I thought about it, I didn’t remember seeing Jasper in Spanish, or Rosalie’s bright red convertible in the parking lot. I wondered if they had extended the trip due to the good weather- I know I would have.

“So, what do you think, Bella?” Jessica asked, and I snapped my attention back to her, trying to pretend like I had been paying attention.

“Uh…” I stammered, glancing at Angela for help.

“I know you’re not going to the dance, but it would be fun for the three of us to go to Port Angeles tomorrow anyway.” She hinted, winking. “Besides, the dress shopping will go much faster if I’m not the only one there waiting for it to be over.”

“Oh, yeah, sure!” I agreed without really thinking about it. I suppose it didn’t matter, since I didn’t have plans anyway. Besides, the only reason I really hated dress shopping was my mom forcing me into every frilly, lacey, poufy dress she could find just for her amusement. I had indulged her when I was younger, but I had thrown an enormous fit when she’d made the mistake of attempting to sign me up for an actual pageant. I highly doubted that that would be the case this time, and I’d be able to check out a few bookstores while I was there; The one in town was limited to cheesy, overly-graphic romance novels and the occasional decades-old magazines.

“Great!” Jess clapped her hands happily. “We’ll take my car. I’ll follow you home Bella, so you can drop off your truck and get your phone, ‘kay?”

I nodded, occupying myself with taking a large bite of apple as Mike regained his girlfriend’s attention. As he tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, Angela made a fake gagging face behind her hand, and I had to try not to choke.

At the end of the day, I had a short shift at Newton’s with Mike. He rode with me in my truck, nodding his head happily to my playlist and letting the wind lift his hand as he held it out the open window. He bounced all around the store, mumbling along with the Top 40 hits coming through the store speakers. He didn’t even make a face while he restocked the extra-strength fish bait, something we both dreaded. When the foot traffic to the store slowed, he insisted I go home an hour early- telling me he could finish up closing alone.

I was sitting at the dinner table with Charlie, when it occurred to me that I should probably ask for permission to go to Port Angeles tomorrow; It was pretty far, and it was on a school night.

“Port Angeles?” He asked. “On a Tuesday afternoon?”

“I know it’s last minute,” I said, trying to look apologetic and hoping he would let me go. I would need the distraction if Rosalie didn’t show up tomorrow. “But Jessica and Angela want me to go dress shopping with them, and I wanna tag along to go to a bookstore or two.”

Charlie smirked. “You? Dress shopping? Voluntarily, right? Blink if you’re wearing a wire.”

“It’s just for them.” I rolled my eyes. “I’m just going for moral support- and to make sure Jess doesn’t keep Angela out there past midnight, apparently. I’d be back by ten-ish.”

“Ten, or ten-ish?”

Ish.”

“Alright, well call me ‘ish’ you’ll be later than ten, then.” He grinned at his joke, and I chuckled.

I texted Rosalie before I went to bed, telling her that I had the Biology notes from that day if she wanted me to send them to her. After a short phone call with mom- apparently she’d had the flu and had called into work for a week and a half, causing her to lose that job- I did a few stretches before tucking myself in bed, snuggling under the covers while a cool breeze blew through the cracked window.

Rosalie was in my dreams again, but this time she was not the monstrous misrepresentation she had been before; She was her normal, golden-eyed self, holding my hand while we walked through a field of wildflowers, the sun glinting off of her pale skin. The dream shifted, and she was holding my hands while a thick lump of clay spun between them, sitting so close behind me I could almost smell her perfume as her hair grazed my shoulder. We had almost finished an intricate-looking vase, my heart racing as she whispered instructions and encouragements in my ear, when my alarm yanked me rudely back to reality. Irritated, I turned it off and got up to shower.

Rosalie was still not at school, and neither were any of her family members. I tried not to let this get to me, focusing on taking careful notes in each class and willing the hands on the clocks to move faster. By the end of the day I was desperate for distraction as expected, driving home five miles per hour over the limit to get to my phone faster. I answered the usual dozen or so messages from Mom before checking Rosalie’s message; She had texted me back in the middle of the night, thanking me for taking notes for her and confirming my theory that they had extended their camping trip. She had also asked me to take notes for her today, which I had. I sent her pictures of both of them- front and back- then bit my lip as my fingers hovered over the keyboard. I slowly typed out a second message, my thumb hitting send after a moment’s hesitation, then went down to meet Jessica and Angela.

3:57PM ‘Come back soon… I miss my lab partner. -Bella’

Chapter Text

I opened the passenger side of Jessica’s white VW bug and got inside. Angela had slid into the backseat to make room for me, squeezing herself between the front seats. I buckled my seatbelt and Jess drove us onto the highway leading to Port Angeles. The stereo was blaring some new pop song that I was unfamiliar with, but Jess knew every word to, belting the lyrics and giving us an entire performance as she drove. When the song ended, Angela reached between us to turn the volume down, squeezing her torso between the seats so we could see her while she talked.

“So, Bella.” She asked, her mouth twitching like she was trying not to grin. “When were you planning on telling us that you’re going to the prom with Tyler?

I stared. “I’m not?

Jessica rolled her eyes while Angela held back her laughter. “Come on, Angie, don’t tease.”

“What?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at Angela. “What did Tyler do now?”

“He’s running around school, telling anyone who will listen that you’re going to prom with him.” Angela scoffed, rolling her eyes. “I don’t think he took your hint very well, Bella.”

“You have got to be kidding me!” I threw my hands up in exasperation, smacking them back down on my thighs for emphasis. “I never said yes to him, what is his problem?

Angela giggled to herself at my predicament, but Jess’ eyes narrowed.

“Do you want me to talk to him for you?” She asked, her voice laced with both concern for me and irritation with Tyler. “If he’s not listening to you, I’ll be sure he gets the message loud and clear.”

Easy, Jess.” Angela said. “Bella can handle herself.”

“I don’t intend to handle anything.” I smirked. “He’ll learn the hard way when I don’t show up on prom night.”

“Oh, that’s cold.” Angela said, giving me a high five.

“Serves him right.” Jessica agreed, signaling to take an exit.

“Speaking of prom,” I said, changing the subject before Jess could get too focused on Tyler. “Mike has been practically dancing around the store since you two started dating- It’s going pretty well, huh?”

Jessica blushed while Angela wolf-whistled and nudged her playfully with her elbow. We passed the rest of the trip letting her gush about their budding romance, Angela and I teasing her by making overly dramatic gagging noises when she got too sappy.

The shopping center she drove us to was larger than I’d expected. Several stores lined the foot-traffic only streets surrounding a small park, complete with an ornate stone fountain in the middle. Our first stop was a frozen yogurt shoppe, and we sat on the edge of the fountain enjoying the sun and people watching as we ate. Angela collected our empty cups when we were finished, throwing them in the designated recycling bins.

We went into a small boutique just off the main square. Inside were rows and rows of dresses of every cut and color I’d ever seen or heard of. Jessica gasped and immediately floated over to a sparkly pink dress that looked like it had been previously owned by a Disney princess, running her fingers over the silky fabric.

“Oh, I’m trying this one first.” She said, waving her hand to get the attention of the salesperson to unlock the dressing room for her.

I followed Angela over to another section, where she skimmed through the darker-colored, less flashy pieces. While I watched her look for something she liked, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and took it out. A message from Rosalie flashed on the screen, her response to my message.

5:13PM ‘I should be back tomorrow. Don’t worry, I miss my lab partner too. -Rosalie’

I grinned and pulled up the keyboard to type my reply, but another message popped up before I could.

5:13PM ‘We’re headed back right now, actually. I should be back by tonight if you’d like to hang out somewhere. -Rose’

Her offer was tempting; If I had thought to drive myself to Port Angeles, I might’ve said yes- making some excuse to Ange and Jess about how Charlie needed my help at home, so I could avoid the millions of questions Jessica was sure to ask. As we’d carpooled in Jess’ bug, my schedule was entirely in her hands. Sighing, I sent her my reply.

5:14PM ‘I’d really love to, but I’m in Port Angeles right now. Angela and Jessica dragged me along for dress shopping, and we’re going to some Italian place later for dinner. See you in Bio tomorrow! -Bella’

“What about this one?” Angela asked, holding up a dark green dress with black rhinestones lining the plunging neckline. “Too ‘wicked witch?’”

“Not nearly witchy enough, but you might get dress-coded.” I pointed out.

Angela nodded, putting the dress back on the rack and rolling her eyes. “Typical.”

Jessica burst out of the dressing room, squealing with delight as she twirled in the poufy dress; It was light pink, floor length, and sparkled in the fluorescent light- but it was strapless.

“Straps.” Angela chimed, not looking up from the basic black dress she was holding.

Jessica’s excitement deflated, her arms falling limply to her side. She let out an exasperated groan and turned back to the dressing room to change but stopped when she saw Angela’s current selection of attire.

Angie,” She scolded, her eyes narrowed. “It’s a school dance, not a funeral. Would it kill you to wear an actual color for once?”

“It might, yes.” Angela teased, sticking her tongue out at Jessica but putting the dress back anyway.

After another half hour of inspecting dress after dress, they had both found something they liked that wouldn’t get them in trouble with the chaperones; Jess had picked a light blue knee-length dress with a sweetheart neckline, a panel of sheer fabric making up for the lack of straps. Angela had caved to Jessica’s requests that she wear a color and had settled on a deep purple halter top that flowed down to the floor like a waterfall, accessorizing with a pair of black lace gloves that ended just under her shoulder. We dropped off their dresses back at the car- where Jessica sent Mike a close-up of the dress’ color so they could match fabrics- Mike’s idea apparently- then sat down by the fountain again, looking for something to fill time until dinner.

“What about the pier?” Angela suggested, playing with the many piercings in her ears and scrolling on her phone.

“Ooo, yes.” Jessica clapped excitedly, jumping to her feet.

“You guys go,” I said, suddenly remembering my main purpose for coming to Port Angeles in the first place. “I want to go by a few bookstores really quick. I’ll meet you back at the restaurant.”

“Are you sure?” Angela asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, you’re not really familiar with the area…” Jessica said, biting her lip.

“I’ll be okay,” I insisted, waving my phone in the air. “I have a map.”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Jessica shrugged, though she still looked hesitant.

“Do you want my knife?” Angela asked, whipping it out of it’s usual hiding spot in her boot.

“I’m good.” I said. The knife was so large I wondered how she even fit it in her boot to begin with, and I was sure that I would be no good trying to actually use it.

“Alright, then.” Angela stuffed the knife back in it’s hiding spot, then put an arm around Jess. “Come on, Jess. Those seagulls aren’t going to feed themselves.”

They walked away towards the pier, and I typed in the address for the bookstore I had saved before leaving the house; It was a fifteen minute walk from here, so I would have about thirty minutes to browse- Forty if I powerwalked. The sunlight was warm on my skin was I walked, but a cool breeze in the air told me that I should’ve thought to bring a jacket. I tried to walk faster, following the little blue line on my screen to my destination.

The bookstore that I had found was independently owned, sure to be filled with all sorts of treasures that I was unlikely to find in the Barnes and Noble I had just passed. It looked like it used to be an old farmhouse, the wrap around porch even had a swing out front. Inside, there was an older man sitting behind a desk by the door, reading a tattered book of his own. He welcomed me as I entered, the small bell chiming over the door. The downstairs area was taken up by what had once been a kitchen- now a small café run by an energetic teenage girl with bright red hair- and a living room with a large fireplace, a few armchairs sitting in front of it, and shelves of books lining the walls. There were even more shelves of books upstairs, where most of the walls that weren’t load-bearing had been torn down to open up the space. There was even a small chess table, and a small stack of board games by the radio. A young brother and sister were sitting on the floor, playing a game called ‘Sorry’ while their mother browsed the sections nearest them.

As tempting as it would have been to spend the rest of the day there, reading book after book in one of the comfortable armchairs by the fire drinking a cup of coffee, I knew I had to hurry. I found the mystery section and picked two I thought I would like, then browsed for a few titles I had already read but didn’t own; I even managed to find a new copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ one that hadn’t been stolen from the local library in Phoenix. I would donate my old copy, probably to the library here in Forks. That way, it was sort of like I had returned it, eventually.

The cashier smiled at me as I set my huge stack of books on the counter in front of him. “Quite the haul you have here, miss.”

“I had to put a few back, actually.” I said, smiling politely back at him as he scanned the bindings. “Had to stay on-budget.”

He packed my books carefully, double bagging them to be sure the bag didn’t rip, and I slid my new debit card to pay. The bell chimed again as I left, carrying the heavy bag in one arm and pulling out my phone with the other. Just as I had unlocked it and was typing in the address for the restaurant- it died in my hands, the screen flashing the manufacturer’s logo before going completely black. I remembered that I hadn’t charged it up all the way before I left. The one thing Charlie had specifically told me to do.

Dread settled in the pit on my stomach as I looked up at the darkening sky; How was I supposed to get back? The old man inside was friendly enough, maybe he would know how to get back to the main part of town-

“Bella!” A voice- a wonderful, familiar voice that made the pit in my stomach vanish at the sound of it- called my name from just down the road. I was stunned and relieved to see Rosalie walking towards me, her heels clicking on the ground. “There you are!”

“Rosalie!” I was grateful that she had found me; Who knows how long I would’ve been wandering around lost if she hadn’t? “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to surprise you.” Rosalie smiled, the dimples in her cheeks making a rare and welcome appearance. “Our route home took us right through Port Angeles, so I convinced Alice to stop for a little shopping- which wasn’t that hard at all.”

She held up a small bag she was carrying; It had a label that I wasn’t familiar with, but it had to be designer based on how fancy it was. I peered around her, expecting to see Esme and Alice standing somewhere behind her, politely waiting for us to finish talking.

“They’re still shopping.” She explained, answering my unspoken question. “Where are you headed? I thought you were with Jessica and Angela.”

“I was, but they wanted to go to the pier, and I wanted to come find this bookstore. I was supposed to meet up with them back at the restaurant, but my phone is dead now and I don’t know how to get back…” I bit my lip, embarrassed by my predicament.

Rosalie nodded, then said, “I’ll help you get back. Follow me.”

I exhaled in relief and followed her lead down the dark road. We had gone a few blocks when she suddenly laced her fingers through mine. I looked down at our clasped hands, elated at this new development- until I looked up and saw the expression on her face. Her golden eyes were blazing under her furrowed brow, focused on the path ahead of us. Her jaw was clenched so tightly I thought her teeth would break. Suddenly, she pulled me in a different direction, down a smaller side street, quickening our pace.

“Rosalie, wha-“ I tried to ask, but she cut me off.

Don’t react.” She whispered through her teeth. “There are two men following just behind us- Just keep walking, and don’t let go of my hand.”

My heart raced, but I did as she said, tightening my grip on her hand and trying to keep up with her. Now that I was aware of them, I could hear two more sets of footsteps just behind us. They’d realized we’d noticed them, and were speeding up, their vulgar cat calls echoing off of the walls and making me shudder.

“Through here.” Rosalie said, and I followed her into a thin alleyway lined with dumpsters. I was confused as to why at first, but then I saw the flashing lights of traffic just at the other end; Safety was only a few steps away. I tried to go faster, but Rosalie pulled me to a stop, making me drop by bag of books in the dirt.

Shit.” She whispered, trying to pull me back the other way.

“Rosalie, what-“

There you are!” Just in front of our escape route, two more men materialized from the shadows, blocking us in. They were calling to the two men behind us, who had just sealed off our other exit. “About time.

“Well, you know how it is.” One of the men behind us said, tossing a can of beer over our heads to his friend. “Can’t have a party without favors.”

They laughed and jeered, getting closer to us. Rosalie backed me into the wall, standing protectively in front of me with her hand still in mine. My bag of books was still on the ground, so I couldn’t use it as a weapon anymore. A lightbulb went off over my head, and I took my hand out of Rosalie’s to dig through the purse I’d thought to bring; In one hand, I gripped a small lighter. In the other, I held my finger on the spray button of a can of body spray. I smirked as the men stalked towards us, unaware they were about to lose their eyebrows. All I needed was for them to get close enough-

“Come one step closer,” Rosalie threatened, her voice so cold that it froze me in place. “And I promise you, you will regret it.”

The laughed, clearly not aware of the sincerity of her words. One of them- a tall, balding man in his thirties- stepped forward, ignoring Rosalie’s warning.

“I’ll take the mouthy one.” He said, eyeing Rose in a way that made my blood boil. “I prefer blondes anyway. George- Help me out, will ya?”

I tensed to strike, my hands clenched on my makeshift weapons as they inched forward, their hands reaching out for us-

There were three sharp snaps, followed by a choking sound, and I stared in shock as three of the men- including the one that had singled out Rosalie- dropped to the ground. Rosalie was no longer in front of me, and I saw her against the opposite wall, holding the fourth man by the neck with one hand. His feet were dangling a foot off the ground, kicking fruitlessly in her grip. He clawed frantically at the hand she was using to hold him there, sputtering as she spoke.

“If you ever,” She crooned, smiling up at him despite the poison in her words. “Attempt to harm another girl again- and believe me, I will find out- I will make you feel every agonizing second of your death as I tear you apart. Do you understand me?

The man did his best to nod, still struggling to breathe and kicking his feet wildly. After letting him struggle a moment longer, she dropped him. He hit the ground with a thud, coughing and scrambling to his feet. He sprinted down the alley, too horrified to spare a look back for his fallen friends.

I was still standing by the wall, staring at Rosalie as she steadied herself. My makeshift weapons were still clenched in my hands, concealed by my purse. As Rosalie turned back to me, I was taken aback by her expression; She still looked scared, though the danger had passed.

“It’s alright, Bella.” She said gently, approaching me with her hands up. “I’m not going to hurt you…”

I blinked. “Of course not. What are you talking about?”

Rosalie blinked back at me, her arms falling to her side. “Bella… I just killed three people and threatened to tear a fourth into pieces.”

“Yes, and? They were going to hurt us first. You did what you had to do.”

Her mouth hung open, but no sound came out. I stood there awkwardly as she stared at me, then she noticed my hands in my purse and rolled her eyes.

“They didn’t want your money, you know…” She said, taking a tentative step forward.

Oh, I know.” I said, grinning and pulling out the items I held. Rosalie looked at them, a crease appearing in her forehead. I smirked, pointed them away from us, flicked the lighter, and sprayed the flame. It ignited, and I quickly dropped the lighter as the tongue of flame licked the air for at least a foot in front of it.

Rosalie’s eyes were wide, an amused smile on her face as I stopped the stream of flames and tucked my MacGyver-ed flamethrower back into my purse. She picked up my books from the ground and said, “Impressive. I apologize for underestimating you, Bella.”

I shrugged, then made the mistake of looking down at the three men Rosalie had not spared. Their necks were bent at sickening angles, and their eyes stared blankly into the darkness. It made me shudder, and Rosalie quickly took my hand and led me away from them.

“Come on.” She said softly. “We don’t want to be found here.”

She led us back towards the emptier street, rather than the one teeming with potential eyewitnesses. She pulled out her phone from her pocket and held it to her ear. It only took a second for whoever she was calling to pick up.

“Yes, I know.” She said, rolling her eyes. I stared; What a strange way to start a phone call. “Spare me the lecture- Are you coming or not?”

A beat of silence, then Rosalie sighed, closing her eyes for a moment before she said, “Thank you... I love you, too.”

She hung up as we exited the alley. Instead of continuing to get away from the scene of her crime, she leaned against one of the closed department stores. I hesitated a moment before leaning next to her, still holding her hand.

“Don’t we need to leave?” I asked, trying to keep my voice low in the empty street.

“We’re waiting on a ride.” She answered, matching my volume.

“From who?”

“Alice.”

“What’s she going to do?”

Rosalie hesitated, glancing down at me before saying, “She’s going to bring us my car so that I can take you home. Then she’s going to… Clean up my mess.”

I swallowed. “How?

“You don’t need to know that, Bella. Trust me.”

“Wait- I can’t go home yet!” I said, suddenly remembering how I’d gotten here in the first place. “I have to meet Jessica and Angela at the restaurant.”

Rosalie stared at me, her brow furrowed. “You still want to meet up with your friends? After what you just witnessed?”

Yes!” I insisted, dropping her hand and digging through my purse for my phone. I pressed the home button furiously, though I knew it was long dead. “God, they must be getting worried by now- It’s been way more than an hour, we have to at least see if we can find the restaurant and tell them I’m okay-“

Alright, we’ll go see if we can find them.” Rosalie held her hands up in surrender. “As soon as Alice gets here, I promise. Breathe, Bella.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, trying to calm down as I looked up and down the dark road. After another minute that felt more like thirty, I saw headlights turn the corner, flashing their brights as they pulled up in front of us. Alice stepped out of Rosalie’s red convertible, skipping over to her sister and throwing her arms around her neck.

“The restaurant is called, ‘La Bella Italia.’” Alice said as she pulled away, then looked around Rosalie to smile at me. “Hello, Bella.”

“Hi…” I said, confused by how casually she was handling the situation.

I heard the car door slam again and turned to see Jasper stepping out of the passenger side, going to stand by Alice and putting an arm around her waist. He nodded in my direction. “Bella.”

I waved awkwardly, not sure what else to do.

Rosalie pointed down the alley. “Three of them, down there.”

Jasper grinned and headed down the dark alley at a brisk pace, Alice following close behind him. Rosalie walked over to her car, holding the passenger door open for me. I got inside, stuffing my purse in the floorboards. Rosalie was in her seat impossibly fast, putting our bags in the back seat and driving away- leaving Jasper and Alice behind.

“How will they get home?” I asked.

“They’ll be fine.” She said. “Let’s focus on finding your friends.”

I nodded. Jess and Angela had to be frantic by now. If our situations had been reversed, and one of them had been a half hour later than planned, in a city they didn’t know, at night- I would’ve already called the police.

Rosalie drove us back to the more populated area of town, circling the small square where we had eaten frozen yogurt earlier. When we finally found ‘La Bella Italia,’ I saw them standing just outside the front doors, looking up and down the road and bickering back and forth. Rosalie pulled into a parking spot and I opened the door before she cut the engine, leaving my purse and books behind in my hurry to get to them.

Angela saw me first, sighing in relief and running over to me. She flung her arms around my shoulders, her whole body shaking as I tried to calm her down.

“Bella!” Jessica squealed, rushing over to us and crushing us in a tight group hug. “Where were you?! We’ve been calling you, why didn’t you answer?”

“My phone died.” I managed to say, struggling to breathe in their combined grip. “I’m okay, I promise- You can let go, now.”

They let me go, both of them checking me over for signs of injury. Angela took my face gently in her hands, looking me dead in the eye with a very stern look on her face.

“If you ever,” She said slowly. “Put me through that again, I will sneak into your room at night and cover everything you own with tin foil.”

I grinned. “Isn’t that a bit noisy-“

Everything you own, Bella.” She insisted, but I saw the corner of her mouth twitch, and I knew I was forgiven.

“I’m so sorry I kept her for so long.” Rosalie chimed in, stepping up behind me. “We ran into each other outside the bookshop- I didn’t mean to worry you, we just lost track of time talking.”

“Oh, hi, Rosalie!” Jess said, trying to recover from her unexpected appearance. “How was your camping trip?”

“It was lovely, thank you.” Rosalie answered her, smiling her signature dazzling smile.

“We should start driving home.” Angela said, glancing down at the time on her phone. “We’re already going to miss curfew.”

Actually,” Rosalie said, turning the power of her radiant smile on me. “I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me, Bella. Since it’s my fault you missed yours, it’s the least I can do.”

I blushed, trying to remember how to speak.

“She’d love to.” Jessica answered for me, a knowing smile on her face. She took Angela’s arm and the two started backing away, giggling conspiratorially. “See you later, Bella.”

“Yeah, see you in English!” Angela agreed, waving as they rushed off to Jess’ car.

I stared after them- thankful they had picked up on my desire to spend more time with Rosalie, but wishing they had at least been subtle about it. She laughed as she watched them drive away, waving back at Angela, who was sticking her arm out the window.

“So,” She turned back to me and asked, “Do you really want to have dinner with me? I’ll take you home, if that’s what you’d prefer.”

“No- I mean, yes! I’d love to have dinner with you.” I stuttered, and my stomach rumbled in agreement. I hadn’t realized how hungry I really was.

Rosalie smiled and gestured to the front doors. “After you, then.”

We were halfway up the stairs when another thought occurred to me, and I asked, “Could I borrow your phone for a minute? I need to text my dad, update him on what's going on.”

“Sure.” She handed me her phone, and I typed in Charlie’s number, giving him a brief explanation of where I was, who I was with, and an apology for letting my phone die. Rosalie held the door open for me, and I handed her the phone back as I passed.

The inside of the restaurant was dimly lit, and nearly empty due to the late hour. The hostess welcomed us, picked up two menus, and led us to a table near the kitchen. I noticed only one other table was being used- A booth on the other end of the room, occupied by Tara and a group of her friends. They were giggling and throwing their straw wrappers at each other while they ate their breadsticks and looked over the menu.

“Your server will be right out.” The hostess said, walking back up to her post up front.

Rosalie and I sat opposite each other in the booth, and we had barely picked up our menus when the waiter came over. He was a bit older than us, and had bright pink, spiky hair.

“Hey there! Can I get you two anything to drink?” He asked, pen poised over his notepad.

Rosalie gestured for me to go first.

“Uh, Dr. Pepper, please.” I said, picking my go-to.

“The same for me.” Rosalie said.

“Alright, I’ll be right out with that!” He chimed, floating away and coming back a second later with our drinks. “If you’re interested, the chef does a fan-tas-tic mushroom ravioli. It’s my favorite.”

“I’ll do that, then.” I decided. I was so hungry I didn’t really care what I ate, as long as it was meatless and got here fast.

“And for you, ma’am?” He asked Rosalie.

“The same.” She smiled up at him and handed him our menus. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure!” He went back to the kitchen to give the chef our order, leaving Rosalie and I alone.

I took a few sips of my drink, which turned into more than a few gulps when I realized how parched my throat was. When my straw started sucking up air, Rosalie pushed her own glass towards me with a small smile on her face. I took it gratefully, draining that one as well. The cold, fizzy soda made me shiver, and I rubbed my arms vigorously to try to rid them of the goosebumps. Without saying anything, Rosalie took off her red leather jacket and passed it across the table to me. I took it, sliding my arms into the sleeves; Despite it being worn for hours, it was ice cold, like it had been sitting outside. I crossed my arms and took a deep breath, inhaling Rosalie’s perfume; It smelled like citrus and spices, and made a shudder run down my spine as I started to warm up.

The waiter returned with our food, then went back to refill our drinks. I took a bite of the ravioli; He had been right. It was delicious. He put two more full glasses of Dr. Pepper in front of us, then asked, “How do you like it?”

Unable to speak, I held up two thumbs as I chewed, making Rosalie giggle.

“Alright, flag me down if you need anything else!” He went over to check on Tara’s table, where they ordered a bottomless salad, more breadsticks, and almost half the items on the menu.

I had taken a few more bites of my ravioli when I looked up and realized that Rosalie had not looked away from me, poking aimlessly at her food with her fork.

“What?” I asked, swallowing a large bite and patting the corners of my mouth with my napkin. “Do you not like it?”

“No, that’s not it.” She said, taking a bite to prove her point. She swallowed, then said, “To be honest, Bella, I’m waiting for you to go into shock.”

I stared at her blankly, and she rolled her eyes, putting her fork down and fixing me with an exasperated look.

“I just-“ She hesitated, looking around to be sure we weren’t being overheard. “After what you just saw me do… You should be having more of a reaction than this.”

“Would you rather I go into shock?” I asked, ignoring the look on her face as I continued, “Besides, I was the one that was going to light them on fire- Charlie would say you let them off easy. He’s the one that taught me that trick.”

That’s not-“ She put her head in her hands, rubbing her forehead like she was trying to iron it out. She took a deep breath, then looked back up at me. “It’s more about how I did those things, Bella. Anyone could’ve done what you were planning to do, or ran away, or bargained with them- What I did, no normal human could do, and you’re acting like it’s nothing! Aren’t you at all concerned that your friend is…”

She went quiet, biting her lip and looking away.

“Rosalie, it’s okay.” I told her, knowing I should come clean for her sake. “I know…”

She blinked.

“You said you wouldn’t blame me if I figured it out for myself.” I hinted, sipping my drink trying to seem nonchalant. “I did. So, it’s okay. I know, and it’s okay.

She blinked again, her face blank. “You know… About me, about my family, what we are… And your response is, ‘it’s okay’?”

I shrugged. “Yes.”

“You’re not in the least bit afraid of me?”

“Nope.”

“You don’t have any reservations or questions about- that- at all?” She was looking at me like she thought I was crazy. She probably did. “You’re just going to completely ignore the fact that I’m a danger to you?”

“If you were a danger to me, you wouldn’t have saved my life twice.” I pointed out, “Thank you, by the way.”

“You’re welcome…” She muttered, still looking at me with her huge golden eyes. After a moment, she asked, “So… How did you find out?”

I hesitated; I couldn’t give Jacob away, since he hadn’t technically been allowed to tell me. “Research.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes but smiled. “Alright, then. Keep your secrets.”

I grinned. “Did you just quote ‘Lord of the Rings’ at me?”

“Perhaps.” She smirked back. “If you won’t tell me how you found out, will you at least tell me how you came to the conclusion that you didn’t care?”

“I guess.” I shrugged. “When I was growing up, my mom worked a lot of different jobs, so I’d be left with her mom- my Grandma Marie- a lot of the time. She was really strict, but kinder than you’d expect. She always made sure I knew that it didn’t matter what a person is, it matters what they do with the life that’s been given to them. It was the one lesson of hers I really listened to- That, and don’t wear shoes indoors.”

“I don’t think the term ‘life’ really applies here.” Rosalie smirked, but smiled. “But it’s a nice sentiment. She’s a smart woman, your grandmother.”

“She was.” I agreed, occupying myself with another bite of food.

“Still,” Rosalie continued, sipping her drink. “If there’s anything you’d like to know, all you have to do is ask; It's for your own safety.”

I considered that for a moment, weighing my most pressing inquiries in my head. I settled on the one that was bothering me the most. “What is Edward’s problem with me?”

Rosalie burst out laughing, covering her mouth with her hands. I blushed, wondering if the answer was embarrassing.

“I’m sorry!” She said, giggling and trying to get control of herself again. “It’s nothing bad, it’s just very amusing for me, that’s all.”

“What is it?” I insisted, even more interested now than I had been.

She bit her lip, considering me for a moment. “I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to freak out.”

I nodded, though I was unsure about my ability to keep that promise.

“Do you remember what I told you about Alice being ‘intuitive’?” She asked.

I nodded again.

“Well, Edward has his own special talent.” Rosalie explained. “He’s always been particularly good at reading people- But, for whatever reason, he can’t seem to be able to read you at all. It frustrates him, which delights me.”

I stared. “Like… Reading minds?

She nodded.

“And he can’t read my mind?”

She shook her head.

“Is there something wrong with me?” I asked.

She snorted a laugh, rolling her eyes at my distress. “I tell you that my brother can read minds- and confirm that I am, in fact, an undead creature of the night- and you think that there’s something wrong with you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh with her; It did sound ridiculous when she put it that way.

“How are things over here?” The waiter returned, making me jump. “Room for dessert?”

Rosalie looked at me, waiting on my answer.

“No, thank you.” I told him. It was late enough, and Charlie would already be pissed at me for letting my phone die.

He brought us the check, but when I reached next to me for my wallet, I realized that it was still in Rosalie’s car.

“I’ve got it.” Rosalie said, pulling out her own debit card and handing it to the waiter, who went off to swipe it.

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Fine- But I’m getting lunch for us when you take me up to Seattle.”

“Deal.” She smiled.

The waiter returned, and Rosalie signed the store copy with a flourish. She stood up, then offered me her hand. “Shall we?”

Chapter Text

The inside of Rosalie’s convertible was warm with the top up, and it smelled like cinnamon and cloves thanks to the tree-shaped air freshener dangling from her rear-view mirror. There was an oldies station playing on the radio, a jazzy swing tune I had never heard before filling the empty air. Big bands weren’t usually my thing, but this one wasn’t bad. I watched Rosalie swaying to the music as she drove, humming along with the lyrics. She noticed me watching her after a while and smirked. I looked away quickly, hoping she hadn’t noticed me blushing in the dark.

“You’re awfully quiet.” She commented, a hint of amusement in her voice. “Are you still feeling alright?”

“Mm-hmm.” I nodded.

“For someone who just uncovered the existence of the supernatural, you’re being very calm.” She continued, her amusement replaced by concern. “Do you have any questions for me that aren’t about my brother’s apparent attitude problem? I promise I'll be honest with you.”

I considered that for a moment, deciding what I wanted to ask first. “How did you find me at the bookstore? It wasn’t exactly near the main square, and I didn’t tell you where I was going before my phone died on me.”

“I followed your scent.” She shrugged. “It wasn’t hard.”

“My scent?” I wondered if I should be offended, and if I had remembered to put on deodorant that morning.

“My kind have enhanced senses.” She explained. “A hundred times better than a human’s.”

“What do I smell like?”

She smiled. “Strawberries- A little bit of mint, too. It’s nice.”

“Huh.” I processed that for a moment, glancing around the car while I thought about my next question. My eyes suddenly fixed on the thin red line on the dashboard indicating our current speed, and my blood froze in my veins; The tip of the line was pointing to the number one hundred and twenty. Gasping, I shouted, “Holy shit, slow down!

My head snapped to look out the window- The trees lining the road were barely visible, passing in a singular dark blur. Rosalie slowed down, holding steady when we had returned to the speed limit. I took a shaky breath and closed my eyes, trying to calm myself down; For just a moment, the image of Rosalie’s red convertible- crumpled like paper at the bottom of a ditch- had burned itself into my brain.

“Sorry…” Rosalie apologized.

When I opened my eyes and looked over at her, she was biting her lip, like she was trying not to smile. I narrowed my eyes. “What is that look for?”

“Oh, nothing- Just that the thing that has scared you the most about me so far is my driving, apparently.” She said, chuckling darkly to herself and rolling her eyes. “Still, I apologize for scaring you- I really forgot humans don’t normally drive that fast.”

“So, all vampires drive like they live inside Grand Theft Auto?” I teased her, pleased to see a small smile appear on her face. “So much for maintaining your cover- What if you get pulled over?”

She smiled wider. “I’d see them before they saw me. Enhanced senses, remember?”

“How far can you see in the dark?”

“About a mile, if we’re talking about an open space.” She boasted. “I can’t see through anything, though. I’m not Supergirl.”

I laughed.

“Do you have any other questions?”

I thought about that for a moment, then asked, “Do you sleep in a coffin?”

“I don’t sleep, actually.”

Never?

Never.”

“Do you miss it?”

Rosalie was quiet for a second, then said, “Sometimes.”

“What’s your opinion on garlic?” I asked.

“It’s delicious, of course.”

“Burned by sunlight?”

“No…” She hesitated, as if there were more to that answer.

“What?” I pressed.

“Well, we don’t burn…” She explained. “But being exposed to sunlight would make it clear to the humans around us that we’re different… We can’t risk being seen when it’s sunny out.”

“Is that why you haven’t been in school the last two days?”

“It is.”

“Huh.” I said, then added. “You could’ve texted me to let me know you weren’t coming… I was worried.”

Rosalie’s golden eyes focused on mine, the corner of her mouth twitching up. “I’m a vampire, Bella. You don’t need to worry about me. However, I promise to make you aware of any potential absences I may have in the future.”

“Thank you.” I told her, then pointed out the front windshield. “Watch the road.”

She rolled her eyes but did as I said. “Next question?”

“Let’s say someone had a wooden stake…”

She laughed. “No piece of wood could hurt me, no matter how sharp it was.”

“Crucifixes?”

“Nope.”

I paused while I thought of something else to ask, juggling the classic vampire cliches in my head.

“You still haven’t addressed the most basic question…” Rosalie said. When I didn’t pick up on her hint, she sighed and said, “What do vampires need to survive, Bella?”

I understood her insinuation and gulped. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh…” Rosalie glanced over at me hesitantly, her hands wringing in her lap. I was about to tell her to watch the road again, but I realized that we were parked in the driveway behind my truck.

“So,” I began, turning back to look at her. “What about that?”

“I don’t drink human blood.” Rosalie explained, a sad smile on her face. “I never have… but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted every now and then.”

“But you said-“

Human blood.” She emphasized. “My family and I are one of the few covens that refrain from taking innocent human life. We feed on the blood of animals instead.”

“How did you learn how to do that?” I asked, impressed.

“It was Carlisle who figured it out first- He’s the oldest of us by a large number of years. His family made their money and their name hunting our kind when he had been human. After he was changed in a hunt gone wrong, he did everything he could to resist his thirst. One day he was so desperate he drained a deer that crossed his path and discovered that he didn’t have to hurt anyone in order to survive. He’s lived that way ever since.”

“Wow…” I breathed.

“I’m sure he’d tell you all about it, if you ask.” She said.

“Is it hard for you?” I asked. “Resisting like that?”

Incredibly.” Rosalie admitted with a sad smile. “It's much harder when we haven't hunted in a while.”

"Does that have anything to do with why your eyes were black when we met?" I asked, remembering how she had clenched the chair, leaning as far away from me as she could.

"Yes." She admitted, smirking slightly. "Good catch. I've been very careful not to let myself get too thirsty around you. I carry a thermos of deer blood in my bag if I need it."

"Is that good?" I asked, wondering if I was prying too much. 

"It's okay." She shrugged. "It's like the difference between eating the meal fresh at the restaurant, and reheating it in the microwave the next day."

"Huh." I said, then joked, "Well, I appreciate you not eating me- It's very considerate of you."

She laughed, then looked away from me and up to the house where the porch light was still on, awaiting my arrival.

“I should get going…” I said reluctantly, picking up my purse from the floor. “Charlie’s probably worried by now…”

“Yes, of course.” Rosalie agreed, reaching into the back seat to grab my books for me. The heavy bag was dangling from one of her fingers, and as I watched, she took the smaller bag she had been carrying and placed it inside. “That’s for you- I saw it in a shop window while I was following your scent, and I thought you might like it.”

“Oh…” I said, shocked. I wondered if I should accept a gift so obviously expensive.

“It was on sale, if that’s any consolation.” Rosalie said, and I wondered if she had borrowed Edward’s ability to read minds. “I didn’t go out of my way or anything, Bella, don’t overthink it.”

“Thank you.” I smiled and took the bag from her. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“See you tomorrow.” She agreed.

Getting out of the car was hard; Not only because I was carrying a heavy bag of books, but because I didn’t seem to want to leave Rosalie’s side. I wanted to stay in the warm convertible, talking with her until the sun rose. I was halfway down the sidewalk when I heard the car window roll down, and I turned to see her leaning out the open window.

“One more thing, if you don’t mind.” She said, grinning playfully. “Would you please try your best not to get into any life-threatening situations before tomorrow morning? You appear to be a magnet for trouble.”

I rolled my eyes at her request but grinned back at her. “I make no such promises. If it’s my destiny to slip on a bar of soap and crack my head open in the shower, so be it.”

Rosalie chucked, blew me a kiss, then pulled out of the driveway and drove down the dark road. I waved at her with my free hand, knowing she could see me.

The front door was unlocked for me, and I peered inside cautiously, expecting to see Charlie sitting in his recliner fiddling tunelessly with his guitar while he waited for me. When I’d stepped inside, I saw that I was wrong; His usual chair in the living room was empty, his guitar locked safely in it’s case. I put my books and purse down by the door, locking it behind me and taking off my shoes.

“Dad?” I called out.

“In the kitchen, Bells.” He said. I heard something clatter to the floor, then heard him use a word he had unfairly forbidden me to use.

When I entered the kitchen, I saw the source of his distress; He was sitting at the kitchen table with his leg propped up on the other chair. His pants had been rolled up to reveal a large section of his calf that was hairless, red, and blistering in spots.

What did you do?” I asked, picking up the container of burn cream that had fallen on the floor.

“Occupational hazard, honey.” He said, grunting as he dabbed around the edges of the wound with a damp cloth. “Suit tore on my way up the stairs, flames got through- Don’t worry about it, it’s not even that bad. Give it a few days, I’ll be good as new.”

“Did you see a doctor?” I asked, ignoring his excuses and crossing my arms. “Rosalie just dropped me off, I bet if I texted her I could get her dad to come down here-“

“We don’t have to bother the Doc this late.” Charlie waved his hand dismissively, reaching for the burn cream I was still holding. I handed it to him, and he started to carefully cover the red areas with large glops of it. “Speaking of Rosalie, good call using her phone to let me know you were gonna be late- I appreciate that. Did you have fun?”

“I’m sorry I let my phone die,” I rushed out, guilt heating my face as I rushed to explain myself. “I thought I’d charged it enough like you said, but I must have worn it down again using the map so much and-“

“Bells, it’s okay.” He assured me, smiling under his thick mustache. “You found a way to keep me updated, that’s what matters- How’s Rosalie doin’?”

“She’s good.” I exhaled, relived I hadn’t come home to the usual hour-long lecture I usually got from my mom. “Her camping trip went a little longer than expected, but she should be back at school tomorrow- Do you need help with that?”

He was struggling to reach down far enough to wrap his leg with gauze, and it looked like he was doing it too tight for the burn to properly breathe. He tried in vain for a few more seconds before giving up and handing the end of the bandage to me. I adjusted what he’d already done, tucking the end in gently when I was finished.

“You’ll need to change it every few days.” I told him.

“Yeah, yeah.” He said, rolling his pant leg down carefully over the bandage. “Thanks hon. Do you have homework?”

“I got it done before we left.” I lied. Truthfully, I would have to finish my Spanish homework in English tomorrow morning.

“Good, good.” He stood and grabbed a beer from the fridge. “I’m gonna stay up for a while, watch a little Netflix. Wanna stay up with me?”

“Nah, I think I’m gonna go to sleep.” I said, yawning as I realized just how exhausted I was. “I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.”

“Love you too. Don’t forget your alarm.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I gave him a quick hug before grabbing my bags from beside the door and going up the stairs to my room. I put them on my bed, then dug my phone out of my purse to plug it in. Even though I was so tired I could just crawl into bed in my clothes, I decided to go shower. I let the warm water completely run out before I get out, then stood in front of the mirror brushing the ravioli out of my teeth.

Back in my room, I changed into a tank top and shorts and turned my phone back on. As expected, it began blowing up with all of my missed texts and calls; I had at least thirty each from Jessica and Angela, as their frantic attempts to find out where I was had gone unreceived. I also had one from Mike, asking where I had stored the excess fishing lures. I was halfway through texting him back to ask if he ever found them when my phone rang in my hands, and mom’s photo came up on the screen. I stared at it for a second, then looked at the clock in the corner; It was eleven o’clock here, which meant it was nearly two in the morning in Florida. What was she doing up? Did she get into an accident?

I answered it and held it to my ear, holding my breath. “Hello?”

“Hi, sweetie!” She whispered, and I exhaled as soon as I knew she was okay. “Did I wake you?”

“No, I just got home a little bit ago. I was out with friends.” I told her. “What are you doing up? Isn’t it late?”

“I guess.” She sighed dejectedly. “I’m off work tomorrow though, so I can stay up late if I wanna- I missed you, so I thought I’d see if you were awake. I guess I should’ve texted you first, sorry baby- Were you busy?”

“No, I’m not doing anything. I miss you too…” I said, swallowing the lump rising in my throat. “How’s the new job going? How’s Phil?”

“The job is fine, it’s just office work.” She sneered, pausing to take a sip of something. “I’ll keep at it until I find something more fun- Phil, on the other hand-“

I heard the agitation in her voice and braced myself, settling in for the rant she was about to unleash. “What happened?”

They had been fighting over Phil’s work schedule; The team had been holding practice so often that he was ragged by the time he got home, barely able to make it to the couch before passing out, much less go on any romantic escapades with his new wife. Normally this wouldn’t bother her so much, and she’d go out with friends to fill the time- except she hadn’t made any yet. She told me that there were two main groups in her yoga class, but she didn’t fit in with either one. After a week or two of not seeing each other, she’d asked Phil to take a few days off work. He hadn’t been able to, they’d fought, he’d stormed out, and she was left alone in the apartment with a bottle of chardonnay.

“I’m sorry, mom,” I comforted her, knowing how hard isolation was for someone as extroverted as she was. “Phil will be in the off-season soon, I’m sure he’ll take you on a big trip to make up for it.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” She said, perking up a bit. “I have been hinting that Greece is on my bucket list- But I don’t know, Bella, he seemed really mad when he left, and I know it’s not his fault, I just get so lonely here by myself…”

“Try a different yoga class.” I suggested, trying to cheer her up. “If the people there don’t like you, then they don’t deserve your positive vibes, or pink aura, or whatever it is.”

She laughed at my attempt at a joke. “Oh Bella, I knew talking to you would make me feel better- Anyway, enough about your boring old mom. How are you doing, sweetheart? That boy you work with still your friend?”

I told her all about how I had set Mike up with Jessica, and how well they were doing. I filled her in on the less distressing details of my Port Angeles trip with Jess and Angie, listing all the books I’d bought and skipping over my near-assault and Rosalie’s daring rescue. She congratulated me on my abnormally high grades, admitting that our new arrangement had worked out for me in that respect.

She spent a while trying to get me to tell her if there were any cute boys that had caught my eye, since I had insisted from the start that Mike was just a friend. I avoided her question, not sure what I could or should tell her about Rosalie; Telling her that I had a crush on a vampire didn’t seem like the wisest move.

I hadn’t realized how late we had stayed up talking until there was a knock on my door, and Charlie peeked his head in with one bushy eyebrow raised.

“Oh,” I pulled my phone away from my ear to check the time; It was almost one in the morning now. “Mom, I have to go, I have school in the morning.”

“Right, it’s Tuesday.” She said a little sadly.

Wednesday now, technically.” I teased. “You should get some sleep too, Mom.”

“Yeah, I guess- I’ll talk to you later, baby. I love you.”

“I love you too.” I hung up, grinning sheepishly up at Charlie. “I was going to bed, but mom called.”

“She okay?” He asked, the concern in his voice was still clear even after fifteen years of divorce.

“She got into it with Phil.” I shrugged. “She’s lonely. They’ll be fine.”

Charlie hissed a breath through his teeth, clicked his tongue, then said, “Well, hopefully so. You goin to sleep now?”

“Yeah, you?”

“Yeah, but I’ll be home tomorrow lettin’ the burn heal a little.” He rolled his eyes at having to follow his own rules as Fire Department Captain. “If you’re too tired to go to school in the mornin’, you can stay home too- Your grades have been real good, we can play hooky together.”

“Maybe another day.” I said, though I knew I would be exhausted in the morning. “I have a project we’re starting in Biology, and I can’t leave Rosalie to do it without me.”

In truth, I just wanted to see Rosalie again, as soon as possible. I could still feel the ice-cold presence of her hand against my palm, and I shuddered as goosebumps ran up my arms at the memory.

“Alrighty.” Charlie shrugged. “Will you bring home some groceries after school tomorrow? I’ll leave a list and some cash by the door.”

“Sure.” I nodded. “Night, dad.”

“Night, Bells.” He shut the door, leaving me alone again.

My new books and the mystery bag Rosalie had given me were still sitting on the edge of my bed. I unpacked the books and set them on top of my dresser, lining them up in alphabetical order by author’s last name. I put the old, library-liberated copy of Pride and Prejudice- along with a few others I had decided to donate- by my backpack so I wouldn’t forget to stop by the library in town tomorrow. Then I stared at the small mystery bag, wondering what Rosalie could’ve possibly seen in a shop window that had made her think of me.

Carefully, I took out the thin rectangular box that was inside it, rubbing the black velvet with my thumb. I held my breath as I lifted the lid, my eyes going wide when I saw what was inside; It was a silver watch, with small, amber-colored gemstones around the face. It ticked softly as I examined it, at a loss for words. I gently took it out and held it next to the old one on my wrist- The difference between the worn, cracked leather band and the new, shiny silver timepiece was striking. The hands on my old one trailed sluggishly behind it’s replacement, clearly at the end of it’s life.

I placed my new watch on my desk by the clothes I had set out for tomorrow and put the old one in the drawer with my laptop. Yawning, I trudged over to bed and crawled under my covers, making sure my alarms on my phone were set. As I tried to sleep, every moment I’d spent with Rosalie replayed in my head; When she’d ridden with me in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, worried about me even though her whole family risked exposure because she’d saved me. The first time we’d eaten lunch together, when she’d called my wild theories about what she was ‘clever.’ The way her hand had felt in mine as she’d tried to lead us to safety…

By the time I had drifted peacefully into unconsciousness, I was absolutely positive about three things; First, Rosalie was a vampire. Second, there was a part of her- and I didn’t know how much control she had over that part- that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally, and irrevocably in love with her.

Chapter Text

My eyelids were so heavy the next morning that I was barely able to open them, squinting angrily at my phone as the alarm rang. I shut it off, briefly considering Charlie’s offer to play hooky as I rubbed the crust from the corners of my eyes. Sitting up slowly, I stretched my arms to the ceiling, waiting for my back muscles to release before letting my arms flop back down to my side. My phone chimed musically, and I picked it up to see a text from Rosalie.

6:47AM ‘Good morning, Bella! Would you like to ride with me to school today? -Rose’

I bit my lip, looking over at the stack of books I had picked out for donation. My fingers flew across the screen as I typed my reply.

6:48AM ‘I’d love to! Would you mind if we left a little early? I wanted to drop the library and drop off a few donations. -Bella'

I took my phone to the bathroom with me while I showered, trying to be quick and checking her response as soon as I stepped out.

6:51AM ‘Not at all. I’ve been meaning to make a few donations myself, actually. -Rose’

I went back to my room to get dressed, throwing on my favorite green sweater and pulling on my jeans. My phone chimed again, and I read another message from Rosalie.

7:04AM ‘Do you mind if we stop by the grocery store after school as well? My mother gave me a shopping list. -Rose’

Her message reminded me of my own shopping list, sitting by the front door with the cash Charlie had left out. I smiled as I typed back.

7:05AM ‘No problem! I have a list from Charlie too, I almost forgot. -Bella’

I put my phone in my back pocket, then took the watch Rosalie had given me and placed it carefully on my wrist. I admired it for a moment, twisting my arm to watch the gems sparkle in the low light. It was fancier than anything I had ever owned. I knew I would have to be careful not to accidentally bump it into any walls during the day. Rosalie’s message chimed, and I pulled my phone back out to read it.

7:06AM ‘Perfect! I’ll be over in ten minutes. -Rose’

Before I went down to the kitchen to shove a banana in my face for breakfast, I went into Charlie’s room to let him know why my truck would be here when he woke up. The shades on the window were so thick that the room was pitch black, and I had to crack the door open to use the light from the hallway as I made my way carefully over to the bed.

“Dad?” I asked quietly, gently shaking his shoulder as he made a particularly loud snore. He didn’t move. I shook him a little harder, raising my voice slightly. “Dad! Wake up for a sec-“

He snorted awake, making me jump. “Huh? Whassap, Bells? Ya okay?”

“I’m fine.” I told him. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m riding to school with Rosalie today. I didn’t want you to worry.”

He grunted in acknowledgment, nodding sleepily. “Mmmkay. Have fun.”

As soon as I left and shut the door quietly behind me, I heard his snores restart, much louder than before. I had barely gotten through my banana when Rosalie texted me again saying she was here. I pulled my backpack over my shoulder and checked my reflection in the mirror by the door. After I had made sure that the shopping list and cash were tucked safely in my pocket, I hurried back upstairs to grab the stack of books- as well as Rosalie’s red leather jacket, which I hadn’t realized I’d kept until after she’d dropped me off- and carefully went back down to meet her outside.

She was leaning against her convertible waiting for me. Her golden eyes lit up when she saw me coming, then dropped to the pile of books I was struggling to carry. She looked left, then right, then zipped to my side in the blink of an eye.

“Here, let me get those for you.” She took the books from my hands before I could protest, her grin bringing out the criminally adorable dimples in her cheeks.

“I could’ve carried them.” I said, rolling my eyes but smiling back up at her.

“Oh, I don’t doubt that.” Rosalie said, booping my nose with one of her long red nails. “The real question is whether or not you’d trip on the way to the car because you can’t see your feet. As entertaining as it’s been, I’d hate to have to save you from breaking your neck.”

“Uh huh, sure.” I put my hands on my hips. “I think you just like to show off.”

“Touché.” She winked, looked around again, then zipped back to the car, putting the books in the back seat and holding the door open for me.

I held out her jacket when I reached her. “Sorry, I kinda stole this last night.”

“You may steal my jacket any time you like.” She smiled, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear before taking it from me, making my heart flutter. “It’s not like I really need it.”

I slid into the passenger seat, and Rosalie appeared next to me almost as soon as she’d closed my door. The Forks Public Library wasn’t far from my house, just a short trip to the nearest main street. They were closed this early in the morning, but there was a chute on the outside of the building for donations. I unloaded my books, glancing at the several boxes of donations Rosalie had brought; There were a bunch of old records, magazines, and a stack of books much bigger than mine.

“My mother gave me a few things when I told her we were coming here.” Rosalie explained without me having to ask her. She took a heavy box in each hand, effortlessly placing them by the chute and going back for more while I started sliding my books through the narrow opening. When she returned, I picked up an old Debussy album with a worn cover from one of the boxes, holding it up with an eyebrow raised. She smiled and said, “The records are Edward’s- copies mostly. He got a few replacements recently.”

“And the books?” I asked, sifting through what looked like priceless first editions.

“Esme’s and Carlisle’s.” She said. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you took a few. There are some classics in there you may like.”

She was right; I picked out three books from the box that caught my eye, leaving the rest for the library. I held them to my chest with one arm and shook the other in the air, wiggling the too-long sleeve down so I could check the time. “We should get going, we don’t want to be late.”

Rosalie beamed, her eyes on her gift. “So, you do like it?”

“I love it.” I said, smiling back at her. “Did you notice that my old one was slowing down, or did you just want to get me something?”

“A little bit of both, to be honest.” She admitted, then gestured back to the car. “After you.”

We pulled into the school parking lot a bit later than I would have liked, even though I had made sure to leave early. I saw Jessica and Mike leaning against her car, locked in an embrace so tight I was convinced they were about to fuse together. When I got out and shut the door behind me, they broke apart. Jessica’s eyes went wide when she saw me with Rosalie. Mike grinned, glancing between us before wiggling his eyebrows at me and giving me a thumbs up.

“I have a feeling you’ll be enduring quite the interrogation about last night.” Rosalie chuckled, turning her back on Mike and Jessica to face me.

“I won’t tell her anything.” I assured her immediately.

“Well, you can tell her some things, Bella.” She said, rolling her eyes. “I know you won’t tell her about the main thing- I trust you. Besides, the only thing Jessica will want to focus on is our relationship, there’s no reason for her to suspect anything else. Relax.”

I swallowed at her insinuation. “Our relationship?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“What exactly would I tell her… I mean, what is our ‘relationship’ exactly?” I blushed furiously again, and it got worse when Rosalie giggled- actually giggled- and closed the distance between us. I tilted my head up, trying to remember how to breathe as I stared up into her golden eyes.

She reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear again, letting her hand linger a bit longer than necessary and trailing her thumb along my jaw. “Why don’t you think it over and let me know what you decide later. I’ll see you at lunch.”

Rosalie leaned in and placed a light kiss on my cheek, sending tingles down my spine. She spun on her heel and headed off to her first class, leaving me standing there dazed and very, very confused. Before she walked to class with Mike, I saw Jessica turn her head and give me a look that very clearly said, ‘We are going to talk about this later and I want details.’

Angela was watching the door when I walked in, probably waiting for me. I sat next to her just as the bell rang, and the teacher started handing back graded tests.

“So, how did it go last night?” Angela hissed, grinning broadly. “Did you have a nice time with Rosalie after we left?”

I nodded, unable to stop myself from grinning down at my desk. When I reached down to fish my spiral from my backpack, my sleeve was pushed up, revealing the flashy new watch from Rosalie. Angela spotted it, her eyebrows raising and her jaw dropping.

That’s new.” She commented, trying and failing to sound casual.

“Oh, yeah.” I said, covering it back up so I wouldn’t damage it. “Rosalie noticed my old one dying on me, so she gave me this one.”

“That was generous of her.” Angela’s smile was a little too knowing as she continued, “Dinner and a gift, huh? She moves fast, I’ll give her that.”

My answering blush was all the confirmation she needed. I focused on the grade I had gotten on the test, going over the few questions I’d missed. By the time the bell finally rang, I was dreading having to face Jessica and Mike in Geometry. Sure, Angela was more perceptive- but Jess asked a lot more questions. As soon as she walked in the door, I was subjected to what amounted to a small interview. I barely had time to answer one question before she moved on to another.

Lauren- who sat at our group of tables now thanks to a seating arrangement change- gaped at me while she listened in on our conversation, her lip gloss drying out while she held it just in front of her open mouth. “Let me get this straight, Bella- You went out to dinner with Rosalie Cullen, and she drove you here today?”

“Right?!” Jess squealed, waving her hands excitedly in the air. “I love it, they make such a cute couple, don’t you think? We can totally go on double dates now-“

“It’s not like that!” I cut her off before she could start rambling again and get her hopes up for a doubles mini-golf tournament. “It was just a dinner… She didn’t say I was her girlfriend or anything- it wasn’t an official date, just spur of the moment…”

I trailed off, thinking of Rosalie’s comment before she had left for class; She had said that I could decide what to tell them, but I didn’t want to insinuate anything and make myself look stupid.

“Tell me, Bella.” Lauren said, finally putting on her lip gloss after pumping it in the container a few times. “Did Rosalie pay for this, ‘not-date’?”

I didn’t answer her, blushing hard again while Mike and Jessica snickered.

“She did, didn’t she?” Lauren smiled, then patted my hand. “That’s a date, love. Congrats.”

“I mean, that doesn’t really mean it was a date,” Mike said, coming to my defense as my blush spread up my forehead and down my neck. “She could’ve just been being nice- Her family is loaded, after all.”

“You didn’t see the way Rosalie was looking at her when she asked her out.” Jessica told him.

“She looks at me like that all the time.” I said.

Lauren laughed. “That’s not the excuse you think it is, honey.”

I groaned and pulled my sweater up over my head while the others giggled quietly.

“Oh, don’t hide.” Lauren said, tugging gently at the back of my sweater until I let go. “We’ll stop teasing you. You got a date with a Cullen, and they never even talk to anyone- and I have to admit, I’m a little jealous. I asked Rosalie out last year, but she said no- Jess is right though, you two are cute together.”

“Can we please just focus on our work?” I begged, leaning over my paper.

“Alright, alright.” Lauren caved, then handed me her phone. “Here- Get a few pictures on me really quick. I want some of me looking smart for my Insta.”

“You are smart, Lauren.” Jess rolled her eyes. “You’re getting a better grade in this class than I am.”

Lauren rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know I’m smart, the point is that I want to look it. Can I borrow your reading glasses?”

“If you want the headache.” Jessica said, but handed them over anyway.

At lunch, I joined Rosalie at the same empty table we had sat at the day of the blood typing incident. She was nibbling on the corner of a slice of square pizza, doodling on the corner of her napkin with a red pen.

“I think I have another question, if you don’t mind.” I said, breaking the silence.

Oh?” She asked, looking up at me curiously. “What’s that?”

“Why do you still eat real food?” I asked, keeping my voice low in case anyone was listening in. “Why bother with it if you don’t need it?”

“Huh- An interesting question, actually.” She bit her lip and thought for a moment before answering. “You know how human stomach acid will break down the food you eat, so the body can absorb the nutrients?”

I nodded.

“It’s the same for us, but with a minor alteration. The… acid... in our stomachs will only absorb the nutrients found in blood. It’s also much more acidic than a human stomach, and normal food will break down too quickly to absorb anything of substance.”

“So, you don’t have to throw it back up later?” I asked, imagining Rosalie hunched over in the woods, hacking up unnecessary food after every meal just to keep her cover.

She laughed. “No. That would be very unpleasant, and I honestly don’t think I’d bother with it if that were the case.”

“Can you still taste it?”

“Yes. In fact, I can taste more than you can. The individual preservatives tend to stand out, especially in school food- Jasper and Edward are particularly picky eaters.”

I grimaced, looking down at my plate and wondering if I could convince Angela to do a piece on healthier meals in the school paper, maybe get Jess to bring it up at a student council meeting. “What’s your favorite food, then?”

“A tie between shepherd’s pie and a really rare steak.” Rosalie grinned. “What about you?”

“Pancakes, probably.” I shrugged, taking a tentative nibble of my preservative-laced cheese pizza. “I like breakfast food.”

We both went silent again for a moment as we ate, Rosalie only breaking it to say, “I have a question for you too, if you don’t mind.”

“What’s that?”

She grinned. “I was just wondering how your conversation with Jessica went.”

I bit my lip, and her mischievous grin took my breath away. I swallowed and cleared my throat before I said, “Well… I told them that our dinner last night wasn’t technically a date- You never said that it was, and I didn’t want to assume anything- I mean, I didn’t think you felt that way about me…”

“Hmm. I see.” Rosalie’s golden eyes searched my face, and I held my breath waiting for her to say something else. “Is there a purpose for our trip to Seattle this Saturday, or was that just an excuse to forego the dance?”

I blinked, wondering where she was going with this. “A bit of both, I guess… Why?”

“I was just wondering if you would consider altering our plans, only slightly.”

I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “Not if the alteration is going to the dance.”

She laughed and shook her head. “No, not that. You’ve made your feelings on the subject perfectly clear. Besides, high school dances are dreadfully boring. What I have in mind is much more exciting.”

“What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“Well,” Rosalie grinned again, leaning her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand. “If an ‘official date’ is what you require, I’d be happy to oblige… Would you like to go out on a date with me this weekend, Bella?”

My heart fluttered, and her grin widened- no doubt able to hear the effect she was having on my breathing and heart rate. I swallowed again and said, “Yes, I would… Under one condition.”

“Oh?” Rosalie asked, raising an eyebrow. “What would that be?”

I drive.”

Rosalie laughed. “Deal.”

The bell rang, and she took our trays to dump them in the nearby trash can. I handed her bag to her when she got back, swinging my own over my shoulder and checking the time on my watch. “We should get going- Mr. Molina is showing that movie today.”

We walked to Biology together, making it to class a bit earlier than usual. The projector was turned on, displaying the main menu on the retractable screen in front of the whiteboard. Mr. Molina waited for everyone to file in before closing the door and dimming the lights.

The film was boring, and it took all my concentration to absorb what the narrator was saying in his sleep-inducing monotone voice. I was even more distracted by my proximity to Rosalie; We were sitting so close that our arms were almost touching. One of her hands rested on her leg, her nails drumming lazily on her knee as she watched the movie. My own hand twitched, and I pressed my palms against my own legs as I wrestled with a sudden desire to reach over and lace my fingers through hers.

Rosalie looked over, noticing me watching her. She smiled, then twisted her wrist so that her palm was face up, holding it out to me. My hand moved on its own, linking our fingers together under the table. I gave up all hope of absorbing the lesson, my every thought consumed by Rosalie’s thumb rubbing slow, cold circles into mine. When the bell rang and I was forced to let go, my hand felt unnaturally empty.

“I’ll see you after school.” Rosalie said, winking at me before leaving to her next class.

I ignored most of Health class, bouncing my leg and tapping my pen after I had circled a bunch of random answers on a pop quiz. In Gym, I was subjected to doubles badminton. Mike took his usual role as my partner, as no one else in the class was willing to get within swinging distance of me when I was armed with a racket. I did my best to stay out of his way while he kept the birdie away from me.

“So, you and Cullen huh?” He asked, waiting for Emma to serve the birdie back into play. “That going okay?”

“So far, yeah.” I said, then dodged as Emma launched the birdie right at me, clearly taking advantage of my bad coordination.

Mike managed to hit it back, grunting as he reached for it. He hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing at the floor before he said, “Look… Do you mind if I say something? As your friend?”

I stared blankly. “Uh, sure.”

“It’s not like I’m not happy for you, I am! It’s just-“ He paused to hit the birdie back over the net again.

“You’re not saying you believe all those crazy cult rumors, do you?” I joked, making him laugh and shake his head.

“No, not that. I’ve just never seen Rosalie date anyone before, ya know? I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into… You helped me out with Jess, I figured I owed you one, that’s all.” He finished, and completely missed an easy serve by Tyler.

“I’ll be fine.” I assured him, laughing as he hit the birdie back at Tyler with a little more force than necessary. “Thanks, though.”

“If you’re sure.” He conceded, nudging me and joking, “But if they start passing out Kool-Aid, get out fast.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I rolled my eyes at him, watching as he and Tyler got absorbed into a competitive badminton death match. I stood with Emma on the sidelines, laughing at them as they started betting who could score more points on the other.

Gym class finished with minimal incidents, and I spent all of the final hour of school waiting for it to be over. I checked my watch every few minutes, my leg bouncing faster and faster and the time dragged. When the bell finally rang, I hopped out of my seat and power walked to the parking lot to meet Rosalie. She was leaning on the hood of her car, staring to the side as I approached.

“Hey.” I said. Her ice blonde hair swung around her face when she turned to face me, smiling gently. “How was your day?”

“Lovely.” She said, opening the passenger door for me. “Yours?”

“Long.” I said, making her laugh.

I was about to get in when a high-pitched squealing froze me in place. I whipped around, afraid that yet another car had decided that my time had come. The sound was coming from a shiny silver Volvo peeling through the lot past us and onto the highway. As it sped past us, I could barely make out Edward behind the wheel, the rest of her family riding with him. Rosalie rolled her eyes after him, smiling apologetically down at me.

“He always has been the theatrical one.” She explained. “Just ignore him.”

“They’re still mad at you, aren’t they?” I felt guilty; If I hadn’t moved here, Rosalie would never have been put in the position of having to save my life. She wouldn’t be at odds with her family, and she wouldn’t have blown her cover to the human she’d saved.

Some of them, yes.” She shrugged. “Edward is certainly pitching the biggest fit about it.”

Sorry…”

Rosalie shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, Bella. They’ll get over themselves. It’s not all of them, after all.”

She gestured to the still open door, and I got inside, waiting for her to walk to her side at human speed. The grocery store in town was just across the highway. It wasn’t busy, and we wandered through the aisles with our carts making sure we got everything on our lists. I grabbed a bag of sour patch kids for me, and a bag of black licorice for Charlie.

“What’s your favorite candy?” I asked her. She knew mine, but I still didn’t know hers.

“Lemon drops.” She said, paying for her set of groceries while I waited for her.

“Just lemon drops?”

“Simple pleasures.” She shrugged, thanked the woman behind the checkout counter, and we headed back out to the car. When we had put our things in the back and gotten inside, she asked, “Can I drive you to school tomorrow as well?”

“I want you to,” I said. “But I have a shift right after school at Newton’s, I’ll need my truck.”

“Not if I drop you off.” Rosalie grinned over at me, winked, then shrugged and looked back at the road. “But if you’d rather have your truck, I understand.”

I bit my lip, considering her offer. “You’d have to pick me up when I was done, too... It would be a few hours.”

She rolled her eyes, chuckling lightly. “A few hours would be nothing to me, Bella- It’s up to you, though.”

“Then I accept.” I said, pleased to see that I’d made her elusive dimples appear in her cheeks when she smiled.

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.” She said, putting the car in park when we reached my house. “Do you need help bringing everything in?”

“No, I’ve got it.” I said. It was only a couple of bags, and I could easily loop all of them on one arm. “See you tomorrow.”

“Oh, Bella?” She called after me as I stepped out.

I leaned down to look at her through the open door; The way she was looking me made my breath catch in my chest, and I almost dropped my backpack in the dirt.

“Tomorrow, would you mind if I took a turn asking the questions?” She asked, her golden eyes sparkling. “You’ve learned so much about me… I would love the chance to learn more about you.”

I swallowed. “Of course, you can.”

Excellent.” She winked at me. “I’ll see you in the morning, Bella. Try not to die before then, please.”

“I make no promises.” I joked back, laughing as I shut the car door. I watched her drive away, the butterflies in my stomach migrating up to my chest and filling my brain as she blew me a kiss out her window.

Chapter Text

Charlie was making breakfast when I woke up the next morning. I could hear the sizzling and popping of the eggs cooking in the pan, and the smell wafting up the stairs made my stomach rumble. I got up and pulled my phone from the charger, reading through the texts from Mom that I had been too tired to read last night; After our last phone call, her communication had been sparse, and I was hoping that everything was okay after her fight with Phil.

I glanced at the clock in the corner of the screen; It wasn’t late enough for her to be at work yet, but it might be late enough for her to be awake at least. I pressed the call button, listening to it ring.

“Bella!” The voice on the other end of the line was deeper than I had expected.

“Oh, hey Phil!” I grinned. “Where’s Mom?”

“Bathroom.” He said, then took a bite of something and asked with his mouth full, “How ya doin’ up there, kiddo?”

“Pretty good. How are you guys doing?”

“Good, good. The season’s been hell, ready to zip off to Greece already.”

“So, you are going, then?” I asked, glad they had been able to patch up their big fight so quickly.

“Yep!” Phil said, perking up at the subject. “Your mom’s right, I’ve been workin’ my ass off training. A week or two away when we’re finally done sounds amazing- Oh, your mom’s back. Tell Charlie I say hi. Love you, kid!”

“I will, love you too!” I said, then I heard one of Mom’s large hoop earrings hit the receiver.

Hi sweetie!” She crooned. “How are you?”

“Good.” I said, relaxing when I heard her voice. “I just wanted to call and see how you were.”

“Oh, I’m doing much better!” She said. “Did Phil tell you we’re finally going to Greece?”

We chatted about their vacation plans for a while- well, she chatted while I listened. She was just telling me about the beaches in Santorini when I heard the waiter at whatever diner they were at return with their food.

“You’re out for breakfast?” I asked in disbelief. Mom usually didn’t get out of bed until ten, much less be out of the house this early.

“Phil talked me into it.” She explained, her voice getting so sappy that I could see the look she was giving him across the table in my head. “I’ve started going to bed earlier, then we get up for breakfast together before his practice. This little place he found around the corner has bottomless mimosas- I might never leave.”

I laughed, and we were interrupted by a soft knock on my door. Charlie poked his head in, then seeing I was on the phone, whispered, “Breakfast.”

I nodded, then pointed to the phone and mouthed back, “Mom.”

He waved.

“Dad says hi.” I said, interrupting mom’s rambling about the eggs benedict she had ordered.

“Oh.” She said. “Well, tell him I said hi too, I guess- What time is it up there? Isn’t it time for school?”

“Almost.” I said, checking the tiny clock in the corner of the screen. “I’ll text you when I get home.”

“Okay, baby. I love you, muah!” She blew me a kiss through the phone before hanging up.

“How are they doin’?” Charlie asked, his head still peering around the half-closed door.

“Good. They’re going to Greece.”

“Huh. Good for them.” He said. “Got a mushroom omelet for ya downstairs.”

“I’ll be right down.” I hopped out of bed and grabbed my brush as he headed back to the kitchen. I dragged the brush through the knots in my hair, tugging to get through the split ends at the bottom. I would have to trim it soon, but I would have to get new scissors. My old ones had been lost in the move.

I dressed quickly, then joined Charlie downstairs. My omelet was delicious. He had stuffed it with swiss cheese and let the edges brown the way I liked it. I swallowed a large bite, then asked, “How’s the leg?”

“Leg’s a leg.” He said, holding it out from under the table so that I could see the fresh bandages he had put on that morning. “Stayin’ home one more day. You drivin’ to school, or is Rosalie comin’ again?”

“Rosalie’s coming.” I told him.

“Is there somethin’ wrong with the truck?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. “Need me to bring Jake by later, see if he can fix it?”

“No, the truck is fine.” I assured him. “We’re just hanging out. My truck uses a lot of gas anyway, gotta think about my carbon footprint and stuff.”

He nodded, going back to his food and accepting my half-baked excuse. “You two still goin’ up to Seattle this weekend instead of the dance? Ya could go together as friends, ya know, you ain’t gotta have a date nowadays. Get a group together, might be fun.”

Dad.” I rolled my eyes. “You know I don’t dance. And yes, we’re still going to Seattle.”

It was only half a lie; I was still going to be with Rosalie, even if the venue had changed to a currently unknown location. Besides, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to have the ‘dating’ conversation with Charlie yet, even if he did like Rosalie.

As if on cue, my phone chimed in my pocket. Rosalie had texted me, telling me she was here.

“I got the dishes.” Charlie said, waving his hand as I stood quickly to wash mine. “Go ahead. Have a good day, Bells.”

“Bye, Dad, love you.” I said, giving him a quick one-armed hug before grabbing by backpack and rushing out to meet Rosalie.

She was waiting for me by her car again, holding the passenger door open when she saw me come out.

“Good morning, Bella.” She smiled, making my heart flutter. “How are you today?”

“Good.” I breathed, catching my breath. “You?”

Rosalie chuckled mischievously and shook her head. “I believe it’s my turn to ask the questions today, remember?”

“Oh, come on.” I rolled my eyes and smirked up at her. “I can’t even return polite conversation? That’s a bit extreme.”

“Perhaps.” She agreed, then said, “I’m doing wonderfully. Now, shall we go to school, or will we be skipping today? I’m alright with either to be honest.”

I slid into my seat and she closed my door, giggling to herself. When she had gotten in the car and pulled onto the highway, her onslaught of questions began. They seemed completely random, and she asked them so quickly that I barely had time to take a breath between answers.

“Do you have a favorite flower?” She asked.

“Orchids. Purple ones.”

“Is purple your favorite color?”

“I guess so.”

“What’s your favorite gemstone?”

“Topaz.” I blurted without thinking, then blushed furiously when I noticed her satisfied grin.

“Like your watch?” She asked, looking down at my wrist where the amber colored gemstones sparkled.

Yeah,” I said, smiling shyly over at her. Truthfully, I’d said topaz because it was the color of her eyes this morning. “Thank you, again.”

“It was my pleasure.” Rosalie winked. “Did you have any pets growing up?”

I blinked, recovering from the sudden shift in topic. “A few goldfish, but nothing bigger than that.”

“Are you allergic?”

“No, Mom never let me have any. We moved around too much, and they can get expensive.”

“Would you rather have a cat or a dog?”

“A cat.” I said, then remembered a long-buried memory. “When I was five, I brought home a little orange kitten. I begged her to let me keep it, but she said no. She helped me find it a new home with one of her coworkers at the time. I wanted to name it Garfield, but it was a girl.”

We had turned into the parking lot, which was quickly filling up with cars as we tried to find a spot. Students rushed to get inside, glancing up at the dark clouds that threatened a downpour any second. I got out of the car, using my bag as a hat in case it started to rain before we got inside. Before splitting up to go to our classes, Rosalie took hold of my hand, spinning me to face her.

One more question?” She asked, her golden eyes sparkling as she gazed down at me.

I swallowed. “Yeah?”

“Would you like to sit together at lunch?”

I grinned. “Of course.”

Rosalie grinned back, pulled my hand up to her mouth, and placed a gentle kiss on my knuckles. She winked, then left for class, leaving me standing in the hallway in a daze.

I did my best to focus on my classes, but failed miserably. English was spent doing ‘popcorn reading,’ something I hated more than anything on this earth. Reading out loud was not within the range of my comfort zone, and it was even worse when I never knew when it was coming.

I was so zoned out in Geometry, that I completely ignored the worksheet we were given. My only saving grace was Lauren, who had reached over to fill mine out while I was busy staring at the wall thinking about Rosalie’s cold lips brushing against my knuckles. When I had frantically looked down in a panic when the bell rang to see all the answers miraculously filled out- complete with all the work shown- I gave her a curious look.

She winked. “You owe me one.”

I gazed after her as she left for her next class, baffled.

In Spanish, we were given a partnered assignment. Rather than let us pick our partners as usual, the teacher chose for us. My usual partner would have been Eric, but they were paired off with a girl I’d never spoken to before. I ended up paired with Jasper.

I bit my lip, glancing nervously back at him. He smiled politely, waving me over to join him in one of the empty seats surrounding his. I was relieved that he didn’t look upset at having been paired with me, and I stood to move closer to him. He ended up being an excellent partner. The two of us got a better grade on our translation than anyone else in the class. When the bell rang for lunch, he stood up, but waited for me as I gathered my things.

“Your accent is very natural.” He complimented.

“Thanks.” I grinned, glad that Rosalie’s twin didn’t seem to have any issue with me at least. If only Edward were this polite.

He held the door open for me as we left, and I saw Rosalie waiting for me across the hall. She blinked when she saw me with Jasper, her expression unreadable as she walked up to join us.

“Hey, Rose.” Jasper said. “I was just telling Bella how good her Spanish was.”

“Yours is better.” I smiled. “Seriously, I’ve never gotten that good of a grade in that class- Thanks for the help.”

“Anytime.” He said, then asked Rosalie, “Are you sitting with us today?”

“Not today, no.” She said, putting a cold arm around my shoulders. The casual gesture made me feel light-headed.

“Okay.” Jasper shrugged, nodding to me before heading to the cafeteria.

Rosalie and I followed after him, sitting down at our regular empty table after we’d gotten our food. Her interview began as soon as I’d swallowed my first bite. She gave me time to chew between questions but asked another as soon as I’d swallowed. Her own plate of food was ignored.

Most of her inquiries this time were about my life back in Phoenix; If I’d been in any clubs growing up, any friends I’d left behind, all the jobs I worked to help Mom out with the bills. I blushed when she asked if I’d ever dated anyone before.

What?” She pressed, trying to read my face while I tried to hide behind a curtain of my hair.

“I’ve never dated anyone, actually.” I whispered.

She heard me, of course- vampire hearing beats loud cafeteria, apparently- and tilted her head to one side, a curious look in her golden eyes. “Never? No one ever asked you out in Phoenix?”

Well…” I clarified, blushing even harder. “There was this one boy I was friends with in eighth grade. He told me he liked me, but I didn’t like him back- not like that, anyway.”

“Poor guy.” Rosalie smirked, taking a sip from her soda.

“I tried to be nice about it!” I defended. “We stayed friends until he moved to Chicago six months later.”

The bell rang, and Rosalie took our trays to the trash. We weren’t able to continue our conversation in Biology, since we were only halfway through the monotonous film that Mr. Molina was subjecting us to. However, we sat as close as we had yesterday, our legs resting against each other. I had just worked up the nerve to reach for her hand when Rosalie stretched, letting one arm drape casually over my shoulders as she relaxed. It made my heart race, and I could feel her body shaking as she tried not to laugh at my reaction.

The film ended with barely a minute left in class, and she took her arm back right before the lights came on. My shoulders felt uncomfortably light and much too warm without it. She winked, told me she’d see me after school, then went to her next class.

In gym, Mike teased me relentlessly; He had been watching us in Biology and was in the middle of taunting me while we dodged flying rubber balls from the opposing team.

Rosalie and Bella, sittin’ in a tree,” He sang under his breath, yanking me out of the path of one of the balls as it flew past. “K-I-S-S-I-N-OW!”

He’d been paying too much attention to me, and not enough attention to Tyler, who had aimed a ball right at his head. The coach blew her whistle, telling him off for his illegal headshot.

The end of the day finally came after an agonizing History test. Halfway through, I gave up- circling random answers and handing it in without looking it over. I powerwalked to the parking lot to meet Rosalie at the car. We didn’t have a lot of time before my shift at Newton’s, but I would take what I could get. I saw her waiting for me, and she smiled when she looked up from her phone and saw me coming. She moved to open my door, when I heard a shout from behind me.

“Bella!” I turned to see Mike jogging towards me, rushing to catch me before I left. He stopped in front of me, catching his breath.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I forgot to tell you earlier,” He said. “Aunt Sadie wanted me to tell you that you don’t need to come in today- It’s been really slow, so she says she’s got it covered.”

“Oh, okay.” I said, secretly relieved; My afternoon was now completely free. “Tell her I said thank you.”

“Sure thing.” Mike said, waving to Rosalie over my shoulder before turning to join Jessica at her car.

When I turned around and joined her, Rosalie was grinning. “So- a change of plans, then?”

“Looks like it.” I grinned back at her, ecstatic with how lucky I'd gotten.

“What would you like to do?” She asked.

I thought about that, weighing my options in my head. It would be nice to just relax for while- but I’d been given a lot of homework, and I’d wanted to get a load of laundry started.

“Do you want to come over for a bit?” I asked her. “We can do homework while you keep questioning me.”

“Sounds lovely.”

Charlie’s bike wasn’t in the driveway when we got to the house. I went upstairs to my room, checking my phone to see if he’d texted to tell me where he was going. There were the usual fifty or so messages from Mom, but nothing from Charlie.

“This was on the back of the front door.” Rosalie said, appearing beside me with a yellow post it note in her hand. I took it from her, reading the familiar chicken-scratch handwriting.

‘Bella- Gone to La Push. Bringin’ Billy and Jake for dinner. -Dad’

“Who are Billy and Jake?” Rosalie asked, sitting on the edge of my bed.

“Family friends.” I shrugged, tossing the note in the trash now that it had served it’s purpose. “You can stay for dinner too, if you want. I’m sure Charlie won’t mind.”

She bit her lip, her brow furrowed. “I… can’t, Bella. I’d love to, but I can’t.”

“Oh.” I deflated. “Why not?”

She smiled sadly. “Your family friends are Quileute, I gather… I’m assuming that you learned of my true nature from them- It also explains why you didn’t want to tell me… You would’ve been narc-ing on a friend.”

I swallowed. “Yeah… I got Jacob to tell me, but he doesn’t believe a word of it- he thinks it’s just a scary story.”

Rosalie sighed. “I suppose it’s better like that, for him anyway… Still, I should be gone before they get here. I don’t want to cause any complications for you.”

“Why would you cause a complication?” I asked, confused. “You have the treaty for a reason, right? You don’t hurt humans.”

“We try not to hurt humans.” Rosalie said, looking anywhere but at me. “But, please, Bella- you have to understand that despite my best efforts, I’m still a danger to you. There’s a reason I avoided blood-typing day. If I lost control around you, even for a second, and you got hurt… I would never forgive myself.”

“I trust you.” I insisted, sitting on the bed next to her to prove my point. “But if it would be easier for you to be gone before they get here, then I understand.”

“Thank you…” She squeezed my hand lightly, her red lips curled in a soft smile.

“It’s too bad, though.” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “I think you’d really like Jacob. He fixes cars too.”

Ah.” She said, brightening. “He’s the mechanic that fixed your truck?”

“Yeah.”

“How old is he?”

“Fifteen.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Impressive work for someone so young.”

“His mom taught him before she died.” I explained. “Her dad owns a garage on the reservation. Jacob still helps out over there off-the-books when he has the time.”

“He sounds nice.”

“He is.”

We fell silent, and I realized just how close we were sitting; Rosalie had turned her entire torso in my direction, and was staring into my eyes with her own blazing with a heat so intense my cheeks flushed in response. I held my breath, too focused on the way her ice-blonde hair framed her face to say anything.

So, about that homework you mentioned.” She prompted, breaking me free of my haze.

“Right, that.” I said, scooting away from her to grab my bag from the floor.

“What’s your favorite subject?” She asked suddenly.

Not History.” I groaned, recalling the test I had certainly failed. “English, probably.”

We spent an hour or two working while Rosalie asked me whatever popped into her head. Eventually, the topic turned to how Phil and Renee were doing. I was just filling her in on their latest vacation plans when her head suddenly snapped to look out my open window.

“What?” I asked, but heard what had alerted her as soon as I fell silent. The rumble of two engines; One motorcycle, and one van.

“Looks like I’ll be cutting it very close.” Rosalie said, her bag suddenly packed and over her shoulder in a flash. “May I pick you up tomorrow as well?”

I nodded and walked her outside to her car. Charlie had just pulled up on his bike, taking his helmet off and flattening his hair. The Green Machine was parked on the side of the road, leaving room for Rosalie to move her convertible.

“Hey, Dad!” I called.

He looked up, smiling when he saw who I was with. “Hey, Rosalie! You stayin’ for dinner?”

“Not tonight, my parents made meatloaf.” She lied smoothly. “I was just leaving, if they want to take my spot.”

“Alrighty. Don’t be a stranger.” He said, waving before going to talk to Billy.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Bella.” Rosalie said, glancing nervously over her shoulder at the van before getting in her car and driving away.

Bella!” Jacob bounded over to me, lifting me up in his long, wiry arms. He set me back on me feet, then asked, “How ya been?”

“Good.” I said, punching his arm lightly. “You?”

“I’m grounded for failing English.” He rolled his eyes, keeping his voice low so Billy wouldn’t hear him. “This is the first time I’ve been out of the house in a week- Who was that you were with? She had an awesome ride.”

I bit my lip. “Rosalie Cullen.”

“Oh!” He said, his eyebrows rising. “So that’s your mysterious vampire lover. She’s cute, Bella. Nice goin'.”

I shushed him frantically, looking around to see if our dads had overheard. Charlie was completely absorbed in getting Billy’s chair through the narrow doorframe, but Billy was staring right at us. I looked away quickly, an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

“You don’t think Billy would tell Charlie, do you?” I asked. Sure, he liked Rosalie now- but I had a feeling that sense of camaraderie would vanish the second he discovered her thirst for human blood.

“Nah.” Jacob shook his head. “They fought about the Cullens a lot when they first moved here, since Dad believes all that superstitious stuff. Charlie wouldn’t hear a word of it. It’s a banned subject now.”

“Who banned it?”

Me.” Jacob said, rolling his eyes. “For a couple of grown adults, they bicker like kids.”

I laughed, and the two of us headed inside. Billy and Charlie were in the kitchen, peeling potatoes at the sink. Billy looked over his shoulder, his dark eyes piercing right through me. I swallowed, but busied myself with setting the table, avoiding his gaze.

Dinner was almost over when Billy took his opportunity to talk to me. Jacob was explaining to Charlie how he had ripped out the drivers’ seat of the Machine and installed a lift so that Billy could drive again, when he interrupted.

“Why don’t you go show off your handiwork?” He asked Jacob, glancing at me for the briefest moment before he did. “I’ll help Bella with the dishes.”

“Yeah, I’d love to see how that works.” Charlie said, bringing his and Billy’s empty plates to the sink. “How’d you learn to do that yourself?”

“YouTube videos, and a little help from Gramps.” Jacob said, puffing out his chest proudly. “I got the lift itself second hand from eBay, and the rest of the parts I scrapped together from the junkyard- It works like new.”

“Should get an engineerin' degree with that brain of yours, kid.” Charlie said, reaching up to pat Jacob on the shoulder as they went outside, leaving Billy and I alone in the kitchen.

I stood up and took the rest of the dishes to the sink. Billy rolled up beside me but didn’t say anything. He grabbed the towel from the counter, waiting patiently for me to hand him a dish to dry. I washed one of the plates and handed it to him. He dried it and set it carefully on the counter. We continued like that for a while, until he finally broke the silence.

“That girl you were with today,” He said casually, though I could hear the tension in his words. “She a friend of yours?”

Yes, she is.” I said, handing him a clean cup. “Why?”

He didn’t say anything. I handed him another plate, waiting.

“Bella,” He began, speaking very carefully. “The Cullens are… dangerous. It would be best if you kept your distance. From all of them.”

I swallowed. “Rosalie is my friend. She’s not dangerous to me.”

Bella.” He said, firmer than before. I looked down at him. His dark eyes were wide, pleading with me to see reason. “If you know what they are- and I think you do- then you know what I’m saying. Think about what it would do to Charlie if one of them lost control around you…”

“I know. She told me the same thing.” I told him, making him blink in surprise. “But I trust her. She saved my life, more than just the once Charlie knows about. I’ll be fine, Billy. But I appreciate your concern, really.”

He signed, apparently giving up; After all, he knew too well how stubborn I could be. “Alright, fine… You’re old enough to decide that for yourself. Just… be careful, honey. I love Charlie, and you’re like a daughter to me- I don’t want to see either of you hurt, understand?”

“Yes, sir.” I said, my throat tight.

We finished the dishes, and I helped him get his chair through the skinny doorway out to the yard. Jacob had the drivers’ side door open, demonstrating the lift to Charlie.

“Alright, time to go.” Billy said, rolling up as the lift lowered for him. “Come over Saturday, Charlie- Harry’s got a new flat-screen.”

“Will do.” Charlie said, squeezing Billy’s hand as he was raised into the van.

“What did you do with the seat?” I asked Jacob.

“It’s in the garage.” He said. “It’s a good lounge chair. By the way, Quil’s been asking about you- She’s driving me up the wall.”

I laughed at his expression. “Tell her I’ll come by soon.”

Jacob gave both me and Charlie a quick hug before getting into the van with Billy. I watched them as they drove off, Billy’s warning still echoing in my head.

“Comin’, Bells?” Charlie called.

“Yeah.” I said, tearing my eyes from the road and heading back to the house.

Chapter Text

Charlie was still at home when I woke up the next morning. After I’d gotten dressed, I went down to the kitchen to see him washing dishes at the sink, whistling quietly to himself. I raised my eyebrow at him, waiting for him to tell me why he wasn’t at work like he said he would be.

“Goin’ in late.” He explained, pointing to the small dining table where breakfast was waiting for us; A large bowl of fresh fruit. “Went by the farmer’s market this morning. Rosalie comin’ to get ya?”

“Yep.” I told him, sitting down and popping a huge strawberry into my mouth whole. “What are you gonna do tomorrow while we’re in Seattle?”

“Probably gonna go fishin’ with Harry and Billy. Old Quil might join us if he feels up to it.” Charlie said, sitting across from me and poking around in his own bowl with his fork. “I might be gone before you are, actually- Harry’s gonna drive over at five.”

“Yeah, we won’t leave that early.” I agreed. I might be a morning person, but five in the morning was early, even for me. “I think we’ll leave around eight or nine.”

“Any idea when you’ll be back?” He asked.

“I’m not sure.” I admitted. “But I’ll keep you updated- I promise, this time I’ll triple check my phone is charged.”

Charlie chuckled. “I’m sure you will. If not, you’re grounded for life.”

“Mine or yours?” I asked, smirking as I took another bite.

“We’ll see.”

After breakfast, I met Rosalie at out front. She opened my door for me as usual, then walked at human speed to the driver’s side, since Charlie was waving to her out the window as he did the dishes. We drove to school with the top down since it was a bit warmer than usual for Forks. Thankfully, I always carried an extra brush for emergencies, and managed to work the worst of the tangles out of my thick hair once we had parked.

We had gotten to school a bit early, so Rosalie walked me all the way to English, her cold hand wrapped firmly around mine. When she dropped me off, she pressed her lips to my hand again, leaving a tingling feeling in my fingers for the rest of the class. Today was a review day, and I paired up with Angela. We quizzed each other with the detailed flash cards that she’d meticulously put together the night before. Thankfully, Angela kept me on task- gently tapping on the table in front of me with her long black nails whenever my mind wandered.

There was a group assignment in Geometry. Mike and Jessica were too busy gazing into each other’s eyes like lovesick puppies to be much help, so Lauren and I did most of it on our own, letting them copy our work when we were done.

“Earth to Jess?” Lauren said, waving her hand in Jessica’s face to get her attention, something she’d been attempting in vain for several minutes.

Jess jumped, looking up at her. “Sorry- What was that?”

“I said, do you want to meet up before the dance?” She asked. “I’m going with Evan, we could double if you want- My dad rented a car for us.”

“Oh, that sounds fun!” Jess clapped, turning to Mike to get his opinion.

“Sure, sounds good.” He agreed, putting one arm around his ecstatic girlfriend.

Spanish passed quickly, and Rosalie was waiting for me again, leaning against the row of lockers across from the classroom door. I noticed that she was holding a takeout bag in her hand, and looked at it curiously, recognizing the logo on the side.

“Surprise!” She said, holding out the take-out from the diner. “Garden burger to go.”

“When did you-“

“I skipped gym.” She shrugged. “I didn’t feel like going today.”

I grinned, my stomach rumbling when I smelled the garlic fries in the bag. We went to our usual table, and Rosalie took out our food. She’d ordered the same thing as me, and took a bite of her veggie burger, making a face.

What?” I asked, digging into my own; It was perfect. Marty, the owner, had to have been working the grill.

“I’ve never been a fan of meat substitutes.” She explained, smirking. “You can probably guess why.”

“Probably.” I laughed and stuffed four or five fries in my mouth at once, sucking in air through my lips to cool them off when I realized they were still piping hot.

Rosalie laughed at me, then bit her lip nervously. “I have a confession to make.”

“What’s that?” I asked, cooling my tongue with my Dr. Pepper.

“I actually went to get you lunch as an apology…” She explained. “I’ll be leaving after lunch- Alice and Jasper want to go hiking, and I thought it might be a good idea if I went with them… So that I’m well rested for our date tomorrow.”

Right.” I picked up on her hint, nodding so she knew I understood. Then I remembered that I didn’t have my truck, since I’d ridden with her almost all week. “I’ll ask Jessica for a ride home, it’s no big deal.”

“That won’t be necessary.” She said, grinning. “I can bring your truck back here, if you don’t mind my driving it. I’ll leave the keys in the glove compartment for you.”

“How will you get into my house though?” I asked. “My keys are hanging by the door.”

“A girl has her ways.” She winked. “It’s up to you, though.”

I looked over to where Jessica was sitting with Mike and the others. Did I really want to sit in the back of Jess’ cramped Volkswagen beetle, watching them make goo-goo eyes at each other the whole way home?

“You can drive my truck.” I said. “My keys have a little plastic firetruck on them. Do not go anywhere near sixty miles an hour- Oh, and double-pump the clutch when you shift, it’s a bit picky.”

“I’ll remember that.” She said, and my heart leapt into my throat as the dimples in her cheeks appeared alongside her radiant smile.

“So,” I swallowed, trying to regain my composure. “Just Alice and Jasper? Not Emmett and Edward?”

She bit her lip again, her smile faltering. “Yes.”

“Why?” I asked, though I thought I knew the answer already.

Edward, as you can imagine, isn’t all that thrilled with me right now.” Rosalie explained, rolling her eyes and glancing over at her brother. "He thinks I've finally lost my mind, actually. Being your friend was one thing- but now that it's more than that... well."

I followed her gaze and regretted it instantly; Edward was staring at me again, with an intensity that made me shift uncomfortably in my seat. He looked angry, but there was a concentration behind the anger that made me feel like he was x-raying me. I refused to look away, narrowing my eyes back at him. Rosalie snickered at our staring contest, eating another fry and shaking her head. Emmett- who was sitting next to Edward- finally noticed his boyfriend’s attention had been diverted from his performance of juggling the half dozen eggs he’d brought with his lunch. He nudged Edward in the ribs, barely missing a beat as he tossed the eggs precariously in the air. Edward reluctantly tore his golden eyes from mine and went back to watching Emmett, rolling his eyes but clapping politely anyway.

“What about Emmett?” I asked, watching him catch all six eggs deftly in one huge hand, much to the delight of the table of freshmen girls next to them. He winked over at them, and they dissolved into quiet giggles.

“He’s impartial.” Rosalie said, rolling her eyes at him before turning back to face me. “He thinks you’re very strange, actually.”

“What?” I asked, snapping my attention back to her. “Why?”

Rosalie laughed. “Your complete disregard for your own safety, for one. He also finds your immunization to Edward about as amusing as I do.”

“Is that the only thing pissing him off?” I asked, glancing back over at Edward and wondering how controlling he had to be to obsess over the one human whose thoughts he couldn’t read. “Just that he can’t read my mind?”

“Not entirely.” Rosalie said, her tone darkening. “I believe you overheard his logic at the hospital- Do you remember?”

I racked my brain, recalling a small hallway where I had stumbled on Rosalie and Edward having a whispered argument.

“He said you should’ve let me die, for one.” I said flatly, hearing his harsh words in my head and narrowing my eyes at the table.

“After that.” She prompted. “When he said it was about my entire family, not just me. He was talking about what could happen if I lost control with you- Yes, I know, we’ve discussed it, and you trust me, which is adorably naïve of you, Bella- even though I appreciate it.”

I closed my mouth, as I’d been about to interrupt her.

“However, Edward’s concerns are valid, as irritating as they may be.” She continued. “If the worst-case scenario were to come to pass… you and I have been seen very publicly together- It wouldn’t be hard for the police to put two and two together and come knocking on our door. Our identifications are false. We’d have no choice but to run. That’s what Edward meant.”

“Oh.” I said, risking another glance over at the table where the rest of her family sat. They looked as carefree as any other table of teenagers. Alice was sitting in Jasper’s lap, launching grapes at Edward across the table. Edward caught every one of them, smirking at her before he popped them in his mouth. I felt guilty; If I’d left well enough alone and never tried to find out what they were, they wouldn’t be fearing for their safety every second.

“What about your parents?” I asked, turning my attention back to her.

“Carlisle and Esme like you very much.” Rosalie told me. “They have their concerns, of course, but they don’t hold my decision to date you against me- They want me to be happy.”

The bell rang then, interrupting my chance to ask her more about her family. Rosalie took our trays, and I handed her backpack to her. Before we could leave the cafeteria, Alice skipped over to us, smiling angelically up at me in a way that made her look even younger than she usually did.

“Hi, Bella!” She said, stopping next to Rosalie and taking her hand. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too.” I said, remembering the day she had interrupted Jasper before he could spill the beans about their family.

“Sorry we have to take Rose before Biology,” She said. “It’s the only time we can go where we won’t get caught leaving- Mike will pair up with you, though.”

“I’ll be fine.” I assured her. “Mike has Tara for a lab partner though, but I should be okay on my own.”

“Tara won’t be there.” Alice said in a satisfied sing-song voice. “She skipped today, too. She wasn’t in our History class earlier.”

Okay, Alice,” Rosalie prompted, gently tugging her sister’s hand. “We can’t make Bella late.”

Fine.” She said, rolling her eyes in exasperation before smiling up at me and saying, “See you later, Bella.”

“Bye, Alice.” I said, watching her turn and skip away to where Jasper was waiting for her. He waved before they turned and walked out the back doors, probably to get Rosalie’s convertible.

“I should go.” Rosalie said, reaching forward and taking my hand gently in hers. “I’ll see you in the morning- Oh, and wear something you can walk in.”

“We’re walking somewhere?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” She smirked, reaching out with her other hand and tucking my hair behind my ear, causing a shudder to run down my spine. “I’ll make sure you don’t trip.”

“Oh, ha ha.” I said dryly, making her laugh. She pressed her lips to my knuckles before turning to leave. I took a minute to take a breath before heading to Biology.

Alice was right; Tara was missing. It was a lab day, so Mike came over to my table to take Rosalie’s empty seat.

“Where’s Cullen?” He asked, dropping his backpack on the ground and plopping down next to me.

“She ditched.” I said, careful not to outright lie to him. “Going on an early hiking trip with Alice and Jasper.”

Lucky.” He lamented, groaning as Mr. Molina wrote down the instructions for today’s lab on the whiteboard.

“Could you ask Aunt Sadie if I can come work today?” I asked under my breath as Mr. Molina started talking. “I don’t have my phone, and I don’t want to just show up.”

“Yeah, sure thing.” He said, whipping out his own phone under the table and texting her quickly before Mr. Molina got to our desk with our supplies. When he’d moved on, Mike whispered, “I’ll let you know what she says in gym.”

I nodded, and spent the rest of the class focusing on what we were supposed to do, not wanting my brain to wander and obsess over my date with Rosalie, which would be happening less than twenty-four hours from now. Health class was harder to pay attention to; We were just watching a short film on nutrition, and the overly peppy host quickly irritated me. I tried to tune out her bubble-gummy explanation of trans-fats, choosing to take out my latest book report and do some editing. By the time the bell rang for gym, I was fairly certain I would get at least a B plus

Since it was nice out- well, nice for Forks. The coach had decided to make my day by forcing us onto the unkempt and frankly hazardous running track outside the building. Our instructions were to jog along the straight edges, and walk along the curved ones if we needed to. I cheated a little by powerwalking, watching my every step on the cracked asphalt.

Mike caught up to me on one of the curves, where I was walking as slow as I could manage without getting a whistle blown at me, kicking a few loose rocks off the track so that they wouldn’t snipe me on my next lap.

“She says you can come in.” He said, slowing to my pace and breathing deeply to get heartrate to resting range. “She’s gonna go with Blake to some show in Port Angeles they’ve been wanting to see, so it’ll just be us.”

“Nice.” I said, smiling gratefully at him. A good shift at work would keep me nice and distracted. “Do you want a ride?”

“Sure.” He said, then pelted after Tyler and another guy from the track team, who had just blown past us and teased Mike for being slow.

At the end of the day, I found my truck parked in the same spot Rosalie’s convertible had been in that morning. The keys were in the glove compartment, as she’d promised, along with my phone. I grabbed it and saw that I already had a text from her.

1:27PM ‘Thought you might want this. Be safe. -Rose’

I blushed and tucked my phone in my pocket, tossing my bag in the seat and turning to look for Mike. I saw him at Jessica’s car, saying a very enthusiastic goodbye. I rolled my eyes, reached into the truck, and honked my horn to get his attention. He looked over, grinned, kissed Jessica one more time, then jogged over.

“Sorry,” He said, winking. “Girlfriends. You know how it is.”

“Oh, shut up and get in the truck.” I smacked his arm. “We don’t wanna be late.”

Aunt Sadie and Blake were standing outside waiting for us when we got there. My mouth dropped when I saw the sparkly, deep green, floor-length dress Sadie was wearing.

Wow, what show are you guys going to?” I asked, looking from her to Blake, who was wearing a three-piece suit with accents the same dark green as Sadie's dress. They were much taller than Sadie and very muscular. Not quite as imposing as Emmett, but almost. They had dark skin and long braids in their hair that fell below their waist. They greeted me with a dazzling white smile and a wave that I returned as Mike got out behind me.

“We’re going to an opera house.” Sadie gushed, beaming up at her partner. “Thanks so much for coming in, Bella, I didn’t want to leave Mikey here alone all night.”

“I would’ve been fine.” Mike said, rolling his eyes but giving them both hugs. “Drive safe. Call me when you get there.”

“Sure thing, kid.” Blake said, wrapping their arms around their nephew. “Don’t forget to lock up. We should be home by eleven.”

They got into their beige minivan and drove off, Sadie blowing Mike a kiss from the open window. Mike and I went inside, and I felt my ears and nose thaw out thanks to the warm air aimed at the doors.

It was a moderately busy day since it was a weekend. Tara came in to replace her worn out hiking boots with a fresh pair, and Mike took the opportunity to tease her for bailing on him in Biology.

Seriously, Newton?” She asked, giving him a lopsided grin. “If you need my help to pass Bio, you must really be screwed- Besides, the public education system is bullshit anyway. We don’t really learn anything except how to exhaust ourselves studying to pass a test.”

Preach.” Mike agreed, holding his fist out over the counter.

Tara bumped it with her own fist, then looked over at me. “Hey, Swan.”

“Hey.” I said, wondering if she actually went hiking, or if she just liked the boots for aesthetic.

After she left, we were kept pretty busy with locals and tourists alike coming in to get fishing and hiking gear for the weekend, since the weather was supposed to be nice for a few days. I hoped the sudden appearance of sunlight wouldn’t derail Rosalie’s plans for our date tomorrow.

When I got home that night, Charlie already had dinner waiting; Veggie alfredo for me, and he’d put a large slab of grilled chicken on top of his. For a carnivore, he’d done a lot of work to accommodate my vegetarian diet, which I appreciated. His doctor said his cholesterol had never been better- probably because he’d had to stop cooking everything in bacon grease once I moved in. We ate in the living room on TV trays, watching the first Back to the Future.

I had just done the dishes and gone up to my room when I got a phone call from Jessica. I answered it, and she started talking without even saying hello first.

“I’m just going to ask this one more time, Bella,” She begged. “Are you sure you and Rosalie don’t want to come with us to the dance? Lauren said she has room for a few more people in the car and she asked if I would ask you.”

“I would, Jess,” I lied, but I tried to sound like I really meant it. “But Rosalie and I have plans, and a trip to Seattle is going to take all day. Tell Lauren I said thank you, though.”

She sighed. “Fine- Have fun in Seattle, text me after and tell me everything!”

We hung up, and I spent a few minutes reading the texts from Mom while I sat on the edge of my bed. She’d found a new job, choosing to renew her bartending license and quit her boring office job. It was much more her speed in terms of on-the-job entertainment, but it was much more physically demanding than she remembered. She had pinched a nerve in her back lifting a heavy box, and she was now resting in a hot bath with essential oils that Phil had set up for her. I looked at the picture she had sent me; There were even rose petals floating in the bath and candles set out at a safe distance from the tub. I texted her back a short breakdown of everything I’d been up to before going to sleep.

My alarm went off at seven the next morning. Charlie was already gone, but he’d left an egg burrito in the microwave for me. I ate it while I drank my coffee, watching the blue haze of light that passed for daytime here get brighter. The screen on my phone lit up beside me, and I looked at it to see a text from Rosalie.

7:16AM ‘Good morning, Bella. I should be there in an hour. Is that alright? -Rose’

I unlocked my phone and texted her back.

7:16AM ‘Yes. See you soon. -Bella’

I put my plate in the dishwasher, then went upstairs to get ready. Rosalie had said to wear something I could walk in, so I put on my regular jeans and tank top, and my favorite blue flannel shirt in case it got cold. I zipped up my hiking boots from Newton's, which were thankfully nice and worn in.

Mom had texted me good morning, and a picture of the quiche Phil had made them. I texted her back, telling her that it looked delicious, and that I might not be able to reply much today. I gave her an excuse about having a big project due, knowing that if I told her I was going on a date that she’d call me immediately, begging to know every detail. I went to the bathroom to make sure I didn’t have any burrito stuck in my teeth, brushing in small circles and gargling mouthwash for good measure.

The doorbell rang, and I rushed downstairs to meet her, fixing my hair in the mirror next to the front door. I opened it, and Rosalie stood there, smiling angelically down at me.

“Hello, Bella.” She said.

“Hey.” I grinned, once again breathless at the sight of her.

She held out her hand for me to take it. “Shall we?”

I put my hand in hers, locking the door behind me. I was surprised to see that Rosalie’s convertible was nowhere in sight. The only vehicle in the driveway was my truck.

“Did someone drop you off?” I asked, looking down the street to see if I could see Edward’s Volvo or Esme’s van driving away.

“No.” Rosalie grinned mischievously and winked. “I ran.”

“You ran?” I asked flatly, raising my eyebrows at her. “All the way from your house?”

She nodded, still grinning. “I don’t need a car- I just like them, and they help us blend in better.”

“Well okay then.” I said, shrugging.

She zipped over to my truck and held the door open for me. “I believe you wanted to drive?”

I hoisted myself into my seat, and Rosalie shut my door before darting to the passenger side. Once we were on the road, she gave me directions up North, telling me where to turn until we came to a dead-end road, and she told me to stop. I did as she asked, though I was still confused as to why. When I saw a marker just in front of us indicating the beginning of a trail, I knew why Rosalie had told me to wear something I could walk in.

“We’re hiking?” I asked hesitantly; The short walk to the tide pools with Jacob and the others that day at La Push had been pushing my physical limits, and that had barely been a mile through the woods. “How far?”

“About five miles.” She said. When my eyes widened, she continued, “I’ve brought trail mix, water, and lunch for later. But if you’d rather we do something else instead, I do have a backup plan.”

“No, this is fine.” I said, not wanting to be rude after she’d gone to so much effort in planning whatever she was planning.

“If you’re worried about your poor coordination,” She said, smirking. “I could always carry you.”

I swallowed, remembering when she’d carried me to the nurse’s office; How easily she lifted me into her arms, and how those arms felt wrapped protectively around me. My heart skipped a beat, and Rosalie bit her lip, trying not to laugh.

I narrowed my eyes at her. “You do that on purpose, don’t you?”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.” She said innocently, getting out of the truck and zipping over to my door to open it for me.

I got out, and headed towards the trailhead, but realized that Rosalie wasn’t following me. She was standing by the side of the road, pointing into the woods where no trail existed. “This way, actually.”

I hesitated; A five-mile hike through unmarked forest? What exactly did Rosalie have planned? I walked over to join her, following her lead through the dense trees. We made our way over exposed roots and large rocks, Rosalie having a much easier time of it than I was.

“Like I said,” Rosalie teased when we had been hiking up the mountain for about an hour, reaching down a hand to help me step over a fallen tree. “I’d be happy to carry you. It would be much faster.”

“I’ve got it.” I said, though my lungs gasping for air begged to differ.

Rosalie chuckled and rolled her eyes, pulling off her backpack and pulling out a water bottle and a chewy granola bar. I took them gratefully, nearly chugging the entire bottle in a few seconds. The granola bar was gone in two bites, and I stuffed the wrapper into my pocket.

“Better?” She asked, swinging her backpack back over her shoulders and waiting patiently for me to finish.

“Yeah.” I said, tilting the bottle back to get the last few drops of water. “How much farther are we going?”

“We’re halfway there.” She told me, pointing into the denser part of the forest.

“Okay.” I said, trying to sound more confident than I was. My legs were going to be so sore tomorrow. “Do I at least get to know where we’re going now?”

Rosalie smiled. “You were curious about what we look like in the sunlight. Once we get past the cloud bank, I’ll be able to show you.”

Oh.” I said, my eyes going wide.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry you up?” She asked again.

“I’ve got it.” I said, speeding up now that I knew the purpose of our trip.

We hiked for another hour, Rosalie helping me navigate the rough terrain as we climbed. The trees began to thin, and small beams of sunlight trickled down between the branches. I could see a small clearing ahead of us, and I let go of Rosalie’s hand to move towards it. When I stepped out from the trees, I emerged into a sunny field of colorful wildflowers. The clearing was perfectly round, almost as if it had been made that way on purpose. In the center, a patchwork quilt had been laid out on the ground.

I tilted my head up to the sky and took a deep breath, feeling the sun hit my face for the first time in months. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I had walked farther into the clearing, leaving Rosalie in the shadows behind me. She stood there watching me, a serene smile on her face.

I reached out a hand towards her. “Well, come on. Show me.”

Rosalie smiled wider. She stepped forward into the sunlight, and my mouth fell open in shock.

Chapter Text

I stared at her, unable to speak; Rosalie’s skin seemed to be reflecting the sunlight- like a human prism, sending beams of colorful light into the surrounding trees. The longer I looked, the more beautiful she became. I stepped closer in a daze, taking one of her hands in both of mine and holding it up to my face to take a closer look at it. Her skin shimmered as I twisted her arm in the light, watching the colors dance. I was reminded of a sample of pure opal I’d seen in a museum once with my elementary class. The effect the sun was having on Rosalie’s pale skin was almost identical.

When I looked back up at her face, she was smiling patiently down at me, the dimples I loved so much taking form at the corners of her mouth. I reached out on an impulse I didn’t understand, stroking her cheek gently with my thumb- and suddenly she was gone.

I blinked, looking around. She was standing a few yards to my left, almost under cover of the trees again. “Sorry… Did I do something?”

“No, that was my fault, Bella.” She said, just loud enough for me to hear. “I just need a moment.”

I waited, not moving. After another minute, she walked back over to me at human speed, stopping when she was about a foot away.

“Why’d you run away?” I asked, trying not to sound as hurt as I was.

“It was just your sudden proximity.” She explained, an apologetic smile on her face. “I forgot to hold my breath… You smelled incredibly good.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” I joked, letting her know I still wasn’t afraid in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Rosalie rolled her golden eyes and sighed deeply, but I was pleased to see the smile turn from apologetic to amused.

“Do you always hold your breath around me?” I imagined that had to be uncomfortable, even if she was technically dead and didn’t have to breathe.

“Most of the time, yes.” She admitted. “It’s one of the many precautions I take in order to be around you safely.”

“Does that bother you?”

“No, not really. We can hold our breath indefinitely.”

“Why is it just me?” I asked suddenly. “You don’t seem to have nearly as much trouble being around other humans… Is my blood type just extra delicious or something?”

She bit her lip, then gestured to the blanket she’d laid out on the ground. “About that… There’s something that I should have made you aware of from the beginning, Bella. Please, sit.”

I did as she as she asked, barely breathing and wondering if I really wanted an answer to my question. “What is it?”

She sat down next to me, and I tried to focus on what she was telling me instead of the kaleidoscope of colors her skin was casting across the meadow as she moved. When she spoke, she seemed almost afraid to look at me, focusing instead on the distant tree line.

“Our kind have a natural thirst for human blood, you know that already.” She said, and I nodded. “However, very occasionally, there are particular humans whose blood appeals to one of us in such a powerful way… that we are very rarely able to restrain ourselves from going after it. We call them ‘Singers.’”

Singers?”

“It’s a play on the term ‘siren song.’” She shrugged. “I didn’t come up with it, it’s something that Carlisle’s old friends called it.”

She glanced at me from the corner of her eye, and I tried to keep my face neutral.

“Your blood is much more potent to me than other humans’, Bella… In a way, I’m more of a danger to you than any other vampire in the world.” Rosalie turned her whole body to look at me, her brow furrowed. “Does that change your mind about our relationship at all?”

“No.” I said, without any hesitation, though my mind was reeling with this fresh information.

She blinked.

“So, is it my blood type?” I asked before she could tell me I was being stupid for not being scared.

“No…” She said, still staring at me in amazement. “Carlisle and I have been studying the phenomenon for years now. Blood type doesn’t seem to matter.”

“How often does that happen?” I asked. “You said it happens occasionally- How occasionally?”

“You’re my first.” She said, and the way she said it made the butterflies in my stomach take flight in earnest.

“What about the rest of your family?” I asked. “You said you and Carlisle studied it, so he’s come across it before, right?”

“It happened once for Esme,” She hesitated, biting her lip again. “About fifty years ago, and… Esme was Carlisle’s, actually. Though there was one that he had been able to resist, about a century before he even met Esme.”

My eyebrows rose. “Esme was Carlisle’s singer when she was human?”

She nodded. “It took every ounce of self-control I possessed just to get up and walk out that door the day I met you… I almost jumped out the window the second you came in.”

I imagined that in my head for a moment; Rosalie leaping from her seat at vampire speed, leaving a cartoonish, Rosalie-shaped hole in the classroom window. I giggled, and she looked at me as if she feared for my sanity.

“Sorry, that was just a funny thought.” I said, clearing my throat and trying to stop smiling.

Rosalie was staring at me in awe, her head tiled to one side as her eyes searched my face. “Normal people would be at least a little frightened by now, you know, Bella.”

“Well thank goodness I’m not normal then.” I said, then asked. “Where did you go after that? When you were gone for a week.”

“Alaska.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why Alaska?”

“We have cousins there. Another coven like us, who refrain from drinking human blood. I was going to stay with them, until either the rest of my family decided to move on, or you had graduated and left Forks.”

“What made you come back?” I asked.

Rosalie’s expression darkened. “The separation was hard on all of us… Esme was especially upset, and Jasper…”

She stopped talking, giving me a worried look.

What?” I asked, exasperated. “We’ve already established that I’m not scared. What about Jasper?”

Rosalie leaned forward slightly, reaching her hand out for mine. I linked my fingers with hers and waited.

“When you asked about me that day after Spanish…” She started, speaking very slowly. “Jasper led you to the back of the building.”

I nodded, remembering the alley leading to the forest. “I thought he wanted privacy. He couldn’t exactly tell me you were vampires in the middle of the hallway.”

Rosalie squeezed my hand gently. “Before I say this, Bella- please know that I have spoken to him, and that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Okay?” I asked, still confused. Jasper had been so nice that day, what could he have done that had made Rosalie so anxious to tell me what it was?

“Jasper didn’t like seeing Esme so upset, and he missed me, and he didn’t think it was fair to uproot our whole family for one human…” She explained slowly. “He decided to take matters into his own hands, rationalized to himself what he thought was best for everyone… He wasn’t going to tell you about us, Bella… He was going to kill you.”

My eyes widened; The forest behind the alley… The miles and miles of woodland area where no one would’ve heard me scream… Now that I knew his true intentions, I berated myself internally for being so stupid. How had I allowed myself to nearly be led off to my death?

“But he’s so…” I breathed, still stunned by her admission.

“I know.” Rosalie said, stroking the back of my hand gently with her thumb. “Edward and Alice aren’t the only ones with abilities… Jasper is probably the most dangerous of all of us.”

I gulped. “What can Jasper do?”

“Do you remember what you felt when he was leading you away?” She asked.

I thought hard. I remembered feeling safe. Secure. Like all my worries had faded away. Any red flags I would have normally seen were overshadowed by a flood of endorphins that had no reasonable source… Until now.

“Can he control minds?” I asked. “The way Edward can read them?”

“No.” Rosalie shook her head. “Jasper can sense and control emotions… He could feel firsthand what my absence was doing to Esme, Carlisle, and the rest of our family, on top of his own agony over the situation… He rationalized that he would be fixing things- helping me, by removing you from the picture. If Alice hadn’t seen what he was going to do and stopped him…”

“Alice saw that he was about to kill me?” I asked, the lightbulb clicking on over my head. “Her ‘intuitiveness’… She can see the future?”

Rosalie nodded.

“So, she must’ve seen me coming, then. When I decided to come to Forks.”

Her eyes hardened and her jaw clenched. “Yes. She did. However, I’m more concerned about how you’re handling the fact that my brother almost killed you.”

I shrugged it off for her benefit, even though I was trying very hard not to let my hands shake. “I don’t really blame him, actually- Billy used to tell me I was too nosy for my own good, and he’s not wrong. It wasn’t any of my business. Besides, he tried to make up for it, didn’t he? He’s been so nice ever since then.”

Yes, he has.” She conceded. “It wasn't personal, just what he thought was best at the time- But I didn’t just come back just because he nearly killed you, although that was the deciding factor. I came back to… well, build my immunity in a sense. I was determined to spend as much time with you as possible- so that if I ever encountered another human whose blood appeals to me in the way yours does, I wouldn’t be as much of a danger to them.

“But then, you were almost crushed by Tyler’s van,” Her voice softened, and my heart skipped a beat as her golden eyes blazed. “I knew that if your blood spilled in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to resist it. My family might’ve been affected as well, though not as intensely- and I reacted on instinct.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” I nodded. “You would’ve been exposed either way.”

“Yes…” Rosalie said, then bit her lip. “But that’s not the only reason I saved you, Bella… My only thought before I threw myself in front of that van was, ‘not her’… Even though I was already completely justified in saving your life, my main reason for doing so was a fear of seeing you hurt... not a fear of my own exposure.”

I blushed so hard that I could’ve directed traffic in the dark, and the corner of Rosalie’s mouth twitched.

“Still, I spent the entire ride in the ambulance terrified that I had ruined everything. I agonized over what to tell Carlisle, wondered if we would have to run straight from the hospital… But you covered for me. I hadn’t asked you to, and you covered for me.”

“You looked so scared.” I squeezed her hand, and it was like gripping a statue. “Plus, no one would’ve believed me anyway.”

“Probably not.” Rosalie agreed, smirking. “Still, it baffled me. We had a family meeting to decide what to do. Jasper and Edward wanted to get you out of the way as soon as possible, as you were an extreme liability- but the rest of us wanted to give you a chance to keep your word. I was advised to keep away from you, to lessen the risk of further incidents.”

“But you didn’t.” I said. “You came over that day to keep me company after the accident.”

“Yes.” She smiled. “I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told- a quality we seem to share.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, but I couldn’t help smiling.

“Edward kept a close watch on you the next day, to see if you would keep your silence about us.” Rosalie told me. “Reading the minds of the people you spoke to, since your own mind is impenetrable for him.”

“And I did.” I said, sitting up straighter. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

She nodded. “You surprised and impressed him, certainly.”

“He still doesn’t like me, though.” I observed.

“He’s at a disadvantage with you that he doesn’t have with other people.” She explained, an amused glint behind her golden eyes. “He always has access to everyone’s thoughts, the moment they meet- It makes him incredibly insecure, not knowing your intentions, or why you’re so insistent on being near me. He hasn’t had to have a conversation like a normal person in a century. Usually he picks thoughts from our heads and answers them without realizing we never spoke aloud. He’s gotten better over the years, but it still happens.”

“That sounds annoying.”

“Nearly everything about Edward is annoying.” Rosalie agreed, rolling her eyes. “He does grow on you eventually though, when he’s not being an ass.”

“Like a barnacle, I’m sure.” I said dryly. I couldn’t imagine Edward ever ‘growing on me’ in any meaningful way.

Rosalie laughed, tilting her head back so her face caught the light. I was mesmerized by the colors that appeared there, shifting in the sunlight and adorning the trees. She looked back down at me, smiling wider when she noticed me staring at her.

“How does that happen?” I asked, gently running my fingertips along her forearm while the colors shifted.

“Carlisle has a theory.” Rosalie said, moving her arm toward me so that I could look closer. “During our change, our cells harden. He thinks it’s an evolutionary development for both protection, and attraction of prey. While human skin cells absorb ultraviolet rays- allowing humans to get a tan if they stay out in the sun- ours seems to refract it. We don’t know why.”

Huh…” I said, still gazing at the rainbow of light emanating from her pale skin.

“Are you getting hungry?” She asked out of nowhere.

My stomach growled uncomfortably in response, and I blushed. Rosalie reached into her bag, pulling out a Tupperware container filled with tiny cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. She set it down, then reached back into the bag, producing a bottle of sparkling cider and two plastic flutes. She poured some and handed one of the flutes to me. I sipped it, the bubbles fizzing on my tongue.

“You can have the sandwiches to yourself.” Rosalie said, pointing to the container while sipping her own drink. “I don’t have to eat after all, and your stomach sounded very empty.”

“Just a bit.” I admitted, digging into one of the sandwiches as my stomach made another noisy complaint. I swallowed my first bite, then asked, “So, what’s the best thing about being a vampire?”

Rosalie smiled. She held her hand out, twisting it side to side so the rainbows on her skin shifted and danced. “This, probably. Although the enhanced speed and strength are a close second.”

She took another sip of her cider, and I copied her before grabbing another sandwich from the container. I had completely finished the sandwiches before Rosalie spoke again.

“Would you mind…” She asked, eyeing me carefully as I drained the last bit of cider from my glass. “If I attempted to strengthen my immunity for a moment?”

I swallowed and shook my head. Rosalie grinned, holding her hand out for mine. I gave it to her, and she brought it up to her mouth, inhaling deeply as she pressed her lips to my knuckles. I held my breath as her lips continued up my arm. She inhaled again at the crook of my elbow, her golden eyes glancing up at me and her mouth curled in a smirk.

“Is this okay?” She asked.

I nodded, not sure that I could speak.

Rosalie’s lips moved further up my arm until she reached my collar bone. My heart skipped a beat, and I felt her giggle against my throat. The sound made my cheeks heat, and I felt dizzy. Rosalie pulled back a bit, still cupping my face gently with one hand. She was biting her lip, her brow furrowed in concentration as she stared into my eyes.

“I’d very much like to kiss you now, if that’s alright.” She said quietly, her thumb stroking my cheekbone.

I leaned in and pressed my lips to hers immediately. Her lips were cold and hard, but not unpleasant. I inhaled deeply, intoxicated by the feel of her hand in my hair, the way her lips were moving slowly and deliberately with mine. My lips parted slightly, and I sighed as I reached out my hand to run my fingers through her hair- and suddenly she was gone.

I opened my eyes, looking around the meadow for her in a daze. She was standing by the edge of the tree line again, looking at me with an apologetic smile.

Sorry…” I whispered.

She heard me, and called back just loud enough for me to hear, “That’s quite alright. Just a moment.”

I waited, sitting crisscross on the blanket. Rosalie squared her shoulders, then zipped back over to me, retaking her place by my side in a fraction of a second. I blinked, getting lost in the intensity of her golden eyes as she stared at me.

“May I confess something to you, Bella?” She asked, her voice lower and softer than I’d ever heard it. I nodded, and she said, “I’ve existed on this earth for such a long time… Until now, I’ve been completely convinced that there was nothing for me after my human life was taken away, nothing worth the second chance at existence I’d been given… Until I met you.”

I swallowed, blushing hard as she spoke.

“I have… very strong feelings for you, Bella. You’re amazingly kind, and thoughtful, and selfless,” She said, then smiled. “And beautiful… Very much so.”

My blush deepened; I’d never been called beautiful by anyone except my parents. Hearing her state it so plainly- as simply as saying the sky was blue- left me breathless.

“Of course, I’ll understand perfectly if you’d prefer that we remain just friends.” She said, and I blinked at her.

“No, I-“ I stuttered, then cleared my throat. “I mean… I have feelings for you, too…”

Rosalie smiled, the tension in her brow vanishing. “You do?”

Of course.” I said. “I really like you… A lot.”

My admission sounded very lame compared to hers, and I fell silent. Rosalie searched my face for a moment before leaning forward, weaving her fingers through my hair and gently pressing her lips to mine. I tried to contain my enthusiasm, so she wouldn’t have to pull away again. We broke apart after what had seemed like an endless embrace, and I tried to catch my breath as Rosalie’s eyes shifted suddenly to the sky.

Damn.” She said, standing and packing up her bag.

When I followed her gaze up to the sky, I realized what had stolen her attention away from me; The clouds had returned and blocked out the sun, which had begun to set anyway. These particular clouds were a dark blue-ish purple, and I heard a clap of thunder after a brief flash of lighting crossed the sky. I groaned, standing up reluctantly and preparing for the hike back down.

Rosalie had her bag swung over her shoulder, waiting for me. Her skin no longer danced with a million refracting colors, and I wondered when I would be able to see her like that again. I folded up the blanket we had been sitting on, tucking it under my arm.

“At least the way down will be faster.” I said, grinning at her.

“I don’t think we have time to move at human speed.” Rosalie said, gesturing at the clouds just as another, louder clap of thunder broke the stillness of the woods. “May I please carry you back down to the truck? The alternative would be arriving back to Charlie’s house looking like a drowned rat, and I think he would require some explanation for that.”

She did have a point. Besides, those storm clouds looked nasty. “Alright, fine. Just please, please, don’t hit any trees on the way down.”

Rosalie chuckled, stepping forward and cupping my face in her hands. “Bella, do you really think I would let even one twig hurt you in any way?”

I gulped, then shook my head. “No…”

Rosalie grinned, holding out her arms for me. I bit my lip, still picturing us running headlong into a large oak. Still, I let her lift me smoothly onto her back, securing my legs around her waist and wrapping my arms around her shoulders.

“You might want to close your eyes.” Rosalie advised. Then she took off.

I wished I had listened to her and shut my eyes when she’d told me to. The forest turned into one singular green and brown blur as Rosalie ran, though I barely felt her moving. My stomach started to churn, and I buried my head in her neck, squeezing my eyes tightly shut. I didn’t move until Rosalie gently tapped my arm with her finger.

“We’re back. You can look now.” She said, gently setting me on my feet.

I opened my eyes to see that we were standing next to my truck, at the end of the dead-end road where we had parked. I was surprised that it hadn’t been towed- I wasn’t entirely sure we could park here. I took one step towards it, then realized that the trees around me were still swaying. I pitched forward, but Rosalie caught me around my waist, preventing me from face-planting right into the dirt road.

“Maybe I should drive…” She suggested, trying not to laugh. “You didn’t close your eyes, did you?”

“I did.” I defended, my cheeks heating as I regained my balance. “Eventually.”

Rosalie laughed, reaching her hand out for my keys. I handed them to her, sliding into the truck. She joined me, started the engine, and carefully turned us around to head back to Charlie’s.

Chapter Text

Rosalie fiddled with the dials for the radio as she drove, settling on an oldies station playing music from the 30’s to the 50’s. I watched as she swayed to the jazzy swing tune coming from the speakers, whistling softly along with the lyrics.

“So... how long have you been a vampire?” I asked her.

She smiled sadly. “Since Nineteen Thirty-Three.”

“How did that... happen?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t an uncomfortable topic for her.

Rosalie hesitated, glancing at me nervously before focusing back on the road. “It’s not a very happy story, Bella… Are you sure you want to know?”

“Of course.” I said. “I want to know everything about you.”

Rosalie chuckled, her smile broadening. “Alright then; I was born in Rochester, New York, in Nineteen Fifteen, to Lillian and Michael Hale.”

Hale?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Your last name isn’t really Cullen?”

“No.” She shook her head. “Cullen was Carlisle’s human surname. We take turns using each of our last names in every town we move to, it makes it harder for us to be tracked by humans. We were The Platts in our last home- That was Esme’s last name.”

“So, they aren’t your biological parents?” I asked. “Jasper isn’t really your twin?”

“That’s correct.” She nodded. “It was just the easiest cover story for us to assume, as Jasper and I share Carlisle’s hair color- Esme says that I have her chin, but I don’t really see it.”

“Hmm. I sort of do.” I said, looking closely at Rosalie’s face and trying to compare it to Esme’s from the one time I’d seen her. “Your human parents- What were they like?”

“They were alright… I was their only child for a long time, until my mother gave birth to my little brothers when I was twelve; Twins, Jonathan and James.” Rosalie’s expression softened as she spoke of her human family. “I practically raised them by myself- My mother developed post-partum depression after the birth, though they called it post-natal psychosis at the time.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes, and her irritation was palatable. “My father was no help at all; He worked in a bank in town, and men weren’t expected to help with the children back then. He provided for us, of course, and loved us all very much in his own way. He used to bring us sweets from the shop on Fridays, if he had any money to spare. He didn’t hold a particularly high position at the bank, but we got by. My mother had high standards, since she came from wealth herself, and my father always felt a certain pressure to maintain her expectations.

“As I got older,” Her tone darkened slightly. “I noticed that I got more attention from boys- and older men as well. My mother was delighted. She hoped that I would marry into a wealthy family, so that she wouldn’t have to sacrifice her middle-class lifestyle. She always said that my beauty was my greatest gift… One day, just after my eighteenth birthday, she made me dress up to bring my father lunch at the bank. This was unusual, as she had never made my father a bagged lunch for work in her life. When I asked her why, she just told me that I never knew who I might meet on the street.

“Her intentions became clear the moment I walked through the bank doors; Royce King, the oldest son of the bank manager, had come in to learn the family business. Our fathers introduced us. He courted me for barely a month before he asked my father for my hand.”

“You were married?” I asked, feeling a small prick of jealousy in my chest that I knew was completely unreasonable.

“No.” Rosalie shook her head. “We never got that far, thankfully.”

“What do you mean?”

Rosalie took a deep breath, then continued her story. “I was very young, Bella… Too young to be engaged to the first man I’d ever been with. I thought I loved him. More importantly, I had convinced myself that he loved me… But it wasn’t true. If I had been older, less naïve, I would’ve seen the way his eyes wandered to other women, how angry he would become over the smallest inconvenience… but I ignored everything for my family’s sake. We were so close to losing the house, and most of the wedding had already been paid for by his father.

“About a week before the wedding, I was over at a friend’s house late.” She said darkly, and I knew we had to be approaching the end of her human life. “Vera, my maid of honor. She was helping me with last minute details, and we had lost track of the time. Her husband, Daniel, had offered to walk me home- but I insisted that I would be fine. Our houses were barely three blocks away from each other, and I didn’t want to inconvenience him.

“I was about halfway home, when I saw Royce and some of his friends at the end of the road. He called me over to join them… They were drunk, too drunk. I’d never seen Royce be anything but his father’s perfect son. I told him that I didn’t want my future husband to be a drunken fool, and told him that I would see him tomorrow at my house, sober… But he didn’t let me leave. Neither did his friends.”

Rosalie glanced over at me with her brow furrowed. “I’ll spare you the details of exactly what happened next… When they were finished with me, they left me in the street thinking I was dead. Believe me, I wanted to be.”

I was furious for her, the anger filling my chest until there was nothing else left. I reached out and grabbed her free hand, squeezing gently. “I’m so sorry, Rosalie… I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s alright, Bella.” She assured me, squeezing my hand in return. “I don’t mind telling you.”

“So… how did you become a vampire after that?”

“Esme found me. She smelled the blood.” She explained. “She carried me back to the house where she lived with Carlisle and Edward. They went by the Masens at the time, Edward’s surname. She begged Carlisle to save me, and he obliged.

“I was furious when I awoke to find that I hadn’t died. I begged them to let me go back to my family, but I couldn’t. I was a danger to them. I had to let them believe that I had disappeared… They held a funeral for me. My brothers were crying so hard that Esme had to hold me back from going to them… They were only six. My father was inconsolable. He had to be helped back to his seat after his eulogy.”

Her voice shook, and I moved closer to her along the bench seat of the truck. “You must miss them…”

“I do…” She said, smiling sadly. “They’re all gone now, except for Jonathan; He still lives in Rochester, in a nursing home. I visit him sometimes, but he doesn’t always know who I am… He has Alzheimer’s. Most of the time he assumes I’m his great-niece, but there are some moments when he recognizes me… The first time it happened I almost didn’t come back home. I wanted to stay with him, horrified he would forget me again… but of course, that was inevitable with his condition.”

“So, he knows you’re a vampire?” I asked curiously. “I thought that had to be a secret.”

“He knows that I still exist,” She clarified. “I’ve never told him how, even though he’s asked…”

“What happened to Royce and his friends?” I asked, hoping that they had faced some form of justice for what they had done to her.

Rosalie’s smile grew wide, her golden eyes sparkling. “I got my revenge on them personally.”

How?” I asked, leaning forward and waiting eagerly for her explanation.

She glanced down at me, her smile faltering slightly. “Are you sure you want to know?”

I nodded, squeezing her hand reassuringly.

She looked back out the front windshield, which was getting pelted with thick drops of rain as the crappy windshield wipers did their best to keep it clear. “I hunted them down, one by one… I saved Royce for last so that he would know that I was coming for him. I started with his friends, careful not to spill any of their blood- I didn’t want any part of them inside me ever again.

I stared at her, mesmerized as she spoke.

“I stretched it out, made it last.” She continued. “I would kill one of them, then wait for the news to break- I’d kill another, then let a human see me running from the scene of my crime. The rumors began that an avenging angel was targeting the city’s most well-connected men. Royce, of course, knew what was really happening. He spent all his money on personal bodyguards, drinking himself sick every night to make himself forget what he had done.

“Once I had finished off the others, I came for him. I stole a wedding dress from a shop window for the occasion.” She grinned sheepishly over at me. “I was a little theatrical back then.”

I smiled back, letting her know that she still hadn’t scared me.

“I had to kill his guards.” She admitted, wincing. “I gave them the choice to run, but they refused. Royce begged me to spare him, said he was sorry… Let’s just say I made him realize just how sorry he was.”

Good.” I said. “Serves them all right.”

Rosalie stared at me, an amused smile on her face. “You delight me, do you know that, Bella?”

I blushed hard, then asked, “Who joined the family next? You said it was just Carlisle, Esme, and Edward when you were changed.”

“That would be Emmett.” Rosalie said. “Edward and I found him in the woods about two years after my change, while we were hunting together in Tennessee. Emmett had been hunting big game for his family and had been attacked by a bear, who’d accidentally wandered into one of his traps and injured itself. He tried to free the bear, but it was scared and lashed out at him. Edward killed the bear while I tried to stop the bleeding. Emmett begged us to save him, but the damage was too much for him to survive as a human… Edward suggested that we take him home to Carlisle, as neither of us had the strength to change him ourselves.”

“Was he upset with being a vampire too?” I asked.

“Quite the opposite, actually.” Rosalie chuckled, rolling her eyes. “The first thing he said when he saw his reflection in the mirror was, ‘Damn, I’m good-looking.’ When he saw Edward, his next words were, ‘Oh, so are you.’ They’ve been annoyingly inseparable ever since.”

I laughed, picturing the interaction in my head.

“Of course, he did miss his family, as we all do.” Rosalie continued. “He had seven brothers and sisters, the oldest of them all. Carlisle left bags of cash on the doorstep every month to make sure that they wouldn’t starve without him.”

“What about Alice and Jasper?” I asked.

Ah.” Rosalie said, grinning. “They weren’t changed by Carlisle. They just showed up one day- Scared the wits out of all of us, actually. Alice had a vision of the two of them coming to join us, and they just sauntered right up to our front door. Edward confirmed that they meant us no harm, and Esme was delighted to have more children to take care of.”

“Where did they come from?” I asked. “A different coven?”

“Jasper came from a coven in the south.” Rosalie said. “He was changed a little while after the Civil War. He’s the oldest of us, aside from Carlisle.”

“And Alice?”

Rosalie bit her lip. “She doesn’t know, exactly.”

“What do you mean?” I raised an eyebrow.

“She doesn’t remember her human life at all… The first memory she has is waking up in an empty field, completely alone. She has no idea who created her.” Rosalie was watching me closely, her whole torso turned in my direction. I looked out the window and realized we were parked in my driveway, the rain coming down in a thick sheet on the hood of the truck.

Rosalie continued. “It’s a miracle that she didn’t go savage out there alone. The only reason she didn’t was her visions; As soon as she woke up in that field, she had one of Jasper saying her name. Then a few days later, a vision of the two of them coming to join us. She knew that she’d have to adjust to a vegetarian diet eventually, so she started practicing it on her own.”

I raised my eyebrows, impressed with Alice’s determination. “Has she ever tried to find out what happened to her?”

“Yes, but she didn’t have any luck.” Rosalie shrugged. “She says that it doesn’t bother her, but Edward says she’s lying…”

I went silent, picturing Alice in my head. I tried to imagine her waking up in a field with no memory of her human life, with only her obscure visions for advice. A clap of thunder made me jump, and Rosalie snickered quietly to herself.

“I should probably be going now…” She said, looking through the thick sheets of rain at the porch, where Charlie had left the light on for me.

“You’re going to run home in this?” I asked, gesturing to the storm. “What are you nuts?”

Rosalie shrugged. “It won’t bother me, Bella. I can change when I get home.”

“That’s not the point.” I said, rolling my eyes. I glanced back up at the porch, then asked, “Do you want to stay here until it clears up? I’m sure that Charlie wouldn’t mind.”

“I’d be happy to.” She smiled, then shut off the truck’s engine.

We opened the doors quickly and ran inside, holding our jackets over our heads so that we wouldn’t get soaked by the thick drops of rain. I took a wrong step and slipped on the asphalt, but Rosalie caught me by the waist, zipping up to the porch and setting me back on my feet.

My hero.” I said, only half sarcastically.

Rosalie smiled, then gave me a dramatic curtsey. I laughed, turning to open the door.

“Wait,” She said, grabbing my hand before it reached the doorknob. She spun me to face her, cupping my face with her other hand and kissing me so intensely that she took my breath away. When she finally pulled away, she smirked and said, “I just wanted to do that again one more time tonight. It would be inappropriate to do in front of Charlie, I would imagine.”

“Yeah…” I whispered, then cleared my throat and turned back to open the door.

Charlie was in the kitchen, bent over and looking through the nearly empty fridge. He jumped when he heard us come in, hitting his head on the freezer door and cursing quietly to himself.

“Hey, Dad!” I said, locking the door behind me and hanging up my keys and jacket on the hook. “Rosalie is here.”

“Oh!” He said, rubbing the knot on the back of his head and turning to face us. “Hey! Ya wanna stay for dinner? Haven’t figured out quite what that is yet, but I’ll whip somethin’ up.”

“Sure Charlie, I’d love to.” Rosalie beamed at him.

“We have a project to finish up tonight,” I said, my heart racing as an idea popped into my head. “Do you mind if she spends the night so that we can work on it? We won’t keep you up.”

Rosalie’s eyebrow rose slightly, but she said nothing.

“Sure, no problem at all!” Charlie said, going over to the pantry and scratching his mustache absently while he looked for a few ingredients to throw something together. “Y’all go on up, I’ll bring ya somethin’ when it’s done.”

“You sure you don’t want help?” I asked, peering around him into the equally bare cabinets. I would have to go shopping soon, probably tomorrow while he was at work.

“Nah, I got it, honey- Go get your schoolwork done.”

I nodded, taking Rosalie’s hand and leading her up the stairs. When we got to my room, I spun to face her, my cheeks blazing. As I’d expected, her lips were curled in a satisfied smirk, her dimples front and center.

“”What was that about?” She asked. “I don’t recall us having a project due.”

“I wasn’t finished with our conversation.” I said. “I still have so much to ask you… If you’re okay with staying. Sorry, I really should’ve asked-“

“I would love to stay.” Rosalie insisted, chuckling quietly to herself. “But I don’t have any of my homework.”

“We’ll make something up.” I shrugged. “I doubt Charlie will notice.”

Rosalie pulled out her cell, her thumbs flying across the screen as she texted. “I’ve let my family know I’ll be staying tonight, just so they won’t worry.”

She zipped over to my desk and looked at the family photo sitting next to my cactus and the golden onion we had won together in Biology. The spray-painted skin was beginning to crinkle, and I knew that I would have to throw it away soon, before it started to rot.

“This is your mother and Phil?” She asked, picking it up carefully and holding it closer. She smiled at all three of us wearing the trademark mouse ears of the Magic Kingdom.

“Yeah.” I said. “That was our Disney trip right after they got engaged.”

“Who took the photo?”

“Some lady that my mom made friends with at the restaurant.” I shrugged.

She set the picture back down, then zipped over to my bed and sat crisscross in the center, gripping a pen and a notepad that I hadn’t seen her grab. There was a knock on the door, and Charlie backed into the room carrying dinner; A few grilled cheese sandwiches and two steaming mugs of tomato soup.

“Best dinner for a rainy day!” He said cheerily, setting the tray down on the side table. “I’ll be downstairs- Have fun with your project.”

“We will.” I said, closing the door behind him after he left. I heard him switch on the TV, and a few riffs floated up the stairs from his guitar.

I sat next to Rosalie on my bed, taking one of the mugs and holding it in my hands. My fingers were colder that I’d thought, and they tingled as the blood flow returned to them. I grabbed a sandwich and dipped the corner into the soup, careful to blow on it before I bit into it. I groaned and closed my eyes; Charlie made the best grilled cheese in the world. Three cheeses on the inside, and a bit of sharp cheddar grilled into the outside crust.

“Mmm- That’s good.” Rosalie said, inspecting her own sandwich and taking another huge bite. She swallowed, patting the corners of her mouth daintily with a napkin before asking, “So, what else did you want to talk about?”

I thought for a moment, occupying myself with a few gulps of soup. Truthfully, I hadn’t really had any more questions- I had just wanted more time with her. I racked my brain, trying to come up with something we hadn’t discussed yet.

“Where do vampires come from to begin with?” I asked. “You said that Carlisle turned you, and someone obviously turned him… But who was the first?”

“That is as much a mystery to us as it is to you, unfortunately.” Rosalie shrugged. “We assume of course that we have to come from somewhere- Carlisle has met a few of our kind during his travels that have existed for a millennium, but they all say they were turned by others. Whether or not it was a natural evolution, a curse, or some sort of disease or mutation- No one in existence today seems to know.”

“Huh.” I sat back against the bedframe, thinking of something else while I ate. “Do different animals taste better than others?”

Rosalie laughed, and the sound made my brain empty of all other thought. “Yes, actually. Carnivores tend to taste better than herbivores. Probably because there’s more of the nutrients that we crave in their diets than in prey animals.”

“Do you have a favorite?” I asked.

“I don’t really have a preference.” She shrugged, dipping her sandwich a few times and taking another bite. “Edward likes big cats, and Emmett prefers bears.”

I smiled. “Is that a personal vendetta, or because they actually taste better?”

“A bit of both, I think.” She chuckled. “He does like to play with his food longer than necessary.”

I winced in sympathy for the poor bears that had or would run into Emmett for lunch in the future. My cup was almost empty, so I tilted it to dip the last bit of sandwich in the soup, then drank the rest in one gulp. I set it to the side, wiping my mouth with a napkin. Looking at my watch, I saw that it was nearly nine; I hadn’t realized we had been gone almost the whole day, and it was later than I’d expected.

“Are you getting tired?” Rosalie asked, looking at the time on her phone with her brow furrowed. “Nine is a normal time for some humans to sleep, isn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, it is. I’m not tired, but I could use a few minutes to be human if you don’t mind.”

Rosalie nodded, setting our dishes on the tray and standing up. “I’ll take these downstairs for you.”

“You don’t have to-“

“I know.” Rosalie grinned and rolled her eyes. “But I’m going to. I’ll leave them in the sink if it makes you feel better.”

“It does, actually.” I grinned back at her, then pointed to my desk. “My laptop is in there, you can play a few games if you want. There’s Solitaire.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” She said, then moved around me to bring the dishes downstairs.

I scoured my room for a set of pajamas to wear that were at least halfway decent, digging through the drawers until I settled on a pair of black cotton shorts and one of Phil’s old T-shirts with a faded band logo. I bit my lip, looking at the remaining clothes and wondering if I should set something out for Rosalie. I picked out a pair of newish gray sweatpants and one of my tank tops and set them on the bed.

I went across the hall to the bathroom to shower. I spent extra time washing every inch of myself I could reach, prolonging the return to my room where Rosalie would be waiting. The hot water melted some of my anxiety, and I stepped out into the fog-filled bathroom, clearing the mirror with the corner of my towel. After I was dressed, I ran a brush through my hair, spraying it with one of the products that Mom had given me so that it wouldn’t tangle as I slept. On a whim, I decided to braid it, weaving it carefully between my fingers and pulling it to the side. I grabbed a blue scrunchie from the sink and tied it around the end, checking my reflection in the mirror.

Back in my room, Rosalie was sitting on my bed wearing the clothes I had set out for her, reading one of the books I had gotten from the shop in Port Angeles. She was turning the pages very quickly, her eyes darting across the paragraphs at a frequency that would’ve given me a headache. She’d turned the lights off, leaving only a small lamp turned on so that I could see my way to the bed.

“Is it good so far?” I asked, sitting next to her and putting my legs under the blankets. “I haven’t gotten to that one yet.”

“So far, yes.” She said, putting it down on the nightstand and turning to look at me with a soft smile on her face. “We match.”

It took a moment for me to realize what she meant; She had also put her long blonde hair in a braid, pulled to the side and draped over her shoulder. I blushed, touching the scrunchie on the end of my own braid.

So,” She went on, sliding down on the bed and leaning on her elbow with her body turned towards me. “Did you enjoy our official first date?”

“I did, thank you.” I said, scooting down and facing her and leaning my head on my hand. “I’m looking forward to the next one.”

“Hmmm.” Rosalie sighed, smiling and reaching out to run her fingers along my jaw. “I like the sound of that.”

I shivered at her touch, and she took her hand away. I grabbed it, pulling it back to my face and assuring her, “That was a good thing- I don’t care that you’re cold.”

She grinned, her thumb gently stroking my cheekbone. “I have a question for you, now.”

“What is it?” I asked, my stomach leaping up into my throat.

She leaned forward, pressing her lips gently to mine in a kiss so featherlight that I felt like I would float away. When she pulled away, leaving me breathless, she asked, “Will you be my girlfriend, Bella?”

My head spun. Once I had found my voice again, I whispered, “Yes…”

Rosalie beamed. She pulled away, laying back on the pillows. “You should probably get some sleep.”

I nodded, laying on my back and turning my head to stare at her. She reached over and linked her fingers through mine, her golden eyes glowing back at me in the dark.

“I believe you have to close your eyes in order to sleep.” She teased. “I’m not going to disappear, I promise.”

I rolled my eyes but closed them anyway. I fell asleep within minutes, with Rosalie’s thumb rubbing slow, cold circles on the back of my hand.

Chapter Text

I woke up the next morning to find Rosalie missing from the bed. I sat up, looking around the room for her. She was sitting at my desk, flipping through some of my old yearbooks. Yawning, I stretched and shuffled to her side to peer over her shoulder; It was the one from freshman year at my old high school. I grimaced at the god-awful bangs that mom had suggested that I try out. Thankfully, they had grown back fast, and I’d never let her near me with a pair of scissors ever again.

“Good morning.” Rosalie said, looking up at me and beaming. “Charlie left for the day. He asked me to tell you that he loves you, and that he’ll be back around six o’clock tonight. How did you sleep?”

“Good.” I said, pushing a stray hair out of her face. “What did you do all night?”

“Solitaire.” She shrugged, holding up the yearbook. “When I got bored with that, I finished all your books, so I thought I’d look through these… As I’m saying this, I realize that I probably should’ve asked first- I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all, but I wished you’d picked one with a different photo.” I sneered at the book, locating my blue backdropped square where I was trying to vanish out of frame, making myself as small as possible so that the camera wouldn’t find me.

Rosalie giggled. “I think you look very cute.”

I blushed as she flipped to the back of the yearbook to the signatures page. It was sparse, with only a few messages from my teachers that year wishing me good luck. One was from the school librarian, telling me that she would miss my company during lunch hours. I’d usually taken refuge in there after I’d finished eating, escaping the noise and bullies in the cafeteria.

“Where are the signatures from your friends?” Rosalie asked, flipping back to the front as if she expected to find more there.

“I didn’t really have any that year.” I shrugged. “I was always really busy. I wasn’t old enough to work yet, but I managed to make some money from home by lying about my age. Mom needed the help.”

Rosalie’s brow furrowed and she closed the yearbook, setting it aside and standing up to wrap her cold arms around my waist. “That’s not very fair… You didn’t get to have much of a childhood.”

“I still got to have fun,” I defended. “Besides, we moved around too much for me to ever put down any real roots- Even in Phoenix I was in three different school districts before I moved here. Besides, the kids at that school didn’t really like me anyway.”

“Hm.” Rosalie didn’t seem convinced. Her brow was still knit together, her golden eyes blazing.

“I’ve always had Jacob, though.” I said. “He’s my best friend. I wish you guys could meet each other, I really think you’d get along great.”

Rosalie’s face softened, and she smiled gently down at me. “On neutral ground, one day, if it would make you happy… I don’t want to give his father or the rest of his tribe a reason to worry for his safety.”

I rolled my eyes. “You’re not going to hurt him, Rosalie.”

I know that, Bella, but they don’t- and they have every reason to be cautious.” She placed a gentle kiss on the top of my head, then said, “Besides, not everyone has your complete disregard for their own safety.”

I rolled my eyes, wrapping my arms around her waist setting my head against her chest. She gently squeezed her cold arms tighter around me in return, letting her chin rest on the top of my head. If she’d been human, I would be able to hear her heartbeat- but there was no blood to pump through her veins now. Still, the empty echo of her chest was oddly comforting, and I closed my eyes, breathing in the scent of her perfume.

We stayed that way for a while, until my stomach began to rumble uncomfortably. Rosalie chuckled, pressing her lips gently to the top of my head again and whispering into my hair, “Breakfast time, then?”

I pulled away, widening my eyes and covering my neck with my hands, pretending to look shocked. Rosalie’s eyes narrowed, but I saw the corner of her mouth twitch up.

“I meant for you.” She chided, tapping the tip of my nose with one of her red nails. “You think you’re so funny, don’t you?”

“I think I’m hilarious, actually.” I retorted, smiling back up at her.

“I’ll wait downstairs for you.” Rosalie said, bringing one of my hands up to her lips. “Take your time.”

I nodded, and Rosalie zipped past me and down the stairs at impossible speed. Gathering a fresh set of clothes and my towel, I went to the bathroom to shower. I took as little time as I could, barely letting the conditioner set in before I rinsed it and got back out. I checked my reflection in the mirror before I pulled on my clothes and joined Rosalie in the kitchen. I was surprised to see her at the stove, making a French omelet.

“Breakfast!” She chimed, flipping the omelet effortlessly onto the plate. She sprinkled some more shredded cheese on top, then put the plate on the table, where she had already set out a glass of orange juice for me.

“Aren’t you having any?” I asked, feeling a little awkward about eating alone.

“My breakfast was earlier…” She said, trailing off.

I narrowed my eyes, realizing as I looked at her properly that she had changed out of the sweats I’d given her- but the clothes that she was wearing were not the ones she had been wearing yesterday. “Did you leave while I was asleep?”

“Only for an hour at most.” She said, pulling out my chair for me and waiting for me to sit down. I did so, and she sat opposite me, an apologetic smile on her face. “You were very fast asleep.”

“Did Charlie notice?”

“No. I went out your window. I was back by three, and he was still snoring.”

I took a bite of the omelet, then blinked in surprise; It was delicious. “When were you going to tell me that you could cook?”

Rosalie smiled. “When you asked. I studied in France for a time, with a human acquaintance I’d come to be very fond of.”

“What was her name?” I asked, wondering if this human acquaintance had known her family secret as well.

“Julia. Astounding woman, miles ahead of her time.”

I took another bite, chewing slowly and wondering what else I would get to learn about her over time.

“Do you have any plans for the day?” She asked suddenly, leaning her elbow on the table placing her chin in her hand, watching me as I ate.

“No, not really.” I shrugged. “I think Charlie wanted us to go to La Push tonight, but I’m not sure… Why?”

Well, I was just wondering,” Rosalie said, her golden eyes sparkling. “We are officially girlfriends now, and I’ve gotten to know Charlie quite well… I was curious if maybe you’d like to come to my house today, to meet the rest of my family.”

My next bite of omelet froze halfway to my open mouth. I stared at her, an uneasy feeling beginning to suppress my appetite. “Would they be… okay with that?”

“Carlisle and Esme are the ones who suggested that I bring you over, actually.” Rosalie said. “Alice is also excited to get to know you, the human way.”

“The human way?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Her visions.” She explained. “Alice sees the two of you becoming very close friends- In her mind, you already are. That’s how she knew what your favorite candy was.”

I remembered the large bag of sour patch kids that Rosalie had brought me the night of my possible concussion; She had said that they were from Alice.

“No pressure, of course.” She smirked. “She already loves you, so there’s no need to freak out over impressing her.”

“That does make me feel better, actually.” I grinned, then took another bite of omelet. It was incredibly comforting knowing that at least half the Cullens seemed to like me already. Jasper and Emmett didn’t seem to care either way, but Edward was sure to be my biggest obstacle.

“I should leave to go get my car.” Rosalie said, checking the time on her phone. “I’ll tell them you’ll be coming, and I’ll be back to get you in maybe an hour or so.”

“Okay.” I stood up and walked her to the door, opening it for her and waiting for her to leave.

Rosalie tucked my hair behind my ear, pressed her lips to my forehead, then said, “I’ll be back soon.”

Then she was gone. Across the street, I saw a few trees rustling where she must’ve disappeared. I closed the door and ran up the stairs, the anxiety setting in as I wondered what I was going to wear. I rifled aimlessly through my dresser but couldn’t decide on anything; Nothing I owned seemed fancy enough to meet my girlfriend’s rich immortal parents. My phone was sitting on my bed, and I bit my lip for a moment before making up my mind. I walked over and picked it up, pressing the call button and holding it to my ear as it rang.

Jess grumbled as she picked up, and I realized that it was still very early, and the day after the dance. “Bella? What’s up?”

“Hey, sorry I woke you…” I said, second guessing my decision. “But I really need your help for a sec.”

“What is it?” She asked, her voice becoming more alert.

“It’s nothing bad!” I assured her before she could start to worry. “I’m just- Okay, Rosalie and I are together now and I’m meeting her parents in an hour and I have no idea what to wear.”

Jessica gasped, then squealed in delight. I winced as the sound hurt my ear, holding the phone slightly away from me. I heard disgruntled voices in the background, then Jess apologized before continuing, “Oh, Bella, this is so great, I’m so happy for you! Guys, wake up! Bella needs us!”

“Who else is there?” I asked, wondering how many of my friends’ mornings I had disrupted.

“Oh, Angie and Lauren slept over last night after the dance.” Jess explained. “Can you switch to a video chat? I need to see what you have- Do you have makeup? I can bring mine over if you want-“

“Yes to the video chat, no thank you on the makeup.” I said. “It makes my face feel heavy, it’s weird. I’ll call you back in a sec.”

I hung up, then pressed the video chat option on the screen, switching to the front facing camera so I could point it at the small closet where all my better clothes were. Jess picked up on the first ring, her excited face flushed and filling the screen. I could see Angela sitting up behind her, stretching and looking around with her eyes half-closed and her hair in her face. She tried to nudge Lauren, but she groaned and pulled her pillow on top of her head.

“Okay, great!” Jess said, getting right down to business. “Show me what I have to work with.”

I sifted through the clothes, pulling out different blouses and a long khaki skirt that Jessica made a face at and requested that I burn it right after our conversation. I had gotten almost to the back of the closet, when Jess’ attention was grabbed by a black garment bag hidden behind a pair of gray dress pants.

“What’s in there?” She asked eagerly.

“Oh, it’s the dress I wore to Mom and Phil’s wedding.” I said. It was the only dress I owned, actually.

“Let me see!” Jess said.

I unzipped it and pulled it out. Jess’ eyebrows rose; It was midnight blue silk, knee length, with thick silk straps and a straight neckline. It flared slightly at the waist and had a layer or two of filler underneath to keep it’s shape.

“Wear that.” Jess breathed, admiring the dress through the camera.

“Isn’t it a bit fancy?” I hesitated.

“It’s the Cullens, Bella.” Jess rolled her eyes. “If it were me, I would be wearing a ball gown, and no one could stop me.”

“That really is a cute dress, Bella.” Angela chimed in, yawning and looking over Jess’ shoulder. “Do you have the right shoes?”

I turned the camera to the shoe rack on the floor, where a single pair of black flats were my only option.

“I suppose they’ll do.” Jess said, her brow furrowed. “I would say you should wear heels with a dress that nice, but as it’s you I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Yeah, probably not.” I said, grinning and switching the camera to selfie mode so that she could see me. “Thanks, Jess.”

“Are you sure you don’t want us to come over and help?” She asked again.

“I am NOT moving from this spot until Ten A.M.!” I heard Lauren’s muffled voice from under the pillow, and the rest of us laughed as she rolled over to curl into a tighter ball under her blankets.

“I’ll be fine.” I assured them.

“Good luck!” Jess said, waving and blowing a kiss at the camera before hanging up.

I pulled up my messages and texted Charlie, letting him know where I would be. I left out the finer details, making a mental note to talk to him as soon as I got home; I’d have to tell him that I was dating Rosalie, now that we were going to be official in public.

I took the dress off the hanger and laid it out, taking off the sweats and t-shirt I’d pulled on after I’d showered. Before I could pull the dress over my head, I realized that I hadn’t shaved in quite some time. I cursed internally, glancing at the clock; My hour was half gone, but I should have the time. I decided to just use the sink rather than getting back in the shower, balancing precariously on one leg and holding the wall for support while I ran the blades over the thick layer of stubble that I had let grow since it was always so chilly here. Thankfully, I only cut myself once on my ankle, and covered it with a small band aid before the blood could make me nauseous.

I dried my legs quickly, then did my armpits since the dress unfortunately didn’t have proper sleeves either. Idly, I regretted not choosing to just wear my best jeans and a flannel shirt, but I’d already done all the work for the dress. I put my hair back in the same side braid I had slept in- not sure what else to do with it- then went back to my room. I slipped the dress carefully over my head, then nearly dislocated my shoulder trying to get it zipped completely. Once I’d slipped the shoes on, I looked at myself in the mirror; I looked okay. My braid was messy, but in a sort of effortlessly elegant way that I didn’t know it was capable of.

There was a knock at the door that made me jump. Rosalie was back. I straightened the folds of the dress in the mirror, then went downstairs to meet her. My jaw dropped when I opened the door; Rosalie was in a fitted black suit. My worries about being over-dressed vanished, and my eyes traveled down her legs to the tall black heels she was wearing. When I looked back up at her face, I was shocked to see her giving me the same mesmerized look that I was giving her. Her golden eyes were wide, her mouth open slightly as she smiled.

“You look beautiful, Bella.” She said.

I swallowed, trying to find my voice. “So do you…”

She smiled, reaching out her hand for mine. I took it, following her out of the house and locking the door behind me. Her convertible was in the driveway, and she opened the passenger door for me, closing it once I’d gotten in and zipping over to her side. She pulled onto the main road, humming quietly along with the soft music coming from the radio. I twisted my hands in my lap, my anxiety returning the farther we went. I focused on taking deep breaths, watching the trees out the window as we drove farther North.

The drive was a bit longer than I was expecting. We weaved along the empty highway until Rosalie turned off onto a dirt path that I had barely been able to see until we were already turning.

“Don’t tell me- You live in a castle in the middle of the woods.” I teased, grinning over at her as she maneuvered through the dense trees.

Rosalie laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t call it a castle- Although, Esme is quite the architect. She built it herself, with our help of course. But yes, it is a little secluded, for safety measures.”

“You built a house in the middle of the woods?” I raised an eyebrow. “How did you hook up to the water system? Do you have electricity?”

“There’s a river very close by that we pipe in fresh water from.” She explained. “As for the electricity, we use solar panels- but, yes, we did have to go without power until such technology became available.”

I tried to imagine Rosalie using an old-fashioned oil lamp to make her way through a dark corridor in her house, her silk robe trailing the floor like in an old horror movie. The image made me grin.

Before I could ask her anything else, the trees began to clear, and a large white shape began to come into view. My mouth dropped open as the house got closer. It wasn’t quite a castle, but it was definitely big enough to qualify as a mansion. It had a large wrap-around porch, and tall white columns, even an attached gazebo on the left side with a hanging porch swing. The house looked like it had been transported through time.

Wow.” I breathed. “Esme is an artist.”

Rosalie smiled. “She’ll be happy to hear you say that.”

She pulled into the driveway behind the other cars- I recognized Edward’s Volvo and Esme’s van, but there was also a sleek black Cadillac, a Jeep that looked like it had been designed for off-roading, and a brown pickup truck that was newer than mine, but not by much. Rosalie shut off the engine, zipping to my side of the car to open my door for me. I stepped out carefully, trying not to trip over the uneven ground.

“Ready?” She asked, giving me a reassuring smile and taking my hand.

I nodded, not sure if I could speak without throwing up. She led me up the steps leading to the front door, and we went inside.

The interior of the house was just as beautiful and timeless as the outside; The floors were a dark wood, polished so that it gleamed under my feet. A crystal chandelier that looked antique hung over our heads in the entryway leading to the living room where Carlisle and Esme were standing, waiting for us.

“Hello, Bella.” Carlisle greeted, smiling politely with his arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“Hi.” I said, smiling back and focusing on Rosalie’s hand gripping mine for reassurance. “It’s nice to meet you- when I haven’t almost been hit by a truck.”

They both laughed at my joke, Rosalie even chuckled lightly at my side. I took a deep breath, releasing some of the tension in my shoulders as my heartrate slowed.

“You look lovely, Bella.” Esme chimed in, looking down at the dress I was wearing.

“Thank you.” I said, then added, “Your house is beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it before. Rosalie told me you designed it yourself?”

“I did, yes. Thank you.” Esme beamed.

Bella!” A voice from the stairs called my name, and I spun to see Alice sliding down the banister, landing gracefully on her feet and skipping over to me. She bounced up and wrapped her arms around my waist, hugging me tightly.

“Hi, Alice.” I said, grinning down at her.

“Oh.” She said suddenly, standing on her tip toes and inhaling near my collarbone. “You do smell good.”

Alice!” Esme and Rosalie said together, but I laughed along with Alice as she let me go.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Alice beamed, her amber eyes twinkling with excitement. “I’ve been dying to talk to you- Well, I’m already dead, but you get the point.”

We all laughed at her joke, and that’s when I noticed Jasper standing a little way away from us by the stairs, watching our exchange politely.

“Hey, Jasper.” I waved.

Jasper nodded back, stepping forward to stand by Alice, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Bella. Good to see you... I believe I owe you an apology."

"Oh." I said, remembering his attempt on my life. I shrugged, grinning up at him to let him know that he was forgiven. "No harm, no foul."

Jasper laughed, and the sound was lighter and more full of life than I had expected from such a quiet person. "I appreciate that, Bella. That's very considerate of you."

I was searching my brain for something else to say as I looked around the room, when I noticed the corner of a large grand piano through a doorway into a room lined with floor to ceiling windows. “Who plays the piano?”

“Edward, mostly.” Rosalie said, leading me through the archway. Once inside, I saw that the piano was not the only instrument there; A cello- or was it a bass?- was leaning on a stand near it. There was a flute and an oboe on a table in the corner, an acoustic guitar, a violin, and even a large brass harp. Rosalie pointed to each and said, “The harp is Esme’s, the woodwinds are Alice’s, the guitar is Jasper’s, and the cello and violin are mine.”

“Rosalie never mentioned that she was musical?” Esme chimed, beaming at her daughter.

“It never came up.” Rosalie shrugged, looking abashedly at the floor. Were she human, I was sure she would’ve blushed.

“Which one is your favorite?” I asked her, running a finger along the side of the cello.

“Cello.” She said. “Although I learned violin first, when I was human.”

“Why don’t you play something, Rose?” Carlisle chimed in. “I’m sure Bella would love to hear you.”

“Only if you want to.” I told her, not wanting her to feel as if she had to.

Rosalie smiled, then moved around me to get to the cello. I sat on the small white ottoman in the center of the room and waited while she tuned the strings. When she started playing, my mouth dropped open; The music coming from the cello sounded unreal. A melody I had heard before, but never fully appreciated until it was being played for me, by her. I watched as her fingers flew across the frets, the familiar tune shifting to something more complicated that I didn’t recognize.

I watched her, completely absorbed by her performance. As she played, the clouds parted, and the music room was bathed in sunlight, hitting Rosalie’s skin and casting colorful lights all around us. It took me a moment or two of silent staring to realize she had stopped. She was beaming at me, her cello leaning on her shoulder as she glistened in the sunlight.

“That was beautiful…” I breathed.

“Thank you.” She said, standing and putting the cello back on it’s stand. She sat down next to me on the ottoman, smiling serenely. “I wrote it for you… I’m glad you like it.”

My cheeks heated and looked around the room to see if her family had noticed- But they weren’t there anymore.

“Where did everyone go?” I asked, a tiny drop of worry beginning to grow in my chest. “Did I do something?”

Rosalie chuckled, tucking a loose lock of my hair behind my ear and stroking my cheek reassuringly with her thumb. “Not at all, love. They were just trying to give us some privacy.”

I nodded, relaxing a little. Something was still bothering me though, and I asked, “So, where are Emmett and Edward?”

Rosalie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Edward is in his room throwing a tantrum. Emmett is with him, making sure that he doesn’t break another window.”

I glared up the stairs, wishing he could read my mind so I could tell him that he was being rude. Rosalie giggled at my expression.

“He’ll come around.” She assured me. “Even if he doesn’t, it’s not like I care- Besides, a five-out-of-six approval rating isn’t bad.”

“True.” I smiled, still admiring the magnificent architecture now that there was so much natural light in the room.

“Would you like a tour?” Rosalie asked suddenly. “I’m sure this isn’t what you were expecting.”

“I was expecting at least a moat.” I teased. “Maybe a dungeon or a really tall tower.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes, smiling as she stood up and held her hand out for mine. “Of course you were. Just to let you know, we don’t have any coffins either.”

I smiled back at her and took her hand, letting her lead me around the house. She showed me the kitchen, where Esme did all of her baking and cooking for the homeless shelters near Olympia. There was a large dining room with an ornate fireplace at the end, and a large portrait of the entire family above the mantle; It looked like it had been hand-painted.

I followed her up the stairs, where my attention was seized by a large display on the wall that made me pause and raise an eyebrow at Rosalie.

“Graduation caps?” I asked, tapping the pane of glass that kept the maybe hundred or so caps of varying colors from getting dusty.

Rosalie smiled. “Private joke.”

“Are they all from high school?” I asked, looking at the sheer number of them and wondering why anyone would put themselves through that.

“Some of them are from universities.” She said, pointing to a burgundy one near the end. “This was the one from my first medical degree.”

“You have a medical degree?” I raised an eyebrow. No wonder she was so good at Biology.

“Yes.” She pointed to three more. “Also business, astrophysics, and electrical engineering.”

My mouth dropped open, impressed. “So, why still go to high school?”

Rosalie sighed. “That’s Carlisle and Esme’s idea. The younger we start out in a new place the longer we get to stay there. It makes it easier for us to keep our cover. It’s boring, but necessary.”

She led me further up the stairs, and into a narrow hallway. At the end, an enormous wooden crucifix was propped up on the wall. It looked ancient, like it would crumble if I so much as breathed on it.

“Is this another private joke?” I asked, pointing at it with my free hand. “Did one of you almost get burned for witchcraft or something?”

Actually, no.” Rosalie led me closer, reaching out and gently touching the edge with the tip of one red nail. “This is Carlisle’s- It belonged to his human father.”

“It looks so old.” I said, reaching out as she had done, but still afraid to make contact.

“Early sixteen hundreds.” She said.

“How did Carlisle get it?” I asked. “Did he take it after his father died?"

Technically, yes.” Rosalie said, looking down at me with an unreadable expression. “He took it from the pulpit where his father preached.”

“His dad was a minister?”

“In a way. He wasn’t a godly man, by any means; He was simply charismatic enough to gain the trust of fearful locals, enough to where he was considered an authority among them. I seriously doubt- as does Carlisle- that the foundation of his beliefs ever mattered to him. Only the control and power those who believed what he preached gave to him.”

“What were the locals afraid of?” I asked.

Rosalie smirked. “Vampires, for one. Werewolves, witches, anything they could think of, really.”

My curiosity was killing me as I waited for further explanation.

“Would you like to hear the story?” She asked, glancing back down the hall at one of the closed doors. “Carlisle can tell it better than I can.”

“I don’t want to intrude…” I said, glancing at the same door she was looking at.

“He wont mind at all, trust me.” Rosalie smiled. “He loves to talk about his past… Especially his son.”

“He had a son?” My eyebrows raised.

“Ask him.” Rosalie winked and pulled me back down the hall, knocking on the door in a rhythmic tune.

“Come in.” I heard Carlisle call from inside, and Rosalie swung the door open.

Chapter Text

The room we had entered was a large study. There were floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining one wall, filled with ancient volumes that I was dying to read. The windows on the far wall were opened, letting a cool breeze drift through the room. The stack of papers on the desk rustled underneath a heavy paperweight. 

Carlisle was sitting in a poufy red armchair by the open window, reading a battered book. Esme was sitting on the arm of the chair by his side, sketching with a pencil in a thick notebook she was holding. They looked up when we entered, smiling politely as Rosalie led me inside.

“Well, hello, you two!” Esme chimed, setting the notebook down on the side table and folding her hands in her lap. “What’s up?”

“I was just telling Bella about our family history.” Rosalie explained, glancing from her to Carlisle. “I was hoping that you would take over for me, if that’s alright.”

“Of course.” Carlisle put a wrinkled receipt in the book to save his place, setting it to the side and wrapping an arm casually around Esme’s waist. “Where did you leave off?”

“I was explaining to her about your father.” Rosalie said, pulling me to the unoccupied armchair across from them. I sat down, and Rosalie sat on the arm like Esme, putting a cold arm over my shoulder.

Ah.” Carlisle said, his brow furrowed.

“You don’t have to tell me if it’s bad.” I insisted quickly, my cheeks heating.

Carlisle shook his head. “No, it’s quite alright, Bella. I don’t mind at all.”

He stood, walking over to the desk and sifting through the drawers. He came back with a few withered looking pieces of paper and handed one to me. I took it carefully, looking down at a graphite drawing of a man who looked much like Carlisle- though his features were sharper and much more severe, and his hair was black instead of blonde.

“That’s him.” Carlisle said. “Tobias Cullen. My mother, Alaine, died when I was born… My father never forgave me for taking her away from him.”

“That wasn’t your fault.” I countered, narrowing my eyes down at the man in the drawing.

Carlisle smiled. “No, it wasn’t… Nevertheless, it’s how he felt. He buried his anger and pain under copious amounts of drink, but he would sometimes lash out uncontrollably at whoever was unfortunate enough to be near him at the time… Still, I was his only son. The only legacy that would continue after he was passed. I was raised under the pressure of both his thumb and his expectations.

“He was a very violent man.” Carlisle continued, his eyes narrowed. “I had no stomach for burning witches- many of whom turned out to be nothing but innocent young women who craved not power, but simple freedom. He reveled in the hunt, and his favorite prey was the most challenging; Vampires.”

I leaned forward, fully absorbed in his story as he spoke.

“He started taking me along on hunts the second I had turned twelve.” He said casually, as if it was perfectly normal for a father to bring their child on a dangerous monster hunt. “On our first trip together, I witnessed a vampire feeding on a young woman no older than eighteen. We began the fight with a group of ten… Only four survived; My father and I, and two others.

“I was seventeen when I went out on my own for the first time. There was an elderly woman suspected of witchcraft in a nearby town, and he told me that it was time that I test the skills he had painstakingly attempted to teach me. I obliged, only because I knew that the woman had a better chance of survival if I were to go alone; My father was always too quick to accuse, not requiring undeniable evidence in order to condemn someone of witchcraft or vampirism. I, however, wasn’t satisfied until every possible avenue had been exhausted… To be honest, Bella, I don’t think that witches ever really existed. What qualified as magic at the time is what we would consider science today. I’m of the opinion that certain chemical reactions that weren’t fully understood at the time were taken as demonic intervention instead. After all, humanity has always feared that which it does not understand.”

“What happened to the old woman?” I asked. “Was she innocent?”

“She was.” He said, a small smile appearing on his face. “She was an herbalist- a healer. Her results garnered a lot of attention from the religious authorities. I cleared her of all suspicion, and in thanks, she allowed me to stay with her and her granddaughter for the night before my journey home.”

Carlisle handed me another drawing; A younger version of himself, a woman with long blonde hair, and a small child wrapped in blankets nestled in the woman’s arms. “Her granddaughter’s name was Mary… We grew close the night I had saved her grandmother, and we… well. She turned up on my doorstep three months later, telling me that she was pregnant with my child.

“I was terrified of telling my father,” He continued. “He was a puritan, and greatly frowned upon those kinds of relations before marriage. I made sure that he hadn’t been drinking before telling him the news.” 

“What did he do?” I asked, sitting on the edge of my seat.

“He was surprisingly accommodating.” Carlisle said. “He was disappointed, of course, but not as much as I had expected. He wed Mary and I under the same willow tree where he had married my mother. He even assisted me in building another wing onto our family estate to make room for them.

“When my son was born,” Carlisle smiled broadly, his golden eyes sparkling. “I had never felt so much joy. Mary and I named him Gabriel. His birth brought out a side of my father I had never seen- For a while, he even stopped drinking… Unfortunately, that happiness didn’t last. He was still displeased with the way I handled our investigations, often telling me that he hoped that Gabriel would take better to the job than I had.

“I’m extremely pleased to say that he was wrong; My son was as kind as his mother before him- He even cried when he would accidentally step on a snail.” Carlisle laughed lightly at the memory, and Esme smiled with him, reaching out to take his hand. He beamed at his wife, then continued, “But, when Gabriel was thirteen, my father insisted that he begin his training as I had. I had tried my best to prevent this, but he insisted that the experience would ‘toughen him up.’”

Carlisle chuckled to himself. “He was actually correct about that this time, but not in the way he had expected. Gabriel took after me, requiring evidence beyond the circumstantial before he made a verdict of guilt or innocence- Unlike myself, he seemed to have no issue confronting my father about his hasty accusations, often challenging him in front of the villagers- something I had always been too much of a coward to do myself… I regret to say that many innocent people died under my watch… My son was a better man than either my father or I could have ever hoped to have been.”

My vision was getting blurry thanks to the tears threatening to escape my eyes, and I blinked rapidly to clear the moisture from them.

“About a year after Gabriel started joining us on hunts, Mary fell very ill… Plague.” Carlisle winced, and Esme gave his hand a squeeze. “It was very quick. She didn’t suffer long… But it destroyed me in a way I never knew was possible. Gabriel was equally distraught, perhaps even more so.”

I’m so sorry…” I whispered.

“Thank you, Bella.” He smiled sadly, but then his tone darkened again and he said, “My father, however, took the opportunity to suggest that Mary’s death would finally be the push we both needed- The thing that would harden us into ‘real men,’ capable of carrying his great legacy.”

My eyes narrowed, and I looked back down at the first drawing. Tobias Cullen looked meaner to me somehow, now that I knew what he had been like in life.

“I raged at him.” Carlisle continued. “I told him that Gabriel was my son, and that he was done imposing his will over ours. To be honest, I think he actually respected me for it. I allowed Gabriel to quit hunting with us. He decided to pursue medicine, in honor of his mother. I used some of my connections to get him an apprenticeship with the local physician.

I continued to hunt with my father, however.” He said. “I had seen enough by that time to know that at least some of the threats that we pursued were real, and my father’s health was beginning to diminish. I knew that someone would have to protect people from these creatures, and it looked like that burden was falling squarely on my shoulders, whether I wanted it or not.

“I took over for him officially when I turned thirty-five. I was leaving for a town that was over a day’s journey by cart, and I had left my father in Gabriel’s care. He’d excelled at his new profession, discovering that he had a surprising aptitude for the subject. My father was becoming sicklier by the day and could no longer travel. I bade them both goodbye as always, and I set off with a volunteer hunting party of twenty-five. We were hunting a mated pair, and we needed the extra numbers.

“But, when we got to the cave where I had tracked them…” Carlisle’s eyes flashed, his expression pained. “We discovered that we had been wrong about their numbers… It was a clan of six. The pair that we had tracked had left a trail that I should have known had been too easy to follow… They led us into a trap.”

My heart pounded as I listened to Carlisle describe the attack, barely breathing so that I could hear every word.

“It was a massacre.” His golden eyes filled with guilt, his face contorted in anger. “I managed to kill two myself, but a third took me down… I was hurt, badly. Another hunter took care of the one that attacked me, and I crawled away to hide in a burrow hidden in the shadows. I watched as the battle continued- and I’m pleased to say that we won, in the end… But only two of our original twenty-five survived; A man named Robert and a woman named Gretchen, a married couple who had lost their only two children to the very monsters we had been hunting.

“They burned the bodies of vampires and humans alike, dragging them out of the cave one by one. I covered myself in dirt, trying to keep silent so that I wouldn’t be burned along with them… Though the monster’s venom was already burning me from the inside, transforming me into the very thing I had been trained to hate and hunt.” Carlisle sighed. “It was a full day… Twenty-four hours exactly, when I realized that I was no longer human. The only thing that burned now was my throat, and I knew what it meant; I knew that I was craving human blood, and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to resist that inhuman urge.

“From the second my eyes opened to this new existence, I had regretted my decision to hide. I wished more than anything that I had let Robert and Gretchen burn me along with the others. At least then, I wouldn’t be risking the lives of everyone around me. At least then, I wouldn’t have to watch from the woods as they returned alone and gave my son the news, unable to go to him…”

Carlisle’s voice grew thick, and he cleared his throat before going on. “I tried every way I could think of to end my life, if you can call it that. I ignored my thirst, hoping to starve myself. I threw myself from the tallest cliffs I could find, but no damage I caused to my body was ever permanent. I spent my time in solace, desperate but unable to die.

“I was wandering the woods one night, when I caught the scent of a deer nearby. I was so thirsty that I was incapable of resisting, and when I came to my senses again, I realized that the burn in my throat was muted, not as noticeable. I could think clearly, and I realized that there may be a way for me to be less of a monster than those who had created me.

“I practiced alone for a full year, feeding on only animals, before I wandered into a village at night, testing my restraint. I was elated to find that it was only slightly difficult, but it was manageable enough if I held by breath. I decided that I would risk checking on my family. Not to reveal myself to them- because they must believe that I had died, and my father wouldn’t hesitate to destroy me if he saw me as I was now... Only to make sure that they were alright.

“My father had managed to live longer than expected, thanks to Gabriel’s care.” Carlisle’s chest expanded with pride in his son as he spoke. “The physician he had been working under was getting on in years and was preparing to hand down his practice to him. Gabriel was very well-respected- loved, even, by the townspeople that had feared my father. I watched him from the woods for weeks, making sure that his life was full and satisfying.”

Carlisle trailed off, then handed me a third drawing; A young man who looked like Carlisle, with blonde hair and a kind smile. Next to him, another man around Gabriel’s age, though his hair was curly and bright red.

“Who’s this?” I asked, pointing to the man who was obviously not Gabriel.

“That’s Peter. The physician’s son.” Carlisle explained. “The two of them had become very close during his time working for Peter’s father. They spent much of their time together… Gabriel had talked my father into letting Peter move into our family home after his father had passed.

“One day, I followed them out to the woods.” He continued. “I thought perhaps they were gathering firewood for the house, but I was wrong… Gabriel and Peter were romantically involved. They had set out a picnic in a meadow deep in the woods. I watched as my son looked at Peter in same way that I used to look at his mother, and I was relieved; My son had someone to love, someone who loved him back... What more could I ask for as a father?”

A single tear trailed down my cheek and I wiped it away, listening as Carlisle’s tone darkened again.

Unfortunately,” He said. “I wasn’t the only one who had followed them.”

My heart skipped a beat, and I thought I knew what must be coming.

“My father had also followed them.” Carlisle said. “He had grown suspicious of their relationship, and when he saw them embrace… Well, he became enraged. He burst through the trees across from me, yelling at the pair of them about what a disgrace Gabriel had become to his 'good family name'… He pulled a knife on them.”

“He killed them?” I breathed, horrified.

Carlisle smiled sadly. “No, Bella… When I saw him raise that knife, I realized that he had never loved my son… He probably had never even loved me. The only thing he had ever cared about was his legacy and his name. In his mind, Gabriel had just destroyed both. I put myself between them, faced my father, and told him to leave. He refused… He lunged at me, and I defended myself…

“I tried my best not to hurt him,” Carlisle’s brow furrowed. “Even though he was a horrible man, he was still my father… But he slipped, and cut his hand on the knife… I was unable to resist drinking his blood… To this day, he is the only human I’ve ever killed.”

My eyes were wide, and I realized that I was holding my breath. Next to me, Rosalie gave my hand a gentle squeeze, and I tried to take a deep breath.

“When I’d regained control of myself,” Carlisle said. “I expected to find Gabriel and Peter gone… But they were still there. Peter was hiding behind Gabriel, telling him they should run… But Gabriel just stared at me. I begged him not to be afraid of me, assured him that I was still the same man I was when I had been human, that I would never, ever hurt him… He ran right into my arms, just like he used to do when he was a child. He told me that I had always loved him for who he was, and that he would do the same for me.

“I married the two of them in secret, under the same willow tree where I had wed Mary.” Carlisle smiled, his golden eyes looking at something far, far away. “I don’t think I had ever been happier, even as a human; I had begun my life with one son, and now I had been blessed with a second.

“I spent the rest of their lives watching over them. For around fifty years, their town was among one of the safest in London. I kept many others of my kind away from the humans in my charge, and I disposed of the ones that refused to leave. The rumors about their medical prowess grew, and travelers would bring their sick loved ones from miles away just to see them.

“When Gabriel died…” Carlisle’s voice cracked, and Esme gently squeezed his arm in comfort. “He begged me to stay and watch over Peter. Of course, I agreed. He died in my arms… Three years later, so did Peter. I buried them under the willow tree together.”

Trying very hard not to cry now, I asked, “What did you do after they died?”

“I left the town… The memories were too painful. I wandered the Italian countryside for a while, feeding on the local wildlife until I was discovered by a group of ancient vampires that act as our version of royalty.” Carlisle pointed to a large painting on the wall; It was a group of four men. I recognized Carlisle off to the side. The man in the center looked old, maybe sixty or seventy, with long black hair. The man to his left looked younger, but not by much- and was blonde like Carlisle. The third man was young, maybe eighteen or twenty, with dark brown hair and a far-away expression in his red eyes. When I looked closer, I noticed that they all had red eyes, except for Carlisle.

Royalty?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Vampires have royalty?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Carlisle explained. “They are among the oldest of our kind- and as such, are revered as an authority. I stayed with them for nearly a century. Aro- that one there, in the middle- was fascinated by my decision to curb what he called my natural appetite. I was amusing to him, and they were more civilized than others of our kind who chose to live nomadically. Feeding in their city was forbidden, as to not arouse suspicion. Heidi- she's what you might call a siren- would convince weary travelers to follow her back to the castle for a rest. It was a tentative alliance, and we liked each other well enough… But I eventually chose to leave. I could no longer watch them slaughter innocent humans. We left on good terms, and I decided to set off for the New World.”

Wow…” I breathed. “What did you do when you got there?”

Carlisle smiled. “I studied medicine. I missed my sons, and practicing their craft made me feel closer to them… Like they were watching over me from the heavens. It took some time to perfect my self-control, but I managed it eventually. Once I’d become particularly adept at it, I traveled to Chicago where-“

Carlisle was cut off from a sharp ringing coming from my pocket. I pulled out my phone and saw Charlie’s caller ID on the screen. I gave Carlisle an apologetic smile before I answered.

“Hey, Dad.” I said.

“Hey Bells, you still at the Cullens’ place?” He asked.

“Yeah. Do you need me to come home?”

“Only if ya want to, I don’t wanna interrupt.” Charlie said. “Billy and Jake are swingin’ by for dinner, just wanted to make sure ya knew that’s all.”

Oh!” I stood quickly. “Tell them I’m coming, I just lost track of time.”

“No worries honey, see ya when ya get here.” He hung up, and I put my phone back in my pocket.

“Sorry, I have to leave…” I told Carlisle; I was desperate to hear the rest of his story, wondering what had happened next in Chicago.

Carlisle shook his head, smiling politely. “I assure you Bella, I will happily continue the story another time. It was very nice to have you over. Tell your father I said hello.”

“Give Charlie a hello from me as well.” Esme said, leaving her husband’s side to give me a tight hug.

“I will.” I smiled back at them as she released me, letting Rosalie take my hand and lead me back down the stairs.

In the hall, I saw Emmett and Edward standing in another open doorway. Their heads turned towards us as we got closer. Edward gave me the same irritated stare that I had grown accustomed to, but Emmett’s face broke out in a wide grin.

“Hey, Bella!” He boomed, reaching out and lifting me into a bear hug that forced all the air from my lungs.

Emmett!” Rosalie snapped at him. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t crush my girlfriend, please.”

Emmett let me go, setting me back on my feet. His booming laugh was infectious, and I laughed along with him. “My bad, Rose. Couldn’t help myself, she’s just so cute.”

He winked down at me, and I narrowed my eyes up at him even though I was still smiling.

“I’ll show you cute.” I told him, trying to be intimidating but making him laugh even harder.

“I like her.” He said, patting the top of my head with one huge hand. “She’s got spunk.”

“Your approval is appreciated.” Rosalie rolled her eyes at him, putting her arm around my shoulders.

I noticed that Edward was still staring at me with his brow furrowed and his mouth twisted in a sneer. I narrowed my eyes back at him, trying to sound more confident than I was. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

Rosalie and Emmett laughed, but Edward hissed at them and disappeared into one of the rooms, slamming the door behind him so that some of the photos on the wall shook precariously.

“I have to get Bella home.” Rosalie told Emmett, and he nodded.

“See ya later, Bella.” He said, disappearing into the same room that Edward had.

Rosalie led me back downstairs and out the front door to her convertible. She held my door open for me, then zipped over to the drivers’ side. Once we were on the road, I asked, “Edward is going to be a pain in my ass forever, isn’t he?”

Rosalie laughed, snorting once and covering her mouth with her free hand. “Probably- He’s still a pain in my ass, and that hasn’t changed in eighty-two years.”

I laughed with her, weaving my fingers through hers as I looked out the window at the passing trees. The drive home took less time than I’d wanted. The Green Machine was parked behind my truck, and Rosalie pulled up next to it.

“So, may I pick you up for school in the morning?” She asked, smiling over at me as I resisted getting out of the warm car.

“I have work in the afternoon, so I should probably take my truck.” I said. I bit my lip then asked, “But if you want, you can sneak in my window once Charlie goes to sleep. Then we can take my truck to school.”

“Sounds lovely.” She said, pulling my hand up to her lips and kissing my knuckles. “Text me once Charlie is asleep, and I’ll come right over.”

“See you soon.” I breathed, getting carefully out of the car and heading up the porch steps.

Chapter Text

Charlie, Billy, and Jacob were in the kitchen when I came in. I inhaled deeply as I closed the door behind me, listening to the sizzling of the fish filets frying in the pan; Harry must have sent over a bag of fish fry.

Woah!” Jacob raised his eyebrows, looking me up and down. “Where were you all dressed up like that?”

Charlie turned to see what he was talking about as I self-consciously smoothed out the dress. His thick eyebrows rose to mimic Jacob’s. “Ain’t that the dress ya wore to Renee and Phil’s wedding?”

“Yeah…” I said, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse; I didn’t want to explain to Charlie about Rosalie in front of Billy. “I went to a, uh- fancy restaurant with Rosalie. This was the only nice piece of clothing I had.”

Huh.” Charlie shrugged. “Well, ya look very nice, Bells. Did ya have a good time?”

“Yeah, it was nice.” I said, then made an excuse to avoid further questions. “I should go up and change, I’ll be right back.”

“Hurry up, the fish is almost done!” Jacob called after me, popping a homemade french fry in his mouth and comically sucking in air when he realized that it was still too hot.

Back in my room, I kicked my shoes off and put them back on the rack in the closet. I reached back to unzip the dress- and it stuck halfway down. I struggled with it for a minute or two until my shoulder began to ache from the strain. I growled in frustration, then marched in defeat to open the door.

“Hey, Jake?” I called down the stairs.

“Yeah?” He called back up, his head appearing at the bottom of the stairs.

“My stupid zipper is stuck, can you come help me?”

He nodded, bounding up the stairs to my side. Closing the door behind him, he spun me around to see the mess that I had made of the zipper.

“Geez, what did you do?” He asked, pinching the top and trying to carefully pry the zipper down without ripping the dress.

“Dresses hate me, you know this.” I pulled the back of the dress down to try to make it easier, and after a few moments, the zipper finally came unstuck. I sighed gratefully, sliding the dress off my body like I was shedding an uncomfortable second skin. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.” Jacob said, looking absently around my room while I put the dress back on the hanger and carefully covered it back in the garment bag. While I was digging out a pair of sweats from the dresser, he asked, “So, how are things with your girlfriend?”

I spun to face him, blushing furiously. He plopped down on my bed, crossing his arms and waiting for my answer, with a satisfied smirk on his face.

“Who said that she was my girlfriend?”

He burst out laughing. “Oh, come on, Bella- I know what you look like when you like a girl, in case you’re forgetting.”

“Shut up.” I threw my sweats at him, turning around and digging through the dresser again for a comfortable shirt. I knew what he was talking about, of course; I’d had a huge crush on his sister Rachel when we were kids. She was pretty, and nice, and made amazing brownies that would put Jacob and I in a food coma in front of their old TV.

Jacob snickered again, but his smile became genuine. “Really though, how is it going? I’ve never seen you get that dressed up before. You must really like her.”

I busied myself with putting on my shirt, taking longer than necessary to pull it over my head so that I could hide behind it while I smiled like an idiot. “It’s going okay… I was at her place meeting her parents, actually.”

Woah, big step.” Jacob said, tossing my sweats back to me. I pulled them on and sat next to him on the bed, leaning my head on his shoulder. “Are you gonna tell Charlie about her?”

I bit my lip. “Yeah, after dinner.”

“He’ll be fine with it, you know.” Jacob squeezed my hand gently. “You’re his only kid. He loves you no matter what.”

“I’m not worried about that.” I shook my head and grinned up at him. “Charlie very specifically told me that he didn’t want me dating in high school- He said it was a distraction. He loves Rosalie, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know how he’ll feel about me actually dating her.”

“How would he feel about her being a vampire?” He teased, putting on a terrible Transylvanian accent and hissing with his canines exposed.

I did my best to look unbothered, rolling my eyes as if I- like him- didn’t believe the old legend he had told me that day on the beach. That I hadn’t had the same legend confirmed as truth by the subject herself. “Oh, ha ha, very funny.”

He laughed, then got off the bed and pulled me to my feet. “Come on. Dinner’s probably almost done.”

He was right; The fish was crispy and delicious, and we ate together in front of the TV while the latest game played out. Billy and Charlie were much more invested than me and Jake. After we were finished eating, we started playing a game on our phones; Jake won three out of five games, making me the designated dish-washer for the night. I gathered everyone’s dishes and took them to the sink. I hadn’t realized that Billy had rolled up beside me until he started drying the wet dishes I had set aside.

So, how’s things, Bella?” He asked casually, drying a plate and setting it on the counter.

“Good.” I said, handing him a cup.

“You looked very nice tonight.” He dried the cup and set it down. “Must’ve been quite the occasion to break out a dress that fancy.”

“It was.” My heart pounded as I waited for what I knew must be coming.

“Well,” He said, taking another dish from my hands. “I hope it works out with this girl, Bella. I really do.”

I blinked, looking down at him in surprise. His face was unreadable, but his dark eyes were sparkling. I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I just said, “Thanks…”

We finished the rest of the dishes is silence, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. He and Jacob left when we were finished, and I promised Jacob that I would come by to see his new project later this week. Charlie went to the kitchen to make his lunch for the next morning, and I followed him and stood awkwardly in the doorway.

“Hey, um… Dad?” I asked.

He looked up from the counter where he was assembling his sandwich, one bushy eyebrow raised. “Yeah?”

I swallowed. “So, I have to tell you something, and I want you to please not freak out.”

Charlie paled. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything is fine!” I assured him. “It’s just- Okay, I know you said that I wasn’t allowed to date in high school, but I-“

“Oh, that!” Charlie let out a relieved sigh, laughing with his head tilted all the way back.

I faltered, not sure what to do with this reaction. He looked at me with a smirk, leaning on the counter and crossing his arms.

“It’s okay, Bells. I already know.” He said.

“You…” I said, not sure what he meant.

Charlie snickered to himself, then said. “Honey, you’re many things, but unfortunately subtle ain’t one of ‘em. Ya gave your mom so much hell about wearin’ that dress to her wedding in the first place, now ya just throw it on willingly? I may be old, but I ain't blind.”

My cheeks heated and I looked at the floor; He was right. I had fought with mom for weeks over it before I finally gave in. The flats had been a compromise. She had wanted me to wear heels.

“So, were you really at dinner with Rosalie?” He asked. “Or was it someone else?”

I took a deep breath. “No, it was Rosalie… She’s who I’m dating.”

I waited. Charlie said nothing. When I risked a glance at his face, he was grinning from ear to ear.

“That’s great!” He said, chuckling lightly. “I love Rosalie. While we’re discussin’ dating, I feel like I should tell you somethin’ too.”

“What?” I asked, relieved but still confused.

“I’m dating Billy.”

My jaw dropped. “What?”

“Billy and I. We’re dating.” He said again, taking a swig of the beer he was holding. “We have been since about two months before you moved here.”

“But- That’s so great, Dad!” I said, grinning back at him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was all really new, I didn’t wanna spring it on ya.” He shrugged, and now he was the one blushing. “It’s not like we’re gonna move in together or get married- He’s happy on the reservation, it’s his home. This house… Well, you know how important it is to me. I grew up in this house, and besides, I can’t work for the county if I live on the rez.”

“That’s not very fair.” I said, my brow furrowing in frustration.

“It is what it is, Bells. We’re happy.” He smiled, raising the bottle back to his lips. “Does Rosalie make you happy?”

Yeah, she does…” I smiled, then asked, “So, you’re fine with me dating in high school?”

“Yeah, why not?” He shrugged. “Besides, my reason for not wantin’ ya to date was that I didn’t want ya to let your grades slip. Since ya started hangin’ around Rosalie, your grades have gotten better. So, that’s kind of a moot point, don’t cha think?”

I laughed, relief washing over me. I rushed over and threw my arms around his neck. He lifted me off my feet, squeezing me tight. “I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, Bells.” He gave me a scratchy kiss on my cheek, then set me down. He cleared his throat, then said, “Alright, go up and uh- do your homework or whatever. Want me to pack ya a sandwich for tomorrow?”

“Sure.” I said.

I went up to my room feeling light as air. I picked up my phone from my desk and opened my messages to text Jessica. She had, after all, requested an update. I told her about the Cullen’s house, and that everyone seemed to approve of me except for Edward. She shared a few unpleasant thoughts about him that made me laugh, and I was about to text her back when my phone rang in my hands; Mom was calling.

I picked up on the second ring. “Hey, Mom!”

“Well there you are!” She sounded irritated. “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in forever.”

“Sorry…” I said. I felt a little guilty for not texting her back more often, but I had been so busy with school and work- and discovering that vampires were a very real thing. “I’ve been really busy. Is something wrong?”

“No, not at all.” She assured me, her tone switching from frustrated to reassuring when she realized she’d worried me. “Phil’s team is out for the season, so we’re heading to Greece a little early. We’ll be gone for a whole month, I just wanted to let you know- We’re leaving tomorrow.”

“Wow, a whole month?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “What about your job?”

“Oh, that.” She scoffed. “I got fired.”

“What? How?” I didn’t know how she’d managed it; She’d barely been there for two months.

“My boss yelled at me, so I yelled back. He was being really rude, Bella, he totally deserved it.” She said. “So, we’re taking a month in Greece to unwind and I’ll find a better job when I get back, it’s no biggie- Anyway, enough about me, what’s going on with you? Give me the juicy gossip.”

Despite my irritation that she had lost yet another job, she had managed to make me laugh. “There’s no gossip, juicy or otherwise.”

Really?” She prompted. “Nothing at all interesting going on at school? I mean, it is Forks, so I know it must be really boring, but there must be something going on- Charlie told me you skipped the dance to hang out with a friend instead, how was that?”

“Oh, yeah, I did.” I said, smiling stupidly again when I pictured Rosalie showing up to my door in that suit. “We went to her parent’s house, it was nice.”

Still, you shouldn’t skip school dances, Bella, they’re really fun if you give them a try!”

I highly doubted that; Hanging around in a gym decorated in streamers while Tyler, Ray, and the rest of the jocks tried to spike the punch bowl didn’t seem like much fun to me- and that wasn’t even including the dancing part.

“Didn’t any boys ask you?” She prompted.

“Well,” I said. “Yes, some did… but I said no. I don’t like public events, Mom, you know that… Besides, I kind of have a girlfriend now.”

She was silent for a moment, then chuckled to herself and said, “A girlfriend? Come on now sweetheart, be serious.”

“I am being serious.” I told her, my elated mood vanishing and confusion filling my brain. “Rosalie is my girlfriend now…”

She scoffed. “Bella, what are you talking about? I think I would know if my only daughter was gay.”

“Well, clearly you didn’t know.” I snapped back. “Do you seriously have a problem with this? You have gay friends, what about Lindsey and Cheryl? You don’t have a problem with them.”

“They’re not my daughter, Bella.” She said sternly. “And just because I liked them, that doesn’t mean that I approved.”

“Who says they needed your approval?” I snapped, hot, angry tears forming at the corners of my eyes. “Who says I do?”

Isabella Marie Swan, I am your mother. You will not speak to me in that tone.” She said, and I fell into frustrated silence as she continued, “It’s not that I think that there’s anything wrong with it, exactly. You’re just my only baby girl, my only chance to have a grandbaby- I gave up so much for you, Bella, and I certainly didn’t raise you to act this way.”

“I’m not ‘acting’ like anything.” I said, trying to keep my voice even, though my whole body was shaking. “I was never going to have kids anyway, so it’s not like that mattered. Dad’s fine with it, why aren’t you?”

“Well, of course he is.” She scoffed. “He’s always had a soft spot where you’re involved, he babies you too much- And what do you mean you were never going to have kids? Am I just supposed to never be a grandma? You can’t honestly be that selfish, Bella-“

I’m being selfish?!” I exploded, throwing all caution to the wind as my rage boiled over. “You’re the one making everything about you! My whole life I’ve been the one taking care of you, but somehow I’m the selfish one?! Are you kidding me right now?”

“Oh, excuse me, Princess Isabella,” She sneered, resorting to an old nickname she used to use whenever I was being picky over her cooking, or how badly our latest apartment had smelled. “I’m so sorry that I’m such a bad parent. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t wired to be the perfect Martha Stewart mother. I’m so awful for wanting you to experience motherhood- Listen, all women go through a bi-curious phase, even I did in college. Have fun with this girl for now, but don’t come crying to me when-“

I hung up on her, throwing the phone a little too hard. It hit the opposite wall instead of the bed where I had aimed, and I heard the screen crack. I let it clatter to the floor, standing still in the middle of my room and trying to breathe. My heart was pounding, my clenched fists were shaking, and the angry tears I had been holding back had finally began to flow. I wiped them away, taking steady breaths while my phone started to ring again. I ignored it, picking up my towel and going to the bathroom to shower.

The hot water was soothing. I sat down in the tub, letting it run over me as I stared at the wall feeling numb; I had never expected that kind of a reaction from my mother. Was she really that upset about never being a grandma? It was so stupid. That was never going to be her decision, so why would she even think that? And considering the way she ‘raised’ me, who said I would ever, ever leave a child alone with her? She’d probably just stick it in front of the TV for three hours while she left the house to party with her ‘friends’- or pawn off the responsibility onto someone else, like she would when she left me with Grandma Marie for days on end while she was ‘working.’ I’d always believed the best of her, always defended her, made excuses for her behavior- because I loved her. Now she was refusing to do the same for me just because I had a girlfriend.

I was still angry, but the water was starting to get cold. I turned it off and stepped out, not bothering to dry off before walking to my room and sitting on my bed with the towel wrapped around me. I sat there dripping onto the carpet, listening to my phone ring on the floor. Absently, I looked down at it, where the cracked screen was still glowing; Fifteen missed calls. Thirty-two texts.

Reaching down, I carefully picked it up and inspected the damage; It wasn’t bad. It was still useable for the most part. I opened my messages and deleted the ones from Mom without looking at them. I pulled up my voicemail and did the same, hitting the delete button as soon as the message started; There was nothing she was going to say to me that I wanted to hear. I didn’t even care if it was an apology- not that she’d ever apologized to me or anyone else for anything in her life. Finally, I turned off the ringer, leaving it on vibrate. I set it aside, getting dressed in my pajamas and flopping down on the bed, listening to the dull hum until it finally stopped.

I was halfway through deleting all the new messages, when I heard Charlie’s voice coming from downstairs; He sounded angry. Carefully, I slipped off the bed and creeped to the door, opening it just a crack so that I could make out what he was saying.

“-the hell are you talkin’ about, Renee?” He asked. He was silent for a moment, then he said, “Yeah, so what? Ya don’t even know the girl, she’s good for Bella. She’s the one that saved her life, for cryin’ out loud.”

Another beat of silence. I was focusing so intently on the conversation downstairs that I wasn’t even breathing.

“Who said she had to do that?! That’s messed up, Renee. It’s her future, you don’t get to decide-” He got cut off, sighing deeply and listening to Renee on the other end of the line as she ranted. There was another moment of silence, then Charlie burst out laughing; The sound was not joyful. It was sardonic, not at all sincere. “Are you kiddin’ me? Bella, the selfish one? That’s really rich, comin’ from you- No, SHUT UP for once and LISTEN!”

My heart stalled and I was frozen in place, crouching by the open door like a gargoyle; Charlie never yelled. Never.

“You are such a hypocrite!” He yelled through the phone. “Bella doesn’t owe you a goddamn thing. You’ve always done whatever the hell you wanted, no matter the affect you had on other people, including her- Oh, cut the crap, Renee! You didn’t raise Bella, Marie did. After that Bella raised herself, while she was taking care of you. Now Bella wants to do one thing for herself, and suddenly she’s the one in the wrong?”

More silence while Renee answered… then Charlie exploded.

DON’T YOU DARE GO THERE!” He shouted. “I couldn’t go with you when you left, and you know why- Oh, don’t pretend like you cared! My parents were dying, Renee. Mom’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse by the day, and so was Dad’s cancer. They let us live with them when you were pregnant with Bella, and you repaid them by walking out on me and taking my daughter with you, all over a case of childish wanderlust! YOU are the selfish one here, Renee- and if you ever talk to Bella that way again, I will buy her a new phone with a new number so that you can’t talk to her at all. You’ve done enough damage to her, and it ends now.”

I heard him hang up on her, then a grunt and a sharp clatter; I guessed he had thrown his phone at the wall like I had. Closing the door carefully, I leaned back on my heels. I never knew that Grampa and Grandma Swan had been dying when Mom left... but the version of the story she had always told me was that Charlie was too hung up on Forks to come with us. That he loved his job and his friends in Forks more than he loved us. The truth of the situation made me even more furious than I already was.

There was a small cough from the corner of my room, as if someone were clearing their throat. I jumped to my feet and spun around to see Rosalie standing awkwardly by my open window, twisting her hands in front of her with a concerned expression on her face.

“Alice told me that I might want to come early…” She said quietly. “She didn’t tell me why… If you’d prefer that I left-“

She didn’t get to finish her sentence. I ran towards her, throwing my arms around her neck and sobbing quietly into her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around me, one hand stroking my hair. She shifted me in her arms and sat down on the bed, cradling me and letting me cry it out. After a moment, she whispered into my hair, “Charlie’s coming up the stairs. What should I do?”

I sniffled, drying my eyes quickly with the corner of the purple comforter. “The closet.”

She nodded, disappearing in the blink of an eye. My closet door swung shut just as he knocked on my bedroom door.

Bells?” Charlie called. “It’s Dad… Can I come in?”

I cleared my throat, but my voice was still stuffy when I called back, “Yeah.”

He opened the door, his brown eyes wide and concerned when the settled on my face, realizing how red it was. “Oh, honey-“

“Dad, I really don’t want to talk about it right now.” I said, and it was true; If I talked about it for too long, I would never stop. Then I might start crying again. “I love you, but I really can’t…”

“Okay.” He said, coming to sit next to me on the bed. “Can I just say one thing?”

I nodded.

“I love you.” He said. “No matter what.”

“I love you too.” I hugged him, burying my head in his shoulder. I let go after a few seconds, and he got up to leave. Before he closed the door behind him, I called, “Hey, Dad?”

He paused and looked back at me. “Yeah?”

“I overheard what you said to Mom…” I said. “I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for being mad at you for not going with us when we left. I didn’t know the whole story-“

He shook his head, smiling at me, and said. “That’s okay, Bells. Wasn’t your fault. If you want, we can play hooky tomorrow- I can make pizza.”

“Okay.” I said. I could use a day off of school after this.

Charlie left, closing the door behind him. I curled into a ball on my bed, staring blankly at the opposite wall. Rosalie peered out of the closet door, then zipped to my side, leaning over me and pushing my hair away from my face.

“Are you okay?” She asked, wiping a stray tear from my cheek.

No…” I mumbled, my throat tightening.

Rosalie pulled me into her arms, reaching over to turn off the lamp on the side table. I turned to face her, wrapping my arms around her. She held me as I fell asleep, humming gently and combing the tangles out of my wet hair with her fingers.

Chapter Text

“Can we please study for a different subject?” I begged, glaring down at my History review. It was so dull and boring that my brain was refusing to absorb any of the information I needed to learn, and I was starting to get a tension headache. I turned my head sharply to the side, feeling the vertebrae in my neck pop.

“Alright, fine.” Rosalie gave in, reaching for my backpack and pulling out my Geometry notebook instead. “But we’re coming back to it later- Charlie said that you need to maintain a B average.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed dramatically, but smiled at her and watched as the sunlight danced over her skin, casting rainbows of light into the trees around us. It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Rosalie wasn’t able to go to school because of the good weather, so I had decided to call in ‘sick’ and join her. We were sitting in our meadow, studying for the exams that were getting closer and closer by the day. “You’re lucky that you don’t need to study. How many times have you taken these stupid exams, anyway?”

Dozens.” Rosalie shrugged, placing my Geometry book in front of me and putting the one for History back in my bag. “They never change, really. They update for current events every decade or so, but vampiric memories don’t fade- I won’t forget anything, but I’ll still be using the quadratic formula when the method has long been outdated.”

I took a bite of the tuna sandwiches Rosalie had packed, flipping through the pages to get to the section that I needed the most help with. Beside me, my phone buzzed on the blanket; Renee’s daily text message. Rolling my eyes, I reached down and skimmed the first few words before I got the gist of it, then deleted it without replying as usual.

“Your mother again?” Rosalie asked, her brow furrowing at the phone while I tossed it back on the ground.

“Yep.” I said, pulling out a review sheet to work on the first problem. “I’m honestly considering blocking her number at this point.”

It had been a little over two weeks since Dad and I had both blown-up on Renee. She’d given us the silent treatment for three whole days before the text messages started. No matter how she phrased it, the message was always the same; Dad and I were being selfish, she only wanted what was ‘best’ for me, and then the usual guilt trip about how bad we were making her feel by being mad at her.

Her agitation had been amplified by Phil’s reaction to the news about our argument, and what it was about; He had been upset with her as well, and had turned up on our porch two days after to come see me, postponing their trip to do so. He told me that he supported me, and that he would try to work on swaying Renee while they were in Greece. Clearly, he had yet to be successful.

“I could always get you a new phone.” Rosalie suggested again, looking down at the cracked screen that I hadn’t bothered to replace. “Charlie did say that it was okay if I got you one- I asked him for permission.”

I shook my head. “I’ll order a new one tonight, I’ve been saving up. Mike has been taking a lot of time off to be with Jessica, so I’ve got lots of extra cash from picking up his shifts.”

Rosalie shrugged. “If you’re sure. Now, what’s the first question?”

“Do we have to study?” I asked, biting my lip and scooting closer to her on the blanket. I reached out and carefully linked my fingers with hers. “I think we deserve a little break.”

“You do, do you?” She asked, smirking and leaning forward. She pressed her lips against mine, and I leaned into her reflexively.

The hand that was not in mine reached out and tangled itself in my hair and Rosalie deepened the kiss unexpectedly, letting go of my hand to touch my knee. My breathing was shallow and ragged, and I was about to reach out to wrap my arms around her, when her cell phone rang sharply in her pocket. She sighed and pulled away. I cursed internally at whoever had interrupted us, glaring at her phone as she pulled it out and answered it.

“What’s up, Jaz?” She asked, then listened for a moment. Her golden eyes lit up, and she said, “Alright, aces! I’ll ask her.”

I raised an eyebrow curiously as she hung up. Her smile was mischievous, her dimples appearing in her cheeks.

“Would you like to come play baseball with my family and I?” She asked. “There’s a storm coming, and it’s the only time that we can play.”

I looked skeptically up at the clear blue sky, at the beaming sunlight that was making Rosalie’s skin glisten in a thousand colors. “A storm?”

“Alice is never wrong.” Rosalie said, then added, “I know you’re not much of a sports person, but Esme usually referees, so you can join her if you’d like.”

“Okay, sounds like fun.” I smiled at her. Truthfully, baseball didn’t sound like much fun, but if it meant spending more time with Rosalie and her family, I was all for it. I looked down at my watch, where the topaz crystals glistened around the face; It was almost time for us to be out of school, but I doubted that Dad would notice if we showed up a few minutes early. “Should we go back to the truck?”

Before I had finished speaking, Rosalie had already packed up all my things and was standing in front of me with her hand outstretched to help me up. I took it, and she lifted me to my feet. I reached down and folded the scratchy blanket, then took my backpack from Rosalie and put it on. She turned away from me so that I could hop onto her shoulders- something we were both much more comfortable with now, since we came up here every few days. I tucked the blanket between our bodies so that I wouldn’t drop it, wrapping my arms tightly around her shoulders.

“Eyes closed?” Rosalie checked.

I squeezed my eyes shut, burying my face in her shoulder and nodding. I didn’t feel her start running, but I heard the rustle of the trees as we blew past, and felt the wind whip my hair around my face as we travelled further and further down the mountain. After a minute, Rosalie gently shifted me in front of her and set me on my feet. I opened my eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight.

Damn.” Rosalie quickly pulled on her hoodie, pulling it over her head to hide from the light. “I didn’t think that it would be this bright under the cloudbank.”

“The truck’s windows are tinted a little bit, you should be safe.” I opened the passenger door for her so that she could climb in before me, scanning the area to see if anyone had seen her. Thankfully, there was no one else on the dead-end road leading to the hiking trails, and I shut her door and walked over to my side.

Once we were on the road, I asked, “So, why baseball?”

“It’s the sport the majority of us can at least tolerate- Besides, it is the America pastime.” She winked over at me, and I blushed and turned my focus back to the road. “Emmett prefers football, but Edward and Alice hate it. Carlisle and Esme think it’s important for us to blow off steam once in a while. The human charade can be draining for them.”

“Not for you?” I asked.

Rosalie considered that for a moment, looking wistfully out the window. “Not as much… Physically holding back my full strength all the time can get tedious, yes, but… I miss being human, Bella. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good perks to immortality, but the drawbacks… Well, sometimes I wish that Esme had just left me in that alley.”

I merged off the highway and onto the residential roads. I bit my lip, then said, “But, if she’d done that… I’d have never met you.”

Rosalie looked over at me and smiled radiantly, her golden eyes shining in the dull sunlight pouring into the car. “That is true. You are, without a doubt, the very best thing about my immortal life, Bella Swan.”

Her admission made my heart race. She giggled quietly to herself at my reaction, taking my hand after I shifted gears and bringing it up to her lips. We drove in silence for a few minutes, when I asked, “Can I ask you something?”

“Always.” She said.

“What do you miss the most about being human?” I asked her, curious about what she would say. Being a vampire didn’t seem that bad, aside from the unquenchable bloodlust aspect.

“Hmm,” Rosalie considered, freeing my hand so that I could turn left and shift gears again. “Well, if we’re just talking about the simple things, I’d have to say going to the beach… I used to go every weekend with my family. James was scared of the waves, but Johnny always dove right in- Scared the hell out of Mom every time.”

She laughed, and I smiled at the sound.

“But what really I miss the most are the possibilities…” She continued, her brow furrowing as she stared out the window. “Repeating high school over and over, never moving forward- Sure, we go to college sometimes, but we never get to use our degrees for long until we have to start all over. Not sleeping does give us more time to do things we love, but we can never turn our brains off, never dream, never sleep next to a loved one…”

She glanced in my direction, making me blush again.

“Still, you never have to grow old.” I said. “That must be nice.”

“I never get to grow old…” She corrected, smiling sadly. “I’d give anything to be able to grow old, especially if it meant that I would have you by my side.”

“You could have me by your side either way…” I said, tensing and waiting for the meaning of my words to hit her as I pulled into our driveway next to Dad’s motorcycle.

Rosalie’s eyes were wide, her mouth half open. “I couldn’t do that to you, Bella… You don’t want this, believe me.”

“I want you.” I said. “I don’t want to grow old while you stay the same age forever, that’ll be so weird. Will you even still want me when I’m old enough to be your mother, your grandmother?”

She chuckled. “That won’t happen for quite some time.”

“But it will happen, eventually.” I pressed carefully. “It seems like the most logical solution... for you to change me.”

Rosalie sighed. “Bella… Do you remember what I told you about my funeral? About having to watch my family mourn my death? Do you honestly think that you could do that to Charlie? Could you choose to do that?”

My chest clenched, and I knew that she was right; I couldn’t leave my dad. I couldn’t watch him cry over my empty grave, with no body to bury and no knowledge of what had happened to me.

“Look,” Rosalie said, reaching over and taking my hands in hers. “We have plenty of time before you surpass me in age… If, in a few years, you still feel like spending eternal damnation with me, then… I won’t fight you on it. I just want to make sure that you know what you’re getting into. You can still change your mind anytime you like.”

I rolled my eyes, then made sure that she saw me leaning in before kissing her gently on her cold lips. I pulled away, and said, “The odds of that happening are slim to none, but I appreciate the offer.”

Rosalie smirked and rolled her eyes back at me. “If you say so, love.”

She looked out the window back up at the sky, where the sun was still shining brightly despite Alice’s prediction.

“Here.” I said, reaching over her to open the glove compartment, where I kept a collapsible umbrella. She took it gratefully, carefully opening it as the door opened, the way that humans would if it were raining. The precaution may have been a bit much, but it was better to be safe than sorry. The last thing we needed would be for one of my neighbors to see her.

I unlocked the front door and went inside. Dad was coming down the stairs, and his eyebrows rose when he saw us.

“Well, hey there!” He said, smiling and pulling me into a tight hug while Rosalie shut the door behind us. “What’s with the umbrella? It’s gorgeous out there, I was about to go out and work on my bike.”

“I have sensitive skin.” Rosalie lied smoothly, putting the umbrella down by the door while I tried to hold in my laughter at her private joke. “What were you going to do to the bike? It looks like it’s in great condition.”

“Well, thank ya! I was just gonna replace a few rusty parts, they just came in the mail.” He pointed to a few small boxes sitting on the coffee table in the living room. “What are you two up to today?”

“Bella is coming to play baseball with my family.” Rosalie told him, and he blinked in surprise.

Bella?” He asked skeptically, looking back and forth between us. “Playing baseball?”

“I’m refereeing with Esme.” I corrected.

“Oh, good.” He chuckled. “I was gonna say, ya really shouldn’t arm this one with a bat.”

I smacked his arm, and he held his hands up in surrender while Rosalie laughed.

“I’m going up to change, I’ll be down in just a second.” I told Rosalie. She nodded, and I left her downstairs with my dad.

In my room, I changed quickly, pulling on my lumpy green sweater and rolling the sleeves up to my elbows; I could always tie it around my waist if it got too hot, but it was better to be safe than sorry if there was a storm coming like Alice had said. Before I went back downstairs, I took my cactus from the windowsill where I’d left it that morning; I had a heat lamp for it, but I thought it would like some real sunlight while it could get it. I put it back on my desk, where it sat alone for now, since the golden onion had finally rotted to the point where I’d had to throw it away.

De-tangling my hair from the run down the mountain seemed like too much work, so I pulled it back into a messy ponytail. I checked my reflection in the mirror before swapping my regular shoes for my hiking boots and heading back downstairs.

Dad and Rosalie were sitting at the kitchen table, while Rosalie explained to him what her plans were for after high school.

“-chemical engineering is really my top choice, but I suppose I might go into nuclear physics.” She was saying, as he looked at her with a baffled expression on his face.

Wow.” He said, then saw me come in and said, “No wonder your grades have been so good. Your girlfriend’s practically a genius.”

Rosalie laughed. “Thank you, Charlie, that’s very sweet.”

I checked my watch, then glanced across them out the kitchen window; It was cloudy enough to where Rosalie should be able to make it to the car without Dad seeing her ‘sensitive skin.’

“We should probably get going,” I said. “We don’t want to keep them waiting for too long.”

“You guys sure y’all wanna play baseball today?” Dad asked, following my gaze out the window where the cloud cover was slowly returning. “Looks like it’ll get pretty nasty out there later.”

“We’ll be fine, Alice checked the weather channel before we decided.” Rosalie told him, and I glared at her from the corner of my eye, trying not to smile. “It should be just thunder, no rain.”

“Alright, if you’re sure.” He said, shrugging and standing up to grab his tools from under the sink. “Good news for me, I suppose. I can still work on the Harley. Take your umbrella anyway, Bells, just in case- and call me when you’re on your way back and I’ll start makin’ dinner.”

“Okay. Love you, Dad.” I said, grabbing the umbrella while Rosalie opened the door for me.

“Love you, too.” He said, following me out the door and placing a quick kiss on my head before going over to his bike and setting his tools on the ground beside it.

Rosalie and I got into the truck, and I put the umbrella back into the glove compartment and pulled out onto the road.

“We’re going to my house.” Rosalie told me. “We have to run from there, but it won’t be far, I promise. It’s less of a trip that the run to the meadow.”

I nodded, turning onto the highway. I knew the way to her house well by now, having gone over there every other day since I’d met her family. If Rosalie didn’t invite me over first, Alice usually did. She was bubbly and had a million questions for me about being human- following me around the house while we helped Esme in her greenhouse, or did our homework in Carlisle’s study.

Emmett and Jasper would occasionally join us, but Edward was still treating my insertion into his family as a personal insult. He glared at me whenever he was around me, and I knew that he was still trying to read my mind. Part of me wished that he could, just for a moment- so that he could feel how much I didn’t like him either.

I turned onto the unmarked dirt road and drove carefully though the trees. The house came into view, and I saw the rest of the Cullens standing around their cars in the driveway. I parked behind Esme’s van, and shut off the engine. When I got out, I was instantly lifted into my regular bear-hug from Emmett.

“Hey, Bella!” He boomed, setting me carefully back on my feet and smiling down at me. “How are things?”

“Good.” I said, punching his arm lightly the way that I would do with Jacob. Emmett’s arm, however, was a lot harder than Jacob’s, and I winced as my knuckles throbbed lightly at the impact.

Emmett laughed, patting me on the shoulder. He was being careful, but I still nearly sank into the dirt. “Don’t break anything. My sister would kill me.”

“Oh, don’t be dramatic.” Rosalie said, putting her arm around my shoulder and holding my throbbing hand in her cold one. The effect was like an ice pack, and I began to feel better immediately. “I’d only maim you a little bit, just to teach you a lesson.”

“There will be no killing or maiming, settle down.” Esme said sternly, raising an eyebrow and making an ‘I'm-watching-you’ gesture with her fingers.

“Sorry, Ma.” Emmett said.

“Let’s gooo.” Alice said, appearing suddenly at my other side and bouncing up and down so quickly it looked like she was vibrating. “I’ve been practicing my pitching, and we have to get there soon if we want to take advantage of the thunder.”

“Alright, alright.” Carlisle said, swinging a bag of metal bats over his shoulder and carrying a bag of baseballs in his hand. “Go ahead.”

Alice shrieked happily, then darted across the yard toward the river, leaping over it in a graceful arc that made my jaw drop. Jasper was close behind her, followed by Edward and Emmett.

“Ready?” Rosalie asked, holding out her arms for me. I nodded, and she lifted me onto her back as usual. “Eyes closed?”

I nodded against her shoulder, squeezing my eyes shut. She took off, and I could hear Carlisle and Esme following close behind us. When Rosalie jumped over the river, I held my breath and squeezed Rosalie tighter. I barely felt the impact when she hit the ground again, and I relaxed as she ran further into the woods.

The trip was short just like she’d said, and Rosalie set me carefully onto the ground. I opened my eyes and looked around; The clearing was huge, almost a perfect diamond shape. I wondered if it had grown this way naturally, or if they had cut down some of the trees to make it large enough. It was bigger than a regular baseball field, at least five times as big.

Okay,” Emmett said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. “Team up!”

“You got to pick the teams last time.” Edward said, rolling his eyes and smiling at his boyfriend. “Besides, you cheat.”

Emmett pretended to look scandalized. “Well, I’m sure I have no idea what you mean, Mr. Masen.”

“Uh huh, sure you don’t.” Edward smirked, then turned to Jasper. “I think it’s your turn this time, Jaz.”

“Can do.” Jasper said, looking around at everyone. “Okay, it’ll be… Carlisle, Emmett, and Alice, against Edward, Rose, and me.”

“Alice and Edward aren’t allowed to be on the same team.” Rosalie whispered to me. “It’s a real disadvantage for the rest of us.”

I nodded; Going up against a telepath and a clairvoyant hardly seemed fair to the other side.

Carlisle was taking the bag off his shoulder, passing out the bats. Jasper tossed one casually in the air, catching it without effort. Emmett swung his a few times, as if to make sure it worked. He grinned when he saw me watching him, then held out the bat to me.

“Wanna try?” He asked.

I humored him, reaching for the bat even though I knew that I would look stupid.

Rosalie- who was grabbing her own bat- turned and saw me. Her eyes went wide. “Bella, wait-“

But it was too late; I’d already taken the bat from Emmett’s grip. I’d expected it to be light, as hollow steel bats usually were. Instead, my arm was yanked to the ground, where the bat stuck with a dull thud that indicated that it was not hollow at all.

Geez!” I said, trying in vain to pull the bat back up, but not succeeding. Emmett was roaring with laughter, his hands on his stomach and his head tilted back. “What the hell is this made from?”

“Solid titanium…” Rosalie said, coming forward to take it from me. She lifted it easily, holding it out to Emmett with her eyes narrowed. “That could’ve landed on her foot, you know.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Emmett said, trying to stop laughing as he took the bat from her. “I couldn’t help it. I would’ve caught it if it was gonna hurt her, you know that Rose.”

“Why are they solid titanium?” I asked, looking at the bat Rosalie was holding casually over her shoulder.

“If we used plain, hollow steel bats, they would shatter on every hit.” She explained, smirking with a pleased glint in her golden eyes. “We had these made special.”

I processed that for a moment and turned to where Alice and Jasper were debating who got to do the coin toss for the first pitch.

“You always get to do it.” She stuck out her bottom lip slightly and looked up at him with her eyes wide. “It’s my turn.”

“Alright, fine.” Jasper gave in, leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. “But only ‘cause you’re cute, and I love you.”

“I know.” Alice said, smiling and standing on her tip toes to kiss him on the tip of his nose. She turned to us and called, “Emmett!”

Emmett walked over wordlessly, standing beside them and holding out his leg to Alice. I raised an eyebrow, confused.

“Remember, you have to stay still.” Alice told Emmett with her hands on her hips. “You can’t flip on purpose.”

Yeah, yeah.” Emmett said, shaking his leg in front of her impatiently.

Alice grinned, grabbed his ankle, and threw him upward into the sky. I watched in shock as Emmett flew fifty feet into the air, holding his body in a stiff, straight line.

“Heads.” Jasper said, watching Emmett’s body spin as he fell back to the ground. He landed with a dull thud in the dirt, face down.

Tails!” Alice chimed, clapping happily as Emmett stood and dusted himself off. “We pitch first!”

Rosalie laughed at my baffled expression, covering her mouth when she accidentally snorted.

“We had to stop using coins because they would flip them too hard.” Esme explained casually, coming to stand beside me. “Jasper knocked down a private plane once- the quarter they used punctured the hull, and we had to take precautions.”

They were flyin’ too low!” Jasper defended himself, calling across the field so that I could hear him.

Alice was taking her place on the pitcher’s mound, stretching her leg over her head effortlessly. Rosalie squeezed my hand and placed a cold kiss on my cheek. She winked at me before darting over to join Edward and Jasper, who were in the middle of an intense rock paper scissors game to decide who would bat first.

“They play very fast, but I’ll fill you in on what you miss if you need me to.” Esme said, standing next to me and scrolling through her phone while Jasper walked forward and held his bat at the ready. “Just call ‘em as you see ‘em, Bella.”

“Okay.” I said, smiling back at her.

“Alright!” Emmett called, clapping his hands in the air. “Play ball!”

Chapter Text

I immediately understood why they needed the thunder in order to play; The second that Jasper’s heavy bat made contact with the ball, there was a crack like a whip, and a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. The impact from the ball and the clap of thunder that followed blended together, too similar to tell apart. I tried to follow the ball with my eyes, but I lost it immediately. It was too small and much too fast. Before Jasper had even taken a step, Carlisle let out a sharp whistle, holding his hand in the air; He had already caught the ball.

“Out!” Emmett whooped, doing a small celebration dance that finished with a backflip for dramatic flair.

Jasper gave him a rude gesture that earned him a short scolding from Esme, and he got ready for Alice’s next pitch. She kicked her leg high in the air, leaning back to give her throw more momentum. Right after she swung her arm forward, Jasper’s bat connected with the ball again- the sound from the impact making me jump. This time, Jasper took off around the field while Emmett ran after the ball and Carlisle zipped to second base to head him off.

Emmett whistled to Carlisle, throwing what I guessed was the ball- since I could barely see it- back to him. Carlisle jumped nearly ten feet in the air to catch it, but it was too late; Jasper had already slid into home, giving their team their first point. Esme and I clapped, and Jasper gave Rosalie a high five while Edward stepped up to the plate. He raised his bat- and nothing happened. Edward stared at Alice, and Alice stared back. I waited, watching the staring contest curiously.

“She’s trying to catch him by surprise.” Esme explained. “Which is very hard to do, but she’s one of the few people who can manage it.”

Edward’s brow furrowed suddenly, and he winced. Alice’s arm flashed, Edward swung- and he missed.

“Strike one!” Emmett shouted, clapping his hands as Edward hissed and got ready to swing again.

I watched. Alice and Edward stared at each other, both of them smirking. Suddenly, Alice’s arm twitched too fast for me to see. Edward swung, and this time he got a hit. The sound made me jump again, and I tried to follow the ball with my eyes, but I’d already lost it. Before I could see what had happened, Edward had made it back to home base.

Woo!” Emmett called, throwing the ball back to Alice before clapping enthusiastically for Edward. “Good hit, babe!”

“Emmett, you’re on our team!” Alice complained, glaring back at him.

What?” He held his hands up and shrugged, grinning innocently. “It was.”

I laughed at them as Rosalie stepped up to the plate. She gave the bat a few practice swings, then noticed me watching her. She winked and blew me a kiss, and I blushed so brightly that I probably could've been seen from space. She turned her focus back to Alice, tensing while she waited for the pitch.

Alice threw the ball, and Rosalie hit it on the first try. I tried to follow her path around the field, but she was sliding smoothly into home base already before I had looked away. I cheered, jumping up and down and clapping my hands.

I gasped as she suddenly appeared in front of me, grinning from ear to ear.

Enjoying the show?” She asked, pulling one of my hands up to her lips and kissing my knuckles with her golden eyes blazing.

I blushed again, but grinned back up at her and asked, “Are you enjoying showing off?”

Rosalie laughed. “For you? Always.”

Rose!” Edward called impatiently from the outfield, rolling his eyes. “Quit flirting with the human and take third.”

“Oh, shut up!” She called back to him, rolling her eyes back at him and winking at me again before zipping over to third base.

I watched as Jasper wound up his pitch for Carlisle, trying to see if I could manage to follow the ball this time.

“The two of you seem very happy together.” Esme said beside me, smiling serenely while she watched Rosalie crouching on third base.

“We are.” I said, my eyes on Rosalie as well. Carlisle’s bat connected with the ball just as another bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, and I lost track of her when she took off running after it into the woods behind her.

“It's so good to see her enjoying life again.” Esme continued, reaching over and squeezing my hand lightly. “Thank you for that… I felt so guilty for changing her when she didn’t want to be…”

She trailed off, watching Rosalie return out of the woods with the ball, throwing it to Jasper before Carlisle could make it back to home plate.

“She told me about that.” I said, then bit my lip, hesitating for a moment before I asked, “I was just wondering… Why did you change her? Or why did you bring her to Carlisle, anyway?”

Esme smiled. “She looked like my daughter… I couldn’t just leave her there like that.”

“You had a daughter?” I asked, intrigued.

“Yes. Her name was Lily.” Esme’s eyes sparkled. “She was my only child- I did have a boy before her, but… He didn’t live long. Only ten days. Then, I lost her and my wife just after Lily’s thirteenth birthday.”

“I’m so sorry…” I breathed.

“That’s why I jumped off the roof, you know.” She said casually.

I blinked in shock. When I didn't say anything, Esme looked over at me with a sad smile.

“Rose didn’t tell you, did she?” She asked.

I shook my head.

“Would you like to hear the whole story?”

“Only if you want to.” I said quickly, then jumped again as Emmett hit the ball and a loud crack cut through the otherwise silent forest.

Esme chuckled, patting my shoulder reassuringly. “I don’t mind, dear. After all, it does have a happy ending eventually.”

I nodded, sparing a quick glance to watch Edward and Alice bicker about the latest play. I turned my focus back to Esme as she spoke again.

“I was born in Madrid, Spain, in Eighteen Thirty-three.” She said. “I was the only son of a wealthy aristocratic family-“

I blinked at this new information, but didn’t interrupt her.

“-father wanted me to take over for him, but it was clear that I wasn't up to his line of work from an early age.” Esme was saying, keeping her golden eyes on the others as Carlisle called the play and sent Edward and Alice to their places.

“They wanted more children, but they were never successful. My mother stayed home and raised me. She was my best friend, the person I loved most in the world. She gave me a passion for cooking, and so much love that I never felt it’s absence even when she was away. A truly remarkable woman for her time; Headstrong, confident, and no patience for disrespect.”

She chuckled quietly to herself at the memory of her mother, but her brow furrowed as she continued, “My father worked closely with King Alfonso the Thirteenth. When he got remarried, my father was escorting their carriage. An anarchist threw a bomb, attempting to kill the king and his new bride… Unfortunately, he only managed to kill my father and twenty-three others. Nearly a hundred more were wounded, and the monarchs were unharmed.

“I was twenty-three at the time, and my mother was devastated. I suggested to her that we leave Spain for America to start a new life, and eventually she agreed- Stop arguing, both of you!” Esme’s story was interrupted briefly so that she could break up a disagreement between Emmett and Jasper, then returned to my side and continued as if nothing had happened. “We arrived in Rhode Island, but traveled farther inland to Chicago, where I met a lovely woman who helped secure me a job as a chef at her family’s hotel and restaurant.”

Esme smiled and sighed deeply. “We fell in love quickly, and I proposed within the year. My mother was delighted; She threw us the most lavish wedding that we could afford, and played hostess for the entire night. She even helped sew my wife’s dress, and we cooked the entire menu ourselves with the help of my new in-laws. I ended up taking my wife's last name, as she was their only child, and they were leaving her the business. It meant so much to them, so I decided to give it to them as a sort of wedding gift.”

I smiled. It seemed like Esme had always been generous by nature. I wondered idly if there was anything about her that wasn’t perfect.

“Our son was born almost a year later, but, as you know…” Esme sighed. “He didn’t make it long. It was a difficult pregnancy for her, and the loss of the baby she’d tried so hard to bring into the world made it even harder… Still, she was remarkably resilient. She wanted to try again almost immediately, as we both wanted a child so badly. Luckily, we succeeded the second time, and we were blessed with Lily. My wife wanted more children, but I didn’t want to take the risk. She had almost died giving birth to our daughter, and I couldn’t stand it if she wasn’t there to raise her by my side.”

Esme twirled her hair absently, grinning at something that she was remembering. “I loved my wife and daughter very much, but I always felt… off. I never had an explanation for it, but it became clearer as I got older. I dressed my daughter in her fancy dresses, helped my wife fix her hair before we went out- and all the while I was consumed by what I could only label as jealousy, though I had no idea why I felt that way.

“One day, while my wife and daughter were out, I decided to try something.” Esme was smiling wider, her golden eyes sparkling like Rosalie’s did when she was excited about something. “I tried on one of my wife’s dresses… When I looked in the mirror, I had never felt more like myself.”

I grinned as I pictured her twirling happily in her bedroom mirror, laughing with glee as she admired her reflection.

“Then, my mother walked in.” She said, and I tensed up in fear for the younger Esme. “She lived with us, since her health was starting to decline… I just stood there, frozen. She didn’t say anything at first… Then she asked if she could do my makeup for me.”

I blinked. “That’s it?”

“That was it.” Esme shrugged. “When she was finished, she told me that she loved me, and that she would keep my secret from Lily and my wife as long as I wished.”

My chest tightened with unwanted jealousy; Esme’s mother- in the early Nineteen-Hundreds- had been able to accept her daughter unconditionally, no matter who she was or who she loved. Renee, somehow, couldn’t find it in herself to manage it. The thought made hot tears spring to my eyes, and I wiped them away quickly with the sleeve of my sweater.

Esme either didn’t notice- or pretended not to- and she continued, “She died a year later… I kept my secret for a few more years until I finally told them; Lily was thirteen, so I thought that she was grown enough to handle the news.”

“Did they take it as well as your mother did?” I asked her.

“Yes, both of them did.” Esme said. “Lily had some questions, but she was fine with it once she understood. Once I had assured my wife that my gender had absolutely no affect on the love I felt for her, and that I would never leave her or Lily, she was too. Of course, it had to remain a secret from the public… Still, it made it much easier, being able to be myself at home.”

“So, if they all took it so well, why did you jump off a roof?” I asked, not understanding where it had all gone wrong.

Esme sighed. “It was two weeks after I came out to them… I was working late, doing inventory and making a list of ingredients to pick up the next morning. My wife had taken Lily out to a movie, and I lost track of the time… I didn’t meet them at the theatre to walk them home.”

My chest tightened. “Were they… hurt… the same way Rosalie was?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that.” Esme shook her head. “It was an accident… It was Nineteen Twenty-One, the beginning of the Prohibition era… They were killed in a hit and run by a drunk driver… A witness alerted the authorities and tried to save them, but… they were already gone before they got to the hospital.”

“I’m so sorry…” I said quietly.

Esme nodded, then said, “I went numb when I got to the hospital and the doctor told me that they were dead… They said that it was best if I didn’t see them, if I remembered them as they were. I was in a daze, and the next thing I knew, I was standing on the roof of the hospital. I closed my eyes and let myself fall off… I was so desperate to join them…”

I winced, not wanting to think about Esme’s body hitting the hard ground.

“Carlisle had been outside, pretending to smoke a cigarette.” Esme said. “My blood appealed to him in the same way that yours appeals to Rosalie. He was very good at resistance by then, but the sheer amount of my blood on the ground was too much for him... He had met another before me that had appealed to him in the same way, but they'd never bled in front of him… He bit me, but managed to stop himself before he drained me completely.

“He felt so guilty,” Esme crooned, gazing lovingly at her husband while he took his turn at home plate. “After losing his own son, he knew exactly how I felt when I fell from that roof… He didn’t tell you this last time, but he tried to destroy himself many times after Gabriel and Peter died. He even asked the Volturi to destroy him… He didn’t want to live in a world where they didn’t exist, but Aro convinced him to stay with them, in the end. He was fascinated by Carlisle’s diet, as you know; He kept him around for amusement, almost like an experiment.”

I shuddered; The more I heard about these Volturi, the less I liked them.

“But you forgave Carlisle for turning you eventually. Why?” I asked, quickly changing the subject.

Esme grinned. “Yes, I did… As I said, he felt extremely guilty. As soon as he’d regained control of himself, he called Edward- who was posing as his younger brother at the time- and he helped get me back to their home unnoticed. While I was writhing from the pain of the transformation, he never left my side. He held my hand as my bones healed, comforted me as I screamed, all the while apologizing for what he had done, even as I cursed him for causing my suffering, for not letting me be with my wife and Lily, and my mother.

“But when my pain finally ended,” Esme breathed. “I yelled at him… But my voice was different. I noticed that I was much shorter than he was, though I had been nearly six feet tall. Carlisle just stared at me. I asked him what was wrong, but he just pointed to the mirror.

“When I looked, I saw what had happened; I looked the way that I had always wanted to look. My body had aligned with who I was in my head, and the elation that I felt made me start crying- I had my wife’s hair, my mother’s nose and cheekbones, and even though I had lost the brown eyes that Lily as I had shared, I still had her smile… I had pieces of them to carry with me, small reminders of them that would never die, never fade away like my human memories eventually would.

“It was then that I realized that neither Lily or my wife would’ve wanted me to die too… They would’ve wanted me to move on. Carlisle had given me the chance to do that.”

Esme grinned as she watched Carlisle dart across the field. “I told him that he was completely forgiven. I gave myself a new name, since my old one didn’t really fit me anymore… My mother’s name was Esmerelda. My wife’s name was Anne. I thought that it would be nice, taking their names with me as well, now that I resembled them.”

I wondered why she hadn't taken her daughter's name too- and then I remembered the large space in the back of her greenhouse that was dedicated to one, specific flower; Lilies. My heart ached for her, but something else was bothering me, and I had to ask her.

“But how?” I asked, staring at her in amazement. “How did your transformation change you that much?”

Esme shrugged. “We don’t know… Carlisle has tried to study our venom, but it doesn’t appear under a microscope no matter how far you zoom in. There’s no way to test it either without doing human trials, which we won’t do. He has a theory that it’s a similar phenomenon to the one that gives some of us additional abilities. The venom reacts to our minds as well as our bodies, amplifying our strongest traits- or in my case, granting my deepest desire.”

“What’s your theory?” I asked.

She considered that, gazing off into the distance and twirling her hair around her finger. “The only thing that I was thinking while I was changing- aside from cursing Carlisle… was that I wished that I could see their faces one last time before I died… I think that the venom gave me my wish as best it could.”

I was so focused on Esme’s answer that the next clap of thunder didn’t even make me flinch.

“Carlisle and I fell in love over time, of course.” Esme went on, grinning back at her husband. “You can only pose as husband and wife for so long before you develop feelings for someone. He proposed to me in the Spring of Nineteen Thirty, and we had a short honeymoon before settling in New York.”

“Where you found Rosalie.” I said.

Esme nodded.

Before she could say anything else, there was a sharp screeching- like metal scraping against metal- and a loud shout from Emmett. I whipped my head around to see what had happened, and gagged when I saw the cause of his outburst; Emmett’s arm had been torn off at the shoulder. The torn muscles and ligaments poking out of the side of his torso were stiff, sticking out at sickening angles. Beside him, Jasper and Alice were roaring with laughter, Jasper holding Emmett’s missing arm like a bat over his shoulder.

Jasper!” Esme scolded, narrowing her eyes and putting her hands on her hips. “Give Emmett his arm back, now.”

What?” Jasper flipped the dismembered arm in the air, and I shuddered. “He said he could beat us with one arm tied behind his back- We don’t have a strong enough rope, so this is a compromise.”

“Jasper Whitlock, do not make me come over there.” Esme threatened.

Jasper groaned, then held Emmett’s arm out and pressed it back where he’d torn it from. I watched, trying not to puke as the muscles fused back together, pulling the wound shut. Emmett gave his newly returned arm a few swings, rotating his neck as the skin sealed.

Rosalie appeared at my side, placing one hand on my cheek and looking at me with concern in her golden eyes.

Sorry about that…” She said, watching me closely. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, I just wasn’t expecting that.” I said, swallowing and trying to recover from the shock of seeing an entire arm come off in front of me.

Rosalie glared over her shoulder at where Jasper and Alice were still laughing. “Really, guys? In front of Bella?”

Oh!” Alice’s eyes widened for a moment, then she giggled and said, “Sorry, Bella!”

Emmett and Jasper apologized as well, then went back to resetting the play, pushing each other playfully as they walked. Rosalie chuckled and pressed her lips to my head, turned to join them- and then she froze.

Rosalie?” I asked, grabbing her hand. “What’s wrong?”

I followed her gaze to where Alice was standing; She hadn’t moved back into position like Emmett and Jasper had. She was staring at the ground with her eyes wide and unfocused, with a horrified expression on her face.

Alice?” I called, instinctively running over to her with Rosalie following close behind me. I reached her, putting my hands on her shoulders and trying to get her attention. I was used to her zoning out sometimes because of her visions, but I’d never seen one scare her like this. “What is it?”

Across the field, I heard Edward curse- and then he was at our side, moving one of my hands out of the way a little too roughly and turning Alice to face him. He shook her gently, and she blinked, returning from wherever her vision had taken her. The two of them stared at each other for a moment before Rosalie hissed impatiently.

“Will one of you say something, please?!” She snapped. “What’s going on?”

Edward looked up at her, his eyes shifting to me for a split second before he said, “We were heard. There are others coming.”

Rosalie tensed, and she pulled me closer to her side with her head whipping around to scan the surrounding trees.

“You don’t have the time.” Edward said, answering whatever thought she had not expressed out loud. “If you run with her, and they catch her scent-“

“What’s happening?” Carlisle said, appearing next to Edward and placing a hand on his shoulder. The others surrounded us, all of them staring back and forth between Edward and Alice.

“Another coven heard us playing.” Alice said quietly. “They want to join in… They’ll be here in forty-two seconds.”

All eyes turned to me. I stood there, not breathing, waiting for someone to explain to me what the plan was.

“I’ll do what I can to keep things calm.” Jasper said, touching Rosalie’s arm. “She’ll be alright, Rose. They won’t touch her. If I do it right, they won’t even notice her.”

“I need to get her out of here.” Rosalie hissed, her arm tightening around my shoulder.

“You heard Alice.” Jasper said gently, his brow furrowed. “We don’t have the time.”

“We have to keep playing.” Carlisle said, glancing around at the trees. “If we stop, they’ll be suspicious. The storm is barely halfway over.”

“Mom, will you take my place?” Rosalie asked Esme.

She nodded, giving both of our hands a squeeze before leading the others back to the pitch.

The game continued, but it was not nearly as carefree as it had been. The same tense expression was reflected on every face, and Rosalie held me tight to her side.

“More vampires are coming.” I said quietly.

She nodded.

“They aren’t… like you, are they?” I asked, my heartrate increasing.

“Calm down, love.” Rosalie wrapped her other arm around me, pulling me into her chest. “I’ll destroy every single one of them before they lay a finger on you.”

She reached up, pulling my ponytail out from my still-tangled hair.

“Keep your hair down.” She whispered. I could tell that she was trying to stay calm, but I heard her voice shake slightly. “Keep your breathing even, and as quiet as possible… With any luck, our scents will overpower yours, and we’ll be able to get away unnoticed.”

I nodded, taking a deep breath and watching the tree-line. As I was scanning back to the left side, my blood froze in my veins, and I held my breath; Three figures were standing at the edge of the woods, watching the rest of the Cullens as they stopped their game to acknowledge the newcomers- their bright red eyes glowing in the shadows.

Chapter Text

I watched as the three figures that had appeared in the field stood like statues by the tree line, waiting for the rest of the Cullens to finish the play. They didn’t seem hostile to me, just curious, their eyes darting back and forth as they tracked the ball. Still, I stood halfway hidden behind Rosalie, clinging tight to her arm. After Jasper got one final home run, Carlisle and Esme went to welcome them while the others crowded around me and Rosalie, shielding me from view.

“Hello.” Carlisle greeted, raising a hand and waving at the new arrivals.

The one in the middle- a tall, dark-skinned man with long braids in his hair that fell to his waist- stepped forward and waved back at him. “Hello there! My apologies, we did not mean to alarm you. I am Laurent. This is James, and Victoria.”

He gestured to the two other vampires that had hung back behind him. The other man- James- was shorter than Laurent, with unkempt sandy blonde hair and sharp features. The woman- Victoria- was the smallest of the three, with bright red curly hair that stood out sharply against the green of the trees. I noticed that she was almost as beautiful as Rosalie, and she had a cherub-like face that made her look more innocent than she probably was. The two of them were exchanging wary, darting glances as Laurent and Carlisle exchanged introductions.

“It’s lovely to meet you.” Esme said politely. “I’m Esme, this is my husband Carlisle, and the rest of our coven; Edward, Emmett, Jasper, Alice, Rosalie, and Bella.”

I blinked in shock at being included, but I supposed that it would be suspicious if they ignored my presence. I tried to keep my breaths shallow like Rosalie had said, squeezing her hand while she rubbed soothing circles on the back on mine with her thumb.

“So many of you.” Laurent said, looking over at the rest of us curiously.

“We maintain a semi-permanent residence nearby.” Carlisle explained. “A large estate we built ourselves.”

Permanent?” Laurent asked, raising an eyebrow. “Do the humans in the area not suspect you?”

“Not at all.” Carlisle shook his head. “We live among them. Camouflage is much easier than finding somewhere to hide a large group such as ours.”

“Among them?” Laurent repeated. “How unusual.”

Carlisle chuckled. “Yes, we get that quite a lot, as you can imagine.”

Laurent laughed with him, then said, “Well, Carlisle, we were hoping that you might need a few more players… What do you say? One quick game, and we’ll be out of your hair.”

Carlisle glanced back at us for a moment, then turned back to him and said, “Sure- A few of us were just leaving, you can take their places.”

Alice and Jasper skipped forward onto the pitch, and James and Victoria joined them while Laurent continued to banter casually with Carlisle and Esme. Edward hung back, glancing between Emmett and Rosalie.

“Go.” Emmett said, giving his hand a squeeze. “I’ll take them back home.”

He nodded, but his forehead was still creased with stress as he went to join the others out on the pitch.

My relief at our luck started to sink in as Emmett and Rosalie stood on either side of me, turning to lead me back to the river. I looked back to watch the others before we left, and I noticed that the red-haired woman was watching me curiously with her eyes narrowed; Whatever Jasper had been doing to make me unnoticeable, it had stopped working. My stomach sank when her red eyes widened, as she realized that I was not like the rest of them.

There was a violent snarl from beside me, and I was pulled behind Rosalie while Emmett covered me from behind. Victoria and James were suddenly right in front of us, crouching in front of Rosalie and growling viciously. I stood as still as I could, completely frozen as the rest of the Cullens surrounded us. Laurent put himself between them and the rest of his coven, holding his arms out to both groups with a panicked expression in his crimson eyes.

Victoria!” He scolded, glaring down at her. “Is that any way to treat our hosts?”

He turned to look at me, not the same way the other two did- like they were desperate to sink their teeth into my neck- but like he was interested, his head tilted to one side and one eyebrow raised.

“You bring… snacks to your games?” He asked, and I shuddered at his implication.

Rosalie snarled at him, and I put a hand on her arm like I was planning on holding her back- not that I could, but the thought of her getting closer to any of these other vampires made me anxious.

“Bella is my daughter’s friend.” Carlisle told him, standing protectively in front of the whole group. “We have no intention of feeding on her, neither tonight nor in the future.”

Laurent looked baffled. Behind him, James looked disgusted. Victoria’s eyes were darting between me and Rosalie, her thin lips curling into a slight smirk the longer she watched us. I clung to Rosalie, and Emmett put one large hand on my back, hissing protectively at Victoria.

“How unusual…” He whispered to himself, then glared back at Victoria and James. “We should go now- We’ve intruded on our new friends long enough.”

James pulled reluctantly out of his crouch- but Victoria stayed where she was, her crimson eyes still fixated on my face.

Victoria.” Laurent said, inserting more authority into his tone.

Victoria snapped upright and grinned at Rosalie, who hissed back at her. She spared me another searching look before darting off into the woods, with James following close behind her.

Laurent looked sheepishly back at Carlisle. “I must apologize again… I’m afraid that my traveling companions don’t make the most gracious of guests.”

“No harm done.” Carlisle told him, reaching forward and shaking his hand. “If you would do me one small favor and refrain from hunting until you hit the Canadian border, we would greatly appreciate it.”

“Of course.” Laurent nodded, then zipped off after the other two.

I sighed in relief, letting my forehead fall into Rosalie’s back.

“We have a problem.” Edward said, and my stomach sank, my relief vanishing.

“What do you mean?” Rosalie asked anxiously, reaching one arm back for me. I squeezed her hand tighter, linking our fingers together. “They left-“

“That woman,” Edward interrupted, his voice tense. “She’s a tracker, Rosalie.”

Rosalie froze. She looked down at me with a horrified expression.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart hammering loudly in my chest. “What’s a tracker?”

“We should move.” Jasper said, looking at the place where Laurent and the others had vanished. “If she circles back-“

I gasped as Rosalie swept me onto her back. I closed my eyes instinctively, burying my face in her shoulder as she ran off into the woods. I could hear the rest of the Cullens running around us, and felt the weightlessness of the leap over the river in front of the house. When Rosalie finally put me back on my feet, we were standing in the living room.

“What do we do?” Rosalie asked, glancing back and forth between Edward and Alice, who were sitting on the couch having a silent conversation that none of the rest of us were a part of.

“Edward,” Carlisle said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “What did you get from her? Did she think about a plan of action?”

Edward shook his head, his eyes still on Alice. “She was triggered by Rosalie being so protective… She likes a challenge. She’s very determined. I don’t think that she’ll stop unless she’s stopped.”

“She was so violent.” Jasper noted. “So sadistic… This isn’t good, Dad.”

“What do we do?” Rosalie asked again impatiently, the hand that was holding mine shaking uncontrollably. I squeezed it to try to calm her down, using my other hand to reach up and push a strand of hair from her face. She grabbed it and held it to her lips, closing her eyes and breathing deeply.

“She hasn’t made a decision yet…” Alice said, shaking her head as the vision cleared. “I can’t see any specifics- but she is coming after Bella, for sure.”

“There are three of them and seven of us, how hard can it be to take them out?” Emmett scoffed, rolling his eyes and cracking his knuckles. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a good fight, anyway. Let ‘em come!”

Emmett!” Esme scolded, her eyes narrowed. “We will not risk our family that way.”

“Someone, please, tell me what to do!” Rosalie pleaded, stamping her foot in frustration and leaving an indent in the floor. Esme winced, but didn’t say anything.

“I did tell you what to do!” Edward snarled, glaring up at us from his seat on the couch. “Months ago! I told you not to get involved with a human girl, but you just couldn’t help yourself, and now we have a tracker-“

Enough, Edward!” Carlisle said sternly. “Now is not the time-“

His lecture was cut short by a sharp knock at the door. All of the Cullens were suddenly on their feet, and Rosalie pulled me behind her, shielding me from the door.

Wait,” Edward said, getting up taking a few steps forward with one eyebrow raised. “It’s Laurent… He came alone. He wants to warn us.”

“Are you sure?” Rosalie asked as Edward walked to the door to let Laurent in.

Edward paused to roll his eyes at her. “If he were going to kill us, he wouldn’t have knocked. But if you don’t believe me, the literal mind-reader… Jasper?”

“His intentions are good.” Jasper confirmed.

Rosalie relaxed, and Edward opened the door. Laurent stood there with his hands folded in front of him.

“Hello…” He said tentatively, glancing behind Edward to where Rosalie stood protectively in front of me. “May I come in?”

Edward stood back for him, and he came inside.

“I’ve come to warn you…” He began, confirming what Edward had said. “Victoria intends to hunt the human girl.”

“Her name is Bella.” Rosalie snapped, still looking warily at Laurent like he was bound to attack any moment.

Laurent looked down at me, smiled, and nodded. “It is nice to make your acquaintance, Bella… I apologize for putting your life in jeopardy.”

“How good is Victoria’s tracking ability?” Edward interrupted.

Laurent blinked. “I am guessing that you possess quite the unique talent of your own, don’t you?”

“You could say that.” Edward said, but didn’t elaborate.

“Victoria’s power is like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Laurent told him. “Unparalleled. Not even Demetri can track someone faster than she can. She’s incredibly cunning. She often brags that she’s never lost a target.”

“And James?” Carlisle asked. “Will he hunt with her?”

“I have no doubt.” Laurent nodded. “They have an… interesting relationship… She’s much more sadistic than he is, but he indulges her to keep her happy. They’re deeply devoted to one another from what I’ve seen.”

“That makes our odds even better- Two against seven.” Emmett grinned, earning himself an irritated hiss from Rosalie.

Laurent shook his head. “You shouldn’t underestimate them. James has his own ability as well; An enhanced sense of self-preservation. He has a talent for knowing which paths to avoid, what decisions may lead him towards danger, and how to avoid them. He will be able to anticipate every move you plan to make against them. If you are to beat them, you will have to act quickly… I’ve only been traveling with them for a decade, but I have never seen a pair more lethal in my eight hundred years.”

“Thank you, Laurent.” Carlisle said, holding out his hand. Laurent took it, and they shook hands. “If you’d like somewhere to lie low for a while… There’s another coven like us in Denali. I could call ahead and tell them to expect you, if you’d like.”

Laurent smiled. “Like you? With your unusual customs?”

Carlisle nodded. “As well as our unusual diet… If you do go to them, it may be something you have to adapt to.”

Ah.” Laurent sighed, grinning and looking closer at Carlisle’s face, at the bright golden eyes that were much different from his crimson ones. “I thought that might be it… I appreciate your offer, and I’ll gladly take you up on it.”

“Thank you for the warning, Laurent.” Esme said, shaking his hand as well.

“It was the least I could do…” He said, smiling apologetically. “It was my idea to stop, you see… I would act now. They’re already tracking Bella’s scent.”

Carlisle gave Laurent directions up North, and texted someone named Eleazar to let them know that he was on his way. He bid us all one final farewell before darting out the door and over the river.

Alright,” Emmett said, rubbing his hands together a little too eagerly. “What’s the plan?”

“We have to get Bella as far from here as possible.” Rosalie said.

I blinked in confusion and looked up at her. “What? What are you talking about? I can’t just leave, what will my dad-“

I stopped talking mid-sentence, my heart dropping out of my chest and onto the floor; My dad. Laurent had said that James and Victoria had already started tracking my scent. If they followed my scent, they would go to my house. If they went to my house

“Oh my god, my dad!” I shouted, my heart jumping back up to my throat and starting to beat in double-time. I grabbed Rosalie’s hand, looking pleadingly up into her eyes. “I have to get home! If Victoria goes to my house-“

“Bella, you can’t go home!” Rosalie argued, pleading with me in equal desperation. “They’ll be expecting that. They might leave Charlie alone, it’s just you they’re after-“

“Might.” I emphasized. “Might leave him alone. I can’t take that risk, Rosalie, I can’t!”

“And I can’t risk you if it ends up being a trap!” She said, holding my hands in hers.

“Bella is right.” Alice interrupted, and we both turned to look at her, Rosalie looking a little betrayed. “If she disappears without letting her father know, he’ll panic. The police will be involved, and as she will be last known to be with us-“

“We’ve faced that kind of trouble before.” Rosalie waved her hand absently.

“Not like this.” Alice shook her head sadly. “Bella is the daughter of beloved, small-town Fire Captain. If we take the course of action you’re insisting upon in your mind, the case will make national news… The Volturi might step in, and all the work we did to keep Bella safe will all have been for nothing.”

Rosalie growled in frustration.

“Look,” I said, reaching up to cup her face in my hands. “I need to go home- no, listen.”

She had been about to interrupt me, but she bit her lip and waited for me to continue.

“I have to at least go home so that he can see that I’m okay.” I explained slowly. “Then, I can make some kind of excuse to leave- or wait until he goes to bed and then sneak out. That way your family won’t be implicated.”

Huh,” Emmett grinned, crossing his arms and leaning back on the wall. “Not bad.”

“How will you get away once you get back home?” Rosalie asked, raising an eyebrow. “You won’t have the time to wait until he falls asleep so that you can sneak back out. Victoria and James could be anywhere.”

“You can wait with me. Sneak into my window once I get inside.” I said.

“That won’t work either.” Alice said, staring dreamily into the space where Carlisle’s elbow was. “If she pretends to run away, the first thing he’ll do is call Carlisle and Esme, to check if she’s with you- It results in the same issue.”

Rosalie groaned, and I looked down at the floor, biting my lip and thinking hard. Alice was right; I would need to come up with an excuse that would get him to let me leave, on a school night, for an undetermined amount of time- possibly days- until Victoria and James were dealt with.

“How much time do we need?” I asked Alice. “How long do you think it will take to… stop them?”

“A day or two, at least.” Carlisle answered my question for Alice, who was still staring intently at the opposite wall. “Esme and I will stay behind and guard Charlie- We’ll go to him now, to make sure Victoria isn’t there.”

Thank you…” I breathed, relaxing slightly.

Carlisle stepped forward and put his hands on Rosalie’s shoulders. “Everything will be okay. We’re going to fix this, I promise.”

Rosalie nodded. Carlisle pressed his lips to the top of her head before Esme stood on her tip-toes to do the same, and then they both vanished out the door in the direction of my house.

“Alright,” Rosalie said, squaring her shoulders and turning to the rest of her family. “We need a plan.”

We?” Scoffed Edward, rolling his eyes and sneering at me. “You’re the one-“

“Ed, chill.” Emmett said, nudging Edward with his foot. “Either be helpful, or go pack a go-bag for Rose.”

Edward zipped upstairs without another word, and I stood in the center of the room with my face and ears burning with guilt. For once, I understood why Edward was angry with me; This was the exact thing that he had feared would happen from the beginning. My involvement with Rosalie had led to his entire family under threat from all sides. James and Victoria wouldn’t have gone on the attack if I had never been in that baseball field. They wouldn’t be having to risk their lives for me, the meddling human whose fault this all was.

“We need to think of somethin’ her dad won’t be able to say no to.” Jasper said, rubbing Alice’s back in gentle circles as she finally pulled out of her vision. “Any suggestions?”

“Romantic road-trip?” Emmett said.

“Too simple, he’d just tell me to wait for the weekend.” I said.

Not if the road-trip had a secondary purpose.” Alice chimed in, pulling out her phone and typing furiously. “Maybe there’s a concert in Montreal we could say that you’re going to-“

Montreal?” I asked, one eyebrow raised.

She shrugged. “It needs to be far enough away to warrant being gone for several days. Besides, if Victoria or James happens to overhear your excuse, it can also work as a decoy if they fall for it too. Then, a few of us can take you somewhere in the opposite direction we say you're going, and the rest of us can hunt down Victoria.”

I nodded, starting to wrap my head around that part of the plan, although lying to my dad made me uncomfortable. I glanced down at my watch, feeling sick at the time we had spent discussing our options instead of doing something. “I’ll make something up on the way there, we have to go, now.”

“Bella, we can’t just charge off without a plan.” Rosalie said, and I could tell that she was trying very hard to keep her voice even.

“I’ll think of something but please, I need to go home.” I begged her. “I’ll do my best at trying to get him to let me leave and if it doesn’t work, I’ll climb right out my window and we can run, okay?”

Rosalie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay, fine. I’ll drive, you focus on finding a reasonable excuse. Emmett, Jasper, could you run behind us and make sure we aren’t being followed?”

Emmett and Jasper nodded.

“What do I do?” Alice asked, standing up and darting to my side.

“Go upstairs and find some of Esme’s clothes for Bella to put on.” Rosalie instructed. “I’ll bring her back here after we get away from Charlie, and Esme’s clothes should help to mask her scent.”

Alice nodded, then wrapped her arms around my waist and hugged me tightly before vanishing up the stairs.

Rosalie held tight to my hand and kept her head on a swivel on the way to the truck, and made me slide to the passenger seat from the driver’s side for extra measure. She pulled onto the road, where I had to immediately remind her about my truck’s internal speed limit so that she didn't flood the engine. She slowed down, but her nervous glances out the window doubled in frequency.

My mind raced as I tried desperately to think of something that would get me back out of the house once I had gotten inside. I knew that Dad would ask a million questions no matter what I told him, so I had to be prepared to lie through my teeth more than once. I would need to be very, very convincing.

I glanced at my keys dangling from the ignition, at the tiny plastic firetruck swinging back and forth as we drove. My chest ached. I didn't know how I was going to pull this off. Still, I pushed my guilt down and pulled out my phone to look up ticket times so that it wouldn’t be immediately obvious to him that I was lying once he did a google search.

One result of my search caught my eye, and I thought for a moment; The play had just come out. It was all the way in New York City, so it warranted a long drive there and back- the perfect cover for being gone for a few days. Supposedly, it was very hard to get tickets to see it… But, if Carlisle and Esme had surprised us with tickets they had bought before they sold out, it might make my dad feel obligated enough to let me go. After all, my grades had been very good, and we were mostly doing exam review in class now. I wouldn’t miss anything, as far as he knew.

Please tell me you’ve thought of something.” Rosalie asked, putting my truck into park and shutting off the engine once we were parked behind Charlie’s bike.

“I did.” I said, taking my keys from her and holding the tiny plastic firetruck in my hands while my stomach did uncomfortable flips. When I looked around at the darkening forest surrounding the house, I could see Carlisle and Esme on either side, partially hidden behind the trees. It made me relax a bit, knowing that they were there.

“Care to fill me in?” She asked.

“No.” I said, shaking my head. “There’s no time. Just follow my lead. Do your best to look excited, okay?”

Rosalie looked confused, but nodded in agreement. I slid out the driver’s side door after her, and we walked hand-in-hand up the porch steps.

Chapter Text

Dad!” I called out as soon as I’d opened the door. I did my best to use my anxiety to make myself sound excited, instead of terrified out of my mind.

Apparently I hadn’t succeeded, since he came thundering down the stairs with half of his face shaved and a towel tucked into the neck of his shirt, still holding his razor in his hand. “Bells? What’s wrong?”

Nothing!” I lied, trying to smile and cover for my mistake. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, it’s just that I have to ask you something really important…”

He breathed a sigh of relief, rolling his eyes and placing one hand on his chest. “Jesus, Bella, you almost gave me a heart attack. What’s up?”

I bit my lip as I prepared to lie more than I ever had in my life. Hopefully, I would at least be halfway decent at it. “Well… While Esme and I were refereeing the game, she surprised me with Hamilton tickets for this weekend.”

My dad blinked. From the corner of my eye, I saw Rosalie give me a quick, confused glance- but she didn’t say anything.

Hamilton?” He asked. “Ain’t that real hard to get tickets for?”

“They had a few connections.” Rosalie said, grinning at him and putting an arm around me. I leaned into her, grateful that she had taken over for me. “It was very last minute, otherwise they would’ve asked you first… The thing is, we’d have to leave tonight if we wanted to make it in time… They only got them yesterday, and the showing is all the way in New York.”

New York?!” He let out a shocked laugh, then put his hands on his hips, letting out a low whistle and shaking his head. “That’s a big road trip, honey… Plus it’s a school night, and it’s already gettin’ dark out… I don’t know, Bells- you’ve both got exams soon, don’t cha?”

“We’re only doing review in class.” I told him, my heart hammering in my chest as I tried to sound eager. “We’d be back on Sunday afternoon, and it wouldn’t be that long of a drive- Besides, aren’t you the one who snuck out of the house and went all the way to Florida for your junior year spring break?”

“That was different.” He said. “It was spring break- I wasn’t gonna miss school, even if y’all are only reviewin’.”

“That, and you snuck out,” I pointed out, hoping my obvious desperation was working in my favor. “I at least had the courtesy to ask my dad first.”

“That is a good point, but I don’t think that your truck can make it to New York, Bella…” He was still hesitant- but he hadn’t shot me down yet, which was a good sign.

“We can take my convertible.” Rosalie said in a playfully pleading tone. “The weather is supposed to be lovely, it’ll be so fun- My family and I lived in New York for a while a few years before we came here, and I’d love to show her the city while we’re there.”

Please, Dad?” I asked, deciding to whip out the puppy-dog eyes that I hadn’t used since I was seven or eight. “My grades have been really good, and you said that I could take a day or two off if I wanted a break, remember?”

He groaned and rubbed his face with one hand. “I didn’t exactly mean that ya could run off to New York, but…”

I held my breath as I waited for his answer, watching as his brown eyes flicked between me and Rosalie.

“Okay, fine.” He said, and I exhaled in relief. “You’re sixteen, you’ve always been very responsible, and I suppose a spontaneous teenage road-trip would do ya some good. But you call me every night- Let me know when you check in and check out from whatever hotel you’re staying at on the way there and back-“

“Yes, I promise, thank you, Dad!” I ran forward, throwing my arms around his neck while being careful to not touch the side of his face that was still covered in shaving cream. I was so glad that I hadn’t had to resort to running away in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to imagine what that would’ve done to him.

“You’re welcome, but there’s a lot more rules left, so listen up- You too, Rosalie.” He said.

“Yes, sir.” Rosalie smiled, probably feeling even more relieved than I was.

I let go of him to look him in the eye as he continued, “Do not stop at truck stops, chain gas stations only- they’re more likely to have cameras, it’s safer. As for hotels, same thing, do not stop at any seedy motels, the door to your room needs to be inside the building- and don’t book any of those weird air bb’s or whatever-“

“Air B’n’B?” I asked, smiling despite the stress of the situation.

Whatever,” He waved his hand. “Let’s see, what else… No drinking-“

Dad-“

“I’m coverin’ all my bases, Bells.” He grinned. “Seriously, just be safe… You’ve always been a smart kid, and I trust your judgement, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t worry- I’m your dad, that’s my job, and I take it very seriously.”

I got choked up, and covered for it by hugging him again, trying to keep the tears from spilling from my eyes. I tried to keep my voice even when I said, “I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, honey.” He squeezed me tight before letting me go, then looked excitedly back at Rosalie. “Drive very carefully, alright? No Grand Theft Auto.”

“Of course.” She said, laughing casually before turning to me and asking, “Do you need some help packing?”

“Yeah, thanks.” I said.

Dad went up the stairs first, slipping back into the bathroom to finish shaving and shutting the door behind him while Rosalie and I went into my room. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw that there were two people already in there. Thankfully, Rosalie had clapped her hand to my mouth before I could scream, and I realized that it was just Jasper and Emmett.

About time.” Emmett whispered, pulling my duffel bag carefully from the closet and tossing it on the bed.

“What are you two doing up here?” Rosalie whispered back, letting her hand drop away now that I wasn’t going to yell my head off. “Charlie is still awake!”

“The neighbors may have seen us if we stayed out there.” Jasper whispered, shrugging. “There was a family havin’ dinner across the street, their dining room window was open. We’d look suspicious just standin’ outside.”

“Alright, fine, whatever.” Rosalie threw her hands up in defeat, then turned to me and asked, “What do you need to pack?”

I instructed her as she zipped around the room, grabbing my clothes from the dresser and carefully organizing them in the bag much faster than I would’ve been able to. When I heard my dad leave the bathroom and go back downstairs, I rushed in to grab my essentials. I threw them into a smaller go-bag that I gave to Rosalie to put in the duffel.

“Rose…” Jasper whispered, looking out the window with his brow furrowed. “I think I can feel one of them… I can’t tell which one, but they’re circling the property, and they’re annoyed about our guard on the house. Whichever one it is, seeing Carlisle and Esme made them more defiant, more determined…”

My blood ran cold, and Rosalie rubbed my back gently.

“They won’t get to Charlie, Bella, I promise.” She assured me. “Carlisle and Esme have faced much worse than the two of them before.”

“We’ll meet you back at the truck- we’ll lie down in the bed so that we don’t get spotted.” Emmett whispered. Rosalie nodded, and he and Jasper jumped out my open window.

“If only one of them is watching us, where is the other one?” I asked, wondering why they had chosen to split up when they were already so outnumbered.

“I don’t know.” Rosalie shrugged. “But at least if the one watching us makes a mistake, it’ll be a lot easier for us to destroy them without the other one complicating things. Do you have everything you need?”

I looked through the duffel, making sure that I had clothes for four days, my phone charger, and all of my homework and review papers to keep my mind busy while the rest of the Cullens hunted down Victoria and James.

“I think so…” I said, then took a deep breath. “Let’s go, before I break down in front of my dad and ruin the whole plan.”

Rosalie pulled me into her arms, running her fingers through my hair with one hand. “I’m so sorry, Bella… I should never have put you through this.”

I pulled away from her, looking up into her anxious golden eyes. “Don’t apologize- I chose this, I chose you… It’s not anyone’s fault.”

Rosalie smiled slightly, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. For a moment, she looked like she wanted to say something, her lips parting slightly as the words formed on the tip of her tongue… But then she cleared her throat and said, “We should get going now… Whichever one of those monsters is out there, we don’t want them regrouping too early.”

I nodded, letting her carry my bag back down the stairs.

Alrighty, here ya go!” My dad appeared from around the corner from the kitchen, carrying our ancient blue cooler in one hand. He handed it to me with a satisfied grin beneath his bushy mustache. “One Super-Swan Road Trip Special!”

My eyes filled with hot tears again as I looked down at the cooler, knowing exactly what was inside it; Two bottles of water, two glass bottles of Dr. Pepper, a bag of trail mix, at least four veggie wraps, a bar of dark chocolate, a small bag of sour patch kids, a box of Triscuits, and a bag of sliced cheddar cheese. Although we hadn’t gotten to go on a Super-Swan Road Trip in years- since our trip to the Grand Canyon- I was familiar with the formula of the perfect road-snacks.

“Thanks, Dad…” I said, my voice a little thicker than I would’ve liked.

He pulled me into another tight hug, and I buried my face in his chest while I tried not to cry and blow our cover.

“Okay, you two have fun.” He said, clearing his throat and letting me go. He turned to Rosalie, smiling as he said, “You take care of my girl in the big city, okay Rose?”

Rosalie chuckled and said, “I will protect her with my life, Charlie.”

He watched us from the porch while we loaded everything in the truck, and waved as we drove off. I waved back, finally letting the tears flow down my cheeks.

“He’ll be okay, Bella.” Rosalie said, taking my hand and pulling it up to her lips.

I was too distraught to answer, and let myself sob quietly as Rosalie drove. I jumped and almost screamed again when Emmett opened my door while we were still driving, and he and Jasper scooted in next to me. It was a tight fit, and I was smushed between Rosalie and Emmett, trying to make myself as small as possible as I dried my eyes.

“We’ve got this handled, Bella.” Emmett assured me, draping his arm over both me and Rosalie so that I had more room. “Seriously, you have nothing to worry about- I really don’t think we’ll need all four days, to be honest with you. Who knows, maybe you and Rose could really go to New York in a day or two!”

His overconfidence didn’t ease my anxiety, and I tried to focus on taking deep breaths as we drove further into the woods back to the Cullen house. I was considering all the ways our plan could go horribly, horribly wrong- when Jasper spoke up from Emmett’s other side.

“Bella, would you like me to… help?” He asked, leaning forward to look over at me with a noticeable crease in his brow.

“I’m fine.” I lied, letting out a long slow breath. What if I couldn’t come back in four days? What if the hunt for James and Victoria took much longer than Emmett and everyone else assured me it would? What if Victoria never stopped hunting me, and I had to keep running forever? Or, even worse; What if I never came back at all? Would my dad never know what had happened to me?

We pulled up into the Cullen’s driveway, and I saw that Edward was waiting outside. He had a suitcase packed beside him, and he looked- if it was possible- even angrier than before we’d left.

No.” Was the first thing he said when Rosalie stepped out. “No way.”

“Shut up!” She hissed, zipping over and grabbing the suitcase. “We’ll discuss this inside, not out in the open- idiot.”

Edward growled and darted back through the open door. Rosalie put the suitcase in the trunk with the rest of my things, and took my hand as she led me back in the house.

Edward-“ Rosalie hissed, and I could tell that she was trying very hard not to lose her patience with him. “I need Jasper and Alice here, with me. It’s my best chance-“

“What are y’all talkin’ about?” Jasper asked, looking back and forth between the two of them as they bickered.

Rosalie sighed, turning to him and explaining. “I need Edward and Emmett to take Bella somewhere safe… while you and Alice assist me in taking down Victoria and James.”

What?” I asked, reaching forward and instinctively gripping her arm. I had assumed that we would be the ones running off, and that the rest of her family would be the ones taking care of Victoria. “We can’t split up!”

“Bella, it’s safer for you if we do.” Rosalie said, taking both of my hands in hers and looking down at me. “Even after we cover your scent with Esme’s clothes, they may think to follow my scent, assuming that I would never leave your side to hunt them down… Unfortunately for them, I desperately want the pleasure or tearing their heads off myself.”

There was a furious spark in her gold eyes that nearly set them ablaze, but it was gone as soon as it had appeared. She smiled sadly, placing a cold hand on my cheek.

“Please don’t be angry with me…” She begged. “This is our best chance to keep you safe. Please trust me.”

“I do trust you, but…” I said, glancing nervously over at Edward, who was glaring furiously out the window.

“I know.” She said, smirking just a little bit. Then, raising her voice slightly, she said, “He’ll be on his best behavior, or else.”

Emmett laughed, but Edward continued to glare out the window, saying nothing.

“Why do you specifically need Alice and Jasper though?” I asked, hoping that I didn’t sound rude. “Wouldn’t Edward be able to hear them coming?”

“That’s part of why I want him with you, actually.” She explained, chuckling lightly. “So that he can move you if he senses that they’ve found you… I need Alice with me because she will be able to fill me in on their plans as they make them; It will help me get ahead of them, and hopefully we’ll be able to finish this much faster. I want Jasper with me both because he’s my favorite hunting partner, and because he’ll be able to sense the proximity of the others.”

I bit my lip, still unsure about spending extended time with Edward without her, and also about her tracking down the insane vampire duo trying to kill me.

“It’ll be fine.” She assured me. “Like Emmett said, I don’t think we’ll even need all four days.”

Bella!” Alice said, appearing suddenly as she darted down the stairs to my side. “I’ve got a set of clothes laid out for you, come on, we have to hurry!”

She scooped me up easily into her wiry arms and zipped back upstairs. I stumbled from the vertigo for a moment when she set me back down, and she held my hands as I regained my balance.

“Sorry, I should’ve warned you.” She said, then pointed to the outfit laid out on the large white bed in the huge bedroom she had taken me to. “I tried to get something comfortable, since you have such a long drive… Is it okay?”

It was a pair of black leggings, and a plain white t-shirt that looked like it was one of Carlisle’s undershirts. A lot more basic than I was expecting from the fashion-forward Alice, but I appreciated it. I was worried that I might be going on the run in a ball gown and heels, since she had the chance to choose my clothes.

“It’s perfect.” I said, carefully slipping off my green sweater and jeans and pulling on the new outfit. Esme and I were roughly the same size, and Carlisle’s shirt was just large enough to be comfortable without being too slouchy.

“Good.” Alice said, beaming for a second before her brow furrowed. “I wish I was going with you…”

“I wish you were going with me, too.” My stomach tangled in knots while I thought of her hunting Victoria and James with Rosalie and Jasper, and I shuddered. I knew that she would be in very little danger, but the image of her- tiny and fragile looking- going up against the wild woman and her partner made me nauseous. “Be careful, okay? I don’t know what I’d do with myself if any of you got hurt…”

“I’ll be okay.” She said, smiling up at me before wrapping her arms around my waist. “You’ll be careful too, right? You are the human one, after all.”

I laughed, hugging her back tightly and resting my chin on her short black hair. “Yeah, I’ll be careful.”

We stood like that for a moment longer, and then Alice asked, “Going down?”

I nodded, clinging to her shoulders as she lifted me and darted back down the steps to where the rest of the Cullens were discussing evasive maneuvers. Alice handed Rosalie my sweater, and she took off her own jacket to pull it on over her head.

Okay,” She said, tossing a pair of keys each to Emmett and Jasper. “Jasper, you and Alice take Bella’s scent North. I’ll take her scent East, towards New York- hopefully, they’ll take the bait and split up so that Emmett and Edward can get away with Bella and take her South.”

“Where am I headed?” I asked.

Phoenix.” Rosalie said.

I blinked in shock. “Why?”

“Think about it.” She grinned. “You have no reason to go back there, since Renee and Phil sold their house. It’s familiar territory for you, which will be an advantage since you need to hide. And it’s very sunny and very populated, so the chances of Victoria or James managing to sneak up on you are slim to none- especially when Edward will be able to hear them if they get too close.”

Edward scoffed, smirking snidely but not saying anything.

I nodded. It was a good plan, if it worked.

“Alright, let’s go.” Jasper said, moving toward the front door with Alice close behind him holding my jeans in one hand.

My heart pounded as Rosalie pulled me into her arms. I returned her embrace, burying my head into her shoulder and trying not to cry.

“This will all be over soon, Bella, I promise.” She whispered into my hair. “I’ll come and join you in Phoenix as soon as I can.”

She had to gently pry my arms from around her waist, then brought my hands up to her lips. She kissed each of my knuckles, then leaned in and kissed me briefly before turning away.

Wait!” I said, grabbing her arm before she could get to the door.

She stopped, looking back and waiting for me to say something.

“I-“ I swallowed, then whispered, “I love you…”

Rosalie didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, she was kissing me so passionately that I forgot where I was. I forgot that her family was watching us. I forgot about the imminent danger that we were facing. I forgot everything but her, everything but the feel of her hands in my hair, and the citrus and spice of her perfume. When she finally pulled away from me, she pressed her forehead against mine, breathing deeply and looking into my eyes with a heat that almost made me melt. “Bella Swan, you are my entire life… I love you too, with my whole heart.”

She pressed her lips to my forehead one last time, then went outside with Jasper and Alice, leaving me standing alone in the center of the living room with my head spinning. Emmett came to stand next to me, and we waited as we heard the two cars start up. The first one left, with the other following close behind down the dirt path back onto the highway, where they would separate. After a minute of silence, Edward spoke.

“They took the bait.” He said, looking out the window into the forest. “Just as Alice said… I think Victoria chose to follow Rosalie, and James is following Jaz and Alice. We should move quickly, before they catch on.”

I followed them outside, but they didn’t go to my truck. Instead, Edward pulled his silver Volvo out of the garage.

“I moved your stuff while you were changing.” He said, getting out of the car and holding the back door open without looking at me. “Your truck is very loud and noticeable, and blending is sort of important at the moment.”

I nodded, suddenly too tired to argue with him even though he was dissing my truck. I climbed in the backseat and waited as they got into their seats in the front. As Edward drove away, I looked at the large white house as it vanished behind the trees, at the peaceful valley where- only hours ago- I had stood with my girlfriend and her family, ready to play a completely innocent game of baseball.

Chapter Text

I woke up the next day underneath the thin hotel sheets, shivering and curling into an even tighter ball while the air conditioning unit hummed at full blast. We were already in Phoenix, thanks to Edward’s insane driving that I had been too tired and too upset to criticize. We’d driven through the night, arriving in Phoenix at around ten in the morning. I’d passed out immediately after texting my dad and telling him that we had checked in- but lying about the location, using the map app on my phone to estimate where we would be. I was too drained to even change into my pajamas, only pausing to kick off my shoes and jeans before collapsing on top of the stiff spring mattress.

Rolling over slowly, I grabbed my phone from the side table where Emmett or Edward must have placed it, tugging it gently off the charger. I didn’t even read Renee’s message before I deleted it this time- I was dealing with too much right now to give a damn about what she wanted to say to me.

There were still no texts or calls from Rosalie yet, but I tried not to let that worry me as I read the response from Mike; I’d asked him to cover my upcoming shifts at the last minute, giving him the same excuse that Rosalie and I had given my dad.

8:13PM ‘Damn lol, Hamilton? Lucky. I’ve got your back but you owe me one, Arizona. Next time I wanna take Jess to Paris or something you’re screwed.

I smirked and texted him back.

1:57AM Thanks, California. Enjoy the Eiffel Tower. Bring me a baguette.’

I stared at the time, trying to process how long I had slept. Before my tired brain could work out the math, there was a knock at the door. I sat up, slowly stretching the muscles in my neck and calling, “Come in.”

Emmett opened the door, sticking his head around it cautiously before coming all the way in. He had a large bag of fast food in his hand, and from the size of it there was enough to feed a family of five. I stared at it with my eyes wide.

“Breakfast!” He said triumphantly, holding the huge bag out in front of him. “Well, a really early breakfast, but still.”

I groaned, knowing that getting my sleep schedule back on track after this was going to be a disaster.

“Don’t worry, Rose told me you were a real vegetarian.” Emmett was saying, digging through the bag and piling an obscene amount of food on the bed. He pulled out a sandwich that had been marked with a sticker that said ‘VEGGIE’ in all caps, and a box of curly fries.

“Thanks.” I said, taking them gratefully as my stomach began to rumble. I actually didn’t remember when I had last eaten. The last twenty four hours were a complete blur. I sank my teeth into the hot veggie burger, then glanced curiously at the rest of the food. “Is all of this for you and Edward?”

“Oh, no, just for me.” He said, taking one of the burgers- a double judging by the thickness of it- and eating almost half of it in one huge bite. He swallowed before saying, “Ed doesn’t like fast food.”

I remembered what Rosalie had told me about being able to taste the preservatives in lesser-quality food, and nodded in understanding. “It doesn’t bother you, though?”

Nah.” He said, shoving the rest of the first burger in his mouth and reaching for another. “Food is food- Besides, I can eat all I want and never get full. It’s amazing. You should see my wall of competitive eating trophies.”

I laughed, eating a few fries dipped in ketchup. We ate in silence for a few moments before I bit my lip and asked, “Have you heard from Rosalie yet?”

“No, not yet.” He said, unwrapping a fried chicken sandwich and sinking his teeth into it. He swallowed, then reached into his pocket for his phone. “By the way, she had to ditch her cell- This guy Jimmy, or John-“

“James.” I corrected, trying not to shudder when I pictured him standing hand-in-hand with Victoria.

“Whatever, what’s-his-face.” Emmett said, tipping the box of fries he was holding into his open mouth. He washed it down with a swig of soda, then continued, “Ed picked up that he’s really good with technology. While he was running off to follow Jaz and Alice, he was thinking of hacking our phones. She’s got a burner for now, but she hasn’t called yet, and she won’t risk texting if it’s something important- just in case.”

I nodded. My stomach was doing anxious flips, and I took another bite of the veggie burger hoping that it would help. When we’d finished eating, Emmett took our trash out to the dumpster while I got changed. Once I was in clothes that hadn’t been wrinkled and slept in, I left the bedroom and joined them outside.

Edward was sitting by the window in one of the tacky armchairs, his wireless headphones blaring music in his ears. It was so loud that I could almost hear the lyrics, and I realized that I actually knew the song, and the band; It was one of Phil’s favorites, and mine too since he’d introduced me to them. Edward’s eyes were narrowed while he stared out at the cars below on the highway. I figured that he was still annoyed with me- not that I blamed him this time- so I turned on the TV and sat next to Emmett on the couch. I flipped through the channels for a while, finally landing on a crime drama that I was familiar with, but had never watched. After a few minutes, Emmett stopped scrolling on his phone and joined me in watching, critiquing the plotline while the actors engaged in a shootout on screen.

“I’m just saying, none of this is realistic.” He was saying, grimacing as a bullet ricocheted off of the car the main characters were using as cover. “They would’ve had to reload by now, and their aim is terrible- Blood doesn’t even look like that when someone gets shot.”

I laughed, relaxing into the couch while I listened to him rant for the rest of the forty-two minute runtime. When the next episode started, I asked, “Did anyone check in yet?”

“So impatient.” He teased, but pulled out his phone for me anyway. He scrolled for a few seconds before he said, “No, nothing from Rose yet- Dad said that James was lurking around your house for a while, but it looks like he’s backed off for now. They think he joined back up with Victoria.”

This news did not make me feel better. I shuddered while I imagined the two of them fighting against Jasper, Rosalie, and Alice.

“Don’t worry.” Emmett said, patting my shoulder so that I sank an inch deeper in to the couch. “They won’t get anywhere near you.”

“I’m not worried about me!” I told him, rolling my eyes. I was getting tired of everyone treating me like some scared little kid. “I don’t care what happens to me, I’m worried about them.”

Emmett laughed, and I narrowed my eyes. “Bella, seriously- You have nothing to worry about. They’d never get past Alice, and besides, Jasper could just make them not give a shit when they get close enough to use his power; They’d just stand there while he tore them apart. Hell, even if he didn’t have his power, he could probably take them down by himself. He’s had loads more experience fighting than any of us.”

Still,” I argued, not reassured. “One of them could get hurt. What if James doubles back and hurts Esme or Carlisle? You should’ve just handed me over to Victoria, then none of you-“

“Oh, shut up!” Edward said suddenly, clearly able to hear me over the blaring of his music. He rolled his eyes and sighed deeply, but still didn’t turn around to look at me. “As noble as your sacrifice would’ve been, Bella... I listened to Rosalie’s thoughts for nearly a hundred years, before you came around and made things so much better for her… I would hate to have to listen to her thoughts for the next hundred years if she lost you to those monsters.”

I stared at him. I let the confusion wash over me until it turned to annoyance.

“Help me understand something.” I said slowly, careful to control my tone. “If you think I’m so good for Rosalie- why do you have such a problem with me?”

Edward smirked. “I don’t have a problem with you, actually.”

I scoffed and rolled my eyes, crossing my arms over my chest. “Sure you don’t. Your death-glare every time I enter a room is very welcoming.”

Emmett snorted a laugh, covering his mouth with his hand and trying to disguise his laughter by clearing his throat and switching the channel on the TV.

“It’s the situation, not you in particular.” Edward explained. “Although your immunity to my powers doesn’t help your case… If you were one of us, I wouldn’t mind you at all. Hell, I might actually like you. But your humanity complicates things; There’s the threat of the Volturi finding out about you, but also the more immediate danger that you might die any day- possibly by Rosalie’s own hand- because of your involvement with us. Look at where we are now; Is this ideal for you? Is it romantic, waiting for Rosalie and the others to hunt and kill your assailants? You’re sixteen years old, Bella- You shouldn’t be spending your best years being hunted for sport. Wouldn’t it be easier for you- safer- if you found another human to love, instead of my sister?”

I blinked. “You’re concerned about me?”

He smirked, and actually glanced in my direction when he replied, “That, and if the Volturi found out about you and decided to intervene, they might slaughter us all just to send a message. They’d also kill you- and Charlie too, just to tie up all the loose ends… Besides, who knows who else they might decide would make a nice snack on the way back to Italy?”

I shuddered as I imagined my dad and the other residents of Forks being hunted by the ancient figures in the painting in Carlisle’s study.

“I’m also a little annoyed that I got stuck with babysitting duty, if I'm being honest.” Edward admitted, glaring back out the window. “Again, not because of you- I hate large cities. They’re so loud, and there are so many more minds here than in small towns like Forks. Vampires don’t usually get headaches, but the feeling I get from all of the thoughts being thrown at me from every direction feels worse than any migraine I ever experienced while human.”

For the first time, I felt sympathy for Edward; He was putting himself through so much pain just to keep me safe, and he didn’t even like me that much.

“I’m sorry…” I said.

He shrugged. “It’s not your fault. Rosalie’s plan was well thought out, and I agree with her; This is the safest place for you, for now.”

I went back to watching TV with Emmett, then said, “My answer is no, buy the way.”

No?” He asked, turning to face me for the first time, looking intently into my eyes with a curious expression. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I guess the more accurate answer is, I don’t care.” I corrected. “It might be easier, or safer for me to be with another human, but I don’t care- I love Rosalie. I don’t care that she’s a vampire. I don't care if loving her is dangerous. She's worth it.”

Edward looked me up and down, still looking confused, but with a small smirk in the corner of his mouth. “Well, that’s good to know… However- pardon me for saying it, Bella- I think that makes you very, very stupid.”

“Noted.” I said, unable to help smiling back at him. “I still think you’re just a little bit of an asshole- Not as much, though.”

Noted.” He repeated, smirking and putting his headphones back in.

A sharp ringing made me jump. I looked around for the source, but Emmett’s phone was already at his ear.

“Yeah.” He said, listening to whoever was on the other line as I stared at him and waited. “Okay… Haha, nice- Tell Pops to be careful though.”

He hung up, and I raised my eyebrows at him.

Well?” I asked.

“Everything’s fine.” He grinned, stretching his arms along the back of the couch and leaning back. “You’ll love this- Mom convinced your dad to let her stay with him over the weekend. She told him that she was having the house fumigated for bugs or something- He should be calling you any minute to ask you if she can use your room.”

“Of course she can.” I said, then shook my head and asked, “Wait, but what about Carlisle?”

Emmett hesitated. “He’s joining the others… James vanished.”

My stomach sank. “Vanished? You mean he’s back with Victoria?”

“We don’t think so, Jasper doesn’t feel him with her.” He said, speaking slowly and deliberately, watching me like I was about to explode. “Don’t panic, Alice is watching his decisions- All she sees is him hunched over a computer in the dark. He could be hacking the traffic cams, but we were careful to use as many back roads as we could while we were getting you here.”

I groaned, rubbing my face with my hands. “I’m going to go take a shower, I’ll be right back.”

Emmett nodded, picking up the remote to start flipping through the channels again. I left and went back into the bedroom, grabbing a fresh set of clothes from my duffel bag and answering a text from Angela; She was lamenting to me over having to edit all of Eric’s footage for yearbook, since they were sick with the flu. They had sent Angela all of the raw footage, but some of their files had been corrupted. She was sifting through the mess now, and I shared my sympathies with her to distract myself before tossing my phone on the bed and going to the bathroom to shower.

The hot water helped relax me a little bit, but the harsh pressure of the showerhead made my skin raw and pink. I dabbed at it lightly with the towel, then fished inside my bag of toiletries for my moisturizer. Once I was done making sure that my skin wouldn’t crack in the Arizona heat, I got dressed in a pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt.

I went back out to the bedroom, where I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Emmett sitting on the bed.

God, don’t do that! Announce yourself or something.” I said, then I noticed his expression; His thick eyebrows were knit together, and he was biting his lower lip. “What is it? What happened?”

“Everyone’s fine, don’t panic.” He assured me, holding up his hands. He was holding his phone out to me. “Victoria got away… Alice saw that she was coming to Phoenix, so Rose is getting on a plane to head her off. She’s on the phone for you, she’ll explain.”

I took the phone from him and pressed it to my ear. “Rosalie? Are you okay?”

“I’m alright, love, I promise.” She assured me, and the sound of her voice made me instantly calmer. “Is everything going alright over there? Is Edward behaving?”

“Yes, he is.” I said, grinning slightly as Emmett smirked and rolled his eyes. “For the most part.”

“Good.” Rosalie chuckled, then her tone darkened. “Don’t worry, Bella, I won’t let Victoria come anywhere near you- and no harm will come to Charlie either, as I’m sure Emmett told you. Esme has is handled.”

“He told me.” I said. “That was a good plan she came up with.”

“It was. I hope you don’t mind her using your bedroom for a few days.”

“No, of course not.” I said, then asked. “How soon will you be here? When is your flight leaving?”

“It’s a private jet, so as soon as we get there.” She said. “I’ll see you in a few hours, and then I’ll take you somewhere far away until this is all over.”

I gulped. “What about my dad? How long will we be gone?”

She sighed. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it… We still have a few more days until we have to make up another excuse for Charlie, so for now- just act as if nothing is wrong.”

“Okay.” I said, then bit my lip before whispering into the phone, “I love you…”

“I love you, too. Be safe.”

She hung up, and I handed Emmett’s phone back to him.

Aww.” He teased, making kissy faces up at me.

I blushed and smacked his shoulder, much lighted than the last time I had tried and nearly broken a finger. “Shut up.”

“It’ll be okay.” He said, tucking his phone back in his pocket and rocking back on his heels. “Do you need help packing?”

“No, I’ll be okay.” I said. “I’m just going to work on some homework to kill some time, I can be packed in like two minutes.”

Ugh,” Emmett made a face. “Suit yourself. I only do homework under threat of death- uh, another death, anyway. Let Ed know if you want help though, he’s the nerd.”

I laughed, knowing that I would not ask Edward for help. Mostly because I didn’t need it, but also because he was already enduring one headache because of me. I didn’t want to make it two.

Emmett left me alone in the room, and I heard the volume on the TV increase as Emmett settled on a football game. I sifted through my stuff to get to my books; As much as I wanted to avoid it, I figured that History would make the time go by faster. I dragged out the review sheet and started quizzing myself, and was halfway through the first page when my phone buzzed beside me. I picked it up, and it was another text from Angela, with an audio file attached.

7:09AM Listen with headphones.

Curiously, I dug through the side pocket of my jacket to get to my headphones, untangling them and plugging them into the port on the bottom of my phone. I hit play, expecting to hear a corrupt audio file from the project, or maybe a clip of a song.

A blood-curdling shriek filled my ears, and my heart stopped.

Bella! Help!” Angela was screaming, and I stared at the cracked screen with my eyes wide. “Bella, make him stop, please!

She screamed again, louder this time. I ripped the headphones from my ears, stopping the recording and hitting the call button. As I listened to the line ring, my heart started again, and I could hear it in my ears as it pounded under the stress; If this was a prank, it wasn’t a funny one.

“I thought that might get your attention.” A satisfied male voice answered. “Hello, Isabella Swan.”

“Who-“ I began, but the man interrupted.

“Ah, ah, ah, quietly.” He said, lowering his voice. “Wouldn’t want your bodyguards to overhear, now would we? That would be very bad for Miss Angela here.”

In the background, I heard Angela scream again, and I struggled to be as quiet as I could while I begged frantically, “Please, don’t hurt her! What do you want?”

That’s better.” He said. “Allow me to formally introduce myself. My name is James.”

I had already guessed that, but having it confirmed by the monster himself made the blood freeze in my veins; James had gotten to Angela. I remembered last week when I’d gone over to her house with Lauren and Jess for movie night; He must have followed my scent there, since my dad had been unavailable to him.

“I have a very simple request for you, Isabella.” He crooned. “You see, my Victoria- you’ve met her, the tiny ginger with the cute smile- well, she’s gotten quite interested in you… Exactly why that is, I don’t know- but what she wants, she shall have. It’s imperative that I keep her happy, she’s very important to me, you see.”

I swallowed hard, a lump the size of baseball settling in my throat. My whole body was shaking as I waited for what he was about to say next.

“So, I’ll make you a deal, Miss Swan,” He said. “I want to make a little trade; You, for Miss Webber.”

I heard Angela scream again. “Bella!

Stop it!” I begged, hissing as quietly as I could into the receiver. “Yes, I’ll trade! I’ll do whatever you want, just let her go- please, she has nothing to do with this!”

“Oh, I know that sweetheart.” James chuckled. “That’s why you’re going to do exactly as I tell you. Listen very closely.”

I listened.

“Now, I’m going to stay in Forks with your little friend.” He said, and a shiver ran down my spine. “You are going to ditch your little coven of freaks. You are going to write this phone number down and ditch your cell phone. You will go to a pay phone and call this number back. You will tell me where to send my dear Victoria so that she can meet you, and you will wait for her there. If you tell your friends or your girlfriend anything, and I smell them getting close- I will snap your friend’s neck and be on my way. Do you understand?”

Yes.” I whispered, too terrified to say anything else, glancing nervously at the door to make sure that I hadn’t been heard.

“And don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’ll stop there.” He sneered. “Your scent is all over this town, all over these disgusting humans- I can just move on to the next person who’s unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with you… I hear that you have a job at the local sporting goods store. It would be a shame if one of your coworkers were to disappear on a hike, wouldn’t it?”

My head spun and my heart hammered; What if he went after Mike? Or Jessica, or Lauren? Worse, what if he tried to go to La Push and threaten Jacob, or Billy? My scent had to be stronger there than anywhere in Forks.

“I understand.” I breathed.

“Very good.” James said. “Goodbye, Isabella. Call me back soon.”

He hung up, leaving me in the silence of the hotel room with the clock ticking on the wall. His voice echoed in my head while I though about what I had to do. I repeated his instructions in my head, wanting to make sure I did everything he’d told me to do.

I heard a muffled cell phone ring outside the door, and I heard Emmett turn down the TV and pick it up. Carefully, I crossed to the door and pressed my ear to it, trying to listen to what was happening on the other side.

“-do you mean the vision changed?” Edward hissed. “What changed?”

Silence for a moment, then he cursed.

“Okay, thanks for letting us know, Alice.”

My eyes widened; Alice. She must’ve seen a much different future now that I’d made the decision trade my life for Angela’s. My mind raced as I tried to come up with an immediate escape plan, thinking they had discovered my treachery, when I heard Emmett speak.

“What did Alice say?” He asked.

Edward’s answer was quiet, and I had to strain to hear it. “She saw Bella dying… She doesn’t know whose decision made the change, only that something did. Rosalie is frantic, but she doesn’t want to change the plan. She says she’ll be arriving at the airport in a few hours, and to keep a very close watch on Bella until then.”

I let out a breath I had been holding, relieved that my cover hadn’t been blown. If any of them discovered what I was going to do, none of them would allow it, and Angela would die because of me. Then James would just move on to his next hostage.

“Do we tell her?” Emmett asked.

“No, she’s stressed enough as it is.” Edward said. “Besides, if we tell her, Rose will tear our heads off.

“Good point.”

I tip toed away from the door, sitting carefully on the bed with my mind racing; Rosalie would be here in a few hours. I knew that I wouldn’t have the strength to run away from her, so I would have to run away from Emmett and Edward before we met up with her… I would never see her again. Our goodbye in her living room really had been goodbye, forever.

I took a deep breath and wiped the tears from my eyes, but they continued to spill over as I rummaged through my bag for a notebook and a pen. I sat at the small desk, pushing my history homework aside and flipping to a blank page; If I couldn’t say goodbye to her and apologize in person, I could at least do this. I could say it was for my dad. Rosalie would no doubt read it when she arrived in Phoenix to find that I had run off.

Rosalie,’ I began, trying to dry my face so that I didn’t get the paper wet. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but I had to do this. James has Angela. He took her hostage, and he’ll kill her if I don’t find a way to get away from Edward and Emmett and tell him where I am so that Victoria can come and get me. I can’t let Angela die for me, I can’t let anyone die because of me. Please don’t come after me, and don’t try turning back to stop James either. He told me that he’ll just kill Angela and move on to someone else. This is the only way to end things without anyone getting hurt.

If you ever can, tell my dad what happened. Spare him the details obviously, but don’t just let him think I disappeared. Tell him that he was the best dad I could ever ask for. Tell him that I hope he and Billy are happy.

Try not to be too sad, okay? Try to move on. I’m just one human girl, I don’t matter that much in the bigger picture. I just can’t die without telling you that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I can’t die without thanking you for saving my life twice, even though it wasn’t possible for a third time. I can’t die without telling you how much I love you, and how much I wish that we’d had more time… I wish that we’d had forever together.

‘So, thank you… I love you. Please don’t forget me. -Bella

Chapter Text

A few hours later, we were at the airport. It was bustling in the early afternoon as we walked through the crowds to get to the gate where Rosalie and the others would be arriving. My letter to her was in Edward’s pocket, though he thought that it was for my dad. Emmett was carrying my duffel bag over his shoulder, whistling casually while he walked. I was placed firmly between the two of them, protected on either side.

I glanced around nervously, trying to map out an escape route for myself; I knew that I had to run, and the Cullens wouldn’t be able to use their superior speed and agility to catch me- not in broad daylight with other humans around. My heart started to beat faster as we stopped at a row of benches and sat down, with me seated securely between them.

“You sure you don’t want lunch, Bella?” Emmett asked, eyeing the coffee shop back down the wide hallway with a greedy expression on his face.

“I’m fine.” I said, then bit my lip, trying to be subtle as I suggested, “Go get yourself a cruffin or something- I’ll be fine here with Edward.”

Emmett made a face. “Cruffin… Eat a croissant, or eat a muffin, why does everything have to be some ungodly Frankenstein food nowadays?”

“Get me a cronut.” Edward said, smirking and not looking up from his phone.

You’re a cronut.” Emmett teased, kicking Edward’s shoe as he stood up and walked past us to go to the coffee shop.

“Love you.” Edward called after him.

I laughed as Emmett spun on his heel to blow Edward a kiss, but my despair quickly settled back in as I glimpsed the time on a nearby arrivals board; If I was going to get out of here, I had to do it now. It would be much easier to get away from just Edward, now that I’d managed to get Emmett out of the way- but I had to think of something fast.

“Are you alright?” Edward asked, looking down at me with one eyebrow raised. Even though he couldn’t read my mind, he must have noticed the change in my heart rate.

I realized that I had been wringing my hands in my lap, my eyes shifting anxiously around the room. So much for being subtle.

“I, uh-“ I stuttered, then saw a large black door just behind Edward’s head with a stick figure on the front, and seized my chance. “I just need to use the bathroom… It’s just right there- I should be fine, right?”

Edward looked behind him, narrowed his brows, then said, “Yes… I don’t hear Victoria or James anywhere… I’ll watch the door for you- Be quick, Rose’s plane will be here any second, and we have to move you as soon as we can.”

My heart ached, and I nodded, getting up and moving carefully around him to get to the bathroom. Just as he’d begun to trust me just a little bit, I was betraying him- even if it was for the greater good. I forced myself to take every step very deliberately, being sure not to look like I was rushing so that he wouldn’t be alerted early. Once inside the bathroom, I picked up my pace and went out the other door on the opposite side of the room. I had known it was there. This airport was familiar to me, and I knew exactly where I was going.

I started sprinting down the halls, knowing that Edward might be watching the minds of the others outside the bathroom and may have seen me leave- I had very little time if they threw caution and secrecy to the wind and came after me.

People stared as I rushed by, some of them pulling others out of the way as I made my way back down the front steps and out into the bright, safe, sunlight. I got into the nearest empty cab, shutting the door quickly and leaning back against the cracked leather as I caught my breath.

“Where to, miss?” The driver asked.

Um…” I thought for a moment; I needed somewhere familiar, somewhere I could easily describe to James so that he could tell Victoria to meet me. I gave him the address for my old ballet studio, and he typed it into the system.

I’d never wanted to take ballet. Renee had forced me into it when I was little. But it was the first place I thought of- It had shut down a few years ago, and it had been abandoned since on one had bought it. Hopefully, it would be isolated enough to where no one would stumble upon us accidentally.

The cab driver pulled away from the line of cars in front of the airport, and I glanced back at the building as it disappeared. I tried to not think about Rosalie, getting off her plane to find me missing, with neither Edward or Emmett knowing where I had gone. I hoped that she wouldn’t be too hard on them, it wasn’t their fault…

The tears flowed down my face and I wiped them away quickly, not wanting the driver to notice and start prying. I closed my eyes and leaned back, imagining what my reunion with Rosalie would’ve been like if I’d stayed at the airport instead; I pictured running into her arms, tried to imagine the scent of her perfume in her ice blonde hair. I tried to recall her perfect face, since I would never see it again. I kept my eyes closed, lost in my comfortable fantasy as the taxicab drove me closer and closer to my doom.

My phone was vibrating in my pocket, and my heart sank when I pulled it out and looked down; It was Rosalie. It killed something inside me to slide the ‘Ignore’ option on the screen. I remembered that James had instructed me to get rid of my phone, and I opened my contacts and wrote Angela’s number down on my arm with a ballpoint pen the driver lent me. I glanced down at the cracked screen, running my thumb along the broken glass; Now was my last chance to say goodbye to Renee, if I wanted to…

Then again,’ I thought wryly, glaring at my phone before stuffing it back in my pocket. ‘I don’t get any closure from her- Why should she get any from me? Maybe she’ll realize how wrong she was when I’m gone, that’ll serve her right.’

I could feel the vibration of my phone in my pocket as Rosalie and probably Alice and the rest of the Cullens tried to reach me. It took all my willpower to ignore it. Thankfully, my destination wasn’t far. My old ballet studio was in a neighborhood near one of our old apartments. There was a gas station and a drug store right across from it, and I asked the cab driver to park there so that I could get a snack.

“You sure this is where you wanna be?” They asked, glancing around at the broken windows on nearly every building that had been covered with planks of plywood. “There’s not much around here but construction sites and places that are gonna be construction sites.”

“I live around here, I’ll be fine.” I lied, giving them what I hoped was a convincing smile.

I paid them the cab fare with some cash I had in my wallet. Before I got out, I slipped my phone out of my pocket and dropped it- still vibrating- onto the cab floor. I casually kicked it under the front seat as I got out, then watched as my decoy drove off.

My heart racing, I looked around for a useable pay phone. I remembered that there was one near the back of the building by the air pump, so I rounded the corner and walked up to it, hoping that it wasn’t out of service. Thankfully, when I picked up the phone and held it to my ear, the mechanical voice asked for fifty cents to begin the call. I pulled a few quarters from my pocket and slid them into the slot, waiting anxiously as the line rang.

James answered Angela’s phone on the third ring. “Well it’s about time, Miss Swan- I was beginning to hope that I might get to have Miss Webber here as a light afternoon snack.”

I heard Angela scream again, and I hissed, “Don’t! I’ve done everything you’ve asked.”

Yes, you have.” He said, sounding bored. “So easily too- You’re really no fun at all, are you, dear?”

I swallowed. “I guess not.”

James laughed. “Alright then- Where am I sending my beloved Victoria to meet you for dinner?”

I took a deep breath, then gave him the address of the now abandoned ballet studio.

“Well, aren’t you the convenient one.” He praised, and I heard a few clicking sounds through the phone. “She’s not that far from there. I’ll expect you to be waiting for her, inside. If she calls me and tells me you’re not there, your friend will pay the price for that mistake- Do you understand?”

“Yes.” I whispered.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure, Isabella.” James said. “Goodbye.”

He hung up, leaving me quivering on the sidewalk listening to the dial tone. I put the phone back on the receiver, then looked across the street at the boarded up building that I had never wanted to enter less in my life- not even for the Nutcracker performance I’d been forced into. Still, I forced my legs to move me forward, counting each step I took towards my death.

I’m sorry, Rosalie.’ I thought as I looked up at the faded sign above the door. Then, as an afterthought, I added- even though I knew he couldn’t hear me, ‘I’m sorry, Edward… Take care of her for me. Tell her I love her.’

I opened the door and stepped inside. It was dark, and getting darker as the sun set behind the high windows. Most of the interior walls had already been removed, leaving nothing but load-bearing pillars and exterior walls covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. There were tarps and exposed wires hanging from the rafters, and it was so quiet that I could hear my heart beat faster, as if it knew that it was about to stop beating forever. I moved farther in, forcing my feet to move against every instinct that was screaming in my head to run. As far as I could tell, Victoria wasn’t here yet. I stood in the center of the room, barely breathing and listening for the smallest noise.

“Hello there, Bella.” A childlike voice behind me made me jump, and I spun around to see Victoria leaning casually against the doorframe, smiling serenely up at me with her crimson eyes. “Thank you for meeting me here.”

I swallowed, not saying anything.

“Nothing to say?” She asked, cocking her head to the side. “So quiet all of a sudden- You certainly had something to say the last time your friend was threatened… And she wasn’t even in any danger then, was she?”

I blinked. “What are you talking about?”

Victoria’s smile widened. She turned and locked the door behind her, then pulled a sleek black object from her pocket. I gasped and took a quick step back as she appeared in front of me, leaning in and inhaling through her nose, standing in her tip toes to get closer to my neck. I stood still as a statue, and Victoria giggled, taking a step back. She held out the object in her hand.

“Press play and find out.” She teased, her eyes sparkling.

It was a phone. I took it from her, unlocking the screen and pressing play on the video that had been queued up. I recognized the location; It was the beach at La Push. Tyler and some of the Quileutes were digging around in the wet sand, laughing raucously and shoving each other into the cold surf.

God, Eric, look at this thing, dude!” Tyler said to the camera, showing them a huge worm he was pulling slowly out from under a piece of driftwood.

Ew!” I heard Angela’s voice, and my stomach sank as the camera turned to focus on her. “Gross! Tyler, put it back, that’s disgusting!

Oh, is someone afraid?” Tyler teased, shaking the worm in front of her.

Angela screamed.

It’s just a worm, Angie, it won’t hurt you!” Tyler teased again, bringing the worm so close that it almost touched her leg.

Angela screamed again, launching to her feet. “Stop it, Tyler, that’s not funny!”

The Tyler in the video didn’t stop. He laughed, standing up and starting to chase her with the enormous worm dangling on a stick. Angela ran across the beach, screaming her head off. Eric followed them, their camera-work a little shaky from the effort to keep up with their quarry.

Bella! Help!” She called, and my breaths were now coming in shallow gasps. The Angela in the video screamed again, louder this time. “Bella! Make him stop, please!

I watched, holding my breath as I saw myself enter the frame with Jacob following close behind me. I watched as I glared at Tyler, shaking my finger at him the way that Renee used to whenever she was scolding me. I watched as I gave Tyler a lecture, helping Angela up from the ground- and the video ended.

“So ferocious when it comes to your friends…” Victoria mused, gazing curiously up at me as I stood there. I was frozen, still staring at the screen as it went black, my mind reeling. “I apologize for the trickery, it was James’ idea- Although I will admit, it was just as effective as the real thing, don’t you think?”

I couldn’t speak; Angela wasn’t here. I’d been lured away from Rosalie, away from safety, by a recording. I handed the phone back to her, my hands starting to shake.

“We did try it my way at first, though.” Victoria flipped her hair over her shoulder, pacing around and looking absently at the room around us. “He tracked your scent to your little friend’s house, but she was just going out to dinner with her mother when he arrived. Fortunately for him, she has a rule about no cellphones during family time. She left it on her bed, and James stole it after they’d left. He took her computer as well- he’s very good with modern technology, something I could never figure out myself- and found that handy little video in one of the folders. It didn’t take him long to edit the parts he needed in order to get you here.”

My heart hammered. I glanced desperately around the room, looking for another way out while Victoria continued to circle me. I needed to keep her talking, give myself more time…

“Why me?” I asked, realizing how much I genuinely wanted to know the answer as the question slipped from my lips. “Why do you want me so badly?”

“Funny you should ask.” Victoria said, skipping over to the front desk and sitting on top of it, dangling her legs in the air and observing me with a smug grin. “I take it that you understand that I’m a tracker, yes?”

I nodded.

“Well, I take quite a bit of pride in my gift.” She said, running her hands through her red hair and twisting a lock of it between her fingers. “I’ve been around for over two centuries, and I’ve spent that time honing my gift to perfection. I pick humans who are- shall we say, difficult to get to. It makes my instincts stronger, challenges my skills, makes me work harder. To this day, I’ve only ever lost one of my targets…”

I blinked. “You told Laurent you’d never lost one- that’s what he told us.”

Victoria winked at me. “It doesn’t sound as good when I tell the truth. Come now, Bella, everyone exaggerates a little, don’t they? Although I will admit, it was shocking to see her in that clearing with that coven that adopted you.”

I stared at her; I knew how Rosalie had been turned. I knew how Esme had been turned… The only ‘her’ that Victoria could be talking about…

Alice.” I breathed, and Victoria nodded.

“She was Mary Alice Brandon, at the time.” She said, her eyebrows knit together in frustration at her loss. “One of two daughters in a very wealthy family. She was already quite powerful, even as a human. At only fifteen years old, she was thrown into a cruel institution by her own parents, who had grown horrified of her visions. She had seen them dying, you see, and had made the dire mistake of informing them of their near demise.

“They didn’t listen, of course. It was the early twenties, and the locals in Mississippi deemed her abilities witchcraft.” Victoria rolled her eyes. “You would think that humans would come up with something new after so many years, but no.”

What happened to her?” I asked, desperate to know even though I would never have the chance to tell Alice.

“Well, I planned to take her from the asylum in the dead of night- I assumed that it would be much simpler getting her out from somewhere no one cared about her.” Victoria continued, looking more agitated as she went on. “Unfortunately, there was another vampire working at the asylum when our dear Alice was admitted. She took a liking to her, and realized how strong her abilities were. But she was only a janitor- She was unable to stop the electroshock treatments the doctors prescribed.”

I shuddered, picturing tiny Alice in a dark asylum, subjected to cruel torture for things she couldn’t control.

“As Alice’s condition worsened, and her memory began to fade, my adversary took her chance.” Victoria said. “I’d already tried and failed to take her out once. She took the girl in broad daylight, risking exposure to every human who may have seen her running down the street with an emaciated teenage girl. That was my mistake. Underestimating her love for the child. She had grown to see her as a daughter of sorts, as is the case with most of the golden-eyed freaks, I’ve noticed; Sentimentality.”

Victoria scoffed and rolled her eyes. I barely breathed, listening intently as she went on.

“She bit the girl before I could get to her,” She said dejectedly. “Running as far as she could into the surrounding trees with the girl writhing in her arms. I followed them for miles until she finally gave up. She set the girl down in a field, and turned to face me…”

Victoria’s eyes glistened, her sadistic grin returning. “Since I could no longer have the girl, I chose to destroy her instead. It was easy, really. She was young, inexperienced- Frankly, I’m amazed that she was able to stop herself from killing the girl once she’d tasted her blood.

"I left Mary- Alice, whatever you'd like to call her- in the field, alone. I was curious how she would fare with no sire to guide her. I hoped that she would become a monster, just to spite her human-loving creator... Alas, she never did. I lost interest in her after a decade or so, and hadn't seen her since until that night in the clearing."

Victoria shrugged, then sighed. “Oh, well, ce la vie.”

She held up the phone again, which I realized had been aimed in my direction as she’d told her story.

“Hope you don’t mind,” She grinned. “But I’d really hate for your dear Rosalie to miss our time together, so I thought I’d leave her a little memento- and you picked such a visually dynamic location, I just can’t resist.”

My eyes widened.

“Tell me, Bella.” Victoria asked, slowly stalking closer. “Do you think that your Rosalie will avenge you?”

“I told her not to.” I said, my voice a lot stronger than I felt.

Victoria huffed. “Well, that just won't do… Are you sure?”

I nodded, swallowing a scream that was rising in my throat.

“Well, I wish I could tell you that this would be quick,” She crooned, and she didn’t sound like she meant it. “But I really, really want to send a message to my dear Alice as well- I don’t take kindly to being outdone… And I wouldn’t mind tearing Blondie’s head off her shoulders once she sees what I’ve done to her precious human.”

Before I could stop her, she had reached forward, taking my pinky finger and jerking it sharply backward. I screamed, falling to my knees and clutching my wrist as I stared at my finger, which was now bent at a sickening angle.

Very good.” Victoria praised, grinning down at me. “Tell her how much it hurts.”

No!” I cried, trying to keep my screams as quiet as I could; I would not give Victoria the satisfaction. I would not let Rosalie go after her.

Victoria sighed. I felt a hand grip my ankle, then felt the wind rush through my hair as I flew across the room, hitting one of the mirrored walls so hard that I lost my breath. I landed hard on the ground, coughing and gasping for air while my whole body throbbed. I writhed in pain, but the only thing that I accomplished was cutting myself on the broken glass littering the floor.

“This doesn’t have to be so difficult, Bella.” Victoria said, stalking towards me with the phone aimed at my face. “Tell Rosalie that you want me dead… Tell her to come kill me, Bella. You know you want to-“

NO!” I screamed again, tears mingling with the blood running down my cheek. The smell of rust and salt was everywhere, and my head started to spin.

Victoria clicked her tongue. “Shame.”

I heard the crack before I felt it; She had slammed her foot down on my leg, and it had broken. My shriek cut through the stillness of the air, and I looked down to see the bone sticking out from one side.

“Tell Rosalie to come and get me, and I’ll stop.” Victoria crooned. “I’ll make it all go away. I’ll end all the pain for you, Bella…”

Her voice was fading away. A sharp ringing was getting louder and louder in my ears. My head spun faster and faster, and I finally let it fall against the hard ground, no longer caring about my injuries. I laid there on the ground, watching as the edges of my vision started to get dark.

Victoria cursed, and I knew that I was dying faster than she had planned. The thought made me smug; She wouldn’t get what she wanted from me.

I’d never given much thought to how I would die- But dying in the place of the people I loved seemed like a good way to go. I knew that if I had never come to Forks, I wouldn’t be dying now. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to regret it; If I’d stayed with Renee and Phil, I never would have met Rosalie. And she was worth any price I had to pay, even if I only had her for the briefest of moments.

Victoria glared down at me, and I saw two sharp fangs poke out from her upper lip as her face got closer to mine. I heard her snarl, then felt a sharp pain just above my collarbone… and then everything went dark.

Chapter Text

The darkness around me was complete and unending. It felt thick, like honey or molasses. I couldn’t tell which way was up or down, left or right- or if those things even existed here; Only that I was floating- or maybe drifting? I felt lighter than air, but I tried to move my arms and they were too heavy, almost like they were pinned down… Not that I needed, or even wanted to move. There was no reason to.

Wherever I was, it was comfortable. I could hear something… but it was strange, muffled, like the reverberation of an echo through a cave… If this was dying, it wasn’t awful- it was sort of peaceful, actually. At least the excruciating pain I had been in before I’d passed out seemed to have ebbed.

While I laid there, I waited for my life to flash before my eyes like the way people always described happening in movies- but the darkness didn’t end in any direction that I could see… Maybe a bright light would appear that I could walk into. Maybe I was in the River Styx, and that’s why everything was so warm here. Maybe I was waiting on my next reincarnation to be born. Maybe this was all death was- just emptiness, going on and on forever… but that was the worst-case scenario, and I tried not to think about that too much.

I didn’t know how long I would be able to cope with that- nothing, stretching out over the endless expanse of eternity… No one to talk to, although I’d never felt lonely before in my life. I’d hoped that I’d get to see Grandma Marie, emerging from the darkness with her arms open wide and a cup of her hot cocoa waiting for me. That would’ve been nice. Maybe she could’ve introduced me to Papaw, who died when I was too young to properly remember him. She always told me that I had his ears. I wondered if that was true.

At least in hell there might bad books to read at least- something to pass the time that no longer existed, at least not for me. Even though I was alone here, I still felt unsettled, like I was being watched by something just out of my sight… It would be nice to have some sort of distraction; This was getting boring.

Since I was dying anyway, I tried to force my memories to replay themselves in front of me; I remembered being four or five, running around our front yard while Renee chased me with the garden hose in the hot sun. I’d tripped over a cracked slab of concrete, and skinned my knees badly on the poorly mixed asphalt. She’d taken me inside and sang a funny song while she patched me up, until I was crying from laughter rather than fear.

I remembered the year we’d spent living in the crappy Toyota when I was seven, visiting every national monument and park we could get to before my dad stepped in and made sure that I was getting a proper education- Something I’d resented at the time, but was grateful for now… Then I remembered the last time I spoken to her… Throwing my phone against the wall as she revealed that she only loved me on her terms… That memory was painful, so I moved on.

I remembered my vacations with my dad, Jacob, and Billy; Going hiking and fishing by the lake, even though I had hated it at the time. I remembered the weekend movie nights that Jacob and I had shared when our dads had gone out for some kid-free time… I remembered all of them greeting me at the airport, every one of their faces glowing with genuine happiness that I had finally come home to join them.

I remembered Jessica, my first real friend in Forks, accepting me into her group as naturally as if I had always belonged there. I remembered bonding with Angela that first day in English, sharing her trail mix with me under the desk. I remembered Mike helping me get the job at his family’s store, sharing slices of Aunt Sadie’s banana bread on the colder days that we both hated. I remembered Lauren, and Eric, and all the other people I had grown to care about, who would all be safe now that I had managed to stop Victoria and James…

Then, I remembered Rosalie; Rosalie, fighting so hard to stop herself from hurting me that she bent the bottom of the chair in Biology class. Rosalie, pushing me out of the way of Tyler’s van and saving my life, risking exposure and possibly destruction by doing so. Rosalie, by my side at the hospital, amazed that I would lie for her even though I had no reason to. Rosalie, saving my life again in Port Angeles. Rosalie, snorting when she laughed. Rosalie, giving me a new watch after my own had finally broken. Rosalie, with her skin casting the most beautiful light into the trees surrounding the meadow…

I focused on that last memory, wanting it to be the last thing that I saw… I waited, sinking deeper and deeper into the blackness, giving in to whatever was pulling me under… slowlysteadily

A ferocious growl from somewhere above me, followed by a crash that made me pause, curiously trying to swim back up where I thought the sound was coming from. The more I strained, the harder it became, the pull from below increasing like gravity.

“Hold on, Bella!” A voice that sounded far away, but so, so familiar called out to me through the inky blackness. “Rosalie is coming!”

Rosalie!’ The voice echoed in my sluggish brain, louder and louder each time. It pushed me closer to the surface, making it easier to pass through whatever was trying to hold me here. ‘Rosalie. Rosalie is coming- You need to get to Rosalie.’

I heard glass breaking, and more snarling coming from all directions, getting clearer and sharper as I forced myself upward, pulling myself from the darkness that was beginning to feel more like tar than honey.

Bella!” Rosalie’s pained voice cut through me, and I gasped as I was thrust back into consciousness. She was kneeling over me, her jaw clenched and her golden eyes frantic as she scanned my body for the injuries that I was once again in full, painful awareness of. It was agonizing. I groaned, and Rosalie’s eyes locked on mine. She breathed a sigh of relief, flinched, then took a deep breath and placed a cold hand on my cheek. “I’m here, love… I’m so sorry…”

Rosalie…” I groaned, squeezing my eyes shut as the pain worsened. I realized that my broken leg- though it had hurt the most when I’d passed out- was no longer my main concern. My shoulder was burning- Was someone burning me? Did they have to cauterize a wound? “It hurts.”

“I know…” Rosalie’s voice cracked, and she looked across the room to where loud screeching sounds and high-pitched screams were filling the air. I recognized the metallic sound of vampire limbs being torn apart. She looked back down at me, her thumb stroking my cheek gently. “It’s over, Bella- She’s gone. She can never hurt you again, I promise.”

“It burns!” I cried, writhing in pain as the fire on my shoulder grew hotter, then winced as my ribs throbbed- though the pain was nothing compared to whatever was burning me.

“We’re going to get you out of here, Bella, it’s alright.” Rosalie said, then called across the room, “Edward! Help me!”

Edward was at her side in a second, hissing in a breath and clenching his teeth. “That’s a lot of blood- There must be an artery damaged somewhere, it probably happened when she landed on the glass…”

His hands were gentle as they felt along my body to find the source of the bleeding. They stopped when they got to my upper thigh. He pressed down slightly, and I whimpered and tried to squirm away, only to flinch in pain again as my ribs ached.

“I know it hurts, Bella. I’m sorry, but I have to do this- Here.” He said, tugging his belt off and looping it just above the wound, tightening it with a splinter of wood he picked up from the floor. “The femoral artery was hit- Give me a second.”

There was a pressure as he did something to my leg to try and stop the bleeding, but it was nothing to the burning that was spreading from my shoulder and down the length of my arm. I cried out again, and Rosalie gently stroked my hair out of my face, shushing me quietly while Edward worked.

“It’s going to be alright-“ She said again, but I cut her off.

“Make it stop!” I screamed, clenching at my burning shoulder with my other hand. I couldn’t feel the source of the fire, but it was getting worse, the searing pain creeping slowly down towards my elbow.

Rosalie gasped, moving my hand away from my shoulder. “No…”

Edward cursed. “We’ve got to move her, Rosalie. I can hear sirens coming, someone must have seen the smoke-”

“Victoria bit her, Edward.” She said, sounding devastated.

“All the more reason to leave, now.” He told her. “Alice!”

Alice was there, leaning over me across from Edward and Rosalie. She put a hand on Rosalie’s shoulder, her brow furrowed. “I’m sorry… It was always going to happen Rosalie, you knew that-“

“Not like this…” Rosalie shook her head, looking distraught.

“If you hurry…” Alice said, looking down at me with her eyes narrowed in concentration. “You can stop it… But it will be too late in… thirty-eight seconds.”

“Edward, switch with me.” Rosalie said, moving her hands to where Edward was holding the tourniquet on my leg.

He shook his head. “If I let go, she’ll start bleeding again, badly. She needs as much blood in her body as possible- It has to be you. Besides, I got here first and pulled Victoria off of her. If you want the venom out, you do it.”

Rosalie froze. “I can’t- I’m barely holding it together as it is. I’ve never tasted human blood, and she’s my singer- I can’t risk killing her, I can’t-“

“Then let her change.” He said, shrugging.

Rosalie snarled. “Edward-“

“Shut up, Rosalie!” Edward snarled back, his voice echoing through the empty room. “Do you think I’ll have any more control than you? Should we let Emmett try? Or maybe Jasper? Every single one of us would be overwhelmed- Look at yourself, Rosalie! Her blood is all over you- If you were going to lose control over a singer, you would’ve done it already for fuck’s sake! Look at Jasper- He’s having just barely a harder time than you are, and Bella doesn’t appeal to him nearly as much as she appeals to you. You have the best control of any of us. You are the best of us, Rosalie. You can do this.”

Rosalie was silent.

Decide.” He said, his voice hard. “But do it now.”

Rosalie ran her hands through her hair, looking down at me as Victoria’s venom spread.

“Twenty seconds, Rose…” Alice said gently, holding my hand and shushing me as I cried.

Rosalie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then grabbed Edwards chin and turned him to face her, looking him dead in the eyes. “If I lose control, tear my head off.

Edward blinked, but nodded.

Rosalie looked back down at me, holding my face in her hands and smiling gently. “I’m going to make it stop, Bella… I love you.”

She pressed her lips to mine, and turned my head to the side.

At first the pain was worse. I shrieked so loudly that my throat hurt, fighting back against her grip while Alice held my hand and Edward held my legs effortlessly, stopping me from making either injury any worse. Rosalie moaned against my ear, and I could hear her drinking greedily from the wound where my neck met my shoulder. Her grip tightened, but not by much.

The pain was lessening. My screams turned to whimpers, and finally died away altogether. I groaned, the edges of my vision beginning to fade away again, welcoming me back into the thick, endless darkness that I had fought so hard to escape…

“Rose, stop.” Alice said firmly. “Her blood is clean, you’re killing her.”

Rosalie growled, drinking deeper as a ringing started in my ears…

Edward snarled in warning, reaching forward and gripping her shoulder with a force that made a loud crack ring through the air.

Rosalie gasped and pulled away, holding her breath and wiping my blood from the corners of her mouth. Even through my blurred vision, I could see two, sharp fangs poking out from beneath her upper lip slowly retreating back into her mouth. She closed her eyes, clenching her fists by her side.

Rosalie…” I whispered, reaching my hand out towards her.

She opened her eyes, grabbing my hand and holding it to her lips.

“I’m right here, Bella.” She breathed, pressing her lips gently to each of my knuckles. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

“Mmm…” I moaned, my eyelids beginning to flutter shut.

“We need to move…” Edward said again, but his voice was echoing through the dark mist.

I was faintly aware of the rest of them muttering above me, trying to decide what to do.

“-sun is almost down, we should be fine to just run-“

"Too risky, we should steal a car-"

“Jasper, are you alright?”

A strained voice called from the back of the room, “Yes, I’m alright- Y’all go. Alice and I’ll stay and clean up.”

Alice,’ I thought, trying to swim back up through the haze to get to her. “Alice…”

“I’m here.” She said, still holding my hand gently in hers, avoiding contact with the broken pinky. “I’ll come right back, Bella- right after I help Jasper, okay?”

“No, Alice,” I muttered, shaking my head. “She knew you… Victoria knew you… her phone… get her phone…”

Alice had to know. She deserved to know.

What?” Alice breathed, then her head snapped over to where crackling sounds and a pungent smell- like strong incense- were just barely registering in my tired brain. “Did she have a cell phone?”

“Yeah, right here.” Jasper said.

I breathed a sigh of relief, then closed my eyes again as Rosalie lifted me easily into her arms. Then I was flying.

“Here-“ I heard, barely audible now as I slipped further into unconsciousness.

I heard the sharp sound of glass breaking, and a car alarm go off that was quickly silenced. I was vaguely aware of being transferred into a long, leather backseat. Rosalie climbed in carefully next to me, laying me gently on my side and placing my head in her lap. She hummed quietly to me as Edward or Emmett peeled onto the highway.

Careful!” Rosalie scolded, trying to stop me from moving around too much as they turned.

My broken leg hit the side door, and I cried out quietly, trying to shy away from it.

“It’s okay, Bella, we’re almost to the hospital.” Rosalie said, stroking my hair out of my face even though it was now drenched in my blood.

Now that the venom was no longer in my system, the rest of my injuries were just as painful, if not more so than before Victoria had bitten me. I tried not to cry, clenching my teeth so hard that I thought they would break.

The drive wasn’t long, and whoever’s car we had stolen squealed to a stop. Rosalie opened her door, but Emmett reached back and handed her something before she could get out; A pair of sunglasses? But it was dark out, or it would be soon, anyway. Why

Rosalie slid the glasses on her face, checking her reflection in the rear view mirror. She got out of the car, gently pulling me out and into her arms. The adjustment jostled my leg and made my ribs throb painfully. I gritted my teeth and tried hard not to scream.

“We’ll be right back.” Emmett said, and they drove away in the stolen car.

Rosalie took me as fast as she could through the double doors, then yelled. “Help me, please!”

We were instantly surrounded by four nurses, who loaded me carefully onto a gurney. One of them placed a foam collar around my neck and shined a light annoyingly into my eyes.

“What happened?!” One of them asked, her green eyes wide at my injuries.

“We were in a car accident.” Rosalie lied smoothly, following them and clinging tight to my uninjured hand as they wheeled me away. “A passerby dropped us off- She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.”

“Okay, we’ll take it from here.” Another nurse said, stopping the gurney to gently untangle our fingers.

“No, please let me stay with her!” Rosalie begged, though she let go of my hand before they could touch her. “I have medical training.”

You have medical training?” One of them asked skeptically, raising one eyebrow.

“No- I mean- My father is a doctor, I’m in school for it myself-“

“Sweetheart, we can do a lot more for her without distractions.” Another nurse told her while sticking a needle into the crook of my arm. I began to feel better instantly, as whatever painkiller that gave me worked its way through my body. “I promise we’ll do everything we can, but you need to stay out here- I’m sorry.”

Rose…” I moaned, reaching out for her before they could wheel me away.

She took my hand again, bringing back up to her lips one more time. “I’ll be right beside you when you wake up. I promise.”

“Don’t watch it…” I breathed, my voice barely audible even to me, fighting my eyelids as they forced themselves closed. “Don’t watch the video… Please…”

“What did she say?” One of the nurses asked.

“Doesn’t matter, let’s get her down to OR.” Another said.

Rosalie’s hand slipped from mine, and my arm fell to my side. I took a final deep breath, and let myself drift back into the comfortable darkness.

Chapter Text

When my eyes opened again, I was lying in a crisp white hospital room. The buzzing of the lights in the ceiling and the steady beeping of my heart monitor were comforting, and I felt safe. I sighed deeply, looking around as I blinked the last of the drowsiness from my eyes. I noticed that my right hand was cold, and I squeezed. The hand in mine did not give under the pressure.

“Good morning, Bella.” Rosalie said, letting out a relieved sigh and smiling down at me. “Nice of you to finally join us.”

“Mmm…” I groaned sleepily, smiling back up at her. “Hi…”

“Hi, love…” She said, rubbing slow circles on the back of my hand with her thumb. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel fine.” I said.

I saw her brow furrow under her sunglasses. “Be honest, Bella- You have three broken ribs, a broken leg, a broken finger, and enough bruises to cover half your body…”

Really good painkillers, I guess.” I shrugged; The movement was only slightly uncomfortable, but I tried to hide it. I narrowed my eyes at the stupid glasses she was wearing- way too big for her face, clearly Emmett’s. “Why are you wearing those? We’re inside.”

Rosalie bit her lip and didn’t answer me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to sit up but wincing when my ribs protested the action.

“Don’t move…” Rosalie said, gently pushing me back down onto the bed. “Here.”

She grabbed a remote from the side of the bed and pressed a button; The top half of the bed raised slowly with a mechanical whirring until I was upright enough to look into her eyes without effort.

“Are you hurt?” I asked, reaching out to try to take the glasses off myself.

“Please don’t.” She said, leaning away just out of my reach. “I don’t want you to see me like this…”

“See you like what?” I asked impatiently. “Rosalie, you’re scaring me, just take them off.”

She hesitated, biting her lip again. Slowly, she took off the glasses… but she kept looking down, avoiding my eyes.

“Rose, come on,” I rolled my eyes, reaching out and trying to lift her chin. “It can’t be that bad.”

After another moment, Rosalie lifted her head slowly. My eyes widened; Rosalie’s eyes were a deep crimson… Not the bright, clear gold that I had been used to. My blood was coursing through her system, filling her eyes with its hue… Still, she was just as beautiful as she always was. I didn’t care. It was still her. Still my Rosalie.

Huh…” I mused, the corner of my mouth twitching up while I examined the impact the change made on her appearance.

What?” She asked, bringing a strand of hair forward to try and cover her eyes again.

“Don’t,” I said, tucking it back behind her ear. “It looks… Well, you look kind of… hot, actually.”

She stared at me, and I blushed. “You’re kidding, right? How many fingers am I holding up?”

She held up three fingers and I laughed, wincing as my ribs throbbed. “Three.”

Rosalie chuckled, sighed, then leaned forward to press her lips to my forehead. “I’m so glad you’re alright… For a second, I- Well… I’m glad you’re okay. You were asleep for so long…”

“Wait, how long?” I asked, anxiety filling my chest as I thought about my dad, who had expected regular updates and must be frantic at my sudden radio silence.

She hesitated, her brow furrowed. “Two days…”

“Two days?!” I panicked; My dad had to be freaking out by this point. He had probably already called the police.

Relax, Bella, your father is already here.” Rosalie said, holding my uninjured hand gently in her own. “He’s down in the cafeteria with Carlisle and Esme, eating a late lunch.”

I sighed in relief and sank back onto the bed. “Wait, what does he think happened? What did you tell him?”

“He thinks that we made a detour to Phoenix on the way to New York.” She said. “As we were going to my childhood home, you wanted to show me yours while we had the chance. We were on our way back on the road when we were hit by someone who left us there and drove off.”

I nodded, repeating it in my head so that I could repeat it convincingly to my dad and anyone else who asked when we got back to Forks.

“Wait, how did you stage a car crash?” I asked. I remembered being in a car before we’d gotten here. I hoped that they hadn’t destroyed some poor stranger’s car just for a cover story. If they had, I hope they’d left them money for a new one somewhere.

Rosalie grinned. “Edward sacrificed his Volvo… He told Charlie that he insisted that we use it instead of mine because it had better gas mileage.”

I gaped at her. “He totaled his car?”

“Don’t feel bad about it.” She laughed, and I raised an eyebrow at her. “I hated that thing. Now maybe he’ll finally let me get him something decent- It was so ugly.”

She made a face, and I laughed, grunting as my ribs complained.

Rosalie frowned slightly, her brows knitting together. “Sorry, I shouldn’t make you laugh…”

“I’m fine.” I insisted, smiling up at her and squeezing her hand. “That Volvo really was shitty, wasn’t it?”

Rosalie smiled, but before she could say anything else, there was a knock at the door. A nurse came in to check on me, her eyes going wide when she saw that I was awake.

“Well hello Isabella, welcome back!” She said happily, rushing over to check my vitals.

“Just Bella.” Rosalie told her, and I realized that the chunky sunglasses were once again covering her crimson eyes.

Right, yes- your dad said that too, sorry.” She told me. “I saw him in the cafeteria with your girlfriend’s parents, would you like me to go and get him for you? He’s been worried sick, he slept in the waiting room last night- Refused to check in to a hotel.”

“Yes please, thank you.” I said, reaching over for the remote that controlled the bed so that I could sit up a little straighter.

The nurse left, and Rosalie and I were left alone again.

“What did you do while they were… you know.” I asked. I wondered if she’d helped stage the car crash. I pictured her happily driving the Volvo over a cliff, jumping out and running back to the hospital before I woke up from surgery.

She blinked, looking at me as if the answer were plain as day. “I waited for you, of course… I wasn’t going to be further from you than necessary… Not when you were so close to being taken from my world, Bella…”

The beeping of my heart monitor spiked as I blushed, and Rosalie’s satisfied grin brought out the dimples in her cheeks.

“The operations that they had to do were extensive…” She continued. “They gave you a lot of blood transfusions. I didn’t like it. It made you smell wrong for a few hours.”

I smiled, remembering the time she had told me that I usually smelled like strawberries and mint. I wondered what I had smelled like after the transfusions, but something else was bothering me, itching at the very back of my brain. “How did you even find me, anyway? I was so careful not to be followed because I thought they had Angela…”

Rosalie hesitated. Her expression was unreadable.

What?” I asked. “Did you chip me or something?”

She laughed. “No, that’s not it…”

“How then?”

Rosalie stared at me in wonder. “Edward heard you, Bella… For the briefest moment, he heard you.”

My mouth dropped open; I remembered, just before I had walked into the abandoned building, thinking to Edward that I was sorry… Had he heard it because I’d wanted him to? Because I’d meant it to happen?

“He heard you tell him that you were sorry… and to take care of me, and to tell me that you loved me…” She continued, her voice shaking slightly. “For a split second, he saw the sign of the building you were entering. He searched for it on his phone and told me that he knew where you were. We all ran as fast as we could, but Edward is the fastest. He got there a full minute before the rest of us and pulled her off of you.”

I let that sink in for a moment; The Cullen that liked me the least, had just saved my life. It was only for Rosalie of course, I knew that… but the gratitude that I felt was the same either way.

“When I saw you lying there…” Rosalie’s voice cracked, and her jaw clenched. “I thought… You were so still… I was afraid that I was too late. I’d never felt more helpless, never…”

The guilt pressed down on my chest, and my eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry, Rosalie… I should have checked that Angela was really gone, I shouldn’t have been so gullible, I’m so-“

She cut me off by pressing her lips to mine fervently, cupping my face gently in her hands. I kissed her back, and my heart monitor went wild, beeping erratically before Rosalie pulled away.

You shouldn’t be the one apologizing.” She shook her head sadly. “If I had stayed gone- If I had never taken such an interest in building my immunity to your blood, we never would have grown so close… Then none of this would have ever happened to you.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “If you had stayed gone, Tyler would have flattened me with his truck months ago. I’ll take a hospital bed and a cast or two over a casket under a gravestone any day, thank you very much.”

As she rolled her eyes at me and chuckled lightly, then door slammed open and my dad hurried in, his face pale and his eyes frantic.

Bella!” He said, breathing a sigh of relief and placing a firm, scratchy kiss on the top of my head. “You’re awake.”

“I’m so sorry, Dad.” I said instantly, tears forming in my eyes again. “I should have called to tell you we were changing our plans…”

He sighed, running his hand through his thinning hair. “Actually, ya shouldn’t’ve changed your plans, at all- I gave you permission to go to New York, Bells- not to go galivantin’ off to Phoenix.”

“I know…” I said, looking down at my pinky where the huge splint was preventing me from bending it. “I’m sorry…”

“Why the hell did you take your seatbelt off, honey?” He asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed, careful not to touch my legs.

I bit my lip, trying to sound convincing. “It was only for a second… I was trying to grab something in the backseat.”

He sighed, rubbing his face with his hands.

Well… I’m glad you’re alive.” He said, then turned to Rosalie. “You too, Rosalie. You should have seen your mother, she was beside herself when we got the call.”

“Yes, she told me that I’m grounded for a month at the least.” Rosalie smiled shyly. “I suppose I deserve it, though… I’m so sorry Charlie, I should have been watching the road more carefully.”

He shook his head, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s not your fault, honey- If I ever find that other driver though, they’re gonna have hell to pay- Meanin’ I’m gonna light their house on fire. I can get away with it. I’m a fireman, I know how to do it right.”

Rosalie and I laughed, and his phone beeped in his pocket. He pulled it out and held it away from his face with his eyebrows raised and his eyes squinting down at the screen.

Dad, you need glasses.” I said, grinning at his effort to read the text.

“Do not.” He argued, then held up the phone in my direction. “Say cheese!”

Hey!” I said, trying to cover my face; I was absolutely positive that I wasn’t photo ready at the moment. “What was that for?”

“Phil.” He said, typing his response slowly and not meeting my eyes. “He… wanted to come by and see you, but they’re still in Greece… The airline won’t let ‘em swap their departure day, so… He sends his love, and asked me to tell ‘em when you woke up.”

Was he lying to me? He had never lied to me before. I realized that he had not mentioned Renee, and I was pretty sure that most airlines refunded unused miles in points if it was an emergency.

There was a quiet knock, and I looked over to see Edward leaning in the doorway. “Sorry for intruding- My father wanted me to come and get you, Charlie. He’s paid for Bella’s medical expenses, and he’s wondering if the two of you would like to join us in First Class on the way back to Olympia.”

“He- What?” My dad sputtered, blinking rapidly like he was trying to wake up from a dream. “That’s real nice and all, but it wasn’t necessary, we have insurance-“

Yes, he knows.” Edward smiled. “He overheard your claim get denied due to a technicality, and took care it for you. He’s waiting in the lobby.”

“Well that’s… Wow.” He said, standing up and looking back and forth between me and the door. “That was real generous of him.”

“Go ahead Dad, I’m not going anywhere.” I said, gesturing to my broken right leg that was being elevated by a pulley system connected to the bed.

Yeah…” He said, still stunned and probably in a state of shock. He gave me a quick kiss on the forehead before leaving the room, leaving the door propped open.

“Did Carlisle really do that?” I asked.

Edward nodded. “Alice can watch the stock markets, it was nothing.”

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and then I said, “Thank you, Edward… For saving me.”

He nodded. For once, he didn’t look infuriated by the sight of me. “I would have done the same thing you did, to be honest.”

I blinked. “Really?”

Really.” Edward’s mouth twitched into what was almost a smile, and then he turned to leave.

Wait,” I said, the question spilling from my lips before I could stop it. “You can read my dad’s mind, right?”

Edward stopped, looking back at me with his eyebrow raised. “Yes, I can… What do you want to know?”

I swallowed. “What did Renee say… When he called to tell her about the accident?”

Edward hesitated, and I saw the barest flash of his golden eyes over my shoulder to where Rosalie was sitting. “Are you sure you want to know?”

I took a deep breath, then nodded.

Bella, you don’t need to-“ Rosalie started, but I interrupted.

“I want to know.” I insisted.

Edward sighed, then said, “She told him, and this is a direct quote… ‘That’s what she gets for running off with that girl.’

I knew that whatever she had to say about the situation wouldn’t be pleasant, but the reality hurt worse than I’d imagined. Rosalie held my hand, glaring at Edward and growling quietly.

“You could have softened the blow a little bit.” She scolded.

“She deserves the truth, Rose.” He said. He turned to leave again, but hesitated at the door. He looked back at me, then said, “I don’t know if this is any comfort or help to you, Bella, but… I know what it’s like to have a parent reject you for things that you can’t help… I’m very sorry that you have to experience that as well.”

I stared- confused, but grateful for what he'd said anyway. “Thanks, Edward…”

He nodded, and left the room, closing the door behind him.

“I’m sorry about your mother…” Rosalie said, looking at the door where Edward had vanished. “All the more reason for me to leave, I suppose…”

My head snapped around to look at her, my eyes wide and my heart racing. “Leave?! What do you mean?”

She sighed and took off the sunglasses again, letting her crimson eyes link with mine. “Bella… I can never put you in danger again… I have to go…”

No!” I shouted, and the heart monitor went haywire. “Are you kidding me?! Just like that, you’re just going to leave?”

“Bella, please, calm down.” She begged, gently pushing my shoulders and trying to get me to lie back on the hospital bed.

No, don’t tell me to calm down!” I snapped, hot tears filling my eyes again. “What do you mean you’re leaving? What did I do?!”

Rosalie was shocked, her mouth half open.

Bella, love, you didn’t do anything…” She said softly, taking my hand. “I love you so much, that’s why I have to go; You’re so young, you deserve a chance at a normal life, and you won't get that if I’m around-“

“I don’t want a normal life, I want you!” I said, my voice cracking. “I love you, Rosalie... Don’t leave me, please…”

Rosalie’s face was anguished. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to my forehead. That wasn’t good enough for me. I tilted my head up and kissed her, desperately clinging to the back of her neck even though my broken finger was throbbing. Rosalie kissed me back, but I could feel her starting to pull away from me.

Please don’t leave…” I whispered against her lips.

Rosalie sighed and gave in, kissing me harder as my breaths started to come in shallow gasps, the rapid beeping of the heart monitor getting faster and faster.

Okay…” She breathed as she pulled away. “I’ll stay. I'm not going anywhere, I promise.”

The relief I felt was so intense that the tears I had been holding back finally began to fall, and Rosalie pulled me into her arms, stroking my hair and shushing me quietly as I cried. It was another minute before I could calm down enough to speak, and I wiped my eyes on the hospital sheets before I looked back up at her.

“Can I ask you something?” I asked.

Anything, love.” She said, smiling gently and waiting.

“Why didn’t you let me turn...?” I sniffed, clearing my throat and continuing, “If you had just let the venom spread, I could be like you right now… Is it because… well, because you don’t want me around forever? Are you worried that you’ll get bored of me?”

I held my breath as I waited for her answer.

Isabella Marie Swan,” Rosalie said my name in a way that made my spine tingle, and I looked up at her red eyes and saw nothing there but complete adoration, warming me from the inside out and heating my cheeks. “I could spend a million lifetimes by your side, and still be amazed by your mere existence every time I laid my eyes on you.”

The butterflies in my stomach fluttered, some of them flying up my chest trying to escape. I swallowed them down and asked, “So if that’s not it… Why didn’t you?”

Rosalie winced. “You were begging me to make it stop, Bella, and that was only after a few minutes… Could you really endure that for a full twenty-four hours?”

I shuddered, but Rosalie didn’t stop speaking.

“Do you remember what I told you, about my funeral?” She asked.

I nodded; She told me how Esme had to hold her back as her family cried over her grave- though the casket remained empty, with no body to bury and no closure to be found.

“Could you do that to Charlie?”

My heart sank, and I knew that she was right; It would be agonizing to witness. He would still have Billy and Jacob, but my loss would destroy him…

“No parent should have to bury their child, Bella.” She said. “I’m sure Esme and Carlisle will tell you the same.”

“I could still die any day, though…” I mused. “It could be an accident, a real one- or I could get cancer like Grampa Swan, or get struck by lightning or something.”

Yes, you could…” Rosalie agreed sadly. “That’s the way that it’s supposed to be.”

“That’s not my point.” I shook my head. “My point is, I love you- but I’m eventually going to die, and you aren’t. You can’t be human with me, so the only logical solution is for me to become like you.”

Rosalie sighed. “Bella… None of us had a choice. Any one of us would choose to go back if we could- Well, except maybe Emmett.”

“But I do have a choice.” I insisted, narrowing my eyes.

Yes…” She lifted my hand up to her lips and inhaled, kissing my knuckles gently. “However, you have no reason to make that choice now… Just give it time, love.”

“How much time?” I asked. “I don’t want to look old enough to be your mother, or your grandmother.”

Rosalie chuckled. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

“We won’t even see that bridge before we get to it.” I corrected.

Rosalie narrowed her eyes. “May I ask you a question now?”

“Of course.”

“Are you rushing your decision… because you’re afraid that you might change your mind about me?”

I blinked. “Of course I’m not…”

“Then why do want to be a creature of the undead so badly all of a sudden?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s not all of a sudden.” I shrugged. “I thought… Well I thought that it would happen anyway, eventually… Like I said, it’s the only logical solution- Besides, I heard Alice; She said that it was always going to happen, she saw it.”

Rosalie sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “It’s just one possible version of the future, it isn’t set in stone.”

“Still, I know Alice.” I grinned. “She’s rarely ever wrong.”

Rosalie groaned. “Let Charlie see you graduate college at least- He deserves that much.”

College?!” I raised my eyebrows. “No way, not that long.”

She sighed. “Why not?”

“You’re eighteen. I don’t want to be twenty-two if you’re staying eighteen forever.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know- I just don’t.” I said stubbornly, crossing my arms.

Rosalie rolled her eyes, but there was a hint of a smile on her face as she brought my hand up to her lips again. “Alright, fine. We’ll drop the issue for now, and pick it up at a later date- Agreed?”

“Agreed.” I said, grinning back at her. “Later.”

I leaned up to kiss her again, but winced when my ribs ached, worse than before.

Hmmm.” Rosalie said, narrowing her eyes down at me. “You should be resting. Do you want me to call the nurse?”

“No.” I said, leaning up and kissing her again. “I don’t want to sleep.”

Rosalie chuckled against my lips and gently pulled away. “I won’t go anywhere, Bella. I promise.”

She pressed the button to call the nurse before I could protest. The nurse with the bright pink hair came back this time, checking my vitals before giving me another dose of whatever painkiller I was on. I got drowsy instantly.

“Hey, Rosalie?” I said, reaching out my hand to find hers.

She tangled her fingers in mine. “Yes, Bella?”

I grinned. “I’m betting on Alice.”

Chapter Text

“Alice, will you please just tell me what all of this is for?” I asked again, examining my reflection in the mirror on my closet door. The deep blue dress that I had worn to their house for the first time had been pulled out of the garment bag by an overly-excited Alice, and slipped over my head before I could protest.

“Just trust me, Bella.” She told me again, running a brush through my tangled hair.

I let her fuss over me without complaining, since I’d missed her a lot while she’d been gone. After she had watched the video that Victoria had left on her phone for her to find, she had gone to Mississippi with Jasper to learn more about her human life. It had been three weeks until she had finally gotten back, only yesterday morning.

“I told you, Rosalie told me not to tell you what she was planning.” Alice said, winking conspiratorially. “You’ll find out soon anyway, and you’ll love it.”

I sighed, but resigned myself to not getting anything out of her.

It had been just after I had finished my exams, when Rosalie had asked me if I minded if she surprised me with something special, just this once. I’d agreed, but only because she had looked so excited about it. Still, I’d spent every day since then texting Alice, trying to get her to tell me what it was. She hadn’t relented. On a whim, I had even tried to get Edward to tell me once; He’d laughed, and said that Rosalie would kill him if he spoiled it.

Alice turned on her heel and bounced over to my bed, picking a new pair of shoes from a box with a designer label. She bit her lip and looked down at the boot on my right leg; I had thankfully convinced Carlisle to let me take the cast off, but I still had to wear the boot for a while. At least I was able to scratch my ankle now when it got itchy. “This should be the right height for you- Here.”

She took the left shoe- a dark blue wedge only about an inch or two high- and slipped it onto my foot. It was just high enough to where I didn’t limp anymore when I stepped, balancing the added height from the boot.

Excellent!” She said, clapping her hands together happily and putting the other shoe in my closet.

“How much did you-“ I started to ask, staring down at the shimmery dark blue shoe that matched my dress exactly- but she interrupted.

“Don’t worry about it.” She chimed, straightening some of the folds in the dress and inspecting her handiwork. “They’re yours now, deal with it.”

“Okay, fine- So, what else did you find out?” I asked, switching back to an earlier topic; She had been telling me about her human family before I’d interrupted her. Her niece was apparently still alive in Biloxi.

“Well, my parents both died a few days after they put me in that asylum.” She said nonchalantly, going through her bag and pulling the plastic stickers off of the fresh makeup that I had let her buy for me- even if she would only get to use it on me the one time. “My little sister was young, so she went to an uncle who lived nearby. She got married, and named her daughter Lydia, after our mother, and had two more kids after that… I set up an anonymous fund for her. That way her kids can move her somewhere nicer, out of that disgusting retirement home I found her in.”

She began to brush something all over my face, and I closed my eyes and held still while she worked. When she had finished that and was reaching for something else, I asked, “What about the woman who turned you? Did you learn any more about her?”

Alice’s golden eyes narrowed. “Jasper and I looked for days, but… No. Her coven must have moved on after she died, if she had one. Victoria did say that she had golden eyes like us, so… Maybe she was alone. She probably turned me because she was lonely…”

“She turned you to protect you…” I said, reaching out and putting my hand on hers.

Alice shrugged. “In the end, yes… But still, I hate to think that she had no one.”

“She had you…” I told her gently. “Whoever she was, she must have loved you a lot.”

“I wish I could tell her thank you…” She whispered, and she looked so sad that I leaned forward and hugged her on instinct.

Hey, no smudging!” She giggled, pushing me off and gently fixing the foundation with her thumb. “I want you to look perfect for tonight.”

She finished doing my makeup, then fixed my hair in an elaborate braid that I would never be able to replicate by myself. After a few final adjustments, she showed me my full reflection in the mirror.

My eyes widened at the effect the eyeliner had on my eyes; I had expected big inky-black wings, like Renee usually did. Instead, Alice had kept it very subtle, using brown eyeliner and fading it until it looked natural. Even the foundation, though it felt a little strange, was barely noticeable.

“Do you like it?” She asked, biting her lip. “It’s not too much?”

“I love it.” I said, leaning in to try to make out what she had done. Even up close, it was hardly visible.

There was a chime from my bed, and Alice picked up my phone and handed it to me. Without having to look at it, she said, “It’s Rosalie. She’s here.”

I looked down at the brand new phone that Rosalie had gotten for me the second we had gotten back to Forks. Sure enough, her text message told me the exact same thing that Alice had. My heart began beating faster, and I took a few deep breaths to calm down.

Relax, Bella, this is a good thing.” Alice said, handing me a small clutch that was the same dark blue as my dress with a long silver chain. I put my phone inside and draped the bag carefully over my shoulder.

She helped me navigate my way back down the thin stairway into the living room, where my dad was sitting in his favorite armchair, playing with his guitar. He looked up when he heard the thudding of my boot on the floor, and smiled when he saw me.

“Ya look good, kiddo.” He said, setting the guitar to the side and standing up. “Rose here?”

“Yeah, she’s outside.” Alice told him, smiling up at him warmly. “Thank you for letting me come over, Charlie.”

Anytime, sweetheart.” He said. He liked Alice a lot, despite the limited interaction he’d had with her so far. Of course, it was hard not to like Alice. He walked over and kissed the top of my head, gently untangling his moustache from the masterpiece Alice had made of my hair. “Be good, Bells- Seatbelts.”

“I will, I promise.” I said, grinning up at him.

He held the door open for us while Alice helped me down the porch steps. Rosalie was waiting by her red convertible, in the same suit that she had worn the day I’d met her parents. Her eyes- no longer crimson, but a bright, familiar gold- lit up when she saw me.

“You look beautiful, love.” She said, holding the passenger door open for me.

I blushed and slid inside, and Alice climbed in the backseat. Rosalie waved at Charlie before getting in herself, pulling carefully out of the driveway and onto the road.

“Are you coming with us?” I asked curiously, looking back at Alice through the rear view mirror.

No.” She said, grinning mischievously. “It just would’ve looked very strange to Charlie if I’d run off into the woods alone.”

“Then what-“ I began- but before I could say anything, Alice looked around to see if there were any other cars, smiled, winked, and jumped out her open window. I watched in awe as she flew in a graceful arc, disappearing into the trees lining the road.

Rosalie giggled at my expression, then asked, “So, how were your exams?”

I blinked, recovering from the sudden shift in topic. “Good, I guess- I passed them all, at least.”

Because of my injuries, I had been allowed to take my exams a week later than everyone else. I’d had to sit alone in the library, with the grumpy librarian as my only company for hours. He sat behind his desk and read the whole time, only glancing up to check the clock.

“Even History?” She smirked.

My cheeks heated. “I got a seventy-two… which is still passing, technically.”

“Still, what will Charlie say?” She teased. “He may stop letting me see you once he knows that you fell below a B average.”

I rolled my eyes. “If he didn’t punish me for going to Phoenix without permission, he won’t punish me for a bad grade on an exam that won’t matter in ten years.”

She smiled, but I saw her eye twitch. I instantly felt bad about bringing it up… I had asked her if she had listened to me, or if she had still watched the tape after I’d begged her not to. She had promised me that she hadn’t, but I didn’t know if I believed her or not. I tried to think of something else to say to change the subject.

“Mike failed his Geometry exam, though.” I told her. “Aunt Sadie is furious with him. She’s making him go to summer school, so I’ll be getting most of the shifts this summer.”

“Poor Mike.” She smiled. “Good for you, though.”

“Yeah.” I said, then realized that we had stopped. We were parked at the end of the dead end road that lead to the hiking trails… Were we going to the meadow?

What are you up to?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at her.

Rosalie just smiled, hopped out of the car and zipped over to my side. She held the door open for me and helped me stand up. Silently, she held out her arms.

“You’re going to carry me up the mountain in heels?” I asked, gesturing down at the bright red six-inch stilettos she was wearing.

She winked. “That is the plan, yes.”

I held my arms out, and she swept me up onto her back, careful not to rip my dress as she adjusted my position.

Eyes?”

“Closed.” I said, burying my face in her shoulder and inhaling her perfume.

She took off, and I felt us fly up the mountain. When we finally stopped, she set me down and stood behind me, covering my eyes before I got the chance to open them.

“Oh, come on.” I said, trying in vain to pry her fingers away. “What are you doing that for?”

Please indulge me just a moment, Bella.” She begged, and she sounded so excited that I couldn’t refuse her. I sighed, dropping my arms to my side. I felt her lips against the top of my head, and my heart thudded loudly in my chest. “Thank you. Now, walk forward.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” I said, lifting the leg that was incased in the heavy boot and wiggling it in the air in front of me.

“I cleared away all the debris before we arrived.” She said proudly. “There’s not a twig or a rock, or even a ladybug that you could trip over. I checked.”

I took a deep breath, then carefully took a step forward. Rosalie kept pace with me, her cold hands still covering my eyes. She had been right; The ground beneath my feet was smooth, and I could hear a clacking sound as I walked… Stone? There wasn’t a walkway out here, though. Experimentally, I stopped, carefully tapping my boot against the surface and listening for the sound it made.

Rosalie giggled. “Keep walking, we’re almost there.”

I did as she said, my curiosity driving me forward until she pulled me gently to a stop.

Ready?” She asked, and I nodded.

She took her hands away from my eyes, and my mouth dropped open; We were in the meadow, but it didn’t look like the meadow anymore. What I had felt under my feet had been stone. A pathway had been placed into the ground, leading to the center of the meadow where a large white gazebo had sprung up overnight. There were white twinkling lights hanging from the rafters, and in the center of it, a small table and two chairs. It looked magical, like something that shouldn’t exist.

“Do you like it?” Rosalie asked. “I thought if this was going to be our special place, we might as well make a few alterations to make it more comfortable-”

I turned around and kissed her, wrapping my arms around her neck and cutting off the rest of her sentence.

She giggled against my lips, kissing me back for a moment before pulling away. “I take it that would be a yes?”

“I love it.” I breathed, grinning up at her before looking back at the masterpiece she had created. “When did you have the time to do all of this?”

“I had help, of course.” She shrugged, picking me up again and darting onto the gazebo, setting me gently back on my feet next to one of the chairs. “Esme designed it, and Emmett helped me get all of the stone up here- and Alice brought this just now.”

She gestured to the table, where I saw two silver trays with the kinds of silver domes that hotels used. I sat down in the chair that she had pulled out for me, and she lifted the lid; The steam rose up from a plate of fresh mushroom ravioli. Next to it, I noticed a bottle of Dr. Pepper in a bucket of ice, and two crystal glasses.

“You did all this?” I asked, sniffing the ravioli that smelled like heaven on a plate. “What’s the occasion?”

“The occasion is that I love you.” She said, taking the seat opposite me and taking the lid off her own plate. “Besides, I thought that we should do something special, since poor Tyler didn’t get to take you to the end-of-year dance.”

I laughed; It had been a few days after I’d gotten back from Phoenix. I had been much too injured to go to the dance, but this hadn’t stopped Tyler from showing up in a tuxedo, with flowers and a get well soon card, telling my dad that he was perfectly happy to stay in with me instead. I’d been so caught up in everything that had happened with Rosalie, that I’d completely forgotten that he was still under the assumption that we were going together.

Unfortunately for him, Rosalie had been upstairs with me at the time, and had heard every word he’d said. She’d skipped happily down the stairs and had told him- in no uncertain terms- that if my ‘No’ hadn’t been enough for him, she would be only too happy to make sure that he got the message from her. He’d ended up going to the dance alone. It had made Jess and Angela roar with laughter, and they'd both sent me pictures of him getting caught trying to spike the punch bowl with whipped cream vodka.

Yes, poor Tyler.” I said, taking the glass of coke she handed me and taking a sip. “Mike and Jess enjoyed themselves though- and Angela ended up going with Emma Dowden. She sent me their photo, they look cute together.”

We chatted as we ate. The ravioli tasted exactly like the one we’d had in Port Angeles, and I’d wondered if Alice had run all the way there and back, or if she’d managed to replicate the recipe somehow. Either way, it was delicious.

When we’d finished eating, I noticed Rosalie glancing behind me. I turned around to see a record player on another table.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

Well…” She said, grinning at me across the table and twirling a strand of hair in her fingers. She darted over to it, set the needle on the record, and stood in front of me with her hand outstretched. “I was hoping that you would waive your no dancing rule, just for today.”

I narrowed my eyes, again gesturing to the boot on my right leg.

She winked. “I won’t let you fall.”

I bit my lip, hesitating for a second longer before taking her hand and letting her lift me to my feet. She linked her fingers with mine and wrapped the other arm around my waist. She spun us easily around the gazebo, holding me up so that my feet barely skimmed the ground.

“I don’t know if this counts as me dancing.” I teased, grinning up at her as we swayed to the music.

Technicalities.” She said, her golden eyes sparkling as they reflected the lights around us.

The song was slow, with a lot of guitar and soft vocals. It was nice. We danced for a while until the song changed, and Rosalie must have seen something in my face that gave away what I was thinking.

“What is it?” She asked, slowing until we were just swaying back and forth. “Do you want to stop?”

“No, it’s just…” I said, biting my lip as I wondered if I should even bring it up.

Bella,” She said, setting me gently on my feet and taking both of my hands in hers. Her golden eyes smoldered as they gazed into mine. “You can tell me anything, love, you know that- What’s bothering you?”

“There's nothing bothering me, it’s just… Well, I thought that maybe you had been planning on… changing me…”

I swallowed, looking up at her nervously under my lashes. She had her eyebrow raised, her expression stuck somewhere between amused and exasperated.

“You think that I had you get all dressed up and whisked you away right in front of your father, just to change you into a vampire? That’s a bit too theatrical, even for me.”

I blushed. “Well, I was hoping…”

Hoping?” She rolled her eyes, sighing deeply. “Bella, that’s not a thing to hope for.”

I rolled my eyes back at her. “You said that we would discuss it later. It’s later.”

“That is not what I meant.”

“If we were going by what you meant as later, we wouldn’t be discussing it until I was fifty.” I said, narrowing my eyes up at her. “I want to discuss it now.”

“Okay, fine.” She said, straightening up and staring right into my eyes as she spoke. “Think- really think about what you’re asking for, Bella.”

“I have.” I insisted.

Have you?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “Have you thought about how you would be leaving everyone you love behind? You could never see them again, Bella- Charlie, Billy, Jacob, all your human friends at school- Could you really leave them to wonder what happened to you for the rest of their lives?”

I hesitated for a second, but my voice was firm as I gave my answer. “If I had you, then yes.”

Rosalie’s mouth twitched, but she continued, “You would never be able to sleep again- never be able to dream.”

I shrugged. “I’d never have nightmares either.”

“You’d have to endure searing agony for twenty-four hours…”

“You’d be there with me, right?” I asked.

She blinked. “Of course, Bella… I would never leave you to go through that alone.”

I grinned. “Then I’d be fine in a day- No big deal.”

No big-“ She ran her hands through her hair, sighed deeply, then looked back down at me. “What about the fact that you would be overcome with a bloodlust so intense that you may not be able to resist it? Restraint takes time and practice, Bella. What if you hurt someone on accident, could you live with that? What if it was someone you knew, not just a stranger?”

I considered that, biting my lip and staring down at my hands. “You’d be there to stop me… All of you would.”

Yes…” Rosalie said. “But we might not be able to… During the first year or so of our new lives, we’re much stronger- because of our own human blood lingering in our tissues. You’d be stronger and faster than every one of us, at least for a while.”

Oh…” I said, my defense falling flat and my shoulders slumping. Still, I rattled my brain for a solution. “Well… we’ll go live in Antarctica for a year or so. We could eat penguins.”

I was glad to see that I had made her laugh, and smiled up at her as some of the tension eased.

“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?” She asked, bringing my hands up to her lips and kissing my knuckles gently.

“Probably.” I said, grinning up at her.

“Then let me ask you this; Why are you so adamant about not surpassing me in age?” She asked. “You know that I’m technically a hundred years old- You’ll never be older than me, not really.”

“It’s not that.” I said. “It’s… Well, I don’t want our relationship to be out of balance for that long.”

Out of balance?” She asked, tilting her head to the side with her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“The longer I stay human, the more of a chance there is of the Volturi finding out about me." I said. "I'm putting your whole family in danger by being human. Edward was right about that. The longer I stay human, the longer you’ll have to protect me, whether it’s from other vampires like Victoria, or regular human accidents… I can’t protect you from anything. It’s not fair.”

Rosalie pulled me closer and wrapped her arms around my waist. I leaned my head against her chest, and she whispered into my hair, “I don’t mind protecting you, Bella… You shouldn’t cut your human life short on my account.”

I groaned. “Does that mean you’re going to make me wait until college?”

She sighed, pulling away so that she could look me in the eyes. “How about a compromise? We’ll revisit the subject of your descent into the world of the undead when you graduate from high school. Let Charlie see you walk across the stage and get your diploma. Spend more time with your human friends, explore what humanity has to offer… If you’re still insistent about being changed after that, well… I won’t fight you on it. I promise.”

Really?” I asked, looking up at her hopefully.

Rosalie smiled, reaching up and gently stroking my cheek with her thumb. “We are inherently selfish creatures, Bella… Believe me when I say that there is nothing I want more in this world than to have you by my side for eternity… but I want you to make in informed choice. I would hate for you to regret your decision once it’s too late to turn back and change your mind.”

I stood as tall as I could manage to kiss her, wrapping my arms around her neck. When I pulled away for a moment, I said, “I would never regret choosing you. I promise.”

Rosalie kissed me again, wrapping one arm around my waist and holding my face gently with the other. We stayed like that for a few moments before we broke apart. Rosalie looked over my shoulder at the record player, which had stopped playing. She darted over, reset the needle, then appeared by my side as soon as the song started to play again.

“May I have one more dance?” She asked, holding her hand out and smiling so broadly that her dimples were on full, glorious display.

I smiled. “You may.”

I took her hand and let her lift me into her arms again, and laughed as she spun us easily around our meadow. When the song was coming to a close, she dipped me carefully, taking my breath away as she pressed her lips to the scar above my collarbone.

Chapter Text

James leaned casually against the tall tree, looking down the slope of the mountain where the two infuriating girls spun under the twinkle lights. He grimaced in disgust as the young blonde who had beaten him at his own game dipped her human girlfriend, gently pressing her lips against the mark where Victoria had bitten her. James glared furiously; She had been so close to catching her prey. He watched them spin carelessly below him, the urge to take them out now wrestling with his desire to make them pay for their mistake slowlypainfully

No, killing them both now would be too simple, and their coven wasn’t that far away… If he decided to kill them now, the tiny psychic one who had escaped Victoria would see it happening, and he would risk his own destruction- he felt that in every cell of his body, his abilities advising him to take a wiser path of action. He would kill this human girl in retaliation for his own losses, but he would have to be careful; He had escaped last time, but he didn’t like his odds now that Victoria and Laurent were both gone.

Victoria’s loss was a blow, a hard one. He had tried for centuries to find a tracker with abilities that could have rivaled that collared bloodhound Demetri- only to lose her to a coven of golden-eyed, human-loving freaks. Still, he understood all too well her need for revenge, and had let her go against his better judgment, just to keep her happy.

Although losing her was detrimental to his plans, James couldn’t help feeling a tiny speck of relief now that Victoria was gone; He had never loved her in the way that she had him, not really. He’d pretended to, of course, since she had been essential to his success- as had Laurent. Traitor though he was now, James would miss having him around, if only for the conversation and sparring. He had been going to make Laurent his second in command, his General- Now, he was going to have to start from scratch. All the way back to square one.

His plans had been so meticulous, all to be undone because his fun-loving companion had wanted to stop for a stupid game of baseball. He should have told him no, insisted they keep heading North to Seattle. They had been so close to their destination, so close to beginning the next phase of his plans… Seattle’s crime rate was perfect for concealing their involvement, but he had needed the benefit of other, more restrained vampires like himself in order to pull off what he had in mind. He knew that starting over would take a while, and he was growing more and more impatient as time’s arrow continued to shoot forward.

His beloved Heidi suffered every day under the thumb of those puffed-up aristocrats, though he knew that she was none the wiser of it; Used for her talents as a glorified golden retriever, delivering fresh victims for the ones too old and frail to hunt for themselves like the privileged, protected, pathetic creatures that they were. James pulled the silver chain from around his neck, opening the locket at the end. Her crimson eyes bored into his chest, leaving a hollow ache where his heart had once been…

He had left it behind with her that day, as she had screamed at him to run- as his sister and their mother were burned for a crime that they had not committed, all because the ancient ones had craved Heidi’s power. He hoped, deep inside himself, that the one they called Chelsea hadn’t been able to make her forget him- or worse, despise him… that their love was more powerful than any poisonous power she carried within her twisted head. If he arrived to rescue her, storming the gates of Volterra with an army whose sole purpose was to free her- only to find nothing in her eyes when she looked back at him… Well, he couldn’t think about that. He pressed his lips to the photograph, and tucked it away again under his shirt.

Looking back down at the girls in the meadow, he made up his mind; This coven would pay for their interference… but not yet. He would bide his time, lure them into a false sense of security. This coven had many gifted ones among them, it would be a suicide mission to take them on alone… But, what if he wasn’t alone?

He smiled as he realized what he had been given; A test run. An opportunity to try the tactics that he had discovered in the south before he went to Italy and used them for real. He would rescue Heidi, but she was safe where she was, for now. She was as safe as she could be. She wouldn’t be harmed as long as she remained useful to the Italians, and she had no choice but to do so thanks to Chelsea. He had time to do this the right way, really make the Cullens and their precious human suffer for making the grave mistake of crossing him… Perhaps he would even pay a visit to Laurent first, to send a clear message; No one crosses him and gets away with it. No one.

“I’m coming, my love.” James whispered to the locket, placing one hand over it. He chuckled darkly to himself, turned on his heel, and sped away towards the city; He would need numbers… And a new General.