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Twilight: But its a Thriller and I Never Read Twilight

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Part 1

Dedicated to Sophie: who is a beta reader by force.

I've given a lot of thought to how I would die over the last two years- and there were certainly many opportunities— but I had never imagined it like this.

Forks, Washington wasn’t so different from how my mother described it when I had told her my decision. The first thing I saw as my dad’s beat up police cruiser crossed the town line was the rain. It was coming down in sheets, untethered to the sky it fell from. The second thing I saw was the forest, the bursting trees that rose up to greet the rain and darkening the road as we drove. I sat in the passenger side next to my father as he drove and the only sound to be heard was the rustling sound of the car’s heater and the rain rushing down on us.

I had made the decision to leave home without having seen the gloom of Washington in years, and maybe I should have thought about the weather before I told my mom what I was thinking, but now it was far too late. I told myself, I would get used to it. There were parts of my visits here that I remembered from growing up, many of them happy, and if I could be happy then, I imagined I could find happiness now as well.

In any case, there wasn’t much of a choice. I’d grown up in Arizona for most of my life. The visits to Forks were short lived and far and few in between. My mother, the ex-Renee Swan hated this place and everything about it, from the cold atmosphere to my dad’s quiet presence. Now as I sat in the seat next to him, I couldn’t imagine why in the world they would have ever had the bright idea to marry each other anyway. I loved them both dearly, but Charlie and Renee Swan were two very different people. After so many years not seeing my dad, I had thought it was time for another visit. My mom had other things on her mind.

She was wildly and madly in love with a man named Phil Dwyer, and to see her so taken with a man after years and years of just the two of us, I couldn’t keep them a part. And I was just the problem. With two years left of high school before I could leave the house for college, I needed someone responsible for me, but Phil, being of course the only person my mom could have fallen in love with, was a minor league baseball player, meaning first and foremost that he traveled a lot.

I saw it first in the earliest parts of their relationship. Phil would be gone for a week and my mom would slink off to bed early in the evening, too tired to spend her days doing much of anything. It only grew worse the closer they got and as the first day of my junior year drew closer and closer, she knew she had to be there for me.

She loved me. I knew that from every smile and every moment we spent together. If I loved her as much as I knew she loved me, I needed to let her go. She’d told me the moment I told her my idea, that it wasn’t my responsibility. It wasn’t my job to take care of her, but I could see it behind her eyes how happy she was that I wanted to leave. This house and this life had become a burden keeping her from what she really wanted, and I couldn’t be the one to keep her tethered there. So I let her go, and she let me go too.

It was my decision. That was the first thing I told my dad when I called him, and that was probably the only reason he agreed. It had been years since we’d seen each other face to face and there was a part of me that was excited to see him. My heart was racing so loudly in my ears while I waited for him in the airport that I had nearly missed him calling for me.

Now, however, that excitement had died down and I knew from our first meeting in the Seattle airport that we had a lot of catching up to do. How to do that, however, was lost on the both of us.

My mom always said I was a little like my dad, and that maybe she had been with him so that she could get herself a daughter just like him, but they were never meant to be soulmates. I had let myself believe that they still loved each other in their own way, but my mom declined to talk with Charlie about all of this when I called to tell him. I didn’t need to ask her anything else about their relationship.

So sitting in the car as my dad drove through Forks, the buildings rising through the fog, barely visible in this rain, I tried to find something to ask that might kick us off into a conversation instead of wading through this poor silence. As we slowed behind a truck at a crumbly looking intersection, I spotted a restaurant through the rain. It looked as old as the pothole hewn street, but with a fresh coat of paint that attempted to disguise its age. I was sure I recognized it from a time years ago.
“The Carver Café,” I said as the name came to me from the depths of my memories.

Charlie glanced over through the window where the café stood outlined in neon lights. “Yeah, I haven’t been there in a while. Best burger in Forks. I’ll take you this week. I’ve been meaning to catch up with Cindy anyway.”

“Cindy?” I asked. The name sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure.

“Cindy Price. Old family friend. She’s worked at Carver’s about as long as I can remember,” Charlie said. “Older woman. Uh, she used to wear those dangly earrings you said looked like evil eyes.”

An image of an old woman with a dyed brown perm and glasses that hung off her nose rose up in my memory. The old waitress I was always so scared of. Looking back, she really wasn’t that scary. She was a nice woman in fact, but her earrings always made me think she could see me even when her head was turned. I smiled a little at the memory of me hiding under the table until she disappeared into the kitchen again.

“Those earrings were evil,” I offered.

“You made her take them off once,” Charlie said. “And now that I think about it, that was about the time she stopped wearing them altogether.”
“Because of me?” I asked.

“She must have gotten other complaints from the kids,” Charlie said.

The light ahead turned green and the truck in front of them stormed ahead, leaving them in a cloud of dust as they crept out across the intersection. As we kept along the main streets, I tried to find anything else I recognized from my childhood, but nothing stood out as important. A few vague images floated freeform in my head, but nothing stuck. By the time we reached the house, the rain was falling in buckets, and I stared at the puddles outside as Charlie parked in the driveway and turned off the car.

“Here we are,” Charlie said. Ahead of us, the house stood against the forest. It seemed to surround us on all sides, and I wondered if this was a town or just a forest a few thousand people had decided to live in.

The house itself was as old and falling apart as the rest of the town seemed. The siding was a little worse for wear and chipping in places. The porch, however, was freshly swept and clear of rain. All I needed was to get there and I’d be safe, but the distance and the amount of rain falling overhead seemed too much to traverse through.

Before I could open the door to make my attempt, Charlie reached over and opened the glove compartment. A few things attempted to spill out before he caught them including a small wrapped up umbrella which he offered to me.

“Welcome to Forks,” he said with a smile and handed it over to me.

I took the umbrella and held tight to the handle with one hand and the car door with the other. My Dad gave me a wink as he opened the driver side door and bolted out into the rain, pulling his jacket over his head to block as much of it as he could. I watched as he ran, his feet slapping against the puddles which splashed up his legs, turning his jeans dark and splattered. He only stopped when he got up the steps onto the safety of the porch. Looking out to me, he waved with both his hands high in the air as if egging me on.

After a moment’s hesitation, and a deep breath, I pushed the door open and dragged myself out into the rain. In the seconds before I got the umbrella open above me, I was drenched in the thick dark water. It ran through my hair turned my dark curls into stringy, limp waves. With the umbrella finally positioned above me to keep myself free from any more Washington rain, I followed my Dad’s lead and bolted up through the puddle ridden driveway up to the covered porch.

Once safe, I shook out the umbrella and watched as my Dad shook himself out, letting water fling off his jacket. It splashed everywhere, onto the siding, the wooden deck chairs, and even onto me. I nearly shrieked at the sudden cold and shook out what was left of the water on my umbrella onto him.

“Alright, alright,” he offered, holding his hands out in defeat. “I surrender. Let’s just get inside.”

My Dad threw the keys to the house in my direction, and I quickly fumbled before catching them. I turned to open the front door, but not before I watched Charlie lean out over the porch rail and wave to a slick black car passing the house on the road. It was too fast for me to have seen who it was, but I got the feeling it hardly mattered. It was very likely that my Dad knew everyone in this town as if it was his job to know them.

I turned the key and pushed the door open to reveal a mudroom I knew very well. It had been years since I’d been in this house, but everything seemed to stay the same. As I stepped in and found my Dad’s shoes in the closet, I could almost see myself, ten years younger trying to fit myself into his very large shoes. Even now they were too big for my feet.

As the door closed behind us, the feeling of cold that seemed to be ever present in this town left. The house seemed to welcome me home with warmth as if it had been waiting for me to come back this whole time. I slipped off my wet shoes and started deeper into the house, finding all the furniture unchanged from how I remembered it.

“Your room is upstairs on the left. You just go ahead and settle in. I’ll start making dinner,” Charlie said.

I looked toward the top of the stairs before a thought came. “Oh, my bags.”

Charlie looked back to the door and to the sound of rain that pelted the ground outside. “It’s supposed to stop raining soon. We’ll get it then.”

“This is supposed to stop?” I asked. The rain didn’t seem close to ending. On the contrary, it felt like it would rain for days and days.

“It comes and goes,” Charlie said. “Go see your room. I’m sure you’ll have notes.”

I tried to hide the smile on my face as he stepped out towards the kitchen. Despite the rain, and the old way this town seemed to present itself, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I started up to my room. It was as if, in the last few weeks, I had been holding my breath and wondering if this was all going to work out, and now, I was nearly done. I’d miss my Mom. I was sure she’d miss me too, but it had been far too long since I’d felt normal. In that house in Phoenix, I’d been on the edge, waiting to come home to find my mom gone for the weekend again with only a note on the table to remind me to lock the door at night.

It had been hard those last few months. Phil had always been gone, and my Mom had always missed him. Any chance she got the itch, she’d sneak off to see him when she didn’t think I needed her around. I managed, but not knowing if I’d be making my own dinner that night or finding my own way around town.

When I found my room in Charlie’s house, now my house as well, the bed was already made up. The little bed in the corner that I’d slept on when I came here as a kid was gone and replaced with a full bed in the center of the room, a nightstand with an old alarm clock and an empty dresser. There was only one window in this room, but I could see it as I sat down on my bed, the rain sprinkling against it. I let myself smile at the rain despite myself. It was going to be quite the change from Phoenix, but I knew that going in.

I traced my hands over the furniture of the room, feeling the knots in the wood and the soft fabric of the quilt on my bed as I accessed my living situation. It was a smaller room than the one in Phoenix, but that was no problem.

“Bella!” Charlie’s voice erupted from downstairs. I nearly jumped at his shout, but quickly settled my nerves as I realized it was just him. “Come down here! I have a surprise.”
I tried not to imagine what gift he might have prepared for me as I started back down the steps, leaving my new room behind. When I got down to the second landing, however, I found him outside, holding the front door open as a boy stood on the bottom step. The rain had in fact slowed, but the boy still held an umbrella out over the form of an older man beside him still in the driveway, sitting in a wheelchair.

The boy was relatively tall, with a deep brown face and almost black eyes. His hair was long and raven black, falling past his shoulders in misted sheaves. He wore jeans and a thick jacket to protect from the September cold. The man next to him appeared in a similar fashion. His hair was long with streaks of grey in between the black and protected by a hat. He wore gloves and rubbed his hands together against the cold just as I noticed the two of them.

“Bella, you remember Billy Black, don’t you?” Charlie asked.

I blinked down at him for a brief second before an image came to mind. A man in a wheelchair who’d visited Charlie almost every time I’d been in Forks. I knew his face although it had aged a lot since I’d last seen him. I also remembered the boy next to him, I realized, although I hadn’t put together that it was him.

Jacob Black had grown a lot in the years since we’d ran through the woods behind my Dad’s house getting into trouble. He’d grown into his big feet and into his features. By now, he had to be sixteen, and I smiled at them, happy to at least have a familiar face all the way here. I’d thought I wouldn’t know any of the kids my age here, but Jacob must have slipped my mind.

“I remember,” I said as I stepped outside. I didn’t bother to put my shoes on. They were soaking wet, and the porch was dry enough. “It’s been a while.”
“I would say so,” Billy said through a grin. “What happened to that little girl always getting into trouble?”

“Oh, she’s still around,” Charlie said and wrapped an arm around my shoulder, squeezing me tight. “Billy here just wanted to welcome you back.”

I gave him an awkward smile. The visit had caught me off guard and I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of Billy’s visit. He was a good friend of my Dad’s, but I figured most of the people in this town knew him well enough.

“And,” Jacob added. “To drop off your birthday present.”

“It’s not my birthday,” I said and looked to my Dad for answers. He was very obviously pretending that he didn’t know what was going on, but it was clear from the hidden smile in his eyes that he’d planned this himself.

“It’s only a few days out,” Charlie said. “Maybe we should hear them out.”

“Right.” I looked down to Jacob for answers and he couldn’t quite meet my eyes, but grinned wildly, letting the ruse fall away.

“My Dad just happened to be fixing up an old truck this summer and well wouldn’t you know it, she runs like a dream, so we thought it might be better in your hands,” Jacob explained.

He stepped aside a little and just beyond, I could see the old red truck sitting in the driveway. I was no car expert, but it had to be at least thirty years old. The bumpers were rusted, but it seemed well held together from the obvious wear and tear. My heart leapt with a sudden urge to go somewhere, or even just to drive around town in the ancient looking vehicle before me. I’d never had a car of my own and despite its age, this truck was like a dream come true.

“This is mine?” I asked even though I was sure I knew the answer. Charlie hadn’t hidden himself well. I didn’t know what else to say, I just stared down at Jacob, sure my thoughts were plain as day.

Jacob reached into his jacket pocket and pulled something out before tossing it to me. I caught it deftly and looked to the item he’d given me. A set of keys sat in my hands, still warm from Jacob’s palms. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I held them in my hands, a car of my own.

“Let’s go,” I said, racing down the stairs of the porch toward my brand-new truck.

“Hold on, Bella,” Charlie said. I halted on the last step. “Shoes.”

I realized just in time that I was still not wearing my shoes and that they were sitting inside, still soaking wet. If I took a drive now, they’d squeak and squish against my feet the whole time. I turned back to Charlie, a little disappointed.

“We should get you settled in before you go to any parties,” Charlie said. He looked to Jacob with a mocking suspicion as if the presence of anyone my age would lead to proclivity and troublemaking.

“I’d never do such a thing, Mr. Swan,” Jacob said in an equally mocking show of betrayal. Beside him, Billy just laughed.
“We’ll let you have your dinner and get settled,” he explained. “It’s good to see you, Bella.”

I nodded to the both of them. “It’s good to see you too,” I said as Billy started to wheel himself away. Another car was parked on the street, likely the one Billy had driven to get here, and he headed towards it. Jacob however, stayed for a second, still smiling.

“Jacob,” I said as he started to turn away and follow his dad. He looked up, expecting to hear me ask him a question, but truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to say to him. It had been years since I saw him, and maybe we had grown into very different people in that time, but he was still the only kid in Forks I knew. “I guess I’ll see you at school.”

Jacob shook his head a little. “I actually go to the school at the reservation,” he said. I deflated a little. I’d assumed I would be able to see him every day now that we were in the same town. I hated the idea of starting over. I didn’t have any friends here and it wasn’t going to be easy making them halfway through high school. “But, I expect you to come visit me.”

I felt my anxieties start to diminish a little. If I had somewhere to go and someone to see it wouldn’t feel so overwhelming all the time. There would always be Jacob to fall back on.

“It’s mandatory,” he said, and followed Billy out to the car.

As he disappeared into the car and left me behind on the bottom step of the porch in my socks against the sloshing rain, I felt a calm wash over me. Maybe it was the sound of the rain or the chill in the air, but with my quiet father behind me and something eerily new in front of me, I felt secure for the first time in a long time. Maybe long before my Mom met Phil or even all the way to the last time I’d been in this town, I felt this quiet excitement for school tomorrow and for the rest of this year.

By the time the rain stopped, it was dark outside, and I rushed out in my soggy shoes to Charlie’s police car to grab what little I’d brought from Phoenix. It was a quiet night here, the sounds of wildlife so vibrant and different from what I’d known. It was something, I thought, that was worth discovering.

Chapter Text

The sun didn’t rise in Forks the morning of my first day of school. At least, I didn’t feel the sun greeting me through the window as my alarm sounded against my ears. The cloud cover from the day before had not left the sky but left an echo of the rain from before. I sat up in my bed as the alarm still blared, trying to wake myself in protest of the dark sky. As I finally turned my alarm off, the sounds of the house came into focus.

Downstairs, there was a crash almost as quickly as I had settled into my half-awake state. I nearly jumped as below, Charlie let out a curse that spread through the small house. I shook myself free of any real worry and pulled myself out of bed at a snail’s pace. This was going to be a good day, and I told myself that earnestly, but the world seemed to spin differently in this house than in my old home in Phoenix.

I got dressed quickly, pulling out the jeans I would have expected to have kept packed away until later months. I threw on a purple sweatshirt over it to keep myself warm. Even this house was cold. Maybe I just hadn’t gotten used to it yet.

Clambering down the stairs, the smell of burnt toast became quickly apparent as well as the sound of glass pieces being swept aside. When I stepped into the kitchen, Charlie was already there with at least a half a dozen things cooking, and a plate completely smashed to pieces on the floor. Charlie was holding a broom and a dustpan before he glanced up to see me and quickly shifted on his feet.

“Stay back,” he snapped, holding out one hand currently occupied with a dustpan to stop me from stepping any further. It might have been too early to laugh, but I did anyway at his blunder. Just as fast as I was laughing, he lightened up too.

“First time cooking?” I asked. I couldn’t remember the last time my Dad had cooked. He always took us out to Carver’s when I was here or picked up fast food to tie us over.
“I made you breakfast,” he offered, motioning to the pile of pancakes on the table. “Just be careful.”

I stepped around the swept up pile of ceramic, keeping a wide berth as Charlie swept it into the pan and slid it into the trash. Sitting down at the little table, which was still covered in papers and take out containers, I pulled the plate of pancakes towards myself and poured a large helping of syrup over them. They were good enough if not a little burnt, but I could hardly tell Charlie that. He was still putting together a haphazardly prepared breakfast of any breakfast food he could think of.

I ate as much of it as I could handle before I waved him off and grabbed my backpack to head for my truck. Luckily, there was no rain today, though the sky threatened it. I threw my bag into the passenger side of the truck which closed with a heavy thunk and got into the driver’s seat.

She was no street racer, but the engine roared as I turned the ignition and made a loud creak as I backed out of the driveway. The drive to school was rather uneventful, and I caught the wave of students all heading into the parking lot all looking for the best space to park in the cracked and pothole ridden lot. I found a spot near the back, avoiding the crowd of kids sitting on the hoods of their cars trying to kill time before the first bell.

I got out and threw my bag over my shoulder as I locked the truck and started toward the front doors of the school, which didn’t look much better put together than the parking lot. Before I could get past the first row of cars, however, I caught sight of someone far beyond.

At first, I wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but it became apparent quite quickly that he was staring at me. He stood behind a car not so far from mine, as if he was trying to hide himself from view, but the car was short enough that he could see me plain as day, and I stopped, staring back at him as if it would get him to realize how creepy he was being. It didn’t work and he kept looking at me with a blank expression, like he was staring at a ghost instead.

I glanced behind me, hoping maybe he was looking at someone else, but there was no one behind me. There wasn’t even a car heading into the lot. It was just me, surrounded by empty cars and the strange boy who had to have been my age, just staring. I felt my whole body tense like I was trapped in a vise, and mustering up some courage, I started to walk over towards him. I wasn’t sure why I was so convinced I needed to tell him off, but I did. Why was he staring at me? Why did I feel his eyes on me even when I looked away, like a spider crawling up the back of my neck, ever so slowly?

The look in his eyes as I started to walk over only seemed to grow wider and his lip was upturned in a snarl like I had somehow offended him. For what, I wasn’t sure. The closer I got to him, the more nervous I became about what I was actually doing. I wasn’t actually sure I had the guts to approach him, but I was halfway to him and already mulling over the words in my head.

“Hey there,” a voice sounded behind me, shrill and loud over the wisp of the wind passing through my ears. At the sound, I stopped walking and just as quickly, the boy turned his gaze and reached for his backpack in his car. I watched him head for the front doors of the school as if nothing had happened before I turned around to face whoever had called in my direction.

The girl walking toward me was smiling bright enough to serve as the sun which had yet to make an appearance. She wore her light brown hair in a tight ponytail, only her bangs falling dangerously close to her eyes. I could have assumed she was talking to someone else if I wasn’t the only person still this far from the school. When she reached me, she held out a crisp manicured hand out for me to shake.

“I’m Jessica,” she said without breaking the lines of her smile. I reached out my hand a little hesitantly and took it.

“Bella,” I said. Her grip was firm despite her dainty looking hands.

“This must be your first day,” Jessica said. “I heard there was going to be a new kid.”

“Yeah,” I said and glanced behind me in search of the strange boy who’d been glaring at me so intently just a moment ago. I caught the tails of his jacket disappear into the school building as Jessica reached for my hand.

“I’ll show you around,” Jessica said. “Everyone basically knows everyone here, so you’ll probably figure things out pretty fast.”

Before I could process what was happening, Jessica was dragging me along towards the building and asking quite a lot of questions rapid fire. It wasn’t easy to keep up with her as she started to explain the football team and theatre club and various parts and hallways of the school. After her long explanation of our horrible rivals, the Montesano Bulldogs, I found myself starting to get comfortable with her tour and her erratic and excitable company.

I figured if she was just going to hand out her friendship, I was more than happy to take it. I didn’t know anyone at this school and Jacob was miles away and very likely not thinking of me. School would be much easier if I had someone to talk to while I was here.

“Where are you from originally, Bella?” Jessica asked about halfway through her tour.

“Oh, uh. I’m from Phoenix,” I said. “I lived with my mom there, but I thought it might be better if I spent some more time with my dad.”
“And you moved halfway to the north pole to do it?” Jessica joked. “This must be pretty weird for you.”

“Yeah, I only got here yesterday and it’s kind of cold,” I said. That was probably an understatement. The cold here pierced deep into my veins and stuck there.

“I’ll say. I wish I could go somewhere warmer,” Jessica said. “I was looking at the University of Arizona for college, but I think my mom would lose her mind.”

I smiled at that. My mom was probably with Phil somewhere, riding along to his next game or signing or something. Shaking her out of my mind, I followed Jessica down another hall towards the lockers. I didn’t need to think about my mom or where she was. She was happy and that meant I’d done all I needed to do for her.

“Your dad is Charlie Swan, right?” she asked out of the blue. I felt myself go rigid at the mention of my dad’s name. How could she have known who my dad was? I suddenly remembered the boy outside in the parking lot, staring. Did everyone known something about me I didn’t know?

“Small town,” she added. “My Dad told me he mentioned a daughter moving back in.”

“Oh,” I said. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but that boy had really messed me up. Something about his eyes seemed wrong, but I hadn’t gotten close enough to see.

“He’s the police chief, everyone knows Charlie,” Jessica said. “Some for worse reasons than others.” She gave a glare to a boy stepping past them. He was a scraggily looking kid with shaggy blond hair, but he just nodded Jessica’s way as he passed like they were friends.

“Cool,” I offered. Maybe it wouldn’t be so nerve wracking once I remembered this really wasn’t Phoenix. Forks was so small that everyone was on a first names basis with the police chief. I could get used to that, I thought.

Suddenly, above our heads, the first bell rung, shrill and piercing, knocking us promptly out of our conversation. The hallways started to swell with students all hustling towards classrooms for their day. Jessica looked disappointed to not be able to finish the tour.

“What’s your first class?” she asked.

“Uh, biology,” I said, scrambling to pull out to piece of paper with my classes printed onto it. I unfolded it and she stood on her tiptoes up to my level to read what was written.
“That’s not far from my first class,” Jessica said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

She took my hand and lead me once again through the halls, now weaving through all the students that were making their way to classes at the last minute. After making our way up the stairs and to the far end of the school, Jessica stopped us at a classroom and held her hands out as if she was showing me a cool magic trick.
“Ta da,” she said. “I’ll see you later. We can have lunch together and you can meet my other friend.”

She disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared and left me in a now lonely hallway. The bell rung just as shrill as the first time as I stepped into the classroom. The lab tables of the biology room were set up in a descending order, all of them filled as I looked around, except for one empty seat near the front.

The other person at the lab table twisted his gaze to me as soon as I entered the classroom and wouldn’t stop looking as I stepped inside. It was the boy from the parking lot. I was sure of it, though I hadn’t seen him so close up. He was looking at me with the same animosity as before that made my stomach churn. His table was the only one with an empty seat and I tried to hide the pitiful look I must have been giving at the prospect of sitting next to this strange kid.

I thought I heard whispers shifting between students as I stepped forward to the boy and the only empty lab table. He wouldn’t stop looking at me even as I sat down and set my bag beside my chair. His gaze was cold and unblinking like a predatory cat sizing me up. I tried not to let him bother me as I sat still looking ahead to the pinched teacher in the front of the room still wearing a scarf over his shoulders.

“Good morning students and welcome back,” he said as the class continued to mumble to each other. He stood up straight and rigid although he wasn’t very tall to begin with and his large glasses seemed to make him look even smaller and peculiar. “It seems this year we have a new student, so I am Mr. Molina.”

His eyes cast across the room towards me, and suddenly the boy at my lab table wasn’t the only one looking at me. Everyone stared and I found myself covering my head with my hands as if it would stop all the stares. Awkwardly I gave a wave and the eyes all around quickly dispersed.

“You must be Bella Swan,” Mr. Molina said. “What do you think of our little town?”

I pressed my mouth into a thin line as more embarrassment washed over me. Clutching my hands together under the table, I just smiled. “It’s alright,” I said.

Luckily, Mr. Molina didn’t care enough to demand anything more of me and instead began to go over the syllabus for the first day of class. The class seemed to groan as he read out requirements, but as it settled into a low dirge of rules and regulations, the class returned to a sort of secret conversation. I caught sight of a few notes being passed before Mr. Molina got through the first unit.

When my eyes drifted to the window and to the boy sitting directly in front of it, I noticed quite clearly that he hadn’t taken his eyes off of me. I coughed a little, hoping that would get him to notice how strange he was being, but he just blinked very slowly as if he was forcing himself to do it. His eyes were a cold black, like the darkest pits of the ocean. I couldn’t begin to see the bottom of his stare. There was something odd and unnatural about his posture and the way he carried himself, like he thought himself better than me. I strained against his gaze and tried to focus on Mr. Molina.

“Bella Swan,” he said so quietly I almost couldn’t hear it. I gave him a hard look, trying to access what he was meaning to do, but I couldn’t begin to understand his strange, off-putting behavior.

“What?” I hissed back and he recoiled back, covering his mouth and nose with a hand. I thought for a moment as he was covering his nose, that I smelled so horrendously that he could smell my sweat from there. I didn’t know what I had done to earn his ire. In fact, I was pretty sure he was meant to have earned mine.

“You’re the police chief’s daughter,” he said plainly, removing the hand from his mouth.

“Yes,” I said back in my same loathsome tone.

“Hmm,” he mumbled and finally, finally turned away from me, looking up to the teacher who was beginning to ask the class what they’d done over the summer.

I sighed, looking down to my hands clutched in my lap. I didn’t like where this year was going if I had to spend the entire year sitting next to this strange kid and his strained posture. If I could have asked to sit somewhere else, I would have, but as soon as class ended, Mr. Molina was swarmed by students asking him all sorts of questions and I was too nervous to butt in.

It didn’t seem like I had any other classes with the boy in the morning, but every so often as the day went on, I saw him lurking in the halls. He never spoke to anyone or looked at me, but I could still feel those icy fish eyes making my skin crawl.

I was safe in P.E. when I found Jessica and she introduced me to her friend Angela during our mandatory stretches. It was nice to see a friendly face and with no sign of that weird boy, I felt my guard drop as I chatted with Jessica about her favorite things to do here and her least favorite teachers. It was a short lived repute however, as class ended quickly and I was pushed off with the crowds towards my next stop.

By lunch, I found Jessica again. She yanked me by the arm as she came up behind me, pulling me along to the cafeteria which she’d shown me that morning on her tour. I followed her along through the cafeteria line to get our food as she started to ask me about how I liked my classes.

“You have to sit with me and Angela,” Jessica said. “Unless you have someone else you promised to sit with.”

I looked around for any sign of the fish-eyed boy, but he was nowhere to be seen. “No, I can sit with you.”

“Great,” Jessica cheered, nearly jumping for joy at the prospect of a new friend. I smiled and followed her along. “Don’t try the pizza. It looks good, but it tastes like cardboard. Have you had English yet?”

“I have it after lunch,” I said and glanced over my crumpled-up schedule sheet once again. “Sixth period.”

“Oh, that means we have English together,” she said as they moved ahead, deeper into the long and busy line of hungry kids all trying to get something to eat.

I followed her lead, taking a helping of grey looking taco meat on the main menu. When we finally got through the line, Jessica showed me her table where Angela was already seated, a large camera case in the seat next to her. She moved it aside as Jessica came to sit next to her and I sat on the other side of the table, across from them like I was in some sort of strange interview.

Angela was a sweet enough looking girl. She had soft brown eyes and a warm complexion. Her hair, razor straight black, was braided loosely like she’d done it herself in the mirror this morning in the short moments between waking up and rushing to school. Now out of her gym clothes, she wore a pink sweater over a buttoned-down shirt. She smiled to greet them.

“You’ll never believe who I saw making out in the French room last hour,” Angela said with a wide and dangerous look in her eye.

“Don’t tell me it was Emmett and Rosalie again,” Jessica offered with a roll of her eyes.

“I’m sorry, who’s that?” I asked, leaning in a little. Maybe I was just curious to know who the fish-eyed boy was, but Angela’s scandal intrigued me more than it should have. I’d never really given a care to who was kissing who. I told myself I was asking because I wanted to fit in. I never had any close friends in Phoenix. Jessica and Angela seemed worth the effort of asking about things I really wouldn’t have normally cared about.

Jessica grinned wildly and lowered her voice. “They’re siblings.”

I wanted to snort or maybe to accuse her of lying, but I did no such thing. I didn’t think Forks was such a backwards town. My parents had met here, and they weren’t related in any way. I shouldn’t have been so curious.

“Well, foster siblings,” Angela corrected. I hardly doubted that was much better.

“Speak of the devil,” Jessica said and turned her gaze away as behind her, a group of students stepped into the cafeteria.

I didn’t think there was anything odd about them at first. The first was a tall girl with cherry blonde hair and a small mole over her lip like Marilyn Monroe. She was holding hands with an athletic looking boy in a tight fitted tee shirt and shorts like he’s just been for a jog. The girl looked so sophisticated and her boyfriend like any average football linebacker. They didn’t seem to fit together, but neither did the pair that followed behind them.

The girl had a short bob like a 1920’s flapper although it seemed to float wherever she walked as she skipped along in a short jean skirt and tights. Her boyfriend had an odd look in his eyes that reminded me of the fish-eyed boy from my biology class. He didn’t seem to blink much either and walked strict and straight like a soldier or a man with a very long pole up his butt. His blonde hair was curly and parted in the middle in a way that oddly reminded me of the Amish.

If I had thought they were the weirdest, I hadn’t seen the last yet. The fish-eyed boy was following them blankly, his chin held up and his eyes free of emotion. He peaked a glance my way as if he’d sensed I was there and knew exactly where to look to find me. Before he looked away, I thought I saw a shift in his glassy eyes, like they had changed color, but it must have been my imagination because he was looking away just as quickly.

“Those are the Cullen’s,” Jessica said, trying to remain inconspicuous as she gossiped about them. “Rosalie and Emmett have been dating since freshman year and nobody really knows when Jasper and Alice got together. They’ve just always been together really.”

“So they’re actually siblings then?” I asked.

“Same last name and everything,” Angela offered. “They live in the woods with their rich foster dad and his wife. Moved to town a few years ago.”

I eyed the five of them as they sat down at a far table. None of them had stepped in line to grab lunch, they just sat there with plastic water bottles like that was all they needed to subsist on. Something about them made me sick and oddly intrigued, like I couldn’t stop looking at them. If I was being honest, they were beautiful in their own weird way, like popular kids who never spoke to anyone except their exclusive inner circle.

“What’s the spikey haired one’s name?” I asked. “He doesn’t have a sister girlfriend.”

Jessica laughed. “Why are you interested?” I didn’t answer. “That’s Edward Cullen. He’s fine, I guess, but he doesn’t really talk to anyone.”

“He was staring at me earlier,” I said, looking away from the Cullen’s to access what my new-found friends must have thought about that. Even as I wasn’t looking at Edward, though, I had this sharp feeling in the back of my head like he was still looking at me. Some wrathful part of me wanted to go over there and tell him to stop being such a creep, but I didn’t want to cause a scene on my first day. I didn’t want him to know I was so uncomfortable by it.

“Maybe he’s got a crush on you,” Jessica said with a wide smile spreading on her face. She wiggled her eyebrows with a flirtatious accusation, but I just sat back, suddenly quite done with this conversation.

I wasn’t looking at Edward Cullen and if he was looking at me, I was quite sure he’d have to get over it and move on.

Chapter Text

I spent the whole first week of class toying over why exactly the Cullens were the way they were. In the classes we had together, Edward spent half of his time staring at me and the other half of the time being a smart ass. I figured out pretty quickly that he was at the top of the class, and not only that, but he and all his weird siblings seemed to think they were better than everyone else.

At least, they didn’t talk to anyone else. They never ate the school lunch. And they seemed to be exempt from gym classes. I was sure I heard Jessica say they were all in our grade. It didn’t make sense to me. How did five kids like that end up with a rich doctor as a father, one who was apparently alright with them all dating each other. All except for Edward who watched over me with a shrewd impression every time I was near.

I hesitated to mention any of this to Charlie, whom I was sure knew something about it. He had a variety of friends in town and out of town that came over to visit him and chat whenever they got the chance. Billy Black came over another time in the week, this time without Jacob.

The two of them sat in the kitchen together discussing football, the news, or whatever else caught their attention. I supposed that was just what having adult friends was like, but I wasn’t used to seeing two people act so plainly with each other. Renee always had to be on her feet. She never stood still for a minute and always had plans for the weekend.

Her friendships were short lived and passionate. She would find someone and within the day proclaim the other woman to be her new best friend forever. By the end of about three month, it would be over and she would pretend that woman had never existed at all. Charlie, however, was a slow and steady sort. I was astonished to find him in the driveway one night when I came home from school. He was talking to a friend, one I didn’t recognize, but I was sure I’d get to know them all soon enough. Charlie knew people, the same people he’d known for years and there was hardly anyone new to meet here.

So I just assumed Charlie knew the Cullens. He had to be friends with their father or their mother. I even thought I’d come home to find someone in the kitchen talking to Charlie whom he would introduce as a Cullen. For the first week of school, I didn’t ask.

But Edward was still…weird. I didn’t have another way to put it. He unsettled me down to my very bones. The look in his eye that never seemed to blink and his closed, quiet expressions. I just bore it. Jessica and Angela didn’t have anything helpful to say. They both thought he was kind of handsome in his own way, and I suppose he could have been if not for every interaction we’d had.

By Friday I was suspicious enough. I wanted to know why he was so disgusted with me and why I never seemed to see his siblings away from each other. In Biology, sat next to him in the moody light that drifted in through the window, I sat with my phone under the lab table as I listened to Mr. Molina discuss the animal kingdom structure.

I’d been texting Jacob whenever I got the chance. Besides Jessica and Angela, he was the only person I ever really talked to here. Other students had seemed interested in me at first like a kid might be interested in an animal in the zoo, cramped up behind thick glass, but they got over it quickly. Maybe it was just the excitement of having a new kid after eleven years of knowing the same people day in and day out at school. They’d quickly decided, like Edward maybe, that I wasn’t worth the time.

So I had Jessica and Angela and Jacob which I figured was all I really needed.

“Come to the rez this weekend?” Jacob texted me.

I grinned down at the text happy to finally have something to do. This town was slow, much slower than Phoenix. Maybe it was the bad roads and the rain, but nothing had happened in my first week here to make me think that anything ever happened here at all. Maybe that was too quick an assumption, but at least I had something to do this weekend.

“That your boyfriend?” I almost didn’t register that Edward was talking to me as he asked the question. I was too busy trying to act like I was paying attention and thinking about the end of the week.

After a second, I blinked at him, but he continued to look at me, waiting for the all important answer. He’d probably said all of five words to me all week, and I really didn’t care to answer his question. We were lab partners, and it was clear he didn’t want to be friends. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and tried giving him a hard look. That didn’t seem to steer him off the subject.

“I was just wondering because you looked so happy about it,” he said as if that helped.

I wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but I got nervous about his black gaze. “Just a friend,” I said instead and turned back to the front of the class, trying to ignore the gnawing feeling at my gut that Edward left there every time he spoke.

“Not from school,” Edward said. “I only see you hanging out with Jessica and Angela.”

What did he care about who I hung out with? It seemed to me that he didn’t hang out with anyone, so what was his concern about who my friends were? I was pent up, and probably turning red where I sat, but I just kept looking at the blackboard, pretending he wasn’t talking to me at all. Even as I ignored him, I knew he was looking at me, expecting an answer. I caved and was quickly disappointed with myself.

“Not from school,” I admitted. “He’s Quileute.”

Edward stiffened like a board, but I refused to look at his expression. It was as if the mention of that tribe set off some anxiety in him that I couldn’t place. I supposed he might have been one of those conservative types that thought rude and vicious things about anyone that wasn’t like them. If he was, that might have explained why he seemed so odd about me, a new comer with suntanned skin from a big and vast city.

I tried to ignore the churning of my gut as class continued. After so long with him, I had realized I didn’t want to be alone with him and I couldn’t be sure Mr. Molina wouldn’t assign some partner project that would require me to spend more time with him. It vexed me that I was so nervous about this strange boy. He was my age after all, and Jessica and Angela whom had both known him since freshman year and had many classes with him had nothing awful to say about him. In fact, they both insisted he had a crush on me. Why else would he act so odd around me when he’d never shown the slightest amount of discomfort around the other girls at this school?

When class ended, I bolted out of the class without waiting for Edward to try and offer the slightest amount of thought on the topic of my Quileute friend from the treaty land. He thankfully let me go without saying another word or trying to flag me down and with some luck, the rest of that day went without issue.

When I got home, my Dad was not there, which was not entirely uncommon. Sometimes he’d be at the house after a slow day, but most of the time, he was out at the station until well past five. I took the quiet calm of the house to work on homework, trying to put as much as I could out of mind for this weekend. If I was going to be seeing Jacob again, I didn’t want to waste headspace thinking about the assignments due on Monday.

It wasn’t long, however, before I found myself getting hungry. A dull gnaw came to my stomach as I read through an early chapter of biology. Without thinking of it, I headed for the kitchen, searching for something to tie me over until my Dad returned from work and offered a suggestion of dinner. Stepping into the kitchen, however, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye.

I whipped around to the kitchen table in the corner, still covered in a few of Charlie’s work documents and a small bowl of apples. Besides that, there was nothing at all to be seen. The house’s long uninterrupted silence didn’t feel so comforting anymore. My heart was loud enough now that I could hear it climbing its way up into my throat.

There was nothing in this little house but me, I told myself, though the reasoning didn’t stick. There might very well be someone else in this house, but nothing was out of place. I was safe here despite the cold grey of the sky outside and the loneliness of this house. But I was suddenly rethinking my decision to come here.

I could have been in Phoenix right now in a school I knew with people I knew and no fish-eyed boys. I could have been with my Mom, who needed me as much as I needed her, and I wondered for the first time since leaving her if she was alright out there without me. I shook the feeling of guilt out as I told myself once again that I was alone.

Turning from the kitchen table back towards the fridge, I was caught again by the image of something moving, but this time, it was not a mirage against the wall, but something out the window. I paused in place, letting my eyes rest carefully on the wolf that was standing just outside at the edge of the tree line as if accessing the surroundings.

The wolf was larger than I would have expected, towering over the surrounding brush like a regal king of the forest. I was transfixed by his pure black fur that stood out against the shade of the woods like a warning. There was a wall and a window and a thick door between me and the beast, but I still felt as though he was right on top of me, deciding if I was a worthy meal. I was sure as I looked at him, that he was looking at me, straight through the window to where I stood completely defenseless.

Then, without any ferocity, he turned and padded back into the forest until I could not see the end of his tail. I breathed in and out for a very long time, trying to process what I had seen. I’d never expected to see a wolf so close even in Forks.

Before I could think, the front door all the way on the other side of the house creaked open loud enough for me to jump at the sound. I closed my eyes, regretting my own jumpiness as the familiar footsteps of my Dad’s boots clomped into the house and the door shut behind him with a heavy thud.

“Bells,” he called from the mudroom. He started in through the house until he found me still in the kitchen. I shook off the dread that had coursed through me and looked instead to Charlie, still dressed in his police uniform.

“Yeah, Dad,” I said, hoping I didn’t look like a crazy person.

“I was thinking if you didn’t have plans yet, we could get dinner at Carver’s. I haven’t been down there in a while and—”

“Yeah,” I said, cutting him off. The beating of my heart was only just starting to slow down, and I didn’t want him to make any notice of how startled I really was. “Let’s go.”
“Alright,” he said. “Sounds like a plan. Just let me get changed.”

He disappeared from the kitchen leaving me alone once again. I took a quick glance out the window to find it empty of any wolves or other forest creatures and left, heading back into the living room where I felt a little safer from the forest of Forks.

Once Charlie was changed into some pedestrian clothes, we headed out, taking his police cruiser towards the little diner I remembered so vividly from my childhood. When we stepped inside the diner, it was just as old fashioned and bright as I’d remembered. The walls were decorated with pictures, many of them black and white, of the town’s own history. At the bar, a Lazy Susan held several pies of various flavors, many with pieces already cut out. A few people sat at the bar or at the various tables with waiters and waitresses in the same light blue uniform taking orders.

Charlie smiled at the old man at the bar and raised two fingers in the air. “A table for my daughter and me.”

The old man grinned back. “Charlie Swan, good to see you again. I’ve been wondering when you’d bring that daughter of yours around.”

“She’s been too busy being a crazy teenager to hang out with her dear old dad,” he said. “Is Cindy in?”

“Yeah. You can take your usual table and I’ll send her out,” he said.

The old man disappeared into the kitchen and Charlie grabbed a table in the corner and slid into the chair, offering the other for me. I sat down across from him as an older woman stepped out of the kitchen in the same waitress uniform as all the others.

Cindy Price didn’t look to have aged a day. Her hair was still permed and still dyed a warm shade of brown to hide the grey. As she smiled, wrinkles spread across her cheeks in long lines. Her earrings dangled, hanging almost to her chin, two long stacks of buttered pancakes. She pushed up her spectacles on her nose as she made her way to us, pulling out the pen and notepad from her apron.

“Charlie, it’s good to see ya,” she crooned. Her face seemed to light up just like everyone else’s in front of Charlie, and I was starting to see what my Dad was to these people. He was a cop, but for him, it wasn’t the law he was serving. It was this sleepy little town and all the residents in it.

When Cindy looked over to find me in the other seat though, her face lit up with something else. The look in her eye bordered on a motherly regard, like this woman had just been waiting for me to come back. I tried on a small smile as she clutched her chest, stepping back with amusement at my return to Forks.

“Now look at you, Bells, all grown up,” she said. “You must be taller than me now.”

“A lot of people are taller than you, Cindy,” Charlie offered.

“Oh, hogwash,” she replied. “It’s good to see ya, Bella.”

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s good to see you again too.”

Cindy grinned at that and glanced down to her notepad. “Can I get you something to drink? Milkshake for you?”

“Just a diet coke,” I said. The Carver Café was well known for its milkshakes, ones that I used to have every time I came to town, but the size of them was so enormous that I never managed to finish them anyway.

“And I water for me,” Charlie said, and Cindy left for the kitchen once again.

Finally alone again, I found myself looking out the window, to the street outside and the crooked buildings. I couldn’t help but expect to see that giant wolf once again, its black matted fur and glowing eyes. I didn’t know what got me so spooked about it, but I felt like I knew him, like I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t place it.

“How is school going for you?” Charlie asked, drawing my attention away from the empty street.

I looked at him, shaking the thoughts of wolves out of my head. It took me a second to process what Charlie had asked, but once I did, I nodded. “It’s good,” I said. “I’ve made some friends, I think.”

“Good,” Charlie said. “I knew you would. But classes alright, everything normal. No one giving you trouble?”

Maybe he already knew something. In a town like this, people had to know already that I was being harassed by the last of the Cullen kids. There was no place to hide like in Phoenix where the crowds mixed until no one face could be distinguished from the rest. Here, everyone knew everyone’s problems, so maybe school problems would find their way home just as easily as they made it around school.

“Not really,” I said, hoping I was wrong.

“Good,” Charlie said, and I mentally sighed in relief. “I was thinking, before it gets too cold, we should go fishing again, just like when you were a kid. If you want.”
I mulled it over for a minute. I’d been dying to explore the wilderness and I’d even thought I could do some of that with Jacob like when we were kids, but that wolf had made its way into my head, and I wasn’t so sure. But it was one wolf, I told myself. A wolf that was probably smart enough to keep away from people.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’d like that a lot.” I hadn’t been fishing since the last time I’d been here. There wasn’t much fishing to be done in Arizona, but I liked the outside, the long stretches of desert and the sounds of the creatures that made it their home. Here all of that would be so different, a different ecosystem to explore, and I wasn’t going to let one wolf scare me away.

“Great,” Charlie said as Cindy appeared with their drinks and left them to go over the menu. “That’s great.”

I nodded and took a sip of my drink as I watched Charlie get over excited about the prospect of a fishing trip, but another wolf came up in my thoughts, one I’d been avoiding thinking about.

“Do you know the Cullens?” I asked, feeling awkward as soon as I’d said it.

“You mean Doctor Cullen? Yeah I know Carlisle. He’s a good guy,” Charlie said. “Got a wife, fosters kids from out of state.”

“How long have they been here?” I asked. I didn’t know why I was so curious about the family that raised Edward, but I needed to know as if it would explain why he was the way he was.

“Couple years, not sure,” Charlie said. “But he has a place out past Elk Creek. Why you asking?”

“I just, know his foster kids at school. One of them is my lab partner in Biology,” I said, hoping that would be enough of the truth to cover my tracks.

“You just be careful,” Charlie said. “Carlisle’s a good guy, but his kids were in the foster system a long time. I’d be careful about them.”

I leaned in a little. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve just heard some things,” Charlie said.

“What things?” I demanded. Edward scared me deep to my core and if there really was something dangerous about him, I needed to know.

“Just town gossip,” Charlie said. “I wouldn’t worry too much, just…be careful.”

Chapter Text

It was going to be a few weeks before we got the chance to go fishing together with all of Charlie’s work in town, but at the very least, it gave me something to look forward to. But the issue that had arisen with Edward’s blank stares was turning into another problem entirely. He had somehow managed to wedge himself into my head day and night. I shivered at the thought of being in the same room as him, but every day, bright an early I had to sit right next to him in the front of biology.

On the Monday I returned from the Quileute treaty land having spent the weekend checking out all of Jacob’s favorite parts of La Push and the forest surrounding it, Edward leaned over to me during class, lowering his head as if to tell me a secret. His breath was cold and sent rising gooseflesh all over my arm as if he radiated the cold. But maybe that was just because I couldn’t stand to be around him.

“Your Quileute friend, is he—”

I ducked away from him. “He’s fine,” I said, hoping he’d drop it.

Edward didn’t move from his lowered position and from this angle, I couldn’t see his eyes. That thought was almost worse, that he could see me, but I couldn’t see those atrocious eyes. A moment passed and he didn’t say anything. I thought he was done, but he just stayed there, close to me, and I was sure I heard him sniffle a bit like he was sniffing me.

“I was just wondering if your Quileute friend was Jacob Black,” he said and backed up, straightening himself out once again.

He looked at me now with that unblinking gaze, waiting for me to answer as if he hadn’t just proven to me that he really was some kind of creep. It was plausible that he knew Jacob Black and maybe even his whole family. It was even possible that he’d seen Jacob’s name on my phone and connected the dots to figure out exactly who he was, but something about how he asked me stirred my stomach. The question felt like a threat. The way he’d reacted to learn I had a friend from the reservation at all had seemed like a warning. I didn’t know how to respond, how to gage Edward’s true intentions, whether he planned to hurt Jacob or not.

I settled for a straightforward probe. “Why do you ask?”

He nodded his head as if agreeing with me, as if there was anything to agree with. “It’s a small town,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody’s problems.”
I scoffed. “If you’re trying to tell me he has some big dark secret, I don’t want to hear it.”

“No,” Edward said. “It’s just better you hang out with Jacob than other people over there.” Over there.

I gritted my teeth and looked back to Mr. Molina. I had hoped this would stop, that someone would notice how uncomfortable Edward was making me, but no one seemed to do anything. Did they all, like Angela and Jessica, honestly believe he had some kind of awkward crush on me?

For the rest of class, I was quiet. Edward didn’t add anything more and I didn’t have anything to say to him. It wasn’t until the bell rang above me that I got the nerve to say anything more to him. Getting up and slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I gave him a suspicious look.

“What’s your problem?” I demanded after most of the students had left the room. Only Mr. Molina was still standing before the board, paying little attention to the scene I was making.

Edward glanced his way, probably looking for some support as I stared him down. He looked suddenly uncomfortable with everything that was happening like he never expected me to confront him about his weird stares and judgements. I just stood there, waiting for him to answer, my head seething and growing hotter with every moment he delayed.

“I don’t know,” he answered as if he was confused to even be having the conversation. “What’s yours?”

“Come on,” I said. “You’ve been staring at me nonstop since the day I got here. You say all this weird mysterious shit. You got all pissed off that I have friends on the reservation. So tell me. What is your problem?”

Edward staggered back a little, wounded, and it was then that I noticed his eyes. They were no longer the glassy black disks that fell back deep into his head where no sunlight reached. Instead, they were a warm and calming shade of brown, almost gold that shined out from the pale image of his face. I stepped back, a little scared too now.

I must have been going crazy, and I blinked, expecting those eyes to go away and be replaced by the stare I knew well. What had happened to him, I didn’t know, but something struck me that this must have been how everyone else saw him. A normal average boy with an average stare. He shouldn’t have been so awful now, but it only terrified me more. What had I been seeing before?

“I wasn’t—” Edward said, cutting himself off like he’d lost his train of thought. He narrowed his eyes at me, trying to sense something, maybe gaging my anger or just what I thought of him. I didn’t care. He could know everything if he wanted, how I was disgusted by him.

“Kids, let’s move this along,” Mr. Molina said, trying to wave us off. I became suddenly aware that he was looking right at us now. He could see the argument being raged between us, and all my pent up frustration spilling forth.

“So,” I said to Edward, expecting another excuse. He was lying. He had to be. This had to be some prank or something to make fun of the new girl. Of course, but why wasn’t it over yet?

Edward stopped looking at me and turned to Mr. Molina instead, ignoring my question. “I’m sorry, Mr. Molina. I’ll go.”

He brushed past me, nearly knocking me back as he headed out of the classroom and towards his next class. I gritted my teeth further into my skull as I watched him go without an explanation. When I turned to Mr. Molina, his had his eyebrows raised, expecting me to leave in the same fashion.

After clenching my fists into tightly wound balls, I followed, heading out of the class and toward my next one. Before I could disappear however, Mr. Molina called out to me. “I don’t want to see another fight like that, Swan or I’ll be seeing you in detention.”


How could he blame it on me? Edward had been creepy to me for a week straight and he would let all of that slide, but he’d call on me just for asking him to stop. I kept my head down as I left, trying to figure out what I’d missed. Edward looked different now. His eyes had some sheen in them. Maybe this would mean he’d stop, but I doubted it.
I could have hoped, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. In the weeks that followed, Edward didn’t say another word to me. He was completely silent during our lab projects and avoided me at every turn. It was as if suddenly, our roles were reversed. I wasn’t the one jumping at his every word and trying to avoid those eyes. He was avoiding me like I was the creep following him around everywhere. Mr. Molina seemed to think that was the case. He watched me vigilantly in class to make sure I wasn’t going to explode on Edward again.

I didn’t understand why he’d been watching me so closely before, and now I didn’t understand why he was acting the victim. The longer it went on, the more I felt bad about what I’d said to him. I didn’t even remember how I’d spoken to him, but it had apparently shaken him. After a few weeks of his avoidant silence, I gave up on the possibility that he was ever really being a creep at all. After all, I’d been new, and maybe he really had thought I was pretty. Now that I’d screamed at him, we didn’t even have the chance to start on a normal foot.

It was only the day before my Dad and I went on our fishing weekend that something changed. That morning was sunny, the sun dripping golden light in through the windows of the school as I walked the halls heading for biology. As the bell rang and I sat down at our shared lab table, I noticed the clear absence of Edward next to me. The light fell through the window, landing on the spot he should have been in like a beacon.

I had the sudden feeling like I had done this. I must have insulted him so much that he’d skipped class rather than being with me. That feeling bubbled up in my chest and I tried to push it down and away as if it didn’t bother me. It did bother me, though. Everything about Edward seemed to bother me much more than it should have. He was just a weird kid. That was all.

It wasn’t until P.E. that I discovered it really wasn’t my fault when Angela mentioned the sunshine today. “Forecast calls for no Cullens all weekend,” she said with a curt laugh to Jessica as they jogged laps.

I slowed down a little to keep in time with them. “What?” I asked with a huff of breath.

“Oh, the Cullens are always gone if its not cloudy enough,” Jessica said. “I think it’s something about their skin.”

“Like what?” I asked. We were nearing the end of the fourth lap in our mile run. Not much longer to go.

“I don’t know,” Jessica said. “That’s just the running theory. That or they go on some kind of family retreat on sunny days.”

It suddenly made sense why Edward was gone. It wasn’t my fault at all, just their family. Charlie had said they were odd. Hell, everyone knew they were a bit off. I shouldn’t have thought so far into it. Either way, it was a nice reprieve. He was gone if only for a day and I wouldn’t have to look over my shoulder for him every moment I got.

And the day continued without a hitch. None of the Cullens were lurking at all and I took the sunshine as a sanctuary from them. Even if they were really just out on a day trip, I was overjoyed to at least have this.

When I got home, my dad was packing a cooler for the trip. The house had turned into a mess as he tried to order everything together in some kind of attempt at organization. He’d pulled out the big plastic containers from the garage and all of them sat open with their contents all over the place. A bucket of bait was sitting on the kitchen table as he searched for everything we’d need, and I cringed at the sight of the worms wriggling around inside.

“Does it have to be on the table?” I asked, but Charlie was still pulling out fishing wire to restring the rods. He didn’t even notice me step inside.

“Sorry?” he asked as his head popped up. “Bells.”

“The bait,” I said.

“Oh,” Charlie said, his eyes drifting to the bucket. “Do you think it will be enough?”

I rolled my eyes. “Shouldn’t it be in the garage?”

“Oh, Billy just brought it over an hour ago. I didn’t have time,” he said.

I sighed. “I’ll do it.” Grabbing the bait by the handle and taking it out to the garage, I found the door still propped open, giving a view of the outside street. The sun was shining down for the first time on my truck, making it feel like it was brand-new instead of a refurbished rust bucket. Besides that, the street was quiet and the forest beyond was clear. No sign of wolves or anything else for that matter. I breathed a sigh of fresh relief. This day had been good, the first day in a long time when I wasn’t worried about Edward’s glare or his tyrannical guilt trip. I felt on solid ground for once.

We headed out early, before the sun even rose and gave the sky its blue-grey glow. We took my truck and Charlie even let me drive, taking the road past Beaver and all the way to Lake Pleasant. The sun was nearly up by the time we got to the dock, me carrying the cooler all the way down to the edge of the boat Charlie had rented from the couple at the lodge.

“Got it, Bella?” Charlie asked as he came to join me, toting the fishing rods, bait and life jackets.

“I think I’m good,” I said with some struggle as I hefted the cooler over the rail and into the bed of the boat.

The boat, named Glory Daze was a relatively small pontoon made for maybe four people maximum. As I slid the cooler over and stepped on, I held out a hand for Charlie and took the bait as he joined me. As I straightened out of the deck, an orange lifejacket was thrust over my head and onto my shoulders without warning.

“Safety first,” Charlie said as he tightened his own around his chest.

I tried to hide my grin at him as I tied the life vest around me and took a seat. He started the boat up with a sweet purr and untied all the knots keeping it in place before we set off into the middle of the lake, reflecting the surface of the clear blue sky. It was such a shift from much of the past month that I basked in the light of the sun beating down on me in the middle of that expanse, the reflections of the lake making it much warmer than it had been in past days. The breeze gave a bit of reprieve from the heat, but I felt so much closer to home in that sunlight.

“Have I ever told you about the time I took your mom out fishing?” Charlie asked as he baited the hook for our first reel.

“No.” I turned to him with some suspicion. I wouldn’t have thought anyone could get Renee within ten feet of a boat led alone on one.

“It was here when we were still in high school,” Charlie started to explain. She complained most of the day. The fish weren’t biting, and she was bored. The first time I reeled in a fish, she took one look at it and went berserk. She wanted it no where near her. Knocked the bait overboard, threw her fishing rod at it, I slipped off and fell into the lake. The fish got away along with my fishing rod, and I was soaked to the bone.”

I cracked up laughing at the idea of my Dad overboard, waiting for Renee to drag him back aboard. He must have driven her home still soaked too, and the thought only made me laugh harder.

“Stop that. It was very serious,” Charlie said. “It was a big fish too. A great tragedy that day.”

“I’m sure,” I said.

“So of course I had to get back at her and drag her in with me,” he said.

We were out there for hours, the trout biting occasionally. In most of that time, we just spent talking though. Charlie told me about Forks, some of the drama he’d gotten into with the denizens of the town, some of the crazy stories he had. As I listened, I started to understand something about my Dad that I hadn’t before. When I was old enough to know what being a cop meant, that he had the power to put a person’s life in danger, I wasn’t so sure he was the quiet, sweet man I’d thought he was. Hearing his stories though, he was wiser than I had thought, and calmer than I gave him credit for.

He cared about this town more than I thought possible. Every speedbump, every stoplight, every old couple, every rebellious teen. That love for this town had to be the reason he could never have been with my Mom for long. Renee wanted to leave the moment she stood in one place for too long. She was never meant to stay and cherish this town like Charlie did.

And after he told me his stories, he asked about mine. I told him about summers in Arizona, the snakes and spiders. The long drives, the hikes, and the crystal pink sunsets. There wasn’t much to tell to be honest, not the way he told a story. My life in Phoenix had been half a life, split in two worrying about my Mom and trudging through high school with little real connections. He still smiled and nodded when I told him the stories, how different this place was. I almost told him in the end, that I liked it better here, but I held back that last detail with the tips of my teeth.

“I got a bite,” Charlie said in the middle of a long, warm silence. There were many of those, all of them comforting. He stood, starting to reel in something bigger and stronger than anything we’d caught all day. The rod bowed as the fish fought hard and Charlie fought harder.

I grabbed the net as he tugged, fighting a head on battle. He yanked and reeled, the last of its strength leaving it, as the fish rose above the water, hanging and flapping for freedom. I reached out and Charlie let it fall into the net as he started to remove the hook embedded into its thin gasping lip. The fish slithered and flopped, hoping to make a great escape back into the water, but Charlie got the hook free and held aloft his prize.

“I think that’s the biggest one we’ve seen all day,” I said.

“That’s a good catch,” Charlie said.

I took out my phone and took a picture of my Dad and the fish both, eyes gleaming as bright as the reflective scales of the trout. Snapping the picture, I matched his smile.
He didn’t take too long sizing up the fish before he held it out and gently tossed it back into the lake, letting it splash a little as it disappeared beneath the wake. I watched it go, leaning against the railing of the boat as it swam away. The lake went still as the fish disappeared into the depths. When it was gone, however, my eyes were drawn upward toward the shore a good distance away.

I hadn’t noticed the man on the shore as he stood there. He was nearly invisible between the trees, but somehow the gleam of scarlet caught my eye against the surroundings. The man, and I was sure it was a man by his shape, was standing in the shade of the tall pines, facing me like he was trying to tell something about our boat, or trying to see me.

The scarlet, I realized, was not just the shade of his shirt, but something liquid that dripped down his chin. It seemed to stain his brow as well like sweat and it driveled down him, staining him in a dark color. It was blood, I realized, bright crimson and fresh. My heart thudded for fear that he was hurt. It covered him. His hands and arms were drenched in it.

“Dad,” I said. He was busy trying to hook a new piece of bait to his line.

I kept staring at the man and he kept looking at us as if he knew us. He stood tall, not like he was injured, but that must have been it. He must have been hurt out there, though he made no sign that he was. He just stood and I caught a chill at the thought that maybe it wasn’t his blood at all.

“Dad,” I called, a little more frantic and turned to grab him as he finished hooking the bait onto his line.

“What is it?” he asked, concern crossing his face as he looked to my stone-cold expression.

“Look,” I snapped and pointed to the shore where, as if by magic, the man was gone, leaving no trace of him by the trees where he’d stood. It was as if he’d never been there at all. None of the surrounding foliage was disturbed by his leaving.

“Bella, what’s going on?” he asked as he looked to the empty spot I was pointing. We weren’t so far from the shore, but I had a powerful desire to go over there and see if there really was any sign of him. He was there; I knew it, but he left no trace.

“I saw…” I started, but what was I supposed to tell him? I saw a blood-covered man in the forest. He would have thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy. “I don’t know.”
“Probably a deer,” Charlie offered. “Hunting season should be starting out here soon.”

“Yeah,” I conceded. I couldn’t tell him the truth, that I knew what I saw, and I was sure I knew who it was. Some aching part of my heart knew it was Edward out in these woods.

Chapter Text

Weeks passed before I talked to Edward again outside of biology. In fact, I was starting to forget about him, how weird he’d been at the start of the year, and as time passed, it was starting to get colder. My windows frosted over one morning in late October and I was surprised to feel the cold of winter creeping over Washington so fast. I had never experienced such a sudden shift in the shade of the world. The sun went down faster; the mist and fog grew thicker and stayed in the sky longer. I hadn’t imagined winter floating in so fast, but I should have been prepared.

            The warm clothes I’d brought, the sweatshirts and jackets, did nothing to protect me from the onslaught of frost, and Charlie offered me one of his old winter jackets until he could get me a proper one. I accepted it gratefully that morning before school when the rain had turned to ice by morning. I pulled it on, wrapping it around me tight. The zipper was broken, but the button clasps held it together as I headed out of the house for school.

            On my way out, down the front path to my truck, I nearly slipped on the ice. Even in my hiking boots, I was having trouble staying upright and Charlie promised to put down rock salt before he left for work. Sliding my way to the door of my truck, I dragged myself safely inside and started the ignition. It took a second before it started, the cold getting the better of it just as it did to me.

            The windows took quite a while to defrost, but I didn’t return to the house for some warmth before I went. With all the ice I’d traversed on the path down, I was terrified of trying to brave it again. I hoped the school would be better prepared than we were. By the time I got out of the driveway, I was probably ten minutes late.

            As I entered onto the roads towards school, I found that it wasn’t much better than my driveway. I crept forward at every turn, and nearly slid into an intersection twice. By the time I arrived at school, however, the sun had risen and was starting to melt the ice away. It was difficult to park in the school lot which was shaded by the tall school building, leaving a layer of ice left over.

            It appeared I wasn’t the only one having problems though. Half the school was still in the lot and the busses had yet to arrive. The late bus meant classes hadn’t started despite it being twenty minutes past eight. As I stepped out of my truck, back onto slippery ground, I caught sight of Edward and his siblings getting out of their car. I thought about waving, but Edward was still not talking to me. Part of me thought that was for the best, but I just felt bad for way he lowered his head whenever he passed by me. I thought what I’d said had been warranted, but how was I to know he’d react like that.

            I shook off more feelings of guilt and stepped out from my truck toward the school, only to hear a scream and a screech of tires as a minivan filled with teenagers slid across the ice, heading straight for me. If not for the ice, I probably could have run, but as I tried to move, I slipped and landed on my ass, still in the way of the barreling van.

            In an instant, I closed my eyes, terrified that this was going to be the place I died, well aware of the irony of an Arizonan dying from slipping on ice. I cringed, but the impact came in slow motion. I heard the crinkling of metal as the body of the van crushed under the weight of whatever force had stopped it. Instead of the force of a two-ton van, a heavy hand slammed me back and I hit my head against my truck’s bumper with a crack. Everything went suddenly dizzy.

            I opened my eyes to find Edward standing above me, his hand out toward the van, wedged between the van and me. His other hand was a vise on my shoulder, holding me pinned to the body of my truck. He didn’t look at me even as he held back the vehicle like some sort of superhuman. An image of a Superman comic came to me. I was sure this exact image was on the cover of one of the comics, Superman protecting Lois Lane from car crash. But this Superman seemed unbothered and uninterested in all of it. He held the van back like it was a reflex, not purposeful, but automatic.

            I breathed out, creating a cloud of fog between us. I could barely see his face through it, but I could see his eyes. They weren’t looking at me, just above me and behind, but they weren’t the brown I’d come to expect. His eyes had returned to that black glassy sheen. All the color was leeched from them as he looked up, staring at something off in the distance, avoiding my gaze altogether. I couldn’t comprehend what made his eyes so raw and colorless, but I was too stunned to think much about it.

            “Edward,” I mumbled, likely sounding incomprehensible as adrenaline slowed its rush to my head.

            Without saying a word or looking directly at me, he stood up in a fluid motion and hopped the hood of my truck where we were wedged between it and the van. He walked off, heading away from the school and out to the grove of trees beyond. I watched him go wordlessly, unable to understand what had really happened to me. It was only when he was gone that a throbbing pain set into the back of my skull, jolting me awake.

            People came running in my direction, some of them people I had never seen before. Every student around was curious to see what had happened as the driver of the van stumbled out and around to check to see if I was okay. I sat, unable to move from where my ass was planted on the asphalt, as I shook from the shock and the cold. I couldn’t stop seeing Edward’s lightless eyes.

            “Bella?” a voice shouted. I was vaguely aware that I recognized it, but I couldn’t be sure while my ears rang against my skull. Slowly, I reached up and touched the back of my head where the throbbing was growing. It stung at the first touch, and I looked at my fingers, finding sicky red blood stained there.

            “Oh my god, Bella!”

            I looked up and found Jessica pushing her way to the front of the crowd. A mask of horror covered her face as she knelt down next to me, reaching out a hand to help me up. I was too lost in everything that happened to take it, and instead I just stared at her, dazed.

            “Jessica?” I said, slurring the sounds together in my mouth. She reached out for me and took my hand. Her hands were warm and firm. I felt suddenly as though she was the only solid thing around me. I held tight to that feeling as all my thoughts fled me.

            “I think you hit your head,” she said. “I’m going to call your Dad, okay.”

            I bobbed my head in a nod, but that hurt too, and I settled for leaving my head down and staring at the wheel of the vehicle that almost hit me. The body of the van was totally crushed, the paint scraped, and the door jammed in a half open position. I stared at it, at my distorted reflection against it.

            There were voices around me, I realized. Ones I couldn’t make out as I kept my eyes fixed on what was left of the van’s destroyed body. Jessica let go of my hands and I suddenly felt like I was free floating again. I breathed heavily as I waited, hoping for her hands to return to me, or for another familiar face to appear. I wanted my Dad, I realized. The pining was that of a lost kid who’d scraped her knee on the pavement, but I’d always called for my Mom, who’d told me to ‘suck it up’ time and time again. I wanted my Dad now, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to move until I saw him.

            “Move back!” Jessica called from the din of voices. “Give her some space! What are you looking at!”

            I rested my head against my car, the red from my head likely staining the chrome bumper. After what felt like a moment, or an hour, there was a pair of hands reaching out towards me. They weren’t the dainty but firm hands of Jessica Stanley, or the worn and callused hands of my Dad, but slim soft hands with long fingers like a musician’s. I let them take me and drag me to my feet before an arm was wrapped around me and I was escorted up and towards another car, this one not parked, but sitting idly by.

            “Can you hear me?” another voice asked. This one was unfamiliar and strange. It had a musical ring to it I couldn’t name.

            “I…” I took a deep breath as my feet got under me, trying hard to balance on the wobbly ground. “Who is this?”

            “She hit her head,” Jessica said as I stood, leaned against a man I could barely see.

            “I can take care of this,” the man said. “Have you called her parents?”

            “I called her Dad,” Jessica said. Her anxious voice was starting to drop, but there was still a shake to her words. I almost died, I thought.

            “She may need stitches,” the man said. “I’ll bring her to the clinic. You go inside. You’ll catch a cold staying out here.”

            “Maybe I should come with,” Jessica offered. “So she doesn’t have to go alone.”

            I mumbled something incomprehensible. I meant to affirm that I wanted Jessica to come with me, but instead, the man holding onto me kept telling Jessica to go inside the school until she nodded and followed the rest of the curious kids into the building.

            I wished very deeply to have had Jessica with me as the man lead me over towards his car. I realized as I looked up at him, straining my neck to get a look that I didn’t know this man at all. The edges of my vision were blurry, but he had smoothed back blond hair, almost a yellow color and a hard piercing look as he opened the back door to his small vehicle.

            “You’re going to be okay,” he said as he helped me inside. “I’m Doctor Cullen. I work at the clinic in town here. We’re just going in so I can patch you up.”

            His voice soothed me like a drug. I wanted to ask about my Dad, about what happened, about Jessica, but I just sat in the back of his car and let him buckle me into the seat. When he was finished, he closed the door and stepped around to get into the driver’s seat. I tried to keep my eyes on him the whole time and turned his name over in my mouth.

            Doctor Cullen. I’d heard so much about the man, I was sure, but at the moment, I couldn’t remember a thing. I only remembered that he must have been Edward’s father. And then another question wracked its way through my head. Where was Edward? He’d been there in the crash. He’d been hit too, though I had no idea how. He was just gone now, and my memories of the event were blurry and cluttered.

            I focused my gaze on the back of Doctor Cullen’s head as he drove carefully in the ice laden roads until we found a near empty parking lot of Forks’ very own medical clinic. Doctor Cullen was quick to come around to my side of the car, pulling me out and to my feet. He helped me into the clinic and back to his office where he sat me up on a slab and began to slide his hands into my hair.

            I didn’t remember how we got to this part. He’s asked me questions, told me something, but everything was a bit fuzzy at the moment. The throbbing in my head only grew for every moment it dripped red into my hair.

            The longer I sat there, the more things started to come back to me. The fluorescent lights above me were too bright so I closed my eyes to avoid dealing with the sting of the pale white in my retinas. A long time passed, Doctor Cullen cleaning my hair and stitching the split in my scalp. I just waited, wishing my Dad or Jessica was there to keep me company.

            I remembered the crash in pieces. Edward standing over me, the ruined body of the van, Jessica’s worried shouts. I breathed in and out as the needle and thread were pushed in through my skin and around, tying everything back together. I shouldn’t have been okay. Edward and I should have been crushed in between the two vehicles, but I only needed a few stitches and Edward was just gone.

            “Alright,” Doctor Cullen finally said as he let my hair fall back down over my shoulders. “You’re all cleaned up. You’re lucky. It could have been much worse.”

            “What happened to Edward?” I asked as I forced my eyes open. Doctor Cullen swiveled around in his chair to sit up in front of me. Through the bright lights of his office, Doctor Cullen was pale, his eyes a shade of brown I knew from Edward’s new look. I wondered if he had fish-eyes underneath too. They weren’t related, I reminded myself. If Edward was odd, that wasn’t Doctor Cullen’s fault.

            Doctor Cullen tilted his head, just his slicked back yellow hair stayed in place. I wondered how much gel and hair spray he used to get it like that. He blinked at me a little awkwardly and finally smiled like he thought I was joking.

            “You have a concussion, Bella,” he said like that answered my question. “And a bad one at that. Do you know where you are?”

            I opened my mouth to answer and perhaps to demand to know what really happened. I may have been severely concussed, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know what I saw. Edward had saved me. He’d been on one side of the parking lot and then on the other in the blink of an eye. Not only that, but he’d stopped that van with his bare hand. It hadn’t been the crash that hurt me, but Edward slamming me back into my own truck. I had known for a while now that something was off about Edward Cullen, maybe the entire Cullen family, but today confirmed it, if my memory could be trusted.

            Before I could offer another question, however, I heard an all too familiar voice. “Bella!” Charlie called. The walls of Doctor Cullen’s office muffled his voice, but I was sure I heard him right. “Where’s my daughter? She got hurt.”

            Doctor Cullen stood up and opened his office door. He disappeared outside into the hall for a moment, and I heard a few whispered words before Charlie came in, his eyes falling straight to me chalk full of parental anxiety. Dropping into the chair next to me, he grabbed my hand and I found it warm and comforting even as he shook with fear.

            “Are you okay, Bells?” he said.

            I met his green eyes with my own, but even that was a bit dizzying. The throbbing came to me in bouts, pain that prickled and snapped at my eyes and burst like fireworks at my skull. I looked down instead to his hands.

            “I’m okay,” I answered. “I think.”

            “She has a concussion,” Doctor Cullen explained. “She needed sixteen stitches in the back of her head. She’ll need to be careful over the next few weeks when she brushes and washes her hair. In all honestly, it could have been a lot worse.”

            “She got hit by a car,” Charlie snapped. He was just as confused as I was as to how I’d gotten out of that wreck with nothing more than a few bumps and cuts. I should have been in an emergency room, but I knew something Charlie didn’t know. Edward had been there.

            He’d saved my life even after all the grief he’d given me. I wanted to feel grateful, but all I felt was suspicious. If Doctor Cullen didn’t have any answers to why Edward had been able to do all that, I wasn’t sure I was getting any at all.

            “She was lucky,” Doctor Cullen said. “The van didn’t hit her head on. It slid across the ice. It was too slow by the time it got to her to do much damage to her. I’ll still ask that she get another check up here in a week to make sure nothing else is wrong.”

            Charlie squeezed my hand. “So she’s free to go.”

            “I’d recommend she go home and rest for today. The concussion is best not agitated,” he said. “Otherwise, she’s fine.”

            “Thank you,” Charlie said, his voice nearly cracking. He looked put together and alright right now, but I could imagine how broken up and worried he must have been when they called him to tell him I’d been in a crash. He must have lost his head.

            Charlie helped me to my feet and the world seemed to spin less this time around as he led me to the front desk of the clinic. After a few documents were signed, I was free to go, and Charlie led me out to his police cruiser in the parking lot. I kept my eyes closed the whole way home and when the car finally came to a jarring stop in the driveway of our house, I gave faint sigh. My Dad had been quiet the whole way home and I peeked over at him, hoping he wouldn’t be mad.

            “I’m sorry Bells,” he said in a low voice. “I should have been more prepared.”

            “For what?” I asked.

            “It got icy faster than I expected,” Charlie said. “It’s not like this every year, you know. But I should have expected it. I should have driven you to school today.”

            “It wasn’t my driving,” I said. He wasn’t angry. There was none of that in his voice. Only weakness, like he’d failed.

            “I know,” he said. “I can’t stay. I have work to do at the station. Are you going to be able to manage on your own all day?”

            I wanted to nod, but my head was far to stiff. Instead, I said, “I’ll be okay.”

            “Just get some rest,” he said. “I’ll be back for dinner.”


            The walk up to the front door was a dangerous and treacherous one, but Charlie kept his hand firmly on my shoulder until we got up the front steps. Once there, I unlocked the door and felt my eyes soften as I entered into the dark mudroom. Everything felt so peaceful here with the lights off and the heater whirring.

            “Take a nap,” Charlie said on his way out. “I’ll be back by dinner.”

            “Thanks,” I said as he started to close the door. With a slow clunk, the door locked, and I was left alone in this house when I should have been at school. I tried not to think about what people would be saying about me as I crawled into bed and snuggled up with my comforter. I needed a few hours of shut eye to ease the dizziness before I even began to think about my social standings.

            When I woke, it was to the incessant buzzing of my phone by my ear. Jessica and Angela hadn’t stopped texting me, it seemed, and their texts only got more frantic the further I scrolled through them.

            The last one from Jessica was in all caps. “ARE YOU ALIVE?”

            I laid back against my pillow and began to text them back just to let them know I was okay and at home nursing my concussion. It was coming close to lunch time by now. Maybe they’d get the chance to call me or text me back. Jessica was the first to text back again and I imagined her and Angela leaning over her phone at the lunch table to decipher the meaning of my texts.

            “Everyone’s talking about it. I’m sorry. It’s Mike Newton’s fault he can’t drive.”

            I never saw the face of the driver or caught his name, but I could hardly place all the blame on him. He hadn’t actually hit me as it was. That was Edward. I read that text over again before I thought to ask her the question I had been thinking about all day.

            “Have you seen Edward?”

            There was a long pause before she answered. “He’s sitting at his usual table with his siblings,” she answered.

            “Did he say anything?” I asked.

            She sent a text soon after. “What, like condolences? I thought he didn’t like you.” It had taken her a while, but she finally got around to the idea that he really did hate me, but she wasn’t getting it. Maybe she just didn’t see. He’d been the one to stop me from getting stampeded by a sliding minivan.

            “Jessica,” I started to type. “He was the one to stop the van.” I stared at the text for a long time before I deleted it. I wanted to send it to her, to tell her everything, but how was I supposed to? How could anyone believe what happened to me if they didn’t see it for themselves? I had been hit pretty hard. If I told Jessica now, she’d think I was out of my mind.

            But maybe someone did see it. The driver, the one who’d almost hit me. His van was totaled now. He must have seen Edward stop it. So if I could talk to him, I might be able to tell if I really was going crazy or not.

            I started typing a new text to Jessica. “What did the driver say?”

            “Mike? He’s all torn about it. He thinks he killed you,” she texted. He was smart enough not to tell everyone about Edward’s mysterious super strength. It had to be me who talked to him.

            “Let him know he didn’t,” I texted back. Anxiously, I added. “Don’t mention any of this to Edward.”

Chapter Text

By the time my Dad deemed me fit to go back to school, it was nearly Halloween. That weekend, everyone would be dressed as ghouls and goblins in search of candy. Back in Phoenix, Halloween meant no good. Most of the teenagers would egg a few houses before deciding that wasn’t enough and break a few store fronts for good measure. I wasn’t looking forward to it, until Jessica told me her plans.

            “A bunch of kids are going down to First Beach for a bonfire,” she said over a lunch of bland spaghetti.

            I hadn’t been listening to her all day. After nearly a week in my house, I had become paranoid. I’d been looking for Mike Newton, the kid who nearly crushed me with his van all day. He wasn’t in any of my classes, or at least he hadn’t been today. I just needed to talk to him, but I got the feeling he was avoiding me. Maybe he thought I’d be mad that he almost killed me. I wasn’t. I just wanted to know if he saw what Edward did. I’d been too busy expecting to die to pay any attention.

            “Isn’t it supposed to be a school night?” I asked.

            “It’s Halloween,” Angela offered. “It’ll be fun.”

            I mulled it over for a second. I really hadn’t had plans for Halloween except for handing out candy to a bunch of kids, but our house was close to the edge of town. We couldn’t expect that many trick-or-treaters.

            “I’ll have to ask my Dad,” I said, but that appeared to be agreement enough and Jessica pumped her fist in the air in triumph.

            “It’ll be fun, I promise,” Jessica said.

            “Are we even allowed to have bonfires on First Beach?” I asked.

            “We do this every year, and we haven’t been arrested yet,” Angela said. “I’m pretty sure kids have always done it.”

            I considered that to be good enough for me and turned my attention back to looking for Mike Newton. He continued to evade me all day and when the last bell rang, he had managed to slip away without me. I found his van missing from the parking lot. It would have been obvious. The passenger door was still jammed shut, but he was gone. He must have run to escape first.

            At home, I showered, avoiding getting my hair wet to keep the stitches safe and threw on a large sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants to lounge in. I had missed my chance to ask Mike about Edward, and I wasn’t happy about continuing my school year as I was. Edward was a menace to me. He saved me, sure, but he seemed to occupy much of my thoughts now. I hated him, but somehow, I still felt bad for that, like I shouldn’t have been so offput by him.

            I wrestled the thoughts away and read the next part of Frankenstein for class. When my Dad came home, it was in a huff, tired from a long week and not excited about the weekend coming up. Halloween had to be a challenge for him. If it was anything like Phoenix, there would be a lot of complaints, a lot of injuries, and a lot of thefts. I brought up the idea of going to a bonfire softly, over dinner.

            “So, Jessica and Angela invited me to a Halloween party,” I offered.

            “This the Halloween bonfire?” he asked over the chicken he’d overcooked.

            I was a little surprised he knew it and even more surprised he wasn’t upset about the prospect. I nodded and waited for his response as he swallowed the too dry chicken.

            “If there’s alcohol, you’ll call me, right?” he asked.

            “Are you going to pick me up in the cruiser if I do?” I offered back. I could handle being driven home by my Dad if I had too much to drink. I couldn’t handle him taking me home in a police cruiser.

            “That is the only way I would be willing to pick you up,” Charlie said.

            “I won’t drink then,” I said.

            “Deal.” He held out his hand to shake mine and I took it. That was easy enough, but as I shook his hand, I realized I was probably supposed to have a costume. That was how these sorts of things went, didn’t they? I’d never been to a Halloween party before. I supposed I had until Sunday night to figure it out.

            Eventually, I found my Dad’s old Halloween loot. It was another bin stuck in the garage with dust and other decorations on top of it. As I looked through, I realized he probably hadn’t been through this box in years. I took it upon myself to decorate the front porch after I found a pair of devil horns I could wear. Some of the décor was unsalvageable. The ghost didn’t light up when I plugged it in and the skeleton was broken into pieces, but I managed to hang a few of the bats over the porch rails and place a few plastic pumpkins along the driveway.

            When Charlie stopped home on Sunday before his night shift, he was astounded. “Where’d you find all this?” he asked as I lit candles to place inside the pumpkins. He looked at me like I’d performed some kind of miracle.

            “It was in a garage,” I told him. “I was looking for a costume for tonight.”

            He straightened the devil horns over my ears. “I forgot about all this stuff. I’m never home to give out candy so I haven’t really decorated in a while.”

            “We can always just leave out a bowl,” I said. “Some kid will probably take it all, but it’s worth a shot. If you want.”

            Charlie nodded. “I’ll grab some candy. You should get ready for your party.”

            I nodded and headed into the house to grab my coat. It was Halloween, but I definitely wasn’t going to a bonfire on the beach without some warm clothes and a blanket. By the time I headed out, Charlie was pouring a bag of mixed candy bars into a large mixing bowl to set outside. He waved me off and I promised not to be out later than midnight.

            The drive to La Push was half an hour, but I had to pick up Jessica before I went. As pulled up next to her house and texted her, a few kids passed by with their parents. I had to take the drive through town pretty slow tonight as kids dressed in a multitude of costumes flooded the streets. I waited, tapping the driving wheel until I saw Jessica stepping out of her house in a little green dress that barely covered her thighs. Her hair was pulled up into a bun, her bangs swept to the side. On her back, a pair of fairy wings poked out, but her dress didn’t have any sleeves. I shivered at the sight of her as she hopped in.

            “What are you wearing?” I demanded.

            “I’m Tinker Bell,” she insisted. “Angela’s going as Peter Pan.”

            “I thought we were going to a bonfire,” I said. “Aren’t you going to be cold?”

            Jessica buckled herself in. “I have a plan for that,” she said.

            “It better not include stealing my jacket,” I said. I knew well that she was going to freeze out there, but I let it go. I only worried we’d have to leave early because of the cold. Despite my shyness and apprehension, I was looking forward to a party with friends. The stitches and the concussion had kept me away for too long.

            I drove despite Jessica’s chilly outfit and started heading out of town limits, toward La Push Road. Jessica found a good radio station on the way and played Thriller and Monster Mash all the way to the beach.

            When we finally escaped the barrage of trees and found the clear skyline of First Beach, we were met with a line of cars parked before the sand. There were already people setting up a fire by the time we arrived, and I parked my truck next to the others before I got out, slamming the door closed. The wind was swift and cold, but it didn’t cut through my jacket. I was sure Jessica had to be freezing, but she showed no sign of it as she headed toward the few people already here.

            I wanted to argue more with her, but I just followed along, sure she’d start complaining eventually. As we neared, I saw Angela kneeling in the sand over the pile of branches and kindling. She was dressed in the same shade of green as Jessica, but she wore long pants and a raggedy looking shirt as well as a little alpine hat.

            “Guys,” she said, waving us over as we distracted her from the important work of starting the fire. There were a few others I didn’t know well, and Angela pointed them out to me. “This is Eric and Mike.”

            I looked over the two boys next to her. the first was a rather short guy with black hair that was slicked back. He was dressed as Dracula with a little red makeup line running from the edges of his lips to his chin. The other was dressed as Frankenstein, two bolts fastened around his neck and green paint that made him look sick. After a second, I recognized him. Mike Newton. He was looking at me sheepishly and took a step back as Angela introduced us. I tried to smile to let him know I wasn’t mad that he nearly hit me with his van. It apparently didn’t work.

            Angela got the fire going soon and we pulled up logs and blankets to sit around it as Angela brought out marshmallows and graham crackers. Before long, the fire was roaring and the sun was disappearing, turning the coastline into shadows. Far out, past where the cliffs ended, I could still see the outline of the trees rising off of James Island. It seemed to stand like a beacon, still visible in the night as an outline of land. I found myself staring at it a long time as Eric started with a ghost story.

            We weren’t the last people to show up, as it turned out. Another car appeared soon after the sun went down and parked next to my truck. Three people stepped out, heading in our direction.

            “Oh yeah. I invited some people from the reservation. Is that okay?” Jessica asked.

            Angela nodded, her expression glowing in the orange warmth of flames. “Yeah, of course.”

            As they started to near, I realized I recognized them. Maybe the reservation wasn’t all that big or me and Jessica just had more in common than we originally thought. Jacob was walking over with a cooler in his hands. Behind him, a much younger kid and a girl looking to be about our age followed him.

            “I’ve known Leah forever,” Jessica said. “She’s great.”

            Leah was a relatively skinny girl with long dark hair that was tied into two thick braids. She was dressed in a black dress with a white collar. It only took me a second to realize she was Wednesday Addams before she sat down next to Jessica. The boy next to her, followed doting behind her like he didn’t know where to go. He couldn’t have been older than thirteen. He was dressed in black and white like Pugsley Addams. I smiled at him, trying to make him feel more comfortable, but I wasn’t sure if it really helped.

            “I brought snacks,” Jacob said as he dropped the cooler next to the fold out table Angela had brought. He was dressed in a flannel with fake blood wrapping around his neck like a decapitation. There was a prop axe slung across his shoulders which he wouldn’t put down. It was part of the costume, I supposed. He quickly took a stick to roast marshmallows and held it high over the fire to roast it into a deep golden brown.

            With all of us warmed near the fire, Eric started on another scary story, one about a stranger breaking into someone’s house. I didn’t find it particularly scary, but Angela was quaking in her shoes. She kept the fire going as Eric passed his flashlight, trying to get someone else to tell a story. I watched as Angela quickly passed it on to Mike, who had been hiding from me on the other side of the bonfire all night. He quickly passed it onto Jessica, having not said a word all night.

            “I don’t know. I’m not good at stories,” Jessica said. “Leah?”

            “Give me a second, I’ll come up with something,” she said and offered the flashlight to me.

            I hesitated on it for a moment as everyone else watched, waiting for me to bring up another scary story, maybe one from Arizona with buzzards picking the skin off a long dead body. I looked to Jacob, knowing he’d probably out do me and then to Mike, who I’d been looking for since the crash.

            With that cold metal flashlight in my hands and all eyes on me, I couldn’t think of a story, but I could think of a few questions. Jessica and Angela already knew how uncomfortable Edward Cullen made me, but this would all be new to Jacob. The others, I didn’t know well enough to gage their reaction, whether they’d think I was crazy or not. I gripped the flashlight tight.

            “Mike,” I said, and he perked up, a bit of surprise on his face. When he caught my eyes looking to him, he shrunk back a little like I was about to scold him. “Do you remember Tuesday?”

            “Tuesday?” he asked.

            “When you slid on the ice. It was pretty bad. I never checked to see if you were okay,” I said. I knew he was stunned by it. After all, he almost hit a kid.

            “I’m okay,” he said. “Everybody was more worried about you.”

            “Right,” I said. I felt the back of my head where the stitched rested between my hair. “But you saw Edward, didn’t you?”

            “Edward?” Angela asked. “Edward Cullen. What does he have to do with this?”

            “Oh, here we go again,” Jessica said. She crossed her arms against the cold. I knew she should have worn a jacket, but I was too busy thinking about the crash to say anything.

            “I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “What’s the deal with the Cullens?” He looked confused, but like he knew the name. It was dark, but I could tell by his scowl that he didn’t think much of them. Edward had threatened something about Jacob before, but I didn’t think anything came of it. Maybe he’d paid Jacob a visit, but I never heard about.

            “Bella thinks Edward is out to get her,” Jessica said. “I thought maybe he liked her, but I’m starting to think he might just be a creep. Let it go, Bella.”

            I cringed at Jessica’s tone. I couldn’t just let it go. I had to see Edward everyday in class and work with him. It was exhausting to avoid his gaze, to avoid insulting him while he sat idly by watching me like a hawk. After all this time I was sure there was something off about him. Maybe it was the cold and the Halloween spirit, but I thought he was a monster.

            “I didn’t see anything,” Mike offered. I looked up to him across the fire. He was lying. I knew he had to be. Edward basically destroyed his van.

            “See,” Jessica said. “He wasn’t there.”

            “He was. He was standing on the other side of the parking lot when the van slid,” I said.

            “Right, so he saw the crash,” Angela said.

            “No, he stopped the crash. He was there and then he was right in front of me,” I offered. “I don’t know what he did, but he stopped the crash. Mike, your van.”

            “Your front bumper ruined my siding,” Mike said.

            I was getting desperate, and my friends didn’t seem to believe me. In fact, they were all looking at me like I was a crazy person. Maybe they knew something I didn’t, but I felt something coming off of them like they didn’t want to talk, or they weren’t supposed to talk. Edward was weird, hell, maybe his whole family was weird, but no one was willing to mention it.

            Pausing for a moment, I waited for someone else to say something. They had to have some sort of clue. He’d lived here for years and yet none of them could say a thing about him. I was the closest person to him other than his siblings and I couldn’t say I knew anything about him other than that he was smart and kind of an asshole. Still, my friends were silent, looking to each other for answers.

            “Maybe that concussion was worse than you thought,” Jessica snarked finally.

            I gave her a withering look before I dropped the flashlight in the sand and got up. She could ride home with Angela if all my friends really thought I was crazy. She could deal with me on Monday if she even wanted to apologize. After all, I was crazy for thinking that Edward was anything more than some creep I got assigned a lab partner.

            The beach was long, and the sand was cold, finding its way into my shoes as I walked up toward my car. Before I could get all the way back, however, a hand grabbed mine as Jacob came after me, trying to stop me from leaving. I stopped, although I just wanted to go home. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked about the crash, but I felt like I was going crazy. The answers I got didn’t seem to help.

            “Are you going to go?” Jacob asked in a low voice. We were some distance away from the others, but the sound of the waves obstructed his voice. I could barely hear him.

            “I don’t know why I did all that,” I said. “I’m just tired. I’ve got a headache.”

            “Yeah, head trauma will do that to you,” he said. “But you don’t have to go. I’m sure Jessica doesn’t really mean it.”

            She did mean it, but I couldn’t blame her. Maybe she was as scared of him as I was. “I’ll talk to her later,” I said. “I just want to go back to my Dad’s and turn in.”

            Jacob nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I could…If it helps, you’re not crazy. At least, I don’t think you’re crazy. The Cullens aren’t allowed on the reservation.”

            I blinked up at him. The whole family was banned from the Quileute reservation. That didn’t make sense, or maybe it did. Edward had said a lot of things that made me think he was dangerous, not just to me, but to the Native Americans. They lived so close to the reservation, but hated them so much, enough that the Quileute people didn’t like them either.

            “Are you sure?” I asked.

            “Yeah. It’s been like that since they moved here,” Jacob said. “I asked around, but no one seems to know why. It was the elders’ decision, I guess, but they won’t say anything.”

            An idea crossed my mind. “Can I come over more? Like after school and stuff?”

            “He scares you that much?” Jacob asked but nodded anyway. “Yeah, you’re welcome any time. My Dad loves you and he’s been wanting Charlie to come around more often.”

            “Thank you,” I said and reached out to squeeze his hand. I thought about going home now, passing through the treaty land and back into town. I shivered at the thought, or perhaps it was just the cold. Either way, I didn’t want to leave just yet. I supposed I could forgive Jessica for wanting to be normal for now.

            I followed Jacob back to the circle of light and sat back down in the warmth of the fire while the younger boy, Leah’s brother, was taking up the flashlight to tell a story. I kept close to Jacob as Jessica shivered. Looking at her, I wished she’d brought a jacket.

            “Alright, I’m going to tell the story of the terrible Dask’iya,” he said, holding the flashlight under his chin for dramatic effect.

            “Seth!” Leah snapped at him, tossing a marshmallow which hit him square in the face.

            Without hesitation, he started telling his story, having not even noticed the marshmallow which rolled into the sand and out into the dark.

Chapter Text

Part of me still regretted not leaving, but the rest of the night was fine. We took turns telling ghost stories around the fire. Despite the cold, I wasn’t shivering as the fire crackled and shifted the light.

            Close to midnight, the fire died, and I dragged Jessica along back to the truck. Some time in the night, she’d stolen Eric’s jacket which fit her well and kept her warm. I wondered if that was her plan all along, but she’d never mentioned having a crush on Eric to me. I decided it was nothing as we got into the car and backed out, heading back through the forest and the treaty land for home.

            I thought it would be a quiet ride home with the static of the radio covering our thoughts, but as I lost sight of the beach in my rearview window, Jessica cleared her throat and sat a little straighter. She looked to me, and I only caught a glimpse of her gaze, sympathetic and filled with regret.

            “I’m sorry about what I said back there,” she said. She blinked away the tired look on her face, but it returned quickly. The dark road with no change didn’t seem the make things better.

            “About Edward?” I asked. I’d almost forgotten the conversation. There had been so many horror stories told that I hadn’t even thought about the one I was living in.

            “Yeah,” she said. “I’m scared for you, I really am. I just wish you hadn’t mentioned it.”

            I kept my eyes firmly on the road and my hands wrapped around the steering wheel. I couldn’t look at her, but I could feel her pressure. “Why?” I asked. “Do you know something?”

            In the quiet, I could hear her breathing deep and conscious breaths, like she was trying to decide how to proceed. I didn’t ask anything more even though I really wanted her to answer. She sounded scared though.

            Finally, she spoke, her voice strained and hoarse like she was pushing the words uphill. “I saw the crash.”

            I wanted to stop and look at her, but the road was curving, and it was too dark to see much of anything anyway. Instead, I kept driving like my life depended on me getting home. “And Edward?” I asked.

            “I saw him. Like you said, he was on the other side of the parking lot,” she explained. “And then he wasn’t.”

            I’d been right, but I didn’t know if I could be happy about that. Edward really was wrong, but that didn’t protect me. I wasn’t sure anything could protect me. He was so dead set on making me the object of his ire and with this revelation, there was really nothing I could do about it.

            I regretted yelling at him, suddenly. He’d only been staring at me then, but the longer I spent dealing with him, the more dangerous he became. If I hadn’t said anything to him, I might have never seen him in the woods, I might have died in that car crash. I almost wished I was dead.

            “What does that mean?” I asked, my head racing with thoughts. He was a monster or a psychopath.

            “I’ll help you,” she said. “If you’re looking for answers or something, I’ll help you. I just don’t want you to try and do this alone.”

            I gritted my teeth as I drove. It wouldn’t be long before we passed the reservation. I thought about staying there with Jacob and Billy. If Edward wouldn’t come there, I’d be safe, but Charlie wouldn’t understand this. I didn’t understand it. If anything, maybe Edward was smart enough not to attack me, not to break into my house while Charlie was there.

            “Do you think he’s going to kill me?” I asked, but the answer never came.

            Something flashed suddenly in my headlights. Eyes reflected the yellow light of the headlights as a deer stood fast just in front of my truck, only feet away from us. I swerved and slammed on the breaks as the deer held its ground. By some luck, I was able to stop before I crashed into the creature as it stood.

            I waited, breathing hard as both of us stared at it, waiting for the deer to move. After a moment, it turned and bounded out into the forest, away from my headlights shining out into the night like a beacon. I waited, frozen in place. The deer was gone, but I still couldn’t bring myself to start driving yet.

            “We’re okay,” Jessica said suddenly, and I gulped down the fear stuck in my throat.

            “It would probably be bad if I got into another crash,” I said.

            Jessica just nodded and I eased my foot off the break, using all my breath to send away the bursting headache erupting through the back of my head where the stitches were. I started driving again, more carefully as my vision strained for anymore stray wildlife. In silence, we made our way back to Forks without anymore issue.

            When I stopped in front of Jessica’s house, she was still shaking a little. The heater was making a whirring sound as she unbuckled herself and made for the door. Before she left, however, she grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me in for a hug.

            “Be careful,” she said, her words muffled as she pressed her face into my jacket. When she pulled away, her face was red, maybe from cold or from the shaky feeling that seemed to radiate in the truck.

            “I will,” I answered.

            “I’ll see you at school,” she said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

            I nodded silently and she opened the door with a creak before she got out, running through the grass up to her front door. I waited for her to disappear inside before I drove off, back to my house, where the lights were turned off and there were no trick-or-treaters in sight.

            Passing the bowl of candy on the front steps, I found a few small candy bars left inside. After picking it up and trudging the remainder of the way up the steps, I stepped inside, locking the door as I entered. It was dark. Charlie’s cruiser wasn’t in the driveway, so I assumed he was still out and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water before bed.

            I finally felt a surge of warmth as I walked through the house after a night of burning cold. As I turned on the light in the kitchen, I thought I heard something shifting around near the kitchen table. I twisted my gaze onto it and found only a few envelopes of bills billowing a little before they settled back onto the table, unobstructed. A sudden anxiety rose in me, that there was someone in the house, but I must have been paranoid. After Jessica’s revelation. I was thinking too much.

            After pouring a cold glass of water, I shook off the dread keeping my heart aflutter. It was the deer, I told myself. It had spooked me fierce enough to affect me even now as I stood safely in my kitchen. I downed my glass of water and headed up for bed, turning the lights off as I went. Charlie would be home soon, and all would be well.

            I didn’t sleep well that night. The deer kept coming up in my thoughts as well as that unanswered question. Did Jessica think Edward was going to kill me? If he was just a boy, it wouldn’t have scared me so much. If he was just a boy, I could tell Charlie and get a restraining order or have him talk to Doctor Cullen about the whole thing, but Edward wasn’t just a boy, and I wasn’t sure if his family were just people either.

            The morning after Halloween, I dreaded heading to school again. My head still ached when I moved too fast or stared at anything too bright, but the sky had returned to its deep and comforting grey. I would be alright as long as I was careful, and now Jessica was on my side. It felt as though I wasn’t crazy for the first time all year. She was worried same as I was, and I knew she would be there to look out for me. I had that certainty at least.

            At breakfast, I found Charlie quietly sipping a coffee at the kitchen table as he looked over bills. I made myself eggs and toast as he strained his eyes to read the morning paper. I couldn’t help but smile at him. He must have had a rough night, staying out so late just to make sure stupid kids didn’t get into any trouble and made their way home alright.

            We had a silent morning as I stared out the window while I ate. It had been almost two months since I’d seen that black wolf in the backyard, and he hadn’t come back yet. I imagined him returning whenever I glanced into the yard. Though I had thought him terrifying at first, he hadn’t been a danger to me, not like the danger I was in everyday at school. Perceived danger, I thought, but that wasn’t right. Jessica saw it too. Edward was a danger to me and everyone around, whether they believed it or not.

            On the drive to school, I kept seeing that deer, its eyes staring at me like a warning before it disappeared off into the woods. It stuck out to me as important though I couldn’t put my finger on why I thought that deer must have been trying to tell me something. Maybe there was a part of me that was crazy, but it was only because of Edward.

            After parking in the lot safely, I found Jessica and Angela inside and hung out with them until the class bells rang. It wasn’t so bad to feel normal for awhile, to gossip about who went home with who and what was happening in classes. But after the bell rang, it was back into hell.

            Edward was quiet in biology, his eyes falling to me every so often as I took down the notes Mr. Molina wrote out. I had started to imagine some time ago, that his whole family were monsters like him. I hardly knew his foster siblings save for the rumors I heard about their relationships to each other. I only knew his father from patching up my split open head, but they all seemed to have that odd and off-putting cadence. I decided as I sat avoiding Edward’s gaze that I was going to discover all I could about them. And that started with following them.

            I didn’t tell Jessica about my plan. The way she had spoke to me last night only told me she would stop me if I tried. Instead, I escaped school quietly just before last period ended, by asking to use the bathroom while the teacher was distracted by parabolas and math questions. Jessica saw me go, but she didn’t give me any sign that she knew what I was doing. In fact, she seemed just as distracted as the rest of the class.

            Heading out of the school was easy. Forks High School was quiet and free from any guards that protected the school grounds like in Phoenix. I hid in my truck, keeping low as I waited for the last bell to ring. When it sounded, students were almost immediately out the door, heading for the bus or for their cars. I watched for the Cullens and they soon exited among their other classmates, heading for their black Volvo near the back of the lot.

            As they sped out of the schoolyard and onto the road, I followed them, trying to match the pace of all the other kids leaving school for the freedom of home. I kept just behind them, hoping my truck didn’t stand out through the lines of cars going in the same direction. I knew eventually, they’d drive out past Elk Creek, and I’d be the only other car on the road with them. At that point, I hoped to be far enough away as not to be seen by them out in the open.

            We passed through town and at every intersection, there were less and less cars surrounding me and the Cullens. I kept low in my driver’s seat, hoping to at least hide my face as I followed. I couldn’t see them through the tinted dark windows of their Volvo and I could only hope they hadn’t seen me yet.

            By the time we reached the edge of town, where the trees rose up on either side of the road and blocked out the sky, I was sure they had seen me, because they were speeding up. I hit the gas, trying to keep up, unsure what I was planning to do if I caught them. I just wanted to see. After the crash and everything I’d heard, I just needed to see what was wrong with them, since something obviously was.

            Around a bend, they sped up even further and my truck was struggling and sputtering as I went. As I made it around the bend, I found the bridge that crossed over Elk Creek. It was an old copper bridge with the arching turning green after years of rain and wear. Mosses and fallen branches were littered all over it like a protective covering. There was, however, no sign of the black Volvo I’d been following. The forest was quiet and dark with lush foliage. The canopy turned everything dark as I slowed to a stop in the middle of the little two-lane bridge.

            There was no one there, just the cool fog of the woods and the birds chirping overhead. I parked and stepped out of my truck carefully to take a look around. Maybe they had stopped, their car hidden by the forest. It was like they were ghosts. Here one minute and gone the next. I breathed out, my breath adding to the fog that surrounded.

            As I stood perfectly still in the middle of the road, I saw through the fog and into the woods, something standing below at the edge of the creek. A deer was lowering its head to sip from the slow-moving creek. I stepped forward and at the creaking sound of the bridge, it tilted its head up to look at me, those big brown eyes staring into me.

            I watched it watch me for a long time, thinking this deer must have found me for a reason. A stupid irrational thought crossed my mind that this deer was the same one I’d almost hit the night before, but it couldn’t have been. It was on the other side of the forest, separated by miles and miles, not to mention a town filled with people, but it was looking at me like it knew me.

            A chill ran down my spine and I forced my gaze away from it and back to my truck. If I couldn’t follow them, I wasn’t going to stick around and get myself into more trouble. I got back into the truck and turned around, heading back for town and for home.

            After all, I shouldn’t have come out here without Jessica. She had promised me she was on my side, but she had seemed so scared that night. I didn’t think she would be brave enough to follow the Cullens into the woods in search of their secret. I had to go it alone and that was a mistake too.

            As I made my way for home, driving through town, I passed Carver Café and the school and the old general store, I found myself pausing at the intersection before the clinic. I hadn’t managed to follow the Cullen siblings home, but there was a Cullen in there, one who’d healed my wounds. He was a doctor and some part of me still believed that meant he wasn’t a monster like them, but maybe he knew.

            After a long moment of tapping my finger against the steering wheel and waiting for the lights to turn green, I made my decision and turned into the parking lot of the clinic. It was quiet there. Only two cars were parked in the lot and as I stopped next to them, I imagined one of them had to be Doctor Cullen’s. If he had a secret too, there might be a clue in there, but it would require me to guess which one was his and break into it.

            I waited there for a long time, just breathing in the cold air and trying to figure out if I was making a mistake. All my questions and anxieties were getting the better of me. I needed to know what this town was hiding. No one would tell me what was wrong with the Cullen children, but they all knew deep down. Even Charlie had warned me to be careful, but he couldn’t tell me what he was warning me of. Jessica saw the crash just the same as I did. It was all rising up in my throat and threatening to drown me. I needed to know what was happening here and I needed to know now.

            I got out of my truck, slamming the door behind me with a heavy clunk and leaving it unlocked in case I needed to make a fast get away. Heading up the steps, I made a fist with my left hand, holding my car keys between my palm and my fingers to serve as a weapon if I really needed it. I wasn’t scared, I realized as I headed up to the front doors. I should have been shaking, but I felt less scared than I had since I’d first laid eyes on Edward in September.

            As I reached out for the door, someone else came through, yanking it open quick and nearly dragging me in with it. The woman who had opened the door jumped as she saw me. She was young, probably no older than thirty with a pale stone face and wide light eyes. She was wearing a sweater and a hat that hid most of her hair, but her face lit up with surprise at the sight of me.

            “I’m sorry,” I said as I held myself against the railing. I’d nearly tripped down the steps without realizing it. “Do you work here with Doctor Cullen?”

            The woman shook her head vigorously and smiled at me, a little too wide. She was probably just a patient, and I was interrupting her. I stepped down and out of the way to let her leave. She stepped out, heading down the steps carefully and when the door was fully closed, she looked back at me, her smile gone and replaced with an exhaustion that seemed to drag at her features.

            “I haven’t seen you around here before,” she said. She had a clipped sound to her voice like she wasn’t supposed to be talking. She kept low as she spoke and tilted her head to me as if decerning some secret about me.

            I paused, trying to decide if she meant the clinic or town. “I just moved in a month ago. My Dad is the police chief.”

            “Charlie Swan,” she said. “So you must be Bella.”

            “That’s right,” I told her. “Do you know Doctor Cullen? I met him last week when he did a few stitches for me, but I know his kids.”

            The woman glanced to her car as if looking for a chance to escape. Maybe I was just annoying her, but if I asked enough people, someone had to be willing to spill the secret.

            “Carlisle,” she said, almost a whisper. She leaned in a little closer to me. Even though there was no one else around, she kept her voice low and empty. “You should be careful about spending too much time with the Cullens.”

            “I’m sorry,” I said, a little too loud. Another cryptic message, a warning. I grabbed the woman’s arm to keep her from escaping. She yelped and tried to pull back, but I had her firmly in place. My grip was stronger than I had thought. “What’s the problem with the Cullens?”

            She tried to pull away more, but I held her down like a warning. I was tired of the lies and the secrets. I needed an answer.

            “Just be careful,” she said. “New blood like you.”

            Before I could ask anything else, the door to the clinic opened and out stepped the snow-white Doctor Cullen in his white coat. He was smiling with an easy sort of expression that likely made all his patients comfortable. He took one look at me and the woman on the steps and seemingly ignored the tension between us.

            “Bella, you must be here for the follow up,” Carlisle said. “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

            “I got nervous,” I said and let go of the woman I had nearly assaulted. “I sleep on my back. I was afraid I ripped the stitches.”

            “You’d know if you had,” he said. “Why don’t you come inside? I’ll get you all taken care of. We’ll have to let my wife go.”

            “Your wife,” I muttered under my breath and looked to the woman before me. She looked too young to be a doctor’s wife. She couldn’t have been more than ten or twelve years older than Edward, but she held herself almost like a frail old lady. I couldn’t understand what I was looking at.

            “Esme, take care,” Carlisle said. “The children should be at home by now.”

            She nodded silently, her open wide smile returning like the exchange we’d just had never happened. She nodded to me without saying a word and walked over to the other car in the lot. I watched her the whole way and something about her silence gave me chills. After all that worry, she became a silent figure returning home. There was nothing real in her gaze, in her walk.

            “Come on in,” Carlisle said, holding the door open for me. I let my gaze fall from Esme back to Carlisle in the doorway. Shivering a little as I entered, I let Doctor Cullen take me in for a checkup, and I tried to forget the look on Esme’s face as I did.

Chapter Text

The snow never stuck to the ground long enough to get piles of it. Instead, as it got cold enough to snow, it melted as soon as it touched the ground and left everything wet and icy. By the time the air had gotten cold enough for this pseudo snow, I had gotten my stitches taken out and my concussion was all but gone. I still hadn’t gotten any headway on the Cullen siblings though. I got Jessica to tell me everything she knew while we studied for our precalculus exam set for tomorrow, but she hardly knew anything that would lead me to an answer.

            “They sort of just appeared,” Jessica said. “Moved in one night and then Carlisle was the new doctor, and his children were enrolled in school.”

            “And they never talked to anybody?” I asked. She was sitting on my bed with a textbook out, but we hadn’t looked at it in the last hour. Charlie would be home soon and make fun of us for spending the whole night talking instead of studying for our test. I would have normally cared about school, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with Jessica away from Angela and I wanted to make the most of it.

            “I mean, Carlisle talks to everyone,” Jessica said. “And everyone loves him. And I can’t really say anything bad about his kids either, except that they’re all dating each other.”

            “Except Edward,” I noted.

            “Yeah, except Edward.”

            “But you know…” I said and broke off. I didn’t know quite what I was asking. She knew they were dangerous. She knew there was something that made them abnormal. They moved in unnoticed and set themselves up in this town. It wasn’t actually that weird. Some people just wanted to forget their past and people with foster kids probably had a lot of loose ends to forget.

            “I don’t really know how to help you,” she admitted. “Except to tell you to stay away from him, but you already know that.”

            I nodded and looked again to the math textbook before us. School was going to keep happening and Edward was going to keep being there. Two months had already passed and there was nothing I could really do about it. But I remembered that woman from the clinic, so young and fragile looking like she was made out of glass. She had warned me too, just like everyone else.

            “What about their mom?” I asked, pulling on the last of the strings I had.

            “Mrs. Cullen? She’s nice, I guess,” Jessica said. “I’ve never actually spoken to her.”

            “Have you seen her?” I asked.

            “She used to drive them to school before they turned sixteen,” she replied. “But like I said, I’ve never talked to her.”

            “Does she have any friends?” I asked. Anyone who she might talk to, anyone at all in this tiny town.

            “Not that I know of,” Jessica said. “Like I said, the kids don’t talk to anyone and Carlisle, everyone just knows him as the doctor.”

            “Right,” I said. Another dead end. So two years until Edward graduated and then I’d be free, but that wasn’t why I came here. I wanted to spend my last two years of high school with my dad, make real friends and go to football games and dances. Edward was ruining all of that. He unsettled me so deep into my core that I could hardly go anywhere without worrying he’d be there too.

            Jessica stared at me, not the cold stare of the Cullens, but a sweet and friendly stare. Finally she smiled. “Do you want to go shopping?”

            I tilted my head at her. “Shopping?” It seemed like a bad time.

            “The snow just stopped, and we are not studying for this test,” she said, letting the cover of the textbook fall back down over it with a thump.

            “We’re supposed to be,” I said, but she gave me a pouting face that told me she wasn’t planning on opening that book back up anytime soon.

            “Shopping, shopping, shopping,” she started to chant bouncing a little in place and making the whole bed shake.

            “What are we shopping for?” I asked. I hadn’t been shopping with Jessica before, but apparently it was a common occurrence between her and Angela to go to the local thrift stores and search through their racks.

            “You could use some winter clothes,” she said. “And there’s a winter dance coming up in December.”

            I shook my head. “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to that.”

            “Why not?” Jessica demanded. “You don’t have to have a date or anything. Me and Angela went together last year. We can all go, please.” She pouted some more and gave another elongated “Pleeeeaaaasse,” as she looked to me with bright, shiny puppy dog eyes.

            “Okay,” I said. “Okay. Fine. I’ll go look with you, but I make no promises.”

            “Yay,” Jessica shouted and jumped off the bed. “Can I call Angela?”

            I looked at her for a second. Our conversation about the Cullens was over, it seemed, but I didn’t know if I had any more questions. I just hadn’t gotten any answers and that left me a little disappointed. I nodded and started to get off the bed as she texted Angela.

            “Can we take the truck?” she asked.

            “Yeah. I’ll leave a note for my dad,” I said as we headed downstairs.

            It had been a long time since I went shopping, but Jessica was right. I needed something warmer that the thin sweatshirts I’d brought from home. I’d never thought to ask Charlie to take me shopping, but I didn’t think I’d like going shopping with him. It would be a different nightmare from going with my mom who’d comment on the cut and size of everything I tried and ask me if I was getting a bit chubby. With Jessica, I hoped maybe I’d like shopping and looking at clothes for once when I’d never liked it with my mom.

            “She says she’ll meet us there,” Jessica said as we headed out the door.

            Jessica directed me to a little store on the corner of a street not too far from Carver’s. As I parked the truck and let the engine idle a moment longer, I saw Angela hopping out of her old junker in the parking lot. Jessica pushed a door open and waved her hand up above the roof of my truck to wave her down. She leaned back in towards me as Angela started making her way towards us.

            “Is there any change I can get you to do to the winter dance?” she asked.

            I just shook my head, a little smile hidden in my features. She must have thought she could convince me, but I was dead set on staying home for that particular event. There was no place for me there.

            She gave a little pout as she dropped her boots onto the asphalt and slipped out of the truck, heading to meet Angela halfway. I turned the truck off and followed them out, passing through the sloshing snow that clung to the heels of my boots.

            “Are we going as a trio to the dance?” Angela asked after Jessica stopped hugging her and I stopped just behind them.

            Jessica gave me a look, still trying to convince me, but I just shook my head. “I’m just here to help.”

            “She needs a new jacket,” Jessica said. “And snow boots.”

            “I need a lot of things,” I admitted. I was woefully prepared for the cold and the rain that fell like hurricanes. For a long time, I’d ignored it, mostly because I really didn’t want to go shopping with Charlie, but it was quickly becoming a need and Jessica was happy to oblige.

            “Okay,” Angela said. “But I’m sure we can find you a dress you’d like.”

            “Or a suit,” Jessica offered. “Or anything really.”

            Though I cringed at the idea of a dress, I think a suit scared me. I didn’t want to be the only girl to show up to a school dance in a shirt and tie. It would attract too much attention, and I had already decided on sulking in my room with a book or a television show on the night of the dance instead.

            “Let’s just go in,” I said and ushered the girls along into the little thrift store.

            As we stepped inside out of the cold and wet air, the bell above the door rang. As the door closed behind us, the cold shed off of us in the warmly lit interior of the store. There was little woman at the till reading a book, but other than that, the store was mostly empty. Maybe the night before a big math exam was not the prime time for high schoolers to go shopping. Quickly, Jessica pulled me along to a rack of jeans.

            We spent nearly an hour searching through racks and hidden areas of the store. Angela and Jessica had accumulated a large pile of dresses, skirts, tops and whatever else they had thought was cute to bring into the changing rooms with them. I had a few pairs of warm pants and a thick green coat that would keep out the rain and snow. I waited for them to exit the changing room as I sat on an upholstered chair, shifting through the shoes on display.

            Jessica came out wearing a long pink dress with way too many frills and lace. One strap was wrapped with a big pink bow. She looked herself over in a mirror, unsure and I leaned forward, unsure if she needed me to tell her it was pretty or hideous. I didn’t like it, or at least, I wouldn’t have worn it, but Jessica liked pink, and she liked frills.

            “I kind of like it,” Jessica said. “But I could do without this strap.”

            She pressed down the bow with her hands and looked to me expectantly. I tilted my head at her. I could have been honest and said I hated it, but that wasn’t what she was asking. She wanted to know if she should buy it and wear it to the dance, which was an entirely different question.

            Angela pushed her door open just in time to save me. She wore a shorter blue dress with a much simpler frame than Jessica’s. Just two thin straps and a silver band around the waist. As she looked at Jessica, her eyes went wide.

            “It’s ugly, isn’t it?” she said at the sight of Angela. She turned back to me, and I nodded for once, safe to say it really was an awful dress.

            “Maybe we need a break,” Angela offered.

            “Should we come back later?” Jessica asked. “I have like three other dresses I was going to try.”

            “I was actually thinking we should make Bella try something.”

            I shrunk back at the mention of my name. “No.”

            “Yes,” Jessica said. “I have something perfect for you.” She quickly returned to her changing room, riffling through her massive pile of clothing options.

            “I said I didn’t want to go,” I argued as she started to return. “I’m not a dress person.”

            “I didn’t say that,” Jessica said as she stepped out, holding was appeared to be a red velvet suit jacket and a black dress shirt. For a long time, I stared at it, unsure how she’d managed to find something like that, but she’d spent a lot longer looking than I had.

            “Oh,” Angela gasped. “That’s perfect.”

            “No,” I said, nervously shaking my head. Even if they could get me to try that on, they weren’t getting me to go to the dance in it. I was spinning just looking at it.

            “Unless you’d rather try a dress,” Jessica offered with a mischievous grin.

            I cringed inward but got up and grabbed hold of the hanger she had anyway. If it got them to give up on getting me to go to the dance, I’d do it. As I closed the door to the changing room, I heard Angela and Jessica giggle to each other, like this had been their plan all along.

            It didn’t take long for me to finish buttoning up the shirt, but as I slipped on the jacket and had a look at myself in the mirror, I felt a sudden heat coming to my cheeks. I looked nice. No flowers or long flowing skirt. I looked like, and I even felt like, someone else, someone much braver than me, with no insecurities or fears of being looked at. I thought I was looking at someone I wanted to be, and suddenly, I didn’t want to leave the changing room. I didn’t want to step out and try and pretend I didn’t like the way I felt in this jacket. I was alone in my own little world where I could wear this and it was still me.

            Suddenly, my phone buzzed in the back pocket of my jeans, and I nearly jumped at the sound of it. Nervously, I took my phone out and looked at the screen as a text from my Dad popped up.

            “Where are you?” it read, and I realized I’d forgotten to leave a note. I quickly texted back a reply to tell him where I was and leaned back against the wall of the changing room, my heart aflutter with regret.

            I shouldn’t have agreed to come shopping and I shouldn’t have let Jessica drag me into this changing room. After a long moment of sour thoughts racing through my head, I tore the jacket off and unbuttoned the dress shirt, putting on my sweatshirt again instead. I left the jacket in there on the hanger and stepped out of the changing room, still waiting for my Dad to text me back.

            “I have to go home,” I said as I stepped out. Jessica and Angela’s faces fell at the sight of me in my regular clothes.

            “What? You’re kidding,” Jessica said. I regretted coming and I regretted leaving too. Something about Jessica’s disappointment sent a wave of guilt through me. We were all just having fun, but despite that, my own paranoid thoughts got in the way. I wondered briefly if I’d always get in the way before I grabbed my bag and headed toward the door, unable to even say goodbye to them.

            “Bella,” Angela offered as I pushed my way through.

            “Can you drive Jessica home? Thanks.” I didn’t wait for a reply. The bell above the door rang as I yanked it open and stepped out into the darkened parking lot of the little thrift store.

            There was only one working streetlight in the parking lot as I kept walking straight ahead toward my truck, which felt further back now than when I’d parked it. The sky was misting, turning my hair frizzy and cold as I ducked away. I almost didn’t notice the guys in the parking lot, three of them, all a lot older than me and staring with a look that felt cold and familiar.

            “Heya there, darling,” one of them asked. He was tall and leering with a scruff of hair on his chin and lines in his smile as he raised a bushy eyebrow my way. I looked straight ahead to my car, but he stepped in front, raising a hand to block my path.

            “I’m sorry, I’m just going,” I said, my heart still in my throat. I had my head down, but that didn’t seem to stop him. I remembered the day I’d yelled at Edward without overthinking so much like I was now and how he’d shrunk back. “I’m just going,” I said a little louder.

            “Do you want to come with us?” he asked and nodded back to his friends. The first was a stubby looking man with a grey mustache and beard. The other was wearing a hat to cover his face, but I could see his leering eyes looking at me anyway.

            “Leave me alone,” I snapped, the same way I’d snapped at Edward.

            The man in front of me only smiled like I’d told a joke. I thought of Jessica and Angela not so far away in the thrift shop. All I had to do was turn back and go get them or call my Dad and tell him I needed help, but I’d been cowering long enough. I’d been hoping Edward would ignore me. I’d been keeping my head down, but it never got me anywhere.

            “Come on, dear. We won’t bite,” he said.

            Before I could speak up and tell him to screw off, I heard the rumble of an engine coming close. A black vehicle whipped into the parking lot, white headlights shining brightly between me and the stranger. I thought I recognized the license plate, but it was all happening too fast for me to think.

            The drivers side door slammed open, and a figure came out, faster than I imagined anyone should have been able to. He was out and in front of the stranger in just a second, gripping him by the lapels of his coat. I saw the back of him first, the pale skin and the hairs at the back of his neck standing on end, and then I remembered where I’d seen the car before.

            “Edward?” I demanded.

            “Stay away from her,” he snapped to the stranger, his knuckles white as he held onto him. “Get out of here.”

            “What the hell is your problem, man?” he asked as Edward held him an inch away from his face.

            “I said, get out of here,” Edward shouted and threw the man to the ground. He skidded against the asphalt, scrapping up his jacket with rain and mud. As he lifted his head, a line of red dripped down his forehead. The light of the one lone streetlamp illuminated the look of fear on his face. I knew suddenly, that the three older men were not the most dangerous people in this lot tonight.

            Edward took a step forward and I was too afraid, too slow to stop him. He grabbed the man in a fistful and before I knew what was happening, he was punching him, slamming his white fist into the man’s nose. The other two scattered pretty quick and all that was left was the sound of Edward slamming fist after fist, cracking the bones of this stranger’s face.

            I swallowed the lump in my throat and reached out to him, grabbing his arm as he reeled back for another punch. “Stop it!” I screamed. Maybe he was saving me, like the car crash, but my head was spilling as the scent of blood hit the air and mixed with the rain. Even if this stranger had wanted to hurt me, I couldn’t stand by and watch Edward kill him.

            As I held tight to Edward’s elbow, he reeled back even further and pushed me off of him, sending me stumbling back. It wasn’t as hard a blow as he gave to the stranger but jarred me enough to send me running for my truck instead.

            I bolted, running as fast as I could, straining against the thick mist and stumbling. Before I could even reach the door of my truck or fumble for my keys, Edward was there, standing between me and the truck with blood on his knuckles and those same glassy eyes I’d come to fear. An ache thrummed against my head, and I couldn’t think about how he’d gotten in front of me.

            “Come with me,” Edward said through gritted teeth and didn’t give me the chance to respond before he yanked me by the arm, dragging me away from my truck passed the man bleeding on the ground and toward his black Volvo still idling and spilling white light onto the parking lot.

            I only got a short look at the man, but he was too covered in blood to see much of anything anyway. His face had turned to pulp under Edward’s fists. He yanked open the passenger door and pushed me inside while I stole a glance at the man just long enough to see that he was still breathing from where he laid. Before I could think to run, Edward was on the other side of the car, getting into the driver’s seat. He locked the doors before I could try anything.

            “I need to get home,” I snapped, but he didn’t seem to care. He started driving, twisting the wheel to take us out of the lot and onto the dark road.

            “Just shut up,” he said as he sped forward, passing through a yellow light before it had the chance to turn red. I didn’t know where he was taking me, but it wasn’t home.

            “What did you do to that guy?” I demanded, but maybe I should have just asked where he was taking me and what he was going to do to me. I knew what he’d done to that guy. If he wasn’t dead yet, he wasn’t going to be pretty.

            “You didn’t know what they were thinking,” he said under his breath, but in the quiet interior of the car, I could hear him perfectly.

            “I knew enough,” I said, thinking back to their grins and the way they leered in close over me. Edward might have thought I was stupid, but I knew what they were thinking. What I didn’t know, was what Edward was thinking. Behind those black eyes, there had been nothing.

            He drove further, out into the woods, and I thought he might have been heading east, back to Elk Creek and the Cullen house I knew was somewhere beyond it. His hands were gripping hard on the steering wheel, blood staining them, darkening the white of his fists. I imagined that if he’d done all that to one man, he could strangle me just as easily.

            “I don’t understand how you do it,” he said finally, breaking through the silence.

            We’d been driving for a few long minutes now and he still hadn’t told me where he was taking me. I stared ahead at the dark road, two headlights illuminating an empty road that felt much too dark for this time of night.

            “How I do what?” I asked.

            “I have no idea what you’re thinking,” he said. “It’s just nothing.”

            What he was saying didn’t make any sense, but I was starting to put it together, slowly with so many pieces missing. I’d already known he was weird, unnatural even, but I had never thought about the extent of it.

            “But you knew what those guys were thinking?” I asked, twisting my gaze to look at him through the dark. It was hard to see anything at all, but I could tell he was shaking, his hands gripping so tightly around the wheel that they must have been numb. He was looking straight ahead, not to me or to his hands still covered in blood.

            Suddenly, he hit the breaks, slamming hard. The car skidded a little before it came to a stop in the middle of the road in a dark part of the woods where trees covered the night sky. I held onto the door handle, hoping for the chance to run, knowing if I did, I probably wouldn’t get very far.

            “Get out,” he snapped, finally facing me. I couldn’t see the whites of his eyes through the dark, but it hardly mattered. He looked demonic enough as it was. “Get out!”

            I pushed the door handle in and tumbled to the ground as I escaped out onto the road. Getting to my feet as fast as I could, I backed myself up to the edge of the road where the pine needles had amassed onto the forest floor. Edward stepped out of the car, his hands still bunched into fists and walked across the tail of his car, passing through red light that only reminded me of how much blood was on his hands.

            “Is this where you’re going to kill me?” I demanded. If anything, I could pretend to be brave right now. I wanted to run, but my legs were too wobbly to move.

            “Who are you?” He stepped right up to me, close enough to touch me, his face hidden by the darkness, but his outline illuminated by the headlights of the Volvo.

            “I’m just Bella,” I said. I was his lab partner. I was the police chief’s daughter. If I died, there would be an investigation. They would find my truck in the parking lot and the skid marks too. I had to imagine that if he killed me know, Charlie would find him, and he’d never get the chance to do it again.

            “No,” Edward snapped. “Who are you?”

            I didn’t understand the question, or maybe he already had his answer, and he was just waiting for me to give it. I wanted to cry, but I held myself back, held myself straight next to his towering frame. A moment of silence passed between us as he stared at me, holding his fists close to his side. I waited for him to wrap them around my throat, but it never happened.

            “Go,” he said.

            For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. I just stood there, trying to see his face, unable to catch any hint of an expression.

            “Go!” he screamed, louder and in my face. “Run!”

            I didn’t wait any longer. I ran, bolting back the way we’d come along the road that led back to town. If he wanted to, he could turn his car around and chase me down, maybe he’d run me over with it, but he never came. His taillights disappeared behind me, and I never stopped running until I got back to my car in the near empty lot. The store had closed and there was no sign of those men anymore. As I collapsed into the wet asphalt before my car, I cried soundlessly, gasping for air in the pitched black darkness. I didn’t want to know what had happened. I just wanted to go home.

Chapter Text

I hadn’t looked at my phone until after I caught my breath and slid into the cold driver’s seat of my truck, but my Dad had texted me at least an hour ago. It was just a simple response to me telling him I was out shopping with Jessica.

            “Okay, have fun,” he’d replied.

            I slammed my ice-cold hand against the steering wheel and began to weep. The tears falling in a hot rain against my cheeks. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been but being in that changing room expecting Jessica and Angela to be staring at me when I came out; that fear felt stupid to me now. Edward could have killed me. I had thought he wanted to kill me, and I had to sit next to him tomorrow in class and pretend everything was fine.

            Pressing my arm around myself as I started up the truck with a shaky hand, I tried to get myself warm. The nights were not kind here so close to winter. I waited for the heater to bring a level of comfort, but I was still shaking. I didn’t know if it was from the cold, the run, or the way Edward had turned that man’s face into paste.

            I closed my eyes, waiting for my heart to return to my chest. I swallowed my shallow breaths as I hoped for some solace. There was none around me to be found. Before I could think or even begin to calm down, there was a sudden knock on my window, so heavy it jolted me out of my head. I feared it would be Edward out there waiting for me, but when I opened my eyes, it was Jessica standing in front of my window, a mittened hand held aloft to knock again.

            I caught my breath and slowly reached to open the driver’s door as she looked at me with a worried gaze. As I opened the door, cold seeped back in and I wanted to close it again, but Jessica was here, and the relief overwhelmed my senses. I didn’t care if I froze my fingers off as long as it was her before me in this lonely parking lot.

            “What happened?” Jessica asked.

            I opened my mouth to tell her about the men in the parking lot and Edward in his car, but I realized she hadn’t seen any of it. She didn’t have to know that my terror hadn’t ended after I’d told her on Halloween. She could have only meant to ask me why I’d bolted out of the store alone.

            “I just don’t like being the center of attention,” I offered, but I wasn’t convinced myself. It was more than that. She was smart enough to see that.

            “I mean why are you still here,” Jessica corrected. “We saw your truck still here when we left and I was worried. I thought you’d been kidnapped. We were going to call your Dad.”

            I glanced over across the lot. In the far corner, Angela’s car was still there and if I squinted, I could see her silhouette in the frosted glass of the window. They could have just been leaving, but no. The thrift store had closed hours ago. They’d waited here.

            “Why didn’t you?” I asked. Maybe it was for the best that they didn’t. I was alright after all, and he would lose his mind if he knew what had really happened.

            Jessica hesitated. She looked cold, and I thought about telling her to jump into the passenger seat, but I didn’t want to tell her everything. If I did, she’d insist on telling Charlie and I wasn’t sure I wanted that to happen. I was afraid of Edward and at this point, I was pretty sure he’d kill me if I got the police involved.

            “I thought it might be Edward,” Jessica said. “I mean, he’s still so weird to you. I’m worried.”

            I nodded. She was right. I could trust her, and she was right, but some part of me didn’t want her involved. Not because I thought I could handle it myself. I was sure I couldn’t handle this myself, but I didn’t want her handling it either. If I told Charlie maybe it would be over and done with, but he hadn’t had the chance to be a dad in almost ten years and I hadn’t gotten the chance to be his daughter. I worried that in a small town like this, he’d decide the best course of action was to send me back to Renee and leave it at that. I couldn’t let him send me away, not when I was finally starting to feel at home.

            “I got sidetracked,” I said, hoping it sounded believable as I said it. “My Dad needed me to pick up some things, but I got kind of lost. I’m fine, really. You should go home. Its freezing out here.”

            Jessica looked at me like she was trying to decide if I was being honest or not. I silently prayed she didn’t see through my poorly crafted lie, but eventually she just nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

            When she left, Angela’s car disappearing past the streetlights, I collapsed onto my steering wheel and wept some more. If I had to see Edward again, if I had to keep lying to her, I was pretty sure I was going to crack apart like brittle glass.

            I didn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking I was seeing something in the corner of my eye, an image that shifted in the dark as my head raced with thoughts. I kept seeing Edward’s hands, the blood on them and the way he looked at me with those glassy black eyes like I was next. I didn’t want to go to school. In fact, by four o’clock in the morning, I was sure I’d be able to convince Charlie I was sick, but I could only keep that ruse up for so long. I’d have to go to school eventually or tell him the truth and risk being sent away.

            As my alarm started to ring in my ear, signifying the turn of a new day, I wished for a storm, enough snow and enough cold to keep me stuck at home for the day and cancel school, but as I looked out the window, all that stood in the sky was the shades of pink and blue of the rising sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. They had all been shifted north and away, leaving a blue sky. My spirits rose with a sudden realization. The Cullen’s didn’t go to school when it was sunny.

            Though I was still groggy, I pulled myself out of bed and down to the kitchen where Charlie was still sitting with a cup of dark coffee and the morning paper. I hesitated on the threshold of the kitchen for a moment longer as I watched him sit so peacefully before the sunrise. When I finally stepped through, his attention was drawn immediately to me, and he lowered his paper.

            “How’d you sleep?” he asked as I stood before him, trying not to give anything away. Last night had scared me beyond anything I’d ever known. I thought about telling him one last time, about being honest about everything. The men in the lot and Edward’s bloody fists still pressed into my mind. I swallowed down all of it at the thought of leaving him and returning to my mom with my tail between my legs.

            “Fine,” I lied.

            He paused over me for a second and I was sure he saw right through it. I hid my hands behind my back as if it would hide me with them, but eventually, he just smiled. “Did you have fun with your friends? I didn’t get the chance to talk to you last night.”

            “Yeah,” I lied. I kept lying. “It was fun.”

            “Be careful on your drive to school,” he said. “I’ve got to get into the station.” He stood up, discarding his paper on the table with the dwindling number of take-out boxes and returned his mug to the sink. I watched him through the corner of my eye as he left, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair before he headed out the front door.

            With the house empty once again, I breathed in my own regret and shed it away to worry about later. If I could talk to anyone now, it was Jessica, and with the sun shining down, I was safe to go to school.

            Just before I left, I went out to the garage. It was still disorganized, but I had spent enough time searching through it to know where my Dad’s hunting safe was. Charlie was smart, but not as smart as he must have thought. The combination was his birthday; easy to remember, I supposed. It opened with a creak and  I hesitated on the open safe for a long moment, looking over the stowed rifle and all his various implements.

In the end, I grabbed a hunting knife. It was sheathed in leather, but as I pulled it free my reflection shone in the metal, distorted but clear. I turned it over in my hand, feeling the weight and jab of it. After all this time, I wasn’t afraid of the knife in my hand, the fact that I could stab it into flesh just as easily as opening a door. I didn’t care. I knew what Edward was, not a boy, just a monster.

I sheathed the knife and hid it in my backpack. If I was caught with it at school, Charlie would kill me. It didn’t matter. I was done. After last night, I was done.

I drove to school less afraid than I had been for the past month. The sun was shining brightly when I arrived in the lot, casting shadows over all the cars that parked there. I saw Jessica near the door as I stepped out of my truck and slammed the door shut. She waved me over as Angela appeared by her side. I breathed in deep, my anxieties leaving me, and started to walk over.

I only got halfway to her. That was when I saw it. The school, like much of this town, was surrounded by swaths of woods that wormed their way through the town, taking it back into the wilderness. It was lovely, usually. I’d gotten used to the sights and found comfort in these woods, but what I caught, just out of eyeshot held me up. I thought I saw, in the shade of the large pines, a pair of eyes I knew well.

My heart thudded in my chest, and I balled my hands up into fists. I wasn’t afraid, I told myself, I was angry. He’d taken so much from me, and he was going to answer for it. I didn’t walk to Jessica, head into school and pretend it was a normal day. I didn’t pretend. Maybe it was because I was so tired of lying and acting like everything was okay that I’d rather risk death than continue it for one more day. I stomped away, leaving the parking lot and trudging through the wet grass and into the woods all while Jessica watched in confusion. She didn’t see what I saw. None of them ever did.

The further I stepped into the woods the less sure I was that I’d seen Edward at all. If I couldn’t trust my own senses, what could I trust? I kept trudging forward until I passed beneath a low hanging branch and found a figure stepping out from beyond the trees.

Edward was wearing nothing but a tee shirt and jeans, and I imagined he must have been freezing. He should have been shivering, but he showed no sign of it at all. In fact, I wasn’t so sure he was breathing either. His breath didn’t turn to fog around him. He simply seemed part of the wilderness, just as cold and wild as he stared at me with those big black eyes.

“You,” I said. I could feel the weight of the knife in my backpack. I knew where to reach to grab it, and I was certain I’d be fast enough. “You’ve been watching me.”

He tilted his head a little, almost catlike in the way he was watching me, like I was just prey to him. “And you kept coming back.” His voice was like ice every time he spoke. It never got easier.

I breathed in and out once again, fully aware of how close he was to me. In a single stride of his long legs, he could reach me. I thought over in my head, practiced the exact smooth motion of pulling the knife out of my backpack.

“I wanted to know what you are,” I said. “Because I know you’re not human.”

There. I’d said it out loud. It was likely a mistake to tell him so blankly that I knew he was a monster, but I’d already made a mistake coming out here. Maybe Jessica would follow me out and find us here, but I knew she wanted no part in my investigation. She just wanted me safe, and I wasn’t going to be safe as long as Edward was watching over me.

“You came to this conclusion yourself?” Edward asked. If he was surprised, he gave nothing away. I couldn’t tell if he knew I’d been on to him or if he thought I was crazy.

“You said you could read that man’s mind,” I said. “You said you couldn’t read mine.”

“I know what I said,” he snapped back a little harshly. I tried not to flinch at his tone. Any wrong move and I was toast.

“So what are you?” I demanded. I was sure I was going to have to reach for the knife just then, but he shook his head a little in response to my question and when he looked up, he had a smirk on his face.

“Would you believe I have a crush on you?” he asked.

“You have a weird way of showing it,” I snapped. There was no way I was going to believe that. Too much had happened for there to be any attraction between us. He was too much of a monster and even if no one could name it, they all knew. The Cullens were dangerous.

“I’ve been in love with you since the moment I saw you,” he said. That smirk didn’t leave his face and I was sure he was lying to me. His unlikely revelation only succeeded in making my stomach churn.

“No,” I said. My head was spinning. “No. You said you could read minds. You stopped that van with your bare hands. You’re a monster!” I regretted it even as I said it, but there was no going back now.

I reached into my bag just as Edward’s expression changed, the smirk falling into a look of pure rage. He was going to kill me, here and now, I realized. Pulling out the knife, the leather sleeve dropped to the ground as I held it between the two of us. Before I could even look, Edward was in front of me, gripping tight to my wrist, the blade still held between us.

“You don’t want to do that,” he said in a low, calm voice. I tried to push forward against his hold, but I was anchored in place by his grip, unable to attack or get away.

“Let me go,” I snapped as if it would help. I was the one holding the knife after all. He gripped my shoulder with his other hand, digging his fingernails into my coat.

“You couldn’t hurt me if you tried,” he said, that smug sound returning to his voice. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Then what?” I demanded, nearly shrieking. “Why are you following me?”

As close as Edward was to me, I couldn’t hear the sound of his breath or the beating of his heart. All I felt this close to him was the cold, like he was simply a part of the forest floor, rotting there with the moss and mold.

“I told you,” he said, lowering his head a little toward me. “The moment I saw you, smelled you, I knew there was something special about you. That you’re right for me.”

My eyes crossed up toward him and in an instant, I felt a sort of calm, like he was doing it. All of the churning, fiery anger in my gut started to extinguish and I had a sudden fear that he was the one doing this to me, calming me down to stop me from fighting. I held on to that spark, that reminder of what he was and pushed.

I slammed my open palm toward him, and somehow, he fell back, loosening his grip on me enough to stumble back out of arms’ reach. Panicking, I lashed out with the hunting knife, trying to draw blood or scare him away. I needed to run, but I knew any chance of that was out the window if he was still on his feet. He would catch me like he caught that van.

Slashing down, I tired to pierce his leg, something that would slow him down, but he was too fast and grabbed me by the wrist before I went flying. I tumbled down, falling over rocks and logs as the woods scrapped me up. Somewhere along the way, the hunting knife disappeared from my hand, lost among the woods. When I finally stopped spinning, my head ached and I hoped I didn’t have another concussion, though that was probably the least of my worries.

As I reached for the back of my head however, I found a gash on my hand spilling blood onto the rocks. I hissed in pain as I forced myself to my feet, turning to find Edward. I felt for the hunting knife with my feet, but it was nowhere to be found as Edward neared, winding up on me like an animal circling prey.

He wasn’t getting nearer to me, and as I leaned up against a tree to brace myself, I realized why. The canopy was broken in part just between up, a big enough opening to cast down pure sunlight into a patch between us. Looking at the light, looking at Edward cowering away from it as he tried to get to me, I realized something I should have known before.

“Step into the light,” I said. He didn’t make to move. I held up my hand, the one bleeding from a long jagged cut and blood dripped down my wrist. “Step into the light.”

Like chum in the water, Edward rushed me without thought, his face contorting into a rage at the sight of my crimson blood before him. His nose scrunched in abject horror and his eyes shone like the black of shark’s. His mouth opened to reveal razor sharp fangs that shined in his mouth, searching for blood. And just as he passed into the light, he turned.

His skin, which was regularly an oddly pale shade was now marked and jaded by lines of dark inky tendrils underneath. His veins shown through his skin with a darkened unnatural tinge like it wasn’t blood in them at all. He stopped inside the light, held there as if it stopped him from coming any further and I got a good look at the decay of his body in the light. He looked like an old corpse, drained of everything, but not made up for the casket with thick layers of make-up. I didn’t know what I had expected. For him to burn up the moment he stepped foot into the sunlight, or to shrink back at its presence? I never expected him to be so disturbing.

“You’re a vampire,” I said as he held himself straight and erect like a statue.

“Put your hand down,” he snapped, his eyes fixed on my open palm and the blood dripping slowly onto the moss and rocks. His pointed teeth clipped in his mouth against his lips, but he held them closed as he struggled to remain composed.

I complied with his request and took my hand into my coat, pressing it against the fabric of my shirt. “I knew there was something wrong with you. Have you been trying to kill me this whole time?”

He looked down to me, to my eyes and grimaced. It was that same annoyed look, like I’d insulted him, but now it was held together by the dark lines that etched his face. “I’ve been trying to avoid killing you actually,” he corrected.

“Me?” I demanded. “You’ve lived here for years, and no one’s noticed. You’ve never tried to take a bite out of the other girls at school.”

“We only drink animal blood,” he said as if it explained everything and rolled his eyes to get the point across.

Backed up against a tree, I wasn’t in a good position to fight. I didn’t know where the hunting knife had ended up and the sunlight didn’t really stop Edward. He wasn’t like the old Dracula movie vampires who burned in the sunlight. The sunlight had only succeeded in revealing the disturbing truth about Edward, that he was already dead.

When he took another step forward, passing through the shafts of light and back into shadow, I flinched. His skin returned to its ivory shade, and I wondered just how fast he was, and how far he’d be able to smell the blood in my hands. If he’d been trying not to kill me before, he probably wasn’t now that I knew his secret.

“We,” I whispered as he came to stand in front of my, blockading me from any escape against the back of this tree. He wasn’t the only vampire here.

“My family,” he said. “We’ve been living here. Trying to lay low, but you had to stick your nose into it.” He reached out towards me but stopped once I flinched again. I’d felt his hand before, I was sure of it, but I couldn’t help but imagine it was cold and waxy now like a corpse.

“So what are you going to do now,” I said. “Now that I know everything.” The little voice in the back of my head that was telling me to run was practically bursting my eardrums now, but I held my gaze with Edward as he looked me over like I was a meal. Maybe I was a meal.

“I don’t have to kill you,” he said. “I told you already. I was attracted to you the moment I laid eyes on you.”

My heart slowed in my chest. I could feel it pumping like the rumble of an engine. I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t so afraid anymore. I looked down to the forest floor below me. If he was going to kill me, I didn’t stand a chance. I just stared at the dark earth and pine needles and leaves that made their home here. I had loved these woods the moment I stepped into them when I was a young girl. I didn’t blame them if I was going to die in them.

“Look at me,” Edward snapped and grabbed hold of my chin. He pulled my face toward him and our eyes locked, wide and dark. Green eyes, so very scared and human to black ones without a shred of iris to be seen. “The moment I laid eyes on you.”

I don’t know what came over me. My ears stopped ringing with that incessant desire to run. My head stopped spinning. I was looking up at Edward and I could see in his dark voids that he wasn’t lying. He really did love me. He had something I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. A love that transcended everything I thought I knew. He wasn’t a monster, he never was. I could feel what he felt for just a second, that yearning, that closeness. And then he let me go.

And I shattered. The moment his hand dropped from my face, and he stepped away, I had a sudden inexplicable desire to be close to him again. I needed to touch him like I needed to breathe, and I didn’t even understand why. He turned to leave me in this forest. He wasn’t going to kill me. He never was. I understood that now. There was never a chance he would kill me. He loved me.

“Wait,” I snapped. I scrunched my hand in my coat, hoping the bleeding had stopped. As much as I felt for him, I didn’t want to see that monstrous face again. “You’re in love with me.”

He just nodded. No one had ever been in love with me before. I hadn’t even put the thought to it. Jessica had even suggested, but I never imagined it, that anyone could see me and be so enamored. I stepped forward, slowly and pressed my unwounded hand to his face. It was cold, but didn’t hold any residue of death. I wasn’t so afraid anymore. I didn’t know why I ever was.

Chapter Text

I fell in love with Edward by the shade of the thick and damp forest. As I looked back at him on my way back to class, everything was greener, brighter, more vibrant. I could feel his eyes following me all the way back to the lot where the mundane and slow tick of time returned. I hid my smile as I made my way into the school building. Surrounded by everyone walking from class to class, I was astounded to think that they didn’t know what I knew.

            Edward Cullen and every Cullen in this town for that matter were vampires, powerful, sleek, beautiful vampires. The image seemed too ridiculous to be true, but I’d seen it. I knew all of it. I’d looked into Edward’s eyes, and I understood his pain and anguish and the love and hunger he felt for me. Edward’s decaying face came to my thoughts again. It stuck there, though I wasn’t nearly as afraid of it anymore. The lines on his face were only a map of his unending and ethereal life.

            From what I understood, he’d been in love with me for as long as he’d known me, unable to say it without the risk of hurting me. But now we were on the same level. I knew the truth of his family and he understood that I wasn’t going to tell a soul. I’d keep his secret with my life just like I knew he’d never hurt me.

            I walked to class shaking. He wouldn’t be there with me today, but I still had him on my mind. I had so many questions I wanted answered. Why he was living in Forks, how fast he was, how strong he was. And why I was so special to him. Some part of him wanted to drink my blood, I understood that much. It should have scared me, but it didn’t. I knew in my heart he never would. He’d never hurt me, would never risk it. He loved me, and I didn’t need any proof or time. I knew I loved him too.

            Jessica found me before class and dragged me off away from biology before the bell rang. Angela was no where in sight, but I barely thought about her. My thoughts were fixated on Edward. She found an empty locker bay to pull me into and crossed her arms as she looked me up and down.

            “Where did you go?” she demanded. “I saw you just walk into the woods for no reason.”

            I had done that, and there was probably a good reason why she was upset. After all, there were wolves in these woods. I just shrugged. “Thought I saw something.”

            Her eyes widened with distrust. “You saw something. Was it Edward?”

            I blinked away the surprise at her guess, but I should have expected. In all the turmoil, I’d nearly forgotten my two months of running scared from Edward. I knew it had been irrational now, but Jessica still didn’t know. She had believed all my scared little stories.

            “Yeah,” I admitted. “I talked to him.”

            “He was here,” she said. “But he’s not coming to school today. It’s sunny out.”

            “I know,” I replied and couldn’t help but let my smile show. “He came to see me.”

            “But you’re okay,” she said. “He didn’t hurt you or anything.” She looked me over as if she was looking for an injury and found my hand still resting inside my coat. Carefully, she reached out to pull my palm out, but I batted her away.

            “It’s nothing,” I said. “I just tripped.”

            “Like shit,” she said and grabbed for my hand again. She finally convinced me to show her my hand after some angry stares and I held my palm out to her as she looked over the damages. The bleeding was slowing down and I hadn’t even felt it since I’d left Edward’s side. I was in a daze from the whole thing. It was still a bloody mess though and I should have gone to the nurse to patch it up, but I didn’t even think of it until Jessica looked at me like I was dying.

            “It doesn’t even hurt,” I offered.

            “Did he push you or something?” she asked.

            “No,” I lied. He had, but that was before. I’d been attacking him and if he’d really wanted to hurt me, he would have done a lot worse. I couldn’t explain that to Jessica without explaining what he was though. It was an unspoken promise between us now. I could tell no one of what I had seen.

            “Bella, I don’t like this,” Jessica said. “I didn’t want you to go chasing after his family secret anyway. They’re dangerous.”

            “They’re not dangerous,” I told her. “I talked to him, and we squared everything over.”

            She looked at me like I was crazy. She didn’t believe me. “You just squared everything over with him.”


            She glanced down the hall and then behind her. The bell above our heads rang, telling us class was about to begin. “Okay, so he’s not going to bother you anymore.”

            “Well, I mean.” I paused. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell her, but no one had ever been in love with me before. I wanted a relationship, a real one where I could hold his hand and go on dates. “You were right before. That he likes me. I think we’re going to go out.”

            Jessica’s face was stern and unmoving. “You thought he was going to hurt you,” she argued. “And you’re just over that?”

            “Things are different now,” I said. “He likes me.”

            “I’m not sure that’s what someone who likes another person does,” she said. “But just be careful, okay.”

            I nodded and offered her a smile before I headed off to class. At this rate, I was going to be late, but it wouldn’t matter too much since Edward wouldn’t be there. Jessica seemed to look at me like she was worried, but I didn’t say anything. She’d see that everything was okay soon. When Edward came back, she’d understand that he really was just trying to protect me.

            Class was boring and I found myself wishing the clouds would cover the sky so I could see Edward again, but it was bright and sunny all day. I declined Jessica’s invitation to hang out after school and headed home instead afterwards, still imagining the conversation I would have with Edward when I saw him again.

            I watched the window as I did my homework, waiting for the sun to go down and give way to night. When it was dark, I could talk to Edward. I could tell him how much I’d been thinking about him and how I felt for him. When my Dad came home, he looked tired, not even saying hello as he passed me in the living room to stop at the kitchen table. He dropped his phone and his badge down on the table as he sighed heavily.

            Leaning into the kitchen, I watched him as he sulked. “Dad,” I said. “You okay?”

            Charlie glanced over at me with a look that told me how tired he was. There were bags under his eyes and sweat bleeding through his shirt. “I’m okay, Bells. Just had a long day,” he said.

            “Really?” I asked. It was usually so quiet here. It wasn’t hard to be the police chief for a town where nothing more than the occasional vandalism happened. “What is it?”

            “There were a couple of murders last night,” he admitted. “You might as well know. I want you to be careful, okay.”

            “Murders?” I repeated. Here? It seemed so unlikely, but I supposed it happened everywhere. It had to happen here too.

            “Three guys found in a dumpster this morning,” he said. “They put time of death at last night close to two in the morning. I don’t know. We don’t usually get stuff like this.”

            I nodded though I had nothing to add. There was nothing I could do to help him except hope he found the person who did it and soon. Something about the deaths seemed oddly familiar, but maybe I was thinking of home. There had been more crime in Phoenix, more of everything really. Here, it was so quiet. There was only one mystery I knew of and that was a mystery to me no longer.

            “Bella, I don’t want you going out at night anymore,” Charlie said. “Not alone. So no more late night drives to La Push.”

            “That was just for Halloween,” I said. I wanted to argue, but I still didn’t want the truth to come out. I’d spent a few nights driving to the reservation in search of safety from the Cullens, but I didn’t need that anymore. Besides, if there was someone in town who killed three people, they may have been a danger still. Now I had Edward to protect me. He protected me from those men last night. I trusted that he’d always come when I needed him.

            “I know,” he replied. “Just be careful. I don’t want you out right now. Not until I figure out what’s happening.”

            “I’ll stay in,” I said. Tonight, I would, but if Edward came looking, I might just have to break that rule.

            “Good,” he offered. “Get back to studying. I’ll get started on dinner.”

            I glanced to the window, where every day I expected to see a wolf there, now, I wanted to see Edward there. “Are you going to go back to the station tonight?”

            “I might have to,” he said. “And I might stay later tomorrow. Will you be able to handle yourself?”

            “Of course,” I said and turned to start back toward the living room where my homework and phone was waiting. I wanted to tell him to be careful, to take care of himself. If there was a murderer in Forks, I didn’t want him to do anything stupid, but how could I ask that of him, when I’d thought there was a murderer in Forks, and I ran right toward him. Hopefully Charlie was smarter than me.

            When I returned to my phone, it was lit up with a recent text, this one from Jacob. I picked it up to respond as I plopped down on the couch among my notebooks and homework.

            “Reservation this weekend?” he asked, and I stumbled to reply with a yes before I remembered what he’d told me.

            Edward couldn’t come to the reservation and now I realized why that must have been. The tribe must have known that he was a vampire too and they’d been afraid of him because of that. The elders, Jacob’s grandparents, and all the respected people of the tribe had deemed the Cullens unfit to step foot on Quileute soil. If they knew the truth of it, that he didn’t drink human blood, they might have made a different decision.

            But I was stuck with the decision they had made. If I went to the treaty land, I wouldn’t be able to see him while I was there. I’d have to spend the weekend away from him where anyone could hurt me. I trusted Jacob. He was a good friend, but he was just a kid, a year younger than me, and he probably didn’t know about the killer in Forks. He couldn’t protect me like Edward could. Besides, I hated the idea of spending a weekend away from Edward.

            “I can’t,” I texted back. “I’ve got too much homework.” It was a lie and I almost felt bad about it, but maybe Jacob could come up here some time. He’d understand why I couldn’t go to the treaty land when he knew how I felt about Edward.

            When everyone knew how I felt about Edward, everything would be so much simpler. It would take some getting used to. Jessica still didn’t believe me, but she had to understand that the situation had changed. I saw him for what he was now.

            Charlie left after dinner. He made a big deal of locking the door and telling me to call him if anything seemed off. He told me to call even if I thought I was being paranoid. When he was gone, I went up to my room and started on Hamlet for my English class. I was having as much trouble as anyone else probably was and at some point, between confusing soliloquies, I got a text from Jessica.

            “Can you make sense of this garbage?” she asked me.

            I fell asleep before I really got the chance to answer, reading and rereading all the confusing wording written four hundred years ago. I wondered how long Edward had been around. He was seventeen, but he seemed so ageless, and I imagined he must have lived for centuries.

            It was to that thought that I drifted off to sleep, the book still open in my lap as my eyes fell shut with exhaustion. When I woke, it was not to morning, but to the sound of the wind howling in through the window. I jolted up as cold spread over me. The window in the corner of my room was open, the drapes billowing out as wind swept across my room.

            I stumbled out of bed and across the room to close it and tripped over my backpack as I went. Pens and pencils tumbled onto the floor as I pulled the window shut. I had no idea why it was open in the first place, but it left a chill crawling across my room, and I pulled a spare blanket from the end of my bed around my shoulders as I tried to warm things up. This late into the year, that window should have been bolted and locked, but somehow, it had gotten open. I sighed and sat down on my bed, checking the time on my alarm clock as I rolled my shoulders awake.

            It was a little past one in the morning. Charlie should have been home by now. Maybe he’d opened my window, but I couldn’t understand why. I picked up the book still left open on my bed and shoved it back into my backpack along with my spilt pens.

            “I meant to close that,” a voice said, and I nearly jumped as I spun around and found Edward in a darkened corner of my room, standing as still as a board. I stood, shedding the blanket shawl, and blinked at him as if it would make him go away. Saying I was surprised was an understatement. I’d nearly jumped out of my skin.

            “What are you doing here?” I demanded. I had wanted to see him again, but I hadn’t expected it to be so soon after his revelation. I wanted to talk to him, but I was suddenly self-conscious about him being in my bedroom.

            A prick at the back of my neck told me this was all wrong. He shouldn’t have been here, and I should have been running. He was a vampire, alone with me in my room. There was a tiny voice in my head shouting to run, to get Charlie. I stayed still though. Edward was between me and the door. I pushed that little thought away as he stepped into the light of my little table lamp. I knew him.

            “I wanted to make sure you were alright,” he said. “After today.”

            “I’m fine,” I admitted. I touched the wound on my hand. It was covered in a cloth bandage and had stopped bleeding hours ago.

            “And you didn’t tell anyone,” he said. “About us.”

            Us. It wasn’t just him that was in danger from me knowing his secret but his whole family as well. He had to know I wouldn’t tell anyone though. He said he couldn’t read my mind like the others, that I was special, but if I told anyone, he would know. He didn’t have to hear my thoughts to know if I’d broken his promise or not. That should have scared me, but it was a comfort. He’d know he could trust me.

            “I didn’t tell anyone about you,” I said. He leered a little closer to me, as if trying to judge my intentions simply by the look on my face. I got the feeling he was out of practice trying to decipher the truth just from someone’s face.

            “And what I said today,” he offered and closed the distance a little tighter. He could touch me now, if he reached out. “I’m in love with you.”

            I nodded and tried to find the right way to explain. I hadn’t known it before, but I had been falling for him this whole time. That race in my heart wasn’t from fear at all, was it? I stayed backed up against the far wall, my body betraying me.

            “I think I am too,” I said.

            He reached out ever so carefully and stroked his fingers down my cheek as he looked me over with those eyes. His hand sent a shiver up my spine, cold as ice. I’d found him terrifying before, and I didn’t understand how. He was lovely, so pale like the marble statue of David. His dark hair seemed to be forever falling and floating around his eyes like a mask. I wanted to lean in and press my lips against his, but I feared for the sharp teeth that lurked there.

            I understood with the knowledge of what he was, that he had a yearning, not just to be with me but to drink my blood and I didn’t know if he’d be able to stop himself from turning over to the hunger with the touch of a simple kiss.

            He stepped back as if sensing my apprehension and looked me down, flicking his lashes up and down as he sized me up. I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to leave. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I was confused enough and scared enough that I stayed perfectly still as I waited for his decision about me.

            “If you tell anyone,” he said. “I won’t have a choice.”

            I shook my head. “I won’t tell anyone.” I thought about Jessica who’d offered to help me. She’d given her word and I’d given mine, but she’d never wanted to learn the truth. She just wanted me safe, and this would keep me safe. Edward would keep me safe.

            “Good,” he said.

            “How did you get in here?” I asked as he backed off.

            “Window,” he said, jutting his chin toward the window I’d just closed. It hadn’t been Charlie or the wind that opened it at all.

            “I locked it,” I said.

            “It wasn’t hard to unlock from the outside,” he said. “I figured it out a while ago.”

            I blinked, slowly, the fog of my thoughts clearing just a little. “How long have you been coming here?”

            “Just a month or two,” he said, looking down and away from me as if he was ashamed. My throat went tight, and I couldn’t breathe for a moment or two. He was in love with me, I reminded myself. He had always been in love with me, but another part of me whispered ‘that doesn’t make it better.’

            “Why?” I asked, hoping against that tiny voice that he had a good reason.

            “I like to watch you sleep sometimes,” he said, his voice dropped into a smooth soothing tone. “I don’t, so…”

            “So you watch me,” I said. The part of me trying to break free was banging against my head, turning my skull into fire as I stared at him, this boy I looked at with such reverence. It told me to run like an instinct. The instinct of a deer that tells it to run from a wolf, but the solid, human part of me that was enamored with him stood its ground.

            “I can’t stop thinking about you,” he said, leaning in just a little closer.

            A gasp escaped my lips and I stepped back away from him before I thought better of it and held my shaking body still. I closed my eyes as he placed a tentative hand on my shoulder, on the veins of my neck.

            “I have so many questions,” I admitted.

            “Do you want to run?” he asked, and that voice in my head screamed yes. I should have gone downstairs and found Charlie. I should have started banging on doors. What was wrong with me? This warring feeling of fear and attraction kept me frozen in place. I couldn’t even speak.

            “Go back to sleep,” he said. “We’ll talk again soon.”

            His hand dropped from my shoulder, and I listened carefully as the wind came back, whistling in through my window. When I opened my eyes, Edward was gone and the window had been left open, letting cold winter air send chills up my spine.

Chapter Text

Edward didn’t talk to me when the Cullens came back to school. It was just like nothing had happened at all, but I knew the truth. He loved me and we had a promise, but in biology, he sat next to me and didn’t say a word. We sat in that uncomfortable silence for nearly an hour as class went on. I wanted to talk to him so badly, but he wouldn’t acknowledge me all morning. It was only at lunch that he seemed to remember I existed.

            I sat with Jessica and Angela as I always did, wondering if I’d be allowed to sit at Edward’s table one day. Jessica was complaining about Shakespeare as she chomped on French fries and I occasionally added to her confusion with my own.

            Halfway through lunch, I caught sight of Edward getting up from his table where he sat surrounded by his siblings on all sides. They were all vampires, like him. Carlisle and his wife must have been too. This town had seven vampires and I was the only one who knew their secret. As Edward started over to me, I caught his eye and straightened out a little. Jessica eyed him with some suspicion as he came over and I hit her on the wrist to stop her from glaring.

            “Ow,” she snapped.

            “Just shut up,” I whispered as Edward came to stop, leering over the three of us where we sat.

            “I talked to everyone,” he said. His eyes drifted over my two friends, probably accessing if I had told them anything. When his eyes landed back on me, he must have known I hadn’t. “I want you to come over tonight after school.”

            I nearly choked on what I was eating. “Tonight?”

            “Esme is making dinner,” he said as if that explained everything. “They want to meet you.”

            Jessica leaned forward, clearing her throat. “You call your mom by her first name?” she asked. I wanted to slap her again, but Edward was right there. He probably knew anyway that she didn’t like him, that I’d told her to be afraid.

            Edward ignored her comment and just stared at me, waiting for an answer. “Bella.”

            I swallowed any apprehension. Charlie wanted me home by dark, but Edward would be around to protect me. There was no harm in going to his house. If the person who killed those men was still around, I was protected. I nodded, pushing the stray hairs away from my face.

            “I’ll drive,” he said and took a step back to leave me to the rest of my lunch.

            “Wait, I have my truck,” I said. I didn’t need him to drive me there at all. I could just follow him from school, but he shook his head.

            “I’ll drive,” he repeated and left me, returning to his table where he sat with his siblings, none of them eating a thing.

            I realized how many signs there were now that I hadn’t noticed before. Edward never ate. He never needed to use the bathroom. He never sweated. He wasn’t in P.E. I’d been too busy being afraid that it all went unnoticed. I don’t know how nobody had figured it out before, but maybe I really wasn’t the only one who knew. Charlie had warned me, after all, but I got the feeling nobody knew exactly what they were supposed to be afraid of.

            “That was weird,” Angela said. “What’s that about?”

            “Bella and Edward are dating now,” Jessica said with thick accusation.

            “I didn’t think Edward dated,” Angela said. “And I thought you hated his guts.”

            “Things change,” I argued. I was ready to dismiss the conversation, but Jessica wasn’t done.

            “No, Bella, tell me; why is it that all the sudden you and Edward are all in love when last week you wanted nothing to do with him,” Jessica mused. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

            “Will you leave it?” I asked. I didn’t want to have this conversation. She didn’t know him. No one in this town really did, but I knew what he was. He trusted me with that.

            “No,” Jessica said. “I won’t leave it. You’ve been really weird since yesterday and I want to know why.”

            “Not everything I do revolves around you,” I snapped back. I didn’t know where that came from. It just slipped out. I didn’t know if I believed it, or if I just said it to shut her up.

            “Right,” Jessica said, her voice dropping. She picked up her tray and stood. “Sorry. I didn’t realize your stalker was all about me. I’ll see you later.”

            She left, taking all her stuff with her, and any words I might have said to her got stuck in my throat. I didn’t want to apologize, because I had no other excuse for my sudden relationship with Edward. I couldn’t tell her that he was a vampire, that it was my sole responsibility to keep his secret. I just lowered my head and refused to meet her eye as she left to find another table.

            “Shit,” Angela said. “Is there something going on between you two?”

            “No,” I lied. “She’s probably just jealous.”

            “I don’t know,” Angela said. “I’ll talk to her. It’s probably just a misunderstanding.”

            “Thanks, Angela,” I said and kept my head low to my tray for the rest of lunch, eating in an awkward silence as I waited for the bell to ring. I didn’t want to lose Jessica. I didn’t even want to lie to her, but she didn’t understand. She didn’t get that Edward loved me, and I didn’t know how to show her that this was all real.

            She avoided me for the rest of the day, and when the last bell rang, I headed out to my truck, only to find Edward waiting for me. He leaned up against my old rust bucket, smiling a little. I caught sight of his siblings not far, standing next to the black Volvo as if they had all been here waiting for me for a while.

            I tilted my head up at him as he waited, that little smirk on his face. As I walked up to him, he held out his hand for my keys. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me as he waited for me to turn over my keys to him. It was my truck, the one the Blacks gave to me, and I didn’t want anyone else driving it, even if it was just Edward. This truck had been the first thing in Forks that was really mine. I never wanted that to change.

            “I can drive,” I said as he continued to hold out a hand.

            “It’s a winding road,” he said. “Let me take you there.”

            “It’s just past Elk Creek,” I said. “You can give me directions.”

            He didn’t drop his hand, and eventually, I gave in, dropping my keys into his hand with distain for the whole thing. As I glanced over to the Volvo, his siblings were getting into the car, but I caught Alice looking at me with a strange expression. I didn’t know what it was about her that put me off, but she confused me. Maybe it was just that I wasn’t quite used to the unearthly beauty of vampires yet.

            I walked about to the other side of the truck and got into the passenger seat as Edward started the truck up. The feeling of sitting in the passenger seat of my own car was like something had been taken from me. I was in another world where nothing that belonged to me really did. As Edward started to pull out toward the road, I pushed those feelings down. There was no need to feel so cold when I was with the first boy who loved me.

            He followed the Volvo down the road and out of town, passing over that old bridge where I’d tried to follow them before. The road to their house took a few curvy turns, but we managed just fine, following the sleek looking car with my old fixed up one.

            The driveway was long, and I thought we were driving down another road until the house came into view through the trees. I had never seen something so sleek and modern before. The front of the house was mostly windows and glass, showing the sleek and spotless interior in a darkened tint. The front door stood at the top of a long set of concrete steps that were surrounded by bushes which weren’t flowering now but must have been beautiful in the spring. I leaned forward in my seat, staring at the place as Edward came to a stop behind the Volvo.

            His siblings piled out of the car as I stared up at the angled roof and the silver windchime that hung down over the garden. This place didn’t look like it belonged in Forks. I must have been air lifted out of Seattle or Chicago or some place with artsy people. The whole house seemed to shine against the woods. I was transfixed.

            “It’s so…” I struggled for the words. There was nothing that would sum up this visage before me. “Glass,” I finished, but even that wasn’t enough.

            “We don’t need to hide here,” Edward said. “No one comes out this far.”

            “Nobody’s been here but you?” It seemed a little unlikely. People in this town could be nosy. Everyone knew where my Dad lived, so why had no one come to visit the town doctor?

            “Everyone’s dying to meet you,” Edward said.

The four other Cullens were all climbing the steps, their backpacks abandoned somewhere. Alice stopped at the top of the steps as the others went in and looked back to us. She raised a hand in the air and gave a big wave like she was trying to flag us down.

“I think Alice is excited to tell you something,” Edward offered as he tilted his head toward her.

“She seems kind of overexcitable,” I said.

“She’s the youngest of us,” he said. “Carlisle found her in 1973 half dead and hung over. She had visions since birth, I guess.”

“She has visions, like future visions?” I snapped. I hadn’t thought much about it before, but Edward could read minds. I didn’t know if I thought it was just part of being a vampire or that he was special. Had he been able to read minds before he was a vampire too?

“They used to be just dreams, but when she turned, she could channel it. She can see anything she wants to now,” he said. “I told her about you first. I wanted to see how things would go.”

I hesitated to ask as he looked me over. I tried to avoid his eyes, looking to Alice instead, but I knew he had his full attention on me. Finally, I allowed myself to voice what I was wondering. “What did she say?”

“Well, she’s excited to meet you at least,” he said. “She thinks you’re going to be the best of friends.”

I scanned Alice as she stood waiting, the other Cullens having left her on the front steps to wait. I didn’t know why she made me think of Jessica and the fight we’d had. After that fight, I couldn’t just leave her to stew and never speak to me again. She was my best friend here, and I wasn’t about to let the Cullens replace her just because of this new relationship, whatever it was Edward and I had. I had to hope she’d see reason, or that I could stitch things back together. She’d realize what I realized eventually, that Edward wasn’t all that dangerous after all.

“And the others,” I said, still watching her. She’d dropped her hands, but she was still waiting patiently for us. “Do they have powers too?”

Edward lifted his gaze away from me and back up to Alice. He hesitated for a long moment, and I thought he wasn’t going to answer me. “Just Alice and me.”

Something about his pause made me unsure, but I let it go. He’d never lie to me, but there were so many questions I wanted answered. I hoped tonight they would be. Everything would be clear when I left tonight, and I wouldn’t have to worry about what my relationship with Edward would entail. I took a deep breath. Meeting his family seemed an odd sort of first date, but this was an odd circumstance.

“Let’s go,” I said and pushed my door open, stepping out onto the driveway of the Cullens’ glass house.

Edward was right behind me as we walked up the long trail of steps to the front of the house where Alice stood waiting, her smile widening as I approached. Her skirt was the swishy sort that flared as she twisted a little in her shoes. I couldn’t help but imagine her as a princess long ago, even though Edward had told me she’d been turned in the seventies. She had an old air to her, all the Cullens did, but she seemed to command it.

“Bella Swan,” she said, reaching out her hands and clasping them in mine the moment I was within touching distance. Her teeth were white and shiny. I wouldn’t have noticed the fangs if I didn’t know they were there.

“Edward said a lot about you on the way over,” I said. “It’s nice to actually meet you.”

“It’s wonderful to meet you,” she said. “We’re going to be great friends.”

“Wow,” I said. It took her a moment to finally let my hand drop, but when she did, she was already at the door, holding it open for me to enter.

“Welcome. I’ll show you around. I think you’ll like it. Esme is making spaghetti and Carlisle will be home soon. Plus you’ll get to meet everyone. We’re all so happy you’re here. Edward has been so unpleasant until you showed up.”

“Oh.” I stepped into the house and Edward followed behind me.

Before I knew it, Alice was ahead of us, pointing out her favorite parts of the house. I wasn’t quite sure where to look. The ceilings were too tall and the glass shed grey, clouded light over everything. Where there were walls, expensive looking art hung on them, not images of anything in particular, just colors and shapes.

Alice led the way into the living room where the other Cullens, Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie were sitting, lain out house cats. As I came to a halt before them, all eyes turned to me, all of them that hard and endless shade of black I knew well from Edward. If there was any doubt that they were vampires before, it was gone now. Edward was behind me, curling a hand around my shoulder as if to comfort me as I stood before the assembly of callus looking vampires.

“You’re…Bella,” Rosalie said, tilting her head to assess me as if I were a piece of clothing she was deciding whether or not to toss.

“I am,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound too arrogant about it.

She turned from me almost immediately and looked to Edward. “She’s not really that pretty,” she offered. “Is she really worth all this?”

I wanted to say something rude back to her. I wanted to step back. I wanted to run, but I stood still, sure that if I did, Edward would be able to chase me down and drag me back before I got to the door.

“Rosalie,” Emmett snapped and shook his head as she shrugged at him. It was obvious none of them really cared if they hurt my feelings, but they did care about Edward enough that Rosalie shut her mouth and simply continued to glare at me.

“Sit,” Alice said, still smiling that all too wide grin. She patted the seat next to her on the couch. “I won’t bite.”

I was sure she got the irony of the phrase, but I ignored it, passing through the chairs that sat Rosalie and Emmett to the couch where Alice sat, Jasper perched behind her. Carefully, I sat, crossing my legs as Rosalie did to try to appear less nervous. Edward continued to stand, eyeing me from across the room like he was still trying to read my mind.

“Tell me everything about yourself,” Alice said. “I’m curious why Edward picked you. He was so moody until you showed up.”

“Oh.” I glanced to Edward, still watching me like a hawk before my eyes wandered down to Rosalie looking bored, and Emmett picking at his nails. “I mean, there’s not much. I was born here technically, but I grew up in Arizona.”

“I thought your skin was darker when you first came here,” Emmett said. I hadn’t taken the time to think much about it, but my tan was going away. It had always been there in Arizona, but now the dimness of Forks had gotten to me.

“My dad is—”

“Charlie Swan,” Alice said. “Everyone knows that.”

I nodded and looked to Edward for help, but he just stood there, as if uninterested in the actual conversation. I didn’t know what to say to the girl who could see the future. She might as well have known everything about me already.

I tried to think of something else to say, something that would actually interest a group of ageless vampires, but I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t know why Edward loved me or why I loved him, but that I did, and my future depended on this night with his family.

A pair of footsteps broke up my thoughts. The woman I’d seen at the clinic, Esme, stood at the threshold to the dining room. She was wearing a pair of heels and an apron, almost like a fifties housewife. She grinned as she came to a stop and smoothed out her apron against her dress.

Edward straightened out. “Bella, this is Esme. Carlisle’s wife.”

“We met briefly,” I said. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Esme just nodded. I noticed as I watched her stand there, that she didn’t seem like the rest of them. She stood with a little sway and her skin didn’t seem so deathly white. She clasped her hands together and I thought as she did, that I saw her breathe. The rise of her chest was barely visible, but in a room of vampires, it stood out to me.

“How long have you and Carlisle been together?” I asked, hoping to get a word out of her that would prove my hypothesis.

“Oh, let’s see,” Esme began.

“They’ve been together for five years now,” Jasper said from behind me. I went frigid at the sound of his voice. It was a surprise I hadn’t guessed she wasn’t human before. He didn’t sound it. There was no emotion in his voice at all.

“Esme is human,” Rosalie answered in a callus tone like I was so stupid for not having pointed it out myself.

“You haven’t…” I broke off, unsure how I was going to finish that sentence. Asked Carlisle to turn her? I wasn’t sure I was ready for that question though. I could imagine a few reasons someone might not want to become a vampire, but if she loved Carlisle, wasn’t it worth it?

If I was going to spend the rest of my life with Edward, if that was what this was, I would want it to be forever. That was what love was supposed to be, wasn’t it? But who was I to ask? I knew so little about what it really meant to be a vampire. Edward hadn’t told me anything. I’d seen all of it with my own eyes.

Esme lowered her head. “Carlisle will be home soon. I will start on dinner.”

She backed out of the room slowly and suddenly, I was the only human in the room again. Alice was quick to grab hold of my hand and I nearly jumped out of my skin as she did. She was colder than I had expected, but I should have expected the cold by now.

“I’ll show you around the rest of the house,” she said. “You’ll love it. I promise.”

Before I could protest, she dragged me out of the living room and down through a wide windowed hallway. She showed me room after room, all of them with white walls and large windows and abstract looking art. The backyard looked over the woods which grew thick and tall to mask the home from sight. We were so protected by forest here, that one could get lost looking for this place. I stopped before the windows for a long time at the end of our tour, staring out at the trees for some reassurance.

I had a sudden feeling, one that came and went on occasion, that I was not supposed to be here. It had been the vampires that welcomed me here, but I still felt like I was trespassing. Eventually, Alice left my side, and I simply watched the woods, so engrossed in the lushness of it, like it was calling out to me.

This was the same forest behind my house. It extended all about Forks, cradling it, and I stood alone, as a creature emerged from the woods just as it had before. A wolf stepped out of the forest, stalking into the quiet yard like it had before my home. The fur, black as night, was the very same as the one who’d looked at me the same week I’d arrived. This time, however, it didn’t shed a glance at me. It simply sniffed the ground and turned tail to run, returning to the forest where it belonged.

“Bella?” a voice called, and I took a moment to register that it was my name at all. “Bella?”

I turned to find Alice at the end of the hall, peeking down toward me. I tore myself away from the window and moved to join her, realizing I hadn’t been paying attention. I didn’t know how much time had passed, but the sun was starting to set.

“Carlisle just came home,” she said. “Esme has dinner prepared for you.”

“Thank you,” I said and glanced back to the window. No sign of the wolf. “I’m coming. Thank you.”

Esme and I were the only ones to eat. The rest of the Cullen family sat around the table watching me eat alone. Esme didn’t sit with us. She claimed she preferred to eat in the kitchen and with the way the other Cullens watched me eat, I didn’t blame her. All of them looked with those pitch black eyes, and tilted gazes as I ate the spaghetti and garlic bread served to me.

Carlisle sat across from me at the end of the table, and his questions came the most often. He asked me about how I liked it here in Forks, how school was going, how Edward and I first connected. I told him simply that we were biology partners and he seemed to find that answer satisfactory. I couldn’t help but feeling as he asked me, that he was looking for something else other than small talk. He wanted to know why me. Why Edward would risk everything to have me, and to that, I didn’t have an answer.

By the time Edward offered to drive me home, the sky was dark, and I was ready to be away from this house and its occupants. I followed Edward out, watching my keys hang in his hands as he led me back to my truck. I told him I could drive myself home, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He ended up in the driver’s seat before I could protest.

I was quiet on the way home, watching Edward’s empty face as he stared at the road ahead. When we arrived in my driveway, he turned off the truck and dropped the keys back into my hands.

“How will you get home?” I asked.

“I have my ways,” he said. “How did you like it tonight?”

I stared up at my house where I desperately wanted to be. I didn’t have to love his family, just him, but I hated that I didn’t like them. I wanted to and I hoped it would get easier soon. Swallowing my pride, I looked to Edward.

“It was great,” I lied.

“Rosalie will get over it,” he promised. “She’s just surprised is all. It’s been so long since Alice joined us. She hated her then too.”

A shiver rose up my spine. When Alice joined them. “Are you going to turn me too?”

Edward wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the light coming from the porch. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said and got out of the truck without answering my question. I watched him walk down the driveway and out to the street, where he disappeared into the dark of night, leaving me alone in the passenger seat of my truck, clutching my keys.

Chapter Text

It took a week for me to work up the nerve to talk to Jessica again. In all that time, I had eaten lunch with the Cullens every day. They sat there with an apple or a water bottle between each of them, trying to look like they ate, but really, they just sat and talked. Edward would watch the students, occasionally telling the group what they were thinking. Emmett would try to guess. He was pretty good at it despite my initial thoughts about him.

            They warmed up to me fast, at least Alice and Emmett did. Despite appearances, they cared about their brother enough to take notice of his new girlfriend. Rosalie and Jasper were still quite aloof. They held themselves at distance from me, and I wondered if they were just wary of humans. Maybe they thought I would tell someone, that having a human around was dangerous for all of them. I couldn’t understand it, but I let it be. I figured that eventually, they’d see I wasn’t going to tell anyone. They’d see I was safe.

            It took another day of sunshine for me to talk to Jessica or Angela again. After Edward invited me to sit at his table, I hadn’t thought about my friends and the fight we’d had. I hoped it would blow over, and Jessica would start talking to me again, but after a week, she still hadn’t looked at me in our P.E class and Angela hadn’t said much to me either.

            At lunch that day, with the Cullens gone—safe in their house of glass where no one could see them—I wandered over to my old table with my lunch tray in hand and paused as Jessica looked up to me. Her gaze quickly turned sour as she recognized me coming to join her. she looked away, pretending she hadn’t seen me at all as I placed my tray down next to Angela.

            “Well?” she asked, poking a fork through soggy green beans.

            I sunk my shoulders. “I was wrong,” I said. “Edward’s not evil. I overreacted.”

            Jessica still didn’t look at me. “I told you what I saw.”

            The car crash. Edward had run across the lot to save me, and she’s seen him do it. I had to hope I could convince her it was a trick of the light or something, or that she’d forget all of it. After I’d confided in her, though, it didn’t seem like she was going to drop it.

            “I know,” I said. “I thought I saw the same thing, but he did save my life.”

            Angela looked between us, confused about our fight. “Is it really a big deal if Bella has a boyfriend? Why can’t we drop it?”

            “Jessica.” She still wasn’t looking at me. Part of me wanted to grab her and shake some sense into her, shake those memories out of her head like they never happened. “I promise I’m okay.”

            Finally, she turned her gaze to me, meeting my eyes head on. After spending a week with mostly vampires, it was good to see her blink away her tears. It was something human to look at. “I trust you, Bella. If you really think he likes you and you like him back, okay. But if he tries any shit—”

            “I already have my Dad for that,” I offered, but she shook her head.

            “Your Dad will just kill him. No, I’ll ruin him socially,” Jessica argued.

            I almost laughed. “I really don’t think he cares about that.” The Cullens were outcasts anyway. If she really wanted to hurt him, she’d have to tell everyone he was a vampire, and she’d have to know that first. Even if we broke up, I didn’t think I’d tell her. I made that promise. I wasn’t going to break it just because Edward fell out of love. I cared about him too much for that.

            “I’ll figure something out,” she said. “I’m resourceful.”

            I smiled at her, and she smiled back, a real and human smile, filled with flaws and red cheeks. For as long as I lived, I’d never get used to the way the Cullens smiled with their mouths closed or only half showing and their cheeks faint and pale as the rest of them. They never got a burst of red from embarrassment or cold. They always held themselves with this godly grace. With Jessica, there was flesh and blood there, a beating heart. I dropped the tension from my shoulders I didn’t know I was holding as we ate lunch together.

            The day went on with a warmth to it that hadn’t been there before. Winter was coming, but the sunlight today made it feel close to spring. I knew, however, that by the time I went home, it would be nearing darkness. I missed Edward in my classes, but with Jessica and Angela around, it wasn’t nearly so heartbreaking to be without him.

            When class ended, she asked me to go to her house to hang out. I declined. I’d been to Edward’s every day since I’d met his family there the first time, and I missed him after a day away. I needed to be there with him while he hid from the sun.

            As I got into my truck and headed for Elk Creek, the sun was already low and I raced off, hoping to get there before the air turned blue with dusk. December was nearing and the world seemed more night than day as I descended into winter day by day. Passing over the bridge, I slowed to the curve in the road. Edward wouldn’t have slowed here. When he drove my truck, he took it as fast as he could go. Knowing these roads so well, he didn’t need to think about where the asphalt ended, and the forest floor began. On my own, I went slow, watching the road carefully and keeping an eye out to watch the nature as it passed me.

            I was almost jealous of Edward’s confidence, but as I turned the curve, I was going slow enough to see what was standing in the middle of the road and slam on the breaks before I hit it. The deer was staring at me as I stopped, my hair falling between my eyes as I stared back at it. She was a doe, no antlers and a poof of white on her tail. Deja vu hit me as I stared ahead, this time alone as I watched the deer and she watched me. There was something of recognition in her eyes as we waited together on this lonely road. We knew each other.

            I knew I had to be crazy. It was impossible, but I was sure this was the same deer I’d almost hit on the night of Halloween, the same deer I’d watched drink from the creek. It was the same deer telling me to turn back and go home where I would be safe and sound. There was no sense in it at all. My head must have still been recovering from the concussion I’d had a whole month ago, but that was impossible. This wasn’t the same deer. It wasn’t following me. It couldn’t have been and yet I felt nothing but calm as I put the truck in park and stepped out.

            The deer didn’t move. She watched me with big sleepy eyes like she was still trying to send me a message. This was a warning, I realized. She wanted to warn me, but I didn’t know what for. Maybe she was just stupid, too dumb to understand that standing in the road was going to get her killed, but she was still alive now. She’d managed to find me three times and I decided that had to mean something.

            I stepped closer. “What is it?” I asked in a low voice. “Why did you stop me?”

            The deer turned without answering and ran off, escaping into the forest and bounding over plants and forest brush. I didn’t know what came over me, but I needed to follow her. She knew something I didn’t, and I could feel it despite the flawed logic. This deer had become a sort of companion, and I needed to know what all this was for, so I ran. I jumped over the same forest growth she did and bolted into the forest, knowing fully well I wouldn’t be able to keep up. She was a wild animal, and I was making a mistake, but I kept going.

            As I pushed into the forest, the light grew less, and the darkness seeped in around me. Night was coming fast, and the canopy covered most of the light the sun could have brought anyway. A chill ran through me as wind whisked through the trees, and I kept running, the pain lancing through my sides as I kept going. My breath was short and falling shorter the further I delved, following signs of broken tree limbs and tracks in the dirt. I didn’t slow much to check my surroundings. I only knew that deer was leading me somewhere.

            Bolting between two trees, I nearly found myself falling off a ledge of shear, rocky cliff before I grabbed hold of a trunk and stopped myself. Hard tree bark bit into my arms as I stared down at the ground at least ten feet below, and the deer that stood there, unharmed. I had no idea how she got down there, but I didn’t have time to think. She looked like she was about to bolt again and this time, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow her.

            She didn’t get the chance to escape my sight, though. Instead, something else came from out of the view of hers. Something impossibly fast and white as snow latched onto the deer’s hide, dragged her to the ground as a set of teeth dragged into her back and ripped out with blood and fur. I froze, the blood draining from my veins as I watched the figure below rip and tear flesh and blood from the deer. She bleated out in terror as hands came for her neck and with a snap, she cried out no more.

            The stench of blood that filled the air was overwhelming, but I couldn’t move as I watched white become covered in red. The deer was ripped apart, a leg flinging off from her body and her insides being ripped out. Pink stingy flesh littered the forest floor as the figure continued to rip and tear, turning their fingers red with flesh.

            Finally, with the turn of my stomach, I cried out. My legs wobbled underneath me, and I fell to the ground, nearly tumbling down the cliff as I did. My hand went to cover my mouth, but some paranoid part of me was sure there was blood on my hands too.

            At the sound of my scream, the figure looked up, black eyes staring into my green ones. Edward looked up at me, his skin missing the monstrous veins I’d seen before in this deep part of the woods. Only his teeth shown out. I could see them from where I knelt, sharp, like the razors of a shark. Blood covered his chin and neck all the way down to his chest where it stained his shirt. Looking at him, I was met with a sudden dark memory of a figure standing at the edge of Lake Pleasant. This was not the boy I knew.

            He closed his mouth at the sight of me, his lips going thin in a grimace. Standing, he crossed over the deer, toward me. All I could see as I watched him walk over that deer’s broken and scattered body, was my own lying out next to it. My insides would be strewn across the forest floor and my blood would paint his chin in a horrifying mask. I’d be gone like this deer was. After avoiding so many cars and so many predators, this deer was left to paint the face of Edward Cullen.

            “Bella,” he said in that soft voice that usually made me feel so safe.

            I didn’t stop to listen to him. I just ran. My head swam with thoughts as I raced forward, retracing my steps back to the road, hoping I’d reach my car before he reached me and wrapped those blood covered hands around my shoulders to stop me. I was struck, suddenly, with how similar this was to another night I’d run from him. Just before all of this when he’d dragged me out into the woods and told me to run.

            He hadn’t caught me then and I wished against all logic that he wouldn’t catch me now. My vision was red as I traversed the dense woods. Everything strung itself together in a chain, and somehow, I hadn’t seen it before. Edward and his family, all their lies, all the kindnesses.

            Two different parts of me fought against each other. The first was the one that knew Edward loved me, that had met his family, that knew the truth of him and accepted it. The other was terrified. I couldn’t get the blood out of my head. He’d told me the truth and I’d only listened to half of it, the half I wanted to hear, but he told me. He wanted to drink my blood.

            And before I could escape to my car and lock all the doors and windows to drive as fast as I could away from here, I tripped, finding a fallen limb I’d simply jumped over when all I was doing was following that doe. With my heart racing and my head clouded, I reached for a tree and only managed to scrape my hand against it as I fell.

            When I dropped to the ground, it was with a thud, and I slowly picked my head back up as my vision spun. The world seemed to darken through my eyes, but without a moment to waste, I dragged myself up to my knees.

            With a glance behind me, I didn’t catch Edward in the woods, but there was a rustling, a movement through the trees that could have been an animal or a predator coming to finish the job. Without waiting to see who was there, I stumbled forward, trying to catch a footing, but I was dizzy as I pushed forward, slamming past trees and pushing the branches out of my way.

            As I burst out of the forest and back onto solid asphalt, I couldn’t breathe. My head was still spinning, still wondering where Edward was behind me. I stumbled toward my car and braced myself against it as I wretched onto the ground, all of my lunch mixing on the wet ground. Lightheaded, I yanked my car door open and crammed myself inside, locking the door before I even gave myself the chance to breathe.

            I tried to calm myself down, but there was no going back. There was something still fighting in my head, bouncing around and giving me an ache like there were two brains in there instead of one. Each gave its argument as strong as the other. I was to be afraid and terrified of what Edward would do to me, do to this town, and I was to love and cherish him for as long as I lived. Each thought was as vibrant and flourishing as the last. How he might drain me and how he might protect me butted up against each other. None could defeat the other, but I knew no matter what, while my mind was still mine, I had to run.

            Starting the car, I pulled the gear into drive and hammered the gas. I didn’t pay much attention to how fast I was going as I drove. Instead, I just tried to keep up with the beating of my heart until I could find my way out of this deep forest.

            The further I drove, the more I realized, I’d have to turn around eventually. This road led into the woods and to the conservation center, but that was all. If I wanted to turn around, I’d have to slow down, and my heart reasoned that was a bad idea. Breathing hard, I looked to the woods, hoping not to see any of the Cullens there as I slowed to make my U turn. With no sign of them, I hit the breaks, my tires making a harsh and angry sound as I slowed and turned my wheel.

            I nearly tipped as I found the footing to turn, my truck creaking at the difficult maneuver. As old as this truck was, it hadn’t failed me yet. Once I was on the other side of the yellow lines and facing back toward town, I slammed the gas and sped up, racing my own head down the road. As I passed by the driveway of the Cullen house for what I hoped would be the last time, I caught sight of a few figures at the edge of the drive, staring as I sped past. I didn’t have the chance to count them, but I could have guessed there were six of them.

            I cursed myself as I passed them. Edward had told them everything by now and they’d be coming for me. He’d told me himself, if he thought I was going to tell someone about his family, he’d kill me himself. Tears made their way in little lines down my face as I drove. My house wasn’t far, but it wouldn’t be safe there. I had no idea what would stop six immortal vampires who wanted my head.

            If I went home, they’d come find me. Edward had made it clear he could get into the house, and I still had no way to stop them. I didn’t think they’d respect the rules if I went to the Quileute reservation, but it was the only thing I could think of.

            As I found myself entering into the town limits, the shaking in my hands was starting to lessen, but I was nowhere close to free from them. The sun was going down and soon enough, the darkness would spread. They would have no problem coming into town to get me then, so I had to move fast. I hissed a curse as I came to a red light and came to a stop, waiting for it to turn green so I could speed out of there.

            Hastily, I reached for my phone and dialed Jacob’s number. I needed help and I needed someone else to know what I was dealing with. All bets were off for keeping Edward’s promise now. I needed someone on my side to help me.

            The phone rang twice before Jacob picked up and soon after that, the light turned green, and I sped forward. On the other end of the line, Jacob’s cheery voice came through.

            “Bella, it’s been a while. What’s up?” he asked as if nothing at all was wrong. I grimaced to know I was the only one who really knew the terror of what was going on.

            “Look, I’m coming to you,” I said. I was counting the streets through town. Not long until I hit La Push Road. “I need you to tell Billy and anyone else.”

            “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on?” he asked, his concern growing with every word.

            I took a deep breath. “I just need to get to La Push and now, okay,” I said. I hesitated on the next thought. “The Cullens are coming after me.”

            “The Cullens?” he demanded. “What do you mean they’re after you? What about your Dad?”

            “My Dad, shit,” I snapped. He was still in town, and they could just as easily use him against me. If I went to the reservation and was safe there, they’d still have Charlie to threaten me with.

            “Bella, where are you?” Jacob asked. “I’ll come get you.”

            “No,” I said, gulping down the extra fear making its way up my throat. “I’m coming. I’ll be at reservation soon. Just wait. Tell Billy and anyone. Tell anyone.” I didn’t know who knew about the Cullens and who didn’t. Someone had made the decision to keep them out and they must have known how to stop them. I hung up without letting Jacob ask any more questions as I came to an intersection and turned back.

            I had to get as far away from the Cullens as I could, but first, I needed to get Charlie.

Chapter Text

It was almost sundown by the time I got to the station. Three cop cruisers sat in the lot as I pulled in and I recognized my Dad’s license plate among them. The light at the front flickered as I made my way into the police station and was greeted by the warm smile of a receptionist I had no time for.

            “Where’s my Dad?” I asked, nearly pushing past a woman with a nosebleed. She was likely trying to report a crime, but I had no time to waste. The Cullens were on my tail as we spoke. It wouldn’t be long before they found me.

            “Um, Bella,” the receptionist said, surprised to see me looking so pale and disheveled. I hadn’t realized when I got out of the truck that I was still shaking. It only got worse the longer I stood on two feet.

            “Where’s my Dad?” I demanded again. “I need to talk to him.”

            “His office, but Bella—” I ignored whatever the receptionist had to say after that and stormed past her, pushing the doors open to the open office space where a few officers worked. The bull pen was buzzing with activity, police and assistants chatting as if nothing was happening at all. I pushed through towards Charlie’s office labeled at the door on the far end.

            As I pushed his door open, the receptionist was right on my heels and I slammed open the door to find Charlie sitting in his desk across from Jessica, sitting in handcuffs. My eyes widened to the sight, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I was looking at. The receptionist grabbed my hand as I looked between the two of them.

            “You need to wait in the front,” she snapped. “Charlie, I’m sorry about this.”

            He got up slowly. “It’s not trouble, Margie,” he said. “I’ll take care of this.” He procured a key from his desk and unlocked the cuff keeping Jessica tied to the chair. I still couldn’t figure out what I was looking at.

            “What are you doing here?” I asked as she rubbed her hands together.

            She ignored me and looked to Charlie instead.

            “You’re free to go,” he explained. “Don’t let this become a habit. I called your parents. They should be here to pick you up soon.”

            She nodded and started to get up to go, passing me by with her head down. I reached out for her as she did but missed her by an inch as she left. “Jessica, wait,” I called, but she kept going.

            When she was out of sight, I let my eyes drop to my Dad for answers. “What was she doing in here?”

            “She got caught breaking into the clinic. She claims she wasn’t trying to get a hold of any drugs,” he said. “She’s just a kid. I’m sure her parents scare her more that I ever could.”

            “The clinic?” I murmured. What could she possibly have been looking for in there? I didn’t press. I didn’t have time to ask any more questions. Instead, I closed the door between me and the rest of the police force. When I turned back to my Dad, he was looking right at me with concern.

            “What are you doing here, Bells?” he asked. Behind him, the sun could be seen through the window, shedding pink light into the room.

            “We need to go,” I told him, the terror getting the better of me. I didn’t have the words or the time to explain what was happening. Everything would make much more sense once we were at the reservation and far away from the Cullens.

            “What do you mean? What’s going on?” he asked, standing up and taking a step toward me as if to steady me.

            “I can explain later, but we need to get to Billy’s,” I said. The words seemed to leave my mouth faster than I could think them. “We have to go.”

            “Bella, it’s okay,” he said. “Sit down. I’ll get you some water. Just tell me what’s going on.”

            If he was trying to calm me down, it wasn’t working. He reached a hand out to pat my shoulder, but I slapped his hand away, backing myself up toward the wall. Being in this office was making me claustrophobic. I dug my fingernails into my palms trying to ground myself, but nothing seemed to stick.

            “There’s no time,” I said. “We have to go to Billy’s.”

            “What’s at Billy’s?” Charlie asked. “Why do we need to go to Billy’s?”

            “They can’t get us there,” I said, half trying to convince myself of it. I knew the rules, but I didn’t know if they’d break them just to stop me from talking. “They won’t go there. Come with me.”

            “Bella, no,” Charlie snapped. He grabbed me by the wrist and this time I couldn’t bat him away. He held me there, solid in place. “Who’s after you?”

            I couldn’t explain it and he wasn’t going to come with me. My head was too busy spinning with the possibilities to think of anything. If I left him here, they might go after him, but if I waited any longer, I wouldn’t make it to La Push before they found me. I needed to move, to make a decision, but my body was frozen up with all the terror coursing through me.

            “Dad,” I whispered, a few stray tears falling down my cheeks. I couldn’t have stopped them if I tried. “Let go.”

            “Bells,” he said almost as low. “Please, Bella. Tell me.”

            “I can’t,” I whispered, losing my voice the more I tried to speak. I wanted to tell him everything, but it stuck up inside me, glued to my throat. If I told him this, Edward would kill him. He might even kill him before me and make me watch. I let out a shaky breath before I yanked the office door open and ripped myself free from his grasp, storming my way through the office and back out the front doors.

            He yelled for me all the way through as I ran with my head down and tears in my eyes. I didn’t wait for him to follow. I knew there was no getting him into my truck. The only thing I had was hope that he was smarter than me. He’d figure it all out or meet me at La Push when it was safe, and maybe Edward wouldn’t be cruel enough just to kill him.

            That was the only thing I could hope for as I pushed my way through out to my truck and slammed myself inside. I was crying as I turned the key and the vehicle roared to life, the radio buzzing as tears streamed in rivers down my chin. It would take me over twenty minutes to get to the reservation and the light would be gone before then.

            Charlie stumbled out of the station as I ripped out of the parking lot, and I glimpsed him staring off after me through the rearview mirror. I almost couldn’t breathe as I kept going, racing through yellow lights and off toward my only safe haven.

            By the time I got to the woods, all the light left from sundown was gone and I drove in complete darkness. The trees leaning in close didn’t help matters. Their branches reached out over me as I drove, escaping their gnarled grasp. Parts of the trees blended into the darkened sky, but each one that reached out toward the road looked like a hand by the yellow glow of my headlights. It was quiet, only the sound of my heart echoing in my ears could be heard. I feared as I drove, that it gave me away. Anyone would be able to hear the pounding sound in my chest.

            Perhaps I was proven right though as I came down the winding road and my headlights fell upon someone standing out in the center of the road. I saw him first, my eyes drawing to him like a sharp knife. Edward stood in the center of the road, along the yellow lines with Carlisle and Jasper behind him as if to back him up. They were family and they hunted as a pack.

            I slowed to a stop before them, my headlights shining them down. The light wasn’t enough to reveal their true nature, but I could see the edges of their veins poking through. Black tendrils that stood like ink against their skin. I wiped my eyes of the tears and tightened my grip on the steering wheel. I wasn’t sure if I was planning to run them down or not.

            The muffled voice of Edward came through, piercing the barrier of my truck. “Come outside, Bella!”

            I kept my hands on the wheel and my foot on the brake. I could speed forward, run them down and maybe I’d get away, or maybe Edward would reach out and stop it like he’d stopped that van. He could kill me here and blame it on a car crash. He could get away without a scratch. Some brave part of me—or perhaps it was stupid—put the truck into park and began to unbuckle myself, ever so slowly.

            I cranked the window down as the three of them stood still, unmoving like corpses. I should have known. I should have always known. Summoning all my breath, I leaned my head out the window.

            “Get out of the way!” I snapped.

            Edward shook his head. “Let me explain.” I could hear his voice clearly now, the pain and rage underneath. He wanted me to think he cared, that he wasn’t going to hurt me.

            “Move out of the way and let me pass,” I called. Either I got to the reservation, or I died.

            He turned back briefly to glance at Jasper and Carlisle before he returned his gaze to me. “You’re being ridiculous,” he snapped. “It’s not what you think. I just want to talk.”

            I wasn’t talking. I was running. “Move.”

            He took a step toward me and then another. The closer he got, the more my head pounded, like he was trying to reach me and read my mind. I didn’t even stop to turn off the truck. There was no time for that. I ran, slamming the driver’s door open and into Edward as he tried to reach me. Before he could touch me, I was in the woods, dashing and jumping over the logs and plants that blocked my path.

            Five miles to the reservation. Five miles I couldn’t run before the Cullens caught me. I wasn’t going to make it, but I ran as if I could, as if there was a chance. It didn’t take long for me to start hearing their voices. They shouted my name, echoing for me through the trees. Five more miles.

            I didn’t even make it one. A hand was around my wrist before I had even escaped their shouts for me. The grip dug in deep, leaving marks that would turn into bruises. I tripped at the sudden pull back and went tumbling to the ground as Edward towered over me, his face blank and expressionless, like he had been when I found him before that deer. I didn’t dare blink as I stared up at him, waiting for him to bite me and rip my throat out.

            “I wanted to talk,” he said in a low calm voice. I expected him to scream at me, to smash my head against a tree trunk out of anger, but he kept it all coiled into his chest as he stared at me with that burning hunger underneath.

            “I didn’t tell anyone,” was all I could say. The words just tumbled out and I couldn’t stop them.

            “I know,” he said. “You never would. I’m sorry you had to see all that.”

            I didn’t even think of it before, but he wasn’t covered in blood anymore. His clothes were fresh and clean, a white tee shirt and jeans without a stain to be seen. In the time it had taken me to try and drag my Dad out of his office, Edward had cleaned himself up and made his way out here to meet me with his brother and his father with in tow.

            I struggled for breath. “I don’t understand.”

            He gave no indication that he heard me. Instead, he reached out his hands and pulled me to my feet by my shoulders, so I stood only a few inches short of him. His hands dug just as deep into my shoulders as they had to my wrist. He still looked down at me, through thick eyelashes and eyes like voids. My heart was starting to catch up with me, but I could still hear the pounding. I was sure Edward heard it too.

            “I want to tell you the truth, but you have to listen,” he said. “Stay with me and listen.”

            Painfully, I nodded. I could imagine Jacob’s home, his doors wide open waiting for me. I wanted to be there so badly, but I stayed standing next to Edward, his hand holding onto mine. I couldn’t move, so I just waited for him to explain.

            “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.

            I stared at him, trying to steady the hitch in my breath. My head was still spinning, fighting between loving him and fearing him and I realized as I looked at him, at his black eyes with no light in them at all, that I had no idea why I loved him in the first place. I knew nothing about him save for the fact that he was a vampire and that he loved me. And with that realization, I realized I didn’t know why he loved me either. I’d done nothing but run from him all the way up until I learned what he was.

            My gaze turned hard with the realization, and I didn’t know why it hadn’t hit me sooner. “What are you going to do then?” I demanded.

            “I scared you,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were there. That was all. Nothing has changed about the way I feel about you.”

            In a perfect world, I could have said nothing changed for me either, but that wasn’t true. Everything I felt, all the love I had for him felt like a shadow now. “Edward,” I said instead. “Why do you love me?” Why wouldn’t he let me go?

            “I love you,” he said. “I was attracted to you the first moment I saw you. You’re beautiful, headstrong. The day you shouted at me, I knew there was something special about you.”

            “I’m special,” I said back. I couldn’t be sure what he meant by that.

            “You figured me out,” he said. “No one’s ever done that before. I thought we could have something. I thought we did have something.”

            I squeezed my eyes shut just to avoid looking at those piercing eyes. “I don’t know anything about you,” I admitted.

            “I’ll tell you everything,” he said. “But only if you want me to. Only if you think you’re ready to know.”

            “Tell me,” I said and opened my eyes. In the corner of my vision, I thought I could see a figure off in the woods. It had to be Jasper or Carlisle still looking for me. They didn’t have to look anymore. Here I was. “Tell me,” I repeated.

            Edward shook his head and looked down, breaking eye contact with me, making himself smaller. “I died when I was seventeen,” he said. “My life before that didn’t really matter. I hardly remember anything from that time anyway. It was the Spanish flu, 1917. Carlisle found me. He knew that I was special. I didn’t know how I read minds back there, it just happened. Voices I thought I heard, snippets of conversations that never happened. But I was dying, and he offered me a way out.

            “That’s how it is. I didn’t choose this, not really. I didn’t know what I would feel when I woke up, but I didn’t want to die. I took his deal. So that’s the deal, Bella. I’m over a hundred years old. Is that what you want?”

            I felt a fog come over me like I wasn’t quite hearing what he was saying. All the words were there but they flitted around in my head like butterflies. I didn’t know what was coming over me, but some part of me didn’t want it to stop, those feather light wings of butterflies. I blinked up at him, trying to get it to go away, but I wasn’t worried. I was utterly calm.

            “I want you,” I said, but I didn’t know where the words came from. I tried to swallow them down, but they’d already escaped. “Tell me more.”

            “Bella,” he said.

            “Tell me more,” I repeated, harsher, more urgent.

            “When I became a vampire I lost control,” he said. “I wasn’t myself. I was starving. I did a lot of things I don’t like to admit. There was a girl I loved when I was living. I thought I was going to marry her someday.” He took a step back.

            “You lost her,” I said. A living girl was no lover for an unageing vampire.

            “I killed her,” he admitted. His eyes cast away from me and out into the trees. “I’ve counted every person I ever killed, Bella. I never want to be that thing again, but I am. I am soulless, do you understand? I can’t help myself.”

            I held myself from moving. I wanted to comfort him. This heavy fog over me wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him everything would be okay. I didn’t know why I wanted to touch him, why his story made me feel so low, like I understood something so fundamental about him.

            “What was her name?” I asked.

            He looked up to me again, looking like a small boy, like a boy of seventeen that died to a terrible disease. “Edith,” he said. “Her name was Edith Hale.”

            I didn’t recognize the name, but I didn’t expect to. Instead, I shook my head. This weight over me was settling and I understood. The way he looked at me as he told me her name and the way he held himself back, I believed him.

            “You won’t hurt me,” I said. I believed him so wholeheartedly that I grabbed hold of him and pulled him in close to me, cradling his head into my shoulder as he reached around to hold me too. Any fear that he was going to bite me was completely gone as I held onto him for dear life.

            His skin was just as cold as I remembered it, but I held his so closely and for so long that at some point, he absorbed enough of my heat to feel closer to life. I didn’t want to ever let go. Something in me broke then as I stood with him in my arms. All the worry I’d felt was gone now and that soft comfortable feeling had washed over me once again. I forgot why I was upset to begin with. A memory surfaced, a deer in the woods, but what happened after all that was a blur. I should have been concerned, but with Edward here, there was nothing to worry about.

He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t even making a sound, but somehow I heard him cry, like it was in my head, or on the wind. As I pulled away from him, ever so slowly, his eyes rose to meet mine. Nothing about his face was different. His face could never change, could never show blush or tears, but he felt all the same.

Through the fog, a few words Edward had said returned to my thoughts, pushing through like daisies in the spring. “You’re not soulless,” I said.

He shook his head. “I am. There is no hope for me.”

I shook my head and reached out to touch him. My fingers came to rest along his cheek, and he pressed my hand into his face with his, feeling the warmth I left behind. I didn’t want to talk. We didn’t need to.

“Edward,” a voice called soon enough, and I turned to find Carlisle and Jasper stepping over the winding forest floor to join us. I took a step away from Edward, although I didn’t want to. He kept hold on my hand.

“Thanks for finding us,” he said. “We got a bit lost out here.”

“It’s getting dark,” Carlisle said. “You should get Bella back home.”

Breathless, I looked to Edward. I didn’t want to leave, but I hadn’t realized how dark it was getting. The twilight sky was turning into night before our eyes. I tried to plead with him to let me stay, to take me to the Cullens’ instead, but he just nodded to Carlisle.

“I’ll make sure she gets home,” he said.

We started carefully back toward the road where my truck was parked, passing through the shadows of trees that made this place a maze in the dark. Before we could escape, however, Jasper grabbed hold of Edward by the arm and pulled him in. He whispered something low and impossible to hear into his ear all while Edward stared at me intently. After a moment, he let go of him and Edward led me carefully through the dark and back to the road.

As soon as we reached the truck, I handed him my keys. It was time to go home.

Chapter Text

The front porch light was on as Edward pulled up into the driveway and put my truck into park. I hadn’t realized how late it was until now as I stared up at my little house in the earie quiet of the evening. My head still ached a little, but the beating of my heart had calmed into a slow drum. Quietly, Edward turned the key and returned it to my hands as we looked ahead to my home.

            “I wish I could come with you,” I told him. Charlie would have questions, but I just wanted to be with Edward right now. I didn’t want to have to explain why I was out so late or why Edward drove me home.

            “I’ll see you at school,” he said instead. “We’ll talk then.”

            I sighed, but he was right. I needed to go home. I needed to sleep. Everything that had happened hit me so hard. But at the end of all of this, I knew what I already knew before. I loved Edward for everything he was. I would never leave him; I never could.

            “I have a lot to clear up with Jasper and Carlisle, but everything will be fine,” he said.

            Before he could add anything else, the front door of the house opened, and Charlie stepped outside, still dressed in his uniform and large winter jacket. His eyes met mine through the windshield and the fear and relief in his eyes shocked me out of my exhaustion. He raced down the porch steps and out to me like he was on a mission. I had no choice but to step out of the truck to greet him.

            “Bella, what the hell happened?” he snapped, anger rising into his voice. “I was worried sick. I called Billy, but he said you never showed up. I was about to send a search out.”

            I shook my head as he reached me, but I didn’t have the chance to explain as he grabbed me and wrapped me into a tightly wound hug. He didn’t let go until the driver’s side door opened and slammed shut as Edward stood alone in the driveway, looking uncomfortable with this whole situation.

            “I’m sorry,” Charlie said. “What’s going on here?”

            I opened my mouth to explain, but Edward stepped forward before I could speak. “I’m sorry, Mr. Swan. Bella was pretty shaken up. I thought I’d better drive her home.”

            Charlie looked between me and Edward with confusion, trying to put the picture together. “And you were…” He broke off, not sure how to word whatever questions he needed to ask.

            “She was with me,” he said. “It’s nice to formally meet you, Mr. Swan.”

            Charlie just stood there dumbstruck, staring at Edward. I could tell he didn’t understand what was going on, so I chimed in. “Edward and I are dating.”

            “What?” was the only word he could utter.

            “Nothing serious,” Edward said. “All very new.” He gave me a knowing look and I smiled back. It was better if Charlie was clueless about the whole thing. He didn’t need to know just how serious this was.

            Charlie sighed and changed his expression. “Alright.” he said. “Bella, go on inside. I’ll be in there in a minute.”

            I nodded and started up toward the house. Edward was probably going to receive that new boyfriend talk, but I was sure he could handle it. I heard a wayward whisper from Charlie as I climbed the porch steps and headed inside. A simple “how long has this been happening,” came from his lips as he stared Edward down. Once inside, I braced myself against the door, the exhaustion returning to me as soon as Edward was out of sight.

            Throwing off my coat and shoes, I headed to the living room and laid down on the couch. This day felt as if it had been the length of two, but I was happy to know Edward was out there, keeping me safe and sound.

            It was a few minutes before Charlie came into the house, slamming the door as he went. I nearly jumped as he came into the room and stopped with his arms folded and a hard, tired look on his face. He didn’t look quite so relieved anymore. I should have expected him to be angry, but I’d been so caught up in having Edward there with me that I didn’t think twice about it.

            “Bella, what the hell am I supposed to think? You’re going to have to tell me because I don’t understand,” he snapped.

            “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I lost track of time. That’s all.”

            “No, no, no,” he said, just short of shouting. “Don’t pretend this is just some fun you and your friends got into. You can’t come into my office and tell me you’re being chased only to show up here with that Cullen boy and say everything’s alright. You scared me, Bella.”

            “It’s fine,” I said. “I overreacted.”

            “You acted like you thought he was going to kill you,” he said.

            I sat up as he continued to stare at me. My Dad rarely got mad enough to yell, but I was sure he was going to. I’d done something stupid enough to warrant it, but I just sat looking at him just as hard and stern as he looked back. There was no way to explain what really happened. Anyone who listened to me would think I was crazy. I shook my head.

            “I’m okay. Isn’t that what matters?” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say.

            His face softened a bit. “Of course, it matters, Bells. I just don’t know how to feel about all this. I thought you were in real danger. You went running off. I didn’t know where you went,” he said.

            He was right to worry. I would have worried too, but just like everyone, he’d have to come to understand that this was what my relationship with Edward was. He was going to be there for me no matter what. He gave me everything I needed. Charlie could disapprove all he liked. Wasn’t it a dad’s job to disapprove of their daughters’ boyfriends? He’d relax eventually.

            He knelt down before me like he’d done when I was little and got in trouble, like he was coming to put a Band-Aid on a scraped knee. He gave me that scared look I’d been seeing from everyone around me, from Jessica and Angela too. Carefully, he reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear.

            “Tell me, are you okay?” he asked in a low voice, almost like a whisper.

            “I’m fine, Dad,” I replied.

            “What happened today,” he said, “with Edward; that scared me. What did you think was happening there?” He tilted his head a little, waiting patiently for an answer. He looked so much more like the quiet man I knew now, but I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was in someone else’s skin, and I couldn’t explain why.

            I took his hand in mine, just to comfort him, to let him know I was okay, and I wasn’t going anywhere. Forks was my home and Charlie was my family no matter what happened. Even if I couldn’t tell him everything, I could trust him to watch out for me too.

            “Edward and his family hunt,” I said. “I don’t know. I saw them with a deer, and I was squeamish. I don’t know, I just panicked.” It wasn’t really a lie. I didn’t have to tell him everything, but the Cullens did hunt, just not in the way Charlie would have thought.

            “Really?” he said. “Doctor Cullen doesn’t strike me as a hunting type.” Slowly, he nodded to my story and stood up. I watched his face change through the motions of realizing and accepting. He reached out to grab my hand and pulled me up to my feet as well. I was a little wobbly, still working my head through all my confused and fogged over thoughts, but I got my footing as Charlie let go.

            “Thank you for understanding,” I said.

            He started off to the kitchen with a sigh, but at the threshold, he paused, leaning a hand around the door frame. He stood there a long moment before he looked back at me. “I’m not sure I really do understand, Bells. But if you’re okay, I am too.”

            I closed my eyes and nodded, trying to fight the tears coming up into my eyes, ready to spill over. Before he could leave my side, however, there was a knock on the door and we both looked over to the shadow of a figure standing in the window. The light curtain obscured who it was, but I thought I recognized that outline.

            As I returned to the mudroom and opened the door, Jacob stood before me, looking concerned. He was tapping his foot impatiently and biting his lip as if he had somewhere to be. His hair was disheveled, like he’d run and never stopped to fix what had fallen in front of his face. When he saw that it was me, however, his anxiety turned into surprise.

            “Bella,” he said, stunned to see me at home and perfectly fine. “You called. I thought you were in danger.”

            “I’m fine,” I explained, but Charlie was standing behind me, looking out to Jacob as well.

            “I told my Dad to wait for you and came all the way here. I thought I’d see your truck on the way, but—” He held back his last thought. He still looked worried, like I’d disappear from sight if he took his eyes off me.

            “She’s alright,” Charlie butted in. “A friend of hers from school found her and took her home.”

            Jacob didn’t even acknowledge Charlie as he looked at me, waiting for answers. I just nodded along with Charlie’s answer. I’d been wrong to run and now I was fine. “Edward picked me up,” I said. “Everything’s fine now.”

            Jacob furrowed his brow in confusion like I was speaking in a language he’d never heard. I shrugged, hoping he’d come to his senses, but he just stood there, looking at me. I should have expected this, expected my friends to worry about me. If things were different, they’d be right to, but I was just fine, and Edward was there to take care of me.

            “Edward Cullen,” he clarified. When I nodded, he took a step back. “I thought he weirded you out. Your crash and everything.”

            I realized it had been over a week since I’d actually talked to Jacob. He didn’t know Edward and I were together. He didn’t know any of it.

            “We’re actually together now,” I said. “It’s all new and everything, but I’m okay.”

            “Bella,” he said, lowering his tone. “You were scared he was chasing you.”

            I shook my head at that. This again. All of this again and again. I didn’t know if it would ever stop. I’d been wrong about him. Why couldn’t everyone just accept it like I had?

            “It’s okay, Jacob,” I said, giving him a smile to prove it. “We’re okay.”

            He hissed through his teeth. “I don’t like this. It’s so sudden and random. Last week you were coming over to avoid him.”

            “I really don’t want to talk about it,” I said. “We’ll talk later, okay.”

            He still looked at me like I was a poor little animal that got caught in a hunting trap, but I tried to ignore it as I waved him goodbye. We would talk later, when Charlie wasn’t hanging over my shoulder and I could make sense of the feelings in my head. I needed time and so would he.

            Before he could leave, however, my Dad leaned forward through the door. “Jacob, we’re going to Carver, would you like to come?”

            I gave him a hard look, but he didn’t seem to notice as Jacob stood at the door, his hands in his pockets as he mulled over the offer. After everything that happened tonight, I just wanted to be alone, but it appeared Charlie had other plans.

            “I couldn’t,” he said.

            “Come on,” Charlie begged. “You came all the way here. I’ll give your Dad a call and let him know.”

            He offered me a look as if trying to access if I wanted him there or not. I tried not to let me see any sign that I wanted him gone, but I did. If he came, he’d have questions that I couldn’t answer yet.

“Just this once,” he answered.

            “Alright,” Charlie said. “Get your coat, kiddo. We’re getting hamburgers.”

            “Give me a second to change,” I said and headed upstairs before he could argue. I was starving, but I hadn’t even thought about it all the way home. My head had been swimming so deep in fog, I was sure I was going to forget to breathe. Now at home, I wanted that feeling off of me. It seemed to sink in deep to my clothes and I still felt the shadow of blood on my hands.

            As I climbed the steps and closed the door to my room, I grabbed a new shirt and jeans from the closet and started to change. Once I tossed the old clothes into the back of my closet and donned new ones, I took a quick check out my window.

            There was no sign of that wolf, the one I’d seen after I just moved here. Maybe it had moved on, back to its pack, or further away from people. What I did see in the shadows of night was a pair of black eyes that seemed to glow like a cat’s through the woods where he hid. I knew those eyes well, that they’d follow me wherever I went.

            I opened the window and leaned out, feeling a fresh dose of cold against my skin. Tilting my head, I waited for Edward to emerge from the wood and look up to me with that gaze I loved so much.

            “Edward,” I whispered into the night. I would have thought he was a dream if I wasn’t so struck by the cold against my arms, beating into me. I would have leaned there all night, staring at him until the cold turned my skin and made me sick.

            “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized,” he returned, taking another step closer to my window.

            “What does that mean?” I asked.

            “It’s from Romeo and Juliet,” he answered. “Love me and I’ll change everything for you, leave my family for you, give myself away for you.”

            The sound of his voice made me want to cry. The love that he offered me shocked me with such intensity, I was speechless for a moment, before I fit together what he said into my mind and came back to my own head. “I never liked that one,” I said.

            “You don’t like Romeo and Juliet?” he asked.

            “They lost everything about themselves to love,” I said. “It’s so sad, isn’t it?”

            “They risked everything for love,” he said and before I could really comprehend it, he had scaled the wall and was leaning up against my window, within a few inches of my face. If I tilted my head just the right way, I could let him bite me and make me like him. “And in the end, their love was worth more than their lives. They could have lived forever, but it would have been worthless if they didn’t have each other.”

            I breathed him in, but there was no smell, no warmth. He was like a ghost to me. “I’ll love you forever, Edward,” I told him. “But I won’t lose myself to it.”

            “You never will,” he said. “I’ll always be right here.”

            I could have kissed him. I wanted to, but he leaned back to look at me after he spoke, and I didn’t dare touch him to bring him back to me. Instead, I stood staring at him, the cold seeping into me as I watched him, entranced.

            “We will never have to be apart,” he said. “I’ll keep you safe.”

            I closed my eyes and just felt him there, his silent way of being that crossed between living and dead. A soft, cold hand came to rest on my cheek. I wanted him to stay there with me forever, but when that soft feeling disappeared and I opened my eyes, he was gone, like he’d never been there at all.

End of Part 1

Chapter Text

Part 2

I had this dream so many times in the months after Edward and I got together that I could predict exactly what would happen next each time, but that never made it any easier. I would stand in the woods, in that shaft of light that had shined between me and Edward on the day he told me what he was. I was alone at first, always alone with my back pressed up against the trunk of a tree for protection. It never did anything to protect me.

            Edward would appear next, standing on the outskirts of the sunlight. His skin would just barely show the venomous veins underneath, that inky blackness that crept out into fine lines in his face. He grinned that dark, smug grin at me as he took his first steps out into the sunlight and showed every detail of his unholy visage.

            I was scared the first time. I woke screaming the first time he showed his razor-sharp teeth in the space of that dream, but when I woke, I didn’t know why I had been scared. It was just Edward after all, my protector and lover. He’d never hurt me; he’d never think of it, but I had that dream again and again.

            The first words he said to me were always the same. “Come to me, Bella.” It was a command so alluring I couldn’t resist. I stepped out from the tree that braced against me, supporting me upward. I reached out a hand toward him, my arms fully bare to him. And that was when I noticed the marks.

            My bare arms were covered in the scars and echoes of bitemarks. They varied down to my wrist from old to new and the latest one at the base of my wrist was still bleeding, dripping blood onto the rocks at my feet.

            “Do you trust me?” he asked.

            My head swam in dreamy confusion, but it wasn’t so different from how I felt every time I was with Edward. He made it hard to breath, like I was drowning every time he looked at me. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a hot, wet spittle. I couldn’t taste it, but I knew every time that it was blood. It stained my teeth and across my lips like a kiss.

            “I love you, Bella,” he said. Sometimes he said Bella, like tonight. Sometimes he spoke my full name like a wedding vow, but other times he’d call me other names and I would think I’d heard him wrong, but it would echo through my head long after I woke. “I love you, Edith.”

            I would try to tell him I loved him back, but all that would come up would be bubbles of sticky blood coating my throat. And with his declaration and my own belief, he would bite me. He bit me tonight on the pad of my palm, sucking down deep like he was going to tear my hand off. I felt every drop of blood go from me, like it was a piece of me he was taking.

            The pain felt real. It was the only thing that ever felt real. His teeth sunk in deep to my hand, deeper than I thought possible until he hit bone and scrapped against it. The stream of blood that left me and poured into him turned him red with it. His veins shifted from poison to red, to life, like he was draining my life and returning to his own. I couldn’t help but feel like I was falling even as I stood still before him.

            After he pulled away from me, the pain was still there, but with the added effect of my head spinning. He looked at me, his eyes reading deep into my head and rooting around there. I was afraid he’d be able to read my mind, but he never could, not even in the waking hours of day.

            His face was covered in red, like paint splattered all over him, up to his nose. It was brighter than anything in this forest. Even the light was a dull grey now and I could feel myself falling.

            Then, every time without change, I would wake up. This time, I woke to the sun shedding light over my bed and my fingernails pushing crescent moons into the palms of my hands. A moment passed before I could get up, and in that time, a cloud moved in front of the sun, blocking it out. I wanted to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but before I could even think of it, my alarm started to beep.

            I breathed out softly into the cool morning and pulled myself up and out of bed. Downstairs, I could hear Charlie making breakfast, and the smell of bacon wafted up to greet me. Everything was normal. My arms were free of any marks or scars, and when I opened my mouth, only a slow exhale escaped.

            After every dream, my paranoid head forced me to check myself for any marks, but I was always free of them. I always dragged myself out of bed and found that everything was fine. It was then while I was getting dressed that Edward’s name would pop up on my phone with a good morning text, proof again that I was safe and sound.

            When I got downstairs, Charlie was nearly done with his breakfast and a plate of bacon and eggs was left for me, having cooled down in the time it took me to get ready. As I sat down, Charlie was already getting up to head to the station.

            “I’m gonna be out late again,” he said as he donned his jacket. “Will you be able to handle yourself for dinner?”

            “It’s okay,” I told him. “I’m going to Edward’s after school.”

            He gave me the look he always gave me at the mention of Edward. It was somewhere between disapproving and worried, but I usually ignored it. In the six months we’d been together, he still hadn’t warmed up to him much. I hated that he couldn’t see how happy Edward made me, but he must have known he couldn’t stop us from seeing each other.

            It passed after a moment. “Just don’t stay out there too late,” he said and started toward the front door. “And do your homework.” He was gone with the hard slam of the front door, and I ate my cold bacon in silence before there was a knock on the door some time later.

            When I opened it, Edward was on the other side, having ran all the way here to pick me up. He smiled lazily at me with no sign of his veins popping through. My dream had just been a dream, as it always was, but it left me cold and fidgety until I saw my real Edward, the one who promised to never hurt me.

            “Morning,” he said at the sight of me.

            “Just let me get my shoes,” I told him as I grabbed the keys off the end table that stood in the mudroom and handed them over to Edward. He’d been driving me to school most days this semester and we had gotten into a habit of it. He would arrive just after Charlie left for work and drive with me in the truck to school and back. It was another of his ways of being protective. He drove me so I didn’t have to worry.

            In all honesty, I missed driving. I liked the feeling of the wheel in my hands and the road underneath. It was one of Edwards rules, though. All to keep me safe. He had a lot of rules and I seemed to stumble on them one after another.

            After grabbing my backpack and putting on my shoes, I followed Edward out to the truck and found my spot in the passenger side. It had felt odd the first few times Edward had driven me, but now I’d grown accustomed to it. I didn’t mind so much anymore. I buckled myself in as he pulled the truck into reverse and backed us into the road.

            The drive to school was short and, in that time, I found myself wandering back to the dream, to Edward’s teeth in me. I didn’t know what it would feel like, if it would hurt for him to sink his teeth into my flesh or if it would feel like fog, all soft around the edges. I wondered—and this wasn’t the first time—if I would be happier as a vampire. I watched Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett go about their relationships in a blissful state of forever.

            I’d asked Alice how long she’d known Jasper was the one, how long they’d been together. She told me she’d been dreaming of him her whole life and that when she met Carlisle and the others, she knew becoming a vampire was the right thing to do. She told me that sometimes she forgot how long they’d been together. If it wasn’t for all the degrees with their years written out, she wouldn’t remember how long she’d been around at all. She was so caught between present and future that she forgot what had happened and what was going to happen sometimes. Like déjà vu.

            As we pulled into the parking lot of the school, Edward parked next to the Volvo in the back of the lot. His siblings had already arrived and were likely lurking in the school already, avoiding rumors of being romantically involved with each other. It felt odd to call them siblings now that I knew. They weren’t siblings at all, but from a different time. They came together to form this odd little family alone in Washington and everyone else was just watching it unfold.

            I’d find them inside eventually, but for now, I returned again and again, to crescent shaped marks in my palm from where I’d pressed into them in my sleep, nearly enough to break skin.

            “Edward,” I said hesitantly. I pushed my voice through to get the thought across. “I’ve been thinking.”

            “Alice is looking for you,” he said before I could offer what I had to say. I blinked at him, but he pointed to the front doors where Alice had stepped outside. She was wearing a bright red sundress to match the spring warmth and her eyes found our truck as soon as he mentioned her. “She’s having ideas.”

            “What kind of ideas?” I asked. The thought was still at the back of my head, but I pushed it down. There would be time for that later.

            “It would ruin the surprise for me to tell you,” he said. “Go. I’ll see you in class.”

            “Yeah,” I said as he got out of the truck and left me hanging there, still stumbling over what I’d been trying to ask. I cursed my own hesitation and stepped out of the truck before Edward locked it and returned the keys to me.

            I put my head down as I started to walk over to the front doors. Edward had left me in the dust as he made his way into the building and Alice stood still waiting for me. She waved with a big smile as soon as I was within speaking distance, and I waved back and came to a stop before her.

            “Edward said you wanted to talk to me,” I said.

            “What’s your favorite color?” she asked as she looped an arm around mine and started to lead me into the school. Whatever this was, I wasn’t sure I was ready for what was coming next. She sounded cheery in the sort of way that suggested she was planning something, and Alice was not the sort of person to conduct mischief halfheartedly.

            “Green,” I offered. “Why do you ask?”

            “Well, you don’t have a prom dress,” she said. “And if you don’t get one now, its going to be very difficult.”

            “I wasn’t aware I was going to prom,” I said. Edward hadn’t asked me, and I hadn’t even mentioned it. Jessica talked about it whenever she got the chance. She was going with Angela. She still made a stink about Edward at times, but she’d offered to have dinner, just the four of us. I’d told her I wasn’t going, and she dropped it just as quick. Alice, on the other hand, seemed to be on another wavelength.

            “Of course you’re going to prom,” Alice snapped with that cheery tone still front and center. “But green? Are you sure? It won’t look good with your complexion.”

            “I’m not going to prom,” I repeated. Edward and I hadn’t even had a conversation about it. I assumed he was above it. A vampire as old as him had probably been to at least a dozen proms. He couldn’t have thought much about this one.

            “Yes you are,” she said with a knowing grin. She always knew something. I didn’t know quite how to deal with the girl who could just know what was going to happen. She didn’t have to guess anything about me. She could just see it before I even knew about it. “Edward already bought tickets.”

            “What?” I snapped back. I stopped us in the middle of the hall as people moved around us. “He didn’t tell me that.”

            “He probably assumed you knew. Anyway, you’re going to need a dress. You can borrow one of mine. You’ll love it, I promise.”

            “I’m not really sure—” I started, but she’d already let go of me and was walking away.

            As she left, she turned and gave me a wave. “I’ll see you after school!” she called before she disappeared into the crowd of students, leaving me hanging with an ultimatum I hadn’t known existed.

            I found Edward in our first period class. Even though we’d switched to Biology II, he was still my lab partner. Usually, we walked into class together, hand in hand, but now I stepped in alone to find him waiting for me, lounging against the wall in his tall lab table bench. I hesitated before I took my seat next to him, unsure what to say now with the rest of our classmates around. I couldn’t ask what I really wanted to ask him now, and if I mentioned what Alice had told me, I’d look like an idiot not having known I was going to the prom in the first place.

            Instead, I said nothing. I sat down next to him and quietly pulled out my books as I waited for class to start. Even with this, I didn’t want to be upset with him. I wasn’t a person to dress up, and he should have known that by now. Alice should have known it too, but maybe she was just trying to get me out of my comfort zone.

            I settled into the day quickly, and by lunch, I had stopped being upset and started being afraid. Of what, I wasn’t sure, but I’d seen Alice’s wardrobe and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what her black tie attire looked like.

            Sat next to the Cullens, I listened to them blankly as they played the all famous guessing game of what the rest of the students were thinking. Emmett had guessed the closest on the last three students to walk past our table, and I never stood a chance. They’d been playing these games for almost a century, and I had only learned Edward could read minds six months ago.

            “Alice,” Edward said after Emmett had been awarded his third point. “You pick.”

            Alice tilted her head around, glancing out over the crowded cafeteria in search of the perfect candidate. She landed finally on where Jessica and Angela were sitting and tapped a long finger against her chin as she thought carefully.

            “What is…” Alice offered slowly. “Jessica Stanley thinking?”

            Edward sighed and looked at her, his eyes narrowing to read into her head. As he glanced over, Jessica found our gaze and offered a little wave to me, her smile small and edged with concern as her eyes found Edward’s hard look. When he looked away, it was with a dull expression that gave nothing away.

            “Not her,” he said.

            “Why not?” Alice asked. “She’s perfectly normal.”

            “Yeah, Edward,” Rosalie offered. “You’ve never refused someone before. What do you have against her? Thoughts too complicated for you?”

            “She’d be too easy for Emmett to guess,” Jasper offered. “He wants to ruin his streak.”

            “That’s it,” Edward admitted. “Pick someone harder.”

            Alice gave him a long look, like she was communicating something to him without speaking. After a moment of staring, she turned around and chose someone on the other side of the cafeteria, and the game continued as if nothing had happened at all. I watched Edward for the rest of the lunch period though, trying to figure out exactly what he’d read out of Jessica’s mind that he didn’t want to share.

            Once lunch ended, classes went on as usual in their boring parade. When the final bell rang, I went looking for Jessica. That look Edward had given her still worried me. It wasn’t just that she didn’t like him. I knew that already. There was something else that made Edward pause on her thoughts out of everyone and I wanted to know what it was.

            I wasn’t the only one looking for people, however, and Alice quickly found me and linked arms with me before I could catch a clue as to where Jessica was. I couldn’t talk to Jessica about all of this while Alice was around, so I let her lead me into whatever conversation she had in store.

            “Have you happened to give any more thought into what color you’d like to wear to prom?” she asked.

            “I think it’s too late to get a dress,” I offered. “Maybe I’ll just go next year when I’m a senior. Senior prom is supposed to be more special anyway.”

            “You have to at least come and look through my clothes,” Alice said. “I’m sure I’ll have something that suits you. I’m thinking light blue.”

            “I’m thinking not,” I offered as we turned the corner toward the front doors of the school. Before we could escape, however, I found Edward outside waiting for me. I started to lift my hand to wave before I caught sight of the person he was talking to.

            Jessica was leaning up against the outside wall so I could barely see her, but I caught the edge of her hair and bangs jutting out past the framework. Edward was staring down at her with wild animosity, the kind I had only seen when I thought he hated me.

            As we opened the doors and Edward caught sight of me, he backed off a little and dug his hands into his pockets. Before I could think of anything to say or ask that would explain what they’d been talking about, Jessica scurried off, out toward Angela’s car to escape the looming vampires. I opened my mouth to reach out to her, but she was gone before I could put anything together.

            “What was that about?” I asked, letting my eyes return to Edward.

            He just nodded over toward her. “She just asked me some things.”

            “About what?” I asked, but Edward didn’t answer to that. Instead, he held out his hands for my keys. Assuming he would explain on the way over, I handed them over, but as we got into the truck and left the lot and school behind, Edward was quiet.

            The woods grew around us once again as we returned to the Cullens’ private escape from humanity. I’d been coming here nearly every day after school for months now, but it still felt huge as it rose up before us. As the road passed under us, I hoped for an explanation, but Edward wasn’t keen on talking. Instead, I let my head wander back to another question I’d wanted to ask him.

            “Edward,” I said. My stomach churned with anxiety. I didn’t know why I was scared to ask this. “Since we’re together, I was thinking…I’d like to become a vampire.”

            He didn’t seem to react, but I watched his arms go tense and his hands sharpen around the wheel. We were nearly there, but he was speeding up. I waited a minute, watching the clock on the dashboard change from one number to the next. He didn’t answer.

            “Did you hear me?” I asked.

            “No, you don’t,” he said through gritted teeth. I could see the tips of his fangs poking out through his lips.

            “I’m sorry,” I retorted. He told me his story; he told me everything. I didn’t want to be another tragic lost lover. I wanted to be with him forever, and this was the only way I could see that happening.

            “You’re not going to be a vampire,” he said. “This isn’t a negotiation.”

            “No,” I said. “It’s a decision. My decision and I’m the one making it.” I stared at him as he drove, imagining beams of light shooting through his face as I watched him drive emotionlessly.

            “I said no,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

            “I know exactly what I’m getting into,” I snapped. “I’ve been with your family for months. I know how this works. I know how Jasper still struggles. I know how you feel, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t think you’re a soulless monster for not wanting to die. Let me choose this for myself.”

            Edward turned down the driveway to the glass house in the woods and stopped before the Volvo. His siblings had already disappeared inside the house, and it was just me and him out here. He sat silently for a long moment, not breathing, not blinking. He looked as dead as ever.

             “It’s not your decision,” he said. “It will never ever be your decision. If you love me, you won’t ask me this again.”

            I cringed at his retort and looked to him for any sign that he’d change his mind. He was looking at me with darkened eyes. Where they would have been bloodshot, there was lines of inky venom instead. There was a rage there I couldn’t comprehend, and a sadness there too, like he was losing me just for this question. I wanted to explain why I wanted to be a vampire. It was for him. I just wanted to keep up with him, to live with him forever and fit in with his world.

            As a human, I was trapped between two worlds, my human one and his immortal one. If I could just make that final leap to one side or the other, everything would fall into place. But as he stared daggers into me, I knew he’d never forgive me for this.

            I didn’t know what he would say if I asked what happened with Jessica. If I pressed any more than I already had, I feared he wouldn’t look at me the same anymore. Defeated, I tore my gaze away from his and looked up to the house where Alice waited, hoping to dress me up like a doll.

            “I won’t ask again,” I told him, before I stepped out of the truck and made my way up the steps alone.

Chapter Text

Alice ended up picking out a light green dress for me from her collection. That was her compromise with me. If I wore a dress, it could be my favorite color, but I would have to wear a dress. On that Saturday afternoon as I sat before her vanity, letting her brush out my hair to fix it into a complicated updo, I stared at the dress laid out for me on the bed. Hers next to it was short and frilly grey with capped sleeves and bows around the bottom. She’d put it on to show me the day she picked out my dress and I had been struck by how pretty she looked in it.

            As she twirled around before me in her bedroom, I could only focus on how at home she looked in that dress. It was hers all the way down to the hemline. When she had offered me the first of her options and then another, I’d felt crushed under all the weight. Every single dress felt like someone else, a different person and none of them me. Eventually, she found that full length green one in the back of her closet and admitted that she had never worn it. I still felt like an imposter after she zipped it up and turned me around to look in the mirror. I didn’t know if I’d still feel that way when I put it on today, or if I’d feel beautiful when Edward saw me in it.

            “Your hair is so long,” Alice was saying as I tried in vain to pull myself out of my ugly thoughts. I didn’t know how long she’d been looking through my hair, but as I snapped back to reality, I realized how close she was standing to me. Her cold hand brushed against the back of my head, and I shivered.

            It was easy to forget that Alice was dead. She didn’t have that motionlessness of Edward and Jasper or the unearthly grace of Emmett and Rosalie. She was graceful, that was for sure, but like a ballerina. I could forget that she didn’t breathe.

            I shook myself out of my thoughts, trying to process what it was she’d said. “Yeah,” I offered.

            “How long have you been growing it out?” she asked. She ran her long fingers through my hair from the scalp down to the tips where hair dropped over my shoulders.

            “I don’t know,” I offered. “I don’t remember the last time I got it cut.” I certainly hadn’t cut it in Forks, and I couldn’t recall the last time I’d cut my hair before moving. My Mom had always done it, to save money, but she’d rarely been at the house that last year.

            “You have some split ends,” she said. “Do you mind if I cut it?”

            I mulled over the answer for a moment, but she was already grabbing a long, silver pair of scissors from the vanity. As I looked at myself in the mirror, counting the long wavey strands that fell over my shoulders, I wasn’t sure I saw the damage she saw. Before I could answer, however, she was sectioning off pieces and making little snips.

            “It will be pretty, I promise,” she said as she cut more and more.

            I let her, despite myself, and by the time she was done, I didn’t care how much she cut off. I wasn’t going to look like me in that dress anyway. She put my hair up, letting little waves fall over my ears and around my face. For a final touch, she clipped a flower into my hair, a little light purple one that only people looking at me from behind would see. I had to admit, I looked beautiful, but my throat closed up and I blinked away tears as I looked at myself. It wasn’t me in that mirror at all.

            “You look so beautiful,” Alice exclaimed as she looked at me, her eyes alight. “Edward will love it.”

            I managed a strangled “thanks,” and got up from her vanity to let her do her own hair. She quickly sat down as I wandered away from her, and the dress that still sat on the bed looking like a threat to me. She didn’t take as long on her own short hair and before long, she was helping me into my dress.

            I refused to look in the mirror as she zipped it up and put on her own. For some reason, I was terrified of who would be looking back at me when I looked. It wouldn’t be me in that mirror, but some deranged version of Alice in my body. As soon as she was done putting on her earrings, I started to open the door to escape.

            “Wait,” Alice snapped before I could leave her room. “Shoes.”

            I blinked at her in confusion. The shoes I’d worn here were flats, the nicest shoes I owned, and they were waiting for me at the front door. I may have hated this whole event, but I wasn’t evil enough to have ruined this night by wearing my sneakers. I loved the Cullens enough to do this.

            “Shoes?” I asked.

            Alice held up a silvery pair of strappy heels that would likely make me break a leg, but she seemed to look at me with joy and warmth, like she was giving me a gift. “These will go with that dress great,” she said.

            “I’m not sure,” I offered.

            “Nonsense,” she said and patted the chair before her vanity. “I’ll help you.”

            I sat down in her vanity chair in defeat as she slipped the silver heels onto my feet and strapped me in like I was getting set to go on a roller-coaster. As soon as they were on, I looked down to my feet where they stood at a perpetual angle. I frowned, knowing they would turn my feet to blisters by the end of the night, but Alice was already grinning and clapping as she looked at me.

            “Stand up. Stand up,” she exclaimed. “Give me a twirl.”

            “I don’t know how to walk in these,” I said, still afraid to stand.

            “It’s easy,” Alice argued and grabbed me by the hands, pulling me to my feet. The shoes made me even taller than Alice was, and I stumbled a little as she held me up. Once I had gotten my balance, she let go of me and stepped back, making a motion for me to twirl.

            “I don’t know what you think is going to happen, but it’s not going to be graceful,” I said. I should have brought my hiking boots just to spite her, but I knew there was no way I was getting out of these heels while Alice was around. She’d made herself in charge of my prom night and nothing could change her vision of this night.

            “Twirl,” she said.

            Despite myself, I did as she told me and spun, focusing too much on where my feet were as I turned myself around, my dress flitting around my legs. By the third spin, I nearly tripped, but Alice was there in a second to catch me. Her arm extended before I saw what was happening and caught me there.

            “Okay,” she said. “Save some for later.”

            I tried to smile as she stood me back up and let me out of her grasp. She grabbed her own shoes, black heels that seemed too tall to walk in, and led me out of the room. As we stepped out of the room and out to the hallway, I braced myself against the wall with every other step until I made it to the stairs.

            The railing helped me on my way down toward the living room, where Jasper, Emmett, and Edward stood waiting for us in their well pressed black tuxes. They looked like spies, the three of them, all waiting and standing as straight as boards as I limped my way down the stairs. I felt like I was going to fall in front of all of them and make a fool of myself, but I managed to get to the bottom of the steps in one piece.

            “Alright, is the human ready?” Rosalie’s voice called from the top of the stairs. She was standing with her heels in one hand, and the other braced against the glass railing, looking down at me with contempt. She wore a white flowy dress with a long slice down the thigh and a heavy dip down her chest. She looked even more like Marilyn Monroe than before.

            “She is,” Alice said. “Isn’t she beautiful?” She came down the stairs and met me with a grin, showing me off to Rosalie like I was a piece of art to be gawked at. I hated attention more than anything and the way Rosalie looked at me made me feel like a meal to be eaten.

            In the months since I’d started dating Edward, Rosalie still hadn’t warmed up to me. Most of the time, she ignored me, but when she was feeling particularly mean, she liked to make sure I was reminded that I wasn’t one of them. She made a spectacle of me, but if I wanted to keep seeing Edward, I’d have to deal with her. She was family.

            “She’s alright,” Rosalie noted as she made her way down the steps with all the grace of a jungle cat.

            “Are you ready for pictures?” Emmett said. Besides Alice, he was probably the kindest to me. She nudged Rosalie away from her tirades when it was necessary, though he rarely acknowledged me other than that. For the most part, I was with Edward. The rest of his family other than Alice seemed to think of me more in passing.

            “I am,” Rosalie offered. “Let’s go out on the porch, shall we?”

            Edward reached out a hand for me quickly and pulled me to his side. I smiled and relaxed a little as the group of vampires headed out through the front doors and into the cloudy evening. Walking was difficult. I didn’t know how to place my foot, but with Edward holding onto me, I managed to stay on two feet.

            Carefully, he pulled a corsage out from behind his back and opened the container. The flowers were a light purple, just like the one Alice had placed into my hair. They must have planned this, I thought, but I just smiled as he began to pin the corsage to my dress. As delicately as he could, he placed the pin, keeping any wayward pinpricks from catching me. I was vaguely aware as he did so that if I was pricked and bled, I wasn’t sure if he would be able to control himself. He’d told me before that he had been intoxicated by my blood the first time we’d met, but I had never thought to ask him how he was fairing now.

Carlisle appeared soon after, bringing a camera with him as he made his way down the steps. Esme followed him with her head down, keeping quiet as she came to stand behind him. She folded her hands in front of her like she was praying as she watched the six prom goers get into position.

“Just a few and then you can go,” Carlisle promised.

“You only have your senior prom once,” Rosalie offered and next to her, Emmett and Jasper snickered. They had lived this night over and over again for years. For them, this was just another dance for the scrap book. For me, it was supposed to be a night to remember or something of the sort, but I just felt sick to my stomach.

Edward wrapped his arms around me as Carlisle snapped a few pictures. I stood completely still like all the unbreathing vampires around me, smiling a fake smile as I held my anxiety down.

“Alright, just the girls now,” Carlisle said motioning for the boys to step down behind him.

Edward let go of me and I breathed once more as he stepped down to the bottom, leaving me, Alice, and Rosalie alone in front of the door. Alice quickly pulled me in between her and Rosalie and wrapped an arm around my waist. My heart thudded as Rosalie took her spot just next to me.

I’d never really had to be close to her, and as she stood as close as she was, towering over me, I went stiff, just waiting for it to be over. She noticed my apprehension and gave me a perfect smile, showing off her white teeth and the tips of fangs.

“Don’t worry, Bella,” she offered. “I won’t bite.”

I swallowed my fear and looked instead to the camera, but I couldn’t fake a smile this time as Carlisle looked through, snapping picture after picture of the three of us. By the time he stopped, I felt like I had been there for hours. My feet hurt and shook with the strain of holding myself balanced.

“Alright,” Carlisle said. “Boys next.”

I started to take a step to get down the stairs and away from the lens of the camera, but my foot caught as I tried to escape, and I tripped. All the way down, the only thing I could think was that it was Rosalie’s foot that I’d been snagged on, but I couldn’t be sure. I reached out with my hands trying to stop myself, but I scraped and skidded on my way down, tumbling all the way to the bottom step where Carlisle stood.

My head spun, but I looked up to Carlisle stepping away and out of focus as feeling came back to me. The skin of my hands had been torn and scraped away by the fall and I pushed myself back to my feet with my knuckles. There was a trail of blood left on the stairs from where I’d tumbled and as I assessed my hands, I found that the blood had transferred both to the pavement and to my dress as well.

Looking up, I found the three boys still standing behind Carlisle looking less like boys and more like wild animals. Their blank black eyes shined like glass. A look of pure bloodlust and hunger crossed each of their faces, crossing from Jasper on the left all the way down to Edward who seemed taken by the image of scarlet on my skin, like this was what he’d been waiting for all along.

“I’m sorry,” I said, because I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. They were all looking at me like a meal. Carlisle seemed the most inclined to fight it, but even he was licking his lips at the sight of me.

Before I could think or process what was really happening, a figure was upon me, blond curly hair and skin as white as ivory over me in a frenzy. I didn’t have time to scream as I dropped to the ground at the hard touch of Jasper’s solid hands. I could feel his nails pressing into me and I thought for a moment that he’d tear me apart.

He let go before he had the chance. Faster than I could have blinked, Alice was standing above me, blocking Jasper’s way to me. She held a hand against his shoulder as if holding him back just by the strength of that one hand. I saw over her shoulder, his eyes pure black and his veins popping with dark ink around his face. I grimaced at the sight and crawled backwards, vaguely aware of how much my hands throbbed.

“I’m sorry,” I wheezed. I didn’t know what else to say.

“Go inside,” Alice snapped and her tone stung me with how angry she sounded, like I’d failed her.

Esme walked briskly across the pavement, passing her husband and sons as she reached me. Looping one hand around my shoulder, she dragged me back to my feet. I leaned on her the whole way up to the house, catching only the faintest glance at Rosalie as she stood with her arms crossed.

As the glass doors closed behind me, I let out the ragged breath trapped inside my throat and collapsed to the ground. Esme slowed my descent and knelt with me, staring at me with hard eyes.

“That was foolish,” she said.

I wanted to cry, but I resisted the pricks of tears at my eyes. The Cullens could still see me through that glass, so I simply breathed, in and out as Esme knelt with me. After a moment, she stood and dragged the curtains across the glass door, blocking us from sight and turning the room to darkness.

Sitting alone on the floor, I held myself together by the seams. Esme disappeared from sight as I held my hands close together, the warmth seeping off of them as blood continued to drip out and onto the ground. Alone in the entry way, I imagined myself crying, wailing from the pain, but I refused to do so. This glass wasn’t so thick that they wouldn’t hear me from where they stood. I was still on display, but now behind glass like a rare collector’s doll.

When Esme came back, it was with a dampened washcloth. She pressed the cool fabric into my palm, wiping carefully at the rocks lodged into my hand and the blood turning it red.

“You can’t show them you bleed,” she whispered, so low I could barely hear it.

I held back pained tears once more. “Thank you,” I returned, strained and cold.

“Don’t thank me,” she replied. “Just go home.” When she was finished wiping the blood from my hands, she pressed a set of keys into my palm. My keys, I realized as I turned them over in my grasp.

I didn’t go out the front door. That would have been too painful. Instead, I followed Esme to the back door and waited there, huddled against it until the Cullens came inside. I didn’t want them to see me go, but I had to leave. There was no way I could go to prom as I was, covered in handprints of my own blood.

I snuck around the house, out of those wretched heels and back into flats, but I was still wearing Alice’s dress. I didn’t have the heart to do anything at the moment but go home and cry. Once I was in my car, turning the ignition and buckling myself in, I turned to see Edward at one of the many windows of the house, staring at me with a closed expression. I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed, angry, or still hungry as I started to back out of the driveway.

When I was finally free of the Cullens’ house, I cried. I sniffed back, trying to keep my eyes clear as I drove too fast through the forest and past Elk Creek once again to town. I wiped my tears with bloody hands, leaving streaks of red against my cheeks more and more as I drove. It wasn’t until I finally got home that I let out a loud and violent wail at myself, at the world, at Edward and every damned law of nature that sent me into his path. Why did I have to fall in love with someone like that? Someone who couldn’t control himself, who loved me so much and wanted to kill me in the same breath.

I understood Edward. I told myself I understood Edward and his love for me. He told me he’d never hurt me, and maybe that was why he didn’t move when Jasper made to attack me. The only thing he’d been able to do was hold himself back from drinking me dry, but in a room full of vampires that wasn’t enough. He hadn’t been enough to protect me then, and I hated myself for it. It was my fault he couldn’t control himself. It was my blood.

I cried in the driveway of my house for a solid ten minutes. I wasn’t really sure how long, but by the time I dragged myself out of my truck and up the porch steps, Jessica was texting me. I resisted the urge to cry more or throw my phone across the room and opened her text as I climbed slowly up the steps toward my bedroom.

“So I’m guessing you talked Edward out of going,” her text read.

With harsh reddened fingers, I typed back. “There was an accident. I’m at home.”

The house was quiet as I stepped into my room and collapsed onto my bed. I left the lights off and just buried my face in my pillow. Charlie wasn’t at home. He was supposed to be helping out at the dance tonight. I’d promised to meet him there. I didn’t even have the heart to tell him I wasn’t going.

After a few short moments with my head buried in the pillows, my phone buzzed again. It was Jessica.

“You’re kidding. I’m coming to see you,” she had written.

Sitting up, I texted a reply. “No. It’s prom. Have fun.”

She never responded to that one and I assumed that was it until I heard a knock on the door. I’d been content to lay in bed all night and feel bad about myself, but as I crept down the stairs, I found two figures at the door. Slowly, I opened it, and Jessica and Angela stood before, decked out in their prom ensembles.

The two of them looked perfect, like princess’ out of story books, and despite myself, I had no choice but to let them in. Jessica grabbed hold of me immediately, wrapping her arms around my waist in a tight hug. Angela soon joined and I sunk into them as they held me, a soft breeze passing into the house as we stood with the door still open.

“I told your Dad I was coming,” Jessica said. “He was worried when you and Edward didn’t show up with the rest of the Cullens.”

“The Cullens went?” I asked.

“Not Edward,” Angela said. “What happened?”

I blinked away any stray tears. “I tripped,” I said, although that didn’t begin to cut it.

Jessica brought up my hands to look at them. Still scraped and puffy, they weren’t covered in blood anymore, but they still throbbed at her touch. “This isn’t so bad. But I guess you really didn’t want to go anyway.”

I stiffened. “I didn’t do it to get out of going.”

Jessica looked utterly sincere, and I realized as soon as I closed my mouth that she hadn’t meant anything ill by it. “I know, Bella. But you shouldn’t have gone if you didn’t want to go. Come on, now. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll watch a movie.”

I hesitated as Jessica started to usher me up the stairs. “But the prom.” She’d been waiting for months for this dance. She’d picked out her dress special and bought tickets weeks in advance. I hated to be the one to ruin it for her.

“There’ll be another prom next year,” she said as she kept leading me up, step by step.

“Besides,” Angela added. “The school wouldn’t let us walk.”

“They wouldn’t let you walk?” I repeated. The prom procession was just another part of prom I didn’t like. It was a moment for everyone to gawk at every single person at the dance, but it was important to Jessica, a rite of passage.

“Some dumb rule they made up at the last second. We can’t walk because we’re not a couple,” Jessica said. When we got to my room, she sat me down on my bed and got a wash rag from the bathroom to clean up the blood and makeup on my face.

“They won’t let two friends walk?” I asked.

“They won’t let two girls walk,” Jessica said. “But forget it. I’ll complain to someone on Monday. For now, let me fix this.”

Carefully, Jessica removed all the makeup Alice had made my face up with and restored my natural, distressed face. I didn’t look in the mirror. I knew what would await me if I did. My face was puffy and red with tears even after the blood had been cleaned off. Instead, I closed my eyes as Jessica turned to my hair, taking the little flowers out and pulling every pin and clip away. It only took a few minutes to undo all the work Alice had put into making me presentable, but as soon as my hair fell back down over my shoulders, I felt a wave of relief pass over me.

I sat there in quiet as Jessica brushed through my hair, letting it fall where gravity took it across my back. The dress was removed and replaced with sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt which I relaxed into as Jessica set up a movie in the living room and searched the kitchen for popcorn and movie snacks.

All night I didn’t hear from Edward. Maybe he was just as embarrassed as I was or contemplating whether it was worth it to be with me. I tried not to think of him, but he kept coming up in my mind like he always did. Despite all the embarrassment of the evening, I didn’t cry another tear all night and instead found myself leaning into Jessica and Angela as they gave up their Junior prom for me.

Chapter Text

I didn’t hear from Edward the entire day after prom. I had texted him good morning and apologized for my fall, but he never responded. He had never ignored my texts before, but maybe I was overthinking it. I’d been overthinking a lot lately. I’d thought and wracked through my brain for ways to convince Edward to make me a vampire. He’d said never to bring it up again, but I wanted so desperately for him to turn me, to make me like him.

            We wouldn’t have had the problems we were having now if I was a vampire. He wouldn’t flinch at a single drop of blood like he did now or hesitate to protect me. If I was like him, I wouldn’t need his protection, but maybe that was part of why he didn’t want to turn me in the first place.

            I spent the entire afternoon trying to figure out what to say or do about the fall. Besides the raw skin on my hands, there wasn’t much of a sign that it had happened at all anymore, but I was still struggling over whether to go see Edward or not. I’d ruined our prom and I needed to apologize, but after the way he’d looked at me when I was bleeding last night, I wasn’t sure he’d want to see me.

            There was no reason to overthink this. He loved me just the same as he always had, but I couldn’t help but feel it was all my fault. The fall was my fault. The blood was my fault. The fact that I’d never worn heels before was my fault. The fact that I wasn’t as strong, as bullet proof, as immortal as him was my fault.

            It took most of the day for me to get the strength to text him and ask if we could talk. Before I even hit send, I caught a flash of movement outside my kitchen window. As I stood to take a look, I thought maybe it was that wolf again, but I hadn’t seen it since November when it appeared in the Cullens’ backyard. I didn’t think that wolf would ever come back. Instead, Edward was standing at the edge of the woods, his hands in his pockets and his head down. I waited a long time before he lifted his head to look at me through the window and when he did, the light passed over him enough that I could see those blackened veins.

            I didn’t waste a second trying to decipher his expression, I bolted for my shoes and pushed out the back door still holding them in my hands. My bare feet pressed against the grass and dirt which was soft enough not to hurt the blisters on my feet from last night. There were two of them at the backs of my heels and one on the inside of my big toe where it brushed against the ground. If I had walked all night in those shoes instead of fell and skipped the dance, I would have bled anyway.

            “Edward,” I called as I neared him. He stood before me, quiet and ominous like a warning. His expression was unreadable, and I couldn’t tell if he was mad or not. I tried on a smile to let him know I was alright, but he didn’t respond at all.

            A second of silence passed between us that felt too long before he stepped back and motioned for me to follow him into the woods. I hesitated as he disappeared but followed anyway. I didn’t stop to put on my shoes, but tried to keep up with him as he moved. He was fast even while walking and I had to jog to keep up as he stepped deeper into the shade of the woods where he could stand without being exposed.

            It felt as though we’d been walking for miles when he finally stopped, and my feet were starting to ache. The blister on my toe had popped a while ago and was now covered in dirt. I never stopped to put on my shoes. I was too preoccupied with keeping up with him. There was no way I’d lose him.

            When he turned to face me, his face was white and hard as stone. I was sure for a second that this was not my Edward but a statue in the middle of the woods. Finally, he blinked as if to reassure me it was him.

            “I’m sorry I ruined prom,” I offered. That had to be what this was about. He wanted to explain himself, what had happened, why Jasper had nearly killed me. It wasn’t his fault, but we still needed to talk. We needed to fix this, so it never happened again.

            “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’m not mad.”

            I let out a slow breath. His voice wasn’t quite as reassuring as he must have meant. I thought as he spoke that he was going to say something awful to me. If he really was angry, he was holding it back. For my own sake, he was standing as still as the trees.

            “We can still have senior prom, right?” I asked. After what had happened at this one, I really didn’t want to try again, but if Edward wanted to go, I would go too. For him, I’d learn to wear those heels.

            Edward just nodded. “Do you remember this place?” he asked.

            I glanced around us. It wasn’t familiar, but the woods ran together sometimes. I was sure Edward knew every inch of this forest. He’d hunted here so many times. He’d hid here in the darkness. It was as much his home as that glass palace.

            “I don’t,” I admitted.

            “I told you about Edith here,” he answered. “I told you I’d never leave you.”

            I looked around. It still didn’t look familiar. I thought I remembered that conversation, but it was so long ago. So much of it was fuzzy and aged. I’d never thought to ask about Edward’s memory, if a vampire would remember everything that ever happened to him or if it would fade with age.

            “I remember,” I told him, even though I wasn’t sure we were in the right place at all.

            “I didn’t want to tell you until after prom,” he said, looking down to the moss at roots at his feet. I scanned his face for any hint of emotion, but it was all hidden far beyond this façade of calm.

            “What happened?” I asked. Something was wrong, but he wouldn’t say. I reached for his hand, but he pulled away.

            “There’s no easy way to explain,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons, a lot of things I can’t explain.”

            I reached out to him again and this time pulled him by his shoulder, so he was facing me straight on. He still wouldn’t look at me in the eye, but I held my gaze to him, so caught up in the way his face stood slack like the dead.

            “Explain,” I said. “Whatever it is. We can deal with the blood. I can become like you. I’ve thought about it. Really thought. I want to.”

            He tensed where he stood. “Don’t,” he said through gritted teeth, “ask me that again.”

            “All our problems would be solved if you just made me a vampire too,” I said. “I’d be like you. We could be together forever. Isn’t that what you want?”

            He looked up at me, finally, his eyes so filled with darkness and horror. They stood wide, like he was drinking me in, drinking me dry just by looking at me. “I’m leaving,” he told me. “We’re all leaving.”

            “What?” I demanded. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say to that. He’d told me he’d never leave me. “Take me with you then. Turn me.”

            “No,” he snapped, so loud I flinched at the sound. “I can’t take you with me.”

            I shook my head. “Why? Why are you even going?” He still had one more year of high school. He still had me. I wasn’t leaving him just because of one slip up. He had to understand that.

            “People are starting to notice things,” Edward said. “Things about us. How we don’t change or go out in the sunlight. It’s not safe to be here anymore.”

            I thought back to Jessica, to the thoughts Edward wouldn’t mention to the rest of the Cullens, and the conversation he’d had with her after class, the one he wouldn’t tell me about. I’d thought nothing about it, but now I was sure I’d made a mistake in thinking it was harmless jealousy.

            “I told you I wouldn’t tell a soul,” I said. “I promised.” I’d meant every word of it then and I meant every word of it now. I’d talk to Jessica, convince her there was nothing wrong with Edward. I’d show her everything was fine.

            “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re a liability to us.”

            The words stopped all my racing thoughts in their tracks. They all just caught on each other and tripped. I stared up at him, mouth agape with shock as his eyes finally met mine. I couldn’t believe him, not after everything we’d been through, but there was no sign of a lie on his face, just that cold gaze.

            He reached out, ever so slowly, and took a piece of my hair in his fingers, twirling his pointer into it like a braid. What he was thinking, I couldn’t tell, but I was sure my shock and rage was plain as day.

            “Carlisle made you say that,” I argued. He must have seen me fall and decided it wasn’t safe here anymore, that Edward needed to leave me behind. I couldn’t allow that to happen.

            “He’s not making me say anything,” Edward said. He was still preoccupied with my hair, still not looking me in the eyes. “I can’t stay here.”

            I shook my head, trying to wake myself up. It was a dream, it had to be like the nights I’d dreamt of him biting into me. There was no waking up, though, no matter how hard I tried. Edward was still standing there, still wrapping his fingers in my hair.

            A heavy thought came through the fog, weighing down on me as it manifested, but even as it came into being I knew I had to say it. If this was the last time I ever got to see him, I needed to ask him. I took a step back, his hand falling out of my hair with the distance between us.

            “Did you ever love me?” I asked him, demanded of him. We hadn’t even kissed, in all the time we’d been together and all the times he’d told me he loved me. The boy standing before me didn’t look like my boy anymore. He looked as strange to me as he had the first time I caught him staring at me in school.

            “Bella, don’t,” he said, but that wasn’t an answer. It wasn’t even a lie.

            “If you’re going to leave,” I whispered. “I want to know what I missed.”

            Edward shook his head. “I never loved you,” he admitted. I searched his face for a lie, but there was none. Even as I searched, tears streamed out from my eyes, turning my cheeks white with lines.

            I whimpered back, wishing to run, to escape him, but all I could do was stand and stare. Some deep part of me just wanted to scream, but I stood feeling as numb as death. I wished I could feel, but all that was there was nothingness.

            “No one would ever have loved you if not for me,” he said.

            I wanted to tell him he was lying, but it all stuck in my throat. So much was stuck in my throat these days. I could never manage to say what I really thought. Instead, I stood before him, tears streaming and staining my face. They dripped past my chin and down my neck.

            Carefully, he reached out again. I wanted to back away and stop him from touching me, but I needed him to touch me again, like he used to when he loved me, when I thought he loved me. With one finger, he flicked a tear from my cheek and lifted it to his lips, tasting salty regret with my tears.

            “I told you I was soulless,” he said. “I can’t love you.”

            I shook my head. I’d never believed that excuse, not for one minute, but now I could only marvel at his belief. He thought was a monster, that there was no saving him. It was just in his nature.

            “Don’t go,” I said, but it was already too late. There was no way I could convince him to stay, even for me. Once I was gone, there was no reason to stay, and as it turned out, he hadn’t cared enough about me in the first place to consider it.

            “You won’t see me again,” he said.

            “How am I supposed to move past you?” I asked through my tears.

            He just shook his head. “I’m not leaving to be cruel, Bella,” he said. “Just know that. I’m not doing this to hurt you.”

            “Why are you doing this then?” I asked. “How am I supposed to believe you never loved me after all of that?”

            “I’m doing what I have to,” he said. He turned as if to leave and out of necessity, I reached out to him. I’d depended on him for so long now and he wanted me to go back to what it was before. He was leaving me to be alone in that big old house with Charlie and to drive to school alone and to piece apart this conversation a million times until I forgot what his voice sounded like or what he did to me.

            “Don’t go,” I said, and brushed my hand against his as he tried to leave me. He was too fast for me to have stopped him if I tried, but I tried.

            After a pause, he turned to face me one last time, and I got a glimpse of those black endless eyes one last time. He reached down and kissed me, slow and soft, just his pale, dry lips against mine. I closed my eyes into the kiss, wanting him more and more until I opened my eyes and he was gone, having left me alone in these woods as long shadows warped my view of where I was.

            I stood there for I don’t know how long, staring at the place he’d been and wondering just what had happened. I had already replayed that night before prom in my head so many times, the trip, the hungry, venomous eyes and Jasper’s attempt at a bite. It was my fault, I decided. My fall had made him leave, made him remember just how fragile I was.

            He’d told me what he did to the humans he’d loved, to Edith a hundred years ago, but I hadn’t believed him. I hadn’t thought to worry. Now he was gone, like he inevitably was going to, because I wasn’t strong enough.

            With my head still spinning and my eyes still blurry, I turned to try and make my way home. The mosquitos were biting, and I was probably miles from home, with darkness coming in. Alone, this place still looked unfamiliar, and I didn’t know how to find the road led alone the way home.

            I tried to use the sun as an anchoring point and headed east, back toward home. The further I walked, however, the more everything looked the same. The trees went on and on with no discernable landmark. I was lost here without Edward to guide me home. It had been so long since I was alone in these woods, without Edward to show me the way. I’d lost all sense of direction and with the weight of his betrayal weighing down on me, I couldn’t make sense of anything.

            I spent hours walking. It must have been hours because the sun sank and disappeared leaving me in complete darkness as I went. Nothing felt familiar and everything did, like I was in some new, distorted version of my home. The woods didn’t know me anymore.

            I’d stopped crying some time ago, but now I just felt numb. My eyes stung still from the crying and my throat was dry and pained. My legs felt like jello, my feet burning from all the walking. My shoes only hurt me more as they rubbed against the blisters, and I opted to walk barefoot instead. It didn’t help. My head ached from thirst and my legs burned from walking, and all the while I walked, thinking it was my fault. The thought pounded into my brain like a mantra. It was my fault Edward was gone. He didn’t love me. He never loved me, and I would never ever make it home. The woods just seemed to spiral in on me, leading me in circles over the same bushes and fallen trees.

            I might as well just give up. At the moment that thought came, I fell, dropping onto the ground and stopping myself only by my open palms which dug into the dirt and stuck. I held myself there, staring at the cold ground that felt so much like a grave and I gave up.

            Dropping all the way to the ground I laid there, letting the dirt get into my hair and under my fingernails. If I could just die there, I’d be closer to some kind of peace. I wouldn’t feel this harsh crumbling pain in my heart like it was going to burst. I wouldn’t have to miss Edward for the rest of my life.

            I waited there for a long time, not sure if time was passing at all as I waited. For a time, I wasn’t sure if I was asleep or not, but eventually, a light pushed through, flashing in every direction as I laid with eyes half closed. Those yellow lights moved in sporadic ways, appearing everywhere and then disappearing as soon as I thought I knew where it was coming from. As light surrounded me, I thought I was dying, that I’d been here for so long all the life was draining out of me, painlessly and slowly.

            But before I could drift into the unknown, the voices came, calling from the darkness in search of me. I heard my name echoing through the forest, carried on multiple voices in multiple tones. I stayed where I was until a flashlight dropped to the ground next to me. I forced my eyes open to look as light streamed out into the woods and a pair of feet appeared before me, kneeling down to get to my level.

            “Bella,” a voice called. It wasn’t Edward’s voice, though I wanted it to be so deeply. As the world came back into focus, it dawned on me that I did know this voice after all. “Can you move?” Jacob said, low and harmonic.

            I didn’t try to speak. My throat was too dry and barren. Instead, I tried to move my hand and was only able to wiggle a finger as he knelt with me. Carefully, he checked me over for wounds, or broken limbs, something that would explain why I was so weak and unmoving.

            “You’re okay,” he said. “Let’s get you home, okay.”

            I didn’t respond to him, but just let him lift me into his arms. The movement jostled me, but not enough to truly wake me from the stupor. Instead, I clung limply to him as he carried me out and away from my resting spot.

            The only proof that we had found the road was through the feeling of his steps on the ground, shifting from soft forest floor to hard asphalt. I jostled more in his grip, but without the strength to move, just waited, wishing he would stop, and I could rest. Eventually, though, more lights rose up, these ones red and blue.

            “Bella,” another voice snapped.

            “She’s cold as ice,” Jacob said as he neared the police cruiser.

            “I’ll take her,” my Dad said. “I have blankets.”

            “Is she going to be okay?” Jacob asked. His arms were still tight around me.

            “I think she will,” Charlie said. “Thank you so much for helping.”

            Slowly, I was shifted out of Jacob’s arms and into the darkened interior of the back seat of my Dad’s police cruiser. Blankets were tucking tightly over me and a soft hand I recognized as Charlie’s ran over my forehead in a soft motion. Soon after I was safe and sound, I dropped out of consciousness, the fog in my head taking me once again into darkness as my body warmed in the interior of my Dad’s car.

            I still felt, as I drifted to sleep, that I was alone in those woods with danger all around. I wasn’t sure I’d ever stop feeling like that.

Chapter Text

I woke in my bed, the warm light of my bedside lamp casting a soft glow over me. The blankets that wrapped me were tight and trapped in more heat with every moment I laid there. It took me a second to assess what had happened, where I was, and how I’d gotten there, but as it all came flooding back to me, I only wanted to lay back and die.

            Edward had told me in his own odd way why he was leaving me, but I still couldn’t comprehend it. He left me because of the danger a few curious town’s people posed. It shouldn’t have mattered. He should have been able to run away with me and never look back. Slowly, I sat up, imagining the conversation again. It was my fault. I wasn’t enough for him, and I never could be. I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t turn me into a vampire or why he cared so little for me as to leave, but I knew somehow that it was my fault.

            I breathed in deeply, wishing all of this would go away, this dark and lonely feeling I had that no one would ever love me the way he did. I hated myself with every fiber of my being. Tearing the blankets off me, I looked around myself for some sense of what was happening and landed on the chair by the door.

            Charlie was sitting in it, slumped over and sleeping in an uncomfortable angle. His eyes were lined with dark circles, and I stopped myself from my spiral to look at him. He must have stayed there all night waiting for me to wake and now we’d managed to find ourselves sleeping and awake at different times. I swallowed back all the self-hatred burning in my head.

            Edward had told me no one would ever love me, but here was Charlie leaned up and waiting to make sure I was okay. He didn’t understand what I was going through, that was impossible, but he understood something of it. I tried to imagine him the day Renee walked out, bags and a baby in hand. I imagined the rain, the never-ending rain and his glum, quiet face as he watched her go.

            I cleared the regret from my throat. “Dad?” I asked, pained and weak. “Dad?”

            After a second, he moved, stifling a yawn as he blinked his eyes open. He cracked his neck as he moved, pulling himself out of that hunched position and stretching out all the kinks. Quickly, he noticed me awake and jumped toward the end of my bed to sit next to me. I sat there quietly for a moment as he rubbed a callused palm across my leg.

            “What happened, Bells? I didn’t even realize you left the house until I couldn’t find you for dinner,” he asked, leaning in to hear my answer.

            I shook my head, my own kinks slowing my movements. “I’m sorry,” I said, my voice hoarse.

            “Don’t be sorry, Bella,” he said. “Just…I want to know what’s going on with you. You got hurt yesterday and didn’t get to go to the prom. I’m sorry.”

            He was trying to make sense of it himself, but how could he when he didn’t know how I felt. He didn’t know how important Edward was to me. I shook out my weaknesses. “Edward’s gone.”

            “He broke up with you?” Charlie asked, looking a little more concerned. It had been a long time since he was a teenager, but that look in his eye told me he understood some of the pain I was going through. He understood losing a first love like it had been so many years since he’d even thought of that pain, but it was still there.

            “He left,” I said. It wasn’t that he just broke up with me. He’d taken my heart with him and left a gaping hole inside me. It was as if he controlled every beat of my heart. I’d turned every cell of it over to him and he’d left with it.

            “I’m sorry, honey,” he whispered. He reached out and wrapped his arms around me as tears welled up in my eyes again. I didn’t realize I had any more tears left, but a few spilled free as I buried my face into his shoulder, holding onto him for dear life. I shook with every ragged breath and fell apart with my Dad by my side. I didn’t have a heart to be broken, so he was heartbroken for me.

            We sat there together for a long time, his arm wrapped around my shoulder, softly moving up and down, dragging along the sleeve of my shirt as I leaned into him. By the time he left my side, it was noon. I hadn’t realized I slept through the night and into the next day until he pulled my curtains aside to shed light into the darkened room. I pulled my legs into my stomach as he paused at the door and looked back at me.

            “You can stay home today,” he said. “But I don’t want this to ruin the rest of your school year, alright.”

            I nodded. I didn’t think I could promise him it wouldn’t though. Edward had engrained himself so deeply in my life that I wasn’t sure what else there was now that he was gone. It was as if he’d been attached to me, and I to him. Now that he’d ripped himself free, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to survive on my own. How he’d made himself so irreplaceable in my life, I didn’t know.

            “You’re gonna be alright, Bells,” he said. “Everyone goes through it at least once.”

            He started to leave, but I stopped him. “And you?” I asked, half forgetting Renee on the other side of the country. In my head they’d never really been in love. After living with Charlie this long, I couldn’t imagine them ever together.

            “I went through it twice,” he admitted.

            “What was the other time?” I asked.

            He smiled so softly I almost couldn’t see it in the shadow of the hallway. “The second time, she came back to me,” he said and disappeared down the stairs with his head lowered.

            Resting my head upon my knees, I inhaled a slow, melancholy breath and tried to exhale all the weight drowning me, but it wouldn’t leave as long as I kept breathing. Edward, wherever he was now, still had a hold on my heart so tight I couldn’t begin to pry his hands away.

            It took me a day to get out of bed. The confines of that warm room kept me smothered in loneliness, but it felt like a softer pain than going out and pretending I was okay. When Charlie woke me up for school, however, I had no choice but to put on a brave face. He left before me, as always and as his cruiser backed out of the driveway, I thought of going back upstairs and returning to bed, but the sight of my truck sitting there waiting for me brought me back.

            I found my backpack and my keys and weighed them in my hands. The keys were cold in an all too familiar way that pinched my skin as I ran my finger over the rough teeth. Holding my keys again felt like a new beginning and a funeral all the same. Still hurt, still bleeding from Edward ripping himself from my life, I stuffed my feet into my sneakers and stepped out into the sunshine.

            As I approached my truck, I nearly got into the passenger side, like I had so many times before. I stopped myself with my hand on the door handle before I opened it and threw my backpack inside. I slammed it closed and walked around to the driver’s side. Once inside, I wrapped one hand around the wheel, feeling my fingers grip the old leather and turned the key with the other, feeling the truck light up with a low rumble. The truck was alive under my hands, just like it had been the first time I drove it.

            Before I left, I had to rearrange the mirrors and pull the driver’s seat up so I could properly see. Just like that all the marks of Edward were gone from the truck and it was just mine again. It was lonely here in this car without him, but some part of my liked being here, behind this wheel, just me. This truck had been the first thing in Forks that was really mine. I smiled at the feeling of it in my hands again, the only upside to this whole horrible ordeal.

            The drive to school was much too short and as soon as I was there, it was painfully apparent that the Cullens were not. The Volvo that usually made its home in the back of the lot was gone, leaving a gaping hole in its place. I breathed through it, ignoring that sinking feeling as I got out of the car and headed inside.

            My head was spinning and my heart aching as I walked the halls, fully alone, sure everyone here was watching me. If felt like they were watching me anyway, all whispering about poor Bella Swan whose boyfriend left her to die in the woods. I didn’t need them to whisper all these things about me, though. I was already thinking them myself, that no one loved me, and no one ever would.

            I didn’t know why I still loved Edward. I should have hated him. He broke my heart and told me straight faced with no hint of a lie that he never loved me. I should have wanted to smash his bug-eyed face in, but I just felt defeated. I just wanted him back, like being apart from him was a curse in itself. He’d tethered me to him and now I was free floating.

            I hopped from class to class, not taking a note or feeling anything as the day drowned on. Biology II was my second sign that Edward was really gone. I sat alone in the back of the class where he should have been sitting next to me, working on the dissection lab. Instead, I stared blankly at the dead, formaldehyde ridden frog laying belly up before me. I didn’t even make to cut into it. I didn’t have the heart.

            Instead, I just watched for a long time, trying to imagine myself dead and preserved in formaldehyde, a perfectly still image of a heartbroken girl to show off to the next generation of lovesick teenagers. They could fill my lungs and stomach and eyes with chemicals to keep me just as I was, floating forever. Fifty minutes passed. I didn’t finish the lab.

            At lunch, I found the same spot in the cafeteria I always sat in. The Cullens’ table sat only me today with a quickly cooling meal that I didn’t touch the whole time as students chatted and ate around me. I felt so pitiful, so weak. This wasn’t me; it shouldn’t have been me. I had never been so inclined to lay down and die, but my legs had been taken out from under me. I was just crawling to get by.

            It wasn’t long before Jessica noticed me. In fact, she hadn’t even had the chance to sit down at her usual table with Angela before she walked over, bypassing the crowds and placing her tray in the spot across from me. I wanted to ask her to go away, but the way she looked at me told me she wasn’t interested in letting me mope alone.

            “I heard what happened,” Jessica said. “I didn’t believe it at first, that they’d just pick up and leave, but I stopped by their house yesterday after school.”

            “And?” I asked.

            “Nothing. There’s nothing there. I thought maybe I’d imagined them, but then this wouldn’t be happening, would it?”

            “I wish it wasn’t,” I said. I wish they’d taken me with them. I wanted so badly to be a vampire and be fully and entirely part of their world instead of standing on the outskirts. I wished they didn’t exist.

            “Do you mind if I sit?” she asked, tilting her head to the side a little. I could see her pity plain as day, but I nodded anyway. She sat down across from me, where Alice used to sit and began eating like it was any other day.

            Eventually, Angela came to sit too, but it wasn’t the usual bright conversation it usually was with these two. They sat in silence, waiting for me to open up or just letting me have the space. Either way I just sat, staring down at my hands which were still raw as lunch time passed.

            I didn’t speak to either of them for the rest of the day. In fact, I wasn’t sure I spoke to anyone. Trudging from class to class, I kept my head down and my shoulders slack. I didn’t listen in class or absorb a word of lecture. It was as if I was a zombie, not living for anything solid. I supposed I was as close to a vampire as I ever was going to be now.

            The rest of the week passed in the same dredge. I went to school. I went home. There was no reason for being anymore. The pain in my chest only kept growing and growing, like the distance between me and Edward was pulling me taut. I was still connected to him no matter what he did. He’d done this to me.

            On Friday, I sat with Jessica and Angela again, still at Edward’s table, like we were just keeping it warm for him until he came back. They ate and talked, keeping me company as I wallowed, leaning over the table with my head in my hands. I hadn’t been listening to whatever it was Angela was going on about, but she stood up after Jessica kept egging her on. She looked across the cafeteria nervously and headed off, marching to a table across the room.

            I looked up to Jessica as she disappeared, watching her smile to Angela with support. I frowned, narrowing my still reddened eyes at her as she waited for Angela to return. Now alone with Jessica for the first time since Edward left, I recalled what he’d said about people catching wind. Someone knew about him, and I had a feeling I knew who.

            “What did Edward say to you?” I asked plainly.

            Jessica jerked her head to me. “What?”

            “You heard me,” I said.

            She looked bewildered. “I never talk to Edward. You know I didn’t like him.” She glanced to Angela, who was clasping her hands in front of her as she teetered, talking to a boy.

            “Before prom,” I said. “You and him were talking in the parking lot.”

            She sighed, her eyes going dark at the connection. She knew exactly what I was talking about. “He just told me to stay away from you. I don’t know why or what his deal was. He just sounded pissed off.”

            “About us being friends,” I said. It didn’t make sense, but maybe it was really him being protective. Jessica was normal and if she ever found out Edward was a vampire, there would be trouble. Things were always on the edge of trouble between us.

            “Yeah, I don’t know,” Jessica offered.

            I couldn’t believe that was it. There had to be something else, but she didn’t know they were vampires. If she didn’t know, he had no reason to leave. He should have had no reason to leave, but he was gone. Every single day proved that to me.

            “If it helps, I am sorry about it,” she said. “I know you cared a lot about him, and him leaving…It sucks.”

            I nodded, but I didn’t have the energy to really agree with her about anything. Instead, I just waited as Angela came back, smiling a little as she looked down, trying to avoid Jessica’s wide smile.

            “Well?” Jessica asked.

            “He said yes,” she offered and pushed a dark strand of hair behind her ear.

            Jessica made to cheer out loud, but Angela stopped her, dragging her pumping fist back down to the table. She shushed her as she laughed, looking all too embarrassed.

            “Don’t be an idiot,” Angela said. “It’s just one date.”

            “It’s amazing,” Jessica argued. “Do you know what you’re going to wear?”

            I hunched down again, but not before I saw Jessica giving me a look, she was pitying my poor heart as we watched Angela get excited about a first date. I tried not to feel upset at the prospect of Angela finding romance, but I couldn’t help but remember the giddiness I’d felt when I was first with Edward. All that warmth was replaced with ice now and I couldn’t bring myself to be happy for Angela.

            As the weekend rolled in, I got quite a few texts from Jessica and Angela asking to hang out. Before long, the texts from Jacob started to appear too. Apparently, news had gotten to him through Leah, who had talked to Jessica. I didn’t take the time to think about the logistics of the situation and instead just laid in bed.

            My energy had been sapped from me, and I barely got out of bed all weekend. I ignored texts and requests from Charlie to go out or meet up with friends. When night fell on Sunday and I curled up to sleep once again, I tossed and turned with thoughts of Edward’s face once again. It had been a week since he left me. A week since he disappeared off the face of the planet. Maybe that was why it got to me.

            I didn’t remember the dream at first. I just remembered the fear. I woke screaming, the feeling of something clawing at my throat as I groped for a hold. My whole body shook like a shiver going through me into the very core of myself. I couldn’t stop screaming all the while.

            A pair of hands came around me from the dark and tried in vain to hold me still as I cried out. I heard Charlie’s low voice shushing me from the shadows as he pulled me into his chest. I kept crying, my screams falling out of my mouth and sticking to the ground. He kept me close as the world spun around us.

            “It’s alright, Bella,” he whispered. “You’re alright.”

            I didn’t know how I had gotten here or where I had been. Whatever dream had burned its way through my head had left its scar on me and took the memories with every ragged breath. I held tight to my father as I cried. Some part of me knew, no matter how exhausted and destroyed that Edward had been in that dream with me.

            “I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t breathe.”

            He let go of me, keeping only a hand on my shoulder as I leaned down, putting my head between my knees. I didn’t want to be here, to be alive in a world where Edward wasn’t here with me. If there had been a version of me that could stand on two feet without him to support me, it didn’t exist anymore. I needed him so deeply it brought him to my dreams and ripped him out.

            “It was just a nightmare,” Charlie whispered. “You’re gonna be okay.”

            I didn’t believe him. I wasn’t sure there was anything worth believing anymore. He stood up as I sat breathing, crying, and returned with a glass of water. I gulped every drop of it down as he sat next to me, rubbing circles into my back.

            I wish I could say it stopped there, that my Dad was able to hold the nightmares at bay, but that wasn’t the case. When I went back to sleep, they returned, crushing through my thoughts and tearing me back into wakefulness screaming. Charlie came to me every night, trying to sooth the nightmares away. Nothing he could do ever worked. Nothing I did seemed to keep me awake.

            I didn’t go back to school. I turned off my phone and my alarm clock and remained as days passed in a blur. The world didn’t spin for me, but stopped in its path and fell through the sky and space for a time I couldn’t count. Edward left me, and the world turned to catastrophe.


Chapter Text

I didn’t remember much of May, or June. By the time July rolled around, I was practically catatonic, as if being without Edward had starved me of any conscious thought at all. I wanted every day for it to stop, but I was just too exhausted, too broken to do anything about it. It was Charlie who forced me out of it.

            Every night when I woke from another nightmare I couldn’t remember, he’d be there, holding me close as I burst into tears. I was screaming in my sleep too and Charlie would hear me long before I woke up. He woke me up from every nightmare, every cry for help, and he asked me again and again what he could do.

            There was no answer. I couldn’t come up with a reason as to why the nightmares wouldn’t stop. I kept waking up seeing his face, Edward’s face as he left me behind in the woods. It had all happened so fast and yet it played in my head on a cycle. I couldn’t get him out of my head no matter what I did, though I couldn’t do much of anything anyway. Half the time, I couldn’t get out of bed.

            On one of the good days, the sunny days when I was able to get myself out of bed knowing that even if Edward was still in town, I wouldn’t have seen him today anyway, I sat on the porch and read the beginning of another book from my pile. Only those days could I get out of bed and step outside where the sun was bright and warm against my skin. For now, I breathed easy, knowing the night would be much worse.

            I still hadn’t turned on my phone, but I was thinking about it. On days like these I could think about reemerging into the world anew, but the exhaustion in my eyes and the slack, slow way I walked now kept me feeling too much like a zombie to exist in the real world. I sat on the porch instead and pretended I was a normal girl with normal problems. I pretended my life wasn’t being sapped away with every day Edward was gone.

            “Bells,” a voice called. I looked up to find Charlie walking up the drive. I hadn’t even noticed his cruiser pulling up, but I tried a fake smile anyway to greet him.

            “What’s up?” I asked as he made his way the remaining number of stairs up the porch.

            “I was thinking,” he said. “It’s gonna be nice out this weekend. Think we could go fishing?”

            We hadn’t been fishing, not since the fall when I’d first arrived, and he’d done everything he could to make me comfortable. But even that made me think of Edward. I’d seen him there or thought I had. I never got the chance to ask him what had happened that day, but I’d seen a man covered in blood. The more I thought of it, the more I was sure it had been Edward.

            I shook my head at the offer. “I don’t think so,” I said. I didn’t have a good excuse for why I couldn’t, not one he’d believe.

            “Come on,” he said. “You haven’t left the house in two months. I think the fresh air could do you some good.”

            Tapping the edge of the book in my hand, I tried to think of an excuse. It was entirely possible that I would wake up and the day of our fishing trip would turn out to be a bad day, but I couldn’t be sure. More and more days were sunny, but that didn’t mean I could always get out of bed, even when the sun shined in through the window.

            “Is it the fishing or is it your old man?” he asked. “Too cool to be seen with your Dad.”

            “It’s not that,” I said. I never wanted him to believe I hated him or spending time with him. On the rare days, he got home at a reasonable time, I relished our time together, but I couldn’t count on myself.

            His shoulders sank as he looked at me, as if able to read the heartbreak still weighing on me. “Bells,” he said. “I know it sucks, but it’s been two months now. I can’t let you go on like this.”

            “I’m not going on like this,” I snapped, maybe a little too harsh. “I’m just tired.”

            “You’re not just tired and we both know it,” Charlie said. He turned around as if to head inside before he thought better of it and looked back to me, frustration all over his face. “You know, we can get someone. We can find someone in Port Angeles for you to talk to.”

            “I don’t need a therapist,” I replied and looked back down to my book. This wasn’t the first time he’d mentioned the idea, but it was the first time I didn’t think he was going to back down and drop it. He stared at me with his arms crossed.

            “Bells, you skipped the last month of school,” he said. “I didn’t even hear about it from you. It was your principal calling me that told me. I know it’s been hard; I know. You were friends with all the Cullens and Edward was special to you, but if that’s still messing with your head—”

            “I don’t need a therapist,” I said before he could offer the option again. If I told a soul what they were, they’d have to lock me up. Even I thought I was crazy sometimes. Quickly, I thought of something to get him off my back. “I can’t go fishing with you this weekend. I’m going to a movie with Jessica.”

            Charlie dropped his arms. That got him to calm down. “Okay,” he said. “Good. Good. Going out with friends is good.”

            “I’ll be okay,” I promised.

            “Just,” Charlie began, looking to the door for a way out of this conversation. It was one neither of us really wanted to have, but it was one he felt necessary. “Think about it. Talking to someone.”

            “I will,” I lied. Slowly, he stepped inside, leaving me alone to my book and the empty street, I looked out to.

            I sighed. I was going to have to call Jessica and get her to go to a movie with me. The thought terrified me. She was another person I hadn’t talked to in months. Maybe she’d understand why I needed to disappear, though. After all, she still may have had some part in why Edward was gone.

            After dinner, I found my phone under my bed. It had been laying there, dead for two months and I had to plug it in and wait for it to turn on before I could call Jessica. As it lit up for the first time in months, dozens of texts appeared on the screen, filling it with worried messages and questions about where I was. I called Jessica instead of answering any of them. It took two rings for her to pick up. I held my breath until I heard her voice on the other end, sounding just how I had remembered it.

            “Bella?” she asked. “Is this a joke?”

            “No, it’s me,” I answered a bit sheepishly.

            “I was worried you weren’t going to come back,” Jessica said. “I called and texted, but you didn’t pick up and when I saw your Dad he just said you were having a rough go of it.”

            “Yeah,” I answered as if that explained it. I couldn’t explain it. I just needed her to let me come back like nothing had ever happened. “Do you want to go to a movie?”

            “A movie?” Jessica demanded. “You ignored me for two months and just out of the blue you want to go to a movie?”

            “I screwed up,” I offered.

            “Yeah,” she said. She paused for a moment on the other end of the line. I thought she was going to hang up and leave me instead. It wasn’t as if I didn’t deserve it. “Catwoman is in theaters,” she said instead.

            I grinned down to the ground, trying to hide my relief as I sat on the other end. I was safe on the other end of the line without her seeing me, but I still tried to hide my glee. The prospect of going out had seemed impossible, but now that Jessica was talking to me, I felt only excitement.

            It was as if a switch had flipped. I had been dead or close to it, and now I had a shot. Maybe there was hope for me, that I could forget Edward as just a first love and live on. There would be other loves and other heartbreaks. This was the first time it actually felt like that.

            “Saturday?” I asked.

            “Sure,” Jessica said. “Can you drive?”

            When I picked her up before the movie, I wore my favorite blue shirt. I hadn’t had any reason to wear it the past few months and it had been hidden in the back of my closet. It felt only fitting that I wore something I liked tonight as I forced myself out of the house for the first time.

            It had been a struggle to get myself out the door. I was nervous even as I drove to Jessica’s thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Before, I’d leaned on Edward. I never imagined anything could go wrong because he was right there to protect me. Now I dreaded every possibility. I didn’t know how I’d managed before. I’d walked home from school some days in Phoenix, and I’d never felt afraid. There was a before and after cutting my life in two. Before Edward, I was never afraid of anything. Now I was always afraid.

            Pulling up to Jessica’s house, I tapped on the steering wheel as I waited for her to step out. It only took a minute for her to jump down her front steps, still jamming a pair of sneakers on her feet as she came. She jumped into the passenger seat and slammed the door closed, grinning as she twisted her body to look at me, resting an elbow on the head rest of the seat.

            “It’s so good to see you,” Jessica said. “I’ve missed you all summer. Plus, Angela has been dating Tyler and they go on all these dates so half the time, I don’t even get to see her.”

            “What about Leah?” I asked.

            “Leah’s been AWOL most of the summer,” Jessica said. “I think maybe she went to visit family or something, but I don’t know.”

            “Weird,” I said, but didn’t add anything else. I wasn’t as close with Leah as Jessica or Jacob were. They were the ones that actually spent time with her, while I’d only met her and her brother, Seth, once.

            “It’s fine. I’m sure she’ll be back before the summer ends, but I wanted to check on you,” Jessica said.

            I shrugged and started to drive. The closest theater was all the way in Port Angeles, so we’d certainly have a lot of time to catch up. “I’ve been fine.”

            “I know things have sucked,” Jessica said. “With the Cullens leaving town and all. You were really good friends with all of them.”

            I didn’t know if I would call them friends. Alice, maybe, but Rosalie never warmed up to me and Emmett and Jasper had always looked at me like a meal. Jessica wasn’t going to mention Edward, not by name.

            “It’s been rough,” I admitted. I didn’t know if I could talk to her about how much I missed him. Friends like Jessica were who I was supposed to be able to tell every detail to, but it felt wrong. I was going through this on my own and somehow it felt as if no one else should be able to tell me how to go through it.

            “You’ll make it,” Jessica offered. “I know you. If there’s anything you want to tell me about, I’m here.”

            Maybe it was my paranoia getting the better of me, or maybe Jessica knew more than she said. I felt like she was trying to pry the truth out of me as we drove, but I kept my hands steady on the wheel as we went. She didn’t know, I reminded myself. She couldn’t have known.

            By the time we got to the theater, I was sweating with worry, but Jessica just got out of the truck and waited for me to follow her into the theater. We had to park down the street next to a bar, so I double locked my truck as we left. I watched her movements, her inflection, the way she talked and carried herself as we went. Nothing she said gave any indication that she knew something about Edward, but still I worried. I’d promised on my life I’d never tell a soul he was a vampire. Even if Jessica figured it out herself, it felt like a betrayal.

            All night, she didn’t mention another word about Edward or the Cullens and instead discussed summer plans, trips she wanted to take, colleges she wanted to apply to, and everything that I should have been focusing on too. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t manage to stay on track with what she was saying. I was still thinking about Edward.

            I stopped in the bathroom before we went into the screening room to check on myself. My eyes still had dark rings and my forehead had a thin layer of sweat on it. I tried my best to clean myself up and avoid letting my paranoia slip to the surface, but somehow I just felt worse as I left the bathroom and met back up with Jessica in front of the screening room door. My head hurt, aching all the way to the base of my neck.

            The movie was not good, but I hadn’t really paid that much attention to anything that was happening. I was too busy trying to stop the anxiety that was spreading through my bones. When we got out, Jessica was quickly dissecting the plot, talking a mile a minute about what she loved and what she hated. I wasn’t listening to any of it.

            I was looking ahead of us to the street where my truck sat parked under a streetlight. It was surrounded by motorcycles now. They must have arrived when we were in the movie and taken up residence in front of the bar. My head rushed back to another night trying to get to my truck. The men that Edward had stopped came back to me in a vivid flurry.

            “—I will say, I liked the costume,” Jessica said. “I mean, it’s not at all functional, but I could see what they were going for.”

            “Right,” I said even though I had quickly lost interest.

            We started to pass the motorcycles and I glanced to the window, trying to see if I recognized any bikers inside. None of them were the men that attacked me, but I still felt a shiver against my spine, like it didn’t matter. All these men would do exactly the same. Through the foggy glass of the window, I could just barely make out a few with drinks in their hands.

            And I think something broke in me as we passed those bikes and got to the truck. I held out my keys as if to unlock the doors as that night returned as vivid as ever, Edward’s hands cracking against a man’s skull as he punched him into the asphalt. Like a nightmare, I felt like there was blood on my hands, another man’s blood that Edward had hurt. All to protect me.

            But he couldn’t protect me now.

            “Hold on,” I said before I could unlock the truck. I came back around to the sidewalk and found a man still checking his phone as he leaned against the seat of his motorbike.

            “Bella, what are you doing?” Jessica asked as I marched toward the man. I didn’t know what I was planning on doing. It wasn’t one of the men that attacked me. I didn’t think I’d ever see them again, but some twisted up part of me was unspiraling at the sight of this man.

            “I’ve got this,” I argued, but Jessica grabbed me before I could get close enough to the man on the end of the sidewalk. She held me back as he pocketed his phone and his keys and stepped into the bar.

            Jessica waited until he was gone to let go of me, but as he disappeared she stepped out in front of me, forcing me to look dead on into her worried gaze. “What the hell is going on with you?” she demanded, and then, realizing her mistake, she backed off. “This is about Edward.”

            “No,” I lied. “I just have an idea.”

            “Don’t,” she snapped, but I had already walked past her toward the bar. The door was propped open a little to let out the heat and I slipped inside as Jessica sat back too terrified to try anything to stop me.

            Inside the bar, it was warm and humid. The yellow lights on the ceiling didn’t do much to illuminate the bar, but they did add enough heat to make me sweat as soon as I stepped in there. Men and women, but mostly men sat at the bar and the tables or stood in front of pool tables, knocking pool cues into billiard balls. The must of the place only made it that much harder to see, but as I ducked through the crowds, I caught sight of that same man I’d seen outside at a far back pool table.

            He had a glass in his hand and his leather jacket thrown over a chair as he watched a friend set up the table for a game. I kept low, pushing around patrons to get toward him. He placed down his glass and set up for his first shot as I arrived just behind him. I watched him carefully as he moved, not letting my eyes drop from him as he lined up his shot. The pool cue collided with the ball with a satisfying crack, and it went flying down the table.

            I reached my hand into his jacket pocket carefully as he watched the balls slam about the table in chaos. When my hand wrapped around the set of keys, I wasn’t even breathing. I was so sure as the balls all came to a stop that he was going to turn around and see me, but he just nodded to his friend for the next shot. I slid my hand out of his pocket, clutching the keys and was out of there in a second. No one paid much mind to me at all as I disappeared out of the hot, stinking bar.

            When I made it out, Jessica was still standing on the curb. “What the hell did you do?”

            I lifted up the newly acquired set of keys. “Care for a joyride?” I asked. I was still shaking even as I asked it, but a smile spread across my face like I’d bested the man I’d stolen from. It felt as though I’d stolen from the men that attacked me or from Edward who said he’d never leave. My heart thudded with a sort of ecstasy that I wasn’t used to.

            “What are you doing? This is beyond stupid,” Jessica said. She looked to the keys in my hand as they dangled. “Well, I guess I have to go with you, don’t I?”

            “No,” I said. “You could take the truck back to my house and I’ll meet you there.”

            She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you while you’re acting like this.”

            “Then come on,” I said and hopped on the bike. I patted the space behind me.

            “There’s only one helmet,” Jessica said.

            “You can use it.” I offered the helmet to her like a peace offering, and she took it. With an annoyed look on her face, she got around me on the back of the bike and strapped the helmet on before wrapping her arms tightly around my midsection.

            I breathed out before I started the bike, letting any remaining fear wash away. I was pretty sure I was immune to fear now. I’d spent so long being afraid of Edward and then of being alone when he left that that I was desensitized to it. As the bike revved to life, I felt my heart jumpstart with it.

            Before any logic could catch up to me, I drove. I’d never ridden a bike before, but I’d seen friends of Renee do it all the time. It wasn’t so hard once you got going fast and I went fast. I tore out of the street and away from the bar with a burning fire within me. Jessica yelped as we turned a corner and held to me even tighter. She felt like a little frightened bird with her arms around me, like she might break.

            I kept going, faster and faster, running yellow lights and a few red ones. After months hiding away, I felt alive for the first time, maybe since Edward left or maybe as far back as when we got together. He’d always kept me from danger, but now I was choosing it for myself.

            At a certain point, and I wasn’t sure when that was, Jessica’s arms stopped feeling like her. I raced forward feeling Edward’s arms around me, his chin on my shoulder instead of hers. Calm washed over me like sleep, like comfort. I could feel Edward around me like he’d always been there, like he always was there. From the rev of the engine, I could hear his voice.

            “I love you, Bella,” he whispered, like the dreams I’d had so many times. I felt something hard and cold dig into my hand, Edward’s sharp teeth, but when I looked down to where my hand was on the handles, there was nothing there at all.

            I drove faster, out of Port Angeles and onto the long dark stretch of road that would lead me home. More than anything, I wanted to feel him there with me. With all his love he still made me feel in danger and if danger was what it would take to feel him here with me, I’d take it. I broke one hundred miles per hour. I thought I could see him, like a mirage in the head light.

            “Bella?” a voice screamed, and it took me a second to remember Jessica behind me, holding on for dear life. “Bella, stop!”

            My breath and the beat of my heart hitched at the sound of her fear. Jessica was still with me, and if we went any faster, we could just as easily spin out. Disappointed, I slowed enough to turn off to the side of the road and stop. As soon at the ground stopped moving, Jessica let go and walked off the road and into the grass. She was shaking, looking away from me as she held herself tight.

            “Sorry,” I said. I took a step toward her. She turned toward me, her whole face painted red with fear.

            “You’re sorry?” she snapped. “I know. I know. It’s all bad.” She stumbled through her words as she looked at me, her helmet askew on her head. “We’re going back and getting your truck and going home. Okay, none of this ever happened.”

            I nodded, even though I hated to get rid of this bike. I had felt like myself for the first time in months and I didn’t want to just drop that off and forget, but it was already late. I couldn’t do this, not with Jessica. I couldn’t put her in danger just to feel what Edward had done to me again.

            “None of it ever happened,” I said and motioned for her to get on the bike. When we got back to the bar, the rider hadn’t even noticed that it was gone, and Jessica breathed a sigh of relief once we were safe inside the truck again.

Chapter Text

Jessica didn’t speak to me on the drive back home. She stared straight ahead at the road the whole ride and I didn’t dare to ask her if she was alright. It was my fault again. I wanted so badly dive in headfirst, to take this pull into my own hands.

            Danger brought me back to Edward. I just thought if I pushed myself a little further, if I dangled myself a little closer to the fire, it would feel like the moments we’d been together. I knew it wouldn’t bring him back. Nothing ever would, but if I could just feel close to death again, it would be as if I were alive.

            I knew that made me sound like a stupid, weak girl, but I was desperate. I didn’t know when I’d become so desperate to be hurt. After everything, that was all Edward had left me with. Pain and danger were my only options anymore. The things I used to love, the soft light of the forest and the feeling of being outside, with nature, they’d left with Edward too.

            When we returned to Forks, I dropped Jessica off at her house and said nothing as she stepped out of the truck. She turned around when she reached her front porch and watched me. Moths and mosquitoes flitted about the light of her porch as she watched me go. I could just make out her expression, cold and distant like she wanted to say something, but had waited too long to say it.

            I drove off in silence, keeping slow as the headlights illuminated the road in a sick yellow before me. I found my way past the main streets, past Carver’s and Hannah’s mechanics, where two beat up looking motorbikes had been sitting for the past three months. They were trash, better off as scrap, but the owner was still trying to sell them. Charlie said she had hope for the old things, but they were a lost cause.

            Even as I parked in the driveway and headed up to the house where Charlie still had a light on, I was thinking about lost causes. Maybe I was a lost cause, looking for the same buzz Edward had given me, the search for danger. Every touch had been a danger, I realized as I unlocked the front door and pushed myself in. From the moment we met and the moment he told me what he was I’d been in danger.

            He hadn’t lied. He said exactly what he wanted, to drink my blood. It was something about that other part, the loving me part that had struck me. I got caught on that moment sometimes. Even when we were together, I would think about it. Why did him loving me make me so determined to be near him?

            Sometimes, I rose enough through the fog that I thought our whole relationship had been crazy, but I was hooked on it. I was a lost cause, like a normal night at the movies, or school work a month past due, or two bikes sitting in the gravel lot of the mechanic’s.

            “How was the movie?” Charlie asked as I closed the door behind me. He was seated in the living room, a book in his hands, some old biography.

            “Alright,” I said. I made my way up the stairs for bed. Being out of the house for that long all of the sudden had taken a lot out of me. I’d been tired for two months, but it seemed like a curse upon me now.

            “Have you given any more thought to what I said?” Charlie asked. I kept walking up the stairs and to my room. Charlie watched me the whole way and when I disappeared from his view, he called up to me, “Good talk.”

            I fell asleep peacefully and soundly, but it didn’t last long. It never lasted long. I woke with my blankets tangled around my feet and the sound of my own screaming piercing the air. I’d been screaming for a while because Charlie was next to me again, soothing my arm and trying to get me to stop.

            The sound broke its cacophony as I heaved a deep breath, trying to force the terror out of me. It always came like this, tearing its way through me like a serrated knife. I clutched for my hands and my neck, searching for wounds from I didn’t know what. In the dark, I could just barely see Charlie’s face in front of me, shushing my cries.

            “Bells, you’re asleep,” he whispered.

            I blinked, trying to adjust to this eternal darkness as I forced myself into a sitting position. “Another nightmare,” I whispered through panting breath.

            “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s alright.”

            I nodded and sat there in silence with him for a moment, catching myself. After my eyes adjusted and I could see him in the light from the moon outside, I reached out and clasped his hand in mine. “I’m okay.”

            In the darkness of my room, I thought about telling him, of sharing the whole truth of what the Cullens were and why they left me. They were long gone with no one to make right on their threats if I told. Maybe if Charlie knew, he would understand. He would see why I couldn’t just see a therapist and be done with it or why I couldn’t sleep through the night. But there was a more likely outcome too, that he would think I was crazy. Anyone in their right mind would.

            “I think I’m going to try to go back to sleep,” I told him instead.

            “Alright,” he said and slowly stood himself up from my bed. He bent over before he left, leaving a short kiss on my forehead. As he left, he closed the door, and I sat up in darkness, unable to sleep or think until dawn came.

            If these dreams kept coming the longer I was away from Edward, I needed to get back to him the only way I could.

            I was out the door before my Dad had woke up. He’d be at the station today and wouldn’t even notice I was gone. Maybe he’d welcome it, be happy that I was out of the house for once. If he called to ask where I was, I’d have a fine excuse, one he couldn’t refuse, and it wouldn’t be a lie either.

            I headed to Hannah’s mechanics. Even though it was just past the crack of dawn, I knew the head mechanic would be up. The sign on her door said 5 AM to 8 PM 7 days a week. I wasn’t about to second guess that in a town like this. Like everyone in this town, Charlie knew Hannah well. In fact, they’d gone to school together. She was a good friend, and she wouldn’t blink twice to see me coming into the shop early on a Sunday morning.

            The shop was two garages, one of which was constantly occupied by Hannah’s broken-down corvette. The thing was forty years old, but she was convinced she could fix it. The project had been going on for nearly ten years as Charlie told it, and as I stepped into the garage, I could see why she was so determined to keep it. The body was in perfect condition, bright teal blue like the Caribbean sea and chrome that looked more like mercury than solid metal. The top was open when I walked in, and by the sounds of things, Hannah was hard at work.

            “Hannah?” I called, trying to break through the sounds of machinery whirring. “Hannah?” I tried one louder.

            The machines went quiet as Hannah ducked her head out from under the hood. She was covered in a fine layer of motor oil and sweat even this early in the morning. At the sight of another human being in her shop, she grinned and started to wipe her hands off on a rag hung precariously over the hood.

            “What do I owe the pleasure?” she asked as she closed the short distance between us.

            “I saw those bikes out front,” I told her.

            “Oh those things? I was thinking of selling them for scrap. Both of them need entirely new engines and they look like crap,” Hannah said. “What about ‘em?”

            “I wanted to buy them,” I said.

            “Those shit heaps?” she asked, astounded. If she couldn’t get them to run, I certainly couldn’t, but I’d have help.

            “Yeah,” I said.

            “They’re scrap metal, kid,” she argued. “What are you going to do with ‘em?”

            “Summer project,” I offered as if that would explain it.

            Hannah just laughed, but I didn’t show her any sign of embarrassment. Even if I could get these bikes to work, they’d be finicky and dangerous and that was exactly what I needed. It was my time to waste.

            “Alright,” she said. “A hundred bucks each, I’ll even give you my notes on ‘em.”

            “Perfect,” I said. The money I’d saved had been from Phoenix, so many summers of working, thinking I’d save up for a car, but now I didn’t need it. This seemed to be the only project worth using it on now that I didn’t need to buy myself a car. I had my dear old rust bucket and two bikes to match it.

            “I’ll help you load ‘em up. Just give me a second,” Hannah said.

            It took nearly an hour to get them fully secured in the bed of my truck. She threw in an old tarp to keep them in place and once they were in, she slapped the tail gate of my truck and grinned at me, satisfied with the sale. She had tried to talk me out of it, but at the end of the day, she’d unloaded two trash heaps from her shop.

            “I understand why you want the bikes now,” she said as she looked at my truck. “Did you piece this back together from scrap too?”

            “It was a gift from a friend,” I admitted.

            When I left her behind, she was right back to working on that corvette, and I was off to work on my project. I drove the half an hour toward La Push and to the barn that stood at the edge of the forest on a dirt road, not far from the general store where Billy Black spent most of his days behind the counter.

            The reservation felt different stopping here than it did driving all the way to the beach. Life went on in its own little way all the way out here. When I had said Forks was more forest than town, it didn’t come close to the reservation that seemed at one with it, all connected like part of the same whole.

            I drove up the gravel driveway to the barn which was peeling of most of its paint. It had never held animals inside, or even farming equipment. If it had even been expected to be used as a barn, the builders were far out of touch. The doors were open as I parked the truck and jumped down, the gravel against my boots making a satisfying crunch.

            The inside of the barn it looked more like Hannah’s garage. Tools hung from the walls and an old beat up junker was sitting in the center, its body jacked up and a skateboard underneath. A radio on the table was playing a baseball game through static as I approached.

            “Having fun under there?” I asked as I leaned against one of the support pillars near the entrance of the barn.

            There was a pause and then the skateboard rolled out from under the junker to reveal Jacob underneath. He sat up, wiping sweat off his face which only resulted in motor oil and grime painting his forehead like the lion king. His hair was pulled back behind him and hung in a tight braid.

            “It’s been a while,” he said, and a smile broke out along his face. “We’ve missed you when we come over for Mariner’s games.”

            “You haven’t come over the past few months,” I argued. “It’s just been Billy.”

            Jacob stood and found a rag to wipe his hands off on. “You got me there,” he said. “I was tired of coming around to see you just to find out you’re at Edward’s.”

            “Yeah, well me and Edward broke up,” I offered. ‘Broke up’ was a simplified way of putting it, but I didn’t want to put any other word on it. To say he left me or that he left town because of me still left an awful taste in my mouth all this time later.

            “I heard,” Jacob said. “Leah told me. After you didn’t answer my texts, I figured you needed space.”

            I nodded, but I really didn’t want to talk about this any longer, so I dug my hands into the pocket of my sweatshirt instead. “Well,” I said. “Truth be told, I came on business. How long until this thing is running?” I motioned to the junker in the middle of the barn.

            “This old guy?” Jacob noted. “Harry’s coming to pick it up this afternoon. Just needed the brakes fixed.”

            “That’s all?” I asked. It looked about ready to fall apart.

            “He’ll be back in a month,” Jacob said. “He refuses to throw it away. Sentimentalism I guess.”

            “Is he you’re only customer this week?” I asked. I should have probably assumed the bikes would take more than a week. They were trash, more rust than metal, but I was being hopeful.

            “I’m not a mechanic,” Jacob offered. “It’s just a favor. But if you need something fixed on the truck, I’d be happy to look.”

            “Not the truck,” I said. He tilted his head at me a little, so I led him back around to where my truck was parked and opened the tail gate before pulling the tarp free and revealing the two rust buckets themselves.

            “Oh, these are trashed,” Jacob said, sounding more in awe than disturbed. He looked over the bikes for a moment, turning them over in his mind, pulling the pieces apart and putting them back together. “I think I could fix them, but I’ll make you a deal.”

            “Shoot,” I said.

            “I’ll fix them if you help me,” he said. “After all, you’re going to need someone to drive the other one once we get them running.”

            “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I said. He smiled that wide, happy grin, filled with warmth and openness. There was nothing but joy in his smile, no ulterior motives, no razor-sharp fangs, but him. I couldn’t help but feel a weight lift off of me as he smiled at me that way.

            “Let me finish this and then we can get them in the barn,” Jacob said. “And while we wait you can help me cheer for the Mariner’s. Got it?”

            I agreed and he quickly got back to work. The junker was done long before Harry arrived to pick it up, and we backed it out of the barn to give us enough space to work. Then, it was just a matter of taking the bikes apart, piece by piece. It wasn’t quite that hard once we got down to it. We started on one bike first. They were the same model, but we needed to keep everything separate and ordered. We were going to have to deal with a lot of different problems for each one.

            “So what was the deal with Cullen and you?” Jacob asked finally after we had gotten the first wheel off and rolled it away. Both tires were flat and in need of repair.

            I shrugged, loosening another bolt. My arms were going to fall off soon at this rate. “We just dated. His family moved. Long distance just wasn’t going to work out.”

            “No, I mean what was his deal?” Jacob repeated. “He just seemed so creepy to me. And you were never around when you dated.”

            “Just got busy, I guess. I got into the habit of going over there after school,” I said.

            “You never came to the res anymore,” he added. “When you came back, I kind of thought we’d be able to hang out again.”

            I finished the last bolt on the tire. I was just realizing how much needed to be fixed on these things. Besides the engine, the tires were flat, the brakes were shot, and one of the mirrors were cracked. And that was just the first bike. I understood why Hannah wanted to sell them for scrap now.

            “I’m here now,” I offered as I rolled the tire toward him.

            “Yeah,” Jacob said. He stood up, straightening out his back as he did. “So, I’m thinking, this thing is going to need a paint job.”

            “Let’s just get it running first,” I said. This wasn’t going to be fixed overnight, and maybe it would be foolish to put so much hope into it. If these bikes had a future, it was going to take a lot of work to get them together. It was going to take time that sometimes, it didn’t feel like I had. Senior year was fast approaching and once my life had to begin again, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up.

            “The paint job will help, I promise,” Jacob said. “Yellow with racing stripes, yeah?”

            “That’s a bit much,” I said. I brushed a hand through my hair as it slipped out from behind my ear to cover one side of my face, and only managed to get oil in it as I tried to smooth it back. I sat down on a milk crate before the bike with a wrench in my hands and my hair falling in front of my face as stray wind blew in from the open barn doors.

            “Hold on, hold on,” Jacob said as he came around behind me. He cleaned his hands of the grime at the little utility sink and grabbed something from the worktable and knelt down. “May I?”

            I glanced back at him, and he held up a hair tie in between his fingers, a simple black one just like the one holding his braid in place. I hated to admit that I hadn’t thought to bring one, but it seemed Jacob was always prepared.

            “Can you braid it?” I asked. “Like yours?”

            Jacob nodded and I turned back to the bike, throwing my hair back behind my shoulders to give him room. He started at the top of my head, weaving just tight enough that it didn’t hurt, but felt like him knitting my head back together. I exhaled a mountain of dread had been waiting in my stomach for a long time.

            “You know, I never got the chance to thank you,” I said. “For finding me in the woods that day.”

            “There were a lot of people helping out,” Jacob said. “It wasn’t just me.”

            “Thank you anyway,” I told him. I rolled back my shoulders as he braided. I’d been slouching forward in on myself for so long.

            “You know,” he started as he got down toward the end of my hair, pulling them taught in their weave. “We have a thing about hair on the res.”

            “What is that?” I asked.

            “Your hair is part of you, but it reflects you too. You’re not supposed to let a stranger touch your hair,” he said, “or whatever dark emotions they may be holding onto will transfer on to you.”

            “Strangers?” I noted.

            “Or anyone you don’t know the intentions of,” Jacob said. “Whatever rage or bad energy they might have, it can leave you drained of all your good intentions. So you have to clean it.”

            “And get rid of the bad intentions,” I finished.

            “Yeah,” Jacob said. He finished off the braid and wrapped the hair tie around to keep it secure. “Every so often, you have to clean off wherever you’ve been, or you’ll never get where you’re going.”

            “I like that,” I said and turned to face him. He was frowning as he’d said it, but as soon as I caught his eye, he put on a smile.

            “My mother used to tell me that whenever she did my hair,” Jacob said. “That she was cleaning out the bad intentions.”

            “Well thank you,” I said. “For clearing out mine.”

            Jacob nodded and got up, going back around to where he could see the entrails of the bike. There was a lot more work to do, but I didn’t feel so tired or weighed down by it anymore. This was my project, I reminded myself, and I was going to get these bikes working if it killed me.

            I didn’t leave that barn until it was nearly sundown. Jacob locked it all up for the night and waved me off as I backed out in my truck, back towards home. The sky was pink and orange by the time I got home, and the sun was just a sliver through the trees. I was exhausted and dirty as I got to my room and fell right to sleep in my sweaty clothes.

            I slept through the night for the first time in months and woke to the sunrise peeking over the horizon. There were no nightmares, no screaming, no waking to my Dad’s tired eyes. I slept and remembered nothing of my dreams that night.

Chapter Text

I quickly became aware that the bikes were going to take a lot longer than a month to complete. Even with Jacob helping me, and with Hannah’s notes, it was going to be a battle not to just give up. So every day, I dragged myself over to Jacob’s to help figure those bikes out. And every day, I was able to drag myself out of bed and drive all the way over to the reservation to put those bikes together. The project, though without an end in sight, kept me going and getting out of bed every day.

            After another month, we had gotten into a habit. Work all the way until noon when we walked up to First Beach to have lunch and then walk back and work until we dropped. The summer was hotter than I expected. After the long and blistering winter, the warmth of the sun was a welcome change. Even when it was cloudy or rainy, it was a breath of fresh air, though the constant smell of gasoline and motor oil didn’t help matters.

            When I got there one morning in late August, however, the bikes had been moved deeper into the barn and Harry’s old junker that had been there the day I arrived with the bikes was there. Jacob clapped his hands together as I came in, looking a little disappointed by the car now in our way.

            “Harry came in this morning,” he said. “Some idiot smashed his head lights. It shouldn’t take that long to fix.”

            “Smashed?” I asked. “Are you sure it was some idiot?”

            “His words, not mine,” Jacob answered. “At least they didn’t get the wind shield. Then it would be here a week while I try to find someone to fix it. For this, I just need to head to town to get a replacement.”

            “He couldn’t get Hannah to fix it?” I asked. I couldn’t lie. I was disappointed that Harry’s junker was taking up space in the barn. We were getting close to getting those bikes working. I could see the improvements every day.

            “He doesn’t trust Hannah,” Jacob said.


            “I have literally no idea,” Jacob said. “Come on, we can take yours.”

            He started out of the barn and stopped before the passenger seat door as I made to unlock my car. It almost felt weird to have another boy in my car while I drove. Edward had driven me everywhere while we were together so the only chance I really got to drive was when I did it alone or drove Jessica.

            Getting into the truck, I turned the ignition and backed out quickly down the gravel road. Jacob turned on the radio as we went, switching between old rock music and the local news. He sang along with terrible pitch to the same songs my dad listened to in the house. I rolled my eyes down the road which only caused Jacob to sing louder. I cranked down the windows just so the rest of the reservation would have to hear too until we got past the last few houses and made it into the thick of the woods.

            As Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen came on the radio, I gave up on getting him to stop. Twenty minutes into town and twenty minutes out and if I argued any more, he was just going to start screaming the lyrics.

            “Can you get anymore annoying?” I asked.

            “You’ve missed out on me annoying you,” Jacob offered. “I’ve got to catch up.”

            “Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I said. “How have the bikes been looking?”

            “Once we get the new engines in, we’ll be golden,” he said. “Hopefully.” I nodded to the added ‘hopefully.’ These bikes had been more scrap than bike when I first got them. Now, they were that much closer to running. Harry’s car was only a minor setback, but it was a setback nonetheless. I hated to wait another day, another hour, another minute. I felt like I’d been waiting since I got to Forks.

            But it wasn’t just about the bikes. I knew that fully well. Every thought and inkling of Edward made me afraid. Mostly, I was afraid I’d never see him again, never feel his presence or hear his voice again. I wasn’t sure I quite remembered what he sounded like anymore and that gave me a shiver. I think I was just afraid too. I’d never been so afraid before I met Edward, and now I found it at every turn. Maybe that was love.

            The further we drove, the more the radio turned to static. Soon the voice of Michael Jackson couldn’t even be made out and I switched it over to another station. The voice of a news anchor came through and I reached to turn it again in the hopes of finding some music to distract, but Jacob stopped me, batting my hand away as he turned the radio up a little more.

            “…three dead found in Port Angeles. The police are calling them mountain lion attacks. Some which may have come down from Olympic National Park,” the news anchor was saying.

            “Mountain lions?” I mused. It wasn’t so uncommon to hear about a mountain lion, but all the way in Port Angeles seemed odd. They weren’t dumb enough to get so far into a city like that.

            “Could be,” Jacob said. “That sucks. They’re probably going to try and hunt them down then.”

            I stared ahead at the road as I drove, trying to make sense of what the anchor had said. Three people had been killed. It felt all too familiar, like I’d heard about it before, maybe in a dream. Or maybe it was just because three men had been killed in Forks last year. I’d nearly forgotten about it after nothing came of it. The police department failed to find any good leads. They’d never even IDed the men with how viciously their faces had been torn up. It all sounded just the same.

            “…Mountain lions aren’t likely to come into a human populated area and they aren’t likely to go after humans as prey says Olympic National Park official, James Daniels. The Olympic National Park maintains the position that any mountain lions, wolves, or bear making their habitat within the park could not be responsible for the three separate attacks occurring last night.”

            A thought came to my head in a creeping fashion, like animal stalking prey, and I didn’t realize I’d had it until it was already on top of me. It was the Cullens. Three people had died, all so swiftly and mercilessly that I knew it had to be vampires. The police didn’t really have an answer. Their best guess was an animal attack and that would have been believable if not for what I knew.

            Vampires hunted humans. They drank their blood and not cleanly. They would have left a mess that looked like an animal attack. My heart leapt with the sudden idea that perhaps the Cullens were coming home. Maybe when I pulled back into town, they would be moving back into their glass house outside of Elk Creek.

            But even as I had that thought, I knew it could never be true. The Cullens didn’t drink human blood, at least they hadn’t when they left. They ate only from the animals in the woods, but if they were back, they wouldn’t be in any headline news about a mountain lion attack. Unless something fundamental had changed about the Cullens. If they were killing people, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see them again. As I held tight to the wheel, I imagined Edward’s face covered in blood. It didn’t sit right in my stomach, my Edward, killing a human being.

            It wasn’t them, no matter how much I wanted it to be, and I wanted it to be. My disgust for three dead people in Port Angeles aside, I wanted to see Edward again, beg him to turn me and take me with him. If he had come back, it would have been because he changed his mind and I wasn’t sure, after three and a half long months, that it was even possible.

            “It’s bullshit,” Jacob said, lowering his head as he listened. “It wasn’t an animal attack.”

            I swallowed back all my wishes and all the thoughts of Edward. “What else could it be?”

            Jacob just shook his head. “I don’t know.”

            As we got into town, we were able to pick up another station and Jacob switched it away from the news, allowing me a sense of relief. There may have very well been vampires in Port Angeles and I didn’t want to know where they were going next. There was no time to dwell on all of that. A part of my life had ended when Edward left. I just wished I couldn’t see it now, bleeding through the edges.

            I parked in front of Hannah’s first garage as we arrived. There wasn’t going to be a car leaving there any time soon. Her corvette would remain for the foreseeable future. As she saw us pull up, she wiped off her hands and tossed a wrench onto the worktable.

            “I’ll be quick,” Jacob offered as he jumped out of the truck and jogged over to meet Hannah inside the garage. I could just barely hear his conversation through the open window as he asked about headlights and Hannah led him off into the office inside.

            I waited there, listening to the faint sounds of a sad Dolly Parton song, and thinking and over thinking about the three dead men in Port Angeles. It wasn’t vampires. I wished it wasn’t vampires, but I realized as I waited that I’d never talked to Edward about others. If there were other vampires he knew, I didn’t know about them. I didn’t know how often vampires lived like he had, only drinking the blood of animals and existing among humans like their equals. I didn’t know how many vampires didn’t spare humans a thought except as a dinner menu item. The vampires in Port Angeles could have just as easily came down to Forks to take a bite.

            As I watched Jacob step out of the office with two headlights for Harry’s replacements, I seriously considered telling him everything I knew about vampires. He deserved to know that they were out there, that he could be in danger, but something about Edward’s secret stopped me. I promised him and now that he wasn’t here, I should have been able to break that promise. The idea still got stuck in my throat as Jacob came around and hopped into the passenger seat.

            “Let’s go,” he said.

            I held onto the wheel and eventually, I chickened out and backed out from the mechanics shop parking lot. Despite myself, and my anger and resentment toward Edward, I couldn’t do it. He got caught in my throat every time I thought about spilling the secret. Even now, he stuck with me.

            When we got back to the barn, I helped Jacob replace the headlights on Harry’s car and it wasn’t long before a girl with long dark hair pulled up behind her face was walking down the driveway to meet us. I didn’t recognize Leah Clearwater at first. She looked different, older and I realized it really had been almost a year since I’d seen her. She smiled as she reached the threshold of the barn and stuck her thumbs through the belt loops of her shorts as she leaned against the open doorway.

            “My dad wanted me to pick up the car,” she said. “But I thought I’d stop over and see how my idiot cousin was doing.”

            Jacob’s head perked up from where he was finishing the last bulb and he quickly screwed it the last turn in before he crossed the car and pulled Leah in for a hug, not even taking the time to wipe any grime that may have gotten onto his hands. I knew there was dirt on mine. It came with the territory.

            “I didn’t know you got back,” Jacob said.

            “Last night,” Leah admitted as she pulled away. “I heard from Uncle Billy that you’ve been working on cars.”

            “Yeah,” Jacob gestured to me. “You’ve met Bella, right? We’re trying to fix a couple of bikes.”

            Leah glanced toward me. “I didn’t know you were into cars,” she said. “I guess it serves you right for being friends with this weirdo.”

            “I’m kind of learning as I’m going,” I admitted. “How was your summer? You were traveling right?”

            “Yeah, a bit,” she said. “Trying to figure stuff out before college, you know.”

            “How’d it go?” Jacob asked.

            “Better than expected,” she said in the sort of way to suggested more than what she was saying. She offered a look to Jacob, one that I could only assume meant she wanted to talk to him in private, but I was ruining the moment. “I’ll talk to you later, Jacob.”

            “Yeah of course. The car’s all fixed. I just have to put the headlight back in,” he said and backed his way around the vehicle to place the head piece back into place. It didn’t take more than a minute and he tossed the keys back to her as soon as he was done. “Test it out and then you can get out of our hair.”

            Leah ducked into the driver’s seat of the car and turned the ignition, letting it roar to life. With a flick, the lights went on, bright as day and Jacob gave her a thumbs up. She lowered the windows down as she backed up out of the barn and disappeared down the road. I watched her all while she went until she disappeared and then looked to Jacob, who was already pulling the bikes forward from their spot on the far wall of the barn.

            “What was that all about?” I asked.

            “She was traveling this summer,” Jacob answered, too preoccupied by the bikes to look at me as he answered.

            “Yeah, but where?” I asked. “Just, like, around?” I felt stupid asking, but for some reason, I thought it was important. Intuition told me Leah was hiding something.

            “I actually don’t know,” Jacob said. “All I know is that Harry told me she went to A-Ka-Lat at the beginning of the summer and then decided to travel from there.”

            “A-Ka-Lat,” I asked. The name sounded vaguely familiar.

            “James Island,” Jacob said. “It’s what we call it. It’s where the Quileute started. I think she went there trying to figure out what direction she wanted to go with her life, since she graduates next May. But after that, she left and didn’t call for a month. The way Harry tells it, she called from a pay phone to tell him she was okay. She lost her phone. Anyway, we were all worried about her, so she’s probably got a lot of explaining to do to Harry.”

            “She just left?” There must have been a lot of her mind to just leave her friends and family for almost three months, but I couldn’t begin to imagine what.

            “Harry talked to Charlie about it, but she was already eighteen.” I couldn’t imagine my Dad leaving a girl out there alone, but then again, I hadn’t talked to my Dad much in the past few months. First it was avoiding him to hide away from the world and then it was using every waking moment to work on the bikes. I’d blocked everything else out. So maybe he had mentioned Leah. Maybe he’d been trying to get that girl back at the same time he was trying to get me back.

            “Where do you think she went?” I asked.

            Jacob shook his head and finally looked up at me. “I don’t gossip.”

            I nudged him a little. “Come on. You must have some theories.”

            Jacob sighed. “I have one, but I hope I’m wrong.” He leaned back against the worktable and gazed narrowly out the open barn doors to where Leah had disappeared. “I think she found something she couldn’t ignore. Something that made her run so scared that she couldn’t stop to explain any of this to her Dad. I think she had to run because it was the only thing she could do.”

            He looked hollow as he spoke, like he was looking at a ghost. Maybe he was. Maybe Leah left ghosts behind her in her wake after everything she’d seen, and maybe she was better off. I let it go, maybe because I couldn’t have understood and maybe because I thought that one day, we would learn what really happened to her. Until then, we had two motorcycles to fix.

            The bikes took us another day, but by noon, we had them up and running. Both bikes purred with their new engines and rumbled to prove all the work we’d done. With a coat of rust and a brand new engine, these bikes looked like a mechanical Frankenstein, only partly their original selves, but we’d managed to get them to work and I considered that an accomplishment.

            “We should try them out here,” Jacob offered, motioning out to the road next to the barn. No one really ever drove this road unless they were coming to visit the Black family and it was midday on a Tuesday. We wouldn’t see anyone come through until Billy returned from work.

            I nodded and threw one leg over the bike on the right, seating myself firmly before the handlebars. After all the time I’d spent waiting for this, I was ready to go. I couldn’t waste another minute not feeling the wind in my hair or Edward’s arms around me. I’d held onto that night with Jessica to keep me going, but with every waning second, it became harder to live without him. His curse would haunt me until I was free floating without all this crushing weight.

            “Hold on,” Jacob was saying. “I got helmets.”

            He went around to another part of the barn and procured two motorcycle helmets. Holding them aloft, he offered one to me. I felt a sudden urge to decline it, like the protection would keep me from the danger I was looking for, but to ease his worry, I took the helmet and fastened it onto my head.

            “Let’s go,” I said and started the engine, feeling the rev underneath me rumble. My heart leapt forward, and I needed to follow fast to catch up.

            “Hold on,” Jacob was saying, but I couldn’t bare to listen to anymore warnings. I hit the gas and sped forward, out of the barn going from zero to fifty in seconds. I needed out and I needed speed. This was what I’d been waiting for since Edward left.

            At my sudden jump forward, Jacob chased after me as I turned onto the road rushing forward. I heard something of Jacob calling out to me, but I didn’t stop to make out the words. All I knew was the road ahead.

            For a second, as I raced forward, I felt it, the odd ghostly sensation of Edward’s arms around me, holding me tight as I went. Before I could really comprehend his ghost there with me, I hit a snag. This gravel road was filled with rocks and dust that kicked up as I went, and as fast as I was going, there was no stopping me as I started to spin out, my wheels tripping on the uneven road. I tried to slow, but there wasn’t much I could do as I turned off, running headfirst into a tree.

            The front wheel collided first and turned off, twisting under my grip. My head slammed into the tree trunk hard, and it was only the helmet that kept me from breaking my skull open as I hit. I fell, dropping from the bike as the world went dark and my vision tunneled. When I opened my eyes again, Jacob was running toward me, and I quickly put back together what had happened like puzzle pieces lining up.

            “Shit,” he snapped as he dropped to his knees before me. “I was trying to say. This road isn’t always the best. Are you hurt?”

            I shook my head, though even as I did, my head throbbed. Absently, I took off my helmet and Jacob let out a hurt hiss as he looked at me. Reaching up to my forehead where everything throbbed with such ferocity, my fingers found wetness and when I pulled away there was blood on my fingertips.

            “Fuck,” I said absently.

            “There’s a first aid kit in the barn,” Jacob offered. “Here.” He pulled me up carefully by my shoulders and let me lean into him as he dragged me back toward the barn. With all the wind in my hair, I had thought I rode much further, but the barn was just up the road.

            Once inside, Jacob sat me down at the work bench and got to work cleaning up the cut on my face with an antiseptic wipe. It stung, but it was so gentle as he cleared the blood that I didn’t cringe or flinch at the pain. Maybe I was just too far gone to have really felt it at all.

            “Sorry,” Jacob said. “It might need stitches.”

            I didn’t nod or react to what he said. It had taken all this time for me to catch up with myself. Sitting here with my bike still out in the grass, I felt a new sense of dread wash over me. One that said it would never be enough. All the danger, all the speed would never be enough to bring Edward back. He had told me himself that he didn’t love me and every day I lived without him proved it.

            “Bella,” Jacob said.

            I dragged myself out of that darkness, just barely. “I’m okay,” I said automatically.

            “That wasn’t what I asked,” he said. “Do you want me to call your Dad?”

            I took a moment, bringing the thoughts together. He would be mad, but somehow I felt like I needed that. To get in trouble for doing something wrong instead of being comforted and coddled. Maybe I just wanted to hurt.

Chapter Text

School was supposed to start again tomorrow. My senior year was supposed to be fun. I was supposed to be excited to see my friends and happy to be almost done with that place, but I was dreading it. My birthday was in eight days. Eight days before I’d be a year older than Edward and a year further into this perpetual torture. It hurt my head to think that every year I would get older and somewhere in the world, Edward would still be beautiful Edward, unageing and unending. And in all those years, I’d never see him again.

            Time would turn and I would die, but he would go on forever. That hurt me more than anything. I didn’t know why, but his presence, his very existence made me so hyper aware of my own mortality. Before him, I’d never thought much about aging. Before him, I’d have been excited to turn eighteen, to be able to vote, to go to college, but he twisted those rites of passage into a curse. Every year, I’d be further from him, and I didn’t know how I was going to move on from that.

            I spent the last month wandering the woods. When I wasn’t with Jacob, riding or spending time at La Push, I was hiking through the woods, trying to orient myself in all those trees. I went back to the place Edward told me what he was and stole my heart. The woods just beyond the school were like a sacred place to me. It felt darker there now, and when there was sun, that break in the trees where the light streamed through didn’t feel as warm. I spent hours there in the cold, wishing I wasn’t alone, knowing I’d never be able to bring anyone else here.

            In all honesty, I didn’t know what I was really doing there. I knew I wouldn’t find Edward no matter where I looked. But after what he’d said to me, I needed to know these woods, to be at home in them again like I was when I was a child. I needed to know that these woods would take care of me when nothing anyone else could do would suffice.

            Charlie had told me to avoid the woods. All the time I was here, he thought I was with Jacob at the res, and I didn’t care to tell him the truth. There was still talk about those people who were killed in Port Angeles. He was worried about mountain lions or wolves or any wild animal he was convinced would rip me to shreds. I didn’t give the mountain lions a second thought. If I was killed here, so be it. At least I would be in this forest for the rest of time. It felt, sometimes, that this forest was where I had always belonged.

            As I wandered today, however, I searched out to get lost. I’d been able to find my way home every time I hiked through these woods, but today, with school hanging over me, I wanted to get lost in these woods for days. I wanted them to send out search parties for me. I wanted them to comb these woods and never find me. As I climbed steep inclines, using branches for support, I wanted to never leave these woods and I didn’t know if it was because I had gone crazy or if I was just done. To never turn eighteen would have been the best ending for me, to stay safe and sound in childhood forever.

            At the top of another steep hill, I pushed through the brush once more and found a clearing, so wide the sun cast down on it, filling the green of the long grasses and the bright yellow and white wildflowers with such light that it seemed to leave an effervescent glow. I stepped forward slow, feeling the grasses rise up to my knees in some places.

            I breathed in, the smell of flowers permeating this place and felt for a moment, at peace. The world was in bloom here in a way I had not seen, or maybe, I just hadn’t paid attention to any of it. This place, so alive, growing, and changing was perhaps a sign to me. I hadn’t spared much thought to the trees around me and thought only of the moss eating away at them, this meadow was filled with so much life it was overwhelming.

            Relief fell over me, warming my hardened spirit. I wanted to lay down there for a moment and feel the way the grass grew around me, but it became very obvious as I ran my hands through the reeds that I wasn’t alone here. There was a rustling in the grass that could have been birds, but as I took a patient step towards it, I became sure it wasn’t birds, but a much larger animal.

            I’d been hiking these woods for a while. I wasn’t stupid and I didn’t come unprepared. I kept my Dad’s hunting knife with me whenever I went into the woods. It hadn’t helped me much when it came to Edward, but in the end, I hadn’t really needed it. Now I was thinking about the mountain lion attacks I’d heard about last month.

            It wasn’t a mountain lion.

            “Show yourself,” I snapped, my voice breaking through the silence. “I know you’re there.”

            For a long time, the meadow was silent, and I thought I had been wrong. I felt madly alone, like I had been alone all summer, and I’d been kidding myself into thinking I wasn’t. Sometimes, like now, all that time with Jacob didn’t feel real. The numbness never lasted though.

            As soon as I’d tricked myself into believing I was paranoid, the grasses parted and a man rose from the meadow, like a shark fin rising from under the water. He was pale man, dressed well in a vest and tie. His face was sallow and narrow, with full lips that parted just slightly to show white teeth beyond. Behind his thick blond hair that fell far past his ears and around his face, his eyes pierced into me, his gaze hard and vicious. I could just see the tendrils of ink in his deadened skin as the sun shone onto him. I had been right, but as I looked at the stranger, I wished I had been wrong.

            “I know what you are,” I said. He was close enough and we were deep enough in the grass that he could catch me easily. This wasn’t Edward or one of the Cullens. It was very likely by the look on his face that I was just a snack to him.

            “You do, now do you?” the man said. He laughed. His mouth opened wide to show his fangs as he threw his head back. “Then you’ll die a clever woman.”

            “Wait,” I said. The hunting knife was on my belt, hidden under my jacket. I breathed in as if it would be my last breath. I had nothing to barter, just the hope that this man could feel what it was to love. “I wanted to ask you a question.”

            He folded his hands like a proper gentleman and waited for me to continue. I supposed he thought he would get his meal anyway. My hands were sweating like crazy. I held my chin up high like I could stand over him, like I had a chance.

            “Turn me,” I said. “I want to be a vampire.”

            He narrowed his eyes in confusion as he watched me, sizing me up. I was still a meal, but a curious one now. “And why do you want to be a vampire? What do you know of us that makes you so inclined?”

            I took a step back and he took a step forward, keeping our distance the same. There was no way I was getting out of his path, but in all honesty, I didn’t want to quite yet. My head was buzzing with intensity, and I could feel something. Warmth or fire or fear, all of it surged within me and God, it felt like Edward.

            “I had a boyfriend,” I said, but that word didn’t feel like it covered it. I loved Edward with such ferocity that it killed me every day to be without him, and it killed me every day to be with him. “He’s a vampire, but we couldn’t be together.”

            The man kept looking at me like I was crazy. “Go on,” he said. His curiosity had peaked.

            “We were together, but he had to leave. People would start to notice,” I explained. “I couldn’t go with him, but if I was a vampire, I could find him again. We could be together. I love him more than anything.”

            “Your lover,” the vampire said, “he left you here all alone.”

            I nodded. “For my safety, but if I was a vampire—”

            “I’ll stop you there,” the vampire said. He raised a finger in the air. “If he left you here, he doesn’t love you.”

            I opened my mouth to argue, but he was right. Edward had said as much. He had told me he never loved me at all. I’d tried to avoid thinking of that part. I wanted to believe it was all a lie and that he’d take me back in a heartbeat when I came back to him, but the man before me was right and I already knew it.

            “If he loved you, he’d have turned you,” the man said. “He’d have taken you with him.”

            He’d have dragged me across the world with him to keep me in his life. I rationalized it a million ways. If he took me with him, my Dad would come looking for me. I’d be a missing person on milk cartons and in shop windows. Edward must have known it would break his heart, but it wouldn’t have mattered when I was with Edward. I would have forgotten Charlie in an instant to run away with him. I told myself Edward had done it to stop me from breaking Charlie’s heart, but my mind always returned to the honest look in his eyes when he told me he never loved me.

            “I don’t care,” I spat. I didn’t care if Edward never wanted to see me again. I’d chase him to the ends of the earth. I shouldn’t have thought that way. I should have gotten over him, but he clung to my head like a leech. He could suck my blood even as far away as he was.

            “Then you are a fool,” the vampire said. “And I will enjoy killing you.”

            I unbuckled the strap holding the hunting knife in place and pressed the handle into my palm. It wouldn’t kill him, but it might hurt him. He lunged at me before I could draw the blade out, and I was quickly slammed onto the ground, fumbling as his hands came around my throat. I clawed at his fingers, trying to break his grip, but his skin was like stone affixed to me.

            My vision started to go cloudy as I struggled and choked. His fingertips clawed into my skin harder and harder the more I fought. Nothing I could do would stop this and I realized vaguely that I was going to die. It was all I could do. I’d pled my case and told him what I wanted, but he’d gone for the throat, just like I should have known him to do.

            A tear escaped my eye, falling down the side of my face and into my ear. I wished this wasn’t it. I wished my Dad wouldn’t find me here, but he probably would. I could just barely imagine his face as the world started to go dark. I was going to get my wish and die in these woods. It should have felt like a blessing, but all I could feel was terror.

            And then, the vampire’s weight released. Air filled my lungs as I breathed in finding no sharp fingers to obstruct my airways. The man was flung from me and without his weight pressing into me, I sat up and coughed, searching for the man and whoever it was who saved me.

            At first, I thought it was Edward. I was sure he’d returned to keep me safe like he always did. I searched for him with my limited and blurry vision, but instead found fur and a low rumbling growl. As I looked up, there was a wolf standing over the vampire, its paw clamped down hard on the man’s chest. The wolf snarled at the man, low and vicious.

            I scrambled back at the sight of the creature, so large and imposing that I was sure it would open its mouth and swallow the vampire’s head whole. If I was smart, I would have already started running, but I laid frozen, leaned back against my elbows as I watched the wolf before me.

            It was a deep brown and noble furred creature with piercing brown eyes that bore into the vampire on the ground as it held him there. I didn’t know why, but I expected its eyes to be glowing yellow or blood red. Those brown eyes didn’t look merciless or vicious. They looked so intelligent, like this wolf knew what it was doing. It had seen a fight and rushed to rescue me.

            For a moment there was calm as the vampire scrambled to get free, but as the wolf bit down, my eyes filled with red. The sound that came from the vampire’s mouth was bloodcurdling and filled with deadly anguish. It was cut short by the wolf cracking its teeth together through the vampire’s throat. Black, sticky ichor spurted out onto the wolf’s face, drenching its maw in the venomous blood of its enemy.

            I wanted to scream and maybe I was screaming, but I couldn’t hear anything anymore. The wolf ripped into the vampire’s face, tearing his head from his shoulders. I didn’t hear the sound of the head coming loose, but I felt it thud in my heart. The head rolled through the grass and stopped just at my feet, the thin face of the man now drenched in his own ichor. His eyes were still open, black and dead.

            For a moment, I was still, and then the vampire blinked at me, slow and emotionless as he died. I screamed, scrambling back as tears escaped my eyes. Everything in me jolted awake and I bolted, running on hands and feet until I could manage to pick myself up. I ran, not knowing where I was going, just knowing I had to get out of here.

            I hadn’t paid any attention to the wolf. If it was after me now, I wasn’t planning to turn around and find out. Instead, I left the meadow behind and rushed back toward home, pushing past branches and scratching up my arms as I did. The world was blurry, but when I closed my eyes all I could see was that headless vampire, blinking up at me like he had something left to say.

            I didn’t know how long I ran for. Everything was spinning by the time I collapsed in my backyard, finding soft grass that still needed to be mowed and warm, unobstructed sunlight. I laid there for a long time, imagining I was dead, imagining vampire bites and venom. When I finally sat up, I was still as discombobulated as when I had dropped.

I wrapped my arms around myself and as I looked down, I found a splatter of black on my boots. It crawled up to my socks, staining them in the blackened blood of the vampire. At the sight of it, a feeling, like bugs crawling up my legs overwhelmed me. Panicked, I ripped the shoes off and then the socks, tossing them to the edge of the yard. Quick, shallow breaths filled my lungs as I stared across to where they laid near the roots of the nearest tree.

The vampire was dead, and I was safe. The wolf was nowhere in sight, and I got the feeling as I stared at that biggest splotch of black that it had been there to protect me. Just like the black wolf who had followed me last year, this one had come to my aid. I should have been thankful. Instead, I was just terrified.

Chapter Text

I didn’t get the chance to see Jacob again until after the first day of school. I’d been dreading it for so long, but when I arrived, Jessica and Angela found me quickly. We had a lot of classes together and I didn’t find myself thinking about how much this place was missing the Cullens while they were around. I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself staring at their empty lunch table in the corner. Edward and Alice should have been there. I should have been sitting with them.

            They should have been playing their game again and guessing all the hidden thoughts of our classmates. Now, as I sat among the new seniors, I tried to guess what each of them were thinking. Mike Newton was probably thinking about varsity football try outs, and Eric Yorkie was probably thinking about how he was going to balance AP classes and hiding behind the bleachers to smoke cigarettes after school. And Jessica. As I paused on Jessica, I tried to sus out what she was really thinking. She was deep in conversation with Angela already, but I hadn’t been listening for the past ten minutes.

            As she spoke, I watched her mouth move and the way she played with the end of her ponytail. I tried so hard to guess what she was thinking like Edward did with just a look. But she was so effortless and warm in her smile that I got choked up just looking at her. She’d thought something Edward hated all those months ago, and I wanted to know what it was, but that thought, whatever it was, had disappeared with Edward. No one could tell me now what she’d been thinking.

            Jessica turned over to me, but I barely registered that it was me she was looking at. “What do you think, Bella?”

            I blinked at her. “Me?” I didn’t even know what she’d asked. “About?”

            “Senior bonfire,” she said. “Mike’s family is throwing it.”

            “Oh,” I said. I scrambled for something to say, but I still didn’t quite know what she was talking about. “Sounds cool.”

            “So you’ll come?” she asked. “Because I could use a ride. Angela’s going with Tyler.” She stuck out her tongue to emphasize how annoying it was that she couldn’t get a ride from Angela.

            “Uh, I don’t know. My Dad has been pretty weird lately,” I said because I didn’t have another excuse. I loved Jessica, but I really didn’t want to go to a party full of people who’d been talking about me since I disappeared from school at the beginning of May.

            “Because of the mountain lion attacks?” she asked.

            Another one had been called in last night near Beaver. The attacks were getting closer to us now. I didn’t know if the attack had been from the vampire I’d seen or the wolf. Either way, Charlie was more than a little worried.

            “Yeah, he’s at the station late most nights now,” I said. “I doubt I can go.”

            “Shit,” Jessica snapped. “Maybe I can find another ride.”

            I nodded and went back to staring at her face as soon as she looked away from me. She was beautiful, I realized as I watched her, and I was a little surprised she was friends with me. A girl like her could have been friends with anyone, but she settled for hanging around with me and dragging me out to parties to meet people. I didn’t say another word for the rest of lunch, and I didn’t manage to read her mind.

            After school, I didn’t drive my truck past Elk Creek to the glass house in the woods. Instead, I drove my motorcycle West, toward La Push and the Quileute reservation, toward Jacob. Among the trees, the world felt fine for a moment, but I looked out for any stray wolves as I rode. The faster I rode, the better I felt and the closer to Edward I felt until he was too much for me.

            He still gnawed at my heart like a wild, starving animal. I felt him with me and what I felt was horror. He was a ravenous shark tearing at my flesh, mistaking me for prey. At first, riding this bike had felt natural. It felt like having him around again, and it still felt like he was around. Now, he just felt like he did on prom night, watching me with the gaze of an animal unable to control himself. My breath hitched in my throat, but when I got to Jacob’s house and slowed in the driveway, I felt everything settle into my stomach. The monster was gone again.

            Jacob’s house, not far from the barn that we spent the summer in was an old one story house with windchimes hanging on the patio where ever they could fit. There were no stairs leading up to the front door, just a concrete path from the driveway up. As I reached the door and knocked, I could hear the creaking of the old house from within. After a long moment, the door opened and beyond it, Jacob stood with a mug in his hand. His long hair was tucked behind his ear and instinctually, I tucked a stray hair behind my ear to mirror him.

            “Hey,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

            “Just got done with school,” I said. I leaned to the side a little so he could see my bike in the driveway behind me.

            He seemed to ignore the bike. “How does it feel to be a senior?” he asked. He was a year younger than me and stuck in his junior year now, but I forgot that sometimes. I forget that when I left for college or wherever I ended up, he’d still be here for another year.

            “Underwhelming,” I offered. I hadn’t taken the time to think about the fact that I was leaving, just the fact that Edward wasn’t there.

            “Fair enough,” he offered. “Wanna come in? I have to make sure dinner’s ready for my Dad when he gets home.”

            “Right,” I said and took the short step into his home with apprehension. I regretted coming without warning him now. I forgot that even though it was just him and his Dad, his situation was a little different than mine.

            Renee had left when I was barely old enough to talk, but Jacob had lost his mom when he was old enough to understand what her sickness was doing to her. He was old enough to have remembered what Billy was like before his accident. He was old enough now that the Black household was more of a partnership than a father-son relationship.

            I don’t know why I felt bad. He was never going to have the same childhood as me. He wasn’t dragged halfway across the country by his mother’s ironclad grip. No, he just watched his mother die, slowly and painfully.

            Stepping into the house, I found a warm interior of mismatched furniture and old carpet. In the living room, there was a shelf of glass figurines, ones his mother had made so long ago when she was just a glassblower, and he was just a boy. I’d known his mother if I thought back far enough. I met her just the once when the Black’s visited my father. She’d been beautiful then, but by the time I came back the next summer, she had been dead. As I looked over the glass statues, my loud thoughts got the better of me.

            “Does it ever make you sad?” I asked. When I glanced over to him, he had a stern expression, like he was thinking about it for the first time.

            “No,” he said finally. “It makes me happy. She’s still here. Kinda.”

            He reached out to the shelf and picked up a glass wolf sitting at attention. He rubbed his thumb over the wolf’s head as if petting it and then returned it to its position on the shelf, straightening it out.

            “I wanted to show you something,” Jacob said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but I did something.”

            I didn’t know at all what he meant by that. I’d been thinking about the vampire I’d seen yesterday. Despite my promise to Edward, I wanted to tell him. And the wolf that saved me, I wanted to tell him about that too.

            “I wanted to tell you something too,” I admitted. I stared at the glass wolf on the shelf, trying to put it into words.

            “Let’s go outside,” Jacob said. “While it’s still sunny.”

            I agreed and followed him to the sliding door that led to the back of his house. Here the woods weren’t so far. We could go racing into them and get lost for hours if we wanted to. I knew if I went in there again, though, I’d never want to come back. I’d sooner die there than have Jacob drag me back out.

            “So as it turns out,” Jacob began. “Leah wasn’t just wandering around the country for no reason.”

            “She was trying to figure out what she wanted,” I said. “Isn’t that what she told you?”

            “Yeah,” Jacob said. “But I talked to her again, alone. She found something at A-Ka-Lat and she had to decide if she wanted to take it.”

            I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to figure out what he meant, but he was looking to the woods. The forest stood, branches swaying a little as Jacob looked into it as if he needed to be there, as if he belonged to it.

            “And?” I offered, trying to get him to speak further.

            “She found a promise,” he said. “I don’t know what else to call it. She made a promise and it changed her. She couldn’t come back yet.”

            “What was the promise?” I asked. Leah didn’t look changed. She looked no different from when she left, and the way it sounded, Jacob wanted to make this promise too, or he already had.

            “It was easy,” Jacob said. “For her. She promised to be a protector, a keeper of the natural order. She promised to be a part of nature and now…”

            I thought of the wolf I saw in the meadow, who mowed down a vampire and knew what to do. It had attacked for a reason. I hadn’t known if it was a feral bloodthirsty wolf or if it had been protecting me.

            “She became part of nature,” I said.

            “She always was,” Jacob corrected. “She became stronger for her promise. Able to protect the natural order of things. When she told me, I thought she was crazy, but the more I thought about it and the more I thought about you, I knew she was on to something there. I went to A-Ka-Lat and I made that promise too.”

            Finally, he looked at me, his warm brown eyes filled with a sort of glee I hadn’t seen on him lately. He didn’t look different, not really. He was just as warm and just as caring as he’d always been. I searched for a sign, something that would tell me if he’d changed, but there was nothing. He was still Jacob.

            “You’re..” I hesitated to say it, because I couldn’t be sure, not really. It could have just been a wolf, but it was too special to be a coincidence. The wolf I’d seen in front of my house. It wasn’t random. Nothing ever really was. “A werewolf?”

            “No,” Jacob said. He paused for a second over the word. “Yes. I mean, in the literal sense of the word, but I don’t change on full moons or anything like that. I’m still me. We call ourselves the guardians of the forest.”

            “But you can change,” I said. I wanted to ask him if he knew who had saved me yesterday, if it was another guardian like him or if I’d gotten lucky.

            “I can,” he said. “It’s a promise, like I said. As long as I keep it, I can change whenever I want to. And I don’t plan on breaking it.”

            “But there’s rules,” I said. Rules like Edward had. He didn’t go in the sunlight. He didn’t smile in public. Jacob must have had rules too and I wasn’t sure if telling me would count as breaking them or not.

            “Of course, but I just wanted to tell you. Before anything else happened,” he said.

            “Anything else?”

            “I saw you in the woods yesterday,” Jacob admitted. “Just right place right time, but I saw what was after you. I had to help. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

            I breathed in deep. He was the wolf who’d saved me. I wasn’t surprised at all. It was as if I’d always known it was him from the moment I saw him, but it had been trapped deep down in my head.

“I wish you hadn’t.” That vampire had been killing me. Another few seconds and there wouldn’t have been enough of me left to save, and that didn’t scare me. I was numb to all of it now, and no danger would ever be enough.

            “Bella,” Jacob snapped. I looked back at him, to his grim expression and his shock. He knew what I went through this summer, but he didn’t know all of it. He didn’t know that even though I could get out of bed and go to school, it never ever stopped. I still wanted to die.

            “So your duty is to protect nature, isn’t that a little redundant,” I said. “Human beings and all.”

            “It’s not so simple,” Jacob said. “Humans are part of nature too, so it’s my job to protect them too.”

            I stared out into the woods. Part of nature, yeah that felt right. “You know what he was, don’t you?”

            “The vampire that attacked you,” he said. I nodded. “Did you know what he was?”

            I didn’t want to lie. I was so tired of keeping everything from the people I loved, but eventually, it had to come out. It didn’t surprise me that Jacob was special, and it didn’t surprise me to know he’d sought the supernatural out himself. It made sense. Like called to like and I couldn’t stop searching for the supernatural. I wouldn’t stop until it killed me. The least Jacob deserved was to know what I was getting myself into.

            “I knew,” I admitted. “I’ve known for a while.”

            “They’re dead,” Jacob said. “Unnatural. It’s part of my promise. I’m supposed to protect human beings from them.”

            “All of them?” I asked. If I told him about Edward, I didn’t know if he’d give it a rest or if he’d seek him out to kill him instead. I wanted Edward to come back so desperately, but knowing what Jacob thought about their kind, I wasn’t sure all my problems would be solved by his return anymore.

            “What do you mean by that?” he asked. He looked concerned. He hadn’t stopped looking concerned since he told me.

            “I don’t know,” I lied. “I don’t know. I’m just curious what you actually know about them. Was the one in the meadow the first one you ever saw or…?”

            “Leah’s seen more than me,” he admitted. “But yeah, that was the first one I ever…fought.” He didn’t want to say killed and I think I understood that. Maybe in his mind, he wasn’t really killing them though. In his mind, they were already dead.

            “So Leah kills them,” I said. “Who else? Other people in the tribe.”

            “A few,” Jacob admitted. “Mostly the older folks.”

            “Just Quileute?” I asked.

            “That’s all I know of, but it’s not about being Quileute or not,” he said. “It’s about life and choice.”

            “Choice,” I said in a near sarcastic tone. All my decisions led me to dead ends, to this raw empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, always there. My choices never amounted to anything good. The whole world was quaking underneath me and it would never ever stop.

            “You could become like me too if you wanted to,” he said. “But only if you wanted to. It’s kind of a lifelong commitment.”

            “I can’t,” I said quickly, a little too quick.

            “You don’t want to think about it?” Jacob asked. “I mean, Leah spent a whole month trying to figure it out before she made her decision.”

            “And then she killed a bunch of vampires,” I snapped. There wasn’t a world in which I could look Edward in the eye and call him unnatural. There wasn’t a world in with I could kill him for the sake of nature.

            “What’s your deal with the vampires? That guy almost killed you,” Jacob snapped, matching my fire. I almost regretted bringing it up.

            “I just know they were human once,” I said. “What about them means they have to die?”

            “Everyone has a time, and everyone dies,” Jacob said. “It’s not complicated, Bella. That’s their whole thing. They’re immortal; they’re monsters.”

            “Why is that so bad?” I snapped. “Wouldn’t you take that deal? To save your mom wouldn’t you have taken that deal?”

            I regretted it as soon as I said it, but I’d been turning my life upside down for a while now. If this meant ruining one of the last good things I had, I would let it happen. Nothing ever came down to my decision. I wanted this one thing to be mine.

            “Not like that,” Jacob growled. “I wouldn’t want to see her become something like that. And you wouldn’t either. If Charlie was on his death bed—”

            “I’d save him,” I said. “I wouldn’t care.”

            “It wouldn’t be him,” Jacob said. He took a step back toward the sliding glass door and grabbed hold of the handle. “You should go home.”

            “You’d kill any vampire,” I said. “No matter what. Even if it was me.”

            Jacob closed his eyes and opened the door instead. “Go home, Bella.”

            I crossed the threshold back into the house, back toward the front door where I’d pass all of Mrs. Black’s old treasures. If I left now, I wasn’t sure I’d come back, but it was my bridge to burn.

            I paused in the kitchen, Jacob still standing just outside. “The mountain lion attacks,” I said. “Those weren’t mountain lions.”

            “Vampires,” Jacob said. “Leah took care of them. And I got that last one. It should be safe now.”

            I nodded. There were no vampires around anymore. If the Cullens ever made the mistake of coming back for me, I wasn’t sure it would be safe for them anymore. If anything, I understood why Edward never came to the reservation now. That was one question answered, but every other question I had about Edward would remain a mystery.

            “I’ll see you,” I said and walked straight out of the kitchen to the front door, not turning my head to let my eyes fall to the statues. I walked out the door and closed it behind me, sure I’d never be back.

            As I drove my cycle back to Forks and to my house, I wanted to cry, but I kept it all in as I watched the road. Everything streaming past me felt faded again. Summer was gone and the world was returning to its pained grey.

            When I finally stopped in the driveway and raced up the steps to my room, I let myself cry. I buried my head into my pillow for a while as I thought of Jacob, less human now, but still Jacob. If I wasn’t so stubborn, if I wasn’t so determined to take control, maybe I would have let him explain. Maybe I would have told him the truth.

            I got up and opened the blinds on my window to let the dying light into my darkened bedroom. From the window, I could see the edge of the woods, where a large brown wolf was standing, looking up to my room. He only stayed for a minute to make sure I was alright before he left, turning tail and disappearing into the woods.

Chapter Text

In the days leading up to my birthday, I let my bridges burn. I didn’t go back to Jacob’s or answer his texts. He’d texted me half a dozen times that week, asking if I was alright and if I’d please talk to him. I wanted to talk to him. Every day when school ended, I just wanted to ride down La Push beach with him next to me. I had to remind myself that I was angry at him.

            I still couldn’t explain after everything I’d already told him. The promise I made to Edward stuck to me like a thin layer of glue inside my throat, stopping up everything. Why I was so loyal to him after he left me, I didn’t know. So it was better if I didn’t text Jacob at all.

            Instead, I rode to La Push by myself. I rode as far as I could with all the precious hours of sunlight left. The days were getting steadily shorter and soon, the snow and rain would wash me out. It felt as though time was moving too fast. By the end of that week, I was dreading my birthday. When Monday came, I would be eighteen and that should have made me happy. Instead, I felt vulnerable.

            I felt vulnerable more and more these days.

            I rode all weekend to avoid thinking about it, but even that didn’t fix the sinking feeling in my chest. Edward was rarely around like he used to be anymore. That feeling, that rush of adrenaline and fear didn’t make me scared enough to feel him. I cursed myself with every ride as he waned from me. He always, always left me.

            On Sunday, the wind was stronger. The fall was blowing in and as I looked over La Push beach, I could smell rain. I should have gone home. It would have been the smart thing to do, but I was too desperate to be smart. I slowed to a stop, laying one foot down on the pavement near where it connected to the sand. From where I had stopped, James Island was visible through the waves. The shear cliffs and rising trees held up the cloud ridden sky like an omen. A-Ka-Lat, Jacob had called it. A sacred place.

            Just to the right, where the shore met the land, another shear cliff rose up, this one taller than James Island, leaning out over the sea. Waves beat up against it, sending flurries of sea salt into the rocks. It wasn’t so far, and the rain hadn’t started yet. A dive from that cliff into the ocean would surely make me feel what I was lacking.

            I thought about calling Jacob and asking him to come. He’d swam these waters for years before I returned, and he’d know the best places to dive. But I remembered as soon as I thought it that I was still angry with him. If I talked to him again now, he’d ask why I’d said the things I’d said. There was no way I could explain without telling him about Edward and that wasn’t an option.

            Steeling myself, I kicked off on my bike and raced forward, riding up and out toward the cliff. I wondered if I’d be able to swim all the way to James Island, but once the rain started, there would be no way to get back. Instead, I drove as far as I could and had to leave my bike to hike the rest of the way up to the top of the cliff.

            As I pushed my way up the path through branches and brush and leaves, I found the perfect grey view of the ocean before me. James Island stood below, not quite reaching this height, and as I stepped closer to the edge, my breath left me. The ocean below was churning, and the wind whipped toward me, egging me to free fall.

            But as I looked down to the craggy sea below, I didn’t want to jump. I was scared just standing here, just teetering off the edge. The storm clouds were closing in and I had one chance. Tomorrow, I’d be eighteen and it would all feel so much worse, but right now, I was still a kid. I was still Edward’s age, and he would still whisper to me in my dreams that he loved me. Tomorrow would be a curse and I was sure that when I was eighteen and out of Edward’s reach, he'd never come back to me. No danger would be enough, but I still had today.

            I took a step back from the ledge and began to remove my boots and the jacket I wore when I rode. The wind had turned my hair into a mess of tangles, so I ran my hands through them and began to braid, starting at the top and keeping every stray hair close as I tied it off. Free of the extra weight, I looked again to the ledge and the ocean beyond.

            Here went nothing.

            “Bella!” a voice caught me off guard as I lowered my stance to make a run off the ledge. I whipped my head around and found Jacob running to catch up. He skidded to a stop a few feet from me and held out a hand as an offering.

            “What are you doing here?” I demanded.

            “Harry saw you heading this way,” Jacob said. “He was talking to my Dad, and I assumed the worst.”

            “I’m fine,” I snapped. I wasn’t fine. I was far from fine, and I hadn’t been okay in a long time. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt crazy enough to throw myself off a cliff and there was no telling if it would be the last. Edward had changed the shape of my life so intensely that I didn’t know who I was without him. He’d hurt me, I realized. Even if he didn’t want to, he’d made himself the center of my universe and promptly exited, leaving me to orbit nothing but a black hole. “I’m fine,” I repeated, even more a lie than the first time.

            “Let’s go to the barn,” Jacob said. “We can just talk. No wolf stuff, I promise. Just you and me like we used to be. Aren’t we still friends?”

            “No,” I snapped a little too fast. “I can’t be your friend.”

            Jacob shook his head. “Bella, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry.”

            The apology didn’t feel real. Nothing felt real anymore, and I was only just figuring that out. “I know what I want,” I said and looked to the ledge instead of him. I could still feel his presence behind me, but he didn’t dare move forward to stop me. I was too close to the edge.

            “What do you want?” he asked. “Because it can’t be this. Whatever is happening, you’re better than this. You’re stronger, Bella.”

            “I’m really not,” I said, and jumped.

            The wind was so loud as I leapt out past the edge of the cliff that I couldn’t hear Jacob screaming, but I knew he was. I fell and fell and fell, feet first toward the freezing water below where the waves licked the rocks. I was going to live, I told myself. I was going to live and when I hit that water, I was going to feel alive and that feeling wouldn’t leave me again.

            I closed my eyes as the waves came closer. My heart stammered and the world shifted under me like everything had jump started. I’d set the gears in motion. My decision, this decision had bearing. It would change everything.

            As I hit the water, my legs jolted under me, shaking as the pain rose like static through my body. I held my breath as the cold encapsulated me and water seeped into my clothes and all throughout me. I sunk, deeper and deeper, letting it overtake me, but in all that time, I didn’t hear Edward’s voice. I didn’t feel his presence like so many times I had pushed myself into danger. Instead, I was in darkness.

            I hadn’t hit the rocks, but that didn’t mean I was safe. Above me, the echoing, dampened sound of waves rose and fell with every clash of the tide. I shifted underneath, being pushed and pulled along with the ocean. The cold froze my limbs against me, and as I sunk a little deeper still, I couldn’t move. My choice had bearing. It was going to kill me.

            As I teetered about under the waves, losing air with every passing second, I felt something strong and cold wrap around my bare ankle and pull. Suddenly I was being dragged, inch by inch down into the faded darkness of the waves. My eyes blinked open, and salt stung as I forced myself to look down. The darkness of the cloudy sky made everything dimmer down here, but I could just barely make out something white gripping my foot. It wasn’t an animal; it couldn’t have been. Those white claws were much too human.

            Suddenly, something crashed into the water above me. A looming figure blocked out what was left of the light as he splashed into the water above me, sending me in a flurry downward. The jolt of someone else entering the waves with me was enough to knock some sense into my freezing, dying body. I kicked, trying to force myself up toward the surface, but the creature below me had a powerful grip that only dug in deeper the more I struggled.

            After all this, I was dying here, I realized. All the struggle that had dragged me down was getting the better of me like it always did. My decisions had only led me here, like fate bringing another tragic hero to their death. I’d left Phoenix to escape my mother, I’d followed Edward to discover what he was, I’d stayed loyal to his secret to keep that shred of him to myself, and I’d jumped into the ocean just to feel something again. My choices meant nothing in the end. They always brought me misery.

            The last of my air spilled out of my lungs as the grip below me got tighter, digging crescent moon marks into my skin with nails. Weakly, I reached toward the surface, but the world was going dark.

            As the world spun out of my vision something heavy and soft, like seaweed or grass pushed up from my stomach, throwing me upward. Around my foot, the grip went slack and disappeared as I wrapped my arms around the hide of the figure pushing my up. As I broke the surface, I coughed out seawater, squeezing my eyes tightly shut as I held tight to whatever had saved me. It paddled, legs and arms dragging us through the water over harsh waves.

            When I finally got the courage to open my eyes, I found the back of two furry ears in front of me. I was holding tight to the back of a large brown wolf which dragged me through the water with all its might toward the shoreline ahead.

            “Jacob,” I managed through the rising waves.

            As soaking wet as I was, I didn’t notice that it had started to rain until we were nearly to the shore. As the wolf found footing on the sand and rock littered seabed, I slipped off his back and landed on my knees where the water almost covered me entirely. The wolf nudged me with his snout, trying to get my arm over his shoulder, but I just stayed kneeling. The cold had seeped all the way into my bones, turning the rest of me to ice.

            Before I could figure out how to move, there was no longer a wolf above me, but Jacob, standing tall in the water. His clothes were just as drenched as mine. He reached for my arm and pulled me around his shoulder, bringing me up to stand. As I found solid ground, pain shot up my left foot, right where the creature had grabbed me. I cried out as fire spread up my leg and drove me back to the water.

            “My leg,” I huffed. “I think I sprained my ankle.”

            “Shit,” Jacob swore and tried to pick me up to carry me back to dry ground, but only managed to drag me onto the sand. I watched the water as it grew further away from me, bobbing up and down with the winds of a storm.

            Soon, the rain was falling in a sheet, and I struggled to breath through it as my heart kept beating wildly, trying to warm up my frozen body. I couldn’t move much of anything as I stared at the bustling water, half wishing I was still dying in it.

            “What the fuck was that?” Jacob demanded. I didn’t look to him as he stood over me.

            “Nothing,” I lied. “Forget it.”

            “Forget it?” he snapped. “Shit, Bella. Charlie told me you weren’t doing well, but I had no idea it was this bad.”

            “It’s not what you think,” I said. I pulled my leg up closer to me to inspect the damages. My foot had turned almost purple and dark red crescents showed the marks of where that hand had gripped me.

            “So you weren’t trying to kill yourself?” Jacob snapped. “Then what? What is going on because I can’t make sense of it.”

            I shook my head. “I’m not myself lately.” I didn’t know what else to say. “I wanted to be closer to Edward.”

            “What is that supposed to mean?”

            There were no answers, so I just shut my mouth. The world had been trying to tear me apart for a long time, but it wouldn’t tear this from me. I held onto my promise to Edward like it was a lifeline, though I knew it could never serve me.

            “I’m going to get my Dad’s car and then I’m taking you home,” he said. “And maybe you can figure out how to explain this to me.”

            “You can’t take me home,” I said. My Dad had thrown a fit when he learned I crashed on the bike. If he knew about this, he’d know the bike wasn’t just a fluke. He’d know I was doing this and everything I’d told him about seeing friends more and getting out of this myself would be for nothing. He’d always think I was crazy.

            “This isn’t a negotiation,” he snapped. Taken back, he paused and dropped to his knees next to me. Wet sand crawled its way up his pants. We were both covered in it. He lowered his voice. “I’m sorry, Bella. There’s people who care about you. I can’t…”

            “I know,” I said. He looked at me for a while longer and then to my ankle just starting to swell with the damages. After a moment of silence between us, he stood up and walked off, heading toward where he’d left his Dad’s car.

            I waited there in the freezing rain, listening to the ocean churn around me. The spot where I’d fallen looked like a faint outline of rocks and rushing waves now, but between the depths, I could see just a blip of red, bobbing over and beneath the waves. Holding me gaze, I tried to push myself up to my feet, balancing myself on my right. The left ankle throbbed with pain as I tried to see over the waves, to that spot where I’d nearly been killed.

            There, for just a moment, I could see it, deep red spreading out along the waves and for a moment, I thought it was blood. From the red, though, there was white and a pair of piercing black eyes that bore into me as I watched it. I hadn’t been crazy. There really was something in those waves, another vampire, another threat.

            I breathed in the salty sea air and as a set of tires crunched along the road that stretched along La Push, the vampire was gone. I blinked again and again, hoping to bring it back, but it was gone without a trace, back into the depths where it hid.

            Jacob honked the old horn as he pulled the car to a halt. Jumping out and racing back over the sand toward me, he held out a hand to help me hobble over to the car. We toddled over the sand together, nearly tripping up as rain obscured everything. When we got to the car, he pulled the door open for me and I dragged myself inside, holding my knee where the pain still spread up my leg.

            I squished into the seat, my wet clothes seeping more water into the fabric. Jacob slammed the door shut behind me and dashed over to the other side where he got in and turned the heaters up as far as they would go. The air that seeped out of the vents was not as warm as I would have liked, but it brought feeling back into my fingers as he started to drive.

            As he led us out of the reservation and out toward Forks, he sighed heavily, keeping one hand on the wheel and one hand over a vent, trying to warm himself up. “Is this really all about Edward?” He glanced at me and then back to the road.

            I hesitated to answer, watching the windshield wipers move too slowly to properly keep the view clear. Jacob was driving slower than he needed to. It would take us longer to get home, but maybe in that time, I could convince him to lie to Charlie for me. If he told him that I jumped, I didn’t think I’d ever be allowed back on the res and as mad as I’d pretended I was at Jacob, I really couldn’t lose him.

            “I don’t know,” I said, because it was true. Edward was gone. I wasn’t so deluded that I thought he was ever coming back, but I wanted him back. He’d done something to me I didn’t think possible. He wasn’t just my first heartbreak. He’d changed me, made me so dependent on him with just a simple touch and a few soft words, and I didn’t know how he did it.

Chapter Text

As Jacob pulled into the driveway of my house, it looked just as it had the day I’d first arrived. The longer I watched, however, the more change I could see. My truck was parked in the drive and the porch light was turned on, shedding light over the path. The rain soaked everything through, and I hesitated to step out once again, like I had over a year ago when I came here for good.

            Next to me, Jacob tapped the wheel as he looked over the house. “Your Dad’s not here.”

            I nodded. The sky had turned dark long ago, which meant he’d probably been called out to something. Above, lightning struck the sky. With a storm like this, there had to be a few broken windows needing tending to. I didn’t know how long he’d be gone, but it wouldn’t be good when he came back.

            “What are you going to tell him?” Jacob asked.

            “It depends on what you tell him,” I said. Any lie I told would be ruined if Jacob told him about the cliff.

            He glanced to the clock. “In a couple of hours, you’re going to be eighteen,” he said. “So that means it’s really your decision to make if you want help or not.”

            It was exactly the offer Charlie had given me. I had no doubt he could find a counselor in Port Angeles or a doctor to prescribe some pill, and maybe he was right to suggest it. I’d promised him I’d get better, but all I’d done this summer was spiral further out of control. The only thing that made me feel any control was hurting me.

            “I need time,” I said, “to figure out what to say. Can we just keep this quiet tonight?”

            Jacob nodded. He reached over into the back seat and pulled out a small black umbrella. “Here. I’ll help you up to the house.”

            I took the umbrella as he turned off the car and got out, lowering his head so his wet hair draped around him as he ran around to the other side of the car. Once on my side, he opened the door and offered me an arm, helping me keep balance as I got to my feet and opened the umbrella above us. It hardly mattered. We were both already soaked, and our phones had been left at the top of that cliff. They were probably ruined by now, but I held it over our heads to keep the rain from us as we hobbled up the steps and onto the porch.

            “The spare key is over the door frame,” I said.

            Jacob let me go and jumped up on top of the little ledge of the door, reaching his hand over to grab the spare key hidden there. As he jumped down, however, he paused and jiggled the doorknob, finding it unlocked. He swung the door open and stared into the darkened house.

            “There’s someone in the house,” he whispered, so low I couldn’t hear all the words through the rain, but only put it together as he took a tentative step into the house, holding his arm out to block me.

            “Wait, don’t,” I hissed. It could have been someone with a gun or some other weapon. He looked back at me with a grim expression, one that reminded me of what he was, not just a boy, a year younger than me, but a wolf with a promise to protect.

            He stepped into the house and disappeared into the dark. For a long moment, I stood outside on the porch, leaning on one foot and waiting to hear a fight break out. If Jacob was hurt in there, I’d never forgive myself. I thought as I limped into the house that I could have called Charlie if I had my phone. Instead, I hobbled in, bracing myself on walls and ledges as I made my way through the house in the dark.

            My eyes adjusted well to the darkened space, but I could still only see the outlines of things as I looked about, searching for the intruder. I swallowed my breath and my fear as I limped deeper into darkness, holding the closed umbrella like a weapon.

            Before I could make sense of anything, I heard a crash loud enough to knock me back and I braced myself against the arm of Charlie’s lazy chair. Glass shattered on the floor, somewhere in the kitchen and without a thought, I rushed into the kitchen, ignoring the pain lancing up my leg.

            Once there, I came to a halt before a spill of glass sparkling on the floor. By the looks of it, it had once been a glass of water. Jacob had someone pinned against the refrigerator who was baring shiny teeth to him like a threat. At my unceremonious entrance, both figures looked to me.

            “Bella, get out,” Jacob snapped. “There’s vampires.”

            Like an idiot, I reached out and flipped on the kitchen light, illuminating the room in a yellow glow. Pinned against the fridge was a familiar face, one that I had been imagining since the day he disappeared from my life.

            “Edward,” I breathed.

            “Edward?” Jacob demanded. He looked back to the vampire pinned against the fridge. He was digging his hands into his shirt, and I was sure that at any moment, he’d turn into a wolf and rip him to shreds. “Oh shit.”

            “Get off me,” Edward snapped and pushed Jacob back to where he slammed into the sink behind him. The sound of him hitting the sink almost made me take my eyes off of Edward for a second, but I was transfixed by him.

            “I thought you weren’t coming back,” I said. It felt like it had been years since I’d seen him, but his face looked all the same. Not a hair was out of place. As his black eyes looked into me, I could only see sadness and regret behind them. I wanted to reach out to him, but the memory of what he had told me rang in my ears. He never loved me.

            “I wasn’t,” he said. “Carlisle doesn’t know I’m here.”

            I knew it. As I stared at him and he looked away, filled with shame and regret, I knew he’d lied to me. He loved me. He’d always loved me, and Carlisle had made him go. I tried to take a step toward him, but as my strained foot hit the ground, I buckled and winced at the pain.

            He was across the room in an instant, holding me up and keeping me steady. I leaned into him, feeling his cold body against me for the first time in forever. But even in this embrace, I didn’t feel safe or sane. If anything, I felt more desperate.

            “Your boyfriend is a vampire,” Jacob snapped as he pulled himself to his feet. “Now I get it.”

            “Wolf,” another voice said from the shadows, light and sweet. Alice stepped out from the garage doorway and tilted her head toward Jacob. “I didn’t know your kind were allowed out of the kennel.”

            “Alice,” I said, my feet feeling a little lighter with her here too. I wanted to reach over to her and hug her, but I couldn’t dare step out of Edward’s embrace.

            “You’re alive,” Alice said as her eyes fell to me. “Good.”

            “What?” I asked. “Did you see something?” It had been months since I’d even thought of Alice’s visions, but as she looked at me like she was surprised to see me alive, I couldn’t help but dread to know what she’d seen.

            “Alice saw you drowning,” Edward said for her. “You jumped off a cliff.”

            I stepped out of his embrace and nearly fell into one of the kitchen chairs, still wincing at the pain in my foot. I had hoped I would stop feeling it after a while, but it only grew worse. “I’m fine,” I said. “Just a little banged up.”

            “You’re not fine, Bella,” Jacob said. “I’m calling Charlie.”

            “Why don’t you leave it,” Alice said. “You brought her home. Now go on your merry way. Leave this to her real friends.”

            “Real friends,” Jacob huffed. He looked about to pounce on her.

            “Jacob,” I warned, but it was too late.

            “Real friends don’t leave without a trace and stay away for months. You’re not her real friends. Her real friends are the ones that had to help her pick up the pieces when you disappeared!”

            “Jacob,” I snapped again. He looked surprised at me, but I held my gaze. “Leave it.”

            He backed off, leaning defeated against the sink as he watched Alice. She simply ignored him, walking toward me and kneeling before my destroyed ankle. I hesitated to let her touch it, but she grabbed it anyway. I winced as she lifted my leg to closer inspect the swelling.

            “It’s not as bad as it looks,” she promised. “In fact, if you don’t walk on it, it should heal without any problems.”

            “You can tell all that just by looking at it?” I asked through the pain of her touch.

            “Well,” she admitted. “That and looking at your future.” She dropped my foot unceremoniously and allowed me to lower it back to the ground. As she stood up straight again, her gaze finally turned to Jacob. “Since when have you been friends with the wolves.”

            “I’ve only been a guardian for the past week,” Jacob said. “But I’m curious to see how long it would take me to pop your head off.” He had his fists clenched in such a way that I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t do it right then and there. I’d never seen Jacob this angry before. If he was holding back, it was for my sake, and I wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to.

            “Touchy,” Alice said. “Two on one, I’m curious to see how long you’d last.”

            “Stop it,” I told her, but they continued to stare at each other with an animal ferocity. “You’re not going to kill each other. Not here.”

            Jacob hesitated to step down, but slowly, he unclenched his fists and looked to me for guidance. As much as I knew he wanted to, he couldn’t hurt them. I’d been waiting months for them to come back and now that they were here, I just wanted to look at them. As he loosened himself, I looked up to Edward still standing above me.

            “Why did you come back?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I cared about the answer that much, as long as he stayed. The way he looked, however, I wasn’t sure he was going to.

            “I was having Alice keep an eye on you,” he said. “When she saw you jump, I knew we had to come back.”

            “I couldn’t see what was in the water with you, but I could sense that it was dangerous,” Alice said.

            “The wolves aren’t dangerous,” Jacob argued.

            “To you,” Alice spat back. She twisted her gaze back on me. “We thought we were too late, but here you are.”

            I didn’t know how to respond. All I really wanted to know was if they were going to stay, but I was too afraid to ask the question. They’d come here without telling the rest of the Cullens to try and save me, and if Carlisle found out, he wouldn’t let them stay. I wouldn’t see them again after this.

            I looked again to Edward who had been quiet this whole time. He wasn’t looking at me anymore, but I just wanted to see those dark eyes land on me again. I didn’t want him to disappear again, but the only thing I could really do was beg him to take me with him.

            “Can I talk to Edward alone?” I asked. He still didn’t look at me, but to the glass pile on the floor.

            “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jacob said.

            “I just want to talk,” I said. “That’s it.”


            “I’ll keep your wolf company,” Alice said, cutting Jacob off. “Let’s go.”

            She opened the back door and stood beside it, waiting for Jacob to follow. He gave me a look, trying to warn me to be careful before he followed Alice’s lead out to the backyard. When the door closed behind them, I breathed a soft sigh.

            “Look at me,” I said. Edward was still looking at the ground.

            “I can’t stay,” he told me. “I only came because I thought you were dead.”

            “You lied,” I snapped. “You told me you didn’t love me, but you made Alice watch me. Why do all this?” I tried to stay calm, but I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to yell and shout and hit him, but it wouldn’t have done any good. It would all only hurt me more.

            “I didn’t lie,” he said. “I told you what you needed to hear. Apparently, it didn’t work.”

            “I was never going to get over you, no matter what you told me,” I snapped. I wanted to cry as I said it like I’d cried and screamed over him so many times.

            “Yes, I can see that,” Edward said, getting a little more vicious as he did. He looked to me, finally, but it wasn’t his soft endless eyes I saw, but fire. Even without the light to shed ink across his skin, he looked like a monster. He bared his teeth at me like a threat.

            “So you came all this way for someone you didn’t love,” I argued, trying to sound half as vibrant and fiery as he did. I tried to stand up, leaning against the table for support. I didn’t even feel the pain in my leg.

            “I came all this way to set you straight,” Edward snapped. He grabbed my shoulder so tight I was afraid he’d break bone. “You can’t kill yourself, Bella. I don’t respond well to threats.”

            “I wasn’t trying to get you to come back,” I said. “I was…” In a way, I supposed I was trying to get him back, to feel adrenaline so powerful it brought back images of him, but I never thought he’d come back because of my recklessness. I never thought he cared. “I was trying to feel something and if I died in the process, so be it.”

            Edward cringed. “No,” he whispered, low and deadly. “If you try to kill yourself again, I will die. Do you understand? I will kill myself if I have to live in a world where you don’t exist.”

            “And you didn’t think I’d feel the same?” I asked. I wanted him to see me, but it only seemed like he was looking through me even as he held tight to my shoulder, keeping me locked in place.

            “You needed to learn a lesson,” Edward said. “You want to know why I left? You fucked up, Bella. I love you, Bella, I really do, but you can’t ask me to make you a vampire.”

            I stared at him, the tears spilling over my eyes. His expression was closed and hidden so far behind his eyes that I didn’t know if he was lying or not. I didn’t know what to make of any of this. I’d spent so long wishing for him to come back only to learn he’d left me just to break me down.

            “You want to be with me,” I breathed. I wanted to hit him, but he was still holding my arm in place.

            “For as long as you live,” he admitted.

            “You want to watch me age,” I said.

            “I want to see every moment of your life,” he said. “I can’t make you a vampire. I can’t make you a monster like me. You’re too beautiful to sully with all of that.”

            I shook my head. All summer, I’d dreamt of him in that stream of light. I’d seen him and all his teeth taking bites out of me until I bled out into the moss. I’d watched him leave me there, dead and gone. And I’d wanted him still, to be with him where he stood divorced from the world, a shadow of the night. I had wanted to live forever with him and that spell never died. Even as I wanted to hit him, I wanted to be with him.

            “I want to be like you,” I told him. “Why is that so impossible?”

            Edward opened his mouth to speak, but something distracted us before he could put his argument to words. A slam came at the back door as well as a loud growl that sounded like Jacob. Without thinking of the pain in my leg, I dashed to the door and pushed it open, nearly stumbling out to the backyard. Jacob had someone pinned against the house. The darkness and the rain obscured his features, but I knew this man well.

            “Jasper,” I snapped.

            “He was hiding in the woods waiting to attack,” Jacob shouted through the rain, holding him against the siding of the house. By the look of his hands, he was about ready to rip Jasper’s head off.

            “Stop, Jacob,” I argued. “He’s a Cullen.”

            “He could be a fairy princess for all I care. He’s still a vampire,” Jacob said.

            “We told him to wait outside and make sure there was no danger,” Alice argued. “Your wolf sniffed him out.”

            I shook my head, still trying to think. I couldn’t deal with all this fighting, not while I was still trying to figure out what Edward really meant. “Let him go, Jacob,” I said. He hesitated. “He’s not going to hurt me.”

            Finally, Jacob let go of Jasper and stepped away. I’d never seen Jacob this angry in my life. Even when I told him what I thought of his wolf rules, I’d never seen him this fiery. It was taking everything in him not to kill the Cullens. It was in his code how he was supposed to respond to beings like these and I was asking him not to.

            “Why would you need to watch for danger?” Jacob asked. He looked to Jasper who hadn’t said a word since I’d opened the door and then to Alice who still looked a little nervous about Jacob’s presence.

            “Alice, why did Jasper need to watch the house?” I asked.

            Finally, she spoke. “We were the only vampires in this area before we left. It was our territory. Who knows how many have moved in since we left.”

            “Unbelievable,” Jacob said. “All the vampires in Port Angeles, all of them hunting hikers in the woods this summer. Because you left.”

            “I didn’t abandon you, Bella,” Alice said, still looking at me. “I kept an eye on you. I kept you safe. You weren’t going to get hurt.”

            “And what about all the rest of the people who got killed because you left?” Jacob snapped.

            Alice ignored his comment and took a few lithe steps up to me before she wrapped her hands in mine. She smiled that gorgeous Alice Cullen smile. “You’ll always be safe with us. I promise.”

            I pulled myself out of her grasp and back through the doorway. “I’m so tired,” I said. “I think, I just need to go to sleep.”

            “We’ll stay here,” Alice promised. “We’ll be here when you wake up.”

            “Bella, you can’t possibly let three vampires stay in in your house when you’re asleep,” Jacob argued.

            “I’m getting very tired of your nagging, wolf,” Jasper said.

            I shook my head at all of this. “Then Jacob, you stay,” I said. “Make sure nothing happens. And don’t kill each other. I need to think.”

            “Wait,” Alice was saying, but I closed the door and turned away from them and back into the kitchen where Edward was still waiting for me. I’d been too tired for a long time now and I needed to sleep, but I couldn’t trust that it would be peaceful.

            Edward was still here with his ultimatum and his so called lesson. He was never going to make me a vampire and we were never going to be together forever. He would rather watch me age and forget him and die than love me forever as his equal. As I looked at him again, too exhausted to argue anymore, I just wanted him gone.

            “I’m going to bed,” I said and brushed past him, but he reached for my shoulder once again and held me in place.

            “Don’t,” he whispered. “I still want to look at you.” With his free hand, he reached up and touched the end of my braid with his fingers, running his thumb into the still wet hair.

            “I don’t care,” I told him and pushed past him and toward the stairs. I wasn’t sure he’d let me go, but he did and I left the kitchen, trying not to look like I was in as much pain as I was. As I reached the stairs and took hold of the railing to drag myself up to bed, I glanced behind me to the mudroom, where the door stood closed with rain tapping lightly against it.

            I stood there a long time, thinking of Edward’s lesson. I couldn’t be a vampire, not by him or anyone. That was his condition for loving me. And though I’d spent all summer yearning for him to return, I wanted to spite him for this. If he only would love me weak, I didn’t want his love. I told myself that when I woke up, I’d tell him to leave, but in all honesty, I couldn’t turn him away knowing how it would make me crazy to live without him.

            I stared at the door and at the rain and imagined that what our life would be like together if I was a vampire, and I knew that if I was, he’d forgive me eventually. He loved me, that was what he said, so he’d have to forgive me for this.

            My recklessness and desperate need for him battled in my head and in the end, I took the keys to my truck from the bowl on the little table in the mudroom and slipped on a pair of sandals as I crept out of the house and toward my truck. I closed the door as quietly as I could and dragged myself down the steps, nearly holding myself on one foot as I got to the driver’s side door of the truck. Once inside, I turned the ignition and it sprung to life, sounding like the rolling of thunder around me. I gripped the wheel tight and with my right foot, backed out of the drive and onto the street.

            I headed away from this house where three vampires and a werewolf guarded an empty bed, and I drove back toward La Push, to First Beach, to the cliff where I’d dove and found the grip of a hungry vampire.

Chapter Text

I sat in my truck for a long time staring out at First Beach, near where Jacob had dragged me out and back home. I knew if I drove up the road toward the cliff, I’d find my bike waiting for me. If I left now, I could get back to my house and pretend I hadn’t been considering this at all. I could tell Edward I was happy with his ultimatum, that I’d live my whole life as a human next to him and never ask to be a vampire ever again. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew I’d only hate myself more if I let myself cave in to this demand.

            Just before midnight, I grabbed the hunting knife in my glove box. I never went into the woods without it and though I knew it wouldn’t really be able to protect me against a vampire, it would make me feel a lot better about what I was about to do. I left the truck running and the headlights glowing as I got out and stepped out into the sand.

            The rain was far from lightening up, but I trudged out into the beach, my head held ahead to the dark and shifting waters of the ocean ahead. I knew she was in there, waiting for a poor sap like me to stumble along. I rolled my shoulder back as I stood, keeping my left leg from holding too much weight as I waited alone on First Beach.

            I knew she could hear me, but I threw my voice anyway. “I know you’re there. Come out and face me!”

            Lightning struck overhead and within a second, thunder rolled loud enough to make me jump. I breathed back the fear as I kept standing, completely soaked and desperate. I wasn’t leaving until I’d found the vampire who attacked me in the water. If Edward wouldn’t turn me, I’d find someone who would.

            I bit back against the pain and exhaustion. Part of me wanted to go home and sleep, but if I left now, that vampire would move on, and I’d never have another chance to find her. Instead, I took another step closer to the water and screamed, loud and wordlessly into the night.

            “Boy oh boy,” a feminine voice said in a sultry tone.

            I twisted around, almost falling in the sand as I found an unfamiliar figure standing behind me on the beach. She was barefoot and just as soaked as me. Her red hair was drenched and sticking to the back of her neck as she watched me with a vibrant smirk.

            “You’re a bit jumpy,” she said as I caught myself.

            “You snuck up on me,” I offered.

            “Of course,” she admitted. “And do you always come to this beach to scream at thunderstorms?”

            “I was looking for someone in the water,” I said.

            “Like a siren,” she offered. “That seems like a great way to get killed.”

            “Or a vampire,” I corrected.

            “An even better way to get killed,” she said. “What’s your name, girl?”

            I held my breath at the question. I didn’t need to see the fangs or the way she looked in the sunlight to know that this woman was a vampire. All I needed to do was convince her to turn me, but the last vampire I’d met had been more interested in killing me. I couldn’t be sure this one wouldn’t try the same.

            “Bella,” I said. “You?”

            “Victoria,” she said, the name rolling off her tongue like something rare and decadent. She took a step toward me in the rain, and I backed off. “Did you come here all alone, Bella?”

            “I have friends that live near here,” I told her. I didn’t need her to think she could get away with killing me so easily. In the meadow, I had no way to call for help. She didn’t need to know that I had no way to call for help now while my phone was on top of a cliff and soaked through.

            “Excellent,” she said. “I came with friends too, but I misplaced them. They weren’t interested in seeing the beach. It’s a pity.”

            “That sucks,” I said. I needed to ask her, but the moment I told her I knew what she was, would be the moment she would try to kill me. I needed her to see I wanted to join her, to be like her.

            “Hey, those friends of yours,” she said. “They wouldn’t happen to be wolves, would they?”

            Apparently, she was getting there for me. I felt for the hunting knife under my shirt, still firmly set in the waistband of my pants. “Sorry.”

            “The friends that live nearby. They’re shapeshifters, aren’t they? Wolves of the forest or however it is they call themselves,” she spat. She leaned in toward me and smiled, showing off pearly fangs.

            “I’m not one of them,” I said, trying to keep my voice even as I watched her. I was sure she was going to pounce at any second.

            “I can smell that,” she said.

            “I want you to make me a vampire,” I snapped before she could add anything more. The words just fell out of me and now that they were out in front of us, I wanted desperately to pick them back up and hide them away.

            “You want to become a vampire,” she breathed. “Haven’t your wolf friends warned you of what that does to you.”

            “I know what it means,” I replied. “I can make my own decisions.”

            I held my tongue to keep anything else from falling out between us as she looked me over, pondering my request. Her black eyes traveled up the length of my body as she licked her lips. There was all the likelihood that she was simply going to kill me.

            “And what will the wolves think if I turn their precious little friend into a creature of death?” she pondered. “I suppose it would be adequate revenge for all the vampires they slaughtered.”

            I thought of the vampire in the meadow again. She didn’t need to know that I watched her friend get killed by a wolf. I simply stood as she continued to ponder, that devilish smile on her face.

            “And I’ll need friends if I’m going to make this place my home, aren’t I? Do you know this place well?”

            “I do,” I said. “I knew the vampires that used to live here.”

            “Then you’ll be one of the vampires to take their place,” she said. “Consider this my offer to you, Bella. I’ll make you a vampire and your home will become your feeding ground. We’ll make this place ours. Shall we?”

            She didn’t need to know that the Cullens had come back to town to protect me or that Jacob wouldn’t let her live after she turned me. I didn’t need her to live after she turned me, and I realized by my plan how desperate I was. I was willing to let her die just to get what I wanted and that should have hurt me. It should have made me think twice about letting her turn me, but I didn’t care. I needed to be with Edward like I needed to breathe. I needed to be like him if I ever wanted to be free of this crushing weight.

            So without a drop of regret or guilt, I held out my hand toward her like I’d done for Edward in so many dreams before. Slowly she stepped forward, eying me as she reached out and took my hand, bringing it up toward her mouth.

            “This is your last time to ask me to stop,” she said. “After this, there will be no going back, and it will hurt.”

            “I know,” I said, still watching my hand so close to her lips. She opened her mouth wide and bit.

            Her teeth didn’t pierce my skin as she was grabbed from me and yanked back. I nearly fell before she let go of me, tumbling into the sand below. I looked up and found Edward standing before us, his mouth set in a grim line. A shiver ran through me at the sight of him here, and I cursed myself for being so hesitant. All the time I’d wasted trying to force myself out of the truck to find her had given him the time to find me here.

            “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. “Did you hear any of what I said?”

            “I heard you,” I snapped back. “I just don’t understand why you’re so determined for me to grow old and die.”

            “I’m trying to save you,” he said. “My soul is damned. Do you understand that? I love you, Bella, I do. I want to save you.”

            I glared at him, unable to hide my fury anymore. I wanted to be a vampire, not just to live forever, but to make him hurt. After everything he put me through, I needed him to hurt like I had when he left me, unsure if he was ever coming back. He would get over it, I told myself. At the end of the day, he’d still love me.

            “You can’t always save me,” I said, near to a whisper. Behind him, Victoria was getting up, her eyes still piercing me with a narrow gaze. I held out my hand toward him as if to take his hand. “Please, Edward.” Maybe he would, I thought. Maybe he’d see it my way. Everything would be so much easier if we were on the same level, part of the same world.

            “No, Bella. You may not understand now, but you will later,” he said.

            I didn’t look into his eyes as he said it. I was looking to Victoria instead as she watched us for an opening. If she understood my look, she understood that I wanted this, and I was willing to betray Edward’s trust to get it.

            “Okay,” I said. “I trust you.”

            “Let’s go home,” Edward said. “We’ll leave your wolf to deal with her.”

            As he turned to look at Victoria, she was upon him. She slammed her fist into his face, and he stumbled back in the sand, nearly falling back on his ass. I cringed to see him get hurt, but there was nothing I could do to stop Victoria now. I still wanted this, more than anything, more than Edward, perhaps. I wanted to be a vampire like it would save my life.

            Edward got his balance fast and slammed into her, pushing her back as he gripped her shoulders. She stared wide eyed as her feet dug into the sand at his assault. Before he could tell me to run, she reached up to his arms and headbutted him hard. The resounding crack sounded like thunder as he snapped back. As he reeled, she took one arm and threw him over her shoulder.

            Suddenly, she was in front of me, her smile wide and devious. “We still on, girlie?” she asked.

            I nodded wordlessly and she grabbed by arm, biting into me with such force I thought she was going to rip all the way down to the bone. As she bit down, my arm went limp and all I could feel was the point of her fangs where poison spread into my veins. I closed my eyes as the pain took me over and when she let go, I dropped down into the sand.

            Fire spread up and down my veins, crawling in a steady race toward my heart. I suddenly lost track of where I was as I fell into the sand, my mouth filling with it. I sank into a black hole as the world spun, so fast it tilted off its axis and instead made me the sun it revolved around. I was burning up, combusting like a dark star as I breathed in the sand and dirt.

            I heard a sound, like a scream or like death as I spun. When I found the courage to open my eyes, Victoria was standing above me, her grin so wide it could have torn apart her face. There was blood on her lips, dripping down her chin—my blood. I couldn’t stop staring at her as the world churned.

            I was dying. It felt like dying, but maybe I was being reborn. Maybe it would all be worth it when I woke up from this. But even as I thought of that, my head throbbed and fired like a pinball machine sending pings of fire everywhere. I crumpled in on myself.

            Then, with a slam, Victoria wasn’t in my vision anymore. Something slammed into her hard and sent her out of my line of sight. I tilted my head up, looking for her as my world burned. I found her on the ground, Alice over her with a bloodthirsty look.

            I couldn’t hear the screaming, but I knew it was there. Everyone was screaming. Jasper crossed into my vision, his blank expression trained on me. I gritted my teeth together, hoping he wouldn’t decide to finish the job and kill me. I was already bleeding, and I’d already seen that he couldn’t control himself. That had been the last time I’d seen him, standing over me, trying to drink me dry.

            Instead, he turned to Victoria as Alice and Edward screamed for help. I reached under my shirt and grabbed my hunting knife, holding it tight in my hands as I ached from the venom spreading through me. I watched Jasper reach for Victoria’s right arm to hold her down as Alice took her left, keeping her knelt on the ground.

            Victoria screamed as Edward ripped her head off. I could hear it. It was the only thing I could hear. He pulled her apart like ripping meat off the bone. Her blood, black and filled with venom spilled on the beach, mixing with the rain and leaving a trail all the way toward the ocean. Edward gritted his teeth together as he tossed her head aside. And with the rogue vampire dead, he looked to me.

            I wanted to tell him I was alright, that I would be fine, but I couldn’t say a word. It felt as if my lungs had filled with sand as I lay limply dying. He stared at me, unblinking and stepped toward me slowly, kneeling down before me as Victoria’s head continued to roll toward the ocean.

            “You stupid, stupid girl,” he said. He was either whispering, or that was all I could hear of his voice. I was too tired and too far into this agony to figure out how he’d really said it.

            “She bit her,” Alice cried. She looked at me like I was dying, like she’d never see me again.

            Edward reached out and moved a stray hair out of my face as I kept looking at him. I didn’t want to close my eyes. If I did, I was sure I’d die, like a soldier bleeding out, who grew so tired and then just went. I smiled at him. At the end of all of this, I would be just like him.

            “I won’t let you,” Edward whispered. He looked hesitant, like he was afraid to touch to wound on my arm. I tried not to look at the bite marks or the way black ink seemed to spread from them like rot. I tried to focus on what I was going to become, but the pain was unbearable.

            “I can do it,” Alice offered as she knelt down next to me as well.

            “No,” Edward snapped to her. “She’s mine.”

            I didn’t even register what he was doing until he was doing it. Edward grabbed hold of my wrist and bit down into my arm, just where Victoria had. His fangs lined up with where hers had pierced and he clamped down onto me and began to drink my blood.

            My head swam with panic as more blood left my body, filling his mouth as he drank. Along with the blood went the venom which he sucked down on and swallowed, the ink in my veins losing its thickness as he kept drinking.

            “No,” I screamed, but I couldn’t be sure it was any louder than a whisper. “No! No!”

            Edward ignored my protests and kept biting. My strength failed me, and I closed my eyes, giving in to the pain as it warped me. I fell unconscious before he stopped drinking, and when I woke, the only pain was that in my arm where the bite had been wrapped in gauze that soaked through red.

            I lifted my head slowly, looking past where my arm was sprawled in the sand to the pyre of sticks and logs burning on the beach. The rain had slowed, but a few drops beat down on my head as I watched Edward, Jasper, and Alice stand around the fire as smoke climbed high into the sky.

            There was a smell, not just fire, but something thick and rotting like burning flesh. As I dragged myself up into a sitting position, I realized why that was. They were burning Victoria. Her flesh was feeding the fire as much as the logs that sent smoke flying. I stared at the smoky fire, transfixed on its rising fumes. Only when I dared to make a sound, a poor stifled cry, did Edward turn his gaze away from the fire.

            “Bella,” he snapped and ran to me, dropping to his knees in the sand before me. “It’s okay, you’re safe.”

            I was still staring past him to the fire. “That’s her. Victoria,” I gawked.

            “She can’t hurt you again,” Edward assured me. “I sucked all the venom out before it could turn you. You’re safe now.”

            But I’d asked for it. I wanted to be a vampire and he went directly against my wishes. I wanted to strangle him. I wanted to hug him. From the fire, Jasper glanced over to me with a hard expression. He still gave me the creeps, even now, but knowing there were three vampires willing to kill to protect me felt strangely comforting.

            “So that’s it,” I said. My one shot at being like him was gone. I wouldn’t have another. Edward would make sure of that. I pulled my arms around myself as he sat next to me, touching my shoulder so gently it felt like a ghost touching me.

            “I’ll take you home,” Edward said. “You need some rest. Then we’ll talk more about it in the morning.”

            I knew by his look and the tone of his voice that he didn’t mean we’d talk about me becoming a vampire. That wasn’t what he was suggesting. No, he was talking about my recklessness. We’d talk about all the mistakes I’d made while he was gone and what he was going to do to fix it. We’d talk about whether or not he was leaving again, and in the end, I wouldn’t have a say at all.

            I should have hated him. He’d left me and turned my entire world upside down, but I didn’t. The fog that wrapped around me and brought this soft, slow comfort that made me feel safe when I was with him. It made me addicted to him and I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop.

            And that was love, I thought. I’d never experienced love in my life and Edward was my first love. That was supposed to be important. It was supposed to be life changing. But I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to feel like this or not.

            “We’ll go in a minute,” I told him as I sat on the beach, still barefoot, still soaking wet. “I want to watch the smoke.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before Jacob showed up at First Beach, and he wasn’t alone. He rolled up in his Dad’s car, and Leah stepped out with him, a windbreaker hanging loose around her shoulders. As soon as they stepped out of the vehicle, they were eying the three vampires around me with contempt.

            At the first sight of Jacob, I wanted to go hug him, but as he stepped out into the sand, I stiffened at their looks. It didn’t seem like they were here for me at all. Jacob glanced my way as if accessing to see if I was alright before he turned his gaze back to Edward. There was a cut on his forehead that hadn’t been there before. He had covered it with butterfly tape to keep it from bleeding anymore. I didn’t know who gave it to him, but I had three guesses.

            “You’re breaking treaty,” Leah snapped as she approached, coming to a stop a few feet from where Alice stood.

            “We came to protect Bella,” Edward retorted back. He stood up from where he’d been crouching next to me and offered me a hand to stand. I took it and he dragged me up to my feet, where I stood still balancing the weight off my strained ankle.

            “She wouldn’t have needed protection if it wasn’t for you,” Jacob said. He looked like he wanted to attack them, but he was holding back. Every so often, he looked at me like he was disappointed to see me next to them.

            “There was a rogue vampire,” Edward argued. “She was going to kill her.”

            I resisted the urge to point out that she never was going to kill me in the first place. She’d promised me a place at her side as a vampire. But Edward had saved me, saved me from what I’d asked for.

            “And who left and made room for rogue vampires to come attack people?” Jacob asked. “Get off this land now or your treaty will be considered null and void.”

            Edward shook his head. “So you know all about the treaty now,” he said. He grinned a little in a way that turned my stomach. I’d never imagined Edward and Jacob would get along, but I hated to know that they’d kill each other if given the chance. The only thing stopping them now was me in between them.

            “I know all about your family now,” Jacob said. “I know about your leader, Carlisle Cullen, and I know that you’re breaking treaty just by being here. We’re well within our right to tear you apart.”

            Edward snorted. “How many Quileute have taken the vow now? How many of them are still alive?”

            Jacob balled his hands into fists and made toward Edward, but Leah stopped him, grabbing him around the arm and pulling him back. She kept her gaze locked on Edward though, making sure he didn’t make any sudden moves either. I got the feeling from the way her eyes hovered so close to me that she was trying to make sure none of the vampires attacked me. I could have told her it was all safe, but I didn’t dare add to the confrontation. If I did, I was sure I’d make it worse.

            “We’ll leave,” Alice chimed in. “We only came for Bella.”

            “Fine,” Jacob said. He looked to me, trying to figure out if I was okay. His eyes fell to my arm which I tried to tuck behind my back, but it was too late. He saw that I was hurt, that I was bleeding. “Bella.”

            I flinched at the sound of my name on his lips. He sounded so defeated, like he’d lost something in me that he couldn’t get back. I swallowed down all the worry that told me Edward and Jacob were going to kill each other right here.

            “I’m okay, Jacob,” I told him. As much pain as I was in, it hardly felt like anything anymore. I was probably in shock from all of it, but I just felt numb.

            “Did he bite you?” he demanded, trying to keep himself from yelling.

            “It’s not bad,” I argued.

            “Did he bite you?” Jacob repeated, a little louder, a little angrier.

            “Yes,” I admitted. “To save my life.”

            I tried to put the words together to explain, but Jacob was already crossing the sand. Edward pushed me aside as he moved to reach Jacob. While Jacob wore rage and fire on his face, Edward still had a blank smirk, like he already knew the outcome. I fell into Alice, and she caught me as they squared up before each other.

            Edward was a few inches taller than Jacob, but I could hardly tell as Jacob stood, looking about ready to shift and rip off his head right there. My head spun in circles watching them, unsure what would happen if they fought, who would walk out alive, who I wanted to walk out alive.

            After a moment passed, Jacob’s eyes snapped to me and then back to Edward, his anger still just as visible. “Leave,” he said. “Go now or I can’t stop anyone from coming after you.”

            Edward took a step back. He looked to Alice who was still holding me up and Jasper on the other side of him, still managing the fire as it burned Victoria to bits. I hated the way his eyes washed over me like I wasn’t even there, but I held my tongue, too afraid that this would turn into a fight.

            “We’ll go,” Edward said.

            “I’ll take her to the hospital,” Jacob said. He started to turn toward Leah. “Go tell Sam what happened and make sure they get out.” He turned to me with such softness in his eyes like he was trying to sooth my wounds just by looking at me. All the hatred he bore for the Cullens was gone the moment he really focused on me. “I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

            Edward grabbed hold of my hand. “You misunderstood,” he said. “I said we’ll leave the reservation. I never said anything about Forks.”

            Jacob’s eyes snapped back to Edward, but my hand in his and my body so close to him stopped Jacob from shifting. After everything, I just wanted this night to be over. I let go of Edward’s hand, pulling away from him and after a second of tugging, he let me go.

            “Jacob will drive me the hospital,” I said.

            I didn’t look at Edward as I walked to the other side of the beach, slowly and weakly, trying to avoid putting more weight on my sprained ankle. I wrapped an arm around Jacob’s shoulder, and he boosted me up to help me back to his car.

            “We’ll talk later,” Edward called to me as I trekked the rest of the distance to Jacob’s car. When I looked back, the three vampires were standing together, watching me with care. If one thing went wrong, I was sure they would pounce, but they let me get into Jacob’s car without problem.

            As he closed the door and jogged to the driver’s side, I stared at Edward, at Alice, and Jasper as they watched me. They’re gazes softened and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of care for them. It didn’t matter that they hated Jacob or that he hated them. I loved the Cullens like family. I was always going to forgive them for every transgression, for every test, and every mistake. I couldn’t feel the pain anymore as I watched them. Even as Jacob backed up and drove off, Edward clung to my mind.

            If he left me again, I thought as we drove the long road back to Forks, I was never going to recover.

            It took too long to get to the hospital. And when we arrived, I was being dragged away from Jacob almost immediately as people dressed in the same blue scrubs put me in a wheelchair and took me off to set my foot. Jacob disappeared behind those curtains and my heart dropped. I was alone once again.

            When they noticed the bite, they asked me where it came from. Over and over again they asked, coming up with horrendous options, raccoons, snakes, wolves, worse. I shook my head and told them I didn’t know, so they tested me for any poisons and rabies and anything else they could think of. I laid in the clunky hospital bed, running my fingers over the bandages as I waited for the results.

            The drugs they’d given me were starting to kick in and my head laid back, heavy and warm in the thin hospital sheets, until Charlie came into the room, nearly bursting through the door with a terrible look on his face. He dropped to his knees at my side immediately and reached out for my hand, running his fingers along the plastic band wrapped around my wrist.

            “God, Bella,” he said. “You scared me half to death. Jacob told me what happened.”

            I wanted to nod, but it hurt too much. I had no idea what Jacob had told him, and I didn’t want to be the one to disprove his story. Instead, I squeezed his hand back.

            “I’m okay,” I said.

            “You’re getting clumsy,” he said. “Were you wearing heels in the woods too?”

            I didn’t find his joke very funny, but I was too tired to argue, and I wasn’t sure I had all the pieces of Jacob’s fake story yet. I tripped in the woods and sprained my ankle. That made sense, but someone would have to explain the bite marks and I hadn’t come up with a good explanation yet.

            “Your Mom’s furious,” Charlie said. “She’s convinced the town is cursed. I’m not sure I disagree with her.”

            “It was just an accident,” I said.

            “It hasn’t been as great as I wanted things to be for you,” he said. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m not around enough. Not that you’d want to see any more of your embarrassing old man.”

            “No,” I squeaked. “I love living here. I love seeing you. It was just bad luck. I’m not cursed, I promise.” The moment he said curse, I could see where he was coming from, but it wasn’t the town that was cursed. I was cursed, and I was pretty sure the only cure was Edward coming back, staying in Forks.

            Charlie smiled a small and hidden smile as he knelt with me, not touching my hand anymore, but just being next to me, being a comfort to me. Something about these soft silences was comforting.

            After a moment, another doctor in scrubs stepped into the room, looking over test results. “Bella Swan?” he asked briefly and when we both looked to him, he proceeded. “There’s no sign of rabies or snake venom. You said you didn’t feel any odd symptoms when you were bitten. You should be good to go. Mind if I have a word with your Dad here?”

            Charlie stood up and followed the doctor out of the room. I tried not to think about the fact that Carlisle wasn’t here to treat me. If he was, there would be none of these questions about what really bit me. He’d know. He’d keep me safe. I sat in that hospital room alone, thinking about the stitches he’d put into my head as I ran my fingers over the ones in my arm.

            When Charlie returned, it was with a nurse and another wheelchair. He helped wheel me out to his car. On the way, I expected to see Jacob sitting in the waiting room, but it was empty and sterile there like no one had been in that room for a long time. The clock on the wall said it was just past four in the morning on September 13th. I was officially eighteen years old.

            When we were inside Charlie’s cruiser and the nurse wheeled the wheelchair back into the hospital, Charlie laid his head against the steering wheel. “Long night,” he said before he turned the key and started to drive.

            We didn’t talk on the entire way home. Instead, I watched the side of the road where the sidewalk sped by so fast through the right side window that everything seemed more like a blur. When we came to a stop in front of the house, my truck was sitting in the driveway next to another familiar car.

            “Jacob’s here,” I noted. The two cars in the drive reminded me far too much of the first day I’d arrived here, when Jacob and Billy Black pulled up to give me an early birthday present. It seemed like so long ago now.

            “He wanted to stay in the hospital and wait, but I convinced him to head home. He said he found your truck parked by First Beach,” Charlie said. “He’s a good friend.”

            I nodded. “He is.”

            Charlie turned the key and stepped out of the cruiser, jogging over to my side to help me out of the car. The doctor had given me a crutch, but the steps up the porch didn’t agree with me, and he had to help me up them. Once we got to the top of the steps, Charlie fumbled for the front door key, and paused as he found it, not quite ready to open the door yet.

            “You know, Bella, I’m happy you’re spending time with friends again,” he said. I didn’t tell him I hadn’t been with Jacob when I’d sprained my ankle. In fact, I was actively avoiding him, but he’d dragged me out of the water anyway. “But you need to be careful. With the animal attacks this summer and everything, I worry.”

            “I know, Dad,” I told him. “I don’t try to get hurt.”

            “It just happens, I know. I was just thinking, did you give any more thought to seeing someone up in Port Angeles. It might help,” he said.

            I’d been an adult for the past four and a half hours. He couldn’t make me go, but I never got the feeling he was going to. Now, it was final. It was my decision, and after tonight, I was starting to think I was going crazy. Edward had come back to me, and I’d nearly killed myself just to spite him. But I didn’t regret it. I only regretted that it might mean Edward was angry with me, but I wouldn’t have done anything else.

            He couldn’t understand how badly I wanted to be with him, and he took me trying to be the same as him as an act of betrayal. I loved him and I hated how much I loved him, that no matter what I did, I’d never get over him. Maybe I did need to talk to someone outside off all of this, but I didn’t want to be the one who started it. I didn’t want them to tell me that Edward was bad for me like Jessica and Jacob had already told me. I wasn’t going to give him up.

            “I’m fine,” I said. “I just want to focus on school and figure out what I’m gonna do after I graduate and leave you.” I knocked my shoulder against his.

            “I’m always gonna be here, you know,” he said. “Whenever you need to come home. I’m here.”

            I smiled downward, trying to avoid his gaze as he jammed the house key into the lock and opened the door. He let me in first and I staggered forward on my right foot, letting the crutch help me into the house. A lamp was lit in the living room as I stepped through, and Jacob was sitting passed out on the couch. There was a mug sitting on the table beside him, the contents having long gone cold. There was a light shining from the kitchen and the telltale noise of movement.

            “You go on up and get some sleep,” Charlie said. “I’ll let Billy know you’re okay.”

            “Thanks.” I hobbled up the stairs and fell into my bed, only stopping to peel off the still damp clothes from my body and put on sweatpants. I was out as soon as I touched the pillow, and I only woke to my alarm telling me it was time for school a few hours later. I turned it off thoughtlessly and fell back to sleep.

            I didn’t have a single dream all night, and when I woke, disoriented and confused, I turned on my phone to discover it was nearing three pm. Somehow, I’d slept almost twelve hours peacefully and dreamlessly, like I was catching up on all the hours missed to nightmares and dread. Slowly, I rolled out of bed and found my crutch on the floor next to it. Hobbling downstairs, I found the house quiet and peaceful.

            Jacob and Billy were gone. As I glanced out the front window, I found my old rust bucket in the driveway, but Billy’s car and my Dad’s cruiser were gone. I let the curtain fall back into place over the window as I passed, trying not to wonder how long they’d stayed here waiting on me.

            I wandered into the kitchen and found a cake box on the table with a note written in my Dad’s messy hand writing. The note was laid on top to block out the top of the cake which was iced with swirly green lettering saying ‘Happy Birthday’. I scanned the note.

            “Bella, be home at 5 for dinner and cake. Happy birthday!”

            I stared at the cake for a long time, thinking about every lie I’d told Charlie, everything I’d brushed off or avoided. I’d come here to have a real relationship with him. After my Mom chose her new boyfriend over me, I’d wanted something solid and now I had it. And I kept running away from it.

            I sat down before the cake, letting my eyes trace over the cursive letters. My head ached with the overwhelming dread of yesterday. I wanted Edward. I wanted to be a vampire. I wanted to live forever and never age, but my head spun with the memory of that feeling. The venom in my veins, killing me. I breathed in, still alive.

            My phone buzzed in my pocket. A message from Jacob popped up when I pulled it out. “Call me when you wake up.”

            For a long time, I imagined what would happen if I didn’t call, if I never went back to the reservation and never spoke to him again. I imagined a world where I didn’t have to think about whether my best friend was going to kill my boyfriend. I imagined leaving Jacob behind and never seeing him for the rest of my life. And then, with a shiver, I typed in his contact and called him.

            He answered right away. “How are you feeling?” He said immediately. If he was still worried, I couldn’t tell by his tone.

            “I’m fine,” I said. “I just woke up.”

            “Still alive and human?” he asked. I sat over the question for a moment. If I had woke up a vampire all my problems would be solved, but I’d have a new one. I wasn’t sure Jacob would ever forgive me. If Victoria had succeeded, I would never have seen Jacob again. In all my desperation last night, I hadn’t cared.

            “Still alive and human,” I said. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.”

            “I’ll still worry,” he admitted. “But if you’re okay with it, I still want to be your friend. For as long as that is.”

            “As long as I’m not a vampire, you mean,” I corrected.

            “The Cullens are supposed to be vegetarians, right?” he offered. “I guess, if they’re not a threat to humanity or anything, it’s not against the rules to let them live and if you end up one of them…”

            I rolled those words over in my head again and again, piecing apart what he hadn’t said. “You mean that?”

            “As long as you don’t disappear,” he said.

            If not for my leg, I would have jumped for joy and driven straight out to the reservation to meet him. “I won’t disappear,” I said instead. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

After I hung up the phone, having told Jacob we would be back to riding together when my foot was healed, I took my truck and locked up the house, heading toward Elk Creek and the house that was probably empty beyond it. I couldn’t be sure that Edward would have stayed. He made it pretty clear last night that the test he’d created by leaving was one I’d failed. I was sure with every mile that I would find that house cold and empty. Instead, there was Edward’s Volvo parked in the long driveway.

            Through the trees, the glass house looked dark, but I thought I saw something lurking through all those windows. As I got out of the truck and hobbled up toward the front steps, I hesitated on the first step. There was no blood dried into the concrete like I assumed there would be. Any sign of my fall was long gone and all that was left was this pristine and lonely house.

            The door was unlocked, and I didn’t even bother to knock. I had been told so many times before that I’d always be welcome in this house. The front entry way was empty as I entered. There were no coats or hats on the hooks, only the light that drifted in through the windows. As I stepped past into the living room, I found the couches and chairs covered in white sheets, like someone had died. The walls were bare of their usual art, and what was left was covered. It was clear that this house was no longer the home to vampires.

            I realized that I’d never come back after they left. I never went to see what had happened to this palace in the woods, so far from civilization and so filled with happy memories. Edward had told me he was leaving, and I had never been able to bare to see this house empty. Maybe now, I could accept this, the time I’d spent alone and the time I might still spend alone. After what I’d done to betray him, Edward would never love me the same way again.

            Running my finger against the edge of the covered sofa, a layer of dust was dragged up into the air. I watched it float through the light. If Edward was here, I wasn’t sure he’d want to see me.

            “I assume you came to apologize,” a voice echoed through the empty house. I turned to find Edward at the top of the stairs, looking down at me without a hint of expression.

            I lowered my gaze away from him. I didn’t regret it. I still wanted to become a vampire and be by his side forever. Maybe then, he wouldn’t be so lonely. A sudden and heavy shame came over me at the thought of my attempt. I closed my eyes thinking of how I’d betrayed him, of that dark look he’d given me as he saved me from the poison. I hadn’t felt ashamed before walking into this house, but now I was riddled with it. It was almost too much to stand.

            “I’m sorry,” I said. The weight overwhelmed me, and tears spilled down over my face. It felt like someone else’s tears though, someone else’s shame pushed onto me. “I didn’t mean to-to betray you.”

            He came down the stairs slowly. “Don’t cry,” he told me. “I’m disappointed in you. In your decision.”

            When he made it to the bottom of the stairs and stopped in front of me, he pulled me into him without warning or explanation. I buried my head into his shoulder as his cold arms enveloped me. There was nothing there to warm me.

            “I forgive you, though,” he said. “And I know you’ll never be so reckless again.”

            I tried to push away that shame that enveloped me with his hug. If I could have stopped loving him, I would have in that moment, but he held onto me. I couldn’t live without him, and he knew it too. As I pulled away from his hug, I leaned back against the sofa for support as I looked up to him.

            “What I did,” I said. “I know didn’t seem like it, but it was for you.”

            “No,” he said. “If it was for me, you would have followed my advice. This curse isn’t what I want for you.”

            “It’s what I want for me,” I said. The words almost got caught in my throat, but I pushed them out. “I want to be a vampire for me.”

            Edward shook his head. “You’ll regret it when it’s done.”

            I shook my head. “I’m not you,” I told him. “I know you didn’t have another choice, that you wouldn’t have done this, but I would. I want to.”

            “That’s the difference between you and me,” he said. “I’m smart enough to recognize the mistake. It might take you years, but you will regret it. You’ll learn.”

            “You don’t know that,” I said. Nothing I could say would convince him how sure I was of this. I wanted to be a vampire to be his equal. He didn’t want me to be a vampire because it would destroy my soul. He thought he was protecting me even now.

            “I know enough,” he said. “Is this all you wanted to do? Come find me and tell me how determined you are to ruin your own life?”

            “No. I wanted to apologize,” I admitted. “I shouldn’t have run out like that last night. I should have just talked to you. I was just so scared that you’d leave me again. I wish I wasn’t so scared all the time.”

            “I’m here now,” he told me and pressed a hand against my face, cradling me. His cold hand sapped the warmth from my face as he held me. “I’m not leaving.”

            My eyes widened at the proclamation. “You’re coming back to Forks.”

            “I never wanted to leave,” he admitted. “I always wanted to come back for you. And after all this, I don’t think I can leave your side.” He smiled a little like he’d made a private joke to himself. “You need me with you.”

            Immediately, I agreed with him, as if the automatic functions of my brain were pushing me toward him. Another part of me, a quieter part, couldn’t quite forgive him. When he told me why he left, I thought it was a joke. He tested me all to punish me for asking to be like him, and by his own judgement, I’d failed. Was this him giving me an opportunity to make it right and be the bright human he’d seen in me when we first met? Or was it his obligation to stay now that he’d broken me?

            “I missed you,” I told him, though that quiet part of me was still asking me yell at him, to be upset and tell him just how he’d broken my heart.

            “I know I hurt you,” he said. “It’s not going to happen again.”

            That quiet part whispered, ‘yes, it will,’ and then went silent, snuffed out by the overwhelming feeling of love. He was here with me, and he’d never leave again. It was a promise and if I’d kept my promise for this long, that had to mean he’d keep his.

            “Promise,” I whispered, just like that little voice in my head.

            “Promise,” he replied. Without warning, he took me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, dragging me into him again where I stood, and squeezed so tight, I couldn’t move.

            It felt nice to be so tightly wound in his arms. My heat drained slowly, mingling with his cold and keeping us a soft equilibrium. When I tried to pull away once again, he held me there for a bit longer, soaking me in before he released me. Looking up at him, I had the sudden urge to kiss him, but the more I looked at him, the more I remembered the last kiss we’d shared. The day he left me.

            If I never had to kiss him again, I thought that would be alright. Just to be in his presence and know he loved me was enough. It would be enough.

            “Carlisle and the others are coming back tomorrow,” Edward said. He looked away from me and out toward the window. The light had shifted an inch and his face had become a display of those dark veins. I followed the way they echoed along his face as he spoke. “I told them what happened, and they agreed it was better if we came back.”

            “Won’t people talk?” I asked. They’d disappeared a day after prom and then came back suddenly at the beginning of senior year. I could think of at least one person who would be suspicious of their sudden return.

            “We’ll call it a summer trip,” Edward said. “Carlisle has a plan. He always does.”

            “And you? You’re just going to come back to school?” I asked.

            “I’ve got a keep an eye on you somehow,” he said. “Someone’s got to take care of you.”

            I smiled. “You’re really going to stay?”

            “Of course,” he said. He crossed to the other side of the couch where the light didn’t hit him. He turned back into that beautiful boy again, the one who hadn’t aged a day since I’d met him. “I could never leave you again, Bella. Sometimes, I would miss you so much I wanted to burst. I wanted to rip my own heart out. The world wouldn’t be the same without you.”

            “My world wasn’t the same without you,” I said. He’d made himself the center of my solar system. I didn’t turn without him.

            “I guess there’s only one more thing,” he said. He turned back to me and crossed to the other side of me. I watched every movement of his body, all the limbs moving like he wasn’t in full control of himself. He was nervous, I realized, but his face held true.

            Pulling something out from his pocket, he got down low on one knee and opened the little box in his hands. The ring was small, and the gem inside had turned from clear to soft yellow. I stared at the ring, old and worn, but it looked to be the right size for my finger. He looked up at me with a glimmer in his eyes.

            “Will you marry me?”

            At the question, I wanted to back away. My heart thudded with a sudden fear in my chest. The old ring and the way he knelt there sent a shiver down my spine. I’d spent so long in my childhood trying to figure out how my parents had ever loved each other enough to marry the other. Those high school sweethearts had turned so rotten they had to stay in different states just to be apart. They’d changed, and Edward here would never change. He’d always be that beautiful boy, the one that broke my heart.

            I swallowed back my fear, but I still wanted to run, to answer this question another time when I’d thought more about it. I was eighteen by less than a day and he was asking me to make the choice on the rest of my life.

            “Edward,” I said, hoarse. I was shaking. “I can’t do that. I can’t make that choice, not right now.”

            “I love you,” he said. “And I will for the rest of your life. I am as sure as I’ll ever be.”

            I thought of the wedding pictures stuffed in the closet. The ones that never saw the light of day. I’d taken them out once when I was young and looked at my parents’ fresh faces and counted all the ways they’d changed since then. How many more changes had happened still?

            “Can you be sure in a year?” I asked. “I can’t marry you now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to.” Not when I was barely an adult, barely sure of myself at all, and maybe not ever. I’d spent all summer thinking I was somewhere between life and death. I couldn’t jump through to the other side as if none of it had ever happened. I couldn’t be sure true love existed when I’d watched my mother throw a young marriage away on a whim.

            “I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth,” he said.

            The dread in my shoulders lessened. It felt like a promise, one he might actually keep. I reached out for his hand and took it as he stood back on his feet. I didn’t know how long it would take me, but I would fit back into this. I would figure out who I was and who I was with Edward. As he pulled me in close to him for another hug, my heart thudded in my chest, fast enough for both of us.

            When I returned to school on the day after my birthday, it was with Edward driving again. He fixed the mirrors and the seat before we left the house to fit his height and eyeline. I sat in the passenger seat, watching him return everything to normal, to the way it was before he left.

            As we drove to school, he parked the truck right next to the Volvo which had been missing from that lot for some time. Alice had been the one to drive it now, Emmett and Rosalie having ‘graduated’ already. I had a sudden fear in what I was wearing as Edward parked the truck. If she was here, she’d have something to say about the jeans I’d picked out from the bottom of my closet.

            “You ready?” Edward asked me as he removed the keys and placed them back in my hands.

            I tore my thoughts away from Alice. Everything would be better now that the Cullens were back. Everything would fall back into place. I stepped out of the car and onto the pavement where the parking lot was still swarming with kids. They wouldn’t all enter the school until the first bell rung.

            As I marched through the rows of cars with Edward on my arm, I could only imagine what people were thinking. The missing Cullens had returned to Forks and that would make quite the stir. It became quickly apparent that I was right when I found Jessica leaning up against Angela’s car, fixing her makeup.

            At the sight of me, she quickly put her compact away and raised a hand to wave before she saw who was on my arm and dropped hers. The look on her face seemed to come in slow motion as it dawned on her that Edward Cullen was back in town and that we were back together. She couldn’t hide her disappointment from me as we walked past.

            I caught her trying to hide the look as Edward noticed her too. “Let’s go,” Edward said. “I made sure we had classes together.”

            “I’ll meet you there,” I told him, letting go of his hand. “I wanted to talk to Jessica.”

            He glanced to her and then quickly away. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

            I batted his hand away as he tried to reach for me again. “You’re seeing something in her thoughts,” I said. “What is it?”

            Edward shook his head as if shrugging the whole question away. “Nothing.”

            “Tell me,” I said. “Something you’re worried about. Does she know?”

            He wasn’t looking at me but to the woods just beyond the parking lot where he’d once taken me to tell me what he was. “She doesn’t like me all that much. That’s all.”

            I closed my mouth, trying to decern if he was lying or not. I could never really be sure with him, but I trusted that he wouldn’t lie to me. For a second, I regretted asking him to disclose her thoughts, like I was demanded he tell her secrets. “She’ll get over it,” I said. “I’ll see you in class.”

            Leaving him before he could stop me again, I headed over to Jessica and Angela. They were both staring at Edward even as he entered the school and when he disappeared, Jessica gave me a shocked look.

            “You’re shitting me,” she said. “He’s back. He just came back after all that.”

            I shook through Jessica’s surprise and came up with the lie Edward had come up with. “They were on a summer trip.”

            “No,” Jessica argued. “No, they left. Without a trace. Poof. Gone.” She reached for my hand but hesitated to grab it. “Bella, I saw their house. It was like a ghost town.”

            I shrugged. I didn’t really have an explanation for that one, but I was sure Edward would be able to come up with one for her. Not that she would believe it, of course. I was starting to get that Jessica didn’t trust the Cullens and that was probably my fault. I kept telling myself she’d learn to like him, but she never had in the six months we dated before he left, and I didn’t think she would now.

            “And you’re just back together?” Jessica asked.

            “Yeah,” I said. “We took a break is all. I mean, he was gone all summer.”

            “You mean he was out hooking up with strange girls in cities across America,” Angela said. “He broke up with you for a trip and then got back together the second he came back? He definitely broke up with you so he wouldn’t feel bad about sleeping with other girls.”

            “He’s not like that,” I argued. I knew he hadn’t stopped thinking about me when he left.

            “Whatever you have to tell yourself,” Angela said. I rolled my eyes at the accusation.

            Jessica crossed her arms as she looked over my shoulder toward the doors where Edward had already disappeared. I still couldn’t stop thinking about what Edward had said. She didn’t like him, and he could see that in her thoughts. But it wasn’t just that. It couldn’t just be that she didn’t trust him. If I could have read her mind too, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

            “What are you thinking, Jessica?” I asked.

            She blinked and looked back at me, processing what I’d said. “It’s just weird isn’t it,” she offered. “That he left before school ended and didn’t come back until a week in. Makes you think he didn’t know he was going or coming back until he did. Or maybe he planned it all along.”

            “Maybe you’re paranoid,” I told her.

            She shrugged.  “Maybe.”

            When the first bell rang, Angela pulled hers and Jessica’s backpacks out of the back seat of her car and locked it. We went in together, moving on to other topics like colleges and weekend plans. I couldn’t help trying to read Jessica’s mind as we went until we split up in the hallway. She went her way, and I went mine, toward my first class of the day where Edward would be waiting with a seat right next to mine.

End of part 2

Chapter Text

Part 3: Eclipse

The air was still warm with the memory of summer as I laid out on a blanket trying to get through the beginning sections of Montana 1948 for my English class. Even with the warmth, one couldn’t deny that autumn was in full swing. The trees were just starting to change, and the world had a new edge to it. I had a new edge to myself.

            Edward sat next to me, staring at the sky instead of the small novel in his lap. He’d probably read this one at least a hundred times in his long life, but it was my first time with these yellowed pages. In all the time we spent together, he spent it looking at me or at the sky, likely wondering how long he’d have to wait for me. I’d gotten used to his morose sighs, especially in this meadow, where the trees didn’t cover the sky. If the sun was out, his veins would be visible unlike much of the forest where we were hidden under the canopy.

            “7:49,” he said, having counted the time every five minutes for the past hour. When I’d told him I liked to spend my mornings here, he’d grumbled at first, but eventually agreed to come along before school. He spent much of that time with his arms sprawled around me, counting the time until we would have to depart.

            “I have one more page,” I told him.

            “Carlisle will kill me if you’re late to school,” Edward offered.

            “Carlisle’s not my Dad,” I objected. Carlisle had, however, made himself in charge of seeing me through high school. By now every member of the Cullen family knew about my wish to become a vampire. Just like Edward, they refused to allow me to be turned and told me it was Edward’s wish to see me stay human. I didn’t know why his wish overruled mine somehow, but they all supported him. It was his choice whether to turn me or not, they’d said.

            “If you want, I can carry you back to the truck while you read,” he said.

            I looked up from my book at him. Edward was a lithe figure, but I knew well enough that if he wanted to, he could carry me wherever he wanted to go. It wasn’t his ability that worried me, but how strong he actually was. He didn’t always know his own strength with me, and it was easy for him to go too far if I didn’t stop him. I had no doubt he could get me to school in time, but I wasn’t sure I was prepared for the whiplash he would give me by doing so.

            “No thanks,” I said. “I think we’ll be fine.”

            “Suit yourself,” he said and jumped to his feet. He offered me a hand up and I rocketed up as he dragged me, nearly pulling my arm out of its socket. I threw my book in my backpack as Edward folded up the blanket from the ground and threw it over his shoulder.

            “I doubt we’ll get in any trouble anyway,” I said. “I’ll just have Jessica cover for us.”

            I didn’t have to look at Edward to see the grimace cross his face at the mention of Jessica. Neither of them would say why they hated the other and if I didn’t know any better, I would have said that they had a mutual agreement not to tell me. Jessica would cover for me if I was late, though. Whether she hated Edward or not, she was still a good friend.

            “Well then,” Edward said. “If we’re not worried about being late.” He slid in front of me before I could start down the slope back to my truck, his smug grin obvious enough for me to know what this was. He took my hand as he stopped me alone in this meadow.

            “Please don’t,” I said, but it was already too late.

            “Marry me,” he said, leaning forward toward me. His teeth were just visible through his smile. Sometimes when he smiled like that, I could still feel the ache of his teeth stabbing into my skin, draining the venom out, keeping me human.

            “Make me a vampire,” I shot back. He shook his head at the mere suggestion, like it was a joke.

            “You know I can’t,” Edward said. “Never if there’s another choice.”

            “There is another choice,” I snapped. “And this is my choice. To be with you.”

            “Then why won’t you marry me?” he demanded.

            I shook my head and tried to walk past him, but he grabbed me by the arm and kept me there. If he squeezed any tighter, he’d leave bruises on my wrist. I stayed put. “We already had that discussion,” I told him.

            “If you want to be with me forever, why is marriage out of the question?” he asked.

            “I don’t need marriage,” I said. “I just have mixed feelings about the whole thing, and why do you have to push it?”

            “Because I love you,” he argued.

            That didn’t feel like an explanation. Charlie and Renee had loved each other once after all. Charlie and Renee didn’t think carefully about who they were with each other. They jumped in, and it got them halfway across the country from one another. I was sure of my love for him. Why did I need anything more than that?

            “I need more time,” I said.

            “Then I need more time too,” Edward said. “If you really want to become a vampire, I need to think it through.”

            I wanted to argue more, but we were at an impasse. If I wouldn’t marry him, he wouldn’t change me, and where did that leave us. Most days, he didn’t bring it up. He let me be, but some days he was antsy. Somedays, he got down on his knees and professed his love in front of the whole Cullen family, leaving me to stare awkwardly at them as I told him no once again.

            “Let’s just go to class before we’re late,” I said. He finally let go of my wrist and motioned for me to lead the way. I headed back down through the path in the woods to my truck where it was parked at a rest stop. We’d been coming here for a while since Edward returned, and there was never anyone else in the lot.

            My truck sat alone under the shade of a large tree that hung over the lot, dropping acorns after every stiff breeze. As Edward unlocked the doors and shuffled into the driver’s seat, I reminded myself of his sweetness, of why I was still here while he continued to pester me about marriage. He could be thoughtful when he wanted to be, and funny. He just didn’t get the chance to be when he was worried about me and my safety.

            I supposed that was my fault. When I wasn’t with him, I was usually with Jacob, on our bikes or hiking when we got the chance. He warned me every time I left town for the reservation to be careful. He didn’t like how much time I spent with Jacob, and he didn’t like me doing anything he considered prone to accidents. But the forest was my home. Without it, I would have gone crazy long ago.

            Getting into the truck, I let Edward drive me to school once again, where we arrived as the first bell was starting to ring. There were still a few stragglers heading into the building, and I cranked my head to try and find Jessica, but she was nowhere to be seen. She’d already disappeared off to class.

            “See,” I told him as we headed in. “Not late.”

            “We will be if you walk any slower,” Edward said, and I rolled my eyes at his comment. I would have killed for his long legs and superspeed.

            But once we were in the school building, we were in my domain, and he had to play by my rules. “Race you,” I said as I ducked through a crowd of kids still loitering outside the locker bay. I zagged through the halls, trying to beat him to our first class where he couldn’t get away with running and giving himself away.

            When I got to the door frame of our English classroom, he was right behind me, and yanked on my backpack to return me next to him. As we stepped into the classroom, he leaned in toward my ear.

            “Not as funny as you think,” he whispered.

            “Just mad because you lost?” I asked jokingly, but when I looked up, he didn’t seem to like the joke. He grimaced and pushed me a little ahead.

            I shook off that look and found my seat next to Jessica and slapped my copy of Montana 1948 on the desk. Jessica was rapidly texting someone as I walked in and when the bell rang to start class put her phone down at leaned over to me.

            “Homecoming, tonight?” she asked.

            “The dance?” I asked. “Edward didn’t want to go.”

            “No, the game,” she corrected. “And also the dance, I guess if you want.”

            “I don’t know, I was planning on hanging out with Edward tonight,” I said. He hadn’t mentioned Homecoming at all and after the mishap at prom, I was a little hesitant about the prospect of going to another dance.

            “Hanging out with Edward,” she said, placing ‘hanging out’ in little air quotes with her fingers. “Come on. We haven’t done anything in so long. Even Angela is ditching Tyler to come. Please, it’ll be fun.”

            It was just a game. I could talk her out of the dance, and she was right. We hadn’t spent much time together, just the three of us, since Edward came back to town. Even before that, I’d been in a bit of a fog.

            “Yeah,” I said. “Okay, I’ll come.”

            “Yay,” Jessica exclaimed. “Angela’s going to drive me, so you don’t have to.”

            I nodded and before I could think to add anything else, class commenced and the teacher, Mr. Berty started to pass out quizzes. I read the last few lines of the chapter I’d been reading in the meadow before the quiz got to me. With all the distractions, I was going to need as much help as I could get.

            By the time school was over, I was thinking about how I was going to break it to Edward that I wouldn’t be spending the evening at his house like I usually did. I imagined Alice was going to be more upset than Edward, but if I knew Alice, she already knew.

            When I got out to the parking lot, Edward was already waiting by my truck, leaning against the driver’s side like it was his. I’d never get used to the way he treated my car as a shared object, as something he was there to help me use as if it hadn’t been a gift to me. I shook that feeling off however as I neared, and he opened his hands to catch my keys like he usually did.

            “I’m actually just heading home today,” I told him. His face dropped.

            “Did something happen?”

            I shrugged. “No. I’m just going out with Jessica and Angela tonight. Girls night, you know.”

            “Oh,” he said as if he was disgusted by the prospect. He hated having to share me with Jacob and the reservation enough. Those two were just another hoop he had to jump over, more people to share me with.

            “It’s just the football game,” he told him. “And then you’ll have me all weekend.”

            Edward’s face stayed the same, like he wasn’t really processing what I’d said. “Let me drive you home at least.”

            “What, are you just going to run home after then?” I asked. He could. I knew he could, but it always seemed so odd how willing he was to run around this town trying to keep up with me, especially now when he could have just gone home with Alice and Jasper.

            “It’s not a big deal, Bella,” he replied. “Come on.”

            Before I could argue, he grabbed the keys from my hands and turned around to open the driver’s side door. I watched him get in, wanting to argue, but there was no point. This was who he was, overprotecting, over caring. And I let him do it, again and again.

            I didn’t talk much while he drove me home. There wasn’t much to say and after he asked to marry me again this morning, I wasn’t exactly happy about him driving me home. He didn’t mean to annoy me on purpose. He meant well, but I still rolled my eyes every time he asked to marry me. We’d had the discussion once, but I thought he understood that I needed more time. He wanted me, though. He’d been waiting a hundred years for me or so he said. I’d let him keep asking. It meant he still loved me after all.

            “What are you thinking?” he asked me as we neared my street.

            I was looking out the window, at the leaves shook against the breeze. “Just class, I guess.”

            “I could always do your homework, you know,” he offered. “I mean, I’ve already done it a hundred times. I know all this stuff.”

            I shook my head. “They’d know.”

            “They wouldn’t know,” Edward argued. “I could copy your handwriting.” He pulled the truck into my driveway. My Dad’s cruiser was sitting in the spot in front of the garage.

            “I’ll see you later, Edward,” I said as I unbuckled myself from the passenger seat and opened the door.

            “Think about it,” he said as he handed over the keys. “It would give us more time to spend together.”

            “It’s just one year,” I told him as I stepped out, closing the car door behind me. He sat in my truck a while longer as I made my way up the porch steps to my house. By the time I unlocked the door and stepped inside, he was gone.

            Charlie was stepping away from the front window as I stepped inside, trying to look like he hadn’t just been watching me through the window. He looked down and away from me as he scratched his head. I closed the door slowly, watching him as he stepped awkwardly away.

            Finally, he looked up to me. “Edward drives you home from school now?”

            “Yeah,” I answered. “He has for a while.”

            “In your truck,” Charlie answered. “Doesn’t he have a car of his own?”

            “Yeah, but his sister, Alice, takes it,” I said and stepped into the living room to drop my backpack off. “What are you doing home so early?”

            Charlie followed me into the living room, looking over his shoulder the whole time as if Edward would just break in through the doorway. “He lives out of town, doesn’t he? On the other side of the woods.”

            My Dad had had a lot of questions about Edward since he moved back into town. Charlie seemed to have the impression that he’d broken my heart and that it was his duty as my father to kick his ass. But my Dad was all talk. I didn’t think he had it in him to hurt anyone. I did, however, know that he would keep asking questions until I got annoyed.

            “Yeah,” I said. “He goes to the clinic to see his dad after school.” It was an easy enough lie.

            “So shouldn’t you just drive him there and drop him off? It’s sort of on the way,” Charlie offered.

            “Drop it,” I said as I plopped down on the couch. He wasn’t going to get anything else out of me. “I’m going to the homecoming game tonight.”

            “Great,” Charlie said. “Great.” Awkwardly, he stood in the living room before me for a moment longer before he stepped into the kitchen, ending the awkward exchange. I could tell he was worried about me. Maybe he could sense all my apprehension about Edward since he’d come back. I barely left Edward’s side anymore, but maybe he sensed that I was trying to figure out an answer to Edward’s constant question and failing.

            By six, when I left for Homecoming, Charlie was already gone. He was in charge of traffic for the game, a job he hated intensely, but it was necessary. After wading through the intolerably slow traffic to the game and finding a parking spot what felt like a mile from the field, I stepped out of my truck and found Angela’s little car parked a few rows down. Lifting my hands into the air I waved until Jessica caught sight of me and pointed me out through the crowd of cars.

            The field would be packed tonight, and it was likely the only time we would have many people coming to a game at all. The Spartans were not what people would refer to as a good team, but we were facing the Montesano Bulldogs, so if we were going to win a game, this would be the team to beat.

            I dodged moving cars to meet up with Jessica and Angela as we made our way toward the entrance gates. The two of them were already talking when I met up with them.

            “…That’s what my Dad says,” Angela was explaining. “But I kind of think he’s crazy.”

            “What’s up?” I asked when I caught them.

            “The supposed deer mutilators are back,” Jessica said. “It’s probably just mountain lions.”

            “All the hunters think its satanists,” Angela said.

            “Didn’t something like that happen in the eighties?” Jessica asked. “People were convinced there were all these satanists in the woods sacrificing goats to the dark lord.”

            I laughed a little at that. I guessed in a way, they weren’t totally wrong. At the very least, it wasn’t mountain lions killing deer in the woods. The vampires had come back to town, and they were here to stay. I’d never thought about the other side of it before. Maybe in a few years, I’d be living somewhere else with Edward and people would think I was a satanist mutilating deer in the woods.

            “Does your dad also think the satanists are going to enlist you into their hellish crusade?” I asked.

            Angela opened her mouth wide in mock surprise. “I don’t think the satanists would want me. Maybe Edward.”

            “Oh, I can actually see Edward being a satanist,” Jessica offered. “He’s kind of the sad broody type to go in the woods—"

            “And sacrifice deer,” I added.

            “Yeah,” Jessica exclaimed.

            “No, he’s too bland,” Angela offered. “Now Jasper Cullen on the other hand...”

            We burst out laughing at the proposition, but I think they were laughing for different reasons than I was. They had no idea how not-bland the Cullens really were. That was how they wanted it, to just blend into the background, but that left them on the outskirts. I was probably the first person any of them had connected to other than each other in a long time. I was the only thing really keeping them in Forks at all, and I couldn’t help but imagine that was a lonely existence.

            The line to get tickets and head into the stadium was long, but the three of us managed to entertain ourselves with jokes and conversations. Halfway down the line, Angela started talking about college.

            “I’m stuck between journalism and social work,” Angela offered. There were at least three groups still in front of us in the line, meaning that she was probably going to ask me what I wanted to study in a minute or two.

            I didn’t have an answer. Since Edward came back, I’d only been wondering about his proposal, whether I should take it or if me not taking it meant we were done. Charlie had been giving me every college brochure that showed up in the mail for a long time, but I hadn’t looked at any of them.

            “You should do journalism,” Jessica said. “It’s your passion.”

            “I don’t know,” she said. “What about you?”

            “You know I’m indecisive,” Jessica said. “I can’t be asked to make a decision during a football game. It’s unethical.” She looked to me as if she was looking for back up, but I said nothing. “Fine. I want to do English, but my mom doesn’t think I can use it for anything.”

            “You’ll figure something out,” Angela said. “You have four whole years.”

            Finally, they looked to me, expecting an answer just as freely as they’d given theirs, but I had nothing. There were probably a lot of options I had, even options I would have liked, but a year from now, I wasn’t sure I’d be here. I wasn’t even sure I’d be human. And then it wouldn’t matter. I could go to college again and again, and it would never matter what I majored in.

            “I got nothing,” I told them.

            “Not even an idea?” Jessica asked. “You like nature. You could go into conservation or zoology or something like that.”

            I shrugged as we got to the front of the line. If I married Edward and he made me a vampire, maybe I would just follow him to college. We could major in the same subject. That would give us more time together.

            Jessica paid for our tickets and explained that it was a thank you for all the rides me and Angela had given her. The stadium seats were just beginning to get packed as we walked the metal clunky stairs up to our seats. When the game began, the cheers erupted like fireworks as the Spartans ran out into the field, their navy blue and gold uniforms shining.

            After we thoroughly lost to the Bulldogs, Jessica offered we get pancakes instead of going to the dance. That was how we ended up at the Carver Café nearing ten o’clock at night. Milkshakes and pancakes were served at our table, piled high with syrup and blueberries as Angela told the story of how she’d accidentally punched Tyler in the face when he’d snuck up on her trying to surprise her. I laughed so hard I nearly coughed up my milkshake as I watched her reenact the whole thing.

            When we managed to get our laughter under control, Jessica leaned back, looking at me like she trying to decern whether she was going to say what she had on her mind. She did that a lot, I noticed. When she had something to say, she looked to me as if she was trying to guess how I’d react.

            “I dated Mike Newton for a while,” she admitted finally.

            “What?” Angela asked. “When?”

            “Last winter,” she said, looking down to what was left of her pancakes. “It didn’t go anywhere. It was like a month anyway. I think I just wanted to date someone.”

            “And?” I asked.

            “I don’t think I liked him the way he liked me,” she said. “I guess that’s why I don’t really talk about it. But he doesn’t either so.”

            “It’s like it never happened,” I finished.

            “Yeah,” she said. “It’s like it never happened.”

            After we finished our pancakes and paid our tabs, I left Angela and Jessica behind and stepped into my truck. I watched them back out of the parking lot and disappear, thinking about what Jessica said. I didn’t know why I found it so important that she’d dated Mike Newton or that she hadn’t liked him. Her short lived relationship was inconsequential, like college for a person like Edward Cullen. He’d pick up one day and start over again, with or without me.

            Charlie was still gone when I got home from the game. He was likely still making sure everyone got home safe from the dance. I wasn’t even surprised at this point. I locked my truck and dashed up the steps to the house where I locked the door behind me. The house was dark and lonely as I got inside, but I went straight to my room and turned on the lamp to avoid the empty largeness of this house.

            As my lamp clicked on and the room was filled with warm light, I heard a creak in the floorboards and nearly jumped as I turned around. Edward was standing in the corner by the window, half hidden in shadows as he stood still as death. I tried to relax as I saw him, but my heart was still pumping out of my chest.

            “Where were you?” he asked, near a whisper.

            “I told you I was going to the homecoming game,” I said.

            “The game ended hours ago,” he said, stepping out until his whole face was visible in the light. He had a dark look on his face, like he’d been crying, like he’d been ready to tear this place apart.

            “We went for pancakes,” I admitted. “I’m safe, Edward.”

            He didn’t look convinced. Instead, he strode over to me and took hold of my shoulders tight. This was not uncommon for him, but his grip hurt a little as he dug into my shoulders. He didn’t know his own strength sometimes.

            “I was worried sick,” he snapped. His black eyes were staring wide, so wide, I was sure they’d pop out of his head.

            “What happened?” I demanded.

            “Nothing.” He let go of me and stepped back as if to disappear through the window again.

            “Did something happen?” I asked.

            “No,” he said. “I was just worried. You should go to sleep.”

            “Edward,” I snapped, but it was too late. Before I could demand an answer, he was at the window, propping it open and then he was gone, leaving me alone in the shadows wondering what he’d done.

Chapter Text

On the morning after the Homecoming game, I called Alice, still confused about why Edward had come to me the prior night demanding to know where I had been. I couldn’t begin to understand just why he’d been so worried about me, and I hoped Alice had some answers. She usually did have the answers whether the question was about the future or the past.

            She picked up before the first ring was over, likely expecting me to call her. Her soft voice hummed through the speaker as I leaned up against the kitchen table, running a finger across the bruises on my arms. As soon as I heard her voice, I pulled down the sleeve of my shirt to hide them.

            “Bella, it’s good to hear from you. We missed you yesterday,” she said.

            “Yeah,” I said. “I was with other friends, but I assume you knew that.”

            “Edward told me you were going out with Jessica Stanley and Angela Weber. Did you at least have fun?” She sounded sort of smug, like she already knew every detail about my night.

            “It was great,” I said, cutting through Alice’s attempt at a sweet demeaner. “But I was wondering why Edward was so worried about me last night. He came to my house to make sure I was alright.”

            “I’m sure it’s just Edward,” Alice said. “He cares a lot about you.”

            “Did something happen?” I asked. He seemed to think I was in danger. I’d told him where I was going to be, but that hadn’t been enough for him. It had to be something else he wasn’t telling me. Alice was the only member of the Cullen family I could expect to be entirely honest with me.

            “Nothing you need to worry about,” Alice said. “But I’ll talk to him. It could be that he just missed you. I mean, he thought he’d never see you again all summer.”

            I didn’t point out that it was by his own choice that he’d left. I didn’t even point out that it had been his idea of a punishment for me asking him to turn me into a vampire. There was a lot that didn’t always make sense about the Cullens’ logic, but I supposed I just didn’t understand. When I was a vampire, I would understand.

            “Do you know where he was last night?” I asked.

            “With us,” she said. “Until he went over to yours. I really gotta go. Can we talk later?”

            I tried to hide my disappointment as I clenched my jaw on the other side of the line. “Yeah. I’ve gotta get to Jacob’s anyway.”

            “Oh, the wolf,” Alice said. “You’re still hanging out with him.”

            “He’s my friend,” I said. He was something like my best friend, but I didn’t need to tell her that and hurt her feelings. I knew she considered us to be best friends, and I loved her, I really did. But Jacob understood me in a special way. A way that didn’t need magic visions for him to know what I would do. He just got me.

            “Right,” Alice said. “Just be careful.”

            “I’m always careful,” I told her. At least I had been careful since Edward got back. My reckless streak died with him. If I did anything stupid now, I knew he’d be there to stop me.

            “Do you ever think he’s going to change his mind about us?” Alice asked. “He exists to kill us, you know.”

            “I know,” I admitted. I was in between a war for the laws of nature at the moment. Jacob was a Guardian, dedicated to protecting nature and all its inhabitants. The Cullens were vampires, a direct contradiction of the natural order. And I loved them both. I couldn’t give up my best friend and I couldn’t give up Edward. “He won’t though. He promised me.”

            “And what are his promises worth?” Alice asked. “Someone like him?”

            I didn’t like the way she said that, but I didn’t know how to ask her to clarify. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know if she meant what I thought she meant, that because of who he was, he was less than her.

            “Everything,” I told her.

            “Whatever you say,” she said and hung up before I could add anything else. I wanted to throw the phone across the table, but I resisted, clutching it hard in my grip until I could settle the angry feeling in my gut. It took me another moment to come to terms with the fact that Edward’s family and Jacob would never be on the same side, even when it came to me.

            I couldn’t keep being angry about it, however much I wanted to scream. Today was Jacob’s day and I wasn’t going to waste it being angry. Instead, I dropped my phone into my jacket pocket and headed out into the garage to get my bike.

            Since recovering it from the cliff where I’d left it, me and Jacob had ridden these bikes every weekend. When we weren’t riding, we were hiking through the woods and to his favorite spots around La Push. Since he became a guardian, he had a new view on nature that I relished. His feet were quieter when he walked, and he could spot a bird through the trees twenty feet away. Every moment in the wilderness with him made me feel so much closer to the world that surrounded Forks and the Quileute reservation. We had a world of our own out there.

            As I rode through the trees down the road toward him, I shook out all the left behind anxiety and regret. I’d been shaken since Edward appeared to me in my room and that fear hadn’t disappeared with a good night’s rest. Even Alice hadn’t been able to sway my worry away. This ride to the reservation, however, was a routine I could count on to pull me through.

            When I pulled up in front of Jacob’s house, Billy was sitting on the patio, his wheelchair next to an empty wicker seat. Sunflower seeds were scattered around his feet and a small bag of them sat in his lap. They would mix into the ground and disappear before the end of the day. He waved me over as he saw me stop. I hit the kickstand to keep my bike standing as I headed over to him across his little yard.

            “Hey Billy,” I called.

            “Bella,” he said. “You’re early.” He spit out a sunflower seed onto the ground. “Jacob went out early this morning, but he said he’d be back. What time is it now?”

            “Close to ten,” I said as he looked to check his watch. I took a seat next to him in the old wicker chair that Jacob usually occupied with him on mornings like these. He offered me the bag of sunflower seeds and poured a few into my hands with a shake of his wrist.

            “He went out this morning with Leah Clearwater and Sam Uley,” Billy said.

            “I’m not sure I’ve met Sam,” I said. I’d heard him mentioned before. He was one of the other guardians that protected this place from vampires, so it was wolf business they were on.

            “He’s a nice young man,” Billy said. “A bit older than the two of you.”

            I realized I wasn’t sure if Billy was aware of the guardians. Jacob had told me the elders of the tribe kept the treaty that ensured the Cullens didn’t enter La Push, but I couldn’t be sure that meant Billy too. Perhaps he did know and didn’t know that I knew. I wasn’t Quileute after all, so maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in on that particular secret.

            “I expect Jacob will be back soon,” Billy said. “He won’t want to miss your visit.”

            I bit down on a sunflower seed, and it broke apart in my mouth, the shell cracking into two even pieces. I spit them out onto the ground and swallowed the seed in my mouth. Before I knew it, I couldn’t tell where my shells had ended up on the ground. It was a lot of work for just one seed, but I popped another into my mouth anyway. Me and Billy sat on the patio eating sunflower seeds for a few minutes more as I listened to him talk about Jacob, about how proud of his son he was.

            “He reminds me so much of his mother,” Billy said. “Just as stubborn and thoughtful. He keeps her with me in that way.”

            “It must have been hard,” I said. “Him losing his mother so young.”

            “I think he aged a few extra years that year,” Billy said. “He was stronger than I was.”

            I stared out at the line of trees past the road in front of Jacob’s house. All I’d ever known was a mother in Arizona and a father in Washington. It never really occurred to me that it had been hard, but it was lonely. I underestimated myself so much that I convinced myself my life had always been easy, but I had been a waypoint between the two of them. I had been so alone before I came to Forks, but now I had something I wasn’t willing to give up.

            Through the trees, a wolf stepped out, gingerly as if it knew this place. He was a large, brown creature of the woods with ears that perked up as he caught sight of me. I recognized Jacob immediately and stood up as he walked across the road, unbothered by the two human beings across from him. If this had been a normal wolf, he wouldn’t have dared to step this close, but this wolf was a gentle giant, intelligent and nurturing.

            As Jacob reached the yard, he was no longer a wolf, but a boy in a ratty old Def Leppard tee shirt. All pretense of the wolf was gone. His long hair hung down freely, falling over his shoulders. As he smiled at me, that open, friendly smile, I nearly forgot all my previous woes. As he walked, there was something close to a limp in his step, but I thought I imagined it because he gave no indication that he was in pain at all.

            “What took you so long?” Billy called. I had almost forgotten that he was there, and I quickly put together in my head that he not only knew that Jacob was a wolf, but that he was happy with it.

            “Had to check the woods,” Jacob said. “Sam was worried after last night, but we’re all good.”

            “You were careful,” Billy clarified.

            “Of course I was careful,” he answered and turned his gaze to me. “Ready?”

            Billy looked to me too, judging my expression. “I’m guessing you told her,” he said, a feeling of suspicion in the air.

            “Yeah,” he said. He seemed to ignore the worry on his Dad’s face, like he’d done something he wasn’t supposed to. Instead, he opened the door to the house and grabbed the bike keys from inside. “Let’s go.”

            “Thanks for the company,” I told Billy as Jacob raced for his bike, dragging me along. It seemed he needed to ride and feel the wind in his hair just as much as I did. I followed him along, leaving Billy behind on the step as we made for our bikes.

            We took our bikes past Jacob’s street, and down to the main stretch of the reservation that faced the sea. One could ride all the way from the cliffs to Third Beach without running into another vehicle here. People rarely drove this road unless they were going to the beach and as the weather started to bite, there were less and less days warm enough.

            I let my eyes wander to the edge of the road as we drove, to the sand and the sea beyond. There was no sign of the blood or the fire from the night Victoria had bitten me. The sand was littered with wood and washed up rocks from the ocean, but nothing about it looked different. I didn’t know why I expected it to. The Cullens were thorough. They’d cleaned up the mess I’d made and left no sign that vampires had ever come to La Push.

            But I wanted her to still be there. I wanted her corpse to be on full display, never rotting or changing. If she was still around, I could have mourned what I had lost. It had been my chance to be a vampire, and the longer I waited, sitting side by side with Edward as he asked me to marry him, the more sure I was that he would never turn me into a vampire.

            We stopped at Third Beach and turned back to make our trip back up toward the cliffs at First Beach and this time, we sped faster, racing each other down the beaten and bruised asphalt. We pushed those new engines as far as they could go, and I leaned forward as I pulled a little ahead. Though Jacob was a wolf, something supernatural and magical, like Edward was, he felt like the most normal thing in my life. This felt like the most normal thing in the world.

            I pulled further ahead and when I passed the tree line predetermined as our finish line, I drifted to a stop and threw my hands into the air as he followed close behind. He pulled off his helmet and grinned.

            “You were lucky,” he said and pulled one leg up and over off the bike.

            “You were slow,” I replied.

            He shook his head. “Let’s call it lunch.”

            We headed for the general store and grabbed a few snacks and leftover breakfast sandwiches before we took our lunch to First beach and sat just on the edge of the road, looking out to sea. I watched the waves crash up against the cliffs and in the distance, James Island stood, its trees swaying just barely at the top of its peak. I couldn’t help but imagine Leah there alone, standing on the edge of a cliff, deciding if she had it in her to be a vampire slayer.

            “Whatcha thinking about?” Jacob asked before he stuffed the last of his sandwich into his mouth.

            I blinked at him. Edward asked me that question sometimes, but perhaps it was because he could hear everyone’s thoughts but mine. I was the missing link in his web. For Jacob, I didn’t know, but the way he said it felt different, like he wanted to know I was okay instead of just knowing everything.

            “I’m worried you’re going to hate me,” I told him.

            “Why would I hate you?” he asked. He elbowed me a little. “You’re a very difficult person to hate.”

            I smiled, but it quickly fell the more I thought about it all. “Edward asked me to marry him,” I said, because I hadn’t told anyone else. Jessica and Angela didn’t know and neither did Charlie, but Jacob had the most right to hate Edward and the most right to disapprove. To him, the vampires, whether they killed humans or not, were dangerous, undead things. I could imagine him blowing up right there, but instead he just stared at me.

            “And what did you say?” he asked.

            “I told him I wasn’t sure,” I said. “I mean, I only just turned eighteen. I’ve still got to graduate high school. I told him he’d have to wait.”

            “And what then?” Jacob asked. “After you graduate. You’re going to marry him?”

            The idea of marriage turned my stomach. I was so sure of being with Edward, but putting a word like marriage on it left me feeling like I was going to throw up. I loved him. That was for sure, but it was such an old fashioned concept, one that hadn’t worked for my parents and I wasn’t sure it would work for me either.

            “He wants me to,” I said.

            “But do you want to?” Jacob demanded. “You said you wanted to be a vampire.”

            “I know.”

            “For him?”

            I rubbed my hands across my arms. The world felt a little colder all of the sudden. I never expected Jacob to approve, but I had to tell him. That didn’t mean it wouldn’t leave a sour feeling in my throat.

            “For him?” Jacob repeated, a little more urgent.

            “I don’t know,” I snapped back. “I love him, and I want to be with him, but I want to be a vampire too. It’s like it’s the only way I can know for sure.”

            “The only way you can know if you love him is to turn yourself into a monster?” Jacob asked.

            “No,” I argued. I didn’t know how to explain it to him. There were no words that seemed to fit right. “I feel like ever since I moved here, I’ve been afraid. I don’t want to depend on you or Edward or anyone. I want to be strong enough to take care of myself.”

            “You don’t need to be a vampire to do that,” Jacob told me. “You can become a guardian like me and Leah.”

            I shook my head. If I took that vow, I’d never be able to see Edward again, not really. They wouldn’t allow someone like me to protect nature and protect humans from vampires. I was already tainted, and I couldn’t give Edward up.

            “It’s like,” I started, “it’s like there’s a hole in my chest whenever I’m not with him. So much so that even being with him isn’t enough sometimes. I need to be like him. I need to feel what he feels and be on equal terms. I can’t keep living like this.”

            “You won’t be living at all if you do this,” he said, so low it was almost a whisper. I looked away from him, back toward the ocean. Maybe he couldn’t understand it, but I did. I understood just what loving Edward Cullen did to me. It tore me apart.

            “It doesn’t matter,” I said. As I was, I could be dead in a day. I could be dead at any time, but I’d never get another chance to feel the way I felt now. I was done hiding from it. I needed to feel all of it.

            “Just don’t do it because it lets you be with him,” Jacob said. “If you’re going to turn yourself into a monster, don’t do it for him.”

            I breathed in the salty air. Rain was coming. I could remember a conversation with Edward from long ago. It felt like years now, but he told me he’d lose himself to love me. He’d leave everything that didn’t matter behind. At the time, I’d hated the phrase. I promised myself I wouldn’t lose everything I was to love, but I had. I’d done it again and again without noticing.

            I’d lost every fiber of myself to loving Edward Cullen. I didn’t know what I’d find when I next looked in the mirror, but I was sure it would be a stranger of the girl who came to Forks looking for a new start. Why was loving Edward the only thing I was now, and why was it so easy?

            I couldn’t really become a vampire for me, not when everything I was had been tied up into Edward. I couldn’t even comprehend what Jacob was telling me, and that scared me.

            “You promised you would still be my friend,” I told him.

            “I will,” he said. “I care too much about you to lose you just because of him.”

            I breathed in and out once more, letting the words wash over me, like a protection. It felt so easy to be here, so everything I was going to have to do next was going to be hard. I’d known what I needed to do for a long time now, but that didn’t make it any easier.

            “It was the Cullens that came into the woods,” I said. “When you were out scouting with Leah and Sam.”

            Jacob shook his head. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about them.”

            “They came to the reservation, didn’t they?” I said, a little more urgent.

            Solemnly, Jacob nodded. “They came last night. They’re just trying to scare us.”

            I cursed myself. It was a guess, but the way Alice had sounded this morning had given me worry. I just wished I was wrong. To scare them was one thing, to break the treaty was another. Edward wasn’t scared about me being out with friends at night. He was worried about me coming here, about me being with Jacob. The Cullens had broken the treaty once coming to save me, but this was something else entirely.

            “Did they hurt you?” I asked. I remembered the way he’d walked across the yard to meet me like there was a rock in his shoe.

            “He’s not going to do anything to me,” Jacob snapped.

            “Did he hurt you?” I repeated, with all the fire I could muster.

            Slowly, Jacob rolled up the leg of his pants, showing a long cut that sliced all the way down to his ankle. It was red and puffy, but already scabbed over and healing. I imagined being a guardian must have given him fast healing abilities too. “It’s just a cut,” he said. “They know they aren’t supposed to come here.”

            “And he didn’t want me to know he did,” I said almost to myself. And all of this for me, I realized. Edward came here trying to scare Jacob and I couldn’t understand why.

            “Bella, I’m not worried,” he said. “I’ll be okay.”

            I was already imagining a million ways in which Jacob could be killed by the Cullens. Strung up and drained of all his blood, hidden so deep in the forest he’d never be found. Edward loved me, but that didn’t mean he could control his anger, his jealousy. My heart broke at the thought.

            “I need to go,” I said and got up, turning back toward the road where my bike was waiting for me.

            “Wait,” Jacob said and reached out for my arm, falling just short of grabbing me. I looked down to him anyway. “Don’t put yourself in danger for my sake. If he’s on a war path—”

            “He would never hurt me,” I said. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

Chapter Text

When I got home, I was still seething with rage. The sun had long been hidden by the clouds, and I slammed the door behind me as I stepped into the house through the garage. Charlie nearly jumped from where he was sitting in the living room with a book in his hands as I entered. I ignored him as I tore off my shoes and headed for my room, but he stood up as soon as I stepped through the living room toward the stairs.

            “In a hurry?” he asked. I nearly didn’t stop as he asked it, but my frustration inched off as I turned to him.

            “No,” I said and tried to think of a lie to tell him. “I’m just tired.”

            “Okay,” Charlie said. I started toward the stairs again, but he wasn’t done. “How was the ride?”

            I stiffened and faced him again, trying to soften my expression from any sign that I was upset. “It was fine. I had fun.”

            “You didn’t get into a fight or nothing, did you?” he asked, looking a little more suspicious. He wasn’t buying that I was just tired. He knew something was wrong as if it was an instinctive ability of his.

            “No,” I said. “I didn’t get into a fight.” But I might never visit Jacob again, not if I couldn’t pull Edward and Jacob away from each other’s throats.

            “You be careful,” he said. “I’ve gotten a few calls about wolves wandering around the reservation. I doubt they’ll wander too close to people, but I want you to just be careful.”

            “I will,” I said even though I knew none of those wolves would be a problem. I raced up the stairs toward my room as I left him, just to avoid any other conversation he wanted to lay on me.

            I closed my bedroom door once I was safely behind it and pulled out my phone to call Edward the moment I was in private. My mind raced with frustration and anger as I waited for him to pick up. As the ringer buzzed, I paced back and forth in my room, collecting all my rage into an argument to hit him with.

            As the phone kept ringing though, I could feel all my anger subsiding. It was being sucked out of me the longer I waited and holding onto it became harder and harder. My racing heart slowed and relaxed as I waited, but still, he wouldn’t pick up. As if by an instinct, I stepped over to my far window and looked down to the yard below where the woods met the grass.

            Far below, at the edge of the woods, Edward stood staring up to my window as if he’d been expecting me. I lowered my phone from my ear as his dark empty eyes meet mine. He’d come to see me, knowing I’d need to talk. I tried hard to stay mad at him, but nothing of substance could stay.

            I opened the window and leaned down toward him as he stepped closer into the yard. He looked so beautiful and soft as he always did in the grey light of the afternoon. I almost forgot that I was supposed to be mad at him at all.

            “Can I come up?” he asked as he neared.

            “Of course,” I said and stepped back away from the window.

            He leapt from the ground and held fast to the windowsill almost as soon as I was out of the way. He pulled himself up by his elbows and dragged himself into the room like a sleek and graceful cat. As he straightened out and leaned up against the window, the shadows of my room obstructed half of his face. The other half glowed with grey light, only a peak of his veins showing at his neck.

            He glanced down to the ground where another figure was standing, half hidden in the tree line. I stepped forward and recognized Jasper standing there, his eyes unblinking and wide as he watched the two of us.

            “I brought Jasper to keep watch,” Edward said. “We’re safe.”

            I gave a little wave down toward him and he looked away as if embarrassed to be waiting there below, but nothing about his expression told that. Nothing about his expression told much of anything.

            “Why’d you come?” I asked as Jasper disappeared into the woods. I looked back to Edward, who had his eyes cast downward away from me.

            “I missed you,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay after last night.”

            “After you showed up in my room thinking I’d been murdered,” I corrected. Something about his voice didn’t feel right, but I shook the feeling away.

            “I just worry about you is all,” he said. “You’re the most important thing in the world to me.”

            “And you are to me,” I said. “Why did you think I was in danger last night?” I’d told him where I was going to be. I’d told him who I was going to be with. Why was he so worried?

            He just shook his head. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “I didn’t come here to talk about that.”

            “I want to talk about it,” I asserted. I wanted to talk about Jacob, but I was having trouble finding the right way to ask. I wanted him to admit what he’d done. He’d gone to the reservation trying to get rid of the wolves. I wanted him to admit he was jealous, but I didn’t know how to start.

            “You came home late. I was worried,” Edward said. “You’re prone to danger.”

            I couldn’t say he was wrong. Danger seemed to follow me wherever I went, whether I was looking for it or not. But that didn’t make me stupid. He’d come back to me and that made me safer. He didn’t have to cling to my side just to keep me safe.

            “You went to the res,” I said. “Didn’t you?” But as that last word left my lips, I realized I wasn’t mad at Edward anymore. He could be jealous, but that just proved he loved me. I wasn’t mad about the scar on Jacob’s leg or the way he seemed to hate every waking moment I spent at the reservation where he couldn’t get to me. Why wasn’t I mad?

            “I’m not allowed to the reservation,” he said. “You know that.”

            “Jacob told me,” I said. I was trying to push forward some semblance of rage, but it was all gone.

            “You can’t trust the wolves,” Edward said, nearly spitting out the word ‘wolves’ like it was a dirty curse. I couldn’t let these two people I loved so much rip each other apart, but I wasn’t sure what my other choice was. If Edward stayed, a vampire in a town of humans, Jacob would break his promise eventually.

            I didn’t know why I thought that. I didn’t know why I was so sure it would be Jacob who broke his promise. It was as if that thought had been placed there within the weeds and everything grew around it so fast that it was indistinguishable from everything else. It was part of Jacob’s vows as a guardian of the forest to kill vampires. What were Edward’s vows?

            “Edward,” I said. “Can you promise to leave the wolves alone? For me can you leave the res alone,” I pled. I didn’t know how long this fight had been raging. How long had the guardians existed and how long had they sworn to the destruction of vampires? Like so many things, I couldn’t begin to understand.

            “There’s only one thing that keeps me worried,” Edward said. “I worry about what will happen while you’re there.”

            “I’m fine,” I argued. “La Push is important to me too. Jacob is important to me.” He winced as I said that like it visibly pained him to know he had to share me with anyone else, that I wasn’t his entirely. “Can’t you leave that be?”

            “It’s Jacob that I’m worried about,” he said. “He can’t protect you the way I can, and I can’t go there to save you.”

            A thought echoed in my head, one that felt so wrong I pushed it away at first, but it seemed to bounce back and stick. If I stopped going to La Push, Edward wouldn’t have to worry. I’d be safe in Forks, and he could take care of me like he wanted to. I didn’t need saving, I asserted almost against my own mind. All I needed was my friends. I needed Jacob and Jessica and Angela. I couldn’t just drop one because Edward thought it was too far of a drive. They kept me sane just as much as he did.

            “Don’t you trust me?” I asked him. I wasn’t an idiot, but in all his ageless vampire knowledge, I was nothing.

            “I do,” he said. “I don’t trust other things. Things out of your control.”

            “Like Jacob.”

            “Like men,” Edward said. “And monsters. I want you to be safe, and the only way I can keep you safe is if you’re within reach. I want you to stay.”

            To stay. In Forks or with him. I didn’t think there was really a difference, but I was too afraid to ask. I didn’t think I wanted to know if my safety depended on me being with him or not. I always told myself I wasn’t afraid of his hunger, but what would happen if we broke up had been at the back of my mind for a while. I just hadn’t realized. I hadn’t realized a lot about Edward.

            “And that brings me to what I really came here to ask,” Edward said. “I wanted to do this away from the rest of the family. To make you feel less anxious.”

            I sat down on my bed. I knew where this was going. It had been going the same way for a month and I had yet to give him a straight answer. He knelt down before me on one knee, his eyes level with mine. They were so open, like he was going to cry, but there were no tears to fill his eyes at all.

            “Bella Swan,” he said in a low, soft tone. “Will you marry me?”

            I wanted to say no again. I wanted to ask him to make me a vampire again, because that was what I had been wanting for so long. Our love would have been so much easier if he would just turn me, and I had yet to understand why he truly couldn’t.

            “Edward,” I said in just as low a tone as his, but he cut me off, leaning his head down against my legs as if to hold me there and never let go.

            “Shush, Bella,” he said. “Listen, just listen. I love you.”

            “I love you too,” I said.

            “No, just listen,” he repeated. “Just listen to me. I can’t live without you. I haven’t been able to think about anything else. All I know is that I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything.”

            “We don’t need to be married to be together,” I said. “How is this different? How do our lives as they are make how much I love you any different?”

            Edward shook his head. “It is different,” he said. “Marriage is special. It’s something we can have that no one else will. It’s just us. Our world. Don’t you want that, Bella?”

            I wanted to say no, but I was sure it would break his heart. I wanted to tell him that marriage wasn’t special, that it didn’t set us apart from every other couple on the planet. I loved Edward with all my heart and maybe I could have believed that being married to him would be better than being his girlfriend if it wasn’t for my parents. If Charlie and Renee had loved each other forever and ever, maybe I could have believed that marriage made our bond like steel. Instead, I couldn’t help but think that some day I wouldn’t feel about Edward like I did now.

            It wasn’t just marriage that complicated that. It was the fact that I was weak, and he was strong. It was something he knew too, which was that if we didn’t love each other anymore, there was nothing stopping him from drinking me dry.

            “I love you, Edward,” I told him instead. I didn’t have to words to turn him down.

            “That’s not enough,” he told me. “I need you to promise me.
            “I promise.”

            “Why can you say that so easily, but you can’t marry me?” he asked.

            I thought of Esme, still a human after five years married to Carlisle, and she hardly ever said a word. I wondered if she had asked Carlisle to turn her into a vampire and he’d refused too. There was so much I didn’t know about the Cullen family and about Carlisle who brought them all together. Almost as soon as those thoughts came into my head they were gone, as if something stronger had pushed them out of the way.

            My emotions didn’t make sense anymore. My fear mingled with my devotion, and I couldn’t tell them apart. I took Edward’s head into my chest, ruffling my hands through his hair as he held onto me for dear life, waiting for my answer.

            “I’ll marry you,” I told him. “If you make me a vampire.”

            He shifted his weight as he held onto me as if he was mulling the idea over in his head. After a long moment of quiet, he looked up at me, his eyes shining in the dying light. He didn’t look angry, he looked pensive, like he was still trying to read my mind after all this time.

            “I won’t make that decision,” he said.

            “Then I will,” I said. “It’s my decision to make, just like it was yours.”

            “And I regretted it,” he said. “I’ve regretted becoming this every day since.”

            I thought of a question, but I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer to it. If he regretted becoming a vampire, did he regret living long enough to meet me? But I didn’t want to know how much he loathed himself. I didn’t want to know that I wasn’t worth all the pain and heartache he endured. It wasn’t a fair question, but I only just stopped myself from asking it.

            “Not everyone must regret it,” I said instead. “Not people who want it.”

            “Anyone who doesn’t regret becoming this is a monster,” Edward snapped, too angry for the low rumble of his voice. I was struck by how honest he was when he said it.

            I let my hands fall from his head and into my lap as I looked at him, trying not to cry. I wanted to be like him with every fiber of my being. It was as if my future depended on it, and he was standing in the way. But he was my future too.

            “Please,” I said, so small it sounded more like a squeak.

            “I’ll ask my family,” Edward said. “We’ll take a vote.”

            Any anger that should have been there disappeared and all I could feel was sorrow. My choice was being left in the hands of the Cullen family as if it was their life to live. Everything I had wanted was being left up to Rosalie, who still didn’t like me, and Emmett who did everything Rosalie said, and Jasper whose mouth watered at the sight of my blood, and Carlisle who seemed the most distant and high up of all. Alice, I could count on to at least consider it, but the others would stand by Edward.

            “I don’t want you to take a vote,” I argued instead. “I want you to tell me that if I marry you, you’ll make me a vampire.”

            Edward looked away to the window as if he was waiting on something, but nothing changed. Finally, he looked to me and sighed, the air in his lungs stale and cold. “If when we get married, you still want to become a vampire, I will make you one.”

            I couldn’t quite believe the words coming out of his mouth. I’d been waiting for him to tell me he’d hold true to turning me for months and months, and I’d never imagined he would give in. After he had disappeared the first time I asked to teach me a lesson, I had thought he would never change his mind. Maybe he trusted me, knew me enough to know I wouldn’t regret it.

            “Then I’ll marry you,” I said.

            Before I knew what was happening, he had me in the air. He grabbed me around the waist and lifted me up, spinning me in a circle, joy on his face as he held me. His arms were tight, like a vice and I could barely breathe from the sudden surprise of being spun.

            This was how it was supposed to feel. It was supposed to be life changing to fall in love and say ‘I do.’ And I felt it, or I thought I did. It seemed to overwhelm me so much that I didn’t know what I was feeling.

            “Put me down,” I called. “Please.”

            After a moment, Edward dropped me onto the bed and climbed up on top of me, stroking my hair as he leaned in close to me, his chest so close to mine. I thought that if we were any closer, I’d be able to hear his heartbeat, before I remembered the truth. There would never be a heartbeat. I was the only one of us alive. And soon, neither of us would have a heartbeat.

            “I can’t breathe,” I sputtered as he cradled me below him. There were tears in my eyes spilling over, but he didn’t seem to notice, he just stared at me for the longest time, unbreathing and unblinking.

            “Soon,” he said quietly. “When we’re married.” I didn’t know what he meant, and I didn’t get the chance because he was off of me and leaning over the window before I could process any of it. I sat up as he looked at me over his shoulder. “Next time, I’ll bring the ring.”

            And then he was gone.

Chapter Text

I didn’t tell anyone I was engaged yet. Eventually, I would have to tell everyone, but for now, I wanted it to be my secret. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what my friends’ reactions would be. I knew it wouldn’t be happy, not with the way they seemed to avoid Edward like the plague. As for my Dad, I wasn’t sure if he liked Edward either. The conversation had never really come up, but I was dreading telling him most. He’d tell me I was too young, that I hadn’t thought it through. I hadn’t, not really. All I knew was that I wanted to be a vampire, and this was how I could do it.

            Edward on the other hand, told his whole family. The Cullens were really the only people he talked to other than me, so they all knew I had said yes almost the moment I said it. I was pretty sure Alice had actually known a week before that. It became incredibly clear that she knew when she cornered me at school in the girl’s locker room after P.E.

            I was still wearing my gym shorts and a loose tank top as I waited for a shower to open up so I could hose off all the sweat from my hair. It was obvious she wasn’t supposed to be there when she stepped in wearing one of her dark flowy dresses and colorful leggings underneath to hide her pencil thin legs. The Cullens were never in the gym and her presence here now nearly made me jump out of my skin.

            “Bella,” she called as she made her way across the locker room of girls toward me. I immediately wanted to run at the sight of her wide eyed smile. She was always so perfect, and I didn’t want her to see me looking like a sweaty rat.

            I smoothed my hair down quickly as she headed my way and looked down, hoping she would miss me and leave, but it was far too late. Alice never missed her mark. Instead, she slid up to me and leaned against a spare locker as I stood, trying to find my regular clothes in my gym bag.

            “I heard Edward paid you a visit this weekend,” she said in her sweet sing-song tone.

            I shrugged. “We hung out.”

            “You hung out,” she said, suspicious. She already knew the truth, but I didn’t want to talk about it to her, not right now. “Did he ask you anything?”

            If the situation was normal, I would have been just as excited as she was, but I didn’t want to get married. All of this pomp and circumstance seemed so pointless to me. I just wanted to be with him and to never lose him again. I just wanted him to never lose me, and marriage was just a hoop to jump through to get there.

            “Can we talk about this later?” I said to her in a low tone. “I don’t want to tell my friends yet.”

            “Oh,” Alice gasped and then lowered her voice to match mine. “I get it. But you know I’m throwing you a bachelorette’s party, right?”

            “No,” I snapped back. “I don’t need a party.”

            “We have to celebrate,” she insisted. “You’re going to be part of the family.”

            I didn’t know what a bachelorette’s party by Alice Cullen would imply, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. None of the Cullen girls really understood my style. If it was up to me, we’d sit out on the porch and count birds or maybe have a bonfire. But bonfires meant different things for the Cullens. For them, a bonfire was to dispose of a body. I still cringed at the memory of Victoria’s body being dragged into the fire on First Beach to hide what was left of her.

            “Okay,” I said, mostly to shut her up. “A little party. Just us. And then we shut up about the wedding.”

            “Oh, that’s right,” Alice said. “You have to let me plan the wedding. I have lots of ideas.”

            “No,” I said. I was considering a state house wedding, just a few signatures and then me and Edward would be married. There would be no ceremony or festivities. I wasn’t walking down the aisle and I certainly wasn’t doing it in a huge ballgown.

            “You love me, don’t you?” she asked. “I’ve wanted to plan a wedding forever. You have to let me. If you love me, you’ll let me plan it.”

            The look in her eyes gave me a mix of guilt and regret deep in my gut. I should have known Alice would want to see me walk down the aisle. She was probably picturing my wedding right now in her head and she already knew what I was going to say.

            “Alright,” I said. “Fine.”

            “Yay!” she cheered and disappeared out of the locker room as quick as she had entered. I sighed as the door closed behind her and rested my forehead against the cold metal of the locker. This wasn’t going to be easy.

            She planned my bachelorette’s party for the following Saturday, and I dreaded it the whole week. When I arrived at the Cullens’ front door that evening, I was wearing sweatpants and an old tee shirt. I wasn’t sure what the attire Alice had planned for, but I could promise I didn’t own clothes in whatever theme she was going for.

            When she opened up the door, I nearly fainted to see her in a small, tight cocktail dress that only fell a quarter of the way down her thigh. She wore strappy black heels that made her equal height to me. I tried not to feel underdressed; after all, I’d worn this on purpose. She grinned as she looked at me, unfazed by my lack of proper attire.

            “Come in, come in,” she said. “The boys went out together. Carlisle’s treat, so we have the whole house to ourselves tonight.”

            I started to step inside, but she grabbed my wrist and dragged me in before I even had time to react. I stumbled in through the door to the house which was dripping in sparkly and shimmery light. Alice had decorated with silver banners and twinkling lights that bathed the whole house in ethereal white light. She dragged me along as I stared, star struck by her décor. I didn’t know how she had managed to decorate so quickly. The house looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, so white and silver.

            “Everyone, get ready!” Alice called as she dragged me into the sitting room. “The party girl is here.”

            I was pulled to a halt before the round of sofas and chairs. Rosalie sat on the long white sofa, lounging like she owned the entire house. She was wearing a dress too, a sheer silvery slip of a dress that showed more cleavage than it hid. Her hair was perfectly done up, making her look just as much like Marilyn Monroe as I had once thought her to look. She’d been ignoring me ever since the Cullens returned to Forks, and I got the feeling now that she was a little resentful of me even being here. I was the reason she had to come back.

            Esme sat as prim and proper as always with her legs crossed and a string of pearls across her throat. She was tapping her foot anxiously as I stepped into the room, and it only seemed to speed up with my presence. I tried to forget the questions I had for her; if she wanted to be a vampire or if Carlisle had loved her enough to keep her human. I wanted desperately to know if she had jumped through as many hoops as I had.

            “Well?” Alice asked, her face as joyful as it always was. She didn’t seem to notice Rosalie’s glare or Esme’s nervous tick. “Congratulations!” she exclaimed.

            “What are you wearing?” Rosalie demanded. “I thought this was supposed to be a party.”

            “I don’t have a dress,” I admitted. I could have borrowed one from Alice, but I hadn’t wanted to put any effort into this. The marriage and the wedding wasn’t really for me. It was for Edward. He was the one who wanted this, and I loved him enough to give him his wish.

            I looked down at myself as Rosalie glared. I felt very suddenly like a slob. Like I didn’t belong in this house with these people. No matter what I did, I couldn’t fit in with them. They were from another world entirely and I’d been trying so hard to gain entry.

            “Bella, it’s okay if you want to change,” Alice offered. She looked as if she was embarrassed for me.

            I sucked in my breath. Rosalie was going to have to get over it. Edward was marrying me, and it almost felt like a good idea now if only to see Rosalie have to call me family. I didn’t know where that spite came from, but I needed it. I sat down in the chair across from her.

            “No,” I said. “I’m okay. What do you have planned?”

            “Ever play never have I ever?” Alice asked. She held up a hand like she was waiting for a high five. “I’ll start. Never have I ever ruined our cover to throw a freshmen boy across the cafeteria.”

            Rosalie scoffed. “It was one time, asshole.” She held up her hand and lowered her pinky down to her palm. “That means it’s my turn.”

            I felt my heart drop down to my stomach as she sat up a little straighter as if she was unraveling to make an attack. Her eyes remained on me the entire time and I imagined her teeth sinking into me as she watched me. I could imagine her killing me over and over again with just that look.

            “Never have I ever,” Rosalie said. “Jumped off a cliff to try and kill myself.”

            I blinked at her, hiding any hurt I might have felt from myself too. All I knew was that I hated this girl and she hated me. No amount of love she had for Edward would change any of that.

            “Rose!” Alice snapped, but her voice was too sweet to sound anything but surprised at her.

            “What?” Rosalie said. “I haven’t.”

            “No,” I said. “She’s right. She hasn’t.”

            “Bella, you don’t have to—”

            “That means it’s my turn, right?” I asked. I held up my hand and curled down my pinky finger. There was something I wanted to know about Rosalie, about the Cullens, about all of them. Without Edward here, watching over my shoulder, keeping me in line, I felt all my built-up resentment for Rosalie burst through. I had to ask. “Never have I ever killed a human being.”

            Rosalie narrowed her eyes at me, still making me squirm like she’d lunge at any moment. She raised her hand, one pinky down and let her thumb curl over toward her palm slowly like rigor mortis setting in. I stared at her and then flinched as I saw in periphery Alice’s hand, her pinky finger curling downward.

            My smug expression dropped, but before anything else could be said, Esme stood up and started to step away. She seemed to clutch her pearls as she looked toward the kitchen.

            “I’m going to bring out some snacks. I’m sure Bella is famished,” she said.

            “I’m fine,” I told her, but as I tore my gaze from Rosalie, I could see that Esme was shaking fiercely. She desperately wanted to get out of this room before anything else was said.

            “I’ll go anyway,” she said and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving me alone with the two vampires who had just admitted to having killed a person before.

            I clenched my fists at my side as if it would do anything to protect me from this. I could ignore the stone in my gut, turn to Alice with a smile and tell her it was her turn, but I couldn’t stop imagining Rosalie killing me. It rattled in my head like a constant threat, a swaying pendulum blade over my head.

            “Well,” I said. I thought I might just leave. My heart suddenly ached for Esme, like leaving her here would leave her in danger now. “I’m sorry I asked.”

            “It’s okay,” Alice offered. “It is. I understand. It’s…he was homeless.”

            “I’m sorry?” I turned to her.

            “You don’t have to tell her,” Rosalie argued. “Just because Edward loves her doesn’t mean she’s one of us.”

            “No,” Alice said. “She deserves to know. He was a homeless man. I’d seen him before. He slept under the same bridge I did sometimes. I think he was a veteran.”

            My stomach churned, but I couldn’t say anything to stop her. I just wanted her to stop. She seemed unbothered about it, like it was just another story she was telling, just another event from her long life. Every word struck me like a blow. I wanted to throw up.

            “He had one of those pins. A metal,” she said. “I went back to that bridge after Carlisle turned me. I didn’t understand what he had said. I just wanted to find another hit. But he was the only one that was there, and I was so hungry.”

            “Stop,” I whimpered.

            “I opened up his chest with my bare hands. His heart was so squishy, and I drank. And when his heart stopped beating, I didn’t know how to fix it. I broke his ribs open and buried my hand in deep. It wasn’t so hard to take out. The cords all ripped against my teeth and when I had his heart, I tried to breathe life back into him. I’d seen people do it to drowning victims. I breathed through his tubes. And nothing. But the blood. There was blood everywhere.”

            “Please,” I told her, tears spilling over at my eyes. I couldn’t take one second more of this. The image of that old man spun in my head, his intestines falling over and out his belly as Alice knelt before him, covered in him.

            “Carlisle was the one that found me,” she continued. “He helped me take his body to the river. We loaded up every bit of him into the car and after sunset, we went to the river. I was holding onto his heart the whole time. When we dumped his body over, he was gone so quickly, but I couldn’t get the blood off my hands for days and days.”

            She held her hands out and it was like we were in another place together. All the light and silver faded away and I could see her under the passing glow of the streetlights in the passenger side of an old car that was brand new then. Her hands were still covered in blood, sticky, thick stuff that she brought up to her lips and licked clean. I couldn’t sit there another minute, so I stood and rushed out of the room toward the kitchen where the only other human in this family was hiding.

            “You said you wanted to know,” Alice called as I left the room.

            I slammed my back against the kitchen cabinet as soon as I was out of sight and heaved in shallow, quick breaths. My head was aching. If that was what Alice had done, I didn’t want to know what Rosalie had done, or god forbid, what Edward had done. He’d told me about Edith, the young woman he’d killed, the one he thought he was going to marry, but he hadn’t told me like that. I didn’t know the details; I hadn’t wanted to.

            As I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath all I could see was Edward, a heart in his hands, Edith’s heart. The further I pushed it away, the closer he came. He reached up, the heart in one hand like an apple and took a bite. Blood rushed over his lips, down his chin and onto his chest. I gagged as I opened my eyes and found myself back in the kitchen.

            Esme was looking at me with a grim expression. She looked to the doorway where the girls sat just beyond, laughing like nothing had happened. I gritted my teeth. This must have all been some cruel joke, but I couldn’t go out and face them now. I couldn’t yell at Alice. I couldn’t believe she would ever think to do anything so cruel, but here I was, hiding from her.

            I looked over to Esme, but she had turned her gaze away from me and back to the kitchen table where she was slicing cheese into little cubes. She picked up a glass of water, and without looking at me, held it out for me.

            I hesitated to take it. I remembered her harsh words on the day of prom. ‘You mustn’t let them see you bleed.’ I didn’t understand anything about Esme and that scared me too, in its own way. I was dealing with all of the Cullens in order to be with Edward, but I was dealing with Esme just as much. She was an odd woman with a face as much like stone as the rest of the Cullens that I couldn’t begin to comprehend. I was too scared to get the answers I wanted from her.

            She looked up at me when I didn’t take the glass. There was no hint of emotion at all. “Take it,” she said.

            I took the glass and shakily brought it to my lips to take a sip. When I put the glass down, I rested my palms against the cold counter, watching Esme’s hands as she went back to cutting. I didn’t know how long I would have sitting here before Rosalie or Alice would come looking for me, but I still couldn’t manage to put any of my questions into words.

            Five years. Esme had been married to Carlisle for five years. If she wanted to be a vampire, she should have been one by now, but I couldn’t ask that. I couldn’t bare to hear any of the answers.

            From beyond the kitchen, Rosalie gave a long almost cackling laugh to something Alice had said, and Esme glanced over to me once again. I wished I could tell what she was thinking, and I thought of asking Edward when he returned.

            “Come stand next to me,” she said.

            I whipped my head behind me to see if one of the girls had stepped into the room, but it was still just me and her. Slowly, I let go of the counter and inched around to stand next to her. She kept chopping as I leaned in, and I couldn’t help but imagine her knife sliding through her fingers instead of the cheese.

            “What is it?” I asked at a whisper. I didn’t know how much the vampires would be able to hear or if they were too busy laughing to tell.

            Esme put down the knife and opened the drawer just in front of her. Inside, silverware sat in orderly containers. She lifted up the organizer and slipped out a piece of paper which she slid into my hands. It was thick cardstock and a little shiny. I looked down to the words written over the front and the barcode along the bottom.

            “A ticket to Florida,” I whispered. To visit my mother before the wedding and invite her, I thought, but no. This was a single ticket, one way. Esme didn’t want me to come back. “I don’t understand.”

            “Take it,” Esme whispered back, even lower than I had. She’d learned to keep her voice down enough with vampires around.

            For a second, I imagined Esme must have hated me just as much as Rosalie did. I thought perhaps she wanted me gone so they could move on from Forks like they were supposed to. But no, something in her eyes told me otherwise. I hadn’t wanted to get married, but to Edward, it wouldn’t be so bad. I didn’t need what she was giving me. I’d be happy after all the ceremony was over and I was just with Edward, and he was with me.

            “I can’t take this,” I told her. She refused to take the ticket as I tried to hand it back to her. “I don’t need it.”

            “Keep it,” Esme said. “Just keep it with you and pretend we never spoke.”

            I tried to catch any hint of emotion from her, but she was as closed off as the rest of them. I slid the ticket into the pocket of my sweatpants as she picked up her knife and went back to cutting. This ticket would sit in on my drawer untouched for the rest of time and eventually, I’d have to throw it away, but I think I understood something I hadn’t wanted to know about Esme now. I just wished I could take it back. I wanted to forget as I left her side and went back to the living room where Alice and Rosalie were pretending that nothing had happened at all.

Chapter Text

The longer I waited to tell my Dad that I was engaged, the worse I felt. Edward eventually got me a ring, that old, yellowed diamond he’d proposed to me with the first time. When I looked at it on my finger, all I could feel was joy and anticipation even though it was as ugly as the day was long. When I was home, however, I took it off to avoid letting Charlie see it. I didn’t wear it when I was at school either. I couldn’t be sure that Jessica and Angela wouldn’t scream loud enough for the entire town to hear when they learned. Instead, I only wore it while I was with Edward and the other Cullens. It was our little secret, that I was part of the family now.

            It wasn’t fair to Charlie though, and I knew it, every time I dropped that ring back into the box and hid it away in my backpack. I felt like a fraud, but I had become good at keeping secrets in the past year. Every little lie I told added up and now it felt like it was crushing me. Now when my Dad asked me if I wanted to go up to Lake Pleasant for the weekend or go to Carver’s for dinner, it crushed me to tell him no. And every time, it was so easy to lie to him.

            So as October was coming to an end and the days were getting shorter and colder, nearly too cold for fishing, I asked him if he wanted to go fishing one last time. After all, it might be the last chance we got to go fishing before I was married and out of his hair for good. When I was a vampire, there was no telling if I would ever see him again. I wanted him to be there for this, for my wedding at the very least.

            I asked him at the dinner table while we ate spaghetti that he’d cooked a little too long. I put down my fork after he’d asked me how my day was, and I’d said ‘fine’ to avoid bringing up anything of what I was really thinking. It wasn’t going to be easy to tell him any of this, but out at the lake, I would at least have him to myself one last time.

            “I was thinking,” I said. “We should go fishing again before it gets too cold.”

            Charlie looked up to me, trying to hide his surprise and the little twinge of a smile. I could tell he’d been missing this for a while. All summer while I’d avoided him and built my bike, we’d missed out on the trips we were supposed to be having. The whole reason I’d moved up here.

            “Isn’t it Halloween weekend coming up?” he asked.

            “Yeah, but it’s also the last weekend it’s going to be nice,” I said. “Isn’t it?”

            “If you’re willing to give up the weekend to hang out with your old man,” Charlie said. He gave me a little smirk under his mustache.

            “If you’re willing to give up Saturday night football,” I replied.

            Charlie slammed the table at that and offered me his hand. “You got yourself a deal.”

            I shook his hand, and the deal was struck. As he looked back to the dinner on his plate, I could already tell he was planning the trip in his head. There would be cold packed lunch and beer and lots of live bait. And I was looking forward to it like nothing else. It had been a long time since I felt so steady. This fishing trip was nothing special, not supernatural or complicated. A few lines and a quite place to think all of this through. That was all I needed.

            As always with our fishing trips, we got up at the crack of dawn and loaded my truck up with coolers and rods. The sun was just coming up as we arrived at the lake, the same lodge we’d rented a boat from before, and parked in the small gravel parking lot. The boat they had for us was a smaller motorboat than the one we’d taken the year prior, but it fit us and all our gear comfortably as we headed out for the center of the lake.

            It was quite and peaceful at this time. No one was out but the animals around Lake Pleasant and the fish were biting easily enough. We were out there less than twenty minutes before Charlie snagged one and reeled it in. His rod arched along the water as the line went taut and he reeled in a crooked motion until he managed to fight the creature’s strength.

            The fish that came out was gasping and wiggling as he brought it carefully into his hands. I watched him as he held the fish tight between his knees and pulled the hook out of its lip. Holding the fish up, Charlie grinned as he rubbed a thumb against the pearlescent scales and tossed it back into the water, gasping headfirst.

            I didn’t have time to think about why my Dad liked catch and release fishing so much because my line was dipping too and I yanked back on the reel to drag another catch in. Charlie watched me reel with satisfaction that I imagined he’d been missing for quite a while. We’d missed so much of this, and we were only going to miss more once I was married.

            I thought of the ring in the pocket of my backpack, waiting for me to slip it back onto my finger. It wasn’t smart to bring a wedding ring to a fishing trip. Accidents were prone to happen to anybody out on a lake like this. But that ring. One day, I would have to wear it forever. Every day, I’d wake up and put it on. There wouldn’t be fishing trips like these when I was married and gone.

            When I finished reeling mine in and took the hook out of its lip, Charlie grinned even wider at my catch. “I think that one was bigger than mine,” he said.

            “I doubt it,” I said. I’d watched how hard he struggled with that thing.

            “Agree to disagree,” he said as I bent down to let the fish drop back into the murky water around us. As its tail swished and brought it deeper into the water and out of our sight, I wondered still, how I was going to tell him the truth.

            I was leaving him, and I’d be leaving him with lies. When I graduated and married Edward, I wouldn’t be the same after that. We’d have to leave Forks behind and go somewhere far away. And all I would tell Charlie was that I was leaving to marry Edward. If I ever came back, the secret would be out. He’d see the Cullens, unchanging over the years and he would know something was wrong. Charlie wasn’t the type of man to leave something like that alone. He'd come find me. So I’d have to lie.

            We fished all day, catching and releasing all while I tried to find the words to tell him I was getting married. I needed to tell him, more than I needed to tell Jessica or Angela or my mom all the way in Florida. Charlie, who I’d come all the way to Washington to see again, I needed to tell. It took me all day to get the courage.

            I floundered a couple of times, speaking his name out and watching his head bob up from the water to look at me. Every time he did, and I got a look at his big eyes, I stuttered and asked him instead about work or about how Billy was or anything else I could think of. And so he told his stories instead while I tried to reason why I had to tell him.

            By the end of the night when sunset was turning the sky pink and purple like thick bruises against the skin of the world and we packed up the truck to leave, I decided I was going to tell him before we got home. We got in the truck with what was left of the bait and the cooler in the bed, and I drove us back toward home, on the long stretch of woods that led there.

            I was quiet for most of the ride, turning over words in my head as I tried to reason how to tell him. I didn’t know why I was so nervous. Charlie knew me and he knew Edward. He wouldn’t think this was crazy or dangerous. He wouldn’t know any better, but the more I thought about Mom, the more I thought about the stories he’d told about her the last time we were at that lake, the more I thought he might have a heart attack at the thought of me marrying so young.

            They were the same reason I hadn’t wanted to get married so early before and I had to expect that it would take my own Dad, who was so much like me, a long time to come to terms with it. When we pulled into the driveway and I pulled the truck into park, I cursed myself for not just coming out with it. But as I looked at the house ahead, where I would stop living soon enough, I pulled myself together.

            “Dad,” I said, not looking at him, but at the dials on the dashboard of the truck. “Can I talk to you about something?”

            “Of course,” he said. He was unbuckling himself from the seat, but stopped as soon as I asked him. “Whatcha thinking, Bells?”

            “I’m graduating soon,” I said. I had to start somewhere.

            “In a few months,” he said. “We still got time. Are you worried about college?”

            I hadn’t thought seriously about college in a long time. That world didn’t exist for me anymore. It didn’t matter. “It’s not that,” I admitted. “It’s more about Edward.”

            Charlie cut me off with a wave of his hand. “I don’t want to know about that. Just make sure you use protection, and not just birth control. You need to always use a condom too.”

            “Dad,” I snapped. I wanted to be embarrassed, but I couldn’t manage it right now while I was trying to tell him something this important. I chewed the words around in my mouth for a second. “He asked me to marry him.”

            Charlie’s face fell at my proclamation. I tried to read his expression, but it was closed off to me like he was still trying to process it. He didn’t have a response yet. Eventually, he looked at me and said, “And you said no?”

            I shook my head. “I said yes.”

            He nodded like I had just told him I was dying and looked instead to the house. “You can’t do that, Bells.”

            “I’m an adult,” I told him. There was nothing he could really do, but I wanted him to be on board. I wanted him there even if it was the last time we saw each other. “I love him.”

            “I know that. I know he’s important to you, but you have so much to do first,” he said. “You have so much to do. College. Have you even thought about college? Does he know where he’s going to college?”

            It didn’t matter where Edward was going to college. He’d been there a million times before and he’d do it again. He’d get in wherever he went. And me, I’d follow him wherever he went. But that wasn’t going to be enough for Charlie. That wasn’t an answer that made sense.

            “We’ll figure it all out,” I said. “If we love each other, we’ll be able to work it out.”

            Charlie shook his head and looked to me again, finally. He looked near to tears, not like he was mad, but like he was grief-stricken. He didn’t have to know all the details of the Cullens. He knew he was losing me anyway. “Bells. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s go into the house and talk about this.”

            “No,” I snapped. I didn’t want him to try and talk me out of it. Something was hardwired in my brain, something that told me he was going to try and stop me. He was going to make me wait and I wasn’t going to wait.

            “Look, we both smell like fish. Let’s go inside and clean up and then we’ll figure this out,” Charlie said.

            “I have it figured out,” I argued. “I’m marrying Edward.”

            Finally, he broke, his anger bursting to the surface. I’d never really seen my Dad angry before, but the look on his face tore me to shreds. His forehead went red and his eyes dark. “Bella, you’re too young to make this decision.”

            “I’m not too young. I’m an adult,” I snapped. I didn’t even know where the assertion came from. It was like the second I turned eighteen everything had changed, but no, nothing had changed. I hadn’t changed. I was still the lost little girl in the woods. But Edward was back in my life now. I couldn’t lose him again.

            “This is a mistake,” Charlie told me. “You’re both just starting out in life. You have so much time. For fuck’s sake, Bella, he’s your first boyfriend!”

            My eyes watered in response to his rage, but I refused to cry. I wished I couldn’t feel anything at all. Instead, I just stared at him. He knew how much I loved him. He knew. Charlie had watched me hide away and wait for his return for months. He’d held me while I screamed out at night, but somehow, he couldn’t understand how much I loved Edward. He didn’t know that me marrying him would save me.

            “I know what I’m doing,” I said, still trying to keep the strain out of my voice.

            “How?” he snapped. “How can you possibly know what you’re doing? You dated for six months before he left. Six months and then he was gone all summer. And now when he comes back, you’re just going to run back to him. Bella, I watched you. I saw you. He broke your heart.”

            “Because I love him,” I argued back. “I love him so much it broke me to be without him. Why can’t you understand that?”

            Charlie unfurrowed his brow. “I understand he’s important to you,” he said. He was trying to be calm, but I could still tell he was angry, like he’d explode again at any minute.

            “You were twenty,” I told him. “When you married Mom. Why is this any different?”

            He shook his head at the mention of Renee. It was a bad example, one that still hurt him now. He’d made a mistake and he was sure he was watching me make the same one. She’d been beautiful and young and listless. She’d wanted out and he wanted to build something here, in the place they both grew up.

            “Because Bells, I didn’t have anyone to tell me I was making a mistake,” he said. When he looked at me, there were tears in his eyes, not angry, but grieving. He didn’t have to know I was going to become a vampire to know that he’d lose me when I married Edward. He didn’t need to know I’d leave Forks and wouldn’t come back until everyone here was long dead.

            “It’s not a mistake,” I told him. It was the rest of my life, my life by his side.

            At heart, Charlie was a quiet, awkward man. So when he pushed the door open and stepped out of the truck, I thought he was too brokenhearted to continue this conversation. I thought he’d drop it and never say another word about it. Instead, he leaned in toward me as he stood out on the driveway, his eyes hard fixed on me.

            “You can’t marry him,” he said. “Not while you live in my house, got it? Whatever is happening here, it’s not taking one step forward.”

            “You can’t stop me,” I replied. I was eighteen and I could leave. I didn’t belong to him anymore.

            “I will have a word with Edward,” Charlie said. “Go up to your room.”

            I shook my head. All the boiling feelings instead me were propelling me toward one thing. Edward was on the other side of town, through the woods and safe and sound. If I could get to him, it wouldn’t matter what my Dad wanted for me. All that would matter was me and Edward.

            “Go!” Charlie yelled, raising his voice once again into that dark, berating tone. This was a version of Charlie I hadn’t really seen.

            I got out of the truck and marched past him, up the steps of the porch and through the door. I slammed it hard on my way up and trudged up the stairs to my room. In the darkness of my room, I listened as Charlie came into the house. His heavy footfalls echoed across the floor as he traversed his way to the kitchen. The house sighed as it went quiet, and I couldn’t help but feel so terribly alone right now.

            Marrying Edward divided me, I realized, and I should have realized it sooner. Choosing Edward meant I gave up everything human about me. I’d never see Jacob again. I’d never visit Jessica or Angela on their college campuses. I’d never get wasted at a college party. My life would be defined by my decision and that brought me nearly to tears. It was what I was searching for. My choice that would change everything and set my life forward. I had wanted my choice to matter when I jumped off that cliff at La Push and now it finally felt like it did.

            I reached for my backpack on the ground and pulled out the little ring box Edward had given me. As I opened it, the ring sat up, looking at me with that little gleaming stone. I took it out and slipped it onto my finger, and with it, I divided myself again, out of my family’s life, out of my home. There would be no more fishing trips and no more rides to La Push. I was getting what I wanted.

            Climbing out the window was not as simple a task as I thought. It wouldn’t have been so far a drop, but I didn’t want Charlie to hear me and with my luck, I’d end up with a broken leg. So instead, I held onto the windowsill and searched for footing on the door jam below me as I listened for a sign that Charlie had noticed any of this.

            I listened to the house breathe and waited until Charlie left the kitchen before I jumped down. There was nothing I could do about my open window, but it wouldn’t matter in the end. When he noticed I was gone, it would be too late. I crouched as I made my way around the house to the driveway. There my truck sat, perfectly still.

            It creaked as I opened the door, and I jerked my head up to look at the front door for any sign of Charlie. There was nothing, so I got into the truck and closed the door as carefully as I could. It wasn’t even fully closed as I buckled myself in. Once I was seated, there was no way to be quiet about the next part. Instead, I ripped the band-aid off and jammed my key into the ignition and turned.

            The truck roared to life and almost immediately after it did, the front door of the house burst open, and Charlie stepped out onto the porch with wide eyes as I pulled the truck into reverse. He screamed out, calling for me as I whipped out of the driveway and onto the street. He came running and reached me just as I pulled the truck into drive. He slammed a hand against the window, calling something I couldn’t hear over the sound of my ears ringing.

            Without a thought for what he would do when I was gone, I hit the gas and sped away, down the road and toward Edward’s house. In the rearview mirror, my Dad disappeared. I watched him get smaller as he stopped running, his shoulders falling low as he watched me go. All of this passed within a minute, and I was gone.

            Some part of me felt torn, like I was throwing something away for what was ahead. I still smelled of fish and live bait as I sped away from the place I’d called home for over a year and off to the glass palace in the woods.

Chapter Text

My heart was still racing when I arrived at the Cullen house. The sun was long gone as I parked my truck behind Edward’s Volvo and stepped out, heading down the long path to the front steps. Before I even got to the door, Edward was opening it, his eyes wide and filled with worry as I kept toward him. I wanted to cry still, but I hadn’t. There was no way I could cry now after all this. I’d made a choice, another one that defined everything. I stood up tall as I reached the top step and I owned it.

         “Bella, what happened?” Edward asked. He stood stiffly before me like he could hear my blood pumping angrily through my body.

         I swallowed all the guilt I felt for leaving Charlie, for choosing this. I shouldn’t have felt guilty, but I did. Charlie was losing his only daughter after only just getting her back and I was the one taking her away.

         “I can’t go home,” I told him. “I fucked up. I told my Dad about us, and…” I nearly broke into tears, but no. I wasn’t going to cry again.

         Edward grabbed hold of me before I could steady myself and dragged me into his tight, cold arms. They wrapped around me like a vice, squeezing away all the worrisome thoughts in my head. I closed my eyes and let myself sink into him. This felt like a death, but I had been banking on it being a new life.

         “Let’s go inside,” Edward said. “You can stay here for as long as you need. You can live here until the end of high school.”

         Until we were married and then we would live anywhere and everywhere. I nodded as he pulled away a little and ushered me into the house, his hand around my waist. Inside, Alice was waiting for me like she had been expecting the whole thing. I didn’t quite meet her eye as Edward motioned me further into the house. It was too embarrassing to know that she had seen all of that.

         “What a surprise,” Carlisle said as I stepped into the living room. He was sitting with Esme up close to him, his hand on her leg while he smiled at me with shiny teeth. She wasn’t smiling and I wasn’t sure she ever really did. Even her smiles, the ones she gave each of the Cullen children didn’t feel real. Looking at me now, she was a blank mask.

         “Bella is going to stay here tonight,” Edward said. “She’s having a disagreement with her Dad.”

         “That’s too bad,” Carlisle said. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need.” He turned to Esme, that wide smile still plastered on his face like it was painted there. “Esme, we must have something to eat for our guest. She must be starving.”

         Esme simply nodded her head and stood up to head into the kitchen. It felt like that place was her domain, the only place that was hers and not the vampires. It was as if they’d cornered her into the kitchen and made it her only place of respite. I watched her disappear and when she was gone, I couldn’t help but think of the plane ticket she’d given me.

         “You smell like fish,” Edward said as he stepped around me toward the circle of couches that occupied the living room. “You can take a shower if you want.”

         I bit my lip. If it wasn’t him, I would have thought the comment was rude, but I was sure he actually could smell me from across the room. Most of the occupants of this house would be able to tell where I’d been.

         “I’ll show you upstairs,” Alice said. “You can use Esme’s shower.” She reached for my hand and dragged me along with her up the glass steps and into the upper level of the house where she’d once styled my hair for the prom.

         Before we got to the bathroom, however, I caught the glare of headlights shining outside one of the many windows in the hallway. I glanced out to find a police cruiser driving up the long driveway and stopping just behind my truck. Alice tried to pull me along, but I stopped there and let go of her hand as Charlie stepped out of the cruiser.

         “He’s not going to make you leave,” Alice said as she tried to steer me away, but I stood planted there as I watched my Dad make his way up the concrete steps.

         “I know,” I told her. “I just want to see.”

         “We’ll take care of it,” Alice said. “Everything is going to be okay.”

         I could tell she was trying to get me to leave it, but I didn’t care. My Dad had driven all the way out here for me and I wanted to see what he did. Some part of me wanted him to put it all together. I wanted him to figure out that Edward was a vampire and that some day soon I was going to be a vampire too.

         I leaned up against the window as I heard the knock come to the door down below. Yanking on the handle, I cracked the window open just enough to hear what was happening outside. The sounds of the forest erupted below, but I could hear the door opening too. I could hear Edward’s voice as he stepped out onto the front steps.

         “What can I do for you Chief Swan?” Edward asked as the door closed behind him. Alice was still holding onto me, but I was firmly pressed to the window.

         “Look, Edward, can you just get Bella for me? I need to talk to her,” he said. I could only see the back of his jacket from where I was pressed up the window. He was mostly hidden under the patio arch.

         “I don’t think that’s necessary, Officer,” Edward said.

         “I know you two are thinking about the rest of your life and all and that’s good, that’s great. But I need to talk to her,” Charlie said. “We need to have a discussion about this.”

         “You can talk to me,” Edward said. “I don’t think she wants to talk to you right now.”

         “Edward, please,” Charlie begged. He sounded fed up, like he was going to try and push past him to get to me. I hoped he didn’t. I hoped he walked away and never came back. And at the same time, I wanted him to storm into the house and find me. I had known leaving the house tonight would mean never coming back, but Charlie had come to get me and that felt like something important. He cared despite my recklessness.

         I pressed myself against the window and whispered, “Edward, please.” I knew Charlie wouldn’t hear me, but Edward might. He might listen to me and let me talk to Charlie, let me reason this to him, but Edward didn’t listen.

         “If you don’t want to talk to me, I’m going to need you to leave,” Edward said. He sounded harsher than I could ever remember him sounding, but that darkness and rage struck me as oddly familiar.

         “You’re too young,” Charlie said. “Bella has her whole life ahead of her. And I don’t like the way you treat her like she’s yours.”

         “I’m not sure what you mean,” Edward offered. By the sound of his voice, he was ready to pounce on my Dad, but he had to know I was there. He had to hear me.

         “Edward please,” I whispered again.

         “You and your family weren’t here this summer, but I was. I saw her. She went through hell because of you, and I was there for that, and her friends were there for that, but you weren’t here. You disappeared off the face of the earth. Can you explain why the moment you come back, the two of you are back together like nothing ever happened?”

         “It was her choice as much as mine,” Edward argued.

         “I’m not sure I believe that,” Charlie said. He stepped back enough that I could see him as he stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head to the statement. “I don’t understand it at all.”

         “I thought you of all people would understand it,” Edward said. “But maybe if you had loved Renee more, she’d still be here.”

         That hit a cord and I could see it plain as day on my Dad’s face. If Edward didn’t look like an eighteen-year-old boy, maybe he would have done something about it, but Charlie wasn’t one to act out in anger. It took everything in him just to yell. He didn’t do that now, instead, he disappeared past my line of vision, getting closer to Edward as he spoke something low and clear. I could barely hear it over the chirping of crickets around us.

         “Don’t make this something it doesn’t have to be, kid,” he intoned. I thought perhaps that I had super hearing as I listened because even through the forest, my Dad’s voice was clear as day. I wanted to race down there and stop all of this.

         Alice grabbed my shoulder suddenly, causing me to jump out of my skin. My heart thudded and everything went dull and far away as I turned away from the window and toward her. Alice held still as she waited for me to calm down.

         “You should go have a shower,” she said. “Edward will take care of this.”

         “I don’t want to leave him alone,” I said. I wasn’t sure what would happen if Charlie questioned too much. Edward had taken a risk telling me he was a vampire and if Charlie knew the truth, he’d never let me stay in this house alone. I could expect a bloodbath if Charlie ever learned any of the truth.

         “Edward will be fine,” Alice said and dragged me off, but Edward wasn’t the one I was worried about.

         “I’ll take a shower,” I promised her and let her lead me off to the bathroom. Inside, it was white and pristine and likely the only room in the house without windows. There was only ever one person who used this room, and I could imagine this room as a stronghold, a fortress of walls and white tile. I couldn’t imagine Esme as anything but that firm façade she always displayed so I tried to imagine her sad in this room. I imagined her crying, with the door locked and closed as the rest of the Cullen family disappeared off to their lives outside of this house.

         “Take as long as you need,” Alice said and closed the door behind me, leaving me alone in this expansive room.

         After a long drawn-out breath, I removed the layers of clothes and sweat from myself and twisted the shower handle to turn the hot water on. Water sprayed and steamed from the nozzle almost immediately. Soon enough I stood safely inside the darkened shower, letting the water drape over me like a blanket.

         The heat burned deep into my skin, hot enough to fry my nerve endings as I let the water drip down my back, crawling over the ridges of my spine. I tried to let it wash out the anxiety and fear that had crept its way through me, but as I stood soaking it all came back to me worse.

         I could feel the cold of the waters of La Push. The hand that had wrapped around my ankle and dragged me down was pressing into me. It all felt so real and for a long moment, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I was dying, and no one was coming to save me. That feeling of dying had never left me no matter what I did. Edward being back didn’t fix my fears, it just sedated them. He was like heroine, running through my veins and threatening to kill me with every new stab of the needle.

         I never wanted to live without him, and yet something about him made me squirm still. But every second that I imagined Jacob was right, that Charlie and Jessica were right, I was pulled back into that high. Every doubt ended with me more determined than before that being with him was what was right. But in that water, I doubted again. I wanted to hear what my Dad had to say.

         The handle turned with a squeak and the water came to a halt, a tiny bead forming into a drip on the nozzle. I waited a while in the darkened shower, letting the water drip off me as waited and doubted.

         When I got out of the shower and toweled off, I told myself I would walk out there and talk to my Dad myself. It would just be the three of us, me, Charlie, and Edward talking about this marriage and all the details to come. There was always the risk, but maybe I could convince Edward to let me explain. Charlie of all people deserved to know that I was safe. He deserved to know everything about the Cullens, why they’d left, why they came back. I could tell him everything if Edward was there next to me.

         I pulled my clothes back on quickly and didn’t stop to blow dry my hair as I headed out of the bathroom and downstairs to where the rest of the Cullens were waiting. When I got down the stairs in my bare feet, I found Edward inside, leaning against the couch as Carlisle was speaking. As soon as I appeared, everything went quiet as they looked to me. I looked over them for sign of what had happened and landed on Edward, who looked at me blankly, giving nothing away, as always.

         “Did you…” I didn’t even know what I wanted to ask. He wasn’t going to kill Charlie, I knew that, but some churning dread was weighing down in my stomach. I needed Edward to answer me, but I didn’t even know what to ask.

         “Your Dad went home,” Edward said. “We talked and he told me that if you didn’t want to see reason, you could stay here.”

         “What?” I asked, a pang hitting my chest like a freight train.

         “He’s kicking you out of the house,” Edward said. “Unless you promise to leave me.”

         “He wouldn’t,” I said, still shocked. I felt like I was out of my body, diverging here into two versions of myself. I was in two minds, one in disbelief that Charlie would ever have me leave and the other knowing that Edward wouldn’t lie to me.

         “I’m sorry, Bella,” Carlisle said. I looked to the man of the house. Carlisle was sitting back on the pristine white couch as he watched me. I felt every glare in the house as I looked at him, pleading for this to not be true. “You can stay as long as you need.”

         “I can’t—” I was stuttering for the words that would fix this, but I couldn’t say them to Carlisle or to Edward. Even if I could come up with the right words, they couldn’t go to anyone in this room. I needed to talk to Charlie, and if this was true, I needed to talk to him now before any of this was left to fester. “I made a mistake,” I managed.

         “We’ll be okay,” Edward said. “Alice has a bed in her room. You can sleep there tonight, and we’ll set a room up for you in the morning.”

         “No,” I said and was already moving toward the door as if my feet were possessed by something else, or maybe it was me. I couldn’t tell anymore. I needed to talk to Charlie, so without another explanation, I started toward the door.

         Edward stopped me before I was halfway to the door. I wanted to fight him off and rush through that door, but I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough. He held me tight in his arms and pressed me against his chest, kissing the top of my head lightly. “You can’t go back there,” he whispered into my ear. “He’s not going to listen to you.”

         But I might listen to him, I thought, but didn’t dare to say it out loud. I tried to step out of his embrace, but he held me there, safe and contained. The longer he held me, the further my Dad was from me and the more I wanted to run.

         “I’m sorry,” I said, not to Edward, but to Charlie who couldn’t hear me from where he was driving back toward town.

         When Edward finally let me go, it was with a closed smile on his face. He tucked a strand of my damp hair behind my ear and stepped back. “Let’s get you something to eat,” he said and looked past me toward the kitchen where Esme had already disappeared.

         I nodded but stood there in my bare feet a while longer as he stepped past me toward the kitchen. The door was in sight and beyond it, my truck was waiting in the driveway. I looked behind me to the keys on the coffee table between me and the kitchen entry. Emptying my head of everything and anything, but this, I started toward the kitchen where Edward would watch me eat whatever Esme prepared with an odd fascination.

         Only when Edward disappeared past the entry way did I reach down and pick up the keys. I walked out the door at a steady pace, not running or diving for escape. I was just going to have a conversation with Charlie and if none of this could be worked out, I’d be back here for the night to sleep.

         The door opened and closed behind me easily enough and I walked past Edward’s Volvo, still barefoot, the asphalt biting into me a little as I got to my truck and unlocked it. I drove silently after I backed out of the long driveway that led up to the glass house. No radio guided my way, just the dim yellow lights of my headlights that illuminated a small circle of road around me as I drove down the darkened road. Night had fallen, but I was going home.

         I tried to keep my head clear as I drove, but I couldn’t help but imagine another conversation with Charlie, this one late at night at my front door as I begged for him to understand, to let me stay. I would wait a little longer, a year or two. I was sure I could manage that though the constant tick of time still terrified me.

         If I couldn’t make this right with him, it would just be another sliver of light gone from my life. I thought I was content to just have Edward and nothing else, but I wasn’t so sure anymore. I was rarely sure of anything.

         I drove, the forest rising high above me, shifting and changing into a dark and twisted thing as I drove. It felt more alive tonight, like there was something lurking out there through the dark. I forced my eyes on the road as I neared the beginning of town. Soon I’d pass the sign made of old varnished lumber that would proclaim my return to home. But I didn’t get that far.

         Before I even hit the bridge, there was something in my way. It appeared in the road in a flash, and I thought again of the deer I’d nearly hit last year. I’d nearly forgotten about that poor thing. I slammed the breaks as I skidded in closer, but I wasn’t going to be able to stop before I collided with the thing standing tall in the road. I recognized it as Alice as I yanked my wheel to the side, sending me toward the trees that stood like pillars beyond the road.

         In that split second before I hit, I didn’t know if what I saw was real or not, but as my truck slammed into the tree, and I slammed my head into the wheel, I was half sure I should have steadied my course and hit her head on. My vision went black as the air bag inflated, pushing me back against my seat as the sound of metal screeching filled my eardrums. I couldn’t breathe for a long moment, swimming in the fog that felt no different from my regular thought process.

         I gave in to the crash, letting my body go limp as I sat held in place by the airbag. When I came back out of it, I could smell smoke as the airbag deflated into my lap. My head burned and ached as I sat dazed for a minute, watching the smoke come out of my truck from through the spider web cracks of the windshield.

         Suddenly, the driver’s side door of my truck was ripped from the smoking vehicle, the bolts breaking as Alice tore it from its place and tossed it to the ground. She looked concerned as she reached for my seatbelt and unclicked it, freeing me from the wreckage. I didn’t know what she was doing as she pulled me out and back to my feet. I just let all of it happen, like it was happening to someone else instead.

         “You shouldn’t have done that,” was the first thing I heard from her. I knew vaguely that I had crashed my truck going home, but much of the night was a blur.

         “How did we get here?” I asked and reached up to touch my eyebrow where there was a sharp sting. When I moved my hand away, there was red on my fingertips that smeared across them like war paint.

         “It’s okay, Bella,” she said to me as she pulled me back toward the road.

         “I need to go home,” I mumbled. “I need to talk to my Dad.”

         “You can’t go home,” Alice said. She kept me closely held to her side. “He doesn’t want you back.”

         Before I could process what she said, I pulled out of her hold and turned back to look at my totaled truck. The nose was crushed against a tree which had only partially been dragged out of the ground by the impact. The windshield was cracked and looked like it might just crumble if someone placed a hand against it. Paint had scraped off and given way to the metal underneath and the whole thing was smoking as it laid dead.

         I dropped to my knees as I looked at the old rust bucket. This beloved thing that had been mine for as long as Forks had was gone. There was no fixing the damage of the old guy that had served as my transport and my freedom for so long. I cried as I knelt in the road, my tears unable to be quelled as I watched my truck die.

         Eventually, Alice grabbed hold of my shoulder and stood with me there as I mourned this loss and the loss of my home too. If Charlie didn’t want me home, then I could never go back there. None of it was mine anymore.

         “We should go back to the house,” Alice said after a while as she stood above me.

         “I’m sorry,” I said to her. I was sorry I’d left the glass house. I was sorry I almost hit her. I was sorry most for Charlie, that I didn’t hear him out, that I lost him.

         “Everything will be okay,” Alice promised me. “You have a new family now.”

Chapter Text

In the morning, Edward went to my house alone and got me my backpack and a few other things. I woke up in Alice’s bed to him knocking loudly on the door like he was in desperate need to get in. I bolted upright at the sound and looked to where the door was shaking on its hinges against his volatile pounding. After a night of uncomfortable sleep through my thoughts clouded with Charlie’s anger and my lost and smoking truck, I hadn’t expected Edward to come banging on the door this early and this loudly.

            “Bella,” he snapped through the wall. “I brought your things.”

            I hesitated to open the door, but his knocking had come to a stop. Slowly, I climbed down from the high mattress of Alice’s bed onto the cold floor and padded across the room to where I could feel him standing on the other side of the door. The knob turned slowly against my grip and as soon as it creaked open, Edward was stepping inside.

            He held up my purple school bag aloft as he took a single step past the threshold into the bedroom. As I caught sight of my bag in his hands, dangling freely, I realized just how finished all of this was. My Dad had cursed my name and left me behind all because of the ring on my finger. The bag continued to dangle in his hand until I reached out and took it from him.

            “Was my Dad there?” I asked. I wished I could talk to him. Perhaps when all the dust settled, I would be able to go back there and better explain this. For now, though, I depended on Edward and the rest of the Cullens to keep me sane.

            “He didn’t see me,” Edward promised, but that wasn’t what I asked. I wanted to see him, to explain myself in slower, more concrete terms. I never wanted to run away from him, not really.

            I just nodded to Edward’s statement. He hadn’t told me exactly what it was Charlie had said, just that he didn’t want me to come back if I was planning to marry Edward. I imagined, as I turned from him and placed my backpack on the bed, that he had misunderstood my Dad. I couldn’t imagine Charlie to ever abandon me like this, but a deeper-seated part of me knew Edward would never lie, and that part had its hooks in deep.

            “Is Alice here?” I asked. As much as I loved Edward, I couldn’t help but feel a sort of resentment toward him right now. His ultimatum and my own decisions were the reason Charlie wouldn’t talk to me. I would have much preferred to talk to Alice about this.

            “Alice and Emmett went out to clean up the mess you made with your truck,” Edward said. When I turned to him, frowning, he grinned like it was all a very funny joke. “Don’t worry about it. I can drive you anywhere you need.”

            “I know,” I said. The loss of the truck felt like adding insult to injury. Edward would take care of me fine, but that truck had been my gateway through town for the past year. It had taken me everywhere I needed to go with minimal whining and a sputtering, warbling engine. It was a piece of my freedom gone up in flames. I felt like I’d lost a friend.

            “You should have some breakfast,” Edward told me as I stood with my back turned. I could see his reflection in Alice’s vanity mirror staring at me, his eyes soft and dark. The sunlight passing through the window caught his cheek, and a tendril of black crawled its way up his face.

            “I will,” I told him. “Can I have a second alone though?” He nodded and stepped out, leaving me in the room alone. He closed the door on his way out and I waited, listening to the sounds of his footfalls until he was far enough away that I felt alone again.

            As soon as he was gone, I dropped down into the bed, pulling my legs up to my chest as I dragged my backpack toward me. He’d stuffed a few things into my backpack that I pulled out and laid before me. A blouse he’d said he liked once, a copy of 1984 that a teacher back home in Arizona had given me, a postcard from my mom in Florida, toothpaste, my toothbrush, and my CD player. He also had grabbed a change of clothes for me to wear which I threw on, tossing my dirty fishing clothes off to a corner.

            Once out of those clothes, I felt much cleaner and returned myself to the bed where I opened the rest of the pockets of my backpack, clearing things out. I found my schoolbooks and notebooks with folded paper assignments and scribbled notes. My pens and pencils tumbled out along with a still slick and thick piece of paper a little larger than a bookmark. The plane ticket Esme had given me slipped out onto the floor, and I bent quickly to snatch it as if it would float down the hallway and into Edward’s lap.

            No one in the house knew about this boarding pass save for me and Esme, I realized, unless Edward had already read her mind and knew she gave it to me. I couldn’t be sure the ticket was really a secret, but I didn’t want to test to theory by leaving it out in the open for any Cullen to see. I held the ticket close to my chest instead and looked to the door as if it would burst open and Alice or Edward would discover me with it.

            I had the means, the only means I would ever have, to leave this place without a word, disappear into the night without a trace and never come back. That thought, despite my surety that Edward was the One and I was making the right choice, terrified me to no end as I held that ticket to me for dear life. I was holding the means to destroy my own life, or as Esme seemed to think, to save it.

            I clutched the ticket close to my chest, feeling the rise and fall for a long moment as I waited for Edward to burst through the door and discover the ticket. I couldn’t imagine he’d let it slide if he knew what Esme had tried to give me. Or maybe this was a test, like the lesson he’d given me this summer. I didn’t want to think that Edward was testing whether I really loved him or not, but he could read minds, every mind but mine.

He must have wondered what I thought of him. After he’d had to beg me to marry him, he must have worried, and this was his way of seeing if I really loved him, if I would really spend the rest of my life with him or if I’d run when things got complicated. It was the only thing that made sense. Edward could read Esme’s mind and know that she’d given me a ticket after all. Almost as soon as I came to the conclusion that this was a test, I knew I would never look at that ticket again. Even if I wanted to escape, there was none, not on a plane ride and not in my truck now in pieces.

Returning the ticket to my backpack pocket and zipping it away, I left the bedroom and headed down toward the kitchen where I hoped I could find something to eat. Once I found my way down the glass steps to the living room, I found the house was quiet and cold like it had been abandoned by everything, even the dust and decay that should have followed. As I headed for the kitchen, however, I caught the sight of something moving and turned to find Rosalie sitting quietly before the empty fireplace.

She had noticed me at almost the same time before she tilted her head to assess me. My presence here like this was abnormal. I should have been home with my Dad on a Sunday morning, but instead I was taking up her space. She had never learned to like me, and I had never seen eye to eye with her. I wasn’t sure living in the same house would change any of that.

“The others went to clean up your mess,” Rosalie said dryly.

I sighed. There wasn’t a right way to respond that would make her understand me. I didn’t even know if there was a way we could tolerate each other, but her revelation on the night of my bachelorette’s party had sunk into me.

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “About everything I’ve done to make you upset with me.”

She snorted. “You don’t even know what that is.”

I shrugged. She was right. “Can you tell me what it is?” I didn’t think she was going to, but it was worth a shot. I’d spent a year trying to get on her good side, but nothing I did worked. She still held me at a distance.

“You don’t know,” she said with a scoff. “Every Romeo and Juliet needs a Tybalt.”

I understood the reference, but not how it referred to us. I stepped toward her, and she seemed to bolster herself like she was looking for a fight. “You’re not Tybalt,” I told her.

“I hate you,” she said as if it was a plain fact like ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘she is beautiful’. I couldn’t begin to get it until she opened her mouth again. “You’re human and you don’t even care. You want to throw it all away. I almost think it’s funny. This game you’re part of, but you have no idea what you got yourself into.”

“I’m in love with Edward,” I told her. “There is no game.”

“Not one you’re playing,” she said. “I’m only here because Carlisle asked me to be. I’m just here to stir the pot.”

It felt like she was speaking in some kind of morose metaphor I couldn’t understand. “Edward told me how he got turned,” I said. “And he told me about Alice too. But I don’t know what happened to you.”

She looked down to her perfectly manicured hands as behind us the door opened. Alice and Emmett stepped inside, but I ignored them as I kept looking at Rosalie, trying to glean a story from her. After a moment, she stepped past me, toward Emmett to leave me again with more questions.

“You’ll just have to keep waiting,” she said in a low voice as she passed me. She disappeared, taking Emmett with her without another word.

“Bella,” Alice called as she closed the door behind her and headed my way. “How are you?”

I just nodded as she came to give me a hug. Her embrace was tight and nearly suffocating as I tried to wipe Rosalie from my mind again and failed. When she pulled away, she was smiling widely at me, and I had no choice but to smile in response.

“We’ll take care of you,” she promised me. “You don’t have to worry about a thing. Carlisle is happy to take you in.”

I nodded to her and tried to wrap my head around living here. Seven more months before I would be out of high school and marrying Edward. Seven more months as a child in Carlisle’s care and then on to the next thing. Standing still, I mapped over the unageing lines of Alice’s face. She had died once, so young and lonely, and now she smiled like the sun.

“Alice,” I asked her. “Can you look into the future? Can you tell me if I’ll be happy?”

She tilted her head, that smile still wide and vibrant. I could hardly imagine her not smiling. “Oh Bella,” she said. “I don’t need to look to know that.”

“I’d like some reassurance,” I told her. Behind us, Esme was standing in the kitchen doorway. I knew she was there without having to look at all.

“You will be a part of this family,” she said. “And on your wedding day, you’ll be so beautiful. Everything will be alright, Bella. Trust me.”

“I trust you,” I told her.

            I spent the rest of the day surrounded by Cullens as they worked out my living situation with them. Alice offered her bed to me since she didn’t actually sleep in it. Other than her and Esme, no one else had beds in the house, so it wasn’t like I had much of a choice. By sundown, Alice had gone through her clothes and picked out everything she thought would look nice on me so I could have something to wear for school. They were not anything near what I would have picked, but I wasn’t going to argue with Alice when she was trying to give me things. I’d never get out of it.

            By sundown, I was starting to feel more comfortable in the house and I wondered just how long it would take me to get used to living here, to waking up in Alice’s room and riding to school in the passenger seat of Edward’s Volvo. I sat on the couch in Edward’s arms, leaning up against him as I thought all of this through, but before I could voice any of my thoughts about our future together, Alice stepped into the room. She looked wide eyed and confused as she appeared before us.

            “There’s a wolf here,” she said, sounding like she’d just seen a ghost.

            “What?” Edward asked.

            “I think,” Alice said. “I mean, I can’t see them, but I think there’s a wolf here.”

            I wanted to ask how and why, but I never got the chance because just as I started to shift my position to face her, there was a heavy knock on the front door of the house. All the air left the room as the three of us looked to the door for an explanation. I wracked my brain for who would have come here, but I already knew the answer. I just wished it wasn’t true.

            Standing up, I started for the door, but before I could think, Alice’s hand was wrapped around my wrist. “Don’t,” she said. “It’s not safe.”

            “It’s safe for me,” I offered. I was the only one of us who was human. The guardian of the forest on the other side of that door would never hurt me.

            Before she even considered letting me go, Edward was to his feet and headed for the door. It all happened between blinks as Edward reached the door and pulled it open. I was out of Alice’s grip before a word of hello could be said and I pushed toward the door where Edward blocked me from the boy on the other side.

            Jacob stood plainly, his hair braided back behind his ears and a sweatshirt thrown over his shirt to protect against the biting cold. Edward stood between me and him, his arms pressed against to door frame to keep me inside.

            “It’s okay, Edward,” I argued. “Let me talk to him.”

            “You’re trespassing,” Edward growled to Jacob, ignoring my request entirely.

            “Let me talk to Bella,” Jacob said, “and I’ll leave.”

            Edward narrowed his eyes as if this was all a threat. I wanted to duck under him and wrap Jacob into a hug. It felt like it had been so long since I’d talked to him. It had been since before I’d told Edward yes.

            “I don’t have to let you do anything,” Edward said. “Go.”

            “Then its Bella’s choice if she wants to talk to me or not,” Jacob said.

            I grabbed hold of Edward’s arm as if to push it down and let me through, but I knew there was no way I was strong enough to do that. If I was going to talk to Jacob, he’d have to let me. Edward eyed me with a look of wrath that almost sent my head spinning back in cowardice, but I held my gaze back, until slowly, he let his arm drop.

            “This one time,” he said and stepped back.

            Before I had processed what he said, I was running out to the front step and wrapping Jacob up in the biggest hug I could muster. He hugged back, gently, almost like he was afraid he’d hurt me and when he pulled back, there was a look of concern in his eyes.

            “Your Dad came to the res,” Jacob said. “He came to talk to Billy. He didn’t know what else to do. He just said that you were gone, that they took you.”

            I shook my head. “He doesn’t understand.”

            “I don’t understand,” Jacob said. “Why’d you leave home?”

            “I didn’t leave,” I said. “My Dad kicked me out.”

            “That’s not what Charlie seems to think.”

            “He doesn’t get it. I love Edward and I just can’t tell him all this stuff. I told him Edward asked me to marry him, and I said yes, and—”

            “Hold on,” Jacob said, cutting me off. He looked me hard in the eye like he was trying to put all the pieces together. A lot had changed since the last time I’d seen him. He didn’t even know the half of it, that Edward wanted me to stop seeing him all together, that after we were married, I’d be a vampire and gone.

            “I’m marrying Edward,” I told him.

            “All this to become a vampire,” Jacob said. He knew some of my intentions at least. He knew me well enough to know that becoming a vampire would be part of the deal.

            “All this to be with him,” I corrected. “Forever. And you’re not happy for me either.”

            “I just want to make sure this is what you want,” Jacob said. “Charlie said—”

            “I don’t care about what Charlie said,” I told him. Charlie could never talk to me again for all I cared. He’d kicked me out of the house after all. If he didn’t care about me, I didn’t care about him.

            “Just come home,” Jacob argued. “Charlie’s there. He’s still with my Dad. He wants you to come home.”

            That didn’t make sense to me. Charlie had said he didn’t want me to come back. That was what Edward told me, so Charlie couldn’t have been crying to his best friend, wanting me to come home. Unless Edward had lied.

            “Alright that’s enough,” Edward snapped. Before I knew what was happening, Edward had pushed past me and was slamming his open hands into Jacob’s chest. Jacob stumbled down the stairs, catching himself before he fell and straightening out as Edward took another threatening step forward.

            “You said we could talk,” Jacob snapped.

            “I didn’t say you could lie,” Edward argued. “Leave now and don’t come back.”

            “Edward don’t,” I hollered, but it was too late. He wasn’t alone.

            I stood frozen as around me, the rest of the Cullen family stepped out of the house, coming to Edward’s aid. Alice was the first to arrive, tapping me on the shoulder as if to comfort me as she moved past. Jasper and Emmett came next, brushing past me and nearly leaving me stumbling as they ran for Edward’s side. Carlisle and Rosalie came last, watching the exchange with looks of curiosity.

            They rounded on Jacob, circling the threat to the family. The sun had long set, and the only light came from the wide open door, but the Cullen family still looked monstrous. Teeth were barred as they assessed Jacob from where he stood in the driveway. Jacob turned his head every which way, trying to figure out how long it would take him to shift, how he could manage this many opponents. In the end, it didn’t matter.

            Edward was the first to pounce. He grabbed hold of Jacob’s right hand and with a twist, he broke it. The bones cracked with such a resounding noise that I could nearly feel it in my own wrist as Jacob screamed out in surprise. I lurched to move forward and protect him, but a hand came over my shoulder, holding me in place.

            I turned back to find Esme in her Sunday best, her stoic gaze not looking at me, but to Jacob. “I’ve told you before,” she said. “You mustn’t let them see you bleed.”

            I shook from where I stood watching as Jasper grabbed hold of Jacob’s arm, twisting it back behind his back and slamming him down to his knees. Jacob fell with a thud, his free hand stopping him against the asphalt, but he gasped out at that too. It was the hand Edward had already broken. Emmett kicked him hard in the stomach, launching him upward a little. Jacob stared down at the ground and spat out a spray of blood onto the driveway.

            “I warned you,” Edward snapped. “I warned you.”

            I couldn’t make sense of any of what was happening. All I knew was that I wanted to rush down there and put myself between the Cullens and Jacob, but Esme held tight to my shoulder.

            “Don’t,” I cried as Emmett slammed another kick into his stomach. Jacob dropped to the ground soon after. He hadn’t had a single second to shift so he was just a boy, bruised, broken, and bleeding on the pavement. It didn’t seem like there was a single shred of wolf in him, and there was nothing I could do.

            Esme leaned in toward my ear. “Let’s go inside,” she whispered.

            “No!” I snapped and slapped my hand against her grip. She let go of me quickly and backed up, flinching at the movement of my hand like I was going to hit her. My eyes went wide as I stared at her stricken face, but before I could process any of it, she backed up inside the house.

            I turned back my attention to the boy on the ground and the group of vampires circling him. They all took turns kicking him, pulling his face up by his hair and punching him. I was sure someone would clamp down on his neck and drink the blood from his fading form, but no, they just kept kicking. They were vegetarians.

            Finally, I heard the last bone shatter as Edward clamped his foot down on Jacob’s leg. The scream Jacob emitted caused me to drop down to my knees as his anguish filled my soul. I couldn’t watch them destroy him, but I couldn’t look away.

            “You’re never going to come back here,” Edward told him, loud enough that I could hear it over Jacob’s unsteady breathing. “And you’re never going to lie to her again.”

            Jacob couldn’t speak and I was sure as I watched him lying there that he was going to die. Slowly, the vampires backed off, and Edward stepped back up the steps to where I was still kneeling, too shocked to even blink.

            “Let’s go inside,” he told me. “You shouldn’t have to see this.”

            “Don’t kill him,” I snapped. My eyes darted up to Edward who stood above me, his fists clenched and his head hanging low, blocking any light from touching his expression. “Please don’t kill him.”

            Edward looked to the rest of the Cullens who were watching Jacob with grim satisfaction. “I won’t kill him,” he told me. “I’ll leave him to the wolves.”

            I sniffed painfully. My face was streaked with tears, and everything felt blurry and raw. “Why?” I asked weakly. “Why this?”

            “I can’t stand to have him lie to you,” Edward said. “You’re strong enough for the truth, Bella. They’re trying to stop you, to control you. They don’t want you to make this choice. They can’t stand the idea of you joining our family. I can see it in their heads, Bella. He was never going to be able to let it go. That wolf would kill you to get to us. I’m not going to let that happen.”

            I shook my head, but Edward would never lie to me. I’d had that thought so many times and I didn’t know where it came from, but I knew it was true at the core of my being. All this was to protect me. Slowly, Edward helped me up and brought me back inside where he closed the door, keeping the glass walls between me and the wolves outside.

Chapter Text

I watched from the front window as Leah wandered tentatively from the woods, her tall wolf form moving slowly against the night. None of the Cullens cared enough to move him off the driveway. They had just left him there and eventually a guardian of the forest came to take him away. I watched all of Leah’s careful movements across the Cullens’ property up until the moment she disappeared with Jacob’s broken form in tow. I watched the darkness for a little while longer after that, wondering if he would live, or if it was too late, all because of me.

            When I finally turned around, back into the house Carlisle had opened up to me, a piece of me forgot Jacob. It was as if he was filed away, to be heard from later and I had no worries to lay upon him. Instead, I found Edward and sat with him the living room, surrounded by the family that was going to become my own. Any words of rage and resentment died on my lips when I laid eyes upon him. My love for him ate up all the care I had for Jacob. When I looked at Edward, none of the people I had loved before existed.

We spent the evening in a comfortable pace, not mentioning Jacob or Charlie or anything that had happened before, but when I fell asleep in Alice’s bed, I saw his bruised face when I closed my eyes. He was there, still alive, but bleeding out, if only in my dreams.

            Another Monday morning greeted me with the sound of my transplanted alarm now sitting on Alice’s vanity. I slammed the off button hard and sat up in the bed. A part of me wanted to fall back to bed and never get up, but soon after my alarm woke me, a hard knock came on the door.

            “Bella, it’s time for school,” Alice called. My first thought was that she was a very obnoxious morning person, but I remembered just after that she didn’t sleep at all. She’d been up all night doing who knew what and imagining just how she was going to wake me up in the morning.

            I tried not to groan as I pulled myself out of bed and got dressed in a simple pair of jeans and that favorite blue blouse of Edward’s. When I stepped out of the room, Alice was still waiting for me. She had a wide smile on her face that showed off her fangs as she looked at me straight on. I resisted the urge to jump at her sudden appearance.

            “Esme’s making breakfast,” Alice said. “But if you want, I could do your make up before we go.”

            I blinked at her. “I don’t really wear makeup,” I said. I didn’t have the coordination or the patience to line my eyes as thin as Alice did, and it had never panned out in Arizona where I walked home from school in the blazing heat most days. Even here, where it was cold and wet, I wasn’t sure it would suit me.

            “Oh come on,” Alice argued. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into her bedroom, sitting me down before her vanity. “Every girl could use a bit of blush.”

            I couldn’t really argue with a vampire and especially not Alice Cullen, so I let her make me up for the day. When I finally escaped her chair, it was with what felt like a whole new face. I didn’t take the time to look at myself for too long, for the fear that I would like it without the actual ability to do it to myself later. Instead, I looked away the moment Alice let me free and ducked my head as I headed downstairs.

            I found Esme in the kitchen, the only person to step foot in there at all. She was laboring over scrambled eggs and bacon on the stove and barely gave me a glance as I stepped in and took a seat at the counter.

            “One egg or two,” she asked without even looking up.

            “Two, I guess,” I said and watched her crack an egg into a bowl with one hand. I listened to the sound of sizzling food as she cooked and waited for the right time to ask about last night.

            She’d stopped me from helping Jacob, and because of that, I had no idea if he was dead or alive. I shook my head to the thought. Whether he was dead or alive didn’t really matter, because I’d never see him again. I was starting to think in terms of what was right in front of me. What mattered to me was what I had, the Cullen family welcoming me into their home. It was easier to deal with the loss of my Dad and of Jacob if I pretending they didn’t exist at all. I’d never see them again, so what did it matter? All I had was Edward and the ring on my finger and his promises.

            So I tucked Jacob away as Esme laid out a plate of eggs before me and two thick slices of bacon. When she finally looked up at me, she gave a tiny smile. “That looks nice,” she said. “Did Alice do that to you?”

            I resisted the urge to touch my face. “She basically wrestled me into the chair,” I said. “I didn’t have a choice.”

            Esme ignored the comment and turned back to her own meal. “You should get going. I’m sure Edward is waiting for you.”

            I nodded and shoveled my eggs quickly into my mouth and took the bacon with me for the road. Grabbing my backpack, I headed for the front door where Edward was already waiting with his shoes on. I shoved my shoes on as Alice came down the stairs, now changed into a pretty black blouse and a short skirt.

            “You ready?” Edward asked and before I could answer, he opened the door.

            School was going to be horrible, I realized as I followed him out. In a town as small as this, everyone would know what happened between me and my Dad this weekend. They’d know I’d left home never to return and very soon, I’d be running off with Edward to become a vampire.

            I tried to hold back all my expectations as Edward drove me to school in the back seat of his car. Alice took the passenger seat, claiming “seniority” as she hopped into the shotgun side. I watched the back of Edward’s head the whole ride, but when we turned into the parking lot, my gaze drifted to all the people still waiting outside.

            The suffocating halls of the Forks High School were not an inviting place, so many people, like Jessica and Angela, sat outside on the hoods of cars, talking and gossiping for as long as they could before the first bell rang. Today was no different.  I caught sight of Jessica leaning against Angela’s car while Angela and Tyler talked together about who knew what, half ignoring her as she waited for me.

            She didn’t see me in the back of Edward’s Volvo. She was likely expecting to see my truck instead, but I couldn’t even tell her where that truck was. I would be Edward’s tag along for the rest of time, or until I could get the cash to buy a car. My bike was still in Charlie’s garage, and I doubted I was going to get anywhere near that thing again.

            When we parked, Edward got out first and then opened the back door for me. I got out with my head down and quickly hid my ringed hand in my sweatshirt pocket as I threw my backpack over my shoulder. As we started through the parking lot, Edward and Alice slightly ahead of me, Jessica finally noticed me walking with them and creased her brows in confusion at my appearance.

            Her expression seemed to beckon me over and as I started to veer off toward her, Edward grabbed my hand and kept me on our path toward the school. I took his hand in mine and squeezed, sending some of my warmth to him.

            “Let’s talk to my friends,” I told him. I had given up on my friends becoming his friends. Instead, they were my friends that he had to accept. A part of me regretted saying that as Jacob came back into my mind. He’d been something of a best friend, and now he was gone. I couldn’t think about whether he was dead or alive.

            “Maybe later,” Edward said. I didn’t see him look at Jessica, but I did see her reaction. The way she recoiled to him set my teeth on edge, like she knew something about it. I’d been avoiding asking about it in all the confusion. But a year had gone by, and Edward and Jessica still hated each other.

            “Okay,” I said and kept in line with him as he led us into the school. There, we found the empty science lab and hid away in there until the first bell rang. Edward had told me before during our first time dating that he found it comforting here. It was sterile and clean, and everything was in its proper place, so we’d made it one of our spots at school. Coming back here now felt colder, like a slap in the face. Our spot had been compromised by the dread that was slowly sinking into me.

            I loved Edward. I couldn’t live without him, but I’d watched him beat Jacob within an inch of his life and just walk away to leave him to bleed. He’d called him a liar and that was supposed to justify what he’d done, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I just trusted that someday I would understand it.

            When class started, we were pulled away from each other and Edward kissed my hand, lingering on it for a little longer before he left me. After he disappeared, I felt my chest compress as if there was a weight on it once again. There was always weight when he was gone.

            I didn’t get the chance to talk to Jessica or Angela until lunch when they found me about to head over to Edward’s table. Jessica grabbed my hand when she saw me and after I initially jumped, I relaxed to see the person I had wanted to see.

            “Come over here,” she said. “You’re going to want to hear this.”

            “What?” I asked, perplexed.

            “Jacob is in the hospital,” she said, and I had no choice but to follow her. I’d been wondering what happened every second since Leah took him away.

            I glanced to Edward as I followed her to the table and saw him boring holes into Jessica’s back. If he was reading her mind, he wasn’t happy with what he was seeing. I tried to ignore it as I sat down next to her as she twirled her fork around in her hand for emphasis.

            “Leah called me last night,” Jessica said. “At like eleven at night. Jacob’s in the hospital. She called his dad and, oh, didn’t she call your Dad too?” Jessica looked to me, expecting me to know, but I had no idea. I didn’t know what Charlie was up to, if he was with Billy, helping him or if he was too busy thinking about his lost daughter.

            “Is he okay?” I asked instead of answering her question. That was what I really wanted to know anyway.

            “It’s not looking great,” Jessica said. “But I was thinking we could head over there after school. Leah had to take off work to spend the day there and she’s all alone except for Jacob’s Dad right now.”

            That wasn’t as concrete an answer as I wanted. And then there was her proposition. I couldn’t go see Jacob, not now or ever again. If he was alive and I wanted to keep him alive, he couldn’t be part of my life. The vampires would eat him alive, and I couldn’t bear to see him on the ground again.

            “My truck is in the shop,” I said. “It’s kind of totaled.”

            “You’re kidding,” Jessica snapped.

            “And I can’t go. I have plans,” I said. “But you two go, bring him flowers.”

            “Bella!” Jessica snapped. She looked like she didn’t believe me. “What do you mean you have plans? It’s Jacob.”

            “I just can’t go,” I told her. “Edward is driving me home after school.” Not to my home, his home, but that was pretty much the same thing now.

            “Bring him with,” Jessica said. “I don’t care if he hates the guy. Jacob’s your friend, isn’t he?”

            “I don’t know,” I said. I couldn’t explain to her that Edward was the one who put him in the hospital in the first place or that if I went there to see him, it would have to be to say goodbye. I couldn’t say goodbye to him. I couldn’t even look at him. All I could do was leave it as the bloody mess it already was. He was gone, with a bang and a whimper.

            “What’s that?” Angela asked in the middle of the interrogation. I looked down to where she was pointing at my finger which was still adorned with the gaudy wedding ring Edward had given me.

            I looked up to my friends, who’s faces were full of shock as their eyes traveled down to my ring like it was pulling them there. I stumbled for the right words to say as they looked with jaws dropped.

            “Is that a wedding ring?” Jessica asked. Something about the way she said it sounded like jealousy, like she wanted to snatch it from my finger and throw it away.

            I swallowed the guilt that had been sticking to my throat for not telling them any of this. “Uh, Edward proposed.”

            “And you said yes?” Jessica demanded, enunciating the ‘yes’ like it was a cursed thing. I had said yes and that ruined everything.

            “Yeah,” I admitted. “We’re waiting until graduation but—”

            “Him?” Jessica asked. “I mean, he’s your first boyfriend. You said it to me yourself. ‘I didn’t know how all this boyfriend-girlfriend stuff works’ and now you’re marrying him?”

            Her words bit into me. Another friend, another person I loved telling me this was wrong, that my choice was a big mistake. I tried not to look at Edward far behind us at his usual table. He was probably reading Jessica’s mind right now. He knew all the vile things she thought about him, and I was sure she was going to tell me all of them now.

            “It’s just unexpected,” Angela said. “He was gone all summer and we thought he wasn’t coming back.”

            “He did come back, though,” I said. “He came back for me.”

            “And two months back he asks you to marry him, and you said yes?” Jessica snapped. “Do you realize how stupid that sounds?”

            I furrowed my brow as I looked at her. She was staring with a look of horror on her face as she learned about my decision. I would have thought she had watched the boy she loved run off with another girl. For half a second, I would have thought, but no, she hated Edward with a very passion. It wasn’t that.

            “You don’t understand,” I said. She didn’t know I would be a vampire at the end of this and I wanted to tell her so bad. I wanted Angela and Jessica to be the ones I told everything too, but I’d ruined that chance when I had it.

            “We don’t,” Angela admitted. She placed a gentle hand on Jessica’s shoulder as if to console her. “But you’re our friend. We trust you.”

            I nodded. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy, but they would be okay. I couldn’t lose them. Not after I’d lost Jacob and Charlie. Jessica and Angela were the only thing of human life I had anymore, and I wanted to keep it, at least until I turned.

            “I don’t,” Jessica said, with a dull deep drawl like she’d lost some sense of herself. “I don’t trust him. He’s using you, Bella.”

            I shook my head. He loved me. “I can’t argue with you about this.”

            Jessica just got up and left the table, heading out of the cafeteria entirely. Angela and I watched her go, until it was just us left at that table. I hadn’t been paying attention before, but I think I understood why Jessica hated Edward so much. It wasn’t that she knew what he was. It wasn’t that at all. It hurt me to admit as I watched her walk away that I hadn’t been watching her at all.

            “I’m sorry,” I said as I picked up my food and moved away from the table we had shared so many times and made my way to Edward’s table where Alice and him waited for me. I didn’t give Angela the chance to say anything else.

            When I sat down, Edward was looking over his shoulder to where Jessica had disappeared. He finally gave me a smirk after a moment and looked back to Alice.

            “I told you,” she said to him as if they were exchanging some kind of bet.

            “I guess I had more faith in her,” he said.

            “What is it?” I asked. I could figure they were taking about Jessica, but I could decern nothing more than that.

            “Nothing,” Edward said and returned to surveying the cafeteria.

            I ignored the unusual exchange and continued eating my lunch as if nothing had happened. Eventually, I forgot about the whole thing, but Jessica’s reaction still lingered in my mind. None of my friends could accept that Edward and I were meant for each other, but I hoped they would come around. Our classes went on as normally as they always did, but Jessica wasn’t in any of them. I didn’t know if she had gone home sick or if she was skipping classes just to avoid me. I tried not to think of her, but she kept coming back to me.

            I only managed to get her off my mind when me and the Cullens returned to the house after school, and I found myself relaxing with Edward as I drew little shapes into his pale skin while we sat. We were in his room listening to music on his stereo when he seemed to tense as if sensing that someone new had come into the house. He straightened up where he was sitting with me leaning back against his chest and I was forced to move as he looked up to address me.

            “I wanted to have a family meeting,” Edward told me. “About what we do next?”

            “Next?” I asked. “We pick a date and…”

            “No,” Edward said. “Not the wedding. Alice has that figured out. I was talking about you.”

            Half thinking he was talking about turning me, I sat up straight and leaned a little closer to him. It was the only thing that could possibly be next, so I prepared myself for all his requirements. He always had rules and I would have to follow them too, but I’d been waiting since I’d discovered he was a vampire to be a part of these rules.

            “I think you need to stop spending time with Jessica Stanley and Angela Weber,” he said.

            “I’m sorry,” I said. That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. He never liked them, and he probably knew they had been trying to invite me to see Jacob. He knew everything that was going on in their minds, every doubt about him and every thought about me. He knew everything dark about them.

            “They’re a liability,” he said. “If they ever found out about us—”

            “If they ever found out about us—nothing,” I finished for him. “They’re two girls. Two nice girls who care about me.”

            “That’s what I worry about,” Edward said. “If they thought I was somehow a danger to you, they’d tell the town about us, and we’d have to leave.”

            “We’re leaving anyway,” I said. “When we get married, we’ll go. I thought that was the plan.”

            “If they told everyone about us, we wouldn’t be able to take you with us,” Edward said. He leaned in close and pressed his nose into my hair, taking a deep inhale of me. “It would be too dangerous to take you with us.”

            I swallowed back my arguments. All summer I’d waited for him to come back. I couldn’t lose him again now that we were so close. We almost had everything. “I would run away with you,” I said. “Wherever and whenever.”

            “If your friends know what I am, we won’t have that choice,” he said almost snarling at the thought. “We’d leave you here and we’d never come back. There would be no way to find you again.”

            I shook my head. “None of that would matter if I was a vampire,” I told him.

            “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’d look for you. They’d follow you to the ends of the earth.” I thought of my Dad, who kicked me out of the house and never wanted to see me again, at least according to Edward. That didn’t seem right.

            “Edward,” I said. He had to see reason. This was a worst-case scenario, only possible if a few very particular things lined up just the right way. He just shook his head.

            “You need to stop seeing them,” Edward said. “In fact, I called Carlisle earlier and we thought it would be best if you were home schooled.”

            I blinked at him, sure he was kidding, but there was not a shred of humor on his face. When I was sure he really was being serious, I scooted over out of his embrace. “No.”

            “It’s for the best,” Edward said. “To keep you safe.”

            “To keep me safe,” I repeated as if that would make it true. I wanted to argue with him, but he leaned forward and took my hand and suddenly I couldn’t think anymore. There was always very little in the way of thinking when he did this to me.

            “I’m glad you understand,” he said.

            I tried to shake myself free. “I don’t,” I said. “It’s too much. Angela and Jessica don’t even know anything.”

            “You don’t know that,” he snapped.

            “But you do,” I argued. “You know what they’re thinking. So what is it? You’re insecure because Jessica has a crush on me?”

            Suddenly, Edward grabbed me by the shoulders, squeezing me close, his big hands making deep indents into my flesh. “You can’t trust them,” he said, his deep black eyes set firmly into mine like they were going to swallow me. I tried to escape from his grip, but he held me tight and shook me a little as I pushed away. “They will ruin everything.”

            “Okay,” I said, because I was starting to feel a little scared of him right now. The way his eyes bore into me, and his hands gripped me made me want to squirm. “Whatever you want. For us, I’ll do whatever you want.”

            “Excellent,” he said and let go of me.

            Suddenly my phone started to ring in my back pocket, breaking up our conversation. I took it out and answered the phone, stepping away from Edward as he relaxed back into the chair. I grimaced as I left his side. This argument didn’t feel over, but I was sure he wouldn’t hear anything of it when I returned to our seat.

            “Hello?” I said into the receiver.

            “Bella, dear,” my Mom’s voice rang through the call. “How are you?”

            “I’m fine,” I replied, crossing my arms. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell her I’d been kicked out of Charlie’s yet. She’d insist I come to live with her, and Phil in Florida and I couldn’t do that now.

            “I just wanted to check in and see how things were,” she said. I didn’t reply. She never called unless she needed something. “I miss you so much.”

            “I miss you too,” I replied, but I hadn’t thought of her as more than a lost cause in months. “Is there something going on?”

            “Oh nothing,” she said. There was an edge to her voice, like she’d been crying. “I was just thinking about you. You know, Phil and I broke up.”

            I blinked as I stared ahead to the window. Phil, the love of her life. Phil, her second chance. Phil, who she ran to, leaving me and everyone else behind. They’d broken up and this was a surprise I couldn’t quite get behind.

            “Yeah, it just didn’t work out like we’d planned,” she said. “I was wondering if you wanted to come back for Christmas. Or maybe just New Year. I’m sure Charlie wouldn’t mind.”

            I swallowed back my shock. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t come down. I just have too much happening. I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up before she could reply to that.

            Nothing about this felt right. Renee was supposed to be taken care of. She was supposed to be in Florida not thinking about her daughter or her ex-husband at all. She was supposed to have her second chance with the man she loved, the one that was meant for her. I didn’t understand why I felt so cold hearing that piece of news from her. Like love never mattered in the first place.

Outside the big windows of Edward’s room, it was getting cold enough that the rain turned to snow and eventually melted when it hit the asphalt, but on the grass and the forest floor, it clung, still frozen and white as death. I sat back down with Edward and watched the snow, feeling a knot grow in my stomach where I’d lost all my willpower. I didn’t know where I’d lost it or if it could ever be found again, so I watched the snow and waited for our wedding day, when all this would be worth it. I had to hope it would be worth it. That was the only thing I had left.

End of Part 3

Chapter Text

Part Four: Breaking Dawn

I walked down the aisle alone, my dress trailing behind me as I stood in entry to the church. My wedding party, Alice and Rosalie dressed in red silks, were watching me with delight. Alice’s nervous energy was focused on me today as we waited for the music to play. Beyond this room of white walls and arching stained glass windows depicting the Virgin Mary, a soft-spoken reverend was talking about love unending and the law of Christ. I shifted my hands around my bouquet of red and white flowers. Once the music played, it would all begin, and all eyes would be on me.

            The music seemed to start inside my head before it drifted out through the church, loud and clear. Alice took Jasper’s arm and stepped out the door, pushing through to the aisle beyond. I breathed in, trying to settle my nerves that hadn’t stopped since I’d stepped foot inside this church. Another moment went and Rosalie and Emmett stepped out together, leaving just me to walk the aisle, down to Edward and my future with him.

            It was just words, I told myself, just words I’d practiced a million times before, but it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be saying them to Edward. Everything I said in there would be to the room of people, most of whom, I didn’t care about much at all. Members of the town, people I knew from high school, people Edward had known and who had known him, but most of my friends weren’t here. My Dad wasn’t walking me down the aisle, my best friend wasn’t in the wedding party and Jessica wasn’t my maid of honor. All those people were gone, and I reminded myself that it was for the better. I wouldn’t need them anymore.

            As the music swelled and I stepped out into the church, I closed my eyes tight and as I took my first step on the long church carpet, I opened them to a wedding of blood. The windows, once showcasing bright images of the apostles and the Holy Spirit were now stained with a thick coat of red that seemed to blot out the sunlight. Scarlet, sickly light reached down through the church, mixing with the white of the walls and leaving shafts of light that moved and glowed like fire.

            The pews were not empty, but filled with people, all of them slumped a little in their seats. I took another step forward toward where Edward was at the alter as if propelled and nearly tripped over something heavy on the floor. Hesitantly, I looked down to what was under my foot and found a girl with her hair covering her face. The blood that stained it was dark as if this had been done to her long ago. Slowly, I bent down and moved the reddened hair out of her eyes.

            On the floor, covered in blood with a gash that seemed to cleave her face in two, was Jessica in her Sunday best, like she’d come to church to see this wedding unfold. I didn’t react to my dead friend on the ground. I only felt so much more disconnected. Instead, I stood up to my full height in the tight heels Alice had picked out for me and looked to the men and women surrounding me in the pews. For a second, I thought they were all dead before they straightened up with a loud crack in their backs and turned their heads toward me on the thin swivel of their necks.

            Their eyes were black and hollow without the whites that should have been visible. Every single guest was gaunt and grey like victims of the plague. They weren’t people anymore and I couldn’t be sure they ever were.

            I looked to Edward, horrified and stricken silent. Slowly, he lifted a hand and beckoned me forward toward the alter. As if by force, I was dragged across the aisle, over Jessica’s body and toward the dead wedding waiting for me. I wanted to close my eyes, but it unfolded before me without a warning. As I stood at the top step before Edward, he took my hands into his.

            “We finally made it,” he said, but the voice didn’t sound like him. This wasn’t the boy I knew.

            I looked back down the aisle, where the gaunt dead were now standing at attention, their mouths opening to rejoice in song, but all that came from them was the black bile of vampire venom. It dripped from them onto the floor where it twisted into a pool of viscous fluid. The church flooded with it, spreading out into a lake and stopping just before the steps. Shaking, I looked down to where the venom had pooled and found my reflection vibrating with the venom.

            “Be careful,” Edward said blankly behind me as I bent to reach down toward it. The skirt of my dress fell into the venom, staining the edge in black. As I reached down to pluck it out, something rose up from the depths of the pond, its face just becoming visible as I jumped back, shocked. It was my Dad’s face, just as gaunt and distorted as the dead men in the pews. I screamed without thought, wordlessly, endlessly until my body spasmed onto the ground and I woke to find myself covered in sweat.

            My bedroom in the Cullens’ house was cold, but morning light crept in from the windows where the blinds had been drawn to allow only a sliver. I shot into a sitting position as I woke and grabbed hold of my face as if there was blood I needed to wipe away. It all felt so real and the thudding in my heart told me it was real still. I sat up, breathing with my hands over my head for a long time as I waited for my heart to calm.

            “Bad dream?” a voice asked from the shadows of my room, and I jolted to find Edward standing before the closed door, his back pressed against it. He still watched me sleep in the days leading up to our wedding, never laying with me or moving to comfort a haunted dream. He always said they’d make me braver.

            “I don’t know,” I stuttered. “I—I think I need a minute.”

            “We’re going hunting today. We won’t be back until later,” he said and started to open the door to leave.

            I wanted to ask him something, but I wasn’t sure what. That nightmare was still rattling around in my head, bearing down a threat. This house felt suddenly unwelcoming as I got out of bed, landing bare feet on the cold floor. Nothing of my human life remained anymore, but I was still alive, still human and living in a nest of vampires. The world felt cold and sterile and grey here.

            I threw on a shirt and a thick pair of sweatpants before I tugged my hair into a ponytail and glanced at myself in the vanity mirror Alice had given me. It used to be in her room, but she had since given it to me and gotten herself a new one. Most of my things in this room were gifts from one Cullen or another.

My face, now clear of scars and memories didn’t quite feel like my face. I was getting used to the idea that one day, I would look different from this. When I was a vampire, I wouldn’t even recognize myself. Alice had told me she thought she was looking at a photograph of a stranger the first time she saw herself in the mirror. I wondered just how much of my face would change.

I measured the shape of my lips with my eyes, the structure of my cheeks and the color of my eyes. One day, that color would be gone, and I’d be just as timeless as the Cullens. Sometimes that scared me, but less and less these days. There were no human friends, no Charlie, no Renee across the country. I was on my own now.

But that dream felt like a horror I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was desensitized to it, but looking in the mirror now, all I could see was that distorted reflection in a sea of vampire venom. It shook me all the way through to the bone marrow as I stared at my human face, still so filled with color and life. One day it would change and never shift again.

Lost again in my own low level constant fear, I tore my face away from my reflection and marched out the door to the hallway of the house. Here, there was a light that hung over every door and the window at the end of the hall let a grey light shine down over the tile floor. Each room I walked past I counted; Edward’s, Alice’s, Emmett’s, Jasper’s, Rosalie’s. Their doors stood on each side of the hall like a psych ward.

When I got down to the kitchen, I found Esme there, making herself breakfast. She looked up at me briefly before returning to her omelet on the stove. I ignored he morning routine and stepped over to the sliding back door, where I could see out into the forested expanse. That forest felt the most like home of all of this house. All the pleasantries and riches of the Cullen home could not contend with the fresh air of the open woods. As summer came into its peak, the forest was as green as ever and there was sun almost every day.

“I’m going to take a little walk this morning,” I said.

Esme slid her omelet onto a plate. “They’ll notice,” she told me, but I hadn’t been trying to keep it a secret. With Alice checking in on me, I never could.

“I’ll be careful,” I told her.

“I’m sure you will,” she said blankly. When I looked back to her, she was looking bored, but she put her fork down and stopped. For a moment, she looked at me, really looked, and the expression she gave me back was pity.

“Is there anything you need?” I asked her. I couldn’t quite understand why she seemed so sad when she was alone, but maybe it was because she was alone. As the only human in a house of vampires, as someone so young surrounded by people so old, she had to feel the same way I did.

“Just be careful out there,” she said and looked me in the eye for a long, silent moment before she picked up her fork and continued eating.

I nodded and left the kitchen to find my hiking boots, moving quietly even though I knew they wouldn’t be in the house today. When I left, it was through the kitchen door, as if they would see me leaving down the front steps where so many windows stood with a view of sunset. As soon as my feet crunched against soft pine needles, the weight on my chest started to fade, but the images of that dream never left me.

I walked through the woods for a long time, taking a well-worn trail toward Elk Creek Conservatory. When I passed the bridge, I could feel something break, maybe it was the numb part of me, the part that was immune to the pain of losing so many people I cared about this past year, but it left me, and my heart ached at the feeling of distance. I knew how far my house was, and I knew Charlie would be there. I started to run, dashing along side the road as the wind moved through me.

These boots were not made for running, and they dug into my ankles the further I moved, but I didn’t stop as I raced through town, past the high school where I should have graduated and past Carver’s where I hadn’t been in months. I ran until the soles nearly ripped from the bottom of my boots, and I found my way to Charlie’s house where his cruiser and my motorbike sat in the driveway as if they were waiting for me to come back home.

Heaving as I slowed to a stop, I rested my open palms against my knees. The breath didn’t come back to me for a long time, so I stood at the edge of the drive, fearing I would just collapse. After a long time, I wiped the sweat from my brow and forced myself to stand up straight. Now standing in front of my house again for the first time since Halloween, I was terrified to see my Dad again.

Edward had said Charlie never wanted me to come back, but I had to hope he had changed his mind. I didn’t get the chance to knock on the door or say my piece, because the front door opened with a creak just as I started to step forward. Charlie stepped out of the house looking bewildered and confused. His facial hair had grown into a short beard with flecks of grey in some places and his hair hadn’t been combed. As he stepped out onto the porch, he looked at me as if he was seeing a ghost.

For a moment, I didn’t say anything, I just stared at him. I was seeing a ghost too in some ways. I had thought I’d never see this man again and here I was, back at his step like I was at the end of my life, making my last apologies. I swallowed my guilt back at seeing him. He looked tired, like he hadn’t slept in days. He wasn’t wearing shoes, but he didn’t see to care as he took a hesitant step toward me.

“Isabella,” he said in a raspy, rattled voice.

I just nodded, wordlessly. In the next second, he was wrapping his arms around me and lifting me a little bit into the air as he held onto me for dear life. He buried his head into my shoulder, breathing me in. I slunk my arms around his waist as he held me there. The ache in my heart dropped away for a moment as I hugged my Dad for the first time in months. The world slipped away. The wedding disappeared. I felt like a child again with a skinned knee that needed to be bandaged. I didn’t know when I started crying, but when he pulled away, my vision was blurry.

“I tried to come to school,” he said. “But you were never there. They told me you dropped out. I thought you were gone.”

“I’m okay,” I said. “Carlisle…”

“He wouldn’t let me see you. I tried at the clinic.” He was speaking fast, and I wasn’t sure I understood what he was saying, but it didn’t quite make sense. I was the one that left, and he said he never wanted to see me again. I couldn’t make sense of it. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he was saying.

“I’m here,” I told him. “I’m here.”

“Come inside,” he said reaching for my hand with one hand and the door with the other as if to bridge the divide.

I shook my head. Somehow, I couldn’t do that. This house had banished me and everything I had. If I wanted to marry Edward, I couldn’t step foot inside that house ever again. It was as if a spell was binding me away from it. If I stepped inside now, I would ruin everything I had with Edward.

“Bells,” Charlie said when he noticed I wasn’t moving. “It’s like you’ve been dead to the world.”

I shook my head. “I’m safe, really. But I wanted to ask you something. I need something from you.”

“Anything,” he said. “Anything, just tell me what’s going on.”

“I will,” I said, and I couldn’t be sure if it was a lie or not. I still couldn’t tell Edward’s secret. It weighed around my neck like a chain. I looked at him straight in the eye, in those green eyes that were just like mine. “I’m getting married tomorrow.”

He nodded. “You’re really going through with it.” He didn’t sound surprised, just disappointed, like he’d been waiting for me to come to my senses, but he didn’t know the whole story, and I wasn’t sure anyone ever would.

“I wanted to ask you if you’d walk me down the aisle,” I said. “Since I’m your only chance to do it.”

Charlie looked at me long and sad, his shoulders sagging off all the surprise of having seen me for the first time in months. In the stillness before the house, I could hear to wind and the birds chirping in trees behind the house. I could hear his breath, dropping deep into his chest and slipping up out his nose. I could hear the gears of his mind whirring with thought of seeing his only daughter once again.

“I don’t want to lose you in my life,” he said, voicing every word clear and precise. “I’ll walk you down whatever road you need to go, and I’ll wait for you to cross.”

I couldn’t control my tears the more I looked at him, so I simply wrapped my arms around his shoulders and dragged him into me, hugging him once again. “Thank you,” I choked out and stood there for a long time with him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to me until I pulled away.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Does your husband to be know about this?” he asked as he tried to pull himself together. His eyes were red with the whisper of tears, but he was holding back. He was trying to be the strong one like he thought a Dad was supposed to be.

“I’ll tell him,” I said. “He’ll understand you forgave me.”

“I’m just glad you forgave me,” he said. He smiled brightly in a way that lit up his whole face. When he looked away from me, it was to the road where a dark car was pulling up to the side of the road. “I think your ride is here.”

I looked behind me to the car on the side of the road, Carlisle’s car. After a brief moment, Esme stepped out of the driver’s side door and held her head up high as she stood waiting for me. I squinted through the light at her and waved a hand in the air, but she didn’t respond. She just waited in front of the car with that stern expression on her face like she was going to punish me on the way home.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I told Charlie and headed down the driveway, past my bike to where Esme was waiting. I didn’t say anything to her in response to the sudden arrival, but just got into the passenger seat without complaint.

She got into the driver’s seat and started to pull us away from the house, not even acknowledging me at all. For a long moment, we drove in silence, before Esme sighed deeply. She sounded like she desperately wanted to say something to me, so I turned to her and waited for her to speak her mind or give in to the silence.

“I want to help you, Bella,” she said. “But the more I know, the worse of a spot you’re in.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. Nothing Esme ever said made sense. I was just going to have to piece it apart like I always did.

“You’re going to have to figure this out eventually,” Esme snapped. “Edward can’t read your thoughts. That makes you a lot safer, but it doesn’t make you safe.”

It took me a moment to process what she had said and then I wasn’t sure I even understood it then. Esme had been cryptic and distant since the moment we met, but it seemed now like the mask had fully slipped. She thought I was in danger. And Edward was at the center of that.

            My head spun, but I understood one thing. She didn’t want me to marry Edward. “Why did you marry Carlisle?” I asked her, because I had been wondering it since the day I met the Cullens in their glass house and learned that Esme was the only human among them.

            “We’re not talking about me,” she said. “Listen, I’ve told you before you have to be careful.”

            “Why am I in danger?” I demanded. There was no point in being so cryptic. We were alone here.

            “I can’t tell you that,” she said. “You’re going to have to figure it out by yourself.”

            I wanted to scream at her, but more so, I wanted to know what she knew. It felt as though I should have understood the message she was trying to send me, but it passed over me like water. Something was keeping me from putting it together. The more I thought about her words, the more lost and the angrier I felt.

            “How did you know I went to my Dad’s?” I offered instead. I couldn’t understand a single thing about Esme, and I wasn’t sure I was going to.

            “You seemed shaken up this morning,” Esme said. “I had a hunch.”

            I shook my head, too angry to really understand what it was she was telling me. “This conversation is over,” I told her. “Let’s just go home.”

            She opened her mouth and closed it again, at a loss. We didn’t talk the rest of the drive home, and I couldn’t bring myself to piece apart what she’d been trying to say. I was getting married tomorrow to the boy I loved, and I knew I wouldn’t be the same after that.

Chapter Text

On the morning of my wedding, Edward and I weren’t allowed to see each other. It was just another old tradition I didn’t care about, but the entire Cullen family helped to keep me away from Edward all morning. Alice and Rosalie entered my room the moment I woke up to help me with my hair, makeup, and dress before the limo arrived to take us to the church. My husband-to-be and I would be separated the whole time until I walked through those doors to meet him at the end of the aisle. The idea of walking past so many people all staring at me turned my stomach, but I had something that made it all survivable. Charlie would be walking down the aisle with me.

            By the time they let me out of my bedroom, I was dolled up in a complex hairstyle that Alice had done and what felt to me like an entirely new face that Rosalie had painted on. The makeup, no matter how pretty and expertly placed was not me and I almost wanted to rub it off as I looked at myself in the mirror. The version of me I knew was gone and before we had even stepped out, I was a Cullen.

            I told myself it was all superficial, that when this was all over, I’d wash off the face and let my hair fall over my shoulder. I’d be me again, but all the events of the day were churning my stomach with such intensity that I was sure I would throw up before I got to the church. All the while, Alice held my hand as we walked. She wore the same peach dress as Rosalie did, each of them flanking me like pretty pink protection as we made our way out to the limo in front of the house. Edward and the boys had already left, leaving me with my bride’s maids to escort me.

            Inside the car with Alice and Rosalie on either side of me, I held onto my seatbelt the entire ride to the church to stop myself from shaking the closer we got. I knew with every minute that this was what I wanted, a marriage with the man I loved and a life for forever with him. But my body still went hot and sweaty with all the preparation. I had never imagined my wedding, and here it was, planned and put together by my new sister-in-law, a gift for me. It still felt like a day of torture.

            The church did not have a dark shade over it when we arrived. It did not have splatters of blood across the pavement. It wasn’t the nightmare I’d have about this day. Instead, there were flower arrangements at the edge of the steps, flanking the entrance. There was a large display with a picture of Edward and me, his arms wrapped tightly around me. There were cars in the parking lot, some I recognized and some that were unfamiliar. And in the back, there was a police cruiser hiding in plain sight. I knew who was waiting for me inside.

            The three of us stepped out of the limo, Alice taking my hand once again as we made our way up. In the daylight, I could just barely see the veins on her hands as we walked, but she held herself tall as if no one would be able to see any of it. When we stepped into the church, her veins disappeared with the closing of the door behind her. We were the last ones here and very soon, the wedding music would begin to play.

            Before us, a holy water font stood open and still. The water was clear and as I looked down into it, I found my reflection again. I was beautiful, like a nymph or a goddess, like Alice and Rosalie who stood next to me. We waited together, just outside the chapel where the rest of my new family was currently waiting.

            Before I could even try to calm my nerves, a side door opened and Charlie stepped through, wearing a pressed black tux. His facial hair was shaved back to his usual mustache, and he looked once again like my Dad, like no time had passed at all. Before I had time to think, I was stepping past my bride’s maids and over to where my Dad waited with a hug.

            “You look beautiful,” was the only thing he could say before my arms were around his shoulders, pulling him down into me.

            “I’m so glad you’re here,” I told him in a low voice as I pressed my chin into his shoulder. I couldn’t risk ruining the makeup Rosalie had painstakingly done by burying my face into his shoulder.

            “Me too, Bells,” he said as he held me up. I stepped up onto the toes of his shoes to reach him better, like I once had when I was half the height I was now, but he didn’t seem to mind at all.

            “Thank you for doing this,” I told him as I pulled away, just enough to look him in the eye.

            “I’m glad to,” he said with tears at the edges of his eyes. “It’s all about you today.”

            That was part of the problem, but I didn’t tell him that. Instead, I just smiled as I looked at him, like time had stopped entirely. I was a little girl again when I looked at him, without a care or an anxiety to be seen. I wasn’t getting married, I was dreaming of all the things I might be. And then, it stopped, and Alice said something loud enough to knock me out of my little world.

            “It’s time,” she said, and behind her, Emmett and Jasper had appeared to walk with them. She handed me my bouquet of flowers, red roses with springs of baby whites. I held my breath as my bride’s maids took their partners and stepped through the heavy doors into the chapel beyond. The sound of music filled the hall as I took a small step forward, toward my wedding, toward what would become the rest of my life.

            “Are you ready?” Charlie asked, offering me his arm. I laced my arm through his, letting him guide me toward the door.

            “No,” I said, but there was no time for hesitation now. The doors opened before us, and I stepped inside to the brightly lit interior of the church.

            All around me, people turned their gazes and looked as I stepped into the chapel. Their faces were bright and lively as I took my first steps into the room. the light from the windows was colored with stained glass that left drawn out shapes all around. The red, of the sunsets and the blood of Christ and the saints’ clothing stood out the most, shining down on me.

            I squeezed my hand tight around the bouquet as Charlie led me down. At the end of the aisle, my eyes found Edward, standing with his hands folded as he watched me. He wasn’t smiling or crying like I imagined grooms did at weddings. I wasn’t sure Edward could cry. He was a rock up at the alter, his family surrounding him on all sides.

            I looked away from him and to the people in the pews around me. There was no blood or venom in their skin like I had dreamt before. It was only smiling faces that looked up at me. I caught sight of a few faces I recognized, people I knew from school, people I hadn’t seen in months. Jessica sat next to her Dad and she seemed to look at me like she was staring at the sun. She blinked her tears away as she watched me, but I caught one stray drop stream down her cheek as she smiled at me. In another world, she was up at the alter with Rosalie and Alice. She would have been my dearest bride’s maid. Instead, I hadn’t talked to her in months, and I regretted every second of it.

            By the time we passed Jessica, I was sure I was going to cry too, but I simply kept walking forward, propelled by my Dad’s stiff march. All the while, I held tight, I could feel his love for me like a bullet. He walked me down the aisle though he didn’t like the man I was marrying. He walked me down the aisle though I’d run from him months ago. I felt so suddenly and irrefutably loved by my Dad that by the time we made it to the end of the line, I was crying for my love for him instead of my future husband before me.

            Charlie held onto my arm for a second longer as we came to a stop before the alter. I checked Edward’s gaze for any surprise that my Dad had come to walk me down the aisle, but there was none. He must have learned from Esme. After a moment, Charlie let go of my arm and I took the final step up to the alter. As Charlie took a step back to find his seat, I saw a look of horrible sorrow on his face. He watched me stand across from Edward at that alter like he was watching me be condemned to death.

            As I turned up to Edward, I couldn’t get that face out of my head. Here I was on the most wonderful day of my life, but all I could think of was my Dad’s face under the water, dead and gone. This wedding was a funeral of sorts, I supposed. The girl I once was, would die and another girl would take her place. I’d be a vampire, by Edward’s side forever. I told myself this was the right choice as I said the vows, stiff and old on my lips like stale wafers.

            I said the vows and hoped it would make my life right. I said the vows and hoped that tomorrow my life would make sense to me, that my place by Edward’s side would be cemented, that I would mean something. That lonely girl had grown up. When I kissed Edward, his cold lips were rough and hard against mine. He pressed into me, holding me by the place where my neck connected to my jaw. I kissed Edward and music played in my head, lulling me into a dizzy sort of happiness.

            “I present, Edward and Isabella Cullen,” the pastor said as we parted. I felt my breath leave me as I stood up there, so many people watching me. I wished I could forget about them, that I could look at Edward and be lost in him, but I was entirely too aware of the crowd watching me. My whole body shook as Edward led me down to our seats. I shook even there as the mass continued.

            When the mass ended and we stepped outside for pictures, the clouds had moved in front of the sun. I thought that somehow the Cullens had planned this, but I knew it was impossible. We stood, me at the center, and took pictures. The vampires that surrounded me looked utterly human. No one would have known that six vampires had just stepped out of that church.

            “Come to our house for the reception,” Carlisle told the crowd when pictures were completed. “It’s time we celebrate the new couple.”

            I watched as all around us, the crowds parted toward their vehicles to make their way to the reception while Edward stood holding me, a few pictures still being snapped while I wasn’t looking. I caught sight of my Dad heading back toward his cruiser and Jessica following her Dad out. I wondered if they’d come or if they’d go home and forget me, like they were grieving a loss.

            “Bella,” Edward said, tearing my attention away from them as they left. “The limo.”

            I looked to the car which had pulled out for us. The driver was standing before the passenger side door, waiting for us. As he grabbed my hand, I shook myself out of my stupor and followed him to the car where he helped me into the back seat and joined me on the other side.

            We were quiet on the drive to the reception. Behind the doors of the limo, past the chaos of the church and the wedding ceremony, we sat quietly in the back of the car. He stared at me in a perpetual silence that seemed to deaden the air around us. The longer it lasted, the surer I was that we would never speak again. Without the beat of his heart, I was the only sound in the vehicle the whole drive there.

            As we finally pulled to a stop before the long driveway of the glass house, I was desperate to get out. As I moved to escape, Edward stopped me, unbuckling himself as he held my arm. “Allow me,” he said and got out of the car.

            For a long moment, I felt myself suffocating alone until Edward appeared on the other side of the car and opened the door for me. I took his hand as he got me to my feet, and we stepped hand in hand toward the little dirt path that would lead to the backyard. The sun was making its arch to the western side of the sky as Edward led me down the path, through the little iron gate and out to the patio behind the Cullen house.

            The first thing I found as I entered the reception were the lights, tiny bobbles of lights hung overhead at every interval, lighting up the space in a white display. The canopy of the patio was set with flowers, hundreds of them, hung at the lattices. Below them all, were the people. Tables were set and the guests turned to look from their chairs as Edward and I entered the yard. He held my hand tight as we stepped forward through the crowd, toward the head table where the Cullens all sat. My Dad should have been sitting there too, at the space just next to my seat, but it was filled by Esme instead, sitting prim and proper, the mother of the groom.

            The space went quiet as we moved, everyone looking at us with awe. The trip to our seats seemed to take forever and I was sure the large gown I had been outfitted in would catch on the legs of chairs and purses. Only when we sat down did my head stop spinning. And then the speeches came.

            All the Cullens spoke about Edward, about how we met and how beautiful we were as a couple. Carlisle went first and then Alice and Rosalie. Everyone spoke except for Esme, and I looked at her after every speech expecting her to say something next. Every single word that fell from their lips felt like a lie, but I couldn’t begin to comprehend why. They spoke about us loving each other, us fighting to be together, us spending hours and hours together. It was all true, every word of it, but it still turned my stomach to hear them tell stories of how Edward had been a lonely, reserved kid, changed by my presence in his life. Something about it felt like a scam.

            It was because there was no Charlie to tell his story too, I realized. Charlie wasn’t here to say that he’d been so happy to get me back in his life, that I brightened up his life too, that he’d hated the idea of me marrying so young. But he gave in. He walked me down the aisle even though he hated Edward marrying me. If I became a vampire tomorrow, it was the last he would ever see of me.

            There was clapping after every speech, and when it was finally over, dinner was served by the black clad staff that the Cullens had hired for the event. Only two plates were served to our table, one to me and another to Esme. The Cullens watched as every party guest ate without them, but no one seemed to notice the steely way in which they watched the dinner proceed.

            We had our first dance as husband and wife to a soft song Edward had composed for the occasion. The soft, floating melody filled the space with a sort of melancholy as we danced so slow that for a moment, I was sure we weren’t moving at all. When the song ended, and the floor filled around us with couples and families. I stepped away from Edward soon after, the heels of my feet already starting to ache with the pain of the strappy shoes Alice had picked out for me.

            As the night went on and more people found me to wish me well, I found myself more and more exhausted with the prospect of being around people. After the sun finally disappeared behind the tree line, the canopy glowed its white light all over the guests enough to make them look like a dazzling sea of stars. I watched those stars for a while, the music thumping to my ears as I tried to comprehend the direction my life had taken.

            I barely even noticed the footsteps of Jessica Stanley making her way toward where I was sitting at the far table. When I finally turned my head to see her, my eyes went wide with delight. I didn’t think she’d come at all. Angela was at her arm, holding onto her like Jessica was a gentleman leading a lady. I stared at them for half a second before I was to my feet and wrapping my arms around the both of them.

            “You came,” I said, muffled as I buried my head between them. They were warm and a little sweaty as I held onto them. It felt more human than much of anything these days.

            “We had to,” Angela offered. “It’s your wedding.”

            As I pulled away, I found the both of them grinning like old times, like when we were just friends, and everything was simple. “I didn’t think you’d forgive me,” I told them. I’d left without an explanation. They deserved an apology and I’d never had the chance to give it.

            “There’s nothing to forgive,” Jessica said. She looked a little solemn, like looking at me brought back difficult memories she would have rather forgotten. “I missed you.”

            There was a layer of regret that covered her words and forced a grief over my heart. I had invited her to this wedding with the expectation that she wouldn’t come, that she would still hate me after everything I did to her. I hadn’t expected her to come to the wedding and stay for the reception. I hadn’t expected her to look at me like we had lost something we’d never get back. I wanted to cry at her very presence.

            “No Tyler?” I asked Angela, tearing my thoughts away from Jessica and the insurmountable pain I had caused her.

            Angela chuckled. “We sort of broke up,” she said and squeezed Jessica’s arm tighter.

            “Oh,” I said, slowly putting it together. After all the heartbreak I’d caused them in leaving, maybe this was right. I hadn’t seen it before, but I had been blind to a lot of things. I hadn’t seen Jessica until it was too late.

            “Come dance with us,” Angela said. “Unless you need to slip away and find your husband.”

            There was a suggestion in her voice that I ignored. I was too overwhelmed looking at Jessica. All day, I’d been thinking of all the people I’d left behind, that I was grieving. They all still lived, but so far out of my reach that they might as well have been dead.

            “I need a minute,” I said. “I’ll be back.”

            As I turned away from the two of them, I didn’t acknowledge their confusion or their glances to each other. I turned, now barefoot, with my long dress trailing behind me, and I walked directly away from the lit-up patio of the Cullens’ yard and into the woods beyond it. The soft forest floor was a welcome change from the clip of my heeled shoes, and the further I got from the party, the better I felt.

            The light faded quickly, turning to thick forest as I stepped carefully over fallen branches and forest ferns. I found a fallen tree, covered in moss and a few mushrooms. Hitching up my dress a little, I sat down there in the darkened woods. Beyond, the sound of music, soft and slow could still be heard. I swayed a little to the sound.

            “Look who’s back from the dead?” a voice called, and I recognized that tone immediately. I didn’t even have to turn to know who had found me. He had crept up as quiet as a deer, like he was a part of nature. Jacob pulled his leg over the log I was sitting on to seat himself next to me. He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees as he looked out over the woods.

            He didn’t look at me in the eye for the longest time, and instead stared out before us like he was watching for something. I tried not to think about the implications of his presence. He was just another ghost from my life before, another person I was grieving.

            Slowly, I leaned my head down into his shoulder. I didn’t know what to say, what I could say that would fix any of what I’d done to him. I couldn’t even begin to understand why he was here, hiding out beside my wedding when he knew Edward would just as soon tear him apart.

            “You asked me once if I would ever want to be a guardian like you,” I said softly.

            “It’s a hard promise to make,” he said. “It takes a lot of thought.”

            I lifted my head to look at him and finally, he looked back at me, his brown eyes bearing into me without the taint of sorrow and regret that I’d seen on so many eyes today. He looked at me like he was reuniting with a long lost friend. It didn’t matter that I’d be gone tomorrow, that I’d be a vampire tomorrow.

            “Did I break your heart?” I asked him.

            He breathed out slow. “You did a little bit,” he admitted.

            Before I could move to apologize, to really think about what he said, he stood up and turned to face me. In the dark, I could just barely see the collar of his shirt and the way his hair was pulled back behind his ears. He offered me a hand.

            “Let me congratulate you,” he said. “With a dance.”

            “Jacob,” I murmured. He was smiling with no hint of a lie, and his eyes still held that look of reuniting. I couldn’t comprehend how he could come here and dance with me when just past the tree line, the people who’d almost killed him were waiting.

            “I don’t care if you step on my feet, I promise,” he said.

            Despite myself, I took his hand and stood, letting my dress billow out around me. We danced slow and clumsily, not quite picking up the same beat of music as it drifted to us from past the trees. I rested my head on his shoulder and listened to the slow beating of his heart for a long time as we swayed. The moments passed like syrup, slow and sweet in the cool air of summer.

            “I’ll still be your friend, Bella,” he said. “No matter how far you go.”

I didn’t say anything else to him all night, but as I left him and went walking back to the reception, I cried into the beads of my dress. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling for the life of me. I’d gained a lot of things by loving Edward, or so I told myself, but I wished I didn’t have to lose this.

Chapter Text

Edward and I didn’t stay until the end of the reception. When he found me returning from the woods, he grabbed my arm, smiling as he dragged me along to the house. I didn’t resist, too dizzy with the sounds of music as he led me along. I hadn’t fully wiped the tears out of my eyes, but he didn’t seem to notice them or think to put together why it was I had been crying. We just headed into the house where the lights were too bright white and the music from outside became a muffled beating.

            “Get some sleep tonight,” he told me. “We have a long day tomorrow.”

            My head rushed, trying to put it together in my head. We were married, I realized. That had been the ultimatum, and that had to mean he was turning me into a vampire. My mouth went suddenly dry as I looked at his dark smirk. My eternity with him would start with this, and once it was done all of it would be worth it.

            “Tomorrow,” I said. I leaned into him, wrapping my tired arms around him and pressing my forehead into his neck. I was so tired from the day’s events that I was just amazed that our journey was almost over. Everything we’d done to be together was behind us. All the tests and the promises I’d kept. It all came to this.

            “Go now,” he said, dragging me out of his embrace. “We have an early morning tomorrow. Your bags are already packed.”

            I nodded weakly and followed his lead to bed. He held tight to my arm as we traversed the steps toward the room set aside for me. As soon as I turned on the light, I saw what he meant. Two suitcases were packed and sitting next to the vanity as we stumbled in. I nearly fell into bed with my wedding dress still on, but Edward stood me up and started to undo all the laces in the back with a fast and rough hand.

            My tongue was thick and heavy in my mouth, stopping me from saying anything as he slid my arms through the sleeves and yanked the whole thing free from my body. I didn’t know how I had gotten so dizzy and so tired. Perhaps it was all the grief of friendships lost and a young, single life gone. My world would be different from now on. I’d welcome being a vampire, I knew that well enough, but there was all this weight on my chest, all this loss.

            I was too lost in my own skin to really do much of anything but get myself into bed and drag the blankets over my naked form. Edward sat on the bed next to me, his eyes glazing over me as I tried to find comfort in my sore bones. Swallowing down all the fog in my throat, I finally found the air to speak.

            “Good night, Edward,” I said, soft and slow, pushing each syllable out as precisely as I could manage.

            “Good night, Bella,” he returned, his low voice much clearer than mine. He seemed so levelheaded while I was swimming in overwhelming emotion. Love for him, loss for Jacob and Jessica, bittersweet regret that I would never be able to go back home again. My life was starting anew, and I felt drunk on it.

            “Are you going to turn out the light?” I asked, wobbling through the words once again.

            “I wanted to stay here and watch you,” he said. “I’ll make sure you get to sleep just fine.”

            I nodded weakly and closed my eyes, ceasing the burning that came at the back of my eyes as the light of my room bore into me. I laid silently, drifting into a heavy sleep, like an anchor drifting to the bottom of the ocean. The last thing I felt before I was out was Edward’s hand tracing lines along my bare hip.

            When I woke, I was still sore all over. The birds were chirping a song that banged into my head as they sang. Slowly, I opened my eyes and peeped out over my blankets to find Edward gone from the room. Light streamed in from the sunrise, shining into my eyes as I tried to bring myself into the morning.

            As soon as I sat up, I found myself naked and shivering a bit in the cold of the house. My dress was in a heap on the floor along with my undergarments and the pins from my hair. I stepped around them with a wide berth as I headed for the closet to find a pair of shorts and a tee shirt to wear for the day. When I sat down at the vanity, dressed in fresh clothes, I caught the feeling of the ring on my finger as I clasped my hand down on the table. It made a soft sound as it scraped against the wood, and I found myself looking at that little yellow diamond once again.

            I twisted it a little on my finger as I watched the way it sparkled, reassessing the wedding and all the festivities of the day before. I was surprised to find I looked back on it with warmth and happiness even with all the chaos I’d endured. Walking down the aisle with my Dad, seeing Jessica, and dancing with Jacob fell to the back of my mind and Edward took up his place front and center. I smiled at myself and my new life.

            After I had finished getting ready, brushing my hair and waking myself up, I wandered downstairs to the kitchen where I expected to see Esme in the kitchen. Instead, it was empty as I stepped inside, and the lights were turned off. I stood still for a second, as if I had missed something. It wasn’t like Esme to sleep in or to be anywhere besides the kitchen. In fact, I hadn’t actually seen anyone since I’d left my room.

            A sudden worry crossed my mind as I imagined all the places Esme and the rest of the family could be at this time. I didn’t have the time to ponder it much however, because someone grabbed my shoulder, eliciting a gasp from me as I turned to see Edward standing behind me. He stood simply, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, as if he hadn’t given me a mini panic attack.

            “Are you ready?” he asked. “It’s a long flight.”

            With my mouth still open and the gears in my head grinding to a stop, I glanced to the empty kitchen behind me and then back to Edward. He stood expectantly as I struggled to process what was going on so early in the morning.

            “Yeah,” I said after a moment. “My bags are still upstairs.”

            “Go get them,” Edward said. “The car is here.”

            The car he was referring to was a taxi sitting in the driveway. I dragged my bags along with me outside as Edward waited for me, having already packed his things in the trunk. After I shoved them in and slammed the trunk shut, it was time to leave the Cullen house behind. Some part of me wondered how long it would be before I saw this house again and if I would see it the same way when I got back.

            After hopping into the back seat next to Edward, the driver backed out of the long driveway and drove us off toward our destination. I watched the woods speed by next to us as we left Forks and the area of Washington which I had called home for almost two years.

            “Where are we going?” I asked Edward after some time in silence with him.

            “It’s a surprise,” he said. “You’ll see when we get there.”

            With that, I shut up and kept watching out the window as we moved. The longer we spent in the car, the more I put together about this trip. We appeared to be heading toward Seattle, but I couldn’t be sure that was our final destination. I turned out to be right when the taxi pulled into the first terminal of SeaTac airport. I wracked my brain for where we would be going, but I supposed I would have to find out when we boarded the plane.

            That assumption turned out to be wrong however, as Edward led us passed the check in, passed security and to a small, private terminal away from all the bustling businessmen and vacationers. We were on our plane in the time it would have taken anyone else to get through security, and there was still no sign of where we were going.

            The plane was small compared to the commercial jets that flew out of this airport, but with just the two of us, it felt giant. I sat next to the window as the plane took off, watching the ground rumble under us until we lifted off and it fell away, turning the world into tiny shapes below. Up here, I felt myself go calm and clear, like all the chaos of the wedding had finally drifted away and I was me again.

            After we had ascended above the clouds and all I could see was white, I leaned over to Edward. “How long is the flight?” I asked.

            He smirked and shook his head. “If I told you that, you’d be able to figure it out.”

            He wasn’t totally wrong. I would be able to estimate the distance and make an educated guess, but I couldn’t read his mind. I could only hope that he had something special planned for turning me. This was what I’d been waiting for since the moment I agreed to marry him after all. I fell asleep to the sound of the plane barreling through the air and the thoughts of an eternal, unending life together.

            The flight, as it turned out, was just about thirteen hours long, although when we started to descend, I had no idea what time it was. The plane roared all the way through our descent and though I’d flown in a plane before, it didn’t fail to make my whole body feel like jello when we landed. When we were safely on the ground and ported to the terminal, Edward took my hand and dragged me up.

            As we left the plane, I was greeted by a voice reading over the intercom in a language that sounded like Spanish at first before I later learned it was Portuguese. Another voice came through just after that, saying the same thing in English. “Welcome to Rio De Janeiro International Airport. It is currently 9:00 PM on June 21st. Enjoy your stay.”

            I whipped my head around to look at Edward as we walked through the airport. “Rio!” I snapped. “Edward, I don’t have a passport!”

            “Yes you do,” he said and pulled out a small blue booklet from his pocket. I yanked it out of his hand and opened it to find a poor, washed out looking picture of me at age 14 beside all my personal information. I grimaced at the passport, which I had forgotten I actually had.

            “Where did you get this?” I demanded. I was furious and though my anger usually washed away as soon as I felt it stirring, it didn’t do that now. Instead, I felt all of it, and it stayed, churning inside me. I didn’t know why I was so angry now when I’d never managed to stay angry with Edward in Forks.

            “I got it when I picked up your stuff from Chief Swan’s house,” he said as if that were completely normal. I had no idea why he hadn’t simply given it back to me before, but I stifled my anger as he led me toward customs. It wasn’t right to start a honeymoon off like this, so I let him win this one.

            As soon as we stepped out into the city of Rio De Janeiro, I was struck by the feeling of this place. The city smelled sweet, like candy and beer, and sweat. Music wafted through the air even as far as the airport and as we walked down to meet our taxi, we passed a busker on the corner, playing for tourists even here.

            The city seemed to pass in a blur, my senses overwhelming me as Edward led me through, past corner shops and dancing in the street. A pair of boys had a television set up before a closed storefront as they watched the soccer game in staticky images. This was the Rio of the night, a tourist town filled with dancing and alcohol. I couldn’t have imagined someone as straightlaced as Edward stepping foot in this city, but here he was, holding my hand as we dove through the sights.

            We didn’t stay in the city for long. After having found a small place for me to eat dinner, he leaned in toward my ear. “I have a surprise,” he whispered.

            He took me to a boat, a little ferry piloted by an old man and his little wife. It appeared that they had been waiting for Edward to arrive, because they welcomed the two of us onto the boat as soon as we arrived. I took a seat at the edge of the boat, by the railing so I could see over the edge to where the water looked black and churning. As we started to move, Edward wouldn’t come sit next to me, but stood under the mast, watching me with unblinking eyes. I patted the space next to me, but he refused to move from his spot. From where he stood, he had a vantage point of the ship’s caption piloting us through the waves, and of me.

            Eventually, I gave up on getting him to look over the edge with me and stared at the moon instead. The crescent shape loomed over the water and the ocean mirrored it back with a disrupted revision. I spent the whole ride staring at those two moons as they moved in slow motion across the sky and through the water, but soon they were upset by an island, which rose up over the horizon, a small dot until we got close enough the see its silhouette.

            The first thing I saw as soon as we were close enough was the house. It rose up over the beach, the lights turned on and shining a yellow light through the large windows that that made up the whole front of the house.  I followed the lines of light until I reached the dock that stretched out into the ocean past a winding set of steps to the beach. My eyes went wide with delight at the glowing beauty of the place. How long our honeymoon would and the time it would take to turn me into a vampire, I didn’t know, but my heart raced with the idea of doing it here, safe, sound, and alone with Edward.

            Finally, when we were nearing the dock did Edward come to join me, leaning against the rails and staring at the island with me. “It’s called Isle Esme,” he said. “Carlisle bought it for Esme when they first met, but it hasn’t really had much use in a while.”

            I couldn’t imagine Esme having any interest in a private island or a tropical beach. She didn’t seem to enjoy the outdoors much at all and she stayed away from the woods in Forks. If she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was keeping herself closely guarded and well put together. She rarely went into town or walked about outside. I couldn’t even imagine her out of the prim dresses she often wore.

            “It’s beautiful,” I said, shoving Esme out of my head. This was for me. Edward and I would be alone here for as long as we needed. My heart raced with anticipation. Very soon, I would be a vampire and our life could start together for real.

            The ferry docked with a large jerk and shake as the captain brought us to a halt. Edward grabbed my wrist quick as I jerked a little, regaining my balance. He held on a little too tight and for a little too long. When he did finally let go, he brushed past me to lead the way to the dock. I followed close behind to the dock where the captain was waiting with a lantern in his grip. He gave me a stern look as I past him by, his eyes narrowed and heavy like he was watching a tragedy unfold before his eyes.

            Edward thanked him in Portuguese and the captain’s gaze turned from me to him for a second before he grumbled something in response and turned back to his boat. As he disappeared back on board, Edward dragged me along up the dock and past the beach towards the steps of the large beach house before us.

            My heart leapt into my throat as we made our way up to the house. Tonight was the night Edward would make me into a vampire. I could feel his own excitement as he held onto me, leading me up. Despite my anxieties, I was ready for it. No amount of pain could steer me away from this choice. I needed to be a vampire like I needed to survive, like I needed Edward. It was our one way to be together, to be equals.

            I followed Edward up the stairs at a brisk pace, my suitcase banging against my leg as I went, but I couldn’t feel it. Edward opened the sliding glass doors to the large, open beach house before us. Candles were set up on the tables and everywhere the eye could see. Roses stood in a large vase on the kitchen island, open and bright. The wallpaper all around was yellow like the sun, brightening up the already wide-open space. I floated into the living room, marveling at the shine of this room.

            “I love it,” I said as the breath left me. Edward came up behind me, placing a soft hand on the small of my back as he leaned his head over me. I couldn’t breathe with him so near. I couldn’t move, like one wrong move would cause him to overreact. I held still as he brushed the hair away from my neck.

            Slowly, he pressed his lips to the base of my neck, and I prepared myself to feel the sting of his bite. My arm seemed to flare up at the touch with the memory of the last time he’d bit me. I closed my eyes and waited for the bite, but it never came. He kissed up my neck, hard and heavy until his lips found the edge of my jaw.

            “I’m ready,” I whispered. I didn’t care how long the transformation took. I wanted this more than anything. I gripped the edge of my shorts to keep myself from pressing my nails into my palm. This was going to hurt.

            He turned me around slowly, guiding my hips to face him. I held my head high, revealing every inch of my neck to him. He didn’t look hesitant about this like I expected though. He had always avoided the conversation of turning me, but the look in his eyes told me he was ready to be with me too. He wanted this as much as I did.

            “Bite me,” I told him.

            Edward’s face changed, but only for a second. For a moment I thought he had changed his mind. I’d misjudged his look after all. “Not yet,” he said. “I want to feel everything with you, my wife.”

            I swallowed the apprehension making its way up my throat. I should have known better. This was our honeymoon after all, and there were expectations, ones that I would not be writhing in pain on our first night together after the wedding. We’d waited all this time because he wouldn’t, didn’t want to. I’d wrongly assumed that meant he was less interested in having sex with me and more interested in simply being with me.

            As he leaned in toward me to press his lips to mine, my head went numb and thoughtless. I let him kiss me, pressing himself deeply into me. His hands ran up into my hair and pulled as I stood there, unable to form a coherent thought. This must have been lust, but I’d never felt anything so intensely before.

            He broke away for a moment and pressed his forehead to mine, giving me a second to catch up. “After tonight,” I said, breathy and hoarse, “you’ll turn me.”

            Edward nodded absently and gripped his hands around my hips, pressing me back into the couch behind me. I thought I heard him whisper something under his breath like a name, but I told myself I was hearing things when I first thought it was Edith that he said. I hadn’t thought of that name in so long, but it remained inside my mind, spinning like the waves.

            My body went stiff and motionless as he touched me, like every touch was an attempt to break me apart. I tensed instead of relaxed with every movement. My mouth was heavy as he kissed me and I couldn’t pull away or ask him to stop, to slow down. The wires of my brain had stopped transmitting anything at all and I went blank.

            Edward was not gentle. He wasn’t soft or slow. He didn’t ask me how I liked it or where to go. He seemed to know what he was doing, and I let him, still thinking of the bite I was waiting on. It hurt almost like that, and I told myself I liked it, but in all honesty, I wished he had stopped.

Chapter Text

I counted the boards that ran across the ceiling as I laid in bed, trying to regain my senses. Light streamed in through the windows, the colors of sunrise painting themselves against the ceiling and on the yellow wallpaper of the room. It took me a long time to wake up and to put together the details of the previous night. I pieced everything back together slowly, reliving the aches of that night.

            As I caught up with myself, I found the strength to pull myself up to a sitting position. A few feathers flitted about me, escaping the pillows that had been strown and ripped apart. My back ached at my attempt to get up, and I found the first bruise around my wrist as I leaned over, placing my hands on my knees to steady myself.

            The skin was purple and yellow around the edges like a blooming flower where Edward had held me. Every one of his touches seemed to leave a mark on my skin now. He hadn’t been like that before, I told myself, but maybe that was wishful thinking. I remembered a few times he’d held onto me that felt like he was going to crush through my skin to the bones underneath.

            I dragged myself from the bed carefully, wrapping myself in a robe hanging in the closet and stepped into the bathroom where there were no windows. In the light of the buzzing fluorescent lightbulbs, I counted the marks Edward had left along my body. The ones that trailed up my neck toward the edge of my jaw looked like indents of his kisses, although black and blue now from the sheer force of him. He trailed along my sides to my hips and down my arms. I recounted the moments of the evening and it seemed as though every place he had touched me had left a mark.

            I rubbed my eyes of the exhaustion and ran a shower as I kept looking over the marks left on my skin. He’d asked for me and I hadn’t thought twice about it. I would need to think again. It was time for me to become a vampire. No matter how long he would have to wait to touch me again, I needed to become like him.

An image came to mind as I stared at myself in the mirror, my reflection becoming blurry from condensation. I could see myself from Edward’s eyes, his body over me, firm and riled tight. His hands wrapped around my throat as he held me down, whispering his sweet words into my ear. I gripped the edge of the sink, my hands going as white as the porcelain the longer I looked at myself. My breath grew shallow and quick as I watched some version of me go purple with the lack of air. The whispers of Edward telling me he loved me echoed in my head. I was here, in this bathroom safe and sound, but my mirror laid dying in my head. I couldn’t do a thing to stop it.

When I finally tore my gaze away from the mirror, the breath came back to me. I dropped my hands, letting my fists unwind as I stared at the floor. Somewhere deep, I could still hear Edward’s whispers. I could still feel him killing me.

            After the water heated up, I stepped into the shower, letting it curve down along my body and warm me up. The longer I spent in there, the more numb I felt and the less I thought of Edward’s hands around my throat. I hummed to myself instead, an inconsequential tune as the water dripped through my hair.

            As I stepped out of the shower, fresh and clean, I avoided looking at the mirror and left the mist covering my reflection as I ducked out into the bedroom to find a change of clothes. I was only in a towel when Edward stepped into the room, his face looking bright as he smiled at me. I tried to ignore him as I looked for a change of clothes. We’d have to have a conversation about last night, but for now, I wanted nothing more than to get dressed and go enjoy the beach.

            “You look beautiful this morning,” he said, still leaning against the door. He was blocking my way out, but I was too preoccupied looking for clothes to make note of it.

            “Where are my bags?” I asked, having turned through the room and found nothing.

            “In the entry room,” Edward said. I started to make my way out the door to find them, but he held out his hands to stop me, forcing me to look him in the eye. “Wait, a minute. Let me look at you.”

            I stopped and let him run his eyes down over me. “I’m going to go outside for a bit,” I told him. “Get a lay of the land.”

            “Why?” Edward asked, still preoccupied looking at me. I squirmed a little at the feeling of his eyes on me, like I was on display. “We could just stay here.”

            “Yeah,” I said, wishing he hadn’t immediately brought it up. “About that—"

            “It’s our honeymoon,” he said. “We can just stay in all day. Stay in bed.”

            I swallowed down the part of me that knew better than to bring it up. He wanted this time with me as a human. I realized that now, but I just couldn’t do it. If he kept touching me like this, I’d have to be sent home from my honeymoon on a stretcher. “We can do all of that when you make me a vampire.”

            Edward tilted his head as if it was a joke, but I crossed my arms to make my point clear. “Not yet,” he said. “We have this time here, outside of all of that. We can worry about that when we get back home.”

            “No,” I said. My heart bubbled in my chest with a bout of anger. I wasn’t leaving here human. “That’s not what I want.”

            “It’s what I want,” Edward offered.

            I held out my hand to him, the bruise on my wrist on full display. He needed to see how he’d hurt me. He needed to know what this was doing to me if I was ever going to get through to him. We’d waited so long just to be together, and I needed to ask for this. This one last thing. “You hurt me last night, Edward.”

            He laughed at me, at the prospect of hurting me. “That has nothing to do with me being a vampire. It would hurt anyway.”

            I stiffened at the sound of his voice. I was fully aware that I was wearing nothing but a towel, and he was standing so close to me, his head leering over me. All of my bruises were on full display, but he couldn’t see them. I cringed back, trying to find some safety in distance, but there was none. He just stepped forward toward me again. I didn’t believe him, but I had nothing to argue with. He was the only person I’d ever been with, but how could women keep getting married, keep falling in love, if it felt like that?

            Or maybe I was going crazy. He didn’t acknowledge the bruises, didn’t even look at them. A paranoid part of me was sure I was seeing things, that the bruises weren’t there, and the aches were in my head. He hadn’t hurt me at all, but how could I trust that when I was sure I could press into the bloom on my wrist and feel a bite of pain?

            “I don’t want to do that again. Not until I’m a vampire,” I told him.

            “I waited for you,” Edward snapped back. “We waited until we were married so it could be perfect and now you don’t want to? Not even for me?”

            I stuttered over the words, trying to think of a response. He was still looking me over, still hungry. I straightened myself out, wrapping my towel closer around me. “I’m going to get dressed.”

            As I moved to pass him, he grabbed me in the doorway. I should have expected this, but it caught me by surprise. I wrenched back, but he held on tight. “Edward,” I said.

            “For me,” he said. “You said you’d do anything for me, but not this?”

            “I would do anything for you,” I said. He was twisting the words right out of my mouth.

            “So be with me,” he said. “It’s our honeymoon. That’s what all of this is for. We got married to be together. Let’s be together.”

            He wouldn’t just say it, even now. I imagined it had to be part of his ancient sensibilities. I had to remember he’d grown up in a time where that sort of thing was dirty. I still wished he would just say it.

            “Do you love me?” he said.

            “Yes,” I snapped, although I desperately needed a moment away from his love.

            “I have protected you. I’ve stood up for you. I’m letting you become a vampire for you,” he told me as he bore his eyes into me. He reached for my arms and held me straight before him. “I’ve done all of this for you. We’re married now, Bella. This is part of marriage.”

            Something about his eyes always drew me in, like a deep-water fish swimming toward an anglerfish lamp. All my arguments disappeared as I looked at him. All I could see was his beauty. He was my gorgeous, wonderful husband. Nothing else mattered. I tried to shake myself free of that thought, the idea that I owed him this because we were married. He was the one who wanted to get married, not me.

            “It will be fun this time,” he told me. “I’ll be careful.”

            “I don’t know,” I said to him, so low I scarcely heard it myself.

            “I know you, Bella,” he said. “I’ll take care of you.”

            I was too tired to argue with him, and I thought maybe I’d been tired for quite a while. Maybe all the things we’d done to get here was just all the expectations dragging down on me, letting me follow along with his plans without any thought. Sometimes, I thought I might not love him as much as I thought I did, and I didn’t know where that came from. All the ‘I love yous’ rang out in my head like a catchy song that stuck in my head but didn’t mean much of anything. I let him take me, lifting me by the legs and carrying me to the bed, which was still unmade, still partially broken. I laid against the pillow, naked and open. I shivered against the feeling of the cold as he leaned over me with a smile like brandy.

            When I woke, it was to the sound of the ocean beating against the shore. My thoughts tumbled away out of me as I got to my feet, still feeling numb and walked to the kitchen where my luggage still sat. I got dressed quickly. I tried not the think of the bruises still on my body or the sorry state of me. Instead, I walked barefoot outside and toward the beach. The wind blew into my face as I made my way down the steps, so I twisted my hair back and started to braid it away from my eyes.

            The braiding was a bit like a massage, like pulling all the kinks out and stretching all the sore thoughts running through my head. I shed off all the dread that had been resting on my shoulders, weighing me down with all of it. Waiting until after the marriage, until after the honeymoon, until Edward stopped moving the goal post and made me a vampire.

            As soon as I stepped onto the beach, I found it soft and white, filled with little broken shells that had been battered beyond recognition by the shore. All that water, that nature around me, almost made me forget how much my stomach ached with the need to be a vampire. I wasn’t going to get it here, not yet.

            At the dock, the boat was gone, the captain and his wife having left after they dropped us here. I didn’t know how long Edward had planned this honeymoon for. I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait to become a vampire. I’d been waiting for over a year now for Edward to be sure it was right and for me to marry him. Here, on this island, we were alone until the honeymoon was over and we could return to Forks. Just us and the waves and the sand and the trees.

            I loved him. I told myself that with every glance in his direction. The thought flitted in my head on a new constant basis like it was the very center of my being. I loved him, so I could love this. I could keep doing this for him, and in turn, he would make me a vampire soon. Once we were back in the clouded sky of Forks, everything I’d asked for would be mine.

            I looked up to the blue sky and dropped down into the sand to stare at it, at the birds in the sky and the slow shift of the few white clouds up there. I heard a pair of footsteps in the sand behind me, but I didn’t turn to see who it was. I already knew.

            “It’s beautiful,” Edward said as he plopped down in the sand next to me. I glanced over to find his arm braced over his knee. The dark veins that protruded were thick and trailing down to his fingertips.

            “It is,” I replied. I didn’t really want to talk to him right now, but here, he was the only person I had. I was alone on this island with only him to talk to.

            “I’m sorry, baby,” he said after a second, like he was mulling over the words for a long time.

            I had to take his apology, whatever he had. There was nothing else I could do after all. I loved him so much I had walked down the aisle for him, put on this ring for him. For him, I had done something I never thought I would do, and it had felt good. I remembered it feeling good. Eventually, this would feel good too.

            “I’ll be okay,” I said, still looking out to the ocean.

            “I’ll be gentle,” he said. “We spent so much time waiting for this, I can’t believe we’re here.”

            “Me neither,” I told him.

            “We’ll have each other for the rest of our lives,” he told me. “That’s all we’ll ever need.”

            The words washed over me, a promise to live together for as long as we lived. It wasn’t my life anymore, it was ours and that had to mean something. I leaned my head into his shoulder and kept watching the sea churn before us.

            “You’ll be gentle,” I said.

            “I will,” he said. I sat there for a while longer with him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t want it at all. He’d drained all the will power out of me.

Chapter Text

I lost track of time. Days turned into weeks and when I woke up, I couldn’t tell what day it was anymore. Every waking hour was spent with Edward, alone on this island, miles and miles from anyone human. Edward and I had been alone together before, but never this alone. It felt as if we were the only two people on the planet here, like all my friends, all my family, all of Forks had ceased to exist and it was just us. It should have felt like a blessing, but it just made me feel trapped. I didn’t know how long we would stay here, and I was getting lost in all the time.

            Edward never slept. When I woke up, he was there, looking at me with those wide black eyes like he was a crow looking at something particularly shiny. When I fell asleep, I knew he’d be there, lurking around the corner, around all the crevices of the island, just waiting for me to wake up. Even as he insisted on taking care of me, on carrying me about the beach and cooking my meals for me, he felt suffocating.

            I had no idea why it made me feel so nervous to be alone around him. The soft, warm fog that had wrapped around my brain with every moment we were together in the Cullen house was gone now, having dissipated the further we got from the mainland. Now, I looked at him with a sense of worry. When was he going to turn me into a vampire? When was he going to touch me like he had again? When was he going to take me home? Every so often, I imagined he was never going to take me home, that he’d made this place for us away from everyone in the world, to make a life here. The thought of never going back to my beloved Washington turned my stomach even in the sunshine of mid-morning.

            In actuality, we weren’t alone. The boat captain and his wife came back to the island once a week, bringing food, just enough for me to eat. Edward was taken care of with the small animals that lived on the lush island. So the captain’s wife would bring boxes and bags down from the boat and leave them on the dock. She never came any closer than that. Once, when I watched her leaving food from my vantage point on the beach, I waved to her. She looked directly at me, covering her brow with her hand to block the sun. Even as she recognized me, she didn’t wave back, but instead stepped back into the boat, never stepping foot on the island proper.

            We lived like this for a long period of time, and even with the weekly drop offs, I couldn’t be sure of how much time had passed. It all felt like a blur, an unending march of time that didn’t seem to signal itself with a shift from day to day. I wasn’t sleeping well. Every moment I closed my eyes, I imagined Edward’s unblinking ones. I couldn’t seem to put together why the man I loved so much turned my stomach to be so isolated with.

            As I sat in the living room one morning, looking at the yellow wallpaper where a television would have normally sat against the wall, I thought I heard Edward calling me from outside. I was so preoccupied in my fleeting and drifting thoughts, that I barely registered him stepping inside at all.

            “Bella,” he said.

            I continued to stare, occasionally blinking. My gut turned in my belly. It had been doing that for quite some time, but it was starting to hurt. I felt shaky, but I sat there, trying to ignore the pain.

            “Bella,” he repeated and stepped around the couch to crouch in front of me. He paused in thought as he looked at me, like he’d lost something he’d been wanting to tell me. “You look tan. Like when we first met.”

            I finally turned my attention to him, straining to keep myself from giving away the illness I felt. “What?”

            “You were tan,” he said. “When you moved from Arizona. You look like that now.” He smiled a toothy grin, his fangs touching to tip of his bottom lip.

I swallowed down the feeling of bile in my throat. I hadn’t looked like Arizona in a long time. The heat in Washington summer never turned me as dark as I had looked in Arizona. I imagined that girl, getting off a plane and finding a Dad I hadn’t seen in years waving me down. I imagined a girl who was sure of herself, who looked Edward dead in the eye and told him I had problem with his stare. I held myself as still as possible as I looked at him. I didn’t feel like the same girl anymore.

“What did you want to tell me?” I said, my hand drifting to cover my stomach as if that would keep the squirming contents held tight.

“I wanted to see if you were hungry,” he said.

The concept of food weakened my resolve and sent me tumbling. Before I knew what I was doing, I got up and started walking toward the bathroom. Edward stood, chasing after me to ask what was going on, but I stopped him with a finger and closed the rest of the distance to the bathroom.

I didn’t have time to turn on the light or wash my face with water. Kneeling before the toilet, I spit up my last meal into the bowl. Holding the seat with shaky hands, I threw up every last thing from my stomach and then leaned my head against the seat, not caring that my face was half inside the toilet. My whole body grew hot before the sweat clung to my skin and made me shiver against it. The rapid shift left my dizzy and reeling as I sat sprawled on the floor.

Soon, Edward appeared in the doorway and flipped on the light to look at me. I didn’t dare try to stand or move as I closed my eyes against the sting of vomit. For a long moment, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the strength to stand up, but it came, slowly and wearily against the cold bathroom tile.

“Bella, what’s wrong with you?” he asked, keeping a safe distance from me. If I had caught some kind of illness, there was no way I’d pass it on to him, but he seemed to hold himself back from me anyway.

“I don’t know, I—” As I placed a hand on my stomach where it still churned and swamped me with aches, I felt something shift deep inside me, like a worm burrowing its way through my intestines, blind and squirming. Before I could make sense of what this was, I was throwing up again, this time bile, which stung and burned all the way through my throat.

“What’s happening?” Edward asked a little more urgently.

I pressed my palm against the clammy flesh of my belly, feeling for whatever entity was squirming in my body. It inched, just a little, but I held myself down, keeping myself from losing what was left of my stomach bile. A moment passed and I was able to pull myself up to stand.

“I don’t know,” I said and braced myself against the sink as I stepped toward him. He stared at me with a look of disgust as I did and stepped back, like being so close to me would infect him. I stared at myself in the mirror to avoid letting his disturbed look get to me.

I was sweating and pale. The tan of my skin from weeks in the sun was washed out by the sheen of illness. Closing my eyes, I tried to put together what could have been happening to me. If there were worms in the meat or mold in the fruit. But we would have noticed. We were all alone here with an expensive kitchen that Carlisle created for Esme. One other thing came to mind, but my cramps were never like this. I didn’t even know what day it was, when I was supposed to begin my period again.

“How long have we been here?” I asked, still gripping the sink’s edge.

I looked up to Edward and found his gaze carrying a look of condescension, like he thought I was stupid for asking. I should have known, but nothing about this island felt right. I stared at him a moment longer.

“Edward,” I snapped, getting impatient.

“Three weeks,” he said blankly as if it was obvious.

“Three weeks,” I repeated. It couldn’t have been three weeks. I would have gotten my period some time ago, but I couldn’t remember the cramps or the blood. None of that had happened, not when we were here.

I raised my hand to my belly. No. That was impossible, but even as I thought it was impossible, I knew it couldn’t really be. I knew it was true even as I stood there wishing it wasn’t. I swallowed down the bile threatening my throat once again. I wasn’t going to be a mother. I was supposed to be a vampire.

“Edward,” I said, still trying to find the right way to explain what was happening. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have a parasite, although depending on who I asked, it could have been a parasite. I didn’t want it. I knew that with every pressing moment.

I’d watched Renee run away from her responsibilities to spend her summers traveling while she sat me with Charlie and disappeared. I’d made her dinners and soothed her anger. I’d mothered her from the age of ten and I didn’t want to do it again. Maybe I shouldn’t have resented her so much, but even as I stood here, my blood curdled at the thought of taking care of a child.

“Edward,” I repeated, because he said nothing, but just stared at me like I was a disgusting thing. “Edward is it possible?”

“You’re sick,” he said. “We’ll go to a doctor when the boat gets here. You’ll be fine.”

“No,” I told him. “I think I’m pregnant.”

His face turned from revulsion to confusion quickly before he settled back into his smug look. “No, you’re not,” he said.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “I think I am. Is it possible?”

“No,” Edward said. “It’s never happened before. Esme and Carlisle have been married for five years. It’s never happened.”

“But could it?” I asked. I thought of Esme, an odd surrogate mother for all the Cullen children. She was cold, but she was always there, a constant. I imagined she could have been a better mother than me.

“It’s not happening,” Edward said. “You’re being delusional.”

I shook my head. Before he could put any more distance between us, I grabbed his hand and placed it onto my belly, to the space I’d felt it before. I wondered if he’d be able to tell, if he’d be able to read the mind of something that didn’t quite have a brain yet. I felt the thing squirm inside me, and Edward snatched his hand back as revulsion crossed his face once again.

“Can it be possible?” I asked.

Edward stared at me, wide eyed and lost before he reached into his pocket and took out his phone. He left me standing there as he dialed the number, stepping out into the kitchen. I followed him behind, watching him pace the floor as his phone rang. I tried to imagine what he was thinking, but nothing could be discerned.

“Carlisle,” Edward snapped when the phone picked up on the other end. “Something’s wrong with Bella. We’re coming home.”

I couldn’t hear Carlisle on the other end as he spoke and I tried to lean closer to listen in, but Edward just stepped further into the kitchen to avoid me.

“No. She’s fine, but there’s been a complication,” Edward said and gave an exasperated sigh. “Would it be possible for a human to become pregnant by someone like me?”

The silent pause in the room turned the island into the depths of the ocean. Nothing could be heard for miles and miles until Edward finally nodded and hung up his phone with a click of the screen closing. I waited for his response, but he just looked to the phone in his hand as if it was cursed. Finally, a horn blared, breaking us out of our silent ocean.

We both looked up at the same time to find the boat closing in on the dock. The horn signaled again, blaring and shaking the very foundation of the house. With the fresh appearance of the boat, Edward moved into action.

“Get your things,” he snapped. “We’re going.”

“What?” I said, trying to process his meaning.

He grabbed me by the shoulders before I could move and held me an inch from his face. “Get moving. We need to go.”

When he let me go, I didn’t give him another reason to yell at me. I rushed back into the bedroom and threw my things into my suitcase. All the dizziness of having thrown up was gone now as I forced myself to put all my things together. I feel I left half of my things behind as I zipped up my suitcase. As soon as I stepped out of the bedroom, I could hear the yelling.

Edward was out of the house, the door wide open, his shoes nowhere to be seen. He stepped out onto the dock in broad sunlight and was shouting something to the captain’s wife in a foreign language. I hadn’t known he knew a word of Portuguese until we were already in Brazil. What else would I learn before the honeymoon was over?

I swallowed my fear and dragged my suitcase out toward the front door where I could see Edward shouting. The woman was holding a large crate in between the two of them as a buffer, stepping back every time he tried to step closer. By now, she’d seen his veins. There was no pretending we were a normal couple anymore.

Stepping out, I didn’t know what I was planning to do. I didn’t know any Portuguese and if the woman spoke any English at all, I couldn’t be sure she’d understand me. I stepped forward onto the dock and the woman’s anger died on her lips as she looked at me. She dropped the crate before her, mangoes and bananas spilled out until they bounced and rolled into the ocean. She gaped at me as I stepped forward.

“Bella, get in the boat,” Edward told me as he continued to eye the woman. I glanced to him and found his veins on full display. He seemed to grimace at the captain’s wife as she stared between the two of us, horrified.

From the boat, the captain yelled something, and the wife replied back with a shout of her own. I just looked between them, trying to discern something of what they were saying, but I was at a complete loss. To me, it sounded like gibberish, though I knew they were both scared, scared of the man trying to board their boat, the one they’d taken here, the one who looked like death itself.

“Edward,” I offered. “We can wait until nightfall. Like before.”

He didn’t seem to care about my suggestion however, because he grabbed me by the wrist as he shouted another string of demands at the woman. “Bella, get on this boat right now.”

“It’s okay,” I snapped. Even if I was pregnant, we’d have time. I was at most, three weeks pregnant and so we had time to figure this all out.

“No,” Edward snapped. “You will get on the fucking boat right now!”

I didn’t stop to question his anger with me. Instead, I squeezed the handle of my suitcase and stepped forward, toward the captain’s wife and the boat she was still trying to block entry to. She lifted her chin as I stepped forward. If she was planning to strand us here with no passage off the island, she wouldn’t make it that far. Edward was going to get what he wanted no matter what, and I didn’t want to be witness to anyone who tried to stop him.

“Please,” I said, though I couldn’t be sure she understood. “I need to get back home.”

The woman looked past me, to Edward who stood like a threat. For a moment, I was sure she’d made the decision to stop us before she looked to her feet and stepped carefully aside to let me aboard. I walked slowly past her and up onto the creaking boat where I could barely hold my balance with the shake of the waves.

Edward stepped aboard next. He hadn’t grabbed his suitcase or any of his things and I imagined he hardly cared. None of it was irreplaceable, and none of it really mattered. He wouldn’t sweat through his clothes, even in the hot sun. He could get up one day and disappear with nothing but the clothes on his back and no one would have to worry about him.

When he entered the boat, he sat down with me, his eyes darting between the captain and his wife all the while. I watched the wife climb onto the boat and hold herself tight against the rails as she stared daggers at the two of us. There was a long moment of staring between us all, the couple looking over Edward’s skin like he was some kind of venomous creature poised to strike. If it was any other vampire, they might have had a point.

Before long however, the captain restarted the engine and turned us back around toward the sea. It wouldn’t be sundown by the time we made it back to Rio. Edward had to be formulating some other plan for dealing with the sunlight and all the people.

The ride was long and silent, the captain’s wife staring daggers at Edward as he held me close. The wind whipped up around us all the while I waited in grim anxiety for the land to appear before us. The giant, stone arms of Jesus Christ could be seen first. He towered over the entire city as it came into view from our vantage point. I watched him grow closer, but my fears didn’t subside the closer we got to shore. We could have waited until we were set to leave. Edward must have planned for us to leave Brazil by night, but in his frenzy over my possible pregnancy, he’d panicked and forced us to leave by daylight.

The boat docked swiftly, and no one said a word as the rails were pulled open. Edward exited the boat first, not offering a single word to the captain or his shivering wife. As I got off the boat however, the woman stopped me, taking my wrist gently as if to help me off. Her eyes met mine in a horrified expression as she helped me off.

“What did he do to you?” she asked in a trim, shaky voice. I opened my mouth to answer, but she let go of me just as quickly and stepped back, escaping back to the safety of the boat. I stood on the docks, looking up at her as she moved away, never taking her eyes off the two of us.

“We need to move quickly,” Edward snapped, dragging me out of my lost thoughts.

I took his hand and followed him as he started into the city, ducking his head to avoid looking anyone in the eye. I had forgotten in all the time we spent alone on that island that here, no one would bat an eye at a strange display. It would be chalked up to festival make up or strange tourists. Almost no one looked up enough to notice the lines on Edward’s skin.

We made it to the airport without any issues. Edward hadn’t let go of my hand the whole way there, but as we stepped into the wide expansive interior of the airport, he found me a seat before the baggage check and told me to sit down.

“Wait here,” he said. “I need to take care of some things. I’ll be back soon. Our plane will be waiting.”

He didn’t give me the chance to argue, although I had quite a few arguments to offer. He disappeared out the doors of the airport before I could voice any of them, leaving me alone here as people pushed through security and a foreign voice directed the travelers. Edward left me alone in a crowded airport in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language, but as confused and defeated as I was, I let him leave me here.

For a time, I imagined he would never come back. I thought he’d left me here and found his own way to the airplane to return home without me. I thought he had decided he was better off without his miraculously pregnant wife who had been demanding to be a vampire for months without end. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t let myself, even as I imagined myself stranded.

Edward wouldn’t do that, I told myself, but he’d done a lot of things I had imagined he wouldn’t do in the past few weeks. I sat there, collecting myself and reminding myself that all of this would be over soon. I would get rid of the unwanted visitor and move on with my life. I would become a vampire and Edward and I would live together forever.

He didn’t come back for hours. The sun had gone down long ago when he finally walked through those doors again. He looked dead, like a ghostly visitor as he stepped through those doors with a heavy expression. I had been waiting for him long enough to become hungry, forget my hunger, and return to it again. I’d been imagining where he had been, but nothing about his appearance gave any of it away. As he approached me, he said nothing and simply took my hand to lead me to our plane.  

Chapter Text

When we returned to the SeaTac airport, Alice was already waiting for us. It seemed, she knew the exact moment we had decided to come home and had come to meet us to make sure we didn’t arrive alone. She stood before the baggage claim as we stepped down the escalator wearing a pure white ensemble like she had come from a baptism to greet us.

            Edward directed me toward her, pressing his palm against the small of my back to lead me across the busy floor. I had spent the flight in a dizzy state of discomfort, and I was still discombobulated with the change of time zone and the change of temperature. I stopped before Alice, folding my hands in front of me.

            “It’s good to see you back,” Alice said. “I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting home.”

            Nothing about her seemed to give anything away. If she knew about the fetus, she didn’t say anything. I leaned forward into her hug, placing my chin against her shoulder so I could reach her ear. “Do you know if there’s…” I couldn’t finish the question. I didn’t know what to say. How should she know I was pregnant before I did, but that was Alice. She knew everything.

            Slowly, she pulled me back, keeping her arms firmly on my shoulders. There was a sad look in her eye, and I couldn’t figure out if that meant she knew I was pregnant, or she knew I was not.

            “I can’t see you right now, Bella,” she told me. “Whatever is happening is something I cannot see.”

            I stared at her, hoping she was joking or that she would see something right then as she was looking at me, but her expression didn’t change. We were all in the dark now. Edward came up behind me as we stood, contemplating a future Alice couldn’t predict. He held my arm to keep me close as the crowds parted around us.

            “I’ll take your bag,” Alice told me. “We’ll get this all sorted out when we get home.”

            Home. I let her take my bag and followed close behind as Edward kept in line with me. After all this time, we were going home, back to Forks where I belonged. I knew that no matter how scared I was of what I thought was in my gut, I would have a family, a home to surround me. I’d have that forest where my heart rested.

            Edward drove us home in the Volvo, Alice next to him in the passenger seat and me in the back, holding my belly where that thing rested. I closed my eyes for the long way home and found time passing at a snail’s pace. It was nearing late afternoon by the time we passed into the forest I called home.

            As those trees rose up around me, I felt a warmth I hadn’t felt in all the time we’d been on the isle. Forks brought a peace into my thoughts that nothing could match. Even Edward’s usual presence didn’t have the same calming effect. In fact, Edward sent my head and heart into a frenzy that couldn’t easily be recovered from.

            I watched every inch of those trees as we drove through them, to old streets and through Forks. The old town looked just the same as I had left it, but something was so very different now. All the places I’d known had an old sheen to them like they were pictures in a history book. I looked at this place that held so many memories for me and it felt like I’d already lost it. Nothing had changed in Forks, but I had. I was a different person entirely.

            The woods past Elk Creek held that same tint. I watched them, wanting to reach out and touch their needles and leaves as I sat trapped in the confines of the car. When we finally pulled into the driveway of the Cullen house, I was near to bursting at the seams. I’d missed this place, the smell of this place, and I hadn’t realized how much I loved Forks until I’d come back, having been without it for weeks.

            I opened the door as the car was parked, but Alice was already there to help me out. She offered me a hand out of the vehicle and up to my feet. I took it, letting her guide me up the path toward the big glass doors. Before we reached them however, there were already people stepping out to meet us.

            Carlisle came out first, with Esme swiftly behind him. Her expression gave nothing away as always, but Carlisle had a look of joy, like nothing in the world was wrong. He reached out for me as I came up the steps and took my hands into his.

            “Isabella, my dear,” he said. “How was your trip?”

            “Unexpected,” Edward snapped as he passed us by and went into the house, not stopping to greet his parents at all.

            “It was fine,” I told him once Edward was gone. I could have added that Edward had screamed at the woman on the ferry or that they had seen his vampiric face, but I didn’t say any of that. I was sure it didn’t matter anymore. We wouldn’t see those people again.

            “It’s lovely to have you back. You look well,” he said. “Come. It seems we have a surprise on our hands.”

            “Right,” I said. If there was a pregnancy, Carlisle would be able to fix it. He’d take care of me and this whole nightmare would be over. Next time, Edward and I would be more careful. Next time, I’d be a vampire too.

            “Esme, why don’t you take her to my examination room,” Carlisle said, turning to his wife with that white smile still visible. “I will be there as soon as I speak to Edward.”

            Esme nodded and turned swiftly, walking into the house without stopping to ensure I was following. She didn’t make sure I could keep up like the others. She didn’t coddle me as I stepped through a door or turned a corner. Despite my condition, she continued to offer no sense of sympathy toward me.

            The room she took me to was large and open. A set of tables stood in the center of the room and between them, and examination bed like the many I had sat in at clinics and hospitals. On the tables, stood a few medical objects, some of them old and historic, as if Carlisle had collected them from years of acting as a doctor.

            I noticed a bell-shaped jar as I walked past the first table to find a seat on the examination bed. It stood on a wooden podium that fit to its shape with perfection. At the top there was a nozzle that connected the jar to a small machine with dials. I flicked my finger against the glass jar, creating a soft ringing sound.

            “It’s a vacuum chamber,” Esme told me. “From the forties. Carlisle has collected quite a few things from his time as a doctor.”

            “Does it work?” I asked.

            “It hasn’t been used in quite some time,” Esme said. “You can ask him when he comes in.”

            Before I could ask another question, she was starting to leave. She headed for the door swiftly, like she couldn’t stand to be in this room. “Wait,” I tried, hoping she’d stay with me, but she looked at me with a cold gaze as she stopped at the door jam.

            “He’ll be just a minute,” she told me.

            “I was wondering,” I said. “If you’ve ever gone through anything like this. You’re human, I mean. Did you ever…”

            “I never wanted children,” she said sharply. “I told Carlisle that when I met him. I’ve always taken my own precautions.”

            “I should have thought of that,” I said. But I hadn’t. I’d never been with anyone prior to that island with Edward and I wished I had. If I had thought of it, if my mother had talked to me about it all before, I would have known, but then again, I didn’t think it possible to get pregnant by him. I had thought I was safe.

            “Our mistakes become of us here,” she said. “We don’t get to make them twice.”

            I nodded and let her leave. This room felt cold all the sudden as I sat in complete silence, my eyes drifting back to the bell jar on the table until a clap shocked me out of disillusion, and I jolted my head up to find Carlisle standing in the doorway of the room. He wore a white coat now, like he did in the clinic, and I tried to smile as he strode across the room to meet me.

            “Edward tells me you had a bout of morning sickness today,” he said.

            I nodded, though with all the time that had passed, I doubt it could be called today at all. At any rate, I hadn’t slept in all that time since. My eyes hung droopily to my head as I looked at him, but he just kept smiling.

            “It could have been something you ate,” Carlisle said. “But he said you felt something inside.” Without warning, he placed a hand against my abdomen, pulled my shirt up a little to feel the bare skin. His touch was as cold as ice, as cold as Edward’s. I braced myself against his touch, crinkling my fingers in the paper on the examination bed.

            “I missed a period,” I told him. “It’s over a week late now.”

            “Right, at three weeks, you wouldn’t be able to tell,” he said. “So it might be a parasite messing with your cycle.”

            I wished it was a parasite. That would be easier than a pregnancy I didn’t want. Edward had already thrown a fit. If I could walk out of this room and tell him it was just a worm, all that horrifying worry would melt off his face. He’d go back to being the man I loved. But it was never that easy.

            Carlisle pulled a needle from the medical table next to me. My heart seemed to jump in my chest at the sight of the hollow pointed end. I tried to steady my breathing, but even the sight of it made my arm feel numb in the place Edward had bitten me almost a year ago.

            “I’m going to do a blood test,” he said. “That should allow us to see if you’re pregnant or if there’s a parasite. It will be easy, I promise.”

            I cringed as he pulled up the sleave of my shirt. With one hand, he held the needle and with another he dabbed a disinfectant wipe along my arm. I squeezed my eyes shut as he sunk the needle into my skin. My fingers twitched at my side, and I went cold as he took the blood. Needles never scared me this much before, but now the feeling of blood draining out of my body reminded me too much of that bite, of Edward taking vampirism away from me once already.

            After the needle was free from my skin, I opened my eyes to see the dark red liquid inside as Carlisle held it up before him. He smiled a little as I pulled a hair out from in front of my eye. It was clinging to my forehead with sweat. Without another word, he stepped away, leaving me alone in the examination room. I waited there alone, kicking my feet against the legs of the table that stood just within reach.

            It felt like hours had passed when he came back, and the sun was disappearing beyond the trees. The fluorescent lights in the examination room gave him a washed out look without the sun to illuminate through the windows. He didn’t have any test results or information with him, so I assumed he wasn’t done with the blood test, but he just smiled as he entered.

            “I’m going to set up an ultrasound for you,” he said. “This is good, but I want to be sure. In any case, you don’t have a parasite.”

            Maybe it was a good thing for him. A baby should have been a cause for celebration for a new couple, but I couldn’t be a mother and I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of Edward as a father. This fetus or whatever it was couldn’t be normal, not with me as I was and him not even human. Whatever child we could have together wouldn’t be a soft cooing baby. Something deep in my chest told me this thing was going to be a monster.

            After an uncomfortable ultrasound, Carlisle confirmed that it wasn’t a parasite, but an embryo. The revelation did nothing the quell my fear, and I sat rigid as we looked at the grainy image on the screen. Carlisle seemed to smile the whole time however, like he was ecstatic to have a new grandchild.

            I was tempted to ask him about options right then and there. All this could be so simple, but it still terrified me to think off all the possible complications. I stopped myself short as Carlisle started talking.

            “Edward will want to see this,” he said. “I’ll bring him in and then, we’ll be all done with this medical stuff for today.”

            I felt like a child the way he said that to me. As he left the examination room once again, I simmered in my own fear, wondering how Edward would react to the confirmation of this news. He hadn’t been happy when the pregnancy was just speculation. I imagined the bell jar next to me smashing to his rage.

            Carlisle left me alone in the room, my bare stomach open to the elements, covered in a sticky gel as I laid out waiting for their return. It didn’t take long for Carlisle to return, but in that time, I had imagined myself running and jumping through one of the large windows that faced the woods. I could have broken free, avoided the shards of glass on my bare feet and ran far away into the woods so that I wouldn’t have to tell Edward about this stupid mistake I had made.

            I was still lying on the examination bed when Edward stepped in behind Carlisle. His face gave nothing away and I wished I could tell if Carlisle had told him in the hallway or not. Even as he stepped forward, I couldn’t begin to understand what he might be thinking.

            “We have news,” Carlisle said, still smiling that pure white smile. He placed the ultrasound device on my stomach again and the screen lit up with a grainy image that looked like nothing but static to me. He pointed to a dot in the corner like it was anything special at all. He’d already told me it was a baby, but it just looked like more of the same to me. “That is the new member of the family.”

            Edward looked at the screen and not at me. He seemed transfixed by it, watching the images shift around the screen. I prepared myself for his rage. “We’re having a baby,” he said instead, softly.

            The excitement caught me by surprise, enough that I lost track of my solution to this problem. I was going to ask Carlisle to help me, to take me to the doctors I needed to talk to in order to get rid of the thing in my uterus, but as Edward turned to look at me, his eyes lit up and my head spun.

            “We’re having a baby,” he said, a little brighter. He looked like the happiest man in the world, smiling as he stared at me. “Is this even possible?”

            “I wasn’t sure until now,” Carlisle said. “But I believe it is. We’re looking at a miracle.”

            I looked at the screen again. It didn’t look like a miracle to me, but a problem, one that wasn’t going to go away so easily. By the look on Edward’s face, there was no way I could ask him to help me terminate it. He wanted this baby, and suddenly, the problem that should have been dealt with in a week or two was going to take months.

            “Edward,” I said, trying to force the truth out of me. I didn’t want this child. I didn’t want the responsibility or the fear of pain I might bring it. I was too young to be a mother and for all Edward’s unending wisdom, he didn’t seem to see that. “Are you sure about this?”

            Edward took my hand carefully into his. He grinned with his teeth. “Bella, this is our only chance. If we wait, then what? Are you going to wait to become a vampire until you’re sure?”

            I was sure. I was sure about being a vampire and I was sure about the child, but that wouldn’t matter, not to Edward or anyone else in this house. They would all get so swept up in the miracle and if I told them I didn’t want it, they would say I was too young and naive to make that decision, but I was too young to be a mother too.

            “I’ll think about it,” I told him like I really had a choice. At the end of this, Edward would tell Carlisle what he wanted, and Carlisle would do just that. “I think I’m just too overwhelmed right now.”

            “It was a long flight home,” Carlisle said. “Esme will take you up to your room so you can get some sleep. We’ll talk about all this more later.”

            Carlisle wiped the gel off my stomach and helped me to my feet, leading me up and out of the bell jar room to where Esme was waiting in the hall. He told her to get me anything I needed and then closed the door, leaving me alone with Esme in the hallway.

            “I understand what happened,” Esme said and then turned to lead me up toward my bedroom.

            When I stepped inside, it was exactly as I had left it. My wedding dress was still on the ground and my bed was unmade. I dragged myself under the heavy blankets and laid down, looking up at the white ceiling as Esme shut the door to leave me alone in this quiet room. The cold of this room did not change with the door closed to keep me tightly wound inside. I was safe here and when I woke up, I would be happy.

            I told myself it would all feel better as a soft feeling of fog wrapped its way back around my head. I was so tired that I let it take me without complaint, my will wearing thin to all the stressors of the day. Even with that thing in my belly, I was going to be just fine. Edward was going to take care of me as he always did. He loved me enough to make this family with me, even as unexpected as it was. How could I be mad at that?

            I rubbed my thumb across my stomach as I fell asleep, feeling the way it shifted a little with every touch. It wasn’t human, not with Edward as he was. Whatever was inside me would be special and I wasn’t sure what would become of me after it left.

            A knock came at the door, jolting me out of my sleep before I should have woken naturally. I sat up in the dark of my room, the clock on the table claiming it was four in the morning. It had to be my imagination at this hour of the night, but as I slid back down into the bed to fall asleep, the knock came again, harder.

            Carefully, I got up and padded over to the door. Before I opened it, I tried to rub the sleep from my eyes, but it stuck furiously. With a twist of the knob, I opened the door to find Alice standing patiently on the other side. She was smiling with her mouth closed, her hands clasped in front of her. There was no trace of a care that I was supposed to be sleeping. Behind her, Rosalie stood with her arms crossed and her gaze plain.

            “Bella,” Alice said. “Carlisle told me not to wake you, but oh, I’m just so excited.” Unable to contain her glee, she grabbed me by the shoulder and hugged me. When she pulled back, she didn’t look me in the eye, but to my belly, where that thing had stopped squirming about for a while.

            “Couldn’t this wait until the morning?” I asked her.

            “You’re going to have a baby,” Alice said. “This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened. Allow me this bit of happiness. I’m going to throw the baby shower and Rosalie will help me, don’t worry. I just wish I knew if it was going to be a boy or a girl.”

            “You don’t know,” I said. She’d said as much when I arrived home, but I still couldn’t believe it. Alice knew everything. If she couldn’t see this, Maybe I should be worried.

            “It will come to me eventually, but for now, we should start thinking about names,” Alice said.

            “She should start thinking about a casket,” Rosalie said. Alice turned back to her in a horrified look. “She looked like she hasn’t slept in days.”

            “Rose!” Alice snapped and then turned back to me to take a second look. “You should get some sleep. I’m sorry I bothered you.”

            “It’s okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

            I looked at Rosalie as Alice started to walk away, leaving me to my room alone. Rosalie stood there for a moment longer, watching me with that same condescending look on her face. She couldn’t exactly let me know that she had been looking out for me to make sure I got enough sleep. That would have suggested she liked me. I didn’t say anything back to her as I stepped into my room, and back into darkness.

Chapter Text

The baby was growing too fast. That first morning after I returned, I looked up everything I could about pregnancy, how long the morning sickness would last, how long until it would have a heartbeat, how long until we could tell the gender, but none of that seemed to match up with what was happening to me. In the first week, Carlisle kept checking for a heartbeat, but it never came. I just suspected it was still too early, but when he performed that next ultrasound in the bell jar room, it was making less and less sense.

            I had the information all printed off and hanging on my wall. I’d decided that if I really couldn’t get rid of this baby, I’d mark all the major events off as I went through them. I thought it would make all of this go by faster, but it just continued to make me feel anxious. At six weeks, there would be a heartbeat. At nine weeks, it would lose its little tail. At eighteen weeks, I would be able to tell if I was having a boy or a girl. It should have gone in roughly that time length and in that exact order.

            As Carlisle looked once again at the grainy screen that showed the fetus inside me after a week of being home in the Cullen’s house, I stared at him rather than the image that was supposed to be my baby. He had a perplexed look on his face, like he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Another moment passed as he squinted at the screen.

            “Now that’s not right,” he said, mostly speaking to himself. For a moment, I was sure I had miscarried, and my heart leapt a little. I didn’t know if it was regret or relief, but my tongue went dry in my mouth.

            “What is it?” I asked.

            “By the looks of this, I would say you’d have to be at least ten weeks pregnant,” Carlisle said. “You didn’t…”

            What Carlisle was asking dropped off his lips as he gazed at me. There was judgment like I had never seen on him before. The idea that Edward and I had been together before we got married disgusted him to his core. I didn’t even know how to respond to the accusation. It shouldn’t have been such a big deal if I had, but I hadn’t and that made the problem so much worse.

            “My first time with Edward was on our honeymoon,” I told him. I didn’t want to go into any more detail than that, but it was obvious something was wrong.

            “You’re sure?” Carlisle asked. He still had that judgment in his eyes like he thought I was lying.

            “I’m sure,” I said. “At most, I guess I’d be a month pregnant.”

            “Eight weeks,” Carlisle said. “Minimum judging by this. How do you feel?”

            I touched the little bump that was starting to form on my belly. This wasn’t right, but I had nothing to base it off. I was an only child with a mother that couldn’t sit still long enough to go through a pregnancy a second time. Alice, and Rosalie, and Esme had never been pregnant before, so I was alone in this.

            “I don’t know,” I said. “I still have morning sickness sometimes.”

            “That should end soon,” he said. “There’s still no heartbeat.”

            No heartbeat for an eight week old fetus should have meant a miscarriage, but I was imagining something much worse. I wasn’t having a baby, not a human one anyway. Whatever Edward had given me was a disturbing concoction of something not quite human, not quite vampire.

            This wasn’t how vampires were made. They weren’t supposed to grow or change. But this one was growing, and it was growing fast. I felt shaky just thinking about it, and my hands trembled over the bare bump. The baby or whatever it was kicked, jabbing against my skin. I held back from screaming or crying. I wanted all of this to go away, but the look on Edward’s face when he learned he was going to be a father stopped me. If I could get rid of the child, I would have, but he would have never forgiven me. For as much as he loved me, I felt suddenly second place to the unnamed, inhuman thing inside me.

            “Is this all for today?” I asked. I didn’t want to cry in front of Carlisle, not while he looked at the static on the screen like it was a miracle. There was no one in this house that would believe me when I told them I didn’t want this baby. No one would take my fears seriously. I couldn’t even lament the life I was losing by becoming a mother I didn’t want to be.

            “I will talk to Edward about this,” he told me. “For now, you should rest. Have Esme make you something to eat. You’re eating for two now.”

            I nodded because I didn’t want to talk about this more, but I did wonder as I left the examination room, what it was he was going to say to Edward. This was my life I was risking for a parasite growing at double the usual pace in my gut. It was my life that was changing every second it remained inside me. It didn’t have a heartbeat, so it wasn’t alive, I told myself. What did that make every vampire in this house?

            I found the kitchen quiet. Esme was busy at the sink, washing the dishes that she had only just finished with. She didn’t notice me walk in until I knocked against the table. With a jolt, she looked up, her eyes wide and afraid until she recognized the other human in the house.

            “Hi, sorry,” I said. “I was just looking for something to eat.”

            “Of course,” Esme said and dropped her dish back into the sink. “Sit down, I’ll make you something.”

            I did as she asked and sat across from her as she turned to the fridge to pull out various ingredients for a sandwich. As she began to lather up the bread with mayo, she offered me a dubious look that made me half scared she’d seen all the fear I was trying to hide from her and the others.

            I was too afraid to tell anyone in this house that I didn’t want the baby. At eighteen, I wasn’t ready to be a mother and I wasn’t sure I ever would be. I thought of my parents, married so young and with a baby on the way within the year. Was I just like them? Clueless and naïve, thinking that love was pure, and a baby would make our family complete? It might make Edward happy, but I wasn’t sure a child would do the same for me, and suddenly I felt bad about the thought.

            I didn’t want to be like my mother, callus and lonely, so desperate to leave everywhere she stopped. I didn’t know how long we would stay in Forks. From what Edward had said, we’d leave as soon as I was a vampire and start our new second life together. The pregnancy threw a wrench into that plan. I almost wished the pregnancy would last longer if it meant I’d spend more time among these trees.

            Esme caught me lost in thought as she slid the ham sandwich across table to my seat. An eyebrow was raised in contemplation as Esme decided whether or not she was allowed to ask me what I was thinking about. Eventually, she just wiped off her hands and stood back.

            “You’re getting bigger,” she said. “That’s good.”

            I looked down to my belly where the bulge was becoming apparent. I didn’t have much to say to that. I might have been getting bigger, but I felt worse, weaker. As my body changed to accommodate the fetus inside me, I was losing all the energy I had to stay on my feet. It felt like the baby or whatever this thing was would take over every cell of my body with it when it left me. It was sapping me of my essence, slowly like a waterfall eroding the rocks at the bottom.

            “It’s growing too fast,” I said. She knew my problem well enough. The whole house did by now. What Carlisle said today wasn’t the first tip that the baby was growing too fast. We’d known it from the time I came home two weeks pregnant with morning sickness that shouldn’t have started until week six.

            “That’s why you need to eat,” Esme said. She was trying to be calm, but I knew this had to scare her too. As much as she acted coldly to me, I knew she had to care. Even if she thought I was just a stupid, clueless girl, there was something of kindness in her too.

            I looked at the sandwich before me. I was starving, but something about it looked wrong. The idea of eating this sandwich turned my stomach, like it would just sit, a cold lump in my body. I picked it up and forced myself to take a bite, cringing at the textures as I chewed and swallowed bitterly.

            Esme watched me try to eat it and turned away as if to ignore my disgust at her cooking. There was nothing wrong with it, physically. Everything was just how I had eaten them a million times before, but something about it was slimy and wrong now. I finished the sandwich in uncomfortable silence, forcing each bite down my gullet with more disgust than the last. Finally, when I slid the plate over toward the sink, Esme looked back at me.

            “Why don’t we go for a walk?” she asked. “It’s a lovely day.”

            Esme had never offered to spend time outside with me. She always seemed confined to her work around the house or to Carlisle’s side. I was sure I had seen her out of this kitchen without Carlisle, but it just seemed like that was where she spent her time, confined to the one room in the house the vampires never went.

            “Okay,” I said. “What do you have in mind?”

            “Why don’t you show me that meadow,” Esme said. “The one you and Edward always talk about.”

            “It’s a long trip,” I said. With my limited energy and Esme’s lack of experience in hiking, I wasn’t sure we could make it, but I stood up anyway and reached for my boots at the back door. “But I know the way.”

            Esme followed me out, putting on shoes of her own. She only had tennis shoes that weren’t really made for hiking. We’d have to be careful, but I didn’t say a thing to try and stop her as we headed outside. I wanted to get out of this house even if we didn’t make it all the way to the meadow. At the very least, Esme brought a water bottle and backpack with her before we left.

            As we started through the darkened path of the woods, my heart felt a little lighter and my body didn’t feel so weighted down to the ground. The deep mountain air brought my head back to my shoulders as we traversed into the woods which I called home. It felt good to be back here, surrounded by familiar plants and greenery. If I was going to survive motherhood, I needed to be surrounded by the place I loved. I couldn’t bear to leave it again.

            The further we got, the more alive I felt, but as sweat dripped along my forehead, I knew getting to the meadow was going to be difficult. I looked back for Esme as she struggled to stay in step with me. She was still a few feet behind me as we moved up another hill toward our destination. She was heaving loudly as we neared a flat stretch.

            I ignored it, the pain in my sides and the quiet grunts of Esme behind me, until we neared the paths I knew so well. It had been too long since I’d been here. Living with the Cullens for most of the past year meant we spent every waking moment working on wedding preparations. In the week since I’d been back from Brazil, I hadn’t been out here once. As I reached the top of the hill, however, my heart sank at the revelation of what was before me.

            The meadow, wide and filled with sun, was dull and grey. All the grasses had wilted and turned brown like they had been scorched by the heat of the sun. there were no flowers, no buds, no flitting bees, just wilt. I stepped into the meadow, dead leaves crunching under foot. Behind me, Esme rushed to catch up and stopped as she saw the same dead expanse that I saw.

            “Is it usually like this?” Esme asked as she got her bearings in the grove.

            I just shook my head. The wind blew through the meadow, shifting and shaking the grasses that were left. I found the flattened part of earth where Edward and I had always laid out our blankets to sit. I knelt down before it, feeling the poor, deadened meadow before me.

            “It wasn’t like this the last time I was here,” I said. “Everything is dead.”

            My joy at being out in the woods again was overshadowed by the sheer grief of seeing this place so dead. The pain reached up into my throat and threatened to spill over with tears, but I stood up. This place wasn’t my own anymore, but I wasn’t alone. I told myself it would be okay. The flowers would come back; the rain would bring everything back to life.

            “I’m sorry,” Esme said. I looked up to her. despite her exhaustion, she was standing tall and erect with no sign of weakness to be seen. Sometimes, I wish I had her strength.

            “It’s okay,” I said. “It will come back. Now that we’re here, though, I thought you could tell me something.”

            “And what is that?” Esme asked, sharp and direct.

            I clamored up at the thought of asking her about getting rid of the baby. The Cullens hadn’t given me the option to choose so any action to the contrary felt like a betrayal. Edward wanted this baby, and as much as I feared every day after it was born, I couldn’t break his trust like that.

            “Why does Rosalie hate me?” I asked instead.

            Esme looked at me like she knew I wanted to ask something else but sighed as she stepped toward me a little in the meadow. “Rosalie is in her own little world,” Esme said. “And you can’t tell a soul what I’m telling you now, but I’m sure she knows I think it.”

            This was probably the most I’d heard out of Esme since we’d met. It seemed that out here in the woods, she felt freer too. “Cross my heart,” I said. I didn’t finish the thought, though the ending phrase hung between us.

            “She is not much younger than Edward as I’ve heard,” Esme said. “She never talks about her own past. I’ve had to pull her story from the context. Carlisle found her alone, dying in the streets in Boston. The people who did that to her, they didn’t survive much more than a few years after her death.”

            “She got revenge,” I said.

            Esme nodded. “If she hates you, it’s for the same reason she hates me. She hates that you have a choice.”

            I didn’t have a choice, I wanted to say. I didn’t have a choice about the baby or how long I waited to become a vampire. I had wanted it from the moment I knew about it and every moment until now has been another struggle, another hoop to jump through. If I thought back to it, I wasn’t sure I remembered exactly why I had wanted to become a vampire in the first place. It all felt so long ago now.

            “Esme,” I said, working up the nerve to say what I had really wanted to ask her. “I was wondering. Could we go to Port Angeles? We could have someone else take a look at the baby and maybe…”

            “Don’t,” Esme said. Her eyes turned to fire as I looked up to her. She stood before me, a few steps away, but I was sure she was going to close the distance and slap me. Instead, she pointed a hard, shaking finger at me. “Don’t tell me what you’re about to say.”

            My heart thudded in my chest, like a hammer striking a nail, beating it down. “I don’t want to have this baby,” I admitted.

            “Don’t you say another word,” Esme snapped. “I will not hear it.”

            I wanted to cry before her. She had said she never wanted children, but somehow, she couldn’t understand how I would want to get rid of this one. Just like the rest of them, the idea of eliminating this fetus, this miracle, this problem was completely out of the options. No one could risk letting me make this decision myself.

            “Please, Esme,” I said. “Understand.”

            Esme looked away, back the way we came toward the house. “We’re going back, and you will not say another word to me about this, alright.”

            I couldn’t help letting a few stray tears spill over, but I nodded vigorously and followed her as she started back the way we’d came. Hanging my head, I followed her, everything thumping and rushing around inside me. I could feel the fetus kick again and I held my belly as I walked down the dirt path.

            We didn’t make it back home before I heard Edward’s voice calling for me through the trees. He seemed to echo and at first, I thought it was a memory running through my head, before Esme stopped and I nearly slammed into her. She was looking up, her finger against her lips. I waited for her to say something, but the next words I heard were my name, shouted among the trees.

            “Bella!” the voice called, rising through the trees into the soft, damp air. “Bella?”

            We waited a moment longer, before Edward stepped out from the path, quick and agile on his feet like a fox. His eyes went wide when he found us, those voids drawing me in like black holes.

            “I was looking for you everywhere,” he snapped. “Where have you been?”

            “I just went on a walk,” I told him as he came up, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me in. “Esme has been with me the whole time.”

            “I was worried sick,” Edward said. “You can’t go out like this. The baby.” He held his hand to my belly, and I almost backed up instinctively, but his other hand held the small of my back, keeping me in place.

            “The fresh air did me some good,” I said. “Everything is okay.”

            My eyes darted to Esme who was standing as stiff as a board. Her mouth was set into a grim line, a mask of apathy, but it slipped just enough for me to see her anxiety. Even without looking at her, Edward sensed it too. He sensed something else as well, because he let go of me, his face churning up in a look of pure rage.

            “You wanted to get rid of the baby!” he snapped.

            I looked to Esme, aghast before I realized what had happened. He’d read her mind and the thoughts that had bubbled to the surface by my line of questioning. It suddenly dawned on me why she hadn’t wanted to me to say it out loud. Her hearing it meant Edward heard it too. I turned on him, opening my mouth to draw out an explanation, but nothing came.

            “You were going to go behind my back to destroy our family,” he spat. “I don’t understand why you would do such a thing.”

            “I didn’t—” I stuttered, but I didn’t know what to say to make this go away. I had only thought about it, had only asked about it, but that was as bad as having done it already.

            “What are you so scared of?” Edward demanded. “This is what we wanted. We get to live together, to start a family and you’re just trying to throw all that away!”

            “This isn’t what I wanted,” I snapped back. The hike had cleared my head, but I was starting to become exhausted, like I might just fall over where I was. The weight returned to my shoulders in his presence and his rage.

            “You’re going to throw this miracle away because you didn’t think you’d be a mother,” Edward said. “And what about me? I’ve never had the chance to become a father.”

            I was crying. I didn’t know when I had started, but the tears were streaming down my cheeks in a current. “You never asked me,” I said, my voice growing hoarse with every syllable.

            “I thought you would be happy about this,” he snapped back. “We’re lucky, okay. Not everyone has this chance. I know Rosalie would want it. Alice would want it.”

            I’m not them, I wanted to say, but the thought died on my lips. My tongue grew heavy and sluggish in my mouth, and I couldn’t breathe a word. I wanted to yell at him, to bring my voice higher than his own, but the world was feeling dark. My vision tunneled and spun as I looked at him. I hadn’t realized just how much that hike had worn me out. All my anger dissipated along with all my energy too. Before I knew what was happening, I couldn’t see a thing and my body went limp and numb.

            I woke briefly to the feeling of myself being carried. The ground thumped in a steady beat as I laid like death in a pair of heavy, tightly wound arms. I was out of reach again before I could even lift my eyes open to see my surroundings.

            “Never ask to get rid of this baby again,” Edward’s voice came, drawing through the shadows to reach me. I couldn’t move or open my mouth as he carried me back to the house.

Chapter Text

I didn’t manage to get outside again after that hike with Esme. In fact, I was rarely alone anymore the longer I spent pregnant. Alice or Rosalie accompanied me everywhere when Edward wasn’t there to watch over me. The Cullens even staggered their hunting trips so I would never be left alone with Esme again. I had never been part of the conversation, but it was obvious that Edward had told the rest of the Cullens about my conversation with Esme.

            So as long as Alice couldn’t see my future and I was still pregnant, I would be watched like a child in need of a babysitter. All while I waited, the fetus growing more and more inside me, I felt weaker. My body seemed to betray me with the growth of the child, shaping out of my very blood and flesh into something I wasn’t sure I would recognize as a baby when it was born.

            The kicking grew harder and more constant, slamming against the inside of my body like a prisoner trying to break free. I thought once, while I was lying in bed, rubbing a slow hand over my belly that I saw a shape peak through, like a hand grasping at the edges of my skin. The hand reached for mine and in my panic, I screamed loud enough to send Alice running into my room. Nothing about it felt like a baby, like how a pregnancy was supposed to feel, growing gently over many months. Instead, within a month of my being back, my belly was stretched into a distended bump that my shirts did not fit entirely over the top of.

            I breathed in and out, trying to steady myself as Alice rushed to my side. Even as she came to my side, I couldn’t stop staring at that spot on my belly as if the hand would reach through again and burst the skin holding it inside. My face grew hot and sweaty as terror set in. This wasn’t me and it wasn’t my body. Whatever I was pregnant with was a monster and I was sure it would take me with it.

            “Bella, its okay,” Alice said as she reached for my hand.

            I slapped her away and tried my hardest to sit up. As weak as I was, I could barely hold myself up by my own strength. Everything of myself had been sapped. The world spun as I tried to stand. Alice held out a hand to hold me up, but I batted her away even more as I moved toward the bathroom.

            “Bella,” Alice snapped to me. “Are you okay?”

            Alice didn’t usually have to ask if I was okay. She always knew what was happening before it was happening. She was always keeping an eye on me, but no one could really keep an eye on me now. No one knew what was really happening. Even Carlisle with all his medical knowledge was at a loss.

            I shuffled into the bathroom and turned on the light, finding the sink which I rested my frail hands against. Looking down at them, they didn’t look like my hands anymore. The fingers were too narrow and boney, the shape of a skeletal hand poking through at the skin. I swallowed back my fear as I looked at them, the nails chipping off and bleeding. Bleeding in a house of vampires was dangerous enough.

            When I finally got the courage and looked up to the mirror, the woman before me was not myself. The features of my face were no longer plump with youth and color. I was grey, the color of the light through the clouds and under my eyes, the darkness of night. My skin had turned to wrinkles, hanging from my face where there was no fat or muscle to hold it in place. In the last week, my hair had started to fall out in clumps and now what was left of it hung in grease and grime to my shoulders.

            I looked more like a corpse than a person. All the life had been sapped from me, little by little everyday with the growth of that thing in my belly. Even my eyes had lost some of their green, turning more grey than anything. All of me had been drained, all except my belly, which sat plump and fat, growing by the day. I held the edges of the sink with all the strength I could muster and stared at my belly, willing it away, willing all of this gone.

            It was eating me. The child inside me, the thing that was meant to be my child was eating me up, every drop of blood, every bit of fat and muscle and tendon. As I stared at myself in the mirror, I wanted to cut it out of me, to break the mirror and drag the shards across my swollen belly. All my anger fell though, as Alice took hold of me, dragging me back into her as she hugged me.

            The world went quiet as she held onto me, the wind rushing in through my ears. Everything turned to white noise for a long moment until her voice broke through it, shushing me.

            “Everything’s okay, Bella,” she said. “We’re here to take care of you. We’re here. Edward will be back soon.”

            I didn’t want Edward back, though. As much as I loved the man, I hated him for making me go through this. I hated his determination to see us as a family. He had been happy before, just him and me, but this baby had made him a lunatic. Every moment I spent away from him, I hated him.

            I tore my gaze away from my reflection, the dead woman in the mirror, and let my tears fall as Alice kept holding me, shushing me with every broken whimper. She walked me back to my room at a slow, melancholy pace and returned me to the confines of my bed. She knelt down next to me as I held myself tight, wrapping my arms around my midsection as if I could make the swelling of my belly go down.

            “You’re not alone here,” Alice told me as she pulled a stray hair away from my face and part of it dropped from my scalp and draped over her nail. She didn’t take notice of it at all.

            “I’d like to be alone,” I told her. “Just for a while.”

            She nodded and stood up to her full height. “I’ll be right outside the door if you need anything,” she said and stepped away from me. She left the door open a crack as she disappeared.

            If I had cried, she would have heard me, whether the door was closed or not. I held back my tears all the while I sat there, staring out the window to the forest down below. I stayed there watching, too tired to move until the sun started to set and a set of figures stepped out of the woods toward the house.

            Edward was as clear as day. He was a beacon against the shade, someone I could see in any crowd. He came out of the woods in a shade of red. His skin was painted with it, all along him mouth and down his chin. It stained his shirt all the way down his chest, a splatter of darkened crimson that made me shiver to watch him walk.

            As he got closer, he looked up toward my window and paused. Behind him, his brothers followed, covered in their own spatter of blood. Seeing him there made me freeze like I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to. I’d gotten used to the blood. It didn’t scare me anymore, but Edward’s eyes were cold and distant, still stuck in the hunt.

            He watched me for what felt like hours, though it was likely no longer than a minute, and then he left, following Emmett and Jasper up the walk to the house. I heard the door open and close behind them far below. They’d come home and that was supposed to make me feel safe, but I didn’t know what I was feeling anymore.

            I fell asleep soon after. Edward never came upstairs to check on me, but I assumed he talked to Alice about my outburst earlier that day. It was all said and done, so with all my strength gone, I’d fallen into a listless and twisting sleep, waking up at odd hours to stare at the ceiling above me. Nothing stayed for long.

            When I woke the next morning, it was to the sound of the birds in the window. In the summer heat, I’d left the window open a crack and through it, loud chirping birds chattered about, disappearing and coming back in their various conversations. I opened my eyes to the plain white ceiling where shadows from the morning spread out to cover everything.

            I breathed in, hoping for some chance of relief today and moved the blankets off me to stand up. The weight of me stepping onto my feet, however, did not balance out. My legs wobbled and collapsed under me. I fell at a weird angle, using my hands and my brittle nails to break my fall.

            The pain the lanced up my legs and up my arms where I held myself was a dark splinter, like every piece of me reverberating up to my spine. I cried out as the shock drained away, leaving me with this horrible, crushing pain. My vision went cloudy for a minute, but all around I could hear the thumping and heavy footsteps of people racing to meet me.

            Edward came into the room first, dropping to my side as soon as he found me. His hands reached out for me, finding my delicate hands now torn with missing and broken nails. As he touched me, he stared at the streaks of blood for a long time, licking his lips a little as his eyes went blank.

            “Edward,” I said, hoarse and desperate. I needed help, but he was too preoccupied with my blood. “Edward.”

            “You’re okay,” he finally snapped, turning his gaze to meet mine. “Everything is going to be okay.”

            “I’m not sure,” I hissed. The pain was still climbing its way up my legs. “I don’t think I can walk.”

            Edward nodded. “I’ll carry you,” he said.

            Before I could argue, he had looped his hand under my leg and brought me up into his arms like a bride or a baby. He moved slow, watching the movement of my chest as he took me downstairs toward Carlisle’s examination room. I closed my eyes on the stairs, afraid he would drop me, and when I opened them, Edward was coming through the door into the examination room.

            He set me down carefully on the exam table, next to the bell jar that shined with morning light. I swallowed back tears as Carlisle stood back, looking at me like I was a strange and interesting research specimen. I felt like a research specimen. I was the experiment that would prove if vampires could have hybrid children. Whatever I was going to have wasn’t human, but I wasn’t so sure it was vampire either.

            A moment of silence passed as Carlisle stared at me, thinking to himself about what could possibly be done. I held onto the only piece of me that felt alive, the belly where a creature who’s heart didn’t beat slumbered, growing. This room, for all the time Carlisle spent in here with me, trying to devise a plan and a diet, scared me the most. Some part of me was sure I was going to die in this room. Maybe even today as I sat, skin and bones, unable to walk.

            “I believe it will be best if she does not move around too much,” Carlisle said. “For the rest of the pregnancy, she will remain in bed.” He looked to Edward with a sorrowful gaze. He’d stopped looking at me all together.

            “No,” I snapped. Although I couldn’t exactly argue when I couldn’t stand. “I can’t just be stuck upstairs alone while you figure out how to keep me alive.” I couldn’t be the victim, not when the thing killing me could have been gone weeks ago. Now, I was sure it was too late. The damage was already done.

            “I will take care of you,” Edward said. “I promise, nothing bad will happen to you.”

            “You can’t hide me away,” I said, near to a whisper. If there was any strength in me at all, I was sure I would have cried.

            “She could use some sunlight,” Carlisle said to Edward instead of to me. “Take her out to sit in front of the East window after I finish my tests with her.”

            I gritted my teeth as Edward nodded and left the room, leaving me with Carlisle while he took blood samples and another ultrasound. I watched that parasite inside me move a little bit in the ultrasound imaging and seethed to think it was close to killing me. We hadn’t even heard its heartbeat yet. It didn’t have one, and it never would.

            “We’ll have Edward or one of the others carry you about from now on,” Carlisle said as he put away his equipment. I didn’t dare to ask him why he didn’t just get me a wheelchair or some other walking implement. Based on the way this baby was growing, I wasn’t sure it would matter for long.

            When Carlisle opened the door, Edward stepped in and lifted me up under the legs and the arms to carry me off to the living room to find an east facing window for me to sit in for the rest of the morning. I didn’t say a word to Edward as he sat me down. I just glared up at him. I didn’t have the words or the strength to fight him on this.

            Turning my attention away from him, I looked out the window, to the forest beyond the glass. I was going to be spending quite a while looking at the forest beyond the glass, I thought. There wasn’t the strength to do much of anything else. So I let my weight drop as I sat, all of my tension releasing.

            “Bella,” Edward said, still standing behind me. I didn’t want to look at him, though I knew I couldn’t hate him for long. I never could. My hatred always slipped through my fingers like sand. “You’re going to be okay.”

            I didn’t even have the strength to shake my head. “Go away, Edward,” I said. I’d hold onto my anger for as long as it lasted me.

            “It will be worth it,” he told me. “In the end, we’ll be a family.”

            In the end, he’d have a child and I would be dead. That was a very real possibility now. If Edward had a plan for keeping me alive, he wasn’t telling me any part of it. Instead, we were all just watching me waste away.

            “I’d like some time alone,” I said.

            Behind me, I heard Edward step away, though he hadn’t left the room when he said, “I’ll have Alice look in on you.”

            I spent much of that morning in silence as Alice spoke to me about baby clothes and names and whether it was going to be a boy or a girl. There was nothing I could say to get her to stop, so I allowed her to continue on, speaking as if I would end up with any say in this at all. I watched the forest breathe outside. I ate what little I could. And I felt like death itself.

            In the afternoon, Edward moved me to the Western side of the house to watch the sun make its way down the sky to the ground. There, the Cullens left me alone for a while and I managed to fall asleep in the afternoon sun.

            It was dark when I woke, the sun having disappeared behind the trees, but the lights of the house illuminated the ground outside enough for me to see the wolf stalking the outskirts of the property. I blinked, expecting it to disappear, but the creature just turned, moving from one side of the lawn to the other as it watched the area.

            I wanted to stand up and open the window to call him over, but the windows before the forest didn’t open at all. They were tall to let in the sun, but that was all. Pressing a hand against the glass, I willed Jacob to see me, to know at the very least that I was home safe and alive. He was probably still worrying about me becoming a vampire.

            My hand grew cold against the glass as I stared out to the wolf at the edge of the light. Behind me, I heard a commotion as in the other room, everyone stood up, noticing the new presence at once.

            If I could have stood, I would have rushed out to where they were to stop them. I recalled too quickly Jacob’s broken bones and bloody face the last time he’d come to the Cullens doorstep to try and see me. A sudden rush of fear spread through me, and I braced my hands against the window ledge, trying to pick myself up.

            “Stop,” I said, but my voice was weak and garbled with all my sudden warped fear. I didn’t want to see Jacob hurt again and I didn’t want to be locked up in this house where I couldn’t do a thing about it. “Stop.”

            “Bella, don’t. You’ll hurt yourself,” a voice said from behind me. I twisted my head to see Alice standing in the doorway, light cascading over her from behind. Beyond that, Edward was lacing up a heavy pair of boots.

            “Alice,” I cried. “You have to stop them. He’s not going to hurt you.”

            “It’s better if you just don’t look,” she said. “The boys will take care of this. Come on, let me carry you to your room.”

            “No,” I croaked. The world was spinning around me. If I had been standing, I would have fallen. “I want to talk to him.”

            Alice shook her head. “Once he finds out about the baby, it won’t matter that he’s your friend. It’s in his blood.”

            But it wasn’t. Not really. Jacob had made a vow to protect the natural world and he could break that vow at any moment. It was a choice he made everyday to do what he thought was right. Jacob, for all his promises, loved me enough to listen. He’d done it before, and he’d do it again.

            “Let him talk to me,” I said. If Alice truly loved me, she’d try to understand. She’d give me the chance to explain myself and if it came down to it, she’d protect me. I had to trust that it wouldn’t come down to that.

            Alice gave me a look of regret that made me think she was going to watch the rest of the Cullens kill Jacob in front of me. Instead, she sighed and looked behind her. “Give me a moment.”

            She was out the door in a second and I held my breath for as long as it took for her to come back. When she did, it was with Edward and Emmett behind her. I waited patiently for Edward to tell me Jacob was dangerous, that he couldn’t be allowed in the house. My heart was thudding too fast for me to hear anything they said, so in complete silence, the two of them stepped apart to reveal a boy with long hair and baggy jeans.

            Jacob stepped forward toward me, but Alice’s hand was there in a second to block him from stepping any further. He stood out in the light while I stood in complete darkness, obstructed from a real view. Here, he wouldn’t be able to see me in my entirety.

            “I heard you were back,” he said. “And I wanted to see…”

            He didn’t finish the thought. We both knew what it was he was wondering. “I’m still human,” I told him. For now.

            “I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said. “I thought the Cullens would disappear again and take you with them.”

            The light behind him obstructed his face too much for me to see his expression, but I could hear the pain in his voice. He thought he would never see me again, that I’d be something else when I got back, and I’d wanted to be. Only the thing in my gut was keeping me from that.

            “What stopped you?” Jacob asked.

            Edward stiffened a little next to him. They were all afraid that the moment Jacob learned I was pregnant, this wouldn’t be a simple visit anymore. They would have to tear him apart. It was that or he’d kill every vampire in this room. I thought I could convince him, but with Edward so stiff behind him, I wasn’t sure anymore.

            I tried to come up with an excuse to explain the situation, why I wasn’t a vampire yet, why I was even here. I couldn’t come up with one, but if I told him the truth, I’d be turning this room into a bloodbath.

            “I wanted more time,” I said.

            Jacob looked behind him to Edward and Emmett. “Can I have a moment without the entourage?”

            “No,” Edward replied, stark and crisp.

            “Then I’ll speak plainly,” Jacob said. “You look sick, Bella. Can you come over here so I can see you?”

            I held tightly to the blanket that was covering my belly. Even if I could walk, I couldn’t show Jacob this. My face wasn’t my own anymore. It was stripped of all its color. “No,” I told him, and I hated the way the word sounded on my mouth.

            There was a long pause between us and all that could be heard were the cicadas and shifting wind outside. I felt like we were miles apart as Jacob tried to read my voice, my expression from as far as he stood.

“Your Dad misses you,” Jacob said. “I haven’t told him you’re back yet. I think he’d come looking too.” Something about the sound of his phrasing made me think he understood something. He didn’t need to hear me say it to know I was weak, I was dying.

“Don’t tell him I’m back yet,” I said. I couldn’t let him see me this way. “I want to surprise him.”

Jacob nodded, though I could barely see it. “Okay. I won’t tell him,” he said. “But you should visit him soon. I think it would be good for him to see you one last time before you leave.”

He didn’t say before I turned into a vampire even though that was what he was thinking. I wasn’t thinking about vampirism though. I was imagining my own death.

“I will,” I told him.

We didn’t have the chance to say our goodbyes. Emmett pushed him back and out the doors of the house to send him back where he came from. I watched him disappear back toward the woods and toward town. I couldn’t be sure if he would head back to La Push or if he would go find Charlie to tell him when he’d seen. I didn’t have the strength to think about it as Edward came to kneel down next to me.

In this dark room, I could see nothing of his face, and he looked downward as he spoke to me, his eyes resting on my swollen belly instead. “You did the right thing,” he said although I felt like I’d lost my whole heart.

Chapter Text

Jacob didn’t come back to the Cullens’ house again, and on some level, I should have known that was how it was going to end between us. My friendship with Jacob was over when I got married, but I would always miss him a little bit. Somewhere on the Quileute reservation, maybe in that barn fixing up old cars, Jacob was missing me too.

            August passed in a daze. I rarely had the strength to walk, and when I did, it was shaky and slow. I didn’t leave the house at all but remained under the close eyes of the Cullens who were all just waiting to see what would happen to me when the child grew too big to remain inside.

            At times, I would dream of it popping out of me, breaking the skin of my belly open and climbing out through the blood and gunk like the creature from “The Thing”. I’d wake in the dark, in a cold sweat as I hyperventilated from the feeling of my body breaking apart. It still felt like there was blood on my fingers as I waited there, curled upon myself in the dark. That feeling never really went away. It always felt like I was in the process of dying.

            One night, just like any other, I woke to that same feeling and reached under my blankets to my belly just to make sure it was still there. The skin felt intact as I dragged myself into a sitting position and felt over the bump. The child kicked hard enough to rock me a little as I tried to steady myself. The ache of my head burnt through the last of my resolve. I whimpered a soft, tearless cry as I curled in, unable to pull my knees up to my stomach.

            As much as the Cullens tried to protect me, as much as Edward said everything was going to be just fine, I knew I was going to die. I couldn’t be sure how long the pregnancy would last, but Carlisle had put me at thirty weeks during our most recent checkup. In a regular world, that would have meant I had eight more weeks before my due date, but with this thing, I couldn’t be sure I’d live through my nineteenth birthday.

            I sat in the dark of my room, listening to the quiet stillness of the glass palace and crying at my march toward demise. This house didn’t creak or groan like Charlie’s. While that house had breathed at times with the wind or creaked at a heavy footfall, this one was as still as death. There was no life to this house at all. And it almost seemed a fitting place to die. The quiet sounds of my crying were the only thing to be heard at all.

            Somewhere in this house, Edward was awake and wandering. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. For so long, I felt like I knew him, like being in his presence was another form of relaxation, but all that was gone. I couldn’t even be sure I could trust my own memories of him anymore. Our love felt cold and dead now, like the moment we learned I was pregnant, he had become another being entirely. He was concerned only with the child, with keeping me alive and keeping the fetus growing. It didn’t even matter that it still didn’t have a heart.

            After a long moment of sitting, waiting, and wishing for this house to breathe some life into me, all I felt was hungry. The pang hit me hard before I even understood what I was feeling. Something deep in my gut squirmed and at once, I thought it was just the fetus, but it grumbled loud enough for me to hear it. My mouth went dry as the hunger grew, draining on me more.

            The clock on my vanity said 3:24 AM. I blinked and looked to the door across the room, which was still closed tight for the evening. Somewhere, Edward was wandering out there. If any of this was normal, I would be able to talk to him about all of this late into the morning hours, but now the idea of calling him to my aid made me nauseous.

            I held onto the hunger that was dragging me forward and pulled myself numbly toward my feet. With what little strength I had, I balanced myself on my narrow, bone thin feet and braced myself against the vanity to propel myself upwards. Pain ruptured through my legs, begging me to drop to the ground, but I held steady, biting my lip against the pain.

            As I took the first step, my balance faltered, and I nearly twisted my ankle as I pressed weight at an odd angle. I corrected myself quickly, but it was clear I couldn’t get very far as I was. Still, I pushed myself forward, holding myself against the wall to stumble toward the door on the other side the other room.

            Every step was like shattering glass, but no amount of pain could stop the churning in my gut. I was starving like I’d never known, like I hadn’t eaten in the entirety of this pregnancy. With a grunt, I swung the door open. I stepped haphazardly into the hallway, taking the wall into my shoulder to keep me upright.

            Here, the world was darkened, but I could still make out the white of the tile and the walls through the moonglow out the window. All those doors lined up in a row made this hallway seem so much more sinister among the shadows. I stumbled my way down the hallway, my feet tripping over each other on occasion as I left the psych ward hallway.

            The stairs were much harder to traverse. I leaned on the railing, my head precariously hanging over the edge. As I dragged my weakened bones down the stairs, I felt that my head was heavier than the rest of me, heavy enough to slip off my shoulders and tumble down to the floor with a great splat. I could just imagine my head cracked open, the brain in pieces and splattered across the expensive tile. I didn’t imagine there would be much blood through. At times, it felt like there wasn’t any blood in my body at all.

            I dipped down a little as I reached the bottom step, nearly letting the structure of my body fall in on itself and bring me to the ground. I held onto the railing, my fingers turning white from the pressure. As I stood there in the dark, laying all my weight onto the railing, I counted the steps to the kitchen. I was sure I could make it if I inched my way around the walls, using them for support, but the grumble in my stomach and the cold feeling in my chest made me feel as if I was choking on my own guts.

            My head spun wildly as I eyed a route where I could use as many pieces of furniture to lean on as I could. The couch would make a long support, but the break from the furniture to the door of the kitchen was open air. I couldn’t imagine I could reach the door jam just by momentum, but unable to think or really process the distance, I didn’t care to stop.

            I used what little strength I had in my arms to propel myself forward toward the first chair in the living room which stood as a shadow among all the darkness of this room. I collapsed into the back of the chair, my palms stretching around the edges to keep me stable as I breathed out harsh sighs into the upholstered back. Through my breaths, I swore quietly and dragged myself hastily to my feet.

            Once I had my balance again, I counted the distance to the couch and tried the same thing, swinging myself back and forth until I could feel enough momentum to fling myself forward. I stumbled on my feet, crinkling toes as I slammed into the arm of the sofa and stopped. Hair fell into my face, stringy and dark, soaking up the sweat on my forehead as I dragged myself. I was halfway there, but a deep part of me wanted to lie down on the cold tile and soak in the pain bearing on my arms and legs.

            Slowly, I wobbled my way forward against the backing of the sofa, putting one foot in front of the other as I dragged myself by my nails toward the kitchen door. The hunger filled me up entirely now. I didn’t feel the pain or the ache in my joints anymore. My eyes had glazed over with it and all I could think of was the pang in my gut for food. I was less myself, more a wild animal than I’d ever felt in all my lost and stumbling state.

            As I reached the end of the couch, I came to the drop. The kitchen was only feet away, but my body was weighing down on itself. I inched one step back and then another before I could find the strength to attempt a run. A moment of hesitation passed me by in the dark expanse of the living room before I blew the hair from my eyes and careened myself forward, pushing off the couch toward the door jam that would catch me. It took less than a second for me to take one step and then another as my head and shoulders dipped toward the ground.

            There was a loud crack in my knee as I fell to the ground, and I felt my whole body light up with fire before the shock set it. I shouted out a volatile and wordless scream as my vision darkened, tunneling to where I could only see what was right in front of me. The floor came up close as my face pressed against it, and I felt the slap of the cold night air on me. I thought I might just lay there and wait for someone to come rescue me, but in all my desperation for this hunger to leave me, I reached out and began to drag myself across the floor.

            As I moved, I felt as though I was watching myself doing it. My fingernails scratched like claws against the tile. With one leg at on off angle, I kicked and wiggled myself toward the kitchen until I could grasp the door jam and drag myself in. I gritted my teeth as I did so the keep myself from screaming at the hard pain that shot up my leg. The world spun off kilter with every pulse of pain through me.

            I got myself up to my elbows as I reached the kitchen island, using every leverage I had to make toward the fridge on the other side. I didn’t know why I knew that what I needed was in there, but it called to me like a long lost friend, like a song through the walls, muffled but familiar.

            Getting back to my feet was the most painful part. Every inch of my skin screamed with the rage of it as I lifted myself against the kitchen island. I stood, weak and faltering at the spot I’d seen Esme stand so many times as she held court in this kitchen as her kingdom. I just felt like a weak and slobbering fool.

            I reached for the refrigerator and pulled. My wrists screamed as I dragged the heavy stainless-steel doors open to reveal the chilled inside. The interior lit with a frosty glow that illuminated my corpse of a form. I blinked and squinted at the vibrant, blinding light of the fridge and waited for my eyes to catch up to me as I searched for something to fill my stomach.

            Digging, I threw out containers of cherry tomatoes and cheese and bagels and strawberries. The thought of all of it turned my stomach. I’d been eating Esme’s cooking for weeks and for as kind as she was, it never seemed to satisfy me. I deposited every rejected piece of food onto the floor until I found, hidden in the back in a small cooler box, a bag, much like the ones hospitals used to send life saving antibiotics into a person’s veins. The contents were a bright and vibrant red, that shifted in my hands as I held it out before me.

            My stomach grumbled as I held the blood bag up like it was whispering to me. “Drink. Drink. Drink.” Without thinking, I bit the cap off and squeezed the contents into my mouth. The sweet metallic taste filled my mouth as I sucked down on it, draining every last bit from the bag. The thick liquid slid down my throat, coating my mouth and throat in dark blood. After emptying the bag of all its contents, I discarded it onto the floor and resumed digging through the refrigerator for more. I still wasn’t satisfied.

            There were a few more bags of blood in the cooler and I failed to question why they were there as I bit hard into the second one, crushing the cap with my teeth and bringing the bag up above my head like a water bottle. As I drank, squeezing hard on the plastic, the bag ripped and blood spilled down my hands and arms, dripping onto my shirt, my neck, my chin. I didn’t even notice the blood staining me until I was ripping through a third bag of blood. When that was gone, I licked my fingers, tasting the soft metallic tinge.

            I felt a little steadier as I leaned against the counter, licking off the mess I’d made of my hands. In all this time, I hadn’t been so satisfied. I felt warm for the first time in quite a long time. The hunger in my belly had dropped to a low drum instead of an agonizing slam, but it never fully faded.

            Behind me, a light flipped on, turning the room around me bright and yellow. A scream erupted so loud I couldn’t seem to move for a moment as it shook through me, but as I twisted my head back, I found Esme slammed back against a cabinet, her expression twisted in pure terror. When she finally stopped screaming, her eyes were still wide and watery, like she was about to cry from the terror of it all.

            Another voice came, a softer one as Carlisle stepped into the kitchen to find the scene between us. “What’s wrong?” he asked before turning his gaze to me. He turned up his nose a little as if the smell of all that blood was a little too intoxicating to his senses. “You’re out of bed,” was all he said to me.

            “I—” I dropped the bag I was holding and looked to my hands, still stained with inky red. It dawned on me what I’d been doing, drinking blood as if I was a vampire, as if I was like them. I held onto the bump in my belly where that thing rested, not human or vampire at all. I felt dizzy all of the sudden.

            “Come on,” Carlisle said and stepped over to grab me. “Let’s get you out of here.”

            I kept my arms raised as I let him lead me out of the kitchen. I gave Esme one last look as I stepped out, but she refused to look at me, staring instead at the floor as if it was too painful to look at me. Carlisle sat me down in one of the white upholstered chairs in the living room and knelt before me while I shook, wildly, still looking at my blood-stained fingers.

            “You’re okay, Bella,” he said. “This is all totally normal.”

            “I was so hungry,” I said at a whisper. After Esme’s scream everything felt too loud. “It felt like I was dying.”

            “I should have thought of this before,” Carlisle said. “The child is a miracle, not just like you, but like Edward too. It will want blood.”

            I wasn’t looking at him. I couldn’t look at another person at all. My head was burning holes through my skull with all the dark and oppressive thoughts running through me. What did this make me? Was this child consuming me too, turning my insides into something to subsist on? I supposed that just made me its dinner. For all the times Edward had assured me I was going to be alright, he couldn’t really stop this thing from killing me.

            “The baby is a vampire,” I said weakly. Edward was going to have a vampire to keep him company after all, but a daughter, not a wife. I wasn’t sure I’d live long enough to be turned.

            “We aren’t sure, but what I do know is that this is good,” he told me. “I had stockpiled that blood for the case that Edward turned you, but I can get more. The child will be able to subsist on that until it is born.”

            That could have been in weeks or days. I wouldn’t know until it was happening and there was no proof that said the baby would stop eating me if I could feed it a diet of human blood. All I had was Carlisle’s hunch that this would work. I was tired of operating on Carlisle’s guesses. But it was far too late to make any decision of my own.

            “Okay,” I said even though I had little confidence in anything right now. “Where’s Edward?”

            “He went out for a walk,” Carlisle said. “He wanted to make sure everything was clear.”

            I knew that meant he was making sure there were no wolves in the area, but I didn’t mention it. For as much as I wished Jacob was here to comfort me, I was glad he wasn’t, that he didn’t know how bad I was. If I was going to die, I didn’t want him to watch it happen, not like this.

            “When will he get back?” I asked.

            “Soon, I’m sure,” Carlisle said. “For now, let’s get you cleaned up and back to bed. I’m sure this is a lot to process.”

            For all Carlisle’s kind smiles and smart demeaner, I didn’t feel as though I could truly trust his judgement. He’d patched me up, taken care of me, but it always felt like his kindness belonged to Edward. Everything he did to take care of me was for Edward’s sake. In all my foggy, forgetful brain, I couldn’t think of a time he’d been rude or harmful to me, but even this felt cold. As he walked me to my room, I couldn’t help but think of how he’d reacted to my child with such joy. Joy that felt so securely reserved for Edward, for his new child and not mine. I never wanted this baby, and it was going to kill me.

Chapter Text

The blood helped, though the thought of someone else’s blood sloshing around in my stomach made me gag. Every morning, I stomached down a bag of blood that Carlisle had collected for me. He told me it was human blood, so every time I finished a bag, I would imagine a young woman or man who had given blood thinking it was going to the Red Cross or some emergency room. Instead, it fed the abomination taking up residence inside me.

            In the morning, Edward would sit across from me at the table and watch as I drank down the red fluid. His eyes shifted, taking everything of my visage with cold envy as he watched me drink. All the vampires in the house had their cravings, but Edward had made it his mission to keep me safe while I had my morning meal. If he was worried about Jasper or one of the others, he didn’t say. I got the feeling as he watched me, that he was having a hard time controlling his own hunger as it was. He looked at me like prey, even now.

            The more blood I consumed, the better I felt, but the taste stuck to my tongue long after I had swallowed it, and no amount of water or other food could take it away. I wondered if this was what it was like to be a vampire, to always taste it, no matter how far it was. For as much as it confounded and contorted my feelings about becoming a vampire, there was some comfort in it.

            My fingers had stopped bleeding and my hair didn’t fall out as much. Some color had returned to my skin, but the greatest improvement I noticed was that I could, at times and for short distances, walk. The energy that drinking blood gave me was well worth the way Edward stared at me every time I did.

            It was nights that I most felt prone to walking. The halls of the house were quiet and empty as I stalked about. Alice and Jasper always spent their nights together and I could imagine Rosalie and Emmett were doing the same. Edward, however, was a mystery. I would often wake to find him watching me in my sleep, but other times, he was gone entirely. He was never in his room and everywhere I walked at night, I could not find him. Wherever he went was his own secret. He didn’t feel the need to mention it at all, and I worried a little about what I would learn if I asked.

            Nothing about Edward could be explained. I knew how well he loved me, and I knew how much I loved him. That love lived in my guts and twisted them around every time I looked at him. But at times, I felt like I didn’t know him at all. He kept so much to himself, and he’d lived so many years. So many lives were hidden from my view, and it felt like a crime to ask about any of them. Would he ever feel like he could show any of it to me? I didn’t know.

            As I laid up in bed, late one evening, rubbing to protruding bump on my belly, I found myself glancing away from the book in my hand and to the window every so often. I expected to see someone, I didn’t know who, wandering through the darkened edge of the