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You Are The Only Ones

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

September 1, 2005

"Damn!" I fumed as I tripped over the fan's cord in the living room. I crashed to the floor with a thud. The impact caused a glass cup to fall onto the floor, where it shattered into a million pieces. It was one of my mother's-her name is Renee-favorite cups too. It was part of a set that had belonged to her mother, my Grandma Marie, who died before I was born. I was going to be in huge trouble!

I had to sweep away the mess before Mom came downstairs. Unfortunately, she had already heard the glass breaking. I was just leaving the room when she appeared with a deep scowl on her face. Shit!

"What the hell happened?" she demanded, peering over my shoulder. "How did. . .how did my cup break?!"

Putting distance between me and her, I backed up warily. "I fell, and. . ." I replied.

Mom glared at me in rage and frustration. "You fell?! You are always falling, you clumsy little bitch! I supposed that you knocked the cup over as you did, didn't you?" She slapped me so hard that I was abruptly staring at the clock behind me.

I winced. "No, Mom! It broke after I fell. It slid off of the table," I explained.

"Whatever, Bella! The damage is done. Just clean this shit up and get out of my sight!" she yelled. She shoved me before going back upstairs.

I gloomily headed for the kitchen to retrieve the broom and dustpan.

As you could see, you have probably guessed that me and my mother were not on the best of terms. And you have guessed right.

My mother did not love me, and reminded me of it every other day for almost eighteen years. It was clear that she did not want me too, and never had. I didn't know why she chose to bring me with her to Phoenix, Arizona after she had divorced my father since she didn't.

We had been living here in Phoenix since I was three months old. Before that, we lived with my father Charlie in Forks, Washington. I only visited him for a few weeks every August because of legal issues. Even then, I rarely saw him. He was the Chief of Police, so he was very busy, especially during the summer. There was a lot of crime in Forks, Port Angeles, and Seattle at that time. So, before going to the police station, he would leave me with friends from town until he was finished working.

It was because of this that Charlie and I never had much of a chance to create any type of relationship. I did not even know if he loved me, or if I loved him.

At least staying with Charlie wasn't as bad as living with Mom. She usually ignored me and left me to myself. If she wasn't doing that, then she was screaming at me. It could be for any number of reasons. It may have been because she wanted to tell me of how much she hated me. That she didn't want me. That she did not know why she didn't ship me off to Charlie's and grant him permanent custody of me. If she wasn't complaining about that, then she was blowing her top over my clumsiness. But with her being erratic and harebrained, and my father being rather absentminded, I was predestined to be clumsy.

She was abusive too, but not physically. At least, not that much. She would mostly slap or shove me if she were angry enough. When I grew taller, there were times where she actually punched me! However, she never punched me in the face. But it was really the verbal and psychological abuse that I have to put up with. Of course, that was worst. I would rather that she had hit me.

It was just as well that I had learned to cook and pay the bills by the time I was eleven. Otherwise, we would have starved to death. Mom didn't really know how to cook, and she often forgot when the bills had to be sent. I had a job too, and was glad that I did. Otherwise, I would have had to deal with Mom more often than I would have wanted to after school.

I could not understand why Mom didn't love or want me. And no matter how hard I tried to, I could never do anything to please her. Or to get her to love me. Even if I gave her something that she liked, she would just wave me away dismissively.

Through it all, I had mostly lived a lonely, depressing life. Mom neglected me, and Dad never paid much attention to me. I had never had any friends either, in school or out of it. My clumsiness and awkwardness was not very appealing, so people my age tended to avoid me. I could never remember a time when anyone had truly been nice to me.

Except once, when I was seven years old. And I would never forget that day.

Flashback

Mom and I were visiting one of her friends named Juliet, who had moved to Vancouver, Canada. Juliet talked to Mom for a while, then Mom went to take a tour of the city.

Vancouver was gigantic. There were so many things to see and to look at that I would need more eyes to take everything in. There were also a lot of people, just like there were in Phoenix.

As Mom and I were strolling along a busy street, I happened to notice a brown teddy bear on display in a toy store window. It was large, but small enough to put in the book bag that I was carrying. Next to that store was a candy shop. There were multicolored lollipops and jawbreakers and chocolate and so many other sweets that it would take days to name them all!

I tugged Mom's hand. "Mommy! Mommy! Look at that teddy bear! And look at all of the candy! Can I have the bear and some candy? Pretty please?" I begged.

"No!" she said coldly. "Now leave me alone, you little brat!"

"But Mo-om. . .!" I whined. She was being so unfair, as usual!

"Shut up! Just shut up! I have had enough of your complaining! Do you want me to slap you?"

I bowed my head and grew quiet. Tears pricked my eyes as we kept walking. She hardly ever let me have anything that I wanted.

Moments later, she brought us a lunch from a street vendor. Once we had finished eating, Mom headed into a clothes shop to buy a few things. She made me sit on a bench while she went to look over the jeans.

I laid my head in my palm and stared at the people passing by me. I was bored out of my mind. I wished that I was at that toy store. Or at the candy shop. I didn't see how shopping for clothes could be enjoyable.

"Psst. Little girl," a gentle voice belonging to a man whispered. It sounded like it belonged to an angel.

I ignored it, not thinking that it was speaking to me.

"Little girl on the bench," the voice hissed.

Frowning, I turned to see a blonde-haired man standing next to a clothes rack. Gosh, he was handsome! He looked better than any movie star I've ever seen! And he had gold eyes too! How weird. I had never seen anybody with eyes that color. I found myself staring at him in awe.

The man smiled at me. "Hi there, cutie," he greeted.

I reddened. No one had ever called me that before. "Uh. . .hi," I mumbled.

He glanced to his left, then knelt beside me. "Here, sweetheart. I couldn't help but notice that you really wanted them."

To my surprise, he handed me the teddy bear that was in the toy store window! He had also given me a bag of sweets from that shop! In it was cotton candy, multicolored lollipops, white and dark chocolate, sour balls, caramel squares, and Laffy Taffies.

I looked to see where Mom was. She was still busy picking out clothes. I cautiously took the bear and the candy from him because I knew that I wasn't suppose to accept anything from strangers. But for some reason, I knew that this man wouldn't hurt me or anything. I didn't know why I knew it, though.

"Thanks. But why are you giving them to me?" I inquired, putting everything in my backpack. "You don't even know who I am."

"I am giving it to you because I can tell that you are a good girl. You deserve every wonderful thing that could be given to someone."

This man was too nice! "Oh. Well. . .thank you again. This is the nicest thing that anybody has ever done for me. I'm Bella."

He shook my hand. "Pleased to meet you, Bella. I am glad to be of service. My name is Carlisle."

Well, that was an odd name, but I liked it. It sounded like a song. "Pleased to meet you too. I think you should leave now. My mom would be mad if she sees me talking to someone that I don't know."

"I understand what you mean. Don't waste your candy too quickly. Good-bye, Bella."

"I won't. Bye-bye, Carlisle."

He left with a wave.

End of Flashback


It had been ten years since then, but the memory of it had never faded away. I managed to prevent Mom from finding out that I had the teddy bear and the candy. I ate the candy when I had the chance to, but I kept the wrappers in a suitcase that I used for traveling. I even had the teddy bear after all this time. When Mom was asleep, I would take them out for a while, just to look at them and hug the bear. They were my relics of Carlisle's kindness.

I often wondered about Carlisle over the years. Wondered where he was, and if he was doing all right. I tried to imagine what his life would be like. He was a nice, drop-dead gorgeous man, so he likely had a wife. Perhaps he had children too, and lived in a nice house with front and back yards that were surrounded by a white picket fence. They probably loved each other very much.

I wished that I had that kind of life...

"Bella!" Mom shouted, jerking me out of my thoughts by punching me on the arm. It became numb within seconds. "Why the hell are you standing there daydreaming? Clean up that mess like I told you to! If I step on any of that glass, you don't want to know what I'll do!"

"Ouch! Okay, Mom, I'm sorry," I groaned.

She frowned at me in disgust, as if I were a puddle of vomit. "Yeah, you'd better be. Go on!"

With a sigh, I grabbed the broom and dustpan. Then I went to the living room and swept the floor, my mind still on Carlisle.

(A few days later-September 6th)

I was in my bedroom, sitting in front of my computer. It was quiet for once; Mom was taking a nap. I was glad that I didn't have to put up with her at the moment.

I wasn't really doing much, just talking to various people in a chat room. Truthfully, I wasn't allowed to do that. Mom said that I could end up in some of form of trouble, or be kidnapped. I didn't know why she cared if I did. She would probably be happy to get rid of me.

Not many people were online at this time of day, so the chat room was nearly empty. Half of the people who wanted to talk to me were men that were phishing for young women. I mostly ignored them and spoke to the girls. Some of them were interested in the same things that I was, and some were not.

I was just in the middle of a conversation when a Private Messaging box appeared on my screen.

Hello, Bellissima298. Would you like to have a private webcam chat with me? someone named CarlC87 asked.

CarlC87...ha, it made me think of Carlisle. Of course, I knew that it wasn't him. He didn't seem like the type that went into chat rooms. Still, this guy might be cute.

I listened to make sure that Mom had not awakened, then sent a reply.

Yeah, I guess so. As long as you don't try to flirt with me, I typed.

lol No, I am not planning to do that. I am here to talk, not to flirt-CarlC87

Okay, then. I'm turning my webcam on now.

All right. So am I.


I promptly switched on my camera. Then I waited until he appeared on my screen.

Once he did, I eyed him closely. This man did not look like a pervert. In fact, he was very handsome! He had golden-blonde hair and amber eyes...

Amber eyes?!

I froze.

No.

It couldn't be! It couldn't be him!

But it was.

I gaped at the man in stunned disbelief.

It was him. . .It was Carlisle. He was right before me, looking as if he hadn't aged a day at all.

Carlisle's POV

The girl-Bellissima298-stared at me for a long time, which began to make me uncomfortable. I knew that it was because she thought that I were good-looking, as people thought that I was.

If she knew what I was, she wouldn't be ogling me. She would have left the site faster than lightning.

I had been relaxing in my office when I had decided to enter the chat room. There was not much to do. I worked in a hospital, but I had the day off. My paperwork had been completed hours ago, and my children were out hunting.

I decided to kill time by chatting with a few people. However, none of them had caught my attention but her-Bellissima298. Her name was similar to a little girl's that I had briefly spoken to years ago.

And what a poor little soul she was too. . .

The young lady suddenly gasped, and my attention was redirected to her. I scowled at her in concern. From her expression, it was apparent that something may have been wrong.

"What is the matter?" I queried.

She lowered her hand, which had been covering her mouth. "Oh my God...oh my God! Carlisle?! Is that you?!" she demanded in astonishment.

My jaw dropped.

How did...how did she know my name?! I did not recall meeting her in my entire life. Well, her chocolate-brown eyes looked familiar. Other than that, I did not recognize her.

It took several minutes for me to find my voice. "Er. . .yes, I am Carlisle. But how do you know? Have we met?" I inquired, my voice full of wonder.

"Yes. . .we've met ten years ago in Vancouver. I was seven at the time, though. . .you probably don't remember me," she responded.

Narrowing my eyes, I shook my head. "No, I am afraid that I don't."

The girl slumped, but then her eyes brightened. "Hold on a minute. You might know who I am after I show you something. Do you mind if I get it?"

"Of course not."

She smiled a rather beautiful smile and disappeared from view. I heard a door opening and what sounded like rustling paper.

A minute later, she came back. "You gave me this when I was clothes shopping with my mom. You saw that I wanted them and bought them for me," she remarked.

Then she held up a stuffed teddy bear and various candy wrappers.

I leaned forward, my eyes growing wide. Suddenly, I did remember her. I remembered her quite clearly.

She was the little girl that I had met during a trip in Canada. The girl who desired the candy and the teddy bear. The girl who was being treated unfairly by her mother.

The girl who I thought looked so starved, but not for food.

For reasons that I was not able to explain, I could see that she was starving for kindness. For affection. For love. It seemed as if no one had ever treated her nicely.

Right then and there, I decided to buy what she wanted to have. I had no idea what drove me to do it. However, I had the feeling that I would regret it deeply if I hadn't.

I went to the toy store to get the bear, then to the candy shop to purchase a bag of sweets. After that, I met her in the clothes shop and gave them to her.

With amazement crashing through me, I turned to the girl. "B-Bella?" I murmured.

Bella's POV

I wanted to jump for joy!

He knew who I was!

"Yes, I'm Bella! You do remember me!" I exclaimed.

A grin slowly spread across his face. "I never did forget about you. I suppose it was because I had felt so sorry for you that you stuck in my memory. But. . .you remember me, after all this time?! It has been more than ten years!"

I nodded, beaming brightly. "You look the same as you did when we had first met."

Carlisle ran his fingers through his hair. "I understand that, but it was no wonder that I couldn't recognize you. How old are you now, Bella?"

"I'll be eighteen on the thirteenth."

"Mmm, I see. You have grown into quite a beautiful young woman."

It felt as if my cheeks were blistering. "Thank you," I said in a low voice.

He smiled at me. "So. . .how is it that you remember me? We had not talked long enough to have much of an impression on each other that day."

"Well, maybe not. But I could never forget you, or that you bought the bear and candy for me. That was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for me."

Carlisle rose his eyebrows in surprise. "Really?" he asked with interest.

"Yeah," I admitted. I decided to change the subject. "So...do you still live in Vancouver?"

He shook his head. "No, I had never lived in Canada. I was only on a small trip there."

"Oh. Well, where do you live?"

"I live outside of a small town in Washington called Forks."

He had to be lying! "No way! Really?! Forks?!"

Carlisle chuckled. "It is a rather funny name for a town, isn't it?"

"No, you don't understand. I was born in Forks! But when my mom divorced my dad, she took me with her to Arizona," I remarked.

"You have to be joking!" he exclaimed.

"I'm not! But that's so cool that you live there. How long have you been in Forks?"

He leaned back. "For a little more than a year. I had a job opportunity at the hospital in town, where I work as a doctor."

I cocked my head to the side. "Whoa. I would never have guessed that you were one. Then again, you are a very generous and helpful person."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Are you married? Do you have children?"

"Yes, I have five whom I had adopted. They are your age, or close to it. But I am divorced. The marriage did not work out."

Why would anyone divorce him?! He was too kind and too sweet to be divorced!

"Oh. That's too bad," I stated.

Carlisle waved his hand. "Do not worry about it. It was for the best."

Just then, I heard a bed creaking, followed by a yawn.

I turned to him. "My mom's awake. I gotta go...she wouldn't like it if she caught me speaking to you in this chat room," I hissed.

He smiled. "I know what you mean. Well, it was a pleasure to see you again, Bella. Perhaps we can talk again sometime?" he questioned.

"Sure, when I can manage to. It was great to see you too, Carlisle. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, dear."

I hastily shut my own camera off and made to exit the chat room. Before I could, however, the door opened with a CRASH.

"WHAT THE...WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, GIRL?!" Mom bellowed.

Oh, man! I was in huge trouble again!

Chapter Text

Very slowly, I turned to face Mom, but kept silent.

Her eyes were blazing with fury. "ANSWER ME!" she ordered in an earsplitting voice, stomping her foot. "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN THAT CHAT ROOM?!"

I swallowed thickly. "Just talking to some girls," I replied.

"LYING BITCH! I KNOW THAT YOU WERE TALKING TO MEN ON THERE! I KNOW, BITCH!" she shouted.

"Mom! I wasn't!" I lied.

"Yes, you were! I heard you! And I hope that you didn't tell them too much information about you! I don't feel like dealing with any unnecessary trouble! And I don't have time to be asking the police to find you because you were kidnapped!"

"I don't know why you would care if I did. You don't give a damn about me. You wouldn't have called them anyway because you would want me to stay gone," I remarked before I could stop myself.

Mom's eyes narrowed, and I swore that I saw her pupils dilate. "What did you say?" she questioned in a low, deadly voice. "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME?!" she yelled, startling me.

She lunged at me with her teeth bared. I tried to move away, but I was not quick enough. The next thing I knew, I was flying out of my chair and onto the floor.

"BITCH! UNGRATEFUL SLUT! I WILL FUCK YOU UP!" Her fists sailed into me. I blocked her punches with my arm, but it didn't work for long. After a minute, I couldn't even lift them anymore because they were hurting so badly.

Suddenly, I snapped. I couldn't take it anymore. I was tired of her disrespecting me, abusing me. I had had enough!

I grabbed Mom's arm as she came in with another punch and sent my fist crashing into her cheek. This distracted her long enough for me to push her onto my desk. Her head smacked against the wood.

Mom was frozen. She gaped at me with wide eyes. I stared back at her, feeling as thunderstruck as she looked.

When she had got over her astonishment, she scowled and bolted up. "I will kill you...I WILL KILL YOU!" She dove for me again.

I turned and ran out of the door. Mom followed after me in a wild, rabid rage. Froth and saliva bubbled onto the corners of her lips. That bitch was truly crazy!

I had just made it down the stairs when she caught up to me. Her fist crashed into my shoulder. Several punches to the stomach caused me double over. This gave Mom the chance to snatch me up by the neck and throw me onto the banisters.

"I'll fucking kill you!" she repeated, tying my wrists onto them (the banisters) with her belt. She disappeared for a second, then came back with another one. After that, she pulled down my jeans.

CRACK! CRACK!

"AHH!" I cried out as the belt landed on my ass. The searing pain caused my knees to buckle.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

"Mom, please!" I sobbed. "Please stop! I'm sorry for what I did!"

"You really will be after I am done with you, you bitch!" CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

"OWWW!" I wept. Dear God, please make her stop. Please make her stop doing this to me.

When she finally did, she untied me before dragging me up to my room. Once we were in there, she shoved me onto the wall. The impact caused me to yell in pain. "YOU'RE GETTING OUT OF MY FUCKING HOUSE! I'M NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH YOUR SHIT ANYMORE!"

I could only watch Mom as opened my drawers and started tossing clothes out of them.

"Out of here...thinking that she can speak to me like that...I don't think so...she has lost her fucking mind...!" she muttered to herself. Then she glared at me. "As soon as I get my money together for a plane ticket, you are out. Start packing right now. You will not spend another 24 hours in my house! You're going to live with your father, and I'll be only too happy to be rid of you!"

With that, she left the room, slamming the door.

Grimacing in pain, I stood up and collected my things. I did not really want to leave Phoenix, in spite of the fact that I loathed living with Mom. I barely knew anyone in Forks except for Charlie and a couple of his friends. And being the new kid in school...I had no idea of how I would be able to endure it. No one was going to like me. Nobody ever did. The people my age generally thought that I was weird. However, I couldn't be like everyone else. I did not relate to anyone that I knew at all.

As I continued to pack, I noticed that bruises were forming on my arms and stomach. This was the worse thing that Mom had ever done to me. The most she had ever done was punch me. But she had never beaten or whipped me. Not like this.

I sat down on my bed and wept. Why did my mom hate me? Why didn't she care for me? I asked myself over and over. If she loved me, I wouldn't be going through any of this.

It took a while for me to calm down. Once I had, I folded my clothes and put them into two different suitcases. I also packed my laptop and webcam.

When I left the room to go to the bathroom, I heard Mom talking.

"...Charlie, I am sending Bella to Forks to live with you...What do you mean why? Because I need my space for right now, that's why! Besides, Bella will learn to be more independent while living with you...What are you quiet for? Will you let her stay with you?...I don't give a fuck if you think that I don't make any sense, or that I'm doing this on short notice!...I can talk to you in any way that I please...So are you going to take her in or what?...Good...I will book the 11a.m. flight for her, then. She should arrive in Seattle by 1:15, 1:30 in your time zone...Fine...Bye..." She slammed her cell phone shut and muttered to herself.

I stepped into the bathroom and locked the door. I treated my bruises and wrapped my abdomen with adhesive gauze. Then I headed back to my room.

Mom was waiting there for me. "I am taking you to the airport tomorrow. I already booked your flight and printed your ticket for you, so it won't take too long for you to get on your plane. Of course, I don't know why I even bothered to do it. I should have made you pay for it yourself for the way that you treated me earlier. Anyway, your flight will be at 11:00 tomorrow morning. You will be in Seattle by 1:15 or 1:30 Pacific Standard Time. Charlie will be waiting for you.

"You will be going to school in Forks, so I'll have your school fax them your transfer papers. They should have them by tomorrow or the day after. You will be in Forks to stay, or until you decide to live somewhere else, so don't come back here. I never want to see you again. You are no longer welcome in my house. Do you understand me?" she inquired in hard voice.

Gazing at her pleadingly, I whispered, "Mom...why don't love me? Why don't you want me?"

She crossed her arms. "You want to know? I'll tell you. It's because I never wanted a baby at the age that I was. I was 18, barely older than you. I wanted me and your father to wait to have children. I wanted to live my life while I was still young, but no! He had to fuck me and get me pregnant, so I had no choice but to take care of you! Your fucking dad ruined my life! Both of you did! I wish that I had put you up for adoption and got on with my life! I hate you! You and your father!" she abruptly bellowed.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I couldn't prevent the tears from welling in my eyes. Still, I could not help but wish that she had put me up for adoption too. It would have saved me from her constant abuse. This made me glad that I wouldn't live with her anymore.

"Don't start crying, you worthless whore! I should have told you that long ago. Just go to bed or something. You make me sick!"

Mom stormed out of the room, plowing into me as she did.

I laid down and buried my face in my arms. She hated me. She hated me for something that wasn't even my fault. I didn't understand it.

I wished that I didn't care about it. That Mom's words meant nothing to me. However, I could not help but care. All I ever wanted was for her to care about me...for her to love me. We would probably have been the best of friends if she did.

The tears in my eyes started to roll down my cheeks, and I was sobbing before I knew it. I had to make sure that Mom wouldn't hear me. If she did, she would likely give me another thrashing just because I irritated her.

As I fell asleep, I thought of something that made me happy about moving, other than the fact that I was leaving Mom.

Carlisle lived just outside of Forks. Perhaps I will see him soon. That would be wonderful because at least there would be someone I knew there that I liked. He seemed to like me too, but I did not want to go that far just yet. I wouldn't be surprised if he came to believe that I was odd.

Still, it would be nice if we became friends. He would be the first that I ever had.

XXX

I woke up very early the next morning. My arms ached, so taking a shower was difficult. I had my breakfast and stayed in my room until it was time to leave. It was better that way. I knew that Mom was still upset about the day before. My presence alone would have given her a reason to lash out at me.

Before leaving, I put on a jacket even though it was hot outside. I didn't wish for anyone to see my bruises.

The trip to the airport was not long. Mom helped me take my things out of the car after pulling up in front of the terminal.

After taking my backpack and ticket from her, she closed the trunk.

"Do you have everything?" Mom demanded with impatience.

I nodded mutely.

"Good. Well...bye."

"Bye."

With a huff, Mom stepped into her car and drove away. I grabbed my suitcases and entered the terminal.

I had my suitcases and book bag scanned at a security checkpoint, then made my way to Gate 1375. I sat down in the waiting area, since my flight wouldn't be here for another half hour. I took out one of my novels and began to read it to kill time.

Finally, I heard an announcement over the intercom saying that the plane had arrived. I put my things away, then stood in line.

Minutes later, I was boarding the plane. Once everybody was sitting down, the flight attendant went over the usual rules. We put on our seat belts and the airplane rumbled as it started up.

It backed away from the terminal and coasted onto the runway. Then it gained speed, and the next thing I knew, it was in the air.

Even though I was still aching, I couldn't help but smile. I was leaving Phoenix, and my mom. And I would never have to go back again.

I was outta this bitch!

Carlisle's POV

I was in the living room with my children when I saw my daughter Alice freeze in her seat. Her eyes grew blank.

"Alice? What is it, darlin'?" my son Jasper, who was also her soul mate, queried.

Perhaps I should explain what was going on. You see, Alice was having a vision of the future. She always has one when somebody makes a decision that will involve me or my family in some way. However, her visions were subjective. If the person changed their decision, then their future would.

I must tell you why I called Jasper her soul mate also. It was a term that vampires used to call their predestined partners or true other halves.

Yes, my family and I were vampires. We were not like the vampires that people spread myths about, though. We did not sleep at all or sleep in coffins. We did not die in sunlight, either. In fact, our skin would sparkle as if diamonds were embedded into it. If someone were to take a picture of us, we would appear in it.

Unlike other vampires, we did not drink human blood. My family and I called ourselves "vegetarians" because we drank the blood of animals. That was why our eyes were gold or amber. If we drank human blood, our eyes would be red.

We were also incredibly fast and strong. For example, we could hold a van over our heads while running. However, no one would see this because we would be nothing more than a blur to them.

Anyway, let us return to the present.

Alice came back to earth with a bright smile. "Dad, she's coming! She coming to Forks!" she squealed in excitement.

I frowned in confusion. "Who?" I inquired, thinking that she meant Esme, my ex-wife.

"The girl that you were chatting with on the computer yesterday! Bella!" she replied.

"Bella?" I was shocked, to say the least. "But why is she coming here?"

"She is coming to Forks to live with her father, who is Chief Charlie Swan."

"Bella is Chief Swan's daughter?"

I knew that Chief Swan had a daughter, but I never heard him say her name. But I doubted that I would have known that it was Bella even if he had.

Alice nodded. "Yes. She will be here in a few hours."

"Er...okay. But why are you making such a fuss about her?"

"Because she is someone important to us."

I blinked in confusion. "She is important to us? How?"

With a grin, she said the last thing that I would have expected her to say.

"Because she is your soul mate, and our bond mother!"

My jaw dropped. I could only stare at her blankly.

Bella Swan was my soul mate?!

And my children's bond mother?!

She could not have been serious! This had to be a joke! There was no way in hell that this could be true! After divorcing Esme, I did not believe that love would find me again for quite a long time.

Besides, Bella was only seventeen. Of course, she wouldn't be for long. Edward, one of my other sons, was changed her age, give or take several months. Rosalie was frozen at the age of eighteen, Alice, I was not sure, Jasper at nineteen, and Emmett at twenty. How would they feel about having a mother that was younger than them...except for Edward?

"Are you kidding me?" I demanded.

Alice shook her head. "No, Carlisle. I wouldn't lie to you about something like this," she pointed out earnestly. "Besides, I know that you must have felt some kind of attraction to her when you spoke to her the other day."

"Well...I did think that she was very beautiful, sweet and interesting. I still do, of course," I admitted.

My other daughter Rosalie turned to her. "But...how do you know this?" she questioned.

"I've seen it," Alice responded in a "duh" voice.

And I could tell then that she was not lying. I could feel myself smiling.

It was a good thing that I was Bella's mate. If I was right about the fact that she was starving for kindness, love and affection, then I would have no problem in showering her with any of them. She deserved to be cared for and loved, a sweet girl like her.

Emmett, Rosalie's mate, beamed like a pair of headlights. "Awesome! We're going to have a new mommy!"

Edward grinned. "Yes. I can't wait to meet her."

"Me neither. I know that we are goin' to love her," Jasper added.

"Truthfully, I don't think that I can wait myself," Rosalie stated.

Nor could I. I glanced at Alice. "When will we meet Bella?"

"Well, we are going to meet her at school next Monday. Then we could invite her to come over our house after we get to know her," she replied.

I bobbed my head. "That's wonderful! I will be delighted to finally see her."

Emmett smirked. "I bet you will."

Rolling my eyes, I shoved him playfully.

Bella's POV

1:30pm Pacific Standard Time

The plane landed safely at the airport in Seattle. I was relieved that the flight was over. I had been bored for the entire time.

When the airplane stopped, I picked up my backpack and walked out of it.

I looked for Charlie as I entered the terminal. I didn't see him anywhere at first, but then I noticed him heading towards me. I met him halfway.

"Hey, Bella," he greeted with a slight smile, embracing me.

"Hi Dad," I mumbled, returning his hug. I was not allowed to call him Charlie to his face. "How are you?"

Letting me go, he shrugged. "I'm fine, I guess. I'm not too happy with your mother, though. She was not very polite to me yesterday."

I pursed my lips. "I know what you mean."

"Are you all right? Was the flight here okay?"

"Yeah, I'm all right." I lied. I had no desire to tell him about what Mom had done to me the night before. If I did tell him, it would probably be when I was comfortable enough to. Since I did not know him too well, I had no idea when and if that would happen.

He nodded. "We should get going. Let's find your luggage and head home."

My suitcases did not take too long to show up. Charlie got them for me and we left the airport.

"So, what made you decide to come here?" he inquired as we sped down the highway.

"Uh...well, as Mom said, she needed her space. I thought that living here with you would do her some good. Plus, I wanted to see you. I never had the chance to be with you for more than three weeks. Even then I did not see you much...you were almost always working. I figured that we could get to know each other all over again."

This was also a lie (mostly), but I was being truthful about reacquainting myself with him.

And maybe he would grow to love me. That is, if he didn't already.

Charlie's rose his eyes in surprise. "Really? That sounds like an excellent plan. I'd like that. Besides, I...I missed you," he remarked awkwardly. He was never comfortable with expressing his emotions.

Then again, neither was I. We were very much alike in that department.

"I missed you too, Dad." I really did.

It took a little more than two hours to get to Forks. When Charlie pulled up in front of his house, I could see that nothing had changed since last year. The paint was still white and the bushes under the porch had remained.

We stepped out of his police cruiser and Charlie took my suitcases out of the trunk. He carried them up to the bedroom that he reserved for me.

The room looked the same too, except for a dark purple bedspread that wasn't there before.

"A friend of mine from town picked it out," Charlie stated when he noticed me staring at it. "Do you like purple?"

"Yes, purple is okay," I commented offhandedly. "Thank your friend for me."

He glanced around the room. "Well, everything looks good to go. If you need me for anything, I'll be downstairs..." he said, his voice trailing off as he left the room.

I sighed wearily before putting my clothes in the dresser near the bed. Then I set my laptop and webcam on my desk. After that, I made the bed and laid the teddy bear that Carlisle had given me on the pillow. I put the candy wrappers in my desk drawer.

Once I was finished unpacking, I dove onto my bed. I could hear the TV running downstairs, but other than that, it was quiet.

And that what just how I liked it.

 

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

I practically lived in bliss over the next four days. Moving in with Charlie was quickly turning out to be the best thing that ever happened in my life.

For one thing, it was peaceful in his house. I did not have to put up with anyone shouting at me. No one called me names. And last but not least, I did not have to worry about being punched or shoved every other hour.

Charlie and I did not talk much, since he was at work often. However, he made it a point for us to have a small conversation when he was at home. He would ask how it was to live with Mom and what I had classes I had in school. He would also ask other questions, such as if I had friends or a job. Questions like that.

I was not yet comfortable about telling him about how horribly Mom treated me. I would just tell him that living with her was okay. I did not think that he completely believed me, though. But he did not pry into the situation any further, much to my relief.

I had also taken the opportunity to ask him a few things. They were mostly about what he had been up to since the previous year. Working, fishing, hanging out with his friends. Apparently, he did not do much.

While Charlie was working, I stayed home and tidied the place up. I began with the kitchen and living room first, then the bathroom. I left Charlie's room alone. Pretty soon, the house was sparkling clean.

My transfer papers from my old school arrived on Friday, so I was going to start at Forks High on Monday. I hoped that everything would turn out all right.

I wondered how I could possibly get to school. Charlie said that I could walk there, but the trip would take an hour. There was also a bus that I could take, but it did not run very often. I didn't what to do! Neither choice seemed like a good idea.

Luckily, this problem was erased on Saturday.

It was early in the afternoon. I was in my room when I heard a loud roar outside. Then Charlie asked me to come to the driveway.

When I did, I found him there with a Native American man in a wheelchair. Next to him was a teenage boy of about fifteen who was obviously his son. They looked vaguely familiar.

"Hey, Bella," Charlie announced. "You remember my friend Billy Black from the La Push reservation, don't you?"

That's right! No wonder I recognized them. "Oh yeah. It's nice to see you," I said to Billy, shaking his hand. "How have you been?"

He smiled widely. "I'm fine, Bella. Still dancin'," he joked.

I chuckled. "I'm glad to hear that."

The teenage boy stepped forward. "Hey, I'm Jacob. You probably don't remember me very well. You always visit just before I go camping every summer."

"No, I know who you are. It's good to see you too." I turned to Charlie. "So, what's up?"

He slapped the orange Chevrolet truck that he was leaning against. "I just bought this from Billy. Jacob rebuilt the engine and everything. You needed a vehicle, and this is a rather good one. And it's sturdy. Billy said that if you crashed into a car, the truck would be intact, but the other car would be nothing except twisted metal. It doesn't go too fast either, only 55 mph tops."

My mouth fell in amazement and delight. "No way! This? Oh my God, this is so cool! Thank you!" I exclaimed. "Could someone show me how to maneuver it?"

"Sure, I'll do it," Jacob declared.

When we climbed into the truck, he gave me an explanation of how each button and gear worked. I took the truck on a small drive around the block to make sure that it was operating correctly, then returned to the house.

"Everything good?" Charlie asked.

"Perfect," I responded with a grin. Then I thanked Jacob and Billy again.

Billy waved his hand. "It was nothing. Glad to help out."

He and Jacob stayed for a half hour or so before going home. Charlie went inside to watch a baseball game and I headed to my room.

Well, I had my truck. Now all I had to do was worry about school. Would I like Forks High? Would I make new friends there?

I supposed that I would find out soon enough.

XXX

Monday morning dawned as rainy as it usually did in Forks. There were a few sunny days throughout the year, but they did not occur very often.

Anyway. I was asleep when the alarm clock woke me up. I stretched and yawned before getting out of bed. After taking a shower, I dressed before going downstairs to the kitchen.

Charlie entered the room just as I had finished making breakfast. "Good morning, Bells," he yawned.

"Hey, Dad. Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?" I inquired, offering him a plate of eggs, sausages, and fried potatoes.

"Yeah, sure. Thanks. You know that I like your cooking." He sat down at the table and took a bite of his eggs. "Mmm! This is really delicious."

I reddened at the compliment as I sat down with my own plate. "Thank you," I mumbled.

We began to eat in silence.

"So...are you excited about starting school?" he asked after several minutes.

I shook my head. "No, not really. More like nervous."

He laughed. "I know what you mean. Don't worry, though. The kids here aren't too bad. I have known most of them since they were born. You should be okay."

"Thanks for the encouragement."

After we were done eating, I washed the dishes before leaving. "Bye, Dad. See you later."

He inclined his head. "Enjoy your day, Bella."

I got in my truck and drove to the school.

Carlisle's POV

Today was going to be the first day that my children would meet Bella Swan at school.

I could not help but feel nervous. Would they take a liking to each other from the start? How would they get along?

Would Bella notice that my children's appearances were different from other people's?

"Don't worry about it, Carlisle. Everything will be fine. Alice saw that it would," Edward assured. He had read my thoughts.

"Perhaps it will. You should run along with your siblings. You don't want to be late for school," I pointed out.

He snorted. "As if I would ever be," he muttered.

Bella's POV

It was very easy to locate Forks High; there were signs to guide me there along the road.

The first thing that I noticed when I arrived there was that I was not the only one who had an old vehicle. I was relieved because mine was nearly forty or fifty years old. I did not want people to make fun of me.

However, as I scanned the parking lot, I saw that there were some new ones. A silver Volvo, a Jeep Wrangler, and a red convertible. Five people were standing beside them. Two blondes, two brunettes, and one with copper-colored hair.

When I found a parking space, I cruised into it and before shutting the truck off. I grabbed my backpack before stepping out of it.

"Hi," a female voice that sounded like tinkling wind chimes greeted behind me. "You must be the new girl."

I turned to see that the five people had wandered over, most likely in curiosity. Now that they were up close, I could see that they were so remarkably beautiful that I had to wonder if they were born on earth. They had skin that was paler than mine by a few shades (I was quite pale myself) and golden eyes just like Carlisle's.

For what seemed like hours, I could not utter a word because I was struck dumb by their magnificent beauty. Then I shook myself. "S-Sorry. Yes, I am the new girl. Um...hello," I returned.

The short girl with black pixie-like hair, who had spoken to me the moment before, smiled. "Well, welcome! What is your name? What grade are you in?"

"Bella Swan. I'm a senior."

"Cool, so are we! My name is Alice. Alice Cullen. And this is my boyfriend Jasper-" She wrapped her arm around the guy next to her. He had shoulder-length blonde hair. "My sister Rosalie, who is his twin."

The girl with wavy blonde hair nodded. She looked like a supermodel!

"My brother Emmett, Rosalie's boyfriend," Alice continued.

The boy with curly brown hair and gigantic muscles beamed. If his eyes did not look as kind as they did, I would have thought that he was intimidating. He towered over everyone in the group.

"And finally, this is my brother Edward."

The copper-colored haired boy waved.

I grinned shyly. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you."

"It's a pleasure to meet you too," they responded altogether. Their voices sounded otherworldly.

Edward thrust his hands in his pockets. "So what classes do you have? Do you know yet?" he queried.

"No. I have to go to the office and pick up my schedule."

Rosalie smiled. "Oh, okay. Would you like us to show you where it is? It's your first day here-you might get lost trying to find it."

I shrugged. "I guess so, if you want to. That is, if it isn't too much trouble..."

She shook her head. "No, of course not! We would be glad to help you. Follow us."

They led me into the school and down a hall to the main office. I stepped into it as they waited for me by the door.

When I introduced myself to the woman sitting behind the desk, her eyes lit up. "Oh, that's right. You are Charlie's daughter," she remarked. She handed me a few papers one by one. "This is your schedule, and your locker number and combination. Make sure that all of your teachers signs this last paper so that I can have proof that you attended your classes. Enjoy the rest of your day, Isabella."

"Thanks, and it's just Bella," I said.

Alice practically mobbed me as I left the room. I did not think that she meant to be rude in doing so, however. "Great, you have your roster. May I see it? You might be in one of our classes. If you are, we can walk to them with you."

I could not believe how kind and accepting that she and her boyfriend, brothers and sister were to me. I liked them already, and I had barely known them for ten minutes! "Sure. Here you go."

She took the paper from me and looked it over. "Oh, cool! You do have all of your classes with at least one or two of us. Your first one is History and Geography with Mr. Friezenberg. Jasper and I can take you there right now. Class is going to start in five minutes."

The three of us hurried to the second floor and arrived in Mr. Friezenberg's room just in time.

He glanced up from his desk. "Ah, hello Mr. and Miss Cullen. I see that you have brought someone with you," he observed.

"Yes, sir Mr. F. This is Bella Swan. She's starting today," Alice declared.

"Oh, yes. I nearly forgot about that," Mr. Friezenberg exclaimed. "Welcome, Miss Swan. Let me sign the paper for you."

When he had finished doing that, he gave me my textbook and workbook. "There you go. And you will be sharing a table with Jessica Stanley. First row on your left." He pointed to where a dark-haired girl was slouching over her desk.

I sat down and took out my notebook.

The girl named Jessica smiled at me. "Hi. You must be Bella. You look like your dad."

I inclined my head. "Yes, I'm Bella."

"Nice to meet you. My name is Jessica Stanley. Your dad is friends with my parents."

"Oh. That's good to hear. It's nice to meet you too."

"May I have your attention, please," Mr. Friezenberg called to us, and class began.

The rest of the morning passed by without any drama. When History and Geography class was over, Emmett escorted me to Calculus I. After that, I went to English Literature II with Edward and Rosalie. My fourth period class was Chemistry, which Edward, Alice, and Jasper also attended.

Edward and Emmett had been very sweet when showing me to Calculus and Chemistry. They would hold my books for me as we headed to where we needed to go. They would even tell jokes, and I found myself laughing at them. It felt great to do so because I did not laugh very often.

Besides the Cullens, I had met several other students. Their names were Angela Weber, Ben Cheney, Eric Yorkie, Tyler Crowley, Lauren Mallory (who was Jessica Stanley's friend), and Mike Newton. I liked most of them well enough, except for Lauren and Mike.

Lauren was a bitch, to put it simply. I would have found Mike more tolerable if he did not try to flirt with me so much. He had even offered to carry my books for me when I was going to Chemistry. I told him no, but he persisted in begging me to let him. I was sure that we would have gotten into an argument if Edward hadn't intervened.

"Hey, Newton! Leave Bella alone! She doesn't need you to mess with her, you creep!" he growled.

Mike huffed and stormed away with a frown.

Edward turned to me. "Don't worry about him anymore, Bella. I won't let him or any of the guys here bother you. Trust me."

I smiled a little. "Thanks."

Finally, it was time for lunch. I sat with Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, and Edward while Jasper stood in line to get my food.

"Aren't you going to eat too?" I questioned.

Emmett shook his head. "No. We don't like the food here. It sucks. And anyway, we're vegetarians," he added.

The others exchanged furtive, amused glances.

I nodded in understanding. "That makes sense."

Jasper laid my tray in front of me several minutes later. It contained a plate of Salisbury steak with rice and spinach. He had also picked out a can of orange soda for me.

I thanked him before starting to eat. The food did not taste bad at all. Not like Emmett said that it did...

"So, Bella. Where are you from?" Alice inquired.

I swallowed my rice before answering. "I was born here in Forks, but I had been living with my mom in Phoenix since I was three months old. I had just moved in with my dad last week because Mom wanted some time alone."

Rosalie nodded pensively. "Did you like it in Phoenix?"

"Yes, it. . .it wasn't too bad." I took another bite of my food.

The gloomy tone of my voice caused everybody to eye me with concern.

"What's the matter? Is there something about Phoenix that you didn't sit well with you?" Edward queried.

"Yeah, a few things didn't," I mumbled. "But I don't want to talk about it."

He peered at me shrewdly, as if he were trying to figure me out. I squirmed and continued to eat.

I knew that they wanted to ask more questions, but they did not press me. Instead, they chose to talk about something else.

Spanish II followed lunch, and after that was Gym, which I hated. I was too clumsy for that class. I nearly always ended up falling and/or getting hurt. Sometimes, I injured myself so badly that I had to be taken to the nurse or the hospital.

Luckily, time went by quickly, and school was over before I knew it. I was glad that it was. I was aching and sore, and I just wanted to go home and rest.

After putting a few things away in my locker, I walked out of the building. The Cullens joined me as I headed for my truck.

"It was great to meet you, Bella. We ought to hang out after school sometime this week. Go to the mall or our house or something. In fact, you could come over to our place right now. We could do our homework together and find stuff to do afterwards," Alice remarked.

"That doesn't sound like a bad idea. I'm sure that Charlie won't mind if I spend time with you. But I have to go to the market. We're running out of some of the things that we need," I explained.

"Not a problem, Bella. You can meet me at our driveway. Just head north out of town and drive until you see Rosalie's convertible," she instructed.

I inclined my head. "All right."

She smiled and embraced me tightly. I had expected her to feel warm because she had treated me as such all day. Much to my astonishment, however, she was freezing. When I say freezing, I mean that she was as cold as marble, and just as hard.

"Uh, Alice? Why are you so cold?" I inquired as I backed away from her.

A strange expression flickered across her face, but it passed by so quickly that I barely had time to process it. "Oh, it must have been the air conditioning in the school," she stated in an offhand voice.

For reasons unknown to me, I did not believe her. But I let it drop. "Mmm. Well, I'll see you soon."

"Okay, Bella," Alice said.

"Meet you at the house," Emmett added.

"Be careful while you're shopping," Rosalie warned, hugging me. She was as cold as Alice!

I nodded and waved to them before reaching out to open my truck's door. Jasper made it there first and did it for me.

"Ma'am," he drawled in a Southern accent.

What a gentleman he was! I could not help but smile at him. "Thank you," I murmured, climbing inside.

He grinned back. "Yer welcome."

I started the vehicle and backed out of my parking spot. As I did, I waved to the Cullens one more time. They beamed and waved in return. I could not wait to see them later. They were all so friendly.

The trip to the market did not take long. When I arrived there, I got out of my Chevrolet.

I was just ambling through the parking lot when I slipped on the wet pavement. I tumbled forward and landed on my right arm. Luckily it did not break or anything, but I knew that the old bruises had flared up again.

"Whoa! Are you all right, miss?" a deep, angel-like, but strangely familiar voice demanded in concern.

Suddenly, I was being lifted onto my feet. I turned to see who had picked me up and froze.

It was Carlisle! I couldn't believe it! I gaped at him, unable to do anything else.

He stared at me in equal amazement. "Bella?! Is that you?" he inquired in shock.

Carlisle's POV

I had no idea why I asked her this when it was clear that she was Bella. After all, it was very obvious.

My God, but she was breathtaking...even more so in person. Truthfully, I had to wonder if she were descended from a Greek goddess or nymph. Her name suited her to a tee.

She smelled delectable too, like strawberries and freesia. I yearned to bury my nose in her jugular to have a better access to the aroma. To breathe in the heavenly-scented blood pumping in her veins.

I really knew then that she was mine. Of course, I had believed that she was when Alice told me so. However, seeing Bella again, and looking upon her, cemented the fact that she was my true other half.

My thoughts were interrupted then, when Bella started to speak.

Bella's POV

I blinked and came back to earth. "Y-yes. Yes, it is me. Uh...how are you, Carlisle?" I questioned.

"Pretty good. Are you all right? That was quite a fall," he stated.

"Yes, I'm fine. I didn't get too hurt. Thank you for helping me."

Carlisle looked relieved. "You are welcome, and it is no trouble at all. So, what are you doing here in Forks? You are the last person I expected to see today."

I had to laugh. "I just moved here with my dad Charlie. I'm going to be staying with him for a while."

His eyebrows rose with new-found surprise. "Charlie? Do you mean Police Chief Charlie Swan?"

Nodding, I replied, "Yep. That's him. Do you know him well?"

"I should. I am his doctor."

"Really? That's cool. Huh, this is a small world."

"That is very true."

For a moment, we were quiet. Then I sighed.

"Well, I have to get going. I need to buy some stuff."

Carlisle bobbed his head. "All right, then. Perhaps we will meet again soon," he remarked.

I grinned. "Yeah, maybe. Thanks again for helping me out there," I added.

He waved his hand dismissively. "As I said Bella, it was no trouble at all. Good-bye. Enjoy the rest of your day." He held out his hand.

As soon as I touched it, the oddest thing in the world happened. Electricity crackled along my skin from my fingers to my elbow. I jumped, and so did he. He must have felt it too.

Carlisle's POV

If I had any doubts that Bella was my soul mate, they would have been swept away right at that very moment. My children had told me once that that happened when someone touched their true other half.

Still. That electric nearly shocked the shit out of my hand.

An awkward silence pervaded, and we could only stare at each other in astonished bewilderment. After what seemed like a long time, Bella released my hand.

"Um. . .well. . .good-bye," she finally mumbled.

I smiled a little and nodded. "Good-bye, Bella. It is nice to see you again."

"You too, Carlisle. You too."

I picked up my bags and reluctantly headed over to my car while nodding to her once more. She waved to me in return, grinning brightly.

I did not want to leave her. Nevertheless, we hardly knew each other, so I could not have been expected to stay with her. Besides that, I had to get back to the hospital.

With a sigh, I got into my Mercedes (an S55 AMG) and cruised out of the parking lot.

Bella's POV

In a daze, I bought the food that I needed to get and drove to my house. I put everything away and left Charlie a note to tell him where I would be. After that, I left to go to the Cullens.

Much to my relief, it was easier to find Rosalie's convertible than I thought. It was parked in a gap in the trees outside of town.

"Oh, good, you found me!" she exclaimed in delight. "Are you ready to go to my house?"

"Yeah!" I responded.

"Okay. Just follow me."

She stepped into her car and began to drive. I trailed after her carefully, making sure that I didn't crash into a tree when I arrived at a turn.

It took fifteen minutes to reach our destination. I would never had guessed that they lived deep in the forest. If I were them, I would be nervous about all of the wild life creeping around.

When we finally pulled up in front of the residence, my mouth fell in awe. It was not a house at all. It was a mansion! From the looks of it, there were three or four floors. There was also a garage that looked big enough to park five or more cars in.

"Oh, my God. This is your place?" I breathed as we ambled over to the door.

"Mmm-hmm! Do you like it?" Rosalie queried.

I chuckled. "You have no idea."

After entering the mansion, she opened a closet. "You can put your coat in here, if you want."

"Thanks." I took mine off and hung it on an unused peg.

We situated ourselves before heading upstairs to a living room. Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Edward were there, talking and laughing.

Emmett glanced up as we came in. "Hey, Bella! What kept you? We were starting to worry about you!" he boomed in a loud voice.

I lowered myself onto a couch that Rosalie told me that I could sit on. "Well, I'm here now. You don't have to worry anymore. I guess that we can get started on our homework now?"

They nodded.

"Sure! Let's get to it!" Edward announced.

All of us took out our books and proceeded to do just that.

Doing homework with them turned out to be very enjoyable. Stories about our day were told, and a few of them were very funny. Everyone helped me when I did not understand some of the questions that were asked. The guys would tell jokes that made our sides split. Alice and Rosalie would tease their boyfriends and Edward to the point of comical embarrassment.

To my very great surprise, I noticed that I was having more fun than I ever did in my life.

In addition to that, I could hardly believe that the Cullens had taken this much of a liking to me. No one ever had before. I permitted myself to soak in their friendliness...it was impossible not to. Not when it felt so warm and inviting. I soon grew more comfortable with them, and in turn, they did so with me. I was touched when Emmett laid his rather cold head on my shoulder in the middle of a discussion that we were all having. He looked so boyish when doing so that I couldn't help but ruffle his hair.

The hours passed by without my realizing it. We finished our homework in good time, then stayed in the room to talk some more. We were all just about to pick out a movie when I heard a door opening downstairs.

"Dad's home!" Alice proclaimed joyfully. "I'll go get him and tell him to come up here so that he can meet you."

"Okay," I said, feeling nervous.

She smiled in reassurance. "You don't have to be scared. He will approve of you. Trust me."

I could only nod. She patted my arm before dashing away. I refocused my attention on the others, who were still trying to find a movie for us to watch.

A minute later, there were two pairs of footsteps behind me.

"Bella," I heard Alice declare. "I would like to introduce you to our dad."

When I turned around to say hello, I realized that the man that she was standing next to was...Carlisle!

No. Fucking. Way.

No. Fucking. Way!

Carlisle was their father?!

I was really gawking at him in amazement this time! I could not believe it!

 

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

When I had recovered from my shock, I grinned faintly. "Hi Carlisle. I didn't know that you were their father. Your kids never told me that you were," I implied.

He smiled widely. "Hello there, Bella! I definitely wasn't expecting to find you here! You seem to be popping up everywhere I go today! And yes, they are my children."

Alice's jaw dropped, and everyone else looked just as astounded. "Oh, my God! You two know each other?! How? Did you meet somewhere?" she demanded.

Carlisle chuckled. "Yes. Bella is the girl that I had told you and your siblings about. Remember when I said that I met her ten years ago? And that we so happened to meet again on the computer several days ago?" he asked her.

"No way! I had no idea that you meant her!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, she is the Bella that I meant. I saw her earlier too, when I had finished shopping. She had taken quite a hard fall in the parking lot."

My cheeks reddened in embarrassment.

"So," he continued. "Were you kids behaving yourselves before I arrived here? How was school?"

Emmett nodded. "Yeah, Carlisle, we were behaving. Don't worry."

"And school was great," Rosalie added. "That was where we met Bella. She just started school at Forks High today."

"Ohhhh." Carlisle turned back to me. "Do you like it there so far?"

I shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so. It isn't too bad there."

He inclined his head thoughtfully. "That's wonderful. And are my children being polite to you? Have they made you comfortable?"

"Yes, thank you. They have been very friendly and welcoming to me."

"Good. So, what are you all getting ready to do?" he inquired of the room at large.

Edward held up a DVD. "We were just about to watch a movie," he responded.

"Would you like to join us?" Jasper offered.

Carlisle gave him a remorseful smile. "I am afraid that I will not be able to right now. I have a lot of paperwork to complete."

They bobbed their heads in understanding.

"Oh. That's all right, then. Maybe later?" Edward queried.

"Perhaps. Enjoy yourselves and don't get into any trouble," Carlisle admonished. He beamed at me and winked, then left the room. I found myself blushing.

The others must have noticed that I was because were smirking at me as I refocused my attention on them.

"What?" I questioned.

Alice and Rosalie giggled.

"Dad seems to have taken a liking to you..." Rosalie observed. "...if you know what I mean."

Snorting, I leaned back into the couch. "No, he hasn't. He knows that I'm 17. I'm too young for him. Besides, we hardly know each other," I remarked.

Rolling her eyes with a grin, Alice shrugged. "Okay, if you say so," she murmured, ducking when I threw a pillow at her.

Edward finally put on the movie, and we settled down to watch it. It was a very good one. We laughed often and commented on certain parts of it.

When it was over, it was time for me to leave. It was getting late, and I had school the next day. But I did not want to go. I had had so much fun today!

Alice must have know how I felt because she embraced me as I stood up. "Don't look so sad, Bella. We will be at school tomorrow. We can all hang out then."

"Yeah. Thanks for inviting me to come over. I had a really nice time," I said.

Emmett patted my arm. "You're welcome, Bella."

"We were glad to let you visit," Jasper added.

Rosalie hugged me. "If both your dad and mine allow you to, you can spend the weekend with us. We'll have a little sleepover, and we can go shopping or to the movies. Oh, wait! Let's exchange our phone numbers!"

I gave everyone mine first, and after that, they gave me theirs.

"Call us if you need anything. We'll be there before you know it," Edward stated, wrapping his arms around me.

"That's right," Alice declared.

Smiling at them, I put my cell phone. "I will, and you can call me too. I'll see you guys at school tomorrow! Bye!"

They waved. "Good-bye, Bella."

I strolled out of the room and down the stairs. I had made it to the first floor landing when I tripped and dropped the textbook I was holding.

Cursing under my breath, I bent over to pick it up. However, someone reached down and got it for me.

"Here you are, Bella," Carlisle said.

I took it from him. "Thank you."

"You are welcome. Are you leaving?"

Nodding, I replied, "Yes, I have to go home and prepare for school tomorrow."

"Oh, all right, then. Perhaps I will see you soon. Be careful while in the driveway and enjoy the remainder of your evening."

"You too, Carlisle. It was good to see you yet again," I snickered.

"The pleasure is all mine, Bella," he laughed gently.

We shook hands, which caused electric to tingle through my skin once more. My sleeve slid down my arm a little, revealing a purplish-black bruise.

Carlisle noticed it and frowned. "What happened to your wrist?" he queried in concern, inspecting it closely.

I tried to smile as convincingly as I could. "Oh...I had hurt my arm when I fell earlier, and I bruised my wrist. But it's no big deal. I treated it at home."

"I see. But would you like me to take a look at your arm as well? I can make sure that you did not hurt yourself too badly."

Fear rushed into me. I couldn't let him see it! He would find the other bruises and ask where they came from too! But I wouldn't be able to give him an answer. There was no way that I would tell him about what Mom did to me!

I shook my head as I pulled my arm out of his hand. "No, thanks Carlisle. I'm fine now...it isn't hurting me," I whispered.

He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. I did not think that he completely believed me. "Are you certain? I could do it right now and escort you home..."

"No, no! Everything's okay. Trust me. I had better get going now. Charlie will be wondering where I am."

Carlisle took my hand in his once more. "Well, it was delightful to see you. I am happy that you gave my children some company. They don't bring visitors often, so they rarely have someone to spend their time with, other than each other," he remarked. Then he cocked his head to the side. "By the way, when did you say that you would turn eighteen?"

"Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be my birthday." I asked.

His eyebrows rose in surprise. "Really? Well, I wish you many happy returns!" he exclaimed.

I had to smile. "Aw, don't mention it. But why did you want to know?"

"Because...well...I was wondering if I could ask you out sometime?"

My mouth fell. Carlisle wanted to go out with me?! I had to be dreaming! No one had ever asked me to go on a date with them before! Guys my age tended to overlook me. They usually went out with girls who more attractive than I was.

Perhaps Alice and Rosalie had told me the truth. Maybe he had taken a liking to me. I felt rather flattered at the idea of it. He was handsome, and he was a very polite and considerate man. The thought of him being attracted to me as well made me feel pleased.

It was a while before I was able to regain my speech. "I...uh...I...How old are you? You look the same as you did ten years ago, but I know that you have to be a bit older than me," I pointed out.

Carlisle nodded. This time, he did not look quite so happy. "Yes, I'm afraid that I am...I am thirty years old."

Blinking in amazement and disbelief, I peered at him closely. "Are you serious? You don't look much older than twenty-three!"

An odd look crossed his face, almost too quick for me to see it.

Carlisle's POV

Bella had really hit the nail on the head! It was almost as if she knew that I was really twenty-three in human years!

Of course, I could not tell her that I was twenty-three. Not until I revealed to her what I was. I hated having to lie to her, but I had to in order to protect myself.

Bella's POV

"Do I really look that young?" he inquired after a moment.

"Yes, you do." Then my shoulders slumped. "But it doesn't matter. We can't go out anyway. People will talk...they'll say that you're old enough to be my father! And Charlie would never approve. Besides, your children are my age!"

"That is true, but I do not care. You are going to be 18...you will be old enough to make the decision to court me. And if you choose to do so, they cannot do anything to me."

I was dubious. "I know, but still. Thirty is far from 18. Why do you want to ask me out when you know how old I am?"

Stepping closer to me, Carlisle placed his hand on my arm. "Well...to be honest, Bella...ever since my divorce, I had chosen not to look for someone else. I did not think that I would ever be drawn to another woman again. However, I was wrong. I find myself feeling very much attracted to you, Bella. You are so, so gorgeous and kindhearted. And there is something about you that makes me want to get to know you more. To find out all there is to know about you.

"I understand that our age difference is a bit of a setback, but it does not change how I feel. We could date each other in private for some time, and when you are ready to, you may tell your father that you are seeing me."

Although I felt extremely touched by his words, I was still hesitant. "Um...all right. But what about your kids? They would never possibly agree to this!"

He smirked. "I don't think that they will mind. After all, Rosalie was right...I have very much taken a liking to you. She wouldn't have said it in the tone that she had if she did not like the idea of it."

"You heard her?" I gasped.

"Of course I did. I wasn't that far away from the living room," he chortled. "So what do you say?"

Carlisle's POV

Please let her say yes. Please let her say yes, I prayed to God. I know that it is wrong to make her think that I am thirty. But when she finds out that I am really 23 in human years, perhaps she won't mind the age difference so much.

However, I did wonder how Bella would react when I tell her how old I was in vampire years. She would probably faint or run away from me in terror.

But when I eventually tell her that I and my children are vampires, what will she do? How would she feel?

I would not know until I did.

Anyway, I hoped that she would let me date her for now. That she would let me have her. I had meant every word that I said to her. I did want to get to know her. There seemed to be a mystery about her, something that was shrouded in mist. I aimed to figured out what it was.

For one thing, she behaved very strangely when I asked her about the bruise on her wrist. I was not saying that she had not done it herself. After all, she had fallen on it earlier that day. But I had the feeling that there was something else behind it.

Second of all, why did she seem so unhappy? Why did I have the feeling that she had never been given affection or love?

Perhaps she would tell me when she was ready.

For now, I would just have to let everything go at their own pace.

Bella's POV

I thought it over. On one hand, I wanted to date Carlisle. I really did. I liked him a lot, what little I knew about him. Plus, I realized that I was drawn to him as well.

On the other hand, I knew that we would both end up in some form of trouble if we were found out. Charlie would be furious, and everyone in town would gossip about us.

But then, what did it matter? Why should I care if they did? Tomorrow, I would be eighteen. I was old enough to do as I pleased. Besides, I had taken care of myself for years. If the people in Forks did not like me going out with Carlisle, they could all kiss my ass and hope that I don't fart in their faces.

What about Charlie, though? What if he disapproves too? a voice in my head inquired.

I did not know, but I hoped that he wouldn't hate me for it. I wouldn't have been able to bear it if he did. However, when the time came, I would deal with him.

Clearing my throat, I said slowly, "Well...sure. We can privately go out. I would actually like that, in spite of your being thirty years old. Truthfully, I...I'm attracted to you too. I wouldn't mind getting to know you."

Carlisle beamed. "Then it's settled. I do not know when I will have some free time this week. It has been busy at the hospital lately. However, I will let you know when I do. How does that sound?"

"It sounds good."

"Wonderful. Could we exchange numbers, please?"

"Yes, of course."

Once we had, I turned to leave. "Well, I'd better go now. Call me?" I questioned.

He nodded. "Certainly, Bella," he responded. "Drive safely."

"I'll try to. See you later, Carlisle."

"Good-bye."

I left and got in my truck. As I did, I heard knocking from the mansion's windows. Looking around, I saw Alice, Jasper, Edward, Emmett, and Rosalie waving at me in excitement. They also gave me a cheerful thumbs-up...I supposed that they had probably been eavesdropping on me and Carlisle. Apparently, they didn't care that I would date their father at all.

Laughing loudly, I shook my head at them and waved back. Then I rode down the driveway and headed home.

Carlisle's POV

I was nearly jumping for joy as I went back to my office.

Bella said yes! She wanted to go out with me, even if I was supposedly thirty years old. Perhaps the age difference did not bother her too much. And she was attracted to me as well!

I felt as if I were the luckiest vampire in the world tonight. Hopefully, on our first date, everything would go smoothly.

Upstairs, Alice chortled. "Everything will, Carlisle. Trust me. I've seen that it will."

"Excellent. Thank you for letting me know."

Now all I had to do was find out when I had a free evening. In the meantime, I could plan the outing. It would not be too fancy or simple, but good enough that we will both enjoy ourselves immensely. If Bella liked that one, then we could go on another date.

"Carlisle, she's your true other half. Why would she not like it?" Edward questioned.

Stay out of my head, please, I thought to him with a laugh.

Bella's POV

When I entered the house, I saw Charlie watching a football game.

"Hey, Dad," I called to him.

He turned to me. "Oh, hi Bella. Did you have fun at the Cullens'?" he asked.

"Yeah, I did. I like them. They were all so nice and friendly to me," I responded.

"That's good," He shot me a crinkly-eyed smile. "I'm happy that you spent time with them. None of the other kids in town want to have anything to do with them."

I frowned. "Why?"

"Most of them think that they are strange and weird. I don't understand why they do. They seem polite and well-mannered to me. Their teachers say that they are too."

"I would agree with you both. They are polite and well-mannered. They showed me to my classes and had lunch with me. And when I was at their house, we did our homework together and talked and watched a movie."

Charlie chuckled. "I bet that surprised the other kids in your school to see you interacting with them."

"If it did, I wouldn't know. I didn't pay much attention to them."

"What about Dr. Cullen? Did you meet him too, or was he still working when you left his house?"

I nodded. "I've met him. He seems nice." But that was all I would say.

"Mmm. He's a good doctor too. I should know...I'm one of his patients."

"Yeah, he told me that he was your doctor. Well, I should get to bed now. I'm tired, plus I have school in the morning. See you later."

"'Night, Bella."

I went upstairs and called Alice to let her know that I made it home safe.

"Oh, okay. Good! So...what do you think of Carlisle?" she inquired in a teasingly sweet voice.

Rolling my eyes, I admitted, "I like him so far. He's extremely polite and charming."

"Do you think that he's good-looking?" she prodded.

I blushed. "Yes, I do...very."

"That's cool. I think that you will really like him once you get to know him more."

"But...doesn't it make you and the others uncomfortable to know that I'm going to be dating your father? I'm the same age as you and your boyfriend, sister, and brothers are!"

"Age is just a number, Bella. So, no, it doesn't bother me or any of us. You are very nice, smart, sympathetic, and mature. I can see why Dad is attracted to you. He deserves someone who is as kind as you are."

I sighed. "Well, okay. If you say so. But are you sure?"

"Of course I am, Bella. So, don't worry about it. I have to go now. There is something that I have to do. See you at school tomorrow!"

"Yeah, see you."

I hung up then and changed my clothes. After that, I turned off the light and dove under the covers.

(Next Day-Happy Birthday to me)

My cell phone rang loudly the next morning, pulling me out of my slumber.

I flipped it open. "Hello?" I grunted.

"Happy day that I wish you were never born, you ugly whore! I hope that everything goes wrong for you today!" I heard Mom yell on the other end.

Seriously?

"Gee, thanks Mom. Fuck you too. I wish the same thing for you as well," I countered back in a sarcastic voice.

There was a thick silence, then: "DON'T YOU DARE SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT! I RAISED YOU BETTER THAN FOR YOU TO SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT TO ME!" she bellowed.

"Whatever, you selfish bitch," I huffed.

Then I slammed the phone shut and went to take a shower.

Usually, on my birthday, Mom ignored me. She did not wish me a happy one, buy me a cake, and give me any presents. All in all, she just pretended as if I were never born. It used to break my heart, but now I didn't care anymore. Fuck that bitch. Who was she to me? I hoped that she would get run over by a car, or better yet, a bus or train. That would serve her right for how she treated me.

The only person who would acknowledge my birthday was Charlie. He would send me a gift in the mail and call me. At least somebody appreciated me and was glad that I was here.

When I came back to my room, there was two wrapped packages on my bed. One was huge and the other was flat but wide.

To Bella, Love Charlie, the notes on them said.

See what I meant?

I grinned brightly and opened it feverishly. Inside the huge box was a flat screen TV with a cable box/DVD player. In the flat one, there was a Playstation 2 with several video games. There was also a card with fifty dollars in it. Wow! I was definitely not expecting this!

As soon as I was dressed and wearing my jacket, I ran downstairs to the kitchen. When I was there, I exclaimed in delight. Charlie had made breakfast for me! And it smelled so mouthwatering!

"Happy Birthday, kiddo!" he announced. "I cooked your favorite!"

"I can see that," I observed, gazing the pancakes, eggs, and sausages. I dashed forward to hug him. "Thanks for everything! They are really wonderful gifts!"

Charlie laughed and kissed me on the forehead. "You're welcome, Bella. I'm glad that you like them. You did need a TV for your room, and I figured that it wouldn't hurt to have some entertainment."

I snuggled into him. "No, it wouldn't. You are so good to me. I...I love you, Dad," I murmured, feeling so overcome with emotion that tears welled in my eyes.

He embraced me. "I love you too, Bells. I...I wish that I told you that often. Well...you should eat you breakfast now. You don't want it to get cold," he remarked in a gruff, but enthusiastic voice.

I gave him a kiss before sitting down. I tasted the food, and luckily, it was delicious. "This is good, Dad."

"Thanks."

I ate my meal with relish. Charlie and I talked all through breakfast. Once our plates were clean, he offered to wash the dishes.

"Are you sure that you want to?" I queried.

He inclined his head. "Yeah. Why don't you head for school, be there early? I'll take care of everything."

"Okay. Bye." I swiftly kissed him on the cheek.

"Bye, Bella. Have fun. Let me know if you decide to go anywhere."

"I will."

I grabbed my book bag and left the house. It was not raining outside, but there were heavy gray clouds in the sky. Nevertheless, I had my umbrella in case I would need it.

The Cullens were already in the parking lot when I arrived there. Did they always go to school early?

With a shrug, I found a parking spot and jumped out of my Chevrolet. As I closed the door, Edward ran up to me, followed by Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie, and Alice.

"Hi Bella! Happy eighteenth birthday!" they proclaimed, beaming brightly.

And suddenly, I was being hugged by every one of them.

"Wha-? Who told you that it was my birthday?" I demanded in shock.

Edward smiled secretly. "You did, of course. We heard you tell Carlisle so," he replied.

I placed my hands on my hips. "Didn't your dad ever tell you that it's wrong to eavesdrop?" I asked in a stern voice.

"But we haven't been dropping no eaves," he protested, mimicking Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings.

I smacked his arm playfully and chuckled at his British accent. "Oh, shut up."

Jasper snorted. "Yeah, Edward. You're being weird again."

Edward glared at him.

Emmett nudged me. "So you and our dad, huh? Ready to go out with him?"

"Shh!" Rosalie hissed. "Not so loud, Emmett! We don't need anyone to know! Carlisle might get in trouble if people find out that he is thinking about dating Bella."

"Sorry, Rose."

Alice threw her arm around my shoulders. "Come on, Bella. Let's get to class."

The school day passed by smoothly. I went to my classes with the others and did my work. Mike Newton did not bother me. I even spoke to Angela Weber in English Lit. II. I liked her a lot. She was quiet and shy, but also very nice.

"What do you think of Forks High? Do you like it here?" she inquired once.

"So far. I haven't been here long enough to know what it's really like here yet," I responded.

She laughed gently. "That's reasonable."

I had lunch with the Cullens again. Jessica Stanley had invited me to sit with her and her friends, but I kindly turned her down. However, I promised that I would another day.

This time, Edward volunteered to get my lunch for me. He came back with a tray of spaghetti and meat sauce with Italian bread and broccoli. There was also a thick slice of chocolate cake and a Ginger Ale soda.

I smiled at him. "Thank you, Edward. This looks good," I commented.

"Don't mention it. Enjoy your food," he smiled.

Rosalie grinned at me. "So what are you doing for you birthday, Bella?" she questioned.

I shook my head. "Nothing. I usually don't do anything," I mumbled.

She blinked. "You don't do anything? Not even go out to the movies?"

"No," I sighed.

"Why not?" Alice queried. "Everyone should do something on their special day."

I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess that it's because my birthday is usually on a school night. By the time I'm done my homework, I don't feel like doing much except relaxing."

This was obviously a lie. I didn't want to tell them that I didn't do anything because my sorry excuse of an egg donor wouldn't let me. She would even take my money so that I wouldn't even think of going somewhere or buying myself a present.

Everybody exchanged glances, but said nothing else about it.

Once lunch period was over, I attended my last two classes. Then it was time to go home.

"Bella, come to our house in a few hours," Alice stated as she and the others escorted me to my truck.

I scowled in confusion. "Why?"

"So that we can hang out again."

"Oh, okay. I'll be there, then. What time?"

She narrowed her eyes pensively. "Five o'clock would be good. And don't be late."

"Five, it is."

Emmett opened the truck's door for me. I thanked him as I stepped inside. All of us bid each other good-bye as I drove away.

When I was at my house, I decided to get some homework completed before going to the Cullens'. At four twenty, I called Charlie to tell him where I was going.

"All right, Bella. Don't get home too late. Have fun," he added before hanging up.

It was not hard to find the Cullens' driveway. That was because there were balloons tied to a tree. What was that all about?

I pulled up in front of the mansion ten minutes early. The windows were dark, and the garage was closed. It did not look as if anybody was there. I went to sit on the steps. I would wait for them.

That was when I saw a note on the door. It said:

Bella, the door is unlocked. You can come in and sit in the dining room. It's on the second floor. We will be here before five.

So I opened the door and climbed the stairs. The dining room's light was off too. I looked for the switch and found it on the wall to my left. I flicked it on.

"SURPRISE! HAPPY EIGHTEENTH BIRTHDAY, BELLA!"

I yelped and jumped a foot in the air as the Cullens popped up from out of nowhere. Even Carlisle was home! Everybody except for him was wearing party hats. The room was decorated with balloons and streamers.

Rosalie held up a camera and took a picture of me. The flash startled me even more.

"Holy crow," I gasped.

Everyone chortled.

Alice yanked me over to them. "Sit down at the head of the table, Bella! You're the guest of honor!" she declared.

When I had, golden lights flickered behind me. I turned to see Jasper carrying a small cake with white icing and iced pink roses along the edges. Edward and Emmett followed him, bringing in a tub of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. They laid everything in front of me.

Suddenly, I wanted to cry. I couldn't believe that all of them had done this for me.

"Bella? What is wrong?" Carlisle inquired, who had noticed the tears in my eyes.

I wiped them away as I let out a sob. "Nothing. I...I'm just so touched by this, that's all. You have all been so nice, and you hardly even know me. Why are you doing this for me?"

Alice hugged me. "Because we like you, Bella. And besides, we wanted you to have something to look forward to today, other than homework. Your birthday should be fun. Don't cry."

"Yeah!" Emmett agreed.

I sniffed and wiped my eyes again. "Thank you."

Rosalie threw out her arms. "All right, everybody. Let's turn off the light and sing Happy Birthday to Bella!"

Jasper flicked it off, then everyone began to sing. I gazed at the table and blushed shyly as they did. I was not use to all of this attention.

When they were finished, Alice said, "Now make a wish and blow out your candles."

Closing my eyes, I wished that everything would keep getting better for me. Then I took a deep breath and blew at the fire until it was dark. Everyone applauded and cheered.

After the lights were back on, I cut the cake. I offered some to the others, but they did not want any.

"Vegetarians, remember?" Carlisle asked with a grin.

"Oh, yeah," I laughed. "Sorry."

"It's all right, my dear."

I reddened. I liked it when he called me that, but not in front of the others.

Once I had eaten my cake and ice cream, Rosalie handed me a wrapped package.

"Present time! Open this one first. It's from me and Emmett," she announced.

"You didn't have to buy anything for me!" I exclaimed. I could feel the tears coming once more, but I forced them back.

She rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Just open it."

When I did, I found myself looking at a stereo system imprinted on a box.

"It's for your truck. Rosie and I noticed that you didn't have one," Emmett explained.

I smiled at him. "Thank you both so much. I don't know how to install it, though."

"No problem. I can do it for you before you leave."

"Thanks again."

Next, Alice gave me her present, which were two perfumes. One was labeled strawberry, and the other freesia. (Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her smirking at Carlisle, who rolled his eyes. I wondered what that was supposed to mean.)

Jasper had bought me chocolates. They looked scrumptious and I couldn't wait to try them.

Edward's gift was a book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. "You told us that you are crazy about Harry Potter, so I figured that you would want the newest book that came out this July."

"Oh my God! You have no idea of how much I wanted this! Thank you, Edward," I shouted, leaping forward and embracing him.

It was at this time I realized that Carlisle had disappeared. I turned to the others. "Hey, do you know where your dad is?" I inquired.

Everyone shrugged, but then, Alice nodded at something. "Oh, here he is. He went to get your present. It's beautiful too! Look!"

I turned to see Carlisle standing next to me with a bouquet of red roses.

"For you, Bella. Happy Birthday," he murmured softly.

With my mouth open in shock, I slowly took it from him. This had to be one of the most romantic gifts that I ever received! "Thank you, Carlisle. It was sweet of you to buy these for me. They are lovely, and they smell wonderful too," I added as I sniffed them.

He lifted my hand and kissed it. Electric crackled through my skin. "You are welcome."

Carlisle's POV

I was pleased that Bella liked the roses, as well as the other gifts that my children gave her. But when Jasper presented her with the cake, she nearly cried. However, it did not appear to offend her that he did. She even looked happy about it.

Nevertheless, why would she cry about it? Had anyone ever given her a cake, or celebrated her birthday, for that matter?

Those were a couple more things that I had to find out. If only Edward could read her mind. He had told me the previous evening that he could not. This astound him greatly, and I could not blame him. She was the only person whose thoughts were silent to him.

Bella's POV

Now that I had been given my presents, it was time for the music and dancing. When we were all in the living room, Alice put on a CD.

The others started to dance, but I remained on the couch. I did not know how to dance very well. If I tried to, I would end up breaking something, or breaking a bone. Carlisle had chosen not to dance as well, and sat in his armchair.

"Come on, Bella! Dance with us!" Alice pleaded.

I shook my head with a grin. "No, thanks. I don't dance," I stated.

Nearly everyone paused and stared at me as if I had lost my mind.

"You don't dance?!" she exclaimed. "Everybody dances!"

"Not me. I don't like to."

She opened her mouth to say something else, but Carlisle held up his hand.

"Leave her alone, dear. This is Bella's party. She does not have to dance if she does not want to," he remarked.

Alice nodded. "Okay. Sorry, Dad."

They went on dancing for about an hour or so. As they did, I noticed that Carlisle watched me with a frown for entire time. It was as if something about me puzzled him.

Feeling uncomfortable under his gaze, I squirmed in my seat.

Pretty soon, the hour was up, and it was time for me to go. The Cullens hugged me as they said good-bye.

"Did you like the party? Was it too much?" Rosalie asked.

"No, it wasn't. I liked it a lot. Thanks for throwing it for me," I replied.

Edward smiled. "We're glad that you enjoyed yourself."

Emmett tapped me. "I installed your stereo while the party was still going. You can listen to it on your way home."

"That sounds good. Thank you. I better get going now," I sighed.

Jasper embraced me once more. "All right, Bella. See you at school."

"Drive safely," Carlisle admonished. "Oh, and Bella. Did you need help taking your presents down to the truck? If so, I could help you."

I grinned shyly at him as the others rolled their eyes. "Actually, I did. You can help me if you want to."

"Anything for you, Bella."

He carried my flowers, my cake and my book out of the house. I took care of the chocolates and the perfumes. Everything was able to fit next to me in the seat on my truck, so Carlisle and I put them there.

"Thank you," I repeated after he closed the passenger door.

"It was no trouble at all, Bella. I am pleased that you had fun, by the way. We wanted the party to be special for you," Carlisle said.

Laying my hand on his wrist, I smiled. "It was very special to me. Probably more than you know. I don't believe that I can ever thank you enough."

He chuckled. "You don't have to do that. We only wished for you to have a good time."

I squeezed his arm. "And I did."

We stared at each other for an indefinite amount of time. Then I let him go.

"Well...I guess that I will see you around?" I queried.

Carlisle bobbed his head. "Certainly, Bella. I am still interested in going on that date."

"Okay. Let me know when you are able to."

"Don't worry, Bella. When I am, you will be the first to know."

He kissed my hand, then opened the door for me.

I climbed into my truck. "Thank you."

"You are welcome, as always."

Laughing lightly, I started the truck and waved to him. "Good-bye, Carlisle."

"Good-bye, Bella. Enjoy the rest of your evening."

"You too."

And I sped down the driveway and made my way home.

 

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

Charlie was sleeping in the living room when I came in the house, so it was easy to smuggle my presents into my bedroom. I would have had a lot of explaining (not to mention lying) to do if he saw the roses that Carlisle had given me.

I put my gifts away before calling Alice to let her know that I arrived home safely. Then I finished the rest of the homework that I needed to do and went to bed. But before I did, I buried my nose in my roses and inhaled their sweet scent deeply. I still couldn't believe that Carlisle gave them to me.

Minutes later, I turned off my lamp. After that, I took a rose from the bouquet and dove into bed. I held it and my teddy bear all night long.

XXX

The next three days that followed my birthday were great. I went to school as usual and had my classes with the Alice and the rest of the Cullens. I did not visit them at their house again, but I promised them that I would on the weekend.

It seemed as if the Cullens were nicer to me every time I saw them. They still walked to class with me, and they would always get my lunch for me. And it wasn't just the guys who did it. Alice and Rosalie did too.

My classmates and the other students in Forks High were amazed that I had taken on with them so well. When I remembered what Charlie told me about them thinking that they were strange and weird, I could understand why. The Cullens were not either, of course. It was true that they were unlike anyone that I had met, and so was Carlisle.

Still, they were good to have an interesting conversation with. They were intelligent and articulate, but also funny, silly, (and a little raunchy) at times. Most importantly, they were kind, loyal and generous. In fact, they were almost too perfect. Maybe that was why they did not mix with other people.

I liked them a lot, though. They were the friends that I needed all along. However, I could not understand this bewilderingly strong pull that I felt drawing me to them. I began to have an inkling that there was something more to our companionship. I could not figure out why or what it was, though.

Everything was going good between Charlie and I. He still worked most of the time, but we still managed to have some quality time together. Other than that, we stayed out of each other's way and gave the other their privacy when they needed it.

My egg donor had not contacted me again after my birthday. It was just as well. I had nothing to say to that bitch.

The bruises on my arms and stomach had faded away to nothingness by Friday. I was both happy and relieved about this because I would not have to hide them anymore. Better yet, I did not have to worry about them being seen either. It was a close call when Carlisle noticed the one on my wrist on Monday. If I hadn't done some quick thinking, a lot of shit would have happened that I wouldn't have wanted. My egg donor deserved to be locked up, yes, but I still did not want to talk about everything that she did to me. One day I would have the courage to, but at the moment I didn't. Not yet.

Carlisle had not called me or spoken to me since my birthday. I had not seen him either. I did not find this unusual, though. Like his children, I knew that he was often busy working at the hospital. I wondered when he would call me; I was just as eager to go on our date as he had been. I hoped that we would be able to have it soon. I really wanted to see him again.

(Friday evening-7:00pm)

I was in my room fooling around on my laptop. I was not doing anything important, just playing Solitaire. It was quieter than usual in the house. Charlie was doing his night shift at the police station, so I was only one here. I did not care much about it, though. I was so rarely left to myself (except for in school) that I welcomed any chance to be alone.

I had just put the aces in the correct place when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen. Carlisle was calling me!

Perking up in excitement, I answered the phone right away. "Hello?" I said breathlessly.

"Hello there, Bella," Carlisle greeted in a soft, musical voice.

I reddened. "Oh, hi Carlisle. Um...how are you?" I inquired shyly.

"I am fine, thank you. And yourself?" he returned.

"I'm okay, thanks."

"What about Charlie? Is he well?"

"Yes, he's fine."

"And how was school today?"

"It was all right. Nothing drastic happened."

He chuckled. "That's good. Are you busy? Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"No, I'm just playing games on my laptop. Why do you ask?"

Carlisle was silent for a moment. "Because I wanted to talk to you about our date. My boss gave me tomorrow and Sunday off from work. He thinks that I have been working entirely too hard and wants me to rest. And I was wondering...since I won't have nothing to do for next two days...Would you like to go out to dinner with me in Port Angeles tomorrow evening? There is a nice restaurant there that we can go to. And after that, we could also have a stroll by the harbor and talk, if you like," he stated.

I smiled brightly. Everything sounded so romantic! "Sure, that's cool. I don't have anything important to do tomorrow or Sunday either, so I can go. What time?" I questioned.

"Well, it takes a little more than an hour to get to Port Angeles. I was thinking that you could come to my place, and we could leave at 4:30. That way, your father won't suspect anything unusual. But if you prefer to leave at a different time, I understand. We can go at any time you want."

"Four thirty is great, Carlisle. I'll see you before then anyway. Your kids invited me to come over tomorrow. That is, if it's okay with you? I don't know if they asked you if I could..."

Laughing again, he remarked, "I don't mind if you do, Bella. I am pleased that you spend time with my children. They really needed a friend. I am glad that you had crossed paths with each other. They like you and enjoy your company very much. I want to thank you for spending most of your free time with them."

I was so flattered that I could only blush. "You're welcome, Carlisle. It's not a problem. I love hanging out with your kids. They have been kind and friendly to me ever since I met them earlier this week. So have you."

"I am happy to hear that they have, and you are also welcome."

Just then, I remembered that there was something that I wanted to talk to him about. "Uh...Carlisle? I had a question that I wanted to ask you if you didn't mind?" I queried.

"Of course not, my dear Bella. Ask away," he said.

My cheeks burned even hotter. "Charlie said that none of the kids in Forks want to interact with your children because they think that they are strange. Is that true?"

When Carlisle sighed and did not immediately respond, I thought that I had offended him. "Um, sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. Forget that I did..."

"No, no, it's okay. I'm not upset that you have," he assured me. Then he exhaled deeply again. "And I don't blame you for being curious. In a way, the children here do think that they are. But I personally believe that they don't associate with them because they do not think that they behave like teenagers normally do. Not often, anyway. Plus, my children like to keep to themselves in public, so they never had much of a chance to make friends with anyone other than you."

I was taken aback by his statement. "Well, if that's the case, I'm surprised that they had decided to approach me on my first day of school then."

Carlisle snickered. "I am not. I can see why they did. I think that they could tell, as I could, that you are not like anyone else that they know."

"Do you really think that I'm not?"

"Yes."

Grinning, I murmured, "That's nice of you to say. And it's funny. That was what I thought when I met you and your kids. That you were not like anyone that I have ever known, I mean."

"Really? Well, it's no wonder that we get along, and that you and I are attracted to one another."

"Yeah," I agreed with another blush.

He was quiet for a moment, then sighed once more. "I have to go now, Bella. I would like to chat some more, but I don't want to keep you."

"Oh, all right. I'll see you tomorrow. We could talk more then, if you like."

"Certainly. Good-bye, Bella. I hope that the rest of your evening goes well."

"Yours too. Good-bye, Carlisle."

Click.

I closed my phone and set it on my desk. A smile spread across my face. At last, Carlisle and I were finally going on our date! I couldn't wait until tomorrow!

I was reveling in my excitement when I abruptly realized something. I had nothing to wear for our outing! Even worse, I did not know what to do, or how to act when on a date!

I was screwed! What was I going to do?!

Carlisle's POV

It was good to hear Bella's beautiful voice again. I had missed her since the last time I had seen her.

The rest of the week seemed to drag by without seeing or hearing from my soul mate. I was glad that my boss allowed me to have some free time so that I could be with her. We would finally able to have our date.

While we were having dinner, perhaps I would have the opportunity to ask her questions. The very same questions that I had been asking myself ever since came to Forks. But I would not ask them directly. I would word the questions in another way that were innocent and non-suspicious. This would be easy, however. After many years, I had learned how to ask subtle questions that would not bring discomfort to anyone.

On that note, I looked in my closet to find something to wear for tomorrow evening. I found a clean, white button up t-shirt with a collar and black dress pants seconds later. I also found a black jacket to go with the outfit. I ironed them to free them of wrinkles, then hung them up on my closet door.

There. Now, I was ready. I grabbed my keys and left the mansion to go on a hunt.

Bella's POV

Picking up from where she left off

I paced back and forth from my window to the bed frantically.

I did not have any clothes to wear for our date! Not any that were nice enough. My egg donor had never given me a dress for anything except for my eight grade graduation, but I had outgrown it. It wasn't something that anyone would wear for their first date anyway.

Oh man, what was I going to do? There was no way that I could buy one. I had spent most of my birthday money on gas to keep my truck running and other important things that I needed. By now, I had less than $20 left. I wouldn't be able to borrow one from anyone either. Not on such short notice. I didn't have any friends in town besides the Cullens...

Wait a minute! The Cullens! I could ask Alice or Rosalie if they could lend me something! I was sure that they wouldn't mind doing so, as long as I returned whatever they gave me.

I grabbed my cell phone and dialed Alice's number. It rang twice before she answered.

"Hi Bella!" she exclaimed.

"Hi Alice. How are you?" I asked.

"I'm great! What's up? Are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm okay, but...um...I'm having a bit of a dilemma, and I need help."

Alice's voice switched from eager to concerned. "What's wrong? Did something bad happen?" she queried.

Suddenly, I felt rather embarrassed. I wasn't used to asking people for anything. "No, nothing happened. But...I, uh..." I faltered.

"Bella, what is it? You can tell me," she remarked soothingly.

I gulped. "Well...I don't know if Carlisle told you, but we're going out on our first date tomorrow.

"OHMIGOD! REALLY?! THAT'S SO COOL!" she squealed.

"Yeah it is. But um...I don't have anything to wear for it at all. Do you have an outfit that I could borrow? Or do you know if Rosalie has any that she could lend me?" I inquired timidly.

"Oh, Bella, why didn't you say so in the first place? Of course I have something that you can borrow! In fact, I have so many clothes that you could keep the outfit if you wanted to. But how come you don't have anything?"

This question really made me feel embarrassed. I didn't want to tell her that my egg donor hardly ever gave me nice things. She would just pity me. I decided to lie. "Uh, I left my dresses in Phoenix. I didn't have enough room in my suitcases for them, so I couldn't bring them with me."

For a long moment, Alice was quiet. Then she said, "Oh. That makes sense."

I had the feeling that she did not believe me. Then again, I was never a good liar...

"Well, it doesn't matter," she declared next in an enthusiastic voice, interrupting my thoughts. "When you come over to visit tomorrow, I will give you something to wear and shoes to go along with it. We can even experiment with make-up to see what looks good on you. Okay?"

I grinned. "Sure, that's fine. Oh, and...I've never been on a date before. I don't know what to do or how to act. Do you think you can tell me how?"

She laughed softly. "I won't need to. All you have to do is be yourself and not get too nervous. But that won't be too hard for you. Carlisle is an easy person to be with. Trust me."

"Okay, if you say so. I'll see you tomorrow then, I guess. And thank you so much. I owe you one."

"Don't be silly, Bella! It's not a problem to help you at all! I would do just about anything for you!"

"Thanks. How is everybody?"

"Everyone is all right. Just doing their thing, as usual."

"That's good. Tell them that I said hello."

"I will. Well, I'll see you soon, Bella. Call me if you need anything else."

"If I do, I will. Thanks again, Alice."

"You're welcome. Bye!"

"Good-bye."

I hung up. Now that that was taken care of, I could relax.

XXX

The first thing I heard when I woke up the next morning was Charlie snoring. I opened my eyes and peered at the clock. It was 10:23.

Yawning, I got up and headed to the bathroom to take a shower. I made myself breakfast and fixed something for Charlie to eat for lunch. Then I put a note for him on the refrigerator to let him know where I was going. After that, I called Alice to let her know that I was on my way before leaving the house.

About twenty minutes later, I was parking in front of the Cullens' place. Alice, Edward, Emmett, Jasper and Rosalie came out to greet me.

"Hi Bella!" "What's up, Bella?" "How are you today?" they inquired cheerfully.

When I said my hellos to them, and told them that I was fine, they ushered me into the mansion.

"Are you hungry, Bella?" Rosalie asked as we sat down in the living room. "Would you like something to snack on?"

"No, but thank you. I had breakfast before I came here, so I'm cool," I replied with a smile.

Jasper leaned back onto the couch. "So, what do you want to do today before you leave? Alice told us that you and Carlisle were going out later today."

I shrugged. "I don't know, but you can do whatever you were going to do before I came here.

"We haven't planned on anything yet," Edward announced.

"But now that you're here, we can definitely think of something," Emmett piped in.

"Yeah," I mumbled.

I picked up a little green and white ball that was on the floor. I shifted it in my hands, then threw it at Edward. He caught it and tossed it at Jasper, who pitched it at Alice. She propelled it at Emmett, who tossed it to Rosalie. Pretty soon, we were playing catch.

Laughter echoed in the family room. We made sure not to break anything as we ran around and threw the ball at each other.

Minutes later, Jasper pitched it at me. I had terrible hand-eye coordination, so I dropped it. I tossed at Emmett, backing up as I did.

The next thing I knew, my heel collided with a table leg, and I was tumbling backwards. I made to stop the fall when an icy pair of hands caught me. I looked up to see Carlisle.

"Are you all right, Bella? You seem to be falling a lot lately," he pointed out.

My face turned crimson, but I played off my embarrassment with a smirk. "Yes, I'm all right. You always seem to be helping me up or getting me out of some type of situation, Carlisle. Maybe I should just tie myself to you permanently. That way, I won't have to worry about ending up in the hospital. Or finding myself in a potentially dangerous or annoying circumstance," I joked.

Carlisle threw back his head and laughed as he set me on my feet. "If that is the case, I wouldn't mind if you do. That way, I could keep you safe. Plus, it would be as if I were in heaven if I had your lovely self attached to me all of the time," he murmured in a lighthearted tone.

Carlisle's POV

If only she knew how true that was, or how much I meant it. Well, she would soon, after I told her that she was my mate.

Bella's POV

I was stunned. I could not believe that he had actually said that to me! He didn't look as if he was kidding about it either. In fact, it was apparent that he meant it. Not in a bad or erotic way that would have made me uneasy, but in an honest and sincere way. It was as if he truly would like for me to be chained to him. His tone was not as lighthearted as it sounded...

With a little shake, I jerked myself out of my reverie and came back to the present. "Well...that's nice to hear, I guess. Uh...thanks?" I whispered to Carlisle, stammering a little.

He grinned and patted my arm. "You are welcome, Bella. I only came in to check on all of you and make sure that you were okay. Try to be more careful, all right? I'm afraid that I can't always be around to keep you from falling," he stated.

"If you say so," I sighed, feigning a pout.

We chuckled gently.

"Well, it looks like everything is fine here. I will see you soon, Bella. And if anyone needs me, I'll be in my office," Carlisle said to the room at large.

I nodded to him as he left the room. When he was gone, the others smiled teasingly at me. Emmett waggled his eyebrows.

Glaring at them softly, I hissed, "Before you even say it, shut up."

They chortled.

"Why should we? It's cute to see you blushing every time you see Carlisle, or when he says something to you," Alice remarked.

"We can see that you like him as much as he likes you," Edward added.

"Yeah! Bella and Carlisle sitting in a tree..." Emmett sang.

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" everyone finished.

I was sure that my face had changed from red to purple by now. "Shut up!" I repeated. "You guys are so immature!"

"They certainly are," I heard Carlisle agree, his voice tinged with irritation and embarrassment.

Everyone except he and I laughed once more.

(Later that day)

I had a late lunch at 2:00, and when I had finished eating, Alice took me up to her room. Rosalie joined us.

"Come on, Bella. We are going to get you ready for your date," Alice declared.

"This early?" I inquired, feeling puzzled.

She giggled. "Bella, it takes longer than you think it does to prepare for a special outing. Trust me, you are about to see."

The first thing that she and Rosalie did was make me take another shower in her bathroom. Alice gave me strawberry-scented body wash to use. Then they gave me a robe before washing my hair twice with strawberry shampoo. After rinsing it out, they used conditioner to soften any tangles I had. Then Rosalie blow-dried my hair.

When she had finished doing that, they both styled my hair in elaborate curls.

"You have such pretty mahogany-brown hair, Bella," Alice commented while she was doing this.

I had to smile; I was pleased by her compliment. "Thank you," I whispered.

In less than an hour, they were done. They pulled most of my hair back into a ponytail, but left some of it out so that curls hung down both sides of my face. I ran my fingers through my hair. They were as soft as silk, and just as loose. I peered into Alice's mirror and nearly gasped. I looked beautiful, more beautiful than I had ever seen myself look.

Rosalie grinned as she watched me admiring myself. "Did we do a good job?" she queried.

Nodding, I responded earnestly, "I would say it was more than good."

"Thank you," they said at the same time.

Alice laid a hand on my back. "Now, it's time for you to change your clothes. And that reminds me, you need a dress." She went to what was obviously her closet door and opened it. She stepped inside, then came out with a pile of dresses, which she put on the bed. "Go ahead and look through them. If you find something that you like, you can slip it on. I'll find you a pair of heels while you're at it. What is your shoe size?"

"Seven and a half," I replied.

She nodded and disappeared inside her closet again. I rummaged through the pile of dresses and found three that I liked. One was a glossy emerald-green, the next one was a shimmery navy-blue, and the other was black with sparkly glitter on it. It was hard to pick one that I really wanted to wear. Which one should I choose?

I consulted in Alice and Rosalie. They held each dress against me while narrowing their eyes.

"You should put on the emerald-green. It brings you out more. And these forest-green shoes will go with it," Rosalie finally announced.

Alice inclined her head in agreement.

But I was a little doubtful. Green wasn't particularly my favorite color. "Are you sure? Wouldn't black one look better on me?"

"It does look good on you, but it would be better for another time. This is only your first date. Carlisle doesn't expect you to look like a queen...not yet, probably," Rosalie said, joking a little.

I chuckled.

"Try the dress and shoes on," Rosalie insisted.

Not wanting to change my clothes in front of them, I went to put it on in Alice's bathroom.

As I slipped it over my head, I noticed how thin the material was. It felt lighter than air, but clung tightly to my figure.

The dress had thin shoulder straps (not spaghetti straps, they were a little more wider), and the hem was an inch under my knees. Half of my back was exposed, but not too much. The forest-green shoes were a perfect fit, and thankfully had low heels.

I looked myself over in the full-length mirror on the door. Damn, did I look sexy! I began to think that emerald-green was my color! It did bring me out!

Alice and Rosalie thought so as well when I came out of the bathroom.

"Ooh! You look good! You're probably going to have to fight Carlisle off all evening!" Alice joked.

"Yeah because he won't be able to keep his hands off of you," Rosalie added with a smirk.

Rolling my eyes good-naturedly, I shook my head at them.

I had brought my strawberry and freesia perfumes, so they tested both on their wrists to see which one smelled better. They did each one separately first, then combined them. After that, they asked which one I liked the best. Strawberry mixed with freesia actually smelled wonderful, so I sprayed a little bit of both on me.

"Now for the make-up," Alice declared, turning my face from side to side. "Your skin is very clear, so you don't need much. Just a light coating of powder will do. We could also straighten out your eyelashes and put some eyeliner on you. Some red lipstick would look nice on you too. Does that sound okay?"

"Yes, it sound fine. You're the boss," I sighed. They knew more about fashion than I did, so I just let them have their way.

Several minutes later, she and Rosalie were done applying the make-up. With it, I looked slightly older, as if I were twenty-one rather than eighteen. But the make-up had a very appealing effect on me, and I looked as gorgeous as Carlisle said I did once. They also gave me slender diamond earrings to put on that dangled, as well as a thin diamond necklace. They were fancy, but did not overdo the look at all.

"Done!" Rosalie proclaimed. "Just look at Bella, Alice. She's going to blow Carlisle away, isn't she?"

"I would be astounded if she didn't," she said.

Then Alice glanced at the clock. "We had better get you downstairs now. It's 4:20. Carlisle will be waiting for you by the front door soon."

I blinked. "How do you know that?" I questioned.

She shrugged. "That's what he used to do when he was married to Esme, our mother."

"Oh," I grumbled. The idea of him having been married made me feel oddly and inexplicably jealous.

Alice frowned at me in bewilderment and concern. "Bella? What's the matter?" she inquired.

Feeling my face from the inside out, I realized that I had been scowling as well. "N-Nothing. I'm fine."

She exchanged glances with Rosalie. A strange, knowing look passed between them, almost too quick for me to catch. Before I could think about it more, she put her hand on my shoulder.

"Come on, Bella. Stand up so that we can look you over one last time."

I obeyed, turning on the spot when directed to. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the outfit or my hair because they did not fix or straighten out anything.

"You're all ready to go!" Alice exclaimed with a grin. "Have a wonderful time! And remember what I told you last night. Relax. Don't be nervous and be yourself. If you do that, everything will go fine. Oh, wait a minute." She went to her closet and pulled out a black sweater. "Take this. It might get a little chilly later on."

"Good luck! I'm so excited for you!" Rosalie squealed.

"Thanks. I'm going to need it," I remarked, taking the sweater from Alice.

They walked with me down to the second floor landing, wished me luck again, and I was on my own. I carefully made my way down the steps so that I wouldn't fall and kill myself.

Carlisle was standing by the front door as Alice told me that he would. He was wearing a white button down shirt, with a black jacket and black slacks. His dress shoes, which were also black, were highly polished. His outfit contrasted splendidly with his golden, liquid-fire eyes. The sight of him took my breath away.

As I approached him, I noticed that his eyes were also taking me in from head to toe. He nodded to himself, as if in approval, and a tiny smile appeared on his face. He looked as if he thought that I was as beautiful as he was handsome.

Carlisle's POV

When Bella came down the stairs, I was suddenly overcome by wondrous beauty.

She was attired in an emerald-green dress with polished forest-green, three-inch heeled shoes. Dangling diamond earrings sparkled from her ears, and she wore a glimmering diamond necklace. Her curly, mahogany-brown hair shone brightly with luster. Most of it was in a ponytail, but a strand of curls framed both sides of her face. I could smell her strawberry and freesia scent from Alice's room...the perfumes magnified it tenfold.

Rosalie told her that she did not look like a queen, but she was completely and utterly wrong. My soul mate was so magnificently stunning that I would have to take special care to keep my hands off of her. I found myself nodding and smiling a little in admiration.

This was one of those moments when I could not believe that she was mine. All mine.

Bella's POV

I walked up to Carlisle in a daze and stopped before him. Almost immediately, I caught a whiff of musk cologne radiating from him. I wanted to bury my nose in his chest. He smelled too good!

Carlisle spoke then, jerking me from my thoughts. "Hello again, Bella. How are you this afternoon?" he murmured.

"Hi Carlisle. I am all right, thank you. What about you?" I returned shyly.

"I am very well, thank you," he replied. He held out his hand. "Are you ready to leave?"

"Yes," I whispered, placing mine in his tentatively. Static charged through it.

He led me outside like the gentleman he was and we strolled over to his Mercedes. He opened the passenger door for me, and I thanked him before stepping inside. I put on my seat belt.

Once he was in the car and buckled up, Carlisle set off for Port Angeles. I could not think of anything to say, so I kept quiet. I mostly just watched him out of the corner of my eyes during the ride. He drove with a peaceful smile on his face while humming along to classical music on the radio. He did not speak to me that much, but perhaps chose to wait until we were eating to have our talk.

An hour later, we had arrived at our destination. Carlisle rode down a number of streets before parking in front of a small restaurant called La Bella Italia.

I laughed with pleasure. "You are too sweet, Carlisle," I stated, nodding to the building.

"Why, thanks," he chortled before getting out of the vehicle. He walked around to my side and opened the door for me. He took my hand to help me climb out.

"Thank you."

"You are welcome."

We entered the restaurant and waited by the hostess' station. A minute later, a woman who looked to be in her early 20s came to offer her services.

"A private table for two, please," Carlisle requested politely.

She bobbed her head with a grin and pulled out a couple of menus. "Right this way, sir."

Carlisle and I followed her to the back, where the private booths were.

"Here you are. A waiter or waitress should be with you shortly," the woman announced, giving us our menus. Her stare lingered on Carlisle as she left us to ourselves. I felt that familiar twinge of envy again.

A waitress appeared right away. "Hello. My name is Cassandra, and I will be serving you this afternoon. May I start you off with a glass of water to drink?"

"Yes, please," Carlisle responded.

"Sure," I added.

"Alrighty, I will be back in a second."

She disappeared, then returned with our drinks in two all-purpose glasses. "Here you go. And I will give you a few minutes to take your order."

We thanked her and she left.

Carlisle smiled at me. "You are very beautiful," he commented in a soft voice, gazing at me as if he were in a trance.

My cheeks tingled. "Uh...th-thank you. Y-You are handsome yourself," I mumbled. I opened my menu to hide my face. It was going to burn off if he kept making me blush!

"I am pleased that you think so."

Neither of us could think of what to say after that, so we concentrated on figuring out what we wanted for dinner. When I had picked something, I laid my menu aside. Carlisle did too, just as the waitress came back.

"Are you ready to order now?" she queried.

I nodded and cleared my throat. "May I have the mushroom ravioli with broccoli, please?"

"Certainly, miss. And is there anything that you would like to drink with it?"

"Hot chocolate...with whipped cream if you have it."

"Of course. And you, mister?" she asked, turning to Carlisle.

He pursed his lips. "Just a garden salad with Italian dressing, thank you, and a glass of Merlot red wine."

"May I see your identification, please?"

Carlisle pulled out his wallet and showed it to her.

"Very well, sir. I will have your food in twenty minutes or less. If you need anything, feel free to ask me."

When she was gone, Carlisle shifted his attention back to me.

"So, Bella. While we are waiting for our meal, why don't we talk and get to know each other a little more?" he inquired.

I grinned shyly. "Okay," I said.

Carlisle's POV

And now, I can see if can get the answer to some of the questions I have been asking myself, I thought. Of course, I would have to be careful and lie when answering most of the questions that she asked in return.

I leaned forward. "Is Bella your real name? Or is it short for anything?"

Bella nodded. "Yes. It's short for Isabella..." she began.

Isabella. Her name was like a song on my tongue, and music to my ears. Isabella.

"...But I don't like it when people call me that."

I was quite taken aback. "Why not? Your name is as pretty as yourself," I remarked.

Her face reddened as she shrugged. "I don't know. Bella just sounds better to me, I guess."

I stared at her for a moment. "Hmm. Not to be rude, but I like Isabella more. It suits you. Would you mind it if I called you Isabella?"

Bella's POV

Oddly enough, I wouldn't have minded it at all. I could not explain why, though. Normally, I hated it when people did, but Carlisle was different than everyone else. "Well...no, as long as it's only you calling me that. Um, Carlisle, may I ask you a question about yourself?"

"Of course you may, Isabella," Carlisle replied.

My name sounded as smooth as honey coming from his mouth...

"Well...you know where I am from and where I was born. Where were you born?" I queried.

He took a sip of his water. "I was born in London, England, but my parents moved here to the United States when I was very young."

I could have sworn that I heard a faint British accent whenever he spoke! "Wow, that's amazing! Is it nice there? Have you ever gone back?"

"A few times, and yes, it is very beautiful there."

"So where did you live when you were a kid?"

"Here and there. My parents traveled often. I mostly remember living in Rochester, New York, Chicago, Montana, and Wyoming."

I inclined my head pensively. "Where did you study to become a doctor?" I asked seconds later in a timid voice.

"Washington State University. I graduated with a Master's degree and summa cum laude from there five years ago. Do you plan to go to college?"

"I've thought about it, but I'm not sure if I'll go. I'm not particularly good at anything except English, and I never saw myself as anything much. Not in the workforce, at least."

Carlisle frowned. "Well, if you do well in English, you should consider going for journalism or public relations."

Making a face, I let out a laugh. "I don't know about that. I don't mix with people too well."

He quirked an eyebrow. "That's not true. You get along wonderfully with my children...and with me," he pointed out.

"People other than you and your family, I mean," I amended.

"Do you get along with your father-?"

Someone cleared their throat, interrupting him. The waitress had returned. I glanced at my watch and nearly did a double-take. Did the last fifteen minutes really go by that fast?

"Excuse me. Here you go. Mushroom ravioli with broccoli and hot chocolate with whipped cream for you, young lady. And a bowl of garden salad and Merlot wine for you, sir," she declared, setting our food and drinks before us. She also placed a wine bucket on the table near Carlisle. "Enjoy your meal! Remember that you may ask me for anything if you need assistance."

We thanked her once more. I started to eat my ravioli. Carlisle tucked into his salad, sipping his wine occasionally.

As I finished chewing my third bite, he repeated his last question.

I swallowed my food before answer him. "Yes, Charlie and I get along fine, even though we don't talk much. He's busy with his job often, and I have school. Plus, I have homework to do almost every night. But we try to spend at least some time together," I explained.

"That's good. And what about you and your mother? Do you get along with one another?" he inquired next.

My facial expression became singular.

He chuckled as he peered at me. "Uh oh! I take it that the answer is not a yes?"

I glowered at the table. "We get along sometimes," I responded shortly, lying through my teeth.

"...And what about the rest of the time?" Carlisle persisted, obviously noticing the tone of my voice.

"The rest of the time we just don't. What else is there to say?" I stabbed my broccoli with my fork.

With a grin, Carlisle stated, "You know, Isabella, it is not unusual for someone not to get along with their parents every once in a while."

"Maybe. I wouldn't know if that's true for anybody else."

He looked puzzled. "What do you mean? Don't you speak to other people?"

I shook my head. "Not really. Just to Mom and Charlie, and to you and your family."

Carlisle mulled over that. "Hmm. Well, what about your friends in Phoenix? Do any of them have nice parents?"

"I didn't have any friends in Phoenix. Your children are the only friends I have and had."

His eyes grew wide. "Never, in all of those years? Not even a boyfriend?" he demanded in shock.

"Never," I confirmed.

Carlisle's POV

Isabella never had any friends while she lived with her mother! Poor girl! This certainly explained why she was happy when she was around my children. And I...I must be the only man to have shown interest in her. I don't believe that any other had made advances toward her in her entire life!

No wonder she was so sad, and timid and shy with me. But as we talked, I noticed that she was becoming slightly more comfortable with me.

Another thing. I noticed that Isabella had gotten upset when I mentioned her mother. She did not seem to like talking about her either. I wondered why, but I would ask about it when I had the chance to.

On that note, I went on with the conversation...

Bella's POV

"But you are such a kind person, Isabella," he exclaimed after a pause. "You seem like the type that would have at least a few friends."

"Maybe I would have had some in Phoenix if people didn't think that I was strange. Or if I weren't such a klutz," I muttered bitterly.

Carlisle placed his hand on mine. "That is not true. You are not a klutz, and you are not strange at all. I never thought for a minute that you were. I find you to be a sweet, friendly, kind, mature, intelligent, sophisticated, and complex young lady."

I bowed my head as a tiny smile of pleasure lit up my face. "Thank you. I think that you are the only guy ever thought that I was."

He lifted my chin so that I was looking at him. "Isabella, I cannot help but think or see that you are. It is why I want to date you. I like you very much, and I can see myself with you," he whispered passionately.

"R-Really?" I gasped, feeling extremely touched by what he said.

"Really, my dear. And I don't think that I am the only one who sees you for who you truly are. I am sure that someone else has before."

"Well, if someone had, I would have no way of knowing it."

"No, I suppose not."

Carlisle backed away then, and we continued to eat our food. It was going to get cold if we ignored it any longer.

When our plates were nearly empty, he cleared his throat.

"We never finished talking about your mother," he noted. "And now that I brought this up, I have a question."

I rose an eyebrow. "Yes?"

He picked at a tomato with his fork. "If you don't mind my asking, how come you and your mother do not get along at other times? You looked a bit upset when I mentioned her. Did you two...fight often when you lived with her?" he queried.

Suddenly, I did become rather angry, as well as uncomfortable and frightened. What did it matter to him what kind of relationship my egg donor and I had? I couldn't tell him the truth, not when the situation between me and that bitch had nothing to do with him! Who did he think he was to ask me these questions?!

"I don't want to talk about it. Why do you care if we got along or not, anyway? It's none of your business," I snapped.

Carlisle's POV

Bingo! Her response was definitely an indicator that there was more to this than she would let on.

I had not expected her to do this, of course. She just barely knew me. It would not be easy for her to tell me everything about her, at least for a while.

I knew that I should wave this discussion aside. However, the expression on Isabella's face worried me. I could see that she was clearly furious, but I also detected uneasiness and fear.

Why would Isabella feel this way when it came to her mother? Gathering from the few things that she had mentioned about her:

"My mom would be mad if she sees me talking to someone that I don't know."

"...She wouldn't like it if she caught me speaking to you in this chat room."

I could see that her mother was strict. But then I remembered how unfairly she treated Isabella when she asked for the teddy and some candy.

This led to a startling question, one that I did not think to ask myself before.

Had her mother been unkind to her when they lived together? Not just on that day ten years ago, but most of the time, or all of it?

The idea of my Isabella having been mistreated enraged me and made me sick to my stomach. If I ever found out that she had been, I didn't know what I would do, but I knew that it wouldn't be pretty!

Before I could think of anything to say, Isabella pushed her ravioli dish aside and stood up. She still looked considerably angry...I must have really upset her.

It took a second for me to realize that she was thinking of leaving. I couldn't let her go, not with the way that she was feeling!

I had to think quick!

Bella's POV

After ranting at Carlisle, I threw my napkin onto my plate and shoved it away.

Just as I was about to leave the booth, he grabbed my arm. I turned to see him standing behind me, looking apologetic.

"Please don't go, Isabella. I'm sorry if I offended you...I had no intention of doing that. I was only curious, but I had no right to pry. You are right...it is none of my business. Please...let us continue our date. I don't want to end things on the wrong foot. Please stay," he implored.

I melted around the edges. How could I leave him when he looked as if his heart would break if I did? Besides, I could plainly see that he was sorry, and meant everything that he told me.

With a sigh, I nodded before sitting back down. Carlisle squeezed my hand in silent thanks before letting it go.

Neither of us talked about my egg donor again as we ate the rest of our food. He asked if I wanted dessert, but I said no. The waitress gave him the bill when he needed it. He paid the desired amount of cash and hid both his tip and mine under a napkin. Then we left the restaurant.

Carlisle drove to the harbor although it wasn't far from La Bella Italia. But I knew why he did without asking; he didn't want his Mercedes to be towed. I couldn't blame him. His car was amazing, and if it were mine, I'd be pretty pissed if I had to get it out of an impound lot.

He and I were soon strolling along the walk. As we did, I told him about almost everything that went on during my first week of school. In turn, Carlisle told me about some of the things that happened in the hospital since he last saw me. We sat down on a bench to watch sailboats drifting along in the bay too.

As we were doing this, he took my hand. However, when he saw that I was looking at our interlocked fingers, he quickly apologized.

"I'm sorry, Bella. I don't mean to be so forward..." he began to say.

"You don't have to be sorry...You can hold my hand if you want to. I don't mind," I remarked. Even though his hands were freezing, I rather liked it when he held my own. Like his children's, they were as hard as marble. But there was a gentleness about them that was very pleasing to the touch.

He smiled before grasping my hand softly once more. I found myself relaxing and becoming less tense. Alice was right about him; he was an easy person to be with. He was so kind, so easy to get along with. So easy to talk to. I liked him, and as the evening crept by, I liked him more and more.

Pretty soon, the sky began to darken over the clouds. Carlisle exhaled deeply. "I am afraid that we have to go back to Forks now. I don't want you to get home too late," he murmured wistfully.

"Yeah," I sighed. "I don't want to leave, though. I was really enjoying myself."

"So was I, especially because you are here with me." He stroked the back of my hand with his thumb.

"Even though I snapped at you? I'm sorry that I did, by the way."

He waved his hand. "Don't worry about it. I wasn't upset that you did. But yes, I did enjoy my time with you. I would love for us to have another date. That is, if you would like to."

I grinned at him. "I would like to very much, Carlisle. I...I like you, and I would love to go on more outings with you," I admitted with a blush.

"Well, then," he stated with a pleased smile as we walked over to the car. "If that is what we both want, then we shall."

The ride back to the mansion was as quiet as the one to Port Angeles. That was only because Carlisle and I had silently chose to revel in the peaceful contentment surrounding us.

Before I knew it, he was speeding up his driveway. As he parked the car in the garage, his children came to greet us.

"Hi Dad! Hi Bella! How was your date?" Rosalie demanded eagerly as Carlisle helped me step out of the vehicle.

"It was splendid, honey," was all he would tell her.

She was not satisfied with his answer, and neither were the others. They bombarded us with questions as I went to Alice's room, and he to wherever he was going.

As I changed into the clothes that I was wearing earlier, Alice inquired, "So did you like your first date? Did you have fun?"

"Yes, I did. We had very nice time," I replied.

She beamed brightly. "That's wonderful. I'm glad that you two went out. I really am. I haven't seen Carlisle so happy ever since he filed for divorce. And you look happier than I have ever seen you since we've met. You must really like each other."

I just smiled at her. But deep down inside, I was overjoyed that he was happy. And it was I who made him feel that way! I was glad that I did. I wouldn't have wanted him to be miserable.

Alice and I chatted for several more minutes, then I had to leave. She walked to the front door with me and we embraced each other.

"Come back soon!" she mumbled.

"I will," I promised her.

She let me go and I headed for my truck.

Just as I had reached it, however, I heard Carlisle yell behind me, "Isabella, wait!"

He came over to me and took my hands. "I just want to thank you, Isabella, for such a beautiful evening. It was one of the best that I have had in a long time. I hope that our next date will be soon because I honestly want it to be. I really want to spend more time with you," he said.

I squeezed his fingers. "Well, when you are given another day off, let me know. I'll try to make time for you. And you're welcome," I added.

He smiled gently at me. At the same time, the moon broke through the clouds. One of its beams landed on his face, making him look even more god-like.

Carlisle must have been thinking something similar about me because he whispered, "Isabella, you are so divine in the moonlight. Did you know that?"

He caressed my cheek. Then he bent forward, and his lips met mine.

He was kissing me.

Carlisle was...kissing me.

I just stood there, struck dumb with almost overwhelming shock. I couldn't believe that he was actually kissing me! Me, of all people!

It took a moment for me to recover from my astonishment. When I had, I started to kiss him back. I did so clumsily at first, but as we continued, my lips became more skilled. Carlisle pulled me into him and slipped his tongue into my mouth.

Oh God, he tastes heavenly! I thought as his tongue explored it hungrily. When it retreated, I glided mine along his before sliding it into his own mouth. He moaned, and it was all I could do to keep myself from losing my mind. That strange electric that I felt whenever I touched him crackled on my lips. I did not care, though.

We broke apart for air after what seemed like days. Carlisle kissed me briefly one more time, then moved away.

"Good-bye, Isabella. See you soon," he said.

"Definitely. Bye, Carlisle," I returned.

That was when I heard banging on the mansion windows. We turned to see Alice, Jasper, Edward, Rosalie, and Emmett jumping around and cheering. Carlisle waggled his finger at them. I laughed, feeling partly embarrassed.

"All right, the show's over! Go to your rooms," he called to them.

They stuck their tongues at him and disappeared. Emmett paused to make kissy-kissy faces at us before joining them.

Carlisle rolled his eyes and smiled at me. "Well, I believe that I kept you long enough, Isabella."

"Yeah. Bye."

"Good-bye, sweetheart."

 

Chapter Text

Carlisle's POV

I saw Isabella off before going to my room. I laid on my bed and put my arms behind my head.

That was such a wonderful date, the best that I ever had. I could not wait to go out on another one with Isabella. I had the feeling that it would be better than this one. Perhaps we could go for a stroll somewhere, or even to a movie.

And the kiss that we had shared...words failed to describe it. It was more than perfect, if such a thing was possible. I could still feel her warm lips on mine. I wished that I had given her another kiss before she had left.

I sucked in my lips and ran my tongue across them, just to feel the heat again while it lingered. The taste of strawberries seeped onto it (my tongue.) Mmmm, so delicious.

While I relaxed in peaceful contentment, I suddenly thought of the time Isabella snapped at me earlier. Would she ever tell me why she did not get along with her mother at times? Would she ever explain why she did not seem happy to talk about her?

I hoped that she would, and soon. I did not like it when Isabella was upset about anything, or when something was troubling her. The thought of it worried and angered me, especially when she couldn't tell me about it. Not yet, anyway.

I couldn't pressure her. If I did, she would likely push me away. She may also decide not to date me again. However, I knew that she wouldn't be able to avoid me for very long. At least, I prayed that she wouldn't because I would not have been able to bear it. She was my soul mate, after all. I had fallen in love her already...much sooner than I had thought.

Still. I knew that the day would eventually come when I did receive the answers to my questions. I would just have to bide my time and wait patiently for it.

There was nothing else that I could do.

Bella's POV

I had remained in seventh heaven even after I went to bed that night. I still could not believe that Carlisle had actually kissed me! The sweet taste of his lips were still on mine.

Our date had been so romantic! Words failed to express how lovely our dinner and walk by the harbor was. I felt jittery every time I thought of him taking my hand while we had watched the sailboats drifting by.

I couldn't wait to go on our next date. I knew without a doubt that we would have more than a good time. It didn't matter where we went as long as I was with him.

Cross that. I couldn't wait to see him at all. I did not know when our next outing would be, but I did not want to sit around and wait for it. Carlisle was a doctor. It might be a while-possibly a week or more-before we could have another date. A week, not to mention two, would seem like forever.

Maybe I could visit him and his kids tomorrow if none of them had anything to do. Carlisle had the day off again, so perhaps he wouldn't mind. If he didn't want to see me, that would make me a little sad, but it would be fine. At least I could spend time with the others. I certainly had nothing to do. I had already finished my homework and did whatever else I needed to do.

Suddenly, I frowned. What was up with me? I had never behaved this way before, and definitely haven't over a man. Then again, Carlisle was not like any man that I knew, and I did not know many. Maybe this was why I felt the way I did about him.

He was more mature than some of the ones I did know, even for a thirty-year-old. Still, he did act younger than his age in some ways. He could be playful and goofy at times. I noticed it when he interacted with his children on my birthday.

On the whole, he was such a friendly, kind, intelligent, and sweet person. Not to mention drop-dead gorgeous and handsome. In fact, Carlisle had so many good qualities that I still could not understand how he and his ex-wife Esme divorced!

I knew that there was an explanation behind why they did. However, I wasn't going to ask him about it yet. It would make him uncomfortable, and I certainly did not want to make him feel that way. The thought of my ever doing that made me uneasy.

But I would think about all of that later.

On that note, I snuggled into my pillow and went to sleep.

(Next day)

I woke up the next morning feeling giddy with exhilaration. My mind was clearly still centered on the last night's events.

Smiling to myself, I took a shower before getting dressed. I ate my breakfast alone once again; Charlie had another night shift the previous evening, so he was asleep.

At least, that was what I thought until he entered the kitchen. "Hey, Bella," he greeted in a croaky voice.

"Hi Dad. What are you doing up?" I inquired.

He shrugged. "I really don't know. I just woke up suddenly for no apparent reason. But I'll probably go back to sleep soon," he responded, scooping eggs onto a plate. "So, what are you doing today? Are you staying home?"

"No. I'm going over to the Cullens' again."

Charlie laughed. "You visit them so much that somebody would have thought that you lived at their house instead of mine."

My brow furrowed in worry. "Do you want me to stay home? I can if that's what you want..." I remarked concernedly.

He waved his hand. "No, no Bella! You don't have to stay here with me. I'm just going to bore you, sleeping like a log all day. Go and have fun with your friends. I'm glad that you have people your age to spend time with."

"Are you sure?" I questioned doubtfully. "I really will stay..."

"Bella," he interrupted. "Just do as I say. I don't mind you visiting them..."

I bet he would have minded if he knew the main reason why I was.

"...and anyway, I'm sure that they are more fun than boring old me."

"That's not true, Dad. You're not boring. You just can't spend much time with me because you're often busy with your job. And that isn't your fault."

Nodding, Charlie agreed, "Yes, that's true. But when I have the chance, I'll make it up to you. I'll find something that we can do together."

I smiled. "Don't stress yourself out about it. I understand that you have limitations."

"I'm sure of that, but I still promise to spend time with you."

"Okay. I'd like that."

When we had finished eating, I cleaned the dishes and put them away. "All right, Dad, I'm leaving now. I'll try not to come back too late," I announced.

He gave me a hug. "Enjoy your time, baby. I'll see you when you come home. I don't have to work tonight," he explained when I frowned at him in bewilderment.

"Oh. Okay, then. Well, see you."

I pecked him on the cheek and left the house. By now, I was even more excited and impatient to see Carlisle and the others. I don't think that I had ever been more eager to see anyone in my life!

Carlisle's POV

I was in my office reading a novel when there was a knock on the door.

"Carlisle?" I heard Alice shout.

"Yes, sweetie?" I called back to her.

"I just saw that your girlfriend is coming for a visit. She's on her way right now!"

I rolled my eyes in annoyance at her playful tone. "Oh, really?" I inquired in a bored voice, as if I could care less that Isabella was coming to see us.

Of course, that was not true. If anything, I was excited, and I longed to kiss her again.

She laughed. I could tell that she knew that I was hiding my true feelings. "Yes, really. I figured that I ought to let you know, in case you want to run outside like a madman and meet her in the driveway," she joked.

I hated it when she or my other children teased me like this sometimes.

"Thank you very much," I remarked sarcastically. "I will be down there in due time."

"All right. You're welcome."

Rolling my eyes again, I turned to the next page of my book.

Twenty-five minutes passed before I heard the roar of Isabella's truck engine. I had to focus on keeping myself still as I heard the vehicle approaching; I was even more jittery than ever.

When Isabella finally pulled up in front of the house, I nearly flew out of my chair. I knew that I had to calm down, so I stayed in my seat. I didn't want to frighten her in the wild, frenzied state that I was in.

But I would definitely see her soon.

Bella's POV

I stepped out of my Chevrolet and walked over to the mansion. I noticed that there weren't any lights on as I drew closer to the front door. Was anyone home? Maybe I should have called them first.

Deciding that it would hurt to find out, I knocked on the door loudly. To my great relief, Jasper came to open it a minute later.

"Hello, Bella! You just can't get enough of us, can you? It seems like you are almost always here," he implied in a joking manner.

"Nope, I can't get enough of any of you," I responded with a smile.

He laughed while embracing me. "I'm only kiddin', Bella. You know that we are always happy to see you."

"I hope so. I don't want to wear out my welcome. Let me know when I do."

"Will do, but I don't think that that will ever happen."

I followed him upstairs, to the living room, as usual. Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, and Edward glanced at us as we approached them.

"Hey, everyone. Look who's here!" Jasper proclaimed.

They beamed as they came over to hug me. We all said hello to each other, then grew quiet.

I noticed that they were dressed very plainly today as we sat down. All of them were wearing T-shirts with jackets and sneakers, just like I was. Usually, they were wearing clothes that suggested that they were going to a modeling shoot.

My curiosity soon got the better of me, so I decided to ask, "I see that you are all wearing the same kind of outfit. Are you guys doing anything special?"

"Yes. We are actually about to go for a hike in the woods in about a half hour. We wasn't going to be out for long, only about a couple of hours," Rosalie explained.

"Oh. I'm sorry that I didn't call and let you know that I was coming, then. I would have just stay home. I don't want to intrude on your family time."

She waved her hand. "Don't worry about it, Bella. It's all right. We don't mind your visiting us. Why don't you come along? It will be fun."

I made a face. "I'm not sure if that will be a good idea. As clumsy as I am, I'll probably trip and crack my head on a boulder."

"Nonsense!" Emmett piped up. "You are not clumsy. But since you're afraid of falling, we will just make sure that you don't. That's all. We have your back."

All I could do was laugh. "Thanks."

For a greater part of the next fifteen minutes, we mostly just talked about my date with Carlisle. The TV was on, but none of us paid much attention to it. I did not tell them that I snapped on him, or that we talked about my egg donor. But I told them about everything else that happened.

"Wow, Bella! It sounds like you and Dad had more than a nice time!" Alice stated.

"Yeah, we did," I agreed with a smile.

I had just finished telling them everything when she glanced at the clock. "Hey, Bella. Could you go ask Dad if he would like to go hiking with us? He might want to come. He's upstairs on the third floor in his office, the first door to your right."

Blinking in confusion, I queried, "Why can't you ask him? You're the one who wants to know if he would like to come with us."

She grinned slyly. "Because I know that the main reason why you came here must have been to see him. So go and see him. You know you want to."

When I glared at her, she just winked back. I stood up and marched away in a huff.

I found the door to Carlisle's office easily. "Come in," a musical voice declared after I knocked.

I opened the door to find him sitting behind his desk. He looked up as I entered the room. A bright smile lit up his face.

"Good morning, Isabella. I thought that I heard your truck outside. I wasn't expecting you to visit us today, but I am pleased that you had decided to. How are you?" he inquired, walking over to me.

"Not bad. I came because there's nothing to do at home. I figured that I would come over if it was okay. It is, isn't it?" I asked, feeling rather unsure that I should have taken liberties all of a sudden. This was his house, after all.

He kissed me on the cheek. The skin burned where his lips touched it. "Of course it is, my dear. I have no problem with you coming over to see us. I am always happy to see you, and so are my children. Was there something that you wanted?"

Chuckling, I responded, "Well, it's not really what I want, Carlisle. It's what your kids want. You see, we are all going hiking for a couple of hours. Alice wants me to ask you if you would like to come with us."

Carlisle beamed. "I would actually like that. It has been quite a while since I had spent time with them. Let me put my book away, and then we will join them."

"Okay."

He went back over to his desk and bookmarked a page in his novel. Then he put it on a shelf before coming back to me. "Are you ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be."

"Well then, by all means," Carlisle said, gesturing towards the door. "After you, my lady."

I laughed as he followed me out of the room. "You are too charming for words," I commented.

"Thank you. I'm pleased that you think I am."

I was just about to head for the stairs when he turned me around to face him.

"Hold on a second, Isabella. Come over here with me," he whispered, pushing me gently over to the opposite wall.

"Carlisle, w-what are you doing?" I asked nervously.

He had never done anything like this before. It wasn't that I thought that he would hurt me. It was just that I still wasn't use to being touched by people that I barely knew.

Not that I minded it when Carlisle touched me. I liked it when he held my hand, after all. Still, his actions made me feel on edge when I wasn't sure about what he was going to do.

Grinning as if he knew what I was thinking, he replied, "I only wanted to give you another kiss. I wasn't going to harm you."

"Oh," I mumbled, relaxing when I saw that he was being truthful. "All right. But your kids are waiting for you."

He chuckled softly while trailing a finger down the side of my face. "I am sure that it wouldn't hurt them to wait a few more minutes."

And with that, he leaned down to place his lips on mine. I laid my hands on his shoulders as I kissed him back. When he darted his tongue in my mouth, I groaned at how sweet it tasted. His hypnotizing scent made me feel a bit dizzy. I pressed myself into him as he wrapped his arms around my waist.

When I started to run out of breath, Carlisle moved away. He took my hand with a smile and led me back downstairs.

Edward scowled at us as we stepped in the family room. "We were wondering where you two were. What took you so long?"

"Isabella and I were just talking," was all Carlisle would tell him.

He narrowed his eyes at us. "Right," he said, clearly not believing him. However, he let it go.

"Bella?" I heard Alice call to me.

I glanced at her. "Yes?"

She held out a large insulated bag. "I made two sandwiches for you, in case you get hungry during our hike. I also threw in some snacks and a four bottles of water."

"Thank you. But you really didn't have to do that, you know," I added, touched by her generosity.

Waving her hand, she said, "I wanted to. Here...you can carry the bag if you want."

"Thank you."

I reached for the bag, but Carlisle moved to take it instead.

"You don't have to do carry it for me. I'm not weak, even though I know that I'm skinny," I pointed out as he slung the bag over his shoulder.

He smirked at me. "I am just being a gentleman, sweetheart. I am not trying to make you feel weak by doing things for you," he implied. Then he turned to the others. "Are we ready to go?"

They nodded. "Yes."

"All right, then. Let's go."

Everyone chattered excitedly as we left the house. We cut across the backyard to a forest trail-head going east.

Carlisle slid his arm across my shoulders as we followed his children into the woods. I found myself leaning into him while looking down to make sure that I wouldn't trip over anything. I felt good to be close to him again.

The air smelled fresh from the day before yesterday's storm. Among the trees were bushes and flowers. There was also a wide stream that ran next to the trail. The water was more clear than the waters I had seen in other streams and brooks.

"I keep forgetting how beautiful the woods are here around Forks," I mumbled to no one in particular.

"Really?" Carlisle asked with interest.

"Yeah. Charlie and I would go hiking or fishing sometimes when I visited. But since I use to see him for only a few weeks out of the year, we didn't do either very often. He was mostly too busy with his job to take me anywhere much."

He bobbed his head in understanding. "Well, I can imagine that his work is cut out for him, being a police officer."

"It sure is. I wish that he didn't have to work so much sometimes. We want to spend more time together, but because of the circumstances that be, we rarely can."

Patting my back, he assured me, "You two will find time. Trust me. What about your mother? Did she like to go hiking too?"

I just managed to prevent myself from scowling. Why did he have to bring her up? Couldn't he tell that I didn't like to talk about her?

"Not really. She's too afraid of bugs and wildlife to care for it," I replied tonelessly.

"Ah. I see. Many people are afraid of one or the other, or both. She isn't the only one."

I shrugged. "I guess so."

He must have noticed then that I was not in the mood to discuss anything more about my egg donor. He just tightened his hold on me a little as we strolled deeper into the woods.

Carlisle's POV

Isabella kept a rather moody silence as we continue our hike. Was she angry with me because I had asked about her mother again? I hoped that she wasn't. I did not know how I could possible take it if she was.

Feeling that I should set things right, I murmured, "I apologize if I had offended you, Isabella. I really do not mean to be so nosy."

Her expression brighten at last. "It's okay, Carlisle. I'm sure that you don't. Like you said last night, you are just curious. But for the record, can you not mention my e...my mother too much anymore? We kind of parted ways on the wrong foot, and I'm still upset about what happened."

Wanting to ask why, but knowing better than to do so, I simply nodded. But more and more, I was starting to receive the impression that Isabella did not like her mother very much. "Of course I can. Your wish is my command."

"Oh, Carlisle. You are so corny," she giggled. I laughed with her.

Pretty soon, the trail split into three paths. One of them went straight ahead, one went to the left, and the other to the right. None of us wanted to explore them altogether. Edward complained that it would take too much time.

I came up with an idea. "Why don't we choose to follow one separately? Emmett and Rosalie are closer to the straight path. They could go down that one. Alice, Jasper, and Edward...you can take that path going right. Isabella and I will take the path he going left. Unless you have something else in mind?" I added.

"No, that's fine," Jasper remarked.

"When do you want us to meet you back here?" Emmett queried.

Thinking it over, I replied, "In about forty-five minutes. But don't go too far. I don't want any of you to get lost."

Rosalie grinned. "You don't have to worry about that, Carlisle. You know that we know our way around."

I smiled back. "I know, but still. Just do what I ask you to do so that I can have some peace of mind."

My children rolled their eyes in mild exasperation. Isabella chuckled.

"Okay, Dad. We will see you soon," Alice declared.

"All right. Be careful, everyone," I admonished, wagging my finger.

They rolled their eyes once more, then waved and went their separate ways.

I turned to Isabella. "Let's go and see what is down this path, shall we?"

"Sure," she responded.

We headed down the trail and found ourselves in a clearing minutes later. It was mostly full of bracken and weeds. However, there was a small, glassy pond in the middle of it. Next to it was a fallen tree.

"This is so beautiful," Isabella whispered. Her eyes took everything in in fascination. "I've never seen anything like this outside of a movie."

I caressed her cheek. "This is a very beautiful place," I agreed. "Of course, it will never compare to how beautiful you are. Would you like to stay here and take a look around?"

She inclined her head while her face turned scarlet. "Yes, please...unless you want to see what else there is to see?"

Always so considerate of people other than herself, I thought to myself. I kissed her on the lips. "Go ahead and enjoy yourself, my dear. Have some fun."

Grinning widely, she made her way to the center of the clearing.

Bella's POV

Being careful not to fall, I half-ran to the pond. That was the first thing that I desired to check out. Carlisle held my hand gently as he followed after me.

Once we had reached it, I knelt down to stare at the gleaming water in captivation. My reflection wavered in it.

Carlisle's suddenly appeared next to mine. It smiled, then gazed at me. "We look good together," he said in a low voice.

I nodded in agreement. "Yes, we do." Then I looked at our reflections more closely. "It's almost as if...as if we belonged to one another. How curious."

"Mmm."

My legs grew tired from me putting pressure on it after a moment. I stood up to give them some relief. "Why don't we see if there is anything more to this clearing than meets the eye?"

"We can do whatever you wish to do. Lead the way, sweetheart."

There were times when I seriously had no idea of how to react to his kindness. However, I simply did what he requested me to do.

Honestly, there really was nothing spectacular about the clearing other than the pond. I was about to suggest that we go further down the path when a mockingbird lit on a branch and chirped at us.

With a smile, I tiptoed over to it as slowly as I could. I cupped my hands over my mouth and twittered back to it.

Carlisle gaped at me in wonder and admiration. "How...how did you learn how to do that?" he breathed.

I laughed lowly. "Charlie taught me a few summers ago. I practiced for hours to get it right."

"I'm sure that you did," he snickered. "How many bird calls are you able to do? I heard once that your father knows how to do a good number of them."

"Yes, he can. I should know; he taught me how to do every one that he knew how to do."

He crossed his arms. "I bet that you don't know how to imitate the robin from The Secret Garden."

I rose an eyebrow at his challenge. "Which version?"

"The 1993 version."

Smirking, I brought my hands to my mouth. His eyes all but fell out of his head when I proved him wrong.

"Wow, Isabella. That is truly amazing," he commented in awe.

"Thank you," I whispered, peering at my shoes to hide my reddening face.

Over the next twenty-five minutes, we strolled down the other path. We did not get far when Carlisle said that it was about time that we headed back to the fork in the trail. We had to meet up with his children.

All of them were waiting for us at the aforementioned location when we got there. They greeted us with enthusiasm. As we made our way back to their house, we told one another about the discoveries that we had made. When Carlisle told them about my bird-calling abilities, they were very impressed.

"Why don't you show us, Bella?" Alice implored, bouncing up and down in excitement.

I was going to say no at first, uncomfortably aware that everybody was staring at me. I felt shy at all the attention.

However, she saw that I was about to refuse and jutted out her bottom lip. "Please, Bella?" she begged.

I relented with a sigh and nodded. "Okay, but I will only do one bird-call," I remarked.

Everyone's jaw dropped when I did an imitation of a hummingbird. They applauded afterwards, making me feel shy all over again.

"Oh, my God, that was wonderful! I would never have thought that you could do something like that!" Rosalie exclaimed.

"Me neither! That was cool!" Emmett added.

"Yeah!" Jasper agreed.

Edward did not say anything, but he did not have to. His smile told me that he was also spellbound by what I had done.

We had just made it to the edge of the woods when an extremely bizarre phenomenon occurred.

The sun had somehow managed to break through the clouds overhead. It was nice to see it, and to feel its warmth on my face. I haven't ever since I had left Phoenix.

That was when I heard a gasp and Alice cry out in horror, "Oh, no!"

I pivoted, thinking that something was wrong. And what I saw then stunned me into immobilization.

Carlisle and his children were sparkling! It looked as if millions of diamonds or crystals were ingrained into their skins! I couldn't even begin to make sense of it...why were they sparkling?!

"WHAT THE...WHAT THE HELL?!" I shouted at the top of my lungs in disbelief.

My shock got the best of me then. I was so startled that I began to hyperventilate. Carlisle tried frantically to encourage me to take deep breaths, but it didn't work. I soon became dizzy, and the next thing I knew, darkness surrounded me as I crumpled to the ground.

Carlisle's POV

I quickly gathered Isabella up in my arms before turning to Alice. "Why didn't you tell me that the sun was about to come out?" I demanded.

She looked apologetic. "I didn't have a vision that it would until it was too late. We were all having so much fun that I was distracted. I'm sorry," she replied in a guilty voice.

"Don't be, sweetheart. It's not your fault," I assured her.

I really could not blame her for what happened in this case. Her gift did not always work so well, but we couldn't get bent out of shape about it. She was not perfect, and nor was anyone else. Well, except Isabella. At least, to me she was.

"Well," I sighed in resignation. "Let's get Isabella to the house, so that I can revive her. When she wakes up, I have might as well give her something for shock. One, because she will still be freaked out about what she has just seen. Two, because she is going to want an explanation for it. She deserves one...after all, she was going to find out about what we are eventually. And when I do tell her everything, there will be no knowing how she will react."

 

Chapter Text

 Bella's POV

I wasn't sure of how long I had been knocked out. However, it did not seem long before I started to regain consciousness.

The first thing that I noticed was laying down on what was obviously a bed. Moving my hand, I could feel the satin blanket underneath me.

"Isabella? Sweetheart, can you hear me?" a familiar, angel-like voice suddenly whispered.

I jumped and replied, "Y-Yes, I can hear you."

Opening my eyes, I saw Carlisle perched on the edge of the bed. The memory of him and his children sparkling came to me in an instant. Frightened, I scrambled to move away from him.

He reached out to grab my hand. "Isabella, please stay here. I know that you must be afraid of me, and I do not blame you for that. But I promise you that I have no intention of harming you. I understand it if you do not trust me, but I am asking you to," he stated in a pleading voice.

Carlisle's gentle words soothed me. I found myself believing him. I somehow realized that he was telling me the truth.

"All right. I trust you. Well, I'll take the chance to trust you," I remarked. Then I crossed my arms. "But I want to know why you and your kids were glittering. I know that there must be an explanation."

"That is true. I do have one for you. In fact, I was going to tell you what I am about to tell you eventually. I did not plan on doing it so soon, though. I just have no idea of how I will."

I leaned onto the headboard. "Just tell me. I'm listening...I have plenty of time to."

He started at me closely before nodding. After that, he placed his hand on my mine again. "The first thing that I absolutely must beg you to do is to keep what I am about tell you private. Please. If you speak to anyone about it, my family and I could risk ending up in danger. Another thing: I would like you to remain as calm as possible."

"...Sure. I will do both if you need me to. But why? Are you all undercover police agents or secret hit-men? You don't murder people, do you?"

Laughing a little, he said no. "We do not. None of us are a part of the police force, or are hit-men either."

"Good," I sighed in relief. "So why must I keep what you have to tell me private, then? Neither you or your children are dangerous."

Carlisle squirmed as if what I had said made him uneasy.

This caused me to frown in worry and concern. "None...None of you are dangerous...right?"

He did not say anything. He pursed his lips thoughtfully...he was clearly trying to find a way to answer me.

This made me feel nervous. What had he been keeping from me?

Carlisle's POV

Now was the time for me to reveal to Isabella what me and my family were. I just had to figure out how I was going to.

Should I break to her gently, beat around the bush, or just flat-out tell her everything?

Furthermore, would this also be a good time to tell her that she was my soul mate, and my children's bond mother?

Thinking it over, I decided not to. Not yet. She has only known us for a little more than a week. She needed time to become a little more acquainted with us. But I would definitely tell her soon, likely within a month, if not sooner. It would depend on how far the relationship had gone by then. She needed to know everything eventually.

On that note, I focused on the information that I was to give her. It would be preferable if I just told her what I had to. I would not just come out with it, however. She would need a warning first.

Isabella cocked her head to the side while throwing me an inquiring gaze. It occurred to me that I had not spoken for five minutes.

"Sorry. I was only figuring out how I am going to say what I have to say to you," I explained. Then I took her hands once more and sighed heavily. "Yes, we are dangerous...in fact, we are probably one of the most dangerous-if not the most-people you know. However, my family and I are not dangerous to humans. At least, we try our utmost not to be."

Now she looked puzzled. "W-What do you mean, none of you try to be dangerous to humans? I don't understand. All of you are human. You look as human as every other person I have seen..." she added.

"But we are not. That is what I am trying to tell you."

She narrowed her eyes at me. "You're not? Well, if you aren't, then...then what are you?"

I bit my lip, choosing to ask her question instead of just telling her. "Isabella...have you noticed anything about me and my children that are different from other people? I am sure that you must have. I have seen that you are a very observant person."

"Oh. Well...I've noticed that you are colder and paler than anybody else, even me. All of your eyes are gold or amber. I don't remember seeing anyone else whose eye color was the same as yours. And besides you, I've never seen your children eat. All of you look like angels or other-worldly beings too. At one point, I actually wondered if you were even from this planet."

"Well, I suppose that I cannot blame you for that," I said with an amused chuckle.

"You can't when you obviously know that it must be true."

"Perhaps we do. I had never really thought about it that way. And everything that you have noticed about us is true. Our eyes, the way we look and feel compared to other people. None of us eat either...not human food anyway. The only reason why I ate on our date was because it would look suspicious if I did not. Which leads me back to what I was going to tell you."

"Which was...?"

I squeezed her hands. "Isabella...what I say next will likely cause you to go into shock. However, I beg you to attempt to stay as calm as possible. It is crucial that you know it. And remember...this information must be kept to yourself. If you never want to have anything to do with me or my children afterwards, I will definitely understand. None of us will stop you from breaking ties with us. It is not as if we would not have expected it."

She inclined her head. "All right, if you say so. Go ahead and tell me what you need to tell me then."

Exhaling deeply again, I braced myself. "Isabella, my family and I are vampires."

Bella's POV

For a moment, all I could do was gape at him. Then I burst out laughing.

"That's a good joke, Carlisle. You really had me worried there for a minute. Come on, be serious. What are you, really?" I asked, still snickering.

When he just stared at me solemnly, my eyes widened. "You really aren't kidding, are you?"

He shook his head. "I am definitely not kidding."

I blinked in confusion. "Then I don't understand. If you guys are vampires, then why haven't any of you drained my blood? You have known me for a week...you have had plenty of time to," I remarked.

"I understand where you are coming from. If we fed like other vampires do, we likely would have. There are other vampires in the world besides us. Unlike most of them, though, my children and I, including my ex-wife-yes, she is a vampire too-feed off of animal blood. That is why we call ourselves 'vegetarians'. That is why our eye color is gold. They would be red if we fed off of humans. "

"Oh. Well, I suppose that that's a relief. I wouldn't have wanted any of you to drain me."

I realized that I was unconsciously starting to believe him, although I had to admit that the idea of him and his children being vampires was still somewhat preposterous.

Maybe it was because I could tell that the Cullens were different. This would truly explain why they were.

Carlisle grinned. "I do not think that I would have ever wanted to that anyway. I would never have allowed my children to either."

"Why? I am human, after all. How am I any different from the rest of my kind?"

"There is a very crucial answer to that, but I cannot give it to you. Not right now...it isn't the right time to. Besides, I do not understand why somebody would want to drain-much less think of even hurting-such a gorgeous, peaceful soul like you. It would be a shameful abomination to waste that beautiful face of yours in my opinion. And anyway, my children and I like you. But you know that already."

I blushed. "You are always saying that I am beautiful."

He caressed my cheek. "Only because it is true. You are, whether you think so or not."

"Thank you," I murmured, bowing my head. "Can you give me some more proof that you are a vampire? Other than your physical characteristics and the fact that you sparkle in the sun? I am not saying that I don't believe you. I do, just not completely."

"Of course I can, my dear. Why don't we have another stroll outside? There is plenty of room to show you in the backyard."

"Sure. Another walk would be fine."

Carlisle stood up and held out his hand tentatively. I knew that he was thinking that I probably wouldn't want to take it, now that I knew that he was a vampire and all. So when I placed mine in his without hesitation, it looked as if my reaction amazed him. He did not comment, just led me out of what was obviously his bedroom.

His children were sitting in the family room as we came downstairs. They turned to us when we reached the landing.

"Bella, are you okay?" Edward queried. "You gave us all a good scare."

"Yes, I'm fine," I replied, smiling to assure him and the others that I was.

"That's good."

Carlisle glanced at them. "We will be in the yard if you need anything."

They nodded silently.

I followed him outside. He headed over to the edge of the woods and ambled slowly near the treeline.

After a minute, he finally spoke. "The first thing that I want you to know is how strong we vampires are. We are the strongest beings on Earth, stronger than the strongest human that you know," he stated.

"That is pretty strong. Show me," I requested.

He gently pulled me over to the trees and turned to me. "Ready? I warn you, this may astound you quite a bit."

I nodded. "Go ahead. I'll try not to have a heart attack."

Carlisle smirked a little at my joking. Then he shifted his attention to the tree standing before him and kicked it.

The force of the blow was so hard that it actually fell over with an almighty CRASH. The ground shook violently.

My jaw dropped, and my eyes all but fell out of my head as he walked along the trunk. He stomped on it halfway into the forest, then pushed it out into the yard. He dug both of his hands underneath it and lifted it high over his head. He didn't even sway once.

"Oh my God," I breathed, feeling as if I would faint again.

"See?" he inquired while laughing at my beyond-shocked expression.

"I see, all right."

He put down the tree trunk and joined me again. "Would you like to see what else I have to show you? Or do you think that it is enough for one day?"

Waving my head, I said, "No, no. This isn't too much for me. Very flooring, but I can handle it."

Carlisle rose an eyebrow skeptically. "Are you certain? I don't want you to faint again. You can always say no if this is making you uncomfortable."

"No, go on. This really doesn't bother me."

When he saw that it didn't, he bobbed his head. "If you insist. Well, the next thing that I have to tell you is that we are unbelievably fast."

"All right." I indicated for him to prove it.

First, he began with a light jog around the yard. But as I watched him, he ran faster and faster until he was nothing but a blur. By then, I couldn't keep up with him anymore. I grew dizzy when I attempted to.

And then...

"Boo!" I heard him growl behind me. At the same time, he laid his hands on my waist.

I jumped as I yelped and glared at him. "Carlisle, don't do that! You startled me!" I shouted, punching his arm. A few of my knuckles cracked.

"You will want to refrain from doing that, Isabella. I know that you must have noticed by now that my skin is very hard in addition to being pale and icy-cold. You could easily break a bone if you hit or kick me."

"Yeah, I did notice. Sorry about that."

"It is all right, sweetheart."

We grew quiet, but did not stay that way for long. My head was buzzing with many questions that I wanted ask him.

Carlisle must have suspected this because he eyed me curiously.

I took this as a sign that it was okay to be inquisitive. "Well...that was something. Is there anything else that I need to know about vampires?"

He nodded as we began to stroll around the yard again. "Yes. You may not believe this, but we actually do show up in photos. However, I am sure that you know that."

"Of course. You have pictures of your family in the house," I pointed out, letting him take my hand when he reached for it.

"Quite right. We also do not sleep or rest. As we never get exhausted or sleepy, it is unnecessary for us to," he went on.

This piece of information took me aback. "Vampires don't sleep?! What do you have a bed in your room for, then? You don't need one."

"I was right. You are an observant one. My family and I use beds just to relax on. It makes us feel more human. We also use them for other reasons, some of them personal."

My face reddened in embarrassment and disgust when I understood the meaning of "personal." "I see...but I really did not want or need to know that."

Carlisle threw back his head and chuckled. "I sincerely apologize for that. Perhaps I should have kept that to myself."

I snorted. "Perhaps you should have," I mumbled. "What else?" I questioned in a louder voice.

He did not need me to explain what I meant. "We are able to see farther than humans can. We can also hear or smell anything or anyone that is miles away."

"Really?"

"Really. The only thing about vampires that the movies have right is that we are immortal. Some have existed a thousand years, give or take a few, before Jesus had been born."

My eyes nearly fell out this time. "No way! Are you serious?!" I gasped in disbelief. The idea of somebody living that long as a vampire was unimaginable!

"Very serious. In fact, I personally know several vampires that have existed for that amount of time. I will tell you about them soon."

"Okay. That would be nice. So, that's all?"

"No. I need to tell you how old I really am, in vampires years and how old I was when I was changed."

"Why don't you start with how old you were when you had been changed first?"

Carlisle smiled brightly. "I was twenty-three, the exact age that you think that I look. I am forever frozen at this age...physically, I mean," he responded.

So I was right when I told him that he did not appear older than that! How funny and ironic! "And how long have you been a vampire?"

"For three hundred and forty-two years. If you add it up, I am actually three hundred and sixty-five, give or take a few months. I never knew which month I was born in."

I blinked. "Wow. That's still quite a long time, but I'm glad that you are truly closer to my age. I won't tell anybody, though. But I wouldn't have told anyone about any of this regardless. Who would believe me?"

He was relieved. "Thank you. And I am also happy to be near your age. But even if you weren't, it would not matter to me. I cannot tell you why for the reason you asked why you are different from other people to my family and I."

"What about your children and ex-wife? How old are they? How long have they been vampires?" I asked next.

"Edward is seventeen...he was the first person in my family that I had turned into an immortal..."

I gazed at him in awe. "You changed Edward?"

Carlisle bobbed his head. "Yes, I did. The third person that I changed was Rosalie, who is actually your age, give a few months. Emmett is the last of my children that I had turned. But as he is twenty, you can barely call him a child, even though he behaves like one most of the time. Jasper is nineteen.

"Alice is not sure of how old she is because she has no memory of her human life. We have reason to believe that she is between sixteen and twenty-two, but she is so tiny that we have no way of guessing her exact age. However, I know for a fact that she is no younger than sixteen. It is forbidden to change someone into a vampire if they are fifteen and under. I will explain why a little later. Esme is twenty-six. I turned her into a vampire three years after I had changed Edward.

"Edward has been a vampire since 1918, Esme since 1921, Rosalie since 1933, and Emmett since 1935. Alice woke up to this life in 1920, and Jasper was changed in 1863. I myself have been an immortal since 1663," he concluded.

I nodded pensively. "Wow. All of you have been vampires for quite some time, especially you. I would never have guessed that you are really that old," I teased.

He pretended to be affronted. "I am not that old. I just happened to be stuck at twenty-three for three hundred and forty-two years."

"I stand corrected."

We chortled heartily.

After we had settled down, I squeezed his hand. "I'm glad that you are twenty-three, though. I still wouldn't have minded if you were really thirty, but it's nice that you are closer to my age."

Carlisle beamed at me. "I am happy to hear that because I would have asked you out on our first date regardless. I am certain that I would still be attracted to you."

I returned his grin with my own. "Same here."

His expression abruptly darkened with worry. "Isabella, hasn't everything that I have shown or revealed to you so far made you uncomfortable or terrified?" he demanded in surprise.

"No," I responded earnestly. "Neither you nor your children have ever hurt me, so why should I be afraid of you? None of you have given me a reason to be. I mean, everything that you had shown me was very surprising, but not scary."

"I understand what you mean, and it is true that we have not harmed you so far. Nevertheless, what if one of us did? Would your opinions of us change?"

I pursed my lips thoughtfully, then shook my head. "No, I don't think so. From what I have gathered, all of you are trying to maintain a more human lifestyle. Besides, you and your children have all been so kind to me since I had moved here. I had never seen you being cruel to anyone else either...not yet. And I don't think that you would really want to be. I don't think that any of you would intentionally hurt me either.

"Yes, I know that as vampires, it is usually in your protocol to harm...and even kill...people. But there is something different about you and your family. I can see it, for one thing. I also feel that there is. So I don't have any hesitation in saying that I trust all of you. You have shown me why I can. Like you said, if you were the typical vampires, I probably wouldn't even be alive right now. Or you probably wouldn't know me at all."

Whoa. That sounded logical and deep, even for me.

Carlisle was also taken aback by this reasoning. "Are you sure that you trust us? I would understand if you honestly don't."

I held up my hand to interrupt him. "Yes, I am sure. Believe me. And I promise not to tell anyone about what you and your family are or what you had shown me."

He stared at me for a long time before deciding that I was being completely honest with him. A wide, joyful smile spread across his face.

"Thank you, Isabella. Thank you so much for trusting us. You are an extremely gracious person to accept what we are without complaining, arguing, or debating on whether or not you are losing your mind. I promise that we, especially I, will never try to harm you, unintentionally or otherwise."

"Okay. That is more than fine with me."

"Good."

He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me deeply. I kissed him back, running my fingers through his silken hair. I had never noticed how soft it was before.

When Carlisle backed away, he asked if I wanted to continue our stroll.

I said no. "I'm pretty tired now."

"All right, then. Why don't we sit on my balcony that is outside of my office?"

"Okay," I repeated.

He let go of my hand. "Climb on my back, sweetheart. There is another thing that I wish to show you."

I did what he requested.

"Now hold onto me tightly, and whatever happens, do not let me go," he admonished.

Carlisle sprinted towards the left side of the mansion. Then, without warning, he jumped upwards. We seemed to fly through the air for a moment, and before I knew it, we were on the balcony.

My shock was so strong that I would have definitely let him go if I hadn't had such a fierce grip on him.

He laughed lightly at my facial expression. "Vampires can jump several feet off of the ground. I can actually jump higher and farther than this. Perhaps I will show you sometime," he remarked.

I inclined my head a bit shakily.

"Would you like to sit with me?" he inquired, gesturing to a lounge chair nearby.

"Yeah...that would be nice," I replied. I sat in his lap and made myself comfortable.

He pulled me into him and kissed my cheek. "Since we are relaxing, why don't I tell you a story?"

I looked up at him. "What is it about?"

"My life as a human and vampire. I want to tell you everything about me."

"That sounds as if it will be interesting. Go on. I would honestly like to know about what your life has been like so far."

Carlisle's POV

Seeing that Isabella meant what she said, I began to tell my story while caressing her hair.

I started off with when I was born in 1640, explaining what my parents were like. I could not give her a lot of information about my mother because she died giving birth to me. However, I told her what I did know. That her name was Mary-Anne and that I had her blonde hair and blue eyes. Father-his name was Thomas-had explained once that they were like turquoise jewels that fell out of the sky.

Because my father had raised me, I was able to tell Isabella more about him than Mother. He had been an Anglican pastor who led hunts for vampires, witches, and werewolves along with the other ministers in London, believing that they were the main causes of evil in the world. Unfortunately, most of the people that he had executed were truly innocent.

It did not take long to find this out because I had joined him on these hunts when I was 16. And when I did, I tried to help my father to see that the people he thought that were guilty of being these "evil creatures" were not guilty at all. He had never listened to me, believing that he was right. Due to this, we quarreled often, but there was nothing that I could say or do to make him see my point of view.

"I know that you must think that he was a terrible person, but he was not. His views were just misguided," I pointed out.

Next, I told her about the time when Father had made me a pastor and put me in charge of the hunts. I was very happy about this because I knew that more innocent lives would have been spared when I was running everything. I actually knew where the vampires actually were, so I planned a hunt to locate them.

A few nights afterwards, I led a hunting party down into the sewers where the vampires were lurking. It only took a couple of minutes to find a group of them. As the leader of the hunting party, I attempted to confront them, only to be bitten in the neck by one of the vampires.

The venom that I had been injected with soon spread to every part of my body. I had soon lost the ability to stand because the pain was excruciating, but I managed to crawl out of the sewer while the vampires killed the rest of my hunting party. I made my way to an empty vegetable cellar.

"For the next three days, I hid there. I did not allow myself to make a sound, not even a whimper. Once I had completely gone through the transformation, I realized that I could never return to me home. Father would have had me killed if he saw what I had become," I explained.

"I know that that must have made you feel very sad," Isabella whispered in sympathy.

"Yes, it did. So when I had the chance, I snuck into my house one night to gather some clothes and a few of my other important possessions. After that, I left for good."

Then I told her about the three months that I spent wandering in the forest. I did not want to kill people, and I felt that it was best to cut myself off from them.

During that time, I had tried to kill myself because I hated what I was. It was not easy for a vampire to commit suicide, and I found that out right away.

"I could not even drown myself. I learned quickly that vampires did not need oxygen to survive," I declared.

After that, I moved on. I told her how I had found out that I could live on animals' blood.

One night, as I was ghosting along the trees, I had encountered a herd of deer. I was greatly weakened by thirst by this time. The sweet smell of their blood had been too overwhelming to ignore. Before I knew it, I pounced on one of them. I ripped open its throat and greedily drank the warm, red liquid pulsing out of it. My strength quickly returned.

Learning that I did not need to feed off of humans was a major turning point. It felt wonderful to know that I did not have to be like any other vampire. Exceeding wonderful.

From there, I travel to France, and then to Italy to study the arts and sciences. I had always wanted to help people, and being a doctor was something that I had often thought of. Other than being a pastor, that is.

"It was very difficult to pursue my ambitions. I still had to keep away from humans because my bloodlust was not as strong as it is now. One mistake and I would unintentionally murder someone. So, I had to study at night. I could not during the day, since everyone would notice that my skin sparkled in the sun," I added with a chuckle.

While I was studying in Italy, I met a group of vampires known as the Volturi. They were much like vampire royalty, and even had laws for our kind to follow. I explained to Isabella that I had broken one already: I was not suppose to reveal what I was to a human.

"Oh. So that's why you told me not to tell anybody what you are?" she questioned.

I nodded.

Then, I told her several of the other laws, among which was the rule about creating underage vampires.

It would be twenty years before I decided to leave the Volturi. I did not agree with how they took charge of things. Not only that, but I hated their sneering upon the way that I fed. They had attempted many times without success to change my diet.

"After that, I decided travel the world once more. I continued to study science and eventually became a physician and a surgeon. I had met a good number of people, vampire and human alike. Some of them are still friends of mine, but many of them are not close."

By the early 1900s, I was in America. I worked most of the time, relocating now and then to avoid suspicion.

I was in Chicago when I had first known Edward. He was with his parents in the hospital that I was employed in at the time. They were very ill with Spanish influenza, a sickness that was becoming a huge problem.

They had only been there for a matter of hours when their already poor conditions began deteriorate further. Finally, Edward's father passed away.

Elizabeth, Edward's mother, sensed that her own time was also running short. She begged me to spare her son, to do everything in my power to keep him alive.

I could tell by the way that she said this that she knew what I was somehow. Nevertheless, I promised to do what she had wished.

When Elizabeth died not long after, I took Edward to the apartment that I was renting and changed him.

Alice and Rosalie appeared just I had concluding telling Isabella his story. One of them was holding a plate while the other had a bowl and a large cup of juice.

"Hi. We thought that Bella would like to have lunch," Rosalie stated.

"I was actually getting kind of hungry. Thanks," Bella added as they laid the food-turkey sandwiches and Progresso's chicken noodle soup-on the table next to her.

They inclined their heads with grin and left us to ourselves.

Isabella took a sandwich off of her plate. "Finish telling you story, Carlisle...please? I can listen while I eat."

"Certainly, my dear."

Over the next hour, I went into great detail about the circumstances that I had met and turned the rest of my children and my ex-wife into vampires under. Well, except for Rosalie's story. The aforementioned person only liked to tell it herself. I told her about that gifts that Edward, Alice, and Jasper had, and she was surprised to hear that she may have one too.

"Edward can't hear my thoughts?"

"No. And now that I think about it, it is possible that you have a physical or mental shield. I cannot be certain about this, however, because I do not have any proof. But we may find out if you do someday, if the opportunity presents itself."

I also explained the mating process to Isabella so that she could understand why Alice and Jasper and Emmett and Rosalie were together. In fact, they were married, but no one in Forks knew this.

However, the only thing that I told her about mating was that it was love at first sight. That you were instantly bonded to your mate because they were your true other half. I did not mention what happened when soul mates touched one another or anything else. I did not want her to figure out that she and I were. Nor did I bring up the fact that you had to have sex with your mate to complete the bond. It would only make her feel uncomfortable, and likely even disgusted. Well, if I told her that now, anyway.

"Was that the reason why you and Esme divorced? Because you weren't soul mates?" she queried timidly, as if she was scared to ask me this.

"It is indeed. We still love each other, of course, but there is nothing between us except friendship. It took many years for us to realize that. When we did, Esme and I still tried to make the marriage work for the sake of our children. In the end, we decided that it would be better to just let each other go."

"Mmm. So how...how long has it been since you were divorced?"

"About eight months."

Isabella nodded slowly. "Ohhhh. So you have been divorced for a while."

"Yes."

I moved on then, finishing my story. I told her about the treaty that my family had made with a pack of werewolves when they had caught us hunting on their lands. The leader of it, Ephraim Black, came up with a proposal when I had begged him to spare me and my family, telling him that we were not like other vampires.

No one in my family was to bite or kill humans. We could not pass the boundary line that he would set up or hunt animals in their territory either. If we broke the treaty in any way, the werewolves would destroy me and my family. Plus, they would reveal that we are vampires to humans. I agreed on this, and our pact was sealed.

Finally, I concluded with everything that had happened over the years, ending with the more current events.

During the time in which I was telling my story, I noticed that Isabella was still not put off about anything that I said. She was truly incredible! I did not understand how she could sit here with me and not run away screaming in terror. It was as if the life that I had was as normal as a human's. Of course, it had been anything but.

"Wow, Carlisle!" Isabella exclaimed when I was done with my tale. "You've had a very interesting life."

I laughed. "Thank you. It has been quite an interesting one so far. And one of the best parts about it is that you have come into it," I declared.

A pleased smile lit up her face. She was obviously touched by my words. "Do...Do you really mean that?" she breathed.

Kissing her on the lips, I murmured, "Absolutely. I have no idea of what it would be like right now if you had not moved in with your father."

Bella's POV

There were no words to describe how that statement from Carlisle made me feel. No one, not even Charlie, had ever said anything even remotely similar to me. I could not believe that he honestly liked me this much.

"Well...thank you, Carlisle. I don't know what to say to that. And thank you for sharing your secret with me. It was brave, but nice of you to do that. It makes me feel more closer to you than ever, and I like you even more for confiding in me. I'm glad that you trust me with something so important," I remarked.

He trailed a finger down my cheek. "Isabella, I have complete trust in you. I know that I always will. Never forget that."

"I won't. I promise."

After that, we just sat there quietly for a while. The only noises that could be heard were the birds' twittering and occasionally laughter and yelling from inside the mansion.

Before very long, the sky darkened a little. I glanced at my watch and sighed.

"I need to be getting home now. I have to make dinner for Charlie and prepare for another week of school."

Carlisle nodded. "I understand. Would you like me to walk to your truck with you?" he asked.

"Sure. I would like that. Thank you."

"No problem. Just leave the dishes where they are. I will get them when you leave."

We left his office hand-in-hand. As we went down the stairs, his children joined us. They beamed at me and I smiled back.

"So, Bella," Emmett began, throwing an arm around me. "I guess that we don't have to worry about you being scared of us, huh?"

I shook my head. "Not a bit. You are all more human than a lot of people I know, even if you technically are monsters. I think that it's cool that you are vampires. I wish that I were one in some ways. It would be awesome to be as strong as you are, to have the ability to run at practically the speed of light. I don't think that I would mind being immortal either...some of the time. I am sure that living forever can be boring sometimes."

Everybody laughed heartily.

We were now standing in front of my truck. Carlisle's children hugged me and said good-bye. Then they ghosted back into the house.

I climbed inside of my Chevrolet, waving to Carlisle as I did. "Bye."

"Good-bye, Isabella," he returned. "Will you come to see us again?"

"Of course! I told you before that I still like you guys, even if you are vampires," I announced, leaning out of the window to peck him on the cheek. It was the first time that I had voluntarily made the first move to kiss him. "Besides, all of you have been nothing but kind to me. The least I can do is be kind in return and keep hanging out with you. But you know that I love to spend time with you and your kids."

"That, I do. Isabella...I was wondering. How would you like it if I visit you privately at your house? I can sneak into your room without Charlie knowing about it. Of course, we will have to be quiet if he is home. I just wish that I were able to see you more often."

I grinned. "I would like that very much, Carlisle. To be honest, I miss you a lot when I don't see you after a while. I hate it that you are busy so often."

Carlisle was touched. "You miss me?"

"Yes. I miss the others too sometimes. I know that that doesn't make sense when I hang out with them at school everyday. But it can be lonely when I am all by myself. Maybe I will ask them to visit too, when they can manage it."

"Certainly. I know that they will like that. And I miss you when I do not see you for a couple of days as well. You have no idea how much I do."

Now it was my turn to be touched. My cheeks stung. "That's nice to know. So you will come?"

He bobbed his head. "I will come, every night after work if I do not finish my shifts too late. Perhaps I can take you out on an adventure the next time we see each other. And if not next time, then soon."

"Okay. I look forward to it."

We shared a deep kiss, one that involved a good amount of tongue. Then we bid each other one last good-bye before I headed home.

As I sped along the driveway, I shook my head with another smile.

What a day it had been!

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

Next day

For the first time since I had moved in with Charlie, it was sunny and warm. Not one cloud was in the sky.

Remembering everything that Carlisle had told me yesterday, I knew that his children wouldn't be in school. Likewise, Carlisle was not going to go to work. They would end up in a lot of trouble if someone saw their skins sparkling. I didn't want anybody to found out that they weren't human.

I felt disappointed as I went to take a shower. I was going to miss them so much today. It would be the first time that I wouldn't see them at school. However, I knew that it wouldn't be the last.

After getting dressed, I headed downstairs to cook breakfast. Charlie was already in the kitchen drinking black coffee. He was also eating waffles.

I smiled at him tiredly. "Hi Dad," I announced.

He grinned back. "Morning, Bells. Isn't it a nice day outside?" he questioned, nodding to the window.

"Yes, it is. Are there anymore waffles left?"

"In the skillet. I figured that you would like a break from cooking."

I was taken aback from this act of kindness. "Oh. Well, thank you."

"No problem, sweetie."

When I had eaten my breakfast, I said good-bye to Charlie and headed to school. I got out of my truck after parking it and went inside.

Carlisle's POV

When Alice told me that it was going to be sunny today, I knew that I would be having another day off from work. I called my supervisor to let him know that I would not be in.

He was used to this type of call on days like this. I had told him and a few other staff members at the hospital that I had "suffered an illness" that had resulted in my skin becoming very sensitive. Therefore, I could not go outside during the day when it was not cloudy or rainy.

My children would not be attending school today either, of course. All of them supposedly had the same "medical condition" that I had been "stricken" with.

Since there was not many things to do at home, I asked my children if they would like to go on an all-day hunting trip a little while before dawn. They agreed to right away.

"That would be fun, Pops! Let's do it!" Emmett proclaimed.

"Yeah!" Jasper added.

"We should go now," Edward suggested.

Alice and Rose did not say anything, but they nodded to indicate that they felt the same way as they did.

I smiled and inclined my head. "Certainly. I will just change into some more comfortable clothes, and then we can go."

Once I had changed into a loose-fitting outfit, my children and I left the house. My sons whooped in excitement as we ghosted into the woods.

Bella's POV

My classes were dull without Alice, Rosalie, Jasper, Edward, and Emmett being there to attend them with me. I did my assignments my only half my mind. It was as if I just...existed. I didn't know how I was going to survive through the rest of the day.

Jessica Stanley must have noticed how lonely and depressed I was. Plus, I already knew that she saw that the Cullens were not there. She asked me if I would take up her offer to sit with her and her friends at lunch. I told her that I would.

I met her at her table at lunch period after I had gotten my food. She was talking to Lauren Mallory, but smiled at me as I approached. I looked around the table to see Mike Newton, Ben Cheney, Eric Yorkie, Katie Marshall, Tyler Crowley, Austin Marks, and Conner Jones sitting with them.

"Hey, Bella. You can sit down. There is an empty chair next to Angela," she remarked.

"Thanks."

Angela grinned shyly at me as I made myself comfortable. "Hi Bella. How are you? How did your weekend go?" she inquired.

Shrugging, I responded, "I'm fine, and it went okay. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday with the Cullens. What about you?"

"I'm alright. I stayed home with my family. We had a lot of fun."

"That's good."

Jessica took a sip of her drink. "We've noticed that you hang out with the Cullens often. You must like them a lot."

I inclined my head. "I do. They are all very nice and friendly."

She nodded thoughtfully. "Well, that's cool. I wouldn't have known about that. None of them seem to want to talk to us."

Unable to think of what to say to that, I just pursed my lips.

Lauren smirked at me. "So Bella...do you have a crush on any of them? I'm sure that you know that Edward is single by now."

I felt weirded out and uncomfortable. It never occurred to me to think of him as more than a friend. "Yes, I know that he is. But I don't like Edward in that way. He's not my type. Don't get me wrong, though. He's a very kind person, and he's good-looking. But no...he isn't for me," I stated truthfully.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed that Angela relaxed. Besides that, a slightly jealous expression was disappearing from her face. However, these actions were so subtle that I almost didn't see them.

"Mmm," Lauren whispered, distracting me. "Well, everyone's not for everybody."

"No," I agreed.

Jessica cocked her head to the side. "What about Dr. Cullen, then? I bet that out of all of them, you must have a crush on him. Nearly every woman in town does, even the ones who are married. He is way too handsome!"

I was sure that I would have blushed if I hadn't felt envious all of a sudden. I also had to prevent myself from frowning. What was up with me? Why did that keep happening?

Well, it might have been that because I was dating him, and didn't like other woman to talk about him. I hated it when women even looked at him in a particular way also, like the hostess in La Bella Italia did. But those were the only reasons that I could come up with.

"No, I don't have a crush on him either," I lied with-miraculously-a straight face. "He's quite a bit older than me."

"That's true. I heard that he is thirty. He doesn't look like he is, though. I would think that he was in his low 20s if I didn't know him," Angela said.

If only she knew how right she was. "I guess that I can't argue with that. Dr. Cullen does look very young."

Everybody grew quiet then to eat some more of their food. A minute passed before Jessica spoke again.

"So, Bella. Tell us what it's like in Arizona. Is it as hot and sunny as people say it is?"

"Yep, and it hardly ever rains there. It only does a few days in a year. But in the winter, it can get chilly at night. In the daytime, the temperature can be as high as 70 degrees," I stated.

"Wow. That's pretty cool. I would love to live there! I can see why your mom decided to leave Forks. I know that you two must miss each other."

I almost snorted. That bitch and I missing each other was the last thing that would ever happen. In fact, it was something that never would.

However, I knew that she would think it was odd if I told her that, so I just grunted.

Jessica probably sensed that she was bringing up an unwanted topic, for she didn't say anything about my egg donor. I was relieved. I didn't want to talk about her, or even think about her. Just doing that made my blood boil. I hated her so much.

Angela stared at me with concern. "Are you all right, Bella? You look upset. What's the matter?" she queried.

"Nothing. My stomach just cramped up for a second. That's all," I lied.

She could clearly tell that I was being untruthful, but she thankfully chose to let it drop. At least, for the moment. It wasn't until after lunch when she confronted me. However, she did it in a very polite way.

We were walking to our next class together-she had offered to join me, and I gladly allowed her to-when she gently laid her hand on my shoulder.

"Bella, could you come to the bathroom with me? I want to ask you something," she declared.

"Uh...sure," I responded. I followed her to nearest one, which happened to be empty.

Angela turned to face me after we were standing by the sinks. "I'm going to keep this short because I don't want us to be late. But are you sure that you're okay? You seemed angry when Jessica brought up your mom."

Why did everyone have to notice that I became upset when my egg donor was mentioned?

"Yes, I'm sure. I just hate talking about my personal business with people who I don't really know," I stated truthfully.

She nodded pensively. "I understand, and I don't blame you for feeling that way. I don't like to talk to someone I don't know or trust about my private life either. But listen," she murmured, laying a hand on my shoulder. "If you ever need to talk or anything, I'm here. I promise to keep whatever you tell me a secret. You won't have to worry about me breaking my promises because I never do, unless the secret is one that has to be told because it is something that could endanger you in any way. I know that you don't know and trust me well enough to do that right now, but I mean everything that I said. I really do."

I felt touched; I could tell that Angela was being honest and sincere. Her kindness showed in her eyes. "Well...thanks. I'll take up your offer if I ever need to."

"Okay. Oh, the bell's ringing. We better get going."

We rushed out of the bathroom and down the hall. Luckily, we made it to the classroom before the second bell rang.

Perhaps I should not have mentioned that I didn't have a crush on Edward or Carlisle at lunch. It only gave Mike the idea that it was all right to keep flirting with me. If Edward or Jasper or Emmett was here, they would have made him leave me alone. Now, I had to get him away from me all by myself.

It was not easy to at first. No matter how much I pleaded for Mike to quit bothering me, he wouldn't listen. I had to threaten that I would tell the principal that he was harassing me to make him stop.

Finally, it was time to leave. I was happy about this because I wanted to visit the Cullens. I missed them so much.

I said good-bye to Angela outside of the school.

"See you tomorrow," I added.

"Okay. Would you like my number in case you need anything?" she inquired.

I nodded. "Sure. I would like that."

After we exchanged numbers, she surprised me by giving me a hug. No one except Charlie, Carlisle and his children had ever done that.

It took a minute for the shock to wear off before I returned the embrace. At that moment, I felt that odd draw pulling me to her. The same kind that I felt pulling me to Alice, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie, and Edward. I could not explain or understand why, but I did. I allowed myself to bask in the friendly warmth that surrounded me.

A minute later, we let each other go.

She grinned bashfully. "I hope that I didn't offend you by doing that, but I apologize if I did. You just looked like you needed a hug, that's all," she stated.

I returned the smile. "There was no offense taken. I didn't mind it. I hugged you back, after all," I pointed out.

"That's true. Good-bye, Bella."

"Bye, Angela."

Carlisle's POV

I was draining a mountain lion when I noticed that Alice wasn't feeding. She was standing at the edge of the clearing. Her eyes were glazed and unfocused.

Knowing that she was having a vision, I chose not speak to her until it was over. It was in less than five seconds.

"Is there something wrong, Alice?" I queried.

She turned to me and shook her head. "No. I just saw that Bella was going to text me in a couple of minutes. She wants to see us, but since we're not home, I will have to tell her not to. That will make her feel a little sad because she missed us," she replied.

I exhaled deeply. "Oh, all right. Can you tell her that I will visit her later for me, a little after sunset?"

During the hunting trip, I had thought about Isabella constantly. I couldn't wait to see her. All I wanted to do was hold her in my arms and bury my face in her sweet-smelling hair. I knew that she had to have been feeling lonely. Every time I recalled the fact that Isabella never had a friend before she met me and my children, I wanted to be with her even more.

Alice nodded. "Sure. I'll explain everything to her in a moment."

"Thank you."

Bella's POV

I headed to my truck and climbed inside. Then I began to text Alice to let her know that I was on my way to her house. However, a message appeared on the screen while I was halfway finished mine.

Don't come over, Bella. We are hunting right now and won't be back until after sunset. If we don't see you tonight, we definitely will tomorrow. It will be cloudy. Carlisle told me to let you know that he will see you after we come home, though. Okay?-Alice

My face fell, but I knew that there was nothing I could do about the situation. My spirits lifted when I saw that Carlisle would pay me a visit, however. I will be so glad to see him.

All right. I'll see you later, then-B

Yeah. Bye-A

Bye-B

I started the truck with a sigh and went home. Charlie wasn't there; he would still be working for another two and a half hours.

To pass the time until I had to make dinner, I started on my homework. I was more than halfway done by 5:15, when I went downstairs to cook the food.

Charlie arrived at six ten. The meal was already prepared by that time.

We said hello to each other, then I fixed both of our plates.

"How was school today?" he queried as we began to eat.

"Not bad. How was work?" I returned.

He speared his fork into his cabbage. "It was actually slow today. The weather probably has something to do with it. When it's sunny, everybody can't help but feel happy."

I laughed. "Yeah, that's true. I miss the sun shining everyday."

Charlie smiled. "I bet you do. I like it a bit, but I'm too used to it here to care for the sun and the heat too much."

Of course. That was why he didn't move to Phoenix with my egg donor when she asked him to. That was another reason why they had divorced.

After dinner, Charlie went to look at a game on TV, as usual. I washed the dishes and headed to my room to complete the rest of my homework.

I began to feel excited when I noticed that the sky was growing dark. It meant that Carlisle would be here soon. I couldn't wait to see him. Like his children, I had missed him quite a bit.

My homework was done before night had completely fallen. Carlisle hadn't showed up yet, so I decided to read a book until he did. It was hard for me to pay attention to it, though. I kept glancing at the open window every five seconds.

This did not continue for very long. But it seemed like it did because of how impatient I was. I started to wonder if he was going to come at all when I heard tapping. I looked up eagerly.

Carlisle was peeking into the room. He beamed at me and waved, seeing that he had caught my attention. I felt relieved. I thought that perhaps he would decide not to visit me because I was not as interesting or as great as he believed me to be.

Returning his smile, I stood up. "Hello, Carlisle. You may come inside," I whispered. The last thing I needed was for Charlie to hear us.

"Thank you," Carlisle murmured, entering the room quietly. He strolled over to me and opened his arms. I walked into them, and we shared a warm embrace.

"It is good to see you again, Isabella."

"You too. I'm happy that you came."

"And I am pleased that you are."

He tilted my head and pressed his lips to mine. I kissed him back longingly. He ran his cool fingers through my hair.

After a moment, he backed away so that I could breathe. I gestured to the bed when I had enough air in my lungs.

"Would you like to sit down? You may take your shoes off and put your feet up, if you like," I offered politely.

Carlisle nodded. "Sure. That would be fine. I missed you today," he added, pecking my cheek and walking around to the other side of the bed.

My face reddened in pleasure. "I...I missed you too, Carlisle. And I miss your kids. I was sad because they couldn't be at school. I understood why, though," I remarked. I leaned against the headboard and crossed my legs on the bed.

He pulled his shoes off before doing the same. I noticed that he was wearing black socks. "Yes. I always take them for hunting trips on sunny days. I never go to work when it isn't cloudy. It is too risky for me to do so. But enough about that. How are you?"

"I'll admit that I feel better now that you're here, but I was fine to begin with," I replied with another blush. "How are you?"

"Well, I am also better because I am here with you. Plus, I had a splendid day with my children. We enjoyed ourselves hugely."

I nodded. "That's wonderful. I'm glad that you had fun with them."

After I said this, we grew quiet. Judging by the thickness of the silence, I knew that we were both gathering our thoughts.

Carlisle finally spoke a few minutes later.

"Was everything all right at school today? I know that it must have been lonely without my children being there with you," he pointed out.

"Yes, it was. But a classmate of mine named Jessica Stanley invited me to sit with her and her friends at lunch. You probably know her. She had asked me to once before, but I politely said no. I decided to take her up on her offer since I would have had nobody to sit with otherwise," I remarked.

He grinned. "I do know Jessica Stanley. It was very nice of her to ask you to join her. Did she and her friends treat you kindly?"

"Mmm-hmm, especially her friend Angela Weber. I could see us becoming good friends. I like her a lot. She is a very nice, friendly person."

"That is certainly true. I also think that she is a nice young lady. She has a gentle, sympathetic personality."

I bobbed my head in complete agreement. Gentle and sympathetic were definitely two words that described Angela perfectly. Loyal would most likely factor in as a good one too.

My thoughts were interrupted as Carlisle played with my hair. "Did anything else happen in school? Are you having trouble with your schoolwork or with any of the students?" he queried.

Pursing my lips, I said, "No, I'm not having problems with my work. Calculus is kind of difficult, but your children help me out with that when we do homework together, so I am understanding it more. No one really bothers me at school except this boy in my grade named Mike Newton. He keeps trying to flirt with me. When I asked him to leave me alone, he wouldn't listen to me until I told him that I would get him in trouble for harassment."

Carlisle's POV

A growl rumbled in my chest as soon as those words left Isabella's mouth. Waves of fury swept over me, and I balled my hands in fists. The venom in my veins boiled.

How dare that...that little asshole try to make a move on my soul mate?! She was MINE, not his!

I turned to her with a scowl on my face. "Be sure to do that if he bothers you again. He has no right to do that to you," I declared in a tight voice.

She was taken aback by my sudden anger. "Um...okay. But there's no need for you to be upset. It's not like he hurt me or anything," she remarked.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath to calm myself down. "I am sorry, Isabella. It is just that situations like these can get worse. That is something that I really would not want to happen. You may not know this, but I worry about you even when I am not with you. I don't want you to get hurt in any way."

"It's all right, Carlisle. But you really don't have to worry about me too much, you know. I can look after myself. I appreciate your concern, though. I really do. Thanks."

"You are welcome, sweetheart. I am afraid that it will be hard not to worry about you a great deal, however."

Isabella was touched. "Do you really care for me that much?"

Nodding, I replied, "Yes, I do. It's true that I still do not know very much about you, but I mean it. I do care about you and your well-being."

Her face reddened as she bowed her head. "Thanks again...I guess."

"There is no need to thank me. It is no trouble at all."

I decided to change the topic then. Being upset would not do either of us any good.

I took a quick glance around the bedroom. On the desk was Isabella's laptop, the perfumes that Alice gave her, There were other supplies too; pens, pencils, a notepad, and a calculator. A bookshelf held about twenty novels, including the one that Edward had bought for her. The bouquet of roses that I had presented her with was in a vase that stood on the other window. There was a dresser for her clothes, plus two side-table drawers. She was holding her teddy bear in her arms. Other than that, her room looked quite bare.

Frowning a little, I asked her, "Did you leave most of your belongings at your old home? Your room looks empty even with all of you things here."

A strange expression darkened Isabella's face. I didn't have time to catch it as she shrugged. "Yes, I did. Most of it were things that I didn't need, or clothes that I had outgrown. My other stuff couldn't fit in my suitcases. So, I just decided to leave them there. I'm sure that...that Mom will find someone who will have use for my old things," she whispered in a blank voice, her eyes not quite meeting mine.

I had a feeling that she was not telling the truth. However, I let it drop since I had no proof. Questioning her more would more than likely cause her to become angry with me.

"Oh. Well, I am certain that you will buy more things over time," I stated quietly.

"Yeah."

Bella's POV

I felt guilty about lying to Carlisle about why I didn't bring most of my stuff with me. However, I would have to include the story about what my egg donor did to me if I did. And I was not in the mood to do that.

It seemed as if everyone was hell-bent on mentioning my egg donor in any way that they could. Either that, or I was forced to talk about her, which was worse in my opinion. Personally, I wondered if they brought her up because I rarely did at all. I also had to wonder if they did because they could see I hated it when she was mentioned.

Why couldn't I just be allowed to forget about that evil, sadistic woman? That was all I wanted; to erase her existence from my mind. She was nothing and no one to me.

Rubbing my temples wearily, I decided to think about this at another time. There were other things that I would rather concern myself about. Like how Carlisle and I would spend the evening together, for example.

I turned to him with a small grin. "So, what did you want to do tonight? Did you have anything in particular in mind?" I questioned.

He smiled back. "Well, I thought that we could go on that adventure that I told you about since the weather is nice for a change. Not a long one, but I could take you out for a half hour or so. Perhaps we can find a secret place for us to spend alone time together whenever we want. But we will leave after Charlie is asleep. If he sees that you are gone, he will be frightened out of his mind," he replied.

"Yeah," I agreed. "That's fine, then. I know that we'll have fun. What would you like to do until we go? I'm afraid that there isn't much to do here."

"Right now, I just want to hold you in my arms. I feel as if I haven't seen you in weeks."

"Sometimes I can't believe that you like to be around me this much. It's going to take time for me to get use to it."

Carlisle motioned for me to come closer to him. "I understand what you mean. I suppose that if you never had friends, you do not know how it feels for someone to like spending time with you. I hope that I didn't offend you by saying this. I had no intention to."

I shook my head while I sat next to him. He wrapped his arms around me. "No, you didn't offend me at all. What you said is completely true."

He kissed the back of my head. "For the record, I do not see how I, or anyone else for that matter, could not like to spend time with you. You have such a unique personality that it makes me sad to know that you had never had friends until just recently."

"Mmm. Well, I'm glad that you like spending time with me. I would feel terrible if you thought that I was boring. Or if I repulsed you."

"You could never bore or repulse me, Isabella."

I grinned and leaned into him. "Good...because I like to be with you too."

He rubbed my back. "Thank you."

We were quiet for a while before Carlisle spoke again.

"Isabella, I have noticed that you have barely told me anything about yourself. You know everything about me, but I still do not know very much about you. All I know is that you are from here, but you lived in Phoenix with your mother for a greater part of your life. You do not spend a lot of time with Charlie because of his job, and because you have only visited him for a few weeks over the past 17 years. You get along with him more than your mother. You are better at English than any other subject. You never had friends or a boyfriend until now.

"What do you like to do in your spare time? What type of music do you love? What is your favorite color, or your favorite colors?" he asked.

I thought it over before shrugging. "I really don't do much. I usually read when I'm not busy. If I am not reading, then I'm on my laptop playing games or researching and whatnot. I also love planting. I find it very calming and relaxing," I responded.

Indeed, planting was very therapeutic for me. It made me feel better whenever I had finished being yelled at or hit by my egg donor. For just a little while, my mind was focused on something else.

After a moment, I continued. "I enjoy listening to rock and pop, but I listen to classical music sometimes too. My favorite color is indigo."

"That is interesting. I also love to read books. What genre do you like the most?"

"Just about all of them, but you'll usually see me reading the Classics."

His expression brightened. "That is often what I read when I'm not looking over medical journals. I cannot help but love them."

I nodded pensively. "That's pretty cool."

"What type of food do you like?"

"Mostly Italian. What type of food do you like?" I joked.

Carlisle rolled his eyes playfully. Nevertheless, he did give me an answer.

"Let's see. I like animal blood...and animal blood...and animal blood. What else? Oh yes, there is also animal blood," he said in mock thoughtfulness, tapping his chin.

I chuckled, and he joined in. I really liked his laugh. It sounded rich, warm, and hearty, as if it came from deep within him.

"You're silly," I whispered. My statement caused him to laugh again.

We had to wait about two hours for Charlie to go to bed. During that time, I gave him the lowdown on my other favorite things, and all of the other stuff that I loved to do, and what I disliked/hated.

Likewise, Carlisle told me about the things that he liked, and what he enjoyed doing. He didn't need to explain why he loved being a doctor, however. He had done that on Sunday. He also told me about what he did not like and hated.

He really took great pleasure in spending time with his kids. The only problem was that he feared that he didn't spend enough time with them. Because it was often busy at the hospital, there were days when he had to work overtime. Either that, or he was called in for emergencies.

Carlisle also explained that he liked to travel to different parts of the world. Besides England, France, and Italy, he had been to many others. He also enjoyed hunting, painting, going to museums, and relaxing on his office balcony.

We were just snuggling each other when we heard Charlie walking up the stairs. We held our breath as he approached my door and knocked on it.

"Good night, honey. I'm going to bed," he called to me.

"Night, Dad. I love you," I returned.

"Love you too."

Then he crept to his room and closed the door.

A while later, Carlisle tapped me. "Your father is in a deep sleep. We can go on our adventure now."

I inclined my head. "Okay. Let me put on my jacket first."

"Certainly."

Once I had donned it, I turned off my lamp. He asked me to get on his back. I held onto him tightly with my arms and legs.

He kissed my hand. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah. Let's go!" I declared, beginning to feel excited.

Before I knew it, we were out of the house and zooming into the trees. The warm air rushed past us.

"I am about to jump now, Isabella. Do not let go of me," he admonished.

I redoubled my grip on him. Carlisle ran faster, his body tensing as he leapt into the air. He climbed up a tree the way I saw Spider-Man climbing a building in the movie. The moon appeared seconds later.

Suddenly, he let go of the tree and sprang onto another one yards away. After that, he dove onto another one. And another one.

It was not long-only a minute or so-before we were at the top of another tree. In front of us was a valley composed of a wide, moonlit river that was surrounded by cliffs.

"Wow," I murmured in awe. "I don't think that I have ever seen a view as spectacular as this one."

Carlisle laughed gently. "I have many times over the years, and some look even better than this one. Perhaps I may show them to you sometime in the future."

I smiled. "That would be nice...if we were still together then. You wouldn't want to if we broke up."

"Don't worry about that. I am fairly certainly that we will be together for quite some time, my dear. Now, let's see if we can find a secret trysting area of us," he stated.

Rolling my eyes at his playfulness, I nodded. "Okay."

I scanned the river carefully and spotted a place to my right where the river was more narrow. It was surrounded by a rocky shore full of huge boulders and fallen tree branches.

I tapped his arm and pointed to the aforementioned location. "What about over there? It looks like it's beautiful," I queried.

He looked in the direction of my finger. "That true, it does. Let's check it out. Hold on."

We were on the river's shore in less than a second. After Carlisle put me down, we took in our bearings.

"You are right, Isabella. This is a very beautiful spot," he commented, strolling along the boulders.

"Mmm," I agreed as I fell in step alongside him. I turned to stare at the river, which gleamed brightly as it trickled by.

He must have been noticed that I was gazing at it because he remarked, "You must love the water."

I chuckled. "Yes, I really do, especially when the sun or moon is shining on it. When I lived in Phoenix, I liked to go down to the Alvord and Cortez Lakes. There is also a lake in Encanto Park that I love."

"That's very interesting. And I can't say that I blame you for liking it when the sun and moon shines on water. I do too."

After Carlisle and I walked a short distance, he gestured to a large, flat, dark-gray stone. "Would you like to sit down for a little while?"

"Sure."

Carlisle picked me up bridle-style and lifted me onto it. Then he perched on the spot next to me. I reached for his hand, wanting to hold it very badly, but then I changed my mind. He probably wouldn't like it if I made the move if he didn't even want to hold my hand.

Apparently, I thought wrong because he took it right away. "You do not have to be afraid to hold my hand. I don't mind if you do. Do you believe that I would hold yours at all if I had no desire to? Or if I did not like to hold it?"

I shook my head. "No, I guess not. Why don't you tell me more about the hunting trip? How did it go?"

He kissed my forehead, then went into a lengthy description of everything that happened. I listened with high interest as he told me about how many animals that he and children had fed on. About a contest that Emmett had decided to have midway through the hunt. That Jasper won it because he had preyed on more game than anyone else.

I was having such a good time that I felt sad when the story was over.

Carlisle glanced at his watch. "It is after ten thirty. You need to be getting home soon so that you can get plenty of rest tonight. You don't want to be falling asleep in class. But before I take you back there, I want to show you a place in the forest that I happened to come across some time ago. It could be another secret place that we can go to if it is raining. Would you like to see it?"

"Yes. But you have to take me straight home afterwards."

"No problem."

We took one more look around the valley before leaving. Only several seconds had passed when Carlisle stopped running.

This time we were in the woods, standing in a clearing. A giant gazebo was before us. The white paint and structure looked relatively new. It was as if someone had chosen to refurbish it.

"Has it been repainted or something?" I asked in curiosity.

Carlisle bobbed his head. "Yes. I had fixed it up by myself about six months ago, after Esme and I had divorced. Neither she nor my children know about this gazebo. It was weather-beaten. The wood was rotten and had moss and mold growing on it. The paint had large chunks missing from it. So, when I had the time, I decided to refurbish it. I replaced the old wood on the floors and stairs with new wood. I had to get rid of the mold on the supports and replace the wood on them too. I also put new seats in the gazebo. Then I painted the whole thing. Because it rains nearly every day, I repaint every two months," he explained.

I peered at the gazebo closely. "Well, you did a terrific job. I don't think that I would have recognized it if I had seen it before you had fixed it up," I said in admiration. "May I see what the inside of it looks like?"

"Of course you may. You are the only one who I will show it to."

He led me into it while holding my hand. It was very dark since the roof was hiding the moon, so Carlisle pulled out a tiny flashlight.

As the beams flashed over the interior, I noticed that their were seats on every edge of the gazebo. There was also a bench in the very center of it. Unlike the bench, the seats on the edge of the gazebo were still wet from all of the rain that we have had.

"Is the bench always dry?" I questioned as I ran my fingers over it.

"Yes. The low roof protects it even if the rain is slanting. The other seats are not so lucky, however."

We spent a few more minutes in the gazebo before Carlisle reminded me that it was getting late. He put me on his back and took me home.

When we had arrived at my house, Carlisle entered my room through my open window silently.

We made sure that Charlie did not wake up and realize that I was gone. Then we said good-bye to each other.

"See you, Carlisle. I hope that you visit me soon. Thanks for taking me out. I had a very good time," I whispered, hugging him tentatively.

Carlisle returned the embraced full-force. "You are welcome, Isabella. I am pleased that you had enjoyed yourself. And you may hug me if you wish to. I won't be upset if you do. Remember...I like to be close to you."

I nodded. "Okay. It's just that you usually initiate the hugs and kisses and whatnot. I feel as you might not be in the mood to be kissed or hugged if I made a move. So when you show your affections, I...I just figured that you do it because you want to at the time."

He backed away to look at me. "That is untrue. I have no problem with you showing me your affections. I am always in the mood to accept them. You do not have to worry about upsetting or offending me because that will never happen. The reasons why I show my affections to you is not only because I want to. It is also because I have feelings for you. If I didn't, then I simply wouldn't do it," he pointed out.

Then he pulled me into him again. "I am happy that you want to show me your affections, in any case. I'd be worried if you didn't. It proves that you feel something for me too."

"I don't understand how I couldn't. You...You are a very good person."

"I would never want to be anything else."

After a moment, Carlisle and I shared a passionate kiss. He took my face in his hand when he moved away so that I could breathe.

"You know, I can never help but think that you really are as gorgeous as your name. You know that "Bella" means "Beautiful" in Italian, don't you?" he asked.

I reddened. "Yes, I know. Dad told me so, once," I responded.

He smiled gently. "Well, your name suits you perfectly."

Bowing my head, I murmured, "Thank you."

"You are welcome. I think I had better leave so that you can get some sleep now. I will visit you tomorrow, if I can."

"All right. I will be glad to see you. Good night, Carlisle."

"Good night, Isabella."

He kissed me one last time, then waved before disappearing through the window.

 

Chapter Text

Carlisle's POV

As I ghosted to my house, I recalled what Isabella had told me seconds ago.

It was quite unusual that she believed that I only showed her my affections when I felt like it. She even thought that I would reject her if she took the initiative do the same with me.

I knew that it was likely because she didn't have any friends until now, of course. Charlie was just starting to grow closer to her. He rarely had time to spend with her for all these years, due to his job and the divorce. Perhaps he didn't have the chance to hug her very often. If so, I pitied them both. I hoped that they would be able to make up for lost time. They clearly loved each other.

I had no proof of how Isabella's relationship with her mother was, other than the fact that they did not get along at times. They were probably the best of friends when they did, though. I was certain that they loved one another too.

And yet...there must be a reason why Isabella seemed to be hungry for love and affection. I couldn't figure out if it was because she wanted it from Charlie, or if her mother was indeed quite strict and did not show/give her enough of either. I just hoped that it had nothing to do with her mistreating Isabella like she did ten years ago. I couldn't bear it if she-Isabella-was forced to put up with that.

Even as I came to this conclusion, I still felt that something was out of place about this situation.

I exhaled deeply while running out of the forest and into the mansion.

My children smiled at me as I walked into the living room. "Hi Dad!" they greeted.

"How was your evening with Bella?" Rosalie inquired.

"Oh, it was nice. We had a very good time," I added, sitting down.

"That's wonderful."

Jasper scowled at me. He had picked up on the bewilderment that I was feeling. "What's wrong, Carlisle? Somethin' is naggin' at you," he observed.

I ran my fingers through my hair. "No, that isn't it. I was just deep in thought about something on the way home."

"About what?"

"Who, to be exact. Isabella."

I proceeded to mention what she had told me before I left her room. I also explained that she never had a friend or a boyfriend until she had met us. Finally, I told my kids what I suspected about her, as well as the situation with Charlie and her mother.

They all had expressions of dismay and sympathy on their faces.

"Poor Bella. She didn't tell us that she never had any friends," Alice declared.

I just gaped at her. "She didn't? I thought that all of you had known this before now. You had more of a chance to get to know her first," I pointed out.

Edward nodded. "That is true. But we have only been acquainted with her for a little more than a week. None of us are expected to know all about her just yet."

"Dad? Why do you think that Bella didn't tell us that she never had a friend in her life?" Emmett queried in concern.

"Well, she told me on our date that she didn't 'mix with people,' and that they generally thought that she is a klutz, or that she is strange," I replied.

Rosalie's mouth fell in disbelief. "Strange?! Bella is far from it! We all find her very normal. I will admit that she is a little accident-prone, but she is not a klutz."

"That was what I told her."

Alice shook her head. "Knowing what Carlisle told us makes me want to hug Bella more often now. She needs it. I just hope that her mother shows her plenty of affection, at the very least. It would be terrible if she didn't. I understand it that Bella doesn't get along with her every once in a while, but I am certain that they love each other regardless."

"Me too. However, I often wonder if Isabella even likes her."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because every time I mention or ask about her mother, she gets very upset and/or irritated."

Jasper was taken aback. "Did she tell ya why?"

"Isabella and her mother did not part ways on good terms. She didn't provide an explanation for that, however."

"Ohhhhh. Maybe they had an argument."

"Perhaps so."

We grew quiet after that, thinking over what had been discussed.

I heaved a sigh minutes later. "Well, just continue to be kind to Isabella. But do not tell her that I revealed to you that she never had friends before, or about everything else that I mentioned. If she chooses to do speak to you about any of it, then that will be her decision."

My children nodded to say that they understood me.

Bella's POV

Alice, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie, and Edward were at school the next day as promised. I was glad to see them all. I had missed them terribly.

We did not have a chance to speak much during or in between our classes. It was at lunch when they gave me their versions of the hunting trip. I enjoyed myself listening to them. After they had finished their stories, I told them about almost everything that had happened yesterday. They were just as interested as I was to hear about the hunting trip.

Jessica and most of her friends, especially Mike, did not seem too happy that the Cullens were back. None of them had much to say to me other than "Hi" and "How are you?"

Angela was the only one who was not bothered by their reappearance. Not only did she greet us with honest enthusiasm, but she had a nice, small conversation with us. She asked the Cullens and I how we were. She was interested in what they did on their day off. She wanted to know what I did after school last night.

The Cullens knew that it was not a good idea to mention their hunting trip. Instead, they just told her that they stayed at home because their skin was sensitive to the sun like Carlisle's because of an illness that they had in the past.

I noticed that Angela would turn to look at Edward more than a few times and vice versa. But perhaps it was just my imagination.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened for the rest of the school day. Well, Edward seemed dazed, but all right otherwise.

When school was over, the Cullens escorted me to my truck as usual. Alice invited me to come to her house after school on Thursday.

"Rosalie and I are going to tend to Esme's garden. We won't be doing much, just weeding and pruning. I saw you tell Carlisle that you like to plant," she remarked.

"Okay. I would love to join you two," I stated.

Carlisle visited me shortly after I had finished my homework that night. As happy as I was to see him, I told him that it wouldn't be a good idea to come every day.

"I think that you should spend more time with your kids. You say that you wanted to," I pointed out. "But I'm not trying to give you the impression that I don't like you or want to see you."

He kissed me on the lips. "I understand. I do spend time with them after I leave here, though. I just hope that things will settle down for a bit now that summer is nearly over."

"Yeah."

Carlisle's POV

(Early Wednesday evening)

I was with Isabella in her room again. I had gotten off work earlier than usual. We were talking quietly as she was finishing up her homework. Charlie was downstairs napping.

At the moment, I was whispering compliments and questions that made her blush. She also hid her face in her pillow and giggled at some points.

"Please stop," she implored once as she laughed. "I will never be done with my homework if you don't."

"But is there really anything wrong with me desiring to know how you made your eyes such a pretty chocolate-brown? Or how you made your hair so curly and look like polished mahogany? Or where you got your beautiful face and such perfect lips?" I asked sweetly.

Her cheeks reddened. "No...I don't think that there is. I suppose that I'm still getting used to being told that I'm pretty so often."

I caressed her hair. "Well, I'll stop for now to let you work, but don't feel caught off guard if I start up again."

She shook her head with a smile.

The room grew quiet as Isabella finished her last assignment. It was not long before she had and put her things away. Then she laid in my arms.

I kissed her cheek. "What would you like do now?" I inquired.

"Well first, I need to relax for a bit. I'll try to think of something to do afterwards," she replied.

"I understand. Relax as much as you have to."

Grinning, she pecked me on the lips and rested her head on my chest. I buried my face in her hair. She was starting to grow more comfortable with showing me her affections.

We remained in each other's embrace for a long while. Then I noticed her frown before sitting up.

"My bracelet is cutting into my wrist," she grumbled.

As she put it on the side-table drawer, her shirt slid up, exposing her left waist. My eyes zeroed in on a healed second-degree burn. It was raised and shiny.

"Isabella? What happened here?" I queried in concern.

She gazed at the mark on her skin, her expression darkening for a fleeting second. "Oh. I had accidentally burned myself two years ago, when I was sixteen. I was boiling water, and some spilled on my waist. I had been stirring it rather fast."

Bella's POV

Carlisle squinted. I could tell that he didn't quite believe me. Then again, he had every right not to.

Most of what I told him was a lie. I didn't spill the water on me. Egg Donor had thrown it at me out of anger because of what happened in school earlier that day. Three girls had been picking on me and tried to beat me up. I fought them back to defend myself. Consequently, we were all suspended for three days. When Egg Donor found out, she yelled at me during the ride home. The only time she had stopped was when we got out of the car. But she resumed her tirade as soon as we were in the house.

*Flashback*

Egg Donor screamed and shouted at me as I put my book bag down and headed to the kitchen. I was going to start cooking dinner early since it was only one o'clock. I filled a large pot with water and set it on the stove.

"ISABELLA MARIE SWAN, ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO A FUCKING THING THAT I AM SAYING OR ASKING YOU?!" Egg Donor hollered, interrupting my thoughts.

"Yes, Mom," I groaned.

"NO, YOU WEREN'T! YOU WOULD HAVE ANSWERED MY QUESTIONS IF YOU WERE! PAY ATTENTION!"

"Sorry."

"YOU BETTER BE SORRY! WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU LATELY? YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU HAD THE AUDACITY TO START A FIGHT AT SCHOOL!"

I frowned. "I never started the fight! The girls did. I just defended myself..." I attempted to explain.

"OH, I KNOW YOU STARTED IT, YOU LYING WHORE! YOU OBVIOUSLY MUST HAVE IF THOSE GIRLS WANTED TO BEAT YOU UP! OTHERWISE, THEY WOULD HAVE JUST LEFT YOU ALONE!"

Knowing that I would not be able to reason with her, I did not say anything. But this only caused her fury to reach boiling point, like the water in the pot had.

Her scowl became more profound. "WELL?! DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY OTHER THAN YOU DIDN'T START THE FIGHT?!"

I gave no response. What else was there to tell her?

Egg donor suddenly pushed me away from the stove. "I HATE YOU! YOU ARE NOTHING BUT AN EMBARRASSMENT TO ME! I RAISED YOU AS WELL AS I COULD, AND YOU ARE STILL NOTHING BUT A USELESS BITCH! ALL YOU EVER DO IS CAUSE ME AGGRAVATION!"

And without even using oven mitts, she lifted up the pot and threw the water at me! I jumped aside and evaded most of it, but some landed on my waist. I cried out in pain before glancing at her in disbelief and horror. Then I headed upstairs to run water on the burn.

*End of Flashback*

"Isabella? Are you all right?" I heard Carlisle ask, jerking me out of my thoughts.

"Yeah. I was just remembering how much the burn had hurt," I replied, giving him part of the truth.

He nodded in understanding. "I see. I know that it had to be very painful," he remarked.

I had to smile when he kissed two of his fingers and laid them on the healed burn. I found it so sweet and touching.

Carlisle grinned, then placed another kiss on my temple. I rubbed his arm.

"I was thinking of taking you out on another date this weekend if I don't have to work. How does that sound?"

"Oh, that sounds nice. I would like that. Will we be going out to dinner again?"

"We can, if that is what you want. But I had something else in mind. Perhaps we can see a new movie, or go to a club."

I was taken aback. "A club? But I don't know to dance."

He stroked my hair. "Yes, I remember. If you want, I can teach you."

With a nod, I mumbled, "That would be great. I have always wanted to be able to dance without hurting myself."

Carlisle chuckled. "Don't worry. It isn't hard to learn. I can start giving you lessons when you are ready."

"Thank you."

For the rest evening until ten thirty, we mostly just talked. I didn't feel like doing anything.

We kissed and hugged each other warmly when it was time for him to go.

"Bye, Carlisle. I might see you at your place tomorrow," I stated.

"Ohhh, really? Are you going to be spending time with my children after school?" he questioned.

I inclined my head. "Yes. Alice invited me to help her and Rosalie weed and prune Esme's garden."

He beamed. "It was kind of her to do that. I hope that you enjoy yourselves. What about Edward, Emmett, and Jasper? Will they be doing anything special?"

"Not that I know of. Neither Alice nor Rosalie mentioned that they were."

"Mmm. Well, if I finish work tomorrow early enough, perhaps we can all do something together. We haven't had a chance to do that since your birthday."

"I know that we would love that."

After saying one last good-bye, Carlisle left. I put on my nightclothes and went to bed.

Carlisle's POV

I had just walked into my house when my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID; it was Esme. I answered it immediately.

"Hello, Esme. How are you?" I greeted blissfully.

"Oh, I am fine, Carlisle. And you?" she returned with equal delight.

"Pretty good, pretty good."

"What about our kids? How are they?"

"Not bad. They are doing well in school."

"Excellent! I am happy to hear that."

I readjusted the phone. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your call? Is everything all right?" I inquired.

Esme laughed. "Yes. I just wanted to know if I can take our kids out this weekend. I feel like I haven't seen them in years even though I spent time with them just last month."

"You don't have to ask me if you can. You are more than welcome to see our children as often as you wish to."

"I know. Speaking of which, they told me that you have finally met your true other half, and that she is also their bond mother."

All I could do was smile. "Yes, that is quite true."

"Well, you must be very happy. How long have you been dating Bella?"

"For nearly a week."

"Ahhh, so you two are still getting to know one another."

"Yes."

Esme was quiet for a moment. Then she said, "Well, I guess that I don't really have to wish you luck with developing your relationship with Bella since she is your mate. But I hope that everything goes the way it should, and I am happy for you. I just called to tell you this and to ask if I may take our kids out for the weekend. I will be there on Saturday morning."

"We shall be on the lookout for you, then. And thank you."

"No problem, Carlisle. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Esme."

I hung up the phone before letting my children know that they would be spending the weekend with Esme. The news filled them with joy. None of them could wait to see her.

A while later, I headed to my room and plopped down onto my bed. I thought of how oddly Isabella acted when I questioned her about the burn mark on her waist all night.

Was she telling the truth about having spilled boiling water on it? Or did it get burned in another way?

Isabella's POV

(Tomorrow)

I looked forward to the after school hours all day. I was lucky that I was able to pay attention in class at all.

Edward looked as if he were in a trance again during certain parts of the day. I noticed that this only seemed to happen if Angela was in the room. He couldn't stop staring at her. I wondered what was going on with him.

Finally, it was three o'clock. I left the school with the Cullens and followed them to their house. Rosalie gave me a bottle of water to drink. Then I joined her and Alice outside while Edward, Emmett, and Jasper started to play video games.

It was warm outside, so I decided to take off my shoes and garden while barefoot. Alice and Rosalie thought that it was a good idea, so they took off their heels also. We talked and laughed as we clipped off the dead stems that we noticed and pulled out the weeds.

"Do you think that Edward has a crush on Angela or something? Ever since you returned to school on Tuesday, he has been looking at her often," I pointed out after a while.

Alice grinned a little. "Yes, I think that Edward does. And if so, who can blame him? Angela is very nice and kind. She isn't shallow or self-centered like many teenage girls are. She's quite pretty too," she commented.

"Mmm-hmm," Rosalie agreed. "It would be fantastic if they ended up together."

"Yes, it would. I like her too. We both get along very well although we hardly know each other. I keep having this strange feeling that we are meant to be the best of friends," I remarked.

In my peripheral vision, I saw that Alice had a knowing look in her eyes. It was gone before I could ask her what was up.

We finished gardening in no time and sat on the front steps to talk for a bit longer. Then Alice turned.

"Dad's coming," she announced.

Edward, Emmett, and Jasper had obviously heard her because they ghosted outside to join us. Alice, Rosalie, and I stood.

Carlisle was soon speeding up the driveway. He beeped his horn and waved to us. We waved back.

Once he had parked his car in the garage, he walked out to meet us.

"Hi Dad!" "Hey, Pops!" "How are you?" "How was your day at work?" his children asked, embracing and kissing him.

"I am good, and work was fine. It was not as busy as it usually is," Carlisle responded.

Then he smiled at me. "Hello there, Isabella. Are you doing okay?"

"Hi Carlisle. Yes, I am fine."

We kissed each other's cheek. His children rolled their eyes. Carlisle noticed and stuck his tongue out at them playfully. Everybody snickered.

"Did you have fun tending to Esme's garden?" he queried.

I nodded. So did Alice and Rosalie.

"Yes. It looks fresh and green now."

"That's wonderful. I am going to put my things in my office and change. Hold on."

He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans when he returned. He took my hand and led me to the backyard. The others followed us, chattering animatedly.

I had to rinse my feet off before putting my shoes on. They had dirt and mud on them.

Carlisle offered to do it for me. "I will get the hose. Can one of you give me a towel?" he inquired of his children.

Jasper ghosted into the house immediately, then appeared next to him with a black towel.

"Thank you, son. Now, let me clean your pretty little feet," Carlisle said to me in a gentle voice. He attached the hose to the outdoor tap and turned on the water.

I let him tend to one foot, but asked to use the hose before he moved on to the other. There was something that I wanted to do. "Let me take it from here. I can do it."

Carlisle handed it to me with a kiss. I washed my foot. Then, with a playful smirk, I raised the hose to spray him with water.

"Hey!" he yelled, laughing and sputtering before running away from me. I tried to chase him, but I was unable to get very far. Besides, he had ghosted to the edge of the woods. The others chuckled.

"No fair! You don't have to rub the fact that you are a speedy vampire in my face!" I pretended to complain.

This made everybody laugh harder.

I decided to quit playing after a minute. I washed and dried my feet once more, then put on my shoes.

Emmett hurled a ball into the air as I finished tying them. "How about we all play a game of volleyball?" he questioned cheerfully.

"Oh, sure! That would be fun!" Jasper exclaimed.

"We can bring out the net," Edward offered.

Alice turned to me. "Do you want to play with us, Bella?"

I made a face. "I don't know if I should. I would only cause our team to lose. You know that my hand-eye coordination is terrible. I might end up hurting myself anyway."

Carlisle waved his hand. "Nonsense. You will do fine, I'm sure."

"Besides, the teams will be uneven if I play. One will have four people. I can just watch," I added.

Rosalie frowned. "Are you sure? We really want you to be a part of our game. One of us can be the referee..."

"No, no! I will just sit here on the porch and watch your game. With my luck, the volleyball will hit me in the head."

"Oh, ye of little faith," Carlisle joked.

Edward and Emmett carried out the net a second later. Rosalie gave me another bottle of water. I thanked her with a smile.

A second later, they were divided into teams of three. Edward, Emmett, and Alice were on one side. Carlisle, Jasper, and Rosalie were opposite them.

The game was very loud, fun, and exciting. I watched in amusement as they traded good-natured insults and laughed as they played. All of them looked so happy. They were the most perfect family I had ever seen, in spite of Esme not being there.

Suddenly, I felt depressed, angry, and a little jealous. Why couldn't I have been raised in a family that was as loving as this one? Why did I have such an abusive, hateful egg donor? Why did she choose to make me have less time to spend with Charlie until just recently? Of course, we still did not see one another much, but it was more than we use to. At least he cared for and loved me.

My attention shifted when I noticed that Jasper was gazing at me in concern. He must have picked up on my emotions.

Carlisle's POV

I had just punched the volleyball in Emmett's direction when I saw Jasper scowl. Then he looked at Isabella with a worried expression.

"Jasper? Is something the matter?" I queried.

He pursed his lips. "There has to be. Bella was happy for a while, and then outta nowhere, I felt sadness, anger, and a bit of enviousness coming from her. I also detected a lot of resentment," he stated.

I was taken aback. "Just out of the blue like that?"

"Yeah."

"Mmm. That is rather odd. I will speak to her and try to find out what is wrong. Play without me for a couple of minutes. I will be back," I proclaimed, raising my voice to everybody else know that I was also speaking to them.

They nodded.

Bella's POV

Carlisle said something to his children before walking over to me. He looked as troubled as Jasper did. However, a tiny grin appeared on his face when he reached the steps.

"May I talk to you, Isabella?" he asked.

"Of course you may," I responded.

He perched on the spot next to me and wrapped his arm around my back. I leaned into him.

For a moment, neither of us spoke. We just basked in each other's presence.

Then he pecked my cheek. "Jasper mentioned to me that you are upset. What's wrong, my dear?"

I shook my head. "It's nothing, really. I'm feeling better now," I lied.

"Hmm. Well, he told me that you are experiencing anger, resentment, sadness, and enviousness. I know you enough to know that you would never feel any of that over nothing. You are too sensible for that. If it is because we are making you feel left out, I apologize. You know that you can join us if you want to."

"It's not that. I told you that I didn't want to play."

I glanced at my watch. It was after five. Perfect. I had a reason to stop being asked questions that I could not give truthful answers to. "I have to go home. Dinner can't cook itself," I pointed out.

Carlisle laid a hand on mine. "Isabella, if any of us offended you, I honestly am sorry..." he remarked.

"You have nothing to apologize for. I'm not offended by anything at all. I'm not mad at you or your children either. But I really do need to go. I would stay longer if I could. Sorry."

"Don't be, honey. I understand."

"Okay. If you want to see me later, you can. I will probably be doing my homework if you do."

"All right. I will after finishing my paperwork."

His children stopped playing and followed us to my truck. They weren't happy about me leaving either, but told me that they would see me at school the next day. Carlisle and I briefly kissed each other on the lips and hugged. Then I embraced the others.

Rosalie tapped me. "Do you think that you can come back tomorrow? We are going to spend the weekend with Esme, and none of us will be here," she added.

Carlisle inclined his head. "Yes. So you and I will have a lot of time to ourselves. That is, if you choose to visit me here."

"I would love that. I just have to make sure that I don't let Charlie find out that you will be the only one here."

"Don't worry, he won't. I've seen it," Alice assured me.

"Good."

Carlisle opened the truck's door for me. I thanked him before climbing inside.

"You are welcome," he returned.

We waved good-bye to each other and I sped off.

I arrived at my place fifteen minutes later. Charlie's police cruiser was in the driveway, signaling that he was home.

He looked up as I closed the front door. "Oh, hey kiddo. Did you have fun at the Cullens' today?"

"Mm-hmm. I helped Alice and Rosalie garden, and the plants look fresher now. Then Dr. Cullen came home and I watched as he and his kids played volleyball. I didn't want to play because I knew that I would end up at the hospital if I did," I joked, sitting on the couch next to him.

With a laugh, he embraced me and kissed my temple. "I know that you liked watching the game, at least," he stated.

I shrugged. "I did, but after while, it made me sad and little jealous."

Charlie's brow furrowed. "Sad and jealous? How come?"

"Because it made me wish that we had the chance to spend more time together when I was younger. I can only remember a few summers when we did. I really missed you when you weren't there. And until just recently, I didn't know if you missed me too, or even loved me. You never really told me that you did. But for all that, I didn't believe that you hated me either. I just didn't know what to think."

He was quiet as I said this, paying close attention to what I told him. At the end of my speech, he exhaled deeply and muted the TV. Then he held me close.

"I understand how you feel, and I'm so sorry that I left you in the dark for all of these years, honey. If I had realized that I hadn't told you that I love you sooner, I would have made sure to let you know right then. You have no idea of how much I love you. I have loved you all your life. In fact, I have loved you since before you were born, on the day I found out that your mom was pregnant."

He rocked me back and forth. "I was so happy to know that I was going to have a daughter. Of course, I would have been just as glad if I were expecting a son. I often wondered if you would look more like Renée, or if you would mostly take after me. I wondered what your personality would be like and who you would turn out to be. And I thought of all of the fun we might have together.

"The next thing I knew, you were born. Renée could not think of what your name would be while she was pregnant, so I decided on your first name. I chose Isabella because, as I told you years ago, "Bella" means "beautiful." And you certainly were beautiful with those large brown eyes, curly hair, and rosy cheeks. Renée picked Marie for your middle name. She wanted you to have your grandmother's name.

"The next three months that passed before Renée left and took you with her was the best three months of my life. I spent a great deal of my time with you...when I wasn't working. I talked to you and carried you around a lot. I pushed you in your stroller if Renée and I happened to go somewhere. I played with you and fed you and sang lullabies to you at night. I had so much fun."

Charlie grew silent for a while. He was clearly thinking about all of this.

His voice was filled with pain when he spoke again. "Then my happiness was taken away. Your mother came to me one day and told me that she was leaving and wanted a divorce. She was unhappy here in Forks. She hated the weather and the fact that she didn't know anyone. She never did make any friends when she moved in with me.

"Plus, she actually told me that she hated me for trapping her here. For trapping her into our relationship. I was to blame for how depressed and angry she was. And it was true. She was not happy here, and she never wanted to get pregnant so soon. She wasn't ready to have you. I thought that when you were born, her depression would go away, but it only became worse. The doctor said that this was normal. That a lot of women experienced postpartum depression.

"I knew that if I didn't let Renée go, we would end up divorcing anyhow. So I did against my better judgement. She packed her things as well as yours, then left without more than a good-bye.

"For a long time, I was depressed myself. I missed you and Renée terribly. Well, I miss the Renée that she used to be until she grew bitter and hateful. She had been vivacious, fun, and full of life. And she smiled more often than not. I felt guilty about being the cause of her unhappiness.

"I eventually threw myself into my work. I was so busy that I did not have a lot of time for anything else. I wanted it to be that way because the distraction caused me to forget how sad I was. I suppose that this was why I did not remember to tell you how much I really did and do love you.

"So I want to tell you now that my love for you is so strong that I can't even think of a better word to describe how strong it is. And as I said before, I missed you terribly. I wish that I had had more time to see you. You have no clue how glad that I am that you are living me. I know that I haven't been the best of dads. I know that I still haven't spent very much quality time with you either. But I will make it up to you. I promise," he concluded, gazing into my eyes.

By now, tears were rolling down my cheeks. I sprang forward and embraced him tightly. There were no words to express the joy that I felt.

"I love you too, Dad. So much," I cried.

He wrapped his arms around me just as hard. I sobbed into his chest as he cradled me once more. I felt him kiss the top of my head.

That was when I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted to tell him that Egg Donor had directed her bitterness and hatred towards me. That she had abused and neglected me for as long as I could remember. That she never said a kind word to me in my life. That I was scared to tell him this before because of what Egg Donor would do. I couldn't anyway. She was always standing near me when I spoke to him on the phone.

I couldn't tell him about the abuse in private either. The house phone was in her room, which was locked if she wasn't in there. She did not give me a cell phone because she did not think that I needed one. She never even let me have an email account. That was why I didn't have one until I moved in with him.

I opened my mouth to tell his all of this. However, I couldn't find the words. I didn't know where to begin. I had no idea of how to either. But I vowed to myself that I would reveal my secret of my dark past to him. I was not certain of when, but I was going to.

Soon.

Chapter Text

Carlisle's POV

We had just finished playing another round of volleyball when Alice's eyes grew blank. Everyone shifted their attention to her, looking interested and curious.

Alice frowned in bewilderment when her vision was over.

"Is something wrong, dear? What happened?" I questioned.

"No, nothing's wrong. At least, I don't think so," she replied. "I saw Bella having a talk with her dad Charlie. He was telling her about how much he loves her, that he missed her, and that wished he had been able to spend more time with her over the years. And then I saw that she was about to reveal something to him. I couldn't see what it was, but I had the feeling that it was very important...and horrible. Before I could see what she was thinking, though, she decided not to. Then my vision just ended."

I pursed my lips. "Hmm. Do you have an idea of what Isabella may have been planning to tell Charlie?"

She narrowed her eyes, then shook her head a minute later. "I'm afraid not. No matter how hard I try, I can't get a hint of what it is. Just that it isn't good at all, whatever it is."

That was quite bizarre. I knew that Alice had trouble with her visions at times, but she rarely had trouble seeing what a person was going to think about.

Could this have something to do with Isabella possibly having a shield? Or was it that she had changed her mind so fast that Alice did not have time to see anything? Or was what Isabella planned to reveal to Charlie too dreadful to be seen?

I was more inclined to believe the second question more than anything. Alice's visions changed when a person switched their decisions, after all.

Nevertheless, I felt worried about Isabella. What could be so terrible that she wouldn't tell her father about it? Had she been hurt in any way by someone in the past? Did she harbor repressed fury against him? Did it have to do with why she looked as if she starving for love and affection? Of course, she was beginning not to look this way anymore, but still.

These were one of the times that I wished that Edward could read her mind. It would make things simpler for me to find out what she was obviously hiding from me and from Charlie. I would understand her more then.

I didn't even consider asking her about it again. There was no point in doing so if I knew that she wouldn't reveal any secrets that she had. Perhaps there was another way to get her open up. Until then, or if unknown circumstances required me to take action, I would let everything be.

Bella's POV

The next day was just as great as the previous one, if not better. Nothing too important happened in school other than a few quizzes. They were not hard, so I was confident that I had gotten a B at the very least.

After school, I hung out with the Cullens until five thirty. We played board games and had a nice long chat today. They mostly talked about Esme. I couldn't help but smile over how excited they were to see her.

"You would like Esme, Bella," Alice remarked. "She is very kind, loving, and understanding. She is someone that you can count on to be there if you needed her."

"Oh yes. I hate that she isn't around as much as she used to be," Rosalie sighed.

"We always look forward to spending time with her," Emmett added.

Listening to them say all of this was bittersweet. I was glad that they had a better mother than I did. It made me wish more and more that Egg Donor was like her.

Jasper scowled at me in concern. "Are you okay, Bella?"

"Mm-hmm. I'm fine," I responded.

I really enjoyed myself, although I was a little disappointed since Carlisle didn't have a chance to get off of work early. I felt happier when I knew that he would visit me later on in the evening.

Charlie was wearing his jacket when I arrived at home. He beamed as I closed the front door.

"Hi Bells. You might as well open the door again," he stated.

"For what?" I questioned.

"We're leaving; I figured that we could go out to dinner. It's been a while since we had."

He was right. The last time that we did was when I visited him in mid-August.

Dinner with Charlie was awesome. We talked and laughed for a good part of the meal. As we did, I discovered a side of him that I never knew before. The articulate and loquacious side of him. He was often a quiet person unless he was with his friends. This was the most that he had spoken since yesterday.

After we had returned home, I embraced him. "Thank you, Dad. I had a wonderful time. It was very nice of you to take me out."

"I'm glad that you had fun, honey. I did promise that I will make an effort to spend more time with you."

"Well, I knew that you would try hard to keep your promise. I'm happy that you did."

To top it all off, Carlisle came over to see me around eight. We didn't really do anything because we were having our next date tomorrow. He and I would be going to a carnival in Olympia that he heard about. There was another in Port Angeles, but he knew that if anyone in Forks were planning on going to one, it would be there. We would get caught if we didn't go to Olympia.

"I will teach you how to dance on Sunday," he added. "You didn't tell your father that my kids will be away for the weekend, did you?"

Shaking my head, I responded, "No. I promised that I wouldn't."

"Excellent. Thank you."

He caressed my hair while gazing intently at me. "You look more upbeat than you have since the day we met each other here in Forks. You are getting some color in your cheeks too," he observed.

I smiled. "I'm just very happy living here. I've been able to spend more time with Charlie now, and for once I have friends...your kids. Maybe even Angela Weber and some of my other classmates are likely to be my friends. And I have you. I don't understand how I couldn't feel upbeat," I murmured.

Carlisle grinned back. "Well, it fills me with joy to know that you feel this way. All I ever desire is for you to be happy."

"That is all I want for you too."

(Next day)

I had gotten up at 8:47 the following morning. This astonished me because I usually woke up around ten on most weekends.

Since I couldn't get back to sleep, I washed up and dressed. Then I had breakfast before calling Carlisle to let him know that I was about to be on my way to his place.

"All right, I will listen out for you. Esme is here, but she isn't leaving yet. My kids want to say good-bye to you before they do," he remarked.

"That's cool. I was afraid that I wouldn't see them today," I declared.

We hung up a minute afterwards. I threw on my jacket, strolled out of the house, and climbed in my truck.

I was parking in Carlisle's garage a half an hour later. He opened the door for me before I could do so myself.

"Hello, sweetheart. Did you have a safe trip?" he queried.

"Mm-hmm. Nothing insane happened," I replied, joking a bit.

We kissed passionately, chortling as we did. This made the situation even funnier.

He took my hand after breaking the kiss and led me out of the garage.

"Come in, come in. Everyone is still here; they are upstairs talking. Esme is glad that she has the chance to meet you," he implied.

I pursed my lips, feeling dubious and uneasy. I wasn't sure if I could believe that she would be happy to. For all I knew, she might be a little jealous that we were going out. I wouldn't be surprised if she secretly disliked me. Then again, most people did. I knew that she was kind person, though, so maybe it will turn out okay.

Carlisle's POV

As Isabella and I made our way up the stairs, I noticed that she did not appear too thrilled about meeting Esme. In fact, it looked as if she was dreading it.

I rubbed her back gently. "There is no need for you to be worried. I meant what I told you. I personally think that she will like you."

She shrugged. "Mmm."

Not knowing what else to tell her, I grew quiet. I honestly had no idea of what to say to her.

I began to realize then that Isabella seemed nervous and distrustful when it came to meeting just about everyone. She had told me this herself. I understood that it was largely due to the fact that she never had friends before she met us.

Could it also have something to do with their mother? She was the only person that Isabella spent almost all of her time with. I already knew that they did not get along often, but there were times when I felt as if Isabella disliked her more than she was letting on. If she had an iffy or a terrible relationship with her, that would severely affect how she viewed people in general too. That was worse than having no friends.

At least she was developing a good relationship with her Charlie. Because of that, as well as her friendship with our children, she was starting to blossom. Our own relationship was making her open up as well.

Bella's POV

Carlisle and I entered the family room seconds later. His children and who was undeniably Esme turned to look at us.

I waved to the others, then gaped at her in awe. I had seen pictures of her before, but they didn't do her justice.

Esme was so remarkably beautiful that I didn't understand how she wasn't Carlisle's true other half. Her face glowed, and her caramel-brown hair shone. Her red lips seemed to be redder and fuller than mine. She had a motherly figure too. I couldn't help but feel jealous that she had been his wife once.

My thoughts were interrupted by him clearing his throat.

"Isabella, I want to introduce you to Esme. Esme this is Isabella, but she prefers to be called Bella by everyone except for me," he joked.

She beamed as she stood up. "It is very nice to finally meet you, Bella. The kids have told me nothing but wonderful things about you," she proclaimed in a genuinely amiable voice while offering her hand.

I had to smile as I shook it. I could tell right away that I would like her. "It's nice to meet you too. Your children talk about you all the time, but I don't blame them," I returned.

"And I can't blame them for talking about you either."

There was a hidden meaning in those statements, but I chose not to ask her about it.

Carlisle pecked my temple. "I need to have a talk with Esme for a few minutes. Do you mind waiting in here until we come back?"

"No, not at all," I replied.

I inclined my head at Esme, who nodded back as they left.

Jasper grinned at me as I sat down on one of the armchairs. "How are you doin', Bella?"

"Oh, I'm fine. Are you guys okay?"

"Yep, more than okay."

Rosalie bent forward. "And how are things between you and Dad?"

"Pretty good. No complaints yet."

She smiled widely. "That's awesome. I'm happy that everything is going well."

"Carlisle really does like being with you," Alice added.

Emmett nodded. "Yeah. He told us this himself."

"Yes. He thinks that your relationship is strengthening. I can see what he means when I see you together."

"My visions often show me that your relationship is going to last a long time," Alice stated.

I hoped that those visions were true. I really enjoyed dating Carlisle. It pleased me to know that he felt the same way. The last thing that I wanted was to be told that he was becoming unhappy with me.

Carlisle's POV

Meanwhile

I had gone to the kitchen with Esme. She perched on the island as I leaned on the counter.

"Bella is a nice young lady. She has very good manners. You are lucky to have met each other that second time. You are both lucky that she happened to move here the day after you did too," she commented.

"That is true. It's likely that I would not have found out that she is my soul mate if she hadn't. Not for years, anyway," I pointed out.

"Mmm. You may be right about that."

After that, the tone of the conversation changed.

I straightened. "How has everything been going for you, Esme?"

"Very well. My job at the interior designing agency is keeping me occupied. I have helped with several houses in the last month. I know that you are extremely busy at the hospital."

"Not as much as I usually am. It has actually been a little quiet there. Since children and teenagers in Forks are back in school and autumn has begun, everything is settling down. Things will likely pick up in the winter, but you know all of this already."

Esme chuckled. "I ought to. I have lived here almost as long as you have."

I laughed with her. "So what are you planning to do with our children this weekend?" I inquired.

"Oh, I figured that we could go up to see our family in Denali. They mentioned that they haven't seen them since earlier this year," she responded.

Beaming, I said, "Well, give them my love for me. Tell them that I plan to visit them before the year is over."

"Certainly. They will be glad to hear that. What are you and Bella doing today?"

"I am taking her to a carnival in Olympia. It is far away enough for us not to be caught spending time with each other. But it isn't going to be open until 2:30, so we will find something to do before we leave from here. I will be teaching her how to dance tomorrow."

She nodded pensively with a smile. "I know that you two will enjoy yourselves." Then she slid off of the island. "Well, I think that the kids and I will be leaving now. We have quite a journey ahead of us."

When we returned to the family room, I saw that Isabella and our children were having a conversation of their own. However, they got up when they noticed us.

Esme waved her arm. "Your father and I are done now. Are you ready to leave?"

All of them save Bella nodded and picked up their overnight bags. I followed everyone as we headed outside.

Alice, Jasper, Edward, Emmett and Rosalie hugged Isabella as we stood near the forest's edge.

"I'm going to miss you until tomorrow," Rosalie whispered to her.

"We all will," Jasper added.

"Have a nice time with Carlisle. I know that you two are going to have fun," Edward mumbled.

Esme shook her hand. "Again, is a pleasure to have met you."

Isabella beamed at her. "You too, Esme."

"Oh, and...how is your father? I know that he must be happy that you are living with him."

"Charlie's doing all right. He's likely working at the police station. And yes, he is glad that I moved in with him."

A faraway look appeared in Esme's eyes. "That's good to hear. I know that his job keeps him on his toes as well."

Isabella chuckled. "Yes, it does."

After they had finished talking, Esme and our children hugged me. Then they bidded us good-bye and ran into the woods.

Bella's POV

When Alice, Jasper, Edward, Emmett, Rosalie, and Esme had disappeared, I turned to Carlisle.

"You were right. Esme really is a nice person. I can tell just by looking at her that she is a wonderful mother. It's no wonder your kids love her so much and talk highly of her," I declared.

"I know that it would have pleased Esme to hear you say that. And yes, she is a nice person and wonderful mother," he agreed.

"Mmm. So...what are we going to do now?" I queried.

He slid an arm around me as we went back inside. "I was about to ask you something along the same lines. The carnival isn't open until two thirty, and it is only a little after ten fifteen," he replied. "Is there anything in particular that you want to do?"

I thought it over. "No...not really. Do you have any ideas?"

Carlisle narrowed his eyes. "Why don't I give you a tour of the house? You never saw every room in it yet."

"Sure! I would love that."

"All righty, then. We can start with the garage. I will show you all of the things that we have in there."

Other than my truck and the vehicles that he and his kids drove, there were mainly tools and car parts in it. Next, he showed me the other family room and his office.

There were a few bookshelves in the room, plus a desk in the middle of it, and a number of cabinets. Various types of medicines and medical supplies were in them. Paintings were on the walls too.

I examined them with high interest. "These are very fascinating, Carlisle. Did you paint them all?"

He bobbed his head. "Yes, in my spare time. This is the first one that I had ever created," he added, leading me over to a picture of him and three other men on a balcony.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Aro, Caius, and Marcus. This was back in the 1690's."

"Ohhhh. Well, that would explain your out-of-style clothes," I grinned.

"Be quiet."

He moved his fingertips along my side.

I jumped away from him. "Whoo! Don't do that!" I said, raising my hands.

Carlisle smirked wickedly, stepping up to me. "Ohhhh-ohh, you're ticklish, are you?" he questioned in a low voice.

I backed away. "Apparently, I am. I never knew that I was until now. No one has ever tickled me in my life...that I can remember."

His eyes grew large and his jaw dropped. "What?! You have to be kidding me!" he breathed.

"No, I'm not," I remarked earnestly.

All he did was stare at me.

Carlisle's POV

I could not believe my ears or the words that left her mouth.

Never in my existence did I know of a person who had never been tickled.

Until now.

This was yet another one of those rare times when I did not have the capacity to fathom the idea of something. Lately, these times were occurring a bit more often where Isabella was concerned.

She was becoming a mystery to me...and that was saying a lot. I wasn't able to read thoughts like Edward, but I understood people and concepts a great deal. I had to after more than three hundred years.

But of all things, there was no way that I could wrap my head around the idea of her never being tickled. Were she and her mother so adverse that Isabella did not allow her to tickle her? Was Charlie too busy to think about it when she visited him...not including the years when she was an infant/toddler?

My poor Isabella. No wonder she seemed unhappy. She and mother clearly did not get along often enough, and her father was occupied with his job to pay much attention to her even when she came to see him.

Oh, well. We would just have to make up for lost time as far as tickling went.

Bella's POV

Carlisle finally pursed his lips after a moment. "I'm sorry to hear that. It's too bad that you haven't," he whispered. Then he smiled. "This just means that I will have to tickle you occasionally from now on."

Scoffing, I muttered, "Oh, no it doesn't. You will not be tickling me at all. Absolutely no tickling."

"We shall see about that."

Next thing I knew, I was shrieking with laughter on a couch as he tickled me. I pleaded for him to quit it, but he didn't until I was hardly able to breathe.

He and I kissed after a minute. Then he showed me his other portraits before resuming his tour of the house.

I soon learned where the bathrooms were. I took a peek into Rosalie and Emmett's and Edward's bedrooms, as well as the spare ones. Carlisle had even let me check out the attic. There was mainly old furniture and used items in it.

The last room that we came to had shelves of glass animal figurines. There were birds, butterflies, turtles, fishes, swans, etc. All of them were very pretty, especially the birds.

Carlisle grinned at me. "Alice and Rosalie collected two of each over the years. You like the birds the most, don't you?" he inquired.

I nodded. "Yes, I do."

"Mmm. I don't blame you for that. Would you like to take one home? It would be a nice decoration for your bedroom. You may even have a butterfly and a swan, if you like."

"No, it's okay. I don't think that they would like it if I took any of their figures home. I don't want to ruin their collection."

He took out his cell phone. "Why don't I ask them for you? Would you take the bird, butterfly, and swan if they tell me that you can?"

I mulled it over. "Yeah, I guess so. They are beautiful."

The phone rang as soon as I had finished saying this. He peered at the screen, then snickered.

"Alice obviously had a vision of our conversation. She says that neither she nor Rosalie mind if you take home the figurines."

"Well, there you go. At least you didn't have to waste seconds calling her," I remarked.

Carlisle rolled his eyes playfully. "Whatever. I shall find bubble wrap for your new figurines then. I'll put them away and you may get them when we return from the carnival."

He did just that and set them carefully in a box, which he took to the living room with us.

We spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon in here. He and I cuddled, watched a movie, and talked for a bit. Carlisle heated up pizza for me in his oven before lunch.

At 2:20, he shut off the TV. "Let's go, Isabella. It's time to leave," he announced.

I frowned in confusion. "You're not driving to Olympia, are you?" I queried. I knew that the trip there was about four hours.

"No, certainly not. The carnival will be preparing to close within a half hour of our arrival there. I will run to the city with you on my back. It will only take a few minutes," he stated.

When we were outside, I climbed on his back. He placed his hands under my knees and ghosted into the forest. I shut my eyes because looking at the trees passing by made me dizzy.

In no time at all, Carlisle was setting me down. "We are here. You may open your eyes."

I glanced at my surrounding when I did. We were standing yards away from the carnival. It was near the edge of a huge park area. I took his hands as we strolled over to the entrance.

A small queue of people had also came early. More were on the way; I could see others parking their vehicles or approaching us in groups.

The carnival opened five minutes later. Carlisle paid for a book of tickets and we headed inside.

"So, would you like to go on a ride first, or play one of the games?" he asked.

"Uh...can we take a look at everything before I decide? I'm not sure," I remarked.

"Of course. Whatever you want, it is yours."

I had to admit that the last time that I went to a carnival, I was about eight or nine. I didn't know if the games or rides were the same or not.

Turned out that most of them were, but they were renewed or updated.

"You seem lost, sweet girl. Don't tell me that you have never been to a carnival before too," he teased.

I chuckled. "No, I have, just not in several years."

"Ahhh, I understand. That explains it."

"Mmm. Oh, I know. Let's go on the Ferris Wheel, then on that roller coaster over there."

Carlisle was taken aback. "I never thought that you were the type to enjoy roller coasters. You usually seem to prefer quieter things."

I laughed again. "That is true, but I like loud or exciting things when I'm in the mood for them. Even you have to agree."

He bobbed his head. "Yes, you are right. I have times when I am in the mood for that too."

Carlisle's POV

We ambled over to the Ferris Wheel and stood in line. Pretty soon, I was handing a man the required number of tickets before sitting in the carriage with Isabella.

She leaned into me as it rose upward. "This is nice and cozy," she murmured.

I buried my face in her hair. "Yes, it is," I whispered.

Then I lifted her chin and kissed her deeply. She kissed me back, laying her hands on my arms. After that, I nuzzled her jugular. She pecked my temple.

"Hmmm. I really love being with you, Carlisle."

"And I you, my dear." I reached up to kiss her a second time.

Isabella and I stayed like this until the ride was over. We got on the roller coaster next, then on a ride called the Sea Dragon.

I was pleased to see that she was having fun. She was right about what she had told me; she did enjoy exhilaration in certain situations. It floored me when she actually said that she wanted to sit at the front of the roller coaster...and at the end of the Sea Dragon ride. Not that it bothered me, but the Sea Dragon went higher when it swung one way. But it soon grew apparent that she did not mind this either; she loved it.

We moved on to the games after checking out all of the rides. I asked if there was one that she wanted to play, but she shook her head.

"You have to have good hand-eye coordination for most, if not all of them. Good hand-eye coordination is not something that I have," she added.

"I understand what you mean. There's nothing wrong with learning to develop those skills, though," I pointed out.

"No, I guess not. Why don't you play a few? I'll watch you."

With a laugh, I joked, "All right, but I will let you know that it isn't fair if I do. Being a vampire means that my hand-eye coordination is perfect. However, I will only do it if you play some games yourself."

Isabella shrugged. "Okay. It wouldn't hurt...I hope."

"Don't be pessimistic. You will do fine."

The first game that we played was the one that you had to throw darts at the balloons to win a prize. I chose to go after her, knowing that my game would be over quickly when I played.

To be honest, Isabella did very well. She managed to pop almost every balloon that she had aimed for. She won a nice vampire doll in the end. I rolled my eyes at her when she smirked at me.

"Oh, har de har har," I muttered sarcastically as I prepared to take my turn. She giggled and winked.

It went without saying that I popped all of the balloons. On my next turn, I decided to miss just one or two so that she wouldn't feel envious. Isabella clearly understood what I was doing because she shook her head in amusement. I stuck my tongue out at her.

We played more games and eventually won more prizes than we could hold in our arms. Luckily, I was able to find a bag that was huge enough to put all of them in. Then I snuck in and out of the carnival to take our things back to my place.

After I returned, Isabella said that she was hungry. I let her choose what she wanted to eat. She tried to pay for her food, two hot dogs and a soda, but I told her that I would myself.

"Save your money. Everything here is a little expensive...not that I cannot afford it," I observed.

"Don't I know it, Mr. Well-Off," she teased.

I quirked an eyebrow with a smile. "Don't make me have to tickle you again."

"You'd better not."

For the rest of the day, we continued to go on the rides that we liked the best and play games. We sat down to watch other people having fun when Isabella was exhausted. No one that we knew in Forks ever showed up, much to our relief. There would be a lot of explaining to do if anyone saw us and noticed that my children were not here.

The carnival employees finally announced that it was nearly closing time at 8:25. We left and headed into the woods nearby. Isabella jumped onto my back and I ran home.

We arrived there about four minutes later and headed upstairs to the living room.

I placed her on the chair, then sat next to her. "Well, that was enjoyable. Did you have a wonderful time?" I questioned.

"Oh, yes. We have to go to the carnival again next year. That is, if we are still together then," she replied.

"That is definitely a plan. And I am certain that we still are going to be together next year. I told you that I love to be with you. It is not likely that something would change my mind. I also have been wondering iiiif...you would like me to be your boyfriend since our relationship is progressing so well?"

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

I was dumbstruck. I couldn't believe my ears. Did Carlisle mean it? He really wanted to be my boyfriend?

"You...You honestly want to take our relationship to the next level?" I breathed once I had found my voice.

He inclined his head. "Yes, but only if you are comfortable with it. I understand if you prefer to wait a while," he added.

I smiled. "I'd truly love to be your girlfriend, Carlisle. Um...will everything be different? Are there changes that you want me to make?" I inquired.

"No, no, Isabella. Just continue to be the extraordinary young lady you are. As far as our relationship goes, it may or may not deepen and grow more complex. However, I believe that it will. Look how much it has already. It has only been a week since our first date."

"That's true, but it's still amazing how quickly it did."

Carlisle frowned. "Is everything moving too fast for you? I'll slow down if you need me to. This is your first relationship and I don't want you to feel pressured."

Waving my hand, I assured him, "You never made me feel pressured. Don't worry. But I really would like to be your girlfriend, and I would love it if you were my boyfriend. You have all of the qualities I want in one."

He pecked my temple. "I'm glad to know that I do. And you have all the qualities I want in a girlfriend. That is why I know this relationship will very likely go far. So, do you want to make it official?"

I nodded. "Yes. I know that you and I have only been dating for a week, but I...I feel like it's right to. I don't know or understand why I feel that it is. I just do."

"Then perhaps it may be. Only time will tell."

His statement was rather cryptic, as if he knew something I didn't, but I decided not to ask him about it.

"Agreed."

He nuzzled my forehead with his, then lifted my chin to kiss me with passion. I held onto his shoulders as I kissed him back.

When Carlisle moved away so that I could breathe, his phone rang. He opened it and read something on the screen. Then he laughed heartily.

"Alice wanted to let us know that she and others send their 'Congratulations!' and wish us luck,'" he declared.

I chuckled. "Tell her that I said thank you."

"No need. I'm certain that she saw you say it."

The phone rang with another message.

"'I did, and you're welcome'," Carlisle read.

"Well, there you go," I said.

"Mmm-hmm."

Carlisle and I grew quiet for a bit. Some time later, I peered at my watch and sighed deeply.

"It's nine o'clock. I don't want to get home too late," I announced.

He stroked my hair. "All right. Would you like me to meet you in your room, or have you had enough of me?" he teased.

"Yeah, I would like that. And no, I haven't had enough of you...not yet. I'm not sure how I can possibly have enough of you, to be honest," I admitted with a blush.

"I'm sure that I will never have enough of you."

I grinned and pecked his cheek.

He followed me outside to my truck while carrying the box with my new glass figurines. I had to laugh when he put the vampire doll inside of it with them.

"Just something to think of me by, and a companion for your teddy bear. I know he must be lonely when he is all by himself," he joked.

I rolled my eyes at him in amusement. "You are the absolute worst." I held up the doll. "It's funny. The teddy bear and the vampire are kind of an analogy to us. You wouldn't think that they look right sitting next to each other, but for all that, it doesn't look wrong either. Especially if they favor each other."

Carlisle chortled as he laid the box on the passenger seat. "Yes...I have to agree now that I think about it."

"Mmm. Well, I'll see you in my room."

"That you will. Drive safely. I don't want you to get in an accident."

"I'll try not to."

We kissed each other one more time before I got in the truck.

Charlie was in the kitchen when I arrived home. He beamed at me as I peeked into the room.

"Hey, honey. What do you have there?" he asked, nodding at the box.

"Alice and Rosalie let me have three glass bird figurines. They like collecting animal figures, but they have so many that they didn't mind giving me a few. Alice put a vampire doll that she won at a carnival last year in the box too," I replied.

"Well, that was kind of them. May I see?"

"Yeah, go ahead."

I placed the box on the table carefully. He opened it and took out the bird, swan, and butterfly.

Fascination lit up his expression as he turned them over in his hand. "These were crafted very nicely. I know they must have cost a lot." He turned to me. "Do you still know how to do the bird calls that I taught you?"

"Mmm-hmm, every last one. I practice them often."

He rubbed my back. "Good. Why don't you do one for me? It's been a long time since you had."

I cupped my hands over my lips and did an imitation of a mourning dove.

Charlie's eyes crinkled as he grinned softly. "That was beautiful."

"Thank you. Your turn...I haven't heard you do a bird call since last year."

He nodded before imitating a skylark.

I smiled at him. "That sounded very nice, Dad. You certainly haven't lost your touch."

"Neither have you. I'm glad that you practice them." He lifted the vampire doll out of the box. "Huh. This is cute."

"That's what I told Alice when she gave it to me. All of them always do nice things for me."

"Good to hear. You're lucky to have friends like them. Many people don't at all."

"You're right about that. I'm going upstairs now. I'll see you later or tomorrow."

He kissed my forehead. "Okay, Bella. I love you. Sweet dreams."

I embraced him tightly. "I love you too, Daddy."

When I opened my room's door a minute later, I found Carlisle standing next to the bookshelf. He was perusing one of my novels, but looked up as I closed it (the door.)

"Sorry. I didn't mean to keep you waiting," I hissed.

"Don't worry about it. There's nothing wrong with having a chat with your father," he murmured. "Speaking of which, your birds calls were lovely. Both of you are very talented."

I snickered. "Charlie is. I guess that I'm okay. I practice them enough."

"Modest as always. But I think that your bird calls are more than okay."

"Thanks. I'm happy that you like mine. So, um...what do you want to do until you leave?"

"Perhaps a game or two of UNO. I brought the cards with me." He lifted up a box of them.

"Okay, that sounds like fun."

I put the glass figurines on my desk and the vampire doll next to my teddy bear, then laid across from him. He shuffled the cards and placed one UNO-side-up before me. He took another for himself.

"Whoever has the bigger number starts first," he whispered.

"Yes, I know."

Mine was a green 3 while his was a red 7. After dealing the cards, I turned one from the deck over-a blue 0-and the game began.

The both of us enjoyed ourselves a lot. We had to keep remembering to stay as quiet as possible and not laugh too much. Neither of us wanted Charlie to find him in here with me. Not that that was possible. Carlisle would have gathered up the cards and left the room before he reached the middle of the stairway.

"Um...Carlisle? I wanted to ask you something about earlier," I said minutes later.

"Yes, my dear? What is it?"

I laid a yellow 5 on top of his yellow 8. "When I asked how our relationship will change and become different, I really wanted to know about the things we'll be doing. I know that you are still going to take me out on dates, of course. Is there anything else?"

Comprehension dawned in his expression. He nodded pensively. "I see what you mean. Yes, we will continue to go on dates whenever we are able to, and visit each other if it is possible. My job can easily keep me from being with you on some days. There may even be times when I am unavailable for more than a week. This usually happens in the summer and winter, but not often in spring or fall. I want you to remember this in case this situation ever arises. I know that you will feel disappointed if and when it does, but I will certainly make up for it."

Nodding in understanding, I mumbled, "I'll try not to feel upset when that happens. What else? Will...are...are we going to be more intimate?"

I was really going to ask him if he would love me one day. Besides that, I wanted to know if our kisses, hugs, and touches would be more passionate. However, I didn't want to sound ridiculous, or make him think that I was talking about sex. It was too early to even mention that, as well as love.

"Yes, I am certain that you and I will the longer we are together, emotionally and perhaps even physically. But I prefer to take it slow for now, especially since this is your first relationship, as I had mentioned before. As it progresses, we may be more open, comfortable, and trusting with each other. The boundaries that are set up now will eventually disappear one by one. However, that is only if we choose to let them. You still do not know everything about me, nor I about you. If and when we learn that something does not feel right to-or definitely does not sit well with-one or both of us, we simply will not involve it."

"Okay. That's more than fair and reasonable. We'll see how everything goes, then."

He beamed. "That we will. Now, Isabella...I'd like to call to your attention that you know more about me than I know about you. And I have noticed that you are keeping certain things from me...things about your mother. I understand that you are not as quick to confide in anyone because you never had friends, or somebody to talk to and connect with before you moved here," he added when I opened my mouth to apologize. "I don't blame you for this, nor am I angry at you. I just want you to understand that you may tell me anything if you feel the need. I care about you, sweetheart, and I want the best for you. That being said, I just hope that you will be able to open up and be honest in the future once you are more comfortable with me."

I turned away in guilt. How could he not be upset that I repeatedly withheld the dark truth about Egg Donor from him? He ought to be.

Carlisle placed his hand on my cheek, making me jump and face him again. "Hey...it's all right, my dear," he assured me with gentle smile. "I don't want you to feel ashamed. We have only been dating for a week, remember. I admit that I'm not happy that you are not being entirely honest with me about her, or keeping things from me. But at the same time, I don't expect to know all about you for quite a while. That is one of the reasons why we are moving at a slow pace. I only told you that because I would like you to be more truthful as our relationship grows. It won't thrive without honesty. You may tell me everything little by little, starting with what you are not hesitant to divulge. The rest can come later."

Feeling relieved, I smiled. Everything that he had said reminded me of something similar that Angela told me on Monday.

"If you ever need to talk or anything, I'm here...I know that you don't know or trust me well enough to do that right now, but I mean everything I said. I really do..."

With a nod, I stated, "I will try my best to be honest, and not hide anything. You're right. I'm not used to telling anyone certain stuff about my personal life. It will take time for me to be able to. I really don't know how to...not that much. It's easier to mention some things than others. But I promise to let you know if I can't tell you something right away. Maybe I would be able to at another time, but not then. And I will be able to tell you all about Mom one day, I promise. I'm still too upset with her to do that right now, though. I can't even think of her without feeling angry."

He pursed his lips, but grinned seconds afterwards. "Thank you, Isabella. I shall do the same for you when it comes to anything personal about me."

He and I kissed for a long moment, then resumed the game that we had temporarily forgotten about.

"UNO," I whispered, laying a yellow 3 card on the pile. My last one was a wild card.

"Oh man," he complained good-naturedly, plucking a card from the desk. He obviously did not have a yellow card or a 3.

I smirked wickedly as I threw down my last card. "Out."

Amusement and disbelief filled his expression. "You are one sly little devil. I will have to remember not to ever underestimate you. But you still play fair."

I giggled. "I prefer to."

"That's excellent."

We played one more game-which I also won-before he had to leave. I was tired and wanted to go to bed.

Carlisle kissed me long and hard. "You will visit tomorrow for your very first dancing lesson?" he inquired.

I nodded. "Yes. I don't want to miss it. Hopefully, you won't have to escort me to Forks General. I'm liable to fall and/or hurt myself," I remarked.

"Nonsense. I wouldn't let that happen. And even if you did get injured in some way, I can fix you up at my place."

"Thanks. I would rather you did. Charlie would definitely hear about it if you don't. I wouldn't want him to ask questions that I can't answer."

"I agree with you."

Once he had left, I changed into my pajamas. I held the vampire doll and my teddy bear as I dozed off.

Carlisle's POV

My house was quieter than usual when I had returned to it. It always seemed to be during the weekends my children left to spend time with Esme. Now, with Isabella gone, it was doubly silent.

I turned on the radio in my room, then laid down. I gazed at the canopy overhead. (I had a brown four-poster bed with no foot-board. I would add the curtains once more when Isabella and I were ready to mate.) As I did, I thought about the discussion that I had with Isabella.

I had mixed feelings over telling her that I knew that she was hiding information about her mother. On one hand, I was relieved that I did. The guilt and shame in her expression confirmed that she had. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that she felt the need to. Yes, I did understand that she had no clue of how to tell me anything deep about her, never really having had someone to talk to. That was all that kept me from being furious.

At least she did promise to tell me about her someday. Hopefully, that will be sooner than later. The idea that her mother still enraged her...to the point she could not even think about her...told me a lot in itself. She must have really done something terrible and/or upsetting to make Isabella feel that way. It was too bad that I had to wait awhile to found out exactly what it was.

My spirits rose knowing that she would be more truthful from here on out. Plus, I did not have to be concerned that she would keep something from me any longer. I already knew that our relationship was going to work, but I didn't want a rift created between us. I didn't want to have a reason to not trust her. I didn't want her to have no trust in me either. Luckily, that day will probably never, ever come. But I would concern myself about this only if I needed to. Alice would have told me if she was a dishonest person before now.

Worry turned to happiness as I thought of Isabella readily agreeing to be my girlfriend. It pleased me even more that she felt that it was right to take this next step. The pull that she likely sensed was drawing her to me was unconsciously telling her this. She didn't know this yet, but in time, I would explain it to her.

I understood what she meant when she asked if we would be more intimate. Even though she could have been talking about sex, I knew that she really desired to know if I would love her someday. Unbeknownst to her, I already did. Perhaps I had the day that I found out that she was my mate too. It was hard not to, especially when she clearly needed it. How could anyone not love such a tenderhearted, mature, intelligent and perceptive woman like her?

She was like the mockingbird she did a bird-call to...unless she happened to be enraged or irritated. Then she reminded me of a fierce hawk. God, she looked beautiful when she was angry...even if she felt that way towards me. Of course, I did not like it when she was, but she still looked gorgeous. She was nearly constantly peaceful (or so Jasper told me once) and never meant any harm. Not that I knew of, anyway. When she chuckled quietly, it almost sound akin to a mourning dove's coo. The only difference was that her laugh was full of joy and/or amusement. It was not mournful at all.

There was no way that I couldn't love Isabella. In spite of her faults, she was still perfect to me. I couldn't wait for the day that she finally loved me too.

For the rest of the night, I thought of her. I also wondered how my children were. I hoped that they were enjoying their weekend at our Denali cousins' place. That included Edward. Tanya, the coven leader, had a crush on him. She kept pursuing him although he told her that he felt no connection to her. This greatly annoyed him, to the point where he almost dreaded visiting his cousins. Either that, or he nearly dreaded it if they came over to see us.

"Don't worry about it, son. When she finds her mate, she'll stop bothering you. She have to after you happen to find yours also," I said to him once.

Alice revealed to me earlier this week that Edward did find her. She didn't tell me who it was, only that he would have met her sooner if they hadn't been home-schooled last year. (None of my children were keen on starting at Forks High. They felt it was too soon because we had just moved here then. All of them wanted to get used to being in this area again.)

"She's your and Bella's bond daughter too. You'll know who it is when the time comes. This is for me to know and you to find out, unless you have a clue who she is. Jasper, Rosalie, and Emmett don't have one that I know of. I didn't see if they did. Edward might know, unless he ignored the signs," she explained.

Oddly enough, I did have an idea of who she was talking about. I never told Edward (even via my thoughts) in case I was wrong. However, I felt the bond to this particular young woman last year in the hospital. It was only a matter of time before their relationship began...and then another would too. Alice revealed that it involved Esme, but didn't tell me who the mystery man was. However, Esme and I noticed who it almost certainly was, which caused us both to figure out that we are not soul mates. She just felt that it was best to leave for a while until she felt that it was the appropriate time to return.

"It's the proper thing to do. Jumping right into our eventual relationship will do neither of us good. We need time to be prepared to have one," she told me.

(The next morning-11:34)

I was standing by the front door, waiting for Isabella to arrive. She called me a half hour before to let me know that she was on her way here.

Once I had finished talking to her, I moved the furniture in the living room so that we could have enough space to dance. I picked out a number of CDs with different types of music we could dance to. Our carnival prizes were still in there, but I put them in one of the spare bedrooms. Then I quickly read an online medical journal and headed downstairs.

Before long, I heard the roar of her Chevrolet. It pulled up in the driveway minutes later. Isabella stepped out of her truck after shutting off the engine.

Today, she was wearing loose-fitting clothes. Very appropriate for her first dancing lesson. I too wore an outfit similar to hers.

"Hi there," I greeted when I opened the door. "How is my lovely new girlfriend this morning?"

She giggled. "Not bad. You okay?" she inquired.

"Mmm-hmm," I replied.

I kissed her forehead and lead her upstairs to the living room. "Would you like something to drink? Did you have breakfast?"

"Yes, I ate. I'm not thirsty right now, but I would like a bottle of water or two set out for me, just in case."

"Very well."

I ghosted to the kitchen and returned to her in a flash. I put the bottles on the table, then sat next to her on the couch.

"So, do you want to begin your lessons in a couple of minutes, or would you like to start a bit later?" I asked next.

Isabella leaned into me. "Give me about ten minutes, please? Driving can take it out of me sometimes."

Pulling her close, I whispered, "Sure, sweetheart. Rest as long as you need to. Is there a certain genre of music that you want to listen to?"

"A little of everything is good. Is my lesson going to be very long?"

"No, not at all. It will only be two hours at the most. You don't want to get over-exhausted."

After she had finished resting, I put in an instrumental pop CD. Then I motioned for her to stand up. She blushed brilliantly as she did.

I patted her back. "Don't be nervous."

Isabella inclined her head. "Sorry. I just don't want to embarrass myself, is all. I'm terrible at dancing," she remarked.

"Don't worry about that. In time, you'll dance so eloquently that you can compete with me and my kids," I said with a grin. "Why don't you show me how you dance first, and I can help you improve on it."

Her face went from light pink to dark red as she gulped. "U-Ummm...okay, if you want me to, but I'd rather not."

"No need to be shy. If it helps, I can promise that I won't laugh, or try to. I promise," I repeatedly when she quirked an eyebrow skeptically.

"You sure? My dancing really is horrible. I wouldn't blame you if you did laugh at me. Feel more than free too."

I was taken aback by her last two statements. "But why would I ever want to laugh at you simply because you think that your dancing is that bad? I wouldn't consider that very nice or polite."

She bowed her head. "No, I guess not. I'm sorry. I just never had a reason to dance for anyone, or to dance in front of people."

"That's understandable. Why don't you take a deep breath and settle your nerves? Then you can start. I am only observing you without judgment so I can help you work on what you are not quite good at."

Isabella eyed me shrewdly to figure out if I was lying to her or not. After realizing that I wasn't, she smiled and nodded again.

I watched with interest as she did a number of dances. A few included the twist, the monkey, and the salsa. To be honest, she was pretty good. Nevertheless, she appeared to be worried, so she only half-tried.

"You're not bad at all," I commented when she stopped to rest. "You truthfully aren't. The only thing that I would suggest is to loosen up. You were rather stiff, and you don't have to be."

"I know, but I just wanted to make sure that I didn't fall," she pointed out.

"Don't worry about that. We both know that I won't let you. I'd catch you before you made it halfway to the floor."

"Ha ha. You're more than fast enough to," she joked with a chuckle.

I joined in with her laughter. "That I am."

Bella's POV

We settled down eventually and Carlisle cleared his throat.

"Now, on to your lessons. Other than learning new dances, all you really need to work on is not being stiff," he announced.

I grinned, blushing with pleasure. "That's good to know. I'll try not to be, but I wouldn't expect for me to change overnight," I remarked.

He shook his head. "No, of course not, dear. Let's get started, then. Is there a particular dance that you had been very interested in learning?"

"Yes. There are a few Latin dances that I've been wanting to learn...the salsa, rumba, cha-cha, and mambo. I've lived around Hispanic and Mexican people almost all my life, so it grew on me after a while."

"Well, I cannot say that I blame you for that. The dances and the music are beautiful. I can teach you one of the dances today, and the other two whenever I have time. Pick the one that you want to do first."

I thought it over. "Teach me the cha-cha...please?" I asked.

"Sure. That isn't a problem. I will get my Enrique Inglesias and Ricky Martin CDs. Hold on."

Carlisle ghosted out of the room and returned in an instant. He took out the instrumental pop disc and put in another one. The next thing I knew, "Maria" by Ricky Martin was playing.

He spent forty-five minutes showing me how to twist my hips and legs, when to spin and how many times I should. He taught me how to bend backwards while dipping me and how to move my arms.

"Very good, very good...Loosen up a bit there, your hip-twist was somewhat robotic...There we go. Excellent...Don't bend too far, else you'll damage your spine...Beautiful twirl, there. Very flowing!..." he praised.

I was flattered and pleased to know that I wasn't as bad at dancing as I thought I was.

During the whole time, I marveled over how softly Carlisle held me. I was often surprised about how gentle his strong hands were when it was required of them to be. He was also an incredibly remarkable dancer, but this was not as unexpected. He would be after more than three hundred years. I'm not making fun of him about this, just pointing out the obvious truth.

Next, we combined the moves that he taught me. This was a kind of tricky because I would forget which one I had to do after the last. But Carlisle was extremely patient and didn't become irritated with my mistakes.

"Do four hip-twists while moving back...just a little faster...Good. Now I will spin you you around twice and dip you. Good, good...Now dance beside me and do the moves that I showed you..."

We had so much fun, laughing and teasing each other in the midst of everything, that I was tad disappointed when I grew exhausted. My back was tired and my legs ached. However, the last thing that I wanted to do was rest, although Carlisle told me that it was necessary.

"Perhaps we can dance more later. For right now, you need a break. You don't want to strain your muscles anymore than you already have," he noted.

"Fine. Yes, sir, Dr. Cullen," I declared, saluting him.

He smirked and tickled my waist. "Goofball."

I howled with laughter. "Stop! Stop! Quit it! I'll never rest you don't!" I yelled.

Carlisle gave in. "Fair enough. You're right, I will stop."

Beaming, I reached up to kiss him on the lips. "Thank you, honey...uh...I mean..." I stammered. This was the first time that I ever called him that. I never even called him "baby."

He was just as taken aback as I was, but smiled, looking touched. "You're welcome, little mockingbird," he whispered.

I grinned in return. "Big mockingbird."

Carlisle was a lot like one. All he wanted to do want make people happy and make them get better if they were injured or sick. He may have fed off of animals, but he really meant no harm to anyone or anything for all that.

He kissed the top of my head.

It was lunchtime (for me) at this point. We chatted animatedly in the kitchen as he fixed a vegetarian burger and salad for me. He made me sit at the island even though I desired to help him, but he still wanted me to rest. Soon he was laying my plate and bowl in front of me. I thanked him as he poured me a glass of orange juice.

We played a few games of UNO out on his office balcony after I was done eating. Luckily, it wasn't raining, but he needed to dry off the lounge chairs. They were soaked from last night's rain.

Carlisle was determined to beat me at least once in "revenge" for my crushing him the other day. He actually did win two times, not that I minded. The fact that we were enjoying ourselves meant more to me than winning or losing.

His phone rang as we were in the middle of our second game of "I Declare War". He lifted a finger as he answered it.

"Good afternoon, Esme. How are you?" he queried. "Oh, you and the kids are several minutes away?...Isabella and I shall be waiting outside, then...All right, see you in a few...Bye..." He hung up. "Do you want to postpone the game, or just wrap it up altogether?"

"We can wrap it up, but maybe you kids would like to play once they get settled," I remarked.

"I'm sure that they will if they feel up to it later."

He put the cards in the boxes and told me to jump on his back. When I did, he jumped off of the balcony, then set me on the ground. We waited in the driveway.

Minutes later, his children and Esme were running out of the forest. They beamed brightly at us.

"Dad! Bella! It's good to see you!" Alice exclaimed.

"We missed you both!" Rosalie added.

"I know you had fun this weekend!" Jasper shouted.

"Not too much fun, I hope," Emmett laughed, his tone full of implications.

Rosalie smacked the back of his head. Edward looked disgusted as he waved.

"Hi Carlisle, Bella!" he announced.

All of them hugged us, and I shook Esme's hand. Carlisle ushered everyone inside when the greetings were exchanged.

"Glad you're all back. Isabella and I missed you too. Why don't you put away your belongings and meet us in the living room? You can tell us how your visit went then."

They nodded and left to do just that. I didn't even have the chance to sit down when they rejoined us.

I listened in quiet contentment as Alice, Jasper, Edward, Emmett, Rosalie, and Esme recounted their weekend with their Denali cousins. They had gone on a hunt, went skiing on Mount McKinley, shopped, and had a women's/men's hour. It was obvious that they had had a lot of fun. If they weren't vampires, I would never have understood how they could have done all of this in barely a day.

Most of their cousins-Eleazar, Carmen, Kate, and Laurent-seemed like very nice people from how they described them. However, Irina and Tanya were kind of fickle. Edward and Rosalie did not like Tanya much, and from what they explained to me, I could understand why. Being around someone who pursued you even though you had no interest in them, and who was self-absorbed and petty, was always irritating. Irina, on the other hand, could be rather snotty and grouchy when not in a good mood. Not a very good combination.

"Sometimes, it's hard to tell which one is worse than the other. But Irina must not be that terrible if Laurent loves her. He is her soul mate. Then again, we still don't know very much about Laurent because he's still a relatively new member of Tanya's family and coven. He had only joined them at the end of the previous year," Rosalie said.

Carlisle and I told them about our weekend after they had finished. They were interested to know about what happened during the house tour and the carnival. I was relieved that he didn't mention that I had never been tickled.

"Isabella's first dancing lesson was pretty good. She's a natural; all she needs is encouragement and some points in the right direction," he explained.

"That's awesome! One day, she'll be able to dance with us when we have parties," Emmett boomed.

I laughed a little. "Someday, I might."

Jasper grinned. "Alice told us that you love Latin dancin'."

"She's right, I do. It's very beautiful and intricate."

"You're right about that."

Esme turned to me. "Bella, I was told that you are excellent at bird-calling like your father is. Could you do one for me...please? Or would you rather not? If you don't, it's fine."

My face grew hot. "Um...well, I suppose one bird-call won't hurt," I relented, appreciating that she understood how shy this could make me.

I thought of some before choosing to imitate a turkey. I clenched my thumb and forefinger over my lips, then did the bird-call, opening and closing them.

She rose an eyebrow and nodded, looking impressed. Carlisle beamed, and the others gazed at me in admiration.

"That was fantastic, dear. You would be an very good hunter if you wanted to be one," she commented in a soft voice.

I smiled. "Thank you, Esme. I don't have any interest in being a hunter, but I guess I would be if I tried."

"Mmm. Your father is an excellent one, so I have heard when I lived here. Please tell him that I said hello when you see him next."

"I will."

Esme glanced at her watch. "I need to be going soon. Carlisle, may I speak to you privately?"

He bobbed his head and stood. "Yes, of course."

Carlisle's POV

She and I left Bella and our children in the family room and headed to the kitchen.

I patted her shoulder in a friendly gesture. "So, Esme, what is it that you need to talk about?" I questioned.

"Well...I'd like to talk about Bella. I'm not trying to be in her business, or in your relationship's business, but I wanted to know if she's okay. Not that I think that she isn't; she seems very happy. It's just that our kids have told me several things about what you observed from how she acts or appears," she remarked.

Exhaling deeply, I shrugged. "If she wasn't okay before, she is now. I still don't know very much about her personal life. But I can tell that she is getting better. There is a glow about her that was never there until just recently."

Her right eye narrowed as it always did if she was puzzled or thinking something over to figure it out. One eye always did. "Never? Not even when you met her eleven years ago?"

"Never."

"That's too bad." Then she frowned in concern and worry. "You...you don't think that she has been...hurt by someone, have you?"

I pursed my lips sadly. "I think she has been hurt by many people. Never having had any friends until after she moved here, I am sure that she must have been rejected very often. It pains me to know that she was forced to deal with this."

She drooped. "It's a shame that she has. I'd pity her, but I know that she wouldn't want me to. What our children mentioned to me about her looking as if she needs a hug is true. She honestly does. I would hug her if I were more acquainted with her. She probably wouldn't let me since she doesn't really know me very well, though."

"Maybe Isabella will. She told me that you are a nice person and that she understands why our children talk highly of you. She can also see that you are a wonderful mother. I think she may like you."

"Yes, I heard her tell you that the other day. I like her myself; I truthfully don't understand how anyone couldn't. Still, if I ever decide to hug her, I will wait. You said that she's distrustful of people she's doesn't really know. She needs to get use to me first."

"Perhaps you are right."

Esme rubbed my hand. "You'll know more about her later. Just keep being there for her. She will feel even more better and open up about her personal life. Whatever you find out will be either good or bad, but either way, your care and support is already helping. She will just need more to recover if recovery is what she needs."

I nodded. "I shall keep that mind. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Carlisle. Well, that is all I had to talk about. I will come back twice next month, so listen for my call."

"I will. Good luck at your job."

"Thank you."

We embraced each other, then left the kitchen.

Bella's POV

Since Esme was leaving, I figured that I might as well go home too. I needed to make dinner as usual and prepare for yet another week of school.

I stood when Carlisle and Esme returned. "Hey, um, I actually have to be going home. There's stuff that I have to do," I announced.

He inclined his head. "I understand. I'll swing by later on if you want," he offered.

"You can if you feel like it. I'm surprised that you haven't gotten tired of me yet. We been together all weekend," I pointed out.

"I don't think that it will be possible for me to ever get tired of you," he laughed. I could tell from his eyes that he meant it.

I chuckled. "I'm happy to know that."

They followed me and Esme outside. We all hugged one another for the second time. I was astonished when Esme even gave me a one-armed embrace.

She must have thought that my surprise was really anger, fear, disgust and/or unease because she apologized. "I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to do that, but I couldn't help myself. Neither of us really know each other. I was wrong. Forgive me..."

Lifting my hand, I interrupted her. "It's honestly fine, Esme. There's no need to be sorry. Your hug didn't offend me or anything. I'm not mad."

Relief crossed her expression. "Okay. Do your best in school, and don't forget to tell Charlie I said hello. Keep practicing your bird-calls. They are lovely and I know that other people will like them too."

"I will. Thank you."

Esme smiled and hugged me once more. Carlisle and I kissed each other before I stepped into my truck. I waved to everybody as I drove away. They waved back, and I saw Esme ghost away in my rearview mirror.

When I arrived at my house, I put my jacket in my room before cooking dinner. Charlie wasn't here, and didn't come until after I had finished eating.

"Hey, Dad," I greeted. "There's more chicken and vegetables on the stove."

"Hi honey. Thanks, I'm hungry. How were things at the Cullens' today?"

I grinned. "Not bad. They gave me my first dancing lesson. Carlisle's ex-wife Esme visited too. She's a very kind woman. It's no wonder she's a good mother. Their kids say so every time they mention her. Oh, and Esme asked me to tell you that she said hello."

Charlie looked away, and I swore that his face turned red. "Did she, now?"

"Yes."

"Mmm. Tell her that I said hi back the next time she comes to Forks."

I nodded, wondering about his odd behavior. "Sure. I'll try to remember to. I'll going upstairs now. If you need me, you know where to find me."

"All right. I'll be in the living room if you need anything too."

I kissed his cheek before leaving him in the kitchen. He still appeared rather sheepish. I wondered why.

Shrugging, I headed to my room and closed the door.

Chapter Text

Bella's POV

School passed by quickly on Monday. Not much had happened at all except for Mike Newton shooting Edward, Emmett, and Jasper dirty looks. He often stared at me too, but I ignored him.

He was not the only one who paid attention to Edward. Angela watched him from time to time. This even happened at lunch and Gym. I caught Edward doing the same. Once, he even smiled shyly at her, looking much younger than 17. For some reason, he made me think of how Charlie reacted when I told him that I met Esme. Angela grinned back.

One of his brothers or sisters must have been teasing him via their thoughts. He turned to us and whispered, "Shut up."

I laughed and exchanged amused glances with Alice and Rosalie. This was just too sweet and cute.

When I had a chance to talk to him, I spoke up.

"It seems like you and Angela like each other," I noted in a low voice.

He shrugged. "Yes, it appears that we do," he murmured.

I was taken aback by this response. I half-expected him to deny it out of embarrassment.

Nevertheless, I smiled. "Well, I don't blame either of you. You both would be great together."

He rubbed my back. "Thank you for thinking so, Bella."

My opinion had obviously made Edward feel more confident. When Angela waved to me and the others as we left school, not only did Edward beam at her, but he waved back. Her face turned so red that it looked blistered. I held back a giggle.

When I made it home, I started on the load of assignments that I had to do today. By the looks of the pile that everybody was given, I'd be lucky to be finished before 9:00pm.

Less than half of them were completed before I went to make dinner. Charlie must have been working a little late; he didn't show up even after I was done eating. I washed my plate and silverware, then returned to my bedroom.

After tackling the rest of my homework for an indefinite amount of time, I was finally putting it all away. My temples ached and I was mentally exhausted. Damn, why did my teacher give us more stuff to do on Mondays more than any other school day?

I took two Aleve pills, laid down, and closed my eyes. I needed to clear my mind for a while, or at least think of something peaceful.

My headache gradually began to fade away. I was less harried and wasn't quite as tense as I had been earlier.

Charlie arrived home just as it was nearly gone. I heard footsteps and rustling, then he went to the kitchen to get dinner. I heard the TV turn on a minute later; he was probably watching football.

Not long after that, my phone rang with a text message. I opened it to see that it was from Carlisle.

Hello, Isabella. I meant to call you sooner, but I have been very busy all day at the hospital. I wanted to let you know that I cannot visit you tonight, and I'm sorry about that. One of my patients arrived in a very serious condition early this afternoon. He/she is only slightly improving (I cannot disclose the gender), and I want to make sure that he/she does a little more before I leave in a few hours. I will see you tomorrow, I hope.-C

I quickly sent a reply.

Hi Carlisle. I understand that you want to be there for your patient. Don't feel sorry for not visiting me. I know you won't always have time to whenever you wish. I will see you when you are able to come.-B

Thank you for being thoughtful and understanding, dear. I will call or text you sometime tomorrow afternoon or early evening, all right?

Okay. I miss you!-B

I miss you too.-C

He didn't send me anything else, so I put my phone on my side-table drawer. I figured that I'd go to bed. There was really nothing for me to do.

Just as I had put on my nightclothes though, I heard Charlie walking up the stairs. Then he opened my bedroom door.

I sat up. "Hi Dad," I greeted.

"Hey, honey. Are you okay? I didn't see you all evening," he remarked.

"Mmm-hmm, I'm good. I just had a lot of homework to do, and now I'm tired. Mondays can suck."

With a laugh, he nodded. "You're right about that. Did you have a nice day at school?"

"Yeah, it wasn't bad. Was it hectic at work? You came home later than usual."

"It kind of was. Some girl was shoplifting at the market around the time I was about to come home, so I had to help check it out. But it was a first offense, so we just gave her a warning. Plus, we called her mom and dad."

I pursed my lips. "Hopefully, she learned her lesson, or is learning it right now. I'm sure her parents grounded her."

Charlie scoffed. "I would have, if she were my daughter. I'm glad that your mother and I never had deal with anything like this or worse from you."

"Well, I never had the urge or desire to steal or worse. It's not likely that I'll have it in the future either."

"Good. You'd better not," he joked.

He and I snickered.

A minute later, he embraced me. "I'm going to let you rest now. Maybe I'll take you out for dinner later in the week, on Thursday and Friday. Is that okay with you?"

"Sure. I would love that. But you're right, I do need to get to bed. I have to be up early. Good-night, Dad."

"Night-night, Bella."

I hugged and kissed him. He waved before leaving my room.

(The following day)

Rain was pouring down in torrents when I woke up the next morning. Thunder occasionally rumbled through the sky, and there were flashes of lightning.

Yawning, I climbed out of bed and showered quickly, hoping against hope that lightning wouldn't strike the house. I was thankful that it didn't. The last thing I needed was to end up in the hospital just for tempting fate. Plus, I didn't want Charlie or Carlisle to be overly-worried about me. I know that Carlisle's kids definitely would be.

I put on my clothes and fixed pancakes, eggs, sausages, and fried tomatoes for breakfast.

Charlie had to laugh when he noticed that I made my favorite breakfast. I promised to make his the next time.

"Be careful out there," he announced as I was throwing my jacket on. "Enjoy your day at school."

"Okay. I'll try to."

I kissed his cheek, then left.

It was just as well that I decided to head to school fifteen minutes earlier than I usually did. The rain made it hard to see cars more than ten feet away, so I had to drive slowly.

Eventually, I made it to Forks High. Not many people were there yet, besides the teachers and the early-bird students.

An umbrella was held up over my door right after I parked my truck. It turned out that Jasper was holding it.

"Thanks," I said to him as I got out. I opened my own umbrella.

"No problem. You don't need to be all wet during class. Come on, the others are inside. Alice and I will walk to History and Geography with you."

We hurried inside the building and closed our umbrellas. Then we joined his brothers, sister, and Alice. They were standing further down the hall. I greeted all of them enthusiastically.

Our teachers were much more lenient with us today and didn't give us a lot of homework. Most of them seemed depressed, likely due to the weather.

I noticed that Edward kept staring a drowsy-looking Angela during English II again. She didn't realize this until class was nearly halfway over. Then she perked up, and her mood suddenly brightened.

This continued at lunch. Our table was pretty close to the one where she sat with Jessica and her other friends, so it wasn't hard to see her. They exchanged smiles so often that I decided to intervene.

"Edward, if you are going to keep that up, why don't you just talk to her? You clearly know that she wants you to make the first move," I pointed out to him.

He looked nervous then. "I do know that, yes. I just haven't figured out how to. What if I say or do the wrong thing?" he inquired.

"I don't believe that you will. Just say 'Hi' and ask 'How are you?', then see where it goes from there."

"Since when did you become an expert on these situations?" he chuckled in a playful tone.

"I'm not. I'm just giving you the advice that anyone else might have given you."

Nodding his head thoughtfully, he said that I had a point.

Unfortunately, Edward had no chance to do this after lunch or Spanish II. Angela had two other classes before Health, which we had instead of Gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I felt sorry that he didn't. They did nod to each other in class, however.

The rain had stopped falling before we were dismissed at three o'clock. I gathered all of the books that I would need for homework and left school with the Cullens.

Alice's eyes grew unfocused as we did. We paused, knowing that she was having a vision.

When she came back to earth, she turned to me. "Dad is going to be off work after six o'clock this evening. Expect him to visit around eight."

"Thanks for the heads up."

I said good-bye to them and went home. I was a bit hungry, so I made a snack before going upstairs to do my homework. When I had completed all of it at six twelve, I fried the rainbow trout that Charlie brought the other night for dinner. I also made macaroni and cheese and spinach to go with it.

He walked in just as everything was boiling and cracking. I glanced at him as he sat down at the table to wait until the food was ready.

"You're not home late this evening," I observed.

"Nope. It was pretty quiet and boring all day. We really didn't do anything except catch up on paperwork, not that there was much to do in the first place," he remarked. "But enough about me. Was it a busy day at school?"

I shook my head. "It was yesterday, but not today. Nearly all of my teachers were out of it because of the storm."

"Ohhh. Well, I don't blame them. My friends seemed to be moving like they were underwater themselves."

The food was ready after a half an hour. We had a nice chat as we ate, save for when he brought up Egg Donor.

"Have you talked to her lately? She hasn't spoken to me since the day before you moved here," he stated.

I glared at my trout. "No. Not since she called me on my birthday," I responded, keeping my tone neutral.

"Mmm. You should talk to her. I bet she's missing you terribly. I know you miss her."

"Kind of. I've been too occupied with school and homework to think about her all that much," I half-lied.

Charlie nodded in understanding. "I can imagine that her teaching job is keeping her busy too."

I shrugged. "It usually does."

Egg Donor paid more attention to her students and her work than me. Not that I cared or minded after several years. It didn't bode well if she noticed me. Nevertheless, it was hard to tell if her ignoring me hurt more than her yelling at and hitting me sometimes.

"Mmm. But you should definitely call her soon, if not tonight. Let her know how you are and about school."

"Okay, Dad. I will when I have the chance to."

Yeah, right. I'll call her if hell freezes over.

"Good. Oh, and I'll be headed over to Billy's house soon. We'll be watching the football game with Harry. I'll be back after eleven."

"Have fun. Tell them and Jacob that I said hi."

I went upstairs to see how full of laundry hampers were after cleaning our dishes. Both of us had two-one for the light clothes and the other for the darks. The ones with the dark clothes were halfway filled. I would wash them tomorrow. There was rarely a lot of homework to do on Wednesdays.

On that note, I walked in my room and closed the door. I would browse the Internet until Carlisle showed up.

Carlisle's POV

My morning and afternoon had gone better than it did yesterday. The patient that I mentioned to Isabella was recovering superbly, and would be going home tomorrow.

He had had a severe allergic reaction to a snack he had eaten, not knowing that it contained peanut oil. Luckily, he had used his EpiPen before asking a family member of his to take him to the hospital. I and another colleague did some procedures on him, and now he was almost back to normal.

I left work at six feeling relieved and content. As soon as I went home, I did what paperwork I had to do, then repaired a section of the garage wall with Jasper.

Both he and Emmett were working on the latter's jeep the other night, which ended up in a play fight. At one point, Jasper lifted him up and threw him against the wall with more force than he intended. I lectured them sternly and told Jasper that he will fix it because he technically destroyed it. I offered to help him afterwards.

It didn't take too long to repair the wall. I clapped him on the back once we were finished, and warned him lightly-but seriously-that if the situation happened again, he would be on his own.

"Other than that, good job. The wall doesn't even look like Emmett was slammed into it," I observed.

"No, it doesn't. It's like our play fight neva happened," he agreed.

We parted after that. I told him and my other kids that I would be going to Isabella's and I that would see them later.

Before I left, I thought of what she and I could do tonight. The weather was chillier due to the thunderstorm, so it was inadvisable to go out to our secret place or my gazebo. I wouldn't bring my UNO cards this time either. I had no desire to bore her.

I was just running out of ideas, I noticed my art supplies on one of my shelves. I could ask Isabella would like to draw with me. I remembered how comforted she looked when she told me that she enjoyed planting. Why she did, I would have to find out sometime. But perhaps drawing could be another medium of relaxation for her.

With that in mind, I put my sketchpad, colored pencils, and my sharpener in a bag. Then I ran to Isabella's house.

Her heartbeat was the only one that echoed out to me as I approached it; Charlie must have gone somewhere. This was a relief in some ways. At least we wouldn't have to keep quiet. That became tiresome after a while.

Isabella was staring at her laptop when I peeked into her window, but turned to me as I knocked on it. She opened it immediately.

"Hey, stranger," she announced once I was inside her room.

"Hello, hello," I returned. "It's good to see you again. Are you okay?"

She inclined her head. "Yes, are you? How is your patient?"

"More than okay now that I have the chance to spend time with you. And my patient is much better today."

"That's good."

We kissed each other, then she pointed to my bag. "What's in there?"

I sat down on the bed with her. "My sketchpad and colored pencils. I figured that maybe we could draw together."

Isabella pursed her lips. "I'm not very good at drawing. The only time I do is if I'm bored and doodle something or other."

"Mmm. I understand, but I am not expecting you to be like me, or better yet, Van Gogh or Da Vinci. Just draw what you often feel or desire, or anything you want."

"Well...I guess it won't hurt. But please don't laugh at it if you see it."

Frowning in confusion, I asked, "Why would I laugh at something you drew?"

"Anything that I draw sucks. I saw a third grader who is better than me! Besides, I'm better at crafting."

I pecked her forehead. "Don't worry about that. Every person has their own talent and can't be as good as they'd like to be at everything. Like your bird-calling. Not many people that I personally know or heard of besides your father can do that. And someday soon, I'll buy art supplies that you can make things with."

With that, I took out my sketchbook and colored pencils. I ripped out a sheet of white paper and gave it to her. "Here. Draw whatever comes to mind," I encouraged her. "I promise that I won't laugh at it if you show it to me," I added.

She relented with a sigh. "Okay. Thanks," she murmured as she took them.

I continued to gaze at her with bewilderment as she eventually proceeded to draw something. I was starting to realize that Isabella never wanted to do certain things-especially if she didn't believe that she was good enough at it-out of fear of being laughed at and/or made fun of. Then again, it was highly possible that-like dancing-she never had to do anything that required a small of talent for anyone. No one had really asked her to. If somebody had, she apparently chose not to to prevent embarrassment and humiliation. She didn't feel too shy about doing her bird-calls, however. Not anymore.

However, it was obvious that she had an issue with her self-esteem. I wasn't thinking ill of her for this. The reasons that she gave me helped me understand why, but I wondered if there were other causes behind it. I will just have to find out what it was as soon as I could.

"Carlisle? What's the matter?" Isabella queried, bringing me back to Earth. I realized that I was still looking in her direction without knowing it.

"Nothing, sweetheart. I was lost in thought is all," I replied.

"Oh."

I took a brown and red colored pencil from the box and asked her if I could use the black one for a minute. I used it to draw the outline of two figures, then handed it back to her.

We chatted about her school and my job as we slowly turned mere lines into art. I eventually added colors to the picture I was drawing. Some green and brown here, gray there, a few traces of red. Then I put on touches of blue and lavender and I was done.

She finished with her own drawing soon after. We traded them to examine each other's work.

The picture that she made was very interesting. It was of her sitting down, facing a number of people who were glaring at her. Speech bubbles were drawn over them.

"Man, you are a clumsy, pathetic loser. I can see why everybody hates you!" one said.

"You must think that you're better than everyone, keeping to yourself and never having any friends."

"And that's why you never will."

"No wonder your dad divorced your mom. He couldn't bear having such an ugly, disgusting daughter. You're lucky that your mom decided to keep you. I would have put you up for adoption."

"She's one of the smartest in the class. But I guess that she had to excel at SOMETHING. Nobody would have anything to do with her otherwise."

The people that didn't have a speech bubble were pointing at her and laughing. Others had their noses wrinkled in disgust. I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. I was enraged too. Is this what my Isabella had endured for all of these years?! Was this how her fellow schoolmates treated her?!

All of what she had been told was irreparably damaging, especially the second to last quote: "No wonder your dad divorced your mom. He couldn't bear having such an ugly, disgusting daughter. You're lucky that your mom decided to keep you. I would have put you up for adoption."

I have had cruel, abusive things sneered at me before, but never anything so terrible as that! It was likely this was part of, if not a huge part of, why she didn't seem to think much of herself.

"Did your mother know about this?" I asked, my voice shaking in fury.

Isabella jumped; she had been admiring the picture I drew of her twittering to the mockingbird on the day of our hike.

"Huh? Oh...yeah, she knew. She told me to ignore it, but it was hard to. Informing a teacher about it didn't work much either. The situation just grew worse, even when I complained a second or third time. I just decided to give up after a while. They would still make fun of me on the bus ride home. The students who took the city bus I did anyway," she grumbled.

For some reason, I had an inkling that this response was not completely true, but I didn't pay attention to it. There was another question that I needed to ask her.

"Charlie mentioned that your mother is a kindergarten teacher. Did she ever speak to any of your own teachers?"

"She told me that she would, but she's rather absentminded, so I can't be sure. I would remind her so that she wouldn't forget...but if she did say anything to my teachers, it didn't make everything stop."

I gave her drawing back. "Did you tell Charlie about it?"

"One time I had, but just that I was teased and ridiculed. I didn't want him to get more upset. He was already unhappy that the classmates who decided to notice me would treat me like crap. I never even told Mom about the stuff they said to me."

I couldn't blame her. If I had gone through this myself, I don't think that I could have been able to repeat those insults to my parents if they were hurled at me either.

My poor Isabella. She had clearly suffered a great deal of emotional turmoil. At least no one bothered her at Forks High. My kids would have told me if someone had. Besides, they would have defended her.

"Well, don't be afraid to let Charlie and you principal know if this ever happens again in the future. He can put a stop to it if your principal isn't able to. He will allow you to press charges on someone. And you know that you can always talk to me and my children. You shouldn't just give up and allow someone to keep bullying and harassing you. It can escalate and become even more serious and dangerous. Now, I'm not trying to be your father," I stated when she opened her mouth to interrupt. "I am just giving you advice because I don't want you to get hurt in any way. As I told you before, I care for you very much, and I only want you to be happy and safe."

A grateful smile appeared on her face. "I know, Carlisle, and I understand. Thank you," she whispered.

I laughed softly when she kissed me for a long moment. I held her close.

While she was catching her breath afterwards, I took up her picture again. "What made you draw this?"

She shrugged. "I was thinking of my old schools while we were talking, so maybe I unconsciously decided to draw what I remember my classmates saying to me. I can remember every insult that I had been given."

My heart ached at the thought of it. I rubbed her hair. "I'm sorry that you had to go through that, Isabella. I would change your past if I were able to. I hate that you had experienced so much hurt and pain."

"Don't worry about it. I told you before that I'm happier here. Nobody teases me; most of my classmates neither like or hate me. I don't mind that because that means that they aren't going to pick on or throw things at me when I'm not looking. Those are the reasons why I preferred to be alone at school after a few years."

"That makes a lot of sense. Did you ever try to defend yourself?"

"Yeah, but it never turned out the way I wanted it. It would always backfire in some way. When I was sixteen, I was suspended because three girls tried to beat me up, and I had to fight them back. I couldn't just lay down and let them win."

"That wasn't fair," I growled. "You had done nothing wrong. You were only protecting yourself."

Isabella sighed deeply. "No, but it looked like we were all fighting each other to the hall monitors who caught us. I tried to explain everything in private when I had the chance, but they didn't want to hear it."

"Mmm. That's too bad. They still should have listened to your side of the story, though."

"You're right, but there's nothing that I can do about it now."

We grew silent for a bit, mulling over what she had revealed to me.

Perhaps this was why she seemed to be starving for affection and love...unless this was not the only reason. Nevertheless, the bullying that she had endured had a important part of it.

She grinned at the picture that I made. "This is very beautiful, Carlisle. Everything looks exactly the way it did that afternoon. I almost feel like I'm looking at a photograph of it."

I beamed, my cheeks feeling hot. "Why, thank you. I did my best to make the scenery just how I remember it."

"You did a good job."

"Thank you," I repeated.

More time went by, and eventually, I had to leave. I asked if I could keep her picture, and she nodded. I let her have mine; it was for her anyway.

We kissed and embraced each other before I jumped out of her window.

"I will see you on Thursday or Friday, if not tomorrow. Is that all right?"

"Of course," she responded. "You're always welcome to see me."

"Good to know."

I stroked her hair before waving good-bye, then ran home. I needed to think more on all of this.

Bella's POV

After Carlisle disappeared, I put on my nightclothes and laid down with a tired sigh.

My insides were squirming in guilt for lying to him about Egg Donor telling me to ignore the people who were bullying me. In fact, she had told me to do the exact opposite.

"You need to listen to them! All of them are right! Plus, they're just telling you what I tell you almost everyday! Don't ask me to do anything about it because I won't," she huffed once, when I was in second grade.

Tears pricked my eyes, but I felt better knowing that my dad, Carlisle, and his kids cared for me. At least someone did.

I was sure that my life would have been different if I had always lived with Charlie instead of Egg Donor. I would never have had to deal with any abuse, and I would likely have been able to make friends. The only reasons why I never tried to after a while because I thought that everyone saw what she does after a number of years. Not that I believed that I was as ugly, odd, terrible, or worthless as she said I was. I never knew what to think of myself.

Living with Charlie made everything better for me. For once, I was liked and loved, and I learned that I mattered to somebody. Nothing could ever be better than that.

All I hoped now was that the day when I would be able to tell both Dad and Carlisle everything would arrive soon.

XXX

Part of the next morning went by uneventfully. Nothing really happened during the trip to Forks High and my first two classes.

I noticed that almost everyone looked more cheerful. Of course, it wasn't raining like it was yesterday.

Alice and Jasper escorted me to History and Geography as usual, and Emmett walked to Calculus with me. However, it wasn't until Edward and Rosalie came to take me to English with them that things got interesting.

They were already standing outside of the room when Emmett and I left it. He waved to us before going to Spanish II.

Rosalie was telling me about how the Chemistry teacher had slipped and fell on his ass during his lecture. Edward and I found this hilarious, especially from the way she explained how he landed. Unlike him (Edward), I wished that I had seen it.

We were halfway to our class when I saw him stiffen out of the corner of my eyes. Before I could ask him what the matter was, Angela appeared next to me.

"Hey," she panted while greeting us with enthusiasm.

"Hi. What's up?" I asked.

Edward and Rosalie nodded to her and smiled. Edward's was particularly bright.

"Oh, nothing much. I just saw you three heading to English, and I wondered if...if you'd mind if I could join you...since I'm going to same way too?" she queried in a shy voice.

We shook our heads.

"No, no. None of us mind. We'd like your company," I assured her.

All of us exchanged how-are-you's before an awkward silence fell. None of us couldn't seem to find anything to talk about.

Rosalie frowned a little as she peered at Edward, then Angela. I did too and noticed that they kept turning to glance at each other with hopefulness and impatience.

I knew why seconds later. Grinning at Rosalie in amusement and joy, I accidentally-on-purpose dropped my books. They scattered all over the floor.

"Darn it," I pretended to fume. She bent down to help me pick them up.

"You go ahead. We'll catch up," Rosalie told them. "Very smooth," she added to me in a low hiss.

I winked at her, then pointed to Edward and Angela. Both of them appeared to be having a timid conversation.

Once all of my books were in my arms, we followed after them quickly. Neither of us wanted to be late.

They were still talking when we reached our destination. I wasn't sure if Angela realized that she sat next to him instead of at her original desk. Luckily, we didn't have assigned seats, so our teacher Mr. Berty wouldn't complain about it. That is, if they didn't catch his attention by talking too much.

"Remember to thank me later, Edward. You owe me one," I whispered jokingly.

He beamed at me from across the room and mouthed a "Thank you" right then and there.

I didn't have much of a chance to watch them because I was focused on my work. However, I did see Angela passing a note to him. I rolled my eyes with a snort.

Class was over before I knew it. Rosalie had to go to History and Geography, so she told us that she would meet us at lunch.

Alice and Jasper joined us as we headed to Chemistry. I stuck to them because I wanted Edward and Angela to have more time to get to know each other.

Unfortunately, neither of them were able to in class because we had an important lab today on polymers. Besides that, they couldn't share a desk because I was Edward's partner for the rest of the school year. Angela's was Ben Cheney. Hmmm. Maybe I could ask Dr. O'Rourke if we can trade seats...

"Don't," he murmured. "Not yet...you can in two, three weeks. I appreciate it, though."

"Okay. That's fair," I agreed in a low voice.

The lab was pretty interesting. Everyone took notes and did some hands-on activities. Several test tubes had been broken by mistake, and fortunately, they were empty and nobody was cut.

From there, we went to lunch. Angela looked uncomfortable at the point. It was easy to see that she felt torn between sitting with her friends and joining us at our table.

Edward's expression darkened, but he was understanding about it.

"Why don't you go ahead, Angela? We can catch up at Gym. You can have lunch with us tomorrow or another day, if you want," he said.

"I'm sure that my friends won't care if I ate with you today. I'll just let them know that I'll talk to them later," she remarked.

She left to do just that. I sat down with Alice, Jasper, and Rosalie as Edward and Emmett went to get our lunches. The former placed a chair at the table so that Angela could be next to him. He scowled at us when we teased him about it.

"Leave me alone," he grumbled.

Angela showed up then and laid her book bag under her chair. She was about to get her lunch when we told her that Edward was doing that for her.

Her face reddened as she sat down. "Oh. That's nice of him. But he didn't have to."

"Don't be offended. Carlisle raised us ta be gentleman after he adopted us," Jasper said.

"That's good. Edward told me that he's a wonderful father."

"Yeah, he is. We're all lucky to have him. A lotta foster parents aren't as kind as he is."

Edward and Emmett returned with our trays minutes later. Angela frowned at them and the others with confusion.

"Is something wrong? None of you are hungry?" she queried.

"No, it's not that. We don't like how the food tastes here, so we just eat at home," Edward replied.

I almost laughed, recalling what Emmett had told me on my first day here.

"Oh."

They were relieved when she didn't ask any more questions about their eating habits. In fact, during the next hour, they only told her not-so-important things about themselves. I would also give my two cents if I wasn't chewing my food. We mostly talked about the things we liked and what our pastimes were. All of us enjoyed ourselves so much that we were disappointed when the bell rang, signaling that lunch was over.

Angela and I headed to Spanish as the others went to either Calculus or English. Gym followed after that, where she and Edward spent a good deal of time running laps and exercising together. I noticed that Jessica and Lauren stared at them with their mouths open. Their expressions were funny as hell.

In the parking lot after school, Edward gave Angela his phone number and vice versa. I was happy that they liked each other enough to do that. They looked so good together. Angela told him that she would call him later. Then she hugged me and said good-bye to us before walking to her car.

Emmett smirked at him. "I'll call you later, Ed-ward," he teased.

Edward pushed him with a glare. "Shut up and mind your own business."

The rest of us chuckled as we made our way over to my truck. I yelled "See you later" to them as I backed out of my parking space.

"Do you want to come over our house tomorrow or this weekend?" Alice inquired.

"Yeah! We haven't really hung out since Sunday," I pointed out. "What do you want to do?"

She frowned in thought. "Would you like to go shopping? I did mention that on your first day of school."

I bit my lip. I always found shopping boring, mostly because of Egg Donor. I always had to sit somewhere, or hold things for her. Then again, I know that neither Alice or Rosalie would make me do that, so the trip might be fun this time.

"Okay, that would be fine. I'd love that," I eventually said. "I look forward to it."

"Great! We usually leave around 9:30, 10:00 in the morning to go to Seattle. Can you get to our place before then?"

"Sure. That won't be a problem."

Alice smiled brightly. "See you around that time, then."

I nodded and we waved to each other again before I left.

I had nearly forgotten that I had to do the laundry until I arrived home. I put my things in my room and retrieved the basket for the clothes.

Once it was filled, I went down to the basement. It was somewhat smaller than the one at Egg Donor's house and had less stuff in it. This relieved me because it looked nothing like hers. There were no horrible memories tied to it.

When I was younger, she would lock me in her basement if I had done something that particularly enraged her. This began when I was about three or four. And if she was really upset, I was forced to spend the night in there. She didn't do it too often, but when she did, I hated it. It was as if I had been thrown in jail.

The basement used to terrify me at night when I was a kid. That is, if I had been unfortunate to receive an overnight stay in it. (Luckily, I only had to less than six times.) Long, eerie shadows appeared on the walls. I often thought that they were monsters. I would then hide under my blanket and hide my face in my pillow. Egg Donor would not-so-kindly give them to me when it was time for me to go to sleep. Then she would lay two old mattresses-from a bed she used to have-in the middle of the room.

I was barely given enough food to eat in the daytime. Egg Donor only put enough in a bowl or plate to keep me from starving. She had a routine for giving me breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She would knock on the door and open it, then set the food and drink on the landing near the top step. After that, she would close the door. I'd eat whatever she gave me and put the empty dishes on the landing when I was finished. She would retrieve them after I had knocked on the door to let her know this.

On one occasion, she had gone out for an entire day and forgotten all about me! I remembered crying from the hunger pains that erupted from my stomach. I felt so betrayed too. How could she just go off and forget that I needed to eat?

That questioned swirled in my thoughts until she came home. Only then did she realized that I was still in the basement, not that she cared. Still, she warmed up the previous night's dinner, and grudgingly ended my punishment. There were also times when she would make me go to bed without dinner.

At some point during the day or evening, Egg Donor came in to spank me. Not that I would say that they were spankings. That was too light a name for it. They were more like whippings. She'd order me to pull my jeans and underwear down and lean on the side of the mattress. I cried silently as her belt landed on my ass, tears streaming down my cheeks in torrents. I had learned through much pain and experience that making a sound only made the punishment worse.

I was only allowed out a few times, and that was to wash up or go to the bathroom.

My very last time in her basement was the day that I had been suspended a year and a half ago. She kept me locked in it during the three days that I had to stay home.

*Flashback* (Continuing from chapter 11's flashback)

That woman is out of her damn mind! I thought to myself as I went upstairs to run water on my burning side. I closed the bathroom door and jumped in the shower.

I stayed in it for twenty minutes to relieve the pain. After that, I climbed out and treated the burn, then covered it with a sterile gauze dressing.

Egg Donor was waiting outside of the room for me. She beckoned me to follow her downstairs without a word. I had prevent myself from groaning as I was led to the basement. She handed my blankets and pillow to me, shoved me through the door, and locked it.

With a sigh, I made the bed that was in the center of the room. It was just barely lit due to the tinted window. Egg Donor bought it for the sole purpose of keeping our neighbors from seeing me if I was ever in here.

I turned the light on and got a novel off of a shelf that had been in here since I was old enough to read. There was nothing to do here, so I often grew bored. Reading distracted me from the sadness and anxiety that I felt before Mom came in here to warm my ass up.

An indefinite amount of time had gone by when there was a knock on the basement door. I heard it open and there was a clink. Then the door was shut and locked again.

A plate of fish sticks and greens were on a tray that was placed on the landing. I sat on the top step to eat the food and drank the orange juice next to it. When I was finished, I knocked on the door twice. I was already laying on the bed when Egg Donor came to get the tray.

She didn't return until later that evening. However, it was not to feed me; she came downstairs with her belt. My vision blurred with tears.

"You know what to do. Now hurry up before I do it myself," she sneered at me.

I put my novel on the bed and stood to slide my jeans and panties down. I gripped the sheets as I leaned over, closing my eyes tightly.

The first lash hurt like hell, but it was nothing compared to the ones that followed. My tongue bled as I chewed on it to keep myself from making any noise other than a whimper.

"You disgust me, you know that, bitch?! I've told you a million times to behave in school, and instead, you chose not to listen! I warned you that I would wallop the living daylights out of you if an incident like this ever happened! Do you know how embarrassing it would have been for me if you were a student in my school and not in the one you go to?! Answer me!" she growled.

Choking out a sob, I mumbled, "Yes, Mom. I'm sorry."

"Good! I hope that you are because if not, you will be in here until you are, and I won't care if it takes more than a week either! Do you hear me?!" The belt hit my ass particularly hard several times.

"Mmmmph! Yes, I understand. I'll never do it again, I promise," I wept.

She yanked me up by my collar. "You better not ever do it again! I have no problem in following through my threat, and I will beat your ass twice a day every day!"

I was thrown on the bed after that. She glared at me and went upstairs. I buried my face in my pillow and cried with hurt and shame.

The next two days were just like that afternoon and evening. I read unless I was eating or sleeping. At some point, Egg Donor would come down to whip me. The only difference was that she didn't berate me the next two times.

She finally allowed me to leave the basement on the third day after one last spanking. It was time to fix dinner at that point, but she wouldn't let me sit at the table with her. I had to eat on the floor by the wall. I always had to do this for one evening if I had been locked in the basement.

"You will eat right there. If you want to act like an animal, I will treat you like an animal," she told me once, years ago.

That statement broke my heart.

*End of Flashback*

My phone rang with a text message then, bringing me back to reality. I looked at the screen.

Bella, what happened? I didn't see you in the last ten minutes. Did you get hurt or something?-Alice

No, I'm all right. I was just about to put the laundry in the washing machine, but I got caught up in a memory-B

Are you sure that you're fine? Do you need to talk about what you were thinking of?-A

No. It wasn't really important. But yes, I'm fine. I'll talk to you soon, okay?-B

If you say so, but call me if you change your mind-A

Will do-B

Ha. I sounded like Charlie.

Okay, thanks-A

I gathered my wits and threw the clothes in the machine. Then I went to do my homework, keeping my mind off of what I had been thinking about earlier.