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By Blood and by Bleed

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            Charlie was waiting for me by baggage claim. We stumbled into the kind of embrace only two of the most awkward people can share. My father’s arms were at once familiar and alien to me.

            “It’s so good to see you, Bells,” he said gruffly into my hair. Belatedly, I realized he smelled exactly the same as the last time I had seen him. Like aftershave and cool, crisp morning air, like he had brought the chill indoors with him. I wondered if I should grab a jacket from my suitcase before leaving. “You look good. Tan. How’s Renée?”

            “She’s good. It’s good to see you, too,” I offered a smile, reminding myself that I couldn’t call him Charlie to his face – Mom’s orders.

            Only two suitcases had come with me from Arizona. The smaller one was everything I owned that would be suitable for Washington. Now, looking around the airport, I realized my heaviest jacket would look scanty. The larger case – nearly the entirety of my wardrobe – probably wouldn’t be unpacked for a while, probably not even the rest of the year. They both fit easily into the trunk of Charlie’s cruiser. The cruiser, I hadn’t missed. It was the reason I had saved up everything from my summer job to buy a new car. I refused to be driven around in something with red and blue flashing lights.

            It was raining outside, and much too cold for October. Go figure. I crossed my arms around my torso. Charlie spoke up as soon as we were on our way, strapped into the police car.

            “I found a good car for you. Cheap, too.”

            “What kind of car?” I asked, suspicious of the way he said “for you.”

            “Truck. Chevy.”

            “Where did you find it?” Green trees flashed by us, giving the illusion of speed. I was sure Charlie wasn’t going a mile over the speed limit.

            “Do you remember Billy Black down at La Push?” La Push, the Native American reservation on the coastline just outside of Forks. I remembered the place, but couldn’t put a face to the name.

            “Not really.”

            “He went fishing with us during the summer?”

            I grimaced, and Charlie chuckled. I had hated fishing, and all it took was one tantrum for Charlie to permanently end family fishing time, and my visits as a whole.

            “He’s in a wheelchair now,” he continued. “Can’t drive anymore, and he offered to sell it to me cheap.”

            “What year is it?” His expression tightened slightly, like he hoped I wouldn’t ask.

            “Well, he’s done a lot of work on the engine – it’s only a few years old, really.”

            I gave him a look, and he sighed.

            “He bought it in 1984, I think.”

            I bit my lip. “I don’t know anything about cars. I wouldn’t be able to fix it if something went wrong, and I saved up so much –“

            “Really, Beau, the thing runs fine. They don’t build them like that anymore.”

            The Thing. A promising nickname. I decided it couldn’t be that bad.

            “Okay. How much?”

            He glanced sideways at me. “I kind of already…bought it. For you. A homecoming gift.”

            He sounded hopeful, and the crushing guilt I had been waiting for suddenly made itself known.

            “You didn’t need to do that,” I said quietly.

            “I don’t mind,” was all he said, but awkwardness wasn’t the only thing I had inherited from him. He had never been comfortable expressing his emotions out loud.

            “That’s amazing, Ch- Dad. I really appreciate it.” I looked out the window as I stumbled over his name.

            “Well, now, you’re welcome,” he said gruffly.

            I sighed, tilting my head back. It was beautiful, I couldn’t deny it. Everything was green: the trees, their trunks covered with moss, branches hanging a canopy of scattered sunlight – not that there was much of that – on the fern-covered ground. I wasn’t expecting to have missed it.

            Eventually, we made it to Charlie’s. He lived in the same small, two bedroom house from my childhood – and from the early days of my parent’s shattered marriage. And there, parked on the street in front of the house that never changed was the car. Odd that the newest part of this picture would be the oldest one.

            Charlie watched as I got out of the cruiser to take a closer look. It was a faded red, with big, rounded fenders and a bulbous cab. It definitely looked its age, but in a good way. I rested my hand on the car – my car.

            “Wow, Dad, I love it!” I said genuinely, unable to keep the grin off my face. No rides in the cruiser for me.

            “I’m glad you like it,” he said, embarrassed.

            We got my things upstairs in one trip. I got the west bedroom that faced the front yard and street. The room was familiar, like everything else. It had been mine since I was born. The wooden floor, light purple walls, peaked ceiling – they were all part of my childhood. My desk now held a secondhand computer, with a phone line stapled along to the nearest jack. Two things I would never use. The rocking chair from my baby days was still in the corner. I would have to share a bathroom with Charlie, but that probably wouldn’t be too bad.

            One of the best things about Charlie is he doesn’t hover. He left me to unpack and get settled, a feat that would have been altogether impossible for my mother. She was probably counting the seconds until it was an acceptable time to call me. It was nice to be alone; a relief to stare out the window at gray skies and misting rain and let a few tears escape. I felt a little bit numb, like I couldn’t believe I had actually done it.

            I hadn’t been here in so long. A younger, brasher me had put her foot down about summers in Forks back in the seventh grade. Charlie had visited me in Phoenix, instead. Things had been good enough for me, and then my mother had met Phil. A younger, lively baseball player. They had the kind of love you saw in movies, almost childish in its simplicity. And then, suddenly, she hadn’t needed me anymore. She had someone to take care of her. It had never really been my job, I knew, but me and my mother were strange that way. I usually felt like the parent, more grounded and logical than she was. It was the reason she had left Forks in the first place – she couldn’t stand to be stifled.

            So I had stepped out, a self-imposed exile to Washington. Mom could travel with Phil, and I could spend my last year of high school with Charlie. Everyone was happy. Even me, to some extent. It felt nice to make a decision on my own. I was eighteen now – the custody agreement was over. I just needed a diploma.

            Forks High School had just three hundred and fifty-seven – now fifty eight – students; there were more than seven hundred people in my junior class alone back home. All of the kids here had grown up together. Hell, their grandparents had been toddlers together. I would be the new girl from the big city, something to stare at and whisper about.

            I absolutely wouldn’t live up to the hype. I put some things away in the bathroom cabinet, my glum reflection observing me in the mirror. As Charlie said, I was tan. I had spent my last free week with Renée by the pool, getting sun while I could. I wasn’t a whole lot darker than usual, but there was a light brush of almost-freckles across my nose. My mother, half-Hawaiian, had given me her darker skin and thick, black hair. Mine wasn’t as curly as hers, but maybe the humidity would fix that, I thought bitterly. I also had her wide cheekbones and full lips. Charlie had passed down thick eyebrows and gray eyes, silvery in Phoenix and dull in Forks.

            I didn’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate well to people, period. Even my mother, who I was closer to than anyone else on the planet, was never in harmony with me, never on exactly the same page. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain.

            But the cause didn’t matter. All that mattered was the effect. And tomorrow was only the beginning.

            I didn’t sleep well that night, even after I managed to calm myself down. The constant sound of the rain and wind across the roof wouldn’t fade into the background. I pulled the faded green quilt over my head, and later the pillow. The rain didn’t quiet until after midnight, and I finally fell asleep.

 

            Thick fog was all I could see from the window. I felt claustrophobic, and sleepy. If the sun never actually came up, I would have to start drinking coffee.

            Breakfast with Charlie was a quiet event. He wished me good luck at school, and I thanked him, knowing his hope was wasted. I resisted telling him I had no luck. After he left for work, I flipped through the news on my phone, suddenly desperate to remind myself that the rest of the world still existed. I even texted my mom, knowing she never had her cell on her.

            I didn’t want to be early for school but left anyway, lest I get lost in the identical maze of green-lined roads. The inside of my truck was like a warm embrace. It smelled good, like a well-loved leather jacket. A wet leather jacket. I had worn my thickest cardigan and a jacket, still shivering slightly. It would probably warm up, I tried to convince myself. The engine started quickly and loudly. It was bound to have a flaw.

            Finding the school wasn’t difficult; like most things, it was just off the highway. To its credit, it didn’t look like the prison-esque institution I went to in Phoenix. It was a collection of matching buildings, built with maroon brick. I could hardly see its size through the scattered greenery. It probably didn’t even have metal detectors.

            I parked in front of the building marked FRONT OFFICE. I would ask for directions on parking before getting myself a ticket, not that I couldn’t get that taken care of… I tore my thoughts away from using Charlie for evil and entered the humid little room at the front. The office was small; a waiting area with padded folding chairs, orange flecked carpet, notices and plaques cluttering walls. Plants grew everywhere, as though there wasn’t enough outside. I looked for a MOST PLANTS award, maybe, but nothing stood out. The red-haired woman wearing glasses looked up when I didn’t say anything, then did a double take.

            “Can I help you?”

            “I’m Bella Swan,” I informed her, and she nodded before I had finished. I was undoubtedly a source of gossip already. Chief Swan’s escaped daughter, come home at last.

            “Of course,” she dug through a pile of papers until she found what she was looking for. “I have your schedule right here, Isabella, and a map of the school.” I took the papers, not bothering to correct her use of my full name. She showed me my classes, and how to find them, and told me she hoped I would like it here in Forks. I gave her a smile and went back outside. People were starting to arrive. I ducked inside the cab of the Thing and started it. Student parking was any lot but this one. I looked at the map and tried to find the lot closest to my first class. I drove carefully, fully aware of the fact that my car would decimate any of these smaller, newer designs. Point two for Thing – cheap and indestructible.

            One thing stood out to me about the faces milling around in the drizzle - everyone was white. Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, Pacific Northwest white. Any hope I had of blending in dissolved into the fine mist that was fogging up my windshield.

            I stuffed everything in my backpack, making sure I had the map. It won’t be that bad, I thought, sucking in a breath. It was just high school. Just two semesters.

            I pulled the hood of my cardigan up and pulled my hair forward. It was the best I could do short of wearing a paper bag over my head. I got to building three without incident, and followed two unisex black raincoats through the door. It was a small classroom. The two raincoats stopped to hang up their coats on an actual coatrack, something I hadn’t seen in real life before. I slid past the two people – girls, I could see now – and went up to the teacher. A balding man that just looked blankly at me until I said my name. That got his attention. He gawked at me, and of course I flushed up to my forehead. His response would probably tip off everyone else.

            Thankfully, he didn’t try to have a conversation. He just pointed me to an empty desk. It was in the back, thank God. People stared anyway. A girl sat next to me after a minute, but she didn’t say much. I could feel thirty pairs of eyes on me as I looked studiously down at the reading list I had been handed. Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I’d already read most of it, thanks to advanced placement in Phoenix. I wondered if my mom would send me a folder of old essays, or if she would count that as cheating. I would ask her when she inevitably called me later that day.

            When the bell rang, I realized I hadn’t listened to a word of the lecture. Hopefully he hadn’t said anything too important. I was two steps into the hall before a tall, skinny guy stopped me.

            “You’re Isabella Swan, aren’t you?” I looked up. He had Asian features, I noticed with interest and maybe even relief.

            “Bella,” I corrected. Everyone within a three foot radius turned to look at me. On your way, I mentally begged.

            “Where’s your next class?” He gave off an overly helpful vibe. I checked my map.

            “Building six?”

            “I’m headed toward four, I could show you the way. If you want.” Definitely over-helpful. Then again, maybe I was just too quick to judge. “I’m Eric,” he added.

            I nodded and smiled, trying to look anywhere but the curious faces around us.

            The rain had picked up, and Eric pulled out an umbrella. He held it over me without getting in my personal space. It was considerate.

            “So, this is a lot different than Phoenix, huh?” He called over the wind.

            I decided to resign myself now to the fact that everyone already knew my business.

            “Very.”

            “Does it ever rain there?”

            “Three or four times a year.”

            “What’s that like?” He wondered aloud with a hint of sarcasm.

            “Sunny,” I smiled.

            “I can tell,” he said, looking down at me. “You’re tan.”

            “My mother’s part albino,” I joked.

            He smiled, but looked apprehensive. Looked like clouds and a sense of humor didn’t mix. He walked me to a building closer to the gym, all the way to the door.

            “Good luck,” he said as I grabbed the handle. “Maybe we’ll have another class together?”

            “Maybe. Thank you, Eric.” And I meant it. My thin jacket wasn’t exactly waterproof. I would have to buy an umbrella of my own.

            He waved and turned away. The rest of my morning passed in the same fashion. My Trig teacher, Mr. Varner, was the only one who made me stand in front of the class and introduce myself. I stuttered and blushed my way through my own name and tripped on the way to my seat.

            After Spanish, I started to recognize some faces. There was always someone braver than the rest who would introduce themselves and ask me the same questions. I tried to be diplomatic, but their interest was never curbed.

            I corrected people on my name about a thousand times. It had taken me years to become just Bella back in Phoenix. I had to start all over here.

            One girl sat next to me in both English and Spanish, and she walked with me to the cafeteria for lunch. She was my height, with straight brown hair that frizzed out just slightly. I couldn’t remember her name, so I just smiled and nodded along as she told me about the school.

            At lunch, she took me to sit with her friends at their table. It was lucky, because I was planning on skipping lunch altogether. I realized how hungry I was as soon as I smelled the crappy chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes. She introduced me to her friends, and they were all very nice, I hated to admit. They all seemed impressed by the fact that she had spoken to me first. The guy from English, Eric, waved at me from across the room. It was there, sitting in the middle of the lunchroom, that I first saw them.

            They sat in the corner. Five people that didn’t look at me. It was nice to finally look at someone without meeting a curious pair of eyes. They all had trays of food in front of them, but were too involved in conversation to be eating.

            There were two boys: one was big – muscled like a serious weight lifter, at least six five or taller. Clearly, he was eating better than most of the other guys in the lunchroom. Surely he was on the football team, if Forks High even had one. The one next to him was slimmer, but still tall, with light brown curls surrounding his head like a halo. He had more of a tan than anyone else I had seen, like he just transferred from somewhere much sunnier. The girl that sat next to the larger guy was stunningly pretty. Long, perfectly wavy blonde hair cascaded down her back, shimmering in the fluorescent light as she flipped it over her shoulder. The girl on the other side of halo-guy was tiny in comparison, with pale skin and dark hair, cut incredibly short and pinned with variously colored clips and barrettes. She looked right out of a 2000’s chick flick, and she owned it. The third girl seemed to be observing the conversation, watching the rest with a small smile. She was built like an athlete, and the arm she rested her chin on showed muscle from under the fabric of her shirt. Her hair was a russet brown, pulled over her far shoulder to show a strong chin and straight nose.

            Totally different, and yet, they were all very similar. They had varied skin tones and hair color, yet they seemed to glow. The way pregnant women do, or those people who work out and get facials. Like that, but ten times stronger. They also all had very dark eyes, and deep shadows underneath, as if they were all suffering from a sleepless night, or recovering from a broken nose.

            But that wasn’t why I couldn’t look away. I stared because their faces, so different, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see in a place like this. Maybe on a magazine, or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard to decide who was the most beautiful. Actually, it made me a little uneasy.

            They seemed to be in good spirits, laughing and talking over each other. It looked like a high-fashion shoot of people having a good time. It seemed normal – yet there was no way it could be.

            As I watched, the small pixie-like girl rose with her tray – all food untouched – and walked with a quick, graceful slope that belonged on a runway. She dumped her tray and glided through the back door. The rest continued talking without her.

            “Who are they?” I asked the girl from Spanish.

            She looked up to see who I meant, and suddenly the russet-haired girl looked at her. It was strange, as she had to turn her head almost ninety degrees. Like someone had called her name. She looked at my neighbor for a fraction of a second, then her eyes flickered to mine.

            I dropped my eyes at once. From the brief glance, her face had been cold, disinterested. Like someone had called her name, and she had involuntarily looked up, having already decided not to answer.

            My neighbor giggled in embarrassment.

            “That’s Edythe and Emmett Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale. The one who left was Alice Cullen.” She spoke quietly, for once. I chanced a look at the girl again, who was looking at her tray and picking at a bagel. Her lips moved like she was talking, and the other three were listening.

            Weird names, I thought in passing.

            “Very…decent looking,” I commented. My neighbor – Jessica, I remembered with triumph – giggled harder.

            “Yes! They’re all together, though. Jasper and Alice. Emmett and Rosalie. And they live together,” she said with small-town condemnation. Maybe not small-town, I corrected myself. These people would cause talk in Phoenix, too.

            “They’re adopted,” cut in a voice from across the table. A girl from my first class. She leaned forward to speak at a lowered tone, like it was forbidden to speak on the others in a normal tone of voice. “They live with Dr. Cullen and his wife just outside of town.”

            “I was getting to that, Angela,” Jessica snapped, clearly wanting to break the scandal to me piece by piece.

            Angela rolled her eyes. “Lunch is almost over.”

            I noticed that people were starting to leave, including the four people in the corner. The Cullens.

            “Who’s the girl with reddish hair,” I asked, not really knowing why. Angela and Jessica both looked, and once again the girl glanced our way. This time she looked directly at me, and her face twitched ever so slightly. Like I had done something to annoy her. The moment passed so quickly I thought I had imagined it.

            “That’s Edythe,” Jessica said, speaking louder as the door shut behind the blonde one. “I would say she was nice, but that would be a lie.” Jessica’s scathing tone made me wonder if there had been some sort of drama there.

            Angela met my eye, and smirked. She had hair that was nearly as dark as mine, but shorter and thinner. Her glasses were big in a 70’s revival sort of way, and she wore dark red lipstick that looked nice against her pale skin.

            “Have they always lived in Forks?”

            “No,” Jessica said, picking up her tray. “They moved here a few years ago from Alaska.”

            I felt pity, and relief. Pity because they, as striking as they were, were also outsiders. Relief because I wasn’t the only newcomer, and by far the least interesting.

            As it turned out, Angela and I had biology together. We walked in companionable silence, and I decided I liked her. She sat at a black topped lab table, smiling at me apologetically. Assigned seats. Great. All of the tables were filled but one. Edythe Cullen sat alone, next to the only open seat. Her hair was immaculate, pulled over her shoulder again, almost red against her olive colored shirt.

            I walked over to introduce myself to my teacher. Just as I passed in front of her, she looked up at me, suddenly rigid. Like someone had just pulled her seat out from under her, but much less comical. The look on her face was absolutely hostile. And directed at me. I looked away quickly, shocked.

            I had been right about her eyes. They were black. It made no sense against her fair coloring. Mrs. Banner signed my slip and handed me a book. I liked her, as she didn’t make me introduce myself, but she had no choice about where to make me sit. I kept my eyes down as I approached the lab table, completely bewildered by her freakish expression.

            As soon as I sat, her posture changed completely. She shifted so she was sitting as far as possible from me, and her hand was clenched into a fist. I did my best to ignore her, trying and failing to focus on the lesson. Surely she would relax at some point, right?

Wrong. The moment the class ended, she gathered her things with eerie speed and left. Just left. I blinked, wondering to myself if that had really happened. She hadn’t said a word to me the entire period.

            “Isabella?” A voice asked.

            “Bella,” I ground out, before even looking up. Another boy, this one with a baby face and brown hair.

            “I’m Mike,” he said, unperturbed by my tone.

            “Hey,” I tried to sound normal, zipping my bag and standing up.

            “Do you need help finding your next class?”

            “Uh, sure,” I said, suddenly too preoccupied to focus. I handed him the map and let him do the work.

 

            I found myself thinking about it all day, even as Charlie and I drove to his favorite diner for dinner. I ordered a spinach salad, sipping a water.

            “Do you know the Cullen family?” I asked him, trying for nonchalant.

            “The Cullen family? Sure, Dr. Cullen’s a great man.”

            I looked down at my water. “They don’t seem to fit in very well at school.”

            Charlie surprised me by looking angry.

            “People in this town,” He muttered. “Dr. Cullen could probably work anywhere in the world, and make ten times the salary he does here. We’re lucky to have him – lucky his wife wanted to live in a small town. And I had my doubts about all those kids when they moved down here, with all these adopted teenagers, but they’ve never given me any trouble. People just want to talk because they’re newcomers.”

            His vehement approval troubled me. The whole situation was beginning to feel sort of hopeless. I decided to bear and grin it though, and if I shed a couple anguished tears that night before bed, Charlie didn’t have to know.

 

****************** 

 

            Blood, blood, blood. The endless thirst pounded through my head. I ran through the forests north of the Canadian border, unable to focus anything but getting to Tanya’s. Even out here, in a literal different country, all I could smell was that blood. The human girl, who should have been as insignificant as the rest.

            “FUCK!” I yelled into the trees. The sound echoed from each tree trunk, each snow drift. Half a mile away, a group of birds took flight in alarm, their hearts speeding up. I breathed in the cold air, trying to forget the smell of her blood.

            I was pissed off for so many reasons. One, I had very nearly blown my cover – our cover – over what, a good smell? It was easy to make fun of myself now, out here, easier to ignore the part of me that still wanted to go back there. Two, my sudden departure meant I wouldn’t get to play baseball. We had all taken bets – except Alice, of course – and I was on my way to getting Rosalie’s M3 for a month. And three. Three, I couldn’t hear her. I thought of lunch, when Jessica Stanley’s thoughts had drawn my attention, and the wall I hit struggling to find Bella Swan’s mind. It simply wasn’t there. I didn’t know which of these things pissed me off more.

            “A month!” I yelled, knowing no one was listening. It hadn’t helped that when I told them what happened, after they realized how unhinged I was, Rosalie’s first thought was that I wouldn’t win the bet. Brat.

            I continued running, and it was nearly morning when I set foot on Tanya’s land.

            “It’s Edythe,” I yelled out, knowing they would hear me.

            Edythe is here, Tanya thought warmly. Predictable. I crunched through the snow, slowing down now. I didn’t want to barge in on them, as I wasn’t sure Carlisle had called. The direction of their thoughts weren’t surprised, but I wanted to be respectful.

            A shaft of light appeared as the back door of their home was opened. Kate waved at me as I drew closer.

            “You look like hell,” She said, not unkindly. I can’t believe it – Edythe Cullen ran away.

            I ignored both of her jabs. “Just the two of you?” I couldn’t hear anyone else but Tanya.

            Everyone’s out hunting, Kate explained in her thoughts. I’m surprised you didn’t come across them. Good for you, though, they might have thought you were a wild boar.

            That was the second mention of my appearance. I touched my hair, and laughed.

            “I ran for a day straight,” I defended myself, pulling a twig out of my hair.

            I heard Tanya’s thoughts take on the same tone as she came up behind her sister. “Halloween isn’t for a few weeks.”

            “I didn’t come here to be attacked,” I snapped,  stopping just outside the door.

            Tanya giggled, eyes looking me up and down. Bedraggled vampire is a good look on you.

            I sighed. Maybe coming here had been a mistake. Tanya and her… inclinations only ever bothered me when she was pestering me for attention. Which is why Carlisle, Esme and I had chosen to settle down in Washington, all those years ago. Not that I would say that to her face. I genuinely enjoyed their company, and her advances were lighthearted and teasing. I had to come to terms with the fact that people couldn’t control their thoughts. For the most part.

            A draft of heat wafted from the house, and my throat burned in a weak recreation of the day before. An old scent.

            I gave an exaggerated sniff. “I see you’ve had company. I hope I didn’t intrude.” It was no secret that Tara sometimes hooked up with humans, which was crazy to all of us. The smell reminded me that it had been nearly two weeks since my last meal.

            She doesn’t want to talk about it, Kate thought sympathetically. Correctly.

            “Two days ago,” she said out loud, wrinkling her nose. “Takes the smell a while to fade, especially with the heating.”

            Tanya just winked at me, recalling a few images of her sex life that I really didn’t appreciate.

            “Come in, Eddie,” Kate said, stepping aside. I shook my head.

            “A hunt sounds like a good idea, I think. If either of you want to join…” Their eyes were a light topaz. I only asked to be polite, not thinking they would take me up on it. So, naturally, Tanya straightened up.

            “Sure thing.” I’ll behave, she promised me. I rolled my eyes.

            “Let’s go. Dibs on lions.”

            She followed me into the snow, wearing only a light pink sundress. Her long legs were exposed in the ridiculous outfit, and her bare feet crunched in the snow next to me. I idly wondered if she had changed clothes when she heard me coming.

            Her strawberry blonde curls floated around her chin as she ran next to me, following me up into the mountains.

            Unusually quiet, she noted, I need the full story.

            Thankfully, she was also quiet as I took down a black bear, then another, and two deer. Its blood was warm, but tasted like sand next to my perfect memory of that girl. I threw the carcass down, making sure to rip out the throat so no one would find any identifying marks.

            Tanya tossed aside a deer, leaning back in the snow and observing me. The sun was fully up now, and I was growing tired of her burning curiosity.

            “Go ahead,” I sighed, falling back. I sank into the snow, the perfect cold of my body not melting it in the slightest.

            Finally, she padded over to me, sitting in the snow near my head. The sky was a light blue, with clouds in the distance that promised more snow. She picked some leaves out of my hair.

            You’re supposed to run around the trees. Not through them.

            I managed a small smile. That’s what I got for running with my hair down.

            “Carlisle said you had a close call.”

            I huffed, annoyed. I had amazing self-control, I knew I did. And that girl had ruined everything. All my street cred, gone. Even Jasper had thought it, to himself. But I heard.

            “Kind of.”

            She leaned over me, regarding me curiously.

            “Have you ever –“ I thought about my words carefully. “Have you ever come across a scent that was…more powerful than the rest?” I knew Emmett had, and I knew how it had ended. Badly.

            Tanya frowned, shaking her head. “I don’t think so.”

            “Just thought I would ask. You’re pretty old.”

            She grinned at me. “Was it terrible?”

 “Excruciating.”          

            I looked at her when her next thought came through, but she spoke it aloud anyway.

            “Was it a boy?”

            “No…why?”

            I stood up at her next thought.

            “Seriously, Tanya. Do you ever let up?”

            She looked at me from her cross-legged position on the ground, unperturbed.

            “Why are you so mad?”

            “Because you’re making this about me and you. Or lack thereof.” I crossed my arms.

            She shrugged. “It was just a question – stay out of my head if you don’t like my thoughts.”

            I narrowed my eyes. “You’re loud.”

            “I’ve known you a long time,” she said petulantly. “And you haven’t shown an interest in anyone. It’s a sign, you know.”

            “Exactly,” I snapped. “I think I would know if I was gay after a century of existence.”

            Again she shrugged. I clenched my hands into fists.

            “You know, I’m suddenly feeling much better about going home.”

            “I’m sorry,” she said earnestly. “Don’t be angry with me.”

            I didn’t walk away, or kick snow at her, which she took as forgiveness.

            “Are you going to go back? You could stay here for a while, wait her out?”

            Her. That girl. Tanya was right. A year or so up here wouldn’t be so bad. Moose were pretty good. I thought of Carlisle, seeing on my face how bad things were. Hearing in his mind how he would have forgiven me anyway…if I had killed her. Esme felt the same way. Their unconditional love pulled at something in my frozen heart.

            “No,” I murmured. “I have to go back. I just needed to clear my head.”

            “Today?” You just got here.

            “I’ll stay until the others get back,” I said. A few days away from that girl and her infuriating smell would be good for me. “It’s been so long.”

            She smiled, approving.

            We returned to the house, and I looked at my cell phone. Alice, of course, had seen my decision the moment I made it.

            Love uuuuu <3 She had texted, along with several pictures of her making stupid faces in the camera. I laughed in spite of myself.