Jasper didn’t immediately take me home. Instead, he stopped at the edge of the woods, right at the place where Jacob and I had entered, and allowed me to regain my feet. My wounds had started heal, the pain was subsiding, and I found I could stand on my own. Jacob flew past me, once again a black beast, and he ran after Etienne toward my home.
Alice appeared beside Jasper and me. She gave Jasper a nod and a nip at his neck, and he ran back into the darkness of the woods. Alice stood next to me, watching my face as I gazed along the path Jacob had taken.
“Victoria got away,” I murmured.
“We got one of them, at least,” Alice said cheerfully. I turned to her.
“James is dead?”
Alice looked surprised at my question. “You didn’t notice?” she asked, her eyes mirthful. “I guess you were rather distracted. Jasper and two of the mutts just pulled him apart.”
I was quiet as Victoria’s words ran through my head. You owe me now. The words hadn’t made sense at the time; I didn’t give them a second thought. When she bore down on Edward, her fangs extended, I thought she would drain him or rip his throat open. But she hadn’t. She bit him.
She wanted to turn him because James was dead.
“Edward will be fine,” Alice said, her lilting voice breaking the silence. “Etienne got his antidote to him on time. I never even knew there was an antidote. I’ll have to ask him about it.” She tilted her head. “He will be in the hospital. Jacob’ll give the excuse that he was attacked by coyotes.” She chuckled. “I can’t believe that’ll work. Humans are so gullible, aren’t they?”
I didn’t respond to her chatter. I closed my eyes as relief flooded my mind. I could relax, if just for the briefest moment, before another thought came now my mind: Now what?
It was a huge question, and one I couldn’t answer on my own. I had to talk to Ana, to Carlisle, to Jacob and Edward. The possibilities of “Now what?” were far too vast, and my mind, frayed from weeks of anxiety over James’ wild hunt, shirked from the question.
“Where is everyone else?” I asked Alice.
“Cleaning up,” she said, nodding her head toward the woods. “Can’t let the humans find James’ remains, you know? Plus that arena he built is going to be visible from the air, so they’re clearing all that as well.” I nodded. “Do you want to go home?” she asked.
“No,” I said, turning back toward the woods. “I’ll help the others. I feel fine.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said mirthfully, sticking out her tongue.
The next day was Monday. I didn’t go to class, but I did go to the school. At lunch time, I perched on the roof, listening through the walls to the students. They were abuzz about Edward. The news of his coyote attack had spread like wildfire since the school reconvened that morning. Someone’s parent worked as a doctor at the local hospital, and someone else’s brother was an orderly there, and the information flowed like a crash of water through a breaking dam.
My absence was noted as well, but everyone assumed I was with Edward. In truth, I had stayed away from the hospital all night and morning, although the temptation to stake out in the waiting room there was great. Jacob was there, however, having stayed vigilant through the night, and his pack mates had rejoined him at dawn. Their presence made me wary, but I planned to visit while the day was still young.
The school was abuzz with talk about coyotes and wolves—normal ones—and the possibility that there would have to be hunting parties to address the clear overpopulation of predator animals in the area. After all, several people now had been attacked, and some had been killed. I wondered if the local police had covered up the drained dead bodies as animal attacks. Would they lie to the victims’ families? Would these victims’ true demise always remain a secret?
I could hear the voices of Angela, Eric, Jessica, Mike, and Lauren. They were as clear as bells to me, as their voices had become so familiar. My heart ached with a dull pang as I listened to them speculate about me. Angela suggested they take me out to dinner to help me get my mind off Edward’s attack. Jessica said she was swamped with schoolwork, but she would definitely call me tonight. Lauren thought I wouldn’t want to be bothered, her tone cold as ever. Mike suggested he and Eric claim some pelts for me, which Eric was less than enthusiastic about.
It hurt that I would have to leave them.
Ana and I had settled on it that morning. She and I had both come to love Forks, and for that reason we decided we would have to leave.
The main reason was Victoria. The werewolves had chased her out of Washington, but they had not caught her. She was alive, and she was burning with vengeance. Her turning of Edward had failed. Ana knew she would want to come after us, particularly me, to take revenge for our part in killing James.
“James was her mate,” Ana said somberly. “As much as anyone can love a feral like him, she loved him a hundred times over.”
Alice had seen this, too. Although the future she saw was murky, she could see Victoria, huddled in anguish and plotting our deaths. What that would amount to, we couldn’t know—but we knew we could not bring her back to Forks. Any risk to my friends, to Edward, even to Jacob—I hated him, utterly despised him, but it was because of Ana and me that he was pulled into this mess—I could not bear.
The second reason was one of practicality: my brief yet destructive adventure with Alice and Jasper had caused us to become too conspicuous. Although it was doubtful that the police could ever deduce what exactly we were, we had nonetheless gained an air of suspicion. As the odd attacks on the population happened, the Cullens had gathered at our house. Strangers in town at the same time as strange occurrences would inevitably be connected. I recalled the doubtful way Deputy Miles had looked at Alice and me as we feigned sickness and left the police station in such a hurry. We had too much attention on us. If we left now, they would always wonder, but they would never be able to piece anything together themselves.
Still, I sighed with regret as I thought about how I wouldn’t see my human friends again. They didn’t know that the last time they would see me had already passed. And yet, amidst all this loss, I was also gaining something new: a clan.
Carlisle had once again extended the offer to Ana and to me. “Come with us,” he said that morning, sipping at a steaming cup of chamomile tea as we stood around the kitchen. Carlisle was the only vampire I had ever known who still seemed to enjoy normal human food and drink.
Ana looked a little incredulous. “We’re not vegetarians, Car,” she said, “and we have no intention of becoming vegetarians.” She glanced sidelong to me with a cheeky grin. “Well, I don’t, anyway.” I wondered at that comment, and I had never before expressed any interest in living off animal blood alone.
“I wouldn’t impose such a diet on you,” he responded with an easy smile. “You and Bella have remarkable control over your hunger, and you source blood from volunteers.” He paused, pursing his lips momentarily, as if he were biting down on a comment that was best left unsaid. “Well, it’s a solution. We are currently residing in New Orleans. I think it’s a town that would suit you.”
Ana laughed. “I haven’t seen New Orleans since Belle and I started living together.” She squeezed my knee affectionately. “You won’t lack for society there, I can tell you that much,” she said to me.
I smiled tightly. “Sounds great,” I said, trying to sound pleased. I liked Carlisle; I had come to admire Alice and Jasper. I wasn’t sure how I would get on with the other three, as my acquaintance with the other half of the Cullen clan had been brief and under duress, but I recalled Esme’s affectionate manner and tranquil face. She, at least, would welcome me.
“You’ll accept two more,” Ana said, “but what about a third?” I was confused by this question, but Carlisle only grinned.
“Etienne is welcome to come with us,” he assured.
“Etienne lives in Port Angeles, doesn’t he?” I asked. “Victoria wouldn’t go after him.”
Ana chuckled. “Belle, I’m not concerned with Victoria here.” She smiled, her crimson eyes coming a light which I had not seen in her before.
“You and Etienne?” I said, awestruck.
Ana grinned, biting down on her lip. “Isn’t he just a dream? Never been into chubby men before, but he really has that something special.”
“Something special,” I repeated. “You’re mates? How long has this been going on?” Ana only giggled in response. “Do you even have other friends in Port Angeles?” Ana laughed harder.
Etienne was still in the house, currently packing up our belongings upstairs with the help of Alice. I knew he was listening. “I’m sure you’ll drive each other insane in no time at all,” I said dryly, earning me a nip from Ana.
As much as I could appear happy for Ana’s bliss, the feelings couldn’t penetrate my heart. It hurt that she could remain with her mate as we moved on to a new home, and yet I would have to leave mine behind.
Ana had suggested I simply claim Edward, bite him and make him properly mine, but I had shrunk from the very idea. He had already been bitten by a vampire. If Etienne hadn’t been there, Edward would be a stone-cast immortal like the rest of us. I had pictured the image in my mind hundreds of times in the hours since the battle: skin pale and hardened, eyes red and lifeless, his body forever that of a teenager’s. There would be no more heat from him, no more softness to his flesh. He wouldn’t smell the same, and I wondered if I would even maintain an interest in him if that incredible scent of his blood was gone.
I remembered when Edward had asked if I would give him a choice in the matter. I had finally made a decision to that end. I could never make Edward into a vampire.
And as a human, he could never live among vampires. He would always be in danger, should he sustain a scrap or cut at the wrong time when one of us was just a bit too hungry.
I had come to the painful decision, then, to leave Edward here in Forks, right where I found him and only a little worse for wear. Eventually his scars would heal, his memories would fade, and he would move on with his life.
The bell for lunch to end rang through the school, rousing me from my reflections of the past hours. I waited on the roof until every footstep in the hallways of the school had died to nothing. The students were in class, the teachers were lecturing, and I rose from my perch and bounded away, unseen even in the daylight.