Edward gazed at himself in the mirror of his bathroom, taking notice of the progression which had gradually taken place over the last few months. It was most noticeable in his arms and shoulders, which had lost nearly all their flabbiness and had firmed into lean muscle. There was progress in his waistline as well. It didn’t look like much, but his clothes had recently graduated from loose to baggy on his frame.
Peter’s exercise regimen was working out quite well, Edward thought as his gaze ran over the faded cuts along his shoulders. Once Edward was in a little bit better shape, Peter promised he would teach Edward some self-defense techniques. Edward’s gaze stopped at the larger scar on his right shoulder, this one the shape of a bite. He ran his fingers over the bite mark, the skin hard like marble and cool to the touch.
Gradually he had begun to remember that awful night. The details returned in his dreams. He remembered the male vampire, his crimson eyes bright with agitation and madness. That creature had grabbed Edward and lifted him as if he weighed little more than a cat, and had taken him deep into the woods. He remembered the vampire’s sharp claws cutting into the skin on his arms, legs, chest, and belly. Shallow cuts, but painful ones. He remembered the female vampire straddling his waist and pressing her lithe, slender body against his, smearing his blood all over her white clothes, while Edward had been entirely helpless. Edward could only have wondered how long it would be before the vampires ended his life.
But they never did. Edward had been saved. And all it had cost him was her.
The vampire girl. His vampire girl.
Some nights Edward woke up and wondered if he hadn’t dreamt up the last few months. In those seconds upon waking, as his mind raced over the memories of all the things he had experienced, he briefly wondered if his imagination had simply overflowed into an elaborate story to keep himself content in the delusion that vampires exist.
But he would get up and see the healing scratches, the strange bite mark in his shoulder: proof that it had all been real.
Well, that and Jacob’s giant muscles.
Edward’s obsessive interest in the supernatural had begun with that encounter in his childhood, and it had colored his entire life thereafter. Most children enjoyed ghosts and ghouls, but as Edward’s childhood friends grew up and left such interests behind, he had only become more mired in the possibilities. He had told his friends of what he had seen in the forest. As a child, it made Edward cool amongst his peers. But as they aged, and Edward continued to insist such an impossibility had happened, his friends gradually began to turn away from him, thinking him immature or even a little unhinged. Only Jacob believed that Edward was telling the truth, even if he couldn’t understand what that truth was until recently.
And that girl, that vampire, Bella, had proved that it was all real.
The chime of his cellphone drew him out of his thoughts. He gazed down at the message from Jacob there. “You still coming down for Mags’ party?”
“Yeah, just getting dressed now,” Edward typed back.
As he dressed, he heard the chime again. “Can’t wait to see you,” Jacob’s message read. Edward smiled at the message, but he made no reply.
The drive to Christo Rey was a sunny one. Edward pushed his beloved S60 to a high speed as he cruised around the twisting roads which split the forest along the coastline. Chopin’s beautiful melodies permeated the cabin, given life by high-fidelity speakers.
It was the middle of June, and there was not a cloud in the sky. The weather had been quite fine all month. It was a rare dry season, and the forests were alive with new growth and foliage. He thought of Bella any time the sun shone. That image of her in the sunlight had haunted him more than any other. Her skin had glittered like refined diamonds, the sunlight reflecting off thousands of facets in a dazzling display. He had never seen an image quite so beautiful.
Had she not left, would Edward have become privy to that vision more? Perhaps that was a pointless question to ask, but it gave him hope to wonder at it.
Edward had not given her up. He didn’t know where she had disappeared to, but the world wasn’t so large that she could disappear into it forever. He would find her once more, even if it took him his whole lifetime.
He came upon Christo Rey in a third less the time than he had told Jacob. He slowed to a civilized speed, driving past the modest houses of the neighborhoods of Forks’ sister town. He had come to this place so often in his life that it felt more like home than the sterile house he resided in. He had known many of Jacob’s friends from childhood—Embry, Paul, Seth—but this new set he wasn’t quite as accustomed to. The “wolf pack” as they called themselves were partially made up of some of Jacob’s friends, but many of them were people Jacob had never before associated with.
Many of them were affiliated with a group loosely associated with the local church. They congregated at a bar on the south side of the town. That was were Edward was headed—he’d been surprised that Magdalena was having her eighteenth birthday party there. Jacob had assured Edward that there wouldn’t be anything untoward happening, but Edward nonetheless expected some form of underage drinking.
Not that it really mattered, Edward realized. They were all werewolves. He supposed the normal rules and laws of human life no longer applied to them.
The bar came into view at the end of the last road out of Christo Rey. It was a small shack of a watering hole, held together by duct tape and prayers, and an askew sign on the front of the building spelled out the name of the bar in red letters: Sangre del Diablo. About a dozen motorcycles were arranged around the building, and Edward’s black Volvo looked quite out of place amongst them.
Three of the pack were hanging out in the sunshine: Paul and the twins Thomas and Andrew. Edward felt their gazes shift to him as he climbed out of his car. Paul waved to Edward, and Edward returned the greeting. “Jacob’s inside,” Paul called.
“Thanks,” Edward replied. He focused on Paul for a few seconds, and was surprised to get nothing but positive intentions from him. He got the same from the twins as well. Edward had been prepared to receive animosity from the pack, as Edward had been the former boyfriend of a vampire, but everyone had seemed happy to welcome him.
Perhaps that was because, unlike Edward, no one here could read Edward’s true intentions. For all they knew, Edward was trying to leave Bella in the past.
He passed through the creaking wooden door of the bar. The windows were dirty, and the light which shone through them was tinted an odd orange from the dust which had collected on the exterior. The small bar felt crowded with the bodies of ten other people packed within. Edward spotted Jacob sitting at the bar with Peter and Magdalena, the latter leaning sideways on her stool to whisper something to Jacob. Her brown eyes fixed on Edward as he approached, her lips dipping into a frown. Edward didn’t have to read her deeply to know she held some resentment toward Edward.
Jacob looked up at Edward over his shoulder, then jumped to his feet. He towered over Edward now, his head nearly brushing the low ceiling of the bar. Throughout their lives, Jacob had always been physically smaller than Edward. This sudden and unnatural change was always unsettling to the both of them any time the two met.
Jacob smiled, his handsome face lighting up. Animosity radiated from Magdalena, and if Edward were to focus hard enough, he might be able to make out the very words of her thoughts. Before he could do this, however, there was a shift in her. She was putting in great effort not to wallow in that resentment she felt, and instead she vacated the stood beside Jacob under the guise of seeking out another of their packmates.
“Welcome, Edward,” Peter greeted as this was going on. “Glad you could make it down here.”
“Of course,” Edward replied, watching Magdalena’s retreat. “I should have wished her a happy birthday.”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that,” Jacob assured him. He slung his warm arm around Edward’s shoulders. “What’s your poison today? Diet Coke as always?”
Edward smiled. “You’re a mind reader,” he joked.
Jacob laughed. “Yeah, right. I’m not you.” He called to the man behind the bar, a middle-aged gentleman by the name of John, who was also the owner of the bar.
Peter’s thick eyebrows raised. “Edward’s a psychic, is he?” he asked in a light tone.
Edward nudged Jacob in the ribs lightly. “I’m not,” he answered Peter. “I’m just good at reading people.” That was how Edward has always explained away that odd sixth sense he had which seemed to tell him something hidden about the true intentions of the people around him. It was an ability he had inherited from his father, although the man had never elucidated Edward on it.
It wasn’t entirely consistent or reliable, anyway. Some people were harder to read than others. Jacob was naturally more guarded, and Edward had to expend a lot of energy to read him. Others such as Magdalena and some of his classmates like Mike Newton and Jessica Stanley, were so easy to read that it seemed like they were almost projecting into Edward’s mind. But everyone had something Edward could pick up on.
Except for one person.
Magdalena called for Peter, and Peter was not one to deny the wishes of his younger sister. He rose from the bar and joined Magdalena on the other side of the small, cramped room, leaving Edward and Jacob to themselves.
They both sat at the bar, and Jacob handed Edward a chilled can of Diet Coke as he said soberly, “How are you holding up? You mentioned nightmares last week.”
Edward shrugged one shoulder. “It’s not unmanageable,” Edward told him. “They’re more like memories. I keep seeing that vampire.”
“Which one?” Jacob asked with a scoff.
“The one you killed,” Edward said, and Jacob flashed another smile. He loved being reminded of his victory.
“What about, you know, the female?” Jacob asked. Edward might have assumed he was talking about the vampire which had bitten him. She was the companion of the dead vampire, had lost the wolf pack as they chased her clear up to Canada, and still lived. Yet Edward could tell, through that odd ability of his, that Jacob meant Bella.
“I see her, too,” Edward told him honestly. In his mind, he could see her face. Her eyes, bright red, gazed back at him with that voracious look she often had. Jacob gazed down at his drink, saying nothing, and Edward reached over and gently squeezed Jacob’s big shoulder. The gesture sent Jacob’s thoughts scattering.
Hours passed, and Edward gradually relaxed around this odd, mismatched group which had congregated at the bar. Jacob took Edward outside to show off his newly-restored motorcycle, and Paul and Magdalena joined the pair. Edward had a rather tenuous grasp on the finer points of motorcycles, but he listened intently as Jacob explained everything he had done to the machine. Then, egged on by Paul, Jacob mounted the bike and revved the engine, happy to show it off.
Magdalena stepped closer to Edward, her eyes on Jacob. “I don’t think I’ve had one conversation with Jacob without you coming up in it in some way,” she said, folding her arms over her chest. “And Peter’s so involved in your well-being, you’d think you were one of us.”
Edward glanced at her, surprised to find her intentions were not as cold as her words. “I believe I have made your life more difficult than it needs to be.”
“Can’t blame you for the vampires coming here,” she said. “But I can knock a few points off for actually dating one.” She turned to Edward and met his gaze full-on. “Jacob cares deeply for you,” she said in a tone barely audible over Jacob’s motorcycle.
Edward smiled tightly. “I didn’t mean to become a romantic rival.”
Magdalena scoffed. “You misunderstand,” she said with a shake of her head. “Not that you could help it. What’s happening here isn’t romantic. Jacob earned a lot of respect amongst us all. He saved you, and he got all the vampires to leave.” She paused, searching Edward’s face, possibly for some reaction. Edward kept his expression neutral, however. “I’ll follow Jacob to the end of my days, and I’m not alone in that. If anyone were to hurt him, that person would have to face down a dozen werewolves. You catch my meaning, right?”
“Loud and clear,” Edward answered tersely.
Magdalena clapped a hand on Edward’s shoulder, a friendly gesture which was given with just enough force to cause a sting. “Jacob did say you were a smart one,” she said coolly, then turned back to Jacob as his engine cut out.
There was a lingering engine sound, however, and gradually Edward became aware of the sound of tires. At first no one cared much to look at the approaching driver, assuming whoever it was would continue on their way into Christo Rey. But the car slowed as it approached the bar, and the four teens glanced up as a sleek silver Audi came to a stop along the dusty road outside the run-down bar.
The windows of the car were tinted, obscuring the driver within, but Edward saw as Jacob, Paul, and Magdalena became visibly tense. There was a moment when nothing moved: the driver seemed frozen in their vehicle, and the three werewolf teens were poised and ready to do something, although what that action would be had not yet revealed itself.
Finally, the window of the driver’s side rolled down. A young woman peered out from within, her eyes shielded by a pair of large sunglasses. Her skin was sallow, her short hair dark. She pulled the sunglasses down her small nose, exposing a pair of eyes which were an unnatural golden color.
“Blood sucker,” Magdalena growled. “What is it doing here?” Jacob approached the car, his shoulders squared.
“Afternoon, pup,” the vampire greeted coldly. “I’m here to talk to your alpha, or whatever you call him.”
Jacob put a large hand on the upper edge of the car door, leaning down to peer through the window of the little sports car. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said in a gravelly voice. “Now you get out of here before we rip you apart.”
The vampire seemed entirely unfazed by Jacob’s threat. “After all we did to help you with that feral, this is the greeting I get?” She shook her head.
“We didn’t need your help,” Magdalena snapped.
The woman smiled wryly and pushed her glasses back up her nose. “Then I guess you don’t need any information about the vampire that got away.”
Jacob glanced to Magdalena over his shoulder. She huffed, balling her hands up into fists, but said nothing more. “What is it?” Jacob asked, returning his gaze to the vampire.
“I don’t really want to tell you,” the woman said. She stuck her hand out the window and pointed to Edward. Her skin glittered when it hit the sunlight. “Let me talk to him.”
“I don’t think so,” Jacob said flatly. The woman smiled tightly, pulled her hand back in, and began to roll up her window. Jacob grunted with frustration. “You must think I’m stupid to put his life in your hands.”
The window halted with about an inch of space to speak through. “Oh, he’s perfectly safe with me, pup. He’s a VIP amongst us.” She grinned, revealing a pair of small yet very sharp fangs. The window rolled up the rest of the way, and she simply sat in her car and watched Jacob expectantly.
Jacob looked like he wanted to flip the Audi, but he instead stepped away, his face a grimace. Edward met the vampire’s gaze through the tinted window. He didn’t recognize her—really, he had never met any of Bella’s companions save for the two which had removed the vampire venom from his bloodstream, and he could hardly remember what they looked like.
Edward stepped forward. Jacob put a hand on Edward’s shoulder, holding him in place. “You don’t have to do this,” he said quietly.
“I know,” Edward assured, meeting Jacob’s eyes. “I want to.” Jacob nodded reluctantly and released Edward, moving to stand by Magdalena. As Edward walked up to the car, Magdalena whispered something to Jacob. He couldn’t hear what she said, but he knew it was hardly flattering.
The vampire woman smiled at Edward as he approached and gestured to the passenger seat. Edward rounded the car and opened the passenger side door, meeting Jacob’s gaze once more as he slid into the leather seat.
“Looking good,” she said bemusedly as Edward closed the door. She pulled her sunglasses off, her golden eyes mirthful. “I’m so glad I can finally get to meet you. I’m Alice.”
“Did Bella send you?” Edward asked.
“She doesn’t know I’m here,” Alice said. “It was Carlisle’s idea to warn y’all about Victoria.”
“The vampire that bit me,” Edward clarified. Alice nodded. “I assume she wants to finish the job.”
“Oh, she wants more than that,” Alice said. “She’s going to build up an army and get her revenge.”
A chill ran down Edward’s spine at this news. “An army of vampires,” he said in a low voice. He glanced to Jacob, Magdalena, and Paul. Peter had joined them, standing behind Magdalena. “How many?”
“That, I don’t know,” Alice said. “I also can’t tell you when, or where she is. Too much of that is in flux. It could be in a few months or years from now.”
“Is Bella safe?” he asked.
Alice grinned. “Don’t you worry about her,” she said, reaching over and squeezing his arm. “I’ll keep her safe for you.” Edward was surprised by that, and Alice chuckled. “I’m supposed to tell you I don’t know where she is, but I do.”
“Will you tell me?”
“Nope,” Alice answered. She nodded to the others watching the car. “You have to stay with them. Much as I hate to say it, they are capable of keeping you safe. We’re doing what we can to find Victoria and stop her, but it looks like we’re going to fail on that front. So y’all better get ready.”
Edward shook his head. “You’re speaking as if you know the future.”
“That’s not impossible, is it?” Alice asked mirthfully.
“Of course it isn’t,” Edward said. “I’m not going to discount precognition. But that’s what going on here, isn’t it?” Edward met her eyes, wondering why hers were gold while Bella’s were red. She laughed again.
“You’re a bright one,” she said. Her gaze unfocused for a moment, and Edward in turn focused on her with all of his effort. An image flashed before his eyes: his own self, but wildly changed. His skin was sallow, the color of marble, and just as cold. His eyes were crimson, set in a statuesque face which at the same time looked familiar and alien. There was no emotion in his eyes, no life in his face. He was not human, but a monster.
He reeled from the image.
Alice, however, seemed elated by this image. She grinned, sitting forward as if she were prepared to suddenly speed off with Edward in her car. Perhaps she was indeed tempted to do this, but she relaxed after a moment. “I believe this won’t be the last time I’ll meet you, Edward.”
Edward made no reply. He simply nodded and climbed out of the Audi. He rejoined his friends as Alice revved the engine. He watched the car disappear down the road, his mind heavy with the image Alice had seen.
When Bella was with him, Edward had been amused by the idea of becoming a vampire. His life was mundane, dull, and the future planned out for him by his parents was one he did not wish for. He had been surprised when Bella seemed reluctant to answer his questions about turning him.
But having been bit, having experienced that terrible burning sensation in his veins, and now seeing such a horrid image of himself as one of those creatures, Edward realized he was terrified of the prospect. He was not ready to give Bella up. But if given the chance to become one, could he take it? Would he have a choice?
What would that mean for his lifelong friendship with Jacob?
“What did she tell you?” Jacob asked after a few moments of silence.
Edward was pulled from his thoughts. “It’s bad news,” he said, turning to him and Peter. “Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
Peter nodded. “We’ll borrow John’s house,” he said. “It’s behind the bar.”
Edward followed his friends, his mind racing, but he kept his gaze on Jacob. Despite the doubts in his mind, his heart had already decided. He wouldn’t tell them about Alice’s vision. He wouldn’t tell them that he fully intended to find Bella, no matter what future that would bring upon him.