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Immortal Beloved

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In the two hundred-and-some-odd years I've been walking the earth, I had never been forced to attend any school. I grew up during a time when poor girls such as I just didn't go to school. In the years after my turning, I was far too busy dealing with hunting, feeding, hiding and struggling against the creature who turned me to really care much about arithmetic and reading. And when my life had finally calmed down and I achieved some semblance of peace, I decided that private tutoring would suit me more than attending any school with prey.

So now I was baffled as to how I had let myself be convinced to attend a tiny public high school in the nowhere town of Forks, Washington.

I mean, I can easily recall how Ana, my companion and something like a sister, argued with me over enrolling. I remember she mentioned something about reconnecting with humanity and making friends. As if a vampire could befriend a human.

“I'm not going to play around with humans,” I snapped, scoffing at the idea. “Humans hardly befriend chickens and cows, do they?”

“I knew a couple of humans that kept chickens as pets,” Ana said with a cheeky smile. I scowled at her as she relaxed in her big La-Z-Boy, her booted feet up on the oaken coffee table. “Just because we feed off humans doesn't mean we can't get along.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “I don't want to attend a silly human school,” I growled. “I can do so many better things with my time.”

Ana raised a well-shaped eyebrow at me, and even before she spoke, I knew what she was going to say. “You can do many better things with your time, but you don't. Apart from cleaning the house and checking on our blood supply, you just sit around and sulk.” She got to her feet at last and leapt to my side, moving faster than any mortal could even dream. She was almost a head taller than me, and she took my chin in her strong hand, making me look up into her almond-shaped crimson eyes. “I do worry about you, Bella. It seems like you're getting bored with life, and so soon.”

I moved my chin out of her hand and sighed. “I get it. You want me out and about, but why at a high school? Why can't I just get a job?” I shook my head. “And why, of all places on this planet, in this dinky town?”

Ana's thin lips just curved into her usual little grin that generally meant she was up to something mischievous. She never gave me any answers to my questions after that, and yet, here I was, in front of Forks High.

I shook my head at the recollection, gazing at the school that sprawled out in front of me. I glanced over the teenagers slowly meandering towards the buildings, meeting with friends, laughing, talking. It was the middle of winter, and everyone was bundled up for the cold and snow. I was too, but only so as to fit in. I didn't feel the chill in the air anymore. I could have stepped out in a bikini and felt fine, but I figure that would have attracted some weird looks.

I fell into step behind some kids, not rushing to get to my first class. I didn't see why Ana couldn't have waited until the new school year to enroll me in the school rather than in the middle of the term. It's not like I would look any older next September. It almost seemed like Ana had shoehorned me into this year's junior class as fast as possible. She was up to something, and I wondered what that could possibly be.

I was not unaware of the glances I was getting from the humans around me. In this tiny town, where everyone knew everyone, I was definitely the stranger. All these children probably grew up together, had known each other for all their short seventeen-or-so years. And out of the blue, in the middle of the school year, comes this new girl to make some ripples in this perfect little pond. I could almost hear the nervous thoughts in every head, wondering who I was, what I was like, if I would upset the balance of the school. Maybe I'd steal someone's boyfriend, or turn out to be a terrible influence on the freshman. Small towns like these were very close-knit and protective, distrusting outsiders and strangers.

I was certainly a novelty. I was supposed to be from Phoenix, Arizona (Ana's idea for a cover story, but who would believe I'd be from the desert with my pale skin?), an exotic land of cacti and actual sunshine. I glanced up at the clouded sky. I could see one reason why Ana may have picked this place for me to mingle with humans. It rained for most of the year, and when it didn’t it snowed. That meant no sun to shine on my skin. Otherwise I'd start sparkling like a disco ball, and I'd have a lot of trouble on my hands if any mortals saw me.

I stepped up a small flight of outdoor steps, careful not to slip on the snow and ice that had settled there. In my mortal life, I had been clumsy and accident-prone, and that flight of stairs would probably have been enough to take me down for a little while. Evidently being turned vampire had improved my sense of balance, and now I was as graceful as a ballerina, or other something else equally silly.

“Hey, new girl!” I heard someone call behind me, and I figured that was meant for me. I fought the urge to ignore the call – Ana did want me to make friends, after all – and turned around, glancing for the source of the call. My gaze was drawn to a tall boy with shaggy blond hair and eager blue eyes waving over to me with a gloved hand. He stood by one of the school's buildings with two other girls. Even from the distance of about twenty feet, I could see the fine details of his boyish face.

I approached the threesome, forcing myself to smile politely at the children. Though we all looked the same age, it was hard for me not to consider these three children – I was, after all, probably twice as old as their grandparents.

“Hey,” the boy said in greeting with a friendly grin. He reminded me of those really nice but kind of unsettling boys on old TV shows from the 1950s and '60s, the type to say “Golly!” and “Isn't that swell?”

“I'm Mike Newton, and this is Jessica and Angela,” he announced and vaguely gestured to his female companions, not bothering to really specify which girl was which. I noticed they both were looking at me with apprehension, and I felt a bit like the wild animal they got to see up close.

I nodded at Mike, my smile unwavering. It had been quite a while since I had negotiated making new acquaintances, and I felt the words coming out of my mouth were someone else’s. “Nice to meet you,” I said with acceptable politeness. “I'm Bella. Bella Swan--” Before I could finish saying my current last name (I had had many over the centuries), a horrid and jarring ringing sound came from the halls of the school. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound, but the children in front of me seemed completely unfazed. They did, however, seem to automatically turn toward the school doors, as if they were conditioned to do so.

“Do you need help finding your first class?” Mike asked me as his female friends began to walk away.

I bit down on my tongue before I gave him the terse and snappy “No, thank you” that threatened to leave my lips, remembering once again my promise to Ana. “That would be nice, thank you,” I told Mike, and my voice still sounded strange in my ears, like it was obvious I was trying to fake my friendly tone. I could only hope I was imagining it, but from the dark look one of the girls shot at me, I felt my hopes were in vain.

Still, Mike seemed infinitely happy to lead me to my first class. He chatted the whole time we walked together, though I honestly couldn't remember whatever it was he was saying. As we entered a hall and began to weave around bodies, I became increasingly distracted by the smell of human.

I could almost see the supplies healthy blood pumping through veins on necks as I passed by them, and I could feel my teeth shifting in my mouth. I hadn't fed that morning, and my body was eager to feed now. Because of my diet, my eyes tended to be a bright red. This was hardly a natural human eye color, though, and Ana had forbade me to feed that morning before school, so that now my eyes seemed to look darker and closer to a more natural brown in the right kind of light.

Being a vampire in the human world was incredibly inconvenient and uncomfortable. I wanted to get away from it as soon as I possibly could, but I was still looking at several hours of this torture ahead of me and with no way out. I did have to admit, though, that it was marginally more exciting than staying home where the hours bled into days which blurred into weeks, and months would fall by without my even noticing.

That thought immediately reversed itself the moment I stepped into my first class, a literature class. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming scent of people – and young people, at that. Teenagers had all sorts of chemical and hormonal changes coursing through them, making their scents more pungent than that of adults. And I was to be trapped with thirty of them in a small room for an hour, with hunger pains cramping in my stomach.

It was too much, and I made myself stop breathing. It's not like I needed oxygen to go through my body anymore, but breathing regularly allows me to smell the environment. This was very helpful if I were outside, where I may find prey or sense some kind of impending danger. In this warm classroom, though, with thirty warm bodies giving off thirty delicious scents, it was best I just didn't take anything in.

With the distraction of human fluids out of my way, I could more easily focus on what was going on. To my dismay, that wasn't much. The instructor was droning on about some novel which I had not heard of, although apparently it was some sort of classic from the twentieth century. Some kids tried to talk to me – let's try to get to know the exotic new girl! - but I have to admit, I mostly ignored them. They all asked me the same tiresome questions, the answers to which I was exhausted of answering after the third time.

This same situation was repeated three more times before there was a lunch break. Ana even packed me an adorable little sack lunch for me to gnaw on so that I wouldn't seem weird not eating. Vampires could eat, after all, but there was no point to it. We no longer needed the nourishment such food provided. Some younger vampires would still eat out of habit or to pursue some memory of mortal pleasure, but quickly realize that food no longer seemed as desirable in comparison to the sweetness of human blood.

All I could think of was that I wanted to pull some poor random kid into a darkened classroom and suck him dry. Or, alternatively, go home and sink my teeth into a nice, cool bag of blood. Certainly not make a show of eating a ham sandwich and a green apple.

So I didn't. Instead, I headed to the library, where I might find myself a place of quiet solitude.

There were children in there, of course: children on computers, children at tables, eating (even in the library! What kind of place allows that?), children sitting in the narrow aisles of the bookshelves, reading, probably not caring that people may want to get past them. But, even with all this chaos, the library was still relatively quiet. Occasionally there'd be a quiet chuckle or hushed word exchanged between friends, but it was peaceful enough. I found myself a small, empty table, dropped down into a chair and pretended to read one of the three magazines I found on it until the bell rang.

-

When I walked into my fifth class directly after lunch, I was asking myself why I didn't just leave. After all, what consequences would there be to my leaving? I'd get detention? Ana would bug me until the end of time? Surely there were worse fates.

Still I found myself shuffling to this next class, my mind utterly blank. It was a biology class, and that was not something that I had learned much of, even in my long life. I was aware of general knowledge—I could even remember when Charles Darwin had first published his evolution theory—but I had never been educated in the finer ideas of the hard sciences.

I dropped down into my assigned seat. I glanced about the room, noting that this room was much different than the other classrooms. It looked more like a science room, with wide, black tables filling the open space. On each table sat a covered microscope, and I have to admit, I felt a small tinge of excitement as getting the chance to use one. Then I reminded myself that these microscopes were probably of poor quality and as old as I was, and my excitement faded back into the void of my silent mind.

I did notice a few children in this class who were in other classes. I recognized Mike, the puppy-like boy who had greeted me this morning, and he grinned over at me the moment he saw me looking at him. I forced myself to return the smile and quickly turned away. I could tell he found me attractive, and I didn't need him pursuing me. I was certainly not going to have a relationship with a mortal!

I focused on pulling my biology textbook out of my backpack – a bright pink, flimsy article that Ana had purchased for me the previous week, much to my dismay – and as I waited for class to begin, I flipped through the pages, glancing at diagrams and photos of various scientific concepts. I was struck with how ironic it would be for me, a creature frozen and unchanging for two hundred years, to study the science of the living.

Beside me, the chair pulled out and a student slid in, dropping his green backpack on the floor between us. I glanced over at him, noting it wasn't anyone I had seen in any of my classes yet – or at least, no one I had noticed. He wasn't anything special to look at – he was tall, a little overweight, his face covered in pimples and eyes covered with glasses.

“Hello,” he said to me quietly, and I could tell he was sizing me up. I returned the greeting almost mechanically. “You must be Bella Swan.”

“Bella Swanson,” I corrected, figuring Mike must have been talking about me to everyone who would listen. The kid only nodded and looked toward the front of the class, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He said nothing more: no introduction, no inquiry as to my background. Perhaps my tone was icier than I had realized, yet I found myself grow irritated with his lack of response. I clenched my jaw and stared at the teacher as he began to lecture, trying to quash my irritation.

My final class was gym, and that was the most difficult class of all. Besides having to undress in a public locker room, I was forced to carefully play volleyball with several other humans. After all, if I were to play with my full vampire strength, I could easily kill a few people by simply hitting the ball to them. So instead, I could only lightly tap the ball over the net, or purposely missed it altogether. The warm-up run was more like a power walk for me. And, once again, people wanted to talk to me.

I was so relieved when the final bell rang. I didn't stop for anyone who looked like they wanted to talk to me. I made a bee line for my car, a modest little sedan I had bought some years back, and peeled out of the parking lot like my house was on fire. I'm sure that attracted some undue attention, but I didn't care. I was out of school, and I resolved never to go back to that nightmare.

Chapter Text

I sped down the narrow roads of Forks, passing through downtown in half a second and speeding past blurs that were homes. I weaved past other cars on the road, not even registering the blows of horns in my wake. I didn't usually drive like this. Even with my heightened reflexes (not to mention nearly-impenetrable skin and overall immortality), I much preferred to drive at a slower pace. It kept the police off me. Today, however, was definitely a drive-like-a-crazy-woman day.

I made it to our home in minutes of leaving school. Ana and I lived in a modest two-story home on the outskirts of the town, in a private suburban neighborhood. It was painted a light blue and raised up on a deck, either to prevent flooding or just to look nice. It was cute and nice and the perfect home for two vampires to hide in plain sight.

I brought my poor car to a dead stop in the driveway, barely remembering to take the keys out of the ignition before I stormed up the walkway and into the house. I forced myself to close the door calmly, for if I were to slam it, I would have thrown the door through the threshold.

I flew through the house, calling Ana's name, trying to find her. Even though our home boasted only five rooms, she could be tricky to find. She was a silent creature, and even with my sensitive hearing, I had trouble tracking where she could be at times. I first checked her room, stomping up the winding staircase that led right into the foyer and taking three steps at a time.

Though both the hall and Ana's room were dark, I could easily see everything: the furniture, the pictures on the walls, the clothing scattered about Ana's room. The owner of these clothes was not to be found in her room, however, and I hurried back downstairs, still calling for Ana and growing more annoyed with every step.

A quick search of the living room, kitchen and dining room turned up nothing, but I found a note on the refrigerator from her stating that she had gone out and would be back “later”. There was no time listed on the note, so I had no idea if “later” would be any minute now or hours on into the night. Ana was very care-free and often came and went with the wind. It was irritating.

I let out a puff of air and leaned against the granite counter of the island in the center of my kitchen. I glanced around the rarely-used space, noticing the fine layer of dust on the barren countertops that needed wiping. I was usually the one who cleaned the house because I was the one who never went out, and over the years, I seemed to have developed some kind of compulsion to keep my living space spotless.

But it wasn't the dust that bothered me that moment in the kitchen. My gaze swept the wide expanse of dark green granite, broken up only by a pure white, spotless stove. In mortal homes, I knew that counter space like this would be crowded with all sorts of food preparation supplies. There'd be knife sets, spoons, cutting boards, appliances of all kinds, food in baskets or left on the counter. There would be decorations to liven up the room that was used every day and the buzzing energy of humans would be felt within the walls.

In my life as a human, I had been the sole daughter and child to my parents. When I lost my mother, I had to be the one to take care of my father. I would take care of the home and cook for the two of us. As I got older, I began to really take a liking to cooking, and I had plans to maybe find a job somewhere using my skills.

After my death, I held onto cooking for several years, finding solace in it, even when the taste of food faded from my tongue. After a few decades, I realized that I could no longer find the joy in such a pointless act and so gave it up.

My thoughts often turned to such dark memories, and so I pushed them away. I decided I’d clean to distract myself, but first I needed a meal.

I noticed, as I reached in the refrigerator and grabbed one of the pint-sized plastic bags of blood arranged on the glass shelves, that we had about one week's worth of blood left. My fangs descended from their sheaths just at the sight of the thick red liquid, and I didn't hesitate to sink them into the plastic of the bag, puncturing it as if it were a mortal's flesh. The blood, cold, sweet and sticky, flowed out of the bag and into my mouth, and I swallowed every red drop.

Drinking human blood from a bag was a strange sensation. I didn't get the satisfaction of biting the human that was to be my meal. Humans were soft, warm, and smelled delectable. I had hated biting other people when I first turned, but over time my feelings on the matter changed. Biting humans was exhilarating, and their fear and adrenaline enhanced the taste of their blood all the more. Hunting one’s neighbors was not conducive to peaceful living in society, however, so Ana and I had turned to living off bagged blood which Ana bought from one of her friends down in Port Angeles.

When I was half-way through a second bag, I heard the front door open and the jingle of keys. Ana was home, as I could tell by her upbeat whistling. She was usually in a good mood. Actually, in the fifty-or-so years I had known her, I had rarely seen her in a bad mood. Had I seen her grinning face when I got home, I would have ranted to her at length about my day and demanded that I never return to that silly school ever again. Now that my hunger was sated, however, I had calmed down. I still absolutely despised that over-sized convection oven called a high school, but now I could more calmly discuss it with Ana.

I turned to the woman who I'd come to see as family over the years. She was quite the sight to behold: she was tall and lean, with long, strong limbs. Her skin was dark; when she lived, it was a vibrant brown color, though now it held a tint of gray. She liked to dress in bright colors, however, to make her skin look more vibrant. She always said that she didn't feel dead, so why should she look it?

She walked in with a bounce in her step, swinging her keys on one long finger by the ring. Her grin turned into a toothy smile, and she had her fangs extended for no reason I could see. “Hey, Belle!” she greeted me in her usual cheery tone. “How was your first day of school?” Before I could answer, she let out a bite of laughter.

“Horrid,” I responded dryly. Ana's lips, covered in lipstick the color of red wine, puffed into a mocking pout, and I narrowed my eyes at her. “I refuse to return that despicable place.”

Ana just shook her head and walked over to the refrigerator for a bite. “You've been there for one day, Belle,” she said over her shoulder. “Give it a week, at least.”

I groaned aloud at the thought. “No way in Hades will I agree to going for a week. I'm not going to put on a show for a crowd of people that I'd rather sink my fangs into.” I snarled my words, letting the frustration and anger I felt out with every breath. As I spoke, Ana had retrieved a bag of blood and closed the refrigerator to lean against its stainless steel door.

She smiled at my outburst. “I haven't seen you this worked up in a good long while,” she said as if I had just accomplished a great feat, and in her eyes, perhaps I had. A good long while to a vampire over a thousand years old, just as Ana was, certainly counted for a long time indeed.

I just stared at her in silence as she ran her tongue over her fangs before she sunk them into the bag. I shook my head and spoke while she had her mouth full. “I'm not going back there,” I said stubbornly. “I cannot, just cannot, make friends with those humans! Not when I want to eat them.”

Ana waved her hand dismissively, which only served to anger me more. How could she be so unconcerned about my discomfort with the high school? She normally never pushed me to do something like this – or at least, hadn't in the past decade. She used to pressure me to go out, but I thought she had given up at last.

Something had prompted her to press me on connecting with people again, I realized as Ana emptied her bag of blood. She tossed it in the trash and smiled at me, her long tongue poking out to catch a crimson drop of blood that pooled in the corner of her mouth. “Belle,” she said, walking over to me with two long strides and wrapping an arm about my shoulders, “don't be so stressed. Just give it four more days, hm? I'm sure by then, you'll have found the time worth the trouble.”

I stared at Ana with exasperation and confusion. I opened my mouth to question her further, but she put a tapered finger to my lips. “Just trust me, sis,” she said. “Besides, what's four more days?”

I ground my jaw. “I have no hope of changing my fate, do I?” She gave my ear and affectionate bite, and I let out a sigh of resignation

Chapter Text

Through the rest of the night, Ana and I discussed how I could go to school without starving myself. I knew that being around all those mortals wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't constantly on the verge of devouring one. All I had to do was hide the crimson color human blood made my eyes turn.

There wasn't any easy fix. I couldn't wear contacts, as they would just burn out of my eyes. The vampire venom that had turned me permeated every tissue of my body and would just destroy the contacts within a few hours. It would hardly be painless. I couldn't simply wear sunglasses all the day long, as the school's dress code strictly forbade wearing sunglasses indoors, and it was too late for me to claim to be blind.

“I've got it!” Ana said at last with a click of her tongue. “We'll give you bangs!”

“What?” My eyes widened and my mind reeled at the thought. I didn't have bangs – I haven't since I was a very little girl. My hair reached down to my mid-back, where it had lain ever since my turning. When vampires are turned, I learned over the decades, their bodies die. This means nails and hair never grow again. Once cut, the hair would stay cut forever. “You are not giving me bangs,” I protested to Ana, and I could hear the snarl in my voice.

Ana just grinned. “Calm down, Belle!” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I won't cut your precious hair!” I calmed at her words, but I wondered what she had planned. I didn't need to ask, however, because she volunteered the information eagerly. “Instead, I'll just put some extensions in your hair and cut them so you have bangs. I'll make 'em really cute, too! You'll look absolutely irresistible!”

I narrowed my eyes at Ana. “Irresistible?” I echoed. I raised my eyebrows at her innocent smile, waiting for an explanation, but I could already figure out what she was up to.

“Don't worry about it,” Ana said quickly, getting to her feet. “Come on! Let's get your hair fixed up for the morning!” I sighed as I watched her bound upstairs excitedly and followed, trying not to drag my feet. I was not looking forward to this.

And I didn't want or need to be irresistible to anyone at school.

-

I really needed to learn to trust Ana's judgment more, because the next morning was so much easier.

I had a fulfilling breakfast of two bags of blood. Ana and I fed very differently from other vampires, besides the bagged blood bit. Most vampires fed only a few times a month, and older ones could go even longer without blood. This is because most vampires would find their living prey and drink all the blood in one meal. A full-grown human generally had about twelve pints of blood coursing through his veins, and that was plenty of blood to keep a vampire fed for a while. “Vegetarians” could go even longer, because they hunted animals which were often much larger than humans.

The two of us, however, ate comparatively small meals. I usually drank two pints of blood at a time, and Ana drank only one. This kept us filled for only a day or so, so we had to feed more often. Of course, we could simply drink a lot of blood at a time and feel sated for a week if we wanted, but Ana and I enjoyed having a meal together every day.

With my body fed, I found myself in a far better mood and gazing at the school didn't incite irritation and frustration within my very being. Though each human did, of course, smell delicious and every vein brought a little inkling of temptation, I was able to ignore it, and my mood that day was much improved. I'd even go so far as to say that I felt cheerful.

My fake bangs managed to obscure my eyes very well while managing to look flattering. They weren't straight-down bangs, but rather swept across my forehead and over my brow. A few checks in the mirror assured me that, unless someone peered directly at my face, they wouldn't really see the crimson in my eyes.

Without being distracted and crabby, it was easier for me to interact with the humans. I came upon Mike again as I walked up the school's icy steps. He was talking to one of the girls I met yesterday, as well as a girl I had not yet met.

I eased into their conversation, receiving compliments on my new bangs. They were talking about a dance that was coming up in a few weeks. I found little interest in the actual subject, but I was intrigued by the behavior of my companions. The blond girl, the one I hadn't met, seemed to be adamant at letting the three of us know that she and a boy named Tyler were going together. It almost seemed like she was making sure we knew that Tyler was hers, and that I and the other girl could not have him. It reminded me of how vampire mates act around threats, only a little more civil.

The other girl, who Mike called Jessica, quite obviously wanted the boy in question to ask her to the dance. At least, it was obvious to me, but at the same time, I had had the chance to observe humans for a far longer time than these children. I could recognize all the signs that Jessica was flirting with Mike, but he seemed oblivious to her. Rather his focus was on me.

I could tell he found me very attractive. Every time his powder-blue eyes skipped from Jessica to me, his pupils dilated, and his heart rate sped up. His pale cheeks colored just ever so slightly. They were minute details, perhaps details even Jessica was missing, but I couldn't help but notice. This was troubling.

After my turning, I found that many humans found me attractive, physically-speaking. It was strange, because when I looked in the mirror, I still saw the same plain-looking girl that had always looked back at me. Sure, there were some changes – the eyes, mainly. My skin was pale, hardened, and it gave me a statuesque look. After some years, I had come to realize that this look was intriguing, even desirable amongst humans.

I ducked out of the conversation quickly, making the excuse that I had to grab some books from my locker before the bell rang. I walked away with perhaps too much haste, but I didn't want to stay around Mike too long. I did not want to encourage his infatuation.

I walked down a covered hallway, a breeze blowing through it and rustling my hair. I took in a breath of the crisp air, not feeling the chill it would bring to mortals. I love the scent of the wind, and in Forks, it smelled strongly of the pine forests that surrounded the town. In my long lifetime, as my interest in books, music, food and even speaking to other people had dwindled to nothing, I still could stop and appreciate the simple scent of a fresh breeze.

Of course, I smelled the humans surrounding me, but I focused on the freshness of the breeze. I inhaled deeply once more, feeling my lips upturn. There was the damp smell of rain on pine trees, the warm, living scent of animals that I could identify even miles away: elk, deer, black bear. I took in another breath, meaning to leave after this because the bell rang, but I was suddenly hit with a new scent.

It was distinctly human, specifically male, and indescribably divine. It made my muscles tense, my teeth shift, as if I were about to pounce on prey. I focused my gaze down the hall, where the scent originated, in time to catch a boy walk into one of the rooms down this hall. I recognized him to be the boy I sat by in biology class. I was intrigued, so I hurried after him to catch a glance before the door closed.

He was tall, and the thick padding of his winter clothes made him look broader than I remember from the previous day. His skin was almost as pale as that of a vampire's and the redness of his hair did little to alleviate that paleness. I took this all in in the half-second I saw him before the door slammed shut, and then I hurried away before my fangs popped out.

-

I was distracted again that day. Of course, a simple fly buzzing through the room would be enough to distract me from the classes that I took. The teachers varied in their teaching styles, but they all just seemed to drone to me. Besides, I had other things on my mind.

No human scent had ever made me react in the way that boy's scent had. Sure, my fangs threaten to pop out around humans when I'm hungry, but I was well-fed that day. But there was also a lasting effect: through each class, I my mind kept wandering back to him. In my head, I saw his pale flesh, no doubt warm to the touch, and I wondered how much his blood would contrast on that skin. I imagined my sharp nails scratching his neck, leaving a little nick, and watching a single red drop leave a crimson trail as it traveled down the contours of his muscles. The thought was nearly arousing, and that was something I had not felt in more than a lifetime.

And it stuck with me until lunch.

It was then that I was approached by Jessica. She invited me to sit with her, Mike and her other friends in the cafeteria. I briefly considered turning her down, as I wanted to avoid Mike and I'd have to force myself to eat food. I didn't, however, even get a chance to give Jessica an answer either way. She excitedly slipped her arm through mine and led me to the cafeteria.

Within minutes, I found myself between Jessica and the other girl from the previous day. She politely re-introduced herself to me as Angela. I was also introduced to Eric, a kind young man who seemed a little too introverted compared to the chatty Jessica, the forward Mike, and that blond girl who seemed a little too wary of my presence. I found out quickly her name was Lauren, and she and Jessica were close friends.

“So tell us about yourself, Bella,” Jessica invited with a friendly smile. “What do you do in your spare time?”

I bit into an apple which Ana had put in my backpack as Jessica asked this question. I took the time to chew before I responded, giving myself a few seconds to come up with some answer that wouldn’t sound entirely pathetic. “This and that, you know. Watch television, read books.”

Jessica’s friendly smile faltered, and I worried my answer sounded insincere.

“How do you like Forks?” Eric broke in, leaning forward a little.

“It's not so bad,” I said honestly, glancing between him and Mike, who seemed to be hanging off my every word. “Not much to do, though.” I didn't mention that I had lived in Forks for several months already. No one knew that, because I almost never left my cozy little home. In a tiny town such as this, my presence had been entirely unknown.

No wonder Ana wanted me to get out.

“You need to get out and get hiking,” Mike piped up. “There's tons of trails, and it's all super exhilarating. Maybe I could take you out some time.” He grinned, but my gaze fell to Jessica. I registered the look of shock in her clear, blue eyes, then, for a split second, jealousy as she glanced to me. Before I knew it, though, the look was gone and she had plastered a smile on her face again. This one was convincing, but still fake.

I smiled politely at Mike and said, “I'm not really an outdoor girl. Pine just irritated my allergies and I'm sure I'd twist an ankle out there. But thanks for the offer.” They were outright lies, of course, but Mike wasn't to know that.

Mike seemed put out, and a few moments of awkward silence passed. I could feel Jessica's eyes on me, but I looked down and concentrated on my apple. I felt absolutely grateful that I had something to occupy my hands and my mouth while this tense moment passed.

Lauren managed to break the silence by bringing up the dance again. She, Angela and Eric seemed perfectly content discussing that while Jessica spoke quietly to Mike. I could hear what they were saying, but chose not to pay attention. I didn't need to get involved in their relationship.

My eyes traveled around the cafeteria. The school boasted a whopping three hundred-and-some-odd students, but only about half were present in this room. That was because the school was gracious enough to allow students to leave the campus for lunch. It seemed many kids preferred to look for food that was actually fit for human consumption, I thought as I glanced at Jessica's bought lunch.

I think it was supposed to be a meatloaf, but it looked more like a gray brick sitting in a runny pool of still grayer liquid. Pale green and orange spots dotted the sides of the loaf, making it appear diseased, and the layer of “ketchup” on top looked more akin to something a baby would spit up. It was served with a side of out-of-the-can green beans that seemed to sag with depression and some instant mashed potatoes that looked closer to soup. There was no wonder Jessica wasn't eating a bite of it.

I glanced away from the tragedy that was school cuisine as I heard the cafeteria door open. I looked to see who had arrived rather late to lunch. I felt myself tense up and my stomach do a flip when that good-smelling boy walked in. I could smell him from where I sat, and was tempted to get up and move closer to him. In fact, I'm pretty sure my being hemmed in by Jessica and Lauren was the only thing keeping me in my chair.

My mind swirled with questions. Why did this boy attract me so? Why did he smell so different from everyone else? Or, perhaps a better question, was why did his scent affect me in such a radical way?

I watched him as he turned and moved over to a set of vending machines set in a corner. He bought a soda and some packet of something and left. My eyes never strayed from him until the doors closed behind him, and only then did I realize someone was talking to me.

“Earth to Bella!” Jessica said, waving a hand in front of my face. I blinked several times in confusion and looked at her, then Lauren beside me when she laughed.

“What were you staring at?” Angela asked, her dark eyes searching the area where the boy had been.

“She was watching Edward Masen,” Jessica said with a roll of her eyes. “Not a great choice. He's completely undateable.”

“He most certainly is,” Lauren agreed. There was a darkness to her tone that surprised me. It was subtle, so subtle that I doubt even her own friends noticed it. When she spoke again, however, the tone was gone. “I mean, look at him,” she said, more lightly now. “He's a mountain of total nerd. Who would want that?”

“He's also really creepy,” Jessica said, putting the smack-talk in stereo. “He'll just sit and stare at people, like he's got some kind of problem with everyone.”

“I know, right?” Lauren said with a shake of her head. I glanced to Angela and Eric, to find them sitting quiet. Angela looked uncomfortable while Eric seemed like he wanted to say something, but probably couldn't muster up the courage. Mike, too, seemed uncomfortable with this talk, and he quickly broke into a conversation with Eric about hiking.

I fell silent in the midst of this chatter. Sitting there and listening to these humans rip on this young man named Edward Masen irritated me, almost enraged me. I felt the urge to stand up for him, someone I hadn't spoken more than ten words to, but I bit down on my bottom lip to keep the angry words from coming up. It was an entirely irrational response.

I waited a few minutes. Jessica and Lauren seemed to have exhausted everything they wanted to say about Edward Masen, and Angela managed to sneak into the conversation and bring up the dance, which got Lauren talking. I caught Angela's eye and gave her a small grateful smile when no one was looking, and her rosy lips turned up as well.

“Oh, man!” I said suddenly, hurrying to gather my things as if I were in a great hurry. “I just forgot I need to check out some textbooks at the library!” I sighed with frustration, although that frustration had nothing to do with textbooks.

Jessica gave me a sympathetic smile. “You better go get them,” she said, glancing at her cell phone. “You've only got ten minutes.”

“I know,” I groaned, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. “See you guys later.”

“I can show you where the library is,” Mike said, standing as I did and getting in the way of my chosen escape path.

I think my bangs covered the glare in my eyes, but I know he saw my frown. “No thanks, Mike,” I told him firmly and pushed passed him. I gave one last, small wave to the table as I walked away, then hurried out of the cafeteria as fast as a human could.

I was unsure of where to go. I only had ten minutes, so I couldn't just dodge off-campus. I could have walked over to my car and sat in there for a few minutes, but I'd have to pass by the cafeteria's big bay windows to reach it. The library was in the opposite direction, and my lunchroom companions would see that I wasn't being truthful.

I could have gone around the cafeteria, but, because some of the area behind the building was blocked off by fencing and such, it would take me a good chunk of the time to walk that way. I also didn't particularly want to pass by the three Dumpsters back there. I couldn't head towards my next classroom, either, as that path would take me in front of the cafeteria windows as well.

I let out a long sigh. I had told my companions I was going to the library, and so that was where I went. There really was no other choice.

There were less students in the library than the previous day. There was a large cluster of children towards the back on the computers, but many of the tables towards the front were empty. I glanced at the empty tables, but passed them up to browse the bookshelves.

My gaze passed over the rainbow of book spines, hardly seeing the titles. I hadn't read a full book in many years. Once upon a time, I had been an avid reader, eating up pages and words as if I were starved of them. Over the long decades, my passion had slowly trickled down to nothing, much like every other pleasure I had enjoyed in my old life.

I exhaled and inhaled again, and I stiffened. That scent came to me once more. I looked around urgently for a few minutes, but shook my head. It would be more efficient to follow my nose.

I found Edward Masen once more. He was in one of the aisles, leaning against one bookshelf while he flipped through a particularly old book. It wasn't as old as me, of course, but it looked like it had been knocking about this library for quite some time.

It was probably due to my urgent approach, but Edward looked up at me at once. Before I knew what I was doing, I brushed my bangs out of my eyes. I only registered my mistake when the boy met my gaze with surprise.

I quickly looked away, kicking myself for such a dumb mistake. He saw my eyes, my crimson eyes. He saw, and he'd wonder, and I would have a problem on my hands. He might start asking questions, poking around, trying to see what I was--

“Cool contacts,” Edward said, interrupting my panicky thoughts. I turned my gaze to him once more, and I saw his thin lips had turned up into a crooked smile. “You don't see realistic ones very often.”

I couldn't help but smile, relieved. Of course he would think I was wearing contacts! Most humans would try to find a logical reason for something they couldn't understand. I almost wanted to laugh. “Thanks,” I said to him. “They were pretty expensive.” I paused, glancing down at the book in his hands. “What are you reading?” I asked him, wanting to keep this conversation going, though I was hyper-aware of the quickly-depleting time.

The Great Gatsby,” he answered, glancing down at pages the color of aged cheese.

He didn't say anything else, so I said the first thing that came to my head: “I've never read it.” That was true. By the time that book was published, I had lost interest in reading.

“You should,” he said, gently closing the book. The spine crinkled softly with the movement. “It's a good read.” He smiled again, and I had the odd urge to touch him. I just wanted to place my hand on his chest, feel the heat of his large living body. I was not put off by the thought of his soft flesh beneath my hand, but rather intrigued by the idea.

I didn't realize I was just staring at him until the bell rang, snapping me out of my trance. He looked uncomfortable, and no doubt he would be. I was probably staring at him like he was a piece of meat. “I guess it's time for biology,” I said awkwardly.

“Well, shall we?” he asked. He looked reluctant to ask the question.

I gave him a reprieve. “Go on,” I told him. “I wanted to check out a book.” I gently picked up The Great Gatsby, opening the book and glancing at the first page while Edward walked away.

Even after Edward left, his scent still lingered in the air to tease my senses. I didn't know what it was about that boy, that awkward teenager that attracted me so thoroughly. It certainly wasn't the usual attraction I'd feel towards humans – that dealt mainly with my wanting to drain them of their blood. There was something else about Edward, something more.

I'd have to ask Ana about it. But first, I had a book I needed to check out

Chapter Text

There were times in my life that I truly did appreciate Ana's uncanny ability to disappear for days at a time. These periods would give me time alone while Ana could be out and about, no doubt visiting clubs and bars and other mortal hotspots. She was a social person, even given her age, a time when many vampires would have long grown tired and bored of the world.

Today was not one of those times, however. I had raced home in my car, once again breaking speed limits and possibly putting someone's life in danger. I was eager, excited even, to discuss the Edward situation with her. I wanted to get her view, tinted with all the experience her years have awarded her, and see if there was some sort of significance.

I admit, I wanted there to be significance to all this. It would be exciting, to say the least.

But alas, when I bolted inside, calling Ana's name, I was disappointed to find only a note on the refrigerator saying she'd be gone for a while and for me to “have fun”. I didn't know what she meant by that, and I didn't care. My disappointment ran deep, and for a split second, I wanted to scream. Instead, I retreated to my bedroom to sulk and grumble.

I walked into my ten-by-fifteen-foot space, dropping my backpack by the door and sitting down stiffly on the plain white futon pushed into a corner by the window that looked out on an ignored backyard. By all definitions, my room was plain and bare. I had only this futon, a dresser for my meager collection of clothes, and an oak antique desk that belonged to Ana. I never used the desk, however, and sometimes even forgot it was there.

No knickknacks adorned any surface, and my walls were barren of any pictures. This was how my bedroom had looked for decades, no matter what house or apartment Ana and I lived in. I had lost interest in fitting out my room long ago. It had never bothered me before – after all, having a bunch of things made it harder to move. Yet sitting there, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jessica and Angela would think if they saw my room. Would they find it pathetic? Weird? Depressing?

My mood had quite suddenly dropped. The air felt thick and stifling, the walls too close. I found myself itching to get out, very out, like take-a-run-in-the-woods out.

I didn’t meditate on the idea long. I was downstairs and out the front door in the blink of an eye, then in my car in another. I knew I could just run to the edge of town and delve into the woods, but there was a good chance someone could see me. Even vampire-dashing to my car like that was foolish; I hoped no one was watching me when it happened.

I flew down the quiet streets, weaving around the occasional other car like a pro race car driver. I heard the angry honks, but didn't register them as I sped along. My mind was only on getting to the edge of town, where I could be alone and free.

I abandoned my car along the shoulder of the road that winded through the damp, green forests, and I almost forgot to take the keys out of the ignition. I paused, gazing into the darkness between the trees, and I took in a deep breath. Out here, with the trees and animals all around me, I could lose myself in the glorious scent of the woods, and I dashed right in.

I sprinted through the woods freely, jumping off thick branches and damp rocks. I bounded through clearings and over fallen trunks. My energy only seemed to grow with all this excursion, and I found myself laughing aloud. It had been far too long since I had enjoyed a good romp through the forest!

I went on like this for a long time. I finally came to a rest in a small little meadow, sitting down on the ground. The grass beneath my legs was long dead, yellowed and hardened. Winter-hardy weeds were the only green things growing, sprouting up between dead stalks. I could smell the rot of dead plant life beneath the surface of the grass I sat on.

But even in this ugliness, I felt at peace. I tended to be happiest when I was alone. I had tended to seclusion in my human life, and that had only intensified with time and experience. The vampire who had turned me had even called me a sad, shy little thing.

My mind shied away from the very thought of my maker. It was not a subject I liked thinking about, and I certainly wasn't going to spoil the wonderful mood being out here had giving me. I shook my head and instead laid back, gazing up at the white sky between the tall trees overhead. All around me I heard the sounds of the forest: the trees swaying in wind far stronger dozens of feet up; the skittering and scouring of small animals bounding through the edges of the meadow; the buzzing of insects in the trees, burrowing deep into the wood; deep voices in the distance.

Wait. Voices in the distance? My body tensed and I sat up, focusing on the sound. The voices didn't sound too close, but they still disturbed me. I didn't want to be around people at this time. I stood up to leave, but I caught that scent on the breeze that wound through the trees, and without a single conscious thought I immediately followed it.

Because of the dense cluster of trees and other plant life, sound and scent doesn't travel well in the forest, and I quickly found the originators of said sounds and scents not very far away. I spotted Edward Masen’s great form along a trail nearby. He hiked along with a slender, tan-skinned boy of middling height.

I didn't know who the other boy was; he didn't go to Forks High, and that was the only high school in town I was aware of. He looked young, with boyish features to his face. His black hair was quite long, down past his shoulders, and he wore it down and loose. As they neared my spot, where I had hidden myself behind a big tree trunk, I caught his scent. He smelled mostly normal, but there was something off about it that put me on edge. It was like smelling meat that had just started to turn.

I followed the pair, hidden, and watched them for a while. They were talking about a new “project” the other boy was taking on, and by the sounds of their conversation, it had to do with a motorcycle. I noticed that Edward wasn't wearing glasses, and that he was eating trail mix from a plastic bag. It looked home-made, and--

--and why did I care? A mortal eating trail mix had never been the focus of my attention before. Yet here I was, slinking behind trees and rocks, watching this pudgy human as he listened to his friend. I shook my head at myself. This was entirely ridiculous, yet I could not help myself. I needed to know, on an instinctual level, every piece of information about Edward Masen I could learn.

Edward spoke up, however, and his words gave me pause. “Hey, Jacob, remember that girl I told you about yesterday?”

“Yeah,” the boy, Jacob, said, his dark eyes on the path ahead.

“I talked to her today, in the library,” Edward said coolly.

“You got some kinda crush?” Jacob asked mockingly, laughing, and he hit Edward on the shoulder. Edward grunted and shook his head.

“She's strange,” he said, and I couldn’t help but prickle.

“She wouldn't be the only one from Forks who's strange,” Jacob said and chuckled again.

Edward shook his head. “Jacob, listen to me. She's strange. Cold.” I didn't like the way he emphasized that last word, and by the way his friend's smile vanished and his shoulders tensed up, he didn't either. I wondered when the hell Edward had managed to touch me and realize that yes, my skin was cold to humans. I mean, I would have felt it.

“You don't think she's--”

“I don't know.” Edward's brow furrowed, and the frustration was plain in his voice. “It's hard for me to figure her out. It's like there's some kind of block, a wall, that's stopping me from reading her.”

I stopped breathing and went very still. What was he saying? “Reading” me? What was Edward trying to read? Part of me wanted to run out and ask them what they were talking about, but I knew better than that. The way they were talking – it's like they knew, or had a clue, that I was a vampire. And that was very bad news, if it was true.

Jacob stopped walking and put a hand on Edward's shoulder, making him stop too. “Edward, if what you're saying is true—we can go home and ask Dad. He might know something.”

Edward nodded, looking his friend plain in the face. He seemed reluctant to say these next words, and when they left his mouth, I felt a chill for the first time in two centuries: “Jacob, her eyes were red.”

Jacob was silent for a moment. “Let's go,” he said in a quick tone, and they both turned and went back the way they came.

I stayed put for a long time, long after the boys had left. Gradually, with the longer my mind dwelt on the subject, a fear gripped my chest. I didn't know who this Jacob was, or who his dad was, and for all I knew, they could be vampire hunters. And even if they weren't, their knowing of me was still a direct threat to my life.

I had to get home. I had to find Ana.

Chapter Text

I laid still on the futon in my room, waiting. Ana was on her way, thankfully. I had finally managed to contact her when I found a new cell phone in a drawer in the kitchen that had her phone number programmed into it. She had never told me about this cell phone, and I only found it after any sense of my calm had gone away and I was frantically searching every nook and cranny of the place for a clue as to where Ana had gone.

It was hard to believe that after only two days at this high school, our cover had been blown. I knew attending was a very bad idea. I never should have let Ana make me do it. If knowledge of our vampire nature got out, those humans would either try to run us out of town, or attempt to kill us. And that much commotion would certainly get the attention of the Volturi.

I shuddered at the thought. I did not want them to get involved. I resolved myself to the fact that we'd have to move. Perhaps I would go and pick up some boxes later.

I glanced at the clock. It had been nearly two hours since I called Ana. She said she was just in Port Angeles, visiting with a friend. It would only take an hour for her to get home by car – even less by foot – and she should just be here by now. I hated waiting like this. I hadn't felt this stressed in a while, and when I sat up to stretch, my muscles felt sore.

I heard the door open downstairs, and I raced down in the blink of an eye. Ana was just closing the door as I came to a halt beside her, trying not to let my panic show. She took one look at me and gave me a warm hug. I wrapped my arms around her in return, glad to have her back here.

When she pulled away at last, she asked, “Isabella, what's gotten into you?”

I stared at her for a moment, dumbstruck. I had told everything on the phone earlier. Could she not see that was what had gotten into me? “We're on the verge of being discovered,” I said plainly, and I heard the highness of my voice. I was still in panic mode.

Ana shook her head and smoothed down my ratty hair affectionately. “You worry way too much, dear.”

“I think I'm worrying a good amount right now,” I responded urgently. “We're going to have to move—I'll get some boxes—or maybe you should-” I started to turn away, but Ana held onto my arm and I went quiet and met her crimson gaze.

“Bella,” she said sternly, “you're worrying way too much. You said you heard two boys talking about this, right? Boys from your school?”

“Edward, yes, but his friend--”

Ana shook her head. “You have nothing to worry about, especially with these!” Ana pulled a small opaque plastic box from her purse and handed it to me.

I gazed at the box, unsure of what it was or what it held. “And what will this do?” I asked flatly.

Ana chuckled. “They're contacts.”

I looked up at her warily. “Contacts don't do well in vampire eyes,” I reminded her.

“I know that,” she said with a dismissive wave. “These are special. They're made for vampire eyes.” My eyes widened, and I looked down at the box again as Ana went on. “They aren't really meant for long-term use, though. The venom will break them down, but they'll last longer than any other contacts on the market. Etienne said they last around eight hours before you start to notice any irritation. And he gave me a whole month's supply, so we'll be pretty good for a while.”

I nodded, listening, but feeling a weird sense of giddiness. I had a new disguise – a real one – and this knowledge helped me calm down greatly. I could almost kiss that scientific friend of Ana's. “Tell Etienne I said thanks,” I said and zoomed up to the bathroom to try the contacts on.

They looked quite natural. I hadn't been able to look into a mirror and see chocolate brown eyes stare back at me in two centuries. The contacts almost made me look alive again. Upon seeing my reflection for the first time, I had felt an odd mix of emotions ranging from relief to giddiness to sadness and sense of loss. Had I still had the ability, I would have cried.

I wore my first pair of contacts during the night to see how long they would last. Eight hours seemed to be the average time, but I guess my venom was a little stronger, and I only made it six hours before I felt my eyes start to grow itchy and burn. I popped the contacts out quickly then, to avoid any more discomfort. Etienne, Ana’s friend, had spent most of his dead life developing useful tools for vampires to hide themselves within human society. Ana told me he had been working on these contacts for several years and was happy to have me test the latest version.

I told myself that once Edward saw me with regular brown eyes, he would have to tell himself that the red eyes he saw me with really the fake ones. That would then cause him to question any of the other weird evidence he felt he had against me. He would have to admit he made a mistake, and I could settle back into this odd life.

The amount of relief I felt at this struck me as quite odd. My first day of school had been a disaster, but the second had gone quite smoothly, and I realized that I had enjoyed (for the most part) the company of Jessica and Angela and Lauren. I had been afraid I would have to leave them.

I didn’t know what to make of this, and so I didn’t make any attempt to. Instead, having calmed down from my ridiculous panic of the evening, I settled back down in my room. As I was deciding how to pass the nighttime hours, my mind turned to the aged copy of The Great Gatsby which currently resided in my backpack. I dug it out and opened the crispy, yellowed cover to the first page.

By the time dawn broke, I had finished the novel. I hadn’t realized how much time had passed, however, until Ana poked her head in my room and asked if I were ready to leave for school.

-

I walked into my third of school with my head held high. I wasn't wearing my fake bangs, but I certainly had my contacts in. I still wasn't used to having something actually on my eye, and I had to resist the urge to rub at them. Even still, I couldn't resist the silly grin that played at my lips.

I had a second pair with me that day at school, to change at lunch. I was ready to face whatever the day had for me.

As I walked out of the parking lot and toward the school, I heard Mike call my name. I tried not to groan, and turned toward the call with a smile. Mike was standing near some lockers with Eric and another boy I didn't know. I raised a hand to them, and Mike gestured for me join them.

As I walked up to them, Mike introduced the other boy as Tyler, and I recalled that this was the boy Lauren had mentioned. I glanced Tyler over briefly. He wasn't bad-looking, and I could see where any human girl might find him attractive. I also noticed how he was looking at me, and I fought to maintain my friendly demeanor.

After a brief exchange, I quickly excused myself from the group, relying on needing to stop by my locker before class as the excuse. I retreated swiftly and ducked down the hall of my first class.

The rest of the day went smoothly. I sat with the same group at lunch after changing out my contacts. They discussed how lame English is and the possible implications of not reading the book we were assigned. It was a pleasant if monotonous way to spend forty-five minutes, yet I had trouble entirely concentrating on the conversation at hand. My mind kept wandering to the fact that I was about to enter my single shared class with Edward.

At last, the bell rang, and I made my way to biology. Time seemed to be moving slowly, and every step seemed to take longer. I resisted the urge to speed to my class – that would definitely attract some attention to me – and finally got to the door just as Edward did.

We locked gazes for a moment, and I tried not to think that my contacts might have slipped and shown some of the crimson of my eyes. His gaze seemed to search mine, and I forced a smile. “Hey there,” I said to him, hoping I sounded casual. “How are you?”

“I'm well,” he answered. “And yourself?”

“Fantastic,” I said flatly. “I can't deny how elated I am to read For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

I relaxed when his lips curved into that crooked smile that I found so endearing. He held the door open for me, and I walked in, relaxing. So far, he didn’t seem suspicious, but at the same time, it's not like I could read his mind.

This reminder had me on edge again, and I recalled the conversation he had with his friend in the forest the day before. Had he spoken to Jacob's father? Did Jacob's father have any information on us vampires, or was he just some crazy old man hung up on the legends? And what would Edward do with the knowledge of vampires should he have it?

I found myself unable to focus on the lecture, as usual, and instead glanced to Edward often without making myself obvious. He seemed relaxed, listening intently on the subject of cellular replication. Though I knew it would only distract me, I made myself breathe, just in case Edward noticed I wasn't. I couldn't afford him getting any more suspicious than he already was.

But with every intake of air, I caught his scent, that indescribably glorious smell that drove me up the wall. I felt my fangs shift in my mouth and an odd sense of warmth go down my chest and into my belly. Once again, I found myself wanting to touch him, to put my hands on his body, to have our bodies touch without the interference of cloth.

I shook my head, trying to push these thoughts out of my mind. I had to focus on the problem at hand, not what my groin was telling me, but I could hardly bear to sit there and continually smell him. Part of me wondered if this was what it was like to be in heat. I had no idea why Edward had this effect on me, as no other mortal had, and I realized I hadn't yet talked to Ana about this issue.

By the time class was over, I was just barely holding onto my sense of reason. I was about three inhalations away from jumping Edward's bones, and I was going to hurry out of class as soon as I could when I heard Edward ask, “So what do you like to read?”

I briefly froze, then lifted my gaze to his face. “Read?” I repeated stupidly.

“I assume you can,” he said in a light tone.

I let out a nervous chuckle. “Of course. Well, I did take up your recommendation yesterday. I’d never read The Great Gatsby before—but I told you that.” I shook my head. “It was great.”

Edward’s eyebrows rose. “You finished it?”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s not that long of a novel.” Surely it wasn’t a great feat to finish such a short novel in a day, right? Of course I had more time than a human who needed to sleep, but anyone could have finished it in an afternoon.”

We both made our way out of the biology room, and Edward turned to me just before I parted from him to head to the gym. “If you like, maybe we could get together and chat about the book,” he said with cool confidence.

My mind was simultaneously screaming YES and NO, and for vastly different reasons. Another part of my mind was justifying that his willingness to spend time with me was a good sign that he didn't think I was a vampire, while another was wondering if he'd lead me into a trap. I was so confused and torn by all of this that I just spat out the first thing that came to my mind, which was, oddly enough, “I have a dentist appointment soon.”

I'm sure I looked at dumbfounded by my words as he did, but I quickly turned and left without another word. If I could still blush, my cheeks would be burning bright red.

Chapter Text

I didn't bother to stay for gym class; I was wound way too tight, and I had far too much on my mind. I needed answers as what exactly I was going through. I just hoped Ana hadn't taken off again. The thought of having to suffer through another day of this was unbearable.

For the third day in a row, I raced home at a breakneck pace. I knew that if I kept this up, sooner or later I'd get a ticket for speeding. But, for the third day in a row, I had a damn good reason to drive at this high speed. For a brief moment, I almost envied my human classmates; surely they didn’t have to carry on like this in their normal, mortal lives.

I ran inside when I got home, calling out, “Ana, you better be home!”

A chuckle from upstairs alerted me to her presence, and I raced up and into her room. She was sitting on her king-sized four-poster bed, dressed in a bright pink tank-top and loose gym shorts, watching some drivel on her flat-screen television that took up a good portion of the wall across from her bed. Unlike me, Ana very much loved material possessions, especially if they happen to be impractical and absurd. She had not only insisted on buying that very expensive bed, which she didn't even need, but also had to cart it with us every time we moved.

She looked over at me with a silly grin. “Skipping school today, are we?”

“We need to talk,” I said, deadly serious. I'd hoped my tone would help to persuade Ana to actually show some concern, but I should have known better than that.

“How's Edward?” she asked in a sing-song voice as she turned off her television.

I rolled my eyes at the tone of her inquiry. “I think we may have gotten him off our track, but there's something about him I want to talk to you about.” Ana patted her bed beside her for me to sit down, and I followed her direction. “There's something strange about Edward.”

“Strange how?” she asked, pulling her knees up to her chest. She looked like a high school girl who was about to learn her best friend's secret.

I paused, trying to find the words to describe just how Edward made me feel. It was hard to even sort out my thoughts about him to focus properly, so I just said, “He smells so good that I want to jump on him.”

I knew Ana would find that absolutely hilarious and expected the burst of giggles I got from her. “I've been waiting fifty years for you to say that!” she said. I looked at her, dumbstruck. “So tell me about him! Is he cute? Will you go out?”

“What?” I was absolutely astounded by her questions. “No! Why would you even ask that?”

Ana shook her head at my utter shock. “Oh, Belle! You should hang out with him.”

“No!” I sighed. “Ana, he's the one who's suspicious of us being vampires, remember? This is not the person for you to match me with!”

“So you say now,” she muttered, but grinned. “You should invite him over!”

I could not believe the words coming out of her mouth. “I think living so long has made you crazy,” I said. “I can't invite him over any more than I can spend time with him alone. He'll find out we're vampires for sure!”

“Or you can prove to him we aren't,” she said pointedly. “We'll make it look like we're normal humans. I'll get some food and stuff for the kitchen—oh! I'll have to buy some appliances, huh? Humans keep those in there. And we'll have him over for dinner!” She jumped up, excited now, and I just stared at her, slack-jawed.

“Ana,” I spoke up, but quickly realized that I had lost her. She was absolutely set on having Edward over for dinner, and was already getting dressed to go shopping.

I sighed and shook my head, knowing I was no less confused about this whole situation. Ana hadn't explained a thing, but I knew I wouldn't be able to get any information from her in this state. I'd have to wait until her excitement had run its course, and there was no way to tell how long that would take.

I felt her hand on my arm, and then I was pulled to my feet and down the hall. “Come on, Bella!” Ana said as she pulled me downstairs. “We're going shopping!”

-

Several hours and hundreds of dollars later, I stared at the kitchen, transformed from its previous unused and drab state to that of new, shiny stainless steel accented with sky-blue handles or feet and a matching set of towels, wall hangings and a table setting for the new dining room table that would arrive the next day.

Ana delightfully took every dish and appliance out of its box and found the perfect place for it all in the cabinets or on the counters or on the wall. I stayed out of her way and collected the user manuals for every appliance, since I knew I'd be the one cooking this supposed meal that I was hoping I could persuade Ana to not have.

I wondered if I'd even need all of these things to cook a meal – after all, neither of us hardly knew what these things did, and I wasn't even sure if the average mortal kept every single appliance on sale in their homes. I was only certain of the use of the knives, bowls and spoons, and I was sure that was all I'd need to cook anything. Then again, times had changed since I last cooked anything, and perhaps the foods now available to the average human needed special equipment to cook properly.

I worried over this to avoid worrying over bigger issues, like if Edward managed to find all the proof he'd need to rally up a vampire-hunting mob. Instead, I focused my mind on what I would even cook for a human. The last thing I had cooked for anyone was a pheasant roasted on a spit over a fire, smothered in a herbed paste and served with a sauce made of blackberries and raspberries. It used to be the special dinner I would make for my family on Christmas, and it was my last attempt at cooking and enjoying food before I gave up.

A sense of sadness passed over me as I thought about the last time I cooked. I remembered the almost gleeful look on my creator's face, and how that had seemed to be the final nail on the coffin that was my mortal life. My mind then reeled from the memory, and I let out a sharp breath. I didn't need to think about that time. It wasn't necessary.

“What's up, Belle?” Ana asked, and I guess she heard me. I looked over at her, and she was peering at me with concern.

“Just thinking,” I said, idly ruffling through the user manuals in my hand. “I haven't cooked in quite a while.”

“Were you thinking about Lenora?” she asked, and I nearly flinched at the name of my creator. I nodded silently, keeping my eyes downcast. I heard Ana walk up beside me and I felt her arms around my shoulders. The corners of my mouth lifted slightly at the gesture. She didn't say anything, didn't ask me for details or anything like that. She just hugged me.

Of all the people in the world, Ana knew the most about how I was turned besides the actual monster that turned me. She had been the only person I had told, and that was because I trusted her so much. She really was like a sister to me, in this new life of mine. She had been the one to help me get away from my creator a very long time ago.

The night I ran away from Lenora, the horrid vampire who had kept me like a pet for decades, was one of my most vivid memories. It was January in 1841, and while humans were bunked down for the cold winter in Pennsylvania, I had been readying myself for my escape for several weeks.

I had met Ana several years previous, at a little vampire party that Lenora had held. I guess they were acquaintances or something, because they acted like they hadn't seen each other in a very long time. It was at that party that I spoke to Ana, and she asked me something no one had ever asked me, “Don't you want to be free?”

I stared at her with confusion. “I am free,” I told her, and I was certain that I was. After all, Lenora had told me many times that I could leave whenever I wanted to. I simply didn't because, though I was fifty years old, I didn't know how to hunt. I didn't know how to feed myself, but Lenora provided, so I stayed with her by my own choice.

I didn't know how to hunt, because the first time I asked Lenora, she looked on me with pity and said, “I didn't want to tell you, dear Isabella, but you can't learn to hunt. You're defective.” I quickly learned what she meant by this. Lenora had a special ability in that she could slip her mind into that of another being, human or vampire, and take control of them. She could make a human walk with her into a quiet, empty alleyway where she could dig right into him, and he wouldn't scream or try to run.

I didn't learn until later that not all vampires had this ability. I thought at the time that it was normal for vampires to be able to do that, and the fact that I couldn't meant something was wrong with me. It was Ana, at that party, who told me that not all vampires could control other people. I didn't believe her, though. That fundamental truth would shake my whole world, and I wasn't ready for that yet.

Ana then asked me if Lenora ever controlled me, to which I said I didn't know, but she probably did. I figured that if Lenora had controlled me, I wouldn't remember it. I had hoped she hadn't controlled me, but there may have been an occasion or two where it may have been necessary. Ana seemed intrigued by my answer, asked if I ever had any “blank spots” in my memory and all sorts of other questions that made me uncomfortable to answer. Lenora caught wind of our conversation, and I watched as Ana's expression suddenly went blank and her excited words stopped suddenly. She stiffly walked away from me and out the front door.

It was the first time I had seen Lenora control another vampire, and in all honesty, it terrified me. I was pretty sure at that point that Lenora had controlled me, and in that case, what could I do? It was the first time that I felt trapped. Or rather, the idea that I was free that I had convinced myself of was gone.

But after that party, Ana wrote to me regularly. She was very careful about it. I'd only get one letter every four months or so, and the letters wouldn't come in the mail, but rather be placed in my window. At first, I was worried about the letters being from a stalker, but Ana soon identified herself in the letters, saying she wanted to help me.

I had no way to answer her, but she never asked any questions for me to answer, or said much that I could respond to. She simply told me things, like about Lenora's “strange ability to control people”. She described how Lenora's “unique” ability could help her in the hunt, but it seemed that she abused it. I noticed how Ana constantly pointed out how odd, strange, unique and rare Lenora's ability was, possibly so that I would get it through my head that her ability was abnormal. And at some point, I finally believed her.

There wasn't something wrong with me. I could learn to hunt, and therefore be independent, but Lenora let me believe that I couldn't. It was the first red flag.

Ana's next letters described how it seemed like Lenora's gift didn't affect me. Now this I thought very strange. Where would Ana get such an idea? But Ana pointed out that I had told her I didn't have any “blank spots” in my memory, which was a sure sign of being controlled. She also mentioned how it was odd that Lenora had controlled her at the party and made her leave, rather than control me and make me stop talking to Ana.

In this letter, Ana asked one question: “Does Lenora ever control other people to keep them away from you?” It was a question I hadn't asked myself, but the more I thought about it over the months, and the more I observed from Lenora, it did seem that she did everything in her power to keep me isolated from others except attempt to control me.

Ana's last letter to me was very long, and one of the most important letters I had ever received in my life. In it, she proposed the idea that I, too, had a special gift – that I had a special wall or shield over my mind that stopped Lenora from controlling me. It was this gift that gave me the power to run away, she said, that I could run away, escape, be free of Lenora for good.

I just had to find a way out, and I could meet Ana once again in Canada.

It was on that night in January 1841 that I had decided to put my trust in Ana and make my escape. I didn't know if it would work, or what the consequences would be should my attempt fail. I just knew that I could not live under the control Lenora had placed upon me any longer. It wasn't a mental control, but rather an emotional one, and I had come to the realization that I had to break free.

Lenora and I were hunting. It was hard to find humans out at this time of night in the cold, but if one stayed close to taverns, one would be sure to find a straggling drunk who'd wandered into the cold. It was snowing, and many humans had been talking during the day of a coming blizzard. My thoughts were focused on running away, but I had to wait until Lenora was distracted.

Lenora found her target. It wasn't a straggling drunk, but rather a young man taking care of horses in a stable just behind a tavern. He couldn't have been a day over twenty, with fair hair and a stocky, thick build that was built for taking on harsh winters. He spoke to a horse who had suddenly become agitated, and he had a German-sounding accent.

I watched as he went from softly talking to the horse and patting it on the nose to still and blank. He stiffly stood up and walked over to Lenora and I, who were hidden behind some bales of hay. I watched the boy with regret, knowing that there was nothing I could do to save him, though I imagined projecting this “mental shield” Ana had spoken on onto the boy, knowing it wouldn't work but wishing so hard it would.

Lenora and I both were surprised when the boy suddenly yelped. “Where did you come from?” he asked in surprise, then looked around. “I don't remember walking over here.”

Lenora turned on me, her eyes narrowed. “What did you do?” she hissed and grabbed the boy by the arm hard. The boy once again yelped, but this time it sounded pained.

“I didn't,” I insisted, but stared as Lenora's fangs slid out. She looked like she was about to attack me, but turned and dug them into the boy's throat faster than he could react and let out a scream.

I didn't waste any time. I darted away from Lenora as fast as I could, faster than any human could imagine. The horses behind me kicked up in a panic, unnerved and spooked by the presence of vampires, and that caught the attention of many people in the saloon. I was long gone by the time they came out to see what the commotion was, and I didn't know if Lenora got away or not.

I just focused on running. I didn't know where I was going, but I headed for the edge of town and, finally, into the forests that lined the town. I delved into the woods, pounding out my fear and my exhilaration into the ground, leaving behind huge gashes in the earth where my feet touched. At last, I was free, and I headed northwards, or approximately north, to get to Canada.

I didn't see Ana again for a very long time. Not knowing where I was going, I quickly got lost in those woods. I learned how to hunt down and feed on animals so I wouldn't starve, and I kept heading north. Or I thought it was north, but I was actually heading mostly southwest.

I was found by a small group of vampires who were passing through the area I was in, and they took me in and helped me to acclimate being an independent vampire. I learned things I should have learned fifty years ago, like how to properly kill a human so they don't have a chance to scream, or to never bite a human and leave them alive, for they would soon turn into another vampire.

I had wondered at that strange thing that happened with the human. I had managed to break Lenora's control over him, and it had really affected her. Through the years, I worked on this ability of mine, which I called a “mental shield”, just as Ana had described it. I found I could shield the minds of those around me. It came in handy a couple of times, and I got very good at this new ability of mind. There was an interesting side effect, though – it seemed that for me to shield one's mind, my mind “linked” with his. From that point on, if that person was in a rather close proximity to me, I could “sense” his presence.

I made it my goal to find Ana again, and though it took me almost a hundred years (the woman loved to move around a lot), I at last found her, and we'd been together ever since.

I shook my head at the memories and looked over at Ana, who had finished placing everything. She looked around the kitchen with a satisfied smile, then looked back at me. “How does it look?” she asked.

I glanced over the kitchen, noting how different it looked. Though everything was obviously new, the kitchen seemed more lively, like a family lived there, and I couldn't help but smile. “It looks great, Ana,” I told her, and moved to her to wrap my arm around her waist. She smiled at me and moved some of my hair out of my face.

“We're going to need food,” she said after a few moments of silence. I expected her to go bounding out of the room, car keys in hand, but she shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. “That can wait for tomorrow,” she said. “Or until you have a menu picked out!”

“I still don't think inviting Edward over is a good idea,” I told her with concern. “I still don't understand why I get so—so flustered around him.” I met her gaze with a frown. “Can you please tell me why he's affecting me like this?”

“Fine, fine,” she said, moving to the refrigerator. “Let's have some dinner first, and then I'll tell you everything you want to know.” There was a mischievous note to her tone that worried me, and I wondered if I'd regret asking about this in the end.

Chapter Text

After getting some blood inside us, Ana and I sat down across from each other in the living room. There was a pause as we just gazed at each other, then Ana smiled widely and asked, “So you find this Edward irresistible?”

I glared at her, and I knew that if I still had blood coursing through my veins, I would have blushed. “It's not like that,” I insisted, but who was I kidding? It was pretty much like that. I sighed. “It's like every time I'm around him and I smell him, I just want to touch him. And it gets worse the longer I'm around him.” Even then, thinking about it, I could imagine my hands all over his body and I could feel his hands on mine. I wondered how warm his flesh felt.

“Wow, you've got it bad,” Ana teased, snapping me from my rather exciting thoughts.

I groaned. “Why is this happening, Ana?” I asked. “No other mortal has had that effect on me.”

Ana grinned and even giggled a little. “Bella, he's your mate!”

I stared at her for a moment, trying to keep my flare of anger from coming forth. In her life as a human, Ana had been a matchmaker, and she seemed determined to continue that profession even to this day. She had never bothered me about a “mate” but I'd seen her set up friends of hers, some with other vampires and some other mortals. It looked like I was due.

“Ana, if you want to set me up with someone, wouldn't it be easier for me to meet another vampire?” I asked with a shake of my head. Why bother with mortals, anyway? They might not want to become vampires, and besides, they were so fragile.

“Because no vampire we've met has made you feel this way, have they?” she countered.

“Well,” I started, but I couldn't finish. It was true. I hadn't felt this way about anyone, mortal or immortal.

She grinned. “He's perfect for you! I knew he would be. I just knew, when I saw him in that bookshop--”

“What?” I interrupted her. “What are you talking about? You've met Edward?”

Ana grinned. “I saw him, Belle. I didn't talk to him. I saw him in that little bookshop in Port Angeles a few weeks back, and I knew just then that he was absolutely perfect for you!”

I narrowed my eyes. “Is this why you had me go to Forks High?” I asked.

She grinned. “That's not the only reason, Belle! You really do need to get out more. I want you to have friends. It was just convenient that Edward also goes there.”

I rolled my eyes. “But I still don't understand. He's my 'mate'?”

“Most vampires have trouble getting along with each other, as you well know,” she said. “But every vampire has a few dozen individuals out there who are just the perfect match of hormones and pheromones which can somehow bypass that desire for isolation. Sex is all well and fine, but it does get boring after a few centuries. But if you find a mate? Oh, Belle, you’ve never felt anything quite like it.”

I glanced away from Ana, a little embarrassed at this topic. I didn’t care much about Ana’s up-and-down sex life, but I had died a maiden. I had never really gotten the chance to explore that part of my humanity, and my life since my turning did not often allow for much in the way of sexual encounters. I had been offered, certainly, but had up until now never felt tempted to take anyone up on the offer.

“I see,” I said after a few moments. “But Edward is mortal,” I pointed out. “Shouldn’t this be a vampire thing?”

“We were all mortal at one point,” Ana said with a shrug. “You really can’t help who has that special scent that gets you going. Sometimes a vampire will find out his or her mate is already a vampire, in which case, all is fine and dandy. But sometimes a vampire's mate happens to still be mortal, and there lies the challenge.”

“Challenge?” My brow furrowed at her words. I wasn't liking where this conversation was going.

“Most vampires will eagerly claim their mates, but humans, especially those who don't know anything about us, will be more reluctant to go along with it. Humans tend to fear the very thought of vampires, let alone what the real deal is. For you to claim Edward, you'll have to do more than a bit of courting.”

“Whoa, whoa,” I said, throwing up my hands in a “stop” gesture. “I didn't even say I wanted to 'claim' him! I don't know even know him, and in case you forgot, he's already suspicious of me being a vampire.”

“Don't let that concern you, dear,” she told me soothingly. “I'm sure all he needs is to get to know you a little better. Then he won't be so on edge.”

I looked at her dubiously. “Are you implying we tell him about us?”

Ana just smiled. “He wouldn't be the first human to know about us.” I stared at her, incredulous, and was about to voice my protests when she said, “But that'll be your decision. He's your mate, after all.”

I thought about that for a moment. I imagined showing Edward Masen my fangs and telling him that vampires exist, but the only outcome I could see was Edward recoiling in fear and running to rally the town against us. I shook my head. “It seems better for everyone involved if I just don't bother,” I said, more to myself than to Ana, but she heard me anyway.

“Oh, you'll bother,” Ana said with certainty. “You'll see. Edward is going to ignite passions in you that have long lain dormant. I can already see it happening, and I'm not just talking about the, ah, more physical passion you're experiencing right now.”

“What other passions are you talking about?” I asked, and was surprised at her answer.

“I saw that copy of The Great Gatsby in your backpack.” There was a glint in her eye. “That book came out after you lost interest in reading, right? You haven't read more than an article's worth of literature at a time since the turn of the twentieth century.”

I shook my head at this. “Edward had recommended it, and I happened to have some free time last night. That’s not an indication of anything but boredom.”

Ana only laughed. “Don't be afraid of Edward, Belle. He's not a threat. Just get to know him, become friends. See what happens from there. And invite him to dinner!” I sighed at her insistence, but even I knew I was only fighting myself.

My mind was opened to the idea of Edward as my friend. Not mate yet. I wasn't sure how that would work out with a mortal, and I wasn't even sure if Edward would want me in that capacity. But friend was a good start.

Chapter Text

School was starting to fall into a normal pattern for me. On Thursday morning, I talked to Mike and whoever was with him (that day, it was Lauren and Tyler) outside for a few minutes, then passed through my classes while trying not to look entirely checked out. Then at lunch, after a contact change, I sat with my usual crowd in the cafeteria and listen to their chatter. I had at one point attempted to track down Edward during the beginning of lunch, but it seemed he had disappeared somewhere. I surmised he must have gone home during lunch, and I was rather disappointed to discover this.

Biology, however, was what I was waiting for. Edward was already there by the time I got in, and I sat down next to him with a friendly smile. He smiled back tentatively, which I rather expected, considering my odd behavior from the previous day. “Sorry about yesterday,” I said, deciding to bite the bullet and get this issue out of the way. “I was stressing about some things at home. I might have come off strangely.”

“That's okay,” he said, glancing down at his books. I noticed the way a lock of his auburn hair fell in his face, and I caught my hand moving up to brush it back. I sat on my hand to prevent any further unconscious attempt to touch him.

Class started up then, and since he was so intent on listening to the teacher, I didn't bother him with idle chatter. I was continuously distracted by Edward's scent (I was still being sure to act human, after all) and very much caught off-guard when the teacher introduced a quiz. Apparently this quiz had been announced two days ago, and all of us students had plenty of time to prepare for it. Except I had spent the entire week in this class focused on Edward in one way or another. I hadn't learned a single thing, nor had I even brought my biology book home; I didn't know a thing about the subject.

I was about to fail a simple quiz in a human high school. Now that was embarrassing.

The quiz took all of a few minutes, and it went about as well for me as I could have figured. I didn't know a single thing about any term listed on the sheet, nor could I have expanded upon any of these answers. I left every question blank.

But the nightmare wasn't yet over. The teacher instructed us students to switch test papers to be “peer graded”. What was this madness? What teacher would ever trust students to give each other accurate grading? I glanced around the room, hoping this was some kind of abnormality and I would find confused looked on other kids' faces, but my hopes were dashed as I watched everyone exchange quizzes without a single thought.

“Here, Bella,” Edward said, and I looked over at him. He had switched our papers as I was looking away, and I tried not to groan as I watched his expression. His eyebrows rose as he looked at my blank paper, then looked up at me again.

I smiled tightly and made myself focus on the teacher's voice as he read aloud the answers to the quiz. Of course, Edward aced the test. For all I knew, it was incredibly easy that any child with a modern education would have understood. Unfortunately, I didn't have much of a modern education.

I handed Edward back his quiz at the end with an awkward “You did well.”

He smiled his cute, crooked smile. “Were you just rebelling against the school, or do you have some trouble with biology?” he asked, his tone light.

“I've never had a good grip on science,” I told him.

The bell rang for class to get out, and as I started collecting my things to leave, Edward asked, “Would you perhaps like some help? We could always study together.”

The suggestion sent a bolt of excitement through my body, and I immediately imagined the two of us alone together, textbooks open, but ignored as the both of us focused our attention elsewhere. I highly doubted that was the intention of Edward's inquiry, but I thought of it nonetheless, and it certainly influenced my answer when I said, “I'd love that, Edward.”

We walked out of class together, agreeing to meet each other in the library after school for a little while. I went on to gym feeling light as air and giddy, and I was hardly bothered by the fact that I had to play so delicately at the game of the day, which happened to be tennis.

It wasn't until I was in the middle of a game, paired up with Mike of course, that I realized the possible consequences of being a very distracted vampire alone with a human who was already wary of said vampirism. I cursed and stopped in my tracks, but I heard the ball zooming towards me. Without thinking, I hit the ball away with my racquet, harder than I should have. The little ball sailed across our court, entirely through another and hit the back wall of the gym with a loud pop sound.

The ten or so people around us who saw stopped and stared at me. I stood stock still, glancing from each face, trying to read beyond the surprised looks. Did they wonder where my strength had come from? Did it cross their minds that I had supernatural strength?

“Dang, Bella,” Mike said beside me, and I stiffly turned to him. “You sure got an arm on you!” He laughed, which seemed to catch onto some of the other children around us, and I relaxed for the moment. As the game resumed, I mentally gave myself a kick for slipping up like that, and I reminded myself that I had to be vigilant in how I conducted myself. After all, exposure was one of the worst laws a vampire could not break.

The only thing I could think about was how I might slip up around Edward, confirm his suspicions and force Ana and myself to move once again. By the time school was out, and I was slowly making my way towards the school's library, I was just about ready to bolt. In fact, when I saw the library's pale orange double doors, I turned right around to head towards the parking lot. I'd just tell Edward the next day that something came up. There was no way I could--

Bang. I ran right into a mountain of soft, warm flesh and cotton tee-shirt, and took in a deep breath of that heady scent that shattered my thoughts in a second and sparked excitement throughout my body. “Whoa, sorry- Oh, hey, Bella.” I heard Edward's voice very close, and looked up into his bespectacled dark eyes, hyper-aware of the way his large hands gripped my shoulders. “Are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” I said, noticing the husky note in my voice. I straightened up and cleared my throat. “Sorry I ran into you like that.”

“Don't worry about it,” he said with a smile. His hands lingered on my shoulders a touch longer than necessary before he removed them and gestured toward the library. “Shall we?” he asked, and I merely nodded, walking in step with him right up to those pale orange doors.

That little bump into Edward's body left me aching to touch him more, but somehow, I managed to push that thought out of my mind and sit down with him at a table civilly. The other humans in sight helped me retain my self-control.

I calmed down further once Edward started to talk about biology, and dropped words like “mitochondria” and “diffusion” because, honestly, there wasn't a more sobering subject that I could think of. I didn't expect Edward to get right down to business so soon, as most teenagers, and humans in general, liked to chit-chat and make small talk before undergoing a task. Or in place of the task, as some people were wont to do.

It helped me to focus more on the reason why we had met in the first place. I managed to push all naughty thoughts out of my mind, or at least to the back of my mind. I took a risk on not breathing, figuring Edward was too focused on the task at hand to notice the lack of my chest rising and falling.

We spent a good amount of time going over the basics of biology, with Edward cracking out the textbook. He was a good teacher, or maybe it was just that I was actually paying attention to the words he was saying, because I was starting to understand this biology stuff, and very well, too.

By the time Edward had paused to stand up and stretch, I had pretty much learned everything that had been on that quiz earlier today, though my head felt a bit like it was full of water from the knowledge I had just dumped on my mind.

“Oh wow, it's already five-thirty,” Edward said, glancing at his wrist watch. I glanced out a window and saw that the sun had gone down, with just barely a few minutes of light left. “We should probably get going. The library closes at six.”

“And I was just getting started,” I said flatly, but grinned at Edward.

“I wouldn't be surprised if you were willing to take on this whole book tonight, sleep be damned,” he said, and I laughed lightly. Oh, if only he knew.

We walked out to the parking lot together, and he even walked me to my car. I thought it was a sweet effort, even if in reality, I should be the one to walk him to his car. I'm sure he would have even opened the door for me, if I hadn't been the one to reach the door handle first.

I opened my door, but turned to Edward with a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Masen,” I said.

He returned my smile and said without skipping a beat, “You're very welcome, Miss Swanson.” I could have kissed him, standing there in the cold air, and I wanted nothing more than to feel the warmth of his hands on my skin. I was quickly losing my control on my feelings. “I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Certainly,” I breathed, and I was sure we were both leaning ever so slightly closer to each other. I took in a breath, letting his scent wash over me, and I was sure I saw his eyes flicker to my lips for a split second.

We stood like that for a moment, then he let out a breath. “Have a good night, Bella,” he said, averting his gaze.

“You too,” I said, slipping into the driver seat of my car. He closed my door for me – the gentleman – and I watched him walk across the small parking lot to what I presumed was his car. I raised my eyebrows at the sleek, shiny black luxury car. I could tell it was a new model, perhaps from last year, and I wondered if he was borrowing his parents' car. In my experience, it was unusual for an adolescent to possess such an expensive vehicle.

The drive home was calm, though my insides weren't. I was still warm with excitement from being around Edward, recalling how he felt in our quick collision earlier that day. He felt as soft and warm as I imagined. Part of me wished Edward didn't have the power to reduce me to a quivering pool of goo, but at the same time, I absolutely enjoyed it.

I was in such a good mood when I got home that I was easily able to deal with Ana's meddling questions and continuing insistence that I invite Edward over for dinner. I spent the night blissfully flipping through my biology book, more reliving my day than actually reviewing what I had learned.

What a week it had been! Just four days down in my high school career. I suppose I could hardly call it boring. And I was looking forward to the fifth day, Friday, when I would again meet with Edward. Perhaps something more would happen between us. Could I risk that, at this stage? Did I truly want to?

I never really got the chance to figure out those answers. By the time the sun rose at seven the next morning, I noticed that there was not a cloud in the sky. The bright sun shone down on chilly Forks, illuminating the colorful houses and cars on our block. It reflected brightly off of the fresh-fallen snow from the night before, and I knew that in an hour or two, the warm sunlight would turn that snow to slush.

But more importantly, that sunlight would cause my skin to shimmer, which humans most certainly did not do normally. Though I could cover up with clothing, my face would be exposed. Even with make-up on, the sparkle would show through. Should I pass even under the slightest patch of sunlight, my face would be aglow, and I would be exposed.

I sat by my window, dressed for school, hoping with every fiber of my being that clouds would come and block the sun. Unfortunately for me, it turned out the whole day was forecast to be a clear, warm day.

Good for humans, bad for vampires.

Chapter Text

I spent the whole day inside, not willing to risk the sun exposure, even for only a few minutes. There was no telling who may be looking out their window or if someone would drive by. I felt caged in this house, however, and it was a strange feeling for me to have. After all, I had spent days, even weeks, at a stretch inside without ever being bothered. I knew why I felt this way, of course: I wanted to see Edward again.

But what soured my already tart mood was learning the fact that there would be no school the next morning. I learned this when Ana walked into my room gleefully, singing some inane song about the significance of Friday.

“What are we going to do this weekend?” she asked me cheerfully, leaning her long body against the threshold of my doorway. In retrospect, I realize that she was trying to see if I had any weekend plans.

“I'm going to school,” I said as if it should be obvious. “That is, assuming the weather allows it.” I glanced out my window darkly, my eyes narrowed into a glare.

Ana chuckled, however. “Oh, Bella,” she said with a wave of her hand. “There is no school tomorrow or Sunday. It's the weekend! That means no school. I can't believe you didn't know that!”

I stared at her, my mouth agape. “You didn't tell me,” I said, realizing that I would have to wait not just one, but three days with anticipation building inside of me.

Ana sighed. “Belle, I wasn't aware you were that out of touch with the world. I was sure you'd met at least one person who mentioned they got weekends off of school.” I shook my head and looked away, trying not to let my rising annoyance get the better of me. “We should get out,” Ana said after a few minutes of silence.

“Out where?” I asked with a sigh. I would have been content to mope around my room for the next seventy-two hours.

“Let's go out in the forest tonight,” she offered. “We could both use a good run around, don't you think?” She smiled and walked away, already knowing my answer without my having to say it.

Though the plans had improved my spirits, I still had several hours until the sun would go down. I felt restless alone in my room, so I headed out to clean up the house. The problem was, there wasn't much to clean. I had taken to cleaning at night rather than in the daytime, since I went to school, and nothing was dirty enough to clean again.

Not to mention, vampire houses didn't get as dirty as human houses. Vampire bodies are frozen, almost statue-like, whereas a human is constantly changing, shedding old cells (this was Edward's lessons talking). Humans drop hair, leave grease marks on surfaces, cause dust to build up from shed skin cells. Their clothes get dirty after every use. Vampires, conversely, aren't like that. A vampire's house gets dusty much slower, and the dust is different, thinner, easier to clean up with a quick swipe of a cloth. Vampire clothes only get dirty from external forces, such as actual dirt or stains from a meal. We wash clothes less often.

There were no hairs to vacuum up, no smudges to clean off of the windows. I briefly wondered if we could do with a pet. It would certainly give me something to do in these long hours I had.

I walked into the kitchen, thinking I might as well feed now. It could possibly fill in a good two minutes! But upon opening the refrigerator, I was struck in awe by what I saw: instead of about two dozen bags of blood laid on the bottom shelf, there were other things, like fruit in plastic baskets, vegetables and roots in plastic bags, and raw meat packed in cellophane and Styrofoam.

I stared at the colorful offering of mortal food. I don't know when Ana went to the store, or why she didn't tell me she had, but I didn't dwell on the thought. My gaze flickered from the ingredients in the refrigerator to the now-stocked kitchen and had the strange urge to make something. I didn't even know what I would make – I just wanted to.

I resisted this urge, however, because who would eat what I would make? It's not like Ana or I had much of an appetite for human food. There was also the snag that I hadn't cooked since ovens ran on coal and fire, and I hadn't the faintest idea how to work any of the gadgets Ana had bought. Maybe one day, though, if I made some mortal friends.

That seemed to strike a chord in me, and I realized how very alone I had been in the past months, even with Ana there. I'd go days without even speaking a single word, stretches of time without stepping a foot outside. I suddenly understood why Ana threw me into school all of a sudden.

I took a deep breath, wondering if it would be weird for me to call Jessica or Angela and make some weekend plans. I had their numbers – they'd given them to me at during the week. And it would be nice to having something to do, to be out with people.

I decided it wouldn't kill me to try, and I walked over to the little cell phone Ana had bought me and forgotten to tell me about. It would certainly be great to make friends who weren't as eccentric as Ana.

-

That night, as Ana drove us to the edge of town, I told her about the plans I had made with Jessica and Angela to go into Port Angeles. They were going to go dress shopping for the dance, and Jessica invited me to come along when I called. I agreed, even though I hadn't yet decided if I was going to go to the dance. I hadn't been to an occasion like that in a long time.

Ana seemed almost surprised that I had, on my own, called up some people and arranged to go out with them. “That's great, Belle,” she said sincerely. “Port Angeles has such cute shops! I'm sure you'll love it.”

“I just hope the sun doesn't come out,” I muttered, glancing up at the sky. Towards the evening, clouds had moved in to block out the blue of the sky, and I wanted them to stay there as long as possible.

“According to the news, we're due for a week-long snow-athon,” she said cheerfully. “So you'll be covered, Belle, don't you worry.” I nodded, hoping that was true, but if there was anything to be learned after centuries of observing humans, it was that the weatherman was often very wrong, though he was getting better.

We ran through the forest, at first together, then separately. Even in the dark, I could see every branch, every frond, every damp and frozen rock perfectly, and the scent of the forest was more potent in the night. I raced through the trees, feeling the wind whip my hair back, and I kept going until I reached a series of cliffs that dropped right off into the ocean. Looking down into the black underneath, I got the urge to go for a swim. The cold of the water wouldn't affect me, of course, and it had been a while since I went swimming.

I dove in, clothes and all, letting the dark ocean swallow my body and surround me. I stayed underwater for a long time, cutting through the current with the long, powerful strokes of my arms. The salt didn't sting my eyes, and the frigid temperatures didn't pierce my skin. I finally surfaced after a while, only to breathe in the salty ocean air and look up into the dark sky.

I met up with Ana in the water, to my surprise. I guessed that she, too, had spontaneously decided to go for a swim. We swam together, racing each other between the cliffs that surrounded the little bay we had found. I enjoyed our time together; we didn't very often do something like this.

We got out of the water when we both realized the sky was lightening. We didn't hurry in our swim back to the rocky shore, the both of us content in paddling in the water. I felt relaxed from the night, more relaxed than I had felt in a long time, and I was smiling to myself as we climbed ashore.

I opened my mouth to speak to Ana, to suggest that we do this again tomorrow night, but I heard the crunching of gravel not far down the beach. I saw Ana grow defensive just as I was, and I looked down towards where the sound came from. I breathed in the ocean air, scanning the shoreline, on the lookout for any possible threat. I caught a whiff of a mortal scent, though there was something just a little bit off about it – like it wasn't completely human.

I squinted my eyes, straining to see down the beach. Sure enough, I saw three bodies wandering slowly towards the two of us. Ana stepped in front of me, almost protectively, as the bodies made their way to us. I heard their voices begin to rise as they approached, all three of them male. In moments, I realized that I recognized one of them.

I saw Jacob, Edward's friend who I observed in the forest a few days ago, before he saw us. My breath stilled in my lungs as the boy approached with his friends. They were distracted by whatever they were talking about, and didn't see us at first, but gradually their voices died down. They'd seen us, and they were walking over to us.

I was getting nervous, and I jumped when I felt Ana's hand clasp firmly around my upper arm. “We should go now,” she breathed in my ear, steering me towards the path that would take us through the woods and back to Ana's car.

“What is it?” I asked as I let her lead me, glancing back over my shoulder towards the beach. The figures in the distance had stopped. I guessed they were watching us retreat.

“I'll tell you later,” she said quietly, urgently. “Let's just get home first.” Her tone concerned me, but I concentrated on the path before me, gradually moving faster and faster until we had reached our car. Ana drove faster than she ever had before, which was saying something for a vampire.

-

I went to meet my friends later that day, my head heavy with the knowledge that not only did werewolves exist, but they were our mortal enemies and Edward was apparently best buds with one.

When Ana and I got home that morning, she was rather agitated, and it took her a moment to settle down in the living room. She seemed full of nervous energy, and seeing her like that had me almost panicking. “Sorry,” she said to me distractedly, “but I just can't stand werewolves.”

“Werewolves?” I repeated.

Ana smiled at me. “You can't possibly find it hard to believe werewolves exist when we do?” she asked with a small laugh, sounding more like herself. “They do, and they're pretty much the best things in nature that can kill us.” She paused, then added, “Besides other vampires.”

I chill ran down my spine. “What do you mean?” I asked, though part of me didn't want to know. My mind went back to that forest, where I witnessed Edward telling Jacob about me.

“Oh, werewolves basically evolved just to combat vampires,” Ana said. “Their teeth can bite right through our flesh as if it were as soft as a human's, and they can run just as fast as we can. They're built basically for combat with vampires.”

I nodded, knowing this changed everything. My concerns were no longer about the town rallying up against us with stakes and torches – or, more modernly, guns and more guns. No, now I had to worry that Edward had ousted us to a member of the very species made to kill us. Edward, the boy who seemed to be awakening life within me, was unambiguously a threat to my very being.

I took a deep breath, and I told Ana this. She listened, looking serious, then finally said, “I don't think we have a problem.” Before I could protest her words, she raised a hand and said, “That boy – Jacob? - and the others probably don't know about us.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying desperately to get a grip on this whole problem.

“They haven't transformed yet.” I just let my confused stare speak for me, and Ana sighed. “Those boys, they haven't yet become werewolves. I can tell. A werewolf in human form looks a lot different. Those boys are still developing. Since vampires don't come through this area very often, chances are that their parents haven't even made the transformation. It only really happens when vampires are around. Those boys might know stories or legends of vampires, but I doubt they really know that we exist.”

“But we are here,” I said. “Won’t we trigger their transformation?”

Ana shrugged. “I really doubt it,” she said. “We don’t threaten them, and I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to antagonize them. Besides, the wolf pack doesn’t live in town. They’re all part of some gang that lives down in Christo Rey.” She smiled again. “As long as we keep our distance, we should have no issue at all.”

This did very little to abate my worries, but I kept my plans to go out with Jessica and Angela. I hoped they would distract me for a little while.

The drive to Port Angeles wasn't too bad. I listened to Jessica go on about Mike, and how Angela should ask Eric out, and how she hoped Lauren and Tyler would go out, and expressed similar sentiments about other male and female pairs I wasn't familiar with. Then, at some point not far from our destination, Jessica asked me, “So what's the deal with you and Edward?”

I looked at her with a tight smile. I didn't want to think about Edward that day, because that would have me thinking about everything else. “Nothing,” I said with a shrug.

“Oh, there's something,” Jessica pressed as she eased her car off the highway and towards the city. “I saw you two Thursday night. I had to stay late to work on a project for student council, and when I came out to get something from my car, I saw you two in the parking lot.” She glanced to Angela in the passenger seat beside her. “They were standing super close!”

Angela twisted in her seat so she could look at me. “Are you two going out?” she asked me curiously.

I tried to keep the smile on my face as memories of Thursday night flooded back to me. I remembered everything I felt, and how he felt, and I recalled why I was frustrated in having to wait so long to see him again. I found I wasn't sure how to answer Angela, because, while I knew it was in my best interest to stay far, far away from Edward, I realized that I certainly wanted him in my life.

“I don't know,” I said at last. “It's a bit complicated.” It was the understatement of the century, and these girls would never understand why.

“Well, if you want my opinion,” Jessica piped up, without leaving a pause for me to confirm or deny the desire of said opinion, “I think you shouldn't bother with Edward.” I was about to roll my eyes and stop listening, expecting Jessica to go on about Edward like she had with Lauren a few days ago, but her next words held my attention. “He's such a—a misogynist!”

I glanced to Angela with a questioning look, but she seemed as surprised by Jessica's words as I was. “What do you mean?” I asked, recalling how polite Edward had been to me Thursday.

Jessica didn't say anything at first, but concentrated on driving down the narrow road of a small outdoor shopping mall she had driven to. She parallel parked in front of a dress shop and took the time to shut off her car before turning around in her seat to look at me. “I had a crush on Edward for a while last year, and I flirted with him during a class we had together. From what I could tell, I was sure he liked me back, so I asked him out.” She looked from me to Angela. “Nothing wrong with that, right?”

“Not at all,” Angela said with a shake of her head.

“Well,” Jessica continued, looking back to me, “he didn't say no, but he didn't say yes, either. All he said was that girls shouldn't be the ones to ask guys out! Can you believe that?”

“What century is he from?” Angela rhetorically asked with a laugh.

“You think he's nice, opening doors for girls and all that,” Jessica went on, “but really, he just sees us girls as inferior.” I tried not to let my amusement show. Certainly, what Edward said was outright rude and offensive, but I had lived most of my life in a time where that sort of behavior was expected. In fact, women pursuing and courting men was a very new idea, especially to someone who had lived for two hundred years.

“You don't think he meant it that way, do you?” Angela asked, glancing to me again.

Jessica just shrugged, so I spoke up. “I don't think he meant it to be insulting. I think maybe he was just raised in an old-fashioned home, and he has those old-fashioned ideas.”

“He's still a pig,” Jessica spat, opening her door. I took that as a cue that she didn't want to talk about it anymore, and climbed out of the car.

I then spent the next several hours hearing about only one thing: the upcoming dance. I thought at first, by the way the two were carefully looking for and trying on dresses, that this was the prom, but it was far too early in the year for that. Upon further inquiry, I learned that this was a Valentine’s Day dance.

Jessica enthusiastically suggested dresses for me to try on, saying how each would look wonderful on me. I was reluctant to let her carry on like this, as I was still unsure about going to the dance. I mean, I didn't have anything better to do that night, and I didn't necessarily need a date to go. But at the same time, my life was getting too complicated to worry about mortal dances.

Still, I allowed her to have me try on dress after dress, feeling unsatisfied with each one. One dress was far too short for my liking, barely making it past my behind. Another had a neckline that dipped far too low. It was meant to expose cleavage, but I didn't have all that much in the breast area anyway, and it hung off me awkwardly. Another dress was just too brightly colored, and it cast my skin in a very dead gray tone.

Angela, however, found a garment that I quite liked. It was a simple dress, with a skirt that reached just below my knees and dipped tastefully down in the chest area without exposing any cleavage. It was sage green, with little leaf patterns stitched into the skirt, and it looked very nice against my pale skin and made the brown of my contacts pop out more. It wasn’t exactly a winter-ready dress, and it would certainly leave a mortal chilly in the early months of the year. But upon seeing myself in that dress, an odd sensation of excitement overcame me. I couldn’t resist the purchase, even if I didn't know where or when I would wear it.

We went to several dress shops, as well as some other stores that sold jewelry, knickknacks, books. At the bookstore, I found myself pausing to read the synopses of several titles, and before I had even realized it, I had purchased four volumes of widely different genres. I very much enjoyed the day out with the two girls, finding myself laughing with them. I was able to relax and take my mind off my supernatural troubles. Unfortunately, it seemed that the universe had decided that I could not relax for more than ten minutes.

We (or rather, they) decided to go to a little Italian restaurant for dinner. The sun was already starting to set, and I could tell that Jessica and Angela had worked up an appetite shopping all day. We first stopped by Jessica's car, where we loaded our shopping bags into the trunk.

When we got into the restaurant, I quickly excused myself to the restroom. My eyes had started to feel irritated, and I was glad I had brought an extra pair of contacts. As I passed through the dining room, I let in a breath, smiling at the savory scents of garlic, basil and rosemary that seemed to permeate every inch of the room.

I got in the restroom, glad to find no one in there at the moment. I quickly switched my contacts and ducked out, wondering what I would pretend to eat here. I'd never really tasted Italian food before.

I was walking back to the table where my friends sat, still contemplating what to eat, when I heard my name called. At first, I ignored the call – the restaurant was named La Bella Italia, and I thought someone may have just simply said the name. But then I heard my name again, louder, and I recognized the voice, stopping me in my tracks.

I turned to the origin of the call, meeting gazes with none other than Edward Masen himself. He was sitting at a small table, across from Jacob.

I tensed up at the sight of the duo, feeling the instinctual urge to run from the restaurant as fast as possible. I resisted, however, and instead I squared my shoulders, slapped a smile on my face, and walked over to the table, wishing I just could have a moment to enjoy my life now that I had discovered how to do that.

Chapter Text

“Bella.” Edward smiled and stood up as I approached, and I took in his form. He looked good, dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans that hugged his hips and beige button-down that smoothed out his body. His auburn hair was combed back from his face, and in the dim light of the restaurant, the small red acne marks on his face were downplayed. For a moment, I felt like my heart began to beat again.

There was a very short pause where I gazed into his dark eyes and I wanted to kiss him. I made sure I was breathing. “What happened yesterday?” he asked at last.

“Yesterday?” I couldn't help but glance at Jacob. The boy had his gaze set on his glass of soda, but I got the feeling he was watching me. “I woke up with a fever,” I lied, wondering if that was even a valid excuse. I mean, when I was alive, fevers were a huge deal. But now, with modern medicine, I doubted fevers even bothered anyone.

“I see,” he said. “Good that you're feeling better.” We locked gazes once more, and for a moment, it seemed like he was concentrating on me. It made me feel a little uncomfortable, and I cleared my throat to break the moment.

“Who's your friend?” I asked to move on, turning my gaze to Jacob.

“Oh, right,” Edward mumbled awkwardly. “This is Jacob Black. Jacob, this is Bella.” Jacob looked up at me finally, and he smiled just as tightly as I was. I didn't miss the way Edward said my name, as if he was trying to avoid putting any significant note to his voice and had failed. I got the feeling I was certainly talked about between the two boys.

“Nice to meet you, Bella,” Jacob said, standing as well. Up close, I realized he was only a little taller than I was. He put his hand out to shake mine, and my mind flipped back to when Edward described me as cold. It made me reluctant to grasp Jacob's warm hand, and I noticed that he seemed to run rather warm, as if he were the one with a fever.

The shock of our very extreme temperatures made the both of us release each other quickly. Ana said he probably didn't know he was a werewolf, and that he probably didn't know I was a vampire, but I wasn't willing to lay my money on that bet. He looked at me almost hostilely, as if my very presence disturbed and repulsed him – and honestly, the feeling was a little mutual.

“Nice running into you, Edward,” I said, noticing how mechanical my voice sounded. I hoped I wasn't insulting him with my reaction to Jacob. Then again, all things considering, I think this was a very reasonable reaction. “I should get back to my friends. I'll see you on Monday.”

“Certainly,” he said, his gaze glancing between Jacob and me. “Have a good night, Bella. Stay safe.”

“You too,” I said and quickly retreated back to my table. I sat down next to Angela, facing Jessica, and she was just buzzing and was ready to grill me, probably ask who Jacob was. However, I could hardly concentrate on her questions. I kept glancing over to Edward and Jacob's table. I saw their lips moving, but between the distance and the noise in the restaurant, I couldn't make out what they were saying.

“Bella, are you okay?” Angela asked, and I snapped back to reality.

I smiled apologetically. “Sorry,” I said to both her and Jessica. “I'm just a bit distracted.”

“I'd be distracted by that hot cup of coffee,” Jessica said, glancing over at Jacob. I stared at her for a moment, then just burst into a fit of laughter. It was the releasing-all-tension kind of laughter, and I'm sure Jessica was giving me a weird look, but it felt so good to calm down after that tense few moments. “So who is that?” Jessica asked me curiously after I'd gotten a handle on myself.

“That's Edward's friend Jacob,” I told her. “I don't think he goes to our school.”

“Oh no,” she said, taking a sip of her iced tea. “He's got to be from Christo Rey. Definitely not the kind of guy my parents would want to date.” Angela let out a small giggle, which she stifled into napkin.

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Christo Rey’s a rough town,” Angela explained. “It’s a wrong side of the tracks situation, you know? They’ve got gangs and crime, and the people of Forks keep their distance like crime doesn’t happen here.” She rolled her eyes.

I nodded my understanding, then smiled at Jessica. “Don't forget about Mike so easily,” I teased her, and I was rewarded with a giggle.

We ordered dinner. I stuck to a simple salad, not wanting to test the boundaries of my taste buds just yet. I picked at this salad as we chatted over dinner, but my gaze would return to Edward throughout the evening. Despite myself, I sniffed the air, hoping to catch his scent. Unfortunately, it was lost among the scents of every other human in that restaurant, and there were a lot of them.

I knew both Angela and Jessica could see how distracted I was by Edward, but neither brought up the subject. As we were walking out to the car after dinner, though, Angela said to me quietly, “I hope you and Edward go out. You suit each other.”

I smiled at her and said, “So do I.” It was the first time I had verbally expressed my feelings towards Edward to anyone other than Ana, and I felt a rush of giddiness that left me restless in the back of Jessica's car on the way home. I tried to calm down, to remind myself of the complicated issue that Jacob presented, but my body had other ideas.

Jessica dropped me off at home. I thanked her for the day out, waved goodbye and walked inside, grinning stupidly to myself. I was glad for the time out with my friends, and for the fact that I finally had friends to do this with. I hoped I had many more days out like this ahead of me.

Ana wasn't home when I got inside, but that was fine with me. I was felt a little fatigued by my day out amongst other people, and so I laid down on my futon to rest for a few hours.

It was during this rest period that I had a little fantasy, a bit like a dream. I couldn’t really stop my mind from creating these images, and I was in no mood to try. I imagined myself sitting in the forest, on a fallen log, surrounded by the greenery of summer. It was a clear, warm day, and the sun was shining through the thick trees in patches. A few spots of sunlight hit my skin, reflecting off with a brilliant glimmer.

I heard approaching footsteps, and out from behind a large tree trunk came Edward. He looked upon me with a sense of awe as he slowly walked toward me. His dark eyes swept over my body, lingering on the parts that shined in the sunlight. I smiled at his awe, and I held my hand out to him. Without hesitation, he took it and I eased him up onto the log beside me.

His hand was soft and warm around mine, and I didn't let go. Instead, I pulled him close and breathed in his heady scent. I felt his free hand on my side and feel down my leg, leaving a trail of tingles on my skin where he touched. I felt along his chest, feeling his heartbeat beneath his warm flesh, and I heard the deep rumble of his rich blood coursing through his veins. His fingers felt along my lower back, sending me shivering, and my teeth slid out.

He gazed at my face for a while, his eyes trained on the sharp fangs that protruded from my mouth. There wasn't any fear coming off of him, but rather a sense of curiosity. This changed in a beat, though, when I realized that we were moving closer to each other. I felt his hot breath on my lips, and I eagerly anticipated the kiss that I knew would send me into throes of passion I had yet to experience, when I heard the slam of the front door that totally ripped me from this fantasy.

I sat up on my futon, at first confused as to why I wasn't in the forest. Disappointment, then anger flew through me when I realized it was just a figment of my imagination that had been interrupted, and I desperately wanted to lay back down and see if I could return to it, but I heard Ana calling for me.

I sighed and stood up, my knees feeling a little less than stable. I ignored the distinctly warm feeling in my lower belly and walked out into the hallway, trying not to scowl.

I found Ana in the kitchen, having set some plastic bags down on the table. For a moment, I thought she had bought more food, but then I realized that these bags had the name of the bookstore in Port Angeles on them. “What did you buy?” I asked, walking up to the table.

“I got you a few presents,” she said with a grin, handing me a heavy bag. I peered inside to find three dense volumes. I pulled one out and read the title: Cooking for Kids: Introducing Your Child to the Joys of Cooking.

I stared at the brightly-colored cover featuring sugar cookies cut into shapes of stars and horseshoes. I raised my gaze to Ana, who just grinned. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said flatly.

With a laugh, Ana said, “I asked the bookstore clerk what good books there were to teach people how to cook, and she highly recommended this one. Don't let the fact that it's for kids bother you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I know how to cook,” I protested, putting the book on the table.

“You know how to cook in the 19th century,” she pointed out, and I couldn't help but glance at the kitchen counters, and at the shiny appliances on them. “These books will teach you how to cook in the 21st century.”

I pulled out another volume, this one twice as big as the first: The Beginner's Guide to Slow Cooker Cooking. I wasn't even sure what the “slow cooker” was, but I mainly wondered why a beginner's guide needed to be over three hundred pages. The final volume was sleeker than the book before it, but heavier and no doubt filled with full-color, glossy pages. It was entitled Seasonal Cooking for the Family.

“Well, thanks,” I said with little enthusiasm. Compared to what I was just experiencing a few moments ago, this was just downright dull.

“Listen,” Ana said, picking up the other three bags she had brought in with her, “I'm not trying to force you into cooking. I just know how much you used to love it, and I want you to have resources available to you if you decide to pick it up again.” I couldn't help but smile. Even if Ana seemed a little dotty in the head, at least there was method to her madness. I just wish I could always know what this method was.

“That's assuming I have the capacity to figure out all the things that go into modern cooking,” I joked lightly, and Ana grinned.

“I'm still hoping you invite Edward over,” she said as she left the room, and I just rolled my eyes.

If I were going to invite Edward over, it would be for something far more interesting than slow cooker cooking.

Chapter Text

Sunday flew by, as I had kept busy tending to household chores, then found myself reading one of the books I had purchased in Port Angeles. It was a mystery thriller, written by a contemporary author, and the twists and turns in the plot had me hooked throughout the afternoon and night. I had finished it when the sun dawned on Monday.

I drove to school in sleety weather, being careful on the slick roads. I tried to fight the giddy feeling bubbling up in my stomach as I looked forward to biology. I tried to remind myself of the danger which Edward represented, but my body wasn't having any of it.

I spotted Edward's sleek little car immediately when I pulled into the school parking lot. It stood out amongst the more humble-looking vehicles of the other students. The town of Forks was full of well-off families, but most of the students who had their own car typically drove older models.

I knew Edward was on campus somewhere, and I was sure I could easily sniff him out. I resisted this tempting act, however, and met up with Jessica, Angela and Mike on the school's steps just like every day. I didn't fail to notice that Jessica had her hand locked with Mike's, and the sight made me smile.

As I sailed through the day, I noticed that I had come to pay attention more in class. English was actually rather intriguing. The professor had the class dissect an essay, and I found myself enjoying breaking down the meaning behind the author's word choice. Judging by the look of boredom and reluctance on the faces of my classmates, I figured I was the only one.

I discovered my government class was incredibly dull and involved more Latin than I was expecting. The real shock of the day came from my third class, Spanish. I didn't even know I was in a Spanish class until that Monday. Indeed, I had not paid attention so thoroughly the previous week that I didn't realize the entire class was speaking in a different language.

I realized that I was more than lost in my math class. I had basic math skills, and I was sure I could have handled the class better had I come in at the start. Starting off like this in the middle of a pre-algebra course, while the teacher rattled on about parabolas and other such nonsense, I could hardly keep up.

I wasn't dismayed by this, however, because it gave me an excuse to ask Edward about his competence in math. Perhaps he could be my teacher on this subject, as well. Any reason to speak to Edward was a good reason in my book.

At lunch, I sat with the usual suspects. I was listening on a discussion on the importance of matching one's shoes to one's outfit (headed by Lauren), as apparently Eric just couldn't seem to understand why girls kept so many shoes. It was during this conversation that a young man with wiry black hair approached me.

I looked up at him, noting that he smelled strongly of automobile oil and too much aftershave. He smiled wryly and stammered out an invitation to accompany him to the dance. I recognized this child as belonging to the sophomore class, and noted that he barely looked fifteen. I politely turned down his invitation, and after he had walked away several steps, Jessica and Lauren burst into giggles.

“Of all the people to ask you out, it would have to be Ugly Spencer,” Lauren said, her voice a little harsh with laughter.

“That's a bit of a harsh name to give someone,” I pointed out, glancing back towards the young man who had sat down at his own table. I was pretty sure he was still in ear shot.

Lauren shrugged. “It's just a nickname. Not like we say it to his face.” I noticed that she gave me a bit of a dark look, her jade eyes narrowed, the corners of her small mouth turned down. I took that cue to turn to Angela and strike up a conversation about hiking, which turned into a table-wide discussion about going down to the beach that weekend.

“We could go out and hang for the day,” Jessica suggested. “Maybe even have a camp out.”

“It's going to be way too cold for that,” Mike pointed out. “The forecast said it'll be snowing again by Thursday.”

Jessica grinned. “There's ways to keep warm,” she said, and I saw the pink rise in Mike's cheeks, heard his heart rate speed up, and I was sure he was imagining what those ways could be. “We could all go, and Lauren could invite Tyler, and maybe Bella could invite Edward.”

My eyes widened at the idea, and I stared at Jessica's suggestion. I could see what she was pulling – get all of the couples together alone in tents away from parents for the night. I could see everyone at the table wanted to do it. After all, these humans were just in the right age to be exploring the physical parts of their own and others bodies. And of course, I was all for getting Edward alone for several hours.

Still, I could see this ending badly for me. I could always explain the coldness of my skin away as the air's chill, but that would only work for so long until Edward and I were alone together in a tent. He'd start to wonder why I wasn't warming up. Then there was the issue of contacts, not to mention ensuring I don't bite anyone.

“I think we should put off camping for a little while,” Eric said, sounding uncomfortable. I glanced between him and Angela. I wasn't even sure if they were “officially” together or not.

“Fine, fine,” Jessica said with a wave of her hand. “But we should still go down for the day. It'd be fun!”

“Let's do it,” Mike said eagerly, and before I knew it, we had all agreed to a day trip to the beach.

“You should still invite Edward,” Jessica said to me with a nudge. I wondered when she had decided that Edward was a good match for me, considering what she had said about him on Saturday.

“Well, I'll ask him,” I said, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lauren roll her eyes. I knew Edward would not want to spend several hours around people who didn't like him. I wasn't even sure if Edward was much of an outdoors kind of guy. I had only seen him hiking once, and he was with Jacob. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine that the impetus of that hike had been Jacob’s.

I resolved not to even ask Edward and just tell Jessica he couldn't make it. It was for the best, in all honesty.

At last, the bell rang, and it was time for biology. I stopped myself from rushing there, telling myself to be calm. It would seem very weird and creepy if I rushed into class with a silly grin on my face, saying “Hey, Edward! I missed you all weekend, Edward! How's it going, Edward! Did you think about me, Edward?!” even though that was exactly what I wanted to do.

Yeah, that would drive him away faster than flashing my fangs would.

I walked into class and dropped down into my seat. Edward's stuff was on his side of the table, but he wasn't, nor was he in the classroom. I noticed his notebook was sitting on top of his biology book, and after a quick glance around, I nudged it open with a fingernail.

I was deeply curious as to who Edward was, and I wanted to know everything about him. I peered into the pages the notebook opened to, taking in the biology notes he had taken down. His handwriting was surprisingly neat, which was a rarity in humans these days. At some point, public education had dropped proper penmanship from the curriculum, which was a shame. I also noticed little doodles scribbled on the edges of the paper. They weren't great works of art, nor were the subjects anything particularly insightful: a dog, a tree, a cloud.

“Hello, Bella,” Edward's voice sounded behind me, and I jumped. I hadn't heard him approach. He chuckled and sat down in his seat, looking down at what I had been peering at without his permission.

“Sorry,” I said guiltily.

He just shrugged. “I don't mind. It's not like it's my diary or anything.” His crooked smile made relief wash through me, and I realized that I had been worrying he'd be angry with me. “Although, I must ask, were you looking to see what you had missed on Friday or were you looking because you're curious of me?”

I hadn't expected his bold question, and I found myself almost nervous to tell the truthful answer. “I honestly don't care what I missed Friday,” I said. “That is, nothing that the teacher might have been saying.” I saw his cheeks flush, and I couldn't help but smile.

I thought about my little dream, and of how warm and soft he felt. I remembered the feeling of his heart beating against his chest, and of his hot breath on my lips. I wondered how he would feel in reality. Would it be like my fantasy? Would it be better? Or would it not live up to what I had imagined? I found myself wanting to know, growing eager to touch him. I knew it would be beneficial for me to run to the girls' locker room and take a cold shower, as I could hardly contain myself.

I told myself I had to pay attention to what the professor was saying, but somehow the lecture on cell replication just couldn't hold my interest compared to the boy beside me. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, wondering what it would feel like to run my hands through his auburn hair, to feel his lips on mine. Before I even knew it, the bell for class to get out had rung.

He looked to me as he closed his books. “So how was that lesson for you?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I pretty much missed it,” I answered truthfully, though I didn't exactly say why.

He smiled, though. “Would you like to meet in the library again today?” he asked.

“Of course I would,” I told him, grinning myself. “And maybe every other day, if you’re not busy. I really just don't get any of this stuff when the instructor explains it. You explain it far better.”

“I wouldn't mind tutoring you regularly,” he said, and I just about jumped for joy at his words.

It was settled, then. We would meet every other day in the library to study. Honestly, I wanted to do far more interesting things with Edward, but perhaps something might happen in the hours we were to spend together. There was a voice in the back of my head that was trying to scream as loud as it could about the werewolves, but I could not hear her over the sound of Edward’s blood pulsing through his veins.

I couldn't decide if I was being foolish or simply following my vampire instincts. I wasn't sure which was worse.

Chapter Text

The next couple of weeks demonstrated a peaceful routine in my life. I'd go to school, learn things that I honestly should have learned decades ago, and then I would come home and delve into books. I'd gradually began to feel my hunger for literature, and ever since finishing The Great Gatsby, I'd made good use of my library card. But my reading frenzy hadn't been contained to fiction; I'd also picked up and read through those cookbooks that Ana had bought for me. I had even tried my hand at a few recipes, gradually finding some comfort in the use of the electric oven and stove.

My relationships with my friends had branched out in different ways. I'd become closer to Angela and Eric, and while I spent time with everyone during school, I rarely saw Jessica or Lauren in the off hours. With Edward, things had hardly cooled off. We met regularly after school to study together, and had even met up in town a couple of times. Each meeting was a test of my self-control as I struggled not to throw myself all over him.

Of course, the life of a vampire, beyond all the glamor (and glimmer), is wrought with danger and stressful situations. My peaceful life as a high school student quickly dissolved with the arrival of one of Ana's friends. He was a vampire, and one far less used to living among humans as Ana and I.

I came home from school on a Friday afternoon to find this stranger in my living room. He was sitting on the couch, drinking thick blood from a glass. His eyes met mine, and I saw a hint of madness in that crimson gaze that made me uncomfortable. Ana introduced him to me as James.

“I guess you can say he's a bit of an old flame,” she said with a hint of laughter in her voice. I looked James over, sizing him up a little. He had a thick body composed of muscle, hardened now in his vampire state. He held himself rigidly, as if ever ready to either run or fight, and his face seemed frozen into a scowl. His clothes were tattered and dirty, and his dark brown hair looked like it could use a wash.

I certainly hoped he'd been more vigilant in his upkeep when Ana dated him than he did now, or else I would have to seriously doubt Ana's taste in men. Apparently he'd had a bit of a fight with his mate up in Canada and had come down to stay with Ana for a little while until things cooled down. His voice was hard and cold, with a gravelly undertone that made me want to stuff a pair of socks in his mouth to shut him up.

A worried feeling started to bubble up in my stomach. Two vampires living together in a small town like Forks was already a big risk; adding another into our little circle, even if temporarily, sounded foolish. And honestly, I just didn't like the look of this man. He seemed way too wild for us to house.

The weekend was, in a word, difficult. Angela was busy, so I didn't have a chance to hang out with her, and Jessica and Lauren had whisked themselves off to an over-night trip to Seattle. I even called Edward, but even he didn’t answer. He later sent me a text message saying he was indisposed that weekend. Somehow, everyone I knew well enough to spend time with outside of school were otherwise engaged, leaving me to knock about the house with James.

At times, he seemed restless and agitated. From my room, where I sought refuge, I'd hear him pacing and muttering in the living room. He drank a lot of blood and had four whole bags to himself within the first few hours of his stay.

On Sunday night, James had almost blown through our blood supply. Ana set out to Port Angeles to visit her friend Etienne and get us a new supply to last until our regular shipment would come. I offered to go with her – almost begged, really – but she told me it would be rude to leave James here alone. Though I wanted to stay as far away from him as possible, I did have the sneaking suspicion that if he were left to his own devices here, Ana and I would return to find we no longer had neighbors.

For eight painfully long hours, I was stuck in this house with James. At his request, I sat with him in the living room while he watched a wrestling match on television. I sat rigidly as he laughed at the violence on the flat screen, saw that his fangs were exposed every time he opened his mouth. It was very rude for a vampire to show his fangs unnecessarily—it’s considered an act of aggression—but I had already surmised that James was not the most chivalrous of men.

“Bella,” he spoke up at one point during the evening, after the wrestling match as concluded, “do you have a mate?”

“I don't,” I told him, though the image of Edward flashed in my mind. I didn't fail to notice, however, the sly grin that crept up on James' face. A shudder rolled down my spine.

He looked out the window, shifting his feet. His hands clenched and unclenched on his knees. “I’d have a good hunt right now,” he growled.

“No,” I said firmly, pulling his attention away from the window. “We don't hunt here. There's still blood in the refrigerator, and Ana is bringing more back soon.”

A frustrated growl left his throat. “How can you live this way? It's suffocating.” He got to his feet and resumed pacing once more, an activity he participated in ever few hours. I watched him carefully, ready to pounce should he make a run for the door.

Ana didn't return until the sun dawned on Monday morning, and I was relieved when I saw her car pull into the driveway. I was dressed and in my own car before she even got a foot in the door, and I sped down the street to school. I had forgotten to grab a bag of blood before I left, and I arrived at school drained, hungry, and not at all ready to join the land of the living.

The day dragged, and I was thrown back to my first day at school. I was irritable, hungry, and I hardly felt like putting on a show for humans by pretending to eat at lunch. I hid out in the library and buried my nose in a book for about ten minutes, until I heard my name called.

I couldn't help the smile that raised the corners of my mouth, and I looked up as Edward Masen joined me at the small table where I had planted myself. My gaze swept over his large body as he set his backpack on the table. He was wearing a new beige sweater, this one thinner than his old one, and it was a bit snug around his belly. I sat on my hands to keep them from gravitating towards him.

He looked at me, and I tore my gaze away from his body. “You look tired,” he said, the concern in his voice touching. I figured that, due to my hunger, dark circles had developed under my eyes.

“I am,” I answered honestly. I was considering skipping out of gym and driving to the woods, where I might be alone and away from James. “My sister's ex-boyfriend came to stay with us for a little while, and he's allergic to peace.”

“That sounds awful,” Edward said, and I noticed the way his hand twitched on the table. I could tell he wanted to touch me as much as I wanted to touch him. I would have encouraged it, too, were we not in the library surrounded by other children. Images flashed through my mind, of the two of us alone in the woods, with no one to stop us from exploring each other's bodies in the cold air. I could almost feel Edward's warm hands on my hips, his soft flesh beneath my palms.

Edward's voice brought me back to reality. “Bella, are you okay?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, feeling that particular warmth in my belly again. “Just zoning out, I guess.”

“You should take a nap,” he said, glancing to his wristwatch. I noticed it wasn’t the usual digital watch he normally wore, but an expensive-looking analogue one. “There's still a lot of time left in lunch.”

“I won't be able to sleep,” I said, speaking truthfully once more, though for reasons he couldn't know. I glanced around the library to imply the reason behind this insomnia.

“You can go out to my car,” he suggested, and I tried not to stare wide-eyed at him. He shuffled a bit awkwardly. “I mean, I suggest my car because the seats are heated, so you won't be cold.” I almost laughed, but then he put his car keys on the table. “Go ahead,” he said.

I looked at the key, attached by a ring to two more keys, several of those small cards people seem to carry around, and a charm of a musical note. “You're just going to hand over the keys to your car like that?” I asked, wondering if he was all there in the head after all.

He shrugged. “I trust you not to take it on a joy ride,” he said easily. “But if it makes you more comfortable, I will accompany you.”

Well, his presence wouldn't help soothe me to sleep, even if I could accomplish such a state, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to not only have a few minutes alone with the boy, but see the inside of his car. “I'd quite like that,” I said, trying to fight down the giddy feeling coming over me.

I walked beside him out to the parking lot. As always, his car was parked at the far end of the lot, but it wasn't a huge space, and it took only a few minutes to walk over. Edward opened the passenger side door for me, and I grinned as I slid into a beige leather seat. I couldn't help but noticed he really liked beige.

He got in on the driver's side and slid the keys in the ignition, turning the car on to warm the interior. My gaze slid over the car, and I even glanced in the back. The car was kept in immaculate condition, a rarity amongst young people. Even my own car was cluttered in the back with clothes, empty bags and other oddities. His scent permeated everything in the car, and I felt dizzy breathing it in.

“Would you mind some music?” he asked.

“Go ahead,” I said, more focusing on the fact that there was no one in the parking lot, and even if there were, the windows on this car were pretty tinted. I watched as he reached over and turned on the radio, allowing soft, morose piano music fill the air.

I felt the seat warm up underneath me, and took this an excuse to unzip my jacket. I hardly felt tired anymore, and I certainly wasn't going to just take a nap and waste this opportunity. I saw Edward glance at me, saw the way his hand twitched on his knee again. I wondered if his suggestion for a nap in his car had been genuine or if was having the same steamy thoughts I was. It would have been nice to be able to read his mind.

I couldn't, however, so I decided to simply take a chance. I sat up straight, caught his eye, and took in a breath. A wave of nerves washed over me, but I didn't allow myself to think a single conscious thought as I leaned forward and planted a kiss on his lips.

For a moment, he was stock-still; then he seemed to realize what was happening, and he responded, though his actions were more hesitant than mine. I felt the brush of his warm, soft lips on mine, and I sucked lightly on his bottom lip. My hands gripped his sweater and pulled him closer, then moved down his body. I felt his large hand on the back of my head, angling my face up so that he might better kiss me. His other hand I felt move down my shoulder to my waist, and I felt a shock of warmth as his fingers brushed against the skin of my waist where my shirt had shifted and ridden up. The sweet taste of him was more intoxicating than his scent, and if he hadn't pulled away after a moment, I would certainly have begun removing clothes from both of our bodies.

I let out a breath, meeting his dark eyes. He was breathing heavily, his cheeks flushed a deep red, his pupils dilated as they focused on me. I felt my fangs shift, and I quickly closed my mouth in case they should pop out from the excitement that coursed through me.

“Class...class starts in a few minutes,” Edward said, his voice thick and husky. “We shouldn't miss it.”

I merely nodded, watching as he took a deep breath and turned the car off. The piano music came to an abrupt end, and I only just now remembered its presence. As Edward got out of the car, I attempted to calm myself down. I was just on the verge of losing it and ravaging Edward right there in the parking lot. Judging by his actions, I don't think he would have minded it all that much, to be honest.

I climbed out of the car when Edward opened my door, and I took the hand he offered, his palm almost burning in mine. Once on my feet, I turned to Edward and kissed him once more, lightly, and I honestly meant to pull away immediately. His arm caught me, however, and held me still as he returned the kiss, deepening more even as the bell rang across the parking lot for lunch to end. I let my hands feel over his chest and down the curve of his belly, to the waistband of his jeans.

He pulled away then, almost violently so, and took a step back. His lips were reddened from our kiss, and his breath came out with steam in the cold air. “O-okay,” he stammered, not looking me in the face. “Really, it's time to go to class.”

I grinned to myself as he turned and headed towards the school. I could tell that if he wasn't so worried about being punctual to class, that kiss may have delved into something not fit for the parking lot. As I followed after Edward, my head filled with thoughts of what could have happened in his car, and I knew I wouldn't be hearing a single word of today's biology lecture.

-

As was probably for the best, Edward was called home directly after school, so we couldn't meet up in the library to study anymore. This disappointment caused my mood to drop, and I recalled the monster who would greet me once I got home. I was not yet ready to face that challenge, and so instead I drove around the streets of Forks, my mind turning to darker matters.

When I was around Edward, it was easy to lose myself in the euphoria which his scent washed upon me. My head had been in the clouds in my last two classes, but now that I was alone, my gaze cast out on the dreary streets, I realized what today had meant.

Edward and I were, as Jessica might say, serious. I had finally grasped a piece of the fantasies that had played out in my head for weeks, and as much as I could revel in that pleasure, the rational part of me did not forget the chasm between us: that of immortal and mortal. Edward was a human, and teenage human at that, and he had an entire life ahead of him. I was a vampire many times his age, who had seen the worst of the world, and whose life had no direction and no natural end. I would never have chosen this life, and I would not want to give it to Edward. Yet I also could not imagine, having found Edward, ever leaving him.

I also realized that I could never be entirely truthful with Edward. Ana had said that there had been vampires who had coupled with humans before, but Edward was no normal human. He was close to a member of a werewolf pack. I couldn’t tell Edward about my true nature on pain of my death. This meant that I could never be open with Edward, and what kind of relationship built on lies and deception could ever hope to end well?

I drove for hours with these thoughts on my mind. I drove my tank to empty, so I filled up at the one station in town before heading back home. I braced myself as I walked up the driveway, but when I got in, James wasn't there, and neither was Ana. There was no note left on the refrigerator, nor in my room.

I pulled my cell phone out of my backpack. I had silenced it at the beginning of the day and hadn't checked it since. I discovered that Ana had called me several times over the last hour and had left a message. I listened to this message, my breath stilling to nothing as I listened to Ana’s words.

“Bella,” Ana's panicked voice spoke, “call me as soon as you can. James has gone off to hunt, and I can't handle him alone. He-he's found a target, down in Christo Rey. Meet me there ASAP.”

I nearly dropped my phone, but shoved it deep into the pocket of my jacket and raced back down to my car. I sped towards Christo Rey, praying that we would be able to find James before he found his target.

Chapter Text

When I got to Christo Rey, Ana called me. She sounded carefully calm, like she didn't want me to know how troubled she was. “Bella, I've lost James.” Her words sent a chill through me, and for a moment, I couldn't speak. She continued on, telling me the last things he said, and that he was tracking a teenage boy he'd seen while out for a run in the woods.

“I'll keep looking for him,” she promised me. “I just hope we can stop him in time. Trackers like him don't quit until they've hunted down their prey.”

“I know,” I breathed into the phone.

There was a long pause, and I thought Ana would hang up the phone, but then her voice came over the receiver again. “If the werewolves get to him first...” Her voice trailed off with a tremble, and I knew what she was thinking.

“We'll find him,” I assured her. “I'll see if anyone's seen him around here first, then I'll try to pick up his scent in the woods.” After we spoke a few more reassuring words to each other, I ended the call and drove to the center of town, which was somehow smaller than Forks. Angela had described this town as a bit “rough” compared to Forks, and that was apparent from the outside. The houses in this town may have been nice at one point, but they had aged horribly from neglect. The roads were a bumpy patchwork of asphalt that made my car shudder as its mature tires rolled over and around potholes and cracks. I drove into what must have been the center of town, only to find a majority of shuttered businesses along the main street. The only open businesses I saw were a gas station, a laundromat, and a very small grocery store.

I parked in the small lot of this cluster of businesses, planning to inquire if anyone had seen someone fitting James' description. I didn't expect anyone to have seen him, as he was hardly one to stroll through town.

However, I did find someone who'd seen him, or at least might have seen him. A tall, muscular black man with long dreadlocks was leaving the grocery store as I was walking up, and I stopped him and asked if he'd seen a pale man with short brown hair and dirty clothes. I stuck to that general description because I could always claim I was looking for a homeless relative or something if questions were asked.

The tall man eyed me warily, which put me on edge. Without making it obvious, I took in a breath, smelling his sharp, musky scent. There, mixed with the scent of cigarettes and leather, was something quite repellant about the way he smelled. Instinctually I wanted to run, and somewhere within me I knew I was speaking to a werewolf. “I've seen someone like that,” he said in a cold, gravely, and that made me stay in my place even though I wanted to run.

“Where?” I asked, focusing on the task at hand.

“I saw him on the beach,” the man answered. His dark eyes never left my face, and I felt like he was trying to analyze me as much as I was him. “It was about two hours ago.”

I nodded, knowing James could have moved half-way across the state in that time. “Thank you,” I said, starting to walk away. I felt the man's gaze burning into my back as I retreated. I chanced a glance over my shoulder after I had put some distance from him, and I watched him mount a motorcycle.

I called Ana, though I didn't get an answer. I left a brief message, relaying what I had learned. With that done, I got back in my car and headed out to the edge of town and into the forest. I parked my car on the side of the road near the entrance to a popular hiking trail. When I stepped out, I inhaled the air, trying to pick up the scent of James. I smelled nothing of him, however, so I dashed into the foliage and began my search.

I knew this would be a needle-in-a-haystack situation. It was obvious by James' appearance and scent that he spent a lot of time out of doors, far more than I ever had in recent decades. Even if he didn't know the area as well as I did, he was more adept at moving through the forest and keeping himself hidden. The only advantage I had was that Ana was also searching for him.

I raced through the forest, trying to find anything – a footprint, a broken branch, a piece of torn clothing. The longer time drew on, the more pessimistic I became about the situation. If James had targeted a youth, he more than likely had already taken his prize. I tried not to think about that as I searched, but the thought would not leave my mind.

The consequences of my failure to stop James were apparent. There would be a dead human, torn from the seams and drained of all blood. That was not a typical way for a human to die, and even if Ana and I could appear completely uninvolved in the death, we still would both feel too uncomfortable to stay here. I would have to leave Forks, my school, Edward.

“Bella.” When I heard my name called from above me, I jumped back a good ten feet, putting my back up against a tree trunk. I searched the canopy for the origin of the voice, finding the man I was looking for peering down at me from a high branch. Even from the distance, I could see his amused smirk. “Looking for me?” he asked.

I stood up straight, clearing my throat. “Yes I am,” I said, making my voice stern. “Ana told you that you are not allowed to hunt in our territory.”

“Oh, I'm going to hunt,” he said with a chuckle. “I can't stop now.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Who are you hunting?” I asked boldly. I didn't even know if he'd answer me.

“A male,” he said, tilting his head in the direction of Christo Rey. “A child, really. He runs hot and smells repulsively attractive.” His voice floated down to me thickly, surrounding me. There was a lilting note to how he spoke, like a delighted child speaking of his favorite candy.

“He’s probably a werewolf,” I said. “There’s a pack in that town. You’d be stupid to hunt him.”

He shrugged a lazy shoulder, then dropped down to the ground, landing on the balls of his dirty bare feet. I moved away from the tree as he approached me, careful not to corner myself in his presence. Though I was hardly a defenseless child, I knew that James was both stronger and more unpredictable than me. I stiffened as he closed in, pressing his thick body against mine. I met his eyes, darkened with hunger, and saw madness in them.

“What's his name?” I asked, my voice low.

“I don't know,” he said and grinned. “I don't care. I want you to tell me about him.”

“And what can I tell you?” I spat, stepping away from him. “I don't know any of the Christo Rey boys.”

“That's not true,” he said, stepping forward with me, keeping our distance short. “He's spoken your name. You know him.”

A cold feeling went down my spine. There was only one Christo Rey boy I had ever met. Of all the people who lived in this area, why did James have to choose Jacob as the target?

“I've only met him briefly,” I said, speaking slowly so as not to let my panicked feelings show in my voice. “I don't know anything about him.”

“Oh, Bella,” he breathed, sounding disappointed. Much to my relief, he backed away from me, turning away. I didn't think fast enough, and by the time I realized that I should have kept a hold of him, he had raced off into the woods, even beyond the reach of my view.

-

That evening at home, I traced the path James had created when he paced through the living room. I could hardly think straight as my mind listed off all of the implications of letting James get away as I had. For all I knew, Jacob was dead and drained.

Ana continued to search the area for James even after I had given up and gone home. I had managed to call her and tell her what had transpired between the wild vampire and I. Ana had given up her calm guise, and let the solemn note in her voice linger when she said, “Go home, Bella. I'll keep looking, but you go home.”

I felt like a failure and that Jacob's death was partially my responsibility. Even if Ana and I could weather the aftermath of the tragedy and continue our lives here in Forks, could I ever look Edward in the eye again? Could I withhold from him the truth of his best friend's death?

I paced, wringing my hands, pulling at my hair. I felt this would go on forever until Ana called me at last. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of my phone's musical ringtone, and I nearly dropped it as I fumbled to answer the call. “What's going on?” I asked immediately.

“Bella, first thing, calm down,” Ana said firmly to me. I took in a deep breath, trying to get a grip on my nerves. “James told me you know the boy he's after.”

“That's right,” I said, not daring to speak Jacob's name aloud, in case James could hear me. The less he knew about Jacob, the better, I figured.

“Do you know where he lives?” she asked.

“In Christo Rey.”

“I mean, where his house is.”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you know someone who would?”

“Well, yes.” I paused for a moment. “Why do you need to know where he lives?”

Ana sighed, and I could tell she sounded very tired. “I've been trying to catch James, but he keeps eluding me. If I can't catch him before he gets too close to the target, then I may need to stake out this boy's home.”

“I'll come help you,” I said, heading towards the door already.

“No,” Ana said firmly. “I need you to find where he lives and text me the address. Then I want you to stay home.”

“But Ana-” I tried to argue, but she hung up on me. I ground my teeth in frustration, feeling a spark of pain in my jaw for a split second. There was no way I could just sit here and fiddle my thumbs while she did all the work! I resolved to head straight to Jacob's home the moment I had his address.

I went through the few contacts I had programmed into my phone until I found Edward's number. I hit the call button and waited as I heard the phone ring in my ear, still grinding my teeth. I checked the clock; it was barely eight o'clock, so he should still be up. He didn’t answer the first call, but I tried again. Finally, after five rings, he answered.

“Hey, Bella,” he said, his voice sounding a bit terse over the phone. “This is a bit of a bad time to call.”

“Edward,” I said over his voice, my words tumbling out clumsily, “this is an emergency. I need Jacob’s address.”

There was a pause that, in reality was no more than a second, but seemed to stretch on forever. “Why do you need Jacob's address?” he asked.

“Well, because,” I said, but then stopped, realizing I had not come up with any sort of cover story. The need for one hadn’t even crossed my mind, so I stuttered nonsense instead.

“Bella,” Edward said after a moment of this, his voice now louder. “What is going on?”

I stood there for a moment, tempted to just end the call and try to sniff Jacob out myself. I realized how foolish that was, however. “Edward, I...I can't tell you why I need it. I just do.” He was quiet again. I paced quicker, my feet moving about twice the speed of a human's. “Please, Edward.”

“Is Jacob in trouble?” he asked.

I bit my lip, trying to figure out how much to tell him. “Well, yes,” I said.

He let out a sigh that sounded somewhere between exasperation and frustration. “Bella, what on Earth is going on? Tell me!”

I suddenly halted in my tracks, realizing that Edward would not tell me the information I needed without a good and proper reason. I had told him his best friend was in danger, and there was no way I could explain that danger with lies. I didn’t have it in me to lie to him about this, and honestly I was not cunning enough to think of anything at all. Which meant I had only one option: the truth.

I had not expected to tell Edward the truth about myself, and certainly not in the manner. But every precious second that ticked away meant Jacob’s chances were shrinking.

“Okay, Edward,” I breathed. “I'll tell you. Everything. But please, tell me Jacob's address first. Then come over. I won't hide a thing.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Edward and I sat on opposite sides of my living room couch stiffly, the both of us waiting for me to speak. The air was thick with tension, and I felt Edward's dark eyes on me as I stared at my hands, trying to put together words that could make this whole experience easier on the both of us. I could see how on edge Edward was, even out of the corner of my eye. His body was rigid, and his hands were clenched in white-knuckled fists.

“Bella,” he said through gritted teeth, “Tell me now what's going on with Jacob.” I could see his worry turn to frustration, and his frustration turn to anger. It was almost palatable, and it was undeniably directed at me.

I knew I couldn't leave him in the dark any longer, so I just spoke. “Jacob's life is endangered by a vampire that has become obsessed with hunting him down. We've been trying to stop him all day, but he's very hard to track and-”

“We?” Edward interrupted me to ask.

“Ana and I,” I said, recalling that I hadn't told him much about her, other than that she was my older sister who took care of me. It really wasn't that far from the truth.

Edward's mouth became a tight, thin line, and he stared at me with hard eyes. “Vampire,” he said, his jaw set so the word almost came out in a hiss. “I knew it.”

I let out a breath, almost a chuckle, although I felt no humor. “You…you know.” I shook my head slowly. All my fears the past few weeks had been totally founded, even when Ana had assured me they weren’t. Edward had figured it out all along. “Of course you know,” I said in a growl.

“I knew you were different,” he said quietly. “No one's mouth is cold.”

I stared at him for a moment, bemused by his words, until I recalled our private moments alone in his car earlier that day. It didn't even occur to me that, with his hands all over me like that, he would have noticed the icy feel of my skin. I found myself wondering if my mouth tasted differently to him than other humans, and just how many human mouths he's tasted in his life and—focus, Bella. I shook my head.

“You're also hard,” he said, his brow furrowing. He suddenly reached out and took hold of my hand. I was startled by this, but I didn’t pull away. “Like marble,” he said, gazing down at my hand.

I nodded grimly, wondering how I hadn't remembered any of these things about my body when I'd thrown myself all over him. “That's another symptom,” I said quietly.

“Yes it is,” I heard him mutter under his breath, and I was immediately put on edge. How did he know what a vampire was like? Most people believed we turned to ash in the sunlight and lacked reflections in mirrors. Very few mortals knew the vampire traits, and vampires as a whole liked to keep it that way. “What else can you do?” he asked me, releasing my hand.

“What have you heard I can do?” I countered, wondering just what he knew. His eyes narrowed, and I wondered if he'd dance around my question as I did.

But Edward was not avoidant. He answered my question without hesitation. “I've heard you're fast and strong. You have sensitive hearing and sense of smell. You don't sleep.”

“Anything else?” I asked. Superhuman strength and speed were rather common in vampire legends, but there was one trait that barely anyone outside of vampires knew about. I wanted to know if he knew about it.

He glanced off to the side, his brow furrowing again. “You're meant to be attractive. You're supposed to smell good, look good, as that's how you lure your...your prey in.” He paused and swallowed, and I couldn't help but watch the muscles in his neck work. “You can come out in the day, but you're never seen in the sun.” He met my eyes once again. “And you're incredibly violent.”

I almost smiled. “You know a lot,” I said, leaning forward myself. “Where did you hear all that from?”

“I’ve researched legends here and there. Jacob’s father has always collected stories of supernatural creatures,” he said, and he glanced out the window, no doubt reminded of what had brought him here. “How much of that is true?”

I bit my lip, unsure of how much I should reveal to him. I'd never had to tell a mortal about our existence before, and therefore had no experience. Did one tell a mortal everything, or just a few things? Should I pepper a lie or two in there to protect the species, or did it just not matter? “Enough of it,” I answered, mostly to buy myself time.

His mouth tightened again. “And you are a vampire.” He said this slowly, as if he were actively fighting to accept this information.

“In the flesh,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment. “Prove it,” he challenged.

“Prove it?” I repeated, almost laughing. “Edward, you've figured it out for yourself. Why should I prove it?”

“I want you to show me yourself,” he said. “Prove it.”

I frowned, not comfortable with this. What, did he want me to bite him or something? Or should I instead go and fetch a bag of blood and chug it in front of him like some morbid version of a frat boy? I suppose I could dash around the room, or lift the couch or...

An idea struck me, and I got to my feet. I saw Edward reflexively tense up as I stepped closer to him. I saw the way his eyes dilated as they focused on me, and how a vein in his neck popped out a little when he swallowed. I kept my gaze on him as I reached out my hand to take his, smiling invitingly at him. I could tell he was nervous, but he took my hand anyway. I pulled him up off of the couch with little effort, which surprised him, but what really caught off guard was when I swept him off his feet.

He yelped in shock as I lifted him with little effort. I could uproot decades-old trees without batting an eyelash; an overweight teenager was almost nothing to me. The warmth of his soft flesh on my arms and against my chest was nearly overwhelming, but I tried to ignore both that and the heady scent I was getting from him. I felt his muscles ripple underneath the fat, felt his strong hands grip my shoulders. I imagined myself pinning him against the wall and tearing away the weak material of his clothing.

He stared at me in shock as I grinned back to him, and I saw his face flush red. Before I could act out the scene I saw in my mind, I eased him back down onto his feet, and he immediately turned away from me and walked away a few paces.

“Are you okay?” I asked, noticing the huskiness in my voice.

“Fine,” he grumbled over his shoulder. He ran a hand through his hair, and I noticed the slight tremor in it. I gave him a few moments of quiet to collect himself; after all, I'm sure he wasn't expecting a girl to lift him like that.

When he turned back to me, I saw a troubled look in his eyes. “This vampire after Jacob,” he started, and I frowned.

“That vampire after Jacob won't be of much concern,” I assured him. “Ana's taking care of him now. That's why I needed Jacob's address. Ana went there to stand guard and make sure James won't hurt him.”

“James,” he repeated softly, and I nearly slapped myself for the slip. Even after reprimanding myself and telling myself to focus, Bella, focus, I could still barely manage to keep my hands at my sides. They felt nearly magnetized to Edward's body, and I was fighting the pull. This was very distracting.

“Look,” I said, walking away from him a little to get out my nerves. “Maybe we should go out and get something to eat, or-” I stopped mid-sentence as I heard his footsteps near the front door. I dashed in front of the door faster than he could even blink, and he gasped at my speed.

“Damn it, Bella!” he growled. “Let me go.”

“No,” I urged, not budging from my spot. “I'm not letting you just walk into danger alone like that.”

“Then you come with me,” he insisted. “I don't care, but I have to get over there.”

“There's nothing you can do!”

“There could be something you could do.”

“Ana instructed me to stay here.”

“Well, she didn't tell me anything.”

I huffed, narrowing my eyes at him. He just glared right back. “No way, Edward,” I said firmly. “I'm not letting you go to Christo Rey for any reason whatsoever.”

-

I stared out the windshield blankly as Edward drove to Christo Rey, wondering how I'd let a mortal talk me into not only letting him run right into danger, but letting him drive there as well. He insisted we take his car, as it was faster, but only he could drive it, of course. I'd never met a mortal so stubborn and dead-set that he would challenge the words of a vampire. Then again, Edward Masen was a different sort of person.

“I can run faster than this car,” I said without looking at him, knowing full well he was pushing the car over ninety miles an hour. “Even with you on my back.”

“I'd rather drive,” he said flatly, and I saw his grimace in the corner of my eye.

I fell silent after this, but I watched Edward as he drove, wondering what was going through his mind. Would he willingly speak to me after this? Would this be the last time I’d see him?

I had texted Ana about Edward forcing his way down to Christo Rey, but I never got an answer from her. It worried me a little, but there could be a multitude of reasons why she had not answered. I hoped she was chasing James out of the area, out of the state. I had no idea what we were walking into as Edward pulled up to Jacob's house. The boy lived in a small house on a big piece of land, complete with gravel driveway holding a couple of older cars and a motorcycle. Edward had told me at some point in the past few weeks that Jacob enjoyed restoring old vehicles.

Edward got out to knock on the front door, but I hung back to attempt calling Ana. Neither of us got an answer. Edward came back to his car, his eyes full of the same worry that I felt. He tried to call Jacob on his phone as well, but that only ended with the same result.

We sat quietly in his car for several moments. My nails made small, nervous tears in the knees of my jeans. Edward ran a hand through his hair. We glanced at each other, then away. Neither of us knew what to do from here.

“We should get back to Forks,” I said at last to break the silence. “It's getting late.”

Edward didn't say anything, didn't even move for a long time. I could hardly imagine what he could be thinking. I was worried about Ana, but she was a very old, very skilled vampire. She could easily handle James, who wasn’t much older than me.

I reached over and covered his large hand with my own. He looked at me in surprise. I wanted to say something reassuring or comforting, but no words came to my lips. Instead, I let instinct take over. I leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

To my surprise, he smiled faintly and let out a breath. “Let's get out of here,” he said, turning the car on. He looked at Jacob's house one last time before peeling out of the driveway. As he sped home, I could feel the tension in his body. I wondered if Edward would blame me for this situation. After all, he and Jacob had led pretty vampire-free lives until I came along. Although it was possible James could have fixated on Jacob no matter what, it seemed like he was made a more likely target because of my presence.

If Edward blamed me, would he hold it against me? And could he ever forgive me?

Chapter Text

The whole next week was hellishly tense.

Ana didn't come home for three full days and didn't call me until Tuesday night. She was in Toronto, and she had managed to chase James all that way until she lost him again. She sounded calm and sure that he wouldn't be a problem, but if I knew anything about trackers like James, it was that he would not give up until he had his prey.

Edward didn't hear from Jacob in the least bit, and had made three more attempts to see him at his home. Each time he didn't get an answer; not even Billy, Jacob's father, seemed to be home. I could see the toll the stress of not knowing of his friend's fate put on Edward. Every day at school, he looked like he hadn't gotten any sleep, with dark circles under his bleary eyes. His fingernails reduced to chewed-up bloody messes. He couldn't focus on the lectures in biology class, and could barely keep on topic during our study time together.

He asked me for more information every day, but I could only tell him what Ana told me. If James had gotten to Jacob already, she would know, and I tried to reassure Edward that Jacob was all right. Even still, as the week dragged on with no word from the boy, I began to wonder if Ana had withheld some details from me. Had James caught Jacob already? Is that why she was able to get rid of him?

Edward and I hadn't spoken much about my being a vampire, and much to my surprise, he didn't really treat me any different. That could be because his mind was centered on one thing, however, and I wondered if he'd even stopped to think much about anything else.

On Friday morning, I saw him drive up into the parking lot just as I was. This was odd, because Edward always arrived to school several minutes earlier than I did. I parked next to his car and peered at him through the window. He looked quite undead himself, and with the way he stared at the steering wheel, unmoving, I wondered if he'd fallen asleep with his eyes open.

I got out of my car and tapped on his window. He was slow to react, first looking up from the steering wheel to me, then down at the controls on his door for a moment before the window rolled down. “Good morning, Edward,” I said cautiously, struck by how inflamed the whites of his eyes were. I was certain he hadn't slept a wink since Sunday, and worried for his well-being.

“Hey,” he said, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes. Without the obscuring tint of the window in the way, I could see that his gray t-shirt was wrinkled, as if he'd slept in it and hadn't changed, and that his blue jacket had been haphazardly thrown about his shoulders. He ran a hand through his messy, uncombed hair, stifling a yawn. His movements were sluggish, and I knew he wouldn't learn a single thing that day at school.

I glanced around quickly. As always, Edward had parked on the far end of the lot, and the bell for class to start was about to ring any minute now. Most of the children were preemptively making their way to the school, and there wasn't anyone nearby. “Sorry, Edward,” I said to him, then reached in and lifted him up and out of his seat.

He tensed up and tried to fight me, but in his lethargic state, he couldn’t manage much resistance. I maneuvered his large body over the gear shift and into the passenger seat, a tricky thing to do in the low car. “What are you doing?” he demanded in slurry speech as I sat down in the driver’s seat, warmed by his body.

“Taking you home,” I said, turning the car on.

“Driving my car?” He sounded exasperated, and he even huffed and sighed.

I rolled my eyes. “You're in no shape to be driving,” I told him, rolling up the window and locking the doors. “I'm surprised you didn't fall asleep at the wheel getting here.”

“I'm fine,” he insisted. “I'm a little fatigued, but-”

“You're more than just a little fatigued,” I interrupted him, meeting his eyes. “When was the last time you slept?”

He shrugged. “Do you even know how to drive standard transmission?” he asked with another sigh.

“I was born before cars were invented,” I reminded him. “I was driving what you know to be manual transmission way before you were even conceived.”

He folded his arms across his chest. “The immortal would have to have an attitude about it.”

The casual utterance of “immortal” from a human's lips was surreal. I reminded myself that he was exhausted and probably barely aware of what he was saying. I drove home, being careful with Edward's precious vehicle. I kept my eyes on the road, drove at a decent pace and even parked with careful grace in my driveway.

“Not even a scratch on the paint,” I said, looking at him, only to find him slumped against the window, his eyes closed. His breathing was quiet and even: he had fallen asleep.

I frowned, not wanting to wake him up, but not wanting to leave him out in the car, either. Of course, carrying him was no big deal, but if any neighbor saw me lifting such a heavy boy when any girl my age and build should not be able to, then I may have a thorny situation on my hands. Our exposure had already been threatened; I didn't need that to happen again.

I dashed inside to see if Ana was home. She'd been gone more often this past week since she returned home, roaming the woods around Forks for signs of James. I was glad to have found her in the kitchen, her fangs deep in a bag of blood. She looked at me in surprise and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

I didn't bother to explain my absence from school yet. “I need your help getting Edward inside,” I told her. “He's asleep in his car and I don't want to wake him.” She rolled her eyes, and I sighed. “Look, I can't just carry him in myself! It would look odd, don't you think?”

She nodded and sucked down the last of the blood on the bag. “I know,” she said after she pulled it from her teeth. “But why is he asleep? With the two of you in the car alone together, you should be-”

“Ana!” I interrupted her, shaking my head. “This is hardly the time for that!” I turned and rushed back out to Edward, very aware of how cold the air was. The snow had left Forks, but the temperatures could still be dangerous to humans if left out in it for too long. I opened Edward’s door carefully, knowing that he was slumped against it, and steadied him so that he wouldn't fall.

Ana walked up behind me and looked him over, shaking her head. “The things you bring home, Belle,” she said with a grin.

“Just help me, please,” I said, letting my annoyance be heard in my tone. “And make it look real. He is heavy, after all.”

“Now that's just mean,” she said lightly.

We each took one of his shoulders and eased him out of the car. Pretending to struggle with Edward's weight, we slowly made our way up the walk and into the house. Once inside, Ana slung him over her shoulder like a rag doll, and I cringed. “Don't be so rough with him!” I hissed.

“Don't worry, Belle,” she said with a wave of her hand. “He's still asleep, and he's fine. I won't damage any goods.”

With a groan, I walked out to lock up Edward's car quickly. I glanced at the houses surrounding mine, wondering if anyone had seen our little display or if the feigned struggle was just a waste of time. Living amongst humans was harder than it needed to be.

-

Edward slept for twelve straight hours. As the time dragged on, I was ever the more grateful that he had made it to school before he fell into unconsciousness. I could just see his sleek sedan crumpled up against a metal pole with Edward's broken body inside, crashed because he fell asleep at the wheel. The thought made my chest hurt.

Ana, in her infinite wisdom, had laid Edward on my futon to sleep. I would have thought he'd have been more comfortable on Ana's bed, but at the same time, he was so deep into sleep that it may not have mattered. Ana had hinted at the two of us curling up on my futon together, but it wasn't exactly big, and Edward wasn't exactly small. I'd have to pretty much lay on him.

...Maybe that's what Ana meant.

At one point while I waited for Edward to rise, his phone rang. I was sitting at my desk, reading one of Sherlock Holmes' adventures, when I heard a faint buzzing coming from Edward's jacket pocket. He didn't even stir, so I reached over and pulled the device out of its holding, intending to silence it. The name on the caller ID, however, had me answering the call without thinking. “Jacob, where have you been?” I asked urgently.

“Who is this?” he demanded with more force than I'd heard from him before. His voice sounded lower, gravelly, and almost foreign.

“Bella,” I answered, and he made an angry snorting sound.

“Put Edward on the phone. Now.”

“No, he's asleep.”

“What did you do to him?”

“Nothing!” I sighed, annoyed at Jacob's attitude. “He hasn't gotten any sleep this past week because you disappeared off the face of the earth. You didn't answer his calls or anything, and he's been worried sick. I just got him to go to sleep a few hours ago, and there's no way I'm waking him up until he's fully rested.” I heard Jacob's heavy breathing on the other end, but he didn't say anything. “In the meantime,” I went on, “you can tell me what you've been up to.”

“I can't,” he stated. “You can tell me why one of your kind is after me.”

“How should I know?” I responded, letting my exasperation through more in my tone. “I guess because you smell delicious to him.”

He huffed, actually huffed, like some kind of…wolf. “Look, when Edward wakes up, have him call me. As soon as possible.” With those words, the call ended, and I put Edward's phone down.

I had no idea what was going on with Jacob, but I did know that I didn't like how he sounded one bit. The sound of his voice alone made me feel nervous, and his attitude towards me just angered me, especially the more I thought about it. I sincerely hoped he hadn't intended to speak to Edward like that, after all the worrying Edward had gone through this week. If that were the case, I’d have a thing or two to say to Jacob myself.

When Edward at last awoke, I was in the kitchen, drinking blood from a glass. I had decided to go that route in case this very event happened and I needed to get upstairs quickly. Drinking straight from the bag carried the downside that one had to wait until the bag was empty to pull one's teeth from it, or else one would have a big, bloody mess on one's hands.

I put the glass down and dashed upstairs when I heard the creak from my futon. Edward was just sitting up when I walked in, rubbing at his eyes. He looked about himself in confusion until his gaze focused on me. He squinted a little bit. “Bella? Where am I?” he asked thickly.

I walked over to him and handed him a glass of water I had put on my desk some hours ago, at Ana's suggestion. He drank it as I explained, “You're at my place. I brought you here before school started, remember?”

He nodded, looking at me. His eyes were still bleary from sleep, but they weren't red anymore, and the dark circles under his eyes had lightened. I noticed that he smelled a little musky, and realized that, having slept in his thick jacket, he must have been quite warm in his sleep and had sweat a great deal. The scent was nearly overpowering, and I found myself once again on the edge of jumping all over him.

He handed me the empty glass with a quiet “Thanks.” I nodded and set the glass on the floor as I watched him glance about my room. Though now my desk held a stack of books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as some uncompleted homework, my room remained its same bare self. I felt a bit self-conscious about it, knowing how strange that was compared to humans, but Edward made no comment.

“How do you feel?” I asked him.

“I feel like I slept harder than the dead,” he said. His eyes widened. “Er, sorry,” he said awkwardly.

“You didn't move an inch,” I told him in a light tone. “Not even the dead can claim that.” I wasn't really sure if one could call vampires “undead”, honestly. We didn't feel like corpses – we felt like statues. Technically, though, we weren't living. Living creatures grow and change. Vampires stay as they are, forever. Even corpses changed, though if only to rot.

Not liking this train of thought, I told Edward, “Jacob called.”

He straightened up immediately. “When?” he asked, his hand digging into his pocket for his phone.

“About four hours ago,” I told him, reaching over and picking up his phone from my desk. I handed it to him. “He wasn't too pleased to hear you were asleep.”

Edward nodded, his fingers flying across the touchscreen of his phone. I wondered if he was actually listening. I stood up. “I'll be downstairs,” I told him over my shoulder, figuring he'd want privacy to talk to his friend. He nodded at my words and I left the room.

From the kitchen, however, I could hear his voice clearly. It seemed Jacob answered Edward's call pretty quickly, because Edward's voice floated down to me, demanding to know where Jacob was all week. There was a long pause as Edward listened to Jacob no doubt recounting whatever it was that had so completely taken his time. I sipped at my glass of blood, hardly interested in it. “Oh, Jacob,” Edward said lowly, and then, “I'll come over now.” I stiffened, wondering if I should stop him or let him go. Then I heard him say, “Fine, then I'll see you tomorrow.”

I quickly busied myself with wiping down the counter to appear like I had been engaged the whole time when I heard Edward's heavy footfalls on the stairs. I looked up at him as he entered the kitchen, and saw that his gaze was focused on my half-drunk glass of blood. He stared at the glass for a few seconds before looking at me. I smiled tightly. “How is Jacob?”

“I'm not sure,” he answered, sounding weary. “He wouldn't tell me many details.” The way he avoided meeting my eyes made me think it was Edward who wasn't sharing the full details, but I let it slide. It probably wasn't any of my business.

Then again, vampires were involved; it certainly was my business. But at this moment, I decided to give Edward a break. After all, we both had had a very stressful week. I folded the cloth in my hands neatly, then moved to pour out the blood in my glass. Looking at it, however, reminded me how hungry I was. This reminded me that Edward must be absolutely famished – he hadn't eaten in over twelve hours!

“How about you go sit down and I'll make you something to eat,” I suggested, though wondering what I would make him. We hadn’t really shared any real meals together, and beyond vending machine snacks and trail mix, I had no idea what he usually ate.

Edward raised his eyebrows. “You cook?”

“Well,” I started, glancing around the kitchen. “A bit.”

He smiled a little, and I wondered when the last time I had seen that crooked smile of his had been. Certainly far too long, and I wanted to wrap my arms around him as much as I could and kiss those lips of his. “What year was it that you lasted cooked anything?” he asked.

“Just a few weeks ago, I’ll have you know,” I said. “I boiled some eggs.” His smiled strengthened.

“Well, how about you observe the master?” he asked me.

I stared at him, completely taken off-guard. “You know how to cook?”

“I quite enjoy it, actually,” he said. “I think it shows.” He glanced down at his body, then smiled again. I'm pretty sure I started to feel that weakness in my knees that every heroine in every romance novel feels (I’d gotten my hands on more than a few of those).

I returned his smile. “Show me what you know.”

Chapter Text

We shared a meal. He ate an omelet which he cooked and which he let me taste a bit of, although I found it quite bland. I drank blood from a glass, the sight of which didn’t unnerve Edward at all, or at least not that I could tell.

Edward spoke up after a few minutes. “You know,” he said, glancing around the dining room, “you wouldn't really think vampires live here. It looks pretty normal. At least until you look in the fridge.” He chuckled lightly.

“Edward,” I said, shaking my head, “you say 'vampire' too easily.”

He met my gaze with a raised eyebrow. “I guess you don't expect it from a human, do you? Being so willing to accept that you exist.”

“No, I don't,” I confirmed. “How can you be?”

Edward broke our eye contact to gaze down at his plate. “I've always felt that your kind exists,” he said, his gaze turning inward. “No—I’ve always known. I have met one of you before.”

I stiffened. “You have?” I asked. “When? Who?”

Edward smiled and looked at me again. “This is going to sound ridiculous,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “I saw someone when I was young, perhaps seven. I was camping with Jacob's family in the forest. We were on a hike when I thought I saw someone. I thought it was Jacob’s father, so I ran to catch up with him. Only when I got close did I realize it was a stranger. He had tan skin, but it didn’t look right, kind of gray. And when he turned to look at me, his eyes were a bright crimson red.” Edward’s words slowed on this last point, and I did not miss the significance of this inflection.

I let out a breath, shaking my head. One at a time, I removed my contacts and set them on the table beside my empty glass. I blinked a couple of times to adjust to the feeling of not having them on, then met Edward’s gaze. “This vampire in the woods. He didn’t hurt you?” I asked.

“He didn’t,” Edward answered. “I wonder if he wanted me to see him. He ran off after a minute, running faster than any person or animal I’ve ever seen. Ever since that moment, I have been entirely obsessed with your kind. I bugged Jacob’s father and uncle for any stories they know. They’re Catholic, you know, and know a bunch of local supernatural legends. Jacob’s uncle is just as obsessed as I am with this stuff.”

“And is Jacob?” I asked.

“Not in the least,” Edward answered with a chuckle. “He didn’t see the vampire in the woods, and he always said his uncle was crazy.” He paused a moment, looking thoughtful. “That changed recently.”

I leaned forward, resting my arms on the table. “Is that why you told him about me?”

He looked confused, and his brow furrowed. “What do you—”

“I overheard you telling him,” I confessed. He still looked bemused, so I explained, “It was that day, after we met in the library for the first time, and you got a good look at my eyes. You and Jacob went hiking that day after school, and it was then that you told him about me. I know, because I was out there.”

He was quiet a moment, looking like he was recalling the event in question. Then, he laughed, throwing me off guard. “You actually heard that?” he asked, still chuckling. “Oh, that's embarrassing.”

“Maybe for you,” I said lowly. “It made me wonder if you were a threat to me.”

Edward's chuckling stopped immediately. “Why is that?” he asked, leaning forward.

I bit my lip. “Humans aren't supposed to know about us,” I told him. “To hear one talking about us to another is a...rather unpleasant experience. And considering Jacob is…” I stopped myself, but Edward pursued.

“Jacob is what?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. I searched his gaze, wondering what Jacob had told him on the phone.

“Catholic,” I answered quickly. “We, ah, tend to get a little tense around the religious, you know?”

He nodded, but I could not tell if he believed my fib or not. “I can understand that,” he said. He was quiet for a moment, then asked with hesitation, “Did you ever consider, ah, silencing me?”

My eyes widened and I knew I sounded more emotional than I should when I said, “Of course not! I could never!” I stopped and took a moment to collect myself, aware of Edward's surprised look. “I mean, that would just be unnecessary,” I said, calmer now. “When I thought you were close to figuring us out, I was prepared to pack up and move.”

“Move?” He raised his eyebrows. “After all you'd exposed me to?”

“Exposed?” I squawked.

“Well, we've done a rather lot of touching,” he pointed out. “In case you forgot.” He grinned as I stuttered out something unintelligible. “I'm not saying that's a bad thing,” he said after a moment, and I felt a shiver run down my spine at the slightly husky note that had entered his voice.

“I'm still prone to mistakes,” I said quietly, “especially when I'm around you.”

“Why is that?” he asked, leaning forward a bit more now, so that he rested his elbows on the table.

“Because, Edward, everything about you absolutely draws me in.” I leaned forward more, too, my eyes looking deeply into his. I heard his heart rate increase, saw that his breathing had become a bit more shallow. “Every moment I'm around you, I feel like I have to hold myself on a tight leash, or else I will just ravage you.”

As I spoke, I noticed how much my own feelings seemed reflected in his eyes. However, Edward looked away suddenly, and I noticed color starting to rise up his neck and his freckled cheeks turned rather pink. “Well,” he said, scratching at the back of his neck, “that's pretty intense.”

“Too intense?” I asked, wondering if I were about to drive him off.

He let out a breath. “Nothing I can't handle,” he said with a small, somewhat forced grin. I nodded, hoping that I hadn't scared him too much. My words were rather crude, I realized, and Edward was a bit more of a gentleman than most teenage boys. Perhaps he was offended.

“I'm sorry,” I said quickly. “That was rather, ah, inappropriate and…unladylike.”

Edward nodded, leaning back in his chair now. “Don't worry about it,” he said, his words also rapid. “It's fine, really.”

His movements were odd and stiff, and I wondered if he was okay for a moment, until I took in a breath and smelled the arousal coming from him. I couldn't contain the grin that broke out on my lips. “Oh Edward,” I said, standing up. Had I one less modicum of self-control, I would have leapt the length of the table into his lap. Instead, I carefully walked around the table, watching as Edward’s dark eyes ran over my form.

He stood up as I approached and closed the distance between us. I kissed him, gently at first, and when he returned in kind, I gripped his wrists and pressed him into the table with my hips. I felt his arousal, and he seemed like he would give into it until I felt him push against my shoulders. I didn’t want to part, but I made myself, gazing up into his flushed face.

“I—I can’t, Bella,” Edward stammered, his breath coming out hot and heavy. “This—all this. I can’t.”

Releasing my hold on him, I backed away. “Did I hurt you?” I asked.

“No, no, not at all,” he said, still breathing heavily. He closed his eyes for a moment, seemingly to calm himself down. He looked at me again, his face still a deep shade of red. “I’m not so ready for…that.”

“You’re not ready for…” My brain, still focused on what my body wanted, was sluggish to put his meaning together. “Oh. Oh, I didn’t mean to make you…” I stammered a little more. “I’m sorry, Edward.”

“It’s fine,” he said quickly, running a hand through his hair. “I’m sure you’re used to doing, you know, whatever it is you like.”

“Actually,” I said, chancing a smile now, “I’ve never done that before either.”

His eyes widened, and his genuine surprise was plain in his voice. “You haven’t? But you’re a vampire.”

“And that requires that I have sex?”

“Well, no, but I figured you would have.” He sighed. “You seemed like…you know what you’re doing.”

I laughed lightly. “That’s instinct,” I said. He smiled then but still looked uncomfortable. I reached out and grasped his hands in mind. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”

He nodded, and then kissed the backs of my hands. It was a gentle gesture; I had never felt anything quite like it. A warmth formed inside me: not the heat of arousal, but the tender warmth of connection. Edward had reached into the innermost part of me and awoken something which was like him and which had long laid dormant and dead.

Human affection.

-

Edward remained with me throughout the night. I had wondered if he needed to get home and if his parents would wonder where he was, but he told me his parents were out of the country currently. We talked a little more about vampires, but as the night wore on, the two of us ended up laying on the living room couch while black and white films played on the television. I rested my head on his chest and heard his steady heartbeat and the rush of blood in his veins. He fell asleep for a couple of hours, and I was content to simply watch him.

Just after dawn, Edward mentioned how he had to get to Christo Rey and talk to Jacob. I really didn't want him to go, but I knew he had to see to his best friend. My only worry, however, was if he okay to drive. After all, driving through town was no big deal, but navigating the narrow cliff-side roads on the way to Christo Rey was just quite risky, especially to someone who still had sleep debt from the past week.

“I'll take you there,” I insisted, but I already saw Edward's response in his eyes.

“I need to go on my own,” he said firmly. “Jacob won't want you there.”

“I'll leave after I drop you off.”

“And strand me there?”

“We can take your car, and I'll go home on foot.”

“Or I can take my car and you can stay home.” I noted the annoyed tone that had entered his voice. I knew Edward would never agree to my coming with him, and continued insistence would only irritate him further.

So instead I followed him.

I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care. Humans are so fragile, and just about anything could kill them. I couldn’t bear the thought of Edward careening off the side of a cliff or crashing into a tree because he nodded off behind the wheel. I would just follow him to Jacob’s house and then turn around the leave. I would only ensure Edward was safe.

I drove out to my usual spot on the edge of the woods, right near the beginning of a hiking trail, and parked my car. I then shot off into the woods and found the road within a few minutes. It wasn't hard to find Edward's car along that road, since his was the only one on it at seven o'clock on a Saturday morning.

I stayed close to Edward's car, staying out of his sight, until he at last pulled into Jacob's driveway. I hung back behind a tangle of trees and watched for a moment as Edward got out of his car and walked up to the house's front door. I was about to leave when a deep voice called Edward's name from across the spacious yard, standing at the edge of the tree line.

I followed the sound to its originator, struck by the sight I saw. He was tall, his body grown long and thick with bulging muscle from his wide chest down to his hefty legs. He wore only a pair of gym shorts, exposing all of this great musculature to the eye, and the skin of his chest, arms, and belly were marked by great, horridly jagged lines which I suspected were stretch marks. I spied a curious tattoo on his shoulder which looked quite fresh. His long, black hair was tied back out his face. He looked like a grown man, and if I had never met Jacob in person, I would have regarded this man as Jacob’s father or uncle. But I recognized that face and those eyes which had regarded me with such mistrust back in Port Angeles just a few weeks ago, and I could not deny that this was that same boy.

Jacob crossed the plot of land, waling with a long, slow stride that reminded me of an animal stalking its prey. “Edward, I told you not to come here,” I heard Jacob snarl as he got closer to his friend. Edward didn't answer but only stood in stunned silence. Jacob walked up beside Edward, peering down into Edward’s eyes. Side-by-side, I saw that Jacob had grown a head taller than Edward, easily putting him over six and a half feet by my estimation.

“Jacob,” Edward finally managed to say, his voice barely above a whisper, “what—what happened to you?”

“I can't tell you that,” Jacob said, a note of frustration in his voice. “Just get the hell out of here, Edward, and stay away.” Edward shook his head and tried to reach out to his friend, but Jacob smacked Edward's hand away. By the way Edward gasped, it must have stung. “Damn it, Edward, take your blood sucker and get out of here!” Jacob bellowed at last.

My own muscles tensed as Jacob looked over in my direction – actually, right at me, even though I was sure they couldn't see me. I wanted to run, but fought the urge, because I had a feeling Jacob would give chase somehow.

“Jacob,” Edward spoke up quietly, “there's no one-”

“Your vampire followed you,” Jacob interrupted him. “Or you're playing dumb. I don't care. Just take her and get out.”

I saw Edward look over in my direction, possibly to try to see what Jacob was seeing. Steeling my nerves, knowing it was best to face Jacob rather than run, I calmly stepped out from my hiding place and approached the two boys. Though I wanted to see what Edward's reaction to my presence would be, I kept my gaze on Jacob. I knew I wasn't safe around him.

“Bella,” Edward spoke up, an angry note in his tone, “I told you to stay home.”

“You're not the boss of me,” I replied lightly, but peering into Jacob's dark eyes, my playful died on my lips. I saw only an animal behind those brown irises, one that appeared ready to rip me limb from stony limb. Jacob grimaced at me, his hands balling into white-knuckled fists.

“Get out of here, blood sucker,” Jacob growled at me. I noticed he was widening his stance, and that his shoulders hunched forward. “Warn your friends. I’m going to hunt you all down for what you did to me.”

I felt my own instincts starting to take over, and I found myself baring my own teeth, my fangs exposed. Rational thought fled at his threat to Ana. I could only see myself fighting back against this monster, ripping open his throat and spilling his stinking blood on the cold ground.

“Bella!” Edward snapped at me, and I felt his hands on my arms pull me towards his car. I yelped and broke free of Edward's grasp. “Bella, snap out of it! Let's go!” he yelled at me, and this brought me back. I shook my head, then slid into Edward's car as he did, and he peeled out of Jacob's driveway, kicking up gravel in his wake.

Chapter Text

Edward was silent on the drive back into town, and he had the steering wheel in a vice-like grip. I could feel the tension, anger, and confusion come off him in waves that just about affected me in similar ways. I didn't say anything, both because I had nothing to say and because I did not know what I could say to calm Edward's torrential feelings. There was no doubt that he was furious with me for following him, but I couldn't be sure how close to the front of his mind such thoughts were.

He dropped me off at my house. Without a word, he simply slowed the car to a stop in front of my driveway and waited for me to get out. His narrowed gaze never left the view outside of the windshield in front of him.

“Are you okay, Edward?” I asked. He didn’t answer, but I saw his jaw clench. Suddenly I sensed there was a great chasm between us; that tender connection had been severed. “I'll see you later, then,” I said quietly, opening the door.

“Whether I want you to or not, of course,” he muttered as I slid out of the car. I turned back to him with a small glare of my own.

“I heard that,” I told him, but he didn't respond. “Look, I only—”

“Good night, Bella,” he interrupted, his tone curt. I swallowed a swell of anger and closed the car door, resisting the urge to slam it through the frame. Edward sped off as I made my way up the driveway, the wheels of his car squealing on the wet pavement.

I slammed the door closed as I walked inside, then dashed up to my room to sulk. I laid on my futon, taking in a breath to smell Edward's scent that still lingered there. If my eyes could still produce tears, I'm certain one or two angry ones would have spilled over at that point.

Ana appeared in my doorway, looking at me with concern. “Belle, why did Vin Diesel take you home?”

I looked up at her with confusion. “Who is Vin Diesel?” I asked, thinking him to be one of her vampire friends. She had many friends with odd names.

She shook her head. “Never mind,” she said, walking over to sit next to me on my futon. “What's up? You sure aren't.”

Letting out a very long sigh, I sat up and turned to Ana. “Edward's angry with me,” I told her. Ana didn't say anything, so I offered an explanation: “Edward decided to go to Christo Rey to see Jacob this morning, and I thought he might not be fit to drive those twisting cliff-side roads, and he wouldn't let me come with him, so I followed him instead.”

Ana's eyebrow rose. “By car or on foot?”

“On foot,” I said. “I didn't mean for him to know I was following him. I just wanted to make sure he got to Jacob's house okay, so I followed his car and kept out of sight. He didn't even know I was there until—until Jacob sniffed me out!” I let out a disgusted noise, which turned the corners of Ana’s lips up.

“Has he transformed?” she asked as if I were telling her an entertaining fairy tale.

I glared at her. “He must have. He looked quite different.”

“Let me guess: Mr. Big-and-Tall?” she asked. I nodded. “Damn. I was hoping I’d have gotten James out of here in time before the werewolves sensed what was going on. Did he try to hurt you?”

I shook my head. “He definitely wanted to. I wanted to run, but I got the feeling that he would chase me down. So I instead decided to face him. Maybe that was stupid. I almost attacked him myself. If Edward wasn’t there, I don’t know if I would have come home today.”

Ana nodded soberly. “Werewolves tend to have that effect on us,” she said.

I sighed. “Edward wasn't exactly thrilled to see me there. He's the one who took me home.”

“Naturally,” Ana said, leaning back against the cushion and kicking her feet out in front of her. “Humans really don't take well to the whole vampire-stalk thing.”

I bit down on my lip, wanting to kick myself. “And to think Edward had taken so well to my being a vampire,” I said, burying my head in my hands. “I’ll have to tell you about that, but…not now.” Ana leaned forward and affectionately nipped my ear.

“Give him some time to calm down, Belle,” Ana said, running her nails down my back lightly. “His girlfriend is a vampire and his best friend is a werewolf. No matter how accepting he seemed, he’s gonna have a trial dealing with that. And you’ll be there when he needs someone.”

I managed to crack a smile at her words and I sat up, brushing my hair out of my face. “You’re right,” I said. I would give Edward space over the weekend, and come Monday, I would apologize for my breach of his boundaries and trust. From there, I would have to leave up to him.

-

That opportunity never happened for me, however, because I spent the better part of Monday in bed, recovering from one of the most terrifying attacks I've ever experienced.

That Sunday evening, Ana drove me out to where I had parked my car so I could fetch it. The moment I stepped out of her car and took in the inviting scent of the forest, I decided that I could do with a carefree run around between the trees. Ana told me she had some business to take care of in Port Angeles, so she left me to my own devices.

I'd spent the whole day thinking over how I'd apologize to Edward. I knew sometimes humans gave each other gifts or performed some small, meaningful action in addition to verbal communication. I pondered over what to do, or if I should even do anything. I wasn't entirely sure what was appropriate, given the circumstances.

Running through the woods cleared my mind and helped me to relax. I grinned as I jumped from branch to swaying branch and dashed between fallen logs and mounds of mossy rock. I bounded over a creek ten feet wide, the water sailing below me in a flash, and I landed on the balls of my feet on the other side, a small laugh escaping my lips.

I dashed out to the cliffs, halting to a stop mere inches from the drop-off. I took in the salty sea air, feeling the cold wind whip my hair about my shoulders. There really was nothing better than getting out and getting away, in a place where no one could find me.

Or so I thought, but at that moment, I heard a deep, chilling growl right behind me. My senses going on alert, I turned around, batting away my hair that the wind at my back blew into my vision. I peered into the thick foliage of the forest and tried to sniff out where the growl had come from – it didn't sound like any normal animal I'd found in these woods. I was upwind from the creature, however, and couldn't smell much but salty sea.

I made a move to run away, but I saw movement in the dark distance. My muscles began to tense and my fangs slid from behind my canines. I could not see the creature, but deep within me, I knew what it was.

There was a long moment where nothing moved, and then all I could see was a dark blur bolt towards me. I made for the ground to the left, dodging out of the way of the attack, and the creature halted just before the cliff drop-off like I had only minutes before.

Standing still, I took in the sight of the creature: a great black wolf, bigger than a horse. It bared white, sharp fangs and let out another deep bone-chilling growl which shook the trees and the stones beneath my feet. Its deadly was intent clear.

Knowing when best to fight and when to flee, I turned tail and dashed off into the forest, only to hear the monster behind me give chase. I leaped into the branches at first opportunity to attempt to lose the creature, but it stayed right on my trail, knocking down full, living trees as if they were mere fence posts. At times, I thought I had finally given it the slip, only to catch a glimpse of the dark beast jump over a boulder or duck under a log. We kept on like this for several minutes as I tried to get a sense of direction and gain some rationality over my growing panic.

I dove for a high branch and caught on to it, only to have it break under my weight. I plummeted to the ground, righting myself to land on my feet the way a cat does. Though I fell probably fifty feet, I landed on the ground with no pain and shot off before the monster could snap its powerful jaws around my leg as it had moved to do.

I heard its teeth gnash and shuddered, but continued to run. I came up against the creek again and jumped the over the flowing water as easily as I had previously. Before I could register that my pursuant hadn't made the same jump, a second creature leaped out of the bushes to my right. This one was smaller than the first, and lighter in color. Taken off guard, I stumbled over a collection of boulders and found myself on the ground.

Two more of these massive wolves were on me, then, and I was too troubled in attempting—and failing—to find an escape to even catch the color of fur that blurred in front of my vision. I felt the first gnashing of teeth against my hard skin that caused a jolt of sharp pain to shoot up my arm; another shot through my side, and I screamed.

I snarled and slashed blindly with my sharp nails, catching fur and flesh in them. I heard one creature yelp out, then another as I clawed into their thick skin. I felt hot blood on my fingers and smelled it in the air even as another set of jaws cracked through the flesh on my calf. I saw a black limb flash through my vision and bit into it, crunching bone as if it were a twig.

I was losing this battle, however, and I knew it; I felt myself growing weaker by the second. Raising my arms to slash became a chore, and I started to feel myself slip into darkness. Pain was the only thing keeping from unconsciousness, and I held onto it as long as I could.

From my right, I think, I heard a yelp – this one louder and more pronounced. I then saw a brown blur before my eyes as one monster was thrown into another. I heard a snarl not unlike my own, and then a second, and before I knew it, the beasts were retreating.

I caught a glimpse of Ana in my peripheral vision and I tried to focus on her. Her eyes were blazing, her long fangs bared, as she barked words to someone I couldn't see. I felt myself being gathered into someone's arms, and as this person began to carry me through the woods, darkness clouded my vision and I blacked out.

Chapter Text

Vampires can't sleep, but they can experience thorough unconsciousness with enough pain. I awoke a couple of times during my blackout, only to find myself entirely consumed in agony to the point I could not even open my eyes, and I quickly fell into blackness again.

When I at last woke, I could still feel my nerves on fire, but at least I could also manage to sit up. I looked around, noting the heavy curtains pulled over the windows to block out the light. A large flat screen television was positioned across the room from me, a silent black void in the wall. A familiar perfume scent lingered in the room and on the sheets I laid on. I quickly realized that I was on Ana's big bed in her room.

I lifted my hand to rub at my eyes, only to let it drop right back where it was, feeling too heavy. I heard heavy, unfamiliar footsteps approach the door, and I immediately went on alert, baring my fangs as the door slowly opened.

I looked up to meet golden eyes. The man before me stood tall and at ease as he peered down at me. A smile turned his pale lips upward as he said, “Sitting up is a good sign. How do you feel?”

I watched him carefully as he approached the bed, noticing how he held a glass of blood in one hand, the other on his hip. “I feel horrid,” I told him honestly. “Who are you?”

“Carlisle Cullen,” he answered, holding out the hand from his hip. “It's a pleasure to meet you at last, Bella.”

With hesitation, I took his hand. He gripped mine firmly, then felt along my wrist and forearm. His cool, gentle touch nearly felt like flames licking at my skin, and I resisted pulling away as he completed his examination. “What day is it?” I asked.

“It'll be Tuesday in about five minutes,” he said, “and by sunrise, you should be nearly right as rain.” He released my hand, and I let it drop into my lap. “It is a good thing that we heal quickly.” He held the glass of blood out to me, and I noticed a plastic straw sticking out of it. “You should feed as much as you can.”

I took the glass with a nod of thanks and slowly slipped the blood through to the straw. It was difficult to work my mouth at first, and every micro movement feeling like pins and needles in my jaw. But the more I fed, the more the sensation faded, and I drained the glass within seconds.

Carlisle took the glass from me and set it on the nightstand. He took my hand in his again, feeling my wrist once more, almost as if he were checking for a pulse. The feeling of his skin against my own didn’t hurt as much as it had before the blood, and he seemed to gauge this from my reaction. Satisfied, he released my hand.

“Where is Ana?” I asked, sitting forward.

“She is downstairs,” he answered. “I’ll send her up, if you feel up to it.” I nodded, and he left the room. Seconds later, Ana was beside me.

She looked like she wanted to fling her arms around me, so I pulled her into a hug. She returned my embrace carefully, as if I were a fragile human.

At last she pulled away, and letting out a long sigh. “I still can’t believe you survived that,” she said. “If we had just been even a moment later—I can’t think about it.”

“I wasn’t anywhere near Christo Rey,” I insisted, as if I were in trouble, but Ana shook her head.

“Their territory could extend for miles beyond that town,” she explained. “They may even claim Forks.”

I felt an immediate sinking feeling in my gut. “We have leave, don’t we?” I asked reluctantly. Surely this was a definitive sign that the werewolves would continue to hunt us until we were gone.

“Certainly not,” Ana responded to my surprise. For a moment, I thought she was going to monologue about taking a stand and holding our ground, which I thought would be really foolish. But instead she said, “We need to protect this town.”

My eyes went wide. “They’re attacking people?”

“Not the werewolves,” Ana corrected. “James.”

“But you chased him off.”

“Only for a while.” Ana sighed again. “He will be back, Belle. He’s got a target, and he will never stop until he has won his prize.”

“Surely if he goes after Jacob now, the werewolves will take care of him.”

“James isn’t stupid,” Ana said, looking away from me now. “He’s going to be thrilled to take this challenge. He will return to this town, and he will waste people to feed on while he takes his time hunting Jacob.” She looked back at me again, now taking both of my hands in hers. “Belle, I’ve known James for a long time. There’s a good chance he might try to use Edward as bait.”

I stared at Ana as I processed what she said. Everyone in town was in danger, including my friends—but especially Edward. Already I felt the urge to run out into the street and search for Edward, to find him and keep him by my side where I could at least protect him.

“I have to go find him,” I said immediately, moving to get up, but Ana grabbed my shoulders and held me in place.

“Not now, Belle,” Ana said. “You need to rest and feed. We’ve got Edward’s house covered for now.”

“We?” I asked, letting myself settle back on the bed.

Ana nodded to the door. “Carlisle and his coven,” she answered. “I’ll tell you the details later. Rest now. Trust me, Edward will be safe.” I nodded my agreement reluctantly. As Ana left to get me some more blood, I peered at the curtained windows, hoping Edward would be safe during the night.

-

Relief flooded me when I pulled into the parking lot at school and saw Edward’s car parked in the far corner of the lot. I parked my own car, then pulled my cell phone out of my backpack and flipped it open. My fine motor skills were still recovering, but despite this challenge I managed to type out a text message to him, asking him, “Where are you?” I didn’t move until the phone vibrated with his response.

“Library. Why?”

By the time I could have typed out any sort of sensible response, I could be in the library, so I grabbed my backpack and fled my car without even locking it. I jogged right past Mike and Jessica, who were standing by stone steps as they usually did in the mornings, and dashed into the library. I scanned the warm, musty-smelling room, and I spotted Edward’s green backpack on a table.

He stepped out from an aisle just as I reached the table, and we locked eyes. The dark circles under his eyes had returned, and his acne had taken a turn for the worse. There was a particularly bad explosion of pimples along his forehead. Even still, I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and plant a huge sloppy kiss on his face.

Edward, however, didn’t look particularly affectionate. There was a cold tone to his voice when he asked, “Where were you yesterday?”

“That’s a very long story,” I said, glancing at the few other bodies in the library. I could hardly relate to him the werewolf attack in their presence.

“You missed the bio test,” he said disdainfully, but I gaped at him.

“Exams haven’t exactly been the first thing on my mind,” I said.

He scoffed. “I suppose they wouldn’t be.” He picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “Well I have to return to my mundane life,” he spat and headed out of the library.

I followed after him. “Edward, please,” I said to him, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. He looked at me, but he didn’t slow his stride. “Come over to my home today, and we can talk about this.”

“I don’t think so,” he said. Then he stopped suddenly, and I nearly collided into him. “Or do I not get a choice in that either?”

“Of course you do,” I said, feeling my hope sinking and my worry mounting. “You don’t have to come, but it would be safer if—“

He cut me off. “Safer? I’m pretty sure I’m safer staying away from you.” I was struck silent by his words, and for a moment, we simply stared at one another. He looked like he was trying to figure out what I was about to do. Attack him? Kidnap him? Was he expecting the worse?

The bell rang, crashing through the silence between us. I broke eye contact and gazed down at my hands. I saw him turn around in my peripheral vision and walk away.

I didn’t stay for classes.

Carlisle was sitting in my living room when I returned home. He was now joined by two other vampires, a man and a woman, and all three pairs of golden eyes fell on me as I walked through the front door.

“Bella,” Carlisle said, surprise in his voice. “Are you not feeling well?”

“I’m fine,” I assured him. “Are these your coven mates?” I nodded to the newcomers.

“Yes,” Carlisle said with a handsome smile. “Two of them, anyway. Bella, this is Emmett and Alice.”

They were total opposites. Emmett was a very large man. He would have given Jacob a run for his money if they met each other in combat. Sitting down, he was nearly as tall as me, and his long legs stretched out in front of him. Alice beside him was nearly hidden by his mass. She sat forward and smiled at me, and I couldn’t decide if Alice’s petiteness exaggerated Emmett’s gigantism or the other way around.

Earlier that morning, Carlisle and Ana had explained to me that Carlisle’s coven mates were spread throughout the Forks area, keeping watch should James return. There three others besides the ones in my living room at that moment: Rosalie, Jasper, and Esme.

“You didn’t bring your human with you?” Emmett asked, glancing behind me as if I could simply hide him behind my back.

“He was reluctant to return to the vampire lair,” I responded, which made Emmett chuckle. Still, there were more vampires in Forks now than there probably had ever been. This could do nothing but further antagonize the werewolves, surely.

Carlisle looked to Alice. “Is that okay?” he asked her.

Her brow furrowed as she focused on something I couldn’t see. Then she smiled and said, “He’ll be fine.”

Carlisle nodded, looking pleased, and then turned to me. “Please, sit with us, Bella. We have some new information.”

“Already?” I asked as Carlisle stood up out of the chair he was sitting in to offer to me. He gave my shoulder an affectionate squeeze as I sat down.

“Alice here’s seen ‘em,” Emmett said, and I looked to the woman in question.

“Them?” I repeated.

Alice nodded somberly and responded, “Apparently James has decided to bring his mate back with him.”

I let out a long breath and slumped against the chair. James himself was more than a handful. Ana had told me of James’ mate, Victoria, when he had first come to stay with us. She was a skilled, agile vampire almost equal in strength to James. “And you’ve seen them in Forks already?”

Shaking her head, Alice explained, “I have seen them in the future. I have the gift of foresight.” Her tone was oddly casual, as if someone possessing such an ability was standard. “However, they may be here as soon as this afternoon. We have to be vigilant.”

Beside her, Emmett cracked his knuckles. “We’ll be ready for ‘em,” he said eagerly, and I almost pitied James would have him waiting. Emmett was built like an elephant; he could probably rip James apart like a ragdoll.

“If we can find them,” Alice said. “Victoria is good at eluding anyone looking for her. Even me.” She sounded impressed rather than troubled. “If we can catch them as they enter the area, that wouldn’t be a problem, but we have those mutts to put up with.”

“Alice,” Carlisle chided. Alice only rolled her dark eyes in response. “I will deal with the werewolves,” Carlisle went on.

“Alone?” I asked, thinking back to my attack.

“I’m not going to fight them,” Carlisle said with a chuckle. “I will speak with their pack leader.”

“They’re not going to listen to reason,” Alice argued. “The moment you tell them even more vampires are going to show up, they’re going to maul you and come after us.”

“And that’s why Carlisle’s not taking you,” Emmett said to her.

“He’s not taking you, either,” Alice responded, poking his large bicep, “although he should.”

“Emmett’s far too intimidating,” Carlisle said, striding across the living room. He stopped and stood beside me. “But you aren’t, Bella.”

“What?” Alice said, jumping to her feet like an alarmed cat. “You can’t bring her back there. They nearly killed her.”

“I’ve already contacted them,” Carlisle said in a calm tone. “We’ll not be meeting in Christo Rey, but rather on neutral ground in Port Angeles.” I stared at Carlisle as he smiled at me. “You don’t have to come with me, of course,” he said. “I understand if you rather wouldn’t. However, I do think your presence would be helpful.”

The very thought of facing those werewolves again sent my mind reeling, but I managed to get ahold of myself. This was a diplomatic meeting, not round two. And even if Edward wanted nothing to do with me, I had to protect him as well as my friends back at Forks High. This was beyond my need for comfort.

“I’ll come,” I said, and Alice threw up her hands and began to pace, her fury plain on her face. As Emmett made half-hearted attempts to calm her down, I got to my feet and followed Carlisle outside to my car. As we drove, I steeled my nerves and gathered up every ounce of courage I had in my being. It hardly felt like enough.

“Shall we have some music?” Carlisle asked. I nodded, and he turned on the radio and tuned it to a classical station. Bombastic orchestral music played quietly from the speakers. “Ana tells me you have a short history with one of these werewolves.”

I pursed my lips for a moment. “Jacob. I’ve met him twice.” I grimaced. “Or maybe three times.”

Carlisle smiled sympathetically. “One of the adolescents. I counted four among the pack.”

“How many are there?” I asked.

“We believe fourteen,” he answered. “That is, fourteen active werewolves. The older generations won’t transform, and the children are too young.”

“Is everyone in Christo Rey a werewolf?”

He shook his head. “No, no. The pack consist mostly of an insular group who live on the northern part of the town. A gang of bikers.”

I glanced to Carlisle in surprise. “There’s a werewolf biker gang in Christo Rey?” I shook my head. “And this whole time I thought Washington had nothing going for it.” Carlisle laughed.

I pulled into the parking lot of La Bella Italia. The last time I had been there, I had been with friends. I had listened to them gossip and discussed their boyfriends and vent their frustrations with school. It struck me that that restaurant had been the place I had first met Jacob, and, as Carlisle and I walked inside the fragrant dining room, I realized I would meet him again.

We spotted them the moment we walked in. Jacob was there, sitting with two other men at a table set far in a secluded corner. They were dressed in jeans and leather, the very picture of bikers. One of the men I recognized from my search for James: the black man I had inquired with in Christo Rey. I had suspected he was a werewolf then; now it was confirmed. I wondered if he had been part of the party that had attacked me. Jacob and I locked eyes. He scowled at me.

The trio rose as Carlisle and I approached, and Carlisle smiled pleasantly. "You must be Peter Thompson," he said to the man I recognized.

He nodded once. "And you are Carlisle, I take it," he said, his voice gravelly and low. His dark eyes traveled to me.

"Indeed. This is my good friend, Bella," Carlisle said, nodding to me.

Peter nodded to the boy to his left—"Paul."—and to his right—"Jacob." Paul was shorter than the other two by a couple of inches and marginally more slender. He resembled Jacob quite a bit; they could be brothers, down to the same long, black hair.

"It's a pleasure to meet you all," Carlisle said warmly.

"Let's get on with it," Jacob growled, his eyes still on me. Peter roughly pushed Jacob down into his chair, and then the rest of us sat down.

I sat rigidly on the edge of my seat, now avoiding Jacob's gaze. I felt him boring into me with his eyes, but I focused on Peter as he spoke. "We've been watching you. More of your kind have been moving into Forks, and they've been seen around Christo Rey."

“Yes, I suppose that would have caused you some anxiety," Carlisle said, which Paul glowered at him for. "We rarely congregate in such great numbers like this, but circumstances have caused us to meet."

"What circumstances?" Peter demanded, leaning forward.

At that moment, a waitress approached the table to take our orders. Her eyes were tinged with apprehension as she looked between the three heavily-muscled, leather-clad men and the pallor pair. Carlisle took the liberty to order coffee and water for us all, and as the waitress retreated, he looked back to Peter with a serious expression.

"Before I tell you," he said, glancing to Jacob and Paul, "you must promise your protégés will keep their calm."

Jacob scoffed. "We are capable of that," he spat.

"Of course," Carlisle said, meeting Peter’s scowling gaze. Although his face and countenance were calm and collected, I realized in retrospect that Carlisle must have been extremely wary of the werewolves' reactions. "We are currently attempting to deter a highly dangerous feral vampire and his mate from entering this town."

Paul let out a low, quiet growl; Jacob's hands twitched on the table. A tangle of nerves started to grow in my belly, but Carlisle's aura of serenity helped me to keep a lid on my turbulent emotions.

Peter put a single hand up to calm his younger companions. The waitress returned with our coffee, setting down the mugs with a rushed nervousness. Carlisle politely thanked the waitress and waved her off, and this paused allowed Jacob, Paul, and myself to calm down.

"Now, if I have the story correct, that feral vampire has already made attempt at you, young man," Carlisle said to Jacob, wrapping his slender fingers around his mug. Peter’s eyes narrowed, and I couldn't help but glance to Jacob.

Jacob let out a breath, his eyes narrowing further. “It did. And it’s her fault.” He gestured to me.

I returned with my own glare. “I didn’t tell him anything,” I defended.

“It came here because you live in Forks,” Jacob shot back, his voice rising. “And now look what’s happened to me!”

Peter clapped a hand on Jacob’s shoulder and shot him a look. Jacob rose from his chair and stormed out of the restaurant, slamming through the door with enough force to knock its bell off. The restaurant momentarily silenced as this happened and most of the patrons watched Jacob’s retreat.

Carlisle waited until the din returned before speaking again. “We don’t want a war,” he said quietly to Peter. “I’m offering the assistance of my coven. Bella and her companion Ana are also able to help you. We will take care of this feral vampire, but it would be much easier if we also didn’t have to fight you in the process.”

Peter nodded, glancing knowingly to Paul. “Once this thing is neutralized, you all have to leave Forks.”

“Ana and I live there,” I argued. “It’s our home.”

“Find a new one,” Peter said with little sympathy. “One bloodsucker is one too many. You only bring trouble.”

Carlisle gave my knee a reassuring pat under the table. “One thing at a time, hm? Let us address the feral vampire, and then—”

“No,” Peter barked. “I want your agreement now. Our pack hasn’t had a transformation in two hundred years. You leave this place once it’s over, before our children transform.”

Carlisle opened his mouth to speak, but I interrupted him. “Fine,” I said, drawing Peter’s attention to me. “Once James is gone, Ana and I will leave Washington. Is that good enough?”

Peter glanced to Paul once again, and I started to wonder if they had some sort of nonverbal communication going on. Peter looked at Carlisle again. “And your group?”

“We’re nomadic,” Carlisle said. “We’ll be gone before you even know it.”

Peter nodded and, getting to his feet, extended a hand. “Then we have a truce.”

Carlisle stood as well and shook Peter’s hand. “Thank you,” he said with a smile.

Peter glowered, and Paul got to his feet. Without another word, they left the restaurant, leaving Carlisle and me alone. Carlisle sat down and took a sip of his coffee.

“Do you plan to hold to that agreement?” he asked me.

“Of course,” I said, almost in a whisper.

“What about your Edward?”

I shook my head. “He’s not my Edward. He’s a mortal teenage boy. He has no business being with a vampire.” I ran a hand down my face, trying to quash the rising tide of grief bubbled in my gut. “He deserves a normal life.”

Carlisle was quiet for a few moments as I calmed myself down. Then he took up one of the menus left on the table and asked, “Shall we have some dessert?”

Chapter Text

By the time Carlisle and I returned to Forks, the day was growing long. Our drive back had been silent. I was in no mood to chatter, and Carlisle took the hint not to try. We listened to the classical station until it played a morose piano piece. The arrangement was altered, but it was the same melody which had played in Edward’s car the day I had first kissed him. I turned the radio off, leaving us in silence.

I got home to discover the party in my home had changed. Emmet and Alice were gone, now replaced by two young women. The first, a pretty, curvy brunette, smiled brightly upon seeing Carlisle, and Carlisle in turn beamed and gathered her up in his arms. They shared a deep kiss. I glanced to the other, this one broad and tall, like an Amazon warrior. She had thick blond hair which cascaded down her back in waves and framed her gorgeous face. She met my gaze, but gave me no greeting.

Carlisle pulled away from the brunette, although he did not release her. “Bella,” he called to me, “let me introduce you my lovely wife, Esme.”

Esme smiled at me warmly. Pulling away from her husband, who was reluctant to let her go, she approached me to grasp both of my hands in hers. “I’ve heard so much about you from Ana. I’m glad to meet you at last.”

“Ana hasn’t told me about any of you,” I said honestly, and Esme laughed.

“I expect as much,” she said. She turned to the other woman. “Please, Bella, meet my daughter, Rosalie.” Rosalie’s expression didn’t change, but she did nod to me once.

“Daughter?” I asked.

“Adopted,” Rosalie said coldly. She turned to Carlisle. “I’m only here to for an update. Jasper saw a few more mutts move into Forks, but they’re avoiding us.”

“That’s a good sign,” Carlisle said. He walked over to Rosalie and placed a kiss on her forehead. The corners of her lips turned up subtly, then she turned away and walked out the front door.

I distantly felt a pang at this paternal display of affection. I hadn’t thought much of my father in the last century, as any time I did, I would feel overwhelmed with the sadness of his loss. I wasn’t left to meditate on this for long, however, as Carlisle was quick to fill Esme in on our meeting with the werewolves.

Esme looked to me as Carlisle told her of the agreement. “Where would you go?” she asked. I shrugged without a word. She gave my shoulder an affectionate squeeze, much like Carlisle had done earlier. “If you like, you can come with us.”

“Join your coven?” I asked. She nodded with a hopeful smile. “I have Ana.”

“We would welcome her as well,” Esme said. “I feel terrible that it’s come to the point that you feel you must leave your home.”

I attempted a smile, although it didn’t feel very convincing. As was apparent by their golden-colored eyes, the Cullens were vegetarians—they subsisted off animal blood entirely. Although it got the job done, animal blood was in no way as satisfying as human blood. “I can’t give you an answer right now.”

“Of course,” Carlisle said. “One thing at a time. We have a feral to catch, after all.”

Carlisle discussed his general approach to the situation: he and his coven mates would continue to patrol Forks as well as the area around Christo Rey, taking care not to venture into the wolf pack’s territory too much. I was told to continue my life as normal: attend the high school, act naturally, and keep watch my classmates and teachers while I was there. My task was more than simply socializing; I was now responsible for the safety of the school, and I had to keep my senses on alert in case James should return.

“A hunt such as the one James has taken on requires a lot of energy,” Carlisle explained. “When he returns, he will need to feed frequently. And, as Alice has seen, he’s bringing his mate with him, we can expect the possibility of several casualties. They will take victims amongst the people of Forks and Christo Rey. We must try to mitigate that as much as possible.”

My heart was heavy and my thoughts were turbulent that following school day. I forced myself to smile as I met Mike and Jessica outside the school’s orange doors, and they inquired as to where I had been the past couple of days. I rattled off an excuse about a fever, as it had worked before, and it worked again. Jessica expressed she was glad I was better and able to come back to school, and Mike made a quip about how I could have called him to bring over chicken soup, which earned him an elbow jab from Jessica.

In my peripheral vision, I saw the movement of a tall figure, and I glanced over to see Edward walking up toward the school. He caught my gaze, and my stomach knotted up at his cold demeanor. I didn’t attempt a greeting, but Jessica did; he neither acknowledged it nor paused to speak to either of us. Rather, he walked into the school as if we did not exist.

Jessica opened her mouth, no doubt to inquire about this iciness from Edward, but mercifully the bell rang. I hurried into the building and to my first class before Jessica could get three words out. This only gave me a temporary reprieve, as Jessica caught up with me at lunch, and there I had no choice but face her questions.

“Hey, what’s going on with you and Edward?” she asked as we walked into the cafeteria together. “I saw him in third period, and he looked really tense.”

I took the time to sit down in my usual spot at our usual table. Angela and Eric were already seated, and Mike and Lauren were approaching. Angela saw the expressions on my and Jessica’s faces, and immediately silenced whatever conversation she was having with Eric.

I let out a sigh and said, “We’ve had a disagreement.” I saw Angela glance to Jessica who nodded; evidently they had been talking about me.

“What’d you fight about?” Jessica asked as Lauren and Mike sat down. Lauren glanced between Jessica and me but said nothing.

“It’s a little complicated,” I said, trying to be as honest I could get with my friends. “He’s upset with me, and he has a right to be. I really did him wrong.”

Lauren’s eyes widened. “Did you cheat?” she asked, and beside her, Mike looked shocked at the question.

“No,” I said, “nothing like that.”

The table fell silent for a few awkward moments. Then, Angela spoke up. “Are you sorry?”

“Of course,” I responded.

“You should apologize,” she said. “Maybe that’ll help you guys move on.”

I recalled how Edward had received me the previous day and how he had coldly ignored m that morning. “I would like to, but I don’t know if he wants to speak to me.”

“Try anyway,” Angela insisted. “If he doesn’t want to hear it, then you can’t do anymore, but it’s better than the both of you seething over this situation forever.” She paused, then added, “Whatever it is.”

Lauren moved the conversation on then, and I was grateful to her for it. I mulled over Angela’s words for a while until Mike asked Eric, “Hey, how’s your dad doing?”

“Recovering,” Eric responded.

I glanced between them, then asked Eric, “What happened to your father?”

“He got attacked by some coyote over the weekend,” Eric said. My stomach knotted up again at his words. “My dad was out hiking. He had his gun with him, so he shot at the coyote and it ran off. Got him hard in the leg, though.”

“That’s awful,” I commented. “It was definitely a coyote?”

Eric shrugged. “He said it looked like a coyote, but he didn’t get the clearest look at it. The thing came out of nowhere.”

My mind was oscillating between the possibility that this was either James or the werewolves. I was certain that if it was one of the pack, they couldn’t be mistaken for a coyote. Having lived through an attack myself, I knew them to be the size of cars. Yet if it had been James, a gun wouldn’t have scared him off; he would have simply ripped Eric’s poor father open and drained him.

I told myself this had to just be a regular animal attack, yet it didn’t set my mind at ease.

The bell rang, startling me. Mechanically, I made my way to my biology class, but my feet felt heavy beneath me. As I walked, I pulled my cell phone out of my backpack and wrote a text message to Ana about what I had learned of Eric’s father. It could be nothing, but it could be something.

Having sent the message, I closed my phone and slipped it in my pocket. I saw Edward outside the biology room, and I increased my paced to catch him.

I called his name, and although I expected him to ignore me, he did pause and glance over his shoulder at me. He looked just as ragged as the previous day. His acne had worsened, his skin looked sallow, and his eyes were bleary. Those eyes narrowed. “What is it?” he asked irritably.

I wondered at his state and how he was coping with all he had learned. I wondered if Jacob had spoken to him again, and I could probably guess with accuracy that he had not. Edward was isolated, as he couldn’t turn to any friends who knew about vampires and werewolves as I could. I realized I couldn’t let this go on any longer.

I reached out and grasped Edward’s hands. He was surprised, but he didn’t pull away, and I led him down the hall away from the biology lab to the exit door at the end. This door opened out into a covered hallway which naturally flowed toward the gymnasium; it was the way I went between my last two classes of the day. The bell was about to ring any second, so the hallway was quickly deserting.

“We’re going to be late to class,” Edward complained as I led him down the covered hallway toward the back of the school. I wanted privacy.

I released his hand. “Go on, then,” I said, but Edward continued to follow me. I led him out from under the hallway into the faculty parking lot, which was entirely empty, and turned to him. In the distance, the bell rang, marking the two of us as delinquent from our class. He met my eyes, his brow furrowed, his arms crossed over his chest defensively. I tried to think of some preamble to explain myself, but I couldn’t. I opened my mouth, and all I could say was, “I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” he said coldly.

“Yes,” I breathed. “Edward, I—I can’t excuse what I did. I violated your trust. I tried to justify it by thinking I was protecting you, but that doesn’t excuse it.”

“And how do I know you won’t do it again?” he asked.

I shook my head slowly. “I can assure you over and over, but I can’t ask you to believe me. I can prove it to you in time, but only if you’ll give me a chance.”

He was silent for a moment, his face carefully stoic as if my words had little effect, but his arms dropped to his sides. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, the air steaming with his living breath. “Bella, I think I’m going crazy.” I chanced a step forward and grasped his hands, almost hot against my cold flesh. He opened his eyes and gazed down at our hands. “Didn’t think my first relationship would be this tense.”

“I’m your first relationship?” I asked.

His face reddened with a blush. “Said that out loud, did I?”

There was a pause, and then the two of us both broke out into laughter. Edward pulled me into him, wrapping his long arms around my shoulders, and I embraced him in turn. I closed my eyes and took in that scent which I had missed and ached for, and I almost felt like my heart could beat.

I opened my eyes as we pulled away; the parking lot around us seemed brighter. I gazed up into Edward’s face, but his expression had morphed into astonishment. I saw a glitter of light dance across his face, like light reflecting off of a pond, and, gazing down at my hands, realized they were glittering in sunlight.

I wordlessly glanced up in the sky; the cloud cover had thinned enough to let a diffused beam of light shine down on the school.

“Bella,” Edward breathed. “You…” Whatever he was going to say, the words died on his lips as we both heard approaching footsteps. I was ready to duck under the covered hallway, but I was surprised when Edward put an arm around my shoulders and shepherded me under the cover himself. A janitor appeared in the hallway, and he saw us immediately.

“Hey, what are you two up to?” he asked, approaching us. “You should be in class.”

“Yes, sir,” Edward said, taking hold of my arm protectively. “We were just on our way.”

The janitor gave us an incredulous look and shook his head as we rushed past him and back toward the main building. Edward released me, walking at a quick pace, which I matched. He paused at the entrance door, however, and turned back to me.

He looked like he wanted to say something, but whatever it was, he clearly decided to save it for later. Instead, he planted a kiss on my lips, then pulled the door open for me. We walked into biology together, neither of us particularly caring for the look of irritation our teacher gave us as we took our seats.

Chapter Text

Days passed. Carlisle and Esme visited my home regularly to check in on Ana and me. Despite the agreement I had made with the werewolf leader Peter, Ana and I had not discussed any plans as to moving. She was hesitant to engage in that conversation; I had made attempts and hints at it, all of which she either flat out ignored or redirected into some other topic.

In general, Ana was distant. Her normally incessant cheerfulness was dulled, her boundless energy subdued. I would come home from school to find her gone more often than not. I tried not to take this personally; Ana was surely just as stressed out by the situation as I was. I wondered if she perhaps felt some personal responsibility over the situation. Jacob had blamed me for James’ presence, but he had been Ana’s ex-lover, not mine. If she hadn’t offered our home to him, this never would have happened.

I didn’t blame Ana at all. She couldn’t be held responsible for the actions of another, only her dreadful taste in lovers. One would think a matchmaker would be able to choose well for herself.

That weekend was quite sunny and pleasant. Jessica had called and invited me to come hiking with our usual group, and I was sorry to have to turn it down. The list of mortals that could see me in the sunlight was supposed to be kept to zero. There was one on my list now, and it could not grow beyond that.

“Oh, it’s going to be such a gorgeous day,” Jessica said when I told her I could not come. “Why can’t you come?”

There was an ache in my chest as my mind ran over the truthful words which I could never share with her: Because I am a vampire, and the sunlight shines off my skin like diamond. It would shock you and frighten you, and then I could never talk to you again. I gave Jessica the excuse that I had a lot of homework to catch up on and simply couldn’t justify the time.

“Right, you did miss a bunch of time,” Jessica said, the disappointment in her voice clear. “Well, maybe the weather will hold out till next Saturday, you know?” she added in a more cheerful tone.

I stared out the window of our living room listlessly for some time after getting off the phone. Spring had taken over Forks, and the trees had grown thick in their foliage. The lawns of the well-kept houses in our neighborhood had returned to their neat, green state after their wintery hibernation. Some of our neighbors had planted colorful flowers in their front yards, and they rose up cheerfully to green the sunlight which fed them.

Unlike popular vampire myths, the sunlight did not hurt me, but I was nonetheless cut off from that warmth. I couldn’t step out lest I expose myself for what I am to every mortal with working eyes. I hadn’t felt the sunlight in so long that I couldn’t remember a time when I missed it. Yet that Saturday afternoon, sitting in my empty home, gazing out into that neighborhood where children ran up and down the street and couples walked by hand-in-hand, I felt that grief.

Grief. I was grieving the loss for what was to come. And what was worse: I did not know when it would come. I didn’t know when James would return and give us the chance to take care of him for good. It could be any minute, but it could also be weeks or months. And I had to continue in that routine which brought me close to the mortals I had come to care for deeply, because I was the one who had to protect them.

These were my thoughts, uninterrupted save for a brief visit from Carlisle, until the evening. As the sun, that barrier to life, returned to the dark western horizon for another night, my phone rang, shaking me from my stupor.

It was Edward. I answered immediately.

“Hey, Bella,” he said, his voice altered by the frequency of the call. “Are you busy right now?”

I glanced about myself in the darkness where I had sat for hours. “Not at all,” I said, standing to turn on the lights.

“Would you like to come over?” he said after a moment’s hesitation.

“To your home?” I asked.

“Yes. That is, I’d invite you for dinner, but, well…you don’t eat.”

I smiled. “I would love to, Edward.”

-

The Masen family lived on the very western edge of Forks. The home was nestled just on the edge of the forest, so that the tree line surrounded the property on three sides. The house was massive, built in a starkly modern style that clashed with the natural foliage of the land, and a wooden deck which circled the house gave a distinct line between the natural and the man-made. The yard and driveway were immaculate, manicured, and entirely utilitarian. There were no cheerful flowers or even a lawn but only decorative ferns and moss which, while aesthetically-pleasing, leant to a cold look.

The house rose up for three stories, challenging some of the surrounding trees for height. Much of the exterior walls were glass, although beige shades were drawn over most of the windows on the second and third stories. There was light on the first story; from the driveway I could see into the foyer and living room, although these places were dark. The light came from a room a little beyond, separated by a decorative wall.

The front door was closed, but when I stepped out of my car, I could hear faint piano music. Walking along the deck, I followed the sound of the music around toward the back of the house. There the deck widened considerably to allow for an arrangement of patio furniture and a fire pit, all of which looked little used. The back door, which looked identical to the other panes of glass set into house’s edifice, had been slid open, and I peered into a dimly-lit den.

Within I found a room furnished with stark, modern-styled furniture, set in a pleasing arrangement beside a black grand piano. There I found Edward, playing a morose piece with striking feeling.

I watched him in silence, taking in his form and the sound of his music. In his posture, in his movements, and in his very breath, he held the beauty of life. His copper hair had grown a little longer than he normally kept it, and it curled over the collar of his shirt. His heartbeat quickened and slowed along with the music he played, which I could hear with just as much clarity as I could the piano. I stood in silence, wishing this moment would never end, so that I could gaze upon Edward Masen forever without any of the worries which plagued my mind every day and every night.

But that wish could never come true. Edward finished his song, and the piano fell into gradual silence as the strings within ceased to vibrate. He was silent for a beat, and said to me over his shoulder, “I thought you might have come in by now. Or do I have to formally invite you in?”

I admit to surprise that he knew I was there. Although I did not hide the sound of my footsteps on the wooden deck, I thought he had been too lost to his music to realize I had approached. “I didn’t want to interrupt you,” I said, stepping through the opening in the wall of glass.

He looked at me and gave me that smile which could always raise my spirits. “I thought about you a lot today,” he said as he rose from the bench.

“Do you not normally think about me?” I asked.

“Oh, I do,” he admitted. He approached me, closing the gap between us with two strides of his long legs. “I think about you almost constantly.” He cupped my cheek in his palm. “The weather today had me thinking that you might have been stuck inside all day.”

I took his hand in mind and planted a kiss on his palm. I felt his heartrate increase in his fingers. “Did you invite me over to meet your parents?” I asked, wishing not to recall the day I had had.

“No,” he said, his own smile faltering. “They’re out of the country.”

“Still?” I asked. “When do they come back?

Edward shrugged his shoulders. “Whenever their business in Belize is concluded,” he said with a note of bitterness. “Then I think they go to Turkey, and then they should come home for some time.”

“Do your parents often travel without you?”

He nodded. “I have school, after all.”

“Can’t you do it remotely? House-schooling, or whatever it’s called?”

“Home schooling,” he corrected. “It’s possible, but I didn’t want that for myself.” He took both of my hands in his. “Enough of that. Come on.” He turned and led me through the first floor of his house. I passed by tasteful sculptures set in places where they might be admired with convenience and paintings set on walls with care taken so that they might be noticed. There were no family portraits or knickknacks, not a speck of dust or smudge of a fingerprint. Everything in the house was coldly chosen for its aesthetics and maintained with austere care. Mortals lived here, but this home was just as cold and as little inhabited in as my own home with Ana.

Edward led me up one flight of well-designed wooden stairs and then another, so that we reached the third floor. From there he brought me into a large room which, in a normal house, I would have classified as the master bedroom. The spacious bedroom stretched out to the glass walls, currently covered in shades, and the concentration of Edward’s scent in here told me this was where he spent the majority of his time.

The walls were painted a warm beige, accented here and there with pine paneling, and the floor was made of a light wood. Bookshelves were built into the wall which separated the room from the rest of the house, and a collection of books and CDs filled the shelves to their capacity. An oak desk was set up by these bookshelves, and there laid his green backpack as well as a stack of textbooks. His bed was nestled by the windows, neatly made, a beige duvet covering the spacious mattress. Beside this was a large wardrobe where I imagine he kept his clothes. He had a flat-screen television set up on an oak credenza and a set of very comfortable-looking easy chairs arranged around it. Two controllers for a video game system set under the television betrayed the machine’s purpose.

In many ways it was exactly the bedroom I had pictured a modern-day teenager would have: books, music, video games. Yet at the same time, it was alien, detached. Despite the fact that this was clearly where Edward spent a majority of his time, the space was just as spotless and neat as the rest of the house. If I hadn’t been holding Edward’s warm, steady hand, I might have wondered if I hadn’t been standing beside a ghost.

He released me as I walked through his room, taking in all that it had to show me. I ran my hand over the spines of his books, peered at the titles of the CDs. I felt the soft upholstery of the chairs near the television and came to the bed. I sensed Edward watching me from the doorway where he had stood as I explored, and I turned to meet his dark gaze.

“Your home is not so different from mine,” I said to him.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Your home doesn’t look like a private museum,” he said, approaching me now.

“You have more things, certainly,” I responded. “But it seems just as…”

“Sterile,” he finished.

“Exactly.”

He sighed and sat on his bed. He reached out for my hand, which I gave him, and I let him pull me down beside him. His thick arm encircled my shoulders, and he held me close. “This is how my parents wish their house to be, and I am here to maintain it.” He shook his head. “Not even that, really. I just make sure the housekeepers and landscapers show up.”

“Are you lonely?” I asked.

He seemed to consider this for a moment. “Not really,” he said. “I’m not imprisoned here, or not any more than any other teen is imprisoned by their home. I can come and go as I please. My parents bought me that car, so I can go anywhere so long as I show up to school at seven in the morning on Monday.” He scoffed. “Right now, other than a few obligations, my life is pretty free. I’m trying to enjoy that as much as it lasts.”

“What do you mean?”

“My father is a prestigious art dealer,” he explained. “That’s why he and my mother jet-set around the world. As soon as I graduate, I’m to join him in the business.”

“And you don’t want that.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t get to choose.”

I rested my head on his shoulder. “I understand.”

“You do?” he asked after a pause.

I smiled tightly. “I didn’t get a choice in what I am. I don’t know if I would have chosen it if given the chance.”

“When did that happen, exactly?”

I looked up into his eyes. “Are you asking me how old I am?”

He smiled. “Is that rude?”

I chuckled and kissed his cheek. “1796.”

His eyes widened. “So you must be acing history,” he said. I laughed again. “To think all you’ve lived through. You’ve seen the entire evolution of this country.”

“I can’t say I would be a great source on historical events,” I said. “I was hardly interested in the matters and cares of the human world. My world was one of night. I’ve only taken what I needed for survival from your kind.”

Edward was quiet for several moments. I could only wonder what he was thinking. He broke the silence with another question. “So what are you doing at a high school?”

I leaned in closer and kissed his lips. “Finding you,” I whispered. He blinked in surprise, silenced once again. I moved away from his warm grasp and laid down on his wide bed, gazing up at him as he watched me. I beckoned him to join me, and he obeyed.

I snuggled in close and rested my head on his chest, my arm wrapped around his thick waist. He ran his fingers through my hair gently, and we laid together in blissful silence for a long time. Fantasies of what I wished to do with his body danced through my mind, encouraged by that scent of his. I thought he might have fallen asleep, but when I shifted to sit up, he pressed his arm into my back to hold me there.

“Bella,” he said, almost whispering himself, “would you give me a choice?”

“A choice in what?” I asked, although I knew what he was talking about.

“To become your kind.”

I didn’t like this question, because I truthfully did not want to give him a choice. The baser, vampire part of me didn’t want to give him the choice to say no. She wanted to claim him, to turn him and have him be hers forever. He wouldn’t be in danger any longer, and I would never had to be separated from him. But another part of me, that part of me which I thought had died with my natural life, had reawakened. She didn’t want to give him the choice to say yes, to curse him with the centuries of misery and pain which I had endured.

But I didn’t have the words to express this to Edward, so all I said was, “I don’t know.”

He was silent again. I closed my eyes and listened to his heartbeat. When I opened my eyes and looked at him again, he was asleep.

Chapter Text

I left Edward’s house before dawn. I worried that he might ask me more questions about making him into a vampire when he woke up, and so, in a cowardly fashion, I rose from his side and silently made my way through the maze of his home until I found the back door I had entered through. I passed through that door again, like leaving a dream, and I closed it behind me.

I walked to my car, keys in hand, but the smell of a werewolf made me freeze in my tracks. I glanced around, listening carefully for the smallest movement, and I was ready to run should this prove to be another attack.

From the tree line which bordered the driveway, Jacob emerged. I locked eyes with him in the darkness, seeing with perfect clarity his massive form and the glare in his eyes. He gazed back at me, his hands balled into tight fists. “You’ve taken what you want and now you’re leaving, is that it?” he snarled.

“I haven’t taken anything from Edward,” I responded. “You can go in and see for yourself. Maybe tell him what you’ve been up to while you’re at it.”

“You’ve taken his heart,” Jacob spat. “It’s cruel. You don’t know how to love him.”

Now I glared. “I’m not the one who has totally disappeared on him.”

“I guess a vampire wouldn’t understand keeping a distance from mortals,” he retorted.

“Of course I do,” I shot back. “But Edward’s your best friend, isn’t he? You should trust him. He took the vampire thing very well. You might be surprised how he’ll take to werewolves.” I turned away from Jacob and unlocked my car door.

Jacob approached the house, his gaze on the windows of the third story. “Have you told him yet you’re leaking Forks?” I clenched my jaw and said nothing as I opened my car door and slid into the seat. Jacob turned to me again with a glare. “Or have you decided to back out on the deal?”

“Of course I haven’t,” I hissed. I slammed my car door closed and started the engine. I felt Jacob’s gaze on me as I drove away.

-

When I returned home, I was surprised to find the entirety of Carlisle’s coven in my house. I walked in to discover Alice sitting in my living room with the last member of the coven I had yet to meet, a youthful blond man by the name of Jasper Hale. He gazed at me with cautious consideration and said very little.

The other four were in my kitchen. Rosalie seethed with a subtle yet visceral anger that she seemed only just holding onto. Esme stood with them, whispering to Rosalie in a soothing voice, while Carlisle spoke to Emmet. “How many are in Forks?” he asked.

“Seems like about half of ‘em,” Emmet answered, his own voice tinged with irritation.

“All of who?” I asked, and Carlisle turned to me.

“Bella, great to see you!” he greeted. “Unfortunately, it seems our werewolf friends have decided to change our plans.” Behind him, Rosalie huffed in anger.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“They attacked me,” Rosalie snapped. “I was on the south side of town when three of them came at me.”

“Were you hurt?” I asked.

She scoffed. “Course not. I can handle a few pups.”

Emmet grinned at her and slid a long arm around her slender waist. “That’s my girl,” he purred, bringing the hint of a smile to Rosalie’s stony face.

“They tried for Jasper as well,” Rosalie said to me, nodding toward the living room. “He was supposed to stake out your little pet’s house.”

“He’s real tactical, though,” Emmet broke in, “so he gave ‘em the run-around until Alice could join him to fight ‘em off.”

“It seems the pack has decided they don’t want our help,” Carlisle said, looking thoughtful. “Unfortunate, as that only makes things more difficult for all of us.”

I recalled Jacob accusing me of backing out of the agreement. How rich of him, as it was evident that he was the one who had backed out. My own anger flared. “So what does this mean?” I asked with more force in my voice.

“Back to square one, it seems,” Carlisle said. “I don’t want to fight on two fronts here, but the werewolves won’t give us a choice.”

“It’s a mutt James wants,” Rosalie spoke up. “I don’t see why we have to do anything. Let the wolves defend themselves.”

“I gave my word to Ana and Bella to help them out,” Carlisle said. “They’re entitled to defend their territory.”

“They’re leaving, aren’t they?” Emmet asked.

“No,” I said. “As Carlisle said, the werewolves have backed out of the deal. I’m not going anywhere.” Carlisle smiled at me.

Rosalie sighed. “Well, I’m out,” she said flatly. She looked to Emmet, and he nodded in silent agreement. The two of them left my house with little ceremony.

“I should go with them,” Esme said to Carlisle quietly, snaking a slender arm around his shoulders. He agreed with her and kissed her deeply. When they pulled away, Esme followed after Rosalie and Emmet.

I told myself that Carlisle’s coven had nothing to do with this situation, that they had every right to leave. Still, I couldn’t help but feel slighted at Rosalie and Emmet leaving. Forks was in danger from James, and Ana and I were in danger from the werewolves.

Was this their plan, I wondered? Did they not believe that Ana and I would fulfill our agreement, and so they took the problem into their own hands? Once James was gone, what was to stop the pack from simply running Ana and me out of town for good? They were fourteen at least, and we were not adept fighters. I thought of Jacob again, and I wanted to hit something.

“Chin up, Bella,” Carlisle said, getting my attention. “Not all hope is lost.”

“That’s right,” Alice’s cheery voice piped up from behind me. I turned to her as she walked into the kitchen, a bounce in her step. “Ana’s bringing reinforcements. Outcomes are looking good. Honestly, Emmet gets in the way more than he helps, you know?” She snickered.

“Ana’s bringing help?” I asked.

Carlisle nodded. “She set out to Port Angeles to bring a friend back.”

“She does have a lot of friends there,” I said, wondering who she might bring with her.

“Come on,” Alice said, approaching me and looping her arm through mine. “We’ve got the night off, so let’s relax. Jasper and I are going to watch some movies.” I allowed her to pull me into the living room and settle me on the couch beside her. I stared at the television as some old Technicolor film played, but I couldn’t focus on it. My mind was heavy with worries and cares, and I feared I had made a mistake leaving Edward alone with Jacob.

Chapter Text

Rain returned to Forks that Sunday morning, freeing me to walk about the town as I pleased. I didn’t often walk around in town; normally when I wanted to get out and think, I would take to the woods. But the presence of the werewolves in those woods, and the fact that I couldn’t trust their ilk, made me hesitant to go to my normal running spots.

I bundled up like a human would for a walk in the chilly spring rain and held a black umbrella over my head even though the rain on my head and face didn’t bother me. I walked through my small neighborhood, glancing at the houses as I passed by. I thought about the people that lived within: most of them I didn’t know. I may have shared classes with their children. They had probably never seen my face before, yet partially because of Ana and me, they were all in mortal danger.

I had never before been so concerned about the safety of humans. They were always my prey. For over 150 years, I had no problems with draining a human of their blood to continue my horrid existence. I couldn’t say exactly when the change had happened, when that human part of me had reawakened. It may have been as far back as when I joined Ana. I wished more than anything that I could bury that human Bella again. Things were so much simpler.

I found myself walking down the street which would lead to the high school. I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was going, and I had apparently traveled my routine path. The white building shown in the distance, exposed by a completely empty parking lot. I could see the orange double doors of the school, locked until the following morning when students and faculty would return to a new week of public education, entirely unaware of the supernatural struggle happening around them.

I became aware of two sets of footsteps behind me, followed by the scent of werewolves. The rain had dampened their scent, and they had hidden their presence from me until this moment.

Turning around, I met Paul and a young black teen girl. Paul had grown a couple of inches since our meeting just a couple of weeks ago. The young woman was quite tall herself, her muscles well-built and strong. She gazed at me coldly, her nose turned up.

“Am I not allowed to walk in my own neighborhood?” I asked.

“We got this,” the girl said, her gaze turning into a glare.

“Get out of here, blood sucker,” Paul spat. “Get out of town, while you’re at it.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” I shot back. “This is my home. I made a deal with Peter that we would leave, but you guys have reneged on the deal. So we’re staying.”

Paul scoffed. “Peter shouldn’t have made that deal.”

“Isn’t he your alpha or whatever?” I asked. “Don’t you have to listen to what he says?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” the girl said. She shifted, her muscles tensing. “Peter’s weak. Jacob know what’s what. We don’t tolerate you.”

“Jacob,” I breathed. I should have known he would be the driving force behind all of this.

A deep, unnerving growl left Paul’s throat. “You better run,” he snarled, “or Magdalena and I’ll tear you in half.”

My instincts threatened to take over, and I only wanted to run. I glanced around myself, however, trying to hold onto my rational self. I had been trapped by these werewolves before, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul and Magdalena wanted me to run, to shepherd me into another ambush.

I tossed my umbrella aside and braced myself, bearing my own fangs. “I’m not afraid of you,” I spat, balling my hands into fists. “You can’t hurt me like that, and you won’t dare transform out in the open.” I nodded to the houses along the street and hoped someone was watching.

“What makes you think that?” Magdalena challenged, and already I saw her eyes change shape. “These mortals should know who’s keeping them safe, you don’t you think Paul?”

Paul’s muscles bulged, and he hunched forward, his jaw elongating, his bones popping and cracking. I watched in horror as they started to transform right in broad daylight.

The sound of speeding tires rose, however, gaining all of our attention. I saw my car speeding down the street right toward us, and in the driver’s seat was Alice. At the very same time, Jasper appeared right in front of me; I hadn’t even been aware of his approaching run, and upon later reflection was impressed by how silent he had been. Alice maneuvered my car into a breaking slide like some stunt driver, so that the car halted just inches from the werewolves.

Magdalena stumbled back, but Paul held his ground. Jasper bared his fangs and hissed at the werewolves as Alice threw the passenger door of my car open. I grabbed Jasper by the arm and pulled him into my car, and Alice sped away from the werewolves, laughing as if this were a great game.

I landed in the back seat as Jasper pulled the passenger door closed. I looked out the back window and, to my horror, discovered two great beasts on the tail of my car. “They’re chasing us!” I nearly screamed.

“They really do not care,” Alice said, glancing into the rear-view mirror. She pushed the car to a greater speed, heading not toward home but toward the middle of town.

One of the werewolves—one was a reddish brown, the other pale gray, and I did not know which was which—clamped their jaws down on the bumper of my car, causing us to jilt to the side. The bumper came off in the wolf’s great jaws, and the car began to spin out; Alice worked to correct the course, but the slick streets and our high speed proved too a great challenge. I knew we were headed for collision.

We barreled through one intersection and then a second beyond it, this one a red light. There were so few cars on the street that we were in no danger of hitting anyone, but the car continued to careen, entirely out of Alice’s control. We hit a curb, and I was launched into the low ceiling; then I was flung backward as the car tipped over onto its roof, coming to a screeching halt in the parking lot of the local grocery store. My body slammed into the back window, the glass shattering, although the tempering held the pane in place. A spark of pain jolted up my spine but faded within seconds.

“Shit,” I heard Alice say. I looked up to see her crumpled against the crushed ceiling of the car. She unfolded herself and kicked at the driver’s side door, the ruined steel giving way to her strength. “You okay, Bella?” she called to me.

“I’m fine,” I groaned, shaking my head. “Where’s Jasper?”

“I’m not sure,” Alice said, looking around. Jasper was not in the car. “Come on.” She crawled backward out of the car, and I followed her, belly-crawling along the ceiling and over the shattered glass of the passenger windows. My clothes were shredded by the glass, but my skin was not penetrated.

We found Jasper getting to his feet on the pavement a few feet from the car; evidently he had been launched. I looked around wildly, expecting the werewolves to bear down on us, but they were nowhere to be found. We did hear the approach of sirens, however, and without a word to each other, all three of us took off at top speed toward the woods.

-

In the steady branches of a redwood tree that was probably older than all of us, dozens of feet above the ground, the three of us came to a rest. I clung to a branch, digging my nails into the wood, snarling through the anger and shock that coursed through my body. Alice stood, unnaturally still, while Jasper sat down and gazed around us for any sign of wolves.

“Those damn animals,” Alice growled. “What were they trying to accomplish? They have no know a stunt like that’s not gonna kill us.”

“Intimidation,” Jasper said, his voice hoarse. “They’re trying to run all of the vampires out.”

“I’m going to kill them,” I hissed. “I’m going to kill all of them.”

“Easier said than done,” Jasper said with a sigh. “They’ve got us on the ropes right now.” He glanced between me and Alice. “Let’s all calm down, now.”

Quite suddenly, my anger left me. It wasn’t natural, yet it was welcome. I looked to Jasper. “Did you do that?” His only answer a raise of his blond eyebrows.

Alice let out a breath and shook her head, her short hair tossing with the movement. “That’s going to be a difficult mess to clean,” she said, leaning back against the trunk of the tree. “Sorry about your car, by the way,” she said to me.

“You came to my rescue,” I said. “You must have seen the attack, then?”

Alice nodded, biting her lip. “They weren’t going to kill you, but you weren’t going to come out of it too pretty, so Jazz and I decided to help out.” I smiled my gratitude at her.

“The police will probably come looking for me,” I said. “Even if no one saw us leave the scene, the car’s in my name. What exactly do I say to them?”

“Tell ‘em it was stolen,” Alice said, cracking a smile. “That’s technically true.”

“How does this affect things?” Jasper asked Alice. She closed her eyes for several moments, her brow furrowing in concentration.

“It’s complicated,” Alice said. “This is going to make things a lot more complicated. But Jacob lives. And Edward.” She opened her golden eyes and looked at me. “And you’re right. The police are gonna bring you in for questioning.”

“You’re really seeing the future,” I said, still struggling to grasp it despite how much I had benefited from it already.

“I’m seeing a possible future,” she corrected. “It’s always in flux until it actually happens.”

“Are the wolves going to attack Bella’s house?” Jasper asked.

Alice shook her head. “We’re too concentrated there. The four of us, and Ana and someone she brought with her. That’s six again.”

“Ana is back?” I asked, gazing toward the direction of my home. “We need to get back.”

“In time,” Jasper said. “The wolves may be seeking us out. Give it some time.”

I was about to protest, but Alice spoke up. “Listen to him, Bella. He’s—”

“—tactical,” I finished. “That’s what Emmet said.” Jasper chuckled at that. “Fine,” I said, hunkering down on my branch. After a few moments, I said, “I think Jacob is behind all this. The female werewolf said as much.”

“It’s not all of them,” Jasper said. “I think they want us to think it is, but there are only five werewolves in and around Forks.”

Alice raised an eyebrow. “Think there was some kind of split?”

Jasper shrugged, then looked to me. “You’re more familiar with this situation. What do you think?”

I thought over what little I knew of Jacob and the other werewolves for a moment. “Jacob just about hates me. He blames me for James. I don’t think he wanted to work with us at all. When Carlisle and I met with Peter, Jacob walked out of the meeting.” Jasper and Alice exchanged a look. “He’s also protective over Edward. They’re close friends. I saw Jacob outside of Edward’s house when I left.”

“You didn’t mention this,” Jasper said.

“I know,” I said. “I didn’t think it worth mentioning.” Jasper nodded. “Magdalena said Peter is weak,” I added after a few moments’ reflection.

“As a leader or as a werewolf?” Alice wondered.

“Could be both,” Jasper said. “Peter is willing to work with vampires, and that looks like he’s afraid to eradicate us directly.”

“Meanwhile, Jacob, the target of the vampires, looks fearless,” I said. “I don’t know for sure if he’s among the ones who attacked me, but I would bet money on it.” I sighed, thinking back on what Peter had told me at our meeting. “These werewolves haven’t transformed in a very long time. I don’t think their grandparents even have memory of it. They’re mostly adolescents, and I bet they are all eager to have us, the problem, gone.”

“And so they follow Jacob, because he is willing to make the problem go away. I’ve seen it countless times,” Jasper said as he got to his feet. “We should be clear to get back now. And we need to tell Carlisle about all of this.” I nodded in agreement.

Staying in the trees and as far from the ground as we could, we circled around Forks before entering the town from the south side. From there, we walked back to my home, a brief yet tense journey in which each of us were hyper-sensitive to our surroundings, expecting our werewolf nemeses to pop out of a bush or tree at any second.

I spotted Ana’s car in the driveway, a sign of relief. There was another car parked on the street, one I did not recognize, but even from the sidewalk outside, I could see and smell who it belonged to: the local county sheriff.

Chapter Text

As Alice had foreseen, the police did have some questions for me. Police Chief Charles Swann was waiting for me. I later found out he had been there for about ten minutes before Alice, Jasper, and I returned home, and Ana had been merrily entertaining him in the living room.

Before we got too close to the house, however, Jasper told us to hang back. “We shouldn’t be seen in this state,” he said. I glanced down at the state of my clothes. My jacket was torn open, and my shirt underneath had been shredded from my escape from the car. The knees and thighs of my jeans were torn as well, exposing the skin of my legs. Alice’s clothes were in the same state as mine. Jasper’s clothes weren’t as shredded, but they were deeply stained with dirt and oil from the pavement. And beyond all that, the three of us were soaked from the rain. Besides the lack of blood, cuts, and bruises, we did look as if we had emerged from a horrid car wreck. One look at us would have the chief on alert.

Jasper led us through a neighbor’s yard to my own backyard, and from there, as silent as three cats, we jumped up to my bedroom window. I never locked it, and after carefully pulling off the outer screen, slid the window open. The three of us entered my bedroom. Jasper made a gesture to suggest he and Alice would wait in there, and I deftly changed into fresh clothing. I discovered that my phone, which I had left in my jacket pocket, had been destroyed. The two halves of the clamshell device had separated, the screen was shattered, and several of the buttons had come loose. I mouth a few curses as I dropped the useless phone on my futon.

I traced my path out of my room through my window, the yards, and back to the street. From there, I walked through the front door of my home as if nothing was amiss.

Ana turned to me with a smile as I walked in. “There you are!” she said. “I tried calling you, Belle, but your phone’s off. Chief Swann here said your car was apparently in a gnarly accident.” I could hear the question behind her statement, and in her eyes, I saw concern.

I turned to Mr. Swann with a smile. I had never met the chief of police before, and I was quite struck by how much he and I resembled each other. He was a middle-aged man, with ruddy skin and dark hair now streaked with gray. He had the same chocolate eyes I had had in my life. I wondered distantly if I was looking at a descendant. I had never had children, but I did have cousins who procreated.

“Miss Swanson,” he started, standing. “About an hour ago, your car was seen speeding through the center of town. It collided with a curb and crashed into a parking lot down on Milton Street. Now, I can tell by looking at you that you weren’t involved in that at all.” He chuckled awkwardly.

“My car?” I asked, widening my eyes to look surprised. “I was wondering why it wasn’t in the driveway.” I shook my head. “I never lock it,” I said in quiet admittance.

Mr. Swann let out a quiet sight. “Well, I can’t hardly blame you there. Ain’t much joyriding happening in Forks, usually.”

“The driver,” I inquired carefully, “are they okay?”

Again, Mr. Swann let out a breath. “Can’t say, really. They’re alive, most certainly, but they weren’t at the scene. I was hoping maybe you’d seen something.”

I shook my head. “I’ve been out walking.”

He raised an eyebrow. “In the rain?”

“I prefer the rain,” I said with a smile.

“Well, you’re in the right place for it,” he said.

“You don’t have any witnesses?” I risked asking. “It’s broad daylight.” I had to know if we had been spotted.

“Not really much that’s helpful,” he said. “The rain has most people inside. Got plenty of calls about a car speeding through the streets, but haven’t been able to find anyone who saw the driver. Add to that—” He stopped short.

“Add what?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said with an awkward smile. My nerves tangled themselves up in my belly as he glanced to Ana. “Well, sorry about your car, miss,” he said to me. “If you like, I can give you a ride down to the station so you can fill out a theft report. I’m sure you’ll need it for the insurance.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“I’ll take her,” Ana spoke up. “That way you don’t have to drive her back.”

Mr. Swann nodded. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. He paused, glanced between Ana and me again. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but his radio suddenly crackled to life, startling him. A male voice called out the chief’s name, then provided some sort of code and a street. Mr. Swann took the radio off his belt and, speaking into it, acknowledged the call and said he was on his way. “Duty calls,” he said to me as he replaced his radio on his belt. Ana followed him to the front door and, as soon as she closed it, turned to me and placed her hands on my shoulders.

“Belle,” she said, her voice low, “what the fuck is going on?”

I didn’t immediately respond, but rather waited until I heard the engine of the chief’s car turn over. As the sound of tires on the pavement faded from my hearing, I opened my mouth to speak, but at once found myself at a loss for words. Instead, I threw my arms around Ana and hugged her.

She held me for a few moments, running her nails down my back. I heard footsteps on the stairs, and I pulled away to see the rest of our vampire house guests descending the staircase. Among the three Cullen coven members, a new crimson-eyed vampire had been added to our numbers, and this one I didn’t know. He was shorter than Jasper and Carlisle and had a sturdy, stout frame. He looked like he had been turned later in life, probably close to middle age, as his honey-colored hair was accented with white around the temples, and his face was set with deep lines around his mouth.

This was Etienne. Ana later introduced me to him formally, but at that moment, we had far too much to discuss to worry about niceties.

We retreated to the dining room where, gathered around the table, Jasper, Alice, and I told the others of all that had happened. I related the werewolf attack; Alice expressed in quite flowery terms what had happened with my car and our flight; and Jasper explained our theory about the wolf pack. In turn, Carlisle reported that two werewolves had turned up to sniff around the house. They hadn’t come too close to the property itself, but seemed to wait around, possibly for Jasper, Alice, and I to return. They had taken off shortly before Chief Swann had arrived. By the description Carlisle gave, I knew it was Paul and Magdalena.

“This changes things,” Carlisle said. “It’s clear that at least the werewolves in Forks are looking to run us off, if not attempt actual harm. From now on, none of us travel alone.”

“Yes, sir,” Jasper said, and Alice and I nodded in agreement.

Carlisle looked poignantly to Ana. “Perhaps we should drop in on Peter and see what exactly is going on with our lupine friends.”

A smile broke out on Ana’s lips. “I was about to suggest that very thing.”

“I’ll go with you,” I offered, but Ana put a hand on mine.

“No, Bella,” she said, “you’ve got to go to the police station, remember?”

“You’re not serious,” I said. “Who cares about insurance?”

“It’s what a normal mortal would do,” Ana reminded me. I sighed and nodded.

“And I’ll come with,” Alice said to me, grinning. “You know, since I’m the one who stole your car and all.”

“And Jasper and Etienne will hold the fort,” Carlisle said with a pleased smile. “An excellent plan.”

-

The rain had stopped during our war meeting, and Alice and I arrived at the police station without incident. I drove Ana’s car, as Ana and Carlisle had taken off on foot toward Christo Rey. On the drive, Alice chatted cheerfully, telling me about herself and Jasper as well as Carlisle’s coven. Evidently they were like a strange sort of family: Carlisle and Esme rather viewed their coven mates as their children.

“Do you view them as parents?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “In a way, I suppose. I’ve known Carlisle most of my un-life. He taught me everything I know, helped me control my psychic abilities.” She grinned. “He even got me used to drinking animal blood.”

“Entirely?” I asked, and she nodded enthusiastically. “That can’t be satisfying. I’ve had to rely on animal blood from time to time, but it’s definitely lacking, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been on it for so long that I couldn’t even tell you what human blood is like,” she said. “And I’ll take hunting and draining a living animal to something as sterile as cold blood from a bag.”

“Fair enough,” I said as I pulled into the police station parking lot.

The police station in Forks was so small that it didn’t even have a holding cell. Crime in Forks was relatively low, and on the rare occasions that someone had to be detained, they would be taken to the larger station in Christo Rey. Most of the station was off-limits to visitors, hidden behind walls and a locked door. What greeted Alice and I when we walked through the station’s tempered glass door was a waiting room in which four people standing beside each other would feel crowded and a desk which one of the deputies manned.

The deputy that afternoon was a thickset woman in her early middle age, her mouth creased into a permanent frown. Her name badge read Miles, and she greeted us with distracted neutrality. I told her what my task was, and she invited us to have a seat on the single metal folding chair provided in the waiting room as she disappeared behind the locked door to fetch the needed forms.

Alice insisted I take the chair, and she leaned casually against one of the walls. Although the station was separated by the wall, the sound was hardly muffled, and Alice and I could hear the voices of the other officers within with perfect clarity.

“The Swanson girl,” Deputy Miles said to someone. “She’s here about the wrecked car.”

“Chief’s sure she wasn’t driving?” a male voice asked her.

“She wasn’t behind that wheel, Jer,” Deputy Miles answered. “She wouldn’t be walking, no way.”

“What on God’s green earth is happening in this town, Shirley?” the male voice asked. “Three bodies drained of blood, and now a phantom stunt driver?”

Alice and I both froze at these words. Neither of us moved as Deputy Miles returned to the waiting room, a worn clipboard in her manicured hand. She held it out to me, and mechanically I took it from her, although I could not focus on the form in front of me.

Three bodies drained of blood.

I felt a light pressure on my shoulder, and I jumped at this sudden contact. I looked up at Alice, who, although she smiled, reflected my concern and anxiety in her golden eyes. “You got it?” she asked, nodding to the clipboard in my hand.

I looked back at the form, blinking several times to clear my vision which had grown blurry. “Yeah, no problem,” I said, picking up the pen which was attached to the clipboard by a length of cheap chain.

Three bodies.

Forcing myself to comprehend the various prompts on the form, I filled it out as quickly as I could: make, model, and color of my car; approximate date and time it had been taken; registration number, license number, my date of birth.

Drained of blood.

I wanted nothing more than to drop this form and run out the door—run through the door, even—and get home. No, get to Christo Rey. Tell Ana, tell Carlisle, hell, tell Peter: this was it.

James was in Forks.

I came to a large, blank box in which I was to give a statement detailing everything about the theft. I started to write a sentence, but my hand was shaking too much. The words came out in a nearly illegible print.

How long had James been in Forks? How many people had he killed? They found three bodies, but what if there were more? Whose bodies had they found? Did I know them? Did I know their children? Was one of the victims Jessica or Angela or Eric or…

My mind blanked out on the last name which came to my mind. The thought was too much to even conceive. My hand went to my pocket where I normally had my cell phone, but it wasn’t there. My phone was in two pieces back home on my futon.

“You okay there, darling?” Deputy Miles asked, leaning over her desk. I glanced up at her. “You’re looking a little ill there.”

Alice suddenly slapped a hand to my forehead. “Oh yeah, she’s warm,” she said. I looked at Alice with confusion, but she shook her head and clicked her tongue. “Well, what else do you expect when you go wandering around in the rain all morning?” She turned to Deputy Miles. “Mind if we come back? I should get her home.”

Deputy Miles nodded, although something in her expression betrayed the fact that she wasn’t entirely buying Alice’s performance. I left the clipboard on the desk, and Alice and I hurried out of the police station, both of us buzzing with nervous energy.

We were silent until we got in Ana’s car. I started the engine, pulled out of the parking lot, then glanced to Alice. “It’s him,” I said.

Alice sighed. “More than likely.”

“Can’t you tell?” I asked. “What does the future say?”

Alice bit her bottom lip and she concentrated for a few moments. “It’s not clear,” she said. “I’m seeing werewolves. I’m seeing vampires—mostly us. I can’t pin James or Victoria.” She opened her eyes again, her eyes narrowed in a glare. “I don’t like this.”

I wanted to speed, to drive as crazily as Alice had driven my car, but I forced myself to drive at speed limit. We were only minutes from my home, and I knew there was no point in rushing. Still, I felt a foreign sort of pressure in my head develop as we drove along. My mind raced with possible explanations for the presence of three dead, bloodless bodies found in the town of Forks which had not seen enough crime to warrant a jail cell in its police station. Nothing save James’ presence made any sense. The werewolves wouldn’t have hurt any of the mortal citizens of Forks, and even if they did, the bodies wouldn’t be bloodless. A deranged serial killer was far too absurd. It wasn’t any of the coven, as their eyes would betray their human blood diet, turning almost immediately from gold to crimson. Another vampire, a fourth party in this mess, was entirely unlikely considering how much of the land around Forks now stank of werewolf.

I was distracted by these thoughts, and so when I turned onto my street and cruised toward my home, I nearly missed the large figure stepping out in the middle of the street adjacent to my house. I hit the brakes just as Alice said, “What the hell is this?”

The pressure in my head intensified as I gazed at the man in the street. He stared at me through the windshield, his dark eyes brimming with hatred.

Jacob Black.

Alice and I got out the car as Jacob was joined by four others. Among the number I recognized Paul and Magdalena, joined now by a pair of twin brothers. Like the other werewolves, these young men possessed stature and strength beyond what was normal for mortals, although their frames were overall more slender than Jacob’s. They were both quite pail, their skin flushed pink in the cold air.

Alice and I were outnumbered, but not for long. No doubt Jasper was keeping watch from the living room window, and we were joined by said vampire as well as Etienne. It was four against five, but for a moment which felt stretched beyond time, no one moved.

“Where is he, blood sucker?” Jacob finally said, his voice a snarl.

“What are you talking about?” I answered back.

“She isn’t going to say,” Magdalena growled. “Let’s take care of them now before it’s too late.”

Jacob, however, gestured for her to stay put. Glancing between myself and the other vampires, he took a few steps forward, his gaze settling back on me. “Understand that we are ready to slaughter you,” he said, his voice deepening. “Now stop playing stupid.”

“See where that gets you,” Alice spat. “We’re all centuries old, pup.”

Jacob didn’t let Alice distract him, however, but only continued to bore into me with his bloodshot eyes. Slowly so as not to cause his pack to spring into an attack, I mirrored Jacob’s approach, peering just as deeply into his eyes as he was mine. For a split second, I could see through that hatred and anger which twisted his expression and forced his every muscle into a steel-like tension, and I saw what had brought him there: fear. Absolute fear.

“Where is he?” Jacob roared, the heat from his breath on my face.

The fear wasn’t for himself or for his pack mates. It was the same fear I felt when I had realized James was back. It was fear for another precious person.

I opened my mouth, but the words were reluctant to come. I stammered before I managed to say, “Edward isn’t here, Jacob.”

Jacob lunged forward, and he was almost on top of me. He towered over me, his frame like a wall before me. “Where have you put him?!”

“Jacob,” I said, my voice shuddering, “I don’t have him anywhere.”

“Don’t lie to me, blood sucker,” he growled. “I know you have him. He came right over here.”

“The only human that’s been here all day was the police chief,” Etienne spoke up.

Doubt entered Jacob’s eyes, softening his expression just a little. “If he’s not with you, then…”

I didn’t need to breathe, but nonetheless I felt like I was suffocating as I said, “James has returned.”

Chapter Text

Jacob and I sat across from each other at my dining room table. I faced the doorway which led into the living room, and through there I could see Jasper at his post by the window. Etienne guarded the back door, which opened from the dining room, and this was the side Jacob faced. Even with my back to him, I knew when Etienne would steal a curious glance or two toward Jacob, as I could hear the ruffle of his clothes when he moved.

After the incident in the street, Jacob had sent his pack to the corners of Forks to sniff out and find Edward; I had sent Alice to join in the same task. I had wanted Jasper and Etienne to go as well, but Jasper insisted the two of them guard the house, especially since I would otherwise be here alone with Jacob.

Carlisle had been called, and he and Ana were now en route to return. I didn’t know if they had spoken with Peter, and frankly I didn’t care.

The room was warm, even with the back door open to let the cold, humid evening air flow through. Jacob’s high temperature and stinking scent permeated the room. I didn’t breathe except to speak.

“You saw him this morning, right?” I asked.

Jacob nodded. “He and I…we spoke.”

“How much did you tell him?”

“As much as I could make sense of.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “He took it well, as you said.”

I cracked a smile. “You said he came over here.”

Jacob sighed, and his hot breath washed over me. “We talked for many hours about many things,” he said, his face twisting at the memory of these conversations. I could only imagine what sort of exchange they would have had, as Jacob would never divulge their contents. I wondered if Edward might have expressed opinions about vampires which Jacob would have abhorred. “Some time near noon, he tried to call you. Thought it would be productive if the three of us discussed the feral blood sucker that’s after me.”

That surprised me. I had told Edward a little about James after Jacob’s initial encounter, but Edward had never inquired much further into it. What did Edward think he would accomplish by arranging such a meeting?

Ironically, when Edward had called to arrange this peace meeting, I was deep in a chase at the jaws of Jacob’s pack mates. I wondered if Jacob was aware of what his right and left hands were doing while he was busy with Edward.

“And when I didn’t answer, he came here?”

Jacob shifted in his chair, which looked slightly too small to accommodate his large frame. “Not immediately. I tried to get him to drop the idea.” He paused, clenching his jaw as he bore into my gaze. “I tried to get him to forget about you, but you’ve got your claws into him too deep.”

I ignored the jab, but it took considerable effort not to dive across the table and throttle his throat. “When did Edward try to come find me?”

“Maybe half an hour after he called,” Jacob answered, shaking his head at words in his memory. “Paul showed up. I had to join him.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Did he tell you what he and your girlfriend were up to?”

Jacob’s glare deepened. “Magdalena isn’t my girlfriend,” he spat.

“Did you send them after me?” I demanded. I was leaning forward, my hands splayed on the table. My fingers dug into the wood, leaving permanent marks in the grain.

“Of course I did,” he growled. “Every day more of you show up.” He glanced behind me to Etienne to make his point.

“We’re supposed to help each other,” I argued. “Peter wanted us to work together to keep you safe from James.”

Jacob scoffed, looking disgusted. “That was a mistake,” he said. “Our pack can handle one vampire. There was no reason to bring you into it, and it just made you invite more of your kind here. Peter doubted our ability because all of this is new to us, but I’ve seen what we can do.” A perverse grin lifted his lips. “We almost got you, after all.”

My fingers broke through the table and splinters shot in all directions as my hands balled into fists. In my mind, I saw the large black wolf which had chased me down. I realized now that I was staring into those same eyes.

All thought fled my mind. I lunged forward, but I was held back by a pair of strong arms which pulled me away from the table. At the same time, Jacob had jumped to his feet, ready to defend against my attack. “Calm down, Belle,” Ana’s voice said in my ear just as Carlisle appeared at Jacob’s side. Jacob realized Carlisle was there at the same time I did, and he hopped back a few feet.

I tried to fight against the force which held me down, snarling and snapping and trying with all my strength to get to the hateful mutt which had tried to kill me. I didn’t care that he was Edward’s closest friend. He was my greatest enemy, and I couldn’t rest until he had been punished for what he did to me.

I turned on my captors, digging my teeth into the arm which crossed my chest. I heard a distant cry and then felt a blow to my head which disoriented me. Next thing I knew, I was thrown down face-first into the floor, the force of my diamond-hard body cracking the linoleum and leaving a girl-sized crater.

I couldn’t move. My arms were held tight against my body, my legs vice-gripped together at the ankles. I couldn’t even move my head: I felt pressure on my neck as someone held their hands to it, leaning down with all their weight.

Three vampires were on top of me: Ana, Carlisle, and Etienne. I slowly became aware of this. I breathed in the air, smelling Jacob’s scent. He hadn’t fled, although he should have. The moment my companions released me, I planned to jump at his throat.

But as I did this, another scent came to me, and this one made me freeze in my struggles. All thoughts of tearing Jacob apart were flushed from my mind; in fact, in a split second, I forgot Jacob was even there as that beautiful, overwhelming, electrifying scent filled my nose. It was him: Edward Masen.

I called out Edward’s name, and this sudden change struck my captors enough that I was able to release myself with almost no effort. But when I jumped up to my hands and knees and raised my head to look at that human which had brought me to new life, I learned the real reason why my companions had to easily released me when they had used so much effort to keep me still.

It was not Edward which had come to the open back door. Instead, a woman stood there. She was tall, lean, and her face was twisted into a mask of sadistic joy as she gazed around the room of vampires. All down her front was fresh, coagulating blood, staining the fabric of the white t-shirt and white denim shorts she wore. Red against white was striking: this was calculated for us to see.

That blood which she wore like an accessory sang to me.

And then she was gone.

No words were exchanged. No glances were shared. Jacob and I moved as one: we followed the woman out of the door and into the rapidly darkening evening. Moving at speeds the human eye could not discern, I heard beside a strange, alien sound, which I could only describe as like the sound which bones make when they break, followed by a deafening howl. In my peripheral vision I saw that same black blur which had once pursued me in the same manner it pursued this creature. Moments ago, the mental picture of that beast had sent me into a rage. Now, the idea of attacking it was the furthest thing from my mind.

Edward was in trouble. He was hurt. He might be dead. Either he needed help, or he needed to be avenged.

It was not hard to follow the woman. She made her presence known through the smell of Edward’s blood as well as clear signs of her movement: a dented car door here, a large crack in a roof there. I had no notion if the vampires had followed nor any indication if Jacob’s pack were nearby. None of it mattered, it seemed, while I chased the woman down.

She brought us to the woods, maintaining an advance of about five hundred yards beyond Jacob and me. She paused at the tree line to gaze back at us. In the dawning moonlight, I could see the white of her clothes and the red of her long hair before she disappeared into the mass of woods.

The woman left her mark along her path, and we followed her right into a great clearing. It was not a natural one: dozens of trees had been uprooted and thrown out of their proper places, now arranged in a barrier which marked the clearing. I spotted Edward immediately.

He was laid out in the center of the clearing, his arms and legs splayed out. He’d been stripped, and there were dozens of cuts along his arms, legs, and torso. They were shallow but enough to make him bleed. The scent of his blood permeated every millimeter of the surrounding woods. He was still as we approached, but stirred and turned his head to me as I jumped over the fallen trees.

Beside me, Jacob growled deeply, the ground vibrating with the sound. I gazed up into the trees, trying to sniff James out, but Edward’s blood covered whatever scent James possessed.

Edward groaned quietly and tried to sit up, but his limbs wouldn’t cooperate with the movement he desired. I moved to his side, dropping to my knees, and I took ahold of one of his hands. It was cold against my cold skin, trembling, shivering.

Jacob growled again, his gaze on the tree line, his snout turned up. His great, bushy tail beat the ground.

“You got what you wanted,” I bellowed into the trees, releasing Edward. “You got your prize right here. Come and claim him, you coward!”

Laughter rose from the tree line, faint at first, but growing louder. There were two voices, one male and one female. I recognized the tone of one, and the other I could deduce: James and his mate, Victoria. They were quickly approaching.

A force knocked into me, unseen and unexpected. I was thrown a few dozen feet, the velocity broken as I hit one of the fallen trunks. The bark gave way, splintering as I crashed through. I was disoriented for a moment, but gained my feet in time to see Victoria suddenly upon me.

She grabbed my head with both of her hands, twisting my neck in an unnatural direction. I moved with this direction so that the force would not rend my head from my shoulders, something which this woman certainly possessed the strength to do. I reeled into her to knock her off balance and followed through with a well-placed kick to the gut. She was thrown into the ground.

I heard a sharp yelp which hurt my ears, and I saw not far away that James was on Jacob’s back, his claws deep in Jacob’s skin. James pulled his claws out, releasing two great gushes of werewolf blood which overtook the scent of Edward’s blood and filled the woods.

I paid for this distracted with a sudden kick to the backs of my knees which caused me to crumple to the ground. Victoria was on my back, and she grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled my head back. The claws of her free hand were at my throat, and she pushed them deep into my hardened flesh, causing minute yet painful cracks.

Fire licked at the skin on my neck, and I must have screamed, for the trees which still stood trembled. I was suddenly released, however, when the woman was knocked off of me by a great gray blur.

I was panting, recovering from my attack, when I looked up. The clearing was populated now: vampires and werewolves flew this way and that in a confusing flurry. My eyes couldn’t keep up with the unnatural speeds of the monsters which fought each other. I heard yelps of werewolves and cries of vampires.

I saw James bounding between the standing trees on the edge of the clearing. Jacob and another werewolf leapt up at him, trying to grab any of his long limbs in their snapping jaws. Jasper emerged from the branches of the trees, dropping down on James and catching him by the shoulders; the two of them fell into the snapping whirl of werewolf fur, where any distinguishable movement was lost.

I spotted Edward again. He had managed to turn over onto his belly and was trying to make an escape from his exposed position in the center of the clearing. I jumped to my feet and sprinted to him, dodging under the belly of a leaping werewolf. I gathered Edward up in my arms and made a line for the edge of the clearing.

A great scream rose from one of the vampires, horrid, chilling. It didn’t sound like Ana, and so I ignored it. My only care in that moment was getting Edward safe.

I was seized from this task, however, when Victoria grabbed me by the hair once again. She bit down on one of my arms, her teeth cracking my skin, and pain shot through my whole body. Edward fell from my arms, and my head was forced into a piece of rock half-buried in the dirt.

My vision bloomed into explosions which danced and dazzled behind my eyes. I heard Edward groan beside me, and I reached toward the sound, but it was gone within a second. I saw through my dazzled vision the shock of red hair of James’ mate as she retreated into the trees.

I screamed for Edward, and despite all the damage to my body, I pulled myself to my feet. I heard someone call my name, but I ignored the call. Instead, I ran through the battlefield, following the woman who had taken my Edward.

I found her among a thicket of mossy rocks and rotted wood. She had dropped Edward on the ground and stood over him, her face twisted into a mask of rage and hatred. I lunged at her, but she dropped to her knees and pulled Edward up in front of her like a shield, halting my movement.

“Let him go!” I screamed, my voice hoarse and unclear.

“You owe me now,” Victoria said, her fangs extended. Venom dripped down her lips and chin as she spoke. Before I could react, she bit down into Edward’s shoulder.

I was screaming again, and now Edward’s screams joined mine. The venom of a vampire’s bite brought with it unbearable pain, as if lava had been injected into the veins. She released him and turned tail. I did not give chase, but rather sped to Edward’s side.

I was joined not seconds later. The werewolves ran past me, fanning out in a wide formation, four in all. They pursued the woman and disappeared into the woods. I was surrounded quickly by vampires, my own clan, as I grasped Edward tightly against my chest.

“She bit him,” I cried over and over as Ana tried to pull me away. “He’s turning! She bit him and he’s turning!”

“Come along,” I heard a calm, male voice say in my ear. My panic and fear dropped, an unnatural and almost forceful change in my inner turmoil. I looked up into Jasper’s golden eyes as he and Ana pulled me away from Edward.

“He can’t turn!” I insisted, trying to hold onto my urgency. “He can’t turn! He wasn’t given a choice! He must choose! He can’t turn!”

I fought against my friends as best as I could, but I was exhausted. I had no more fight left in me. I could only watch as Jacob approached Edward, shouldering past the other vampires. He was no longer a great wolf, having regained his humanoid form again. There were two gashes along his back where James had clawed at him, but they had already stopped bleeding. In fact, they looked like they were hours old rather than minutes.

“I have an antidote,” Etienne spoke up. His words were rapid, faster than a human could speak, but Jacob seemed able to understand him. “Let me get him back to the house.” Jacob made no movement, but he did not stop Etienne from gathering up Edward’s tense, writhing body. He was gone in an instant.

I closed my eyes, wishing I could experience oblivion. I had been there once after my werewolf attack, but it never called to me. Instead, I felt Ana release me into Jasper’s strong arms. He carried my limp body out of the woods and back in the direction of town as clouds covered the moon and plunged Forks into darkness.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

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.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

I made my way to the hospital. It was rather large for the size of Forks, but it was also the medical facility that served Christo Rey. I gave the air a tentative whiff as I approached. I smelled werewolves about, but only two: Jacob and, to my surprise, Peter. I wasn’t sure how I felt about being able to identify which werewolf was which by scent alone.

I found them in the waiting room on the second floor of the hospital. They stood toward the far end of the room, near a pair of vending machines, and were speaking in low tones. I could hear them easily as I checked in at the visitor’s desk.

“You did all of this for one mortal?” Peter asked, his tone equally troubled and impressed.

“He’s the most important one,” Jacob answered.

Peter nodded once. “He’s your friend.”

Jacob hesitated, and I chanced a glance at him to see his face. His expression looked pained, as if he were warring with himself over his next words. Before he could speak, he saw me. “She’s here,” he said, his voice turning gravely.

Peter looked at me and nodded to me. “We’ll continue this later,” he said, and the two of them approached me.

“Bella,” Peter greeted, folding his massive arms across his wide chest. “I have need to apologize to you for breaking our agreement.”

I smiled tightly. “There’s no need,” I said. “The problem is solved. Edward is okay.” I looked to Jacob. “You’re perfectly fine.” That earned me a glare from him.

Peter shook his head. “Even still, I lost control of these young ones,” he said, nudging Jacob’s shoulder with his elbow.

“And if you hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened last night,” I said. “So it’s quite fine.”

Peter sighed. “I wish you hadn’t said that in front of him,” he said, jerking his head toward Jacob. “His ego’s out of control as it is.” He smiled then, and he unfolded his arms to extend a hand to me. I shook his hand, his flesh hot against my cold skin. Neither of us enjoyed the gesture, but it was nonetheless appreciated on both sides.

Peter left directly after this, leaving me alone with Jacob. “Will you take me to Edward’s room?” I asked.

“Just sniff him out for yourself,” he said coldly, turning away from me.

And so I did. The hospital was a very foreign place for me. I had never before set foot in one, at least not before the dawn of modern medicine. There was a peculiar smell to it, an odd mix of chemicals and something else, something almost putrid that turned my stomach. But as I passed through the double doors which separated the waiting room from the hallway of hospital rooms, Edward’s sweet scent came to my nose. I followed it to a small room, the door closed over, and within lay Edward.

He was awake, his eyes on the ceiling of the room. A small, cheap stereo had been set up on the little end table beside the bed, and that same morose piano music he usually enjoyed played gently from its low-fidelity speakers. His hands were folded over the gentle curve of his belly, his arms wrapped in gauze. I rapped my knuckles lightly on the wood of the door, getting Edward’s attention as I pushed the door open and stepped inside.

He smiled when he saw me, color coming to his pale face. He sat up as I approached him, wincing with pain which immediately attempted to hide. We said nothing at first, but he held out his hand, and I grasped it as I settled down in the single chair beside his bed. His skin was just as warm as ever; the blood in his fingers pulsed against my skin, and I could hear its rushing through his veins. Before either of us could form a word, I leaned forward and kissed him gently, reveling in the final taste of his mouth.

His grip on my hand was strong, and I saw vitality in his eyes when I pulled away. Alice had assured me Edward would heal, would ultimately end up with remarkably little scarring, and I saw this in him in that moment. For a long time we simply stared at each other. I wondered what he was thinking, what he was seeing through his mortal eyes which were now opened to a new and terrifying world.

“You’ve got your contacts in,” he said, finally breaking the silence.

“I can’t leave home without them,” I said.

“It’s not your real eye color,” he said, and I caught his implication.

“It used to be,” I told him. “I think I’d prefer you to remember me this way.”

His brow furrowed, and he leaned forward. “What do you mean by that?”

I hadn’t quite yet intended to tell him I was leaving, but I didn’t trouble myself over the slip. Better to get it over with. “I’m moving on.”

“Where?” His response was quick. His heartbeat had doubled.

I pursed my lips. Edward’s family had the wealth and resources to follow me anywhere, so I didn’t answer this question.

“You can’t leave,” he said, gripping my hand with both of his now. “After all that’s happened.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

We again fell into a silence which was filled only with melodic piano.

“Do you remember anything?” I asked at length.

“Not enough to make sense of,” he answered. He reached out and cupped my cheek. “I remember you.” I tried to smile, but I couldn’t. My heart recoiled at the thought of leaving him. I didn’t care one bit about the Cullens or even Ana in that moment. I wanted only to take Edward and flee to some unknown place on the planet. He would be safe with me. In time, I could turn him—when he wanted it, when he chose—and Victoria would be no threat to us.

But that was not a life. Edward had a future, and it was not going to unfold as it should with me.

“When are you leaving?” he asked, his voice low, almost monotone.

“Tonight,” I answered.

He scoffed. “Not wasting any time, are you?” I kissed his hand. “What if I proposed to you?”

I was startled into laughter. “Is that a serious question?”

He smiled that crooked smile, and I burned the image into my mind. “It only is if you accept.”

“That’s not a question for someone like me,” I said.

We fell into silence again. My mind raced with my wishes and desires, tormenting me with the reality that none of them could ever be true.

Edward broke the silence again, and his question took me off guard. “What are you thinking about?” I gazed back at him, unsure of how to answer. He chuckled humorlessly. “I’m usually pretty good at reading people. Sometimes it’s almost like I can read their minds. But I’ve never been able to get a read on you. Must be a vampire thing.”

“That’s probably for the best,” I said. I leaned in close to him and whispered, “All I can think about is my desire for you.” I nipped his earlobe. He shivered at this, his skin prickling, his heartrate increasing. I heard his blood flow ever faster, and I could smell the beginnings of arousal. His face flushed, and he averted his eyes.

I heard footsteps approach the room, and I pulled away from Edward as a short, brawny female nurse poked her head in to check on him. I smiled and greeted the nurse with a nod, and when she left a few moments later, Edward had regained his composure.

“Is Peter’s gang making you leave?” Edward asked, a tone of apprehension in his voice. It occurred to me how much his loyalties were divided with my presence. His closest friend hated my kind. There was no way Jacob could continue his friendship with me around. I was glad I wasn’t going to make Edward choose between his friend and me.

“Not at all,” I said. “It’s just time to move on.”

He ground his jaw as he formed his next words. “And I can’t come with you.” There was a note of resignation in his tone which gave me hope that he would accept it with little trouble.

“It’s too dangerous for a human to live with vampires.”

Silence again. The stereo had gone quiet in the last couple of minutes as the CD within had come to its end. The florescent lights overhead buzzed, and a light cacophony of voices from the hallway and the surrounding rooms came to my ears.

All of this disappeared from my notice when Edward spoke again. “I had asked you if you would ever give me a choice.” As he spoke, his hand had absently risen to his shoulder where Victoria had bit him. “You said you didn’t know.”

“I know now,” I said. He gazed back at me with a gentle hopefulness. It was dashed as I stood up from the chair. “Edward, I want you live. I want you to graduate high school, go to college, set the world on ablaze. Whether you do that by art trading, or piano playing, or some other talent of yours that I never got the chance to discover—I want you to live. Let me be a memory to you.”

He grabbed me by my forearms as if he were holding on to a lifeline. “Bella, please don’t go.”

I tore my arms out of his grasp. I don’t know who was wounded by that more. The hurt in his eyes was much too much for me to bear, and I retreated to the door. I gazed at Edward one last time. He pleaded with his eyes, but said nothing more.

I wished I could cry. I had no outlet for the penetrating sadness which washed over me as I walked back down the hallway. It felt like I had just pierced my own chest with a spear and left a gaping hole in its wake.

Jacob was still in the waiting room, seated uncomfortably on one of the plastic benches. I should have just left, but something about Jacob’s expression—troubled, anxious—made me pause. He caught me watching him, and that same hatred entered his eyes as he glared at me. A werewolf naturally despised a vampire, but I realized there was something more to it with Jacob.

Jacob had told Peter that Edward was the most important mortal to him. He was the most important mortal to me as well. It came to me, as I fought back against the ocean of sadness which threatened to overpower me, that Jacob and I shared something in common. That knowledge steeled me as I joined Jacob on the plastic bench.

“You said I don’t know how to love Edward,” I said in a whisper. “That’s probably true. But you do, don’t you?”

A mortal’s heart beat was a steady rhythm, quiet yet pronounced. Jacob’s heart beat was like a war drum. I wondered distantly if the other mortals in the waiting room could hear it as it raced at my question.

“He’s my best friend,” he said defensively.

“You defied your leader to protect him,” I said, gazing down at my own hands. “You recruited some of your pack, brought them to Forks, and prepared them to face against a clan of vampires, all to keep him safe.”

Jacob ground his jaw. “I couldn’t lose him.”

“I know,” I breathed. “If I were you, I would have done the exact same thing.”

Jacob was silent. I stood up again.

“You know how to love him, so love him well,” I said. Jacob looked at me, and for the first time since I met him, I saw something other than hatred there: that spark of mutual understanding which, if we were two different people, if circumstances were different, might bloom into friendship.

I turned away and left the hospital. What had been, and what could have been, were now done and had to be put away. My time in Forks had come to an end. The place where my heart reawakened would always lay claim to it. If I could, I would bury my heart in its frozen soil, close to the most important mortal. Instead I would have to carry it with me, hurting forever for Edward Masen.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

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 girl.

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.