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Solstice

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"Alice, we don't have all day!" I call up to her. We aren't going to be late, but I don't care. Today I want to be early, but of course it's also the day that Alice insists on spending twenty minutes making sure everything is perfect.

'Almost...there! Perfect. I'm coming, I'm coming.' I see a vase of roses through her thoughts, which she is precariously placing on a shelf. You can count on Alice to focus on something as trivial as a single vase.

She dances outside to the driveway and gracefully hops in my car. I roll my eyes and speed down the road, anxious to get to school.

"She isn't going to be excited. Don't wish her a happy birthday, I think she had a nightmare last night about it."

"I don't care." I say with a small laugh, knowing that Bella's reaction wouldn't be positive anyways. I know that Bella is going to be stubborn about it. Everyone's attention is going to be on her, to some extent. And any attention of hers is unwelcome.

We arrive at school in minutes, even though the drive was a bit long. I pushed the speeding limits more than usual this morning. Alice quickly prances away towards my other siblings, who were smart enough to reject her request for a ride. I walk out of the car, seeing Bella with a group of her human friends- including Mike Newton. Ugh.

"Happy birthday." I say, and I hear Alice's annoyed thoughts from across the lot.

"Don't remind me." Even in a scowl, her face is quite perfect.

"Your birth is definitely a day to celebrate." If only she knew how much her existence has transformed my life.

"Not for me."

"Eighteen is a little early to be worrying about your age." I laugh. I knew she'd be difficult, but it's just ridiculous at this point.
"It's one year older than you."

"Bella, I'm ninety."

"True. Maybe I should be creeped out that I'm dating such an old guy."

I smile. "Yes, it's the age that's creepy, not the fact that you're dating a vampire."

I lean down and capture her lips with mine, kissing her gently. Her heartbeat races, her lips exchanging the kiss passionately. I slowly pull away, feeling the fiery pain in my throat rising. The dull ache of thirst I usually feel when around her has become the new normal, but I'm still careful. When we kiss, the pain is much more acute, therefore much more dangerous.

"Class." I nod to the school, trying to keep the grin off my face.

"Right. Class."
Her cheeks are still flushed when I frown.

I answer Bella's questioning gaze. "Someone wants you."

'Ugh, that smell...Where is it coming from? Whatever, I just want to see Bella. The smell isn't that bad, I guess. Sure hope that guy Edward isn't with her.'

I give Jacob a fake smile as he jogs up to us, noting that he must have grown at least three inches since I last saw him.

"Bella!" He nods to me, and I take the signal and walk a couple of feet away. Jacob probably assumes that they're out of my earshot, but he's dead wrong. I can hear everything within five miles.

"God, Jacob, what are they feeding you on that rez, steroids? You're huge."

I ignore her eyes wandering over his muscular body. Jacob doesn't seem to notice.

"Wouldn't seem so drastic if you came around more." 'And stopped hanging out with that weirdo. Something about him gives me the creeps…'

"I will, soon. But isn't your school, like, ten miles that way?"

"Just here buying this for the Rabbit. I'm almost done with the rebuild. Gotta come take a ride when it's done." 'And it was a nice opportunity to see you.' "Oh, and hay, happy birthday. Your dad told my dad. So…" He pulls a small dreamcatcher out of his coat pocket.

'Like I could forget your birthday. I wonder if Edward even remembered. Probably not, she doesn't seem to have a gift. She couldn't be that into him, I mean, the dude's as pale as a ghost. And almost as creepy. Besides, I spent two weeks looking for this thing. And he couldn't get her one present? I don't get what she sees in him.'

I take a deep breath and head back in their direction. I don't think I can bear listening to any more of his desperate thoughts.

"The bell's about to ring." I interrupt their conversation and try not to notice that Bella graciously accepted his gift. The bell rings a second later, and I can't help flashing Jacob a somewhat snarky smile.

"Ooh, look at you, all psychic."

"I don't have that particular gift. But I can read a watch. I'm clever that way."

He smiles back, obviously trying to hide his frustration.

Bella steps in between us and gives Jacob's arm an awkward squeeze. I know she hates the tensions between me and him, but sometimes I can't resist.

"Bye, Jake, and thank you." I sling my arm around Bella and walk her towards school as Jacob's thoughts run wild with anger.

"How come Jacob Black gets to give you a gift and I don't?" I try to make the question seem like a joke, but I do want to know.

"He's just a friend." She sounds defensive. Oh how I wish I could read her thoughts sometimes...

"'Friends' don't spend two weeks looking for the perfect dreamcatcher." I usually avoid disturbing anyone's privacy - it's the least I can do for my siblings when they know that their every thought is being heard by me. But when it comes to Jacob, I don't feel bad.

"Stop reading his mind if he bothers you so much." Defensive, again.

"Little hard to tune out." It's the truth...Jacob's thoughts are so pure and clear that it is harder than usual to ignore them.

She laughs- a perfect, effortless sound- but I glance back at Jacob. He's still standing in the parking lot, looking at us. I hold his gaze for a moment.

'Dammit, he caught me staring. Ugh, whatever. I'm out of here.'

I turn away with a slight smile on my face, but I don't think Bella notices. I recognize the steady stream of visions and ecstatic thoughts a moment too late, as I'm sure she knew I would, when Alice appears in front of Bella. A perfectly wrapped gift is in her hands.

"Happy-"

"Shh!"

I wonder why Alice bothered trying to say it. Perhaps to show Bella that she was still thinking of it.

She pulls Bella into a firm hug and whispers "...Birthday." with a smile.

"Alice, didn't I say no gifts?"

"You did. I didn't. I've already seen you open it and guess what? You love it." Alice is telling the truth, though I expected it. I see the vision of Bella's delighted face in her mind.

'You had a vision about my birthday."

"And about the green dress you'll be wearing to your party tonight. Great color on you."

"...My party?"

"Please? It'll be fun."

I exchange a knowing glance with Jasper. He knows what to do. "I...guess I can deal-"

"Great! See ya at seven!"Alice quickly walks away, barely at human speed, before Bella can realize what happened.

"Wait, Jasper, no fair with the mood control."

Jasper gives a quick apologetic bow before he gets dragged away by an anxious Alice.

"Vampires. You can't trust them." I say.

I would be lying if I said that I hadn't already thought of leaving. When Bella decided to meet James in Phoenix in an incredibly stupid attempt at a selfless act, I couldn't help but feel personally responsible. If I hadn't taken her to the clearing, they wouldn't have caught her scent. James wouldn't have locked her in as his prey, and she would be perfectly safe. In fact, she'd be much safer if I hadn't met her in general. I knew that it would be better for her if I left, but I couldn't bear to leave her. If anything else happened, I would reevaluate. But as of now, I couldn't leave her. It would be too painful.

The day drags on, as usual. In English, Mr. Berty has us watch Romeo and Juliet. I've watched the play dozens of times, as has Bella, so we occupy the back row of seats and quietly whisper.

"I hate being...celebrated." She pouts.

"Come on, the last real birthday any of us had was Emmett's- I think Bing Crosby was on top of the charts. You'll be helping us feel normal for a night." I try to play the sympathy card. Bella is so selfless that I know she won't agree unless I bring other people into it. How strange it is for her to be so generous and kind that the only way that she would agree to a party being thrown for her is if other people benefited more than she did? She truly is a perfect person.

"There are worse tragedies than a birthday. Look at Romeo. He's responsible for his wife's death. Who could live with that?" I glance at the screen. "Though I do envy him one thing."

"Juliet's alright...if you like that obviously beautiful sort of thing."

I almost laugh at her ludicrous thought that I was talking about the girl.
"Not the girl- the suicide. Nearly impossible for my kind. But humans- a little poison, dagger to the heart. There are so many options."

"Why would you even think about that?" She asks, clearly appalled by my response.

I shrug, trying to downplay the sorrow that had enveloped me when I had those thoughts. "I considered it. Once. When James had you trapped." The memory of Bella, laying helpless on the floor, bleeding, runs through my mind. I grimace. "I didn't know if I'd find you in time. If I'd gotten you killed -"

"It wouldn't have been your fault."

"Either way, I had a plan."

"What plan?"

I consider stopping, but I don't. I'm not sure why, but perhaps she deserves to know. "There are...ways for us. At least one way. I would have gone to Italy, provoked the Volturi…"

"The who?" My thoughts of the horrifying royal family of vampires are interrupted by Mr. Berty.

"Is there something you'd like to share with the class, Edward?"

I look towards him, using my best innocent facade. "Certainly not. But I apologize for being a distraction. Perhaps you should rewind to act five, scene one, line twenty-eight eighty-nine. 'If you had the strength of twenty men it would dispatch you straight.'" That should do it.

Sure enough, Mr. Berty swallows hard and clears his throat in embarrassment. "Eyes on the screen, people."

I look back to Bella, hoping to see some sign of amusement from her, but she is too concerned to be entertained by my attempts at embarrassing the teacher. I sigh, knowing that she will continue worrying about our conversation until I bring it up later on.