Solstice

Truth

Ian and Rob went upstairs to tell Adelaide, Tara, Aunt Rose and Grandma Esme about Grandpa Carlisle’s plan. Jacob and I decided to go for a walk on our trail. On our way out, I could hear Tara firing questions at Ian and Rob faster even a vampire could have answered. Adelaide remained alarmingly silent.

“Wow,” Jacob said, impressed. “That kid can talk.”

“That ‘kid’ is like, fifty years older than you,” I laughed.

He chuckled as well as he threaded his fingers through mine. “So…winter formal.”

I glanced at him with surprise. Of all of the topics he could have chosen to discuss, he wanted to talk about winter formal? “What about winter formal?”

“Do you uh…do you want to go?”

I restrained the ‘no’ that was fighting to explode out of my mouth. “Do you…want to go?” I could imagine that Jacob would want to go winter formal. He liked them about as much as Mom and me.

“Well, yeah.”

Really?” I cursed the surprise in my voice. I had meant to say it with far more nonchalance.

“Yeah.”

That was definitely unusual. “Well, then you should’ve known that you don’t need to ask me. If you want to go, I’m there.” I’d assumed that that was a given.

He smiled. “Well, thanks Ness, but I don’t want you to force you through it if you really don’t want to go.”

“As long as you’re there, I can grin and bear it. Besides, Aunt Alice will be over the moon.” I couldn’t believe that he didn’t know all of this. Wherever he was, that was where I wanted to be, where I belonged.

“Great,” he beamed. “I think you’ll like it.”

I doubted that, but I’d tolerate it.

* * *

Several horrible days of Adelaide’s silence and Tara’s babbling passed. School was all but forgotten as there was no way that Rob and Ian were going to ask them to go to school, and they certainly weren’t about to leave them. Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper were too concerned for Adelaide to leave. Aunt Rose decided to stay to keep an eye on Tara, which meant Uncle Emmett was home as well. Mom stayed to help my grandmother and aunts look after Adelaide and Tara, which kept Dad home as well, which meant that Dad also wanted me home, which of course meant Jacob would be staying home.

Finally, after receiving a concerned phone call from the principal’s office about our shoddy attendance, we decided to return to class.

I met Jacob at breakfast the morning after the phone call. Dad had banished him back to the basement now that things were resuming some semblance of normality. Well, as normal as things were ever going to get for our family. He had managed to eat seven pieces of French toast with one hand before I’d even had time to pour my cereal. Grandpa Carlisle had insisted on casting and slinging his arm, despite the fact that his arm was almost fully healed.

“‘Morning, everyone,” Adelaide said with a smile.

My spoon dropped from my hand and glanced off of the side of my cereal bowl to clatter to the floor loudly. Adelaide was talking. I watched her with awe as she prepared her customary morning coffee. I looked around the room to make sure that I wasn’t the only one finding this odd. By the concerned look that passed between my grandparents, apparently I wasn’t.

“There you go,” Jacob said, placing the spoon back in the bowl.

Aunt Rose sighed dramatically. “Well she’s obviously going to need a new one, isn’t she?” She snatched the spoon out of the bowl and replaced it with a clean one.

Their rivalry was getting old very quickly. Besides, it wasn’t like the germs could possibly hurt me. I looked back at Adelaide, who was smiling at Rob now. He stopped dead and looked at her for a moment in complete astonishment, and then at all of us.

“Uh…c-car’s filling up,” he said distractedly, his eyes still following his mate’s every movement. “Rosalie, Emmett’s waiting for you in the garage.”

She nodded as she passed him a blood packet. “I’m on my way.”

“Edward and Bella are waiting for the two of you in the Volvo,” Ian informed Jacob and me, snatching Rob’s blood packet and taking a drink. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and handed the half-drained packet back to Rob before disappearing again. I looked at the packet longingly. Mom had told me that it would be better to leave the packets to those who had no other dietary choice. Besides, the Winters were even newer to the vegetarian diet than we were, and Rob and Ian found it especially difficult.

Jacob threw the last half of the omelette he was devouring into his mouth. “C’mon, Ness,” he said, offering me a hand.

“There’s still room in the Porsche if you want to go, Ade,” Rob said hesitantly.

I looked at her, waiting.

“Of course I’ll go,” she said with a slight smile. She dumped the remnants of her coffee into the sink and set the mug on the counter. “But I think I’ll walk this morning.”

He frowned. “Are you sure?”

She kissed him lightly in response, and took the blood packet from him. “You really should cut down, you know,” she said quietly. “Your eyes are going to turn red.”

Rob stared at her in wordless surprise as she sealed the packet and put it back in the fridge. “I’ll, uh...meet you at school, then,” he said slowly.

I thought for a moment and then said, “I think I want to walk too, Jake.” I want to talk to Adelaide, I told him using my gift.

He nodded and chuckled quietly. “Always so curious.”

A blush rose in my face.

He chuckled again and kissed me, sending a surge of electricity through my chest. “See you in a bit.” He gave me my favourite smile before following Rob to the garage, who was still looking at Adelaide over his shoulder.

“If that’s okay with you,” I added quickly as her stunning blue eyes turned to me.

“You're quite welcome.” She smiled again. She slung her book bag over her shoulder and led the way.

“Have a good day,” Grandma Esme called after us. There was a slight wariness to her tone.

“Thanks, Esme,” Adelaide replied before shutting the front door.

We were just in time to watch Uncle Emmett tear down the winding drive in his Lamborghini, Aunt Rose at his side. We followed the driveway until we were several dozen metres from the highway, and then walked parallel to it.

Silence reigned for a long time.

“Adelaide, are you okay?” I asked when I could contain my question no longer.

She didn’t look at me. “Of course I am. Why ever wouldn’t I be?”

“You can be honest with me. Rob didn’t ask me to talk to you or anything.”

She gave another sad smile. “I know he didn’t. I would have known if he had.”

I furrowed my brow slightly. “How would you have known?”

She flashed me what I imagined was intended as a small smile, but it came out as a mild grimace. “You, Jasper, Alice, Bella, Edward and Tara aren’t the only ones with a gift.”

My frown deepened. “You have a gift?”

Adelaide nodded. “I can tell when people are lying.”

“Well yeah, so can I, but –”

“No, it’s more than that. Everything people say has…has an aura to it, as I call it. When someone’s telling me the truth, I can see it in their words. When they’re being dishonest, I can see that as well. I don’t have to be looking them in the eyes, but when I do, I can see how far or how close what they are saying is to the truth.”

“You never told me that.”

“I know.”

“Does anyone else know?”

“Well, pretty much everyone, really.”

I frowned. Had I really been that wrapped up in my own life? “Why did you never tell me, though?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “It never really came up.”

“So how would you have known if Rob had asked me?”

She looked away again. “It was in your choice of words. I was looking at you when you said that you ‘wanted’ to walk to school. If someone had asked you, you hadn’t really have wanted to walk to school. I would have seen that and assumed that someone had asked you to, and knowing my husband as I do, I would have guessed it to be him.”

I raised my eyebrows slightly, impressed. She clearly had mastered the use of her gift. But she was also trying to change the subject, which I had not missed.

“Wow. That’s pretty cool, but I want to know how you’re doing.”

She bit her lip. “Honestly?”

“Honestly and truly.”

She slowed slightly and took a breath. “I’ve been worse.”

“That bad?”

She smiled humourlessly. “It’s not as bad as when I first left my family but...” She swallowed. “I’ve been trying to act normally, for Rob’s sake. I know he’s out of his mind with worry. He hates not being able to help.”

That sounded like an Adelaide thing to do. “Actually, I think he’s a little more worried after your performance this morning.”

“I know,” she said sadly. “I just want him to be happy.”

“And he just wants you to be happy.”

“I know.” She sighed. “He’s not a bad man, Nessie.”

I looked at her sharply. “What are you talking about?”

“I know you don’t like him because of the way he treats Jasper.”

I bit my lip. She was right, of course, but I wasn’t about to admit that. “I don’t think he’s a bad man,” I said, choosing my words carefully.

“But you don’t like him,” she pointed out.

I looked at her sharply.

She chuckled slightly. “Come now, Nessie. You’ve never made that much of a secret. I don’t like the way he treats Jasper, either, but I can understand why he does.” She sighed. “Did you ever hear the story of how Rob came to be a vampire?”

“I know Uncle Jasper changed him.”

She twisted a ring on her finger. “Well, there’s far more to the story than that.

Rob was born in Alexandria County, Virginia in 1842, the oldest of eight children. His father was a politician, and wanted Rob to follow in his footsteps. Rob, however, had his own ideas. He was as brilliant then as he is now, but he fancied joining a trade. That created a considerable amount of tension between them, a tension which remained throughout the rest of his human life.

“He fought for the Confederate Army for the first two years of the war with two of his brothers. He was forced to leave the army in 1863 to help take care of his family. A few years later, Rob found out that his mother was dying of cancer. He had been living at home in order to help his parents with his younger siblings, and was even working at a local mill to help support them. He’d also agreed to an arranged marriage with a wealthy merchant’s daughter, in the hopes that her dowry would help his family. But his mother found herself unable to care for the four of his siblings that still lived at home. So, he agreed to take his youngest sister, Lucy, to live their aunt and her family, who lived near the American-Mexican border. The Civil War had been over for two years, so he didn’t anticipate any danger. He doesn’t remember when or where, but he remembers stopping to pick up a traveller by the side of the road, a traveller that introduced himself as Jasper Whitlock.”

I swallowed hard as I waited for her to continue.

She took another breath. “He was barely in the carriage before he attacked them. He bit Rob first, and then turned on Lucy. She was twelve.”

I closed my eyes for a moment. He’s a different person, I reminded myself. Jasper Whitlock may have been like that, but I knew for a fact that Jasper Cullen was a much different person.

“Rob was changing while Jasper killed Lucy, so there was nothing he could have done, but he has always blamed himself.”

I felt a flood of compassion for him.

“He was an exemplary fighter, Jasper tells me, and he and Maria considered keeping him. Rob was always resistant to Jasper’s authority, even when he used his gift, but he fought well, and proved himself to be an asset. That was probably the only thing that spared him. Maria and the others weren’t particularly fond of insubordinate newborns, and they tended to die a little sooner than the others as a result. Rob is unsure as to how much time passed, but Jasper believes it was almost thirty years. During that time, he and Rob got into more than a few brawls, and they both have the scars to show for it.

“One night, Rob witnessed Maria and Jasper dispatching three unneeded newborns. He had always known that after a time some of the newborns would disappear, but he had never realized that they were causing the disappearances. Confused and wary, he decided to leave, but he swore on the memory of his sister that he would have his revenge.

“He ran north for days, and only when he was sure that they had not followed him did he stop. In the subsequent years, he lived all across the continent. As he travelled, he learned more and more about the new world he found himself in.

“By the 1920’s, he decided that he would see the rest of the world, as well. He went to Ireland, and then on to England and Europe where he spent almost two decades.

“In 1942, he was exploring France when he came across a newborn loose in the French countryside. He’d only been changed days before by a vampire that was preying on the corpses of Dieppe.”

I shuddered. “Who was he?”

She smiled slightly. “His name was Corporal Ian McMaster.”

My eyes widened. “Ian was a soldier?”

She nodded. “He was a poor American farmer that had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939, and was shot down during the battle of Dieppe. He was barely alive when a ravenous French vampire came across him. He had only managed to bite Ian when a bomb exploded nearby. It scared him off, and he left Ian there to change. Rob taught him almost everything he knew, keeping only his lessons from his days as a newborn soldier to himself. They went back to North America together, and they met us in 1967.” She fell silent, to allow the flurry of information to sink in.

“Wow,” was all I could say. That explained so much about Rob. I could hardly blame him for despising the man that my uncle had been. “But…he’s forgiven him, hasn’t he? I mean, they were almost civil yesterday.”

Adelaide pursed her lips. “He’s trying. He’s coming to accept that Jasper is no longer the man that he knew, but it’s difficult for him. He tries not to be so obvious about his dislike for him because he respects my friendship with him, but I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to fully forgive him.”

This new information changed everything I’d thought I’d known about Rob. I felt a twinge of guilt for judging him so quickly, before I’d even known all of the facts. I’d written him off as angry and bitter, completely insensitive to the feelings of others.

Adelaide sighed. “I didn’t figure he would tell you himself. He wouldn’t want you to think badly of your uncle, but you know that Jasper is different now, don’t you?” she asked me, her piercing eyes searching mine.

“I know,” I said honestly, knowing that she would be looking for truthfulness in my reply.

She nodded, satisfied with my response. “Good.”

“Adelaide?”

“Yes?”

“Something that you’ll learn about me is that I’m not easily distracted.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. With Jacob around, distraction was guaranteed.

She gave a tiny smile. “I have noticed. What do you want to know?”

“I want to know how you’re feeling.”

She looked away. “Well, I’m not quite sure if there’s a word for it.”

“So use more than one.”

She lowered her eyes again. “Angry…confused…profoundly saddened…sick… lonely… ashamed…”

Silence reigned for several long moments. I couldn’t seem to think of anything to say that would make a difference.

“I don’t want you worrying about me,” she said finally. “You have more important things to worry about than fussing about me. Trust me, Rob has it covered.”

“I know I don’t, but you don’t have to pretend, either. Trust me, you’re not fooling him. It’s okay to need people, you know,” I said softly. “You don’t always have to have it together.”

She considered that for a moment. “I suppose you’re right. But when I look at what this is doing to Rob…to Ian and Tara…I don’t want to make it worse for them, or for you and your family. I’ve never been used to depending on people. People have always depended on me.”

That didn’t surprise me. That was probably to be expected after she’d practically raised five sisters. “They’ll handle it in their own way. The best thing you can do for them is compartmentalize it for yourself.”

Adelaide half-smiled. “You’re a smart girl, Nessie.”

That lit my cheeks instantly. “Er, thanks,” I said awkwardly. After a moment, I added, “You know, Grandpa Carlisle and Grandma Esme are worried too.”

She sighed quietly. “I know. They’re better to me than I deserve. Esme is like the mother I never had and Carlisle is like the father I should have had.”

I fidgeted in the awkward silence that followed. It lasted until we arrived at the school mere moments before it was due to start. When we arrived, Rob was hovering nervously in front of the Reventón. I instantly felt a ripple of sympathy for the misunderstood vampire, followed closely by acute guilt. I’d never even given him a chance.

He glanced up as we approached. “There you are!” he exclaimed and began to walk towards us. He enveloped Adelaide in a tight embrace.

Adelaide frowned slightly, but said nothing as she wrapped her arms around him.

“Jacob is waiting for you by your classroom, Nessie,” Rob informed me, his arm still locked firmly around Adelaide’s waist.

I nodded and took off in the direction of my class.

“Let’s skip,” I heard Rob say as I walked away. “I want to talk to you.”

She chuckled. “I thought the purpose of attending school today was to...well, attend school?”

I met Jacob in front of my English class.

“Well took you long enough,” he grinned hugely. “Rob started freaking out the minute we drove away.”

I laughed. “So how much time do we have before class?”

“Uh…two minutes.”

I sighed. After that, I’d have to wait till lunch to see him. “I don’t see why you couldn’t just take some sophomore classes.”

“Because I’m a junior.”

“A junior that could take some sophomore classes.”

It was his turn to laugh now. “Go to class. I think Alice wants to tell you something,” he said, glancing inside the classroom.

I looked as well. Aunt Alice was practically bouncing in her seat towards the back of the room, which seemed to be garnering her even more attention than usual from the creep-tacular Mr. Wickham. I shuddered at his latest fashion misdemeanour. It must have been something very interesting if my Aunt Alice, of all people, hadn’t noticed (or was dwelling on) a fashion blunder that had been obvious even to me.

I sighed at the prospect of having to be Jacob-less for the next four hours. “Well, I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Yep,” he replied. He wound his good arm around my waist and gave me a bone-melting kiss.

I swaggered into class and collapsed into my chair adjacent Aunt Alice. No matter how many times he kissed me, I was sure that I would never cease to be dazzled.

“Finally!” Aunt Alice said impatiently. “I’ve had a vision.”

I looked at her “Okay…” That wasn’t exactly unusual. It certainly wasn’t anything deserving of this level of animation.

She rolled her eyes. “Well I obviously wouldn’t be this excited if it were just a normal vision, now would I?”

I frowned slightly. “Is this a trick question?”

Aunt Alice sighed dramatically. “You’re too much like Bella for your own good. Now hurry up and ask me what it was about!”

“What was it about?” I asked obediently.

“Lunch this afternoon,” she said with a suddenly-demonic smile.

I was instantly suspicious. “What’s going to happen?”

“Oh, you’ll see.”

I gave her a look. “You said all that just to tell me to wait till lunch?”

“Yes.”

I sighed and flipped my book open.

* * *

“Uh-oh,” Aunt Alice murmured at lunch that afternoon. We’d congregated at our usual table, but Uncle Emmett had had to scare off a freshman group looking for a quiet place to study, to get it.

Everyone turned to look at her. “Uh-oh?” Adelaide asked warily.

“Didn’t see that coming,” Aunt Alice muttered, her gaze still distant as she watched the future play out in her head.

I now understood the uh-oh. It had to be bad if Aunt Alice hadn’t seen it coming. That meant that it was last-minute, and that it was therefore unavoidable.

“Rob, how’re you feeling today?” she asked suddenly.

Rob looked at her, surprised. “Me? Um…I’m fine, I suppose?”

“Would you say that you’re particularly agitated today?”

His eyes narrowed slightly. “Alice, what’s going on?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” she said with a smirk. “Now this is important: are you feeling agitated?”

“Well, before you started with your vague answers, I wasn’t.”

Adelaide gave him one of her bone-chilling looks of disapproval. “Robin.”

He sighed. “Alice, I apologize.”

“Wow, Rob,” Uncle Emmett said as he played with the sandwich on his plate. “I’m surprised Mommy didn’t spank you.”

Adelaide rolled her eyes. Rob, Ian and Jacob laughed. Amazingly, Rob seemed to be developing a sense of humour.

“Accepted,” Aunt Alice said to Rob. “And what about yourself, Ian? Not annoyed at all today, are we?”

“No,” he said, suddenly wary. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason,” she said quickly.

Dad growled suddenly. “Alice, you’re driving me crazy! What’s happening? I can’t hear you!”

“You’ll see, you’ll see,” she said as she slid Tara a five dollar bill. “Thank you for your services.”

Tara took the bill with a slight blush.

Ian frowned slightly. “What’s that about?”

“You know, it’s very convenient to have a super-shield in the family,” Aunt Alice said, her eyes still on her food.

“Traitor,” Rob muttered.

“That's cheating, Alice,” Dad said, glaring at my aunt and Tara.

Tara’s blush deepened. “I thought you said you were going to be discreet, Alice.”

Aunt Alice looked up defensively. “Why, that was discreet.”

Uncle Emmett snorted.

With the exception of Jacob and me, each member of my family took turns bothering Aunt Alice about what was going to happen. Uncle Jasper accused her of not trusting him. Dad continued to accuse her of cheating. Uncle Emmett whined about the injustice of being the only one without a gift. Aunt Rose politely reminded him that neither she, nor my grandparents, nor Rob and Ian, for that matter, had gifts, and then she and Mom accused Aunt Alice of betraying the sisterhood.

“The sisterhood? Oh please. You sound like a cult,” Uncle Emmett told Mom, and then turned back to Aunt Alice. “Come on, Alice! Do it for your favourite brother!”

She snorted. “Edward’s my favourite brother.”

“And yet still you won’t tell me,” Dad complained.

“You won’t have to wait long,” she said, her smirk broadening.

I frowned and glanced over my shoulder. A dawn of realization swept over me as I caught sight of Jeff and his cronies entering the cafeteria. “Oh dear,” I said quietly.

“What?” Adelaide asked, glancing in the same direction. A sly smile spread over her face. “Oh. Well. Do enjoy, Tara.”

Tara glared at Aunt Alice and then buried her face in her hands.

“Serves you right for shielding her,” Dad muttered.

The conversation was forced to end as Jeff came to stand in front of the table. “Hey, Tara.”

Tara went from pale to cherry-red in the span of two seconds. I felt badly for her. She remained the only person I’d ever met that blushed more than I did. She nodded her head politely, and shielded her face with her hair.

Ian wrapped his arm around Tara, making no effort to be inconspicuous about it whatsoever. He casually played with Tara’s emerald-and-diamond engagement ring.

Jeff glanced at it, but had clearly missed the connection. “So, um, about winter formal…”

Ian’s eyes grew wider. I saw the hand that wasn’t playing with Tara’s ring curl into a fist. He took a deep breath and counted quietly before exhaling.

Adelaide clapped a hand over her mouth to keep her laughter silent. Tara shot her a mortified glare.

“Would you uh…would you like to go with me?”

“She isn’t going anywhere with you,” Ian said, suddenly on his feet. His speed amazed me.

I cringed, hoping that he wasn’t feeling as homicidal as he looked. He began to calm against his will as Uncle Jasper stared at him. He picked up Tara’s left hand and deliberately displayed the ring. “Does this give you any hints, Whitman?”

“Ian,” Tara said quietly. “Just relax.”

Jeff looked at the ring again. “Nice rock,” he nodded.

“It’s not a rock, it’s an engagement ring.”

Jeff’s face fell.

Well finally, I thought, Took him long enough!

“You’re getting married?” he demanded of Tara. “To who?”

Ian rolled his eyes. “To me.”

“I didn’t know that you two were that serious,” he said miserably.

I closed my eyes. This human was an idiot.

“Wow,” Uncle Emmett whispered, genuinely impressed. “And you call me a moron.”

“Aren’t you two a bit young to get married?” Jeff asked them now.

Uncle Emmett burst out laughing, but was silenced by a sharp blow to the back of his head, delivered by an unimpressed Aunt Alice.

Jeff glanced at Uncle Emmett and smiled uneasily. He walked away dejectedly after a few moments of awkward silence.

“Hey, Ren-eez-me,” said one that I identified as Will. I tried not to allow his horrible pronunciation of my name annoy me. Jacob was suddenly serious.

“Hi, Will,” I said quietly as my cheeks grew warm.

“Do you um…do you have, you know…have uh…a date? You know, to the winter formal?”

I stared at him in disbelief for several seconds. He’d never taken the slightest interest in me before. “Um…yeah,” I said, glancing at Jacob, whose expression mirrored Ian’s.

“Oh,” Will said simply, and then slunk off to follow the crestfallen Jeff, who’d been waiting for him by the cafeteria door.

Barely thirty seconds passed before the next hopeful arrived. “Hey, Adelaide.”

Rob’s smirk froze on his face. It reappeared suddenly on Ian’s.

Adelaide turned around slowly. The one that I recognized as Jared was smiling shyly at her. Adelaide blinked. “I think you’re looking for someone else.”

He smiled slightly. “Oh no, I definitely meant you,” he said, his eyes trailing over her.

Rob stiffened, his eyes flashing.

Adelaide eyes flickered to Tara, who was trying bravely not to laugh aloud. “Is that so? And why is that?”

“Winter formal–”

“No,” she said cutting him off before he could say anything else.

“Have a nice day.” She turned around, her eyes wide. As soon as Jeff and Company had left, she glared murderously at Aunt Alice. “You will pay for this. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but someday, somehow, you will.”

Aunt Alice was smiling broadly now as she played with her food. “Uh-huh.”

“‘Oh, calm down, Ian,’” Ian quoted tauntingly. “‘It’s not such a big deal. There’s no need to be hostile about it.’”

Rob glared at him, his face livid. I had to admit, though, I was impressed. I’d figured that he’d have snapped. “Shut up. Edward, tell me again, how strongly opposed is Carlisle to hunting humans?” Rob asked darkly as he watched Jared go.

“On a scale of one to ten?” asked Dad. “I’d say…one hundred.”

“And how angry would he be if I cheated?”

“Not angry, disappointed.”

“Fine. How disappointed would he be?”

“Scale of one to ten?”

“Okay, I get the point.”

“And besides,” Adelaide said. “He’s not even the one you'd need to worry about.”

He sighed.

“I don’t know, I thought that was pretty funny myself,” Uncle Emmett laughed.

* * *

Gym class followed lunch. As the gym classes were still combined, Jacob walked with us. I could hear Aunt Alice as she chattered on about something, but I’d never had a particularly easy time concentrating when I had a tall, handsome werewolf at my side.

Jacob chuckled as my thoughts were transmitted through our joined hands. “I actually dazzle you?” he whispered.

“More than you know,” I whispered back.

“Are you listening to anything that I’m saying, Renesmee?” asked Aunt Alice suddenly.

“Yes, Aunt Alice,” I said quickly. “Every word.”

Jacob snickered.

“Well if you’re listening, then why is the mutt snickering?”

“Private joke.”

She narrowed her eyes disbelievingly. “Anyway, so as I was saying…”

“So is Edward aware that he’s not the only one who has that effect on women?” Jacob asked me quietly.

“He is now,” Dad said as he passed us.

I sighed as a familiar heat warmed my face. Of all the possible gifts that my father could have had, he just had to get mind-reading.

After we’d changed into our horrific gym uniforms, Aunt Alice and I joined the stream of girls exiting the change rooms and to the northern side of the gym where the rock-climbing wall was situated. I didn’t miss the guarded glances of awe that the other girls shot at me. I frowned slightly. What had I done now?

As we approached the wall, I caught sight of the cracks I’d left in the floor when I’d jumped off the wall in my eagerness to get to Jacob. That explained the stares.

“There’s a reason that we don’t just launch ourselves off of twenty-foot walls, Renesmee,” Dad said in a quiet, censorious tone as Aunt Alice and I reached the little cluster of Winters and Cullens that had formed at the fringe of the crowd.

“I know, Dad,” I said with a sigh. This was going to be awkward enough without him scolding me.

“Breaches like this are serious, Nessie. Humans tend to be too curious for their own good. Like someone else I know.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Okay, Dad, I get the point.”

“Apparently not. You’ve forgotten the first rule.”

I sighed. “Sorry, Edward.”

“Much better.”

“All right, chatter-boxes,” Mr. Wilkes said as he strode into the room. “Today, we’re going to rock-climb, as you’ve probably already gathered. Now I’d rather not have anyone else falling off of walls, please and thank you,” he said, glancing at Jacob who was sitting on the bench, pretending that he was still injured. He gave Mr. Wilkes an antagonizing smile.

“So choose your belayers, and we’ll get going.”

Aunt Alice elected to go first this time. She strapped herself into the harness (which took some doing, as she was much smaller than the average person who wore it) and began to climb. Since there wasn’t much of a challenge to it for any of us, she reached the top long before the humans.

“Well done, Alice!” Mr. Wilkes commended.

Aunt Alice beamed and belayed her way back down. “That is how you get off of a rock climbing wall,” she told me.

I sighed. “I get enough of this from Da–”

“Who?”

I sighed irately. It could be indescribably annoying to have four e began again. “I get enough of this from Edward, Alice. I don’t need you to start in on me, too.”

As I strapped myself in, I looked over at Jacob. Melina was sitting beside him, her body far closer to his than I was willing to tolerate.

“Nessie,” Dad said warningly from my left side as my hands tightened on the stones. Mom stood at the bottom of the wall, acting as his unnecessary belayer.

I exhaled and refocused my attention. I took Aunt Alice’s advice and stumbled my way up the wall, careful to keep pace with the humans. I could have easily done it in thirty seconds, but I was beginning to realize the necessity of maintaining our false identities, even though I slipped up more than anyone else in my family.

“That was very well done, Nessie,” Mom said proudly once I’d reached the bottom. “Very human-ish.”

I gave her a forced smile as I wrestled my way out of the harness, jealousy burning in my veins. I’d never tasted fresh human blood, but if I ever I felt possessed to start, Melina Farelle would definitely have been my first victim.

“Happy thoughts, Nessie, happy thoughts,” Dad murmured.

I clenched my fists to keep from thinking the frosty, disrespectful thoughts that were just begging to be unleashed.

“All right, once everyone’s been up once, you’re all going to go up again, and this time you’re going to focus on getting up as quickly as you can,” Mr. Wilkes said from somewhere amidst the throng of students. The man wasn’t particularly tall, so he was easily missed in the sea faces.

I glanced at the wall as an excuse not to look at Melina. Half of the students were still struggling to reach the top.

“Eh! Nessie! Wake up!” Aunt Alice said, reaching up to wave a hand in front of my face. “It’s your turn.”

I blinked. Hadn’t I just gone? “What are you talking about? It’s your turn.”

“No, I just went. You were daydreaming the entire time.”

I sighed and climbed back into the harness before restarting the ridiculously easy ascent. It was only after I was three-quarters of the way up the wall that I cautioned another look at Melina and Jacob. She was pressed against his side and flirting like an idiot. I released the handholds and leaned back against the rope to keep from damaging the rocks.

“Nessie?” Aunt Alice asked worriedly. “Are you all right?”

“I’m just magnificent,” I lied poorly.

I was relieved when school finally ended and Melina was still alive. I had more self-control than I’d thought.

“That was unbelievably awkward,” Jacob shuddered as we walked to the car.

“I was thinking more along the lines of homicide-inspiring,” I said, exhaling. I’d barely allowed myself to breathe while I was in class. I was afraid that if I caught her scent, I’d end up tearing her throat out in front of the entire class.

Jacob grinned at me suddenly. “Aw, were you jealous?”

“That’s a bit of an understatement.”

His brow furrowed. “Why would you be jealous of her? You know I’m not interested in her. I don’t even see other girls that way anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Well, they’re not you,” he said, as though I’d missed something incredibly obvious.

I felt a little surge of happiness light up my insides, and a touch of smugness. I smiled involuntarily. “So…you don’t think Melina’s pretty?”

“If she is, I haven’t noticed.” He sighed longingly. “I wish that I could show you what I mean. Imprinting on you changed everything. My world, my life, became about you, and it had been all along, I just hadn’t known it.”

I forced down the giggle of ecstasy that I felt building as I let him talk.

“It’s sort of like trying to compare a huge, freshly-baked, mouth-watering, five-tier chocolate cake with bubble gum.” I laughed at his food analogy. “The gum’s okay, it’s nothing compared to the cake. I don’t notice other girls the way I used to. It’s about you now.”

A surge of emotion brought tears to my eyes, to my disgrace. That was, without question, the sweetest thing I’d ever heard. I looked away in an attempt to hide them.

“Nessie?” Jacob asked worriedly, misinterpreting my reaction.

“No, no, I’m all right,” I said quickly, blinking my eyes rapidly. “Sorry.”

He chuckled quietly. “I love you, silly Nessie. Don’t worry about Melina.” He took my hand and pressed it to his soft, warm lips.

“I love you too, Jake,” I said with a smile.

“And I love you three!” Uncle Emmett laughed as he walked up to us, his arm wrapped around Aunt Rose. “Sorry to break up the love-fest, but Edward wants to get going.”

I sighed. No moment was sacred with Uncle Emmett around.

Aunt Rose frowned slightly, no doubt noticing how moist my eyelashes were. She smoothed my hair. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Aunt Rose,” I replied honestly. I was better than fine.

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” she asked, casting Jacob a scathing look.

“No, no,” I said quickly. “Really, I’m okay.”

“Alright.” She gave me a small smile and stroked my cheek.

Jacob and I walked hand-in-hand to my father’s car. Uncle Emmett, was driving his Lamborghini today, thankfully. I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to stand a repeat performance of yesterday.

Mom turned to look at me as I slid into the seat diagonal to hers. “You did a really good job in gym class today, Nessie. I’m very proud of you.”

Of course, I blushed. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You did much better,” Dad concurred. “Pretending to be human just takes some practice and getting used to, that’s all.”

I cringed as I thought of the cracks in the gym floor. “How are we going to explain that to Mr. Wilkes?” I asked.

“Oh, I think Adelaide’s taken care of that,” he said, the smile evident in his voice.

I chuckled as I recalled the effect that Adelaide had on him. “I’ll bet.”

“How was your walk this morning?” Mom asked casually, although I could hear her curiosity burning behind the question. My curious nature was another inherent gift that I’d received from my mother.

“Very educational,” I said simply, sobering slightly at the memory of Adelaide’s retelling of Rob’s history.

When we got home, we found everyone standing in the family room, divided into two very distinct groups. The Winters stood to the right side of the room whilst my family stood towards the left.

“You’re scared,” Adelaide was taunting Uncle Emmett.

He guffawed loudly at this. “Yes, I’m just quaking in front of the two-foot Canadian.”

“Five-foot-five, thank you very much,” she said sourly.

“What’re you all arguing about this time?” Mom asked from behind me.

“Consider yourselves officially challenged to a hockey game,” Rob said with a slightly-mocking grin.

Another hockey game?” Jacob asked darkly. “Come on, guys. You proved you’re good, we get it.”

“Are you afraid of being embarrassed?” Adelaide asked sympathetically.

“Again?” Ian grinned menacingly.

“No hockey game,” Jacob said firmly.

“That’s all right. We understand if it’s too much for you,” Adelaide said. “But I at least expected Emmett to have some backbone. Oh well,” she said with a sigh. “I suppose I was wrong. I guess he’s just a big…oversized…chicken.” She said the words slowly.

Uncle Emmett growled in response. “That’s it. Bring it, Tiny.”

I sighed. Why did he have to be so obvious?

Adelaide flashed him a glittering smile. “Excellent. Lace up.” She strode out of the room confidently with Rob in toe.

Jacob shot Tara a desperate glance. She shrugged apologetically. “If I knew how to stop her, I’d have done it years ago.”

* * *

“All right, now do you all understand the rules?” Rob asked as he dribbled the puck, searching each face.

“I’m not entirely sure that I do,” Grandpa Carlisle said with a slight frown.

“Learn as you go,” Uncle Emmett said dismissively. “Let’s do this!”

“What’re the teams?” asked Aunt Rose as she tried to emulate Tara and Adelaide’s effortless grace.

“Us versus them,” Uncle Emmett suggested eagerly.

“Done,” Rob agreed. He and Adelaide exchanged high-fives.

“Now wait,” Grandma Esme said, as maternal as ever. “Is that entirely fair?”

“No, you’re right, Esme,” Adelaide said seriously. “We should give them at least one Winter.” They all chuckled in unison. The odds did look in our favour. We had ten, they had four, but they all looked supremely confident.

As soon as Grandma Esme dropped the puck, I realized that what we’d seen at the last hockey game had been absolutely nothing compared with what they were capable of. Every move they made was graceful and poised. I watched in speechless awe as they flew through moves that I was sure hadn’t even been officially invented yet.

“Way to go, Emmett,” Jacob said acerbically. “Real smart. Give them all the hockey geniuses.”

The Winters laughed again.

“How did you all get so good at hockey, anyway?” Jacob asked.

“Well, Tara and I have spent a lot of time living up north,” Adelaide told us as she spun gracefully. “And really, skating was the only amusement we had available to us most of the time.”

“They trained us up after we met them,” Ian said. “Now let’s get down to business!”

In a burst of speed, Rob and Ian shot down the ice, passing the puck back and forth at a blinding speed. I watched as Uncle Emmett hurled himself at Ian, but Ian was too fast for him. Uncle Emmett crashed into the ice, managing to land directly on the puck. He swore loudly and rolled off of the puck, which was then assumed by Grandpa Carlisle. Adelaide was on him in the blink of an eye, mirroring every move he made. She twirled effortlessly out of the way as Uncle Jasper launched himself at her, and then flashed back to covering Grandpa Carlisle.

Tara was even showier in her tricks than Adelaide, which was something I hadn’t expected from her. With a gravity-defying jump, she did a flawless triple-axel in the air above Uncle Jasper’s head. I felt my jaw fall open.

Ian, Adelaide and Rob cheered as she landed perfectly. Tara grinned and gave a slight bow.

Grandpa Carlisle, who had stopped dead as we all had to watch, was now scrambling after Adelaide, who then slap-shot it to Ian. Ian passed it to Tara who had somehow managed to get to the other side of the rink, and then spun between Dad and Aunt Rose, leaving them both clutching at air.

After their seventh consecutive goal, Uncle Emmett was openly snarling. He’d (unsuccessfully) attempted to tackle all of the Winters at least once (landing on my poor, unsuspecting grandmother in one such instance. Grandpa Carlisle had banned tackles after that). Aunt Alice had proved remarkably adept on the ice, and had scored both of our goals. I accredited it to her size, or lack thereof. The Winters had almost as much trouble catching her as we did them.

Jacob and I had been the least active throughout the game. He didn’t feel like trying unless I did, and I didn’t feel like helping the Winters beat us. I was no asset on skates.

After Uncle Emmett had inadvertently tackled Grandma Esme, Mom had joined her on the sidelines. She’d never been especially fond of sports, not even baseball which had become our family sport. We’d had a clearing just for baseball at our home in Forks. But I had a very different memory associated with that clearing.

I looked back at Adelaide and Tara. Though they hid it exceptionally well, I could see the pain behind their smiles that they fixed in place for our family as much as theirs.

“Nessie, can we talk for a moment?” Aunt Alice asked, skating up to me.

“Sure,” I said.

“Rose, Adelaide, Bella, Tara, can you come here as well, please?” she called over her shoulder. “Jacob, I’m sure Emmett’s going to want to take his frustration out on some poor animal now. Why don’t you go hunt with him?”

“We just went hunting last week–”

“Now.”

“Alright, alright,” he said quickly, shuffling off after Uncle Emmett.

Adelaide, Tara, Mom and Aunt Rose skated up to us. “Yes?” Adelaide said, glancing from Aunt Alice to me in confusion.

“A little birdie told me that Nessie is going to winter formal with Jacob.”

Mom looked at me with surprise. “Really? You’re going to a dance?”

I nodded. “Jake wanted to go, so I agreed.”

“By the way, Rensmee,” Aunt Alice said. “Shame on you for not telling me yourself.”

Inevitably, I blushed. “Sorry, Aunt Alice.”

“You’d better be. Anyway, I believe you know what this calls for, and Bella, you’d better not wreck this for me.”

Adelaide gasped. “A shopping trip?” she asked hopefully.

“Naturally.”

Mom and I groaned, meriting a glare from Aunt Alice as she and Adelaide and exchanged matching smiles. I looked pleadingly at Mom and Aunt Rose.

“What do you want us to do?” Aunt Rose whispered, glancing at Adelaide and Aunt Alice. “You know there’s no stopping them.”

It was true. Over the months since they’d come to live with us, Adelaide and Aunt Alice had proved themselves to be an unstoppable force. They were very alike in many ways, too alike as Mom would argue, particularly in regard to fashion and shopping, mostly because she was their most frequent victim.

I sighed hopelessly. “Fine, fine, but just a shopping trip. No makeovers and absolutely no strange skin treatments. Just because you have skin of stone doesn’t mean you get to play with mine,” I said, looking pointedly at Aunt Alice.

“Killjoy,” Aunt Alice accused.

“How soon can we go?” Adelaide asked in a tone that was hideously overexcited over something as lamentable as shopping.

“I was thinking this weekend.”

“Perfect.”

I sighed again and turned to my mother. “Mom, can you do me a favour?”

“Sure.”

“Shoot me.”

“Ha. Right, and leave me alive to go shopping with them?”

“Fair point,” I admitted.

One thing was certain: this was going to be the weekend from hell.

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