"Emmett," Dad said wearily. "For the last time, leave Jacob's arm alone."
Uncle Emmett gave him a wicked smile and gave Jacob's fragile arm a final nudge. Jacob yowled and pulled it away. Over the past week, it had been healing even faster than usual — which Jacob had been sure to point out — but it was still delicate.
I shot Uncle Emmett a glare.
"Aw, you're so protective," Uncle Emmett said with an amused grin. "Come on, Nessie. Let him be a man. Well, let him try, anyway."
I scowled at him and turned away to face my parents.
"Emmett, leave them alone," Mom said coolly.
Uncle Emmett raised his hands in surrender. Once Mom had turned away, he gave me a devilish grin, his expression promising that he was just getting started.
"Has anyone talked to the Winters since last week?" Aunt Rose asked quietly as the four filed into the cafeteria. Adelaide cast a quick glance in our direction and then whispered something to Rob. He nodded and then led them to a table on the other side of the cafeteria from us.
I shook my head. "They pair up with different people in gym class now."
"Wow," Dad murmured, chuckling quietly.
I looked at him. "What?"
"Adelaide really does not like me."
"That's got to be a bit of a new experience for you, huh Edward?" Jacob teased.
Dad chuckled. Mom stuck her tongue out at him.
"What do you mean?" Aunt Alice asked, ignoring their bantering. "What's she thinking?"
"Well, I don't entirely understand everything I'm hearing. She's wondering who 'trained' me and where the 'others' are."
"They think there are more of us?" Uncle Jasper asked warily.
"I don't know," Dad said. "I suppose so. I really have no idea what she's talking about."
"Ooh, this'd make for a sweet fight," Uncle Emmett grinned. "My money's on the tall one."
"How much money?" Uncle Jasper asked innocently.
"Done." The two shook hands.
"Two grand on the shorter one," Jacob said.
I raised an eyebrow at him.
"He's got anger problems," Jacob explained. "The angry ones are always the most interesting. Take Paul, for example."
I snorted. Paul, a member of Sam's pack and Jacob's brother-in-law (as he hated to be reminded), was notorious for his violent temper.
Uncle Emmett shook his hand.
"Speaking of werewolves, perhaps it would be best if you left Vancouver to meet the pack this time, Jacob," Dad suggested. "If the Winters caught the scent of werewolves, they might get the wrong idea. We don't want the Winters to think we're preparing to attack them."
"Good point," Aunt Alice said. "You can even take the Porsche if you want."
Jacob beamed at her. "You rock, Tiny."
Aunt Alice grinned. "I know."
I glanced at Aunt Rose, who was looking pensively at the other vampires' table. "We should invite them to eat lunch with us."
"What?" Uncle Jasper asked quickly.
"Why?" Jacob said.
"I think they have a point, Rose," Dad said quietly. "I don't know if Rob would be very…" he trailed off, his gaze flicking from my uncle to Rob.
I shuddered. "Would it even be safe?" I asked, thinking of their reaction to Jacob.
"Well we won't know until we try, will we?" Aunt Alice said.
I glanced apprehensively at the other table. They seemed calm enough. I sighed in defeat. I knew they would invite them whether I liked it or not. "Alright."
"Come on," Aunt Alice said. "Your presence might reassure them a little."
"I'll come, too," Aunt Rose said, rising.
I hung back as my aunts guided me to the Winter's table. I cleared my throat awkwardly.
"Hi," Aunt Alice said pleasantly. "Would you like to eat with us?"
They stared at us uncomprehendingly for a moment. They all looked to Rob.
He glanced at our table for a moment and forced a smile. "Thank you for your offer, but–"
"Rob," Adelaide murmured.
He looked at her and then back at Aunt Alice. "Will Mr. Whitlock and your other…friend…be joining us?"
I instantly bristled at the tone he used to refer to Jacob. I wasn't particularly fond of his tone in regard to Uncle Jasper, either.
"Yes," Aunt Alice said with an unfaltering smile.
Adelaide touched his arm lightly and gave him a purposeful look. Finally, he sighed in defeat. "On second consideration, that would be lovely."
She nodded slightly.
All four rose and gathered up their things. Dad and Uncle Jasper drew up some chairs for them.
My face burned as I felt all of the cafeteria turn to stare at us. I sat down beside Mom quickly, wishing to melt into the floor and disappear. The Winters, however, seemed as oblivious as always to our audience. Rob and Ian subtly took places beside Uncle Emmett and Dad with Adelaide and Tara between them. No one could have ever accused them of being reckless. They were almost hyper-vigilant around us.
As soon as they sat down at our table, mutterings broke out throughout the entire cafeteria. My face became hotter still.
Jacob chuckled. "You're about the colour of a tomato, you know."
The Winters flinched at the sound of his voice. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. How long was it going to take for them to realize that he wasn't explosive?
I looked at him, realizing that he was waiting for a response. "Oh," I said. "Yeah, that seems to happen to me a lot."
He laughed again, the whiteness of his teeth against his russet skin temporarily distracting me.
The conversation continued almost as easily as before. It was difficult not to notice how uneasy they were in our presence. They seemed to be constantly on the edge of their seats and on the verge of bolting from the table. I couldn't understand their aversion to Jacob. He was politer than half of the vampires I'd met (which, admittedly, was not all that many).
The Winters were silent throughout the majority of the lunch period, speaking only when spoken to directly. Several times, I noticed Adelaide and Tara exchange glances that didn't quite fit with the context of the conversation, as though they were having their own silent conversation. I glanced at Dad, wondering if he could hear them. He was frowning with concentration. I touched his arm lightly. What's going on? I thought.
"I just heard Tara's name in a boy's thoughts."
"You heard his thoughts?" Rob said, frowning.
All eyes turned to my father.
"Yes," he replied evenly.
They were absolutely silent as they stared at us. Adelaide broke the silence finally. "Alright then. Was his name Jeff Whitman by any chance?" she asked, smirking slightly. Rob's seemingly-permanent expression of tenseness relaxed into mild amusement.
"Shut up," Tara hissed.
Rob and Adelaide snickered quietly. Ian glared at them.
I looked at Dad. Dad, what's really going on? You're not going to tell them about Aunt Alice, Uncle Jasper, Mom and me? I thought.
He rose suddenly. "Nessie and I are going to go back to the house. She forgot her math textbook."
Mom looked at us, clearly unconvinced. "All right. Well, hurry back."
Dad smiled at her warmly. "Of course." I turned away in disgust as he pressed a kiss to her lips. He looked back at me. "Come on, Nessie." He led me out of the school and towards the parking lot.
"Are we actually going home?" I asked.
"Yes. You did forget your textbook."
"No I didn't," I said, sliding my backpack off of my shoulder to look inside. Sure enough, my textbook was absent. "Okay, Da – uh, Edward, that's freaky. How did you know?"
"I know everything." He flashed me a grin and slid an arm around my shoulders as we walked to the car.
I climbed into the passenger seat and buckled up, as did my father. I still found it an onerous task. It was completely unnecessary with a vampire driving the car. "So why aren't we filling in the Winters on our gifts?"
"Carlisle doesn't think it's a good idea for us to share too much with them at this point. The most we can do until they choose to trust us is to let them now that we are trustworthy. But it might be quite some time before even that happens, given their feelings towards us," he said, running a red light.
I gave him a look. Mom and I hated it when he did that. "You're going to live for eternity and you can't wait for a stoplight?"
He rolled his eyes. "Do I critique your driving?"
"You don't let me drive!"
"I don't, but I know Jasper and Emmett do."
"Anyway," I said. "Why don't you know?"
"I couldn't hear them."
I blinked. "You couldn't hear them?"
He shook his head. "I think one of them is a shield."
We were home shortly thereafter. Dad ran inside to get my textbook before I even had a chance to get out of the car.
"I'm going to drop you off at school. I'm coming back to talk to Carlisle," he informed me.
"I want his updated opinion on the situation. And I don't want you and Jacob hunting for the next few weeks."
"What? Dad, Grandpa Carlisle said we aren't in any danger!" I exclaimed.
"I'm not worried about us. I'm worried about you."
"Why would I be in danger?"
"Do you really need to ask? Do you think the Volturi just dropped by for a social visit?"
"Of course not! I'm not an idiot, Dad! But they're not after me anymore!"
"No, not that we know of."
"This is completely insane!"
"I'm not asking you to understand, Nessie. This is not up for discussion."
I gave him the silent treatment for the rest of the drive, stewing silently over the injustice of the situation. I hated it when he got all irritatingly overprotective. He treated me like I was made of glass. They all did.
"Tell your mom about the change of plans," Dad said as he pulled up in front of the school.
I slammed the door behind me wordlessly. I hated being treated like a child. I'll look older than him soon, I reminded myself.
The absurdity of the idea of being physically older than my own father suddenly hit me. I burst out laughing in the middle of the parking lot. After a minute, I managed to compose myself. Only noticing now that there were several people staring at me and probably doubting my sanity, I rushed to class, my entire face burning like a comet.
"Where the heck were you?" demanded Aunt Alice as I rushed into class late.
"Dad took me home to get my math book," I said.
"Oh. That's it?"
"Not exactly," I said noncommittally.
She stared at me, waiting for an elaboration.
"We were just talking."
She glared at me. "Don't make me try so hard, Nessie. Would it be impossible for you to volunteer some information here?"
"Okay, okay," I said. "We were talking about the Winter's gifts."
"I wanted to know why he wasn't going to tell them about ours."
"And Grandpa Carlisle doesn't want us to until we get to know them better."
"He banned me from hunting."
She shook her head and snorted. "Edward."
* * *
"Oh," Dad said in a pleasantly surprised tone as we arrived at school the following morning.
"What is it?" Mom asked for me.
Dad pulled into a spot adjacent the Winters' sleek black car. All four were leaning against it, watching us with slightly artificial-looking smiles. I could still see the wariness in their eyes. "They're waiting for us."
Jacob raised an eyebrow. "Well that sounds somewhat threatening."
Dad chuckled. "Their intentions are anything but. You needn't worry."
"I'm not the worrier," Jacob muttered, giving Dad a purposeful look. We exchanged smirks.
I got out of the car and waited for the rest of my family to arrive. Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper had already arrived in her Porsche, as had Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rose in his Lamborghini. They made their way across the lot to join us.
"Good morning," Rob said cordially.
"Good morning," Dad replied. "It was kind of you to wait for us."
"Our visit to your home did not end precisely as we would have liked. We are not accustomed to being around…" He trailed off as he looked at Jacob. "Well, it was a fairly drastic shock for us, and we reacted poorly, for which we apologize. At any rate, we also wished to thank you for your kind invitation to eat lunch with you yesterday," Rob replied. "As I'm sure you can understand, we don't make it a habit to socialize with those outside of our own family."
"We are still fairly new to this diet," Ian said. His thirsty black eyes seemed to emphasize that point. "It's still very difficult for us. Well, for my brother and me, at least."
"Of course," Dad smiled. "We are all quite hopeful that we shall be able to get to know you better. We appear to share some…compelling similarities, shall we say."
Adelaide's face abruptly became hostile. She looked at Tara.
I frowned and considered what Dad had said. I couldn't understand what had been so offensive to her. He'd been perfectly polite and sensitive to where we were. What was wrong with her?
"Indeed," Rob said. If he noticed his mate's reaction, he chose to ignore it.
I swallowed as we walked up to the school. I could feel dozens – if not hundreds – of pairs of eyes following us. Everywhere, people were muttering about the strange family that had coaxed the elusive, antisocial Winters out of their protective shell.
"Come on," Jacob said, taking my hand. My skin felt like it was burning where he touched it. That warmth spread through the rest of me like a wildfire. "I know this has got to be driving you nuts," he said, gesturing to the crowd of onlookers.
"Lifesaver," I said gratefully. "I think my face is going to actually burst into flame."
The two of us rushed out of the parking lot and back to the school. Jacob walked me to class. "Have a good morning, Ness," he said, winking at me and messing my hair.
"Eh," I laughed, trying to fix my now messy curls. "Do you want to get me in trouble with Aunt Alice?"
He laughed with me. "I'll see you at lunch."
Lunch was an interesting affair that afternoon. The Winters joined us again. Adelaide and Rob tentatively joined our conversations, for the first time since we'd met them. Ian and Tara, however, remained entirely silent.
"So, Rob, you like cars, I see," Dad said.
Rob looked at him. "Yes. As do you, I gather."
"And um…Adelaide," Aunt Alice said. "You're interested in fashion?"
Adelaide gave a genuine smile. I realized that it was the first time I'd seen her offer one. "Terribly."
Mom and I exchanged glances. "Uh-oh," we mouthed in unison.
Gradually, the Winters began to "eat" lunch with us more often, but always at the other end of the table from Jacob. But their issues weren't my primary concern at the moment. Things with Jacob were becoming more awkward by the day. I struggled to understand why the very sight of him sent my heart fluttering like a bird on steroids. I had been around Jacob every day of my life – literally, and yet I found myself noticing things about him that I had never seen before; the way his eyes danced when he smiled or laughed or teased me, the way he seemed to be able to lighten my mood just by being in the same room.
Augh, I thought as I shut my locker and pretended to listen to Aunt Rose's detailed account of the events of Paris Fashion Week, which she had attended with Aunt Alice. You sound like some disgusting romance novel, Nessie. Snap out of it. You're not supposed to think about Jacob like this. He's practically your brother! Just…stop.
"And then we were…Nessie? Where are you going? Your science class is this way," she said, pointing in the opposite direction.
I blinked. "Oh. Yeah." I moved to walk in that direction. She stopped me and folded her arms across her chest. "What's going on with you? You've been distant lately. You seem…preoccupied."
I chewed on my lip as I debated mentally. If I told her, she'd probably want to have me tested for clinical insanity. She hated Jacob. The only reason she tolerated living under the same roof as him was because she knew Mom and I loved him. Well, so did the rest of my family, but I liked to think that Mom and I were her greatest motivations for toleration. I knew I could trust her implicitly, but the thought of confiding in her about my strange feelings for Jacob was slightly daunting. On the other hand, if I told her, she might be able to help.
"Ness?" she asked, stroking my arm. Her expression was concerned now. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
I hope so, I thought. "Um…well…I'm sort of…" I sighed. "Jacob and I…I…" I tried to think of how best to phrase what I was trying to say. "I sort of am…beginning to feel…weird around…Jacob." I winced as I waited for her inevitable onslaught of Jacob-hating.
She raised an eyebrow. "Spit it out, honey."
I weighed my words carefully. "I think I might…like him."
Aunt Rose studied me carefully. "Like. As in like romantically?"
I nodded sheepishly.
She sighed and pulled me into her arms. "Is that what you thought you had to keep from me, Nessie?" she sighed. "That's ridiculous. I mean, I would be thrilled if you developed feelings for a boy who doesn't turn into a disgusting, slathering, filthy, hairy, flea-riddled, idiotic–"
"Aunt Rose," I said, giving her a look.
"–animal, but it's not about me, is it? You needn't worry. Not even I can deny that the fur-ball is good to you."
I frowned in surprise. "You're really not upset about this?"
"No," she said pleasantly.
"Are you sure?"
"Are you really sure?"
"Your faith in me is overwhelming," she said dryly.
I chuckled. "Thank you, Aunt Rose. Uh, I mean…Rosalie."
"You're very welcome. Now let's get you to class."
We met the Winters for lunch outside following day. The sky was entirely overcast, but according to Aunt Alice, the rain would hold off until this evening. We were the first to arrive at the courtyard. Adelaide and Tara came next, bickering as they approached us.
"I don't care if you-" Tara was beginning to say.
"Quiet," Adelaide said with sharp finality, and then smoothed her expression into a pleasant smile. "Good afternoon." She sat down across from me, Tara rolling her eyes as she sat beside her.
Uncle Jasper and Uncle Emmett arrived then. "The party has arrived," Uncle Emmett announced. "You can all start having fun now." Uncle Jasper sat down beside Adelaide while Aunt Alice moved to sit on his other side. She smiled at them and then immediately struck up a conversation.
I sighed and played with my water bottle as I waited for the rest of the family to trickle in. Rob and Ian arrived next, with my parents, Jacob and Uncle Emmett following shortly thereafter.
"Hey," Uncle Emmett said, looking at Rob as he arrived with Ian and my parents. "So that Rolls-Royce Phantom you rolled up to our house in the other day, who'd you steal it from?"
Rob blinked. "Uh…I didn't."
Uncle Emmett boomed a laugh. "Yeah right. Come on. Your secret's safe with me. Don't worry, I completely sympathize. It's a great car. But seriously. Did you have to kill for it?"
Rob stared at him uncomprehendingly.
Adelaide chuckled. "He's making a joke, dear," she said, patting his hand.
"Oh." Rob smiled slightly. "Funny."
"So was it someone famous?" Uncle Emmett persisted.
I tuned him out after that. I glanced at Tara, who sat to my left. She was toying dejectedly with her sandwich. I could understand her pain perfectly. I hated eating human food. It was so much less satisfying than blood, and it was far less sustaining. I had to actually eat three times a day with human food. On a blood diet, I could go for weeks in between hunts. "Do you prefer hunting?" I asked her.
Tara looked at me, her face colouring. "Yeah," she said quietly.
I nodded. "Me too."
"T," Adelaide said firmly. She was eyeing us through slightly-narrowed eyes.
"No," Tara hissed back. "If you won't tell me anything, I don't see why I should care." She looked at me again. "My sister and her husband seem to think that I shouldn't talk to you."
Adelaide rolled her eyes and looked at her mate for help.
It took a great deal of effort to keep myself from gaping. What would make them think that? Did they think I was some sort of bad influence? "Oh," I murmured, slightly offended.
"Tara," Rob said, his expression and tone resounding with a warning.
Tara ignored him. "They seem to think that you and your dad–"
Adelaide jumped to her feet suddenly. "Tara!" she snapped. "That's enough!"
She continued to ignore her, but stopped speaking.
I shifted uncomfortably as Adelaide glowered at her sister. She spun on her heel and stormed away suddenly.
The room fell eerily silent for a moment. The entire cafeteria stared after her in amazement. I really couldn't understand what made her think I was so dangerous. And what did my father have to do with anything?
Rob sighed and began to rise.
"No, no," Aunt Alice said. "Let me try."
He looked at her for a moment, and then nodded and resumed his seat.
I looked at Dad. He was frowning as he stared after Aunt Alice and Adelaide. I looked at Jacob instead. He met my eyes and shrugged lightly, clearly as confused as I was.
Once the hum of cafeteria conversation had resumed, Tara tried again. "They think you and your father are dangerous," Tara finished quietly, glancing at Rob to make sure he hadn't heard, but he was still staring at the door Adelaide had disappeared through. "But of course they won't explain why. They think that they're protecting me by not letting me talk to you, because all three of them are ridiculously overprotective," she said, shooting a purposeful glance at Rob. It was then that she realized that my family was staring at her. She abruptly fell silent.
Uncle Emmett laughed. "Edward…Nessie…dangerous. Oh, that's a good one. They're about as dangerous as fluffy pillows."
"Excuse me," Dad said. "A fluffy pillow?"
"You heard me," Uncle Emmett said tauntingly.
Jacob laughed with him. "You know, Emmett, I find that kind of funny coming from you."
"Did you just imply that I'm a fluffy pillow?" Uncle Emmett demanded.
"You heard me," Jacob retorted.
I grinned and then looked at Tara again. "Yeah, I get the whole overprotective thing." She thought she had it bad with three people hovering over her. I had nine.
I walked with Tara to gym class following lunch. Tara had fallen silent again but it wasn't an awkward silence. We changed and then joined the rest of the class by the tennis nets. Adelaide and Aunt Alice arrived halfway through the period. They managed to dazzle our gym teacher senseless and then joined us. I looked at Aunt Alice questioningly as she took her position beside me on the court.
"I'm sorry for the way I behaved before," Adelaide told me suddenly. "I…I didn't understand the situation."
I bit my lip, my face warming. "That's…fine."
She smiled at me.
"Uh-oh," Aunt Alice murmured suddenly.
I looked at her. "What?"
"Tara, that boy over there," she said, gesturing to a boy on the court adjacent ours, "is about to come over here and ask you out."
Adelaide laughed. "Again? That would be the aforementioned Jeff Whitman."
I looked at him. He was good-looking by human standards. He was a lean boy, with dark curly hair and blue eyes. His face still had some of its childhood roundness. He was clearly showing off as he hit the birdie over the net and then shot what he probably thought was a shy glance at Tara.
"He and his friends are going to bet ten dollars that he can get your number," Aunt Alice added.
Tara's pale face went beet-red in an instant. She continued to play, pretending not to notice as he approached her several moments later.
"Hey, Adelaide, hey Tara," he said in some sort of attempt at suaveness. He nodded to both of them.
Adelaide smirked slightly. "Jeff," she said, nodding her head in return.
He looked at Tara again. "So I was wondering if maybe you'd like to catch a movie with me? Say, Friday?" He was looking at her with an expression that was so pitifully hopeful that it almost made me feel sorry for him.
Tara looked at Jeff unwillingly. Her mortification was about as subtle as black permanent marker scrawled across her face. "Um…I'm still with Ian," she murmured.
"Still?" he asked, his jaw dropping. "What's it been, like, three years now?"
"Try twenty-four," Adelaide muttered below the level of human hearing.
* * *
Over the following month, we began to spend more time with the Winters, to the amazement of the rest of the school. The Winters seemed to have a history of being even more antisocial than we were. I hadn't even realized that that was possible. According to Dad, some had begun to think that the Winters associated only with the rich and beautiful, though this stereotype seemed to mean little to them.
Within four weeks, Adelaide and Rob especially had fit in nicely with our family, though Ian and Tara remained relatively introverted. Adelaide and Aunt Alice got along particularly well — arguably too well — due in large to their nearly identical tastes in fashion, and Rob was delighted to have found a kindred car-loving spirit in my father and Uncle Emmett, although he still avoided Uncle Jasper like the plague. Adelaide, however, seemed to be becoming as close with him as she was with Aunt Alice. The three had even begun to spend evenings out together in town.
"Jacob, you were supposed to share the shrimp ring," said Grandma Esme as he gulped down the chilled shrimp she'd prepared for our snack one afternoon.
He paused in mid-chew. "Want it?" he asked, gesturing to the single shrimp left on the tray.
"I'm good," I giggled. I felt a stab of triumph upon realizing that for the first time since these confusing new feelings had emerged, I hadn't blushed.
"You never eat," complained Grandma Esme.
I shrugged. "I'm never hungry. Besides, aren't Mom and Dad going hunting tonight?"
"He's going again?" Jacob asked, belching loudly.
Aunt Rose turned her head away in disgust. "I will not tear his head off…I will not tear his head off…" she muttered.
"Yes, they're going," said Grandma Esme to Jacob. "And nice try," she said to me.
I sighed. Of course Dad would have told her. They probably all knew.
Jacob was reaching for the last shrimp when Aunt Rose snatched his wrist. "Don't…touch…the shrimp," she said through barred teeth.
"No, it's okay, Aunt Rose," she said. "He can have it."
"No, he can't," she said tersely.
I sighed and took the shrimp to appease her. I cast Jacob an apologetic glance.
A misguided swing of Jacob's massive hand as he twisted it out of her grasp sent shrimp tails scattering over the marble surface. The tray flew across the room and landed on the floor near the table.
Aunt Rose hissed in fury. "All right! Out! Now!"
"You know, Blondie, I'm still trying to figure out who died and made you God."
"Jacob," Grandma Esme said softly. "Maybe it would be better if you did go…just for now." She glanced at my livid Aunt Rose.
"Fine," Jacob said resignedly. "You wanna come, Ness?"
My moment of triumph fizzled presently. "Sure," I said, hoping I didn't sound overly eager.
"Stay close to the house," Aunt Rose very nearly snarled through her clenched teeth.
"I know," I said, following Jacob out of the house and to the woods. Dad had forged a trail for us when we'd first arrived. It was completely unnecessary, of course, but that was Dad for you.
"What's with Rosalie today?" Jacob commented as we walked towards the path. "I didn't know vampires could get PMS."
"Very funny," I replied. "You do tend to get on her nerves, though."
He grinned. "I try."
"I've noticed. Could you please be nice to her? She's important to me."
"Please, Jacob? For me?" I tried to be dazzling as I asked.
He sighed and nodded.
I smiled. "Thanks, Jake." I felt more comfortable around him than I had in weeks. Things felt almost like the way they had before, when he was just my big brother and I was just his little sister – almost. My feelings for him were still there; I was aware of them every moment, but it wasn't as awkward as it had been before.
I suddenly wished I could read minds like Dad. I would've killed to know how Jacob felt about me.
"Ness?" By his tone, this was not the first time he'd tried to get my attention.
"Uh, yeah? Sorry. I was thinking." Stupid blush reflex.
"Oh. Okay." I was grateful that he let it slide. "Anyway, are you up for a hunt?"
"I'd love to, but Dad won't let me."
"Hey, it's my dad. Like he needs a legitimate reason."
Jacob chuckled. "He's just trying to look out for you."
"I know, but I'm not a kid anymore. I'm almost fully grown."
"He knows. It's just…you grew up so fast."
"That's not my fault."
"I know," he reassured me. "But they're just not used to the idea of treating you as an adult yet."
I thought for a minute. "You're right, I guess. But he's just so…smothering! Mom can be too. You don't treat me like a kid."
I sighed. "It sucks to be the youngest."
He smiled. "Hey, I hear you. I was the youngest before you, remember?"
We walked along the path for a long time. As we neared the creek, I began to realize that we were a little farther than we were supposed to be, but I wasn't ready to go back just yet. I enjoyed being able to talk just to him, without having Uncle Emmett constantly making jokes at our expense. I would've been happy to spend the rest of my eternal life right here with him.
I suddenly lost my footing on loose rocks. I shrieked involuntarily as I began to fall.
"Whoa!" Jacob's strong arms shot out to catch me. "You okay?"
The flame burst into a roaring inferno in an instant. My rational side screamed at me not to make things awkward, but the electricity coursing through my veins wouldn't listen to reason. What little sense I had was completely and mercilessly obliterated by my raging, screaming emotions.
Before I could stop myself, I wrapped my arms around his neck. My lips suddenly ached for his. To my shock, he didn't pull away from my embrace. My already-racing heart pounded harder as his head inclined towards mine.
My first shock was at the revelation that there was a world around us. The second shock, and this one considerably more jarring, was that the voice that had interrupted our almost-kiss was my mother's. I looked at her now. She stood a dozen metres away, staring at us. A variety of emotions played across her face as she looked at us. They ranged from shock, to amusement, to concern, to anger, and something that almost looked like fear.
"Come on, Nessie. Let's go home. Jake, I think you should probably take off for a while. Edward's.…well, I'm sure you can guess."
I glanced at Jake, my mortification complete. My dad, of all people, had heard that. Jacob gave me a brief, remorseful look before turning and disappearing into the woods.
Mom and I walked back to the house in complete silence. I debated whether to try to explain what had happened, or to pretend nothing had happened at all.
I discovered upon entering the house that father was not nearly as calm and collected about it as my mother. He was running up and down the stairs, his arms laden with power tools and boxes from a hardware store. I glanced at Mom for help. She merely grimaced and led the way up the four flights of stairs to my room.
Dad was sifting through his materials. The word "homicidal" came to mind as I took in his fierce expression. He was muttering faster than even I could follow, his words mixing with snarls.
I cleared my throat nervously, trying to amass all the courage I could find within myself. There wasn't much. "Wh-what're you doing?"
He looked up sharply with a feral snarl. I jumped slightly. He'd never actually snarled at me before. "I'm putting more locks on your door."
My jaw dropped. "What? Why?"
"Do you really need to ask?" he hissed. "Unfortunately, Esme and Carlisle weren't in agreement with my offer to throw him out. Personally."
"You were going to kick him out?"
"I want him nowhere near you." And then he was muttering again, using the odd growl for punctuation.
"What? That's completely unreasonable!"
"Unreasonable?" he very nearly shouted, jumping to his feet. "You weren't in his head!"
"Edward," Mom said. "Calm down."
"Don't tell me to be calm, Bella! You don't know what he was thinking."
"I'm sure it wasn't anything deserving of this," she said, gesturing to the tools and locks.
He glared at her for a moment, and then shifted his murderous gaze to me. "Renesmee Cullen, you're grounded."
Mom looked at me suddenly. "Nessie, please go to the other room for a moment," she said before I could react to what Dad had said.I narrowed my eyes at them and then walked down the hall to the library and slammed the door behind me with such force that the books shuddered on the shelves. I was grateful for the opportunity to brood. I couldn't believe he would be so idiotic about something that hadn't even happened. I paced angrily around the library for a few seconds before electing to eavesdrop on them anyway.
"Edward, you need to get a grip," she snapped. "She's not a little girl anymore. We knew this was coming. We've known since she was a baby. You can't punish her for the way she feels."
My eyes widened. How could they possibly know that?
"She's still a child, Bella. She's not old enough to deal with this sort of thing."
It took all the restraint I possessed not to retort.
Mom sighed. "Edward, how old are you?"
"Do you mean physically or technically?"
"Seventeen. You know that."
"And how old am I?"
"Are you really asking me to tell you how old you are?"
"Answer the question."
"And how old is she?"
"I'm talking physically and mentally, and you know it. So how old is she?"
"We don't have an exact age." There was a beat of silence, and then Dad said, "About sixteen."
"Exactly. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that's approximately a one-year difference between her age and the age at which I became involved with you."
I suddenly felt a surge of affection for my mother. If there was anyone that could plead my case to my father, it was her.
"It's not the same circumstance, Bella. You can't really be telling me that you are in favour of the idea of our daughter being with Jacob."
"I'm in favour of her happiness. Face it. She's almost grown up. We're going to have to let her go eventually. Before we know it, she's going to be seven and she'll be done maturing. She's already almost our age physically. We've done all the rearing we're going to be able to do."
Dad was quiet for a moment. "I'm not ready to let her go."
"Neither am I," she said softly. "But Jake's a really good guy. You know that. He cares about her just about as much as we do."
He was quiet again. "Fine. I'll try to be…nicer about it."
"Thank you." They were quiet for a moment. "Well, I think it's time that I told her." I heard her footsteps approaching the door. I snatched a book off the shelf and pretended to read. She stopped suddenly. "And Edward?"
"No more locks."
He chuckled. "As you wish."
Mom opened the door. "Hey."
I glanced up. "Hi," I said in the tersest, most unfriendly tone I could manage given the celebration that was going on inside of me.
"Oh stop it. I know you heard all of that."
I dropped the pretense immediately. I snapped the book shut, my curiosity overcoming me. "What was it that you have to tell me?"
She sighed. "Let's sit down, okay?"
I was instantly wary. "Is it that bad?"
"Maybe. It depends on how you take it."
I sat down, slightly nervous. I waited for her to begin.
She sighed again. "Okay. A long time ago, before you were born, back when your dad and I were just dating, Dad and Aunt Alice arranged a birthday party for my eighteenth birthday. You remember Dad telling you about what a klutz I was as a human, right?"
I nodded numbly.
"Well, this was back when your Uncle Jasper was still getting used to being a vegetarian. I gave myself a paper cut by accident, and he went into a little bit of a frenzy. Edward got me out of the way in time, but he decided that the only way to me safe was to leave. So…he just left. I was completely devastated. I was severely depressed for months. Everything reminded me of him. I became a ghost." She paused, seeming lost in the memory. I was too fearful to even think imagine what she was trying to tell me. "During that time that I became friends with Jacob. We were...close."
I fought the panic that was building. This was about Jacob. I nodded again.
"From the very beginning, it was clear that–"
"Bella!" Dad's voice sounded from down the hall.
I felt a surge of frustration, desperate to hear the end of her story. Mom and I turned as he opened the door.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but someone's outside the house."
She frowned. "Do we know who?"
A knock sounded on the door four floors below as she spoke. The three of us descended the stairs at lightening-speed. The Winters stood on the other side of the door that Uncle Jasper was opening. The rest of the family congregated in the entrance way.
The first thing that struck me was how terrified they all looked.
"Adelaide? Tara? What's going on?" Uncle Jasper asked.
Adelaide stepped through the door and threw her arms around him, her entire body quivering. It wasn't cause for much surprise or amazement for me, but Rob, apparently, did not share my sentiments.
He had frozen into perfect motionlessness, his eyes wide with fury. I saw Dad wince at whatever he was thinking. I was sure I didn't want to know.
Aunt Alice moved to join them and touched her back. "What happened?" she asked, her voice ringing with alarm.
Adelaide began to tremble more violently. I glanced tentatively at Rob. His jaw was taut, the muscles in his neck strained. His hands were fists at his side, his chest heaving with rage. He began to lean forward into an offensive position. I saw Dad exchange glances with Uncle Emmett and Grandpa Carlisle.
"Jasper, Alice," Dad said quietly. "I think maybe you should take her to the other room."
Aunt Alice glanced at Rob. "Oh." She quickly led Uncle Jasper and Adelaide out of the room.
Tara and Ian glanced at Rob anxiously.
"Go," he managed to say, his eyes still fixed on Adelaide, Uncle Jasper and Aunt Alice's receding forms.
Tara and Ian watched him carefully for a moment and then followed my family inside until only Dad, Uncle Emmett, Rob and I remained.
"Edward," Rob said through clenched teeth. "I'm asking you this because I know you understand. I need to break something." He looked at Dad.
Uncle Emmett gazed around the room. He snatched the first available thing, which was an exquisitely painted ceramic vase on the ledge by the door.
"Put it down, Emmett," Grandma Esme said over her shoulder. "Carlisle gave that to me as an anniversary gift. There is no way that you're using it."
Uncle Emmett set the vase back down, temporarily disappointed. "It would have made a great boom." He recovered quickly, a huge grin spreading over his face. "I'll find you a tree."