"Bella, I'm sorry."
I scoffed. I didn't want apologies. I wanted answers.
"Apology accepted, now answer my question. What was that?"
"It was what it was."
Yeah, no, vague answers like that weren't going to fly.
"He knows, doesn't he? That you're…" I lowered my voice. "A vampire."
"The story he told you – the story he laughed off and you dismissed…" He stared back at me pointedly.
Wait. No. What the—? "You're not serious," I said.
"We are bound by a treaty. If we don't hunt humans, our secret is safe."
"So that's why he couldn't just tell me why he was freaking out. Because the treaty binds him to keep the secret?"
That part made sense, but something else didn't. "What does that have to do with the wolf story Jake told me?" He conveyed the answer with his eyes alone. "No. That's…" I wanted to say 'ridiculous', but if someone had told me a week ago that I would be consorting with actual honest-to-God vampires, I would have said the same thing. Yet, here I was. "Jake is a wolf?" I asked instead.
"No. Not yet. Possibly later."
"Does he know that?" If he did, why didn't he ever tell me?
"No. He thinks the stories are just that. Legends. He is in denial."
Oh. That was why he had never said anything beyond that one joking comment. Or maybe he wouldn't have even if he had believed it. That would be a weird conversation. 'Just so you know, I can turn into a wolf.'
I think that was how the story he told me went. Phase into a wolf, I think he called it.
In six days time, all I thought I knew about mythical creatures had been turned upside down. "Just answer me this one last question," I said. He quirked an eyebrow. "Is the Boogie Man real?"
I was joking, of course, but, then again, maybe he was. But then Edward grinned. I matched it.
"'Kay. Just checking."
It took a little time to feel normal again after that revelation. I wasn't freaked out, but it was just such a weird thought. Jacob, the wolf. I wondered if he would tell me when it happened. If it happened. Edward had said 'possibly later'. Maybe it would never happen to him.
I couldn't very well talk to him about it. Warn him. Even if I did, he probably wouldn't believe me, either. Especially if he learned that I had heard it from Edward. He really, really didn't like Edward.
I had to wonder how much of that was a vampire thing, and how much was a jealousy thing.
"What are you thinking?"
I looked away from my book, but didn't meet Edward's eyes. "I'm reading," I answered.
"You stopped reading a while ago."
And he calls me amazingly perceptive.
"I just found out that little Jake is a wolf. What do you think I'm thinking about?"
"He's not. He has the potential to become one."
"Is that the reason you asked me for that favor?"
"I don't think he would hurt me, even if he was a wolf."
He laughed. "Yes, Bella, you would think that, but that is because you have a flawed sense of self-preservation."
I rolled my eyes and went back to my book. I tried to read it, but really, I was just staring at the page.
He left his chair by the window – I knew he had because I heard it squeak – and then I felt his weight on the bed beside me. I still just stared at the page, pretending to read it.
He laughed again, then pulled the book from my hands. "Since you are no longer interested in reading, would you care to take a walk with me?"
Before he had even started to ask me, all humor had left his tone. It was soft. Husky. Mesmerizing. I was instantly struck stupid again. I loved being lured.
He lured me into the forest, but I scarcely remembered how we got there. We were a fair ways in before I was able to engage in intelligent conversation.
"I don't think I have a flawed sense of self-preservation," I said, weakly defensive. "I have enough sense to get out of the way of an oncoming car. I have enough sense to avoid dark alleys at night."
"One is an obvious danger, one is a preventative measure. The problem lies with your perception of what is dangerous."
That made sense. I continued to drive my truck each day, even though it was two steps from total collapse. I never perceived it to be dangerous. I just assumed that, when it finally did break down, I would fix it or beg my parents for a new car. Well, new to me. They could never afford a new car.
"Maybe," I muttered.
"Definitely. You're walking through a forest, alone with a vampire. Willingly."
"I know you would never hurt me," I countered.
"I would not, but the potential is there, yet you have no sense of fear."
"If it makes you feel any better, I wouldn't walk through the forest with any vampire that wasn't a member of your family."
That struck a nerve. He stopped walking and spun me around to face him. "I would never let another vampire, who wasn't a member of my family, within one hundred miles of you. Ever."
He looked absolutely feral. Like he was ready to start killing vampires at random, just on the off chance they'd be stopping by in Forks.
"Edward?" I whispered his name, then placed my hand on his cheek, hoping to calm him. It worked.
His eyes flashed and his expression changed. To remorse.
"I'm sorry if I frightened you."
"You didn't," I assured him. "I'm sorry if I frightened you."
And that's really what it looked like. Just the mere mention of other vampires had him completely terrified.
"I could never bear to lose you, Bella."
Yeah, he was terrified.
"You won't lose me. Vampires don't make regular stops here." His return expression made me question that statement. "Do they?"
He looked anguished then. He removed my hand from his face, continued to hold it like he had been the other, and then slowly lowered himself to the ground. I followed.
"They have been here before. Three of them. Nomads. We ran them off."
My heart lurched in my chest. "When?"
He stared back at me for the longest time. I had started to wonder if he was ever going to answer me. His expression was that of agony, like he wanted nothing more than to not tell me. So I asked again.
"One week ago."
The math jumped into my head like a two-by-four had just struck me. "Waylon?" It didn't even come out as a whisper. It was a choked, inaudible mouthing of his name.
I knew the answer before he even nodded. I could see it in his eyes.
"I'm so sorry. We stopped them before they could strike again. They won't be back."
I couldn't even cry. I was too shocked. My dad's best friend had been murdered by a vampire. A believed-to-be mythical being like the one I was staring at.
It was the first time since knowing Edward's secret, that I really understood the bad he had been referring to. He was unique. His whole family was. But there were others who weren't. They didn't fight their instincts. And they weren't an abstract concept anymore.
They were real. Too real. Frightening real.
"Are you afraid?"
I answered without thinking. "Yes."
He pulled his hands away from mine, so fast that he almost dragged me along with the momentum of it. The loss of contact was especially devastating right then.
"Not of you," I whispered, as I climbed into his lap. I needed to be close to him right then. I needed to feel protected.
"They won't be back. You're safe. I won't let anything happen to you."
"But at some point, others might show up." I wasn't asking him. I knew it was at least possible.
"Yes. And we will deal with them in the same way. Territories are observed amongst our kind. This is our territory. The nomads didn't know that. They do now."
Fat lot of good that did Waylon. What if it had been my dad? Or my mom? What if my parents had been next on their list? What if the Cullens hadn't stopped them in time?
I started to shake from the possibilities.
"I should not have told you."
Maybe he was right. Maybe I should have remained wrapped in my ignorant bliss. I couldn't tell him that, though. I could tell by his tone that he was guilt-ridden about it.
"I'm fine," I lied. "Just… give me some time to process it."
"I'm taking you home now. Hold on, and close your eyes."
I did, and then it felt like it was seconds later and we were at the forest's edge near my house.
"Can you walk from here?"
I nodded, though I wasn't one hundred percent sure if I could. I felt wobbly. Unstable.
He set me onto my feet, then wrapped his arm around my waist and helped me into the house. As soon as he kicked the door closed, he scooped me back into his arms and, whoosh, we were in my room, and he was setting me on my bed.
He immediately fished his cell from his pocket, dialed a number so fast it sounded like one long beeping sound instead of seven distinct ones, and then I heard him speak in the rapid wind-like way he was capable of.
I didn't question who he was calling. I just pulled my pillow to my body and my knees to my chest.
And then I lost track of time.
"I should not have told her. I think she's in shock."
"Don't punish yourself, son. She would have figured it out eventually. She is, as you say, amazingly perceptive."
I had been staring at the wall, but all of the sudden, my line of sight was broken.
"Bella? Can you hear me?"
Well, yeah. I wasn't deaf. "Yes."
"Edward is worried about you."
"Can you sit up for me?"
I didn't want to, but I could, so I did. Then I locked eyes with Dr. Cullen. "I'm okay. Just… shocked, I guess."
"I'm very sorry. I know how hard that must have been for you to hear."
Yeah, something like that. "I just keep thinking… what if it had been my dad? Or my mom? What if you hadn't stopped them? Whose loved one are they killing now?"
"Yes, I know. It's hard to think about. It's best if you don't."
How could I not?
"Dwelling on it won't change anything," he added.
No, true, but…
"Did he suffer? Waylon?"
Edward and Dr. Cullen shared looks. Edward winced slightly. That was a yes.
"I don't know."
That was a lie.
"You don't have to lie to me."
"The truth can be hard to hear," he said.
"I want to know." And yet I didn't.
"He knew it was coming, but his death was swift."
I dropped my gaze to my bed sheet and twisted the hem of my shirt around my fingers. Repeatedly. Yeah, it would have been better not to know. I could picture it. I could imagine the fear in his eyes. On his face.
"Bella? I would like you to do something for me."
I looked up again, into the eyes of the man who had been by my hospital bedside more times than I could count. His expression was the same now as it had been all those times before.
"I would like you to eat something. Esme has made you dinner. It's waiting for you on the table. Can you do that for me?"
Why would it matter if I ate? I nodded anyway.
My body felt like lead as I dragged it off my bed. Edward immediately flanked me and wrapped his arm around my waist. He helped me downstairs and into the kitchen. He settled me into my chair. I felt a little like an invalid.
I had no appetite whatsoever, but I took a bite just to appease them. They were both watching me. After several more, I started inhaling it.
"She'll be fine," I heard Dr. Cullen whisper.
He seemed to be right about that. I was already starting to feel a little better. More human, anyway. Still a bit off, but not like I was stuck between dream and reality.
Dr. Cullen saw himself to the door as Edward took a seat across from me at the table. I was still shoveling my food.
"I'm sorry for upsetting you."
I shook my head as I swallowed. "I'm sorry for freaking out on you. How Waylon died isn't as important as the fact that he did. If it had been some wild animal, it wouldn't have made it any less upsetting. I think it was just then that it really hit me. His death, while I knew it had happened, was sort of… I don't know… in the back of my mind. It was like a distant understanding. It's not distant anymore."
"You were frightened by… who was responsible for his death."
I nodded. There was no point in denying it. "I think that hit me right then, too. I knew bad vampires existed, because you told me they did, but I pushed that aside, to deal with it later. Later just chose that moment to hit me."
"Because of me."
"Stop it, Edward." He was feeling guilty, and I didn't want that. It wasn't his fault. Waylon's death wasn't. The fact that bad vampires were responsible wasn't. My reaction to it all wasn't. "I would have had to deal with it eventually. You might not have even been here when it did finally click. I'm glad you were."
He was silent for several long seconds before he spoke again. He seemed to be absorbing that piece of information.
He fussed over me like that for the remainder of the night. He stared at me constantly. With every sigh that escaped me, he winced. When I wanted a glass of water, he ran to get it. As I took my shower, he stood just outside the door. When Jake called, he hovered over me. Two minutes after ten, he told me to go to sleep.
I didn't argue once. I knew what he was doing. He was protecting me, because he felt he had failed at doing so earlier by upsetting me.
Seven minutes after ten, as he stared at me from his position of beside me on the bed, I asked, "Are you done now?"
He knew what I meant.
"Edward, stop it. Thank you, but stop it. I'm fine."
He scowled a little, like he didn't exactly believe that, but wanted to. "Sleep."
I rolled my eyes. "Join me," I counter-demanded. He quirked an eyebrow. As I patted the bed beside me, I quirked my eyebrow right back at him.
That got a smile out of him. He settled in next to me, him on top of the covers I was underneath, then we both turned to face each other.
And then we connected on that deep and profound level I was so very fond of. Staring, just staring, until I finally nodded off.
In the morning, I found myself snuggled against him, his arm around me, with my head on his chest.
I froze. I didn't dare move. It was too perfect. But it felt fragile. Breakable. Like if I just twitched wrong, it would fracture the moment.
"I know you're awake."
So much for that.
"I don't want to move."
"We have a few more minutes."
Maybe it wasn't that breakable after all. I sighed contentedly as I snuggled in deeper.
"We can go back to my house tonight."
I smiled. Alice had been right.
"Come here after school. We will go to my house at sunset."
Right. I was driving myself to school.
"I'm assuming you're staying here?" I asked. He nodded. "What will you do all day?"
"Count the minutes until you return."
"You forgot: and text you during lunch."
"Yes. How very neglectful of me. I do apologize."
He was being playful! Seemed I wasn't alone in my good mood. "Apology accepted."
"Alice brought your breakfast early this morning. Before sunrise. A blueberry muffin with accompanying fruit."
"Sounds perfect." It did, too. Finally, a meal I could finish. Esme always made way too much food for me. I was going to gain fifty pounds by the end of the two weeks, I was sure of it.
Or maybe not. Maybe it would be a hundred pounds.
After reluctantly tearing myself away from Edward and getting ready, I entered the kitchen to find the before mentioned muffin, sitting on a plate, on the table, with the bowl of accompanying fruit beside it.
It was huge. It could have fed three people, easy.
"I think your mom thinks I'm multiple people. You could feed a family of four with this breakfast!"
Once again, he held my chair out for me.
"That is an exaggeration."
"Okay, then, a family of three."
He scoffed as he sat across from me. "Eat what you can. Perhaps take the rest with you."
I pinched a piece off the top and popped it in my mouth. God, it was amazing. "Um, yeah, good idea," I mumbled as I chewed. I almost didn't even need to chew. It melted like butter, it was so moist. "I feel bad that you'll be stuck here all day. There's no way you can sneak out?"
He shook his head. "I don't mind. I like it here."
That surprised me. My house was pretty boring in comparison to his house. And if he was at his house, he could leave and go do something. Run. Hunt. Fly through the trees.
"You do?" I asked.
He nodded. "It smells like you. I can taste you in every room."
Whoa. Okay. That was not the answer I was expecting.
My initial reaction was to question him, but then I sort of understood what he meant. Some scents can leave a taste in your mouth, and what with him having super senses…
"And that's a good thing," I said instead.
I smirked. "Okay, well, you enjoy that, then."
He caught that I was teasing him and smirked back. Playful Edward was fun. I didn't know what had happened to ease his worries from the night before, but I was grateful for it.
I mowed through about a third of the muffin in no time, then moved on to the fruit.
"Could you get me a zippy bag for this?" When he quirked an eyebrow, I laughed. "Bottom drawer," I said, pointing. "Sealable plastic bags, in a rectangular cardboard box."
I had to force myself not to laugh again when he located them. He inspected the box, poked at the plastic bags inside, then handed it over to me. I pinched one and yanked it out, then handed them back to him so that he could put them away.
"You've been out of the human loop too long, my friend. This is pretty basic stuff here."
"We have no need for… zippy bags… at my house."
"Yeah, I guess not. No leftovers after a hunt?"
He tensed again. Crap. Playful Edward was a fragile thing.
"Okay, I have to ask… why do you always tense when I mention that?"
He tensed further, then scowled. "It's a difficult subject."
He took forever to answer. I knew he was trying to work himself up to it – trying to find the right words – so I just ate my fruit and waited. I was pretty much done by the time he finally replied.
"When we hunt, we are at our least civilized."
"And… talking about it might trigger that?"
I couldn't wrap my brain around what the problem was. So much for being amazingly perceptive.
"Help me out here, Edward. I don't understand."
He took another long forever to reply.
"I don't wish for you to know that side of me."
"I already know that side of you exists. What would it hurt if I know the details?"
He sighed, heavily, still avoiding eye contact. His expression turned pained. "Sunday. Jasper. On the stairs."
He looked up at me then, willing me with his stare to understand. It took a moment.
"Oh." Jasper had looked crazed. Possessed. Wild and completely out of control. Edward didn't want me to think of him like that. It was hard to think of him like that. Not hard like it was unsettling, hard like it was difficult. He was always so prim and proper.
"That part of my world must remain separate. I'm willing to share with you, all except that."
"Could I ask you just one more thing about it? Then I'll drop it." I sensed he was about to say no, so I quick and asked it anyway. "Are you safe when you… do that?"
He smiled. It was slight, but it was good to see.
I gave a nod, downplaying my relief, then moved to clear my place at the table. He stopped me.
"You can go brush your teeth. I will clean the dishes."
I so wanted to see that – Edward being domestic – but that would defeat the purpose of why he had offered. He was giving me more time by volunteering to help.
I begrudgingly left him to it and raced through the rest of my morning routine. When I bounded down the stairs, Edward was waiting for me by the door.
What's that saying? Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
Yeah, not so much. I wasn't even out the door yet and I was already missing him. It didn't feel 'fond'. It felt like crap.
As soon as I was off the steps and on the landing, he held his arms out to me. I nearly leapt towards him. Warm, fragile flesh met cold, forgiving rock.
Another dose of Drug Edward shot through me, warming me, making me dizzy. I had only known Edward Cullen for seven days – one week – and he was already as important to me as anyone else I had known all my life.
"I'll miss you today," I whispered. I wasn't even sure how I was going to let go of him and walk out the door.
"Hmmm. Eight hours isn't so long."
Eight hours? God, was that how long it was going to be? It would seem like an eternity.
"Long enough," I countered.
I opened my eyes as he started to pull away, but they drifted closed again when he did that hand-in-my-hair thing I loved so much.
"Your education is important, Bella."
I forced my heavy lids to rise. God, would I ever get used to the intensity of his stare? Struggling to breathe, I nodded.
My haze lifted slightly when I heard the jingling of car keys. When he smirked, I looked down towards the sound.
"She's yours. Be good to her."
That got me grinning. He thought his car was a 'she', too!
"We're old friends now, her and I," I teased. Then I plucked the keys from his hand and headed out the door. "Don't forget to text me!"
To be continued…
Posted without a safety net. Hope the mistakes were minimal.
The reviews have been fantastic! Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement! It means a great deal to me.
It looks like people are all for a long epilogue chapter. Okay, then! I will keep on going!
Please review, and MTLBYAKY