It was impossibly hard to focus on the test. So much so, that with several of the questions, I just guessed at the answers. My brain wouldn't stop screaming at me.
I knew Angela was joking… well, a part of me did… well, a part of her was joking… but to hear it like that…
Marriage. Married. To Edward.
The constitution of marriage had always been a tricky thing, in my mind. A good thing, but not for everyone. Definitely not for my parents. But that aside…
I'd only known Edward for seven days! Wasn't it way too soon to even be thinking such a thing? We hadn't even kissed yet, let alone done anything else. Wasn't there a million steps to traverse before even entertaining the notion?
As I had grown, I considered marriage to be something only older people should do. People in their thirties, at least, so that they were hopefully mature enough to make a commitment of that magnitude. Young marriage, according to the statistics, just didn't have a very good shot at working out. My parents were proof of that.
Yet here I was, at the ripe old age of seventeen, allowing the idea of it to dance pleasantly around in my head. Allowing my heart to feel the joy of it. Did normal people who were in love think like this? I'd known for most of my life that I was far from normal.
But thinking and dreaming was harmless enough, right? There was nothing saying we had to jump into anything. We could wait until our thirties to get married. If we could survive thirteen years together before we were old enough…
My heart stopped. My stomach rolled. All the blood inside me dropped to my feet.
Edward would never be thirty. He was frozen, forever at the age of seventeen. Years meant nothing to him. A hundred of them could pass, and he still wouldn't have aged a single moment, by outward appearances at least.
"Miss Swan? Are you alright?"
I heard Mr. Molina ask the question, but then again I didn't. I felt detached. My head was spinning. I looked up at him, but I couldn't focus. I saw through him. Even as he approached my desk, he continued to appear dreamlike and hazy.
"Bella, are you ill?"
I forced myself to answer. "I don't think that cheese sandwich agreed with me. The cafeteria really shouldn't be trying to kill us on test day."
I heard the other kids laugh at that, but it sounded distorted.
"Mike, please escort Bella to the nurse's office."
Mike groaned. Then I felt his hand grip the underside of my forearm. It didn't hurt, but it lacked the gentle care that Edward used when helping me. Annoyed, I jerked myself away from him and grabbed my backpack off the floor.
"I can walk," I muttered, then headed for the door. Mike followed.
"I just don't want to fall behind," Mike said as we entered the hall.
I just shook my head. The sensation of that cleared it a little. "Go back to class then. I know where I'm going."
And I did, too. Not because I'd been to the nurse's office more times than all the kids at Forks High put together, but because I wasn't going to the nurse's office at all. I was going home.
I would tell them tomorrow that I was ill and confused, and forgot what I was doing. Where I was going. If they didn't buy that… well, I had a spotless record. I would get a slap on the wrist at worst.
Mike made it easy on me. He left me as soon as I had suggested it.
I disarmed Ms. Volvo, climbed into the seat, then brought her to life and sped out of the parking lot.
Edward was at the door, watching the street when I pulled up. I couldn't even remember how I got there. I just drove instinctually.
He couldn't leave the house to meet me, but I could tell he wanted to. He looked worried. In pain. Scared.
I avoided his eyes as I climbed the steps, but then I did nothing but stare at them as I approached and walked through the door. And then we just stood there.
His expression flashed a million emotions. He was trying to determine something. He was attempting to read me, becoming more and more frustrated by the moment because he couldn't.
"I'm okay," I said. His eyes narrowed.
How could I tell him? How could I explain that I was too stupid to add two plus two plus two?
"I don't think that sandwich agreed with me."
Mr. Molina seemed to buy that lie, maybe Edward would, too.
His eyes narrowed further. Okay, maybe not.
I sighed as I slipped my backpack off my shoulder. I just let it drop to the ground with a sickening thud. "Do I have to talk about it?"
His face softened, and then he gathered me into his arms. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
I melted against him. The obstacles we would eventually have to deal with blurred. Became distant. Unimportant, at least for the time being.
All that mattered was that I felt alive again. I would hold onto that feeling for as long as I possibly could, until time, age, or death forced me to relinquish it.
I was only vaguely aware that we were moving. That I had been scooped up into his arms and we were climbing the stairs. There was no 'whoosh'. No wind. No rush.
I felt the bed at my back, and then immediately I felt Edward slip in beside me. I clung to him, like he was my lifeline as I stared death in the face.
He never asked me to explain myself. He just held me. Comforted me, even though he had no idea why he was.
Or maybe he did.
"I only want for your happiness, Bella. But I won't leave your side unless you order me away."
"I don't want you to leave me," I whispered. But he would eventually, wouldn't he? And even if he didn't, I would, inevitably, be forced to leave him. Humans don't live forever.
But I didn't say any of that. I didn't know how. And, truthfully, I didn't even want to acknowledge it.
What was that saying? It's better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all?
Like Romeo and Juliet, maybe Edward and I would be the next tragic love story.
He held me tighter, making me question once again if he could actually read my thoughts.
I needed to stop thinking about it. It was going to kill me slowly if I didn't.
"When is Alice's party? As soon as we get to your house, or will we have some time?"
"We will have some time," he answered. "How would you like to spend it?"
I didn't answer him. I just snuggled in deeper, and then remained that way until thirty minutes before we were to leave. I took a shower, got ready, and then repacked my suitcase, all in complete silence. Neither of us said a word, but the vibe was thick between us.
It was like I was standing on a deserted road with a fork up ahead, knowing I would have to choose one path over the other. But, no, the road wasn't deserted at all. Edward was there, watching from a distance, waiting to see which prong I would take. He was hidden – he didn't want to sway my decision by showing himself – but I could sense his presence.
I moved around to each window in my room and closed them, saving the one he was sitting in front of for last. When I leaned past him, as I did so, I kissed the top of his head. His hands immediately found my waist, and then he brought me into his lap.
He stared at me, only stared, for nineteen years, and then he cradled my head to his shoulder. I wanted to reassure him, but I didn't even know where to begin.
"Are we leaving soon?" I asked. I knew we were, but I couldn't think of another way to break the silence.
He kissed my forehead before urging me to stand, then he grabbed my suitcase and laptop bag. He let me lead the way. I could feel his eyes on me all the way down the stairs, but when we stepped outside the door, after he grabbed my backpack off the floor from where I had left it, he averted his gaze.
Was he really that uncertain of what path I would choose?
I locked up, then led the way to his car.
"Would you like to drive?" he asked.
"No. I think I'd rather be the passenger this time."
This was for a few reasons.
First, I wasn't very comfortable on the winding path that led to his house. I would probably take it at a snail's pace, and that would lose us time in the long run.
Second, one should never drive while upset. My dad instilled that in me. Not even remembering how I got home earlier was harrowing enough for one day.
And third, I knew he would stare at me the entire time. With him driving, it would give him something else to think about for a short time. Though I suspected he didn't have to concentrate much when behind the wheel. Like everything else, it was an effortless task to him.
He threw my crap in the trunk, opened my door for me, closed it once I was seated, and then rounded to his side. He hesitated before getting in.
I wanted to tell him it was going to be okay, but starting a heavy conversation when there was no time to finish it seemed like a bad idea.
"This isn't a formal party, is it? I might be underdressed."
"You're perfect," he whispered. There was pain in his tone when he said it.
I hated myself so much in that moment. I had to do something to give him hope. I extended my hand towards him like an offering, like he had done so many times to me before. His eyes flickered in my direction, and then I saw a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth.
He held my hand for the rest of the trip, his grip gentle but firm. Almost desperate. Like he would never be allowed to do so again after that moment.
The gesture was meant to make us both feel better. It didn't seem to. My guilt soared.
I knew they were excited about my return, but the welcome I received made me slightly uncomfortable. Everyone but Rosalie and Jasper hugged me. Jasper tried to smile, but he looked guilty in the attempt. Alice seemed like she was ready to explode with excitement. Esme and Dr. Cullen acted like I was the missing lamb that was finally back within their flock. Emmett lifted me and spun me around, chattering about how my truck was a great piece of crap to work on.
Edward stood by the stairs, loaded down with my stuff, his eyes downcast. I needed to talk to him.
"Um, Edward said that we have a few minutes before the festivities begin?"
Alice's grin widened. "Yep! There's no party without you! Take all the time you need."
She knew. Of course she did. She probably had a vision. My new friend's abilities would take some getting used to.
I gave a nod, then turned to face Edward. He still didn't look at me. He just started up the stairs. I followed, my mind buzzing.
We couldn't talk in his room. There was no privacy to be had anywhere in a house full of vampires. They would hear our slightest whispers. Or maybe that didn't matter. Maybe Alice already told them about the decision I had made.
And since Edward could read minds, wouldn't he know, too? He didn't seem to. He pushed my suitcase under the bed, then set my laptop and backpack next to it. He still avoided eye contact. He still seemed wounded.
"Can we take a trip?" I asked.
"Yes." He didn't even pause before answering. "Where would you like to go?"
"Not far. Around here is fine. Just… out of earshot?"
How far did their hearing reach, anyway? Miles?
"Are you afraid of heights?"
The question confused me. Yeah, I understood it, but I couldn't grasp why he had asked.
"Not really. I don't think," I added. He arched an eyebrow. "I've never tested to see," I explained.
He smiled. Just a little, but after the extreme tension we had been under since I had first arrived home from school, it was good to see. I smiled back.
And then he offered me his hand. I stepped closer, placed mine in his, and then I was on his back and we were flying out the window.
I watched the entire time. I forced myself to. He jumped from tree to tree, at least a dozen of them, before scaling the last. I likened it to how Spiderman could climb buildings. He seemed to be able to stick to it, in a way.
It was getting dark, but the moon was full and the clouds were sparse. I could at least see well enough to keep my bearings.
And I wasn't afraid of heights, it seemed. We were insanely high up, like if I reached out, I would be able to touch the stars in the sky. It didn't even make me nervous. The impending conversation did, though. I was almost dreading it.
He helped me off his back, but never let go of me. Falling would have been fatal for sure.
"Well, it's official," I said. "You can't read my mind." I had to start somewhere. A joke seemed as good a place as any. It wasn't.
"Did you think I was lying to you?"
Great. Total backfire. Instead of lightening the mood, I offended him.
"No. Of course not. Sorry. It's just, if you could, maybe you wouldn't be looking so tortured right now. Are you that unsure of my feelings?"
"No. The problem lies elsewhere."
Huh? "Care to explain?"
He took the better part of a century to answer.
"I often wonder if I'm being selfish, putting you in this position."
Huh? He wasn't making any sense! "What position are you putting me in?"
"You deserve to have a normal, happy life."
"Define normal," I said. Really, what did that even mean? "And do you honestly think I could be happy without you?"
"You should be allowed the chance to discover that without interference."
And that was when it hit me. Amazingly perceptive my ass. It was all so obvious, finally, that I felt the urge to smack myself in the forehead and scream: Duh!
He was talking about the metaphorical fork in the deserted road I was standing on. The path he was on was wrought with difficulties, and he was feeling guilty for wanting me to take it. For offering it to me at all.
I had been wrong before. He wasn't worried that I wouldn't choose him. He was worried that I would. The great protector in him was trying to save me. But I didn't want to be saved from him. I wanted to be saved by him. He was the only one who could save me.
I was never surer of my decision than I was right then. Like Alice had said, some things are worth the effort.
"And I suppose you think it's you who's interfering somehow?"
I successfully forced myself not to roll my eyes, but my scoff could not be contained. "In what way are you interfering?"
That time I did roll my eyes. We were right back to the whole 'I'm a monster' thing. And I thought I had low self-esteem.
"You said before that you wouldn't leave my side unless I ordered you away."
"Do you think I should? Do you want me to?"
He didn't like those questions. His expression changed. His confidence seemed rattled.
In that order. Yes, he thought I should, and no, he didn't want me to.
"Why yes?" I asked.
He didn't answer. He just made a request.
"Tell me why you came home early today."
He knew. Even with the inability to read my mind, he knew. And he was using that knowledge to answer my question without having to say the words himself.
"You think I'm perceptive, but really, I'm not. Something clicked, in the middle of class, and I had a moment of panic."
"You are perceptive. Amazingly so. At times, to someone as astute as you, the obvious can be overlooked."
I didn't want compliments. I didn't want to tiptoe around the subject anymore. And I didn't want to be high in a tree, miles above the ground. I felt limited. Trapped.
"Can we continue this conversation at a lower elevation?"
Alarm flashed in his eyes. "Are you afraid?"
I wasn't. Surprisingly. It was peaceful. Beautiful. Something I would've liked to have seen during the daytime. Maybe he would bring me back if I asked him to, when we weren't trying to work things out between us. I was willing to bet the view was spectacular, if I could have only seen past the end of my nose.
"No." If he could give clipped answers, no elaboration, then so could I.
He just stared at me for a long moment, but it was too dark to see his expression anymore. I wasn't afraid of that, either. His arm was protectively around my waist. I knew I was safe.
I could feel him trying to help me onto his back, so I assisted, and then we were falling. That was a little unnerving, but not exactly scary. We seemed to be bouncing off the trees near the one we had been in on our way down.
The impact once we hit the ground was slight, but enough to realize it had happened. He then helped me off his back, and then his arm was around my waist again. I liked that. I liked the closeness, and the protective feel of it.
"Edward." I sighed his name, then gathered my thoughts. "I know this won't be easy, and the full magnitude of that did hit me today, in class, but I don't care. I don't care that it won't be easy."
That saying came into my mind again, but I made a few alterations before quoting it.
"It's better to have had and lost, than to never have had at all."
Saying the love word, even in a quote, just didn't seem like a very good idea. Not only because we still had yet to say it to each other, but because he was obviously still struggling. His conscience seemed to be battling between what he wanted and what he thought was right.
"I believe that particular saying is: It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
I couldn't see it, but I knew he was smirking. I could just tell. I could hear it in his voice.
"Yeah," I said, "I know."
He had this way about him. Like he could just flip a switch and, suddenly, I was a blithering idiot. His nearness had been comforting a second ago, which had felt good since the vibe between us was strained. Then, abruptly, there was a shift.
My heart was racing. My breathing turned erratic. I was being lured again.
To be continued…
Okay, majority says they'd like to see daily updates. So, here we are. And, once again, this chapter is brought to you without a safety net. My beta needs a hug!
Thank you so very much for all the wonderful reviews! They seriously mean a lot to me. If you've ever written and posted a fanfic, you'll know what I'm talking about.
I finished the epilogue last night. I want to run the last few lines by my beta, and depending on what she says, I might tweak it a bit, but otherwise, it's done.
Um, guys? The epilogue chapter is almost thirteen thousand words. I might have to break it up into two chapters. Opinions on that?
The entire fic, without added author's notes, is almost one hundred forty thousand words. It took me almost exactly seven weeks to complete it.
Now, I need to get back to writing the sequel to my novel. I'm nearly done, but took the time out to write this fic. I have found, if I don't go where my muse tries to lead me, she cops a hissy fit and won't let me write anything for weeks, sometimes months. I'm hoping she'll let me get back to it now that the fic is done. But don't get me wrong! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent writing this. And I'm glad others are enjoying reading it.
I won't bombard you all with the shameless plug again, because apparently, some didn't care for that, but just a quick mention… My original novel is called 'The Mengliad', and is available on Amazon. The sequel, 'The Registry's Secrets', should be available at the end of September, if all goes well. If you're enjoying this fic, maybe go check it out?
Okay, this is a long author's note, so I'll shut up now.
Please review, and MTLBYAKY