There he was, waiting for me, leaning against his car and looking pensive.
I was so excited to see him, a smile pulled at my mouth subconsciously. But then I remembered what he had done. My smile turned to a scowl as I approached.
He held my door open for me, then made his way to his side of the car, slower than I knew he was capable of.
We had just left the parking lot when he spoke.
"Are you very angry with me?"
"Yes! Do you even know why I am?"
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"I don't think you are!" I shot at him. "Cheating is against the rules!"
"I wasn't cheating."
I scoffed. "You deleted my internet history! That's cheating!"
"I'm sorry. I was afraid."
That dissipated my angry mood. What was he afraid of? "Afraid?"
"Initially, I was intrigued by the notion that you might actually… figure me out. But then I realized… that would not be a good thing, Bella."
There was no reverent lilt to his tone when he said my name that time. It saddened me a little, but more than that, I was sad for him. He seemed truly frightened. What secret could he possibly have, that would freak him out this badly?
"You shouldn't know too much about me. It's safer if you don't."
"Safer for who?"
He didn't answer. He just tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
"Earlier, when you were dropping me off, you seemed happy about the idea that I was trying to figure you out."
"I was being foolish. If I sincerely asked you to let it go, would you?"
"No," I answered honestly. He sighed. Heavily. "This really has you freaked out, doesn't it?"
Again, he didn't answer. Then he asked another question of his own. "Have you heard from your mother?"
I blinked. Total subject change. "Not yet, but she's always been a bit flighty. She'll get around to it."
"Alice is looking forward to playing with you."
"So, that's it? You're just going to drop it? You're just expecting me to?"
"I really wish that you would. I can't bear the thought of any harm coming to you."
Whoa. Okay, I wasn't expecting that. My first inclination was that he would somehow get in trouble, if I pressed on and learned his secret. But now he was suggesting that it would be me who was in some kind of danger.
"How might I be harmed?"
He took forever to speak again, but it wasn't in answer to my question. "Esme hopes you're hungry."
"Stop that!" I snapped. I was getting seriously irritated. "Answer my question!"
"Can't or won't?"
"Can't. Is there someone else you can stay with?"
Anger mixed with fear. "You're kicking me out?"
"Of course not. I was wondering if you have another option."
"I like where I'm at."
"Then of course you're welcome to stay."
My head was spinning. This went beyond some weird skin condition, or an odd reclusive family. Something was really, really wrong. Had he been kidnapped by the Cullens, maybe, and not actually adopted? Had the doctor and Esme figured out our game and threatened him somehow?
But, no, he said I would be in danger. This wasn't making any sense! Besides, the doctor and Esme didn't seem the type to kidnap or threaten. Or harm. Dr. Cullen was the nicest doctor they had down there at the hospital.
"I want to ask you a question, and if you don't feel like you can answer it, I want you to blink twice."
Suddenly, for just a moment, I felt like I was in a bad after school special or TV movie of the week.
He arched his eyebrow in response, clearly curious.
"Were you actually adopted, or were you a victim of kidnapping?"
Um, okay, this was getting bizarre! He actually started busting up laughing!
"No, Bella, I was actually adopted."
"What happened to your parents?"
"They died of… an illness."
He hesitated. I was becoming hypersensitive of every little thing he said now. And he definitely hesitated. Something about the word 'illness' was hard for him to say.
"What kind of illness?"
"The terminal kind."
He was avoiding. "Does this illness have a name?"
Ugh! Frustrating man! "And it's called?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I think it does," I said. "I have a theory. Want to hear it?"
He stiffened. "Yes."
Okay, so, the line here hadn't been totally severed.
"You speak very fluently… unless you're trying to hide something. You hesitated on the word illness. I think that means that it very much matters."
"You are a very perceptive individual."
"So I've been told. Am I right?"
"Edward? Did someone kill your parents?"
"No. They died of an illness. I'm just not comfortable telling you which one."
We were on the private road that led to his house now. I would only be able to squeeze in a few more questions before we got there.
And then I asked the very question I had mentally berated Jessica for asking me. "Do you have a skin condition like the rumors say?"
He didn't like that question. He tensed further and his face hardened.
But he answered it anyway. "It's not a condition, exactly."
"Then what exactly is it?"
He didn't answer that question. We were almost there.
"I just have one more thing to say, before we get to your house. Then I'll drop this… for now."
"I can tell you're scared, but I think a part of you hopes I will figure this out. Am I wrong?"
We were seconds away from the front of the house. I could see that out of my peripheral vision, but my eyes stayed on Edward.
Then, with a motion I almost couldn't detect, he shook his head. That was enough for me. I would figure out Edward Cullen's secret.
The atmosphere in the house was strained. Sure, it could have just been my imagination, but it seemed as if they all somehow knew what was going on between me and Edward. The now very serious game we were playing.
Only Esme and Alice remained chipper, though you could just tell they were stressed about something.
After dinner – another amazing meal – Alice begged me to play with her.
I don't know what I expected, but her version of 'play' wasn't exactly what one thinks of when they hear the word. She kept asking me to try on different outfits, and then she wanted to do my hair and makeup when she finally decided she liked one. And during all of it, she asked me questions about myself.
What did my friends and I do for fun? Had I ever had a boyfriend? Did I have a favorite movie, book, or musician? That was how the subject of Edward came up. I mentioned that I loved the compositions he had put on my iPod.
"He's a brilliant pianist," she said.
I agreed, then I tried to keep the conversation on him.
"He seems very mature, for someone his age." Not just mature, but formal. Almost prim and proper. I didn't say that out loud, though.
"I suppose he is."
She had already applied my makeup, and had moved on to 'playing' with my hair.
"He also seems a little bit tortured." Like, down to the depths of his soul.
She laughed, which seemed a little odd considering what I had said, but I was grateful that she did. She didn't seem as hard to talk to. Maybe I could get answers from her.
"Yes, well, that's Edward. We're always telling him to lighten up!"
"Any clue why he's like that?"
She paused for a moment – she did that ear perking thing like Edward had done – and then she rolled her eyes. "He's not happy about the direction of this conversation."
How could she possibly know that? How could he even know what kind of conversation we were having? He wasn't even here. But then I briefly considered that, maybe, he had slipped in when I was distracted. I glanced around the room, but Alice brought my head back to where it had been before.
"Don't worry. He's not here."
"Then, how do you know—?"
She laughed, cutting off my question, and then she changed the subject. Slightly.
"You've been busy on the internet."
Okay, so, his family did know about our little game.
"I didn't get far," I told her. As long as she was speaking in vague terms, so would I.
"You got farther than you think you did. You just didn't realize you had."
She was dropping hints! She wanted me to figure this out, too!
"I was going to follow up on that, but someone deleted my internet history."
She laughed at that. Hard.
"I don't suppose—?"
"Sorry. Edward would rip my head off. This is something you're going to have to figure out on your own. It's more fun that way, right?"
I couldn't agree with that. I was about to go nuts!
"You can't even give me a hint?"
She laughed again, but it didn't seem to be in response to me, or what I had said.
"Man, is his tail in a knot! Sorry, I don't wish to die."
I was so close! Alice seemed excited for me to know! And it wasn't like the slight interest Edward had shown, then snatched away. This was outright enthusiasm.
But the weird thing was, she was acting as if she knew his current state of mind, when he wasn't even in the room. Like Edward had before, on the way home, when he spoke about Esme.
"You look amazing!"
She was finally done, and was standing there admiring her handiwork.
"I love playing with you! We should do it one more time, before you have to leave!"
I guessed I could handle that. Alice was fun to be around, anyway.
She took my hands in her gloved ones, pulled me to my feet, then nearly dragged me over to the full-length mirror in the corner of her room.
Okay, wow. I mean, I looked weird – not like me at all – but I also looked… good. She was good at makeovers, that was for sure.
"You like it." She said this very matter-of-factly. "You should go downstairs, so Edward can see it firsthand."
Firsthand? As opposed to…?
"Oh, and Bella?" She turned me to face her. "Don't give up, okay? Some things are worth the extra effort."
She glanced at the door, rolled her eyes, then took my hand and started skipping out into the hallway. We descended the stairs, her like a bouncing fairy, me with two clumsy left feet, until we were on the landing and heading towards the living room.
Oh, God, she was going to 'show me off'!
Edward was already standing, like he was expecting us. Everyone else stood as soon as we entered. Well, except for Rosalie. She just semi-glared in my direction and then looked back at the TV.
Edward was the first to speak. "You look lovely, not that you needed Alice's interventions."
Whoa! Okay, I was burning hot with embarrassment, so maybe I misunderstood his words, but that sounded like a compliment!
Alice scoffed. "Beauty can always be enhanced!"
Then Esme spoke. "You look beautiful, Bella. That shade of blue is very stunning on you."
I looked down at my clothes, and noticed for the first time that I was, indeed, wearing blue. "What shade is this?" I asked.
"Colonial!" Alice chirped.
Wait a second! Back the truck up! Didn't Edward say his favorite color was Colonial blue? Was Alice trying to play matchmaker?
"Hot," Emmett said, nodding appreciatively. Rosalie glared at him, but then so did Edward, just not as hard.
"Very nice. Sincerely." Jasper was actually smiling. It seemed a little pained, but still. Maybe he wasn't exactly afraid of me after all.
"Perfection on top of perfection," Dr. Cullen said. He was absolutely beaming at me.
Emmett cleared his throat, and Rosalie glared at him again. But then, she turned her head just a little and called out over her shoulder, "I like your hair."
I guessed that was the best I was going to get from her. If I didn't think she disliked me before, I did now.
"We should take a picture!" Alice chirped. "Jasper, it's in her suitcase. Please?"
I didn't stop to think too hard about how she knew that.
"Edward, you should be in it, too!"
He glared at Alice for her suggestion. And then Jasper was back, with my camera.
I had seen a hint of it with Alice, and I had already figured out that Edward was inhumanly fast, but Jasper, too?
"Oh, come on!" Alice said to Edward, pleading. "It won't kill you to smile!"
Reluctantly, or so it seemed, Edward walked over and stood beside me. Then Alice raised the camera, but after a moment, she lowered it again.
"The saying is 'say cheese'! Not 'suck on a lemon'!"
Everyone laughed… except Rosalie and Edward.
"I can stand here forever, Edward."
He moved a little closer to me then, but I wasn't brave enough to look up at him. But I guessed he was smiling, because Alice then raised the camera again and clicked off a picture.
She danced over to show it to me. As she did, Edward stepped away.
I didn't care about me at all. I'd seen what I looked like in the mirror, and, yeah, I looked good, but what I was more interested in, was Edward.
He was smiling. It wasn't a big smile, but still, it was there.
"I'm done torturing you now," Alice said to me. "You should go do some internet browsing."
I think my ears must have been playing tricks on me, because I could have sworn I heard a low growl. It sounded a little like how a lion might growl when being threatened.
And then I noticed that everyone was staring at me expectantly. Again, Edward and Rosalie were the exception.
This was just too weird. Then it got weirder.
"Sure, he's an amazing pianist, and yeah, he's highly intelligent, but so are a lot of people."
I stared back at Alice, stupidly, though I understood exactly what she was doing. She was subtly narrowing my search options.
Obviously, it wasn't subtle enough. This time, I know I heard a growl, and I also knew where it came from. Edward.
I nodded, bobble-head stupid, and headed for the stairs. Before I made it very far, I heard the faint whisperings of the conversation taking place in the room I had just left.
"She's going to figure it out, Edward. Why not help her along a little? I'm not breaking any rules. I didn't tell her what words to use, I just told her which words not to use."
There was a whispered reply, but I couldn't make any of it out. I wasn't even sure who was talking, though I suspected it was Edward.
I felt strange as I entered his room. He seemed so conflicted. A part of him wanted me to figure this out, but another part of him didn't. What would happen if I did? Which part of him would rule then?
I grabbed my laptop, opened and turned it on, then I gave thought to the search words I had used before. Minus 'intelligent' and 'pianist'.
Speed. That one was obvious. Liquid diet. Pale skin. Cold hands. Unusual eye color. Good a place as any to start. If I remembered more, I would add them.
Again, a bunch of superhero and vampire crap came up.
Radioactive spiders? Kryptonite? Vigilante millionaires? Okay, sure, the Cullens weren't hurting financially, but millionaires? And the vampire stuff didn't seem any better. They didn't live in a castle, with coffins in a dungeon. They didn't seem to have any kind of aversion to garlic. They cooked with it! And Edward and Dr. Cullen, at least, had been out in the daytime a bunch of times. Weren't vampires supposed to burst into flames as soon as the sun rose in the sky?
And, realistically – okay, it was weird to think of it that way, but pretending for a second that vampires were actually real – wouldn't they have… eaten me… already?
This was maddening beyond all reason! Even with hints, I was no closer to figuring this out. I slammed my laptop closed with an aggravated sigh.
"Still unable to find the answer?"
I glanced in his direction, but then I just dropped back on the bed. "No," I told the ceiling. "I wish you would just tell me." I almost sounded like I was pleading. If I were being honest, I was.
"It's not your family you're worried about, is it? It's someone else."
"It's the other people that might harm me if I know, right?"
"Will they if I figure it out on my own?"
"I don't know."
"Your family doesn't seem too worried about that," I mentioned.
"But you don't agree with them," I assumed.
"I don't know how to feel about it. There's a risk involved, and I don't like putting you at risk. I feel very… protective of you."
I pushed myself up onto my elbows and locked eyes with him. He seemed absolutely anguished. God, what was going on inside his head?
"If I started taking guesses, would you tell me if I'm right?"
"Yes." His head moved almost imperceptibly towards the door, again, like he was listening for something.
Super human hearing, maybe?
"From another planet?"
"Bit by some kind of radioactive insect?"
"Some kind of rich vigilante?"
I dropped myself back onto the bed again. "Ugh! I give up!"
"Maybe that's for the best."
"Do you want me to give up?" Again, I directed my question to the ceiling.
"You hesitated again," I informed him.
"I guess I did."
"You're not exactly conflicted. You're scared."
"I don't want to lose you, now that I have finally found you."
Finally found me? Had I been lost? I propped myself up again so that I could look at him, and I almost gasped. His expression held… well, fear, but also… love?
Oh, God, was that what he was feeling? I had been hoping for 'like' – just a fraction of what I was feeling – but… could it be that he was as drawn to me as I was to him? I felt drunk again.
"Tell me what you're thinking."
"When you say 'lose me'… are you afraid I'm going to leave, once I figure this out?"
"Why would I? There's nothing that could be that bad."
"You say that now, wrapped in your ignorant bliss. You might feel differently once you know."
I wanted to go to him. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and comfort him. Try to reassure him. But something told me not to. That it was a bad idea.
"You don't know me as well as you think you do," I told him.
"I would like to change that."
My heart was set on self-destruct, I was sure of it. "I would, too, but I don't think I'll ever figure this out. And until I do… Well, it's kind of necessary, isn't it?"
I knew he would know what I meant. If I wasn't in the know, then no relationship.
Yeah, that's what I figured. Okay, I needed to clear my head. I needed to start fresh. And I needed to get my heart rate down before I exploded all over his room.
"Do you think Alice would mind if I washed up now? I know she went to a lot of trouble—"
"No. She doesn't mind."
Again with the present tense. She wasn't anywhere in the room! How could he know that?
I pushed the thought aside as I stood. But instead of grabbing my stuff, I just stared back at him.
"Is there a time limit?"
He seemed confused. What had I said? It sounded coherent inside my head, but with the way I was feeling, it could very well have been gibberish that came out of my mouth.
"For the shower?" he asked.
Oh. No, he understood the question, just not the context.
"No. For me figuring this out."
"No. I'll wait forever, if need be."
A new surge of adrenalin hit my heart. I needed space. I didn't want space – I wanted to get lost in his eyes – but I needed it. I had a job to do. I needed to be able to concentrate, and with what he was doing to me, just by being in my presence… well, it wasn't conducive to concentration.
Forcing myself to break away, finally, I grabbed my stuff and headed for the door. I would have to pass him on my way out. Close proximity to him was bad, in a good way.
He flattened himself against the door to let me through; I felt his eyes on me as I walked to and entered the bathroom.
To be continued…
Okay, the reviews have been a little more encouraging. Thanks to those who took the time.
I'm at over eighty-seven thousand words now – well into chapter twenty-four – so I have lots to share. And I just started on day nine! Still have five more days to go within the timeline of the two weeks. (smile)
I want to extend a special thanks to my beta-reader! Even as she writes her own fic, she finds the time to help me out! Luv 'ya!
Review, please! They make my world go round!
I have written my first novel! 'The Mengliad' is available on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle versions, and the sequel, 'The Registry's Secrets', will be available soon!
"There are a lot of beliefs out there. Some people think we got here by spacecraft. Some think we evolved, like Humans, but in a slightly different direction. Some think we were created by God, after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. However we came to be, the truth of the matter is, there are two species that are near-identical in every way that inhabit the Earth. One is Human, one is Mengliad."
What would you do if you learned that there was a separate Human-like species on the planet? Jessica Mitchell is about to be faced with that very question. The strange flu bug she seems to have caught quickly becomes the least of her worries. While on her way home from work, she passes out in Central Park, only to regain consciousness hours later, under the gaze of a kind but odd stranger. This Good Samaritan offers his assistance, and subsequently opens the gate to a world she knows nothing about.
Initially, Jessica is reluctant to believe what Craddock Daniels tells her, but after the unsettling reality sinks in, she feels she has no choice but to follow him and his friends. Changes are taking place, and she is now in danger because of them. Will Craddock be able to protect her? Does Jessica possess the strength to endure all that is happening to her? Can love really blossom under the direst of circumstances?
THE MENGLIAD is a romance adventure novel with a sci-fi flavor. At over 112,000 words, this story evokes a sense of how horrible it would be to have everything you knew pulled from under you.