At first, I considered ignoring it, but before my cell phone even had the chance to ring for the third time, Edward had whooshed away and returned with it in his hand. When he held it out to me, I could see by the display that it was my mom.
I bolted upright, snatched the phone from him – I would apologize for my abruptness later – and clicked the talk button.
"Mom. God. Why haven't you called?"
"Things have been crazy since the second we got here. And then…"
When she trailed off, I knew she had something to confess. She always did that.
"Don't laugh. I lost my cell phone."
I bit back any sign of amusement. "How did you manage to do that?"
"Oh, I don't know. I had it on the plane, I swear! Maybe I lost it at the airport."
She was forever doing that. She would lose her head if it wasn't attached. "So, what, you had to buy a new phone?"
"Yeah! That wasn't easy. They don't have too many stores around here, where we're at. They weren't even sure at first how to attach it to the old number!"
That's why it had taken so long for her to contact me, I guess. But… "Where's Dad's cell?"
"He left it at home."
Sure. Given his grief, that wasn't too surprising. "They don't have normal phones where you guys are?"
"They do, but it's been crazy here." She dropped her voice to an almost whisper. "I'll explain when we get home."
Ah. Apparently, she couldn't speak freely. "How's Dad doing? Any better?"
"He's hanging in there. You know your dad. Has to be strong." Yeah, I did know. "How are you? Are the Cullens treating you okay?"
"Yeah, Mom, they are." I avoided Edward's gaze as I said that. For some reason, I was embarrassed talking about his family to my mom.
"How are you getting along with the kids? Edward?"
Oh, great. Just her saying his name and my heart was racing again.
"We're all getting along great. Alice and I had a girly night last night. Hair. Makeup. She let me raid her closet." I said that strategically. I couldn't talk about Edward while he was inches away, staring at me.
"But you hate that kind of stuff."
I could see Edward tweak an eyebrow out of my peripheral vision. He could hear my mom through the phone.
Of course he could. Super hearing.
"Yeah, I guess, but it was fun. Aced that biology paper." I usually did, but I needed her to get off the subject of the Cullens.
"That's great, baby! And state testing is next week? Tuesday and Wednesday?"
Good. Successful detour. "Yeah."
"Edward doesn't mind driving you to and from school, does he? It must be awfully inconvenient for him."
Crap. "I don't think he minds."
"I know you'd probably rather have your truck, but I just feel better knowing you're not behind the wheel while we're not there."
Translated: we don't want to get the call that you've wrapped yourself around a tree when we're a long plane ride away from home.
"I know, Mom. It's fine."
"Okay. Well, I should go. We're supposed to be at the mortuary in twenty minutes. We'll talk later."
I felt a twinge of sadness when we said our goodbyes, and then a little guilty for not missing my parents more before that moment. The two realities had just seemed so separate, I had put one aside while dealing with the other. But they weren't separate. Not anymore. And they shouldn't be. If I was going to date Edward, he would have to be a part of my world just as I was becoming a part of his.
The hand holding my cell phone dropped to rest in my lap, and then I just stared blankly at it.
Integrating Edward into my world would be tricky. It was easier for me to be in his. I knew about his family and his family knew about me. But my family couldn't know about Edward. No one could. It would limit how much time we could be around Renee and Charlie. Or my friends, not that I had many. Well, not that I hung out with on a regular basis.
Sometimes, as a group, we'd all go to the movies. Or out to eat at the diner, which was really the only decent place to eat in town. The only friend I spent much time with recreationally was Angela, and even then, I didn't very often. Couple times a month, maybe. More when we were younger, but as we got older, I became a lot more like my dad. I liked solitude.
My friends seemed to understand that about me, especially Angela. But Angela couldn't know about Edward. She couldn't know his secrets.
"What are you thinking?"
I couldn't tell him that. I didn't want to give him any reason to potentially push away from me. Things seemed so… delicate… at the moment. I would work something out. Like Alice had said: some things are worth the extra effort.
"It was good hearing her voice," I answered.
I looked up at him, surprised. Why was he apologizing? He then answered my question, even though I hadn't said it out loud.
"You miss them."
Okay, he said he couldn't read my mind, but maybe he wasn't being one hundred percent truthful about that. I decided to put it to the test.
I thought it so hard, it was like I was screaming it inside my brain.
'I think I'm falling in love with you!'
Not even a twitch. He just stared back at me, his eyes and expression dripping with empathy.
Okay, so, until proven otherwise, he can't read my mind.
"Yeah, but I'm a big girl. I'll live."
He softened, smiling just a little, but almost wistfully.
"Such a brave little human."
There were layers surrounding and connected to that statement. On both sides, his and mine.
First, he didn't just say that about me missing my parents. It went deeper than that, to include how I was handling his secret.
Second, it truly was a compliment. It wasn't just lip service. He was sincerely amazed by how brave he felt I was.
Third, it probably should have offended me, but it didn't. The 'little human' part, I mean. I was very nearly an adult. Not so 'little', but in comparison to him, I had to acknowledge that I was.
Fourth, his approval mattered to me more than ever. I had never been one to crave the approval of others, but I did now. It was like the air in my lungs. Like the blood in my veins. It was a necessity.
And then he touched my cheek with just the pads of his fingers. Three of them only, while his thumb grazed my chin. Gently, like he was testing to see if he should. Or could. The cold temperature felt wonderful against the heat of my skin.
But then something he had said earlier jumped into my mind, so quickly that I startled.
He mistook this and immediately withdrew his hand. The scowl that followed made my guilt soar.
"You didn't do anything wrong. I just had a thought."
That seemed to ease the scowl a little, and then curiosity mingled in. I knew he was going to, so I told him what I was thinking before he could even ask.
"You were talking about instincts before. Essentially, you're wired to want human blood. You said it was difficult for Jasper to be around humans."
I hesitated then, trying to find my courage as I looked up into his eyes. He still seemed curious, but also, there was a slight amount of pain there. Almost as if he knew what was coming.
"Is it difficult for you to be around me?"
He gulped, and the pained expression intensified. That was a yes.
Yeah, okay, that was a split-hair debate for another time.
"I'm sorry." It was all I could think of to say. I hated the thought that I was causing him pain.
"Don't be. It's not your fault that the lion fell in love with the lamb."
Love. Love! Everything that could accelerate in my body did. "The lamb fell in love right back, you know."
His eyes slowly began to brighten.
"Stupid lamb, right?"
"Sick, masochistic lion," he added.
And then we were both smiling. Both were slight but easy – relaxed – yet expressed everything.
Seventy-two hours ago, I had no idea what love really was and even less knowledge of Edward Cullen. It was strange how fast one's life could change.
"They're home. Do you feel up to this?"
Up to what? Was something supposed to happen now? Was I about to be thrown into some kind of weird initiation?
"Um, I don't know. What do I have to do?"
His smile grew. "Walk downstairs. Or I could carry you, if you prefer."
Okay, I was overcomplicating things. "Walking works for me." When I wasn't tripping over my own feet.
He stood and extended his hand, and I took it eagerly. Any chance at a physical connection, no matter how slight, I would take. Instantly, there seemed to be some kind of electricity flowing between us.
His skin was cold – I knew it would be, so I didn't even flinch from it – but the other thing I noticed was that it was… hard? No, that wasn't the right word. Unyielding? Yeah, that fit a little better. I would have to give that thought later.
As we descended to the first story of the house, for the entire time of the trek, Edward stared at me. I couldn't return it, though. I had to watch my feet as they took every step, or I would face-plant for sure.
They were all standing in the living room, wearing various expressions as they faced us, when we turned the corner off the stairs. Alice looked like she was positively bursting with joy. Jasper still seemed to be in pain – I had new sympathy for that – but he had a slight smile on his face. Emmett seemed amused; his smirk made him look mischievous. Esme was smiling warmly, like she had truly just gained another member of her family. Dr. Cullen looked pleased but reflective. Rosalie looked… pissed.
Okay, if I thought for even a millisecond that knowing the Cullen family secret would ease tensions between us, that was a millisecond wasted.
Then, one by one, everyone but Edward, Jasper, and Rosalie came up to me and hugged me. It felt a little like I was being celebrated.
Rosalie glared harder than before, but not at me directly.
"Perfect. I'm glad everyone is so at ease with putting our entire family at risk."
Oh! She thought I was going to tell people. Well, I guess it was human nature to want to share information this unique. But I wasn't like that.
"I would never tell anyone." This probably wouldn't reassure her. A lot of people might say that, but then turn around and do it anyway. Jessica sure would.
"She knows that," Dr. Cullen said.
"People know she's here! Our entire family will be implicated if this ends badly."
"Badly? As in, I would… become… the meal." I didn't want to offend them, but I had already started to say it before I thought it through, and I couldn't think of another way to end the sentence.
Everyone but Rosalie seemed amused by that. Edward and Dr. Cullen laughed.
Okay, yeah, they were vegetarians, but their instincts would always make me seem like the better meal option. It would be like starving a man to the brink of death, then throwing a barbequed steak into the room and telling him he couldn't touch it. That instruction and nothing else between him and it. Why wouldn't he just eat it?
And yet, I still wasn't afraid. I was the steak in a room with seven starving people, and I couldn't bring myself to be scared at all. That probably said something about me. It probably did about them, too.
"Trust me," Alice said, her voice filled with humor and light, "you're not on the menu."
"I know," I muttered lamely. The attention I was being shown was starting to embarrass me. I just knew my cheeks were as red as they ever could be.
"You should've seen your face when you finally figured it out! I could almost hear the 'click'!" Alice then danced over to Jasper and held out her hand. When he dropped something into it, she danced right back over to me. "Now that we're officially best friends… here."
She extended her hand, palm up but still in a fist as she gripped whatever she held.
As I dropped my attention down, she relaxed her fingers out of the way.
Oh. Okay, not so bad. I usually didn't like gifts, except for on major holidays. But she seemed so happy to be giving it to me that I had prepared myself to accept it graciously, despite my feeling uncomfortable.
But this, I could handle. It was a small homemade key ring charm made of beads, two different colors on two different strands of thread that twirled around each other. One strand had purple beads – the exact color of the darkest shade of purple on my bed sheets – the other had a very light contrasting shade of green. It was either her favorite color, or it was symbolic. We were kind of like opposites.
"Thanks, Alice, this is great."
She hopped up and down excitedly a few times, then went to go stand next to Jasper.
"I'm sorry if we're making you uncomfortable," Dr. Cullen said. When he did, I looked up from the gift in my hand. "Alice told us you were fine, but only she can see the visions in her head. Well, she and Edward. We were just curious."
The question popped out of my mouth before I could stop to think. I turned towards Edward and asked, "If you could see I was going to fine with it, why were you so scared?"
Emmett laughed, which caused Edward to scowl.
Crap. I should have waited to ask him that, later when we were alone. But was there ever such a thing, when every member of your household could hear your slightest whisper?
"Her visions change," Edward answered. "She could see you were fine one moment, but could not guarantee the next."
I almost forgot that we weren't alone. "Why would I be fine one moment, and not the next?"
His eyes searched mine for a moment – the kind of search where he was desperately trying to read me.
"I don't know," he finally said.
"You guys should go play," Alice suggested, in that light and airy tone she always used. I was of the impression that nothing ever upset her.
Edward didn't look at her, but his eyes left mine and shifted slightly in her direction. He was reading her mind. I just knew that he was.
"I would like to show you something." His eyes were back on mine.
A simple enough request, but there was something in the way he said it. He wasn't talking about a stamp collection, or some other such straightforward thing. He was referring to something of significance.
I bobble-head nodded, and he smiled in return.
"Don't forget, she needs to eat."
Esme. Forever wanting to feed me.
For some reason, I thought he was going to take me back up to his room. But, no. He took my hand again – which reconnected the electric current between us – and led me straight for and out the door.
Okay, so, we were taking a drive? Again, no. We walked right by his silver Volvo without the slightest pause.
"Where are we going?"
He didn't answer. He only stared ahead, his expression serious again.
We rounded the house, and it was then that I realized… the forest. But why? I'd already seen the forest. I'd seen lots of forests, or, rather, various areas of what was considered the same forest. When you've seen one tree, you've seen them all.
He only led me in a little ways past the very edge of it, then he stopped. Serious Edward remained.
"We will need to run," he said to the foliage in front of him, unblinking. "Do you trust me?"
In theory. "Yes," was what I said instead.
Before I could process what was happening, I was slung up onto his back, and we were flying through the forest. Well, no, we weren't up in the air – we were still on the ground – but we were flying.
I locked my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist reflexively, holding on for dear life.
It was exhilarating. And a little bit dizzying. Okay, a lot dizzying.
Our surroundings rushed by us – a blur of green and brown – and the thought that occurred to me as I struggled to comprehend it was, we were going to smack right into a tree. I imagined those Tarzan cartoons, where he hits the tree with a splat and slides down it. At least we weren't swinging from vines. Sliding to the ground from this height would be inches rather than feet.
Still, I couldn't watch. I didn't want to know when it was coming. I closed my eyes, then pressed my forehead to his shoulder.
That made things much better. I wasn't dizzy anymore. I was… relaxed. The ride was soothing, like being a passenger in a luxury sedan as it drove upon the smoothest paved road in existence.
I wasn't even aware when we had stopped. I should have been – the wind wasn't rushing at me anymore – but I was so lost with the contact of our bodies that nothing made sense beyond it.
"You can open your eyes now."
When I looked up and pried my eyes open, I saw that his face was turned slightly towards me, and he was wearing the hint of a smile. But I could tell 'serious Edward' was still lurking just beneath the surface.
Gently, he lowered me off his back and to the ground, then he took my arm to steady me as I found my feet. If he hadn't done that, I know I would have fallen. My legs felt like Jello.
"Where are we?" I asked. I glanced around, but it just looked like any other forest. We seemed to be at a higher elevation, though.
"Just a little further," he said. It didn't answer my question.
But then he took my hand, and I couldn't find it in me to care.
Well, okay, I cared, but not enough to question him further.
Past the trees in the near distance, I could just make out a clearing. Purples and blues were visible, contrasting against the greens and browns, drawing me to it. Good thing that was where Edward was leading me.
It was like a meadow, grass instead of bracken, flowers instead of more trees. The sun shone upon the ground in patches as it peeked through the forest edge, illuminating everything it touched.
"It's beautiful," I whispered.
He gave my hand a gentle, almost imperceptible squeeze, then dropped it. I felt empty in an odd way almost instantly.
"I want to show you something."
This wasn't something? It sure seemed like something.
When he started to walk away, I began to follow, but then he turned to face me again, so I stopped. It surprised me when he shook his head. I wasn't supposed to follow him? Where was he going?
"You asked me about the sunlight myth?"
My heart lurched, but I found a way to nod. I was concentrating so hard on his face, I hadn't realized what he was doing until he was finished. He had unbuttoned his shirt.
He turned his back to me again and stepped directly into a patch of sunlight. For a brief second, I tensed, scared, even though he had said before that sunlight doesn't kill vampires.
"We can't be seen in direct sunlight. People would know we're different."
He faced me again, slowly, and I gasped. Loudly.
His skin didn't look like skin at all anymore. It looked like diamond encrusted porcelain.
There were no words. Nothing I could say. It was literally breathtaking. How could such beauty exist? It wasn't possible.
"Please, Bella, what are you thinking?"
And still, no words came to me. But I had to say something. So I settled on the only word my brain could scramble for, deficient as it was. "Beautiful."
He seemed wounded by the word, but not because it was lacking in its description. It looked as if he was in strong disagreement.
He turned his back to me again, and I could tell he was buttoning his shirt, but then he started walking. He glanced behind him once after several steps. I was supposed to follow.
I tried to move quickly, but my feet hated me for that. I stumbled several times. Luckily, I didn't fall. My eyes never left him.
He settled himself on the grass, in a spot that was shadier than the rest, then just watched me as I closed the gap between us.
"Did I upset you?" I asked. I knew he heard me, even though it came out in a strained whisper. But he didn't answer me.
I dropped to my knees in front of him, then shifted so that I was sitting cross-legged.
And then we only stared at each other for sixteen years.
"I'm just trying to figure you out," he finally said.
"I'm not that difficult. You can't see how I might find something like that beautiful? Your skin is like diamonds. A lot of people find diamonds to be beautiful."
I wasn't about to tell him that 'beautiful' was an understatement.
"We see things very differently… on this issue."
I couldn't have agreed with him more. He could only see himself as a monster. Black and white. No shades of gray. It stood to reason that everything connected to the monster he believed he was would be repulsive to him.
"Clearly. Want to know what I think?"
I had to smile at that. The corners of his mouth twitched in response. "Even if you might not like it?"
He hesitated for a moment, looking as serious as ever, and then he eventually nodded.
"You can't see the beauty in anything about yourself, because you have yourself convinced that you're a monster. Can I ask you a question?" I said quickly, before he could argue.
He quirked an eyebrow, but then nodded again.
"Do you think all human beings are murderers, because some are?"
If Alice had any idea what was happening right now, she would have been laughing hysterically. I almost wanted to myself. The look that came over his face was absolutely priceless. Like he had just been bested in a game he excelled at by a two-year-old who had never once seen it played before.
But then I was punished for my gloating. He found a counter argument.
"Do you think it makes a murderer any less of one because he kills one person as opposed to several?"
I didn't answer. I just posed another question. "Do you think it makes someone a murderer, because they kill someone in self-defense?"
"No, but what if it wasn't in self-defense? What if it was for selfish reasons disguised as self-defense?"
He was good, I had to give it to him. "'Self-defense' is the wrong term. Let's change it. Let's call it 'survival'. I'll rephrase the question. Do you think it makes someone a murderer, because they kill someone in order to survive?"
"If they could have survived by some other means, yes."
"Did they know that at the time?"
I needed to get a better analogy. "Would you call an executioner a murderer, just for doing his job?"
"No. But what if it wasn't his job? What if he took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner, when he had no right to?"
"But by taking on the role, innocent lives were saved. If the danger had remained free to roam the streets, more people would have died."
He sighed as he looked away. "You won't convince me that what I did was right."
"I'm not trying to." His eyes found mine again instantly. "I'm trying to convince you that you're not a monster. Everyone does stuff they regret. You learn from it and move on. You obviously have. Learned from it, I mean. It's time to move on."
He sighed and shifted his eyes away from me again. "You're too forgiving."
"Has your family always been vegetarians?"
He raised an eyebrow, just a little, but otherwise remained perfectly still. "Some of them."
"Of the others, did they use the same… restrictions? That you did? Did they even have the ability to? Have you forgiven them?"
He took a long time to answer. "That's different."
He didn't have an answer to that at all.
Game and match.
But I didn't gloat. I had made my point. I just changed the subject.
"It really is pretty here."
He liked that. He finally smiled, though he still avoided eye contact.
"I'm pleased you think so."
I believed that. That he was pleased. And not just about my opinion of the meadow.
I had been wrong before. He wanted absolution, he just didn't think he deserved it.
Absently, I started plucking at the blades of grass that touched my hands as they dangled, playing with them and twisting them around in my fingers. And after a moment, I noticed he was watching me do so.
There was curiosity in his eyes, which I liked much better than the torment and pain.
Enough heavy subjects for now. I still wanted to know more, though.
"What else is a myth? Sleeping in coffins is one of them," I added, just so that he would know for sure what I was asking.
"Crosses and Holy water."
I gave a little nod, noting how he continued to watch me play with the grass blades. "What else?"
"We don't turn into bats."
I had to laugh at that one. There really were some weird myths out there. "What else?" I asked, encouraging him to continue. This was a good subject. Light but still informative.
It took me a second to understand what he meant by that. "Oh! Vampires can cast reflections?"
"Yes. We also photograph, as you saw when Alice took our picture."
"Hmm. Anything else?"
"Wooden stake through the heart. You wouldn't even be able to pierce the skin."
I believed that. I had noticed before that his skin seemed unyielding. I was going to need to find a better word to describe that. "So, if sunlight doesn't kill you, and wooden stakes through your heart doesn't, then how does one kill a vampire? Or is it impossible to?"
"It is not impossible. Were you planning on killing me, Bella?"
He was teasing me. His tone was playful. Amused. And yet, there was still that sense of reverence when he added my name onto the end of the question.
"Not so much," I answered, smirking.
"Why do you do that?"
When I looked up at him, his eyes locked with mine. Then he quickly lowered them to my fidgeting hands before raising them again.
Dropping the blades of grass, I laced my fingers together instead and stared at them. "No reason. Keeping my hands busy."
"Why are you friends with Jessica?"
The question surprised me, though I'd asked it of myself often enough. "I don't know. She sort of… demands friendship. I just trudge along, somewhat unwillingly. She's not a horrible person," I added, "but some of her traits are… grating."
I fought the grin that threatened to explode across my face. "Only because I was trying to find the right word."
"You pretend to be her friend." He wasn't asking me.
"Not exactly. I'm civil to her. She assumes I'm her friend."
"Your parents love you."
Again, he surprised me. "I know. I love them, too."
My eyes shot up to find his. "Of what?"
Okay, he was tiptoeing around something. Like he wanted to broach a subject but wasn't sure if he should. "They're not hurting me."
"They're afraid their future decisions will."
Oh! I knew then what he was talking about. "They shouldn't worry about that," I said, looking away again. "I just want them to be happy."
"Who will you choose to live with?"
It was weird how we were dancing around the word 'divorce' without actually saying it. "My mom. Charlie's great, but—" I lifted my gaze to him, and stopped dead. The pain in his expression was unmistakable. "What?"
"She wants to leave Forks."
I startled. Hard. "What? No! Why?"
"She has never liked it here. She wants to go to Arizona, or Florida. Someplace warmer."
All I could do was stare back at him, in shock, for the longest time. I didn't want to leave Forks. I couldn't. Not now. I couldn't leave Edward. I would be a senior next year. I didn't want to start over someplace else, my senior year of high school. My life was here. My friends. Well, friend.
"Will she leave if I don't go with her?"
His pain seemed to intensify. "Yes. She thinks you will choose her, but she's not sure. Charlie is."
"Charlie thinks I'll choose her, too?"
Wow. What did that say about my relationship with my dad? That he would assume so absolutely that he had no shot of me choosing him?
"Do you know when?"
"Soon. She has made up her mind, but hasn't decided on a date."
My head was spinning. My eyes wandered. "She's probably just trying to help him through the funeral," I muttered, more to myself than to him.
"Yes. She still cares about him."
"But not enough to stay," I guessed.
Why did parents have to make things so complicated? "Then I guess I'm staying with my dad."
His pain eased a little. "You will miss her."
"I know, but if I go, I'll miss my dad. And my friends. And you. I'm not leaving Forks."
His pain nearly disappeared. Just a hint of it remained. He wanted me to stay. He also seemed sad for me. For the position I was in, and the decision I would be forced to make.
I didn't even think about it. It was a reflex action. I pulled up onto my knees, crawled over to him, and climbed into his lap.
He was shocked at first. I could just tell. His body language was screaming that he was. But then after a moment, he wrapped his arms around me and held me tight against him. It was comforting. It felt right.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
I nodded. That was all I could do. I couldn't speak. I couldn't cry. I almost felt numb.
I knew this was coming – I had wished for it to happen, so that my parents could be happy – but to actually be faced with its imminent arrival…
"We should leave now. You need to eat."
To be continued…
To the reviewer: 'Jakeward' – Your 'P.S.' made me laugh! Thank you. And thanks for reading and reviewing!
I'm well into chapter thirty now – about halfway in, actually – and I'm at over one hundred ten thousand words. I think there might be about five chapters left to write. I know how it's going to end, but I'm not exactly sure how many chapters it will take to cover the content. As of right now, where I'm at, we're on midday Tuesday. So, just need to finish up Tuesday, and then Wednesday will take up the rest of the fic. Lots will be happening on Wednesday. (grin)
My beta rocks! Luv 'ya!
Please review, and MTLBYAKY