Chapter Three: Shining
"It's nice to hear you play the piano again."
I didn't stop playing at the sound of Alice's voice. She had been a comforting presence lately. She was adhering to our own private code: if she was with me, then Bella was okay to be on her own. I let out a sigh of relief; apparently today was going to be one of those rare good days. We hadn't had many of those in the past two months, so it would be a nice change.
She crossed the room to me, her steps light on the polished wood floor. She sat on the bench beside me and rested her head against my shoulder. Before Bella, before this trip to Alaska and back when our world was calm and orderly, Alice and I would sit like this for hours as she listened to me play the piano. It was comforting to know that not everything had changed with my horrendous lack of judgement.
“The sun will actually be out today for at least a few hours,” Alice thought dreamily as I played Esme’s song.
“That’s nice. Finally a break from the snow, it seems,” I said with a hint of a smile on my lips. “I had begun to think that Denali was going to set a new weather record.”
Alice bumped my shoulder lightly and her musical laugh rang throughout the room. “I was thinking it might be nice to give Bella a reason to admire herself instead of fear herself for once,” she thought, and she showed me a vision that she had caught earlier. It was one of Bella in the large front yard, basking in the beauty of her vampire skin. The scene made my skin crawl. I hated the sight of my glimmering granite skin; it reminded me of how different we were from humans. It reminded me that I was a killer. However, the fact that Bella would be enjoying at least one thing to come out of this mess made me push away my revulsion.
“If it will make her happy, you should take her out this afternoon when the sun comes out,” I said, trying to be gracious despite my personal feelings.
“I think you should be there. It might help the tension between you,” Alice suggested lightly, as she leaned forward to add a much simpler melody to the piece I was playing.
My fingers stalled above the keys at the thought of being close enough to touch Bella. It had been a frustrating two months watching her get used to the nuances of vampire life. She was still terrified of me, though she tried to hide it. Unfortunately for her, newborns couldn’t contain their emotions, so I felt the brunt of her fear and resentment. Knowing how she felt, I had tried my hardest to stay away from her even as I felt myself being drawn to her beauty, both inner and outer. She was graceful, beautiful, charming, everything good that a person could be. She was everything I wanted in my life; the opposite of everything I felt I was. Alice could be right: perhaps my being the one to show Bella something good about this life would help her let go of whatever she was still harboring towards me. I just couldn’t let her see how much I wanted to be around her. It probably wouldn’t help matters much.
“Will she attack me if I go outside and bring up an excursion?” I asked lightly, trying to hide from Alice how much I wanted to be around Bella.
Alice gave me a smug smile, and I knew that I had failed in my attempt to hide my growing interest in the girl. “Kate and Eleazar are with her. She is practicing working with her shield,” she informed me.
One interesting result of bringing Bella to our Denali covens was the fact that Eleazar had pinpointed her as having a very strong talent the moment he saw her after she awoke from her transition. He told me later that he hadn’t been sure during her transformation because the pain blocked out everything else, but when he had come face to face with Bella in all her immortal glory, it had practically slapped him in the face.
“Edward, she is the strongest shield I’ve ever encountered. She is very special,” Eleazar had told me in wonder the moment he realized it. Bella, of course, had had many questions about vampire abilities in general. That conversation had led Kate to suggest seeing what Bella was capable of. Since that day, Bella and Kate had spent a good portion of their time together trying to figure out the limits of Bella’s shield. As far as I knew, they had discovered that she was immune to both my talents and Kate’s. With no other vampires around we couldn’t test the extent of her immunity, but it seemed that her mind was hell bent on her protection.
“She and Kate have grown close, haven’t they?” I asked, feeling a smile work its way onto my lips. I so rarely smiled these days that it felt foreign, but nice.
“Kate adores her,” Alice thought with a happy smile, “I’m working on forming a bond with her as well, but she is a very complicated girl.”
I let out a sound that was half-sigh and half-laugh. “Tell me about it. One minute I think we can put everything behind us and be friends, the next minute she is looking at me like she wants to tear my head off.”
Alice laughed, “Kind of like your feelings for her?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, worried that my new found desires were as obvious as a neon sign above my head.
“Edward,” Alice said aloud, placing a hand on my shoulder, “I’ve seen your future remember? I know exactly how you feel about her.” Her thoughts rushed through images of me trying desperately to court Bella and being rejected over and over.
“Is there still no hope at all?” I asked desperately. Two months ago I would never have believed that I would begin to care for this complicated, beautiful girl, but now... every day she did something that left me in awe. The way she moved, the way she talked, her thoughts on the most simple matters were entirely unique to Bella. It made me wonder if my lapse in control had really been a mistake. She was exactly the kind of female I had spent my life searching for without even realizing it. The truth was that this girl had become essential to me, in ways I had yet to discover. I just knew that my future didn’t exist without her. It wasn’t love, not yet, but it was moving quickly in that direction. "Will time ever change the way she feels?”
Alice looked me right in the eyes. “Don’t let her push you out anymore. That is what is killing your future with her. Edward, you need to start fighting for her.”
“I don’t love her,” I said again, and while it was true, according to Alice there would soon come a day when I would love her. If Alice’s visions were correct, Bella would break my heart and leave me alone and miserable. Knowing how I already felt, I couldn’t let that happen. If there was even the slightest chance that the two of us could find happiness and peace in each other, I had to pursue it.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Alice leaned her head against my shoulder again, her thoughts softer as she relaxed, “but we both know it isn’t entirely true. Now, are you going to take her out today or not?”
I didn’t hesitate this time. I pressed a kiss to the top of her head, slid sideways off the piano bench and walked toward the door. If Alice thought that pursuing her without hesitation would change the future, I wouldn’t bet against her. “Don’t expect us back for awhile,” I tossed back to my sister as I reached the door, “I think an afternoon together will do us both good.”
Alice hesitated a moment and I could tell that her thoughts were a jumble of conflicting emotions. “Good luck,” she finally said aloud. What she didn’t say, but what I knew anyway were the words that followed: “you’re going to need it.”
When I stepped outside I saw that Alice had been correct: the clouds were beginning to thin and I knew the sun would be peeking through in an hour or so. Not that I had doubted her. She was incredibly reliable when it came to the weather. It wasn’t as though the atmosphere was going to change its mind on whether or not it would rain. Not like people whose decisions changed from one moment to the next. Alice had been wrong on occasion, but never about the weather.
As I made my way toward the outdoor patio entrance to Kate’s room, I heard the two girls talking and paused when I heard my name. Normally I don’t care to eavesdrop, especially since I don’t normally need to. In this case, the fact that I might overhear some of Bella’s thoughts made it a conversation that I had to hear.
“Edward seems to be very protective of you, doesn’t he?” I heard Kate ask. Her thoughts were sly, hoping that she might be able to pry some personal information from her new friend. My ears perked up a bit; this was a very interesting conversation that I was picking up on.
I could sense Bella’s hesitation, even from a hundred feet away. I stopped breathing, hoping the girls wouldn’t sense my presence as I listened in.
“I don’t know why. It seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? After all, he did this to me. He should be thrilled with himself,” Bella responded coolly. For probably the millionth time, I wished I knew what she was thinking. Was she being honest with Kate, or was she (as I felt deep down) forcing herself to repeat these words so that she could hold onto a grudge that was slipping away from her? I didn’t know and it killed me.
I heard Kate let out an exasperated sigh and had to strangle a laugh at her thoughts. Obviously Kate was very much on my side. This hadn’t been the first conversation she had tried to have with Bella about me, and she was coming to her wits end. “Dammit, Bella, you really don’t get it, do you?” Kate snapped at her.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Bella said, sounding a little surprised by Kate’s outburst.
“Bella, you have never had the experience of smelling human blood. You have no idea how hard it is to resist when you’re around it,” Kate said seriously, “if you think that our bears smell tempting, you can’t even imagine how much stronger and more desirable a human smells.”
Bella was quiet for several moments, obviously thinking about that. “Why did he single me out? Why was it me and not some other student?”
“You’ll have to ask him that,” Kate said, “but there is something else you need to think about. When Edward stopped, he knew that you would become one of us. He was able to stop, able to keep from killing you. He may have changed you into one of us, but you still have so many possibilities in front of you. You can learn so many things, travel anywhere you want to go. You can even fall in love if you find someone you want to be with. Look at Carmen and Eleazar, Carlisle and Esme, Alice and Jasper. Just because my sisters and I haven’t found the right guy doesn’t mean there isn’t one for you.”
“Are you suggesting someone in particular?” Bella asked, her voice sounding both interested and defensive at the same time. I took heart in the fact that she wasn’t dismissing me completely out of hand.
Kate sighed again. “Just... just give him a chance all right? He feels awful about what he did to you and he’s trying in every way he knows how to make things better. Just remember that he could have snuffed out your life completely and he stopped himself, he gave you another chance at life... just a different kind than you had before.”
That was my cue. I walked around the house, making as much noise as I could so that they wouldn’t think I had been eavesdropping. Of course, one look into Kate’s eyes told me that she had known I had been listening in on the conversation, but she didn’t look disappointed in me. It had all been for my benefit, and her thoughts had a satisfied tinge to them that made me grin.
“Hello ladies, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting, but I thought maybe I could talk to Bella for a moment,” I suggested politely, my eyes focused on the beautiful girl before me.
“Me?” Bella asked, her eyes full of distrust, “What do you want to talk to me about?”
Her stance changed. When I had come around the corner of the house, she had been thoughtful but calm. Her arms had been at her sides and her legs had been slightly spread. Now, her arms were folded across her chest and her legs snapped together. It was obvious her body language was warning me away, but I had to listen to Alice’s suggestions and push ahead anyway.
“Alice told me that the sun was actually going to make an appearance today and I thought that maybe the two of us could go on a hunt up the mountain. There is a fantastic view up there,” I said, giving her a soft smile that I hoped she would take as a gesture of friendship. My entire body tensed as I waited for her decision, feeling as though she could break my heart with one cold word.
Bella didn’t respond right away; instead she looked to Kate as though hoping her friend could help her make this decision. Kate shrugged and threw a saucy sort of smile in my direction. “You could have worse company on a sunny afternoon. Besides, with your strength, he really isn’t a match for you. If he tries anything, you could totally take him,” she said and then pushed on Bella’s shoulder lightly. “You should go.”
Bella looked back at me, indecision coloring her eyes. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity she smiled hesitantly. “Okay, I guess I could do with a hunt. I’m a little thirsty,” she admitted sheepishly.
I reached out my hand, waiting for her to put hers on my palm. “I promise I won’t bite,” I said. Bella gasped but cracked a smile and put her hand in mine.
“All right, but if you do, I’ll bite back harder,” she promised. I couldn’t help myself: I laughed.
We had left for our trip into the woods, and so far I had no idea how things were going. After the initial smiles shared between us, Bella had seemed to become a little confused by our exchange. She was now running several feet away from me, as though the distance would keep her safe from me. I could tell that she was thinking about something, and that it was distressing her. Once again I wished I could read her thoughts as easily as I could read those of the others around me. She was a mystery, and if I was honest with myself, that was something that was attractive to me. Maybe it was the fact that her thoughts were shielded from me that made me desperate to know her secrets, but I felt that there was more to it. Bella wasn’t an easy person to figure out, but I believed wholeheartedly that she was worth knowing.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked as I stopped dead in my tracks. It was about five minutes after we had taken off into the thick forest. I couldn’t stand the uncertainty any longer and the words burst from me like water bursting from a dam. Once they were out, they couldn’t be called back.
Bella stopped in front of me, her eyes wide with surprise at my outburst. “What?” she asked, acting like she wasn’t sure what I had said.
“Don’t play dumb, Bella,” I said seriously, “I’m dying here. You know that I can’t read your thoughts and you are purposefully using that against me. I wanted to come out alone so we could finally talk and clear the air. What are you thinking about?”
She hesitated and took a step toward me, the first time I had ever seen her do so voluntarily. “Edward, I honestly forgot that you could read minds at all, let alone the fact that I seem to be immune. It isn’t something that I think about. I’m sorry if you felt that I was punishing you on purpose. The truth is, I was thinking about something that Kate told me earlier, something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I just didn’t know how to bring it up. I didn’t know if you would tell me the truth.”
I stepped to her side and reached out a hand to her. When she didn’t pull away, I let myself touch her shoulder, brushing my fingers along the strands of her hair that curled there. It was like an electric thrill ran through my body as I touched her. Nothing could ever have felt as powerful. I knew in that instant that any doubt I had about Alice’s visions of my loving her was long gone. Bella was absolutely the girl meant for me. I just wasn’t sure how in the world I was going to persuade her of that. Of course, I had forever to convince her, and if it took forever, it would still be worth it.
“You can ask me anything and I will give you an answer,” I told her honestly. In fact, I was dying for her to ask me questions, to try to get to know me. It was the best thing that could have happened.
She moved closer to me, her eyes betraying her need to be close to someone, anyone, in this new life. I knew that she still wasn’t sure of me, but the fact that I could touch her like this made me hopeful of a relationship in the future. “Kate said something about how difficult it was for you to stop feeding from me. She said that you could have just killed me completely, but you pulled away long enough to give me a chance at another kind of life. I guess... I’m wondering why you stopped, or maybe how you stopped. I’m really not sure,” she admitted, “Maybe both.”
I laughed lightly and squeezed her shoulder. “I can see why you would want to know. I pulled you into this life, not really giving you an opportunity to decide for yourself what you wanted. Honestly, it was never my intention...” I trailed off, looking up at the sky. If I wanted to make it to the top of the mountain before the clouds cleared, we were going to have to move faster. “Do you mind talking after we reach the top of the mountain? The sun is going to come out soon and I really want to be somewhere that we can see the sun the best. Trust me, it will be worth it,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, her eyes curious, “but what is this preoccupation you all have with the sun? I know we won’t catch fire in the light, but it seems like something is going on with it.”
“You don’t want to miss it,” I promised, running my hand down her arm and reaching for her hand, which I tugged. “Come on, it should only take a few more minutes.”
She pulled her hand away, but I wasn’t hurt. I knew we could run faster without being linked to each other: I just wouldn’t mind the hindrance. It was like her skin was lead and my fingers were magnets. I was drawn to her and now that she had let me touch her, I didn’t want to stop. It wasn’t as though we had any reason to get back to the house. We had all the time in the world for our afternoon together, and I was loath to rush it. I did want to make it up the mountain in time for the sun, though, and that was a stronger desire. I could wait to touch her until we reached the summit and the small tree-lined meadow I had once found there.
It only took a few minutes to reach the summit, and it was spent in relative quiet and a calm peace between us. I think it was the promise of answers that kept a hopeful smile on her face, while the possibility of brushing her skin again kept the smile on mine. Once we reached the summit, I led her to the small meadow I had found a few years ago. It was only twenty feet or so wide and thirty long, but it was sufficient for this purpose. The sun wouldn’t be filtered through the trees here: it would be strong and undiluted in the snowy field.
“This place is beautiful,” she said in awe, a hand going to her throat as she breathed the mountain air in. “The snow is completely undisturbed.”
“It’s not exactly easy for a human to get to,” I reminded her, reaching for her hand. “There are some boulders we can sit on if you want. I imagine you have a lot of questions.”
Bella laughed, a high joyful sound that rang through the crisp afternoon air. “That is the understatement of the century,” she told me, giving me her hand readily and letting me lead her to a small group of boulders that were fairly dry of the snow that covered the ground around them. Bella didn’t even hesitate, she just sat down, her eyes still fixated on me. “So, are you willing to answer anything at all that I ask?”
I sat down beside her, her hand still clutched firmly in my own. I wasn’t prepared to let her go for anything short of a bear charging in on us. I couldn’t very well let her starve. “Anything at all,” I promised, “I have all the time in the world, so don’t hold back.”
She paused for a moment, as though trying to either collect her thoughts, or figure out what was most important to know first. Whatever it was, I forced myself to remain calm and wait patiently for her to speak. Finally she took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. “Why did you choose me? There were over two hundred girls at that school, but you didn’t attack them, you attacked me. I just want to know why me.”
I felt her hand shiver a little in mine and I could tell that this was something that had been bothering her more than anything else. I wanted to give her an answer that she could accept, but I wasn’t sure how she would react to the truth. Well, there was only one way to find out. “Bella, do you remember us talking about the scent of blood and how mouthwatering it is? How it’s impossible to stop yourself once you smell it?”
Bella nodded, “Alice said that the newborn thirst will eventually go away and that I’ll be able to be around humans again. She said that self-control comes with years of practice.”
“That’s true, and honestly, I’ve never had a problem with keeping my self-control... until I met you,” I said, squeezing her hand tightly.
“What was so different about me?” Bella asked, leaning into me as though my answer was crucial to her.
I paused, unsure of how exactly to explain the pull her blood had had for me. I didn’t want to scare her, but I had promised to tell her the truth. “Your blood didn’t smell like any I had ever found before,” I admitted. “You were so mouthwatering that I could barely keep away from you, which I’ve told you before. The thing is, I didn’t know that it was possible for the scent to differ so much from one person to another. I had never felt anything like it before.”
“Then, how did you stop once you tasted my blood? Why didn’t you just kill me?” Bella asked, curiosity instead of disgust (for once) coloring her voice.
“I really don’t know,” I said, “I know that sounds like a cop out, but I really don’t know how I was able to pause long enough to realize what I was doing. Once I did, well... just because you were the cause of my lapse in self control didn’t mean that you deserved to die. In that moment I ran for Carlisle and hoped that he would be able to help me save you. I vowed to myself that I would spend the rest of my life trying to help you settle into this life, no matter how long it took.”
Bella’s eyes widened when she heard my explanation, but she looked as though she believed me. “I guess I should thank you. You could have just let me die,” she said softly, looking down at our clasped hands.
“No, I couldn’t have. I don’t want to be a monster, Bella. I didn’t want to attack you in the first place but I couldn’t stop myself. You walked right up to me and practically served yourself up on a platter. It would be so easy to blame you, but the blame lies with me. I lost control and I took your family from you, the life you knew. I just wish there was something, anything, that I could do to make it up to you.”
My chest felt as though I had swallowed a brick. The guilt weighed heavy in me as I thought of how many people over the years I had killed. Never before had I felt as guilty as I did now, face to face with the girl whose world, but not life, I had stolen. I wondered if death would have been preferable to her.
“It’s true that you took me away from my family, but somehow I can’t blame you for bringing me into this life,” she said, putting her free hand on my shoulder.
I looked up from our clasped hands and into her deep red eyes. There was no hint of deception in them at all. “You don’t blame me for making you a monster?” I asked, disbelief evident in my voice and, most likely, in my wide eyes.
Bella shook her head, a small smile on her lips. “I’m not a monster and neither are you. Edward, your family tries so hard to do the right thing. You made a mistake with me, yes, but you don’t normally take human lives. The thing is, I feel comfortable like this, it feels right.”
I forced myself to keep calm, after all, I didn’t know what she was referring to. “What feels right?” I asked, my fingers brushing the palm of her hand with gentle strokes. Could she possibly mean this time with me? Or was she being more specific than that?
“Being a vampire. You didn’t really know me as a human, so you don’t know how frustrated I was with myself all the time. The thing was, I never really felt like I fit in. I wasn’t like other teenage girls, I couldn’t get excited over boys, sports, dances, dressing up... anything. I guess, this new me, this new life, it just feels like it was always what I was meant to be. I feel like I finally found a place where I fit in,” she admitted a little shyly, her eyes downcast as though she had embarrassed herself.
I felt a rush of excitement race through me at her words. This wasn’t what I thought I would hear on this excursion, but it was more than I could have hoped for. She was settling in better than I had thought she was. I knew she and Kate had become close and maybe that had been what she needed all along. I was about to open my mouth to tell her all of this when I felt the warmth of the sun peek through the clouds and caught a glimpse of shimmer on Bella’s cheeks. “I almost forgot why I brought you up here,” I said with a grin and pulled Bella to her feet. “Look at yourself.”
Bella gave me a half-smile, as though she thought I was somehow teasing her, but her gasp of surprise brought a smile to my face. “I sparkle!” she cried, dropping my hand and she looked at her arms and then up at me. “How... why...?”
I grinned at her, enjoying her enjoyment. “It’s what happened when the venom changed you,” I told her, brushing a hand down one of her arms, “All of your cells crystallized, turning them to something like granite. In the sun, light refracts off of those crystallized cells, giving our skin a shimmering effect.”
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered, moving a hand up and down her glimmering skin. She looked up into my eyes, a brilliant smile on her face, “You look beautiful too.”
I made a face and she laughed. It was nice to be able to talk with her like this. It even made me think of my lot in life a little bit different. Bella seemed to think that this world and our lot in it wasn’t a bad thing, just a different way of living. I couldn’t help but wish that I knew how her mind worked. It seemed like such an interesting place. “You are absolutely magnificent,” I said honestly, not speaking just of her outer beauty but everything about her. She amazed me.
She laughed again, shaking her head as though I had made a joke. “I’m just me, nothing special,” she said, still admiring the way the sun glinted off her skin.
“I’ll have to disagree with you there, you are special, Bella. You said yourself that this life seems right for you. It takes a very special kind of person to ease into it so quickly. You are the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” I said, hoping that my honesty didn’t scare her off. I shouldn’t have worried; she just gave me a brilliant smile, one that radiated from deep inside of her. She was such a beautiful person.
“Thank you,” she said simply, “I can tell you really mean it.”
“I do,” I agreed and then, just because I couldn’t keep myself from touching her any longer, I stepped closer to her and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “So, friends?”
It was the same question I had asked two months ago on the day that she had stepped into our world. This time I was expecting a different answer and I wasn’t disappointed. “I think I’d like that a lot,” she admitted with a shy kind of smile.
I grinned triumphantly. I had a feeling that Alice’s visions had just been changed for the better, and all because I had listened to her advice. It was definitely something to remember in the future.