Chapter Six: Blood

“Hey, Edward!”

Alice poked her head around the door to my room, a grin blossoming on her pretty face. I set down the book I was reading and eagerly welcomed her in. She danced across the room to my side, sitting on the sofa beside me. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I asked, raising one eyebrow in a questioning look.

“Well, I wanted to extend you an invitation,” she said brightly. “Jasper and I had been talking about going out on a hunt, mostly because we had nothing planned this afternoon and it’s been about a week since his last hunt and you know how he gets. Anyway, we were talking and Bella happened to be sketching in the living room and overheard us, so she asked if she could come along. Apparently she hasn’t gone since we took her last and she has been getting agitated. I had the bright idea that you could come along as well and it could be like a double date.”

It had been almost a month since Tanya had tricked Bella into almost leaving us. A month since I had come to the realization that I was very much in love with Bella. During that time she had shown us all what kind of immortal she would be. She had taken up drawing and painting, turning her room into an art studio. Alice had told me that she was painting landscapes, that her art seemed to get better every day. She had also taken to reading every book in Carmen and Eleazar’s small library. It seemed that she couldn’t stand a moment of laziness, of boredom. She wanted to learn, to do and she learned quickly. All in all, it had been a very, very long twenty eight days.

Perhaps it felt longer to me because Bella didn’t seem inclined to take our relationship any further than letting me hold her hand or put an arm around her shoulder. It seemed that she had pushed her art and studies into the forefront of her wants and I had fallen by the wayside. I wasn’t trying to push her, of course, but it felt like we had come to a painful crawl. It was made worse by the knowing glances Alice and Jasper kept throwing me. I knew the moment she had mentioned Bella’s name that she was trying to help me and play matchmaker, but I was worried that she might ruin everything.

“Does Bella know that I would be joining you?” I asked, realizing that Alice’s mind was completely blank. She was hiding something from me.

She shrugged, as though it didn’t matter. “The two of you are friends now, right? Why would she mind spending an afternoon in your company?”

The word friends sent a spear of pain through me. Yes, we were friends. Unfortunately, that was all we were, and it didn’t look like that was going to change anytime soon. “What aren’t you telling me?” I demanded.

Her shoulders sagged and she sighed. “Bella told me that she misses you. She said you haven’t spent a lot of time around her this past week and she wondered whether she had done something wrong. I didn’t tell her you were coming because I didn’t know if you were going to agree to come. Why have you been ignoring her?”

I sighed and moved a hand to my face, gently massaging my temples as though I had a headache. The truth was that I was worried I was coming off too strong. She had put barriers between us, and so I had pulled back. Being around Bella was so much more confusing now that I knew my own feelings for her. I was frightened to do anything that might make her uncomfortable with me, or push me away. In doing so, I had hurt her feelings.

“I thought that maybe she needed a break from me. I’ve been at her side every minute since I realized I loved her and I was worried that I was coming on too strong. Now I’ve gone and done the opposite,” I groaned. Why could I never do right by her?

Alice put a hand on my shoulder. “Edward, she cares about you, more I think than even she knows. Just let her set the pace, don’t try to do it for her. She isn’t the kind of girl who wants people to make decisions for her. So come hunting with us, show her that you want to be around her. When we get back you can play the piano for her... I know you are done with your new song.”

I hesitated. I hadn’t actually played the finished song for anyone yet, though I’m sure everyone had heard bits and pieces of it as they had been in and out of the house over the past month. I had never put as much work into a composition as I had put into this song for Bella. It was a sweeping, romantic piece, full of crescendos and soft whispering moments. I wanted to play it for Bella, but I was worried about the reception.

“Do you think she will like it?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

Alice squeezed my shoulder and stood up. “I know she will. Now, let’s go find some bears.”

The air was icy cold as it whipped past my face. I reveled in the feeling, knowing that nothing in the world could ever feel as invigorating as running through the snowy woods. Soon enough the weather would change and we would start getting rain instead of snow, but near the end of April there was still enough powder on the ground and in the air to cover Denali in a blanket of white.

I looked to the right and saw Bella running beside me, a peaceful smile on her face. Ever since she had written a letter to Charlie a few weeks ago, she had seemed much more content with her lot in life. She was thriving, blossoming, and all of us were drawn to her. Well, everyone except Tanya. My old friend was ignoring Bella to the point that she would leave a room if Bella entered it. Kate just ignored her sister and insisted to Bella to do the same, but my love’s tender feelings couldn’t allow her to accept that someone she didn’t really know could be so cruel to her.

I frowned a bit as we came to a stop in a heavily wooded area. I could smell a group of bears to the east, but that wasn’t the thought that occupied my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about how Tanya’s treatment of Bella was affecting both of the girls. Tanya was so angry, so unforgiving, that she was pushing away the family that loved her in the process. As for Bella, she was so confused that I would often find her sitting in the window seat in the family room, staring off into the distance with a discouraged look on her face. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but then I would have to explain my feelings for her and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. All I could do for her was tell her that Tanya was jealous and leave it at that. It wasn’t exactly the best answer, but it was the only one I had to give.

“Edward, are you all right?” Bella asked, stepping to my side and putting a hand on my arm. “You look unhappy.”

I forced a smile and placed my hand over hers, squeezing it gently. “It isn’t anything that you need to worry about,” I said, “Besides, I thought you were thirsty. Why are you concentrating on me instead of your needs?”

Bella’s free hand fluttered to her throat, as if she had forgotten about her thirst. “I guess I just want my friends to be happy,” she said with a shy sort of smile. I watched as she bounded away, heading east toward the group of bears I had smelled earlier.

I smiled as I followed her, enjoying the way her body moved so fluidly. Never before had I seen a vampire with more grace or elegance. Bella’s body stirred me in ways that I had never felt before. I muffled a groan as I tried not to think about parts of me stirring. It had happened all too frequently lately; yet another reason I had chosen to spend more time away from her.

“You desire her,” Jasper said matter-of-factly in my ear, keeping pace with me as we followed Bella.

I sighed. It was impossible to keep any kind of emotion hidden from Jasper. This wasn’t one that I particularly wanted to share, however. “I do,” I said shortly. My mind was reeling though, daydreams of Bella unclothed in my arms making my body shiver with anticipation. My daydreams had gotten much more graphic of late, and I couldn’t seem to keep them contained anymore.

“She cares for you, Edward,” Jasper thought, a rare smile flitting across his scarred face, “more than even she can understand. She desires you as well. I just thought you would be interested in knowing that.” He dashed off then, catching up to Alice and taking her hand.

I thought about what he said and knew that he wouldn’t lie to me. His thoughts had been entirely open and honest with me. I had seen what he had felt coming from Bella whenever she was around me. The knowledge put a smile on my face, and I practically hummed as I caught up to Bella and the others. I was going to take Alice’s advice as well and play my song for Bella. Maybe then I could open up to her and tell her exactly how I felt.

I reached the others just as Bella took down the first bear. It was a monstrous beast, nearly ten feet high, but she didn’t even struggle with it. I watched as she rolled it onto its back and broke his neck with one swift movement. I felt my groin tighten with lust as her perfect lips and teeth came down and ripped him open. Everything Bella did made me want her more, even this.

I watched with surprise as she suddenly dropped the bear, whose blood had barely been touched, and looked toward the north, determination and severe hunger in her eyes. Alice gasped beside me, a vision filling her head. There was a human hunter out there, one who was poaching in the national forest. Too bad for him that his sentence was going to be death... carried out by our Bella.

“Bella, no!” I shouted, but I was too late. She was off like a shot, heading in the direction of the hunter. She had caught the scent of his blood, and absolutely nothing was going to stop her until she had tasted it.

Alice, Jasper and I quickly gave chase. We rushed through the trees, following both the scent of the hunter and Bella’s own unique scent. “Dammit, why weren’t we more careful?” Alice cursed angrily, her arms pumping at her sides as she gave it all she could.

“This hunter is poaching illegally; he shouldn’t even be out here,” I reminded her through gritted teeth, “we shouldn’t have had to think about humans on this land.”

“None of that matters,” Jasper reprimanded us, “she will never forgive herself if we don’t stop her... trust me, I know.”

I pushed myself even harder at his words, knowing his past experiences and how well he knew Bella’s emotions. I couldn’t let this destroy her: not if I could stop it. I raced behind her, feeling her hair brush my face in the moment before I tackled her to the ground. “Bella, stop,” I said, hoping that I could keep her down until the other two reached us, “You don’t want to do this.”

“Let me go, I’m thirsty!” she snarled at me, her eyes half crazed in her need to get to the human blood that was less than a mile away. She pushed at me, but thankfully Alice and Jasper fell to the ground beside us and lent me their strength.

“No, I can’t let you go,” I whispered, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her tightly into my embrace. I trusted Alice and Jasper to keep hold of her hands, but I meant what I had said: I couldn’t let her go. “Bella, if you kill this man, you will never forgive yourself. Don’t make the mistake that I did with you, don’t steal away someone’s life.”

I put a hand on her face, stroking her cheek as I looked into her eyes. They were no longer crazed or determined to flee. Instead I saw in them regret and shame. “Take me away from here, make me run,” she croaked, even though her body was straining toward the blood her body so desperately craved.

Alice and Jasper helped me pull her to her feet, and then I pulled her onto my back, just as I had the day I had taken her away from the school and into the forest with me. The difference was that now I was trying to save her instead of destroy her. I don’t think that was lost on Bella either, because she buried her face in my shoulder and clung to my hands that held her in place.

We all ran as fast as we could away from the scent of the hunter. It was just our bad luck that the wind had shifted when it did, giving Bella the scent that she had never caught before. I was just grateful that we had been able to catch her before she made a mistake that would have killed her. I would never have forgiven myself if she had done it. It was my job to protect her, and that included her emotional state as well.

“Thank you,” she whispered in my ear, still clinging to me, “thank you for making me leave. I could have killed that man...” I squeezed her hand to let her know that I was listening, but she seemed to have said all that she was able to say for the time being.

When we were well out of range of the hunter, we stopped and I let Bella down. She didn’t let go of my hands though. She held them so tightly I was worried that she might snap one of my fingers off. “Bella, you can relax just a little. I promise that I won’t let anything happen to you,” I told her, squeezing her fingers a bit. Her grip loosened, but she didn’t let go.

“Edward... you were right,” she began, her eyes filled with a sadness that I had never seen there before. “The scent of human blood is so much stronger than I thought. I have no idea how you stopped with me, but I do know why you attacked me in the first place. I didn’t think I could ever really forgive you, but now...” she trailed off.

I pulled her into my arms, tight against my chest. She willingly came forward, burying her face in my cotton shirt. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m just glad we were able to stop you,” I whispered into her hair.

“Bella, you had more self-control than any newborn I’ve ever known. I know you didn’t leave on your own, but you didn’t fight us when we turned you away from the hunter. I am so proud of you,” Alice said, making her way to our side and putting a hand on the back of Bella’s head.

“Thank you,” Bella whispered. She began to shake in my arms, sobs wracking through her body as she held onto me. I didn’t blame her; she had been through an emotional mess lately and this hunter incident was the cherry on top of a disaster sundae. I just held her as tight as I could, kissing the top of her head.

Alice gave me a knowing smile, but she didn’t say anything, she just stroked Bella’s hair tenderly. “I think I can smell a group of elk to the south. Were you still thirsty?” she asked her, voice as soft as silk.

Bella nodded against my chest, clinging tightly to me. “Just stay close to me okay?” she begged me. “Just in case.”

“I won’t let you hurt yourself in any way, I promise,” I said softly, my lips brushing the top of her head yet again. She didn’t seem to mind though, a fact which made my heart soar. “So lets go and get you some sustenance, okay?”

Bella reluctantly removed herself from my arms, a look of regret in her eyes. “Edward, I...” she began, but trailed off, uncertainty obvious in the way she bit her lip and looked away from me.

“What is it? You can tell me anything,” I reminded her, brushing her cheek with my fingers. I was desperate to know what she was thinking, but I didn’t want to force her. After all, it had been a rough afternoon.

“It isn’t important, we can talk about it back at home,” she said softly. She then looked to Alice. “Are you guys ready to go again?”

When Alice nodded, the two girls took off into the woods, heading for the scent of the elk. I was left standing in the clearing with Jasper, unsure of what had just happened between Bella and I.

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