Vampires have the capacity to master what humans struggle to
But outward mastery is no proof of internal effect.
One can be still and frantic.
Silent and screaming.
Eternal yet out of time.
And so it was in a courtroom on a nondescript street in Port Angeles one overcast Saturday afternoon after Bella Swan drove away.
No one spoke for ten minutes, the tense quiet interrupted only twice.
Once when someone’s cell phone vibrated.
A second time when the door from the judge’s chamber opened and Rosalie stepped through it.
Edward felt her stop somewhere in front of him but did not look up. She shuffled her feet and cleared her throat.
But no sound came out.
Through the window of her mind, Edward watched her struggle to bring her thoughts to safe articulation, searching for the best way to voice her question. Edward appreciated her circumspectness, but he could not bring himself to bail her out.
“So…” She forced out the word. “Since we’re all here, maybe we should discuss some things.”
“Like what?” Emmett’s angry gaze burned the top of Edward’s head, but the latter did not react. “What could we possibly have to talk about?”
“Well…” Rosalie smoothed the side of her immaculate up-do. “In light of Bel—of recent events and in preparation for the coming days, um…”
She paused as if expecting assistance. When none came, she huffed in annoyance. “What I’m trying to ask is… what now?”
“That’s a good question, Rosalie,” Carlisle said after a beat. “One we must answer as a family.”
The doctor’s thoughts revealed his true intent, but Edward would not comply.
“After getting Alice’s call on Thursday,” Carlisle began, “I contacted the hospital and said Esme was unsure she wanted to make such a drastic move. They gave me two weeks’ leave to decide, so I have some time there.”
“My whereabouts are immaterial,” Jasper said.
Emmett wound his arm around Rosalie’s waist. “That goes double for us.”
“I never called the high school,” Esme said. “So Alice and Edward are expected on Monday.”
Neither child responded, and Alice’s silence unnerved Edward.
“So where does that leave us?” Rosalie’s voice was guarded. “Are we staying or going?”
“I think that’s up to Edward,” Carlisle said. “As it was his decision for us to leave.”
Edward remained silent.
Emmett’s irritation was becoming tangible, pressing on him with urgency. “This is stupid,” he cried. “And after what he just…”
“We don’t have to decide now,” Esme cut in. “Let’s finish the weekend and see what Monday brings.”
Though she tried to be coy, everyone read between her lines: “Let’s see what happens when Bella sees Edward in school on Monday.”
“Does that work?” Carlisle asked. There was a series of affirmative responses with two noticeably absent.
“Then it’s settled.” Edward heard the awkward smile in Esme’s voice. “Let’s return to the house.”
“You guys go ahead,” Emmett said. “I’m taking my favorite judge out to celebrate.”
“Celebrate what?” she asked.
“You.” He kissed her gently. “Compassionate, generous, wonderful you.”
Rosalie fluttered under his attention and nodded, glancing at the defendant’s table before departing with her husband.
“Come on, cricket.” Jasper’s Southern lilt was more pronounced in his whisper. “There’s a sale somewhere with your name on it.”
Alice did not respond, but Edward counted four pairs of footsteps leaving the courtroom.
Leaving him decidedly alone.
He waited until their thoughts faded from his mind, another ten minutes to be sure, and raised his head. Without conscious thought, his eyes wandered right and fixed their dead gaze on the plaintiff’s table.
And as he found himself unable to move, he wondered if vampires could go into shock.
Monday morning the mansion was as silent as the dawn, as if the family agreed not to think.
His relief at the respite was profound enough to cause tears.
If only he could cry.
He sped upstairs to his bed and bath, showered and changed, and hastened to the garage. Esme’s champagne Audi coupe was missing, and as she was outside tending her temperamental perennials, Edward assumed Alice drove it to school. Another blessing, as he dreaded being alone with her for any stretch of time. Alice was too perceptive, too honest, and if she read him, he feared he would cease to exist.
As he slipped behind the wheel of his Volvo, traces of a familiarscent assaulted him from the passenger seat. They needn’t have bothered with the ambush; she hadn’t left his thoughts since the moment she fled the court.
He had become used to her novelty, to her uncanny gift for surprising him as no other creature ever had.
But withdrawing her petition, fleeing the court, and not contacting him in the interim…
A hat trick of perplexity.
He had not seen that coming, especially as she was winning the case. His persistence in pursuing the matter owed mostly to his considerable stubbornness. But once his father took the stand, Edward’s proverbial goose was as good as cooked.
Until she turned off the oven and fled the kitchen, leaving him full of questions.
How would he face her today? What would he say? What did she want him to say? To do? Was “the end” a foregone conclusion or was she waiting with a stake and a smile, eager to put the final nail in their love’s coffin?
The thought made him ill.
Shrugging off the prospect, Edward focused his attention on the road, summoning the untold courage to let her set the terms. Whatever she wanted, whatever she needed, he would give her.
He owed her that at least.
All too soon, he was two blocks from the entrance to the Forks High parking lot. Through the trees he saw the champagne Audi in the spot where the ancienttruck would normally sit. And though he resented Alice’s choice of parking space, a thought sped through his mind with such frightening ferocity, he slammed on the brakes.
Swallowing hard, he took a quick inventory of the lot—and the more important mental scan of every mind in the school. And as he came up empty, his mind’s suggestion became a confirmed fact.
Bella was not here.
He told himself she was running late, that she took a different route or aimed to arrive after the late bell to avoid the awkwardness of homeroom with him.
But his heart knew better.
And it seized in his chest, paralyzed by an ache to see her.
Throwing the car into reverse, he backed away before anyone noticed and took a roundabout route to the Swan home. He hoped for a “stand down” text from Alice, assuring him his actions were unnecessary, but the only sounds in his car were his heavy, needless breathing and anticipation roaring in his ears.
It was then he remembered the buzzing in the courtroom after Bella’s departure.
“She told Alice not to tell me anything. Which means there is something to tell.”
His relief dissolved into dread, and he drove faster.
But it mattered not, as confirmed by what he saw when her house came into view.
Her truck was nowhere in sight.
He continued forward, in case she’d parked somewhere else or stress had adversely affected his eyes. But once he reached the edge of her driveway, he could no longer doubt.
The decrepit, unreliable deathtrap he so loathed was gone.
And that meant one thing.
She was not here.
Edward bit his lip so hard he nearly broke a tooth, wincing against the throbbing pain radiating from his chest cavity. He closed his eyes, counted backwards from 3,000, and focused on a soothing image of her face to calm down.
But when that fictional façade crumbled into sadness, staring back at him with dejected, accusing eyes, he opened his own with a loud gasp, clutching at his heart as if fearing combustion.
No, he could not envision her face.
Or conjure her voice.
Or remember her touch.
Or wonder if she were lost to him forever.
Shunning all thoughts connected with her, Edward self-medicated with an image of Esme in her garden, her knees and elbows riddled with soil as she hummed in horticultural happiness. When his hyperventilating began to slow, he detached his emotions and performed a scientific deconstruction of the situation.
In a town like Forks, her possible whereabouts were limited. Thanks to Billy’s behavior, Edward doubted she was in La Push. She wasn’t close enough to Charlie to have accompanied him to work. And though the Cullens were keeping a safe distance, someone would have informed him were she at the house.
Not in La Push.
Not with Charlie.
Not at the mansion.
Where could she be?
Edward had enough sense to remember the importance of stealth, so he drove back home, left the car askew in the garage, and flew back to the Swan residence on foot.
Scanning the minds of the remaining residents on the block, Edward ghosted up the side wall and into Bella’s bedroom undetected, grateful the window was left ajar.
“Was she inviting me in? Or was this carelessness accidental?”
On instinct, he inhaled a lungful of fragrant air, and it scorched his throat like so many licks of fire. He allowed the pain, welcomed it even, tossing himself on the pyre of her luscious scent.
As he burned, his gaze darted around the room, igniting a battle with his conscience. A cursory sweep of the space yielded little information, meaning he would have to invade her privacy.
“Further invade,” an inner voice amended.
He would have to open her drawers, check her closet, dig through her wastepaper basket to find some clue of where she went. And though desperate to uncover her whereabouts, Edward wondered if even he could stoop so low.
Or if she wanted him to.
Edward whipped his head around, shocked to find his sister beside Bella’s window. She’d drawn the drapes not to attract additional attention, but her presence here was no less alarming. They regarded each other in careful silence, and it was a long moment before he spoke.
“You haven’t called me that in decades.”
“It hadn’t been necessary until now.” Rosalie shrugged, glancing around anxiously before folding her arms across her chest. “I didn’t come here to fight or to help, really.”
She blocked her thoughts, but he guessed as much. “So why are you here?”
“When you came home and took off like a bat out of Hades, Esme feared you would do something reckless. So I followed you.”
He snorted. “Since when do you care about Esme’s fears?”
“Since our family fell apart Tuesday night.”
Edward looked away, and she took a step toward him. “Look. I know I haven’t been nice to Bella.” He winced at his beloved’s name, and Rosalie echoed his discomfort. “I had my reasons, but mainly I thought her foolish for wanting to sacrifice her life for ours.”
She paused here, and Edward resisted the temptation to interrupt. This was the longest, insult-free conversation he’d had with Rosalie in decades.
“But I was wrong to project my issues onto her,” she continued, “wrong to disrespect her position as your mate. And though things have been stressful the past few days, you’re family... we’re a family, and you’re never alone. No matter what.”
Edward could not have been more shocked had Rosalie sprouted wings and squawked. He chanced a glance her way, and in her eyes, he saw the truth of her words.
And it humbled him.
Rosalie looked away first, taking sudden interest in her manicure. “So… that’s it. I halfway hope she’ll break your face for trying to leave her, but if she does, I hope it doesn’t hurt too much.”
“Thank you, Rosalie.” His voice was surprisingly tight. “That means a lot… coming from you,” he added silently.
She nodded, her eyes still on her hands, then straightened. “Well, I’ve gotta get back. So uh… I’ll see you around.” Edward nodded as she opened the curtains. “And Grasshopper?”
Before he could respond, she was gone.
His sister’s arrival was a potent distraction, a surprisingly supportive one to boot. But his buoyancy was short-lived, for the earlier dilemma remained:
Would Bella want him to find her or did her clandestine departure indicate otherwise?
And beyond that, if he somehow managed to find her, what would he say?
The final question brought him to his knees, and he collapsed on the floor, resting his weary head on her bed. Her scent wafted through the linens, and he let it curl around his mind as he wrestled with a question that would change their lives forever.
A question he was ill-qualified to answer.
He had no right to seek her, no right to make any demands after she ended the trial. He’d wanted her freedom, broken her heart to secure it, and should have been relieved, happy even.
But he was not.
Edward had neither the words nor wherewithal to articulate what he was. And as he idled in indecision at the foot of her bed, he wondered if he had the right to care.