stood in the doorway, stuck. She blinked at Edward, frowned and wondered at
Edward, but no sound came out of her mouth. Her mind raced with so many
questions they crowded each other out, creating a din of white noise.
For his part, Edward simply stared, his marble mask somewhat awkwardly in place. He seemed to be waiting for something, something important, and as she stared, Bella realized what.
She was supposed to speak.
That was a problem, Bella realized, as she had yet to corral her thoughts and lacked the mental dexterity to self-censor. Though inundated with feelings only this infuriating vampire could arouse, it was not her way to be cruel.
“Did you hear me?” He spoke again, his tone softer. “May I come in, Isabella?”
Something about his choice of her full name incensed her. So she folded her arms beneath her chest and glared at him. “Why?”
It was his turn to blink. “What?”
“Was I unclear?” She leaned against the doorway, looking beyond him to the street. “Why do you want to come in?”
His lips parted, preparing to answer, and closed again. She felt him trying to catch her eye, but Bella refused, deciding it was more important to keep watch for the Fed Ex guy.
“I…” Edward cleared his throat, his voice stronger. “I assume you would not want your mother’s neighbors to see you entertaining a young man on her porch at this late hour.”
“Blackmail? Very gentlemanly, Edward.” She stepped back into the house, leaving the door open. When he didn’t follow, she threw up her hands. “Well?”
He took his cue, shutting the door behind him. Though he was ten feet away, Bella felt as if he were wrapped around her. Her body reacted without her permission, and she felt control slipping away.
And that would not do.
She closed her eyes and remembered their path to this place—her birthday, the forest, the trial—and gathered herself. Balling her hands into fists, she shoved them into her pockets and faced him. “Why are you here?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“This is my mother’s house.” She watched the lights of a passing car through the window. “I don’t need a reason.”
“You missed school today, and that is unlike you.” His eyes softened as he stepped forward. “Your truck was missing, and I…”
“Why. Are. You. Here?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
He ran a hand down his face, silent, uncertain. The tension became a palpable, anxious thing, and Bella pressed her thumb into her palm to stop herself from breaking the silence.
He needed to speak first.
He opened his mouth again, and Bella braced herself.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Are you serious?”
He followed her retreating frame into the kitchen. “What do you want me to say, Bella? You…”
“No!” She whirled around so fast he had to step back. “You don’t get to do that. This is not what I wanted, none of this is what I wanted. So don’t come down here asking me what I want you to say or do or think as if it matters, as if it’s my fault that you don’t know why you came here.”
The doorbell rang, startling them both. She smirked as her heart recovered. “Guess you left your telepathy in Forks.”
“I was distracted,” he muttered as she passed him. “But it’s a delivery person with…”
“I know who it is. I thought you were him when I opened the door.”
Bella was in no mood for chit-chat now, but she smiled at the driver who apologized for being so late. She set the package on the coffee table and pulled out her phone to text Renee. She felt Edward coming closer, the pull between them as strong as ever, and she held up her free hand. “Don’t.”
She shoved her phone in her pocket and expelled a harsh breath. “Look. I don’t know why you’re here or how you found me or what you hoped to accomplish by coming all this way. But it’s late, and I’m tired, and it’s… it’s too much right now.”
She raised her eyes and found him nodding. “What does that mean?”
Bella gave him a wide berth as she proceeded to the staircase. “It means I’m going to bed. If you’re still here when I wake up tomorrow, we can talk then.”
His eyes burned a hole in her soul. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
The taut barb cooled some of the fire in his eyes but not nearly enough. Bella forced herself to look away and headed upstairs. “Uh, I know you can’t help it, but try not to hear more than you have to as I get ready for bed.”
“Of course. Bella?” She turned to face him, her eyes moistening. “Sleep well.”
She retreated without a word, locking herself in the hall bathroom.
Grabbing the sink as she collapsed against it, Bella checked her reflection in the wide mirror, unsurprised to find it unsettled and wild. Seven minutes in his presence, and she was already different.
She asked immediate forgiveness, knowing the state of his soul was a major point of contention, then chided herself for caring. He did not deserve her care, did not want her care. Did not want her, according to his position at trial.
Yet he was here.
Bella paused in her rigorous teeth-brushing, the words bouncing around her brain.
“He’s here. Though he was at school when I spoke to Angela during lunch, he is somehow downstairs right now. How is he here? Why is he here? WHY?”
That was the only question she needed answered, the only one she’d asked. And he’d given her nothing. Not a clue, not a hint.
Not a word.
She thought she needed to sleep on it, to give herself time to adjust before deciding how she felt about him being here. But as she rinsed her mouth and spit into the sink, she had a change of heart.
She didn’t need time.
And he was fresh out of it.
Washing her face quickly, she applied a light moisturizer and cut out the bathroom light. Instead of taking the right turn to her bedroom, Bella made a sharp left and headed downstairs, announcing her intentions with every heavy step.
She found Edward at her mother’s mantle, his eyes ghosting over the frames. Under different circumstances, Bella might have sidled up to him, explaining the backstory behind some of the more ambiguous photos. She might have slipped her arm around his trim waist, sneaking a kiss to her favorite spot beneath his jawline while he chuckled at the adorable innocence of her younger days.
Tonight she stood away from him with hands on both hips, braced for war. “Time’s up.”
He dragged his eyes over her, and she ignored the shiver. “I thought you were going to bed.”
“I thought you didn’t want me anymore.”
He gasped, shutting his eyes with a low sigh. “I deserve that.”
“And more. But I didn’t come back to punish you.”
“So why did…”
“Because I asked you a question.” She perched herself on the edge of her mother’s couch. “And I want an answer.”
“I don’t know how to answer that question, Bella.” His eyes darkened as he watched her. “Not without causing you pain.”
She laughed, the sound foreign in her ears. “You honestly think you could hurt me more than you already have?”
“Not more.” He rubbed his arms as if fighting a chill. “Differently.”
“Edward, enough with the riddles. I’m not a child, and I think I’ve more than proven I can handle your version of the truth. So either tell me why you’re here or get the hell out.”
Bella looked down, startled by her own ultimatum. She hadn’t intended to threaten him, hadn’t wanted it to come to that. But didn’t he know he couldn’t do this? That he couldn’t toss her aside then follow her across the country without a word of explanation? Could he really be obtuse enough to not realize that?
She chanced a glance at his profile as he looked out the window.
Yes, he definitely could.
And if he did not know that, was it possible he also didn’t realize how much he’d hurt her?
Another definite yes.
“What did you expect?” she asked, drawing his attention. “What did you think would happen when you showed up? Did you think I’d welcome you with open arms? Ask about your flight?”
She cocked an eyebrow, waiting for more.
“I…” He shook his head. “I didn’t think about that.”
“You didn’t think about that.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Why would you?”
“No, not like…” He ran an agitated hand through his head, exhaling slowly. “I do not mean to suggest I did not think about how you feel. I am always thinking about how you feel, Bella.”
“What the fuc—?” Biting off the expletive, Bella was on her feet, storming around the back of the couch. “How can you say that with a straight face? I mean, are you really that dense?”
“Dense, no.” He was unsurprised by her anger. “Though I seem to be explaining myself poorly.”
“That’s the least of what you’re doing.” Bella gripped the back of the sofa. “Do better or I’m throwing you out. I mean it.”
“You have lost the right to make demands on me, Edward.” Her voice was low, teeming with rage. “You barely have the right to stand in my presence right now after all you’ve done.”
“All I’ve done,” he repeated to himself before looking up at her. “All I’ve done is try to protect you.”
“Oh my god…” She walked into the kitchen, mumbling under her breath.
“What if the positions were reversed?” He followed her at a distance, stopping where the carpet met the laminate tile. “What if you were the vampire and I were human?”
“Hypotheticals?” She was leaned against the counter, arms folded again. “Is that the best you’ve got?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t answer mine.”
“I’m trying to do that now.”
“How does this… Fine. Let’s see. If you were human, and I was the vampire, I would have changed you the first time you asked and all of this would have been moot.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
He folded his arms. “What if being with you put my life in danger? Put my immortal soul in danger?”
“No, you wouldn’t change me?”
“No, this is not an answer to my question. You… I don’t even have words to describe what you’ve done to me, Edward. How you’ve hurt me, how many times and in how many ways. You’ve… I…
“You invited me in, told me I was your life, and you tossed me away. You tried to leave me under the guise of a lie, and when that didn’t work, you took me to court to…”
“No.” He stepped into the kitchen, pressing upon her even from across the room. “You took me to court.”
“You could have refused. You could have relented, changed your mind. But no. You dragged our entire family into that room, forcing them to choose sides. Alice who loves you more than everyone in the world but Jasper. Carlisle who gave you life. Rosalie who… had better things to do, I’m sure, than referee what should have been a private discussion between you and me.
“And for what? You wanted me gone, and I walked away. You wanted us apart, and I left town. Yet here you are in my mother’s kitchen, your eyes sad and searching, looking for something I don’t think I have left. What remains of me is mine to keep. I can’t spare enough to give you the answers you want.”
“Are you telling me to leave?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“No?” Bella sniffled, anger supplanting the dejection in her soul. “So when you said you were leaving me, that you and your entire family were leaving, your objective was not to leave me?”
“Not the way you’re making it sound.”
“I can’t do this.” Bella rushed past him and returned to the stairs. “I thought if I came downstairs to talk, things would make more sense to me, but you obviously live to confuse and crush me. And I don’t have anything left to give. So please…”
“I won’t leave.”
“If you ask me to leave, I won’t.”
Eyes wide, Bella marched down the stairs and into Edward’s face. “What the hell do you mean?”
“I cannot leave here until certain you are all right.” His eyes caressed her face, and she felt it all over her traitorous body. “And you are not all right.”
“Where do you get the nerve?” she hissed. “Who or what on earth gave you permission to say such a thing to me?”
His gaze dropped briefly before returning to hers. “Your father.”