Chapter 4: Mind Over Matter
The sun pursued the Chevy as we motored back to town. To my surprise the radio worked. I ran the dial to an Oldies station. A lively tune that matched my spirits played, and I sang along.
"You like fifties music?" Bella's hair whipped around her as she turned to me. My hand grew warm woven into hers. How natural it was being with her. I never felt more human, more alive. We were like any other couple. Well, with a few extraordinary exceptions.
"Music in the fifties was good. Much better than the sixties, or the seventies, ugh!" I cringed. "The eighties were bearable."
I was about to launch into the bridge of the song when out of nowhere Bella asked, "Are you ever going to tell me how old you are?"
"Does it matter much?" I shrugged, although I was devising a way to bypass a definitive answer.
"No, but I still wonder…" she trailed off. "There's nothing like an unsolved mystery to keep you up at night."
I hesitated whether or not to unveil another puzzle piece. "I wonder if it will upset you." How would she react to the minor detail that I was her senior by a few decades? My gaze followed the sun now riding the horizon.
Several moments passed in silence.
"Try me." Bella insisted.
I expelled a lungful of air and looked at her. Something consequential occurred between us in the meadow that I couldn't yet follow the breadth of it. The one thing I knew was there were secrets I could no longer keep from her.
The sun pulled the sky like a sheet over itself, and before it bedded down, I looked for just enough light to shine on the truth but not so much that it would burn. And then I delved into my tale of broken recollections.
"I was born in Chicago in 1901." I peered at Bella from the corner of my eye. "Carlisle found me in a hospital in the summer of 1918. I was seventeen, and dying of the Spanish influenza." She took in a sharp breath.
"I don't remember it well — it was a very long time ago, and human memories fade." In truth, the lapses of my past expanded with every second in my immortality. "I do remember how it felt, when Carlisle saved me. It's not an easy thing, not something you could forget."
"They had already died from the disease. I was alone. That was why he chose me. In all the chaos of the epidemic, no one would ever realize I was gone."
"How did he… save you?"
"It was difficult. Not many of us have the restraint necessary to accomplish it. But Carlisle has always been the most humane, the most compassionate of us… I don't think you could find his equal throughout all of history," I said reverently. "For me, it was merely very, very painful."
As I spoke, a phantom suffering swept through me. Second to Bella's blood, my conversion was the most somatic event of my existence.
"He acted from loneliness. That's usually the reason behind the choice. I was the first in Carlisle's family, though he found Esme soon after. She fell from a cliff. They brought her straight to the hospital morgue, though somehow, her heart was still beating."
"So you must be dying, then, to become…" Bella's sentence tapered off before she said the word we both had been avoiding.
"No, that's just Carlisle. He would never do that to someone who had another choice."
My thoughts turned inward again. As disease ravaged my body, Carlisle was quite literally my sole friend who later became a mentor, a father. Kindness, always guiding Carlisle's decisions, was what led to my conversion. But for a time, resentment warred within me against the gratitude I held for him at that fateful choice.
"It is easier he says though," I cleared my throat, "if the blood is weak."
We were approaching Bella's home and hopefully the end of this conversation. Bella had other plans.
"And Emmett and Rosalie?"
"Carlisle brought Rosalie to our family next. I didn't realize till much later that he was hoping she would be to me what Esme was to him — he was careful with his thoughts around me." I rolled my eyes at that remembrance.
"But she was never more than a sister. It was only two years later that she found Emmett. She was hunting — we were in Appalachia at the time — and found a bear about to finish him off. She carried him back to Carlisle, more than a hundred miles, afraid she wouldn't be able to do it herself. I'm only beginning to guess how difficult that journey was for her."
As much as Rosalie and I clashed, I felt a certain kinship towards her. She rebelled against her thirst for the sake of love and won. She and Carlisle were pioneers in that regard. Now, thankfully, I could count myself among them. With a sidelong look at Bella and with my hand still tangled in hers, I hitched up both to graze her cheek.
"But she made it," Bella remarked happily, glancing at me then turning away.
"Yes," I said. "She saw something in his face that made her strong enough. And they've been together ever since. But the younger we pretend to be, the longer we can stay in any given place. Forks seemed perfect, so we all enrolled in high school." I snickered. "I suppose we'll have to go to their wedding in a few years, again."
"Alice and Jasper?"
"Alice and Jasper are two very rare creatures. They both developed a conscience, as we refer to it, with no outside guidance. Jasper belonged to another… family, a very different kind of family. He became depressed, and he wandered on his own. Alice found him. Like me, she has certain gifts above and beyond the norm for our kind."
"Really?" Bella's eyebrows came together. "But you said you were the only one who could hear people's thoughts."
"That's true. She knows other things. She sees things — things that might happen, things that are coming. But it's very subjective. The future isn't set in stone. Things change."
I couldn't be more appreciative of that than today. This afternoon's events proved that Alice's visions aren't always what had to be, and miraculously, albeit clumsily, I defied her predictions. There was, however, another prophecy — Bella's transformation — a new source of dread. My teeth ground as I stole a glance in her direction.
"What kinds of things does she see?"
Convinced Bella read my last thoughts, I steered the subject away from her.
"She saw Jasper and knew that he was looking for her before he knew it himself. She saw Carlisle and our family, and they came together to find us. She's most sensitive to non-humans. She always sees, for example, when another group of our kind is coming near. And any threat they may pose."
"Are there a lot of… your kind?" Bella showed genuine surprise that other immortals walked amongst us. She didn't know our world, which made it all the more dangerous for her. Now would have been a good time to emphasize that fact, but I had tested her fear limits quite enough for today.
"No, not many. But most won't settle in any one place. Only those like us, who've given up hunting you people" — I shot her a glance — "can live together with humans for any length of time. We've only found one other family like ours, in a small village in Alaska. We lived together for a time, but there were so many of us that we became too noticeable. Those of us who live… differently tend to band together."
"And the others?"
"Nomads, for the most part. We've all lived that way at times. It gets tedious, like anything else. But we run across the others now and then, because most of us prefer the North."
"Why is that?"
When we rolled up in front of her home, I snuffed out the truck's engine and faced her. We were the only occupants on the unlighted street, but the silence made its own presence.
"Did you have your eyes open this afternoon?" I ribbed. "Do you think I could walk down the street in the sunlight without causing traffic accidents? There's a reason why we chose the Olympic Peninsula, one of the most sunless places in the world. It's nice to be able to go outside in the day. You wouldn't believe how tired you can get of nighttime in eighty-odd years."
"So that's where the legends came from?"
"And Alice came from another family, like Jasper?"
"No, and that is a mystery. Alice doesn't remember her human life at all. And she doesn't know who created her. She awoke alone. Whoever made her walked away, and none of us understand why, or how, he could. If she hadn't had that other sense, if she hadn't seen Jasper and Carlisle and know that she would someday become one of us, she probably would have turned into a total savage."
As Bella considered my latest disclosure, her stomach rumbled. She hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. "I'm sorry, I'm keeping you from dinner."
"I'm fine really," she said.
"I've never spent much time around anyone who eats food. I forget."
"I want to stay with you."
I no more desired to end our time together than she did. "Can't I come in?" Not that a lack of a formal invitation stopped me before, but I still surprised myself.
"Would you like to?"
The frequent intruder that I'd become, I really wanted an official welcome to Bella's home. "Yes, if it's all right." Then at ordinary mortal speed, I came around the Chevy to open her door.
"Very human," she praised.
"It's definitely resurfacing."
As I escorted Bella to the front porch, she glimpsed in my direction with regular frequency. I assumed from nervousness. I was uneasy myself; today was the first of so many things. When we reached the door, I unlocked it and opened it for her.
Bella tossed her head and glanced up at me, "The door was unlocked?"
"No, I used the key from under the eave." Before the sentence left my lips, I knew I had slipped up.
Bella stepped inside ahead of me to flip on the light switch. With eyebrows arched and arms crossed, she spun around.
I was unapologetic. "I was curious about you."
"You spied on me?" I expected outrage, but curiosity buffered her tone.
"What else is there to do at night?"
Her eyes drilled into a spot on the floor taking several severe inhalations through her nose. Then without explanation, she appeared to pardon me — for now. She just turned and pattered in the direction of the kitchen.
Beating her to it, I seated myself in the chair usually claimed by Charlie. Bella viewed me with a peculiar expression then went about preparing dinner.
She cut into what was an oozing red mess. When it warmed in the microwave, the waft of tomatoes and oregano filled the room. I presumed that it was something of the Italian variety. Human food now held great interest for me. In the future, I would be more considerate of Bella's mealtimes. Her voice then summoned my full attention.
She stared sightlessly at the revolving plate of food. "How often did you come here?"
Without preamble I revealed, "I come here every night."
"Why?" she muttered.
"You're interesting when you sleep." I watched mounting astonishment play out on her face then included, "You talk."
"No!" Bella squealed. Her hands braced against the kitchen counter as her complexion reddened.
I felt immediate guilt. "Are you very angry with me?"
There were a few seconds of silence.
"On?" I coaxed.
"What you heard!" Bella was plainly grieved.
I dashed to her taking her hands in mine.
"Don't be upset!" I implored holding her gaze when she struggled to look away.
"You miss your mother," my tone softened, "you worry about her. And when it rains, the sound makes you restless. You used to talk about home a lot, but it's less often now. Once you said, 'It's too green.'"
My quiet chuckle was cut short when Bella cross-examined, "Anything else?"
There were still things, Alice's prophecy among them that I hid from Bella. But there were areas where honesty wouldn't be life threatening.
"You did say my name," I confessed.
She altered her gaze from my eyes to the floor. "A lot?"
"How much do you mean by 'a lot,' exactly?"
"Oh no!" Bella dropped her head in her hands.
Drawing her into an embrace, I placed my mouth near her ear. "Don't be self-conscious," I breathed. "If I could dream at all, it would be about you. And I'm not ashamed of it."
Bella buried her head in my chest with her hands still shielding the mortification on her face. She felt so unthinkably soft and smelled so exceedingly good, my arms enclosed her. My hands swept through her hair like a harpist.
Before the cruiser drove up to the house, I had identified Charlie's hazy thoughts. I chose not to warn Bella, prolonging this moment. When the sound of tires and the beam of headlights announced his imminent arrival, Bella fossilized in my arms.
"Should your father know I'm here?"
Her forehead lined. "I'm not sure…"
"Another time then…" Before she initiated an inward debate, I swooped out a kitchen window to be swallowed by the night.
"Edward!" Bella rasped. I answered her with a passing snicker that only she could hear.
Laden with fishing tackle, Chief Swan lumbered through the front door just as I squeezed past Bella's bedroom window. I roosted in my usual spot.
"Can you get me some of that? I'm bushed." Charlie's baritone carried through the house. At the whir of the microwave and the strengthening odor of oregano and tomatoes, I imagined Bella assembling his dinner in the hurried consumption of her own.
"Thanks," he said.
"How was your day?"
"Good. The fish were biting… how about you? Did you get everything done that you wanted to?"
After wading through a vampire conversion explanation, I was curious how she would manage this conversation with her father. It seems, Miss Swan, the tables are turned.
"Not really — it was too nice to stay indoors."
"It was a nice day." It appeared their talk would suffer an end at that point. That is until Charlie noticed, "In a hurry?"
Bella's voice fizzed with energy in direct contradiction to her reply. "Yeah, I'm tired. I'm going to bed early."
"You look kinda keyed up," Chief Swan observed.
He then pointed out, "It's Saturday."
Bella didn't reply.
"No plans tonight?"
"No, Dad, I just want to get some sleep."
"None of the boys in town your type, eh?"
This was developing into the most fascinating dialogue.
"No, none of the boys have caught my eye yet."
My ears pricked up. Even after our day together with everything we experienced, survived, everything that was shared, a part of me demanded clarification. Although, technically, I didn't meet the conventional definition of, "boy".
"I thought maybe that Mike Newton… you said he was friendly." I nearly crumbled the arms of the rocking chair at the sound of that cretin's name. Despite my vow not to harm a human, I made new plans for Newton's eradication.
"He's just a friend, Dad." I supposed that was more for my benefit than Charlie's.
"Well, you're too good for them all, anyway. Wait till you get to college to start looking."
Wholeheartedly, I agreed with Chief Swan. Bella was too good for all of them, me especially. But the idea of Bella and some collegiate romance… I fell ill thinking of it.
"Sounds like a good idea to me." Bella was making her way towards the stairs.
"Night, honey." Charlie's voice trailed after her.
"See you in the morning, Dad."
Bella clambered up the staircase and closed her bedroom door. Once shut, she skittered across the floor yanking the window open.
I snuck behind her stifling a laugh. "Yes?"
Swiveling around, Bella clutched her chest in surprise when she discovered me lying on her bed.
"Oh!" She chirped and dropped to her knees.
I was really enjoying her frenzied state. "I'm sorry." Clearly, I wasn't.
"Just give me a minute to restart my heart."
In regard for her heart, I gradually raised myself up. Then holding Bella by the shoulders, I lifted her up to the bed beside me.
"Why don't you sit with me," I proposed covering her hot hand with mine. "How's your heart?"
"You tell me — I'm sure you hear it better than I do."
I quaked with suppressed laughter remembering Charlie downstairs.
With the exception of Bella's heartbeat, we sat in a companionable silence. I monitored her pulse until it resumed a normal rate. She spoke first.
"Can I have a minute to be human?"
My hand waved out like a Vegas magician. "Certainly."
"Stay." She pointed a finger back at me.
"Yes, ma'am." With Bella's bed as my plinth, I made my best impression of a statue.
She sprang from the bed, filled her arms with stuff, and with a flash of a smile slipped out the door. When the door snipped into its frame I grew antsy, even with Bella just yards away. Whenever she left me, whether brief or prolonged, there was always this aura of anxiousness.
It steadied my mind to hear her prepare for the night ahead. While Bella tended to whatever it was girls tended to before bed, I wasn't going to pass on performing a more thorough investigation of her room.
A review of the books stacked from the floor, I recognized many of the favorites she had mentioned during my two-day inquest. I checked out the CDs on her desk amused again at our similar tastes.
Next, I looked over the garments hanging in Bella's closet and the furnishings that dotted the small space. A computer that should have been retired long ago was powered down. I moved passed it and around her bed that had a hand-me-down quilt spilling over the sides. That's when it occurred to me that everything in Bella's room appeared to be some cast-off.
It was charming, the idea of Bella amongst these items of antiquity. Yet, I was also disturbed by it. Did she not own anything new?
Compiling various lists of what I might give her, I considered the jewelry I inherited from my family's estate. Esme, being an expert on such matters, assigned each piece of the collection a sizable amount of worth. But would something like an antique bauble please Bella?
Then the word "antique" struck me. The point was to give her something new. I laughed at my misstep. However, my amusement soon weakened acknowledging I could easily include myself among the relics.
Feeling sorry for myself, I stared out Bella's window when my eyes straggled on her Chevy, the geriatric truck that she so often defended. I grimaced. Perhaps Bella wasn't adverse to old things. Still, there were things she deserved, old or new, that I, no matter how much I willed it to be so, could not give her.
"Night Dad," Bella called down to her father. She made such a racket getting ready for bed. I wondered what she was up to.
"Night Bella." I attempted to pry into Chief Swan's thoughts. As usual they were disjointed.
Bella bustled up the stairs. I stationed myself on her bed in the exact pose she left me. When she closed the bedroom door behind her, a smile lighted on her lips. Bella's dark hair was black from being wet. Her threadbare pajamas clung to her.
"Nice." I observed.
She responded with a good-humored scowl.
"No, it looks good on you." Bella looked downright tasty.
She scooted to my side. "Thanks."
"What was all that for?" I was referring to her very audible human minute.
"Charlie thinks I'm sneaking out."
"Oh," I said. "Why?"
"Apparently, I look a little overexcited."
I held her chin, "You look very warm, actually." Then without any hurry, I inclined myself to her and pressed my cheek against hers.
I took a deep liberal inhalation. "Mmmmmm…" Lights studded the walls of my closed eyelids.
"It seems to be… much easier for you, now, to be close to me."
"Does it seem that way to you?" I murmured in one long connected sentence.
Being carefully not careful, I nosed the contours of her face and swept her wet hair aside exposing another area to explore.
"Much, much easier," Bella breathed.
"So I was wondering…,"
My hands began to crawl along her collarbones.
"Yes?" I whispered.
"Why is that," she cleared her throat, "do you think?"
At a loss to compose a reply, I laughed.
I was in Bella's bedroom. And she had invited me here, more or less. And she was awake this time. And she was in my arms. Although I couldn't wrap my mind around it, the rest of me was having no trouble.
Then remembering myself, I muttered, "Mind over matter."
Bella withdrew from me. I freaked… hastily checking to see if I hurt her. She was alright, but her usually communicative eyes were reticent. At any moment, I feared she was going to take back her invitations.
After many grueling moments, I said, "Did I do something wrong?"
"No — the opposite. You're driving me crazy," Bella heaved.
Almost laughing again, this time in disbelief, my mind went over her words. "Really?"
Bella lips bowed into a smirk. "Would you like a round of applause?"
The grin that began at my eyes franchised out to my self-satisfied face.
"I'm pleasantly surprised." What was probably the most dopiest smile broadened even further. "In the last hundred years or so," I explained, "I never imagined anything like this. I didn't believe I would ever find someone I wanted to be with… in another way than my brothers and sisters. And then to find, even though it's all new to me, that I'm good at it… at being with you…"
"You're good at everything," she accused.
I looked down to meet her eyes and simply shrugged in agreement. It sent us both in a fit of muted laughter.
"But how can it be so easy now?" Bella cited, "This afternoon…"
"It's not easy," came out in an exhale, "but this afternoon, I was still… undecided. I am sorry for that, it was unforgivable for me to behave so."
There was a lump in my throat. "Thank you."
"You see," my vision dropped with warehoused dishonor from this afternoon, "I wasn't sure if I was strong enough…" Stealing one of her hands, I held it to my cheek. There was a sudden quiet pulse of energy between us.
"And while there was still that possibility that I might be… overcome" — my eyelids threatened to flutter away when I inhaled the aroma from the network of veins at her wrist — "I was… susceptible. Until I made up my mind that I was strong enough, that there was no possibility at all that I would… that I ever could…" Although I was floating in rivers of her scent, the monster remained still.
"So there's no possibility now?"
"Mind over matter." It was simplistic yet true.
Bella's brow spread out. "Wow, that was easy."
"Easy for you!" I laughed touching her nose with my fingertip. Yet when I filled my lungs with Bella's scent, the veracity of my thirst held down my levity.
"I'm trying," I glanced away. "If it gets to be… too much, I'm fairly sure I'll be able to leave."
"And it will be harder tomorrow," I tacked on. "I've had the scent of you in my head all day, and I've grown amazingly desensitized. If I'm away from you for any length of time, I'll have to start over again. Not quite from scratch, though, I think."
"Don't go away, then."
When Bella spoke to me like that, I lived to do her bidding.
"That suits me," I said hushing a laugh, "Bring on the shackles — I'm your prisoner." But my hands took back hers, cuffing them at her wrists.
"You seem more… optimistic than usual," Bella was studying me almost as intensely as I studied her, "I haven't seen you like this before."
"Isn't it supposed to be like this?" The smile on my face enlarged, "The glory of first love, and all that. It's incredible, isn't it, the difference between reading about something, seeing it in the pictures, and experiencing it?"
"Very different." Her gaze fell to my chest. "More forceful than I'd imagined."
"For example" — I recalled one of my recent very human experiences — "the emotion of jealousy. I've read about it a hundred thousand times, seen actors portray it in a thousand different plays and movies. I believed I understood that one pretty clearly. But it shocked me…
"Do you remember the day that Mike Newton asked you to the dance?" My reference to the boy spurred another wave of animosity towards him. "I was surprised by the flare of resentment, almost fury, that I felt — I didn't recognize what it was at first. I was even more aggravated than usual that I couldn't know what you were thinking, why you refused him. Was it simply for your friend's sake? Was there someone else? I knew I had no right to care either way. I tried not care.
"And then the line started forming."
Bella looked at me dismissively.
"I waited, unreasonably anxious to hear what you would say to them, to watch your expressions. I couldn't deny the relief I felt, watching the annoyance on your face. But I couldn't be sure.
"That was the first night I came here. I wrestled all night, while watching you sleep, with the chasm between what I knew was right, moral, ethical, and what I wanted. I knew that if I continued to ignore you as I should, or if I left for a few years, till you were gone, that someday you would say yes to Mike, or someone like him. It made me angry.
"And then," my tone became serious, "as you were sleeping, you said my name. You spoke so clearly, at first I thought you'd woken. But you rolled over restlessly and mumbled my name once more, and sighed. The feeling that coursed through me then was unnerving, staggering. And I knew I couldn't ignore you any longer."
A silent interval passed, and in it, I isolated the tattoo of Bella's heartbeat.
"But jealousy… it's a strange thing. So much more powerful than I would have thought. And irrational! Just now, when Charlie asked you about that vile Mike Newton…"
"I should have known you'd be listening," Bella sighed.
"That made you feel jealous, though, really?"
"I'm new at this; you're resurrecting the human in me, and everything feels stronger because it's fresh."
"But honestly," doubt crept into Bella's speech, "for that to bother you, after I have to hear that Rosalie — Rosalie, the incarnation of pure beauty, Rosalie — was meant for you. Emmett or no Emmett, how can I compete with that?"
"There's no competition." I slid Bella's hands around my back.
"I know there's no competition." Her voice vibrated against my chest setting off a series of tremors throughout my anatomy. I waited for her to do it again. She then caviled, "That's the problem." She was still speaking of Rose and what was clearly a delusional disparity.
"Of course Rosalie is beautiful in her way," I said, "but even if she wasn't like a sister to me, even if Emmett didn't belong with her, she could never have one tenth, no, one hundredth of the attraction you hold for me." I gazed at her fervently, solemnly. "For almost ninety years I've walked among my kind, and yours… all the time thinking I was complete in myself, not realizing what I was seeking. And not finding anything, because you weren't alive yet."
There had always been an awkwardness being in a family with three sets of perfect parings. And then there was me, the odd man out. In this shadow existence, Carlisle and Esme, Rose and Emmett, Alice and Jasper found meaning in each other. At times I fought such jealousy for that sense of purpose even for Rosalie who would so readily peddle her one true love for a mortal life.
"It hardly seems fair." Bella burrowed deeper into my chest. "I haven't had to wait at all. Why should I get off so easily?"
"You're right," I said, "I should make this harder for you, definitely."
I relinquished one of her wrists only to hold both in a single grip. My free hand threaded through her hair.
"You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me, that's surely not much. You only have to turn your back on nature, on humanity… what's that worth?"
"Very little — I don't feel deprived of anything."
In a warning whisper, I emphasized, "Not yet." Bella wanted to lean away, but I pressed her to me.
Quite abruptly, Charlie's heavy tread fell on the stairs.
"What —" She began but was silenced in response to my alertness. I released her at once and wedged myself in the corner of her room behind the door.
"Lie down!" I shushed.
Bella curled up under the covers as Chief Swan cracked opened the door. He surveyed the excessive rise and fall of Bella's frame for a minute then closed the door behind him shuffling off to bed.
In a twinkling, I tunneled under Bella's quilt and snaked an arm around her. My lips cornered her ear. "You are a terrible actress — I'd say that career path is out for you."
"Darn it," she said quietly, but her pulse drummed loudly.
Lost in that tempo, I hummed a few bars of Bella's lullaby. "Should I sing you to sleep?"
"Right," she giggled, "Like I could sleep with you here!"
"You do it all the time."
"But I didn't know you were here."
"So if you don't want to sleep…" My proposition was more suggestive than I designed.
"If I don't want to sleep…?"
I laughed at her sudden coyness.
"I'm not sure."
"Tell me when you decide."
As Bella deliberated, I revisited the hallow of her neck. The tip of my nose skulked along the side of her jaw line to where I indulged in a full breath.
"I thought you were desensitized," she said.
"Just because I'm resisting the wine doesn't mean I can't appreciate the bouquet." My voice became vaporous. "You have a very floral smell, like lavender… or freesia," as my lungs expanded with her scent, venom pooled in my mouth, "It's mouthwatering."
"Yeah, it's an off day when I don't get somebody telling me how edible I smell."
My chuckle faded into sigh.
"I've decided what I want to do." Bella turned her face to me. "I want to hear more about you."
"Ask me anything."
"Why do you do it?" I could see her eyes fitting together her next line. "I still don't understand how you can work so hard to resist what you… are. Please don't misunderstand, of course I'm glad that you do. I just don't see why you would bother in the first place."
How should I explain this? "That's a good question, and you are not the first one to ask it. The others — the majority of our kind who are quite content with our lot — they, too, wonder at how we live. But you see, just because we've been… dealt a certain hand… it doesn't mean that we can't choose to rise above — to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can."
For the chance to rejoin humankind, every member of my family would sacrifice all that immortality offered. This is why we held life sacred. Our practices may be unorthodox, but it has kept us sane. It has preserved that intrinsic desire to strive for a portion of grace.
Moreover, our so termed vegetarianism, cultivated a temperament so that we could coexist in a level of peace not only with each other, but to a certain degree, our human counterparts.
I noticed the silence. "Did you fall asleep?"
"No." Bella whispered, astray in thoughts I couldn't hear.
"Is that all you were curious about?"
"What else do you want to know?"
"Why can you read minds — why only you? And Alice, seeing the future… why does that happen?"
"We don't really know. Carlisle has a theory… he believes that we all bring something of our strongest human traits with us into the next life, where they are intensified — like our minds, and our senses. He thinks that I must have already been very sensitive to the thoughts of those around me. And that Alice had some precognition, whenever she was."
"What did he bring into the next life, and the others?"
"Carlisle brought his compassion. Esme brought her ability to love passionately. Emmett brought his strength, Rosalie her… tenacity. Or you could call it pigheadedness." I laughed. "Jasper is very interesting. He was quite charismatic in his first life, able to influence those around him to see things his way. Now he is able to manipulate the emotions of those around him — calm down a room of angry people, for example, or excite a lethargic crowd, conversely. It's a very subtle gift."
Bella's forehead wrinkled as she considered this. And no wonder. A family of vampires that included a physician, a mentalist, a seer, and an empathe was quite a concept.
"So where did it all start? I mean, Carlisle changed you, and then someone must have changed him, and so on…"
"Well, where did you come from? Evolution? Creation? Couldn't we have evolved in the same way as other species, predator and prey? Or, if you don't believe that all this world could have just happened on its own, which is hard for me to accept myself, is it so hard to believe that the same force that created the delicate angelfish with the shark, the baby seal and the killer whale, could create both our kinds together?"
"Let me get this straight — I'm the baby seal, right?"
"Right," I snickered into her hair. It was like walking in a field of strawberries.
"Are you ready to sleep?" I asked. "Or do you have any more questions?"
"Only a million or two."
"We have tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…," I was suddenly struck with a dreary apprehension. It was wrong to number our future.
"Are you sure you won't vanish in the morning?" Bella said interrupting my dark thoughts. "You are mythical, after all."
"I won't leave you." Not now at least. Never, if I had my way.
"One more, then, tonight…"
"What is it?"
"No, forget it. I changed my mind." The dimness of her room was no obstacle to my vision. I witnessed Bella flush as the climate of her skin rose.
"Bella, you can ask me anything."
With the eyes of a jeweler, I examined her face.
"I keep thinking it will get less frustrating, not hearing your thoughts. But it just gets worse and worse."
"I'm glad you can't read my thoughts. It's bad enough you eavesdrop on my sleep-talking."
"Please?" I entreated.
She shook her head.
"If you don't tell me, I'll just assume it's something much worse than it is."
Not being able to hear her thoughts, I would not respect her silence. "Please?"
"Well," Bella dragged out the word.
"Yes?" I prodded.
"You said that Rosalie and Emmett will get married soon… Is that… marriage… the same as it is for humans?"
I choked suppressing a laugh. "Is that what you're getting at?"
Bella squirmed in my arms as I muffled another laugh.
"Yes, I suppose it is much the same," I continued with regained composure, "I told you, most of those human desires are there, just hidden behind more powerful desires."
"Was there a purpose behind your curiosity?" I grinned.
"Well I did wonder… about you and me… someday…"
Since surviving this afternoon, a large part of my brain was engaged in trying to figure out what would happen if "someday" did come. The answer made me bristle. "I don't think that… that… would be possible for us."
"Because it would be too hard for you, if I were that… close?"
"That's certainly a problem. But that's not what I was thinking of. It's just that you are so soft, so fragile. I have to mind my actions every moment that we're together so that I don't hurt you. I could kill you quite easily, Bella, simply by accident." My fingers brushed her cheek still sultry from her blush. "If I was too hasty… if for one second I wasn't paying attention, I could reach out, meaning to touch your face, and crush your skull by mistake. You don't realize how incredibly breakable you are. I can never, never afford to lose any kind of control when I'm with you."
A silence stretched before me.
"Are you scared?"
After a minute, she whispered. "No. I'm fine."
I evaluated what was spoken. "I'm curious now, though," I said attempting to sound nonchalant. "Have you ever…" Like my thoughts, my sentence wandered until I recognized the evocative tenor in my voice.
"Of course not." Bella blushed a richer shade of rouge. "I told you I've never felt like this about anyone before, not even close."
"I know. It's just that I know other people's thoughts. I know love and lust don't always keep the same company."
"They do for me. Now, anyway, that they exist for me at all."
"That's nice. We have that one thing in common, at least." Not that it would alter how I felt towards Bella, but I was comforted by our mutual inexperience.
"Your human instincts…," Bella continued, "Well, do you find me attractive, in that way, at all?"
I sniggered and ruffled her hair. Strawberries again.
"I may not be a human, but I am a man." Recalling my reaction to her snug sweater and form-fitting jeans and the experiments I invented this afternoon. Many I had yet to try.
Then I remembered the one I did try. I remembered our electric kiss.
I remembered the way she moved and responded to my closeness to my touch. The softness and heat that wanted to swallow me then — to my wonder and pleasure I could feel now more than all the times before. She cozied up under my arm sending thermal shockwaves through me.
Bella was oblivious to how ludicrously sexy she was. Even with wet hair and well-worn pajamas, especially with wet hair and well-worn pajamas. I so much wanted to kiss her again in the privacy of her room, on her bed, Bella laying here beside me.
Don't you even think about it Edward Cullen! I warned.
Bella yawned allowing my better compunctions to take over.
"I've answered your questions, now you should sleep," I commanded. Before I come up with any more hazardous notions.
"I'm not sure if I can."
"Do you want me to leave?"
"No!" Bella's reply projected past her room. Charlie shifted in his sleep, but his snores went uninterrupted.
I laughed in response to her plea before locking her up in my arms and resuming the refrain of her lullaby. Then shortly after, too tired to continue, Bella coasted to sleep. Her warm cheek burning a hole to my heart.