Back to Forks
Alice led us toward a dark car, waiting in a pool of shadow to the right of the gate with the engine running. This time, I slid into the backseat with Bella, instead of insisting on driving. I wasn't really up for it after all the emotional baggage of the day.
Alice was apologetic. "I'm sorry." She gestured vaguely toward the dashboard. "There wasn't much to choose from."
"It's fine, Alice." I grinned. "They can't all be 911 Turbos."
She sighed and said wistfully, "I may have to acquire one of those legally. It was fabulous."
"I'll get you one for Christmas," I jokingly promised.
"Yellow," she requested.
"You can sleep now, Bella," I murmured to the girl cradled in my arms. "It's over."
"I don't want to sleep. I'm not tired." Just like a toddler, insisting she wasn't tired, when she was nearly sleepwalking already.
I sighed and shook my head. "You're still just as stubborn."
Alice bought Bella and me some new clothes at the airport, and about an hour later we were on a plane home.
"Bella, you should rest now," I said when we had settled in for the flight.
Alice and Carlisle were seated behind us, and I could hear her murmuring to Jasper on the phone.
"I don't want to sleep," she said stubbornly. "If I close my eyes now, I'll see things I don't want to see. I'll have nightmares."
I didn't argue with that.
It would have been a very good time to talk, and Bella wanted answers. Actually, she probably deserved them. We had an uninterrupted block of time ahead of us, and no one would hear us except Alice and Carlisle; it was late, and most of the passengers were turning off lights and asking for pillows in muted voices.
But, perversely, Bella bit her tongue against the flood of questions. Her reasoning was that by postponing the discussion, she could buy a few more hours with me at her leisure later; spin this out for another night, Scheherazade-style.
I pretty much knew she wouldn't succeed in that, but I was, for the moment, perfectly content to hold her in my arms, tracing her face again and again. It still seemed unreal to me. The enormity of what I'd almost done-for no reason at all-still haunted me, and I wanted to cling to anything that seemed normal-especially Bella, who turned out to be my salvation. I was actually grateful to her. It was a weird feeling. I wished it would go away.
Bella was barely holding it together. Her last couple days would be hard on anybody, and coupled with the jet lag, she was feeling really worn down, so I kept silent. The fact that I had nothing to say made it easier.
Bella was awake when we reached the airport in Atlanta. She was proud of herself, thinking she hadn't missed one minute of our time on the plane. Truth was, she actually dozed off more than once, but now was not the time to bring that up. Maybe later on, when she was being more stubborn than usual again...
Neither Alice nor Carlisle nor I were surprised by the reception that waited for us at Sea-Tac airport, but it caught Bella off guard. I didn't care. Neither did Jasper, the first one I saw; he didn't seem to see anyone except for Alice. She went quickly to his side; they didn't embrace like other couples meeting there. They only stared into each other's faces, and the strength of their lustful thoughts made me shut them out before I embarrassed myself somehow.
Esme waited in a quiet corner far from the line for the metal detectors, in the shadow of a wide pillar. When we reached her, Esme embraced all three of us, hugging fiercely.
"Thank you so much," she whispered to Bella. I wondered what kind of story they had spun for her this time; what I could get from her mind was so jumbled and disjointed I soon gave up; I wasn't that interested anyway.
Then Esme threw her arms around me, and she looked like she would be crying if that were possible.
"You will never put me through that again," she nearly growled at me. Whoa, down girl. Abruptly I wondered what she had been like before she got...well, stupid.
I grinned repentantly. "Sorry, 'Mom.'"
Bella stumbled where she stood, she was so exhausted.
Esme gasped. "She's dead on her feet! Let's get her home." It would be good to get home.
We half-supported, half-carried Bella across the parking lot to our waiting car. Emmett and Rosalie were waiting for us there. I tried not to think about how they had been entertaining themselves while the plane was coming in.
Emmett and Rosalie got in the front seat without speaking, while I pulled Bella into the back. She didn't fight to stay awake anymore, and instead laid her head against my chest. I felt the car purr to life. It was quiet then, except for the gentle thrum of the engine. Bella fell asleep, and only wakened when the car stopped and I carried her toward her house from the car. She was having a tough time keeping her eyes open.
And then we heard Charlie.
"Bella!" he shouted, coming out of the house and towards us.
"Charlie," Bella mumbled, trying to shake off her stupor.
"Shh," I whispered. "It's okay; you're home and safe. Just sleep." I didn't want to witness the family drama that was almost guaranteed to ensue.
Since Bella was in a stupor, Charlie decided to turn on me. "I can't believe you have the nerve to show your face here," Charlie bellowed at me, much closer now.
"Stop it, Dad," Bella groaned.
"What's wrong with her?" Charlie demanded.
"She's just very tired, Charlie," I assured him quietly. "Please let her rest." I just wanted to get out of there. Dealing with pissed-off fathers of teenage daughters was not on my top-ten list of things I liked to do.
"Don't tell me what to do!" Charlie yelled. "Give her to me. Get your hands off her!" Ok, I guess I couldn't blame him; the guy really was concerned about her.
I tried to pass her to Charlie, but she clung to me with locked, tenacious fingers. Charlie was rather frantically yanking on her arm.
"Cut it out, Dad," she said with more volume. She looked blearily up at Charlie. "Be mad at me, not him."
"You bet I will be," Charlie promised quietly. "Get inside."
"Kay. Let me down," she sighed.
I carefully set her on her feet. She swayed on her feet, took two steps forward, then teetered forward toward the ground. I caught her before she hit the concrete.
"Just let me get her upstairs," I said. "Then I'll leave."
"No," Bella cried. She still wanted answers.
"I won't be far," I promised, whispering low in her ear so Charlie didn't have a chance of hearing.
Charlie glowered at me, but nodded his assent, and I headed into the house with my burden.
I was feeling rather nostalgic that night, so I played inside Bella's dreams again, for old times' sake. There were plenty of monsters, red-eyed fiends that were all the more ghastly for their genteel civility, or familiar cheerfulness overshadowed by a furry muzzle and giant animal body. The dream was strong, and the strongest, clearest part of the dream was not the horror. It was the angel that was most clear. The angel was me. I pulled out all the stops to emphasize the impression; back-lit by hazy white light, and sparkly skin-though she already had that image. I stopped at adding a halo, though; that might have been a bit too much.
After several hours, I decided she had been sleeping for long enough. I ran my fingers lightly over her forehead. She squeezed her eyes more tightly, trying to stay asleep. I got more persistent, touching her eyes, cheeks, chin lightly. She groaned and threw her arm across her eyes. She opened her eyes again...“and I was still there, my face just inches away from hers. She jerked, startled, and I covered her mouth with my hand before she could make a sound.
"Did I frighten you?" I asked, removing my hand. She drew a slow, deep breath. "Please don't scream," I continued. "Charlie doesn't need to know I'm here, seeing as I've officially been banned and all.
She blinked twice, still not totally awake. Then the incredible journey she had taken over the last couple days caught up to her, and I could see that she didn't quite believe it, and to rationalize it, she decided that she was only dreaming; only, if I was there, then she must be...
"Oh, crap" she croaked throat thick from sleeping.
"What's wrong, Bella?"
She frowned at me unhappily. "I'm dead, right?" she moaned. "I did drown. Crap, crap, crap! This is gonna kill Charlie."
Now it was my turn to frown. "You're not dead."
"Then why am I not waking up?" she challenged, raising her eyebrows.
"You are awake, Bella."
She shook her head. "Sure, sure. That's what you want me to think. And then it will be worse when I do wake up. If I wake up, which I won't, because I'm dead. This is awful..."
I decided to put a stop to her absurd assumption right then and there, and lightly pinched her arm. Well, it was light for me. Probably hurt like a bitch to her.
"OW!" Yep, hurt like a bitch. "Why did you do that?! That hurt..." She rubbed her reddened skin.
"You were beginning to talk crazy, so I decided to stop it before you descended into truly ridiculous assumptions."
"Did all of that really happen, then?" she asked, somewhat mystified.
"That depends." I smiled crookedly. "If you're referring to us nearly being massacred in Italy, then, yes."
"How strange," she mused. "I really went to Italy. Did you know I'd never been farther east than Albuquerque?"
I rolled my eyes. "Well obviously that's not true anymore. Maybe you should go back to sleep. You're not coherent."
"I'm not tired anymore." She was waking up. "What time is it? How long have I been sleeping?"
"It's just after one in the morning. So, about fourteen hours."
She stretched stiffly as I spoke.
"Charlie?" she asked.
"Sleeping. You should probably know that I'm breaking the rules right now. Well, not technically, since he said I was never to walk through his door again, and I came in the window... But, still, the intent was clear."
"Charlie banned you from the house?" Now she was getting angry. Excellent.
"Did you expect anything else?" I put on a sad smile.
Her eyes flashed in anger. She was already planning to have a few words with her father..“remind” him that she was legally an adult now. It didn't matter so much, of course, except in principle. That would no doubt drive a sizable wedge between them. I couldn't have come up with a better plan, for sure.
"So, what's the story?" she asked, genuinely curious, but also trying desperately to keep the conversation casual, to keep a firm grip on herself, so I wouldn't leave her again.
"What do you mean?" I replied.
"What am I telling Charlie? What's my excuse for disappearing for...how long was I gone, anyway?" She turned her head up thoughtfully.
"Just three days." I smiled invitingly. "Actually, I was hoping you might have a good explanation. I've got nothing." Come on, Bella, you're all about the lying lately, right? Come up with a good one; deception is awesome between family members.
She groaned. "Fabulous."
She recovered from that rather quickly, then gave me a searching look. "So," she began, picking what she considered the most vitally interesting question to start with. "What have you been doing, up until a few days ago?"
"Nothing terribly exciting," I hedged. I certainly wasn't about to tell her the truth.
"Of course not," she mumbled.
"Why are you making that face?"
"Well..." she pursed her lips. "If you were, after all, just a dream, that's exactly the kind of thing you would say. My imagination must be used up."
I sighed. "If I tell you, will you finally believe that you're not having a nightmare?"
"Maybe," she said after a second of thought. "If you tell me."
"I was...hunting." Technically true; I did take down that moose, after all.
"Is that the best you can do?" she scoffed. "That definitely doesn't prove I'm awake."
Okay, that's it. I was tired of this track her mind had taken.
"I'll prove you're awake," I informed her. I caught her face securely between my hands, ignoring her struggles when she tried to turn her head away.
"Please don't," she whispered.
This was unexpected. I stopped, my lips just half an inch from hers.
"Why not?" I demanded.
"When I wake up, or when you leave again, it's going to be hard enough without this, too."
I pulled back an inch, to stare at her face. It was 'impassioned speech' time.
"Yesterday, when I would touch you, you were so...hesitant, so careful, and yet still the same. I need to know why. Is it because I'm too late? Because I've hurt you too much? Because you have moved on? That would be...fair. I won't contest your decision. So don't try to spare my feelings, please...“just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I've done to you. Can you?" I whispered.
"What kind of an idiotic question is that?"
And what kind of an answer is that? "Just answer it. Please."
She stared at me darkly for a long moment. "The way I feel about you will never change. Of course I love you, and there's nothing you can do about it!"
She meant it, as far as I could tell-and it was so cute the way she tried to keep control by adding that bit on the end there.
"That's all I needed to hear." I covered her mouth with my own, and she kissed me back while her heart pounded out a jagged, disjointed rhythm and her breathing turned to panting. She molded her body to mine as best she could, and I felt her hips arch against me. Whoops, too far. We must protect your virtue, dear. Yeah, that's totally the reason.
I pulled away, and waited while Bella's labored breathing slowed and got quiet again.
"By the way, in case you were wondering, I'm not going anywhere. Not without you," I told her. I found some jeans on the floor and tossed them toward her. "Now get dressed and meet me outside. We need to take a walk."
"Wait, what?" she sputtered. "But, Edward-!" But I was already gone, disappeared out her window. She dressed quickly, and I met her downstairs.
She stopped at the bottom of the steps and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, we're outside. Now what is it?"
"Not here. Farther from the house. I don't want to wake Charlie."
She hesitated, remembering the last time I brought her out into the forest, then nodded and let me lead her out to where we could have some privacy.