Chapter 1: Prologue
Bella descended the staircase at a snail’s pace, the last of her keepsakes haphazardly balanced on top of a cardboard box marked ‘storage.’ Just as she was about to place her foot on the bottom stair, she heard her father shout out, before bending to snatch up the scrap of cloth she’d been about to slip on.
Charlie held it to the light for a moment, smiling at the faded logo on the front of the t-shirt.
“Try not to pickle your brain so much you forget to come visit, Bells.”
She grinned, shifting the box to rest in the crook of her elbow, and held her hand out to take it from him.
“Please,” she said. “I’ll be home more than you will. And you can tell Sue I said bye.”
Charlie flushed, and his daughter laughed darkly.
“Give me some credit, Dad. Florida doesn’t give scholarships to just anybody-“
“I have two days left to ground you, don’t forget it.”
She didn’t answer, just pulled her car key from the bowl by the door and maneuvered her way outside. She pushed the final box onto the bed of the truck, satisfied that she’d packed everything in plenty of time to have it shipped away. Most was going to Renee’s house, since she had the extra space, but she’d have to collect a couple of boxes at the other end.
She unfolded the cardboard top, and hesitated. Quickly closing the box up again, she pulled the old grey t-shirt over her head. It was loose enough she could wear two layers comfortably, and she ran her fingers over the printed helmet that splashed across her torso.
Patting the wheel arch, a small smile appeared on her face.
Alice blinked, rapidly, as she came back to herself.
The balcony had only been completed a day before, and Esme was eager to show off the new outdoor furniture she’d had commissioned by a local woodworker. Though Alice didn’t personally understand the draw of Rjukan, it couldn’t hurt to support the businesses in the tiny Norwegian town.
Jasper sent a frown her way. The entire vision couldn’t have lasted more than a fraction of a second, images racing in front of her mind’s eye. Somehow, he never missed it.
Esme tried to plump the pillow at Edward’s back, feigning annoyance that he’d already ruined her picture-perfect decor, while her husband looked on, laughing.
“Carlisle?” Alice called. “Where is Forks?”
Esme’s face fell.
My first observation was that despite the new lines on the rain-soaked roads, and the conspicuous absence of some landmarks I always used to orient myself on the way into town, they had never repainted the welcome sign. Charlie had been insistent on the phone that somebody meet me at the airport, but with a smile in his voice, avoided my questioning.
“You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em,” he said.
Most of my stuff - picture frames, computer, and the few clothes that would withstand the Pacific Northwest - was stowed in boxes the back of the bright orange truck, under a familiar green tarp.
“So how was the flight, Bella?” Seth asked, cheerfully honking at a car full of what looked like his school friends. After graduation, I passed the truck on, a little tearfully. Seth had just gotten his learner’s permit, and had solemnly accepted the responsibility of caring for it. He had never managed to get out that dent over the wheel arch, I noted with satisfaction. It had character.
“She doesn’t want to talk about airplane food, Seth. Bella has to mentally prepare herself for the surprise party.”
I frowned, flicking out my wrist to slap Jake on the arm.
“I told Charlie, no welcoming committee. I am so overdue a shower-“
“Uh huh.” He looked out the window, pointing to a speck of light at the end of the dark road. “But you didn’t tell Sue.”
Seth pulled up to the side of the house, into a parking spot I always mentally reserved for the truck. Even when it was replaced by whatever rental car I could find at Seattle airport, or Sue’s little red Saab. Charlie was waiting outside, shoulders hunched against the drizzle. It was clear he was smirking, despite his best, cheek-biting attempts to dislodge it.
Sue, grinning, stood in the doorframe, the banister of the steps below her wrapped in fairy lights.
“Welcome back, Bells.”
I stepped into Charlie’s open arms, crushing my cheek against his soft, worn shirt, then pulled back with a raised brow.
“What happened to pizza and a double feature, Dad?”
He slid an arm around my shoulders, steering me up the stairs and out of the rain. I could hear Seth outside, shouting expletives as he pretended to drop my computer and catch it again at the last second.
“I made your favorite, Bella. Your dad and I are trying to eat heart-healthy after his last check-up-“
“She’s baking trout faster than I can catch it.”
Sue pursed her lips, only led us into the kitchen where the stove was on low, with the metal pot I knew was the biggest Charlie owned bubbling quietly.
“Thanks, Sue. I haven’t eaten since Denver, so-“
“Green Chile cheese fries?”
Billy rounded the corner, ubiquitous hat on his lap, with a smile that wrinkled the skin around his eyes. Compared to Charlie, he had barely aged a day.
I shrugged apologetically, smiling.
“Airplane sandwich,” I replied before crossing the kitchen to give him a hug.
Jacob called my name from the top of the stairs, and I rushed out to see what was going on. When I reached my old bedroom, he and Seth were lingering, still holding the bags I knew weighed a ton.
“Where do you want ‘em?”
“God, anywhere. Dorms open in less than a week, so I doubt I’ll even unpack-“
Seth looked crestfallen.
“You’re not staying here?”
Looking up from the biggest suitcase, the one reserved for my mementos, pieces to fill up whichever soulless dorm I was assigned and make it feel more like home, I shook my head.
“It’s a four-hour drive, Seth. And it’s a Masters program, I mean, I’ll have, like, no time to sleep-“
“She’ll be home every weekend begging for us to take her out and have some fun. Can’t live in the library the whole time.”
“Nah, I split my time between the library and the lab. I could use a strong volunteer for my studies.”
Seth grinned, flexing the muscles in his upper arm.
“Sure thing, Bella. What’s it about? How I got such good genes?”
“No,” I said, pressing my lips into a smile to hide my laughter. “How about I inject you with one of my virus samples and you tell me how long it takes before you feel the need to shit your guts out?”
Jacob barked out a laugh, feigning a punch to Seth’s stomach.
“Ew,” he said, catching Jacob’s hand and wrinkling his nose, before heading out of the room in search of his mother’s cooking. Jake turned to look at me then, as if seeing me for the first time since I landed in Seattle.
“How does it feel to be home?” He sat on the edge of my bed, patting the space beside him where the old comforter met fresh, clean sheets.
“Seattle isn’t home.” I reached across to link my hands around him, pulling him close. “I missed you, Jake.”
“I could have told you Florida would suck, but you’d never have listened to your elders.”
“If Florida was half as good as people said it was, you wouldn’t look so miserable on your graduation day. Charlie must have showed your picture to everybody in Forks.”
He gestured to the frame already in pride of place on the old wooden desk, showing me, my mom and Phil, with Charlie and Sue too: my happy, blended family. I looked shocked to even be holding the diploma, let alone having my photograph taken. My hair was shorter then, a little lighter from the sun. I expected it to return to my customary dark brown in a matter of months under cloud cover. Four years in Florida and I hadn’t ever managed a tan, just months of pink cheeks and exhausted evenings from too much sun. Four years away from Forks, and it was as if I had never thawed out.
Seattle wasn’t home, but it was close enough.
“How’d you know I wasn’t just sad to leave?”
He looked sideways at me in disbelief.
“You have to swing by my house in the morning. I have something to show you. You’ll thank me.”
I crossed the room to the window, pressing a hand to the condensation on the pane.
“I haven’t had another car since the truck, Jake. I’m still hung up on it.” I turned to him, smiling. “Think Seth would want to trade?”
“Seth wants rid of that thing by any means necessary. But Sue says otherwise.” He tugged at my wrist, the one that still bore the woven friendship bracelet he had given me as a graduation present. “You coming down?”
I tore my eyes away from the growing puddle in the center of the truck’s tarp, the rusted bed where Angela and I used to lie, bundled up, and look at stars. Or where Jake and I would pack our boards when he claimed to be teaching me how to surf, and I maintained he was teaching me how to drown with grace.
“Give me a minute. I have a couple of things I want to get out of my suitcase.”
The second Jake stepped out of the room, I let myself fall back on my girl’s bed, the mattress firmer than I remembered. My old clothes still hung in the wardrobe, having greeted me each Christmas and birthday when I retreated to Charlie’s house and the ubiquitous greenery of the Pacific Northwest. Layers and sleeves that had, at long last, made sense in the Washington drizzle, went back to being oppressive in the Florida heat.
I missed the comfort of them, and the cloud layer that hung around the mountains.
My backpack had all the essentials inside: iPod, cheap plastic pen, notepad, and textbook from my new supervisor’s summer reading recommendations. I switched on the bedside lamp, and pulled back the sheets on the bed to let them air out a little. After my guests, welcome as they were, all headed home, I would be glad of an hour or so of silence before I succumbed to sleep. It was harder to tell whether rain still fell outside, or just lingered on the glass, since Charlie replaced the windows. The sound of the rain wouldn’t put me to sleep tonight, like it always had when I called Forks my home.
I was rereading Little Women for the fourth, or maybe fifth, time: always braced for the tragedy, tense in anticipation. The box of books I shipped ahead to Charlie’s was waiting for me under the desk, stamped and suffocated in layers of tape. Pulling my keys from the pocket of my jacket, I ripped into the top of the cardboard, slicing across the seam. Arresting red text peeked out, a glossy cover at the top of a pile of battered and beloved old paperbacks. This one, I finished in two days. I barely saw the row of hospital beds on the cover, cracking the spine over and over again as I forced the pages flat so I could spoon cereal into my mouth with one hand. It scraped into the box at the last second, still with twenty pages to go when I climbed into the passenger seat en route to the shipping place.
My bookmark was a torn scrap of paper from a notebook that had lived in a succession of textbooks, personal accounts, and stapled pdfs in a plastic wallet for two months. At the top, I had hastily written ‘reading list,’ and followed it with a list of author names in progressively worse handwriting until the professor had smiled indulgently and reminded me she’d summarise all of this in an email.
It was easy enough for her to be distracted by knocks on the door during our handful of Skype calls. A quick glimpse out of the window as she swung her laptop up off the desk had told me she looked out over a quadrangle, but that didn’t tell me much: most of the University of Washington seemed to be surrounded by neat, geometrical greenery.
I pulled the paper from the back page of Alan Sipress’ ‘The Fatal Strain,’ and tossed it into the box before digging deeper. Somehow, I had managed to pack the final book on the list close to the bottom, and I built a stack beside me on the floor as I dug through it. Turning each spine to read the name, I finally pulled out a slim volume, no more than two hundred pages. Aside from a brief review on the back cover, touting phrases like ‘touching personal account,’ there was no information except the title and author’s name.
How to Die of Spanish Influenza
“Bella?” Sue called from the bottom of the stairs. “Food’s getting cold.”
I tossed the book onto the bed, reaching over to switch off the bedside lamp.
“I’ll be right down.”
Pulling the door gently closed behind me, I took a deep breath and headed downstairs to face my family.
There was never much coverage in the newspapers, until the disease reached the point where one only had to look down the hallway to know the terrible effects of the virus. We were arrogant to begin with. I insisted to my mother that the army would not be stopped for long, that soldiers could never be content to lay flat on their backs while a war raged. People believed that the young and the strong could fight it off. I was seventeen when the coughing started.
I hurried behind the professor as she strode across the Banner lab, pausing only briefly at the third door to don a white lab coat, and invite me to do the same.
“When you’re working in this room, it’s gloves and lab coats at all times, but there will always be somebody around to ask for help.” She smiled at me, sunlight winking on the gold frames of her glasses. “I can’t guarantee that you won’t be shut up in the library most of the time, but my doctoral students all have offices, and there’s always space on the lab bench.”
“It looks… incredible.”
Professor Banner turned to point to a bent head, topped with curly hair and a set of enormous headphones.
“That’s Julia, she’s a Ph.D. student, over there is Michael, post-doc, and in the corner over there is Edward.”
I could only see the man’s back, rendered mostly anonymous by his lab coat. All I could make out was his hair, sticking up strangely around the straps of his N95 mask, and his half-wave at the mention of his name. None of them turned around to greet us, intent on their work.
Rolling her eyes, Banner gestured for me to follow her once more.
“You’ll have a lot on your plate in the first year, especially with all of the training prerequisites from graduate school. I’ll take you back through our group’s offices, and then we can talk about your reading list, sound good?”
It took us twenty minutes to make it back to her desk. After a perfunctory hello from some of her students, they bombarded her with updates, asking countless questions. To each of them, she responded with some variation of ‘email me,’ before leading me away to speak to the next person. Once she was safely seated, door locked behind us to prevent any further interruptions, Professor Banner took a sip from her coffee cup before grimacing.
“Ice cold. Not even intentionally.”
All I could muster was an awkward half-laugh, but she was already scrolling frantically, eyes scanning her computer screen, searching.
“What did you think of the books I recommended?”
I dug into my bag, and passed her Masen’s book.
“This is the last one. So far, I’ve only read about fifty pages-“
“You read ten books in two months?”
She looked stunned, and I flushed. It typically took people a little longer to work out how much time I spent in solitude.
“Um, yeah. I don’t get out all that much.”
“You’ll fit right in here, Bella. I mean it. There is a lot of pressure on this group, since we’re a relatively new lab, studying old ground. People don’t think there’s anything left to say about the flu. I disagree. We work long hours, even if sometimes you won’t see much of the others.”
“There’s always something to say about the flu,” I replied.
Banner smiled at me, and handed the book back across the desk.
“Right answer. I want you to start finding papers about the spillover theories, and once you think you’re comfortable with some of the literature, you can start to write up a review. Nothing big, I just want to know what you’re interested in, what you make of some of the analysis. Do you know R?”
I shook my head, fast, and she bit her lip.
“I’ll find somebody who can give you a crash course. Can’t hurt you to learn some statistics skills. Give me a week. I’ll get back to you. Like I said,” she added, standing to shake my hand. “We’re very busy. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you have someone to support you.”
“Thanks, Professor. It’s mostly new to me, but I’m ready to learn-”
“Don’t get too excited, Bella. Start your lit review, then tell me again how excited you are.”
In the corridor, I looked left and then right, trying to remember which way I had come to reach the office, before spying a sign for the exit and heading down the stairs and out into the quadrangle. My dorm was only a ten-minute walk away, and even Charlie had approved the street lighting on campus. Lifting my hood against the drizzle, I pulled out my phone and pushed my earphones in, before typing "1918 flu" into my Google search.
About 94,000,000 results (0.60 seconds)
It was a Friday night. I shoved the phone back in my pocket and vowed not to look at it until Monday. In the space of three songs, my building came into view, and I fished my keys out before realising that a girl with short dark hair was holding the door open for me. Keeping my eyes down, I mumbled my thanks before stepping into the lobby, where my eyes immediately went to the tiny locker where my mail would be housed. When I turned back to smile at her, or maybe introduce myself, the girl was already gone.
Although I had expected to be greeted by a roommate my first night here, nobody had ever shown up to claim the bed across from mine. It had given Charlie, Jake and I enough space to put together my little IKEA bookshelf without too many interruptions, and it had taken me less than two hours to unpack everything I owned and cram it into any space I could find. He wasn’t much of a handyman, but Charlie insisted he could install a shelf above the bed - I insisted that if he wanted to try, he could pay for the damage when we drilled into wires or pipes behind the thin walls.
In the three days since I arrived in Seattle, I hadn’t seen much of what the campus had to offer other than academic buildings and impressive open study spaces. My computer was stashed under a narrow desk at the end of the bed, which was an almost exact replica of my setup in Florida. All of my Skype contacts were intimately familiar with my closet doors after six months of calls, when I hung a print to add some color to the blank off-whiteness.
Two reminders remained on the screen from the morning, when I had properly set up my student email and been inundated with induction events. There was a mixer at a local bar starting in less than thirty minutes, or a quiz night being hosted by the computer science department that had already begun. I chewed the inside of my cheek for a moment, then opened the closet to inspect my clothes. My jeans and sneakers would do, but I swapped out my hoodie for a soft grey Eagles t-shirt Charlie donated to me after it was just a little too small for him, and threw a jacket over the top to keep the rain off. Glancing around the room, I switched on a lamp and quickly searched the name of the bar on my phone. I could drive - it would take five minutes, but I had no idea whether I’d be able to park. My only other option was a twenty-minute walk. With the sun setting outside, I grabbed my bag and made sure my book, keys and wallet were inside before throwing in a fresh t-shirt and some underwear.
Once I got behind the wheel of my new car, I pulled out my phone and dialed Jake’s number, tucking it between my ear and shoulder while it rang and I started the engine, trying to demist the windscreen.
“I’m coming home. See you in… five hours, I guess,” I told his voicemail.
The drive, though monotonous, gave me some time to clear my head of everything but the basics of driving, one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the seat beside me. Jake had remembered my love of driving stick, but on these roads the speed was fairly constant, almost leisurely. It took more than three hours of gentle music and progressively darker roads before I was jolted out of my reverie. The car behind me was too close for me to see the driver, but they were flashing their full beam headlights so fast it was blinding me, pressing on their horn. I glanced at the speedometer, and I was driving at a perfectly reasonable speed, hovering around the limit. The roads had transitioned to a single lane, but there was minimal traffic in the other direction. I had no idea why they hadn’t pulled around me if they were so desperate to get by, but we were coming up to a passing place. The moment I turned on my indicator, the driver stopped their aggressive flashing and honking.
It was over quickly, but just before the car peeled away I caught a glimpse of a stunning blonde woman at the wheel of the enormous Jeep, with mud spatter as high as the windows. Revving sounds gradually faded as they disappeared into the blackness, so fast that they must have doubled the speed limit.
I glanced over my shoulder before pulling out, thankful they had seen me and at least waited for me to pass. If the driver hadn’t been paying attention, I would have been a red scrape on their bumper, followed by a red smear on the tarmac.
Before long, I was pulling around the garage behind Billy’s house. I smiled at the little sign by the door with Jake’s name and phone number. When he graduated, people who had begged favors from him in the past: an oil change here, new tyres there, started to offer payment for his services. Jake hadn’t been a day without a car up on jacks in the garage since. He had no intention of leaving Billy’s house any time soon, and even less of a desire to leave the reservation, but I knew he’d asked a couple of local contractors to see about having the garage extended, putting in a professional setup. It would take a lot more oil changes before he could afford it.
Some improvements had been made since I left Forks, though. Jake had set up a generator in the back, and installed some fluorescent lighting that would let him work late if need be. It also meant I could immediately tell whether he was still working, and sit quietly, usually bundled in a borrowed sweater while he ran the air conditioning unit high.
“The pale-faces are no fun, huh?”
His voice floated up from knee height, muffled by the enormous truck he was lying underneath.
“Couldn’t face a weekend of cafeteria food. I miss cooking. Actual food.” I tapped Jake’s enormous boot with the toe of my shoe. “Are you hungry?”
He slid out suddenly, grabbing at my ankle and grinning.
“How many calories do you eat in a day, anyway? Half a cow and a dozen eggs?”
“Also pasta. As a snack.”
Jacob grabbed his shirt from my usual chair, wiping off his hands on the back of his jeans.
“We could order a pizza.”
I smirked, checking the time on my phone.
“You mean I could drive us twenty minutes to the closest pizza place, because they don’t deliver, to find out it’s closed?”
Furrowing his brow, Jake glanced at the clock on the wall.
“I was testing you.”
“I haven’t been gone that long.”
He smiled, and after he switched off the lights, we were left in the half-light coming from the back window of the house. Moving suddenly, and almost silently, Jake rushed towards me and hoisted me up over his shoulder, before taking us out into the night air and pulling the sliding door closed.
I knew from experience that resistance would be futile, so I remained limp until we crossed the threshold of the house. Pushing my hair out of my face, I huffed and called out to Billy who was installed in front of the TV.
“Call 911. Your son is a delinquent.”
“Evening, Bella. The Chief is in the bathroom.”
“He is?” Jake bent his knees just enough so I could stand on my own, then crossed the room to the refrigerator without a word. “I thought he’d be working late.”
My dad appeared then, uniform in one hand, but dressed in his weekend clothes.
“I was. Bella, do you even know what time it is? You shouldn’t drive in the dark-“
“I replaced the bulbs in her car two weeks ago, Charlie. She’s fine.” Jake poked his head around the door, holding some chicken strips aloft. “What do we think? Fajitas?”
Charlie shook his head in disbelief.
“You ate a whole pizza two hours ago.”
Jake looked affronted.
“I told you we should have ordered three.”
Grabbing the packet out of his hand, I went in search of a frying pan and some spices.
“Something weird did happen to me about an hour ago, though. Some asshole in a Jeep almost ran me off the road trying to get by. You’d have given her a speeding ticket for sure,” I said loudly.
Jacob’s hands stilled for a moment before he began rummaging once more.
“Yeah. She looked like she was in a hurry.”
“That’s probably the Cullens’ car. I’ve heard so many complaints from people on the road home from Seattle, but none of my guys have ever seen them speeding. What’s the kid’s name that goes to Bella’s college?”
“Edwin,” said Jake with a small smile.
“Yeah, Edwin. They drive all the way out there and back to bring him home. Rich people have a little too much time on their hands, if you ask me.”
“Maybe I’ll run into him on campus.”
“If he offers you a ride home, say no. I don’t want you wrapped around a tree.”
I flicked on the gas with one hand, and raised the frying pan in the other, giving him a salute.
Hours later, I woke with a start, half of my face buried in a familiar-smelling blanket. Peering out into the room, I realised I had been left to sleep on the couch. I felt around blindly for my phone, which was tucked under the cushion behind my head. A quick glance at the screen had me screwing up my eyes against the light, and the white numbers that told me it was just after three in the morning. Charlie must have headed home, knowing I could drive myself back in the morning. I was thankful for the toothbrush and underwear in the truck, but it wasn’t the first time I had spent the night, unplanned, on this couch.
Wrestling with my hoodie, I pulled it off and flung it onto the floor before settling back once more to sleep.
It wasn’t unusual to hear the wind in the nearby trees, or buffeting against the side of the house. Once or twice, there had been raccoons in the back yard, scrabbling with tiny claws against the back deck. Just as I was drifting off again, I heard something faint, but entirely unfamiliar.
I froze, holding my breath as I listened intently.
From what I could tell, it sounded like something was brushing up against the side of the house. Like a pacing animal, maybe a bear out scavenging in the garbage. Something big.
I slid off the couch, pulling on my hoodie and forcing my feet halfway into my shoes before waddling awkwardly to the back door. My view from the kitchen window wasn’t great, and there were no lights outside, just a faint glow from the surprisingly cloudless sky.
Even when I cupped my hands around my face, peering out into yard, there was nothing but scrub grass and the dark shadow of the tree line. I nudged the door open a crack, just enough to help me hear any movement outside.
Light flooded my vision from the right of the house: the security bulbs Jake installed all around the garage, to track movement and alert him to any potential intruders had illuminated the ground in front of me, stretching all the way to the deck, inches away from where I stood.
I craned my neck, trying to see what had set off the sensors, then felt a hand on my arm, pulling me back from the doorway.
“Jesus, Jacob. You scared me,” I gasped out, running a hand through my tangled hair. “I thought I heard something outside.”
Though I couldn’t see him well, his white teeth stood out in a grin against his brown skin.
“I thought I was going to wake up and find a bear going through your kitchen cabinets.”
“Why are you so sweaty?” Raising the back of my hand to his forehead, I checked to see if he was feverish. His skin was fiery against mine. “I have acetaminophen in my bag-“
“Relax. My window jammed shut again. I just need some water.”
“Bella.” Jacob fixed me with a look, but his eyes were mocking. “Quit mothering me.”
I took the water glass he held out to me, not even bothering with a reply. I set it down on the floor, careful not to spill on the worn carpet, and lay back against the cushions. As Jake passed, I held up my palm for him to slap on his way back to his room. He tapped it gently, trying not to wake Billy, and headed off down the hallway.
hello friends, if you enjoyed this chapter be sure to look out for the next one, arriving Wednesday, June 24! thanks for reading
Chapter 3: Glimpse
The speaker pulled up her final slide, a picture of her shaking hands with the head of the engineering school, and thanked us for our attention, which she had effortlessly held for the past twenty-five minutes. I had scribbled down the names of a few science outreach programs she recommended, most notably one setting up equipment boxes for local high school STEM lessons. I could never see myself giving a talk at the Forks High assembly, but maybe I could contribute in some way. Anything would be better than Mr Molina’s golden onion.
“Some people from my building are going to a bar in town if you want to join us,” offered the girl to my left. This was the second induction seminar we had sat in together: the first, by chance, and the second, because I was the only face she recognized. “It’s called Unicorn, on East Pike Street?”
She looked hopeful, genuine. I’d never heard of the place, but I nodded anyway.
“It’s kind of a crazy theme, but apparently it’s fun- I’ve never been.”
“I’m supposed to be meeting friends from home tonight-“
“Bring them along,” she trilled. “Wait. Are they cute? Are they guys? Are they girls?”
“Yes,” I hedged. “At least one of them is married, though.”
“Ew. Where are you from?”
“A town small enough they’re happy to drive four hours for some nightlife.”
She looked at me blankly.
“Add me on Facebook, ok? I’ll invite you to the event.”
With that, the girl, whose name I admittedly couldn’t remember, was gone. The number of students in the hall was dwindling, and the few who remained looked engrossed in conversation with the speakers. Angela was driving out to spend the evening with me but had hinted she might bring along some others and stay the night in a hotel, though I had no idea who would tag along on the long drive.
17:35 We’ve been invited to a bar tonight. What can you tell me about Unicorn on Pike Street?
17:37 Only that they serve Ben’s favorite burger in Seattle. Don’t worry, I’ll be your designated driver.
Ninety minutes later, I heard a car horn through my dorm room window and pulled my jacket from the back of the desk chair.
Angela’s car was surprisingly adult-looking: the younger sibling of a soccer mom SUV, just big enough for four people and what looked like a couple of oversized duffle bags. She waved from the passenger window, gesturing wildly to Ben’s grinning face behind the steering wheel. In the back seat, a blond head turned towards me, looking sheepish.
The moment I opened the back door, Angela turned in her seat, exposing her profile which was a lot larger than I expected. A lot larger.
“When were you going to tell me you were pregnant?”
She reached out, throwing a packet of chips onto Ben’s lap before quickly brushing crumbs from her hands, clasping at mine.
“Right now! Or, if I could get you to come home for the shower.”
“You know you’re supposed to have a shower before the kid leaves for college, right?”
“I know.” She smiled beatifically. “I’m huge.”
“Hey Bella,” said Ben, winking at me in the rearview mirror.
I turned to Mike, hands raised for a beat before I busied them with my seat belt.
“What brings you here?”
“Oh, you know. Have to leave Forks at least one night a month to stop my mom getting any more ideas.”
“I know this charming dentist, Michael. He drives a BMW, Michael,” crowed Ben in a cracked falsetto.
I chuckled, scanning the dashboard and the fast-food wrappers littering the front of the car.
“Did you guys already eat?”
“Nah,” replied Ben. “I came straight from the hospital to pick these two up. We had to stop at the first place we saw before I passed out behind the wheel.”
“I told you I would drive, man.”
“Nobody but me, Angela, and Angela’s mom are allowed to drive this car until December. Maybe not ever.”
“Is that when you’re due?” I glanced back at my window as we pulled away, making sure it was closed, before I turned to Angela.
“If I’m lucky. I was two weeks late, Ben was a week late… Enough about me. I haven’t seen you in eighteen months, Bella. Fill us in.”
I sat back, then immediately leaned forward again when I realized how close that brought me to brushing elbows with Mike. Even after all these years, old habits died hard.
“Finished out my degree-“
“-top of the class, I assume-“
“Applied to come to Washington, spent an inordinate amount of time inside reading textbooks, got a new car-“
“New?” Mike asked, sounding tentative. I knew he had a job with his uncle at the Chevrolet showroom out by Port Angeles.
“Jake would kill me if I let anyone other than him choose my car. He doesn’t trust my dad not to get ripped off. Or me, for that matter.”
“So Jacob is still in the picture?” asked Angela in a strange, knowing voice.
“Of course. He’s still my best friend.” I slid my eyes away from Mike, who bristled in his seat. “Have you heard from Jessica lately?”
“Nobody hears from Jessica. We have the pleasure of watching her every glamorous move on Instagram, but that’s about it.”
Angela launched into a story about last time Jessica had come to visit from California, how she seemed to be thriving in the world of finance, a glorified accountant who worked out of Silicon Valley and earned, according to Jessica, more than Angela would expect.
“We should get out here, Ben. You know that parking lot-“
“I remember, babe,” he interjected, leaning across to kiss her on the cheek. “Get us the good table.”
When we made it across the street and into the bar, I was struck by the decor, and the size of the crowd inside. I scanned for a table, but the only space was at the bar, even at this hour. Crooking her fingers at me, Angela made a beeline for the gap, large enough only for her to park her hip against the wood and stretch for a menu. Mike shuffled awkwardly against us, allowing himself to be jostled by the flow of the crowd.
I gratefully accepted the menu from Angela.
“The sooner we get an order in, the better. Ben always orders the same thing, so- oh, look. There he is,” she said, standing on tiptoe and waving. “Who is he talking to?”
She touched my elbow gently as she stepped around me to get a better look, and I wedged myself against the wood as best I could.
“Huh. Mike, is that Emmet Cullen?”
Mike’s head snapped up, but immediately his face turned crestfallen.
“Small fucking world. Trust Ben to strike up a conversation with the Cullens-“
“Stop it. He works with Dr Cullen, it’s only polite.”
I craned my neck to get a better view, watching as Ben extended a dark-brown hand down towards someone seated at the table, who responded with an awkward, hesitant fist bump.
“The Cullens, like the ones from Forks?” I half-shouted into Angela’s ear over the music. “One of them almost ran me off the road last week.”
“Yeah, Ben works with their dad a lot, especially now he’s certified. Their other radiology technician is about to retire, and the hospital is only so big, you know?”
“He’s not even their dad,” grumbled Mike.
I raised a brow at his petulant tone, but Angela seemed genuinely riled by his words.
“I get that people don’t like them, Mike, but the Cullens are just people- She’s coming over,” she finished acidly.
Ben wasn’t a particularly tall man, but he towered in comparison to the young woman making a beeline for our little group. Her dark, short hair was immediately familiar: the girl I had mistaken for a student in the lobby of my building.
Mike stiffened, looking guilty.
“Not her, Alice. Trust me, Rosalie Hale doesn’t spare you a thought. You can relax.”
When Ben reached us, the girl stood a few steps back, smiling at us expectantly. Immediately, I had a sense of exactly how moneyed she and her family must be: her clothes wouldn’t have looked out of place at a fashion show. It was not the elegant, understated style of the audience, but the bizarre high fashion confections that lived and died on a runway. Despite the press of bodies around her, the girl - Alice - stood almost perfectly still, like a ballerina poised at the barre.
Her skin was flawless, and her irises were almost black under monolid eyes, swept expertly with equally dark shadow.
“You remember Angela and Mike, right? Bella, this is Alice Cullen.”
“Your dad told me you were coming,” she said. Her voice was clear and high, with no discernible accent. Even though she didn’t raise her volume, her words seemed to cut through the noise of the crowd. “He’s a great guy.”
Mike rolled his eyes, and I hesitated for a moment, confused as to his rudeness.
“I like him,” I said with a small smile. “How do you know each other?”
A laugh escaped from Alice’s lips, and for a split second it was like she was frozen in her mirth, a tableau I couldn’t tear my eyes away from.
“A deer ran out in front of me just a little ways away from your house. I didn’t know how bad the damage was in the dark, so I knocked on the chief’s door.”
I heard Mike grumble, muttering about how deers wouldn’t come that far out of the woods in such a built up area, when Alice fixed him with a blank stare.
“It must have been hungry.”
She turned to me once more, and smiled slowly.
“Bella, let me buy you a drink.”
Angela looked over her shoulder, smiling shyly at the blonde woman with the stony face who reached out a hand to grasp Alice’s arm, before the smaller woman twitched away.
“Alice,” said the woman I assumed to be Rosalie. “Edward says it’s time to leave.”
She spun in place, one hand on her hip.
“Edward needs to relax.”
“We’ll go without you. Look,” she insisted, gesturing with a manicured hand to the door. All I could see was an enormous man with olive skin and shoulder-length hair, with his arms crossed and a calm smile on his face. The doors swung open, and a tall young man stepped inside, before saying something to the other one.
His hair was dark red, and despite the tension in his posture, the young man, or boy, really, still held himself with confidence, with surety. When he stared across the bar, piercing Alice’s gaze with his own, I was taken aback by the anger in his eyes. Just like Alice’s, his eyes were black. They were, all of them, beautiful.
I was transfixed.
He shook his head, almost imperceptibly, then cast his eyes over us, the people his sister was using as an excuse not to follow. When our eyes met, his expression shifted to one of disdain, and I immediately dropped my gaze, cheeks warm.
“I’ll see you around, Bella,” said Alice.
Without looking up, I nodded politely, but she reached out to take my hand.
It wasn’t particularly cold outside. Ben had even left his jacket in the car in favor of a sweatshirt, and the number of bodies in the room meant I was beginning to get a little warm myself. Alice’s hand on my bare skin was as cold and unyielding as a metal handrail over icy ground. When she looked straight into my eyes, it felt as if her hand was my only anchor, feet unsteady on a slick surface.
“Don’t be a stranger.”
With that, she was gone.
I touched my hand to my lips. It was as if she had leeched all the warmth from my skin.
“That was… weird. I mean, they’re all kind of eccentric in general, but-“
“The Cullens are freaks.”
Ben rolled his eyes.
“Just because someone is intimidating-“
“I’m not scared of them,” Mike insisted, taking a sip of his beer.
Angela cut in, then, waving her hands.
“They have this whole mysterious vibe going on. Nobody really knows much about them, so the rumours get crazier by the year.”
“What do people say about them?”
I took a sip of my coke, eager for an explanation.
“So, like nine months after you left, the Cullens show up. It’s just three of them at first. Dr Cullen, his wife, and this guy Edward who is starting at the university in the fall. They start telling people that Edward is Carlisle - Dr. Cullen’s - younger brother. I have no idea where it came from, right, but people start saying that Edward is actually Carlisle’s son, and that he got somebody pregnant when he was like… twelve years old.”
I realized then that my mouth was agape.
“I know,” she said, in response. “Ridiculous."
“So what about the others?”
“Right. Next come Rosalie and Jasper. They’re cousins. Nobody ever really sees Jasper - I don’t think he was with them, was he?”
Ben shook his head, one eye on his phone. I could see the bright animation of a fantasy football game moving across the screen.
“So according to my mom’s book club, Dr Cullen’s wife is the love child of some millionaire and his nanny. Again, don’t ask me how anybody knows this, but it’s the only story I’ve heard, so bear with me.” She grinned then, at the silliness of her own story. “So basically, she has this niece and nephew, who are her half brothers’ kids, and they turn up on the Cullens’ doorstep, like… four months after they got here to begin with. Practically her whole family died in a boating accident, but Mrs Cullen isn’t really part of the family, so she doesn’t get invited, and bam. She’s the only living relative they have left.”
“So they’re still Cullens? They adopted them?”
“Nah, they’re still legally called Hale, I think. They must have had a really uptight family, you know, because Rosalie and Jasper are fucking insufferable-“
“I’m just telling the truth, Angela. They’re seriously rude. Maybe it has something to do with the money, I don’t know, but they’re straight-up snobs.”
“Whatever. Their family died, I don’t know them, they can be snobs if they want.” She took a deep breath. “It gets worse.”
I accepted another glass of coke from Ben, who had been chatting jovially with the bartender, presumably asking about our food.
“Mrs Cullen is out shopping in town, and she’s got this little Asian girl with her. Everybody thinks Alice is like, thirteen or something, she’s so tiny, and she wears these crazy clothes like a little kid. But she doesn’t enroll in school, then people start seeing her out walking alone at night, or she’s flashing a credit card in her own name, and people start to realize that she’s actually like, twenty years old or something.”
“You ever see that movie Orphan? I couldn’t look at Angela’s little sister for weeks after I saw that movie,” said Ben with a chuckle.
“The whole Emmett thing is even weirder.”
“What do you mean, the whole Emmett thing?” I tried to keep my tone light, but I was desperate for more information about this strange, private family.
Angela gestured for Ben to take over, and his eyes lit up. It seemed like this was a story he was excited to tell.
“Emmett pulls up in the back of an ambulance one day, and the EMT says he’s dead on arrival. A rescue team pulled him out of the water, middle of winter, he’s basically frozen solid, right? But Dr Cullen insists he can hear a heartbeat even if nobody else believes it. Six weeks later he moves in with the Cullens, completely recovered, no questions asked. So fucking strange.” Ben smiles. “Nice guy, though. He’s the least pretentious out of all of them.”
“If you see Edward at school, you should introduce yourself. Alice and Emmett are the only ones who really talk to anybody from town, but maybe he’s nice. I’ve never spoken to him.”
She glanced at Ben, who mumbled that he only knew the other Cullens to say hello to, and then at Mike who abruptly shook his head.
“Burger up!” Called the waiter.
He handed Ben a plate, but stopped short in front of Angela, eyes fixed on her hand that rested on top of her stomach. Smiling apologetically, he gestured for Ben to give him the plate back.
“I’ll see what I can do about getting you folks a table.”
Angela smiled, the picture of gratitude. Once he turned his back, she leaned over and stage whispered, “Works every time,” before taking another drink of her orange juice. She frowned at Mike, who had claimed the only free stool.
“Almost every time.”
We were warned about getting too close to one another. My friends, older than me and already stationed elsewhere, didn’t return any of my letters. When I stopped the mailman to ask if perhaps they had been lost, or if they were even sending the letters out to army bases, he raised his voice to me to stay back, to close the door and remain inside. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, then, and coughed into it. His face, I realised, shone with sweat. A week later, I did not recognize the man collecting my letters.
I fished through the plastic tub that served as my pantry, unwrapping a cookie and stuffing it into my mouth before grabbing my pajamas and quickly changing my clothes. The little IKEA lamp by my bed shed just enough light to read my book by, and though the clock read midnight already, I was wide awake. Reading didn’t necessarily put me to sleep. On more than one occasion I’d looked up from the final page of a novel to see the street lamps outside begin to switch on.
The cover of Masen’s book was rough, tactile, with a flexible spine. Despite the number of times I had cracked it open, smoothed the pages across my lap in this spot, or on Charlie’s couch, it still looked pristine.
I had left his story just a few pages after his father died, two nights previous when I had ventured out with the promise of free pizza at a seminar for early career researchers.
My mother’s smile never faltered, from my first memory of her to the day my father breathed his last. Each night he lay in his sickbed, my mother restlessly pacing back and forth from the guest bedroom, I imagined the souls in the closest hospital without a family to tend to them. She was not much of a nurse.
Turning the book over, I scanned the back cover, as familiar to me as any of my favorites. The first hundred pages of this one looked just like any other textbook on my shelf, though it was only two-thirds as tall and half as thick. Colored tabs dwindled around the same time the Spanish flu found its name. Scribbled notes in the margin became less frequent when the second wave began, and now, that the virus was in his house, had taken his father’s life, my tired eyes were darting frantically across the screen for any evidence of contact with the sick, the dying.
We paid an exorbitant fee for a real funeral, my mother and I and the priest, gravediggers solemnly keeping a wide berth.
“It’s not the right suit for a burial,” my mother fretted. “Too light. Better a wedding, or a baptism.”
The thought, now, of standing in a pew and watching people kiss, shake hands with well-wishers, turned my stomach.
I cast an eye around my bedroom, which should have felt cozier, more homely for the size, considering how many prints and pictures I had taken from Florida and Forks. His description of his house, the luxury he lived in while the less fortunate died in cramped apartments all over Chicago, turned sour the moment his mother was carted off to the hospital. Masen wandered his house, afraid to sleep. Though he couldn’t be with her, he kept a vigil for his mother.
I was alone, in the night, when I felt the chill for the first time.
Snatching up my scrap of paper from the nightstand, I slipped it inside the book and flipped quickly to the final few pages. The most basic question plagued me, just as I knew that the simplest explanation was the most likely: that he survived the virus, or else had never fallen victim to it at all, and lived to publish his memoir.
The final page was full of capitalized type, statistics about the rate of infection throughout the world, then a smaller, somehow equally horrifying number that represented the number of young people who lost their lives in North America alone.
A few pages previous, were his final words.
This is how we died, this generation, young and strong and vital, destroyed from the inside. Murdered, in our thousands, by a virus that lived among us, bound us together while we suffered alone. Slaughtered by our bodies, piling every ounce of strength on a fever like a furnace. We died alone, because we could not bear to be apart.
I pushed the book underneath my bed, and lay still for a moment, listening to the sounds filtered through my walls. A girl’s laugh, high-pitched and delighted, sent a shiver down my spine. Switching off the lamp, I slid into the warmth of my blankets and turned my face away from the clock.
Slipping into fitful sleep was no reprieve, and I dreamed of pale hands around my throat, cutting off my air.
Eight minutes before the seminar was due to start, I looked up from the campus map on my phone and pulled back my hood. The lecture hall was small, modern, with ten or so rows of seats all facing a weary looking young man with a PowerPoint slide half-projected across his chest. Every time he shifted his weight, eyes locked on the door, the word Welcome lost a letter.
As I expected, the seats were mostly empty: I chose a row near the front, hoping at least that the vacant spaces on either side of me would stay that way.
My closest companions were across the aisle from me. The girl, whose long dark hair fell in perfect waves down the back of her plastic chair, was gesturing frantically with a Mehndi-covered hand at her laptop screen.
“Didn’t they think we deserved to know?”
Her companion shook their head, biting their lip.
“We’ve all been walking home in the middle of the night, leaving our windows open, all of it- with someone like this on the loose?”
I pulled out my own laptop, eyeing my email inbox warily. Two emails from my supervisor: one sent in the early hours of this morning, with papers attached for my attention. The second was a calendar invite for this afternoon, a half-hour slot mysteriously named “Lab intro”. A few messages down, was a college-wide communication marked urgent.
BREAK-INS ON CAMPUS
Scanning the empty reassurances from the security team - Although the responsible party has not been apprehended, students can ensure their collective safety by following these simple steps - the bottom fell out of my stomach. All of the times I had propped the door open with a foot, holding it for a few extra seconds as I passed through, even when I was in a rush, I could have been face to face with the person responsible.
One of our students has come forward to make a statement to local police, and is recovering fully.
I balked at the word recovering, and opened my browser, certain there would be a news story with more information.
“Hi everyone,” said the young man, who waved the stragglers inside with an impatient gesture. “We’re about to get started, so why don’t you take this time to introduce yourself to your neighbours.”
I was still alone in my row, so I turned my focus back to my screen. The first few articles had no more information than the platitudes in my email, and I closed the pages with disgust. Four more tabs had variations on the theme of ‘How to Die of Spanish Influenza, by A. Masen.’ After the ubiquitous Facebook profiles, the name yielded nothing more of interest. The book itself had a solitary, scathing review on Goodreads, and none on Amazon, where the only available copies were used, and in poor condition. Even the college library website had no information on the author, and no other publications after that single, slim text.
A. Masen, whoever he was, must have died long before the internet age. That book was the only evidence he had ever lived, and survived the pandemic.
I slammed the lid of the laptop closed.
“Hi, I’m Bree,” said a girl to my left, offering her hand to shake.
Shocked, I wiped the frown from my face. I hadn’t even notice her sit down.
“Bella,” I replied. “Nice to meet you. What are you studying?”
“Psychology,” she said, voice high as if she was asking my approval.
Her denim jacket was spattered with rain, and her hair, thick around her face, was similarly damp. As she pulled the jacket off I saw the patches on the back, colourful and seemingly random. In the centre, the largest patch was a blue, white, and pink flag.
“Epidemiology. Infectious diseases, outbreaks, that sort of thing.” I smiled. “Your jacket is amazing, did you sew all those patches yourself?”
Her answering grin was a little bashful.
“They’re mostly iron-on. My sister helped me with some of them.”
“I haven’t sewed anything since I was like, five. I used to try to make doll’s clothes out of underwear-“
Bree laughed, then cast her eyes to the front when our host clapped his hands.
“Welcome to Research Integrity,” he announced, “We’ll be here for just over two hours, so get comfortable.”
She smiled at me once more, then pulled her jacket from the seat between us and spread it out across her lap, absentmindedly tracing the patterns in the fabric.
At noon, I knocked on Dr. Banner’s door, checking the time on my phone for the third time since I arrived in her corridor. It wasn’t unusual for her to beckon me inside while she was still in the middle of a Skype call, even though I had only been on campus a few weeks.
Her office was one of several crowded around a tiny crush area, complete with a grimy kitchenette. The heavy fire doors at the opposite end opened a crack. Just enough for me to see a pale hand curled around the wood, but just as quickly it disappeared, and the door swung shut with a clang as the mechanism bounced against the metal in the door frame.
A few muttered words came from inside the Professor’s office, and she emerged holding a tablet and a travel cup.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. My wife is having a meltdown at home, the baby has a cold.”
She smiled apologetically and I shook my head, sympathetic to her rumpled shirt and tired eyes. Despite staying awake much later than I had intended, I woke that morning early, unable to fall back asleep even when I closed my eyes to rest.
Backing into the laboratory, she shook her head when I reached for a lab coat from the hooks outside.
“We won’t be in here long, trust me.”
I followed half a step behind, still wary of the technicians in blue gloves carrying enormous bottles marked ‘flammable,’ ‘corrosive,’ or in the case of one metal dewar, filled with liquid nitrogen.
“Edward? I brought Bella,” she called, frowning once more at her phone screen.
It was the same Edward from the bar, from Forks, from Angela’s strange story. Up close, under the harsh lights, he looked sickly, with dark under-eye circles set in a bloodless face. He looked like he had not left the lab in days, from the state of his unruly hair.
Though he looked underfed and under-slept, he was still breathtaking. Tall and lean, with dark red hair that must have been dyed, the color was so unusual. I was, just for a moment, transfixed, unable to understand how the professor could tear her eyes away to check her emails. It seemed ludicrous.
He looked up at her voice, pulling his earphones out sharply before wrapping them around his hand and stuffing them in his pocket. I moved to put my hand out to shake, but his hands didn’t emerge from the pockets of his lab coat. Instead, he nodded curtly, shifting his weight away from us.
My throat was dry, and my voice came out as a raspy whisper. I struggled to swallow.
“I’m Bella Swan, I met your sister-“
“Pleasure,” he bit out, not meeting my eyes.
Dr. Banner seemed oblivious to the fact his gaze was darting around the room, eyes dark and glassy. His shoulders, obscured by the bulk of the stiff white jacket, seemed hunched, tense. I wondered for a moment if he was high, pupils blown to blackness.
“I want Bella to get started with some simple cell culture. You did this sort of thing at undergrad, right?”
“Rarely,” I admitted, smiling apologetically.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Edward, half-afraid he was going to bolt from the room. If not for that, I would have missed him mutter something under his breath, unintelligible. The wry twist of his mouth told me it probably wasn’t kind.
He lurched towards me, brushing past my shoulder, close enough to stir my hair, before he raised a hand to his face. A split second later, a timer sounded from across the lab. With quick, impatient strides, he crossed to the other bench and snatched up the buzzer, shutting it off.
“Edward is looking into viruses in mountain lions, came to us from UC Davis,” she said, before dropping her voice to a murmur. “He’s an excellent researcher, but not much for socialising.”
Her smile was warm.
“I was hoping you could give her a better tour of the lab, Edward.”
As he turned to answer, Edward swept a hand across the counter, and a vial of clear liquid fell to the floor, immediately shattering.
“Oh, fuck,” hissed Banner.
She gripped my arm, pulling me from the room before shouting over her shoulder to open the windows. Edward stirred to action, bending to pull a mask from an open drawer and stretching the elastic over his head. The last thing I saw before the professor forced the doors closed and pulling out her phone once more, was Edward staring after us, stock-still with his fists clenched at his sides.
Banner placed a hand over the mouthpiece of her cell phone.
“That sweet smell? Terrible stuff, so toxic- the lab will be out of action for days,” she said in a stage whisper.
Edward emerged from the lab, pulling off his lab coat with an urgency that had me stepping back.
“Nobody’s left inside,” he told Banner, without looking in my direction.
“Good, good. Look, I have to go and take care of this. Bella, if you have any questions, Edward is your man.”
She turned on her heel, and hurried off, wrapping her sweater more firmly around herself.
I was struck, then, by how close he was standing. I opened my mouth to speak but my mind was blank - instead, I simply gaped at him. His frown was deep, eyes still firmly cast down towards his expensive-looking shoes. All of his clothes looked expensive, for all of his dishevelment, and the wrinkles in his shirt.
When he met my eyes, his jaw was taut.
“Email me,” he grunted, and stalked off in the opposite direction.
Chapter 4: Awakening
My mother was at Michael Reese, apparently complaining about the fresh-faced doctors and brusque nurses, who did not have much time for her insistence that she, a wealthy woman, should have a private room.
Even with his legged crossed underneath him, Jake barely fit on the narrow bed across from me. He wielded chopsticks a little more deftly than I did.
When he arrived at lunchtime, Jake had insisted I carry on with my day, that he had errands to run in the city. This wasn’t before he’d arrived at the library and convinced the receptionist he was an incoming student, here for a tour. She was young, with blown-out hair and a pretty smile. Jake’s most persuasive grin was most effective at close range, and when he turned to me, leaning back from the desk, the receptionist looked flustered.
“Time for the tour,” he said to her, winking. “Maybe I’ll see you next semester.”
“You shouldn’t do that to people, Jake.”
He shrugged, holding up the day pass he’d conned his way into.
“Who’s to say I won’t come back and see her?”
I raised my brows, but let him sling an arm around my shoulder anyway.
He returned to the dorm an hour after I did, and when he found me reading the last of Masen’s book, Jake plucked it from my hands and threw it on to the other bed, replacing it with a menu.
“Friday night. No more books. Only Chinese food,” he insisted.
Jake’s backpack was old, with Sharpie markings all over the straps from its days as his school bag. First, he pulled out a box and started to unpack a little speaker, quickly slotting his iPod into the dock, before bending to plug it in beside the bed.
“What are we listening to?”
“You tell me,” I said. “What’s this for?”
“The garage. I’m sick of the radio. But there’s more.”
He handed me a card.
“Rachel has a friend who works in Seattle. My new accountant.”
I flicked the card against my hand, mouth agape, and Jake grinned.
“Adults pay taxes, Bella. You wouldn’t know, being a bum student, and all, and at least ten years younger than me-“
A laugh escaped me.
“Let me know when you can feed yourself, Jake. Then we’ll talk about age.”
He pointed to the menu with a grin.
“So you’re saying no to delicious free food from-“ he tilted his head to read the name. “Zheng Cafe?”
“I’m saying we’ll split the bill.”
When I had stuffed our boxes into the garbage chute at the end of the hall, I returned to see Jake scrolling through grainy photographs on his phone.
“Leah and Sam found an apartment in San Francisco, look.”
Their smiles forced a similar one onto my own face.
“What about you, Jake? Flirting with librarians can’t be the extent of your love life.”
“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
I folded my arms, incredulous.
“My life begins and ends in the library. You have no excuse.”
“Aside from the fact I’m running a business, my dad wants me to take more responsibility on the tribal council, I have to worry about Seth staying out of trouble since Leah left, and I keep finding carcasses in the woods that look like somebody’s run them over with a semi-“
I held up my hands.
“What are you doing in the woods, Jake?”
He rolled his eyes.
“Nothing you wouldn’t do.”
I flushed. A hiking mishap in my junior year meant I’d sat on the moss for four hours nursing a twisted ankle before Sam and Paul found my truck and trekked after me.
“I’m in no more danger in those woods than I am in my back yard, Bells. Whereas you really need to start locking your windows.”
I stood, and turned the handle on the frame.
“I… I thought I did.” I frowned. “Did you hear about the break-ins?”
Jake’s answering grimace was all I needed to see.
“What did Charlie say?”
“He told me he didn’t want to freak you out, but that I should get my butt over here and make sure you were being kept safe.” Jake ran a hand through his hair. “He knows you’re careful, but he also knows you don’t always listen to him, so…”
I smirked at him, shaking my head.
“When were you going to tell me about this ulterior motive?”
Jake bent down once more to pull something from his backpack, and emerged holding a bundle of DVDs.
“I was thinking after 2 Fast 2 Furious but before we started Tokyo Drift.”
I crossed to my desk, and then turned to dump my laptop beside him, before pausing, biting my lip.
“You can tell Charlie he doesn’t have to worry, ok? I don’t walk alone at night, much-“
For that, I got a pointed look.
“I’ll call him in the morning,” I sighed, before ducking out of the room with my change of clothes.
Minutes later, I returned to see that Jake had made himself comfortable, having already opened most of the snacks I’d acquired, and was flipping a pile of my notes, looking bored. The sheet he was holding, I knew, had my writing from the day of Banner’s failed lab tour. My choice of words was presumably the reason he’d started to grin, and not my statistics on Kentucky pig farms.
Since our conversation back in Forks, and even more so since my strange encounter in the lab, I had wondered about the Cullens, and his strange mockery, almost knowing. I hesitated to ask, but my curiosity was gnawing at me.
“What do you actually know about the Cullens?”
Jake looked startled, screwing up his face.
I threw myself down beside him.
“I’ve met two of them since I started here, and one was weirder than the next.”
“I’m going to guess Edward… and Alice?”
I nodded, huffing out my cheeks.
“Alice was nice enough, if a little intense- but Edward? He was a complete dick-“
“That sounds like him,” Jake said with a chuckle. “It doesn’t get any better with time.”
“How do you know them?”
“I don’t,” he began. “Not really. We spent a lot of time at the hospital when Harry was sick, but Dr. Cullen is pretty cool, I guess. He gave Sue advice on the hospital bills, and everything.”
“Angela told me a little, made it sound like they all came from pretty terrible circumstances. Still, I mean, Edward was so twitchy, he wouldn’t even look at me- do you think he does drugs?”
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific. What are we talking about? Red eyes and munchies?”
“His eyes were crazy, he would barely speak, he knocked over some chemical that meant we all had to evacuate the lab. Just… weird. Tense, like he was having a panic attack.”
“Here’s the play: you avoid him, and if he offers you drugs…”
“Just say no. Yeah, yeah.”
Hours later, I woke to see Jake silhouetted against my window. He was holding something. A pillow, that he raised to his face and took a deep breath. Jake held it against his chest, and stood perfectly still, just staring out into the treeline behind my building.
Blinking slowly, I watched him stand there, unmoving until I fell back to sleep. The doctor’s hands were cool, uncomfortably so. I knew the fever burned, but I shivered uncontrollably while he held down my shoulders, whispering words of comfort. My own breath was sour, my clothes soaked with sweat. His scent, the clean smell of his white coat, was heavenly.
The woman - Julia - had her head bent inside a white cabinet, arm sunk to the elbow to search between the shelves.
“Edward, can you-“
From my vantage point by the eyewash station, I saw him tap her on the shoulder with a roll of aluminum foil.
“Thanks,” she breathed, pushing herself to her feet. “When are you going to-“
“Thursday. She gets back from New York on Wednesday afternoon,” he replied, voice terse.
Julia pulled her phone from her pocket. She smiled brightly when she undoubtedly realized she was due a lunch break.
“Are you coming to-“
“I brought food from home.”
She smiled, unsurprised. In the week I’d been hanging around the lab, and the group offices, he’d never gone to lunch with the others or even set his work down that I saw. Edward glanced in my direction and I quickly looked down at my gloves. I snapped them around the wrists under the pretense of making sure they were correctly fitted.
Today, I was spending the afternoon cleaning old microscope slides for practice under Julia’s lax supervision. I capped the bottle of ethanol, setting it back on the shelf, before setting the beaker down into the sonicator that would jostle it into spotlessness.
A moment later, I was peering over the surface of the liquid, and I felt someone looming over my shoulder.
“Get your hand out of there,” Edward barked, pulling at my wrist. “You’ll get nerve damage.”
I had barely registered his words, and turned to see his retreating back.
“I wasn’t going to touch it! I’ve signed the risk assessment,” I called, fighting the urge to stick out my tongue.
The spot on my arm where he had touched it, the briefest brush of fingertips, was cold.
Ninety minutes later, I returned to my building carrying two cups of coffee as warm as I could have hoped for, seeing as I had no choice but to scarf down my lunch on a bench outside before rushing back in.
I peeked through the window of the office I knew Edward shared with some of the other post-docs, but it was completely empty. I’d never been close enough to his desk to get a good look, so for all I knew it was just as cluttered as the others. Knowing that he would probably be in the lab until after five, I pulled a scrap of paper and pen from my backpack before stuffing it into the cloak room where we abandoned our rain jackets in the mornings.
Edward, I scribbled. It’s just black. I didn’t know if you took milk. Bella.
A few minutes later, I set the cup down on one of the desks just outside the no-food-no-drinks-no-dicking-around area of the lab. I was gathering my hair into a tie when I spotted him and shouted out.
“I brought you coffee.”
His silence had me following, hands still in my hair, before he disappeared again. When I rounded the corner, I saw his earphones trailing into his pocket. Edward’s ever-present frown deepened when he looked up from his notes, focusing for a moment on the strange placement of my hands as I continued to wrestle with the elastic.
I felt a flush creeping up my neck, before he looked away.
“I left a coffee outside for you.”
He glanced up at me through his eyelashes, surprisingly long and fine. In Florida, or on someone else, I would have sworn they were quality fakes.
“I don’t drink caffeine.”
A smile crept across my face.
“But you’ve published more in, what, two years of study than anybody else in the group- I didn’t think you ever slept.”
“Not particularly,” said Edward. It looked as if it pained him to say it, though I could understand how frustrated he must have been with the perpetually dark circles under his eyes.
“My mom takes these crazy pills-“
“They wouldn’t help me.”
Expecting him to say something else, anything to fill the expanding silence, I bit my lip. Even the most painfully shy lab partners I’d had in Florida had been open to a little small talk after a week or so. With every passing second he stared down at his notebook, without even making the effort to pretend he was reading any of it, I grew more irate.
“Sorry I bothered,” I said, and headed to the opposite end of the room.
My stomach rumbled hours later, and I switched off the lamp above the microscope with a cramped, sore wrist. For hours, I had been manipulating samples with a set of tweezers. I worked at the grooves the metal left in the pads of my fingers, rubbing some life back into them.
As I passed the desk on my way out, I huffed at the sight of the cardboard cup. Edward hadn’t even had the courtesy to recycle it. Refusing to double back on myself, I juggled the cup and my backpack until I was able to dump the liquid out in the bathroom and throw it in the trash. My little note was gone.
Over the next few weeks, I outdid myself on the number of small accidents, trips and mishaps that I either fell victim to, or more often than not, directly caused with my inability to walk on linoleum, even with rubber-soled shoes.
The next Friday, I was carrying a tub full of dish soap and water from the sink to the closest workbench, under which it would live for a week until the next round of glass cleaning. Focusing intently on the floor in front of me, I didn’t notice one of the technicians open a freezer door into my path. Only the pale arm across my field of vision stopped me from walking directly into it, and sloshing the contents of my tub all over myself and the already treacherous floor.
“Sorry,” I breathed. The technician looked as startled as I felt to have the door slammed in her face. Edward, who for once had not immediately stalked off to mutter disgruntlement about my clumsiness, looked as if he was about to say something.
The woman murmured, “Excuse me,” and stepped between us on her way past. With that, he walked away.
I saw you cited Urban and Suburban Practices in Spillover Prevention in your last paper with Dr. Banner and she suggested I pick your brain on it. Would you have some time to meet next week to discuss it?
I promised Charlie I would be home for Sue’s birthday celebration the next day, but Jake made a huge deal out of coming to collect me. I suspected the reason was not my company, or superlative car snacks, but he had just completed the rebuild of his GT-R and was itching to drive it above forty.
He was due to arrive in forty minutes, although it was already past dinner time and I’d snuck a pasta salad into the computer lab after the last of the undergrads had cleared out.
The email was just about the last thing on my to-do list, which I had been putting off since yesterday morning when I came across the textbook in the library. With no expectation of a reply until Tuesday at the earliest, I was shocked when I heard my inbox notification. Setting down my book, I clicked to see Edward had replied just a few minutes after I had pressed send.
I’ll come to you
That was all it said.
I turned towards the door, half expecting him to burst through that very second. In reality, it was fifteen minutes later when I heard the mechanism on the door beep as he lifted his card for entry.
Edward paused, appearing to choose his seat carefully. Slowly, he pulled the wheeled chair out and sat down, stiffly and silently, with one desk separating us. I saw him scan the cover of my book, as well as the library copy of the textbook I had asked him about.
“Have you read this one?” I offered it to him, so that he could see the embossed title more clearly. He rubbed a finger over Masen’s name.
“No,” he replied. “Any good?”
I checked the time on my phone. Jake was due to arrive in twenty minutes, but I had half a mind to text Charlie to tell him exactly where I was.
At this close range, sitting stock still, Edward’s presence was even more unnerving than usual.
“It’s incredible. The way he talks about his family, about how everything and everyone around him became frightening and strange- the guy who wrote it is a complete mystery. No Wikipedia page, or anything.”
“It can’t have been a particularly successful book,” said Edward.
I shrugged, and he swapped the one in his hand for the textbook.
“I can scan my notes and email them over to you before I leave,” he said, dropping it to the table with a dismissive flick of the wrist.
I frowned. Dr. Banner had suggested that an academic discussion was the best way to easing the strange tension between us. Even Julia, who seemed to be the only person he could hold a conversation with for more than a few minutes, had worn him down over the course of months.
“I was really wondering what your impression was on-“
“You can draw your own conclusions, Bella. You’re intelligent enough.”
“But not intelligent enough for you to have a discussion with, right?” I turned in my chair to face him fully. “You’re a more experienced researcher than I am, and I’m supposed to do everything I can to learn. If you’re not going to help me, you don’t have to pretend like it’s for my benefit.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. Though he still looked flawless, always perfect, there was something in the set of his shoulders that seemed particularly weary. Even his careful posture couldn’t hide it.
“Honestly, it’s nothing groundbreaking. It’s barely even worth your time to read it fully. I recommend-“ He pulled it towards himself, flipping the book open without even checking the contents page, “The chapter by Diaz is excellent, but short, and maybe this section on- no, just the chapter by Diaz. Maybe you need to look at my notes for some context, but other than that, don’t waste your time.”
I couldn’t help but gape. For the first time in weeks, he’d strung together more than a few words without snapping at me, pushing some obstacle out of the way, or frowning disapprovingly.
“Why did you cite it?” I pulled the book back towards me, quickly noting the chapter number he suggested. “If you thought it was… less than groundbreaking.”
“Diaz, as in Lucia Diaz-Banner.”
My mouth was already open in shock, but when Edward’s smile reached his eyes, I forgot my surprise instantly. I recovered myself enough to ask the most pertinent question.
“Is that allowed?”
“I’m the one who included it in the review,” he began, but was cut off when my cell phone started to buzz.
“Oh,” I said, startled. “I think my ride is here. He’s early.”
I quickly stood, heaving my backpack onto the chair before quickly slipping my belongings inside. A smaller gym bag, emblazoned with the Forks High logo, lay on the floor next to my feet.
Edward bent to pick it up and I reached my hand out for it, but he hefted it onto his shoulder instead.
“I’ll walk you out,” he said. “If you’d like.”
“You’re not wearing a jacket,” I protested, but he shook his head.
“No need. It’s in my car.”
I closed the door of the computer lab behind us, after he switched off the lights.
“I have no intention of ever buying a gym bag. So sue me.” I cocked my head. “Surely we have friends in common, right? Your sister Rosalie looks like she would get on well with my friend Lauren.”
“For your sake, I won’t tell her you said that. Or judge you for calling Lauren Mallory your friend.”
“I just meant-“ I started, affronted at his insinuation.
“Lauren Mallory is, quite frankly, a spiteful person. Rosalie, on the other hand, is just very intimidating. Huge difference.”
“I seem to remember Lauren being intimidating.”
“Not like my sister. Nobody can cut deeper with a look than she can,” he said with a grin.
“Am I to assume you’re on the receiving end of that a lot?”
He nodded emphatically, pushing the front doors of the building open.
“And for what it’s worth-“
Edward broke off, his smile disappearing. In its place, emerged a terrible glare.
Jake, leaning against his car which idled at the kerb just outside the door, stared back.
“You’re going home,” said Edward, more of a statement than a question.
“It’s my dad’s partner’s birthday, Sue-“
“Clearwater. I know her daughter.”
Still silent, I saw Jake bite the inside of his cheek before striding over to us and pulling my bag from Edward’s outstretched hand, before turning to stand between us.
“Jake,” I probed, utterly embarrassed. “What is your problem?”
He took my bag next, and wordlessly threw them both into the back seat.
“Cullen,” he said finally, nodding, before he slipped into the driver’s seat and closing the door.
I turned to Edward, stunned.
“I guess I’ll see you on Monday.”
He nodded, and while I was buckling my seatbelt, I saw him cross the parking lot and unlock a grey sports car. In the rearview mirror, I saw him raise a hand in goodbye.
The moment we pulled out of the front gates, I turned to Jacob.
“What the fuck was that about? Last time I asked you, you’re joking about him being a pothead and now you’re angry at me for some reason-“
“I’m not angry at anybody, Bella. What part of that was supposed to be angry?”
I blustered for a moment before he continued.
“You shouldn’t be all alone in a building with some guy you don’t know-“
“I can take care of myself.”
“They have security. I have a cell phone.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but-“
“No buts, Jake.” I cast an eye around the interior of the car. “So when are you going to let me drive this thing?”
The nurses’ faces blurred together over the next few days, until they wore matching expressions of concern. My body had begun to fight its final battle.
I walked heel-to-toe, making divots in the sand while Jake strolled a few yards ahead. When he turned to speak, his words were lost to me. Hurrying to catch up, I pulled my gloved hands from my pockets. I knew from experience I’d need them free if I tripped on the rocks.
“You know the biggest swells are in the winter, right?”
I looped my arm through his to slow us down. We were coming up on my favorite view on the entire reservation, and I never wasted a chance to savor it.
“It’s been like three years since I last went surfing-“
“About time then.”
“-and I almost drowned. Three times. I’m here to watch.”
My alarm blared at seven-thirty that morning, and in less than an hour, I was driving around the familiar bends that would take me to La Push beach. Jake had the foresight to bring a thermos full of coffee, which he had pulled from his pocket with every intention of taking a sip.
Loose from its tie, his long hair whipped around his face, making it impossible to take a drink without getting a mouthful of the dark strands. I grabbed the cup and took a long drink while he pulled it back and tucked it back down into his parka.
The rain was harsh, and bitterly cold even through my layers. When I turned to scan for somewhere we could stand, sheltered from the wind, Jake slapped at my arm and called out for me to turn around.
I saw only a fading glimpse of the first lightning strike over the sea.
“Aren’t you sick of bringing me here, Jake?”
He nodded vigorously, mockingly.
“You can get yourself home, right?” He asked, turning as if to leave, and I grabbed his arm.
“I’m serious. You haven’t dated anybody since-“
“What about Ava? Do you ever see her?” My voice was hopeful, but Jake aimed a long-suffering look my way.
“You’re talking about high school-“
“But she still lives here! I heard Sue talking about her sister’s baby, like, three weeks ago-“
He dropped his hands to my shoulders.
“I don’t have the time, Bella,” he sighed. “I’m doing the work of like, four people. My dad is relying on me.”
I rolled my eyes.
“You have to hire somebody- what about Seth? He knows how to do an oil change, that’s a start.”
“And so hiring Seth is going to solve all my problems? When Sam and Leah left-“
“So tell Paul to pick up some of the slack!”
“Paul can’t even pick up his own underwear. Besides,” Jake continued, spreading his arms wide. “This place is in me, you know? Every bit of it. I can’t ever imagine leaving it for somebody else to take care of.”
“I spent two years making sure you turned in your homework on time, Jake. And now you’re like-“ I swept a hand up and down the length of him, a full head taller than me. “-this responsible giant who has an accountant-“
Jake’s laughter, the smile that split his face, brought me back to all the afternoons we spent together in his garage, talking shit about his teachers and the people at my school who tended to look at me strangely whenever I spoke, no matter what I said. There was a tiny scar on his cheek from the time I tried to throw him a screwdriver and missed his outstretched hand by inches.
“Sorry, mom. I ate my vegetables, just like you told me to.”
“Do you think Sue is going to make a pork roast?”
“Fuck, I hope so.”
More than twelve hours later, I slapped a hand over the screen on my phone, jabbing at the button that usually switched off my alarm. Ten seconds passed and the sound began again, harsh in the quiet of my bedroom. Rolling over, I realized the time.
It was a little after three, and I had only been asleep a little over an hour.
I scrubbed a hand over my face, half-blind from the light of the screen. Jake’s picture smirked at me from behind his name and number.
“Jake? It’s three in the morning-“
“Are you still in Forks?”
The voice was unfamiliar, and something in me went cold. I had no idea who had Jake’s phone, or why.
“Bella, are you there?”
Though the sound of my own name was still foreign to me, I recognized the voice on the other end.
“Edward Cullen? Why the fuck do you have Jake’s phone-“
“I’m with my father at Billy Black’s house. Jacob has been in an accident, but there’s been a complication-“
“What do you mean, an accident?”
I stood from the bed, and leaned across to grab a hoodie from the back of my desk chair. My car keys were at the bottom of the stairs, in the bowl by the shoe rack.
“My father is a medical doctor. He wants to treat Jacob, but we can’t get inside the house. Would you come? Would you speak to them? I’m afraid Jacob needs urgent attention.”
“Then somebody can drive him to the fucking hospital-“
“No. That’s… not an option. He needs you. I wouldn’t have bothered you if it wasn’t important.”
I realized then that my little engine wasn’t quite going to cut it.
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
I swept into Charlie’s bedroom after a brief but emphatic knock on the door.
“Dad,” I said, shaking at his shoulder. “I need you to drive me to Jake’s house, right now. He’s hurt, I don’t know how badly.”
Charlie looked at me blearily, wiping his mouth.
“What are you talking about, Bella- did Billy call you from the hospital?”
I shook my head, crossing the room to pull open his closet and grabbing the first clothes I could touch.
“Dr. Cullen is at Billy’s house, but they can’t get inside.” I paused a moment, choosing my words carefully. “They said something about Billy having a gun.”
Standing now, Charlie blanched. I winced at my lie, which rang as false even in my own ears.
“Who is they?”
He was moving faster now, ushering me out of the room before running down the stairs and grabbing his jacket, badge and holster.
“Edward Cullen knows me from school. He got ahold of Jake’s phone and asked me to come. It sounded desperate.”
I followed Charlie out of the house, and he paused only briefly to force his other foot into his shoe before slipping into the car and switching on the siren. Dutifully, I sat in the back seat, just like I always had when I was a child.
My dad’s eyes were intent on the road, hands relaxed on the steering wheel, but his face was marred with confusion and worry.
“Why didn’t they just take him to the hospital?”
“I asked, Dad. He just said they couldn’t.”
He shook his head.
“Jake’s a good kid. There’s no way he got hurt doing something he shouldn’t.”
I shrugged, wrapping my arms tightly around myself.
“I know. Maybe it’s not him they’re trying to protect.”
When we pulled up around the back of the house, it was dark, but I could still make out Sam Uley’s enormous silhouette against the wall of the garage. Nearby, a black BMW was parked haphazardly, headlights still running. I could only make out moving figures as they passed back and forth through the beam.
Charlie pulled his badge out, and switched off the siren, leaving the red light to blink and spin on top of the car. I scrambled out of the back seat, and made a break for the back door. In the darkness, I didn’t see Leah reach out to me until it was too late.
“Bella, don’t. You don’t want to see what’s in there.”
Her face was stricken with pain, and I could see the tracks of old tears. She held my arm fast, but turned to look at Sam whose face was illuminated by the red glow of the police car.
He was surrounded by four other men, but a few feet away I could see Edward, head turned to speak in his father’s ear.
“What’s going on here?” Charlie called, raising his badge. “Sam, tell me what’s happening-“
“You shouldn’t be here, Charlie. Since you are, you should arrest that scum for coming onto our land.”
Paul spat on the grass, looking murderous.
“Jacob needs my help, Chief Swan,” said Dr. Cullen, looking calm despite the tension in the air. “By my estimation, he’s lost about as much blood as he can by now, if there’s any hope of him living through it.”
Charlie’s face crumpled, and I jerked against Leah’s hand.
“My mom made him a tourniquet, but it’s not enough- Sam called Cullen forty minutes ago and they won’t let him inside.”
“Why? Why didn’t you just drive him-“
“Sh,” was her only reply.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to let the doctor go inside, or I’m going to have to start cuffing people-“
“On what grounds, Charlie?”
It was Quil, who had always been sweet to me.
“I can see you’ve been carrying on the party, boys, so we’ll start with public intoxication. After that, some disturbing the peace. Hell, if Jake dies, we’ll throw in manslaughter-“
“Shut the fuck up, man-“
I knew Charlie hated to show his gun, but his hand moved towards the holster all the same. Striding over to Dr. Cullen, he placed a hand on the man’s back and guided him towards the house. Leah pulled me down from the porch, and off to one side, but before they could reach us I heard a terrible shout as Paul started punching Sam, hard enough to knock him to the ground.
Charlie turned, running towards the brawl, but Dr. Cullen continued in through the doorway, Edward close behind. Leah started running towards where Sam lay on the grass, and in that moment I ran to follow the two men inside.
The sight that greeted me on the kitchen table immediately made my stomach heave, as my nose was filled with the awful scent of blood. Jake lay on his back, torso shredded, with deep gashes down one leg. What I could see of his face glistened with sweat, but the side that faced away from me was dark with blood and bruising
Dr. Cullen was already unpacking his medical bag, as Edward ushered Sue to the other side of the room. I could just see Billy, face covered in shadow as he stared into the middle distance. He reached out a hand to Sue and drew it between both of his own, seemingly taking strength from it . I ran towards Jacob, a hand pressed against my mouth.
“What can I do,” I asked the doctor, unnerved by how calmly he was inspecting Jacob’s injuries. His face was expressionless, maybe even confident, but his hands worked quickly. At first, he didn’t answer. He shared a look with his son, then met my eyes for the first time.
“Maybe you should wait outside with your father,” he replied. I felt Edward’s hand on my arm, ready to shepherd me away, when suddenly he pulled me back. Jacob started to cough, a hacking, wet sound.
They moved so fast I didn’t even see Edward pull the resuscitator from the bag, and within seconds Dr. Cullen was pressing it to Jacob’s face, and compressing it gently.
“What’s going on?” My voice was shrill even in my own ears.
“Carlisle?” asked Edward, whose only answer was a curt nod. Deftly, the younger man took over without missing a beat.
“His airway has been damaged by the blows to his face-“
“What can I do?”
“You can go outside and tell those idiots that Jacob is going to live, no thanks to them.”
I frowned, casting an eye towards Billy. His head was in his hands. I had never seen him look older.
“Just tell me- is this your fault? Did you hit him with your car or something?”
I was half-expecting the familiar sight of blown black pupils, evidence he’d been driving drunk or high. Instead, his eyes were that peculiar butterscotch yellow. The look on Edward’s face made me want to scream, to cross the distance between us and shake him for being so callous.
“No,” he said, still smiling ruefully. “We’re just the cleanup crew.”
“Bella, your father needs you,” said Dr. Cullen. His hands were soaked with blood.
I turned and stumbled out the door at the sight of them.
Outside, Sam and Leah were leaned up against Charlie’s car, and Sam held a blood-soaked t-shirt to his face while Leah berated him, gesticulating fiercely. On the other side of the yard, Charlie had a hand on Paul’s shoulder. The rest of Jacob’s friends looked on, with varying degrees of worry on their faces.
“What the fuck happened?” I asked Embry, who had always seemed a little out of it. Now, it took him a few seconds to even realize I had spoken.
“Jake was supposed to meet up with somebody out by the Cullen house.”
I raised a brow.
“In the dark? In the middle of the night?”
“Jake was wasted,” he protested. “It wasn’t safe for him to drive, so he asked Sam to take him straight from Sue’s party. He must have been too drunk to stay on the trail, and next thing they know he’s lying in a ditch completely messed up-“
“You’re all acting like this is completely normal, but it’s not. Why is nobody telling me why he’s not in the fucking hospital?”
Charlie looked up sharply when I started yelling curses.
“He’s here now, Bella,” my dad said. His voice was soft, eyes sad.
A laugh bubbled out of my mouth, hysterical.
“He could need surgery-“
At that moment, Dr. Cullen emerged from the house, beckoning towards Sam who came running. My dad pulled Paul over with him, who was practically snarling.
“Jacob’s going to be fine. Sam, you did the right thing.”
“The right thing would have been to never let Jake anywhere near you in the first place,” Paul spat in Dr. Cullen’s face.
“Give it a rest, Paul.”
Sam’s voice was weary.
When Paul lunged for Sam, Charlie leaped into action.
“Bella, get back in the house!”
I saw Edward, then, reach for Paul’s arm. He spat in Edward’s direction, veins jumping in his neck.
“Don’t fucking touch me, tick!”
“Paul, they’re trying to help-“
“You had no right, Sam. You don’t speak for us. You turned away from us, you left the rez-“
He shuddered deeply. It was when he went for Sam’s throat a second time that all hell broke loose.
Chapter 5: Split
The day my mother died, the doctor broke it to me gently. When I woke from my fever dream my face was wet with tears. In the dream, my mother had wiped them away.
On the Wednesday following Jake’s accident, I emerged from the lab late, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. Before that, I only had minutes to get to the dining hall closest to my building. I had resolved early on that if I couldn’t cook for myself, I would fare better with college catering than snacks and takeout. I made an effort to eat there at least four times a week. Since the semester began, I hadn’t made it a whole weekend in Seattle.
The line for the self-service had dwindled to only a few students, so before long I’d loaded my tray with lasagne and salad. Given the hour, most of the seats were empty, with a notable exception. I rounded the corner to sit by my favorite window and spotted Edward Cullen sitting alone.
I dropped my bag to the floor at his feet but he kept his head bent over his notebook.
“You don’t have to use dinnertime to do more work. You know that, right?”
At that, he gave me a scathing look, snapping the book shut and carefully aligning the pencil with the elastic band that held it together.
“Knife in your right hand, fork in your left, pen back in your bag where it belongs,” I advised.
He didn’t have a tray, just an untouched bottle of Diet Coke and an apple.
“I didn’t think you’d be back so soon,” he said.
I frowned at my pasta, carefully cutting it into chunks in an attempt not to spill sauce all over my face. I had a feeling Edward would not do me the courtesy of hiding his disgust.
“Billy and Sue are taking good care of him.”
In reality, I hadn’t heard. Nobody was answering my calls except Charlie, who’d been to the house to drop off groceries and been reassured by Billy that Jacob was on the mend.
Edward shifted at the mention of Billy’s name.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?”
He swallowed visibly, and spread his long fingers out on the table, avoiding my eyes.
“Jacob was drunk, and he felt it necessary to come and ah,” Edward began, and a nervous laugh escaped from his mouth. “Tell me to leave you alone.”
I sat back, and felt a flush on my neck.
“What do you mean, leave me alone?”
“Jacob feels that you would be best served by focusing on your work, and- what were his words? Staying away from pretentious freaks like me.”
I gaped. That sounded nothing like the Jacob I knew.
“He doesn’t like me very much,” he concluded with a smirk.
“Jake… doesn’t get mad at people. He says it’s a waste of time. He’s my best friend.”
I crossed my arms.
“Whatever you did, you must deserve it.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
The wry smile was a positive departure from his customary scowl. It emphasized how boyish his face was, skin smooth and pale. I was struck with an urge to ask his age. He couldn’t have been much older than I was, despite the fact he was years ahead of me in his research.
He picked up his pen then, plastic with a fountain nib, and started to spin it around his fingers, smile fading fast. In the uncomfortable silence, I reached across and pulled his notebook towards me. Holding it up in a question, I pulled back the elastic.
“Go ahead,” he said, spreading a hand in invitation.
I was immediately puzzled by the notes inside, at the same time familiar and strange.
I couldn’t hide my amusement, but he seemed embarrassed.
“Did the same thing, yeah I know." I looked up at him. "But he was hiding his writing from the Catholics-“
“That was never proven.”
“So what are you writing about?”
Edward leaned back in his chair and drew a hand through his hair.
“You know, calendar, to-do list, lab notes-“
“My name is in here,” I interrupted.
It took a moment, but quickly I was able to make out the rest of the sentence.
“Bella brought me a coffee today. Of course, I would never drink it, but the smell was pleasant and I was very touched-“
He reached across and flipped the cover over onto my hand, then drew the book back.
“I’d better go.”
“Why are so adamant about being hostile to everybody all the time?”
He ignored me, reaching down to pack his bag.
“Not everybody,” he bit out, and stalked off.
Thirty minutes later, I was showered and ready to fall into bed. Rifling through my bag, I pulled out my water bottle, and tucked it down the side of my mattress, closest to the wall. I frowned, pulling out my textbooks and notebooks.
Masen’s book was missing.
I remembered seeing it when I packed up for the night: I was always careful not to leave anything behind in the lab. There were strict rules about keeping the benches clean. Thinking I must have dropped it when I fished in my bag for door keys, I considered my options.
After a moment, I grabbed my hairdryer, and blasted the warm air until my hair was no longer dripping wet, then shrugged into my jacket. It was dark enough outside that I didn’t mind being seen in my pajamas. In the lobby of my building, I peered through the glass walls. The concrete outside was wet, spotted with puddles. I wished, then, that it had been a library book in a plastic cover, to provide it some protection from the rain.
I decided then that the only thing to do was head out to look.
I made sure to have my phone in my hand when I ventured outside. In the distance, I could see a few stragglers heading home for the night, and I headed for the path where it was the most well-lit. The dining hall was only a few minutes away.
Scanning the ground, I switched on the torch on my phone, quickly checking the grass at the side of the path. There was a trash can up ahead, with a dark shape propped on top. I hurried towards it, hoping someone had picked the book off the path.
To my dismay, it was just an empty KFC box. I forced it through the gap in the top of the trash can and wiped my hand off on my pajama pants.
It was then I felt a blow to the back of my head, knocking me to the ground.
My vision, from where I lay just off the path, was blurry and fragmented as I forced myself to blink, knowing I couldn’t pass out.
I saw a white blur rushing towards me, making an eerie hissing sound like that of a wild cat. Scrambling, I tried to roll out of the way, so slow and sluggish in my confused state. There was a crack, and the white shape was knocked aside. I struggled to turn my head to follow them, moving so quickly between blinks.
Another snarl, a terrible tearing noise. I pressed a hand to my head, and couldn’t feel any blood, just a radiating pain, and horrific nausea. Something thudded onto the ground, rolling into the tree line. Then, the noises just… stopped. I curled up, scrambling to push myself up into a standing position.
“Stop, stop,” said Edward in my ear.
He grasped my forearms, pulling me up to sit and pushing my hair out of my face. I wretched, as a wave of sickness threatened to overtake me.
“Look at me,” he said, tipping my face up to peer into my eyes. “I think you have a concussion. We should go to the emergency room-“
My voice was weak.
“What was that?”
His face was inscrutable.
“I’ll take you back to your dorm, Bella, just-“
“No! What was that, Edward?”
He tugged me up, gently, though I was reluctant, woozy.
“I think… I think you just met with this attacker from the emails, Bella.”
“Did you see-“
“I was across the quadrangle when I saw him rush you. I just got here,” he said.
I shook my head, and deeply regretted it.
“You were moving, like-“
“I just found you here, on the ground.”
“I have to go home. I’m sick of people fucking lying to me. There is something going on with you, and maybe with Jacob, too. And everybody thinks I’m so blind I can’t even see what’s happening right in front of me.”
“What is happening in front of you, Bella?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know, but it’s not natural.”
Again, I tried to stand. This time, instead of forcing me back to the ground, Edward helped me up. I pressed a hand to the back of my head, tentatively.
“Am I bleeding?”
My voice was small, even in my own ears.
“No,” he snapped.
I pulled a face at him.
“You haven’t even looked-“
“You’re not bleeding, trust me.”
He pulled me around to face my building, and I took the first few wary steps towards my waiting bed. I’d experienced enough head trauma to know I shouldn’t sleep, and for the first time since I arrived at the college, I wished for a roommate.
“Maybe I should call the cops,” I said, reconsidering. “You said it could have been the same guy that attacked those other girls-“
“Wait until the morning,” he countered.
I pulled back from him, confused.
“Why don’t you want me to go to the police?” I peered at him, though my vision was still a little fuzzy. “Are you high again?”
“Why- what makes you think I’m high,” he blustered, half laughing.
“Your eyes,” I said matter-of-factly. “Don’t try to deny it. Half the time I see you in the lab your eyes are like…”
I crossed my eyes, sticking my tongue out dopily.
“Completely black. What do you take that fucks up your appetite so much, anyway? Diet pills? Cocaine? They have programs here, you know. I got like ten flyers in my first week.”
His face was transformed when he laughed.
“I don’t take drugs, Bella. I have a… special diet.”
I nodded, understanding.
Edward shook his head, and I tried another.
His silence told me I was wrong again.
“…sure,” he said after a moment’s pause.
“Ah. Sucks to be you. No Pizza Hut.”
Edward fought back a laugh once again, settling for a smirk.
“I’ve never even been inside a Pizza Hut.”
Suddenly it occurred to me that Edward, who had been adopted as a young teenager, might have missed out on so many of the things I viewed as formative experiences. I fell silent, then, as a wave of pity washed over me. Edward was also silent, looking at me expectantly.
Then, I realized he was waiting for me to unlock the door to my building.
I slapped my keys into his waiting hand. The moment his face was turned away, I plucked up the courage I needed to speak.
“What happened to you?”
His hands stilled on the door.
“My parents both died of something that could have been treated, if they’d had access to the proper care. Maybe not cured outright, but treated. I’d convinced myself I was pretty independent before they died. Thank God Carlisle disagreed.”
When he turned back to look at me, I understood what his expression meant, maybe for the first time since I had met him. I had my suspicions of how they could have died, a conclusion I jumped to after his insistence he didn’t take drugs. Even if I’d been convinced I was right, I would never ask. No matter how curious I was about him, Edward Cullen barely knew me.
For a moment, we were silent, him supporting some of my weight to steady me as we made our way up the stairs.
“Which floor?” Edward asked, pausing at the top of the first flight.
“Your roommate must be wondering what’s taking you so long.”
I grimaced, considering again my pounding head.
“I… don’t have one. She must have dropped out last minute, or something.”
I directed him towards my door, walking almost unaided by that point.
“You shouldn’t be alone with a head injury like that-“
“What,” I scoffed. “Are you offering?”
He blustered. I realized then, I’d never seen him flush, in embarrassment or anger. Some people were just blessed that way, I supposed.
“I’ve done this a hundred times,” I reassured him. “I’ve had so many CT scans I should seriously have a superpower by now.”
Edward looked horrified, but let me take my keys back all the same. When I turned back, he was flashing his phone torch in my face.
“Your pupils don’t look dilated,” he announced, before turning away without another word.
“Bye then,” I called in a mocking voice.
I blinked, disbelieving, before pushing open my door and pulling off my wet shoes. I stood by the window, waiting for Edward to appear on the sidewalk outside the building, but after thirty seconds passed and there was no sign of him, I resigned myself to the fact I’d been to slow to catch sight of him walking away. I pushed my window open, and breathed in deeply.
Shuffling through the papers on my tiny desk, I found the phone number for campus police and dialled them without a second thought. After a few minutes on the line with the operator, she told me to sit tight, that someone would come out to my building immediately. She didn’t have to tell me not to open the door to anyone who couldn’t show me an ID.
I spent the next few minutes just breathing, trying to stay calm, before there was a loud knock at my door.
I think I left one of my books in the lab the other day. If anybody sees a book on the Spanish flu lying around, could you check if my name’s on the inside cover? I’ll pay good coffee for its safe return.
“Are you even listening to me, Bella? What possessed you to go out alone in the middle of the night-“
“Dad,” I interrupted. “It wasn’t even eleven yet.”
“It was dark, you were distracted, and you didn’t even call me. You could have had a bleed on the brain.”
Charlie sounded frantic, and Billy sat in silence, looking embarrassed.
“I was in shock. I’m sorry. I promise, I won’t do anything like that again.”
He let out a long breath, then stepped towards me, arms open.
Sprawled out on the couch, Jake snickered. I had been drafted to keep him company while Charlie and Billy took Waylon’s boat out for the day. It was big enough for Billy’s chair, but still small enough that Waylon rarely had company on board.
I eyed his bandages, which almost completely covered his torso.
“I have zero nursing skills and I’m not afraid to use them.”
Over the next hour, Charlie and Billy packed up the last of the equipment they’d need. On their way out the door, I handed my dad the final cool bag, filled with the sandwiches I’d made that morning.
“Tuna and sweetcorn?” He asked with a raised brow.
“Of course,” I said, and tried to close the door behind him, but he stuck out a foot.
“You’re staying inside today.”
It was an instruction, not a question. By way of reply, I gestured to Jacob on the couch.
“We were thinking we could take the bikes out, actually.”
He scoffed and headed for the car. Thirty seconds later, I heard the engine start, and I plopped myself down on the couch, reaching for the remote.
“I say we start with Adam Sandler then move chronologically towards Vince Vaughn,” I suggested.
Jake pushed himself up on his forearms, and I threw out a hand.
“You’ll pop your stitches!”
“How do you think I got out of bed this morning, Bella? My dad is sort of protective over his chair.”
“What sort of trouble does Charlie think we’re going to get into, anyway? Has he mentioned anything to you?”
“He’s probably worried about the animal attacks,” Jake said, voice artificially light, casual. “Don’t go down to the woods today, and all that.”
I turned to face him, aghast.
“Something like that.”
“He never told me,” I murmured.
That night, back at home, I was feeling antsy.
“I think I’ll go for a drive, Dad.”
Charlie and Sue were curled up on the couch, watching a documentary about a French high wire walker, famous before I was even born.
He turned, looking panicked.
“A drive where?”
“I don’t know, yet. I promise I won’t get out of the car,” I said, then paused a moment, pasting what I hoped was a reassuring smile on my face. “Jake told me about the bears.”
He frowned, then nodded.
“Bears, right. Don’t stay out too late. You’re supposed to be broke, don’t waste the gas.”
I shrugged into my jacket, wondering if he remembered he’d set up a monthly transfer to my checking account to cover exactly that expense.
Truthfully, I didn’t know exactly where I was headed. I only had a vague idea where the Cullens’ house was, but Charlie had given me basic directions a few weeks earlier in response to my probing questions. The road out in that direction was mostly unlit: as soon as I got out of town, a sense of adventure overcame me. My expectations weren’t particularly high. Although I had thankfully inherited Charlie’s sense of direction rather than my mom’s, my chances of finding this allegedly enormous house nestled in the forest were slim.
I jabbed absentmindedly at my car stereo, tapping my hands along with the beat of the CD I always forgot to change.
The blacktop was slick, but I was confident this little car wouldn’t have too much trouble managing the bends, since Jake always lamented my driving style. He compared it to the way his grandmother had driven before her cataracts surgery.
I loved the way the road had to be carved out of the greenery, with the canopy of leaves almost stretching across the entire width of the road. Before coming to Forks the first time, I had only seen the clouds and dripping branches as evidence of the life I’d sacrificed in Arizona. By the time I got to Florida, I knew I had never really grasped how happy I was in Forks until I left.
There was really only one route to take, at least until I got further out. At this hour, the roads were deadly quiet, and I hadn’t seen another soul since the woods outside my car window became dense, and I relied solely on my headlights to see.
I was braking gently in preparation for another bend when I saw it. Something huge, a brown-red blur in front of my headlights. I slammed my shoe onto the brake, bracing myself, fully expecting to see the animal roll across my windshield. As the wheels started to slide on the slick road surface, I did my best to steer into the skid. I was jolted in my seat as the side of my car made contact with a tree.
It had all happened in a matter of seconds. I’d never been in a car accident before, so it was with surprise I noted my engine was still running, headlights still on.
It was then I noticed the lights coming towards me.
As if in slow motion, I watched the driver of an enormous SUV with their hand out of the driver’s side window, looking back over their shoulder at the lights flanking a long driveway. It seemed as if I had found the Cullen house after all.
I scrambled, shaking, to get out of the car. The airbags hadn’t deployed, but my door was dented, stuck shut as I pulled at it fruitlessly. There was no time to make it out the other side, so I leaned on the horn, with just enough time to see the driver’s panicked face as they tried to brake. I was convinced we were sure to collide, head-on. Without even the time it would take for my eyes to follow the movement, my car was rolling out of the path of the oncoming truck. I couldn’t even brace a hand to the ceiling, just felt my seatbelt take my weight, before just as fast, I was righted again.
The oncoming car screeched to a halt, yards behind me, and in my rearview mirror, I saw two figures between me and the other driver, casting shadows in the beam of their headlights.
My breaths came faster, catching in my throat, when I realized I was sobbing, hyperventilating. The passenger door opened with the sound of bending metal, and I let out a scream when I saw a hand reaching in towards me.
Jacob slid into the passenger seat, his long hair stuck to his skin with sweat. He was shirtless, and as I raised a hand to my mouth to stifle my sobbing, I realized he was completely naked. I screwed my eyes shut and inhaled a great, shuddering mouthful of air.
I felt his arms around me, but I continued to shake. He was supposed to be bedridden. Hours ago, I’d watched him shuffle, wincing, to the bathroom.
“What- what was that thing? That animal? How are you even here, Jacob? You can’t be here-“
“Bella, Bella, I’m sorry.”
There was a thud on the roof of the car, and I screamed again when a dent appeared above my head.
“Bring her inside, Jacob.”
It was Edward, looking murderous. With another glance in my mirror, I saw the second figure waving the truck away. They stood so tall and broad that it must have been Emmett Cullen, the brother.
When Jake hesitated, there was another screeching sound, this time on the passenger’s side. I saw Edward gripping the door frame, and as the metal deformed under his hand, I felt the bottom go out of my stomach. A split second later, my driver’s side door was just… gone.
I felt the breeze, smelled the rain on the earth outside, and promptly leaned out of the car to wretch onto the road surface. Edward was there, crouching just a few inches from the puddle of my bile and spit. He reached over, and without any ceremony unclipped my seatbelt, pulling me gently from the car.
“Don’t touch her!” I heard Jacob yell, but as he emerged, swearing, he stumbled back as Emmett pushed him by the shoulder.
“You’re a long way from home, Jake. Second time in a month. You’re not setting a very good example for your friends,” said Emmett, voice low and menacing.
Edward’s voice in my ear was startling, and I jumped when he pressed a handkerchief into my hands.
“I can take you up. My father-“
“Will cover you.”
“That was a hit and run,” I continued, feeling tears prick my eyes once more. “And there was this animal in the road…”
I heard Edward snarl, an unsettling sound that had me shying from his touch. I looked to Jacob, who was scowling. I hoped he would say something, anything to get us away from these people who were acting so strangely. Longing for the safety of the Rabbit’s backseat, I said his name.
“You need to get checked out.”
There was a rustle, and Alice emerged, delicately sidestepping my mangled door.
She looked at Edward pointedly, shaking her head, and held out a heavy jacket to me. Gently and slowly, she took my hand, tugging it away from Edward’s grip. It was only then that I realized he’d been holding my arm tight enough to ache, but it was only that pressure stopping my body from shaking so violently.
“You’re ok, Bella. Come with me.”
I looked at her strange black eyes, and her kind smile, and was intensely moved by this girl who had barely spoken to me, offering her help. Shrugging into the thick jacket, I took her hand again.
Looking at Jacob, I saw he had pulled my blanket from the back seat and was holding it at his waist. He allowed himself to be prodded in my direction, and in silence, the five of us made our slow way up the driveway. Even in my shock, I marveled at the grace Alice showed, not even stumbling once in the half-darkness, while I found myself tripping over what felt like every third step. Every so often, I glanced back at Jacob, whose face was blank.
His chest, that should have been ruined, scarred, was completely healed, as if none of it had ever happened.
Chapter 6: Exposure
This chapter goes out to kouga's older woman (on ffn, where I cross-post) who has so consistently read and reviewed! Thanks so much to everyone who has gotten to this point, I hope you enjoy the story as it continues.
Their house was just as big as I had expected, formed of wood and glass, glowing gently with warm light from within. When we reached the threshold, and Alice opened the door for me, it was deathly silent. I barely noticed which direction Alice led me in, hand gentle on my shoulder. I got to the top of the stairs, and immediately saw Edward’s family waiting for us.
Each of them had a certain sort of grace I had come to associate with Edward. As a group, they seemed to fit together, a beautiful, youthful family. Though none of them looked alike, a blend of skin tones and builds, each of their eyes were on a spectrum from golden to black.
By process of elimination, I could name the family members I hadn’t met yet. Though Jasper and Rosalie were both blonde, her skin was as pale as mine, with fine features. Jasper, on the other hand, looked like he spent every day in the beating sun, something I knew was impossible in Forks. The rest of the family bore no resemblance bar their beauty.
Dr. Cullen’s eyes were almost as dark as his brown skin, black hair curling against the upturned collar of his sweater, pale knit close around his throat. Rosalie was glaring, arms crossed over her chest. I noted that despite the hour, they were all fully dressed. Rosalie was even wearing high heels. Of all of them, only Alice seemed relaxed, dressed in an ornately patterned tailored jacket. Her eyes, so different from the first time I had seen them, were bright, unnerving gold. Emmett moved to speak in her ear, his long hair hanging down to cover his face, obscure his words from view.
“Carlisle,” said another woman, moving towards me. I saw Dr. Cullen reach down and pick up his medical bag, the same one he’d brought out to treat Jacob. It could only be his wife. She was gorgeous, curvaceous in a way the other women were not, with soft brown hair that fell in waves.
As a pair, they ushered me towards the dining room table. I could only make out snatches of what they were saying, whispering rapidly. I searched the room for the only people I really knew, panicking when I saw Edward and his other brother - Jasper - steering Jacob back down the stairs.
“Where are you going?” I called out, voice high.
Edward shook his head, and smirked. Jasper, on the other hand, didn’t even turn around, let alone speak.
“Just going to find Jacob some clothes. Something of Emmett’s might fit.”
When I was seated, Esme pulled back to look at me.
“I’m sorry we had to meet like this, Bella. I’m Edward’s mother. The whole town was buzzing when your father heard you were coming home.” She laughed, her smile warm and genuine. “I feel as if I know you already.”
The next few minutes were a blur as Dr. Cullen asked me a series of questions, ranging from my date of birth to the speed of my car when I swerved.
Alice, who was across from me, sat straight and rigid in her chair.
“I was expecting-“
“Much worse injuries,” Dr. Cullen said, interrupting her. “We’re just lucky Edward and Emmett were headed out. We would have never seen you from the house.”
I flexed my arm at the doctor’s instruction.
“Lucky? I was under the impression it was some sort of miracle. Since my car flipped itself.”
His hand stilled on top of mine, where he was inspecting the bones of my wrist.
“Yes,” he said, swallowing uncomfortably. “A miracle.”
Esme was suddenly sliding into the next chair.
“Are you hungry? I was just finishing up dinner,” she said.
By my estimation, it was almost eleven, and I had already eaten hours before. I shifted my weight in my chair, and mustered a polite smile. At the look on my face, Esme’s smile faltered.
“There’s plenty to go around, it’s no trouble. And you need to keep your blood sugar up - you must be feeling a little shaken.”
I barely had time to open my mouth before she had pushed back from the table, and started serving spaghetti into ornate bowls. When she looked up at Rosalie, a silent, scowling statue, she turned up her nose.
“She doesn’t want it, Esme.”
As if her niece hadn’t spoken, Esme returned with a plate for herself, and for me.
“They don’t think I’m much of a cook,” she offered by way of explanation.
Esme didn’t even bring a fork for herself, simply smiled serenely as I forced a few bites of pasta down. When I realized that her culinary skills were much better than she claimed, I smiled, and ate a few more obliging spoonfuls. She was looking at me with a kind of satisfaction that reminded me of when my Gran was still alive, admonishing my mother for not feeding me properly, watching to make sure I finished every helping of her home-cooked food.
Emmett seemed to assess the situation in front of him before grinning and helping himself to the pasta straight from the pot.
“We’re going to move your car off the road, Bella. One of us can drive you home-“
Rosalie scoffed, and moved to slap at Emmett’s hand holding the slotted spoon.
“It’s Black’s fault she’s in this mess, why can’t he give her a ride?”
I bristled, offended at her words.
“Jacob and I are friends.“
Again, she laughed, derisive.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.”
She tugged on Emmett’s hand again, and pulled him away from the oven.
It was then I heard Jacob shouting, calling for me.
“Get off me, tick. The treaty isn’t up for interpretation, you just want an excuse-“
“I’m not the one who almost got her killed,” said Edward, voice low.
“No, but you will. And you know it.”
A few moments passed, and Jacob appeared, swamped in clothes that would have been comical in any other situation: despite the baggy, oversized t-shirt, his borrowed sweatpants ended several inches above his bare feet.
“Bella, we’re leaving.”
“Who’s going to drive you?” Edward asked, irate.
Jake replied through gritted teeth.
“Someone will stop. I’d rather get picked up by some psychopath than spend another minute here. Bella?”
I placed my hands on either side of my half-empty plate and closed my eyes.
“I’m not moving until I get an explanation.”
Once I had made up my mind to start, I couldn’t stop.
“Jake. You have to tell me what's going on," I pleaded. "You grew, like, a foot and a half, Paul is beating Sam up in your back yard... you're running around, naked-”
My voice was shrill, panicked. I put my hands in my hair, trying to calm my raging thoughts.
“You,” I continued, pointing a finger at Edward. “You flipped my car.”
When he opened his mouth to argue, I held up a hand.
“Shut up. Don’t try and deny it. You’re always being so fucking cryptic, you act like you hate my guts one day, then you’re saving my life the next?”
I turned to Alice, whose eyes were glassy.
“What is wrong with her? What is going on in this fucking house?”
Dr. Cullen looked pained, and raised a hand towards me.
“Don’t even get me started.” I stumbled back, out of his reach. “There is no way you legally adopted these… people. Fostered them, whatever. You’re, like, my age. I know what people have said about you, and I want to know why the fuck you came to Forks.”
“We came because of you,” answered Alice, voice hollow.
“Oh my god,” I said, and stood, desperate to get away from these people. In that moment, all I wanted was for Jacob and me to get out of there.
I felt myself trip, tumbling over and lurching, without any way of stopping the sickening momentum, towards the stairs.
“Rosalie!” Esme cried.
I stopped an inch short of their glass handrail, which couldn’t possibly have smashed, even if I smashed into it, but it would have definitely bruised. Glancing back, I saw Rosalie’s heeled shoe, stuck out at an angle to trip me. My hand, cradled underneath me, was scraped across the palm from where I had grabbed at the wall art to steady myself.
When I raised my injured hand, the room stood still. I watched as Emmett shoved Jasper out onto the balcony, where he promptly leaped into the air, dragging a struggling Jasper with him.
“What a shame,” she drawled. “All these lies.”
Edward’s eyes were fixed on my bleeding hand, and he had pressed himself against the wall furthest away from me. Jake moved towards me, looking furious.
“The treaty forbids-“
“I never agreed to anything, Black. And neither did you. What kind of alpha-“
Carlisle said her name, silencing her with a look.
“You know I’m right,” said Rosalie. “Both of you have been flouting yourselves, with your little acrobatics, and she’s completely oblivious. You’ve already exposed us all, whether she knows the specifics or not.”
“This isn’t helpful, Rosalie,” said Carlisle again.
“You could have killed her,” she said, crossing the room to drag me up from where I sat, and held my raw flesh out in front of her. “That would have solved your problem, I suppose. No need to lie to your best friend when she’s dead.”
Jake’s face was blank once more, seemingly calm, but Edward seemed to grow more agitated by the second.
“Get her out of here. Black, get her out of here.”
Before the final breath left his mouth, Edward blurred.
His eyes were completely black, deranged. His hands were stretched out towards me, snatching in the air. Completely alien, animal, he was nothing but teeth and reaching hands. Edward’s handsome face was grotesque as he snarled. He was so close to me that I felt his breath on my neck for one second of white-hot, primal fear.
My hindbrain told me I was dying.
I watched, horrified, as he dug grooves in the hardwood with his shoes, scrabbling for purchase. Alice had her hand pressed against his chest, pushing him back. To my surprise, Rosalie was standing between us, arms outstretched as if to protect us: Jacob and me at one side, Edward on the other.
“Why are you doing this to me, Rose? Why?”
Edward’s voice was a wail, pained. She put her hands on either side of his head, and I saw him pant, face screwed up in what looked like agony.
“You have too high an opinion of yourself, Edward. You’re going to ruin this family.”
I screamed as she shoved him, and he went flying backwards, through the glass wall at the back of the house, which shattered with a deafening crack. He was gone. Esme ran to peer over the ruin of the side of her house, and pressed a hand to her chest in relief.
I watched her pull her other hand back from the jagged remains of the glass pane, which she’d used to balance herself. Esme’s pale skin was unharmed.
Jacob gripped my shoulders and started to murmur my name.
“Do you remember that stupid campfire story I told you the first time you came to La Push?”
I began to laugh, hysterically, my chest heaving and my face covered with tears.
“Vampires? Fucking vampires?”
He made soft shushing noises at me, like a mother trying to comfort a child, when I started to howl.
When Billy arrived to take us back to the reservation, he wouldn’t come any closer than half a mile from the house. The shift in the Cullens’ posture was instantaneous, practically choreographed: they heard him coming, Jake told me.
He heard him coming.
As we walked out the door, Alice stopped me, and pulled me in for a hug. I was frozen, arms trapped at my sides.
“Say you’ll come back?”
Jake tugged me down the steps before I could answer, and all I could muster was a strained half smile in her direction. The meat of my palm ached from where my nails had dug in, making red crescents in my flesh. As soon as we made it to the path, I brushed Jacob’s hand off.
“You lied to me, and thought I was too stupid to see any of it. People don’t just appear from nowhere. And they don’t miraculously recover in the space of six hours.”
“I wanted to tell you. But it wasn’t safe for you to know about them.”
“Bullshit. It’s not safe for a house full of murderers to go on living in my dad’s town and for you to stay silent about it. Every person they kill, it’s on you, Jacob.”
He shook his head, slowing to a stop. His feet were still bare, and I wondered, more charitably than I should have, whether they were cold on the wet road.
“They’re not killing anybody. Believe me, we’re making sure of it.”
I pushed at his shoulder, face contorted in frustration.
“Stop lying to me, Jake. Who the fuck is we? I’m not going anywhere until you tell me the truth. About the Cullens, about everything. How are you even standing right now? Let alone completely healed,” I demanded.
“If you just wait til we get back on the reservation-“
“You don’t have a single scar, Jacob!”
I laughed, and pushed my hair back from my face.
“I’d rather wait here for Charlie. I’ll tell him that he needs to take the Cullens in for questioning, and then he needs to come and talk to you.”
“You can’t tell anyone-“
I raised a brow.
“I’m not going to be complicit in… whatever this is. I’ll tell the whole town about it.”
“We’re the ones protecting this town.”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to go back up to the Cullen house and hear them defend themselves. I wanted to know why they had come here, of all places, and how many people would die because of it.
“Rosalie shoved him through the reinforced glass. She did it with one hand, and it sent him six feet in the air.”
I loved Jacob for the fact he was almost always happy, and whenever he told me he wasn’t, I always knew it was important enough to stop and listen to him. This secrecy, it was nothing I’d ever seen from him.
He sighed, and for a second I thought he had understood what I was saying. But then he turned and ran past me, hair streaming behind him, eating up the ground until I could barely see him in the darkness. Mid step, he shuddered, and with a sound like the cracking of bones, he shifted.
Where Jacob had been, feet pounding on the tarmac, now there was a huge russet wolf, standing still and quiet. I fought to stay standing.
I heard Jacob’s breath escape from his muzzle, and my chest felt tight. It had been almost six years since we took our first walk on the beach, and until today I’d never had much cause to think about the story he’d told me. Since then, he’d never shared any of the tribe’s old legends, and I knew better than to ask.
As an outsider, there were things I had no right to know.
I had never expected this.
“Another legend claims that we descended from wolves — and that the wolves are our brothers still. It's against tribal law to kill them.”
Jacob had just turned fifteen when he told me that story, and now when I pictured him on that day, I struggled to reconcile the beast in front of me with that boy, who had smiled sweetly at me and told me that secret to give me a thrill.
When he turned to look at me, I hoped I would see something of him in the wolf’s eyes. Instead of deep brown, they were yellow, unlike any human’s eyes I’d ever seen. They reminded me of the Cullens’ eyes. With careful steps, the wolf - indistinguishable from any other I’d ever seen - came within arm’s reach of me. Bending its head, it settled to the ground, and just as fast as he had shifted into the wolf’s fur, Jacob became himself again.
I could reach out and touch his skin, as real as ever. His clothes were gone.
“They hunt animals,” Jake said quietly. “Doesn’t mean anyone’s safe while they’re around, but while they’re here, so are we.”
Billy’s car horn split the silence: farcical, ordinary, completely foreign. In the forest, full of werewolves and vampires, it was hard to believe that real things, tangible things like the internal combustion engine and car horns, waited just beyond the trees.
“Paul, Quil… all of them?”
He nodded solemnly.
“How does it happen? Is your dad-“
“He was the only one in a generation. It’s how he ended up in the chair. Vampire crushed his legs, but my dad killed it, in the end.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “It’s a choice. He was the only one who could, when the vampires came around last time. I have a pretty sizeable pack these days.”
Jacob’s words were bitter, face doubly so.
“Sam said no,” I said, realization dawning. “He said no to go and be with Leah.”
“They both said no. When Leah found out about it, she wanted to do it so Seth wouldn’t have to-“
“Seth.” I repeated, voice pained.
“-but Sam didn’t see the Cullens as a threat. He said we’d all end up getting ourselves killed by the next nomad that came through.”
I bit my lip.
“Was he right?”
Jacob shook his head, ran a hand through his hair.
“The night the Cullens had to stitch me up, I came out here… I wasn’t looking for a fight. Sam wouldn’t have brought me out if I was, but I had to remind them of the terms of the treaty. If they get too close to a human, there might not be anything I can do until it’s too late.”
My blood ran cold.
“So which one of them was it,” I asked. Even as fragile, as human as I was, I was ready to go back up to that house and make my feelings known. I was an outsider, a bystander. My loyalty to Jacob aside, I wasn’t bound by a treaty like he was. Exposing them was nothing to me.
“None of them.” Jacob gave me a sad smile. “We got halfway here when I picked up the scent of a vamp I didn’t recognize. When I found him, well… I shouldn’t have tried it alone.”
I couldn’t picture it, Jacob in a wolf’s body, facing off against a monster with black eyes. In my head, he stood as he was now, maybe just his hands raised in defense. I felt sick.
“I chased him past the house, and the Cullens heard me coming. They scared him off, but not before I was able to take a chunk out of him.”
In a world of seven billion people, it stood to reason that there were more than a handful of vampires in the state. But the thought that they could move among us, undetected, unnoticed but deadly, was chilling.
The Cullens pretended to be something they weren’t, but the vampire Jake fought simply pretended not to exist.
He waved a hand in the direction of Billy’s car. Just like that, he’d brushed off the fact that he could transform into an animal at will, that he fought vampires, and that all of it was wrapped in tribal secrets.
I caught up to him, and smiled hopefully as I tried to grab for the door handle before he could: an old gag, from all those times I’d opened car doors right into his face. We were silent on the car journey. I could feel Billy’s anger simmering, silent and calm under the surface. Like Jake, Billy never raised his voice. But not only had Jake put us both in danger, he’d violated a century-old agreement when he exposed both sides of the feud to me.
I met Billy’s eyes in the rearview mirror, and I thought I saw pity in their depths.I groaned, turning over on my mattress to block out the light with my forearm. If I squinted, I could see the first blush of sunrise over the tops of the trees.
Rubbing my hand over my face, I froze at the sight of a dark figure standing at the foot of my bed.
A yell slipped out of me, and I felt as if my chest had been crushed, breath forced out in a rush of fear. I dug under my pillow as the figure moved towards me, and pressed down on the release on the pepper spray.
“Bella, I think you need to reconsider your choice of self-defense products,” Edward said, making a strange spitting sound. “Pepper spray is not vampire approved.”
He wiped at his face with his sleeve.
“Get out of my dorm, dick.”
“You… don’t seem particularly afraid of me. I wish you would have more concern for your wellbeing-“
I laughed, hushed, aware that there were other students sleeping on the other side of my wall.
“I’m not afraid of you. I’m angry at you. There’s an attacker on campus and you think it’s a good idea to sneak into my bedroom, uninvited- wait. Wait. Does that apply, here?”
Edward looked amused, and frankly, I wanted to wipe the smirk off his face.
“That’s not real, Bella.”
I put my head in my hands.
“You tried to kill me, two days ago. Your family either hates me, or wants to eat me, and you’re trying to hold a conversation with me like we’re what? Friends? Colleagues? You broke into my bedroom, Edward. I should be screaming for somebody to come and save me.”
“You’re right,” he admitted. “I apologize, but I thought I should return this to you.”
He picked up my lost book from the side table and offered it to me to take. Warily, I stretched a hand out beyond the safety of my sheets.
“Where did this come from?” I asked.
“Originally, it was first published in Maine, in 1926. They never printed that inside, for some reason. But as for now, I took it from your backpack the night you were attacked.”
Glaring, I met his gaze, which was liquid amber in the dawn light. I was struck by how beautiful his face was, unable to wipe the memory of his snarl from my mind’s eye.
“So you’re a murderer, a thief, and a total creep. You’re not convincing me.”
“I’d like to show you something, if you’re willing,” he implored.
I whipped my sheet off, reaching over to the end of the bed to shrug into a sweater. Grateful I’d worn pajamas to sleep, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. A stranger had broken into my bedroom. I doubted there was any outfit appropriate for having my privacy violated this way.
“Will you come outside with me?”
He looked so weary in that moment. His voice was plaintive, almost choked. Edward offered a hand to me, and for a split second I yearned to take it. Much in the way you toy with the idea of pushing the person in front of you down the stairs, or slicing your hand with the knife you’re using to make a meal, I wanted to take his hand.
I grabbed my keys, and pushed past him, not even bothering to hold open the door. As I expected, he could keep up.
“I just want you to understand… about me. About the book.”
Scoffing, I backed into the door at the bottom of the stairs, and thrust my hands out at my sides on the path.
“What am I waiting for, then? What do I have to see?”
He faced the tree line, eyes fixed at the top of the branches. The sky was growing pinker and brighter, and I could hear birds, high pitched and frenzied, just a few yards away. When Edward turned back to face me, I understood what he was trying to say.
Edward looked sickened, and so, so tired. His face, and every inch of skin that wasn’t covered by his clothing, appeared crystalline. Shining.
“This is too much,” I said, and turned away, but then I felt his hand, ice-cold, on my wrist.
“My father’s name was Anthony Masen. When I was seventeen, I died of Spanish Flu in Chicago. Slaughtered by my body, piling every ounce of strength-“
“-on a fever like a furnace,” I finished for him, my voice sounding distant in my ears. “You wrote that book.”
“This is what Carlisle made me. My mother’s death wish was that he do everything in his power to save me… and so he did.”
I was enraptured by the play of sunlight on his skin, feeling my thoughts growing less coherent. Blinking rapidly, I crossed my hands over my chest, trying to warm my frigid skin. The campus was still at this hour, but it wouldn’t be long before someone stumbled across us, out on a run or returning from a late night out.
Stretching a hand out towards him, I slowly and carefully lifted a finger to his face, and Edward frowned as if in pain. His skin was smooth and cold, a living statue. My eyes insisted that the planes of his face should be sharp, jagged like a crystal. When I pressed harder, overcome by curiosity, his cheek remained hard and flawless.
“You’ve been seventeen- frozen, for more than a hundred years?”
A muscle - or whatever facsimile of a human muscle controlled the movement of his strange, porcelain body - jumped in his jaw.
“Carlisle says it gets easier to bear after the first two centuries,” he replied, with a wry twist of his mouth.
I fought to keep my face straight, to appear unfazed.
“What age was he when- when he became this?”
Edward’s eyes were downcast.
“He was twenty-three, in the time of Cromwell.”
I grinned, a laugh slipping out of me.
“I fucking knew it.”
Chapter 7: Intimacy
Special thanks in this chapter to warriorfaeriequeen and inhalegalaxies, you guys are responsible for the majority of the reviews this story has on ao3, and I am so incredibly grateful!
“Sit right there until I get back, ok?” I cast my eyes to the open window. “No disappearing.”
He smiled, looking much calmer than I felt.
“I don’t have anywhere to be,” Edward replied.
Collecting the essentials, I sped through my morning routine. It was still early enough that my preferred shower was free, and I didn’t meet anyone in the hallway. Panic struck me when I considered that he was left alone in my bedroom, with all of my possessions on display. I scolded myself. Now was not the time to be embarrassed over my mom’s quilt, or my book collection.
I cast my mind back over our previous interactions, searching for any clue as to why he would single me out like this, or reveal his family’s secret. Jacob was tight-lipped about why, precisely, he was so concerned about me spending time around Edward, aside from the obvious.
Staring into my own reflection in the mirror, I recited a mental pep-talk as I scrubbed at my teeth. By the time I was finished, surfacing from the sink with my face covered in water, I was determined that today would be the day he explained everything.
If he wanted me to keep his secret, Edward Cullen had to give me an exceptionally good reason.
Minutes later, I was clean and dressed. I roughly bundled my clothes into a pile, and wrapped my underwear in the center of it, hidden from view. When I burst back through my bedroom door, Edward didn’t even pretend to be fazed. Instead, he continued to flip through my copy of Modern Epidemiology, fingers flicking so fast through the pages I feared he would rip them. It was on loan.
“How do you keep it up?” I asked, stunned.
He stopped abruptly, sitting up straighter to give me his full attention, and I briefly forgot my own question when I met his eyes.
“The human act?” he clarified. “It is not without difficulty. I have more of an insight than most as to what would unnerve the average person, but I can’t always live up to expectations.”
Edward blurred into action, and in less than a second he had replaced my textbook on the shelf, neatened the sheet on my bed, and moved to stand directly in front of me, a breath away.
“You seem unusually unfazed, Bella.”
I swallowed, thrilled by the sound of my name on his lips. Forcing myself to move away from him, and tear my gaze away from his amber eyes, I threw my clothes into the laundry basket.
“Adapt to survive, right?”
He looked supremely amused.
“You know that’s a-“
“Misquotation,” I finished, rolling my eyes. “At last, gleams of light have come.”
This time, when I had pulled on a few layers, complete with thick brown coat, I looked back at Edward before I headed for the door.
“I have…” I checked my phone. “Two hours before I’m expected anywhere. You should start talking.”
He pulled a car key from his jeans pocket and smiled, seemingly delighted.
“Let me buy you breakfast,” Edward suggested.
“It’s the least you can do, really,” I grumbled.
His smile faded as quickly as it had come. Edward’s wounded look punctured something in me, and I almost regretted trying to inject any levity into the situation.
“You’re the youngest of five, right? And you haven’t learned to take a joke in a hundred years.”
We started down the path that would take us to the closest parking lot. After seeing him move at speed, I found it peculiar that he would have brought his car onto campus. It dawned on me, then, that it might be for my benefit. Unlocking the car, Edward crossed in front of me to hold the door open. My eyes widened at the plush interior, and how the car gleamed even in the weak morning light. I was a little nervous about my shoes, permanently streaked with mud from the permanently water-logged paths.
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” he said, and closed the door behind me.
Edward seemed to have a destination in mind, and pulled out of his parking space with no hesitation. Having been taught how not to drive by my mom, with well-meaning but anxiety-inducing tuition from my dad, it was all I could do not to grip at the sides of my seat as I watched the needle on the speedometer climbing.
As if he sensed my tension, Edward took his foot off the gas, slowing to a more normal speed.
“Carlisle was alone for a long time before he changed me. Black told you that we do things a little differently from other vampires?”
He said the word so casually, tone artificially light.
“It was a long time ago. Neither of us expected any of it to be true. But, yeah- he said that you… drink from animals?”
“If he hadn’t figured out how to live this way, I think he would have left me to die. But as it was, Carlisle saved my life. He changed all of us, except Alice and Jasper. She was born the same year as I was, turned two years later- by whom, we still don’t know. Jasper has been this way longer than any of us bar Carlisle. But he has his own struggles, being the newest convert.”
“How am I supposed to believe any of you?” My voice was harsher than I intended in the silence. “Seattle is a big city. People go missing every day-“
“When a vampire is created, their eyes are red. Flush with blood. The exact shade differs from person to person, just like human eyes would. When we need to feed, they’re black. It takes us a few months of feeding on animals for them to turn to… this.”
Regarding him, the perfect face, the golden eyes, I felt heat rising in my cheeks.
“Why black? Your pupils-“
“We don’t think so, no. My eyesight doesn’t change, for one, and Emmett let Carlisle dissect his eyeball back in ’92. Just a lack of blood, as far as we can tell.”
His choice of parking space seemed arbitrary, but Edward’s eyes were trained on the clock on the dashboard.
“We don’t have a decent estimate of how many of our kind exist in the world, but we’ve only met one other clan who survive on animal blood the way we do. Mostly women, from Denali. We lived with them until about four years ago, when we moved to Norway-“
“How do you choose where to go?” I interrupted.
Edward blinked rapidly, and cast his eyes down into his lap.
“Sometimes Carlisle wants to pay a visit to an old friend, sometimes Esme falls in love with the idea of a place that’s just right for us, good cloud cover, small enough town that we won’t run into any others... and sometimes, Alice tells us where we need to be.”
Charlie never talked much about work, but even in a place like Forks, I knew he’d interviewed a few criminals in his time. It seemed to bleed into his everyday life, and the cadence of his conversation.
I stayed silent.
“Alice is clairvoyant,” he said in a rush.
Though I heard him perfectly, my brain refused to recognize his words. If I hadn’t seen the theatrics at the Cullen house with my own eyes, I would have sworn it was choreography, harnesses and wires, timed explosions and safety glass.
“She saw you leaving Forks, before you went to college, and she knew you’d be back. The visions are subject to change. Your decisions, the path you were on, it could have changed at any time between then and now.” He met my eyes, almost apologetic. “But she was so certain that she’d see you again, and she did. Every once in a while, she would see something else that told her we had to come and find you.”
“Why?” I whispered.
Undoing his seatbelt, Edward opened the door.
“She never saw that part,” he said, and reappeared on my side. “There’s something I have to show you.”
When I saw the sign, and the crush of the line just inside the door, I gave Edward a searching look.
“What’s so special about Starbucks?” I asked with a laugh.
Again, he opened the door for me, carefully shuffling the people standing just inside so that we could squeeze in.
“I needed somewhere crowded.”
I felt his breath, cool against the skin of my neck. Though I’d felt his strange, frigid skin before, it was bizarre to stand this close to him, pressed against my back. Cold emanated through his clothes. Wondering how we looked to the other people in the coffee shop, an odd pair, I flushed. His closeness, the intimacy with which he spoke, would give anyone the wrong impression.
“Up at the front, red blouse,” he began, gesturing to a woman with natural hair who was about to place her order. “Her name is Nina. The man with the neck tattoo is about to hand her three coffees and a grilled cheese.”
Eyes trained on the barista’s hands, I watched him hand over her order, exactly as Edward had described.
“The one with the stretched ears? Soy latte, Almond cappuccino.”
Again, he was spot on. For the next few seconds, he worked his way down the line, reciting their orders in a stream on consciousness, breathless and fast.
“Black coffee, one sugar,” he finished.
“How did you know my- are you... like Alice, too?” I asked in a whisper.
He shook his head, raising a finger to his lips. By the time we made it to the front of the line, my mind was racing. When a table opened up, he made a beeline for it, moving much faster than I could without spilling a drop of my drink.
Of course, he ordered nothing for himself, but offered me a breakfast sandwich, a yogurt, a piece of fruit. Pushing them aside, I pulled the coffee towards me for starters.
“I could smell what went into those coffees you brought to the office. That’s the only reason I knew your order, I promise. The rest of them, I can hear what they’re thinking,” he said in a hushed voice.
Embarrassment flooded me, and I could feel my heart beating faster. I thought back over all the choice insults I had thrown at his retreating back.
“I don’t believe you.”
“If you need more proof, I-“
“No, no. I don’t believe you can’t hear what I’m thinking. You could hear every other person in that line, why not me?”
Edward looked mortified and reached out to place his hand over mine before pulling back, hesitant. My heart was beating hard and fast, and it wasn’t lost on me that even if he didn’t know what I was thinking, he would be able to hear exactly how nervous I felt.
“It’s true. I’ve never met anyone else like you- look, think of a number.”
I scoffed, leaning back.
“You sound like a third-grader,” I said, but conjured a number all the same.
“Seven,” said Edward, and I laughed.
“Twenty-four,” he guessed again.
“This could just as easily be a lie, you know.” I stared at him, pensive.
Edward put his head in his hands.
“I’ve been watching you in Alice’s visions for four years. Not once did she see anything that told me I wouldn’t be able to hear what you were thinking, and I feel... lost. Like I’m saying everything wrong, because I’d forgotten what it was like to only know the thoughts someone wanted to share.”
Though his words were absurd, I felt the emotion behind them. The buzz of the other people in the shop was inconsequential in that moment, when all I could hear was my own breath.
“When I have to concentrate,” Edward said, pausing to look around the room, “I come somewhere like this. A place with enough voices that it just turns into a hum. White noise.”
“What about work? How do you cope then?”
“I listen to music, I come in at night, or, lately, I make excuses to be around you.”
When I emerged from my last class just after four, Edward was waiting for me as agreed. Together, we walked back to my dorm, feigning normalcy. I had a few things to take care of before I set down my books for the night, but he seemed quite happy to sit on the unused bed while I tapped away at my keyboard, and scribbled notes on the papers I intended to discuss at my next supervisory meeting.
Every so often I glanced over at him, sitting perfectly still again. Something about his posture told me he wasn’t as engrossed in his novel as he was pretending.
After an hour or so, I put the laptop to sleep and sat directly across from him.
“Don’t you need to eat?” Edward asked, raising a brow.
My stomach was churning, in reality. I couldn’t think about food, not least while Edward was sitting in my bedroom, pale white in the gloom. The questions that had been spawning in my head since breakfast clamoured to be answered.
“I’ll order in, if I get hungry.”
He raised a brow, amused.
“No ramen?” Edward appraised my little box of supplies when I held it out to him. “I expected a microwave stashed under your bed.”
Instead, I fanned out the menus I’d collected over the first few weeks of the semester.
“I don’t get out much,” I said with a smile. “It depresses me if I have to eat too many meals out of a plastic packet.”
When he opened his mouth to continue the small talk, I shot him a look. Reaching across him to turn on the beside lamp, I steeled myself with a deep breath.
“I want you to tell me why I shouldn’t turn you and your family over to the cops.”
Horror flashed across his face, disappearing as quickly as it had come.
“You have to understand, Bella, that it wouldn’t end well for you.” He sighed, scrubbing a hand through his artfully tousled hair. “There are others of my kind who wouldn’t look kindly on the exposure. That’s not even considering what Emmett would do-“
“Why Emmett, specifically?”
“We would disappear faster than they could ever follow. The authorities would never believe you, and if they did, it could be a death sentence. And Emmett… He’s very protective of Rosalie. She has always been the most cautious out of all of us.”
He stood, then crossed to the window. Outside, the sky was darkening. Street lamps were starting to blink on in the distance.
“Rosalie’s gift is subtle. It’s very hard to discern when someone has been affected by it, not least because she can’t always control it. It’s simple, really. She gets what she wants from people. Almost always.”
“Like… a siren. Or a succubus.”
He huffed out a breath.
“She hates those words. Really, despises them. Rose does everything she can not to take away peoples’ choice, but if she was threatened-“
“Under some sort of spell?” Edward smirked. “No. He gets on her nerves more than anyone else in the world. Emmett is the only person she can be completely herself around, I think.”
Our eyes met, and I quickly looked down at my lap.
“Why does she hate you so much?”
“When Carlisle turned her, he thought perhaps she could love me. That our deaths would mean something if we found happiness in each other.”
“She despised me. I couldn’t blame her, but I couldn’t shut it out.” He looked solemn. “Alice and Emmett are easy to love. Alice and I understand each other in a way that the others can’t, but- Rosalie is my sister. As if we were raised together, as if we grew up fighting and spitting and hating each other.”
I had only ever imagined what it would be like to have siblings, or even cousins my own age. Before coming to Forks, I had been effectively friendless. Jacob, Angela, Jessica, even Ben and Mike, they were the first people I had ever really connected with.
“It doesn’t help that I’m the baby, effectively. But Rosalie is the perfect daughter. I get a medical degree, she gets a medical degree. I prove myself to be weak, she’s never tasted human blood. Just like Carlisle.”
Nervous tension gripped my stomach, and I felt the beginning of a tremor in my arms. I wasn’t sure if it was low blood sugar, or his chilling admission.
“So you’ve killed people, then,” I choked out.
Eyes wide, Edward closed his mouth abruptly. It was as though he had forgotten that he was speaking to a human being, with a pumping heart.
“I haven’t taken a life in almost eighty years.” He took a seat across from me again, moving fast enough to make me flinch. “Not that there is a statute of limitation on murder. But I’m stronger, now. More… stable.”
My voice was quiet, contemplative.
“You’re not convincing me,” I admitted. “Maybe nobody would believe me. Maybe there would be consequences. But I need you to tell me that my conscience is clean. Otherwise, I can’t keep your secret, Edward.”
Raising a hand across the gap between the two beds, he held out his palm for me to take. I reached out, hand shaking slightly as I went. The shame in his eyes was obvious, almost making me uncomfortable to see him wrestling with it. When our hands touched, he slipped off the bed, crouching at my feet.
The movement was fluid and silent. Edward raised my wrist until it was a few inches from his face, and closed his eyes.
“Emmett is almost as old as I am, and in all that time, he’s only experienced this twice.”
At the confused look on my face, Edward smiled sadly.
“He killed the human, in both instances, because their blood smelled… almost uniquely irresistible, to him. The second he caught their scent, they were doomed. I had never understood what he meant, until now.”
I wanted to snatch my hand back, but my muscles were unresponsive. Simultaneously afraid and pitying, I was frozen in his grip.
“But you can’t hear my thoughts. You didn’t know a thing about me. I was nothing- why didn’t you just kill me the first time you saw me?”
Edward dropped my hand, gently. He retreated, though I wanted to pull him back, to look into his eyes and understand why he had fought his nature.
“Alice has known that something like this was coming to me, since before she even met me. The first time she saw you, it was four years ago, and just like that, we had to come to Washington.” He smiled, although it looked as though he was fighting it. “For four years, I’ve seen you in her visions. The circumstances of our meeting kept changing, but we always did. And your scent… lingers.”
“So it was fate, then,” I said, my voice colder than I meant it. “We never had a choice.”
“It didn’t matter what choices we made, that’s what was so strange. Even when I told them I wouldn’t come, another vision. Years later, but still, we would cross paths.”
“You wrote about religion a lot, in that book. But I’m not some kind of test, Edward. I’m a person. What if I don’t choose… this?”
“Then I’ll go,” he said, eyes flat in the darkness. “And I’ll spend the rest of your natural life trying to stay away.”
“You’re sure they’re ok with this?”
Jake rolled his eyes, but didn’t take his eyes off the road. My lap was full of plastic food packets: marshmallows, chocolate, crackers, gummy worms, hot dog buns, and chips.
“It’s not a secret club, Bella. It’s a bonfire,” he replied.
“But you did tell them I’m coming.”
“Sure.” His voice was too casual.
I let out a long breath.
“I can’t believe this, Jacob. You know exactly how I feel about just showing up to things like this-“
“There’s no such thing as gatecrashing if everybody’s welcome,” Jacob reassured me.
“So Paul is going to be happy to see me,” I said with a scoff. “Quil is going to be psyched.”
Jacob kept his eyes on the bends in the road, left hand hovering over the blinker, before turning in towards the house.
“It’s my party, Bella. Stop it.”
I could see them already, loosely grouped around the fire pit. To my surprise, there were a couple of other women there. Leah and Sam rarely visited, so it was nobody I recognized, but it made me feel a little less like an outsider. Hopping out of Billy’s truck, I cast an eye to the garage, where the Datsun was covered, engine strewn on a tarp.
“You’re just trying to stop me from driving that thing,” I accused him.
Taking the food from me, he grinned, but shook his head.
“I take it apart when I can’t sleep.”
When Jake passed me, calling out to his friends and throwing the food to them, I stayed where I was. There had been a time, five years ago, when I wasn’t sleeping, or doing much of anything healthy. Jacob’s solution, the little dreamcatcher, came with me everywhere. It hung over my bed in Seattle, but part of me wished I could give it back to him. Watching Jacob sling an arm around Seth’s shoulder, I was struck by how often we talked about how I was feeling, but he rarely reciprocated.
I wondered what was keeping Jacob awake at night.
Embry was cheerfully prodding at the sausages on the little disposable barbecue he’d set up on a pile of sticks to protect the grass. In a cooler beside him, what looked like a whole case of beer was haphazardly stuck into the ice.
“How is it to be home, Bella?”
With his quiet voice and large, soft eyes, Embry had always struck me as the gentlest of Jacob’s friends. Unlike Seth, he was never boisterous, never mocking like Jake, and never posturing like Quil.
“You know how people say you can never go home? Seems like they were right.”
His answering look was knowing.
“He’d never have been able to keep it from you, even if he wanted to- believe me, he didn’t want to.”
“Who else…” I asked in a stage whisper.
Embry gestured around the bonfire, then poked aimlessly at the food again.
“Anybody who’s anybody, I guess. Used to be, we had to keep it quiet. Before Jake’s dad, nobody except the council families got to know the secret, and then… yeah. Jake’s mom died. Billy knew Jake couldn’t do it alone.”
When Jared threw himself down on Embry’s other side, he smirked at me.
“You thought you’d be the only one, vampire girl?”
I bristled at the name, but Jared only laughed.
“I guess you still are. We’re a pretty exclusive team.”
I cast my eyes across to the two women, and smiled when one of them caught my eye.
“So they’re, what? Interviewing?”
Embry laughed, a rare smile stretching across his pretty face.
“If you want to call it that. Didn’t you and Rachel grow up together, or something?”
I gaped, and returned her wave the second I recognized the girl I used to play with before I had even turned four.
“That’s Rachel? Oh my god. She used to braid my hair, when-“
“We know,” Jared said in a flat voice. “You’re lucky you’re a friend of the family, Bella. Billy was ready to run Jake over with that fucking truck for telling you. Not that he had much choice, since you were running headfirst into a bat cave.”
I flipped him off, and moved around the circle to greet Rachel, who stood when she saw me, pulling the other woman up with her.
“Bella!” She turned to the other woman, who was somehow even more beautiful than Rachel herself. “This is Emily Young, she’d Leah’s cousin. I used to braid Bella’s hair into knots when we were kids.”
I held out a hand for Emily to shake, but Rachel knocked my hand aside to hug me.
“You have no idea how weird it’s been to hear Jacob going on and on about you and that vampire. I told Emily that they should have just sent one of us to tell you, right?”
“It might have saved you from seeing Jacob naked, that’s for sure.”
Rachel flipped her hair, which was just as long as Jacob’s. She wasn’t so tall, but aside from that, they could have been twins. From the few pictures I’d seen, all three of Billy’s kids looked a lot like their mother, but Rachel most of all.
“She first saw him naked when she was, like, three. I don’t think it counts.”
I found my voice, then, bolstered by their smiles.
“I am, like, so new, to all of this- are the two of you… pack members?” My voice was high and hesitant by the end of my sentence, and I could feel myself shrinking in, cringing.
I had no idea whether it was offensive to ask, or if they’d think I was prying.
Emily smiled, showing flawless white teeth.
“We’re the first generation to be offered the chance- as if women thirty years ago would have said no?”
Rachel laughed, gesturing for me to sit down beside her on the grass. She held her hands out, gratefully accepting a hot dog from her brother.
“Can I get-“
Jake held the mustard bottle out to her, and she smiled, puckering her lips in an air kiss.
“Jacob knows how to lead from the back.”
He looked embarrassed, holding one hot dog in each hand, one for me and Emily both.
“You guys taught him well.” I took a bite of my hotdog, already prepped with the perfect amount of ketchup. “What brought you home?”
Emily smirked, trying to stifle a laugh.
“Paul Lahote,” she said with a grin, and Rachel looked mortified.
“It was one date, Emily. Drop it,” she insisted.
Despite myself, I smiled, though I wasn’t in on the joke. I knew enough of Paul’s personality to understand her embarrassment.
“Paul… doesn’t seem like your type.”
He didn’t seem like anyone’s type, really. I knew Jacob only tolerated him because he was unfailingly loyal, for all his crass jokes and lack of filter. After Paul had punched Sam, Jacob had been understandably surprised by his outburst. Aside from the fact that Paul rarely drank alcohol, and we had all been enjoying ourselves a little too much at Sue's party, he had taken Sam's departure the hardest. Sam had been like a big brother to him, and he got along pretty well with Leah, who laughed at his immaturity. I knew Billy had taken him aside, and was going to help him work on those feelings. Billy was the right man for the job, that much I was sure of.
“He took me to Subway. On a first date.” Rachel wrinkled her nose. “I’ll never make that mistake again. But I stayed because I knew my dad was hiding something from me. When I finally got it out of him, he came around to the idea of me joining pretty quickly.”
Emily leaned forward, so I could hear her better.
“She got out of her lease so fast I barely had enough time to drive out to Seattle with a truck. Rachel has more stuff than my grandma, and she hasn’t thrown anything out since 1982. It took us three days to pack it all.”
I chewed my lip, wary of putting my foot in my mouth.
“How did you find out, Emily?”
Eyes sparkling, she shuffled even further towards me. Emily cast her eyes around, and dropped her voice.
“Leah wasn’t supposed to tell me. She and Sam were going to save up before they moved, try and buy something small on the outskirts of the city so they wouldn’t be pouring away all of their money on rent. But as soon as they decided not to join the pack, that was it.”
She fell quiet for a moment, contemplative. A breeze caught my hair, and goosebumps broke out over my arms, reminding me that my food was cooling rapidly. I took a bite, and fought to swallow my half-chewed food when she started to speak again.
“I think she was afraid. So she asked for my help. At first, I thought Seth was selling drugs, or something- the way she talked about the pack? It was weird. The… transformation part is the only secret. It’s the only thing we’re supposed to keep within the tribe-“
“-for good reason,” interrupted Rachel. “We grew up with cautionary tales. As long as we stay on Quileute land, we’re never alone. My dad was the only one, and look how he turned out.”
She sounded choked, but her words came out strong.
“Vampires can’t be trusted because their clans aren’t as strong as ours. And a newly turned leech, some poor kid who wakes up without knowing what’s happening to them, just that they’re thirsty, and somehow they can punch through walls and throw cars over their head-“
“The change makes them volatile, is what she means.” Emily looked concerned, rubbing a hand on Rachel’s back. Her eyes were so tender, so full of care, it was no wonder Rachel seemed to calm down with every passing breath.
“We know what we’re signing up for in a way that no vampire ever could. I’m still myself when I’m in another form. I can still reason, still communicate with my pack. I'm in control. They’re just… killer instinct and teeth.”
I couldn’t speak, just continued to chew mournfully on the last bite of my hot dog. Instead of an embarrassed flush in my cheeks, I just felt hollow, judged. I shivered, raising my hands to the fire.
“And then there’s the Cullens,” Emily began. “So fucking pretentious.”
The curse sounded strange coming from someone smirking like she was. Her amusement did something to soften the nagging feeling of shame that had settled within me.
“They seem kind of petty for people who are supposed to be immortal,” I admitted, bolstered by Emily’s words. “It’s like if the Kardashians started doing MMA in their living room.”
“Emmett is definitely a Khloe,” said Rachel, smirking. “And Rosalie is Kim.”
“What about Kris?” Emily asked.
“Alice,” Rachel and I said in unison, and she burst out laughing.
Chapter 8: History
Sue’s Sunday breakfast was legendary: Charlie insisted I join them, despite the fact that the event usually stretched on into the late afternoon, and I had somewhere to be. When I had eaten my fill, Seth reached out to take my plate, gladly accepting the leftovers with a smile. If I didn’t know he was burning off the calories running around the woods at night as a wolf, I would have been stunned at the amount of food that he was putting away.
Charlie looked relaxed, sipping on orange juice and smiling blandly. He also still looked half asleep after a week of long nights.
“Have you thought any more about college, Seth?”
He shuffled in his chair, looking sheepish, and his mother sent a pointed look his way, waiting expectantly for his answer.
“I, uh, think I’m going to work for Jacob this year, and then next year, I’ll-“
“He doesn’t know, is what he means,” said Sue. “Leah had her whole life planned out, and look at her. She’s making good money as a freelancer, she has a home, she’s settling down. Jacob is trying to help him look for scholarships he can apply for outside of the tribal one.”
“I can imagine how that’s going.”
Jacob was fortunate enough to have a marketable skill and the resources to practice it for a living. He was ambivalent about college, to say the least.
“If you need help writing essays, you can always email a draft to me. Or… if you want me to help start it, we could do it when I’m home?”
He smiled, dimples appearing on his cheeks.
“Seth has a problem with an empty page,” Charlie said, heaping more sausage onto his plate.
“But there’s this, like, forestry program at Washington-“
He snapped his head up and immediately stood, moving towards the window.
“Charlie, why is Edward Cullen outside?”
I followed him, ducking my head.
“That’s my ride,” I admitted, and Sue smirked. The engine idling outside didn’t belong to his customary sports car. Instead, he was driving a nondescript black Volvo.
“He’s going to drive me back to college later on.”
“And what are you doing until then?” asked Charlie, pursing his lips.
I shrugged, picking up my coat and backpack from the side of the couch. Sue reached her arms out to give me a half-hug from her seat at the table, but Charlie didn’t move, just stood with his arms crossed, looking faintly amused.
“Edward Cullen? Thousands of kids on that campus and you pick the one who lives in town?”
I put my arms around my dad, hiding my face.
“Edward doesn’t live in town,” I maintained.
Seth reached out a hand, quickly tapping his palm to mine as I walked out.
“Don’t worry, Bella. Jake promised not to gate crash, this time.”
I flipped him off, laughing, and left Charlie to shout his indignation as I closed the door.
Edward had been sitting in the car when I saw him out the window, but now he stood, as seemed to be customary, holding the door open. His eyes were trained on the window, where Charlie, Sue, and Seth all stood, looking at him expectantly.
“Should I be worried?” Edward asked, a smile in his eyes.
I waved back to them, a mocking, exaggerated gesture, but Charlie raised a single hand in response. The car Edward was driving, the clothes he was wearing, made him look even older than I was, but I supposed that he was, really. It occurred to me then that Charlie probably had no idea what age they were all even supposed to be, let alone had any idea of their true lifespan.
“Yes,” I replied, and closed the door behind me.
It was strange to see him walk around the car at such a sedate pace, and even stranger for him to pull away from the house at such a reasonable speed. As soon as we were out of eyeshot, though, he put his foot down, and his serious facade crumbled.
“It has just occurred to me,” he said, face crumpled in laughter, “That I’m dating the Chief’s daughter.”
I had never presumed that was what this was, and his words sat strangely with me. When his laughter continued, I couldn’t help but join in. The sound of it filled the car, and I was captivated by how his face lit up when he laughed.
“He’s happy, you know.”
I frowned, before realizing he was talking about what he had heard in Charlie’s head.
“He’s going to run my plates, but he’s still glad you’re, um, getting out there, were his words.”
Turning to face him, I was half-mortified by the fact he could hear exactly what my dad thought of him, half-curious.
“What will he find, when he looks into you? You’re not, like, technically dead, or-“
“No. I,” he said, gesturing to his chest, “am the grandson of a Masen cousin. The only surviving relative, with minimal ties to the original family line. The man who wrote that book did so through an… agent. Then he disappeared into obscurity.”
I sat back, stunned at how much effort must go into each move, wondering how they chose when to disappear, and how they did it. I guessed it had something to do with copious amounts of disposable income.
The route to his home went a lot faster when Edward was driving, despite strategically slowing every time we met a car coming the other way. We had never discussed precisely where we were going, but there was only one real option. I had to know more about his family, about his story. It was too easy to forget what he was when I was looking at his face, or sitting in his car, filled with his scent.
It was like being trapped in the sight of a predator. I was in the sight of a predator, distracted from his teeth by… everything else.
I hadn’t gotten this far, in my car. In the daylight, it seemed a little less ominous, though I could see more of the house, now, than before. Despite the fact it was largely made of wood and glass, the house was so boldly carved out of the forest that it didn’t look remotely natural, or even approaching organic. Its beauty was precisely constructed.
“Esme is a keen architect,” Edward said, glancing up at the house, noticing my wonder. “You should see her with a slide rule.”
By the time we reached the front steps, I had found my voice again.
“If this is going to be a repeat of last time, we should get back in the car.”
He stopped, and turned back to face me, looking wounded.
“I’m not talking about Rosalie,” I said in disbelief, half laughing. “Her reaction was… the most normal, out of all of you. It’s a novelty, having a human around, I get it.”
I held up my hands, smiling.
“Most people don’t swim with sharks without a cage, Edward.”
His brow was furrowed, but after a moment he nodded and held his hand out in the gesture for stay. Edward blurred, disappearing inside, and I took a moment to take in the trees around me. The second he retreated through the door, the frenzied sound of the birds died down.
They knew, maybe better than I did, that danger was nearby.
He caught the door before it swung closed, and swallowed, nervous.
“They’re ready,” he said, and reached for my hand. I let him take it, scared to move even a fraction of an inch. I knew his skin would be cold, but his grip was gentle, barely even holding my hand at all, just the suggestion of his fingers in my palm.
He was letting me do the holding, I realized, and slid my hand into his until it felt almost natural.
The family were seated this time, almost all of them looking formal and stiff against the plush cushions. I imagined Esme had something to do with the decor, sleek and clean with touches of comfort where it would be most expected. For all the difference it would have made to them, I wondered if they ever used the couch except for show. It looked to be in pristine condition.
My eye was immediately drawn to the metal shutter that encompassed the kitchen in place of the shattered glass wall. It was partially drawn back, and Jasper sat closest to it, probably for want of fresh air. From the tension in his posture, I couldn’t blame him for looking like all he wanted to do was jump out the window once more.
When Esme stood, she remained in place, reaching out a hand to me. Her movements, carefully choreographed, looked almost natural.
“I am so glad to see you again, Bella. We all are.” She smiled woodenly at Rose’s snort, but her eyes were imploring. “Please, sit with us.”
“I’m… happy to be back. I just ate brunch, though, so no more spaghetti, please,” I replied, and Esme looked delighted at my sad attempt at a joke.
It was strange to be seated amongst such a large family, all of their eyes trained on me, without even the sound of their breathing to break up the silence. Carlisle and Rosalie sat furthest from me in the arrangement, followed by Emmett, who was patting the space between himself and Alice on the couch. I glanced back at Edward, who was minutely shaking his head while Emmett smirked.
“You don’t have to worry this time, Bella. You get home safely,” Alice piped up. Though she was smiling in my direction, her eyes were glazed.
“Edward is going to-“
“Stop it,” Edward interrupted, and crossed the space to sit beside her. Esme opened her mouth as if to try and distract from their unintelligible conversation, punctuated by a gleeful laugh from Alice, who pressed a hand to the back of his head, causing him to duck down. When he emerged, Edward too was smiling.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said Rosalie.
Her eyes were trained on me, and though her tone wasn’t particularly stinging, Carlisle looked appalled, while Emmett said her name, chastising.
“It doesn’t work on her, Rose. Try again next time,” said Edward, lip turned up in a sneer.
Carlisle put his hand on Rosalie’s forearm, but she twitched away.
“We have talked about this, Rosalie. You’re more than capable of controlling yourself. To use your abilities on a human on purpose is not the right way to express your anger,“ Carlisle said gently.
“But it’s fine, when you need it.” She glared at Edward. “He doesn’t even try to control it. Why am I the only one who gets a lecture on ethics-“
Edward stood up, gesturing for me to follow, but I stayed seated. When he glanced at me, I shook my head.
“You know I can’t shut it off, Rosalie, it doesn’t work that way.”
She laughed mockingly.
“I’ve spent seventy years watching every word that comes out of my mouth, but it’s too hard for you to even try to do the same? I can’t even speak freely in my own head, Edward. That’s not fucking easy-“
Rosalie caught my eye and closed her mouth, sitting back in the chair and flipping her hair back over one cashmere-clad shoulder.
“I don’t mind what you say to me, Rosalie.”
Carlisle smiled at me, but Rosalie just seemed even more irritated.
“I wasn’t going to come here, today,” I continued, looking around the circle. “At first I was going to call the cops on you all, actually. But Jacob explained-“
Alice scoffed, but Esme shot her a look that silenced her immediately.
“-he explained that you’re not a threat. And Edward told me, that my blood is-“
“Practically irresistible?” Jasper asked.
I was stunned for a moment by his thick Southern accent. Despite myself, I laughed, and Jasper returned it with a smile. His teeth, I noted, were no sharper than any of the rest of them.
“Right,” I said. “Diet starts on Monday.”
Just like that, the tension deflated. Edward sat back down, tapping his foot on the waxed floorboards, and smiled at me with so much pride I couldn’t help but grin.
“Would you like a tour, Bella?” Esme asked, gesturing around the second floor. “If you’re at all interested in history, Carlisle has quite the collection.”
She looked expectantly at Edward, who appeared embarrassed, quickly exiting the room without even waiting for me.
“He always says if he has to hear what we’re thinking, he doesn’t want to have to see our faces, too,” Emmett said to me as I got up to follow.
“What you’re thinking,” I asked, moving my hand in a circle to indicate the whole group, “Or what you’re thinking?”
“Touché,” he said before I was out of earshot.
Edward lead me directly to his bedroom, and he looked to be filled with nervous energy.
“I’m sorry,” he began, but I held up a hand. Casting an eye around the room, I grinned.
“You remembered I was coming, right? What, did you sleep in and forget to clean?”
Running a hand through his hair, Edward crossed to the chaise, the only piece of furniture that might have told me it wasn’t just an office, or a music room, and pushed his belongings off to the side so I would have a place to sit.
“I don’t sleep,” he said. His voice was quiet.
In the space of a few breaths, I composed myself.
“You must think my bedroom is a terrible waste of space,” I countered lamely, but he smiled all the same. “Give me the real tour, then. Start over there.”
Leaning back until I was propped up on my elbows, I watched him take a journal from the freestanding shelf behind my head, and drop it into my lap. Inside, there were pages and pages of the same mirror writing from his other notebook.
“Alice does her best to think in languages I don’t know. So, I do this.” Edward raised a hand, gesturing to the rest of the shelves. “Most of it is books, music, souvenirs-“
The next book he took down was neater, and stuffed with typewritten pages.
“This became the book,” he said, and I accepted it from him with careful hands, marveling at the softness of the old paper. “I bought that journal from a store in Rochester, just before we found Rosalie.”
For several minutes, I pored over the pages, recognizing snippets from the book I knew. It was bizarre to know the man who had written it was standing in front of me now, looking just as he did when he put all of these tortured thoughts to paper.
I bit my lip, unwilling to probe any further. I was desperate to read on, to understand what had remained, what had been discarded as the ramblings of a first draft. How he had finally decided to try to publish it, why he had waited so long, were secrets I felt I wasn’t qualified to hear, just yet.
“What about all the other places you’ve lived?” I asked, searching for something else to talk about.
He stood up, and ran his fingers across the furthest shelf that held picture frames and a few antique-looking ornaments.
“Nowhere stands out, except for our old home towns. We moved to Oregon just after I was turned- that’s where we found Esme. After that, New York. We weren’t there for long before Carlisle turned Rose and we had to move again. Emmet, in Tennessee, then to Washington.”
He smiled, touching a black and white photograph of Esme and Carlisle.
“You know that story. After Jasper joined us, we had to move even more frequently while he adjusted. Some of the time, we lived off the grid, away from people. We would take him out every once in a while, and I’d make sure he wasn’t… overwhelmed. Most recently, though, we’ve lived in Alaska, Norway, then back here.”
I let out a long breath.
“I thought I had moved around a lot.”
“Because of your mother?”
I frowned, choosing my words carefully.
“You’ve lived more than a full human life, and I don’t know anything about it. But you seem to already know more about me than I could ever tell you.”
Edward looked stung, and he focused on his hands, wringing them together.
“Alice saw more and more of you, the closer we got to meeting,” Edward said, and looked up at me with gentle amber eyes. “But I don’t know why you did any of it. I want to, though. I don’t just want to know about your life. I want to know about you. The story of my life doesn’t reflect everything about my character, for example.”
Sitting forward, I watched him lean towards me, eyes tracking mine as I moved.
“So where do we start,” I asked.
He held out a hand to me, face alight with what I supposed was a new idea.
“At the beginning.”
With the speed he led me down the stairs, I assumed we were leaving the house, but he abruptly came to a stop in front of a huge wooden cross, propped against the wall.
“This hung in the church where Carlisle’s father was a pastor. His mother’s family came to London with the East India Trading Company in the early 17th century, and he was turned by a vampire he was supposed to be hunting through the sewer.”
I reached out to touch the wood, so hardened by time it was almost like metal.
“Did the vampire who turned him… stick around? Did he find out why they did it?”
He shook his head, forlorn.
“Carlisle shut himself up in a cellar during the transformation, and when it finally stopped, he couldn’t live with himself. His memories-“
Cutting off, he gestured for me to follow back up the stairs, and when we arrived at a door I hadn’t seen before, he breezed inside without so much as a knock. The books lining the walls, the antiques on free-standing pedestals, all told me that it must be Carlisle’s office.
Edward was already standing, almost impatiently, in front of an enormous gilt frame with an old painting inside.
“Carlisle was something of a mystery. People wanted to meet the man who drank deer blood. And when he got the attention of my world’s most powerful coven, they insisted on cultivating him.” Edward raised a finger to point out one of the figures. “The one in the center is Aro. He’s the closest thing to a king we could ever have.”
I leant forward until I was within touching distance of his ornately rendered face, and pulled back in surprise.
“That’s Carlisle, on the balcony.”
“Stregoni benefici,” Edward replied, and elaborated when I sounded out the words, searching for their roots to understand him. “He’s the basis for the Italian legend of the good-natured vampire. The Volturi had to let him leave, because he kept saving the lives of the people in the city. He was attracting attention.”
I bit my lip, struggling to understand Carlisle’s strange path to denouncing human blood.
“But why did they want him, in the first place?”
Edward’s smile was rueful, but he looked me directly in the eye.
“Aro’s abilities are both more limited than mine, and much more powerful. He knows every thought you’ve ever had from a single touch of the hand.”
As the pieces fell together, I held up a hand to stop him.
“They wanted to know if the stories about Carlisle were true. That he’d never killed a human,” I said.
At his answering nod, another question burst into my mind.
“What if somebody committed a crime they wanted to keep a secret?”
He came to stand behind me, and brushed my hair over my shoulder. Goosebumps erupted on my neck, half from the cold, and half from the feel of his touch.
“They had better learn to run far, and fast.”
When I turned to face him, his eyes were like liquid gold, and I couldn’t help but move closer. Edward rested a hand gently, but deliberately, on my waist, as I closed my eyes, waiting with bated breath.
“Bella?” He asked, and I made a soft sound, unwilling to open my eyes and spoil the moment. “What’s your favourite color?”
When Alice and Jasper found us, Edward had furnished me with a coffee from their untouched espresso machine. I was surprised at its quality before he reminded me how much time he spent in coffee shops and restaurants, watching the baristas as he tried to shut out the noise of people’s thoughts.
I understood now what the earphones were for.
Seated next to him on the piano stool, I recounted a story from my childhood stint in dance class as he played a strange little medley of the few ballet songs I actually recognised.
“Esme wants to know if Bella is staying overnight,” Alice asked the moment she came through the door. “She said there’s a bed in the spare room.”
“How would she know that? Esme doesn’t go anywhere near it. And neither will Bella.”
At the confusion on my face, Jasper smirked, leaning against the lid of the piano. Unlike the others, I never saw him breathe, or at least pretend to, unless he was about to speak. Where Alice was fluid, graceful, Jasper’s movements almost always looked like an actor’s on a broken VHS.
Edward claimed it took a lot of practice to move at human speeds, and his brother hadn’t had much of a reference.
“The spare room is below Emmett and Rosalie’s bedroom,” Jasper said, eyes fixed on Edward, who looked at him imploringly. “That’s why Edward’s bedroom is on the opposite side of the house. And why he spends half the week in Seattle.”
“I’ve never seen your apartment,” I said, realisation dawning. It was hard to imagine him living in the city, having neighbours, parking in a communal lot.
Alice’s laugh was brief, startled, seemingly unconnected to our conversation. It was obvious to me now when she was seeing something I wasn’t, and I burned with curiosity. Perhaps it was like conjuring any image in your mind’s eye, I mused. Something most people could do without thinking, except her visions came not from memory, or independent thought, but the threads of the future.
From a scientific perspective, the fact she saw the most of people she knew best made some sense to me. As if her brain was a supercomputer, calculating the odds without conscious thought. The fact she had seen me, however, was still a mystery. How she had found Jasper and the Cullens in the first place was even more dumbfounding.
“I let him keep this one. Once a century is pretty fair, I think.”
Edward’s hands stilled on the keys, before he picked up again with a tune that reminded me of an old comedy, the kind that might accompany a Laurel and hardy slapstick. He pursed his lips, then glanced at his sister.
“When Alice arrived, I wasn’t home. By the time she had convinced Carlisle that she and Jasper were the newest members of our family, she had switched all of my belongings out of my bedroom.”
Tapping out a drumbeat where she leaned on the lid, Alice grinned.
“It was too much space for one person.”
“I was supposed to have a roommate,” I told her, and she wrinkled her nose. “No idea how they would have reacted to someone coming through my window-“
“You broke into her bedroom? Ok, Dracula.”
Alice looked amused, but Jasper crossed his arms.
“Rosalie is going to fuck you up-“
“Rosalie can shove it,” Edward replied, petulant.
“Rosalie can hear you, idiot.” Her shoes were loud on the polished floor, and as she neared the stool she tapped one heeled boot against Edward’s leg, jerking her head. “Get up. I want to play.”
I stood, gesturing to the empty space.
“You can have my seat, Rosalie,” I offered, and she smirked at me.
“Edward plays Primo.”
He slid across the bench, resting his fingers on the higher octaves, and nodded. Their hands moved, not in synchrony, but in perfect time all the same. The music began gently, beautiful but dark. Much like the players themselves. As I continued to listen, enthralled, I watched their hands brush, then move away, tentative and sad.
Rosalie’s curls bounced as she moved, perfect hands graceful and unfaltering on the keys. I saw, then, that she wore a wedding band, and a sparkling engagement ring. Glancing at Alice and Jasper, I saw neither of them did. I only remembered Carlisle and Esme wearing them, in fact, and wondered if she only got to wear them at home. The diamond wasn’t overly large, and the ring looked like an antique: if I wasn’t too intimidated to speak, I might have asked if she’d had it since she met Emmett.
The piece seemed unending: I didn’t recognize it, and they didn’t have any sheet music, just played from memory. It was bizarre to see them working together. There was even a hint of a smile on both of their faces, and I wondered why they hadn’t posed as siblings. Rivalry, especially, came naturally to them.
Edward’s affection for Alice was clear, and despite the fact that I knew they had been born in the same year, Alice clearly thought of herself as the older sister. Technically, she had outgrown him by a few years, but it seemed to go deeper than that. For her small stature and playful nature, Alice was easily the most powerful member of her family. In a different world, where she had lived a little longer, she might have been the leader.
Looking bored, Alice slid out of the room, silent. I watched Jasper look after her, panic fleeting on his face for a moment, before it subsided. He braced a split second before their playing became louder, the sound filling the room, and I realized this piece must be familiar to all of them.
His apparent lack of confidence sat uneasily with me, but I focused on the music and felt myself growing calmer. When Jasper moved towards me, I fought not to stiffen, or move away.
“Did Edward tell you about my gifts?” he asked, voice barely loud enough to be heard over the music.
I turned to him, expending all of my effort to be polite. Arranging my face in what I hoped was an interested smile, I told him we hadn’t gotten around to it just yet. There was a lot of history to cover.
“I sense emotions. I have some sway over the… physiological aspects. Heart rate, dopamine release, that sort of thing-“
“Like a parasite,” I interrupted, and blushed.
At the swell of blood in my cheeks, Jasper took a step back.
“Come again?” He bit out, words clipped from lack of air.
“Toxoplasma gondii infects the brains of rodents, and makes them exhibit cat-attracting behavior. It shuts down their fear response.”
Jasper just looked at me, stunned.
“Edward told me you don’t have much of that to begin with,” he said with a chuckle.
I shrugged, casting my eyes back to Edward and Rosalie.
“Doesn’t it get exhausting? Having to deal with everyone else’s shit on top of your own?”
Jasper smiled then, teeth carefully kept behind his lips.
“It’s a lot easier since you showed up, I can say that much.”
Chapter 9: Violation
Halfway back to Seattle, we stopped in a diner so I could perform all of the necessary human evening rituals like eating, using the bathroom, and giving myself a pep talk in the mirror.
The nervous energy that had overtaken my body was all but foreign to me. From the first moment I saw Edward, everything in me had been raw, exposed, a nerve open to the air, but only now did I understand that he wasn’t some mystical, intangible thing. He was, in my understanding at least, a person. Real, present, and literally more solid than any other I had ever met.
One thing that stuck in my throat was his age. Unchanging, frozen in a snapshot of youth from a century past, I had no idea how that affected him, mentally. Even though he had lived almost five times longer than I had, I cringed at the thought of having to admit to anyone his true age. He’d showed me his driver’s license: it claimed he was twenty-four, a little over nine months older than I was.
Legally, I had no idea where I stood. When I considered the fact the only lawmakers we would ever have to worry about had apparently been born in Ancient Greece, it calmed my nerves somewhat. But he had been made an orphan, lived through a war, and died in a pandemic, all before his eighteenth birthday. Even if he hadn’t died over ninety years ago, he would have experienced more life than I had. All the same, I couldn’t shake the image of him conjured in the book, of a boy taller than his father, pacing alone in his house.
After what must have seemed to Edward like an unnaturally long time, I emerged from the bathroom, without having come to any helpful revelations. Much like the feeling of seeing your food on the table when you return to it, I was thankful to see we’d finally gotten the cheque. In the safety of his car, I could continue to ask my questions, and provide any of the inane answers about my own life he was seeking. Digging in my pocket for my wallet, Edward caught my eye and shook his head, standing to shrug on his jacket.
“Don’t worry about it. Mushroom ravioli and two Cokes? I can cover it.”
I opened my mouth to object, but he reminded me of something I had never thought of.
“You bought the book, right? Think of this as me reimbursing you.”
“From Amazon,” I mumbled, forcing my wallet back down.
The moment we were back in the car, he turned on a classical station and started the rapid questioning all over again.
“Who were your friends, as a child?”
I chewed the inside of my cheek.
“My mom, my grandma, my stuffed animals, and Rachel and Rebecca Black.”
He looked at me incredulously.
“I was intensely antisocial,” I replied with a shrug. “What is Carlisle like, as a doctor?”
Edward was quick to smile, his pride obvious.
“He’s more skeptical of modern pharmaceuticals than he would like to admit. Of course, it beats what he had to work with when he was training, but he has a huge interest in ancient medicine.”
His eyes were bright, and he turned to me, completely ignoring the road, as he began to gesticulate. Years of conditioning made me supremely uncomfortable with his casual approach to road safety, something I wasn’t sure I was willing to get over just yet. Noticing my face, he turned back to the road.
“We have a huge collection of old medical texts back at the house- I’m sorry, I’ll show you them next time. Last time Carlisle was in London must have been, what, the seventies? He went to the British Library to see Bald’s Leechbook and had to pretend he couldn’t read it. Apparently one of the scholars had mistranslated one of the pages terribly…”
Edward seemed determined to make up for my curt, often uninteresting answers by asking me five times the questions he answered. By the time I learned what the A. In A. Masen stood for, he already had a complete history of all the family members I had any recollection of, as well as a rough syllabus for my entire undergraduate degree.
“So we’re on the same page, here, that unless humanity fries itself to death we’re going to be able to… unmake death, I suppose you’d call it, but you have no hope for yourself?”
Edward’s face fell. It appeared to me that he hadn’t expected our conversation to turn from medical conspiracy theories to curing vampirism.
“Isn’t the only one with a medical degree. If it was me, I would have at least experimented-“
“What if there’s nothing to come back to, Bella? What if all I am is… an animate shell. The skin Edward Cullen shed when he died, went to heaven, whatever you believe, walking earth without his soul? Catholics think that when judgement comes, the dead will rise and their souls will return to their bodies. That tells me that if mine hasn’t been destroyed, it isn’t here.”
I closed my mouth, choosing my words carefully. As Renee’s daughter, my first instinct was to wonder how a scientist could believe in the concept of a soul. But then, I had forgotten for a moment, in our easy conversation, what sort of world he was brought up in.
The car came to a stop and I looked around, surprised that we had already arrived. Without speaking, Edward retrieved my bag from the trunk and opened my door, ready to walk me back.
“If you want to go home, I’m good from here,” I insisted.
“Please don’t insult me,” he said.
My response was hushed, even though the paths were quiet in the darkness.
“There are plenty of people in the world that you could argue have a soul, if you wanted, that commit atrocities every day. Having a soul doesn’t give you any guarantee of… goodness,” I said, fishing my keys out of my pocket.
When we were making our way up the staircase, Edward stopped.
“I’ve never actually tried to go back inside a church, you know. Carlisle says it’s alright, but why is it a legend if there isn’t some truth to it? Maybe only people like him are safe. I got close once, almost went inside St. Basil’s the first time I was in Moscow,” he finished with a laugh.
I rounded the corner, and slid my dorm key into the lock. When I pushed open the door with my foot, I felt Edward’s hand against my abdomen, forcing me back as he disappeared inside. Crumpled against the opposite wall, I rubbed at my wrist, wincing.
A second later he emerged, looking horrified. He took my wrist in two of his hands, gently testing to see if it was badly injured. When his eyes met mine, his mouth was set in a grim line.
“A vampire has been inside your room.”
“New rule,” I said, and took a deep breath.
Alice had the decency to look sheepish, head bowed, but Edward paced across the tiny space that wasn’t filled by either bed, or my small desk.
I pointed to the space beside his sister, and to his credit, Edward complied.
“No vampires in my personal space unless they ask my explicit permission. No tailing me. No sniffing around Charlie’s house. If you want to see me, I had better be awake, if nothing else.”
“Emmett volunteered to go and see if any strangers had been in your house in Forks, but-“
“I want your father to go with him.” I crossed my arms, unrepentant. Edward’s stories about Emmett’s lack of control did nothing to engender any confidence in either of them. Carlisle, on the other hand, my dad trusted. Respected, even. Jake would even agree with him, if he was pushed to admit it.
“I saw him come here,” said Alice, in a small voice. “I saw him track a scent-“
“Whose scent, Alice? Bella has the right to know.”
Edward’s tone, while not unkind, was more assertive than I had heard before. It seemed as if Alice, of all people, merited enough respect not to spare her feelings. She looked up at me, eyes dark and knowing. Something in her face brought tingles to the side of my neck, primitive instincts screaming in protest.
“I promise, I didn’t remember-“
Alice broke off, voice withering to nothingness, before she began to shake. A dry hacking sound rose from her chest, and when I saw her bottom lip quivering, I realised that if she had been able to, Alice would be crying.
“He was after me when I was turned. A hunter, a gifted one. He killed the one who made me, then he just… let me go. My scent was… here. On your clothes, on your things-“
My question was soft, as I implored her to make it make sense. There seemed to be no precaution I could take, no door I could lock to keep them out. Except for the one in my own head. If Edward’s expression was anything to go by, he too was struggling to understand how she could have kept it quiet.
“We’re supposed to be friends, by now,” she confessed, bending at the waist to hide her face as dry, almost painful-sounding sobs shook her body. “We waited too long- I told them we should have tried to go to Florida-“
“Alice,” said Edward, the warning evident in his tone.
“Let her speak.” I frowned at him, then made a dismissive gesture with my hand, moving to take his place. When I rested one hand on the arch of her back, Alice stilled. Her voice was muffled, but I could still make her out with some effort. On the other side of the room, Edward was stock still, looking pained.
“The longer you stay human-“
“She doesn’t need to hear this-“
“Shut up. I know you remember how to wait for people to speak before you get to disagree,” I snapped at Edward.
Alice sat up, face unchanged, eye makeup still perfectly in place, without the slightest suggestion of tears.
“There will come a time when it’ll be too late. You won’t want this. He’ll have to watch you die, and we’ll have to live with what comes after that, and Esme will have lost another son, all because he will be selfish. He’ll guard your humanity with his life, right up until yours ends.”
The shame in Edward’s eyes was palpable, and I knew it was true.
“Alice doesn’t really know what it’s like to die,” he said. “She’s afraid, because she doesn’t remember. And she doesn’t believe in God.”
“Neither do like, 17% of people. And climbing.”
Renee, for her love of reiki, meditation, statues of Buddha, and sage, had never successfully instilled a fear of God in me. I knew my dad’s parents sometimes went to church, a habit leftover from their childhoods. My mom would have died of embarrassment if she’d had to baptize me.
“Regardless of what future-Bella decides,” I continued, in my best attempt to sound ambivalent towards a future as an immortal. “Present-Bella is a little more concerned with the fact that a vampire who only narrowly failed to kill me once before gained access to my bedroom.”
I looked at Edward, and he confirmed what I had suspected the day I learned their secret. The assaults on young women on campus were all being carried out by one, surprisingly cautious, vampire.
“He’s been testing our defenses,” Alice said. “Of which there were practically none. Edward is the only one of us with a permanent residence for miles… It would have made more sense for him to come to Forks if he was following my scent, at least.”
Edward looked contemplative, opening his mouth as a thought formed, but I beat him to the punch.
“What if he already did? He’s a skilled hunter. He would know the importance of baiting a trap.” I cringed at the mixed metaphor, reminiscent of childhood lessons by the river. “I’m a worm, wriggling on the end of a hook. And if I’m afraid of him, I’ll struggle even harder.”
I strode across to the window, forcing it open.
“If he wants Alice, all she has to do is stay away.”
“Not everyone finds your blood as tempting as I do, Bella, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Edward’s voice was muffled from where he spoke into his hands, covering his face, and Alice looked uncomfortable.
“But he’s still a vampire. Resisting killing you for the sake of his grand plan would be a reach, even for a hunter like James.”
I turned to look at him, horrified. Even Alice looked shaken.
“You know his name?”
“I heard it in his mind, when I saved you from his attack.”
“What else do you know,” I asked, voice hollow. “What else have you been keeping quiet about?”
“Aside from Alice, the only other person who has ever bested him is his mate, Victoria. They’ve been together ever since. I wouldn’t call that evading capture.”
The desk I had managed to snag on the library’s second floor was nothing to brag about, and certainly not appropriate to settle down for the evening at. My phone, for all its lack of signal, told me it was almost seven, probably time to shut off my laptop and go out into the cold in search of food. When I picked up my phone again, there was a message from a number I didn’t recognise.
Permission to approach?
That was all it said.
A little confused, I pulled my earphones out of my pocket and pulled on my backpack, performing one more pat-down to make sure I wouldn’t get soaked on my way to the cafeteria, when I felt someone move to stand behind me. I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised that Edward would appear the moment I was about to leave the safety of the library for the relative peril of the campus paths.
“Do I want to know why your timing is so good?” I asked under my breath, starting to walk in the opposite direction, confident that he would follow.
“You’re not a particularly difficult woman to find,” he replied. “Banner mentioned she had sent you in search of a textbook, and since you didn’t come back to the lab, my best guess was that you were still here.”
Looking up at Edward, I skewered him with my best impression of Jake, who never suffered bullshitters gladly. The raised brow, I had perfected over a couple of years.
“Your scent is hard to ignore, even when I’m not trying,” he said in my ear.
“Buy a plague mask,” I said, glancing at the crowd gathered in front of the elevator, and making a beeline for the stairs instead.
“I take it you didn’t find that book,” he asked as I stopped at the turnstile, ready to swipe myself out of the library.
Frowning, I replied in the negative.
“The person at the help desk had no idea why it wasn’t on the shelf. He said it was returned, like, three weeks ago, and-“
“I stole it,” Edward admitted with a smirk.
I gaped, both surprised and appalled that he would do such a thing.
“Why? Couldn’t you just buy it if you needed it so badly?”
Shaking his head, Edward chuckled.
“Opening hours are somewhat limiting when you don’t sleep.” He reached out for my hand, placing my gloved palm in the crook of his elbow and steering me away from the cafeteria, towards the parking lot.
“You need to learn some respect for the rules, Edward. You can pick and choose which ones apply to you and which don’t, but I have to play by them whether I like it or not.”
“Vampirism does force a person to reconsider the sanctity of the university court, I’ll admit that much.”
Scowling, I berated him.
“It’s not just that. You’re a young, attractive, rich, white male. You’re extremely rich, and intensely white. And mere mortals don’t live in the same world as you do.”
I pulled my hand out of his arm and made a clumsy circle with my gloved hands.
“This is my life experience so far. And you are…” I jabbed at a point in the air. “Way over here. My life is in danger, you’re introducing me to your vampire family, my best friend is a werewolf, and I’m just out here, going to the library, trying to find this dumb fucking textbook to write a paper.”
He furrowed his brow.
“You can have the textbook, Bella-"
“That’s irrelevant,” I snapped. “If you hadn’t stolen it in the first place, I would already have it.”
Edward looked even more confused, but took a step back.
“I can bring it to you- or I can return it- whatever you want.”
Sighing, I held my hand back out for him to loop into his arm.
“Forget it. I want to see your apartment, anyway.”
Less than half an hour later, he was ushering me into his lobby, shining floors and original features gleaming in the light. His apartment was more reasonably sized than I had anticipated, with a huge couch in the centre of the living room. It was plush velvet, close enough to forest green that I wondered how much Forks had inspired his design choices. Every wall was full of cluttered shelving, and he had a huge number of different music players, mostly hooked up to a TV which, from the litter of plastic sleeves on the floor, was mostly used to play Grand Theft Auto.
Without waiting for permission, I opened the rest of the doors in the apartment, poking my head around the bedroom door to see a grand piano in place of a bed. If nothing else, he was consistent.
“What can I get you to eat?” Edward asked, rifling through a kitchen drawer which looked to contain nothing but takeout menus. I picked one out that I recognised, and grinned.
“You know this place closed down, like, before I moved to Florida?”
Edward looked sheepish, but I dropped it back into the drawer, and shook my head.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Starting with the cabinet below the sink, I opened every door in turn, eager to see what a vampire kept in his kitchen in a big city, where he would be even less likely to be found out.
“What is this?” I asked, at the sight of a lone chocolate bar in the fridge. “Did you have a craving?”
He crossed over to me and gently closed the fridge door, looking embarrassed.
“I bought it for you. In case you were… hungry,” he finished lamely. Edward’s small, shy smile made him marginally less intimidating, while it lasted. As I moved closer, he froze, no longer taking in a breath.
Before I had a second to reconsider, I had slung my arms around his neck once more, a desperate repeat of my attempt a few days prior. He was frowning, deeply, and opened his mouth to speak, but I beat him to it.
“Just let me try,” I whispered, feeling half-drunk on the scent of him, the feeling of his hands, so gently resting on the small of my back. In those few seconds, he had set me alight.
I moved agonizingly slowly, giving him time to relax some of the tension in his shoulders, before I closed my eyes. When our lips met, something inside me screamed out in protest, an instinct with more sense than I could muster, but quickly that voice was silenced by the fog in my head.
He slid his tongue into my mouth, gripping harder at my waist, until I moaned into his mouth, and he pulled back, eyes dark. Edward pressed a kiss to my cheek, quick, sweet pecks against my skin until his lips reached my ear.
“That’s enough, Bella,” he said, voice rough and low.
It wasn’t until I pulled back to look at him properly that I realised how close his lips had been to the pulse in my throat.
I sighed, and moved to tuck my feet under my body, cramped in the office chair. Jake’s face was blurry on the screen, wifi connection dipping in and out.
“I’m not disputing the fact that they’re creepy, Jake-“
“Good. Or else I would have hung up on you.”
His eyes darted about the screen, as I suspected he was probably playing a game with my face squashed into a tiny window at the side of the screen.
“You have no choice but to feel… sorry for them, I guess. Their house, even- at first glance, it’s this enormous mansion with all of these amazing artefacts. Then you realise that every souvenir came from some other home they had to leave-“
“Poor bloodsuckers, who have the time and money to see the entire world. That’s bullshit, Bella.”
“Where would you go, if you could live anywhere in the world?”
Jake’s face turned contemplative, and he was silent for a few moments though I could still see his hands moving on the keypad.
“I’d go to Nepal. Kick around, see the place, go full wolf in the deep snow for a year. It could be nice. Quiet.”
“You’d scare the shit out of the climbers, Jake. Think you could make it to the summit on four paws?”
“Easy,” he began, but when I saw the subject line of an incoming email, I stopped listening.
IN MEMORY OF KATIE MARSHALL
“A girl was killed at my school, Jake, last weekend,” I rushed out as I scanned the email, which described the plans for her memorial service. Typing her name into my search engine, I saw a pretty photograph of her at a tennis tournament last semester, and my stomach sank.
“I know her.”
“Fuck, who is she?”
“Remember when I quit Newton’s? The girl who took over my job, she was a year below me at Forks.”
Jake’s face was solemn, and I could tell he remembered her. When he spoke, it sounded as if he was close to tears.
“How did it happen?”
I skimmed through the article that linked her death to the other assaults on campus: she had been discovered in the early hours of Saturday morning by students coming home from a club, body discarded at the side of the path.
Before I could answer, I heard Jake swearing.
Nodding, I sat back, and eyed my phone. I wondered if the Cullens knew about it, how they might be reacting to the news. Jake was understandably, and visibly, upset. He had picked me up from work a couple of times while Mike was training her, knew her face, enough to say hello to.
He may not be able to protect everyone from the vampires who murdered, but she was from Forks.
“This is why I can never leave. It’s not like anyone is safe. The Cullens are always going to attract attention, and bloodsuckers are always going to move through our lands.”
I sucked in a deep breath, racking my brain to see if I could remember anything more about her, any reason she might have been targeted. We might look similar in poor light, but that meant nothing to a vampire. My scent alone would have set us apart. Katie was just mortally unlucky.
The final line of the email stressed that the attacks had steadily been growing more violent, and that the University would be stepping up patrols even further. I felt sick at the thought that no amount of safety measures would get between a vampire and his prey.
Edward had only been able to give a perfunctory description of the hunter. The most striking thing about him, Edward said, was that he looked almost human. Supernatural beauty had gone some way to adapting what must have been a very different face, before he had been turned. Carlisle was particularly surprising, he said, because people had been successively breeding for beauty. Someone turned four hundred years ago shouldn’t have been as conventionally beautiful as he was. His eyes lit up when he explained his hypothesis: just as vampires grew stronger, both in terms of their gifts and physical strength, maybe the venom made them more beautiful over time.
Maybe it helped them blend in more successfully, or maybe they were just becoming less and less human.
“If you knew the reservation would be safe, would you go out looking for vampires to kill?”
Jake’s mouth was set in a hard line, but he nodded easily.
“I was never going to do anything special with my life,” he began, and I interrupted.
“You don’t need to do something special to be special, Jake. You’re a good person. That’s pretty rare.”
“Having this ability to find them and kill them… It makes me wonder whether I’m being selfish, not using it for something greater.”
I chewed my lip, somewhat amused by the idea of Jacob Black, vampire hunter.
“How many of them live off animals, do you think?”
“Seven in Forks, five in Alaska… make it an even fifteen.”
Frowning, I shook my head.
“Not everybody is a killer, Jake. There have to be more of them who are capable of living in a better way.”
“Capable? Maybe. But the blood washes away any conscience they might have had before they got bitten.”
I opened my mouth and closed it again, unsure of how he would take my question.
“Do you know how it works? Like, what would happen if one of them changed you?”
Jake shook his head, unfazed by my curiosity.
“It’d kill me. I’m grateful for it. I’d rather be dead than one of them.”
“What about me?” I probed.
Jake grinned, shaking his head.
“You’d have to ask one of your pet leeches, Bella. Just… trust me. It would hurt. Worse than dying, for sure.”
Chapter 10: Nostalgia
Being a Twilight fan means accepting that parts of canon must be critiqued and that Stephenie Meyer's portrayal of many groups, characters, and cultures is inherently racist. I hope that my small commentary on Jasper's harmful backstory makes it clear that this aspect of his character is one we have to think deeply about. As much as I would love it if he really was a Black Union soldier, he is not. In the same way, I would love it if she had afforded the Quileute tribe a modicum of respect.
Just over an hour later, Jacob hung up the call when Billy called him to dinner. The look on his face brought me right back to high school: though Jacob had outgrown any of the softness that lingered in his face at the age of sixteen, his smile was just as joyful as it had been since he was two years old.
There was already a message on my phone screen by the time I picked it up.
If you haven’t eaten, pick something up on your way over, on me. I won’t insult you by suggesting I’ll come and get you.
I smirked, unfailingly surprised by Alice’s uncanny abilities. Although they were probably what had gotten me into the mess I was in, and maybe even the reason that girl had been killed, I was still fascinated. Despite years of reading self-help blogs and the occasional meditation session with my mom, I knew I would dwell on how my actions had contributed to her murder.
Jake was right, I realized, stomach hollow. Nobody was safe. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t putting people n danger, a sitting duck waiting for the monster to come crashing through my window. Or, more accurately, through the door, after killing everybody else in my hallway. I hadn’t even learned half their names.
Even the thought of eating made me nauseous, but I bundled all the snacks I had into my backpack, then started to fill it with clothes. I could only fit one fresh set inside, since I also needed my laptop and a couple of books. It only took me a few minutes to straighten my room out, double-checking the switches and the lock on the window, and then I was out the door, making a beeline for my car.
The moment I closed the car door, I was able to let out a breath I had been holding the whole time I was crossing the parking lot. If Edward had been content for me to drive alone, Alice must have been certain that I was safe.
By extension, that meant that there could be at least two or more Cullens at Edward’s apartment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about inviting myself to stay, though presumably, they knew more than your average family about just how cautious Edward was. In the days following our kiss, I had successfully wrapped my head around his reasoning, but it had taken some effort.
Having only known him a few weeks, I already understood that Edward was a fan of dramatics. His family had known him, in Carlisle’s case, for more than a century. I could safely assume they had more than enough experience of it.
For the first time since arriving in Seattle, I felt a surge of sadness. After moving to Forks, I had quickly learned that the best way to overcome homesickness was to make a home out of wherever I was. Charlie and Jake were my family, that much was certain. But my mom was the one I wanted to talk to in that moment.
Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I mentally added three hours to the time on the screen and concluded that my mom would probably just have gotten out of the bath. Although she had never previously been one for routine, Renee had announced by text one day that she was going to be one of those older women who always smells of essential oils and takes luxurious candlelit baths.
At least she had Phil, who could be counted on to switch the fan back on to air out the bathroom, and mop up the water from the floor.
When my first try went to voicemail, I gave it up as bust, wondering if maybe she’d managed to sit still for more than an hour to watch a movie. I had just put the key in the ignition when my phone rang.
“Honey?” My mom’s voice was warm, pleasantly surprised. “I’d have thought you’d be in bed by now-“
“Subtract, mom. West is behind, til you hit Russia.”
“Silly me,” she replied with a laugh. “How are you, Bella? It’s so good to hear your voice. How’s Jacob?”
Smiling, I pushed my free hand into the pocket of my hoodie, slumping down in my seat to get comfortable.
“He’s good, mom. I’m good. I just got off a Skype call with him, actually. Extension work starts on the garage next month.”
I could hear the smirk in her voice.
“He was such a sweet baby. Couldn’t get enough of pulling your hair, either.”
“Yeah, mom, I wanted to talk to you about something-“
I heard a rustle as she held the phone away from her mouth, and started whispering to Phil. Though I could only catch a few words, my heart sank when I understood the gist of what she was telling him.
“I’m going over to someone’s apartment. A guy from school,” I rushed out. “He’s… nice- I don’t think he’s going to murder me, or anything, but-”
My laugh was nervous, but my mom made a sound of understanding on the other end of the line.
“You just wanted somebody other than your father to know where you’re going,” she finished for me. “Where is his apartment?”
When I gave her the address, she whispered to Phil again, and when she came back to the phone, her shocked silence was evident.
“Bella, you could have told me you were dating Bruce Wayne.”
I rolled my eyes.
“It’s not that great, mom.”
“I did not raise you to have this sort of blasé attitude about- holy shit, look at that lobby.”
“He did a really bad job of decorating,” I protested, feeling the heat in my cheeks.
“Tell me more about this guy. What’s his name, when did he win the lottery…”
“His name is Edward Cullen,” I said, sighing. “He’s maybe the most preternaturally intelligent person I’ve ever met. His list of publications is seriously intimidating-“
“Older? I knew it,” she interrupted, despite her long-standing conspiracy theory about Jacob.
“Not… by that much,” I lied. “But he’s also kind of weird. Very gentlemanly. His dad is the doctor in Forks.”
“People used to say the same about you, Bella,” said my mom. Her words weren’t unkind, but I had never shaken the idea of being the outcast. When she dragged me to friends’ weddings, birthdays, leaving drinks, my mom ended up making new friends everywhere she went, while I was left with her old ones, who never really got to be old friends.
“I don’t know him that well. But I would like to,” I said, sighing.
“Are you being safe, honey?”
I grinned. Renee had been asking me that since I was sixteen. I had no idea how she would have reacted if I had ever said no.
If you considered relying on a vampire who thirsted for my blood even more than the one who was hunting me to be safe.
The whispering began again, then my mom told me, apologetically, that she had to go.
“I’ll call you soon, ok?”
I said my goodbyes, confident that even if she remembered, I wouldn’t hear her voice again more than once before the month was out. Even so, it had calmed something in me. Telling my mother about Edward, when I didn’t even fully understand our relationship, seemed like the most normal thing in the world.
The more I could fix him in reality, make him tangible to people who didn’t believe in vampires and werewolves, the easier I could ignore all the parts that terrified me.
Juggling my backpack and a large portion of fries that I had been snacking on since I left the drive-through, I waited for the elevator, shifting my weight back and forth between one foot and the other. When I rounded the corner of Edward’s hallway, I saw the door was already open.
I hadn’t expected to see Emmett standing behind it.
He was as huge as I remembered, smiling cheekily. Logically I knew I should be just as wary of him as I was around Jasper, but I couldn’t help but smile back, murmuring my hello.
“D’you drink rum?” He asked, and I heard Edward call out for me to ignore his brother, but Emmett wasn’t someone you could pass in a hallway without his cooperation.
“I had a Bacardi and coke, like, a year ago at a bar-“
“Excellent,” he said, and held his hand out for my bag, which he promptly dropped on the floor and guided me towards the living room.
Alice and Jasper were seated on the floor, legs crossed and tucked under the coffee table, respectively. Alice smiled brightly when she saw me, then looked past me, smirking.
“Welcome to the party,” Edward said in my ear. When I turned to face him, he looked happier than when I had seen him last.
“Your first class is at eleven tomorrow, if I’m not mistaken.”
“I wanted to get in early…”
Trailing off, I stared, open-mouthed, as Emmett emerged from the kitchen with three flaming shots.
“Am I supposed to drink all those?” I asked, incredulous.
Emmett snorted, lifting one of the tiny glasses, and offering it to Alice before handing the second to me.
“God, no,” he began, and lifted it to his mouth, blowing it out at the last possible second.
“You are supposed to keep it as far away from me as possible, though,” said Edward.
I frowned, but when Alice caught my eye and downed her drink, I felt I had no choice but to follow suit.
“Why? Because you’re underage?” I said with a grin.
Emmett offered me another, holding out his polished silver lighter hopefully, but I shook my head. Never much of a drinker, I didn’t relish the thought of passing out in the company of four people who didn’t sleep.
“Because I am highly flammable,” Edward answered, fixing Emmett with a glare as he pretended to drop the lighter, only to catch it at the last moment. “And because it tastes like cat’s piss.”
I blinked at him for a moment. In his accent, with his elocution, it was bizarre to hear even the mildest of curse words.
“What are we playing?” Emmett asked, throwing himself down on the couch beside Edward with an audible thump. His long hair was pulled back in a messy knot, both so unlike Jacob’s sleek black ponytail, and similar enough I wondered if Emmett ever had the same problem Jake, and all the women I knew, tended to have: forever running out of hair ties.
The others were silent, but if I watched Alice’s face carefully, I could make out tiny shifts in her expression.
“It’s rude to whisper,” I said, pinning Edward with a look.
He held up his hands in supplication, face guilty.
“I was just being nosy, Bella,” said Alice, smiling serenely. “I wanted to know when Edward was going to share with the group.”
Jasper shot her a concerned look, reaching out a hand and placing it on her knee.
“Alice thinks you should know that we found, and lost, Katie Marshall.”
I whipped my head around to face Edward, as something caught in my throat. Fleetingly, I thought I might throw up.
“She’s not dead?”
Edward shook his head, solemn.
“Alice saw what was going to happen, but not soon enough for me to save her. She had already been found by the time I got there, but the smell- it wasn’t the smell of a dead body. Too much venom.”
Jasper cleared his throat.
“We gave her a few days, then I sat outside the mortuary for five hours until I heard her… wake. Rosalie tried to convince her to come with us, temporarily, or at least let us drive her to Denali, but she was too fast.”
I spluttered, utterly confused.
“Why did it take so long?” I blinked, imagining how she must have felt, waking up in a drawer, sheet over her face. “How did she overpower two of you?”
Emmett held up a hand, looking sheepish.
“Three of us,” he admitted. “Jasper was lookout, Rose was talking her down, but she threw me off her before we could even try to slow her down. Newborns are hardcore.”
I looked to Edward, who leaned forward, pressing his fingers together to make a steeple.
“James might have been trying to make himself another follower, or he might have just been sloppy. We have no way to know. But if he intends to force her into his coven, he has a much better chance of finding her than we do. He didn’t need to wait around, like we did. He’ll be able to track her all the way across the continent, if that’s what he wants.”
“What happens if she tries to… hunt?”
Edward’s face was strained, and he sucked in a breath.
“She will undoubtedly be successful, and unrestrained. In the first few days, sometimes the first few months, there’s no control. And if she’s not careful, if she’s scared, gets interrupted, whatever- in three days there will be another vampire turned loose in Seattle.”
“I tracked her back to Forks,” Jasper interjected, “But when she figured out somebody was on her tail, she went into Oregon. For all we know, tomorrow she’ll be walking down Hollywood Boulevard in full sunlight, and then we’re all in trouble.”
I put my head in my hands.
“She went home,” I said, and felt Edward’s cold hand on my back, a tiny gesture of support.
“Katie’s smart. I remember her from the camping store,” said Emmett, voice solemn. “She’ll figure out what to do, and she’ll do it quietly. If Jasper couldn’t find her, we don’t have a chance.”
When I looked up at him, I heard Jasper sigh.
“I have experience with newborns. Nothing I’m proud of… but Emmett’s right. Either James finds her, or nobody does.”
“Did you turn somebody, before?”
He shook his head, murmuring in the negative.
“I’m the oldest, except Carlisle. I was turned in 1863, a year after I joined the Confederate Army,” he said.
“You’ve got to be fucking shitting me,” I blurted, looking from Alice to Emmett, then back to Jasper. “A Confederate?”
“Bella,” Edward began, but I held up a hand to stop him.
“Why?” I asked, simply. My stomach was turned. Rationally, I understood the people around me were older even than my mom’s mother, and that there were vampires who had experienced the passing of two millennia… but I had too easily forgotten that to live this long, they had to have been human even longer ago.
“I should go,” Jasper said, moving to stand, but Alice tugged him back down.
“Tell her,” said Alice.
He screwed his eyes up, then looked up at me, imploring.
“My gift… When I was human, I thought I was pretty empathetic. My friends used to make jokes about it, even. They all thought I was sensitive. But they were wrong. When I was alive, I didn’t extend the same basic respect to people, enslaved people, as I would to my dog. I was a monster,” he said, frowning. “I still am.”
Pulling up his shirt sleeves, Jasper revealed pale white scars against the sun-kissed tan of his skin. There must have been twenty on each arm, and when he pulled back his collar, his neck was a ruin of patchwork scars and healthy skin.
“I was almost in Mexico when a vampire named Maria turned me. Her contempt for me, her anger, it broke me. I would do anything to avoid her disgust. I did everything for her, and she didn’t care if I lived or died, if I suffered, who I killed, nothing. I was a dangerous risk she had taken.”
Alice rubbed a hand over Jasper’s shoulder blade, face carefully blank.
“When she started to turn others, it was my job to control them, to train them. She cared about them, in her way. Maria didn’t want to live in fear. But she never stopped hating me. I understood then that I was her overseer. A necessary evil, if she wanted to stop them killing each other.”
He looked as if the word was sour in his mouth.
“They became my friends. Newborns from all over the continent, drifters, runaways, people who had never found a place in the world. I couldn’t watch them die, any more.”
“He changed,” said Alice. “By the time we met, he hadn’t fed in almost two months. He’s made mistakes since then, but-“
“-but I try to be better. A year ago, I couldn’t have sat in a room with you, like this,” Jasper admitted. “Carlisle has been making me wash his scrubs so I can get used to the smell.”
“And when he met me, I told him exactly what I thought of him.”
“And exactly how hard I was going to work to change it,” Jasper added. “I have the rest of my life to try and match up to the person Alice saw I could be.”
I wondered how Jake, or Ben, even, would feel about Jasper’s story if they heard it. In middle school, when read about propaganda, I’d asked my mom what she had thought about Vietnam when she was growing up. She palmed me off with a comment about being a hippie, a pacifist.
I had always hoped I’d be on the right side of history, if I was ever faced with that choice. I hoped I would know I was making a choice. I hoped I could see the sides of the conflict as clearly as Jasper should have.
After an hour of tense silence, split by Emmett’s attempts to stir up conversation, Alice announced that they should return to Forks, that she needed to hunt. I gave her a hug when she held out her hands, and afforded Jasper a neutral look, hoping he would understand my mixed emotions. I didn't know how I could even smile at someone with his history.
“Goodnight, Bella,” he said with a nod, shuffling around Alice in a way I had never seen a vampire move before, without surety, without grace.
“Sleep well, or don’t.” Emmett grinned. “I never realized, your story is by far the most boring. Fits you.”
Edward rolled his eyes, closing the door in his brother’s face before turning to face me, looking apologetic.
“We all have a past. I was the only one of us who escaped violence, if not tragedy. But Jasper was on the other end of the sword, as it were,” he said, moving towards me. He pressed his forehead to mine, and his breath was cool against my skin as he inhaled my scent.
“So Emmett was talking about… the way you all became vampires,” I clarified, but Edward shook his head.
His eyes were still closed as he moved one hand, agonizingly slowly, to the centre of my back.
“He was talking about how we met.”
I smiled, charmed by the idea that we had a story. The beginning of one, at least.
“How did he and Rosalie meet?”
Edward led me back to the living room, where he settled into the couch. I felt, bizarrely, as if he was about to open a book to read me to sleep.
“She saved him from a bear outside of Gatlinburg.”
I gaped, trying to picture Rosalie fending off something of that size.
“I can see why you have such a complex,” I said, grinning, but Edward frowned.
“I saved you from a vampire, which is arguably more impressive.”
“If you say so,” I scoffed.
“Anyway,” he continued, looking perturbed at the interruption. “She wanted Carlisle to save him. To fix him. But he was too badly injured, she’d just carried him a hundred miles, he was almost dead. So Carlisle turned him, instead. I thought she was going to kill him. Right before Emmett woke up, she collapsed the floor of the room he was in- I thought she was going to attack Emmett, rip him apart before he could even stand, but she disappeared.”
“She didn’t want him to be like you,” I realized.
It appeared as if Edward wasn’t the only one who had learned self-loathing at Carlisle’s knee.
“Emmett insisted on being the one to find her. It took him six months, but by the time he convinced her to come back they were… happy.”
“And Alice- she must have found Jasper. From what he said, she literally saw him being better? She saw him as one of you?”
“She waited for him to be ready, I think. When she woke up as a vampire, she saw us, and Jasper, and knew that we’d be a family, one day.”
I frowned, plucking at the edge of the cushion on my lap.
“So when Alice saw me, she didn’t see me as human.”
Edward put out his hands, looking horrified.
“No, no- of course you’re human. Were human. You’re going to be human.”
I was less than convinced.
“I have a life to live, Edward. If she thinks I’m going to get hit by a car, or drown, or James is going to kill me, I have a right to know,” I finished, voice hard.
“She can’t see you past a certain point,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t mean anything. If you were dead, she’d see you dying-“
I turned to him, disgusted.
“Bella, it’s not her fault-“
Shifting in my seat, I thought back on how many times we had already had this conversation.
“I don’t lie, Edward. I have nothing to hide from you. Even if you could read my thoughts, you wouldn’t hear anything other than what’s coming out of my mouth, but all you do is obfuscate, all of you. You leave out the important parts of the truth-“
“I’ll keep you safe,” Edward insisted.
“That’s not enough.” I closed my eyes, trying to focus, to not be distracted by his pleading face. “Either you tell me everything, or I don’t want to know. No more lies.”
He hung his head, defeated.
“My siblings aren’t under my control. But whatever I have, it’s yours. Everything I know, anything I hear about… you, or James, I’ll tell you.”
Inhaling deeply, I nodded.
“Where do I sleep?”
Edward’s face lit up then, and he gestured for me to stand up before unfolding his designer couch into a bed like it was the greatest thing he’d ever witnessed.
Scraping the last of my food into the trash, I smiled at Angela’s mother over a table laden with open dishes. The party had started early enough for this to reasonably be called brunch: Angela’s mother had been cooking all night, it seemed, and I was full to bursting with enchiladas and tres leches.
“I’m so glad you could make it, Bella. I know Angela invited some of the other girls from school, but they had to work,” the older woman said with a smile. Like both of her daughters, she had dark hair, and wore glasses that magnified her eyes.
“Happy to be here, Mrs. Weber.”
When she spotted that my champagne glass was empty, she topped me up, helping herself to another.
“This baby is going to be some handful, you know?”
I grinned. She must have been talking about the stories Ben’s mother had shared with us while we were looking at their baby pictures. Josefina had looked horrified at her account of Ben’s temperament as a toddler, when his favorite game involved shoving beads up his nose and screaming protest when anyone approached him to take them out.
One of his cousins, Audra, who resembled Ben right down to her natural hair, chimed in, saying how he had terrorized them when they were kids. Angela, to her credit, didn’t look daunted in the slightest.
When Angela appeared at the door holding a tray laden with glasses, I rushed forward to take it from her, and she responded with a grateful sigh. Her mother tried to offer her another helping of the food that was left, but Angela shook her head.
“I would kill for a coffee,” she said with a smile, resting a hand to her stomach.
In a yellow dress and bare feet, Angela looked like the picture of health, despite the fact that when I’d called her only a few days before she’d fallen victim to morning sickness yet again.
“How about a decaf?” Josefina countered, patting the counter of the breakfast bar before Angela moved to sit on one of the stools. “They can amuse themselves for a few minutes.”
“If I have to tell one more person that essential oils don’t stop me from throwing up, I’m going to throw up on their shoes,” she moaned, pressing her forehead to the cool countertop.
I joined her, sipping on my champagne and regarding her with a mixture of amusement and pity.
“Tell me something that doesn’t involve anybody under the age of five.”
“I’m kind of dating Edward Cullen,” I offered, and Angela sat ramrod straight, face alight with shock.
She accepted the cup of decaf from her mother, without taking her eyes off me.
“Is he nice?”
Josefina frowned, asking, “How do I know that name, Cullen?”
“He works at the hospital with Ben, mom. He’s a doctor. And remember, we met Esme in the supermarket once and you asked her where her family was from?”
“When she told me she was Filipina I said she has the same problem as us, not enough sun in Washington,” she recalled, nodding. “Nice lady. Very expensive shoes.”
Her voice was low, conspiratorial, and I smiled.
“Their house isn’t even a mansion. It’s too chic to be a mansion. But it’s huge.”
“Where does a guy like Edward Cullen take you on a date?” Angela probed.
For a moment, I was at a loss for words.
“We, uh, went to a Starbucks, once.” I searched my memories, trailing off. “And a diner, on the way from Forks to Seattle. We don’t have much time for real dates, but we’re in the lab together a lot.”
“You don’t have to take my advice,” she began, blowing on her coffee. “But sooner or later, you’re going to get sick of just looking at his perfectly coiffed hair, and you’re going to want to kick him in the shins for lack of better entertainment. I’ve been dating Ben since high school, I’ve been there.”
“I would like to see Edward try to coif Ben’s hair,” I said with a grin.
“Do you think Edward could get away with twists?” She replied, trying to hold in her laughter. The thought of cheerful, sweet Ben, lips in a pout underneath a sweeping quiff, was enough to make me choke on my mouthful of champagne.
“Thank god you’re home, Bella. We missed you.”
I frowned, confused.
“We? You and Mike?”
“No,” she replied, “Although Mike probably did, too. Me and Ben.”
I was touched by her words. For so much of my life, I’d been lonely. When I came to Forks, I didn’t know what to do with not one, but two real friends. And although we weren’t as close, Ben made three.
“Should I open your present now?” she asked, glancing at Josefina, who shrugged, and when I nodded, went to collect it from the back room. A shout went up from the other guests. If I had to guess, they had probably found some of the pictures of baby Angela in the bath that I had already seen.
Unwrapping it carefully, gently, Angela did her best not to rip the paper. Inside was a quilt I’d ordered weeks before from Etsy, under Jacob’s instruction. As long as I could remember, he’d had a similar one at the foot of his bed, and it was only recently I learned it had been passed down from his grandmother. When I heard that, I knew what I had to buy for Angela. Something that would last.
She gasped, running her hands over the soft woven fabric.
“It’s beautiful,” Angela said, holding it up for her mother to see.
“Jacob has one that was made in the fifties, and it’s still in perfect condition. It’s something you can pass down.”
I jumped in surprise as I felt Josefina’s arms come around me. I breathed in her perfume, feeling homesick for Arizona.
Chapter 11: Abandon
That afternoon was blessedly quiet. It reminded me of high school, my dad and I quietly going on with our day, him sticking his head into the kitchen when he smelled food, or knocking gently on my door bearing root beer and the last of a packet of cookies.
With each passing weekend I got more into a routine, having graduated from living out of a backpack to actually having some new clothes delivered to Charlie’s, to his confusion. I had never been one for lounge wear, but with the possibility that a vampire could be looking in my window, either with a view to killing me or protecting me, sitting around in my underwear wasn’t really an option.
Charlie looked optimistic when he appeared in my doorway, and offered up a copy of National Lampoon’s Vacation.
“How about that double feature,” he said, pulling the second film in the series from behind his back, and I smiled.
“What else have you got to offer me?” I asked, my index finger keeping my page in Masen- or, more accurately, Cullen’s book.
Charlie opened his mouth, faltering, before I answered for him.
“If I call Cora right now, we could be home in twenty minutes with cobbler and ice cream.”
Grinning, my dad pulled his wallet out of his pocket. This was something, I noticed, all men over forty tended to do. Phil was only a couple of years younger than my dad, but had much more of a youthful, playful quality to him: he had once told me that if he ever started to lose his hair, he’d still wear it in dreads until he went totally bald, like Stevie Wonder. Despite their differences, the fact Charlie wore old blue jeans to Phil’s brightly coloured shorts, they both kept their wallets in their back pockets from the moment they woke up until they went to bed.
He pressed a few notes into my hand, and left me to carefully replace my bookmark and throw the book down on the comforter.
Edward wasn’t much for texting, though he did email me on occasion. My attempts to inject smiley faces into our conversations had been met with unyielding periods. If my great-grandfather had been half as adept, I would have been impressed, but Edward had been acting the part of a teenager for a century. As time went on, I supposed he would have to make more of an effort.
How long could he get away without Facebook, I wondered.
Reading his book was my substitute for rereading our conversations. His speech patterns, his humor, hadn’t changed much in all that time, but it got more and more difficult for me to read. He didn’t describe much after his release from hospital. It was a complete fabrication, he told me. The first few weeks of his new life were nothing he wanted to immortalize on paper.
To my surprise, when I made my way downstairs, Charlie was holding Sue’s car keys out to me. Seth had insisted on driving them to Port Angeles to shop for Leah’s birthday present, part of his larger ploy to convince Sue he was worthy of a bigger engine, and a smaller, speedier car.
“I want to see you checking your mirrors,” he said with a grin.
“The animal ran out in front of me, dad. If I had been checking my mirrors, I might have hit it.”
I knew his game. If he drove and I waited in the car, Cora would insist I come in and say hello. If I drove us, and went in to collect our desserts, I could at least make an excuse to escape after the typical pleasantries. Sweet as she was, Cora acted as if she hadn’t seen me in years, even when it had been a matter of days.
Charlie had his eyes on the prize, or cobbler, as it were. I hoped the people he arrested couldn’t read him as easily as I could.
The drive was gentle, familiar. Dinner after school at the Lodge was a common fixture of my high school life, but thankfully the food was just as delicious as before, if slightly less heavy on the steak and potatoes. Within minutes, I returned to the car with two styrofoam packages, handing them off to my dad to hold while I drove us home.
“Oh no,” he said, sounding disappointed.
I glanced over to see that he had already opened his dessert, and was staring at it longingly.
“She gave us plastic forks,” he said, and before I could throw out a hand to stop him, Charlie had already taken a bite.
At my high-pitched sound of indignation, he put a hand over his face, laughing around a mouthful of berry cobbler.
By the time we were halfway through the film, we had finished off a long-forgotten and rapidly defrosted tub of cookie dough, that Charlie couldn’t guarantee hadn’t been in the freezer for six months. We laughed along together, just like we had when I was much too young to understand the jokes, finding my dad’s laughter funnier than Clark Griswold’s odd behavior.
There was a knock at the door, and Charlie forced himself up from the couch, groaning as he went. I paused the TV, certain Seth would want to catch the last few minutes. I heard murmuring at the door, then a silence that stretched on until I craned my neck, trying to see who it was.
“Bella!” Charlie sounded almost panicked.
My stomach clenched, and I searched around for my phone, ready to call for help. I hurried to the door, and saw Edward raise his chin, eyes pleading over Charlie’s head.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” I said, brushing a hand over my dad’s shoulder, the only signal I could think of to tell him to stand down. Charlie shifted his weight, then thrust his hand out, unblinking. To his credit, Charlie barely even flinched as he made contact with Edward’s frigid skin.
As soon as their hands separated, Charlie turned away, beckoning for us to follow.
“We have thirty minutes left of our movie, Edward,” he said, looking back with as much of a smile as he could muster. “Hope you like National Lampoons.”
Edward smiled, murmuring that he could recite them from memory.
“They’re an American classic,” he said.
Dropping his coat over the back of the couch, Edward sat a clear foot away from me, back rigid. When Charlie leaned forward, holding out a bottle of beer, Edward shook his head, patting his pocket with car keys inside.
Thankfully, Charlie looked satisfied.
Within minutes, the scene I had always dreaded as a teenager began. Clark Griswold made a fool of himself, drooling over Christie Brinkley while smooth music played in the background. Charlie coughed, looking away from the screen the second she started to undress. If I hadn’t been familiar with the minutiae of Edward’s face, I would have said he was equally uncomfortable. But as far as I could tell, he was schooling his expression, holding in laughter.
We’d barely said two words before the credits rolled, and Edward reached for his jacket. Looking understandably confused, Charlie frowned at me.
“I just came to give these to Bella,” he said, placing his car key on the arm of the couch. “I won’t be going back to Seattle tomorrow night, but you’re welcome to take my car.”
“How come?” I asked, fighting to keep my voice light.
“Family thing,” he replied with a smile.
His eyes were deep brown, almost dark enough that he would need to hunt soon. At first, I hadn’t understood the particulars of their routine.
The frequency of their hunting trips varied among the Cullens, based mostly on personal preference. Edward mentioned Jasper going hunting most frequently: once a week, or thereabouts. Rosalie’s supposed immunity to human blood was comparable to Carlisle’s, but she kept to a strict schedule, never risking it, never leaving it too long, while Carlisle had the most interaction with humans, and couldn’t afford to let his eyes change too much. Alice was the only one who pushed herself, eyes mostly black, seeing how long she could last.
Edward said it was no different from fasting, something a human might do if they were seeking… enlightenment.
“I’ll leave you to your evening,” Edward said as we reached the door. So fast I almost missed it, he glanced up. He probably thought he was being obvious, but I got the message all the same. After shaking Charlie’s hand, he stopped out into the night and disappeared.
“How is he getting home? Maybe I should give him a ride-“
I put my hand across the door frame, shaking my head.
“He’s meeting his mom on the main road,” I said, thinking fast. “She arranged to pick him up on her way home.”
Charlie shrugged, heading back into the living room and picking up Edward’s keys.
“Volvo? Isn’t that kind of… old for him?”
I smirked, agreeing wholeheartedly. I knew how much it pained Edward to leave his sports car covered in the garage. My dad picked up the second DVD, leaning forward to swap it out, and I realised I couldn’t leave him down here to watch it alone.
“Give me ten minutes.”
Disappearing up the stairs, I was nonplussed when I burst into my bedroom, and Edward was nowhere to be found. My first instinct was to check under my bed, and I crouched down, pulling back the comforter, when I heard his voice at my ear.
“The best hiding place is the one people won’t even think to check last,” he said, smiling as I clambered to my feet.
Stretching out a hand to pull me towards him, Edward mumbled in my ear, something I couldn’t make out, before pressing a kiss to my temple.
“What is this?” I asked.
“My car key.” He took it from me, smirking, and pointed to each button in turn. “This one opens the trunk-“
I stood up on my tiptoes, waiting patiently for a kiss. That was our compromise. He would give me whatever I wanted, he promised, if I gave him a little time. Part of me wondered what that could possibly mean to a vampire, while the rest of me was relieved that he would even try.
He tangled his hands in my hair, slowly, and it felt like heaven. When Edward pressed chaste kisses to my cheeks, I turned my face, directing him to my lips, and grinned.
Throwing my arms around his neck, I kissed him properly, fully, letting my eyes flutter closed. He tasted sweet, clean, and completely intoxicating. As always, he was quick to pull away. This time, though, he wrapped me tightly in his arms. I laughed, crushed against his shirt. The added benefit wasn’t lost on me. I couldn’t move my arms. I couldn’t distract him.
When we finally broke apart, Edward moved to sit on the opposite side of the bed, facing the window as I rifled through my drawers and pulled out my pajamas. Uncaring, I pulled my t-shirt over my head. For a moment, I could have sworn he was looking at my reflection in the window, before he looked down at his hands in his lap.
“A nomadic vampire came to visit the house,” he admitted, and my hands stilled, cotton sweatpants pulled halfway up my leg.
“The one Jacob fought with?”
Climbing over the bed, I tugged at his shoulder.
“I didn’t know he told you about that.” Edward sighed. “Jacob couldn’t have known it at the time, but the one he met was James. This man- vampire- is named Laurent. He has recently parted ways from James and his mate, Victoria. He had quite a story to tell us.”
He began to explain Laurent’s real, visceral fear of James. Going it alone was entirely conditional on James’ goodwill, he said. If he ever wanted Laurent to join him again, there would be no escaping the tracker. Laurent had even heard him talking of Alice. Without even knowing her name, James could recall every detail about her, and used to describe the scent of her blood from time to time.
“Victoria, on the other hand, has a defensive gift. Superlative self-preservation,” he said, scoffing. “We don’t know if she can extend her talents to protecting others, but they make quite the team, regardless.”
“Did he give you anything you could use against them? Any clues about what they’re planning?”
“Laurent didn’t have to say anything. I heard James’ thoughts, less than a mile from the house. He was spying on us.”
I scrubbed at my face with my hands.
“He doesn’t know about your gift, or Alice’s,” I concluded.
Shaking his head, Edward pursed his lips in annoyance.
“We gave chase, but when we got back, there was something wrong. He sent Victoria to circle back, try and pick up something of a scent.”
“Was Laurent double crossing you? He could have been faking his thoughts-“
“Not even Alice has been able to pull that off. More likely, they’ve been following Laurent, waiting to kill him. He knows too much about their gifts.”
I stood, making sure the window was locked.
“So what do I do? Charlie is in danger-“
“It seems like James is mostly fixated on Alice. The fact you escaped him was… an inconvenience. He takes pride in always getting his kill, no matter how long it takes, but you’re not the priority. We’re going to try and track them down, as soon as I get home. If we’re successful, you’ll be safe. If not-“
“I won’t come home again.”
“It’s for the best.”
Edward sucked in a breath, a nervous habit, before taking my hands again.
“Things are much different from when I was growing up. For one thing, you would most likely already be married by the time we met-“
“That’s if I could find a husband who didn’t panic at the thought of me picking up a book every once in a while,” I said with a grin.
“You’re thinking of the 19th century, Bella. We were much more modern.”
“Oh yeah, giving the vote to white women? Super progressive,” I said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“If you had been born into my world, I would have spent even less time with you than I have, before I told you that I loved you,” he said, voice low.
I swallowed, panic rising in my throat.
“Like I said, a different time. But even now, I hope you understand… I waited a long time to meet you. I didn’t dare believe anything Alice saw until I met you, but, Bella-"
He pressed his head against mine.
“You are the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met.”
I frowned, finding my voice.
“There’s nothing special-“
“You don’t get to tell me how to see you,” he said. “And I mean this… entirely as a compliment. But you are so delightfully strange.”
He grinned, seemingly unfazed by the fact I hadn’t returned the sentiment.
“I aim to amuse,” I said. “But we’ve only known each other… a few weeks, if that. I don’t know…”
Edward shrugged, somehow even graceful in his insouciance.
“I don’t get to tell you how to feel, either. But love isn’t contingent on reciprocation. True love, maybe.”
Without thinking, I pressed my lips to his, letting my tongue slide into his mouth and gripping his shoulders. It was all I could do, to try and show him how I felt. This feeling was new, easy enough that I hadn’t given it much of a thought.
Edward, his world, his family- they fascinated me. But when we were together, just the two of us, I forgot that he was something strange and otherworldly. The feeling of his fingertips on my skin was natural, simple. His dormant heart had chosen me, the girl whose blood appealed to him more than anyone else he’d ever met.
By virtue of keeping his secret, I supposed I had chosen him, too. Chosen this path in life, for however long it lasted. I saw myself, securing my place in his world, somehow.
When we broke apart, I was gasping, and Edward looked like he was in pain. Gripping my hands to hold me at arms length, he whispered his goodbye. Before I could blink, he was gone.
I realized then how long I had been upstairs, frantically throwing my hair up into a tie and rushing to the bathroom to splash water on my face. Charlie was waiting, and I couldn’t afford for him to get suspicious. The only thing worse than a vampire on the loose in Washington was an inquisitive father, who thought everything could be straightened out with a frank conversation and a chance to cool off.
Everything, except emotional topics, which he tended to avoid.
Charlie knew exactly what I thought of his job. Renee was staunchly anti-gun, and when I moved home the first time, it had only taken a few weeks before Charlie stopped hanging his holster up with the coats at the front door. Even now, that we were under real threat, I didn’t think he would achieve much with his department-issued firearm.
When I threw myself back down on the couch, my stomach was churning. My hands itched to reach for my phone, to hear Edward’s voice and explain myself. I couldn’t tell him how I felt until I was sure of it myself, but I knew that with every passing day he became more and more important to me.
My mind raced throughout the whole of National Lampoon’s European Vacation. I sat still, staring blankly at the screen, even when Charlie’s posture veered closer to the horizontal than vertical, and I heard him start to snore. Seth and Sue must have decided to head straight home rather than come to collect her car, and I was grateful. When the screen went black, Charlie snuffled, stretching into wakefulness.
“Headed to bed?” He asked, voice groggy.
Charlie frowned, rubbing at his face before meeting my eyes. Panic flashed briefly across his face. In high school, I had a tendency to drop bombshells on him in the same way: to my memory, the most recent wasn’t that I was moving to Florida, but that right before I was due to drive across the country, Jake had thought it might be funny to try and drive his motorbike up two wooden planks, right into the bed of the truck, and had broken his collarbone.
“I wanted to talk to you about Sue.”
His eyes widened, and Charlie let out a huff of air, visibly embarrassed.
“What about Sue?”
“Do you ever see yourself getting married again?”
My dad smiled despite himself. I could see him failing to fold his mouth in such a way that would hide it, but he could never seem to stop himself.
“When Harry passed away-“
“You were there for each other. And Billy,” I added with a smile. “Is it such a crazy idea?”
Charlie leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
“I’m never going to replace Leah and Seth’s dad. And Sue loves you, but-“
“I still have a mom, somewhere in the continental US.”
“Exactly,” he agreed.
I licked my lips, unsure of how to phrase my question.
“If you know… how do you reconcile that with, you know? Life? What if go your whole life thinking it’s too soon?”
He looked confused. Presumably, Charlie was attempting to puzzle out the real meaning of my question. If I was honest with myself, I wasn’t really sure what it was.
“Honestly? I’d ask your mom. I know she spouts that crap about being psychic, but… she’s got good intuition. It was enough to make her go to the one and only baseball game she’d ever been to in her life, and she got a husband out of it.”
“Thanks, dad. If the chance to go to a baseball game comes up, I’ll be sure to take it.”
When Billy called the next morning, inviting us to watch the game at his house, I jumped at the chance. Charlie seemed overly concerned about the car situation, and couldn’t decide whether I should drive Sue’s car back to her house, or bring Edward’s so that I could head straight back to school that evening.
“I just don’t like you driving late at night, Bella. Especially after what happened to your car, I-“
“Am just expressing healthy concern, like any parent, Bella. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a cop, Bella.”
I raised a brow at him, an obvious challenge.
“A deer ran out in front of your car and you totaled it. I have every right to be worried about you. A lot of people get… jumpy.”
Scoffing, I grabbed Edward’s key from the side table.
“So last night was a test?”
“B minus,” he said, and headed out the door, leaving me to gather up my bags.
The constant traveling back and forth was starting to take a toll on me, but the prospect of spending an entire weekend alone in my dorm always had me filling up my gas tank and getting behind the wheel, no matter the time. It had occurred to me that since Edward technically lived in Seattle, I wouldn’t be alone. In fact, without him to drive me, I would have been stuck there from the day I crashed my car.
Like my dad, I wasn’t sure how I felt about making a habit of spending the night with Edward. He and Sue were mindful of Seth, whom I knew for a fact only cared about the leverage he could gain over his mother, most likely to get her off his back about college.
I saw myself in Seth: namely, the fact that despite being smart enough to go to college, and excited about the prospect, he was nervous enough to put off even applying.
When I arrived, my dad’s car was already parked up, and there was nobody outside to greet me. Without even bothering to go inside the house, I made a beeline for the garage. As predicted, an enormous pair of boots were sticking out from underneath a car I didn’t recognize.
“You’re a fucking workaholic, Jake,” I said, running a hand over the tools he had neatly arranged on a dishtowel.
“You’re telling me,” said the man under the car, and I gasped. That wasn’t a voice I knew. I had half a mind to pick up the wrench that was inches away from where my hand rested, when Paul slid out from under the car, with a shit-eating grin.
“Did Lettie tell you when she needed the truck back?”
Jake strolled through the garage door, covered in grease, with his hair swinging around his face. He always looked at his most relaxed this way, and when he spotted me, Jake pulled me into a hug.
“Paul’s my little helper,” he said with a smirk, and Paul narrowed his eyes in a mock scowl.
“Executive apprentice,” he countered.
“Is that even a thing?” I laughed, and they both joined in, Paul shaking his head.
“I’d better go, man. Jared’s mom is expecting me for lunch.”
After exchanging a brief hug, Jake clapping his friend on the back, Paul headed out.
“See you around, Bella.”
I said my goodbye, then turned back to Jacob with wide eyes.
“What’s gotten into him?” Smiling, I took my customary seat and pulled Jacob’s hoodie over my lap as a blanket. “He was even nice to me… and Paul doesn’t like anybody.”
“That’s not true.” Jake frowned, before sliding himself under the car to take a look at the other man’s handiwork. I was used to conversations held this way after six years of the same.
“It might sound kind of lame, but… he and Sam talked it out. And my dad thought Paul could use something to keep him busy, so here he is.”
“He certainly looked like he knew what he was doing,” I said, pulling out my phone to check the time. I had a precious block of five hours before I would have to head back.
A laugh escaped him, one short sound.
“Paul has a lot to learn. Thankfully, I could really use the help. So, what are we doing today?”
“Dance party?” I offered. In high school, mostly just the two of us but sometimes with Angela or Jessica in tow, we’d drive out to the cliffs and blast music on the speakers. If it was cold, we’d dance in our seats, shaking our hands and shifting from side to side in a facsimile of a dance floor. When it was sunny, and after I started making a modest pay check at Newton’s, we would break out the portable docking station, though Jake didn’t think much of the music on my iPod.
“Jesus. You were so intensely uncool, Bella-“
I gasped, outraged.
“Linkin Park is not uncool, Jacob. And if I remember correctly, you went along with it.”
“I was young and impressionable.”
“You can’t have it both ways,” I protested. “Either you’ve been 45 since 2006, or you were led astray by me and Matt Bellamy.”
“Not by you. Obviously. By Jessica Stanley.”
I frowned, confused, and Jacob started to laugh.
“She swore me to secrecy after we made out at her graduation party.”
“Jessica is two years older than you, Jacob!”
He shrugged, not looking half as embarrassed as I would have been. I was scandalized. Sitting back in my chair, I huffed.
“It’s like I don’t even know you, Jake,” I began, tone mocking. “First, you tell me you’re cosplaying as Clifford the Big Red Dog at the weekends, then you tell me you made out with Jessica-“
My jaw dropped.
“That one, I’m not so proud of.”
“Was he even out?”
I sifted through my memories of that time, trying to place the night he had told us all over a bowl of pretzels in his basement.
“Yeah, but he hadn’t been for long. He used to be sort of cute-“
“He still is,” I said, firmly in Mike’s corner. “I saw him not that long ago.”
“I could never date anybody who’s in that much denial about Chevys,” Jake said, before he burst out laughing. I looked around for something to throw at him, but everything within touching distance was made of metal. I settled for sticking out my tongue.
When he quietened down, I took a moment to really look at him. I knew, of course, that Jacob was beautiful. I had told him so, once, when he was young enough to be embarrassed. To me, he was still the same Jake, the same boy who towed the sun on a string, who loved fiercely and without apology, and who never really talked about the things that pained him.
“I never realized Rachel looked so like your mom,” I said, voice tentative.
His answering smile put me at ease, though I knew he didn’t mention her much, even to Billy.
“Yeah, it was obvious from when she was like, six. Like a little clone. My dad slips up all the time now that she’s home, calls her Sarah.”
My face fell, and I crossed the garage to where Jacob was sitting, and leant to give him a half-hug while he sat, a sad smile on his face.
“She didn’t want this for me, before she died. But I couldn’t refuse it when the time came to choose. I’m a Black,” he said, looking up at me. “It’s my job to protect people.”
I frowned at him, biting my lip.
“So you’re going to spend your whole life in danger? Always fighting?”
“Once the Cullens leave, we might get lucky. Have a quiet few years. But if I’m needed again, you know-“
“What is it about them,” I demanded, frustrated. “It has to be like this, wherever they go. They just fuck up people’s lives, make you feel-“
I broke off, suspicious of the look on Jacob’s face.
“This isn’t about me, is it?”
I kicked myself, for doing what I seemed to do best these days. I had turned an honest question into another opportunity for self-pity.
“Why would they leave?”
“Aside from the fact they don’t age, and kill animals to live? They’re pretty conspicuous, Bella.” Jake started to clean off one of the tools at his side, contemplative. “Not just to humans, but to bloodsuckers, too. Those nomads would have breezed through if not for them.”
“What if you can’t find them? Can’t kill them?”
Jake shook his head.
“We can do it,” he said, monotone. “The question is, will they stick around to watch.”
I hadn’t thought much about the time limit on Edward Cullen’s identity. The fact he was ageless, immortal, had concerned me a little more than his cover story, especially since he wasn’t a permanent fixture in Forks. I knew Jacob was looking at me a little strangely, and so I pasted a grin onto my face.
“Everybody acts like you’re the boss, Jake. Did you win a vote, or something?”
He shifted uncomfortably, brown cheeks flushing pink.
“Oh my god. Did you have to write a campaign speech?” I almost laughed, before I saw the sober look on his face. Embarrassed, I closed my mouth. This was obviously one of those things I was ignorant of.
“It was an honor to be chosen,” he insisted. “But it’s hard. People's lives depend on me, Bella. No wonder Sam said no.”
I faced him fully, shaking my head.
“Just because he’s… older, or whatever, doesn’t mean you’re not right for it, Jake. They’re adults, they know what they’re doing.”
Jake’s wry smile had my stomach turning.
“In the beginning, it didn’t matter what age you were. If you had the blood, you didn’t have any other option except to protect your family. Some of the kids from the stories hadn’t even hit puberty. But that meant nothing to the Cullens.”
“They came back… even though they knew you’d have to form a new pack?”
“They came back, even though for all they knew we wouldn’t have a choice.”
I put my head in my hands, threading my fingers through my hair.
“Wanna go be reckless with Edward’s property?” I asked, holding up his car key.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
We drove out to the dirt track where Jake had taught me how to ride a motorbike, and I attempted, under the guise of learning how to spin the car in a circle, to get it as dirty as possible.
“If we crash, he can pay our medical bills,” I said, laughing, pulling the wheel sharply to the left to avoid an oncoming boulder. “And set me up with a chair lift. You know, in case I fuck something up permanently.”
Jake, who was failing to get his lips around the straw on his soda cup, laughed uncontrollably until he stopped suddenly with a gasp.
“Stop! Stop, Bella, turn off the engine.”
Within seconds, I had skidded to a halt in the muck, and Jake was frantically stripping off his shorts, leaving his t-shirt and shoes still on.
“Jake, what’s happening?” I demanded, stomach taut with dread.
“Vampire,” he said. “Coming this way.”
With that, he threw the door open, and his hands were already beginning to shake.
“Lock your doors and drive away. Get back to Charlie, where it’s safe.”
“I’m not leaving you here alone,” I shouted back at him, seeing my terror reflected in his face.
Jake slammed the door behind him, and phased in one fluid movement, taking off along the direction of the river. I almost unclipped my seatbelt, desperate to catch a glimpse of the vampire coming for him. I wanted, desperately, for it to be one of the Cullens, but in my heart I knew we hadn’t been so lucky.
Throwing the car into reverse, I quickly pointed it into the right direction before I took off after him, engine groaning as I pressed the pedal down as far as it could go. On foot, I knew my chances of catching up to them would have been pitiful, but this was a big car, with a big engine. Maybe, I could do something to help.
After a minute, I could see Jacob in the distance, but still no vampire. Over the sound of the car, I heard him howl, loud enough that it made the hairs on my arms stand up, and I worried at my lip, knuckles white on the wheel.
Then, I saw a flash of red hair, my heard sinking. The vampire was moving too fast for me to make out, especially since I was so focused on Jacob’s retreating back. She - because it must have been Victoria, the redheaded woman Edward had been warned about - seemed to be headed straight for him, fast enough I didn’t even know if he would have time to react.
I leaned on my horn, hoping to distract the vampire, before I saw her properly for the first time. In a moment of stillness, I saw her, terrifying and beautiful, face frozen in rage. Then she turned, heading towards me. In my panic, all I could do was keep driving, as fast as I could, holding the wheel with locked arms and eyes forced open.
When I glanced in my rearview mirror, I almost breathed a sigh of relief. I could see the pack, gaining on me, paws eating up the dirt, until I turned back and saw Victoria jump.
I slammed on the brake, praying she wouldn’t be able to adjust in time, that she would underestimate the difference, and I was right. Instead of landing on the car, she reappeared in front of me, crouched and ready to spring. Her red hair, curling like flames around her face, was streaked with blood. I saw fear cross her face when she realized that the pack was coming for her, and just as I screamed, furred bodies rushing past the sides of the car and rocking it, slamming into my wing mirrors but continuing, undaunted, she hightailed it in the opposite direction.
Pulling out my phone, I selected Edward’s number, and hit the green button.
Chapter 12: Entrapment
In the passenger seat of Edward’s Aston Martin, I sat hunched in on myself, mind racing.
“Unlike some people,” he said pointedly, “Self-preservation seems to come naturally to Victoria. And she’s fast- faster than me, even.”
I turned to him, face disbelieving
“And you’re faster than a wolf?”
He shrugged. Edward hadn’t been particularly interested in the play-by-play, but as Jacob described it, they didn’t have a hope of catching her when she put her mind to it.
“I’ve never had much cause to try to outrun one, but if it came to it… yes. She’s the first vampire who could outrun me in a hundred years.”
In the silence, Edward turned up the radio, NPR, allowing my thoughts to run away with me.
“Why did you come back? If you wanted to find me… why not come alone? You could have found me in Florida, Phoenix, anywhere else.”
“This is about the tribe,” he said, voice flat. It wasn’t a question. Edward sighed, briefly taking both hands off the wheel to scrub at his face.
“You knew how they would react.”
“Isn’t that an important distinction, Bella? We’re not a threat-“
“When you’re in control. If you had killed me the first time you saw me, there would have been nobody to hold you accountable. Self-loathing is an even less effective deterrent than punishment, in my opinion-“
“What about reparative justice?” Edward asked, and I frowned.
“You could pay for Seth to go to college, as a start.”
“I meant for the murder, Bella. But if that’s what he wants, sure. He seems smart enough to get a scholarship, though.”
“He is,” I agreed. “But seriously. You grew up in the right era. You should be paying the pack like… a protection racket.”
“Couldn’t we have one evening where we don’t talk about vampires and wolves?” Edward pleaded.
Rolling my eyes at him, I caved.
“And in the morning, you tell me what happened?”
“In the morning, I’ll be going back to Forks to search again-“
“That’s not fair! If I can’t ask questions, you can’t tell me that. Until… midnight, at least.”
He eyed the clock on the dashboard, that read just past seven in the evening.
“It would be improper for me to keep you out so late, Miss Swan.”
Burying my face in my hands, I fought not to squeal out in embarrassment.
“Where are we going, then?” I asked, as soon as I had recovered.
He looked contemplative, staring at the furthest point of the road in the darkness.
“What do you own in the way of dresses?”
“None,” I said with a laugh. Edward was wearing a shirt, jeans and blazer. It was something of a uniform for him, offsetting what was left of the childish softness in his face. His hair, permanently tousled, was as perfect as ever.
Every day I dealt with the internal argument. I didn’t care enough about what I looked like to purchase makeup, learn how to use it, or make it part of my routine. I wasn’t sure I agreed with wearing it in the first place. My wardrobe, functional and comfortable, was how I wanted it.
“It doesn’t have to be a dress,” he corrected. “I shouldn’t have said that. Anything you could wear to a nice restaurant.”
“Why would you waste money on a restaurant if you can’t eat, Edward? If that’s your only suggestion, you’re not allowed to make the plan.”
He smiled, shaking his head.
“What do you have me do?”
Pressing my hand to my mouth, I considered his question as a highway sign flashed past outside the window. I had less than a hundred miles to decide.
“You have a GPS, right?”
His face was twisted in disgust at the sight of my nachos, hot dog, and large Pepsi.
“This doesn’t seem sanitary,” Edward said, leaning over the tiny table in the long booth. After examining the paper trays of food, he came away looking even more skeptical.
I was delighted by the fact his carefully curated outfit had been rendered ridiculous by the addition of red and white shoes, and he had been forced to remove his blazer in the name of range of movement.
Frowning at the screen, I considered our options.
“Do you want your name to be E-D-W-D or E-D-R-D? How about TONY?”
“Can’t it be Edward?”
I gestured to the flashing box, with space for only four letters.
“Your name is practically unchanged,” he complained, pointing at the word BELA.
“It’s missing four letters, if you want to get technical. More than you.”
Coming to stand behind me, Edward reached around me to type VMPR, before heading towards the ball return to figure out what size he would need. Minutes later, I was stretching my mouth around the hot dog loaded with ketchup, mustard and crispy onions, to Edward’s horror. I couldn’t contain my laughter, slapping a hand over my face to ensure the food stayed where it was supposed to.
“Your turn,” I told him, failing to swallow the entire mouthful in one attempt.
I watched, eyes trained on his hand as he hefted the ball, expertly pretending its weight meant something to him. From the position of his shoulder, I could see Edward was holding back, releasing it just before the height of his swing, with complete precision.
Of course, he would have perfect form.
My approach, honed from years of father-daughter bowling trips, was a little different. Charlie’s ritual was a blend of superstition and technique, with heavy emphasis on using one eye only (despite his insistence that only idiots tried to aim most guns that way), whispered prayers, and of course, kissing your ball.
I turned back to my date, making a show of pressing my lips to the metallic swirls of the hot pink ball, and laughing at his horrified face.
“You never had Disney channel in the Cullen house? Never saw Alley Cats Strike?”
Edward shook his head.
“I loved that movie. Bowling shirts are very chic, in my opinion.”
Over an hour later, we headed out of the bowling alley and towards the movie theatre. I was determined that we would see whatever was starting next, but as we approached the billboards, I wasn’t filled with confidence.
“What are you wishing for,” I asked, hearing Renee in my words. I had never stuck to the outcome of a tossed coin when she asked me what I hoped the answer was, fist clenched tight over the penny.
Edward’s expression was academic, studying each poster in turn.
“I read Harry Potter. Seemed prudent, since I was posing as fifteen in 2001.”
I grinned, thrilled at this revelation.
“Something we have in common, finally,” I said, but Edward crossed his arms, looking away.
“We have… values in common. A shared interest in science.”
“Vested interest in keeping me alive?”
I threaded my hands between his crossed arms and his sides, forcing him to wrap an arm around me. I stood on tiptoe, waiting to be kissed.
“There’s nothing wrong with having different life experiences from the person you love,” I said, tightening my arms around him.
Edward stiffened, then tipped my head up so I would look at him, all irritation wiped from his face.
“I love you, Bella.”
“I love you too. Now can we see a movie?”When Edward paused at the door, I turned to him in confusion.
“You’re not coming inside?”
Shaking his head, Edward reached out to take my hands in his own, and pulled me into a kiss. For a few blissful moments, all I knew was the feeling of his lips on mine, and the press of his body, pushing my back to the wall. I had hoped that over time, I would become immune to his effects. Once my brain decoupled his predatory aspects from the person underneath, I wondered if I could be different to the other humans under his spell.
I had not been lucky yet, but I hadn’t given up hope.
“A goodnight kiss at the door will suffice, I think. That’s what happens on normal human dates, right?”
“In, like 1953, maybe. Actually, no,” I corrected myself. “You’ve seen what happens in Grease.”
Edward pressed a kiss to my head, murmuring that he loved me once more, before he disappeared.
“Love you too,” I called, confident he would be able to hear me even from outside.
It wasn’t too late, and the room was stuffy from being shut up all weekend. Keeping up to date on all my assignments meant I didn’t have much of a life on week nights, so I was grateful to have spent so much of my weekend on quality time with the people I cared about most. If I was being greedy, I might say I missed Angela’s company, or even Jessica’s. But they had their own lives, just like I did.
The fact mine now involved mythical creatures wasn’t even the most surprising part.
I was in love.
Grabbing a hair tie from my desk, I wandered to the window with slow steps, focusing on smoothing my hair out of my face. When I looked up, I was immediately frozen in terror.
There was a girl stumbling out of the tree line, naked. Her skin was pale, streaked with dark stains, and her hair was the same dirty blonde from the newspaper photograph. Katie moved in such a way, I knew she was afraid. I knew I had no choice but to go to her. If I was lucky, she would recognise me. The blood didn’t look fresh, but I hoped she had fed recently enough that she wouldn’t attack me. Even before I finished my thought, I was sickened with myself. But there was no more time.
Racing out of the building, I almost tumbled onto the concrete in my haste. An open cut would be a death sentence, but I caught myself in time. She hadn’t made much progress, covering herself with her hands and looking skittishly from side to side.
My throat was tight, from fear and grief. Katie was a good person. She still could be, if I could get her to the Cullens before she did too much damage.
“Katie!” I called, holding my hands up. “I want to help you.”
I knew she didn’t need me to shout: she could hear me perfectly, as evidenced by the fact that she took off running into the trees. Speed had never been my strong suit, and she would be able to see just as well in the dark as I could in full daylight. Something in me, that sounded like Edward’s voice, told me that this was a stupid idea. A newborn vampire was volatile, I knew that much. But I had to do whatever I could for her. If James had been able to kill me, maybe he would never have gone after her.
She didn’t run at full speed, not the whole way. The trees weren’t dense, and so quickly we emerged back out onto campus roads, so I could catch a glimpse of her in the distance: it was as if the moment she thought about it, she couldn’t muster the vampiric speed I knew she was capable of.
Out of breath and starting to sweat, I didn’t slow down, just pulled off my coat and dropped it as I ran. Katie could wear it when we circled back.
I only lasted a few more minutes before I lost sight of her, turning a corner she had disappeared behind in the hopes that maybe she had stopped. There were fewer street lights behind this building, but I could see clearly that Katie’s body, torn into pieces, was finally still.
“It’s not hard to game the system, once you know the rules,” Victoria called. She was beautiful and calm, smiling at me pleasantly.
“Katie barely even knew me,” I replied. “She didn’t have to die.”
I felt the air around me shift, and Victoria circled me at close range. Her scent was different, but equally appealing. Eyeing Katie’s body, that was still twitching, a severed hand creeping across the concrete, I felt sick.
“Oh, sweetheart. She’s not dead until I do this.”
It took less than a second for Victoria to return to the body parts, piling them on top of one another. Her full mouth was set in a grim line, but she pulled out a cheap plastic lighter all the same, touching it to the pile before retreating.
A choked sound escaped my mouth, and I felt Victoria’s cool hands on my neck, scooping my hair out of my face.
“You’re not going to throw up, are you? Nasty,” she said, wrinkling her nose, then tugged on my hair so hard I had to arch my back all the way. My neck was entirely exposed, and I breathed in shallow, panicked bursts.
“Look.” Victoria pulled me back up, adjusting my hair with quick, fastidious movements before nodding in satisfaction. “He likes it to be… scenic. Ok? You have to act scared.”
Glaring at her, I realised she must have been younger than me. A teenager.
“I am scared,” I admitted. “Aren’t you?”
Victoria cocked her head.
“You think those meat-eaters are going to come for me? I can’t see it,” she said.
I shrugged. Victoria’s lack of concern mirrored my own hopelessness. I didn’t believe anyone would come for me, either. But I had to give them a chance. I had to talk her down.
“I meant you should be scared of ending up like Katie. You know about Alice. You must have been with him, when he tried to track her. If he wanted you because you were a match for him… What happens when he finds Alice, who evaded him for a hundred years?”
Victoria stilled, and turned her lips up in a sneer that disappeared in a flash. Bringing one hand up to my face, she stroked down my nose with one gentle finger, looking almost tender. Her voice, high and breathy, sounded foreign to me.
“James and I are bonded. Mates don’t abandon one another over prey.”
“You followed him all over the world, right? Where are you going to land when he decides Alice has more to offer him? She’s given him the chase of a lifetime.”
She turned away from me, growling, and began to pace. From a distance, her feline movements had made her all the more terrifying, feral. Here, at close range, she looked like a house cat that couldn’t decide whether it wanted in or out.
“He won’t be long, human. And the Cullens won’t have a choice but to come after us.”
The grin she gave me was unsettling, practically deranged. Rushing towards me, she pulled me by the arm, so hard I yelled, to which she just responded with a disappointed tut. Victoria sniffed at my skin and hair, pulling back to look at how she had positioned me in front of the fire.
“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” she said.
I had everything I needed to try and escape. The flames were within touching distance, but I was no match for her supernatural strength. If I had something I could set alight, a stick or a torch, I could try to set her on fire.
She was becoming increasingly agitated, just as I was. Every passing second was a waste. I could have laughed in that moment, as I remembered Charlie’s disapproving looks from my childhood when my mom would dress me in pajamas that could have set me alight from the spark of my socks on the carpet.
When Victoria’s head snapped up, a panicked look crossing her face, I knew my time was up.
I hurried to zip up my hoodie with shaking fingers, and pull up my hood. She turned towards me, irritated, and reached out to pull it back down. I turned on my heel, her hand missing me by a fraction of an inch, and I clambered over the edge of the bonfire.
I heard Victoria scream, and saw my sleeve melting, engulfed in flame. There was nothing I could do except try to run, but after a few steps I slammed into a hard chest body was thrown to the ground, gasping for air, terrified tears running down my cheeks. Only when I felt hands rolling me across the cool ground did I open my eyes, my vision obscured by my tears.
“I’ve got you,” Alice said, hoisting me to my feet and ripping the smouldering jacket from my body. “Stay hidden.”
With that, she ran back in the direction of Victoria and the bonfire. I scurried to the metal staircase protruding from the back of the building, desperate to find cover. By the time I could even make out the figures in the distance, fighting and clashing with the sound of waves on rocks, Edward and Jasper had each taken ahold of one of Victoria’s arms, and Alice was bent over, arms working furiously at her neck.
When she held up the woman’s severed head, fingers buried in her red hair, I vomited over the side of the railing. Edward was at my side in a flash, making pained noises over the state of my arms.
“Are you alright, Bella?”
I fought to form words, but as soon as I opened my mouth, great hiccupping sobs began.
“I can’t live like this,” I wailed, taking a shaky breath. “I can’t do this any more.”
His pale hands were cool on my abused, burned skin.
I didn’t know what the rest of me looked like, and I didn’t care to know.
“We don’t have much time. We have to get you a bandage, antibiotics, and then we have to leave-“
“He’s coming, Edward,” Alice interrupted.
“And he’s… excited. We don’t want to be here when he finds that pile,” Jasper added, jerking his chin at the fire, that had already eaten through all of its fuel, and was dwindling to ashes. I had no idea they were really that flammable.
Edward put a hand on either side of my face, and began to speak in soothing tones, instructing me to breathe as deeply as I could. After a few moments, my breaths were under control, and I was able to speak. I was in shock, that much was obvious. I could see my blistered skin, but the pain was nothing next to the panic.
“I can’t stay here,” I said.
“I can fix you up, and then we’ll take the car-“
Alice looked incredulous.
“You’re not honestly thinking of taking her? It should be me, Edward.”
His laugh was poisonous.
“I’m not an idiot, Alice. I can keep her safe.”
She glared at him, communicating her argument without words, while Jasper stood silently by. I wondered how it must feel to love someone and know that you could never be the person who understood them most in the world. Their silence, what they shared, mystified me.
He nodded, suddenly, and Alice looked victorious.
“We still have to get some bandages.”
I didn’t want to know where Jasper found a suture kit, but by the time he and Alice caught up with us, Edward had already driven us almost fifty miles out of Seattle.
“He’s not tracking a scent,” he said, closing his eyes briefly in concentration. “His gift guides him to where he needs to be. Alice can’t know what path someone will take until they decide… but he can, somehow.”
Unable to sit still, I writhed in my seat, itching to remove my melted clothes. Every firework safety video I had ever seen reminded me that pulling them off would be the worst thing I could do.
“So we have to outrun him. Just… be faster,” I gasped.
Edward couldn’t tear his eyes away from my skin in that moment, and a flutter of fear ghosted through me. My arm may have been burned, not cut open, but I had no idea what it was doing to my scent. For all he knew, some subconscious instinct was telling him that I was wounded.
This is what it was to love a monster, I realized. Edward was the one I relied on to keep me safe, never fully trusting that I was safe from him.
“We have to stop,” I demanded. “I need something for the pain.”
There was an exit in my eye line, and Edward let out a frustrated groan before he swerved into the next lane without even bothering to signal.
“If I ever get to come home, I’m giving you a refresher on safe driving habits.”
His answering laugh was hollow, forced. When we pulled over, I took in my surroundings: we were in the parking lot of a McDonald’s. As Edward pulled open the door, then moved to lift me out of the car with tentative hands, I saw Alice and Jasper appear at his back.
“Isn’t this a little conspicuous?” I asked through gritted teeth as Edward positioned me on the hood of the car, ripping open a pair of scissors packaged in white paper.
Alice shook her head, taking my uninjured hand while Jasper hung back, ostensibly to keep watch, but also to avoid the scent of my blood.
“The security cameras are broken, and anybody who gets too curious is going to be steered in the other direction.”
I locked eyes with Alice, focusing on the deep, hypnotic black of her irises as she stroked a cool hand over my sweaty forehead.
“You’re going to be ok,” she whispered, and Edward made a derisive sound. “Isn’t she, Edward?”
He had made quick work of removing the melted pieces of clothing from my skin, and had already started to wrap the damaged flesh with gauze. When he saw the look of concentration on my face, he looked over his shoulder, calling his brother’s name. It was like a jolt of electricity to my brain. Complete euphoria. I started to laugh, and tried to sit up before Alice forced my wrists back onto the hood of the car, pinning me to the metal.
If this was Jasper’s gift, to steal my feelings from me and replace them with artifice, I couldn’t see how Rosalie was the only one Carlisle berated. Even though my emotions were muddled, my thoughts were still clear: I didn’t want to be alone with Jasper.
“There are only two seats in the car, Edward. Jasper has to go with you-“
“Steal a fucking minivan, Alice, I don’t care-“
“I brought painkillers, and she can sleep through it.”
I heard another ripping sound, and then Edward’s hand was on my jaw, thumb dragging my bottom lip down. Taking in a shuddering breath, my laughing subsided until I was able to focus on his face through my tears. Edward was pressing a morphine lollipop to my lips, trying to get me to take it into my mouth.
“It’ll stop the pain, Bella.”
He hoisted me up until I was standing, vision swimming with the pain that had returned full force. Wary of my injured arm, Edward crushed me to his chest.
“I can’t protect you and fight at the same time, and I can’t see him coming until he’s a mile away… You have to go with Alice. She knows how to hide,” he said, though he didn’t sound convincing.
“The tracker would never expect us to let you go alone,” Jasper called. “It could buy you time.”
Alice blurred and was in his arms in a moment, and Jasper’s face softened. It was still bizarre to me how Alice could reconcile Jasper’s past with the man he was trying to be. But I knew she wasn’t as delicate as she looked.
Edward was whispering in my ear, and I pulled back, irate.
“I can’t hear you when you do that, you know.”
His answering smile was devastating, like the look of a family member in line to receive words of comfort at a funeral.
“I told you I loved you. Before you knew it, I had to say it.”
For once, it was Edward kissing me first, and not the other way around. In the face of this great danger, he was no longer the still portrait of self-control.
“Do you want to go with Alice?” He asked as he pulled away. “I think it’s your best chance of getting ahead of him… and she can fight, if she has to. She’s powerful-“
“I trust you,” I replied.
Despite all this, and the fact that before I met the Cullens my life had been simple, almost happy, I knew my choices had been the right ones. Despite his flaws, and the lives he had taken, I loved him. He believed he was a monster. I had to believe that if we were really fated to be together, that he wanted to have the humanity, the compassion, that had been taken from him a hundred years ago.
The stakes in Edward’s world were higher. When he fell from grace, he fell harder than I ever could. But I knew he was still a good man.
Pressing a hand to his chest, where his heart should have beat, I looked up at him.
“I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of losing you.”
Edward looked broken, kissing my forehead and telling me that he loved me a final time, before the light in his eyes went flat.
“I can’t know where you’re going until you get there. Alice knows what to do. It’s not the first time she’s had to outrun a tracker.” He looked solemn. “We haven’t lost anyone yet.”
Alice was already in the driver’s seat, and pushed my door open from the inside.
“No time,” she trilled, revving the engine.
She had already rolled the window down, and Edward reached for my hand once I was safely buckled in.
“Try to sleep,” he said, kissing my hand.
The second he let go, Alice put her foot down.
Chapter 13: Rapture
“Where would you go?” Alice asked, arms braced on the wheel, unwavering. “If you were driving this car, where would you go?”
I bit my lip, unwilling to admit that my first instinct was so human, and therefore predictable. The pain medication had started to kick in, and my head was already woozy. I spat it out, onto the floor of the car.
“I would go to my mom, in Florida.”
Alice laughed, eyes never leaving the road as she wove through the other cars in the darkness.
“That’s a little far for Edward to run. Do you know what scrying is?”
I shrugged, kicking off my shoes and curling up once more on the seat. Alice’s lips pursed in disapproval, although at what, I didn’t know.
“You can use a bowl of water, or a crystal ball. My mom used to go to this palm reader on Venice Beach-“
“I have to look for James, and you need to stay awake in case anything happens.” She smirked. “I know Edward is… wildly overprotective, and trust me - he would never have let me come with you if he didn’t think I could keep us safe.”
Jabbing rapidly at the controls on the dashboard, Alice turned off every light in the interior of the car, until only the speedometer remained, then started to pull into the shoulder. When I got out to clear my head, pulling my shoes back on, my cell phone started to ring.
“What happened, Jacob?”
The silence on the end of the line was deafening, but when Jacob sighed my name in relief, I almost swayed on the spot.
“We don’t have much time, Bella-“
I cut Alice off with a look, holding up a single bandaged finger.
“The tracker you fought is on our trail, and Alice is taking me out of the city so the others have time to catch him. Victoria is dead,” I finished, voice flat.
“Fuck,” Jake said, and I could hear him thump his fist on something nearby. “We so nearly had her, and then she vanished. It was fucking spooky.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call you earlier, I just-“
“Don’t worry about it. A whole pack against one vamp? It should have been simple. Where are you? I’ll come, I can help.”
Alice shook her head furiously, but I was at a loss for words.
“I don’t even know where we’re going, Jake. It’s too dangerous.”
“Don’t give me that. Your big escape plan is Alice Cullen and a V12? I’m not going to let you die-“
“There’s no time. It has to stay secret, ok? I’ll call you when I get somewhere safe. Tell Charlie I’m… taking a mental health day.”
With that, I hung up the phone, biting the insides of my cheeks. Wrenching open the door, I threw my cell into the center console. Alice was, of course, already seated, staring at herself in the driver’s side window.
“Jacob’s going to be ok,” she reassured me. “So is Charlie.”
“How about Phoenix?” I asked, unable to mask the bitterness in my tone. I couldn’t get comfortable with my injured hand, but all the same I desperately wanted to give in to the exhaustion weighing me down.
She turned on the engine, building up speed on the shoulder before pulling onto the highway. Alice hadn’t even switched on the headlights, preferring to keep her eyes fixed on the blackness in front of us.
“Perfect,” she replied. “We’ll stop in Nevada so you can freshen up and change your bandages. Sleep, or something, Bella. If I need you to make a different call, I’ll tell you.”
I raised a brow.
“That’s it? We ask the Magic 8 ball if it’s safe?”
Alice dragged her eyes away from the darkness, putting the headlights back on. Within seconds, the other cars were honking their horns at us. It seemed as if the sleepy Sunday night crowd hadn’t noticed us, as shiny and silver as the car was.
“You’re human, Bella, and if his gift is remotely like mine, he’ll find it much harder to predict your moves than if I was making all the decisions. He’s talented, maybe, but not as talented as some. Hunting lone humans is too easy, and he’s bound to be complacent.”
“Edward said you’ve done this before,” I said, tentatively. As much as I knew Alice’s respect for boundaries was even worse than Edward’s, it didn’t feel right to pry into someone’s life I barely knew.
She sighed, the shoulder pads in her jacket making the movement almost comical. Vampires didn’t sleep, didn’t eat real food, and seemingly, were never uncomfortable. The fact Alice planned to drive for twelve hours in heeled boots and a brocade skirt suit was still completely baffling.
“The leader of the Volturi, Aro,” she began, glancing at me to check my familiarity with the name, “is roughly three thousand years old. Old enough to have been turned down by the Oracle at Delphi. He makes a habit of cultivating gifted humans, which makes me almost grateful I was turned when I was. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known any other life but the Volturi.”
Revving the engine well past double the speed limit, Alice blew past a group of trucks and smiled.
“Their tracker is called Demetri. I’ve never met him, thankfully. When I was turned, and I saw Carlisle, I knew it would be years before I could seek him out- Aro requested a visit during the Second World War, and if Demetri meets anyone you’ve ever met yourself, he can track you. It was lonely, dodging people who were on track to go to Volterra.”
“Almost everybody ends up there, at some point. So really, I’ve been dodging trackers all my life.”
I had no idea how to respond. Alice seemed gentle, if a little too mystical for me to comprehend. Hearing her speak so plainly was refreshing if nothing else.
“How many people have you killed?” I asked, changing the subject completely.
“More than Carlisle, Rose and Esme. Fewer than Edward, Emmett and Jasper. Means I get to be the deciding vote in arguments. If I had to give a number… maybe a hundred? When you’re newly made, it’s hard to keep track.”
Burying my head in my hands, I fought to even keep myself in my seat.
“And you’re supposed to be the good ones,” I spat out.
“Don’t think the irony misses any of us. And don’t think we don’t feel remorse, Bella. When the blood stops flowing, their faces come back to you.”
She screwed up her nose.
“Staying… clean, if that’s what you want to call it, is harder than just the thirst. It would be perfectly natural for me to kill you, and forget all of it. A lot easier, too.”
“It doesn’t make it right, though. If you were human, you’d-“
“No, it doesn’t. But I’m not human. You should sleep,” she reminded me, more forcefully this time, as we sped past the sign that read Oregon, 250 miles.
So I did.
When I woke, the climate control had warmed the inside of the car so thoroughly that I was sweating. Alice waved at me from her place beside the gas pump, hip cocked to one side as she filled up the tank. The moment the numbers on the screen stopped spinning, she replaced the cap and tapped twice on the hood of the car as she passed in place of saying hello. She returned with two of everything I could need: water bottle, bag of chips, and two pieces of fruit.
“I assume our plans changed,” I said, conscious of how unkempt I must look.
“We’ll be in Phoenix late afternoon,” she told me. “I had to slow down once we got into a better lit area in case someone called the police, so I thought we might as well plow on.”
Though Alice’s voice was as bright as the fluorescent lights above us, something rang false in her words.
“Do you have to use the bathroom? There’s a key.”
I ran out of the car, ignoring the strange look from the woman behind the counter when I asked for the key, and quickly ran through the motions of combing through my hair with my fingers, using the toilet, and rinsing my mouth out with water.
While I had a moment away from Alice, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and text Jake an update.
04:44 In Nevada, on my way to Phoenix. Alice is sure we’ll be safe there. Look after everybody and I’ll hopefully be home soon. Do not tell Charlie I’m gone, please.
I jumped at the soft knocking sound on the door, and opened it gingerly to see the worried face of the cashier.
“Are you alright, hon?” She eyed my bandages. “I can call somebody for you, or the cops, even…”
The woman fingered the cross around her neck, glancing nervously over her shoulder at the window, where I could see Alice was standing in front of the car, eyes aimed at the road.
“My friend is taking me home to my mom. We’re headed for Phoenix,” I replied, forcing a smile onto my face.
She crossed the small store, reaching behind the counter and surfacing with a bottle of pepper spray. I could have laughed, remembering my empty canister in the dorm room.
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Jessica Stanley,” I answered without missing a beat, gratefully accepting the spray when she pressed it into my hands.
“I’ll remember your face, Jessica. And that girl’s number plate.”
My heart sank. Though this woman’s heart was in the right place, and her instincts were sharper than my own, she was unknowingly putting her life at risk.
“Thank you. And be safe,” I finished, glancing at the security camera. As she waved me goodbye, the only comfort I could take was that if James tracked us to that little gas station, she probably had a panic button somewhere under that counter. Though I wanted nothing more than to fall back asleep, I watched the side mirror for hours, convinced I’d be able to see James coming up behind us. The pain in my arm didn’t help much.
“He can’t run as fast as we can drive, Bella,” Alice said, putting her foot down to emphasize her point. “We’re only thirty minutes out from the city, and I can get you a first aid kit.”
I tried to sniff at my clothes inconspicuously, desperate to get clean and brush my teeth.
“There’s a Target just off the I-10. Can we stop so I can buy a change of clothes?”
Alice furrowed her brow. She was already glistening in the weak light filtering through the tinted windows.
“There’s a Target everywhere. I can watch the entrance, but unless something goes really wrong I have to stay in the car. Are you ready for that?”
“I have this,” I offered, grinning despite myself. “The woman in the gas station-”
“-was afraid of me,” Alice said.
“I’m not. Not anymore. You can’t take a road trip with someone and not become friends, right?”
She opened her mouth as if to speak, looking lost.
“You have no idea how short your life seems to him. James could hunt you til you’re too frail to run, and never get tired of it. I’m not going to let you spend your life hiding. We’re going to end this.”
The car lurched to the right as Alice turned the wheel suddenly, and I slid against the side of the car, wincing. Before I could turn to ask her what had come over her, I spied the Target symbol in the distance.
“It’s lunchtime. Buy yourself whatever you need,” she said, reaching into an inner pocket of her jacket to hand me a matt black credit card bearing a name I didn’t recognize. “The signature is easy to fake. Just don’t look like you’re trying too hard.”
Within fifteen minutes, I had a cart filled with a few basic clothing items, including a change of outfit for Alice. I didn’t envision us leaving the hotel room until it was time to make our next move, so I grabbed what I could in the way of food best served cold, from a foil packet. My driver’s licence was in my pocket, and it wasn’t outwith the realm of possibility Alice would want to board a plane, so I doubled back to the clothing section to pick up a bag that could serve as hand luggage.
While I stood on tiptoe, hand cradled against my chest as I reached up to a high shelf for the most serviceable backpack in the aisle, my phone started to buzz. Assuming Alice wanted something specific, I shoved it between my shoulder and my cheek before I finally got ahold of my prize, triumphant.
“What do you need?”
“You’re pretty hard to keep up with, for a human.” My heart sank at the sound of a stranger’s voice on the other end of the line. I looked at my phone screen, and pressed a hand to my mouth, backing into the shelves in case anyone saw my horrified face.
“Werewolves are sort of conspicuous. And distracted. Especially since this one was busy tracking your scent.”
“Don’t touch him,” I said, dread twisting my mouth. “The pack, the Cullens, they’ll kill you.”
“Bella,” he admonished. “This is private. While your friend is still human-“
I heard a cracking sound, and Jacob’s scream of pain.
“-his pack have no idea where he is. And the Cullens won’t come until it’s time.”
“I’ll do whatever you want. But please, don’t kill him. You can have me, just tell me what to do.”
Again, Jacob yelled in the background, incoherent.
“I want you to come to me. Right now. Do not pass go.”
I stammered, trying to come up with a way I could avoid Alice seeing me, either in the literal or precognitive sense.
“The one protecting me- Alice. She can see my future as soon as I decide where to go. I can’t know where I’m going, or she’ll catch me.”
“I’m aware,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s why this is going to be so much fun. How much do you know about this great city’s public transport system?”
“Enough,” I said.
“Then come home, Bella. I trust you to figure out the details as you go.”
With that, he hung up. James knew I couldn’t run fast enough to evade Alice, and I couldn’t cover my tracks unless the trail was too complicated, my decisions too last minute, for her to follow. Public transport meant a lot of people, and Alice was trapped in her tinted car.
I shoved the cart away from me, abandoning it and walking towards the back of the store. More than once, when my mom moved us to a new city, she ended up working in a store like this one until a teaching job opened up. I had no idea how I would get out of the building from the warehouse, but that was the point of the exercise.
Nobody gave me a second glance as I pushed through the employee’s only door, quickly scanning for a fire exit. The first door I pushed through was caged off, a smoking area for the staff, and I swore. Every wrong move brought me closer to being caught, and to Jacob being murdered by a sadistic tracker.
I could see a group of employees at the other end of the warehouse, and I realized my only option was to cause a little chaos. Spying the emergency exit, I sprinted towards it, ignoring their cries, and pushed it open, immediately triggering the fire alarm.
The air was blessedly fresh, and though Arizona hadn’t been my home in a long time, I still felt strong here. Without even bothering to look for Alice’s car, I ran towards the main road, certain I would find a bus stop. The first one I came across had no arrivals for at least five minutes: that wasn’t an option.
I continued to run, all the way up the street until I could see a bus in the distance, blessedly headed in the right direction. The next thirty minutes were complete torture, but I resolutely kept my head down, reluctant to see any of the landmarks that might have told me where I was. Without checking the time, I pressed the bell to get off at a random stop, and quickly glanced at the map on the bus shelter wall.
A ten-minute walk would take me to the last leg of my journey, but I made it in seven, doing my best to keep to the busiest streets. It seemed like no time at all before I was in my old neighborhood, at a loss for where to go next. James didn’t disappoint.
“I can smell you from here,” he said when I picked up the phone. “I’m at Mimi’s ballet studio. Remember it? Your father still keeps that picture in his wallet-“
“I swear to god, if you’ve hurt my dad-“
“I’ve got no quarrel with the chief. Seems like he might have a problem with me after this, though.”
Then the line was dead.
I hated dance classes. My mother, unknowingly punishing me for my lack of rhythm and appreciation of tutus, had decided it was cute, before six months later deciding it was demeaning to women. Pausing at the door, I looked up at it, ornately decorated glass and all. I remembered the iron curlicues looking more like prison bars.
The door swung open easily under my hands, and the shaft of sunlight behind me illuminated the mirrored studio, and reflected every glint of light from James’ crystalline skin. He was blinding.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” he announced, appearing in front of me.
Being this close to him had every instinct screaming, but my eyes were trained on where Jacob lay, face bruised and slashed, propped crudely against the corner like a discarded doll. He was unconscious. Tugging at James’ grip, I all but spat in his face.
“Kill me if you want, but let him go.”
“This is entertainment for all the family. We’ll wait until the time is right. You’re so impatient, Bella. It’s a wonder all these people put up with you.”
Jacob started to groan, moving his arms gingerly. He seemed to have woken at the sound of my voice, but his eyes were still closed.
“You got me, you got what you wanted. We killed Victoria. You should want revenge. Please, just kill me.”
“That’s sort of transparent, don’t you think? You’re a terrible liar-”
“It’s true. Didn’t you think you would have heard from her by now?”
“Impossible,” he spat. “What I want is for the Cullens to come to your rescue. I want Alice.”
James stalked towards me, shaking his head.
“You have no vision.”
I held my hands up in front of me, as if to fend him off, but he brushed me aside with one hand, my body flying across the room and into the mirrors on the wall. Hissing, I held a hand to the back of my head, checking it for blood. James had dragged Jake up into a standing position, and was shaking him vigorously.
“Time to get up, Jacob. Come on, man. Show me what an alpha can do. You were no match for me last time. Let’s see if you can do a little better.”
“Bella,” he said, voice barely audible.
When James slapped him, Jacob swung out with a fist, which the vampire dodged easily. I could see that Jacob was trying to force a change, rolling his shoulders with his forehead creased in concentration.
“Some people find that channeling their anger helps them achieve their goals,” James told him, surveying Jacob’s swaying attempts to stand straight. In a breath, he had me by the throat, and had started to crush my windpipe.
“How about now?” James asked, sinking his teeth into my flailing arm.
I couldn’t scream. I could barely see, brain deprived of oxygen. There was a ripping sound: someone had torn the back door of its hinges, and Jacob, now in wolf form, lunged at James, who sprang up and landed effortlessly on the balcony. Slumping to the floor, I watched as Jacob tried to jump that distance, fruitlessly.
My entire body was aflame with sharp, insistent pain. Within seconds, I wished I was dead.
Nothing I was seeing made any sense. It was slow, light soft, like a dream. Like a distant siren, I could hear what I thought were screams, but all I could focus on was the searing pain. For all I could comprehend, it was a fire truck, come to douse the flames licking at my insides.
James’ laughter echoed throughout the studio.
“Edward,” he shouted, raising his arms in welcome. “I’ll admit I’m disappointed Alice didn’t find me first.”
I tried to call out Edward’s name, but my mouth refused to move in the way I wanted it. My jaw was locked open, and my wails started to echo in my ears. When I managed to move my head a fraction of an inch to face him, Edward looked unhinged. His eyes were cold and black, mouth set in a snarl. He took a step towards me, but my view was immediately blocked by the bulk of Jacob’s fur.
Jacob shifted just as Edward leapt after James, hand outstretched. I heard the thump as the building seemed to shake with the force of his impact, but when Jacob tried to scoop me up into his arms, headed for the front door, I screamed in pain again. My lungs were perforated, shards of pain like glass making my breath stutter and my head swim.
That thumping sound began again, a sledgehammer against concrete, against my eardrums, the sound of vampires colliding above my head. Jacob ran towards that sound, and I could see the glimmer of the setting sun through the glass on the door. The real world was inches away from us, where the vampire bite on my arm could not exist. In the real world, this could not kill me.
We were steps away from the door when the balcony gave way over our heads.
Jacob’s reflexes were fast: he threw me in the opposite direction, and was himself swallowed by the rubble in moments. I had thought the pain couldn’t get any worse, and I was right. I couldn’t feel the lower half of my body.
Alice’s voice brushed against the edges of my awareness, and fear gripped me. James was after her, she had to go. From where I lay, facing the pile of rocks, there was no movement for what seemed like an eternity, before they began to shudder, and a russet wolf emerged.
There were more voices, and a high pitched noise like scraping on glass. It reminded me of the sound Victoria’s body made as Edward and Alice pulled it apart. Faces appeared above me, swimming in and out of focus, but I focused on Carlisle just in time for him to reach out a hand, shaking his head at Jacob, whose bruised face was spattered with tears.
“The venom hasn’t spread very far. We can’t move her.”
“She could die under this fucking rock,” Jacob spat.
“She’s already dead,” I heard Edward say, and a sob shook its way out of me. I could feel his hands, so cold on my forehead, stroking my hair.
“We have to call an ambulance!”
“And have them do what,” Edward asked. “Bring a body bag?”
I started to cry in earnest, then, babbling Edward’s name, begging him not to let me die.
“I don’t want this,” I said in between heaving breaths. The pain, which had not subsided in the slightest, threatened to dip me into unconsciousness.
“Save her. You have to do something. Suck it out, like snake venom.”
There was a laugh from the other side of the room. Edward ignored him, continuing to make soothing noises, taking my hand.
“I’ll do it,” Alice said, her shadow blocking out the light as she brushed Carlisle aside and reached for my other hand.
“Don’t touch her,” Edward snarled, glaring at his sister. “You don’t get to win every time, Alice. You played the odds, but I’m saying no. I couldn’t care less that you saw her as one of us.”
“What does she want?” Rosalie called from the distance, snorting. “She’s dying, not deaf.”
I watched as Edward and Jacob locked eyes, then Edward bent to look at me directly.
“Bella, your injuries are significant. If I do nothing, there’s a chance the venom will have enough time to change you into one of us. If one of us… If I bite you, your chances of survival are greater. But-“
“Or I could put you out of your misery,” Rosalie offered, from where, I didn’t know.
“She has to live,” Jacob repeated. “She has to have a human life.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option, here,” Carlisle said.
I sucked in a breath, wincing and sobbing as I realized at least a few of my ribs were cracked. It was easy, in my stillness, to forget about mortal pains. The venom had already robbed me of almost every sensation but the fire.
“Don’t let me die,” I begged Edward, clutching at his hands. “Please. Please, I want the pain to stop.”
His voice was cracked.
“I can’t do both,” he told me, then looked up at Carlisle. “What would I do, if I was to change her?”
Carlisle ran a hand through his hair.
“Bite as many times as you can. As deeply as you can. That wound, there,” he said, pointing at a slice on my hip, just above the first of the rocks. “Anywhere you can find. You have to get more venom into her system.”
“What about the blood flow? Her legs-“
“Will be fine,” Carlisle finished. “The venom leaves no cell unchanged.”
Jacob grabbed my hand, squeezing it tight enough to ground me to him.
“You’re not going to die. You’re not going to fucking die.”
He looked up at Edward and nodded, just once.
“I love you, Bella,” Edward told me, pressing a frozen kiss to my lips, before he bit down on my bottom lip. Next I knew, his mouth was sealed over mine again. I wanted to scream, to writhe in pain, but Jacob and Alice held me fast. A bitter, foul taste flooded my tongue, as I realized what Edward was doing. The venom filled my mouth until I was choking on it.
Then, as I wrestled against my friends’ grips, Edward started to tear at my clothes, biting into my flesh wherever he could reach. Each one was like a drop of acid, burning down through each layer of my body. When Edward reached my neck, he paused for a moment, looking up at Carlisle as if for permission to stop.
He shook his head.
Edward hung his head, before moving to clamp his teeth on the arch of my neck, frigid tongue moving against my wound. I could feel Carlisle tugging at Edward’s shoulder as he rocked both of us, and Edward finally released me.
Turning into Carlisle’s embrace, Edward’s body shook with dry sobs, his face dripping with my blood.
Chapter 14: Renewal
this chapter includes some graphic descriptions of violence, death, and hunting of animals. please proceed carefully.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They left me under the rubble for two days.
My first night was the worst, as the rest of the Cullens filtered away, and even the sound of the sirens ebbed. The pain hadn’t yet reached its peak, and I was still able to make out the voices just feet away from me, on the other side of the concrete. I had no idea how they managed it, but nobody came prying after that.
Only Jacob and Edward stayed with me. As it got later, and the waxed wooden floor became drafty, making me shiver and spasm, Jacob shifted to try to keep me warm. My body wasn’t under any semblance of control, homeostasis broken down into something much more transient, more dangerous.
Edward barely spoke, preferring instead to look up at the high windows and watch the sky to give me some idea of the time. After a while, Jacob had stopped flinching away from my screams.
“It’s different for everyone,” he said. “You might be lucky, Bella. It could only take two days.”
His voice was haunted, and Jacob turned his furred head to stare at him, incredulous. When Edward did meet my eyes, his irises were somewhere between red and orange, sleeve smeared with my blood.
“I’m scared,” I whispered through cracked lips, wrapping my arms around myself and squeezing to distract from the sensation in my chest. “Thirsty.”
Jacob shifted back, and reached for his pants before Edward held out a hand.
“She doesn’t want water, Jacob. Bella doesn’t need it.”
“It’s only been a few hours,” I protested, before grimacing and letting out another scream.
I whimpered as an icy chill crept up the back of my neck to wrap around my scalp.
“I can’t do this,” I said, breath catching in my lungs. It felt like drowning.
Jacob grabbed for one of my hands as Edward took the other.
“We’re here, Bells.”
“You’re strong enough for this. I know it.”
I lay as flat as I could for the next few hours, willing myself not to think about my legs. The concrete dust on the floor was mixed with my blood, and I wondered how Edward could stand to be near me.
“What do I smell like,” I asked, biting down hard on my lip.
“Death,” Jacob said, and Edward growled at him.
“Am I dead? I don’t want to die, Edward.”
Tears ran down the sides of my face, burning my freezing skin as they went. His hands no longer felt cold on my cheeks, and he moved to press a kiss to my cheek but I writhed under his hands, screaming as another wave of pain threatened to pull me under.
“Your heart won’t stop until the change is complete.”
I was hyperventilating, sucking in gulps of air that felt like nothing, like breathing nitrogen. Jacob lay on top of me, weighing me down and crushing me further under his weight. How long, I wondered deliriously, until I could push him off with a careless hand.
There was nothing either of them could do for me but keep vigil as my body changed. When my broken legs repaired themselves on the second morning, the pain was so terrible that I blacked out, though not for long enough. Almost immediately I was awake again, watching the sun rise and cast diamond shards of light off Edward’s stricken face.
When I pleaded with them to make it stop, to kill me, Jacob started to cry, pacing the room.
“Stop it,” he repeated, again and again until he was screaming at me. Edward refused to let go of my hand.
“No, Jacob, you stop it. You have a responsibility to Bella. We both do.”
“You murdered her,” he said through his tears. “I fucking knew you’d kill her. What am I supposed to do, Cullen? I can’t uphold shit. The treaty-“
“Jacob,” I said, reaching a wavering hand in his direction, which he rushed to take between his own. He watched as I arranged my fingers, with deliberate effort, and flipped him off.
He laughed, tears coming faster down his blotchy face.
“I’m not going to die,” I told him, and took one last shuddering breath.
“Bella?” Edward’s face was all I could see as he crouched over me, blackness bleeding into my periphery. “It’s not time. Please, don’t go. Stay awake.”
His voice was filled with dread.
I wanted to cry out when he started to compress my chest, and I dimly realized my ribs had cracked. After the pain of my legs, I didn’t know if I could bear another round of that torture.
Sealing his mouth over mine, Edward forced air into my lungs. I looked up at the ornate painted ceiling as my heart stuttered and failed.
When I opened my eyes again, I heard Edward swear in relief.
He stood in front of Jacob, an arm outstretched towards me.
“Take it easy, Bella.”
I wriggled my foot at the ankle, glancing at the pile of bricks preventing me from standing. I expected to have to tug at my legs, to push the rubble away, but all I had to do was stand, and it tumbled to the floor, kicking up dust.
“Freaky,” said Jacob.
“How long was I out,” I asked, voice cracking from disuse.
Edward shrugged, mumbling that all in all, it had been four days.
Jacob’s heartbeat was thunderous in my ears, as were the various sounds outside of the ballet studio’s four walls. Edward stepped towards me as followed the sound of footsteps out on the sidewalk with my eyes. Though I knew, rationally, that what I was smelling was blood, it smelled nothing like the salty tang I remembered from my own cuts and scrapes.
My throat burned.
“We have to get you away from here safely,” Edward said. “There’s a car at the back-“
“We stole it,” Jacob interjected.
“-but there’s big game not too far from here. You just have to let me drive you, so we can hunt.”
I realized then that I hadn’t taken a breath since before I spoke, and chanced a gulp of air, heavily laden with the smell of prey.
“I can’t. I can’t go out there,” I said, pointing to where I knew two people, one with a faster heartbeat than the other, stood waiting at a crosswalk. “Alice told me what it’s like. She killed a hundred people, Edward.”
Jacob blanched, but walked towards me, head high, and slowly reached out to envelop me in a hug. I let him embrace me, clamping my mouth shut and refusing to look at him, or move my arms.
“What do I smell like to you,” he asked, and I let my head drop to rest on his shoulder.
It was entirely different. My instincts told me to throw him off, to run.
“A predator,” I whispered, looking up at Edward with wide eyes. Before now, I didn’t see any reason why the Cullens, in their armored house in the woods, would bother to obey any treaty with the pack. There wasn’t much love lost, though they had shown a sort of… collegiality.
They had every reason to be afraid.
Jacob raised his eyebrows at me, by way of explanation. Did I think he was going to let me hurt anyone? Of course not. Shifting my shoulder, I watched Jacob pull his arm back, skittish. The door handle was within my reach before I could even think of moving. It was effortless and terrifying. Though I knew my brain would work faster, it seemed my vampire’s body was faster still. It had demands my brain couldn’t fully comprehend.
Edward slammed the door back into its frame before I could open it more than an inch, his red-flecked eyes serious below a deep frown. He cupped my cheek, looking pained, and I laughed at how his skin felt on mine now. No longer cold, or rigid.
“You’re stronger than both of us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t trust you to control yourself. The feeling of being around humans… At first, the pain is worse than the change. You’ll do anything to sate yourself.” He grimaced as I tried to swallow, mouth dry. “But all we need from you is a handful of steps. Jacob will get the engine running first, and I’ll hold your hand. You have to remember, Bella, you’re stronger, but you’re not faster than me. I’ll catch you, if you go after a human. I won’t let you down.”
“I’m not going to hurt anyone,” I said to myself more than Edward.
Jacob dutifully started the car. Even over the rumble of the engine, I could hear every movement he was making: the brush of his clothes against the upholstery, the slap of the vanity mirror as he pushed it back up against the roof, and the metallic clack of his seatbelt.
I focused on Edward’s steady presence at my side. Something about the situation hadn’t truly settled in my mind: if I truly thought about it, this change seemed temporary. As soon as I could drink, could fill my stomach with blood, this feeling would stop. I could go home to Charlie. My eyes, when I looked in a mirror, would be unchanged.
Pressing my fingertips to my face, I whispered to Edward.
“Do I look different?”
My voice was small in my ears, but he shook his head, smiling.
“Still Bella,” he said. “Contacts will help.”
The air outside was mild and still, sky dark and spotted with stars unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I barely dared to take a breath, but the street was deserted for the moment.
“You’ll be able to see much further when we get out of the city,” Edward assured me. “Beauty is everywhere, when your eyes aren’t so clouded.”
He opened the back door for me, waiting until I had put on my seatbelt to close it behind me. Faster than I had ever seen him move, he was beside me, my hand clamped in his once more.
“You don’t really need that,” he said, glancing at the black band across my chest.
“Force of habit.”
Jacob peeled out of the parking lot, and soon we were en route to a hunting ground, where I could find something to eat. It took everything in my not to press my face against the glass of the car, incensed by the smell of the people in the cars around us. Closing my eyes, I imagined pulling my hand out of Edward’s grip, rolling out of the car and running behind the SUV that had just overtaken us.
I could jump onto the hood, easily. Power coursed through me, even as I sat perfectly still and quiet. It took concentration to achieve the statuesque quality that came so naturally to Edward and his family. There was a chance that came with time.
Once I was on the hood, I could scare the driver, the mother, into swerving off the road into the ditch. The parents might have the wherewithal to unclip themselves and crawl out of the flipped car, but the children in the back would be stuck, struggling against the restraints that prolonged their lives.
The mother would have to die first. I couldn’t risk her helping the children, or screaming, flagging down a police car for help. Then, the father and the children. I could smell a teenage boy, sweat stale on his clothes from hours of driving. A young girl, who I could drain easily. And in the booster seat, a toddler with a fluttering, fearful heart.
“Can you still not hear my thoughts?”
Edward shook his head.
“Maybe that’s your gift,” he said, and Jacob laughed.
“Be grateful, Bella. You’d never win an argument if your boyfriend could read your mind.”
Edward’s answering smile was kind.
“I don’t know about that.”
I made a sound of irritation, sliding down my seat. My eyes drifted back out of the window quickly, focusing on the clean fingerprints left in the grime of the cab door on the closest truck. It carried a man whose scent was off, somehow. I had never been much for drawing, but I could see the texture of his fingertips so clearly now, I was certain I would be able to reproduce them.
The flush of blood in the man’s cheeks from the heat of his truck was mouthwatering, but there was something wrong there.
“What is that?” I asked, nodding to its retreating lights.
Jacob met my eyes in the rearview mirror, and told me it was a truck, pulling a face.
“Cancer,” Edward said simply. “He doesn’t know.”Jacob’s scent was a distraction during my coaching session. Edward had him pull off the highway and within minutes, off the road entirely. If there was any way of repaying the car’s owner for the damage Jacob was inflicting on its suspension, I would find a way to make it up to them.
“The food chain will be obvious to you, when you catch the scent,” Edward said, gripping me loosely at the waist. We had come so far out of the populated area that I could breathe without much distress, though the wind carried something of the greasy city-smell. The darkness shifted the color palette of what I could see, surveying the dry scrub, but every inch of ground was still crystal clear.
“Elk are nocturnal,” I said, catching the barest whiff of a body, a heat source, and a slow pumping heart.
I pushed Edward’s hands off of me, sliding my hand down his forearm until I could tug on his hand, and I began to run, pulling him with me. In less than a minute, I was within range of a solitary animal. The wind was carrying its scent to me, not the other way around. In my perfect stillness, it didn’t seem alarmed.
The Bella that had come before me would have hesitated. If all those years of undergraduate study had taught me anything, if I had learned from the relentless multiplication, mutation and failure of viruses, the spread of bacteria, it was that to become a threat, you have to adapt. I couldn’t survive without blood, now. Charlie’s face flashed across my mind, grinning at me over the dinner table. He liked to fish. He owned a gun, liked to eat venison on the rare occasion he went to a fancy restaurant.
I had to kill this animal if I had any hope of returning to him.
My voice was so low, so tightly controlled, that the brush of my lips almost obscured the sound in my ears.
“Your instincts will serve you better than I could,” Edward said.
I could make the most of the animal’s obliviousness. It was big, that was true. It had antlers and huge hooves that would have made me wary, before my skin had turned into a crystalline armor. Rationally, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
I crept towards it, keeping my body low.
The distance between me and my prey was just a few yards, when Jacob’s scent flooded my nose, and the elk bolted. I swore, tearing after it, but it didn’t take long until I was launching myself into the air, hands outstretched to grip the elk’s antlers. Like being forced to race in gym class, I didn’t know I could push myself off the starting line until I began to move.
As soon as I landed, I heard a crack, my impact enough to break some of the animal’s bones. After that, I made quick work to put it out of its misery.
When it was dead on its side, I clawed at its fur, tearing into the thick skin and layer of fat underneath, until I saw the shine of blood. Lowering myself to the wound, I adjusted my angle a few times, before simply burying my face in the gore. My mind was blissfully blank as I took my fill.
Soon, the blood stopped flowing. I sat back on my haunches, staring into the deathly black of its eyes, and wiped at my face with my hand. I was covered in its blood, from the neck of my t-shirt to smears on my jeans.
A hand closed around my shoulder and I whipped around, ready to defend my carcass. I had a strange protective feeling over my kill, though it had nothing left to give me.
“How do you feel?”
Taking Edward’s hand to stand, I told him that I felt thirsty, while blood dripped in my hair. I cast my eyes up to the ridge where Jacob stood, fur moving in the wind. I had no idea how I looked to him.
“Will I make it home like this?” I couldn’t stomach the thought of a day in the car, daydreaming about ripping the door from its hinges to get to my kill. Edward frowned, shaking his head. Jacob appeared in front of us, and shifted back into human form, searching around for his pants.
“You can’t go home, Bella.”
Jacob’s jaw dropped.
“I’m not going to fucking kick her out, Cullen, if that’s what you think. She’s a victim-“
“That’s rich,” Edward said with a wry smirk. “I was under the impression that we’re automatically monsters.”
“I have to see Charlie. He has to know I’m not dead. I don’t have to show my face in town, but I can’t just stay holed up at school for the next two years.”
Edward reached to take my hands, trying to ground me.
“There are other schools.”
I shook my head violently.
“I’m going home. You can’t stop me. I can control myself-“
“We don’t want to take that risk,” Edward said.
“We don’t want anything, Edward. You want me to uproot my life, give up the people who can remind me what it's like to be human? It’s not happening. Not yet.”
“Bella, I love you. I’m not saying this to hurt you. But we risk exposure if you stay.”
“The University of Washington is a big place, man. Give her some contacts and like, movie effects acne, tone down the supernatural beauty thing, she’ll be fine,” Jacob said with a grin.
I laughed despite myself.
“Sure. The red eyes are shit scary, though.”
“You don’t trust us to live on the outskirts of the town, though we’ve proved again and again we’re not a threat. Why is this any different?”
“Nepotism,” he offered. “Bella is one-to-oh on the whole vegetarian thing. And I can take her, if I need to.”
His trust meant everything to me. I had Edward to mentor me, to lend me a hundred years of experience. I had Jacob to keep the town safe, and his pack.
“Edward’s right,” I admitted. “I’m not saying I have to disappear completely. But we can’t keep the house in Forks.”
Jacob glanced at me.
“I can’t go it alone, Jacob. Where Edward goes, I have to follow. What will the pack say about another vampire? Billy? There are nine of you, and now eight of us. You were meant to lead, Jacob, but that shouldn’t mean you have to live your life always ready for a fight.”
“He would rather you were close. If you have to drink, do it in the house, or a similar sentiment.”
Edward’s voice was light, but Jacob glared at him.
“Just because you can hear what I’m thinking doesn’t mean you have to broadcast it, Edward.”
“Bella deserves the truth, Jacob.”
“I want to stay in school,” I told them. “Two years in a big city is nothing. I’ll be anonymous. I can learn to deal with the… craving.”
Edward tensed a fraction of a second before I did, and then I heard the crash, a mile away on the road. We scented the blood simultaneously, and as clearly as if I was watching it unfold in front of my eyes, I knew the injured woman had limped out of her car, cradling her bleeding head.
“Bella, look at me.”
I glanced away from his face, his commanding words falling on deaf ears as Jacob shifted, and began to pace back and forth in front of me.
“You couldn’t drink more right now if you tried.”
I made a keening sound, teeth clamping down on my tongue as my mouth flooded with venom. She would think I was a good Samaritan, cell phone raised to call her an ambulance. I could lead her by the hand to the side of the road, sit her down gently and put pressure on her wound. When she was dead, I could carry her body for miles, that she might never be found.
I took off, sprinting towards the source of the intoxicating scent of blood, dripping down her face. The other driver seemed to be unhurt, but potentially not for long. He was a tall man, but there was no chance he would have been able to outrun me.
Edward kept pace with me, reaching out to slow me down.
“You don’t want this,” he said. The crash was in my sights, and just as I reached out to scrabble up the ditch, onto the road, I felt something strikes me from the side, sending me rolling back down into the dust. Jacob stood over me on four paws, panting and growling. Edward was behind him, palms raised.
A snarl ripped out of my mouth, teeth bared.
“Let’s go back to the car,” he said.
Jacob shifted, and reached a hand down to help me up. His grip was tight enough that it registered, not enough to be painful, but his message was clear.
I couldn’t meet their eyes, but I let Edward sling an arm around my shoulders, holding me close. It would be a long drive.
“I have to do this alone,” I insisted. “Charlie needs to hear this from me.”
Jacob and Edward exchanged a look, Jacob twisted around to face us from the driver’s seat. The car was littered with fast food packets, and the smell was so unappetizing, it would have turned my stomach, before.
“You can hear everything. You can be inside so fast-“
“Not as fast as you,” Jacob said.
I swung the door open and was at the foot of the steps before Jacob could take another breath, but Edward barred my way to the door.
“You’re not alone in this.”
“He’s my father. I’m not going to disappear without a real conversation.”
Pushing past him, I rapped on the door before pushing inside. I frowned at the sound of splintering wood, turning back to see that the door hadn’t been unlocked after all.
“I did that,” I whispered to Edward, who nodded gravely. Jacob wasn’t far behind, and suppressed a snigger at the damage.
The three of us sat in the living room, waiting for Charlie to come back in from the back yard. It was only a matter of time. His hands were getting cold. I could tell from the sound of his breath, forced out through hands cupped around his mouth.
Minutes passed in silence. Edward squeezed my hand intermittently, reminding me of the instructions I’d received in the car. My hands had been perfectly steady as I inserted the brown contact lenses. The most important thing to remember was that Charlie could not be given any reason to draw attention to himself, or my absence.
We spent hours on the drive back to Forks debating the particulars of what he could know, and the terms of my trial period back in Seattle. I was safe in the knowledge that if I slipped up, Edward would be there to pick up the pieces and help me try again. He knew I was strong enough to resist my new nature. Maybe even fail, and try again. Keep trying, every day of my long life. At the same time, Jacob held me to an almost impossible standard. He knew, or thought he knew, that I could still be the Bella he had known since he was born.
It was a difficult line to tread.
Charlie moved towards the back door, and Jacob nodded, moving to stand between us. Edward was at my side, my tether. I knew then that I needed both of them. My best friend, and the man I loved.
When my dad opened the door, the sensation in my throat was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. If I could have broken down into tears, I would have been sobbing, clawing at my hair, screaming for Edward to get me out of the house.
I was still.
He was startled for a moment by the three of us in the room. But then, almost like a reflex, my dad smiled at me, and I knew immediately that I had made the right decision.
“Hi, Dad. We have something we have to talk to you about.”
thank you to everyone who has read this story so far. this will be the final full chapter before the epilogue, which I intend to post on August 4, the release day of Midnight Sun. if you have enjoyed this fic, I hope that you will continue to enjoy it until you can "borrow" MS from your "local library," or in fact actually borrow it from your local library. the Quileute Tribe are currently raising money for the Move to Higher Ground Project. if you are interested, please read about their efforts and consider donating to the cause. I love twilight passionately. when I was 11 I designed and sewed a twilight pillow in home ec class, and I will not buy Midnight Sun.
Chapter 15: Epilogue
I felt very emotional writing this chapter, and not just because I was listening to Love Will Keep Us Alive on repeat. For all her flaws, Bella means so much to me. I hope you feel I've done her justice in this story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun shone on the day of Charlie Swan’s funeral. Jacob was already waiting in the car, tapping his hands on the steering wheel and periodically glancing in the rearview mirror which was angled towards the front door. Police cars lined the street outside Charlie’s house, but Jacob had insisted on driving the family personally. As he’d pointed out to Seth, he had the nicest car out of everybody they knew.
He let out a sigh of relief when Leah forced the door open, and Sam wheeled Sue down the ramp they’d installed five years earlier, when she could no longer manage the stairs. Her hair was pure white, kept long down her back, and she was clutching a tissue in curled fingers.
When they were all inside, Jacob turned the music on, and Sue grinned at him through tears.
“What are you doing to me, Jacob? The Eagles are off-limits.”
The drive didn’t take long, set against the sound of gentle guitars and a love song Charlie had the band play at their wedding. Leah reached forward from the back seat to give his shoulder a squeeze as they pulled into the parking lot.
“And the kids are-“
“Totally fine. They left the house before I did.”
At Charlie’s instruction, the local cops were allowed to follow the funeral car, but nothing more. They gathered in their uniforms, but when Sue and the family took their places, they mingled amongst the other guests, finding their families. Jacob searched the crowd, finding the seat his own family had saved for him in the second row.
“Those two are not going to last five minutes in their own place,” his husband whispered, slotting his fingers between Jacob’s and giving his hand a squeeze. “You should have seen them fighting over who got to drive.”
Jacob smiled, winking at his daughter who was tugging at her brother’s arm, presumably seeking reparations for whatever he had stolen from her.
He was sure the ceremony would be beautiful. Sue had requested a few of her own family traditions be woven into the service, and Leah was hosting the reception at her house back on the reservation. Paul’s crew had finished the construction the month before, and it was the best place they could think of to host a wake, since Sue was making it her new home.
The most conspicuous part about the whole affair was not the floral arrangements, though they looked a little too refined to be Charlie’s pick. It was the scent, close by, but not part of the crowd.
All in all, the service lasted no more than half an hour. Afterwards, Jacob did the rounds, kissing Sue on the cheek and whispering his suspicion in her ear. He headed for the closest patch of trees, hidden from the sun.
“I missed you, Bella.”
She dropped from a branch, brushing needles from her leather jacket and pushing her dark sunglasses to the top of her head. The purple-tinged skin around her amber eyes creased, as Bella gave him a sad smile and stepped forward to fold him into a hug. Jacob heard a thud as Edward landed behind her, dressed predictably in a dark suit.
“She’s good. Strong. Sam and Leah are taking good care of her.”
“Sure,” she said, sarcasm heavy on her tongue. Sue was still very much the head of that family.
“It’s good to see you, Jacob,” Edward said, wrapping an arm around Bella’s shoulders. “You have a beautiful family.”
Bella looked up at him, then pressed a kiss to his pale cheek.
“What he wants to say is you look old, man.”
Jacob’s dark hair was shot with grey strands, but he hadn’t yet adopted his father’s affinity for headwear. His face, lined from years of wide smiles, was much different from Bella’s flawless young skin. Every year that passed, every visit she made, Jacob found it harder to pretend he was unfazed by it all.
“Alice told us when Charlie was going to pass away. Bella was able to be with him for a few hours, before Sue woke up.”
“Sue was holding his hand when he went,” Jacob assured her.
“I know,” Bella said. “I was listening.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face.
“So where have you been? Still Inverness?”
“Travelling, actually. I’m writing this paper-“
“Bella,” Edward admonished. “Jacob is actually invited to the wake.”
She laughed, and Jacob was momentarily stunned by her uncanny beauty.
“Call me,” she said, pulling a card out of the pocket of her jacket. It was nondescript, aside from the numerous letters after Bella’s name.
She stepped forward for a final hug.
“You’ve got a good life, Jake. And don’t think I don’t. Tell your kids to be nicer to each other,” she said.
Bella smiled, and it seemed to Jacob that she was full of life in that moment before they disappeared into the shadows.
Please consider donating to the Quileute Tribe instead of buying Midnight Sun! If you would like to come and say hello to me on tumblr, I post (reblog) about twilight as witch-soup and I would love to hear from you! Thank you again for making it this far. To every person who reads, and especially those who leave comments, I am forever grateful.