THE SUN WAS SO DEEPLY BURIED BEHIND THE CLOUDS that there was no way to tell if it had set or not. After the long flight — chasing the sun westward so that it seemed unmoving in the sky — it was especially disorienting; time seemed oddly variable. It took me by surprise when the forest gave way to the first buildings, signaling that we were nearly home.
“You’ve been very quiet,” Edward observed. “Did the plane make you sick?”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Are you sad to leave?”
“More relieved than sad, I think.”
He raised one eyebrow at me. I knew it was useless and — much as I hated to admit it — unnecessary to ask him to keep his eyes on the road.
“Renée is so much more . . . perceptive than Charlie in some ways. It was making me jumpy.”
Edward laughed. “Your mother has a very interesting mind. Almost childlike, but very insightful. She sees things differently than other people.”
Insightful. It was a good description of my mother — when she was paying attention. Most of the time Renée was so bewildered by her own life that she didn’t notice much else. But this weekend she’d been paying plenty of attention to me.
Phil was busy — the high school baseball team he coached was in the playoffs — and being alone with Edward and me had only sharpened Renée’s focus. As soon as the hugs and squeals of delight were out of the way, Renée began to watch. And as she’d watched, her wide blue eyes had become first confused and then concerned.
This morning we’d gone for a walk along the beach. She wanted to show off all the beauties of her new home, still hoping, I think, that the sun might lure me away from Forks. She’d also wanted to talk with me alone, and that was easily arranged. Edward had fabricated a term paper to give himself an excuse to stay indoors during the day.
In my head, I went through the conversation again. . . .
Renée and I ambled along the sidewalk, trying to stay in the range of the infrequent palm tree shadows. Though it was early, the heat was smothering. The air was so heavy with moisture that just breathing in and out was giving my lungs a workout.
“Bella?” my mother asked, looking out past the sand to the lightly crashing waves as she spoke.
“What is it, Mom?”
She sighed, not meeting my gaze. “I’m worried. . . .”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, anxious at once. “What can I do?”
“It’s not me.” She shook her head. “I’m worried about you . . . and Edward.”
Renée finally looked at me when she said his name, her face apologetic.
“Oh,” I mumbled, fixing my eyes on a pair of joggers as they passed us, drenched with sweat.
“You two are more serious than I’d been thinking,” she went on.
I frowned, quickly reviewing the last two days in my head. Edward and I had barely touched — in front of her, at least. I wondered if Renée was about to give me a lecture on responsibility, too. I didn’t mind that the way I had with Charlie. It wasn’t embarrassing with my mom. After all, I’d been the one giving her that lecture time and time again in the last ten years.
“There’s something . . . strange about the way you two are together,” she murmured, her forehead creasing over her troubled eyes. “The way he watches you — it’s so . . . protective. Like he’s about to throw himself in front of a bullet to save you or something.”
I laughed, though I was still not able to meet her gaze. “That’s a bad thing?”
“No.” She frowned as she struggled for the words. “It’s just different. He’s very intense about you . . . and very careful. I feel like I don’t really understand your relationship. Like there’s some secret I’m missing. . . .”
“I think you’re imagining things, Mom,” I said quickly, struggling to keep my voice light. There was a flutter in my stomach. I’d forgotten how much my mother saw. Something about her simple view of the world cut through all the distractions and pierced right to the truth of things. This had never been a problem before. Until now, there had never been a secret I couldn’t tell her.
“It’s not just him.” She set her lips defensively. “I wish you could see how you move around him.”
“What do you mean?”
“The way you move — you orient yourself around him without even thinking about it. When he moves, even a little bit, you adjust your position at the same time. Like magnets . . . or gravity. You’re like a . . . satellite, or something. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
She pursed her lips and stared down.
“Don’t tell me,” I teased, forcing a smile. “You’re reading mysteries again, aren’t you? Or is it sci-fi this time?”
Renée flushed a delicate pink. “That’s beside the point.”
“Found anything good?”
“Well, there was one — but that doesn’t matter. We’re talking about you right now.”
“You should stick to romance, Mom. You know how you freak yourself out.”
Her lips turned up at the corners. “I’m being silly, aren’t I?”
For half a second I couldn’t answer. Renée was so easily swayed. Sometimes it was a good thing, because not all of her ideas were practical. But it pained me to see how quickly she caved in to my trivializing, especially since she was dead right this time.
She looked up, and I controlled my expression.
“Not silly — just being a mom.”
She laughed and then gestured grandly toward the white sands stretching to the blue water.
“And all this isn’t enough to get you to move back in with your silly mom?”
I wiped my hand dramatically across my forehead, and then pretended to wring my hair out.
“You get used to the humidity,” she promised.
“You can get used to rain, too,” I countered.
She elbowed me playfully and then took my hand as we walked back to her car.
Other than her worries about me, she seemed happy enough. Content. She still looked at Phil with goo-goo eyes, and that was comforting. Surely her life was full and satisfying. Surely she didn’t miss me that much, even now. . . .
Edward’s icy fingers brushed my cheek. I looked up, blinking, coming back to the present. He leaned down and kissed my forehead.
“We’re home, Sleeping Beauty. Time to awake.”
We were stopped in front of Charlie’s house. The porch light was on and the cruiser was parked in the driveway. As I examined the house, I saw the curtain twitch in the living room window, flashing a line of yellow light across the dark lawn.
I sighed. Of course Charlie was waiting to pounce.
Edward must have been thinking the same thing, because his expression was stiff and his eyes remote as he came to get my door for me.
“How bad?” I asked.
“Charlie’s not going to be difficult,” Edward promised, his voice level with no hint of humor. “He missed you.”
My eyes narrowed in doubt. If that was the case, then why was Edward tensed as if for a battle?
My bag was small, but he insisted on carrying it into the house. Charlie held the door open for us.
“Welcome home, kid!” Charlie shouted like he really meant it. “How was Jacksonville?”
“Moist. And buggy.”
“So Renée didn’t sell you on the University of Florida?”
“She tried. But I’d rather drink water than inhale it.”
Charlie’s eyes flickered unwillingly to Edward. “Did you have a nice time?”
“Yes,” Edward answered in a serene voice. “Renée was very hospitable.”
“That’s . . . um, good. Glad you had fun.” Charlie turned away from Edward and pulled me in for an unexpected hug.
“Impressive,” I whispered in his ear.
He rumbled a laugh. “I really missed you, Bells. The food around here sucks when you’re gone.”
“I’ll get on it,” I said as he let me go.
“Would you call Jacob first? He’s been bugging me every five minutes since six o’clock this morning. I promised I’d have you call him before you even unpacked.”
I didn’t have to look at Edward to feel that he was too still, too cold beside me. So this was the cause of his tension.
“Jacob wants to talk to me?”
“Pretty bad, I’d say. He wouldn’t tell me what it was about — just said it was important.”
The phone rang then, shrill and demanding.
“That’s him again, I’d bet my next paycheck,” Charlie muttered.
“I got it.” I hurried to the kitchen.
Edward followed after me while Charlie disappeared into the living room.
I grabbed the phone mid-ring, and twisted around so that I was facing the wall. “Hello?”
“You’re back,” Jacob said.
His familiar husky voice sent a wave of wistfulness through me. A thousand memories spun in my head, tangling together — a rocky beach strewn with driftwood trees, a garage made of plastic sheds, warm sodas in a paper bag, a tiny room with one too-small shabby loveseat. The laughter in his deep-set black eyes, the feverish heat of his big hand around mine, the flash of his white teeth against his dark skin, his face stretching into the wide smile that had always been like a key to a secret door where only kindred spirits could enter.
It felt sort of like homesickness, this longing for the place and person who had sheltered me through my darkest night.
I cleared the lump from my throat. “Yes,” I answered.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Jacob demanded.
His angry tone instantly got my back up. “Because I’ve been in the house for exactly four seconds and your call interrupted Charlie telling me that you’d called.”
“Sure. Now, why are you harassing Charlie?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I figured out that part all by myself. Go ahead.”
There was a short pause.
“You going to school tomorrow?”
I frowned to myself, unable to make sense of this question. “Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I?”
“I dunno. Just curious.”
“So what did you want to talk about, Jake?”
He hesitated. “Nothing really, I guess. I . . . wanted to hear your voice.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m so glad you called me, Jake. I . . .” But I didn’t know what more to say. I wanted to tell him I was on my way to La Push right now. And I couldn’t tell him that.
“I have to go,” he said abruptly.
“I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“But Jake —”
He was already gone. I listened to the dial tone with disbelief.
“That was short,” I muttered.
“Is everything all right?” Edward asked. His voice was low and careful.
I turned slowly to face him. His expression was perfectly smooth — impossible to read.
“I don’t know. I wonder what that was about.” It didn’t make sense that Jacob had been hounding Charlie all day just to ask me if I was going to school. And if he’d wanted to hear my voice, then why did he hang up so quickly?
“Your guess is probably better than mine,” Edward said, the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Mmm,” I murmured. That was true. I knew Jake inside and out. It shouldn’t be that complicated to figure out his motivations.
With my thoughts miles away — about fifteen miles away, up the road to La Push — I started combing through the fridge, assembling ingredients for Charlie’s dinner. Edward leaned against the counter, and I was distantly aware that his eyes were on my face, but too preoccupied to worry about what he saw there.
The school thing seemed like the key to me. That was the only real question Jake had asked. And he had to be after an answer to something, or he wouldn’t have been bugging Charlie so persistently.
Why would my attendance record matter to him, though?
I tried to think about it in a logical way. So, if I hadn’t been going to school tomorrow, what would be the problem with that, from Jacob’s perspective? Charlie had given me a little grief about missing a day of school so close to finals, but I’d convinced him that one Friday wasn’t going to derail my studies. Jake would hardly care about that.
My brain refused to come up with any brilliant insights. Maybe I was missing some vital piece of information.
What could have changed in the past three days that was so important that Jacob would break his long streak of refusing to answer my phone calls and contact me? What difference could three days make?
I froze in the middle of the kitchen. The package of icy hamburger in my hands slipped through my numb fingers. It took me a slow second to miss the thud it should have made against the floor.
Edward had caught it and thrown it onto the counter. His arms were already around me, his lips at my ear.
I shook my head, dazed.
Three days could change everything.
Hadn’t I just been thinking about how impossible college was? How I couldn’t be anywhere near people after I’d gone through the painful three-day conversion that would set me free from mortality, so that I could spend eternity with Edward? The conversion that would make me forever a prisoner to my own thirst. . . .
Had Charlie told Billy that I’d vanished for three days? Had Billy jumped to conclusions? Had Jacob really been asking me if I was still human? Making sure that the werewolves’ treaty was unbroken — that none of the Cullens had dared to bite a human . . . bite, not kill . . . ?
But did he honestly think I would come home to Charlie if that was the case?
Edward shook me. “Bella?” he asked, truly anxious now.
“I think . . . I think he was checking,” I mumbled. “Checking to make sure. That I’m human, I mean.”
Edward stiffened, and a low hiss sounded in my ear.
“We’ll have to leave,” I whispered. “Before. So that it doesn’t break the treaty. We won’t ever be able to come back.”
His arms tightened around me. “I know.”
“Ahem.” Charlie cleared his voice loudly behind us.
I jumped, and then pulled free of Edward’s arms, my face getting hot. Edward leaned back against the counter. His eyes were tight. I could see worry in them, and anger.
“If you don’t want to make dinner, I can call for a pizza,” Charlie hinted.
“No, that’s okay, I’m already started.”
“Okay,” Charlie said. He propped himself against the doorframe, folding his arms.
I sighed and got to work, trying to ignore my audience.
“If I asked you to do something, would you trust me?” Edward asked, an edge to his soft voice.
We were almost to school. Edward had been relaxed and joking just a moment ago, and now suddenly his hands were clenched tight on the steering wheel, his knuckles straining in an effort not to snap it into pieces.
I stared at his anxious expression — his eyes were far away, like he was listening to distant voices.
My pulse sped in response to his stress, but I answered carefully. “That depends.”
We pulled into the school lot.
“I was afraid you would say that.”
“What do you want me to do, Edward?”
“I want you to stay in the car.” He pulled into his usual spot and turned the engine off as he spoke. “I want you to wait here until I come back for you.”
“But . . . why?”
That was when I saw him. He would have been hard to miss, towering over the students the way he did, even if he hadn’t been leaning against his black motorcycle, parked illegally on the sidewalk.
Jacob’s face was a calm mask that I recognized well. It was the face he used when he was determined to keep his emotions in check, to keep himself under control. It made him look like Sam, the oldest of the wolves, the leader of the Quileute pack. But Jacob could never quite manage the perfect serenity Sam always exuded.
I’d forgotten how much this face bothered me. Though I’d gotten to know Sam pretty well before the Cullens had come back — to like him, even — I’d never been able to completely shake the resentment I felt when Jacob mimicked Sam’s expression. It was a stranger’s face. He wasn’t my Jacob when he wore it.
“You jumped to the wrong conclusion last night,” Edward murmured. “He asked about school because he knew that I would be where you were. He was looking for a safe place to talk to me. A place with witnesses.”
So I’d misinterpreted Jacob’s motives last night. Missing information, that was the problem. Information like why in the world Jacob would want to talk to Edward.
“I’m not staying in the car,” I said.
Edward groaned quietly. “Of course not. Well, let’s get this over with.”
Jacob’s face hardened as we walked toward him, hand in hand.
I noticed other faces, too — the faces of my classmates. I noticed how their eyes widened as they took in all six foot seven inches of Jacob’s long body, muscled up the way no normal sixteen-and-a-half-year-old ever had been. I saw those eyes rake over his tight black t-shirt — short-sleeved, though the day was unseasonably cool — his ragged, grease-smeared jeans, and the glossy black bike he leaned against. Their eyes didn’t linger on his face — something about his expression had them glancing quickly away. And I noticed the wide berth everyone gave him, the bubble of space that no one dared to encroach on.
With a sense of astonishment, I realized that Jacob looked dangerous to them. How odd.
Edward stopped a few yards away from Jacob, and I could tell that he was uncomfortable having me so close to a werewolf. He drew his hand back slightly, pulling me halfway behind his body.
“You could have called us,” Edward said in a steel-hard voice.
“Sorry,” Jacob answered, his face twisting into a sneer. “I don’t have any leeches on my speed dial.”
“You could have reached me at Bella’s house, of course.”
Jacob’s jaw flexed, and his brows pulled together. He didn’t answer.
“This is hardly the place, Jacob. Could we discuss this later?”
“Sure, sure. I’ll stop by your crypt after school.” Jacob snorted. “What’s wrong with now?”
Edward looked around pointedly, his eyes resting on the witnesses who were just barely out of hearing range. A few people were hesitating on the sidewalk, their eyes bright with expectation. Like they were hoping a fight might break out to alleviate the tedium of another Monday morning. I saw Tyler Crowley nudge Austin Marks, and they both paused on their way to class.
“I already know what you came to say,” Edward reminded Jacob in voice so low that I could barely make it out. “Message delivered. Consider us warned.”
Edward glanced down at me for a fleeting second with worried eyes.
“Warned?” I asked blankly. “What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t tell her?” Jacob asked, his eyes widening with disbelief. “What, were you afraid she’d take our side?”
“Please drop it, Jacob,” Edward said in an even voice.
“Why?” Jacob challenged.
I frowned in confusion. “What don’t I know? Edward?”
Edward just glared at Jacob as if he hadn’t heard me.
Jacob raised his eyebrow at me. “He didn’t tell you that his big . . . brother crossed the line Saturday night?” he asked, his tone thickly layered with sarcasm. Then his eyes flickered back to Edward. “Paul was totally justified in —”
“It was no-man’s land!” Edward hissed.
Jacob was fuming visibly. His hands trembled. He shook his head and sucked in two deep lungfuls of air.
“Emmett and Paul?” I whispered. Paul was Jacob’s most volatile pack brother. He was the one who’d lost control that day in the woods — the memory of the snarling gray wolf was suddenly vivid in my head. “What happened? Were they fighting?” My voice strained higher in panic. “Why? Did Paul get hurt?”
“No one fought,” Edward said quietly, only to me. “No one got hurt. Don’t be anxious.”
Jacob was staring at us with incredulous eyes. “You didn’t tell her anything at all, did you? Is that why you took her away? So she wouldn’t know that —?”
“Leave now.” Edward cut him off mid-sentence, and his face was abruptly frightening — truly frightening. For a second, he looked like . . . like a vampire. He glared at Jacob with vicious, unveiled loathing.
Jacob raised his eyebrows, but made no other move. “Why haven’t you told her?”
They faced each other in silence for a long moment. More students gathered behind Tyler and Austin. I saw Mike next to Ben — Mike had one hand on Ben’s shoulder, like he was holding him in place.
In the dead silence, all the details suddenly fell into place for me with a burst of intuition.
Something Edward didn’t want me to know.
Something that Jacob wouldn’t have kept from me.
Something that had the Cullens and the wolves both in the woods, moving in hazardous proximity to each other.
Something that would cause Edward to insist that I fly across the country.
Something that Alice had seen in a vision last week — a vision Edward had lied to me about.
Something I’d been waiting for anyway. Something I knew would happen again, as much as I might wish it never would. It was never going to end, was it?
I heard the quick gasp, gasp, gasp, gasp of the air dragging through my lips, but I couldn’t stop it. It looked like the school was shaking, like there was an earthquake, but I knew it was my own trembling that caused the illusion.
“She came back for me,” I choked out.
Victoria was never going to give up till I was dead. She would keep repeating the same pattern — feint and run, feint and run — until she found a hole through my defenders.
Maybe I’d get lucky. Maybe the Volturi would come for me first — they’d kill me quicker, at least.
Edward held me tight to his side, angling his body so that he was still between me and Jacob, and stroked my face with anxious hands. “It’s fine,” he whispered to me. “It’s fine. I’ll never let her get close to you, it’s fine.”
Then he glared at Jacob. “Does that answer your question, mongrel?”
“You don’t think Bella has a right to know?” Jacob challenged. “It’s her life.”
Edward kept his voice muted; even Tyler, edging forward by inches, would be unable to hear. “Why should she be frightened when she was never in danger?”
“Better frightened than lied to.”
I tried to pull myself together, but my eyes were swimming in moisture. I could see it behind my lids — I could see Victoria’s face, her lips pulled back over her teeth, her crimson eyes glowing with the obsession of her vendetta; she held Edward responsible for the demise of her love, James. She wouldn’t stop until his love was taken from him, too.
Edward wiped the tears from my cheek with his fingertips.
“Do you really think hurting her is better than protecting her?” he murmured.
“She’s tougher than you think,” Jacob said. “And she’s been through worse.”
Abruptly, Jacob’s expression shifted, and he was staring at Edward with an odd, speculative expression. His eyes narrowed like he was trying to do a difficult math problem in his head.
I felt Edward cringe. I glanced up at him, and his face was contorted in what could only be pain. For one ghastly moment, I was reminded of our afternoon in Italy, in the macabre tower room of the Volturi, where Jane had tortured Edward with her malignant gift, burning him with her thoughts alone. . . .
The memory snapped me out of my near hysteria and put everything in perspective. Because I’d rather Victoria killed me a hundred times over than watch Edward suffer that way again.
“That’s funny,” Jacob said, laughing as he watched Edward’s face.
Edward winced, but smoothed his expression with a little effort. He couldn’t quite hide the agony in his eyes.
I glanced, wide-eyed, from Edward’s grimace to Jacob’s sneer.
“What are you doing to him?” I demanded.
“It’s nothing, Bella,” Edward told me quietly. “Jacob just has a good memory, that’s all.”
Jacob grinned, and Edward winced again.
“Stop it! Whatever you’re doing.”
“Sure, if you want.” Jacob shrugged. “It’s his own fault if he doesn’t like the things I remember, though.”
I glared at him, and he smiled back impishly — like a kid caught doing something he knows he shouldn’t by someone who he knows won’t punish him.
“The principal’s on his way to discourage loitering on school property,” Edward murmured to me. “Let’s get to English, Bella, so you’re not involved.”
“Overprotective, isn’t he?” Jacob said, talking just to me. “A little trouble makes life fun. Let me guess, you’re not allowed to have fun, are you?”
Edward glowered, and his lips pulled back from his teeth ever so slightly.
“Shut up, Jake,” I said.
Jacob laughed. “That sounds like a no. Hey, if you ever feel like having a life again, you could come see me. I’ve still got your motorcycle in my garage.”
This news distracted me. “You were supposed to sell that. You promised Charlie you would.” If I hadn’t begged on Jake’s behalf — after all, he’d put weeks of labor into both motorcycles, and he deserved some kind of payback — Charlie would have thrown my bike in a Dumpster. And possibly set that Dumpster on fire.
“Yeah, right. Like I would do that. It belongs to you, not me. Anyway, I’ll hold on to it until you want it back.”
A tiny hint of the smile I remembered was suddenly playing around the edges of his lips.
“Jake . . .”
He leaned forward, his face earnest now, the bitter sarcasm fading. “I think I might have been wrong before, you know, about not being able to be friends. Maybe we could manage it, on my side of the line. Come see me.”
I was vividly conscious of Edward, his arms still wrapped protectively around me, motionless as a stone. I shot a look at his face — it was calm, patient.
“I, er, don’t know about that, Jake.”
Jacob dropped the antagonistic façade completely. It was like he’d forgotten Edward was there, or at least he was determined to act that way. “I miss you every day, Bella. It’s not the same without you.”
“I know and I’m sorry, Jake, I just . . .”
He shook his head, and sighed. “I know. Doesn’t matter, right? I guess I’ll survive or something. Who needs friends?” He grimaced, trying to cover the pain with a thin attempt at bravado.
Jacob’s suffering had always triggered my protective side. It was not entirely rational — Jacob was hardly in need of any physical protection I could offer. But my arms, pinned beneath Edward’s, yearned to reach out to him. To wrap around his big, warm waist in a silent promise of acceptance and comfort.
Edward’s shielding arms had become restraints.
“Okay, get to class,” a stern voice sounded behind us. “Move along, Mr. Crowley.”
“Get to school, Jake,” I whispered, anxious as soon as I recognized the principal’s voice. Jacob went to the Quileute school, but he might still get in trouble for trespassing or the equivalent.
Edward released me, taking just my hand and pulling me behind his body again.
Mr. Greene pushed through the circle of spectators, his brows pressing down like ominous storm clouds over his small eyes.
“I mean it,” he was threatening. “Detention for anyone who’s still standing here when I turn around again.”
The audience melted away before he was finished with his sentence.
“Ah, Mr. Cullen. Do we have a problem here?”
“Not at all, Mr. Greene. We were just on our way to class.”
“Excellent. I don’t seem to recognize your friend.” Mr. Greene turned his glower on Jacob. “Are you a new student here?”
Mr. Greene’s eyes scrutinized Jacob, and I could see that he’d come to the same conclusion everyone else had: dangerous. A troublemaker.
“Nope,” Jacob answered, half a smirk on his broad lips.
“Then I suggest you remove yourself from school property at once, young man, before I call the police.”
Jacob’s little smirk became a full-blown grin, and I knew he was picturing Charlie showing up to arrest him. This grin was too bitter, too full of mocking to satisfy me. This wasn’t the smile I’d been waiting to see.
Jacob said, “Yes, sir,” and snapped a military salute before he climbed on his bike and kicked it to a start right there on the sidewalk. The engine snarled and then the tires squealed as he spun it sharply around. In a matter of seconds, Jacob raced out of sight.
Mr. Greene gnashed his teeth together while he watched the performance.
“Mr. Cullen, I expect you to ask your friend to refrain from trespassing again.”
“He’s no friend of mine, Mr. Greene, but I’ll pass along the warning.”
Mr. Greene pursed his lips. Edward’s perfect grades and spotless record were clearly a factor in Mr. Greene’s assessment of the incident. “I see. If you’re worried about any trouble, I’d be happy to —”
“There’s nothing to worry about, Mr. Greene. There won’t be any trouble.”
“I hope that’s correct. Well, then. On to class. You, too, Miss Swan.”
Edward nodded, and pulled me quickly along toward the English building.
“Do you feel well enough to go to class?” he whispered when we were past the principal.
“Yes,” I whispered back, not quite sure if this was a lie.
Whether I felt well or not was hardly the most important consideration. I needed to talk to Edward right away, and English class wasn’t the ideal place for the conversation I had in mind.
But with Mr. Greene right behind us, there weren’t a lot of other options.
We got to class a little late and took our seats quickly. Mr. Berty was reciting a Frost poem. He ignored our entrance, refusing to let us break his rhythm.
I yanked a blank page out of my notebook and started writing, my handwriting more illegible than normal thanks to my agitation.
What happened? Tell me everything. And screw the protecting me crap, please.
I shoved the note at Edward. He sighed, and then began writing. It took him less time than me, though he wrote an entire paragraph in his own personal calligraphy before he slipped the paper back.
Alice saw that Victoria was coming back. I took you out of town merely as a precaution — there was never a chance that she would have gotten anywhere close to you. Emmett and Jasper very nearly had her, but Victoria seems to have some instinct for evasion. She escaped right down the Quileute boundary line as if she were reading it from a map. It didn’t help that Alice’s abilities were nullified by the Quileutes’ involvement. To be fair, the Quileutes might have had her, too, if we hadn’t gotten in the way. The big gray one thought Emmett was over the line, and he got defensive. Of course Rosalie reacted to that, and everyone left the chase to protect their companions. Carlisle and Jasper got things calmed down before it got out of hand. But by then, Victoria had slipped away. That’s everything.
I frowned at the letters on the page. All of them had been in on it — Emmett, Jasper, Alice, Rosalie, and Carlisle. Maybe even Esme, though he hadn’t mentioned her. And then Paul and the rest of the Quileute pack. It might so easily have turned into a fight, pitting my future family and my old friends against each other. Any one of them could have been hurt. I imagined the wolves would be in the most danger, but picturing tiny Alice next to one of the huge werewolves, fighting . . .
Carefully, I scrubbed out the entire paragraph with my eraser and then I wrote over the top:
What about Charlie? She could have been after him.
Edward was shaking his head before I finished, obviously going to downplay any danger on Charlie’s behalf. He held a hand out, but I ignored that and started again.
You can’t know that she wasn’t thinking that, because you weren’t here. Florida was a bad idea.
He took the paper from underneath my hand.
I wasn’t about to send you off alone. With your luck, not even the black box would survive.
That wasn’t what I’d meant at all; I hadn’t thought of going without him. I’d meant that we should have stayed here together. But I was sidetracked by his response, and a little miffed. Like I couldn’t fly cross country without bringing the plane down. Very funny.
So let’s say my bad luck did crash the plane. What exactly were you going to do about it?
Why is the plane crashing?
He was trying to hide a smile now.
The pilots are passed out drunk.
Easy. I’d fly the plane.
Of course. I pursed my lips and tried again.
Both engines have exploded and we’re falling in a death spiral toward the earth.
I’d wait till we were close enough to the ground, get a good grip on you, kick out the wall, and jump. Then I’d run you back to the scene of the accident, and we’d stumble around like the two luckiest survivors in history.
I stared at him wordlessly.
“What?” he whispered.
I shook my head in awe. “Nothing,” I mouthed.
I scrubbed out the disconcerting conversation and wrote one more line.
You will tell me next time.
I knew there would be a next time. The pattern would continue until someone lost.
Edward stared into my eyes for a long moment. I wondered what my face looked like — it felt cold, so the blood hadn’t returned to my cheeks. My eyelashes were still wet.
He sighed and then nodded once.
The paper disappeared from under my hand. I looked up, blinking in surprise, just as Mr. Berty came down the aisle.
“Is that something you’d like to share there, Mr. Cullen?”
Edward looked up innocently and held out the sheet of paper on top of his folder. “My notes?” he asked, sounding confused.
Mr. Berty scanned the notes — no doubt a perfect transcription of his lecture — and then walked away frowning.
It was later, in Calculus — my one class without Edward — that I heard the gossip.
“My money’s on the big Indian,” someone was saying.
I peeked up to see that Tyler, Mike, Austin, and Ben had their heads bent together, deep in conversation.
“Yeah,” Mike whispered. “Did you see the size of that Jacob kid? I think he could take Cullen down.” Mike sounded pleased by the idea.
“I don’t think so,” Ben disagreed. “There’s something about Edward. He’s always so . . . confident. I have a feeling he can take care of himself.”
“I’m with Ben,” Tyler agreed. “Besides, if that other kid messed Edward up, you know those big brothers of his would get involved.”
“Have you been down to La Push lately?” Mike asked. “Lauren and I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago, and believe me, Jacob’s friends are all just as big as he is.”
“Huh,” Tyler said. “Too bad it didn’t turn into anything. Guess we’ll never know how it would have turned out.”
“It didn’t look over to me,” Austin said. “Maybe we’ll get to see.”
Mike grinned. “Anyone in the mood for a bet?”
“Ten on Jacob,” Austin said at once.
“Ten on Cullen,” Tyler chimed in.
“Ten on Edward,” Ben agreed.
“Jacob,” Mike said.
“Hey, do you guys know what it was about?” Austin wondered. “That might affect the odds.”
“I can guess,” Mike said, and then he shot a glance at me at the same time that Ben and Tyler did.
From their expressions, none of them had realized I was in easy hearing distance. They all looked away quickly, shuffling the papers on their desks.
“I still say Jacob,” Mike muttered under his breath.