I SPRINTED DOWN THE STAIRS AND THREW THE DOOR open.
It was Jacob, of course. Even blind, Alice wasn’t slow.
He was standing about six feet back from the door, his nose wrinkled in distaste, but his face otherwise smooth—masklike. He didn’t fool me; I could see the faint trembling of his hands.
Hostility rolled off of him in waves. It brought back that awful afternoon when he’d chosen Sam over me, and I felt my chin jerk up defensively in response.
Jacob’s Rabbit idled by the curb with Jared behind the wheel and Embry in the passenger seat. I understood what this meant: they were afraid to let him come here alone. It made me sad, and a little annoyed. The Cullens weren’t like that.
“Hey,” I finally said when he didn’t speak.
Jake pursed his lips, still hanging back from the door. His eyes flickered across the front of the house.
I ground my teeth. “She’s not here. Do you need something?”
He hesitated. “You’re alone?”
“Yes.” I sighed.
“Can I talk to you a minute?”
“Of course you can, Jacob. Come on in.”
Jacob glanced over his shoulder at his friends in the car. I saw Embry shake his head just a tiny bit. For some reason, this bugged me to no end.
My teeth clenched together again. “Chicken” I mumbled under my breath.
Jake’s eyes flashed back to me, his thick, black brows pushing into a furious angle over his deep-set eyes. His jaw set, and he marched—there was no other way to describe the way he moved—up the sidewalk and shrugged past me into the house.
I locked gazes with first Jared and then Embry—I didn’t like the hard way they eyed me; did they really think I would let anything hurt Jacob?—before I shut the door on them.
Jacob was in the hall behind me, staring at the mess of blankets in the living room.
“Slumber party?” he asked, his tone sarcastic.
“Yeah,” I answered with the same level of acid. I didn’t like Jacob when he acted this way. “What’s it to you?”
He wrinkled his nose again like he smelled something unpleasant. “Where’s your ‘friend’?” I could hear the quotation marks in his tone.
“She had some errands to run. Look, Jacob, what do you want?”
Something about the room seemed to make him edgier—his long arms were quivering. He didn’t answer my question. Instead he moved on to the kitchen, his restless eyes darting everywhere.
I followed him. He paced back and forth along the short counter.
“Hey,” I said, putting myself in his way. He stopped pacing and stared down at me. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t like having to be here.”
That stung. I winced, and his eyes tightened.
“Then I’m sorry you had to come,” I muttered. “Why don’t you tell me what you need so you can leave?”
“I just have to ask you a couple of questions. It shouldn’t take long. We have to get back for the funeral.”
“Okay. Get it over with then.” I was probably overdoing it with the antagonism, but I didn’t want him to see how much this hurt. I knew I wasn’t being fair. After all, I’d picked the bloodsucker over him last night. I’d hurt him first.
He took a deep breath, and his trembling fingers were suddenly still. His face smoothed into a serene mask.
“One of the Cullens is staying here with you,” he stated.
“Yes. Alice Cullen.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “How long is she here for?”
“As long as she wants to be.” The belligerence was still there in my tone. “It’s an open invitation.”
“Do you think you could… please… explain to her about the other one—Victoria?”
I paled. “I told her about that.”
He nodded. “You should know that we can only watch our own lands with a Cullen here. You’ll only be safe in La Push. I can’t protect you here anymore.”
“Okay,” I said in a small voice.
He looked away then, out the back windows. He didn’t continue.
“Is that all?”
He kept his eyes on the glass as he answered. “Just one more thing.”
I waited, but he didn’t continue. “Yes?” I finally prompted.
“Are the rest of them coming back now?” he asked in a cool, quiet voice. It reminded me of Sam’s always calm manner. Jacob was becoming more like Sam… I wondered why that bothered me so much.
Now I didn’t speak. He looked back at my face with probing eyes.
“Well?” he asked. He struggled to conceal the tension behind his serene expression.
“No.” I said finally. Grudgingly. “They aren’t coming back.”
His expression didn’t change. “Okay. That’s all.”
I glared at him, annoyance rekindled. “Well, run along now. Go tell Sam that the scary monsters aren’t coming to get you.”
“Okay,” he repeated, still calm.
That seemed to be it. Jacob walked swiftly from the kitchen. I waited to hear the front door open, but I heard nothing. I could hear the clock over the stove ticking, and I marveled again at how quiet he’d become.
What a disaster. How could I have alienated him so completely in such a short amount of time?
Would he forgive me when Alice was gone? What if he didn’t?
I slumped against the counter and buried my face in my hands. How had I made such a mess of everything? But what could I have done differently? Even in hindsight, I couldn’t think of any better way, any perfect course of action.
“Bella… ?” Jacob asked in a troubled voice.
I pulled my face out of my hands to see Jacob hesitating in the kitchen doorway; he hadn’t left when I’d thought. It was only when I saw the clear drops sparkling in my hands that I realized I was crying.
Jacob’s calm expression was gone; his face was anxious and unsure. He walked quickly back to stand in front of me, ducking his head so that his eyes were closer to being on the same level with mine.
“Did it again, didn’t I?”
“Did what?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Broke my promise. Sorry.”
“‘S’okay,” I mumbled. “I started it this time.”
His face twisted. “I knew how you felt about them. It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise like that.”
I could see the revulsion in his eyes. I wanted to explain to him what Alice was really like, to defend her against the judgments he’d made, but something warned me that now was not the time.
So I just said, “Sorry,” again.
“Let’s not worry about it, okay? She’s just visiting, right? She’ll leave, and things will go back to normal.”
“Can’t I be friends with you both at the same time?” I asked, my voice not hiding an ounce of the hurt I felt.
He shook his head slowly. “No, I don’t think you can.”
I sniffed and stared at his big feet. “But you’ll wait, right? You’ll still be my friend, even though I love Alice, too?”
I didn’t look up, afraid to see what he’d think of that last part. It took him a minute to answer, so I was probably right not to look.
“Yeah, I’ll always be your friend,” he said gruffly. “No matter what you love.”
I felt his arms wind around me, and I leaned against his chest, still sniffling. “This sucks.”
“Yeah.” Then he sniffed my hair and said, “Ew.”
“What ?” I demanded. I looked up to see that his nose was wrinkled again. “Why does everyone keep doing that to me? I don’t smell!”
He smiled a little. “Yes, you do—you smell like them . Blech. Too sweet—sickly sweet. And… icy. It burns my nose.”
“Really?” That was strange. Alice smelled unbelievably wonderful. To a human, anyway. “But why would Alice think I smelled, too, then?”
That wiped his smile away. “Huh. Maybe I don’t smell so good to her, either. Huh.”
“Well, you both smell fine to me.” I rested my head against him again. I was going to miss him terribly when he walked out my door. It was a nasty catch-22—on the one hand, I wanted Alice to stay forever. I was going to die—metaphorically—when she left me. But how was I supposed to go without seeing Jake for any length of time? What a mess , I thought again.
“I’ll miss you,” Jacob whispered, echoing my thoughts. “Every minute. I hope she leaves soon.”
“It really doesn’t have to be that way, Jake.”
He sighed. “Yes, it really does. Bella. You… love her. So I’d better not get anywhere near her. I’m not sure that I’m even-tempered enough to handle that. Sam would be mad if I broke the treaty, and”—his voice turned sarcastic—”you probably wouldn’t like it too much if I killed your friend.”
I recoiled from him when he said that, but he only tightened his arms, refusing to let me escape. “There’s no point in avoiding the truth. That’s the way things are, Bells.”
“I do not like the way things are.”
Jacob freed one arm so that he could cup his big brown hand under my chin and make me look at him. “Yeah. It was easier when we were both human, wasn’t it?”
We stared at each other for a long moment. His hand smoldered against my skin. In my face, I knew there was nothing but wistful sadness—I didn’t want to have to say goodbye now, no matter for how short a time. At first his face reflected mine, but then, as neither of us looked away, his expression changed.
He released me, lifting his other hand to brush his fingertips along my cheek, trailing them down to my jaw. I could feel his fingers tremble—not with anger this time. He pressed his palm against my cheek, so that my face was trapped between his burning hands.
“Bella,” he whispered.
I was frozen.
No! I hadn’t made this decision yet. I didn’t know if I could do this, and now I was out of time to think. But I would have been a fool if I thought rejecting him now would have no consequences.
I stared back at him. He was not my Jacob, but he could be. His face was familiar and beloved. In so many real ways, I did love him. He was my comfort, my safe harbor. Right now, I could choose to have him belong to me.
Alice was back for the moment, but that changed nothing. True love was forever lost. The prince was never coming back to kiss me awake from my enchanted sleep. I was not a princess, after all. So what was the fairy-tale protocol for other kisses? The mundane kind that didn’t break any spells?
Maybe it would be easy—like holding his hand or having his arms around me. Maybe it would feel nice. Maybe it wouldn’t feel like a betrayal. Besides, who was I betraying, anyway? Just myself.
Keeping his eyes on mine, Jacob began to bend his face toward me. And I was still absolutely undecided.
The shrill ring of the phone made us both jump, but it did not break his focus. He took his hand from under my chin and reached over me to grab the receiver, but still held my face securely with the hand against my cheek. His dark eyes did not free mine. I was too muddled to react, even to take advantage of the distraction.
“Swan residence,” Jacob said, his husky voice low and intense.
Someone answered, and Jacob altered in an instant. He straightened up, and his hand dropped from my face. His eyes went flat, his face blank, and I would have bet the measly remainder of my college f and that it was Alice.
I recovered myself and held out my hand for the phone. Jacob ignored me.
“He’s not here,” Jacob said, and the words were menacing.
There was some very short reply, a request for more information it seemed, because he added unwillingly, “He’s at the funeral.”
Then Jacob hung up the phone. “Filthy bloodsucker,” he muttered under his breath. The face he turned back to me was the bitter mask again.
“Who did you just hang up on?” I gasped, infuriated. “In my house, and on my phone?”
“Easy! He hung up on me!”
“He? Who was it?!”
He sneered the title. “Dr . Carlisle Cullen.”
“Why didn’t you let me talk to him?!”
“He didn’t ask for you,” Jacob said coldly. His face was smooth, expressionless, but his hands shook. “He asked where Charlie was and I told him. I don’t think I broke any rules of etiquette.”
“You listen to me, Jacob Black—”
But he obviously wasn’t listening. He looked quickly over his shoulder, as if someone had called his name from the other room. His eyes went wide and his body stiff, then he started trembling. I listened too, automatically, but heard nothing.
“Bye, Bells,” he spit out, and wheeled toward the front door.
I ran after him. “What is it?”
And then I ran into him, as he rocked back on his heels, cussing under his breath. He spun around again, knocking me sideways. I bobbled and fell to the floor, my legs tangled with his.
“Shoot, ow!” I protested as he hurriedly jerked his legs free one at a time.
I struggled to pull myself up as he darted for the back door; he suddenly froze again.
Alice stood motionless at the foot of the stairs.
“Bella,” she choked.
I scrambled to my feet and lurched to her side. Her eyes were dazed and far away, her face drawn and whiter than bone. Her slim body trembled to an inner turmoil.
“Alice, what’s wrong?” I cried. I put my hands on her face, trying to calm her.
Her eyes focused on mine abruptly, wide with pain.
“Edward,” was all she whispered.
My body reacted faster than my mind was able to catch up with the implications of her reply. I didn’t at first understand why the room was spinning or where the hollow roar in my ears was coming from. My mind labored, unable to make sense of Alice’s bleak face and how it could possibly relate to Edward, while my body was already swaying, seeking the relief of unconsciousness before the reality could hit me.
The stairway tilted at the oddest angle.
Jacob’s furious voice was suddenly in my ear, hissing out a stream of profanities. I felt a vague disapproval. His new friends were clearly a bad influence.
I was on the couch without understanding how I got there, and Jacob was still swearing. It felt like there was an earthquake—the couch was shaking under me.
“What did you do to her?” he demanded.
Alice ignored him. “Bella? Bella, snap out of it. We have to hurry.”
“Stay back,” Jacob warned.
“Calm down, Jacob Black,” Alice ordered. “You don’t want to do that so close to her.”
“I don’t think I’ll have any problem keeping my focus,” he retorted, but his voice sounded a little cooler.
“Alice?” My voice was weak. “What happened?” I asked, even though I didn’t want to hear.
“I don’t know,” she suddenly wailed. “What is he thinking?!”
I labored to pull myself up despite the dizziness. I realized it was Jacob’s arm I was gripping for balance. He was the one shaking, not the couch.
Alice was pulling a small silver phone from her bag when my eyes relocated her. Her fingers dialed the numbers so fast they were a blur.
“Rose, I need to talk to Carlisle now .” Her voice whipped through the words. “Fine, as soon as he’s back. No, I’ll be on a plane. Look, have you heard anything from Edward?”
Alice paused now, listening with an expression that grew more appalled every second. Her mouth opened into a little O of horror, and the phone shook in her hand.
“Why?” she gasped. “Why would you do that, Rosalie?”
Whatever the answer was, it made her jaw tighten in anger. Her eyes flashed and narrowed.
“Well, you’re wrong on both counts, though, Rosalie, so that would be a problem, don’t you think?” she asked acidly. “Yes, that’s right. She’s absolutely fine—I was wrong… It’s a long story… But you’re wrong about that part, too, that’s why I’m calling… Yes, that’s exactly what I saw.”
Alice’s voice was very hard and her lips were pulled back from her teeth. “It’s a bit late for that, Rose. Save your remorse for someone who believes it.” Alice snapped the phone shut with a sharp twist of her fingers.
Her eyes were tortured as she turned to face me.
“Alice,” I blurted out quickly. I couldn’t let her speak yet. I needed a few more seconds before she spoke and her words destroyed what was left of my life. “Alice, Carlisle is back, though. He called just before…”
She stared at me blankly. “How long ago?” she asked in a hollow voice.
“Half a minute before you showed up.”
“What did he say?” She really focused now, waiting for my answer.
“I didn’t talk to him.” My eyes flickered to Jacob.
Alice turned her penetrating gaze on him. He flinched, but held his place next to me. He sit awkwardly, almost as if he were trying to shield me with his body.
“He asked for Charlie, and I told him Charlie wasn’t here,” Jacob muttered resentfully.
“Is that everything?” Alice demanded, her voice like ice.
“Then he hung up on me,” Jacob spit back. A tremor rolled down his spine, shaking me with it.
“You told him Charlie was at the funeral,” I reminded him.
Alice jerked her head back toward me “What were his exact words?”
“He said, ‘He’s not here,’ and when Carlisle asked where Charlie was, Jacob said, ‘At the funeral.'”
Alice moaned and sank to her knees.
“Tell me Alice,” I whispered.
“That wasn’t Carlisle on the phone,” she said hopelessly.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Jacob snarled from beside me.
Alice ignored him, focusing on my bewildered face.
“It was Edward.” The words were just a choked whisper. “He thinks you’re dead.”
My mind started to work again. These words weren’t the ones I’d been afraid of, and the relief cleared my head.
“Rosalie told him I killed myself, didn’t she?” I said, sighing as I relaxed.
“Yes,” Alice admitted, her eyes flashing hard again.
“In her defense, she did believe it. They rely on my sight far too much for something that works so imperfectly. But for her to track him down to tell him this! Didn’t she realize… or care… ?” Her voice faded away in horror.
“And when Edward called here, he thought Jacob meant my funeral,” I realized. It stung to know how close I’d been, just inches away from his voice. My nails dug into Jacob’s arm, but he didn’t flinch.
Alice looked at me strangely. “You’re not upset,” she whispered.
“Well, it’s really rotten timing, but it will all get straightened out. The next time he calls, someone will tell him… what… really…” I trailed off. Her gaze strangled the words in my throat.
Why was she so panicked? Why was her face twisting now with pity and horror? What was it she had said to Rosalie on the phone just now? Something about what she’d seen… and Rosalie’s remorse; Rosalie would never feel remorse for anything that happened to me. But if she’d hurt her family, hurt her brother…
“Bella,” Alice whispered. “Edward won’t call again. He believed her.”
“I. Don’t. Understand.” My mouth framed each word in silence. I couldn’t push the air out to actually say the words that would make her explain what that meant.
“He’s going to Italy.”
It took the length of one heartbeat for me to comprehend.
When Edward’s voice came back to me now, it was not the perfect imitation of my delusions. It was just the weak, flat tone of my memories. But the words alone were enough to shred through my chest and leave it gaping open. Words from a time when I would have bet everything that I owned or could borrow on that fact that he loved me.
Well, I wasn’t going to live without you , he’d said as we watched Romeo and Juliet die, here in this very room. But I wasn’t sure how to do it… I knew Emmett and Jasper would never help… so I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi… You don’t irritate them. Not unless you want to die .
Not unless you want to die.
“NO!” The half-shrieked denial was so loud after the whispered words, it made us all jump. I felt the blood rushing to my face as I realized what she’d seen. “No! No, no, no! He can’t! He can’t do that!”
“He made up his mind as soon as your friend confirmed that it was too late to save you.”
“But he… he left ! He didn’t want me anymore! What difference does it make now? He knew I would die sometime!”
“I don’t think he ever planned to outlive you by long,” Alice said quietly.
“How dare he!” I screamed. I was on my feet now, and Jacob rose uncertainly to put himself between Alice and me again.
“Oh, get out of the way, Jacob!” I elbowed my way around his trembling body with desperate impatience. “What do we do?” I begged Alice. There had to be something. “Can’t we call him? Can Carlisle?”
She was shaking her head. “That was the first thing I tried. He left his phone in a trash can in Rio—someone answered it…” she whispered.
“You said before we had to hurry. Hurry how? Let’s do it, whatever it is!”
“Bella, I—I don’t think I can ask you to…” She trailed off in indecision.
“Ask me!” I commanded.
She put her hands on my shoulders, holding me in place, her fingers flexing sporadically to emphasize her words. “We may already be too late. I saw him going to the Volturi… and asking to die.” We both cringed, and my eyes were suddenly blind. I blinked feverishly at the tears. “It all depends on what they choose. I can’t see that till they make a decision.
“But if they say no, and they might—Aro is fond of Carlisle, and wouldn’t want to offend him—Edward has a backup plan. They’re very protective of their city. If Edward does something to upset the peace, he thinks they’ll act to stop him. And he’s right. They will.”
I stared at her with my jaw clenched in frustration. I’d heard nothing yet that would explain why we were still standing here.
“So if they agree to grant his favor, we’re too late. If they say no, and he comes up with a plan to offend them quickly enough, we’re too late. If he gives into his more theatrical tendencies… we might have time.”
“Listen, Bella! Whether we are in time or not, we will be in the heart of the Volturi city. I will be considered his accomplice if he is successful. You will be a human who not only knows too much, but also smells too good. There’s a very good chance that they will eliminate us all—though in your case it won’t be punishment so much as dinnertime.”
“This is what’s keeping us here?” I asked in disbelief. “I’ll go alone if you’re afraid.” I mentally tabulated what money was left in my account, and wondered if Alice would lend me the rest.
“I’m only afraid of getting you killed.”
I snorted in disgust. “I almost get myself killed on a daily basis! Tell me what I need to do!”
“You write a note to Charlie. I’ll call the airlines.”
“Charlie,” I gasped.
Not that my presence was protecting him, but could I leave him here alone to face…
“I’m not going to let anything happen to Charlie.” Jacob’s low voice was gruff and angry. “Screw the treaty.”
I glanced up at him, and he scowled at my panicked expression.
“Hurry, Bella,” Alice interrupted urgently.
I ran to the kitchen, yanking the drawers open and throwing the contents all over the floor as I searched for a pen. A smooth, brown hand held one out to me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, pulling the cap off with my teeth. He silently handed me the pad of paper we wrote phone messages on. I tore off the top sheet and threw it over my shoulder.
Dad , I wrote. I’m with Alice. Edward’s in trouble. You can ground me when I get back. I know it’s a bad time. So sorry. Love you so much. Bella .
“Don’t go,” Jacob whispered. The anger was all gone now that Alice was out of sight.
I wasn’t about to waste time arguing with him. “Please, please, please take care of Charlie,” I said as I dashed back out to the front room. Alice was waiting in the doorway with a bag over her shoulder.
“Get your wallet—you’ll need ID. Please tell me you have a passport. I don’t have time to forge one.”
I nodded and then raced up the stairs, my knees weak with gratitude that my mother had wanted to marry Phil on a beach in Mexico. Of course, like all her plans, it had fallen through. But not before I’d made all the practical arrangements I could for her.
I tore through my room. I stuffed my old wallet, a clean T-shirt, and sweatpants into my backpack, and then threw my toothbrush on top. I hurled myself back down the stairs. The sense of deja vu was nearly stifling by this point. At least, unlike the last time—when I’d run away from Forks to escape thirsty vampires rather than to find them—I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to Charlie in person.
Jacob and Alice were locked in some kind of confrontation in front of the open door, standing so far apart you wouldn’t assume at first that they were having a conversation. Neither one seemed to notice my noisy reappearance.
“You might control yourself on occasion, but these leeches you’re taking her to—” Jacob was furiously accusing her.
“Yes. You’re right, dog.” Alice was snarling, too. “The Volturi are the very essence of our kind—they’re the reason your hair stands on end when you smell me. They are the substance of your nightmares, the dread behind your instincts. I’m not unaware of that.”
“And you take her to them like a bottle of wine for a party!” he shouted.
“You think she’d be better off if I left her here alone, with Victoria stalking her?”
“We can handle the redhead.”
“Then why is she still hunting?”
Jacob growled, and a shudder rippled through his torso.
“Stop that!” I shouted at them both, wild with impatience. “Argue when we get back, let’s go!”
Alice turned for the car, disappearing in her haste. I hurried after her, pausing automatically to turn and lock the door.
Jacob caught my arm with a shivering hand. “Please, Bella. I’m begging.”
His dark eyes were glistening with tears. A lump filled my throat.
“Jake, I have to—”
“You don’t, though. You really don’t. You could stay here with me. You could stay alive. For Charlie. For me.”
The engine of Carlisle’s Mercedes purred; the rhythm of the thrumming spiked when Alice revved it impatiently.
I shook my head, tears spattering from my eyes with the sharp motion. I pulled my arm free, and he didn’t fight me.
“Don’t die, Bella,” he choked out. “Don’t go. Don’t.”
What if I never saw him again?
The thought pushed me past the silent tears; a sob broke out from my chest. I threw my arms around his waist and hugged for one too-short moment, burying my tear-wet face against his chest. He put his big hand on the back of my hair, as if to hold me there.
“Bye, Jake.” I pulled his hand from my hair, and kissed his palm. I couldn’t bear to look at his face. “Sorry,” I whispered.
Then I spun and raced for the car. The door on the passenger side was open and waiting. I threw my backpack over the headrest and slid in, slamming the door behind me.
“Take care of Charlie!” I turned to shout out the window, but Jacob was nowhere in sight. As Alice stomped on the gas and—with the tires screeching like human screams—spun us around to face the road, I caught sight of a shred of white near the edge of the trees. A piece of a shoe.