My entertainment became the number-one priority on Isle Esme. We snorkeled (well, I snorkeled while he flaunted his ability to go without oxygen indefinitely). We explored the small jungle that ringed the rocky little peak. We visited the parrots that lived in the canopy on the south end of the island. We watched the sunset from the rocky western cove. We swam with the porpoises that played in the warm, shallow waters there. Or at least I did; when Edward was in the water, the porpoises disappeared as if a shark was near.
I knew what was going on. He was trying to keep me busy, distracted, so I that wouldn’t continue badgering him about the sex thing. Whenever I tried to talk him into taking it easy with one of the million DVDs under the big-screen plasma TV, he would lure me out of the house with magic words like coral reefs and submerged caves and sea turtles . We were going, going, going all day, so that I found myself completely famished and exhausted when the sun eventually set.
I drooped over my plate after I finished dinner every night; once I’d actually fallen asleep right at the table and he’d had to carry me to bed. Part of it was that Edward always made too much food for one, but I was so hungry after swimming and climbing all day that I ate most of it. Then, full and worn out, I could barely keep my eyes open. All part of the plan, no doubt.
Exhaustion didn’t help much with my attempts at persuasion. But I didn’t give up. I tried reasoning, pleading, and grouching, all to no avail. I was usually unconscious before I could really press my case far. And then my dreams felt so real—nightmares mostly, made more vivid, I guessed, by the too-bright colors of the island—that I woke up tired no matter how long I slept.
About a week or so after we’d gotten to the island, I decided to try compromise. It had worked for us in the past.
I was sleeping in the blue room now. The cleaning crew wasn’t due until the next day, and so the white room still had a snowy blanket of down. The blue room was smaller, the bed more reasonably proportioned. The walls were dark, paneled in teak, and the fittings were all luxurious blue silk.
I’d taken to wearing some of Alice’s lingerie collection to sleep in at night—which weren’t so revealing compared to the scanty bikinis she’d packed for me when it came right down to it. I wondered if she’d seen a vision of why I would want such things, and then shuddered, embarrassed by that thought.
I’d started out slow with innocent ivory satins, worried that revealing more of my skin would be the opposite of helpful, but ready to try anything. Edward seemed to notice nothing, as if I were wearing the same ratty old sweats I wore at home.
The bruises were much better now—yellowing in some places and disappearing altogether in others—so tonight I pulled out one of the scarier pieces as I got ready in the paneled bathroom. It was black, lacy, and embarrassing to look at even when it wasn’t on. I was careful not to look in the mirror before I went back to the bedroom. I didn’t want to lose my nerve.
I had the satisfaction of watching his eyes pop open wide for just a second before he controlled his expression.
“What do you think?” I asked, pirouetting so that he could see every angle.
He cleared his throat. “You look beautiful. You always do.”
“Thanks,” I said a bit sourly.
I was too tired to resist climbing quickly into the soft bed. He put his arms around me and pulled me against his chest, but this was routine—it was too hot to sleep without his cool body close.
“I’ll make you a deal,” I said sleepily.
“I will not make any deals with you,” he answered.
“You haven’t even heard what I’m offering.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
I sighed. “Dang it. And I really wanted… Oh well.”
He rolled his eyes.
I closed mine and let the bait sit there. I yawned.
It took only a minute—not long enough for me to zonk out.
“All right. What is it you want?”
I gritted my teeth for a second, fighting a smile. If there was one thing he couldn’t resist, it was an opportunity to give me something.
“Well, I was thinking… I know that the whole Dartmouth thing was just supposed to be a cover story, but honestly, one semester of college probably wouldn’t kill me,” I said, echoing his words from long ago, when he’d tried to persuade me to put off becoming a vampire. “Charlie would get a thrill out of Dartmouth stories, I bet. Sure, it might be embarrassing if I can’t keep up with all the brainiacs. Still… eighteen, nineteen. It’s really not such a big difference. It’s not like I’m going to get crow’s feet in the next year.”
He was silent for a long moment. Then, in a low voice, he said, “You would wait. You would stay human.”
I held my tongue, letting the offer sink in.
“Why are you doing this to me?” he said through his teeth, his tone suddenly angry. “Isn’t it hard enough without all of this?” He grabbed a handful of lace that was ruffled on my thigh. For a moment, I thought he was going to rip it from the seam. Then his hand relaxed. “It doesn’t matter. I won’t make any deals with you.”
“I want to go to college.”
“No, you don’t. And there is nothing that is worth risking your life again. That’s worth hurting you.”
“But I do want to go. Well, it’s not college as much as it’s that I want—I want to be human a little while longer.”
He closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose. “You are making me insane, Bella. Haven’t we had this argument a million times, you always begging to be a vampire without delay?”
“Yes, but… well, I have a reason to be human that I didn’t have before.”
“Guess,” I said, and I dragged myself off the pillows to kiss him.
He kissed me back, but not in a way that made me think I was winning. It was more like he was being careful not to hurt my feelings; he was completely, maddeningly in control of himself. Gently, he pulled me away after a moment and cradled me against his chest.
“You are so human, Bella. Ruled by your hormones.” He chuckled.
“That’s the whole point, Edward. I like this part of being human. I don’t want to give it up yet. I don’t want to wait through years of being a blood-crazed newborn for some part of this to come back to me.”
I yawned, and he smiled.
“You’re tired. Sleep, love.” He started humming the lullaby he’d composed for me when we first met.
“I wonder why I’m so tired,” I muttered sarcastically. “That couldn’t be part of your scheme or anything.”
He just chuckled once and went back to humming.
“For as tired as I’ve been, you’d think I’d sleep better.”
The song broke off. “You’ve been sleeping like the dead, Bella. You haven’t said a word in your sleep since we got here. If it weren’t for the snoring, I’d worry you were slipping into a coma.”
I ignored the snoring jibe; I didn’t snore. “I haven’t been tossing? That’s weird. Usually I’m all over the bed when I’m having nightmares. And shouting.”
“You’ve been having nightmares?”
“Vivid ones. They make me so tired.” I yawned. “I can’t believe I haven’t been babbling about them all night.”
“What are they about?”
“Different things—but the same, you know, because of the colors.”
“It’s all so bright and real. Usually, when I’m dreaming, I know that I am. With these, I don’t know I’m asleep. It makes them scarier.”
He sounded disturbed when he spoke again. “What is frightening you?”
I shuddered slightly. “Mostly . . .” I hesitated.
“Mostly?” he prompted.
I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t want to tell him about the child in my recurring nightmare; there was something private about that particular horror. So, instead of giving him the full description, I gave him just one element. Certainly enough to frighten me or anyone else.
“The Volturi,” I whispered.
He hugged me tighter. “They aren’t going to bother us anymore. You’ll be immortal soon, and they’ll have no reason.”
I let him comfort me, feeling a little guilty that he’d misunderstood. The nightmares weren’t like that, exactly. It wasn’t that I was afraid for myself—I was afraid for the boy.
He wasn’t the same boy as that first dream—the vampire child with the bloodred eyes who sat on a pile of dead people I loved. This boy I’d dreamed of four times in the last week was definitely human; his cheeks were flushed and his wide eyes were a soft green. But just like the other child, he shook with fear and desperation as the Volturi closed in on us.
In this dream that was both new and old, I simply had to protect the unknown child. There was no other option. At the same time, I knew that I would fail.
He saw the desolation on my face. “What can I do to help?”
I shook it off. “They’re just dreams, Edward.”
“Do you want me to sing to you? I’ll sing all night if it will keep the bad dreams away.”
“They’re not all bad. Some are nice. So… colorful. Underwater, with the fish and the coral. It all seems like it’s really happening—I don’t know that I’m dreaming. Maybe this island is the problem. It’s really bright here.”
“Do you want to go home?”
“No. No, not yet. Can’t we stay awhile longer?”
“We can stay as long as you want, Bella,” he promised me.
“When does the semester start? I wasn’t paying attention before.”
He sighed. He may have started humming again, too, but I was under before I could be sure.
Later, when I awoke in the dark, it was with shock. The dream had been so very real… so vivid, so sensory.… I gasped aloud, now, disoriented by the dark room. Only a second ago, it seemed, I had been under the brilliant sun.
“Bella?” Edward whispered, his arms tight around me, shaking me gently. “Are you all right, sweetheart?”
“Oh,” I gasped again. Just a dream. Not real. To my utter astonishment, tears overflowed from my eyes without warning, gushing down my face.
“Bella!” he said—louder, alarmed now. “What’s wrong?” He wiped the tears from my hot cheeks with cold, frantic fingers, but others followed.
“It was only a dream.” I couldn’t contain the low sob that broke in my voice. The senseless tears were disturbing, but I couldn’t get control of the staggering grief that gripped me. I wanted so badly for the dream to be real.
“It’s okay, love, you’re fine. I’m here.” He rocked me back and forth, a little too fast to soothe. “Did you have another nightmare? It wasn’t real, it wasn’t real.”
“Not a nightmare.” I shook my head, scrubbing the back of my hand against my eyes. “It was a good dream.” My voice broke again.
“Then why are you crying?” he asked, bewildered.
“Because I woke up,” I wailed, wrapping my arms around his neck in a chokehold and sobbing into his throat.
He laughed once at my logic, but the sound was tense with concern.
“Everything’s all right, Bella. Take deep breaths.”
“It was so real,” I cried. “I wanted it to be real.”
“Tell me about it,” he urged. “Maybe that will help.”
“We were on the beach. . . .” I trailed off, pulling back to look with tear-filled eyes at his anxious angel’s face, dim in the darkness. I stared at him broodingly as the unreasonable grief began to ebb.
“And?” he finally prompted.
I blinked the tears out of my eyes, torn. “Oh, Edward . . .”
“Tell me, Bella,” he pleaded, eyes wild with worry at the pain in my voice.
But I couldn’t. Instead I clutched my arms around his neck again and locked my mouth with his feverishly. It wasn’t desire at all—it was need, acute to the point of pain. His response was instant but quickly followed by his rebuff.
He struggled with me as gently as he could in his surprise, holding me away, grasping my shoulders.
“No, Bella,” he insisted, looking at me as if he was worried that I’d lost my mind.
My arms dropped, defeated, the bizarre tears spilling in a fresh torrent down my face, a new sob rising in my throat. He was right—I must be crazy.
He stared at me with confused, anguished eyes.
“I’m s-s-s-orry,” I mumbled.
But he pulled me to him then, hugging me tightly to his marble chest.
“I can’t, Bella, I can’t!” His moan was agonized.
“Please,” I said, my plea muffled against his skin. “Please, Edward?”
I couldn’t tell if he was moved by the tears trembling in my voice, or if he was unprepared to deal with the suddenness of my attack, or if his need was simply as unbearable in that moment as my own. But whatever the reason, he pulled my lips back to his, surrendering with a groan.
And we began where my dream had left off.
I stayed very still when I woke up in the morning and tried to keep my breathing even. I was afraid to open my eyes.
I was lying across Edward’s chest, but he was very still and his arms were not wrapped around me. That was a bad sign. I was afraid to admit I was awake and face his anger—no matter whom it was directed at today.
Carefully, I peeked through my eyelashes. He was staring up at the dark ceiling, his arms behind his head. I pulled myself up on my elbow so that I could see his face better. It was smooth, expressionless.
“How much trouble am I in?” I asked in a small voice.
“Heaps,” he said, but turned his head and smirked at me.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “I am sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean… Well, I don’t know exactly what that was last night.” I shook my head at the memory of the irrational tears, the crushing grief.
“You never did tell me what your dream was about.”
“I guess I didn’t—but I sort of showed you what it was about.” I laughed nervously.
“Oh,” he said. His eyes widened, and then he blinked. “Interesting.”
“It was a very good dream,” I murmured. He didn’t comment, so a few seconds later I asked, “Am I forgiven?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
I sat up, planning to examine myself—there didn’t seem to be any feathers, at least. But as I moved, an odd wave of vertigo hit. I swayed and fell back against the pillows.
“Whoa… head rush.”
His arms were around me then. “You slept for a long time. Twelve hours.”
“Twelve?” How strange.
I gave myself a quick once-over while I spoke, trying to be inconspicuous about it. I looked fine. The bruises on my arms were still a week old, yellowing. I stretched experimentally. I felt fine, too. Well, better than fine, actually.
“Is the inventory complete?”
I nodded sheepishly. “The pillows all appear to have survived.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for your, er, nightgown.” He nodded toward the foot of the bed, where several scraps of black lace were strewn across the silk sheets.
“That’s too bad,” I said. “I liked that one.”
“I did, too.”
“Were there any other casualties?” I asked timidly.
“I’ll have to buy Esme a new bed frame,” he confessed, glancing over his shoulder. I followed his gaze and was shocked to see that large chunks of wood had apparently been gouged from the left side of the headboard.
“Hmm.” I frowned. “You’d think I would have heard that.”
“You seem to be extraordinarily unobservant when your attention is otherwise involved.”
“I was a bit absorbed,” I admitted, blushing a deep red.
He touched my burning cheek and sighed. “I’m really going to miss that.”
I stared at his face, searching for any signs of the anger or remorse I feared. He gazed back at me evenly, his expression calm but otherwise unreadable.
“How are you feeling?”
“What?” I demanded.
“You look so guilty—like you’ve committed a crime.”
“I feel guilty,” I muttered.
“So you seduced your all-too-willing husband. That’s not a capital offense.”
He seemed to be teasing.
My cheeks got hotter. “The word seduced implies a certain amount of premeditation.”
“Maybe that was the wrong word,” he allowed.
“You’re not angry?”
He smiled ruefully. “I’m not angry.”
“Well . . .” He paused. “I didn’t hurt you, for one thing. It was easier this time, to control myself, to channel the excesses.” His eyes flickered to the damaged frame again. “Maybe because I had a better idea of what to expect.”
A hopeful smile started to spread across my face. “I told you that it was all about practice.”
He rolled his eyes.
My stomach growled, and he laughed. “Breakfast time for the human?” he asked.
“Please,” I said, hopping out of bed. I moved too quickly, though, and had to stagger drunkenly to regain my balance. He caught me before I could stumble into the dresser.
“Are you all right?”
“If I don’t have a better sense of equilibrium in my next life, I’m demanding a refund.”
I cooked this morning, frying up some eggs—too hungry to do anything more elaborate. Impatient, I flipped them onto a plate after just a few minutes.
“Since when do you eat eggs sunny-side up?” he asked.
“Do you know how many eggs you’ve gone through in the last week?” He pulled the trash bin out from under the sink—it was full of empty blue cartons.
“Weird,” I said after swallowing a scorching bite. “This place is messing with my appetite.” And my dreams, and my already dubious balance. “But I like it here. We’ll probably have to leave soon, though, won’t we, to make it to Dartmouth in time? Wow, I guess we need to find a place to live and stuff, too.”
He sat down next to me. “You can give up the college pretense now—you’ve gotten what you wanted. And we didn’t agree to a deal, so there are no strings attached.”
I snorted. “It wasn’t a pretense, Edward. I don’t spend my free time plotting like some people do. What can we do to wear Bella out today? ” I said in a poor impression of his voice. He laughed, unashamed. “I really do want a little more time being human.” I leaned over to run my hand across his bare chest. “I have not had enough.”
He gave me a dubious look. “For this ?” he asked, catching my hand as it moved down his stomach. “Sex was the key all along?” He rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t I think of that?” he muttered sarcastically. “I could have saved myself a lot of arguments.”
I laughed. “Yeah, probably.”
“You are so human,” he said again.
A hint of a smile pulled at his lips. “We’re going to Dartmouth? Really?”
“I’ll probably fail out in one semester.”
“I’ll tutor you.” The smile was wide now. “You’re going to love college.”
“Do you think we can find an apartment this late?”
He grimaced, looking guilty. “Well, we sort of already have a house there. You know, just in case.”
“You bought a house?”
“Real estate is a good investment.”
I raised one eyebrow and then let it go. “So we’re ready, then.”
“I’ll have to see if we can keep your ‘before’ car for a little longer. . . .”
“Yes, heaven forbid I not be protected from tanks.”
“How much longer can we stay?” I asked.
“We’re fine on time. A few more weeks, if you want. And then we can visit Charlie before we go to New Hampshire. We could spend Christmas with Renée. . . .”
His words painted a very happy immediate future, one free of pain for everyone involved. The Jacob-drawer, all but forgotten, rattled, and I amended the thought—for almost everyone.
This wasn’t getting any easier. Now that I’d discovered exactly how good being human could be, it was tempting to let my plans drift. Eighteen or nineteen, nineteen or twenty… Did it really matter? I wouldn’t change so much in a year. And being human with Edward… The choice got trickier every day.
“A few weeks,” I agreed. And then, because there never seemed to be enough time, I added, “So I was thinking—you know what I was saying about practice before?”
He laughed. “Can you hold on to that thought? I hear a boat. The cleaning crew must be here.”
He wanted me to hold on to that thought. So did that mean he was not going to give me any more trouble about practicing? I smiled.
“Let me explain the mess in the white room to Gustavo, and then we can go out. There’s a place in the jungle on the south—”
“I don’t want to go out. I am not hiking all over the island today. I want to stay here and watch a movie.”
He pursed his lips, trying not to laugh at my disgruntled tone. “All right, whatever you’d like. Why don’t you pick one out while I get the door?”
“I didn’t hear a knock.”
He cocked his head to the side, listening. A half second later, a faint, timid rap on the door sounded. He grinned and turned for the hallway.
I wandered over to the shelves under the big TV and started scanning through the titles. It was hard to decide where to begin. They had more DVDs than a rental store.
I could hear Edward’s low, velvet voice as he came back down the hall, conversing fluidly in what I assumed was perfect Portuguese. Another, harsher, human voice answered in the same tongue.
Edward led them into the room, pointing toward the kitchen on his way. The two Brazilians looked incredibly short and dark next to him. One was a round man, the other a slight female, both their faces creased with lines. Edward gestured to me with a proud smile, and I heard my name mixed in with a flurry of unfamiliar words. I flushed a little as I thought of the downy mess in the white room, which they would soon encounter. The little man smiled at me politely.
But the tiny coffee-skinned woman didn’t smile. She stared at me with a mixture of shock, worry, and most of all, wide-eyed fear . Before I could react, Edward motioned for them to follow him toward the chicken coop, and they were gone.
When he reappeared, he was alone. He walked swiftly to my side and wrapped his arms around me.
“What’s with her?” I whispered urgently, remembering her panicked expression.
He shrugged, unperturbed. “Kaure’s part Ticuna Indian. She was raised to be more superstitious—or you could call it more aware—than those who live in the modern world. She suspects what I am, or close enough.” He still didn’t sound worried. “They have their own legends here. The Libishomen —a blood-drinking demon who preys exclusively on beautiful women.” He leered at me.
Beautiful women only? Well, that was kind of flattering.
“She looked terrified,” I said.
“She is—but mostly she’s worried about you.”
“She’s afraid of why I have you here, all alone.” He chuckled darkly and then looked toward the wall of movies. “Oh well, why don’t you choose something for us to watch? That’s an acceptably human thing to do.”
“Yes, I’m sure a movie will convince her that you’re human.” I laughed and clasped my arms securely around his neck, stretching up on my tiptoes. He leaned down so that I could kiss him, and then his arms tightened around me, lifting me off the floor so he didn’t have to bend.
“Movie, schmovie,” I muttered as his lips moved down my throat, twisting my fingers in his bronze hair.
Then I heard a gasp, and he put me down abruptly. Kaure stood frozen in the hallway, feathers in her black hair, a large sack of more feathers in her arms, an expression of horror on her face. She stared at me, her eyes bugging out, as I blushed and looked down. Then she recovered herself and murmured something that, even in an unfamiliar language, was clearly an apology. Edward smiled and answered in a friendly tone. She turned her dark eyes away and continued down the hall.
“She was thinking what I think she was thinking, wasn’t she?” I muttered.
He laughed at my convoluted sentence. “Yes.”
“Here,” I said, reaching out at random and grabbing a movie. “Put this on and we can pretend to watch it.”
It was an old musical with smiling faces and fluffy dresses on the front.
“Very honeymoonish,” Edward approved.
While actors on the screen danced their way through a perky introduction song, I lolled on the sofa, snuggled into Edward’s arms.
“Will we move back into the white room now?” I wondered idly.
“I don’t know.… I’ve already mangled the headboard in the other room beyond repair—maybe if we limit the destruction to one area of the house, Esme might invite us back someday.”
I smiled widely. “So there will be more destruction?”
He laughed at my expression. “I think it might be safer if it’s premeditated, rather than if I wait for you to assault me again.”
“It would only be a matter of time,” I agreed casually, but my pulse was racing in my veins.
“Is there something the matter with your heart?”
“Nope. Healthy as a horse.” I paused. “Did you want to go survey the demolition zone now?”
“Maybe it would be more polite to wait until we’re alone. You may not notice me tearing the furniture apart, but it would probably scare them.”
In truth, I’d already forgotten the people in the other room. “Right. Drat.”
Gustavo and Kaure moved quietly through the house while I waited impatiently for them to finish and tried to pay attention to the happily-ever-after on the screen. I was starting to get sleepy—though, according to Edward, I’d slept half the day—when a rough voice startled me. Edward sat up, keeping me cradled against him, and answered Gustavo in flowing Portuguese. Gustavo nodded and walked quietly toward the front door.
“They’re finished,” Edward told me.
“So that would mean that we’re alone now?”
“How about lunch first?” he suggested.
I bit my lip, torn by the dilemma. I was pretty hungry.
With a smile, he took my hand and led me to the kitchen. He knew my face so well, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t read my mind.
“This is getting out of hand,” I complained when I finally felt full.
“Do you want to swim with the dolphins this afternoon—burn off the calories?” he asked.
“Maybe later. I had another idea for burning calories.”
“And what was that?”
“Well, there’s an awful lot of headboard left—”
But I didn’t finish. He’d already swept me up into his arms, and his lips silenced mine as he carried me with inhuman speed to the blue room.