“I’m so sorry, Seth. I should have been closer.”
Edward was still apologizing, and I didn’t think that was either fair or appropriate. After all, Edward hadn’t completely and inexcusably lost control of his temper. Edward hadn’t tried to rip Jacob’s head off—Jacob, who wouldn’t even phase to protect himself—and then accidentally broken Seth’s shoulder and collarbone when he jumped in between. Edward hadn’t almost killed his best friend.
Not that the best friend didn’t have a few things to answer for, but, obviously, nothing Jacob had done could have mitigated my behavior.
So shouldn’t I have been the one apologizing? I tried again.
“Don’t worry about it, Bella, I’m totally fine,” Seth said at the same time that Edward said, “Bella, love, no one is judging you. You’re doing so well.”
They hadn’t let me finish a sentence yet.
It only made it worse that Edward was having a difficult time keeping the smile off his face. I knew that Jacob didn’t deserve my overreaction, but Edward seemed to find something satisfying in it. Maybe he was just wishing that he had the excuse of being a newborn so that he could do something physical about his irritation with Jacob, too.
I tried to erase the anger from my system entirely, but it was hard, knowing that Jacob was outside with Renesmee right now. Keeping her safe from me, the crazed newborn.
Carlisle secured another piece of the brace to Seth’s arm, and Seth winced.
“Sorry, sorry!” I mumbled, knowing I’d never get a fully articulated apology out.
“Don’t freak, Bella,” Seth said, patting my knee with his good hand while Edward rubbed my arm from the other side.
Seth seemed to feel no aversion to having me sit beside him on the sofa as Carlisle treated him. “I’ll be back to normal in half an hour,” he continued, still patting my knee as if oblivious to the cold, hard texture of it. “Anyone would have done the same, what with Jake and Ness—” He broke off mid-word and changed the subject quickly. “I mean, at least you didn’t bite me or anything. That would’ve sucked.”
I buried my face in my hands and shuddered at the thought, at the very real possibility. It could have happened so easily. And werewolves didn’t react to vampire venom the same way humans did, they’d told me only now. It was poison to them.
“I’m a bad person.”
“Of course you aren’t. I should have—,” Edward started.
“Stop that,” I sighed. I didn’t want him taking the blame for this the way he always took everything on himself.
“Lucky thing Ness—Renesmee’s not venomous,” Seth said after a second of awkward silence. “’Cause she bites Jake all the time.”
My hands dropped. “She does?”
“Sure. Whenever he and Rose don’t get dinner in her mouth fast enough. Rose thinks it’s pretty hilarious.”
I stared at him, shocked, and also feeling guilty, because I had to admit that this pleased me a teensy bit in a petulant way.
Of course, I already knew that Renesmee wasn’t venomous. I was the first person she’d bitten. I didn’t make this observation aloud, as I was feigning memory loss on those recent events.
“Well, Seth,” Carlisle said, straightening up and stepping away from us. “I think that’s as much as I can do. Try to not move for, oh, a few hours, I guess.” Carlisle chuckled. “I wish treating humans were this instantaneously gratifying.” He rested his hand for a moment on Seth’s black hair. “Stay still,” he ordered, and then he disappeared upstairs. I heard his office door close, and I wondered if they’d already removed the evidence of my time there.
“I can probably manage sitting still for a while,” Seth agreed after Carlisle was already gone, and then he yawned hugely. Carefully, making sure not to tweak his shoulder, Seth leaned his head against the sofa’s back and closed his eyes. Seconds later, his mouth fell slack.
I frowned at his peaceful face for another minute. Like Jacob, Seth seemed to have the gift of falling asleep at will. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to apologize again for a while, I got up; the motion didn’t jostle the couch in the slightest. Everything physical was so easy. But the rest…
Edward followed me to the back windows and took my hand.
Leah was pacing along the river, stopping every now and then to look at the house. It was easy to tell when she was looking for her brother and when she was looking for me. She alternated between anxious glances and murderous glares.
I could hear Jacob and Rosalie outside on the front steps bickering quietly over whose turn it was to feed Renesmee. Their relationship was as antagonistic as ever; the only thing they agreed on now was that I should be kept away from my baby until I was one hundred percent recovered from my temper tantrum. Edward had disputed their verdict, but I’d let it go. I wanted to be sure, too. I was worried, though, that my one hundred percent sure and their one hundred percent sure might be very different things.
Other than their squabbling, Seth’s slow breathing, and Leah’s annoyed panting, it was very quiet. Emmett, Alice, and Esme were hunting. Jasper had stayed behind to watch me. He stood unobtrusively behind the newel post now, trying not to be obnoxious about it.
I took advantage of the calm to think of all the things Edward and Seth had told me while Carlisle splinted Seth’s arm. I’d missed a whole lot while I was burning, and this was the first real chance to catch up.
The main thing was the end of the feud with Sam’s pack—which was why the others felt safe to come and go as they pleased again. The truce was stronger than ever. Or more binding, depending on your viewpoint, I imagined.
Binding, because the most absolute of all the pack’s laws was that no wolf ever kill the object of another wolf’s imprinting. The pain of such a thing would be intolerable for the whole pack. The fault, whether intended or accidental, could not be forgiven; the wolves involved would fight to the death—there was no other option. It had happened long ago, Seth told me, but only accidentally. No wolf would ever intentionally destroy a brother that way.
So Renesmee was untouchable because of the way Jacob now felt about her. I tried to concentrate on the relief of this fact rather than the chagrin, but it wasn’t easy. My mind had enough room to feel both emotions intensely at the same time.
And Sam couldn’t get mad about my transformation, either, because Jacob—speaking as the rightful Alpha—had allowed it. It rankled to realize over and over again how much I owed Jacob when I just wanted to be mad at him.
I deliberately redirected my thoughts in order to control my emotions. I considered another interesting phenomenon; though the silence between the separate packs continued, Jacob and Sam had discovered that Alphas could speak to each other while in their wolf form. It wasn’t the same as before; they couldn’t hear every thought the way they had prior to the split. It was more like speaking aloud, Seth had said. Sam could only hear the thoughts Jacob wanted to share, and vice versa. They found they could communicate over distance, too, now that they were talking to each other again.
They hadn’t found all this out until Jacob had gone alone—over Seth’s and Leah’s objections—to explain to Sam about Renesmee; it was the only time he’d left Renesmee since first laying eyes on her.
Once Sam had understood how absolutely everything had changed, he’d come back with Jacob to talk to Carlisle. They’d spoken in human form (Edward had refused to leave my side to translate), and the treaty had been renewed. The friendly feeling of the relationship, however, might never be the same.
One big worry down.
But there was another that, though not as physically dangerous as an angry wolf pack, still seemed more urgent to me.
He’d spoken to Esme earlier this morning, but that hadn’t kept him from calling again, twice, just a few minutes ago while Carlisle treated Seth. Carlisle and Edward had let the phone ring.
What would be the right thing to tell him? Were the Cullens right? Was telling him that I’d died the best, the kindest way? Would I be able to lie still in a coffin while he and my mother cried over me?
It didn’t seem right to me. But putting Charlie or Renée in danger of the Volturi’s obsession with secrecy was clearly out of the question.
There was still my idea—let Charlie see me, when I was ready for that, and let him make his own wrong assumptions. Technically, the vampire rules would remain unbroken. Wouldn’t it be better for Charlie if he knew that I was alive—sort of—and happy? Even if I was strange and different and probably frightening to him?
My eyes, in particular, were much too frightening right now. How long before my self-control and my eye color were ready for Charlie?
“What’s the matter, Bella?” Jasper asked quietly, reading my growing tension. “No one is angry with you”—a low snarl from the riverside contradicted him, but he ignored it—“or even surprised, really. Well, I suppose we are surprised. Surprised that you were able to snap out of it so quickly. You did well. Better than anyone expects of you.”
While he was speaking, the room became very calm. Seth’s breathing slipped into a low snore. I felt more peaceful, but I didn’t forget my anxieties.
“I was thinking about Charlie, actually.”
Out front, the bickering cut off.
“Ah,” Jasper murmured.
“We really have to leave, don’t we?” I asked. “For a while, at the very least. Pretend we’re in Atlanta or something.”
I could feel Edward’s gaze locked on my face, but I looked at Jasper. He was the one who answered me in a grave tone.
“Yes. It’s the only way to protect your father.”
I brooded for a moment. “I’m going to miss him so much. I’ll miss everyone here.”
Jacob, I thought, despite myself. Though that yearning was both vanished and defined—and I was vastly relieved that it was—he was still my friend. Someone who knew the real me and accepted her. Even as a monster.
I thought about what Jacob had said, pleading with me before I’d attacked him. You said we belonged in each other’s lives, right? That we were family. You said that was how you and I were supposed to be. So… now we are. It’s what you wanted.
But it didn’t feel like how I’d wanted it. Not exactly. I remembered further back, to the fuzzy, weak memories of my human life. Back to the very hardest part to remember—the time without Edward, a time so dark I’d tried to bury it in my head. I couldn’t get the words exactly right; I only remembered wishing that Jacob were my brother so that we could love each other without any confusion or pain. Family. But I’d never factored a daughter into the equation.
I remembered a little later—one of the many times that I’d told Jacob goodbye—wondering aloud who he would end up with, who would make his life right after what I’d done to it. I had said something about how whoever she was, she wouldn’t be good enough for him.
I snorted, and Edward raised one eyebrow questioningly. I just shook my head at him.
But as much as I might miss my friend, I knew there was a bigger problem. Had Sam or Jared or Quil ever gone a whole day without seeing the objects of their fixations, Emily, Kim, and Claire? Could they? What would the separation from Renesmee do to Jacob? Would it cause him pain?
There was still enough petty ire in my system to make me glad, not for his pain, but for the idea of having Renesmee away from him. How was I supposed to deal with having her belong to Jacob when she only barely seemed to belong to me?
The sound of movement on the front porch interrupted my thoughts. I heard them get up, and then they were through the door. At exactly the same time, Carlisle came down the stairs with his hands full of odd things—a measuring tape, a scale. Jasper darted to my side. As if there was some signal I’d missed, even Leah sat down outside and stared through the window with an expression like she was expecting something that was both familiar and also totally uninteresting.
“Must be six,” Edward said.
“So?” I asked, my eyes locked on Rosalie, Jacob, and Renesmee. They stood in the doorway, Renesmee in Rosalie’s arms. Rose looked wary. Jacob looked troubled. Renesmee looked beautiful and impatient.
“Time to measure Ness—er, Renesmee,” Carlisle explained.
“Oh. You do this every day?”
“Four times a day,” Carlisle corrected absently as he motioned the others toward the couch. I thought I saw Renesmee sigh.
“Four times? Every day? Why?”
“She’s still growing quickly,” Edward murmured to me, his voice quiet and strained. He squeezed my hand, and his other arm wrapped securely around my waist, almost as if he needed the support.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Renesmee to check his expression.
She looked perfect, absolutely healthy. Her skin glowed like backlit alabaster; the color in her cheeks was rose petals against it. There couldn’t be anything wrong with such radiant beauty. Surely there could be nothing more dangerous in her life than her mother. Could there?
The difference between the child I’d given birth to and the one I’d met again an hour ago would have been obvious to anyone. The difference between Renesmee an hour ago and Renesmee now was subtler. Human eyes never would have detected it. But it was there.
Her body was slightly longer. Just a little bit slimmer. Her face wasn’t quite as round; it was more oval by one minute degree. Her ringlets hung a sixteenth of an inch lower down her shoulders. She stretched out helpfully in Rosalie’s arms while Carlisle ran the tape measure down the length of her and then used it to circle her head. He took no notes; perfect recall.
I was aware that Jacob’s arms were crossed as tightly over his chest as Edward’s arms were locked around me. His heavy brows were mashed together into one line over his deep-set eyes.
She had matured from a single cell to a normal-sized baby in the course of a few weeks. She looked well on her way to being a toddler just days after her birth. If this rate of growth held…
My vampire mind had no trouble with the math.
“What do we do?” I whispered, horrified.
Edward’s arms tightened. He understood exactly what I was asking. “I don’t know.”
“It’s slowing,” Jacob muttered through his teeth.
“We’ll need several more days of measurements to track the trend, Jacob. I can’t make any promises.”
“Yesterday she grew two inches. Today it’s less.”
“By a thirty-second of an inch, if my measurements are perfect,” Carlisle said quietly.
“Be perfect, Doc,” Jacob said, making the words almost threatening. Rosalie stiffened.
“You know I’ll do my best,” Carlisle assured him.
Jacob sighed. “Guess that’s all I can ask.”
I felt irritated again, like Jacob was stealing my lines—and delivering them all wrong.
Renesmee seemed irritated, too. She started to squirm and then reached her hand imperiously toward Rosalie. Rosalie leaned forward so that Renesmee could touch her face. After a second, Rose sighed.
“What does she want?” Jacob demanded, taking my line again.
“Bella, of course,” Rosalie told him, and her words made my insides feel a little warmer. Then she looked at me. “How are you?”
“Worried,” I admitted, and Edward squeezed me.
“We all are. But that’s not what I meant.”
“I’m in control,” I promised. Thirstiness was way down the list right now. Besides, Renesmee smelled good in a very non-food way.
Jacob bit his lip but made no move to stop Rosalie as she offered Renesmee to me. Jasper and Edward hovered but allowed it. I could see how tense Rose was, and I wondered how the room felt to Jasper right now. Or was he focusing so hard on me that he couldn’t feel the others?
Renesmee reached for me as I reached for her, a blinding smile lighting her face. She fit so easily in my arms, like they’d been shaped just for her. Immediately, she put her hot little hand against my cheek.
Though I was prepared, it still made me gasp to see the memory like a vision in my head. So bright and colorful but also completely transparent.
She was remembering me charging Jacob across the front lawn, remembering Seth leaping between us. She’d seen and heard it all with perfect clarity. It didn’t look like me , this graceful predator leaping at her prey like an arrow arcing from a bow. It had to be someone else. That made me feel a very small bit less guilty as Jacob stood there defenselessly with his hands raised in front of him. His hands did not tremble.
Edward chuckled, watching Renesmee’s thoughts with me. And then we both winced as we heard the crack of Seth’s bones.
Renesmee smiled her brilliant smile, and her memory eyes did not leave Jacob through all the following mess. I tasted a new flavor to the memory—not exactly protective, more possessive—as she watched Jacob. I got the distinct impression that she was glad Seth had put himself in front of my spring. She didn’t want Jacob hurt. He was hers .
“Oh, wonderful,” I groaned. “Perfect.”
“It’s just because he tastes better than the rest of us,” Edward assured me, voice stiff with his own annoyance.
“I told you she likes me, too,” Jacob teased from across the room, his eyes on Renesmee. His joking was halfhearted; the tense angle of his eyebrows had not relaxed.
Renesmee patted my face impatiently, demanding my attention. Another memory: Rosalie pulling a brush gently through each of her curls. It felt nice.
Carlisle and his tape measure, knowing she had to stretch and be still. It was not interesting to her.
“It looks like she’s going to give you a rundown of everything you missed,” Edward commented in my ear.
My nose wrinkled as she dumped the next one on me. The smell coming from a strange metal cup—hard enough not to be bitten through easily—sent a flash burn through my throat. Ouch.
And then Renesmee was out of my arms, which were pinned behind my back. I didn’t struggle with Jasper; I just looked at Edward’s frightened face.
“What did I do?”
Edward looked at Jasper behind me, and then at me again.
“But she was remembering being thirsty,” Edward muttered, his forehead pressing into lines. “She was remembering the taste of human blood.”
Jasper’s arms pulled mine tighter together. Part of my head noted that this wasn’t particularly uncomfortable, let alone painful, as it would have been to a human. It was just annoying. I was sure I could break his hold, but I didn’t fight it.
“Yes,” I agreed. “And?”
Edward frowned at me for a second more, and then his expression loosened. He laughed once. “And nothing at all, it seems. The overreaction is mine this time. Jazz, let her go.”
The binding hands disappeared. I reached out for Renesmee as soon as I was free. Edward handed her to me without hesitation.
“I can’t understand,” Jasper said. “I can’t bear this.”
I watched in surprise as Jasper strode out the back door. Leah moved to give him a wide margin of space as he paced to the river and then launched himself over it in one bound.
Renesmee touched my neck, repeating the scene of departure right back, like an instant replay. I could feel the question in her thought, an echo of mine.
I was already over the shock of her odd little gift. It seemed an entirely natural part of her, almost to be expected. Maybe now that I was part of the supernatural myself, I would never be a skeptic again.
But what was wrong with Jasper?
“He’ll be back,” Edward said, whether to me or Renesmee, I wasn’t sure. “He just needs a moment alone to readjust his perspective on life.” There was a grin threatening at the corners of his mouth.
Another human memory—Edward telling me that Jasper would feel better about himself if I “had a hard time adjusting” to being a vampire. This was in the context of a discussion about how many people I would kill my first newborn year.
“Is he mad at me?” I asked quietly.
Edward’s eyes widened. “No. Why would he be?”
“What’s the matter with him, then?”
“He’s upset with himself, not you, Bella. He’s worrying about… self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose you could say.”
“How so?” Carlisle asked before I could.
“He’s wondering if the newborn madness is really as difficult as we’ve always thought, or if, with the right focus and attitude, anyone could do as well as Bella. Even now—perhaps he only has such difficulty because he believes it’s natural and unavoidable. Maybe if he expected more of himself, he would rise to those expectations. You’re making him question a lot of deep-rooted assumptions, Bella.”
“But that’s unfair,” Carlisle said. “Everyone is different; everyone has their own challenges. Perhaps what Bella is doing goes beyond the natural. Maybe this is her gift, so to speak.”
I froze with surprise. Renesmee felt the change, and touched me. She remembered the last second of time and wondered why.
“That’s an interesting theory, and quite plausible,” Edward said.
For a tiny space, I was disappointed. What? No magic visions, no formidable offensive abilities like, oh, shooting lightning bolts from my eyes or something? Nothing helpful or cool at all?
And then I realized what that might mean, if my “superpower” was no more than exceptional self-control.
For one thing, at least I had a gift. It could have been nothing.
But, much more than that, if Edward was right, then I could skip right over the part I’d feared the very most.
What if I didn’t have to be a newborn? Not in the crazed killing-machine sense, anyway. What if I could fit right in with the Cullens from my first day? What if we didn’t have to hide out somewhere remote for a year while I “grew up”? What if, like Carlisle, I never killed a single person? What if I could be a good vampire right away?
I could see Charlie.
I sighed as soon as reality filtered through hope. I couldn’t see Charlie right away. The eyes, the voice, the perfected face. What could I possibly say to him; how could I even begin? I was furtively glad that I had some excuses for putting things off for a while; as much as I wanted to find some way to keep Charlie in my life, I was terrified of that first meeting. Seeing his eyes pop as he took in my new face, my new skin. Knowing that he was frightened. Wondering what dark explanation would form in his head.
I was chicken enough to wait for a year while my eyes cooled. And here I’d thought I would be so fearless when I was indestructible.
“Have you ever seen an equivalent to self-control as a talent?” Edward asked Carlisle. “Do you really think that’s a gift, or just a product of all her preparation?”
Carlisle shrugged. “It’s slightly similar to what Siobhan has always been able to do, though she wouldn’t call it a gift.”
“Siobhan, your friend in that Irish coven?” Rosalie asked. “I wasn’t aware that she did anything special. I thought it was Maggie who was talented in that bunch.”
“Yes, Siobhan thinks the same. But she has this way of deciding her goals and then almost… willing them into reality. She considers it good planning, but I’ve always wondered if it was something more. When she included Maggie, for instance. Liam was very territorial, but Siobhan wanted it to work out, and so it did.”
Edward, Carlisle, and Rosalie settled into chairs as they continued with the discussion. Jacob sat next to Seth protectively, looking bored. From the way his eyelids drooped, I was sure he’d be unconscious momentarily.
I listened, but my attention was divided. Renesmee was still telling me about her day. I held her by the window wall, my arms rocking her automatically as we stared into each other’s eyes.
I realized that the others had no reason for sitting down. I was perfectly comfortable standing. It was just as restful as stretching out on a bed would be. I knew I would be able to stand like this for a week without moving and I would feel just as relaxed at the end of the seven days as I did at the beginning.
They must sit out of habit. Humans would notice someone standing for hours without ever shifting her weight to a different foot. Even now, I saw Rosalie brush her fingers against her hair and Carlisle cross his legs. Little motions to keep from being too still, too much a vampire. I would have to pay attention to what they did and start practicing.
I rolled my weight back to my left leg. It felt kind of silly.
Maybe they were just trying to give me a little alone time with my baby—as alone as was safe.
Renesmee told me about every minute happening of the day, and I got the feeling from the tenor of her little stories that she wanted me to know her every bit as much I wanted the same thing. It worried her that I had missed things—like the sparrows that had hopped closer and closer when Jacob had held her, both of them very still beside one of the big hemlocks; the birds wouldn’t come close to Rosalie. Or the outrageously icky white stuff—baby formula—that Carlisle had put in her cup; it smelled like sour dirt. Or the song Edward had crooned to her that was so perfect Renesmee played it for me twice; I was surprised that I was in the background of that memory, perfectly motionless but looking fairly battered still. I shuddered, remembering that time from my own perspective. The hideous fire…
After almost an hour—the others were still deeply absorbed in their discussion, Seth and Jacob snoring in harmony on the couch—Renesmee’s memory stories began to slow. They got slightly blurry around the edges and drifted out of focus before they came to their conclusions. I was about to interrupt Edward in a panic—was there something wrong with her?—when her eyelids fluttered and closed. She yawned, her plump pink lips stretching into a round O, and her eyes never reopened.
Her hand fell away from my face as she drifted to sleep—the backs of her eyelids were the pale lavender color of thin clouds before the sunrise. Careful not to disturb her, I lifted that hand back to my skin and held it there curiously. At first there was nothing, and then, after a few minutes, a flickering of colors like a handful of butterflies were scattering from her thoughts.
Mesmerized, I watched her dreams. There was no sense to it. Just colors and shapes and faces. I was pleased by how often my face—both of my faces, hideous human and glorious immortal—cropped up in her unconscious thoughts. More than Edward or Rosalie. I was neck and neck with Jacob; I tried not to let that get to me.
For the first time, I understood how Edward had been able to watch me sleep night after boring night, just to hear me talk in my sleep. I could watch Renesmee dream forever.
The change in Edward’s tone caught my attention when he said, “Finally,” and turned to gaze out the window. It was deep, purply night outside, but I could see just as far as before. Nothing was hidden in the darkness; everything had just changed colors.
Leah, still glowering, got up and slunk into the brush just as Alice came into view on the other side of the river. Alice swung back and forth from a branch like a trapeze artist, toes touching hands, before throwing her body into a graceful flat spin over the river. Esme made a more traditional leap, while Emmett charged right through the water, splashing water so far that splatters hit the back windows. To my surprise, Jasper followed after, his own efficient leap seeming understated, even subtle, after the others.
The huge grin stretching Alice’s face was familiar in a dim, odd way. Everyone was suddenly smiling at me—Esme sweet, Emmett excited, Rosalie a little superior, Carlisle indulgent, and Edward expectant.
Alice skipped into the room ahead of everyone else, her hand stretched out in front of her and impatience making a nearly visible aura around her. In her palm was an everyday brass key with an oversized pink satin bow tied around it.
She held the key out for me, and I automatically gripped Renesmee more securely in my right arm so that I could open my left. Alice dropped the key into it.
“Happy birthday!” she squealed.
I rolled my eyes. “No one starts counting on the actual day of birth,” I reminded her. “Your first birthday is at the year mark, Alice.”
Her grin turned smug. “We’re not celebrating your vampire birthday. Yet. It’s September thirteenth, Bella. Happy nineteenth birthday!”