CNN broke the story first.
I was glad it hit the news before I had to leave for school, anxious to hear how the humans would phrase the account, and what amount of attention it would garner. Luckily, it was a heavy news day. There was an earthquake in South America and a political kidnapping in the Middle East. So it ended up only earning a few seconds, a few sentences, and one grainy picture.
“Alonzo Calderas Wallace, suspected serial rapist and murderer wanted in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, was apprehended last night in Portland, Oregon thanks to an anonymous tip. Wallace was found unconscious in an alley early this morning, just a few yards from a police station. Officials are unable to tell us at this time whether he will be extradited to Houston or Oklahoma City to stand trial.”
The picture was unclear, a mug shot, and he’d had a thick beard at the time of the photograph. Even if Bella saw it, she would probably not recognize him. I hoped she wouldn’t; it would make her afraid needlessly.
“The coverage here in town will be light. It’s too far away to be considered of local interest,” Alice told me. “It was a good call to have Carlisle take him out of state.”
I nodded. Bella didn’t watch much TV regardless, and I’d never seen her father watching anything besides sports channels.
I’d done what I could. This monster no longer hunted, and I was not a murderer. Not recently, anyway. I’d been right to trust Carlisle, as much as I still wished the monster had not gotten off quite so easily. I caught myself hoping he would be extradited to Texas, where the death penalty was so popular…
No. That didn’t matter. I would put this behind me, and concentrate on what was most important.
I’d left Bella’s room less than an hour ago. I was already aching to see her again.
“Alice, do you mind—”
She cut me off. “Rosalie will drive. She’ll act pissed, but you know she’ll enjoy the excuse to show off her car.” Alice trilled a laugh.
I grinned at her. “See you at school.”
Alice sighed, and my grin became a grimace.
I know, I know, she thought. Not yet. I’ll wait until you’re ready for Bella to know me. You should know, though, this isn’t just me being selfish. Bella’s going to like me, too.
I didn’t answer her as I hurried out the door. That was a different way of viewing the situation. Would Bella want to know Alice? To have a vampire for a girlfriend?
Knowing Bella…that idea probably wouldn’t bother her in the slightest.
I frowned to myself. What Bella wanted and what was best for Bella were two very separate things.
I started to feel uneasy as I parked my car in Bella’s driveway. The human adage said that things looked different in the morning—that things changed when you slept on them. Would I look different to Bella in the weak light of a foggy day? More sinister or less sinister than I had in the blackness of night? Had the truth sunk in while she slept? Would she finally be afraid?
Her dreams had been peaceful, though, last night. When she’d spoken my name, time and time again, she’d smiled. More than once she’d murmured a plea for me to stay. Would that mean nothing today?
I waited nervously, listening to the sounds of her inside the house—the fast, stumbling footsteps on the stairs, the sharp rip of a foil wrapper, the contents of the refrigerator crashing against each other when the door slammed. It sounded like she was in a hurry. Anxious to get to school? The thought made me smile, hopeful again.
I looked at the clock. I supposed that—taking in account the velocity her decrepit truck must limit her to—she was running a little late.
Bella rushed out of the house, her book bag sliding off her shoulder, her hair coiled into a messy twist that was already coming apart on the nape of her neck. The thick green sweater she wore was not enough to keep her thin shoulders from hunching against the cold fog.
The long sweater was too big for her, unflattering. It masked her slender figure, turning all her delicate curves and soft lines into a shapeless jumble. I appreciated this almost as much as I wished that she had worn something more like the soft blue blouse
she’d worn last night…the fabric had clung to her skin in such an appealing way, cut low enough to reveal the mesmerizing way her collar bones curled away from the hollow beneath her throat. The blue had flowed like water along the subtle shape of her body…
It was better—essential—that I kept my thoughts far, far away from that shape, so I was grateful to the unbecoming sweater she wore. I couldn’t afford to make mistakes, and it would be a monumental mistake to dwell on the strange hungers that thoughts of her lips…her skin…her body…were shaking loose inside of me. Hungers that had evaded me for a hundred years. But I could not allow myself to think of touching her, because that was impossible.
I would break her.
Bella turned away from the door, in such a hurry that she nearly ran right by my car without noticing it.
Then she skidded to a stop, her knees locking like a startled colt’s. Her bag slid further down her arm, and her eyes flew wide as they focused on the car.
I got out, taking no care to move at human speed, and opened the passenger door for her. I would not try to deceive her anymore—when we were alone, at least, I would be myself.
She looked up at me, startled again as I seemingly materialized out of the fog. And then the surprise in her eyes changed to something else, and I was no longer afraid— or hopeful—that her feelings for me had changed in the course of the night. Warmth, wonder, fascination, all swimming in the melted chocolate of her eyes.
“Do you want to ride with me today?” I asked. Unlike dinner last night, I would let her choose. From now on, it must always be her choice.
“Yes, thank you,” she murmured, climbing into my car without hesitation.
Would it ever cease to thrill me, that I was the one she was saying yes to? I doubted it.
I flashed around the car, eager to join her. She showed no sign of being shocked by my sudden reappearance.
The happiness I felt when she sat beside me this way had no precedent. As much as I enjoyed the love and companionship of my family, despite the various entertainments and distractions the world had to offer, I had never been happy like this. Even knowing
that it was wrong, that this couldn’t possibly end well, could not keep the smile from my
face for long.
My jacket was folded over the headrest of her seat. I saw her eyeing it.
“I brought the jacket for you,” I told her. This was my excuse, had I needed to provide one, for showing up uninvited this morning. It was cold. She had no jacket. Surely this was an acceptable form of chivalry. “I didn’t want you to get sick or something.”
“I’m not quite that delicate,” she said, staring at my chest rather than my face, as if she were hesitant to meet my eyes. But she put the coat on before I had to resort to commanding or coaxing.
“Aren’t you?” I muttered to myself.
She stared out at the road as I accelerated toward the school. I could only stand the silence for a few seconds. I had to know what her thoughts were this morning. So much had changed between us since the last time the sun was up.
“What, no twenty questions today?” I asked, keeping it light again.
She smiled, seeming glad that I’d broached the subject. “Do my questions bother you?”
“Not as much as your reactions do,” I told her honestly, smiling in response to her smile.
Her mouth turned down. “Do I react badly?”
“No, that’s the problem. You take everything so coolly—it’s unnatural.” Not one scream so far. How could that be? “It makes me wonder what you’re really thinking.” Of course, everything she did or didn’t do made me wonder that.
“I always tell you what I’m really thinking.”
Her teeth pressed into her lip again. She didn’t seem to notice when she did this—it was an unconscious response to tension. “Not very much.”
Just those words were enough to have my curiosity raging. What did she purposefully keep from me?
“Enough to drive me insane,” I said.
She hesitated, and then whispered, “You don’t want to hear it.”
I had to think for a moment, run through our entire conversation last night, word for word, before I made the connection. Perhaps it took so much concentration because I couldn’t imagine anything that I wouldn’t want her to say to me. And then—because the tone of her voice was the same as last night; there was suddenly pain there again—I remembered. Once, I had asked her not to speak her thoughts. Never say that, I’d all but snarled at her. I had made her cry…
Was this what she kept from me? The depth of her feelings about me? That my being a monster didn’t matter to her, and that she thought it was too late for her to change her mind?
I was unable to speak, because the joy and pain were too strong for words, the conflict between them too wild to allow for a coherent response. It was silent in the car except for the steady rhythms of her heart and lungs.
“Where’s the rest of your family?” she asked suddenly.
I took a deep breath—registering the scent in the car with true pain for the first time; I was getting used to this, I realized with satisfaction—and forced myself to be casual again.
“They took Rosalie’s car.” I parked in the open spot next to the car in question. I hid my smile as I watched her eyes widen. “Ostentatious, isn’t it?”
“Um, wow. If she has that, why does she ride with you?”
Rosalie would have enjoyed Bella’s reaction…if she were being objective about Bella, which probably wouldn’t happen.
“Like I said, it’s ostentatious. We try to blend in.”
“You don’t succeed,” she told me, and then she laughed a carefree laugh.
The blithe, wholly untroubled sound of her laughter warmed my hollow chest even as it made my head swim with doubt.
“So why did Rosalie drive today if it’s more conspicuous?” she wondered.
“Hadn’t you noticed? I’m breaking all the rules now.”
My answer should have been mildly frightening—so, of course, Bella smiled at it.
She didn’t wait for me to open her door, just like last night. I had to feign normality here at school—so I couldn’t move fast enough to prevent this—but she was just going to have to get used to being treated with more courtesy, and get used to it soon.
I walked as close to her as I dared, watching carefully for any sign that my proximity upset her. Twice her hand twitched toward me and then she would snatch it back. It looked like she wanted to touch me… My breath sped.
“Why do you have cars like that at all? If you’re looking for privacy?” she asked as we walked.
“An indulgence,” I admitted. “We all like to drive fast.”
“Figures,” she mumbled, her tone sour.
She didn’t look up to see my answering grin.
Nuh-uh! I don’t believe this! How the hell did Bella pull this off? I don’t get it! Why?
Jessica’s mental boggling interrupted my thoughts. She was waiting for Bella, taking refuge from the rain under the edge of the cafeteria’s roof, with Bella’s winter jacket over her arm. Her eyes were wide with disbelief.
Bella noticed her, too, in the next moment. A faint pink touched her cheek when Bella registered Jessica’s expression. The thoughts in Jessica’s head were fairly clear on her face.
“Hey, Jessica. Thanks for remembering,” Bella greeted her. She reached out for the jacket and Jessica handed it to her wordlessly.
I should be polite to Bella’s friends, whether they were good friends or not. “Good morning, Jessica.”
Jessica’s eyes popped even wider. It was strange and amusing…and, honestly, a bit embarrassing…to realize how much being near Bella had softened me. It seemed like no one was afraid of me any more. If Emmett found out about this, he would be laughing for the next century.
“Er…hi,” Jessica mumbled, and her eyes flashed to Bella’s face, full of significance. “I guess I’ll see you in Trig.”
You are so going to spill. I’m not taking no for an answer. Details. I have to have details! Edward freaking CULLEN!! Life is so unfair.
Bella’s mouth twitched. “Yeah, I’ll see you then.”
Jessica’s thoughts ran wild as she hurried to her first class, peeking back at us now and then.
The whole story. I’m not accepting anything less. Did they plan to meet up last night? Are they dating? How long? How could she keep this a secret? Why would she want to? It can’t be a casual thing—she has to be seriously into him. Is there any other option? I will find out. I can’t stand not knowing. I wonder if she’s made out with him? Oh, swoon… Jessica’s thoughts were suddenly disjointed, and she let wordless fantasies swirl through her head. I winced at her speculations, and not just because she’d replaced Bella with herself in the mental pictures.
It couldn’t be like that. And yet I…I wanted…
I resisted making the admission, even to myself. How many wrong ways would I want Bella in? Which one would end up killing her?
I shook my head, and tried to lighten up.
“What are you going to tell her?” I asked Bella.
“Hey!” she whispered fiercely. “I thought you couldn’t read my mind!”
“I can’t.” I stared at her, surprised, trying to make sense of her words. Ah—we must have been thinking the same thing at the same time. Hmm…I rather liked that. “However,” I told her, “I can read hers—she’ll be waiting to ambush you in class.”
Bella groaned, and then let the jacket slide off her shoulders. I didn’t realize that she was giving it back at first—I wouldn’t have asked for it; I would rather she kept it…a token—so I was too slow to offer her my help. She handed me the jacket, and put her arms through her own, without looking up to see that my hands were extended to assist. I frowned at that, and then controlled my expression before she noticed it.
“So, what are you going to tell her?” I pressed.
“A little help? What does she want to know?”
I smiled, and shook my head. I wanted to hear what she was thinking without a prompt. “That’s not fair.”
Her eyes tightened. “No, you not sharing what you know—now that’s unfair.”
Right—she didn’t like double standards.
We got to the door of her class—where I would have to leave her; I wondered idly if Ms. Cope would be more accommodating about a switch in the schedule of my English class… I made myself focus. I could be fair.
“She wants to know if we’re secretly dating,” I said slowly. “And she wants to know how you feel about me.”
Her eyes were wide—not startled, but ingenious now. They were open to me, readable. She was playing innocent.
“Yikes,” she murmured. “What should I say?”
“Hmmm.” She always tried to make me give away more than she did. I pondered how to respond.
A wayward strand of her hair, slightly damp from the fog, draped across her shoulder and curled around where her collar bone was hidden by the ridiculous sweater. It drew my eyes…pulled them across the other hidden lines…
I reached for it carefully, not touching her skin—the morning was chill enough without my touch—and twisted it back into place in her untidy bun so that it wouldn’t distract me again. I remembered when Mike Newton had touched her hair, and my jaw flexed at the memory. She had flinched away from him then. Her reaction now was nothing the same; instead, there was a slight widening of her eyes, a rush of blood under her skin, and a sudden, uneven thumping of her heart.
I tried to hide my smile as I answered her question.
“I suppose you could say yes to the first…if you don’t mind—,” her choice, always her choice, “—it’s easier than any other explanation.”
“I don’t mind,” she whispered. Her heart had not found its normal rhythm yet.
“And as for her other question…” I couldn’t hide my smile now. “Well, I’ll be listening to hear the answer to that one myself.”
Let Bella consider that. I held back my laugh as shock crossed her face.
I turned quickly, before she could ask for any more answers. I had a difficult time not giving her whatever she asked for. And I wanted to hear her thoughts, not mine.
“I’ll see you at lunch,” I called back to her over my shoulder, an excuse to check that she was still staring after me, wide-eyed. Her mouth was hanging open. I turned away again, and laughed.
As I paced away, I was vaguely aware of the shocked and speculative thoughts that swirled around me—eyes bouncing back and forth between Bella’s face and my retreating figure. I paid them little attention. I couldn’t concentrate. It was hard enough to keep my feet moving at an acceptable speed as I crossed the soggy grass to my next class. I wanted to run—really run, so fast that I would disappear, so fast that it would feel like I was flying. Part of me was flying already.
I put the jacket on when I got to class, letting her fragrance swim thick around me. I would burn now—let the scent desensitize me—and then it would be easier to ignore it later, when I was with her again at lunch…
It was a good thing that my teachers no longer bothered to call on me. Today might have been the day that they would have caught me out, unprepared and answerless. My mind was in so many places this morning; only my body was in the classroom.
Of course I was watching Bella. That was becoming natural—as automatic as breathing. I heard her conversation with a demoralized Mike Newton. She quickly directed the conversation to Jessica, and I grinned so wide that Rob Sawyer, who sat at the desk to my right, flinched visibly and slid deeper into his seat, away from me.
Well, I hadn’t lost it entirely.
I was also monitoring Jessica loosely, watching her refine her questions for Bella. I could barely wait for fourth period, ten times as eager and anxious as the curious human girl who wanted fresh gossip.
And I was also listening to Angela Weber.
I had not forgotten the gratitude I felt to her—for thinking nothing but kind things toward Bella in the first place, and then for her help last night. So I waited through the morning, looking for something that she wanted. I assumed it would be an easy; like any other human, there must be some bauble or toy she wanted particularly. Several, probably. I would deliver something anonymously and call us even.
But Angela proved almost as unaccommodating as Bella with her thoughts. She was oddly content for a teenager. Happy. Perhaps this was the reason for her unusual kindness—she was one of those rare people who had what they wanted and wanted what they had. If she wasn’t paying attention to her teachers and her notes, she was thinking
of the twin little brothers she was taking to the beach this weekend—anticipating their excitement with an almost maternal pleasure. She cared for them often, but was not resentful of this fact… It was very sweet.
But not really helpful to me.
There had to be something she wanted. I would just have to keep looking. But later. It was time for Bella’s trig class with Jessica.
I wasn’t watching where I was going as I made my way to English. Jessica was already in her seat, both her feet tapping impatiently against the floor as she waited for Bella to arrive.
Conversely, once I settled into my assigned seat in the classroom, I became utterly still. I had to remind myself to fidget now and then. To keep up the charade. It was difficult, my thoughts were so focused on Jessica’s. I hoped she would pay attention, really try to read Bella’s face for me.
Jessica’s tapping intensified when Bella walked into the room.
She looks…glum. Why? Maybe there’s nothing going on with Edward Cullen. That would be a disappointment. Except…then he’s still available… If he’s suddenly interested in dating, I don’t mind helping out with that…
Bella’s face didn’t look glum, it looked reluctant. She was worried—she knew I would hear all of this. I smiled to myself.
“Tell me everything!” Jess demanded while Bella was still removing her jacket to hang it on the back of her seat. She was moving with deliberation, unwilling.
Ugh, she’s so slow. Let’s get to the juicy stuff!
“What do you want to know?” Bella stalled as she took her seat.
“What happened last night?”
“He bought me dinner, and then he drove me home.”
And then? C’mon, there has to be more than that! She’s lying anyway, I know that. I’m going to call her on it.
“How did you get home so fast?”
I watched Bella roll her eyes at the suspicious Jessica.
“He drives like a maniac. It was terrifying.”
She smiled a tiny smile, and I laughed out loud, interrupting Mr. Mason’s announcements. I tried to turn the laugh into a cough, but no one was fooled. Mr. Mason shot me an irritated look, but I didn’t even bother to listen to the thought behind it. I was hearing Jessica.
Huh. She sounds like she’s telling the truth. Why is she making me pull this out of her, word by word? I would be bragging at the top of my lungs if it were me.
“Was it like a date—did you tell him to meet you there?”
Jessica watched surprise cross Bella’s expression, and was disappointed at how genuine it seemed.
“No—I was very surprised to see him there,” Bella told her.
What is going on?? “But he picked you up for school today?” There has to be more to the story.
“Yes—that was a surprise, too. He noticed I didn’t have a jacket last night.”
That’s not very much fun, Jessica thought, disappointed again.
I was tired of her line of questioning—I wanted to hear something I didn’t already know. I hoped she wasn’t so dissatisfied that she would skip the questions I was waiting for.
“So are you going out again?” Jessica demanded.
“He offered to drive me to Seattle Saturday because he thinks my truck isn’t up to it—does that count?”
Hmm. He sure is going out of his way to…well, take care of her, sort of. There must be something there on his side, if not on hers. How could THAT be? Bella’s crazy.
“Yes,” Jessica answered Bella’s question.
“Well, then,” Bella concluded. “Yes.”
“Wow…Edward Cullen.” Whether she likes him or not, this is major.
“I know,” Bella sighed.
The tone of her voice encouraged Jessica. Finally—she sounds like she gets it! She must realize…
“Wait!” Jessica said, suddenly remembering her most vital question. “Has he kissed you?” Please say yes. And then describe every second!
“No,” Bella mumbled, and then she looked down at her hands, her face falling. “It’s not like that.”
Damn. I wish… Ha. Looks like she does to.
I frowned. Bella did look upset about something, but it couldn’t be disappointment like Jessica assumed. She couldn’t want that. Not knowing what she knew. She couldn’t want to be that close to my teeth. For all she knew, I had fangs.
I shuddered. “Do you think Saturday…?” Jessica prodded. Bella looked even more frustrated as she said, “I really doubt it.” Yeah, she does wish. That sucks for her.
Was it because I was watching all this through the filter of Jessica’s perceptions that it seemed like Jessica was right?
For a half-second I was distracted by the idea, the impossibility, of what it would be like to try to kiss her. My lips to her lips, cold stone to warm, yielding silk…
And then she dies.
I shook my head, wincing, and made myself pay attention.
“What did you talk about?” Did you talk to him, or did you make him drag every ounce of information out of you like this?
I smiled ruefully. Jessica wasn’t far off.
“I don’t know, Jess, lots of stuff. We talked about the English essay a little.”
A very little. I smiled wider.
Oh, c’MON. “Please, Bella! Give me some details.”
Bella deliberated for a moment.
“Well…okay, I’ve got one. You should have seen the waitress flirting with him— it was over the top. But he didn’t pay any attention to her at all.”
What a strange detail to share. I was surprised Bella had even noticed. It seemed a very inconsequential thing.
Interesting… “That’s a good sign. Was she pretty?”
Hmm. Jessica thought more of it that I did. Must be a female thing.
“Very,” Bella told her. “And probably nineteen or twenty.”
Jessica was momentarily distracted by a memory of Mike on her date Monday night—Mike being a little too friendly with a waitress who Jessica did not consider pretty at all. She shoved the memory away and returned, stifling her irritation, to her quest for details.
“Even better. He must like you.”
“I think so,” Bella said slowly, and I was on the edge of my seat, my body rigidly still. “But it’s hard to tell. He’s always so cryptic.”
I must not have been as transparently obvious and out of control as I’d thought. Still…observant as she was… How could she not realize that I was in love with her? I sifted through our conversation, almost surprised that I hadn’t said the words out loud. It had felt like that knowledge had been the subtext of every word between us.
Wow. How do you sit there across from a male model and make conversation? “I don’t know how you’re brave enough to be alone with him,” Jessica said.
Shock flashed across Bella’s face. “Why?”
Weird reaction. What does she think I meant? “He’s so…” What’s the right word? “Intimidating. I wouldn’t know what to say to him.” I couldn’t even speak English to him today, and all he said was good morning. I must have sounded like such an idiot.
Bella smiled. “I do have some trouble with incoherency when I’m around him.”
She must be trying to make Jessica feel better. She was almost unnaturally self-possessed when we were together.
“Oh well,” Jessica sighed. “He is unbelievably gorgeous.”
Bella’s face was suddenly colder. Her eyes flashed the same way they did when she resented some injustice. Jessica didn’t process the change in her expression.
“There’s a lot more to him than that,” Bella snapped.
Oooh. Now we’re getting somewhere. “Really? Like what?”
Bella gnawed her lip for a moment. “I can’t explain it right,” she finally said. “But he’s even more unbelievable behind the face.” She looked away from Jessica, her eyes slightly unfocused as if she was staring at something very far away.
The feeling I felt now was loosely similar to how it felt when Carlisle or Esme praised me beyond what I deserved. Similar, but more intense, more consuming.
Sell stupid somewhere else—there’s nothing better than that face! Unless it’s his body. Swoon. “Is that possible?” Jessica giggled.
Bella didn’t turn. She continued to stare into the distance, ignoring Jessica.
A normal person would be gloating. Maybe if I keep the questions simple. Ha ha. Like I’m talking to a kindergartener. “So you like him, then?”
I was rigid again.
Bella didn’t look at Jessica. “Yes.”
“I mean, do you really like him?”
Look at that blush!
“How much do you like him?” Jessica demanded.
The English room could have gone up in flames and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Bella’s face was bright red now—I could almost feel the heat from the mental picture.
“Too much,” she whispered. “More than he likes me. But I don’t see how I can help that.”
Shoot! What did Mr. Varner just ask? “Um—which number, Mr. Varner?”
It was good that Jessica could no longer quiz Bella. I needed a minute.
What on earth was that girl thinking now? More than he likes me? How did she come up with that? But I don’t see how I can help that? What was that supposed to mean? I couldn’t fit a rational explanation to the words. They were practically senseless.
It seemed I couldn’t take anything for granted. Obvious things, things that made perfect sense, somehow got twisted up and turned backwards in that bizarre brain of hers. More than he likes me? Maybe I shouldn’t rule out the institution just yet.
I glared at the clock, gritting my teeth. How could mere minutes feel so impossibly long to an immortal? Where was my perspective?
My jaw was tight throughout Mr. Varner’s entire trigonometry lesson. I heard more of that than the lecture in my own class. Bella and Jessica didn’t speak again, but Jessica peeked at Bella several times, and once her face was brilliant scarlet again for no apparent reason.
Lunch couldn’t come fast enough.
I wasn’t sure if Jessica would get some of the answers I was waiting for when the class was over, but Bella was quicker than she was.
As soon as the bell sounded, Bella turned to Jessica.
“In English, Mike asked me if you said anything about Monday night,” Bella said, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips. I understood this for what is was—offence as the best defense.
Mike asked about me? Joy made Jessica’s mind suddenly unguarded, softer, without its usual snide edge. “You’re kidding! What did you say?”
“I told him you said you had a lot of fun—and he looked pleased.”
“Tell me exactly what he said, and your exact answer!”
That was all I was going to get from Jessica today, clearly. Bella was smiling like she was thinking the same thing. Like she’d won the round.
Well, lunch would be another story. I would have better success with getting answers out of her than Jessica, I would make sure of that.
I could hardly bear to check in occasionally with Jessica through the fourth hour. I had no patience for her obsessive thoughts of Mike Newton. I’d had more than enough of him in the last two weeks. He was lucky to be alive.
I moved apathetically through gym class with Alice, the way we always moved when it came to physical activity with humans. She was my teammate, naturally. It was the first day of badminton. I sighed with boredom, swinging the racket in slow motion to tap the birdie back to the other side. Lauren Mallory was on the other team; she missed. Alice was twirling her racket like a baton, staring at the ceiling.
We all hated gym, Emmett especially. Throwing games was an affront to his personal philosophy. Gym seemed worse today than usual—I felt just as irritated as Emmett always did.
Before my head could explode with impatience, Coach Clapp called the games and sent us out early. I was ridiculously grateful that he’d skipped breakfast—a fresh attempt to diet—and the consequent hunger had him in a hurry to leave campus to find a greasy lunch somewhere. He promised himself he would start over tomorrow…
This gave me enough time to get to the math building before Bella’s class ended.
Enjoy yourself, Alice thought as she headed off to meet Jasper. Just a few days more to be patient. I suppose you won’t say hi to Bella for me, will you?
I shook my head, exasperated. Were all psychics so smug?
FYI, it’s going to be sunny on both sides of the sound this weekend. You might want to rearrange your plans.
I sighed as I continued in the opposite direction. Smug, but definitely useful.
I leaned against the wall by the door, waiting. I was close enough that I could hear Jessica’s voice through the bricks as well as her thoughts.
“You’re not sitting with us today, are you?” She looks all…lit up. I bet there’s tons she didn’t tell me.
“I don’t think so,” Bella answered, oddly unsure.
Hadn’t I promised to spend lunch with her? What was she thinking?
They came out of the class together, and both girls’ eyes widened when they saw me. But I could only hear Jessica.
Nice. Wow. Oh, yeah, there’s more going on here than she’s telling me. Maybe I’ll call her tonight… Or maybe I shouldn’t encourage her. Huh. I hope he moves past her in a hurry. Mike is cute but…wow.
“See you later, Bella.”
Bella walked toward me, pausing a step away, still unsure. Her skin was pink across her cheekbones.
I knew her well enough now to be sure that there was no fear behind her hesitation. Apparently, this was about some gulf she imagined between her feelings and mine. More than he likes me. Absurd!
“Hello,” I said, my voice a tad curt.
Her face got brighter. “Hi.”
She didn’t seem inclined to say anything else, so I led the way to the cafeteria and she walked silently beside me.
The jacket had worked—her scent was not the blow it usually was. It was just an intensification of the pain I already felt. I could ignore it more easily than I once would have believed possible.
Bella was restless as we waited in line, toying absently with the zipper on her jacket and shifting nervously from foot to foot. She glanced at me often, but whenever she met my gaze, she looked down as if she were embarrassed. Was this because so many people were staring at us? Maybe she could hear the loud whispers—the gossip was verbal as well as mental today.
Or maybe she realized, from my expression, that she was in trouble.
She didn’t say anything until I was assembling her lunch. I didn’t know what she liked—not yet—so I grabbed one of everything.
“What are you doing?” she hissed in a low voice. “You’re not getting all that for me?”
I shook my head, and shoved the tray up to the register. “Half is for me, of course.”
She raised one eyebrow skeptically, but said nothing more as I paid for the food and escorted her to the table we’d sat at last week before her disastrous experience with blood typing. It seemed like much more than a few days. Everything was different now.
She sat across from me again. I pushed the tray toward her.
“Take whatever you want,” I encouraged.
She picked up an apple and twisted it in her hands, a speculative look on her face.
What a surprise.
“What would you do if someone dared you to eat food?” she continued in a low voice that wouldn’t carry to human ears. Immortal ears were another matter, if those ears were paying attention. I probably should have mentioned something to them earlier…
“You’re always curious,” I complained. Oh well. It wasn’t like I hadn’t had to eat before. It was part of the charade. An unpleasant part.
I reached for the closest thing, and held her eyes while I bite off a small bite of whatever it was. Without looking, I couldn’t tell. It was as slimy and chunky and repulsive as any other human food. I chewed swiftly and swallowed, trying to keep the grimace off my face. The gob of food moved slowly and uncomfortably down my throat. I sighed as I thought of how I would have to choke it back up later. Disgusting.
Bella’s expression was shocked. Impressed.
I wanted to roll my eyes. Of course we would have perfected such deceptions.
“If someone dared you to eat dirt, you could, couldn’t you?”
Her nose wrinkled and she smiled. “I did once…on a dare. It wasn’t so bad.”
I laughed. “I suppose I’m not surprised.”
They look cozy, don’t they? Good body language. I’ll give Bella my take later. He’s leaning toward her just the way he should, if he’s interested. He looks interested. He looks…perfect. Jessica sighed. Yum.
I met Jessica’s curious eyes, and she looked away nervously, giggling to the girl next to her.
Hmmm. Probably better to stick to Mike. Reality, not fantasy…
“Jessica’s analyzing everything I do,” I informed Bella. “She’ll break it down for you later.”
I pushed the plate of food back towards her—pizza, I realized—wondering how best to begin. My former frustration flared as the words repeated in my head: More than he likes me. But I don’t see how I can help that.
She took a bite from the same slice of pizza. It amazed me how trusting she was. Of course, she didn’t know I was poisonous—not that sharing food would hurt her. Still, I expected her to treat me differently. As something other. She never did—at least, not in a negative way…
I would start off gently.
“So the waitress was pretty, was she?”
She raised the eyebrow again. “You really didn’t notice?”
As if any woman could hope to capture my attention from Bella. Absurd, again.
“No. I wasn’t paying attention. I had a lot on my mind.” Not the least of which had been the soft cling of her thin blouse…
Good thing she’d worn that ugly sweater today.
“Poor girl,” Bella said, smiling.
She liked that I hadn’t found the waitress interesting in any way. I could understand that. How many times had I imagined crippling Mike Newton in the biology room?
She couldn’t honestly believe that her human feelings, the fruition of seventeen short mortal years, could be stronger than the immortal passions that had been building up in me for a century.
“Something you said to Jessica…” I couldn’t keep my voice casual. “Well, it bothers me.”
She was immediately on the defensive. “I’m not surprised you heard something you didn’t like. You know what they say about eavesdroppers.”
Eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, that was the saying.
“I warned you I would be listening,” I reminded her.
“And I warned you that you didn’t want to know everything I was thinking.”
Ah, she was thinking of when I’d made her cry. Remorse made my voice thicker. “You did. You aren’t precisely right, though. I do want to know what you’re thinking— everything. I just wish…that you wouldn’t be thinking some things.”
More half-lies. I knew I shouldn’t want her to care about me. But I did. Of course I did.
“That’s quite a distinction,” she grumbled, scowling at me.
“But that’s not really the point at the moment.”
“Then what is?”
She leaned toward me, her hand cupped lightly around her throat. It drew my eye—distracted me. How soft that skin must feel…
Focus, I commanded myself.
“Do you truly believe that you care more for me than I do for you?” I asked. The question sounded ridiculous to me, like the words were scrambled.
Her eyes were wide, her breathing stopped. Then she looked away, blinking quickly. Her breath came in a low gasp.
“You’re doing it again,” she murmured.
“Dazzling me,” she admitted, meeting my eyes warily.
“Oh.” Hmm. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. Nor was I sure that I didn’t want to dazzle her. I was still thrilled that I could. But it wasn’t helping the progression of the conversation.
“It’s not your fault.” She sighed. “You can’t help it.”
“Are you going to answer my question?” I demanded.
She stared at the table. “Yes.”
That was all she said.
“Yes, you are going to answer, or yes, you really think that?” I asked impatiently.
“Yes, I really think that,” she said without looking up. There was a faint undertone of sadness in her voice. She blushed again, and her teeth moved unconsciously to worry her lip.
Abruptly, I realized that this was very hard for her to admit, because she truly believed it. And I was no better than that coward, Mike, asking for her to confirm her feelings before I’d confirmed my own. It didn’t matter that I felt I’d make my side abundantly clear. It hadn’t gotten through to her, and so I had no excuse.
“You’re wrong,” I promised. She must hear the tenderness in my voice.
Bella looked up to me, her eyes opaque, giving nothing away. “You can’t know that,” she whispered.
She thought that I was underestimating her feelings because I couldn’t hear her thoughts. But, in truth, the problem was that she was underestimating mine.
“What makes you think so?” I wondered.
She stared back at me, the furrow between her brows, biting her lips. For the millionth time, I wished desperately that I could just hear her.
I was about to beg her to tell me what thought she was struggling with, but she held up a finger to keep me from speaking.
“Let me think,” she requested.
As long as she was simply organizing her thoughts, I could be patient.
Or I could pretend to be.
She pressed her hands together, twining and untwining her slender fingers. She was watching her hands as if they belonged to someone else while she spoke.
“Well, aside from the obvious,” she murmured. “Sometimes… I can’t be sure—I don’t know how to read minds—but sometimes it seems like you’re trying to say goodbye when you’re saying something else.” She didn’t look up.
She’d caught that, had she? Did she realize that it was only weakness and selfishness that kept me here? Did she think less of me for that?
“Perceptive,” I breathed, and then watched in horror as pain twisted her expression. I hurried to contradict her assumption. “That’s exactly why you’re wrong, though—” I began, and then I paused, remembering the first words of her explanation. They bothered me, though I wasn’t sure I understood exactly. “What do you mean, ‘the obvious’?”
“Well, look at me,” she said.
I was looking. All I ever did was look at her. What did she mean?
“I’m absolutely ordinary,” she explained. “Well, except for the bad things like all the near death experiences and being so clumsy that I’m almost disabled. And look at you.” She fanned the air toward me, like she was making some point so obvious it wasn’t worth spelling out.
She thought she was ordinary? She thought that I was somehow preferable to her? In whose estimation? Silly, narrow-minded, blind humans like Jessica or Ms. Cope? How could she not realize that she was the most beautiful…most exquisite… Those words weren’t even enough.
And she had no idea.
“You don’t see yourself very clearly, you know,” I told her. “I’ll admit you’re dead-on about the bad things…” I laughed humorlessly. I did not find the evil fate who haunted her comical. The clumsiness, however, was sort of funny. Endearing. Would she believe me if I told her she was beautiful, inside and out? Perhaps she would find corroboration more persuasive. “But you didn’t hear what every human male was thinking on your first day.”
Ah, the hope, the thrill, the eagerness of those thoughts. The speed with which they’d turned to impossible fantasies. Impossible, because she wanted none of them.
I was the one she said yes to.
My smile must have been smug.
Her face was blank with surprise. “I don’t believe it,” she mumbled.
“Trust me just this once—you are the opposite of ordinary.”
Her existence alone was excuse enough to justify the creation of the entire world.
She wasn’t used to compliments, I could see that. Another thing she would just have to get used to. She flushed, and changed the subject. “But I’m not saying goodbye.”
“Don’t you see? That’s what proves me right. I care the most, because if I can do it…” Would I ever be unselfish enough to do the right thing? I shook my head in despair. I would have to find the strength. She deserved a life. Not what Alice had seen coming for her. “If leaving is the right thing to do…” And it had to be the right thing, didn’t it? There was no reckless angel. Bella didn’t belong with me. “Then I’ll hurt myself to keep from hurting you, to keep you safe.”
As I said the words, I willed them to be true.
She glared at me. Somehow, my words had angered her. “And you don’t think I would do the same?” she demanded furiously.
So furious—so soft and so fragile. How could she ever hurt anyone? “You’d never have to make the choice,” I told her, depressed anew by the wide difference between us.
She stared at me, concern replacing the anger in her eyes and bringing out the little pucker between them.
There was something truly wrong with the order of the universe if someone so good and so breakable did not merit a guardian angel to keep her out of trouble.
Well, I thought with dark humor, at least she has a guardian vampire.
I smiled. How I loved my excuse to stay. “Of course, keeping you safe is beginning to feel like a full-time occupation that requires my constant presence.”
She smiled, too. “No one has tried to do away with me today,” she said lightly, and then her face turned speculative for half a second before her eyes went opaque again.
“Yet,” I added dryly.
“Yet,” she agreed to my surprise. I’d expected her to deny any need for protection.
How could he? That selfish jackass! How could he do this to us? Rosalie’s piercing mental shriek broke through my concentration.
“Easy, Rose,” I heard Emmett whisper from across the cafeteria. His arm was around her shoulders, holding her tight into his side—restraining her.
Sorry, Edward, Alice thought guiltily. She could tell Bella knew too much from your conversation…and, well, it would have been worse if I hadn’t told her the truth right away. Trust me on that.
I winced at the mental picture that followed, at what would have happened if I’d told Rosalie that Bella knew I was a vampire at home, where Rosalie didn’t have a fa?ade to keep up. I’d have to hide my Aston Martin somewhere out of state if she didn’t calm down by the time school was over. The sight of my favorite car, mangled and burning, was upsetting—though I knew I’d earned the retribution.
Jasper was not much happier.
I’d deal with the others later. I only had so much time allotted to be to be with Bella, and I wasn’t going to waste it. And hearing Alice had reminded me that I had some business to attend to.
“I have another question for you,” I said, tuning out Rosalie’s mental hysterics.
“Shoot,” Bella said, smiling.
“Do you really need to go to Seattle this Saturday, or was that just an excuse to get out of saying no to all your admirers?”
She grimaced at me. “You know, I haven’t forgiven you for the Tyler thing yet. It’s your fault that he’s deluded himself into thinking I’m going to prom with him.”
“Oh, he would have found a chance to ask you without me—I just really wanted to watch your face.”
I laughed now, remembering her aghast expression. Nothing I’d ever told her about my own dark story had ever made her look so horrified. The truth didn’t frighten her. She wanted to be with me. Mind-boggling.
“If I’d asked you, would you have turned me down?”
“Probably not,” she said. “But I would have cancelled later—faked an illness or a sprained ankle.”
How strange. “Why would you do that?”
She shook her head, as if she was disappointed that I did not understand at once. “You’ve never seen me in gym, I guess, but I would have thought that you would understand.”
Ah. “Are you referring to the fact that you can’t walk across a flat, stable surface without finding something to trip over?”
“That wouldn’t be a problem. It’s all in the leading.”
For a brief fraction of a second, I was overwhelmed by the idea of holding her in my arms at a dance—where she would surely wear something pretty and delicate rather than this hideous sweater.
With perfect clarity, I remembered how her body had felt under mine after I’d thrown her out of the way of the oncoming van. Stronger than the panic or the desperation or the chagrin, I could remember that sensation. She’d been so warm and so soft, fitting easily into my own stone shape…
I wrenched myself back from the memory.
“But you never told me—” I said quickly, preventing her from arguing with me about her clumsiness, as she clearly intended to do. “Are you resolved on going to Seattle, or do you mind if we do something different?”
Devious—giving her a choice without giving her the option of getting away from me for the day. Hardly fair of me. But I had made her a promise last night…and I liked the idea of fulfilling it—almost as much as that idea terrified me.
The sun would be shining Saturday. I could show her the real me, if I was brave enough to endure her horror and disgust. I knew just the place to take such a risk…
“I’m open to alternatives,” Bella said. “But I do have a favor to ask.”
A qualified yes. What would she want from me?
“Can I drive?”
Was this her idea of humor? “Why?”
“Well, mostly because when I told Charlie I was going to Seattle, he specifically asked if I was going alone and, at the time, I was. If he asked again, I probably wouldn’t lie, but I don’t think he will ask again, and leaving my truck at home would just bring up the subject unnecessarily. And also, because your driving frightens me.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Of all the things about me that could frighten you, you worry about my driving.” Truly, her brain worked backwards. I shook my head, disgusted.
Edward, Alice called urgently.
Suddenly I was staring into a bright circle of sunlight, caught up in one of Alice’s visions.
It was a place I knew well, the place I’d just considered taking Bella—a little meadow where no one ever went beside myself. A quiet, pretty place where I could count on being alone—far enough from any trail or human habitation that even my mind could have peace and quiet.
Alice recognized it, too, because she had seen me there not so long ago in another vision—one of those flickering, indistinct visions that Alice had shown me the morning I’d saved Bella from the van.
In that flickering vision, I hadn’t been alone. And now it was clear—Bella was with me there. So I was brave enough. She stared at me, rainbows dancing across her face, her eyes fathomless.
It’s the same place, Alice thought, her mind full of a horror that did not match the vision. Tension, perhaps, but horror? What did she mean, the same place?
And then I saw it.
Edward! Alice protested shrilly. I love her, Edward!
I shut her out viciously.
She didn’t love Bella the way I did. Her vision was impossible. Wrong. She was blinded somehow, seeing impossibilities.
Not even a half a second had passed. Bella was looking curiously at my face, waiting for me to approve her request. Had she seen the flash of dread, or had it been too quick for her?
I focused on her, on our unfinished conversation, pushing Alice and her flawed, lying visions far from my thoughts. They didn’t deserve my attention.
I wasn’t able to keep up the playful tone of our banter, though.
“Won’t you want to tell your father that you’re spending the day with me?” I asked, darkness seeping into my voice.
I shoved at the visions again, trying to push them farther away, to keep them from flickering through my head.
“With Charlie, less is always more,” Bella said, certain of this fact. “Where are we going, anyway?”
Alice was wrong. Dead wrong. There was no chance of that. And it was just an old vision, invalid now. Things had changed.
“The weather will be nice,” I told her slowly, fighting the panic and indecision. Alice was wrong. I would continue as if I hadn’t heard or seen anything. “So I’ll be staying out of the public eye…and you can stay with me, if you’d like to.”
Bella caught the significance at once; her eyes were bright and eager. “And you’ll show me what you meant, about the sun?”
Maybe, like so many times before, her reaction would be the opposite of what I expected. I smiled at that possibility, struggling to return to the lighter moment. “Yes. But…” She hadn’t said yes. “If you don’t want to be…alone with me, I’d still rather you didn’t go to Seattle by yourself. I shudder to think of the trouble you could find in a city that size.”
Her lips pressed together; she was offended.
“Phoenix is three times bigger than Seattle—just in population. In physical size—”
“But apparently your number wasn’t up in Phoenix,” I said, cutting off her justifications. “So I’d rather you stayed with me.”
She could stay forever and it would not be long enough.
I shouldn’t think that way. We didn’t have forever. The passing seconds counted more than they ever had before; each second changed her while I remained untouched.
“As it happens, I don’t mind being alone with you,” she said.
No—because her instincts were backwards.
“I know.” I sighed. “You should tell Charlie, though.”
“Why in the world would I do that?” she asked, sounding horrified.
I glared at her, the visions I couldn’t quite manage to repress swirling sickeningly through my head.
“To give me some small incentive to bring you back,” I hissed. She should give me that much—one witness to compel me to be cautious.
Why had Alice forced this knowledge on me now?
Bella swallowed loudly, and stared at me for a long moment. What did she see?
“I think I’ll take my chances,” she said.
Ugh! Did she get some thrill out of risking her life? Some shot of adrenaline she craved?
I scowled at Alice, who met my glare with a warning glance. Beside her, Rosalie was glowering furiously, but I couldn’t have cared less. Let her destroy the car. It was just a toy.
“Let’s talk about something else,” Bella suggested suddenly.
I looked back at her, wondering how she could be so oblivious to what really mattered. Why wouldn’t she see me for the monster I was?
“What do you want to talk about?”
Her eyes darted to the left and then the right, as if checking to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. She must be planning to introduce another myth-related topic. Her eyes froze for a second and her body stiffened, and then she looked back to me.
“Why did you go to that Goat Rocks place last weekend…to hunt? Charlie said it wasn’t a good place to hike, because of bears.”
So oblivious. I stared at her, raising one eyebrow.
“Bears?” she gasped.
I smiled wryly, watching that sink in. Would this make her take me seriously? Would anything?
She pulled her expression together. “You know, bears are not in season,” she said severely, narrowing her eyes.
“If you read carefully, the laws only cover hunting with weapons.”
She lost control over her face again for a moment. Her lips fell open.
“Bears?” she said again, a tentative question this time rather than a gasp of shock.
“Grizzly is Emmett’s favorite.”
I watched her eyes, seeing this settle in.
“Hmm,” she murmured. She took a bite of the pizza, looking down. She chewed thoughtfully, and then took a drink.
“So,” she said, finally looking up. “What’s your favorite?”
I supposed I should have expected something like that, but I hadn’t. Bella was always interesting, at the very least.
“Mountain lion,” I answered brusquely.
“Ah,” she said in a neutral tone. Her heartbeat continued steady and even, as if we were discussing a favorite restaurant.
Fine, then. If she wanted to act like this was nothing unusual…
“Of course, we have to be careful not to impact the environment with injudicious hunting,” I told her, my voice detached and clinical. “We try to focus on areas with an overpopulation of predators—ranging as far away as we need. There’s always plenty of deer and elk here, and they’ll do, but where’s the fun in that?”
She listened with a politely interested expression, as if I were a teacher giving a lecture. I had to smile.
“Where indeed,” she murmured calmly, taking another bite of pizza.
“Early spring is Emmett’s favorite bear season,” I said, continuing with the lecture. “They’re just coming out of hibernation, so they’re more irritable.”
Seventy years later, and he still hadn’t gotten over losing that first match.
“Nothing more fun than an irritated grizzly bear,” Bella agreed, nodding solemnly.
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I shook my head at her illogical calm. It had to be put on. “Tell me what you’re really thinking, please.”
“I’m trying to picture it—but I can’t,” she said, the crease appearing between her eyes. “How to you hunt a bear without weapons?”
“Oh, we have weapons,” I told her, and then flashed her a wide smile. I expected her to recoil, but she was very still, watching me. “Just not the kind they consider when writing hunting laws. If you’ve ever seen a bear attack on television, you should be able to visualize Emmett hunting.”
She glanced toward the table where the others sat, and shuddered.
Finally. And then I laughed at myself, because I knew part of me was wishing she would stay oblivious.
Her dark eyes were wide and deep as she stared at me now. “Are you like a bear, too?” she asked in an almost-whisper.
“More like the lion, or so they tell me,” I told her, striving to sound detached again. “Perhaps our preferences are indicative.”
Her lips pulled up a tiny bit at the corners. “Perhaps,” she repeated. And then her head leaned to the side, and curiosity was suddenly clear in her eyes. “Is that something I might get to see?”
I didn’t need pictures from Alice to illustrate this horror—my imagination was quite enough.
“Absolutely not,” I snarled at her.
She jerked away from me, her eyes bewildered and frightened.
I leaned back, too, wanting to put space between us. She was never going to see, was she? She wouldn’t do one thing to help me keep her alive.
“Too scary for me?” she asked, her voice even. Her heart, however, was still moving in double time.
“If that were it, I would take you out tonight,” I retorted through my teeth. “You need a healthy dose of fear. Nothing could be more beneficial for you.”
“Then why?” she demanded, undeterred.
I glared at her blackly, waiting for her to be afraid. I was afraid. I could imagine only too clearly having Bella near when I hunted…
Her eyes remained curious, impatient, nothing more. She waited for her answer, not giving in.
But our hour was up.
“Later,” I snapped, and I rose to my feet. “We’re going to be late.”
She looked around herself, disoriented, like she’d forgotten we were at lunch. Like she’d forgotten we were even at school—surprised that we were not alone in some private place. I understood that feeling exactly. It was hard to remember the rest of the world when I was with her.
She got up quickly, bobbling once, and threw her bag over her shoulder.
“Later, then,” she said, and I could see the determination in the set of her mouth; she would hold me to that.