Edward helped me into his car, being very careful of the wisps of silk and chiffon, the flowers he’d just pinned into my elaborately styled curls, and my bulky walking cast. He ignored the angry set of my mouth.
When he had me settled, he got in the driver’s seat and headed back out the long, narrow drive.
“At what point exactly are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I asked grumpily. I really hated surprises. And he knew that.
“I’m shocked that you haven’t figured it out yet.” He threw a mocking smile in my direction, and my breath caught in my throat. Would I ever get used to his perfection?
“I did mention that you looked very nice, didn’t I?” I verified.
“Yes.” He grinned again. I’d never seen him dress in black before, and, with the contrast against his pale skin, his beauty was absolutely surreal. That much I couldn’t deny, even if the fact that he was wearing a tuxedo made me very nervous.
Not quite as nervous as the dress. Or the shoe. Only one shoe, as my other foot was still securely encased in plaster. But the stiletto heel, held on only by satin ribbons, certainly wasn’t going to help me as I tried to hobble around.
“I’m not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea Pig Barbie when I do,” I griped. I’d spent the better part of the day in Alice’s staggeringly vast bathroom, a helpless victim as she played hairdresser and cosmetician. Whenever I fidgeted or complained, she reminded me that she didn’t have any memories of being human, and asked me not to ruin her vicarious fun. Then she’d dressed me in the most ridiculous dress — deep blue, frilly and off the shoulders, with French tags I couldn’t read — a dress more suitable for a runway than Forks. Nothing good could come of our formal attire, of that I was sure. Unless… but I was afraid to put my suspicions into words, even in my own head.
I was distracted then by the sound of a phone ringing. Edward pulled his cell phone from a pocket inside his jacket, looking briefly at the caller ID before answering.
“Hello, Charlie,” he said warily.
“Charlie?” I frowned.
Charlie had been… difficult since my return to Forks. He had compartmentalized my bad experience into two defined reactions. Toward Carlisle he was almost worshipfully grateful. On the other hand, he was stubbornly convinced that Edward was at fault — because, if not for him, I wouldn’t have left home in the first place. And Edward was far from disagreeing with him. These days I had rules that hadn’t existed before: curfews… visiting hours.
Something Charlie was saying made Edward’s eyes widen in disbelief, and then a grin spread across his face.
“You’re kidding!” He laughed.
“What is it?” I demanded.
He ignored me. “Why don’t you let me talk to him?” Edward suggested with evident pleasure. He waited for a few seconds.
“Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen.” His voice was very friendly, on the surface. I knew it well enough to catch the soft edge of menace. What was Tyler doing at my house? The awful truth began to dawn on me. I looked again at the inappropriate dress Alice had forced me into.
“I’m sorry if there’s been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is unavailable tonight.” Edward’s tone changed, and the threat in his voice was suddenly much more evident as he continued. “To be perfectly honest, she’ll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offense. And I’m sorry about your evening.” He didn’t sound sorry at all. And then he snapped the phone shut, a huge smirk on his face.
My face and neck flushed crimson with anger. I could feel the rage-induced tears starting to fill my eyes.
He looked at me in surprise. “Was that last part a bit too much? I didn’t mean to offend you.”
I ignored that.
“You’re taking me to the prom !” I yelled.
It was embarrassingly obvious now. If I’d been paying any attention at all, I’m sure I would have noticed the date on the posters that decorated the school buildings. But I’d never dreamed he was thinking of subjecting me to this. Didn’t he know me at all?
He wasn’t expecting the force of my reaction, that was clear. He pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed. “Don’t be difficult, Bella.”
My eyes flashed to the window; we were halfway to the school already.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I demanded in horror.
He gestured to his tuxedo. “Honestly, Bella, what did you think we were doing?”
I was mortified. First, because I’d missed the obvious. And also because the vague suspicions — expectations, really — that I’d been forming all day, as Alice tried to transform me into a beauty queen, were so far wide of the mark. My half-fearful hopes seemed very silly now.
I’d guessed there was some kind of occasion brewing. But prom ! That was the furthest thing from my mind.
The angry tears rolled over my cheeks. I remembered with dismay that I was very uncharacteristically wearing mascara. I wiped quickly under my eyes to prevent any smudges. My hand was unblackened when I pulled it away; maybe Alice had known I would need waterproof makeup.
“This is completely ridiculous. Why are you crying?” he demanded in frustration.
“Because I’m mad !”
“Bella.” He turned the full force of his scorching golden eyes on me.
“What?” I muttered, distracted.
“Humor me,” he insisted.
His eyes were melting all my fury. It was impossible to fight with him when he cheated like that. I gave in with poor grace.
“Fine,” I pouted, unable to glare as effectively as I would have liked. “I’ll go quietly. But you’ll see. I’m way overdue for more bad luck. I’ll probably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It’s a death trap!” I held out my good leg as evidence.
“Hmmm.” He stared at my leg longer than was necessary. “Remind me to thank Alice for that tonight.”
“Alice is going to be there?” That comforted me slightly.
“With Jasper, and Emmett… and Rosalie,” he admitted.
The feeling of comfort disappeared. There had been no progress with Rosalie, though I was on quite good terms with her sometimes-husband. Emmett enjoyed having me around — he thought my bizarre human reactions were hilarious… or maybe it was just the fact that I fell down a lot that he found so funny. Rosalie acted as if I didn’t exist. While I shook my head to dispel the direction my thoughts had taken, I thought of something else.
“Is Charlie in on this?” I asked, suddenly suspicious.
“Of course.” He grinned, and then chuckled. “Apparently Tyler wasn’t, though.”
I gritted my teeth. How Tyler could be so delusional, I couldn’t imagine. At school, where Charlie couldn’t interfere, Edward and I were inseparable — except for those rare sunny days.
We were at the school now; Rosalie’s red convertible was conspicuous in the parking lot. The clouds were thin today, a few streaks of sunlight escaping through far away in the west.
He got out and walked around the car to open my door. He held out his hand.
I sat stubbornly in my seat, arms folded, feeling a secret twinge of smugness. The lot was crowded with people in formal dress: witnesses. He couldn’t remove me forcibly from the car as he might have if we’d been alone.
He sighed. “When someone wants to kill you, you’re brave as a lion — and then when someone mentions dancing…” He shook his head.
I gulped. Dancing.
“Bella, I won’t let anything hurt you — not even yourself. I won’t let go of you once, I promise.”
I thought about that and suddenly felt much better. He could see that in my face.
“There, now,” he said gently, “it won’t be so bad.” He leaned down and wrapped one arm around my waist. I took his other hand and let him lift me from the car.
He kept his arm tightly around me, supporting me as I limped toward the school.
In Phoenix, they held proms in hotel ballrooms. This dance was in the gym, of course. It was probably the only room in town big enough for a dance. When we got inside, I giggled. There were actual balloon arches and twisted garlands of pastel crepe paper festooning the walls.
“This looks like a horror movie waiting to happen,” I snickered.
“Well,” he muttered as we slowly approached the ticket table — he was carrying most of my weight, but I still had to shuffle and wobble my feet forward — “there are more than enough vampires present.”
I looked at the dance floor; a wide gap had formed in the center of the floor, where two couples whirled gracefully. The other dancers pressed to the sides of the room to give them space — no one wanted to stand in contrast with such radiance. Emmett and Jasper were intimidating and flawless in classic tuxedos. Alice was striking in a black satin dress with geometric cutouts that bared large triangles of her snowy white skin. And Rosalie was… well, Rosalie. She was beyond belief. Her vivid scarlet dress was backless, tight to her calves where it flared into a wide ruffled train, with a neckline that plunged to her waist. I pitied every girl in the room, myself included.
“Do you want me to bolt the doors so you can massacre the unsuspecting townsfolk?” I whispered conspiratorially.
“And where do you fit into that scheme?” He glared.
“Oh, I’m with the vampires, of course.”
He smiled reluctantly. “Anything to get out of dancing.”
He bought our tickets, then turned me toward the dance floor. I cringed against his arm and dragged my feet.
“I’ve got all night,” he warned.
Eventually he towed me out to where his family was twirling elegantly — if in a style totally unsuitable to the present time and music. I watched in horror.
“Edward.” My throat was so dry I could only manage a whisper. “I honestly can’t dance!” I could feel the panic bubbling up inside my chest.
“Don’t worry, silly,” he whispered back. “I can .” He put my arms around his neck and lifted me to slide his feet under mine.
And then we were whirling, too.
“I feel like I’m five years old,” I laughed after a few minutes of effortless waltzing.
“You don’t look five,” he murmured, pulling me closer for a second, so that my feet were briefly a foot from the ground.
Alice caught my eye on a turn and smiled in encouragement — I smiled back. I was surprised to realize that I was actually enjoying myself… a little.
“Okay, this isn’t half bad,” I admitted.
But Edward was staring toward the doors, and his face was angry.
“What is it?” I wondered aloud. I followed his gaze, disoriented by the spinning, but finally I could see what was bothering him. Jacob Black, not in a tux, but in a long-sleeved white shirt and tie, his hair smoothed back into his usual ponytail, was crossing the floor toward us.
After the first shock of recognition, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Jacob. He was clearly uncomfortable — excruciatingly so. His face was apologetic as his eyes met mine.
Edward snarled very quietly.
“Behave !” I hissed.
Edward’s voice was scathing. “He wants to chat with you.”
Jacob reached us then, the embarrassment and apology even more evident on his face.
“Hey, Bella, I was hoping you would be here.” Jacob sounded like he’d been hoping the exact opposite.
But his smile was just as warm as ever.
“Hi, Jacob.” I smiled back. “What’s up?”
“Can I cut in?” he asked tentatively, glancing at Edward for the first time. I was shocked to notice that Jacob didn’t have to look up. He must have grown half a foot since the first time I’d seen him.
Edward’s face was composed, his expression blank. His only answer was to set me carefully on my feet, and take a step back.
“Thanks,” Jacob said amiably.
Edward just nodded, looking at me intently before he turned to walk away.
Jacob put his hands on my waist, and I reached up to put my hands on his shoulders.
“Wow, Jake, how tall are you now?”
He was smug. “Six-two.”
We weren’t really dancing — my leg made that impossible. Instead we swayed awkwardly from side to side without moving our feet. It was just as well; the recent growth spurt had left him looking gangly and uncoordinated, he was probably no better a dancer than I was.
“So, how did you end up here tonight?” I asked without true curiosity. Considering Edward’s reaction, I could guess.
“Can you believe my dad paid me twenty bucks to come to your prom?” he admitted, slightly ashamed.
“Yes, I can,” I muttered. “Well, I hope you’re enjoying yourself, at least. Seen anything you like?” I teased, nodding toward a group of girls lined up against the wall like pastel confections.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “But she’s taken.”
He glanced down to meet my curious gaze for just a second — then we both looked away, embarrassed.
“You look really pretty, by the way,” he added shyly.
“Um, thanks. So why did Billy pay you to come here?” I asked quickly, though I knew the answer.
Jacob didn’t seem grateful for the subject change; he looked away, uncomfortable again. “He said it was a ‘safe’ place to talk to you. I swear the old man is losing his mind.”
I joined in his laughter weakly.
“Anyway, he said that if I told you something, he would get me that master cylinder I need,” he confessed with a sheepish grin.
“Tell me, then. I want you to get your car finished.” I grinned back. At least Jacob didn’t believe any of this. It made the situation a bit easier. Against the wall, Edward was watching my face, his own face expressionless. I saw a sophomore in a pink dress eyeing him with timid speculation, but he didn’t seem to be aware of her.
Jacob looked away again, ashamed. “Don’t get mad, okay?”
“There’s no way I’ll be mad at you, Jacob,” I assured him. “I won’t even be mad at Billy. Just say what you have to.”
“Well — this is so stupid, I’m sorry, Bella — he wants you to break up with your boyfriend. He asked me to tell you ‘please.'” He shook his head in disgust.
“He’s still superstitious, eh?”
“Yeah. He was… kind of over the top when you got hurt down in Phoenix. He didn’t believe…”Jacob trailed off self-consciously.
My eyes narrowed. “I fell.”
“I know that,” Jacob said quickly.
“He thinks Edward had something to do with me getting hurt.” It wasn’t a question, and despite my promise, I was angry.
Jacob wouldn’t meet my eyes. We weren’t even bothering to sway to the music, though his hands were still on my waist, and mine around his neck.
“Look, Jacob, I know Billy probably won’t believe this, but just so you know” — he looked at me now, responding to the new earnestness in my voice — “Edward really did save my life. If it weren’t for Edward and his father, I’d be dead.”
“I know,” he claimed, but he sounded like my sincere words had affected him some. Maybe he’d be able to convince Billy of this much, at least.
“Hey, I’m sorry you had to come do this, Jacob,” I apologized. “At any rate, you get your parts, right?”
“Yeah,” he muttered. He was still looking awkward… upset.
“There’s more?” I asked in disbelief.
“Forget it,” he mumbled, “I’ll get a job and save the money myself.”
I glared at him until he met my gaze. “Just spit it out, Jacob.”
“It’s so bad.”
“I don’t care. Tell me,” I insisted.
“Okay… but, geez, this sounds bad.” He shook his head. “He said to tell you, no, to warn you, that — and this is his plural, not mine” — he lifted one hand from my waist and made little quotations marks in the air — ‘”We’ll be watching.'” He watched warily for my reaction.
It sounded like something from a mafia movie. I laughed out loud.
“Sorry you had to do this, Jake,” I snickered.
“I don’t mind that much.” He grinned in relief. His eyes were appraising as they raked quickly over my dress. “So, should I tell him you said to butt the hell out?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” I sighed. “Tell him I said thanks. I know he means well.”
The song ended, and I dropped my arms.
His hands hesitated at my waist, and he glanced at my bum leg. “Do you want to dance again? Or can I help you get somewhere?”
Edward answered for me. “That’s all right, Jacob. I’ll take it from here.”
Jacob flinched, and stared wide-eyed at Edward, who stood just beside us.
“Hey, I didn’t see you there,” he mumbled. “I guess I’ll see you around, Bella.” He stepped back, waving halfheartedly.
I smiled. “Yeah, I’ll see you later.”
“Sorry,” he said again before he turned for the door.
Edward’s arms wound around me as the next song started. It was a little up-tempo for slow dancing, but that didn’t seem to concern him. I leaned my head against his chest, content.
“Feeling better?” I teased.
“Not really,” he said tersely.
“Don’t be mad at Billy,” I sighed. “He just worries about me for Charlie’s sake. It’s nothing personal.”
“I’m not mad at Billy,” he corrected in a clipped voice. “But his son is irritating me.”
I pulled back to look at him. His face was very serious.
“First of all, he made me break my promise.”
I stared at him in confusion.
He half-smiled. “I promised I wouldn’t let go of you tonight,” he explained.
“Oh. Well, I forgive you.”
“Thanks. But there’s something else.” Edward frowned.
I waited patiently.
“He called you pretty ,” he finally continued, his frown deepening. “That’s practically an insult, the way you look right now. You’re much more than beautiful.”
I laughed. “You might be a little biased.”
“I don’t think that’s it. Besides, I have excellent eyesight.”
We were twirling again, my feet on his as he held me close.
“So are you going to explain the reason for all of this?” I wondered.
He looked down at me, confused, and I glared meaningfully at the crepe paper.
He considered for a moment, and then changed direction, spinning me through the crowd to the back door of the gym. I caught a glimpse of Jessica and Mike dancing, staring at me curiously. Jessica waved, and I smiled back quickly. Angela was there, too, looking blissfully happy in the arms of little Ben Cheney; she didn’t look up from his eyes, a head lower than hers. Lee and Samantha, Lauren, glaring toward us, with Conner; I could name every face that spiraled past me. And then we were outdoors, in the cool, dim light of a fading sunset.
As soon as we were alone, he swung me up into his arms, and carried me across the dark grounds till he reached the bench beneath the shadow of the madrone trees. He sat there, keeping me cradled against his chest. The moon was already up, visible through the gauzy clouds, and his face glowed pale in the white light. His mouth was hard, his eyes troubled.
“The point?” I prompted softly.
He ignored me, staring up at the moon.
“Twilight, again,” he murmured. “Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.”
“Some things don’t have to end,” I muttered through my teeth, instantly tense.
“I brought you to the prom,” he said slowly, finally answering my question, “because I don’t want you to miss anything. I don’t want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human . I want your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have.”
I shuddered at his words, and then shook my head angrily. “In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren’t a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this.”
He smiled briefly, but it didn’t touch his eyes. “It wasn’t so bad, you said so yourself.”
“That’s because I was with you.”
We were quiet for a minute; he stared at the moon and I stared at him. I wished there was some way to explain how very uninterested I was in a normal human life.
“Will you tell me something?” he asked, glancing down at me with a slight smile.
“Don’t I always?”
“Just promise you’ll tell me,” he insisted, grinning.
I knew I was going to regret this almost instantly. “Fine.”
“You seemed honestly surprised when you figured out that I was taking you here,” he began.
“I was ,” I interjected.
“Exactly,” he agreed. “But you must have had some other theory… I’m curious — what did you think I was dressing you up for?”
Yes, instant regret. I pursed my lips, hesitating. “I don’t want to tell you.”
“You promised,” he objected.
“What’s the problem?”
I knew he thought it was mere embarrassment holding me back. “I think it will make you mad — or sad.”
His brows pulled together over his eyes as he thought that through. “I still want to know. Please?”
I sighed. He waited.
“Well… I assumed it was some kind of… occasion. But I didn’t think it would be some trite human thing… prom!” I scoffed.
“Human?” he asked flatly. He’d picked up on the key word.
I looked down at my dress, fidgeting with a stray piece of chiffon. He waited in silence.
“Okay,” I confessed in a rush. “So I was hoping that you might have changed your mind… that you were going to change me , after all.”
A dozen emotions played across his face. Some I recognized: anger… pain… and then he seemed to collect himself and his expression became amused.
“You thought that would be a black tie occasion, did you?” he teased, touching the lapel of his tuxedo jacket.
I scowled to hide my embarrassment. “I don’t know how these things work. To me, at least, it seems more rational than prom does.” He was still grinning. “It’s not funny,” I said.
“No, you’re right, it’s not,” he agreed, his smile fading. “I’d rather treat it like a joke, though, than believe you’re serious.”
“But I am serious.”
He sighed deeply. “I know. And you’re really that willing?”
The pain was back in his eyes. I bit my lip and nodded.
“So ready for this to be the end,” he murmured, almost to himself, “for this to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barely started. You’re ready to give up everything.”
“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning,” I disagreed under my breath.
“I’m not worth it,” he said sadly.
“Do you remember when you told me that I didn’t see myself very clearly?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “You obviously have the same blindness.”
“I know what I am.”
But his mercurial mood shifted on me. He pursed his lips, and his eyes were probing. He examined my face for a long moment.
“You’re ready now, then?” he asked.
“Um.” I gulped. “Yes?”
He smiled, and inclined his head slowly until his cold lips brushed against the skin just under the corner of my jaw.
“Right now?” he whispered, his breath blowing cool on my neck. I shivered involuntarily.
“Yes,” I whispered, so my voice wouldn’t have a chance to break. If he thought I was bluffing, he was going to be disappointed. I’d already made this decision, and I was sure. It didn’t matter that my body was rigid as a plank, my hands balled into fists, my breathing erratic…
He chuckled darkly, and leaned away. His face did look disappointed.
“You can’t really believe that I would give in so easily,” he said with a sour edge to his mocking tone.
“A girl can dream.”
His eyebrows rose. “Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?”
“Not exactly,” I said, frowning at his word choice. Monster, indeed. “Mostly I dream about being with you forever.”
His expression changed, softened and saddened by the subtle ache in my voice.
“Bella.” His fingers lightly traced the shape of my lips. “I will stay with you — isn’t that enough?”
I smiled under his fingertips. “Enough for now.”
He frowned at my tenacity. No one was going to surrender tonight. He exhaled, and the sound was
practically a growl.
I touched his face. “Look,” I said. “I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn’t that enough?”
“Yes, it is enough,” he answered, smiling. “Enough for forever.”
And he leaned down to press his cold lips once more to my throat.