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Fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyers Twilight Series Warning: Rated MA for Mature Adult.

Abbracciare Il Cantante
By BrattyVamp

Summary: What if Edward left Forks after his first encounter with Bella, and he never returned? Fate couldn't keep these two apart. But meeting at a later time and place might have changed the nature of their relationship.

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1. Chapter 1

I sat with my fingers drumming on the small desktop in front of me. I didn't need the movement. But the humans around me did. They tended to be more relaxed and at ease in the presence of beings that could at least imitate their perpetual motion and constant state of aggravation. If my fidgeting could help them be more at ease while sharing a learning space with a one hundred and eight year old vampire... then I could make myself move from time to time. Besides not making meals of the people in my vicinity... it was the least I could do. Not that they were in any danger. I had given up drinking human blood more than eighty years ago. Now, I just tried to fit in to their world. For this reason specifically, I tapped out a light rhythm on my desk and allowed my eyes to shift around the room as if I were actually interested in any of its inhabitants. If I hadn't been looking around the room, my eyes might not have skimmed across the woman who had just entered. But they did. And on reflex, I did a quick second glance. I wondered if the sight of thick, chestnut hair would ever stop catching my eye. Her hair obscured her face, as her head was turned away from me. She was apparently listening to the girl beside her. The blonde was chattering about a date she had the night before. It was completely uninteresting. I wished I could control the irrational awareness my body always felt when someone like this brunette crossed my path. It was annoying. Her physical description was entirely too common. Brown hair... brown eyes... medium height. At least twice a day my attention would be captured by similarities. The other one was thousands of miles away. And the hair on this one... too long. Her figure... more rounded. Not the same. And yet, when she raised her hand to push her hair behind her ear, I got a glimpse of the same creamy, translucent skin on her wrist. I focused, and could make out the heartbeat pushing her blood through those light veins that were made visible to me above the band of her watch. My body tensed. I gripped the edge of my desk and leaned forward. Something else was different... I couldn't immediately place what had me so uneasy. She sat no less than fifteen rows in front of me, in the farthest section from my own. Her head was still angled as she listened to the girl beside her. I had yet to see her face. He actually told me that I remind him of Britney Spears. I couldn't tell if that was a compliment or not! I mean- was he saying I was pretty? Or crazy? Or both....

The blonde was still rattling on and on about her date. It was a boring story at best. I couldn't believe that I was actually listening in. I snorted in derision. Then, to my surprise, the girl with the chestnut hair snorted too. I smiled at the soft sound that was clear to my ears even at this distance, and I wondered at the reason behind it. Did she find a part of the story amusing? Or was she, like me, laughing at herself for having her attention drawn to such trivial nonsense? And then I froze. Why was I wondering at the reason? Shouldn't I have already heard the internal thoughts of the girl- that would tell me with no uncertainty exactly what she was thinking? Only one person had ever been beyond the scope of my extra ability to hear thoughts. I focused harder. I mean... was he referring to the cheeto-eating-star bucks-drinking Britney? Or the flat-abs-hotBritney? I don't look fat... do I? The blonde wouldn't shut up. But beside her, there was only silence. The brunette answered by shaking her head from side to side. The movement pushed her hair further away from her face, and made her profile available to my eyes. No. No. NO. I immediately stopped breathing. The girl finally turned then, her hair making a curtain over her face as she dug through her bag on the floor. Then with pen in hand, she slowly raised up. I was motionless as her face was revealed to me. I would have known that face anywhere. The same, heart-shaped face. The same small chin. The same full lips. And the same deep, chocolate brown eyes met mine now. The same girl. The complete destruction of my entire world all wrapped up innocuously in a pair of jeans and a college sweatshirt. Though I hadn't picked up her scent in this room yet- I could recall that with perfect clarity. Venom flooded my mouth, just imagining it. My head spun and I stared, helplessly. Her eyes darted away. But then she looked at me again. I knew what I would see. I had seen it before. She had looked at me with the same nervous embarrassment when she caught me staring at her the day that she enrolled in my high school three years ago. It had been a day like any other. My family was living in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. And the arrival of a new student mid-way through the year was enough to excite the entire student body. Pathetic. I saw the girl through a dozen minds before my eyes ever laid sight on her. Just an ordinary girl, like any other. Or so I had thought. I should have known, when I saw her across the crowded lunchroom, that nothing about her would be ordinary for me. . My curious gaze had been met with complete silence from where she sat. I could hear the rush of the hundreds of other minds in the room. But her 'voice' was hidden

from me entirely. I couldn't hear her thoughts. I couldn't guess her feelings. It was as if she had a shield around her, keeping me from knowing what was going on behind those expressive eyes. My extra ability had never failed me before... and I was frustrated at my inability to break past this barrier of silence. When she entered my biology classroom, my first instinct was one of relief. The seat beside me was the only one available. She would have to sit next to me. I was confident that her nearness would allow me to solve the mystery of her silence. It would allow me to break down the wall she had somehow erected to keep me from hearing her thoughts. Once that happened- and it would- she could fall right back into the ranks of ordinary to me, and I would be able to ignore her as easily as the rest of the children I shared classes with. I was so concentrated on the task, that I was unprepared for the force of what would happen next. She moved down the aisle next to me, and a sudden gust of air from the heater vents swirled her scent in my direction. I was hit by a wave of desire and hunger so strong that I was almost undone. The force was like a freight train, and I pulverized the edge of my desk beneath my hands just to remain seated. A scent so unique, and so delicious, that I had struggled for an entire hour to keep myself from slaying the room full of innocent children just for the chance to taste this girl on my tongue. Eighty years of unswerving conviction and diligent practice had almost been ruined in the two seconds that it took for her to flip her hair over her shoulder to provide a curtain between my angry stare and her delicately flushed face. The movement had created a new cloud of that intoxicating aroma to settle around me. I gritted my teeth and swallowed back venom... holding my breath and trying not to imagine the way her warm wet pulse would feel spilling into my mouth. The monster within me- usually cloaked so well behind the humanity that I clung towould have won if not for the sound of the shrill school bell setting me free from that nightmare. I got up quickly and ran from the room. And I didn't look back. My father had a theory about what had happened to me. He said that she was my 'singer'. Her blood, so much sweeter to me than any other scent I had encountered in my existence, sang for me. It called to me. A wretched siren's song that would lead me to either the blissful ending of her life by my hand... or my utter discontentment as I denied myself that which I craved more than anything else the world had to offer. But I knew the right choice to make. The only choice I could make, if I planned to retain any of the humanity I had struggled to hold on to through the years. I would not kill an innocent. I refused. I knew I had to leave. I had to leave Forks, and I had to leave the horrible temptation of her scent behind me. I went to stay, for a short visit, with another like-practicing coven of vampires in Denali. I attempted to forget her eyes, and her face... her silence and her scent. But not even the distractions offered by a beautiful and willing female vampire were able to tear my mind from the one thing my body was now obsessed with having.

And so I left. And because my family knew that my leaving Forks was largely to do with my desire to protect them and keep their secret from the world, they remained loyal and left with me. We took up residence further north, in a small Canadian province. And we tried our best to blend into society again. But it never was as easy for me after that. And they knew it. Living on a diet of animal blood was already a sacrifice we made- to survive while not allowing ourselves to become the monstrous predators of innocent humans. But now the thin blood of the creatures we hunted was made even less appetizing to me by the remembrance of her scent and the taste of the air around her that had settled on the back of my tongue and tainted the sustenance I still required. I was surly and withdrawn. It was a testimony of my family's love that they were even able to tolerate being around me at all. And so, after two years... I decided to give them a break. I left behind the pretense of being a high school student, and I enrolled in Dartmouth. The prestigious Ivy League school offered a full compliment of night courses...and the nearby wilderness held plenty of wildlife to meet my basic nutritional needs. And after two years- I finally felt I had a better grip on my memory of the girl. Because every single day, her memory had stayed with me. And it strengthened my resolve. I recalled her scent as a reference point for comparisons on a daily basis. I wasn't sure if I would ever encounter anything quite so overwhelming or powerful. But if I did... I would be ready for it. I steeled myself daily for the possibility. The next time, if there was a next time, I would be ready for it. And I would never be forced to run away again. And now- here she was. Her brown gaze was locked on my own. I expected the rush of blood to her cheeks, and felt my muscles tighten in reflex when it happened. I knew what would happen next. She would look away quickly, to hide her embarrassment. That... didn't happen. Instead, her brows lowered and her mouth turned into a frown. And then- her full top lip pulled back ever so slightly into a sneer. She didn't look nervous, or embarrassed. She looked... annoyed. And she was very deliberately shooting me a dirty look. She turned her head then, and muttered to her friend. "Asshole." I blinked in surprise. For almost three years, I recalled the sound of her clear voice in my mind. And now- after all this time... the first word I heard from her mouth was "asshole?" I hurried to catch up with the story that her friend was still sharing... the one I had let drift into the background as I had become lost in my own thoughts. I was curious to figure out what had elicited such a harsh response from Bella. "Who?" the blonde asked.

"The guy back there.... Over my shoulder. About ten rows back. Reddish hair? He's totally staring like some kind of creeper!" Wait. She was talking about me? The blonde glanced over her shoulder and giggled. "He's gorgeous!" she announced. I forced my eyes to my desk and continued to listen attentively. "Like that gives him a free pass to be rude?" Bella asked heatedly. "Don't look at him!" My mind was spinning. I stared hard at the desk in front of me. My own personal demon... summoned from hell to tempt and torture me. The bane of my immortal existence.... Just called me an asshole? And then, even though there was absolutely nothing funny about my situation, the current air I had been holding in my lungs expelled in a loud laugh. Both girls turned their heads to look at me. I just forced my eyes down to the small wooden desk in front of me and cursed every higher power that had brought this girl back into my life.

2. Running but not away

I made sure to collect my things and leave the lecture hall ahead of Bella and her friend. I didn't want to follow them even innocently and risk being called a creepy asshole again. I also didn't want to give in to the temptation of getting any closer to her. I needed time to think. And I needed fresh air. Of course, I didn't physically need to breathe. But I did crave the cleansing comfort of the cold air on my face and in my lungs. And once outside, I did feel marginally better. I hunched my shoulders and set on a determined course towards my car in the student parking lot. I walked down the cold, dark sidewalk with my hands shoved deep into my pockets. When I felt my cell phone vibrate beneath my fingers, I pulled it up so that I could see the caller id. I had missed three calls. All from Alice. I rolled my eyes. I would call her back later. I could already guess why she was calling. Alice- my sister for all intents and purposes, shared a very important likeness to me. Yes- we were both vampires. But our differences set us apart even within our family group. Like my ability to read minds, she also had a special ability. She could see visions of the future.

Her visions were subjective. They changed based on the decisions being made by the persons concerned. I could only imagine the possible visions that had come her way this evening. What had I contemplated? Did she see me slaughtering the entire group of Dartmouth students that had been unfortunate enough to register for a second semester Ancient History night course- just to get to the girl whose blood I knew would satisfy me like no other? I lowered my brows and frowned. Had I even considered it? I had been shocked to see her there, no doubt. But I couldn't really remember anything beyond the surprise that I felt. It was extremely irritating. Human pretenses first- I drove my car to the house I had purchased on the outskirts of Hanover. But I didn't even bother to go inside. Once I parked in the garage, I left my things inside my car and exited through the side door. And then I was running. Everyday I worked to control my reflexes and my actions to better assume my human disguise. It was an amazing release, as always, to embrace my natural instincts and just be myself. I felt the familiar exhilaration take hold as I ghosted through forested areas. And while my muscles relaxed with the easy motion and my tensions eased... I finally allowed myself to think of the girl. The girl. A woman now? I did the calculations in my head. She had walked into my biology classroom almost three years ago as a junior in high school. That would make her twenty years old by now. The years had provided her with longer hair, and a less angular figure. I pressed myself to run faster. How long had she been in New Hampshire? Was it possible that she began Dartmouth the fall after high school graduation? Could she have been in attendance here all of this time without me knowing? Wouldn't I have run across a hint of her scent in a hallway, or on a bench where she might have happened to stop to study? Wouldn't there have been something that might have clued me in? My mind started to sort through ways to get the answers to my questions. Surely the school records here wouldn't be that difficult to get my hands on. I, obviously, couldn't come right out and ask her what demon from hell had invited her here to torture me... how long she'd been here already or how long she planned to stay. The girl was safer if I remained far away from her. Still- I had promised myself that a similar situation would never force me to run away again. I refused to be a coward. Of course- I also didn't expect that fate would toss the exact same girl right into the path of the most dangerous creature in the world to her. She had barely escaped our last meeting alive. I was never sure how I had the strength to leave... and later to stay away. Now here she was in the same predicament. What kind of cosmically bad luck did she have, anyway? I ran to the far Eastern edge of the forest, where I knew black bears could be more easily found. If I was going to stay, I would need to drink more than usual. I would have to make sure that my hunger was completely sated, before being in Bella's presence again. Because, I knew with

certainty that I would not stay away from my class on Thursday night- and I knew that she would be there too. Later at home, I let my fingers work the buttons at my cuffs and up the front of my shirt while I held my phone between my ear and my shoulder. Alice answered just as I was pulling the material away from me. I began our conversation without a polite greeting. "Everything is fine. I'm OK. I have this under control." I informed her. Alice's musical laughter filled my ear while I tossed my shirt into a laundry basket. "I should be worried that I don't know what you are talking about," she sounded amused. "Does this have anything to do with you going to Denali?" "Denali?" I asked, surprised. I had thought that her calls earlier would have been about some vision she had seen of violence concerning my thoughts when I recognized Bella in my class. "Well yes..." Alice continued. "I had a very distinct vision that you were going to Denali." "Nothing else?" I knew I sounded skeptical. "No. Should there have been?" She sounded confused. But I smiled. How interesting! Running to Denali must have been the only real option that I had contemplated when I looked at Bella. If I had considered any violent course of action, Alice would have surely seen that possibility as well. "I'm not going to Denali," I stated, ignoring her question. "But you thought about it?" "Yes. Briefly." I was still smiling. "Are you already so bored with your classes that you are looking for escape routes?" Alice joked, but her voice sounded tense. I could tell that she was worried about missing something. I was being vague and it bothered her. "Alice?" I decided to be straight with her. "She's here." I didn't have to explain who 'she' was. Alice knew. Our additional abilities set us apart, and because of them, we shared an indescribable closeness. Through her visions, she had witnessed every gruesome image that had passed through my mind, as I imagined killing an entire classroom full of innocent teenagers to get to Bella. She saw how hard I had to struggle to fight off the instinctual urges to drink the life out of that one sweet source. And she knew the pride and satisfaction I felt when I was able to suppress the monster inside that had so nearly ruined me. "Well, that settles it then." Alice finally said.

"Settles what?" "Jasper and I had been planning to visit. My call earlier was to make sure that you weren't really going to Denali. I didn't want to have to change our plans." Jasper was also a part of my family. He and Alice were best friends, partners, and soul mates. Whatever title you wanted to give him- Jasper was her guy. And the two were a package deal. "Alice..." I began. "Don't argue, Edward," she warned. "You need us." "You... might be right," I sighed. I missed my family. And having Alice around for a while to warn me about the decisions I might make would probably be a good thing. Because I didn't plan to leave. I planned to stay right where I was. And that could get...tricky. "It will probably be a couple weeks before we leave," Alice murmured. "But you know what? I think you'll be OK. I mean... you saw her today and didn't go bizerk. Right? Maybe you really will be fine." "Keep an eye on things, just in case?" I asked quietly. I hoped I was as strong as she gave me credit for. I wanted to be. "I always do."

3. This is a song for the lonely

I stared into my mirror, doing a little last minute grooming before leaving for my class. I was wearing my hair differently these days- combing it away from my face in an effort to look older. In high school, my hair had been worn casually messy. I traded the look for something a little more mature. But now I frowned at my reflection. Other than somewhat more tamed locks, I looked exactly the same. Had our previous meeting truly been so inconsequential that Bella had forgotten me entirely? When she had given me a dirty look two days ago- her face showed absolutely no signs of recognition. It seemed almost ludicrous to me, but only because everything about our first encounter had been burned on my brain and revisited in my memory every day since. Her face, her smell.... I could never have forgotten her. And believe me, I had tried. My eyes stared back at me in the mirror- a brighter shade of gold since I had gone hunting again last night. I wanted to be prepared for seeing Bella again. I didn't want to take any chances. She

definitely wouldn't recognize me now by my eyes. They had been black with hunger and the barely suppressed urge to kill when she had seen me last. I shouldn't hope for her to recognize me from that meeting at all. If she did, it would be a remembrance of one of my darkest hours. The remembrance of a monster that I did not want to be. A part of me hoped that she wouldn't show up to class. It was a typical scenario. Many students signed up for courses, only to drop them from their schedules after seeing the syllabus during the first session. Bella could very well be one of those students. But I couldn't be so lucky. And I had a pretty good idea that her luck was not often of a fortuitous nature. I purposely arrived at the lecture hall just moments before class would begin. I gave myself a pep-talk in the hall, and then took in a deep breath of air to hold in my chest as I walked in. My eyes scanned the group of students quickly- and found her sitting next to the same blonde, in roughly the same area of the room where she had sat before. Mixed emotions of despair and elation filled me at the same time. I might have let my gaze linger a couple of seconds too long. But then I forced my eyes to the floor in front of me and deliberately walked to sit in the furthest possible seat and row away from her. Again- I wasn't taking any chances. Once in my seat, I allowed myself one more quick glance in her direction. Her head remained bowed down over the notebook she was doodling on while her friend chatted beside her. She hadn't looked up. She hadn't noticed my entrance at all. I had to beat back the disappointment I felt. I shouldn't want her to notice me. I shouldn't want her to recognize me. I shouldn't want.... My thoughts were brought back to the front of the room when the professor began reading the class roster from a computer print-out. He was drawing lines through the names of the students who had decided to drop the course. I wondered, for a moment, why I didn't add my name to the ranks of those drop-outs. Removing myself from one class was not the same thing as running away. I certainly didn't need to sit through Methods and Theory of Ancient History. But really- I argued with myself- now that I knew that Bella was at Dartmouth... how long would it have taken me to find some other way to observe her? To be close to her? To... know her in some small way? "Edward Cullen?" The professor called my name as it was written. I raised my hand to signal my presence. Apparently he didn't see the motion. "Edward Cullen?" I let out some of the breath I had been holding, and my voice rang loud and deep from the back of the room. "Here."

Both Bella and her friend turned their heads in my direction at the sound of my voice. I didn't want to be caught looking their direction again, so I averted my gaze- but not before I saw a small flicker of some emotion cross her features. Confusion? Perhaps my name triggered a piece of her memory and she couldn't quite place where she had heard it before. I hazarded another glance from under my lashes. She was already turning back towards the front of the room. But she was biting her lip, and she did look perplexed. In a moment, the professor called her name as well. "Isabella Swan?" "Bella." She corrected him in reply. It made me smile. Maybe she hadn't changed all that much either. The room was divided into three long sections, with the seats inclined like those in a theatre. It could have easily housed two to three hundred students. The night course was already small... but now the less-than-fifty students that remained obviously didn't need so large a space. The professor had obviously noticed as well. "I don't want to use the PA system," he began. "I think it will work best, if we all just move on down to the first ten rows..." I felt a moment of panic. But I stomped that down. I was feeling fine. Moving a little closer to Bella wouldn't kill me. Or her. I grabbed my things quickly and moved down the aisle, trying to make sure that I would still have a seat available as far away as possible. But then, as I lowered myself into my new chair, I was happy that I moved- because I could very easily see her profile from the corner of my eye while I pretended to be raptly interested in the lecture that the professor was beginning. How could I really be interested in the various types of documentary evidence available to the ancient historian with such a beautiful creature sitting just a few rows away from me? When she tapped the center of her full bottom lip with the end of her pen? When she threw her long curtain of shiny hair over her shoulder to reveal the alluring patch of skin just below her ear...? My eyes trailed down the creamy expanse of her neck- from her chin to where her sweater laid against her collar bone. I leaned forward and licked my lips. I felt strong enough to handle this. But I had to be sure. And so, while Bella took notes about the importance of historical documentation, I steeled myself. Then, when I thought I was ready, I let out the breath I had been holding and I inhaled through my nose. Oh my hell! Her scent was mixed with those around her. But it was there alright. And it was so sweet and so unique that it stood out from all the rest- even better than I had remembered. I felt as if burning flames were ripping down my throat and through my chest. I clutched the edge of my desk, squeezed my eyes shut, and forced my chin down-all the while berating myself for my stupidity.

Somewhere through the chaos of my sudden blood-lust, I was aware of the sound of a cell phone. I swallowed convulsively against the venom that was filling my mouth, and concentrated on the musical ringtone like it was a life-line. And in a second, I realized that it actually was a life-line. It was my phone, and it was a ring tone that Alice had programmed to play specifically when she called. It had seemed funny at the time. But in my anxiety about seeing Bella again, I had forgotten to turn my cell phone to a silent setting. And now, while I fought back the overwhelming desire to literally leap over the people between Bella and myself and sink my teeth into her delicious throat... every eye in the room turned to stare at me. I was gripping my desk in the effort to stay seated... I probably looked like a madman... and now Cher was singing loudly from my pocket. I stood as quickly as I could, grabbed my papers, and tried to run for the door at a human speed. I dodged the thoughts of my classmates and my professor as I made my escape. I thought I had made my policy on cell phones in the classroom clear... Strange guy... What the fuck is his problem? Ooh. He's kinda cute! Only the last thought I picked up mattered to me. And I didn't have time to worry about it right then. It came from the blonde sitting next to Bella.

4. Zebco

I hurried outside, gulping the night air by huge mouthfuls. Idiot! I yelled at myself. But I then I couldn't help the smile that tore across my face. I felt victorious. Ok, so maybe I was leaving class early, and moving a little too fast to be considered human on my way to my parked car. But it was dark, and there were no witnesses around to be impressed or shocked by my speed. Here I was, rapidly gaining control. And Bella was still safe. I could do this! My phone rang again, and I opened it before Cher could finish the chorus.

"Alice? She thinks I'm gay!" "If you decide to murder every person who thinks you are gay- you'll have to take out half of the Northwest United States," she scolded. "I'm not killing anyone," I gritted my teeth. "I'm fine. I can do this." I repeated it as much for myself as for her. "Then what happened?" "I was in class... and I smelled her." "You knew she would be there..." "I did it on purpose. I wanted to see if it would be the same," I admitted. "Edward- honestly! Do you hate yourself that much?" Alice's voice was reproachful. But I could tell she had calmed down. She obviously could see that my course had changed. I was not going to hurt Bella. "I think... if I can desensitize myself to her scent... a little at a time.... this will get easier." "What will get easier?" Alice asked warily. "I'll be able to be closer to her." "Why would you want to be?" Alice huffed. "Are you that depressed? Is this like the EmoVampire version of cutting or something?" "I'm not sure," I muttered. "But I have a feeling, that now- it might be more painful to try to stay away." My voice had dropped to a near whisper, but I knew Alice could still hear me. She sighed. "Do you need us to get there earlier?" I knew she was talking about the visit that she and Jasper were planning. "Do you think I do?" I asked. She was silent a moment as she considered whatever visions of me she could muster up in her busy mind. "No. I think you are right, again. This desensitizing thing is going to work for you. I see the two of you talking soon." Her certainty made me feel high. And as soon as I got home, I ran again. I didn't need to hunt. I wasn't hungry at all. But I ran for the freedom and release it provided. I would have four days. Four days without seeing Bella-without being acutely aware of her nearness- without her scent burning the back of my throat. But four days would also give me time to think. And plan.

I was impressed by how quickly an idea formed in my mind. Bella had been talking about me with her friend. I may not be able to read Bella's mind... but I could certainly nose around in the thoughts of the girl who sat beside her each day in class! Getting to Bella would be easy. I could get to her through her friend. I had heard the girl speaking to Bella on our first evening in class. She thought I was attractive. I could easily use that to my advantage. I felt the smile on my face grow wider as I considered it. I would have to be careful. But reading her mind and knowing her thoughts would certainly help me to defuse any serious tampering with the girl's feelings. I didn't want to be less than a gentleman, after all. I just planned to get to know her so that I could be near her friend. Ok. So maybe that wasn't gentlemanly at all. But I ignored the small guilty feeling and kept working my plan in my mind. First- I would have to make sure that the girl knew I wasn't gay. That was utterly ridiculous. I would have to be attracted to men for that to be true. And the simple fact was.... I really didn't feel sexually attracted to anyone. I was sure that during my human life, I had been attracted to women. But I didn't remember any of those urges or feelings now. Since being made a vampire, I hadn't found anyone, male- or female- that aroused such interest in me. If anything, I could be considered asexual. But I had become a master at faking human behaviors. I was sure I could convince the girl to forget all about the Cher incident, and maybe even befriend her. Then getting to know Bella would only be a matter of time. On Tuesday evening, I decided to set my grand scheme in motion. I entered the classroom just before lecture began- holding my breath and keeping my eyes to the floor. I did make sure that my cell phone was turned off. I wouldn't have a safety net- but I also wouldn't disrupt the class again. We all sat in the first ten rows, but this time, I sat in the middle section. I was a little closer to Bella and her friend, and was better able to surreptitiously study her profile while I took notes. She really was lovely. I was filled with the morbid desire to inhale again- to taste the part of her that was in the air. But I stifled the urge. I was biding my time. And then, halfway through the session, our professor announced the ten minute break that I was waiting for. Bella stood, and stretched her arms up over her head. I felt my mouth fall open when my eyes locked on the tiny piece of skin on her hip that was revealed when her shirt pulled up. She tugged her shirt back into place quickly and turned towards her friend. "I need a Coke and I need to make a call. Want to come?" "Umm... no," her friend sounded distracted, and I could read her thoughts trying to reconcile her notes to the lecture. "I need to work on this. But I'll be out in a minute- ok?" "Sure," Bella said. And I watched as she walked to the front of the room and out the side door. It was then that I leaned back in my seat, exhaled the long breath I had been holding, and sucked in more air.

Ahh... the burn. Less severe. Her scent was still in the air. But it was tolerable. I could handle this. I crossed my arms over my chest, and turned my attention to the blonde. I was staring. But I knew that eventually she would glance my way. And I was right. After about five minutes, she had given up on her notes and slammed her notebook closed in aggravation. Then she stood and wondered about where Bella might be. Would she be meeting her in the lounge by the Coke machines? Or would she be outside, on the phone? As she turned, her eyes darted around the room quickly. And they finally met mine. Whoa. Hello there, she thought. I pulled the corner of my mouth up in a crooked grin that seemed to work best on the opposite sex, and maintained eye contact. Her heart beat picked up, and I was encouraged by the positive reaction. So I raised one eyebrow, and tilted my head slightly towards the empty seat beside me. She looked a little confused, but began to walk my way. Easy. It was like fishing. I threw out a little bait and she gobbled it right up. "Hi," she finally said when she was standing in front of me. "Hi." I kept my teeth hidden behind my smile, and used the voice I used when I was trying to keep humans at ease. It seemed to be working. She sank down into the seat beside me and leaned over her arms. The action brought her face closer to mine, and pushed her breasts closer together, making her cleavage more pronounced above the v-neck of her sweater. It was a move she had obviously practiced before. So I deliberately let my eyes linger on the curves she was presenting before pulling them back up to her face. Not gay! her mind was screaming. Thank God. He's not gay! I smiled wider. My job was nearly done. "I'm Edward." I kept my voice silky. But I was in a hurry. I knew there wasn't much time before Bella would re-enter the room. "Were your parents big Van Halen fans?" She giggled. I lowered my brows, confused for a moment. "I'm Katrina. As in... Katrina and the Waves..." she pointed out. "I thought maybe your parents...you know... Eddie Van Halen?" "I have never had anyone guess that before," I smiled at her. My statement was true. But that didn't mean she was right. In fact, given my actual age, her guess was downright silly. But I humored her. "Well, Edward..." she smiled. "Was there a reason that you wanted me to come over here?" She was going through a list of possibilities in her mind. She was wrong about all of those too.

"I just wanted to say hello," I shrugged one shoulder and tried to look nonchalant. When she looked a little disappointed, I reached forward and purposefully twisted a piece of her long hair around the end of my finger. Her heartbeat picked up again, and I smiled at the success of such a simple action before I let my hand slide back to my desk top. To be honest, the girl's hair reminded me a lot of my sister, Rosalie. She was a blonde too. But Rosalie didn't have to work quite so hard to attract attention. This girl wore a little too much make-up. And her clothes were a little too tight. I was studying her, and comparing her to my sister. But her thoughts were smug as she assumed that I was checking her out. So it worked. I steeled myself and let myself breathe through my nose. Oh- the burn was stronger. This girl had been sitting next to Bella for an hour. The scent was stronger. And it was exactly what I needed to help desensitize myself. "Well Katrina, I'd say that class is about to start again. I won't keep you." I stared deep into her eyes until a dazed look came over her face. "Huh? Oh, right," she finally mumbled and turned her face away. I did my best not to laugh. I was better than I thought. She stood, and I almost felt bad for playing with her the way I had. "Don't be a stranger," I murmured, still keeping my voice light. "Sure..." she still sounded a little confused as she turned to walk away. Her thoughts were a jumble and I smiled. She made it back to her seat just as Bella made it back to hers. "Where were you?" Bella asked. "Umm...here..." Katrina still hadn't sorted her thoughts. And I smiled. The professor was picking up his lecture where it had ended. The two girls would have to wait until after class to talk again. And this time, I was pretty sure that if I did come up in conversation again... it wouldn't be because Katrina thought I was gay.

5. Parched

My efforts to be amiable towards Bella's friend must have worked better than I thought. As soon as I entered the lecture hall Thursday evening, Katrina stood and thought 'There he is!' at the same time that she began waving and motioning to the empty seat beside her. I smiled politely, but my steps faltered when Bella lifted her head to look in my direction. It was the first time that our eyes had met since she had caught me staring on the first night of class. And I felt rooted to the spot as her wide chocolate gaze held my own. It wasn't the first time that I had wished to be able to read her mind. But if I was adequately reading her

expression, I might have been disappointed to know what she was thinking. She barely looked interested. In fact, she merely looked up from her book as if curious to see who her friend was practically doing a cheerleading routine for. Then, curiosity sated, her eyes drifted back down and were hidden from me once again. How could she be so completely unaffected? I had literally frozen in my tracks. Her gaze had been as tangible as a touch to me. And I knew with no uncertainty that I was not ready to sit in the close proximity that Katrina was offering. So I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and pressed it to my ear, holding up one finger as if to signal that I needed a minute. I took my fake call into the hallway, and I waited- trying to calm my nerves. It really was ridiculous, how on edge I felt. I could almost imagine a sort of...heat running through my body- A tension. Absurd. I needed to conquer this fear of the unknown. I needed to once again, take control of myself. And so when the professor moved to the front of the room to begin lecture, I stole in through the side door. The seat next to Katrina had, thankfully been filled. I smiled apologetically at her playful pout and then deliberately chose to sit just three seats directly behind Bella. The angle allowed Katrina to send glances over her shoulder in my direction. It allowed me to pretend interest while trying to ignore most of her ridiculous thoughts. And more importantly... it allowed my gaze to have free access to the back of Bella's beautiful hair. I took notes because I was expected to. I glanced from time to time at Katrina because she hoped that I would. And I memorized every silken strand in front of me because I was an obsessed fool. Darker near the roots.... lighter towards the ends... Bella's hair cascaded like ribbons of the deepest, warmest brown mixed with cinnamon. My eyes could clearly see the natural red tones in her hair that were all but hidden by the harsh commercial lighting in the room. I could imagine how much it would shine to life in the sun. Bella's hair in the sun... A sight, clearly, never meant for me to see. I would have to settle for imagining the glory of it. I closed my eyes and smiled as I began to do just that. When I lived in Forks, it was my habit to spend sunny days in a beautiful little meadow high in the mountains. Typical vampire tales would end horrifically with me combusting into ashes in the light of the sun. But in reality, I always enjoyed the feel of the sun on my face. It was the brilliant effect of the sun on my skin- sending prismatic rainbows reflecting off hidden facets in my epidermis that kept me away from the public eye on clear days. But my meadow was secluded and private. It was one of the most peaceful and lovely places I had ever come across. And now the memory of that magical spot was made even more wondrous because my fantasy had put Bella there. I imagined the way she would look, lying on the ground beside me. Her hair and her scent, made warm by the sun, would mingle and dance with the flowers and the grass, and the earth around her. I could practically feel the warmth of the sun that my fantasy was creating in my mind. It was almost too warm. I grew uncomfortable and shifted in my seat. When I opened my eyes, Katrina was staring over her shoulder again. She thought I was falling asleep in class. Preposterous. It was physically impossible for vampires to sleep. But she wouldn't know that. She giggled a little and turned her head back towards the front of the room.

I hastily returned my eyes to the notes that my hand had not ceased writing. It was fortunate that my mind was able to concentrate on more than one task at a time. Especially since so many of my thoughts seemed to be centered on the girl in front of me. When she reached her hands through those silken tresses, and twisted her hair until she could pull it over her left shoulder, I felt my jaw go slack. The back of her neck was exposed to me, and I stared hungrily at a tiny freckle that was now visible just below her hairline. I wanted to taste it. So I did the next best thing. I inhaled. Just a tiny little pull of air through my nose. And there was the accompanying pain I had come to expect. But as I had predicted, it was met with no violent urges. If anything, I wanted to bury my nose into the back of her hair and breathe her in deeper. Instead, I allowed myself another breath. And another. Anyone sitting close enough might have thought I was panting. I didn't care. I continued stretching myself in this way, acclimating myself with tiny bursts of her scent until I was actually able to breathe in and out at regular intervals once again. The smile on my face was impossible to suppress. I had done it. When the professor announced our ten minute break, I stood rapidly and prepared to exit the room. Katrina's thoughts towards me had definitely strayed to a dangerous territory- and I wondered at the wisdom of encouraging her further. But I hadn't made it more than three or four steps when she called my name loudly. I stopped and sighed. I was too close to pretend that I hadn't heard her. Feigning interest, I turned and pulled the side of my mouth up in a lop-sided grin. "What are you...?" Bella had been speaking to her friend. But her words faltered when her eyes flew up in my direction. I barely let my eyes flicker over her face. Now was my moment. I needed to play this just right. Failure was not an option. "Katrina.... and the Waves..." I smiled and made my voice warm. She blushed prettily. "The class is pretty boring huh? I saw you dozing off..." "I wasn't sleeping," I responded truthfully. "Just, resting my eyes." And fantasizing about your friend in a field of flowers. I smiled again at the imagined vision, and I could hear the heart beats of the two women quicken in response. My eyes flew to Bella's face immediately. I could understand Katrina's reaction. I could read the inner workings of her mind. She was comparing my smile to that of an actor she had the hots for. I had no idea what Bella was thinking, but she blushed quickly and averted her gaze. Katrina had noticed my interest, and stepped a little closer to place her hand possessively on my forearm. "Edward? This is my roommate, Bella."

Roommate? Bella raised her eyes to mine again, but didn't hold my gaze for long. "Hi," she mumbled. She spoke to me. Two letters. One syllable. It didn't matter. She spoke to me. "Hello. I'm very pleased to meet you," I said as politely as I could. If she was impressed, I couldn't tell- because she had already turned away to face Katrina. "Coke?" She asked. "Or I'm going to be falling asleep like your friend here." "I wasn't..." I started my denial, but Bella had already turned to start walking away. "We're getting drinks," Katrina smiled. "Want to come with?" I nodded. My body automatically wanted to follow behind the brunette that was making her way to the door. And now I was invited to do so. I walked beside Katrina, and only half-listened to her attempts at making small talk. My eyes had involuntarily strayed towards the soft swaying motion of Bella's hips as she walked in front of us. It was nearly hypnotic. "Do you stay here on campus?" Katrina had asked. I forced my eyes away from Bella's delightful rear end and grudgingly turned my attention to Katrina. While I needed her to get the idea that I was only interested in friendship... it would be rather rude to be caught staring at her friends ass while I was pretending to talk to her. Surprised by the inner tone of my thoughts, I grinned in amusement. I was feeling more and more human, and I loved it. "I have a house, on the edge of town," I informed her. Her mind was sparked with excitement then. She pulled her eyes down my simple clothing and wondered where I worked, and how much money was in my bank account. She wouldn't be so impolite to ask. "Bella and I share an apartment on Lyme road," Katrina smiled. Bella stopped and I would have crashed into her if I hadn't stopped walking too. She had whirled around and was giving Katrina a look of reproval. She obviously didn't appreciate her friend giving out the details of their living arrangements with a virtual stranger. I tried to put her at ease. "I stayed in an apartment in that area for a while, before my house opened up. It's a very safe neighborhood." I commented as though their safety was of the upmost importance in my mind. And of course, it was- even though I was already calculating the shortest distance between my home and Lyme road. Bella's eyes flickered over my face again. She was judging my sincerity. I concentrated on keeping my expression friendly and non-threatening. Satisfied by whatever she saw there, she finally turned and stepped closer to the vending machines. I listened to Katrina talk about her first apartment on campus with forced patience. My attention was drawn by the can of diet Coke that Bella now held in her graceful hand. Katrina was

speaking, and making her own beverage choice at the machine. With her attention diverted, she didn't see as my eyes became locked on the motion of Bella raising the Coke can to her mouth. She closed her eyes, and tilted her head back as she drank. I watched her full lips purse against the edge of the can. I saw the long arch of her throat constrict as she swallowed the bubbly liquid. And when she lowered the can again, I watched her tongue dart out to remove the syrupy fluid that had clung to her lower lip. My jaw had gone slack, and I knew I was staring. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I felt warm again, and even the distracting burn of her scent had faded behind this new heat that I felt. I waited for irritation to cross her features as she caught me. I waited for a sign of the discomfort she must be feeling under the stare I could not seem to break. She blinked twice, and looked at my face curiously. Finally, like a gift from heaven, the corner of her mouth pulled up in a tiny grin. Bella was actually smiling at me. I felt like I was on fire when she finally spoke. "Are you thirsty, Edward?"

6. I hope you brought a late slip

"Are you thirsty, Edward?" She had asked. I blinked rapidly and swallowed hard. She meant it innocently enough. But I swear her smile.... her gaze.... her soft voice... the way her lips formed the words....the whole scene was like something out of a vampire porno. And she had said my name. "Um... no," I tore my eyes from her and looked down at the floor. I felt guilty for twisting such a simple suggestion into something so degenerate. She merely wanted to know if I would like a Coke also. "But thanks," I hurried. "And now- we should probably get back to class." I turned and shoved my hands into my pockets, walking ahead of the girls this time. I already felt bad enough for the turn my thoughts had taken. I didn't need to spend more time ogling Bella's butt. And I was pretty sure I'd run out of the patience required for chatting with Katrina, who even now was busy checking out the way that I looked in my pants from a rear-view. I picked up the pace, pretending to be concerned about missing lecture. Once in my seat again, I mentally congratulated myself on the complete success of my plan. Not only was I able to be in close proximity to Bella without being ruled by the monstrous desire to kill.... but she talked to me. She smiled at me. She said my name. It was mildly concerning me that I could actually imagine that I felt shaky just thinking about it. And the flashes of heat- I was feeling warm again now.

I tried to sort through what I knew of the physiology- as it were- of my vampire body. Physical and chemical processes, though different from those of a human, still took place inside me- to produce venom, to limber my muscles, to aid in my regenerative healing process... But I couldn't recollect an explanation for the warmth I felt at different times this evening- or the almost shaky feeling of my hands. Could it be that just the memory of my long dormant human reactions would make me imagine the sensations with such clarity? I was going to have to ask my father, Carlisle, when we spoke next. When the professor dismissed us for the night, I kept my head down and moved towards the door quickly. My time spent in this class had been both heaven and hell. I looked forward to the quiet solace of my typical run, and the cleansing qualities of the night air. "See you next week Edward!" Katrina called out. I waved over my shoulder and kept moving. For a vampire, time is an entirely different concept. And still, the past eighty years of my life seemed to have gone by with much more swiftness than the four days I had to wait to see Bella again. During one of my nightly runs, I actually went to her street. I walked up and down the sidewalks, searching for her scent. I had found it strongest in front of a large old white house that had been renovated into apartments. I didn't allow myself inside, to search out her specific living quarters. Standing on the sidewalk was good enough for me. The entire neighborhood was asleep. If I stretched out my senses, I could make out flickering pieces of dreams from those in slumber nearby. But not the dreams that I wanted to see. Those were hidden from me- somewhere inside this white building. And so I stood on the sidewalk in front of her building for hours... and I satisfied myself with imagining the way she looked in sleep. The meadow of my fantasies was replaced with soft bed linens... her dark hair would tangle in a riot on her pillow. Would her cheek rest peacefully, cradled against her hand? Or was Bella a restless sleeper- talking in her sleep? My curiosity nearly led me to seek out her apartment. But I forced myself to leave. It was really only a matter of time. Alice could probably already see me, standing at the foot of her bed like some creepy stalker, watching her sleep and trying to decipher her dreams. But not tonight. Tonight I needed to hunt. Finally it was Tuesday evening, and I would be able to see her again. In my eagerness, I actually went to class early. Maybe I would be invited to sit near them again. This time I would. This time I would ask to compare notes with the girls. I could pretend confusion or ignorance of the subject if it gave me an excuse to initiate conversation. But when I got to the lecture hall I had to swallow back the bitter disappointment I felt when I saw that Bella and Katrina's seats were empty. Grumbling under my breath, I stomped up to the tenth row and dropped down into a seat. Where were they? I took a pen from my bag, and began tracing lines on the paper in front of me. More human pretense- but I really was aggravated and annoyed. The professor began his lecture, and I frowned darkly. I was in no mood to listen in to anything he had to say. My disposition was completely soured. I scowled and huffed impatiently. But when I inhaled again, the sweetness in the air had changed. My head flew up in time to see Bella hurry in through the side door. Her cheeks were flushed as she tried to get to her seat with as little commotion as possible.

"Sorry," I heard her whisper to a girl she passed. My body relaxed immediately. She was in the room, and all was suddenly right in my miserable world once again. Bella didn't look around. She immediately began scribbling notes in her notebook. Hmmm. Maybe I could offer her mine to copy- so that she wouldn't be missing anything. Yes. That would be gentlemanly, and it would give me an excuse to approach her during the class break. But once again- moving at human velocity put me at a disadvantage. The girl sitting next to Bella leaned over and produced her notes the minute that the professor dismissed us for our break. "Thanks," Bella smiled in her direction. I could see her mouth pull up only in profile, and I was annoyed to know that I wouldn't get to see it from a front angle tonight. She was obviously skipping her break to catch up on her notes. "Where's Katrina tonight?" I heard the girl ask. Bella kept her head down, studying her work while she replied. "She stayed home.... cramps." I watched her delicate shoulder shrug and smiled. "Then my car was acting up. It took a while to get it started. Did the professor look pissed?" "Nah. I think you are fine." The girl yawned and stretched her arms up over her head. The movement made me think of Bella and it gave me an idea. As reluctant as I was to stop eavesdropping, I stood from my seat and walked out of the classroom. Katrina wasn't in class tonight. I had been counting on her over-friendly attitude to get me back on Bella's radar. But I guess it was going to have to be up to me. And since Bella was foregoing her typical trip to the student lounge in order to catch up on her notes... it wasn't like I had much of an option there either. In a few minutes, I returned to the classroom with my trophy in hand. I intentionally walked up the aisle closest to Bella's desk, with my eyes straight forward and the corner of my mouth pulled up into a grin. And then as I moved past, I casually reached to the side and placed the diet Coke I was carrying on the edge of her desk. I didn't look her way, but I saw her chestnut hair move in my peripheral vision as she looked up to see the purveyor of the caffeinated gift. I smiled and kept walking to my seat. Once I lowered myself to sit, I allowed my eyes to move back down to her. And she was watching me with a smile on her face. "Thanks," she mouthed silently in my direction. I nodded an acceptance. And then the professor began the second half of class. Yep. I was in. I watched her for the rest of the class. She took notes, and she drank the Coke that I had brought for her. And that part made me feel weirdly happy. I provided something that she desired. And she appreciated it. I felt really smug even for having thought of it.

Because Katrina wasn't in class to call me over, I wasn't sure if I would have the opportunity to speak to Bella. Instead of running for the door, I pretended to search through my bag and gave her the opportunity to approach me after class. But when I looked up, she was engaged in a conversation with the girl who had leant her notes, and together they were walking out of the room. I shoved my notebook and pen into my bag a little too roughly. But then I remained in my seat and took several deep breaths. Leaving after Bella might make me tempted to follow her. I didn't want to do that. When I was sure that she had enough of a head-start, I threw my bag over my shoulder and walked slowly towards my car.

7. Small Favors

I walked to the parking lot, allowing the quiet of the night to soothe my disappointment. Two days and I would see Bella again. Surely Katrina's human-female problems wouldn't keep her out of class again on Thursday. Maybe I would speak with her first, just to guarantee an invite to the seat beside her. I could tell her that I missed her in class. That wouldn't be a lie. Her absence had definitely affected my plans in a negative way. The sidewalk was empty, and I didn't even need to glance up to get to where I was going. I was staring at the ground beneath my feet, and walking on auto-pilot to where I had left my car. The area around me was empty, and the relative silence was relaxing. But then my calm surroundings were shattered by the harshest string of profanities imaginable- yelled by the sweetest voice I had ever heard. "FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT- COCKSUCKING BASTARD!" I blinked in surprise. I would know her voice anywhere... despite the fact that she was screaming and growling profanities the likes of which I had never heard from a woman- outside of prison movies. I moved faster towards the parking lot. As I turned the corner, there was the object of my attention... still yelling, and doing her best to kick the front tire off of her old faded yellow Volkswagon Beatle. Her ire was the funniest thing I had ever seen. And I couldn't help the laugh that escaped my lips. She froze in mid-kick then, and turned to look at me. "You should be nice to your car. It's older than you are." I told her. "It's older than both of us, combined," she mumbled. And then she pulled her full mouth up into an embarrassed looking grin. "I can't get it to start. Again. And now I think I'm going to be late for work." It probably wasn't smart. But I didn't hesitate. "Can I give you a ride somewhere?"

She looked like she might decline the offer for a brief moment. And I almost wished that she would. Just because I was able to handle her scent enough to speak with her in a public setting, didn't mean that she would be safe while trapped inside the small confines of my car with me, alone. "Thanks Edward. I'd really appreciate that," she breathed. Ah hell. She said my name again. I set my jaw and turned to walk to the next section of the parking lot. I heard her get into her car for something, and slam the door. And then her feet scuffled along the sidewalk in an effort to catch up with my pace. "I usually don't work on the nights that I have class," she huffed next to me as she caught up. "Someone was sick, and I offered to cover her shift. Katrina will be able to come get me after work..." I said nothing, but I did compose myself enough to remember to open the passenger side door of my Volvo for her to get inside. My thoughts had been racing. I was trying to figure out if I should try to hold my breath for our entire journey. She would probably notice in the closeness of my car if my breathing suddenly stopped. It seemed my best option, then, was to keep her talking. If I could concentrate on her as a human... I would have less time to think of her as food. "Where do you work, Bella?" I asked as I started the car. "I'm a waitress at the Midfield. Do you know where that is?" I nodded. The Midfield was a soccer-themed bar about five miles from campus. It was pretty popular with students. I hadn't been there myself, but I did know where it was located. We drove in silence for a few minutes. I stared straight ahead, giving the road more concentration than it required. But I could clearly see when Bella turned her face and started watching me. "You know, I probably owe you an apology," she said quietly. I was shocked by her words. "For what?" "I think I had you pegged all wrong," Bella said. "It is really nice of you to give me a ride tonight. And the Coke earlier..." I shrugged and motioned with my hand off the steering wheel as if her thanks were unnecessary. "Think nothing of it," I suggested. But I was being false. I wanted her to think everything of it. Because it all meant more to me than she would ever guess. "Anyway, in class... the first time I saw you... I probably gave you a dirty look." She was looking down now. I smiled. "You did," I nodded and turned my eyes to look at her profile for a quick glance. "But I deserved it. You probably thought I was staring."

Of course she thought I was staring. I had heard her call me an asshole for it. She didn't deny my charge now. "I do apologize," I said. "It's just that... you reminded me of someone I met before." I was trying to stay as truthful as possible. Her eyes turned up towards me again, with a surprised look on her face. "That's funny! Because when the professor read the roster... your name sounded very familiar to me. Do you think it's possible that we have met somewhere before now?" I pressed my lips together and stared through my windshield. The truth? If I lied now... what if she figured it out later? "I doubt it," I finally said. "I lived, mostly in the Northwest before moving here." There. Close enough. "So did I!" Bella exclaimed. "Well... at least for the past three years. I lived in Forks, Washington." "Population three thousand, one hundred, and twenty?" I added a touch of incredulousness to my voice. "No way!" She gasped. Bella had turned in her seat and was bouncing up and down with excitement. It was infectious and I grinned at her. "That must be where you heard my name," I nodded. "Though I moved from there... almost three years ago now." "No! I've got it!" She looked triumphant. "We were lab partners!" My eyebrows shot up. I hadn't expected her to remember it quite so clearly. "Well... only for one day. My first day of school... we sat next to each other in biology!" She was still thrilled about her discovery. I was fairly mortified. But I forced my features to look relaxed. "Wow. I can't believe it..." "You were really, really upset that day!" Her face pulled into a frown now, remembering, I'm sure, the horrible tension between us as she sat beside me in that class. I felt terrible guilt for that, even now. "I was... very angry about having to leave," I said quietly. I was still trying to be truthful with her. "It was my last day at that school. Everything in my world... was changing. And I hated it."

"I think I could relate," she replied in a soft voice. "I wasn't too happy about starting school there that day, either. I had just left my home behind..." She turned her face to look out the window as I pulled up in front of the bar where she worked. Then she turned her face back towards me with a wide smile. "You should park and come in for a minute. Let me buy you a drink to say 'thanks.'" Of course, I didn't drink. But when she smiled at me like that, I couldn't resist. I turned the car into a parking space, and then followed her into the Midfield. The bar was full. And it was loud. I froze when Bella pulled my arm and pushed her face towards mine. It was closer than I had ever been to her, and I felt that unfamiliar warmth rush through my body when her mouth came close to my ear. "I'll just be a minute. I have to change into my uniform. But I'll be right out!" She wove her way through the crowd to a door behind the bar, and I tried to breathe normally again. Her touch and nearness had thrown me. When I spied an empty bar stool against the wall, I perched on it and tried to look comfortable in my surroundings. I felt a little out of place here, dressed in my typical Khaki's and button-up shirt. I drummed my fingers on the bar table next to me, and waited for Bella to come back. When she did, I was thankful that the loud music masked the groan that escaped my lips. She wore little black shorts and a tight-white t-shirt that was silkscreened to look like some sort of referee's garb. Her white knee socks only made her legs look longer. The only saving grace is that she wore the unlucky number thirteen on her back. The irony made me laugh. She grinned and placed a tumbler full of amber-colored liquid and ice on the table beside me. "You look like a bourbon kind of guy," she smiled. "I just took a chance." I licked my lips and tried not to stare at the shiny silver whistle that hung from a cord around her neck and laid directly against the middle of her chest. This girl was going to be the death of me. And because she was watching me expectantly, I raised the glass and let a small amount of the alcohol pass my lips. I could taste the sour mash, and the oak barrel it aged in. The alcohol disintegrated immediately on my tongue. The burn wasn't entirely unpleasant. I smiled at Bella to show my gratitude, and she swung her hair over her shoulders with a grin before she turned to start taking drinks to other patrons. When she left, I poured half of my drink on the floor beside me. She wouldn't need to know that. I really did appreciate the thought. Bella stayed busy. Each time she passed, she smiled. That reason alone kept me sitting there, pretending to enjoy my drink. After the second or third pass, however, I picked up on the disturbing thoughts of the man standing next to my table. He had noticed Bella as well. In fact, his thoughts were beginning to infuriate me. I was in the process of losing some more of my drink to the floor beside me when I clearly heard him fantasizing about bending her over a pool table in the back room. I tried to ignore the mental image that he was providing. My teeth gnashed together and I put my glass on the table so that it would not break in my grip. I felt a

fierce possessiveness over take me, and I was waiting for an excuse to approach him. I could hardly call him out for his sick inner-thoughts. When Bella came by with another tray of bottles and glasses, I finally had a reason to act. The man had imbibed in enough alcohol to make him bold. When Bella passed again, he reached out and grabbed her roughly around the waist- tugging her towards him. I saw the thin material of the back of her shorts bunch under his crude fingers, and I reacted before the bottles on her tray had time to hit the floor. In an instant, I gripped his hand and whirled her out of his grip. I felt rage seething through me, and I smiled when I pinched one of his fingers between two of my own and felt the thin bone snap under the pressure. The man yelled out and sank to his knees in front of me. I considered breaking another of his filthy fingers. But somewhere through the red haze of anger I became aware that Bella was still standing there, breathing heavily, and watching me. Instead of giving in to the violence my body craved, I leaned forward so that the man could feel my words as well as hear them. "If you ever put a hand on this woman again, I will remove it from your fucking wrist. Do you understand me?" My hiss was low enough that no one else would have heard my threat. He couldn't have mistaken the seriousness of the situation he was in. The man nodded, and I released his hand with disgust. Two bouncers appeared near my shoulder then, and at Bella's direction, led the man to the door. I tried to compose myself before turning to her. Her eyes were wide as she stared up at me. "Are you alright?" The episode had left my voice rougher than I would have liked. I was still shaking from suppressing the urge to cause the man more pain. "I'm fine.... really." Her heart beat was not back to normal. And her scent was made stronger by the adrenaline coursing through her body. Her chest still heaved under her efforts to control her breathing. I nodded and gritted my teeth. I needed to get away from her. I needed air. I needed to run. I needed to feed. "I have to go," I muttered. And then, I turned and pushed my way through the crowd as I made my escape.

8. 2020

I walked into class Thursday evening, feeling completely nervous. I really didn't know what to expect when I saw Bella. Had I scared her when I stepped in to handle the situation with the man at the bar? It would be understandable, if I had. I had nearly lost control when the man grabbed Bella. A primal urge to protect her had sent me moving before I could think of the possible repercussions. I pulled her away, and had the man on his knees with his offending hand in my grip. I only barely suppressed the urge to squeeze my fist around his, causing him extreme pain. If not for the frightened girl standing beside me, and the curious on-lookers of the bar, he would not have been able to walk away so easily. I wouldn't have let him leave with barely more than a mere threat. And I would have enjoyed his agony. I also would have made myself less worthy to know the girl I was trying to protect. I wasn't sure why it had become so important to me. But I did want to know Bella. And I wanted her to know me. In fact, 'want' was probably the wrong word. 'Need' might have better sufficed the strange obsession that was rapidly taking over my best judgment and common sense. When last I saw her, the anger and rage in me hadn't been disguised. My calm faade had slipped. Now, without the ability to read her inner-thoughts, I had no way to know how Bella felt about the piece of my true nature that had been revealed. She was in her seat, with her head bowed over her notebook when I entered. Katrina sat beside her again, and looked up when I entered. Her expression was wary- her thoughts, subdued. I held up my hand in a half-wave sort of greeting as I met her eyes. She returned the gesture with a small smile that seemed to match her inner enthusiasm. Too bad... her inner voice lamented. Since she hadn't waved me over, I settled a few rows behind them and decided to satisfy myself my picking through her mind. Surprisingly, the inner tone of her thoughts weren't very friendly towards Bella. I frowned. Katrina was busy grumbling in her head about having to do the dishes when it was clearly Bella's turn. And apparently Bella had eaten some of Katrina's microwave popcorn without asking. I let the voice drone on, wondering about what put her in such a foul mood. Bella did say that Katrina had cramps on Tuesday night. Maybe hormones were to blame. There was a list of mild complaints, and I listened to them for a few minutes before I finally heard something that caught my attention. I know she says that she doesn't like him in THAT way...but seriously! Who does she think she's fooling? I saw that look on her face when she was talking about him....

I leaned forward in my seat, listening intently and unable to keep the smile from my face. Was Katrina thinking about me? My question was answered when Katrina glanced over her shoulder at me. I had felt so happy at the turn that her thoughts had taken, and the possibilities that I imagined there, that I smile widely at her. She blushed and looked away. See? He's totally interested! Her mind went on. Wow! He's gorgeous. And what is Bella thinking, anyway? She's got a boyfriend already.... And just like that, I crashed. My face steeled into a frown, and I stared blindly down at my desk. Katrina was busy planning to come speak to me during the class break. She wanted to reinforce her prior claim. I quickly flitted out of her mind and focused on my own inner turmoil. Bella had a boyfriend? And why should that fact bother me? It shouldn't. So then, why did the news of her relationship shake me to the core? I felt myself shutting down, and tried to bury my despondent thoughts as the professor began his lecture. But waves of disappointment kept crashing over me. I let my hand take notes and wallowed in the strange, dark feelings that were pulling me under. Though it didn't make sense, I felt angry to know that Bella was involved in a relationship with another man. Another man. A man. The way it should be. Had I really imagined that she could have some kind of a similar relationship with me? And then I knew. Though it hadn't previously come as any sort of a conscious thought... yes. Yes, I had imagined it. And yes, I wanted it. And now jealousy was the only way to describe how much I hated the thought of someone else being closer to Bella than I could ever be. The first half of class passed while I wallowed in my dark mood and slumped unhappily in my seat. I knew that Katrina would be up to say 'hi' in a moment, and I really hoped that I would be able to pull it together enough to be friendly. After all, she was still the best gateway to the very unavailable girl sitting beside her. Katrina stood when the professor excused us for break, but faltered when a small commotion by the door caught her attention. In fact, it caught everyone's attention, including my own. I made sense of the situation immediately. I might have actually been amused had it not been for my exceedingly bad mood. A tiny brunette with compact curves, wrapped in a designer version of a Catholic school-girl's uniform had stepped dramatically into the doorway. Her skirt was way too short, and she wore little black-framed glasses. She looked as though she had stepped out of a rock video featuring every school-boy's fantasy. I wanted to laugh. But I rolled my eyes instead.

Two guys on their way out the door literally knocked into one another when they saw her, causing one of them to drop the papers he was carrying. They scattered on the floor at her feet. She raised one dainty hand to lower her glasses to the end of her nose-glasses that I knew she didn't need. "Sorry boys," she purred as she dimpled a smile at them. "Alice." I rolled my eyes at her entrance, and muttered her name under my breath. "Excuse me? Miss? This is a closed session." The professor addressed my sister. I folded my arms across my chest. This one would be easy for her. Alice practically skipped over to the professor. I could see the dazed expression come over his face as she batted her big gold eyes in his direction. Like shooting fish in a barrel. "It's OK sweetie," she grinned. "I'll only be a minute. I'm looking for Edward." "Ugh," I groaned. Katrina and Bella both watched as Alice lightly stepped up the stairs to where I sat, frowning at her show. "You could pretend to be happy to see me," Alice pouted as she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. I sighed as I heard Katrina's thoughts. "Great. Now she thinks that you are my girlfriend." "Ew!" Alice wrinkled her nose cutely and I actually felt myself grinning. For all of her aggravating ways, I adored my sister. It really was good to see her. "What are you doing here?" I asked, while indicating for her to sit beside me. Katrina and Bella had finally made their way out of the room. "We just got in, and I wanted to see you! Plus- I wanted to see this with my own eyes!" "You've seen this already, in your head," I reminded her. "It's not the same!" she insisted. "By the way... I saw Bella when I came in. I totally get it. She's very pretty! And she does smell so good!" "Alice..." I pulled her name between my teeth in a quiet warning. She just giggled and pushed the corners of my frown up with her fingertips to try to make a smile again. "You aren't as cute when you look all crabby like that. Lighten up!" she scolded. I shook my head and found that I actually could grin at her... just a little. "Where is Jasper?" "He's out in the car, waiting for me," she said flippantly. "Did you think I ran here? I wasn't going to mess up my hair!"

"Are you staying at the house?" I asked. "Only for a couple days. I think we are going to stay in the area a while. I'm looking at rentals..." "If you say that you are looking on Lyme road... I swear to God..." "Oh hush!" She shook her head. "I won't rent on her street. But maybe somewhere close! Then you can visit when you get tired of being a stalker and watching her sleep!" "I don't!" "But you will!" she sang. I looked around to make sure no one was within hearing distance. Students were beginning to trickle back into the lecture hall. Bella and Katrina were back at their seats- diet Cokes in hand. Katrina was clearly watching Alice and me from the corner of her eye. Bella was showing no interest, as usual, and doodling on the paper in front of her. "Alice... it's time for the annoying little sister to leave." "Aren't you going to introduce me....?" "Not tonight," I cut her off. She just shrugged and stood. "Oh- and Alice? See if you can leave without messing with the professor any more. He's already going to have a tough enough time getting back to lecture," I said, shaking my head. "No problem," she laughed as she sashayed down the stairs. "I'll see you later at your place!" I cringed. Yeah. Katrina and Bella had heard that.

9. Bubbly

As soon as the professor dismissed us for the evening, I threw my bag over my shoulder and started for the door. Because I kept my head down, and was pretty much blocking the buzz of the students around me, I was startled by the sound of Bella's voice as she clearly called my name over the crowd. I froze in place, and then slowly turned to face her and Katrina as they hurried in my direction. Katrina's thoughts were of Alice. She was obviously put-out by my assumed relationship status. I could only guess why Bella had called my name. But every fiber of my being wanted to rejoice in the fact that she had.

"Hey Edward!" she smiled pleasantly. If she was worried about my behavior in the bar, she was hiding it well. "Bella...." Did she hear the way my mouth worshipped her name? I cleared my throat. "Hello Katrina!" I tried to smile in her direction also. But my eyes wanted to dart back to Bella's perfect features. "I... wanted to say thanks again. For the other night," Bella stumbled on her words, looked down, and blushed. The delicate pink in her cheeks caused me to suck in a quick breath, and I was staggered anew by the scent of her. I closed my eyes and focused on the burn in my throat. I needed this. It was getting easier each time. "You don't owe me thanks," I said, with my eyes closed. My voice sounded deeper to my own ears. I cleared my throat again and blinked to look at the girls. "Really, it was nothing." I had to work to make my voice lighter. "We wanted to talk to you," Katrina hurried to join the conversation. "Will you walk out with us?" Of course I would. Here was an invitation that I could not resist. Inwardly, I was jumping to the side and tapping my heels together in the air like some character from a cheesy musical. On the outside, I nodded and shrugged a little to pretend indifference. "So... what's up?" I finally broke after holding the door for them to exit ahead of me. "Rumor has it," Bella began, "That next week... we are going to be given the opportunity to break into small groups." "I have a friend who took this course last semester," Katrina confided in me. "The professor likes each group to choose some subject... anything that can be hunted up in history..." Katrina began. "Then he puts our names on a list so that we can use the historic documents vault at the library, computer codes to access documents at sister schools, gives us free reign to just... .dig through records. And the groups have to search through and find different sorts of documentation that provide evidence..." Bella continued. "You know! Stone writings, coins, papyrus.... any records of historical documentation we can find." "Like a treasure hunt!" Bella smiled. She actually seemed a little excited about the project. Her cheeks were still pink. I could have told them the same information. The professor had been thinking about the assignment at the end of class tonight. "What does any of this have to do with me?" I asked. The two girls looked at each other and then back in my direction.

"We wanted to know if you'd work as part of our team!" Bella gave me a small smile. I felt stunned. I was still reeling from the suggestion when Katrina spoke again. "You seem like a smart guy. And this will probably be a lot of late nights at the library. It will probably be safer. You know. Having a guy to work with when we are coming and going so late..." I licked my lips and nodded. Of course it would be safer. With anyone but me. But while I knew I shouldn't offer to work in such close contact with the girls... I absolutely knew that I would. Hell- I was practically ready to dance at the very thought of it. "Yeah. That sounds great," I smiled. Both girls seemed to sigh in relief at the same time. And then we were at Bella's car. "I'm parked in the next lot," I said. "Well... we'll see you Tuesday, huh?" Katrina asked. Her mind was already off the project and guessing that I was in a hurry to get home to Alice. I decided to just let her think as she was, for the time being. "Sure! I'll see you!" I concentrated on not sounding too excited. Stay cool... I pushed my chin down and turned to walk away. Bella grinned and offered a quiet "Good night, Edward," before they got into her car. Yes. A good night indeed. I entered my garage in much lighter spirits than I had been in when Alice had found me earlier. In fact, I could have whistled. Sure- Bella might be in a relationship with someone. But she had asked ME to work as part of her group. She invited me to spend time with her outside of class. Yes, it was for a school project. But I'd take it. I found Alice, sitting with her feet up on the large ottoman in my living room, drying her newly painted toenails. "Welcome home," Alice grinned. "Have you bought a new notebook and pen set for your latenight trips to the library?" "You could have clued me in," I shook my head at her. Of course, she would already know that I had been invited into the project group by Bella and Katrina. "No. They must not have decided to ask you until after I left." Alice shrugged. "Maybe you seemed a safer choice once they figured that you were unavailable? In which case- you owe me one." "Where's Jasper?" I asked, looking around.

"Outside. Sitting in your Jacuzzi..." Other than the wooded area that crept up to the back of my home, the Jacuzzi on the back deck had been a big draw for me when I bought the place. I enjoyed the sensation of the hot water swirling around my body. Submerging myself in the luxurious depth of water was better than a shower or regular bath. And the warmth made me feel... almost human. Jasper was a man who enjoyed indulgences. I wasn't surprised that he had already found it. I walked to the deck, and saw him sprawled out in the corner of the long spa unit. His blonde head was tilted back, and his eyes were closed. "For the love of all that is Holy...please help me talk Alice out of getting a rental. I need a place with one of these things," he drawled. I laughed at his greeting and he opened his eyes to look at me. "It's good to see you. How are you?" I greeted him warmly. "I'd say 'better than you.' But at the moment... you are feeling pretty damned relaxed too." he replied. Jasper had the ability to influence the moods of those around him, but also to absorb the moods of those nearby. He could sense my happiness. "What's got you so chipper?" "I was asked to be a part of her project group," I smiled. I didn't need to explain to Jasper who I was speaking of. He already knew all about Bella from Alice. "Way to go, man!" he grinned up at me. "Now, maybe you'll get lucky!" I frowned in his direction. "I'd say I've been lucky enough, just to get the invitation. I only want to spend more time with her. Nothing else." "Yeah, right," Jasper snickered. He moved towards me under the bubbling water, to the control panel that turned on the large swimming jet in the middle of the unit. The water forced against him in a rush, spraying up at me as it bounced off his immobile form. It was meant to provide resistance for a human to swim against the forced current. It merely splashed past Jasper until he pressed the button to end the cycle. "Hmm. That kinda tickles," he said to himself. I laughed at his observation. The jet was useless to me. I never used it. When Jasper started to rise up out of the water, I turned my head away with a grimace. "Jesus, Jasper..." I groaned. "Couldn't you have at least worn trunks or something?" "What's with the modesty?" Jasper grumbled good-naturedly. "It's not like I thought I would need to pack swim trunks for a trip to New Hampshire in the middle of winter!" Then he laughed. He had thrown his arms out to the sides, proud of his nudity and impervious to the elements as he dripped water onto my deck. "But I can understand if you are a little intimidated by me. I mean... I am a superior creature and all...."

Before he had time to see it coming, I let my hands streak out to push him backwards into the tub. Alice stood at my elbow in less than a second, watching as Jasper stood up... swinging his wet hair out of his face and laughing. "You could have warned me!" he laughed at her. "No way. You deserved that one." she smiled down at him. I followed Alice indoors, and Jasper made a point of dressing himself before joining us. Together they caught me up on the happenings at home. I hadn't chosen to go home for Christmas this year, much to my 'mother' Esme's disappointment. Even Rosalie and Emmett travelled from South America to see everyone. I was glad I skipped it. While the idea of spending time with Emmett sounded great- he really was the perfect big brother figure- spending time in Rosalie's presence sounded about as appealing as fruitcake. To say we didn't get along would be an understatement. Afterwards, we watched movies. But when Alice and Jasper started getting a little too comfortable with each other on the sofa- I decided it was best to go for a run and leave them to a little privacy.

10. Stain resistant

I entertained Alice and Jasper in my home for the rest of the weekend. Alice, true to her word, had an apartment secured and furnishings moved in by Monday. It really was impressive what not having to sleep and an unlimited cash supply was able to help accomplish when one was in a hurry. Jasper complained about not having a Jacuzzi, but Alice was stubborn. She didn't want to buy a house for so short a stay. I didn't ask how long they would be around. I was willing to bet that Alice, herself, didn't even know yet. I knew they would stay in the area for as long as Alice thought I might need them. And I loved her for it. To show my appreciation, I promised Jasper that he could use any of the conveniences of my home whenever he liked, including the Jacuzzi-with advanced notice, of course. I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep thoughts of Bella having a boyfriend out of my mind. But often, I found myself wondering what she was doing over the weekend, or who she was spending her time with. Then that surge of jealousy would over-take me again and I would have to combat it by reminding myself that I would see her on Tuesday evening. For those three hours in class, she would be with me. Not him. Concentrating on that made me feel somewhat better.

My internal countdown to the Ancient History course was making me feel pathetic. But I counted the minutes in my head, none the less. So when I finally entered class on Tuesday evening, saying that I was annoyed to find Bella and Katrina's typical seats empty would have been an understatement. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to keep from throwing or hitting something in my sudden burst of irritation. And when that familiar burn pulled its way down the back of my throat, my eyes flew open to glance again. The two girls were in the room. Instead of sitting in their usual seats, they were sitting a few rows back, closer to where I usually sat. I smiled when I saw the seat that was conspicuously left between them. "Good evening," I said politely when I stepped up to them. I couldn't keep the pleasure from my voice, and I was rewarded by a smile and slightly dazed look from each of them. "Are you saving that seat for someone?" "Sit," Katrina ordered. I didn't hesitate. Bella had turned her chin away while I got settled, and she seemed a little distracted. But I was too happy about sitting beside her to dwell on the possible reasons. I sat back in my seat, reveling in the unaccustomed closeness, and took another deliberate breath through my nose. This time I winced. Katrina was wearing a strong perfume. Bella's natural scent, however, tore through me with a burn that I had begun to appreciate. As long as I burned, she was near. It was worth the discomfort. I also noticed, much to my surprise, that the burn was not accompanied by the typical pin-prick sensation at the back of my mouth that occurred when I produced venom. With my lips pressed closed, I ran my tongue across my teeth and wondered about this new development. Had my effort to desensitize myself really been such a success that my instinctive urges had become repressed? I smiled widely at the possibility. My mind was whirling with the new information, and I only half-registered that Bella's phone was signaling a call from the deep resources of her bag. "Are you going to answer that?" I lifted an eyebrow in her direction. She looked at me, confused for a moment. I stared at the cute little line that settled between her eyes before she blinked twice and turned her face to look down at her bag. When she lowered her hand and retrieved her phone, I realized my error. It had been programmed to some sort of a silent setting. Its vibrations should have been unknown to me. "How did you..?" she began as she flipped her phone open. Apparently, it was a text message. She didn't finish her question as she began to read the tiny screen. She scowled and flipped her phone closed with a deep sigh, before dropping it back into her bag. I was, of course, madly curious. But I busied myself with pulling out my notes from the last lecture. "Wow!" Katrina angled her shoulders towards me and looked over my arm. "You have the nicest writing I have ever seen. For a guy." I shrugged. Bella barely even glanced. She still looked irritated by whatever it was that she read in her text message.

As Katrina predicted, the professor did introduce his project idea to the class. When he passed around a clipboard, I took immense satisfaction in the way that Bella wrote our three names to indicate group status. With a pleasure that nearly matched the first time she spoke my name out loud... I liked the way her pencil pushed the curves across the page when she wrote "Edward Cullen." Such a silly little thing- but seeing our names scribbled across the professor's paper side by side made me feel some tangible connection to her. I was still dwelling on it while the professor talked about the project and I took notes. Bella's posture had relaxed, and she had taken to doodling in the margins of her paper. I wondered what she was thinking of. And I tried to stay out of Katrina's mind entirely. She still assumed that Alice and I were a couple. And while that helped to cool her interest in me, she conjured up mental images of Alice and I that frankly, grossed me out. Finally, with resignation, she had begun to consider speaking to a dark-haired man in the second row. And the mental images she was providing for that were too graphic for me as well. I didn't really want to imagine how endowed he might be. I wrinkled my nose and forced her thoughts away. When the professor pointed out that we should have our Document-Search subjects chosen by Thursday evening, I stiffened in my seat. Bella's hand left her paper and had moved over my arm that was resting on my desk. Her forearm casually rested on top of mine as she lifted her pen to write on the margin of my paper. Don't worry. We've already got this. Heat sprang up from the slight contact between us, and I smiled at the souvenir she had made of my notes. She and Katrina already knew the subject that they wanted to search. I didn't have a preference one way or the other, as long as I was able to work with Bella. But I knew that I would have to at least feign interest. So I casually leaned towards Bella, to write on her paper. What subject? Bella's breath had hitched slightly at my sudden nearness, so I pulled back. Smart girl. She looked around... and it was my turn to hold my breath when she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. I felt warm again, and forced myself to avert my gaze. She simply reached over to write on my paper once more. We'll tell you during break. This time I had to suppress a groan when her arm brushed my chest as she pulled it back. I nodded my head to acknowledge the message, and released the breath I had been holding when she rested her arm on her own desk again. When the professor dismissed us, I initially stayed seated to tuck my notes into my bag. Bella stood right away- stretched her arms over her head and yawned. This innocent action put the soft curves under her sweater almost directly at my eye-level, and inspired some not-so-innocent thoughts to pass through my head. I admit, I had previously spent quite a bit of time following

her back-side with my eyes. But now I was completely distracted by guessing at the softness of her skin beneath that fuzzy blue sweater. Again- I felt that unaccustomed rush of heat flash over me, and I closed my eyes to ward away the strange sensation. Deep breath. Burn. Deep breath. Burn. When I opened my eyes again, it was to find Bella standing, frowning down at the screen on her cell phone. "I'll meet you guys at the Coke machines," she muttered. "I have to return a call..." she was already moving down the aisle towards the door as she spoke. "Edward? You go ahead," Katrina smiled. "I'll catch up in a minute." She was planning to go talk to the dark-haired guy that she had been watching during class. I nodded. Inwardly- I hoped she was successful in her attempts. It wasn't good for me to keep letting her believe that Alice was my girlfriend. She was too graphic with her mental images. I walked alone to the student lounge and leaned one shoulder against the wall, waiting for Bella to arrive. When she entered the room, she looked faintly upset. "Everything alright?" I asked. Of course, I was dying of curiosity. I hated not being able to read the source of her consternation. "Everything's fine," she bit out. Obviously, she was not going to elaborate. So I just waited patiently, watching her force coins into the vending machine with barely suppressed agitation. Katrina flounced into the lounge area almost right away. Her flirting had been met with success. "Bells? That cute guy in the second row? The one with the dark hair? His name is Brad! He totally asked me for my number!" Ah! I had been replaced. The smile that stole across my face was genuine. "Good luck with that." Bella sounded as glum as she looked. Katrina ignored her sullen mood "Did you tell Edward about your project idea yet?" My eyebrows shot up with interest. I could have kissed Katrina for instigating the conversation. Bella faced me again, and I had an excuse to let my eyes drink her in. She shook her head as she glanced around the room. We were nearly alone- the rest of the students had begun to make their way back to class. But in an effort to remain secretive, Bella raised her wrist and crooked her finger in my direction. It was an invitation to step closer. I didn't have to be told twice. I moved to fill the gap between the two girls. I still couldn't believe my luck- being invited to work this closely with Bella. Right now, we were standing so closely that we were practically shoulder to shoulder. Her shiny hair

almost touched my arm as she leaned in. The soft, fuzzy, v-neck sweater she wore drew my attention to where it lightly lied against her collar bones. And her scent... she smelled amazing. My eyes reluctantly left her collar bones, only to devour the long column of her throat. She swallowed, and I watched that play of muscles under her delicate skin. My eyes travelled up her neck, to her pointy chin, and finally rested on her mouth. I watched, mesmerized, as Bella parted her lips to speak. Her top teeth pressed lightly against her full bottom lip to form the word she whispered to me... "Vampires." And with that single word, someone ruthlessly drug the needle across the album of sweet violin music that had been playing in my mind like some sort of soundtrack to the moment. The silence slammed against me and I blinked rapidly. Had I heard her correctly? I searched her eyes, but found no hint of humor there. No hint of mischievousness alerted me that she might be joking. She looked completely serious. She just stood there, waiting for my reaction. And I was at a loss... Both girls watched me as I tried to process this new information. Bella wanted to search for documentation about vampires? My first reaction was to dissuade her. "That idea... is really ... stupid!" I blurted out. Her features darkened the instant the insult passed my lips. If anything, she looked even more annoyed than she already had. "Stupid? So are those Dockers. But I was trying to be polite by not saying anything!" Bella said snidely. What? Bella didn't like my pants? Katrina was laughing in earnest now. I had thought to look older by wearing casual dress clothes. And Bella thought I looked stupid? I was momentarily side-tracked by this unwelcome information. Bella rolled her eyes and continued. "Listen- I'm sorry. That was rude. I'm just in a bad mood." "No. It was my fault," I frowned. "I was rude first." "If you don't like our search subject... you should have plenty of time between now and Thursday to get into a new group." I tore my thoughts from my clothing problems and tried to consider my options.

While the idea of working alongside Bella while we dug up documentation about vampires seemed like something out of a bad B-movie--the alternative was to not work with Bella at all. Which meant, there was no alternative for me. At least if I worked beside her, I might get some insight of what in the world she thought of the stories she would find. Stories of my horrific reality. "No. Our group is set." I steeled my jaw. This was going to get interesting.

11. Nocturnal Admissions

On Thursday night in class, I watched as Bella walked forward to the professor's desk and wrote our search-subject on his paper. She turned with a grin, obviously happy with herself, and gave Katrina and me a thumbs-up. I had hoped that she would change her mind in the last couple of days. But that girl was stubborn. The professor told us that we had open access to the historical documents vault at the library, and gave each group an envelope that held computer access codes that we might need, along with a strict set of guidelines about how to handle the materials. Katrina was busy thinking about Brad. I was busy thinking about Bella. But Bella seemed genuinely excited about getting started on the project. After break, Katrina conveniently stayed in the seat beside her new crush. And Bella and I returned back to our seats, together. Before the professor began the second half of lecture, she turned and leaned into me to whisper. "Are you busy after class? Do you want to walk with me, over to the library?" I was, as always, awed by her nearness. But I turned my head to return her whisper. "I'm not busy. I didn't know we'd be starting tonight though..." She shook her head, and her long brown tresses touched my arm. "We have plenty of time," she whispered again. I could almost feel her nose on my skin. That familiar shaky feeling was starting to set in. "I'd just like to look around. And I'd like to talk to you." Bella wanted to talk to me. I smiled and nodded. Like I would deny her anything. After class, Bella stood and started to pull her coat around her shoulders. I wondered if I should have offered to help. But I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. I pulled my own wool coat on instead, and followed her down the steps to Katrina.

"We're walking over to the library, to look around," Bella told her roommate. "Want to walk with?" "Ah hell Bella. You know I work early. Do you really need me to?" "Oh. No. That's ok," Bella responded. Brad almost became my new best friend when he stepped into the group. "Trina? I'll give you a ride home, if you need one." "Thanks!" Katrina smiled. She made sure to raise her eyebrows emphatically in our direction once Brad had turned to pick up his things. Bella just proceeded to the exit with me in tow. It was lightly snowing outside. Bella pulled a worn-looking stocking cap from her pocket and pulled it down over her head. She looked so adorable that I couldn't help but smile. I flipped up the collar of my long coat as an acceptable ruse, and pushed my hands into my pockets. "The weather isn't great," I told her. "If you'd rather do this another time?" "I like the snow!" Bella smiled. "It's hard to believe, but when I moved to Forks, I actually hated the cold weather. I moved there from Phoenix... and the rain and the cooler temperatures really had me down for a while. Then- it kind of grew on me." I tucked my chin low into the pulled-up collar of my coat and considered what she had said. The way she tilted her face right into the wind only illustrated the truth of her words. I was jealous of every tiny snowflake that got to touch her cheek. "So, I have a confession to make," Bella finally said. "Yeah?" "It was... my idea to ask you to work in our group." A tightening in my chest made me halt my steps for a moment. "Why?" "Well," she began. "The truth is... Katrina and I keep very different schedules. She works during the day. And she likes to be in bed by eleven during the week. So she is planning on contributing to this project during her lunch breaks- or in the evening." "Ok." "But... my schedule is different."

"How so?" I asked. I didn't see any reason for the anxiety that I was beginning to pick up from her. "Since working at the bar- my days and nights are switched. I don't really sleep at night. It's not unusual for me to be awake until three or four in the morning. So I thought I would do most of my work late. Like, after class..." "And this leads to what Katrina said before," I supplied. "It's safer to have a guy around." "I got the idea that night at the Midfield," Bella continued to explain. "You stepped in so quickly to protect me, from that one guy... who was grabbing me..." "I remember." I pushed my chin down and started walking again. She quickly moved to walk beside me. "Anyway- I just wanted to be up front. Heck. I don't even know when you'd prefer to work! If you like to work early- I'll re-adjust somehow. And then we can meet up with Katrina. "Otherwise- it will mostly be just the two of us?" I tried to sound unaffected. "Yes." I held the library door open for her, and pulled my mouth into a small grin. "It just so happens... I don't sleep at night either." I followed Bella silently through the lower level of the library, noting that the typical closing hours were listed as midnight. A small bribe to the night watchman should ensure us a slightly more flexible schedule. I smiled when I thought of making that a gift to Bella. Call it a small part of my contribution to the project- anything that would give me more time with her. On the seventh floor, Bella led the way to the back room that was designated for historical documents. We each signed our names to the clipboard outside, and stepped into the quiet inner area. Several of the students from our class were already moving around the computers and long shelves of books. Bella bypassed the material and led us to a very small, cherry table that was tucked away in the corner. With the flick of her wrist, the tiny green-hooded desk lamp bathed the workspace in a warm yellow glow. Bella sat in one of the two chairs and ran her hands along the smooth top of the table. I sat across from her, awkwardly. The small table in the corner seemed totally intimate to me. Our wash of yellow light was like a dome over our personal space. She sighed. Apparently, she was comfortable with it. "This should be 'our' desk." Bella smiled. "So when we meet to work... we can find each other easily." As if I needed help to find her. Her scent was so specific to me. She could hide in any nook of this large library, and I'd be on her in seconds.

"What if someone takes our spot?" I asked with mock concern. "We'll remove them, with extreme prejudice." Bella's eyes were wide, and the light danced in their teasing depths. I laughed. But I knew that I would have no problem, whatsoever, in removing someone from this space if it made Bella happy. She had called this 'our spot.' I liked the sound of that. We sat, leaning towards each other over the table. I was happy that she didn't look as upset as she did on Tuesday night. I wanted to ask her about those text messages. I wanted to know what had put her in such a foul mood. But I instinctively knew that she would not appreciate my reminder. So I decided, instead, to open a different line of questioning. "Why this subject?" I couldn't bring myself to say the word. But I had been endlessly curious about her desire to search for documentation about vampires. "You don't seem the type." I continued. "What is that supposed to mean?" She looked into my eyes with interest. I just raised one eyebrow and pretended to take in her appearance quickly. As if I hadn't already completely memorized the way she looked in the lamp-light. "You obviously don't dress in an entire 'Hot Topic' wardrobe..." I pointed out her lack of trendygoth attire. Without thinking about it, I reached across the table and lightly picked up her wrist. "You aren't even wearing black nail polish!" I clicked my tongue in a teasing 'tsk' while her eyes travelled down to look where I still held her wrist in my hand. I frowned. The warmth of her skin felt amazing to me. But the coldness of my touch was probably startling to her. I released her hand quickly, and placed mine under the table. "Sorry," I mumbled, looking down. "That's alright," she smiled. "You asked about how I chose the subject?" She changed gears, and I was thankful. "Yes," I sighed. "I don't know really," she said with a shrug and a grin. "I was teasing Katrina about how my schedule makes me feel like a vampire. You know- awake all night... sleeping all day. The idea sort of sprang from that." "Oh. So it's not that you necessarily believe in.... all of that stuff?" Again- I was hesitant to utter the word. I tried to add a derisive tone to my question, as if I thought it all was nonsense. But I waited on the edge of my seat for her reply. "Would you think badly of me, if I did?" Bella asked quietly. I held my breath as she looked up at me from under her eyelashes.

"Impossible." I spoke the truth. I could never think badly of her- especially for believing in the existence of a creature that happened to be sitting across the table from her. She smiled and shrugged. "I don't know. I guess not really," she answered. "Well- at least not like you see in movies. But I try to never rule out possibilities. And all of these stories... that date back so far.... From completely different cultures and different areas of the world? They had to have come from somewhere, right?" She asked. I didn't answer. I couldn't. She turned her face from my gaze, and allowed me to follow the line of her neck with my eyes again. "So- are you always so cold?" She asked. She had completely changed the subject again, and it threw me. "Pardon me?" "Your hand," she smiled. "When you touched my wrist, your hand felt very cold." I should have known she would have caught that. But I didn't expect that she would mention it. She hurried to continue, as if afraid that she had offended me. "I wish I was one of those people. I'm always running hot. I'm about to die with this coat on." She was hot, alright. But not actually close to death. Not right then, anyway. The only urge I felt was one to touch her again. But I remembered why I couldn't. "Yes," I finally muttered. "I'm always cold." I watched her face for her reaction. My breath caught again when a wide smile pulled across her features. "Well, stay close to me then," she leaned in. "You can be like my personal air-conditioner. Then we can balance each other out! I'd say... that sounds just about perfect!" Yes, I nodded slowly at her suggestion. Perfect.

12. Fast Food Humanity

I spent quite a while, on Friday afternoon, reading through random books of poetry. I felt restless. I briefly considered calling Alice, but then heard my phone ringing from across the room. I flashed to it, with a speed reserved for times when I was alone or with family and held it to my ear with a smile.

"Yes. We are home. Yes, come on over," Alice spoke. I laughed. "Are you sure I won't be interrupting anything?" "I'm trying to get Jasper to pose for me," Alice said. "But I've been unsuccessful." "Does he have clothes on?" I frowned. She laughed. "Yes! I told you- I've been unsuccessful!" Alice had been spending her time practicing oil painting. She was not-surprisingly, very good. I drove to their new apartment, only taking a slight detour to drive down Lyme road. Bella's faded Volkswagon was parked near the curb in front of her apartment building. I liked knowing where she was. It bothered me, though, to not know if she was alone. I could hardly stop in the middle of the afternoon to snoop around. So I continued on my way to Alice and Jasper's place. "Hey! Nice," I nodded while I looked around. Jasper looked up from where he sat in the corner of the sofa and gave me a dirty look. "Sure. You can say that while you are sitting in your Jacuzzi!" I grinned. He knew he had an open invitation. He was bitching just to hear his own voice. "What brings you by?" Alice asked. She stood in front of an easel, with green paint smeared across one cheek. "You don't know?" "I didn't look long enough to find out," Alice grinned. "You have been boring me lately!" "Ouch," I pretended to wince and then walked over to kiss her on the cheek that wasn't splattered with paint. "I need help," I mumbled. "Bella doesn't like my clothes." It had been bothering me all week. Alice held her paintbrush up towards my face with mock warning. "Edwarrrrd," she growled. "You know I gave up shopping when I left the high school gig behind. If I don't see the inside of a shopping mall for the next twenty years- that will be fine by me!" She turned back to her painting. Jasper stood up, and shrugged. "I'll go with you, man." He smiled. "I could use some new jeans. I want something that makes my ass look really good. And something that, you know... shows off the package." He wrinkled his nose and nodded while Alice looked up from her canvas and hissed. "What?" he asked defensively. "You know I like it when the girls look!" "Don't let him corrupt you, Edward," Alice warned teasingly. "He's turned into such a tease!"

"Aw, you love it," Jasper smiled as he blurred to a stop behind her and put both hands on her butt. "Cut it out!" I ordered, and turned to walk towards the door. "Jasper- you can come with me. But if you ask me even once how your ass looks... I'm leaving you there." I drove in silence while Jasper flipped rapidly through the radio stations. Settling on some warbled-country song, he leaned back against the passenger seat and turned his attention to the long row of fast-food restaurants that we passed. "Do you ever wish they had a drive-thru for us?" He asked. "What do you mean?" "I mean... like... you could drive up to the little menu board and order up some Mountain Lion. Or... they could cram a bear into one of those cardboard Happy Meal boxes for you or something..." "They'd have a hell of a time getting that through your car window," I muttered dryly. Jasper just laughed. "Too lazy to hunt?" "Nah. You know I love a good run. Sometimes these sort of thoughts just amuse me. You can't tell me, that at least now and then, you don't wish you could live just a little more human." "You know I do," I responded quietly. The more time I spent around Bella, the more it was true. In the mall, I frowned at Jasper's overly-staged antics. He wasn't lying. He liked attention. Girls that passed us twittered to each other and blushed while he smiled and winked and made a general spectacle of himself- doing his best lecherous-human impersonation. I sighed as he turned around to ogle a particularly endowed young lady that passed us. "It's not nice," I reminded him. "You are un-available." I didn't need to mention in how many ways I spoke the truth. "I know," he laughed. "But she doesn't. Come on. She'll go home and call her friends and brag about how some cute guy in the mall was checking her out. I made her day." "You think a lot of yourself." "Of course I do." Jasper knocked into my shoulder to detour me into a store. "Besides, it's fun. They are kind of like cat toys. It amuses me to bat them around a little and listen to the sweet little tinkling sounds they make!" I groaned quietly while I walked to a table of v-neck t-shirts. They were faded, and soft. The cotton was thin. "You should get a few of those," Jasper said over my shoulder. "They fit well.

And you don't want anything that looks too new! Your goal is to make Bella want a ride... not to remind her of an eighth-grade boy in his back-to-school clothes!" "I do not have a goal to make Bella want anything like that!" I sputtered. "Sure," Jasper smiled that damn infectious grin again and then stepped back to a wall of denim. I thought briefly about leaving him. But I did need jeans, and so I followed. "Remember... go for faded or distressed jeans. Nothing too new." "I got it. Thanks Mom," I glared at him. With a few pair in hand, I walked to the dressing room area. My size never changed. But manufacturer's specifications often did. And while I didn't place quite as much emphasis on needing to show off my assets, like Jasper did, I wanted to make sure the jeans at least fit properly. "Hey! Throw me your phone," Jasper yelled from beyond the door. "I want to see if Alice needs me to pick her up anything. That girl does all her shopping online these days. I couldn't drag her to a mall if I tried." I tossed my phone over the low divider, and laughed a little in the mirror as I imagined him trying to drag Alice anywhere. She was a ferocious little thing. That would be a fight for the books. From beyond the door, I heard my phone ring. "She probably already knew you were going to call," I spoke out. I heard him answer the phone. "Hello? No. Edward is busy at the moment, can I take a message? Oh well, Hi there Bella!" I hurried to get out of the jeans that were around my legs. Bella and I had exchanged phone numbers before we left the library. I didn't expect that she would call so soon. "I'm Jasper. His sister's fiance. Well, thank you. It's very nice to talk to you too!" His southern drawl came out when he was trying to be charming. I pushed both feet into my khakis and tried to fasten them as quickly as I could without breaking the zipper. Then I threw myself from the dressing room and thrust my open hand in front of Jasper's face. He just grinned and turned his shoulders away from me. If we weren't in a public place, I would have taken him down. "No. We aren't busy tonight. Well- we'd love to! Sure. I'll give him the message. Ok. Bye now sugar!" Jasper clicked my phone closed and turned to look at me, with that big goofy smile in place. "What was that?" I barely controlled my voice.

"I hope you got yourself a nice pair of jeans there pal. Because I think I just got you a date!" I couldn't help myself. I gripped his collar tightly and heard the material resist as I pulled him back towards the dressing rooms. "Tell me what was said." I kept my voice low, and closed my eyes. "She said she gets off work early tonight. And that she wants us to come to the Midfield!" Jasper was barely suppressing laughter. "Us?" "Yes. She invited Alice and I along." "No way." My eyes glared at him again. "Aw. Come on man! It sounds like fun! And Alice is going to be pissed if you back out of this opportunity!" "Since when do you like to hang out in bars?" "I like beer!" Jasper tilted his head up. I snorted. "You would!" Jasper was not going to be deterred. "Did she say why?" "Does she need a reason?" he asked. "She has a boyfriend," I muttered. It was hard for me to say out loud. But it didn't make any sense for her to just issue an invitation to meet her out. "Well," Jasper allowed. "She did say something about wanting to go to the library with her roommate tomorrow. And she said that you have the envelope with the computer codes..." Ah! At least that made sense. "Fine," I snapped. "We'll go. For a little while. But only so I can give her the things she needs." Jasper got a devilish grin, and I held my palm up facing him before he could twist my words into something dirty. "Don't even say it." "I wasn't gonna!" He insisted. "And you... have to act civilized." I warned. "Jeez Edward. Pull the stick out, man. I can be cool. But you really need to lighten up."

Jasper took his items to the check-out counter and whipped out his credit card. I watched as he leaned over the space, flirting shamelessly with the cashier. Of course, I rolled my eyes at him again. But secretly... I was envious of the ease in which he lived just a little more human.

13. Your Vampire Body and You

Jasper stepped straight to the bar, and Alice clung to my arm as we wound our way through the crowd at the Midfield. I followed Bella's scent until she almost crashed into me, mid-turn with a tray of drinks held to the side. "Oh! Edward!" She smiled widely, and then her curious brown eyes landed briefly on Alice's hand that was still draped through my arm. "I get off work in about twenty minutes," she said, as she looked down at her wrist watch. "I have a 'reserved' sign on that table over by the wall. Can I meet you there?" "Sure," I said. She nodded and walked away. Alice smiled and walked ahead of me to find our seats. Soon Jasper found us, and the three of us perched on barstools, waiting for Bella. Jasper tilted a bottle of beer towards his mouth and took a long drink. Now, I knew from experience- a tiny bit of alcohol would merely absorb in our mouths. The bourbon Bella had given me before had done just that. We didn't have to worry about becoming inebriated. Our bodies would not process the alcohol in the same way that a human body would. But the way Jasper was drinking would not end with the same results. "You know, if you drink all of that, you are just going to have to make yourself puke it up later." I warned him. The excess liquid would have to be expelled somehow. His body wouldn't digest it. "Most of the people in this place will end up puking tonight!" Jasper rebuffed. Alice giggled and leaned her head into his arm. "What about you, Alice? Have you decided to take up drinking as well?" "Not beer! But that guy over there looks pretty tasty!" Alice teased. Jasper growled and tugged the belt loops of her jeans, playfully pulling her closer to his side. Bella took that moment to stroll up. "Edward? Hi!" "Hi!" I smiled in her direction. I patted the manila envelope on the table. "I brought the things you asked for..."

"Hey there Bella! I'm Jasper. We talked on the phone!" Jasper merely nodded instead of offering his hand. "Oh, hi!" Bella's eyes had landed on Alice once again. She, no doubt, remembered Alice from her dazzling appearance in our class. "This is my sister, Alice," I introduced them. Bella's eyes flew open wider, and she smiled easily. "She's the devious one who programmed my phone to play 'Cher.'" I pointed out. "A cruel joke, really," Alice dimpled. "His ex-girlfriend used to love that song!" She sent me a pointed glance, and I inwardly thanked her for the lie. I didn't need Bella taking bets about my sexuality again. "Did you all want drinks?" Bella asked. "No thanks," Alice and I said in unison. "I'm not really much of a drinker," I added. Jasper snorted, and pretended to watch the people on the small dance floor. "Neither am I," Bella smiled. "I mean, I have drinks on occasion. But I don't hold my liquor very well! So I try to avoid it." "I'll bet it isn't very appealing after having to deal with drunk people all night!" Alice offered. "You have no idea," Bella rolled her eyes. "Take, for instance, that guy in the brown coat by the bar. He's been in here a few times recently. And tonight, he's offered me a ride home at least three different times." "Poor thing!" Alice said sympathetically. She was absently rubbing Jasper's arm. Jasper had turned to look at the man in question. Knowing him, he was probably considering messing with the guy, just for fun. "You get used to it," Bella shrugged. "The uniform doesn't help!" Bella indicated towards her tight referee t-shirt and little black shorts. I tried to keep my own eyes from lingering but fell short. Jasper was taking a good long look too. Alice, of course, made a joke of it. "I can tell!" She laughed. "Even these two bone-heads are staring!" I frowned at her and turned my head. Bella laughed with her, and Jasper just grinned. He didn't care that he was caught. "Speak of the devil, and he shall arrive," I heard Bella mutter. I turned my attention back towards her, and saw the man in the brown coat approaching our table.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Jasper stand a little straighter and pull his shoulders back. His hands remained on Alice's hips, but his easy-going smile had turned into a hard line. I wondered, briefly, what had brought on such a quick sort of over-protectiveness from him towards Bella. Maybe she just naturally drew out a need to protect. Or maybe, he was picking it up from my own emotions. "Hey there, number thirteen," the man spoke directly behind Bella, and she rolled her eyes towards me where he couldn't see. "I thought I'd make sure you don't need that ride, after all?" "No thanks," Bella tried to sound polite as she turned. "I already told you. I have my own car. And I am in better shape to drive, than you are!" I relaxed a little. I didn't perceive the man as a threat. He was just drunk. His thoughts were blurred by alcohol. But other than thinking Bella was pretty... he wasn't being crass. In his drunken state, he did stumble forward a little, and Bella stepped backwards on reflex. Unfortunately for me, her motion placed her very awkwardly between my parted knees. I sat there on that low bar stool, and her delicious bottom in her barely-there shorts was inches away from certain parts of my anatomy that I typical gave very little thought to. Except right then, my attention was drawn entirely to that part. Because while I wasn't absolutely sure what was going on, I knew something was different. I was feeling very, very warm again. And suddenly, my jeans were feeling tighter than they had before. It only took a moment to realize what was happening, but my eyebrows shot up incredulously as I turned a panicked look to Alice. She stood, staring at the twisting lights on the dance floor, with a far-off look on her face. She was having a vision. "Is this guy your date?" Mr. Brown-coat asked. "Umm.... Yes!" Bella said loudly. And then, she fully turned between my knees and pressed her body up against mine. I was frozen as she lifted her hands and pushed them into the back of my hair. Snuggling close, she purred into my ear. "Sorry Edward. Just... pretend for a second until he goes away. Ok?" I literally, could not move. Her hot breath was still swimming around my head. Her hands were in my hair. And the confusing situation with my body only made me feel mortified. Bella was almost close enough to be able to figure out just how much her touch was affecting me- in a way that I still couldn't understand. The guy in the brown coat turned away just as Alice turned towards us with her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. I could guess now, what she saw. But when her eyes met the desperation in my own, she got serious fast. I saw her whisper quickly in Jasper's ear. And then Alice, God love her, reached forward to pull Bella away from me. "Come on Bella. Let's dance!" She suggested, leading them both towards the dance floor.

Jasper threw his arm around my shoulder and started pulling me alongside him towards the patio doors. I didn't even try to resist. I just allowed myself to be herded until we reached the concrete pad behind the bar and the door closed behind us. He spun my shoulders under his hands then until I was facing him. "Holy shit, Edward. What is going on?" "I... don't know," I admitted. "You are in a serious state of denial, my friend," Jasper lectured. "You want her. I mean... you really, really want her." "I don't understand." I pushed my hands up over my face and into my hair, trying to make sense of the new feelings coursing through me. They were foreign, and more than a little disorienting. "Stay out here with me for a minute," I suggested. "I can't go back in there like this." "No kidding! You're pitching a tent!" Jasper was laughing in earnest now, and I could only glance down towards the front of my pants with disgust. "How is this even possible?" I groaned. "Well... easy. When a man and woman really, really like each other... they take off all their clothes and..." "Jasper. Be serious for a minute here!" I sounded frantic, and he must have picked up the mood from me immediately. To his credit, he tried his best to stop laughing. "Alright," he put his palms up. "If you weren't so freaked out about all of this- I swear to God it would be the funniest shit in the world. But I got it. I got it." I took deep breaths to calm myself. "What's going on with me?" I asked. "It's called an erection, Edward." I picked up an ashtray from the table beside me, and threw it at him with the speed of a bullet. He easily deflected it with a flick of his wrist, and the small object crashed against the side of the building. "Ah, ah, ah. Play nice. It's not the time for us to go at it. We don't need to buy these people new outdoor furniture," he scolded. "I meant," I growled between my teeth. "Why in the hell is this happening to me now? I didn't even know it was possible..."

"Whoa. Whoa!.... You mean you never....?" Jasper looked dumbfounded. I just shook my head. "I have never... been attracted... to anyone like this." "How is that possible?" Jasper was clearly amazed. I scowled and began to pace. "I understand how the process works," I said through gritted teeth. "I guess I just always thought I was meant to be alone. Like, maybe, it would take some cosmic connection to my perfect mate to... you know..." "Give you a boner?" "Nice, Jasper," I winced. "Well? Maybe you were right!" "She's a human!" I yelled, perhaps a little too loudly. "We both know, that is a physical impossibility!" "Maybe, maybe not..." Jasper hedged. "Irrelevant," I continued speaking loudly. I was angry. "Our relationship isn't like that." "That would pose a problem," he said thoughtfully. "What am I supposed to do?" I slumped my shoulders. My traitor body had relaxed, and a sort of despondence was taking over. "You'll just have to...take matters into your own hands." "What do you mean?" "I'm talking about masturbation. Do I need to draw a diagram?" "Go to hell!" I snarled. "That isn't what I meant. And you know it!" Jasper laughed a little and shrugged. "I'm just trying to lighten the situation, man." When I was certain that I was under control, Jasper and I walked back into the bar. We found the girls, just returning to the table. "I've got to get going," I said. I wasn't quite able to meet Bella's eyes. So I picked up the envelope and held it in her direction. "Well, thanks for bringing this by," Bella said quietly. I nodded curtly and turned for the door. Jasper elbowed me roughly.

"She looks like someone kicked her puppy," he hissed. "Don't be an ass," Alice warned. "It's not her fault that you decided to finally go through puberty!" I glared at her, but then decided to heed their advice. I didn't want to leave Bella so abruptly, thinking that she had done something wrong. I left them by the door and walked back to where Bella stood. "Are you going to be ok... getting home?" I asked. She hadn't heard me approach, and looked up quickly at the sound of my voice. "Oh yeah. I'm going to change my clothes in the backroom. And then I'll have one of the guys walk me to my car." I looked up to see Jasper and Alice both exit and I sighed. "I'll wait for you," I said. Bella smiled up at me. "I'll be right back!" She changed quickly, and met me by the door. I could see Alice and Jasper in my car as I walked Bella to hers. "Thanks again, for coming up here tonight," Bella said by her door. "It really wasn't a problem," I murmured. "See you Tuesday, in class." "Want to go to the library, after?" she asked. "Sounds good." I stood and watched her drive away before facing what was waiting for me in my car.

14. Freezy Breezy

I got behind the wheel of my car, prepared for the massive amounts of ribbing I was sure to get from Alice and Jasper. I was met with silence. Alice looked into my eyes as I found her in the rearview mirror. She felt sorry for me. Jasper stared out the side window and sang through cartoon theme songs in his mind. He knew how to throw up a brick wall, to prevent me from hearing more serious thoughts. I wondered what he might not want me to be hearing right then. As if he knew that I would be concerned, he turned

his face towards mine and shook his head infinitesimally. He flashed his eyes towards Alice. Ah! It was something he didn't want her to hear. It would wait. After I dropped them off at their apartment, I left my car in my garage and I went out for a run. I needed to stretch my muscles. The forest floor flew beneath my feet, and the wind pushed against my clothing and hair. I inhaled deeply, tasting the night and the life around me. This I understood. This I knew. Changing direction to follow a scent more desirable than those of the smaller animals I had passed and left in their hiding spaces... I dropped my chin and let myself be ruled by my senses. I could hear the bear. I could smell him. I could taste him. Though not my favorite... and nowhere near as tempting a scent as the humans I denied myself everyday... he would do. I slunk up behind the brute. I was in no mood to play. I was thirsty. I dove into him, and I roughly bit through the fur and the muscles on the side of his neck, closing my eyes as the warm rush of its blood began to fill me. I drank until the creature collapsed beneath me, then shoved the depleted carcass away. I didn't want to get blood on my new jeans. There in the darkness, I moved a small distance away and leapt to perch on a large rock. I kept my feet beneath me, as I crouched with my fingertips touching the cool stone below. I stayed that way for quite a while, scanning the moonlit scene before me and trying to find peace that usually came with this familiar ritual. Instead, I only felt alone. The events of the evening weighed heavily on my mind. I was still amazed by my body's reaction to Bella. Any manly desires I had ever had while human had long been forgotten. I didn't expect that they would resurface now. And for a human girl? Yes- her blood was the most intoxicating scent I had ever come across- a perfect match for my unholy design. But it seemed my body was confused about its needs. She could be my perfect match in only one way. Right? Still, I had to admit... Right then, it was not her blood that I craved. It wasn't even her body, though I would have begged to differ earlier in the evening. It was her essence. Her indefinablething that made me feel a pull to be near her- even at this distance. Without conscious thought, I found myself running in her direction. I passed small animals. I passed another bear. I didn't need them. I needed Bella. Once in town, I stayed in the forest fringe and on back streets until I once again stood in front of her apartment building. This time, when I sensed that most of the occupants were asleep, I crept silently to the back of the structure. Rows of windows adorned the building. I frowned for a moment. I wasn't sure which apartment was hers... or if any of the windows would lead me to what I was looking for. I considered

scaling the wall- it wouldn't have been hard. Would a glance inside the darkened windows give me enough of a clue to find Bella's apartment? And would I be happy merely learning which was hers? I knew the answer. No. I wouldn't be. It wouldn't be enough. Not tonight. Alice had as much as told me that I would do this. I felt like her vision gave me permission, in some sick way. Yet still I stood there, battling myself. A strong winter wind blew up and around me. The force of elements brought my attention to a small flicker of motion in one of the second floor windows. It was the fluttering of a curtain, blowing outward with the wind. Someone who had left a window open, just a crack- during the winter. Someone who always ran hot. Someone who might be in need of a personal air-conditioner. My good intentions flew right out the window like the edge of that curtain. I was up the wall in two seconds, and peering through the darkness. It was a bedroom. And yes. It was hers. I inched the window up, and soundlessly entered the room. Instead of feeling repulsed by my own weakness, I felt immediate release of the tension and stress I had been feeling. Her nearness was the balm that I needed. I stayed by the window while I took my first wary breath. Typical, glorious, beautiful burn. But nothing I couldn't handle. No flux of venom. No urge to feed. I smiled in the darkness and moved closer to her. Bella lied on her stomach, with her cheek pressed against the pillow that her arms were folded beneath. Her legs were sprawled wide, and her light blanket was twisted to lie across the back of her thighs. I swallowed hard as I looked at the way her thin white tank top exposed her shoulders and lower back. The curves of her rear end were wrapped in dark blue cotton panties. I felt a little ashamed, staring at her the way I was. But oddly enough, my body was not behaving at all the way it had earlier. Just to make sure that my mind stayed on chaste matters, I reached and carefully lifted her blanket to cover her. She smiled a little in her sleep, and wiggled further into the comfort of her bed. She didn't have a chair in her tiny room, and so I backed away and rested against the low top of her dresser. My mind was going a million directions as I slowly breathed in and out through my nose. Her scent was on everything in this room. I felt powerful in my control. I wasn't sure how, or when it happened. But little by little, it was starting to make sense to me. My craving for her nearness, rather than the craving for her blood- newer desires replacing the old... I had fallen in love with this woman who slept in front of me.

From her tangle of dark hair to the bare feet that already found their way out of the blanket in search for cooler air. I was in love with her. Had I always been in love with her? I didn't know. But now that I had the knowledge, what in the hell was I going to do with that? I left the dresser, and walked back to the side of the bed. Lowering myself, I sat on the floor beside her. Her sleeping face was pointed in my direction. I let my eyes take stock in her beauty. Her thick lashes. The delicate curve of her cheek. The little shadowy place under her bottom lip. This was as close as I could ever allow myself to get to her. I was positive, that I could never intentionally hurt her. But pain could come in many forms. If I didn't cause direct harm... something about my life would. I couldn't stand the thought of hurting her. I would not allow it to happen. Bella shifted in her sleep, and my muscles tightened reflexively. What would I do, if she caught me there? I decided to not push my luck, and so I rose to leave. I knew I would be back. I wouldn't be able to stay away. But as I took a step forward, Bella began to mumble in her sleep and I froze. It was too tempting, to stay and listen to her sleepy voice. I wanted, so badly, to know what was going on in her mind. Would her dreams give me a clue? What if she dreamt about me? I could hardly suppress the excitement I felt over that imagined possibility. Bella turned her head to the opposite side and settled back into her pillow. In a moment, she moaned lightly. I leaned forward. She smiled in her sleep. I smiled. She giggled a little. I stepped closer. She sighed. I sighed. And then her lips pursed together. "Mike," she whispered in the dark. Mike? She was still dreaming and mumbling as I turned back towards the window. I didn't want to hear any more. I was in love with a girl I couldn't have. A girl- who belonged to someone else.

15. Technically Shmechnically

Like some sick, masochistic stalker, I went back again. And again. As predictable as the night, I found myself sitting in silence beside Bella's bed, watching her sleep. She didn't say his name again. And I was completely thankful for that. But she didn't say mine either. On Sunday night, she mumbled about clowns. But that was neither here nor there. I sat beside her, with my arms resting across my bent knees. And I watched her. I breathed her. And once, when she rolled away, a long, winding tendril of her hair curled over the edge of her bed. It seemed to beckon to me. I don't know how long I spent, rubbing the back of my finger along that shiny lock of hair. I wanted to pick it up and twist it around my fingers. I wanted to press my lips against it, and feel the texture there. But I restrained myself. And then with a sigh, I lifted myself and took leave of the solace I had found. The sky was growing pink. It was time. By Tuesday night, I had made myself completely miserable... tormenting myself with thoughts of Bella with this other man. A man she obviously dreamt about. But a man- who had no presence in her room. He had no picture representation stuck into the frame of her mirror where other friends were displayed. His personal belongings weren't left in her closet, or bathroom. Other than his name, he was a complete mystery to me. And I finally decided I would have to work up the nerve to just ask Bella about him- or I would make myself crazy. I walked into class later than usual, and slumped quietly in the seat that Bella and Katrina had saved for me. "Hello Edward," Bella smiled. "Hi Eddie," Katrina offered. "Ladies," I replied. It was all I had time for before the professor began his lecture. During our break, I opted to stay in the auditorium to review Katrina's project notes. I didn't want to hear details about her date with Brad... provided inwardly or outwardly. Instead, I glanced through the meager list of items that she had searched for and found in the library. By the looks of things, Bella and I would have to carry the project. Katrina's lunch-hour didn't give her enough time to search in great detail. The only things on her list tonight were items I probably could have found on Google. After class, Brad saw to it that Katrina was taken safely to her car. Bella and I dressed in our coats and walked together towards the library.

"Katrina's lunch hour didn't give her much time to search," I began, as a way to start conversation. "She means well," Bella muttered. "But I'm not sure we'll be able to do much better. The library closes at twelve." I smiled as we walked side by side. I had nearly forgotten the arrangements that were already in place. "Bella- what would you say if I told you we have unlimited access to the library?" "I'd say you were full of crap. Why?" I smirked. "I know the night watchman. His name is Gary. I called in a favor." False. I had bribed him heavily. But he agreed to let us in the side door promptly as 12:05 on any night that we wished to work late. "Are you kidding me?" Bella's face lit up. It was worth the effort to see her reaction. I would have paid double for the smile she delivered. "We have to leave at closing hours, like everyone else. But we'll be re-admitted at the side door." "You really are too good to be true!" Bella nudged me with her arm while we walked. "Why hasn't some lucky girl trapped you yet?" "How do you know one hasn't?" I raised an eyebrow. If she only knew how completely and totally I belonged to her... "Oh, sorry," she blushed and looked down. "Your sister mentioned an ex- girlfriend. So I just assumed...." "I'm teasing," I hurried to reassure her. "I am not seeing anyone." "Too busy with school?" "Something like that," I answered lightly. Actually, nothing like that. But I was endlessly grateful that she brought the subject up. Because it gave me a perfect opening. "What about you?" I finally asked. We were nearing the library, and I was afraid I would run out of time. "Wouldn't your boyfriend be upset to know I was pretending to be him on Friday night?" "How did you know..." "Katrina mentioned that you had a boyfriend," I hurried to correct my error. I had only come by the knowledge from reading Katrina's mind.

"She must not have mentioned very much. Or else you would know why you were 'filling in'." Bella didn't seem uncomfortable about the topic. If anything, she seemed a little resigned. Instead of walking up the library steps, she turned and sat on the low brick wall that ran along the sidewalk. It looked like she wanted to talk. Perfect. I quietly sat beside her. "First of all... he's not really my boyfriend. I mean... I guess technically he might think so... It's very confusing." "You don't have to explain..." "No. I want to talk about it." Bella frowned. "Katrina is sick of hearing about it." "Well, I'm here." And I wanted to hear every single detail. Especially if it was true that he wasn't really her boyfriend. Bella smiled gratefully in my direction. "He doesn't live here. He goes to school in Seattle. As a matter of fact- you might remember him! His name is Mike Newton. He lived in Forks too!" I scanned through the names and faces I remembered from my time in Forks. I was faintly able to match the name 'Mike Newton' to some blonde kid who played basketball. "Mike was in my biology class. Our class," she corrected herself. "His lab partner got mono! And since I didn't have a partner after you moved... he and I were teamed up. And that's how everything started. Pretty much." "You started dating because he was your lab partner?" "Not right away. We were friends first. But then we started dating the summer before our senior year." I pushed down the jealous feelings and tried to listen attentively. A part of my mind was considering how things might have been different had I stayed in Forks. "So what happened?" "Well, during my senior year, my mother's second husband got recruited to a major league baseball team. And they both wanted to send me to Dartmouth. Tuition was really more than I felt comfortable accepting. But come on. I mean... I dreamt of coming here. And Phil got a really nice signing bonus. So I promised myself that if they were paying my tuition- I would save money to handle the rest. My car... my apartment. I didn't want any more support from them. They'd already offered so much..." I nodded.

"After graduation, Mike went to Seattle. And I stayed in Forks to work and save money. We only saw each other a few weekends and on school breaks. I told him that I didn't want to have a longdistance relationship. And I was right in my opinion. It just... didn't work." "And now you are all the way out here." "Yes," she twisted her mouth into a humorless grin. "Again- he's determined to try to make it work. But really- I don't feel close to him at all. We've grown apart in the last year and a half. We don't know each other..." Hope began blossoming in my chest. She wasn't really in any sort of a relationship that she was happy about. If one could refer to it as a relationship at all. "He wants to come here for Spring Break," she frowned. "And... is he?" "I haven't decided yet," she sighed. "I don't want to lead him on. Things have been over between us for a long time. At least, on my side. But I feel like maybe we should sit down together and really talk. Maybe he needs closure. He's just so sure that we should be together. He doesn't want to just let go." I nodded in understanding. It was not her side of the issue that I was sympathetic to. It was his. I couldn't imagine anyone in their right mind letting Bella go without a fight. "Just because you've known him a while... it doesn't mean you owe him anything." I said quietly. "You deserve to be happy Bella." "Thanks Edward," she gave me a sad smile. "But it doesn't feel good to hurt a friend." I sensed the end of the conversation, and stood to lead the way up the stairs. When I held the door for Bella to enter ahead of me, my mind was busy planning. She didn't belong to Mike Newton. He only thought she did. And while I knew she couldn't ever really belong to me... I couldn't resist thinking about the possibilities. "Hey Bella?" I asked, as she passed through the door in front of me. "Yes?" "Let me know if you ever need me to fill in again. I'd be happy to act like your boyfriend anytime you want me to." She looked up in surprise at the husky quality that laced my voice. Her face was inches from mine. Bella blushed and smiled before continuing past me.

"Thanks. I'll.... Let you know." Was it my imagination- or did she stutter? I grinned. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted. She didn't want him. Could she want me? Should she want me? No. But could I make her want me? I might be tempted to find out.

16. Flirt

The next portion of our evening was spent in silence. I pulled a few books from the stacks and actually worked to write notes from them. I wanted Bella to be happy that she had chosen me to work with. And so I allowed a part of my mind to search for dates associated to cave drawings that depicted blood drinkers. I pressed my lips together tightly as my pen pressed into the paper under my hand. We weren't trying to find evidence or proof of anything. We were only looking for documentation on these different theories... folklore. Fairy tales. My horrific reality. Still, another part of my mind was inexplicably drawn to the woman who sat at the bank of computers. She faced me, though her eyes remained trained to the screen in front of her as she read. In what I was beginning to associate as a habit with her, Bella wrapped her right hand around the side of her neck as she leaned forward. I stared at her delicately turned wrist, and the faint blue veins that were visible through her nearly translucent skin. Nope. My thirst was much easier to control now. My eyes continued to travel upwards to the curve of her palm where it rested under her ear. I wanted to know how soft that skin was. I wanted to press my face against the very spot on her neck that was being cradled by her hand. I wanted to breathe her in. I wanted to taste... not her blood- her skin. I felt warm again, and I shifted in my seat as my body reacted in a way that did not alarm me any longer. I actually relished these desires that made me feel more a man than a monster in Bella's presence. As if she felt my need from across the room, Bella's eyes moved above her monitor and locked with mine. She blushed and smiled a little before looking back down. I could easily hear that her heart beat had sped up. Interesting. The sound encouraged me. She was not entirely immune to my presence. The look on her face as much as told me that it was not fear that made her pulse speed up. But could it really be attraction? I wanted to find out.

A glance at my cell phone let me know that it was almost midnight. I closed my notebook and rose, casually collecting the books from the table before me. After returning them to the designated area, I didn't immediately go back to my seat. Instead, I circled around and approached Bella from the opposite side. I stared at the back of her head as I silently approached. Then leaning over the back of her chair, I lowered my chin until it nearly touched her shoulder. "If you're trying to sneak up on me... you'll have to do better than that." I could hear the smile in her voice. She wasn't alarmed in the slightest by my sudden nearness. Yet- I was sure that I had been stealthy. "How did you know?" I said smoothly near her ear. I was rewarded when she shivered. But her voice was still amused as she spoke. "I saw your reflection in the monitor. Duh!" "Oh!" I hadn't considered such a simple solution. And I chuckled at my own inability to see the obvious. "I just came over to tell you that they'll be kicking us out soon." I moved to rest against the desk in front of her, and folded my arms across my chest. I was looking down into her face, watching her bite her lip. I wanted to taste that too. "Would you like to work late tonight?" I asked. "Umm..." her eyes darted to her notebook and she sighed. "I think I'm finished for the night." I couldn't help but feel disappointed. My time with her was drawing to an end this evening. Wellat least the time we spent together while she was awake. "But Thursday night, we could work late. If you are available?" "Sounds good," I smiled, feeling much more at ease that she offered. This time as she stood, I pulled Bella's coat from the back of her chair and held it out to help her put it on. She smiled gratefully as she turned her body to slide her arms into the parka I held in front of me. I felt like I should thank her for the opportunity that she presented and the small liberty I was about to take. As casually as I possibly could, I reached my hands under the curtain of her hair to pull it out of the confines of her coat. I let my fingers slide through its silky weight as it drifted down again over her shoulders. "Always such a gentleman," Bella complimented while buttoning her coat. I would help her with that too, if she liked... though my wandering hands might get in me in trouble if I was allowed near the front of her body. If she had any inkling about the thoughts racing through my mind, she would have never offered me the title of 'gentleman.' "Oh- I don't know about that," I murmured.

"I do." Bella spoke with certainty. She turned to face me, and I was the one that was affected by our nearness. "There's something rare about you Edward. I haven't figured it out yet. But I will." "Maybe you shouldn't try." I lowered my voice and looked into her eyes. It was as close to a warning as she was going to get from me. Instead of acting nervous, she tossed her head back and laughed. "You're right!" she grinned. "I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth." I shook my head and let her lead the way to the door. "People aren't always what you assume." "Sure. Remind me of that sometime when you aren't holding the door open for me." She grinned teasingly and ducked under my arm- walking out into the cold night. A freezing mist had begun to fall while we were inside the library. Bella pulled on her knit stocking cap to ward off the elements. I reached up and stole it from her head quickly, pulling it down over my own head instead. "Hey!" She yelled. "See? I'm not always a gentleman!" I laughed and jogged a few paces away. She laughed and chased after me. "Give it back!" "Come and get it!" I teased. I let her catch up to me and laughed when she started trying to jump up high enough to snatch it from my head. She jumped up and down while I laughed and dodged her flailing hands. But when she came down the last time, her feet could not make purchase on the somewhat icy sidewalk beneath her. The instant I saw her begin to slip, my hands shot out to stop her fall. My fingers gripped the sides of her coat, and I tugged her upright... not as gently as I had planned. Instead of merely righting her position, I brought her crashing up against me. Bella's cheeks were flushed from her jumping, her laughter, and from the cold air. Her wide eyes looked a little startled- though I wasn't sure how much of that was a reaction to her near fall and how much was because I still held her firmly against me. I wasn't sure how she felt at all. But I knew how I felt. I was struck by the overwhelming urge to be closer still. I wanted to slide my arms around her back. I wanted to tangle my hands into her hair. I wanted.... Warmth rushed through me, and my fingers curled tightly into the fabric of her coat. I swallowed and closed my eyes to try to find some measure of control.

"Sorry about that," I whispered. And then with a horrible effort, I released her and took a step away. "Don't worry about it." Bella sounded breathless. I risked looking at her, to guess at the slightly shaky sound of her voice. But as usual, I couldn't be sure what she was thinking. It was so frustrating! Finally, I pulled her cap from my head, and reached to pull it down over the top of her hair once more. "Maybe.... We should take it a little more slowly," I suggested. I was talking about our walk to the parking lot. The sidewalk was icy. Yeah. That was it. At least- I think I was talking about our walk. Our care turned out to be necessary. The icy mist managed to leave a light glazing of ice on the parking lot and on our cars. I scraped Bella's windshield for her, while she turned on the heat to warm her vehicle. "Bella?" "Yes?" "At the risk of sounding like a gentleman..." I teased, "could I follow you home? The roads seem to be getting bad. And I'd feel better if I knew you were home, safely." I was rewarded by another of her smiles. "At the risk of sounding like a helpless female," she grinned, "I'd have to say 'yes, please.' I'd really appreciate that." I turned to walk towards my car. I'd follow her. And now- I would have a legitimate reason for knowing where she lived.

17. Not your typical cartoon theme song

I stood in front of the large picture window in my living room on Wednesday evening, glaring angrily at the icy rain and sleet that had begun to fall- as if my irritated stare could thwart the elements and somehow raise the temperature outside by a few degrees. And I was still standing there Thursday morning, as the slow and steady precipitation covered everything in glistening ice. The process might have been beautiful... watching the crystalline formations slowly build upon each other to decorate the winter landscape. But I only saw it as one more thing that stood between me and what I wanted. Thursday evening classes were cancelled.

I snarled a few choice expletives and turned away from the window. I wanted to throw something, or rip something apart. But I did not feel like having to replace anything in my home because of my sudden fit of temper. So instead, I began pacing back and forth... clenching and unclenching my fists at my sides. I needed to get a grip. I had begun measuring time by the increments of periods spent with and without Bella. I was supposed to sit next to her in class. We had plans to work late in the library. The weather had stolen these hours from me. And it pissed me off. Certainly I could find something else to do- though nothing sounded as appealing as the first rush I always got when I entered the class and saw her sitting there, waiting for me. Ok. So maybe she was technically waiting for class to start, and not waiting for me. But I was still there. With her. Where I could see her, and smell her and hopefully even talk to her... But not tonight. I would have to find something else to keep me occupied until it was time for my typical nighttime visit. I knew that sometime later, when Bella was asleep, I would be near her again. I couldn't deny myself those stolen moments of happiness. What I did deny myself, however, was anything more inappropriate than my simple un-invited presence in her room. I eased the guilt that I felt about my nocturnal visits by doing my very best to keep my thoughts pure while sitting beside her and watching her sleep. I hardly ever even thought about how much I would love to crawl up into her bed to press my body against every single soft, warm, fragrant inch of her. I shook myself out of my musings and went to pick up my phone. Maybe I would have Alice and Jasper come over. Some company would be nice to get me out of this mood. After the second ring, Jasper answered. "Edward! What's up?" "I'm going stir-crazy." I confessed. "My history class was cancelled for tonight." "You have got to be the only person on earth that could make that sound like a bad thing!" Jasper joked. Alice is working on some new project. Pottery or some shit... I don't know. It's boring the hell out of me. What if I came over, and kept you company for a while?" "You just want to use my hot tub." "Well, that too..." Jasper agreed readily. "Yeah, alright." I rubbed my forehead with my free hand. "Come on over." Jasper arrived fifteen minutes later, looking windswept and wild.

"It's a trip, running in the sleet," he commented, shaking icy crystals from his hair and wiping at his eyes. "But I think it's finally letting up." "You're getting everything all wet!" I complained. "Pshh. That's what she said!" Jasper snorted and laughed at his own joke, following me as I turned to walk into the other room. "You know, Alice was welcome to join you." "I know. She was interested in that thing she's working on," Jasper lowered his brows. "And anyway- I really wanted the chance to speak with you alone." "Ah!" I nodded. Maybe he wanted to explain whatever it was that he didn't want me to hear in his head that night that we all went to the Midfield together. "Wanna sit in the Jacuzzi while we talk?" Jasper asked. "Depends. Do you plan to stay clothed?" "Damn Edward. You are such a nancy." "If my name was Nancy, I might not mind so much," I retorted. Jasper just smirked. "I know I'm a sexy beast. I don't want to make you feel all insecure. Let's just stay in." "Fine." I sat in the large recliner in the room while Jasper lowered himself to sit on my leather sofa. "So..." he began. I could hear his thoughts. He wanted to talk about Bella. It wasn't a subject I was opposed to. "It's going well," I answered the question in his head. He grimaced. "Really?" The teasing was gone from Jasper's face. I sighed and sunk further back into the chair. It would feel good to actually talk to someone about how I felt. "I'm.... torn." I finally admitted. "I know. I can feel it." Jasper was ready to make a few admissions of his own. But he kept his mind focused on me so that I couldn't pre-empt that part of the conversation. "Usually the role of 'goofy-bastard' goes to Emmett. But without him here- I've had to work twice as hard to keep you from drowning in your own misery." "You know you don't have to..."

Jasper held up his hand to silence me. "I'm not fronting Edward. I love you. But you know I can feel that hell rolling off you. I choose to joke around a lot because it's easier for me not to get pulled under this way." "I'm sorry. It must suck to be around me." "Only sometimes." His light tone was back and he grinned at me. "You've actually been a lot happier recently. I think your little snack-cake of a girlfriend is good for you!" "Don't call her that." "Cupcake?" he tried out the new knick-name. "Bite-size?" "Just Bella." "Fine, fine. Bella," he chuckled. "I've been thinking an awful lot about it Edward." "Should that worry me?" "I've been thinking about what you said behind the bar. About it being an impossible situation." He ignored my question and continued. "It really just depends on what you want from her Edward. Nothing is impossible." "I want to be with her," I said quietly. "Anyway that she'll let me. I just... need to be around her." "You don't plan to leave again?" "I... can't." My voice was quiet as I admitted it out loud. "But you are sexually attracted to her. Just being around her isn't going to be enough." "It's going to have to be." I said it more for myself than for him. I needed to believe it. "She's human. Delicate. Fragile... I don't know if she would even want me like I want her. But even if she did- it would be too dangerous." "Well. I've been thinking about that part too." "About how fucked up this whole situation is?" I groaned and put my face in my hands. Jasper's thoughts started flickering quickly through hundreds of images. Flashes of colors and bursts of sound had a strobe effect as he filtered through memories to the one he planned to share. I looked up at him, quizzically when his mind stopped at the image of a pretty red headed girl with bright blue eyes. A human girl. I could see the freckles over the bridge of her nose, in his mind's eye. I could smell the scent of flowers that lingered near her wrists. And then, borrowing from his memory... I could distinctly feel the passion that he had for her. I could also

feel his thirst for her blood. This was not a memory from his human life. He had already been changed. I stood up so quickly that my chair nearly toppled over behind me. "You've had sex with a human!" I said incredulously. Jasper's mental-block was immediately back in place, though he wasn't as relaxed as he pretended to be. I could see through the cracks of the barrier he put over his thoughts. I could have picked away at it, if I tried. But I knew that he would better appreciate telling me his story, instead. Jasper flattened his palm out, indicating that I should have a seat. I complied, watching him curiously. "It was a very, very long time ago," Jasper began. "Long before I met Alice. And... it was more than once." "The red-head?" "She was the first." "How?" I breathed. Jasper shook his head and leaned back. His eyes looked a little sad at the memory. "I didn't actually have sex with her." "But.... I saw..." "There are other things men and women can do together, to give each other pleasure. And what you saw," Jasper cut me off, "was me, trying to forget my newly acquired limitations and enjoy something that I remembered quite fondly from my human life." "I don't understand." "You probably wouldn't." Jasper smiled again. "You never had sex when you were human. Right?" "Correct." "Well, I did. And I remembered it rather fondly! So fondly, in fact.... That I attempted to...have relations? Again. A couple of times. After I had been changed. And I would have had sex with them. It just... didn't get that far." "If you wanted sex...or whatever the hell you did with them... why didn't you just hook up with another vampire?"

"Ah. Well. If you tell Alice this- I will tear you apart. Because she's wonderful. I mean- what we have together is absolutely perfect and I could never want for more..." "I get it, I get it." I cringed at some of the images that had begun to slip through the cracks. I didn't need to think of Alice in any sort of sexual situation with Jasper. "But before I met her- I was still searching. You know? And truthfully... I couldn't recall anything that could quite compare to a hot, moist mouth wrapped around my..." "Jasper!" I groaned. "Well? It's the truth! Vampires are superior creatures. But the heat of a human... is hard to beat." I tried really hard not to think of how Bella always ran hot. But I wasn't entirely successful. "What happened? With them?" I asked to distract myself. Jasper's fond recollections disappeared from his features. He shrugged and turned more somber. "Both times... ended badly. " "You didn't." "I did." He nodded. "There is a delicious artery in the groin. And you know... since I was down there anyway..." His mind was open and I could quite clearly see him in the vicinity he mentioned. I tried to push the thought away as quickly as it came. "I... don't think I could ever be close to Bella like... that. I could never take that sort of chance with her." "But Edward... think about it. Sure. My experiences ended... badly for the humans involved. But that was so long ago! I hadn't even begun to consider giving up human blood yet. I thought I could keep the desires separate. If for some reason, Alice and I weren't together.... I can't say that I wouldn't be willing to give it a try again now. I'm much more practiced at ignoring my thirst. And you, my brother... you have control like I can not even fathom." "I don't know." "Just... think about it." Jasper insisted again. "Now, if we are done here, I really would like to go sit in your hot tub." "Help yourself," I muttered absently. Jasper had given me a lot to consider. And whether I wanted to or not....

I was thinking about it.

18. Decisions

I resumed my position in front of the window- staring blankly through the glass but seeing nothing beyond. My mind was preoccupied by the information that Jasper had just shared. And what implications it might hold for me. First, and most realistically, I had to face the possibility that Bella may never be interested in having any sort of a romantic relationship with me. She may never see me as more than this casual acquaintance... or friend (as I hoped I was now considered.) I would have to be fine with that. But if by some miracle she could ever return even a small portion of the tender feelings that I had for her... if she ever did want to be involved with me.... Could I offer even a resemblance of the normal relationship I believed she deserved? Would it be a loving relationship? I was certain that if I existed another thousand years, I would never love anyone the way I loved her. My feelings were all-encompassing, and would be never-ending. She had altered me completely. Yes. She would be loved. Would she be safe? I had to think harder about that one. My late night visits to Bella's room kept me so wonderfully desensitized to her scent. The burning sensation was welcome now, and controllable. It wasn't accompanied by a production of venom or any violent urges. The only responses my body had to her nearness now were those of a man to a woman. Yes. I was sure of it. I'd rather be destroyed myself than ever hurt her. And I would fight any deity to keep her safe from harm. Could our relationship be ... mutually satisfying? I was a selfish creature. I stood there brooding about what I needed, and what I wanted. Could I provide the things that Bella desired? I found pleasure in her very nearness. Could I bring her pleasure too? My mind automatically went back to what Jasper shared of his sexual history with humans. As unpleasant as the task might be, I would be a fool not to borrow from his shared memories. I could tell, at least from his mind, that it had been very close for him... even back then. His desire for blood had only barely been stronger than his desires for physical contact. In the end, the

temptations of his vampire nature over-ruled those of the man. But given just a little more practice... a little more patience... a little more control.... As my thoughts lingered there, Bella's face began to replace that of the red-headed girl. Big blue eyes turned to a wide-brown stare that watched me as I licked and nipped my way down.... I blinked and determinedly shook the distorted image away from my head. Ok. So I had to admit. That might be possible. But I needed to focus. It wasn't just sexual. Could I make Bella happy in every way she deserved? God- I wanted to try. For now, I had no real way of knowing if Bella would ever want me the way that I wanted her. I needed her. Even if I was forced to become nothing more than a shadow in her periphery... I would never be able to stay away from her. But I hoped to earn a place more substantial in her life. An ever-looming problem arose from that hope. Sooner or later she would notice our differences- that I did not eat food or sleep- that I did not age. She was a smart girl. Even if she allowed me into her life, it wouldn't take long before she questioned my peculiarities. And when I told her the hideous truth- she would hate me. She would fear me, and she would revile me for the monster I was. No. I shook my head again. Impossible. I twisted my lips together in a derisive sneer. Like any of this mattered, anyway. There I was, again, over-analyzing everything I could not control and torturing myself with impossible dreams. She, at that moment, was probably at home... with her computer... playing on some social-networking website, completely at ease with the cancellation of class. Like everyone else. I was distracted again by that new idea. Did Bella use Facebook? If so, I could look her up.... Lovely! Now I was turning into a creepy, internet stalker too! I groaned and turned away from the window in frustration. Maybe I would go sit with Jasper in the hot tub. The warm water might help dissipate the frozen feeling that was growing inside. Maybe it would help me relax. As if on cue, my phone rang. I glanced at the number and then my fingers actually fumbled in my haste to lift it to my ear. "Bella?" "Hi Edward!" Her sweet voice flooded my ear and it provided more warmth than my Jacuzzi ever could. "I hope I didn't call at a bad time."

"It's never a bad time." Crap. I cringed. That sounded desperate. "I mean.... I wouldn't have answered if it was a bad time." "True!" she laughed. Warmly. I let it wash over me. "So... it's finally stopped sleeting." "Yes. I was just looking out the window." Did that sound lame? "Me too." O.k. So it wasn't so lame. "I was bummed about class being cancelled tonight!" Wow. Really? "I guess our study session will have to wait until next week." I didn't want her to forget. "That's actually the reason I called," Bella replied. "If you don't have plans for tonight... and if you aren't too nervous about driving out in the ice... I was thinking that maybe you'd like to come over here to work for a while." "To... your apartment?" I was trying to keep it light, but couldn't quite hide my incredulous tone. "Well, yeah." She laughed again. "Katrina made the suggestion that maybe we should all sit down, and kind of divvy up the work that we want to do. That way- we wouldn't accidentally step on each other's efforts." "That's a smart idea," I confirmed. "And when we are done, maybe we could watch a movie or get some pizza?" I was reeling. I was actually being invited to Bella's apartment. For studying. And a movie. And pizza. It almost sounded like a date. She might have misread my immediate silence. "If you're busy..." "What time do you want me?" My voice came out deeper than I had intended. But I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. She sounded... relieved? "I need to take a shower," Bella announced. Of course, my mind put her there. Hot water poured down over her...weighing her hair heavily down her back... sliding the soft soapy bubbles down her slick skin... "Edward?" "Huh?" "I think we have a bad connection. I asked if eight sounded ok?" "Eight sounds... wonderful," I replied. "Do you need me to bring anything?" Flowers? Wine? A Barry White CD?

"Just something to take notes with. Paper- or a laptop. Whatever you prefer." "Ok." "Do you remember how to get here?" "Yes. I'm pretty sure I can find it." Blindfolded, I added internally. "Great. We are in apartment 2C. We'll see you in about an hour." We'll. Yeah. I forgot. Katrina was going to be there. I closed my phone and tossed it happily from palm to palm as I walked out onto my deck. Jasper leaned back in the corner again, with his eyes closed and a serene smile on his face. "I don't need to ask if that was your Bella on the phone," he drawled. "You're so damn happy right now, it almost makes me feel like turning cartwheels." "Oh God. Please no. Not naked cartwheels. There is not enough bleach on the planet to burn an image like that from my brain." Jasper opened his eyes and laughed loudly at my joke. "She's invited me over to study," I supplied. I tried to look indifferent, but Jasper already knew I felt anything but nonchalant about the invitation. I was practically giddy. "So- what are you going to do?" He asked. I shrugged and turned for the house. "Edward?" He asked again. I stopped and faced him. "Are you thinking about... actually trying to get that girl to be yours?" I thought about it for a second, then laughed wickedly and smirked. "Jasper... she's already mine. Now I just have to get her to realize it."

19. Heat Wave

Oh! Lord, help me.

I didn't have to open my eyes to tell who had opened the door of Bella's apartment. As soon as the door began to swing backwards, I was hit by a tidal wave of her scent made deliriously potent by the hot air that swirled it forward to slam into me. I squeezed my eyes shut and threw my hands up to brace against the doorframe. What the hell? "Edward! Hi! Come on in!" I braced myself before opening my eyes and taking a more cautious breath. I expected it that time. It was easier. "What's with the sauna?" I asked. If she noticed that I sounded irritated, she excused my rudeness. "I forgot to tell you... our radiator is broken. I can't get the damn thing to turn off!" Bella turned to lead the way into her apartment, and I was faced with another difficulty. She was barely dressed. Ok. So that wasn't entirely accurate. She technically wore less clothing to bed. And anyone with basic cable could see more skin than what she presented now. But it was the least amount of clothing I had seen her actually awake and moving around in. And I could already tell that it was going to be extremely difficult for me to not stare. She wore the same type of tight little tank top that she favored for sleeping. And she had a soft pair of cut-off sweats rolled low on her hips. Of course she would be dressed to combat the heat. It must have been eighty degrees in their apartment. "Hopefully it won't be a problem," she grimaced apologetically. "You said you're always cold... right?" "Right." I nodded. "Do you need me to take a look at the radiator?" "Do you know anything about them?" "Not really," I was forced to admit with a small smile. "We called the Super. But the weather is so bad. He said he'd try to come out tomorrow." I nodded and followed her into her living room. This was more than I had previously seen of Bella's apartment, though I visited every night. I never allowed myself to go beyond Bella's bedroom or adjoined bathroom. As if it would be somehow less intrusive of me as long as I stayed out of her kitchen. I winced inwardly and tried to make myself relax a little. "Nice place!" It sounded like an appropriate compliment.

"It's alright." Her shoulder shrugged under the thin strap of her tank top. "It's a little small. But it's so much nicer than living at home." "You mean... in Forks?" "Having the Chief of Police sleeping right down the hall is a little limiting for one's social life!" Bella laughed. Thank God for that! I thought while I laughed along with her. "Why don't you have a seat?" She offered. "I'm going to get a bottle of water. Do you want one?" "No thanks," I smiled. She flounced from the room and I looked around, briefly wondering where she would like me to sit. The room was decorated with a small sofa and two chairs. The sofa was placed centrally, and would therefore be the closest to anywhere that Bella chose to sit. Opting to sit there, I stretched my legs out in front of me and tried to adopt Jasper's sloppy posture. I needed to look more relaxed than I felt. Something was still not right. I looked around. I could practically see the heat rolling off the radiator vent in the corner. That was it! Bella was wearing summer clothing and I was way overdressed for the heat. I stood and quickly shed my coat. And then, I reached for the hem of my sweater, pulling it up and over my head. Better. Bella re-entered the room just as I was tugging my t-shirt back down into place. Her eyes widened as they scanned across my torso, and she took a long drink of water before she bypassed the chairs to sit on the opposite end of the sofa. "I really am sorry about the heat," she mumbled. "It's fine. Really." "You know..." she looked at me thoughtfully. "With your hair like that, you remind me so much of the first time I saw you at Forks High." Shit. I had been wearing my hair combed back this year. When class was cancelled, I hadn't made the effort. I scrubbed my hand up through my messy hair self-consciously. "Don't get me wrong!" She said quickly. "I like it this way." She must have thought she offended me. "Not all of us can pull off the 'supermodel' look under these conditions!" She began to twist the end of her ponytail in her hands, and if I wasn't mistaken... she was the one to look selfconscious. I pulled the corner of my mouth up in a cooked grin, and raised my eyebrow in her direction. "The 'supermodel' look?" "Aww... come on Edward! Don't pretend that you don't know how good-looking you are. You're just trying to be modest. Admit it!"

I was honestly shocked. Bella had just admitted to finding me attractive. With a sudden surge of confidence, I leaned forward and stole the end of her ponytail from her hand. "The only thing I will admit... is that I am a little glad your radiator is broken." I lowered my voice when I said it, and deliberately let my eyes glance down her clothing so that my meaning would be clear. Then fearing that I was behaving too forward, I gave her ponytail a playful little tug before I released it and leaned back. She blushed prettily and it made me smile. I must not have offended her. Katrina took that moment to arrive. She was holding her car keys between her teeth while juggling a purse and a couple DVD's in one hand and a large pizza box in the other. I stood and took the pizza from her, while Bella tossed the movies onto the entertainment center. Katrina pulled her coat off with a loud groan. "God it's freaking sweltering in here!" She complained loudly. "Hi Eddie." "Hi." I placed the pizza on the coffee table, and Bella pushed a few buttons on the stereo. Though she kept it low, I recognized it immediately. An Italian opera- one of my favorites. Katrina rolled her eyes, but I inwardly rejoiced at yet another thing Bella and I seemed to have in common. Bella and I reclaimed our places on the sofa, and Katrina pulled one of the chairs up to the coffee table between us so that we could work. It was all business as the three of us chose the periods of information and types of documentation that we wanted to look for while working on our group project. When I offered to work on anything that may need translations, both girls wanted to know what languages I spoke. I really was modest, naming only a few of the languages I spoke fluently. "That's so hot," Katrina grinned up at me. I was able to smile at the compliment. Her thoughts all evening, had been centered on her new love interest- Brad. She almost completely stopped thinking of me in any way other than a friend. As a matter of fact- even as she had called my ability to translate text "hot"... her mind had been wondering if Brad could speak any other languages. "Would you say something in Italian?" Bella asked quietly. I looked into her eyes and responded without thinking. "Abbracciare il cantante." "What does it mean?" Katrina asked. My gaze stayed locked with Bella's. "To embrace the singer." When we finished working, Katrina smiled and walked over to pick up the DVD's she had brought home. I groaned when she flashed their titles.

"Interview with a Vampire! And Lost Boys!" She proclaimed. "Awesome!" Bella laughed. I looked at her incredulously. "Are you serious?" "Classic vampire movies!" Bella grinned. "Bella Lugosi is classic," I muttered. "Tom Cruise is just a tool." "Ah! But Brad Pitt is sexy!" Katrina threw in. "True!" Bella nodded enthusiastically. I couldn't believe I was going to be subjected to this. "Come on Edward!" Bella pouted cutely. "If you stay--I'll let you pick!" She wanted me to stay. "Interview," I sighed. At least I could watch Bella and try to guess what in the hell she found so sexy in Brad Pitt. Was it the actor? Or the character? Katrina turned off the stereo and put the movie in the player. Bella reached behind her and flipped the switch on wall, sending the room into darkness. I was instantly even more aware of Bella sitting just a few feet from me. The blue glow from the television screen highlighted the light sheen of perspiration across her forehead and the top of her chest. It was hot in the apartment. But I was starting to feel a familiar warmth make its way through my body that had nothing to do with the broken radiator. The girls made comments to one another throughout the beginning of the movie. I wished I could read Bella's mind. Katrina seemed to think it was terribly erotic to watch Tom Cruise bite into Brad Pitt's neck before the story version of his "transformation." I frowned. I couldn't imagine a less erotic thing in the world than my own painful experience with Carlisle when he gave me immortality. "Ew." I accidentally added my own commentary and curled my lip in disgust when Tom Cruise served the blood of a rat to Louie. The idea of drinking the cooling blood of a rodent was almost as repulsive to me as the pizza I watched the girls eat. "Give the guy a break!" Bella scolded, thankfully misunderstanding my aversion to the scene. "Don't you think it's noble? That he doesn't want to kill humans? He wants to try to survive on the blood of animals. That is..." she shook her head, looking for the words. I leaned forward, desperate for her to finish her thought. Instead, she turned her attention back to the television. I wanted to scream in frustration.

Katrina rose when the phone began to ring, and excused herself from the room to answer it. Bella and I sat there, alone, watching Tom Cruise dance across the screen with a corpse. The image made me cringe. Bella was still watching the movie, but turned to rest her back against the armrest. Bella pulled both feet up onto the cushion in front of her, and absently reached her hands down to massage one of her heels. I tried to ignore the fact that her legs were displayed so prettily in front of me. "Are you ok?" I asked with a deep voice. "Job hazard," Bella smiled over towards me. "Beth couldn't make it into work today, because of the ice. So I took over her shift. My feet are killing me." "Why don't you let me?" I patted my thigh as an invitation. Bella looked at me with a curious expression before she shrugged and stretched both of her long legs across the couch and placed her feet on my lap. I thought she would laugh away my suggestion. But instead, she watched me expectantly. I didn't want to disappoint. And so I reached for one of her ankles. Bella physically jumped when I touched her skin. "You're hands are freezing!" she gasped. "Sorry!" "Don't apologize. I like it," she smiled. "It feels great. Don't stop!" She didn't have to tell me twice. I picked up her foot again. This time she didn't react other than to close her eyes with a sweet smile. And so I began applying the smallest amount of pressure with my fingers to her heel. I was glorifying in the fact that I was being allowed to place my hands on her skin. And I concentrated on testing it's pliancy under my fingers...the resiliency of the muscle beneath my hands. I deliberately tested the strength I needed to exert, in order to not hurt her. She showed no indication of being in discomfort at all. In fact, when I turned the same ministrations to the delicate arch of her foot, a very sexy purring sound came from the back of her throat. I swallowed convulsively and shifted her unattended foot a little lower in my lap. I didn't want her to see how obviously excited I was about giving her a foot massage. I really didn't need her to think I had some freaky foot-fetish. Desperate to find a diversion for my thoughts, I unintentionally eavesdropped on Katrina's phone conversation from her bedroom. What I heard made me smile. I placed Bella's foot on my leg and began tending to the other. When Katrina came back into the room, she carried an over-night bag with her. She didn't seem to think it was odd that I was sitting there rubbing Bella's feet for her. She just smiled at both of us.

"Will you two be ok if I take off and go over to Brad's?" she asked. I turned my eyes towards Bella. "Sure," Bella nodded. Apparently she didn't mind being alone with me. I smiled my goodnight and said a silent 'thank you' as Katrina left the apartment. I had stopped rubbing Bella's feet, but she still lied with them across my lap. My hand rested lightly across her ankle. We didn't talk through the rest of the movie. And before Brad Pitt's interview with Christian Slater's character was over, Bella was asleep on the sofa next to me. I sat as still as a statue, watching her sleep. When the television turned to white noise, I soundlessly pushed the button on the remote to silence it. I was prepared to act like I, too, had fallen asleep... in the event that Bella should wake up and become alarmed by my lingering presence. But she never did. Once, she sighed. And she smiled in her sleep. And then my breath caught in my throat when she spoke out loud. "Mmm. Feels so nice. So cool.... Edward." She said my name. Not Mike's. Not Brad Pitt's or Tom Cruise's. She said my name. I curled my hand possessively around her ankle, providing more of the coolness that she found comfort in. She sighed again in her sleep and rested easier. When the subtle sounds of morning started to indicate that the world outside the apartment was waking, I reluctantly slid from under her outstretched legs, and made my way to her door.

20. Distracted

Bella and I walked towards the library in silence. She frowned at the small screen on her phone and read text messages. I crammed my hands into my pockets and tried my best to resist the urge to snatch the thing out of her hands to read it for myself. It drove me crazy, that I couldn't simply read her mind and know what she was thinking. So far, I had resisted every deplorable urge to pick up her phone while she slept, to look through her saved messages. I would not steal her privacy from her in that way. I refused to sink so low. If she wanted me to know anything about it, she would tell me. At the bottom of the steps, Bella waved her phone at me with an apologetic little grin. "I need to return his call. Do you mind if I meet you inside?" "No. Not at all," I mumbled before turning to enter the library alone. I did mind. I hated that she was calling Mike. On my time. I threw my coat over the back of my chair, and went to pull

several books from the shelves. I might have placed them on the table a little loudly, in my irritation. I received several dirty looks from students in the vicinity. I muttered under my breath and sat down, pulling long breaths between my teeth in an effort to calm down. I rubbed my temples with my fingers. That seemed to help marginally. Then I closed my eyes and I just concentrated on relaxing. Every less noble part of me wanted to sneak to the side of the building, where I could eavesdrop on her conversation. I wouldn't do it. Instead, I sat and tried to plan just how I could let Bella know what was on my mind. I was going to have to step up my game. I was going to have to make my feelings known. Bella needed to know that she had options. And I wanted to be sure to let her know that I was one of them. I opened my eyes to see Bella lowering herself into the seat across from me. She didn't say anything about her absence. I just gave her a small smile and went back to writing my notes. In a moment, I noticed that she pulled one of the books from the pile I had placed on the table, and ran her finger across the embossed title. "What is this?" she asked. I thought she had made an interesting selection. "It's mostly to do with the erotic undertones of vampire lore," I informed her. "Erotic?" Did she have to sound so damned sexy saying the word? "I know. Silly right? There is nothing even remotely romantic about murder." I watched from under my lashes to gauge her reaction. She shrugged. "Well... maybe not that part of it. But I can see where the whole image could be considered erotic." Ok. She was going to have to stop saying the word. It was making my body react in bad ways. "Like, how?" I asked. I was genuinely interested in her thoughts on this particular topic. "I just mean... you know," she shrugged. "Like in books or movies. They always use the image of the dark and brooding vampire... the whole... neck thing. I'm not talking about the scary monster vampires. Just the pretty ones." "Pretty ones?" I raised an eyebrow in her direction. "Never mind," she muttered and turned her attention to the book in front of her. But I wasn't finished with the conversation. Not by a long shot. "You think I'm stupid," she protested. "Bella! Look at me." When she raised her eyes to meet mine, I smiled softly. "I could never think you are stupid." I suddenly saw a brilliant opportunity. So I lowered my chin and deliberately let my gaze delve deeply into hers. "Come here."

Bella's jaw dropped a bit, and she looked dazed. Trying to lighten it up a little, I laughed. "Chicken?" I taunted. I was rewarded when she stood and walked around the table. I merely pushed myself back in my chair, and surprised her by pulling her to sit across my lap. "What are you...?" "Pretend I'm a pretty vampire," I whispered. She blushed and looked down. "You are making fun of me now." "No," I insisted. "I am merely trying to demonstrate that I know what you were talking about. This, for instance." I gently lifted her wrist close to my face. Carefully, I traced the blue veins with the tip of my finger. "A pulse-point. And highly sensitive. Am I right?" I deliberately brushed my lips across the soft skin on the inside of her wrist. The goose bumps that appeared on her arm gave me my answer. "One could associate the sensitivity to something pleasurable. Thus making a bite here, seem erotic." "But it wouldn't be," Bella spoke calmly. "Not really." "No. It wouldn't be." I frowned and dropped her wrist back to rest on her leg. I thought she would stand then, and leave me. But she did not. Instead, Bella tossed her hair behind her shoulders and leaned closer to my chest. "And the neck?" she asked somewhat breathlessly. I couldn't believe she was giving me license to continue. Unwilling to stop myself, I deliberate raised my hand to the collar of her button up shirt. Using one finger, I traced the line of the v-neck down to its first button, and back up. My eyes didn't leave her skin as I spoke. "Another highly erotic zone, played up for movies and romance novels." "Mmm hmm," she hummed. "Lean back," I ordered softly. She complied by putting one arm around my shoulders, and arching against the hand I had placed on the small of her back. Her hair fell like a curtain behind her, and she closed her eyes before tilting her chin up. The creamy expanse of her neck was laid bare to me. I couldn't resist pushing the tip of my nose against the shadowy spot at the base of her throat. I inhaled her scent deeply and she shivered. "Perfect access for a vampire," she whispered. I nodded, and my lips skimmed gently across the skin of her throat. She didn't need to remind me. I could feel the warm rush of her blood, just a hair's breadth away from my mouth. I didn't care that we were in the library. And I didn't care that other students were nearby. I could only focus on the woman in front of me. I traced my fingers up the smooth column of her neck, and let my lips lightly follow their path. Always a whisper away... so close. I breathed against her skin and her pulse accelerated. She swallowed hard and bit her bottom lip. I wanted to kiss her.

When my fingers reached her chin, I gently cupped it and turned her face away from me so that I could bury my nose in the soft hair behind her ear. Once there, I gulped in her fragrance. Never had I been encompassed by such maddening desire. It was both heaven and hell. And because I couldn't deny myself any longer, I finally allowed my tongue to trace a cool circle on the skin just below her ear. Bella's fingers curled into my shoulder, and I felt her squeeze her legs together, tensing her body while she sat on my lap. "Mmmmm Edward..." she moaned quietly. "Edward? Edward!" Bella's voice was louder than I expected, and sounded somewhat amused. I blinked twice and saw her standing before me. Snow still decorated the shoulders of her coat. "Wow! Earth to Edward. Where did you go?" She was teasing me. Bella had obviously just finished her phone call. I lowered my brows and looked down at the book in front of me. "Sorry," I mumbled. "This book. It's just... I...." I was actually stumbling over my words. "It's snowing?" I opted, instead, to change the subject. "It just started," she said quietly before placing her coat on the back of her chair and sitting across from me. I was at a loss. Somehow, my inner thoughts about making my feelings known to Bella had become derailed by my horny teenage body. Apparently, my fantasy life was strong enough to completely negate the fine vampire senses that were typically on constant alert. I hadn't even been aware that Bella had approached the table. I glanced down, completely thankful that outward signs of embarrassment were impossible for me. If I were capable of blushing, I am sure I would have been bright red. When I got past my own consternation, I noticed that Bella was staring at the table between us with a frown on her face. She looked... lost. Any lingering imitations of seventeen year old raging hormones were quickly replaced by concern. "Bella?" I asked. "Is everything ok?" "Yes. I'm sorry," she shook her head. "I mean... no. Not really. But we have a lot of work to do." "We have plenty of time," I insisted. Bella looked up into my eyes, and then her glance darted to the people sitting at nearby tables. Guessing at her hesitation, I stood and tilted my head, indicating that she should follow. I felt high when she silently stood and began to do just that. Extending my hearing forward, I searched for a quiet corner on this floor. I found it, in a section of books that were rarely visited. Turning my back to the wall, I lowered myself and patted my

hand on the floor next to me. Bella smiled and moved to slide down the wall too. We sat there, side by side for a moment before she began talking. "He isn't making this easy," she breathed. I knew she was talking about Mike. I didn't mind. If what she needed from me was friendship, I would provide it. "Are you... still trying to end things?" I asked. I tried to make my voice sound less hopeful than I felt. "Yes," she nodded. "It's just hard. Because none of this is his fault. He did absolutely nothing wrong. You don't know..." "You could tell me," I offered. She smiled over at me. "When I moved to Forks, I was miserable," she began. "I never really fit in anywhere. I was terribly shy. And I was clumsy... to the point of almost being disabled." She laughed lightly and I listened attentively. "Mike was one of the first friends I made. And his friends welcomed me into their group. I finally belonged. We were very socially active... it helped me to become more selfconfident. I wasn't as shy...." "And the clumsiness?" "It got slightly better with age," she smiled and nudged my arm with her shoulder. "I think I was just grateful to Mike for being my friend. I should never have tried to feel more... Everyone just seemed to expect that we..." she seemed unable to finish her sentence. "And he doesn't agree that you would be better off as friends?" I asked. She shook her head sadly. "I never wanted to hurt him. I felt like I owed it to him... to at least try. But I just couldn't..." She had lowered one hand to pick at the carpet between us. "Edward? Do you believe in fate?" she asked softly. Bella brought her eyes up to meet my gaze, and I felt as though I were drowning in their depths. "Without a doubt," I answered truthfully. She smiled serenely before turning to stare straight ahead once more. "So do I," she breathed. "And it's hard to explain. But I always felt like something was missing. Like...I was never going to find what I was meant for in Forks. Does that make any sense?" "It's not your fault." "It wasn't his either," she sighed. "Mike was always fighting a losing battle against something he couldn't even see- Fate," she explained.

I wanted to say more, but I couldn't trust my voice. Instead, I took a deep breath to prepare myself for rejection. And then I slowly reached between us to place my hand over hers. Bella didn't pull away. She just sat there in the darkened corner, on the floor, and let me hold her hand. It was the happiest I had ever been.

21. The boy and the bubble

When the subtle electronic tones played over the loud-speakers to indicate that the library would close soon, I reluctantly released Bella's hand so that we could both stand. "Sorry for wasting work time," she apologized quietly. "We have plenty of time for research," I reminded her. "I'm here. Anytime you need to talk. Anytime at all. Ok?" She smiled her thanks, and tucked her chin down towards her chest- watching the floor as we walked back to our table. I wondered if that was an old habit born of her innate clumsiness, or if she was specifically trying to avoid looking at me. For the first time, we took advantage of our arrangements to work late. A quick call from my cell phone ensured that we were permitted to re-enter the building at the side door. And together we worked until nearly four a.m. During that time, we didn't speak other than to compare notes right away. Bella's voice seemed loud in the quiet of the building when she finally did speak, hours later. "Hey Edward?" she asked as she looked up from her book. "Yes?" "What was that phrase you spoke in Italian? At my apartment- when you were talking about the opera that was playing?" I lowered my brows in confusion. I hadn't said anything about the opera. Then realization came to me. "Abbracciare il cantante," I smiled. "About the singer... right?" she asked.

"Yes," I nodded. I hadn't been referring to the opera. Carlisle, my father, had once called Bella my 'singer', because of the call of her blood to me. "This book keeps mentioning the word. 'Cantante...' she looked back down to where her finger pressed onto the page. I stood and walked to stand behind her, and leaned over her shoulder to read. She was right. My eyes scanned the information quickly, noting the rough translations and missing text. "What does singing have to do with vampires?" Bella turned her face towards me, and I felt her breath on my cheek. I closed my eyes, savoring the sensation, before moving a little further away. "It's not complete," I shrugged. But what I did see made me tuck the information away for future reference. I planned to ask Carlisle if he knew more on the subject. Bella was watching me with interest, and so I tried to summarize. "In some of these old stories... it is believed that certain humans held blood more tempting, more powerful, and more difficult to resist for certain vampires." "I don't understand." "Hmm. Well. It's not very clear..." I pretended to be confused by it, even though I understood it all far too well. "It would be like if a vampire found the scent of one particular person's blood more intoxicating than any other. More impossible to resist... more painful to endure... That person would be considered his 'singer.' Because her blood would 'sing' for him." I realized that I had slipped into male and female pronouns that could describe the two of us. Bella didn't seem to think anything of it. "But why would a vampire try to resist? I mean... if I liked a chocolate shake, and it smelled better to me than any other dessert in the world.... I'd just order the chocolate shake and be done with it." "Drinking a shake wouldn't make you a monster," I said quietly. Bella nodded, and then her eyes brightened with a new understanding. "Like on Interview with a Vampire!" she declared. "When Louie tried to eat animals!" "Probably." I turned away from her then. She was closer to the truth than she realized. "I understand the tempting part. And about it being more difficult to resist. But how can it be more powerful?" "Huh?" "You said 'more powerful.'" I stepped back to look at the book again. The translation was obviously lacking. It did refer to the powers of the blood. Though I couldn't make sense of it.

"I'm not sure," I admitted. "It's choppy information to do with the power of the blood. Probably something about how its lure is more powerful than that of others." "Hmm," she thoughtfully bit down on her lower lip. I went back towards my stack of books, and couldn't help but notice when Bella yawned hugely. "We should get you home," I stated. "That's probably a good idea," she nodded. We placed our books on the return desk, and I helped Bella put on her coat. We exited through the side door and we walked slowly to our cars. Our cars were parked in the same lot. "Do you need me to follow you home?" I asked. "You don't have to. It didn't snow much. The roads should be fine." I pressed my lips together. I wouldn't have time to sit beside her as she slept this morning. Dawn was fast approaching. And while I had no issue with actually being out in the daylight hours, I didn't ever want to take the chance of getting caught in Bella's room, watching her sleep. I was fairly sure the tender friendship we had begun to forge would be ruined by that quirky little habit of mine. "Well... drive safely." "Thanks. You too." Of course, I took a detour before driving home. And of course, I drove by Bella's apartment to make sure that she got there safely. I spent the last hours before the sun came up, hunting near home. It was still easier to be close to Bella when I kept my thirst firmly in check. I didn't want to tempt fate any more than I already was. Fate. Tonight's conversation with Bella gave me a lot to think about on that subject. And I still loved to run. In the darkness my imagination let her run beside me. The next evening, I received a summons by voicemail for me to meet Alice at her apartment. I went with a bit of unease... nervous about her reason for calling me over. She hadn't shared her visions with me lately. I hoped that was because Bella really was safe now, in my presence. Mind over matter. When I knocked on the door, I heard Alice bid me to enter. As I opened the door, I saw her sitting with her legs crossed beneath her in the middle of the floor. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Blowing bubbles," Alice smiled sweetly. As if to demonstrate, she lifted a tiny plastic bubble wand in front of her lips and produced a stream of small delicate orbs that drifted and danced in the air around her. She seemed completely at ease. I began to wonder if I had worried needlessly

about her reasons for inviting me. I walked to the center of the room, and lowered myself to sit in the same fashion across from her. When I moved closer, I noticed a scent that was entirely too familiar and impossible for me to ignore. "Alice..." I growled lowly. "When were you around Bella? And why?" "This afternoon," she shrugged and blew another wand full of soapy solution into the air. "Explain." "Say 'please'," she frowned darkly. "You know that bossy shit doesn't work on me." "Please, explain," I softened my voice and gave in. She was so stubborn. She would never elaborate if I didn't comply. "We traded numbers when we were dancing at the bar," Alice said easily. "She said she knew of a good book-store in town. So I called her and asked if she wanted to go." "Just... like that?" "Yes. Just like that. It's amazing. You can actually spend time with someone... just by making plans and asking. Shocking, huh?" She was being a smart-ass and she knew it. "Why?" "Because I don't have any friends here," Alice pouted. I knew better. "And because I wanted to pick her brain. Get to know her a little better," she admitted. "Did you know, she's never seen 'Phantom of the Opera?'" "What does that have to do with anything?" "Oh. Nothing really. I just thought that most people had at least seen the movie version!" "Ok." I wasn't sure where she was leading me with this information. But I could tell I wouldn't get more from her unless she wanted to offer it. "Where is Jasper?" I finally asked. "He went away for a few days. He said he wanted to hunt something larger than squirrel." "There are elk and bear in the area, and he knows it." "I think he was craving something more exotic," Alice sighed. "He's always trying new things these days."

I pressed my eyebrows together and looked at the floor. I wondered if she knew anything about the conversation that Jasper and I had about his past history with human women. But Alice didn't seem upset. She just blew more bubbles in my direction. I smiled, and held out my pointer finger to balance one of the delicate spheres on its tip. "Do you remember this game?" Alice asked then. "You and Emmett used to see how many bubbles you could bounce... and for how long... before they would pop." "I always won," I boasted, balancing the bubble before giving it a little bounce, only to catch it once again. "Because you took your time," Alice agreed. "Emmett was always in a hurry to catch more than you. They would pop faster. You caught less, but you were especially careful with them." "It's not that hard," I murmured, staring at the soapy film of the bubble I had caught on my finger. "You just have to test the strength of the bubble... and not apply more pressure than necessary. I can feel it give, under my touch. If I pay attention, it's no problem at all." Alice grinned at me and twisted the lid back onto her little bottle of bubble solution. "What?" I asked. "Thus concludes your daily lesson in 'safe sex' with Alice!" she imitated an announcer's voice. My mouth popped open. "Why... you little sneak!" I accused, narrowing my eyes at her. "Honestly Edward!" Alice huffed. "Why you are so nervous about how to handle Bella is beyond me. She isn't nearly as fragile as a bubble." "Bubbles don't make me lose my head," I insisted. "What if I lost focus? What if I got... too excited and hurt her?" "I don't think you could." "I can't think clearly around her," I reiterated. "Last night, I was so consumed by... a daydream... I didn't even notice that she was talking to me!" "That would change if she were actually with you. You'd be too concerned about hurting her to forget yourself." "You don't know that." "You can't be sure either!" Alice insisted.

"Exactly. And I'm not ready to take that chance," I insisted. And then something occurred to me. Alice was pushing the subject awfully hard. I glanced up from under my lashes... looking at her sideways. "I... don't even know if... my advances would be welcome." "Oh," Alice smirked. "I bet they'd be plenty welcome." "What do you know Alice?" She just smiled wider. "Alice....?" I let my voice drop. "If you know something... you need to tell me." "It wasn't a detailed vision!" she promised. "Please. I'll take anything!" I know I sounded desperate. I even remembered to say 'please.' "All I know is... I could hear 'Music of the Night.' And... Bella is going to ask you to kiss her."

22. Duck and Cover

I watched Bella through Thursday evening's class- carefully looking for any signs that she might really be attracted to me. Alice had seen a vision of Bella asking me to kiss her. As intrigued as I was... Bella seemed completely unaffected by my presence, as usual. I didn't know whether to hope that Alice's vision was true... or wish for once she'd be wrong. The thoughts around me in class were more annoying than usual. The typical noise was buzzing even more loudly with everyone making plans for their Spring Break. It was only a week away, and by the sound of things, everyone was anxious for the time away from class. Everyone but me. And of course, I couldn't be sure how Bella felt. But Katrina sat beside her, doodling and fantasizing about the ski trip that she was taking with Brad. I had a feeling they would be spending more time in the lodge than on the slopes, and so I tried to stay firmly away from her inner thoughts for a while. I glanced over at Bella again and wondered if she had made plans. When last we talked, she hadn't yet decided if Mike Newton would be visiting during our week hiatus. Just thinking about the possibility made me angry. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my pen in my fingers. "Damn it," I ground out when the pen broke. Ink splattered my paper and covered my hand.

"Here," Bella quickly reached into her bag and handed me a Kleenex. I didn't even realize that she had noticed me beside her at all. The professor excused us for break, and I had to leave the girls to try to scrub the ink from my skin. While I stood there at the sink, I glanced up and frowned at my reflection. I knew where my irritation stemmed from. I wanted to keep Bella from Mike. She had made her feelings perfectly clear. She only wanted to remain his friend. But what if he showed up and she changed her mind? What if she realized that she missed him... or felt guilty enough to make another attempt at a relationship? He could not have her. She was mine. I scrubbed the ink with the abrasive industrial paper-towels until the stain was gone, and then went to find the girls with a new purpose in my step. I was going to find out if Bella had made a decision about letting him visit. And if Mike Newton was going to be anywhere near her, I would do my best to make sure that no reconnection was made. He might be fighting. But damn it, I would fight harder. Katrina stood in the corner, flirting with her boyfriend. Bella stood in front of a large window, staring at the space beyond and quietly drinking her diet Coke. I casually walked up behind her and smiled as my gaze met hers in our reflection. "Tired of winter?" I asked. "A little bit," Bella shrugged. "But I don't mind the weather. I'm just... ready for a change." I couldn't agree more. "I think that's why everyone is so excited about Spring Break," I mentioned. "Everyone is ready for a change in scenery." Bella sighed and turned from the window. I followed as she began her way down the hall towards our class. "I'm not going anywhere." "No?" I raised my eyebrow and looked down at her. "I really can't afford it right now," Bella shrugged. "And Mike is going to come here instead..." I clenched my fingers close to my sides and tried to keep the tension from my voice. "Well, I'm not going anywhere either. Maybe we could all get together? I mean... he probably remembers me and my family from school..."

"That sounds like a wonderful idea!" Bella stopped and turned, beaming up at me. Wow. She really meant it. "And you'd be doing me a favor," she nodded. "I wasn't really sure what to do for the weekend while he's here." "The weekend?" Bella nodded again. "I... sort of lied to him. I know. I know. It makes me a terrible person. I told him I had plans for later in the week. But I thought it would be best if we just, got things out of the way without dragging it out." Her words made me feel so happy, that I had to fight hard to keep a giant grin from stretching across my face. "You wouldn't feel bad about lying if you really did make plans," I shrugged. It was devious, I know. I already knew that Katrina would be gone for the week. "Boston is a short drive. I was thinking of inviting you and Katrina to go to Boston with me for a couple days. Sort of, my way of thanking you for making me a part of your project team. We could get dinner... catch a show at the Opera house...? My treat." "Wow- Edward. You don't have to do that." "I want to," I insisted. She had no idea how much I wanted to. "I don't have any plans for Spring Break. And I enjoy the theatre." Thanks to Alice's vision, I also had a sneaking suspicion that I already knew what show was playing in Boston that week. Bella turned and started walking forward again. I matched my steps to hers and prepared for her refusal. Surely, she would take this time to point out that Katrina already had plans and that she didn't feel comfortable accompanying me on the trip alone. "I'll think about it," Bella said quietly. I halted and missed a step in shock. But I quickly recovered and pretended to be as nonchalant about it as she seemed to be. "Yeah. Let me know," I shrugged. Bella didn't tell me 'no.' I smiled stupidly at my paper while I took notes from lecture. I was euphoric. She could have refused me right away. She wanted to think about it. That was good enough for me. I wasn't going to push her. Later, at the library, I pretended to search through the computer database while I surreptitiously studied Bella above my monitor. She twisted her hair around her fingers and bit her lip often while writing. Once, she raised her hand to fan herself before twisting her hair up in an elastic band. This action was obviously meant to cool her off. It had the opposite effect on me. I sat there, staring at the back of her neck and thanking God for central heating systems. We didn't stay past closing hours, which was fine by me. I knew that I would creep into Bella's bedroom again to watch her dream. She usually went to bed so late that I wasn't afforded as much time in that dark room as I would like.

And as I slid her window open enough to allow easier entrance, I was once again grateful for the opportunity to watch her in slumber. Bella was so fascinating to me while she slept. She made faces, and small noises. Sometimes she talked. I patiently waited for the day that I might hear my name on her lips again. I moved to rest the back of my legs against her dresser, and folded my arms across my chest. She was so beautiful. A peace settled around me and I smiled as I kept my vigil there at the foot of her bed. Restless movement from beyond the wall made me think that Katrina was awake. But I gave it little thought until the large mirror behind me shook violently. I turned with a start. The mirror started banging on the wall with a rhythmic jolt that matched the sudden loud sounds of voices from the other side. Horrified, my eyes popped wide open. Katrina obviously had company in her room. I was so used to tuning out her dreams that I hadn't listened closely enough. I froze when Bella sat straight up in her bed. In the dark, she flung her pillow violently towards the wall. It missed me by inches as I literally dropped to the floor to avoid being caught there. "Jesus Christ!" Bella yelled sleepily. "Keep it down!" I heard her flop back down on her bed, and hazarded the chance to rise up to my hands and knees. She had pulled the remaining pillow over her head to block out the lustful sounds coming from her roommate's bedroom. I began to crawl silently towards the window and my escape. Then with a loud sigh, Bella threw the covers away from her and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. I had to stealthily lie flat on my stomach and roll sideways towards the wall just to avoid being stepped on. Bella stomped her way towards her bathroom, and I wanted to stare at the way she looked walking past in her little yellow panties... but I knew I needed to take the chance to get the hell out while I had the chance. And so as soon as her bathroom door closed, I stood and hurried out her window and down the side of the building. I leaned there against the wall with my hands on my knees, staring down at the ground in front of me. I couldn't believe I had so nearly almost gotten caught in Bella's room. What in the hell was wrong with me? My obsession was causing me to become careless. The smell of the apartment alone should have alerted me that someone else was there. But I was too wrapped up in Bella to notice. Things were beginning to slip. I cursed under my breath. And then with a dissatisfied groan, I rose and walked to the edge of the woods. From the darkness of the tree line, I stared up at Bella's window. Even then I was considering if I should or should not attempt to reenter the room once things quieted down. It seemed little yellow panties destroyed my ability to think logically. I hissed under my breath when a slight shadowy form rounded the side of the building. I pulled back farther into the shadows, and watched the person- looking for signs of mischief. Was it an intruder? Was Bella in danger? I crouched low, ready to spring.

A cold wind blew her scent to me, and I straightened my posture cautiously. What was Bella doing outside? She was hunched inside her coat, but I could see that she was wearing a pair of sweatpants... and .... Flip-flops? Didn't she realize it was winter? And what was she doing, walking into the woods? I silently ghosted to stand behind a tree further in, and placed my palms against the rough bark. Bella seemed hell bent on following me. So I stood motionless. I didn't even allow my breathing to break the silence of the night. When she got to the tree where I stood, she turned and rested her back heavily against it. I could feel her there. So close to me. And then I heard the faint sniffle. My brows lowered, and I silently inched closer to the side of the tree. I was inches from her in the dark. I could hear her ragged breathing. And I could taste the saltiness of her tears. She was softly crying. I gripped the tree trunk tightly under my hands, in an effort to keep myself from reaching for her. I didn't know why she stood there in the wooded area, in the dark, crying. But I felt a very real pain rip through me with the knowledge that I couldn't do a thing to help her. I wanted to move around the tree and pull her close to my chest. I wanted to comb her hair back with my hand and kiss her forehead. I wanted to be able to fix whatever it was that was hurting her. But I couldn't. The best I could do was stay with her so I knew she was safe. When her tears had run their course, she wiped her sleeve across her face, took a deep breath, and walked back to her apartment. I didn't climb back up. Instead, I sat with my back against the tree where she had stopped to cry, and I stared at her dark window until the sun began to lighten the sky once more.

23. Designated Dave

When Alice called and asked if I could pick Jasper up from the airport, I thought nothing of it. Jasper threw his bag into the back of my car, and entertained me with stories from his trip. Apparently, he and Emmett had spent the week in South America, hunting anacondas. Random penis jokes and hilarity ensued. I was almost sorry I missed it. Emmett was a lot of fun to hang out with when he could escape Rosalie for a while. I considered inviting him to visit soon. There was enough bear in the area to make it worth his while. "Why didn't Alice pick me up?" Jasper asked, out loud. "I have no idea," I muttered absently. "Something about being up to her elbows in a new project?" As if on cue, my phone rang.

"Speak of the devil," I said, flipping it open. "Hello Alice." "Did you get him?" "Yes. He's sitting right beside me. Do you want to talk to him?" "I have no time. Listen," she said sharply. "Don't let him talk you into a detour. Bring him straight home. Ok?" "OK. No problem," I scrunched up my face and looked over at Jasper. Alice was being weird. "Also- I just took a few things over to your house that you are going to need. I stocked your refrigerator and I put a few items in your guest room. You can thank me later." "What are you talking about?" "No time. You have a call coming in. Love you. Bye." The connection was broken a second before my phone started to buzz again, signaling another call. I didn't recognize the number. "Hello?" I asked. Jasper sat there, looking at me quizzically. I just shook my head. I had no idea what was going on. "Edward?" Bella's voice sounded all wrong. But it was her. I was instantly on alert. "Bella? Are you alright?" I asked. "Fine..." she sounded breathless. "I wasss wonderingggg... Could you please .... Would you mind... coming to pick me up from work?" I figured it out then. Bella was slurring. "Are you drunk?" I asked, incredulously. "Jusht a little," she giggled. "Please Edward? I shouldn't drive." "I'll be there soon. Don't move," I told her. I clicked my phone shut and pushed harder on the accelerator. "What's going on?" Jasper asked. "Bella called from the bar. She's drunk and needs a ride home." "I thought she said she wasn't much of a drinker?"

"Apparently she was telling the truth," I muttered as I pulled into the parking space in front of his apartment. "She sounds like she's tanked." "Drunk chicks are easy. Just saying...." "Out!" I ordered. I practically shoved him out of the passenger seat, and Jasper had to scramble to get his bag from the backseat before I tore back out onto the road. I broke most traffic laws getting to the Midfield as fast as I could. When I entered the crowded bar, I saw Bella leaning heavily on a table to my right. "Edward!" she called my name loudly, and tipped sideways on her stool while she tried to wave me over. I quickly moved to her side. "Edward.. this ish Shuzi. Shuze.... Edward." "Susie? Pleasure to meet you," I offered dryly. She looked as inebriated as Bella, if not more so. "Do you have a ride home?" I felt obligated to be sure. "Yes," the girl slurred. "My shister is on her way." "Susie works here too," called the bartender, getting my attention. "I'll make sure she's alright until her ride gets here." "Thanks," I nodded towards him. And then I stood to place a hand at Bella's elbow to help her to her feet. She was unsteady, and so I cursed under my breath and put my arm around her waist, holding her more securely to my side. "Can you walk to the car? Or should I carry you?" I asked. "I can walk. Just... don't let go of me," she frowned. I walked to the car slowly, practically carrying her against my hip. Her questionable balance was hindered even more so by the alcohol she had consumed. She let me buckle her into the passenger seat of my car, and I began the drive to her apartment building before speaking. "Drowning your sorrows?" I asked, with my eyes on the road. I had to know. First the crying... then the drinking. Something was going on with her. "You have no idea," she muttered, and stared out the window. I waited in silence, and she finally sighed. "Men suck." "Pardon me?" "You heard me. Men.... Suck." She pressed the side of her forehead to the glass beside her. I was willing to bet she was trying to cool her flushed face with the cold glass.

"Aside from the fact that I am a man... and I am the one that is giving you a ride home right now... why is it that the entire gender is under attack tonight?" "Suzie's boyfriend cheated on her," Bella announced sloppily. "She broke up with him. And she wanted someone to have a drink with her. I worked an early shift today and didn't feel like going home yet... so why not?" "Ah. So she was drinking away a broken heart. What ailment were you trying to fix with an over-dose of..." I leaned forward to sniff. "Vanilla vodka?" I asked. "How in the world did you know that?" Bella asked. I just shrugged. "Answer my question first," I insisted. "Fine. If you must know," she sounded irritated and crossed her arms over her chest. It was really rather adorable. "My problem is that I don't want the ones that want me. And the ones I want aren't interested in the slightest." I frowned while I drove. It would make no sense to try to argue with her while she was intoxicated. But I couldn't imagine her not being able to have anyone she wanted. "Now. How did you know that I was drinking Vanilla Vodka?" "The scent," I told her plainly. "You smell like you bathed in it." Bella cringed and reached for the door handle as I pulled up in front of her building. When she nearly toppled from the car, I lifted her against my side once more. "Let me help you." "Quit pretending to be so nice," she slurred as she scolded. "You have a dark side, Mr. Cullen. I know it. You aren't perfect." "I never said I was," I began walking her forward. "You...with your perfect hair. And your perfect smile.... And your perfect eyes... and your perfect Dockers..." I laughed then. I hadn't worn anything but jeans in weeks. "I thought you hated my pants." "I don't hate anything about you Edward. You are too nice." "I thought you just said I wasn't nice," I reminded her. She just slumped against me in defeat. I continued to chuckle as I helped her up the stairs to her apartment. After three attempts to unlock

her door, I took the keys from her hand and opened it for her. As soon as I opened the door, I wish I hadn't. Bella backed up into me with her hands over her face. Katrina still had company. And they were very vocally taking advantage of having the apartment to themselves. We could quite clearly hear them from the door. "I can't..." Bella shook her head and turned to press her face into my chest. I froze, wanting to put my arms around her. "Please Edward?" She moaned into the front of my shirt front. "I haven't slept. I am exhausted. I can't stay here... I just... can't listen to this..." "You shouldn't have to," I muttered and closed the door again. I turned then, and pulled Bella with me down the hall. "Where are we going?" she asked, sounding small and tired. "I'm taking you to my house." I had to turn on the windshield wipers halfway through town. It had begun to snow again. The ride was silent aside from the back and forth swishing of the blades on my window and the quiet breathing of the girl beside me. Bella was serious about being tired. She fell asleep while I drove. After I parked in my garage, I lifted her from the passenger seat as gently as I could. Bella only made a small sound and reached to wind her hands behind my neck. I would have given anything to have made that gesture something that she offered while conscious. But she wasn't. And I simply couldn't take advantage of the fact that she had way too much to drink. Jasper would give me crap for it later. But I knew that even he would behave more nobly under the present circumstances. Once inside the door, I looked around, trying to decide what to do with the sleeping bundle in my arms. It seemed an obvious choice to bypass the living room and take her straight to my bedroom. I never slept. But my room was adorned with a large and comfortable bed. I had learned early that a fully furnished home made it easier to keep up pretenses when necessary. My mother, Esme, always insisted on it. And to be honest... I liked the comfort of lying down occasionally. I placed Bella carefully on the covers, and untangled her grip from the back of my neck. Because I could, I took my hands and brushed her hair away from her face... letting it trail across my pillows. I had never seen a more beautiful sight than Bella, sleeping deeply on the warm gold comforter on my bed. I just wished it were under different circumstances. Bella mumbled a little, and rubbed her cheek into the pillow that I usually laid upon. When she inhaled deeply and smiled, I turned to walk from the room before I could be tempted to crawl up beside her. I sat on the sofa in my darkened living room, and stared out the window, watching the snow fall. I wasn't sure what was going on in that head of Bella's. I didn't know what had upset her enough

to make her cry the night before. And I didn't know why she had thought it would be a good idea to get drunk. I wondered if the two could be related. What I did know for a fact, was that I had her here. In my home. And while I would never take advantage of the girl who was sweetly sleeping in the other room... I was not above taking full advantage of the situation as it had presented itself. This time was mine. A smile broke across my face as the snow began to fall more heavily.

24. Cool hands and Warm Breath

Eventually I stood and began pacing back and forth in my living room, contemplating this turn in events. Alice had obviously known that Bella would be here. She asked me to pick Jasper up from the airport, so she could make my home ready for a guest. It bothered me a little that she wasn't readily sharing her visions with me. But I understood that it was her way of trying to not interfere or influence the natural course of mine and Bella's relationship. I would have to find a way to thank her for the grocery shopping. I wondered which items Alice had left in the guest room and was about to go find out when a loud thump brought my attention to the other side of the hall. I pushed my bedroom door open with alarm and hurried through the door. Bella stood beside my bed with a panicked expression and her hand firmly clamped over her mouth. Understanding the problem immediately, I rushed to her side and half-dragged her into my private bathroom. Once inside, Bella threw the lid to the toilet up, dropped to her knees, and heaved into the porcelain bowl. I stood by the door, unsure of how I could assist. My eyes noted a new toothbrush, still in its packaging, and a half of a tube of toothpaste lying neatly by my sink. God Bless you Alice. When Bella was done retching, she laid her cheek against the arm that was still draped over the toilet seat and closed her eyes. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you have the cleanest toilet I have ever seen," she mumbled. Her observation made me laugh lightly. "I'll bet you are pretty grateful for that fact right now," I teased. "You have no idea," she moaned. I filled the small glass on the counter with water and moved to place it in Bella's hand.

"Here," I said. "Drink this." "Thank you," she whispered shakily. And then Bella lifted the glass to her lips sipped it cautiously. She looked so miserable that I longed to comfort and take care of her. Though I wasn't sure if my ministrations would be welcome, I lifted my hand to sooth her forehead and her flushed cheek. "God," she groaned quietly. "You have no idea how good that feels." She relaxed visibly under my touch, and I smiled. Actually, I had a very good idea. Being able to touch her was like heaven to me. "This is so embarrassing," she mumbled. "I shouldn't have... I really never drink..." "Shhh," I continued stroking her hair away from her face. "It happens to the best of them." "If you could... see your way towards forgetting all of this..." Bella squeezed her eyes shut tighter. "And forget about any mortifying thing I might have said earlier...I'd really appreciate it." "I'll do my best," I smiled. Not bloody likely. But the lie wouldn't hurt her. When Bella pressed her lips together, I had to chuckle at the disgusted look that crossed her face. "My mouth tastes like ass," she complained. Her announcement made me laugh out loud. "If you are certain that you are finished being sick, there is a new toothbrush here that you can have." "I don't want to take your toothbrush," she shook her head slightly. "I have extras," I insisted. "You know- got to take care of my 'perfect smile.'" "Oh!" She buried her face further into her arm. "You are supposed to be forgetting about that." "Sorry," I told her. But I didn't mean it. ' I helped Bella to her feet. She was still wobbly, so I made sure she was stationary at the sink before I turned on the faucet and un-wrapped the toothbrush for her. "I'll give you some privacy," I said. "But I'll be right outside the door if you need anything." Bella took the toothbrush from my hand with a thankful-looking smile. And I stepped out of the room. I illuminated the path to the bed by flicking on the small bedside table lamp. I didn't bother to pull down the covers. I predicted that Bella wouldn't want them. In a minute, the bathroom door opened and Bella grinned at me sheepishly.

"Do you need help walking?" I asked. "I got it." Bella kept one arm thrown out for balance as she slowly made her way back into the room. "Is this your bedroom, Edward?" "Yes," I said in a low voice. I swallowed as she crawled back up into the middle of my bed. "It's very nice," she mumbled. "The guest room doesn't have its own bathroom," I explained. "I thought you would be more comfortable here." "Why are you always so nice to me?" Bella asked, settling in against my pillows. Her eyes were already closed. Because I love you, my mind screamed. "Because you are my friend. And I care about you." It was a true as I could be without scaring her away. "Thank you," she whispered. I nodded and reached to turn off the light. Before I pulled my hand away, Bella reached out and placed her hand firmly on my forearm. "Edward?" she asked with a tiny voice in the darkness. "Yes?" My voice was warm and throaty in reaction to her touch. "Will you stay with me? Just... rub my forehead again? That was.... So... nice." Every muscle in my body tensed as I fought to stay rooted to the floor. How many times had I stood in her room, wishing for an excuse to crawl up to lie beside her? And now, she was giving me an invitation that would allow me to do so! But no. As much as I wanted to give in to my baser instincts, I wasn't sure if Bella was sober enough to not have this cause her later embarrassment. She didn't ask me to share the bed. She only wanted my cooling touch. I would not take advantage of her while she wasn't in her right frame of mind. What I wanted, even more than to hold her, was her trust. "Sure Bella," I murmured. "Move over." When she did, I carefully sat beside her on the bed. Slowly and tenderly, I began to push her hair away from her face. And I soothed her forehead

and her cheek with my fingers, offering no more than the innocent touch she had requested. I didn't stop until I was sure she had fallen asleep. And then I stole quietly from the room. I made sure to shower and change my clothes before Bella woke the next morning. I even had time to figure out how to work the stainless steel coffee maker on my counter before I heard the sound of her cell phone ringing from the other room. In the silence of the house, I quite clearly heard her raspy, sleepy, voice answer. "Hello?" I smiled as I pushed the lever down on the toaster. Alice chose food I could manage easily. Even a two year old could make toaster waffles. "Oh, Hi Alice." I straightened my shoulders and listened in, even though I knew it was invasive. But Bella was moving around, and by the sound of her voice, she was coming closer to the kitchen. I purposely shut the refrigerator door loudly so she would realize I was there. I wouldn't feel so bad about listening in if my presence was known. "No. That's alright. I was calling for a ride. But your brother came to get me." A pause. "Yes. I'm at his house right now." Pause. "No, I totally understand. Of course." I poured Bella a cup of coffee and pushed it across the bar in her direction as she rounded the corner and walked towards me. "Sure. Well- thank you anyway. Yes... he's right here." Bella looked adorable, with her sleeprumpled clothes and her hair sticking out in every direction. She handed the phone towards me with one hand while reaching for the coffee with the other. "Alice wants to talk to you," she mumbled while avoiding my eyes. I picked up the phone and greeted her. "Good morning, Alice." I watched as Bella turned and blew across the top of her mug while walking to my patio doors. She stood, staring out at the snowy scene quietly. "Have a nice night?" Alice asked. "You would know," I reminded her. Bella sipped her coffee and stood with her back to me. "Sorry. There really wasn't time to explain things yesterday." "It's ok." "I told Bella that she was welcome to use anything of mine that she needed from the guest room."

"And I am sure you considered every possibility..." I kept my words deliberately vague. Alice laughed in my ear. "Of course! And you owe me. You know you are snowed in, right?" "I assumed." I watched as Bella leaned towards my glass patio door. She parted her lips, and breathed onto the glass... fogging it with condensation. I leaned forward, looking over her shoulder, entranced. She lifted her pointer-finger and drew a little heart. "Edward? Did you hear me?" "I'm sorry. What?" "Nothing. I was just telling you to enjoy your day. The roads will be clear by morning." "Thank you Alice," I murmured. I hope she could hear how much I meant it. Alice hung up before I could say goodbye. I walked over towards Bella and handed her the phone. The condensation had already dried, making the heart disappear. But I knew it was there. It was just waiting for another warm breath to bring it back to life.

25. Snow Day

"Your sister said we are snowed in," Bella offered quietly. "Does that upset you?" I asked. I was worried about her answer. "I know, if I had left you at your place, you wouldn't be stuck here." "You're right," she laughed lightly. "I would be stuck with Katrina and Brad the Wonder-Lay." I couldn't help but laugh at her rude comment. She turned and smiled shyly in my direction. "Sorry," she apologized. "No reason to be," I insisted. "I just feel bad to be invading your space like this."

"I'm glad you're here," I said honestly. When her surprised eyes turned up toward me, I cleared my throat. "I mean... I would get bored being snowed in by myself. Right?" "Right." Bella turned to look back out the window. "Freak snow storm. I thought for sure we would be done with this for the year." "I'm sure it will be the last," I agreed. "Well then, what are we standing around for?" Bella turned with an impish grin. "Let's take advantage of it! Would you like to go play in the snow with me?" I smiled stupidly at her. Like I could ever tell her 'no.' Fifteen minutes later, we both walked around the side of my house toward my back yard. It wasn't fenced in. The woods made a natural border. "Wow. All this is yours?" Bella asked. "Just a few acres," I said. "I am jealous." "Really? Why?" The only plus-side to being forced to ask Bella to explain her thoughts was being able to hear her voice while she tried. "I miss the forests," Bella shrugged. "Sometimes when I feel really homesick... or lonely... I walk out to a little wooded area behind my apartment. Just to feel closer to home. Pathetic, huh?" Ah. Mystery solved. "Not pathetic," I said sincerely. "The biggest draw for me, in buying this place, was the property. I go out there a lot." She didn't need to know why. "I would too, if I were you," she smiled. Bella trudged a few steps forward and then turned to fall straight back into the snow. "Are you ok?" I rushed towards her, but stopped when she started moving her arms and legs outward, making wide arcs in the snow. "Snow angel!" She called out. "How long has it been since you've made one?" I watched her, lying in the snow... pink cheeked and laughing. She was an angel. "I don't remember..." I said truthfully. "Well come on down!"

I laughed at her enthusiasm, and moved to lie near her in the snow... pushing my arms and legs out in a similar pattern. When I stood, I offered a hand to help her up again. Our prints were nearly touching, side by side in the snow. She grinned at the image and her breath clouded around her face while she exhaled and pointed at the designs we made. "Look! We're flying together!" She smiled. Her simple observation made me feel as though I really was floating somewhere above the ground. "Come on," Bella motioned with her hand for me to follow as she turned. "Let's make a snow man!" For the next few hours we played outside. We rolled snow and piled it up to build a snow man. And then, at Bella's insistence, we made a snow woman so our first creation wouldn't have to be lonely. I thought it was a brilliant idea. When the sky began to get darker, and I noticed Bella's teeth chattering, I finally convinced her that we should go inside. While Bella went to the guest room to change into borrowed clothing, I heated some soup for her in the microwave. I left it for her in a steaming mug on the counter, and then went to my room for a change of clothes as well. When I returned, she was sitting at the bar. Bella noted my casual clothing- pajama bottoms and a t-shirt - with an upraised eyebrow. "You look different when you are dressed like that," she said. "How so?" "Just... more relaxed. More laid back? Happier." I wanted to point out that my happiness had everything to do with my present company, and not my flannel pants. I just shrugged instead. "Is the soup good?" "Delicious. You aren't having any?" I knew she would mention it. "I know it was rude of me. But I ate while you changed clothes. I was starving! I hope you don't mind?" She shook her head as though it didn't bother her in the least, and spooned the warm soup into her mouth while I tried not to stare. "So... what's next on the agenda?" Bella asked when she was finished. She moved to the sink to rinse out her mug, and I placed my hands on the counter. "I don't know. What do you want to do?" "Ah ah. It's your turn," Bella smiled. She couldn't hide a little yawn before she continued. "I made you play in the snow. Now it's your turn to decide."

"We're taking turns?" I smiled and folded my arms across my chest. "Something like that. Sure," she nodded. I could think of a thousand things I would like to be doing with her. Many of them, less chaste than others. But I could see that she honestly was dead on her feet. I noted the shadows under her eyes with a small twinge of guilt for my selfish thoughts. I stepped toward Bella then, and my hand came up, as if of its own accord, to gently touch her cheek with the back of my fingers. She sighed and closed her eyes. "I think," I said, lowering my hand and stepping further back, "that a nap sounds nice." Her eyes popped open and she smiled. "Are you sure?" I could hear the relief in her voice. "I really haven't slept well for the last couple nights. A nap would be great." "Yes," I nodded. "I'm sure. We'll take a nap now. And later- when you wake up... it's your turn to pick again." Bella smiled and I walked her to my bedroom door. I liked the fact that she didn't argue again about changing rooms. It thrilled me to know that she was sleeping in my bed. When she shut the door behind her, I went to the guest room to read while she slept. I read through a book and counted the next one hundred and twenty-eight minutes and seventeen seconds until I heard Bella moving around in the other room. Not wanting to appear as anxious as I was to see her again, I remained casually sitting up in the bed. I smiled when a tentative knock sounded on my door. "Come in," I grinned and set the book aside. Bella looked at the way I sat with my back against the headboard with my legs stretched out on the bed in front of me. "Did you have a nice nap?" She asked. "I feel better now," I replied honestly. "You?" "Wonderful. Thanks," she smiled and came to sit on the foot of the bed by my feet. "Edward? Listen ... I was thinking. I really would like to apologize again. And say thanks for..." "It's not necessary," I waved her off. She frowned at me for a moment. "Can I finish please? It's important." "Sorry," I mumbled.

"I was a mess yesterday. Over-tired and over-emotional does not mix well with alcohol. And I embarrassed myself. But you... you came through for me. Again. I just want you to know..." Bella picked at the knee of her sweatpants and her cheeks turned a delightful shade of pink in her consternation. "If there is anything I can ever do... to be a friend for you, like you've been for me... I'd like to." "Thank you Bella." I didn't have better words. She had no idea how much her genuine offer of friendship meant to me. "So... do you think...?" "What?" "Do you think we can manage to stay in touch... even after our project is done... and our class together ends?" "You just try to get rid of me." It didn't come out in the teasing tone I had hoped for. And her eyes flew to mine yet again. I tried to cover by pulling the corner of my mouth up in a grin, and she relaxed and returned my smile. Then she stood and walked to where Alice had folded several items of clothing on the dresser. I didn't know what Bella was looking for. And I couldn't guess while her back was turned to me. "Edward? Is it still my turn to choose what we get to do tonight?" "Yes," I nodded, curious about what she might come up with. In a moment, she turned and leaned against the dresser with a devious smile on her face. She twirled a little piece of pink fabric on the end of her finger. "Was that a jacuzzi I saw outside?" I dressed in my trunks as quickly as I could, and blurred outside to clear a path in the snow before Bella could make her way out to the patio. And then I splashed quickly down into the water and began pushing buttons on the control panel to turn on all the jets. I would need the rapidly churning bubbles to distract me from what would be under the water. Damn it. Did I have to think of 'bubbles'? I groaned. Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! I should have claimed that the damn jacuzzi was broken- or hid out in my room with a fake head ache so that Bella could enjoy the hot tub alone. But my appalling male desires won the battle over right and wrong. It all came down to getting to see Bella in that pink bikini. I was so pathetically weak. Never mind the fact that the heat of the tub would likely make breathing near her feel like acid in my throat. I would deserve the pain for putting myself in this situation. I would take it gladly. But how in the hell was I going to keep a respectable distance when I knew she was right there... barely dressed... within my reach? I pulled my hands up through my hair in aggravation, fighting

with myself and trying to get up and just go back in the house when Bella emerged from the patio door with her hair tied up on top of her head, wrapped in a large, soft towel. And suddenly, I found myself leaning back in the corner of the tub like Jasper- but with trunks on- as if leaving had never even crossed my mind. The gentleman lost this battle, and the horny teenage body celebrated its victory. Because there was no way in hell I was going to miss this.

26. Maybe

Unashamed, I watched her as she gingerly made her way across the somewhat slick patio. She walked barefoot, though the temperature outside was still clearly below freezing. I was glad that I had at least thought to remove the snow from her path. Bella looked at me, and bit her lip. She shifted her weight from side to side on her feet, and stood at the edge of the jacuzzi, holding her towel tightly around her. Yet, she made no move to hurry into the warmth of the water. She stood... looking strangely nervous. "Is.... everything alright?" I finally asked from my corner. "Yes. No. Yes." She switched her answer back and forth and then frowned. "Yes. Everything is alright? Or no... it is not?" "Ummm..." she bit her lip again, and I was beginning to become concerned about her suddenly odd behavior. "Bella?" "Don't laugh!" She exhaled the words loudly and closed her eyes. "What in the world do you think I'd be laughing at?" "It's just... I need you to turn around so that I can get in the hot tub!" "What?" My eyebrows shot up, and she started blushing furiously. "I'm... shy." She finally said quietly. She dropped her head to stare at her toes.... which even from where I sat were looking very cold from standing on the frozen patio planks. "I'm really more of a one-piece sort of girl," Bella explained. "And well... Alice left a bikini. And... she's also like... way smaller than I am. Everywhere. So .... I'm feeling a little over-exposed at the moment. And I know it probably sounds very, very silly. But it really would be so much easier for me if you would just ... turn around!"

Bella somehow managed to deliver her entire rushed appeal in one breath. And just like that... the horny teenager got his ass kicked by the little girl with the pink cheeks. "Bella, if you would rather just go inside..." "No... just turn around, please!" I nodded and rose to stand. Bella's eyes widened perceptibly as she glanced down my own bare torso. I wondered if my pale skin was alarming to her. I just smiled, in what I hoped was a calming manner, and turned my back to her. She didn't move for a moment. I wondered if she was still staring at me. Was the pallor of my skin unattractive to her? In a minute, I heard the rustling as she dropped her towel on the bench seat next to the jacuzzi. I listened to the sound of the water moving against her skin as she made her way down the stairs into the water. And then, I turned with alarm as I heard the unmistakable sound of her slipping on the stairs. The water splashed loudly, but didn't cover the sound of the back of her head connecting with the side of the tub. I didn't think about it. I just moved. I pulled her up from the water and cradled her against my chest with one arm. My other hand cupped the back of her head, assessing possible injury while she spluttered and pushed her wet hair away from her face. "Bella? Bella! Are you ok?" "Aside from terminal humiliation? I'm fine!" She winced as my fingers touched the tender spot on the back of her head. "The skin isn't broken," I was able to assure her with confidence. "Nothing is hurt but my pride," she mumbled. She looked up into my face. Water drops laid heavily on her cheeks and eyelashes. And it was then that I realized that I was still holding her very tightly to my chest. Her skin burned me everywhere that we touched. It was as though an electric current were passing between us. And unless I was severely mistaken, the shocked look on her face told me that she was feeling it too. "Bella... I..." "Yes?" her voice was breathy. I could feel it... fanning against my face. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and tried to ignore the urge to taste the water drops on her lips. I silently fought for some measure of the control I needed. My fingers found themselves on her waist, and tightened instinctually on the skin there. And then I lifted her from her place on my lap and moved her deliberately away. "I... thought you said that your clumsiness improved?" My voice was not right yet. Her nearness had shaken me. But I managed to force out a light laugh. And thankfully, she did the same.

"Oh trust me. A few years ago I would have broken my leg just trying to cross the patio!" "And now... you risk life and limb just to sit in some hot water." If she only knew the truth I spoke of. "The company makes it worth the risk," she grinned. I couldn't help but return her smile at the compliment. We both settled into opposite corners of the hot tub. The tension of the moment wasn't entirely erased, but she seemed as willing as I to try to ignore it. I watched as she closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Then I stared at the exposed column of her throat with barely concealed hunger. But it wasn't hunger for her blood. Even as I tasted her scent swirling in the humid air around me, I felt no venom being produced... no urge to strike. I just wanted to touch her again. Therein laid the problem. What I wanted probably wouldn't be good for her. Sure- I might be able to be close to her without wanting to drink her blood. But how many ways could I hurt her unintentionally? If I forgot myself, even for a moment, in the pleasure of her touch... could I trust that I would remain in control? I suppressed that urge and put my arms against the outside of the tub as though I could anchor myself to the corner. "Mmm..." Bella gave a little moan. "Isn't the combination of the hot water and the cold air... the most delicious feeling ever?" God. She was temptation personified. I didn't answer. I couldn't. But my body answered. And I was terribly thankful, once again, for the churning water than hid everything below its surface. I had to suppress a groan when Bella lifted one long leg from the water and pointed her toes towards the dark, starry sky. I was grateful that her eyes were closed, as I let my gaze travel from the tips of her toes to the water that swirled around her firm thigh. What would she do if I moved just a little closer? I closed my own eyes as I imagined placing kisses along the path my eyes had just taken. Starting at her toes and making my way down... "Edward?" Bella was looking at me when I blinked my eyes open. Thankfully, she had placed her leg back under the churning water.

"Yes?" I had to clear my throat. "I want to know you better." Her statement surprised me. I was both excited and terrified about the prospect. Knowing me too well could only end badly, and I frowned at the thought. "What's wrong?" Bella asked. "You might not like everything you learn." I said quietly. I was going to be as truthful as I could. She deserved that. "You know... you keep saying things like that." Her eyes squinted a little as she looked at me. "It's like you are warning me against something..." "Maybe I am." I refused to look away. Bella was the one to break the connection as she turned her chin to the side and bit her lip. "You confuse me," she finally said softly. "You say that you would like to be my friend. That you care? But then you push me away." I sighed. "Bella... I do care." "Ok. Then answer one question. Just one. Truthfully." Her chin was set as she looked at me. I looked at her stubborn expression for a moment before nodding. "I'll try." "Why did you invite Katrina and me to Boston?" "I..." "The truth," she reminded me with a frown. I took a deep breath. "Is it so hard to believe that I really would like to thank you both for making me a part of your project group?" "Don't answer a question with a question!" Bella argued with a louder voice. "Fine," I said edgily. My voice was a little loud too. "Maybe I don't like to see you so upset over Mike Newton. Maybe I thought I could get your mind off things by offering a trip. And maybe I really do like the idea of getting to know you better too!" The words hung between us in the air. The look of annoyance left her face and was replaced by something I couldn't name.

"Well then... maybe... you shouldn't have included Katrina in the invitation!" Our eyes warred with each other. Neither of us was willing to back down. "Maybe..." I said more softly. "I included her because I didn't want to scare you." Her eyes narrowed again as she looked at me. Then, very slowly she stood and placed her hands on her hips. I couldn't help it. My eyes immediately drifted downward to capture the vision in front of me. The borrowed bikini did very little to conceal the beautiful curves of Bella's body. She knew I was getting an eye-full and she did nothing to try to cover herself. I watched the water drops slide down her skin... and had to force my eyes back up to meet her stare. And she looked... a little smug. Bella raised one eyebrow and smiled as if she guessed at the effect she had on me. And then she lowered her voice. "Maybe..." she began, "you should know that I don't scare easily." With that, she turned and offered me a very tempting view of her barely covered bottom as she made her way up the stairs, picked up her towel, and went into the house.

27. Bella loves Jake

I sat outside alone for at least a half hour. My mind was occupied with thoughts of how Bella looked in that pink bikini. And more powerful than the image was the saucy little statement she made about not being one to scare easily. So ridiculous. If she knew the truth about me... she'd be scared. And rightfully so. The girl kept me spinning. And my body's reaction to her state of undress made it necessary for me to stay outside for a while. I stared up at the night sky, and I contemplated the discussion that Bella and I just shared. Did it mean that she wouldn't have been opposed to going to Boston with me? She wanted to get to know me better. I wondered how much I could disclose about myself before she would be scared away. That prospect filled me with pain. It would be the right thing to do... to give her an excuse to run. But I couldn't. I needed her. I sighed and tried to clear my mind. Obviously, I

would have to give it more thought. I just wasn't looking forward to the decisions I might have to make. When I was positive that I could walk through the house in my trunks without embarrassing myself, I left the jacuzzi and went inside. I heard the water running from my bathroom, and decided to not let myself dwell on the mental image of Bella in my shower. If I did, I'd be hiding out for another long while. In the back of my head, I could hear Jasper suggesting that I 'take matters into my own hands,' but I simply couldn't let myself consider it while Bella stayed under my roof. It seemed wrong somehow. And so I pushed aside my selfish thoughts and walked towards the kitchen to see what I could prepare for dinner. The empty plate in the sink indicated that Bella had eaten while I was outside. I smiled. She had left a plate on the counter for me holding a sandwich, potato chips, and an unopened can of diet coke. She must not have been too angry with me, if she took the time to make my dinner as well. I popped the top of the coke and emptied its contents in the sink. Next, I let the sandwich and chips fall into the garbage disposal. It wouldn't do to leave the evidence of my uneaten meal in the trash can where Bella might find it. As soon as I finished, I heard the shower turn off. I quickly washed the dishes in the sink and then turned to make my way down the hall. Bella dressed much more quickly than I would have guessed she was capable of. She almost ran into me as she exited my bedroom door. I was thankful to see that she once again wore the toolarge sweatshirt and sweatpants that she had on earlier in the day. The more covered she was- the easier things would be on me. But I was only wearing my trunks, and I stepped back quickly before I could get her dry clothing wet. "Oh, sorry," she breathed. She stared at my chest and then averted her gaze... a delicious blush tinting her cheeks. "I just need to get in the shower..." "And then what?" "Excuse me?" "Your turn, remember?" Bella asked. "What do you want to do after?" "Oh!" I pressed my lips together and scratched my hand up through my hair. "How about a movie? You could choose something in the living room while I shower and get dressed." "Sounds good. See you in a few." Bella turned and left me there. Apparently she wasn't harboring any sour feelings from our time outside. Which made me extremely happy. I showered quickly and dried my hair with a towel before donning my flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt once more. I found Bella sitting on my sofa with a remote in hand, navigating her way through the menu screen of a movie.

"Sixteen Candles!" She smiled up at me. I rolled my eyes. "Alice," I muttered. "Is it ok?" "Fine. It really doesn't matter to me what we watch." I would be too busy watching Bella to concentrate on a movie anyway. She moved her body to the end of the sofa to make room for me on the other end. I lowered myself into the corner while she started the movie. For a while, we watched in silence. "You know," Bella finally interrupted the movie dialogue. "When I was younger... I thought I would marry Jake Ryan!" I looked at the lead actor on the screen and frowned. "At least he has nice hair," I commented. Bella laughed and moved across the sofa until she was next to me. And then she sat up on her knees and pushed both of her hands into my nearly dry hair. I was shocked into immobility. Her face was inches from mine, her body so close that I could feel her warmth radiating across my chest. And her fingers in my hair felt absolutely divine. "Your hair is a little like his," she pulled strands of it up, making it stick out erratically. "I like it like this. It's not as severe as when you brush it all back." "Mmm." I closed my eyes and relished in the feeling of her nearness. I wanted to complain when I felt her move away. But instead of going back to her end of the sofa, she merely readjusted her position and lowered herself until she could rest the side of her face against my leg. "Is this ok?" She asked. "More than ok," I said truthfully. She turned her head so that she could smile up at me, and I felt my throat constrict. It's a good thing that breathing wasn't necessary for me-though I did feel obligated to fake that human function while she was so near. In the next moment, she was watching the television screen again. I stayed as still as I could, willing her to be comfortable against my hard thigh. She didn't seem to mind. Then, itching to touch her... I let my fingers reach out to pull her hair across my leg. I pretended to absently touch the strands. But in reality, I was memorizing their texture and the way the light played on the chestnut undertones. I didn't really watch the movie. I chuckled when Bella did. And I turned my attention to the screen on the few occasions that I felt her head move and knew that she would be looking up at me. When the characters on the screen started talking about their sexual histories, I pretended to be very interested as Bella looked up at me. "Edward?" I looked down and she was smiling.

"What?" Borrowing a line from the movie, she asked; "How many babes have you bagged?" "Pardon me?" "You heard me," she grinned and an adorable dimple danced in her cheek. "Have you had a lot of girlfriends?" "That's not the same thing," I muttered. I shifted uncomfortably underneath her, and she frowned and sat up. "Oh come on!" Bella nudged me playfully. "Is it a really high number?" "Why would you think so?" I turned to look at her. "Do I seem like a slut?" She frowned for a moment. "Well... not actually. No. But come on! I'll bet you have girls throwing themselves at you all the time!" "That doesn't mean I would take advantage of the offers," I said mildly. Having the ability to read minds had given me more than enough insight to how willing certain women might have been to help me explore carnal pastimes. Hell- even a few men would have made offers. "I've never really been interested in anyone like that," I admitted quietly. Bella pulled her chin down and stared at me with a curious look on her face. "What?" I finally asked. "You seriously want me to believe... that you've never..." "Believe what you want," I said off-handedly. "But I won't act ashamed for having high standards." "Wow," Bella mouthed the word and looked down. I was incredibly curious about her reaction. At one time, my admission might have seemed noble- or respectable. But what did Bella think of my inexperience? "And here I thought I was likely the last virgin over the age of eighteen in the Eastern portion of the United States," she laughed lightly. Her words caught me off guard. While I had tried really hard to not imagine her in sexual situations with anyone else, I had assumed that she and Mike had been intimate. "You mean... you and Mike...?" "Nope. Never." She shook her head. "Of course, he thinks that if I would have been a little more willing to let our relationship grown in that way... that we could get through this thing between us now."

"Why didn't you?" I knew it was horrible for me to ask. But I couldn't stop the torrent of emotions that were running through my body. She had never given herself to Mike. I wanted to dance. "Probably the whole 'fate' thing again," Bella sighed. "I never wanted to be that girl. You know. Give it up for some sweating, bumbling guy in the back of his parents SUV at prom? I was always waiting.... for something more." I sucked in a deep breath. She looked at me from across the sofa, and the movie was completely forgotten as we stared at each other. "I think we should go to bed," Bella said. I could feel my eyes widen in surprise. And in a moment a look of pure embarrassment crossed her face. "I mean..." she said. "I'm getting tired. We should go to bed. To sleep. It's getting late." I laughed lightly at the mini-moment of awkwardness. "You go ahead," I smiled. "I think I'll finish watching the movie and then close things down for the night." "Alright," Bella stood and stretched. "But can I ask a favor?" "Anything." "Do you have a t-shirt I could borrow?" She asked. "This sweatshirt is a little heavy for me to sleep in. And my shirt from yesterday is pretty gross." "Of course I do," I smiled and stood. Bella followed me down the hall and to my room. Once there, I opened my top dresser drawer and withdrew a grey cotton t-shirt. I held it up for her inspection, and she smiled and nodded. I tried to not imagine what she would look like, wearing my shirt, and failed miserably. Then I laid the shirt across the bottom of the bed and walked to the door. "Sleep sweet Bella." "You too. Good night Edward." I didn't watch the end of the movie. Instead, I slid down to sit with my back at the wall near my bedroom door. And I listened to Bella breathe until I knew she was asleep. Then I stood, turned off the television in the living room and stealthily made my way out the patio door. It didn't matter that I was barefoot. It didn't matter that I wore flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt. The elements were barely noticed as I ghosted through the woods near my house. I wouldn't go far. I didn't want to leave Bella for long. The first couple of deer I could find would have to be good enough to satiate my thirst. I didn't necessarily need to hunt. But I tried to be extra careful when spending time with Bella. And it had been a few days since I had last eaten.

Satisfied and full, I stretched my muscles and ran across the snowy forest floor. The moon provided an unnecessary glow and the soft brush of branches, pine needles and undergrowth merely whispered across my skin as I gave myself up to the unadulterated release of the movement. The only thing to compare to the pure excitement that coursed through my body was the way I felt thinking about the beautiful woman that was at home waiting for me- sleeping in my t-shirt, in my bed. With that thought, I finally turned and made my way back to the house. I pushed my patio door open as quietly as I could. But I realized right away that my silence was not necessary. I could hear that Bella was awake. Even without heightened senses, I would have been able to hear her brokenly sobbing through the quiet of the night. I rushed through the darkened house, pausing only a moment outside my door when I heard her gasping voice. "Edward? How could you do this to me?"

28. Surprise

I froze for a moment, terrified to find out what I had done... what she had discovered that made her so upset. But the sound of her sobbing was more compelling to me than my own drive toward self-preservation. I would face her feelings head on. But I would not ignore them. She was crying and I needed to go to her. Inside the dark bedroom, I could clearly see her lying on top of my covers. She was curled on her side with her knees to her chest. My t-shirt was pulled down and stretched over her legs. She moaned and rocked, crying against my pillow with her eyes shut tight. "How could you?" She sobbed. "Don't.... don't leave me!" I hurried to the side of the bed and dropped to my knees. "Bella? I'm right here..." Bella opened her eyes, and blinked slowly. She looked confused and frightened. I realized that she could not see me in the dark bedroom as clearly as I could see her. So I kept my voice hushed, trying not to upset her further. "I'm right here..." I whispered. Tentatively, I touched her shoulder and she shuddered. "You left me," she sniffled. "You ran away..." "I... just stepped out for some fresh air." I was confused. Did she wake while I was gone? "Wait." Her voice sounded a little less shaky. "Edward?" "Yes. It's me... shh...." I continued to lightly stroke her shoulder through the thin cotton material.

"I had a nightmare." Her voice sounded so small, but her words made me relax entirely. Her sorrow had been caused by a trick of her subconscious. "It's over now," I continued to speak softly, trying to soothe her. "I'm here..." I wished I could continue and tell her that there was nothing to be afraid of. But it seemed a horrible lie to push past my lips. "I dreamt... we were walking in the woods. And you left me. You ran away. And I was so lost. So very, very lost... without you." Her voice broke again, and I could tell that she was near tears once more. "Bella. I would never leave you. I couldn't." "Don't leave me now," she whispered. I stared at her face, and her eyes- having adjusted to the dark- met mine pleadingly. She reached forward and lightly touched the hair above my ear. I couldn't help myself. I closed my eyes and leaned into her touch. "Will you stay? Please?" "If you want me to." "I do," she sighed. And I was lost. As lost as she had been in her dream. Completely, and helplessly lost. I slowly moved around the bed, and she turned to her other side, watching me. My eyes didn't leave hers as I moved to lie on my side, facing her. I bent my arm under my pillow so that I could rest my cheek on my forearm, and she smiled at me sweetly. I gripped the pillow under my head in my fist, and took in a deep breath. Her scent swirled around me strongly. It was in the air and on my face... saturated through my pillow and on my sheets. It crossed my mind that I may never wash my bedclothes again. And then Bella sighed and moved closer to me. I froze as she curled her body up against mine, and fisted the front of my shirt as though to keep me there. "I'm not leaving," I felt it necessary to remind her. "Good," she breathed. For a brief moment, I was able to close my eyes and savor the feeling of her beside me... just as I had envisioned so many nights while watching her sleep. All of our differences were forgotten and together we were simply a man and a woman. But when Bella shifted again to rest her cheek on my chest, I was brought back to a crashing reality. We were not merely a man and a woman. She was a human. And I was a vampire.

The point was driven home by the ear that she rubbed against the front of my shirt. How many seconds would lapse before she noticed the absence of the sound of a beating heart? I put my hand on her shoulder and began to move her away. She protested until I whispered reassuringly. "Shhhh...." I merely rolled her over face away from me and then moved so that I could curl my body around the back of hers. A small sigh of contentment left her lips as she shifted her weight and nestled back farther into my lap. I took her movements as further invitation, and threw my arm over her hip. With my hand splayed across her abdomen, I pulled her even more firmly against me and held her tight. And then because it felt like more of a dream than reality, I buried my nose into her soft hair and breathed deeply. She shivered against me, and I knew it was in response to my cold breath on her neck. But she did not protest. She did not complain or make any move to get away. She just relaxed into me. I felt her heart beating through her back. It reverberated through my own silent chest strongly enough for me to pretend that it was my own. But I was finished with pretending. It would be so easy, to lay there and imagine that she could love me as I loved her. But the fact was- she was sleeping, cradled in the arms of a lie. She felt safe enough to sleep beside me, only because she didn't know me. Even as she drifted to more peaceful dreams, I could feel the prickling sensation of venom at the back of my mouth. And I knew why. It would have been so easy for me to press my teeth against the tender skin at her shoulder... to bite and to infect... to steal her as my own. Of course, I would never have done that. She would have hated me. I swallowed back the poisonous fluid along with a healthy dose of derision for the thoughts I had allowed to enter my mind. From that point on... any part of my association to Bella's life would have to be by her choice. I would have to start by being as truthful with her as safety would allow. I would have to grant her request to get to know me better, and face the very real possibility that she might not like what she discovered. While I couldn't disclose the absolute truth, neither would I deny any evidence that she stumbled upon. If by some miracle, fate really did mean for us to be together... well then, I would be prepared to stay in her life in any capacity that she would allow. If she decided, instead, to banish me from her life, I would have to do my best to become a ghost. I would try my hardest to never interfere in her happiness. But I would always watch. I meant what I had told her earlier. I would never leave Bella. I couldn't. As she slept, I held her as closely as I dared and began making silent vows to the sleeping angel in my arms.

No more lies. And I would have to put a little faith in the power of fate that Bella so easily alluded to. I cursed the light of day that signaled an end to Bella's stay in my home. I knew that the roads would be clear, and I would have to take Bella back to her apartment. And I dreaded the changes that I knew would have to take place between us. I was going to do my best to help Bella get to know me better. Even if it meant that it would force her to leave. She offered to be my friend. She deserved to know what she was getting herself into. I didn't pretend to be sleeping when I felt her stir against me. I did loosen my grip on her when she stretched and yawned. And when she turned under my arm, we were nearly chest to chest. "Good morning," I said quietly. My eyes searched her face. I wanted to memorize the way she looked- waking up in my bed- in case I never got the opportunity to see something so fine and amazing again. "Good morning," she smiled. She looked neither shocked nor offended by my closeness. So I lifted my hand and gently brushed the back of my fingers down her cheek. I felt the softness under my fingertips, and traced her jaw before dropping my hand back to my side with a sigh. "You slept soundly." "Thank you for staying," she said softly. "Anytime." I hoped fervently that she would take me up on the offer. "The roads should be clear," I mentioned. "Can I make you some breakfast before I take you home?" "Do you mean, we might actually enjoy a meal together for once?" Bella laughed lightly and I twisted a crooked grin in response. No more lies. "I hate to disappoint you. But not this time," I shook my head and reluctantly rolled so that I could stand on the floor by the bed. "Well fine," she pouted good-naturedly. "More waffles for me then!" She rolled off the bed also. "Can I use your shower again?" "Please do. And take your time. I'll have breakfast waiting for you." "Thanks!" Bella flounced into the bathroom, and I stood for a moment, looking down at the rumpled blankets on my bed. I could hear her going through her morning routine in the other room, and I was captured by the strong desire to want that bit of normalcy in my life every day.

By the time Bella met me in the kitchen, I had a plate of waffles and a mug of coffee waiting for her. And because she wasn't sporting a tender stomach caused by a hang-over that morning, she even enjoyed a copious amount of sweet syrup poured over her breakfast. I watched with fascination as she ran her finger across the sticky puddle left on her plate, and placed it in her mouth with a satisfied smile. "Are you sure you don't want some?" she finally asked while licking her lips. "Tempting... but no." "Ok!" She stood and placed her dishes in the sink before turning to rest against the counter. "I guess it's time to get back to reality, huh?" "I was thinking almost that exact same thing." We discussed our project as I drove her home. We had collected quite a bit of documentation. With less than one week left before our project was due, we seemed to be looking good for meeting our deadline. "We have Tuesday and Thursday of class left..." I mentioned. "I am working day-shifts this week. Just so we can work every night if we need to." Every night with Bella- sounded perfect to me. "Can we get it wrapped up and ready to hand in on Thursday?" "I'm sure," I insisted with a nod. "If we get the rest of what Katrina has found... we could put it together Wednesday night and have it ready." "I doubt she's found much unless Brad has had it stapled to his..." "Hey!" I laughed out loud and cut off the rest of her sentence. "You are a little naughty, aren't you?" "Does it bother you?" "Nothing about you bothers me," I smiled. "Though you do surprise me sometimes." "Surprises aren't always bad, are they?" Bella turned with her question as I pulled up in front of her apartment building. "I guess that depends on the surprise."

29. Myths and Truths

I sat across from Katrina in the library while we worked, where I easily listened in on her thoughts. I had to listen to her think about Brad and their upcoming ski trip. But from time to time she looked up and thoughts of me would flash across her mind. It was in those rogue thoughts that I got better access to Bella. Snowmen and movies? And she was at his house for two nights? Bullshit. There is no way Bella didn't tap that. I smiled as I looked down at my paper. Bella must have told Katrina all about her stay at my house. Katrina's heart-beat picked up a little as she continued to look at me. She liked the way I was wearing my hair these days too. "Edward?" Bella came from behind me and knelt down beside my chair. With her finger pressed to the page of the book she held, she whispered. "What does this say?" I glanced at the Italian script on the page. "It's discussing the enigma of vampires in the sunlight." My hushed tone matched hers, so as not to annoy the other students working in the area. "Vampires can't go into the sunlight," Katrina sniffed. "They burn into ashes." I opened my mouth to contradict, but Bella spoke instead. "Myth!" Bella smiled. "That's just Hollywood propaganda! How do we know that vampires couldn't easily exist in polite society with the rest of us? Even in the daylight hours?" "What about the coffins?" Katrina asked with a raised eyebrow. Bella turned and grinned at me. "What do you think?" Bella asked me. I pressed my lips together. "I wouldn't want to sleep in a coffin," I said. Bella grinned at me. "It's not like any of this is real anyway," Katrina muttered. Her thoughts let me know that she felt as though we were teaming up on her. I reached over and nudged the edge of her book with my pen and smiled in her direction as she looked up. "Try to never rule out the possibilities, Katrina and the Waves. We've uncovered enough documentation to prove at least a basis for all of the stories to have derived from."

"But the aversion to garlic, holy water, and crucifixes? The stake through the heart?" "Rubbish, all of it," I grinned at her to pull her back into the fold. "And the blood drinking?" "Ah. We've found nothing to dispute that fact, I'm afraid. Their diet is... unfortunate." "Ew." Katrina wrinkled her nose in distaste. I laughed at her expression. "Not 'ew,'" Bella interrupted. I turned to look at her with rapt interest. "You can't tell me that isn't totally disgusting!" Katrina argued with her. "Is it disgusting when a lion eats a gazelle?" Bella asked. "Or when we eat pizza? It's not like vampires can help what they have to eat to survive!" Katrina made another face. "I still say it's gross." Bella stood and walked away, presumably to get another book. I tried to concentrate again on my notes, while inwardly rejoicing at Bella's seemingly casual acceptance of another secret facet of my life. Katrina continued to watch me as I worked. Bella's such a know-it-all sometimes, she thought. If she was that smart... she'd be going to Boston with Edward! My head lifted automatically upon hearing her inner thoughts. "What?" Katrina asked when my questioning stare met hers. "Oh... nothing," I muttered. "I just remembered something I saw in another book. I should get it. I'll be back." I stood then, and went to search for Bella. Bella had, apparently, told Katrina about my invitation to Boston. By the tone of Katrina's thoughts, she had also decided to decline. I frowned. When I found her, she was standing at the far end of a long shelf of books. She stood on the tips of her toes, reaching above her head for a book that was just beyond her grasp. I moved silently to stand behind her, and intentionally stepped close enough that my chest was against her back. She stiffened slightly when I reached my arm over hers, and retrieved the book that she was obviously unable to get for herself. But she looked much more relaxed when she turned in front of me and leaned against the shelf. I didn't move away. Instead, I quietly handed her the book, and remained standing where I was. "Thanks," she smiled slightly and took the book from my hands.

"Anytime," I said quietly. We were all alone in this section of the library. But I still spoke lowly. "You know Bella... I was thinking..." "Yes?" "You never did tell me if you wanted to go to Boston." Bella wrapped her arms around the book and pulled it against her chest. Her features tightened slightly. Her body language did not bode well for me. "Well... you invited Katrina and me together. And she has other plans." "Are you scared to be alone with me?" I asked, confused. "No." She spoke clearly and definitively. "Then why won't you consider it?" It didn't make sense to me. She had been snowed in at my house, and didn't seem nervous about it then. "You didn't ask me," Bella said, with a stubborn set to her chin. I smiled. It was clear then, that she was being difficult because I hadn't been more formal with making my true intentions clear. I stepped a little closer, almost touching her, and watched her eyes widen. Then I lowered my chin and looked deeply into her eyes in an effort to be more effective. "Bella... would you have me beg?" I whispered. She swallowed loudly and looked stunned. Perhaps I had tried too hard. I broke eye contact and closed the gap between us even more. Then, I let my cheek brush hers with the barest of contact while I moved to speak across her ear. "I would love nothing more, than to have you join me in Boston." I felt her tremble, and pulled my face back so I could see her expression again. "I... don't know." She sounded unsure. "You'll be safe with me," I promised. "I'll be careful with you..." "Oh, I know. I trust you Edward." Her words sounded so true, I couldn't help but feel happiness surge through me. "It's just... I already let my boss schedule me to work next weekend." "Well, we could go during the week," I offered. "Maybe Wednesday? And I could have you back in time to work on Friday night." "Are you sure you don't mind?" she asked, doubtfully. "Absolutely," I insisted. Bella smiled like sun coming through the clouds. "Well, in that case... sure. I'd love to go with you, Edward."

Her acceptance of my offer seemed surreal. Relief and happiness rushed through me, and left me shaken. In that moment, I wanted to celebrate... to dance and sing... but mostly, I just had the strong desire to touch her again. And so I lifted one finger and slowly traced it down her cheek. The responsive flush that rose under my finger only served to excite me more. I let my gaze move to her lips. Bella noticed the direction my thoughts had traveled to and her breathing became shallow. Her tongue darted out to lick her lips lightly as I leaned closer, moving slowly and trying not to frighten her. And as if she could feel the same magnetic pull, Bella tilted her face and leaned towards me. Surely this would be acceptable? A simple brush of my lips against hers? A 'thank you' for agreeing to accompany me to Boston? I could handle this... right? Bella sighed, and I felt her warm breath touch my lips as her eyes started to drift closed. "There you two are!" Katrina rounded the corner and started to walk loudly in our direction. Bella's eyes came open quickly, and she hurried to look down at the floor. I took a step back, cursing under my breath. "Are you two nearly done? Brad sent me a text, and I want to go meet him for dinner." "Are we?" Bella asked. She sounded breathless and still didn't meet my eyes. "For now," I yielded. "Do you two want to join us?" Katrina asked. "Brad won't mind!" "I could eat," Bella agreed. She still seemed out of sorts, and I thought it best if I just gave her a little time. "I'm sorry. I have plans with my family tonight." It wasn't a lie. I really had planned to visit Alice and Jasper. "That's right!" Bella looked up finally, and looked at me. "Make sure to ask them if they would like to get together when Mike is here! It might not be so awkward if we went out as a group." "I'll ask," I grinned. "I am pretty sure that Jasper will be excited about the idea." More than excited. Jasper would be down-right thrilled. "It will be a good chance for me to thank Alice too... for letting me borrow her things while I stayed at your place." "Oh yes. Believe me, I feel indebted to her as well." Bella blushed and looked down again, as if she knew I was thinking about her in that bikini. Smart girl. "Well... if you two are really finished...? Bells? Let's get out of here. I'm starving." "See you in class tomorrow Edward!" Bella smiled as she let Katrina pull her away.

"See you later," I replied. And I smiled. This truth thing wasn't so bad.

30. Burgundy

I raised my hand and knocked on the thin door more loudly. I didn't call to check that Alice and Jasper would be home. But I could clearly hear them inside. I could smell... Oh hell. Yeah... I could smell them alright. And they weren't playing scrabble in there. I made a face and turned to leave, but stopped when I heard Jasper's voice. "Give us a minute!" I shook my head and leaned back against the wall, bending one knee up so that my foot could press against the faded paisley wallpaper that someone had once thought would make this area more sophisticated looking. And I waited. In a couple of minutes, Jasper opened the door and grinned somewhat sheepishly at me. "Come on in," he invited. I righted my position and followed him inside. "Sorry I didn't call," I muttered. "I figured Alice would expect me." "She was... otherwise occupied," Jasper laughed. He wore a pair of loose sweatpants, untied and slung low on his hips. Unabashed, he ran his hand up and down his bare torso in a lightly scratching motion and glanced around the living room. "Looking for something?" I asked. "My smokes." He found a pack of cigarettes as soon as he mentioned them, then pressed one to his lips and lit it before lowering himself to the couch. "You smoke now?" I asked, incredulously. "Not like it's going to kill me!" Jasper shrugged. I looked around, and tried to decide which piece of furniture was left unsullied by their evening of marathon-sex. I wanted to sit, but thought it would be terribly crude of me to sniff for a clean place to do so. "We were in the kitchen," Jasper laughed when he saw what I was doing.

"Thank God you don't throw dinner parties," I mumbled. I could hear that Alice was in the shower, so I didn't bother inquiring about her absence. I just watched quietly as Jasper pulled the smoke from his cigarette into his lungs. "To what do we owe this honor, Eduardo?" Jasper licked at his bottom lip and flicked his ashes into the palm of his hand. "Bella's... um... ex-boyfriend is coming here for Spring Break. Well, he's coming this weekend." "Why?" Jasper wrinkled his forehead. "Because he's hoping to make things work out between them." "And you're ok with that?" "Hell no!" I muttered and pulled my hand through my hair. "But it's not like I have a choice." "Why is he coming, if he's her ex?" "They aren't, technically, broken up yet." "Oooh," Jasper leaned forward and placed his forearms across his parted knees. "This is sounding interesting." "You might remember him," I rolled my eyes. "He went to high school in Forks. Mike Newton?" Jasper's face screwed up like he smelled something nasty. "Yeah... I remember that little prick. He used to stare at Alice's ass in geometry. Thought he was a super-jock." "Same guy," I nodded. "Anyway, Bella wanted the three of us to join them for a night out." Alice strolled from the back room in a large, fuzzy yellow robe. She stood behind the couch and smiled. "Of course we'll go out with you." "Ugh. I don't know," Jasper continued to complain. "That guy was a douche bag. You are going to owe me big time." "Oh... he wasn't that bad," Alice argued. "Just your typical high school boy." "You'll have to forgive her," Jasper jerked a thumb behind him in her direction. "She's got the post-nookie glow that's making her be nice. She's still dazzled by my skills." "Oh- I owned you, bitch. And you loved it!" Alice reached a small hand up to ruffle the top of his shaggy hair, and Jasper grinned widely.

"True. Completely true," he agreed. It wasn't the first time that I felt envious of their easy comfort and love for one another. Though I was pretty sure that I never wanted Bella to call me 'bitch'. "So... you're going to Boston, huh?" Alice switched gears and leaned forward to place her hands on Jasper's shoulders. "Good for you. I knew you'd find the nerve to ask her." "You mean the balls," Jasper joked. Alice rewarded him with a slap to the back of the head. "You saw it first," I shrugged and ignored Jasper's teasing. I wanted to ask if the rest of her vision was still intact. But I knew she was trying to not interfere. And though she couldn't technically read my mind, she guessed really well. "I don't know, Edward," Alice frowned. "I can see what you've decided. The two of you will take this trip. But there are elements that you and Bella have no control over, that can change the entire nature of things. I can't make you promises." "I just want to know... that she'll be safe," I said quietly. It was still my worst fear that I would somehow, unintentionally harm her. Alice smiled reassuringly. "I don't' think you'll be a danger to her. And for what it's worth... I can already see that someday, she is going to appreciate your attempts at honesty." "Thank you," I muttered. "Since you've seen this all play out... I imagine you would have already made our travel plans? Hotel reservations... theatre tickets?" "Not on your un-dead life!" Alice snorted. "This is your first real date. I knew you would have fun planning it for yourself." "Personally, I think you should..." Jasper began. Alice clamped both hands over his mouth. ....make sure you... "Don't even think it," Alice ordered. Jasper rolled his eyes and called her a 'smelly pirate hooker' in his mind. But then I realized he hadn't actually called her that. He was merely reciting the lines from a Will Farrell movie in his head to block his thoughts from me. Just as Alice had requested. Funny. He really was her bitch! "Don't try to impress her with money Edward," Alice lectured. "Get good tickets to the theatre... a nice hotel... but don't get too extravagant. It will only embarrass her or make her feel like she owes you something for your generosity. "Hello?" Jasper's voice was muffled behind Alice's hands. "Of course he wants her to think..."

"Jasper? No." Alice used her hands to turn his face towards hers and glowered at him for a moment before kissing him on the forehead. She sighed in resignation, then pulled her hands from his mouth, and they both turned back towards me. "Bella is not the type to be impressed by monetary things," Alice finished. I could understand Alice's point. The entire time that Bella had stayed in my home, she never commented on the size of my house, or my artwork... my furnishings... She complimented my clean toilet and she liked my trees. I smiled at the memory. "You're right," I nodded. Jasper snorted but leaned back on the couch and tilted his head up towards Alice as if asking permission to speak. "Go ahead," she breathed and stroked his hair away from his face. He enjoyed the pampering for a moment before lowering his head again to speak to me. "Spoil her a little, man. Flowers... something pretty..." "But remember... less is more!" Alice announced. "Unless you are talking about sex. In which case. More is always more." Jasper winked and Alice straightened her tiny figure with a far-off look on her face. In a moment, she relaxed and smiled comfortably again. "I should get dressed. We'll have company soon." She flounced from the room before saying another word. Jasper waited until she was in the bedroom before leaning towards me to speak in a conspiratorial whisper. "I still think that Alice is wrong about you being honest with Bella." We both heard Alice hiss from down the hall. She was obviously still listening in. So Jasper raised his voice to a normal level. "Well, I don't! In the human world... nice guys usually finish last. It's the bad-boys that chicks go for. The dangerous ones." "How much more dangerous does it get than someone who wants to drink your blood?" I asked disdainfully. "Believe me, Jasper. I don't need any reminders that she should stay away from me." "Just be cautious!" Alice said, entering the room again. "And continue being as honest as you can be. Don't listen to this bonehead." She sat across Jasper's lap and kissed him sweetly before he stopped to rub the tip of his nose against hers. "And yet- you obviously fell for my bad-boy routine," Jasper grinned down at her. "You were too easy to catch." "Aww... my simple vampire," Alice murmured while running her hand down his cheek. "You still believe that you were the one to catch me?"

Nearly reaching my breaking point for how much I could stand in one day, I started to rise to leave. But the sound of a knock at the door brought all of our eyes to the front of the room. "Come in!" Alice trilled.

31. Knock Knock

Though Alice was the all-seeing exception, Jasper and I were pleasantly surprised by the figure of Carlisle stepping through the door. He smiled his greetings towards all of us, and I stood to go to him. I hadn't seen him in months, and so I happily allowed him to pull me towards him with a rough hug and a hearty clap to the back. "Carlisle! It's good to see you." "You too Son. You too. How are you?" Carlisle asked. "I am well," I smiled. We walked back into the room together while Carlisle nodded toward the couple on the couch. "Alice. Jasper," he smiled. Alice dimpled up at him. "I wasn't watching. I had no idea that you were planning to stop by!" "I was at a medical conference, and the recent snow-storm changed the flights around. I chose to re-route my trip here for a lay-over so I could see you all." "I'm glad you did," I said. "Are you here long?" "Only a few hours." Carlisle looked around, and his nose twitched slightly. I smiled because his reaction had been much the same as mine when I had entered the room earlier. "The chair is safe," I grinned and elbowed him lightly. He looked thankful and took a seat while I lowered myself onto the ottoman. "Alice? Esme asked me to thank you for the painting you sent. It's lovely. She's put it on the dining room wall." "I knew it would look good there," Alice smiled. She hopped off Jasper's lap and was replaced by his acoustic guitar as he picked it up from where it rested against the side of the sofa and started softly strumming.

"Emmett told me about your hunting trip," Carlisle addressed Jasper. His comment was met with laughter, and the two shared Jasper's own memories of the trip. When they finished, Alice offered to show Carlisle a new painting she was working on in the other room. Jasper continued to strum his guitar, and I watched quietly for a moment. "So... you are ok with going out with Bella and Mike?" I asked. I needed to be sure. Jasper's hand paused for a moment on the strings and he frowned. "That depends," he pursed his lips. "Can I make him cry or something? Some big, sloppy, girlie tears? That might make it worth my time." "No Jasper. You can't make him cry. Bella would feel sorry for him or something. That's the last thing I need." "Fine," Jasper huffed. "Then... can we at least go bowling or something like that? It could be fun to whip his ass on the lanes." "You bowl?" "You're surprised?" "Not really, no." I shook my head. Carlisle and Alice came back into the room, and I stood. "Carlisle," I began, "If you have the time, I'd love to take you over to my house. There are a few things I wanted to discuss with you, and I could take you back to the airport after." "Sounds fine," he nodded. Alice and Jasper stood and walked both of us to the door. "I'll see you both Saturday night," I said as I walked out. "For bowling!" Jasper reminded me. As if I could forget. While we drove, I could hear Carlisle musing inwardly, considering what I might want to talk to him about. "You're right," I answered out loud. "I do want to talk to you about Bella. But more specifically, I'd like to ask you what you know about some old text she found while researching." "Ah... your vampire research project," he grinned and nodded. Of course, Alice would have filled him in. There really weren't many secrets among my family members. "Go ahead. Laugh it up," I told him. "I would never!" Carlisle insisted. "But you might want to avoid Emmett for a while. He thinks the entire situation is hilarious!"

"I'll bet." I gave Carlisle a quick tour of the house, and he nodded with approval. "Your home is lovely. And you have more than enough room for your piano. I'll speak with Esme about having it shipped to you." "Thank you. And yes- I've been comfortable here." Because Carlisle was looking at the view from my back patio door, I continued. "It's a short sprint to the White Mountain Range." "Very nice. We'll have to come for an extended visit soon." "You are always welcome." "I don't imagine we'd see you, visiting at home? Not with Bella here." "Probably not," I agreed with a sigh. "Which brings us back to what I wanted to show you..." I turned to lead him into the living room, and retrieved the large binder of our project notes from a side table. In a moment, I had rifled through them and handed the paper in question to Carlisle. "What do you know about 'singers'?" I asked. Carlisle quickly read the paper and then brought his eyes back to mine. I could read his mind thoroughly going through hundreds of snippets of information and pieces of conversations... blurring past most as inconsequential. "Unfortunately, what I know may be no more reliable than wives-tales or folklore," Carlisle said. "It would be impossible for me to correctly ascertain whether Bella truly is your singer... or just a very desirable scent." "I have never encountered anything so painful to resist," I admitted quietly. "Being near her... has desensitized me. I am comfortable with her scent now. I expect the pain and am prepared for it." "And you love her," Carlisle added. I didn't bother denying it. "It could very well be that she is your singer. And that the love you feel is powerful enough to help you resist." "Power is what I wanted to talk to you about," I murmured, touching the paper he still held lightly with my finger. "This old document is one that Bella found. It was obviously transcribed badly. Pieces are missing... But I thought it odd that the references were made time and time again to the 'power' of the singer's blood. Not the lure... not the attraction... not the strength or potency. But the power." Carlisle read the page again with a thoughtful frown pulling downward on his lips. "To be honest Edward- most of our tales of singers are passed down so that they have been changed and altered. Frankly- I've never heard of a vampire's singer who has survived their introduction. The call of the blood is simply too tempting."

"Like Emmett?" I asked. We both remembered the story, and I heard Carlisle replay it again in his thoughts. "Again," Carlisle pointed out. "Who knows if the woman was truly his singer? Or if she just smelled particularly tempting that day? He seems to believe that it was the strongest urge he had ever felt." "It can't compare," I said miserably. Emmett had shared his desire in his thoughts. "I felt his hunger through the memory he shared with me. Even that incredible pull does not compare to what I have to endure when I am around Bella." "Well, perhaps you have truly found your singer then. And the fact that she is still alive... well... you have control that is unheard of." "I learned from the best." I tried to smile but it felt strained. He still smiled at the compliment that was intended. "I'll try to find more about the 'powers' that are mentioned here. I have a few acquaintances that might know more..." "Again, I thank you," I offered sincerely. "It's a highly unusual situation," Carlisle shook his head again. "You plan to stay with her then?" "I won't leave her," I said distinctly. "Well, in that case, being informed might help you both." "Have you ever...?" No, Carlisle thought. I do not remember ever feeling a pull as strong as the one you have described. I dropped my head. "But I can testify to this," Carlisle spoke out loud again. "I have seen first-hand the amazing powers of love. And in this case... it might just well be the more powerful of the two forces." When Carlisle was delivered to the airport, and I was back home, I eagerly sat with my laptop and began making plans and reservations for my upcoming trip to Boston. Carlisle was right. Bella had been safe with me so far. I loved her. Maybe it was time that I let her know.

32. Mm Mm Good

I spent the latest hours of Monday and the earliest of Tuesday, reading through the book that Bella had left on her bedside table. She slept hard- no talking, no moving. She didn't even kick her blankets off in typical Bella fashion. Yet on Tuesday evening in class, she looked tired. The tell-tale dark circles under her eyes and the limp way she held her shoulders were a dead-give away. If I hadn't witnessed first-hand that she had slept all the night before, I wouldn't have guessed it. And... she wasn't very nice. She barely greeted Katrina or I. She merely slumped in her chair and took out her notebook when the professor began his lecture. Katrina's inner thoughts did nothing to help clue me in. She was busy making eyes at Brad and still obsessing about her ski trip. When she addressed Bella during break about her most recent thought, she was rewarded by a dirty look. "Bella... do you think I could borrow that blue sweater of yours for my trip? Brad really likes it and it will look cute if I wear it in the ski lodge..." "Shit, Trina. I already said... I don't care. Borrow whatever you want." Bella groaned the words roughly and then put her head down on her desk, closing her eyes. The hell? Katrina wrinkled her face at Bella's attitude and stood with a shake of her long blonde hair. "I'm going to get a drink," she announced before stomping off. I sat there, looking at the top of Bella's head. "There's no reason to sit there and stare at me," Bella said quietly without looking up. I blinked. How had she known? "You might as well enjoy your break too." "Would you... like me to bring you a drink or something?" "No. Just wake me up if I fall asleep." I stood and walked down the long row of stairs. I really didn't have anything better to do, other than sit and stare at her. But she seemed to want to be alone. I found Katrina pressing a button on the vending machine with aggravated force. I sat back against the side of a round table and folded my arms over my chest as I watched her. "Any idea what's wrong with Bella?" I asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine," she pouted. "She slept on the couch all day long. Maybe she's coming down with something." "Hmm..." "Hey- I'm sure she'll be fine, in time for your trip." Katrina popped the top of her drink and turned to look at me, softening her tone. "She told you about that?" I raised my eyebrow. "Well, sure she did," Katrina smiled. "I'm glad she's going. I think it's a great idea." "You do?" Katrina smiled and walked over to rest on the edge of the table with me. "Of course I do," she nodded. "Too much alone time isn't good for anyone." "Bella's alone a lot?" "I wasn't talking about her." Katrina nudged me with her elbow, and I laughed lightly. "You're a good guy, Edward. And I love Bella. Just... don't mess with her. Alright?" "I'll do my best," I vowed. It was a promise easily made... and that had nothing to do with the fact that Katrina was inwardly threatening to remove my testicles if I screwed up. Brad strolled out of the men's room and Katrina gave me one more sideways grin before walking over to join him. They linked their fingers together and walked down the hall toward class, swinging their joined hands between them. The casual show of affection pulled my mouth down with envy. I stood. I needed to get back to Bella. She wasn't asleep when I sat down, but her body flinched as if she almost was. I placed the soda I had bought for her on the table near her elbow. "Are you ok?" I whispered. The professor had already begun writing notes on the over head projection screen for the second half of the lecture. Bella finally pulled her head up. "I just have a headache," she said quietly. "And.... Thanks." She nodded at the diet coke, but made no move to open it. The professor began by reminding us all that our projects were due on Thursday. This came with his re-stated directions that we were not to try to prove theories... or find supportive evidence to discredit assumed facts. We were merely to compile documentation, from as far back and from as many different sources as possible. We had found images of coins that were stamped to represent the blood of life flowing into a chalice... we had found studies of cave drawings depicting the drinking of blood. Papyrus scrolls

had been located with ancient translations that could be traced to tales of vampirism. Pages and pages of recounted stories had been made note of. Our research had been copied meticulously, scanned and printed. I was in the process of staining the pages of the leather-bound journal I had found to aesthetically present our finished project. We were, essentially done already. Which is why I leaned forward and released Bella from obligation for the night. "Bella," I asked, lightly touching her arm. "Hmm?" "I am almost done putting the project together. Why don't you take the night off? Go home. Take some medicine?" "Are you sure we've got it all?" she whispered. "It's good enough," I nodded. "We'll be fine." Bella closed her eyes and nodded in acquiescence. I spent a great deal of time, staining journal pages and burning around the edges to provide an interesting way to present our materials. I would have to remember to thank Alice for the idea. It really did look nice with our completed project inside the carefully deconstructed pages. When I was sure that Bella and Katrina would be equally as pleased, I tied it closed with twine and slipped out my door to go check on Bella. It had bothered me all evening, to imagine the way she had rested her head so weakly on her arms. Humans were frail. She had claimed a headache, and I hoped that she had taken some medicine for it and gone to sleep. Her window was open. Of course. Wider than usual... and Bella slept heavily with her blankets down by her feet. I noticed a half-filled glass of water on her bedside table next to a bottle of ibuprofen. Even in sleep, her brows pressed down and she seemed uncomfortable. I longed to place my finger tips to her temples, to try to soothe her. So I moved away again before I got myself in trouble. Bella moved her head to the side and frowned in her sleep. Then she sniffled a little and coughed. When she was comfortably buried in her pillow, she grew still again. Maybe she was getting sick? As gently as I could, I pulled her blanket from near her feet and laid it over her sleeping form. It totally ruined the view I had of her bare legs, but I was a little more concerned about the idea that she could be coming down with something.

She didn't kick the blanket away. In fact, she didn't move again for the rest of the night. When I left, I pulled the window almost all the way closed behind me, and hoped that she wouldn't notice. I didn't want her to get a chill. Bella called to cancel study plans on Wednesday. Her voice sounded weak. She was congested and she coughed hoarsely in my ear. Yep. She was sick. I made sure she stayed covered that night. And once again, I closed her window by a considerable margin before I left. On Thursday, Bella showed up to class with a red nose and a wad of tissues balled up in her fist. She looked so pathetic and miserable that I insisted she go home right after we turned in our project. "Katrina drove," Bella coughed. I picked up her backpack as well as my own bag, and stood. "Well... I'm driving you home. Now." My tone invited no argument, and she followed me meekly. Once in my car, she slumped down in the seat. "Thank you. For this. I probably shouldn't be over-doing it." "You need your rest. And fluids," I said sternly. "I know. And believe it or not... I'm actually feeling much better than I was yesterday." I raised one eyebrow and looked at her critically. It was hard to believe. "It's true," she insisted. "I even ate a little today!" "You haven't been eating?" I asked loudly. "I didn't feel like it," Bella shrugged and blew her nose. I ground my teeth together as I drove. "Edward?" "Yes Bella?" I tried to make my voice sound less irritated than I felt. "I'll eat some soup when I get home." "Damn right you will," I said stonily. "You'll get yourself a hot bath. And I will make you some soup. And you... will... eat it." "You sound so bossy," she giggled weakly. "I can imagine you'd actually shove me in the bathtub yourself, and force the soup down my throat if I tried to argue!" "I might." I sent her a half-smile so she would know that I was teasing. But I did enjoy the mental image of bathing her for a minute or two longer than was necessary.

Bella didn't argue. She dropped her coat across the arm of the couch and went straight into the other room to start her bathwater. I rummaged in the kitchen until I found a can of condensed chicken noodle soup and a microwave-safe bowl. Pouring the foul contents into the bowl, I wrinkled my nose and tried not to be offended by the mushy-looking overly-processed ingredients in front of me. After all, Bella had unknowingly defended my source of nutrition. It wouldn't do for me to be rude about hers. The soup had already cooled considerably when she made her way down the hall dressed in a large plaid bathrobe. I tried not to think about what she may or may not have been wearing underneath as she tucked her feet under her on the couch. I placed the mug of soup in her hands, and sat, watching with satisfaction as she ate. "Mmm. This is good. Thank you," Bella smiled. I wanted to argue. But I was happy that she was enjoying it. "You need your strength," I mentioned. "Isn't Mike supposed to be flying in tomorrow?" I didn't want to bring it up. But I felt I needed to. "Yes," she nodded and continued to spoon the soup into her mouth. "His flight comes in around three." "Would you... like me to pick him up from the airport? Give him a lift to his hotel?" I don't know what suddenly gave me a case of the Over-Helpful-Vampire-Syndrome. But I kind of wanted to kick my own ass for offering. "No. But thanks," she smiled. "I really am feeling a lot better. I'm sure I'll be able to pick him up tomorrow. And anyway- he's staying here." "Here?" My voice might have squeaked. "Yes. Here," she nodded and ate her soup. I blinked rapidly... processing the new information. Then when I heard Katrina's key turn in the lock, I stood and thrust my hands into my pockets. "Leaving?" Bella asked as Katrina came into the room. "Yes. You need your rest. It will be a long weekend." "Thanks again for all the work on the project Eddie," Katrina grinned. "It looked really great." "You're welcome. Have fun on your trip." And with that, I turned and stormed out.

33. WWVE Raw

Friday was a very heinous kind of torture. I knew why I had offered to pick Mike up from the airport. I wanted my presence in Bella's life to be made known. I wanted to stake my claim. I wanted to leave them less time to be alone together. Bella didn't accept my offer. It had been nine hours since his plane had come in. And I spent every second of those nine hours worrying about the possibilities. Did he hug her when he got off the plane? Did she let him kiss her? Did he hold her hand while he talked about his trip and waited for his luggage? Did she have the opportunity to have the relationship-ending, closure-providing conversation that she said she wanted? Did he have time to change her mind? Was he working on that, even while I ineffectively paced across my living room floor? I gripped my hair tightly in my fists and yelled out my frustration. "Ouch- man. I know I didn't knock. But do you have to be such a drama-queen?" Jasper asked as he walked into the room with his hands cupped over his ears. I looked over at him, tense enough to explode and tried to make my voice sound civil. "I'm sorry." I was attempting to sound calm even though I was nearly drowning in the panic inspired by my imagination. "I've been torturing myself all day- wondering what Bella and Mike are up to. I've literally had to fight myself to not go over there..." "Alice thinks you shouldn't," Jasper frowned. "She thinks that Bella will appreciate you letting her handle things on her own. Something about you not being an 'over-bearing bastard'." "You don't sound as though you agree," I said darkly. "I don't," Jasper shrugged. "If that guy was spending time with my lady... I'd be forced to step in. No way would I take that. And I wouldn't trust him either. Do you even remember what he looked like in high-school? That kid looked like a serial date-rapist. He probably brought a bag of roofies with him from Seattle..."

That was all the incentive I needed. I was out the door before Jasper could finish his thought, running at an impossible speed toward Bella's apartment. I would not interrupt. I just needed to see her. To make sure she was ok. I wanted to see them together... to listen to his thoughts and know that she had broken things off as she said she would. I just needed to be there. It was mere minutes later that I stood at the back of her building. And then I noticed it. Her window was closed. She never closed her window. And while I knew that Bella was unaware of my late-night visits, something about her window being closed that night felt like a rescinded invitation. And it angered me. I was about to scale the wall to her room when I was hit by the force of a wrecking ball, coming at me from the side. Not expecting the blow, I could not keep my feet beneath me. But I twisted and managed to wrap my arms around my attacker, rolling him with me to the ground. As soon as I disentangled my limbs, I jumped up to a defensive crouch- baring my teeth and snarling. It didn't matter that my sense of smell had already identified my attacker as Jasper. I still wanted to kick his ass. "Edward? Calm the fuck down!" Jasper ordered. He placed his palms outward towards me in a submissive fashion. I felt a wave of calmness take the edge off my anger, and knew that he was using his ability to diffuse a potentially bad situation between us. "What are you doing here?" I growled lowly. Already I could feel the tension leaving my muscles, and my posture starting to relax. He was good. "I'm here because it was my fault that you came over here in some hyped-up pissy mood. Hell... I didn't mean half of what I said back there. I didn't know you were going to freak out! Alice would remove every appendage from my body if you ruined everything with Bella because of me!" Jasper's eyes never left mine, and we both rose to stand in front of each other. "I hate that he's up there with her," I whispered. "Can't I just check on her? I won't let them know I'm here. I just... what if you were right?" I asked. "How do we know he can be trusted? I mean... She sleeps in next to nothing!" "Oh? Then maybe I should check on her!" Devilment danced in Jasper's eyes as he laughed and blurred to the side of the building.

"Forget it!" I tore after him. But he slipped through my outstretched hands. "This I gotta see!" Jasper threw himself up the side of her apartment building, with me hot on his trail. "Jasper!" I ground out and grabbed his ankle, pulling him downward while his fingers raked against the wood. "Come on! One little peek," Jasper complained and pushed his free foot against my cheek, trying to kick me off. "No!" I grunted and tugged harder, getting him to release his hold and throwing him to the ground below. I scrambled up the side of the building, but Jasper had already jumped to his feet and flashed up to wrap himself around my back. He twisted my head to the side and tried to crawl up on my shoulders in order to beat me to the window. "Mmmph," I grunted as he managed to kick my shoulder hard. "Sorry!" he whispered. This wrestling match was not meant to hurt me. He was helping me get rid of my tension, and I knew it. But I still didn't want him to see Bella in her panties. Somehow Jasper still managed to beat me to the window. "Hey! I see boobs! But that is not Bella!" he whispered in a disgusted voice. I was hanging from her window ledge beside him in a split second. Bella's body was completely obscured by the man who slept in her bed. He faced the window in his sleep, bare-chested and snoring loudly. And I wanted to destroy him. My hands slid the glass up quickly, and I had one leg thrown over the window ledge before Jasper grabbed me in a headlock and pulled backward as hard as he could. We struggled like that... me fighting to get into the room and Jasper fighting to get me out of it, until he was finally able to get leverage with his feet on the side of the building and pushed off. He pulled me with him and my foot caught the edge of the open window as we both crashed to the earth below. It would have been comical if under different circumstances. We both looked up as the window, dislodged by my foot, crashed closed and broke noisily. "Oh... shit!" Jasper whispered. The light came on in the room, and we both took off running into the cover of the trees. I stopped as soon as I was safely hidden in the shadows. I didn't want to let the window out of my sight. Jasper, on the other hand, ran like hell was chasing after him. I'm not sure how far he

made it before he realized that I wasn't by his side. I stood, watching Mike inspect the damage at the window. I waited for him to move aside, so that I could see Bella as well. Jasper eventually circled around and joined me once more. "My bad," he whispered from by my arm. I clenched my fingers into fists. Mike turned from the window, and the light went off again. "If you hadn't been trying so hard to see her underwear..." "I was joking," Jasper insisted. "You would have looked!" I growled. "Well... yeah. I would have looked," he shrugged. And with that, I bent at the waist and shoved my shoulder into his abdomen, charging forward until I threw his body against the trunk of the nearest tree. The tree lurched behind him, and Jasper's laughter was low and husky. "Feel better?" he asked. He knew. "A little," I admitted, standing again. We both froze in place when the beam of a flashlight cut through the darkness at the corner of the building. "Up!" I whispered. And Jasper and I quickly lifted ourselves into the boughs of the tree we had nearly felled. We could hear Bella and Mike as they approached the woods beneath us. "I'm telling you," Bella said calmly. "I leave the window open when I sleep. It probably just slid down and broke on its own. It's been slipping lately. I've noticed a couple times it's been lower in the frame when I woke up..." "But I closed it," Mike whined. His thoughts told me that he was nervous about being outside in the dark. "He's scared!" Jasper mouthed to me. Then he grinned and made a motion at the front of his pants to indicate that Mike was a jerk-off. Classic Jasper. I rolled my eyes. "Maybe you just thought you did," Bella suggested. "There is nothing out here." "We shouldn't be out here," Mike said. "It's creepy." "Nonsense," Bella scoffed. "I come out here all the time. It's perfectly safe. No monsters." My silly, brave girl.

"It's not safe Bella. See? This is what I was telling you. You need someone to make sure that you don't act so recklessly!" "Oooh! She didn't like that!" Jasper whispered, feeling her emotions in a way that made me completely jealous of his ability. I smirked though, imagining the look on her face. "Mike... I told you. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself." Atta girl. "I could keep you safe," he stepped closer to her. They had stopped almost directly under our tree, and I could see the top of their heads. "I've never wanted to be able to take a piss so badly!" Jasper whispered, pointing at the target below. I gave him a death-look and drew a line in a slashing motion across my throat with my thumb to shut him up. Then I continued to listen in. "I'd like to know how you would manage, from Seattle." Bella sounded irritated. "I wouldn't be so far away if you would just come back home," Mike whined. And suddenly, I wished I was capable of taking a piss too. "I want to be here," Bella said clearly. Mike was running through scenarios in his head, trying to think of anything to work his way back into a relationship. "What if I moved here?" His voice sounded as desperate as his thoughts did. "Would it even make a difference Bella? If I lived here?" All of us held our breath. "No." Bella's voice broke the silence. "Just like that? Just 'no'?" Mike's voice was pained. "I'm sorry Mike. I thought I had been clear enough earlier." Bella sounded caring, but firm. "You don't love me..." "Not in the way you deserve. No," she clarified. "I'll always care about you. But just... not... like that." The forest was silent again. Mike had questions, and I hoped he would ask at least one out loud. I wanted to hear the answer for myself.

"Is there... someone else, Bella?" That was the one. My hand gripped the branch beneath my feet so hard that I thought it might snap in two. There was a pause. "No. Not in the way you are thinking," Bella murmured. Her face was turned toward the ground, but her voice floated up to where I sat, perched in the branches above her. Mike sighed and his thoughts were relieved. "Since we didn't find any boogey-men... do you think we could go back inside?" Bella asked. "I've been sick all week and I really do need to get my sleep so I can continue to get better." "That's fine." Mike put an arm around her shoulders and turned her back toward the building. "If the broken window bothers you... you can trade rooms with me. Katrina's bed is more comfortable and I really don't mind sleeping with the window open anyway," I heard Bella offer. I smiled in the darkness. She had been sleeping in Katrina's room. We watched until the two made their way back to the apartment before we jumped to the ground. "I almost felt bad for him," Jasper said quietly. "That guy is hurting." "It can't be helped," I said, pressing my lips together firmly. "So... Bella said that there isn't someone else..?" Jasper asked cautiously. "There will be," I promised.

34. Vampire Bowling

I spent an extraordinary amount of time getting ready to go out Saturday night. Bella had called around noon, and we confirmed plans to meet at the bowling alley at seven. She had invited us to go out to eat dinner with her and Mike as well, but I declined- citing Alice and Jasper having a previous engagement as an excuse. I hoped I wasn't imagining things, but Bella sounded a bit disappointed. And so, in an effort to not make myself crazy again with worrying, I concentrated instead, on looking good.

It was pure and unadulterated vanity, I admit. I wanted to look better than Mike. I saw him the night before. He was a good-looking guy... in an annoying, apple-pie, All-American, Golf-Digest sort of way. I rolled the sleeves of my black button-up shirt halfway up my forearms and straightened the collar. It didn't look too dressy when worn with the distressed jeans I had chosen. It certainly wouldn't be complimented by the ugly bowling shoes I would be forced to trade my Doc Martins for... but I couldn't do much about that. Even my hair, usually casually messy, was purposely made to look more so. All in all, I spent well over an hour attempting to look as though I looked good without having tried to. My logic confused even me. I got to Jasper and Alice's at six o'clock. I should have guessed that they would play-up the couple-cuteness factor with their clothing choices. Alice and Jasper wore matching bowling shirts with the team name "Deadly Strikers" emblazoned on their backs. Jasper had Alice's name stitched across the right breast pocket. Alice's shirt said "Jasper's." "Cute," I grumbled. Alice just laughed and then walked in a circle around me, surveying my work. "Hmm," she hummed thoughtfully. "Here!" She reached and popped another button loose on my shirt to expose more of my neck and chest. "Jasper? Give me your necklace." She held her hand out in a manner that invited no argument. He pulled the leather cord from around his neck, and as soon as she had it, she pushed it down over my head. The tiny titanium ring at the end of the cord fell against my skin. "Perfect!" She smiled again. "And Bella is going to want to stick her finger in this!" She lightly tickled my leg through the small hole in the denim on my thigh. "Or... her tongue!" Jasper wagged his eyebrows and planted a kiss on the back of Alice's neck while she giggled. "Good Lord," I groaned when I spied the leather bowling bag that was resting on their sofa. "You have your own bowling ball?" "Of course I do!" Jasper scoffed at my tone and unzipped the bag, pulling from it a clear urethane bowling ball with a large, red, plastic rose suspended in its middle. "Bill Murray had one of these in the movie 'King Pin.' I had one made to match it." "That is the tackiest thing I've ever seen," I announced. "Nuh-uh," Alice sniffed. "You should see his shoes!"

I raised my eyebrow and Jasper pulled a pair of worn suede bowling shoes from the bag. They were colored in fluorescent shades of orange and blue. "Ouch! My eyes!" I teased, but I was partly serious. "Check this," Jasper grinned and spun the shoes so that the heels faced me. Each was labeled with a large red circle and the number thirteen written in white. "Your lucky number?" I asked. Jasper snorted. "Shoe size!" he explained. "I bought these when I saw that they were mis-labeled. I usually wear an eleven... or twelve. A size thirteen looks much more impressive. You know what they say about men with big feet!" I rolled my eyes and Alice laughed. "That's utterly ridiculous," I stated. But inwardly, I was kind of hoping that I needed a bigger shoe than Mike. "You enjoy attention way too much." "Speaking of," Jasper said, turning to look at Alice. "You are wearing your shirt un-tucked." His hands were already pulling the material out of her jeans. "It's too long this way!" She complained. Alice was right. It covered her to mid-thigh when he finished. "That's right. I don't want to give Mr. Geometry-Boner a reason to look at your ass all night." Alice laughed good-naturedly and left her shirt out over her jeans. Jasper picked up his bag, and the three of us left to go meet up with Bella and Mike. The night air was unseasonably warm, and so we found Bella and Mike sitting on a bench outside the bowling alley waiting for us. Jasper walked with his arm slung over Alice's tiny shoulders. I crammed my hands into my front pockets and tried to appear casual. I could hear Mike's thoughts. He was already sizing me up. He was curious about us, but largely annoyed that Bella decided to get us all together while he was in town. He found the reunion to be unnecessary. He wanted to be alone with her. He also thought that bowling was lame. Good call, Jasper. I smirked. Bella smiled when she saw us, and jumped from her seat to rush forward. Did I imagine that her cheeks turned a little pink when her eyes briefly met mine? "Hello!" she said, with a friendly smile. "You guys probably remember my ....Mike Newton? Mike? This is Jasper and Alice.... And Edward."

"Of course we remember Mike!" Alice stepped closer and extended a hand. "We had geometry together. Right?" Mike was flustered that Alice remembered him. Jasper might have felt that. He pulled Alice away and quickly replaced her hand-shake with a firmer one of his own. "We... might have had gym together," Jasper offered. "Did we?" Mike was still stunned by the pixie. "Hell. I don't know. I never went to class," Jasper smiled. "And I heard you got my biology partner," I nodded his direction in a greeting. Jasper was only just then releasing his hand, and so mine stayed in my pockets. Which was a good thing. Because Mike's thoughts weren't kind as he eyed me stonily. "I guess I have you to thank for bringing Bella and I together then, huh?" I tipped my head back and laughed lightly. Awww, Mike. You're showing your hand buddy. I could already tell by his peevish attitude that I would win Bella's favor by being a gentleman. "I'm not sure I'm owed thanks. In a town the size of Forks, you two would have met anyway!" Excellent. He was intimidated by me. I pulled up a slow, lazy smile. "Why don't we go inside?" Bella asked quickly. I held the door open while everyone entered ahead of me. Mike had a small frown on his face. He had noticed that Jasper, Alice and I looked exactly as we had in high school. Good Genes, he had muttered in his mind. He was also unsure about the nature of Bella's and my relationship. Damn straight. Jasper sat at a row of chairs and started lacing up his obnoxious, mis-labeled bowling shoes while we stood at the counter to rent ours. The girls got theirs, and Mike and I stood side by side. I waited until he requested his size ten and a half's... then I smirked as I got mine in size twelve. Jasper smiled from where he waited and gave me two-thumbs-up. With our feet wrapped in rented shoes, we made our way down to the lanes. A tall table was large enough for all of us to sit around it, and a bowling alley attendant came by to see if we would like food or drinks. "Diet coke?" Bella asked. Jasper and Mike ordered beer and Mike also ordered some nachos. "Sorry," he muttered in apology. "We skipped dinner. Bella didn't feel like going out." I frowned. She had seemed happy to make plans for dinner with us earlier. Maybe she just didn't feel like going out alone with Mike. The thought made me smile.

"I've been sick this week," Bella explained. "I just don't have much of an appetite yet." "You are looking much better," I told her. "I feel a lot better. Thanks." Bella blushed a little and Mike had nothing but resentful thoughts toward me as he noticed. I almost wanted to laugh. He wondered if there was more between us than Bella had led him to believe. Well- good. Let him wonder. Jasper made his way over to the jukebox to select music while Mike practically glared at me over the table. I worked hard to keep my features friendly and unaffected. I knew it would serve me well in the end. "So, Edward," he said my name as though he hated to do it. "Bella tells me that you are in her history class?" "Yes." I didn't offer more than that. "What is it that you study?" I turned the topic back to him and pretended to really be interested. "Civil Engineering," Mike answered. But then he took the attention away from himself and turned towards Alice. "What about you and Jasper? Do you both attend Dartmouth as well?" "I'm a student of the world," Jasper answered for her, sliding his arm around Alice's waist and kissing her loudly on the side of her neck. He was trying to send a signal for Mike that Alice was taken. I could give him the inside scoop. Mike thought Alice was gorgeous. But he only wanted Bella. Mike's food arrived and he offered to share it with us. "No thanks," Alice wrinkled her nose at the mess of cheese and chips. "We eat raw." I attempted to kick her under the table but she predicted my response and moved her leg out of the way. My foot swished the air beside her ineffectually. "The raw food diet?" Bella asked with interest. "I've heard of that. Lots of veggies right? No processed foods? No cooking? Everything is raw..." Alice avoided answering and instead squealed at the song by 'Muse' that had just begun. "Oooh! I love this song!" "That's why I chose it, darlin," Jasper smiled. Alice pointed one dainty foot up in the air as Jasper took her hand and helped her to hop down from the stool. "It's time," Alice announced sweetly. Jasper twirled her once under their joined fingers, and they led the way down to our bowling lanes.

Trying to bowl like a human was... an experience. It was a challenge to approximate the human ability to roll the ball towards the end of the lane without sending the tiny thing like a rocket through the back wall. But I took to the challenge eagerly. There were many reasons, lately, that made me want to practice controlling my vampire strength and speed. Jasper honed in on one of those reasons when he began demonstrating the way to properly insert one's fingers into a bowling ball- over and over in the most lewd and wicked way that he could devise. I worried that he might offend Bella with his overt sexual innuendos. But she just laughed with delight. She really was a little naughty! Of course, Mike was thinking of the imagery that Jasper provided, so I sent him a dirty look to get him to stop. My eyes darted from Jasper to Mike and back, to silently convey my message. I didn't want Mike thinking of Bella sexually. And he definitely was. I started singing out loud to the current song that was playing, in an effort to drown out some of the memories he was running through his mind of him and Bella. I would ruin everything if I came unglued and started pummeling him in a fit of jealousy. That was before. She isn't with him anymore. Jasper sensed Mike's mood as well as my own and stopped joking around with his ball. Then, he got a mischievous look on his face. "I'm so terrible at this," Bella laughed as she stepped toward the lane for another turn. I had been watching Jasper, and so was slow to rise. But Mike jumped out of his chair and went over to her. "Here, let me help!" he offered. I gritted my teeth as Mike purposely lined his body up against Bella's back, and bent her forward slightly to demonstrate how to better release the ball. God that is a great ass! Mike's thoughts rang clear and strong. I was about to jump from my stool when I realized that Mike's eyes were trained beyond Bella and were locked onto the very exposed and very hairy ass-crack of the guy at the next lane. Bella turned her head to look at Mike when he paused, and she followed his line of sight until she saw what he was staring at. "What the hell?" Mike screamed in his mind when he realized the feelings that had just coursed through him. He stood up quickly and stumbled three steps away from Bella. She just watched him, looking thoroughly confused and maybe a little disgusted. "I... have to go to the bathroom!" Mike practically ran to the men's room by the bar. Jasper didn't bother to hide his laugh, but at least he pretended that it was in regards to something that Alice had said. This had Jasper's handiwork written all over it. Sending Mike feelings of lust for the man in the next lane? Priceless!

Jasper looked up at me then, and used his pointer and pinky fingers to throw up the devil horns, all the while baring his teeth like he thought he was a rock star. And because Bella had gone back to bowling, I threw him the devil horns right back. Because I pretty much agreed. Alice was a competitive little imp. She didn't even bother to fake incompetence as she threw strike after strike. Mike came back to our table, looking sulky and drinking another bottle of beer. I couldn't pretend to be as bad as Bella at bowling, but I did manage to make sure that Mike took the lead. I was plotting. I guessed that I would look better to Bella if I wasn't trying to show off and if I appeared to be a good sport. Mike, on the other hand, was working up a sweat trying to beat me. It was almost amusing. He gritted his teeth. He grunted. He bent low and cursed if the ball didn't go where he planned it to. Bella was getting more and more annoyed. I, on the other hand, congratulated both of their efforts, smiled a lot, and even managed to throw a gutter ball. I shrugged that one off and pretended to be embarrassed. Damn, I was slick. When Bella got up for her final turn, somehow the girl managed to trip over her untied hot-pink shoelaces. Pretending to be human made me slow enough to not be able to catch her before she fell. And fell, she did. Bella slid straight forward on her stomach, eventually sounding off the loud buzzer when she crossed the foul line. "HA!" Mike snorted. I was by her side immediately, helping Bella up while she cradled her wrist against her chest. "Let me see," I said soothingly. She held her wrist toward me, and I took it gently between my hands. "I don't think it's broken," I said. "No. Just twisted." But I could tell it hurt. Bella's eyes had filled with tears. And Mike... was caught in a fit of hysterical laughter at the table. His eyes were watering and he snorted and gasped and hit the table with the flat of his hand. Oh My God! Bella fell on her face! That is the funniest thing I've ever seen. And ... oh! Wait a minute... she looks totally pissed. She's probably hurt. Why am I laughing? I can't... stop... laughing... I looked up at Bella and her eyes were squinted in anger as she looked at Mike, who was still laughing like a madman at the table. My eyes flashed to Jasper, who was very innocently rubbing the top of his beer bottle in a slow circle with his finger. A small smile played on his mouth. "You know, Mike? You might be upset with me. And that's fine. But I didn't think you had it in you to be so cruel!" Bella was indeed, very upset. I dropped her hand as she stomped off toward the ladies room with Alice close on her heels. Mike started to sober as soon as she was gone.

"I'm sorry... I don't know what came over me," he sounded dumbfounded. Jasper stood to join me and gave Mike a disgusted look. "Not cool man," Jasper said snidely. I had no idea how he managed to keep a straight face when he knew that he had orchestrated the entire fit of hysterics. God, I was so proud of my brother. Bella and Alice returned from the bathroom a few minutes later. Alice was skipping behind her with a slight smile on her face. She glanced at me and let me read her thoughts. You win, she grinned at me. And I knew she wasn't talking about bowling. She quickly let me read her replay of Bella's conversation from the bathroom. Bella had told her about how nice I was during the evening, and how rude Mike was in comparison. It meant a lot to her that I had rushed to her aid while Mike had laughed at her. I felt a little guilty for that distinction. Mike probably would have helped her too. But I was going to use any edge I could. Besides... it wasn't like I could control Jasper. Right? Mike walked over to Bella and tried to put his arm around her shoulders while apologizing profusely. "Forget about it," she shrugged his arm off. "No harm done. I usually laugh at myself when I fall too." But her voice didn't sound forgiving. "Do you... want to go do something else?" Mike offered, still standing at her side. Bella shook her head. "You know, I am pretty tired already. I think I should just go home and get some sleep. I want to make sure I'm completely healthy for my trip to Boston, later this week." Bella looked up and stared straight into my eyes when she said this. Jasper and Alice started doing a touchdown dance behind them. I really wished I could do one too.

35. Hard Candy Normalcy

I slammed the trunk of my car closed and went back inside, reaching for my phone. My overnight bag was stowed; my suit was hanging in the back. I had hunted two nights in a row, and the car was full of gas. I was ready to go to Boston. And the sun was fucking shining. "At the tone, the exact time and temperature will be...." Alice answered my call like she was an automated voice message. It was cute, but I was still irritated.

"Funny Alice. Why is it still sunny?" "Hmm... let's see Edward. I guess that we could go back to kindergarten science for this one. The sun is always shining. Sometimes the clouds temporarily block it from our view..." "Alice..." I warned low, and then I sighed. It really wouldn't do to take my mood out on someone who was trying to help me. So I softened my tone. "I'm sorry. I was counting on the weather. I thought you said it would be on my side?" "And it will be. I see cloudy skies and even some rain for your trip. But the clouds are coming in a little later than I thought. You know I can't exactly change the weather patterns for you." "I know. And again- I'm sorry. I was just ready to leave." "You should be fine to leave by two-thirty or three," Alice said with conviction. "Alright." Silence stretched between us. I wanted to ask Alice again, for reassurance. I wanted to know, without a doubt, that Bella would be safe on this trip. "Alice? I..." "Edward? I know that you are stressed-out. Please stop doing that to yourself. You won't have any fun at all if you spend all of your time worrying! And Bella won't have any fun either. You have to relax." "I will. I'm trying," I promised. "Just... tell me. Again. Please?" Alice sighed. "Edward... you will not hurt her. And if you allow yourself to just relax... I see you two really having a great time together. But..." "But?" "I see the two of you going to the Opera House. Nice choice on the suit-jacket by the way. You'll look very handsome..." "Alice?" "Sorry. I was distracted. You two make a very good-looking couple!" Alice apologized. "Anyway, what I was saying.... I haven't looked beyond the Opera House. And I won't. Bella will ask you to kiss her. I'm sure of it. But that is where my vision stops. You haven't decided what you'll do yet. I won't look any farther if I can help it. And I won't interfere. The rest is all up to you. You have my phone number. Call if you need to. Otherwise... you are on your own." I knew what Alice was doing. In her way, she was forcing me to find the inner-confidence that I would need to actually work towards a relationship with Bella. I couldn't continue to use Alice as a crutch. She was also affording me as much privacy as she could... while showing me exactly how much faith she had in me.

"Alice? I love you. Thank you." "I love you too Edward. Have a good time. I'll expect a full report when you get back on Friday!" "Will do," I smiled into the receiver and ended the call. I shook my head as I glanced through the pre-set phone numbers on the phone I held in the palm of my hand. It seemed special to me that besides my family members, Bella was the only other number listed. I chose her name from the list and waited for her to answer her phone. She sounded breathless when she did. "Hello?" "Bella?" "Edward! Hi!" "What are you doing?" I laughed lightly. She sounded as though she had been running a marathon. "I was outside. A repairman was here to fix my bedroom window. And he just left." "I can't believe they waited five days to get someone out there..." I muttered. "Well, they couldn't send someone out over the weekend. Hey! How do you know when it was broken?" Bella asked incredulously. I hadn't even realized my error until she pointed it out. "Umm... I think Mike mentioned it while we were bowling?" Nice try, I cringed. Posing it as a question didn't make it less of a lie. And I was determined to be as honest as possible with her. I would have to try harder. "Oh, ok." Bella accepted my excuse easily. "Anyway, he just left. And my bags are packed! Are you still picking me up at noon?" "That's what I'm calling about," I offered slowly. "I... need to postpone our trip. Just for a couple of hours. Something... came up." Like- the sun. "Oh!" She exhaled and then laughed a little. "I was worried for a minute that you were going to cancel!" "Never," I exclaimed. "I'm really looking forward to this trip, Bella." "Me too," she said quietly. "I'll be there, between two-thirty and three. If that is alright?"

"Perfectly fine. I'll nap first. Or make some lunch. Unless you want to stop somewhere on the way?" "No. You go ahead and eat. And I'll see you soon." "Ok! See ya." She ended our call and I glanced around, looking for something to occupy my time for a couple more hours. I walked to my bookshelf, and let my fingers glide across the side bindings of some of my favorite books. My fingers stopped, almost of their own accord, at a leather-bound journal that I hadn't touched since I placed it on the shelf when I moved in. As a matter of fact, I hadn't opened it since long before then. The journal held compositions... music that I had written in the past. Musical notes skipped upon the lines, written with my signature handwriting. I smiled slightly as I flipped through the pages, absorbing the notes with my eyes and hearing the music playing along in my head. I took my journal to a chair that was placed near the window, and sat down to revisit the scores. When I got to the last page of my writing, I frowned. The journal still had many pages left to be adorned. Placing the open journal on my lap, I leaned back into the chair, closed my eyes, and let my head fall back. The sun through the window warmed my skin, and made red patterns play behind my eyelids. I smiled as the warmth transformed to music in my mind. A melody of rich notes began to swirl like colors around me; a tapestry of browns and reds, oranges and yellows... natural earthy shades that I had begun to associate to Bella and to the way I felt when she was near. I opened my eyes and retrieved a pen from the side table. Then, without hesitation, I began to put my new melody to paper. I didn't even mind the dancing lights that the sun reflected from my skin onto the paper under my hand. Even though it was the reflective properties of my skin in the sun that delayed my trip with Bella, it also brought about this wave of creativity that provided a great distraction. I wrote and wrote as the music played itself in my mind. And I didn't stop until I noticed that the glow from my skin had faded and my page was shrouded in grey. I looked up then, and glanced out the window. The clouds had moved in. Almost regretfully, I placed the journal aside. My fingers itched to continue their course. But I was far more anxious to drive to get Bella. I stole a look at my watch. Two-thirty. Never bet against Alice. Bella answered her door with a smile, and with her long brown ponytail swinging behind her. She wore a hooded sweatshirt and baggy track pants. And even though the temperature was in the low fifties, she wore her flip-flops. "I like to be comfy when I'm on a road trip," she explained when she noticed my attention to her appearance.

"You're perfect," I smiled. And she really was. She blushed prettily and I picked up her small suitcase from where it sat by the door. Bella grabbed a bottle of water and her zippered garment bag, and locked the door behind us as we left. When she placed her hanger over the hook in the back seat, she smiled at my own bag hanging on the opposite side. "I guess I should be happy I packed a dress," she smiled. "I wasn't sure what we would be doing. I wanted to be prepared, just in case." "I shouldn't have kept it a surprise," I told her. "I do have tickets for a show at the Opera House tomorrow night. Other than that, I thought we would play it by ear." "The Opera House? Will a little black dress be appropriate?" "It will... if your goal is to drive me to complete and utter distraction," I answered truthfully. "How did you know?" She mocked me with her eyes open wide, and I couldn't help but laugh at her playful attitude. "Why do I have a feeling I'm in big trouble?" I asked, sliding the car into gear. She just laughed and flipped her ponytail behind her. The easy comfort with which we began our trip carried throughout the drive. Bella kicked off her shoes and placed both of her feet on my dashboard. She also rolled her window most of the way down to create a virtual wind-tunnel in the confines of my car. "Is this alright?" she asked tipping her head towards the open window. I nodded. It was more than alright. The crisp air that cut between us helped to attenuate Bella's scent. It was still bordering on excruciating for me to breathe at such close proximity to her for very long. And in the confines of the car, I had no escape. Bella's open window was a blessing. It also made loose tendrils of her hair dance along her neck and play against her cheek. Yes. It was more than alright. I watched as Bella took a small green candy from her pocket. She pinched her fingers against both ends of its cellophane wrapper and twisted it open before popping the sugary rectangle into her mouth. "What is that?" I asked. "Jolly Rancher," she explained, tucking the candy into her cheek. "Apple." "Oh."

It had a sour, obnoxious smell, and I wrinkled my nose. And because my attention was back on the road, I was completely taken off guard when Bella's hand came up to my face and pushed a hard little rectangle of candy into my mouth. My first reaction was to freeze. It shocked me to have her fingers so close to my lips. But she pulled her hand away quickly and smiled, leaving a horrifically sweet and sticky lump in my mouth to deal with. I grimaced and thought about swallowing it, just to have it out of my mouth. But I knew I would have to choke it up later if I did. Disgusting. Though I hated to be so rude, I pushed the button to lower my window and abruptly spit the offensive little piece of chemically-laden sugar outside. "Sorry," I apologized. "You don't like sweets?" Bella asked, looking somewhat ashamed. "I like you, and you're sweet," I smiled, trying to make her feel better. She tipped her head back and laughed like I hoped she would. "I don't know whether to think that was adorable or completely cheesy!" she giggled. "I vote for adorable." I nodded my head with fake solemnity and turned my attention to the road ahead. We drove in companionable silence for a few minutes while we listened to the radio. When a song came on that I liked, I started to sing along. Bella looked over at me with a smile across her face. "You have a very nice singing voice," she complimented. "Thank you." "Well... don't stop!" I complied by happily finishing the song while she listened and twirled the end of her ponytail around her fingers. When the song came to an end, she turned the volume down. "Edward... is there anything that you don't do better than the average human?" I exhaled through my nose sharply, snorting a little in the process. "Ummm..." I pressed my lips together and thought about it. "I have a horrible temper. And I'm not very patient. And... I am often told I worry too much. I'm too uptight." "Interesting," Bella grinned. "Well. I have a horrible temper too. You've seen evidence of my epic clumsiness. And I'm very, very stubborn."

"Well we are obviously both wretched people," I joked. Bella laughed with me. When our laughter died away, I felt her eyes on me. "I'd like to know you better, Edward." I turned my head to glance at her serious expression. "I was hoping we could both get to know each other better on this trip," I confessed. "Did you ever really want Katrina to come along?" Bella sat with her back to the open window. Her hair was flying riotously behind her. But her eyes watched me carefully. It was like she was daring me to lie so she could catch me. "No." I finally answered. "I thought my invitation would be better received if I extended it to both of you." A small smile played at her lips. "You really don't know me very well then," she answered coyly. "Well, I could. If you'd let me." "We could ask each other questions! Take turns," she suggested with a bounce of excitement. I grinned over at her. "I warn you. I am very inquisitive," I told her. "Bring it on. I'm an open book," she countered. "Is there any subject that is off-limits?" I raised an eyebrow toward her. I was intrigued by the idea of getting to ask Bella any questions at all. "Hmmm..." she pressed her lips together and tapped her fingers against her knees. "Mike. Don't ask me about Mike. I'd rather not even think about him." "That sounds... reasonable." I wanted to smile, but somehow managed to contain my glee. "What about you?" she asked. "Any taboo subjects?" Where could I begin? I was going to try to be as honest as I could with the girl. After a great deal of thought, I finally glanced at her from the corner of my eye and grinned. "Food." I said. "Food?" "Yes. Food. Don't ask me anything about food." "You've got to be kidding me!" She looked like she was waiting for a punch line. I shook my head.

"I think it's a boring topic. People place entirely too much emphasis on food. They make it an event to eat. An entire date centered around a necessary function? It's very un-original." I continued to watch her from the corner of my eye. She looked thoughtful for a minute then shrugged. "Ok. I won't ask you anything concerning food during this trip. And you won't ask me anything about my ex-boyfriend." "Sounds wonderful." I liked the way she said 'ex.' And so we began the second hour of our journey, shooting questions towards one another, back and forth. Favorite colors, television shows, songs, books and authors... I could explain the location and cause of at least ten scars on her body. And for the most part, her questions mirrored mine. "Have you had your tonsils out?" she asked. "No," I said with a smile. "You?" "Yep!" She stuck her tongue all the way out and leaned forward to give me a good look into her mouth. I was amused at myself for actually thinking her candy-stained green tongue was cute. "No tonsils there," I concurred. "Did you go to your prom?" I asked next. "Skip that question," Bella said, as she made a face. I could only guess her answer had something to do with Newton. "Sorry. Ok... tell me why you are a history major," I asked instead. I watched her talk animatedly, using her hands, as she explained her choice to use a liberal arts degree as a stepping stone to a graduate degree in business or perhaps even law. "You haven't decided?" I asked. "No," she sighed. "It probably sounds very pathetic of me. I always dreamed of coming to Dartmouth. And now that I'm here... I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself. What about you? Why are you a history major?" "Would you believe me if I said that I randomly pointed to a page in the student catalog and ended up with history?" Bella laughed. I shrugged. It was the truth. We decided to temporarily end our question and answer game as I navigated through Boston traffic. When we reached the hotel I had chosen, Bella slipped her shoes back on and straightened her hair before getting out of the car. She might have felt a little subconscious,

standing at the front of a five star hotel, dressed for comfort and totally wind-blown from the two hour drive with the window down. But Bella straightened her shoulders proudly as the curb-side attendants removed our items to a luggage rack and took the car away. She seemed at ease and had an inner confidence that radiated from her. I walked beside her proudly as we were led to the inner recesses of the lobby to check into our rooms. "Welcome to the Liberty Hotel." We were greeted by a young woman who wore a grey suit and had her platinum blonde hair pulled back into a severe chignon. She wore heavy black eyeliner and bright red lipstick. I always smiled when I saw this look being repeated. I remembered it well from women in the 1940's. "Hello," I greeted her pleasantly with a smile. "I have reservations for two rooms. Edward Cullen." The woman gawked at me blankly for a moment. Bella snickered at my side and I glanced at her quizzically. The woman finally blinked twice and looked confused. "I'm sorry. Cullen?" She asked, moving toward the computer on the desk. I nodded at her dazed expression. "Edward Cullen," I supplied again. She seemed to be functioning better when concentrating on the screen in front of her. "I'm sorry sir... did you say... two rooms?" She sounded perplexed. I frowned. Was she really so addle-brained? "Yes. I made reservations. Two rooms." Bella remained standing at my side, with an amused look on her face. "I'm very sorry sir. But the computer indicates that your reservation is for one room. One of our suites." Bella snorted lightly beside me and I looked over at her again before turning to argue with the woman behind the desk. "I specifically made reservations for two rooms." I spoke slowly as though I could somehow force her to understand. She frowned at my insistence and clicked a few more buttons on the keyboard before sighing. "I'm sorry sir. I need to call my manager. She is the one that changed the reservation in the system." "Fine. Do that." My response was probably more curt than was necessary. The girl scurried to the side of the desk where she started talking into a black telephone with a frantic but hushed voice. I didn't pay much attention. I was more worried that Bella would assume the worst of me. Reaching into my

back pocket, I retrieved a folded print-out of the reservations I had made online, and attempted to point out the fact that I had indeed reserved two rooms. Bella barely glanced at the paper. "Don't worry about it," she finally shrugged. "These things happen." Her nonchalant attitude did make me feel slightly better. I was further comforted when the desk attendant returned and informed me that the reservations had been changed by the manager at three o'clock that afternoon. She insisted that Mr. Cullen had called to change the accommodations. Not even I could have pulled off changing the reservations with Bella beside me in the car. Alice might have promised to not interfere. But I definitely had a feeling that someone else I knew and loved was probably kicking back in my hot tub at that very moment- quite nakedcongratulating himself on being a sly mother fucker. "Well, I am Mr. Cullen. And clearly, there has been an error. So I would appreciate if we could go back to the reservations as indicated on this paper..." I smiled and slid my print-out toward the girl. But she was looking dazed once more. Maybe I was trying too hard to be charming. She had been reduced to dumb-as-a-rock status and it was getting annoying. I frowned and she looked back to her computer screen. "I am very sorry sir. But your rooms were very quickly assigned to new guests. There is a convention being held..." The hand that was pressed to the paper on the counter curled until I had formed a fist on top of it. I was about to argue that I didn't care which entire fleet of waterbed-salesmen were having a convention and had taken my rooms- I wanted them back- when Bella reached up and tentatively laid her hand on top of mine. "The suite will be fine. Won't it Edward? I'm sure it's large enough for two people. And... mistakes happen." I calmed immediately at her gentle tone and touch. The girl behind the counter sighed audibly and continued to apologize profusely while giving the bellman his directions. Bella and I quietly followed him up the elevator to the suite that we would share. "I... am very sorry about this," I murmured in the elevator. "If you'd like, we can look for another hotel that isn't booked." "I really don't mind," Bella shrugged. "It's not like we haven't shared a room before." Her smile was sweet as she reminded me of the night we had stayed together in my bedroom. "If you are sure." I hoped she was. "I am." Good.

The bellman brought our things into the room, and showed us around the spacious quarters before accepting my tip on his way out. The floor to ceiling windows that formed two walls of the living room area made me eternally grateful for the thick grey clouds that graced the sky. I claimed the couch, leaving the master bedroom for Bella. It wasn't like I would sleep anyway. Bella smiled as we both went in to explore the master bath. The large four-fixture tub looked easily large enough for two, and I tried very hard not to imagine Bella in it- which was hard when she stepped next to its edge and smiled at me over her shoulder. "If I slip and fall while getting into this thing... are you going to rescue me?" she teased. I didn't answer. I just laughed uneasily and left the room. She found me a few minutes later, enjoying the view from the open-air terrace. "This is lovely," she said quietly, looking out at the Charles River. "Thank you." "The view is not nearly as lovely as my company," I smiled over at her. "Would you care to go for a walk along the Esplanade?" "I'd love to." Bella and I found our way over a connected pedestrian bridge to the beautiful grounds beside the river. We followed a path that wound through the park lands and continued our game of questions and answers... stopping only when laughter broke our stride until we came to a small concession stand where Bella allowed me to buy her a corndog and a drink. "Aren't you having anything?" "I'm not hungry," I smiled. She didn't argue. We just turned and continued chatting as we made our way back toward the hotel. Eventually we stopped to dispose of Bella's garbage. "So..." I began. "Since we are taking turns, and I suggested the walk... what would you like to do this evening?" I asked. "Let me think," Bella pursed her lips. "Do you know what sounds like fun? We should go see a movie!" "It does sound like fun," I agreed. It also sounded like a date. Our first real date. We were able to take a cab from the hotel to a nearby movie theatre, and I purchased two tickets for a romantic comedy that had just started. Sitting next to Bella in the darkened theatre felt so completely normal that I couldn't imagine being happier. Until she reached over in the darkness and placed her hand in mine. I hoped to God she didn't want to discuss the movie later, because from that point on, I wasn't aware of anything on the screen. Bella's small, warm hand was gently resting in mine. And she had placed it there. More importantly- she wasn't offended or off-put in the slightest by the temperature of my skin. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to be sitting beside her that way. And I let

my fingers wrap around and through hers. She smiled in the dark and glanced over at me. It was then that I knew. Hope sprang forward in my chest and I smiled back at her. I could do this. When we got a cab to return to the hotel, Bella smiled as I took the initiative and wrapped my hand around hers again. For once, I wasn't the freak watching the happy couple pass me by. I wasn't caged by a necessary separation from the world and its accompanying loneliness. I actually felt like part of a normal couple, as we walked together through the lobby, hand in hand. I didn't want to let her or this new found intimacy go. But in the room, my awkwardness returned. "You look sleepy," I mentioned, while I walked her through the suite to the door of the master bedroom. "I am. A little," she smiled. She leaned in the doorway, looking sweet and as hesitant to say goodnight as I was. "Tomorrow morning, I was thinking... maybe we could visit the Museum of Fine Arts?" "That would be really nice," she agreed. She didn't drop my hand. And she didn't turn to leave. She just leaned there, looking at me. Waiting... for... something. I wasn't sure. "Goodnight," I finally offered. "Goodnight Edward." She sounded a little breathless. I watched as her eyelids drifted downwards. Her face tilted up ever so slightly... and I realized then, that she expected a kiss goodnight. Of course she would. We had been on a date. It would the logical way to end the evening. But I wasn't sure yet if I could control myself while having my mouth anywhere near her skin. And my hesitation caused her eyes to open in confusion. I panicked. I didn't want to leave her thinking that I was unaffected by her... or that the day hadn't been the most perfect one of my existence so far. So I purposely did my best to level a look at her that left her nearly as dazed-looking as the girl at the check-in counter had been earlier. And then in a romantic gesture perhaps better suited to another time, I pulled our joined hands up towards my face- took a deep breath- and pressed my lips to the top of her hand. I was not expecting the jolt that I felt run through my body at this chaste contact. Warmth tingled from where my lips met her skin and pushed its way through my entire body. Bella's heartbeat sped instantly, and her mouth parted a little in surprise. I knew she felt it too. I let my mouth linger there, once I was sure I could- amazed and shocked to actually be kissing her. Her skin felt so incredibly smooth against my lips... so warm... and so delicious. I kept my eyes trained on hers, and only lifted my face when her cheeks began to blush such an attractive shade of pink that I wasn't sure if I could resist testing myself further.

"Sleep well, Bella," I whispered. She didn't respond. She just turned as I released her hand and walked quietly into her room.

36. Breaking the Rules

Well into the night, I contentedly occupied my time while Bella slept peacefully in the adjoined room. I wasn't tempted to watch her- as had become habit to me. Having Bella near of her own volition filled me with a comfort that allowed me to quietly prowl through the rest of the suite as an alternate activity. A living room area, dining room, and even a butler's pantry were made available for discerning guests. And of course, Alice had been correct. These accommodations weren't necessary to impress Bella. She didn't care about the dcor- though she had commented on the view. It would have seemed indulgent to an extreme if we weren't forced to take the suite by a Jasper-arrangedproblem with our reservations. I was going to owe him big time, for the opportunity to keep Bella close. I pulled the hem of my t-shirt up and over my head, and casually tossed it to the top of my bag before walking out onto the terrace. The cool night air caressed my skin and I breathed in the night time scents of the city and the river below. I was still trying to decide if I should present Bella with a gift. Something pretty- as Jasper had suggested. But what? Jewelry would be way too presumptuous. Perhaps a flower? My head turned quickly toward a sound from the inner recesses of the suite. I crouched and rapidly moved indoors, looking for signs of danger. Only one scent permeated the air, and I stood upright and followed it until I found Bella in the butler's pantry. She was bent at the waist, illuminated by the glow from the small refrigerator as she pulled a bottle of water from its shelves. I leaned my shoulder into the frame of the door, folded my arms across my chest, and watched her. Even after the refrigerator door shut, I could see her clearly. I wasn't shocked by her state of undress. I watched her sleep in less on most nights. But her particular choice of sleep attire that evening made me smile. "Is that my shirt?" I asked quietly. Bella had been taking a drink of water, and my voice startled her so that she splashed her drink. "Oh my God," Bella sounded nervous. "You scared me!" She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. "Did I?" I rose to stand straight and walked into the room. "I'm sorry."

"It's ok," Bella replied. "I hope I didn't wake you." "I wasn't sleeping." I moved very close to her. I told myself it was to allow her to see me in the dim lighting provided by the city beyond the window. But truthfully, I just couldn't resist. "What were you doing?" Sleep had made her voice raspy. I wasn't sure what to attribute the breathy quality to. "I was standing outside." "You... aren't wearing a shirt." Again- she spoke with that breathy voice. I stepped lightly around her, circling. I let my hands move her hair behind her shoulders so I could speak near her ear. "And you aren't wearing pants," I said softly. She shivered. "I... washed your shirt. I planned to return it to you..." She wore the same t-shirt that I had loaned her to wear when she stayed at my house. "Oh really? Ok. If you insist," I laughed lightly. I had moved all the way around her and was standing in front of Bella once again. She blushed intensely, a fact that was not lost to me in the dark. "I decided to keep it. You aren't getting it back." "Damn," I continued to tease. But Bella's heartbeat picked up in pace and thrummed loudly. "Am I making you nervous?" I asked. "No." She moved a step closer to me as if to illustrate her conviction. "Something tells me that maybe I should be nervous. But I'm not." "You probably should be," I admitted quietly. "I know I'm safe with you," she said with a determined voice. Her hand reached out and she tentatively touched my chest. As her fingers slid downward, my stomach muscles contracted under her touch and she took a shaky breath. I took a step backward and her hand fell down to her side. "What if you're wrong?" It was painful to voice my fear out loud. "I'm not," she argued firmly. We stared at each other, in the semi-darkness. "I think... I should let you get back to sleep," I finally suggested. Bella nodded but looked no less determined.

"And I should let you... get back to whatever it was that you were doing." "Well then. Good night. Again," I said. This time, I was the one to turn first. I escaped back out to the terrace and stared unseeing at the dark landscape. I was walking on the edge of a blade with Bella. I could never have the type of relationship that I hoped to have with her, until she fully understood the threat involved by having me in her life. At the same time, I was certain that disclosing the true danger if our association would only force her to leave. I wasn't ready to give any of this up. Morning arrived, and I still had not come to any definitive conclusions. I did, however, find a new focus for my determination. Bella felt safe with me, and I never wanted to make her regret that. When I heard the water running in the other room, I put in a call to room service and had breakfast sent to the room. By the time Bella emerged, fresh-faced and ready for the day, a pretty table was waiting with trays of sweet breads and fruits, coffee and milk. "Good morning. I wasn't sure what you'd like," I indicated the breakfast selection. "I'll just shower while you eat." I hoped that an assortment of foods would make my abstinence less noticeable than if I had ordered individual plates. Bella smiled her gratitude and I left her to her meal. I buttoned my shirt as I walked back through the suite. Bella was standing on the terrace with a cup of coffee, looking out at the horizon much as I had done the night before. Her hair blew in soft-looking waves behind her. I was struck once again by her beauty, and couldn't resist commenting as I moved to stand beside her. "Beautiful," I murmured. "It is, isn't it? It's going to be a gorgeous day!" Bella turned towards me with a smile. The wind chased her hair into her eyes, and I reached forward to tuck it behind her ear. I wasn't referring to the weather, but I didn't want to come on too strong. "Are you ready to go have some fun?" "Absolutely! But... am I dressed alright?" Bella glanced down at her light-pink cotton pullover and jeans. "You look great," I told her truthfully. "We'll be back here in plenty of time to get dressed for the theatre." She smiled and I held the door for her as we set out for a morning of sight-seeing.

Bella and I spent hours literally strolling through the Museum of Fine Arts. Bella was by no means an expert in art. She didn't pretentiously point out light sources and brush technique. But she knew what she liked, and she didn't rush her enjoyment of the experience. When we came to a piece that appealed to her, we would simply stop and look at it until her eyes had absorbed as much of the detail as she hoped for. Sometimes she would try to explain why she was drawn to the artwork. Sometimes she would try to describe how the colors or subject made her feel. Always- she would use her hands in sweeping motions while she talked that made me think back to the way those warm and expressive hands felt when held inside my own. Bella often stopped to ask my opinion about certain pieces. I didn't bother to lecture her with art history. She didn't want to know what could be learned in a book. She wanted to know about my thoughts and my feelings. She was trying to know me. Bella's favorite paintings were found in a collection of Renaissance artwork from Italy. We spent most of our time in the gallery that housed them. When I casually mentioned that we would never be able to visit even half of the museum in the time that remained, Bella shrugged and smiled. "I would rather spend all of my time truly appreciating one beautiful thing, than hurry past a million things that don't interest me just so I could say I had seen them all." Her smile was so beguiling that I wanted to tell her right then and there that she had pretty much summed up my entire existence so far. As we left the building and waited at the curb for a cab, Bella reminded me which of the pieces of art she had been most taken with. "What about you?" She asked, as I held the door of the taxi open for her. "Did you have any favorites?" "My favorite wasn't hanging on a wall," I smiled. Half-way back to our hotel, colorful umbrellas and tables called my attention to a string of small caf's with outdoor seating. "Would you like to stop for lunch?" I asked, pointing toward the window. Bella smiled. "I'm glad you asked. Yes. I'm starving!" I directed the cab driver to pull aside, and paid him as Bella exited the cab and made her way to the nearest bistro. We were seated in minutes and Bella quickly chose from the menu. She ordered pasta and a glass of wine before the waitress turned to take my order. "Nothing for me, thanks," I said politely. The waitress left with an intentionally flirtatious offer for me to let her know if I changed my mind and would like anything. Bella sighed loudly.

"Edward. I'm sorry. I've tried. But I am going to have to break one of our rules. The 'food thing' is making me nuts," she frowned. I wrinkled my nose and pretended to playfully cringe. Inwardly I dreaded the turn the conversation had taken. It really was only a matter of time. "Ok. You get two questions. Only two. And... they have to be questions I can answer with 'yes' or 'no.'" "You are stubborn!" Bella's lips pressed into a hard line. "You started the rule-making," I shrugged. "Fine." She huffed good-naturedly. "You are obviously in great physical shape. So I can't assume you have any kind of eating disorder..." "You think I'm in great physical shape?" I smiled coyly while letting my fingers play against the small flowers in the vase on the table between us. "Don't try to distract me," Bella said sternly. "Since you aren't anorexic, I can only assume that you are fasting for some particular reason that you don't want to talk about." "Is that a question?" I asked. "Yes. Are you fasting?" "Yes," I answered with a nod. "Is it... some sort of religious thing?" "No." I let the smile play on my lips and answered truthfully. "Well... are you like Gandhi? Are you fasting to make a statement about something? Against the clubbing of baby seals or some other crime against humanity?" I tossed back my head and laughed with earnest. She just watched me with an amused look on her face. "No. I'm nothing like Gandhi. And I've already answered two of your questions." I cut off her attempt to prolong the topic. She just frowned and looked down at the table. "I suppose since I broke the rules, you should be allowed to ask me something about Mike now. Two questions? 'Yes' or 'no' answers?" she suggested. "I'd ... rather not," I declined. Grasping a single green stem, I plucked a daisy from the arrangement. I pinched it between my fingers, making it spin as I smiled at Bella over its cheery yellow crown. And then I presented the gift to the woman sitting across from me at the table. "I'd much rather pretend that I'm the only man you are thinking about while we are together."

Bella's cheeks turned pink as she took the flower from my hand. "You must think I'm horrible," she mumbled. "To have just broken up with him a few days ago... and yet seem so ready to move on already." "Are you ready to move on?" I asked, urgently. "Yes." She met my eyes with sincerity in her gaze. "But, that relationship has been over -for mefor a long time. Physically... emotionally... and ending it was not something I treated lightly." "I understand," I told her. "And I don't think you are horrible. In fact, I think you are amazing." Bella smiled at my acceptance of the situation, and laid the flower down next to her napkin when the waitress served lunch. The conversation easily went back to our previous game of questions and answers while Bella ate. We asked for and shared memories of our childhoods. It was much more difficult for me to remember those details of my human life. But I learned that Bella had taken ballet lessons (and hated them,) and Bella discovered that my one true love as a boy was for the game of baseball. Together, we decided to walk for the remainder of our trip back to the hotel. I was anxious to hold her hand again, and Bella seemed more than eager to accept my outstretched palm with a smile. I was a little worried, however, about the weather. "It looks like rain," I commented as I looked up at the heavy clouds hanging above us. Bella squeezed my hand in agreement. "Like that's ever stopped a couple of kids from Forks, Washington?" She giggled and I laughed with her. We had gone no further than a city block when the sky opened up with a torrential downpour. Pedestrians huddled under awnings and in store-front doorways. Some passed us on the sidewalk, cringing from the rain and hiding under large umbrellas. Bella and I just walked as though oblivious to the weather, grinning and holding hands while the rain soaked us through. We smiled. We laughed. Bella skipped a little, and we playfully kicked water at each other from puddles. I couldn't remember having more fun. We earned quite a few stares while we played in the rain. I didn't care. I picked up thoughts around us... of confusion... of amusement. My smile grew impossibly more wide when I heard the jealous thoughts of one individual we passed. But when one man walked near, peering at us from beneath the cover of his umbrella, his thoughts made me turn my face toward Bella with alarm. She was skipping a few steps in front of me, unaware of how she had attracted the man's attention. But I tugged her hand hard, causing her to spin towards me before I pulled her close to my chest.

"Edward!" She was taken by surprise and shocked by my sudden movements. Rain dripped from her hair and down her face as she turned her startled brown eyes up toward me. "What is it?" "Your shirt," I said while gritting my teeth. I steeled my jaw and turned my face away from Bella, trying to afford her some privacy. But my body was reacting very strongly to the warmth of her chest pressed against mine; separated only by a couple layers of very wet- and in her casevery transparent cotton. "Oh my God!" She whispered, looking down. I could hear the mortification in her voice. "I had no idea!" "Here," I muttered. I immediately unbuttoned my shirt and took it off, trying to block her from the view of other possible bystanders. She quickly thrust her arms through the sleeves. While she pushed the cuffs up past her hands, I fastened the buttons down the front of the shirt, feeling the back of my fingers burn where they brushed against her. "Thank you," she said quietly. My own a-line t-shirt offered me no protection from the elements. But my navy button-up covered Bella completely. "My pleasure," I smiled, trying to alleviate her embarrassment. "I guess you can't have a real Spring Break without at least one wet t-shirt contest, huh?" Bella was joking, but still sounded nervous. I looked up at her and stared deep into her eyes. "You, my dear, would have won first prize." Bella tipped her face up toward the rain and laughed, tension finally gone. "Did you look?" She slapped at my arm while I shook my head and refused to admit to peeking. "And I was just about to accuse you of being a gentleman again!" I took her hand with a twisted grin, and we walked the rest of the way to our hotel. Bella giggled breathlessly as I pulled her through the fine lobby. Our shoes squished and slid across the elegantly waxed floors. We looked half-drowned as we dripped water from our sodden clothing all the way to the elevators. It was within the small confines of the elevator that I noticed Bella's teeth chattering. "I never thought I'd see the day," I teased. "But Isabella Swan, you look cold!" "I'm freezing!" She admitted. Once in the room, I walked straight to the master bath and turned on all of the faucets to fill the over-sized tub with hot water. I twisted the lid of the hotel-issued bubble bath and sniffed at it cautiously before turning the entire contents of the bottle into the steaming water. Bella giggled from the doorway while removing her shoes and socks.

"I could probably step into that bath fully clothed, and still end up less wet than I am right now!" Bella joked. "Hmm. You're probably right," I agreed. Then I rushed to her side and scooped her up into my arms before she had time to see my intentions. "Edward!" She squealed and squirmed against my chest. "What are you doing?" "Testing your theory!" I said. I strode to the edge of the tub and placed her, fully clothed, into the water. The look on her face was so comical, it was priceless. Her mouth hung open in shock when she realized what I had done. So I laughed. "I... can't believe you!" she sputtered. I just grinned and pulled my own socks and shoes off, tossing them to the side. "Scoot back!" I instructed. As she complied and slid to the back of the tub, I launched myself over the edge with a large splash. I could hear her laughing when I emerged, shaking my head and wiping soap from my face. "You've gone crazy!" she laughed. "Maybe I have!" "I think I like it," Bella complimented with a smile. I just pulled my thin white t-shirt up and over my head before tossing it to the floor near my shoes with a wet thwack against the marble tile. Bella grinned and shed my button-up shirt, throwing it in the same direction. Her pink t-shirt joined it and I could see the white lacy straps of her bra above the bubbles that hid everything below. She raised her eyebrow as if she was challenging me to continue. So I tugged my denim jeans off, made heavy by the water, and added them to the pile of soaking wet clothing on the floor. Bella pursed her lips, and the water sloshed as she struggled to remove her own jeans below the suds. Soon, they were thrown out of the tub too. She looked at me again then, checking my next move. I laughed. "Don't worry! I plan to leave my boxers on, so I won't compromise your modesty!" "Good idea," she sighed. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for us both to bathe together in our underwear, we leaned against our respective sides of the tub and warmed our bodies in the fragrant water. "What show are we going to see tonight?" Bella asked, stretching her toe to rub against the gold fixture on the side of the tub.

"The Phantom of the Opera." The water splashed against the sides of the tub while Bella sat up quickly in excitement. "Bubbles," I warned her. "Sorry," she blushed and sank back down under the water and out of my line of sight. "I just can't believe we are going to that show. I've never seen it. And I've always wanted to!" "I know," I admitted quietly, though I would have loved to take the credit for the idea. "Alice told me." "That's right!" I could hear that she remembered the conversation she had with my sister. "I really like Alice, Edward. And Jasper too. They are very kind. And they are lots of fun." "They really like you too," I said sincerely. Bella slid down until her head disappeared under the water. I held my breath until she reemerged. Then I moved forward with a washcloth in hand. She sat still under my attention as I carefully wiped the soap away from her eyes. "Thanks," she breathed. "Anytime." Bella opened her wide eyes to look at me when I didn't immediately make a move to return to my side of the tub, and I swore the water increased in temperature by at least twenty degrees. My eyes shifted down to her mouth. I stared at the water drops that lingered there. Her breath caught, and I raised my hand tentatively towards her face. She didn't move away. I swallowed hard and let my fingers graze lightly down her cheek. Then, as softly as I was able, I cupped her chin in my hand and allowed my thumb to trace her lips. "Bella... I want..." "Yes, Edward?" Her scent swirled around me, and I held my breath. I was hyper-aware that we were both barely dressed. And I was fairly sure that if I gave in to the feelings that were coursing through my body, I'd never stop with just a simple kiss. "I want... to let you finish your bath." I slid away from her before I could change my mind. "You should probably cover your eyes!" And then I jumped from the tub and wrapped a large towel around my waist. Wet boxer-briefs probably wouldn't be conducive to protecting Bella's modesty, and certainly not at my current state of arousal.

I didn't look at her as I picked up our wet clothing and dropped it into the sink basin. I also took an extra towel and mopped up the large puddle of water that we had created, so that Bella wouldn't slip when she got out of the tub. When I finally dared to look back at her, Bella was resting with her head back and her eyes closed. A small smile played around her lips, making me believe that she wasn't upset with my sudden departure. "Hey Edward?" Bella called my name as I was leaving the room, causing me to take a step back and look at her. Her eyes were still closed. "Yes?" I asked, cautiously. "You should know... I peeked," she grinned. I shook my head and laughed. "Well then, you should know... I did too."

37. Unmasked

I could clearly hear Bella moving around in her room, and so I risked a gentle knock on her door to get her attention. "Come in," she invited. I opened the door and then hesitated in the doorway to appreciate the view in front of me. Bella was standing, wrapped in a hotel towel, with one foot resting on a padded stool near the dressing table. Her hands were applying lotion to her raised leg, even as she turned her head towards me with a smile. I tried to pretend that I wasn't staring at the dangerously- high angle the towel cut across her thigh as she stood in that position. "I... am going to send our wet clothes down to laundry service. I thought I might have my suit steamed. Would you like me to send your dress down as well?" "That's so thoughtful," Bella smiled. Then she held up her hands, palms-forward, to show me the lotion on them. "Would you mind getting my bag? It's hanging right there." "No problem," I shook my head. I walked quickly through the room to retrieve our wet clothes from the bathroom sink, and then grabbed her garment bag on my way back to the door. "Am I running late?" Bella asked. "It will take me forever to dry my hair..." "We have a little over an hour before we should leave. Unless you need to eat first?"

"No. I am still full from lunch." "Ok then," I smiled. I needed to get out of the room. The sight of her in that soft white towel was causing me to seriously consider skipping the theatre all together. Fantasy images of me stripping the towel from her body and kissing every exposed inch of her tantalizing skin was creating a need in me that was almost painful. And her scent was nearly as agonizing. Her body was warm from the bath, and the natural scent of her was only heightened by the sweet smell of her shampoo and the lotion that she applied. I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut as I closed the door and leaned against it for a moment. She tempted me in every imaginable way. My suit and Bella's dress were pressed and returned immediately, with a note that our other clothes would be brought to our room as soon as possible. I opened Bella's bedroom door just wide enough to slide my arm through to place the hanger over the door knob. I wasn't going to risk stepping inside with her in any state of undress again. "Thank you Edward," Bella called out from somewhere inside the room. "Thirty-minutes," I reminded her of our departure time. "Would you like a glass of wine before we leave?" "That sounds wonderful. I'll be out soon," she said. I poured a glass of wine for her and took it to the balcony. The rain, fortunately, had ceased. A cool, brisk evening was left in its wake. The breeze pushed my hair back and I closed my eyes to enjoy the cleansing freshness of it. When I heard her step behind me, I smiled before I turned. Bella was a vision. She didn't need a lot of make-up to improve upon her features. And she didn't use it. The lightest traces of coloring brought attention to her wide eyes and her full mouth. She had captured her hair behind her head in some sort of clip that allowed wild chestnut curls to tumble behind her shoulders and back. And her dress... a simple black dress that exposed her collar bones and the tops of her shoulders with a wide v-shaped neckline that only made her tiny waist look even smaller before the dress fell in soft folds just past her knees. It looked like something Grace Kelly might have worn- or some Hollywood movie starlet from another time. Classy. Elegant. "Miss Swan," I said, while stepping forward and handing her the glass I held. "You leave me speechless." She smiled as she accepted the wine and carefully looked me over. "And you look incredibly handsome," she complimented. I didn't say anything else. I was afraid anything that tumbled out of my mouth would sound incredibly corny and would leave me looking like a fool. Instead, I just enjoyed the rare beauty in front of me.

Bella took a sip of her drink, and then shrugged her shoulders forward in a self-deprecating gesture before looking down at her feet. "I'm sure I'll probably break my leg trying to walk in these on the cobblestones." I looked down at her delicate, strappy, high-heeled shoes. "Don't worry Bella. I won't let you fall." "Thanks." Her smile was genuine. "But, you might want to start out with them fastened correctly," I suggested. I had noticed the thin strap around her left foot was not buckled properly. I knelt quickly in front of Bella and turned her ankle in my hand- securing the shoe for her. I let my hands linger on the soft skin above her shoe, trailing my eyes up her smooth calf to her hemline. In a moment, I felt Bella tentatively touch the top of my head. Afraid I had offended her, I slowly released her foot. But I didn't rise. I just closed my eyes at the sensation that Bella created when she began lightly brushing her fingers through my hair. I could have hummed with the pleasure that her simple touch evoked, and nearly did. I was quite literally, at her feet. When her hand stalled, I finally looked up at her. "Sorry," she whispered while looking down into my eyes. "Please- don't be," I implored. I didn't want her to be sorry, for anything. I didn't want her to have any regrets. It was one of the only reasons that prevented me from pulling her down against me and taking her mouth with mine. Alice said she had a vision of Bella asking me to kiss her. Surely I could wait for that invitation if it would mean that Bella would hate me less afterward. She might not consider me so selfish for taking what was freely offered. Shouldn't I wait for that opportunity? I would. I could wait. But still... My head turned at the sharp sound of a knock at the suite door. Bella sighed loudly. "Laundry service," I guessed as I stood. "They are probably returning our clean clothes." From the corner of my eye, I saw Bella finish her wine in two long gulps. I answered the summons at the door and placed our folded laundry on the table beside my car keys and the valet receipt until it could be re-packed later. "Are you ready to go?" Bella asked, with a polite though slightly distant-looking smile. "Yes," I grinned, trying to alleviate some of the tension I felt between us. I placed my hand on the small of her back as I guided her out the door. For a few more hours, I would take Alice's advice. I would try to relax. I would have fun. The night would be mine to make what I would of it.

The distance to the theatre was a short ride by cab. I basked in the luxury of normalcy as I led Bella through the crowd of patrons who were also there to enjoy the evening's performance. Excited thoughts swirled around me, and I imagined Bella's internal tone to match those of the minds I could easily read. Her cheeks were flushed pink and she was positively glowing under the soft theatre lights. I kept my arm around her proudly, with my hand resting on her lower back, as I led the way to our balcony seats. "It's so beautiful," Bella smiled, motioning towards the renovated architectural adornment that helped to make the Opera House such a lovely venue. When the lights dimmed, I reached over and took Bella's hand in mine. It was perfect. The music and the story were familiar to me. I had seen the play before. I took much greater delight in watching Bella's reaction to the performance. She smiled, she laughed, she shuddered and she sighed. She was a joy to watch. We strolled through the lobby during intermission. Bella talked animatedly about the performance thus far, and I soaked up her enthusiasm, adding my own comments about this particular performance. When an observant young man walked by and allowed his thoughts to consider Bella a little too intimately, I wrapped my arm around her waist possessively and sent him scurrying away with a dark look. Bella smiled, unaware, and leaned further into my side. Back at our seats, she mimicked the same posture by leaning against me and resting her cheek on my shoulder. I held one arm loosely around her, pleased that she allowed me this near-embrace. When I let my fingers trace light designs on her shoulder, she shivered but nestled closer to me. She did not move away. Bella did not shift position until Act II, scene Seven. I admit, The Point of No Return was a song that would have drawn my attention as well, had I not been completely intrigued by watching Bella's emotions chase across her face. "Our games of make-believe are at an end..." The Phantom sang so plaintively. Bella leaned forward, entranced by the performance on the stage. I, in turn, was entranced by her. The stage lighting reflected upon the pools of moisture that had formed over Bella's beautiful chocolate-brown eyes. She took a shuddering breath as one jewel-like tear tumbled past her lashes and drew a silver line down toward the corner of her mouth. I wished I could read her thoughts. I wanted to truly understand the emotional connection she felt to the music that caused this response in her. Curious, intrigued, and enraptured, I put my finger out to gently capture the tear on her cheek. I stared at the crystalline droplet for a moment before bringing it to my mouth and touching the salty liquid to the tip of my tongue. Bella gasped softly, and my eyes flew guiltily to hers. Her eyes still glistened with unshed tears, though her attention was stolen from the stage and was fully on me. Her mouth had formed a

pink "o" in surprise, and I inhaled sharply. Then, like magnets, our faces moved toward one another. Bella's long lashes fluttered down, and I looked at her mouth longingly. I was willing the words to come. Would she ask me to kiss her? Would this be the invitation I had waited for? Or had I unintentionally changed the course of the path we were on? Perhaps Alice's original vision had been altered, and I was waiting for a request from Bella that would never come! I pressed my lips together with sudden determination. I would wait no more. Surely Bella would be safe here, against any of my urges that might surface? We sat surrounded by a theatre of witnesses. My selfishness would finally win out. I would take this moment for my own. I touched my lips with my tongue in anticipation and held my breath as I moved closer. My hesitation, however, had not gone un-noticed. Bella opened her eyes and blinked up at me. In a second, her brows lowered with an emotion that looked to be a mix of confusion and consternation. I parted my lips to speak. "Wait," I wanted to say. But Bella had already moved her head and was looking around both sides of her. She avoided my eyes, and found her small black purse. And then she gritted her teeth and stood abruptly. I could hear angrily hissed whispers and annoyed internal comments about rudeness and bad etiquette as Bella began making her way to the aisle. She offered hushed apologies as she stepped over the legs of the people in the seats beside us. I sat, stunned. I had no idea what had just occurred that angered Bella enough to get up and leave in the middle of a musical number. I was completely at a loss as to the protocol of how to handle the situation. Maybe I should give her a few minutes and wait for her to return? By the end of the song, my anxiety would allow me to wait no longer. I stood while the audience offered applause, and followed her path to the balcony exit. The hallway was deserted. I could hear the play's progression behind the closed doors that I passed as I followed Bella's scent down the richly carpeted stairs. She didn't stop at the restrooms. I followed her trail straight through the lobby to the main doors. Bella had left the theatre entirely. I felt a frown pull across my features as I pushed my way through the heavy glass doors. I was propelled forward with an urgent need to find her, but frustrated by her irrational behavior. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. Her scent was diluted by the night air, but I was able to ascertain that she had turned right and was walking in the direction of our hotel. My worry for her safety was tinged with annoyance for her reckless action. She had no reason good enough for being so fool-hardy as to leave the safety of the theatre, to walk alone in a strange city at night! I walked quickly, breathing in short bursts to ensure that I was still moving in the right direction. Suddenly her scent became stronger to me. I knew that she was near. And then, I could hear her. I rounded the corner into a dark alley, and found Bella leaning with her back against the brick wall. She was angrily wiping tears away from her face with the back of her hand.

"Bella," I exclaimed with a loudly expelled. "What in the world were you thinking?" I was working hard to check the emotions that were threatening to run over. Confusion, worry, irritation, concern..."Why did you leave?" I could hear that my voice sounded angry. But my controlled faade was becoming difficult to maintain under the circumstances. "What do you care? Go away!" Bella sniffed angrily. "Of course I care!" My voice had risen in volume. "Why else would I be out here, trying to find you? You can not just wander the city streets alone!" "Yeah, yeah. I get it," she shrugged her voice was bitter. "You feel protective of me. Like a friend... like I'm your sister!" She spat the last word out as though it were dirty. I was completely befuddled by her harsh tone. "My feelings for you are hardly fraternal," I warned lowly, gritting my teeth. We were both breathing heavily as we faced off. "Then what is it?" Bella threw her hands up in exasperation. "Are you not attracted to me at all?" "Have you gone mad?" I allowed my voice to get louder still. My hands clenched at my sides. This silly, frustrating girl was being completely absurd. "How can you not know how attracted I am to you? I've been doing my best to... be respectful and keep my hands off you since we got here! I don't even think I have the strength to stay away from you anymore!" "Then don't!" She yelled at me. Bella's chest rose and fell harshly with her rapid breaths. And I wasn't going to wait for more of an invitation than that. I closed the gap between us with more speed than a normal person could manage. And before either of us could be distracted or change our minds, I pushed my hands into the back of her hair and fairly slammed her back against the brick wall. The black and white movie scenes in my mind had always played this situation out differently. Sometimes Bella and I would be sitting in a lovely spring meadow of flowers when we shared our first kiss. Sometimes in my imagination, she would pull me toward her in her bedroom for that magical moment. Hell- after we watched Sixteen Candles together, I even imagined the slow-motion kiss while we bent towards each other over a birthday cake. But every scenario that had played itself in my mind was always slow, and tender. I approached her with caution and with care. This... was not like that. At all. Bella's startled gasp didn't stop me. If anything, it encouraged me. I was briefly aware of being thankful that my hands cradled the back of her head so that it wouldn't be hurt when I shoved her against the wall. Because when our bodies collided, rational thought left me completely.

With my hands in Bella's thick hair, I angled her head up to the side to give myself better access to those lips that had haunted my waking dreams. And then I finally crashed my mouth to hers. A wave of pent-up longing and lust wrecked me the moment that our lips met. I groaned against her mouth and shoved my hips against hers. Maybe now she would understand the desires that I had hoped to shelter her from. But Bella wasn't afraid. She sighed my name against my mouth and reached up to twist her fingers in my hair, pulling me closer. Her response thrilled me and made me want more. I was no longer able to contain my emotions. Brick by brick the wall came down, leaving me shaken and exposed. But my need for her surpassed it all. The confusion, the anxiety, the worry... all was replaced by this violent craving I had. Not for her blood. No. I felt like laughing. My male desires for this woman were stronger than any pull I felt towards the blood rushing through her veins. Though her scent still swirled around me and tempted me... sent flames burning down my throat... the raw sexual need I had for her was stronger still. I pulled my hands from her hair and gripped her hips roughly, pulling her against my body. Bella gasped at the sharp contact. I took advantage of her surprise and tasted her bottom lip. Because I still could not detect any venom in my mouth, I proceeded to deepen our kiss. A soft growl started in my chest when Bella opened her mouth for me, and allowed me to trace the edge of her teeth with my tongue. I breathed my cool breath against her and she shivered, but did not loosen her hold in my hair. When her tongue darted out to meet mine, I pressed one hand behind her on the wall to help myself remain upright. Her complete and utter surrender to me was my undoing, and I feasted on her mouth like a starving man. A small voice inside my head began persistently telling me I'd had enough- that I should take the moment and seal it away as a perfect memory to last me throughout time. That same voice started reminding me that I was no better than a thief, stealing this from Bella. She didn't know that she was offering herself to a monster. But I didn't want to stop. And I didn't want to give her a reason to push me away. I could only hope to offer her every truth I could in the kiss. I gave her the best excuse I had and prayed that she would someday find comfort in knowing how much it really meant to me. The walls were down. I couldn't control my emotions if I tried. "I love you," I ground against her mouth. "I love you. I love you." And then my lips plundered hers again. Bella slipped her hands from my hair, but only to grip the lapels of my jacket. Her soft lips moved under my onslaught and her hips rocked against mine. My thoughts had taken a very different turn when the worst thing I could imagine cut through the haze around me. I drug my lips from Bella with a groan and pressed my forehead to hers. We were both breathing heavily. But I pressed my eyes shut. I could feel the distinct prickling sensation at the back of my mouth, and could taste the venom that was beginning to coat my teeth. Bella licked her puffy-lips

and tilted her face to kiss me again. But I fisted my hands onto the wall above her head and turned my face away. Why? Why was this happening? I thought for sure that my body's reaction toward Bella was more human in nature. Yet, I could feel the muscles in my back tightening, the venom pooling in the back of my mouth. And rage. Rage was the most dominant feeling coursing through my body abolishing the rest. Rage that I was being denied what I wanted most. I curled my lip, inhaling deeply to try to control myself. It was then that I realized we were not alone. I spun quickly, crouching low and putting my arms behind me- trapping Bella within their confines as she still stood against the wall. "Edward? What is it?" Her voice sounded nervous. "Shhh..." I warned. And then I hissed quietly as three men walked toward us from the shadowy corner. My vampiric reaction was to the threat that these men offered. It had nothing to do with Bella. I summed up the danger of the situation and slowly rose to a standing position. My first priority was to keep Bella safe. I wasn't sure what weapons the men carried. But I could tell by the thoughts of the man in the lead that he was only pretending to have a gun in his pocket. Anything they chose to brandish when facing me would be ineffective, of course. But I needed to keep them away from Bella. "Well, well... I hope we aren't interrupting," the tallest man sneered. "You are," I stated distinctly. I would give them anything they wanted, and send them on their way. But I would not let them believe for a moment that they intimidated me. "Pretty boy is pissed off that he's left with blue-balls," the man laughed behind him toward his cohorts. "Look at her. Can you blame him?" The smaller, dark haired man on his side lewdly rubbed the front of his pants while he looked over my shoulder toward Bella. I shifted to stand between them automatically. "Bella, hand me your purse," I said quietly. I reached my hand over my shoulder and she placed her purse into my palm without argument. I held it forward and spoke calmly as I reached toward my inner pocket. "My wallet is here," I mentioned while keeping my hands where they could see them. "Take the money and go." They allowed me to retrieve my wallet, and I tossed it along with Bella's purse to the ground near the tallest man's feet. "Bella, that's a pretty name," said the third man. He was closing the distance on Bella's opposite side. I slid my feet closer to him on the sidewalk, keeping my eye on the other two.

"You should take me up on that offer," I quietly warned. "Pick up the money and go, while I still let you." All three men laughed loudly. A scared sob broke forth from Bella's lips that enraged me. The same sweet mouth that had been offered to me just minutes before... stolen from me by these pigs. I curled my fingers into claws and felt a growl building up in my chest. "What do you say, darlin? Want to come see how it feels to be with a real man?" The growl in my chest was growing slow and steadily into a snarl and I bared my teeth. "Fuck you!" Bella spat. I would have smiled at her determined and feisty retort, had I not been so completely incensed by the insult of his suggestion. "That's all I'm askin," he smiled through yellowed teeth. Then the man made the mistake of lunging towards Bella. When his arm extended past my shoulder, I twisted and grabbed his wrist before smashing the palm of my hand up and against his elbow- breaking his arm. He yelled in agony and grabbed his arm, tripping backward in his haste. Bella's scream pierced through the night and nearly rendered me immobile with terror. I turned my head, fearing the worst. Her wide brown eyes stared wide open with shock and fear. But she was unharmed. I saw then, that she was not screaming because of any personal injury. She had seen what I had missed while dealing with the man who had tried to touch her. The man on my left had pulled a large switch blade knife from his jacket pocket and was swinging it in a wild arc in my direction. Bella screamed again as the knife sliced through my jacket and my shirt. After all she had witnessed, she was still afraid for my safety. When the knife met the impenetrable skin of my chest, the blade snapped and broke. The man jarred his wrist on the impact, and wrapped his other hand around it when he dropped the knife with a curse. The first man hurried to pick up my wallet and Bella's purse before all three turned to run away. I crouched there, quivering with the need to follow them. My defenses were completely down and I wanted nothing more than to give in to the violent urges to tear them apart piece by bloody piece. I would enjoy their screams when I delivered the punishment they deserved for frightening Bella, and for ruining the most important moment I'd ever had. It was too much. The rage I felt, compiled with my earlier lapse in emotional control. I was shaking and unstable. When Bella placed her hand on my shoulder, I cringed from the contact. I needed to control myself. I needed to get a grip, quickly. "Are you, ok?" She sounded breathless. I laughed, trying to put her at ease. But the hoarse sound sounded false to my ears. "I'm fine," I promised.

"How?" Bella sounded confused. She moved around me. My feet were cemented in place as I struggled to root myself to the sidewalk and not chase after the bastards who had just fled. "How? I saw the knife..." Her eyes darted down the front of my jacket, to the large slash marks that clearly showed my skin beneath. "It... must have been a fake knife," I lied. It wasn't even a good lie. I was so full of the desire to chase and torture and kill that I couldn't come up with something better to distract her from the evidence. Bella frowned at my weak attempt and brought her fingers up to the gash in my shirt. Without hesitation, she roughly pulled the material away from itself with a fierce rip. And then she stared in wonder at my unmarked skin beneath. "How?" She asked again. Confusion turned to anger as she looked up at me. "HOW is this possible? I saw the knife cut you. How are you not hurt?" Fear laced her questions as she stood there, begging for understanding. I felt broken. I couldn't do it any longer. I lowered my head and looked at the ground, shaking it back and forth in denial of what I was about to do. "You know." My voice was quiet. My admission was tortured. "You already know." "No," Bella spoke firmly. I looked up to see the stubborn refusal stamped across her features. "You know what I am," I insisted. She shook her head violently, fighting herself, refusing to piece together the truth she must face. "No," she said again, more firmly. And then she put her head down, searching the ground at our feet. "What are you doing?" I asked. I saw as she bent to pick up the broken knife. Perhaps she wanted to see for herself, that it was real. But as she lifted her hand towards the broken edge, I yelled. "DON'T!" It was too late. Bella cut her finger against the sharp broken blade. "Oh!" she exclaimed as the red blood bubbled to the surface and blazed a red ribbon down her finger. The scent of her released blood slammed into me with a force that I could not fathom. My defenses were down. I was weakened by trying to control my urges already. And the blood-lust that overwhelmed me at that moment was more than I could bear. I turned and faced the brick wall... holding my breath and squeezing my eyes shut to try to ignore the killing urge. My fingers clawed into the wall as if it could anchor me there and keep me from attacking her. The bricks were not sturdy enough, and I felt them crumpling to dust under the force of my grip.

"Leave me," I growled, facing away from her. I needed her to go before I hurt her. I needed her to run, far and fast, while I could still keep myself from diving onto her throat and drinking every delicious drop of the blood that filled my senses like no other. I needed her to take me seriously, and to understand the very real situation between us. I could hear her hesitation. It would be her nature to come to me, to reach out for me and to try to comfort me. So I turned and glared in her direction. "LEAVE ME!" The growl tore through my teeth and my chest heaved as I yelled my anguished warning to her. I closed my eyes to force away the image of the raw fear that flashed across her face. And then, like the sound of my salvation, I heard her heels clicking on the pavement as she did as I demanded. Bella ran. I stood there, clenching the rubble of ruined brick in my fists as the sounds of her footfall faded into the city noises. Then I finally slumped down upon myself. I wrapped my arms around my knees and tried to shrink into the dark shadows of the alley. Theatre patrons were leaving, walking noisily past me. Umbrellas opened as it began to rain. It soaked through me, washing away Bella's scent. Busy pieces of conversation and laughter floated past where I remained hidden from their humanity- crouched in the dark like the animal I was. It tortured me to know that I had been forced to send Bella running into dark city streets that were unfamiliar and unsafe. And it tortured me more to know, that any danger she might encounter would be better than the danger she faced had she stayed with me.

38. Time

Time meant nothing, as the rain soaked through my ruined clothing and chased away the lingering scent of the girl who ran away. The cold wetness showered over me, rinsing clean the rage, and left its bitter sibling- resentment- in its wake. I didn't know who to be more angry with... the thugs that destroyed the evening for Bella and I... or myself- for taking advantage of her naivet and giving her such a graphic insight to who I really was, in the worst possible scenario. The only thing I could have done to be more horrific in that situation, would have been to actually rip the throats from our would-be attackers with my teeth. And I had come close. I squeezed my eyes shut tight against the painful memory. Unforgivable. I had been barely able to suppress the myriad of emotions that had taken me by storm. And in my instability, I had nearly given in to my temptation for Bella's blood. She had seen the hunger on my face. She had recognized it for what it was. I knew- when I saw the terror in her eyes- that she finally understood the monster I had been hiding within. I had never hated myself more.

But as I slowly stood, I was uncomfortably aware of a more persistent emotion swirling in the mist around me. Fear. I began walking, my feet picking up the pace as panic started to set in. A clock hanging above a corner-bank indicated that it was almost midnight -the witching hour- and I had no idea where Bella was. I didn't know if she was safe. I didn't know if she was hurt. I had sent her running into the night, and I silently prayed that she had made it to the hotel unscathed. I would never, never forgive myself if something happened to her because of me. I flashed through the city when I could, slowing only when I detected pedestrians that were out late and might have noticed my passing. When I got near the hotel, I was forced to assume a human gait that set my nerves on edge. A late-night group from the convention inside stood drunkenly continuing their party, wearing obnoxious red-jackets. I scowled and moved between their bodies, repressing the urge to shove a few of them out of my way in my haste to get into the hotel. They didn't even seem to notice as my wet clothing brushed up against them. The miserably slow pace made me clench my jaw tightly as I moved forward. I needed to know if Bella had returned. She might have hated me. She might have been terrified of me. I'd make sure she was safe, and then I would go. Finally I made it to the lobby. My destroyed suit dripped water onto the floor, and my wet hair hug heavy across my forehead as I kept my eyes trained downward. Only a few hotel staff members took notice. Thoughts of concern and pity were predominant. I tried to ignore their inner curiosity about my appearance, concentrating instead on the ghost-sound of Bella's wet tennis-shoes squishing along beside me with footsteps that matched mine. Had it only been this afternoon that we had traveled this route together- wet from our walk in the rain- breathless from laughing? The card-key for our door had been in my stolen wallet. The lock, however, did not deter me. I twisted the metal doorknob in my grasp and shoved the wood above it with the heel of my handhearing the internal locking mechanism break as the door pushed inward. The well-lit room greeted me with silence. I took a deep breath of relief. I was sure that the lights had been turned off when we left for the evening. Bella had returned. I sniffed the air warily. Bella's scent permeated the area, but it was weak. Cautiously, I stepped into the suite, glancing left and right. I walked toward the master bedroom and knocked quietly against the partially open door. "Bella?" I called. She didn't answer. So I pushed the door open with my fingertips. The room was in no more disarray than it had been earlier. But Bella wasn't there. My eyes darted across the unmade bed, toward the bathroom door, and landed on the empty space on the carpet near the closet where her suitcase had once rested. It was gone. I turned then, and hurried back through the rest of the suite. My eyes took in the details I had missed in my eagerness to find Bella safe in our room. The book that had been left on the sofa cushion... the bracelet that had rested near the lamp... even the laundry I had placed on the table

earlier was devoid of Bella's items. And next to it, my car keys and valet ticket were gone as well. Bella had been in the room alright- long enough for her to get her things and leave. I slid my back down the wall until my legs were sprawled out on the floor in front of me. What had I done? I put my face into my hands and cursed every wrong decision I had made to bring me to this fate. I could have wallowed in that misery for an indefinite amount of time. However, I still needed to see her with my own eyes. Bella didn't want to see me. That fact was obvious. She was anxious enough to be away from me, that she had stolen my car. But I wouldn't be at peace until I saw that she was truly safe. I left the hotel. I walked away from everything. They could box up my possessions and mail them back to me, or burn them for all I cared. The room charges and fees for the broken lock could be placed on my credit card. None of it mattered. I ran through side-streets and back yards of slumbering residential areas until I reached the city limits. Then wooded areas allowed me to open up my body to the speed it was capable of, as I ran back home to Bella. It was disappointing that I couldn't find my usual peace while I soared through the darkness. I pushed myself, harder and faster, with only one goal in mind. I actually returned to Hanover in less time than it would have taken an average traveler by car. Bella must have driven quickly, or she had quite the head-start, because my silver Volvo was parked in front of her apartment building. Tension left my body as I absorbed the fact that she had made it home, safely. The hood of my car was cool to the touch, indicating that she had been home for a while. She didn't sit around the suite waiting for me to return. She had been in a hurry. As I passed the side of the car, the moonlight glinted off the keys that were still hanging in the ignition. Bella didn't care if someone stole my vehicle from its place by the curb. It was a significant clue that she didn't want me knocking on her door to retrieve my keys. She didn't want to see me, at all. But I still wanted to see her. Feeling remorseful for the liberty I was still not above taking, I walked around the corner of her building and looked up toward her window. It was closed. I am not sure how long I stood there, staring at her window with my hands clenched at my sides, itching to pull myself up and push that glass out of my way. Guilt kept my feet on the ground. Finally, with a heavy sigh, I dropped my head and turned to go.

My car started with a low-hum. Bella wouldn't have heard it from inside. She would assume that either I retrieved my car- or that it was stolen- only after she noticed it missing. I leaned my head against the headrest and breathed deeply. Bella's scent was in my car now. I felt the burn, and held it in my lungs as though I could keep a part of her with me. Then I turned the wheel away from the curb and drove home. After parking the car in the garage, I reluctantly withdrew myself from the engulfing fragrance and walked into the house. Something was different. My nose twitched as I narrowed my eyes and looked around. My lips pressed together hard. Alice and Jasper had been in my house while I was gone. Thank God they hadn't stayed. I didn't want to see anyone. I tossed my keys onto the counter and moved stonily through the rooms until I located the reason for their visit. My piano adorned the great open area reserved for a dining room. Moonlight spilled in through the arched windows, and bathed it in a blue glow. I frowned. Jasper and Alice must have moved it in place while I was away, to surprise me. When Carlisle had suggested that he and Esme would ship the piano to my home, I had actually been happy to accept the idea. I hadn't played a note on the thing since I had moved from Forks. I had lost all inspiration to create music. Wednesday morning, I would have given anything to be able to sit and play the melody that had woven itself through my mind as I thought of Bella. Instead, I had let the music pour out onto paper, with the hopes of hearing it someday soon. Now- with her gone... the music had died once more. I twisted my lips into a sneer as I looked at the piano. It was useless to me. I almost wanted to throw the fucking thing through the wall. Instead of retreating from the room, I walked to the bench and sat down. With my head bowed over the keys, I stared at the simple black and white lines before me until they blurred together in a static-image that meant nothing at all. I sat there. And I didn't move. I didn't blink. I didn't breathe. The silence wrapped around me like a blanket, and I huddled inside its sanctuary. FRIDAY SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY The rising and setting sun indicated the passage of days, as it threw my shadow upon the piano in front of me that I refused to touch. I knew that just one sound would break me, and force me out of the shell I had constructed to keep me numb.

Bella had come to visit me while I sat there. Not the Bella that had left me- the Bella of my darkest fantasies. My immortal Bella. Her white, gossamer gown was only slightly lighter than her pale, luminescent skin. The chocolate-brown color of her eyes was replaced by a warm, golden ochre that matched my own. She danced around the room gracefully, tempting me to feel the pain of imagining a future that I would never have. But because my mind craved the silence, my imagination gave her no voice. I was so wrapped in my latest vision of her laying on the piano above me, that I cringed at the unexpected sound that broke the solitude from near the door. The fact that the words were not uttered out loud did not alter their impact. Jesus, Edward. You look like hell. I winced and looked up to see Alice step into the room, a frown on her face as she took in my appearance. I could see myself through her eyes, and had to agree with her assessment. "Thanks," I muttered. My voice was raspy from lack of use. "Do you hate me?" Alice sounded worried as she stepped into the room and moved closer to me. "I didn't see what would happen until Bella left the theatre in such a hurry. It changed everything. And there was no time for Jasper or I..." I closed my eyes wearily, ending her explanation. "You aren't responsible for any of this. It's all... me." "Well, that's not true," Alice insisted. "You can hardly be blamed for the direction things went." "Oh really?" I looked back up at her then, my face twisted with self-derision. "Under the circumstances," she continued, "I'd say you did quite well. Bella made it home safely. That was your primary concern." "Yes." I couldn't argue with that part of her logic. She flitted across the room and began to open the windows behind me. A strong breeze blew the curtains inward, and they floated up and against the sides of my arms. "I am not going to let you beat yourself up over this," Alice said with a determined voice. "You did the best you could. And to be honest- I have no idea how you have so much self-control. I don't even think Carlisle..." "I don't want the praise," I cut her off sharply. "I could have killed her." "But, you didn't," Alice remained determinedly optimistic. She finally moved to sit beside me on the piano bench. I had to move slightly, to give her room. It was the first time I had moved in days.

Alice turned her head and frowned again, raising her hand to smooth down my rumpled lapel. "You looked so handsome in this suit," she sighed. I tipped my head down and looked at the soiled and torn clothing I still wore. You need a shower. You should change your clothes, she suggested in her thoughts. "It doesn't matter," I shook my head. "You can't stay hidden out in here forever," she retorted. "Jasper was threatening to come drag you out." Alice raised her finger to trace the shadows I knew she saw under my eyes. "Keep him away," I implored. "At least, for now." I didn't want to seem unappreciative of their concern. "I just can't stand his brand of help today." "You'll need to hunt soon," she reminded me lightly. "Soon," I sighed in agreement. "Tell him I will. Soon." "Ok." Alice looked down at the keyboard and raised her dainty hands above it. But I quickly stopped their descent by placing my fingers on her wrist. "Please don't," I said quietly. "You'll have reason to play again, Edward," Alice gave me a small smile. "How do you know? Have you seen something?" I hated the note of hope that escaped in my voice. Alice recognized it and made an apologetic face. "No. I haven't seen anything concrete. I don't think Bella has made her mind up about anything yet. She's all over the place. But I really have a strong feeling about this Edward." "I think you are wrong," I put my head back down. I leaned into Alice's touch when she gently began stroking the back of my hair. "Let's leave the vampire-stuff out of this," Alice suggested. "I wish." "I knew Jasper was the one for me, the moment I saw him," she continued. "Sure... I saw him in a vision. But if he happened to walk into the same caf where we met, and I hadn't seen him coming... I still would have known." "What's your point?" "What I'm trying to say is... human or vampire... singer or not... I think Bella is the one for you. You two are supposed to be together."

"Fate," I whispered. "Exactly." Alice jerked her tiny chin up and down with a satisfied nod then stood to leave. "I'll try to keep Jasper occupied," she grinned. "But I can't make any promises. You know he just wants to see you happy." "Then he needs to give me some time," I muttered. "Beer and porno-magazines aren't going to fix things this time." I gave her a half-grin and Alice's answering smile lit the room. "I am not going to tell him that you said that! He will be convinced that you have lost your mind." Alice laughed and left me alone once more. I sat there after Alice had gone, thinking about everything she had said. There was truth in her message. Throughout it all, my first concern was for Bella's safety. Yes- I had sent her running from me in fear. But in doing so, I had protected her. She now knew me as a monster, but she was unharmed. It was an ugly set of compromises, but I couldn't change a damn thing. Leaving was not an option. I refused to even consider it. If Bella wanted all evidence of me removed from her life, I would make myself invisible to her. But I would never be far away. I would watch her make a new life for herself... find love... get married and have babies... I swallowed hard against the pain that threatened to come to the surface. If that was what Bella needed, I would not interfere. I would always have the memories of the time that we spent together, to cherish and to replay in my mind. The way her nose wrinkled when she laughed... the way her cheeks flushed, well, over anything... the way her lips felt beneath mine... The immortal Bella sat beside me on the space left vacant by Alice. With her newly delivered bell-choir voice, she spoke softly across my cheek. "Play for me, Edward." I inhaled and closed my eyes, finally lifting my hands to the piano keys. It had been years, but my fingers remembered their way home. I almost thought I might be able to enjoy playing. But that idea was as fleeting as the mirage of the girl who sat beside me. I tested a few chords and then sighed heavily and slumped forward. There was no joy. Only noise. I hit the keys hard with my hands in one last burst of aggravation, and then paused as I heard my front door open and close. I guessed Jasper wasn't so easily deterred. "I am really not in the mood for this!" I yelled out, loudly. "Should I leave?" A soft voice spoke from the doorway. Not Jasper.

39. The Truth

The steady breeze behind me pushed forward on my shoulders and ruffled my unkempt hair, keeping her scent at bay. I stared for a long moment, waiting for this newest apparition to fade away like the other. But the figure in front of me remained solid and true. In a vast contrast to the Bella that my mind had conjured to keep me company in my despair, this very human girl looked disheveled and tired. She watched me cautiously through red-rimmed eyes. The sheer gossamer gown and flowing tresses were replaced by a baggy jeans, a sweatshirt, and an untidy ponytail. Somehow her state of disorder made her the more beautiful figure of the two- because she was real. My mind didn't have to create her. She had come to me, of her own will. "Bella," I breathed. Placing the flat of my hands against the cool, smooth top of the piano, I rose to stand. My movement startled her, and she took a step back while raising her palm up in my direction. "Stop," Bella spoke clearly, though her shaky hand gave away her nervousness. Her heart beat had picked up a faster tempo, and I held myself completely motionless as she requested. "I'm... going to need you... to just stay over there," Bella instructed. I nodded and slowly sank back down to sit on my piano bench. I moved my hands to my lap and quietly watched her. When she noticed my acquiescence, she stepped forward again, and her voice sounded more sure. "You should know that I told at least three different people that I was coming to see you today. So if I don't make it back home..." I winced at the precaution that she felt it necessary to take. "I'm not going to hurt you Bella," I said softly. "Can you promise?" Bella asked. I stared into her eyes, trying to find a glimmer of the faith that she seemed to want to place in me. "Would it matter if I did promise?" I asked. She paused for a moment, as if she were trying to make sure that her answer would be true. "Yes," she finally nodded. "If you give me your word, I will believe you." "Then I promise," I replied quickly, and tried to put as much sincerity behind my words as possible. "I promise I won't hurt you." "Thank you." Bella's shoulders relaxed and she took a deep breath.

Silence hung between us as we intently looked at one another. Finally, I broke it. "Why did you come here?" I had to ask. I couldn't believe this girl was brave enough to walk into my home, actively seeking me out. "I needed to make sure that you were alright," Bella admitted quietly. My chest felt tight. "And," she continued quickly, "I think I deserve some answers." "You're right. You do," I agreed. I looked at the way that she awkwardly stood in the doorway, before tilting my head toward the chair in the corner of the room. "Would you like to sit?" Bella glanced at the chair with a frown on her face. She seemed to be judging the distance from the chair to the door, and its proximity to where I sat at the piano. I sighed. "No thanks." Bella shook her head. "I'd rather stand." "As you wish." I tried to keep my expression relaxed while I waited for her to begin her questioning. I would tell her anything she wanted to know, if it would earn me more time in her presence. Bella shoved her hands into the center pocket of her sweatshirt and shifted her weight from side to side. "Is it true, then? Are you..a... a..." Her cheeks blushed crimson and she seemed unable to say the word out loud. "Vampire?" I supplied the word for her, so there would be absolutely no confusion. I watched her eyes blink rapidly in nervous embarrassment as I confirmed the conclusion that her mind had tried to write off as imagination, or insanity. "Yes," I said distinctly. Bella leaned her shoulder against the door frame as if she suddenly needed more support to stand. Her lower lip trembled slightly as she dropped her eyes to the floor. "I'm sorry," I said quietly. And I was. I hated knowing that the truth was such a painful thing for her to process and accept. "It's just..." she was whispering, but I could hear her clearly. "I didn't want to... I thought I was..." She struggled for her words as her head rocked from side to side. "Bella? Look at me," I implored. She slowly raised her head until her sad eyes met mine. "Are you scared?" "Hell yes, I'm scared!" She didn't like admitting it. But she was matching my truthfulness with her own. "I am the same person. I'm still me. You just know more about me now."

"God Edward!" Bella half-groaned and half-laughed and it just sounded strangled. "It's not like I'm Catholic, and you're Jewish. This is a pretty big deal." "I know," I put my head down- all hope dashed away by her bitter words. "You aren't supposed to be real," Bella continued. "You are supposed to be a movie character... folk lore... legend." "Yet- here I sit." "Yes. Here you sit." Bella gnawed at her lower lip while she contemplated me. "To be honest, Edward... I just don't know what to do with that." "The fact that you are here, at all... means more than you can know," I disclosed. I squeezed my eyes shut and bowed my head. "And you are here," Bella murmured. "Can you tell me how that is? How did you become... a..." "Vampire." I said it again, keeping the word from her tongue. She nodded. "Yes. Thank you." "I was dying of the Spanish Influenza." I looked up to watch her face. "My parents had already succumbed to the illness. Carlisle acted on a dying wish of my Mother's. She begged him to save me. He couldn't heal my mortal body. So... he gave me this life." "So, Carlisle is a... he's like you?" "Yes. My whole family is." I watched as the disbelief on her face was replaced by acceptance. "When?" She looked up again. "When did this happen?" "Nineteen-eighteen," I informed her. "I was seventeen years old." "Wow." Bella's mouth formed the word, but no air accompanied it. I could tell she was doing the math in her head. "It's a lot to take in," I offered. "Yes," Bella nodded. "But it helps to know that I haven't lost my mind." "I am sorry. I couldn't tell you..." "I don't suppose 'Hi. I'm immortal,' is a pick-up line you would have much success with," Bella laughed. It still sounded harsh and bitter, but I could tell she was trying to lighten the situation, and I was thankful for that.

"I was afraid." "I can understand," Bella said quietly. I looked up again, as she contemplated my face from where she stood. A small line formed between her eyebrows while she looked deeply into my eyes. "What?" I finally asked. I needed to keep her talking, so I could understand what was going on in her mind. "I was thinking... I've never seen your eyes so dark." Her feet tentatively moved a couple of steps further into the room, as she stared into my eyes. "But then, I just remembered the first day I saw you in Forks. I can't believe I forgot that, actually." She shook her head at the memory. "For a while, I always thought of you as the boy with the black eyes." Bella seemed to suddenly notice that she had moved, and hastily retreated back to her haven in the door way. "Maybe that is why I didn't recognize you right away, when I met you again here? Your eyes have always been... golden. Right now, they are black again." "I'm thirsty," I stated. I heard her heart-beat begin to race and she looked alarmed. "Bella? I promised. You're safe with me. I ... am just trying to explain the difference. My eye color changes when I'm thirsty." "You drink blood." She didn't make it a question. Her lip curled as she tested her ability to say the fact out loud. "From animals," I hurried to add. "My family and I hunt animals for nourishment. It goes against our true nature. But we choose to live this way." "Your true nature is to... drink from humans?" "Yes," I dropped my eyes. "But I haven't had human blood in over eighty-years." I watched from under my lashes as she cringed. She needed to hear the truth, as harsh as it might be. "I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to be a monster." "In Boston..." "I am usually much better at controlling myself," I swore. "But there were too many emotions to hold at bay. I was worried sick when you left the theatre. And then those men showed up. And I was so angry that they interrupted us..." I watched her again, from the corner of my eye. I wasn't sure if she wanted to be reminded of our intimacy. Her cheeks were flushed again. "I was livid that they threatened you. My very worst characteristics came out." "You were trying to protect me." "I was." "Until, I cut my finger."

I squeezed my eyes shut tight. I didn't want to see the fear on her face again. I didn't want to remember the scent of her blood or the horrible reaction I had to it. "I was already barely in control of myself," I whispered. "And the scent of your blood... was more than I could take. It's so much stronger to me...than anything I've had to resist before. And I was so weak in that moment. I needed you to help me. I needed you to leave before I hurt you." I heard her gasp from her place near the door. Her heart beat thrummed wildly. I couldn't look up. I let her deal with the new information without my intrusive stare. "Was... it because I was bleeding? Is that why the scent was so much stronger?" "Partly," I concurred. "Bella, your scent is a strong pull to me... even contained. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced." It was the worst thing to admit, but the most important truth for her to hear. She needed to know the real situation between us. "Is this like the thing I read about in that book?" Bella asked meekly. "Am I.... your singer?" "I have never known a stronger desire for human blood, in all my life." I kept my head down. After this news, she would surely decide to banish me from her life completely. I listened for her footsteps to carry her away. But she didn't move. She just stood where she was. When I hazarded a glance in her direction again, I could see that her eyes were closed. Silent tears were tracking down her cheeks. "Bella? I am so sorry." I was beginning to hate the word. 'Sorry' wasn't even close to describing the deep remorse I felt for her having to go through any of this. If I hadn't been so selfish, I would have gone away again and kept her from this pain. I didn't realize I had spoken the last sentiment out loud. "That's why you left Forks?" Bella finally asked. "Because of me?" "I didn't want to hurt you," I said. "When you sat next to me in biology that first day... I was barely able to keep myself from giving in to every disgusting, monstrous urge I felt. I could have killed you Bella. I needed to leave for your safety, as well as to protect my family's secret." "Then how were you able to stay this time?" Her voice was laced with curiosity. "I have spent the last three years, mentally preparing myself for the chance that I might be so tempted again. Of course, I never expected the original source of that temptation to cross my path." "But I did." "I was determined to be stronger- to not be weak again. And then- I got to know you." "You have had so many chances to hurt me. To... kill me... if you wanted to. But you haven't."

"You have to believe," I pleaded, "I couldn't live with myself if I caused you harm." "I do believe you," Bella said quietly. I twisted my fingers in my lap and looked down at them, trying to contain the pleasure her words brought me. After everything I had disclosed, she really believed in my good intentions toward her. It was more than I could have hoped for. "I need to ask you one more thing, before I go," Bella said softly. I turned my head and looked at her once more. She bit her lip and considered me for a moment. "I need you to tell me..." her cheeks turned bright red, and she took a deep breath, but her gaze did not waver. "Did you mean what you said when you kissed me?" For an instant, I got lost in the depths of her eyes, and in my recollection of the moment she asked me about. Bella was pressed between my body and the wall. Her soft, sweet lips were opened to my hungry kiss. Her hands were fisted into my hair, and her tongue danced deliciously against mine. I was both madly elated at her response, and deeply regretful for taking a gift so blindly given. I offered the only excuse I had for my behavior, groaning against her mouth. 'I love you. I love you..." Bella stood before me, waiting for my answer. She was about to leave- and these might be the last words she would ever hear me speak. I wouldn't taint them with a lie. "Yes." I offered her sincerely. "I meant it." Bella didn't respond in any way that I could read. She blinked. Her cheeks cooled, and her heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace. Finally she turned on her heel and began to walk away. However, after three steps, she stopped to speak once more. "So... I'll see you in class tomorrow night." She faced away from me while she made the statement. It wasn't even a question. In that simple suggestion, I had every answer I needed, and hoped for. Bella was not asking me to stay away from her. She was inviting me, at least, to continue our casual public contact. "I'll be there," I said. When I heard the quiet click of the front door closing, I exhaled loudly. Bella had not shut me out of her life. For the first time in days, I felt my lips twitch up in a smile. The keys in front of me suddenly seemed to beckon my hands forward. I complied, willingly. With a newfound peace, I closed my eyes and let music be born under my fingers. A favorite of mine- a nocturne by Chopin- flowed effortlessly as though I had played it by memorization only days, instead of years, before. It was wonderful and freeing. I felt the music surround me, cradling me and carrying me to a comforting place of hope and optimism... and finally love, as

the nocturne slowed and changed to a piece that I had composed for Esme and Carlisle. Their song was of eternal love and interconnected souls. Esme always loved when I played it. She would be happy to know that their gift- shipping the piano to me- had indeed re-introduced me to the music I always found such pleasure in playing. When the song changed again, and I recognized the newer strains of the music my mind had only recently begun to create, I deliberately halted the motion of my hands. I wasn't ready to play the song that I had composed for Bella. It was too soon, and would remind me too much of the relationship that had, at the time, seemed attainable to me. I would have to grow comfortable with knowing that my own love story would never match the one of Esme and Carlisle. Yethappiness was mine to hold if I chose to do so. Bella was giving me that. I wasn't sure to what extent she would allow me to remain in her life. But she was allowing me to remain. That was enough. I pushed away from the piano and briefly considered my options. I needed to shower. That much was certain. I also needed to hunt. If I planned to go to class, I needed to satisfy the hunger that gnawed inside me. Bella had noticed the black color of my eyes. The next time she saw me, they would be gold again. Deciding to hunt first, I pushed my patio door open and tore into a running pace toward the forest. The setting sun peeked rosily between the parting clouds, and painted the foliage around me with hues of pink and red. The fresh spring growth absorbed the reflected light from my skin as I ran through the underbrush, listening and smelling... searching for sustenance. I found a small herd of deer easily- the size of their group making their scent thick in the air- and I made a meal of the largest buck in their midst. He kicked violently under my initial attack, but soon stilled as I pulled his life-force through the gaping hole I had created in his throat. Weak... watery... the blood tasted wrong. I lifted my head before the creature was entirely depleted and wondered if the deer was diseased in some way. Finding no desire to continue with the unsatisfying animal, I pushed it roughly away from me and ran further toward the mountains, where larger prey waited. A black bear met with the same fate, and unfortunately, I was left with the same disappointed response to its blood. The blood of animals had always been a poor substitute for human blood. I knew that. But I was obviously incorrect in assuming that the stag I had captured was sick. The bear was just the same- unappealing... unappetizing. I forced myself to drain the bear before walking away and leaning against a tree. For some reason, even the substitute nourishment to which I had grown accustomed was not satisfying me that evening. I frowned, worrying about the reason. I had a sinking suspicion that it had to do with Bella, and to my reaction to her scent, and her blood. It would probably be the same effect to a human- as if they had been tempted with the sight and smells of wonderful roasted meat, and then given only weak broth to enjoy instead. I shook my head, and then turned to run back home. Under the spray of the hot shower, I felt my body warm from both the water and my thoughts of the girl that I loved.

I could survive on weak broth. It would be a small price to pay, for being able to remain in Bella's life.

40. I'ts not easy being green

When I walked into class on Tuesday evening, I only had one plan in mind; to follow Bella's lead. I wanted her to know that I appreciated her attempts to trust me, and to try to keep things normal between us- at least on the surface. I wanted to do everything possible to lessen her anxiety and make sure that she didn't regret her decision. As I saw Bella and Katrina sitting side by side in our usual seats, I tried not to frown. They had not left the typical seat between them open for me. I didn't let my eyes linger for long. Instead, I put my head down and began to make my way up the stairs. But as I passed the row in which they sat, a small motion caught my attention to the side. Bella looked up toward me and moved her hand to the bag that rested on the seat to her left. With a small smile, she lifted the bag and placed it on the floor. Just like that, she had invited me to sit in the seat beside her. I sighed heavily with relief and lowered myself into the chair. "Thanks," I breathed. My gratitude was extended toward far more than just the saved seat. She probably knew that. She trained her eyes back on her book and nodded her head. "Hey Eddie!" Katrina leaned forward to greet me over Bella's desk. She looked wind-burnt and happy. Finally, she thought. Maybe he'll give up more details than Little-Miss-I-Don't-Kiss-AndTell... "How was your Spring Break?" My eyes darted to Bella, who was doing a good job of at least pretending to be absorbed in her book. I had no idea what Bella had told her. I could tell by the timbre of her thoughts, that Bella hadn't said much. "We had a lot of fun at the museum," I mumbled. Katrina's frown matched her inward disappointment. "How was yours?" I asked, trying to distract her. It worked. She smiled again and began sharing details of the slopes, and the lodge. I had been right. She and Brad had spent most of their time indoors. I wrinkled my nose a little as I tried to ignore the intimate details that flitted around her mind. Bella noticed my reaction from the corner of her eye, but didn't attempt to join the conversation. In fact, she didn't even lower her book until the professor took his place at the front of the room. Brad hurried from where he had been standing while talking to friends, and sat in the seat at Katrina's side as the lecture began. I watched as he threw an arm casually over the back of her chair, and kissed her temple before they started writing notes on each other's notebooks and whispering quietly back and forth. Their trip away seemed to bring them even closer together as a couple. They looked like two people in love.

It was a glaringly distinct difference between the two of them, and Bella and I- who sat stiffly side by side in our seats. I took notes and tried to relax, but I noticed each and every time that Bella peeked at me from the corner of her eye. She thought she was hiding behind her hair. For a while, I let her believe that her attention was going unnoticed. Then after a while, it started to bother me. I couldn't be certain what she was thinking, but it seemed as though she was watching and waiting for me to jump out of my seat and turn into a bat or something equally as ridiculous. The more I considered it, the more annoyed I became. I understood her trepidation. But she was the one that had invited me to sit beside her. I wouldn't have come to class at all if Bella hadn't indicated that she would see me here. She said she trusted that I wouldn't hurt her. Yet she kept stealing surreptitious glances in my direction that made me feel as though I were under a microscope. "What?" I finally turned towards her and mouthed the word silently, my face showing my frustration. "Nothing!" Bella blushed at being caught staring, and looked down at her paper again. I frowned and glared forward. I felt bad for over-reacting. But the cute-couple theatrics of the people sitting on the other side of Bella, combined with her obvious discomfort around me was setting my nerves on edge. "I'm sorry," I whispered. I moved my hand towards her arm as I apologized, and Bella shifted away from me quickly. She didn't want me to touch her. It was understandable, though it hurt just the same. I ground my teeth together and stared at the professor, wishing he would just dismiss us for break so that I could get up and move... something to help me release some of the pent up irritation I had begun to feel. I promised Bella that she was safe. It was plain to see that she didn't trust me. Finally, we were excused from class for our break. Katrina and I stood at the same time. "I am getting a drink. Anyone else?" Katrina looked hopefully towards the three of us. Bella frowned and picked up her book again. "I'm... going to stay here." "Sorry baby," Brad shrugged and kissed her on the cheek. "Dan and I are going to see if the projects are graded." He turned to meet up with his friend at the front of the room. Katrina pouted and I took advantage of the opportunity. "I'm not thirsty," I sent a pointed glance down at Bella. "But I'd be glad to walk with you... Katrina and the Waves." I gave her my best smile and was rewarded when she squealed and wrapped her arm around my waist. Bella looked up and I felt a little smug when I noticed the surprised look on her face. I threw my arm over Katrina's shoulder and raised my eyebrow up toward Bella, daring her to protest my casual contact with her roommate. "I knew someone loved me," Katrina teased. I laughed lightly, still watching Bella, and let Katrina turn us toward the stairs.

"Wait!" Bella shoved her book into her bag. With pink cheeks and a frown, she stood. "I do want a drink after all. I'm coming too." Katrina's teasing thoughts turned more somber when she sighed and slid out from under my arm. Jeez Bella. Lighten up. We were only playing. My eyes flew from the blonde on my right to Bella, who had pointed her chin downward and was frowning at the floor while she walked on my left. I fisted my hands in my pockets and walked between them. Bella probably thought she was protecting Katrina from me, by joining us. An uncomfortable silence fell between the three of us as we made our way to the vending machines. Katrina was contemplating which shoes she wanted to wear with a new dress she bought. Bella chewed on her bottom lip and kept her expressive eyes trained away from me. I just tried like mad to figure out a way to make her relax and see that I was the same person she had walked to this lounge with on many different occasions, to no disastrous results. My best bet, it seemed, was to go back to square one. If I could engage Katrina in comfortable conversation, Bella might relax and follow. When Katrina got her drink, she sat in a chair. I immediately took another chair from the table and turned it so that I could straddle it in front of her. I wrapped my arms around the back of the chair and put a pleasant smile on my face. "Tell me more about your trip," I encouraged. I didn't care about her trip in the slightest. I only suggested it because I knew it was a subject that would likely keep Katrina gushing for the next several minutes that I needed to portrait myself as friendly and non-threatening. I looked her in the eye, and nodded, and pretended to listen while smiling and being as polite as possible. I was totally aware of Bella, frowning and trying unsuccessfully to shove a wrinkled bill into the money-feed on the front of the vending machine. She cursed under her breath as it spit the soft paper back out in her direction. "Excuse me," I grinned at Katrina, stopping her in mid-sentence. I strode over to where Bella stood, muttering under her breath while glaring at the coke machine, and I reached over her shoulder with a bill from my own wallet. The feed pulled it in immediately, but Bella didn't turn. I walked back to Katrina without saying a word, and sat in front of her again- this time moving my chair closer to her so that one of my knees touched hers. "I'm sorry. You were saying?" I smiled when she continued her story. With drink in hand, Bella walked over to us. She didn't bother to pull up a chair. Instead, she leaned the back of her legs against the table and watched our exchange with the same scowl on her face. I resisted looking up at her. I smiled a little more, laughed a little easier. I even reached out and touched Katrina's knee briefly with my finger tips while I asked her to elaborate on a funny story about being on the ski lift. It wasn't working. If anything, Bella seemed to be growing even more agitated by my nearness to her roommate. Katrina paused her story telling and finally looked up at Bella's stony countenance before frowning and wondering at the cause. What in the hell is her problem tonight? Katrina sipped her drink and Bella cleared her throat loudly during the break in our conversation.

"Edward? Do you think I could speak to you? Alone?" Bella's voice sounded terse. It was the first words she had spoken to me since I questioned her about staring at me in class. Katrina rolled her eyes. She had no idea why Bella was acting so strangely. I could hardly apologize to her. 'Gee Katrina. Bella's just a little stressed out because she found out that I'm a blood-sucking monster. See you later!' "I'm going to find Brad. See you two in class." Katrina stood and walked away, and Bella reached down and wrapped her fingers around my forearm. I was a little stunned that she was actually touching me. She started tugging me until I stood and followed her down an adjacent hall. "Where are we going?" I asked. She didn't answer until she had pulled me around a corner and the lounge was no longer in sight. Bella turned then and dropped my arm. "What in the hell kind of game are you playing?" Bella's cheeks were red as she stared up at me with her eyes flashing. "Do you really think Katrina needs to be protected from me?" I asked darkly. "What are you talking about?" Bella retorted loudly. "What are you talking about?" I nearly growled. "I'm talking about you flirting with Katrina to make me jealous!" Bella twisted her mouth angrily and shoved her hands against my chest. "Wait. I'm what?" I was... confused. "And don't push me. You'll only hurt your wrists." "Don't tell me what to do," Bella squinted at me. "Did you think I didn't notice you staring at her through class? You were a little obvious!" "I wasn't," I insisted. I was trying to process the fact that Bella actually seemed upset because she thought I was...flirting. "I was looking at her. And Brad. I was looking at them both." "Whatever, Edward." Bella looked down and kicked the scuffed toe of her shoe into the linoleum. "You were flirting with her, just now, in the lounge. 'Oh Katrina and the Waves... tell me about the ski-lift. Blah blah blah!'" Bella used a ridiculous voice to imitate mine, and I would have laughed if she wasn't so far off-base with her assumptions. "I was trying to be friendly." I softened my voice. If she was really upset over the thought of me flirting with someone else... could it be that Bella still cared? "I might have been overlyfriendly," I admitted. "But I thought that you were afraid for your friend. And I wanted to prove to you that you have no reason to be. I was hoping to ease your mind. Not to upset you." Bella huffed and rolled her eyes. "Oh please." Her voice was still laced with sarcasm, though she had lowered the volume. "We are in a school full of witnesses. It's not like Katrina is wearing a

bunny suit and skipping around in the forest after dark. I didn't, for one minute, worry about her safety with you." I snorted a little at the joke Bella had made, and then had to laugh when she giggled at the absurdity of the situation. Taking a chance, I reached out and cupped her shoulder with my hand. I was encouraged when she didn't pull away. "I thought you were worried. You kept looking at me in class... you seemed nervous." "I'm not nervous around you. Not really..." Bella's voice softened, and she looked away. "Hey," I said quietly. When her eyes met mine again, I pulled my mouth into a tiny grin. "I didn't even know there was a chance that you could be jealous. But I assure you, Bella... you never have a reason to be." "I wasn't. I'm not," Bella denied it, but her pink cheeks gave away the lie. I released her shoulder to run one finger down the soft blushing skin. "Other women hold no interest for me, whatsoever. I could look at a million faces. I only see you." Bella's cheeks grew impossibly redder, and she looked down at the floor again. "I need time, Edward." Her statement... her request... was an easy one to understand. "Well, that's the good thing about me. I've got all the time in the world." I smiled again, and she glanced up before tentatively smiling in response. "Thank you." "Ah..." I turned my head towards the corner when I heard the thoughts in the mind of the person approaching. "Our project was graded." "What? How do you know?" Bella lowered her brows in confusion. "I'll let Katrina fill you in," I tilted my head towards the end of the hall, where I knew Katrina would appear any second. Bella opened her mouth to say something else, but was interrupted by Katrina bouncing around the corner. "Oh my God! There you two are! Our project was graded," Katrina hopped from foot to foot in excitement. "We got a ninety-three! Isn't that awesome?" Bella smiled widely and Katrina grabbed us both around the waists, pulling us until we formed a very awkward sort of three-way-hug in the middle of the hall.

"That's wonderful," Bella seemed more subdued in her enthusiasm. She was still watching me oddly. I disengaged myself from the group and smiled. "It really is," I nodded. "Great teamwork, and all that." "Brad and I are going out for drinks after class to celebrate. You two should join us!" "Oh. Uh... I don't know." Bella looked down at her feet again. I could feel the hesitance rolling off of her posture. She had just asked me for time. I knew I needed to give it to her. "I have plans tonight," I excused myself from the invitation. "Yeah. And I'm just going home," Bella looked noticeably more relaxed. "I'm tired." "Pooh," Katrina pouted. "I guess we'll just have to celebrate alone." I could read her new plans to celebrate, and knew that Bella and I wouldn't be missed. After class, I followed behind the girls until they made it safely to their cars. I didn't linger or engage them in conversation. Instead, I listened to them chat back and forth about their work schedules and things they might do throughout the week. I called out a casual 'good night' as I kept walking to my own car, farther back in the parking lot. Then I pulled out my phone and called Alice. Within ten minutes, I knocked on the door of Alice and Jasper's apartment. Jasper answered the door wearing faded blue boxer shorts and some white tube-socks with yellow-stripes pulled up around his calves. "What are you doing?" I asked, looking at his attire. "I was reading. Alice is busy kicking some online-ass on Ebay." "Hello." Alice barely glanced up from the computer that balanced on her lap when I walked into the room. "What are you reading?" I glanced down at the rolled magazine that Jasper held in his fist. Alice snorted and rolled her eyes. "Did he tell you he was reading?" "Yes." Jasper unrolled the girlie magazine in his hand and held it under his chin so that I could see the cover. A large smile pulled across his face. "Newest edition. Fresh off the presses. I'm a subscriber!"

"Good Lord," I protested, shaking my head lightly and laughing at his wagging eyebrows and comical expression. "Seriously... you need to see Miss May!" Jasper began thumbing through the pages, looking for a picture to show me. Alice cursed on the couch and clicked the buttons on the computer in front of her. "Miss May is special," she stated, after she was once again happy with the progression of the auction. "He's already written her song." "Written her a what?" I asked. "A song," Alice nodded. "He likes to make up songs for his favorites." "This doesn't bother you?" I asked incredulously. "He's singing to a magazine," Alice pointed out. "As long as I am the only three-dimensional girl he's singing to... he's just fine." "Here she is!" Jasper flipped the glossy pages open to show me his latest paper-girlfriend; a pretty brunette with glasses and a lip-piercing. "Sexy, dirty little librarian," Jasper sighed. "I know the song is coming." I folded my arms across my chest and took a moment to appreciate hers before Jasper started singing the silly lines he had made up for Miss May. "Her name is Tor.... She is my whore... gets down on all fours... and gives me more...." "Nice," I commented. Jasper just grinned and pressed the open magazine against the front of his boxers. "I'm in love," he joked. "Good thing you can't get paper cuts," I quipped. Alice laughed from the couch and Jasper turned and tossed the magazine beside her on the couch. "To what do we owe this honor?" Jasper finally asked. "I... wasn't in a very good place when I saw Alice last." Jasper just nodded. Alice had filled him in. "I told her that I'd be ready to hunt soon. So- I came by to see if you wanted to go out." "Let me get dressed," Jasper smiled. I nodded and he left the room. "Would you like to join us?" I asked Alice. She glanced up again and then frowned down at the computer screen. "I would. But some whore is trying to outbid me on this necklace that I have my eye on."

I moved so I could look at the monitor too. "What's so special about it?" I asked. "Why don't you just buy a new one?" "It's one of a kind and it was made the year that Rosalie was born. I thought it would be nice to give it to her for her birthday." "Why do you bother celebrating?" I asked. After so many years, it seemed pointless. "You know that Rose likes to be Princess for a day," Alice explained. "She loves the gifts. And I love buying them." "Well... good luck with that," I offered. Jasper entered the room and kissed Alice on the cheek before we both left.

41. Ben and Jerry

I dodged to the left and avoided being slapped on the back of the head by Jasper's outstretched arm as he ran by me in a blur of motion and sound. His laugh hung behind him in the air, his body already out of sight. "I don't know why you try," I shouted out. "I'll always hear you coming!" We laughed and darted through the undergrowth, celebrating the night. Our special abilities lent us far more advantages, and made sneaking up on one another nearly impossible. Jasper could likely sense my jovial attitude when I dropped out of a tree to land on him as he passed below. We rolled to the ground together- a tangle of arms and legs- laughing and throwing good-natured punches before jumping back to our feet and speeding away in opposite directions. We spent a great deal of time that way, enjoying the forest as our playground, before Jasper's thoughts and my sense of smell both alerted me at the same time to a herd of deer nearby. Jasper's feeling of hunger paired with my own to double the edge of need. My last attempt to drink had been recent, but so largely unsatisfying that the burn of hunger now was intense to the point of painful. I turned on my heels and started running in the direction of the herd. Playfulness was gone. It was time to hunt. From my right side, I heard Jasper rapidly approaching. It had been longer for him, since his last meal. His thoughts were trained specifically on the kill. As always, in this situation, our vampire nature took over, spurring our feet forward with the animalistic urge to strike first, strike harder, to be the dominant male. I lowered my head into the wind and ran. My steps faltered, however, when Jasper over-took me and moved into the lead. I growled lowly as he busted through the trees first, and claimed the largest buck for his meal.

The animals fled in terror, and I quickly grabbed a smaller creature before it could escapetearing into its throat and groaning as the warm rush of blood filled my mouth. It was all I could do to force myself to swallow. My eyes moved above the kicking creature below me, to watch as Jasper quickly drained the prize of the herd. He didn't seem to notice anything amiss. I curled my lips back and let the suddenly-still body of the deer I held fall to a heap on the forest floor. Jasper turned towards me then, breathing calmly and obviously satisfied now that the hunger pains had been dulled. His inner thoughts were of playful conceit. "Well, that was something new," Jasper smiled and walked closer. "You've never let me beat you to the dinner table before!" His eyes were already a warmer gold, and he was feeling a little arrogant at having bested me. He knew I was a far faster runner than him. "I guess I was distracted," I shrugged. Jasper frowned a little and pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "That's not like you, while hunting." I looked down toward my shoes and kicked a small hole into the soil. "Did you notice... Did the blood taste differently to you?" I asked. "Nah. Just the same as it always does," Jasper lifted a shoulder. I turned to walk beside him. We were near the foothills of the mountains, and together we climbed up to sit on a craggy rock under the open night sky. "I tried to hunt the other night," I finally began to explain. "I thought the deer was sick at first. I tried bear after. Tonight, it was just the same." "Didn't taste right?" Jasper asked thoughtfully. "No. It was nearly intolerable," I frowned. "It's probably what slowed me down. I wasn't really looking forward to the taste of it." "We all go through phases," Jasper said encouragingly. "It's not like these mealy little animals are what we really desire. It's a sacrifice we make." "It's worth it," I reminded myself and we both sat silently for a few minutes. "Speaking of what we desire..." Jasper quietly tested my mood. "I could tell as soon as I saw you tonight, that things are going better for you and Bella." I smiled over at him and put my hands behind me on the rock while I leaned into a more casual position. "Tonight was weird... but good I think."

"Yeah?" Jasper seemed genuinely interested, and so I continued. "She kept staring at me through class. And to be honest- it was pissing me off. I thought she was staring at me because she didn't trust me." "That wasn't the case?" "Nope." I smiled wider and shook my head. "Turns out, she thought I was flirting with her friend. Bella was jealous." "That is excellent!" Jasper threw back his head and laughed. "If she's jealous... she wants you." "Maybe..." I was afraid to hope for as much. "She asked for time." "Then, you should give it to her!" Jasper leaned forward, looking at me intently. I laughed lightly at his serious expression. "I assumed that you of all people, would be busy plotting out ways for me to use her jealousy to my advantage!" "Hell no," Jasper disagreed. "The way to win this girl is to give her what she needs. If she needs time, give it to her. You are asking her to trust you. You should have to place a little trust in her, too." "You're right," I nodded and stared forward into the dark. "She wore irritation like a cloud around her when that Mike guy was around," Jasper informed me. "She didn't like being made to feel like she couldn't take care of herself... or make her own decisions. She won't respond well if she thinks you are bullying her or trying to influence her." "I wish I could read her thoughts," I admitted. "Even you have that advantage over me. You can at least know how she is feeling." "You have common sense," Jasper argued. "How do you think she's feeling? She didn't run away screaming, man. She's sticking around." "I hope so." "If you want my opinion... I think you should just take a giant step back and give the girl all the space she needs." "I think you are right," I nodded. We sat for another long moment. The silence between us was not uncomfortable.

"I don't know how you do it," Jasper finally said. "From the moment I walked into that caf and saw Alice... she was mine. She'll argue and say that I have it reversed, and she'd be right too. We just, belonged together. There was no guess work. No games." "I envy you." "I know. I can feel it." All teasing was gone from Jasper's voice as he tilted his head back and contemplated the stars above. "Even if this girl comes around, it will only be half your battle." "Yeah." I sat up, frowning as I considered his words. I had thought about it far too many times. "Would you change her?" Jasper didn't turn his gaze to me. He would be able to feel my emotions without observing my facial expressions or change in body language. He wasn't trying to interject his own feelings on the subject or influence mine. He was just curious. "I would," I nodded. With my arms wrapped around my knees, I rocked back a little. "Free will... her decision. But of course I would." "It would make everything easier for you." "Not that I would use that," I shook my head. "Right now I'm just hoping that she'll take some time and decide that she wants me in her life. If... if it ever came to decisions like that..." "What?" Jasper turned his eyes towards me. He clearly wanted me to finish my thought. But I wasn't sure I could. "Just because it would be perfect for me... doesn't mean it would be perfect for her." It took physical effort to expel the words that were the key to the entire situation between Bella and me. Knowing her was perfect for me... loving her was perfect for me... changing her would be perfect for me. Could any of it be perfect for her? I had no way of knowing. "I'm still thirsty," Jasper announced. Clearly he had decided to let me off the hook with the conversation. He stood and pressed his hands down the front of his legs and crouched into a position to jump off the rock. "Race you to the meanest bastard of a bear we can find?" "You're on," I smiled and stood. Jasper won. After much thought, I decided to follow Jasper's advice and my own gut instincts. Something told me that if I gave Bella the time she was asking for, that she would appreciate it. And so, after careful consideration and much inward struggle, I skipped class on Thursday night. I absolutely hated giving up the time that I could have been sitting beside her and watching her and breathing her and hearing her... but it was more important to me, to give Bella the gift of my absence. And even though my presence wouldn't be known to her, I stayed away from her

bedroom as well. I hadn't visited her at night since before our trip to Boston. I felt happy about my self-control and hoped one day that my efforts would not be in vain. Instead, I spent time much as I always did. I read. I watched movies. I ran. My piano brought a new distraction, and I spent hours composing music and playing old favorites. When I became thirsty again, I took my car keys and decided a road trip was in order. Maybe Jasper was right. Maybe I was going through a phase. I hoped that crossing over into Canada would bring a different thrill to the hunt; different animals, different scents and different tastes. It would also get me out of the house and give me something to do to occupy my time. The mountain lion was marginally better than the game near my home. It had always been my favorite. Yet I still drove back to Hanover on Sunday, feeling dissatisfied with the experience. I was full. My hunger had been completely sated by the hunting trip. Still, something was missing. I began to wonder if my dissatisfaction with the rest of my life wasn't tainting this area of my existence as well. Maybe I was depressed and it was affecting my appetite. I missed Bella. In two days, I would be next to her in class again. I wouldn't be able to keep myself away any longer. By then, a week would have passed since Bella had asked for more time. Hopefully that would be enough for Bella to at least notice my effort. I was trying to give her what she needed, even though every minute away from her had been a struggle. My shirt bore traces of the animals I had slaughtered. I quickly pulled it over my head and tossed it into the basket in the corner of my room before walking to the shower. Once underneath the hot water, I frowned over at the pathetic line-up of various strawberry-scented shampoos and body wash that stood in a wasted line of failure on the built in shelf that formed a ledge around the stall. I had thought to recreate Bella's scent in order to somehow feel closer to her. I snorted a little at my ridiculous attempt. It wasn't her shampoo or her soap... her laundry detergent or her mouthwash. It was a combination of all of those things mixed together with her own special essence that no bottle or package could contain. Just considering it made my body ache for her. Freshly dressed, I scrubbed a towel through my hair and walked back toward my living room. After lowering myself to sit on the edge of my sofa, I finally palmed the phone I had left on the coffee table and pressed the button to bring it to life. No messages. Of course not. My lips pressed together as I scrolled through the last calls made to my phone. With surprise, I recognized Bella's number. According to the time and date, she had called me Friday evening. She hadn't left a message. I was considering calling her when my phone vibrated under my fingers, indicating an incoming call. It was a number I did not recognize. "Hello?" I asked. "Eddie?" It was Katrina. I lowered my brows in confusion. "Katrina and the Waves. This is a surprise."

"Sorry for calling so late. It's just... Bella needs you." "Is she ok?" I stood, already reaching for my car keys. "Just go to our apartment, ok? Right away. I have to go. Good luck." Katrina disconnected the call before I could get more information from her. I cursed loudly into the silent receiver and hurried to my car. I could have made it to Bella's apartment faster by running, but if she was hurt and I needed to transport her, the car would be handy to have around. I raced around corners and through stop lights when possible. My car screeched loudly on the pavement in front of her apartment building, and I ran inside as quickly as I could, considering possible witnesses in the area. At her apartment door, I struggled to calm myself as I raised my fist and rapped loudly on the wood. "Bella? Bella?" I heard footsteps inside, and I concentrated my efforts until I heard the familiar heartbeat of the person that neared the door. "I'm coming!" I heard Bella yell. And then the door opened. Bella stood before me, looking for all intents and purposes, like a complete mess. But other than the general aesthetic indicators that she had neglected personal hygiene for a couple of days, I couldn't see a thing wrong with her. "What in the hell are you doing here?" Bella frowned darkly and placed both hands on the door, attempting to shut it in my face. I stopped the motion with one outstretched palm. "Katrina called me," I explained, looking beyond her into the apartment. Bella rolled her eyes and relinquished her hold on the door. Taking a step back, she folded her arms across her chest. "She isn't even here," Bella insisted. "She left for Brad's house... at least thirty minutes ago." I frowned and stepped past her, looking around at the atypically messy apartment. "Come on in," Bella offered sarcastically. Relief over her well-being made it somewhat easy to ignore her surliness. I was, however, concerned about Katrina's motives for calling me. "Katrina said you needed me. She made it sound like there was some sort of an emergency..." "Oh yeah," Bella pursed her lips and nodded her head in a mock-serious fashion. "I can see where she would call you over to rescue me. I was, obviously, in mortal-danger from the chocolate ice cream I was about to finish eating." I tried to ignore the jab about her being in mortal danger, and followed Bella as she walked into the kitchen. There, on the counter, was a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream with a silver spoon

resting next to it. Bella turned and hopped up to sit beside the carton. As if to illustrate her intentions, she lifted the spoon and dug out a heaping portion of the sticky brown confection before sliding it into her mouth. "Mmmmm," she moaned. "It's an emergency all right. I'm committing chocolate suicide." I took a moment to watch her, studying her knotted hair and rumpled clothing. "You look like hell," I finally said. "Gee, thanks," Bella sneered. "Well? Are you ok?" "I don't know," she continued. "The caloric content of my dinner is pretty terrifying." "That's not what I meant!" It was my turn to roll my eyes. "Are you ill or something?" Bella finally dropped the sarcastic front and lowered her eyes. "I'm fine. I'll be fine." She pressed her lips together while she stared at the floor. I heard the spoon hit the counter before she started speaking in a rush. "I called you." "You didn't leave a message..." "I was worried about you," she finally admitted. "You weren't in class Thursday. And then when you didn't answer your phone, I thought..." "What?" "I thought I made you leave again." She exhaled her worry and closed her eyes tight. I couldn't keep myself from moving closer to her. But I did, somehow, keep my hands by my sides. I wanted so badly to reach out, and push her hair from her face. I clenched my fingers in the air, instead. "Bella, I told you before. I won't leave you. Not unless you tell me to go. I am far too selfish a creature." "Where were you?" She asked in a small voice. "I was trying to give you the time you asked for. I wish you could believe, I only want you to be happy, Bella. I went up to Canada for a couple of days. I would have told you where I was going, if I had known it mattered." "Why did you go to Canada?" I could share the truth with her now. "I went to hunt."

"Oh." Her voice sounded weak. She lifted her eyes then, and favored me with a tiny, forced smile. "It's not like you can just grab a carton of ice cream when you want a snack- right?" She laughed a little at her own joke, but it just sounded uncomfortable. "No. I can't," I admitted quietly. At that, Bella raised her hands and covered her face. I was confused by the action until I saw her shoulders shake and heard her sniffle. "God! What's wrong with me?" Bella's voice broke on a sob, and I instinctively put my hands on her knees, searching for a way to comfort her. I was at a complete loss as to what was causing her such distress. "Bella? What is it? What can I do?" I pleaded. "Are you trying to be a hero, Edward?" Bella lowered her hands and turned her tear-streaked face up towards mine. She cried freely and her voice was bitter. "You can't save me from myself!" "I don't understand!" I was frantic to find a way to ease her pain- to fix whatever it was that was hurting her. I lifted a hand to smooth down the side of her tangled hair. "Tell me what I can do..." "You're making it worse!" Bella groaned and twisted her head away from me. She slid from the counter and wrapped her arms around her torso as though she were trying to hold herself together. I let her move away from me, but she stopped at the doorway and did not leave. I watched her shoulders rise and fall with the effort to control her breathing. "I'm so stupid," she moaned, still facing away from me. "God! I am just so... stupid!" I was truly worried about the self-derision that I heard in her tone. "Bella? Why are you saying that?" I couldn't read her mind. I needed her to help me understand. "Because... if I was smart... I'd stay away from you." She turned and looked at me with wide, anguished eyes. Her cheeks were flushed from her crying, and her chest heaved sharply with her aggravation. I stood, not moving, afraid to hear what she was about to say... afraid to hope what it all could mean... afraid I could be wrong. "I've tried. I swear to God, I've tried!" Bella held her palms out in front of her, with her fingers clawing at the air as they pulled tight into fists. "I've gone over every single reason why I shouldn't... but I still want you. None of it matters. I still want you Edward!" I was moving before my name had a chance to pass her lips. With my hands on the sides of her head, I quickly tipped her face up to me and covered her mouth with my own. Bella melted

against me immediately, and a mewling sound she made in the back of her throat was the sweetest surrender I had ever heard. I squeezed my eyes closed, as her warmth permeated my body and groaned when she pulled away to speak. "Don't leave me," Bella whispered urgently against my mouth. "Don't change your mind," I implored in return. She had the power to destroy me, simply by giving me this glorious moment only to take it back later. Bella responded by pressing her lips fully to mine again. I groaned and bent down so that I could wrap my arms around her hips to pull her off the floor against me. Bella took advantage of the height difference and twisted her fingers into my hair, turning my mouth up toward her eager ministrations. Once again, I was satisfied to follow her lead. It was heaven to feel her warm lips scatter against my closed eyelids, the bridge of my nose, my cheeks and even my chin. Finally, however, she slanted her mouth across mine and tugged my bottom lip between her teeth before caressing it with the tip of her tongue. I opened to her, and deepened our kiss greedily. This was better than any sensations my mind had conjured up while alone. Better, even, that the kiss we had shared in Boston. Bella finally knew me. She knew what I was. And she willingly gave herself to me anyway. I didn't steal this from her. She gave it to me. And she kept on giving... driving me mad with desire. I was aware that no venom hinted a presence in my mouth. My hunger for Bella's blood was minimal in comparison to the ardent way that my body wanted her- as a man to a woman. I wanted to claim her- to make her my own. At the thought, a deep growl rumbled through my chest between us. Bella shivered against me with apprehension. "Sorry," I apologized between frantic kisses. "My room," Bella gasped. If she was frightened, she did not show it. I carried her rapidly through the apartment, never breaking stride until I came to the door that I knew belonged to her bedroom. Bella was breathing heavily, and I fought myself to not kick the door down in my haste. Instead, I waited for her to reach a hand down and twist the knob, opening the path for us to walk through. Excitement made my body feel like a live wire, as I realized that I was finally where I had always wanted to be... a welcome and invited guest. Her window was open, of course. But she had opened her door for me. The lights were off, but that made no difference to me. I navigated through the darkness easily. Bella's hands had slipped inside my collar, and were clutching at my shoulders. I wanted to feel her hot hands, everywhere. "My bed," she directed me. She moved one hand to point, but I was lax to give up the sensation of her hot fingers on my skin.

"I know where it is," I assured her. I swallowed her kisses and turned when I got to the bed, lowering myself so that Bella was laying above me. I had imagined this very scenario, so many times before. Bella's body squirmed against mine, igniting a fire everywhere that she touched. It took me a long moment before I realized that her hands had stopped gripping my shoulders and were suddenly pushing against me. The flats of her palms pressed against my chest and she tightened the muscles of her neck, pulling away from my kisses. I automatically lifted towards her, trying to draw her back to me. "Edward? Wait." "Why?" I rasped. My head was literally spinning. My need for her was nearly as difficult to control as any thirst I had ever felt for her blood. "How... How did you know this was my room?" Her voice was breathless. "You said... you knew were my bed was..." "You leave your window open," I whispered and smiled up at her in the dark. "I know this room like the back of my hand." I didn't expect the rush of cool air that flooded me the second she rolled off of my body. Her small hand flicked on the bedside lamp, and she quickly moved until her back touched her headboard and her knees were bent up under her chin. Bella's lips were swollen from my attention, and her cheeks were flushed a delightful red. But her eyes flashed warning signs in my direction. "You've... been in my room before?" Her voice definitely was gaining strength. I pulled in a shaky breath, likely a reaction to nerves, and raised myself up on one elbow to face her more fully. "I don't sleep. At all. And... watching you sleep was always very... interesting to me." "Are you fucking kidding me?" Bella's voice rose an octave in her disbelief. I knew I was in trouble when she swung a pillow from behind her head and hit me in the face with it. "Hey!" I complained. Bella hopped up to her knees and pummeled me a few more times with the cloth-covered feathers. It was an ineffective weapon, but her ire was not laughable. "Do you even comprehend how... creepy... that is?" Bella huffed. "I'm sorry!" I was. I sat up and tried to move to hold her, but she scurried to the other side of the bed and stood before pointing her finger toward the door. "You. Get out." "Bella? Come on... please... I didn't mean..." I was horrified at her reaction to my confession.

"Get out!" She yelled. "I would hit you with something heavy... but it won't hurt you." "Making me leave now, will hurt," I told her sincerely. "Good!" Bella crossed her arms stubbornly over her chest and cocked one hip to the side. "Get out of my room Edward Cullen. And... do not come back unless you are invited!" "Wait... does that mean you'll invite me sometime?" "Out!" She yelled and threw the pillow at me. I ducked away and hurried for the door as she had ordered. Just outside her apartment, I leaned with my back against the door and smiled. Bella was angry about my late night visits. I couldn't blame her. Still, she wanted me. I could still taste the sweetness of her mouth on my lips. I nearly fell backwards when she pulled the door open behind me. I caught myself and turned around. "Just so we're clear..." Bella was trying to look stern, so I kept a straight face. It wasn't without effort. "I'll see you in class Tuesday night." "I'll be there," I promised. Bella began to turn away, and then as if she had second-thoughts, she spun on her heels, put her hands on my shoulders, and stood on tip-toes to kiss me quickly on the cheek. She frowned once more for good measure, and then went inside and closed the door.

42. Herbal Essences

By the time Tuesday evening arrived, I had hunted again, sent Katrina two-dozen yellow-roses, and masturbated four times. The last session of masturbatory indulgence may have involved strawberry-scented conditioner while I was in the shower. Not that Bella would ever hear of it. I was fairly sure I had learned my lesson about keeping some details of my creepy habits to myself after Bella made me leave her apartment on Sunday. She had every right to make me leave. My visits to her room had been a horrible invasion of her privacy, and one I did not intend to repeat. I was inspired and encouraged by the subtle reference Bella had made to someday inviting me to her room again. No matter how small the chance might be, I'd take it. I wanted back on that bed. Before I stepped into the classroom, I was surprised by the barely suppressed jealousy in the thoughts of the man who approached me from behind. Trying not to smile at the illogic male tendency to over-react, I stepped to the side and allowed Brad to catch up to me. "Edward."

"Brad." I kept my features pleasant and, hopefully, non-threatening as I turned to face him. "Trina got your flowers last night. Quite a show you put on there, man." "Oh? Were they nice?" I asked, deliberately acknowledging that he had been in her apartment to see them. "It was the least I could do, to thank her for getting Bella and I together." Brad's thoughts shifted instantly. Katrina had obviously explained my gift in the same way. Men sometimes needed reinforcement. Brad wanted to be sure my motives didn't lie elsewhere. "Yeah... she um... likes to play matchmaker I guess." Brad rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. My eyes were drawn in the same direction as Bella and Katrina walked toward us. Katrina was curious about Brad and me talking. Bella's cheeks flushed a pretty pink as she smiled up at me from under her lashes. Katrina greeted Brad with a warm kiss. Bella stopped a foot away from me. "Hi," she said in a breathy voice. "Hi," I smiled, breathing her in. Two days had been too long. "Eddie? Thank you for the roses!" Katrina grinned over at me from under Brad's arm. "You gave me a far better gift," I mentioned quietly, looking at Bella while I spoke. Brad sighed loudly and turned the two of them away. I had to laugh at the direction in which his thoughts had shifted. "What is so funny?" Bella asked. "Brad. He's convinced he has to work harder now. I gave Katrina roses before he did. And now he thinks I'm being a butt-kisser too. It makes him look 'less smooth.'" "Were you just trying to kiss my butt?" Bella narrowed her eyes and cocked her head. "I was just being honest," I swore. Her features relaxed into a smile. "Good. Then we are off to a great start this evening. Because I have a favor to ask later." "Would you like to ask me now?" "You can't guess?" Her eyes were narrowed again as she looked at me contemplatively. "Nope." "Well, let it wait," Bella suggested. "Class is about to start."

As I turned toward the door, I caught a movement in my peripheral vision. Bella tentatively held her hand out to her side, with her palm facing forward. I accepted the invitation and wrapped my long fingers around her warm hand. She grinned up at me, and I knew I was smiling like a fool. But I didn't care. We walked into class, holding hands between us, establishing our status as a couple. Katrina noticed and nudged Brad, who silently admitted that we made a cute pair. I was in complete agreement. As unorthodox as our relationship was, Bella and I were a pair... a couple...for as long as she'd have me. Sitting beside Bella was always a mixture of denial and delight. Every time she threw her hair over her shoulder, her scent would stir up around me and burn a trail from my throat to my chest. But as I watched her repeatedly press the soft pink eraser of her pencil into her full, fleshy lowerlip, my muscles clenched and warmth swept over my body for an entirely different reason. It was during one such time that Bella caught me staring. I was held captivated by the way the pressure of the eraser pushed the rosy color away from her skin. When she lifted it, the blood would rush back to fill the void. Her lip had become puffy from the repetitive teasing and I yearned to lean forward and soothe it with my tongue. Bella turned her face and caught my openmouthed trance. Bella reached that pencil over my arm and wrote on the edge of my paper. -You are staring. I smirked and moved my hand to the paper on her desk. -You are beautiful. Her lips flattened as she considered my words, then she returned to write again. -You are making me crazy. I didn't know if she meant that as good or bad, but I tried hard not to smile as I edited the note I had begun. -Are you going to call me an 'asshole' like you did the first time I was caught staring? Bella's cheeks blazed as she realized that I had been aware of that insult all along. She chose to ignore the question, and instead pretended to listen to the rest of lecture. I leaned back in my seat, feeling amused by her embarrassment. When the professor excused us for our break, Bella turned to face me. "I'm sorry," she rushed. "I forgot all about that." "Don't apologize. I think it's funny. Quite the auspicious beginning, wouldn't you say?"

Bella chuckled, obviously more at ease. I stood and offered my hand to help her from her seat, which she accepted graciously. "Let's go get the human something to drink," I whispered near her ear. She giggled and let me lead her from the room. We passed other people in the hallway, going about their business. It amazed and baffled me that my entire world had shifted on its axis, and yet they were all able to continue walking upright, unaffected by it all. I wanted to grab someone, and shake them to awareness...or maybe just shout out my happiness to make it clear. I took a seat and pushed away from the small round table so that I could easily keep an eye on Bella. I had spent far too long hiding my attention. I finally had the right to watch her openly, and so I enjoyed every minute of it. When she turned with her drink in hand, she didn't bother opening it. Instead, she smiled as she caught my gaze and walked back over to me. My eyes never left her as she made her way to where I sat. I absorbed her scent, and the sound of her accelerating heartbeat. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled. "You have got to stop looking at me like that," Bella whispered with a breathy voice, placing the cold coke can against her cheek. My brows immediately lowered with my confusion. Had I offended her in some way? "Like what?" "It's that thing you do with your eyes." Her small smile let me know that she was being playful in her reproach. "Seriously Edward. It's doing bad things to my respiratory system." "Oh! Sorry..." I pulled my eyes downward and tried to fake remorse. She laughed and then leaned down to speak lowly. "It's either that, or you should be prepared for me to completely pounce on you!" Her teasing threat was enough to send me out of my seat. I grabbed her hand and started to pull her down the hall. "Where are we going?" She laughed. I marched us around the corner to the same semi-secluded spot where she had accused me of flirting with Katrina. "I need you to myself for a moment," I said, turning her back against the wall. "You better make good use of your time, Mr. Cullen," Bella suggested. "We have to be back in class soon." Her eyelids were heavy as she looked up at me from under her lashes. "You should know, I plan to kiss you," I warned, placing my hands against her cheeks. "You better..." I smiled and leaned forward to rub the tip of Bella's nose lightly with my own before glancing a kiss near the corner of her mouth. She pouted a tiny bit at the lack of full contact, and I used the opportunity to place a small kiss on her full lower-lip that had owned me for the first half of

class. Bella smiled then, and I felt her breath fan my face in a sigh. I was fully aware of the fact that we were in a very public place, with only moments until her nosy roommate would likely come looking for us. I wasn't trying to create a situation that would make either of us uncomfortable. So I placed slow, small kisses all over the face I cherished so much. Finally, I let my lips mold over hers. No demands, no pressure... just warmth and the connection that I needed as a reminder that this was real, and it was happening to me. "Such a gentleman," Bella sighed and placed her hands on my forearms as I ended my tender ministration. I kissed her one last time on the forehead before releasing her face. Her fingers slid until we held hands between us. "It's not easy to control myself with you," I told her. "In how many ways?" She asked quietly. She was trying to keep the mood light, but I could see the seriousness in the depths of her eyes. "In every way," I admitted. She pressed her lips together and nodded. "That kind of relates to the favor I wanted to ask," Bella told me. We turned and began walking back to class. I couldn't believe that I hadn't been thinking of the earlier cryptic mention of a favor. I had been too distracted by wanting to kiss the girl. With that immediate urge satisfied, I was able to go back to being intrigued by the tiny mystery she presented. "Are you going to let me know now?" I asked. "It's really not that big a deal," Bella smiled over at me. "I was just wondering if I could stay over at your place tonight?" I turned to look at her in shock- not used to doubting my hearing. Had she really asked to stay the night at my house? A thousand inappropriate images flooded my brain at the mere suggestion, and then my surprise was compounded by an uncharacteristic clumsiness that caused my toe to dig into the linoleum beneath me. I actually stumbled forward two steps before I stopped myself with alarm. My arms were thrown out and my fingers were spread wide as I tried to hold my balance and prevent myself from falling. I turned startled eyes up toward Bella, who watched the seemingly inconsequential event with a slight look of amusement on her face. "You... made me trip," I accused with wonder. "I trip at least twice a day," Bella shrugged. It made me laugh. In fact, I began laughing so hard and so long that Bella started giggling in response to my uncontrollable hysterics. She had absolutely no idea why something so typical to her everyday life was such a source of amazement to me. When I was able to stop laughing, I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to my side so that I could speak quietly. "I don't think I've ever tripped before," I muttered. At her confused expression, I continued. "Elemental forces... ice, mud, rain, rockslide... being shoved by my brothers or even a few

animals...these things have caused me to lose my footing on occasion. Sure. But I don't remember ever just... tripping... over my own two feet. You distracted me!" "There is so much I have to learn about you," Bella shook her head. "Which is why I'd like to stay over. Is it ok?" "You never have to ask," I vowed. "Of course you can stay over." Bella smiled again and we walked into the lecture hall together. For the second half of class, I kept my eyes trained away from Bella. I was still insanely aware of her sitting beside me, but I did my best to help her concentrate on the lecture. I knew her studies were important to her, and therefore, they were important to me. After class, Katrina parted with Brad with no more than a quick 'goodnight' in our direction and a mind full of thoughts pertaining to having the apartment to herself for the night. Curious. Bella must have already discussed the fact that she would be staying with me. Had I known that, I would have tried to delve deeper into Katrina's musings to try to hear details of that conversation. The reason for Bella's request, though welcome, was a mystery to me. I was prevented from asking Bella to elaborate on her reasoning by a group of students that actually walked in a small crowd around us to the parking lot. We were not alone, so Bella and I walked silently side-by-side down the lighted path. She chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip, favoring me with a side-look and a grin from time to time. I watched her for those moments, eager for her attention, while I breathed deeply and held a myriad of different scents and tastes borrowed from the night air against my tongue. I was enthralled by how Bella stood out from the rich spring flavors around me. The fresh, wet earth... the sprouts of young grass... the flowering trees around me that shook their perfume to the sky... all of which provided a heady bouquet. Yet, Bella's unique fragrance was so singularly inimitable; it refused to mingle or be confused with the rest. Perhaps it was because I was so attuned to her. My body would know hers, anywhere. When she started straying away from the path, I moved my eyes forward to see her beat-up old car waiting in its familiar spot. Either she wasn't sure that I would agree to her visit, or she wanted an escape plan in case I did agree to it. "I'll follow you?" Bella asked. "I'll see you soon," I nodded. I continued on to the next lot, to find my car. For the short drive home, I watched the reassuring head-lights of Bella's car in my rear-view mirror. I smiled in the dark interior and considered a time when I had cursed any deity that had brought Bella back into my life. Right now, I wanted only to thank the same source of fate. I pulled my car into the garage and stepped outdoors to meet Bella where she had parked in the drive. She was bent over her seat, retrieving something from the back. When she opened the door, my eyes focused on the white, drawstring bag that she had tossed over her shoulder. It wasn't her school bag. It was an over-night bag. I swallowed hard, immediately apprehensive. Bella had stayed over at my house before... but not really by her own choice and not since we had crossed over into couple-territory.

The bag was deliberate. I began to wish that I could add x-ray vision to my list of super-natural abilities. Everything I had seen in movies made me intensely curious about the contents of that little white bag. What was in it? Toothpaste... toothbrush... hairbrush... Would Bella have packed the other theatrically show-cased items of seduction? Racy lingerie...massage lotions...condoms? My eyes must have been bulging from my head with my rampant imaginings. Of course, my body reacted accordingly and I was forced to move my school books to cover the front of my pants. It would be so much easier if I could just read her mind. Thank God she couldn't read mine. "Edward? Are you alright?" Bella asked with a small look of worry on her face. "Fine," I mumbled, clearing my throat and gripping my books fiercely. "Let's go inside." I unlocked my front door and walked half-way through the foyer before I realized my error and turned to flip on the hallway light switch. "Sorry," I apologized for my rudeness. "You don't need the light," Bella commented. It wasn't a question. It was an observation. "No. I don't." Bella sighed when I flipped on a small table light to cast the living room into a muted orangeglow. "I appreciate you letting me come over here," Bella pulled her bag from her shoulder and wrung the nylon cord in her hands. "I just felt that we have a lot to talk about. I need to know more about you... and this is the one place I know we can really talk without being interrupted." Talk. She wanted to talk. I let out the breath that I had been holding and smiled a little easier. It wasn't quite the R-rated scenario I had been playing in my mind. I didn't know whether or not to be disappointed, or relieved. But for the moment, relief was feeling like a pretty good choice. "Do you mind if I..." she held the bag up a little higher. "Please, make yourself comfortable," I insisted. I walked her down the hall, and automatically turned into my room. She glanced over at my bed before looking back up at me. "You can use my room again," I explained. "Private bathroom and all." "Why do you have a bedroom if you don't sleep?" "I like my privacy, and I'm actually quite fond of laying down," I shrugged. "It's comfortable and relaxing. Furniture also helps to keep up the human pretense. You know, for guests." "Have you had many?" Bella asked.

"Just you. And that's reason enough to make me inordinately happy that I own that bed." I smiled. Bella blushed and looked down at her feet. "Well, thanks Edward." Her eyes darted toward the door, a signal that I could leave. I grinned and let myself out so that she could have some privacy with the mysterious contents of her overnight bag. My reaction to that innocuous little bag had been ridiculous. I chuckled just thinking about it. Bella had come over so that we could be alone to talk. Yet my crazy imagination had done everything short of conjuring up fuzzy pink-handcuffs and a cheerleading uniform. My body was doing a pretty good job of imitating good old teenage hormones. After just a few minutes, Bella rejoined me in the living room. Her face was scrubbed clean, and her hair was tied into a loose knot on the top of her head. She wore her typical little tight tank top, but had modestly donned a pair of pink cotton pajama pants. "Better?" I asked, handing her a cup of tea that I had warmed in the microwave. "Much, thank you," she answered, taking the steaming cup from my hands. "Will you sit with me?" I smiled as she lowered herself into one corner of my couch. Gratefully, I accepted her invitation and sat on the opposite side. Bella spun so that she could place her heels on the cushion between us with her knees bent upward, and blew across the top of her mug before taking a sip. "You have tea. But you don't drink it," Bella looked over her cup at me. "Alice stocked the kitchen with you in mind, right before we got snowed in." "How did she know I would be here?" Bella looked curious, and a bit confused. "Some of us... have special abilities. Alice can see the future." "No way!" Bella's wide gaze was sparked with interest, not repulsion. Encouraged, I nodded and continued. "Her visions are subjective... just because so many little decisions that we make can change the course of events." "So she knew we would get snowed in together." "I think so," I told her. "She knew that you would be calling me for a ride. She didn't really fill me in on anything else." "Oh." Bella's cheeks were pink. I was sure she remembered her drunken condition the night I had brought her to my home. "You said 'some of you.' Who else has special abilities?" "Jasper. He can feel and influence the moods and emotions of people near him."

"Wow." Bella nodded. I panicked for a moment, hoping that she wouldn't connect Mike's odd behavior to what I had just revealed. She didn't seem to dwell on the information. "What about you? Do you have some hidden super-power?" I smiled at the way she likened by abilities to a comic-book hero. "I read minds." "I knew it!" Bella grinned widely and bounced on the sofa a little. "I wondered how you seemed to know what everyone around us was thinking..." "It's not always comfortable," I admitted, watching the smile fade from her face. "It's extremely exhausting, most of the time, tying to tune it all out." "I'm sorry," Bella said quietly. "It's a little embarrassing to know that all along... you've known just what I have been thinking..." "I can't hear you," I shook my head. "I said... it's a little embarrassing to know..." Bella spoke a little louder. I smiled. "No. Sorry. I can hear you just fine." I laughed. "I meant, I can't read your mind. It's completely silent to me." "What? Really?" "Really," I assured her. "I don't know why that is. You are the only person I have not been able to hear, in that way." "Ah! Maybe that is one of my super powers!" Bella grinned, obviously liking the news that her thoughts were still her own. "Didn't that book say that the Singer had some powers?" "I'm having Carlisle look into that," I told her. "If we are... going to be together like this... we should know as much as possible. Wouldn't you agree?" "I don't agree with the 'if'' part," Bella shook her head and placed her mug on the table in front of us. "We are together." My chest felt tight, and I watched as Bella stood. She merely moved closer to me, and sat again, with her back to my side. With my arm across the back of the couch, she nestled against me. "Is this ok?" She asked. "More than ok," I consented. I turned toward her a little more, so that she was comfortably leaning back against the side of my chest. I hummed from the closeness. "What else can vampires do?" Bella asked. She was facing away from me, which made it a little easier to talk about our differences.

"We are strong," I told her. "How strong?" "Hmmm..." I thought for a moment. "You saw my piano?" "Yes." "Alice probably moved it in here by herself." "Oh." "With one hand." "Shit." I chuckled a little at her reaction and began again. "I'm fast." "Roller-coaster fast?" She asked. "Faster." I smiled and kissed the top of her head. Bella's breathing and posture remained relaxed. "I like roller-coasters." "I could take you out for a run," I told her. "Really? Right now?" Bella turned to look at me. Her eyes were as bright as a child's at Christmas. "No," I grinned and kissed the tip of her nose. "It would be better for you in the day. You wouldn't be able to see anything right now." "But you could," Bella turned away again. "Yes. I see as clearly in the dark as any other time." Bella got quiet for a minute, and I let her sort through her thoughts before beginning a new line of questioning. "Edward?" "Hmm?"

"I am curious... about a few things. But you don't have to answer if I offend you in any way. I don't want to be un-PC." "You are trying to be politically correct towards a creature that shouldn't even exist." "I'm glad you do," Bella breathed deeply. "I just want to know everything about you." I tensed a little behind her, and she felt it. "What?" "I'm just afraid you won't like some of the answers," I explained. "But you can ask me anything. I will be honest with you." "Thank you." She picked at the knee of her pajama pants before she spoke again. "Is it... hard for you to be around me?" Her heartbeat and picked-up a little. I knew that she was more nervous about this question, as well she should have been. "Sometimes," I said softly. "But being around you so often has desensitized me in a way that... it is controllable and tolerable." "That sounds horrible." Bella sounded sad. "It's not every day someone tells you that your presence is 'tolerable.'" "What if I told you, that being away from you is completely intolerable?" I whispered it near her ear and she shivered. "It is far more painful for me, to not be near you." "Is there anything I can do... to make it better?" Bella asked. "Anything I could change?" I smiled and pressed my lips against the top of her head, inhaling the scent of her hair and feeling the accompanying burn. "I wouldn't want you to change a single thing about yourself. But to answer your question... no. There is nothing you can do. The things I am most attuned to are things you have no control over. Your scent... your pulse..." "My blood." "Yes." "Umm.... Can I ask a sort of... gross question?" I rolled my eyes above her head. "You can ask me anything." "What about... my time of the month?"

I tried not to laugh because I could tell by the tenseness in her back that it was hard for her to ask. "Bella, I've been around you for several months now. I probably know your body's cycle as well as you do. You're very regular." "I'm on the pill. But how... how do you know that?" "Heightened senses," I murmured. "Our vision... hearing... our sense of touch, taste, and smell..." "Oh. Ew!" Bella grasped what I was saying, and I felt her cringe against me before she dropped her face down into her hands. I lowered my arm from the couch and wrapped it around her lightly. "Don't be embarrassed," I told her. "I am fascinated by the way your body works. I assure you, It's not at all the same. I am neither repulsed nor attracted to this aspect of your physiology." I hoped that by sounding clinical, she would relax. It did seem to help. She lifted her head and leaned back into me. My arm still wrapped over her chest, and my fingers lightly stroked the skin of her arm. "Tell me something that makes you afraid." Bella stared forward, and I took a deep breath. "I am afraid of hurting you." The silence fell heavy between us. "I guess you aren't talking about my feelings." "Bella, I am positive that I could never intentionally harm you. But you are so delicate...so fragile. I have to constantly check myself to make sure that I don't hurt you by accident." "How... how does someone become a vampire?" I held my breath and closed my eyes. What I was about to explain to her was at the very core of my deepest wishes and desires. "We, are venomous," I began. Bella startled a little and raised a hand to her lips. I pulled her fingers away and lightly intertwined them with my own. "You haven't been in danger. I can feel when venom is produced. Our bodies create it. It helps with hunting. It is also necessary... for changing someone." "Have you ever..?" "What? No. No. Never. I would never do this to someone who didn't want it."

"Well, did Carlisle ask your permission?" "No. I already explained that to you. I was hours, if not minutes away from death. He did what he felt was right." "And the rest of your family?" "The same." I nodded. "Jasper and Alice joined us later. But Rosalie, and Esme... Carlisle brought them to this life as acts of mercy." "That is... understandable..." Bella continued. "Do you remember when you were changed?" "Only the pain of it all. It's... excruciating," I admitted. "But I know the mechanics of it." "Will you tell me?" Bella's voice was soft, curious and pensive. I wanted her to know. "A person is made into a vampire when the venom is forced into the blood stream and left to travel through the body." "That sounds simple enough," Bella stated. "There must be thousands of vampires." "Not as many as you might think," I shook my head. "When we taste blood, it is very difficult to refuse it. Usually, an incredible blood-lust takes over and the victim dies before any sort of transferal of venom can be initiated." Bella shuddered and I pulled her a little tighter in my embrace. She didn't speak for a while. I listened as her pulse slowed once again. "Do you... have any more questions for me?" I finally asked. "No." Bella shifted her weight a little and sighed. "I have the rest of my answers... in the way that you are holding me." Her sweet words caused a warmth to radiate from the center of my chest. I leaned in again, breathing softly inter her hair, and kissed her tenderly on the top of her head. I felt as her body became more and more relaxed against me. Her pulse slowed. Her breathing became slow and even. I swallowed hard. Even after the details I had given her, she felt safe and comfortable enough to fall to sleep in my arms. Trying not to wake her, I turned and pulled her into a careful embrace. I silently walked down the hall, and placed Bella softly upon my bed. She turned immediately and pressed her face into my pillow, inhaling deeply and smiling. I leaned down and kissed her chastely on the cheek before turning to go. "Edward?" Bella's sleepy whisper made me stop near the door.

"Yes?" "You can watch me sleep. If you want to." It was the invitation I had hoped for. I moved back to the other side of the bed and crawled up onto it. "What if I just hold you, while you dream?" I asked, pulling her against me. Bella sighed and rested her cheek and her tiny hand against my chest while her body curled against my side. "Even better."

43. Commando

I watched Bella as the morning stole its way through the curtains and under the doors, chasing away the blues and the blacks and warming the room with its golden light. She slept comfortably in my arms through the night. Apparently she didn't need a window open with me to sleep against. I was once again glad that my cooler temperature was a comfort to her, rather than a source of repulsion. As if to illustrate my musings, Bella shifted in her sleep and pulled her leg up and over my hip. I stopped breathing when her knee lowered to rest directly over my groin. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to will away my body's reaction to her innocent shift of position. She just mumbled in her sleep and slid her leg a little further into me, making me swear softly under my breath. If she awoke, there would be no way to hide my obvious arousal. And the fact that I was turned on by that was just... almost sick. Sicker still- I considered just letting Bella keep her leg right where it was. If I shifted my hips just a little further toward her... No. That would be inexcusable. Common sense won the battle. I sighed and gently cupped her knee with my hand, moving it away from such dangerous territory. As gentle as I had tried to be, Bella began to stir next to me. She yawned and stretched. Because my hand was still around her knee, I softly rubbed her leg through the thin cotton pants until she blinked her eyes open and looked at me. "Good morning." She smiled sweetly, and her voice carried a raspy quality that tickled my ears. Bella's features were still softened by sleep. Her hair was mostly loosened from the tie that once held it on top of her head, and it tumbled around her sweet face. She was the picture of innocence. I was very glad I didn't sully the moment my acting like a horny bastard and rubbing myself against her leg while she slept. She looked like an angel. How could I take advantage of something so precious?

"Good morning, Bella," I replied. "Did you sleep well?" "You would know." She chuckled and smiled cutely at me. My eyes drifted down to linger on the smile that played on her lips, until a worried look crossed her face and she placed a hand over her mouth. "What's wrong?" I whispered. Apart from Bella sleeping against me, we had behaved very politely since she had arrived at my home. Even in the unorthodox sleeping arrangements, there had been no other hint of impropriety whatsoever. Had Bella, after receiving the answers she had sought, changed her mind about the type of relationship that she wished to have with me? Would such intimacies as kissing, now be reconsidered? "Morning breath," Bella mumbled and scowled behind her hand. She looked shy, and I felt instantly relieved. "It's a little... embarrassing... when your boyfriend has super-smelling abilities!" She was trying to joke. I was just thankful that she wasn't pushing me away again. I leaned close to her face for a moment, and inhaled deeply. "Hmm... a little stale. But nothing terrible," I teased. "Are you sure?" "Positive," I replied, smiling in response to the twinkle in her eyes. "Good to know!" She dropped her hand and rolled onto her back, stretching like a cat. I watched her movements, entranced by the small patch of her stomach that was revealed to me when her tank top rolled up. She made stretching look like a dance. She was actually graceful when off her feet. The thought made me smirk. "So, is that what I am?" I shook my head and forced my eyes away from her stomach. I leaned up on my elbow so I could look down into her eyes. "Your boyfriend?" Bella blushed prettily and rolled back onto her side, mimicking my pose. "It works as good as anything else," she explained with a shrug of her shoulder. "Unless it bothers you. I mean... I know you aren't a boy. But what else could I say? You are my... my...?" A crease formed in the middle of her forehead as she struggled to find an appropriate term. "I don't really care what title you give me," I smiled. "As long as you keep calling me 'yours.'" Bella laughed and I reluctantly moved to stand next to the bed. "Would you like to take a shower?" I asked. "Is that a suggestion? Or a proposition?" Bella raised her eyebrow in a teasing manner while she looked up at me. My traitorous body began to react to the look she was giving me. I moved across the room, hoping she wouldn't notice.

"I was merely offering the use of my shower, before I get in there," I smiled. "Aww shucks," she continued to joke. "I'll pass then." Bella sat up and pushed her messy hair behind her ears. "I have to work an early shift today. I'll just grab a shower when I go home to get my uniform." I could tell all along, by her playful tone, that her comments had been made in jest. But it did make my mind wander to the possibility of one day really taking a shower with her. The mental image made my body remind me of the necessity of stealing away for some time under the hot water. Though really- cold water might have been smarter choice. I was strung tight. "I'll be out soon," I mentioned, moving toward the bathroom door. With the combination of Bella's leg over me while she slept, and these new images... I was sure my shower would be finished in record time. I was right. Freshly showered, and much relieved, I followed the tinkling sounds of my piano keys until I found Bella. She had obviously used the main bathroom to dress and freshen up while I had been otherwise occupied. "Mind if I join you?" I asked. "Please do," she smiled and slid to make room for me on the bench. I lowered myself to sit beside her. "Mmm," she hummed. "You smell like strawberries." I chose to ignore that comment. No good would come of an explanation. "What would you like to hear?" I asked instead, switching her attention back to the instrument in front of us. "Something... pretty," Bella smiled. I thought for a moment, and then grinned. I furrowed my forehead into a serious look of concentration, pushed my tongue out of the side of my mouth as though I was really working hard, and I lifted my hands to the keys. Bella started giggling wildly when she recognized my poorly executed rendition of 'Chopsticks.'" "Be serious," she scolded and slapped lightly at my arm. I smiled at her before straightening my back and letting my fingers caress the keys, twisting my folly into a familiar piece. Bella smiled and leaned against my arm. My fingers found the notes and chords of Debussy's Arabesque No. 1, and Bella sighed. I grinned at her reaction. Soon, I would have to play the piece I was writing for her. "Better?" I asked. "Much," she nodded. "I shouldn't be surprised that you are good at this too. You've had several decades to practice, right?"

"A few," I admitted. It was strange, hearing her comment about my age so casually. "It's beautiful. Thank you." I continued to play lightly, only partly paying attention to the music while we talked. "What time do you work today?" I asked. "Noon. Until six," Bella answered. "I have a couple hours before I'll have to leave." "Hmm," I pursed my lips. "Would you still like to go for a run with me?" "My roller-coaster ride?" Bella asked excitedly. "You weren't kidding?" "It's a pretty morning," I shrugged and kept playing. "I'll take you out if you'd like." "But how would we...?" Bella began to ask about the process. I leaned sideway and kissed her cheek reassuringly. "I'll carry you on my back." "Oh... right. Super-strength and all that." "Not that I'd need it!" I laughed. "Bella, you are light as a feather." "Will you show me?" "What do you mean?" My hands finally ceased their playing and fell away from the keys while Bella glanced around the room. She stood and began to walk around the piano, trailing her finger along its smooth edge as she went. She eventually stopped when she had made it nearly all the way around. Bella turned her back to the piano then, and pressed her hands onto the top of the wood behind her. With a bounce, she managed to push herself up to sit on the top of the piano, with her legs dangling over the edge. "You said Alice could lift this thing?" Bella patted the piano beside her. "Yes." "Well, let's see you do it," Bella grinned. I laughed at her. She had no idea how simple the task would be. "I would be showing off," I mumbled. "It's not showing off if I ask you to do it," Bella insisted.

"This is really nothing at all," I warned her while I stood. "You could go sit on the hood of my car and ask me to do the same." "Now you're just bragging," Bella wrinkled her nose playfully. "Come on big boy. Show me what you got." I laughed then and moved to stand in front of her. The teasing banter encouraged me. Very deliberately, I moved close, staring into her eyes. Bella's lips parted a little with surprise when my hands grabbed her knees and pulled her legs apart so I could stand between them. I smiled at the flush on her cheeks, and reached up to kiss her lightly on the end of her nose. Her eyes widened when I slid my hands from her knees, down her calves. When I was able to feel the bottom edge of the piano under my finger tips, I smirked at her before raising the whole thing, flat and even, in front of me. I stopped when my arms were fully extended, and Bella's tennis shoes dangled in front of my face. She laughed with delight from her perch above me. I smoothly lowered my arms until the piano touched the floor again. As soon as I straightened my back to a standing position, Bella surprised me by gripping my shirt and tugging me forcefully toward her. She could not have budged me if I didn't want her to. I happily let her pull me against her chest and eagerly accepted the kiss she pressed against my lips. I missed this. I was hungry for this. When she pulled my bottom lip into her mouth and bit at it, I pulled away with a groan. "Remind me to do more heavy-lifting, if it gets a response like this from you!" "Edward? You had me at 'Chopsticks.'" I smirked and lowered my head to kiss her again. This time, I followed her lead and licked at her top lip. She sighed and opened her mouth for me, allowing me access to the sweetness within. The pleasure of teasing her tongue with my own was as close to heaven as I could imagine. I was feeling the warm rush traveling from the top of my head to the tips of my toes... a feeling I was beginning to associate to Bella and the mad way that my body craved her. I needed more. I might have shocked both of us when I lowered my hands from her waist and dug my fingers into her hips. In the next instant, I tugged her body closer to mine, almost pulling her completely off the piano. My body pressed flush against hers, and the sharp contact made a small part of my brain worry about moving too fast, of offending her with my aggression. That part was rapidly beat into submission when Bella thrust her fingers into my hair and wrapped her legs around my hips. She locked her ankles behind me and moved her body against mine, exciting me even more. "God Bella," I groaned. I desperately pushed against her and kissed her more deeply. She wasn't hesitant. Her fingers pulled at my hair and her mouth swallowed my urgency. My breathing matched hers. Her heartbeat thundered in my ears. And God help me... I could feel the heat where our bodies met... drawing me in like a dare... intoxicating me and luring me with the possibilities...

I quickly pulled away at the sound of someone clearing their throat from the side of the room. Bella's cheeks were flushed and her lips were swollen. Her surprised eyes traveled over my shoulder and she unlocked her legs. I turned to follow the direction that her attention had been drawn to, even though by then I was clearly aware of who I would see. Alice and Jasper stood in the doorway, looking at us. Jasper had a huge, goofy grin plastered to his face. Alice looked apologetic and a little worried. She felt bad for the interruption and wondered how they were able to surprise me. I laughed a little, feeling nervous. I hadn't exactly filled her in on the details of just how distracted I became while with Bella. I wasn't used to it myself. But I liked it. I liked feeling that rush... it felt almost like a human reaction, and I couldn't get enough of it. I leaned back between Bella's legs and lightly moved my hands up and down her calves in what was, I hoped, a reassuring manner. She hadn't been around Jasper or Alice since she had learned the truth about my family. I knew she was comfortable around me, but I had no idea how she felt about being outnumbered in a room full of vampires. "Sorry to interrupt." Alice stated her apology out loud for Bella's benefit. I'd already heard it. "Hi Bella." "Hi Alice." I saw Bella wave tentatively over my shoulder. "Since Alice decided to stay out of your future, we didn't know that you would have company," Jasper offered. "This really cool invention... the door bell... usually helps to avoid interruptions," I offered dryly. "Now what would be the fun in that?" Jasper laughed. I knew he wasn't really sorry. He wasn't uncomfortable in the slightest. "So... what were you kids up to?" "Edward was just about to take me for a ride," Bella offered. I gritted my teeth at her innocent comment. I knew what was coming. "I'll just bet he was!" Jasper's booming laugh cut through the room and Alice elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "We won't keep you long," she rolled her eyes at Jasper's antics. "Edward... I need to ask you something." "Should we maybe go to the living room?" I suggested. Jasper nodded and smirked. "Yes. Please... get me away from the scene of the crime. The sexual tension in this room is making me a little... anxious. If you get my drift." A quick glance over my shoulder at Bella confirmed that she was blushing like crazy. I turned and sent Jasper a nasty look.

"We'll be right in," I told him. He took my cue and followed Alice into the other room. I kept my back to Bella and slid closer to her. "Hop on," I told her. "You're giving me a piggy-back ride?" she giggled. "Might as well practice. We'll go for our run when they leave." Bella wrapped her arms around my shoulders and kissed my neck lightly while I lifted her legs against my sides. When I got to the living room, I saw that Alice sat in a chair while Jasper sprawled in his signature way across most of the couch. I stopped so that Bella could slide down my back and sit in the chair opposite Alice. I stood between the three of them and folded my arms over my chest. "Ok. So spill it," I suggested. "What do you have to ask me?" "You know next weekend is Rosalie's birthday?" "I am aware. Did you get that necklace that you were trying to win on Ebay?" "No," Alice glowered darkly. "That bitch who was bidding against me got it. I swear to God that if I ever figure out who 'IceIceBaby69' is, I'll rip her damned head off..." Alice cringed then and looked apologetically over toward Bella. "Oops. Sorry." Bella shrugged and grinned, looking completely at ease. I glanced toward Jasper. He just shook his head. He wasn't supplying a mood to the room. Bella really was comfortable. Cool. "The whole thing has Ally freaking out," Jasper smirked. "She saw Rosalie getting that necklace." "Wishful thinking?" I offered. "Maybe you saw it happening when you decided to buy the necklace. The Vanilla Ice fan changed the future." "Maybe..." Alice sounded doubtful. She didn't like her visions to not be correct. "Regardless," she finally said. "We are going to Carlisle and Esme's place next weekend. Rose and Emmett are flying in for her birthday. And I want you to go." "Oh God Alice. No..." I groaned and pushed my fingers through my hair. "You haven't even seen the new house since they moved to Seattle!" Alice argued. "And you didn't go home for Christmas..." "But Rosalie's birthday? You know she doesn't give a shit if I'm there." "Emmett will be there too," Jasper reminded me. "You haven't seen him in forever, man."

"And Esme really misses you," Alice continued. I frowned. Carlisle chose to relocate the family when I was forced to leave Forks, and Rosalie had held a grudge against me. We had never been particularly close. But in the few times we had been near each other since I moved, it was practically a war zone. "You did mention that you needed to talk to Carlisle... about all of that stuff we found while researching," Bella spoke quietly from her chair. "This could be a nice opportunity to do that in person." I raised my eyebrows. She was actually helping them to team up on me! Alice smiled widely in her direction and Jasper gave her a thumbs-up. "Ugh," I groaned again. But then an idea turned my attention back to Bella. "You really think I should go?" "I think you should always take whatever opportunities you can, to spend time with your family." Excellent. She had just played herself right into my hands. "Ok. I'll go then," I shrugged. Alice looked like she was ready to start cheering, but I held up a hand to slow her down. "If Bella will go with me." "What?" Bella opened her mouth in confusion at the switch in events. "I can't... just... I really can't afford..." "You just have to get Monday off work," I told her. I moved close and knelt next to her knees. "I'll get the tickets. We can visit your Dad, up in Forks. Then we'll drive down and spend Saturday with my family. On Sunday, you and I can spend a day alone in the city before coming home. What do you say?" "Oh. I... um...." "You just said that you think you should take whatever opportunity you can to spend time with your family," I told her softly. I was playing dirty. But I wasn't going without her. She closed her mouth and narrowed her eyes stubbornly. Pulling out the big guns, I lowered my chin and looked up at her through my lashes. "Please Bella? I really do want you with me." She blinked a couple of times and looked dazed. Then she frowned and slapped my shoulder. "Cut it out," she gave me a stern look. "You don't need to give me that look. I'll go. But I'm paying for my own plane ticket." Alice stood and jumped up and down, excitedly clapping her hands. "Oh Bella! We'll have so much fun! And the family is just going to love you! You'll see!"

"Yeah, yeah," Bella muttered. "Now I just have to come up with the money..." "It can't be much more than what Edward owes you for the window repairs," Jasper shrugged. I turned to glare at him. He didn't catch it in time. "What window repairs?" Bella asked suspiciously. "Oh hell! You didn't tell her?" Jasper was grinning and I knew I was in trouble. "Not exactly," I said through clenched teeth. Jasper really could be an ass sometimes. "Edward is the one that broke your bedroom window!" "You did?" Bella looked over at me. She actually looked mildly amused. I was encouraged to rat Jasper out for his hand in it. "Well... he was trying to see your underwear!" I pointed my finger at Jasper, who immediately earned a vicious slap to the back of the head by Alice. "Jasper!" Alice sounded exasperated, and I folded my arms and smirked because I had gotten him in trouble too. "I was curious!" Jasper threw his arms out. "Edward was the one talking about how she sleeps in next to nothing! I just wanted to see what the fuss was about!" Bella crossed her arms over her chest and stuck her hip out to the side. She turned a menacing look first toward Jasper and then toward me. "How, exactly, did my window get broken?" I sighed and decided to come clean. "Jasper was over here, telling me that I shouldn't trust Mike alone with you..." "And Mr. So-Irrationally-Emotional took off like his skirt was on fire. I chased him over to your place." Jasper smirked and threw his arms against the back of the couch. He was the only one still sitting and it irritated me that he looked so comfortable. "I mentioned that you... uh... sleep half-dressed." I explained. "Then he tore up the side of the building trying to get a peek!" "But then I saw man-boobs. And Edward almost crawled into the window to kick the shit out of your boyfriend... but I pulled him away." "And my foot got caught on the window..." I finished lamely. I prayed that Jasper would just leave out the whole part about us eavesdropping on her conversation with Mike under the trees. That shit was personal and I had a feeling she wouldn't find it amusing at all.

Alice rolled her eyes at our argument. Bella tapped her foot and frowned at both of us. "It never would have happened if you women didn't insist on keeping your lacy things covered," Jasper made excuses. "I wouldn't have been so curious." "Let me save you a little effort," Bella moved to stand closer to Jasper and looked down at him. I watched with pride as she bent forward fearlessly. "I wear boy shorts, or high-cut bikini briefs. I don't own crotch-less panties, and I won't floss my ass with a g-string for your brother, or anyone else. There. Now you don't have to be curious about my lacy things anymore, and you won't have another excuse to climb the back of my building." Her words were light, but the message was clear. Alice chuckled appreciatively. Jasper grinned over at me "Damn, she's saucy!" Jasper's voice held a bit of awe. I finally allowed myself a small smile. "I apologize for him," Alice shook her head toward Bella and smiled. "He really just does this stuff to get a rise out of Edward." "I'm standing right here," I reminded her, as if she was spoiling the secret. Jasper laughed from his seat on the couch. "I don't know what the big deal is. I'd show you all my underwear right now... if I was wearing any!" Jasper laughed loud until I flashed in front of him and turned my foot sideways into his chest. The entire sofa slid backward twenty feet before tipping over. Jasper remained in his seated position, silent for a moment, with his head on the floor and his feet in the air. "Ooooh.. .Game on, Cullen!" he finally growled. Alice skipped over and used one hand to grip the corner of the couch, flipping it and Jasper back up to a more natural position. "You boys will continue this later. Jasper, we are leaving. Bella and Edward have plans." "Fine," he grumbled. "We'll do this shit at home. You know that Emmett will want to get in on it too." Suddenly I was laughing with him. Rosalie absolutely hated when the three of us wrestled. "Sounds great," I grinned. I couldn't believe it. Knowing that Bella would be with me, I was actually looking forward to the trip.

44. New World

When Alice and Jasper left, Bella and I just looked at each other for a minute. She won the staredown.

"I'm sorry about your window," I said quietly, bowing my head. I heard her move closer, and then felt her fingertips pushing my hair away from my forehead. I looked up to see an amused expression of forgiveness on her face. "It's really ok. But I am going to let you buy my plane ticket now. You kind of owe me." "Deal," I breathed, relieved that she hadn't decided against the trip. "You'll really go to Seattle with me?" "Forks first, right?" Bella asked. "Absolutely," I nodded. "I want to meet your father." "It will be fun," Bella smiled. "I'll call Charlie on my way to work, and let him know to expect us." "What time do you have to leave?" Bella looked over at the clock and frowned. "In about an hour," she pouted. "Plenty of time," I insisted with a grin. "Do you still want that ride?" Bella's face broke out in a happy smile, and I turned so that she could hop up on my back once more. She kissed the side of my neck again, and I squeezed her legs before stepping outside onto the deck. "Hmm," the clouds are thinning," Bella noted. "We might see some sun today." "I'll be sure to stay in semi-open areas," I told her. "When I run alone, branches and leaves don't bother me. I wouldn't want you to be scratched or anything." "Yeah. We don't need me to start bleeding," Bella cautioned. I laughed lightly. "Probably best to avoid that," I concurred. "But... I want you to be prepared. In the sunlight, I look different." "Do you get like, all gross-looking?" "Depends on who you ask, I suppose," I said thoughtfully. "Well, I want to see," Bella whispered near my ear. "I want to know everything about you Edward." She kissed me softly and I was stunned again by how fortunate I was to have found her.

"Hold on tight," I said. It was an unnecessary warning. I wouldn't let her fall. But it did serve to prepare her for what was going to happen. As soon as my feet touched the grass beyond my deck, I took off like a rocket toward the tree line. A familiar path helped me cut through the thinly-forested area nearest my home. I could feel Bella's arms hold tight around my shoulders, and her heart beat more quickly with exhilaration. She laughed and her hair flew out behind us. Having Bella with me made one of my favorite activities even better. The smell and sounds of her around me and with me made my senses alert and made me feel alive. Even as I pushed my muscles to move more quickly, I could tell that I wasn't running as fast as I normally could. I laughed in genuine delight. My body was subconsciously making allowances for the girl on my back. I had switched from the role of natural predator to natural protector. It was an amazing and powerful thing to accept. When I saw a break in the trees ahead of us, I slowed to a walking gait. I could see the warm glow of the sun in that open space. "Wow," Bella breathed. "That was, unbelievable." "As good as a roller coaster?" I asked. "Better!" Bella giggled as I let go of her legs and she slid from my back. I turned immediately and put my hands on her waist, when I saw that she looked off-balance. "Just, let me get my equilibrium back," she smiled. I continued to hold her until she was steady on her feet again. She looked around. "Why did we stop?" "There is a clearing ahead," I nodded. "It's sunny. I thought that if you wanted..." I felt a little nervous and didn't finish my thought aloud. And then, supplying strength when she noticed my weakness, Bella wrapped her hand around mine. "Let's go," she whispered. I nodded and turned so that we could walk side by side toward the lightness beyond the trees. As we reached the tree-line, Bella dropped my hand and paused in the shadowy space under a large pine. I understood her hesitation. She watched me curiously, and I took a deep breath before leaving her and walking straight out toward the middle of the field. I didn't have to walk far before I lost the protective covering of the trees that surrounded the small grassy area. Still, I kept my back turned and continued walking until I was satisfied at the distance between us. I could feel the sun on me. I knew what she would see as I slowly turned to face her. Even from this distance, there was no way she could mistake the way that my skin threw rainbow prisms in the sun. Like I had crushed diamonds under my skin, light reflected and bounced away from me in a thousand directions... tiny pin-points of light that danced with the grass that swayed near my feet. I watched her warily, trying to find the inner-strength to accept whatever reaction Bella had to this new facet of me.

Bella began to move then. She left her respite near the tree and walked deliberately toward me. Her expression was one of curiosity and slight tension. I didn't move. I let her come. Bella squinted when she stepped close and flinched her face away from the light that bounced up toward her eyes. "I need sunglasses," she teased. I offered a small smile, but was really too nervous to do more. I continued to watch her as she moved her feet and walked around me. By the time she had traveled the circle, her heart-beat had slowed to a normal pace and her smile was relaxed again. "Edward? Sit down." I did as I was told. I lowered myself to the grass at her feet. With my knees bent up and my heels pressed into the ground, I looked up at her. I wasn't sure what kind of a freak show my appearance presented in her mind. But to me, with the sun making a halo around her wavy chestnut hair, she looked like an angel on earth. Especially when she smiled down at me the way she was. Taking me completely by surprise, Bella moved close and straddled my legs before lowering herself to sit on my lap. I held my breath. Her face was inches from mine. Her legs rested on my hips and her feet pressed into the ground behind me. "Close your eyes," Bella instructed. When I did, I felt her tentative finger tips trace the features of my face. She touched my eyebrows and drew a line down the center of my nose. Both of her hands cupped my cheeks, and her thumbs lowered to rub my jaw line. "You don't have to shave, do you?" Bella asked. I kept my eyes closed. "My hair doesn't grow," I told her. "Mmm." She hummed, and then she leaned forward to rub her cheek against mine. It was such an intimate gesture. My chest felt tight at the fact that even after all of this, she still wanted to be close to me. I opened my eyes as she pulled her face away. "Tell me what you are thinking," I said. "You look...." Bella bit her bottom lip. "Strange," she finished. I couldn't fight the grin that pulled up the corner of my mouth. "You are handling 'strange' surprisingly well." "I know!" Bella smiled widely and I returned the gesture by putting my arms around her and hugging her close to my chest. We sat that way for a minute until I felt her shudder against me. Her shoulders shook once... twice... and then I heard the distinct sound of her laughter. I pulled back, not releasing my hold. Bella pressed her hands over her mouth, trying to suppress her giggles. The more she tried, the more fruitless her efforts became. "What? What's so funny?" I asked. "My boyfriend....is ... a sparkly vampire!" Bella gave way to a torrent of laughter until tears squeezed from underneath her lashes and she shook with mirth. I literally couldn't stop myself

from laughing with her, as she arched her back against my arms and rocked, laughing until she couldn't laugh anymore. She finally gasped, trying to catch her breath, and sat back up. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears and her cheeks were pink with a happy blush. Sitting with her as I was, holding her against me... watching as the sun warmed her hair in a riot of red shades that usually remained hidden... I wasn't sure if she'd ever looked prettier to me. "Bella. I love you." She blinked her eyes slowly, acknowledging my words with a small smile. I had told her how I felt before, in a moment of desperation. This was different. Bella had opened herself to me and accepted me for the creature I was, as well as the man that I wanted to be. My long-dormant heart felt full again because of her. She didn't say a word. I didn't need her to. Instead, she raised her hands to my face again and tenderly cupped my jaw before she lowered her lips to brush back and forth against mine. I captured her lips with my own, and held her more firmly against me. We sat that way for a long while, sharing deep unhurried kisses. My hands played in the sun-warmed tips of her hair, and she caressed my cheeks with her fingers. Eventually, she pulled her head away and moved her fingers to trace my mouth instead. "I wish we could stay here, like this, forever," Bella whispered. My chest constricted. We could! My mind screamed. We could stay just like this... forever... "But I have to get ready for work," she finished. My hopes dropped. Of course she hadn't meant anything by her simple statement. Reality crashed around my shoulders, and I had to work to make my smile look genuine. I offered her my hand as she rose off my lap. Quickly, I jumped to my feet beside her. I turned so she could get on my back, and then sprinted toward the trees to take her home. Bella was breathless from our run and from laughing when I stepped back into the house. Instead of merely dropping her legs so she could slide down my back, I reached behind and shifted her legs so that I could pull her around my side and into my arms. She stroked the back of my neck while I cradled her in front of me and placed one more lingering kiss on her full mouth. "Are you sure you have to go?" I whispered against her cheek. "Yes." Bella frowned and I gently placed her on her feet. "I still have to go home to shower and get my uniform." "Ok," I nodded. "But what are you doing after work?" Bella smiled again and raised an eyebrow. "Nothing. Well- maybe going over my notes for tomorrow night's class. Why? Did you have something in mind?" "I thought it might be fun to take you to a movie," I shrugged. "If you'd like to?" "Edward... are you asking me out on a date?" Her smile was radiant.

"I guess I am," I grinned. "I could be ready by seven. If you'd like to pick me up?" "I'll be there," I promised. Bella retrieved her over-night bag from the other room before leaving. I stood in the doorway and watched her wave before she pulled away in her car. With her gone, the silence around me was deafening. Even without providing her inner voice to flood my mind, I had been so in tune to the other sounds of Bella... her breathing and her heart beat, the sound of her skin brushing surfaces as she passed, or her feet scuffling across the floor... the swish of her hair as she pushed it behind her shoulders. I could actually feel her absence in the air around me. I didn't like it. To chase away the pressing silence, I spent the afternoon at my piano. Finally I had found inspiration to finish Bella's song. Our time spent running together through the woods, and the memory of holding her against me while we kissed... the way that she let me love her even while the sun glaringly pointed out our differences... All of those things twisted through the final chords and notes, ending the piece with a beautiful optimism that made me feel warm and happy. Our future together seemed limitless with possibilities that I could hear through my finished composition. I smiled while I imagined sharing it with the woman who placed the music in my heart. I had spent so much time at the piano that I had to rush to get ready for my date. I changed my jeans, buttoned a clean shirt around me, and ran my hands through my hair. Bella seemed to like it messy. I didn't have to do much more than that. I grabbed a few necessary items such as my wallet and my car keys. Just as I palmed my phone, it rang. I recognized Bella's number and answered it. "Hello?" "Did I catch you before you left?" I glanced at my watch. It was six-thirty. "I was just leaving the house," I told her. "Well... don't," Bella said. "I'm sorry. I won't be able to go out tonight." Her voice matched my plummeting spirits. "Why?" "Suzie can't make it in to work," Bella grumbled. "I have to work a double. I am on a break now. But I'll start again at seven and work until close." "I'm so sorry," I told her sympathetically. I wished she didn't even have that job. I hated the idea of her wearing that revealing little uniform and working with drunk men. I hated the long hours she was forced to keep. I would consider asking her to quit if I didn't know how much her

independence meant to her. There was absolutely no way that she would accept financial support from me. It was best for me to keep my mouth shut and just try to be supportive. "I know I'm whining," she breathed. "I'm just tired. I have been in the stockroom all day, carrying cases of beer and liquor... moving around kegs. My arms and my back are killing me. And now I have to wait tables all night. I was really looking forward to our date." "I was too. We can do it another time," I offered. An idea started to form in my mind... an excuse to spend time with Bella anyway. "You know, if you aren't exhausted after your shift, you are welcome to come back to my place. The hot tub is great for sore muscles." I held my breath and waited for her response. "Thanks Edward. I'll think about it. Ok?" "Sure. I'll leave a light on, just in case." I hoped she would take me up on the offer. Not only was I sincere in my idea to erase the discomfort that her day of lifting had caused, but I was having a very tough time being away from her in general. I was going to have to work on that one. I was fairly positive Bella wouldn't like it if I acted too needy or too clingy. She was accustomed to having her own space. I needed to respect that. I was sitting on my couch, reading under the warm glow of the table lamp when I heard a car slow and turn off the main road. I glanced up at the clock on the wall, and saw that it was almost two-thirty in the morning. I let my eyes drift back to the last paragraph that I was reading when I heard the car pull into my driveway. I smiled to myself as I listened to her car door close. I heard her feet on the walk. My front door opened and closed with no preamble. Her feet shuffled with heavy steps. Finally, I looked up from my page and smiled at the girl who stood in the doorway. "Is it still ok for me to use your jacuzzi?" Bella asked. I smiled and set my book aside. She wore her Midfield work uniform. Pieces of her long hair had fallen out of her messy ponytail and framed her face. She smelled like beer, and she looked tired. "Of course it is," I nodded. "I turned it on earlier. It should be ready." "You were that sure I'd come over?" Bella raised her eyebrow. I chuckled. "I hoped you would. But no. I decided that I would enjoy it myself, even if you decided to go home after work." "I considered that," Bella mumbled. She dropped her purse on my side table and started walking toward my patio doors. I noticed she didn't have her over-night bag with her. Of course she wouldn't. I didn't invite her over until she was already at work. It wasn't like she had time to pack. "Alice might still have that extra bathing suit in the guest room," I offered. Bella turned to look at me, framed in moonlight by the glass door.

"My underwear covers more than that bikini. And honestly Edward, it isn't like you haven't seen my panties before." With that, she pulled her black work shorts down her legs and left them on my living room floor. My mouth popped open as she began to walk outside, the tempting curves of her bottom displayed nicely in a pair of navy-blue boy-shorts. I stood and followed like a man in a trance. Bella dipped her toes into the hot water and smiled before grabbing the hem of her t-shirt and pulling it up and over her head. She tossed her number thirteen jersey onto a deck chair and grinned at me over her shoulder. I was staring like an idiot at her cute little green and white polka dot bra. "Well Edward? Are you going to join me, or not?" "I'm... I... I'm just going to go get my trunks." I stammered like a school boy. I couldn't seem to help it. Bella just shrugged and yawned before stepping down into the hot tub. "Suit yourself," she said quietly. She was already settling into the corner of the tub with a smile on her face and a relaxed sigh when I spun and went inside to get dressed. I didn't bother trying to dress at human speed. I was back on the deck seconds later, looking at Bella's contented smile while I stepped down into the hot water to join her. "You didn't take long," she murmured when I stepped over her legs. "I was eager to get back to you." I wasn't trying to play a game or be cool. It was the simple truth. She smiled and opened her eyes while I lowered myself into the other corner seat. "This was a perfect suggestion," Bella said. "I already feel less tired. And I really did over-do it in the stock room today." "Do your arms still hurt? Your back?" "It's getting better," Bella shrugged. "Come here," I told her. Bella smiled and moved over to me. I spread my legs wide, and she sat on the edge of the seat in front of me. I moved my hands to her shoulders. She shivered at my initial touch, and then relaxed immediately when I started massaging the tight muscles under my hands. She actually moaned and her head fell forward. "That feels heavenly," she stated. I smiled and leaned forward to kiss that small freckle on the back of her neck that I had always been so intrigued by. My hands caressed her wet skin, applying the proper amount of pressure to her shoulders and neck muscles while she relaxed further into me. When she moved her hands to rest on my knees, my hands faltered for just a moment. But when her fingers began moving under the water, dragging lines up and down the outside of my legs, I shifted back a little further on the seat. It was disturbing how quickly my body responded to her casual touch. I had been sitting there, trying diligently to not imagine her lack-of-clothing and the way her skin felt under my fingers. Her fingers rapidly made me forget

my good intentions. Behind her, my body grew hard and I hoped I could find a way to politely put distance between us so that she wouldn't be offended. "All done," I whispered. My throat felt tight and I let my hands fall away from her shoulders, hoping she'd take my subtle hint and move to her own seat, a safe distance away. Instead, she sighed deeply and slid back toward me. I pressed myself into the corner of the tub as far as I could, but she didn't stop until her back was firmly pressed against my chest. She leaned into my cool frame with a contented sigh, melting against me. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth when she slid her hips further into the corner. Because as soon as I felt her back stiffen in response, I knew that she had felt exactly what it was that I was trying to hide. To my surprise, however, she did not move away. She simply turned herself on the seat so that she could look at me. She didn't say a word. She just looked at me with a strange mixture of curiosity or confusion... or some other emotion I could quite put my finger on. I panicked, feeling like I should say something... like I should apologize for my body or for every impure thought I had ever had toward her. My moral code warred with my natural urges, and I didn't know how to proceed. It didn't help that she wasn't saying anything. She was just... waiting? For what, I wasn't sure. But I opened my mouth to try to dispel the strange awareness between us. "Bella, I..." She silenced me by placing her finger tips against my mouth. "Shhh," she whispered. Bella moved then, but only so she could brush her lips across my cheek. She placed tiny kisses toward my ear, where she stopped to speak quietly. "I've spent the last few days learning about all the ways that we are different. I like knowing, that in this way, we are alike." I froze when her fingers dropped to my shoulders. She looked thoughtful and bit her lip while she deliberately drew her fingers lower, tracing the planes of my chest... lower still...gently under the surface of the water making light designs against my stomach. Her touch caused my abdomen to tighten reflexively and she smiled. "I wondered... if things worked the same for you." "What do you mean?" I asked. My voice was husky with the pleasure that her touch provided. "I wasn't... even sure... if you were attracted to me in this way," Bella confessed softly. Her fingertips played at the waistband of my trunks and she looked deeply into my eyes. "And I wasn't sure if...your body worked the same." "I am desperately attracted to you, in this way," I admitted. "And I suspect my body works the same as that of any other man. I just have a century of additional repressed urges to deal with." "I'll say!" Her eyes were wide as she let her fingers drop lower still, briefly touching me through my trunks. My hips jerked involuntarily at the unexpected sensation and Bella moved her body

up mine until we were face to face. "Do you trust me, Edward?" I looked deeply into her eyes, trying to search for the intention behind her words. "Yes," I said. She smiled and raised one of her hands to brush my hair away from my forehead. Then cupping my chin with her tiny hand, she pressed her full lips against mine. I moaned into her mouth and brought my arms around her, pulling her wet, slick body fully against my chest. The feeling was intense. She chuckled against my mouth and pulled away slightly, sliding her hand down my torso again. This time, her fingers slid under the waistband of my trunks, driving me crazy as she rubbed back and forth, playing with the hair just under my navel. I kissed her deeply, torn between my need to stop her and praying to God that she wouldn't. Once again, she made the decision for me. "Take these off," she ordered, snapping the waistband of my shorts against the taut skin of my stomach. Who was I to argue? My shorts were around my feet before she could blink. I stunned her with my fast movements. But a slow smile made its way across her face. "That's going to take a while to get used to," she grinned. I swallowed hard and waited to see what she was going to do next. She settled in next to me, and kissed me again. The water around my naked body was doing delicious things to me. "Put your hands on the edge of the tub," Bella instructed. I closed my eyes and lifted my arms above the water, resting them on the outside edge of the fiber-glass Jacuzzi. I wanted to hold her, to crush her against me and feel her body under my hands the same way that she was once again exploring mine. I felt her lips biting and sucking and placing kisses against my shoulder and the crook of my neck, and I let my head fall back. When her hand slid down my stomach once again, I held my breath... waiting. Bella's hand touched me once, and her finger traced a line from the tip of my penis to the base before she wrapped her hand firmly around me. I groaned at the contact, and my hands clenched into the sides of the tub. "Shhh," she whispered again. I tried to relax the muscles of my arms and I understood why she requested for my hands to be moved away from her. She was being careful and cautious about my unknown reactions to the way she was touching me. "You are going to be awfully upset if you ruin your hot tub," she whispered near my ear with a teasing tone. I turned my head to find her lips again, and her kisses calmed me even while her hand below the water started doing wicked things to my body. "God Bella," I groaned. It felt so much different with her touching me. The combination of her warm, soft skin causing such amazing friction, gliding and twisting around me... and the look on her face was causing incredible pressure to build within me. My breathing became labored on instinct and my hips restlessly started moving of their own accord in time to her efforts. Her cheeks were pink, and she actually looked excited by my response. "Do I make you feel good, Edward?" Her throaty whisper across my ear nearly sent me over the edge. "Fuck yes!" I bit my lip the instant that the harsh words left my mouth. I was so afraid of my vulgarity upsetting her. But if anything, she seemed to like it. Bella pressed her chest against

mine and crushed my mouth under hers. She pulled and sucked at my lips in time to her more eager movements under the water. My body tensed, sensing release just seconds away. Bella felt it too, and gripped me tighter. I pulled my mouth from hers, and pressed my forehead into her shoulder, squeezing my eyes shut tight and groaning as my climax tore through me. Bella slowly stroked me for a moment more, then released her hold below the water and moved both of her hands up to brush through the back of my hair. She held my face against her skin as I shuddered and came down from the incredible high she had just elevated me to. When I was sure I was able, I lowered my hands from the edge of the tub and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her tight against me and placing grateful kisses along her collar bones and the top of her chest. I didn't want to let her go, but I felt her pulling away. "Will you stay tonight?" I asked. "Would you like me to?" "Of course, I would," I nodded, pulling my trunks back up into place. "I always want you near me." I emphasized my words by pulling her across my lap. Bella blushed and nodded. "I'll have to borrow dry clothes." "I have a few lying around," I shrugged. "Stay?" I was worried that what happened between us would cause unnecessary awkwardness. But again, she surprised me. "You are going to have to use extra cleaning-chemicals in this thing," Bella smirked, looking down at the water, "or Jasper is going to be pissed!" My mouth flew open in pretend insult at her reference to what had just happened between us, and I moved quickly, throwing her unceremoniously over my shoulder. She squealed loudly and kicked her legs when I stood and began walking out of the hot tub. "Put me down!" Bella was breathless and laughing. And because her delightful bottom was so close to my head, I reached up and playfully spanked her once. "Ow!" "Quit squirming," I ordered, carrying her into the house. "We're going to get you into some dry clothes." I walked Bella straight into my bathroom and placed her feet on the soft rug in front of my shower. "I'll be right back," I told her. In my room, I grabbed a soft t-shirt from my dresser drawer. I started to return to Bella, but stopped and pulled a pair of my boxers from the drawer as well. She would probably appreciate the gesture. My hand hesitated on the bathroom door when I realized that I could hear the shower water from within. I knocked lightly, but received no response. And so I tentatively opened the door. Only the faint outline of Bella's body was visible through the steamy condensation on my shower door. Her bra and panties were draped over my towel rack to dry. The sight of them there caused my throat to constrict painfully.

"Edward?" "I'll just leave these clothes on the edge of the sink," I muttered. "Did you want to watch a movie or something?" "I'm actually pretty tired," Bella said. "I'm just going to wash my hair, and I'll be ready for bed." "Ok." I closed the door softly behind me, and used a towel from the bathroom down the hall to dry my body before I dressed in comfortable pajama pants. I didn't bother with a shirt. When I heard Bella moving around in my bedroom, I went to her. "Do you need water? Or can I get you anything...?" "Just you," Bella smiled as she crawled up onto my bed. "Will you stay with me?" "I was hoping you'd ask," I smiled. When she was situated in the center of my bed, and making my clothing look way more sexy than I could ever have imagined, I turned off the light and went to join her, laying on my side and resting my face on my arm. The room was cast in shadows, but light from the window leant enough of a glow for her to see me looking at her. She bent her elbow and held her hand out between us with her fingers splayed. I pressed my palm against hers and entwined our fingers. She looked at our joined hands thoughtfully for a moment. "Does it amaze you... how well we compliment each other?" Bella asked. "For all of our differences... we just... fit." "I've been waiting my whole life for you Bella," I whispered. "I'm amazed by this every single second that we are together." "Tonight was..." she licked her lips and shook her head a little. "I liked touching you," she whispered. My breath caught and my body warmed at her admission. "It felt... right." "I wish..." I swallowed hard and paused. "What?" Bella's eyebrows lowered in a concerned look. "What do you wish?" "I wish... that I could touch you too," I told her. My chest rose and fell as my breathing picked up nervously. Bella responded with a slow smile. "I'd like that," she said simply. "But..." "What is it?" "You're so strong," she whispered. "It's... scary."

I raised our joined hands to my lips and placed kisses on the tips of her fingers. "I would never hurt you Bella. I couldn't." "I know." My lips moved up her arm as I moved closer to her on the bed. "I only want to make you feel as good as you made me feel." My lips pressed a kiss to the inside of her elbow, and I deliberately blew my cool breath against the sensitive skin there. She shivered but did not pull away. "You have more experience with this sort of thing than I do..." Bella stiffened then and gently pulled her arm away. "What makes you think that?" My brows lowered. I hadn't meant to offend her, and I really hadn't meant to wonder about what kinds of things that her and Mike had done together. But the knowledge that she had been in a serious relationship was in the back of my mind. "I just thought... that you and Mike..." I pursed my lips. I didn't want to elaborate and bring the unwanted images to my mind. Bella reached out and ran her fingers down my cheek. "You're right," she whispered. "I've probably had a bit more experience than you. But..." she continued to stroke my cheek and smiled shyly. "You've already seen me more undressed than Mike ever did." I wrinkled my forehead as I tried to accept what she was saying. "Do you mean...?" "Anything we did together... was strictly over-the-clothes," Bella nodded. "I know. That sounds pathetic. But... I just couldn't fake feeling for him in a way that I did not. I never felt like this... not like I feel when I'm with you." "It's not pathetic," I shook my head. "It's astounding." I laughed then and dove under the blankets, playful and joking as I tickled her legs and her sides until she breathlessly laughed with me. I finally surfaced, pulling the blankets back off my head as I held my weight above her with my arms. "So... all of this..." I let my finger trace her hip under my t-shirt, "Is unchartered territory?" "Yep," she giggled. "Waiting to be explored?" I felt like a boy at Christmas. "Knock yourself out, Magellan," Bella teased. I dove back under the covers, striving to keep the situation light. I didn't want her to be nervous with me. I picked up her leg and kissed the inside of her ankle. "Mine," I stated simply. She giggled above me and I moved further up, pressing a kiss to her knee. "Also mine."

"It's going to take you days if you plan to claim every one of my body parts," Bella teased. I placed a quick kiss on her thigh before moving up her body again and shifting to my side next to her. "Let me save you the effort," Bella murmured. "Every part of me is yours." Her words sent happiness flooding through me. I paused in my game, content to come back to it later. My eyes locked on hers, and the teasing was gone. Only one part of her was in my mind... the part I wanted more than anything. Would she give me her heart? I raised my hand to her hip, and slid it underneath the t-shirt she wore. My fingers glided back and forth on her smooth skin. "I can't read your mind," I told her. "You have to be specific with me. You need to tell me if I do something wrong... or something that makes you uncomfortable." "I will," she whispered. I leaned forward to place a slow, open kiss on her mouth. My hand was shaking a little as I skimmed it up her side and wrapped my fingers over her ribs. My thumb moved up to caress the bottom of her breast, and Bella shivered against me. I forced my hand to still. I could do this. She needed me to be sure. A confidence I didn't know I possessed stole over me and I lowered my hand to the bottom of her t-shirt and pulled it up and over her head. Bella crossed her arm over her chest, in a self-conscious manner. But I quickly took her wrist in my hand and pushed it into the mattress beside her, effectively rolling her onto her back so that I could look at her in the moonlight. She was stunning. I could see the blush on her cheeks, even in the darkness. My eyes drank in the soft swells of her chest, exposed before me. "You are so beautiful," I told her. I lowered my face then, to drag my lips down the center of her chest. I stopped at her belly button and swirled my tongue against the funny little recess before I moved back up her body. Bella trembled beneath me, and I lifted a hand to brush the back of my fingers over her breasts. I was fascinated by the way her body responded to me. Furthermore, I was encouraged by the fact that in all of this, I felt only the manly urges of my body. Hurting Bella was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to bring her pleasure. I wanted to make her love me. With care, I moved my hands up her torso and cupped her breasts in my hands. Bella moaned softly and arched her back, pressing herself more fully against my palms. I smiled. I could do this. I lowered my mouth and pulled one of her nipples into my mouth. She tasted delicious, and the feel of her on my lips and tongue was like ambrosia. "Edward," she breathed. I paused and pulled my head up to look at her. "Do you want me to stop?" "God no!" Bella pushed her hands into my hair, and pulled me toward her. I went eagerly, taking the kisses she offered and pressing lightly down onto her so that I could feel her chest against mine.

"We're perfect," I said against her mouth. "We feel perfect." She hitched one leg up at the side of my hip, and it brought the lower half of our bodies in closer contact. Bella gasped against me, and I groaned and lowered my face to lick and suck and kiss her neck. Bella tossed her head back into the pillows and I followed the column of her throat with my nose, stopping to place a lingering kiss on the pulse-point at the base of her neck. I smiled against her skin. I felt so damn good. I could tell by the way that Bella was moving against me, that she was searching for more. I needed this to be about her. And so I rolled until I could lay on my hip beside her once more. She moved her face to mine, drugging me with her open-mouthed kisses. I groaned into her and had to concentrate on making my mind clear. Slowly I reached up to remove one of her hands from my hair. I held her hand close to my face and wrapped my fingers around hers again. Bella was breathing heavily and watching me as I licked and kissed the tips of her fingers. And then I brought our joined hands down between us. I turned her palm until it rested flat against her fluttering stomach, and then I turned my hand to lay against and over hers. "Show me," I told her quietly. "Show me exactly how to touch you." Bella's eyes widened at my words. Her cheeks flamed and she bit her lip. I wasn't sure if I'd asked too much. But then I felt her hand slide under mine. Wanting to encourage her, I leaned forward and kissed her again. She was bolder when I wasn't watching. I moved my hand with hers and groaned once more when I felt exactly where she had taken me. "Like... this," Bella whispered against my mouth. I caressed her tongue with mine, accepting her increased pulse and her quickening breaths as confirmation that I was making her feel good. Thoughts of blowing bubbles crossed my mind, and I had to bury my face in Bella's neck to hide my amusement. I kissed her instead, and sucked her skin carefully between my lips. Her fingers moved less hesitantly now, and I ghosted my hand with hers, eager to learn what would bring her the most pleasure. I was rewarded by the glorious noises that she was beginning to make in the back of her throat, and by the way that her hips began moving to meet and match our touch. It was incredibly erotic, to see her touching herself with me. I wanted so badly to move over her and press into her... my own need had risen again to a feverish pitch. And I could smell her arousal in the air around us. It was calling me to claim her. But I knew that this needed to be about Bella. I wanted to know that I could do this for her. Leaving her hand in place, I slowly traced my fingers against her sensitive skin, lower to tentatively pause at her opening. Bella's eyes squeezed shut when she felt my hand. "Can I...?" "Please Edward," Bella gasped. "Yes. Please." Her hand wrapped around my wrist then guiding me toward her. I bit my lip as I slowly moved my finger inside. She surrounded me completely, wet and hot and so tight. I groaned at the sensation and kissed her again. I didn't have to worry about hurting her. Bella moved against my hand eagerly, teaching me and showing me the way her body needed me to move. And I was a patient student. I was taking mental notes and hoping

there would be a test later. I could only imagine the way she would feel moving around other parts of my anatomy. "More, Edward," Bella whispered. I kissed her again deeply and moved another finger to join the first. Her body's natural resistance warned me to be gentle, to not push so far. But Bella rocked against my hand and arched her back off the bed. I increased the speed of my movements and the affirmative sounds coming from Bella made me feel victorious. I turned my attention to her chest again, and was rewarded with a low, throaty moan from the girl beneath me. Her hands had given up leading the way, and she was gripping the sheets on either side of her head, writhing under my attention. And it was all me. I shifted my hand so that my palm cupped her fully while my fingers moved according to the pace she had set for me. The added friction sent her spiraling over the edge. I felt her muscles clenching around my hand and my name was on her lips as she threw her head back in the ecstasy of the moment. I slowly removed my hand from between her legs. Her eyes were still closed and her hands still gripped the sheets tightly. I trailed my fingers up her hips and wrapped them around her waist. My lips drew a line from her navel up the center of her chest, licking at the slight salty perspiration that rested there. I planned to have a thousand lifetimes to claim every part of Bella for my own. When I got to the place I wanted to be, I lowered my lips to kiss the skin directly above her pounding heart. "Mine," I whispered there.

45. Moore is less

I laid still, lovingly watching while Bella slept. Her face was turned towards me, her cheek resting on her crossed arms. The sunlight illuminated the soft curve of her naked back and made the soft, fine hairs on her skin turn golden. I smiled at the sight of my boxer shorts wrapped low across her hips. My grin widened when she mumbled and rolled to her back, bringing new and interesting curves to the light. She really was lovely. As if sensing my wakeful interest, Bella scrunched up her face and then opened her eyes to the light of the room. A look of consternation passed her features when she became aware of her state of undress. She quickly pulled the sheet up to block herself from my eyes. Bella turned her face then, and studied me for a moment. "Edward? Were just oogling my goodies while I was sleeping?" "Shamelessly," I nodded. As a sort of apology, I handed her the t-shirt that she had worn the night before. She blushed and pulled it over her head. "I'm sorry that I don't have any food in the kitchen," I told her. "I'd like to take you out to breakfast, if you'd let me."

"That sounds really nice. Thanks," she smiled. An hour later, we sat side by side in a booth at a small local caf. Bella sipped coffee and ate French toast while I took advantage of the free internet service and looked for airline tickets for our trip. "I can't believe our class is almost over," Bella said, licking a tiny drop of syrup from the corner of her mouth. "We're going to have to find time to study for our final this weekend." "I'll help you study on the plane," I shrugged. She smiled her appreciation and made sure that she reminded me of that promise while we were flying at thirty-five thousand feet on Friday morning. As soon as we were comfortably in the air, Bella pulled her class book and the papers she needed from her carry-on bag. I quizzed her at first, but her mood turned edgy every time I corrected her on fine details of her answers. She glowered, and searched through the book to see if my points were accurate. "That's not even in here," she huffed after I added to an answer. "But it's correct," I smiled smugly. "But I don't need to know that for the test," Bella argued. "He's not going to cover material that is not in the study guide." "You have no desire to learn more than is absolutely required?" I cocked an eyebrow in her direction. "Learning is an on-going process, Bella. It's not just memorizing facts." "Thanks professor," Bella muttered dryly. "Now if you don't mind..." She pulled her book up in front of her face and made an effort to ignore me. "I don't know why you are worried about the final," I said, trying to get back in her good graces. "You've gone to the library every night this week. You've been pouring over that text..." "I wasn't really reading for the class..." Bella spoke quietly, keeping her eyes on the page. "What were you doing then?" I frowned. I had respected her wishes and gave her some space to concentrate on her studies before our trip. She had claimed that I was a distraction when we were nearly caught making-out in a corner of the library. "I was... looking through some other things." "Like what?"

"I was looking for more stories about vampires... and their singers." Bella rolled her eyes when she whispered the words in a rush. "So,what? Do I really need an approved reading list?" "You are being crabby, just because you have to study and I don't," I finally said. "And you don't have to worry about looking that stuff up. Carlisle should have plenty of information for us by the time we get to Seattle." "I like to learn things on my own." "Or memorize them," I teased, flicking her study guide with the tip of my finger. I tried to smile, but Bella glared at me and turned her attention back to her work. I picked up the Sky Mall catalogue from its resting place on the back of the seat in front of me and started idly flipping through the pages. After a few minutes, Bella sighed. "You're right. It kills me that you don't have to study." She made her admission without looking at me, while she tapped her highlighting marker against her lower-lip. It was a habit of hers that I had grown to love. "This is too easy for me," I told her, giving more attention to the gadgets on the page in front of me than was necessary. "Why did you even bother to take the class then?" Bella huffed. She turned her face finally, and looked exasperated. I considered her for a minute. She was clearly irritated about having to study, and she was taking her moodiness out on me. Her ire was adorable. "I don't know," I smiled. "If I hadn't chosen the class, randomly.... I might not have met you. I guess you can blame it on fate." Bella's lips twitched and the corner of her mouth pulled up in a begrudging smile. I knew she couldn't argue when I alluded to fate bringing us together. "Did you find anything interesting in the books at the library?" I switched the conversation back to her earlier reference. "Yes and no," Bella frowned. "I wasn't looking through documents. I didn't have my translator with me." She grinned over at me ruefully. "I mostly read through old short stories and legends." "Really?" "I think most of that crap was made up by vampires, just to throw humans off the truth," Bella shrugged. "You're right, of course," I folded my arms across my chest. "But many of the stories derived from at least some element of fact."

"I know. That's why I read them." Her eyes went back on her text book, and so I concentrated on being silent so she could finish her reading. I wanted Bella to enjoy our weekend, and she wouldn't be able to if she was worried about missing study-time. I closed my eyes and leaned back in my seat as if I were sleeping. "Don't forget to breathe," Bella whispered and hit me lightly with her elbow. I issued a snore, which earned one of her giggles before I settled in for my fake nap. With my eyes closed, I contemplated the possibility of Bella ever being talked into studying topless. I also tried really hard not to think about the fact that I would be meeting her Daddy in a few short hours. I remembered, quite easily, how to get to Bella's house in Forks. I had glared at it for hours before leaving town after her first day at school. We pulled the rental car up in front of the white house, noting that the police cruiser was not in its usual spot. "Charlie said he had to work. He should be here soon," Bella said, looking at her watch. "Come on. I have a key." I retrieved our bags from the backseat while Bella tripped up the front steps, muttering about how some things never change. The statement made under her breath made me grin widely as I followed her into the quiet house. "Well, this is it," she shut the door behind us. I barely had time to glance at the pictures on the hallway wall before Bella ushered me through a quick tour of the downstairs. "You can drop your bags there," Bella pointed near the couch. "I'm positive that will be your bed for the night." "Looks... comfortable," I nodded. I could tell by the worn cushions that Charlie would have to give up his usual sleeping space in front of the television while I was a guest in his home. "The bathroom is up the stairs, here," Bella pointed out while walking. I followed her. "Charlie's room is there," she pointed again. "And this is my room..." Bella opened the door and I smiled as I walked into the tiny bedroom. I placed Bella's bag at the foot of her bed before turning a slow circle and looking around. Traces of the girl she had been still lingered as evidence that she had lived there. Dusty books on a shelf above her bed... a neglected journal resting on her desk... I moved to the mirror and smiled. Pictures of Bella with her high school friends were stuck under the mirror frame. My hands pulled a small strip of pictures away, to look at it more closely. It was the type of picture strip that could be purchased in a photo both at a carnival or a mall... three pictures for a dollar. In each picture, Bella and Mike Newton stood shoulder to shoulder, making silly faces at the camera. There was no intimacy between them. They looked like friends. "Does that bother you?" Bella asked, standing beside me. I smiled over at her and carefully tucked the pictures back into their space on the glass. "No. We are making our own memories now, right?"

"Nothing like the present!" Bella smiled. She moved to pull her digital camera from her bag, and then sat on the edge of her bed and motioned me over with her finger. "Come here," she raised her eyebrows in an invitation. I hurried to sit beside her. At her suggestion, we both laid back against her mattress with our feet on the floor. We took turns holding the camera above us, clicking pictures as we laughed beneath the lens. I kissed her cheek- click. Bella covered my eyes with her hand- click. We both pulled the necks of our shirts up to cover the lower-halves of our faces- click. We touched our noses together- click. When finished with our impromptu photo-shoot, we remained where we were and flipped through the viewer on the back of the camera. "I don't know which one I like better," I deadpanned. "The one of us looking like bank-robbers, or the one with your finger up my nose." "Hush!" Bella scolded playfully and pushed the buttons until a picture of us kissing filled the screen. "I like this one." "It could use some work," I frowned. "Maybe we should practice?" Bella turned her wide playful gaze in my direction. "Lots and lots of practice," I agreed and rolled over onto her. Bella gasped and giggled when I started kissing under her jaw and down her neck. But soon our playfulness slipped away and we both fell into the familiar territory of desire and need. I hissed under my breath when Bella pushed her hands up the back of my shirt and clutched at my back, pulling me closer. Our mouths and tongues danced together and I let my weight rest on her fully. "Damn it Bella, we need to stop," I moaned. "I know..." She didn't stop kissing me, and I was almost pulled under. "Your Dad doesn't need to come home to find us like this," I warned, pulling my lips across her ear. "He has a gun..." "You are bullet-proof," Bella sighed. I laughed then, and rolled off of her, sitting up and pulling my fingers through my messy hair. "You are going to be the death of me," I told her. Bella just smiled. "Ok. So Chief Swan probably wouldn't appreciate coming home to his daughter being groped." "You were the one doing the groping," I reminded her. She just shrugged.

"Tell you what," she suggested. "Let me throw together some dinner for him. Then I'll pop it in the over and you and I can go for a hike or something. Human speed. There are some nice trails behind the house." "Sounds good," I told her, offering my hand as she got up off the bed. I actually helped as Bella put together a pan of lasagna in her kitchen. She would argue that I was more of a hindrance than a help as she moved around the familiar space, humming and putting together the ingredients for a dinner to share with her father while slapping my wandering hands away from her body when she happened to move too close to me in the small room. I moved around then, cleaning in her wake, and tried to stay productive until she put the layered dish in the oven. "Let's get some fresh air," Bella suggested with a smile. She breathed deeply when we stepped off her back porch, and together we walked hand in hand toward the tree line. I could tell she had missed the sights and smells of the familiar trail that we walked down. After a hiking a satisfying distance, we turned and made our way back toward the house. Bella stopped to rest against a mossy tree-trunk before we made it to the end of the path. I could see her house through the foliage, just ahead. "Thank you for bringing me here," Bella smiled. I casually moved to stand between her knees, and she rested her hands on my waist before pressing the top of her head into my stomach. I brushed my fingers through her hair until she looked up at me with a smile. "Do you ever wonder what it would have been like, if we had gotten to know each other like this... when we were in high school?" I looked around at the trail we were on, and tried to imagine another time in the past. Would we have stood here together? "It wouldn't have been the same," I was able to say with clarity. "I had to leave. And if I didn't, I would have spent every day trying to find the strength to do so. You wouldn't have been safe with me." "And neither of us will be safe if Charlie gets back to find the house filled with smoke," Bella chuckled. "Let's go. I need to get dinner out of the oven." I pulled a few stray leaves from Bella's hair, and we entered the house laughing. Footsteps on the stair indicated that we were not alone. Charlie Swan made his way into the kitchen, freshly showered and dressed in a comfortable flannel shirt and jeans. "Dad!" Bella rushed forward and jumped into her father, hugging him while he smiled and lifted her off the floor. "Bells, it's good to have you home."

I stood, watching with rapt interest. I had never spent time around Charlie, and it was a surprise to me that his thoughts, though not as silent as his daughter's, were not entirely clear to me. I couldn't pick up specific words as he thought them. Instead, I could hear a kind-of mash of general feelings and ideas. Charlie had showered and changed out of his uniform intentionally. He didn't want me to feel intimidated by his badge. He was curious about meeting me. "Chief Swan?" I leaned forward and offered my hand to shake his. "I'm Edward Cullen. It's nice to meet you." Bella grinned while Charlie exchanged my greeting pleasantly. "Hi, Edward. Please, call me Charlie. You know, I was a friend of your father's for a while when your family lived here in Forks. He's a good man. How's he doing?" "I remember," I smiled. "He's doing fine. He and Esme are living in Seattle right now." "I'm sorry to say, I don't really remember you." "I guess that's good. It means he didn't spend any time in the back of your cruiser," Bella giggled. Charlie grinned over at her before speaking to me again. "I remember your older brother. Emmett? He helped out with a search party once- when a hiker went missing. Please, tell them 'hello' from me." "I sure will." "Dinner smells great, Bells." Charlie wrapped an arm around her shoulder and squeezed her to his side lightly. "Is it ready? I'm starving." "Um..." Bella bit her lip and looked up at me. "Looks like you'll have more left-overs, Dad. Edward ate lunch on the plane and it upset his stomach..." I tried to look pitiful and patted my stomach through my t-shirt while I smiled gratefully in her direction. "But Bella worked hard... so please, don't let me interrupt. I'll just watch a little t.v while you two enjoy your meal? I think a Mariner's game is on..." I picked up Charlie's interest in the sport from his thoughts. Score one for me. I smiled when Charlie's face lit up. "Remote is by the chair. Make yourself comfortable there Edward. I'll join you when we are done." "Feel better," Bella pretended to console me while she gave me a sly smile and a kiss on the cheek. I escaped to the living room while Bella and her father moved around the kitchen and eventually sat at the table to eat.

Once the game was on television, I settled in to listen as Bella and her father ate their meal and talked. I could tell that they spoke often, on the phone, as they weren't in a huge rush to fill each other in on every detail of their lives. Instead, they spoke as though they were merely finishing a conversation already in progress. When the volume of their voices dipped lower, I listened a little more intently. They were speaking about me. "So... bringing him home to meet the Old Man, huh?" Charlie said around a bite of food. "I guess it's pretty serious?" I sat forward, anxious to hear Bella's response. "I don't know Dad," Bella said after a pause. "I mean... I guess so. Yeah." Her voice gave me no clue as to what she was thinking. "He seems like a good guy," Charlie continued. "Yes," Bella sighed then, and I could hear a smile in her voice. "He really is." "His family... they are good people." "I'm looking forward to meeting them," Bella said. "I just hope they like me." "Cook for them," Charlie mumbled, chewing his food again. "They'll love you!" Bella laughed easily at his suggestion. I smirked. After a few moments, Charlie spoke again. "Does he make you happy, Bells?" A pause. I wished I was in the room to see her face. "Yeah, Dad. I'm happier than I've ever been." I heard the truth in her softly spoken words, and leaned back into the sofa with a smile. "Good honey. That's all I can ask for." Bella stayed behind in the kitchen, rinsing dishes and wrapping left-overs while Charlie came to join me in the living room. He popped the top open on a beer and glanced over at me. "I didn't think you'd want one. With your stomach being upset and all..." Charlie indicated toward the can while he spoke. "You're right," I smiled. "But thank you. The Mariners are already ahead by two." I nodded slightly toward the television and Charlie sank into his chair to catch up on the game.

Bella's father knew a thing or two about the sport. It was something that we had in common, and conversation remained easy between us. When Bella joined the two of us in the living room, she handed Charlie another beer before sitting beside me on the couch. The bedding items that Bella had stacked in the corner of the sofa forced her to sit with her leg touching mine. Charlie noted our closeness with interest, but his thoughts were contented. After two innings, I felt Bella slump beside me. Her eyes were closed, her cheek was pressed into my shoulder, and her mouth was slack. I looked at her softened features with a silly grin across my face, before I looked up and recognized the same adoration on the face of her father. He nodded minutely at me, and I nudged Bella with my arm. "Bed time," I said quietly. She yawned hugely and stood without argument. "Night Dad," she mumbled, shuffling toward the stairs. "Good night Bells. Love you, honey." I stood beside her and walked Bella to the foot of the stairs. Charlie was eyeing us surreptitiously from his chair in the living room. I smiled and placed a small kiss on Bella's forehead. "Sleep well," I whispered. She gave me a sleepy smile and turned to go up to her room. Charlie seemed satisfied at our discreet separation and turned his attention back to the television as though he hadn't been spying. I forced a grin from my face and sat back down on the sofa. "You don't mind, do you?" Charlie turned his eyes toward the pillow and blanket that rested near the arm rest. I knew he was making reference to the sleeping arrangements. "Not at all, sir," I shook my head. "I appreciate you letting me stay." "Charlie," he reminded me. "Sorry. Thank you, Charlie. I'm sure I'll be very comfortable." He rested further into his chair, and we watched the game in silence for a few minutes. A bum call by the home plate umpire inspired another round of conversation about the current Mariners bullpen. Because I couldn't read the specific thoughts in Charlie's mind, I was a little surprised when he spoke completely off-topic. "Bella says she's happy." We had been talking about pitching techniques. He had switched gears intentionally to see how I replied under pressure. I smiled. It was the cop in him. "I hope so," I said. I turned so that I could meet Charlie's eyes honestly. He seemed to be summing me up before he spoke again.

"When she first moved here, she had a really tough time. Eventually she made friends, and she... came out of her shell. I know it was difficult for her to make such a move and start all over again out East." "She's a strong person," I complimented her. "And she's as stubborn as the day is long," Charlie sighed. "Yes," I smiled in agreement. "She knows her own mind," Charlie warned. "If she says that you make her happy... then I believe her." "Thank you." "Just... make sure she stays that way." Charlie issued the threat pleasantly, drinking the last of his beer and relinquishing the television remote control to me. The game had ended while we talked. "I'm heading on up to bed. It was a good game," Charlie told me. He was more satisfied with our talk than the end score. It made me feel good to know that I had his approval. I laid the blanket out over the couch and made a show of pressing the pillow into the corner while Charlie deposited his beer can in the kitchen recycling bin and moved toward the stairs. As he ascended, I pushed the buttons to turn off the television and cast the lower level of the house into shadows and silence. Then I stretched out on my make-shift bed until the sounds above me indicated that Charlie was asleep. I finally stood and made my way around the house. It might have seemed rude to do so, uninvited. But really, what else would I do all night? I studied the grade school pictures of Bella that adorned the hallway walls. I flipped through the game and fishing magazines that Charlie had stacked in the basket next to his chair. His record collection indicated that he liked the Rolling Stones. Charlie's last birthday card from Bella still rested on a shelf... a cartoon fish with giant red lips and over-drawn eyelashes that proclaimed for his birthday, he deserved a 'nice piece of bass.' She had signed her name 'Bells', with a little heart. Eventually I moved through the kitchen, drawn by the night beyond the back door. I quietly sat on the top porch step and placed my elbows on my knees. The full moon illuminated the area before me. I watched, enthralled, as a small deer flirted in and out of the tree line at the furthest edge of the yard. It was unusual for an animal to not flee from the danger that my presence naturally emitted. The creature did snap its neck up in my direction when the door behind me quietly clicked closed. The deer jumped gracefully back into the protective cover of the trees as Bella moved up behind me. I closed my eyes when I felt her hands in my hair. "Thinking of hunting?" she asked softly. I turned and reached for her wrist, bringing her palm against my mouth for a kiss.

"No. Just enjoying the night. What are you doing awake?" Bella moved to sit beside me and I put my arm around her shoulders. "I couldn't sleep. I think I'm nervous about meeting your family." "You shouldn't be," I whispered, pulling her against my side. "You already know Alice and Jasper. Carlisle and Esme are... wonderful. Emmett is very sincere, but also very funny. And Rosalie..." I sighed. "What about Rosalie?" Bella pulled her bottom lip between her teeth as she worried. "Rosalie and I don't always get along," I shrugged. "Sometimes it's not so bad. But we got off on the wrong foot initially, and that tension never entirely went away." "What happened?" "When Rosalie was brought into our family, Carlisle assumed that she would become to me, what Esme was for him." "Are you serious?" Bella turned her face toward mine, looking more anxious than before. "It never was that way," I hurried to tell her. "For either of us. But Rosalie was vain enough to be offended that I didn't even consider it." "She didn't want you?" Bella asked. "No. She never wanted me. It just pissed her off that the feeling was mutual." "Oh." We sat in silence for a small while. "Bella, I think I need to explain something to you." Something about being in Washington, and meeting Bella's father had brought out the urge in me to make my intentions known. I wanted Bella to know the extent of my feelings and devotion toward her. But I was hesitant, and nervous about her reaction. I frowned down at the sidewalk at the base of the stairs, noting how the strong shoots of grass pushed between the broken edges, trying to keep them from touching. "You know, you can tell me anything," Bella whispered. "I love you Bella," I said, turning to look at her. "I know it might seem sudden to you, and I apologize if my words are coming too soon. But I've waited my entire life for you. Under different circumstances, I wouldn't have hesitated to ask your father tonight, for permission to ask you to marry me. I'm sorry if that's too far out of the range of normal."

"Not much about us is normal," Bella whispered, giving a shaky laugh. "I never want to be without you," I breathed heavily and closed my eyes. She sat beside me, lost in thought. "When you say... never... it means something different." "What do you mean?" I asked her to elaborate. "People... humans... use words like 'never', and 'forever,' and 'always', incorrectly," she explained. "Time doesn't mean the same thing to us. When you say it, I know you mean it." "I do." My gaze held hers captive. She lowered her brows and opened her mouth to say something. She changed her mind, and remained frustratingly silent. I was restless and becoming more and more eager to make my feelings known. "Bella, you've changed me. I'm altered, completely, because of your existence. If you'll allow me, I will stay with you for the rest of your life. Or...if you choose..." I swallowed hard, "you can stay with me, for the rest of mine." Bella gasped softly as the meaning behind my words became clear. "You, want... to change me." She stared into my eyes, waiting for me to deny it. "I would. But never, without your consent," I told her fervently. I reached for her hands, desperate to keep her with me, and pleaded for her understanding. "I would be lying if I told you that I hadn't fantasized about the two of us, being together forever." "Forever..." Bella whispered. "But I want you to know," I continued. "It will always be your choice." Bella turned her head to stare out at the moonlit scene before us. Her heartbeat remained slow and steady. "I should be afraid. And you're right... it should seem too fast. But..." she shook her head. "I know you love me." "I do Bella. So very much." "Would you love me, if I wanted to stay human?" "Yes." I put my finger under her chin and turned her face so that she could see my eyes and the sincerity on my face. "Yes," I said again. "If you wanted to stay human... I would still love you." Bella blinked and turned her face away again.

"There is so much... so much..." I let her find the words she searched for. "I always believed that when you find someone, and fall in love... that you should be not two-halves of a whole. But rather, two people, complete in themselves, joined together to create something wonderful and larger than could be contained originally..." Bella struggled with putting her thoughts to words. "I... don't think I'm complete yet. I would be giving up so many things. What if I wanted to finish college? What if... what if I wanted babies someday?" Bella asked her questions out loud, but wasn't really addressing me. She was merely setting her worries free to the night air, and tasting them on her tongue. "My friends... Katrina? And my dad... what about Charlie?" She shook her head. I moved my arm around her again. "It's too much to give up," I told her quietly. I understood. "Don't think you aren't worth it," Bella told me. She turned her body to face me. "You are. You are worth it. I just... need time." "Then you'll have it," I promised. "As much as you need." Bella smiled her thanks. She knew what I was offering. She knew the desires of my heart. Mentioning it again would only feel like I was trying to pressure or persuade her. I would never allow that to happen. The decision would have to be made in her own time. "You know, I'm still young." Bella teased. "And I'm in reasonably good shape. I probably have another fifteen years or so, and I would just look like a 'Cougar' with a hot young boyfriend!" I laughed at her attempt at humor and kissed her softly. "I like cougars," I whispered against her mouth. "They are tasty." Bella giggled and moved her hands up around my neck. "We'd be like Demi and Ashton." "If you start calling me Ashton, I might change my mind," I joked. Bella raised her face to mine, and kissed me deeply... slowly. "Will you wait for me?" Bella asked. "Yes," I vowed. "For life or longer..." "For life, or longer," she whispered back.

46. Chex Mix

As Charlie made his way into the kitchen the following morning, Bella pushed the plate of her half-eaten breakfast in front of me with a wink before standing to pour her father a cup of coffee. "Good morning," Charlie greeted us. Eyeing my plate, he nodded. "Feeling better, Edward?" "I am. Thanks." Bella pulled a second plate from where she had kept it warm in the oven, and served her father. "Bells... sit down. You've been home one day, and I'm already spoiled." Bella kissed his cheek and sat in the chair between us. "It's too bad that I have to work this weekend," Charlie muttered. "I would have loved to take you fishing out in the boat." Bella squeezed my knee under the table and smiled. "Maybe next time," I grinned amiably over at Charlie. "The semester is almost over. We could come for a longer visit." I could tell by the satisfied tone of his thoughts that I had just scored a few more points on the Charlie-Scale-Of-Worthiness. After a handshake to me, and a bone-crushing hug to his daughter, Charlie reminded Bella to call when she got back to New Hampshire, and left for work. "Is there anything you'd like to do around town today?" I asked. Bella shook her head. "I'd kind of just like to get on the road," she told me. And so we did. With our bags in the back of the rental car, we drove toward Seattle. Our drive time could have been cut in half, had Bella not complained every time she noticed the speedometer creeping too high for her comfort. She read for a while, catching up on her studies, while I inwardly grumbled about being forced to drive like a little-old-lady. Later, my mood was improved when Bella stowed her book and we sang along to songs on the radio. Bella was a horrible singer. Eventually, I shared tales of previous family get-togethers. Bella laughed, and I was glad that an insight into my family dynamic seemed to be relieving her nervousness about meeting everyone. She really needn't have worried. As soon as we entered the house, Emmett looked up from where he sat perched on the back of the couch playing Guitar Hero.

"Hey Everyone!" He called out with a large smile on his face. "Edward's here... and he brought pizza!" I shook my head and moved forward to hug my brother warmly. "It's good to see you," I smiled, clapping him on the back. Esme entered the room, wiping her hands on a small towel. "Edward!" She hurried to fold her arms around me. I didn't even realize how much I had missed her until I leaned back and saw the genuine adoration and happiness on her face. "Esme? I want you to meet Bella. Bella- this is Esme." Bella had been standing to the side, twisting her fingers in front of her since we had entered the house. Esme moved to her and embraced her like I knew she would. "Welcome to our home, Bella. It's so nice to meet you." "It's nice to meet you, too." Bella smiled at me over Esme's shoulder. When she was free again, I put my hand on Emmett's arm. "This big lug is Emmett." "Charmed," he leaned down and pulled her hand up to kiss it magnanimously. Bella giggled. I shoved him away. "Where is everyone else?" I looked around the seemingly empty house. "Rose is upstairs, primping," Emmett shrugged. "Alice and Jasper should arrive soon," Esme said. "Carlisle had to go to the hospital for a while today. But he'll be back before the party begins. Why don't you take Bella's things upstairs dear? I was just finishing in the kitchen." "Please... I'd like to help, if I may?" Bella moved to stand next to Esme. I loved and appreciated her for making the effort. "I'd love it," Esme smiled, turning to lead the way. "We have a few more human guests arriving tonight, who may choose to eat. My goal is to make the plates so full, they can't tell how many people are really enjoying the food." I heard Bella laugh lightly as the two women rounded the corner out of our sight. "Dude... she's cute." Emmett stood watching where they had disappeared.

"Cute?" "Cute like a cookie..." Emmett hit me with his elbow. "All sweet and gooey...and those big brown eyes..." "Enough!" I laughed. We both picked up my and Bella's bags and started carrying them upstairs. "Did you see the way that she didn't even flinch when Esme was talking about the food situation? Is she really that cool with everything?" "It would seem so," I nodded. "She's... special." "Well no shit. I hardly recognized you. What is this facial expression you've got going here? Could it be... a smile?" He poked his finger into my cheek. "Shut up," I pushed his hand away. We both stopped on the stairs when Rosalie stepped from a room and stood in front of us. "Hey babe," Emmett grinned. Beautiful, blonde Rosalie kissed him on the cheek before sending me one of her patented scowls. "Did you bring her?" "Hello Rosalie," I said. "Yes. She's in the kitchen with Esme. Be nice." "Fine," Rosalie grumbled. She pushed past us on the stairs and Emmett shrugged an apology. "It's nice to see you again, too," I muttered under my breath. We had no sooner placed the bags in a spare room, than the front door opened loudly signaling the arrival of Alice and Jasper. Emmett grinned at me, and we raced downstairs to meet our siblings. Alice merely skipped to the side while Emmett and I picked Jasper up off the floor and began to carry him outside. "No way!" Esme scolded, coming down the hall. "There is no time for a wrestling match, and I don't want the yard destroyed. Guests will be arriving in less than an hour, and we all need to get dressed for the party." "Umm... is this a formal event?" Bella frowned and stepped up around Esme. Rosalie moved to join the girls and rolled her eyes. "It figures that my idiot brother forgot to tell you that we dress for these parties." Bella turned her worried eyes up toward me, and I dropped Jasper's legs on the floor before moving over to her.

"Don't worry," I said. "It's not a black-tie party. Rosalie picks a theme every year, and the party is centered around it. What it is this year?" I turned to look at Emmett for the answer instead of Rosalie. I had learned my lesson. One year I nearly went dressed in a speedo when she told me her party would have a Baywatch theme. If she had been successful in blocking her thoughts, I would have been nearly naked in a group of people that were all dressed in renaissance themed costumes. "The theme is 'I love the 80's' Emmett grinned. "Esme has trunks of clothes upstairs that she's saved from that decade. You two can pick something out to wear." "Come on," I smiled at Bella. "We can find something together." Bella took my hand and let me lead her upstairs. I showed Bella to her room, and then excused myself to retrieve the large trunks that Emmett had mentioned. "I truly am sorry I forgot to mention that we dress-up," I told her. Bella was already searching through the clothing and grinned at me over the top of the trunk. "It should be fun," she shrugged. "The bathroom is here," I told her, flipping on a switch in the adjoined room. "I'll just let you get ready. I'll be back soon." "Thanks," she smiled. She seemed distracted, but not overwhelmed by the task at hand. I went in search of the boxes that I knew held some of my own clothing. I cringed to think of the fashion nightmare that awaited me. I could hear my family in respective areas of the house, finishing their own preparations for the night. I sighed heavily and put the piano-key tie around my neck, while leaving the collar of my white shirt popped up. When combined with my black parachute pants, I actually looked... like a complete tool. I laughed at myself and then moved back to Bella's room to check on her progress. After knocking lightly and being granted permission to enter, I opened the door and paused in the doorway. Bella stood in the middle of the room, looking like a hot eighties-throwback. She wore acid washed jeans that were torn across both knees, and an electric pink shirt that was cut to fall off her left shoulder. Her hair was pulled into a silly side-ponytail and held in place with some bright green colored ribbon. "Is... this alright?" Bella pointed toward her clothes, and I smiled and moved into the room, closing the door behind me. "You look great," I assured her. My eyes were glued to the exposed skin on her neck and shoulder.

"I saw... some rubber bracelets in here." Bella turned away from me and bent over the trunk, causing my eyes to go immediately to the deliberate slice in her jeans at the top of her right thigh. As she bent over at the waist, the bottom of her ass was nearly exposed through the separated denim. My hands clenched and I moved quickly to her. Bella found the bracelets, and pulled them up her wrists with her back to me. With the accessories in place, she turned and uttered a startled "oh!" when she realized that we were practically chest to chest. "Edward..." she warned, with a reproachful grin. She had noticed the look on my face, and stepped around the trunk, backing away from me. I gave her a predator's smile and moved forward. "Your family is just down the hall..." Bella kept moving backwards. I stepped closer. "We have a party to attend..." She sounded breathless and stopped when her back touched the wall near the window. I moved in. "It took a long time to do my hair..." I touched her ponytail then, before giving it a little tug and elongating the open expanse of her neck on the opposite side. Her skin tempted me, and so I answered the call. I kissed her ear and slid my lips down the long arc that was available to me. Her pulse thrummed as I moved my mouth down over her bare shoulder. "You smell so damned good," I said against her. Bella shivered. I slid my fingers claw-like down her arms until I hooked them into the rubber-bracelets around her wrists. With a wicked smile, I pulled her arms up above her head and placed them against the wall. I didn't need the bracelets to hold her captive, but they made for fun handcuffs. I easily twisted the fingers of one hand into the thin plastic bands, holding her in a submissive pose. I can't lie. It was sexy as hell. Bella's breasts pushed up in that position as her back arched, and her accelerated breathing just brought more attention to the curves in front of me. "God, you tempt me," I told her. "How?" She licked her lips. "How do I tempt you?" She wasn't afraid of me. She was enjoying it. "In every way imaginable," I told her, before lowering my mouth to hers. Immediately, I released her wrists. Bella rewarded me by sliding her hands between us, and tugging on my tie to bring me closer. My hands slid around her, and I let my fingers touch the skin on the back of her leg that had teased me just a few minutes earlier. She gasped at my cold touch, but pressed herself into me.

"Cut it out!" Jasper's voice came harshly from the hall, along with slaps to the door that shook the frame. "I do not want to feel your horniness all goddamned night!" I pulled away from Bella and smiled, but couldn't quite force myself to feel apologetic. "Edward? Are those your actual clothes?" Bella glanced down and I cringed before nodding. "Your pants are shiny," she said. Then she started laughing. "I think I remember wearing these," I admitted. "I think I was probably a fetus when this stuff was in style!" Bella teased me. I hugged her close before leading us both down the stairs to join the others. Rosalie looked gorgeously appropriate in an exercise leotard, complete with braided headband and leg warmers. Alice had opted for a black bustier and a giant ruffled rainbow-colored skirt like something Cyndi Lauper would have worn. Esme looked like a preppy business-woman in a bright blue suit and with giant shoulder-pads. I joked with her about destroying the Ozone while I touched her teased-out hair. We moved into the living room, where Jasper had taken over the Guitar Hero game. He wore black leather pants and nothing else. When he turned his head in my direction, I couldn't help but laugh. "Are you wearing eye-liner?" I scoffed. "Got me a hell of a lot more play than your gay piano tie ever did," Jasper shrugged. Esme slapped at his bare shoulder. "Jasper! Put a shirt on. We don't want to scare the guests!" "Fine," he huffed, pulling a mesh tank over his head. I could tell it was going to be a fun night. Bella's attention moved toward the stairway and she laughed. "Emmett? I thought Vanilla Ice wasn't popular until the nineties?" Bella barely had time to utter her observation before I swooped her into my arms and took her across the room. Almost too fast for human eyes to see, Emmett was tackled to the ground in a rainbow flurry of crinoline...elbows and dark hair, punches and kicks. Bella cringed against me and covered her ears against the loud sound. Her eyes stayed trained to the area where Emmett was squirming and deflecting the attack of our much smaller sister at the same piece of floor where Bella stood moments before.

"Jasper! Get her off me!" Emmett yelled and Jasper straddled Alice, wrapping his arms around her middle and pulling her, still spitting and cussing, away from Emmett. She landed one more kick to the crotch of his ridiculously baggy pants before Jasper was able to pull her safely away. "You asshat!" Alice glared over at Emmett. "I was watching that gift for days!" Emmett stood up and adjusted himself inside the absurd clothing that Bella had pointed out as belonging to the white-rapper who obviously inspired Emmett's Ebay account name. "You are the 'Mad Hatter?'" Emmett asked incredulously. "Duh! It's an 'Alice in Wonderland' reference!" Alice was still incensed. "Well you could have said something. Damn Alice! You nearly took my fricken arm off!" "Next time I'll shove it up your ass!" Alice warned, glaring. "Language..." Esme warned. She placed trays of food on the tables, preparing for the party as though the fight that just occurred was commonplace. "What is going on?" Bella asked near my ear. I set her back on her feet and explained. "Emmett outbid Alice for Rosalie's gift on Ebay. She just figured it out." "Shit," Bella said quietly. "Remind me never to bid against Alice!" After the initial clash between Alice and Emmett, the party went well. Carlisle showed up, resplendent in a white jacket and pants with a pink shirt. He managed to make Miami Vice look good. I was slightly bothered by his distracted greeting, however. I proudly introduced him to Bella, and was met with polite interest, a short smile, and the promise that we would speak more later. Carlisle mingled with the other guests that he had invited from work, and friends of Rosalie's that had been invited as well. Bella seemed unaffected, but for someone who knew him as well as I did, his behavior was odd. I was slightly embarrassed when the furniture was moved aside in the living room, and Rosalie insisted that Emmett, Jasper, and I demonstrate some of the more popular dances from the eighties. Bella had tears in her eyes from laughing while watching me attempt the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch. Eventually the guests took pity on us, and we used the cleared space as a dance floor for the couples to dance together to one hit wonders. Rosalie loved the necklace that Emmett had given her as a gift. Alice was still pissed. But Rosalie made a point of thanking both of them for the kind thought. Alice and Jasper gave her a gift-certificate for a lingerie store. It was Jasper's last-minute idea and earned him a high-five from Emmett. Carlisle and Esme gave her tickets for a trip to London. I walked up to give Rosalie my gift last.

"It's... an ipod," Rosalie frowned, looking at the rectangular item in her palm. She gave me a look that illustrated her inner-thoughts. "I already have one of these, dumb-ass." I reached across and pushed the button to light up the screen on the item I had given her. "This one has over three-thousand songs on it," I explained. "From opera... to Barry Manilow. From classical to Josh Groban. Each and every song is guaranteed to annoy the piss out of Emmett. Consider it payback for the last twenty years of crap-music he's bothered you with." Rosalie turned and looked at me then. With the first genuine smile that she had shared with me in years, she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight. "It's wonderful," she said, laughing. "Thank you Edward." When the last of the guests departed, and Emmett had run out of creative snack-food knicknames for Bella, I bid everyone good night and took her up to our room. "Please, don't feel obligated to stay," Bella told me. "I'm going to shower and go right to sleep. I'm exhausted. You should visit your family while you have the chance." "Can I come back later?" I asked. "You better!" She kissed me on the end of my nose, and I left her to get ready for bed. I made my way out of the room and downstairs. Jasper and Emmett were laughing at a horror movie on television. Esme had already cleaned the evidence of the party away, and was combing the hairspray out of her hair. "Did you get your Pop Tart tucked into bed?" Jasper grinned over his shoulder. "You guys have got to stop calling Bella by food-names," I growled lightly. They both just laughed. "Sit down and watch this with us," Emmett suggested. "I will. I need to speak with Carlisle first," I told them. "He's in his study, dear." Esme smiled over at me then made her way to the stairs. I went down the hall and knocked at the door to Carlisle's study before walking inside. Carlisle stood, staring out the window. I pulled the tie from around my neck and twisted it in my hands before letting it lay against the top of one of the leather chairs. "We didn't have a chance to talk earlier," I began. "I knew our conversation would be best kept until after the party." Carlisle turned and looked apologetic. His thoughts became a buzz of static. I frowned and wondered what he was trying to keep from me.

"Everyone seems to like Bella," I began. I watched a pained look cross Carlisle's face, and knew that his earlier brush-off had been intentional. "You might too, if you spent more than five minutes with her." "We had guests..." "Bullshit," I called him on it. "What's going on?" Carlisle moved to lean the back of his legs against his desk, and folded his hands quietly in front of him. "I've been doing the research that you asked me about. I've spoken with a few of our kind. I've been given additional contacts..." "And?" I was nervous. His static thoughts were not helping to ease my anxiety. It annoyed me that he was keeping me out. When he moved his eyes away from mine, I didn't even have the advantage of reading his face. "I didn't want to come to you until I had it all figured out. I'm still waiting to hear from one more contact..." "You don't look pleased." I made the statement softly. My words were delivered with an underlying tension that I felt tearing through the muscles of my shoulders and hardening the space in the center of my chest. "Whatever you've heard..." "None of it has been good," Carlisle shook his head slowly and stood to walk over to his book shelf. He raised his hand to brush along the spines of some of his favorite reference materials. "I've always prided myself on this life I have chosen," he continued quietly. "I always thought that it was the most humane, and intelligent choice." "Yes." I agreed with him. We all agreed with him. We made the choice to live as he had. "Super-natural things don't give much credit to studies and the intelligence of man, mortal or other-wise," Carlisle scoffed. "Everything we think we know can be questioned, and made into new mysteries." "You aren't making sense," I told him. "According to the things I've heard so far..." Carlisle looked down and dropped his hand. "I don't think that you and Bella were ever meant to be together." A loud whooshing sound filled my ears, and I realized it was the sound of the breath that I had been holding. "That's ridiculous," I said gruffly. "We are together."

"I can't say for sure, without hearing from at least one last contact," Carlisle continued on as though I hadn't spoken. "A vampire from South America who supposedly saw some of the events first-hand..." "Why are you not supporting me?" I suddenly asked. He was avoiding my eyes. He was blocking my thoughts. He was being so damned clinical and distant. "I'm trying," Carlisle turned to me then. His face looked pained. "I have always tried to support you. But... I think I've done it wrong. I think, by imposing this life on you, I've failed you." "What do you mean?" My voice had risen in my aggravation. "Of course this life is right. If not for following this path... Bella and I wouldn't be together now!" "Exactly," Carlisle muttered and looked down. Though the reason for his sentiment was unknown, it stoked my anger. "I want you to tell me what you mean," I told him through clenched teeth. "Stop talking around in circles, and just say it!" "If I knew then, what I suspect to be true now..." Carlisle looked into my eyes. "I wouldn't have helped you run. I would have helped you hide the body." In a flash I was slamming his frame back into the bookshelf. One arm was braced across his neck and I growled into his face. His features remained calm and sad. "Fuck your research," I hissed. "Your last 'contact' can go to hell. I don't want it. Any of it. You are wrong." "Listen to my thoughts, Edward. You know I am telling the truth. I wouldn't hurt you if there was another way..." "I can't hear your thoughts," I snarled. "You are blocking me. And even if you weren't, it doesn't matter. You can't take her away from me. Bella is mine." Carlisle's features softened in confusion. Even as his body was held pinned by mine, he didn't raise a hand to defend himself. "I'm not blocking you, Edward." I dropped him back to his feet and backed up three paces. "If Bella is your singer... her blood is powerful for a reason. You were never meant to resist it." Carlisle's voice was soft and laced with regret. "You said love was stronger," I dropped my head. "I don't even feel the urge anymore... I don't..."

"It's un-natural for you to love her," Carlisle said. "Everything about my miserable existence is unnatural," I said loudly. "Loving her is the only thing that's ever felt right!" I clawed at my chest, desperate for him to understand the pain I felt. "I'm sorry," Carlisle shook his head. "My contact..." "Keep it," I shook my head. "Keep it to yourself. I don't want it." "Edward..." "No!" I turned and sprinted from the room. The front door was pushed away from its hinges in my need to escape. I ran into the wooded area that surrounded their home but was forced to stop sooner than I would have liked. The city lights held me captive in a space too small to hold the resentment and frustration that poured through me. "Arrrrrrgh!" I screamed into the night and uprooted a tree, pushing it away from me with unsatisfied anger. "Edward." I felt Emmett's strong hand on my shoulder, and I slumped forward. "Calm down man." Jasper was already sitting on the tree I had knocked down. Emmett's hand on my arm guided me to sit between them on the destroyed Maple. "What's going on?" Jasper asked. My brothers had followed me. They wanted to be sure I was alright. "Carlisle thinks that Bella and I shouldn't be together," I replied. "He thinks it's un-natural. That it's not right." Both men sat quietly for a moment. "It is un-natural," Emmett said quietly. "But I don't agree with the 'not right' part." "I've never seen you like this," Jasper continued. "You have tortured yourself since I've known you. With Bella, you are happy." "I really am," I groaned and put my head in my hands. "I can't leave her." "But if Carlisle thinks..." Emmett began. I turned my tortured eyes to him. "Could you walk away from Rosalie?" I looked over at Jasper. "How about you? What would it take to make you leave Alice?"

Both men remained quiet. "Carlisle as much as told me that I should have killed her when I met her." Emmett's hands clenched into fists where they rested against his thighs. Jasper shook his head in shocked disbelief. Neither could comprehend what Carlisle suspected that could possibly be frightening enough to make him suggest such a thing to me. "I love her," I insisted with a strangled voice. "To hell with right and wrong. Natural... unnatural. I love her." I stood, and my brothers walked back to the house at my sides. They didn't say another word. We were all lost in thoughts about the women we loved and what we would be willing to give to stay with them. Our thoughts matched one another's. Anything.

47. Bent but not broken

I left my brothers in the living room and went straight up the stairs, speaking to no one. I tried to be silent as I pushed open the door to Bella's room, but my precautions were unnecessary. As I realized the soft sounds that came from the girl on the bed, I rushed to her side immediately. "Bella?" She sniffled quietly as I pushed her hair away from her face, and I saw tears streaked down her cheeks. "Sweetheart... why are you crying? Are you alright?" "I... heard you yelling," Bella whispered. "And then... a crash... I didn't know where you were or if you were ok..." "Oh Bella," I moved quickly to lay beside her on the bed, and pulled her against my chest. My fingers ran down the length of her hair in an automatic motion meant to soothe. I rocked her against me and held her close. "I didn't mean to wake you. I... wasn't thinking." "What happened?" Bella held on to the front of my shirt and pressed her cheek against me. "A disagreement," I explained. "I told you... I have a terrible temper. Remember?" "Is everything ok now?" Bella asked.

"It will be," I promised. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you." "You didn't. I was just worried about you." Her words were like a balm to my aching soul. My actions only alarmed her because she cared for me. It was further proof that we were meant to be together. "Bella? Would it be ok with you, if we left? Now?" She stiffened against me, and I moved back to better see her face. "Don't you... want to say goodbye to everyone in the morning?" "Bella- we are vampires. Two in the morning or ten-thirty makes little difference. We've said our goodbyes." Bella looked at me intently, perhaps trying to read my expression in the dark. I smiled and hoped it didn't look as false as it felt. "Please? I... just want to be alone with you." "Of course," Bella nodded. She didn't look like she believed me, but she wasn't arguing. "We can go." "Thank you." I pressed a soft kiss to her lips and rolled to turn on the tiny lamp by the bed. Bella pulled a hooded sweatshirt over her tank, but remained wearing her pajama bottoms. I quickly traded my parachute pants for more appropriate jeans, and then we tossed a few of our items back into our bags before walking toward the door. I heard the restless movements of my family in the home around me. Jasper and Alice whispered quietly to each other. Alice was firmly standing by her resolve to stay out of my future as long as she was able. Esme was in her room, alone. She was angry with Carlisle, and missing me already. Rosalie was in another room, looking through the songs on the gift I had given her. Emmett, who had been more upset by the evening's course of events than he had let on, was on his way out the door to hunt. His thoughts were disturbed. He was angry for me, and looking for a way to release his own pent-up frustration. All of their thoughts turned toward the sound of our feet in the hall. But they all let me go without argument. With Bella in the car beside me, I pulled out of the drive. One last glance toward the house let me see what I expected. Carlisle stood silhouetted in the window of his study. He hadn't moved. His eyes met mine across the distance, filled with sadness, remorse, and apology. I turned my face from him and drove away. Bella quietly stared out the window as I drove us toward Elliott Bay. The valet service attendants hurried to my car as I pulled up in front of the luxury waterfront hotel that I had chosen for our

stay. The fact that it was nearly three in the morning mattered very little when the attendants worked in such a lush facility. Their discreet attention was rewarded with generous gratuity. Once in our room, Bella didn't even bother looking around. She kicked her shoes off in the middle of the floor, dropped her sweatshirt into a chair, and crawled into the middle of the soft bed. I pulled my jeans off, and went to join her. I felt horrible. I could tell that she was exhausted. "I'm sorry I made you leave," I whispered quietly and kissed her cheek. "I know you are tired." "Don't apologize," Bella shook her head. "I would go anywhere with you Edward. Anytime." "Really?" Her words thrilled me and I held her hands to my mouth, kissing her palms. "As long as we are together," she sighed and closed her eyes. I watched her fall asleep, with the key to every torn emotion I felt inside still warm on her lips. 'Together.' Yes. No matter what. We would stay together. Knowing our plans for the day, I had to wake Bella up to get her to eat breakfast. She ate quickly and we both dressed, hurrying to make it to the harbor in time for the trip I had booked on the Victoria Clipper. I was surprised to know that while Bella had visited many of Seattle's tourist-attractions while she lived in Washington, she had never taken a trip out for whale watching. We both enjoyed the journey on the high speed catamaran to Vancouver Island. The ocean wind was cathartic, and did its best to carry our worries away in the briny air. I held Bella against my chest with our hands held tight to the rails in front of us, while we cruised across the frothy water. Bella turned in my arms, and favored me with a sweet kiss. I could taste the salt water on our mouths before she pulled away and turned her attention back to the sea. We stopped at the southern tip of the island, and were directed to the covered vessel that carried us to search the nearby waters for Orca whales and other marine life. Together, we peered out the windows and looked for the creatures and sights that our boat operated pointed out to the passengers. Finally, we spent a little time walking through shops on the island before making the return voyage to Seattle. Our day went well. I tried to keep Carlisle's words in the back of my mind. From time to time, Bella bit her lip and looked at me with a concern that I felt sure mirrored the worry that slipped across my features. While I was distracted, I refused to let my worries force a wall between us. When I saw it happening, I pulled her into my arms and kissed her, or hugged her, or just breathed in everything about her that made me more certain that her place in my life was necessary and right. Too tired to get dressed for dinner, we stopped in a seafood restaurant before going back to the hotel. Bella's hands fussed with her wind-blown hair until I captured her wrist and kissed the underside tenderly.

"Stop. You look gorgeous," I assured her. She smiled and shrugged and let me lead her inside. Once seated, Bella and I discussed the day's adventure while she enjoyed a meal of an arugula salad, and Alaskan King Crab. I watched as she pulled the tender white meat through garlic drawn butter and slid it between her lips. She took note of my attention. "How gross is this to you?" Bella asked, picking at her meal with her fingers. "I mean... is it like... 'eating dirt' kind of gross? Or is it like 'Fear Factor Ultimate Challenge' kind of gross?" She drew another piece of crab across her bottom lip before pulling it into her mouth. The butter made her lip glisten, and I moved my chair closer to her. Her eyes got wide when I leaned forward with a smile. Cupping the back of her head under her hair, I lowered my mouth and deliberately licked the butter from the center of her lip. I stopped to suck gently at the lingering taste of crab on her mouth. "It's... completely...disgusting," I whispered against her. I chuckled then and leaned back in my chair. Bella looked dazed. Then her cheeks blushed a bright red that made me laugh even more. "You taste good enough to make me ignore the garlic," I confessed, putting her at ease. She smiled then, and looked back down at her food. "If we are being honest, I probably wouldn't enjoy kissing you, right after you had finished a meal either." Bella crinkled her nose and I smiled. "Fine. I'll remember that." We walked together back to the hotel, holding hands. The way Bella's hand felt inside my own... the way her side brushed against mine in perfect alignment...the way our steps found an exact and comfortable rhythm to match each other on the city street... everything seemed to point out the wrongness of Carlisle's opinion. How could anything that worked together so effortlessly be un-natural? Perhaps 'effort' was the term best to be considered. Certainly it was easier to be around Bella now. But didn't she smell just as intoxicating, just as delectable as she ever did? Why was it, that even imagining her sweet blood didn't stir the production of venom in my mouth? Perhaps my reactions to her really had become un-natural. But in my case... that would be considered a blessing more than a curse. "Edward?" I felt Bella tug at my hand and looked over at her. "Hello? Where did you go?" "I'm sorry. I was... thinking. Did you say something?" "Nothing important," she leaned against me and I put my arm around her shoulder. "You've been distracted, off and on, all day." "I've tried not to be," I kissed the top of her head. "Forgive me?" "Of course."

In our room, Bella shrugged out of her jacket and offered me the use of the shower first. I smiled my thanks and carried my pajamas into the bathroom to wash the salt from my body, left from our day near the sea. The hot water felt wonderful, cascading over my shoulders and down my back. I lathered my body quickly, and then leaned forward with my arms extended to the shower wall in front of me. I tucked my chin to my chest and closed my eyes, while I let the water rinse the suds down my body to the drain near my feet. My muscles tightened in surprised awareness when I heard the bathroom door open. I listened intently, and then held my breath when the glass shower door slid open as well. I heard Bella's tentative footsteps come behind me in the small space, before the glass doors slid closed once more. I was afraid to speak, and chase away what I was nearly convinced to be a trick of my imagination. "Can I join you?" Bella asked from behind. My fingers pressed into the tiles in front of me, in an effort to keep me from turning and scaring her. "Of course you can," I told her. I spoke with a voice that was raspy and deep. I swallowed hard and straightened my back. Bella moved forward then and wrapped her arms around me, pressing her hands flat against my abdomen. I had to bite back a groan when I felt her naked body come in contact with my own. "Bella... what are you...?" "I... just want to be near you," Bella whispered. I could feel her lips, brushing my back as she spoke. "You've been so distant all day. I feel like we're miles apart. I can't take it anymore." "I never meant to for you to feel lonely." "It's nothing you try to do," Bella argued softly. I could feel her move her head from side to side. "You say that my blood Sings for you?" I sucked in a sharp breath. Her words adequately pinpointed the problem I had been struggling with in my mind. "I think... that something inside you calls to me too, Edward." Bella placed a small kiss on my back. "I can feel that you are upset. I can feel that you are sad. I just want to make you feel better. Please. Let me try." I pulled her hands up so that I could place them over my chest. "You do. You make me so happy, Bella." She hugged me to her, and I relaxed in her embrace. "Bella? I'm curious..." "About?"

"How did you overcome your shyness enough to get into this shower with me?" I turned then, so quickly that it might have startled her had I not wrapped my arms around her tightly and crushed her to my chest. Bella giggled and looked up at me. Her naked skin pressed against the front of me was even more delicious. "It might sound strange... but I don't feel shy with you, like this. I think it's because... you look at me like you love me." "I do Bella. So very, very much." I brought my lips down to hers, and caressed her mouth tenderly. I didn't want to frighten her with my ardor, and I had no expectations. I just wanted her to know how much she meant to me. She reached her arms up to place them around my neck, and threaded her fingers into my wet hair. Aware that my body was reacting in its typical way, I turned my hips slightly. Even so, my erection pressed into Bella's side and I pulled away from her mouth with a low hiss and an apology. "I'm sorry," I whispered. My heavy breathing matched the rise and fall of her chest against me. Bella's eyes darted down to the way our bodies were tightly pressed together and frowned before biting her lip. In a moment, she raised her eyes to mine again, and I could have sworn I saw a hesitant curiosity there. "What?" I asked. "I was just thinking..." Bella blushed and I put a finger under her chin, forcing her to keep her eyes on mine. "No shyness... remember?" I asked. "What were you thinking?" "I was just thinking that I have never really seen a man naked." Bella's words rushed out quickly and she closed her eyes against the embarrassment that her confession made her feel. "I mean... I know I've seen pictures. And movies... right? But that isn't the same thing." I had to cup her face with my hand, unable to resist feeling the warmth that flooded her cheeks. "Would you... like to look at me?" I asked quietly. "I don't mind, you know." "Oh... I didn't mean..." "It's only fair," I continued to encourage her. "I mean... I did oogle your goodies while you were sleeping." I smiled to make her relax and she giggled a little in my arms. "Well, if you don't mind." Bella was obviously still embarrassed. But her curiosity won out. So I put my hands on her hips and began to move her away from me.

"But close your eyes!" Bella instructed. "I don't want you to watch me." I smirked and did as I was told. When I dropped my hands, I closed my eyes and let my arms rest easily at my sides. I could feel her eyes on me. I was no longer ashamed to show her just how much I desired her. I stood, as still as a statue under the spray of the water, letting her eyes learn my body. "Wow," Bella finally muttered. "Is that a good wow, or a bad wow?" I laughed a little and squinted one eye open. Bella was studiously looking at my penis. I looked down too. "It's..." Bella bit her lip and scrunched her face. "It's actually kind of..." Manly. Enormous. Intimidating. Yummy.... I waited for her to pick an adjective. "It's pretty," Bella finally said. "Pretty?" My eyebrows shot straight up. Bella smiled and giggled at my reaction while she nodded. "Did you just call my penis, pretty?" "Well... it is!" Bella argued. She stepped a little closer and raised her hand. One finger traced the path of water down my shoulder. It twisted and turned and burned a curved line to the center of my stomach. "Close your eyes again," she whispered. Anxious to see if she would keep up this new exploration, I did. "Did you know that you smell good to me too?" Bella asked. I felt her nose skim the side of my arm and she inhaled deeply. My jaw tensed, and I felt her move around me. Her fingers grazed my skin as she moved to my back. A jolt of electricity shot through me when I felt her tongue lick a straight path up my spine. "And you taste... so sweet." "Bella..." I tried to warn her. My grip on self-control was slipping. I felt her hands doing the same. Slipping down... lightly scratching against my skin. Her hands wrapped themselves around my hips, but slipped away when she continued moving around me. I kept my eyes closed tight when I felt her draw her fingernails over my nipples. "Shit," I mumbled. Bella laughed softly against my skin and kissed the center of my chest. "So smooth," Bella crooned. "I love how you feel under my lips." I groaned and reached up to push my hands into her hair, intent on bringing her lips to mine. But she grabbed my wrists and put them back down at my sides. I actually felt a little dizzy while I stood there. And then I felt the distinct chill left behind when she stepped away from me. "Bella?"

My hips thrust forward in surprise when I felt her gentle touch wrap around my erection. And then the warmest, most insanely wonderful sensation made my knees go weak when she touched her mouth to me. My eyes flew open and I looked down at where she knelt in front of me. She held me in her hand, and looked up at me with her eyes made heavy by a passion that matched mine. "I want... to taste you everywhere," Bella said with a husky voice, and she gave me a little squeeze. I groaned loudly at the sight and closed my eyes. My mind was screaming for me to grab her by the arms and pull her up from her knees. My morals and notions of chivalry dictated that a woman should not be treated in this way. But damn it all, if my horny-teenage self wasn't right back in the ring- jumping up and down holding a big, shiny, championship belt over his head. Oh yeah. He won this round by a knock-out. I could only nod and give her permission to continue. Bella put her mouth around me, and it was bliss defined. She moved tentatively, sliding her mouth over me and her tongue around me. She slowly grew bolder, encouraged by the lustful sounds that I could not force myself to keep inside. I whispered that I loved her. I whispered that she was beautiful. I whispered expletives that should have shocked her, and I begged her not to stop the sweet, sweet torture of it all. I looked down then. My hands found their way to her hair, but I only brushed it away from her face. I couldn't be so crass as to direct her motion when she was obviously enjoying being in control. I couldn't help my hips, however, from moving of their own accord to match her movements. I realized too late that watching her was adding a visual stimulation that was rapidly pushing me toward the edge. Her lips and her tongue and her teeth were already bringing me sensations that I didn't know were possible. When she hummed her pleasure against me, and reached to cup my balls in her hand, I knew that it would all be over much faster than I wanted it to be. Afraid of hurting her, I pulled my hands away from her head and flattened one palm against the shower tiles. My other hand curled tightly over the metal frame that held the glass shower doors. "Christ, Bella... I... I..." I tore my hips away from her at the last possible moment, and shuddered as I released myself onto the shower floor. Bella remained where she was for a minute, with her hands wrapped around my thighs. She stood then, and put her arms around my waist, pressing her cheek to my convulsing chest. I let my hand slide from the shower door frame, and twisted it into the back of her wet hair, holding her to me while I struggled to control the shuddering of my body. I couldn't even form words. I just stood there, pressing that girl against me while I trembled in the aftermath of the absolute pleasure of it all.

"You're shaking," Bella laughed against me. "You have that effect on me," I admitted, kissing the top of her head. Bella pulled away enough to tilt her face and look up at me. Her hair tangled down her back. Her lips were puffy and swollen, and water drops held court on her flushed cheeks. She had never looked lovelier. "I love you, Edward Cullen." I blinked down at her. My lips parted, but I was literally speechless. She smiled up at me with a light that could rival heaven. "I just thought you should know. I love you." I lowered my head and captured her vow with my lips. Her hands pressed against the center of my chest, and if my heart could have beat, it would have been for her. "I'll never let you go," I swore against her mouth. "I love you Bella." Our kiss was broken when we turned our heads toward a loud grinding sound at my right. In my altered state of mind, I had unwittingly bent the metal frame above the shower doors. I was mostly impressed to see the metal twisted instead of broken. I must have been more in control than I thought. But the glass had shifted to perilously lean from its frame. "I should get you out of here," I told her. "A whole lot of broken glass and a whole lot of naked me sounds like a very bad mix," Bella nodded. I pulled her easily up into my arms and slid the door aside as gently as I could. The glass rocked back and forth, but did not give up its tenuous grip. I hurried Bella from the room, grabbing a towel as I went. When I placed Bella on her feet next to the bed, she didn't complain as I knelt before her and started to dry her body with the towel. I took my time, making sure that she knew how much I cherished and wanted to tend to her. With her skin flushed and rosy from my attention, I turned and retrieved one of my t-shirts from my bag and pulled it down over her head. "If you don't mind," I smiled down at her. "I like you sleeping in my shirts." "I don't mind," she shook her head. I leaned down to kiss her lightly, and then stood. I was still undressed and didn't want to get her wet and cold again with my body. "I'll be right back," I told her. I turned and made my way back into the bathroom. After a little maneuvering, I was able to straighten the shower door frame well enough to hold the glass more securely. I would probably still have to pay for the damage. I smiled. It would be worth it. I quickly dried myself with a towel and dressed in the pajama bottoms that I had placed near the sink.

It hadn't been more than ten minutes, but I returned to find Bella sound asleep on the bed. I carefully moved up beside her. As softly as I could, I trailed my fingers across her cheek and pushed her damp hair away from her face. Bella smiled a little in her sleep but did not wake up. My chest felt full with the love I felt for this girl sleeping in front of me. A tremor ran down my spine, just from remembering the insane physical pleasure she had given me. But even that could not have compared to the pure, unadulterated joy I felt when she had said the most beautiful words I had ever heard. "I love you Edward Cullen."

48. His and Hers towels

Once back in New Hampshire, I was forced into a compromise. Bella loved me. But she didn't have a very pleasant personality when she was stressed and studying for our final. My attempts to help her study always played out the same way: I made a suggestion or pointed out random facts. Bella told me off. We both sat in silence for a moment, before she crawled up on my lap and apologized for 'being bitchy.' I, personally, loved the way that she chose to apologize. But that, in turn, led to less study time and another excuse for the cycle to begin again. Because of this hindering rotation, I was denied Bella's company until the end of the week. Truthfully- I was fine with that. Bella promised that we could have a picnic in the woods on Friday, to make up for the week apart. During class, I concentrated on letting the regurgitated facts that were bouncing around in the thoughts of those around me turn into a quiet hum in the background while I imagined having Bella to myself, in that clearing in the woods. My fantasies got me through the week. On Thursday night, I pressed Bella against her car door and kissed her sweetly. She was dead on her feet from her study efforts, but much relieved to be done for the semester. "I am going home to sleep," she yawned and wrapped her arms around my neck while I held her tight. "But I'll be over tomorrow, as soon as I wake up." "I'll see you then," I whispered. 'Then' turned out to be noon the following day. Bella arrived looking fresh and rested. Her little white t-shirt and khaki cargo shorts were perfect for the sunny weather that we were expecting. She laughed and pointed out that the colors of our clothing matched. Tugging the end of her braid, I smiled. "This is cute."

"I thought it would be best, for running," Bella grinned. "You are going to run with me, aren't you?" I could see the excitement in her eyes. "Hop on," I told her. Bella threw her small back-pack over her shoulders and vaulted herself up onto my back. "This has its advantages," she grinned, biting my ear lobe between her teeth. I growled softly. "If you want to leave the house, you better stop that," I warned. Bella apologized with a small kiss to the side of my neck, and I smiled. It was going to be a good day. With the warm spring air rushing past us, and the forest floor flying under my feet, it was easy to imagine Bella and I as the only two people on earth. With no concerns to weigh us down, and no one around for miles to distract us, we were young and alive and free to laugh and to love. I took her back to the same meadow we had visited before. Bella was breathless when I lowered her to her feet, and we walked hand in hand to the center of the clearing. I bent to pluck wildflowers on the way through the grass, and Bella smiled over at me shyly. "I am not sure I'll ever get used to the way you look in the sun," she admitted. "I'm not sure I ever want to." "What do you mean?" I asked. I took the thin blanket that she had folded into her bag, and spread it out on the ground. "I just don't ever want to take you for granted," Bella told me. "Every time I look at you, I am amazed." "I'm inordinately pleased that you aren't horrified," I grinned. I sat on the blanket and patted the open space between my knees, to indicate that she should join me. Bella lowered herself to sit with her back to my chest, and I carefully pulled the hair tie from the bottom of her braid. "It took me forever to braid that," Bella scolded. "Hush," I leaned forward and kissed the back of her shoulder. "Every time I look at you, I am amazed as well. Let me enjoy this." Bella relaxed and I let my fingers gently separate the tight plait of hair. Combing through the soft tresses, I smoothed her hair until it fell in wavy ribbons down her back. Bella reached forward to pull an apple from her bag, while I began twisting the wildflower caps from the stems I had collected, and wove them into her hair. I smelled the sweet, tangy fruit hit the air when Bella took a bite. It was a delicate scent that mixed with Bella's charming fragrance, and didn't smell nearly as unappealing as other food choices she might have considered bringing along for her picnic lunch. I was grateful she had chosen this aromatically neutral snack. I chuckled at my own romantic thoughts. A beautiful girl smelling of sunshine on warm skin with strawberries in her hair... tart apple on her lips. The

poetry of the memory might have been tainted had she decided to pack a tuna-salad sandwich for her meal. "So... Miss Swan," I asked while twisting colorful flowers into the chestnut hair under my hands. "What are your plans for the summer, now that class is over?" "Working," her shoulders slumped forward. "And possibly getting a second job, if I don't find a roommate in a hurry." "Wait. What?" My hands halted in their task and I crinkled my forehead in confusion. "Where is Katrina going?" I had spent the majority of time in class this week, happy to relegate the thoughts of those around me to a low static-y buzz. It was annoying to hear people study. But I hadn't heard one internal thing from Katrina about a change in housing arrangements. "Our lease is up at the end of the month," Bella said with a twinge of irritation. "Katrina and Brad have decided to get a place together." I moved my hands to Bella's tense shoulders and began to apply a gentle massaging pressure to help her relax again. My mind was spinning with possibilities that my mouth was too cowardly to present. I knew she wouldn't accept charity on my part. But if I offered something outlandish, perhaps she would be more likely to accept a second, seemingly less-intrusive offer? "You seem... not-happy about the situation," I said. "No," Bella sighed. "I'm actually really happy for Katrina. I just wish she had given me a little more warning. I can't afford the apartment on my own, with the hours I work now." It was my opening. I licked my lips and scooted closer to her on the blanket, holding her between my thighs. I let my hands cup her shoulders and leaned forward to breathe near her ear. "You wouldn't have to get another job, if you let me help you," I suggested. "I could give you Katrina's share of the expenses." I felt Bella's back straighten in front of me, as I expected it to. And as I also expected, she was quick to decline my assistance. "I'm not taking money from you Edward," Bella said. Her voice was quiet, but firm. I grinned a little, imagining the look on her face while feeling grateful that she couldn't see the smirk on mine. "Hmm... well then," I shrugged and let my hands slide up and down her bare arms. She shivered a little. "Maybe if you won't accept my help... you'd consider letting me be your roommate?" Bella turned under my hands and looked at me. I fought to keep my face impassive.

"Why would you want to give up your house to move into a crappy little apartment?" Bella scowled at me. I couldn't help but laugh at her expression. "Your lease is almost up," I shrugged. "Why don't you just move in here?" I hoped I didn't look as nervous about her answer as I felt. I was trying to play it cool. Bella's features actually darkened, and she stood up quickly, brushing her hands down her shorts before walking away. I watched her move forward a few paces before turning to look at me sharply. She stared hard at my face and frowned, before putting her hands on her hips and raising an eyebrow. "You are trying to con me!" "Excuse me?" I raised my eyebrows in the most innocent expression I could muster and Bella smiled knowingly. "Ask for a cake, when all you are really hoping for is a candy bar?" Bella twisted her lips in a humorous sneer. "That's so 'Leave it to Beaver', Edward!" "Actually, I got the concept from an episode of the Brady Bunch," I admitted, and placed my hands behind me on the blanket so I could lean back. "I still think it could work." "What could?" "You moving in with me," I shrugged. "I have plenty of space. You would be comfortable here." "Living with a con-artist vampire," Bella muttered. She moved back toward me and turned to sit on the blanket once more. She kept a healthy distance between us, and hooked her arms around her knees. "A con-artist vampire who draws inspiration from Nick at Night," I playfully amended. She giggled and turned her head to look at me. "I don't know..." "I do." I spoke firmly. "It would certainly help with your situation. And just think of all the gas you would be saving me. I wouldn't have to drive all the way across town every night just to see you. You'd really be helping to save the Earth's resources..." "So now you are taking the environmental approach," Bella scoffed. "I got nothing else." "How about honesty?" I reached out and grabbed Bella's shoulder, pulling her to lay back against the blanket. On my side above her, I traced my forefinger down her cheek.

"I love you Bella. I need you." Truer words were never spoken. Bella nodded up at me, and I moved to lay on my back beside her. I closed my eyes and reveled in the sunlight that warmed my skin. Bella remained next to me in silence before she spoke. "If I said yes... you would have to let me pay my own way." I felt the corners of my mouth pull upward, unwittingly. "Are you comfortable with your arrangements now?" I asked. I didn't open my eyes. "With your rent, and utilities? Are they affordable to you... without getting a second job?" "Yes." "Good," I shrugged. "Pay that. Whatever you currently pay, and are comfortable with... pay to me. I'll even write you up monthly receipts if you'd like." I'd also toss the money into a separate account that she could draw from later. But that didn't need to be mentioned. While Bella remained silently considering my suggestion, I let my fingers open the buttons on the front of my shirt, and pushed it away from my chest to lay at my sides. The sun felt glorious, and I basked in it. After a moment, Bella sighed. "Well, now you are trying to unfairly influence my decision." I opened my eyes to look at her. She was staring at my bare chest. I smiled. "Would it make you feel better if you took your shirt off too? I don't mind. You know... in respect to fairness and all..." I teasingly moved my hands to the edge of her t-shirt, and she laughingly began to push me away. But when her hands came to my wrists, her expression changed. Instead of dropping my hands, she pulled herself closer to me. I accepted the unspoken invitation greedily and moved my mouth to hers. Bella's lips were slightly sticky from the apple she had eaten. I moved my mouth lightly over hers, relishing the scent and taste and texture. "Say yes," I murmured between kisses. I gave full attention to her top lip before favoring the bottom between my own. "Not while you are kissing me," Bella whispered, opening her mouth for my tongue. "You won't say yes while I'm kissing you?" I moved to her neck instead, dragging my mouth down the column of her throat while she twisted her fingers into my hair. "Unfair coercion," Bella breathed. "I can't think straight when you are kissing me. And... I want to think about it." "Fair enough. But you'll have to wait. I am not nearly finished kissing you."

"I was hoping you'd say that..." Bella's hands gripped my hips when I rolled to lay above her. With our bodies in more intimate contact, my head felt light. The crushed grass beneath our blanket and the wildflowers in Bella's hair caused a heady cloud of scent to envelop me, so concentrated that I could taste it on my tongue while I kissed her again and again. My vision actually became hazy for a moment, swirling in colors and vivid hues. I closed my eyes, and savored the way she made me feel. "Say it's never been like this before," I urged. "Only for me. Say it's only for me." "I've never, ever felt this way before," Bella promised. I tilted my face to the sun while she raised her lips to my throat. When her tiny tongue flicked out to taste and tempt me, I groaned and pushed myself against her. Things were rapidly getting out of control, and I needed to clear my head. "Bella? We need to stop..." With great effort, I rolled away from her, and laid with my back to the earth. My chest moved heavily up and down while I struggled to get a grip on my control. "Why?" Bella laid beside me, and reached out one hand to rest against my stomach. "Why do we need to stop?" "Because I want to make love to you," I told her, rolling so that I could see her face. "That sounds like a pretty good reason to not stop," Bella smiled. Her cheeks were flushed pretty pink, and she looked like a wood nymph or a fairy with her wild hair tangled with flowers. "I don't want any of your decisions to be about sex," I said earnestly. I lifted Bella's hand to my mouth and kissed her knuckles softly. "I admit, I selfishly hope there will be a time for us. But I don't want you to feel unfairly influenced in making your decision. I want you to move in with me Bella. But I need you to be sure that you want that, too." Bella nodded in understanding, and I hopped to my feet before offering my hand to help her stand. "Ready to go?" "I guess," Bella sighed with a smile. We shared the task of folding the blanket and I put it back into the bag that Bella slung onto her back. During the next two weeks, I did not bring up the conversation that we had in the meadow. And true to my plan to keep Bella on the right-track with her decision-making, I kept our intimacies under careful control. It was difficult, especially when Bella seemed hell-bent on pushing my limits. A casual movie date ended with Bella straddling my lap on the couch. I tilted my head back to give her access to my throat, while she kissed me and moved against me in ways that

were probably illegal in some countries. My hands ached to grip her hips and pull her roughly against me, but instead, I patted her back pocket lightly and moved her to sit beside me once again. The petulant look on her face told me that she was becoming irritated by my constant redirection. I, however, was trying to be patient while she considered her housing options. I suspected that Bella was still considering getting a roommate. She checked her voicemail constantly. I was a little put-out that she didn't immediately see the benefits of living with me. I wanted her to be as anxious about the idea as I was. But I had already learned that Bella did things in her own time, and on her own schedule. I couldn't push her on the issue. Bella sighed heavily and reached for the bowl of popcorn that I had placed on the end table for her. With her attention back on the movie, she munched a bit of the salty snack, brooding in silence. I knew better. The tiny crease between her eyebrows let me know that her thoughts were far from the comedy on the television screen. "Are you upset with me?" I asked. "No," she mumbled. Bella licked a piece of fine salt from the corner of her mouth and pressed her lips together before setting the bowl aside. "I was just thinking..." "Yes?" "I was wondering if, maybe, you would be available to help me bring my things over this Saturday?" The smile that dominated my features couldn't even be dimmed by the fact that she still had a worried expression on her face. I moved across the couch, pressing her body into the corner while scattering excited kisses across her cheeks, forehead, and nose. "Are you sure?" I smiled against her mouth. She laughed lightly at my exuberance. "I think so," Bella nodded. I captured her lips beneath mine, and tried to let her know exactly how happy she had made me. "Mmmm... but!" Bella broke the kiss and held a finger up in my face. "We are going to be clear on a few things." "Anything," I told her. Bella was very clear that she wanted to pay her own way while living with me. I was to let her pay the same rent and utilities that she paid at her own apartment. And she would be in charge of buying her own food items. She also wanted to move her own things 'like a normal person', which meant that I couldn't sneak in during the night and load her items into the rented truck on my own. It was a task that would have taken me a very short amount of time. But then, I would have missed out on Bella dressed in cut-off sweat-shorts and a very tiny tank top, sweating and lugging boxes around with me. I had to admit, her plan had its advantages.

Pretending to only carry half the weight of furniture was amusing to me. We spent Saturday morning loading a rental truck with Bella's items. When finished, the apartment was completely bare. Bella stood in the empty space, frowning. "Will you miss it?" I asked. I moved behind Bella and wrapped my arms around her waist, placing a tiny kiss on her shoulder. The taste of her sweat on my lips made me want to lick her, but I sensed her mood wasn't matched to mine. "I will," Bella nodded solemnly. "This was the first place I had on my own. My first act of independence. Doing things without any help..." I hugged her more closely against my chest, hoping that my silent support was what she craved. "Are you ready?" "Yes." I couldn't help but notice that her confirmation was delivered on a sigh. Though I wished otherwise, things continued to feel strained between us. Bella followed behind me, driving the rental truck. Once in the house, we began storing her things in the empty room at the end of the hall. My house was already furnished, and many of her items wouldn't be needed. When I finished placing her sofa in the room, I turned and found Bella standing in the hall with an armful of clothes on hangers. She looked confused. "Is something the matter?" I asked. Bella blushed and looked down. "We didn't really... discuss sleeping arrangements." "Oh!" I raised my hand to rub the back of my neck. "Well... of course, if you want your own space, you can have the guest room as your own. But you are welcome to use my room... if you'd like." "What do you want?" Bella looked at me. "I want what you want," I answered carefully. Her mood was hard to determine and I was trying to play it safe. Bella frowned again. I was quickly becoming irritated by treading so lightly around her. "Look Bella," I began. "You've been comfortable sleeping in my bed. I rather like you there, if I'm being honest. But it's not part of this renter's agreement that you have to share your space with me like that. So please, just put your things wherever you would like them." Bella nodded and bit her lip before turning into my room. I was glad that her back was turned so she wouldn't see my smile. I had to force my features to reflect a false nonchalance while I moved my clothing to the back of the closet to make room for hers. "Thank you," she mumbled. "No problem," I shrugged. "I'm going to get some more boxes from the truck."

I let Bella continue to bring in her clothing while I carried boxes that were marked for the kitchen. After a while, Bella came in and stared at the cardboard tower that stood beside the counter. Her hands were on her hips, and her skin glistened with perspiration from her efforts. Her mood, obviously, had not improved. I wondered for a moment, if I had room in my medicine cabinet for Midol, then I smirked when I imagined the slap I would receive if she had the ability to read my mind. Bella noticed the look on my face and moved around me to unload a box. "What's so funny?" Bella asked. "You don't want to know," I replied honestly. Bella shook her ponytail from side to side, and then slid a box across the floor toward a cabinet near the stove. When she opened the door, she looked up at me with an expression of incredulity. "What?" I asked. "Where am I supposed to put my things?" Bella asked. The good humor was gone from her voice entirely. She opened the next cabinet door and shook her head in disgust. "A juicer? Are you kidding