High school. Purgatory no longer, it was now purely hell. Torment and fire...yes, I had both.
I was doing everything correctly now. Every "i" dotted, every "t" crossed. No one could complain that I was shirking my responsibilities.
To please Esme and protect the others, I stayed in Forks. I returned to my old schedule. I hunted no more than the rest of them. Everyday, I attended high school and played human. Everyday, I listened carefully for anything new about the Cullens - there never was anything new. The girl did not speak one word of her suspicions. She just repeated the same story again and again - I'd been standing with her and then pulled her out of the way - till her eager listeners got bored and stopped looking for more details. There was no danger. My hasty action had hurt no one.
No one but myself.
I was determined to change the future. Not the easiest task to set for oneself, but there was no other choice that I could live with.
Alice said that I would not be strong enough to stay away from the girl. I would prove her wrong.
I'd thought the first day would be the hardest. By the end of it, I'd been sure that was the case. I'd been wrong, though.
It had rankled, knowing that I would hurt the girl. I'd comforted myself with the fact that her pain would be nothing more than a pinprick - just a tiny sting of rejection - compared to mine. Bella was human, and she knew that I was something else, something wrong, something frightening. She would probably be more relieved than wounded when I turned my face away from her and pretended that she didn't exist.
"Hello, Edward," she'd greeted me, that first day back in biology. Her voice had been pleasant, friendly, one hundred and eighty degrees from the last time I'd spoken with her.
Why? What did the change mean? Had she forgotten? Decided she had imagined the whole episode? Could she possibly have forgiven me for not following through on my promise?
The questions had burned like the thirst that attacked me every time I breathed. Just one moment to look in her eyes. Just to see if I could read the answers there...
No. I could not allow myself even that. Not if I was going to change the future. I'd moved my chin an inch in her direction without looking away from the front of the room. I'd nodded once, and then turned my face straight forward.
She did not speak to me again.
That afternoon, as soon as school was finished, my role played, I ran to Seattle as I had the day before. It seemed that I could handle the aching just slightly better when I was flying over the ground, turning everything around me into a green blur.
This run became my daily habit.
Did I love her? I did not think so. Not yet. Alice's glimpses of that future had stuck with me, though, and I could see how easy it would be to fall into loving Bella. It would be exactly like falling: effortless. Not letting myself love her was the opposite of falling - it was pulling myself up a cliff-face, hand over hand, the task as grueling as if I had no more than mortal strength.
More than a month passed, and every day it got harder. That made no sense to me - I kept waiting to get over it, to have it get easier. This must be what Alice had meant when she'd predicted that I would not be able to stay away from the girl. She had seen the escalation of the pain. But I could handle pain.
I would not destroy Bella's future. If I was destined to love her, then wasn't avoiding her the very least I could do?
Avoiding her was about the limit of what I could bear, though. I could pretend to ignore her, and never look her way. I could pretend that she was of no interest to me. But that was the extent, just pretense and not reality.
I still hung on every breath she took, every word she said.
I lumped my torments into four categories.
The first two were familiar. Her scent and her silence. Or, rather - to take the responsibility on myself where it belonged - my thirst and my curiosity.
The thirst was the most primal of my torments. It was my habit now to simply not breathe at all in Biology. Of course, there were always the exceptions - when I had to answer a question or something of the sort, and I would need my breath to speak. Each time I tasted the air around the girl, it was the same as the first day - fire and need and brutal violence desperate to break free. It was hard to cling even slightly to reason or restraint in those moments. And, just like that first day, the monster in me would roar, so close to the surface...
The curiosity was the most constant of my torments. The question was never out of my mind: What is she thinking now? When I heard her quietly sigh. When she twisted a lock of hair absently around her finger. When she threw her books down with more force than usual. When she rushed to class late. When she tapped her foot impatiently against the floor. Each movement caught in my peripheral vision was a maddening mystery. When she spoke to the other human students, I analyzed her every word and tone. Was she speaking her thoughts, or what she thought she should say? It often sounded to me like she was trying to say what her audience expected, and this reminded me of my family and our daily life of illusion - we were better at it than she was. Unless I wrong about that, just imagining things. Why would she have to play a role? She was one of them - a human teenager.
Mike Newton was the most surprising of my torments. Who would have ever dreamed that such a generic, boring mortal could be so infuriating? To be fair, I should have felt some gratitude to the annoying boy; more than the others, he kept the girl talking. I learned so much about her through these conversations - I was still compiling my list - but, contrarily, Mike's assistance with this project only aggravated me more. I didn't want Mike to be the one that unlocked her secrets. I wanted to do that.
It helped that he never noticed her small revelations, her little slips. He knew nothing about her. He'd created a Bella in his head that didn't exist - a girl just as generic as he was. He hadn't observed the unselfishness and bravery that set her apart from other humans, he didn't hear the abnormal maturity of her spoken thoughts. He didn't perceive that when she spoke of her mother, she sounded like a parent speaking of a child rather than the other way around - loving, indulgent, slightly amused, and fiercely protective. He didn't hear the patience in her voice when she feigned interest in his rambling stories, and didn't guess at the kindness behind that patience.
Through her conversations with Mike, I was able to add the most important quality to my list, the most revealing of them all, as simple as it was rare. Bella was good. All the other things added up to that whole - kind and self-effacing and unselfish and loving and brave - she was good through and through.
These helpful discoveries did not warm me to the boy, however. The possessive way he viewed Bella - as if she were an acquisition to be made - provoked me almost as much as his crude fantasies about her. He was becoming more confident of her, too, as the time passed, for she seemed to prefer him over those he considered his rivals - Tyler Crowley, Eric Yorkie, and even, sporadically, myself. He would routinely sit on her side of our table before class began, chattering at her, encouraged by her smiles. Just polite smiles, I told myself. All the same, I frequently amused myself by imagining backhanding him across the room and into the far wall... It probably wouldn't injure him fatally...
Mike didn't often think of me as a rival. After the accident, he'd worried that Bella and I would bond from the shared experience, but obviously the opposite had resulted. Back then, he had still been bothered that I'd singled Bella out over her peers for attention. But now I ignored her just as thoroughly as the others, and he grew complacent.
What was she thinking now? Did she welcome his attention?
And, finally, the last of my torments, the most painful: Bella's indifference. As I ignored her, she ignored me. She never tried to speak to me again. For all I knew, she never thought about me at all.
This might have driven me mad - or even broken my resolution to change the future - except that she sometimes stared at me like she had before. I didn't see it for myself, as I could not allow myself to look at her, but Alice always warned us when she was about to stare; the others were still wary of the girl's problematic knowledge. It eased some of the pain that she gazed at me from across a distance, every now and then. Of course, she could just be wondering what kind of a freak I was.
"Bella's going to stare at Edward in a minute. Look normal," Alice said one Tuesday in March, and the others were careful to fidget and shift their weight like humans; absolute stillness was a marker of our kind.
I paid attention to how often she looked my direction. It pleased me, though it should not, that the frequency did not decline as the time passed. I didn't know what it meant, but it made me feel better.
Alice sighed. I wish...
"Stay out of it, Alice," I said under my breath. "It's not going to happen." She pouted. Alice was anxious to form her envisioned friendship with Bella. In a strange way, she missed the girl she didn't know.
I'll admit, you're better than I thought. You've got the future all snarled up and senseless again. I hope you're happy.
"It makes plenty of sense to me."
She snorted delicately.
I tried to shut her out, too impatient for conversation. I wasn't in a very good mood - tenser than I let any of them see. Only Jasper was aware of how tightly wound I was, feeling the stress emanate out of me with his unique ability to both sense and influence the moods of others. He didn't understand the reasons behind the moods, though, and - since I was constantly in a foul mood these days - he disregarded it. Today would be a hard one. Harder than the day before, as was the pattern.
Mike Newton, the odious boy whom I could not allow myself to rival, was going to ask Bella on a date.
A girl's choice dance was on the near horizon, and he'd been hoping very much that Bella would ask him. That she had not done so had rattled his confidence. Now he was in an uncomfortable bind - I enjoyed his discomfort more than I should - because Jessica Stanley had just asked him to the dance. He didn't want to say "yes," still hopeful that Bella would choose him (and prove him the victor over his rivals), but he didn't want to say "no" and end up missing the dance altogether. Jessica, hurt by his hesitation and guessing the reason behind it, was thinking daggers at Bella. Again, I had the instinct to place myself between Jessica's angry thoughts and Bella. I understood the instinct better now, but that only made it more frustrating when I could not act on it.
To think it had come to this! I was utterly fixated on the petty high school dramas that I'd once held so in contempt.
Mike was working up his nerve as he walked Bella to biology. I listened to his struggles as I waited for them to arrive. The boy was weak. He had waited for this dance purposely, afraid to make his infatuation known before she had shown a marked preference for him. He didn't want to make himself vulnerable to rejection, preferring that she make that leap first.
He sat down on our table again, comfortable with long familiarity, and I imagined the sound it would make if his body hit the opposite wall with enough force to break most of his bones.
"So," he said to the girl, his eyes on the floor. "Jessica asked me to the spring dance."
"That's great," Bella answered immediately and with enthusiasm. It was hard not to smile as her tone sunk in to Mike's awareness. He'd been hoping for dismay. "You'll have a lot of fun with Jessica."
He scrambled for the right response. "Well..." he hesitated, and almost chickened out. Then he rallied. "I told her I had to think about it."
"Why would you do that?" she demanded. Her tone was one of disapproval, but there was the faintest hint of relief there as well.
What did that mean? An unexpected, intense fury made my hands clench into fists.
Mike did not hear the relief. His face was red with blood - fierce as I suddenly felt, this seemed like an invitation - and he looked at the floor again as he spoke. "I was wondering if...well, if you might be planning to ask me."
In that moment of her hesitation, I saw the future more clearly than Alice ever had.
The girl might say yes to Mike's unspoken question now, and she might not, but either way, someday soon, she would say yes to someone. She was lovely and intriguing, and human males were not oblivious to this fact. Whether she would settle for someone in this lackluster crowd, or wait until she was free from Forks, the day would come that she would say yes.
I saw her life as I had before - college, career...love, marriage. I saw her on her father's arm again, dressed in gauzy white, her face flushed with happiness as she moved to the sound of Wagner's march.
The pain was more than anything I'd felt before. A human would have to be on the point of death to feel this pain - a human would not live through it.
And not just pain, but outright rage.
The fury ached for some kind of physical outlet. Though this insignificant, undeserving boy might not be the one that Bella would say yes to, I yearned to crush his skull in my hand, to let him stand as a representative for whoever it would be.
I didn't understand this emotion - it was such a tangle of pain and rage and desire and despair. I had never felt it before; I couldn't put a name to it.
"Mike, I think you should tell her yes," Bella said in a gentle voice.
Mike's hopes plummeted. I would have enjoyed that under other circumstances, but I was lost in the aftershock of the pain - and the remorse for what the pain and rage had done to me.
Alice was right. I was not strong enough.
Right now, Alice would be watching the future spin and twist, become mangled again. Would this please her?
"Did you already ask someone?" Mike asked sullenly. He glanced at me, suspicious for the first time in many weeks. I realized I had betrayed my interest; my head was inclined in Bella's direction.
The wild envy in his thoughts - envy for whoever this girl preferred to him - suddenly put a name to my unnamed emotion.
I was jealous.
"No," the girl said with a trace of humor in her voice. "I'm not going to the dance at all."
Through all the remorse and anger, I felt relief at her words. Suddenly, I was considering my rivals.
"Why not?" Mike asked, his tone almost rude. It offended me that he used this tone with her. I bit back a growl.
"I'm going to Seattle that Saturday," she answered.
The curiosity was not as vicious as it would have been before - now that I was fully intending to find out the answers to everything. I would know the wheres and whys of this new revelation soon enough.
Mike's tone turned unpleasantly wheedling. "Can't you go some other weekend?"
"Sorry, no." Bella was brusquer now. "So you shouldn't make Jess wait any longer - it's rude."
Her concern for Jessica's feelings fanned the flames of my jealousy. This Seattle trip was clearly an excuse to say no - did she refuse purely out of loyalty to her friend? She was more than selfless enough for that. Did she actually wish she could say yes? Or were both guesses wrong? Was she interested in someone else?
"Yeah, you're right," Mike mumbled, so demoralized that I almost felt pity for him. Almost.
He dropped his eyes from the girl, cutting off my view of her face in his thoughts. I wasn't going to tolerate that.
I turned to read her face myself, for the first time in more than a month. It was a sharp relief to allow myself this, like a gasp of air to long-submerged human lungs. Her eyes were closed, and her hands pressed against the sides of her face. Her shoulders curved inward defensively. She shook her head ever so slightly, as if she were trying to push some thought from her mind.
Mr. Banner's voice pulled her from her reverie, and her eyes slowly opened. She looked at me immediately, perhaps sensing my gaze. She stared up into my eyes with the same bewildered expression that had haunted me for so long.
I didn't feel the remorse or the guilt or the rage in that second. I knew they would come again, and come soon, but for this one moment I rode a strange, jittery high. As if I had triumphed, rather than lost.
She didn't look away, though I stared with inappropriate intensity, trying vainly to read her thoughts through her liquid brown eyes. They were full of questions, rather than answers.
I could see the reflection of my own eyes, and I saw that they were black with thirst. It had been nearly two weeks since my last hunting trip; this was not the safest day for my will to crumble. But the blackness did not seem to frighten her. She still did not look away, and a soft, devastatingly appealing pink began to color her skin.
What was she thinking now?
I almost asked the question aloud, but at that moment Mr. Banner called my name. I picked the correct answer out of his head while I glanced briefly in his direction. I sucked in a quick breath. "The Krebs Cycle."
Thirst scorched down my throat - tightening my muscles and filling my mouth with venom - and I closed my eyes, trying to concentrate through the desire for her blood that raged inside me.
The monster was stronger than before. The monster was rejoicing. He embraced this dual future that gave him an even, fifty-fifty chance at what he craved so viciously. The third, shaky future I'd tried to construct through willpower alone had crumbled - destroyed by common jealously, of all things - and he was so much closer to his goal. The remorse and the guilt burned with the thirst, and, if I'd had the ability to produce tears, they would have filled my eyes now.
What had I done?
Knowing the battle was already lost, there seemed to be no reason to resist what I wanted; I turned to stare at the girl again.
She had hidden in her hair, but I could see through a parting in the tresses that her cheek was deep crimson now.
The monster liked that.
She did not meet my gaze again, but she twisted a strand of her dark hair nervously between her fingers. Her delicate fingers, her fragile wrist - they were so breakable, looking for all the world like just my breath could snap them.
No, no, no. I could not do this. She was too breakable, too good, too precious to deserve this fate. I couldn't allow my life to collide with hers, to destroy it.
But I couldn't stay away from her either. Alice was right about that.
The monster inside me hissed with frustration as I wavered, leaning first one way, then the other.
My brief hour with her passed all too quickly, as I vacillated between the rock and the hard place. The bell rang, and she started collecting her things without looking at me. This disappointed me, but I could hardly expect otherwise. The way I had treated her since the accident was inexcusable.
"Bella?" I said, unable to stop myself. My willpower already lay in shreds. She hesitated before looking at me; when she turned, her expression was guarded, distrustful.
I reminded myself that she had every right to distrust me. That she should. She waited for me to continue, but I just stared at her, reading her face. I pulled in shallow mouthfuls of air at regular intervals, fighting my thirst.
"What?" she finally said. "Are you speaking to me again?" There was an edge of resentment to her tone that was, like her anger, endearing. It made me want to smile. I wasn't sure how to answer her question. Was I speaking to her again, in the sense that she meant?
No. Not if I could help it. I would try to help it.
"No, not really," I told her.
She closed her eyes, which frustrated me. It cut off my best avenue of access to her feelings. She took a long, slow breath without opening her eyes. Her jaw was locked.
Eyes still closed, she spoke. Surely this was not a normal human way to converse. Why did she do it?
"Then what do you want, Edward?"
The sound of my name on her lips did strange things to my body. If I'd had a heartbeat, it would have quickened.
But how to answer her?
With the truth, I decided. I would be as truthful as I could with her from now on. I didn't want to deserve her distrust, even if earning her trust was impossible.
"I'm sorry," I told her. That was truer than she would ever know. Unfortunately, I could only safely apologize for the trivial. "I'm being very rude, I know. But it's better this way, really."
I would be better for her if I could keep it up, continue to be rude. Could I? Her eyes opened, their expression still wary.
"I don't know what you mean."
I tried to get as much of a warning through to her as was allowed. "It's better if we're not friends." Surely, she could sense that much. She was a bright girl. "Trust me."
Her eyes tightened, and I remembered that I had said those words to her before - just before breaking a promise. I winced when her teeth clenched together - she clearly remembered, too.
"It's too bad you didn't figure that out earlier," she said angrily. "You could have saved yourself all this regret."
I stared at her in shock. What did she know of my regrets?
"Regret? Regret for what?" I demanded.
"For not just letting that stupid van squish me!" she snapped.
I froze, stunned.
How could she be thinking that? Saving her life was the one acceptable thing I'd done since I met her. The one thing that I was not ashamed of. The one and only thing that made me glad I existed at all. I'd been fighting to keep her alive since the first moment I'd caught her scent. How could she think this of me? How dare she question my one good deed in all this mess?
"You think I regret saving your life?"
"I know you do," she retorted.
Her estimation of my intentions left me seething. "You don't know anything."
How confusing and incomprehensible the workings of her mind were! She must not think in the same way as other humans at all. That must be the explanation behind her mental silence. She was entirely other.
She jerked her face away, gritting her teeth again. Her cheeks were flushed, with anger this time. She slammed her books together in a pile, yanked them up into her arms, and marched toward the door without meeting my stare.
Even irritated as I was, it was impossible not to find her anger a bit entertaining. She walked stiffly, without looking where she was going, and her foot caught on the lip of the doorway. She stumbled, and her things all crashed to the ground. Instead of bending to get them, she stood rigidly straight, not even looking down, as if she were not sure the books were worth retrieving.
I managed not to laugh.
No one was here to watch me; I flitted to her side, and had her books put in order before she looked down.
She bent halfway, saw me, and then froze. I handed her books back to her, making sure that my icy skin never touched hers.
"Thank you," she said in a cold, severe voice.
Her tone brought back my irritation.
"You're welcome," I said just as coldly.
She wrenched herself upright and stomped away to her next class.
I watched until I could no longer see her angry figure.
Spanish passed in a blur. Mrs. Goff never questioned my abstraction - she knew my Spanish was superior to hers, and she gave me a great deal of latitude - leaving me free to think.
So, I couldn't ignore the girl. That much was obvious. But did it mean I had no choice but to destroy her? That could not be the only available future. There had to be some other choice, some delicate balance. I tried to think of a way...
I didn't pay much attention to Emmett until the hour was nearly up. He was curious - Emmett was not overly intuitive about the shades in other's moods, but he could see the obvious change in me. He wondered what had happened to remove the unrelenting glower from my face. He struggled to define the change, and finally decided that I looked hopeful.
Hopeful? Is that what it looked like from the outside?
I pondered the idea of hope as we walked to the Volvo, wondering what exactly I should be hoping for.
But I didn't have long to ponder. Sensitive as I always was to thoughts about the girl, the sound of Bella's name in the heads of...of my rivals, I suppose I had to admit, caught my attention. Eric and Tyler, having heard - with much satisfaction - of Mike's failure, were preparing to make their moves.
Eric was already in place, positioned against her truck where she could not avoid him. Tyler's class was being held late to receive an assignment, and he was in a desperate hurry to catch her before she escaped.
This I had to see.
"Wait for the others here, all right?" I murmured to Emmett.
He eyed me suspiciously, but then shrugged and nodded.
Kid's lost his mind, he thought, amused by my odd request.
I saw Bella on her way out of the gym, and I waited where she would not see me for her to pass. As she got closer to Eric's ambush, I strode forward, setting my pace so that I would walk by at the right moment.
I watched her body stiffen when she caught sight of the boy waiting for her. She froze for a moment, then relaxed and moved forward.
"Hi, Eric," I heard her call in a friendly voice.
I was abruptly and unexpectedly anxious. What if this gangly teen with his unhealthy skin was somehow pleasing to her?
Eric swallowed loudly, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Hi, Bella."
She seemed unconscious of his nervousness.
"What's up?" she asked, unlocking her truck without looking at his frightened expression.
"Uh, I was just wondering...if you would go to the spring dance with me?" His voice broke.
She finally looked up. Was she taken aback, or pleased? Eric couldn't meet her gaze, so I couldn't see her face in his mind.
"I thought it was girl's choice," she said, sounding flustered.
"Well, yeah," he agreed wretchedly.
This pitiable boy did not irritate me as much as Mike Newton did, but I couldn't find it in myself to feel sympathy for his angst until after Bella had answered him in a gentle voice.
"Thank you for asking me, but I'm going to be in Seattle that day."
He'd already heard this; still, it was a disappointment.
"Oh," he mumbled, barely daring to raise his eyes to the level of her nose.
"Maybe next time."
"Sure," she agreed. Then she bit down on her lip, as if she regretted leaving him a loophole. I liked that.
Eric slumped forward and walked away, headed in the wrong direction from his car, his only thought escape.
I passed her in that moment, and heard her sigh of relief. I laughed.
She whirled at the sound, but I stared straight ahead, trying to keep my lips from twitching in amusement.
Tyler was behind me, almost running in his hurry to catch her before she could drive away. He was bolder and more confident than the other two; he'd only waited to approach Bella this long because he'd respected Mike's prior claim.
I wanted him to succeed in catching her for two reasons. If - as I was beginning to suspect - all this attention was annoying to Bella, I wanted to enjoy watching her reaction. But, if it was not - if Tyler's invitation was the one she'd been hoping for - then I wanted to know that, too.
I measured Tyler Crowley as a rival, knowing it was wrong to do so. He seemed tediously average and unremarkable to me, but what did I know of Bella's preferences? Maybe she liked average boys...
I winced at that thought. I could never be an average boy. How foolish it was to set myself up as a rival for her affections. How could she ever care for someone who was, by any estimation, a monster?
She was too good for a monster.
I ought to have let her escape, but my inexcusable curiosity kept me from doing what was right. Again. But what if Tyler missed his chance now, only to contact her later when I would have no way of knowing the outcome? I pulled my Volvo out into the narrow lane, blocking her exit.
Emmett and the others were on their way, but he'd described my strange behavior to them, and they were walking slowly, watching me, trying to decipher what I was doing.
I watched the girl in my rearview mirror. She glowered toward the back of my car without meeting my gaze, looking as if she wished she were driving a tank rather than a rusted Chevy.
Tyler hurried to his car and got in line behind her, grateful for my inexplicable behavior. He waved at her, trying to catch her attention, but she didn't notice. He waited a moment, and then left his car, sauntering up to her passenger side window. He tapped on the glass.
She jumped, and then stared at him in confusion. After a second, she rolled the window down manually, seeming to have some trouble with it.
"I'm sorry, Tyler," she said, her voice irritated. "I'm stuck behind Cullen." She said my surname in a hard voice - she was still angry with me.
"Oh, I know," Tyler said, undeterred by her mood. "I just wanted to ask you something while we're trapped here."
His grin was cocky.
I was gratified by the way she blanched at his obvious intent.
"Will you ask me to the spring dance?" he asked, no thought of defeat in his head. "I'm not going to be in town, Tyler," she told him, irritation still plain in her voice.
"Yeah, Mike said that."
"Then why - ?" she stared to ask.
He shrugged. "I was hoping you were just letting him down easy."
Her eyes flashed, then cooled. "Sorry, Tyler," she said, not sounding sorry at all. "I really am going to be out of town."
He accepted that excuse, his self-assurance untouched. "That's cool. We still have prom."
He strutted back to his car.
I was right to have waited for this.
The horrified expression on her face was priceless. It told me what I should not so desperately need to know - that she had no feelings for any of these human males who wished to court her.
Also, her expression was possibly the funniest thing I'd ever seen.
My family arrived then, confused by the fact that I was, for a change, rocking with laughter rather than scowling murderously at everything in sight.
What's so funny? Emmett wanted to know.
I just shook my head while I also shook with fresh laughter as Bella revved her noisy engine angrily. She looked like she was wishing for a tank again. "Let's go!" Rosalie hissed impatiently. "Stop being an idiot. If you can." Her words didn't annoy me - I was too entertained. But I did as she asked. No one spoke to me on the way home. I continued to chuckle every now and again, thinking of Bella's face.
As I turned on to the drive - speeding up now that there were no witnesses - Alice ruined my mood.
"So do I get to talk to Bella now?" she asked suddenly, without considering the words first, thus giving me no warning.
"No," I snapped.
"Not fair! What am I waiting for?"
"I haven't decided anything, Alice."
In her head, Bella's two destinies were clear again.
"What's the point in getting to know her?" I mumbled, suddenly morose. "If I'm just going to kill her?"
Alice hesitated for a second. "You have a point," she admitted.
I took the final hairpin turn at ninety miles an hour, and then screeched to a stop an inch from the back garage wall.
"Enjoy your run," Rosalie said smugly as I threw myself out of the car.
But I didn't go running today. Instead, I went hunting.
The others were scheduled to hunt tomorrow, but I couldn't afford to be thirsty now. I overdid it, drinking more than necessary, glutting myself again - a small grouping of elk and one black bear I was lucky to stumble across this early in the year. I was so full it was uncomfortable. Why couldn't that be enough? Why did her scent have to be so much stronger than anything else?
I had hunted in preparation for the next day, but, when I could hunt no more and the sun was still hours and hours from rising, I knew that the next day was not soon enough.
The jittery high swept through me again when I realized that I was going to go find the girl.
I argued with myself all the way back to Forks, but my less noble side won the argument, and I went ahead with my indefensible plan. The monster was restless but well-fettered. I knew I would keep a safe distance from her. I only wanted to know where she was. I just wanted to see her face.
It was past midnight, and Bella's house was dark and quiet. Her truck was parked against the curb, her father's police cruiser in the driveway. There were no conscious thoughts anywhere in the neighborhood. I watched the house for a moment from the blackness of the forest that bordered it on the east. The front door would probably be locked - not a problem, except that I didn't want to leave a broken door as evidence behind me. I decided to try the upstairs window first. Not many people would bother installing a lock there.
I crossed the open yard and scaled the face of the house in half a second.
Dangling from the eave above the window by one hand, I looked through the glass, and my breath stopped.
It was her room. I could see her in the one small bed, her covers on the floor and her sheets twisted around her legs. As I watched, she twitched restlessly and threw one arm over her head. She did not sleep soundly, at least not this night. Did she sense the danger near her?
I was repulsed by myself as I watched her toss again. How was I any better than some sick peeping tom? I wasn't any better. I was much, much worse.
I relaxed my fingertips, about to let myself drop. But first I allowed myself one long look at her face.
It was not peaceful. The little furrow was there between her eyebrows, the corners of her lips turned down. Her lips trembled, and then parted.
"Okay, Mom," she muttered.
Bella talked in her sleep.
Curiosity flared, overpowering self-disgust. The lure of those unprotected, unconsciously spoken thoughts was impossibly tempting.
I tried the window, and it was not locked, though it stuck due to long disuse. I slid it slowly aside, cringing at each faint groan of the metal frame. I would have to find some oil for next time...
Next time? I shook my head, disgusted again.
I eased myself silently through the half-opened window.
Her room was small - disorganized but not unclean. There were books piled on the floor beside her bed, their spines facing away from me, and CDs scattered by her inexpensive CD player - the one on top was just a clear jewel case. Stacks of papers surrounded a computer that looked like it belonged in a museum dedicated to obsolete technologies. Shoes dotted the wooden floor.
I wanted very much to go read the titles of her books and CDs, but I'd promised myself that I would keep my distance; instead, I went to sit the old rocking chair in the far corner of the room.
Had I really once thought her average-looking? I thought of that first day, and my disgust for the boys who were so immediately intrigued with her. But when I remembered her face in their minds now, I could not understand why I had not found her beautiful immediately. It seemed an obvious thing.
Right now - with her dark hair tangled and wild around her pale face, wearing a threadbare t-shirt full of holes with tatty sweatpants, her features relaxed in unconsciousness, her full lips slightly parted - she took my breath away. Or would have, I thought wryly, if I were breathing.
She did not speak. Perhaps her dream had ended.
I stared at her face and tried to think of some way to make the future bearable.
Hurting her was not bearable. Did that mean my only choice was to try to leave again?
The others could not argue with me now. My absence would not put anyone in danger. There would be no suspicion, nothing to link anyone's thoughts back to the accident.
I wavered as I had this afternoon, and nothing seemed possible.
I could not hope to rival the human boys, whether these specific boys appealed to her or not. I was a monster. How could she see me as anything else? If she knew the truth about me, it would frighten and repulse her. Like the intended victim in a horror movie, she would run away, shrieking in terror.
I remembered her first day in biology...and knew that this was exactly the right reaction for her to have.
It was foolishness to imagine that if had I been the one to ask her to the silly dance, she would have cancelled her hastily-made plans and agreed to go with me. I was not the one she was destined to say yes to. It was someone else, someone human and warm. And I could not even let myself - someday, when that yes was said - hunt him down and kill him, because she deserved him, whoever he was. She deserved happiness and love with whomever she chose.
I owed it to her to do the right thing now; I could no longer pretend that I was only in danger of loving this girl.
After all, it really didn't matter if I left, because Bella could never see me the way I wished she would. Never see me as someone worthy of love.
Could a dead, frozen heart break? It felt like mine would.
"Edward," Bella said.
I froze, staring at her unopened eyes.
Had she woken, caught me here? She looked asleep, yet her voice had been so clear...
She sighed a quiet sigh, and then moved restlessly again, rolling to her side - still fast asleep and dreaming.
"Edward," she mumbled softly.
She was dreaming of me.
Could a dead, frozen heart beat again? It felt like mine was about to.
"Stay," she sighed. "Don't go. Please...don't go."
She was dreaming of me, and it wasn't even a nightmare. She wanted me to stay with her, there in her dream.
I struggled to find words to name the feelings that flooded through me, but I had no words strong enough to hold them. For a long moment, I drowned in them.
When I surfaced, I was not the same man I had been.
My life was an unending, unchanging midnight. It must, by necessity, always be midnight for me. So how was it possible that the sun was rising now, in the middle of my midnight?
At the time that I had become a vampire, trading my soul and my mortality for immortality in the searing pain of transformation, I had truly been frozen. My body had turned into something more like rock than flesh, enduring and unchanging. My self, also, had frozen as it was - my personality, my likes and my dislikes, my moods and my desires; all were fixed in place.
It was the same for the rest of them. We were all frozen. Living stone.
When change came for one of us, it was a rare and permanent thing. I had seen it happen with Carlisle, and then a decade later with Rosalie. Love had changed them in an eternal way, a way that never faded. More than eighty years had passed since Carlisle had found Esme, and yet he still looked at her with the incredulous eyes of first love. It would always be that way for them.
It would always be that way for me, too. I would always love this fragile human girl, for the rest of my limitless existence.
I gazed at her unconscious face, feeling this love for her settle into every portion of my stone body.
She slept more peacefully now, a slight smile on her lips.
Always watching her, I began to plot.
I loved her, and so I would try to be strong enough to leave her. I knew I wasn't that strong now. I would work on that one. But perhaps I was strong enough to circumvent the future in another way.
Alice had seen only two futures for Bella, and now I understood them both.
Loving her would not keep me from killing her, if I let myself make mistakes.
Yet I could not feel the monster now, could not find him anywhere in me.
Perhaps love had silenced him forever. If I killed her now, it would not be intentional, only a horrible accident.
I would have to be inordinately careful. I would never, ever be able to let my guard down. I would have to control my every breath. I would have to keep an always cautious distance.
I would not make mistakes.
I finally understood that second future. I'd been baffled by that vision - what could possibly happen to result in Bella becoming a prisoner to this immortal half-life? Now - devastated by longing for the girl - I could understand how I might, in unforgivable selfishness, ask my father for that favor. Ask him to take away her life and her soul so that I could keep her forever.
She deserved better.
But I saw one more future, one thin wire that I might be able to walk, if I could keep my balance.
Could I do it? Be with her and leave her human?
Deliberately, I took a deep breath, and then another, letting her scent rip through me like wildfire. The room was thick with her perfume; her fragrance was layered on every surface. My head swam, but I fought the spinning. I would have to get used to this, if I were going to attempt any kind of relationship with her. I took another deep, burning breath.
I watched her sleeping until the sun rose behind the eastern clouds, plotting and breathing.
I got home just after the others had left for school. I changed quickly, avoiding Esme's questioning eyes. She saw the feverish light in my face, and she felt both worry and relief. My long melancholy had pained her, and she was glad it seemed to be over.
I ran to school, arriving a few seconds after my siblings did. They did not turn, though Alice at least must have known that I stood here in the thick woods that bordered the pavement. I waited until no one was looking, and then I strolled casually from between the trees into the lot full of parked cars.
I heard Bella's truck rumbling around the corner, and I paused behind a Suburban, where I could watch without being seen.
She drove into the lot, glaring at my Volvo for a long moment before she parked in one of the most distant spaces, a frown on her face.
It was strange to remember that she was probably still angry with me, and with good reason.
I wanted to laugh at myself - or kick myself. All my plotting and planning was entirely moot if she didn't care for me, too, wasn't it? Her dream could have been about something completely random. I was such an arrogant fool.
Well, it was so much the better for her if she didn't care for me. That wouldn't stop me from pursuing her, but I would give her fair warning as I pursued. I owed her that.
I walked silently forward, wondering how best to approach her.
She made it easy. Her truck key slipped through her fingers as she got out, and fell into a deep puddle.
She reached down, but I got to it first, retrieving it before she had to put her fingers in the cold water.
I leaned back against her truck as she started and then straightened up.
"How do you do that?" she demanded.
Yes, she was still angry.
I offered her the key. "Do what?"
She held her hand out, and I dropped the key in her palm. I took a deep breath, pulling in her scent.
"Appear out of thin air," she clarified.
"Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." The words were wry, almost a joke. Was there anything she didn't see?
Did she hear how my voice wrapped around her name like a caress?
She glared at me, not appreciating my humor. Her heartbeat sped - from anger? From fear? After a moment, she looked down.
"Why the traffic jam last night?" she asked without meeting my eyes. "I thought you were supposed to be pretending I don't exist, not irritating me to death."
Still very angry. It was going to take some effort to make things right with her. I remembered my resolve to be truthful with her...
"That was for Tyler's sake, not mine. I had to give him his chance." And then I laughed. I couldn't help it, thinking of her expression yesterday.
"You - " she gasped, and then broke off, appearing to be too furious to finish.
There it was - that same expression. I choked back another laugh. She was mad enough already.
"And I'm not pretending you don't exist," I finished. It was right to keep this casual, teasing. She would not understand if I let her see how I really felt. I would frighten her. I had to keep my feelings in check, keep things light...
"So you are trying to irritate me to death? Since Tyler's van didn't do the job?"
A quick flash of anger pulsed through me. Could she honestly believe that?
It was irrational for me to be so affronted - she didn't know of the transformation that had happened in the night. But I was angry all the same.
"Bella, you are utterly absurd," I snapped.
Her face flushed, and she turned her back on me. She began to walk away.
Remorse. I had no right to my anger.
"Wait," I pleaded.
She did not stop, so I followed after her.
"I'm sorry, that was rude. I'm not saying it isn't true" - it was absurd to imagine that I wanted her harmed in any way - "but it was rude to say it, anyway."
"Why won't you leave me alone?"
Believe me, I wanted to say. I've tried.
Oh, and also, I'm wretchedly in love with you.
Keep it light.
"I wanted to ask you something, but you sidetracked me." A course of action had just occurred to me, and I laughed.
"Do you have a multiple personality disorder?" she asked.
It must seem that way. My mood was erratic, so many new emotions coursing through me.
"You're doing it again," I pointed out.
She sighed. "Fine then. What do you want to ask?"
"I was wondering if, a week from Saturday..." I watched the shock cross her face, and choked back another laugh. "You know, the day of the spring dance - "
She cut me off, finally returning her eyes to mine. "Are you trying to be funny?" Yes. "Will you let me finish?"
She waited in silence, her teeth pressing into her soft lower lip.
That sight distracted me for a second. Strange, unfamiliar reactions stirred deep in my forgotten human core. I tried to shake them off so I could play my role.
"I heard you say that you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride?" I offered. I'd realized that, better than just questioning her about her plans, I might share them.
She stared at me blankly. "What?"
"Do you want a ride to Seattle?" Alone in a car with her - my throat burned at the thought. I took a deep breath. Get used to it.
"With who?" she asked, her eyes wide and bewildered again.
"Myself, obviously," I said slowly.
Was it really such as shock that I would want her company? She must have applied the worst possible meaning to my past behavior.
"Well," I said as casually as possible, "I was planning to go to Seattle in the next few weeks, and, to be honest, I'm not sure if your truck can make it." It seemed safer to tease her than to allow myself to be serious.
"My truck works just fine, thank you very much for your concern," she said in the same surprised voice. She started walking again. I kept pace with her.
She hadn't really said no, so I pressed that advantage.
Would she say no? What would I do if she did?
"But can your truck make it there on one tank of gas?"
"I don't see how that is any of your business," she grumbled.
That still wasn't a no. And her heart was beating faster again, her breath coming more quickly.
"The wasting of finite resources is everyone's business."
"Honestly, Edward, I can't keep up with you. I thought you didn't want to be my friend."
A thrill shot through me when she spoke my name.
How to keep it light and yet be honest at the same time? Well, it was more important to be honest. Especially on this point.
"I said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't want to be." "Oh, thanks, now that's all cleared up," she said sarcastically.
She paused, under the edge of the cafeteria's roof, and met my gaze again. Her heartbeats stuttered. Was she afraid?
I chose my words carefully. No, I could not leave her, but maybe she would be smart enough to leave me, before it was too late.
"It would be more...prudent for you not to be my friend." Staring into the melted chocolate depths of her eyes, I lost my hold on light. "But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella." The words burned with much too much fervor.
Her breathing stopped and, in the second it took for it to restart, that worried me.
How much had I scared her? Well, I would find out.
"Will you go to Seattle with me?" I demanded, point blank.
She nodded, her heart drumming loudly.
Yes. She'd said yes to me.
And then my conscious smote me. What would this cost her?
"You really should stay away from me," I warned her. Did she hear me? Would she escape the future I was threatening her with? Couldn't I do anything to save her from me?
Keep it light, I shouted at myself. "I'll see you in class."
I had to concentrate to stop myself from running as I fled.