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Chapter no 13 – ANOTHER COMPLICATION

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

DID NOT FEEL THE USUAL GUILT WHEN RETURNED TO BELLA’S ROOM that

night, though I knew I should. But it felt like the correct course of action— the only right thing to be doing. I was there to burn my throat as much as possible. I would train myself to ignore her scent. It could be accomplished. I would not allow this to be a difficulty between us.

Easier said than done. But I knew this helped. Practice. Embrace the pain, let that be the strongest reaction. Beat the element of desire entirely out of myself.

There was no peace in Bella’s dreams. And no peace for me, watching her twitch restlessly and hearing her whisper my name over and over. The physical pull, that overwhelming chemistry from the darkened classroom, was even stronger here in her night-black bedroom. Though she was not aware of my presence, she seemed to feel it, too.

She woke herself more than once. The first time she did not open her eyes; she merely buried her head under her pillow and groaned. That was good luck for me—a second chance I didn’t deserve, since I didn’t put it to good use and leave as I should have. Instead, I sat on the floor in the farthest dark-shadowed corner of the room, and trusted that her human eyes would not spot me here.

She didn’t catch me, even the time that she got up and stalked to the bathroom for a glass of water. She moved angrily, perhaps frustrated that sleep still evaded her.

I wished there was some action I could take, as before with the warm blanket from the cupboard. But I could only watch as I burned, useless to her. It was a relief when she finally sank into a dreamless unconsciousness.

I was in the trees when the sky lightened from black to gray. I held my breath—this time to keep the scent of her from escaping. I refused to let the pure morning air erase the ache in my throat.

I listened to breakfast with Charlie, struggling again to find the words in his thoughts. It was fascinating—I could guess at the reasons behind the words he said aloud, almost feel his intentions, but they never resolved into full sentences the way everyone else’s thoughts did. I found myself wishing that his parents were still alive. It would be interesting to trace this genetic trait further back.

The combination of his inarticulate thoughts and his spoken words were enough for me to piece together his general mindset this morning. He was worried about Bella, physically and emotionally. He felt similarly concerned about the idea of Bella roaming Seattle alone as I would—only not quite so maniacally. Then again, his information was not as up-to-date as mine; he had no idea about the number of close calls she’d lived through recently.

She worded her reply to him very carefully, but it was only technically not a lie. She was obviously not planning to tell him about her change of plans. Or about me.

Charlie was also worried about the fact that she wasn’t going to the dance on Saturday. Was she disappointed about this? Was she feeling rejected? Were the boys at school cruel to her? He felt helpless. She didn’t look depressed, but he suspected that she would hide anything negative from him. He resolved to call her mother during the day and ask for advice.

At least, that was what I thought he was thinking. I might have misconstrued parts.

I retrieved my car while Charlie loaded his. As soon as he had driven around the corner, I pulled into the driveway to wait. I saw the curtain twitch in her window, then heard her stumbling footsteps race down the stairs.

I stayed in my seat, rather than get out to hold the door for her as I perhaps should have. But I thought it was more important to watch. She never acted the way I expected, and I needed to be able to anticipate correctly; I needed to study her, to learn the ways she moved when left to her own devices, to try to anticipate her motivations. She hesitated a moment outside the car, then let herself in with a small smile—a little shy, I thought.

She wore a dark, coffee-colored turtleneck today. It was not tight, but still fitted closely to her shape, and I missed the ugly sweater. It was safer.

This was supposed to be about her reactions, but I was abruptly overwhelmed with my own. I didn’t know how I could feel so peaceful with everything that was hanging over both our heads, but being with her was an antidote to pain and anxiety.

I took a deep breath through my nose—not every kind of pain—and smiled.

“Good morning. How are you today?”

The evidence of her restless night was obvious in her face. Her translucent skin hid nothing. But I knew she wouldn’t complain.

“Good, thank you,” she said with another smile. “You look tired.”

She ducked, shaking her hair around her face in a move that seemed habitual. It obscured part of her left cheek. “I couldn’t sleep.”

I grinned at her. “Neither could I.”

She laughed, and I absorbed the sound of her happiness.

“I guess that’s right,” she said. “I suppose I slept just a little bit more than you did.”

“I’d wager you did.”

She peered at me around her hair, eyes lit up in a way I recognized.

Curious. “So what did you do last night?”

I laughed quietly, glad I had an excuse not to lie to her. “Not a chance.

It’s my day to ask questions.”

The little frown mark appeared between her eyebrows. “Oh, that’s right. What do you want to know?” Her tone was slightly skeptical, as though she couldn’t believe I had any real interest. She seemed to have no idea how curious I was.

There were so many things I didn’t know. I decided to start slow. “What’s your favorite color?”

She rolled her eyes—still doubting my interest level. “It changes from day to day.”

“What’s your favorite color today?”

She thought for just a second. “Probably brown.”

I assumed she was mocking me, and my tone shifted to match her sarcasm. “Brown?”

“Sure,” she said, and then she was unexpectedly on the defensive. Perhaps I should have expected this. She never liked judgments. “Brown is

warm. I miss brown. Everything that’s supposed to be brown—tree trunks, rocks, dirt—is all covered up with squashy green stuff here!”

Her tone brought back the sound of her sleeping complaint the other night. Too green—was this what she had meant? I stared at her, thinking how right she was. Honestly, looking into her eyes now, I realized that brown was my favorite, too. I couldn’t imagine any shade more beautiful.

“You’re right,” I told her. “Brown is warm.”

She started to blush a little and unconsciously retreated deeper into her hair. Carefully, bracing myself for any unexpected reaction, I swept her hair behind her shoulder so that I could have full access to her face again. The only reaction was a sudden increase in her heart rate.

I turned into the school lot and parked in the spot next to my usual place; Rosalie had taken that.

“What music is in your CD player right now?” I asked as I twisted the keys from the ignition. I’d never trusted myself that close to her while she’d slept, and the unknown teased me.

Her head cocked to the side, and it seemed as though she was trying to remember. “Oh, right,” she said. “It’s Linkin Park. Hybrid Theory.

Not what I was expecting.

As I pulled the identical CD from my car’s music cache, I tried to imagine what this album meant to her. It didn’t seem to match any of her moods that I’d seen, but then, there was so much I didn’t know.

“Debussy to this?” I wondered.

She stared at the cover, and I could not understand her expression. “Which is your favorite song?”

“Mmm,” she murmured, still looking at the cover art. “‘With You,’ I think.”

I thought through all the lyrics quickly. “Why that one?” She smiled a little and shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

Well, that didn’t help much. “Your favorite movie?”

She thought about her answer for a brief moment. “I’m not sure I can pick just one.”

“Favorite movies, then?”

She nodded as she climbed out of the car. “Hmm. Definitely Pride and Prejudice, the six-hour one with Colin Firth. Vertigo. And… Monty Python

and the Holy Grail. There are more… but I’m blanking.…”

“Tell me when you think of them,” I suggested as we walked toward her English class. “While you consider that, tell me what your favorite scent is.”

“Lavender. Or… maybe clean laundry.” She’d been looking straight ahead, but suddenly her eyes cut over to me for a second, and a faint pink colored her cheek.

“Was there more?” I prompted, wondering what that look meant. “No. Just those.”

I wasn’t sure why she would omit part of her answer to such a simple query, but I rather thought she had.

“What candy do you like best?”

On this she was very decided. “Black licorice and Sour Patch Kids.” I smiled at her enthusiasm.

We were at her classroom now, but she hesitated at the door. I, too, was in no hurry to separate from her.

“Where would you like to travel to most?” I asked—I assumed she was not going to tell me Comic Con.

She leaned her head to one side, her eyes narrowing in thought. Inside the classroom, Mr. Mason was clearing his throat to get the class’s attention. She was about to be late.

“Think about it and give me your answer at lunch,” I suggested.

She grinned and reached for the door, then turned back to look at me.

Her smile faded, and the appeared between her eyes.

I could have asked her what she was thinking, but that would have delayed her, possibly gotten her in trouble. And I thought I knew. At least, I knew how I felt, letting that door close between us.

I forced myself to smile encouragingly. She darted inside as Mr. Mason started to lecture.

I walked quickly to my own class, knowing I would spend the day ignoring everything around me again. I was disappointed, though, because no one spoke to her in any of her morning classes, so there was nothing new to learn. Just glimpses of her staring into space, her expression abstracted. The time dragged while I waited to see her again with my own eyes.

When she left her Trigonometry class, I was already in place, waiting for her. The other students stared and speculated, but Bella just hurried toward

me with a smile.

Beauty and the Beast,” she announced. “And The Empire Strikes Back.

I know that’s everyone’s favorite, but…” She shrugged. “For good reason,” I assured her.

We fell into step. Already it felt natural to shorten my stride, to lower my head so it was closer to hers.

“Did you think about my travel question?”

“Yes… I think Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables, you know. But I’d also like to see New York. I’ve never been to a big city that was mostly vertical. Just sprawl places like LA and Phoenix. I’d like to try hailing a cab.” She laughed. “And then, if I can go anywhere, I’d want to go to England. See all the stuff I’ve been reading about.”

This led toward my next avenue of inquiry, but I wanted to be thorough before I moved on.

“Tell me your favorite places that you’ve already been.”

“Hmm. I liked the Santa Monica Pier. My mom said Monterey was better, but we never did get that far up the coast. We mostly stayed in Arizona; we didn’t have a lot of time for travel and she didn’t want to waste all of it in the car. She liked to visit places that were supposed to be haunted

—Jerome, the Domes, pretty much any ghost town. We never saw any ghosts, but she said that was my fault. I was too skeptical, I scared them all away.” She laughed again. “She loves the Ren Faire, we go to the one in Gold Canyon every year.… Well, I missed it this year, I guess. Once we saw the wild horses at the Salt River. That was cool.”

“Where’s the farthest place from home you’ve ever been?” I asked, starting to become a little concerned.

“Here, I guess,” she said. “Farthest north from Phoenix, anyway. Farthest east—Albuquerque, but I was so young then, I don’t remember. Farthest west would probably be the beach in La Push.”

She went suddenly quiet. I wondered if she was thinking of her last visit to La Push, and all that she had discovered there. We were in the cafeteria line at this point, and she quickly picked out what she wanted rather than waiting for me to buy one of everything. She was also swift to pay for herself.

“You’ve never left the country?” I persisted once we reached our empty table. Part of me wondered if my sitting here had made it off-limits forever.

“Not yet,” she said cheerfully.

Though she’d only had seventeen years to explore, I still felt surprised. And… guilty. She’d seen so little, experienced such a meager amount of what life had to offer. It was impossible that she could truly know what she wanted now.

Gattaca,” she said, chewing a bite of apple with a thoughtful expression. She hadn’t noticed my sudden mood shift. “That was a good one. Have you seen it?”

“Yes. I liked it, too.”

“What’s your favorite movie?”

I shook my head and smiled. “It’s not your turn.” “Seriously, I’m so boring. You must be out of questions.” “It’s my day,” I reminded her. “And I’m not at all bored.”

She pursed her lips, as though she wanted to argue some more about my interest level, but then she smiled. I guessed she didn’t really believe me, but had decided she would be fair about it. This was my day to ask questions.

“Tell me about books.”

“You can’t make me choose a favorite,” she insisted almost fiercely. “I won’t. Tell me everything you like.”

“Where do I start? Um, Little Women. That was the first big book I read. I still read it pretty much every year. Everything Austen, though I’m not a huge fan of Emma—”

Austen I already knew, having seen her battered anthology the day she read outside, but I wondered at the exclusion.

“Why not?”

“Ugh, she’s so full of herself.”

I grinned and she continued without prompting.

Jane Eyre. I read that one pretty often, too. That’s my idea of a heroine. Everything by any Brontë. To Kill a Mockingbird, obviously. Fahrenheit

451. All of the Chronicles of Narnia, but especially The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderGone with the Wind. Douglas Adams and David Eddings and Orson Scott Card and Robin McKinley. Did I already say L. M. Montgomery?”

“I assumed as much from your travel hopes.”

She nodded, then looked conflicted. “Did you want more? I’m going on

too much.”

“Yes,” I assured her. “I want more.”

“These aren’t in any kind of order,” she cautioned me. “My mom had a bunch of Zane Grey paperbacks. Some of them were pretty good. Shakespeare, mostly the comedies.” She grinned. “See, out of order. Um, everything by Agatha Christie. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books… and speaking of great dragons, Jo Walton’s Tooth and ClawThe Princess Bride, much better than the movie…” She tapped her finger against her lips. “There are a million more, but I’m blanking again.”

She looked a little stressed.

“That’s enough for now.” She’d done more exploring in fiction than in reality, and I was surprised she’d listed a book I’d not yet read—I would have to find a copy of Tooth and Claw.

I could see elements of the stories in her makeup—characters that had shaped the context of her world. There was a bit of Jane Eyre in her, a portion of Scout Finch and Jo March, a measure of Elinor Dashwood, and Lucy Pevensie. I was sure I would find more connections as I learned more about her.

It was like putting together a puzzle, one with hundreds of thousands of pieces, and no depiction of the complete image to serve as a guide. Time- consuming, with many false leads, but ultimately I would be able to see the whole picture.

She interrupted my thoughts. “Somewhere in Time. I love that movie. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it right away.”

It wasn’t one of my favorites. The idea that the two lovers could only be together in heaven after their deaths rubbed me the wrong way. I changed the subject.

“Tell me about the music you like.”

She paused to swallow again. And then, unexpectedly, she blushed. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well, I’m… not super musical, I guess. The Linkin Park CD was a gift from Phil. He’s trying to update my tastes.”

“What were you into, pre-Phil?”

She sighed, lifting her hands helplessly. “I just listened to what my mom had.”

“Classical music?”

“Sometimes.” “And other times?”

“Simon and Garfunkel. Neil Diamond. Joni Mitchell. John Denver. That kind of thing. She’s like me—she listens to what her mother listened to. She liked to do sing-alongs on our road trips.” Suddenly the asymmetrical dimple appeared with her wide grin. “Remember those definitions of scary we talked about before?” She laughed. “Until you’ve heard my mom and me trying to hit the high notes in the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, you’ve never known true fear.”

I laughed with her, but wished I could see and hear that. I imagined her on a bright road, winding through the desert with the windows down, the sun bringing out the red shine in her hair. I wished I knew what her mother looked like, and even what kind of car it was, so my picture could be more precise. I wanted to be there with her, to listen to her sing badly, to watch her smile in the sun.

“Favorite TV show?”

“I don’t watch a lot of TV.”

I wondered if she was afraid to go into detail, worried again about me being bored. Maybe a few softball questions would relax her.

“Coke or Pepsi?” “Dr Pepper.”

“Favorite ice cream?” “Cookie dough.” “Pizza?”

“Cheese. Boring but true.” “Football team?

“Um, pass?” “Basketball?”

She shrugged. “I’m not really a sports person.” “Ballet or opera?”

“Ballet, I guess. I’ve never been to the opera.”

I was not unaware that this list I was compiling had a use besides just learning to understand as much as I could of her. I was also learning things that might please her. Gifts I might give her. Places I could take her. Little things and bigger things. It was presumptuous in the extreme to imagine that I could ever have that kind of standing in her life. But how I wished.…

“What’s your favorite gemstone?”

“Topaz.” She said this in a decided way, but then her eyes suddenly tightened and red flushed across her cheekbones.

She’d done this before when I asked about scents. I’d let it go then, but not this time. I was sure the other unmet curiosity would torment me enough.

“Why does that make you… embarrassed?” I wasn’t sure I had the emotion right.

She shook her head quickly, staring down at her hands. “It’s nothing.” “I’d like to understand.”

She shook her head again, still refusing to look at me. “Please, Bella?”

“Next question.”

Now I was desperate to know. Frustrated.

“Tell me,” I insisted. Rudely. I felt ashamed at once.

She didn’t look up. She twisted a strand of her hair back and forth between her fingertips.

But she finally answered.

“It’s the color of your eyes today,” she admitted. “I suppose if you asked me in two weeks, I’d say onyx.”

Just as my favorite color was now a deep chocolate brown.

Her shoulders had slumped, and suddenly I recognized her posture. It was just the same as yesterday, when she’d hesitated to answer my question about whether she believed she cared more for me than I did for her. I’d put her in the same position again, of confirming her interest in me without receiving an assurance in return.

Cursing my curiosity, I returned to my questions. Perhaps my obvious fascination with every detail of her personality would convince her of the obsessive level of my interest.

“What kinds of flowers do you prefer?”

“Um, dahlias. For looks. Lavender and lilac for fragrance.”

“You don’t like to watch sports, but did you ever play on a team?” “Just in school, when they made me.”

“Your mother never put you on a soccer team?”

She shrugged. “My mom liked to keep the weekends open for adventures. I did Girl Scouts for a while, and once she put me in a dance

class, but that was a mistake.” She raised her eyebrows as if daring me to doubt her. “She thought it would be convenient because it was close enough for me to walk there after school, but no convenience was worth the mayhem.”

“Mayhem, really?” I asked skeptically.

“If I had Ms. Kamenev’s number, she would corroborate my story.”

She looked up suddenly. All around us, the other students were gathering their things. How had the time passed so quickly?

She stood in response to the commotion, and I rose with her, gathering her trash onto the tray while she slung on her backpack. She reached as if to take the tray from me.

“I’ve got it,” I said.

She huffed quietly, a little exasperated. She still didn’t like being taken care of.

I couldn’t focus on my still-unanswered questions as we walked to Biology. I was remembering yesterday, wondering if that same tension, with the yearning and the electricity, would be present today. And sure enough, as soon as the lights went off, all the same overwhelming cravings returned. I had positioned my chair farther from hers today, but it didn’t help.

There was still that selfish part of me arguing that holding her hand would not be so wrong, even suggesting that this might be a good way to test her reactions, to prepare myself for being alone together. I tried to ignore the selfish voice and the temptation as best I could.

Bella was trying, too, I could tell. She leaned forward, chin propped against her arms, and I could see her fingers gripping under the edge of the desk so tightly that her knuckles were white. It made me wonder what precise temptation she was struggling against. Today she didn’t look at me. Not once.

There was so much I didn’t understand about her. So much I couldn’t ask.

My body was ever so slightly leaning toward her now. I pulled myself back.

When the lights came back on, Bella sighed, and if I’d had to guess, I would have named her expression relief. But relief from what?

I walked beside her to her next class, fighting the same internal battle as the day before.

She stopped at the door and looked up at me with her clear, deep eyes. Was that expectation, or confusion? An invitation or a warning? What did she want?

This is just a question, I told myself as my hand reached out to her of its own volition. Another kind of question.

Braced, not breathing, I let just the back of my hand graze the side of her face, from her temple to her narrow jaw. Like yesterday, her skin warmed to my touch, her heart beat faster. Her head tilted just a fraction of a centimeter as she leaned into my caress.

It was another kind of answer.

I walked away from her quickly again, knowing that this one aspect of my self-control was compromised, my hand smarting in the same painless way.

Emmett was already seated when I arrived at the Spanish classroom. So was Ben Cheney. They were not the only two to note my entrance. I could hear the other students’ curiosity, Bella’s name thought alongside mine, the speculation.…

Ben was the only human not thinking of Bella. My presence made him bristle a little, but he wasn’t antagonistic. He’d already spoken to Angela and made a date for this weekend. Her reception of his invitation had been warm, and he was still riding the high. Though he was wary of my intentions, he was cognizant that I had acted as catalyst for his current happiness. As long as I stayed away from Angela, he had no problem with me. There was even a hint of gratitude, though he had no idea this was exactly the outcome I’d desired, too. He seemed a clever boy—he rose in my estimation.

Bella was in Gym, but as in the second half of yesterday’s class, she did not participate. Her eyes were far away whenever Mike Newton turned to look at her. She was obviously elsewhere in her head. Mike guessed that anything he had to say to her would be unwelcome.

Guess I never really had a chance, he thought, half-resigned, half-sullen. How did it even happen? It was, like, overnight. Guess when Cullen wants something, it doesn’t take him long to get it. The images that followed, his ideas of what I’d gotten, were offensive. I stopped listening.

I didn’t like his perspective. As though Bella had no will of her own. Surely, she’d been the one to choose, hadn’t she? If she had ever asked me

to leave her alone, I would have turned around and walked the other way. But she’d wanted me to stay, then and now.

My thoughts drifted back to check in on the Spanish classroom, and they naturally tuned in to the most familiar voice, but my mind was tangled around Bella as usual, so for a moment I didn’t realize what I was hearing.

And then my teeth clamped together so hard that even the humans near me heard. One boy looked around for the source of the cracking sound.

Oops, Emmett thought.

I curled my hands into fists and concentrated on staying in my seat.

Sorry, I was trying not to think about that.

I glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes before I could punch him in the face.

I didn’t mean any harm. Hey, I took your side, right? Honestly, Jasper and Rose are just being silly, betting against Alice. It’s the easiest wager I’ll ever win.

A wager about this weekend, whether Bella would live or die. Fourteen and a half minutes.

Emmett squirmed in his seat, well aware what my total motionlessness indicated.

C’mon, Ed. You know it wasn’t serious. Anyway, it’s not even about the girl. You know better than I do whatever’s going on with Rose. Something between you two, I guess. She’s still mad, and she wouldn’t admit for all the world that she’s actually rooting for you.

He always gave Rosalie the benefit of the doubt, and though I knew that I was just the opposite—I never gave her the benefit of the doubt—I didn’t think he was right this time. Rosalie would be pleased to see me fail in this. She would be happy to see Bella’s poor choices receive what she considered their just reward. And then she’d still be jealous as Bella’s soul escaped to whatever waited beyond.

And Jazz—well, you know. He’s tired of being the weakest link. You’re kind of too perfect with the self-control, and it gets annoying. Carlisle’s different. Admit it, you’re a little… smug.

Thirteen minutes.

For Emmett and Jasper, this was just some sticky pit of quicksand I’d created for myself. Fail or succeed—to them, in the end it was nothing more than another anecdote about me. Bella wasn’t part of the equation. Her life

was only a marker in the bet they’d made.

Don’t take it personally.

There was another way? Twelve and a half minutes.

You want me to back out of it? I will.

I sighed, and let the rigidity of my pose relax.

What was the point of stoking my anger? Should I blame them for their inability to understand? How could they?

How meaningless it all was. Infuriating, yes, but… would I have been any different if it hadn’t been my life that had changed? If it hadn’t been about Bella?

Regardless, I didn’t have time to fight with Emmett now. I would be waiting for Bella when she was done with Gym. So many more pieces to the puzzle I needed to discover.

I heard Emmett’s relief as I darted out the door at the first sound of the bell, ignoring him.

When Bella walked through the gymnasium door and saw me, a smile spread across her face. I felt the same relief I had in the car this morning. All my doubts and torments seemed to lift from my shoulders. I knew that they were still very real, but the weight was so much easier to carry when I could see her.

“Tell me about your home,” I said as we walked to the car. “What do you miss?”

“Um… my house? Or Phoenix? Or do you mean here?” “All of those.”

She looked at me questioningly—was I serious? “Please?” I asked as I held her door for her.

She raised one eyebrow as she climbed in, still doubting.

But when I was inside and we were alone again, she seemed to relax. “Have you never been to Phoenix?”

I smiled. “No.”

“Right,” she said. “Of course. The sun.” She speculated about that silently for a moment. “It creates some kind of a problem for you…?”

“Indeed.” I wasn’t about to try to explain that answer. It was really something that had to be seen to be understood. Also, Phoenix was a little too close for comfort to the lands the aggressive Southern clans claimed, but that wasn’t a story I wanted to get into, either.

She waited, wondering if I would elaborate.

“So tell me about this place I’ve never seen,” I prompted.

She considered for a moment. “The city is mostly very flat, not much taller than one or two stories. There are a few baby skyscrapers downtown, but that was pretty far away from where I lived. Phoenix is huge. You can drive through suburbs all day. Lots of stucco and tile and gravel. It’s not all soft and squishy like it is here—everything is hard and most things have thorns.”

“But you like it.”

She nodded with a grin. “It’s so… open. Just all sky. The things we call mountains are really just hills—hard, thorny hills. But most of the valley is a big, shallow bowl and it feels like it’s filled with sunlight all the time.” She illustrated the shape with her hands. “The plants are like modern art compared to the stuff here—lots of angles and edges. Mostly spiky.” Another grin. “But they’re all open, too. Even if there are leaves, they’re just feathery, sparse things. Nothing can really hide there. Nothing keeps the sun out.”

I stopped the car in front of her house. My usual spot.

“Well, it does rain occasionally,” she amended. “But it’s different there. More exciting. Lots of thunder and lightning and flash floods—not just the nonstop drizzle thing. And it smells better there. That’s the creosote.”

I knew the evergreen desert shrubs she referred to. I’d seen them through a car window in Southern California—only at night. They weren’t much to look at.

“I’ve never smelled the scent of creosote,” I admitted. “They only smell in the rain.”

“What is it like?”

She thought about that for a moment. “Sweet and bitter at the same time. A little like resin, a little like medicine. But that sounds bad. It smells fresh. Like clean desert.” She chuckled. “That’s not helpful, is it?”

“On the contrary. What else have I missed, not visiting Arizona?” “Saguaros, but I’m sure you’ve seen pictures.”

I nodded.

“They’re bigger than you’d expect, when you see them in person. It takes all the newbies by surprise. Have you ever lived anywhere with cicadas?”

“Yes,” I laughed. “We were in New Orleans for a while.”

“Then you know,” she said. “I had a job last summer at a plant nursery.

The screaming—it’s like nails on a chalkboard. It drove me crazy.” “What else?”

“Hmm. The colors are different. The mountains—hills or whatever—are mostly volcanic. Lots of purple rock. It’s dark enough that it holds a lot of heat from the sun. So does the blacktop. In the summer, it never cools off— frying an egg on the sidewalk is not an urban myth. But there’s lots of green from the golf courses. Some people keep lawns, too, though I think that’s crazy. Anyway, the contrast in the colors is cool.”

“What’s your favorite place to spend time?”

“The library.” She grinned. “If I hadn’t already outed myself as a huge nerd, I guess that makes it obvious. I feel like I’ve read every fiction book in the little branch near me. The first place I went when I got my license was the central library downtown. I could live there.”

“Where else?”

“In the summer, we’d go to the pool at Cactus Park. My mom had me in swimming lessons there before I could walk. There was always some story in the news about a toddler drowning, and it freaked her out. In the winter, we’d go to Roadrunner Park. It’s not huge, but it had a little lake. We’d sail paper boats when I was a kid. Nothing very exciting, like I’ve been trying to tell you.…”

“I think it sounds lovely. I don’t remember much about my childhood.”

Her teasing smile faded, and her eyebrows pulled together. “That must be difficult. And strange.”

It was my turn to shrug. “It’s all I know. Certainly nothing to worry about.”

She was quiet for a long time, turning this over in her head.

I waited out her silence for as long I as could stand it before I finally asked, “What are you thinking?”

Her smile was more subdued now. “I have a lot of questions. But I know

—”

We spoke the words simultaneously. “Today is my day.”

“Today is your day.”

Our laughs were synchronized now, too, and I thought how strangely

easy it was to be with her this way. Just close enough. The danger felt far away. I was so entertained I was nearly oblivious to the pain in my throat, though it was not dull. It just wasn’t as interesting to think about as she was. “Have I sold you on Phoenix yet?” she asked after another quiet

moment.

“Perhaps I need a bit more persuasion.”

She considered. “There’s this one kind of acacia tree—I don’t know what it’s called. It looks like all the others, thorny, half-dead.” Her expression was suddenly full of longing. “But in the springtime, it has these yellow fuzzy blossoms that look like pom-poms.” She demonstrated the size, pretending to hold a blossom between her thumb and index finger. “They smell… amazing. Like nothing else. Really faint, delicate—you’ll get a sudden hint of them in the breeze and then it’s gone. I should have included them with my favorite scents. I wish someone would make a candle or something.

“And then the sunsets are incredible,” she continued, switching subjects abruptly. “Seriously, you’ll never see anything close here.” She thought for another moment. “Even in the middle of the day, though, the sky—that’s the main thing. It’s not blue like the sky here—when you can even see it here. It’s brighter, paler. Sometimes it’s almost white. And it’s everywhere.” She emphasized her words with her hand, tracing an arc over her head. “There’s so much more sky there. If you get away from the lights of the city a little bit, you can see a million stars.” She smiled a wistful smile. “You really ought to check it out some night.”

“It’s beautiful to you.”

She nodded. “It’s not for everybody, I guess.” She paused, thoughtful, but I could see that there was more, so I let her think.

“I like the… minimalism,” she decided. “It’s an honest sort of place. It doesn’t hide anything.”

I thought of everything that was hidden from her here, and I wondered if her words meant that she was aware of this, of the invisible darkness gathered around her. But she stared at me with no judgment in her eyes.

She didn’t add anything more, and I thought by the way she was tucking her chin just slightly she might again be feeling like she was talking too much.

“You must miss it a great deal,” I prompted.

Her expression didn’t cloud over the way I half expected. “I did at first.” “But now?”

“I guess I’m used to it here.” She smiled as though she was more than simply resigned to the forest and the rain.

“Tell me about your home there.”

She shrugged. “It’s nothing unusual. Stucco and tile, like I said. One story, three bedrooms, two baths. I miss my little bathroom most. Sharing with Charlie is stressful. Gravel and cactus outside. Everything inside is vintage seventies—wood paneling, linoleum, shag carpet, mustard Formica counters, the works. My mom’s not big on renovations. She claims the dated stuff has character.”

“What is your bedroom like?”

Her expression made me wonder if there was a joke I wasn’t getting. “Now or when I lived there?”

“Now?”

“I think it’s a yoga studio or something. My stuff is in the garage.” I stared, surprised. “What will you do when you go back?”

She didn’t seem concerned. “We’ll shove the bed back in somehow.” “Wasn’t there a third bedroom?”

“That’s her craft room. It would take an act of God to make space for a bed in there.” She laughed blithely. I would have thought she’d be planning to spend more time with her mother, but she spoke as though her time in Phoenix was past rather than future. I recognized the feeling of relief this engendered but tried to keep it off my face.

“What was your room like when you lived there?”

A minor blush. “Um, messy. I’m not the most organized.” “Tell me about it.”

Again she gave me the you must be kidding look, but when I didn’t retract, she complied, miming the shapes with her hands.

“It’s a narrow room. Twin bed on the south wall and dresser on the north under the window, with a pretty tight aisle in between. I did have a little walk-in closet, which would have been cool, if I could have kept it tidy enough to be able to actually walk into it. My room here is bigger and less of a disaster, but that’s because I haven’t been here long enough make a serious mess.”

I made my face smooth, hiding the fact that I knew very well what her

room was like here, and also my surprise that her room in Phoenix had been

more cluttered.

“Um…” She looked to see if I wanted more, and I nodded to encourage her. “The ceiling fan is broken, just the light works, so I had a big noisy fan on top of the dresser. It sounds like a wind tunnel in the summer. But it’s a lot better for sleep than the rain here. The sound of the rain isn’t consistent enough.”

The thought of rain had me glancing at the sky, and then being shocked by the dimness of the light. I couldn’t understand the way time bent and compressed when I was with her. How was our allotment up already?

She misunderstood my preoccupation.

“Are you finished?” she asked, sounding relieved.

“Not even close,” I told her. “But your father will be home soon.” “Charlie!” she gasped, as though she’d forgotten that he existed. “How

late is it?” She looked at the dashboard clock as she asked.

I stared at the clouds—though they were thick, it was obvious where the sun must be behind them.

“It’s twilight,” I said. The time when vampires came out to play—when we never had to fear that a shifting cloud might cause us trouble—when we could enjoy the last remnants of light in the sky without worrying that we would be exposed.

I looked down to find her staring curiously at me, hearing more in my tone than just the words I’d spoken.

“It’s the safest time of day for us,” I explained. “The easiest time. But also the saddest, in a way… the end of another day, the return of the night.” So many years of night. I tried to shake off the heaviness in my voice. “Darkness is so predictable, don’t you think?”

“I like the night,” she said, contrary as usual. “Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.” A frown rearranged her features. “Not that you see them here much.”

I laughed at her expression. So, still not entirely reconciled to Forks. I thought of the stars she’d described in Phoenix and wondered if they were like the stars in Alaska—so bright and clear and close. I wished that I could take her there tonight so we could make the comparison. But she had a normal life to lead.

“Charlie will be here in a few minutes,” I told her. I could just hear a

hint of his mind, perhaps a mile out, driving slowly this way. His mind was on her. “So, unless you want to tell him that you’ll be with me Saturday…”

I understood that there were many reasons Bella wouldn’t want to her father to know about our involvement. But I wished… not just because I needed that extra encouragement to keep her safe, not just because I thought the threat to my family would help control my monster. I wished she would… want her father to know me. Want me to be part of the normal life she led.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said quickly.

Of course it was an impossible wish. Like so many others.

She started to organize her things as she prepared to leave. “So is it my turn tomorrow, then?” she asked. She glanced up at me with bright, curious eyes.

“Certainly not! I told you I wasn’t done, didn’t I?” She frowned, confused. “What more is there?” Everything. “You’ll find out tomorrow.”

Charlie was getting closer. I reached across her to open her door, and heard her heart start thumping loudly and unevenly. Our eyes met, and it seemed like an invitation again. Could I be allowed to touch her face, just one more time?

And then I froze, my hand on her door handle.

Another car was headed to the corner. It was not Charlie’s; he was still two streets up, so I’d paid little attention to these unfamiliar thoughts heading, I assumed, to one of the other houses on the street.

But one word caught my attention now.

Vampires.

Ought to be safe enough for the boy. No reason to run into any vampires here, the mind thought, even if this is neutral territory. I hope I was right to bring him into town.

What were the odds? “Not good,” I breathed.

“What is it?” she asked, anxious as she processed the change in my face. There was nothing I could do now. What rotten luck.

“Another complication,” I admitted.

The car turned onto the short street, heading directly for Charlie’s house. As the headlights lit up my car, I heard a young, enthusiastic reaction from

the other mind inside the old Ford Tempo.

Wow. Is that an S60 R? I’ve never seen one in real life before. Cool. Wonder who drives one of those around here? Custom-painted aftermarket front splitter… semi-slicks… That thing must tear the road up. I need to get a look at the exhaust.…

I didn’t concentrate on the boy, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed the knowledgeable interest another day. I opened her door, throwing it wider than necessary, then I jerked away, leaning forward toward the oncoming lights, waiting.

“Charlie’s around the corner,” I warned her.

She jumped quickly out into the rain, but there wasn’t any time for her to get inside before they saw us together. She slammed the door, but then hesitated there, staring at the oncoming vehicle.

The car parked facing mine, its headlights shining directly into my car.

And suddenly the older man’s thoughts were screaming with shock and fear.

Cold one! Vampire! Cullen!

I stared out the windshield, meeting his gaze.

There was no way I would find any resemblance to his grandfather; I’d never seen Ephraim in his human form. But this would be Billy Black, no doubt, with his son Jacob.

As if to confirm my assumption, the boy leaned forward with a smile.

Oh, it’s Bella!

A small part of me noted that, yes, she had definitely done some damage during her snooping in La Push.

But I was mostly focused on the father, the one who knew.

He was correct before—this was neutral territory. I had as much right to be here as he did, and he knew that. I could see it in the tightening of his frightened, angry face, the clenching of his jaw.

What is it doing here? What should I do?

We’d been in Forks for two years; no one had been harmed. But his horror couldn’t have been stronger if we’d been slaughtering a new victim every day.

I glared at him, my lips pulling back just slightly from my teeth in an automatic response to his hostility.

It would not be helpful to antagonize him, though. Carlisle would be

displeased if I did something to worry the old man. I could only hope that he adhered to our treaty better than his son had.

I peeled out, the boy appreciating the sound of my tires—only street legal by the smallest degree—as they squealed against the wet pavement. He turned to analyze the car’s exhaust as I drove away.

I passed Charlie as I went around the next corner, slowing automatically as he noted my speed with a businesslike frown. He continued home, and I could hear the muffled surprise in his thoughts, wordless but clear, as he took in the car waiting in front of his house. He forgot all about the silver Volvo that had been speeding.

I stopped two streets up and left my car parked unobtrusively beside the forest between two wide-spaced lots. In seconds I was soaking wet, hidden in the thick branches of the spruce that overlooked her backyard, the same place I’d hidden on that first sunny day.

It was hard to follow Charlie. I didn’t hear anything worrisome in his vague thoughts. Just enthusiasm—he must have been happy to see his visitors. Nothing had been said to upset him… yet.

Billy’s head was a seething mass of questions as Charlie greeted him and ushered him inside. As far as I could tell, Billy hadn’t made any decisions. I was glad to hear thoughts of the treaty mixed in with his agitation. Hopefully that would tie his tongue.

The boy followed Bella as she escaped to the kitchen—ah, his infatuation was clear in his every thought. But it was not hard to listen to his mind, the way it was with Mike Newton or her other admirers. There was something very… engaging about Jacob Black’s mind. Pure and open. It reminded me a bit of Angela’s, only not so demure. I felt suddenly sorry that this particular boy was born my enemy. His was the rare kind of mind that was easy to be inside. Restful, almost.

In the front room, Charlie had noticed Billy’s abstraction, but did not ask. There was some strain between them—an old disagreement from long ago.

Jacob was asking Bella about me. Once he heard my name, he laughed. “Guess that explains it, then,” he said. “I wondered why my dad was

acting so strange.”

“That’s right,” Bella responded with overdone innocence. “He doesn’t like the Cullens.”

“Superstitious old man,” the boy muttered.

Yes, we should have foreseen that it would be this way. Of course the young members of the tribe would see their history as myth—embarrassing, humorous, even more so because the elder members took it so seriously.

They rejoined their fathers in the front room. Bella’s eyes were always on Billy while he and Charlie watched television. It looked as if, like me, she was waiting for a breach.

None came. The Blacks left before it was very late. It was a school night, after all. I followed them on foot back to the boundary line between our territories, just to be sure that Billy didn’t ask his son to turn around. But his thoughts were still confused. There were names I didn’t know, people he would consult with tonight. Even as he continued to panic, he knew what the other elders would say. Seeing a vampire face-to-face had unsettled him, but it changed nothing.

As they drove past the point where I could hear them, I felt fairly sure that there was no new danger. Billy would follow the rules. What choice did he have? If we broke the treaty, there was nothing the old men could actually do about it. They’d lost their teeth. If they broke the treaty… well, we were even stronger than before. Seven instead of five. Surely that would make them careful.

Though Carlisle would never allow us to enforce the treaty that way. Instead of heading directly back to Bella’s house, I decided to make a detour to the hospital. My father had a late shift tonight.

I could hear his thoughts in the emergency ward. He was examining a delivery truck driver from Olympia with a deep puncture wound in his hand. I walked into the lobby, recognizing Jenny Austin at the desk. She was preoccupied with a call from her teenage daughter and barely acknowledged my wave as I passed her.

I didn’t want to interrupt, so I just walked past the curtain Carlisle was hidden behind and then continued on to his office. He would recognize the sound of my footsteps—unaccompanied by a heartbeat—and then my scent. He would know I wanted to see him, and that it wasn’t an emergency.

He joined me in his office only moments later. “Edward? Is everything all right?”

“Yes. I just wanted you to know right away—Billy Black saw me at Bella’s house tonight. He said nothing to Charlie, but…”

“Hmm,” Carlisle said. We’ve been here so long, it would be unfortunate if tensions arose again.

“It’s probably nothing. He just wasn’t prepared to be two yards away from a cold one. The others will talk him down. After all, what can they do about it?”

Carlisle frowned. You shouldn’t think of it that way. “Though they’ve lost their protectors, they are in no danger from us.”

“No. Of course not.”

He shook his head slowly, puzzling about the best course of action. There didn’t seem to be one, other than ignoring this unlucky encounter. I’d already come to the same conclusion.

“Will you… be coming home soon?” Carlisle asked suddenly.

I felt ashamed as soon as he voiced his question. “Is Esme very upset with me?”

“Not upset with you… about you, yes.” She worries. She misses you.

I sighed and nodded. Bella would be safe enough inside her house for a few hours. Probably. “I’ll go home now.”

“Thank you, Son.”

I spent the evening with my mother, letting her fuss over me a bit. She made me change into dry clothes—more to protect the floors she’d spent so much time finishing than anything else. The others had cleared out, and I saw that this was her request; Carlisle had called ahead. I appreciated the quiet. We sat at the piano together and I played as we talked.

“How are you, Edward?” was her first question. It wasn’t a casual query.

She was anxious about my answer.

“I’m… not entirely sure,” I told her honestly. “It’s up and down.”

She listened to the notes for a moment, occasionally touching a key that would harmonize with the tune.

She causes you pain.

I shook my head. “I cause my own pain. It’s not her fault.”

It’s not your fault, either.

“I am what I am.”

And that’s not your fault.

I smiled humorlessly. “You blame Carlisle?”

No. Do you?

“No.”

Then why blame yourself?

I didn’t have a ready answer. Truly, I did not resent Carlisle for what he had done, and yet… didn’t someone have to be to blame? Wasn’t that person me?

I hate to see you suffer.

“It’s not all suffering.” Not yet.

This girl… she makes you happy?

I sighed. “Yes… when I’m not getting in my own way. She does indeed.”

“Then that’s all right.” She seemed relieved. My mouth twisted. “Is it?”

She was silent, her thoughts analyzing my answers, picturing Alice’s face, thinking of her visions. She was aware of the wager and also that I knew about it. She was upset with Jasper and Rose.

What will it mean for him, if she dies?

I cringed, yanking my fingers off the keys.

“I’m sorry,” she said swiftly. “I didn’t mean to—”

I shook my head, and she fell silent. I stared at my hands, cold and sharp-angled, inhuman.

“I don’t know how…,” I whispered. “How I move past that. I can’t see anything… nothing past that.”

She put her arms around my shoulders, lacing her fingers together into a tight knot. “That’s not going to happen. I know it won’t.”

“I wish I could be as sure.”

I stared at her hands, so much like mine, but not. I couldn’t hate them the same way. They were stone, too, but not… not a monster’s hands. They were a mother’s hands, kind and gentle.

I am sure. You won’t hurt her.

“So you’ve placed your money with Alice and Emmett, I see.”

She unlaced her fingers to smack me lightly on the shoulder. “This is not a joking matter.”

“No, it isn’t.”

But when Jasper and Rosalie lose, I won’t be angry if Emmett rubs it in a bit.

“I doubt he’ll disappoint you there.”

Nor will you disappoint me, Edward. Oh, my son, how I do love you. When the hard part is over… I’m going to be very happy, you know. I think I will love this girl.

I looked at her with raised eyebrows.

You wouldn’t be so cruel as to keep her from me, would you?

“Now you sound just like Alice.”

“I don’t know why you fight her on anything. Easier to embrace the inevitable.”

I frowned but started playing again. “You’re right,” I said after a moment. “I won’t hurt her.”

Of course you won’t.

She kept her arms around me, and after a few moments I laid my head against the top of hers. She sighed, and hugged me tighter. It made me feel vaguely childlike. As I had told Bella, I didn’t have memories of being a child, nothing concrete. But there was a kind of sense memory in the feeling of her arms around me. My first mother must have held me, too; it must have comforted me in the same way.

When the song was finished, I sighed and straightened up.

You’ll go to her now?

“Yes.”

She frowned, confused. What do you do all night?

I smiled. “Think… and burn. And listen.”

She touched my throat. “I don’t like that this causes you pain.” “That’s the easiest part. It’s nothing, really.”

And the hardest part?

I thought about that for a minute. There were lots of answers that could be true, but one felt the most true.

“I think… that I can’t be human with her. That the best version is the one that is impossible.”

Her eyebrows pulled together.

“Everything will be all right, Esme.” It was so easy for me to lie to her. I was the only one who could ever lie in this house.

Yes, it will be. She couldn’t be in better hands.

I laughed, again without humor. But I would try to prove my mother right.

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