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Chapter no 14 – CLOSER

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

IT WAS PEACEFUL IN BELLA’S ROOM TONIGHT. EVEN THE FITFUL RAIN, which

usually made her uneasy, did not disturb her. Despite the pain, I was peaceful, too—calmer than I’d been in my own home with my mother’s arms around me. Bella mumbled my name in her sleep, as she often did, and smiled as she said it.

In the morning, Charlie mentioned her cheerful mood over breakfast, and it was my turn to smile. At least, if nothing else, I made her happy, too.

She climbed into my car quickly today, with a wide, eager smile, seeming just as hungry to be together as I was.

“How did you sleep?” I asked her. “Fine. How was your night?”

I smiled. “Pleasant.”

She pursed her lips. “Can I ask what you did?” I could imagine what my level of interest would be if I had to spend eight hours unconscious, totally unaware of her. But I wasn’t ready to answer that question now… or maybe ever.

“No. Today is still mine.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t told you.”

“Tell me more about your mother.”

It was one of my favorite subjects, because it was obviously one of hers. “Okay. Um, my mom is kind of… wild, I guess? Not like a tiger is wild, like a sparrow, like a deer. She just, doesn’t do well in cages? My gran— who was totally normal, by the way, and had no idea where my mom came from—used to call her a will-o’-the-wisp. I got the feeling that raising my mom through her teenage years was no cakewalk. Anyway, it’s pretty hard for her to stay in one place very long. Getting to wander off with Phil with no sure end destination in mind… well, I think it’s the happiest I’ve ever

seen her. She tried really hard for me, though. Made do with weekend adventures and constantly switching jobs. I did what I could to free her from all the mundane stuff. I imagine Phil will do the same. I feel like… kind of a bad daughter. Because I’m a little relieved, you know?” She made an apologetic face, turning her palms up. “She doesn’t have to stay in place for me anymore. That’s a weight off. And then Charlie… I never thought about him needing me, but he really does. That house is too empty for him.” I nodded thoughtfully, sifting through this mine of information. I wished

I could meet this woman who had shaped so much of Bella’s character. Part of me would have preferred that Bella had an easier, more traditional childhood—that she could have gotten to be the child. But she wouldn’t have been the same person, and truly, she didn’t seem resentful in any way. She liked to be the caretaker, liked to be needed.

Perhaps this was the real secret as to why she was drawn to me. Had anyone ever needed her more?

I left her at her classroom door, and the morning passed much as the day before. Alice and I sleepwalked our way through Gym. I watched Bella’s face through Jessica Stanley’s eyes again, noting, as the human girl did, how very little of Bella seemed to be in the classroom at all.

I wonder why Bella doesn’t want to talk about it? Jessica wondered. Keeping him to herself, I guess. Unless she was telling the truth before, and there’s nothing actually happening. Her mind ran over Bella’s denials on Wednesday morning—It’s not like that, when Jessica had asked about kissing—and her inference that Bella had looked disappointed.

That would be like torture, Jessica thought now. Look but don’t touch.

The word startled me.

Like torture? Obviously an exaggeration, but… would such a thing actually cause Bella pain—no matter how minor? Surely not, knowing as she did the realities of the situation. I frowned and caught Alice’s questioning glance. I shook my head at her.

She looks happy enough, Jessica was thinking, watching Bella as she stared through the clerestory windows with unfocused eyes. She must have been lying to me. Or there have been new developments.

Oh! Alice’s sudden stillness alerted me at the same time as her mental exclamation. The picture in her mind was of the cafeteria at some near future date and…

Well, it’s about time! she thought, breaking into a huge grin.

The pictures developed—Alice standing behind my shoulder in the cafeteria today, across the table from Bella. The very brief introduction. How it began was not yet fixed. It wavered, dependent on some other factor. But it would be soon, if not today.

I sighed, absently swatting the birdie back across the net. It flew better than it would have had my attention been focused; I scored a point as the coach blew his whistle to end class. Alice was already moving toward the door.

Don’t be such a baby. It’s not much. And I can already see that you won’t stop me.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. “No, it won’t be very much,” I agreed quietly as we walked together.

“I can be patient. Baby steps.” I rolled my eyes.

It was always a relief when I could leave the secondary vantage points behind and just see Bella for myself, but I was still thinking about Jessica’s assumptions when Bella came through the classroom door. She smiled a wide, warm smile, and it looked to me, too, like she was very happy. I shouldn’t worry about impossibilities when they weren’t bothering her.

There was one line of questions that I had been reluctant to open thus far. But with Jessica’s thoughts still in my head, I was suddenly more curious than I was averse.

We sat at what was now our usual table, and she picked at the food I’d gotten for her—I’d been quicker than her today.

“Tell me about your first date,” I said.

Her eyes got bigger, and her cheeks flushed. She hesitated. “You’re not going to tell me?”

“I’m just not sure… what actually counts.”

“Put the qualifications at their lowest setting,” I suggested.

She stared toward the ceiling, thinking with her lips pursed. “Well, then I guess that would be Mike—a different Mike,” she said quickly when my expression changed. “He was my square-dancing partner in the sixth grade. I was invited to his birthday party—it was a movie.” She smiled. “The second Mighty Ducks. I was the only one who showed up. Later, people said it was a date. I don’t know who started that rumor.”

I’d seen the school pictures in her father’s house, so I had a mental reference for eleven-year-old Bella. It sounded like things weren’t so different for her then. “That’s perhaps setting the bar a little too low.”

She grinned. “You said the lowest setting.” “Continue, then.”

Her lips twisted to the side as she considered. “A few friends were going to the ice rink with some boys. They needed me to even up the numbers. I wouldn’t have gone if I’d realized that it meant I was matched up with Reed Merchant.” She shuddered delicately. “And of course, I figured out pretty quickly that ice skating was a bad idea. My injuries were minor, but the plus side was that I got to sit by the snack bar and read for the rest of the night.” She smiled, almost… triumphantly.

“Shall we skip to an actual date?”

“You mean like, someone asked me out in advance and then we went someplace alone together?”

“That sounds like a workable definition.”

She smiled the same triumphant smile. “Sorry, then, I’ve got nothing.”

I frowned. “No one ever asked you out on a date before you came here?

Really?”

“I’m not totally sure. Is it a date? Is it just friends hanging out?” She shrugged. “Not that it mattered much. I never had time for either. After a while the word gets around, and no one asks again.”

“Were you actually busy? Or making excuses like you do here?” “Actually busy,” she insisted, a little offended. “Running a house is

time-consuming, and I usually had a part-time job, too, not to mention school. If I’m going to get to college, I’m going to need a full-ride scholarship, and—”

“Hold that thought,” I interrupted. “Before we move on to the next subject, I’d like to finish this one. If you hadn’t been so busy, were any of these invitations ones you would have liked to accept?”

She tilted her head to the side. “Not really. I mean, other than just to have a night out. They weren’t particularly interesting boys.”

“And other boys? Who didn’t ask?”

She shook her head, her clear eyes appearing to hide nothing. “I wasn’t paying that much attention.”

My eyes narrowed. “So you never met anyone you wanted?”

She sighed again. “Not in Phoenix.”

We stared at each other for a moment while I processed the fact that, just as she was my first love, according to this I was also her first… infatuation at the very least. This alignment pleased me in some strange way, but also troubled me. Surely this was a warped, unhealthy way for her to begin her romantic life. And then there was the knowledge that she would be both first and last for me. It would not be the same for a human heart.

“I know it’s not my day, but—” “No, it’s not.”

“C’mon,” she insisted. “I just spilled my entire embarrassing lack-of- dating history.”

I smiled. “Mine is quite similar, actually—minus the ice-skating and trick birthday parties. I haven’t been paying much attention, either.”

She looked like she didn’t quite believe me, but it was true. I’d also had a few offers I’d turned down. Not quite the same kind of offers, I admitted to myself, picturing Tanya’s pouting face.

“Which college would you like to go to?” I asked.

“Um…” She shook her head just slightly, as if to adjust to the new subject. “Well, I used to think ASU was the most practical, because I could live at home. But with Mom moving around now, I guess my field is more open. It will have to be a state school—something reasonable—even with a scholarship. When I first came here… well, I was glad that Charlie doesn’t live close enough to Washington State to make that practical.”

“Are you disparaging our fine state’s Cougars?” “Nothing against the institution—just the weather.”

“And if you could go anywhere—if the cost were no object—where would you go?”

While she considered my question about this hypothetical future, I tried to picture a future that could live with. Bella at twenty, at twenty-two, twenty-four… how long before she outgrew me, unchanging as I was? I would accept that time limit if it meant that she could be healthy and human and happy. If only I could make myself safe for her, right for her, make myself fit into that happy picture for every second of the time that she allowed me.

I wondered again how I could make this happen—be with her without negatively impacting her life. Stay in Persephone’s spring, keep her safe

from my underworld.

It was easy to see that she wouldn’t be happy in my usual haunts. Obviously. But as long as she wanted me, I would follow her. It would mean many slow days indoors, but that was such a negligible price, it was barely worth noting.

“I’d have to do some research. Most of the fancy schools are in the snow zone.” She grinned. “I wonder what colleges in Hawaii are like?”

“Lovely, I’m sure. And after school? What then?” I realized how important it was for me to know her plans for the future. So I didn’t derail them. So I could shape this unlikely future into the best version to suit her.

“Something with books. I always thought I would teach like—well, not exactly like my mom. If I could… I’d like to teach on a college level somewhere—probably a community college. Elective English classes—so that everyone who’s signed up is there because they want to be.”

“Is that what you’ve always wanted?”

She shrugged. “Mostly. I once thought of working for a publisher—as an editor or something.” Her nose wrinkled. “I did some research. It’s a lot easier to get a job as a teacher. Much more practical.”

Her dreams all had clipped wings—not like those of the usual teenager off to conquer the world. Obviously a product of facing realities long before she should have had to.

She took a bite of her bagel, chewing thoughtfully. I wondered if she was still thinking of the future, or something else. I wondered whether she saw any glimpse of me in that future.

My mind strayed to tomorrow. It should have thrilled me—the idea of a whole day with her. So much time. But I could only think of the moment when she would see what I really was. When I could no longer hide behind my human façade. I tried to imagine her response, and though I was so often wrong when trying to predict her feelings, I knew it could only go two ways. The only valid reaction besides revulsion would be terror.

I wanted to believe that there was a third possibility. That she would forgive what I was as she had done so often in the past. That she would accept me despite everything. But I couldn’t picture it.

Would I have the nerve to keep my promise? Could I live with myself if I hid this from her?

I thought of the first time I’d seen Carlisle in the sun. I was very young

then, still obsessed with blood over anything else, but that sight had caught my attention the way little else had. Though I trusted Carlisle utterly, though I’d already begun to love him, I felt fear. It was all too impossible, too alien. The instinct to defend myself was triggered, and it was several long moments before his calm and reassuring thoughts could have any effect on me. Eventually he talked me into stepping forward myself, to see that the phenomenon did no harm.

And I remembered seeing myself in the brilliant morning light and realizing—more profoundly than I ever had thus far—that I had no relationship at all to my former self. That I was not human.

But it wasn’t fair to hide myself from her. It was a lie of omission.

I tried to see her with me in the meadow, what the picture would look like if I weren’t a monster. It was such a beautiful, peaceful place. How I wished she could enjoy it with me still there.

Edward, Alice thought urgently, a hint of panic in her tone that froze me in place.

Suddenly, I was caught up in one of Alice’s visions, staring into a bright circle of sunlight. Disorienting, because I’d just been imagining myself and Bella there—the little meadow where no one ever went besides me—so I wasn’t sure at first that I was seeing inside Alice’s mind and not my own.

But it was different from my own picture—future, not past. Bella stared at me, rainbows dancing across her face, her eyes fathomless. So I was brave enough.

It’s the same place, Alice thought, her mind full of a horror that did not match the vision. Tension, perhaps, but horror? What did she mean, the same place?

And then I saw it.

Edward! Alice protested shrilly. I love her, Edward!

But she didn’t love Bella the way I did. Her vision was preposterous.

Wrong. She was blinded somehow, seeing impossibilities. Lies.

Not even a half a second had passed. Bella was still chewing, thinking about some mystery I would never know. She wouldn’t have seen the quick flash of dread across my face.

It was just an old vision. No longer valid. Everything had changed since then.

Edward, we have to talk.

There was nothing for Alice and me to talk about. I shook my head ever so slightly, just once. Bella didn’t see.

Alice’s thoughts were a command now. She shoved the picture I couldn’t bear back into the forefront of my mind.

I love her, Edward. I won’t let you just ignore this. We’re leaving, and we’re going to work this through. I’ll give you till the end of the period. Make your excuses—oh!

Her totally benign vision from this morning in Gym interrupted her string of orders. The brief introduction. I saw exactly how it would happen now, down to the second. So this offensive, invalid, outdated vision was the catalyst missing before? My teeth clenched together.

Fine. We would talk. I would sacrifice my time with Bella this afternoon to show Alice how wrong she was. In truth, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I’d made her see that, made her admit she was off this time.

She saw the future shift as my mind changed. Thank you.

Odd, given the sudden life and death turn to my afternoon, how crushing it was to lose the time I’d counted on. It should be such a small thing—just a few minutes, really.

I tried to shake off the horror that Alice had inflicted on me so that I wouldn’t ruin the minutes I had left.

“I should have let you drive yourself today,” I said, working hard to keep the desperation out of my voice.

Her eyes snapped up to mine. She swallowed. “Why?” “I’m leaving with Alice after lunch.”

“Oh.” Her face fell. “That’s okay, it’s not that far of a walk.”

I frowned. “I’m not going to make you walk home.” Did she really think I would leave her stranded? “We’ll go get your truck and leave it here for you.”

“I don’t have my key with me,” she said, and sighed. This was some huge, insurmountable obstacle to her. “I really don’t mind walking.”

“Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition,” I told her. “Unless you’re afraid someone might steal it.” The sound of her engine was as good as a car alarm. Possibly louder. I forced a laugh at the mental image, but the sound was off.

Bella pursed her lips and her eyes went opaque. “All right,” she said.

Was she doubting my abilities?

I tried to smile confidently—I was confident that I could not fail in such a simple task—but my muscles were too tight to manage it correctly. She didn’t seem to notice. It looked like she was dealing with her own disappointment.

“So,” she said. “Where are you going?”

Alice showed me the answer to Bella’s question.

“Hunting.” I could hear that my voice was suddenly darker. It was something I would have found time for, regardless. The necessity of this excursion was as frustrating as it was shameful. But I wouldn’t lie to her about it.

“If I’m going to be alone with you tomorrow, I’m going to take whatever precautions I can.” I stared into her eyes, wondering if she could see the fear in my own. Alice’s vision was overpowering my composure. “You can always cancel, you know.” Please, walk away. Don’t turn back.

She looked down, her face blanching paler than before. Would she finally listen? Alice’s vision would mean nothing if Bella told me now to leave her alone. I knew I could do it, if it was what Bella asked for. My heart felt poised to rip in half.

“No,” she whispered, and my heart twisted in another direction. A worse kind of breaking loomed. She stared up at me. “I can’t.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I whispered. Maybe she was, after all, just as bound as I was.

She leaned toward me, her eyes tightening with what looked like concern. “What time will I see you tomorrow?”

I took a deep breath, trying to settle myself, to shake off the sense of doom. I forced myself to speak in a lighter tone. “That depends… it’s a Saturday, don’t you want to sleep in?”

“No,” she shot back immediately.

It made me want to smile. “The same time as usual, then. Will Charlie be there?”

She grinned. “No, he’s fishing tomorrow.” This obviously pleased her as much as her attitude about it angered me. Why was she determined to put herself so wholly at my mercy—at the mercy of the worst part of me?

“And if you don’t come home?” I asked through my teeth. “What will he think?”

Her face was smooth. “I have no idea. He knows I’ve been meaning to

do laundry. Maybe he’ll think I fell in the washer.”

I glared at her—I did not find her joke humorous in the slightest. She scowled back for a moment, and then her face relaxed.

She changed the subject. “What are you hunting tonight?”

It was so strange. On the one hand, she didn’t seem to take the danger seriously at all. On the other, she was so calm in accepting the ugliest facets of my life.

“Whatever we find in the park. We aren’t going far.” “Why are you going with Alice?”

Alice was listening intently now.

I frowned. “Alice is the most… supportive.” There were other words I’d like to say for Alice’s benefit, but they would only confuse Bella.

“And the others?” Bella nearly whispered, her voice shifting from curious to anxious. “What are they?” She would be horrified if she knew how easily they could all hear that whisper.

There were also many ways to answer this question. I chose the least frightening. “Incredulous, for the most part.” They were definitely that.

Her eyes darted to the back corner of the cafeteria, where my family sat.

Alice had warned them, and they were all looking elsewhere. “They don’t like me,” she guessed.

“That’s not it,” I quickly countered.

Ha! Rosalie thought.

“They don’t understand why I can’t leave you alone,” I continued, trying to ignore Rose.

Well, that’s true enough.

Bella made a face. “Neither do I, for that matter.”

I shook my head, thinking of her ridiculous assumption before—that I didn’t care for her as much as she cared for me. I thought I’d explained this. “I told you—you don’t see yourself clearly at all. You’re not like anyone

I’ve ever known. You fascinate me.”

She looked doubtful. Maybe I needed to be more specific.

I smiled at her. Despite everything on my mind, it was important for her to understand this. “Having the advantages I do…” I brushed two of my fingers casually across my forehead. “I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you… you never do what I expect. You always take me by surprise.”

She glanced away from me, and there was something unsatisfied about her expression. This specific detail had obviously not convinced her.

“That part is easy enough to explain,” I continued quickly, waiting for her eyes to return to me. “But there’s more.…” So much more. “And it’s not so easy to put into words—”

Goggle at me, will you, you bat-faced little nuisance?

Bella’s face went white. She looked frozen, as though she couldn’t look away from the back corner of the room.

I turned quickly and shot Rosalie a threatening glare, my lips pulling away from my teeth. I hissed quietly at her.

She flashed a glance at me from the corner of her eye, then angled her head away from us both. I looked back to Bella just as she turned to stare at me.

She started it, Rosalie thought sullenly. Bella’s eyes were huge.

“I’m sorry about that,” I murmured quickly. “She’s just worried.” It irritated me to have to defend Rosalie’s behavior, but I couldn’t think of another way to explain. And at the heart of Rosalie’s hostility, this was the true issue. “You see… it’s dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you so publicly…”

I couldn’t finish. Filled with horror and shame, I stared down at my hands—the hands of a monster.

“If?” she prompted.

How could I not answer her now? “If this ends… badly.”

My head fell into my palms. I didn’t want to see her eyes as understanding dawned, as she realized what I was saying. For all this time, I’d been trying to earn her trust. And now I’d had to tell her exactly how much I didn’t deserve it.

It was right to have her know. This would be the moment when she would walk away. And that was good. My first, instinctive rejection of Alice’s panic was wearing off. I couldn’t honestly promise Bella that I was no danger to her.

“And you have to leave now?” I looked up at her slowly.

Her face was calm—there was a hint of sorrow in the pucker mark

between her brows, but no fear at all. The perfect trust I’d seen when she’d jumped into my car in Port Angeles was evident again in her eyes. Though I didn’t deserve it, she still trusted me.

“Yes,” I told her.

My answer made her frown. She should have been only relieved to see me go, but instead, she was sad.

I wished I could smooth away the little between her eyebrows with my fingertip. I wanted her to smile again.

I forced myself to grin at her. “It’s probably for the best. We still have fifteen minutes of that wretched movie left to endure in Biology—I don’t think I could take any more.”

I guessed that this was true—that I would not have been able to endure.

That I would have made more mistakes.

She smiled back, and it was obvious that she understood at least part of what I meant.

Then she jumped slightly in her seat, startled.

I heard Alice step up behind me. I was not surprised. I’d seen this part before.

“Alice,” I greeted her.

Her excited smile was reflected in Bella’s eyes. “Edward,” she responded, copying my tone.

I followed my script.

“Alice, Bella,” I said, introducing them as concisely as possible. I kept my eyes on Bella and gestured halfheartedly with one hand. “Bella, Alice.”

“Hello, Bella. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

The emphasis was subtle, but annoying. I shot her a quick glare. “Hi, Alice,” Bella answered, her voice unsure.

I won’t push my luck, Alice promised. “Are you ready?” she asked me aloud.

As if she didn’t know my answer. “Nearly. I’ll meet you at the car.”

I’ll get out of your way now. Thanks.

Bella stared after Alice, a small frown curving her lips downward. When Alice disappeared through the doors, she turned slowly to face me.

“Should I say ‘Have fun,’ or is that the wrong sentiment?” she asked. I smiled at her. “No, ‘Have fun’ works as well as anything.”

“Have fun, then,” she said, a little forlorn.

“I’ll try.” But that wasn’t true. I would only be missing her while I was away. “And you try to be safe, please.” It didn’t matter how often I had to say goodbye, the same panic returned whenever I thought of her unprotected.

“Safe in Forks,” she mumbled. “What a challenge.” “For you it is a challenge,” I pointed out. “Promise?”

She sighed, but her smile was good-humored. “I promise to try to be safe,” she said. “I’ll do the laundry tonight—that ought to be fraught with peril.”

I didn’t enjoy the reminder of the earlier part of our conversation. “Don’t fall in.”

She tried to keep her face serious, and failed. “I’ll do my best.”

It was so hard to leave. I made myself stand. She rose to her feet, too. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she sighed.

“It seems like a long time to you, doesn’t it?” Strange what a long time it seemed to me, too.

She nodded, dejected.

“I’ll be there in the morning,” I promised.

Alice was right about this much—I wasn’t finished making mistakes. I couldn’t stop myself again as I leaned across the table and brushed my fingers along her cheekbone. Before I could do any more harm, I turned and left her there.

Alice was waiting in the car. “Alice—”

First things first. We have an errand to run, don’t we?

Pictures of Bella’s house flashed through her mind. An empty set of hooks—designed to hold keys—on the kitchen wall. Me in Bella’s room, scanning her dresser top and desk. Alice literally following her nose through the front room. Alice again, in a small laundry room, grinning, with a key in her hand.

I drove quickly to Bella’s. I would have been able to find the key myself

—the smell of metal was easy enough to trace, particularly metal painted with the oils from her fingers—but Alice’s way was definitely faster.

The images refined. Alice would go in alone, I saw, through the front door. She decided a dozen different places to look for an extra house key, then located it when she resolved to check under the eaves over the front

door.

When we arrived at the house, it took Alice only seconds to follow the course she’d already set for herself. After locking the front door’s handle but leaving the deadbolt unlatched as she’d found it, Alice climbed into Bella’s truck. The engine grumbled to life with the volume of a thunderclap. There was no one home to notice it now.

The trip back to school was slower, hampered by the maximum speed the old Chevy was able to produce. I wondered how Bella could stand it, but then she seemed to prefer driving slowly. Alice parked in the space my Volvo had left open, and shut the noisy engine off.

I looked at the rusty behemoth, imagining Bella in it. It had survived Tyler’s van with barely a scratch, but obviously there were no airbags or crumple zones. I felt my eyebrows pull together.

Alice climbed into my passenger seat.

Here, she thought. She held out a piece of stationery and a pen. I took them from her. “I’ll concede that you’re useful.”

You couldn’t survive without me.

I wrote a brief note, then darted out to leave it on the driver’s seat of Bella’s truck. I knew there was no real power to the action, but hopefully it would remind her of her promise. It did make me feel just a little bit less anxious.

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