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Chapter no 18 – MIND OVER MATTER

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

Insisting upon driving had been a very good idea.

There were all those things, of course, that would be out of the question if she needed to concentrate her human senses on the road—hand-holding, eye-gazing, general joy-radiating. But more than this, the feeling of being filled to the point of bursting with pure light hadn’t dimmed at all. I knew how overwhelming it was for me; I wasn’t sure how much it would compromise a human system. Much safer to let my inhuman system tend to the road.

The clouds were shifting as the sun set. Every now and then a lance of fading red sunlight would strike my face. I could imagine the terror I would have felt only yesterday to have been exposed in this way. Now it made me want to laugh. I felt filled with laughter, as if the light within me needed that escape.

Curious, I switched on her radio. I was surprised that it was tuned to nothing but static. Then, considering the volume of the engine, I deduced that she didn’t bother much with driving music. I twisted the knob until I found a semi-audible station. It was playing Johnny Ace, and I smiled. “Pledging My Love.” How apt.

I began to sing along, feeling a little cheesy, but also enjoying the chance to say these words to her. Always and forever, I’ll love only you.

She never took her eyes off my face, smiling in what I could now accurately construe as wonder.

“You like fifties music?” she asked when the song ended.

“Music in the fifties was good. Much better than the sixties, or the seventies, ugh!” Though there were certainly excellent outliers, the artists that were played most often on the limited radio options then were not my favorites. I’d never warmed up to disco. “The eighties were bearable.”

She pressed her lips together for a moment, her eyes tensing as if

something worried her. Quietly, she asked, “Are you ever going to tell me how old you are?”

Ah, she was afraid to distress me. I smiled at her easily. “Does it matter much?”

She seemed relieved by my light response. “No, but I still wonder.… There’s nothing like an unsolved mystery to keep you up at night.”

And then it was my turn to worry. “I wonder if it will upset you.”

She hadn’t been disgusted by my inhumanity, but would she have a different reaction to the years between us? In many very real ways, I was still seventeen. Would she see it that way?

What had she imagined already? Millennia behind me, gothic castles and Transylvanian accents? Well, none of that was impossible. Carlisle knew those types.

“Try me,” she challenged.

I looked into her eyes, searching their depths for the answers. I sighed. Shouldn’t I have developed some courage after the events behind us? But here I was again, terrified to frighten her. Of course, there was no way forward but total honesty.

“I was born in Chicago in 1901,” I admitted. I turned my face toward the road ahead so she wouldn’t feel scrutinized as she did the mental math, but I couldn’t help stealing a look from the corner of my eye. She was artificially composed, and I realized that she was carefully modulating her reactions. She didn’t want to appear frightened any more than I wanted to scare her. The more we came to know each other, the more we seemed to mirror each other’s feelings. Harmonizing.

“Carlisle found me in a hospital in the summer of 1918,” I continued. “I was seventeen, and dying of the Spanish influenza.”

At this her control slipped, and she gasped in shock, her eyes huge.

“I don’t remember it well,” I assured her. “It was a very long time ago, and human memories fade.”

She did not look entirely comforted, but she nodded. She said nothing, waiting for more.

I had just mentally committed to total honesty, but I realized now that there would have to be limits. There were things she should know… but also details that would not be wise to share. Maybe Alice was right. Maybe, if Bella was feeling anything close to the way I was feeling now, she would

think it imperative to prolong this feeling. To stay with me, as she’d said in the meadow. I knew it would be no simple thing for me to deny Bella anything she wanted. I chose my words with care.

“I do remember how it felt, when Carlisle… saved me. It’s not an easy thing, not something you could forget.”

“Your parents?” she asked in a timid voice, and I relaxed, glad she’d chosen not to fixate on that last part.

“They had already died from the disease. I was alone.” These weren’t hard words to say. This part of my history almost felt more like a story I’d been told than actual memories. “That was why he chose me. In all the chaos of the epidemic, no one would ever realize I was gone.”

“How did he… save you?”

So much for avoiding the difficult questions. I thought about what was most important to keep from her.

My words danced around the edges of her question. “It was difficult. Not many of us have the restraint necessary to accomplish it. But Carlisle has always been the most humane, the most compassionate of us.… I don’t think you could find his equal throughout all of history.” I considered my father for a moment, and wondered if my words were adequate praise. Then I continued with the rest of what I thought it safe for her to know. “For me, it was merely very, very painful.”

While the other memories that might have brought pain—the loss of my mother in particular—were confused and faded, the memory of this pain was exceptionally clear. I flinched slightly. If there ever came a time that Bella did ask again, with full knowledge of what it meant to stay with me, this memory would be all the aid I needed to say no. I recoiled from the idea of her facing such pain.

She absorbed my answer, lips pursed and eyes narrowed in thought. I wanted to know her reaction, but I knew that if I asked, I would face more pointed questions. I continued my history, hoping to distract her.

“He acted from loneliness. That’s usually the reason behind the choice. I was the first in Carlisle’s family, though he found Esme soon after. She fell from a cliff. They brought her straight to the hospital morgue, though somehow, her heart was still beating.”

“So you must be dying, then, to become…”

Not distracted enough. Still trying to discern the mechanism. I hurried to

redirect.

“No, that’s just Carlisle. He would never do that to someone who had another choice. It is easier he says, though, if the blood is weak.”

I shifted my gaze to the road again. I shouldn’t have added that. I wondered if I was dancing closer to the answers she sought because part of me wanted her to know, wanted her to find a way to stay with me. I had to be better at controlling my tongue. To keep the selfish part of myself bridled.

“And Emmett and Rosalie?”

I smiled at her. She probably realized I was being evasive, and yet she was willing to let it go to make me comfortable.

“Carlisle brought Rosalie to our family next. I didn’t realize till much later that he was hoping she would be to me what Esme was to him—he was careful with his thoughts around me.”

I remembered my disgust when he’d finally slipped. Rosalie had not been a welcome addition in the beginning—in truth, life had been more complicated for all of us ever since her inclusion—and learning that Carlisle had envisioned an even closer relationship for her and me was horrifying. The extent of my aversion would be impolite to share. Ungentlemanly.

“But she was never more than a sister.” That was probably the kindest way to sum up that chapter. “It was only two years later that she found Emmett. She was hunting—we were in Appalachia at the time—and found a bear about to finish him off. She carried him back to Carlisle, more than a hundred miles, afraid she wouldn’t be able to… do it herself.”

We’d been outside Knoxville then—not an ideal place for us, weather- wise. We had to stay inside most days. It wasn’t a long-term situation, though—Carlisle was researching some pathology studies at the University of Tennessee’s medical school. A few weeks, a few months… it wasn’t really a difficult ask. We had access to several libraries, and the nightlife in New Orleans wasn’t inconveniently far, not for creatures as swift as we. However, Rosalie, out of her newborn stage but not yet comfortable with very close proximity to humans, refused to entertain herself. Instead, she moped and whined, finding fault with every suggestion for amusement or self-improvement. To be fair, perhaps she did not whine so much out loud. Esme was not as irritated as I was.

Rosalie preferred to hunt by herself, and though I really should have watched after her, it was a relief to us both that I didn’t object very strenuously. She knew how to be careful. We all were practiced at restraining our senses until we were in unpopulated areas. And though I was reluctant to attribute any virtue to this unwelcome interloper, even I had to admit that she was incredibly gifted at self-control. Mostly due to stubbornness and, in my opinion, a desire to best me.

So when the sound of Rosalie’s footsteps, thudding faster and heavier than usual, broke the predawn calm of that Knoxville summer, her familiar scent preceded by the strong aroma of human blood and her thoughts wild and incoherent, my initial expectation was not that she had made a mistake.

In the first year of Rosalie’s second life, before she had disappeared on her several missions of revenge, her thoughts had given her away clearly and thoroughly. I knew what she was planning, and I’d informed Carlisle. The first time, he counseled her gently, urging her to let go of her past life, certain that if she did she would forget, and then her pain could lessen. Revenge could not bring back anything she had lost. But when his guidance met only the implacability of her fury, he gave her advice on how best to be discreet about her forays. Neither of us could argue that she didn’t deserve vengeance. And we both couldn’t help but believe that the world would be a better place without the rapists and murderers who had ended her life.

I’d believed she’d gotten them all. Her thoughts had long since calmed, no longer obsessed with the desire to break and tear, maim and mutilate.

But as the smell of blood flooded the house like a tsunami, I immediately assumed that she’d discovered another accomplice to her death. Though I did not think very highly of her in general, my faith in her ability to do no harm was strong.

All my expectations were turned upside down as she cried out in panic, calling for Carlisle’s help. And then, beneath the shrill sound of her distress, I caught the sound of one very feeble heartbeat.

I raced from my room, finding her in the front parlor before she’d even finished her cry. Carlisle was already there. Rosalie, hair unusually disordered, her favorite dress stained with blood so heavily that the skirt’s hem was dyed deep crimson, carried in her arms a giant of a human man. He was barely conscious, eyes wandering the room out of sync with each other. His skin had been torn again and again by evenly spaced slashes,

some of his bones clearly broken beneath.

“Save him!” Rosalie almost screamed at Carlisle. “Please!”

Please please please, her thoughts begged.

I saw what the words cost her. When she inhaled to replace the air she’d used, she flinched against the power of the fresh blood so close to her mouth. She held the man farther from herself, turning her face away.

Carlisle understood her anguish. He swiftly removed the man from her arms and laid him on the parlor rug with gentle hands. The man was too far gone even to groan.

I watched, shocked by the strange tableau, automatically holding my breath. I should have already left the house. I could hear Esme’s thoughts, quickly retreating. Once she’d caught the scent of blood, she’d known to flee, though she was just as confused as I.

It’s too late, Carlisle realized, examining the man. He was loath to disappoint Rosalie; though she was clearly unhappy in this second life he’d given her, she rarely asked for anything from him. Certainly never with this level of agony. He must be family, Carlisle thought. How can I bear to hurt her again?

The big man—not that much older than I was, now that I really looked at his face—closed his eyes. His shallow breathing stuttered.

“What are you waiting for?” Rosalie shrieked. He’s dying! He’s dying!

“Rosalie, I…” Carlisle held out his bloodied hands helplessly.

Then an image surfaced in her mind, and I understood exactly what she was asking for.

“She doesn’t mean for you to heal him,” I translated quickly. “She means for you to save him.”

Rosalie’s eyes flashed to me, a look of intense gratitude altering her features in a way I’d never seen before. For one instant, I remembered how very beautiful she was.

We didn’t have long to wait for Carlisle’s decision.

Oh! Carlisle thought. And then I saw exactly how much he would do for Rosalie, how much he felt he owed her. There was barely any deliberation.

He was already kneeling beside the broken figure as he shooed us away. “It’s not safe for you to stay,” he said, his face inclining toward the man’s throat.

I grabbed Rosalie’s bloodied arm as I rushed to the door. She didn’t

resist. We both escaped the house, not pausing till we’d reached the nearby Tennessee River and immersed ourselves.

There, lying in the cool mud at the river’s edge, Rosalie letting the blood sluice from her dress and her skin, we had our first real conversation.

She didn’t speak often, just showed me in her mind how she’d found the man, a total stranger, about to die, and how something in his face had made that future intolerable to her. She didn’t have words for why. She didn’t have words for how—how she’d managed to complete her harrowing journey without killing him herself. I saw her run for miles, faster than she’d ever moved before, aching to satisfy her thirst the entire way. While she relived it all, her mind was unguarded and vulnerable. She was trying to understand, too, almost as confused as I was.

I wasn’t looking for yet another addition to my family. I’d never been particularly concerned about what Rosalie wanted or needed. But suddenly, seeing this all through her eyes, I could only root for her happiness. For the first time, we were on the same side.

We couldn’t return for a while, though Rosalie was anxious in the extreme to know what was happening. I assured her that Carlisle would have come for us if he’d been unsuccessful. So for now we would just have to wait till it was safe.

Those hours changed us both. When Carlisle finally came to call us home, we returned as brother and sister.

The pause as I remembered how I’d come to love my sister was not very long. Bella was still waiting for the rest of the story. I thought of where I’d left off: Rosalie, dripping with blood, holding her face as far away from Emmett as she could. Her posture in the image reminded me of a more recent memory: me struggling to carry a lightheaded Bella to the nurse’s office. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

“I’m only beginning to guess how difficult that journey was for her,” I concluded. Our fingers were knotted together. I lifted our hands and, with the back of mine, stroked her cheek.

The last bit of red light in the sky faded to deep purple.

“But she made it,” Bella said after a short silence, eager for me to continue.

“Yes. She saw something in his face that made her strong enough.” Amazing that she’d been right. Astonishing that they’d matched up

perfectly, like two halves of a whole. Fate or astronomical good luck? I’d never been able to decide. “And they’ve been together ever since. Sometimes they live separately from us, as a married couple.” And oh, how I appreciated those times. I loved Emmett and Rosalie separately, but Emmett and Rosalie alone together, heard only by my inescapable mental reach, were a grueling ordeal. “But the younger we pretend to be, the longer we can stay in any given place. Forks seemed perfect, so we all enrolled in high school.” I laughed. “I suppose we’ll have to go to their wedding in a few years, again.”

Rosalie loved to get married. The chance to do it over and over was probably her favorite thing about immortality.

“Alice and Jasper?” Bella asked.

“Alice and Jasper are two very rare creatures. They both developed a conscience, as we refer to it, with no outside guidance. Jasper belonged to another… family.” I avoided the correct word, controlling a shiver as I thought of his beginnings. “A very different kind of family. He became depressed, and he wandered on his own. Alice found him. Like me, she has certain gifts above and beyond the norm for our kind.”

This surprised Bella enough to break through her calm façade. “Really?

But you said you were the only one who could hear people’s thoughts.” “That’s true. She knows other things. She sees things—things that might

happen, things that are coming.” Things that now would never happen. I was past the worst of it. Though still… it bothered me how hazy the new vision had been, the one I could live with. The other—Alice and Bella both white and cold—had been so much clearer. That didn’t matter. It couldn’t. I’d subdued one impossible future and I would triumph over this one, too. “But it’s very subjective,” I continued, hearing the harder edge in my voice. “The future isn’t set in stone. Things change.”

I glanced at her cream and apricot skin, almost to reassure myself that she was as she should be, and then looked away when she caught my gaze. I could never be certain how much she was reading in my eyes.

“What kinds of things does she see?” Bella wanted to know. I gave her the safe answers, the proven prophecies.

“She saw Jasper and knew that he was looking for her before he knew it himself.” Their union had been a magical thing. Whenever Jasper thought of it, the entire household relaxed into dreamy contentment, so powerful

were his communal emotions. “She saw Carlisle and our family, and they came together to find us.”

I’d missed that first introduction, when Alice and Jasper had presented themselves to an extremely wary Carlisle, a frightened Esme, and a hostile Rosalie. It was Jasper’s warlike appearance that had them all so apprehensive, but Alice knew exactly what to say to ease their anxiety. Of course she knew exactly what to say. She’d envisioned every possible version of that momentous meeting, and then chosen the best. It was no accident that Emmett and I had been away. She’d preferred the smoother scene without the family’s primary defenders in residence.

It was hard to believe how firmly entrenched they were by the time Emmett and I arrived, just a few days later. We were both shocked, and Emmett was ready for battle the second he laid eyes on Jasper. But Alice ran forward to throw her arms around me before a word could be spoken.

I wasn’t frightened by what might have been construed as an attack. Her thoughts were so sure of me, so full of love for me, I thought I’d had the first memory loss of my second life. Because this tiny immortal knew me perfectly, better than anyone else in my current or former family. Who was she?

Oh, Edward! At last! My brother! We’re finally together!

And then, with her arms tight around my waist—and my own arms hesitantly coming to rest around her shoulders—she thought swiftly through her life from her first memory to that very moment, and then forward in time through the highlights of our next few years together. It felt very strange to realize in that instant that now I knew her, too.

“This is Alice, Emmett,” I told him, still embracing my new sister. Emmett’s aggressive pose changed to one of confusion. “She’s part of our family. And that’s Jasper. You’re going to love him.”

There were so many stories about Alice, so many miracles and phenomena, paradoxes and enigmas, I could have spent the rest of the week just telling Bella the bullet-point version. Instead, I gave her a few of the simpler, more mechanical details.

“She’s most sensitive to nonhumans. She always sees, for example, when another group of our kind is coming near. And any threat they may pose.” Alice had become one of the family’s defenders, too.

“Are there a lot of… your kind?” Bella asked, sounding a little shaken

by the idea.

“No, not many,” I assured her. “But most won’t settle in any one place. Only those like us, who’ve given up hunting you people”—I raised an eyebrow at her and squeezed her hand—“can live together with humans for any length of time. We’ve only found one other family like ours, in a small village in Alaska. We lived together for a time, but there were so many of us that we became too noticeable.” Also Tanya, the matriarch of that clan, was persistent to the point of harassment. “Those of us who live… differently tend to band together.”

“And the others?”

We’d reached her home. It was empty, no lights in any windows. I parked in her usual spot and turned the engine off. The sudden quiet felt very intimate, there in the dark.

“Nomads, for the most part,” I answered. “We’ve all lived that way at times. It gets tedious, like anything else. But we run across the others now and then, because most of us prefer the North.”

“Why is that?”

I grinned and nudged her gently with my elbow. “Did you have your eyes open this afternoon? Do you think I could walk down the street in the sunlight without causing traffic accidents? There’s a reason why we chose the Olympic Peninsula, one of the most sunless places in the world. It’s nice to be able to go outside in the day. You wouldn’t believe how tired you can get of nighttime in eighty-odd years.”

“So that’s where the legends came from,” she said, nodding to herself. “Probably.”

There was actually a precise source behind the legends, but that wasn’t something I wanted to get into. The Volturi were very far away and very much absorbed in their mission to police the vampire world. They would never affect Bella’s life beyond the lore they’d concocted to protect immortals’ privacy.

“And Alice came from another family, like Jasper?” she asked.

“No, and that is a mystery. Alice doesn’t remember her human life at all.”

I’d seen that first memory. Bright morning sunlight, a light mist hanging in the air. Tangled grass surrounding her, broad oak trees shading the hollow where she woke. Besides that, a blankness, no sense of identity or

purpose. She’d looked at her pale skin, shimmering in the sun, and not known who or what she was. And then the first vision had taken her.

A man’s face, fierce but also broken, scarred but beautiful. Deep red eyes and a mane of golden hair. With this face came a profound conviction of belonging. And then she saw him speaking a name.

Alice.

Her name, she realized.

The visions told her who she was, or shaped her into who she would become. These were the only help she would get.

“And she doesn’t know who created her,” I told Bella. “She awoke alone. Whoever made her walked away, and none of us understand why, or how, he could. If she hadn’t had that other sense, if she hadn’t seen Jasper and Carlisle and known that she would someday become one of us, she probably would have turned into a total savage.”

Bella pondered this in silence. I was sure it was difficult for her to comprehend. It had taken my family a while to adjust, as well. I wondered what her next question would be.

And then her stomach gurgled, and I realized that we’d been together all day and she’d eaten nothing in that time. Ah, I needed to keep better focused on her human needs!

“I’m sorry, I’m keeping you from dinner.” “I’m fine, really,” she said too quickly.

“I’ve never spent much time around anyone who eats food,” I apologized. “I forget.” It was a poor excuse.

Her expression was totally open as she responded, vulnerable. “I want to stay with you.”

Again, the word stay seemed to carry so much more weight than it usually did.

“Can’t I come in?” I asked gently.

She blinked twice, clearly thrown by the idea. “Would you like to?” “Yes, if it’s all right.”

I wondered if she thought I had to have an explicit invitation in order to come inside. The thought made me smile, and then frown as I felt a spasm of guilt. I would need to come clean with her. Again. But how to broach such a shameful admission?

I stewed on that while I got out and opened the passenger door for her.

“Very human,” she commended. “It’s definitely resurfacing.”

We walked together at human speed across her shadowed, silent yard as if this were a normal thing. She flickered glances at me as we walked, smiling to herself. I reached up and pulled the house key from its hiding place as we passed, then opened the door for her. She hesitated, looking down the dark hallway.

“The door was unlocked?” she asked. “No, I used the key from under the eave.”

I replaced the key in question while she moved to turn on the porch lamp. When she turned back, yellow light made harsh shadows across her face as she raised both eyebrows at me. I could see she meant the look to be stern, but the corners of her lips were puckered as though she was fighting a smile.

“I was curious about you,” I confessed. “You spied on me?”

It didn’t seem to be a joking matter, but she sounded as if she were about to laugh.

I should have confessed all then, but I went along with her teasing tone. “What else is there to do at night?”

It was the wrong choice, a cowardly choice. She heard only a joke, not an admission. Strange again to realize how, even with the huge potential nightmares resolved, there continued to be much to fear. Of course, this issue was nothing but my own fault, my own extremely poor behavior.

She shook her head slightly, then gestured for me to enter. I moved past her down the hall, switching on lights as I went so she wouldn’t have to stumble in the dark. I took a seat at her small kitchen table and looked around, examining the angles that were invisible from outside the window. The room was tidy and warm, bright with gaudy yellow paint that was somehow endearing in its failed attempt to mimic sunshine. Everything smelled like Bella, which should have been quite painful, but I found that I enjoyed it in a strange way. Masochistic, indeed.

She stared at me with a hard to read expression. A little confusion, I guessed, a little bit of wonder. As though she wasn’t sure I was real. I smiled and pointed her toward the refrigerator. She whirled in that direction with an answering grin. I hoped she had some food easily accessible.

Perhaps I should have taken her to dinner? But it felt wrong to think of subjecting ourselves to a crowd of strangers. Our new understanding was still too unique, too raw. Any obstacle that would force silence would be unendurable. I wanted her to myself.

It only took her a minute to find an acceptable option. She cut out a square of casserole and heated it in the microwave. I could smell oregano, onions, garlic, and tomato sauce. Something Italian. She stared intently at the plate while it revolved.

Perhaps I would learn to cook food. Not being able to appreciate flavors the same way a human did would definitely be a hurdle, but there seemed to be quite a bit of math to the process, and I was sure I could teach myself to recognize the correct smells.

Because, suddenly, I felt sure that this was just the first of our quiet evenings in, rather than a singular event. We would have years of this. She and I together, just enjoying each other’s company. So many hours… the light inside me seemed to stretch and grow, and I thought again that I might shatter.

“How often?” Bella asked without looking at me.

My thoughts were so caught up in this tremendous image of the future that I didn’t follow her at once. “Hmmm?”

She still didn’t turn. “How often did you come here?”

Oh, right. Time to have courage. Time to be honest, no matter the consequences. Though after the day I’d had, I felt fairly sure that she would eventually forgive me. I hoped.

“I come here almost every night.”

She spun to look at me with startled eyes. “Why?” Honesty.

“You’re interesting when you sleep. You talk.”

“No!” she gasped. Blood washed into her cheeks and didn’t stop there, coloring even her forehead. The room grew infinitesimally warmer as her blush heated the air around her. She leaned against the counter behind her, gripping it so hard that her knuckles turned white. Shock was the only emotion I could see in her expression, but I was sure others would come soon.

“Are you very angry with me?”

“That depends!” she blurted out breathlessly.

That depends? I wondered what could possibly mitigate my crime. What could make it less or more horrible? I was disgusted by the thought that she was reserving judgment until she knew exactly how offside my lurking had been. Did she imagine that I was as depraved as any peeping tom? That I’d leered at her from the shadows, hoping for her to expose herself? If my stomach could turn, it would have.

Would she believe me if I tried to explain my torment at being separated from her? Could anyone believe the kinds of catastrophes I’d imagined, thinking she might not be safe? They had all been so far-fetched. And yet, if I were separated from her now, I knew the same impossible dangers would begin to plague me again.

Long seconds passed, the microwave shrilled out its announcement that its work was done, but Bella didn’t speak again.

“On?” I prompted.

Bella groaned the words. “What you heard!”

I felt a rush of relief that she did not believe me capable of a viler kind of surveillance. Her only worry was embarrassment at what I might have heard her say? Well, on that matter I could comfort her. She had nothing to be ashamed of. I jumped up and rushed to take her hands. Part of me thrilled to the fact that I could do this so easily.

“Don’t be upset!” I pleaded. Her eyes were downcast. I leaned in so that our faces would be on the same level, and waited until she met my gaze.

“You miss your mother. You worry about her. And when it rains,” I murmured, “the sound makes you restless. You used to talk about home a lot, but it’s less often now. Once you said, ‘It’s too green.’”

I laughed quietly, trying to coax a smile from her. Surely she could see there was no need for mortification.

“Anything else?” she demanded, raising one eyebrow. The way she half turned her face away, her eyes moving down and then darting back up again, helped me realize what she was worried about.

“You did say my name,” I admitted.

She inhaled and then blew out a long sigh. “A lot?” “How much do you mean by ‘a lot,’ exactly?”

Her eyes dropped to the floor. “Oh no!”

I reached out and wrapped my arms carefully around her shoulders. She leaned into my chest, still hiding her face.

Did she think I had ever been anything but overjoyed to hear my name on her lips? It was one of my favorite sounds, along with the sound of her breath, the sound of her heart.…

I whispered my response into her ear. “Don’t be self-conscious. If I could dream at all, it would be about you. And I’m not ashamed of it.”

How I had once wished to be able to dream of her! How I’d ached for that. And now, reality was better than dreams. I wouldn’t want to miss one second of it for any kind of unconsciousness.

Her body relaxed. A happy sound, almost a hum or a purr, sighed out of her.

Could this really be it? Was I to have no punishment at all for my outrageous behavior? This felt more like a reward. I knew I owed her a deeper penance.

I became aware of another sound beyond her heart thrumming in my arms. A car was drawing closer and the thoughts of the driver were very quiet. Tired after a full day. Looking forward to the promise of food and comfort that the warm lights in the windows offered. But I couldn’t be perfectly sure that was what he was thinking.

I didn’t want to move from where I was. I pressed my cheek against Bella’s hair and waited until she also heard her father’s car. Her body stiffened.

“Should your father know I’m here?” She hesitated. “I’m not sure.…”

I brushed my lips quickly against her hair and then released her with a sigh.

“Another time, then…”

I ducked out of the room and darted up the stairs into the darkness of the tiny hall between bedrooms. I’d been here once before, finding a blanket for Bella.

“Edward!” she called in a stage whisper from the kitchen.

I laughed just loud enough for her to know that I was close.

Her father stomped up to the front door, scraping each of his boots twice against the mat. He shoved his key into the lock, and then grunted when the handle turned with the key, already unlatched.

“Bella?” he called as he swung the door open. His thoughts registered the smell of the food in the microwave, and his stomach grumbled.

I realized that Bella, also, had still not eaten. I supposed it was a good thing her father had interrupted us. I would starve her at this rate.

But some small part of me was just a little… wistful. When I’d asked if she wanted her father to know I was here, that we were together, I’d hoped that the answer would be different. Of course, she had so much to consider before introducing me to him. Or she might never want him to know she had someone like me in love with her, and that was perfectly fair. More than fair.

And truly, it would have been inconvenient to meet her father officially in my current state of dress. Or undress. I supposed I should be grateful for her reticence.

“In here,” Bella called to her father. I heard his soft grunt of acknowledgment as he locked the door, and then his boots stomping toward the kitchen.

“Can you get me some of that?” Charlie asked. “I’m bushed.”

It was easy to understand the sounds of Bella moving around the kitchen while Charlie settled himself, even without a more convenient set of thoughts to watch through. Chewing—Bella was finally eating something. The refrigerator opening and closing. The microwave whirring. Liquid— too thick for water, I would guess milk—poured into glasses. A dish set gently on the wooden table. Chair legs scraping against the floor as Bella sat down.

“Thanks,” Charlie said, and then they both were chewing for a long moment.

Bella broke the companionable silence. “How was your day?” Her inflections sounded off, as if her mind was elsewhere. I smiled.

“Good, the fish were biting… how about you? Did you get everything done that you wanted to?”

“Not really—it was too nice out to stay indoors.” Her casual answer wasn’t as relaxed as his. She wasn’t a natural at hiding things from her father.

“It was a nice day,” he agreed, sounding oblivious to the edge in her voice.

A chair moved again.

“In a hurry?” Charlie asked.

Bella swallowed loudly. “Yeah, I’m tired. I’m going to bed early.” Her

footsteps moved to the sink and the water began to run.

“You look kinda keyed up,” Charlie continued. Not so oblivious as I’d thought. I wouldn’t miss these things if his thoughts weren’t so hard to get to. I tried to make sense of them. Bella’s eyes flashing to the hall. The suddenly brighter color in her cheeks. This seemed to be all he was aware of. Then a sudden confusion of images, nebulous and without context. A 1971 mustard-yellow Impala. The Forks High School gym, decorated with crepe paper. A porch swing and a girl with bright green barrettes in her pale hair. Two red vinyl seats at a shiny chrome bar in a tacky diner. A girl with long, dark curls, walking along a beach under the moon.

“Do I?” Bella asked with put-on innocence. Water ran in the sink, and I could hear the sound of bristles against melamine.

Charlie was still thinking about the moon. “It’s Saturday,” he announced randomly.

Bella didn’t seem to know how to respond. I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, either.

Finally, he continued. “No plans tonight?”

I thought I understood the images now. Saturday nights from his youth?

Maybe.

“No, Dad, I just want to get some sleep.” She sounded anything but tired.

Charlie sniffed once. “None of the boys in town your type, eh?”

Was he worried that she wasn’t having a normal teen experience? That she was missing out? For a second I felt a deep twinge of doubt. Should I be worried about the same? What I was keeping her from?

But then the sureness and sense of right from the meadow washed over me. We belonged together.

“No, none of the boys have caught my eye yet.” Bella’s tone was slightly patronizing.

“I thought maybe that Mike Newton… you said he was friendly.”

I hadn’t expected that. A sharp blade of anger twisted in my chest. Not anger, I recognized. Jealousy. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever disliked anyone quite so much as that pointless, insignificant boy.

“He’s just a friend, Dad.”

I couldn’t tell if Charlie was upset by her answer or relieved by it.

Perhaps a mixture of both.

“Well, you’re too good for them all, anyway,” he said. “Wait till you get to college to start looking.”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Bella agreed quickly. She turned the corner and started up the stairs. Her footsteps were slow—probably to emphasize her assertion that she was sleepy—and I had plenty of time to beat her to her room. Just in case Charlie followed. It would hardly be in line with her wishes for him to find me here, half-dressed, eavesdropping.

“’Night, honey,” Charlie called after her.

“See you in the morning, Dad,” she responded in a voice that tried to sound tired but failed badly.

It felt wrong to sit in the rocking chair as usual, invisible in the dark corner. It had been a hiding place when I hadn’t wanted her to know I was here. When I was being deceitful.

I lay across her bed, the most obvious place in the room, where there could be no hint of trying to disguise my presence.

I knew that her scent would engulf me here. The smell of detergent was fresh enough to suggest she’d washed the sheets recently, but it didn’t overpower her own fragrance. Overwhelming as it was, it was also painfully pleasant to be surrounded in such a sharp way by the evidence of her existence.

As soon as she entered the room, Bella stopped dragging her feet. She slammed the door shut behind her, then ran on her tiptoes to the window. Right past me without a glance. She shoved the window open and leaned outside, staring into the night.

“Edward?” she stage-whispered.

I suppose my resting place was not that obvious after all. I laughed quietly at my failed attempt to be aboveboard, then answered her.

“Yes?”

She spun so fast that she nearly lost her balance. With one hand, she gripped the window ledge for stability. Her other hand clutched at her throat.

“Oh,” she choked out. Almost in slow motion, she slid down the wall behind her until she was sitting on the wooden floor.

Once again, it seemed as though everything I did was wrong. At least this time it was funny rather than terrifying.

“I’m sorry.”

She nodded. “Just give me a minute to restart my heart.” In reality, her heart was thrumming from the shock I’d just given her.

I sat up, all my movements deliberate and slow. Moving like a human. She watched, her eyes riveted to each motion, a smile starting to form at the corners of her lips.

Noticing her lips made me feel that she was much too far away. I leaned toward her and picked her up carefully, my hands wrapped around the tops of her arms, then set her down beside me, only an inch of space between us. Much better.

I placed my hand on top of hers, welcoming the smolder of her skin with something like relief. “Why don’t you sit with me?”

She grinned.

“How’s the heart?” I asked, though it was beating so strongly I could feel the subtle vibrations dancing through the air around her.

“You tell me,” she countered. “I’m sure you hear it better than I do.” Accurate. I laughed softly while her smile grew wider.

The pleasant weather wasn’t quite over yet; the clouds parted and a silvery sheen of moonlight touched her skin, making her look like something entirely celestial. I wondered how I looked to her. Her eyes seemed filled with wonder, much as mine must be.

Below us, the front door opened and closed. There were no other thoughts near the house besides Charlie’s muffled narrative. I wondered where he was going. Not far… There was a creak of metal, a muted clank. Something almost like a schematic flashed through his head.

Ah. Her truck. It surprised me a little that Charlie was going to this extreme to curb whatever he thought Bella was up to.

I was about to mention Charlie’s odd behavior when her expression suddenly changed. Her eyes slid to the bedroom door and then back to me.

“Can I have a minute to be human?” she asked. “Certainly,” I responded at once, amused by her phrasing.

Abruptly, her brows lowered and she frowned at me. “Stay,” she ordered in a stern tone.

It was the easiest demand anyone had ever made of me. Nothing I could imagine would compel me to leave this room now.

I made my voice serious to match hers. “Yes, ma’am.” I straightened up and conspicuously locked all my muscles into place. She smiled, pleased.

It took her a minute to gather her things, and then she left the room. She made no attempt to hide the sound of the door closing. Another door banged more loudly. The bathroom. I supposed part of this was convincing Charlie she wasn’t up to anything nefarious. It was unlikely that he could imagine what exactly she was up to. But it was a wasted effort. Charlie came back inside just a moment later. The sound of the shower running upstairs did seem to confuse him, I thought.

While I waited for Bella, I finally took the opportunity to examine her small media collection beside the bed. There weren’t many surprises, after all my interrogations. I found just one hardback in her library, too new to be in paperback yet. It was her copy of Tooth and Claw, the one of her favorites that I’d never read. I’d not yet taken time to catch up on this lack

—I’d been too busy following Bella around like a demented bodyguard. I opened the novel now and began.

I was aware as I read that Bella was taking longer than usual. As ever, the constant anxiety that she would at last see something in me to avoid quickly reared its head. I tried to ignore it. There could be a million reasons why Bella dawdled. I focused on the book instead. I could see why it was one of her favorites—it was both strange and charming. Of course, any story of triumphant love would fit my humor today.

The bathroom door opened. I replaced the book—noting the page number, 166, so I could return to it later—and assumed my statue-like pose from before. But I was disappointed; rather than return, she shuffled down the stairs. Her steps came to a stop on the bottom tread.

“’Night, Dad,” she called out.

Charlie’s thoughts felt slightly scrambled, but I couldn’t make out anything else.

“’Night, Bella,” he mumbled back.

And then she was dashing back up the stairs, skipping steps in apparent haste. She flung the door open—her eyes were searching the darkness for me before she was inside—and then shut it firmly behind herself. When she found me exactly as she expected, a wide grin spread across her face.

I broke my perfect stillness to return it.

She hesitated for a second—her eyes flashing down to her well-worn pajamas—and then crossed her arms in an almost apologetic posture.

I thought perhaps I understood the earlier delay. Not a fear of monsters,

rather a more common fear. Shyness. I could easily imagine how, away from the sun and magic of the meadow, she might feel unsure. I was on unfamiliar ground as well.

I fell back on old habits, trying to tease her out of her insecurity. I appraised her new ensemble with a smile and commented, “Nice.”

She frowned, but her shoulders relaxed. “No,” I insisted. “It looks good on you.”

Perhaps too casual a descriptor. With her wet hair looping in long seaweed tangles around her shoulders, and her face glowing in the moonlight, she looked more than good. The English language needed a word that meant something halfway between a goddess and a naiad.

“Thanks,” she murmured, and then she came to sit beside me, just as close as before. This time she sat cross-legged. Her knee touched my leg, a bright point of heat.

I gestured to the door, and then the room beneath us, where her father’s thoughts were still in a snarl.

“What was all that for?” I asked.

She smiled a tiny, smug smile. “Charlie thinks I’m sneaking out.”

“Ah.” I wondered how much my read of the evening with her father matched her own. “Why?”

She opened her eyes extra wide, feigning innocence. “Apparently, I look a little overexcited.”

Playing along with her joke, I placed my hand beneath her chin and gently lifted her face toward the moonlight as if to better examine it. However, touching her face put all jokes far out of my head.

“You look very warm, actually,” I murmured and, without stopping to think of every possible consequence, I leaned in and pressed my cheek against hers. My eyes closed of their own volition.

I breathed in her scent. Her skin blazed exquisitely against mine.

Her voice was husky when she spoke. “It seems to be…” She lost her voice for a moment, then cleared her throat and continued. “Much easier for you now. To be close to me.”

“Does it seem that way to you?”

I thought about this assumption as I let my nose skim along the edge of her jaw. The physical pain in my throat had never eased in the slightest, though it did nothing to take away from the pleasure of touching her. While

parts of my mind were lost in the miracle of the moment, other parts had never stopped calibrating the actions of every muscle, monitoring every bodily reaction. It took up quite a bit of my mental capacity, in fact, but then, an immortal mind had a great deal of space to spare. This did not damage the moment, either.

I lifted her curtain of damp hair and then pressed my lips lightly against the impossibly soft skin just beneath her ear.

She took a shaky breath. “Much, much easier.”

“Hmm,” was my only comment. I was very much involved in the exploration of her moonlit throat.

“So I was wondering,” she began, but then fell silent when my fingers traced the fragile line of her collarbone. She took another unsteady breath.

“Yes?” I encouraged, my fingertips dipping into the hollow above the bone.

Her voice was higher and trembling as she asked, “Why is that, do you think?”

I chuckled. “Mind over matter.”

She leaned away from me and I froze, on guard at once. Had I crossed a line? Been inappropriate? She stared back at me, seeming just as surprised as I was. I waited for her to say something, but she just gazed at me with ocean-deep eyes. All the while, her heart fluttered so quickly that it sounded like she’d just run a marathon. Or was very frightened.

“Did I do something wrong?” I asked.

“No—the opposite.” Her lips curled into a smile. “You’re driving me crazy.”

A little shocked, I could only ask, “Really?”

Her heart was still thrumming away… not in fear, but in desire.

Knowing this now sent the electric pulse in my own body into overdrive.

My answering smile was probably too wide.

Her grin grew to match mine. “Would you like a round of applause?”

Did she think I was so sure of myself? Could she not guess how entirely out of my wheelhouse all this was? There were many things I excelled at, most of them due to my extra-human abilities. I knew when I could be confident. This was not any of those times.

“I’m just… pleasantly surprised. In the last hundred years or so”—I paused and almost laughed at her somewhat smug reaction before I

continued; she loved my honesty—“I never imagined anything like this.” Nothing close. “I didn’t believe I would ever find someone I wanted to be with in another way than my brothers and sisters.” Perhaps romance always seemed a slightly foolish thing to everyone until one actually fell into it. “And then to find, even though it’s all new to me, that I’m good at it—at being with you.…”

Words rarely failed me, but this was an emotion I’d never experienced, that I had no name for.

“You’re good at everything,” she said, her tone implying that this was so obvious she shouldn’t have had to say it out loud.

I shrugged in mock acceptance, and then laughed quietly with her, mostly with joy and wonder.

Her laugh faded, and a hint of the worry line appeared between her brows. “But how can it be so easy now? This afternoon…”

Though we were more in sync than we’d ever been, I had to remember that her afternoon in the meadow and my afternoon in the meadow had been quite different experiences. How could she begin to understand the kinds of changes I’d gone through in those hours we’d been together in the sun? Despite the new intimacy, I knew I would never explain to her exactly how I’d gotten to this place. She would never know what I had allowed myself to imagine.

I sighed, choosing my words. I wanted her to understand as much as I could share. “It’s not easy.” It would never be easy. It would always be painful. None of that mattered. Possible was all I would ever ask for. “But this afternoon, I was still… undecided.” Was that the best word to describe my sudden fit of violence? I couldn’t think of another. “I am sorry about that. It was unforgivable for me to behave so.”

Her smile became benevolent. “Not unforgivable.”

“Thank you,” I murmured before returning to the task of explaining. “You see… I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough, and…” I took one of her hands and held it against my skin, smoldering embers against ice. It was an instinctive gesture, and I was surprised to find that it did somehow make it easier to speak. “While there was still that possibility that I might be”—I inhaled her scent from the most fragrant point inside her wrist, reveling in the fiery pain—“overcome… I was susceptible. Until I made up my mind that I was strong enough, that there was no possibility at all that I would…

that I ever could…”

My sentence trailed off, unfinished, as I finally met her gaze. I took both her hands in mine.

“So there’s no possibility now.” I couldn’t tell if she meant it as a statement or a question. If it was a question, she seemed very sure of the answer. And I wanted to sing with joy that she was right.

“Mind over matter,” I said again.

“Wow, that was easy.” She was laughing again.

I laughed, too, effortlessly falling into her exuberant mood.

“Easy for you!” I teased. I freed one of my hands to touch the tip of her nose with my index finger.

Abruptly, the jocularity felt off, somehow abrasive. All my anxieties swirled through my head like a whirlpool. My humor vanished and I found myself choking out another warning.

“I’m trying. If it gets to be too much, I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to leave.”

The frown that crossed her face featured an unexpected note of outrage.

But I wasn’t finished cautioning. “And it will be harder tomorrow. I’ve had the scent of you in my head all day, and I’ve grown amazingly desensitized. If I’m away from you for any length of time, I’ll have to start over again. Not quite from scratch, though, I think.”

She leaned toward my chest, then swayed back again, as if she were catching herself. It reminded me of how she’d tucked her chin before. No throat exposure.

“Don’t go away, then.”

I took a steadying breath—a steadying, burning breath—and forced myself to stop panicking. Could she understand that the invitation in her words spoke to my greatest desire?

I smiled at her, wishing I could display a similar kindness on my face. It came so easily to her.

“That suits me. Bring on the shackles—I’m your prisoner.”

I wrapped my hands around her delicate wrists as I spoke, laughing at the image in my mind. They could bind me in iron, or steel, or some stronger alloy yet to be discovered, and none of that would hold me the way one look from this fragile human girl could.

“You seem more optimistic than usual. I haven’t seen you like this

before,” she noted.

Optimistic… an astute observation. My cynical old self seemed an entirely a different person.

I leaned closer to her, her wrists still locked in my hands. “Isn’t it supposed to be like this? The glory of first love, and all that. It’s incredible, isn’t it, the difference between reading about something, seeing it in the pictures, and experiencing it?”

She nodded, thoughtful. “Very different. More… forceful than I’d imagined.”

I contemplated the first time I’d really experienced the difference between first-and secondhand emotion. “For example: the emotion of jealousy,” I said. “I’ve read about it a hundred thousand times, seen actors portray it in a thousand different plays and movies. I believed I understood that one pretty clearly. But it shocked me.… Do you remember the day that Mike asked you to the dance?”

“The day you started talking to me again.” She said this like a correction, as if I were prioritizing the wrong part of the memory.

But I was lost in what had happened just before that, reliving with perfect recall the first time I’d ever felt that specific passion.

“I was surprised,” I mused, “by the flare of resentment, almost fury, that I felt—I didn’t recognize what it was at first. I was even more aggravated than usual that I couldn’t know what you were thinking, why you refused him. Was it simply for your friend’s sake? Was there someone else? I knew I had no right to care either way. I tried not to care.…” My mood shifted as the story followed its path. I laughed once. “And then the line started forming.”

As I had expected, her answering scowl only made me want to laugh again.

“I waited, unreasonably anxious to hear what you would say to them, to watch your expressions. I couldn’t deny the relief I felt, watching the annoyance on your face. But I couldn’t be sure.… That was the first night I came here.”

A slow flush began in her cheeks, but she leaned closer, intense rather than embarrassed. The atmosphere transformed once more, and I found myself mid-confession for the hundredth time today. I whispered more softly now.

“I wrestled all night while watching you sleep… with the chasm between what I knew was right, moral, ethical, and what I wanted. I knew that if I continued to ignore you as I should, or if I left for a few years, till you were gone, that someday you would say yes to Mike, or someone like him. It made me angry.”

Angry, miserable, as if life were draining of all color and purpose.

In what seemed an unconscious movement, she shook her head, denying this vision of her future.

“And then, as you were sleeping, you said my name.”

Looking back, it seemed as though those brief seconds were the turning point, the divide. Though I had doubted myself a million times in the interim, once I’d heard her call to me, I’d never had another choice.

“You spoke so clearly,” I continued, my voice just a breath. “At first I thought you’d woken. But you rolled over restlessly and mumbled my name once more, and sighed. The feeling that coursed through me then was unnerving, staggering. And I knew I couldn’t ignore you any longer.”

Her heart beat more quickly.

“But jealousy… it’s a strange thing. So much more powerful than I would have thought. And irrational! Just now, when Charlie asked you about that vile Mike Newton—”

I didn’t finish, remembering that I should probably not reveal exactly how strong my feelings about the hapless boy had become.

“I should have known you’d be listening,” she muttered.

It wasn’t really an option to not hear anything that happened so close. “Of course.”

That made you feel jealous, though, really?” Her tone changed from annoyance to disbelief.

“I’m new at this,” I reminded her. “You’re resurrecting the human in me, and everything feels stronger because it’s fresh.”

Unexpectedly, a smug little smile puckered her lips. “But honestly, for that to bother you, after I have to hear that Rosalie—Rosalie, the incarnation of pure beauty, Rosalie—was meant for you. Emmett or no Emmett, how can I compete with that?”

She said the words as though she was playing her trump card. As if jealousy were rational enough to weigh out the physical attractiveness of the third parties, and then be felt in direct proportion.

“There’s no competition,” I promised her.

Gently and slowly, I used her imprisoned wrists to pull her closer to me, until her head rested just under my chin. Her cheek seared against my skin.

“I know there’s no competition. That’s the problem,” she grumbled.

“Of course Rosalie is beautiful in her way.…” It wasn’t as if I could deny Rosalie’s exquisiteness, but it was an unnatural, heightened thing— sometimes more disturbing than attracting. “But even if she wasn’t like a sister to me, even if Emmett didn’t belong with her, she could never have one tenth, no, one hundredth of the attraction you hold for me. For almost ninety years I’ve walked among my kind, and yours… all the time thinking I was complete in myself, not realizing what I was seeking. And not finding anything… because you weren’t alive yet.”

I felt her breath against my skin as she whispered her response. “It hardly seems fair. I haven’t had to wait at all. Why should I get off so easily?”

No one had ever had more sympathy for the devil. Still, I wondered that she could count her own sacrifices so lightly.

“You’re right. I should make this harder for you, definitely.” I gathered both of her wrists into my left hand so that my right was free, then brushed lightly down the length of her dripping hair. Its texture, slippery like this, wasn’t so far from the seaweed I’d imagined before. I twisted a strand between my fingers as I listed her forfeitures. “You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me, that’s surely not much. You only have to turn your back on nature, on humanity… what’s that worth?”

“Very little,” she breathed into my skin. “I don’t feel deprived of anything.”

Perhaps it was not surprising that Rosalie’s face flickered behind my eyelids. In the last seven decades, she had taught me a thousand different aspects of humanity to mourn.

“Not yet.”

Something in my voice had her tugging against my hold, pulling back from my chest as she tried to see my face. I was about to free her when something outside our intense moment intruded.

Doubt. Awkwardness. Worry. The words were no clearer than usual, and there wasn’t much time for conjecture.

“What—?” she began, but before she could voice her question, I was on

the move. She caught herself against the mattress as I darted to the dark corner where I habitually spent my nights.

“Lie down,” I whispered just loud enough for her to hear the urgency in my voice. I was surprised that she hadn’t noticed Charlie’s footsteps coming up the stairs. To be fair, it sounded like he was trying to be furtive.

She reacted immediately, diving under her quilt and curling into a ball. Charlie’s hand was already turning the knob. As the door cracked open, Bella took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. The motion was overdone, slightly theatrical.

Huh, was the only reaction I could read from Charlie. As Bella performed her next sleeping breath, Charlie eased the door closed. I waited until his own bedroom door was closed and I’d heard the creak of mattress springs before I returned to Bella.

She must have been waiting for the all clear, still curled in a rigid ball, still amplifying her slow and even breathing. If Charlie had really watched her for a few seconds, he probably would have known she was pretending. Bella wasn’t particularly good at deception.

Following these strange new instincts—they’d yet to lead me astray—I lowered myself onto the bed beside her and then slid under her quilt and put my arm around her.

“You are a terrible actress,” I said conversationally, as if it were a perfectly routine thing for me to lie with her this way. “I’d say that career path is out for you.”

Her heart drummed loudly again, but her voice was as casual as mine. “Darn it.”

She nestled herself against me, closer than before, then lay still and sighed with contentment. I wondered if she would fall asleep like this, in my arms. It seemed unlikely, given the pace of her heart, but she didn’t speak again.

Unbidden, the notes of her song came into my head. I started to hum along almost automatically. The music seemed to belong here, in the place where it had been inspired. Bella didn’t comment, but her body tensed, as if she were listening carefully.

I paused to ask, “Should I sing you to sleep?”

I was surprised when she laughed quietly. “Right, like I could sleep with you here!”

“You do it all the time.”

Her tone hardened. “But I didn’t know you were here.”

I was glad that she still seemed upset by my transgressions. I knew I deserved some kind of punishment, that she should hold me accountable. However, she didn’t move away from me. I couldn’t imagine a punishment that would carry any weight while she allowed me to hold her.

“So if you don’t want to sleep…?” I asked. Was this like food? Was I selfishly keeping her from something vital? But how could I leave when she wanted me to stay?

“If I don’t want to sleep…?” she echoed.

“What do you want to do then?” Would she tell me if she was exhausted? Or would she pretend she was fine?

It took her a long moment to answer. “I’m not sure,” she said at last, and I couldn’t help but wonder what options she had run through in her deliberations. I’d been very forward in joining her like this, but it felt oddly natural. Did it feel that way to her? Or just presumptuous? Did it make her, like me, imagine more? Is that what she’d thought through for so long?

“Tell me when you decide.” I would make no suggestions. I would let her lead.

Easier said than done. In her silence, I found myself leaning closer to her, letting my face brush along the length of her jaw, breathing in both her scent and her warmth. The fire was such a part of me now that it was easy to notice other things. I’d always thought of her scent with fear and desire. But there were so many layers to its beauty that I hadn’t been able to appreciate before.

“I thought you were desensitized,” she murmured.

I returned to my earlier metaphor to explain. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet. You have a very floral smell, like lavender… or freesia.” I laughed once. “It’s mouthwatering.”

She swallowed loudly, then spoke with an assumed nonchalance. “Yeah, it’s an off day when I don’t get somebody telling me how edible I smell.”

I laughed again, and then sighed. I would always regret this part of my response to her, but it wasn’t such a weighty thing anymore. One small thorn, so irrelevant in the face of the rose’s beauty.

“I’ve decided what I want to do,” she announced. I waited eagerly.

“I want to hear more about you.”

Well, not as interesting for me, but she could have whatever she wanted. “Ask me anything.”

“Why do you do it?” she breathed, quieter than before. “I still don’t understand how you can work so hard to resist what you… are. Please don’t misunderstand, of course I’m glad that you do. I just don’t see why you would bother in the first place.”

I was glad she asked this. It was important. I tried to find the best way to explain, but my words faltered in a few places. “That’s a good question, and you are not the first one to ask it. The others—the majority of our kind who are quite content with our lot—they, too, wonder at how we live. But you see, just because we’ve been… dealt a certain hand… it doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to rise above—to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can.”

Was that clear? Would she understand what I meant? She didn’t comment, and she didn’t move.

“Did you fall asleep?” I whispered so quietly that it couldn’t possibly wake her if that were the case.

“No,” she said quickly. And added nothing more.

It was frustrating and hilarious how much nothing had changed despite everything changing. I would always be driven frantic by her silent thoughts.

“Is that all you were curious about?” I encouraged.

“Not quite.” I couldn’t see her face, but I knew she was smiling. “What else do you want to know?”

“Why can you read minds—why only you?” she demanded. “And Alice, seeing the future… why does that happen?”

I wished I had a better answer. I shrugged and admitted, “We don’t really know. Carlisle has a theory—he believes that we all bring something of our strongest human traits with us into the next life, where they are intensified, like our minds, and our senses. He thinks that I must have already been very sensitive to the thoughts of those around me. And that Alice had some precognition, wherever she was.”

“What did he bring into the next life, and the others?”

This was an easier answer; I’d considered it many times before. “Carlisle brought his compassion. Esme brought her ability to love

passionately. Emmett brought his strength, Rosalie…” Well, Rose had brought her beauty. But that seemed a less than tactful answer in light of our earlier discussion. If Bella’s jealousy was even a tiny bit as painful as my own, I didn’t want her to have a reason to feel it again. “Her… tenacity. Or you could call it pigheadedness.” Surely this was true as well. I laughed quietly, imagining how she must have been as a human girl. “Jasper is very interesting. He was quite charismatic in his first life, able to influence those around him to see things his way. Now he is able to manipulate the emotions of those around him—calm down a room of angry people, for example, or excite a lethargic crowd, conversely. It’s a very subtle gift.”

She was quiet again. I wasn’t surprised; it was a lot to process.

“So where did it all start?” she asked at last. “I mean, Carlisle changed you, and then someone must have changed him, and so on.…”

Another answer that was only conjecture. “Well, where did you come from? Evolution? Creation? Couldn’t we have evolved in the same way as other species, predator and prey? Or…” Though I didn’t always agree with Carlisle’s unshakable faith, his answers were just as likely as any others. Sometimes, perhaps because his mind was so firm, they felt most likely. “If you don’t believe that all this world could have just happened on its own, which is hard for me to accept myself, is it so hard to believe that the same force that created the delicate angelfish with the shark, the baby seal and the killer whale, could create both our kinds together?”

“Let me get this straight.” She was trying to sound as serious as before, but I could hear the joke coming. “I’m the baby seal, right?”

“Right,” I agreed, and then laughed. I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to the top of her head.

She twitched, shifted her weight. Was she uncomfortable? I prepared to free her, but she settled again, snug against my chest. Her breath seemed just slightly deeper than before. Her heart had relaxed into a steady rhythm.

“Are you ready to sleep?” I murmured. “Or do you have any more questions?”

“Only a million or two.”

“We have tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.…” It had been a powerful thought in the kitchen, the idea of many more evenings spent in her company. It was more powerful now, curled up together in the dark. If she wished it, there was actually very little time we needed to be separated.

Less time apart than together. Did she feel the shattering joy, too?

“Are you sure you won’t vanish in the morning? You are mythical, after all.” She asked her question with no humor at all. It sounded like a serious concern.

“I won’t leave you,” I promised. It felt like a vow, a covenant. I hoped she could hear that.

“One more, then, tonight…”

I waited for her question, but she didn’t continue. I was mystified when her heart started to move jaggedly again. The air around me heated with the pulse of her blood.

“What is it?”

“No, forget it,” she said quickly. “I changed my mind.” “Bella, you can ask me anything.”

She said nothing. I couldn’t imagine anything she would be frightened to ask at this point. Her heart sped again, and I groaned aloud. “I keep thinking it will get less frustrating, not hearing your thoughts. But it just gets worse and worse.”

“I’m glad you can’t read my thoughts,” she countered at once. “It’s bad enough that you eavesdrop on my sleep-talking.”

Strange that this would be her one objection to my stalking, but I was too eager for her missing question, the one that made her heart race, to worry about that now.

“Please?” I pleaded.

Her hair brushed back and forth across my chest as she shook her head. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll just assume it’s something much worse than it

is.” I waited, but that bluff didn’t move her. In truth, I had no ideas, either trivial or dark. I tried begging again. “Please?”

“Well…” She hesitated, but at least she was talking. Or not. Silence fell again.

“Yes?” I prompted.

“You said… that Rosalie and Emmett will get married soon.…” She trailed off, leaving me baffled again at her train of thought. Did she want an invitation?

“Is that… marriage… the same as it is for humans?”

Even as quickly as my brain worked, it took me a second to follow. It should have been more obvious. I needed to keep firmly in mind that nine

times out of ten—in my experience with her, at least—whenever her heart started to race, it had nothing to do with fear. It was usually attraction. And should this train of thought be in any way shocking when I had just recently climbed into her bed with her?

I laughed at my own obtuseness. “Is that what you’re getting at?”

My question sounded light, but I could not help responding to the subject at hand. The electricity rioted through my body, and I had to resist the urge to reposition myself so that my lips could find hers. That wasn’t the right answer. It couldn’t be. Because there was an obvious second question following the first.

“Yes, I suppose it is much the same,” I answered. “I told you, most of those human desires are there, just hidden behind more powerful desires.”

“Oh.”

She didn’t continue. Maybe I was wrong. “Was there a purpose behind your curiosity?”

She sighed. “Well, I did wonder… about you and me… someday.…”

No, not wrong. The sudden grief felt like a weight pressing against my chest. How I wished I had a different answer to give her.

“I don’t think that… that…”—I avoided the word sex because she did

—“would be possible for us.”

“Because it would be too hard for you?” she whispered. “If I were that… close?”

It was hard not to imagine.… I refocused.

“That’s certainly a problem,” I said slowly. “But that’s not what I was thinking of. It’s just that you are so soft, so fragile. I have to mind my actions every moment that we’re together so that I don’t hurt you. I could kill you quite easily, Bella, simply by accident.” I reached up carefully to lay my hand against her cheek. “If I was too hasty… if for one second I wasn’t paying enough attention, I could reach out, meaning to touch your face, and crush your skull by mistake. You don’t realize how incredibly breakable you are. I can never, never afford to lose any kind of control when I’m with you.”

Admitting to this obstacle seemed less shameful than confessing my thirst. After all, my strength was simply part of what I was. Well, my thirst was, too, but the intensity of it around her was unnatural. That aspect of myself felt indefensible, disgraceful. Even now that it was under control, I

was mortified it existed.

She thought over my answer for a long time. Perhaps my wording was more frightening than I’d intended. But how would she understand if I edited the truth too much?

“Are you scared?” I asked. Another pause.

“No,” she said slowly. “I’m fine.”

We were silent for another pensive moment. I wasn’t thrilled with where my thoughts went in her silence. Even though she’d told me so much about her own past that didn’t align… even though she’d introduced the topic with such bashfulness… I couldn’t help but wonder. And I knew well enough by now that if I ignored my intrusive curiosity, it would only begin to fester.

I tried to sound indifferent. “I’m curious now, though.… Have you

ever…?”

“Of course not,” she answered at once, not angrily, but incredulously. “I told you I’ve never felt like this about anyone before, not even close.”

Did she think I hadn’t been paying attention?

“I know,” I assured her. “It’s just that I know other people’s thoughts. I know love and lust don’t always keep the same company.”

“They do for me. Now, anyway, that they exist for me at all.”

Her use of the plural was a kind of acknowledgment. I knew that she loved me. The fact that we both also lusted was definitely going to complicate matters.

I decided to answer her next question before she could ask it. “That’s nice. We have that one thing in common, at least.”

She sighed, but it sounded like a pleased sigh.

“Your human instincts…,” she asked slowly. “Well, do you find me attractive, in that way, at all?”

I laughed out loud at that. Was there any way in which I did not want her? Mind and soul and body, body no less than either of the others. I smoothed her hair against her neck.

“I may not be a human, but I am a man.”

She yawned, and I suppressed another laugh. “I’ve answered your questions, now you should sleep.”

“I’m not sure if I can.”

“Do you want me to leave?” I suggested, though I was extremely loath to do so.

“No!” In her outrage, her answer was much louder than the whispers we’d been using all night. No harm done; Charlie’s snores didn’t even stutter.

I laughed again, then pulled myself closer to her. With my lips against her ear, I began humming her song again, so quietly it was little more than a breath.

I could feel the difference when she crossed over into unconsciousness. All the alertness escaped her muscles, until they were loose and languid. Her breathing slowed and her hands curled together against her chest, almost as if in prayer.

I felt no desire to move. Ever again, in fact. I knew eventually she would begin to toss, and I would have to get out of her way so as not to wake her, but for now, nothing could be more perfect. I was still unused to this joy, and it didn’t really feel like something a person could get used to. I would embrace it for as long as that was possible, and know that no matter what happened in the future, just having this one paradisiacal day was worth any pain that might follow.

“Edward,” Bella whispered in her sleep. “Edward… I love you.”

 

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