Chapter no 19 – HOME

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)


doubted it.

As she slept, Bella told me again and again that she loved me. More than the words themselves, the sound of perfect bliss in her tone was all I could ever want. I made her truly happy. Did that not excuse everything else?

Eventually, in the very early morning, she settled into deeper sleep. I knew she wouldn’t speak again. After finishing her book—one of my favorites now, too—I’d thought mostly about the day ahead, about Alice’s vision of Bella visiting my family. Though I’d seen it clearly in Alice’s head, it was hard to believe. Would Bella want that? Did I?

I considered Alice’s fairly well-developed friendship with Bella, of which Bella was completely ignorant. Now that I felt assured about the future I was pursuing—and the likelihood of it happening—it did feel a little cruel to keep Alice away from her. What would Bella think of Emmett? I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that he would behave himself. He would find it hilarious to say something off-putting or frightening. Maybe, if I promised him something he wanted… A wrestling match? A football game? There had to be a price he’d accept. I’d already seen how Jasper would keep his distance, but had Alice thought to tell him that, or was her vision contingent on my action? Of course, Bella had met Carlisle, but it would be something different now. I found that the idea of Bella spending time with Carlisle was appealing to me. He was the very best of us. It could only make her think more highly of us all to know him better. And then, Esme would be ecstatic to meet Bella. The thought of Esme’s pleasure almost had my mind made up.

There was just the one obstacle, really. Rosalie.

I realized there was prep work I absolutely had to accomplish before I

could even think of bringing Bella home. And that meant leaving her.

I gazed at her now, deep in her dreams. I’d moved to the floor beside her bed when she’d begun her nightly gyrations. I leaned against the edge of the mattress, one hand outstretched, a lock of her hair wrapped around my finger. I sighed and untangled myself. It had to be done. She would never know I’d left. But would miss her for even this short interlude.

I hurried home, hoping to conclude my tasks in the briefest time possible.

Alice had done her part, as usual. Most of the things I wanted to accomplish were just details. Alice knew which were most vital, and sure enough, Rosalie was waiting on the front porch, perched on the top step of the stairs, as I ran up to the house.

Alice had not told her much. Rosalie’s face was a little confused when I first spotted her, as if she had no idea what she was waiting for. As soon as she caught sight of me, her confusion turned to a scowl.

Oh, what now!

“Rose, please,” I called to her. “Can we talk?”

I should have realized Alice was just helping you.

“And herself, a little.”

Rosalie stood up, brushing her jeans off. “Please, Rose?”

Fine! Fine. Say what you have to say.

I swept my arm out as an invitation. “Come for a walk with me?”

She pursed her lips but nodded. I led the way around the house, to the edge of the night-black river. At first we were silent as we paced north along the bank. There was no sound but the gush of the water.

It was by design I’d chosen this path. I hoped it would remind her of the day I’d been thinking of earlier, the day she’d brought Emmett home. The first time we’d found common ground.

“Can we get on with this?” she complained.

Though she sounded only irritated, I could hear more in her head. She was nervous. Still afraid that I was angry about her bet? A little ashamed of that, I thought.

“I want to ask you a favor,” I told her. “It won’t be easy for you, I know.”

This was not the direction she’d been expecting. My gentle tone only

made her angrier, though.

You want me to be nice to the human, she guessed.

“Yes. You don’t have to like her, if you’d rather not. But she’s part of my life, and that makes her part of your life, too. I know you didn’t ask for this, and you don’t want it.”

No, I do not, she agreed.

“You didn’t ask my permission to bring Emmett home,” I reminded her. She sniffed derisively. That’s different.

“More permanent, certainly.”

Rosalie stopped walking, and I paused with her. She stared at me, surprised and suspicious.

What do you mean by that? Aren’t you talking about permanence?

Her thoughts were so caught up with these questions, it took me by surprise when she spoke to a different subject.

“Did you feel harmed when I chose Emmett? Did that injure you in any way?”

“Of course not. You chose very well.”

She sniffed again, unimpressed with my flattery.

“Could you give me the chance to prove that I have, too?”

Rosalie spun away from me, striding north again, breaking a path now through the untamed forest.

I can’t look at her. When I look at her, I can’t see her as a person. I just see a waste.

Against my intentions, I felt my anger flare. I bit back a growl, and tried to compose myself. Rosalie glanced over her shoulder and saw the change in my expression. She paused again, swinging around to face me. Her features softened.

am sorry. I don’t mean that to sound so cruel. I just can’t… I can’t watch her do this. “She’s got a chance for everything, Edward,” Rosalie whispered, her whole body rigid with intensity. “A whole life of possibilities ahead of her, and she’s going to waste it all. Everything I lost. I can’t bear to watch it.”

I stared back at her, shaken.

I’d been annoyed by Rosalie’s strange jealousy, which indeed had roots in my preference for Bella. That part was all so petty. But this was something different, so much deeper. I felt that I understood her now for the

first time since I’d saved Bella’s life.

I reached out carefully to place my hand on her arm, expecting she would shake it off. But she just stood very still.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” I promised, matching her intensity.

She examined my face for a long moment. Then she pictured Bella in her mind. It wasn’t the perfect representation of Alice’s visions, more of a caricature, really. But it was clear what she meant. Bella’s skin was white, her eyes bright red. The image was flavored with heavy disgust.

This is not your goal?

I shook my head, just as disgusted. “No. No, I want her to have everything. I won’t take anything away from her, Rose. Do you understand? I won’t hurt her that way.”

She was unsettled now, too. But… how do you see that… working?

I shrugged, feigning a nonchalance I didn’t feel. “How long until she grows bored with a seventeen-year-old? Do you think I can keep her interested until she’s twenty-three? Maybe twenty-five? Eventually… she’ll move on.” I tried to control my face, to hide what the words cost me, but she saw through me.

This is a dangerous game you’re playing, Edward.

“I’ll find a way to survive. After she goes…” I flinched, my hand falling to my side.

“That’s not what I meant,” she said. Look, you’re not up to my personal standards, but there’s not a human man alive who can compare with you, and you know it.

I shook my head. “Someday she’ll want more than I can give her.” There was so much I couldn’t give her. “You would have wanted more, wouldn’t you? If you were in her position, and Emmett in mine?”

Rosalie took my question seriously, thinking it through. She imagined Emmett just as he was now, his easy smile, his hands held out to her. She saw herself human again, still lovely but less remarkable, reaching back to him. Then she imagined her human self turning away from him. Neither image seemed to satisfy her.

But I know what I lost, she thought, her tone subdued. I don’t think she’ll see it that way. “I’m going to sound like an octogenarian now,” she continued aloud, the faintest hint of levity suddenly in her voice. “But… you know kids these days.” She smiled weakly. “All about the here and

now, no thought for five years into the future, let alone fifty. What will you do when she asks you to change her?”

“I’ll tell her why it’s wrong. I’ll tell her everything she’ll lose.”

And when she begs?

I hesitated, thinking of Alice’s vision of a grieving Bella, her hollow cheeks, her body curled in on itself in agony. What if my presence, and not my absence, were the reason she felt that way? I imagined her full of Rosalie’s bitterness.

“I’ll refuse.”

Rose heard the iron in my tone, and I could see that she finally understood my resolve. She nodded to herself.

I still think it’s too dangerous. I’m not sure you’re that strong.

She turned around and started walking slowly back toward the house. I kept pace with her.

“Your life isn’t what you wanted,” I began quietly. “But in the last seventy years or so, would you say you’ve had at least five years of pure happiness?”

Flashes of the best parts of her life, all of them revolving around Emmett, moved through her head, though I could see that, obstinate as ever, she didn’t want to agree with me.

I smiled halfheartedly. “Ten years, even?” She wouldn’t answer me.

“Let me have my five years, Rosalie,” I whispered. “I know it can’t last. Let me be happy while happiness is possible. Be part of that happiness. Be my sister, and if you can’t love my choice the way I love yours, can you at least pretend to tolerate her?”

My words, gentle and quiet, seemed to hit her like bricks. Her shoulders were suddenly stiff, brittle.

I’m not sure what I can do. Seeing everything I want… out of my reach… It’s too painful.

It would be painful for her, I knew that. But I also knew that her regret and sorrow wouldn’t equal even a fraction of the anguish that was waiting for me. Rosalie’s life would go back to what it was now. Emmett would be there throughout to comfort her. But I… I would lose everything.

“Will you try?” I demanded, my voice sterner than before.

Her walk slowed for a few seconds, and her eyes were on her feet.

Finally, her shoulders slumped and she nodded. I can try.

“There’s a chance… Alice saw Bella coming to the house in the morning.”

Her eyes flashed up, angry again. I need more time than that.

I held my hands up, placating. “Take the time you need.”

It made me sad, and tired, to see that her eyes were suspicious again. Maybe she wasn’t strong enough. She seemed to feel the judgment in my gaze. She looked away, then suddenly ran for the house. I let her go.

My other errands did not take so long, nor were they as difficult. Jasper agreed easily to my request. My mother was glowing with happy anticipation. What I’d wanted from Emmett no longer applied; it was clear he’d be with Rosalie, and she’d be somewhere far from here.

Well, it was a start. At least I’d gotten Rose to promise to try.

I even took a second to put on fresh clothes. Though the sleeveless shirt Alice had given me long ago had not brought about any of the miseries I’d feared—and had brought some pleasures I hadn’t anticipated—I still found it strangely distasteful. I was more comfortable in my usual clothes.

I passed Alice on my way out, leaning up against the pillar at the edge of the porch steps, near where Rosalie had waited before. Her grin was smug. Everything looks perfect for Bella’s visit. Just as I’d envisioned.

I wanted to point out that what she saw now was still just a vision, changeable as the first, but why bother?

“You’re not taking Bella’s desires into account,” I reminded her. She rolled her eyes. When has Bella ever said no to you?

It was an interesting point. “Alice, I—”

She interrupted, already knowing my question.

See for yourself.

She pictured the intertwined ribbons of Bella’s future. Some were solid, some insubstantial, some disappearing into mist. They were more ordered now, no longer snarled into the messy knot. It was a relief that the most nightmarish of futures was entirely missing. But there, in the sturdiest thread, Bella of the bloodred eyes and diamond skin still held the most prominent place. The vision I was looking for was only part of the more nebulous lines, ribbons at the periphery. Bella at twenty, Bella at twenty- five. Flimsy-seeming visions, blurred around the edges.

Alice wrapped her arms tight around her legs. She didn’t need to read thoughts or the future to read the frustration in my eyes.

“That’s never going to happen.”

When have you ever said no to Bella?

I scowled at her on my way down the steps, and then I was running.

Only moments later I was in Bella’s room. I put Alice out of my mind and let the calm of her quiet slumber wash over me. It looked as if she hadn’t moved at all. And yet, my being away—even briefly—had changed things. I felt… unsure again. Rather than sitting beside her bed as I had before, I found myself back in the old rocking chair. I didn’t want to be presumptuous.

Charlie rose not too long after I’d returned, before the first hints of dawn had even begun to light the sky. I felt confident, due to his usual patterns and also his murky but cheerful thoughts, that he was going fishing again. Sure enough, after a quick peek into Bella’s room that found her more convincingly asleep than she’d been the night before, he tiptoed downstairs and started rummaging through his fishing gear under the stairs. He left the house just as the clouds outside took on a faint, gray luminosity. Again, I heard the rusty creaking of Bella’s truck’s hood. I flitted to the window to watch.

Charlie propped the hood on the strut and then replaced the battery cables that he’d left dangling to the sides. It wasn’t a particularly difficult problem to solve, but maybe he’d assumed that Bella wouldn’t even attempt to fix her truck in the dark. I wondered where he’d imagined she’d want to go.

After a brief moment of loading rods and tackle into the back of his police cruiser, Charlie drove away. I returned to my former place and waited for Bella to wake.

More than an hour later, when the sun was fully up behind the thick blanket of clouds, Bella finally stirred. She threw one of her arms across her face, as if to block the light, then groaned quietly and rolled onto her side, pulling the pillow on top of her head.

Abruptly, she gasped, “Oh!” and lurched dizzily up into a sitting position. Her eyes struggled to focus, and it was obvious she was searching for something.

I’d never seen her like this, first thing in the morning. I wondered if her

hair always looked this way, or if I’d been responsible for the extraordinary mussing.

“Your hair looks like a haystack, but I like it,” I informed her, and her eyes snapped to my position. Relief saturated her expression.

“Edward! You stayed!” Awkward from lying still for so long, she struggled to get to her feet, and then bounded across the room directly toward me, flinging herself into my arms. Suddenly my worries about presumption felt a little silly.

I caught her easily, steadying her on my lap. She seemed shocked by her own impulsiveness, and I laughed at her apologetic expression.

“Of course,” I told her.

Her heart thudded, sounding confused. She’d given it very little time to adjust from sleep to sprint. I rubbed her shoulders, hoping to calm it.

She let her head fall against my shoulder. “I was sure it was a dream,” she whispered.

“You’re not that creative,” I teased her. I couldn’t remember dreaming myself, but from what I’d heard in other human brains, I rather thought it was not a very coherent or detailed thing.

Suddenly, Bella bolted upright. I dropped my hands out of the way as she scrambled to her feet.

“Charlie!” she choked.

“He left an hour ago—after reattaching your battery cables, I might add. I have to admit I was disappointed. Is that really all it would take to stop you, if you were determined to go?”

She rocked indecisively from her toes to her heels, her eyes flicking from my face to the door and then back again. A few seconds passed while she seemed to struggle with some decision.

“You’re not usually this confused in the morning,” I said, though it wasn’t actually something I would know. I never saw her until she’d had plenty of time to wake up. But I hoped that—as she usually did when I assumed something—she would contradict me, and then explain whatever dilemma faced her. I held out my arms to let her know she was welcome— so extremely welcome—to return to me if she wished.

She swayed toward me again, and then frowned. “I need another human minute.”

Of course. I was sure I would get better at this.

“I’ll wait,” I promised her. She’d asked me to stay, and until she told me to go, I would be waiting for her.

This time there was no long delay. I could hear Bella banging cabinets and slamming doors. She was in a rush today. I heard the brush tearing through her hair and it made me wince.

It was only a few moments until she rejoined me. Two high spots of color marked her cheeks, and her eyes were bright and eager. Still, she moved more carefully as she approached me this time, and paused, unsure, when her knees were an inch from mine. She seemed unconscious of the fact that she was warily wringing her hands.

I could only guess she was shy again, that she felt the same unease after being separated that I had felt returning to her room this morning. And—as I was sure was true for me as well—there was absolutely no need for it.

I gathered her carefully into my arms. She curled up willingly against my chest, her legs draped over mine.

“Welcome back,” I murmured.

She sighed, contented. Her fingers traced down my right arm, slow and searching, and then back up again while I rocked lazily back and forth, moving to the rhythm of her breathing.

Her fingertips wandered across my shoulder, then paused at my collar.

She leaned back, staring up at my face with a dismayed expression. “You left?”

I grinned. “I could hardly leave in the clothes I came in—what would the neighbors think?”

Bella’s dissatisfaction only intensified. I didn’t want to explain the errands I’d had to run, so I said the one thing I was absolutely sure would distract her.

“You were very deeply asleep—I didn’t miss anything. The talking came earlier.”

As anticipated, Bella groaned. “What did you hear?” she demanded.

It was impossible to hold on to my jocular mood. It felt as though my insides were melting into liquid joy as I told her the truth. “You said you loved me.”

Her eyes dropped, and she pressed her face against my shoulder, hiding. “You knew that already,” she whispered. The heat of her breath saturated

the cotton of my shirt.

“It was nice to hear, just the same,” I murmured into her hair. “I love you.”

The words hadn’t lost their ability to thrill me. On the contrary, they were more overpowering now. It meant much to have her choose to say them, knowing I was listening.

I wanted even stronger words, words that could accurately describe what she had become to me. There was nothing left inside me that wasn’t entirely about her. I remembered our first conversation, remembered thinking then that I did not truly have a life. That was no longer the case.

“You are my life now,” I whispered.

Though the sky was still full of thick clouds, the sun buried deep behind them, the room somehow filled with golden light. The air turned clearer, purer than the normal atmosphere. We rocked slowly, my arms around her, savoring the perfection.

As I’d thought so often in the past twenty-four hours, I knew I would be totally satisfied with every part of the universe if I never had to move again. The way her body was melted against mine, I thought she must feel the same.

Ah, but I had responsibilities. I needed to keep my unruly joy in check and be practical.

I held her just a little tighter for one second, then forced my arms to relax.

“Breakfast time?” I suggested.

Bella hesitated, perhaps as averse as I was to allowing any space to come between us. Then she twisted her torso away from me, leaning back so I could see her face.

Her eyes were round with terror. Her mouth fell open and her hands flew up to protect her throat.

I was so horrified by her obvious distress that I couldn’t process what was happening. My senses flailed out wildly around us like tentacles, looking for whatever danger threatened.

And then, before I could dive out the window with her in my arms and run for safety, her expression relaxed into a sly smile. I finally understood the connection between my words and her reaction, the joke she was making.

She giggled. “Kidding! And you said I couldn’t act.”

It took me half a second to compose myself. Relief made me feel weak, but the shock also left me agitated. “That wasn’t funny.”

“It was very funny,” she insisted, “and you know it.”

I couldn’t help but smile at her. I supposed if vampire jokes were going to become a thing with us, I could bear it. For her sake.

“Shall I rephrase? Breakfast time for the human.” She smiled blithely. “Oh, okay.”

While I was willing to accept a future of bad jokes, I wasn’t entirely ready to let her off the hook for this one.

I moved with extreme care, but I didn’t move slowly. I hoped she would be as shocked as I’d been—though definitely not as frightened—as I folded her over my shoulder and darted from the room.

“Hey!” she complained, her voice bouncing with my movement, and I slowed slightly on the way down the stairs.

“Whoa,” she gasped as I turned her upright and set her down gently on a kitchen chair.

She looked up at me and smiled, clearly not shaken in the least. “What’s for breakfast?”

I frowned. I’d not had time to figure out the human food thing. Well, I knew the basics of what it should look like at least, so I could probably improvise.…

“Er…” I hesitated. “I’m not sure. What would you like?” Hopefully something straightforward.

Bella laughed at my confusion and stood up, stretching her arms over her head. “That’s all right,” she assured me. “I fend for myself pretty well.” She raised one eyebrow and added—with an arch smile—“Watch me hunt.” It was enlightening and alluring to watch her in her element. I hadn’t seen her this confident and at ease before. It was clear she could have located everything she was looking for while wearing a blindfold. First a bowl, and then—stretching up on her toes—a box of off-brand Cheerios from a high shelf. Spinning to tug open the fridge while also pulling a spoon from a drawer she then nudged shut with her hip. It was only after

she’d assembled everything on the table that she hesitated. “Can I… get you anything?”

I rolled my eyes. “Just eat, Bella.”

She took one bite of the inedible-looking slush and chewed quickly, glancing up at me. After she’d swallowed, she asked, “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“Hmmm…” I’d meant to work up to this, but I would be lying to her now if I said I had no ideas. “What would you say to meeting my family?”

Her face blanched. Well, if her answer was no, that was that. I wondered how Alice had gotten it wrong.

“Are you afraid now?” My question sounded almost as if I wanted her to say yes. I supposed I had been waiting for something that would be too much.

The answer was obvious in her eyes, but she said, “Yes,” in a low, tremulous voice, which I hadn’t expected. She never admitted when she was afraid. Or, at least, she never admitted when she was afraid of me.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” I said, smiling halfheartedly. I wasn’t trying to convince her. There were a million other things we could do together today that wouldn’t make her feel as though her life was on the line. But I wanted her to know that I would always put myself between her and any danger, meteor or monster.

She shook her head. “I’m not afraid of them. I’m afraid they won’t… like me. Won’t they be, well, surprised that you would bring someone”— she frowned—“like me home to meet them? Do they know that I know about them?”

A sudden pulse of unexpected anger rocked me. Maybe it was because she was right, about Rosalie at least. I hated that Bella referred to herself this way, as though there were something wrong with her, and not the other way around.

“Oh, they already know everything,” I said, and the anger was clear in my voice. I tried to smile, but I could tell it didn’t soften my tone. “They’d taken bets yesterday, you know, on whether I’d bring you back, though why anyone would bet against Alice, I can’t imagine.” I realized I was prejudicing her against them, but it was fair she should know. I tried to rein in my ire. “At any rate, we don’t have secrets in the family. It’s not really feasible, what with my mind reading and Alice seeing the future and all that.”

She smiled weakly. “And Jasper making you feel all warm and fuzzy about spilling your guts, don’t forget that.”

“You paid attention.”

“I’ve been known to do that every now and then.” She frowned as if concentrating, and then nodded. Almost as if she were accepting the invitation.

“So did Alice see me coming?”

Bella spoke in her matter-of-fact voice, as though our topic was quite mundane. was surprised, though, because it sounded very much like she was agreeing to go to meet my family. As if Alice’s vision meant there wasn’t another choice.

Her total acceptance of Alice’s word as law touched my rawest nerve. I hated the possibility that even now, I might be ruining Bella’s life.

“Something like that,” I admitted, and turned my face as if I were looking out the windows into the backyard. I didn’t want her to see how upset I was. I could feel her eyes on me, and doubted I was fooling her.

Forcing myself to fix the mood I’d created, I looked back to her and smiled as naturally as I could. “Is that any good?” I asked, gesturing to her cereal. “Honestly, it doesn’t look very appetizing.”

“Well, it’s no irritable grizzly.…” She trailed off when she processed my reaction, then focused on her food, eating quickly now.

She was thinking hard about something, too, staring into a middle distance as she chewed, but I doubted our thoughts were in sync at this moment.

I gazed out the windows again, letting her eat in peace. I looked at the small yard, remembering the sunny day I’d watched her there. Remembering the darkness of the clouds overtaking her. It was too easy to slip back into that despair, to second-guess all my good intentions and see them as nothing but selfishness.

I turned back to her in turmoil, only to find her watching me with fearless eyes. She trusted me, as she always had. I took a deep breath.

I would live up to her trust. I knew I could. When she looked at me that way, there was nothing I couldn’t do.

Well, so Alice would be proven right in this one minor, simple prophecy. That was no surprise. I wondered how much of Bella’s acceptance was just to please me? Probably the larger portion. There was something closely related that I very much wanted, but I worried that Bella would again agree just for my sake. Well, I could at least share my opinion, and see how she


“And you should introduce me to your father, too, I think,” I said casually.

She was taken aback. “He already knows you.” “As your boyfriend, I mean.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Isn’t that customary?” I sounded at ease, but her resistance rattled me. “I don’t know,” she admitted. Her voice was quieter—less sure—when

she continued. “That’s not necessary, you know. I don’t expect you to… I mean, you don’t have to pretend for me.”

Did she think this was an unwelcome chore I was undertaking for her sake alone? “I’m not pretending,” I promised.

She looked down at her breakfast, stirring the remnants of her cereal listlessly.

Perhaps it was better to just get to the no.

“Are you going to tell Charlie I’m your boyfriend or not?” Still looking down, she asked softly, “Is that what you are?”

This was not the rejection I had feared. Clearly, I was misunderstanding something. Was it because I wasn’t human that she didn’t think Charlie should know about me? Or was it something else?

“It’s a loose interpretation of the word boy, I’ll admit.”

“I was under the impression that you were something more, actually,” she whispered, face still lowered as if she were talking to the table.

Her expression reminded me again of that charged conversation at lunch, how she’d thought our feelings were unequal, that mine were lesser. I couldn’t understand how asking to meet her father had led her to this train of thought. Unless… was it the impermanence of the word boyfriend? It was a very human, fleeting sort of concept. Truly, the word didn’t encompass even the smallest fraction of what I wanted to be to her, but it was the word Charlie would understand.

“Well, I don’t know if we need to give him all the gory details,” I answered softly. I reached out with one finger to raise her face so that I could see her eyes. “But he will need some explanation for why I’m around here so much. I don’t want Chief Swan getting a restraining order put on me.”

“Will you be?” she asked anxiously, ignoring my mild joke. “Will you

really be here?”

“As long as you want me.” Until she asked me to leave, I was hers.

She almost glared at me, so intense was her gaze. “I’ll always want you.


I heard Alice’s certainty again: When have you ever said no to Bella?

I heard Rosalie’s questions: What will you do when she asks you to change her? And when she begs?

Rosalie was right about one thing, though. When Bella said the word forever, it didn’t mean the same thing to her as it meant to me. For her, it meant merely a very long time. It meant she couldn’t see the end yet. How could anyone who had lived only seventeen years comprehend what fifty years meant, let alone eternity? She was human, not a frozen immortal. Within just a few years, she would reinvent herself many times over. Her priorities would shift as her world grew wider. The things she wanted now wouldn’t be the things she wanted then.

I walked slowly to her side, knowing my time was running out. I traced her face with my fingertips.

She stared back at me, trying to understand. “Does that make you sad?” she asked.

I didn’t know how to answer her. I just watched her face, feeling as if I could see it changing infinitesimally with each passing beat of her heart.

She never looked away. I wondered what she saw in my face. If she thought at all about how it would never change.

The feeling of sand slipping through the neck of an hourglass only intensified. I sighed. There wasn’t time to waste.

I glanced at her nearly empty bowl. “Are you finished?” She stood up. “Yes.”

“Get dressed—I’ll wait here.” Without a word, she complied.

I needed that minute alone. I wasn’t sure why I was lost in so many ominous thoughts. I needed to get myself in hand. I had to grasp every second of happiness I was allowed, all the more because those seconds were numbered. I knew I had a great capacity for ruining even the best moments with my wretched doubts and endless overthinking. What a waste, if I were only to have a few years, to spend any of them wallowing.

Through the ceiling, I listened to the sound of Bella wrestling with her

wardrobe. There was not as much commotion as two nights ago, when she was preparing for our trip to the meadow, but it was close. I hoped she wasn’t too stressed about how she would appear to my family. Alice and Esme already loved her unconditionally. The others wouldn’t notice her clothes—they would only see a human girl brave enough to visit a house full of vampires. Even Jasper would have to be impressed by that.

I’d pulled myself together by the time she ran back down the stairs. Just focus on the day ahead. Focus on the next twelve hours at Bella’s side. Surely that was enough to keep me smiling.

“Okay, I’m decent,” she called as she took the stairs two at a time. I caught her as she nearly collided with me. She looked up with a wide grin, and all my lingering doubts crumbled away.

As I’d known she would be, she was wearing the blue blouse she’d worn in Port Angeles. My favorite, I supposed. She looked so pretty. And I liked the way she’d pulled her hair back. There was no way for her to hide behind it now.

Impulsively, I wrapped my arms around her and held her close. I breathed in her fragrance, and smiled.

“Wrong again,” I teased. “You are utterly indecent. No one should look so tempting, it’s not fair.”

She pushed against my hold and I loosened my arms. She leaned back just far enough to read my face.

“Tempting how?” she asked, cautious. “I can change.…”

Last night, she’d asked me if I was attracted to her as a woman. Though I felt it was so obvious as to be ridiculous, maybe, somehow, she still didn’t understand.

“You are so absurd.” I laughed, and then kissed her forehead, letting the feel of her skin against my lips wash like a wave of electricity down the length of my body. “Shall I explain how you are tempting me?”

Slowly, my fingers followed the length of her spine, discovering the curve at the small of her back, then resting atop the slope of her hip. Though I’d meant to tease her, I was soon lost in the moment as well. My lips brushed against her temple, and I heard my breath speeding to match her heart. Her fingers trembled against my chest.

I only had to incline my head, and then her lips, so soft and warm, were just a hair’s breadth away from my own. Carefully, wary of the power of the

alchemy, I touched my lips to hers.

While my whole body again overflowed with light and electricity, I waited for her reaction, ready to disengage if things got out of hand. She was more careful this time, holding herself nearly motionless. Even her trembling had stilled.

Moving with what caution I could muster in the face of what I was feeling, I pressed my lips more firmly against hers, savoring their soft yield. I was not as much in control of myself as I should have been. I let my lips fall open, wanting to feel her breath in my mouth.

Just at that moment, her legs seemed to give out, and she slid through my arms toward the floor.

I caught her at once, holding her upright. I held up her head with my left hand; it rocked, loose on her neck. Her eyes were closed and her lips white.

“Bella?” I shouted, panicking.

She gasped in a loud breath and her eyelids fluttered. I realized that I hadn’t heard the sound of her breathing in a while—longer than was right.

Another ragged breath and her feet struggled to find the floor.

“You…,” she sighed with her eyes still half-closed, “made… me… faint.”

She had actually stopped breathing to kiss me. Probably in a misguided attempt to make things less difficult for me.

“What am I going to do with you?” I half growled. “Yesterday I kiss you, and you attack me! Today you pass out on me!”

She giggled, choking on her own laughter as her lungs tried to pull in the necessary oxygen. I was still supporting most of her weight.

“So much for being good at everything,” I muttered.

“That’s the problem. You’re too good.” She took a deep breath. “Far, far too good.”

“Do you feel sick?” At least her lips had not gone green. A delicate shade of pink was creeping into them as I watched.

“No,” she answered, her voice stronger. “That wasn’t the same kind of fainting at all. I don’t know what happened.… I think I forgot to breathe.”

I’d noticed.

“I can’t take you anywhere like this,” I grumbled.

She took another breath, and then straightened in my arms. She blinked fast five times, and lifted her chin into its most stubborn position.

“I’m fine.” Her voice was stronger, I had to concede. And the color had already come back into her face. “Your family is going to think I’m insane anyway, what’s the difference?”

I examined her carefully. Her breathing had evened out. Her heart sounded stronger than it had a moment ago. She seemed to be supporting her own weight without difficulty. The roses in her cheeks were getting brighter with every passing second, set off by the vivid blue of her blouse.

“I’m very partial to that color with your skin,” I told her. That made her blush even more intensely.

“Look,” she said, interrupting my scrutiny. “I’m trying really hard not to think about what I’m about to do, so can we go already?”

Her voice was back to normal strength as well.

“And you’re worried, not because you’re headed to meet a houseful of vampires, but because you think those vampires won’t approve of you, correct?”

She grinned. “That’s right.”

I shook my head. “You’re incredible.”

Her smile widened. She took my hand and pulled me to the door.

I decided it was better to pretend that the driving arrangements were already settled than to ask her about them. I let her lead the way to her truck, and then deftly opened the passenger door for her. She didn’t object in any way; she didn’t even glare at me. I felt this was a promising sign.

While I drove, she sat up alertly and stared out her window, watching the houses race past us. I could see that she was nervous, but I also guessed that she was curious. Once it was clear we were not going to stop at any given house, she lost all interest in it and looked to the next. I wondered how she pictured my home.

As we left the town behind us, she seemed to get more apprehensive. She glanced at me a few times, as if she wanted to ask a question, but when she caught me looking at her, she turned back to the window quickly, her ponytail whipping out behind her. Her toes started tapping against the floor of the truck cab, though I hadn’t put the radio on.

When I turned onto the drive, she sat up straighter, and then her knee was bouncing in time with her toes. Her fingers pressed so tightly against the window frame that their tips turned white.

As the drive wound on and on, she started to frown. And truly, it did

look like we were headed somewhere just as remote and uninhabited as the meadow. The stress mark appeared between her brows.

I reached out and brushed her shoulder, and she gave me a strained smile before turning to the window again.

Finally, the drive broke through the last fringe of the forest and onto the lawn. Still in the shade of the big cedars, it didn’t feel like an abrupt change. It was odd to look at the familiar house and try to imagine how it would appear to new eyes. Esme had excellent taste, so I knew the house was objectively beautiful. But would Bella see a structure that was trapped in time, that belonged to another era, yet was clearly new and strong? As if we’d traveled backward in time to find it, rather than it aging forward to us?

“Wow,” she breathed.

I cut the engine and the following silence strengthened the impression that we could be in another part of history.

“You like it?” I asked.

She glanced at me from the corner of her eye, then looked back to the house. “It… has a certain charm.”

I laughed and tweaked her ponytail, then slid out of the car. Less than a second passed, and I was holding her door open for her.


“Not even a little bit.” She laughed, breathless. “Let’s go.” She ran a hand over her hair, searching for tangles.

“You look lovely,” I assured her, and took her hand.

Her palm was moist, and not as warm as usual. I rubbed the back of her hand with my thumb, trying to communicate without words that she was perfectly safe, and everything would be fine.

She started to slow as we walked up the porch steps, and her hand was trembling.

Hesitating would only prolong her unease. I opened the door, already knowing exactly what was on the other side.

My parents were just where their thoughts had placed them in my mind’s eye, and just as Alice had envisioned them. They stood back half a dozen paces from the door, giving Bella some breathing space. Esme was as nervous as Bella seemed to be, though for her, that meant perfect stillness rather than Bella’s agitation. Carlisle’s hand rested on the small of her back in a comforting fashion. He was used to interacting with humans casually,

but Esme was shy. It was rare that she ventured out alone to mix with the mortal world. A true homebody, she was quite happy to let the rest of us bring the world back to her as needed.

Bella’s eyes darted around the room, taking it in. She was slightly behind me, as if using my body as a shield. I couldn’t help but feel relaxed inside my home, though I knew it was the opposite for her. I squeezed her hand.

Carlisle smiled warmly at Bella, and Esme quickly followed suit. “Carlisle, Esme, this is Bella.” I wondered whether Bella heard the note

of pride in my voice as I introduced her.

Carlisle moved forward with deliberate slowness. He held out his hand, a little tentative.

“You’re very welcome, Bella.”

Perhaps because she already knew Carlisle, Bella seemed suddenly more comfortable. Looking confident, she stepped forward to meet his advance— while not untangling her fingers from mine—and shook his offered hand without even a wince at the chill. Of course, she was surely used to that by now.

“It’s nice to see you again, Dr. Cullen,” she said, sounding like she really meant it.

Such a brave girl, Esme thought. Oh, she’s darling.

“Please, call me Carlisle.”

Bella beamed. “Carlisle,” she repeated.

Esme joined Carlisle then, moving in the same slow, careful way. She placed one hand on Carlisle’s arm, and extended the other. Bella took it without hesitation, smiling at my mother.

“It’s very nice to know you,” Esme said, affection radiating from her smile.

“Thank you,” Bella said. “I’m glad to meet you, too.”

Though the words were conventional enough on both sides, they both spoke with such earnestness that the exchange carried a deeper significance.

I adore her, Edward! Thank you for bringing her to see me!

I could only smile at Esme’s enthusiasm.

“Where are Alice and Jasper?” I asked, but it was more of a prompt. I could hear them waiting at the top of the stairs, Alice timing her perfect entrance.

My question seemed to be what she was waiting for. “Hey, Edward!” she called as she darted into view. Then she ran—really ran, not in a human way—down the steps and hurtled to a stop just inches from Bella. Carlisle, Esme, and I all froze in surprise, but Bella didn’t so much as flinch, even when Alice sprang forward to kiss her cheek.

I shot her a warning look, but Alice wasn’t paying any attention to me. She was living halfway between this moment and a thousand future moments, exulting in finally getting to begin her friendship. Her feelings were very sweet, but I couldn’t enjoy them. More than half of her yet-to-be memories featured the white, lifeless Bella, so flawless and so cold.

Alice was oblivious to my reaction, focused on Bella.

“You do smell nice,” she commented. “I never noticed before.” Bella blushed and all three of them looked away.

I tried to think of a way to ease the awkwardness, but then, like magic, there was no awkwardness. I was perfectly comfortable, and I could feel Bella’s tension melt out of her body.

Jasper followed Alice down the stairs, not racing but not moving cautiously like Carlisle and Esme, either. There was no need for him to put on a show. Everything he did seemed natural and right.

In truth, he was laying it on a little thick.

I gave him a sardonic look, and he grinned at me, then stopped by the newel post, leaving what might have felt like an odd distance between himself and the rest of us, but of course it couldn’t feel odd if he didn’t want it to.

“Hello, Bella.”

“Hello, Jasper.” She smiled easily, then looked at Esme and Carlisle. “It’s nice to meet you all—you have a very beautiful home.”

“Thank you,” Esme answered. “We’re so glad that you came.”

She’s perfect.

Bella glanced at the stairs again, expectant. But I knew there would not be any more introductions this morning.

Esme understood the look as well.

I’m sorry. She wasn’t ready. Emmett’s trying to calm her down.

Should I make excuses for Rosalie? Before I could decide what to say, Carlisle caught my attention.


I looked at him automatically. His intensity contrasted with the easy mood Jasper had created.

Alice saw some visitors. Strangers. At the rate they’re moving, they’ll find us tomorrow night. I thought you should know immediately.

I nodded once, my lips pressing into a thin line. What miserable timing. Well, I supposed the silver lining was that I was now free to explain to Bella why I was kidnapping her. She would understand. Charlie wouldn’t. I’d have to figure out the safest, least disruptive plan. Or rather, we would. She would certainly have opinions.

I looked to Alice for a visual clarification, but she was thinking about the weather.

“Do you play?” Esme asked, and I glanced over to see that Bella was eyeing my piano.

Bella shook her head. “Not at all. But it’s so beautiful. Is it yours?” Esme laughed. “No. Edward didn’t tell you he was musical?”

Bella gave me the strangest look, as if this news was irritating. I wondered why. Did she have a yet undiscovered prejudice against pianists?

“No,” she answered Esme. “I should have known, I guess.”

What does she mean, Edward? Esme wondered, as if I would know the answer. Luckily, her expression was confused enough to compel Bella to explain.

“Edward can do everything,” Bella clarified. “Right?”

Carlisle repressed his amusement, but Jasper laughed out loud. Alice was watching the conversation that would happen twenty seconds from now; this was old news to her.

Esme gave me her best disapproving-mother look. “I hope you haven’t been showing off—it’s rude.”

“Just a bit,” I admitted, laughing, too.

He looks so happy, Esme thought. I’ve never seen him this way. Thank goodness he found her at last.

“He’s been too modest, actually,” Bella disagreed. Her eyes flickered to the piano again.

“Well, play for her,” Esme encouraged.

I shot my mother a betrayed look. “You just said showing off was rude.”

Esme was holding back a laugh of her own. “There are exceptions to every rule.”

If she’s not totally hooked yet, that should do it.

I stared back, deadpan.

“I’d like to hear you play,” Bella volunteered.

“It’s settled then.” Esme put her hand on my shoulder and nudged me toward the piano.

Fine, if that’s what they wanted. I kept Bella’s hand so she would have to join me. This was her idea, after all.

I’d never been self-conscious about my music before—there was never anybody but family or close friends around to hear me, and besides Esme, most of them barely seemed to notice I was playing. So this was a new feeling. Maybe if Esme hadn’t mentioned showing off before, it wouldn’t have felt so forced.

I sat on the bench off-center, pulling Bella down to sit beside me. She smiled at me eagerly. I stared back at her, frowning, hoping she recognized that I was only doing this because she’d asked.

I chose Esme’s song—it was a joyful song, a triumphant song, suited to the day’s mood.

As I began, I watched Bella’s reaction from the corner of my eye. I didn’t need to look at the keys, but I didn’t want to make her feel scrutinized.

After just the first few measures, her mouth fell open.

Jasper laughed again; this time Alice joined him. Bella stiffened, but didn’t turn. Her eyes narrowed, her gaze never leaving my fingers, chasing them as they moved across the keys.

I heard Alice skip to the stairs at the same time that Carlisle thought, Well, that’s probably enough of us for now. We don’t want to overwhelm her. Esme was disappointed, but she followed Alice upstairs. They would all pretend that this was just a normal day, that it was nothing momentous to have a human inside our house. One by one, they flitted away to the tasks

they would have been pursuing if I hadn’t brought the mortal home.

Bella was still entirely focused on the motion of my hands, but I thought she was not… as eager as before? Her brows were pressing down over her eyes. I didn’t understand her expression.

I tried to cheer her, turning my head to catch her attention and winking once. That usually made her smile.

“Do you like it?” I asked.

Her head tilted to the side and then something seemed to occur to her.

Her eyes grew huge again.

You wrote this?” she said, her tone strangely accusatory.

I nodded and added, “It’s Esme’s favorite,” like an apology, though I wasn’t sure what I was trying to excuse.

Bella stared at me, strangely forlorn. Her eyes closed, and her head rocked slowly from side to side.

“What’s wrong?” I implored.

She opened her eyes and finally smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “I’m feeling extremely insignificant,” she admitted.

I was stunned for a moment. I supposed Esme’s earlier words about showing off were the crux of the matter. Her idea that my music would win over whichever corners of Bella’s heart remained ambivalent was obviously misguided.

How to explain that all these things I could do, things that came with such ridiculous ease because of what I was, were entirely meaningless? They didn’t make me special or superior. How to show her that everything I was had never been enough to make me worthy of her? That she was the lofty goal I’d been trying to reach for so long?

I could only think of one way. I created a simple bridge and shifted into a new song. She watched my expression now, expecting me to respond. I waited until I was through the main structure of the melody, hoping she would recognize it.

“You inspired this one,” I murmured.

Could she feel how this music came from the very core of my being? And that my core, along with everything else I was, centered wholly on her?

For a few moments, I let the notes of the song fill in the spaces that my words never quite could. The melody expanded as I played, drifting away from its former minor key, reaching now for a happier resolution.

I thought I should allay her earlier fears. “They like you, you know.

Esme especially.” Bella had probably been able to see that herself.

She twisted to peek over her shoulder. “Where did they go?” “Very subtly giving us some privacy, I suppose.”

They like me,” she groaned. “But Rosalie and Emmett…”

I shook my head impatiently. “Don’t worry about Rosalie. She’ll come


She pursed her lips, unconvinced. “Emmett?”

“Well, he thinks I’m a lunatic, it’s true.” I laughed once. “But he doesn’t have a problem with you. He’s trying to reason with Rosalie.”

The corners of her lips pulled down. “What is it that upsets her?”

I took a breath and exhaled slowly—stalling. I wanted to say only the most necessary parts, and say them in the least upsetting way.

“Rosalie struggles the most with… with what we are,” I explained. “It’s hard for her to have someone on the outside know the truth. And she’s a little jealous.”

Rosalie is jealous of me?” She looked as though she wasn’t sure whether I was joking.

I shrugged. “You’re human. She wishes that she were, too.”

“Oh!” That revelation stunned her for a moment. But then the frown returned. “Even Jasper, though…”

The sense that everything was perfectly natural and easy had faded as soon as Jasper had stopped concentrating on us. I imagined she was remembering his introduction without that influence, and seeing for the first time the strangeness of the wide space he had left between them.

“That’s really my fault. I told you he was the most recent to try our way of life. I warned him to keep his distance.”

I’d said the words lightly, but after a second, Bella shivered.

“Esme and Carlisle?” she asked quickly, as if eager for a new subject. “Are happy to see me happy. Actually, Esme wouldn’t care if you had a

third eye and webbed feet. All this time she’s been worried about me, afraid that there was something missing from my essential makeup, that I was too young when Carlisle changed me.… She’s ecstatic. Every time I touch you, she just about chokes with satisfaction.”

She pursed her lips. “Alice seems very… enthusiastic.”

I tried to keep my composure, but I heard the edge of ice in my answer. “Alice has her own way of looking at things.”

Her aspect had been tense for most of our exchange, but suddenly she was grinning. “And you’re not going to explain that, are you?”

Of course she’d noticed all my strange reactions to any mention of Alice; I’d not been very subtle. At least she was smiling now, pleased to catch me out. I was sure she had no idea why I was irritated with Alice. Just

letting me know that she knew that I was keeping something from her seemed to be enough for her now. I didn’t respond, but I didn’t think she was expecting me to.

“So what was Carlisle telling you before?” she asked.

I frowned. “You noticed that, did you?” Well, I knew I needed to tell her this.

“Of course.”

I thought of that little shudder when I’d explained about Jasper.… I hated to alarm her again, but she should be frightened.

“He wanted to tell me some news,” I admitted. “He didn’t know if it was something I would share with you.”

She sat up straighter, alert. “Will you?”

“I have to, because I’m going to be a little… overbearingly protective over the next few days—or weeks—and I wouldn’t want you to think I’m naturally a tyrant.”

My trivializing did not put her at ease. “What’s wrong?” she demanded.

“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. Alice just sees some visitors coming soon.

They know we’re here, and they’re curious.”

She repeated my word in a whisper. “Visitors?”

“Yes… well, they aren’t like us, of course—in their hunting habits, I mean. They probably won’t come into town at all, but I’m certainly not going to let you out of my sight till they’re gone.”

She shuddered so hard I could feel the motion in the bench beneath us. “Finally, a rational response!” I muttered. I thought of all the horrifying

things she’d accepted about me without a tremor. Only other vampires were scary, apparently. “I was beginning to think you had no sense of self- preservation at all.”

She ignored that, and started to watch my hands moving over the keys again. After a few seconds, she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Had she processed another waking nightmare so easily?

It seemed so. She examined the room now, her head turning slowly as she scrutinized my home. I could imagine what she was thinking.

“Not what you expected, is it?” I guessed. She was still cataloguing with her eyes. “No.”

I wondered what had surprised her most: the light colors, the vast

openness of the space, the wall of windows? It was all very carefully designed—by Esme—not to feel like some kind of fortress or asylum.

I could hazard what a normal human would have predicted. “No coffins, no piled skulls in the corners; I don’t even think we have cobwebs… what a disappointment this must be for you.”

She didn’t react to my joke. “It’s so light… so open.” “It’s the one place we never have to hide.”

While I’d been focused on her, the song I was playing had strayed back to its roots. I found myself in the middle of the bleakest moment—the moment when the obvious truth was unavoidable: Bella was perfect as she was. Any interference from my world was a tragedy.

It was too late to save the song. I let it end as it had before, with that heartbreak.

Sometimes it was so easy to believe that Bella and I were right together. In the moment, when impulsivity led, and everything came so naturally… I could believe. But whenever I looked at it logically, without allowing emotion to trump reason, it was clear that I could only hurt her.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Her eyes were swimming in tears. While I watched, she quickly wiped her fingers across her lower lids, rubbing the moisture away.

This was the second time I’d seen Bella cry. The first time, I’d hurt her. Not intentionally, but still, by implying we could never be together, I’d caused her pain.

Now she cried because the music I’d created for her had touched her. Tears caused by pleasure. I wondered how much of this unspoken language she had understood.

One tear still glistened in the corner of her left eye, shining in the brightness of the room. A tiny, clear piece of her, an ephemeral diamond. Acting on some strange instinct, I reached out to catch it with my fingertip. Round on my skin, it sparkled as my hand moved. I swiftly touched my finger to my tongue, tasting her tear, absorbing this minute particle of her.

Carlisle had spent many years attempting to understand our immortal anatomy; it was a difficult task, based mostly on assumption and observation. Vampire cadavers were not available for study.

His best interpretation of our life systems was that our internal workings must be microscopically porous. Though we could swallow anything, only

blood was accepted by our bodies. That blood was absorbed into our muscles and provided fuel. When the fuel was depleted, our thirst intensified to encourage us to replenish our supply. Nothing besides blood seemed to move through us at all.

I swallowed Bella’s tear. Perhaps it would never leave my body. After she left me, after all the lonely years had passed, maybe I would always have this piece of her inside me.

She stared at me curiously, but I had no sane way to explain. Instead, I returned to her earlier curiosity.

“Do you want to see the rest of the house?” I offered. “No coffins?” she double-checked.

I laughed and stood, pulling her up from the piano bench. “No coffins.”

I led her upstairs to the second floor; she’d seen most of the first, all but the unused kitchen and the dining room were visible from the front door. As we climbed, her interest was evident. She studied everything—the railing, the pale wood floors, the picture-frame paneling that lined the hallway at the top. It was like she was preparing for an exam. I named the owner of each room we passed, and she nodded after each designation, ready for the quiz.

I was about to round the corner and follow the next flight of stairs up, but Bella stopped suddenly. I looked to see what she was staring at so bemusedly. Ah.

“You can laugh,” I said. “It is sort of ironic.”

She didn’t laugh. She stretched out her hand as if she wished to touch the thick oak cross that hung there, dark and somber against the lighter wood behind it, but her fingertips didn’t make contact.

“It must be very old,” Bella murmured.

I shrugged. “Early sixteen thirties, more or less.”

She stared up at me, her head tilted to one side. “Why do you keep this here?”

“Nostalgia. It belonged to Carlisle’s father.”

“He collected antiques?” she suggested, sounding as if she already knew her guess was wrong.

“No,” I answered. “He carved this himself. It hung on the wall above the pulpit in the vicarage where he preached.”

Bella looked up at the cross, her stare intense. She didn’t move for so

long that I started to get anxious again. “Are you all right?” I murmured. “How old is Carlisle?” she shot back.

I sighed, trying to quell the old panic. Would this story be the one that would be too much? I scrutinized every minute muscle twitch in her face as I explained.

“He just celebrated his three hundred and sixty-second birthday.” Or close enough. Carlisle had chosen a day for Esme’s sake, but it was only his best guess. “Carlisle was born in London, in the sixteen forties, he believes. Time wasn’t marked as accurately then, for the common people anyway. It was just before Cromwell’s rule, though. He was the only son of an Anglican pastor. His mother died giving birth to him. His father was an intolerant man. As the Protestants came into power, he was enthusiastic in his persecution of Roman Catholics and other religions. He also believed very strongly in the reality of evil. He led hunts for witches, werewolves… and vampires.”

She’d been keeping up a good charade for the most part, almost as if she were dissociating from the facts. But when I spoke the word vampires, her shoulders stiffened and she held her breath for an extra second.

“They burned a lot of innocent people. Of course the real creatures that he sought were not so easy to catch.” This still haunted Carlisle—the innocents his father had murdered. And even more, those murders Carlisle had been unwillingly involved in. I was glad for his sake that the memories were blurred and always fading more.

I knew the stories of Carlisle’s human years as well as I knew my own. As I described his ill-fated discovery of an ancient London coven, I wondered if this would sound real to her at all. This was irrelevant history, set in a country she’d never seen, separated from her own existence by so many years that she had no context for it.

She seemed spellbound, though, as I described the attack that had infected Carlisle and killed his associates, carefully leaving out the details I’d rather she didn’t dwell on. When the vampire, driven by thirst, had wheeled around and fallen on his pursuers, he’d only slashed Carlisle twice with his venom-covered teeth: once across the palm of his outstretched hand, and once through his bicep. It had been a melee, the vampire struggling to quickly subdue four men before the rest of the mob got too

close. After the fact, Carlisle had theorized that the vampire was hoping to drain them all, but he chose self-preservation over a more bounteous meal, grabbing the men he could carry and running. It was not self-preservation from the mob, of course; those fifty men with their crude weapons were no more dangerous to him than a kaleidoscope of butterflies. However, the Volturi were less than a thousand miles away. Their laws had been established for a millennium by this point, and their demand that every immortal exercise discretion for the benefit of all was universally accepted. The story of a vampire sighting in London, attested to by fifty witnesses with drained corpses as proof, would not have gone over well in Volterra.

The nature of Carlisle’s wounds was unfortunate. The gash in his hand was far from any major vessels, the slash in his arm had missed both the brachial artery and the basilic vein. This meant a much slower spread of the venom, and a longer transition period. As the conversion from mortal to immortal was the most painful thing any of us had ever experienced, an extended version was not ideal, to say the least.

I’d known the pain of that same extended version. Carlisle had been… unsure when he decided to change me into his first companion. He’d spent a great deal of time with other, more experienced vampires—the Volturi included—and he knew that a better placed bite would result in a quicker conversion. However, he’d never found another vampire like himself. All the others were obsessed with blood and power. No one else craved a kinder, more familial life as he did. He wondered whether his slow conversion and the weak entry points of his infection had been somehow responsible for the difference. So when creating his first son, he chose to imitate his own wounds. He’d always felt bad about that, especially as he later found that the method of conversion actually had no bearing on the personality and desires of the new immortal.

He hadn’t had time to experiment when he found Esme. She was much closer to death than I had been. To save her, it had been imperative to get as much venom into her system as close to her heart as possible. All in all, a much more frenzied effort than it had been with me—and yet Esme was the gentlest of us all.

And Carlisle the strongest. I now told Bella what I could about his extraordinarily disciplined conversion. I found myself editing things that perhaps I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t want to dwell on Carlisle’s

excruciating pain. Maybe, given her obvious curiosity about the process, it would have been a good thing to describe; perhaps it would have deterred her from wanting to know more.

“It was over then,” I explained, “and he realized what he had become.”

All the while, lost in my own thoughts as I told the familiar tale, I’d been observing her reactions. For the most part, she kept the same expression fixed on her face; I think she meant it to look like attentive interest, totally devoid of any unnecessary emotional recoils. However, she held herself too stiffly for her ploy to be believable. Her curiosity was real, but I wanted to know what she really thought, not what she wanted me to think she thought.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” she answered automatically. But her mask slipped a little bit. Still, all I could read on her face was a desire to know more. So this story hadn’t been enough to frighten her away.

“I expect you have a few more questions for me.”

She grinned, totally self-possessed, seemingly fearless. “A few.” I smiled back. “Come on, then, I’ll show you.”


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