Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)


seemed interminable to her. She was anxious to get back to normal life, to be free of the doctors who poked and prodded, to have all the needles out of her skin.

For me, the time sped by, despite the constant agony of seeing her in the hospital bed, of knowing she was in pain and there was nothing I could do to alleviate any of it. This time was my secured time; it would be undeniably wrong to leave when she was still broken. I wanted to stretch out every second, even though they hurt. But they raced by me.

I hated the minutes I had to be away from her, while the doctors consulted with Bella and Renée, though it was easy enough to eavesdrop from the stairwell. Perhaps it was better sometimes; I couldn’t always control my face.

That first day after she awoke, for example, when Dr. Sadarangani enthused over the X-rays, pleased at how clean the breaks were, how neatly they would heal, all I could see in that moment was the tracker’s foot descending onto her leg. All I could hear was the crisp snap of her bones. It was good that no one could see my face then.

She saw that her mother was restless—uneasy about a long-term substitute job at a Jacksonville primary school that would be given away if she wasn’t available soon—but still determined to be with Bella while she was in Phoenix. It wasn’t particularly hard for Bella to convince Renée she was just fine and that Renée should go back to Florida. Her mother left two days before we did.

Bella was on the phone with Charlie often, especially after Renée left, and now that the danger was past, now that he’d had time to consider all the angles, he was beginning to be angry. Not at Bella, of course not. His anger was pointed in the right direction. After all, none of this would have

happened if not for me. His burgeoning friendship with Alice confused the issue for him, but I was sure what I would read in his quiet brain upon my return.

I tried to avoid more serious conversations with Bella. It was easier than I expected. We were rarely alone—even after Renée left, a constant influx of nurses and doctors took her place—and Bella was often drowsy from the medications. She seemed content enough that I was near. She didn’t beg me again for guarantees. But at times I felt sure I saw the doubt in her eyes. I wished I could erase that doubt, that I could mean my promises, but it was better not to speak than to lie again.

And then, so quickly, we were arranging transport home.

Charlie’s plan was that Bella would fly home with Carlisle while Alice and I drove the truck back to Washington. Carlisle fielded that call; we needed no discussion for him to know my opinion on the subject. He convinced Charlie that Alice and I had missed too much school already, and Charlie was unable to argue with him. We would fly home together. Carlisle would ship the truck home. He promised Charlie this was easy to arrange and not at all expensive.

How different it was, returning to the same airport where my worst nightmare had begun. We flew out after dark, so the glass ceilings above were no longer a danger. I wondered what Bella saw when she looked at these wide halls—did she think of the pain and terror of the last time she was here, too? No longer racing, we moved slowly, Alice pushing Bella in her wheelchair so that I could walk beside her, holding her hand. As I had expected, Bella didn’t like needing the chair, nor the curious glances thrown her way. Now and then she scowled at her thick, white cast as if she wanted to tear it off with her bare hands, but she never complained aloud.

She slept on the flight, and quietly murmured my name in her dreams. It would have been so easy to ignore the past and allow myself to relive our one perfect day, to stay in a time when the sound of my name on her lips didn’t burn with guilt and omens. But the looming separation was too sharp to allow for fantasy.

Charlie met us at SeaTac, though it was after eleven and the drive back to Forks would take him nearly four hours. Both Carlisle and Alice had tried to talk him out of it, but I understood. And, though his thoughts were just as clouded as before, it was still obvious that I was right. He’d come to

put the blame in the right place.

Not that he harbored any dark suspicions that I’d shoved her down the stairs myself, but rather he felt that Bella would never have acted so impulsively if I hadn’t goaded her to it. Though he had a mistaken idea of what had driven Bella to Arizona, he wasn’t wrong about the central assumption. It was ultimately my fault.

It should have been a long drive behind Charlie’s police car, dutifully going exactly the speed limit, but the time was still moving too quickly. Even being temporarily separated from her did nothing to slow down those hours.

We all settled into the new routine with minimal delays. Alice took over as nurse and lady-in-waiting, and Charlie could not adequately express his gratitude. Bella, too, though embarrassed that she needed someone to help her with her most basic and intimate needs, was glad that someone was Alice. It was as if during those few days in Phoenix, Alice’s vision of Bella as her best friend had come fully to fruition. They were so at ease with each other—already flush with a plethora of inside jokes and confidences—as if they’d been companions for many years rather than just weeks. Charlie occasionally watched in confusion, wondering why Bella had never revealed their close connection, but he was too thankful for Alice, as well as charmed by her, to aggressively pursue answers. He was just happy with this, the best possible version of having a grievously injured daughter to care for. Alice was at the Swan house nearly as often as I was, though much more visible to Charlie during her time there.

Bella had been conflicted about school.

“On the one hand,” she’d told me, “I just want things back to normal. And I don’t want to get more behind.” It was very early the second morning after our return—she’d been sleeping so much in the day that her schedule was reversed. “On the other, the thought of everyone looking at me while I’m in that thing…” She glared menacingly toward the innocent wheelchair folded beside the bed.

“If I could carry you at school, I would, but…”

She sighed. “That probably wouldn’t help with the staring.”

“Probably not. However, while you have never appreciated the fact that I am actually frightening, I promise you I can do something about any staring.”


“I’ll show you.”

“Now I’m curious. So back to school ASAP.” “Whatever you want.”

I flinched internally as soon as the words were out. I’d been careful not to say anything that would bring up our conversation in the hospital for rehashing, but she let my comment pass this time.

In fact, she seemed just as unwilling as I was to talk about the future. I thought this was probably why having things “back to normal” seemed appealing to her. Perhaps she hoped we could forget this episode as though it had merely been one bad chapter, rather than the foreshadowing to the only possible conclusion.

It was easy to make good on that unimportant promise. On her first day back, as I wheeled her from class to class, all I had to do was make eye contact with anyone who seemed too interested. A slight narrowing of my eyes, a tiny curl of my upper lip, and any gawkers were quickly persuaded to focus elsewhere.

Bella was unconvinced. “I’m not sure you’re doing anything really. I’m just not very exciting. I shouldn’t have worried.”

As quickly as Carlisle would allow, she traded in her plaster cast for a walking cast and a pair of crutches. I preferred the chair. It was hard to watch her struggle with the crutches, to be unable to help, but she seemed relieved to be moving under her own power again. After a few days, she grew less awkward.

The story circulating through the school was wrong on all counts. Bella’s disastrous fall through the hotel window was common knowledge, first spread by Charlie’s deputies around the community. But Charlie had been more taciturn about why Bella was in Phoenix. So Jessica Stanley had filled in the gaps—Bella and I had gone to Phoenix together for me to meet her mother. Jessica insinuated this was because our relationship was becoming very serious. Everyone accepted her version; most had already forgotten where the tale had originated.

Jessica was left to her own invention for this gossip, as Bella rarely spent much time with her out of class. It was no different than when I’d stopped the van in the very beginning—Bella knew how to be tight-lipped when she wanted to be. And now she sat at our table, with Alice, Jasper,

and me. Even with Emmett and Rosalie absent—they pretended to eat outside now, hiding in the car if sunlight threatened—none of the humans braved our presence to join Bella. I didn’t like that she was becoming alienated from her former friends, especially Angela, but I assumed that eventually things would go back to how they’d been before I’d intruded on her life.

After we were gone.

Though the time never really slowed, the routine started to feel normal, and I had to keep my guard up. Sometimes I would slip; she would smile up at me and I would be inundated by that sense of rightness, the feeling that the two of us were designed to be together. It was hard to remember that this feeling, so pure and strong, was a lie. Hard to remember, until she twisted her torso too sharply and winced at her healing ribs, or put her foot down too hard and gasped, or moved her wrist just so and the pale, shiny new scar across the heel of her hand caught the light.

Bella healed and time passed. I clung to each second.

Alice had a new scheme that would disrupt the routine, to her mind in a pleasant way. Knowing Bella would object, at first I resisted. But then the more I considered, the more I saw things from a different perspective.

Not Alice’s perspective. Alice’s motivations were probably at least seventy percent selfish; she loved a makeover. My own I judged to be around ten percent. Yes, this was a memory that I wanted to have. I’d admitted that to myself. However, my main motive was to modify one specific chapter in Bella’s future. It was for her sake that I went along with Alice’s bizarre plan.

I had a vision—not like Alice, not a true prophecy. It was just a probable scenario. This vision created an intense kind of ache throughout my entire body; it was half agony and half pleasure.

I envisioned Bella twenty years from now, maturing gracefully into middle age. Like her mother, she would hold on to the image of youth longer than most, but when the lines came, they would not mar her beauty. I imagined her somewhere sunny in a pretty but simple house that was, unless she changed her ways significantly, filled with clutter. Adding to the clutter would be children, two or three. Maybe one boy with Charlie’s curly hair and smile, and a girl who, like Bella, took after her mother.

I did not try to picture their father, or think about how his face might be

reflected in her children; that was all agony.

One day when they were young adolescents, younger than Bella was now, perhaps prompted by a teenage rom-com on TV (though Alice had told me that the consumption of media would change quite a bit in the next decade; she was waiting for certain companies to form so she could invest in them), one of the children would ask Bella what her high school prom was like.

Bella would smile and say, “I wasn’t really into dances. I didn’t go to prom.” And the children would be dissatisfied. Their mother never had any good stories about her teenage years. Hadn’t she ever done anything interesting?

Bella would have no funny, lighthearted stories, just a dearth of normal experience, just secrecy and danger and tales so fantastical she might one day wonder whether they had ever been more than her imagination.

Or… Bella could laugh when her child asked, and her eyes would suddenly seem far away.

“It was crazy,” she would say. “I didn’t really want to go, you know I’m no dancer. But my lunatic best friend kidnapped me for a makeover and my boyfriend took me over my protests. It wasn’t so bad in the end. I’m glad I went. At the very least to see the decorations—they were like a budget version of the movie Carrie. No, you can’t watch Carrie. Not yet.”

So it was for that moment in Bella’s future that I’d allowed Alice to go through with her pushy and somewhat intrusive plan. More than allowed it, I’d aided and abetted.

And this was how I found myself in a tuxedo—chosen by Alice, naturally; at least I hadn’t had to do any of the shopping—a spray of freesia in my hands, waiting at the base of the stairs for Alice’s big reveal.

I’d seen it all in her head, but she didn’t care. She wanted every trite scene from the dramatic pageant that was a human prom.

Alice had given Charlie a heads-up that Bella would be out late, making it clear that she, Alice, would be an integral part of the evening from start to finish. Charlie never objected to anything involving Alice. He often objected to things that involved me, though usually only in his own mind.

I listened as Alice helped Bella hobble toward the stairs, Alice’s arm around Bella’s waist, Bella’s arm over Alice’s shoulder, leaning on her heavily. Bella had become fairly adept with her crutch but Alice had taken it

away from her for tonight. I wasn’t sure how much of that was for the aesthetic, and how much was to keep Bella from trying to escape. Then, a few steps from the edge of the stairs, Alice squirmed out of Bella’s hold and urged her to continue alone.

“What?” Bella protested. “I can’t walk in this.”

“It’s just a few steps. You’ll manage. I don’t look right, I’ll mess up the picture.”

“What picture?” Bella’s voice rose half an octave. “There better not be anyone taking pictures of me!”

“No one’s taking any pictures. I just meant the mental picture. Calm down.”

“Mental picture? Who’s going to see?” “Just Edward.”

Well, that worked. Alice noted that Bella’s eyes lit up at the mention of my name, and that she moved with an eagerness absent through the entirety of the hair and makeup session. Alice was a little miffed about that.

Bella moved slowly and awkwardly into view, eyes searching for me.

I’d seen the dress in Alice’s head, but not like this. The thin chiffon was ruched and ruffled to provide a semblance of modesty, but it still clung to her skin in a very distracting way. The design exposed her alabaster shoulders, then fell graceful and sheer down her arms to fold in at her wrists. The body of the dress was gathered in an asymmetrical line that gave her shape subtle hourglass contours.

Of course it was deep blue in color; Alice had noticed my preference.

On one foot, Bella wore a blue satin shoe with a stiletto heel and long ribbons wrapped up her leg to hold it in place. On the other foot, her dingy walking cast. I was a little surprised Alice hadn’t painted that blue to match.

I stared at Bella while she stared, wide-eyed, at me. “Wow,” she said.

“Indeed,” I agreed, appraising her gown in an obvious way.

She glanced down and blushed. Then she shrugged her shoulders as if to say, Well, this is me in a dress.

I knew Alice liked the idea of Bella descending the stairway grandly, but she’d already realized that was just a fantasy. I darted up the stairs to meet her. After securing the flowers into her hair—Alice had left one spot free from cascading curls for just this purpose—I lifted Bella into my arms. She

was used to this by now. I carried her a lot of places when no one human was there to see.

It was faster, of course, but it was also simply a relief to hold her close.

To feel that she was safe and protected for this moment.

“Have fun,” Alice called, darting back to her room. She was in her own dress before I’d finished carrying Bella down the stairs. I could hear Rosalie and the others waiting for her—some patiently, some not so much—in the garage. Alice paused to draw on a few stripes of theatrical eyeliner.

I brought Bella to the Volvo and settled her carefully into the passenger seat, making sure all her chiffon and ribbons were tucked out of the way of the door. I was surprised by her silence. Now, and before. She’d complained to Alice about being made up, but she’d never voiced any objections to the dance.

I got into the driver’s seat and we headed down the driveway.

“At what point exactly are you going to tell me what’s going on?” she asked, putting more annoyance in her voice than there was in her expression.

I examined her face, looking for the joke. Aside from the put-on crabby attitude, she seemed in earnest. I couldn’t quite believe she was so oblivious.

“I’m shocked that you haven’t figured it out yet,” I answered with a grin, playing along. Because she had to be teasing.

She drew in a sudden breath, and I looked for the reason. She was just staring at me.

“I did mention that you looked very nice, didn’t I?” she asked. I thought her earlier wow had probably conveyed that.


She frowned again, returning to her petulance. “I’m not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea Pig Barbie when I do.”

Before I could either defend or condemn Alice, my phone rang in my pocket. I pulled it out quickly, wondering whether Alice had more instructions for me, but it was Charlie.

As a general rule, Bella’s father didn’t call me. So it was with some trepidation that I answered. “Hello, Charlie?”

“Charlie?” Bella whispered, anxious, too.

Charlie cleared his throat, and I could feel his awkwardness through the


“Uh, hey, Edward. I’m sorry to disturb your, um, evening, but I wasn’t quite sure.… See, Tyler Crowley just showed up here in a tux and he seems to think he’s taking Bella to prom?”

“You’re kidding!” I laughed.

It was rare that someone other than Bella took me by surprise.

I hadn’t noticed Tyler thinking anything about this stunt while at school, but then, I’d been so caught up in embracing every second I had with Bella, there were probably many inconsequential things I’d missed.

“What is it?” Bella hissed.

“I’m out to sea on this one,” Charlie continued, uncomfortable. “Why don’t you let me talk to him?” I offered.

I could hear the relief in Charlie’s voice when he answered. “Can do.” Then he spoke away from the phone. “Here, Tyler, it’s for you.”

Bella was staring at my face, worried about what was happening between her father and me. She didn’t notice the bright red car that suddenly swerved around us. I ignored Rosalie’s pleasure at passing me—I always ignored Rosalie now—and concentrated on the call.

The boy’s voice broke as he said, “Yeah?”

“Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen.” My tone was perfectly polite, though it took a little work to keep it that way. As entertained as I’d been just a moment ago, a sudden flare of territorial feelings now swamped me. It was an immature reaction, but I couldn’t deny I felt it.

Bella sucked in a sharp breath. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye and then looked back to the road. If she had—somehow—been in earnest before, she was no longer in the dark.

“I’m sorry if there’s been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is unavailable tonight,” I said to Tyler.

“Oh,” he responded.

The jealous, protective instinct persisted and my response was stronger than it should have been.

“To be perfectly honest, she’ll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offense. And I’m sorry about your evening.”

Though I knew the words were wrong to say, I couldn’t help smiling at the thought of how Tyler was receiving them. And what he would feel when

I saw him at school on Monday. I hung up the call and turned to assess Bella’s reaction.

Bella’s face was bright red and her expression was furious.

“Was that last part a bit too much?” I worried. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

It had been a very domineering kind of thing to say, and while I was fairly positive that Bella had no interest in Tyler, it wasn’t really my place to make that decision for her.

What I’d said was wrong in other ways, too, but not in a way that I thought would upset her.

Though she’d never demanded another promise from me since the hospital, there was always the undercurrent of her doubt. I’d been forced to find a way to balance her need for assurance against my inability to deceive her.

I was taking our relationship one day at a time, one hour at a time. I didn’t look into the future. It was enough that I could feel it coming. When I promised her forever now, I meant as far as I could see. And I wasn’t looking.

“You’re taking me to the prom!” she shouted.

She really hadn’t known. I didn’t know what to do with that. What else could we be doing in formal attire in Forks tonight?

And now there were actual tears brimming in her eyes and she had one hand clenched around the door handle as though she wanted to throw herself from the car rather than face the horror of a high school dance.

Unobtrusively, I locked the doors.

I didn’t know what to say; I hadn’t imagined that she could misunderstand. So I said probably the stupidest thing possible under the circumstances.

“Don’t be difficult, Bella.”

She stared out the window like she was still thinking of jumping. “Why are you doing this to me?” she moaned.

I pointed at my tuxedo. “Honestly, Bella, what did you think we were doing?”

She scrubbed at the tears falling down her cheeks, her face horrified. She looked like I’d just told her I’d murdered all her friends and she was next.

“This is completely ridiculous,” I pointed out. “Why are you crying?” “Because I’m mad!” she shouted.

I considered turning around. The dance was meaningless, really, and I hated to upset her like this. But I thought of that faraway conversation in her future and held my ground.

“Bella,” I said softly.

She met my gaze and seemed to lose her grip on her fury. I still had the power to dazzle her, if nothing else.

“What?” she asked, totally distracted. “Humor me?” I pleaded.

She stared at me for a second longer, with what looked more like adoration than ire, and then shook her head in surrender.

“Fine, I’ll go quietly,” she said, resigned to her fate. “But you’ll see. I’m way overdue for more bad luck. I’ll probably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It’s a death trap!”

She pointed her toes in my direction.

The contrast between the thick satin ribbons laced up her narrow calf, ballet-style, and her ivory skin was beautiful in a way that transcended fashion. In this place of endless winter wardrobes, it was fascinating to see parts of her I’d never seen before. This was where my ten percent of selfishness came into play.

“Hmm,” I breathed. “Remind me to thank Alice for that tonight.” “Alice is going to be there?”

From her tone, this was more comforting than my presence.

I knew I needed to give her full disclosure. “With Jasper, and Emmett… and Rosalie.”

The worried formed between her eyebrows.

Emmett had tried, they all had—everyone except me. I’d not spoken to Rosalie since the night she’d refused to help save Bella’s life. Now she was living up to her reputation for supernatural stubbornness. She was never openly hostile toward Bella during the rare times they were in the same room together, unless aggressively ignoring someone’s existence equaled hostility.

Bella shook her head again, obviously deciding not to think about Rosalie.

“Is Charlie in on this?”

“Of course,” I said, leaving out that the entire town of Forks and probably most of the county was in on the secret of prom being held tonight. They’d even put up top secret posters and banners all over the school. Then I laughed. “Apparently, Tyler wasn’t, though.”

Her teeth audibly clenched, but I guessed this angry reaction was more about Tyler than it was about me.

We pulled into the school parking lot, and this time Bella noticed Rosalie’s car, parked front and center. She eyed it nervously while I parked a lane over, then got out and walked to her side at human speed. I opened her door and held out my hand.

Her arms were folded across her chest. She pursed her lips. It had clearly occurred to her that, with human witnesses around, I couldn’t just throw her over my shoulder and force her into that terrifying place of horror and dread, our high school cafeteria.

I sighed heavily, but she didn’t move.

“When someone wants to kill you, you’re as brave as a lion,” I complained. “And then when someone mentions dancing…” I shook my head in disappointment.

But she looked genuinely frightened of the word dancing.

“Bella, I won’t let anything hurt you,” I promised. “Not even yourself. I won’t let go of you once, I promise.”

She considered that, and it did seem to calm some of her terror. “There, now,” I coaxed, “it won’t be so bad.”

I leaned into the car and put my arm around her waist. Her throat was at my lips, her fragrance as strong as a forest fire, but more delicate than the flowers in her hair. She didn’t resist as I drew her from the car.

Wanting to make it clear that I was serious about my promise, I kept my arm wrapped tightly around her as I half carried her toward the school. It was frustrating not to be able to just lift her.

Soon enough we were at the cafeteria. They had the doors propped open wide. All the tables had been removed from the long room. The overhead lights were all off, replaced with miles of borrowed Christmas tree lights that were stapled to the walls in an uneven scallop pattern. It was quite dim, but not enough to disguise the outdated décor. The crepe paper garlands appeared to have been used before, faded and creased as they were. The balloon arches were new, though.

Bella giggled.

I smiled with her.

“This looks like a horror movie waiting to happen,” she observed. “Well, there are more than enough vampires present,” I agreed.

I continued to move her to the ticket line, but her attention was on the dance floor now.

My siblings were showing off.

It was a kind of release, I supposed. We were always very… contained. We couldn’t escape some notice, our inhuman faces assured that, but we did everything possible to give no one another reason to stare.

Tonight Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, and Alice were really dancing. They melded a hundred styles from other decades into new creations that could belong to any time at all. Of course they were graceful beyond human ability. Bella wasn’t the only one staring.

Some brave humans also danced, but they kept their distance from the showboating vampires.

“Do you want me to bolt the doors so you can massacre the unsuspecting townsfolk?” she whispered. The idea of a mass murder sounded more appealing to her than the reality of prom.

“And where do you fit into that scheme?” I wondered. “Oh, I’m with the vampires, of course.”

I had to smile. “Anything to get out of dancing.” “Anything.”

She turned to watch my siblings again while I bought two tickets. As soon as that was accomplished, I started moving toward the dance floor. Better to get the part she feared most out of the way. She wouldn’t be able to relax until it was over.

She limped slower than before, resisting. “I’ve got all night,” I reminded her.

“Edward,” she whispered, horror in her voice. She looked up at me with panic-stricken eyes. “I honestly can’t dance!”

Did she think I was going to abandon her in the middle of the floor, and then stand back to watch, expecting a solo performance?

“Don’t worry, silly,” I said gently. “I can.”

I lifted her arms and placed them around my neck. I put my hands around her waist and lifted her a few inches from the floor. Pulling her body

against mine, I lowered her so that her satin-clad toes and her plaster-clad toes rested on top of my shoes.

She grinned.

Holding almost all of her weight in my hands, I spun us into the middle of the floor, where my siblings held court. I didn’t try to keep up with them, I just held her close and whirled in a loose waltz to the music.

Her arms tightened around my neck, pulling us even closer. “I feel like I’m five years old,” she laughed.

I caught her up so her feet were a foot in the air and whispered, “You don’t look five,” into her ear.

She laughed again as I set her feet down on my toes. Her eyes sparkled with the glimmer of the Christmas lights.

The song changed. I shifted the tempo of our waltz. The music was slower now, dreamier. Her body was melted to mine. I wished I could freeze us here, stop time forever and stay in this dance.

“Okay,” she murmured. “This isn’t half-bad.”

These were close to the words I’d hoped she would say to her children. It was encouraging that it hadn’t taken twenty years for her to come to this conclusion.

Nope, I’m not going to do it. I’ll give the money back. Ugh, this is so embarrassing. Why does my dad have to be the insane one? Why couldn’t it be Quil’s?

The clear thoughts hesitating in the doorway were very familiar. Even in his angst and self-consciousness, his mind radiated a kind of purity. He was more honest with himself than most.

“What is it?” Bella had noticed my sudden abstraction.

I wasn’t ready to answer. I felt a depth of rage that closed my throat. So the Quileutes were going to keep pushing, straining against the treaty they’d made, the treaty that did nothing but protect them. It was as if they couldn’t be happy until we did kill someone. They wanted us to be monsters.

Bella twisted in my arms to see what I was looking at.

Jacob Black walked hesitantly through the door, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the low light. It didn’t take him long to see what he was looking for.

Dang, she is here. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe my dad thinks that guy is an actual vampire. This is so completely stupid.

He didn’t hesitate, though, despite his embarrassment. Ignoring the ticket stand, the boy marched like a soldier through the ring of dancers toward us. Even in my anger, I had to admire his straightforward courage.

Should’ve worn some garlic, I guess. He snorted.

I didn’t realize I’d snarled audibly till Bella hissed, “Behave!”

“He wants to chat with you.” There was no way to avoid it. Like the first dance, better to get it out of the way. I shouldn’t let myself get angry. Did it really matter if that group of toothless old men broke the treaty? It wouldn’t change much, even if they paid for a billboard on the 101 that read: The local doctor and his children are VAMPIRES. You have been warned. No one would believe. Even his son didn’t believe.

I held still as Jacob approached. He mostly looked at Bella, his expression comical in its reluctance.

“Hey, Bella, I was hoping you would be here.” It was obvious this was the exact opposite of what he’d been hoping.

Bella’s voice was warm when she answered. I was sure she could see his distress, too, and being Bella, she would want to ease it. “Hi, Jacob. What’s up?”

He smiled at her, then looked at me. He didn’t have to look up to do it. The boy had grown several inches since the last time I’d seen him. He didn’t look as much a child as he had then.

“Can I cut in?” he asked. His tone was respectful; he didn’t want to overstep.

I knew my anger was pointless, and it certainly wasn’t directed at this blameless boy, but I couldn’t quite keep it in check. Rather than let either of them hear it in my voice, I just set Bella gently on her feet and stepped away.

“Thanks,” Jacob said in the cheery tone that seemed to be his default.

I nodded, inspected Bella’s face once to make sure she was comfortable with this, and then walked away.

Huh, Jacob was thinking. That is an awful perfume Bella’s wearing.

Strange. Bella wore no scent besides the flowers in her hair. But perhaps another couple had strayed closer, now that I had moved away.

“Wow, Jake, how tall are you now?” I heard her say. “Six-two.” This was a point of pride.

She looks totally fine aside from the cast. Billy’s blowing things out of

proportion, as usual.

When I reached the north wall of the cafeteria, I turned around and leaned back against it. Lauren Mallory and her date were circling stiffly just behind Jacob’s back. I wondered if she was the one who smelled bad.

Jacob and Bella weren’t exactly dancing. He had his hands at her waist, and her hands were resting lightly on his shoulders. She swayed a little to the music, but seemed nervous to try to move her feet at all. Jacob shuffled in place.

“So, how did you end up here tonight?” There was no real curiosity in her voice. She’d already figured out what this intrusion meant.

Jacob was eager to place the blame where it belonged. “Can you believe my dad paid me twenty bucks to come to your prom?”

“Yes, I can,” she said, her voice still kind, though it must have been annoying to have a near stranger trying to supervise her life.

She’s being so nice about this. She’s the nicest girl I know.

“Well, I hope you’re enjoying yourself, at least,” Bella continued. “Seen anything you like?” She nodded playfully to a line of girls standing along the wall to my left.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, “but she’s taken.”

This information was not a surprise to me—I’d been witness multiple times to his crush on Bella. His blunt honesty, however, was unexpected. Bella didn’t know how to respond. After one glance at his face to see if he was joking—he wasn’t—she looked down at her unmoving feet.

Probably shouldn’t have said that, but what the hell. Nothing to lose.

“You look really pretty, by the way,” he added.

Bella frowned. “Um, thanks.” She changed the subject, bringing it around to the one he most wanted to avoid, the one that would send him on his way. “So why did Billy pay you to come here?”

Jacob shifted his weight from foot to foot, uncomfortable. “He said it was a ‘safe’ place to talk to you. I swear the old man is losing his mind.”

She’s going to think I’m crazy, too.

Bella laughed with him, but the sound was forced.

“Anyway,” Jacob continued, grinning to ease the tension. “He said that if I told you something, he would get me that master cylinder I need.”

Bella smiled in earnest now. “Tell me, then. I want you to get your car finished.”

Jacob sighed, moved by her smile. I wish he was a vampire. That might make some room for me.

“Don’t get mad, okay?” She’s already been nicer than I had any reason to expect.

“There’s no way I’ll be mad at you, Jacob,” Bella promised. “I won’t even be mad at Billy. Just say what you have to.”

“Well—this is so stupid, I’m sorry, Bella.” He took a deep breath. “He wants you to break up with your boyfriend. He asked me to tell you ‘please.’”

Jacob shook his head, hoping to distance himself from the obnoxious message.

Bella’s smile was full of compassion. “He’s still superstitious, eh?” “Yeah. He was… kind of over the top when you got hurt down in

Phoenix. He didn’t believe…” That they didn’t do it. He thought they sucked your blood or something crazy like that.

Her voice went flat for the first time. “I fell.” “I know that,” Jacob said quickly.

“He thinks Edward had something to do with me getting hurt?” Sharp now.

They were both perfectly still, as if there were no music. Jacob looked away from her glare.

Now I’ve pissed her off for real. Should have told Billy to mind his business or leave me out of it.

Bella’s mien softened, reacting to his upset. “Look, Jacob,” she said, kind again. Jacob responded to the change, meeting her gaze. “I know Billy probably won’t believe this, but just so you know… Edward really did save my life. If it weren’t for Edward and his father, I’d be dead.” Her sincerity was impossible to doubt.

“I know,” Jacob agreed quickly. He didn’t want to think about Bella dying. A swell of gratitude started to build inside his mind. He wouldn’t listen the next time his father said something disparaging about Carlisle.

She smiled up at him.

It was strange how much older he seemed tonight. They looked like peers now, maybe just because of his new height. As awkward as her injured leg made their dance-adjacent movement, she seemed more comfortable with him than with many of her other human friends. Perhaps

his very pure, open mind had that effect on people.

A strange thought crossed my mind, half imagination, half fear. Would that pretty, cluttered little house be in La Push?

I shook the idea away. It was just irrational jealousy. Jealousy was such a human emotion, powerful but senseless—based on nothing more than watching her pretend to dance with a friend. I would not let the future trouble me.

“Hey, I’m sorry you had to come do this, Jacob,” Bella was saying. “At any rate, you get your parts, right?”

“Yeah,” he muttered.

Would he know if I lied? I can’t say the rest. It’s enough.

Bella read his expression. “There’s more?” she asked, incredulous. “Forget it,” he mumbled, looking away. “I’ll get a job and save the

money myself.”

She waited for him to meet her gaze. “Just spit it out, Jacob.” “It’s so bad.”

I shouldn’t have come. This is my own fault for agreeing to this.

“I don’t care,” she insisted. “Tell me.”

“Okay… but, geez, this sounds bad.” Jacob inhaled deeply. “He said to tell you, no, to warn you, that—and this is his plural, not mine…” Jacob lifted his right hand and with two fingers made quotations marks in the air. “‘We’ll be watching.’”

He watched for her reaction, ready to bolt.

Bella broke into a peal of laughter, as if he’d just told the funniest joke she’d ever heard. She couldn’t stop. Her words came between chuckles. “Sorry you had to do this, Jake.”

He was overwhelmed with relief. She’s right. It’s hilarious.

“I don’t mind that much.” She looks so pretty. I never would have seen her in this dress if I hadn’t come. Worth it right there, even with the gross perfume. “So, should I tell him you said to butt the hell out?”

She sighed. “No. Tell him I said thanks. I know he means well.” The song ended, and Bella let her arms drop. My cue.

Jacob kept his hands on her waist, unsure if she could stand without help. “Do you want to dance again? Or can I help you get somewhere?”

“That’s all right, Jacob. I’ll take it from here.”

Jacob recoiled from my voice, so unexpectedly close. He took a step

back, a sharp frisson of fear shooting up his spine.

“Hey, I didn’t see you there,” he mumbled. Can’t believe I’m letting Billy get in my head this way. “I guess I’ll see you around, Bella.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you later,” she said with enough enthusiasm that he recovered his composure. He waved, then muttered, “Sorry,” one more time before he headed for the door.

I pulled Bella into my arms, sliding my feet under hers again. I waited for the warmth of her body to erase the coldness that enveloped mine. I wouldn’t think about the future. Just this night, this minute.

She nestled her cheek against my chest, humming with contentment. “Feeling better?” she murmured.

Of course she would read my mood. “Not really,” I sighed.

“Don’t be mad at Billy. He just worries about me for Charlie’s sake. It’s nothing personal,” she assured me.

“I’m not mad at Billy. But his son is irritating me.”

It was too much truth. Though the boy didn’t really irritate me; a mind that expansive would always be a welcome respite from the average human’s. It was what he represented that hurt me. Someone good and kind and human.

I needed to force myself into the right frame of mind.

She leaned away, staring up at me with curiosity and a little bit of concern. “Why?”

I mentally shook off my funk and answered her playfully. “First of all, he made me break my promise.”

She didn’t remember.

I forced a smile. “I promised I wouldn’t let go of you tonight.” “Oh. Well, I forgive you,” she said easily.

“Thanks.” I frowned in what I hoped was a joking way. “But there’s something else.”

She waited for me to explain.

“He called you pretty.” My voice made the word into something unpleasant. “That’s practically an insult, the way you look right now. You’re much more than beautiful.”

She relaxed now and laughed, worry for her friend evaporating. “You might be a little biased.”

I smiled better this time. “I don’t think that’s it. Besides, I have excellent eyesight.”

She stared at the twinkle lights spinning around us. Her heartbeat was slower than the tempo of the song playing, so I moved to that rhythm instead. A hundred voices, spoken and thought, swirled past us, but I didn’t really hear them. The sound of her heart was the only sound that mattered.

“So,” she said when the song shifted again. “Are you going to explain the reason for all of this?”

When I didn’t follow, she looked pointedly at the crepe paper garlands.

I thought about what I could tell her. Not the vision; she would have too many objections. And that was so far into the future, a future that I was trying very hard not to think about. But maybe I could tell her a little of the thought behind it. Though this wasn’t something we could discuss with an audience.

I changed the direction of our dance, spinning her toward the back exit. We circled past a few of her friends. Jessica waved, unhappily comparing Bella’s dress to her own, and Bella smiled back. None of her human classmates seemed totally happy with their night besides Angela and Ben, staring blissfully into each other’s eyes. That made me smile, too.

I pushed the door open with my back, still dancing. There was no one outside, though the night was very mild. The clouds to the west still held a fading bit of gold from the setting sun.

As no one could see us, I felt free to swing her up into my arms. I carried her away from the cafeteria, into the shadows of the madrone trees, where it was nearly midnight dark. I sat on the same bench where I’d watched her that sunny morning so many weeks ago, but kept her cradled close against my chest. In the east, a pale moon was shining through lace- thin clouds. It was an odd moment, the sky balanced perfectly between evening and full night.

She was still waiting for her explanation. “The point?” she asked quietly. “Twilight again,” I mused. “Another ending. No matter how perfect the

day is, it always has to end.”

These days mattered so much, and ended so quickly. She tensed. “Some things don’t have to end.”

There was nothing I could say to that. She was right, but I knew she wasn’t thinking of the same permanent things I was. Things like pain. Pain

didn’t have to end.

I sighed, and then answered her question. “I brought you to the prom because I don’t want you to miss anything. I don’t want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have.”

She shuddered and then shook her head violently twice, as though trying to dislodge my words. But when she spoke, her voice was teasing. “In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren’t a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this.”

I smiled. “It wasn’t so bad, you said so yourself.”

Her eyes were clear and miles deep. “That’s because I was with you.”

I looked at the moon again. I could feel her gaze on my face. There was no time to worry about the future now. The present was much more pleasant. I thought of the very recent past, and her strange disorientation tonight. What had taken the place of the obvious answer in her mind?

I smiled down at her. “Will you tell me something?” “Don’t I always?”

“Just promise you’ll tell me,” I insisted. “Fine,” she agreed, unwilling.

“You seemed honestly surprised when you figured out that I was taking you here.”

“I was,” she interrupted.

“Exactly,” I said. “But you must have had some other theory.… I’m curious—what did you think I was dressing you up for?”

This seemed like an easy question, playful and in the moment. Nothing that could lead me into the future again.

But she hesitated, more serious than I expected. “I don’t want to tell you.”

“You promised.”

She frowned. “I know.”

I almost smiled when the old curiosity and impatience flared. Some things never changed. “What’s the problem?”

“I think it will make you mad,” she said solemnly. “Or sad.”

I couldn’t align her grave expression with my somewhat silly question. I

was afraid of her answer now, afraid it would restart the pain I tried so hard to avoid, but I knew I could never bear to leave my curiosity unanswered.

“I still want to know. Please?”

She sighed. Her eyes traced across the silver clouds.

“Well,” she said after a long moment. “I assumed it was some kind of… occasion. But I didn’t think it would be some trite human thing… prom!” She made a scoffing noise.

I took a short moment to control my reaction. “Human?” I asked.

She looked down at her beautiful dress, tugging absently on a chiffon ruffle. I knew what was coming. I let her find the words she wanted.

“Okay,” she finally said. Her stare was a challenge now. “So I was hoping that you might have changed your mind… that you were going to change me, after all.”

I had so many years to feel this pain. I wished she weren’t forcing me to feel it now. Not while she was still in my arms. Not while she was in the lovely dress, the moonlight glinting off her pale shoulders, shadows like pools of night held in the curve of her collarbones.

I chose to ignore the pain and focus on just the surface of her answer.

I touched my lapel. “You thought that would be a black-tie occasion, did you?”

She frowned, embarrassed. “I don’t know how these things work. To me, at least, it seems more rational than prom does.”

I tried to smile, but that just irritated her. “It’s not funny,” she said.

“No, you’re right, it’s not. I’d rather treat it like a joke, though, than believe you’re serious.”

“But I am serious.” “I know,” I sighed.

It was a strange kind of pain. There was no temptation in it at all. Though what she wanted was my perfect future, an erasure of decades of agony, it didn’t appeal to me. I could never pay for my own happiness with the loss of hers.

When I’d poured out my heart to her distant God, I’d begged for strength. This much he’d given me: I felt no desire at all to see Bella immortal. My only want, my only need, was to have her life untouched by

darkness, and that need consumed me.

I knew the future loomed, but I didn’t know exactly how long I had. I was committed to staying until she was totally healed, so I had a few more weeks until she was back on two feet, at least. Part of me wondered if it wouldn’t be right to wait until she outgrew me, as I’d originally planned. Wouldn’t that mean the least pain for her? It would be so easy to fall into that version. But I wasn’t sure if I had that long. The future felt like it was pressing closer. I didn’t know what the sign would be, but I knew I would recognize it when it came.

I’d tried so hard to avoid this conversation, but I could see it would make her happier to have it now. I swallowed all my pain and grief and forced myself back into this moment. I would be with her while I could be.

“And you’re really that willing?” I asked. She bit her lip and nodded.

“So ready for this to be the end,” I sighed, stroking my finger down the side of her face. “For this to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barely started. You’re ready to give up everything.”

“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning,” she whispered. “I’m not worth it.”

I already knew she didn’t count her human losses. And she had definitely never considered eternal losses. No one was worth that.

“Do you remember when you told me that I didn’t see myself very clearly?” she asked. “You obviously have the same blindness.”

“I know what I am.”

She rolled her eyes, annoyed with my refusal to agree with anything.

I found it suddenly easy to smile. She was so eager, so impatient to trade anything to be with me. It was impossible not to be moved by such a love.

I decided we could use a little playfulness.

“You’re ready now, then?” I asked, raising one eyebrow. “Um. Yes?” She swallowed, nervous.

I leaned closer to her, keeping my movement unhurried. My lips finally touched the skin of her throat.

She swallowed again. “Right now?” I whispered.

She shivered. Then her body tensed, her hands clenched into fists, and her heart started hammering faster than the faraway music from the dance.

“Yes,” she whispered.

My game had failed. I laughed at myself and straightened up. “You can’t really believe that I would give in so easily.”

She relaxed. Her heart slowed. “A girl can dream,” she said. “Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?”

“Not exactly.” She didn’t like the word I’d used. Her voice dropped lower. “Mostly I dream about being with you forever.”

There was pain in her voice, doubt. Did she think I didn’t want her the same way? I wished I could ease her mind, but I couldn’t.

I traced the shape of her lips and breathed her name. “Bella.” I hoped she could hear the devotion in my voice. “I will stay with you.” As long as I can, as long as it’s allowed, as long as it doesn’t hurt you. Until the sign comes, until it’s impossible for me to ignore. “Isn’t that enough?”

She smiled, but she was unappeased. “Enough for now.”

Bella didn’t realize now was all we had. My breath came out as a groan.

Her fingertips brushed along the edge of my jaw. “Look,” she said. “I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn’t that enough?”

And then I could smile a genuine smile. “Yes, it is enough,” I promised. “Enough for forever.”

This time I spoke of the real forever. My eternal forever.

As the night finally overcame the end of the day, I leaned forward again and kissed the warm skin of her throat.

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