Author: CuriosityKilledTheSquirrel PM
Graduation has finally arrived, and for Bella, life as a vampire isn't as carefree as she expected. With a pack of angry werewolves, a vengeful vampire, and a mysterious bout of fainting spells haunting her, what's a girl to do but turn to Edward?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 16 - Words: 85,095 - Reviews: 182 - Favs: 107 - Follows: 128 - Updated: 05-03-09 - Published: 04-05-07 - id: 3477576
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"I just don't understand what's going on with them," I heard Esme whispering behind her bedroom door. "Neither of them has been the same since they got back, Alice won't talk to us about it, and that ring has stayed on the coffee table all week."
"I know, Esme, I know." Carlisle sighed, and I could just picture him pinching the bridge of his nose or rubbing the back of his neck. "But every time I try and ask him, he breaks down and storms off. Have you tried Bella?"
"Of course! It's just like with Alice- she practically begs me not to bring it up."
"Has she told Jasper, at least?" I could hear her footfalls on the carpet- pacing again. "She tells him everything."
"Probably. But he guards her secrets with his life. I'll talk to him."
Esme sighed. "Thank you. I'm going to go sit with Alice." I watched her door from my spot at the top of the stairs until the doorknob turned and she stepped out. She was halfway through the living room when she looked up and saw me. "Oh. Bella. I didn't know you were there."
How was I supposed to reply to that? I opened my mouth, but all that came out was, "Yup."
She climbed the stairs and sat down a couple below me. "We're just worried, honey. Something happened in Atlanta and nobody's telling us what's going on."
"I'm sorry, Esme. And I'm the one who asked Alice not to tell anybody." I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. "I just... I don't want to deal with it. Not with you and Carlisle."
The silence was uncomfortable, and she smoothed her hands over her jeans. "Is it because you think we'll be disappointed in you?" When I didn't answer, she asked. "What if I ask yes or no questions? Can I do that?"
"As long as I'm allowed to pick which ones I want to answer."
"Of course. So, the first one- is it because you think Carlisle and I would be disappointed in you?" She put her hand on my knee and tried to make eye contact with me, but I avoided her gaze. "Because you know that we'll love you no matter what happened or happens."
"A little bit," I admitted, bringing my knees to my chest. "And I know that."
"Bella..." Her soft face looked so lost. I felt guilty for causing such frustration for her. "Okay, um, is it something Dominik did?"
I paused. "Kinda."
Esme was an excellent mother- she knew exactly how to ease into things. "Is it something Edward did?"
I couldn't help it, but thinking back to that night in the hotel room, I flinched. "Kinda. But it's also kind of my fault."
There was a silence while she waited to see if I would elaborate, but when I didn't, she continued. "Did you have a fight?"
I shook my head. "Not really."At least, not in the way she was thinking.
"Is it related to your changing?"
"You're getting colder," I muttered, covering my eyes with my hands.
"Was he being overprotective?"
"Brrr." She didn't deserve my sarcasm, really. Just another brick on my back.
"Bella, honey, I'm confused." She was so sweet, so sincere. I just couldn't imagine how ashamed she'd be of both me and Edward if she found out.
"Me too. Esme, no offense- I thought I was ready to talk about this, but I'm really not."
"Okay." She forced a smile on her face, but I could tell that she was sad I closed off again. "Okay, well, whenever you're ready, I'm here." After she stood up, she kissed me on my forehead and tucked my hair behind my ear. "I'm going to go see how Alice is doing."
This had to be the most miserable I'd felt since before the Cullens returned. Edward had spent so much time hunting lately, just to avoid me. Emmett and Jasper would tag-team us when we were in a room together. Jasper would try to relax us, and Emmett would make stupid jokes. It never worked, though, and the awkward tension between us never eased. We'd barely spoken two sentences to each other since we arrived in Washington.
Every time he left to hunt, I couldn't focus until I knew for certain that he would be coming back. He'd walk out the door, and I'd relive that day in the woods all over again. It was driving me crazy. But it was so hard for me to think of the right thing to say. He wouldn't talk to me, so I didn't know what needed to be said to him. It was just a vicious circle.
Right now, he was on his way home from a hunting trip with Jasper. Jazz had called me to let me know a couple hours ago, and I was determined to say something to Edward when he got home. I just wasn't exactly sure what.
Carlisle walked out of his room and stopped at the foot of the stairs. "Esme gets to guess," he said, smiling sadly at me as he leaned against the stair rail. "Do I?"
"Sure, Carlisle." He knew Edward better than almost anybody, and his questions would be more specific. I'd have to duck and cover if I wanted to avoid my heart being splattered all over the stairs.
"Something happened. I'm not sure what, but I'm guessing it was something similar to this- Edward did something. I'm not sure what, but it was serious, because he probably thinks he's a monster who doesn't deserve to live, and you're having a hard time talking to him about it. No matter how hard things have gotten, you've never not been able to talk to him before." He gave me a moment for it to sink in and then nodded. "How close am I?"
"Not bad, old man," I said, attempting a grin.
He pretended to polish his nails against his shoulder. "I've still got it." With that, he left me alone, and I was grateful. Carlisle never pushed, but I had a feeling Edward was going to be cornered before the night was over.
Sitting on the stairs feeling sorry for myself was getting me nowhere. I got up with a sigh and started towards my room, but I was abducted before I even got close. One second, I'm shuffling through the hallway, and the next, I'm being thrown over Emmett's shoulder and kidnapped. He ran out of the house before I could ask him what the hell he was doing and strapped me into his jeep.
"Emmett, are you out of your mind?" I asked as he got in on the other side and backed out of the driveway almost recklessly.
"I am quite sane, little sister," he chuckled darkly.
"You're high, then. What have you been smoking?"
The jeep swerved onto the highway and screeched through town at death-defying speeds. "Drugs don't have any effect on our system, Bella." He shot me a glance. "Trust me. I've experimented."
I snorted. "Why doesn't that surprise me? Now, would you please explain what's going on?"
He rolled his eyes. "I am not like Esme and Carlisle. I'm not a sensitive parent. I'm an obnoxious, overprotective, annoying older brother. And you're not getting out of this car until I find out what happened and we figure out a plan to fix it." I quirked an eyebrow at him, but he didn't budge. "Hey, I can drag Edward in here, too. Don't think I won't do it."
I slumped in my seat and put my feet against the dashboard. "Better get comfortable. Hope you've got plenty of gas money."
The jeep suddenly jerked to the right, and Emmett weaved it through the trees. "I guess we're picking up Edward and Jasper, then."
"You're acting crazy!" I exclaimed, watching as he tore through the forest with ease.
"No, you're acting crazy. You and Edward. Now, do I keep driving, or are you gonna talk?" He pressed on the gas to emphasize his point.
"Emmett, it's really not a conversation I want to have with my brother," I begged. "Just take me home and let me mope."
"No way. It's been mopey time for a week. It's talky time now." He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "And I guess I'm going to have to call Jasper to get their location."
"No, stop. Don't pick them up. I'll tell you what happened." I undid the seatbelts and leaned against the door as he swerved the jeep around. His driving was not my favorite of the family's, but as with most things, he got stuff done.
"Okay. Where do you want to start?"
I sighed and closed my eyes, telling him about flying to Atlanta, reading about Katharine on the laptop, Edward finding me at the hotel. "Everything was fine. Mostly. He said he didn't want to leave my side. And then we got to the dinner." I rubbed my forehead with my palm. "We had to go along with whatever Dominik was saying. It was horrible." I explained about how Dominik wanted me to choose between the rings- "I didn't mean to hesitate. Getting that ring was the only reason I even went to Atlanta."- and I told him about dancing with him to get the rings out of his pocket- "It was horrible. I showered for an hour that night and still felt disgusting."
For all his jokes and comments, Emmett was a surprisingly good listener. He didn't interrupt like I expected him to, and he didn't baby me either. When I moved on to what happened in the ally, talking got harder. I had to stop a couple times to collect myself, but getting it all off my chest was beginning to feel good.
"And then he watched us leave. I don't think it's over with him, but he let Edward go."
"Okay. We'll keep our eyes out for him. What next?"
I hesitated, looking out the window. "He was so upset, Emmett. We got to the hotel, and he just got out of the car, slammed the door, and walked inside."
"Well, duh. He just got showed up by the guy who was grinding on his girl. I'd be pissed too."
"It's not just that, Emmett. He was pissed at me." I stretched my legs out, putting my feet against his knee. "I humiliated him. I let Dominik touch me in ways only Edward should be allowed to touch me. In public. I kissed him, Emmett!. I should have just taken the stupid ring the second he offered it."
"Dude, Bella, chill. Sure. He's a little mad. But the only reason you were snuggling up to Dominik is to get Edward's ring back. You don't rub all over strange men for no reason, and if you beat yourself up over that, I'm going to beat you up."
"Don't you know how to sweet talk a girl?" I muttered.
"Oh, yeah. I hooked Rosalie by telling her I'd beat her with a golf club if she didn't shut up." His face took on a wistful look. "We've been together ever since."
"Once again, Emmett, why doesn't this surprise me?"
"Some people call it predictability. I call it dependability." He leaned over and flicked me on the forehead. "Now don't change the subject! Is that all?"
The smile that had been on my face immediately disappeared.
You've got his smell all over you.
"No. It's not." I took a deep breath, and exhaled. "We were in the hotel room, and I was trying to apologize. He told me to get a shower, so I grabbed my stuff and headed towards the bathroom. But then he tells me to stop, and he starts kissing me. Really rough." I looked up through my lashes to watch Emmett's expression, but he kept his poker face. "I, um, I kissed him back at first, but then he started going too far. He pulled my dress off, and when I tried to push him away, he held onto my hands."
"He raped you?" Emmett asked, his voice as normal as if he was talking about the weather. The imprints his hands were forming in the steering wheel told a different story, though. With what happened to Rosalie, I never should have told him what Edward did.
I immediately stood up for him. "No, I told him he was scaring me and he finally snapped out of it. And, after the initial shock wore off, it didn't really bother me. But now he won't talk to me, and I don't know what to say to him, and it's all ruined." My throat felt tight, and my hands had started trembling again, but I kept my composure.
"You want me to kick his ass?" he asked, flexing his bicep at me.
"No, Emmett, I don't. I just want things to be normal again." I let my head fall back against the Plexiglass window with a thud. I only wished it would hurt.
"Normal? Hah! I laugh in the face in normalcy." He grinned at me. "So, what's the problem? Just say something to him."
"That's just it- I don't know what to say. He feels guilty for touching me like that, and I feel guilty about upsetting him. He's never going to believe that I forgive him. He'll beat himself up about it the minute I open my mouth. I'm terrified he's going to try and leave again."
"Me and Jasper'll drag his sorry butt back if he tries." Emmett reached over and squeezed my knee. "It'll be okay. It'll work out. It always does."
"Thanks, Em. Can we go home now?"
"I'm already heading that way." I watched as he tried to smooth out the dents in the steering wheel. "Heh. I guess the whole 'don't know my own strength' thing doesn't apply here."
"Just be lucky it wasn't Edward's Vanquish. Heads would roll."
He snickered. "It'd be nice payback, though, eh?"
It was then that I heard the yelling. I could hear Esme's muffled voice, though we were a good couple miles from the house. "Emmett, drive faster. Something's happening."
"It's not often that people tell me to hurry up," he muttered, but the speedometer crept towards 120 mph.
"Esme, please. Calm down." I could hear Carlisle's voice as we screeched into the driveway. I sprinted out of the car and into the house as fast as I could.
"I thought we raised you better than that!" Esme shouted, her face contorted with anger and hurt. I followed her line of vision- Edward was sitting on the couch, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. "Of all the things I knew you were capable of, I never thought you would force yourself on Bella like that!"
"Who told you that?" I snapped.
She jumped; apparently, she hadn't heard me come in. "Bella, you're back!"
"I'm sorry, Bella." Alice was at the top of the stairs, where I'd been sitting earlier. "I had a vision of you telling Emmett. I figured they'd find out soon enough."
Carlisle pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Alice, why don't you and Rosalie take Bella into the city for a while so we can talk to Edward?"
"No!" I didn't want them yelling at him. There was no doubt that he was torturing himself enough. He hadn't even lifted his head to look at me when I came in. "What happened between me and Edward is just that- between me and Edward."
"Bella, I understand where you're coming from," Esme reasoned. "But what happened between you two concerns this whole family. If you had worked it out already, I wouldn't say a thing, but this is hurting everybody."
"Please, Esme, just leave it alone." My gaze moved to Edward, dejected and defeated. I could feel my mouth moving to form words, but no coherent sound came out.
There was a hand on my shoulder- Emmett. He gently pushed me to the side, not smiling for once, and moved to the couch with a grace not usually accustomed with his size. "Edward." He shook his brother's shoulders, but Edward didn't move. "Come on, man, you and me are gonna go for a drive."
I felt like my feet had been nailed to the floorboards. It was like I was split in two; part of me wanted to go to him, to kiss him and tell him we would be alright, and the other half didn't dare move under the gazes of every one of my family members. Every one- Rosalie watched from behind tiny little Alice, her face closed off and slightly vulnerable.
"Jasper, please?" Esme murmured, raising a hand to touch to her forehead.
The tall blond, who was situated near the door, took a step forward. A false sense of serenity and optimism swept through the room, and it made me bold enough to stagger towards Edward and Emmett.
"Edward, please, just go with him." I hesitated, but then slowly lowered myself to sit next to him on the couch.
He didn't react at first, but then he finally pulled his face out of his hands and tilted it towards me. His eyes were a flat black, which surprised me, since he had supposedly just returned from a hunting trip. "If that's what you really want, Bella."
I really want you to be happy. The words were on the tip of my tongue, but they wouldn't vocalize themselves. I touched my forehead to his, instead, and he closed his eyes, his forehead creased. "It's really what I want," I whispered, and we stayed like that for a moment longer.
"I will, then," he said softly and pulled away, looking up at Emmett. His brother offered him a hand, and Edward took it.
"Come on, happy camper," Emmett sighed, clapping him on the back and escorting him out of the house.
Esme slumped into the white leather chair, as if she didn't have enough energy left to stand. "I'm sorry, everybody. I didn't mean to lose my temper," she apologized, even though Rose, Alice, and Jasper had already disappeared upstairs. The hand over her face muffled the noise.
"I just don't want anybody yelling at him. I've forgiven him." I glanced up at Carlisle. "But I know he hasn't forgiven himself.
Esme tried to apologize again, but I threw my hands up. "It's fine, Esme. But I really do appreciate you standing up for me."
"I just don't understand why he would act like that," she mumbled into her hand. "He's usually such a gentleman. Especially with you."
"Like I said- it's kind of my fault, too." Embarrassing as that was to admit, Edward didn't deserve Esme's disappointment, and I didn't want the blame placed entirely on him. "I was trying to get the rings back, and I was acting very inappropriately to distract Dominik." I paused, ashamed. "I kissed him."
"But still, Bella," Carlisle cut in. "Edward shouldn't have done that to you, no matter the circumstances."
"It really sounds worse than it is," I whispered, my eyes dropping to the floor. "And we've done things..." Luckily, I'd lost the ability to blush, or I'd be fuchsia. "Similar... to what happened." My thoughts turned to Italy, and the night he proposed to me. He'd been so gentle then, his hands so soft. It seemed ridiculous to me that he hadn't felt guilty then, but he couldn't look me in the eye now. Frustratingly so.
I sighed. "I just want to get past this."
Suddenly Alice's laughter, like wind chimes, rang through the house. It was loud and melodic, and it seemed that the tension in the house was even lessened by it. The happy noise didn't stop for a while- obviously Alice found something incredibly amusing. After the laughter finally ceased, she called, "Bella! Get your shoes on, if they aren't already." I heard her feet dancing across the carpet upstairs. "We're going shopping!"
And then the laughter started again.
I have a fuzzy human memory of being fourteen, sitting on my mother's bed as she got ready for a date. She had a mirror top table that she kept all her perfume bottles on, and I'd smell each one as my mother tried on dress after dress, each one shorter than the last.
I felt like that at the mall with Alice. She began looking for something specific, but when she couldn't find it, I found myself being handed more dresses than I could carry without looking completely ridiculous. The selection began very modest, but then hemlines started getting higher and necklines started getting lower.
"Alice, why are you doing this to me?" I asked as she sent me back the dressing room I'd just come out of with another outfit. Sometimes I'd just get the dress zipped up and she'd call me back and tell me she didn't like what it was going to look like.
"I can't tell you that. But it's really important that you have an incredibly adorable outfit," she said through the door. "Wait, no, not that one."
"Alice!" I tried to pull off the top she'd given me without ripping it. "I really don't want to be here!"
"Please, Bella, bear with me," she begged. "You'll thank me later."
"Alice," I sighed exasperatedly and opened the door. "Trade. Or I'm walking out right now."
"I just told you ten minutes ago. I can't keep checking every other minute. Just relax. Emmett's taking care of it."
"Alice, it takes two seconds," I insisted. "And if Emmett really had it under control, you wouldn't mind looking for me."
"So irritating," she muttered, snatching the blouse I held out to her. Her eyes closed, though, and she went still.
I froze as well. What had taken merely seconds when I was a human now stretched on for what seemed like years. The stress of not only being apart from Edward, but knowing that he was in pain, as well, probably exaggerated those few moments too. I tried to be patient.
Finally, Alice opened her eyes, and something good and positive flashed across her golden irises. She quickly tried to appear unsurprised and said in a flat tone, "His brothers are getting him to actually hunt." Smirking, she held out a black miniskirt. "I told you Emmett was taking care of it."
I cracked a smile for the first time in hours, breathing in deeply. "He'll feel better when he's not thirsty, won't he?" I dared myself, pulling the skirt over my thighs. Besides the fact that it was too big, I could practically hear Emmett's voice joking about how short it was. Shaking my head, I slid it back off.
"Edward will be in a considerably better mood when we get home," Alice affirmed, taking the skirt from me and hanging it back up. "But, Bella, that's not to say he'll be in a good mood." With a sweep of her arm, she collected all of the refused garments she'd grabbed off the racks. I watched her as she left the dressing room, her designer ballet flats seemingly floating above the carpet floors.
I started dressing again, but I heard her gasp, and I stopped. " I found it! It was on the reject rack the entire time!" she called to me. "Come on, we can go now."
The question about the fit didn't even make it out of my mouth- it was Alice, after all. So, I finished buttoning my jeans and pushed open the tiny room's door to see her holding the dress up for me. It was an almost see-through ivory, with a pale pink ribbon underneath the bust that tied in the back. I couldn't tell how high the hem line would go, since it was hanging on a hanger, but I guessed it would reach around mid-thigh. It was a nice dress, but not something I would pick out on my own.
"It's exactly as I saw it," she said, almost to herself, as she paid for it and dragged me out of the store. There was a smile on her face that made me suspicious. My caution flamed into embarrassment as she pushed me through the doors of a lingerie store. "Alice, I really don't think I need any of this." I eyed the walls of half-naked mannequins much like the way Edward eyed Mike Newton.
"Bella, just trust me, please. It's to go under your dress." She immediately went for something racy and lacy. "We'll just find something real quick and go." I grimaced as she picked up a piece of fabric that wouldn't have covered my thumbnail, much less... Ugh.
"You couldn't get me to wear that even if you held a gun to my head," I told her, resisting the urge to turn around and make a run for it.
She laughed, shaking her head. "Don't worry; this is more like Rosalie's level. I'm thinking of something much more subdued for you."
"Thank God," I muttered.
Half an hour later, Alice was finally allowing me to leave, bags in hand. She even let me drive home, a pleasure I didn't get very often. I was eager to see if Edward would hold a conversation with me, now. It was a long shot, but I kept my fingers crossed nonetheless.
When we arrived home, Rosalie was curled under Emmett's arm on the couch. Esme and Carlisle's bedroom door was open, and I could see Esme stretched out on the bed reading a book. Everything was calm and peaceful, and the best part of all- there was music. The sounds coming from the piano welcomed me home better than any of my family members could.
It wasn't my lullaby. It was something I didn't recognize, quiet and melodic. But it was compelling, with sad lilts and trills of hope. I liked it, and I shuffled towards the piano, mesmerized.
Edward didn't look up, but his shoulders tensed under my gaze. I almost stopped in my tracks. I remembered what Alice had said about him being in a better mood, and how Emmett had insisted that I just talk to him, though, and I continued, taking a seat on the edge of the piano bench. If I'd been human, I would have missed the way he eased away from me, almost imperceptibly. The gaping space between his thigh and mine hurt, but it wasn't any worse than what he'd been doing all week. I chose to ignore it.
"Hey," I murmured, watching his expression carefully. His eyes were the most beautiful honey color I'd ever seen.
"Good morning," he replied softly, glancing up to meet my gaze. His velvet voice, as it always did, sent chills of delight down my spine.
"I missed you." I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't end the conversation here.
His lips spread into a hesitant smile, and he said, "Miss you more."
I released the air in my lungs, relieved. Alice was right- he was in a much better mood. The hunting had helped. I absently wondered what Emmett and Jasper had said to him. My gaze dropped to his hands, which were still gliding effortlessly across the keys. His fingers were long and slender, the muscles in his forearms contracting and relaxing. On a whim, I reached out to touch them.
His hand stumbled to a stop, and he pulled away, shying from my reach. The notes he'd been playing spilled and scattered, and he cut his eyes away from my confused stare. It reminded me of the night he'd rescued me and taken me to dinner in Port Angeles. He'd receded then, too.
I gnawed on my bottom lip, letting my hand fall back in my lap. The uncomfortable feeling had returned so quickly, and I hated that I'd hurt him so. Remembering the kiss I'd given away to Dominik, I bit down hard on my lip.
Alice flitted to us, the bags we'd brought home from the mall held by the crook of her elbow. "Edward, Esme needs you," she chirped.
He didn't hesitate, standing and walking away without a second glance at me.
My heart practically deflated, and I looked at the piano keys.
Alice sighed, offering me a hand. "Better, though, right?"
"Yeah." I took her proffered help and stood. "He's in a better bad mood."
She gave me a sad, but encouraging smile, and pulled me upstairs, whispering at a level Edward wouldn't be able to hear unless he was searching through her thoughts. "It'll be alright, Bella. If things go as I see them, everybody will be okay in a couple days."
I wondered if I would last that long.
Alice pushed me gently into my room and threw my dress and new underwear at me- nothing fancy, just satin matching bra and panties. This seemed to be the universal language for "Put these on." I stripped, unembarrassed in front of Alice, and pulled the garments on. The dress fit tightly at the bust, but then flared out, falling shorter than I'd predicted. The fabric was some sort of cotton blend, and it felt soft on my skin.
Alice stepped back and inspected me, tapping her chin with her finger. "Something's off." Looking me up and down, she circled the perimeter of the room. She paused when she got back in front of me and knelt at my feet. "Huh." She pulled at the hem. "This is uneven."
"Is it supposed to be like that?" I asked, trying to keep my arms out of the way as she pulled the fabric this way and that.
"No, I don't think so." Her forehead was furrowed when she stepped back.
"Well, maybe that's why it was on clearance," I suggested, remembering the bright orange sticker on the price tag.
I shook my head. "So, are we taking it back?"
"No." She took my hand and dragged me out of the room and down the stairs. "We'll have Esme fix it."
As I allowed myself to be pulled along, I noticed that this was strange for two reasons. First, it wasn't like Alice to buy something poorly made and then try and fix it instead of trading it in for a better piece. Secondly, I knew perfectly well that all of the Cullens could sew- actually, Emmett probably had never had a lesson, but he could most likely pick it up pretty easily. If something was wrong with the dress, why did she drag me to Esme's room instead of just fixing it herself?
When we walked past Emmett, there was a mocking gleam in his eye. I knew that if Rosalie wasn't curled under his arm, he'd be snickering and making lewd comments. Typical.
"Esme, we need your expertise," Alice said as she pushed open the door. "The hem of Bella's dress is uneven."
As always, when Edward was around, no matter what was happening around me, my eyes went straight to him. I locked gazes with him just in time to see his eyes blaze, his eyes like golden fire. As soon as he noticed that I saw, though, he jerked his face away, glaring at something to his extreme right. His expression was pure agony.
"Of course, Alice," Esme said, holding up a hand, as if to stop us. "But Edward and I were just talking, so could you give us just a minute?"
"Actually, Esme," Edward said, his tone polite but his jaw clenched, much like when he spoke with Ms. Cope, "I just remembered a matter I need to attend to." He crossed the room in just a few long strides, taking care not to get close to me when he left.
Esme sighed and put her hand on her forehead, closing her eyes. "This close," she muttered, holding up two fingers just a centimeter apart. "This. Close."
"Sorry," I mumbled.
"He's going to your meadow," Alice told me quickly. "But he'll run around first to clear his head. See if you can make it there before him."
"The dress?" I asked, fisting a handful of the soft and translucent fabric.
Alice's grin was blinding and mischievous. "What did you think it was for?"
I narrowed my eyes at her, but didn't say anything else as I backed out of the room and sprinted out of the house. The route he would take was easy to avoid- Edward was truly a creature of habit. I could probably track his steps all the way through town. My hair flying wildly behind me, I ran through the forest. It was strangely peaceful, despite the chaos I felt inside me. My breathing and footfalls remained the only sounds for miles.
I wish I could say that it had been a dreary morning, but the clouds were parting as I burst into the meadow, but they weren't. It was gray- almost unnaturally so- and light raindrops were spattering across my face. There were almost no similarities between now and the first time Edward brought me here. That almost felt like another lifetime.
I felt awkward as I stood alone in the center of the clearing. Thunder rumbled somewhere, and I could feel it deep within my chest. Trying to calm my nervous breathing, I lifted my face to the rain. It seemed to lack any temperature, and it smelled nice. My anxiety calmed just a bit- until I heard footfalls coming from the east.
My mind spun, and I suddenly regretted not coming up with anything to say. Taking a deep breath, I tilted my face back down and saw Edward emerging from the forest, stopping at the line of trees. His jaw was set, his eyes tight. Anger wasn't the expression I interpreted from his face, though. It was more defensive, more like he was ready to run at a moment's notice.
I took a slow step forward, and then another. He didn't move as I neared, watching me with reserve. "I'm sorry," I said, my voice wavering. A new look came into his eyes- one I couldn't name- and I continued. "The way I acted with Dominik was inexcusable. I should have done something else- anything else. Nothing is worth disrespecting you like I did." I swallowed, taking in a shaky breath. "It's okay if you're angry with me. I'm angry with myself. But I can't stand you not talking to me. Scream at me. Yell at me. But don't just-"
"Bella, be quiet." His words were soft and clipped. "You're being absolutely ridiculous."
My train of thought screeched to a stop. "What?" If he wasn't upset because I kissed Dominik, why was he avoiding me? "I don't understand."
"Why would I be upset with you?" His tone was almost condescending. "It's my own actions that disgust me. I completely loathe myself for what I did to you."
"Well, don't!" This was why he'd been avoiding me? "I forgave you already."
"It's physically impossible for you to hold a grudge, Bella," He sighed, frustrated, fisting his hands and crossing his arms. "Even when you should."
"You want me to hate you?" His words weren't making any sense.
His lips parted, as if to speak, but then snapped shut. Silent, he stared intensely at me, as if to translate his feelings without words.
My mind whirled. Why would he want me to be angry with him? To be sure, Edward was prone to overreaction and a "monster" mentality. But why would he want such tension between us? Did he want me to avoid him? Did he want me to...
Realization hit me, like a fist in my gut. My lungs closed off as I accused him. "You want to leave me."
The only sound was of his teeth grinding together, and that answer was enough to confirm my fears. I watched with disbelief as he held my gaze, rain dripping from his hair and face. Drops like tears trickled across his cheekbones and poured down his jawline. He was pressing his lips tightly together, ignoring the rain that pooled in the bow of his upper lip.
This scene was too familiar. There was a gnawing at my center, a tiny voice in my head laughing and saying, You knew he'd leave again! What made you think you were ever worth staying for? My diamond-hard body suddenly threatened to give out on me.
"You don't want me?" I breathed, my voice abnormally steady.
He blinked with surprise, dropping his arms. With understanding, his expression blackened. "Of course I want you, Bella. Don't be absurd." There was a harshness in his voice that cut at me. "But I'm not good for you. Atlanta made me realize that." The relief I felt did no good when it was juxtaposed with frustration and helplessness. Edward took a step forward, his face just inches from mine and said, "I would have hurt you, Bella, if you hadn't stopped me. Not could have. Would have." He looked fierce. Like a vampire. "I would have hurt you, and I would have liked it. That's why I should leave."
In an act of desperation- but also self-preservation- I pulled his face to mine and kissed him hard.
When he realized what was happening, he gently, but firmly pushed me away. "No. You don't have to do that because you think it'll make me stay. I've already promised to stay until you don't want me."
"Edward if you even try to go, I'll follow," I told him, my voice low. The rain was coming down harder now, plastering my hair to my face. "Don't think I'll stay behind this time."
Lightning flashed, like an omen, and it lit up the sky. It was exceptionally dark for mid-morning, but my exceptional vision wasn't dimmed in the slightest. "Bella..." he began, his voice bleak.
I didn't give him the chance to finish, crushing my body to his and capturing his mouth with mine. When he tried to push me away, I knotted my fingers in his hair and held him tight. "You're not going anywhere," I snarled, molding my body to his. "You're mine."
"Bella, stop," his breathed, his voice low and husky.
I pushed him roughly against a thick tree, the rain in the leaves drenching us. My hands made quick work of the buttons on his shirt, despite his attempts to bat them away. Since it was wet, it stuck to his skin, and I could only push it past his shoulders. That was enough though, and I smoothed my hands over the planes of his torso, raking my nails down his stomach.
Edward paused in his struggling and shuddered.
"Does this make us even?" I purred in his ear.
His hands were floating just a few inches above my hips, as if he didn't want to give in. "No," he replied, but his voice was almost unsure.
"Edward," I sighed, nibbling at his neck. My finger hooked itself in the waistband of his jeans, teasing mercilessly. "I've forgiven you. And if I have to test how much abuse this poor tree can take to prove it to you, I will."
His laugh was short, without humor. "Two wrongs don't make a right," he teased half-heartedly.
"Then what will make it right?" I asked, snaking my leg around his. "And leaving is not an option."
"I won't leave if you don't want me to, Bella, but- mmm-" I bit his shoulder, exactly where he'd bitten me. "But I almost hurt you."
"I don't think so. I'm a big girl now." I molded my body to his to emphasize my point. "If you were really trying to hurt me, I could have stopped you. You would never want me hurt."
My body registered his hands on my hips, and I grinned against his throat. "Bella..." he murmured. "You're making it increasingly difficult to remember my argument."
"Forgive and forget," I whispered, pulling his arms tighter around me. It seemed that he was allowing himself to be convinced.
It took a moment, but then I felt his hands pressing against my waist and back. The rain made my dress cling to my skin, and my hair was dripping. But it was really impossible to worry about that when Edward's lips were so adamantly demanding my attention. The rain didn't blunt his scent or his taste at all. If anything, these kisses were sweeter than any I'd received from him in a long time.
Electricity sparked between us, hitching my breathing and sending shivers down my spine. His lips moved to my throat, tracing the spot where blood once pulsed. It held the same effect to this day, and I bit my lip against a moan. My arms wrapped themselves around his neck, my fingers threading through his wet hair.
"This dress," he began huskily, slowly unbuttoning the back. "It's new."
"Thank Alice," I told him, crushing myself against him.
Edward chuckled, his voice low. "Apparently, I have a lot of things to thank Alice for."
Closing my eyes against his intoxicating touches, I inhaled deeply, enjoying the feeling of truly breathing for the first time in almost two weeks. Of course, the suspicion that he hadn't completely given up didn't totally disappear, but he talking and joking with me, and that was all I had wanted. He wouldn't leave, he swore, and for now, Dominik was gone.
I had Edward all to myself. I knew he had far too much control for a teenage boy, even if his mind was technically a century old, and that he wouldn't let himself go as far as I knew he wished he could. But for now, I had all I wanted in my arms, and I didn't plan on letting it go for anything.