Legal wa-wa: I don't own Twilight…but I own this story.

A/N: Like always, no Beta, but that is changing soon! The thing is that working with a Beta will take some adjustment, so Chapter 8 will post two weeks from today (instead of the weekly schedule I've been carrying on until now). However, I will try to get back to a weekly posting schedule after the Beta-Maruxf process gets ironed out. *Cross fingers*

As to chapter 7- Another long one; longest one, actually. Hope you enjoy it. Thank you all for all the reviews and your support. It's been amazing to be on the receiving end of your love (…that's what she said(?)). Thank you all for taking the time to read this. I know that there are easier stories out there, so: Thanks! Gracias! Danke! Baie dankie, Chokran, Xiexie, Merci, Grazzie, Arigato, Takk, Tack, Dzieki, Muito agradecida, Spasibo, Asante, and Ngiyabonga.

Chapter 7: The Blue Plate Special

Thank god for Carlisle Cullen.

The eyeglasses he "found" for me were a million times better than my old ones.

"Found them. Ha!"

If that old tree thinks I don't know he knew beforehand that the glasses in the purple case were going to fit me perfectly, not only in style but also in function, he has one thing coming.

Well, not really.

I mean…he is a vampire after all. And my expertise on the subject does not go beyond Shelley, Buffy, some Ann Rice, and…Mr. Pitt's interview, for that matter. Yet solely based on my limited, fictional know-how, I'm almost positive I wouldn't be able to do much damage (unless one could nag a vampire to death that is). I can always try staking him Buffy-style, but this is moi we are talking about. I would probably catch a splinter that would then get infected and kill me. Or something.

But I digress: How did he know the perfect pair of specs would be waiting for me?

He couldn't have known. Yet, it was all over his smirky, movie star face.

He totally knew.

That was as obvious as the designer frames sitting on my face. Oh yeah, 'cause I googled "Oliver Peoples" (with an 's' of course) from the diner's prehistoric PC, and there they were: Almost four hundred dollars designer frames.

My old glasses came from the donation bin at the local LensCrafters store in Phoenix. Four years ago.

Right.

So, four hundred dollars. Not a scratch on them. Perfect prescription lenses. Rare designer item…in Forks.

Of course.

Absolutely nothing bizarre or extraordinary about that, I harrumphed.

So he must have had something to do with the glasses just happening to be at the lost-and-found of the ER waiting for me. Therefore, he must have known about me.

Specifically, about me falling.

About me needing the eyeglasses.

He knew about me coming to his ER before I got there because his daughter, Alice, called him.

But the school is about 2 miles from the hospital (in Bella-truck time, roughly 7 minutes away). Obviously not enough time to plan and plant the darned, expensive, beautifully perfect things in the dusty lost-and-found bin of the hospital. Yet...

Alice informed him I was coming.

Alice, the fashion plate.

Alice, so effortlessly stylish she made Anna Wintour cower and fashion mavens wilt in her wake.

Alice knew. In advance.

Is it possible Alice literally saw me coming?

Could she have ESP, or crystal-ball-see, or have future visions, or do some weird, time-travel translocation?

Is that a vampire thing or—

"Bella, honey, I think that dispenser is pretty full already…"

Cora's voice snapped me out of yet another Cullen-induced trance.

Noticing the sugar overflowing the dispenser, I groaned.

"That must've been some daydream," Cora said as she handed me damp towel.

"Sorry. I'm just distracted." I couldn't explain it. But I felt like my brain had been opened up to all these new things. I'd become a short-wave radio tuned in to all frequencies at once.

"Is it a boy? Oh, tell me, tell me, tell me…" She was smiling. And I could hear the schoolgirl glee in her voice.

This was what I had come to love about Cora in such a short time. She was fifty-something going on thirteen. My first week here, I found her squealing over the "of-the-moment" young adult novel about the cute zombie boy and his human love. She was "Team Zombie" and I was sternly informed that "Team Human Boyfriend" was not allowed in the diner. So yeah, Cora was a middle-aged tweener.

"…Well, is it a boy?"

There was no way to get out this. I could lie relatively well. I had to learn that skill to survive a childhood in the care of Renee Higginbotham Swan. Yet, my skills did not seem to work when Cora gave me the look.

The look that she was giving me right now.

Crap.

"Um…well, maybe. I think. I'm not sure…Uh…" I sounded like I was brain damaged. Sheesh.

Taking a deep breath and putting on my proverbial big girl undies, I told her everything. The bullying, Lauren, the puddle, my tears, everything. Except for the part of me hearing, what I was now absolutely sure, was his voice inside my head.

Or the vampire-family-in-Forks thing.

"And then I looked up and he was looking back at me and we had a…" I once again pondered what to call the thing in the parking lot, "…moment. But before you go nuts, he and I haven't even spoken to each other. Cora stop that!"

At some point, she had partially climbed over the counter and started poking me and squealing. I couldn't concentrate if she was going to keep going on like that.

"Fine, I'll be good." She climbed back down and folded her hands primly on the worn Formica countertop. Right, as if that would fool anybody who knew her.

"Um…it was weird. Like I said, we haven't had actual interaction. I could very well have imagined the entire thing." I was fairly certain I had not. Yet, the possibility was paralyzing.

And the only reason I could think of that could explain the fear was the very real fact that I was more than halfway gone for Edward Cullen.

A vampire with crazy, confused hair color.

A vampire with crazy, confused hair color, with whom I'd had not exchanged a single word.

I giggled on the inside.

"It is so nice to see you smile like that." Once again, Cora's voice brought me back to reality.

"So long as this still-unidentified boy keeps you smiling like that, I'm all for him. The moment he doesn't treat you right, baby-girl, you tell me and I'll call my cousin, Dez, you know…the one that did time for assault-and-battery, and he'll teach that boy some manners…" she huffed. Totally serious.

I let the giggle escape.

"You think I'm joking…you know what? I'm going to call up crazy Dez anyway. Let'im have a practice run with that Lauren. Next time she shows up here, you let me know, and I'll take the table, you hear? I cannot believe that little no-good, whoreba—

Cora's rant screeched to a halt. When I looked at her, she was staring over my shoulder in the direction of the door to the dining area with her mouth gaping open.

I didn't even have to turn around. Somehow, I just knew.

A second later the silver bell over the door tinkled.


Placing the car in park, I stared at the entrance to Fork's Diner.

The silence inside the car was oppressive.

"I'm nervous." Esme's quiet voice broke through my contemplation.

"Me too." I confessed.

Another four minutes passed in silence.

Then, the love of my life laughed. It started as the smallest of giggles and kept growing until she could barely stop guffawing.

"Look at us, Carlisle. Two vampires with about 470 years of combined life experience and we are absolutely terrified of a seventeen-year-old human girl." She said smiling and reaching for my hand.

I thought about responding with some platitude or a joke; but looking at our entwined fingers made me say what I hid deep within my heart.

"I sometimes close my eyes and I see our children, Es. Ours…I see them as I imagine they would have been; I see you carry them within; I see them being born, learning to walk and talk, playing in the sun with your hair and the shape of my eyes. It eats at my very soul that I fail you in this way."

"Carlisle…" She sighed.

Looking into her eyes I continued, "I don't understand the reason why this moment feels as close as I'll be able to give you your own…our own child. It makes no sense, I know. We have five of them already. And Bella is no babe. But this feels different; it feels like the real thing…" I trailed off.

The green numbers of the dashboard clock ticked in a new minute. And then another.

"I see them too. Sometimes. Blond and rosy. Perhaps, blue-eyed…" Esme whispered her quiet fantasy to me.

"…Yet, even if I was able to go back in time and change the past, I would not do so. I would not have met you if you were not turned. Had you not found me, our family would not exist. I would be in the ground next to my baby that I adored but was not meant to be. I would be there, forever in the dark. I was trapped, my baby was dead, and there was no way out for me. Yet you did find me and in you, I found the life I was meant for…" she stated resolutely.

Then her voice softened and she continued, "As wonderful as the dream is, my darling, the reality you give me is so much richer. Rejecting the gift of your love by wishing for something impossible would be a tragedy."

I nodded. She was right of course.

"As for why this feels different, perhaps it is because this girl truly needs to be loved and cared for in a way none of the others have. Or maybe, it is because we have waited for so long for our family to be complete. But, Carlisle, does the reason why this feels different really matter?" She questioned.

Again, she was right.

"No. It does not." I felt the smile break on my face as I moved to get out of the car. "Come on, my love. Let me introduce you to our Bella."


A stampede of pink and purple unicorns pooping rainbows all over Forks' main street would've gathered less attention than Carlisle and (whom I assumed was) Mrs. Cullen walking through the dining area of Cora's diner, straight towards me. Not that the diner was terribly busy, but still…it got so quiet the only sound to be heard was the hot oil bubbling in the deep fryer and the ancient soft-serve ice cream machine churning away in the corner. I was pretty positive that nobody in the joint was breathing. A fact that became more than clear, when Carlisle Cullen's voice interrupted my reverie.

"I believe last time we spoke, we had agreed that you would be taking the rest of the day to relax." Looking up, I could see he was wearing his half-smirky, half-scowly-doctor face. "You need to breathe, Bella." Okay, that was said with the full-on smirk.

I had to take a gulp of air, before responding. Yup. Nobody had been breathing. Not even me.

"Um, well, I…"

I might as well grunt like a Neanderthal. Millions of years of Homo sapiens evolution were clearly wasted on me. The "render-Bella-dumb" ability these Cullens seemed to have was infuriating. Not to mention that I had not agreed to staying…

"…anywhere. You, Dr. Old Tree, merely suggested I go home and rest. I decided otherwise. There was no so-called agreement reached; there was no "meeting of the minds" or acceptance of your suggestion-slash-offer. Therefore, I'm here. Working. So there…"

After I finished my rant, I realized two things: One, I need to stop watching 'Ally McBeal' and 'Law & Order' reruns after Charlie passed out per his regularly scheduled stupor. Two, it was imperative that I find a way to reconcile my inside voice with my outside voice. Looking up I could see the half smirk was now a full-blown one. Good Lord, that only meant one thing—

"I said that out-loud, didn't I?"

Oh my God, I was going to die from this blush. I would feel my entire face on fire. The embarrassment was so deep that I felt my eyes begin to burn. After 17 years of fairly regular embarrassment, I should be used to the feeling…and for the most part, I managed to weave my way through life without really caring what people thought about me. Like this morning's incident, I cried not because I cared what the idiots at school thought or said, but because I am exhausted of all the crap. Of all the fear.

Yet something in my gut told me that these…erm, people, currently standing in front of me were going to be fundamental in my life. In fact, they already were. So verbal a spew-age attack was not the impression I wanted to make, hence the tears that flooded my vision.

"I am so sorry…I don't...I didn't mean…to say that…well, I did mean it, but didn't mean to actually say it…out-loud I mean. Crap," I sniffed.

"Oh, honey. Please don't be embarrassed. Once you get to know our Emmett, you'll see that very little fazes us." A sweet voice said.

Looking up, I noticed that the beautiful woman clutching Dr. Stoker's hand had the most blinding smile. Vampire teeth all a-gleaming.

Out of the corner of my eye, I felt Cora take a full step back even though she was on the other side of the serving counter.

Which was strange.

I mean, sure…the teeth in question were really white and really shiny; and in the back of my mind I knew (sort of) what they could do to the human juice-boxes walking around everywhere. But for some reason, I just didn't feel whatever it was that made Cora inch away from them.

If anything, I wanted to get closer to Mrs. Cullen. In her eyes, I could see the same thing I saw in Dr. C's during my highly embarrassing ER visit this morning: Safety.

She, however, had something extra. I recognized what it was because I grew up yearning for somebody to look at me that way. With Renee as a mother, it was that look that I asked Santa for, wished on fallen eyelashes and begged shooting stars. That look was full of pure, unadulterated, mother's love.

And it was directed at me. Me!

And for a second there, I lost myself, forgot the verbal diarrhea attack and my embarrassment. I smiled back.

"You must be Isabella," she said. "I'm Esme Cullen. Carlisle's wife."

I noticed that her hands twitched and her entire body leaned forward, only stopping short at the last second.

Her smiled dimmed.

She wanted to hug me.

And it made me profoundly sad that she stopped herself…that her smile dimmed like that. I missed the hug she almost gave me.

So without thinking too much about it, I took a step closer and grabbed both her hands.

"Hi, Mrs. Cullen. Please call me Bella." I said and gave her hands a bit of a squeeze.

Her hands were small and hard. The skin was very smooth. Underneath, her muscles were pliable but harder than normal, and the structures underneath those muscles felt like pure steel. Yet when she squeezed my hands back, there was only profound tenderness in the gesture. I also noticed that her hands were a bit chilly, not ice cold like I thought Dr. Cullen's hands felt like in the ER. I wondered about that, but made a mental note to find out the answer later.

"Oh, Bella. It's so nice to finally meet you. Please call me Esme." She said with her full-on smile blazing.

All those vampy teeth must have been too much for Cora because she finally unfroze.

"Bella, table seven is open for Doctor and Mrs. Cullen."

Cora all but shoved two menus my way before scampering away to the kitchen.

"Um, yes. Table seven. This way."

When we got the table, I was unsure what to do about the menus. I mean, the diner had varied selection but I was pretty sure we did not have any O-Neg on hand.

"So, would you like to see the…um...menu?" I was really struggling with proper vampire etiquette.

Dr. C turned to Esme, who had not stopped smiling at me and asked: "What would you like, dear?"

"I think I will have coffee and pie. Apple pie, if you have it," Esme said without missing a beat. Like ordering apple pie was an every day occurrence.

"…and I'll have the same." Doctor Carlisle said, smiling at me.

"Really?!" I spluttered.

Once again, my brain had gone rogue and hijacked my mouth.

"Yes, pie and coffee. No cream or sugar." Doctor Cullen responded between poorly concealed chortles.

I had to admit that he was really good at taking my crazy in stride. I hoped this boded well for future Bella-Cullen family relations.

Oh, how I hoped because Bronze had seriously done something to my heart and soul that was permanent.

After God knows how long, I realized I was standing there holding the menus with what probably was the silliest moony face ever and that both Cullens were smiling as if they knew exactly what was transpiring inside my brain.

The collective power of those two smiles mesmerized me and I couldn't help but smile back.

"Right. Pie. Coffee. I'll be right back." When I turned to get the Cullen's order, I noticed that every eye in the joint was set on table seven; which was, by the way, the booth farthest away from where the rest of the patrons were seated. I was sure that it was no coincidence that Cora had chosen that table as the Cullen's table. Apparently, it was perfectly fine to ogle at the beautiful Cullens so long as they were not too close to the general population. For some reason, having the town treat the Cullens like a zoo exhibit pissed me off. So I stalked off, giving my nastiest stink-eye-slash-bitch-brow to the gawkers, which included Cora.

Most of them had the decency to look away. But not all.

"Cora, I'm taking my break." I huffed.

Her head snapped in my direction, breaking her Cullen-staring moment, surprise showing on her face. It was the first time I had used that tone of voice with her.

Without waiting for her answer I grabbed the pies and coffee I'd poured and turned towards table seven.

Perhaps it was presumptuous of me but I decided that for once I was going to be bold. I felt it in my gut that the Cullens were here to see me. I was not going to go my usual route of doubt and insecurity.

I had a 30 minute break and 10 minutes of peace before the school day finished; which meant that Forks High would invariably spew from its bowels all its' asshats directly into the diner. So, I was going to spend the few minutes of tranquility I had before that happened getting to know the only good people in this stupid little town worth knowing at all.


I was staring at Esme. Even all our time together, I regularly found myself needing to simply look at her.

Today in particular, she was as radiant as she was nervous; which was, from all appearances, quite a lot.

Her knee was bouncing; marking a rhythm that made the entire booth shake. It was one of the mannerisms she had carried over from her human days. To me, it was adorable.

It was also telling of how invested she was already. It did not take 90 years of marriage to understand that Bella's simple gesture, her reaching out in greeting and holding my wife's hands, had stripped something bare within Esme.

Suddenly, the vibration cut off.

"She looks uncomfortable, Carlisle. Maybe it was not a good idea for us to come…" Anxiety coated her every word.

Turning my attention to Bella, I saw that Esme was correct. It was obvious that Bella was concentrating very hard, balancing the tray with our order, while she walked around the mostly empty tables between the front of the diner and our booth in the back of the dining area.

Yet, in addition to her preoccupation with the scalding liquid on her tray, Bella was annoyed; if not downright angry. As she walked, she was muttering something too low for even us to decipher and two bright red patches had appeared on her cheeks.

"Did Cora say anything to her?" I asked.

"You weren't paying any attention, were you?" Esme sighed unhappily, "…No, Carlisle. Cora did not say anything. She was just staring like everybody else is…so it must be us. "

There was too much disappointment in her voice.

"Bella asked for her break. She's probably trying to avoid us…" she concluded looking down at her hands, twisting her wedding band around and around.

That did not make sense.

There was no reason for the intrepid Bella that I met in the hospital, who boldly reached towards a vampire not three minutes ago, to suddenly develop the typical human aversion to our kind. Still, there was always the possibility that Bella was perhaps having a delayed reaction…a perfectly natural consequence to our unnatural state.

"Esme, look at me. I know how much this means to you and to us, but we have to let things progress as they will. If Bella is…apprehensive about the information she discovered today, we must offer our understanding and patience. So, we will ask her to join us at the table. If she refuses, we will stay until Alice lets us know it is time to leave…alright?"

I felt more than saw Esme nod beside me just as Bella reached our table. When she placed the tray on the table, I noticed a third cup of coffee and pie serving. I took that as a very good sign.

Apparently, Esme did not notice. It was also apparent that my wife did not heed the part of my plan involving patience.

As soon as Bella began serving our order Esme blurted: "Maybe we should take this to-go…"

Bella's head whipped towards Esme.

Five drops of coffee from the mug in her hand splashed on the table.

"Wha-? Why? You're leaving? Did I…" Bella asked confused, a line appearing between her brows. The corners of her mouth sharply turned downwards and she dropped her eyes to the third, lonely pie slice and coffee still on her tray.

I was already aware that Bella was both, tenacious and insecure. In her mind, she was in all likelihood berating herself for assuming we were here to see her. Nothing that we could say would dislodge the doubt from her mind. Words would not sway her. So instead of verbally responding, I decided to show her.

Reaching over, I grabbed the cup from the tray and placed it on the table across from us.

Esme, immediately understanding what I was doing, followed my lead, took the remaining plate and silverware and placed it next to the coffee.

For a second, Bella just stood there. Then she sighed, and it was obvious from her expression that she had reached some decision.

"Um…okay," she mumbled, "Let me go get some boxes." She started to turn but before she could step away, Esme gently grabbed her hand.

"Never mind the boxes, dear…would you join us? For your break, I mean…have your coffee and pie with us?" Esme pleaded, still holding Bella's hand. The line between her brows was clear indication that Bella remained unconvinced.

"Sit, Bella," I smiled.

After a moment's hesitation, Bella's fingers twitched within Esme's hand, but she finally met my eyes and her expression relaxed.

"What's the magic word?" She huffed playfully. Her tentative smile warmed my heart and I could not help to play along.

So, I stood up to my full height, extended a hand in invitation, and sank in a courtly bow. I also used a bit of vampire allure to achieve the full effect.

"Miss Swan, would you do us the great honor of gracing us with your company?" I formally requested, letting my native speech cadences seep through.

"Wow," she breathed and stared; her lax mouth forming a perfect 'O'.

"Carlisle, leave the girl alone and sit down," Esme interrupted my performance with a hard pinch to my side. Turning to Bella, my traitor wife smiled kindly.

"Bella dear, ignore him. Come sit down with us."

Like snapping out of a trance, Bella shook her head and narrowed her eyes at me.

"Has anybody mentioned you're very bossy, Dr. Moroi?" She grumbled humorously and plopped on the booth bench opposite of us. "Happy now?"

Esme could not help but laugh at Bella's sauciness. I was relieved that Bella still appeared comfortable enough to banter with us.

I suspected that Bella was often underestimated as being passive and meek; when in fact, her passiveness and meekness appeared to be merely part of a shield she utilized to safely navigate through life. It made a warped sort of sense; if she made herself smaller, quieter, and unobtrusive, she would be camouflaged from an environment that was unstable at best, threatening at worse.

Hence, it was reassuring that the trust and familiarity we established during her visit to the ER had not diminished under the weight of Bella's newly acquired knowledge. After she was discharged from the hospital, I feared that once she took the time to process this morning's events, the reality of immersing herself in a world of vampires would prove overwhelming.

"I am reminded quite often of the flaw. And yes, I am quite happy." I was absurdly smug. My silly self-satisfaction did not go unnoticed by either Esme or Bella as both simultaneously rolled their eyes at me.

Still, after that brief moment of easy camaraderie between us, the heaviest of silences enveloped our table. To say that the quiet that settled over us was "awkward" would be like calling the Pacific Ocean, a "puddle."

I had expected Bella to be tongue-tied. The amount of information she had discovered today would be overpowering for any mortal. Not to mention, that she was in all likelihood struggling to makes sense of her sudden connection with Edward. In a matter of hours, her world had expanded explosively to accommodate both, proof of the supernatural and a metaphysical bond with her perfect counterpart (though, it was unlikely she fully understood the link and its implications). Thus, it was perfectly understandable that Bella would be cautious traversing the new landscape of her life.

What I did not expect was how uncertain Esme and I would be about this meeting. Even after our conversation in the car and our resolutions, we were at a loss.

Next to me, Esme had already shredded her paper napkin into a neat little pile. She then began to methodically divide her slice of pie and spread the small portions around the plate (as we did to make it seem as if the food was consumed). She was also stealing glances in Bella's direction every few seconds.

Over and over the process repeated.

She would cut a small piece of pie, move it to another location on her plate, pretend to sip the coffee, grimace at the smell, and peek under her lashes at Bella.

Cut and move, sip and grimace, peek and repeat.

Cut and move, sip and grimace, peek.

Across the table, Bella was not faring any better.

The uncomfortable girl was managing her anxiety by methodically ripping open a seemingly excessive number of sugar packets and pouring each, one-by-one, into her coffee. She was also looking up at us at intervals, each time refreshing the raging blush on her cheeks.

Shake, rip, pour. Blush. Repeat.

Shake, rip, pour. More blushing.

After she was finished with the sugar, Bella then proceeded to add an equally large amount of cream to her mug.

Though coffee was not available during my human life (and I had only suffered through relatively few sips of the black liquid as a vampire) I still knew that what remained in Bella's cup after her doctoring could not, under no circumstances, be palatable in any way. I mentally shivered at how her concoction would taste.

My own plate remained untouched.

And just when I thought the scene could not possibly get any more awkward, the bench seat started vibrating. However, it was a new, unfamiliar rhythm.

Bella's leg was bouncing.

Esme began stirring her coffee, even though she had not added sugar or cream.

I sighed morosely.

Being exasperated was irrational; I understood this.

Yet, this meeting was turning into an unmitigated disaster. If we could not manage a simple conversation, how were we supposed to be a part of Bella's life? We were failing already. It was not often that the pressure of a situation affected me, but this was different. So much was at stake, not only for Edward, Alice, and Esme. My current emotions baldly telling of how emotionally invested I was in this new path. My exasperation was nothing more than growing disappointment.

And the longer the uncomfortable silence lingered, the pricklier I became.

I concentrated on my breathing. Though unnecessary, focusing on the physical action of inhalation and exhalation usually helped clear my mind.

This time it was not helping. At all.

I sighed again.

Why was Esme stirring her coffee?

There was no reason for her stirring. She was already pretending to drink the coffee. Humans stirred, then drank. Not drank, then stirred, then drank. It was all out of order.

Everything was out of sync.

I frowned.

The bench seat and the table itself started shaking.

Esme's leg had joined the dance.

The spoon Esme was using to stir her drink clinked as it hit the porcelain mug.

Clink.

Bounce. Shake. Bounce.

Clink.

Bounce. Shake. Bounce. Shake. Bounce.

I sighed.

I noticed that the artfully curled, whipped cream mountain topping my pie gave up the fight against gravity and careened down the crust, rolling to a temporary stop on the edge on the slightly chipped porcelain plate. It stayed there, holding on for dear life, until...

Bounce. Shake. Bounce.

Down it went, landing on the table with a plop.

The part of my brain that was not despairing at how horribly wrong this meeting was going, noted that what used to be an amorphous globule of heavy whipping cream and sugar, now strikingly resembled a herniated scrotum.

My inside voice sniggered like a puerile fraternity brother.

Clearly, it was not a wise idea to spend time with Emmett when it was his turn to control the television remote. Those 'Beaver and Butthole' characters were now in possession of several of my brain cells. Though I would never admit it out loud: they were funny. I could still hear Emmett chanting: 'Diaaarrhheeaa, Diarrhea, cha, cha, cha! Diarrhea, cha, cha, cha!'"

Lost to my thoughts, I could not help the loud snort that escaped me.

Then, I noticed something.

The shaking and bouncing had stopped.

The stirring and clinking had also stopped.

Looking up I could see that my two companions were staring at me with mouths gaping. For a microsecond I panicked thinking I had actually repeated out-loud Emmett's foul, nonsensical ditty.

"What?" I asked with as much self-possession as three hundred and some years of experience had taught me.

"Honey, you were…um…dancing in place?" From Esme's expression I could tell that while I not spoken the words, I had indeed imitated Emmett's accompanying choreography.

"I certainly was not!" I spluttered.

My reputation as respected, temperate Cullen clan leader was at stake. Dr. Carlisle William Cullen, M.D. to the 7th power, did not shake his—

"Actually, it was more of wiggle…" Bella rejoined between snickers.

Then Esme and Bella were chortling away at my expense.

I did not mind, as they were also laughing away the awkwardness.

Bella was laughing so hard her eyes were tearing up. Noticing this, Esme (still trying to control her own snickers) reached over and handed Bella a dry napkin: "Here you go, sweetheart."

But before she could retrieve her hand, Bella once again reached for and gently held my wife's pale hand in her own.

Their eyes met.

No words were exchanged.

Both women seemingly communicating with each other without need to verbalize.

Bella smiled tentatively at first, but her smile bloomed when Esme gave her a playful, tiny squeeze in return.

My embarrassment forgotten, I sat back and rejoiced that this was happening for my love; that it was happening for both of them. I did not have to imagine what Esme was feeling; what empty spaces within were being filled by Bella's tacit acceptance. I felt the same grace this morning in the ER.

In the background, the gossip was running rampant; speculation about our presence, Bella's company, the handholding, how strange we were, was reaching fever pitch. We were attracting too much attention to ourselves.

"You don't like coffee, do you?" I found myself asking; hating that I was disrupting their moment.

"Not at all," Bella responded sheepishly. "I actually hate it. The caffeine makes me even clumsier, if you can believe it. I only got it because I…"

Her expression shifted turning contemplative.

After a brief pause, she continued: "Well, you've never been here before, but since our talk this morning at the hospital and what I think happened today at school, I just assumed that maybe you were here to see me…but then Esme said you wanted your food to go, which is weird by the way…um, not because it was "to-go" but because you wanted to actually keep the pies…even though, you know, it might not be part of your, erm, regular diet…and well, I felt embarrassed, presumptuous, and a little bit stupid. More than a little bit actually…I mean, why would you come see me, right?" That last part was barely audible. As her thoughts spilled out, we both could see Bella physically reduce herself; smaller and smaller until she was hunched over her now-tepid coffee.

"Bella, there is no other reason for us to be here but you. Okay?" Esme said still holding hands with the girl. "I only changed our order because you looked uncomfortable with us here."

"No!" she exclaimed loudly. Realizing that she had raised her voice in her distress, she lifted her sight to the dining area. She immediately realized what Esme and I had been aware of all along: We were being openly watched by every set of eyes in the place. Even the line cook was no longer manning the grill, but was instead staring at us through the kitchen pass-thru window.

"That wasn't…It's just that they were all staring. At you! Like you are some kind of freak-show. It made me mad…Even Cora. She made me sit you all the way back here to keep you away. And look at them! They are still staring…even right now! " Her hands curled into fists and she frowned.

"We're used to it, dear." I tried to reassure her but Bella was having none of it.

"That still doesn't make it right though," she huffed.

"Bella, honey…that is the natural reaction to us; to what we are. People…" looking up briefly to insure the continued privacy of our conversation, Esme continued after a beat, "…humans are naturally wary of us."

"But I don't feel that. At all. Is that weird?" Bella pointedly questioned.

"There is nothing wrong with you, Bella. Nothing. You are exactly as you are meant to be." Esme attempted to reassure her.

However, from the look in Bella's eyes I knew we were not going to be able to get away with cryptic half-truths about the realities of our connection to her.

We would have to deal in facts.

And true to form, Bella pressed on: "What does that mean?"

Her eyes bounced from Esme to me and back to Esme searching for answers.

"It means that…well, we suspect, that there is a perfectly good reason why you are not displaying the typical reactions humans have to our kind." I struggled to find the words…the right beginning to this story, our collective story, which was now encompassing her, fusing her into this most extraordinary narrative.

Bella, on the other hand, cut through the excess and dove straight into the very essence of the matter.

"You're talking about this morning, aren't you? Something happened…besides me falling I mean. Something important happened...with him…" Bella reasoned. The word 'him' was whispered in awe, as if she felt undeserving of even considering herself connected with my son.

Pushing the uneaten food out of the way, I reached over and with a single finger lifted her face to meet mine.

"With Edward. You can say his name, dear girl. We want you to say his name." I hoped she could see the truth in my eyes.

At the sound of Edward's name, she clenched her eyes shut, shook her head and visibly struggled to expel her next words. "I can't."

"Why not?" Esme asked just as softly, all the while she gently stroked the top of Bella's delicate hand.

After taking a huge gulp of air, she quietly admitted: "Because I'm afraid."

"Of him?" I asked suddenly worried.

Immediately, Bella's brown eyes flashed open.

"No!" she responded vehemently. "Never. But I don't know how I know that; I just know I could never be afraid of him, though." After saying this her brow furrowed in confusion.

I was immeasurably relieved.

Even though I was sure Bella and Edward's mating bond was almost completely secured, there was a part of me that still needed to be absolutely sure. It had been too many years, too many wishes, and prayers. Bella was not the only one who was afraid that this miracle of a connection between a vampire and his singer was too good to be true.

I was also coming to appreciate the conflict that was raging within her: She was certain of her feelings regarding Edward, but those feelings had no context. At least not a human context.

"I didn't imagine that, right?" Her expression was earnest, hopeful, and apprehensive at the same time. Though I felt the majority of the answers to her questions needed to come from Edward, we could shed some light on certain things, and perhaps alleviate some of the anxiety she was feeling.

"No. You did not imagine it." I confirmed.

After a beat, the concern cleared from her expression. The only thing I could see was a twinkle of burning curiosity in her wide eyes.

"Is this normal? Does it happen often? Does it have a name? I feel like a dumba- erm, really unintelligent about this entire thing." Clearly, Bella noticed Esme's eyebrow lift and pursed lips because she not-so-swiftly interchanged her word-choice. Esme had little patience with coarse language and even less when it was used to against one of her own (even if self-directed).

I had to smile at the close call. Bella was already responding to Esme as one of the "kids."

I was about to respond to her questions, a blush raged up her neck and she carried on, faster than before.

"Actually, never mind. I can't discuss this…it…with you. I mean no offense…it's just that it would be super weird 'cause you're his…Edward's parents…" A visible shiver went through her slim frame when she uttered her mate's name.

Taking a deep breath, she quickly continued: "…So yeah, it would be inappropriate for me to talk to you about, you know…how I'm having all these inexplicable feelings for a boy that I haven't ever spoken to and that boy happens to be your son…And I'm not talking about fleeting-teenage-crush feelings either; more like the type of feelings that taken over every empty space and feel like my heart is being squeezed inside my chest…I don't think I can call it, you know love…yet, but, it's like suddenly I'm part of something bigger than myself. How is it that I feel more myself now than ever before? And how at the same time I feel like I'm missing a limb because he isn't here…I miss him and we've never met."

As Bella's rambled confession spilled forth, Esme squeezed my thigh with her free hand.

The raw yearning cradled in Bella's words was both unique to her heart and representative of the few of us who received the blessing of a perfect partner in this life.

Next to me, Esme gently professed: "Bella, I felt the exact same thing with Carlisle."

My mate's smile and the words that followed showed a wonder that had not dissipated in the least, even after so much time together.

"I met his eyes and it was as if…as if something within me—

"…Left you and joined some part of him." Bella's quiet interruption was tinged with the same marvel.

Esme smiled tenderly and nodded. "Exactly. Like the incomplete parts and sad places, all the hollows, and the jagged edges were suddenly filled and matched perfectly."

Without conscious thought, I raised Esme's hand to my mouth and placed a reverent kiss on her knuckles.

Bella followed our linked fingers and with a sweet smile, whispered: "Like puzzle pieces clicking together…"

After a moment, I decided to follow Bella's lead and dive into the facts.

"The 'thing' you feel…we call it mating." I did not mince words.

Euphemisms would be counterproductive.

I waited for the inevitable blush and Bella did not disappoint. Dark red splotches appeared up her neck and her mouth fell open.

"I know that term can have…distressing implications but please remember, that it is just a word. A word used to describe a connection." I hastened to add.

My explanation did not seem to help at all. Bella was turning purple.

"So it's not a…uh…sex thing?" she squeaked.

"Well sex is certainly an important and enjoyable—

"Eeep!" Bella's eyes were bulging in embarrassment. There was expectant horror pouring out of her every pore.

"Carlisle." Esme intervened.

Obviously, I was absolutely inept at having the "talk" with teenage girls. I was making everything worse.

"Sweetheart, what Carlisle is trying," Esme paused briefly to send me an exasperated look, then continued with a roll of her eyes, "…and failing to explain is this: For our kind everything is enhanced- our senses, our physical capabilities, our feelings. Especially our feelings. We feel everything intensely, almost overwhelmingly. It's as if we are much more in-touch, perhaps even bound, to instinctual parts of our nature that humans have 'civilized' out of themselves. Is this making sense?"

I smiled at my wife.

Esme's explanation had a strong evolutionary basis. Traits that are not used are bred out of the gene pool. It is quite possible that the early bipeds possessed the ability to mate as we did; but somehow, through time, it had been lost. Basically, the human animal had domesticated itself to the point of almost total separation from their animal origins. Conversely, vampires like other apex predators had little need to genetically adapt once apex status is reached. Not that I was certain about how vampire genetic material was transmitted and translated during the change. I made a mental note to further research this line of thought and refocused on the conversation at hand.

"It does make sense," Bella was entranced; still chewing on her lip without mercy but the embarrassment was receding from her expression.

"Good. Well, we believe that being that close to the…primitive parts our nature allows us recognize our other half…it allows us to clearly see the one person who we're meant to be with. But you are absolutely correct…when you said that it doesn't feel like love yet. The pull you're feeling is often confused by humans and vampires as "love at first sight.' But mating is not a guaranteed relationship. A true, loving relationship takes work, compromise, and communication. What the bond does guarantee is that a mate is the person best equipped to make you happy, so it makes the hard work all the more worth it. If one is lucky enough to find a mate and the connection is formed, that bond will always be there. It doesn't fade…It doesn't disappear," Esme concluded.

"So if it doesn't fade it's like turtle doves? For life?"

"Yes. Or existence, in our case," I clarified. "We have never heard of a human mating with a vampire, but everything appears to be developing as it should," I exhaled internally resigned. As soon as Alice had come to me with her vision, I had begun researching instances of human-vampire mating. My covert investigation had provided no leads and no answers. There was simply no other instance recorded: Bella and Edward's experience would be one-of-a-kind.

As she had done before, after hearing the word 'mating' Bella blushed. I could not help but think that after all this was said-and-done, Bella would be hard-pressed to retain the precious naiveté that made her color. While many aspects of mating were indeed sublimely spiritual, there was no question that the carnal component to the bond was also predominant. There was a reason it was called mating.

However, I understood why Esme's interrupted my description of the sexual component of mating. Elucidation regarding these aspects would need to come…erm, from Edward.

For now, we could elucidate only the theoretical aspects for her, even if in reality we were all on uncharted territory.

"The fact of the matter is that you are behaving more like one of us, than a human. You recognized Edward and from your account, it is clear that the bond is well underway—

"Underway? So, it's not done? Esme just said that it wouldn't fade," She grumbled.

"What my dear husband is trying to say is that we don't know how the bond will work on you. Right now, you seem to be experiencing the typical things. From my conversation with Edward this morning, it also appears that everything is as it should be on his side of things. But this has never happened before, so we are taking it one step at a time," Esme clarified kindly.

"You spoke with Edward? Is he okay with all this? With me being, you know, his…um…mate?" With each question, Bella eagerly leaned forward. And this time, she only hesitated for the slightest of moments before calling herself Edward's mate.

Esme smiled broadly before answering: "Bella, I've never seen him more happy."

"I just don't want him to feel obligated, you know…" If I knew Edward at all, I would bet that he was probably torturing himself with concerns identical to Bella's.

"He doesn't. But anything else regarding how Edward is feeling should come directly from him. That's a special conversation that should stay between you both; there are things that you need to hear only from him. Does that sound alright?" Esme concluded.

"That actually sounds perfect," Sitting back, Bella appeared satisfied and for the moment, at peace.

I knew there much more that she had to be told, but I could hear that our visit with Bella was close to an end.

"I am sure you have many more questions about us. Edward will answer any you have about our family and how we live when you two meet…which I suspect won't be long now." I concluded with a smile.

"When?!" Bella asked so eagerly that in her excitement failed to notice the pair of figures that had just arrived to the diner and were now standing beside her.

"Tomorrow at 7:33 a.m., but that's only if you don't forget to set your alarm before you go to bed tonight…and don't wear just that green shirt. You will need to layer because that shirt and your jacket won't be enough. Tomorrow it's going to be much colder than it has been. Some freak cold front or something…Hi, Bella! I'm Alice! We are going to be best friends!"

And without further ado, Alice plopped down next to Bella and gave her a hug.

Bella looked both, confounded by the physical contact and amused by Alice's enthusiasm: "How—

"…did I know all that?" Interrupted Alice, always at the ready to show off her impressive gift.

"That's not what I was going to ask." Bella responded drolly.

"Are you sure?" I could feel Esme shaking with amusement at the bewilderment in Alice's expression: Lips pursed, scrunched brow, and head tilted to one side. She was concentrating on Bella like she was trying to read the girl's thoughts.

Bella started squirming in her seat, but did not shy away from Alice's intent look.

"She's sure, darlin'," Jasper assured, breaking the staring contest between the girls.

"Well, that's a first…" Alice huffed. Then, remembering the tall, blond vampire still standing by the table, Alice jumped up, pulled Jasper down to the bench and finally introduced him: "...Oh! Bella, this is my Jazzy!"

Jasper by now used to the peculiar moniker did not react in any way to Alice's variation on his name.

Bella, on the other hand, unaccustomed to Alice's quirk, snorted comically: "Jazzy?"

When she did not get a denial from any of us, she asked him directly: "Seriously?"

Jasper smirked and clarified with as much dignity as he could muster: "It's Jasper, actually."

The dignified façade was ruined when he then rolled his eyes in Alice's direction and shrugged his shoulders as if saying 'what can you do.' Then, his face broke out in a grin, which made me wonder what sorts of feelings he was receiving from Bella.

And without missing a beat, Bella retorted in mock disbelief: "Jasper?...Seriously?!"

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Isabella."

Then Jasper, who had never initiated contact with a human without murderous intent, who still spent days without feeding to build up his resistance, extended a scarred hand over Alice towards Bella.

Bella without hesitation firmly grasped the proffered hand in her own and shook it.

"It's Bella, actually," she automatically corrected, probably not realizing that she had opened the door for Jasper's quirky humor.

And right on cue, he returned the jibe: "Bella?...Seriously?!"

After a pause, Bella crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out.

Jasper guffawed at her mild annoyance. Bella valiantly tried to keep her irritated face but before long, she was giggling along.

"Bella, just ignore him…so, what was it that you were going to ask? So…are you excited? About meeting Edward, I mean. You must be excited; Edward is! So are you excited? You are! I can totally tell. Don't be nervous. At all. Edward is, with good reason. You know? You guys are going to make the cutest couple…after me and Jazz, of course. But so cute! This is so exciting! Do you like movies? What kind of PJs you prefer? How 'bout snacks? We have to have snacks for you at the house, for when you come over. You are coming over right?...Duh! Of course you are! Saturday! Yay! It's a date!" Alice, as she was prone to doing, drowned in run-on-sentences, that somehow actually made sense to us after so many decades.

Bella, however, was understandably dazed. By the end of Alice's soliloquy, Bella looked bewildered. "Um…Alice, I don't…I was going to…how did you—

"…know all that?" Alice smirked and then, started to answer her own question. "Well, I'm—

"…psychic," Bella interrupted.

Now it was Alice's turn to gape: "How do you know that?!"

Bella's mouth quirked up.

"Elementary, my dear Watson: The eyeglasses. And thanks, by the way. They are pretty awesome. Anyway, I know that you know what will happen because if you can't see the future, how would you've known that I would need glasses after this morning's thing with Lauren…In fact, I'm willing to bet you saw me coming all along. Right?" Bella concluded correctly, just like she had nonchalantly deciphered our true nature earlier today.

"I…I don't know what to say…" Alice looked stunned. It was not often that Alice was surprised by anything.

"Now that's a first," Jasper murmured drolly and promptly received an elbow to the ribs from the little vampire.

Still rubbing the spot, Jasper explained: "Alice did see ya comin' to Forks, Bella. She also saw this morning's incident…and that's why before we become better acquainted, I must apologize to you first."

"Huh? Why would you apologize? It wasn't you that pulled me down. I don't understand…" Bella frowned, obviously uncomfortable.

So Alice, without a care in the world, threw her arm in comfort around Bella's hunched shoulders. "We know that. But the thing is we let it happen…and I'm so sorry Bella, because I saw it was going to happen and I couldn't do what I wanted to do which was make that slore Lauren hurt like…ugh! I can't even…" Alice breathed trying to regain her composure.

After a few seconds, she continued: "…the thing is, that what I see depends on the decisions that people make. The future is not set and changes depending on the choices people make. And I'd seen that if we did anything before you and Edward, well…you know…it would interfere with the future in a terrible way." Alice was pleading for understanding.

I understood the reason behind the vagueness of Alice's explanation. Now, was not the appropriate time or place for the inevitable discussion regarding the Cantante phenomenon; or how even at this point, the slightest slip could completely derail this much-yearned future. Nonetheless, the ideal outcome from Alice's vision, Edward and Bella becoming mates, only minutely mitigated the guilt and shame Alice felt.

"I don't know what to say. I'm kind of used to it…you know?" Bella mumbled. Then after noticing Alice's obvious mortification, she valiantly tried to cheer Alice up: "Alice, really…it's fine. Sticks and stones…so please don't worry. I'm not mad. I understand…I think. Okay?"

Alice, clearly overwhelmed by Bella's generous forgiveness, quickly grabbed Bella is a crushing hug.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you…" Alice muttered her gratitude against her new friend's shoulder.

Initially, Bella patted Alice's back. But after a minute of Alice showing no signs of ever letting go, Bella sheepishly reminded the pale, boa constrictor wrapped around her: "…Erm, Alice, I can't really breathe too well…"

"Oh my god! Are you okay? Did I crush you? Did I break something? Carlisle, did you hear something crack? I—

"Allie, baby, she's fine. Right Bella?" Jasper assured as he tried to grab the little vampire hands that were manically patting Bella everywhere, looking for an injury.

"I'm good. I just got a little short of breath there, so chill Polly-pocket. Okay?" Bella smirked and awkwardly patted Alice's head.

"I'll have you know am not that short," Alice huffed indignantly as she made sure her short hair was back in place.

Bella snorted in amused response.

Sensing that emotions were back in balance, Jasper continued: "Bella, the second thing I want you to know is that had it not been 'cause of the extenuatin' circumstances Alice just mentioned, there is nothing right about being a bystander to that kind of treatment. Bullyin' is bullyin.' Plain and simple. Those who stand by and do nothin' are as part of the problem as the bullies themselves. Look, I know we still don't know each other, but believe me when I tell you that it won't happen again…I give you my word, for what it's worth…It won't matter how things develop with Edward. I promise you that I'm not gonna to stand by and let that kind of thing happen to you anymore. Okay?"

After making his promise, Jasper looked directly at me.

Knowing the strict honor code Jasper Whitlock lived by, I understood the weight of his promise to Bella. There was no question; he going to take appropriate action next time Bella was victimized.

And with this one look, he was both apologizing in advance and informing me that he intended to break one of the fundamental Cullen rules: Maintain the lowest of possible profiles. We usually stayed on the sidelines of humanity as to prevent humans from developing strong, definite memories of us. The last thing we needed was for a classmate at a high-school reunion twenty-years from now, having a remembrance that might spark an Internet search. Given how technology advanced, we had no way of knowing how much obscurity we would enjoy in such a future.

Yet, Bella's wellbeing more than warranted that risk.

Without question or doubts, I assented. Next to me, Esme nodded in support.

"That's not really necessary, Jasper. I don't want you to get in trouble for me…" Bella murmured concentrating on the frayed edge of her thermal shirt.

"Bella?" Jasper leveled a patient but firm stare at Bella.

"Yes…?" Bella squeaked out.

"Since this mornin'…actually, since Allie first saw you, you became family. My family. So no matter what happens between you and Edward, I am promisin' this to you."

After a beat, the corners of Bella's lips inched up and she nodded, accepting the pledge held in her new sibling's hard-earned, gold-eyes.

"Anyhooo, we still have so much to talk about, Bella. So tomorrow during lunch, you will sit with us," the female vampiric Napoleon instructed.

"Hmm…I'll check my schedule and get back to you." Bella ignored Alice's command and took a huge bite of her, now cold pie. She smiled conspiratorially at Esme, who was once again, snickering away.

After realizing that Bella was not going to budge, Alice finally groused: "Ugh, fine! You win...Dear Bella would you like to sit with us tomorrow during lunch? Though it's pointless for me to ask since I know you are going to say that—

"Why, thank you, Alice. I'd love to sit with you and watch you all pretend to eat," Bella sassed.

Jasper laughed. No doubt impressed by Bella's nascent ability to stop the Alice-runaway-train, and her level of understanding about our behaviors.

Suddenly, Alice went rigid and her eyes lost focus.

"Bella, Cora is going to call you in 10 seconds," Alice immediately declared as she emerged from her last minute vision. "Your shift ends in 20 minutes. Well, we'll stay until then."

Bella surprised at the abrupt shift in conversation barely had time to react to Alice's premonition before Cora's voice was heard from the front to diner: "Bella! I need you back in front…"


Getting up from table 7 was so much harder that I thought it would be.

I'd just met these people. I'd exchanged only a few words with Alice and even less words with Jasper. And for some reason I felt at home with them…even though I'd thoroughly embarrassed myself by a major word vomit attack about how I felt about Edward. I mean…I knew that in any other dimension that isn't the kind of information one should typically share with the parents of a boy one wanted to date. Unless of course, you've been raised by wolves.

But even as I started to backtrack out of my runaway-train confession, I realized that these wonderful people sitting in front of me, pretending to eat pie and drink coffee for my sake, were the only ones capable of understanding. This was more than a friendly visit; they had gone out of their way to let me know that they were here to support me in this brand new world.

So instead of feeling like I was falling down a rabbit hole (which for me, would likely be due to spastic tripping, cracking my head open, and tumbling down as ungainly as possible), it was as if Dr. C and Esme had come to guide me through.

Family, Jasper had said.

That should've freaked me out because my experience with that social concept is rated 'poor' at best. But I was starting to get a glimpse that family was no longer a concept for me to admire from afar. It was this very collection of people-vamps that respected and cared about each other…and were suddenly opening their arms to include me in their midst.

I smiled.

The Cullens were far from your typical family for sure. Esme Cullen may appear for all intents and purposes as your typical Suzie-Q Homemaker (the bloodsucking version), but I could tell she had a core of steel. It would be easy to confuse the way the hung back and deferred to Dr. Cullen as submissiveness; but once I saw how they related to each other, it was clear that she was not, in any way, meek. Esme Cullen was simply so secure in herself and in her place in Dr. Hotness' heart, that she didn't need to impose herself.

And Dr. Data…er, Carlisle was not the sedate, super put-together gent he portrayed. I was willing to bet that he had a dorktastic streak a mile wide and that once you got him to cut loose, he would be a riot. God only knows what was going on inside that vampire brain when he started wiggling in place. I suspected that it only took getting Dr. Carlisle amongst his loved ones for the veneer to drop. If I ever got the chance, I was definitely testing that theory...

Alice was a trip and a half, and not just 'cause she was a psychic, vampire, with a pretty severe case of hyperactivity disorder. Call us the odd couple but even as different as we seemed to be, my gut was telling me we would have a massive amount of fun. Not that I couldn't totally see the crazy behind those eyes though. I bet she already had plans for me as her BFF. Plans that probably involved conspicuous consumerism, or something even more horrible, like 'American Next Top Model' and "What not to Wear" viewing marathons.

I gulped. Was it too late to run to the Beast and take off into the horizon?

"Don't even think about it, Bella Swan."

That voice stopped me short. Did she just see me—?

Turning towards table 7, I could see that the fun-sized Cullen was trying to act menacing: Eyes-narrowed and giving me the stink eye.

Yup…She totally saw a future where I took off, running away to avoid hours of Tyra Banks and her scary "smizing."

It was quickly becoming apparent that Alice's special ability was going to cramp my style, such as it was. Yet, according to the explanation of Alice's…um…specialness, she didn't see the entire future because the future was not set in stone. She only saw what would happen after decisions were made.

Hmmm…Interesting.

I was on to something here, I was sure. This had potential.

Bad Bella was licking her chops; she could certainly use this to her advantage.

Giving Alice a counter-bitch-brow and a smirk, I turned around and continued walking towards the front of the diner where Cora had oh-so-delicately hollered my name. I little experimentation wouldn't hurt Alice, right?

So in the interest of my personal amusement (and the advancement of vampire science, of course), I thought that I would look absolutely fabulous with a mullet haircut: Super curly perm on top, straight in the back and some frosted highlights all over. Yes, I would call to make an appointment at Sally's as soon as I got home and…

From behind me, I heard a loud gasp and a drawn-out, wail: "Nnnnnooooooooooooooooo."

I couldn't help it and started to laugh. That was way too easy.

I could also hear, what I assumed was Jasper's cackling in the background.

"What the fuck are you laughing at, goose?"

I could feel the smile melt from my face and my awesome 'high-on-my-new-supernatural-family" high crashing to earth.

I knew that voice.

"Yeah, like, double-u, tee, eff, are you like, laughing at?"

I knew that voice too.

From the corner of my eye I saw that (as predicted, no psychic powers necessary) Forks High had regurgitated my lovely classmates directly into the diner. The entire gang was here. Super.

Ignore them, Bella.

Keep walking.

Cora had said that she would take care of them next time they came in. So that's exactamondo what I did; I kept walking.

There was no way in hell (or Forks, for that matter) that I was going to take care of that table today. Normally, I could take what they dished, but there was no way, no how, that I would allow the Cullens to see how petrified I was of my own classmates.

When I got to the register, I noticed that Cora was nowhere to be found.

Not good.

She'd better make an appearance before the Sowers of Discord of Bolgia 9 (a.k.a., my asshole classmates at table 666…also commonly known as table 11) started clamoring for my attention.

But just in case she didn't, I needed a contingency plan…

Okay. Looking around I saw that some tables needed to be bussed, coffee mugs everywhere appeared empty, and some patrons looked like they were ready to either, order or check out. So my plan was to do exactly that: Stay busy (i.e., away from table 11) for the next 16 minutes until my shift ended.

So I refreshed coffee mugs, refilled soda drinks, bussed and wiped tables, and checked out couple of customers including Nurse Nancy's super-nice husband, Dan.

Looking at the clock, I noticed that I had only 9 minutes left.

Jill, the other waitress came storming in with her uniform in her hands. After a quick "Hey, Bella…just gonna change…be right back" she walked into the employees-only room.

Eight minutes left and still, no Cora.

The decibel level coming from table 666 was increasing. I could clearly hear that Fig Newton kid banging on the table with his utensils while chanting: "I want my food. Where is my food?!" The original gangsta, MC Crowley, was badly rapping something about 'bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks.' All the while Lauren and her minion were 'conversing' about some girl getting caught doing something, a sex act I believe to be physiologically impossible (unless the poor chick was born without a ribcage) to one of basketball players in the school counselor's office. They were describing the contortion in detail by screaming said details over the song-and-rap flow coming from the two morons at the table. I couldn't hear Angela or Ben, which meant that they were probably just sitting there like the lumps they were.

Seven minutes. No Cora and no Jill.

"Bella, order up!" I turned around only to see Cora dishing food in the kitchen. Larry, the short-order cook, was missing in action.

"Which table?" The words stuck in my sandpaper throat. Yet, even as I pushed the question out, I already knew the answer. Why? Let me tell you why: Because the universe sucked hairy, sweaty, stinky, old man ba—

"Table 11," she said.

Of course.

I sighed.

"Bella, I know I said that I would take care of those jackasses, but Larry started pukin' in the back. He thinks he got what his little boy got from school. That 24-hour bug that's been going 'round. He just went home…So until Sonny gets here I'll have to man the grill…I'm sorry girly," Cora explained apologetically.

"It's alright. Stop worrying about me or you are going to burn this place down or worse; you could burn the food," I tried to inject some levity. Maybe, just maybe, they would leave me alone this time.

Not likely, but still. One could hope.

I was not fooling Cora though. "Babe, just serve them their food and clock-out. In-and-out. 'kay? I'll make sure to collect the tips from your tables…"

I nodded and placed the massive amount of food on my tray.

I moved towards table 11.

My legs felt like lead.

My stomach and heart traded places. I could feel my pits get soaked with sweat and my hands get ice cold. My face was burning. My mouth went from dry to flooding with saliva to dry again with every step.

"What the fuck took you so long?" spat Lauren.

Hold the tongue. Don't engage. Hunch shoulders. Protect. Bacon cheeseburger to Tyler. Breathe in. Cobb salad to Jessica. Breath out. Club sandwich to Ben. Avoid the jeers. Blue plate special for Mike. Turkey burger for Angela. In-and-out. Almost there. Garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette to Lauren. Almost ther—

"This is not what I ordered!" she screeched.

"I-I-I'm sorry?" Looking down at the order slip I could tell that Cora had taken down an order for a garden salad, no tomatoes, with balsamic vinaigrette. Looking at the salad, I could see nothing wrong. Lettuce leaves, onions, chives, no tomatoes. I frowned. I felt panic creeping in. What was I missing!?

"There's dressing all over my fucking salad you dumb bitch! I wanted it on the side. On. The. Side. Stupid. Just because you are happy being an ugly heifer doesn't mean the rest of us want to be one," she oh-so-helpfully pointed out.

"Lauren, come on…" Ben half-heartedly tried to get her off my case, but Lauren's eyes never stopped glaring at me.

I needed to get out of here. Now.

Leaning over to take her plate, I once again tried to appease her: "I'm sorry. Cora wrote it down…it must've been an accident…I'll get you another—

"You are sorry? Hmm…well, accidents do happen," she said with the creepiest smile ever.

I was in it for it now.

Shit. My lungs seized.

And almost as if somebody had hit the 'slow-mo' button of the giant remote in the sky, she extended one perfectly manicured finger…slowly…slowly…until it just barely touched the lip of the cup full of her strawberry milkshake. Then she pushed. The cup leaned.

Tipped some more.

Until it listed too far.

Too damn far.

The sticky, pink liquid splashed all over the bottom half of my shirt and the front of my pants. My sneakers, the only pair of shoes without holes that I owned were covered in milky goo.

She looked at me the entire time.

"Oopsie! Now, I'm sowy too," she cackled. Jessica, the poster-child for 'No Child Left Behind,' joined in the hilarity.

My eyes began stinging.

I wanted to hide.

To disappear.

To fade into nothingness…

No.

No more.

NO!

I wasn't going to run away this time. I wasn't going to cry.

I would give this angry harpy, that got her jollies from causing me pain, absolutely nothing more.

I summoned everything she was not and everything I wanted to be: Gentle but assured; kindness wrapped around a steel core. Esme Cullen.

I would channel Esme until I learned to be like that myself.

So, I lifted my head and stared back.

Not in challenge, but indifference.

Chin up. Head up. Blank, impassive eyes.

Elegant and classy even with strawberry milkshake seeping through my underwear.

On the inside, though, I was raging.

To keep the façade, I had to bitch-slap the 'Bad Bella' voice inside my brain into submission: She wanted to go Xena-Warrior-Princess on Lauren's ass. Bad Bella thought that using this new-found strength to "rise above" was a total waste and that it would be much more gratifying to taco-punch Lauren like a fiend. Yet, I was pretty sure 'taco-punching' is an antonym for classy. Hence, my internal struggle.

What I didn't realize was that I was actually smiling at Bad Bella's colorful commentary, until I heard Lauren's nasal screech.

"Are you…smiling? You…you freak," She tried.

But even in her insult, I could hear the slight falter in her voice. She was surprised.

The rest of the table was still laughing in merriment and didn't notice the barely concealed alarm coursing through their Queen of Mean.

My quiet defiance of the status quo she had imposed on my life from the moment I landed in this dump threw her for a loop. Something recoiled in her eyes. She either knew or was realizing that something had been freed in me since this morning. Something had shifted. I was just realizing it myself.

It was so ridiculously clear now.

Lauren and her cronies were just 6 more I needed to add to the list of those that did not deserve my time or energy.

I understood that getting these asswipes off my back was not going to be as easy as deciding not to care. But the decision to be strong was the first step of many. It didn't hurt that for the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel alone.

I wasn't alone.

I had people now. They were back in table 7.

"What are you…staring at?" she repeated, but her cutting edge was missing. I could feel her empty bravado in every syllable of her words.

"Lauren, I'm staring at nothing," I said bluntly.

Angela's eyes widened and Ben looked up from his onion rings with his mouth gaping. Gross.

The other three idiots at the table never noticed the major shift happening right in front of their noses. They were too busy pointing at the pink mess dripping off me to realize that their queen bee was no longer laughing with them.

Looking around table 11, I saw how essentially sad these small-minded little people were. Like that stupid mutant movie guy said: All of them were three years into the best four years of their lives…and they didn't even know it. They were too busy laughing at other people.

I sighed feeling just a tad sorry for them.

Pulling a rag from my back pocket, I bent down to wipe the dripping and rolling liquid from the black-and-white checkered floor…or at least contain the puddle. The last thing I wanted was for somebody to slip and fall on Lauren's little stunt.

Suddenly, the raucous laughter still coming from the table stopped dead in its tracks.

From my knees and over my shoulder, I saw that four pairs of very shiny, very expensive shoes were lined right behind me. The two, side-by-side, high-heeled pairs had those fancy red soles. Furthest back were the shiny black oxfords from this morning. And closest to me, were the most ridiculous pair of cowboy boots I'd ever seen.

"Bella, darlin' let me help ya up," I heard Jasper say as his hand appeared in front of my face.

Once I was on my feet, Alice took the rag from my hand with the tiniest of smiles. On my other side, Esme softly circled my wrist with her fingers.

Suddenly, Jasper firmly but quietly ordered: "Stand up."

Which totally confused me there for a second because I was already on my feet, until I realized that he wasn't talking to me.

"I said: Stand. Up." His eyes were burning in Lauren's direction.

Lauren's facial expression was starting to look like those people from the movie 'The Ring' after they are killed by fear of the creepy, long-haired girl that crawls out of the TV screen.

I would've laughed but was too distracted by a quivering I sensed in the air between my back and Jasper's chest. As close as he was hovering over my shoulder, I could clearly feel him vibrating. Not like figurative 'vibrating' used to describe 'shaking.' But like, actually vibrating. Like cats when they purred. But this was no purring.

"Now, Ms. Mallory," he growled.

And like hypnotized, Lauren got to her feet.

"Apologize." Another quiet order from Jasper.

Lauren was in a stupor. Her usually evil eyes looked lost. It must've been the first time anybody challenged her and she obviously didn't know how to react.

"I said…apologize to Isabella. Right now," Jasper repeated, slower, deeper; all growly but never raising his voice.

The vibrations got stronger.

For a second, I thought that she was actually going to apologize to me. She opened her mouth. Her crazy eyes bounced from Jasper to me and then back. She was breathing so fast her gigantic silicone boobs were shaking like unmolded, cherry Jell-O. Suddenly, she shook her head and clamped her mouth shut. After a second, she sent a defiant, hate-filled glare in my direction.

Nope. No apology there.

I sighed. I was about to tell Jasper to let it go, so I could go home, get out of the sticky clothing and try to salvage my shoes.

Suddenly, Lauren whimpered. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out.

And Jasper Cullen was downright growling.

Beads of sweat appeared on her upper lip and she started to shake. Her eyes, now glued on Jasper, kept getting wider and wider. Her lips turned white. Her chin quivered.

I realized that my observation about 'The Ring' movie/Samara-victims was not far from the truth: Lauren was absolutely terrified.

Her eyes watered.

Two tears spilled.

And her mouth…that mouth that knew nothing good or kind…that spout of malevolence…fell open.

In the absolute silence that had enveloped the diner since the Cullens approached table 11, the only things that could be heard were Lauren's open-mouthed gasping and liquid dripping on the floor.

Drip…

Drip…Drip…

Drip, drip, drip, drip…

At first, I thought that the rest of the milkshake had made it from the table to the floor.

But then I realized it wasn't spilled milkshake.

A steady stream of ammonia-ish smelling liquid was trickling down Lauren's pale legs and spilling over her Uggs.

I gawped. That couldn't be right. Right?

Double take.

Did Lauren just…in the middle of the…did Jasper do…huh?

My brain was cramping. Seriously, Bad Bella was partying it up with my amygdala, 'making it rain' while my cerebral cortex gyrated on stage…obviously, too busy to engage in higher brain functions.

Alice peeked her head around my shoulder to take a look. After a second, she snorted and gave me a conspiratorial side-eye.

Jasper, on the other hand, never took his eyes from the girl. "Not so brave now, huh?"

A malevolent, slither of a whisper just for Lauren to hear.

Okay, now that was a tone of voice I never, ever, ever, wanted Jasper Cullen to use with me.

It spoke of blood and guts and things I couldn't even imagine. Never, I say.

Then like time snapping back, the table 11 occupants noticed that their supreme leader was not fighting back. In fact…

"Oh, my god. Lauren. What the hell? Did you, like, peed yourself?!" Jessica screeched loudly.

And just like that, every eye in the diner was glued to Lauren Mallory's very well-known (but never like this) soaking-wet crotch.

Jasper, sidestepping the unholy mess of strawberry and pee, leaned casually over the table.

"Imm'a say this once: No more. You mess with her you mess with me. Understood?"

Five heads immediately nodded.

Turning to Lauren, the same quiet tone belied his warning: "You still owe, Bella here, an apology, little girl. Feel free to apologize at any time. You hear?"

When he pulled himself to his full height, the vibration that had been dancing in the air around us suddenly stopped. A cheeky smile broke out on his face.

And then, for the benefit of every person in the diner, he said much, much louder: "Girl you bettah' go clean up, you're stinkin' up the joint." His expression was a picture of earnestness; even when he waived a hand in front of his nose and made a 'phew' face.

Alice giggled. "Yeah, pee will definitively stain suede…it is Lauren, right? Or maybe…La-urine would be more appropriate?" Her pun was made even funnier by the nasal sound of her sweet voice. Because, yes…Alice said all that while pinching her cute, little nose with two fingers.

Angela giggled and then badly tried to cover the slip with a dainty cough.

Next to me, Esme had a strange combination of disapproval and disgust around the mouth and utter comedy dancing in her eyes. Dr. C looked completely solemn and unaffected...that is, until he caught my eye and winked.

Snapping out of trance, Lauren grabbed her coat and purse and ran for the door. Overpriced sheepskin boots squelching with every step. Wailing.

Jessica, of course, rushed after her, screaming the entire way about how totes embarrassing it was that she, oh-em-gee, peed herself (in public!); like what were people going to, like, say about them now? And to please not leave her stranded here without a ride…

I snorted when I heard tires squealing away from the diner.

Turning around, Jill had finally come out of the locker area (so as to not miss the show, I'm sure) and had my bag and coat in her hands. Sonny and Cora were both openly staring, as was every eye in the joint. Par for the course. Nothing could be done about it. So head up high, I grabbed my stuff with a small thank you and without looking back, I lead the proverbial stampede of pink and purple unicorns out of Cora's diner.