A/N…Thank you guys so much for all the birthday wishes. No, you aren't late; it's tomorrow. However, I didn't post the extra chapter for that. I just wanted to be able to spoil you. ;) Sherryola said it was very Hobbit-like of me. LOL (For those not familiar with Lord of the Rings … Hobbit tradition is the one celebrating the birthday is the one to give gifts) LOVED that! :D Anyway, I'm sure another double-post will happen again in the future.

You guys are very interested in what Edward says back to Bella in her journal. I'll let you get to it. See me at the bottom, and I'll answer a few questions… :)

~oooOOOooo~

Chapter 6

August 2001

BELLA

The little town of Hunter's Lake looked like a postcard. It wasn't anything big or special or busy. It simply was a small lakeside town that seemed to make its living on the students and staff of Masen Academy. The shops and restaurants were housed in buildings that looked like they'd been around forever. And I think that was probably part of its charm.

Jacob pulled the large van up to the curb, turning to face us. "You guys have until three o'clock, and I'll pick you back up right here."

He had some sort of checklist as we stumbled out of the van, and he eyed us all as we walked past him.

Once Alice and I were clear of eavesdropping ears, she linked her arm in mine. "Tell me!" she hissed in a whisper.

Chuckling, I tapped her temple in a tease.

"Shut it!" she said with a laugh. "So did you leave it? Did you see anything?"

Shaking my head no, I gazed over at her with a sad expression.

"Dammit," she huffed, pouting adorably. "I'd hoped some see-through entity was waiting for you. I saw something, but I couldn't tell what it was. It was all blurry."

Giggling again, I shook my head. "Sorry," I whispered.

"S'okay," she sighed, smirking my way. "But I'm telling you, you're gonna spill on that piano lesson, Isabella! You looked drunk by the time we went down to dinner last night."

Snorting humorlessly, I nodded, but I could imagine that I had looked drunk. Edward had not only been an amazing teacher, but he was beautiful in every way. I'd immediately felt comfortable in his presence, which was saying something, since I always got nervous around new people. He was extraordinarily talented on the piano, especially when he'd played my song almost note for note by ear. And he'd been patient, which was something not all of my teachers had been. He didn't care whether I wrote my answer to him or answered him silently, but the best was the really sweet smile he'd give me when I spoke aloud.

Alice and I wandered around the little shopping area for about an hour before we declared ourselves hungry. There was a diner at the end of the street, so we went inside, grabbing an open booth. There were a few of our classmates already there, sitting around and talking loudly. Our poor waitress looked like she'd snap at any moment. I couldn't blame her when I saw that the loudest table was filled with Jessica, Mike, Tyler, and a few others.

When I ordered by pointing to what I wanted, I had to fight the eye roll when the waitress stared at my neck. I should've been used to it, but occasionally, it bugged me. And it bugged me more today than usual, simply because it made me stand out. It made me realize that no matter how badly I was crushing on my piano tutor, he'd only ever see me as the damaged student with the ugly scar.

The waitress took Alice's order and walked away, but a notebook slapped down in front of me.

"Spill!" she hissed, tossing a pen at me.

The fact that she knew I'd be more comfortable writing than trying to speak, made me smile gratefully her way. Flipping her notebook to a clean page, I started writing.

Mrs. C did bring in that special tutor. It's her nephew by marriage…Dr. Cullen's nephew. Edward Cullen.

Alice gasped, looking up at me. "He's hot, right? Like smokin' hot."

I nodded slowly at her with wide eyes, which made her laugh out loud enough that she had to cover her mouth, but hot didn't describe Edward well enough.

But Alice, he's so nice. He seemed just as nervous as I was, but he really knows music. And he wants me to finish my own composition.

"Fuck this," Alice huffed, getting up from her side of the table and sliding in next to me. "I want to read this as you write." She read what I wrote and then looked to me. "Okay, so why's that a big deal?"

He wants me to tell him about it. It's very personal, and I'm not sure I can. I've been working on it for four years, and it's…

Alice placed her hand over mine to stop me. "This is about your dad, right?"

Grimacing, I nodded. Alice knew what Mrs. C knew. I'd shown her the same article from the Boston newspaper, only I'd shown Alice online. It just seemed easier than trying to write it or tell it. Rose had happened to come into our dorm room at the time, so she knew as well, and she'd hugged me with tears in her eyes after she'd finished reading. Something about that told me Rose had her own past. I didn't know what it was, but I could respect that about her.

I nodded to answer Alice's question, but put the pen to paper again.

Can you see anything about him?

Alice smirked at me. "What'choo wanna know?" she sang, giggling when I poked her. "No, Bella. I can't. What I can see is that he makes you happy, that he helps you speak a little more, which tells me he's a good guy, but I can't see him specifically. He's a touch blurry. But that doesn't mean anything, really. There are a few people I can't always see clearly – like Dr. Cullen, which would make sense, since they're related, and Mrs. C, maybe because she's around him so much – and it's harder if I haven't met them."

What do you mean, it tells you he's a good guy? I asked her.

She smiled. "You don't even know you do it, do you?" she countered, and I shook my head in confusion. "Bella, you don't speak unless you're comfortable. Unless it's certain people."

I shrugged, looking down at the page, but it was suddenly snatched from me. However, Alice was quicker, stopping the notebook before I could grasp that Jessica and Tyler were standing there. Alice got up from the booth, and she didn't back down, even though Jessica was several inches taller.

"Well, if it isn't the lesbo lovers – the psycho and the freak," Jessica purred. "It's good you've got a friend now, Psycho…"

Alice snorted. "Psychic. Messica, I know your dyslexia makes it hard for you to remember, but do try, will ya?"

I grinned, but shook my head. Her loyalty was just as deadly as her temper, and her tongue was sharper than both of the other things put together.

"You think she's funny?" Jessica asked me, glaring my way. "Just wait. She'll tell you all sorts of good shit and then hit you with nasty things."

Alice laughed, looking to me. "Nasty things, Bella. I predicted Messica here would fail her Algebra test. Wanna know why? 'Cause she had chlamydia. Huh… So did Mike, if I'm remembering correctly."

A laugh barked out of me that I couldn't hold in, and even Tyler laughed at that, but he shut up when Jessica shot him a withering glare.

Mike joined the other two, gaping at me. "So you can make some sort of noise…"

"Newton!" I heard in a deep, booming voice, and I glanced up to see Jacob assessing the entire situation.

What I hadn't noticed was that our waitress couldn't get to the table with our food, that most of the students in the diner were watching all of it with sharp attention, and that Jessica looked like she was about to punch Alice, who was still laughing.

Mike paled under Jacob's glare, and Tyler was already gone. Jessica gave us a foul look before walking away. After Alice had taken her seat across from me again and the waitress had quickly deposited our food in front of us, Jacob came to our table, giving Mike a warning point with his finger.

"You two okay?" he asked softly, looking to me. When I nodded, he smiled. "Don't you sweat them, ladies. If I catch Newton and Stanley out of bed after curfew one more time, they're in serious trouble."

"Excellent," Alice hissed, rubbing her hands together and grinning maniacally.

Jacob chuckled. "I know, right? It's only a matter of time with those two, trust me." He stood up straight, tapping the top of our table. "Van pulls back out in an hour and a half. Try to be on time, okay?"

We both nodded his way before he walked up to the diner counter, and I handed Alice her pen and notebook back. We ate quietly. Thankfully, Mike and Jessica left before us. However, before we left to wander around the shops a little more, Alice stopped me.

"Bella, I think you should tell this guy about your composition," she said, stopping me when I shook my head no. "I'm not saying everything, or even for you to go into detail, because I know you can't, but give the guy something. I think it helps you."

Studying her face, I could see that she was sincere. She merely wanted to help. And with her cryptic reason, I knew that she couldn't quite see everything.

So I nodded, whispering, "We'll see."

~oOo~

Sunday morning, I was a nervous ball of energy. It was all I could do not to rush to the east wing to grab my notebook, but Alice practically tackled me.

"No!" she hissed, forcing me back down onto my bed. "Just wait. You'll have plenty of time after breakfast. Right now, the cleaning staff is working the hallways. Once we leave, they'll change our sheets and stuff, which means everyone will either be in the dorms, outside, or in the dining hall. You need to be careful going in there. Get caught, and Mrs. C will find out."

I sagged, but nodded in acquiescence. Reaching up, I tapped her temple.

She smiled, but shrugged. "I only see you getting it back, not if there's an answer."

Wrinkling my nose at that, I sighed.

She glanced past me toward the window. "Hey, the sun's out today. Let's eat outside, okay?"

My nod made her happy, so she quickly got dressed. We made our way down to the dining hall, where there were a few students and teachers eating, but it seemed most were outside enjoying the sunshine after the few days of rainy weather. Alice and I both toted our breakfast to the farthest table on the back courtyard. Her chair faced the wide expanse of property, while mine faced the castle. It seemed we were both looking for something. My guess was that Alice was watching out for Jasper.

As I took a bite of my breakfast sandwich, my eyes drifted up to the third floor. I still wasn't sure which window housed my broken-down piano, but it was impossible to tell with the sun reflecting off almost every glass pane. Alice and I were ignored for the most part, and when a bunch of guys decided to toss the football around, she gave me a quick nod, simply because a large majority of the students followed them out onto the grounds.

We walked inside together, throwing our trash away, and Alice told me to meet her back in our room.

Taking the back stairs alone, I kept my eyes open for company. I passed a few students, but by the time I reached the third floor, I was completely alone. I gave the main hallway a quick glance before ducking behind the tapestry I now knew by heart. It was a scene of hunters on horseback, with hounds in the forefront. Off to the side were ladies with big dresses and parasols in their hands as they sat beneath the shade trees. It was old and painted a beautiful picture of a time when things seemed simpler.

The hidden door was unlocked, and I stepped into the sunny room. Dust motes floated in front of my eyes. The smell was still musty, yet spicy – or maybe it wasn't spicy as much as it smelled sweet and welcoming, like sandalwood or cinnamon. And the piano still looked sad and forgotten. But right on top was my notebook. The purple cover was sharp in contrast to its dull surroundings.

I gazed around, my eyes always falling to the broken stairs that called to me, but I wasn't brave enough to explore at the moment. My curiosity about what could possibly be waiting inside that journal was too much for me to ignore. There were no noises, no moving shadows, just the sound of cheers from outside in the courtyard. For some strange reason, I knew that contrary to my other trips into the east wing, this time, I was alone, which made me wonder if my mysterious reader had answered my questions.

I grabbed the notebook and held it close as I hurried back to the secret doorway. A quick listen, a brief glance out into the hall, and I was clear to go.

Turning right instead of left, I worked my way back through the maze of hallways toward the girls' dorm. I burst through the door to find Alice pacing, and she stopped dead in her tracks when I locked the door behind me.

"Well?" she practically yelled, but I laughed, shrugging.

We both fell onto the edge of my bed together, giving each other a smirk before I opened the cover of the journal. A gasp escaped us both as the heavy, dark, beautiful script filled not only the rest of the first page, but the next one as well.

My dear writer,

You have my sincerest apologies for my invasion of your privacy, though in my defense, you did leave your property where anyone could find it. Perhaps it's best someone like me came along, instead of one of your classmates. Some of them are cruel and insignificant.

Someone like me… That does need answering, doesn't it? You're so very right; it's only fair that I answer you as honestly as I can. There are boundaries, rules that bind my tongue (or pen, in this case). I wish, with all that I am, that I could tell you, but for now, I have no alternative but to stay hidden.

Ghost or human? I suppose both, in some ways. I am solid, though no one really sees me. It's been a very long time since I've shown myself, though recently, I've found that I'm aching to truly be seen, if only by one person. I'm a man, but…not.

There are more mysteries in this world than mere ghosts and certainly things more dangerous than humans. There are walking myths and deadly beasts. There are creatures that you may think only exist in books, in fairytales, or in ghost stories. Humans are surrounded by these beings every day, and they are none the wiser. Most of us are hidden in shadow, living long lives, unable to reveal what we truly are, but that only means that mankind, as a whole, couldn't handle knowing.

However, you, my strong, beautiful writer, have no need to fear me. I'd rather die than harm a single hair on your head. I wish I could explain to you the enormity of that statement, but it is completely true. To harm you would end me.

Which brings me to my next point… You really should be careful sneaking about the east wing. You could get caught or, even worse, hurt. Should you feel the need to reply, then please be cautious, and DO NOT wander past the piano room. It would kill me to think you got into trouble or hurt yourself simply to pass me a note.

I vow to you that your secrets are safe with me. I promise to carry them with me until the end of my days, never telling a single soul. Though, the world should know just how strong you truly are. I picture you as a phoenix, rising up above the flames, only to come out on the other side stronger, better. However, I don't think you see yourself that way, which is a shame. You asked me if I was brave enough to answer, and I did as best as I could, considering the rules I'm bound by, but your turn, Bella. Tell me why you think you're weak, why you suffer in silence, yet your heart cries out on the page. From what I've read, you worry about something as cosmetic as a scar, when really, it's what you have inside you that matters most.

You write to your father as if he's gone, and if that's true, then for that, I am truly sorry. However, you fight your battle in silence, when there are people that would fight with you, for you, and in your place should you just simply…look. Try not to judge new friends on the sins of others in your past. Not all are heartless.

If you choose not to reply, I'll understand.

Sincerely,

Your friendly Masen Academy "ghost"

My brow furrowed, but Alice voiced what was in my head.

"He writes like he knows you, or at least has met you," she noted. "And he knows your name."

I nodded in agreement, but I got up and opened my trunk, pulling out my old journal and holding it up.

"Ah, your name was on it," she said, looking back to the letter. "He's not a ghost," she whispered, flipping the page back and forth. "He talks like he hates what he is, like he's ashamed of it. And the way that he talks, it's…old-fashioned or something."

"But beautiful," I whispered, sitting back down next to her.

"Oh, totally!" she gushed, nodding and looking at me. "Are you gonna answer him?"

With wide eyes, I shrugged. I wasn't sure I should answer him, simply because his cryptic description of what he was unnerved me a little. My curiosity was even worse after having read his reply. Something in his tone told me he truly cared, was moved by what he'd read, and his promise to keep it secret was something I believed, strangely enough, but one question still remained.

"What is he?" I whispered, looking to Alice.

She took a deep breath and let it out, her eyes scanning over the pages. "I think he gave you clues. He said a lot, but I bet if we dissect this, not to mention do a little research in the library, we could get an idea." She closed the book and looked over at me. "He's right, though. You could totally get busted going back there. You need to make your trips random and as few as possible. You don't wanna be like Newton."

Chuckling, I had to agree with that point. I was tempting my luck with as many times as I'd sneaked back into the east wing.

I took my notebook back, looking down at it. "I want to…research before I answer," I whispered nervously.

Alice smiled, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. "No problem. Since we've got homework, so we might wanna head down to the library. Maybe if you have time after…"

Groaning, I sighed, but got up to grab my backpack, waving a hand to her to do the same. I couldn't afford to let my "ghost" affect my grades.

~oOo~

EDWARD

September 2001

With school in full-swing, the last few weeks had been hectic. It was the second week of September, and the castle was buzzing with activity. Because the classes were smaller, the teachers were able to give the students a more demanding curriculum – more homework, more tests, more projects. It kept them busy, as well as gave them a taste of what college would ask of them, especially if they moved on to Ivy League schools, which most of them had a tendency to do.

I made my way through the halls, now out in the open. Some of the kids knew who I was – as in, they knew I was Carlisle's nephew and a piano tutor. I ignored most of the blatant stares, the lustful thoughts from some of the female staff and students, and fought my smile at the fear that rolled off some of the males. They didn't even know why they were fearful of me, but it was helpful nonetheless.

I passed through the offices and down the small hall to knock on the door for Carlisle and Esme's living quarters.

"Come in," I heard Esme say.

I stepped into the living room, seeing the two of them pulling on coats. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes, sweetheart," Esme said, walking to me. "Carlisle and I need to hunt. In order to do that, we're going into Canada. So I'm leaving you in charge for the rest of the week. The staff is aware that we'll be gone for a few days, and they have your phone number. I've also told them you're staying here," she explained, pointing to the floor.

Smirking, I nodded. "Okay, no problem."

"And no, son, you can't expel Mike Newton," Carlisle added with a chuckle.

My lip curled in hatred. "He and his little friends need to leave her alone. Expel isn't the word I'd use," I growled, shaking my head. "The boy will definitely find himself in trouble."

Both Carlisle and Esme chuckled, but it was the latter that said, "I've repeatedly asked Bella if she's okay. She says she is. Please trust her."

"I do trust her. It's him I don't trust. Or that Jessica Stanley, either. They're constantly up to something," I sighed, sitting down on their sofa.

"Edward, it's your nature to protect Bella, but you can't remove every student simply because they're giving her trouble," Carlisle stated. "Bella's strong, and she's done a good job at dealing with them."

Nodding, I looked down at the floor. Bella was incredibly strong, and she had no idea that she was. She merely plugged along at her normal pace, and everything else was inconsequential. And God help me, she was brilliant and observant at the same time. She hadn't returned the notebook back to the east wing, but that didn't mean she'd given up. She'd simply been too busy with school work and her piano composition to do anything about it. I'd heard enough through her teachers and classmates to know that they were all busy.

A part of me hoped she wouldn't answer. The other part of me hoped she would, and that part died a little every day the notebook didn't appear on my old broken piano.

"Her birthday's this week," Esme pointed out, which caused my head to snap up. "Seventeen."

"Enough, Mom," I growled, standing up from the sofa. "She's too young. She's got her whole life ahead of her."

"And she's crushing on her piano tutor," she countered with a girlish giggle that made me crack a small smile, but it fell just as quickly as it came.

Shaking my head, I sighed. "That's all it is: a crush."

"Bullshit," Carlisle said with a laugh. "Edward, she's spoken out loud to you more than everyone else combined, and that includes that tiny roommate of hers."

Something about that fact made me proud, and I stood up a little straighter. "She still won't speak of her music. She avoids it. But she also can't seem to move on with the ending."

"Time, sweetheart," Esme said, cupping my face. "Give her time."

"Time, I have," I sighed, smirking at her. "Go on. Get out of here. But I think I need to go when you return."

"Fair enough. You can take Jasper with you when you go," Esme soothed, brushing my hair from my forehead. "Behave while we're gone."

I snorted, shaking my head at the fact that both treated me and loved me like I was their own. "Yes, ma'am."

Once they left, I used my old passageway to move about the castle. It gave the receptionist at the front desk the impression that I was still in Esme's apartment, but allowed me to keep an eye on Bella. I stopped dead in my tracks at that thought. I wasn't sure if I was keeping an eye on her or simply stalking her. All of it had become muddled in my head. My entire instinctual makeup was so drawn to her that I found myself seeking her out at the oddest of times – like now, where she was simply working in the library at the end of a school day. My sense of propriety, however, wanted to be able to leave her alone. There were nights I had to leave the castle altogether, take a security watch with Jacob, simply to stop myself.

The wall beside me was warm from the fireplace in the library. However, I couldn't stop the low growl that rumbled out of me at the thoughts I suddenly caught. I spun around, running as fast as I could, only to slip quietly out of the hidden passage and into a storage closet. A brief listen with mind and ears told me that I could open the door undetected.

Making my way at a human pace to the main foyer and into the library, I was pretty sure my face showed my anger, because a few students darted out of my way quickly. Bella usually sat in the farthest back corner with Alice and, sometimes, Rosalie. Neither of her friends were with her, but she was trying her best to ignore the four people around her. What nearly made me tear the library to shreds was the smell of her tears. They were distinctly Bella's – her scent, but with a touch of salt and something almost sweet.

Mike Newton was straddling a chair backwards facing Bella, while Jessica stood behind him, holding a sheet of paper. Two newer students were with them – Tyler Crowley, who had started this year as a junior, as well as a freshman, Lauren Mallory. All four were listening raptly to Jessica read the news article on Bella's attack, the night that her father had died. It wasn't so much the article. It was the barrage of questions they were firing at Bella.

"So you didn't see anyone's face?"

"Did you watch your dad die!?"

"What about your mom?"

"That's enough," I snapped, trying to keep my voice low enough to keep Mrs. Graham, the librarian, from losing her temper. "Miss Stanley, you have about five seconds to hand me that paper, or you'll find yourself on the train back to D.C. before dinner."

Four heads spun my way, all assessing me, but it was Newton that stood up and spoke. "Mr. Cullen…"

I shook my head at him to shut him up, because if he didn't, I might have punched his smug face right there in the middle of the library. Turning back to a now stock-still Jessica, I held out my hand. "Now, Miss Stanley."

The pages landed in my hand tentatively, and I glanced down at them, shaking my head. I couldn't quite look Bella's way yet, though I was stunned to realize that in room full of heartbeats, I could distinguish which one was hers.

The article in my hand had been printed off a web site. It was no more than anyone knew about that night. What I found most interesting was that it came from Jessica's father, because there was an email attached.

Sniffing once to get my temper under control, I looked at the four students in front of me. All of them shifted nervously under my gaze, as they should.

"Miss Stanley, it was mighty kind of your father to send you this," I started, though sarcasm was thick in my tone. "Perhaps he should be focusing on the scandal he's currently wrapped up in – something about a prostitute…an underage prostitute?" She paled at my knowledge, but said nothing. Turning to Mike, I narrowed my eyes. "I'm well-informed on you, too, Newton. Since we're airing out people's secrets, we could talk about your brother, Thomas. Is he still doing twenty-five to life in Ohio?"

Newton flinched and actually nodded, though at the moment, he was hating me, which made me smile his way before I rounded on Tyler and Lauren. "You two are new, and you're not without your own skeletons in the closet, so I would highly suggest that you make better friends."

"Yes, Mr. Cullen," they whispered.

"All four of you can report to Jasper in the greenhouse. I'm fairly certain he can find something for you guys to do for the next…oh…" I glanced at the clock on the wall, seeing that it was not quite four. "Two hours. Go. All of you." Pulling out my phone, I sent a quick text to my brother, telling him to make it the harshest punishment he could invent…just shy of making them disappear. Funnily enough, I could hear his laughter through the window from the back courtyard.

It was all I could do to stay standing in that spot and not follow them. The paper crushed into a ball in my fist, but the sound of Bella packing up made me spin her way. Taking the chair next to her, I reached out to stop her.

"Hey, Bella, look at me," I whispered, but she shook her head no. Her heart was beating so fast, it sounded like hummingbird wings, and her hands were shaking as she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. "Please?" I begged her in a whisper. When she finally met my gaze, her dark eyes pleaded with me to just let it go, but I couldn't. "Where are Rose and Alice?"

She shook her head, pulling her notebook to her, where she quickly and shakily wrote her answer.

Art project.

Nodding, I sighed, gazing around the library. Most minds were curious, some were ignorant of the situation, but one mind was concerned, and I met the dark eyes of Angela Weber. Her shyness had kept her from helping Bella, but it didn't mean she didn't care.

Bella was shaking so badly that she could barely pack up her things. Stopping her, I finished for her, zipping it up and slinging it over my shoulder.

"Come with me," I said softly.

We left the library together, though in silence. Bella's heartbeat was worrying me. It was beating heavily as I wound us through the castle and up to Carlisle and Esme's place. The receptionist was gone for the day, and I led us straight inside, where Bella looked around curiously.

"This is my aunt and uncle's quarters," I explained, gesturing toward the sofa. "Sit, Bella. I'll get you something to drink."

Walking into the kitchen, I smiled at the fact that Esme insisted on keeping a well-stocked refrigerator for visits from members of the staff and parents of the students. I took out a soda and grabbed a glass, pouring her a little.

Kneeling in front of her, I whispered, "Drink this. Slowly. It'll help."

The glass shook a little as she lifted it, but she did as I asked. However, she wasn't looking my way. It was all I could do not to pull her to me, make all of the bad things go away, but I knew I couldn't, and it killed me inside.

She finished off what I'd given her, and I poured her some more, urging her to take it. When she took another few sips, she finally calmed a bit.

"I'm sorry they did that, Bella," I told her truthfully, taking the glass and setting it and the can of soda down onto the coffee table.

She shook her head, gazing around the room. Esme had decorated my parents' old wing beautifully. It looked nothing like what it had when I was human. And I supposed that was a good thing. I didn't exactly have fond memories of my father.

I didn't think Bella would speak, but she did.

"I've been through worse, Edward," she whispered, shrugging a shoulder.

"Well, that doesn't make it right," I huffed, getting up from my spot in front of her and sitting down on the chair across from her. I had to put distance between us, or I'd do something completely inappropriate – like touch her. Or scoop her up and run away with her.

Shaking my head at my own idiocy, I looked back to Bella, who was still gazing around Esme's place. "I can't imagine what could be worse," I mumbled, frowning a little. "They were harassing you."

She smiled, but it was the saddest smile I'd ever seen. "My 'best friend' in seventh grade," she started, using air quotes. "Maggie's father was the police officer on my case. She stole…pictures."

Groaning, I sat forward, my hands sinking into my hair, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. "And she showed them around," I surmised, speaking toward the floor.

"Yes."

Shaking my head, I locked gazes with sad, yet fully-accepting eyes. "It's still not right, Bella. And you're stronger than you think."

Her brow furrowed, but as usual, her answer was a shrug.

I knew the name Maggie from Bella's journal. I'd known that something had happened, but Bella so rarely went into detail about things that dealt with her past. She'd write to her father about the current things – the here and now – but she stayed safely away from anything having to do with the night he died.

"Why'd you…" she started, but then trailed off.

I panicked a little. I couldn't exactly tell her that I'd overheard Jessica in a secret passageway just outside the library. I also couldn't tell her that the four foul children that had dared harass her almost met their demise. I considered telling her I was looking for her about her composition, but I didn't think she'd believe it, considering our lesson was just two days away. So, I lied.

"I was looking for Mrs. Graham," I told her, shrugging a shoulder nonchalantly. "My aunt and uncle are out of town for a few days. I was going to ask her to keep watch with me on a few things."

Bella smiled and nodded. "I should…" She pointed toward the door.

"Just tell me you're okay first," I demanded, standing when she did.

A nod was the answer I received, and she shouldered her backpack and walked to the door. Her hand reached for the doorknob, but she stopped and looked up at me.

"Thanks, Edward. No one's ever…" Again, she trailed off, but I realized that she'd spoken more to me inside that room than ever before.

"Well, they should have," was all I could say before she smiled my way and opened the door, stepping out into the hallway.

I had to chuckle when a blur of black hair suddenly wrapped around Bella.

"Oh my damn. What the hell happened?" Alice practically squealed, not acknowledging me yet. "Messica fucked with you, didn't she? I knew she would, that stupid cow! But I couldn't leave the art room! Rose said to come look for you here, but I'd already 'seen' you at Mrs. C's place, so I was already headed here."

My snorting aloud caught both girls' attention, and Alice slapped a hand over her mouth.

"My bad," she mumbled from behind her hand, which made Bella giggle.

I waved it away with a smile. "I'm thinking you're in good hands now, Bella."

Bella nodded, looking to Alice. "Edward," she whispered.

"Oh!" Alice gasped, smiling my way. "Nice to meet you. I'm Alice Brandon."

Alice's mind was interesting. I'd caught flickers of it before, but with her standing in front of me, it was a cacophony of past and present. She couldn't quite "see" me, but she didn't seem to worry about it, since I wasn't the only one that was like that in her visions. If she was a true seer, I wondered exactly what Leah would make of her. I had to force my facial expression to stay blank as she caught sight of Bella happy and smiling. She also saw Bella talking, and that made the tiny waif of a girl very pleased. Alice was a loyal friend to Bella, and that settled my mind a lot. I was glad she had someone in her corner.

"Edward Cullen," I introduced myself. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Oh hell," she grumbled. "That can't be good."

"It's all good, I assure you," I said with a laugh. I couldn't help it, simply because Alice was a pleasant mind and a happy disposition.

Bella giggled, rolling her eyes and shoving her friend down the hallway.

Alice laughed and gave me a wave, and her eyes raked over me before the two girls left me standing in the doorway. However, before the two disappeared around the corner, Bella gave me one last wave.

~oOo~

I was early to Bella's piano lesson. The auditorium was eerily quiet as I stepped across the stage to pull the rolling chalkboard closer. I hadn't seen her since she left Esme's quarters, but I'd heard plenty throughout the school.

Smiling to myself, I shook my head. Jasper had given Jessica Stanley, Mike Newton, and the other two students the most disgusting job he could find, and apparently, it had taken several showers to rid them of the stench of fertilizer. He'd made them re-pot plants…by hand.

I'd received two phone calls – one from Newton's parents, and the other from Jessica's. Once I'd explained to them what had actually happened, they'd backed down. I also explained that the two students in question weren't exactly angels, having long, varied lists of offenses. When I told them that they were inches away from being sent home permanently, Mr. Stanley and Mrs. Newton dropped their complaint, which had deflated both students' egos instantly.

My smile grew bigger when the sound of the auditorium doors met my ears. I turned to see Bella making her way up the aisle to the stage. She was still in uniform, but in her arms were her music folder and a package.

She dropped both down onto the piano bench, looking to me. Something about her demeanor seemed off.

"Hello, Bella," I greeted, leaning against the piano. "Everything okay?"

She nodded, but her eyes betrayed her, flickering to the package on the bench. I caught sight of the return address and looked to Bella again.

"Something from home?" I asked, and she grimaced and nodded.

I chuckled at her. "It can't be that bad, Bella. Isn't your birthday soon?" I asked, knowing for a fact that it was the next day.

She nodded, looking down at the package as she took a seat on the bench. "Tomorrow."

"Happy birthday," I whispered, dragging a chair over and sitting down in front of her. "I suppose I should say it now, since I won't see you."

She smirked, but whispered, "Thanks."

Her face looked so sad, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. "Open it," I said suddenly, grinning when her eyes shot to mine. "Oh, come on, Bella. Let's see what you got."

Her sweet cheeks blushed, but she snatched up the package and ripped the pull-tag. A small velvet box tumbled out into her hand, along with a folded piece of paper. She read the note, her eyes tearing up a little, and with tentative fingers, she opened the little black box. I frowned when a sniffle escaped her.

"What is it?" I asked, not caring about what she received, but more about her sad reaction.

She handed me the note blindly, her eyes still on what was in the box.

My sweet girl,

I miss you so much, but I hope you're doing well at school. I was cleaning your room the other day and found this underneath your dresser. Remember when you thought you'd lost it?

So I thought I'd have it cleaned, and I added a new charm for you.

Happy birthday, Bella.

Much love,

Chelsea

"Who's Chelsea?" I asked, setting the note down.

Bella swiped at her tears. "The woman that took care of me."

My brow furrowed, and I remembered Esme's thoughts of the housekeeper that had greeted her at Bella's home in Boston. Esme had found her kind and patient.

"Why the tears?" I asked, fighting a battle inside myself not to reach out and wipe them away.

Bella turned the box around, revealing a silver charm bracelet with several different charms on it. She touched it reverently with a shaky finger.

"My d-dad gave me this the birthday before he…" She trailed off, silently begging me with those hurt-filled brown eyes not to make her say it. When I nodded, she continued. "I thought I'd lost it."

Trying my damnedest to get her mind off the sadness attached to this bracelet, I asked, "Okay, so which one is the new one?"

She sniffled a light laugh, pointing to the treble clef. Along with it was a tiny silver piano, a little stack of books, a daisy, what looked like a fairy, and finally, a fish.

"Okay…humor me," I said with a laugh. "I get the piano and the treble clef and the books. What on earth does the fish mean?"

Her giggled was the sweetest sound, especially since she'd been crying. "My dad liked to fish. He took me a few times. I always caught more than him. He used to pretend like he hated it."

I chuckled again. "And the fairy?"

"He used to call me Tinkerbells…'cause I was short. The flower because I liked to pick wildflowers at my grandmother's."

"Fair enough." I reached in and carefully took the bracelet out. "Those are good things to remember, Bella. Maybe this will remind you of that."

Her eyes welled up again, but she nodded and swallowed thickly as I put it on her wrist.

Before she could pull away, I stopped her hand. "Is that all that's bothering you?"

She sighed, swiping tears with her free hand. "My mom didn't send anything."

Carefully masking my ire, I met her gaze. "Maybe it just hasn't come yet. Hmm?" She shrugged, but nodded, so I said, "We're gonna scratch everything I had planned today." I let go of her hand, stood up, and shooed her over on the bench. "No work today. It's a birthday party."

Her giggle was so loud, she covered her mouth, but she immediately reached out for the ivories. I laughed when she started with Heart and Soul, but couldn't help but reach out and join her. I tried to ignore the feel of the heat radiating off her as she sat next to me, the sweet smell of her shampoo, but I wasn't sure how much longer I could take it.

We were still playing silly songs an hour later, when Bella's stomach growled hungrily. With a chuckle, I helped her gather her things.

She touched the bracelet and then glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. "Thanks, Edward," she said with her usual quiet voice, giving me a small, shy smile.

I couldn't help but smile back at her. "Happy birthday, Bella. Enjoy the rest of your day, and I'll see you next Friday, if not sooner."

She nodded and then turned and hurried from the auditorium, shooting me one last glance over her shoulder before leaving the room.

~oooOOOooo~

A/N… Okay, so she heard back from her "ghost." He was truthful, albeit vague. The question remains… Does she answer him back? ;)

Questions… Bella's age seems to be an issue with some of you. She's now canon 17. And if you'll remember correctly, Edward was in college before he was changed, and he just passed his immortal 100 years. Yes, he's 122, frozen at 22. I will say this again…this is a slow burn, which has driven my beta and pre-readers just about out of their minds. LMAO And time moves forward, though at 17 a canon Bella was throwing herself at a 109 year old Edward. Just sayin'. Also, you must have faith in this Edward; he isn't an ass – far from it, actually. NEXT… As far as Alice and Jasper are concerned…these are canon couples, and you're simply gonna have to trust me. ;) This fic is kind of a long haul, so kick back, relax, and just hang in there for me. I PROMISE everything will be revealed…eventually.

Okay, remember you can find me on FB and Twitter. And all the links can be found on my profile. We're back to a regular posting schedule. So I'll see you Thursday for the pic tease and then again Sunday for the update. Until then… Mooches, Deb ;)