Chapter 1

It would be one of those days, I immediately thought when my eyes flew open and squinted at the dim light of the breaking dawn. Those days when you knew, even before you were out of your comfortable bed, still buried in your warm quilt, that you had a full twenty-four rotten hours ahead of you to endure before a better day. With no warning or sign of any kind to tip you off, you still knew it, like it was being written in the marrow of your bones, bringing up a nice shiver along your limbs and spine in the process.

I exhaled and got up, throwing away my quilt. My mood was already diving, and I knew that nothing, or nobody, would be able to set it right. Not even Jacob. Especially not him.

It wasn't even my birthday yet. I wouldn't turn seven (in human years; about eighteen in half-vampire years) until three months from now, but I was still grumbling internally as if I was on the verge of blowing stupid candles or trying to bury horrified thoughts at the sight of a much-too-large pile of unwanted presents while plastering a very fake smile on my face. I always understood my Mom's reluctance at celebrating birthdays, shared it even. But I also knew that I couldn't deny my favourite aunt her pleasure. And of course, I never wanted to upset my Dad.

I heard a very faint sigh coming from the living room, and I felt even more aggravated. Speaking of the devil. Fuming, I grabbed my clothes and stomped out of my room to the bathroom at the end of the hallway, ignoring the tentative "Nessie?" of my Mom from her own bedroom. I drowned all sounds under the shower, trying to get a grip on my frayed nerves.

I knew I was almost at the end of a very awkward and disturbing teenage phase, but I didn't handle it well. Not at all. I didn't know who I was. I knew that every single teenager on the planet, maybe again with the exception of my Mom, had felt the same thing during teenagehood, but for me, it was a hundred times worse. Not human, not vampire, half of both, I was a very rare kind of creature. And only a handful of people were like me, none of them I knew well. I hadn't seen Nahuel since the Volturi came, when I was four months old, and I didn't know his sisters. I was a loner, and nobody could relate well enough.

I sighed again, more forcefully, when I heard my Dad knocking on the door as I was finishing putting my clothes on. Sometimes – no, almost always, the truth be said – I truly hated his mind reading.

"Nessie?" he asked gently with his velvet voice. "Can I come in?"

You already know my answer, I thought darkly. I turned my back on the door as it opened, and grabbed my hairbrush. I saw him on the threshold, staring right at my reflection in the mirror, his graceful features soft but concerned. I started disentangling my shoulder-length hair, bronze-colored just like his, yanking with powerful swipes at my knots, ignoring the protests of my scalp and the wince of my father. Like since I'd been born, he still couldn't stand my pain, as insignificant as it was.

I waited, eyeing him with a cold stare while gathering my messy curls into a loose ponytail. I wasn't going to start yesterday's argument again, and I certainly wasn't going to apologize. Remembering this spat infuriated me even more, and I was surprised I hadn't smoke shooting out of my nostrils.

"Nessie," Edward sighed, looking defeated. "I don't want to be the overprotective and suffocating parent, but..."

"You are," I cut him with a sharp tone, turning on the spot and marching past him towards the living room, ignoring his pleading features. "And I don't want to talk about it right now. You know it, Dad, better than anyone."

"Yes," he immediately agreed, following me in a breeze. "Truly, I do. And you know how much I don't like it."

"I don't know about that," I countered him while grabbing some granola bars and eating them quickly. That, for human food, was good, and it was one of the few things that I actually enjoyed. And naturally, having discovered that, Jacob was showering me with them. "I think you actually like it, not when invading everyone's privacy, but when it gives you an edge. And for my part, I don't enjoy the feeling of being outspoken by a person who has time to counter my thoughts even before I can voice them."

As my mother came into the living room, beautiful and tense, I saw my father go a deeper shade of white. I knew I wasn't fighting fair, but then, neither was he, even if he really couldn't help it.

"Nessie," Bella started, trying to appease us, as usual. "Edward only has your best interests at heart, you know it. Even if he sometimes doesn't know how to show it with the proper restraint."

Edward shot her a startled look, and she smiled tightly at him, with the little frown between her eyebrows indicating that she was lifting her shield, allowing him to access her thoughts. Some teamwork against me. As my anger was building dangerously high, I couldn't help noticing again how much they loved each other. Their relationship was so strong that I've become quite uncomfortable around them, and not because of physical love. Their stares only were so intense that all the family, not only me, had to avert their gaze. And as my relationship with Jacob was starting to change...

Edward's head jerked suddenly toward me, looking distressed, and I lost it. I couldn't stand the idea that my father, my one-hundred-and-eleven vampire father, knew my feelings toward Jacob better than Jacob himself, maybe even better than me. That was the final straw.

"That's it!" I shouted, rocking with fury and throwing my last bar back on the counter of the small kitchen in the corner, where it exploded, splattering it with chocolate. "I'm done!"

"Nessie?" Bella called out in anguish, trying to stop me as I was making a beeline for the door. "What's the matter?"

I knew that my mother, being a vampire for a lot less longer than my father, could understand me better. So, for her sake, I turned on the threshold and explained myself with a barely controlled voice.

"I'm fed up with being scrutinized and treated like I am still one year old, and I'm not talking about you, Mom! I want to go to college, be with young people my age – or who look my age, more like – and stop being an anomaly! I want to have a sane and normal relationship with Jake, even if Dad isn't okay with it, because that's the way it is! I love Jake, and now he is starting to see me as his girlfriend, and not his little sister anymore, so I'm not backtracking here, even if you're upset, Dad! And, last but certainly not least, I'm fed up with having my thoughts read by my parents! I want to be free!"

I saw my mother go whiter, and heard her breathing hitch. I knew that she was afraid of me starting a life on my own, but only because she loved me and couldn't help her maternal instinct. She wasn't ready to see her little bird fly away from the nest. As for my father, his fears were a lot different. He was afraid, but because he thought that if I went away with Jacob, I would always be in danger, and he couldn't stand me being in any kind of danger. And also, because he still didn't admit that I was a grown-up and could have a life of my own.

"Bella," Edward said, taking my trembling mother in his arms and kissing her hair. "It's okay, it's okay. Calm down."

I shot a look at my mother, my anger deflating a bit. I didn't want to upset her. But she was already recovering her composure, and only her frozen stance betrayed her dismay. She was gripping Edward's hand really tight, but he didn't show any sign of discomfort. Finally, I locked eyes with him. The person who knew me better than anyone, but who also saw me as a totally different person than I really was. I needed breathing space. Now.

"Nessie," he pleaded, holding my mother and looking at me with a mixture of sadness and hurt in his butterscotch eyes, making my stomach churn in an unpleasant way. "I don't want to be what you think I am. You're free to do whatever you want. I..."

His hands tightened, and he hung his head for a long second. Bella put a hand on his cheek, and he released her, to approach me with careful steps. A foot from me, he held out his hand, an invitation. I grabbed it after a few seconds, and he took my hand between both of his with exceeding care. I sensed that something was truly changing, that my life was at a crossroads.

"I love you so much, Renesmee," he said at last, riveting his eyes into mine. "But I'm truly sorry if this love is stifling you. I don't want to suffocate you. And I know that you're a grown-up now."

He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. For a fleeting moment, I wished I was the one who could read minds, to know what he was thinking right now. Even if he was sometimes obnoxious, he was still my father, and I loved him. A lot. His smile became more genuine, and he answered my thoughts.

"Right now I think that I don't want you to leave us, Nessie. But I can see that the time has come. So it's up to you, now, and I'm sorry about yesterday, and for everything. From now on, you'll do as you see fit. But this house will always be your home if you want. And your mother and I will always love you."

I threw myself against his chest then, moved. Another thing about my father: he was selfless. And I loved him now more than ever. I could see that letting me go was costing him greatly, but I was glad that he changed his mind at last. Or maybe Mom had finally succeeded in convincing him.

"Your mother has always been better than me at understanding you, in spite of my abilities," he chuckled, masking his deep emotion as he embraced me.

"That I knew," I murmured, burying my face in his chest, feeling like a little girl for once.

I didn't really want to leave them now, I only wanted to have free rein on my life. I felt his nod in my hair, and gratitude and love engulfed me. Then I went to my mother's arms, and she murmured: "We love you, Nessie. Live your life as you choose, but know that we'll always be there for you."

"Thank you, Mom," I muttered, kissing her and telling her with my palm against her face how much I loved them. She smiled, kissing me on my forehead, then released me.

"So, what do you want to do today?" she asked with a light voice.

"I'd like to hunt, and then I'll go see what I can do to attend college in fall."

"Will you go with Jake?" she asked again, looking relieved at my delayed leaving.

"I'd like to, but he thinks he won't be accepted in Dartmouth," I said with a smirk. "And I absolutely refuse to bribe them, Dad," I added, shooting him a dark look. I was serious.

"Where do you want to go?" he inquired, unfazed. Of course, he already knew. I tried to stifle my annoyance.

"Seattle would be perfect. No one knows us there. And we won't be too far from here."

"That's great!" Mom said, looking delighted, bringing a smile on my lips.

"But what about...?"

"Do I have to remind you how many times you attended high school or college, Dad?" I cringed, trying to control my flaring temper. "I, unlike you, have blood in my veins and can eat human food. I think I can blend in much better than you ever did."

"As long as..."

"I know I have to wear long-sleeved clothes and be ridiculously slow in PE," I cut him, anger rising again. He was so not making it easy. I saw him lift his hands a little, palms up, surrendering, an apologetic smile on his face. About time, I thought. He just sighed.

"So, how am I supposed to...?" I started. But to my surprise, my mother cut me with a small smile.

"I already asked J Jenks for fake school records," she said calmly, eyes bright with mischief while shooting a triumphant look at my appalled father, who obviously wasn't in on this plan, making me feel a lot better. "You only have to choose which one you want, then send it with your application. You're already an excellent student, so I have no doubt you'll be accepted."

"Great, since I've never set foot in a school before."

"You'll do wonderfully," she assured me with another hug while shooting a dovey eye at Edward. "After all, you have your father's brains."

Ugh. Time to make a strategic retreat when they start going gooey at each other like that. This time, my father smirked widely at my thoughts, and I sighed. You just wait, I thought in reply. Soon I'll be Jacob's real girlfriend. That wiped the ridiculous smile right off his face.

"Shall we?" he asked, obviously wanting to make me think of something else. "Or do you want to hunt alone?" he added, eyeing me with caution.

"Let's go," I said, wanting to appease the sting of the girlfriend thing.

He smiled his crooked smile, the one which made my mother go wild. I hurried out the door, running ahead and giving them time to kiss while trying to keep my jealousy at bay. Soon Jake will kiss me like that, I tried to comfort myself, sighing nonetheless.

I let my smell guide me, and soon caught the scent of a lynx. A small prey, one that my family always ignored because of its small amount of blood, but that I liked above all others. Soon I was draining it, and smelled another one a few hundred yards away. I let myself forward, killed it in a blur, and drank the tasty blood of the wild cat. Then, still thirsty, I caught the scent of a herd of elk. I silently ran deeper into the forest, hearing my parents feeding two miles behind me, and soon caught up with the large animals. I jumped on the largest one, killed it in a swift motion, then drained it with much less pleasure than the lynxes. But at least I was full.

I was about to turn round, when an unknown scent caught me. Another vampire, one that I'd never met before. Wary, I listened with all my might, wishing that Jacob were here with me. And the vampire was close. Too close, and approaching fast. I couldn't outrun him, being only half-vampire. Dad! I called in my head, glad for once that he could hear me. A vampire is here!

I heard my parents' silent run, heard the faintest sound of immortal feet on dried wood, heard the soft whoosh of air from a swift run, then I wheeled around, ready to bolt. I just had time to see a male vampire, looking wild with long and tangled black hair flowing behind him, eyes black with thirst, throwing himself at me, and I jumped out of his way. But he grabbed my hand and bit me.

I closed in and kicked him in the stomach, surprise fleeting on his face, making him fly backwards a dozen yards away and crashing into a fir tree, but I couldn't help a moan of pain. I remembered what Jacob had told me about vampire venom and its effect on werewolves. A death sentence. Was I going to die?

"Nessie!"

Edward's furious and anguished cry reached me as I sank to my knees, horrible pain shooting up in my hand, and in a daze I saw my parents running towards me. In a split second they understood, and then I could only watch in awe. Edward launched himself at the vampire who was rising to his feet, fast as lightning, and in less than a second tore him apart with a feral snarl ripping his throat. Another ten seconds and the enemy's remains were burning, creating a vicious-looking purple smoke that stank awfully.

My mother sank on her knees next to me and grabbed my injured hand, looking panic-stricken. Already I felt the poison spreading, a horrible pain racking through me, and I couldn't help another moan. My head spun violently, and I fell on my back, spasms rocking all my muscles. The poison would kill me, I realized.

"No!" I heard Edward shout with force. "No, you're not going to die!"

Without a word, Bella, ashen-faced but determined, took my bitten hand and put her lips on the injury. I felt her sucking my blood, and pain racked my body. I screamed and thrashed this time, but in a flash Edward was here, pinning me to the ground.

"It's all right, Nessie," he said with a would-be calm voice, terror on his features. "Bella is sucking the venom out. I did it to her once, and she stayed human with no harm done. You'll be okay."

My voice was gone. All my strength was gone. I couldn't move a muscle anymore, but the pain intensified. I could feel my mother sucking the venom out, but maybe it was already too late. I was fading. I love you, Dad, I thought wearily. Please tell Mom that I love her too. And tell Jacob that I'm sorry, I love him so much.

Only silence answered me. Weird. Usually Edward was beside himself with such words. I squinted at him through the haze in my head and the fog in front of my eyes. He was still holding me down, his hands on my collarbones and thighs, his eyes a little less frantic, looking at his wife. Bella was suddenly done, leaning back from me and putting my hand on the ground.

"No venom left," she whispered, her eyes tinted a dark orange on the edge of her irises, due to my blood. "You'll be all right, Nessie."

She gently wiped my face with her hand, freeing it from my hair, and bent to kiss me on my forehead again.

"How are you feeling?" Edward asked, still worried, and releasing me.

Not so good, I answered him in my head. I'm going to be sick. But again, he didn't react. Suddenly I felt fear. Was I going to die, after all? Was I so gone that he couldn't hear my thoughts anymore? I felt a wave of nausea rising, and I found some strength left to turn to my side and retch. I felt Bella's hand on my back, helping me stay on my side, and I heaved and heaved. All the blood, the granola bars, everything came out, leaving me with a scorching throat and a bitter taste on my tongue.

I felt around me and groped, trying to reach my Dad. I was freaking out. I needed him, his wisdom and his reassurance. I still hadn't found my voice back. Dad! I thought helplessly in my head. Dad! Suddenly his hand were on mine, and I tried to reach his face. He visibly understood, and guided my hand to his face as my mother eased me on my back again and wiped my mouth with a piece of her shirt she had torn.

Dad, I said through my hand. Dad, am I going to die?

"No, Nessie," he said with a soothing voice, certainty ringing in his tone. "You're going to be fine. You're not going to die."

Then why can't you hear me anymore?

His eyes narrowed, and he tentatively released my hand. "Think about something." he said.

I'm afraid, Dad, I thought, my eyes closing in spite of myself. Please stay with me.

But what I saw made me even more frightened. I saw it in his eyes. He couldn't hear me anymore. I started hyperventilating. Panic was overwhelming me. And then I heard his voice in my head, and I saw clearly that his lips were not moving. What the hell is happening? I can't hear her anymore! I can't...! Is she all right? What did this wretched vampire do to her? What do I have to do?

I clearly saw his own panic, much more powerful than a tsunami, and I felt overwhelmed. My head was spinning really fast now, and I felt Bella's cold hand on my clammy cheek.

"Nessie? Are you all right?"

But I sank into a black well, drowning in my father's inner turmoil, his overwhelming love for me and worry for my fate. I lost consciousness.