I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares—where you know you've got to run, run until your lungs seem ready to burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move like molasses as I shoved my way through the crowds, but the hands on the huge clock tower marched onward, ticking down—down to the end of everything.
But this wasn't a dream. It wasn't even my life I needed to save—someone more important was on the line and, in that moment, strangely my own life didn't seem to matter that much.
Alice had said we might both die here. Maybe things would have been different if Alice was here to help, if it wasn't all up to me, incompetent me. But itwasup to me, and as I heard the clock begin to toll on the hour, vibrating under the soles of my sneakers, I knew I was too late.
I suddenly didn't care where I was, that dangerous enemies surrounded me on all sides. In fact, they gave me a little hope. If I was going to fail, maybe I wouldn't have to live with it for long.
The clock tower tolled again, and the brilliant sun beat down on my head.
Chapter 1: Party
I was pretty sure I was dreaming.
For one thing, I was standing in a shaft of sunlight. Which would be totally normal, if I didn't live in Forks, Washington, where it rains ninety-five percent of the year. For another, I was staring at my Grandpa Beauregard. Gramps had been dead for six years now.
Gramps looked about the way I remembered him, with leathery skin that folded away from his blue eyes like an elephant, slightly mussed white hair sticking up in a halo around his head.
We both blinked simultaneously, and then the corners of his old mouth spread into a wide grin at the same time mine did. I was suddenly filled with questions. What had he been up to these past years? How was Gran, and had they been reunited in the afterlife? However, I paused as I noticed he'd opened his mouth too, and I held back to let him go ahead and tell me at his own speed. He hesitated too, and we both grinned a little sheepishly.
I paused, as it wasn't Gramps who had said my name. I definitely knew that voice—I'd know it awake or asleep, or even dead, probably. The voice of an angel I'd go through hell and back for—or at least slog through endless cold and rain on a daily basis.
Even though I was always thrilled to see him—conscious or otherwise—and even though I was almost positive that I was dreaming, I panicked as Edward walked toward us through the glaring sunlight.
I watched as the sun refracted off his stone skin like a prism, sending something like colored fire sparking around him. Vampires didn't burn up in the sun—but they did studiously keep out of it around ordinary humans. Humans, after all, weren't supposed to know they existed. Hence why Forks, rainiest place on earth, was the perfect town for Edward and his family to live.
This wasn't exactly the way I had pictured introducing my boyfriend. I willed him to hear my mental shout of warning—which wouldn't have been a problem with most people. Some vampires had mysterious extra talents, and Edward's was reading minds. However, for some reason he'd never been able to hear me. Normally that was a good thing—except when he was casually revealing his nature to my very human grandpa.
As it was, Edward only smiled at me, without a hint of worry, like he might if it was only me standing here.
I swiveled my head with shock and terror to see that it was too late, and Gramps was giving me a startled look tinged with horror.
Edward—still smiling so beautifully that my heart felt like it was going to swell up and burst through my chest—put his arm around my shoulder and turned to face my grandfather.
Gramps's expression surprised me. Instead of looking horrified, he was staring at me sheepishly, as if waiting for a scolding. And he was standing in such a strange position—one arm held awkwardly away from hisbody, stretched out and then curled around the air. Like he had hisarm around someone I couldn't see, someone invisible…
Only then, as I looked at the bigger picture, did I notice the huge gilt frame that enclosed my grandfather's form. Uncomprehending, I raised the hand that wasn't wrapped around Edward's waist and reached out to touch him. Gramps mimicked my movement exactly, mirrored it. But where our fingers should have met, there was nothing but cold glass…
With a dizzying jolt, my dream abruptly became a nightmare.
There was no Gramps.
That was me. Me in a mirror. Me—old, creased, and withered.
Edward stood beside me, casting no reflection, excruciatingly lovely and forever seventeen.
He pressed his icy, perfect lips against my wasted cheek.
"Happy birthday, Beau," he whispered.
I awoke with a jolt. My gaze fell on the window, through which dreary gray light filtered down, replacing the brilliant light of the dream. Just a dream.
I jumped when my alarm went off and nearly knocked it off my bedside table. I stared at the glowing red letters in the bottom corner of the display. September the thirteenth.
I groaned and rolled back over, throwing my pillow over my head.
For most guys, an eighteenth birthday would be a good thing. The world transitioned seeing a boy to recognizing you as a man. You didn't need to get parents to sign permission forms anymore, and you could move out at any time without any legal hassle.
All through the happiest summer I'd ever had in my life, I'd been dreading this day.
Of course, as I looked in the mirror as I brushed my teeth and quickly pulled a comb through my uncooperative hair, I didn't see anything different. Same blue eyes, same unhealthy pale skin and thick dark hair. But at eighteen, I was already older than Edward would ever be.
Maybe it was a bit dramatic to start worrying about my turning into Gramps right now, but I couldn't quite get the picture my subconscious had dredged up out of my mind. Maybe it was a long way off, but as Edward and I planned to be together forever, it would come someday. I shivered at the thought.
Not wanting to have to force myself to act excited and happy around my dad, I skipped breakfast and went straight out to my truck. However, Charlie was already outside and caught me on the way, so I did my best to plaster on a grin as he gave me the presents I had definitely told him not to get.
He walked up to me awkwardly, juggling two poorly-wrapped packages in his arm. "Happy Birthday," he half sung the words.
My dad, Charlie, had been practically giddy at the prospect of my birthday. He had been on the old kitchen phone with Renee almost every day in the past week, speaking in hushed tones.
"Dad, you didn't spend any money on me, did you?"
"Oh hush up," He feigned annoyance, "It's your first birthday here. Let your old man celebrate."
He gave me the packages, grinning widely. I looked up at him with anxious eyes.
Well, open them up!" He prompted, gesturing to the packages.
I tentatively looked down at the smaller package—a thick rectangle—and opened it up slowly.
"A phone?" I couldn't conceal the surprise on my face, "Dad, how much did you spend on this?"
"This was your mother's idea," he held his hands up defensively, "she thinks we all need more open communication or something like that." He shrugged, pulling a phone of his own out of his back pocket. "Hopefully you like it. Your mom picked everything out—she just told me what to buy." He noticed me eyeing it. "It's all set-up. You can start using it right away."
"Dad, thank you." I admired the smooth, square phone. I pressed the button on the front and the screen came to life instantly. "There can't be any more presents, though."
"Just one more from me," he gestured to the larger package—it was heavy.
Dad, what is this?" I tore off the paper and my jaw dropped. "A laptop? Dad, this is too much. This better be some sort of fake-out."
"Nope!" He laughed, "I told you, Beau, it's your first birthday with me. I have seventeen years of catching up to do. Besides, you're going to be looking at colleges soon and don't kids need a laptop for college?"
"Dad, this is too much." I tried to scold, but I couldn't contain my grin. "I'm paying you back for some of this."
"Not a chance," He laughed. "Oh, before I forget." He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me, "Here's the wee-fee password."
"Wi-Fi, Dad," I laughed, "when did you have Wi-Fi installed? Why?"
"Happy Birthday, Beau." He laughed, ruffling my hair. "I got to get going, I'll see you tonight." He headed to his cruiser opening the door, waving back at me. "The phone has a nice camera on it; don't forget to take pictures to put in the scrapbook your mother sent you."
This is excessive and we can't afford it but thank you!" I called jokingly.
I admired the new phone, playing with the features, when it buzzed and made a trilling noise, startling me. It was a text message.
I hope you're enjoying your new phone! –Alice
I smiled. Of course, Edward's adopted sister, Alice, would not only know I had gotten a new phone for my birthday, but also already know my number thanks to her own unique talent. The phone buzzed again.
You're going to be late! – Alice
I slowly pulled into the parking lot behind Forks High School and carefully maneuvered my truck into a vacant spot. My eyes automatically scanned the area, until they at last settled on what I was looking for, and I let out the barest breath of relief.
Leaning quite motionless against a shiny silver Volvo was Edward, his inhumanly glorious features accentuated even in the dull, gray natural light of Forks.
Of course, all vampires were beautiful, with ivory skin and sleepless dark crescents beneath their eyes, and moved with a kind of eerily smooth grace. Edward and all his siblings —or so all of Forks believed they were siblings, taken care of by the young couple of Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife Esme —all shared the same physical traits, the same beauty. However, for some reason that I could never explain, least of all to myself, it had always been Edward who had drawn my attention most of all. Whose beauty seemed to transcend the merely mortal plane.
Maybe I should have been afraid of him as dangerous—that unnatural beauty all vampires shared was part of their equipment as predators, to lure in their prey, and there were definitely times when I was around some other members of his family I'd suddenly feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. But Edward —Edward was Edward. Somehow, I couldn't be afraid of him.
I stared at him across the parking lot, as always, hardly able to believe that he was real and that he was here. And even more amazing, waiting for me.
Standing next to him, grinning too hugely to be allowed, was his sister Alice. She was holding something under her arm which, as I surveyed her through narrowed eyes, I thought looked suspiciously like a package.
I got out of the truck, slamming the door behind me, and headed on over.
Alice skipped forward to meet me, her pixie face glowing under her short black hair.
"Happy birthday, Beau!"
"Shh!" I hissed, glancing around the lot to make sure no one had heard her. The last thing I wanted was for anyone else to make a big deal of my birthday. I didn't like people making a big deal over me.
She ignored me. "Do you want to open your present now or later?" she asked eagerly as we made our way to where Edward still waited.
"Alice, I told you not to get me any presents," I protested gently.
She only smiled at me. "Okay… later, then. Did you like the scrapbook your mom sent you? And the phone from Charlie?"
I sighed. Of course she would know what my birthday presents were. Alice would have "seen" what my parents were planning as soon as they'd decided themselves.
"Yeah, they're great."
"I think it's a nice idea. You're only a senior once. Might as well document the experience."
"How many times have you been a senior?"
We reached Edward then, and he held out his hand for mine. I took it eagerly, grinning. His skin was, as always, smooth, hard, and very cold. He gave my fingers a gentle squeeze. I looked into his liquid topaz eyes, and my heart gave a not-quite-so-gentle squeeze of its own. Hearing the stutter in my heartbeats, he smiled again.
He lifted his free hand and traced one cool fingertip around the outside of my lips as he spoke. "So, as discussed, I am not allowed to wish you a happy birthday, is that correct?"
"Yes. That is correct." I could never quite mimic the flow of his perfect, formal articulation. It was something that could only be picked up in an earlier century.
"Just checking." He ran his hand through his tousled bronze hair. "You might have changed your mind. Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts."
Alice laughed, and the sound was all silver, a wind chime. "Of course you'll enjoy it. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Beau. What's the worst that could happen?" She meant it as a rhetorical question.
"Getting older," I answered anyway, I had meant it to sound like a joke but my voice wavered sadly.
Beside me, Edward's smile tightened into a hard line.
"Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said. "Don't people usually wait till they're much older to get upset over birthdays?"
"It's older than Edward," I pointed out.
"Technically," she said, keeping her tone light. "Just by one little year, though."
I looked down at her. Technically, she was right, it was just one year, and most people couldn't have told the difference between seventeen years and eighteen. If there was a definite plan in the works to let me join the Cullens—not as a human, but as truly one ofthem—then it wouldn't be a big deal. But Edward was set absolutely, positively against it. I wasn't becoming a vampire, and that was final. And as long as Edward stuck to his guns, that future of Gramps-me was getting closer all the time.
What time will you be at the house?" Alice continued, changing the subject. From her expression, she was up to exactly the kind of thing I'd been hoping to avoid.
"I didn't know I had plans to be there."
"Oh, be fair, Beau!" she complained. "You aren't going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?"
"I thought my birthday was about what I want?"
"I'll get him from Charlie's right after school," Edward told her, ignoring me altogether.
"Excuse you," I glared, "I have to work."
"You don't, actually," Alice told me smugly. "I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She's trading your shifts. She said to tell you 'Happy Birthday.'"
"I—I still can't come over," I stammered, scrambling for an excuse. "I, well, I haven't watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English."
Alice snorted. "You have Romeo and Juliet memorized."
"But Mr. Berty said we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it—that's how Shakespeare intended it to be presented."
Edward rolled his eyes, concealing a grin.
"You've already seen the movie," Alice accused.
"But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty said it was the best."
Finally, Alice lost the smug smile and glared at me. "This can be easy, or this can be hard, Beau, but one way or the other—"
Edward interrupted her threat. "Relax, Alice. If Beau wants to watch a movie, then he can. It's his birthday."
"So there," I added.
"I'll bring him over around seven," he continued. "That will give you more time to set up."
Alice's laughter chimed in again. "Sounds good. See you tonight, Beau! It'll be fun, you'll see." She grinned—the wide smile exposed all her perfect, glistening teeth—then pecked me on the cheek and danced off toward her first class before I could respond.
"Edward, I don't appreciate this." I glared. He ran his cool finger along my jaw.
"Can we discuss it later? We're going to be late for class."
When Edward and I had first started dating, it had been the subject of plenty of gossip. One, because the Cullens had always kept to themselves, and Edward had always been cool and standoffish toward everyone. Two, because we were both guys and he was jaw-droppingly beautiful and everyone who saw us together knew I was way, way out of his league. However, we'd been together long enough now that no one whispered as we passed.
Edward and I took up our usual seats at the back of the class. These days, pretty much all our classes were together. I didn't know the details, but Edward had used his influence and powers of persuasion to wangle it somehow, and I wasn't going to complain.
McKayla gave me a smile and a wave as she passed me on the way to her seat. I was relieved to have our relationship back to friendly. Right after Edward and I started dating, McKayla had seemed a little downcast and gloomy whenever she looked in my direction. Edward had cheerfully informed me that McKayla absolutely loathed the ground he walked on, and worried I was too nice a guy to get eaten alive by a black widow. I was hopeful that McKayla was getting past that now.
As the day went by, I plotted ways of getting out of letting Edward drag me down to his house. Normally I liked going down to the Cullens; they were all so welcoming I'd almost started to feel like one of Dr. Cullen's adopted sons myself. But today, I really wasn't in the mood to celebrate.
I was also just a little peeved that apparently no one had listened to me when I explicitly said no presents. I'd expected Charlie and my mom to ignore me, which they had, but the idea of the Cullens all throwing gifts at me made me grimace.
I was used to being the poor guy—my mom had raised me on a kindergarten teacher's salary, and I'd learned how to pinch pennies practically out of diapers. Now that I was in Forks, Charlie's income from his job as the police chief wasn't a whole lot better, though I made a little cash working at a sporting goods store on the edge of town, owned by McKayla's parents, and I horded it away for college, just in case I actually ended up going. But, not having a lot of money to throw around had never really bothered me.
By contrast, the Cullens were rolling in wealth—money didn't mean a whole lot to immortals a century or more old, and when one had an unreal ability to predict trends in the stock market. I knew if I let him, Edward would have me driving a Ferrari, going out to expensive restaurants in Seattle every night, and when I was out of high school, send me to Harvard or Princeton, fully paid.
"Beau," Edward had said at one point, his growing exasperation obvious, "if this is about some male-ego related desire for self-sufficiency, then I respect you for that, but why can't you just let me spend my money where I want to? If you at least let me get you a nicer car, I wouldn't have to constantly worry about you having a breakdown out in the middle of the countryside."
I didn't think it had anything to do with a male ego, or even the man code I'd made up, and was sure even if things were reversed and Edward was a girl or I was a girl, I still wouldn't be able to stomach the idea of having money spent on me like that. The thing was that we were already so out of balance. Edward was beautiful, extravagantly wealthy, and supernaturally powerful. He had stepped in to save my life at least three times that I could count, and was constantly looking out for my safety. Me—I was an awkward dork who couldn't spend a day in gym class without falling on my face and taking a few people with me.
The fact that he had singled me out, taken an interest in me, was still a mystery to me even now. I never felt like I was really giving anything back, and having him showering me with money would only make it that much worse.
For lunch, Edward, Alice and I sat at our usual table, at the far end on the same table with some of our other friends, Jeremy and Allen, McKayla, Erica, Taylor, and Logan. Now that the older Cullen siblings, Jasper, Royal, and Emmett, had all graduated, it felt more natural for Edward and Alice to sit closer to the others, though the three of us still remained a little apart.
When school was over, Edward walked over with me to my truck, the way he usually did, but this time I couldn't help but notice he headed straight for the driver's side door, and pointed me in the direction of the passenger side. I guessed Alice had taken the Volvo, leaving Edward to act as my parole officer to keep me from trying to make a break for it.
I folded my arms and made no move to get out of the rain. "It's my birthday, don't I get to drive?"
"I'm pretending it's not your birthday, just as you wished."
"If it's not my birthday, then I don't have to go to your house tonight." I countered.
"All right." He shut the passenger door and walked past me to open the driver's side. "Happy birthday."
"Oh my god," I threw my hands in the air and climbed in the opened door, wishing he'd taken the other offer.
Edward played with the radio while I drove, shaking his head in disapproval.
"Your radio has horrible reception."
I frowned. I didn't like it when he picked on my truck. The truck was great—it had personality.
"You want a nice stereo? Drive your own car." I was so nervous about Alice's plans, on top of my already off mood, that the words came out sharper than I'd meant them. I was hardly ever bad-tempered with Edward, and my tone made him press his lips together to keep from smiling.
When I parked in front of Charlie's house, he reached over and moved my face to his. He handled me very carefully like I was especially breakable. Which was exactly the case—compared with him, at least.
"You should be in a good mood, today of all days," he whispered. His sweet breath fanned across my face.
"I'm not in a bad mood, I just don't like people making a fuss over me." I shrugged.
His golden eyes smoldered. "Too bad."
My heart started racing as he leaned closer and pressed his icy lips against mine. As he had no doubt hoped I forgot all about my worries, and sighed happily.
His mouth lingered on mine, cold and smooth and gentle, until I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him into me with enthusiasm. I could feel his lips curve upward as his hands ran through my hair. I moved my hands to his chest and gently pushed him away, exhaling sharply.
Edward and I had drawn many careful lines for our physical relationship, with the intent being to keep me alive. We needed to maintain a safe distance between my skin and his razor-sharp, venom-coated teeth, though sometimes we both tended to forget about trivial things like that once we started kissing.
"Easy, tiger," I smirked, feeling his strong chest under my hands. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest.
"And I was going to tell you to be good," he breathed against my cheek. He pressed his lips gently to mine one more time and then pulled away hesitantly.
"I think we're getting better at this." I smiled. "At least one of us remembers to take it easy." I sighed, "Maybe my heart might someday stop trying to jump out of my chest whenever you touch me."
"I really hope not," he said, a bit smug.
I rolled my eyes. "Let's go watch the Capulets and Montagues hack each other up, all right?"
Edward sprawled across the couch while I started the movie, fast-forwarding through the opening credits. When I perched on the edge of the sofa in front of him, he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me against his chest. It wasn't exactly as comfortable as a sofa cushion would be, what with his chest being hard and cold—and perfect—as an ice sculpture, but it was definitely preferable. He had a very nice chest. He pulled the old afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over me so I wouldn't freeze beside his body.
"You know, I've never had much patience with Romeo," he commented as the movie started.
"What's wrong with Romeo?" I asked, a little offended. Romeo was one of my favorite fictional characters. I'd definitely had a bit of a crush on him when I was younger.
"Well, first of all, he's in love with this Rosaline—don't you think it makes him seem a little fickle? And then, a few minutes after their wedding, he kills Juliet's cousin. That's not very brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more thoroughly?"
I sighed. "Do you want me to watch this alone?"
"No, I'll mostly be watching you, anyway." His fingers traced patterns across the skin of my arm, raising good bumps. "Will you cry?"
"Probably," I admitted, "if someone lets me pay attention to the movie."
"I won't distract you then." But I felt his lips on my hair, and it was very distracting.
The movie eventually captured my interest, thanks in large part to Edward whispering Romeo's lines in my ear—his irresistible, velvet voice made the actor's voice sound weak and coarse by comparison. And I did cry, to his amusement, when Juliet woke and found her new husband dead.
"I'll admit, I do sort of envy him here," Edward said, wiping the tears from my face.
"Because she's… pretty?"
He made a disgusted sound. "I don't envy him the girl—just the ease of the suicide," he clarified in a teasing tone. "You humans have it so easy! All you have to do is throw down one tiny vial of plan extracts…"
"What?" I gasped.
"It's something I had to think about once, and I knew from Carlisle's experience that it wouldn't be simple. I'm not even sure how many ways Carlisle tried to kill himself in the beginning… after he realized what he'd become…" His voice, which had grown serious, turned light again. "And he's clearly still in excellent health."
I twisted around so that I could read his face. "What are you talking about?" I demanded. "What do you mean, this is something you had to think about once?"
"Last spring, when you were… nearly killed…" He paused to take a deep breath, struggling to return to his teasing tone. "Of course I was trying to focus on finding you alive, but part of my mind was making contingency plans. Like I said, it's not as easy for me as it is for a human."
For one second, the memory of my last trip to Phoenix washed through my head and made me feel dizzy. I could see it all so clearly—the blinding sun, the heat waves coming off the concrete as I ran with desperate haste to find the sadistic vampire who wanted to torture me to death. Joss, waiting in the mirrored room with my mother as her hostage—or so I'd thought. I hadn't known it was all a ruse. Just as Joss hadn't known that Edward was racing to save me; Edward made it in time, but it had been a close one. Unthinkingly, my fingers traced the crescent-shaped scar on my finger that was always just a few degrees cooler than the rest of my skin.
I shook my head—as if I could shake away the bad memories—and tried to grasp what Edward meant. My stomach plunged uncomfortably. "Contingency plans?" I repeated.
"Well, I wasn't going to live without you." He rolled his eyes as if that fact were childishly obvious. "But I wasn't sure how to do it—I knew Emmett and Jasper would never help… so I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi."
I didn't want to believe he was serious, but his golden eyes were brooding, focused on something far away in the distance as he contemplated ways to end his own life.
"First of all, that's not healthy." I scolded. "Second, what's a Volturi?"
The Volturi are a family," he explained, his eyes still remote. "A very old, very powerful family of our kind. They are the closest thing our world has to a royal family, I suppose. Carlisle lived with them briefly in his early years, in Italy, before he settled in America—do you remember the story?"
"Of course I remember."
Edward had shown me the paintings at the Cullen's house depicting Carlisle's life, and I remembered one in particular, one man and three women, and a small girl. One of the figures in the painting had been Carlisle, while the others were named Sulpicia, Marcus, Athenodora, and Mele, the girl. Nighttime patrons of the arts, so Edward had called them.
Anyway, you don't irritate the Volturi," Edward went on, interrupting my reverie. "Not unless you want to die—or whatever it is we do." His voice was so calm, it made him sound almost bored by the prospect.
I felt the horror overtake me. I took his marble face between my hands and held it very tightly.
"You can't say things like that. You can't think of anything like that again." I said firmly. "No matter what might ever happen to me, you are not allowed to hurt yourself."
"I'll never put you in danger again, so it's a moot point."
"Put me in danger? I was under the impression that you thought that all the bad luck was my fault?" I was getting more upset. "You can't think like that, Edward."
"What would you do, if the situation were reversed?" he asked.
"I wouldn't do that."
He averted his eyes.
"What if something did happen to you?" The thought hurt me. "Would you want me to go off myself?"
A trace of pain touched his perfect features.
"I guess I see your point… a little," he admitted. "But what would I do without you?"
"Whatever you were doing before I came along, I suppose. You managed for quite a while without me."
He sighed. "You make that sound so easy."
"It should be. I'm not really that interesting." I chuckled.
He was about to argue, but then he let it go. "Moot point," he reminded me. Abruptly, he pulled himself up into a more formal posture, shifting me to the side so that we were no longer touching.
"Charlie?" I guessed.
Edward smiled. After a moment, I heard the sound of the police cruiser pulling into the driveway. I reached out and took his hand firmly. My dad could deal with that much.
Charlie came in with a pizza box in his hands.
"Hey, kids." He grinned at me. "I thought you'd like a break from cooking and washing dishes from your birthday. Hungry?"
"Thanks, Dad!" I smiled.
Charlie didn't comment on Edward's apparent lack of appetite. He was used to Edward passing on dinner.
"Do you mind if I borrow Beau for the evening?" Edward asked when Charlie and I were done.
I looked up at Charlie, kind of hoping he'd want me to stay home. He had said it himself this morning; this was my first birthday with him, the first birthday since my mom had remarried and gone to live in Florida, so I didn't know if he'd made plans for our evening.
"That's fine—I gave Beau his presents this morning. Besides, the Mariners are playing the Sox tonight," Charlie explained, "So I won't be any kind of company… If they're doing something fun at the Cullens' tonight, Beau, you should take some pictures on your new phone. You know how your mother gets—she'll be wanting to see the pictures faster than you can take them."
"Good idea, Charlie," Edward said, pulling my phone out of my pocket.
I grabbed it from him and opened the camera feature, turning it on Edward, and snapping the first picture. "It works."
"That's good. Hey, say hi to Alice for me. She hasn't been over in a while." Charlie's mouth pulled down at one corner.
"It's been three days, Dad," I reminded him. Charlie was crazy about Alice. He'd become attached last spring when she'd helped me through my awkward recovery process. "I'll tell her."
"Okay. You kids have fun tonight." Charlie was already edging toward the living room and the TV.
Edward smiled, triumphant, and took my hand to pull me from the kitchen.
When we got to the truck, he opened the passenger door for me again, and this time I didn't argue. I still had a hard time finding the obscure turnoff to his house in the dark.
Edward drove north through Forks, visibly chafing at the speed limit enforced by my prehistoric Chevy. The engine groaned even louder than usual as he pushed it over fifty.
"Take it easy," I warned him.
"You know what you would love? A nice little Audi coupe. Very quiet, lots of power…"
"There's nothing wrong with my truck. And speaking of nonessentials, I hope you didn't spend any money on birthday presents."
"Not a dime," he said virtuously.
He sighed, his lovely face serious. "Beau, the last real birthday any of us had was Emmett in 1935. Cut us a little slack, and don't be too upset about the party. They're all very excited."
It always startled me a little when he brought up things like that. "I'll behave, don't worry."
"I should probably warn you…"
"Birthday warnings are always so great." I deadpanned.
He snorted. "When I say they're all excited… I do mean all of them."
"Everyone?" I wavered. "I thought Emmett and Royal were in Africa." The rest of Forks was under the impression that the older Cullens had gone off to college this year, to Dartmouth, but I knew better.
"Emmett wanted to be here."
"That's sweet of him… but Royal?"
"I know, Beau. Don't worry, he'll be on his best behavior."
I didn't answer. Like I could just not worry, that easy. Unlike Alice, Edward's other "adopted" sibling, the golden blond and exquisite Royal didn't like me much. Actually, the feeling was a little stronger than just dislike. As far as Royal was concerned, I was an unwelcome intruder into his family's secret life.
I felt horribly guilty about the present situation, guessing that Royal and Emmett's prolonged absence was my fault, even as I furtively appreciated not having to see him. Emmett, Edward's playful bear of a brother, I did miss. He was in many ways just like the big brother I'd always wanted… only much, much more terrifying.
Edward decided to change the subject. "So, if you won't let me get you the Audi, isn't there anything that you'd like for your birthday?"
The words came out in a suggestive whisper. "Well, if you're offering anything."
I heard him catch his breath and his grip tightened on the steering wheel.
"Beau, be good. Please." He breathed the words out.
"Well, maybe Emmett will give me what I want." I teased.
Edward growled—a deep, menacing sound. "Over my dead body."
"Oh, calm down." I laughed.
We were pulling up to the house now. Bright light shined from every window on the first two floors. A long line of glowing Japanese lanterns hung from the porch eaves, reflecting a soft radiance on the huge cedars that surrounded the house. Big bowls of flowers—ruffled tulips—lined the wide stairs up to the front doors.
I caught my breath, feeling a surprising excitement creep over me.
Edward took a few deep breaths to calm himself—from my suggestiveness or the jab about Emmett I wasn't sure. "This is a party," he sighed. "Try to be a good sport."
"Always am." I smirked.
He came around to get my door, and offered me his hand.
"I have a question."
He waited warily.
"If I look at the photo I took," I said, pulling my phone from my pocket, "will you show up in the picture?"
Edward started laughing. He helped me out of the car, pulled me up the stairs, and was still laughing as he opened the door for me.
They were all waiting in the huge white living room; when I walked through the door, they greeted me with a loud chorus of "Happy birthday, Beau!" while I blushed and smiled. Alice, I assumed, had covered every flat surface with white candles and dozens of crystal bowls filled with hundreds of ruffled tulips. There was a table with a white cloth draped over it next to Edward's grand piano, holding a red birthday cake, more tulips, a stack of glass plate, and a small pile of silver-wrapped presents.
It was absolutely beautiful.
Edward, sensing my mounting excitement, wrapped his arm around my waist and kissed the top of my head.
Edward's parents, Carlisle and Esme—impossibly youthful and lovely as ever—were the closest to the door. Esme hugged me carefully, her soft, caramel-colored hair brushing against my cheek as she kissed my forehead, and then Carlisle put his arm around my shoulders.
"Sorry about this, Beau," he stage-whispered. "We couldn't rein Alice in."
Emmett and Royal were standing just a little behind them. Royal didn't look particularly pleased to see me, but for once he wasn't glaring. Emmett's entire face lit up as he saw me.
"Hey, kiddo," he said, slapping me lightly on the back. "You know, I was sort of expecting to see something different about you, now that you're an adult and all. But you're still just as scrawny and beet-faced as ever."
"Thanks a lot," I muttered, but in truth I was happy to see him. Emmett was almost like the older brother I'd never had. He had the look of a professional bodybuilder, the kind of guy no one would ever doubt could beat up ninety-five percent of the guys in the world.
"I've got something I've got to take care of—" I could swear he met Alice's gaze for a second and winked—"but I'll be back soon. Don't trip over your own feet or anything while I'm gone, because I want a laugh too."
Alice had been hanging back, holding Jasper's hand, but now she broke away to approach me, grinning broadly. Jasper gave me a slight smile, but he stayed back. Back when we'd been running from Joss in Phoenix, Alice, Jasper and I had spent quite a bit of time together. I thought we'd gotten to be pretty good friends, but Jasper seemed to have reverted back to the way he'd been when we'd first been introduced, keeping his distance from me as much as possible.
I didn't know much about Jasper's story, except that he was the newest member of the Cullen family, and was still relatively new to the Cullen's particular non-human-eating way of life. He didn't have as much practice resisting the allure of the scent of human blood as the others.
"Okay," said Alice, clapping her hands together. "I think it's time for presents."
"I think I told you not to get me anything," I told her, scowling in her direction.
"And obviously we ignored you," she said, grinning back. She snatched away my phone, which I was still holding uncertainly, and replaced it with a big box, wrapped in black wrapping paper. "Go on."
The box was so light it actually felt empty. I looked at the tag and saw it was a joint present, from Emmett, Royal, and Jasper. Keeping my eyes down, I began tearing into the wrapping, revealing a box with a long string of numbers in the name of whatever it was. It looked like something electrical. Curiously, I drew back the lid, but found the box really was empty.
"Uh, thanks," I said.
Royal actually smiled a little, and Jasper gave a low chuckle.
"It's a stereo," Jasper explained in his rough voice. "For your truck. Emmett is installing it as we speak, so I'm afraid you won't be able to return it."
I realized I actually was happy at the thought, and laughed as I remembered Edward's disparaging comments about my radio. A setup, apparently.
"Thanks," I said, grinning. "That's great, guys." I thought I heard Emmett's rich laugh from outside by my truck.
"Next is Edward's and mine," Alice said, grinning. She waved a small silver package in my face.
Emmett had come back in, and was grinning from ear to ear. "Just finished," he said. "Wasn't going to miss this." He crowded in beside Jasper, and Jasper wandered a little closer than usual to get a look too.
"Hey," I said, turning to Edward with a frown. "You said—"
"And I didn't," Edward answered, cutting me off. "Not a dime."
I sighed and took the package from Alice.
I held it up for a moment, trying to guess what it was. It was small, but I wondered how Edward could have managed not to spend any money.
Shrugging, I slipped my finger under the edge of the wrapping, but as I jerked to pull it away, the tip caught the edge, slitting the skin.
"Shoot," I muttered, eying the tiny bead of crimson liquid that formed at the edge. I really was a klutz. Cute in a girl, not so cute in a guy.
It all happened in a heartbeat—one second I was standing there, still clutching the box in my hand, examining my hand. The next, everything went to hell.
"No!" Edward shouted, the sound cutting through me like a gunshot.
My head whipped up, startled, only to see Edward coming at me in a blur of motion. Before I could even begin to figure out what was happening, I felt his forearm slam into my stomach, and I was hurled backward onto the table, knocking the cake and presents every which way. The table tipped back, taking me with it, and I heard the shattering of the glass bowls as they hit the floor a moment before I did.
Dazed, I laid on my elbow amidst the shattered glass, and stared up to see Jasper —quiet Jasper —staring down at me, his body thrust forward, his eyes wild with bloodlust. The only thing keeping him from me was Edward, who had his arms locked around Jasper's waist, arms pinned to his sides. Jasper struggled against Edward's grip, his lips curled back from his teeth in a feral snarl as he spun to snap at Edward's face. Edward hurled him back, away from me, and in the next moment Emmett had seized Jasper under the arms, dragging him back. However, Jasper kept fighting, his wild, empty eyes still on me.
I could only stare straight ahead of me in numb shock, and for the first time, I dully registered pain in my arm. I looked down at the glass shards I had landed in, and saw a dozen cuts going from my wrist to my elbow, crimson lines already oozing out onto the floor.
Vaguely, I raised my eyes to the scene again, only to find that all attention in the room was suddenly on me. And I found myself looking into the eyes of six suddenly ravenous vampires.