When we finally broke it off I let go of all of him except his hand and squinted toward the horizon, trying to determine where I had run from. Edward, as though reading my mind, tugged me in a direction and I followed, planning an apology speech in my head as we went along.
Everyone was sitting on the ground when we found them, talking about someone losing it in hushed tones. I, supposedly, was the person who had "lost it." Alice was sitting rigid, upright, a glazed look in her eye. She jumped up when I kicked a stone out of my way, wrapped her arms around me and said, "Apology accepted. Though your speech didn't need to be that elaborate."
"Sorry," I said sheepishly, remembering the words I had planned to recite. Nicki pushed herself off the small boulder she sat on and looked at my family. Jasper, Carlisle and Emmett were still whispering quietly and Rosalie and Esme turned to look up at Nicki.
She cleared her throat before speaking. "Shall we go back to my house? I believe you wanted to know how I ended up half-human." The five on the ground slowly stood and smiled warily at me. I smiled back and nodded once, so they'd know I was fine now. Their expressions melted into ones of relief. Nicki grinned and took off again, the rest of us now following behind. She led us to a lonely little cottage right beside the rocky shoreline. It reminded me eerily of Jacob's-deep breath-house in La Push.
She pushed the door open and waved us inside, quickly building a fire and putting out cups of a familiar deep red liquid.
"I don't feed on it," she said, settling into a chair near the fireplace. Edward and I shared a large, overstuffed chair across from her, Alice and Jasper sat on the floor next to us, Carlisle and Esme took a seat on the couch and Rosalie and Emmett perched on a window seat. We all stared curiously at her for her remark.
"I tried, once," she continued. "I had to cough it back up, I felt so sick. I reverted to human food and found that went down easier, so I continued on it. Every once in a while I do have to drink it, but only once or twice a month."
We all nodded in unison, staring down into the red of our "Bloody Marys," as she called them. Carlisle immediately put his glass down and asked, "Is this human?"
Nicki's green eyes grew wide. "Of course not," she exclaimed. "I feed on rabbits." Carlisle sighed in relief and returned his glass to his hand.
"Now I suppose the question running through your minds now is, 'How did she end up half-and-half?'" she said, looking me in the eye. "The answer is long and complicated, so pay attention.
"My mother was a vampire. Unfortunately she fed on humans. One night when she was hunting she laid eyes on possibly the most gorgeous human being ever in existence, my father. He was equally attracted to her, being that she was a vampire and all. He was heavily intoxicated at the time, he was out with friends for a drink, around 1916. He and my mother got together and…well, you know what happens next."
Edward shifted uncomfortably next to me. Eternity, I reminded him. He nodded and stared into the bright orange flames roaring in the fireplace.
"My mother lost control," Nicki continued quietly, "and killed my father by accident. She was so ashamed of what she had done to him, and herself, that she almost went to the Volturi. Almost. But she discovered something about a month later, something completely unexpected, seemingly impossible. Me.
"At first she didn't believe it. It was unthinkable. She asked the Volturi about what she was to do, and the Volturi told her to kill the baby as soon as it was born. They were panicked when she first informed them, and when she inquired why, they promised to tell her when the time was right. Nine months passed, and one day, came along me. My mother swaddled me and tied me to a bedpost while she went and found a knife. She wasn't sure if I'd be human or vampire, so she assumed the first. She told me later that when she raised the knife to my throat, I opened my eyes and stared at her. When
she saw my green eyes, and the innocence of new life buried in them, she dropped the knife and held me close, sobbing. I was less than a day old, and she could not kill me.
"In time, she decided that I was far too special a child to destroy so young. She fed me on goat's milk as an infant and normal food when I grew old enough to digest it. I never tasted blood until I was thirteen. One day, I will never forget this, my mother and I were creating a dish to bring over to our sick neighbor. I told her what one of my friends had done that day and she laughed. Abruptly she quieted, then gasped.
"'What is it, Mama?' I asked. She merely shook her head and whispered something even I could not hear. She shoved me roughly into the cellar, instructing me to stay down there and not come up for any reason whatsoever. I obeyed, and I will regret that for the rest of my life." She sighed sadly, staring down at her hands as she continued. "The front door crashed open and a harsh male voice demanded, 'Where is she?'
"'I don't know what you're talking about,' my mother replied. I could hear the tremors in her voice.
"'TELL US!' the voice shouted. I heard a thump. I scrambled to the cellar door and peeked through the crack to see what was happening. My mother was on the floor in front of a long-haired man I recognized from her descriptions. He was one of the Volturi.
"'NO! I WILL NOT KILL HER FOR YOUR GAIN!" my mother screamed.
"Then you go instead, Marisa," the man snarled, grabbing hold of her arm. Cleanly, so fast I almost didn't see it, he ripped it from her shoulder. I jammed my fist into my mouth to keep from crying out. My mother started screaming a high pitched scream as the man dismembered the rest of her, before he tore her head from her shoulders. I turned from the scene and fled back down to the safety of the cellar, where I cried quietly for hours. When I smelled the sweet smoke wafting in through the door, I knew my mother was gone."
The whole of the universe seemed to go silent, except for a hollow ringing in my ears. I looked to the faces of my family, and saw varying degrees of shock, horror, sadness and sympathy for this poor young girl we had only just met. Edward seemed especially troubled. He was shaking and gasping. I tightened my arms around his chest and the shaking subsided. He buried his nose in my hair. In that position I could still hear his small gasps.
Edward, are you all right?
No, he replied. Even in his head his voice was strained and laden with grief.
Is there something you'd like to share with me?
Pictures…in…her...head…horrifying, he choked.
Esme, motherly figure that she was, was the first to stand and wrap her arms around Nicki.
"Poor baby," she whispered. Nicki's eyes filled with tears, which soon bubbled over her eyelids down her face. I had to remind myself that she was half-human and thus able to do this.
"How old are you, Nicki?" Carlisle asked gently.
"16," she said hoarsely. Only two years younger than me, I thought. "I'm only getting older," she continued. "I don't know why, and I'm not going to go to the Volturi to find out."
"Is that why you ran and hid when they appeared to take Jane away?" Carlisle pressed. She nodded and the tears came faster.
"I'm so terrified that one day they'll find me. I'm not immortal, and I don't want to die." She whimpered like a child. My heart ached to comfort her, but Edward was equally in need of me. Alice made a noise like she was going to scream, then rose quickly to join Esme in their hug. In the midst of their pale arms I could see Nicki's eyes staring into my own with a torture hidden inside their green depths.
I remembered the sadness I had originally detected from her. This was an awful story and one that could make the happiest person depressed, but I knew that this wasn't the reason for her sadness. I glanced at Jasper momentarily and saw that his face was crumpled in confusion still.
"Are you picking up on that sadness too?" I asked in a low tone. He nodded, surprised.
"How did you know?" he whispered. I shrugged.
"It's a female thing," I replied. "Do you have any idea what could be causing it?"
He shook his head. "I'd have thought it would be her past, but it doesn't appear to be that way. Does Edward have any ideas?"
I glanced sideways at Edward's paler-than-normal face, still stricken, and shook my head.
"I don't think he's in any state to figure something like that out." Jasper nodded and turned his head to look at Nicki.
"Thank you for the hug," she said, her voice more composed. "But you can let go now. Half-humans need to breathe, too."
Alice and Esme released her and she inhaled deeply. Her eyes were no longer wet but red-rimmed. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "I really need to stop being such a crybaby."
"It's okay to be a sensitive person when such a sensitive subject is brought up," Edward said softly. I looked up into his eyes-his voice was velvety-smooth, but there was no disguising the emotion in his eyes. He cleared his throat.
"Nicki, are there any empty houses around here?" I asked suddenly, swiveling my head to look at her. She nodded, confused.
"There's a few. Actually, a lot. I'm the only one who lives here."
It was my turn to be confused. "But there were so many homes-"
"Yes," she interrupted. "They all died awhile ago. A disease overtook the village and wiped them all out-except me and my mother. When she was killed I was the only one left."
Carlisle straightened up, stood and walked out the front door. We all stared after him. It wasn't like him to get up and leave during a get-together. He was back shortly, however.
"There are 4 houses nearby that are close to each other and empty," he said. "We can stay there."
"But what about the plan before?" Emmett asked. The rest of us agreed silently.
"That was before we met Nicki," Carlisle replied, turning to look at me. I smiled awkwardly.
"We're going to stay here," he continued, turning his head to look at Nicki instead. "To protect you."
Her face lit up like a Christmas tree at Carlisle's announcement.