Edward arrived some twenty minutes later after I had successfully choked down one piece of charcoal-flavored 'pizza' and convinced Charlie to let me take up the cooking again. I heard him coming, of course, but successfully kept my expression impassive enough that Charlie asked no questions.
Still, Charlie looked slightly suspicious at how eagerly I bolted from the dinner table when Edward knocked. He glanced darkly at the door and bit off a mouthful of pepperoni pizza with unnecessary force.
"He couldn't give us a few hours?" he muttered.
"Isn't y our game starting in a few minutes?" I countered. "Do you want me to have him wait outside until you're distracted?"
Before Charlie could answer, I opened the door and pulled Edward into a tight hug. It was not exactly satisfying but it was undeniably more appropriate than kissing him properly hello in front of Charlie. "Took you long enough to get here," I teased.
Of course, he had probably been outside for some time now, waiting for Charlie to be in a good enough mood that a visit would be tolerated.
"Sorry," he said in kind. "I got stuck in traffic."
He finally turned and nodded politely to Charlie. "Hello, Charlie."
Charlie nodded back and loaded two of the remaining charcoal briquettes known as pizza onto his plate. "Edward," he greeted. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," he said. "You?"
"Good," he replied. "If you guys want to watch the game…"
"Is it all right if we take a walk?" I interrupted.
Charlie looked suspiciously between us, looking for a sign that we had something other than a walk. He apparently decided that if we were going to get up to something sinister, we couldn't really do much within walking distance. Of course, it went without saying that if we had wanted to corrupt each other, we could have done so halfway around the world and over the last twelve months.
"Sure," he said. "Be back by ten, all right?"
"Thanks, Dad," I said cheerfully.
I grabbed my keys off the counter and followed Edward out the front door at a leisurely pace. He waited for me to catch up and wrapped his hand firmly around mine.
"Did you enjoy your dinner?"
"I need something to get the taste out of my mouth," I admitted. "What did you bring me?"
"Fresh rabbit," he offered. "I know you wanted less fur, but Mrs. Klein would miss her Chinese Crested Dog and I didn't think you'd want something someone once called Gigi."
"Thanks," I sighed. "Want to go for a jog?"
He grinned and released m y hand. "I thought you'd never ask."
A moment later, he was off and running. I let him get a head start and then caught up about a half a mile away.
"You didn't bring it with you, did you?" I challenged.
"I left it about five miles from your house," he said. "I thought you might want some fresh air."
"You brought a picnic dinner," I said dryly. "How romantic."
"I left the potato salad at home," he said apologetically as we passed the three-mile mark. "Do you want to swing by the house and pick it up?"
"We'll survive," I said with a sidelong grin at him.
We stopped less than a minute later at a small clearing. Edward disappeared behind a tree and retrieved the rabbit while I coughed up the horrendous stuff that Charlie had called food.
"Don't worry," he said, handing it over. "We were only gone for a few minutes. Nothing else got to it."
Knowing him, he'd strung it up out of reach of a full-grown bear, just to be safe.
I wasn't particularly thirsty, since I'd hunted just before leaving Italy, but it was a waste to just drink part. I fell silent for a few minutes, draining the blood supply out of the wound on the neck. Edward took that time to settle into a comfortable sitting position against a tree opposite me.
Finally, I set the rabbit aside and crossed to sit next to him. "Thanks," I murmured. "I needed that."
"Charlie doesn't dislike me," he said idly. "He just disapproves as any father would."
"Of course," I sighed. "When I ran away from Forks, you convinced me to become an exchange student instead of coming home to him. Most fathers wouldn't be thrilled about that."
"Well, most fathers would be less happy about their daughter coming back a blood-crazed vampire."
"I know that," I reminded him, burrowing against his shoulder. "We've been over all of this. I just wonder if there's ever going to be a time when I can tell him about this."
Edward sighed quietly, his eyes focused on something in the distance. He might have been eavesdropping on Charlie or just thinking about the question. It was hard to tell, even after over a year of experience.
"What do you think that would accomplish?" he asked.
"Well, for one thing, the Quileutes might decide to tell him first," I informed him. "If he hears some horror story from Billy Black and asks me to refute it, I'm not sure I can lie convincingly."
"Carlisle's handling that tonight," he rejoined quickly. "We never broke the treaty, but the situation has changed and that means that we need to be very clear on where we each stand. He can make sure that Black doesn't talk to Charlie."
That was something of a relief. I had spent quite a few phone calls with Charlie wondering if he knew more than he was saying. While he had talked a lot about how I didn't need to leave the country to get over the breakup, he had never implied that any of the Cullens had done something particularly wrong.
"I have to wonder how long he'll go without wondering why I look so good at forty," I said sourly. "He'll notice that I never want anything to eat at Thanksgiving dinner and he'll want some explanation for why we'll never give him grandkids."
"But you think it would help him to know," Edward retorted. "If he disapproves of me now, I'm sure he'll be thrilled with me then."
Abruptly, he stiffened and turned his head eastward towards the house. "Oh," he said. "We need to get back."
We returned to the house to find a VW Rabbit in the driveway. I had caught Jacob and Billy's scents half a mile from home and wasn't sure if it was a threat or an evaluation. Billy came up fairly regularly, but it couldn't be a coincidence that they had showed up within six hours of my arrival back in Washington.
"Hey, Bella," Jake called as soon as we strolled back out of the forest. "We were wondering when you'd show up."
"Sorry," I said casually. "I couldn't run any faster without tripping."
Actually, tripping wasn't the issue. It was a matter of fact that if I went any faster, I would need a logner distance to slow to a walk.
Billy was already inside with Charlie, so no one but Edward heard our initial exchange. I was grateful for that a moment later when Jake pulled me into a hug.
"Ugh," he muttered. "You reek."
"Hazard of the trade," I answered.
I wasn't sure when someone had told Jacob Black that the spook stories he had recited now applied directly to me. He had never mentioned it in the few emails we'd sent back and forth, but he seemed to be comfortable around me.
"You know Edward," I stated.
He glanced at Edward and his expression hardened. "Right," he muttered. "We brought up some fish fry."
"Good," I sighed theatrically. "Charlie's been trying to cook again."
He grimaced. "I thought I smelled smoke. Sounds like we came up just in time."
He looked pointedly at Edward again and my companion stepped away. "Why don't I go check the score?" he offered.
This was Jake and I shouldn't have felt nervous about talking to him, but things had definitely changed. I hadn't seen him or talked to him even over the phone since before… Well, since before.
Jake jammed his hands in his pockets and scuffed his shoe against the ground. He was acting more like he was trying to ask me to prom than talking about my status as a mythological creature.
"I'm fine," I answered. "Haven't had an accident in a year. I spent a year learning Italian and getting used to…all of this."
He snorted. "I'm not sure I can get used to all of this," he countered. "Did the blood-suckers even give you a choice?"
I remembered little about all of that. I remembered screaming for help and hoping that it would all end somehow. I remembered too much about the pain, but most of the reasoning was based on hearsay.
"I wasn't in any shape to make a choice," I admitted. "They couldn't stop the change without killing me. I know I said that I didn't want to die and I think that amounts to informed consent."
He looked even more uncomfortable than before at that confession. His hands balled into fists in his pockets and he looked away, but not before I saw the raw anger in his eyes.
"Billy told you they were dangerous," he growled.
"So did Edward."
"And he couldn't protect you," he accused. "You shouldn't have gone with them in the first place."
Jake had developed an understanding of just how real the spook stories were, but he'd also developed a grudge. It seemed to be more about the fact that no one had been able to stop this than the fact that I was one of them.
"I guess this means no more days at First Beach," I said quietly.
"We'll find a neutral zone," he sighed. "You're not like them. You didn't choose this."
"And you think they did?" I demanded. "Have you ever asked how all of this started?"
The expression on his face suggested that it wasn't going to happen anytime soon.
"I wanted to come up here to make sure you knew I still want to be friends," he said awkwardly. "Let's not fight about that."
I'd gotten my guard up for no real reason, but this was as close to an ambush as I'd seen in a long time. I took a few moments, both to calm myself and to make Jake squirm a little. Right now, he deserved it.
"All right," I said. "Still friends."