Disclaimer: Not mine. SM's.


Okay. I'll be the first to admit that it's been forever since I've updated. Computer troubles. Did I mention that technology hates me? Because it does. And also, that I'm scaring myself by beginning to sound like a 40-year-old. *shudder* Anyway, though. Computer has been repaired. Chapter has arrived. Voila!


Ch. 25 - Meeting

Charlie didn't say much on the drive there. He was looking out the window, away from me as I drove, and I could tell he wasn't too happy with the whole Edward situation. I matched his silence, determined not to be the first one to speak.

I pilled up onto the now all too familiar grown-in parking lot, thinking about the striking contrast of the last two people I had been here with.

"This way," I muttered to Charlie, who was looking around confusedly. The leaves barely crackled under our feet as they would when a human walked over them.

I still felt bad about coming to this place with anyone but Edward. I felt like I was invading his trust, overstaying my welcome. He had kindly showed me his secret hiding spot, and I felt like I was taking advantage of his kindness, of his trust, making it less secret and special. Taking other people there.

My thoughts had reverted back to Edward again.

That seemed to be happening a lot lately.

We started to run, and in a matter of seconds we were at the meeting spot. At exactly twelve o'clock, I might add. It looked exactly the same as it had that afternoon, and my eyes lingered on the spot Edward and I had sat. Exactly the same, but for the three vampires that now stood in the clearing, their faces unreadable.

I immediately recognized Laurent from before. Olive toned skin, dark hair. He was standing in the front and center of the three.

There was another man. All vampires are strikingly beautiful, but in his beauty he lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. He was standing further back than Laurent, but I sensed a calm, collected attitude from him. I could tell from his body language that he was in charge.

The woman had bright red hair and watchful, feline features. She was looking around cautiously, taking into account the situation.

Edward.

Usually I didn't have this much trouble staying focused on one thing. Sometimes I didn't even need a reason to think of him. Love has its ups and downs, I figured.

"Hello," I began, after a pause.

"Hello," said Laurent. "I'm Laurent, and this is James and Victoria," he continued, indicating towards the man and the woman.

"I'm Bella. This is Charlie," I responded, gesturing towards Charlie, who gave a stiff smile. "Did you relay my message?" I asked Laurent pointedly.

"Yes," he replied, "Of course we will oblige by your request. This is your territory. We wouldn't want to disturb any... balance you have here."

"We were curious as to who," said James.

"We try to preserve whatever essential humanity we can. We try to be civil. We don't want to kill, so we hunt animals only. IN this way we can maintain a role in the human community," replied Charlie.

"It must be very difficult, living right next to all those humans and always denying yourself the pleasure... a very unpleasant lifestyle, I would imagine," mused James.

"To each his own," Charlie responded brusquely.

"Or her own," I added. "Don't forget all the hers of the world."

"Interesting," said Laurent, almost laughingly. He was looking at us like we were lab specimens or something. "It is interesting how you've adapted to your surroundings. You seem very modern, in the way you speak and act." Funny he thought that, because I felt the exact opposite all the time.

"Yeah, well, we try," I said delicately. And suddenly I wondered: did I try? I knew I tried in some ways - watching what I said to make sure anything I didn't let anything slip, making sure I didn't start running in gym class and accidentally go at my vampire speed. But did I really try to fit in? Was I really actively trying to act the part of the modern 17-year-old? Or was that just who I was now?

And my self-restraint - how much of it was me thinking I was restraining myself? Maybe I wasn't really trying at all and it was all in my head. Maybe, just maybe, I had gotten used to it. Maybe it wasn't as hard as I thought it was.

"What about the humans?" asked Victoria, speaking for the first time. "Do they suspect anything?"

"No," answered Charlie. "They may feel on edge around us, but they never suspect anything. We don't give them anything they could use as evidence against us."

"If the glove don't fit you must acquit," I quoted wryly. Again Laurent looked at me with that peculiar, observational expression.

"What about the human you were with earlier?" asked Laurent.

"What about him?" My voice faltered a bit.

"Isn't it dangerous to be around a human alone in a place like this? How much does he know?"

"Umm... not really." I prattled on, trying to sidetrack him from the second part of his question. "I've gotten used to the smell of human blood. It's not nearly as distracting anymore. I'm around it all day, every day, so I've gotten used to it."

"Still, though. In a place like this... no witnesses... aren't you even the least bit tempted?"

"I wouldn't hurt him," I replied indignantly.

Now I noticed James watching me intently, analyzing my face. I tried not to give anything away in my expression.

"You like him," he stated.

I paused for a second, deciding whether or not it was safe.

"Yes."

"A lot." A longer pause.

"Yes."

"You love him."

"That's hardly your business."

"A human? Really? What is it that attracts you? Obviously not his looks. Nor his physical capabilities..."

"I've already told you-"

"I give up. What is it?" James looked honestly curious. I stood there dumbfounded, disbelieving his bluntness.

Charlie cleared his throat uncomfortably, breaking the awkward silence that had settled over the five of us.

"Well, it's been nice meeting all of you. If you ever want a break from your lifestyle, you're welcome here any time," said Charlie. Everyone stared at him for a moment.

"Yes, thank you for the invitation, but I think we're quite happy the way we are. For the time being, anyway. It has been a very... out of the ordinary experience," replied Laurent.

"Very interesting. Maybe someday we'll come back," said Victoria.

"Yeah, well, it's always nice to see others of our kind," I added.

James just kept staring at me with an odd, imperceptible expression. It made me feel uneasy.

We waved goodbye, and Charlie and I headed back towards the car.