Author's Note: While re-reading this story the other day, it occurred to me that I messed up the timeline. For some reason, I always think there's more time between New Moon and Eclipse than there actually is. I don't know if you've noticed, but in my head, it's been summertime in this story. That would be incorrect. It's supposed to be springtime. No big deal, but it's bugging me.
So to clarify, this story takes place at the end of Bella and Edward's senior year, sometime before they graduate. Eclipse hasn't happened yet.
The Small Print
Written by Coquette
I barely recognized Edward when he emerged from the backseat of Carlisle's Mercedes. He looked younger – as though he truly was seventeen now, both in body and in mind. His shoulders were tense, his chin downcast as he walked to the rear of the car and pulled a few grocery bags out of the trunk. It took me a minute to figure out why he would need groceries at all, and then the strangeness of the whole situation struck me again.
I had just made up my mind to go help him when Alice caught my hand. She brought her mouth close to my ear and whispered, "He's feeling out of sorts, Bella. Out of place. You need to make sure he knows that you love him despite the fact that he's not as perfect anymore."
My brow creased in confusion. "Not as ... perfect? What does that have to do with anything? He'll always be perfect to me."
A smile warmed Alice's face. "And that's exactly why I'm glad you're here. I know you don't see him in those terms, but he needs to know that. He's a little insecure right now."
Behind us, the door to the house opened, and Rosalie joined our group on the porch. "Are they here?" she asked. "Oh. Is that really what he looked like when he was a human? How strange..."
"He doesn't need that right now, Rose," said Alice. "Everyone, just act normal, okay? It's still Edward."
"If you say so," muttered Emmett. "This is so weird."
Jasper nodded in Edward's direction. "I could give his emotions a little boost, you know. Just to get him through this rough patch."
Alice shook her head. "No, that's just a quick fix. Let Bella have some time alone with him. I think that would help more than anything."
Rosalie hoisted one perfect eyebrow. "I don't think Bella is going to be able to fix Edward this time."
"There's nothing to fix," I said, arms crossed tight over my chest.
Rosalie turned to stare at me, and I held her gaze until she looked away. I barely recognized myself at that moment. I didn't know what had gotten into me or where the boldness had come from. All I knew was that I felt fiercely protective of Edward. Not that Rosalie wasn't, but she was seeing things through the eyes of a vampire -- not through the eyes of Edward's mate.
Plastic bags hanging from his wrists, Edward kept his eyes trained on the ground as they approached. Esme and Carlisle both flanked him – Carlisle looking stern as he fiddled with his keys, Esme offering to help Edward with his bags. He refused politely, drawing a pained look of concern out of his mother that he failed to notice.
I stood between Edward and the door, so he was forced to look at me when he reached the porch.
There you are, I thought, relaxing when we locked gazes. You don't have to hide from me.
His eyes said it all -- those beautiful green eyes I was so unfamiliar with. He was scared, uncomfortable, and he just wanted to go inside without a fuss. I understood what it felt like to not want to be the center of attention, so I acted quickly. I moved in and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Then I took one of the grocery bags from him, nodded to Alice, and guided him into the house.
When I glanced backwards, I saw Alice holding her arms out, barring the door from her family. "I know you're all worried about him. I am, too. But just wait."
Neither of us said anything as we made our way into the kitchen. I sympathized with him, knowing all too well what it felt like to have others talking behind your back and scrutinizing your every move. So I didn't say anything or ask him if he was all right, though I was dying to know. Together, we placed the grocery bags on the kitchen table.
Frowning deeply, Edward held his hand up, made a tight fist, then relaxed it.
"Is something wrong with your hand?" I asked.
"I can't feel it."
I took his hand within my own, noting that his skin was rougher now -- not smooth like glass anymore. Still, the warmth was pleasant. "You've got red marks on your wrist," I said. "Those are from the bags. You probably cut your circulation off, and your hand went to sleep." I moved closer, staring up into his face as I massaged his fingers. "Is that better?"
He didn't answer the question. "They all looked at me like I was some sort of freak."
I squeezed his hand and whispered, "You're not a freak."
He closed his eyes and exhaled. "Can we just pretend everything is normal for a little while? Please, Bella. I know it won't last, but just for a little while?"
I gave his hand a final squeeze and brought it to my mouth for a kiss. "If that's what you need. Let's talk about something else. So what did you get at the grocery store? Anything I would like?"
My words seemed to have a relaxing effect on him. He exhaled again, not as sharp this time, as though he was realizing that it was safe with me. I wasn't going to push him anywhere he didn't want to go or make him feel like he was anything other than the Edward I loved.
He nudged one of the plastic bags. "I don't think I did a very good job shopping. Esme was the one who insisted on stopping at the store because we didn't have much food in the house -- just the things that you like to keep here. They let me pick out what I wanted, though I hardly knew where to start."
"Are you hungry? I could make you something."
"I honestly don't know. I feel so strange."
The panicked look returned to his face, and I quickly changed the subject again. "I see you got peanut butter. A wise choice. My favorite."
Edward plucked the jar of peanut butter from the bag. "That's why I chose it. Since you seem to have such an affinity for it, I thought I might like it as well. Though I'm not certain what to make of it." He unscrewed the lid, a distrustful look on his face as he sniffed at the contents.
I frowned. "Wait. Edward, please tell me you've had peanut butter before. You're acting like you don't even know what it is."
"Of course, I know what it is. But what is it?"
"I'm ... not sure how to respond to that."
"I read the label in the store," said Edward, "and I still can't make sense of it. Since when is food so unnatural? Have you ever looked at the ingredient labels of common items like this? I've been to some of the most elite schools in the nation, and I still don't recognize half of these chemical names. I mean, there are obviously peanuts in this jar because they're listed as the main ingredient. But where are they, I ask you? I can smell them, but I can't see them. The product is the same color as peanuts, but it's a little too peanut-colored if you ask me. Like it's trying too hard, you know? Trying to cover up the fact that there aren't any real peanuts to be had in this so-called butter. And that brings me to another point. I mean, butter? Is that really what they're calling it? The ingredients fail to indicate even the slightest hint of butter in this jar. I don't understand, Bella. Explain this Skippy phenomenon to me."
Pursing my lips, I contemplated his words. To be honest, I wasn't sure if he was talking about the unnaturalness of peanut butter – or the unnaturalness of something closer to home.
"Would you like a spoon?" I asked.
He narrowed his eyes at me. "You want me to eat it?"
"Well, if you can think of anything else to do with it, maybe do it outside of the house so Esme doesn't get mad."
"Is it actually digestible? I won't have to cough it up later like a hairball?"
"Not unless you want to. And wow. That was really gross. Thank you for the word-picture."
"Hmph. You're welcome."
I located the rarely-used silverware drawer, and after rummaging around for a moment, held a polished silver spoon out to Edward. "I dare you."
Edward took the spoon from me almost haughtily -- which secretly pleased me to no end. He was out of the funk now. More at ease. Comfortable enough to banter with me despite his dejected mood.
He scraped off the thinnest layer of peanut butter from the top and held it up to the light to inspect.
"Are you kidding me?" I said, leaning against the counter.
He glared at me, then scooped out a little more. Taking a deep breath, he put the spoon in his mouth and closed his eyes in concentration.
A moment later, I asked, "Do you understand the Skippy phenomenon now?"
Edward nodded without opening his eyes.
"I think I'm going to be sick."
I held my hand out, and he relinquished the spoon. We were seated on the kitchen floor with our backs against the counters, a partially-eaten jar of peanut butter between us. I put my head on his shoulder, breathing in his pleasing yet different scent. He smelled warm. Like sunshine and budding leaves and clean skin.
"I know you don't want to talk about certain things," I said, "but are you okay?"
Edward shrugged. "I don't know. I'm trying not to think about it. Are you okay?"
"Also trying not to think about it."
"This is going to take some getting used to. Do you still like me as much as you did before? Now that I have the same bodily functions as swine?"
"I have those same bodily functions, too, you know."
"Yes, but you make them look cute."
I smiled and reached up to touch his cheek. "Oh, Edward. I don't know what's going on, but we'll figure it out, okay? All I care about is that you're safe. Mmm, feel that cheek. You're going to need to shave in the morning." I ran my hand over his jaw-line, feeling the slightest hint of stubble rake against my fingers.
"Am I?" He smiled crookedly. "This is really happening, isn't it? You didn't answer my question, by the way. Do you still like me now that I don't sparkle?"
"I didn't answer because it was a ridiculous question. Edward, we're an absolute. Nothing is going to change that. I've never cared about the packaging. You've always been nice to look at, but that's just a perk. And for the record, you're still nice to look at. Your eyes..."
I made a show of swooning against him, hoping to make him laugh. He didn't laugh, but a real smile touched his features.
He hugged me close and pressed his face into my hair. "I love you so much. I don't know what I would do if you weren't here."
"Your family's here, too," I gently hinted. "I know they want to see you."
"I don't want to see them right now."
"That's not fair. They've been so worried."
"Edward, they love you just as much as I do."
"But that's not going to stop them from viewing me like I'm handicapped now. And I feel like I am, Bella. I feel like I've gone blind and deaf -- like someone's holding pillows against my ears. I can't even hear what others are thinking anymore. It's hard to breathe, like my lungs aren't used to stretching wide enough. My body hurts -- not badly -- only normal human aches and pains, I think. I just haven't experienced such a thing in so long. But I'm okay, you know? Just ... adjusting. I have to say, though, it's nice not to feel the flames in my throat when your scent hits me. That part is rather wonderful."
Face still buried in my hair, Edward breathed in deeply and sighed.
"Edward, what happened after I left you there at that house?" I asked, hoping he wouldn't get upset.
He shrugged again. "Nothing. Waxman turned out to be a nice man. Sort of heartbreaking, really. I fixed his fence and cleared the lawn of debris. And after I told him that I would come back tomorrow with some paint for the house, he was so pleased that he said he wanted to give me something. Then he brought out this bowl with this strange liquid in it. He put some on my forehead and starting humming and mumbling incoherently. It was bizarre, to say the least."
"You just stood there and let him?"
"I think I was in shock," said Edward. "It wasn't as if I thought he could actually do anything to me. So I stood there until he was finished. Bella, I know my family -- they went after that old man, didn't they?"
"Carlisle didn't tell you?"
Edward shook his head. "He worries too much. I don't think they want me around Waxman again."
"I'm not sure I want you around him either, but they have him downstairs in the basement. I have to admit, I'm a little scared for him. I don't actually think your family would harm him. On purpose, I mean. What I'm trying to say is that they're a little..."
"Upset," said Edward. "I know. And accidents happen."
"Do you want to go down there?"
He nodded. "I do. They're not the only ones that need some answers."
I could feel the tension in the basement before we even made it down the stairs. The rest of the family was already down there, standing in a semicircle like a collection of statues in a museum.
Larry Waxman sat in the middle of it all. He was perched on a short stool in the middle of the group, his hands tied behind his back, a piece of tape secured over his mouth. He didn't look particularly concerned that he was outnumbered and outmatched. He swayed back and forth on the stool, humming tunelessly through the tape.
The sight of him broke my heart -- especially the amputated leg and the cane resting against the wall in the corner. I was glad to see that he was both unharmed and calm. Though admittedly, the fact that he was so calm was a bit disconcerting. If I were in his place, I would be terrified.
When Esme heard our footfalls on the stairs, she turned and said, "Edward, sweetheart -- I don't want you down here. You either, Bella. Please let us handle this. He could hurt you."
"I doubt he'll try," said Edward. "Why is he tied up? That's a bit overkill, don't you think?"
"It was a precautionary measure the safety of the others," said Carlisle. "We were about to see what he had to say for himself. Take the tape off of his mouth, please, Emmett. Take care not to hurt him."
Emmett's shoulders tensed, a scowl twisting his handsome features. "Why me?"
Standing slightly apart from the group, Jasper snorted and muttered, "Chicken."
Emmett's nostrils flared, and he craned his head around to glare at Jasper. "Yankee."
Jasper's mouth fell open, aghast. "You take that back."
Rosalie made an impatient sound in her throat. "I'll do it," she said. Marching fearlessly over to the supposed warlock, she leaned down and peeled the tape off of his mouth. Then she hissed, "What did you do to my brother, old man?"
Carlisle put his hand on Rosalie's shoulder and gently guided her behind him. "I know you're concerned for Edward, but I'll handle this, Rose. Mr. Waxman, is it? My name is Carlisle Cullen."
Larry nodded, still looking quite cheerful for someone who had been kidnapped. "Yes, I know who you are," he said in his nasal tone. "You treated a veteran friend of mine in the hospital two years ago, free of charge. He passed on a few weeks ago, but he spoke very highly of you before he went. Especially being what you are and all."
The basement became very quiet.
"You know what we are?" asked Esme in a small voice.
Larry appeared confused, and he looked around from face to face. "Oh, my. Hasn't anyone told you? Well, I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you, but..." He leaned forward and whispered, "You're vampires."
"Good to know," said Rosalie, casting her eyes toward the ceiling.
Carlisle gestured at Edward. "Do you recognize this young man?"
Larry peered in our direction, squinting through his thick glasses. A moment later, his face split into a toothless smile. "Yes, I do! Edward Anthony. He fixed my fence and did a beautiful job, at that. And he didn't eat my goats. Or my cat. Or me. You've done a superb job curbing the darkness in him, Carlisle Cullen. And you, Isabella Swan. Few recognize the power of the dark side."
Carlisle's answering smile was tight. "Mr. Waxman, did you or did you not turn my son into a human?"
Larry cocked his head to the side, blinking through his coke-bottle glasses in confusion. "A human? I don't understand. Oh. Oh, my! Oh, I see. Well, isn't that extraordinary?"
"Wait," said Jasper. "He genuinely feels surprised. You weren't the one that transformed him, Waxman?"
"No, no, no," said Larry, shaking his head until his cheeks jiggled. "I don't have that kind of power. He must have brought that upon himself."
"He's not lying," said Jasper.
Everyone turned to look at Edward, who said nothing.
"I mean, I helped," continued Larry. "I provided the ingredients. The incantation. The blessing. But no human could pull off that sort of magic."
"I think you're more powerful than you let on," said Carlisle.
Larry guffawed. "One could say the same about the lot of you. Especially that one."
Then he nodded -- of all places -- in my direction. I blanched, shocked by his words. What was he talking about? Even with Edward human, I was still the weakest person in the room.
"I do have certain skills, as you've noted," Larry admitted, "but not the sort of thing that could change a vampire into a human."
"What can you do?" asked Emmett, sounding like he wasn't sure he really wanted to know.
"I can influence," said Larry. "Guide others. Protect myself, if I need to. I could walk right out of here if I wanted to."
"That's ridiculous," said Rosalie. "You're surrounded by a coven of vampires. Do you really think you're going to be able to escape us? We don't influence easily."
Larry wriggled his bushy eyebrows at her and said, "These aren't the droids you're looking for."
Like a marionette, Rosalie turned to Emmett and said, "These aren't the droids we're looking for."
Then Rosalie shook her head like she was waking up from a dream, and she looked at Larry in horror. Spinning on her heels, she stormed up the stairs and out of the basement. Emmett growled at Larry and hurried after her.
Carlisle held up his hands to regain the peace. "Mr. Waxman, if you can exercise that level of mind control over us, why did you let my children take you tonight?"
"I knew they wouldn't harm me," said Larry. "Not that they could. Really, I just wanted to go for a ride. It gets lonely up there in that old house."
Esme put a hand over her heart, her face sympathetic.
"I still don't understand how this has happened," said Carlisle. "What exactly did you do to Edward? You said you blessed him?"
"It was meant to be a reward," said Larry. "Never before have I seen a specimen such as him. So caring for his human companion, despite the fact that he thirsts for her. Willing to help out a funny old man in the woods. I know it isn't easy for your kind, so I thought a reward was in order. Besides the goat I gave him, of course. So I gathered together the materials for the blessing. It's an open-ended sort of thing. The receiver makes a wish, and if they are deserving -- only if they are deserving -- that wish might be granted by anyone upstairs that happens to be paying attention. Then I gave it to him and told him to name his reward. Anything he desired. Isn't that right, Edward Anthony?"
Edward's lips were pressed into a hard line. "I thought you were being facetious."
"Oh," said Larry. "Well. I wasn't. At any rate, I'm astonished that this is what you decided upon. And delighted! When I gave you the blessing, I assumed you would choose something else. Like a lifetime supply of colored contact lenses or something along those lines. Vampires can never have enough of those. Someone upstairs must be smiling down upon you, my boy. I've never seen a wish fulfilled with such a display of divine power. To unmake a being – then remake him into something else entirely -- yes, yes, I'm sure now I was right to give it to you."
Carlisle fell silent for a few moments, then said, "I'm glad to have spoken with you tonight, Mr. Waxman. I don't think you meant to harm Edward. You seem as though you have a good heart. But I need to know, for my own peace of mind – is he going to be all right?"
Larry looked in our direction again, and I noticed that he was staring in particular at my hand held firmly in Edward's.
"He has some choices to make," said Larry thoughtfully. "And I think he'll make the right ones. Yes, he's going to be just fine. No more of that nasty influenza to ravage his body, eh? But remember, Edward Anthony -- where there are blessings, there are also responsibilities. When it comes time to make your choice, do or do not. There is no try."
"That sounds familiar," said Esme. "Is that a proverb?"
I frowned. "No. I think that was Return of the Jedi."
"The Empire Strikes Back, dear," corrected Larry. "Let's not be silly."
Edward suddenly released my hand and stepped forward.
The room became still again as everyone's attention fixed upon him. He moved slowly, like he was still contemplating everything Larry had just disclosed. Then Edward moved behind the aging warlock and untied his hands. Once Larry was free, Edward dropped to one knee in front of him and took one of those gnarled hands between his own.
"Thank you," was all he said. "Thank you."
Larry beamed down at him. "Don't thank me. You earned it, so thank yourself. And perhaps thank those standing here in support of you as well. I don't think I need to tell you why. I hope this means you're pleased with your reward?"
Edward opened and closed his mouth several times before he found the words. "I'm not certain yet. But I think so, yes. I feel like I've been given a second chance -- a chance to finally do right by Bella. I've never felt right about endangering her so. And I didn't specifically wish to be made human, you know. I only asked for a way for us to be together without hurting Bella."
Larry's eyes grew wide behind his glasses. "Oh, dear. I didn't realize you were so vague with your request. That changes things. Well, you were very lucky, then. Some trickster deity could have turned you into a fluffy bunny rabbit. They like to twist these wishes around, you know. You should, um, keep that in mind. Though I'm sure nothing bad will happen. No, no, of course not. Now, then -- where did that lovely blonde creature go off to? I think she liked me."
To be continued.
Author's Note: Sorry for the slow update. Work is seriously kicking my ass. I need a hug. :(
If you didn't understand a line in this chapter, chances are it was a quote from one of the Star Wars movies. ;)