I was nearly giddy with anticipation as I pulled my Volvo into her driveway. I sat in there and soon enough, she came out.
My personal angel.
She seemed hesitant, somehow, as she approached the car, but there was a glimmer of happiness in her eyes. Her beautiful face took my breath away.
I saw something that worried me, though – her eyes looked tired, and there were shadows under them.
Her hand was on the door, and as she pulled the door open, I braced myself for that punch of dry, flaming thirst to come.
As she stepped in the car, all I could think of was the taste…of her blood. I couldn't keep myself from looking at her wrists, her neck, anywhere where her blood flowed. I forced myself to take a deep breath, over and over and over again. Gradually, the pain deadened. It was as if I'd been through so much of that pain that I would gradually grow numb to it.
I stared intently into her eyes. They were clear and bottomless, as always. Beautiful.
"Good morning," I murmured. "How are you today?"
She looked slightly taken aback at my formal question. "Good, thank you," she replied, just as formally.
I sighed gently. "You look tired." My eyes darted to the shadows under her eyes.
Her hair hung naturally between us, as a cover for her face. "I couldn't sleep."
That irritated me. I needed to look at her face, gaze upon my love. Moving quickly, I tucked her hair back behind her ear. "Neither could I."
She grinned. "I guess that's right," she chuckled. "I suppose I slept just a little bit more than you did."
I smiled; I naturally wrapped my arm around her shoulders. "I'd wager you did."
She leaned into my arm. The scent of her hair, so sweet and alluring and tempting, distracted me momentarily.
"So…what did you do last night?" She referred to my vampire antics as if they were next to normal.
"Not a chance; it's my day to ask questions," I reminded her.
"Oh, that's right." She sounded disappointed. "What do you want to know?"
I hadn't really prepared for that…"What's your favorite color?"
Her eyes rolled. "It changes from day to day," she said dismissively.
"What's your favorite color today?" I persisted.
"Sure…brown is warm," she admitted, leaning closer to me. "I miss brown. Everything that's supposed to be brown, tree trunks, rocks, dirt, is all covered up with squashy green stuff here."
My head rested on her hair gently. I could see what she meant. Her dark brown hair, with strands of beautiful red…I tilted up her face so that I could stare into her eyes. They melted my terminated heart. "You're right, brown is warm," I agreed. I stroked her hair and smoothed it behind her shoulder.
"What music is in your CD player right now?" I wondered what kind of music she liked.
Her answer made me smile – a girl who liked Debussy…liked this? I swiftly reached up into my CD holder and produced the same CD that she'd named.
"Debussy…to this?" I asked, my eyebrow raised.
For the rest of the day, I asked about her as often as I could. The two replies that stuck with me the most were her favorite gemstone – topaz, because of my eye color, and I simply was at a loss for words. The other one was her favorite flower. She preferred roses or lilies. I filed that tidbit of information away in my brain, for future reference.
It was torture to have to sit through that one class with Bella and stay away from her again. I hated having to move away from her in an effort to not reach over and perhaps go too fast into our relationship. I could tell that she felt the same way, but I wasn't about to reach over and touch her. I glanced over at her, and quickly looked away again, for her eyes were tempting. I couldn't keep my hands to myself if I was to be distracted by her like this.
When the bell rang, I stood up quietly and waited for her. I could feel the waves of pure fury coming from the vile vermin, that Newton boy, behind me. I walked her over to the gym again, and I reached over to touch her again. I ran my fingers over her face, reveling in the warmth, ignoring the pain of her blood, until I had to leave.
All through Spanish, I kept wondering about her. My thoughts were tortured; what if she injured herself? What if Newton….
As soon as the bell rang, and as soon as I walked away from the classroom, I made my way down to the gym. I knew that she would be changing, so I forced myself to be patient…storming the girls' locker room wasn't such a good idea.
At last, she came out.
She had a radiant smile on her face when she came to me, and unthinkingly, I touched her soft, warm hand. We went into my car, and I continued to ask her questions.
I tried another set of questions, regarding her more personal life. I wanted to see what her mind was really like, what she'd missed from Phoenix, what she'd thought about.
"Tell me about Phoenix," I urged. "You evidently think often about your mother and the place you left…I want to know…what it was like, living there."
"Oh. Phoenix was, well…lovely," she murmured, and a blush immediately colored her face.
"How so?" I prompted.
As she described it to me, I leaned back in contentment. I could sit like this forever, listening to the sound of her voice, staring into her eyes.
After a while, I moved on to other subjects, like what she thought of Forks, and how life with Charlie was like.
Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear. I could hear his thoughts long before I picked up the sound of his cruiser. Slow day today…no one got hurt, nothing happened, no car was speeding…ugh. I'm starving.
"Are you finished?" asked Bella, a look of concern in her eyes. I realized that I had trailed off into silence.
I sighed; I didn't particularly want to stay away from her for any length of time.
"Not even close, but your father will be home. Soon."
She pulled herself up. "Charlie! How late is it?" she asked, with a trace of panic.
I glanced up at the sky. The sun was making it's journey down the sky by degrees. "It's twilight," I answered, feeling somewhat unhappy as I said the word. My eyes flashed back to her face. "It's the safest time of day for us. The easiest time – but also the saddest, in a way. The end of another day…the return of the night…darkness is so predictable, don't you think?" I smiled gently at her.
"I like the night," she whispered. "Without the dark, we'd never see the stars. Not that you see them here much," she added.
I chuckled. "Charlie will be here in a few minutes," I reminded her. "So…unless you want to tell him that you'll be with me Saturday...."
She shuddered. The movement sent fresh waves of her scent in my face, and I stiffened. Relax, relax, I reminded myself. You won't kill her. You can get over this. "Thanks, but no thanks. So, is it my turn tomorrow, then?" she asked.
I pretended to be shocked. "Certainly not! I told you I wasn't done, didn't I?"
She groaned and flopped back onto the seat. Charlie was getting closer…I stifled a laugh when I saw images of lasagna and fried fish and other distasteful-to-me, delicious-to-humans food.
"What more is there?" she asked, freeing me from Charlie's thoughts.
"You'll find out tomorrow," I told her mysteriously. I reached over to open her door, and I could feel her body as my hand grazed gently on her skin. Her heart jumped and stuttered at an extremely quick tempo.
And then I heard them.
The scent reached my nostrils as soon as I was aware of their thoughts.
What did Bella do this week? I hope she's not going out with the guys from her high school….
I nearly growled at the young one.
The older one's thoughts were slightly more bearable. I hope that she knows the risks of being with one of…one of….
Okay, so maybe not.
"Not good," I whispered. If they found me here…with a human….
She seemed puzzled. "What is it?" she inquired.
I looked down into her eyes deeply. They were bottomless, clear, and perfectly trusting. I couldn't hide this from her. "Another complication."
Nearly kicking Bella out of the door, not minding how much the separation was hurting me, I leaned away from her and skidded down the driveway. "Charlie's around the corner!" I called to her out my window.
I could see the Ford now. The young one's thoughts were still as lustful, and the old one's thoughts matched the expression in his eyes. Pure hatred.
Leaving as quickly as I could seemed to be a good idea. Casting one more glance at the Blacks, I headed right back to my home. I would see Bella later.
How could she be so annoying?
And why did Jasper allow this to happen?
"Why do you have to bug me with Bella's future, Alice?" I demanded, through tightly clenched teeth. My irritation was perfectly rational; did I really want to see what would happen to my love when in a year? Alice was showing me little flashes of information – most of which would never happen – and it was setting my teeth on edge. The most hilarious of all: one of the flashes showed me breaking up with Bella. That just had me on the floor, cracking up. Why – how – could I leave my life?
That was what Bella was.
My life. My soul. My being.
Alice stared at me innocently. "No one said you had to read my thoughts," she defended herself.
I groaned. "Please! You know perfectly well that you can block me out anytime you want! Do it! Now!"
Her thoughts transformed into "I'm a little teacup" in eleven languages.
Well, that was better than what I saw.
"Oh, and Alice, I'm going to spend Saturday with Bella. I need to go hunting tomorrow."
"No problem." She was still out of it.
"Do you think it's late enough?" I asked Carlisle, looking at the black sky.
He placed a hand on my shoulder comfortingly. Must you really go, son?
"Carlisle, you know I can't live without seeing her. I have to go."
"Yes, it is late enough. She should be asleep at the moment."
Having a doctor in a houseful of vampires was so convenient sometimes; I had no idea how many hours that an average teenage human spent sleeping, or when a normal bedtime was for a high school student.
"I'll be back around six," I told Carlisle. Alice's eyes were still faraway, and now my mind was replaying nursery rhymes in Latin.
I told myself to forget all this. Soon I would be in her bedroom, gazing on her face, and everything would be fine.
The wind on my face, my hair, was routine, but still pleasant. I dreamt of having her on my back, or in my arms, as I ran.
As I arrived at the Chief's house, my heart had that strange feeling that I had every time I was around Bella. Something like….
Human emotions were a bit too much for my dead heart. I hadn't loved anyone, I hadn't been in love with anyone, ever. Now the muscle in my chest was full of strange, yet pleasant, emotions.
Scaling the tree silently was no big task now. I could do this in my sleep. Hilarious, I thought.
And then I was looking at her.
I couldn't help it. The warmth, the delicious aroma, the waves of emotion that reached at me from her, were too much to bear.
It was beyond frustrating to not know her thoughts. If only I could know what she was dreaming about!
"Edward," she whispered.
My eyes immediately snapped to her face. She was still sleeping.
"Mmm…come here…Edward…." Her voice was nearly inaudible, but I could understand.
Silently, I was at her side. Hesitantly, I reached out my hand to lay it on hers. She took it between both of hers and laid it on her face.
Ah…the warmth. I took the most daring step yet. As I took a deep breath that already burned, I leaned my face to her neck.
All I could see was red. Everything I was aware of was so Bella. My hand shook as I pulled myself away from her – another second and I would be…feeding from her.
"No," she whispered. "Edward, don't leave. Stay with me."
She reached for my hand again. Idiotically, I pulled her wrist up to my face and took a deep breath. I breathed steadily in and out. Again and again.
With every breath, it was more bearable.
I bent down to press my lips ever so softly against her soft, warm forehead. The blood pulsing beneath my lips as nearly irresistible. But I pulled myself away.
It was a long night.
The next morning, I timed my arrival nicely. As soon as Chief Swan was gone, I was parked in the driveway. I waited patiently to see her again; the times that I saw her simply weren't enough. I needed her. Every hour, every day.
As she appeared, her step quickened, as if she was eager to see me too. After she sat down in the passenger seat, her eyes met mine, and she smiled.
I had to make a conscious effort to stop my voice from shaking. "How did you sleep?" I asked, smiling back.
"Fine," she murmured. "How was your night?"
I thought about seeing her, hearing her whisper my name, asking me not to leave…. "Pleasant," I replied, my smile wider.
She chuckled. "Can I ask what you did?"
"No, today is still mine," I answered, leaning slightly toward her.
I cleared topic after topic on my list. I asked about her family, how she felt about her mother, and basically, anything I could think of.
Throughout the school day, I came up with endless questions to ask her. Sitting at our cafeteria table, it was hard for me not to touch her. It was just too intimate. She was sitting right across from me, facing me, and she was picking at her food as if she was disturbed by it.
This was embarrassing. I knew it as soon as I thought of the question. But it was so frustrating, not to know her mind. "Have you…dated anyone before?" I asked awkwardly, unsure as to how she would respond.
Her cheeks flushed, a delicate, tempting shade. "No…not before this," she whispered, looking down.
That surprised me. Had she never dated anyone? That was nearly impossible. How could such a girl have never gone out, at least once? "So, you never met anyone you wanted?" If she was just trying to placate me, well, it wasn't working.
She stared into my eyes. I could read the utter honesty in them. "Not in Phoenix."
It must be true.
You haven't forgotten that we're going hunting, have you? Yes, you have. Or, you will.
Shut up, Alice, I thought. She was right, actually – Bella should have driven herself today, if we were going to go on our hunting trip.
"I should have let you drive yourself today," I murmured.
Bella's inquisitive eyes flashed up to mine. "Why?"
"I'm leaving with Alice after lunch," I told her, apologetic.
She seemed slightly disappointed. I could only hope that the disappointment was due to not being able to go home with me. "That's okay. It's not that far of a walk."
I looked at her in disbelief. Did she really think that I would make her walk home? "I'm not going to make you walk home – we'll go get your truck and leave it here for you."
"I don't have my key with me. I really don't mind walking."
No way was she walking home. I knew where her key was, even though it was in the most unlikely place. "Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition. Unless you're afraid someone might steal it," I teased her.
She seemed certain that it wouldn't be here. "All right. So where are you going?"
"Hunting." I was reluctant to tell her this. "If I'm going to be…alone with you tomorrow – " I was nearly stumbling over the words " – I'm going to take whatever precautions I can."
I stared into her eyes. "You can always cancel, you know," I said.
She stared back, hypnotized. "No, I can't," she murmured.
"Perhaps you're right," I agreed. All of a sudden, every part of her sang out to me. I breathed in, and felt the familiar atomic bomb go off in my throat. It was strong enough to destroy Hiroshima. No doubt about that.
"What time will I see you tomorrow?" she asked, interrupting my reverie.
I smiled at her eagerness. "That depends, it's a Saturday. Don't you want to sleep in?"
Before I had the words all out, she interrupted again. "No."
That was a relief – she wanted me, at least. "The same time as usual, then. Will Charlie be there?" That seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce myself.
Hurry up! You have plenty of time to engage in deep conversation…later!
I ignored Alice.
"No, he's fishing tomorrow." A smile broke on her face. It took away my breath, though her answer bothered me.
"And if you don't come home…what will he think?" I snapped.
She glared at me. "I have no idea. He knows I've been meaning to do the laundry," she muttered. "Maybe he'll think I fell in the washer." It could happen.
I glared right back. She tried to hold my gaze for a moment, and then gave up.
"What are you hunting tonight?" she offered as a change of topic.
How could she allude to the activities of a monster so casually? "Whatever we find in the park," I answered. "We aren't going far."
"Why are you going with…Alice?"
"Alice is the most…." I scrambled for the right word to describe my annoying little sister. "Supportive."
"And the others?" She frowned minutely. "What are they?" She glanced over at our regular table quickly.
I ignored the profanities from Rosalie and the teasing from Emmett. "Incredulous," I muttered. "For the most part."
She seemed slightly concerned. "They don't like me."
"That's not it," I lied, trying to sound innocent. "They don't understand why I can't leave you alone," I explained.
Bella sighed. "Neither do I…for that matter," she admitted.
I felt a small outburst of rage. How could Rosalie or anyone or Bella herself think that way? She was perfect. And it was a miracle that she felt this way about me.
I looked in her eyes. "I told you. You don't see yourself clearly at all," I disagreed. "You're not like anyone I've ever known. You fascinate me." She must She must have that natural defense against me for a reason.
"Having the advantages I do," I continued, "I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable, but you never do what I expect."
Edward, if you're going to talk on and on with her, can you save it for another time? You're making me sick! Rosalie's thoughts had a bitter edge to them, and I wished I could go over to her and rip her head off.
"You always take me by surprise," I whispered, leaning toward Bella.
Her eyes darted away from me, and I felt frustration at that small movement.
"That part is easy enough to explain, but there's more," I muttered. "And it's not so easy to put into words."
I felt Rosalie turn around. My eyes darted toward her, and I saw her glare furiously at Bella. She was thinking red. Anger and malevolence radiated from her.
Bella stiffened, and she quickly turned back to me.
Damn her. Damn Rosalie. Why did she have to do this to me?
"I'm sorry about that," I apologized. "She's just worried. You see, it's dangerous for more than just me if – after spending so much time with you so publicly – " I stopped suddenly.
She wanted me to continue. "If?" she asked.
"If this ends badly." I covered my head with my hands, and I felt like a monster for doing this. Why did Bella have to choose me? By doing so, she was endangering her life. If those were the choices, I would rather have her be with that young Jacob Black than do this. But no, she always had to.
I told you so, Rosalie thought, all smug.
Bella reached for me, but then withdrew her hand. I hoped that she was still distant with me. That would be so much easier. "And you have to leave…now?" she asked hesitantly.
I looked into her eyes again. They were so comforting – so warm, so deep, so easy to lose myself in. "Yes," I answered. "It's probably for the best. We still have fifteen minutes of that…wretched movie left to endure in Biology," I smiled gently, and so did she, "and I don't think I could take that anymore."
Out of my periphery, I saw Alice making her way over to us. She was still thinking about that one vision she had, where she saw Bella becoming her best friend. This was too soon an introduction for my comfort, but there was nothing to do about it now.
"Alice," I murmured.
"Edward." You ready, bro?
I nodded minutely. "Alice, Bella. Bella, Alice." I kept the introduction short.
Uh-oh. I think hunting is a good idea – I see what you mean by her blood now. Alice's thoughts were slightly worried, but she put on a mask for Bella. "Hello, Bella. It's nice to finally meet you."
I glared at her.
"Hi, Alice." Bella's voice was quiet as she stared at Alice.
"Are you ready?" she asked again, aloud this time. Just for her benefit, she added silently.
"Nearly – I'll meet you at the car," I replied. Alice turned and left.
Bella's attention turned back to me. "Should I say 'have fun' or is that the wrong sentiment?" she joked.
I smiled – she was an expert at distracting me. "No, 'have fun' works – as well as anything."
Her voice held a little bit of disappointment when she tried to smile back. "Have fun, then," she murmured.
I couldn't bear for her to be sad. "I'll try. And you try to be safe. Please."
She sighed. "Safe in Forks. What a challenge."
My eyes closed. What if something happened to her while I was gone? I added Newton to my Terrible Things That Could Happen To Bella list. "For you, it is a challenge. Promise," I urged her.
She held up her right hand. "I promise to try to be safe. I'll do the laundry tonight. That ought to be fraught with peril." Her hand dropped.
I laughed. "Don't fall in," I warned.
She seemed to be happier when I was. "I'll do my best."
Reluctantly, I stood up. I hated to tear myself away from her, but thinking of an alternative…made me cringe.
"I'll see you tomorrow." Her voice was low, her face downcast.
Her expression pained me. "It seems like a long time to you," I murmured. "Doesn't it?"
"I'll be there in the morning." I smiled at her, and lifted her face with my hand to look at me. Our gazes locked for a moment, and I trailed my hand down her face. And then I left.
"Seriously, Edward," Alice said irritably, as I finished off another deer. "It would probably help if we went farther away. You know that there aren't many carnivores around here. Herbivores don't really help much."
I growled, a dangerously low, menacing sound. "You know that I can't be that far away from her," I muttered, wiping away a stray drop of blood from my cheek. "I have to be nearby in case something happens to her."
Like what? "You already left her a note – what else can you do?"
"Stay with her."
You're so dense, Edward. I'm sure you'll be glad when you can't control yourself tomorrow.
"Shut up, Alice," I snapped. "Try to be less irritating than Rosalie, will you?"
She didn't pay me any attention. Her gaze and thoughts turned to another animal nearby. I sat down on a rock and tried to run through my agenda for the next day.
Could I control myself?
I didn't know. "Alice, do you see me killing her tomorrow?"
"Nope." Her voice was certain.
That was a relief, at least. I couldn't bear to think of what would happen if we were alone…in the woods, and I was too close to her. I just couldn't.
The sun was already down, and the night animals came out. "All right, Alice," I said. "I think we've hunted enough. Let's get back."
She sighed in exasperation. "Must you really see her every night?" she asked.
"Yes. You know that."
"Well, if you kill my future best friend, I'll kill you," she threatened.
"Be my guest," I muttered.
We headed back silently.
I knocked on her door, and heard her heartbeats speed up. It was a pleasant night – though she'd scared me once when she asked why I was here. She'd said my name several times, and even though it was wrong, I was pleased to know that I was the one that she dreamt about.
The door opened, and she sighed in happiness.
She seemed better rested than yesterday or the night before, and I was glad.
I immediately noticed that we were wearing matching outfits. I was wearing a tan sweater and dark blue jeans. She was wearing the beautiful, almost…sexy dark blue shirt that made her look impossibly beautiful. She was wearing tan pants that were tight against her legs.
Not able to restrain my amusement, my 'good morning' had a laugh in it.
She seemed instantly alert. "What's wrong?"
As she locked the door behind me, I touched her hand gently, and quickly withdrew mine, trying not to push her too far.
As she climbed up into the passenger seat, I felt slightly scared at the prospect of having her drive.
"We made a deal," she said as she took in my expression.
I sat next to her, in the small cab of her truck, and her closeness took me off guard. Her scent was so tantalizing, and she would have smelled fine to a human, too. I took a deep breath, glad when the flames were slightly less painful than before.
"Where to?" she asked. I reached over to touch her seatbelt. "Put your seatbelt on. I'm nervous already." Bella behind the wheel – this ought to go well.
""Where to?" she asked once more, with an edge of impatience.
"Take the one-oh-one north."
We sat in silence, but I could hear her heartbeats quicken. Sometimes, her eyes would dart to me, and the tires would deviate slightly from their fixed path.
Definitely a bad idea.
Her truck was terribly slow. I heard the engine sputter as the speedometer approached fifty. She needed a new car ASAP.
"Were you planning to make it out of Forks?" I asked. "Before nightfall?"
She seemed irritated that I was scorning her beloved truck. "This truck is old enough to be your car's grandfather. Have some respect."
No one knew that better than I did. "Turn right on the one-ten."
Her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles were showing. If I was driving like that, the wheel would have been dust.
"Now, we drive until the pavement's end." I grinned as I thought of her horror at the plan for today.
"And what's there at the pavement's end?"
I couldn't stop smiling. "A trail," I replied honestly.
"We're hiking." She sounded worried.
I looked over at her. Her eyebrows formed a little V in the middle of her forehead again. I wished she'd relax. Nothing would happen to her. My smile faded as I thought of the falsity of that statement. "Is that a problem?"
"No," she muttered, though she was obviously lying.
"Don't worry," I soothed her. "It's only five miles or so, and we're in no hurry."
Her silence was panicked now.
I tried instinctively to penetrate the damned shield protecting her thoughts, and heard nothing. "What are you thinking?"
"Just wondering where we're going," she said too casually. Another lie.
"It's a place I like to go, when the weather's nice," I said truthfully. The weather would be nice in the meadow. I tried not to think of her reaction when she would see me in the sun, for the first time.
She sounded mollified. "Charlie said it would be nice today."
The name brought me back to the present. "And did you tell Charlie what you were up to?" Someone had to know that she was with me. If I lost control, I would suffer the consequences that way.
"Nope," she replied smugly.
What was wrong with her? "But Jessica thinks we're going to Seattle together?" Jessica had to know. At least someone knew she was with me.
"No. I told her that you canceled on me," she continued, oblivious to my irritation, "which is true."
I was furious. How did she plan to treat her life? Didn't she know that my self-control had a limit? "No one knows you're with me?" I demanded.
She seemed determined to not let my mood get through to her. "That depends. I assume you told Alice?"
"That's very helpful, Bella." She wanted to treat this like a joke.
"Are you so depressed by Forks that it's made you suicidal?" I nearly shouted.
She sighed and turned to me. "You said it might cause trouble for you," she muttered. "Us being together publicly."
This was beyond irritating. I counted to ten in my head, to no avail. I thought that Bella was smart, but apparently not. "So you're worried about the trouble it might cause me," I said in a low voice, "if you don't come home?"
Her eyes stayed fixed on the road, but she nodded at me.
"Damn your senses, Bella," I muttered, too low for her ears.
I clenched my hands in fists – Bella would never forgive me if I took off the door of her car – and clenched my teeth together.
We arrived at the road's end, and I could feel Bella's relief as she eyed the trail in front of us – it must have been better than she'd thought. I bit back a laugh – wait till she saw what we were really going to do.
As soon as she had the key out of the ignition, she hopped out of the cab, seeming nervous. I unzipped my sweater and hung it over the back of the seat, and stepped out, too. My shirt was unbuttoned, and I relaxed visibly as I felt the rare warmth of the air engulf me.
I turned to the side. "This way."
"The…the trail?" she managed to stutter out.
Still slightly annoyed at her lack of self-preservation, I turned to her. "I said that there was a trail at the end of the road," I reminded her. "Not that we were taking it."
"I won't let you get lost," I promised. I stepped toward her, and I heard her breath catch. She stared at me as if she was looking upon something perfect – which was the farthest from the truth. I realized, too late, that I should have buttoned my shirt. I gazed down at her, and her eyes met mine. The expression in them tugged at my heart.
This would never work. I wouldn't hold it against her if she didn't want to do this anymore. "Do you want to go home?"
She took in a deep breath, and walked hesitantly to my side. "No."
I made myself be gentle with her. "What's wrong?"
She seemed to consider saying something, but gave up. "I'm not a good hiker."
That was obviously the least of her concerns, but I wasn't going to pry.
"I can be patient," I murmured, trying to lift her out of her depression, "if I make a great effort."
Smiling wanly, she looked away from my face.
"I'll take you home." Her eyes hardened, and she wouldn't look at me. I would never hurt her, I knew that now. She would go back home.
"If you want me to hack five miles through the jungle before sundown," she said icily, "you'd better start leading the way.
I tried to think of reasons why she would feel the way she did – how I'd snapped at her, how hiking terrified her – but her dejection seemed to be another matter altogether.
After a while, I placed a hand in the small of her back, gently, and pulled her with me into the woods. I tried to make the journey up to my special place as easy as possible – I pushed aside the bushes, I kicked the small boulders out of the way. I tried to help as much as possible, but I didn't want to go too far yet with the physical part of our relationship, so it was hard to help her when she would slip or fall. When she did, however, I would pull her up instantly by her arm, and release her quickly. Her heart behaved abnormally when I did so. She seemed to like this.
It was wrong.
Bella kept trying to keep her eyes away from me, but sometimes, she would sneak a glance in my direction. Every time, her face would flush, and she'd look away again. Frustratingly enough, I couldn't read her thoughts any better.
I ran my mind frantically over any topic I'd yet to interrogate her with. "How were your birthdays like?"
"Great," she murmured, still looking away.
She looked at me now. "What?"
"Oh, so we're on one-word terms now, are we?" A smile flashed briefly on her face. "Really, though, Bella, tell me. I need to know more about you."
"Seriously?" she asked, sarcastically. "What next? Who my teachers were when I was in elementary school?"
I smiled, flashing all my teeth. "Yes, please."
She groaned but answered me.
Even though the pace was killing me – I was accustomed to moving much, much faster – I remained at her side. It didn't matter – I was with Bella. Regardless of her mood.
"Are we there yet?" she asked, after we'd walked several hours.
At least she was still alive – I'd begun to think that she was becoming a little robot who answered questions – and I looked down at her. "Nearly. Do you see the brightness ahead?"
She was quiet for a few seconds, and I took that as a no. "Um, should I?"
"Maybe it's a bit soon," I joked. "For your eyes."
"Time to visit the optometrist."
After maybe five more minutes, her eyes brightened with the light in the forest. The sky was, for the moment, cloudless. When I peeked up, I could see that.
She started to speed up eagerly. I could imagine her joy and wonder as she stepped through the last clump of ferns to my secret place.
As she entered the clearing, she froze. As I walked to her, I could see that her deep brown eyes were wide, scanning the clearing. It was especially beautiful today – perhaps because I was with her.
Running into the clearing, she bent down to feel the soft grass. I knew what she was thinking. That was one reason I liked that meadow – the grass was softer, and had an almost sweet scent to it.
Watching her prance about in undisguised joy, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness that I could never be so carefree. I stayed in the shadows of the trees.
She seemed to remember my aversion to the sunlight as soon as I did. She turned back to me and gestured me forth with one hand. I held up mine, cautioning her.
It was time to show Bella who I really was.
I let the sunlight wash over me.