I'm not a perfect person
I never meant to do those things to you
And so I have to say before I go
That I just want you to know

I've found a reason for me
To change who I used to be
A reason to start over new
and the reason is you

Hoobastank – The Reason

Please don't skip the author's note at the bottom.

Thank you.

27. Brave Little Toaster

The reception area had high-arched windows, lighting it in a way to make one feel comfortable and safe. The word safe didn't even belong in this building, and I felt anything but. The thoughts of hundreds of people in the streets drowned out the music playing, but that didn't mean I couldn't hear Demetri loud and clear in the bedlam.

"Do not leave until dark," he threatened. On the other hand, please do. I'd really love to taste your human. Mmmm. I bet she tastes as sweet as she smells. His hunger was clawing to the surface, and I nodded to let him know I heard him loud and clear.

Demetri didn't wait around to taunt me. He had a few humans of his own to slurp down this evening.

The receptionist, Gianna, had a calculating mind, which was probably why Aro had let her live with the knowledge of vampires. She inventoried everything she came in contact with, be it scent, sound, or visually. And she most especially was interested in us.

Bella was in a state of shock, of course. She shivered against me, and each violent movement reminded me of how human she was. How fragile. I'd been so worried about getting out of there alive that I had little time to think about the human aspects of Bella's situation. Now it all came flooding in on a wave of anxiety as her shivers became violent shakes, and sobs ripped and tore out of her throat.

"Are you all right?" I whispered, truly worried.

She looked paler than normal, and Alice repeated as much in her mind. Out loud, and mainly for Bella's benefit, Alice said, "You'd better make her sit before she falls. She's going to pieces."

Alice's words alone alarmed me enough to let panic filter in. Mirthlessly, I thought about the evening we spent in Port Angeles. Thought about how I expected her to be in this state of shock after the almost-attack. Except she wasn't shocked. She was this brave little toaster that just kept burning one piece of bread at a time. I admired her then and worried she wasn't like a normal human. Worried she was the ultimate magnet for trouble. The last may have been true, but now that I was truly seeing what shock could do to a person, I was grateful Bella completely bypassed it then.

Another alarming sob ripped its way free from Bella, and I didn't know what to do. "Shh, Bella, shh," I soothed.

Maybe she needs to lie down, Alice thought.

I agreed wholeheartedly, and I escorted Bella to an elegant sofa that looked as if it never got used. It was the one farthest from the receptionist, who didn't need to see Bella like this.

Alice stared wide-eyed at Bella as another cry vibrated from deep within her chest and choked her up. "I think she's having hysterics," Alice said unhelpfully. "Maybe you should slap her."

I glared at her, not appreciating the running commentary on something neither of us could fix.

It works in the movies, Alice silently defended.

Bella glanced between us, as if finally realizing she was there with us. Her sobs became hiccups, and her shaking intensified. God. My heart was breaking at the sight. I'd done this to her. I was a monster. Truly.

"It's all right, you're safe, it's all right." I repeated the mantra, as if saying it over and over would make it true. Even I didn't believe it. Not yet, at least. Not while we were still in this building—in this city. I was frantic, but I had to remind myself that I had to keep it together for Bella. I couldn't let her know how nervous I was over her state. In an attempt to calm her even more, I wrapped the borrowed cloak around her body and tugged her onto my lap. I could have held her forever, and now that she was in my arms . . . I never wanted to let go.

She was real.

She was in my arms.

She was mine. Or was she? Had I ruined her? Would she be forever damaged due to my neglect? The thoughts hurtled through me, all spikes and sharpened knives cutting away at my insides.

"All those people," Bella cried.

"I know," I breathed, hating the fact I couldn't protect her from that knowledge.

"It's so horrible," she continued. The sound of her voice, as raspy and frantic as it was, still soothed something inside me. It still felt unreal that she was alive. Regardless, I couldn't mistake the horror clearly etched into her cried words.

"Yes, it is," I agreed. "I wish you hadn't seen that." Last year I would have been signing a different tune just so she would finally understand the scope of how dangerous my kind were. Now I was worried she would pull away, finally afraid of the monster. Finally seeing inside me for the first time.

But then . . .

Bella leaned into me, cuddled into my arms as if I was someone to be loved, trusted. I wanted to cry out in happiness at her closeness. In all the time I was away, I never thought I'd feel this way again. I'd gotten used to the fact that I would never know happiness. Bella was finally calming down, and my nerves unwound just a little.

You won't leave her again, Alice stated. And this time I wasn't going to bet against her.

The receptionist's mental volley finally broke my concentration. Gianna's thoughts were complicated—a mixed weave of the way she viewed the world. Bella was a mere curiosity to her. Part of the need to understand Bella was due to the fact she was human too. Would Gianna be changed into a vampire? From what she could see of Bella, she was convinced that if Bella was chosen to be transformed, so would she. Still, she had to get a better look.

"Is there anything I can get you?" Gianna asked, leaning over to gawk.

"No," I snapped.

Gianna nodded all pleasantly, though her thoughts were anything but. Green with jealousy. Curious. A little bit furious. She strolled away.

"Does she know what's going on here?" Bella asked hoarsely.

Ah, my little observant Bella. Glad she was finally calming and focusing on other things besides what was going on inside the main hall, I answered. "Yes. She knows everything."

"Does she know they're going to kill her someday?"

I internally flinched at her brazen words. "She knows it's a possibility," I said. When Bella didn't respond, I continued, hoping to keep her distracted. "She's hoping they'll decide to keep her."

Bella went pale, and I immediately wanted to back pedal. "She wants to be one of them?"

I nodded, searching for her hidden thoughts displayed on her face. The way she asked the question left me wondering what her thoughts were on the subject. Was she still the same girl I left in Forks? Did she still want to be one of us after everything she'd witnessed?

Bella shuddered. "How can she want that?" The words spilled out on a breath. "How can she watch those people file through to that hideous room and want to be a part of that?"

She'd just asked the questions I most feared—the questions I wanted the answers to more than anything else. I wanted so badly to break through the silent barrier of Bella's thoughts so I could finally understand the inner workings of her mind. Did she also think of me as one of those monsters?

"Oh, Edward," Bella said, bursting into more tears.

The eruption of emotion completely threw me off guard, and I gently rubbed her back. "What's wrong?" I insisted. Was this when she'd tell me goodbye? My gut, as forever frozen as it was, still gave me the sensation of clenching uncomfortably.

Surprising me even further, Bella suddenly wrapped her body around me, her arms encircling my neck. Alice smirked at my wide-eyed gaze. The knowing pixie.

"Is it really sick for me to be happy right now?" asked Bella, her voice all kinds of choked up.

Hesitant at first, I finally gave into her touch and embraced her back. I had to remind myself to be gentle. Bella was fragile, like a flower petal in a spring storm. Beautiful and enticing. How could I deny it? "I know exactly what you mean," I breathed into her hair. She smelled so good, so alive, sooo . . . Bella-like. It was like I was home again. "But we have lots of reasons to be happy," I said, testing the waters. "For one, we're alive."

"Yes," she agreed. "That's a good one."

So that wasn't the reason for her statement. I tried again. "And together," I murmured.

She nodded, though it was hesitant, as if she was worried about how I would react.

"And, with any luck, we'll still be alive tomorrow," I continued.

We will be, Alice confirmed.

"Hopefully." Bella's voice wavered, unsure.

"The outlook is quite good," Alice said reassuringly. She grinned, picturing her reunion with Jasper. "I'll see Jasper in less than twenty-four hours."

I hoped I'd still be with Bella in a day's time. She stared up at me as if I was her angel, and I gazed right back into her beautiful, brown eyes. God how I'd missed those eyes, so rich in color, so mysterious. I tried so hard to read into her soul, wondering if this moment were real. Wondered if it would last forever. So many things were left unspoken between us, and I hated that I couldn't just dive into her subconscious and pull out her most intimate thoughts. On the other hand, it made her all the more alluring. Even with the dark circles ringing her eyes. Ever so gently, I traced the shadows, frowning. "You look so tired."

"And you look thirsty," she countered, as if my thirst had any control over me. Not anymore. Not ever.

"It's nothing." I shrugged. Wasn't that the truth? Thinking about reliving those moments when I thought Bella was dead was enough to make me swear off her blood for the rest of eternity. Even if the only choice were to be thirsty for the rest of my life or drink Bella's blood, I'd choose thirst every time. Hell, it was enough that, even if she didn't want me after this, I'd watch over and protect her for as long as she lived. I couldn't fathom going through such torture again.

"Are you sure? I could sit with Alice," Bella offered, eyeing my quizzically.

Even the mere thought of her being that far away panicked me. "Don't be ridiculous," I scoffed. "I've never been in better control of that side of my nature than right now." And that was putting it mildly.

Bella's body finally calmed, and her breaths evened. I listened to the steady thrumming of her heart, a sweet melody in this horrific place. In that second, I fell in love with her all over again.

But would she still have me after everything?

Would she trust me?

Would she still love me?

I hoped so.

Author's note: I was gone for a long time. My life literally got away from me. I would like to finish New Moon EPOV, and eventually I will. Sorry.

If you like my writing, please look me up (Laura Kreitzer) on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Audible, iTunes, among other book websites and physical bookstores. You can always find me at laurakreitzer(dot)com - I currently have five published novels with four more in the works. For a limited time, you can download two of my books FOR FREE in ebook format at all major retailers. Please take advantage of this offer. :)

Here's information on my most recent series:

Phantom Universe (Summer Chronicles, #1)

Sold into slavery to pirates at the young age of four, Summer learns to survive the rough seas of subterfuge and thieves through silence. When the boat she's lived on most of her life is destroyed, Summer finds herself washed up on the shore of a new world, a phantom universe full of the bizarre and extraordinary. She meets Gage, the one boy who understands the girl with no speech. But when their lives are put on the line, will Summer finally call out? Or will all be lost in the fathomless depth of silence?

(Currently available as an ebook—Kindle, Nook, PDF, etc—paperback, hardcover, and an audiobook, narrated by Karen Savage.)

ALSO—I will be in Chicago for the RT Book Convention on April 14th, 2012 from 11am-2pm signing books alongside some of the hottest authors today, including Richelle Mead, Charlaine Harris, and J.R. Ward! Just Google "RT Book Convention" for more details.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Stephenie Meyer. Lolafalana is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of New Moon. No copyright infringement is intended.