Last time on "This Infatuation"...

"Are you awake?" he asked.

Bella nodded but couldn't open her eyes. They seemed glued shut.

"No you're not. I'm going to take off."

His weight shifted as he edged off the bed. Bella reached out blindly and grabbed his bicep. She pulled him back and rested her head against him. "Don't leave. It's still raining."

When she woke, he had taken his clothes and left a note on top of her alarm clock that read "Stay Safe. I'm not Superman."


Chapter 13

Half asleep in his bed, Edward thought he heard banging. He opened his eyes to the stormy morning and listened harder. He had to be sure. Sometimes he did hear phantom sounds, distant auditory hallucinations that echoed like déjà vu. Mostly it was when he was half asleep or tired or sick, but whenever he was alert and heard it he listened harder to be sure he wasn't losing his mind.

The sound persisted through the pelting rain and gusting wind until Edward was convinced it was real. He rubbed his eyes and wondered what time it was, but his digital clock had gone dark when the electricity failed during the night. The sky, a mass of angry clouds swirling beyond bending pines, was no help. Edward tossed back his blankets and crossed the distance to his dresser in near darkness. When he felt around for his wristwatch he came up empty.

He considered his flashlight then remembered that he'd given it to Alice before bed the night before. If the batteries hadn't died, then it was still on her bedside table casting a golden glow on the opposite wall. If the makeshift nightlight had gone out her room would be too dim. He couldn't take the flashlight and leave her in the dark, and it would be nearly impossible to navigate his way through her landmine of clothes piles in pitch black.

Edward flopped face first onto his bed and pulled a pillow over his head, waiting for the noise to stop. It did, eventually, and he thought he might fall back asleep, but his mind was too active. He had a calculus test Monday morning that he hadn't begun studying for yet. He'd intended to crack the books Thursday, then Friday, and now it was Saturday and he wondered whether he'd get a chance to sit down and think at all before the test. So far, it didn't look promising.

He would never get back to sleep now. Edward pulled himself up with an exaggerated groan and dug his running shoes from beneath the bed. When he'd learned that running cleared his head, Edward had taken up the hobby with gusto. Running became to him what coffee was to other people; he thought he might snap if he didn't get those thirty minutes in every morning.

It was still dark enough that when he headed out for his run Edward nearly tripped over his brother huddled beneath the overhang. Jay's soaked clothes clung to him and he was shook. Stomach sinking, Edward approached his brother and waved a hand in front of his eyes. Jay didn't seem to notice.

Edward backed into the house and scrambled up the stairs toward his parents' bedroom, leaving the front door open. "Car-lisle!"

The door opened before he could reach it. Carlisle emerged shirtless, wearing pajama pants and a bleary expression that cleared quickly as he rubbed his eyes a final time and shook the sleep away. He let Edward lead the way. "Esme's getting up, too. Is he bad?"

Edward descended the stairs quickly. "It's a bit like Anchorage."

Behind him, Carlisle mhmm'd. "Then let's hope we didn't wake Alice."

What the family referred to as "Anchorage" wasn't the three years spent living in a two-story house six miles from the hospital where Carlisle was finishing his residency. It was the event they'd all come to remember the city from - the horrible week that had been almost ruined everything.

"Anchorage" was a nightmare. Social Services had been waiting at the hospital for a day by the time Jay limped in on a sprained ankle, breathless and bruised and bloody after running across town. They found out later he'd fought with his girlfriend and climbed out her window, jumping off the fire escape as she threw glass cups at him - but that was after the kids were remanded into state custody and Esme and Carlisle investigated for child endangerment.

Even Edward was taken from the house; he didn't understand why he had to stay in the economy motel with a chaperone and needed an escort to and from school. He remembered Emmett, who only had seven months left in the system, pale at the threat of being sent away. It was the first time Edward had seen him refuse food; he just stared at the floor shaking his head and saying, "no fucking way I'm aging out like this."

The Social Services caseworker was polite but drank coffee continually, which filled her with nervous energy and made anyone she talked to feel anxious. She interviewed all the kids one-by-one, but all Alice could do was cry and ask for Jazz or Muffet when she tried talking to her; the woman didn't listen when he tried explaining that Jay was like her security blanket.

Edward had grown up that week. He still felt sorry for blaming everything on Jay, who had cracked as soon as he hobbled out of Rose's room and saw the social worker waiting for him. He spent the week under psychiatric observation in the hospital while doctors conducted tests and his caseworker fluttered about impotently. It was the guilt that did it. Jay saw actions in black and white; this time the consequences must have been a brilliant, blinding white.

Edward gave his dad the lead when they reached Jay. He didn't move, but his outbursts could be deceptive like that. Carlisle sank into a defensive crouch, one arm held up to guard his face as he made contact.

"Jasper, it's raining." Carlisle put his hands on Jasper's shoulders, a gentle touch the boy didn't seem to notice. "What do you say we go inside?"

Slowly, Jasper blinked. His eyes slid over Carlisle's features with only vague recognition. He opened his lips as if to speak but said nothing.

Carlisle nodded to Edward, who stepped backward and immediately held the door open as his dad pulled Jasper upright, speaking in soft tones. Jasper whimpered and began to struggle. It reminded Edward of taking in an injured stray, except this one was two inches taller than anyone else in the room. He ran to Carlisle's study, grabbed a throw blanket from the back of one of the chairs and threw it around his brother. It confounded Jasper's thrashing long enough for the two men to half-lead, half-carry him into the study and lay him down on the couch.

Jasper curled into a ball on the couch and stopped moving. He might've been dead, Edward thought, but for the trembling in his fingers. Jasper's fingers always shook. The day they stopped would be the day Edward stopped needing to run every morning.

"Thanks, kiddo." Carlisle smiled wearily. "I'll take it from here."

Edward nodded, grateful to get away and out of the house momentarily. As always, he walked slowly down the drive. Once out of sight of the house he tightened his laces and stretched, bringing his agitated mind into sync with his breathing. Today, it felt impossible. When his eyes closed he saw Jasper's vacant stare, the glassy look in his brother's eyes as he shivered in the rain.

Meditating would be hopeless, Edward thought and took off in a dead sprint. What he needed now was a nice, long run.

/T.I.\

They skies didn't clear, but by mid-morning Angela called with news that the thin sheet of gray hanging overhead was clear enough. The beach plans continued as if the storm never happened, and after a quick breakfast Bella found herself sitting next to Angela on the wooden bench in front of the camping store.

"Honestly, I didn't think today would work out," Angela said, bouncing in her seat as they waited for the rest of the group to assemble. She was talking with her hands. "Between the storm and all the extra people, I thought Ben would want to call off the whole thing."

Bella dodged a wide swung arm. "Because he'd really call off an entire day of one-on-one time with you at the beach," she teased. "He's totally got a thing for you."

Angela looked down but couldn't hide from Bella, who was an expert in the same blushing techniques. Bella prodded her in the ribs, and the other girl caved into giggles. "You really think he'll ask me out?"

Bella rolled her eyes. "Please. You two match." She sighed and twisted her foot into the gravel beneath her feet. "You make macaroni and cheese look bad by comparison."

Her friend was perceptive. "It's not like you're on ice, Bella." She leaned in conspiratorially. "I've seen you hanging out with Edward Cullen. And his brother."

Bella didn't know what to say to that. Her cheeks flushed.

"I still can't believe you're friends with any of the Cullen family," Angela said. "You don't know how many girls at school hate you."

"Like Lauren? Or Jess? Or that girl who stands behind us in the lunch line every day?" Bella said dryly.

"It's like Jessica said, they stick together. It's been a couple years, but no one's infiltrated until now." Angela shrugged and sat back. "Stupid, I know, but they're celebrities."

Bella frowned. She bent, scooped a handful of wet rocks and spread them out in her cupped hands. They were unremarkable but she played with them anyway. "Want to know the weird part?" she said after a minute.

Angela scoffed as if to indicate that it was all weird but played along. "They're secretly vampires." she deadpanned.

Bella had to laugh. "That's more believable. I was going to say they're actually normal."

"Of course they're normal. Most people are once you get to know them."

Eric's eight passenger van pulled into the half empty lot and parked in front of the girls. Lauren waved from the front seat. Eric hopped out, gave Angela and Bella a sweeping bow and slid the side door of the van open for them. Most of the back was crowded with bits of furnishing and knick knacks, and the rear seat was half-filled with snacks.

"Tight fit," Eric observed laconically as Angela and Bella squeezed into the front bench.

Indeed, thought Bella as she tossed a Frisbee into the seat behind her. It would be a tight fit.

It only took ten minutes for the rest of the group to assemble. They traded embarrassing stories and dating qualifications in the meantime, crafting a list of questions as equally unobtrusive as they were relevant. Bella thought a bookish musician was an important qualifier while Angela preferred tall non-smokers. Then Eric, watching them from the review mirror, chimed in with "must be funny."

He shrugged when they looked up at him. "Hey, if a girl can't find fun in bad situations she probably won't find it anywhere."

Bella was about to agree when Mike, Lauren and Jessica appeared at the side door with Ben not far behind. Lauren, loath to sit near Bella, immediately took the backseat.

Mike proved gentlemanly enough to offer Jessica the front seat, a move that strategically left him in cramped quarters on the bench next to Bella. He tossed an arm across the bench and made himself comfortable. Bella scooted over, leaving him so much space that she gave Angela an apologetic smile.

Ben climbed in last and squeezed in the final seat next to Lauren. Angela turned and shot him a wistful smile that Bella didn't miss. She hoped her friend got some alone time with Ben like they'd planned on.

"You guys had better get earlier seats on the ride home," she said as Mike swung the side door closed.

The Olympic peninsula was beautiful in its own way, Bella mused as Eric's van careened around a slow-moving tourist car. Sure, the dense green forests still induced within her an old childhood claustrophobia she'd forgotten in the long, baking summers of Arizona. And she wasn't sure whether she like the tree that seemed to stretch its branches up to her window, an invitation for stalkers if there ever had been.

Except she hadn't exactly minded when Jasper Hale showed up with the rain the night before. She remembered the moment when she opened her window and looked down to see him waiting. He had looked wretched and half drowned, his tousled golden curls soaked and blocking half his face. His ever-confusing eyes gleamed with a light that both unsettled and thrilled Bella. If it was him standing at her window she wouldn't object.

Wind whipped over the smooth pebble beach when Bella, ignoring Mike's offered hand, climbed out of the van. Salty air tingled her nose and dragged her hair away from her face. Bella walked toward the shore and closed her eyes. She felt invigorated and imagined that Ariel must have felt the same when she visited the wind-tossed ocean surface.

The guys pulled on their swimsuits first while the girls stood in a huddle. Bella, who had never swam in the cold Pacific waters, thought they looked more like the insulated wetsuits arctic divers used than anything else. Now that she saw the ocean firsthand, she wasn't sure even rubber suits could save her friends if they ran across big enough waves – or sharks who saw them more as gangly seals than human.

Bella pulled her jacket tighter around herself and braced as another wind gusted off the water. She was glad she did not own a bodysuit. Even if the waves calmed, she was willing to bet the water was freezing.

"You should at least try surfing before you knock it," Lauren said to Bella.

Jessica nodded. "Yeah, what's the point of a beach without surfing?"

Bella could think of plenty of things. Long walks, for example. Driftwood fires, seashell collecting and sunset gazing rounded out her top four picks. "God bless you people for getting into frigid water to stand on little boards and hope the waves don't crush you against rocks," she said. "I'm fine just enjoying the view."

Jessica looked past her and frowned. "I thought no one came to this beach."

Bella rolled her eyes at Jessica's distress but squinted at the approaching group anyway. All four walked tall in easy self assurance, but even so Bella recognized Jacob immediately. She waved.

"Bella!" Jessica's wide eyes looked at her in disbelief.

"Jess, we're on the Reservation. Who do you think it's going to be?"

"Oh." Jessica thought for a moment. "Do you think they'll mind?"

"That depends," Bella said. She grinned at Jacob, who was now within earshot. "Are pale-faces allowed to swim these waters?"

Jacob and his friends laughed. Bella noticed two of them were shorter than Jacob. The third and tallest of the group had a shiner on one eye. He stood slightly apart from the group, his expression less amused than his friends. But when the other boys elbowed Jacob in encouragement he joined in.

"It's generally understood that pale-faces sink like stones," Jacob said with a cocky grin, "but since we are here, any misfortunes will be prevented by our incredible swimming."

Bella laughed along with the group. Jessica didn't understand the joke. She glanced at Bella. "So…"

Bella took her by the shoulder. "I'll help you suit up," she said, still chuckling.

/T.I.\

Joyous shrieks came from the water's edge behind her. Bella didn't need to turn to know it was Jessica and Eric, the two more intrepid surfers of the group. The others had already retired to a small fire Ben and Angela had built from driftwood near the van. Embry – the grumpy one, Quil and Seth sat around the story swapping stories with her friends.

Beside her, Jacob pointed past the beach to where the pebbly sand grew coarser and turned into boulders. Past that, almost fading into the gray sky, a cliff hung over the water. Seagulls wheeled along the cliff face, disappearing into the stone.

Bella imagined how the waves must crash against the rocks. What color would the waves be? she thought, turning thoughtfully to the sea to her left.

"We can hike there sometime, right?" she asked.

Jacob nodded. "Me and the guys go there all the time. There's even a ledge for diving." He saw her shocked expression and added, "You don't have to cliff jump if you don't want to."

Bella wiped her brow in mock relief. "For a second I thought jumping off cliffs was a rite of initiation or something." She laughed. "It's like a special bro code to keep out the girls, isn't it?"

Jacob chuckled. He bent, picked up a rock and threw it into the water. As Bella watched, a wave seemed to reach up and snatch the stone, dragging it below. The ocean here was rough. She hoped she never found out how rough firsthand.

They walked back toward the fire leisurely while Jacob explained the tribe's mythology to her. Bella was sure he'd told her before when they were just kids, but she liked the stories anyway.

"Think fast!" a voice called over the crashing waves.

Jacob and Bella looked up. Eric's yellow Frisbee zipped through the air on a beeline straight at them. Bella flinched, slipped and fell on the wet rocks as Jacob reached out and caught the disc single-handedly. He dropped it immediately and knelt.

"Are you hurt?"

"I'd say it's just my pride, but…" Bella held out her palms with a grimace. She'd skinned both during her fall. It wasn't bad, but she could see blood beading up through the dirt. The sight made her feel queasy.

Her mind slipped back to the morning. She'd woken up to a dried mud puddle on her carpet and a neatly folded stack of clothes on her bed. And that note. Stay safe, it had said.

Bella started to laugh. When Jacob looked at her nervously, she began laughing harder. He helped her to her feet and threw the Frisbee back toward the group with surprising ferocity. The disc arced through the air, skimmed the fire and landed at Quil's feet. Quil almost dropped his s'more in surprise.

"I'm fine, Jake," she said, still chuckling as she took a seat near the fire. Jacob pulled a water bottle from the cooler and poured it over her hands. "It's just something a friend told me when he heard I was going on a surfing trip."

"Which Cullen boy was that, Bella, Edward or Jasper? It's hard to keep track." Lauren asked. She hadn't quite gotten out of her wetsuit, opting instead to unzip it to the waist. Bella couldn't help but think it was to expose her bikini top. Bikinis didn't get much show time in the Pacific Northwest.

Bella studied her hands without answering, but she saw Jacob glance up at her with a curious expression. She looked around and saw hard stares from Quil and Seth. Embry looked livid.

"Bella invited them to come," Lauren continued, oblivious to the hostility coming from the other half of the group.

"It's really not a big deal," Bella said. She laughed nervously and tried to play the tension off lightly. "He said no. The rejection was crushing. Oh no!" She waved her hands in the air in mock panic. Eric chuckled.

"The Cullens don't come here," Embry said, his expression set in a hard line. Bella guessed his problem might have something to do with the black eye gracing his face. It also might have to do with Jasper's bloody nose, she thought. It was a sobering idea.

"Good to know," Angela chimed in. She shot Bella an unmistakable let's talk about this later glance before smiling broadly. "Who wants another marshmallow?"

/T.I.\

Edward walked downstairs Sunday morning to find Jasper and Alice asleep together on the couch. Alice was small enough to fit into Jasper's arms without falling over the ledge, but he'd wrapped his arms around her waist anyway. Edward surveyed the scene from their tangled legs to Jasper's bed shirt, which Alice now wore, and turned on his heel for the kitchen. He needed coffee.

It wasn't so much that he thought something had happened between them. Although, he had just found out they'd been keeping secrets, Edward thought. He poured himself a mug of coffee but didn't drink it immediately. He didn't think anything had happened overnight, but… he wouldn't trust Jasper to know better. His brother's working knowledge of boundaries was worse than a kindergartener's.

Edward returned to the living room and plucked the remote control off the floor beneath one of Jasper's hands. He retreated to the recliner, lowered the volume and turned the channel to the morning news. Twenty minutes later, Jasper shifted in place. Fifteen minutes after that, he stretched stiffly and raised his head. Edward raised an eyebrow and Jasper dropped back onto the couch pillow with the miserable moan of someone awoken prematurely.

But Edward knew better. "I'm not going to say anything," he said.

"Nothin' to say," Jasper murmured, his face still hidden in Alice's hair.

Edward watched the television announcer promise him zero interest on a new car. He doubted their parents would have nothing to say on the subject. Rose and Emmett were one thing - they didn't live here anymore and weren't officially together as far as anyone could tell – but Edward knew Esme would balk if she knew these two were so close. "Sure."

Jasper grunted. "Just keep the volume down."

"Okay." Edward agreed easily enough but thought Jasper might still be suspicious. "If Alice forgave you I don't have a problem with it."

"She had a bad dream," Jasper said. His tone was defensive.

Edward tried to laugh into his coffee cup but failed to cover his laughter. He waited for a berate that didn't come. Unusual. His brother always had a quick retort, but today he stayed silent.

Edward sipped his coffee in peace. Whatever happened in the past 24 hours, he thought he would be able to get used to the silence.


E/N: Do I have any readers here that also read the companion piece, "My Intoxication"? Regardless, here's a big question that has been on my mind... After reading this story, do you like Edward more or less than before?

Give me a shout out to let me know your opinion! I can't wait to update this story again!