The Real Monster

I did not want to go.

I'd found that one of the obligations attached to dating a young woman in a small town was an expectation of participation in meaningless events. Bella, for all her extraordinary maturity, still had the need to please her father, and the upcoming event was an easy gift for Charlie.

Bella pleaded with me. "Edward, it will be fun. It will be only one night, just a few hours. Alice already said you would do it." I frowned; I would have to talk to Alice about sharing visions of volunteering with Bella. It eliminated our ability to compromise. "For Charlie? For me? For me for Charlie?"

Sitting in our meadow, under the grey Washington sky, I found her plea impossible to resist. Bella so rarely asked for something from me. "Yes, Bella. For you for Charlie." I was immediately rewarded with a radiant smile and a hug.

"Thank you, Edward. I won't ever ask you to do this again." She pulled back and looked deeply into my eyes, locking her promise in place with a look. I smiled to see her so gleeful.

Every year, the Forks Police Department held a Halloween Charity Masque at the Community Center. This year was no exception, except that it was the first year Charlie had been asked by the mayor to organize the event. He did so reluctantly; it wasn't his nature to be gregarious and festive in public, but he recognized the responsibility that came with the Chief of Police title and agreed to do it – this one time.

Although Bella was not keen on the noblesse oblige aspect of the party, she knew that her time with Charlie was short. At the end of the school year, we'd leave Forks forever to begin our eternity together. Bella saw this as an easy memory to give to her father, a man she loved and cherished. The care and kindness she so lovingly bestowed on Charlie influenced my feelings about Charlie, and made me love her all the more.

"It's getting late," I said, and motioned over my shoulder to my back. She dropped her gaze and arms, and walked behind me. She put her hands on my shoulders and hoisted her legs to encircle my hips. As her arms tightened around my neck, I whispered, "Eyes" and heard her eyelids close as I began to run.

"Edward," she breathed into my ear as I ran. "You make me so happy." My heart soared as I raced towards Forks.

I sat in the kitchen with her as she made dinner. Although the smell of chicken and dumplings was decidedly unappealing, watching Bella move in the kitchen was magic. She couldn't walk across a level floor with a stumble, but in the kitchen, she was grace personified.

"So, what manner of buffoon will I be for the party?" I asked, as she took a pan from the cupboard. I felt assured she'd already considered our costumes; she had, after all, talked this over with Alice, the fashionista of costumes.

"Well…" she said slowly, drawling it out and peeking over her shoulder at me. "I was talking to Alice, and she said –"

"Oh no. Here it comes."

"Edward, wait! I think it's going to be really cute." Her voice was so playfully whiny and full of pout that I walked over to her and hugged her from behind.

"What. You know you can have anything you want from me."

"Well, what if we went as…," she hesitated. I began to fear for my manly character.

"Bella, just say it."

"A lion and a lamb?" She looked over her shoulder at me, half turning away from the dish she was preparing.

"Which one do I get to be?" I asked, trying to replicate her previous whiny pout as I grinned at her.

"Silly. You're the lion, of course." She turned back to her cooking, satisfied that I was okay with the costume choices. "I thought that way we wouldn't have to wear makeup or worry about being cold. Alice has already ordered the costumes and says they'll be here by Friday."

Alice.

"And what, pray tell, are Alice and Jasper's costumes? Heidi Klum and unwilling fashion victim?" I whispered in her ear.

She shivered and took a deep breath, steadying herself. "No, Alice and Jasper aren't going. She thought it would make Jazz… uncomfortable." That fit; hold me up for ridicule while saving her husband. Still, it was probably best that he wasn't going, given the number of the community in attendance and the high-profile nature of the event.

I heard Charlie's decision to see what was going on in the kitchen and took a step away from Bella, leaning against the table.

"What are you two up to?" Charlie asked as he entered the tiny kitchen. "Deciding on colleges?" He looked anxiously at Bella, only glancing at me surreptitiously.

"No, dad, we're talking about our costumes for the Masque. Which reminds me, what are you wearing?"

Charlie's face went absolutely blank. It was obvious without reading his mind that he'd never given this a thought.

Bella turned to him and asked in mock surprise, "Really, dad? Don't tell me you thought you didn't have to dress for this, did you?" She smiled, unable to hold in her amusement at Charlie's discomfiture.

"Uh… No, I mean, I thought I'd go ask the Chief of Police!" Charlie sputtered.

"Very original, dad." Bella turned to the stovetop, shaking her head. "Dinner's ready, so you might want to wash your hands."

"I'd better get going, Esme will be worried," I said, standing up away from the table. "Have fun with your costume decisions, Charlie. Bella, want to walk me out?"

"Sure," she said, then turned to Charlie at the sink. "Go ahead and help yourself. I'll be right back." She turned back to me, grasped my hand and led me to the door. "Will you be back tonight?" she said, leaning towards me, face upturned for a kiss.

"Yes, my love." I kissed her lightly on the lips, and left the house to find – and throttle – Alice.

Bella called to me through the bathroom door as we put on our costumes. "So, did I tell you what Charlie's costume was?"

"No," I said, pulling the lion costume up over my jeans and t-shirt.

"He went as the Chief of Police," she said flatly. "I totally lost that fight. He was going to wear vampire teeth from the store, but I talked him out of that. It wasn't hard." I chuckled. Vampire Police Chief; if he only knew how ironic that really was.

As I pulled on my mane and tied the string below my chin, she stepped into the bedroom, completely costumed as the cutest lamb ever created. "Well, how do I look?"

"Come here, you." I growled, pulling her to my chest. "You look absolutely adorable." I kissed her gently on her nose.

"Oh, don't hurt me Mr. Lion, I'm just a poor wittle wamb," she sang in a high falsetto voice, rolling her eyes.

"You should be glad we have somewhere to be, little lamb chop." I heard her heart skip and race, and broke our embrace. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah, I guess so." She looked confused for a moment, then gathered her thoughts. "Yes, let's go."

We walked down the stairs, turned out the houselights and turned on the porch light. "I'm glad we get to surprise Charlie," she said as we walked to the Volvo.

"You didn't tell him how we'd be dressed?" I asked, surprised. Bella was usually so much more upfront with Charlie.

"No, it never came up. I think he was seriously freaked out about his own costume before he decided to stick with his original idea." She snickered, remembering how uncomfortable he was. "By the way, I don't think we're going to see many people from school there tonight. Most people think it's pretty dumb."

"I'd heard that around," I said, watching her face. I was afraid she would be hurt by the condemnation of her peers, but she was happy and expectant, looking out the front windshield. She seemed lost in her thoughts. "Tell me what you're thinking?"

She turned to me and smiled. "I was just thinking how happy this will make Charlie. He wouldn't say it, but I think he expected me to say I wouldn't go. I can't give him a lifetime of memories to hold on to," she said, sadness nipping at her good mood, "so I will have to make the memories I give him last a lifetime." She seemed to content herself with this, and looked back at the front windshield.

"I love you," I said. It was completely inadequate trying to sum up my awe, respect and joy of being with her in this little sentence, but she seemed to understand.

"Me too," she said, blushing.

A storm was threatening when we arrived at the Community Center. I got out of the car, and moved at a human's rush to Bella's door. I opened it, and she climbed out, looking up at me and mouthing "Thank you" to me.

As we walked through the doors, I realized that this was the first time outside of high school, where we, Bella and Edward, had appeared in public as a single unit, a couple. I swelled with pride, wishing that everyone would turn to notice us as we arrived. 'Chief Swan's daughter and Dr. Cullen's son, how romantic, how lovely', they'd say. 'And aren't they adorable together!' I hadn't expected to feel this way; I usually didn't care what others thought of me. But that was the difference; it wasn't what they thought of me, or what they thought of Bella. I wanted them to witness us, Edward and his Bella.

As it was, only one person noticed we arrived.

"Bella!" Charlie shouted from across the room. I heard him mentally thanking Bella for arriving, giving him a comfort zone away from all the socializing and small talk. He reached us right as the Monster Mash began to play.

"I'm so glad you're here. I have to keep telling everyone this is my costume."

"Hate to say it, dad, but I did try to tell you," Bella smirked.

He looked at his shoes and then back at Bella, chagrinned. "Yeah, I know." Glancing around at the costumed crowd, he whistled. "Man, people really go all out for this, don't they. Did you see we have four mummies and three Frankenstein's? I think there's even a couple of vampires running around, too."

Bella looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes. "Really? Any lions and lambs out there?"

"No, I think you guys are it. You kids look really cute." You look really cute, Bella. Edward, hmm. I'm not so sure I'd call him cute. I chuckled lowly at Charlie's assessment. He was clearly out of his element and uncomfortable, but trying to make the best of it. I decided to give him Bella for a few minutes.

"Bella, will you be okay with Charlie for a few minutes? I forgot to tell Carlisle what time I'd be home." Bella looked at me with panic for a moment. I glanced from her face to Charlie, and back to her. She got it.

"Sure, Edward. Charlie, want to show me around?" She turned to Charlie. Would I… What an understatement.

"Certainly, my little lamb," Charlie cooed, offering her his arm. She took it, and turned to smile at me. "Hurry back, Edward."

I smiled and nodded, holding my silent phone to my ear.

As soon as they made their way through the crowd, I began to wander away from the entrance. I knew this was Bella's gift to Charlie, and that my scarcity was required for the time he introduced her to his co-workers and the mayor. I would give him this as I promised: for her for Charlie. I moved away from the center of the room, towards the edge of the lighted area. I could hear Charlie's thoughts filled with love and pride, as he introduced his daughter. The images of Bella as a baby, toddler, child, and preteen flashed through his head, an unexpected gift from Charlie to me.

Suddenly, I heard a low cry of misery and pain. My head whipped from side to side, expecting to see someone passed out on the floor, a crowd gathering. But the room was unchanged, partiers carrying on with their chit chat and ramblings. As I searched the crowd, I heard it again.

I began to move on the edges of the party, searching for the moans and grunts of pain that alarmed me. I let the volume be my guide, and found myself back by the refreshment table near the rear exit. I could hear the grunts becoming more forceful, less coherent as I moved towards the doors.

"Stop! Don't!" A woman's voice cried, muffled by a hand over her mouth. The sound was at the rear exit. I moved to the door. I looked out to the parking lot, and saw a man in a devil's costume dragging a woman in a nurse's uniform into the woods. I looked behind me, checking for witnesses – no one. I sped out the back door rushing to the dark cover of the trees.

He stood in front of her, hand across her mouth, pressing her back into a tree with his body. His intentions were clear in his head; his thoughts were vile and corrupt. He did not see me.

I launched into his side, pushing him away from the woman and flinging him away into the street. I turned to check the woman. She did not waste a moment. She fled, running back to the safety of the Community Center without screaming or looking back.

I ran to the side of the road, watching the man try to stand and regain his awareness in the middle of the street. He shook his head and crouched, trying to stand on his broken leg. His eyes met mine as I crouched and growled, roaring in my fury. He was confused and thought 'A lion? A lion did this? Where did a lion come from?'

He struggled and began to realize I was not a lion, but a man. His mouth formed the word 'What" as the horn of the logging truck sounded and the brakes began to squeal, then his mind was quiet.

I walked back to the Community Center and entered the door I had exited. I returned to the party, searching for the thoughts of the near-violated nurse and scanning for her visually. She was not there. As I stood, Bella approached me, beaming triumphantly. "What a great party! All these costumes – pretty scary monsters, huh!?"

I looked down at her and smiled. "Not anymore."