A/N: I made use of information that we learned in the draft of Midnight Sun about how Edward thinks and how exactly his gift works. I hope I stayed true to that. I also hope that this is different enough from my BPOV to not drag. A reader requested this version and who am I to deny them? ;-)
In true Edward fashion, this is more than twice as long as Bella's version of the same day. He kept bringing up so many extra issues and angst. Every time I considered skimming (or skipping) something that he considered "important," I got a severe talking to. Never try to argue with Edward (unless you're Bella).
You guessed it; none of this is actually mine. Stephenie Meyer owns the whole kit and kaboodle.
Oh, and of course many huge thanks go to Project Team Beta. What would I do without you girls?
The twelve minutes and twenty-nine seconds it took to run home and bring my car back to Bella's house were torturous.
We had been separated while she showered, but only by a few feet and two wooden doors. I could listen to her breathing, her heartbeat, and knew she was safe. Being so far away that I couldn't hear her was almost too much. I held the blackness at bay only with the knowledge that I would return to her as quickly as I could.
Esme was standing just inside the door when I arrived at the house. She broke into my melancholy by reminding me of the apologies I had yet to make.
Will you meet us later, Edward? I've missed you.
She didn't manage to hide how forcefully true that statement was. The longing emanated from her mind and the sorrow in her eyes enforced it. I kicked myself again. Causing pain for someone as sweet as Esme was criminal.
I nodded, knowing guiltily that I had no time now to properly seek forgiveness. I needed to return to Bella. I owed more to her than to anyone else.
I took a thirty-three second shower, changed into the clothes Alice had obviously put out for me, and darted to my car. I noted that someone had filled the gas tank, but didn't pay it any mind as I sped back to Bella. Charlie had already left for work when I arrived, so I knocked quietly on the door. I heard the scrape of the chair as Bella stood and then the soft padding of her feet as she walked to get the door.
The beaming grin she gave me was nearly enough to restart my heart. I had much to do to atone for the wrongs I had done her, but it appeared as if she might make it easy.
"Hi," she said. "I didn't expect you back so soon."
"I couldn't stay away. Would you like a ride?" Anything she wanted, she could have.
"Of course, let me get my bag."
She walked first into the kitchen and began cleaning up the remnants of her breakfast. I was pleased to see the toaster out and egg shells in the sink. A complete breakfast with protein and carbohydrates was just what she needed. I desperately desired to have her regain the pounds she had lost in my absence.
"I'll get these," I offered, gesturing toward the dishes. She smiled again and thanked me before heading up the stairs to her room. I quickly washed and dried her plate, fork, and pan, and had them put away before she got back downstairs. I paced during the extra four minutes.
Finally I heard the soft pounding of her shoes on the wood and looked up to welcome her back to me. Both of our grins reappeared instantly. It seemed like neither of us could keep from smiling today.
I took her bag and gently tugged on her hand to lead her to the car. It was amazing how much joy I gained from something as simple as opening the door for her, and then holding her hand while driving her to the school. These were tiny things that I had nearly taken for granted before, but I never would again. Every second that I was with her was precious.
We didn't speak for most of the ride. I ached to know what she was thinking, but was caught up enough in my own exultations that it was only a mild irritation.
It wasn't until we were half a block from the school that she finally spoke. "We're pretty early."
"Yes," I agreed. "But Alice and I need to set our schedules."
"Oh." She sounded surprised. The disappointment in her eyes was evident, but I couldn't fathom what put it there. "I guess...I'll see you at lunch, then?"
She thought I would send her to class alone. I delighted in knowing the disappointment came from fearing I would leave her. But after our revelations this morning, did she really think I was going to let her out of my sight more than was absolutely necessary? "Would you mind coming with me?"
Her heart thumped and her eyes widened as they looked into mine. "No," she practically squeaked. I still dazzled her, and it nearly made my own heart thump.
I took her hand after opening the car door. I was pleased that she remembered to wait for me to get it for her.
Alice was already in the office, tapping her foot in impatience.
You were supposed to pick me up, she chided. I know why you didn't, but still. I might be needing that Porsche before Christmas.
I rolled my eyes at her as we caught Mrs. Cope's attention. Still, Alice was right, so I mentally promised to purchase her new toy soon and Alice beamed at the vision of accepting a set of keys.
"Oh, Alice, Edward!" Mrs. Cope exclaimed. "It's so good to see you again. And Bella, we were so worried about you these past two days. What happened?" At least she looks better than she has the past few months.
Despite the reassurance of Bella's initial recovery, I had to hold back a retort at the silly woman for the reaction she brought about in Bella. My love seemed to shrink in place, trying to disappear under the careless woman's gaze.
I squeezed her hand reassuringly and decided to deliberately misinterpret the question. "Esme found that Los Angeles was not to her liking. We've all moved back."
Mrs. Cope was confused with my straightforward yet unexpected answer, but recovered quickly. "What? Oh, yes, your father already called. And your transcripts from your school in California just arrived. It seems that your curriculum was quite similar to what you had here. Would you like to review your old schedule?"
Someone had been busy while Bella slept. My transcript from the nonexistent high school in LA was nearly a copy of the classes I had in Forks. I noticed that they had given me straight A's except for one class, PE, where I had a C. That must have been Emmett's doing. He probably got a laugh out of it.
I kept Bella's hand firmly in mine the entire time I obliged the secretary by reading a list of classes I remembered all too well. The thorn in my side, Calculus, still rankled and I kicked myself again for not having devised a reason to repeat the class this year. Even an hour away from Bella would be unendurable.
Bella, however, smiled as she saw the list. "We still have nearly every class together."
I looked into her eyes and perceived true joy as she stated this simple fact. Did she think I would allow anything less?
"Yes, but it is the nearly part that upsets me."
Bella looked like she was going to answer, but Mrs. Cope interrupted by asking if my schedule was acceptable. Seeing no other option, I took the single sheet of paper and followed Alice outside, wrapping my arm around Bella as she carefully descended the stairs. The parking lot was now half full and the surprise emanating from the students as they noticed my car was palpable.
Is that...? Cullen's car?
No way, it can't be them. Maybe Dan got that new car his parents promised.
What's everyone staring at? It's a silver car, big deal.
The astonishment turned to pointed questions when the three of us came into sight. Alice's vision of Bella's grimace was enough for me to redirect her straight towards class.
Good idea, Alice thought, seeing crowds practically chasing us to English. "Good luck!" she cheered. "See you two later!"
Bella turned as my sister skipped away and finally called, "Bye, Alice!" Unfortunately, this drew the attention of every student who had not already seen us. Bella noticed. "Everyone's staring," she groaned. "It's like coming back from Phoenix all over again."
"Don't worry," I murmured in her ear as we walked to class. "I'll protect you."
She giggled and the sound brought peace to my still healing heart. I kept my arm tight around her waist, unwilling to let her go even when we were seated at the back of the class. I scooted my chair closer to hers, not caring if anyone else had been sitting here for the last few months, and resolved to take notes with my left hand today, leaving my right free to hold Bella.
We couldn't completely escape the inquisition, however, and the bane of my existence, Mike Newton, was the first to accost us. He charged into the room and went straight for Bella. He purposely ignored me. It was as if he thought that by doing so, I would disappear again. How little he understood.
"Bella! You're back! Are you okay? Where were you?"
Bella fidgeted in her seat. I traced patterns on her upper arm, letting her know I wasn't going anywhere. My light touch seemed to encourage her.
"Uh, I...um...went to LA," she stammered.
"LA? What for?" His eyes darted to me. Isn't that where they moved to? "Why didn't you call anyone?"
"I was kind of busy, Mike."
That's how she described my nearly destroying her life by foolishly attempting to end mine? Busy? She'd faced off with the most cruel and dangerous monsters in the world and she described it as being 'busy.' I resisted a snort.
Newton started to ask about what had kept her busy, but I decided he had held her attention long enough. A simple glare from me sent a shiver up his spine.
Ugh. He's as much of a creep as he's always been. Why did he have to come back?
"Well, glad you're back, Bella."
He didn't bother extending the same courteous remark to me. The feeling was mutual.
I spent the better part of the day silently warning off Bella's stalkers. Every time someone approached her, Bella leaned in to me, which made me almost grateful for their nosiness. It was nice to feel like I was protecting her again, and succeeding this time.
During lunch, I listened casually to Alice explain how Esme had decided to move back and that Bella was so excited to hear the news that she had taken off without telling anyone. The cover story became that she had helped us prepare for the move all weekend. The silly humans believed the story without hesitation. I barely paid them any attention, and instead concentrated on making sure Bella ate a full meal.
Except for that horrible hour of Calculus B for me and Calculus A for Bella, I refused to stop touching her. I hoped she didn't mind – her heartbeat and dazed eyes told me she didn't – but I couldn't seem to stop anyway. The eight months without her had heightened my need for her. I would never have thought that possible.
Bella joined Alice and me as we took our freshly signed schedules to the office, and then we all three piled into my car. I dropped Alice off, ignoring her chatter except for the quick, Emmett won't let you out of hunting tonight, and neither will the rest of us. She glared at my pitch black eyes. Enjoy your afternoon; I'll see you later.
I sighed and drove to Bella's, anticipating that she would be grounded. I wished for the hundredth time that I had not been so insanely reckless in running off to Italy, thereby forcing Bella to pay the consequences of my mistakes. Thankfully, she didn't have to work today – Newton might not survive if Bella had to spend our first afternoon home with him – so I pulled her toward the couch as soon as we walked through the door.
Much to my disappointment, she backed away. I searched her eyes and her body language for the rebuff. She had let me in the house, so maybe she wasn't going to send me home. Not that I would leave anyway. If she told me to go, I'd just spend the afternoon in the trees.
Thankfully, Bella wasn't rejecting me; she just had other priorities. "Not quite yet," she explained, tugging me toward the kitchen. "I have work to do."
"Work?" At this moment, no work was more important than re-memorizing her scent, the feel of her warm body against mine, and her glorious blush.
She nodded. "I missed a Calculus test while I was gone. Mr. Varner gave me some make-up work so I don't fail."
Yet another thing she was paying for because of my mistake. At least this one was easily rectified.
"Would you like some help?"
Her face brightened again with my favorite smile. "Yes, please!"
Mathematics had never been Bella's best subject, but she seemed to grasp it better now than before my hideous betrayal. She was still sometimes frustrated, so at those times I kissed her temple and carefully guided her to the right way to work the problem. I could understand her reasoning, though. Given her interests and plans for the future, I doubted she would really ever need to know how to use integrals to calculate the volume of an irregular shape in space.
Bella could only stand working on the math for about an hour and then declared it was time to start on dinner. We spent nearly another hour assembling ingredients for the casserole she had planned. It looked slimy and chunky to me, but she insisted it was one of Charlie's favorites before opening the oven so I could put the pan inside.
When we had finished, I decided I couldn't survive another hour without holding her, so this time I allowed no reluctance as I lay back on the couch and pulled her into my lap. I rocked her gently while burying my nose in her hair and breathing deeply. She closed her eyes and relaxed into my embrace. This was where I belonged, and nowhere else.
We stayed still for a moment longer before I reached over to her bag and pulled out the tattered school copy of Othello that Mr. Berty had handed out. I didn't really care about the play myself, having memorized it long ago, but Bella would probably enjoy it. I set it in front of us and began to read aloud, enjoying immensely the quiet hums Bella made as I whispered the words in her ear.
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
I was sadly interrupted by the quiet growl of Charlie's Interceptor as it rounded a corner four miles away. It was accompanied by his cloudy yet intense musings that included emotions such as worry, anger, anticipation, and betrayal. It seemed that he was afraid that Bella wouldn't even be there when he arrived, regretting that he hadn't checked on her during the day.
I sighed as I carefully squeezed my love closer to me, knowing my time with her was limited. I inhaled the scent of her hair once more before relating the bad news. "Charlie's coming home, and he's not in a good mood."
"I'm still in trouble, huh?" she asked while taking the book from my hands to place it on the coffee table.
Based on what little I was getting from Charlie, yes she was. Better to soften it a bit. "I think so. I'm sorry you're in so much trouble because of me." I still had many things to apologize for. She had done the bravest thing imaginable, in order to save my unworthy life, and she was being punished for it.
She turned to look at me. I was lost momentarily in her brown eyes and the way her hand rested softly on my chest. How had I survived so long without her?
"It's not your fault," she said, breaking through my reverie.
Where did she come up with these ideas? It had been entirely my fault. The list of mistakes that nearly led to her death was unending. I was beginning to realize what a vain hope it was to convince her of that.
Bella further cut into my self-loathing by reminding me how far she had gone just to revive her memory of me. "I'm the one who jumped, remember?"
Yes, mistake after mistake. I would be paying penance for a very long time.
Bella obviously saw through my mask, but she didn't appear pleased that her reminder had hit home. Instead she tried - almost successfully - to distract me by informing me that their food was almost done. Even though I followed her to the kitchen, I couldn't completely stop wallowing in my guilt.
Bella pulled the hot pads out of the drawer next to the oven, and that was a much better distraction.
"Let me handle this," I told her.
She humphed. "You know, I've been taking things out of the oven for a lot longer than I've known you."
That was well evidenced by the faint burn scars no human eye would ever see that covered her hands and forearms. I just smirked and winked while she rolled her eyes and went to the refrigerator. It wasn't until I saw her take a large knife out of the holder that I realized what she was doing.
I had just enough time to place the pan on the stove and snatch the knife before she attempted to use it. "I suppose you also cut vegetables before you knew me, but that doesn't mean I'd risk you harming yourself now."
"For goodness sake." Her irritation amused me, like always. She huffed as she realized that I had left her nothing to do besides set the table. Although it wasn't one hundred percent safe - for Bella - it was the best I could manage. Six minutes later, I handed her a bowl full of what humans apparently liked on their salads, just in time for Charlie to loudly clomp his way up the porch steps. His mood had soured after seeing my car out front, and worsened when he discovered Bella with me in the kitchen.
"Bella, I'd like to talk to you alone," he gruffed.
This was the third time today in which I'd have to tear myself from her side. Had it only been for my sake, I might have argued. I'd even force down some of the awful pasta sitting on the table if it meant I could stay, but things would go better for Bella if I wasn't here.
First thing was to attempt to put Charlie in a good mood. "I'm sorry, sir," I said as politely as I could. Charlie's eyes narrowed at me. Apologizing apparently wasn't working to my advantage. I decided instead to make a quick exit. "Bella and I were just finishing in here. Besides, my family is having dinner together tonight."
Bella snorted quietly behind me but followed as I crossed the room to the front door. Her eyes were wide and deep as she looked up at me.
"Going hunting?" she asked once we were out of earshot. Only Bella would understand that a family dinner in my case translated to the slaughtering of the local wildlife.
I didn't want to leave her alone, but unfortunately, it was necessary. Alice and Emmett would storm the house if I didn't show, and I had given Esme my word.
"Yes," I answered. "I won't be going far, and I promise to be back before you're asleep."
Then again, she hadn't exactly invited me, tonight or last night for that matter. From now on, everything would be up to her. "That is, if..." I couldn't finish my sentence, fearful that she would tell me not to come.
She was going to force me to relay my fears. My dead heart could break with her answer. "If you want me to."
Bella looked up at me in disbelief, the tiny "v" appearing between her eyes, and I held my breath against her rejection.
"Yes, I do, very much," she said, sounding like she was explaining something to a two-year-old.
My heart inflated and it was all I could do to not scoop her up in my arms and kiss her senseless. The only girl in my world wanted me. I could bask in her glow forever.
Her father once again brought me back to earth. His thoughts were getting surlier with each second.
"Charlie's getting impatient," I explained. "Good luck. I love you." I could never describe how much my life belonged to her. I satisfied myself with pressing my lips briefly to hers, relishing the blush it brought to her cheeks before closing the door behind me.
I had been paying such close attention to Bella that I was surprised to see Alice sitting in my car.
She smiled at the comical expression on my face. Sneaking up on you is so much easier these days.
I rolled my eyes at her, but saw her plan and could be nothing but grateful. I took the rose she proffered. "Thanks."
I know that Bella isn't a normal girl, but you're still apologizing, and all girls love roses. If you're not at our house in ten minutes, Emmett will be here to drag you out.
I nodded and darted up to Bella's room while Alice peeled out in my car.
Downstairs, Bella was admonishing her father for trying to ground her before she'd eaten. I wasn't sure if this was a self-defense tactic or if she just wanted to bring down his heart rate, worried about him as she always was. Either way, I smiled at how quickly she had cowed her father; he was as helpless against her as I was. Whatever punishment he had planned for her, I had little doubt now that it would be fairly lenient. At least he wasn't going to permanently imprison her or attempt another move to Florida.
I took the rose Alice had given me and moved to lay it on the bed, when a small bump against my finger drew my attention. There were thorns on the stem! Alice should have known better than to give Bella anything even remotely likely to tear her fragile skin. I broke off each offending thorn and tossed them out the window before setting the flower on Bella's pillow.
The flower alone wasn't enough, though. The small splash of color was a stark contrast to the bareness of the rest of the room. I wanted something more, something that would bring a smile to her face. I needed something that showed her how willing I was to plead for her forgiveness.
I casually surveyed the room. There wasn't a book in sight. Bella practically lived for her novels; how could she have gotten rid of them? I didn't think I had time to get to a proper bookstore and purchase the complete works of Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Dumas, the Bronte sisters, and all her other favorites, but there was something in the room I could use.
Right next to the rocking chair I found my goal: a loose floorboard. I was happy to see Bella's birthday presents tucked away where I had left them. They were a little dusty, so I cleaned them gently with my shirt and laid them on the bed next to the rose. I noticed the picture on top still had a crease in it, right down the middle. On one side was me, looking almost gaunt. Those were the days when I had decided to leave behind the only reason for my existence, and the look in my eyes reminded me of how painful that decision had been.
Bella was next to me in the photo, and although I could see worry in her expression, it didn't mar her beauty. I could plainly see the slight differences between the girl in the picture and the one downstairs. Bella had lost ten pounds, and even after last night's sleep, had large circles under her eyes. Her skin had a nearly invisible yellow tint and her hair was thinner. I resolved to do everything I could to get her healthy again, starting with making sure she ate properly.
I was glad to hear that she and Charlie were still eating dinner in silence, but I listened for a few minutes to her soft breaths and the steady thumping of her heart. Her breathing got shallow after a few moments and her heartbeat picked up for no apparent reason. I almost ran down to check on her, but Emmett's loud thoughts stopped me in my tracks.
He better come quietly. Then again, a wrestle might be fun. Bella's not the only one who hasn't seen him since September. I want to go check up on this supposed wolf situation. Not to mention the fact that he owes me big time for the TV. Ripping it in half like that was totally uncalled for. Maybe Jasper should have come, too, though dragging little Eddie out the window might raise some eyebrows.
"Relax, Emmett," I whispered, imagining with him the ruckus it would cause if he joined me in Bella's room. "I'm coming."
I double-checked to ensure no human eyes were on the front of the house and dropped to the ground. Emmett was waiting for me in the back and we quickly fell in stride with one another.
You still look like hell. When was the last time you ate?
I thought back to the time before Rosalie's call. Curled up in that decrepit attic, my eyes had already been black. I tried to remember my last hunt before that, but all that came to my mind was the emptiness of those days. The fire in my throat had been nothing compared to the hole in my heart. "To be honest, I don't know."
Geez, man. You really messed things up. Thank goodness everything's back to normal now. Well...except for Bella making actual plans. I gotta say, that was brilliant on her part.
I ignored him, as I didn't think that my plans for stalling Bella would be safe with him. Emmett wasn't very good at keeping his mouth shut. No one should know of my proposal until plans were finalized. Alice probably knew, but she was an expert at keeping secrets. Besides, she had begun designing Bella's wedding dress last January, after her vision of becoming Bella's best friend. She didn't know when Bella would need it, but was positive it would come up eventually.
I changed the subject, intent on gaining forgiveness wherever I could. Emmett was right; Bella was not the only one hurt last September.
"Em, I needed to tell you that you were right. I know it doesn't exactly cover what I put you all through, but I'm sorry. I never should have left."
To my surprise, Emmett actually laughed. "I know. You were an idiot!" Do me a favor and listen to us next time we tell you you're being a blockhead?
I realized abruptly that Emmett had already forgiven me, even without the speech I had planned. I grinned at him, thrilled that I had my brother back after I had hurt him so much. "Thanks, I will."
Emmett started to head towards the Hoh forest, but I could see in his mind that he was planning on tracking down a bear or two. Knowing Emmett, that could take hours, and I was already beginning to feel the distance from Bella. It was like she had a magnetic pull on my entire body; I knew I couldn't fight it for long.
I stopped him with a shake of my head. "No, I don't have that much time. I can only be gone for an hour or two."
An hour or two? You're not coming back to the house tonight?
I shook my head again; I planned on finding the first creature large enough to sate my thirst.
"Fine," he grumbled. "I'll chase down my own dinner." He took off in the general direction of some caves in which we knew bears often hibernated. I went after him, so that we could claim we hunted together, but followed the scent of some elk that were in the vicinity.
It didn't take long. After ten excruciating minutes of separation from my Bella, I came across the small herd and lost no time in devouring them. I absently noticed that the burn in my throat had dulled, but the ache in my chest was getting worse. What would Bella be doing while I was gone? I imagined her cleaning up from dinner, perhaps indulging in ESPN with her father. I hoped that she would be waiting for me in her room.
Abruptly I didn't care that it wasn't even eight o'clock; I needed to see her. I started to head back to her house when new thoughts intruded.
Carlisle's mind was full of questions and worries. From my suicide attempt to his promise to Bella, from our family's reunion to my emotional wellbeing, he had much he wanted to talk to me about.
Esme, on the other hand, was all but glowing. In her mind, there were no hurdles left on my road to eternal bliss. Her first son was finally complete. That, at least, was how she saw it.
I stopped my run, knowing they would chase after me and resolved to make my final apologies, having already spoken with Alice and Jasper. Rosalie was the one seeking my forgiveness, not the other way around.
Carlisle and Esme smiled at me when they saw me waiting for them. They were both immediately pleased to see my eyes a light gold instead of the flat black they had been.
"Thank you for talking with us, Edward," Esme said. "How are you doing?" You look better.
"I'm much better, Esme." I couldn't meet her eyes as I forced the next words out of my mouth. They were necessary, and I felt them, but the shame had me hanging my head. "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I just...I couldn't think of any other way to keep her safe. And then, when I thought she was..."
Esme proved that she had long since forgiven me by wrapping her arms around me. I understand. None of us can live without our partners. You and Bella are no different. "There is no need to apologize."
"We're just glad that you're home," Carlisle added, agreeing. Please don't do it again.
"I'm not going anywhere. Not without Bella," I vowed. I barely knew how I had stayed away for as long as I did. I knew I couldn't endure it again.
There is more..."Edward." Carlisle was thinking of the promise he made to Bella.
"There is more that Bella and I need to discuss regarding that." I didn't mean to sound angry, especially so soon after I had been begging for forgiveness, but I couldn't help it. I saw in his mind the vision of Bella screaming as Carlisle removed his mouth from her throat. As much as I loved my father, I would tear his arms off before I allowed him to infect my love with his poison.
Discuss? Yes, I suppose it is something the two of you need to work out. "I won't bring it up again, then."
"Thank you. I appreciate it."
Esme was not happy with this. She could tell that I was trying to get out of changing Bella, and that would deprive her of a girl she already thought of as her daughter. But she went along with it, trusting in Alice's visions.
Esme hugged me again and Carlisle placed his hand on my shoulder. Welcome home, son. They ran with me back toward Bella's house. When we had gone a few miles, we all turned at the sound of large crashes to the northeast. It was accompanied by roars and laughter.
That's it! Charge at me. Ha! Didn't see that one coming, did you? Come and get me up here, why don't you?
"Emmett," I breathed in explanation.
Carlisle smiled indulgently and Esme rolled her eyes. Honestly, she thought.
Emmett was certainly having a good time. He had somehow managed to find the only grizzly left in the state of Washington, and was trying to savor the experience. Through his eyes, I saw him taunting the animal that was easily three times his weight. Right then the bear ran at Emmett, and Emmett didn't move this time, wanting to feel the force of the seven foot beast as it rammed him against a spruce. Bear, tree, and vampire all landed with a gigantic crash.
I lost interest in his antics, so I bid Carlisle and Esme good night and sprinted back to where I had left my heart. The aching in my chest was threatening to tear me open. I needed her. Now.
I was barely half a mile out when I heard a noise that shot fear through my body.
Bella sniffed. Bella was crying.
I flew the remaining two thousand, four hundred and ninety-three feet. Why was she crying? What was wrong? What would I do when I saw her? In the past, simply holding her had seemed to be enough, but things were so different now. Besides, the most likely reason for her tears was me.
When I had scaled the wall and fallen to my knees at her side, my heart cracked to see her red eyes, the tears streaming down her beautiful face. I cradled it carefully in my hands. "Bella? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine." She sniffed again.
Why was she lying to me? What had I done?
She gestured toward her CD player on the desk. "It's just your music," she explained.
A memory came to my mind of Bella sitting beside me on the piano bench as she heard me play for the first time. She had cried then. And again, on her disastrous birthday, she had cried. She wasn't sad; she was touched. Even after all this time, even after all I had done to her, the song I had written for her still touched her deeply enough that it made her weep. I couldn't help the smile that graced my face. I was back in her presence, and it was making me glow. I noticed that her heart rate accelerated and her pupils dilated as she looked at me.
Bella leaned forward slowly, and I willingly pressed my lips gently to hers. After a moment, my thoughts began to drift to other, less than proper places, and I knew from experience that Bella's intentions would not be far behind. Reluctantly, I put space between us.
"Thank you for my things," she said, still breathless from our kiss.
My eyes darted to the floor, and I saw that the loose board was sitting askew. Had she gone looking for her presents before noticing them on the bed? "I thought you might want them."
"I did." Her eyes moved to the floor as well, confirming my assumption. "When did you get them?"
"Right after I left downstairs." It somehow seemed silly to admit my reluctance to leave her side, but I swore honesty in all my future dealings with her. "I stayed for a few minutes in case Charlie decided to lock you in your room." It had been a distinct possibility.
Bella laughed, a musical sound. "That wouldn't have been so bad, as long as you could still come in through the window."
I imagined that. Maybe it wouldn't be terrible. Locked in a tower with Bella? It could be heaven. But Charlie's purpose in the imprisonment would not have been to create a haven for the two of us. "Bella, he could lock you inside a steel box and I would still find a way to you."
Her face lit up, seeing the sincerity behind my words. I basked in the glow for a moment and then grabbed the book she had in her hands. So her collection wasn't gone; it was just hidden from view. I would have to be careful as I slowly brought my angel back to life. I sat back against the headboard and pulled Bella against my side. She sighed and placed her head on my shoulder. And this was heaven.
"How was your evening?" I asked, running my hand through her freshly washed hair. The scent of strawberries wafted up along with her own lavender scent. It made my throat burn, but no venom accompanied it. I would never thirst for her blood again.
She was nonchalant in her answer. "Pretty boring actually." Was it really, or did she just not want me to know how bad her punishment had been? There was time to talk about it later, and she moved quickly to a different topic. "How was your hunting trip?"
Two could feign nonchalance. "Uneventful," I said. "Unless you count Emmett knocking down enough trees to make a house eventful."
"What was he knocking down trees for?"
"He was trying to let the bear think it had a fighting chance."
This was a good topic. I knew we had so many difficult things to discuss, but I just wanted to sit here with her in my arms. Laughing at Emmett was a perfect way to keep things light.
I could feel Bella's smile through my shirt as she played absently with my buttons. "Will Emmett and Rosalie be staying?"
"Yes, I think so. They want to be around for graduation, at least. And maybe prom, too." Graduation was not one of the topics I wanted to discuss. Why had I brought it up?
Bella was confused. "But they're both graduated. They can't go to the prom."
Yes, this was better. Laugh at my brother. "Emmett wants to crash." He'd actually been planning it since last year's dance. He had been somewhat disappointed in Bella's lack of blushing.
Not that I was about to admit Emmett's real reasons. I wouldn't let him embarrass her. So I gave her a partial truth. "It would make Rosalie happy to show off again."
"Emmett is hoping I make a fool of myself, isn't he?" In true Bella fashion, she saw right through me.
"I promise I won't let you fall."
She rotated to glare at me. "You'll have to do better than that. You'll promise you won't make me go."
Not go? I had been caught up in my fantasy of Bella in a delicate satin dress, no doubt chosen by Alice, with flowers in her hair and twirling under dimmed lights. It would reaffirm to anyone who had ever doubted that she belonged to me. But I had forgotten one very crucial detail; this was Bella. I had a hard time keeping myself from bursting into laughter. She still hated any kind of exhibition. "You haven't changed one bit, do you know that, Bella?"
"What? Did you expect my coordination to suddenly make an appearance after eighteen years?" She sounded petulant. I could tell there would be a fight if I pressed the matter, but I couldn't expel the vision in my mind.
"I suppose not," I admitted. "Are you sure you don't want to go? You said yourself last time wasn't so bad."
"I can have much more fun eating ice cream and snuggling with you than I can being forced to wear a dress more expensive than my car and shoes that I can't even stand in. Tell Alice to return the dress."
Dress? Bella assumed Alice already had a prom dress. She might; I honestly wasn't sure. However, the dress that Alice really had in line for Bella was one that I was desperate to see her in. That one was not ready to be returned just yet.
Not wanting to even think about starting that argument, I sighed and leaned in to touch my forehead with Bella's. Her warmth seeped into my skin, through my clothes so that everywhere we touched, I burned. But this burn had nothing to do with thirst; it was all desire. It sang through my limbs, every cell in my body telling me that the only thing that mattered in this entire world was the girl in my arms. "There is no way to tell you how much I missed you, Bella Swan."
She stroked my cheek, and I loved the trails of fire it left behind. "I think I can imagine, but I don't want to."
It looked like she was going to say something else, but instead she yawned. Of course. I was such an idiot for keeping her up. She was still recovering from a trip halfway around the world.
"You're tired, love. Sleep now." I moved so that she could situate herself under the covers and then wrapped myself around her. I kissed her just behind her ear.
"Charlie is planning to check on you later," I whispered, hoping that my voice would soothe her to sleep, "at which point I will be hiding in your closet. Besides those few minutes, I promise not to leave your side. I'm here now and I will be here when you wake up. Sleep, my love. Dream sweet dreams."
I was unhappy with the tinny quality of the music player, so I shut it off and resumed the song myself. She settled deeper into my arms, and I held her as closely as I dared without allowing her to get too cold. Her breathing evened out as I hummed quietly to her the melody she had inspired over a year ago, when she had altered my life beyond recognition. Apparently, it had been the same for her.
We still had bumps ahead of us in the road, but with Bella by my side, I knew I could face them all.