Disclaimer: Twilight is entirely the property of Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing…
Author's Note: When I finished New Moon, I felt there needed to be some follow-up. Would Bella really come through that experience completely unscathed? This is my little attempt to address that.
Charlie's anger had gone from seething to simmering in the thirty-six hours since I'd returned from Italy. I knew he was relieved that I was home and safe, but he was finding it difficult to forgive me for subjecting him to such horrendous worry. I couldn't blame him, really. He'd just lost a dear friend, and then I'd gone off and vanished for three days. So I expected lingering ire.
Unfortunately, it seemed easier for him to direct his indignation toward Edward than to aim it full-force at me. I had assumed this net of resentment would encompass the entire Cullen family, so I was more than a little surprised with the bit of news he gave me when he came up to my room after dinner on my second full day home.
At his insistence, I'd returned to school that morning. I had no objections, really, since it meant I got to spend a great deal of time with Edward. However, by my afternoon classes, I was dragging. I was still tired from the long, wrenching trip. It was the sort of lingering exhaustion that leaves you vaguely achy and a little fuzzy-headed. Now I understood what jet lag really meant. It wasn't much fun, but I'd gladly endure it a thousand more times if it meant that Edward was safe and we were together.
Our reunion ended promptly at five when Charlie returned home from work. He was early—obviously checking to be sure Edward and I were complying with my new curfew. While my vampire boyfriend remained unfailingly polite, my human father was overtly rude and bordered on antagonistic. Edward departed amiably, and I retreated to my room to study. I had a lot of catching up to do.
I heard the phone ring after dinner and waited for a few moments to see if it was for me. However, when Charlie didn't call for me, I assumed he was talking to Billy or Sue or someone from work. After about five minutes, I his heavy footfalls clomped up the stairs, then he tapped at my door.
"Bells," he said rather gruffly.
"Come in, Dad."
He stepped inside. "Alice is coming over to pick you up in about half an hour."
I gaped at him. "Alice?" I repeated, temporarily dumbfounded. He should be thoroughly vexed with her…
He nodded curtly. "That was Mrs. Cullen—er, Esme—on the phone. She asked if you could come over for a little while."
"And you said yes?" I asked incredulously. Quickly I amended, "I mean, that's fine, of course, if it's okay with you?"
His expression shifted, and for a second he looked anxious, but then he rearranged his features into the stern mask he'd worn since the moment I returned. "She knows you need to be home by 9:00. And this isn't so you can see Edward. He isn't even there tonight. Esme and Carlisle want to see you. That's the only reason I'm letting you go."
"Oh…" They probably wanted to speak with me further about my change. There was still a lot to discuss, I was sure. I hoped they hadn't reconsidered their decision. "Um, that's good, because I didn't really get a chance to apologize to them."
"You should do that. They're nice people—really, fine folks, both of 'em, Alice, too."
I refrained from adding Edward's name to the list. No point in riling Charlie any further. I simply nodded and pushed myself to my feet. I gave him a quick but heart-felt hug. At first he was stiff, but after a moment his arms came up to wrap around me.
"God, Bells, you really scared me," he said softly. "I need you to be okay."
"I'm sorry, Dad. Really, I am."
His arms tightened, then he released me. "Getting caught up on your work?"
"Good." He shut the door and trudged down the hallway.
I tried to return my focus to calculus, but after about ten minutes my eyelids felt leaden. My limbs were heavy, too. I rubbed my hands over my eyes then got up to splash some water on my cheeks and run a brush through my hair. I barely glanced at my reflection in the mirror—a habit I'd developed during the past several months. I hadn't wanted to see the wan, despondent girl looking back at me.
I returned to my calculus book and attempted to work a problem before Alice arrived.
I heard Alice's delighted squeal when Charlie admitted her to the house. His voice sounded friendlier than it had in the past two days. She always had that effect on him. Smiling, I made my way down the stairs.
Alice's beaming grin faded for a moment when she saw me, but then she flitted over and gave me a warm hug. "Ready?" she asked, her tone a bit less ebullient.
"Yep. Let me just get my coat." As soon as I'd pulled on my jacket, Alice had my hand in hers.
"I'll have her home before nine," she promised Charlie.
"You do that," he replied, but his voice wasn't even close to gruff.
Alice hustled me outside and into the Mercedes. I was a little surprised that she hadn't brought Edward's car, but that might have aroused Charlie's suspicions.
"Where's Edward waiting?" I asked, expecting him to slip into the back seat at any moment.
"He's hunting with Jasper and Emmett." Her expression became quite serious. "Carlisle insisted that he go. He hadn't fed in weeks, and he refused to go the last two nights. He had a hard time in school today."
"I'm glad he went," I replied, recalling the deep purple smudges beneath his eyes. "He really needed to."
She nodded as she pulled out onto the street then accelerated away from the house.
"So this really is about Esme and Carlisle wanting to see me?" I clarified. I'd hoped my devious little best friend had arranged some extra time with Edward for me.
"Yes." She sounded serious again.
"Alice." I reached out to grip her arm. "Have they changed their minds? Have you?" My heart sped up, knocking against my ribs.
"No, Bella, not at all." She turned her head to smile at me, but it seemed a little forced.
"Then what's going on? Is something wrong?"
For an instant her gaze focused on some unseen point in the future, then she seemed to relax. "No, everything's going to be fine."
"Was something going to be wrong?"
She shook her head. "Nothing to worry about, Bella, except maybe that jacket you're wearing. I know we didn't spend much time in Italy, but I was hoping at least a little of the overall fashion sense might have rubbed off on you…"
I sighed. It was going to be that kind of night. And I really wasn't in the mood to play dress-up. I was still tired and sluggish, and the thought of trying on endless outfits left me genuinely exhausted. I rested my aching head against the cool glass as Alice prattled on.
To be continued...