A/N: hey everyone, thanks so much for your lovely reviews! Here's the next installment... slightly longer this time - happy reading!
I insisted to be left alone so I could call Renée before school. My plan was to get to her before Charlie did. I had no idea what to say to her, but I knew it would be wiser to handle it myself than let Charlie do the honor. I all but shooed Edward out of my window before I got dressed hastily and made sure I had everything I needed for school. I could tell he wasn't pleased with my persistence, but to my surprise he didn't argue. I guessed he was trying to make amends for upsetting me the night before. Besides, I knew he would probably not be far, anyway.
After I got ready for the day, I went downstairs and launched at the phone. Charlie was out already, which was a relief, so I dialed the number at Renée's house. I had to wait quite some time before someone even picked up the phone, and I started to fear that maybe I was too early and they weren't even up yet. But that didn't make much sense; Renée had always been a morning person, and Florida was three hours ahead, so it wasn't even that early there.
Eventually my mother answered the phone. "Dwyer residence."
I laughed at her breathless greeting. "Hi, Mom."
"Bella! I'm sorry, I didn't hear the phone – I was outside, watering the – how are you, honey? I haven't spoken to you in ages!" She sounded as hyper as she had always done when I called. I hoped it meant Charlie hadn't gotten to her yet. "How's school? You're graduating soon, are you excited yet? Do you have a dress for your senior prom? You are going to your senior prom, aren't you? Do you have a lot of finals to study for?"
"Breathe, Mom," I laughed. I thought my voice sounded funny, a bit higher than it normally had. Just nerves, I told myself. "Everything's fine. Listen," I started, swallowing this lump of fear that got stuck in my throat. "Are you doing something this weekend?" For a moment, I couldn't help but hope she was headed for Timbuktu or something.
"No. Phil's a bit busy this weekend. It's playoff season, so we didn't make any plans. Why, honey?"
"Well, because…" I could feel my face go all hot. Oh, damn you Edward Cullen for making me go through this, I inwardly scowled. See if I'll even look at you when I get to school. "Well, I thought I'd come over this weekend," I said as nonchalantly as I possibly could, as if it wasn't a big deal, as if she had lived just around the corner from here.
I held the phone away from my ear just in time. "What? Are you serious? But how can you afford – "
I mentally braced myself. "The thing is, Mom, the, umm, Cullens got me this present on my birthday last year… plane tickets… so I could come and see you. I didn't get a chance to use them and they're about to expire – " And then I realized what I was saying and my voice trailed off. I waited, in horror, because I thought I knew how Renée was going to react.
And I was right. "Tickets?" she asked, suggestively stressing that last syllable.
I hung my head in defeat. I wouldn't speak to him for a week, I decided. Even if I knew I wouldn't be able to keep this promise, making it made me feel better. "Yes. For me and Edward."
"Oh, I see," she said, and I knew the exact expression she must have had on her face. "Well, this is extremely short notice, but of course we'd love to have you over for the weekend, honey." She laughed softly then. "What does Charlie say about this?"
"Dad doesn't like it much." What an understatement.
"No he doesn't, does he," she said sympathetically. "Well, how about I'll have a talk with your dad, try to make him see reason?"
I finally saw another way out. What if Charlie didn't listen to her? That meant I could most definitely not go, didn't it?
Unfortunately I was quiet for too long, and Mom misinterpreted it. "Don't worry about it, Bella, I'll fix this. When are you coming?"
"I'm… not sure yet. Tomorrow at some point." I wondered if it meant we'd have to cut school. Charlie would be impossibly angrier if that were to be the case. I seriously hoped Edward had better sense than that.
"Let me know when you know, so we could pick you up. I can't wait to see you, honey, it's been so long!" She faltered towards the end, and I knew she was thinking of the last time she had seen me, detached and catatonic, after Edward had left.
I shook my head. I didn't want to go back to that dark time, not even in a memory. I was too giddy to face the demons of the past just now. "I can't wait to see you too, Mom," I said distractedly.
"I'll call your dad right now," she promised. I mumbled my agreement, and hung up. I couldn't believe how easy this was. I knew the trickier part was still ahead of me. She let it go on the phone, but I knew that the moment she saw us, her maternal instincts would kick in. Even Renée had maternal instincts. Edward had always pointed out how observant I had been. Well, he clearly didn't spend a lot of time with my mom. If I was observant, she was the one I had got it from.
As I drove to school, I planned how I was going to completely ignore Edward throughout the morning. In the scenarios I came up with, I'd hardly glance in his direction, and I'd ignore his imploring gazes throughout the morning classes at least until lunchtime, and even then I'd make him beg for my forgiveness. If he came over this afternoon, I'd act cold and distant. I sniggered inwardly. Charlie was going to love that. I wouldn't even let him into my room tonight. Unlike my momentary slip the night before, tonight I'd keep my window shut. I wouldn't properly speak to him until it was time to board the plane tomorrow.
Of course, all that flew out of the window the moment I parked my truck.
I didn't even have a chance to lock the truck when suddenly Alice was there, possibly leaving a dent in the side of my truck as she shoved me against it, crashing me with a hug. "Bella! You're finally here!" she exclaimed.
I grumbled something in reply as I untangled myself from her grip and retrieved my keys, which had found their way to the ground as a result of her launch. I couldn't handle her energy so early in the morning. Just watching her fidgeting the way she did made my head spin. And then Edward was there, laying a hand against her shoulder as if to restrain her. His eyes were all for me, and I could already feel the confidence I'd been working on throughout the drive crumple beneath his stare. Sudden weakness overtook me as his gaze slowly left mine. My knees wobbled and my stomach flipped. I leaned against my truck for support. A tiny, smug grin curled on his lips, sending every last drop of assertiveness away.
" – so I was thinking – an emergency shopping trip!" Alice announced, completing a sentence I'd never heard her begin.
"What?" I blinked, tearing my gaze from Edward's face and trying to focus it on his sister. My mind was like mush, filled with flashes of his too perfect smile. I slung my bag against my shoulder, determined to snap out of it. I tried to follow my original plan and nail Edward with a cold glare, but the spark of amusement in his eyes implied I didn't quite achieve my purpose. I sighed, defeated, and took his offered hand as we began to cross the parking lot.
"We're going to Port Angeles after lunchtime to get you some stuff for your weekend!" Alice explained.
I stopped dead on my tracks. "No, we're not."
"I told you she'd be difficult," Edward muttered, looking straight ahead as if he hadn't said anything.
Alice rolled her eyes. "I wasn't asking you if you wanted to go, Bella, I was merely stating the facts."
"I'm not cutting class, Alice. I'm in deep enough trouble over this weekend as it is," I complained. Her expression was sealed and determined. Sighing, I threw a pleading glance at Edward. He was the one who had to let me out of this planned trip, as it was all his fault in the first place.
To my surprise, he raised his arms in unusual defeat. "Don't look at me, it's not even my idea."
I scowled. Sure, he could handle sadistic vampires and all other sorts of monstrosities, but when it came to his adamant sister, he was puddy in her hands.
My gaze wandered from him to Alice, who still looked haughty, as if she knew she was going to win. Well, being able to see the future, she probably did know she was going to win. But that didn't mean I wasn't going to at least try and defend myself better. "No! No way! I'm not going along with this!" I knew I probably sounded like a spoilt brat, but I didn't care. First the fiasco of the previous evening, now a planned shopping trip with Alice – it was just too much to handle.
"Look, we'll have enough time to argue during lunch," she said, somehow getting a hold on my hand. She squeezed it lightly. The smile she flashed at me was so sweet and yielding; I almost gave in right there and then. "Right now, you'd better get to class or you'll flunk your pop quiz."
Pop quiz? "Oh, no," I groaned. Could this day get worse?
Edward slipped his hand into mine again. The familiar, icy touch was comforting somehow, getting through my rage and frustration. "Come on."
Edward used a different tactic than the one I'd expected him to use. He didn't try to make amends throughout the morning lessons, he didn't challenge the assertive attitude I struggled to maintain, he silently accepted my cold glares as if those were routine. More than anything, never once did he mention the drive to Port Angeles.
And so I knew I was in big trouble when we stepped into the cafeteria. It meant it wasn't even subject for arguments. Alice was already there when we walked in, smiling angelically as I took a seat next to her, sulking. I could feel Edward's smirk drilling holes in my back. I decided to ignore it, and bit into my apple as hard as I could. I was hoping to ignore both of them altogether, but unfortunately, everyone else around the table was preoccupied. Ben and Angela were discussing their plans for the weekend, and Mike was too far to try and make eye contact to start a conversation. I wished I had a book with me. That could have been the perfect escape.
"It's all set," Alice announced, ignoring my distress. "We're leaving right after lunch."
I shook my head in one last miserable attempt to protest. "My truck – "
" – is at home," she completed my sentence, her angel smile widening.
I nearly choked on my apple. "How did you – " but I had to stop my astounded gasp as a violent cough shook me. I grabbed my soda and took a long sip. When I was slightly more composed, I threw a glance at Edward. He looked worried, but only by the possibility of me choking over my lunch. "You're not saying anything?"
"I'm merely the driver," he reminded me, pressing a kiss to the top of my head.
"Sure, sure," I muttered, annoyed.
"It's going to be great!" Alice promised, and turned to say something to Angela who was sitting across from us.
I leaned back, exasperated. It felt as if nothing I said or did could change things. There was nothing I could do about the current situation except to grin and bear it.
Right after lunch, the three of us headed to the parking lot. Alice all but pulled me into the passenger seat. She waited for me to buckle myself up before she skipped into the backseat. Edward still looked amused as he started the car. We were out of school grounds before I got a chance to blink, of course. We would be in Port Angeles in no time.
"I don't like this," I murmured, keeping my eyes on the window.
"You don't have to," Alice replied sweetly. "Think of it as a dentist appointment."
"I'd rather go to the dentist."
"Aww, I love this song!" Alice exclaimed then, completely ignoring my protest. Suddenly she was interested in the music Edward had turned on at some point of the way. She started humming along with a song I didn't recognize, then the next one. Then when she got tired of singing, she dragged Edward into a long discussion about a band whose name I'd never heard before, and how she wanted to catch their international tour when it hit our area. I knew what she was trying to do, and I shifted in my seat in discomfort. I kept my gaze fixed on the window, and tried to drown their voices instead.
I was surprised Alice preferred Port Angeles over one of the bigger towns around Forks, where there were actual malls. I wondered why that was. It wasn't that we were short in time because Edward drove like a maniac; we could be anywhere in no time. It could have to do with the mayhem in Seattle, the thing Charlie had warned me against, but why would that deter Alice? Surely she could fight off anyone, anything, if it came her way. Either way, I was relieved she didn't want us to go to Seattle. Charlie would have grounded me for life if he ever found out.
I was clinging to Edward's side when we stepped out of the car. I was still mad at him, but his arms were safer than his sister, who all but waltzed across the street, heading towards the first shop in a row of five. I groaned inwardly.
"Do as she says, and it will be over faster," he advised me. I heard a smile in his voice.
"It's easy for you to say. She's not going to treat you like a human Barbie doll." He pursed his lips, to stop his smile from growing wider. I tried to maintain my no-nonsense expression, without much success. "Do you realize I don't even know when our flight is?" I scowled at him.
"Tomorrow afternoon. Since one of our classes is being cancelled anyway, we'll only have to cut one class," he replied, answering my earlier wondering. "Have you spoken with your mother?"
"I have. She's thrilled," I admitted reluctantly.
He stopped on the sidewalk then, took both my hands in his, and looked right into me. "Try to look as if you're having fun," he pleaded. "This is very important for Alice. Besides, you can pull off whichever act you'd like; deep down, you're looking forward for this weekend."
"I thought you couldn't read my mind," I teased, frowning. He only smiled and leaned over. my heart began to thud irregularly in anticipation.
"Hurry, you two, will you?" Alice's shrill voice echoed some distance behind us as soon as his lips brushed against mine.
Edward slowly pulled away from me. His soft growl didn't escape me. I grinned victoriously. "Deep down, you're just as willing to bite her head off."
"I'm trying not to think about it when she's around," he said, steering me towards her.
She was standing in front of the first shop, shaking her head as we advanced. "You have a whole weekend to do that. Now come on, we've got plenty of work to do!"
Her reproach was gone the second we stepped in. She was a few steps ahead of us, chatting endlessly about fabrics and sundresses and the weather in Florida. Before I got a chance to even look around, she had a huge pile of clothes in her arms, a jumble of pinks and yellows and bright blues mixed into one another. She beckoned me to follow her to the back of the shop where the fitting booths probably were. I tagged along, defeated. It could be my one good deed for the week.
"You – out," Alice commanded, prying me from Edward's arms and shoving me into a large booth that could easily contain three other people.
"See you in a bit," I mouthed. He managed a flash of a crooked smile before she shut the velvet curtain in his face.
"And you, off with your clothes," she said, flashing that sweet smile at me again.
Time passed sluggishly. Alice had put me into dozens of different tanktops and shorts, trying out various combinations. The worst part was when each and every time, she sent me out to see what Edward thought. I didn't mind, at first. It was kind of funny to see him all flustered; he wasn't used to seeing me wear so little. I hoped he was beginning to realize what he was getting himself into, taking me to a weekend in a warmer place. He kept his voice neutral as he commented on each item, much to Alice's delight, but I saw the way his jaw clenched and unclenched, as if he was fighting self control.
And then, Alice was back in the fitting booth with a new pile. Of bathing suits.
"No, no, no! No way, Alice!" I whined, wrapping my arms around myself.
Alice rolled her eyes. "You have to get a bathing suit, Bella, what if your mom takes you to the beach? Besides," she added, winking, as she lowered her voice into a conspirator's whisper. "You know Edward will want to see those."
"I'm not going out in those!" I protested, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks. I eyed them with dread. They were almost invisible, smaller than any bathing suit I'd ever worn in my life. The thought of stepping out wearing one of those made me blush even harder.
"Oh. Well, okay. Your loss," she said, her expression sealed. I stared at her incredulously. I couldn't believe she surrendered. And then my eyes met her empty gaze, and I realized she wasn't addressing me. I exhaled slowly, feeling myself calm down. I could thank him later, I told myself. Even if I was still mad. "Edward asked us to excuse him. He's gone down to the bookshop," she said, shaking her head. The disappointment was clearly written in her golden eyes. "I suppose it means we'll keep the lingerie for another opportunity."
Ugh! "Give me those," I grumbled, and she handed me the small pieces of material with an angelic smile.
The rest of the afternoon had been pretty much eventless. Alice attempted to revenge Edward for ditching her. She made sure to think of nothing but those awful bathing suits she forced me to try on, explaining that if he wasn't far away, he'd have to catch a glimpse of her thoughts even if he wasn't intending to. Whatever I had to say changed very little, and since my only wish was to get things over with, I obeyed her every command.
"Hmm," she said when I stepped out in the last piece of swimwear, a bikini so outrageously small I knew Charlie would lock me in if I even attempted to wear it. Not that I planned to. Even in the small fitting booth, I felt like wrapping the curtain around me when I stepped out. I could hardly meet Alice's inspecting gaze. "Well, it's, umm, small… oops!" she began to giggle suddenly. "You'd better be careful now, Edward!"
"What did you do?" I hissed, horrified.
"I didn't do anything. I was just asking for his opinion on this last item. But I don't think he thinks much of it; he just dropped a copy of A Portrait of New Zealand in the shop he's in. Why he's interested in New Zealand is beyond me, it's such a dreadfully long swim. Ah well. I hope they don't charge him if he damages the book."
Her chattering was beginning to give me a headache. "Alice, my dad is going to be home soon."
"Oh, don't worry about Charlie. He got some pizza for the two of you on his way home. And I left him a note on your behalf, explaining you were with me." She looked around us, and my eyes followed hers, observing the disarray we'd left behind. The floor was barely visible beneath the pile of discarded items. "But we still have work to do, so yes, I guess we can head back now."
I began to pull my own clothes back on before she even had a chance to finish her sentence.
Edward was quiet on the drive back, and I suspected it was due to the trick Alice had pulled off earlier. He seemed to be having a hard time looking at me now, not to mention touching me. Whereas normally he'd drive one-handed and have my hand securely in his, this time he clutched the wheel in both hands, so tightly that his knuckles went whiter than normally. He paid more attention to the road than he had ever done before. I shot Alice a distressed look through the rearview mirror. She merely shrugged, as if telling me he'd get over it soon.
It was dark when he pulled into our street and stopped in front of Charlie's house. The cruiser was parked in front, and there was light coming from the living room. Edward killed the engine and finally turned to look at me. "I'll see you later," he said, brushing his hand across my cheek.
"You're not coming in?"
A shadow of a smile ghosted across his lips. "I thought you were still mad at me." It was part question, part statement. I rolled my eyes but said nothing, letting the question linger in my stare. "No, I… Emmett needs me at home."
It was strange. I remembered the last time he was reluctant about coming in with me. A shudder went through me. It felt as if this anxiety about an imminent departure would always be there at the back of my mind. I looked at him carefully. It wasn't like last time, I told myself. He didn't have that empty expression like he'd had then. There's nothing to be afraid of. "Okay. I'll leave my window open."
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised, leaning forward to kiss me. Yeah, I told myself, everything was fine.
Charlie was still sour-faced when I walked in. Alice tagged along to soften the atmosphere, but I had a feeling it wasn't going to do much help this time. "Hey, Charlie!" she chimed as we poked our heads into the living room to greet him.
"Hi, girls. Where have you been?" he asked, his eyes focusing on the bags Alice was carrying. Suspicion sneaked into his voice as he shifted his gaze from her to me.
"We were in Port Angeles, getting Bella some new stuff for her weekend," said Alice, escaping the elbow I tried to push into her ribs. I would probably have inflicted more damage to myself than to her, anyway.
Charlie's eyes were back on me now, reproaching rather than suspicious. "Your mother called me this morning, Bella," he said, obviously displeased by this fact. But I could detect the surrender in his voice, in the way he looked at me. I knew my only way out had just failed me even before he spoke next. "You can go to Jacksonville if you want."
"Thanks, Dad," I mumbled, looking away from him as soon as I'd gotten the chance. The previous evening was still fresh in my memory.
"When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow after lunch, I think. Edward said we're flying out tomorrow afternoon," I said, throwing an inquiring look at Alice, who nodded.
Charlie fixed his supposedly indifferent gaze back on the TV. I'd lived with him long enough to know that he was faking it. "Where is Edward?"
"He's gone packing. Boys, they always leave things to the last minute!"
I sniggered. I was sure Edward was all ready and packed. I was also sure it was mostly thanks to Alice. I didn't realize she was urging me upstairs before it was too late.
"Edward's going to be back in a little over an hour, hurry!"
"Hurry? What the hell do you want us to do?" I thought the worst part of the day was behind me by now.
Alice threw me a glare from over her shoulder and strode into my room. "Repack," was all she said, switching on the lights. I sighed and shut the door behind us. I walked over to my desk and emptied my bag from books as she got hold on my duffle bag. She peered inside and shook her head in dismay. "You're worse than my brother. Sit back, let me fix this."
"What? Alice, I don't need – "
"Don't you have anything to read, Bella? Here," she said sweetly, thrusting my tattered copy of Wuthering Heights at me. "Sit there and try to ignore me."
I snorted, but did as she demanded. Ignore her. Right.