A few words from the author: This is an early fanfiction story of mine, and no proofreaders can be held responsible for the horrors found within; after all, it's all on me. Some two years after posting it I decided to go through for a Revise and Edit (applying my developed skills). Two chapters in, I ran for the hills, wailing about the mess and labor of it all. This is why Chapter One and Chapter Two look different than the rest.

Disclaimer: All recognizable settings, characters, plot-lines—the works, you name it—found throughout this story belong to Stephenie Meyer. I only borrow bits and pieces and play with them.


-x Chapter One x-


Look in my eyes I'll make you see / We're drifting aimlessly / Blind in a world of make believe. / "Illusion & Dream," by Poets of the Fall


-x Illusion & Dream x-


The rain poured down outside, drumming angrily against the windowsill. But maybe that was just how I imagined it. I was frustrated; it was the end of my last semester at Dartmouth and I should have been ecstatic, except I wasn't. I was going to graduate with honors for my brilliant writing; my peers and teachers alike were praising my way with words. I had a gift, they said. Yeah right.

Ugh.

I leaned back in my chair, stretching my arms before me, lacing my fingers together to use the leverage to work out the tense kinks in my knuckles. My eyes drifted toward the clock on the wall behind the dining table: 00:32. Way past my bedtime.

I wondered if Charlie was awake still. Why would I call my dad? We didn't really engage in smalltalk. But still, somehow, I felt the need to talk to him. I wanted him to tell me about his life, tell me what he was up to. Fishing, sports—anything. Yes. Anything to push back the hurricane of thoughts that threatened to break through the bubble I had created for them. My special little bubble where I tucked away unwanted thoughts and desires. I had many of them, after all.

My first year at college hadn't been so bad. Maybe I'd allowed a few of the suppressed thoughts to surface. But as I started my second year, the little suckers had started dropping in like unwanted phone calls when you were getting hot and heavy with your significant other. Let's not go there, I told myself.

End of third year, and beginning of fourth, they'd begun piling up on me. The festering thoughts, the musings—all the 'what ifs'. Hadn't it been for my writing, majoring in English and those extra courses in Creative Writing—and not to forget my new best friend, my laptop—I doubt I would have been sitting here right now. I would have thrown myself on a plane back home to Forks so I could hide away in my old room. Which made me wonder if Charlie had kept it for me. Or had he turned it into storage by now? Had I been even a somewhat decent daughter, I would have known. Since I wasn't, I hadn't talked to him for so long it didn't even bear thinking about. God, I sucked.

And then, without warning, it all bubbled up inside me; once again I sat through the worst re-runs in history.

Welcome to the Days of Bella Swan's Teenage Life.

God!

So why is it that when you're a kid you have immunity to logic? How come you think you know better than everybody else? And no matter what anyone tells you, no matter how many times you're dealt The Facts, time and time again, you just stick your chin out, pout, and yell "No!" And when you're asked why, you smugly pull an Oscar-winning line out of your ass that even would convince mother-freaking-Theresa that you're the only teenager in the world with her head screwed on right.

"Oh, Bella is so mature for her age. She knows what she's doing," I mimicked in a low, feigned masculine-like voice.

How does a teenager, who has never really seen much of anything, besides the romantic notions of love in the works of Shakespeare and the spinster sister's Bronte, know anythingabout the real world? Moreover, how does she, in her right mind, live through the apocalypse a-la Vampire versus Werewolf, thinking that, "Yes. Of course I know what I want! I want to prance off into the sunset while the people who brought me into this life grow old, wither away, and die. And then, on the day of their funeral, I will be off sucking some poor animal dry, instead of attending the funeral like a respectful, loving daughter, because that is what I must do so I can have the perfect, fairytale ending." How does the reality check and the fast forward through 101 Tips On How To Grow Up not register when you are faced with extraordinary circumstances?

Breathe, Bella, breathe, I commanded myself. I was freaking out again, as per usual when I didn't keep control of my little bubble.

I didn't like who I became when the chaos was let loose on a rampage inside my head. Sometimes I seriously wondered if those years in Forks had caused me severe mental damage, and that it had been suppressed because I just hadn't had the tools at the time to deal with it. And now I was developing schizophrenia. It sure felt like it sometimes.

Perhaps I should be so lucky? It might qualify me for some really good drugs on prescription. That thought curled my frown into a grim smile. Jake would have busted a rib witnessing my unsound state of mind. . . .

Another unwelcome thought.

The last time I'd seen Jake he'd nearly snapped my arms off, after learning I was going to have sex with my vampire husband. I couldn't blame him. Perhaps he should have hurt me. I wonder what would have ensued? No doubt some battle or struggle or other, of epic magnitude. Maybe I would have been sent back home to Charlie? Or even down to Florida to live with my mother? I'm sure, if my father had found out just what kind of a life I had gotten myself into, he would have at least given it his best shot to have me shipped off, somewhere far, far away.

Oh yes. My little bubble of 'what ifs.'

It wasn't pretty; it held all the decisions I had made in my life that I had found out I had regretted. The bubble wasn't only for my own sake, but for Edward's sake, too.

My heart squeezed.

Edward hadn't changed. He was still the same; a gentleman, a cynic, a great husband and an attentive lover. He did still cause my blood to heat up, at times, and my heart to stutter and—no. I couldn't let myself go there either. Hormones were nice, and so was sex. Not using your head, however, when making some of the most important decisions in your lifewasn't. It was downright punishable. In my own opinion, at least.

I thought of the conversation I'd had with my mother, when I had talked to her about marrying Edward. She had told me that I was her middle-aged teenager. Once, I had believed that she saw through everything, even the best of lies, the most believable disguises. But the one thing she hadn't seen through was the obvious difference between Edward and I: I was human, and he wasn't.

It was odd, really, that they managed to blend in so well. I mean, when I saw that they were so blatantly... not human. Not only their exterior, but how they moved. And talked. And how they acted, in general. But, then again, perhaps that was just a personal trait of mine? To be observant. You weren't observant enough, I told myself. You didn't see and understand the consequences to the choices you were making, and that they were wrong.

No, of course I hadn't. I had been a teenager, loved by two too-wonderful parents who poured all their trust into their only daughter; who believed that she was wise enough to make her own decisions when, really, they should have locked me away and flushed the key down the toilet.

Well, okay. Edward would have just sneaked me out through the window and whisked me off into the night—to my immense pleasure and delight, not to forget.

I sucked in a breath, puffing my cheeks full of air, and blew it out through gritted teeth. I glowered at myself. Just learn to accept that you were a teenager, and that you didn't know better.

Resting my elbows on the desk, I buried my face in my palms and rubbed my face roughly.

I wasn't going to get any writing done tonight. It was best to just try to sleep.

00:39

Well, at least I passed a few minutes, right?

Defeated, I closed the lid to my laptop and lumbered into the kitchen, loading the coffee machine, preparing for the morning. I needed my caffeine fix in the mornings. Without it I always sent Edward off to his classes with a tortured look on his face.

I was hurting him a lot these days. By such things as snapping at him when he was just trying to be supportive, or by faking a headache when I didn't want to sleep with him.

Boy, was I ever grateful for being a mental mute. I had been a terrible liar once, but these days I was beginning to get a handle on the art. Especially when it came to Edward. It was needed—and not in the way one might think. I was one hundred percent faithful to him. I did love him still. But there was something missing. Something that had started nagging at me a few months ago, when the remorseful thoughts regarding my past decisions had started to become overbearing.

With a groan I flicked the light switch, and moved to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. As I turned the lights on, I went straight up to the sleek marble counter and splayed my fingers across the surface; my palms pressed into the coolness of it. I stared at my hands against the pale gray, the spotlights in the ceiling making it shimmer. For a long moment I just stood there, staring.

In my twisted mind I imagined it was Edwards chest—and the laugh bubbled up my throat before I could stop it. Instantly heat rushed into my face. My head snapped up, and I glared at my reflection in the mirror. My face was alive with irritation and embarrassment. But that wasn't the only thing I noted. What got me more was how my face had changed. It was more defined, angled. The face of a woman; not a girl. My dark hair was a pretty contrast against my pale skin, and my wide eyes, thickly framed with dark lashes, made my brown eyes stand out.

As I continued to scrutinize myself, my eyes wandered down my body. I pushed away from the counter, twisting and prodding my no longer wiry frame. My chest was, well, not so small anymore, but still not big. My hips were slightly wider, and my bottom a little more rounded, and my legs were more defined and toned. It was all thanks to my visits to the running track, three days a week.

The way I studied myself now, and how I came to realize that I liked that I had changed, brought on another bout of memories to catapult me through more 'what ifs'.

I had been so obsessed with being turned into an immortal. Sickly obsessed. I would have been frozen in time at the age of eighteen. I watched my eyes widen in horror at the prospect.

Well, now, at least, I possessed some appreciation for my then hormone-riddled body. Without it, I would have been standing here utterly helpless, crying for the release of tears that would never come, because I would have been hasty in choosing death instead of life. With annoyance quickly surging through me, I snatched up my toothbrush, coated it roughly with toothpaste, and let loose on my teeth.

A few minutes later I was curled up in bed, alone, while fighting the tears. Oh, the irony never ends.

As it were, some things change, and others don't. My natural affinity for crying was something, it seemed, I would be stuck with for the rest of my life.

In my misery, I replayed a shopping endeavor with Alice, from only a few days prior:

Alice held out the black garment against me; her head pulled back as she imagined it on me. I rolled my eyes at her.

"There is no way I am wearing that racy number, Alice. Forget it. I might have gained an appreciation for certain aspects of fashion, but I am still a jeans-and-tee girl."

Alice sighed at me and hung the silky, thigh-length slip back in its place. "Some things never change," she muttered. "Even for you humans."

I smirked. "And some things do." I zeroed in on a steely blue tee behind her, with black, lacy letters, saying Bite Me. I snatched it from the rack and ran for the changing rooms.

"God, Bella. When will you grow up?" she wailed, in hot pursuit behind me.

While wriggling into the fitted t-shirt, I chirped happily, "If growing up means having no sense of humor, then I'd like the prerogative of never having to do so." I danced out of the cubicle to spin demonstratively in the spotlight of her disapproving glare.

"Why are you even showing it to me? I'll be seeing it for many months to come, so you could have just spared me the premiere." Alice sashayed off to hunt down yet another piece of clothing I would make her put away.

I followed, coming up behind her where she stood inspecting shiny accessories. "Many months?" I inquired, dubious, then added teasingly, "I'm going to wear it for all of eternity!" knowing I was being mean but thoroughly unable to help myself.

She turned slowly, her eyes flashing with sudden pain.

"Oh Alice, I'm sorry, I . . . I was just teasing—"

"Oh, stop it," she whispered. "It's not about the shirt." She paused, her lips turned in a pout, and then she continued. "Have you changed your mind?" she asked, her voice very low and seemingly hesitant.

"About what?" I asked, confused, while trying to figure out what was wrong.

Finally, after a long pause, she said, "About . . . eternity?"

My eyes narrowed in suspicion, though I wasn't really sure what she was asking me. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the fact that when I'm looking into your future I'm not seeing you becoming one of us anymore." She said it slowly, drawing it out as if it were too painful for her to admit.

"I . . . Seriously?" I gaped at her. And then, naturally, thanks to the inherent parts of me that always suspected the worst, I started freaking out: fate, as it were, must have decided to pay a visit to her favorite danger-magnet again. Of course. Leaving me in peace would not do. I was going to die. Something was after me, as per usual. . . .

For God's sake, snap out of it, Bella.

"Certainly, I do see Edward with you, but you both seem miserable."

That broke me out of the first stages of hyperventilation. "Ah . . ." I managed to reply, eventually.

But Alice wasn't done, and quickly followed suit, firing another question at me. "Do you still love . . . him?"

In spite of what one might believe, thanks to my freak-out seconds before, I wasn't incurably dense; I knew very well who she was referring to.

"I . . . Well, of course I do; I always will," I told her honestly. A whisper of warmth swept across my skin as I said it. "Just like I will always love Edward," I hurried on. "But if you're asking me if I have changed my mind, or if I think that I might have chosen the wrong path, well, then you are dead wrong. Edward and I were meant to be together. For eternity or for life, doesn't matter . . . whichever happens." I strode away from Alice quickly, tossing the t-shirt at the counter where the the girl behind the cash register stared at me in mild irritation, as if I had just ruined her day by making her have to ring up the sale.

Sobs wracked my body as the floodgates opened and the hurt returned.

When Edward and I left our wedding reception that night, an agonized howl had ripped through me; it had branded me so deeply that the painful echoes still resonated through my mind to this day. Even if I had never seen him again. Which was totally my fault. Or both our faults. Whatever.

I hadn't attempted to contact him, and he hadn't attempted to contact me.

Somewhere deep down I wondered if he had finally imprinted on someone and gotten his happily-ever-after. I hoped so. Because with each year passing, ever since that day, I had come to terms with what an idiot I had been.

Jacob Black was better off without me.

I had treated him in the most despicable way anyone could have ever imagined. Disgustingly bad, really. And that I had ever deluded myself that I was his best friend was just absurd. In simple terms: he had been my comfort blanket. I had used him. Yes, sure, I had known it—some part of it, back then—and I had felt at least a little remorseful. But what I saw now—what I could understand and perceive, and the magnitude of it—made me feel like a royally rotten egg. No, worse; like bacteria and mold, actually, that prospered on rotten eggs.

My hands grasped for my pillow and I wrapped it around my head, pressing it into my ears, and prayed for it all to just go away.

You're still a drama-queen, I muttered to myself, the words muffled against the satin pillow case. Yes, indeed I am.

-xox-

A silky-smooth voice roused me. I felt the cool body sliding up against me, and firm arms wrapped around my waist. "Good morning," he whispered into my ear; his sweet breath washed over me. My eyes fluttered open, and I stiffened as I focused on my alarm clock: 06:30.

I groaned inwardly. Yet another half-hour came to stretch out in front of me, full of prospective lies and tries to let him down easy.

For a long time, this had been one of our favorite times of the day. We would wrap around each other, touch and kiss in places that would have made me blush once upon a time. Now, however, the only thing I desired was a steaming cup of coffee.

The show must go on, I sang in my head and turned to Edward. His eyes were black, but not from thirst. At least not for blood. I felt him press against the curve of my hip and barely suppressed a smirk.

"Good morning," I whispered and met his lips obediently, trying to draw up memories of a time when it would have been effortless to throw myself at him. It was a strange concept to fantasize about what your husband used to be like, so you could make love to the man he was now, when, in fact, he was frozen, never changing. I had told myself that what I really fantasized about was who I used to be, to drown who I was now.

But, as every other time, I only managed for so long, and when we moved on from stroking, fondling, and kissing, to actually get hot and steamy—well, I was responsible for the heating and steaming; Edward was always cold—something inside me died. Again. And I eloquently faked yet another Oscar-winning performance to get myself out of our bed, away from his arms, but ultimately away from the tortured expression I knew would linger on his face for the rest of the day . . . until he saw me again for dinner.

Well, once more, I would be responsible for the dining; Edward would just sit and watch me. As always.

The coffee machine sputtered to life and I hurried to the bathroom. Stepping swiftly into the shower, I turned the faucet to the hottest temperature I could tolerate.

A few minutes later, I walked back into the kitchen where Edward stood, dressed and ready, waiting for me with my cup in his outstretched hand.

"Library again today?" he asked, smiling at me softly. The smile didn't reach his eyes, however; a fact which I guiltily tried to avoid by averting my own gaze.

"Yes," I replied instead over my shoulder as I went to sit down on the balcony with the morning paper. "I find it a lot easier to focus there. There's something so very comforting about being surrounded by a bunch of book-worms and librarians with an attitude. Adds spunk to my project." The news paper itself was a great prop. As for the content, it didn't really interest me that much. But because of my new-found distraction I was very up to date with what was happening around the world.

The sunrise was beautiful, and I looked out over the breathtaking landscape. Of course we had gotten our very own apartment, instead of renting like normal students. Back then, I had boggled at the numbers, and I remembered how sick I had felt about splashing out on something that we would only live in for a few years. So totally unnecessary.

But I had agreed to all these things to get my way. After all, we had made a deal: He got to spend insane amounts of money on me, and I got to have his body whenever I wanted. How incredibly slutty of me. Although, I suppose another part of that bargain had been that I stayed human. A part of the deal I now was immensely grateful for, and probably the only one that didn't leave me feeling cheap and filthy all around.

Our apartment was on the outskirts of Hanover, so I had a bit of a drive to get to campus, but that's what my Mercedes was for. By some miracle, I had come to love that car. I don't know if it was due to some hidden part of me that secretly loved all things dark, powerful, and beautiful, or if it simply had something to do with the tinted windows, obscuring what was on the inside, and allowed me privacy as I zipped through town. Eventually I decided it was a combination of both.

I sipped my coffee lazily, and skimmed through the paper, not finding the distraction of it particularly successful this morning.

"Another three weeks and we're done. How does it feel?"

I jumped as he spoke closely behind me. "Dammit, Edward. You scared me!"

He smiled down at me, apologetic. "Sorry."

How did he manage to make me feel guilty and irritated, simultaneously?

"To answer your question, it feels great. I am really happy about my project; I think Professor Larsen is going to be blown away, once more." And an effortless giggle slipped out of me. The distinguished man—ruffled and handsome still in his sixties—had been quite taken with me when I first came to his lectures. I had made a grand entrance that had earned me generous teasing and discreet snickering for months following the incident; after I had tripped over the threshold, my papers and books had sailed through the air, just as Professor Larsen had declared that it was a wonderful day for opening our minds and letting go. I don't think comparing my face to a tomato, in that moment, would have sufficed.

"It's pretty safe to say that you blow everyone away, love. It's just who you are. You draw people to you, and not only with your writing." His face was reverent as I looked up. "Have you thought further on that position in Seattle?" he asked suddenly.

Of course. A high school in Seattle was seeking a teacher for a special literature class they had recently added to their curriculum. It had sounded very appealing at the time, when Professor Larsen had suggested it to me, and he had told me that if I wanted he would happily write me a letter of recommendation. I had been very flattered.

There was one catch, though: could I really go back to live so close to Forks? I knew, of course, that it would be an ideal place for our family to live. There were many practices and hospitals around Seattle on the lookout for good doctors.

However, the thought of going to work and Edward returning to high school was somewhat unnerving. Not to mention plain freaky. My husband? Well, he went on a field trip with his Biology class and won't be back until late. Sure, they could assume he was the teacher. All the same, it was slightly risky for him to work in a company somewhere, with smart and intelligent adults around. High school was far less challenging and it was easier to avoid being conspicuous—never mind that he was a vampire.

Finally, I said, "I have thought about it, yes. But I haven't made up my mind yet. I believe I still have until the end of the semester to put in my application."

"I think you'd like Seattle," he mused. "Not too big, but still big enough not to be recognized. I know how you like your privacy."

I did. I loved my privacy, and right now he was invading it. I felt my irritation grow with each word he spoke, and then, again, a wave of nauseating guilt followed to wash over me.

"Also, it would be quite close to your father. He would like that."

Don't go there, buddy, I thought and stood up, at the fatal loss of interest in even my very appealing cup of coffee.

"I better get ready. Are we going to see your parents this weekend?" I asked in a hopeful tone. If there was one thing that could cheer me up, then it was Emmett, my big brother for all intents and purposes. He was relaxed, didn't take himself too seriously, and was the only one who didn't frown at my new-found sense of humor. I was dying to show him my new t-shirt; I knew he would get a kick out of it.

"Actually, we can go there tonight, if you'd like?" He followed me inside.

"Sure. Great," I said, and disappeared into the bathroom again to brush my teeth. My body tensed as I anticipated him. On cue, as always, he entered the bathroom, coming to a stop behind me. I felt his eyes burn holes in the back of my head as I brushed my teeth a little too vigorously.

But instead of slipping his arms around me as he usually did, Edward lowered his lips to my neck, his hand brushing the hair off my shoulder. His smooth lips on my skin sent shivers through me; my heart stuttered as sudden and surprising desire flared up from somewhere deep inside. Yes! my unpredictable hormones chorused with delightful relief.

My toothbrush dropped, and I was in his arms instantly. My lips mashed against his in a urgent, ravenous kiss, while Edward's hands roamed my body. A moan slid past his lips to mingle with my own whimpers. We both knew that there was no time to waste. We had grown accustomed to these rare occasions, where rare desire would flare up, and we always lost ourselves in it, without questions, without care about time or being late for classes. Luckily, I didn't have class today, but Edward did. He didn't seem to care too much about that, though, and I was glad for that, because, honestly, how long had it been?

My body cried out in joy at the familiar rush of blood through my veins, the elevation of my heart rate and, ultimately, at the intimacy I loved and craved. I wanted to savor it, to drag it out to make it last for hours and hours because, God, I missed this—I missed us. However, I knew from experience that it only lasted for so long, before those nameless and faceless shadows came slithering out of some unknown place, and there wasn't one single thing worse than losing passion in the midst of our naked bodies moving together as one. . . .

We were both panting as we pulled away, temporarily satisfied.

"I have missed you, Edward," I whispered honestly as I ran my hands across the perfection of his chest. He shuddered beneath my touch, then turned to face me.

"You know that I am always here for you, Bella. I always want you. You know that, right?"

I nodded, smiling wistfully. How I knew that to be so true. Too bad I had to go and get all grown up—somewhat grown up. If I had been a fully qualified adult, I wouldn't have my special little collection of 'what ifs' to torture myself with; nor would I be hiding like the chicken I was. I would dig down deep and sort through the mess of my mind and come up with a solution that both Edward and I deserved.

The truth.

Slowly, I felt the moment pass, and I leaned in quickly to peck Edward's perfectly chiseled jaw, before getting out of bed. I picked up the garments littering the floor on my way back to the bathroom.

I finished brushing my teeth with haste, and then called out "Bye!" before slipping out the door.

Not until I was in my car could I breathe out fully.

Without further hesitation, I started the car. It purred at me, as if to say "Good morning." It elicited a small smile from my lips and I put it into gear, driving off with tires squealing and smoking.

It was still fairly early still, and usually the library was mostly empty at this time of the morning. Especially on Fridays. The thought of having almost the entire library to myself made me relax. I cut the engine, having arrived, and gathered my books, humming the melody of the latest song out from the radio.

I'm not exactly sure what came over me next, and for some strange reason, the whole incident that followed was bizarre, if anything. Something that did occur to me, however, was that I couldn't hold off dealing with my emotions for much longer, because my behavior was just thoroughly unacceptable.

Stepping out of the car, I didn't look anywhere in particular, so when my eyes locked on a pair of intensely brown ones, my heart jumped up into my throat and for a split second I felt such joy that it brought tears to my eyes.

"Are you okay?" a deep, husky voice asked me.

I blinked. Once. Twice. And finally the rest of his face came into focus. He was probably around my age. His hair was cropped short, and while his eyes held me captive, they questioned me. I stared, shamelessly, drinking in his handsome features, like I had been wandering the desert aimlessly for days. God, woman, get a hold of yourself. I couldn't. Instead I took note of his strong jaw, the three-day stubble and the dimples that appeared when he smirked.

My brain turned to mush, and for a moment I seemed to have completely forgotten how to hold a civilized conversation. That is, the kind where you actually put words together in sync with the movements of your lips.

"I, uh . . ."

Brilliant.

His top lip curled slightly, and I resorted to ogling the dimples. Then, suddenly, he disappeared from my view, ducking down. Dumbly, I followed him with only my eyes, incapable of mustering much else, and it wasn't until I realized that he was picking up familiar-looking books and papers from the ground that my brain started working again.

"Oh my God, I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me . . . You reminded me of someone I haven't seen in a long while and . . . I guess I just went into shock." I was rambling like a pro.

He handed me my things, the smirk still firmly in place. "That's all right." His voice was so very appealing, in such a familiar kind of way, yet so completely different.

"Do you live here or do you study here?" he asked then, and, in spite of my better judgment—that, of course, dependent on possessing judgment to begin with, but never mind—I found myself giving him a lot more information than the answer to his question.

Next thing I knew, we were walking toward the library together, chatting easily. Yet another thing that held a distant familiarity, making my little bubble protest back in the darkest recesses of my mind. It tried to pull out memories from a bygone time: sitting in a garage with a boy, a boy who could very well have, by now, looked rather similar to this man strolling lazily beside me. Still he was nothing like him, and that made my stomach twist with guilt and . . . loss.

"Wow. Forks. Isn't that really close to the Quileute reservation?" His question jolted me like I had just been tasered. My reaction didn't go unnoticed, and as my face heated he stopped to stare at me. I quickly tried to composed myself, attempting a smile, but felt the effort was a complete failure.

"Uh . . . Actually, yes. I used to play there as a kid. My dad is good friends with a few of them. Not so strange, though, considering he's the Chief of Police in Forks and all." I tried steering the conversation in a different direction, toward anything else but La Push and the mess I had left behind.

"Hm . . . that's really interesting. I study Native American legends; I find them very fascinating. The Quileute legends, in particular. Did you know that their language is a fascination to many who like to study linguistics? Also, and this is one of my favorites: They believe themselves to be descendants from wolves. Quite a good read if you ask me."

I thought my eyes would pop out of my skull, and suddenly wished the ground would open up and swallow me whole. A nervous laugh. "Huh," was my only reply. If he only knew; I bet he'd regret delving into legends and myths if he knew how much truth lurked behind them.

"Say, would you like to grab a coffee or something? I was in a hurry out of my apartment this morning because, well, I have a very loud roommate, and his girlfriend came up from New York last night—let me tell you, I won't be going back there anytime soon." He gave a chuckle at that, and I allowed a slight smirk.

"You can always give him payback," I suggested, but didn't realize how very inappropriate it sounded until I saw the look on his face.

"Are you offering?" He grinned as his eyes twinkled playfully. My mouth went dry, and I could only stared at him. He burst out laughing. "Sorry," he said. "I have a bad habit of speaking from the gutter, where my mind visits frequently. No offense intended. Honest."

"Guess I left myself wide open for that one," I admitted grudgingly.

"Yeah, actually you kinda did." His smile was genuine, and I found myself taking a liking to this very blunt stranger.

Subsequently, I took him up on his offer without even really thinking about it. "Well, I guess one coffee wouldn't hurt." I returned his smile and followed him through the doors to the cafe.

-xox-

One hour later I was in tears, laughing at the stories he told me about himself and his roommate. Apparently they had both come here from New Jersey, friends from elementary school, planning all their lives to open up a business together. The way I pictured them in my head, getting up to no good, reminded me of. . . .

Oh no, let's not relive that one again. That's enough for one day, I told myself sharply.

"I just realized we've been talking for two hours, and I still don't know your name." He looked at me expectantly.

What's the harm in a name? I thought and answered, "Bella." I wiped a straying tear that had escaped my eye. "And yours?"

"Jonathan. But call me Jon."

"A pleasure to meet you, Jon," I said, holding my hand out formally.

He took my hand and shook it. "Likewise, Bella." Then he rested his forearms on the table, leaning forward a little. "So, tell me: how long have you been married?"

I was totally unprepared for that one, and instantly my hand went to twist the ring on my ring finger. Guilt burned hot against my skin. What was I doing here, really? I had never been one to engage in smalltalk, let alone with a stranger. That was disregarding my days in La Push, together with my very best friend, which I really didn't have the right to call him, but that had been different. He hadn't been a stranger; he had been family. . . .

This wasn't him; this was a complete stranger that I had met in the car park across from the library.

Why was I freaking out? We were just having coffee. Jon hadn't even shown any interest in me, I mean, not in a way that told me I needed to remind him that I was married. Albeit he had taken the liberty to look for himself . . . and to bring it into the conversation.

"Four years coming up soon," I herd myself answer in all honesty, as with all his other questions, like I felt he was someone I could trust. I didn't feel like he was a stranger, even though he was and we had met only a couple of hours ago. Suddenly my phone rang, and I all but dove into my bag to fish it out.

Perfect. It was Alice. Nice timing.

Flipping it open, and putting a smile on my face, I said, "Hey, Alice," with the phone to my ear.

"Why do I see you showing up much later today than Edward?" she asked. Jeez, she was nosy.

"Well, Alice. Because I will be stuck in the library longer than I thought."

"You two aren't fighting or anything, are you?"

Seriously. My eyes narrowed, wondering why she would make such assumptions. Even with the awkwardness from time to time, Edward and I didn't fight. Not really. Not anymore. There was nothing to fight about to be honest.

"No, Alice. I don't understand what makes you say that."

I heard her sigh. She seemed resigned when she said, "I suppose I'm just worried because of my visions, as of late, and you have been acting strange, too."

"Well, you can rest assured"—I pondered fleetingly how that wasn't really possible for Alice, like, literally—"that what I told you at the mall the other day still stands. I mean it, Alice. Now will you stop looking, and give it a break, please? I have to go. I'll see you all later, okay?" I flipped my phone shut and shoved it back into my bag.

"Either you're a lesbian, or you have an overbearing friend or sibling," Jon said, his eyes holding mine as he sipped his coffee.

"Sister-in-law," I corrected, and then sighed, rolling my eyes dramatically.

"Oh. Just looking out for her brother, then?"

"If you only knew." How true that was.

"Maybe I should let you go? I don't want to get you into trouble."

I wanted to disagree and continue to chat. He was refreshing to talk to, and in ways it helped with the chaotic thoughts that were constantly threatening to break through the confines I had restricted them to. But at the same time I felt really guilty, no matter how innocent our conversation was. I had no intentions beyond what we were doing right now. To be truthful, there was only one other person that really interested me in such a way, but, as I had to keep telling myself all the time, that was deep water to be treading, and no good would come of even the thought of it.

"Unless . . ." Jon's eyes narrowed, his brows bunched together. "If you need someone to unload on, I'm a great listener. I know people say that a lot, just as an excuse to pry, but really. I can sit here and just listen, and not say anything, or I can give you my opinion, if you want that. Whichever part of the service you choose, I'm your guy."

Somehow his offer was so tempting. But I didn't even know where to begin or what to talk about. And, once again, I didn't know him. Not really. Suddenly I heard myself say, "What's in my head is so complicated that I can't even make sense of it myself, let alone explain it to someone."

Jon leaned forward, folding his arms in front of him on the tabletop. His eyes sparkling and alive, he said, "I'm a pro with complicated, trust me. I had a really fucked up childhood."

Curious, the prospect of finally getting to air some of the mess that was jumbled up inside me too tempting to resist, I allowed myself to accept his offer.

He held up one finger, as if asking me to hold the thought, and ordered us another round of coffee. "So," he said, sitting back down, "I'm all ears."

Well, this was going to be tricky. A lot of the problems I had were essentially problems simply because they didn't belong in this world, that is, the world of humans. "I'm not sure where to begin though. To tell you the truth, I've never talked to anyone about problems. I have always held all that stuff inside. I don't like burdening others with my issues." I looked down, fidgeting with my serviette.

"All right. How about I ask you questions?" I hesitated, and he hurriedly assured me that, "You pick whether to answer or not. Totally your call. No pressure."

Deciding that maybe it would help me loosen up, I agreed without further pause. "Sure."

"Does it have anything to do with that guy you mistook me for?"

Wow. So maybe I was an open book? I couldn't help it, but my mouth actually popped open with the sheer disbelief of his being right on the money. "I guess you could say that—or that's part of it, anyway."

Jon smiled, and then he fired another one at me. "Could he possibly be Quileute?"

I was stunned into silence.

He chuckled at my expression. "I told you I was a good listener. I'm kind of obsessively observant, too," he admitted, looking sheepish.

That made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I didn't want him to figure out just how deep my troubles went. Plus, I wasn't used to someone reading me so well. Only two people really had managed to see past all my horrible attempts at hiding the truth. Renee and Jake. And, in the end, even my mom had failed pretty badly, so that left Jake.

"So . . . there's a history with a Quileute guy from your teenage years," he counted on his fingers, "you married fresh outta high school, your sister-in-law keeps tabs on you, and you drive one hell of a car."

"That sums it all up beautifully," I said with a smirk and he laughed.

"Well, correct me if I am wrong, but something tells me that whatever you had with this Quileute boy was a big threat to your significant other, judging by the overprotective sister-in-law, who I think, now when I'm lookin' at it more closely, might be keeping tabs on you by the request of her brother? I mean, let's take the car you drive, for example. I'd say this Quileute boy and your husband came from opposite sides of the track, am I right? And somehow I get the feeling that since you're all the way out here studying, and your family is back in Forks, you didn't pick the right boy according to your family, maybe? You told me your dad was friends with a few people at the reservation," he pointed out as my eyes grew larger and owlish-like. "So now you're hiding, you're feeling guilt, your last semester's rapidly coming to an end." He paused as I practically gaped like a fish out of water. "Dare I throw in there that you, now, after much time and distance, have started thinking that . . . maybe you might have chosen wrong?"

I hadn't thought I'd made the wrong choice; I knew I had. But I also didn't want to know what that meant. There were so many complications looming in the near future that I couldn't bear to to give it much thought, let alone analyze it.

Jon, sensing the conflict within, jumped forward. "Tell me about the Quileute guy. I mean, what was he like? Only if you want. Tell me to stop whenever."

Talk about Jake? I hadn't thought about Jake for so long. In fact, I had made an effort notto think about him. The least I could do was tell him his name, so that he would stop calling him the Quileute boy, or guy.

"His name is Jake." I stilled. The way my mouth shaped around his name felt . . . so good. Yet so painful at the same time. I hadn't spoken of him since that disaster of a wedding. Well, except for with Alice the other week. But this was different. I was supposed to talkabout him, who he was, what he was like. . . .

My throat tightened as I furiously fought against the memories of that last evening, the last time I saw Jake, the last time I talked to him—the last time his arms were around me . . . This was all a mistake; I shouldn't be thinking about it, even less talk about it.

Jon noticed my inner battles. "Okay. Let's just forget the whole thing. Yeah? We can talk about the latest trend with spandex."

I choked out a laugh, and Jon grinned wide. "Nice—when you're running or working out," I said, sniffing.

"I'm more of a sweats-and-tee kinda guy," he said. "I like my freedom."

The image that his words painted into my mind was as unwelcome as it was uninvited. I had no idea why I was sitting here picturing Jon in sweats and a t-shirt. Maybe just the sweats and no tee, right? As it would seem, my mind was beginning to run loops, repeatedly returning to anything connected to Jake. And when I looked up at Jon, who was studying me now, I realized that apart from a slight difference in the slant of his smile, and the cut of his jaw, he and Jake weren't too unalike, in their looks. This was almost how I might have imagined what Jake looked like today.

I let my mind wander: Oh, Jake. Why did I mess things up so badly? In spite of myself, I found myself wanting to know what he was up to. Probably he had imprinted by now, or at least found a girlfriend. The select few times that I had worked up the courage to call my dad over the years, I had never asked anything about Jake. At first, Charlie had tried to talk about him, but after a few phone calls I had flipped out and told him to never say his name again. And after that I hadn't called back. I was such a drama-queen. And an even worse daughter. Poor Charlie. It wasn't his fault. But at the time I had been so desperate for not having to hear about Jake—I just hadn't wanted to be reminded.

As much as I wanted happiness for Jacob, a cold stone settled in my chest, growing, making my insides ache at the prospect of him having found his special someone. Still the selfish little girl, aren't you? I admonished myself.

"I don't want to push you," came Jon's voice, startling me. "Sorry . . . Okay, so if I can give you a piece of advice—take it or leave it, it's up to you—then I think that you have two choices really, as I see it. Either you bury it completely, or you reach out. Write the guy a letter or something, ask how he's doing and what he's up to. You might find that if you get in touch with him, he might not be the guy you remember, you know? Four years changes a lot, after all. Especially at our age; dashing young people and all, right?" He winked, then cleared his throat. "So anyway. One moment you're a kid, the next you're becoming an adult. Nothing ever stays the same, Bella, so you gotta grab a hold with both hands, while you have the chance. Personally I hate 'what ifs', so I try to live life to the fullest, every day . . . I don't wanna live with regrets."

The words tolled through my mind, through my body, like an ominous clock ticking closer and closer to midnight. Oh God, here we go again.

Regrets . . . Wasn't that how I was living my life? Regretting all the things I didn't take the time to explore? It would have been so easy to just try. To see what it would have been like with Jake. Possibly I would have come to find that we didn't fit together at all, and then I wouldn't have to be sitting here now, freaking out about where my life was heading. I wouldn't be walking around, constantly fighting back all the images and fantasies about my best friend who had fought so hard for my humanity.

Well, Jake. Looks like you won that battle in the end; I love my humanity.

Maturing made you realize that you don't know nearly as much as you think you do, and that it's fine. But if there was one thing I did know, then it was that I didn't want to be frozen for an eternity.

"I think it might be a bad idea to write a letter," I told Jon. "He's not the letter-writing type, for starters; he's the 'hands on, take it at face value'-type of guy. I doubt he has changed much. Their culture is a bit different than ours, after all." And it was true, so very true.

"Huh. Yeah, maybe . . . but I was just sitting here thinking that you're constantly drifting off to a place where I bet he is, right? So that's why I thought it might've been worth a shot. But, hey, if you are sure about your husband, then you should definitely not be writing any letters to your childhood sweetheart."

I smiled. "I am sure about my husband. He was my high school sweetheart. It's just that . . . after I got together with Edward, Jake started showing interest, you know? And even though some things happened, that brought us closer together, in the end I stayed with Edward. The girl I was then knew that Jake was the right choice for me. Ultimately, though, it was Edward who had won my heart in the end."

Jon nodded, his eyes showing me understanding. "Sounds to me that you had to make a tough choice though. You loved them both, right? Or am I wrong?"

He really was a good listener. And he managed to pick out the most important parts that defined just how challenging this was to live with. It helped me look at in a different light. Also it was becoming increasingly easier to just . . . let go. "Yeah," I admitted. "I did—actually, I still do. But what can you do? Life just has a way of presenting you with all these choices, really difficult ones sometimes, but you have to make the choice. You haveto." Again my cell phone rang. I picked it up, annoyed that she wouldn't leave me alone. "Alice," I warned.

"Bells?" came a very familiar voice on the other side of the line.

I jumped up, nearly knocking my coffee over. "Dad!" I choked out. "Oh, Dad, I was just thinking about calling you last night, and here you are calling me." The words poured out of me like water from a released dam. "How are you? How's Forks?" I heard his low, rumbling laugh on the other side of the line, and my throat closed with emotion. I had missed him so much.

"Well, hi there, kiddo," he said, sounding both excited and surprised. "Didn't expect you to be so happy that I called. Not that I'm complaining, Bells."

"But I am!" I blurted wetly. "It's so good to hear your voice."

Jon was smiling at me from across the table. I bet I looked like a raving lunatic, grinning from ear to ear, and with tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes.

"Listen, Bells. Uh . . . there's something I wanted to talk to you about . . ." And the moment he'd said it, I felt a familiar weight of dread pulling my entire face into a frown before settling heavily in my stomach.

After a pause, I carefully asked, "What is it?"

"Maybe you should sit down."

Oh God. This couldn't be good. Abruptly, I found myself dodging the part of me that was well past freaking out. "Okay. I'm sitting down," I lied.

"Okay. Good. Right, well . . . Bells?" A dramatic pause. "I'm getting married." He was grinning.

"Dad!" Ugh. "I thought someone had died or something! That was so mean. So, um, who's the lucky lady?" I said playfully, mentally rolling my eyes at both my dad and myself.

"Sue Clearwater." I could hear a certain softness in his voice when he spoke her name.

No one was dying. Disaster wasn't imminent. All was good. "Well, that's really great news, Dad. Congratulations." I, too, was smiling now.

"Thanks, Bells. You know . . . it would be great if you could be here for the wedding." He spoke carefully, slowly, knowing that I didn't want to come back to Forks, but still it struck me like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky.

"Dad . . ." I said. "I . . . I just don't know. I'd have to talk to Edward first, okay?" That was the worst, most ridiculous excuse ever. But I just couldn't tell him the real truth behind why I didn't want to set my foot in Forks. As if I could get away with it, though; my dad was far more observant these days. Damn it.

"If this is about Jake . . . Bells, honey? Don't you think it's time to let all that go?"

It was an involuntary flinch, but Jon noticed it, and he looked up at me sympathetically. "Maybe I can, but I doubt he can . . ."

"Bells. Jake is barely around these days. There's a big chance he won't even be here for the wedding. So don't stay away just because of Jake. Okay, kiddo?"

Not around? Had he moved away? Had he gone fully wolf and roamed the forests these days or what? My heart squeezed and I stuffed it swiftly aside. I did realize, however, that I actually wanted to go to my dad's wedding. He came to mine, so it was only fair and right that I went to his.

"Bella?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

"He has changed a lot," Charlie went on. "He wouldn't give you any problems. He's not a kid anymore, honey. You gotta remember that it's been almost four years since you left."

"Stop talking about him, Dad," I snapped, and instantly winced, hurriedly apologizing. "Sorry, Dad. I just . . . Can we please not talk about him?"

Jon frowned and tutted at me, wagging his finger as if chiding a kid. I gave in to a very immature notion and poked out my tongue. He chuckled, shaking his head.

"Is that Edward with you? I didn't interrupt anything did I?" Charlie sounded mortified.

"Jeez, Dad. Calm down; don't bust a vein." I heard him laugh.

"All right, all right, I'm sorry. You can never be too sure," he defended gruffly.

I sighed. "Look. I'll think about it. Okay, Dad? I'll call you back later—when is the wedding, by the way?"

"Next weekend; Saturday at noon. First Beach." I froze. And then I groaned in spite of myself. "Just think about it. Okay, honey? I'll talk to you later; I gotta get back to work."

"Okay," I said automatically. "Talk to you later."

Charlie hung up.

I slouched down into the chair, puffing my cheeks out, and heaved a loud sigh.

"Uh-oh. That didn't sound promising. So he's getting married, huh?"

"Yeah," I said, nodding absently. "He's getting married to a woman in La Push. They're gonna have the wedding on First Beach. I . . . I can't say no. I can't not go. I owe him. He came to my wedding, even if he didn't like it. Actually, I think he kind of hated it."

I think, in that moment, Jon could catch an inkling as to how complicated my life really was.

"All right. Maybe there's a lot of stuff beneath the surface that I'm not getting. Still, it sounds like you're gonna get a perfect opportunity to see with your own eyes how life has changed at home. I know myself how hard it can be, returning to the scene of the crime . . . pardon the pun."

I snickered; he couldn't possibly know how fitting his choice of words were.

"Jon," I began.

"Oh yeah. I know this part. This is where you leave me to my demise." He winked.

Laughingly, I continued, "Right. Well, it's been great chatting with you, but I really have to go. I have to go hide out in the library to work on my project a little before I go visiting the in-laws." I stood up and grabbed my bag.

"It's been intriguing and fun. I hope we run into each other again some time."

"Me too." And I sincerely meant it. Winking, I said, "And I hope your roommate settles down."

He scoffed. "Yeah right. The chances of that are zero to none."

"I'll see you around." I held my hand out and he took it in a firm grip, shaking it.

"Take care, Bella. And remember: kick those regrets in the ass."

I smiled at him, and then walked out of the cafe.

-xox-

When I got home that afternoon I was ready to burst out of my skin. The excitement that had built up under the afternoon was like a wild animal inside me; the harder I tried to contain it the more furiously it fought to get out. I was going to see my dad, and I couldn't wait.

Edward had already come and gone, so I was able to get myself ready without having to worry about theatrics or pretenses.

After a semi-long shower, I pulled on a pair of faded low-riders and my new t-shirt. I did a little twirl in front of the mirror, giggling at the Bite Me print on my chest. Emmett would love it. As for the rest of them, well, I doubted it.

I got into my car and sped out of Hanover, toward the large colonial country cottage Carlisle and Esme had purchased four years ago, in preparations for our future at Darmouth.

Edward was at my door the moment I arrived, holding it open for me. Emmett stood at the bottom of the large porch steps, grinning and me widely.

"Alice told me you had something to show me—"

"Alice," I hissed, disapprovingly dragging her name out. "It was supposed to be a surprise."

Alice glided down the stairs, skipping over to where I stood rolling my eyes at her to give me a hug. I sighed but grinned, and returned her embrace.

"Well, what is it?" Emmett said impatiently.

I came around the car, and then made a dramatic sweep with one hand to demonstrate my chest, well, what was covering it, more like.

"Ohh. Edward, you have to admit that this is the best one so far." Emmett was at my side instantly, picking me up and twirling me.

"I knew you'd like it." I smiled. "How come everyone else are so up-tight?"

With Emmett I was still who I was four years ago; as in, without regrets about my choice of marrying into a family full of vampires. He was a big kid, and in his company, so was I.

Spending time with all of them together always put me at ease. There were no endless silences that stretched on and on. No awkward moments. There was always something on the agenda.

One thing had changed though, and that was Rosalie. Well, not that she was a thing, but, anyway. She may not have been able to predict the future, but she had observed my changes over the years and, to my amazement, she had opened up to me. We weren't BFFs, by any means, but I was glad that she had thawed out a bit. But I understood her now, and everything that she had tried to tell me all those years ago, while sitting alone in Edwards room, awaiting impending doom—execution by an army of newborns.

The only thing that had started getting to me was that when we were here, at dinnertime, I always sat alone, while the rest of them were off somewhere, engaged in their hobbies and pastimes. Of course, there was always the one exception: Edward.

He was looking at me now as I picked at the lovely meal Esme had prepared for me. He pulled me out of my silence. "Is something the matter?"

"Not really . . ." I paused. "Well, Charlie called today."

"Ah, yes. Alice has seen that you will be going to Forks next weekend . . ." He fell silent as he reached out, bringing my constantly straying gaze back to his by placing a cool finger under my chin. "Why do you not want me to come with you, love?"

I flinched, turning from him. I had thought about asking to go alone. After all, I never had much time to myself these days. Unless you counted the endless hours I spent in the library, or going to lectures. I didn't know I had made up my mind to go alone, until his probing eyes drew the truth out of me.

Spending time alone with Charlie was a very attractive prospect; spending time alone in my room wasn't. But, then, there was the issue of La Push and Forks, and a very specific treaty line that existed between the two, forbidding vampires to cross over onto Quileute lands.

"I just don't think it's a good idea. We didn't exactly part under good terms." My blood ran cold as it dawned on me that I categorized myself with them. It was no longer I and them, it had become we. Which instantly made my heart give a flutter of worry; what if they didn't want me to come? Maybe they suspected that I had been turned already. After all, I hadn't been back in Forks for four years, and nobody had been to Hanover to see me.

A few years ago I would have been thrilled to be a vampire. It was my biggest dream, apart from being with Edward. Perhaps a very romantic and irresponsible and completely insanedream. None the less, I had shunned a lot of people in the few years I had lived in Forks.

Suddenly my excitement was crushed as the bubble burst. All my fears and regrets from the past spilled forth into my conscious; I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed. Since when did I care what people thought of me?

And then I realized that it wasn't so much what others thought of me that worried me; it was what I would no doubt think of myself as soon as I went back in time. Ironically, I felt like Scrooge, being visited by the ghosts, and the ominous tolling of the bell in my head, racing me toward the midnight of my life, had me in a fierce grip of terror. Who would have thought, after all that I had been through, that the scariest things were yet ahead of me? But it wasn't a fear of nightmarish creatures that go bump in the night that had set me on that particular course; it was the fear of life itself. I had been a damn cynic, somehow, and I had caught glimpses of how prospectively scary life could be. And, as such, death had seemed so much easier. An escape. A nullification of trial and error.

Well, I wasn't a kid anymore. I wanted scary; I wanted to face the ghosts of my past. Most of all, though, I just wanted to be alive and human and do all the things that humans do. No matter how much it terrified me. Were I to be honest with myself, it excited me at the same time.

Finally I said, gently, "I'm going alone, Edward. And I know that you will be understanding and respect my wishes. Also, you will ask Alice to stop looking into my future. I can't live like this anymore." I slid my hand across the tabletop to caress Edward's. So cold, and so smooth. And too—just far too perfect.

"I already knew, but . . . as you wish." He gave me his signifying smile: so beautiful, and so breathtaking, yet so tortured. I tried to smile back, to make it go away, but I think that we both knew that things weren't the way they used to be. And if we'd had any chances of fixing it, we had let them slip right past us.

I had grown up. And, as humans do, I had changed.

-xox-


Edited: March, 2012.