The Twilight universe has enriched my life in many unexpected ways, including the friendships that have resulted from a shared passion. This story is dedicated to a select group of people who – with one, two, three, four . . . okay a lot of exceptions – may never even know it exists. That doesn't matter. The sentiment is the same.
Any Twilight characters and concepts in Morning are the property of Stephenie Meyer. The rest is ©2010 by Carson Dyle. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.
The story was written for a simple reason. I missed the characters and wondered what life might hold for them two or three months after the events of Breaking Dawn. With no goal, no plot in mind, I simply listened in and found them taking me in surprising directions. If anyone is curious enough to come along, the journey starts here . . .
I kept my head down watching one hiking boot carefully precede the other – regular steps, like anyone might make strolling through the woods. Anyone, that is, stupid enough to be trudging through the matted sponge that passes for terra firma in this part of Washington State. In an icy rain with wind gusts shaking even more water from the leaves above.
Me, it didn't bother. I focused on my feet and their effort to mimic a normal human tempo.
"What are you doing, Bella?"
The tone was low and casual, coming from 40 or maybe 50 feet behind me. It wasn't like I hadn't half expected something like this. I'd been steeling my resolve against it ever since leaving the house. Still, an instant Space Mountain plunge swooshed through my stomach before I could muster my defenses and go back to concentrating on not moving too gracefully.
"I'm walking," I said, knowing there was no need to shout. Almost too late, I remembered to stop breathing.
That had to be the single most frequent question to come out of his perfect mouth, and it was almost always aimed at me. He was so used to having access to everyone else's thoughts. I knew it sometimes drove him crazy not being able to read mine.
"I'm practicing being human," I said irritably. "It's not all that easy, you know. In fact, it's a colossal pain."
"No one said you had to do it," he answered quietly. I could hear him perfectly, though he'd made no effort to close the gap between us.
"Yeah, I do. It was Carlisle's idea and everyone else agreed with him. Even I agree with him. It's just hard."
"Bella, look at me."
Another, unwelcome swoosh.
"Fat chance," I shot back.
Wasn't it enough to be blocking the smell of him, resisting the lure of a voice that wrapped around me with invisible tendrils, caressing, coaxing me to turn around? I wasn't about to let him use another one of his formidable weapons.
"Just go away, Edward. I need to do this on my own."
Ahead of me the path was blocked by a fallen cedar, victim of the erratic winds. I fought an almost irresistible urge to clear it in one graceful leap. Out of all my new-found abilities, that one gave me the biggest kick. I was pretty sure if you looked up "klutzy" in a dictionary, my name would be listed among the antonyms.
All the compliments about me being beautiful and gifted and strong meant nothing next to the simple fact that I could cross a room without eliciting guffaws. I couldn't get enough of demonstrating it to anyone who was allowed to witness that kind of thing.
I concentrated on gauging the best way over the tree trunk, the best human way, since I was determined to keep up my method acting until I could pass for normal to the people in town. I approached my obstacle, a mere two feet off the ground, angled my body and swung my right leg over the top.
So far, so good. Grasping the rough bark in both hands, I brought my other leg over. There. Not too old Bella, not too new Bella. Just like a normal person. I brushed my hands on my jeans, and was about to continue when it occurred to me that Edward hadn't answered me.
I stood stock still, listening to the sounds of the forest. The plopping and pounding of rain, the occasional harsh rush of wind, the complaints of a few birds sheltering in a thicket. Nothing else. Was it possible that he'd actually done what I'd asked?
I turned then. The path behind me was relatively straight and clear, disappearing far away into a denser grove of hemlocks. No one was on it. My eyes scanned the trees, searching for some sign of movement or color that didn't belong there. The only motion came from the pushing wind; no sign of any living thing–or dead either, for that matter.
A sense of loss swept through me and I wilted a little. Ridiculous. I'd been fine before he showed up. He'd done what I wanted him to do and quit stalking me. So why did I feel like a part of me had just been peeled away?
I was rapidly losing even my lukewarm interest in doing what I'd told everybody I was willing to do. With a sigh, I scanned the forest one more time, finding nothing. Still, I wasn't going to accomplish a thing just moping around in the woods all day. I straightened my shoulders, turned around and came face to face with one Edward Cullen.
I jumped and maybe even gasped a little.
"Did I scare you?" he asked with a barely suppressed smile.
"No, of course, not," I blurted automatically. "It's just that I didn't see you. I didn't even hear you." Was something the matter with my cool new super powers? If I'd tried to jump over the tree trunk, would I have landed on my face? "How did you get around me like that, without me noticing?"
"Nothing could have been easier," he said, placing his hands on my shoulders. So far, he hadn't called me on the fact that I was attempting to look everywhere but at him. "I could see you were in the moment, perfecting your role as a normal teenager, one who would never dream a vampire was circling her."
I narrowed my eyes in suspicion, focusing somewhere past his left ear. "I thought you said I couldn't act."
"I stand corrected. You make a very convincing human-being."
"Really?" Maybe I could pull off this fiasco after all.
"Really. I was seriously considering taking you down and sucking every last drop of blood out of your delectable mortal body."
I knew he was trying to make me smile, but something in me, and I swear it's been going on almost from the first time we met, has this perverse way of taking everything he says and spinning its own interpretation. Not just his words, but his expressions, and gestures, the way he looks and sounds and smells. Pretty much the very fact that he exists is enough to get all my systems firing erratically, till I completely lose track of what I'm doing.
My eyes snapped up to his and immediately, I regretted ever wasting a moment looking anywhere else. They were golden, the brightest thing in the forest, the most beautiful thing in the universe. With a sigh, I relaxed into his arms and felt that peculiar sensation of almost unbearable excitement accompanied by an utter sense of peace and security.
If I could bottle this, I thought muzzily, I could–dare I say it–rule the world.
We stood like that for several minutes, perfectly content; then he kissed the top of my head and released me. "I want to talk to you before you go," he said, slipping an arm over my shoulder, guiding me back to the fallen tree.
Like everything else in the area, the bark was soaking wet, but we sat down anyway. He took my hand in both of his, fastening me with one of those just-try-to-look-away-from-me gazes he excels in.
"There is no precedent for you, Bella. You've bypassed stages of adjustment that take most newborns years, if they ever get past them at all. Why that should surprise me I don't know," he added, shaking his head. "You were never an ordinary human; it stands to reason you wouldn't be an ordinary non-human."
"Great. First I get to be a misfit in high school. Now I'm too weird to be a monster."
He went on as if I hadn't spoken. "You are the only one who knows what it's like for you, how difficult it might be to handle new situations. If you're uncomfortable going through with this, just say so. I'll deal with the rest of the family."
"Wait a minute," He looked surprised when I withdrew my hand from his grasp. "It sounds like you're not sure I can pull this off. Is that what you're thinking? If it is, you might as well come out and say it, because I'm getting the distinct impression you're trying to avert a disaster. I narrowed my eyes, accusingly. "I thought that's why we hunted last night–to help with the thirst, but apparently you're worried it might not be enough?
"What do you think is going to happen? I'll walk into a public place and be so overcome with all the juicy blood smells that I lose it completely? I can see the headlines now Really Human Girl Gets Annoyed with Long Lines, Wipes Out Entire Department of Motor Vehicles."
I barely registered the fact that he was looking at me as if I'd gone insane.
"Or it's always possible I could run across some poor person who smells as good to me as I do . . . did do. . . do do to you. If that happens, I'll probably just pull a Jasper and have an early lunch. " I knew I was spluttering, but the thought that he didn't trust me stung too much not to strike back. "How can you believe I would agree to do something that might endanger the family and Renesmee and you?"
"Are you finished?" His expression was intimidating, though I wasn't sure he meant it to be. "The answer to your question," he said evenly, "is that I don't."
"Don't what?" I said, losing the thread of my outrage.
"I don't believe you would do any of the things you so colorfully describe in your tantrum."
"Nothing of the kind has ever entered my mind."
"It hasn't?" I blinked, trying to decipher his hooded gaze.
"No, and if you can string together more than two words, perhaps you can tell me where you get your preposterous ideas. Do you think you can manage that?'
"I don't know."
He was statue still. I knew he could remain like that until he got what he wanted. I took a breath and the sudden influx of his fragrance was oddly calming. "You're obviously trying to talk me out of going," I began. "And all this stuff about how different I am, about nobody knowing what I might do . . ."
"Bella," he said, exasperated. "If I'd had any doubts about your self-control, would I have agreed to let you go in the first place?"
"I wouldn't think so, no," I conceded. "But then what's all this business about how much I can and can't handle and how 'uncomfortable' I might be?"
He ran an agitated hand through his hair, his teeth gritted. When he looked at me–for all the expressiveness of his incredible eyes–I couldn't quite tell whether he wanted to kiss me or kill me.
"Did it ever occur to you that I might mean exactly what I was saying? You seemed to be having second thoughts about what was a totally unnecessary exercise in the first place. I wanted you to know I'd back you up if you'd prefer not do it. Period."
"Oh . . . okay." I digested that for a minute. "I was afraid you were being cryptic again. What gave you the idea I was having second thoughts anyway?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said, rolling his gorgeous eyes. "Maybe because you didn't take a car or because you're not traveling with the speed you're capable of or because you look like you're on your way to the gallows or because you were secretly glad I followed you. Pick a reason, any reason."
I smiled despite the sarcasm. "That doesn't count. I'm always glad to see you," I lowered my head to hide a non-existent blush. "Besides, I told you I was practicing to look like a regular person."
He lifted my chin with one elegant finger. "Not good enough."
Looking into the fathomless, golden depths of his eyes was like homing in on the center of everything, my everything. It was impossible not to tell the truth. "All right," I admitted. "Emotionally, I was starting to have a problem with the idea. When it first came up, I just thought it was a perfectly logical thing to do."
It had been a relatively sunny day, sunny for Forks anyway. We'd all been lounging around the Cullens' so-called dining table when somebody brought up the subject of rumors. Rosalie, of course.
"I was sitting at a traffic light in town the other day," she began, "and a woman in the crosswalk asked her friend 'whatever happened to Bella Swan?' The other one said she'd heard you were hiding out because you'd done something that Charlie would have to arrest you for if you showed your face in town. Then the first lady claimed she'd heard you'd left the area completely because you were being harassed by one of those 'creepy Cullens'."
Emmett snorted. "They got that part right." He was tipping back in a chair that I suspected cost a small fortune. The value must be based more on aesthetics than durability, as it looked like it might become a pile of kindling any minute. Esme turned a reproving glance on him – for the umpteenth time – and he brought the fragile legs back to the floor.
Beside me, Renesmee was nestled in Edward's lap. They were communicating silently, her dainty hand on his cheek. Either he hadn't heard that one, or he wasn't giving his brother the pleasure of a reaction.
"Some people know she's with Edward," Jasper pointed out. "Charlie's out in public all the time. You can't expect him not to brag about his granddaughter, and she has to have come from someplace."
"Charlie would never say anything to make people suspicious," I interrupted. "He's not stupid, and besides he always finds it easier not to talk."
"Oh, I know," Jasper assured me and turned his attention back to Alice's dainty legs, which were stretched across his lap. He seemed to find her wiggling toes endlessly fascinating.
"He's right though," Alice added. "Some people just realize they haven't seen you in a long time. Others know enough to connect you with Edward. Everybody has their own crazy theories about why you're never around."
"What's with these people?" Emmett grumbled. "Too much imagination–that's the problem."
Silently, I differed with him. They didn't even have enough imagination to suspect there were vampires under their noses.
"I heard a good one," Alice trilled suddenly. "It was in that little shop where I buy the candles. The owner mentioned how Chief Swan had helped her open the store when she locked her keys inside, and the woman she was helping said, 'Whatever became of his daughter?' Then the first one said she'd heard–from a very reliable source–that you'd been in a terrible accident and your face was so horribly mutilated you could only go out at night." She laughed with delight.
It seemed to me she was taking my disfigurement a little too gleefully, but all I said was, "That one at least makes sense. They've probably seen my husband's driving." Edward didn't take his eyes off Renesmee's, but there was a low growl coming from somewhere nearby. "Doesn't anybody suspect I've been abducted by aliens?"
"Oh, I'm sure somebody does." Rosalie scoffed. "What business is it of theirs anyway? It's just people trying to stir up trouble."
Esme reached out and patted her hand. "I don't think that's the intention. Humans are just naturally curious. When they don't understand something, they find explanations wherever they can. Still, it could be a problem."
At the head of the table, Carlisle had been sitting quietly, taking in the conversation, his expression thoughtful. At last he said, "It's not the melodramatic theories we need to worry about. What concerns me is that eventually someone will hit on the most common explanation, and that could mean trouble."
We all looked at him for a long moment. Esme understood first. "You mean that Bella might be in an abusive relationship."
He nodded. "We see it in emergency more than anyone would like to believe. If somebody were to suspect that's the case here–especially those people who know she's . . . with someone, they might alert social services."
"That's horrible," Alice whispered. "Poor Bella –a battered wife." She looked so genuinely stricken that I forgave her callousness about my mutilated face.
"I can swear to the battery," Emmett added helpfully. "Make the mistake of crossing the river at night lately and you'll hear what I mean–their place sounds like a combat zone."
Edward gave him a black look that wasn't as scary as usual since it was filtered through Renesmee's curls. I contemplated using my new-found strength to leap across the table and slap him senseless. As usual, Esme's approach was the most effective.
"That is in the worst possible taste, Emmett," she said in her soft, pleasant voice. "Wipe the smirk off your face and behave yourself."
"It doesn't even have to be a case of physical abuse," Carlisle said, still on topic. "Women can be prevented from going out of the house by a controlling husband or boyfriend."
"Edward–controlling?" Rosalie sneered. "Boy, that's a stretch."
I considered jumping to the defense, but remembering some of his over-reactions in the past – my poor disabled truck, the enforced slumber party with Alice – I figured he could handle a little constructive criticism.
Carlisle turned to me. "Bella, it might be a good idea for you to put in an appearance in town now and then. Just to diffuse the rumors. Would you be willing to do that?"
"Sure," I said. "What am I supposed to do while I'm there?" In my opinion, Forks had always been deficient in a lot of ways. Now that the whole world was open to me, I couldn't think of a thing it had to offer.
"Maybe run an occasional errand," Carlisle suggested. "It's best to avoid a protracted situation."
"Just do the usual, like shopping," Rosalie threw in. "Or you could pick up my dry-cleaning."
"Pick up your own dry-cleaning," Edward said. It was the first time he'd spoken since we'd been sitting here.
"I was just making a suggestion," Rosalie scowled at him.
"Cookies!" Renesmee crowed, apropos of nothing. Now that the deep communion with her father had been broken, she obviously had a new agenda.
"That's right!" Esme beamed at her. "I almost forgot – we were going to make a hundred cookies. Is that all right with you two?" she looked at Edward and me.
"Sure, I guess, but isn't that a tad excessive. I mean, she's the only one who can eat them."
Edward kissed our daughter on the nose, and put her down. She hurried around the table to Esme. "She's only eating two of them," he assured me.
"And who gets the rest?" Esme asked, bundling her close, which wasn't easy with all the ribbons and ruffles of dotted Swiss, adorning her little body. The whole world seemed intent on making her a girlie-girl, including Renesmee herself. She loved all that stuff. That's what comes from having a metrosexual daddy, I thought darkly.
"The sick people at the hospital," Renesmee announced solemnly. Then she broke into an angelic smile and blew me a kiss.
"Have fun, sweetie," I called, as she and Esme disappeared toward the kitchen.
Edward pulled his chair closer to mine and swung his arm around me. "Forget the dry-cleaning," he whispered, nuzzling my ear. I was in the process of forgetting my own name when Jasper brought up the obvious.
"Bella doesn't look the same."
Of course. The Cullens were so used to the new me. I'd even pulled off a visit to the old family retainer, Jason Jenks, but he hadn't known me as a human, so that didn't really count. It wouldn't help the rumor situation if I appeared in Forks looking like a completely different person to the people who'd known me before. In fact, it could make things infinitely worse.
"So she shows up wearing shades with a big scarf wrapped around her face."
"Oh, very helpful, Emmett." Rosalie's tone was withering. "Nothing screams 'I've been abused' like an ensemble by Emmett Cullen. The whole point is for people to see her looking healthy and happy, not like she's got something to hide. I frankly don't think it will work. She's just too beautiful."
Everyone else apparently took her words at face value. Their conversation continued to buzz around the table, but I wasn't listening. Being Rosalie, she might have meant the comment as a subtle dig–about what a troll I'd been before my transformation–but it didn't matter. Rosalie Cullen had admitted another woman was beautiful–and it was me! I chose to give her a warm, sisterly smile.
"Wait!" In the time it took to utter that single syllable, Alice had whisked her legs from Jasper's lap and was hopping up and down between their chairs. "I know exactly what to do – a reverse makeover! Oh, it will be so much fun, and you can help, Rose."
I shrank closer to Edward. An excited Alice was a dangerous Alice in my experience, mostly because it was impossible to stop her once she became entranced with an idea.
"We'll use makeup to put the human color back in her skin and something to dull her hair. She'll need to practice talking a little lower, and I found some new contacts on the internet that should hold up better than the last ones. They'll be here any day now."
"They won't be the right color," Edward warned her.
"Hmm, maybe not for you, but I bet they'll be close enough to fool people who haven't spent hours staring into her eyes. And clothes–we'll have to find some horrible old clothes that look like something she might have worn in high school."
Like everybody but me had a clothes budget that could feed a third-world country. All the Cullens would have been breath-taking no matter what they wore, so what was the point?
The shirt Edward was wearing, for instance. I happened to know it cost more than what Charlie had paid for my truck, not that it wasn't nice. It was a deep bronzy color that caught the light, almost like his hair. Silk. From Milan of all places. And it fit him very well. I circled a button with my finger. So soft against his hard chest. But really, he would look good in anything . . . or nothing.
Edward had lowered his head watching the progress of my finger. Now he caught it in his mouth and at the same time snagged my eyes with one of those smoldering looks that blew the rest of the world away. It was like a bubble had formed around us, locking us in with only a bunch of wildly ricocheting emotions for company. I'm not sure how long we were in there before I heard Emmett calling, "Earth to Edward."
"What?" He was always faster to emerge from the bubble than I was. I just sat there feeling sorry for my finger. It had been having such a good time. Edward must have sensed my dejection, because he wrapped his hand around the lonely finger and held it to his silk-covered chest.
"You've been very quiet on this subject," Carlisle said. "What do you think about Bella going into town alone?"
"It doesn't matter what I think."
"Well, there's a first," Rosalie muttered.
"It doesn't matter what you think either," he said to her mildly. "This is Bella's decision. If she wants to do it, fine. If she doesn't, that's fine too."
"I'll give it a try," I offered. "There's the pink slip for the Ferrari. I've never had it put in my name, so I have an excuse to visit the DMV anyway."
That's how it had started a few days ago, and bright and early this morning, Alice had me smocked and scrubbed sitting in front of the lighted makeup mirror, while she and Rosalie whipped around me with pots and brushes and other instruments of subtle torture. The contacts were the worst. It felt like somebody was trying to cover my eyeballs in Saran Wrap.
"Just keep blinking. You'll get used to them. Wait–not too much. It's a good thing we're using waterproof mascara."
"Alice, I'm supposed to look like my old self, not a hooker."
"You will, you will," she chirped, confidently. "The trick is to make it appear that you're not wearing any makeup at all, and that takes a lot of product. What do you think now, Rose?"
Rosalie scrunched down and studied me with narrowed eyes. "It's good." She stood up, grinning. "Her skin really looks human."
I leaned forward, trying to see the mirror through my stupid contacts. They looked better than they felt, I decided. Definitely brown. And it was true; I didn't really look made up. There was a slight blush on my cheeks, and around it my skin looked more like porcelain than marble.
"Good job, guys," I admitted, removing the smock. I'd already dressed in the jeans and hoodie that Alice had allowed me to supply myself. I slipped into my trusty old anorak.
Where she thought I came up with these items, I don't know, and I wasn't about to tell her they'd been in an old suitcase in our cottage. Let her think she'd purged my wardrobe of every last off-the-rack horror, if it made her happy. She'd cry real tears if she knew what I sometimes wore to bed at night.
"OK, you've got your papers for the DMV, right? And, oh–your rings, Bella, you have to take off your rings."
"No . . . why?" I felt a sudden surge of something like panic.
"Too ostentatious–isn't that one of your husband's favorite word?" Alice held out her small white hand. "We don't want anything to stir up curiosity or supply a clue that just gets rumors started again. You need to be a really generic Bella."
She was right, of course. I just couldn't believe how hard it was to do. "The band," I insisted, "I'm wearing the wedding band."
"Let her keep it," Rosalie said, and I turned, surprised to see a look of sympathy on her usually haughty face.
"Thanks, Rose. I'll try to keep my left hand in my pocket."
Alice took my engagement ring. It was pretty eye-catching, I had to admit. Just something else to stir the curiosity of the clueless. "Then you're good to go, "she said, clapping. She and Rosalie walked me to the front door and watched like proud parents seeing their kid off to the first day of school.
Now sitting on the tree trunk with Edward, I tried to explain what was bothering me. "I don't like pretending that I'm someone else. It seems disloyal somehow–to you–and to the rest of the family. It feels like lying.
"I'm happy with who I am now. It's taken so long to get here, and we've been through so much, I think I'm afraid that if I go back to being the old Bella–even for a little while–I'll get stuck there, and everything that brought us so far won't have happened, and you'll . . . you'll just vanish."
"Still?" His soft voice was incredulous.
"Always. You don't realize that you're too good to be true."
"And you're far too good for me," he insisted. "So where does that leave us?"
"Yep." He smiled his heart-breaking smile and took my face in his hands. "I will always love the old Bella, as well as the new one. If you decide to go through with this little act, it will be to protect what we have, no matter how many rings you have on your finger."
"Of course. Just make sure Rosalie returns it."
"Actually, it was Alice who insisted."
"Oh, well, Alice is a pushover for romance–you'll have it back by nightfall."
"I guess I should get going, then. Would you like to kiss me goodbye?"
"I would like that very, very much," he whispered, leaning closer. Slowly, he brought his exquisite mouth to mine, nudging my lips apart with his own, sinking into a kiss so sweet I never wanted it to end. Obligingly, time faded along with awareness of everything around us. There was only one focus, sensual, emotional, all-encompassing. The kiss intensified, drumming up a whole new array of sensations, making me desperate to be closer to him.
My whimpering protest when I felt him start to pull away, got me nowhere, but I noticed he was blinking–as if to cool the fever from his eyes. The tone in his voice, however, was implacable. "No more, Bella. Not now."
"But I wasn't finished telling you goodbye."
"That's your best argument, is it?" He quirked a brow at me. "Then let me propose a compromise. We stop here, but when you get back I promise to let you argue with me as long as you want."
At some time while we'd been oblivious, the rain had stopped. A single, determined ray of sunlight found his hair. It was a tousled mess. My questing fingers had turned it into a riot of bronze and russet flames, shooting out in all directions. "You look like your head's on fire," I said, smugly.
"Fine." He ran his fingers through the conflagration with no perceptible effect. "When you've finished arguing with me later, I'll have you arrested for arson, but for now we have to be careful not to destroy Alice's handiwork. She'll come after both of us, and, trust me, you do not want to see Alice mad."
My hands flew to my face. "Oh, I completely forgot. Does it still look okay?"
He eyed me critically. "Your lipstick's gone," he confessed.
"Oh, well," I said with a shrug. "I'm not supposed to look like I'm wearing it anyway. Guess I'll see you later then." I took a deep breath and pointed myself in the direction of town. I only turned back once to see him standing on the path, hands in his pockets, a faint smile on his sculpted face.
It was more than enough to make the trek worthwhile.
I actually did cheat a little bit on my way to Forks with spurts of running between periods of boring human practice. By the time I stepped out of the trees and onto the pavement, my impression of Bella Sapiens was pretty well perfected.
The rain had been hiccupping in fits and starts. Somewhere behind the clouds the distant sun cast faint glimmers on the puddles. There weren't a lot of pedestrians around on a weekday morning, and those I passed paid me no attention whatsoever.
I wasn't sure if that was good or bad. If nobody noticed me, they couldn't very well spread the word that I was alive and well, which would be half right but helpful. On the other hand, the natives hadn't gathered in knots to gape and point like they do in a Godzilla movie. I'd call it a draw so far.
I had almost reached Division Street when a car slowed behind me, tires sloshing as it pulled into the curb. The cruiser.
"Bella?" Charlie lowered the passenger window and leaned across the seat, frowning up at me. "What are you doing here? Is everything all right?"
"Hey, Charlie. Yeah, everything's great. I just have to go to the DMV." I drew the papers from my pocket. "You know, registration stuff."
"Uh-huh. Remember, your truck's still sitting in the driveway. I can always take it to somebody, see if they can get it going again."
"I know." No point in passing on Emmett's suggestion that it be turned into a planter. "If you can get it running, you should drive it, Dad. You know–when you want to be less conspicuous."
He chuckled. "It's my job to be conspicuous, Bells. Say, when do I get to see my granddaughter again? She's growing so fast, I feel like I've missed something every time we get together."
"Soon. Maybe later in the week." I leaned into the window and lowered my voice. "I was just wondering, what do you say when people ask what I've been up to?"
He shrugged. "Not much. Depends on who it is, of course. Mostly, I just tell them you're a very private person. They seem to find that easy to believe."
"That's because it's true. What do you mean 'it depends on who it is'?"
He was getting into uncomfortable territory, and it showed. He stopped looking at me, scanning the street for what? Law breakers? Somebody who could explain just what the hell was actually going on with his daughter and her family? "With Sue and Billy, I can say a little more. And Alice, she seems to know a lot."
I breathed a sigh of relief. She knows a lot, and she's very good at gauging just how much of it to feed to Charlie, enough so that he doesn't worry about us, enough to divert his most awkward questions. That, along with my dad's natural reluctance to look at things he can't handle make this tight-rope walk we're attempting workable. Show him a mangled accident victim, and he's got it handled, present him with an emotional quagmire–not so much.
"How is Sue?" I asked, still leaning in the passenger window.
"Good. You and Edward?"
"Fine. So much better than fine, Dad, honest."
"All right, then. Say hello to him for me, and don't forget about the baby."
"I won't." I withdrew my head and stepped back on the sidewalk, but he had one more thing to add.
"You look good, Bells."
"Thanks." I waved, as he pulled back into traffic.
I've looked a lot better, but whatever works.
That was one close encounter for the scoreboard. Not one that should really count probably, but no, it had been good to hear firsthand what Charlie was telling people. He could get away with playing the "private person card" without seeming rude, because everyone knew it described him too. They wouldn't be surprised the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree.
The rain started up and again, and I remembered to pull my hood up like a regular person would. I kept my head down as I walked, not sure how much water it would take to spoil Alice's paint job.
"Is that you under there, Bella?"
The voice was familiar but it's funny how people look different out of context. It took me a moment to recognize the face, despite the fact that it had played a major role in my nightmares the last two years of high school.
"Coach Clapp," I managed finally. "It's nice to see you."
She shifted her big umbrella to the other hand and reached out to shake mine. I complied without even thinking. Was it my imagination that she winced? "My goodness, Bella, you've developed some real muscle tone. Good for you. You're awfully cold though, don't you have any gloves?"
"Mm, I forgot them." Bad and very bad. How could I mess up so stupidly in a matter of seconds? "How . . . how are the teams shaping up this year?" I had no idea what teams I was referring to, but it seemed like something that might deflect her interest.
"Well, you know. It's a small pool to draw from. We have a couple of juniors going out for softball and a tennis player who seems to have potential."
"Not as good as your star pupil, though, right?" What a lame thing to say. Then again, Coach Clap was used to me being all kinds of lame around her, so it might be for the best.
In any case, she grinned. "I know there were other subjects you excelled in. That's why I'm surprised to see you here. No college?"
"Not yet. I plan to go later on."
"That's good to hear. I don't want to keep you standing in the rain. Take care, all right?"
"You too," I said, as she strode off.
There. I ought to get a point for that one. True, I hadn't even thought about what would happen if I touched someone. I could easily have blown so much in that one unthinking moment, but apparently it hadn't really registered with her. Maybe my hand had gone limp with shock at seeing her again, fearful she might stick a badminton racket in it. More likely, it was like Edward says. People see what they are expecting to see.
Wonder what she would have thought if I'd shown her what I could really do–cover a city block in one leap, pluck out one of those annoying parking meters and make it puke up its little "expired" flag?
I grinned inwardly. I should probably apologize to Edward for the times I accused him of "showing off." The temptation really did come with the territory.
A rush of warm air, filled with human smells, confronted me as I opened the door to the DMV – blood and breath, and someone had gotten carried away with the cologne this morning. Belatedly, I held my breath. Focus, Bella. You can't afford to drift off into fantasy. This is serious business. I swallowed back the flow of venom that was a natural response to my surroundings.
The place wasn't crowded – just two short lines of people waiting to be helped. I could hear it though – the blood pulsing through them, the racket of their heartbeats. Aside from a physical twinge now and then, I wasn't letting it get to me. I'd had a great teacher.
Once it was clear that I wasn't going to become the blood-crazed, mindless newborn everybody expected, Edward had spent hours teaching me all the tricks he'd developed over the decades to help him resist temptation. Obviously, they were good ones, since he'd been able to resist thoroughly irresistible me.
When I'd pointed that out to him, though, he'd warned me not to get overly confident, that it wasn't a good example. He'd long ago concluded that one reason he had the strength to resist killing me, was that some part of him had been in love with me all along. It had just taken him a while to acknowledge it.
Looking around the brightly lit room, I didn't see anyone I'd be likely to crush on. Not the biker dude with the spikes and chains on his leathers.
You think you look scary, I mused. I've seen scary, and you're not even close.
There were a couple of business men, both checking their watches, a teenager texting on his iPhone, a round-faced guy with golden curls who looked like a cherub. Nope, nobody was likely to get any mercy when the Wrath of Bella descended, which was totally not going to happen anyway.
"I could just kill him!" The middle-aged woman in front of me suddenly turned, shaking her cell phone as if it contained the intended victim. "How hard can it be to remember one little thing, just one? We've had tickets to the symphony tonight for a solid month, and this morning he tells the boss, sure, he'll fly to Salt Lake City this afternoon, no trouble at all. No trouble?"
"Wow," I muttered, since she clearly expected me to say something. Did I look especially human and sympathetic? Or had she guessed I was the only other person in the room dwelling on homicide?
"Well," she smiled apologetically as she crammed her phone in an over-stuffed satchel. "You don't have to worry about that kind of thing for a long time yet. Husbands, I mean."
I blinked at her, non-committal.
"You're better off taking your time, because believe you me, it takes forever for them to grow up. Everyone makes fun of older men with their trophy wives, saying how the girls are all gold-diggers, but I'll bet you some of them have just figured out that unless the man you marry is a couple of decades older, he's probably still having daydreams about being an astronaut or a rock star. My advice is to wait and marry someone older, preferably with money, of course," she chortled. "But then love usually comes along and upsets the whole plan anyway, so what are you going to do?"
What was I going to do? I wasn't sure unsolicited advice required a response, but the woman was trying to be friendly. Hurriedly, I did the math – technically Edward's almost 90 years older than me; his family's so rich they never even talk about money, and the love part's a lock. "It sounds like good advice," I told her.
"Don't get me wrong," she added, sounding a little ashamed. "It's not that I don't love my husband. I love him to pieces. But just because you love them doesn't mean you won't want to throttle them sometimes."
"Sounds about right."
The line moved forward, and she turned to talk to the clerk.
"Isabella . . . Isabella Swan!"
That was weird, nobody called me Isabella. I scanned the room, surprised to find the cherub guy waving at me from the other line. He must have just spotted me. I'd had a good look at him and felt no sense of recognition at all. There was nothing familiar about his voice either.
"How's it going?" he called.
"Uh, fine. Thanks." I wracked my brain for some place I might have known him. He looked a little older than me, but I was sure he hadn't gone to Forks High. Where then? I considered the places I used to frequent in town, families that knew my father. He couldn't come from La Push. Except for his rosy cheeks and freckles, he was almost as pale as me. Could he know me from someplace else – like Phoenix?
"Some great memories, huh?"
I wished he'd stop it. People were looking at me, more than I needed them to, and I couldn't dredge up a single recollection that might include this guy. I grabbed a pamphlet of road rules off the counter and pretended to study it, like I was here for a license instead of a registration. I repeated the legal alcohol level over and over, wondering what the legal blood level might be since they didn't bother to specify, until finally it was my turn at the window.
The official part turned out to be easy. It only took a few minutes, and the clerk didn't even blanch when she saw what kind of vehicle I was registering. Maybe she wasn't a car person. I pocketed the papers and walked out as swiftly as I dared, my head down so as not to catch the eye of cherub guy.
As soon as I was through the door, I took a huge, wonderful breath. A thousand smells rushed in at once, some of them pleasant, some of them not. None was of the kind that might be tempting. It was mostly cold and refreshing, full of rain and growing things and ocean spices.
I could have lingered happily picking out the different fragrances, reveling in a sense that no human could ever experience, but I was anxious to get back home and report on my mission.
Pretty successful, I thought, and at no time had I felt in danger of losing control. Edward was going to be so proud of me. I imagined that angel's smile lighting his face, and I would be responsible for putting it there. The thought made me ridiculously happy.
I had nearly reached the point where I planned to leave the highway and plunge into the woods, when the roar of a powerful engine, still blocks away, gave me the sneaking suspicion that I'd been followed. There was no need to turn around. I'd know that sound anywhere.
With a sigh I stopped and waited for the jeep to lurch to a halt beside me.