Hello everyone! We are finally at the last chapter of Alternate Universe. It's a monster of a chapter, which is why it's taken me so long to write.
A huge thanks to Flibbertigidget for betaing this final chapter, and to lharkcom and all my other betas I've had along the way for this journey. It's been a year now, and I would be a shocking writer that was completely deluded on basic dialogue grammar if it weren't for all of you.
Please enjoy everyone!
Chapter 23 - Apologies
I was running down a dark alleyway, chased by shadows.
"Who is Jennifer Porter?" they asked as they followed me.
I could feel them snapping at my heels like rabid dogs and tried to pick up my pace.
"Leave me alone!" I screamed. "You can't make me tell you!"
I was nearly at the main road, thankfully. I would be safe once I got out of the alley.
This time I couldn't hear Bella screaming, even when I called out to her.
"Bella!" No response.
A figure stepped into the light at the end of the alley, blocking my escape.
I gasped and fell backwards. It was James. His eyes were glowing red, and his mouth was covered in blood.
"But—but you're dead!"
"Jennifer Porter was nothing more than a name to lure you in," he whispered menacingly. "Nothing more."
Then his face changed, and he looked like Aro—the way I had always imagined him in the books.
"Oh, I do enjoy a happy ending!"
Another figure stepped out from behind him, wearing dark robes. They threw the hood back so I could see her face. Bella. Her eyes were red, too, and she was licking her blood-stained lips.
"I can't wait to add you to my collection," Aro said softly…
"Jenny! Wake up, Jenny!"
Cool fingers pried at my eyelids, and I groaned at the bright light being shining into my eyes. When the fingers let go, I jammed my eyes shut again.
The sounds of machines beeping began to intrude into my consciousness. Then came the shouting and noise of people rushing around.
I groaned again. Hospital.
"Jenny! Wake up!"
I recognized the voice now. "Go away, Alice. Let me sleep."
"We need you awake! Come on."
Feeling very cranky and sore, I slowly opened my eyes.
I was on a hospital gurney in the middle of a busy hallway. Alice, perched at the foot of my bed, was leaning over me. Not too far away, I could see Emmett and Jasper, each with a cell phone pressed to their ears. Doctors and nurses kept rushing past anxiously, some turning to look back at the group of beautiful people loitering in their hospital.
"Where's Bella?" I asked for what felt like the millionth time today.
I spluttered, "Wha-what do you me—"
Alice sighed. "To set her leg. It wasn't a bad break, but they want to be sure it'll heal properly."
I took a deep breath and winced at the pain in my stomach. "Alice, my tummy hurts."
Alice jumped off the gurney and was at my side. "You're in next, Jenny. They're going to fix your shoulder properly, so it won't dislocate so easily."
"Ugh, a reconstruction at my age. I'm a wreck."
Alice smiled slightly. "You're not wrong there. They are going to double check your ribs while you're in there. They think you might have cracked them again."
Again? I knew that Bella had probably broken them when she kicked me, but I had broken them before?I racked my brain trying to think of when I might have cracked ribs a second time. I didn't in the van incident, did I?
"You didn't tell us you had been in a car crash."
"A car crash? You mean the van incident. That was just a broken arm, and I'm pretty sure you knew about that one. Remember? Edward stopping the van from killing us?" I tried not to roll my eyes.
"No, the doctors said you had been in a car crash not long ago. Before you came to Forks…here in Phoenix."
My lip trembled. A car crash…here in Phoenix? What was I supposed to make of that?
Alice's brow furrowed. "Don't get upset…Jasper?"
Jasper clicked shut the cell phone and was at Alice's side in an instant.
"Can you…" She waved her arm at me ambiguously. I immediately began to feel calm and sleepy.
"Not too much, Jasper, you'll knock me out again," I slurred.
Alice giggled. "She's right, we still need to talk."
Behind Alice I could see an older nurse approach Emmett, who was still talking on the phone. Though I couldn't hear what she was saying to him, the way she was pointing to the cell and crossing her arms indicated she was telling him off. Emmett gave her a dazzling grin and patted her gently on the shoulder, saying something to her. She blinked several times before a small smile formed on her face. She waggled her finger comically, and Emmett gave her a pretend salute. I snickered.
Emmett turned to me and winked.
"You guys shouldn't be here, right?" I asked Alice.
"No, we shouldn't. We had to wait for you to wake up."
"So you could tell me the cover story."
"Right. That's the first thing they'll ask after the surgery. They haven't bothered to sedate you properly yet because Jasper has been keeping you out. They think Carlisle gave you something low dose."
"Cool. So what are we going with? Falling down stairs?"
"Something like that, actually. You were both at a hotel that was closer to the mechanics where you were waiting for the truck to be fixed. Carlisle had decided to take some of us kids up to Phoenix on a road trip, at Edward's insistence of course. You and Bella were coming down the stairs to meet us for lunch when Bella tripped on the stairs, pulling you down with her."
"Makes sense. What about our cuts?"
"You both crashed into a large mirror on the landing, throwing glass all over you and cutting you up a bit."
"Okay, I think I have it."
"Great. They're going to come out in about two minutes, so we are going to go now."
"Okay," I felt a tiny flutter of panic again. "The surgery will go fine, won't it, Alice?"
"It'll be completely routine. They won't find anything out of the ordinary." Alice sounded confident in her assessment, so I had to believe her. It calmed me down somewhat.
"And you'll be here after?"
"Emmett and Jasper are going home, so as to keep questions to a minimum. I will be staying though."
"Okay. Alice, my—"
"They won't stitch up your wrist, but it will scar. Are you okay with that?"
I smiled. "That's okay. I kind of like the idea of having a matching scar with Bella."
Alice shook her head. "I will never understand you two. I'll see you after the surgery, okay?"
She disappeared, along with Emmett and Jasper. I relaxed back on the bed and closed my eyes. Bella was okay. I was okay. It was all going to be okay.
My surgery went pretty smoothly. I awoke an hour later in recovery with drips and tubes and painkillers running through me, along with a stiff shoulder that I was strictly instructed not to move. They told me I had cracked two ribs, which was a result of 'a sharp blow to the abdomen'. I told them Bella's foot had caught me as we tumbled down the stairs. The doctors didn't need to know that Bella's foot had caught me there on purpose.
Bella's recovery wasn't anywhere near as smooth. Her leg was in pretty bad shape, and unlike in Twilight, it wasn't a clean break. She had to have pins and braces to help her heal, but they assured me her leg would be back to normal in a few months with some care and rehab.
Like I had suspected, Bella had some injury to her head. When James hit her head against the ground, it created a hairline fracture along her skull and swelling in the brain. They kept her in an induced coma after the surgery to give the swelling a chance to come down. I was worried sick. Even when I tried to break into her mind link, it was distorted and wrong. It hurt my head just being in there.
I was pretty out of it the first day after my shoulder reconstruction, but once I had been given solid foods and had the drip taken out, I was much more aware. My nurse wouldn't let me see Bella, which drove me insane, and I yelled at the poor thing so much that she insisted on knocking me out with drugs again.
It was hell lying in that hospital waiting to hear from Alice, Edward, Bella, anyone. Alice had promised to see me after the surgery, but so far, nothing. The doctors and nurses wouldn't really tell me anything, insisting that I needed a guardian present before they could release me. I had managed to get a private room, which was most likely due to the interference of the Cullens. I would have to thank them, though it was annoying that no one had come to visit me.
Early in the morning on my second day in the hospital, I was shuffling to the bathroom when I heard a noise outside my room. Awkwardly adjusting my sling, I peeped my head outside to see what was happening.
My door was blocked by a nurse, and facing her was a slim woman with medium brown hair and wide blue eyes.
"You have to let me in to see her, I insist!" she said.
"I'm sorry, visiting hours are from ten until four. I can't let you in at five in the morning, Mrs. Dwyer."
"But that's my daughter in there!"
"Mom?" I whispered, my lip trembling. This was my mom. Finally.
The nurse turned around, and Renee smiled and opened her arms.
"Oh, baby. Come here."
Hiccupping and sobbing, I threw myself into her arms. Even though it hurt, as well as awkward to hug her with my one free arm, it felt like home.
"Shhh," she said, stroking my hair. "It's okay. I'm gonna look after you now, it's all going to be alright."
"It's been so scary, Mom. It hurts."
We stood there hugging for what felt like a blissful eternity. Here was my mother, my kindred spirit. If Bella was like Charlie, then I was supposed to be like Renee. After all our phone calls and all the memories I could remember, it didn't seem like I had ever known a life without Renee as my mother.
The nurse cleared her throat, and we broke apart.
"I'm sorry to have to break up your reunion, but Miss Swan needs to return to her room. They will be doing rounds soon, and visitors really aren't permitted to be in the wards this early."
"But you let me see Bella?"
"You saw Bella?" I asked. "They let you? Is she okay? Is she getting better? They won't let me see her."
"She's in ICU," said the nurse. "Their visitor hours run a little differently when the patients are so critical." She stalked away to the end of the corridor, waiting for Renee to follow her out of the ward.
"She's fine, honey," Renee said to me, "She'll be waking up almost any hour now."
I sighed a breath of relief. "You'll be going back to her now, won't you?"
Renee smiled. "Just for now. I'll be back when I can. Charlie is only a few hours away, so he will visit you soon. I think," she paused, looking to see if the nurse was listening, "I think I need to remind these chumps that I am your legal guardian and that I do have the right to be here with you, regardless of the time of day."
"You tell them, Mom." I smiled.
"I have some news for you, too. I'm also expecting some gossip. You didn't tell me how close that Edward boy is to your sister. He hasn't left her side for a second!"
I couldn't help the giggled that escaped me. She had NO idea. "He's very protective."
The nurse called softly up the corridor, "If you're finished having your gossip session, I'd like to leave the patients to their sleep."
"Right," Renee said, kissing me a big kiss on the forehead. "I'll be back in a few hours, baby. We haven't forgotten about you, okay?"
"Okay, spring me out of here soon, Mom. I don't need to be in here anymore."
"Of course. Bye, baby."
Renee followed the nurse out of the hall, making funny gestures at her back as they walked. Shaking my head, I returned to my room, forgetting all about my bathroom trip.
Things got a lot better for me once Renee was around. I was getting more information about Bella now, and more information about myself. I had different doctors—nicer ones, who I assumed my mom had called in. It made sense, as it was our old hospital, after all. One doctor, who I swore I had never met before, kept referring to me by name and joking about how often I was in with serious injuries.
"I think you have me mixed up with my sister, Bella. We're twins, you see, and she's the more accident prone out of the two of us," I said, as he looked over the charts.
"I don't know," he said, wagging his finger, "It seems like you get into a few accidents yourself. Falling down stairs, jumping in front of cars. You're a right daredevil."
I laughed. "I didn't jump in front of a car, it was a van that nearly hit me. Besides, that was out in Forks. How would you guys know about that?"
The doctor looked up from the clipboard. "Out in Forks? No, you had an accident here, in Phoenix. Hit by a car last November. You were very lucky, and you were lucky again this time." He chuckled. "You're running out of lives, young lady."
I laughed weakly. "Right."
I was officially discharged an hour later, though it didn't make any difference. I was still hospital bound, as Renee couldn't leave Bella.
It did mean, however, that I had much more free rein throughout the hospital. I spent my first few hours wandering the corridors of the hospital relishing my newfound freedom, until a harried nurse finally told me to get out from under her feet.
I managed to find my way over to the ICU and checked all the rooms until I found the one Bella was being kept in. Through a small square window I could see her brown hair flared out over her pillow, and there were tubes protruding from her nose and the inside of her arm. I gulped. She looked awful.
If I stood on my tiptoes, I could see Edward sitting in a small armchair off to the side of Bella's bed. Craning my head, I realized he was staring directly at me. I had expected him to be angry, or to be relieved, or to be something, but his face was impassive. After a moment, he turned his attention back to Bella.
Sighing, I rested back on my heels.
"Still in there, is he?"
Charlie rested a hand on my good shoulder, looking through the window at Bella and Edward.
"Yeah. He didn't look too happy about me being here."
Charlie grunted. "I can't say I like it either. It's good to see you, Jen."
I grinned up at him. "Good to see you, too, Dad. Sorry for how the trip turned out."
"You gave me a scare there, Jen. When Carlisle called me, I thought I'd lost you two girls." Charlie wouldn't meet my eyes properly, staring once again through the window at Bella.
"Come on, Dad. Let's get some coffee or something."
We wandered down to the cafeteria and found ourselves some horrible instant coffee. It wasn't too busy, just a few doctors and nurses on break and the occasional family member eating alone. Sitting at a table was Renee, with a cup of her own. She waved us over.
"Is he still in there, Charlie?"
"Yep," he grunted, glaring into his cup. "Won't leave her alone for a second."
Renee winked at me. "It's sweet. He's concerned for her."
I smiled weakly. "Yeah, he's going to be sticking around, I think, Dad. You better get used to him."
Charlie mumbled something under his breath. He didn't sound impressed.
"So, Jenny," Renee started, "your shoulder. Is it feeling better?" She glanced at Charlie meaningfully.
I sighed, shifting my sling a little. "It's too early to say. It still throbs and aches, but it'll be better in the long run. The doctor says I'll be back to full mobility in six months, but it won't pop out every time I get knocked like it did before."
"Rehab?" Charlie asked. He was almost apprehensive.
"Just some physical therapy. Some people have to wait months before they get a reconstruction, so they need much more physical therapy than I will. I'm still pretty fit."
"And your broken arm?" he asked. "Its healing okay?"
"As fine as always. It's more the muscles that are still sore. I'm lucky all the damage is in one arm."
Renee took a deep breath, looking at Charlie. Charlie nodded.
"We're moving to Jacksonville."
I tried to act surprised. "Phil got signed?"
"Yes! Phil and I have already been house hunting and found a cute little house right by the beach. You and Bella will get your own rooms…"
As Renee talked, I watched Charlie's face. He didn't look particularly happy, and he was watching my face carefully.
"…so what do you think?"
"It sounds great, Mom. I'll need time to think about it. I've already moved once this school year; I need to work out whether I'm prepared to do that again."
Renee nodded with a smile on her face. "Of course, honey. Don't rush into it. You'll need to ask Bella what she thinks, as I doubt you'll want to come on your own."
"Hmmm." I avoided saying anything to that. I knew Bella would immediately shoot the idea down, wanting to stay with Edward. But did I have to stay in Forks?
A doctor approached us. Renee and Charlie stood up.
"Is she okay?" Renee asked anxiously.
"She's fine," the doctor assured us. "I thought I'd let you know that we are moving Bella out of ICU and into a private room. Would you like to come and assist with the move?"
Renee followed the doctor.
"Are you coming, Jen?" Charlie asked.
I gulped. "Um, no, I'll come by later. After I finish my coffee."
Charlie left, and I stared into my coffee, swirling the spoon absentmindedly. I had a big decision to make. Moving to Jacksonville could be the right thing for me to do. I wouldn't have to worry about Twilight and how every decision I made affected the future. I wouldn't have to keep an eye on Bella to make sure she didn't stuff up her future with Edward. It would like having the amazing second chance that the AU had given me, but getting to live a normal life instead of a crazy supernatural one.
But would Bella let me go? I couldn't move to Jacksonville if Bella wanted me there with her in Forks. She was my twin, and we had a connection. As long as Bella wanted me around, I had to be there. I was supposed to be her best friend and confidant, and I couldn't abandon her. I had to talk to Bella before I made any decisions about leaving Forks.
A small vampire slid into the seat across from me.
I crinkled my nose and looked away. "I'm not talking to you, Alice."
She sighed. "Come on, I didn't mean to abandon you in the hospital."
I looked back at her, glaring. "You said you would see me after the surgery, and you didn't! You weren't there! I was stuck on my own for a day and a half in a strange hospital in pain!"
"I'm sorry! I was going to come, I really was! They changed their mind about which room they were going to put you in at the last minute, and the room you were next to had a patient with an open wound who was having blood transfusions every few hours…"
I looked into Alice's eyes, which were darkest black. "I'm sorry, Alice. It must be hard being in a hospital with so much blood around."
She shrugged. "It's not so bad in this room, or in the wards. Just your ward in particular was off-limits. The worst is the ER and the waiting rooms."
"How did you get past them when we came in?"
"Good timing. We were lucky that there were no gunshot victims in the ER that day."
"Yeah, just two broken teenagers."
I swilled the dregs of my coffee around in my mug. Alice just stared at me, waiting.
"Alice, I messed up some of the timeline in the studio. Not in a major way, but in a way that might have affected you."
She nodded. "I saw this coming, all along. I've been waiting for you to tell me."
"Of course you have." I took a deep breath. "The way you were turned… James had a lot to do with it. You were a patient in an asylum, and a vampire working there took a liking to you. Then James came along. He tried to run with you, but there was no hope. So he turned you, so James couldn't have you."
Alice's eyes were glazed over. "That's why I could only remember the dark," she whispered.
"Yes, because that's where they kept you in the asylum."
Alice blinked, snapping back to reality. "Thank you, Jen, for telling me."
I shrugged. "Originally, James was going to tell you…he—he made a tape. He wanted to kill Bella on film to show Edward." I stopped for a moment before I thought back too much on just what could have happened. "I distracted him with my own questions to buy time, and now I don't know how that makes anything different. I figured you should know, either way. Just because the timing was different, doesn't mean you can't know."
"A lot of things can be changed just by timing." She smiled a little. "Trust me, I know."
I traced the edge of the mug with my index finger. "Alice? There's been something I've been meaning to ask you…"
Alice didn't say anything for a while, so I waited patiently.
"Edward doesn't want me to tell you this."
"No surprise there. He doesn't want you to tell Bella either."
Alice slammed her hand on the table. "Alice…" I said.
"You have to know! It's wrong if you don't! How can Bella make the decision if she doesn't have all the information! How can you let her? It's just not fair!"
I leaned back from her, shocked by her rage. A crack had formed along the table where she had hit it.
I gulped. "Well, then, I need to know. I don't care about Edward's feelings, and I can tell Bella without him ever knowing. Tell me, please."
"You have to ask the question."
"Right…Alice? What's my future? Will I get to stay human? I'm sure you've seen it."
"Of course I've seen your future. It was one of the first visions I had of you."
"What's the answer?"
She shook her head. "It isn't as simple as one answer. Every action has a consequence, and for a long time, there have been two ways it could go."
"Two ways? So I stay a human, or I…"
I trailed off at the look in Alice's eyes. My lip trembled, and tears were swimming across my vision.
"I don't get to stay human, do I?
"That's not one of the outcomes."
I drew a long, rattling breath. "It's that I either change, or I die…right?"
"It doesn't work exactly like that."
"Then how the hell does it work out, Alice?"
"It depends on Bella and Edward. It always has."
My mind was swirling. "Can you explain, Alice? I'm confused."
"In the beginning, Edward couldn't decide whether he was in love with Bella, or if he wanted to kill her. Your life hung on that decision too, Jenny. Now he won't kill her, and he probably couldn't if he tried."
"Which means I won't die then?"
Alice shook her head. "Bella is set on the change. It's the only outcome I see for her now, but it's distant and hazy. She could be turned tomorrow, or in two years."
"But I don't want to be changed into a vampire!" A tear ran down my cheek.
"If Bella decides on the change, which she has, then you must change too. You can't stay human while she's a vampire. It doesn't work."
"And if it doesn't work for one to be a vampire, and the other to stay human…"
"Then you'll die. There are other specifics around it I can't see yet, but I can see two options: Bella changes, and you change not long after. Or, Bella changes, you refuse, and you die."
I looked down at my mug again. "So really, Bella made my choice long ago."
"I'm sorry, Jen."
A flickering at the edge of my mind distracted me. Bella.
"She's waking up," Alice said.
"Will you go talk to her?"
"Soon… can her mind be changed?"
"You could change her mind, but that won't affect the outcome, not now. She's becoming a vampire whether she likes it or not. Edward's not too impressed with that part."
"It's a good thing she wants the change then, right?"
Alice sighed. "I think you should go to Jacksonville with your mother."
I blinked. It was an abrupt change of subject, and it stunned me. "What? No, no, it's up to Bella. If Bella wants me to go, then I'll go. If she wants me in Forks, I'll stay."
Her eyes narrowed. "Didn't you hear what I told you? When Bella changes, that's it. Your life is over. Do you really want to stick around waiting to die? You can't spend your life waiting for Bella, because there isn't much time left."
"Are you sure?"
Alice smiled grimly. "Bella isn't an old vampire, Jen. In my visions she's young—young enough to pass for a high school student."
I put my head in my hands. "But there's so much left to do. Bella… Edward… they don't get their happy ending yet."
I looked up. Alice was smiling gently. "Nothing's going to happen for a while, I think. No nomads. No major revelations. When's the next important event in your 'timeline'?"
"September thirteenth. Bella's birthday."
"Your birthday, too," Alice reminded me. "Come back then. That gives you, what, six months of your own life?"
Some part of me wondered if I would continue living in the AU past the end of Twilight. Was this a one-off novel thing, or would I have to live the whole saga?
"I don't know, Alice. I need to think."
"Of course. Renee is coming to get you now." Alice stood up. "I don't think I broke the table too badly, do you?"
I looked at the fissure in the table, which seemed to be growing in length. "I don't think you fixed it, Alice."
She laughed a little, and I was grateful for her attempt to lighten the mood. "I'll see you soon, Jen."
She passed Renee on her way out. Renee was fumbling in her bag.
"I'm so sorry, Jen, I completely forgot you needed more painkillers."
I looked at the clock on the wall. "I didn't notice, and I wasn't in pain."
She passed me the pills. Using the cold dregs of my coffee, I gulped them down.
"I guessed she was." I'd been blocking out her conversations with Edward and Renee for the past ten minutes. It was much easier now to do – I felt like I had more control over our link.
"Do you want to come see her? I thought you would be bashing down the door the moment she woke up."
"Does she want to see me?"
Renee hesitated. "She didn't say she did, but I'm sure she wants to."
I sighed. Today was a big day for important talks. "Mom, can you sit down for a second? I wanted to talk to you."
"Sure, honey." She sat down in Alice's seat. "Dang, this seat is cold."
I smirked. "Mom, I know I haven't always been the greatest daughter. Before I left Phoenix, I was a bit messed up."
Renee nodded with a small smile on her face. "Go on."
"I'm sorry for that. Sorry for making you worry, and making Bella and Charlie worry. I was…messed up."
Renee reached across the table and gripped my hand. 'Honey, it's okay. I understand these things. Hell, my teenage years were wild; I ended up married to your father!"
I laughed. "And look how well that turned out!"
She stuck her tongue out at me. "Shh, you. The point is, it doesn't matter whether you're a messed up basket case or the most perfect teenager in the world, I'm still going to worry about you. Sure, it's harder to worry when you're all the way over in Forks, but you're still the number one priority in my life, even if it doesn't seem that way sometimes."
"Thanks, Mom. I love you."
"I love you, too." Renee winked at me. "Now, even though you said that you were 'off boys', I'm sure there've been some hot guys in Forks. You need to tell me the goss!"
"Mom," I groaned, "Not in Forks! Seriously, I've spent more time avoiding the hospital and chasing after Bella to worry about boys!" Renee didn't need to know about Jacob, or my fleeting encounter with Mike. It was too embarrassing.
Renee quirked an eyebrow. "You know, that's exactly what Bella used to say to me."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah…you'd think she'd know how much it sucks."
"You'd be surprised, Jenny. Really, you've got it easy. At least she's with a boy that's a little more… age appropriate."
I bristled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Renee sighed. "I really didn't want to have to tell you about this, but… Mr. Andrews ended up transferring to a different school. So really, you could have stayed in Phoenix if you wanted to."
My mind was buzzing, and unsurprisingly, Bella was tuning in now.
Mr. Andrews? Our English teacher?
I groaned. "You know what happened in November, Mom?
Renee giggled. "Moms know everything, sweetie. I know it was probably embarrassing at the time, so I didn't bring it up. You were still in so much pain from the car accident, and you were like a zombie for months."
"Mom?" I tried to think of a way to ask without giving myself away. "I was…pretty messed up that night on stuff. I've tried to forget, mostly because it sucked, but I can't remember half of what happened to begin with."
She sighed. "I was afraid you'd hurt your head in the accident. Look, I knew you had a crush on Mr. Andrews. Everyone had a crush on him…even I thought he was attractive. But he was a young teacher straight out of college in his first semester at the school. You shouldn't have gone after him, Jenny."
A wave of nausea washed over me. I had slept with an English teacher here, too?
Memories of my old life in Australia had begun to fade, but I could still remember the most traumatic night of my life. The night I had gotten so drunk and drugged up that I slept with my English teacher had been the night I decided to turn my life around. Waking up in his bed had been horrifying.
It was almost as horrifying as what had happened next. Even if I couldn't remember what had happened in November, my subconscious did. It remembered getting lost in that dark alley, and the men who had tried to talk to me. I had run from them, stumbling and falling, unsure of whether they were friendly or sinister. The amount of times I had dreamt of that car swinging around the corner, only to realize now that it wasn't supposed to save me from the men. It was supposed to hit me and very nearly kill me, just as it had back in Australia.
Out of all the experiences I wanted to leave behind in my old life, that had been number one. But somehow, it had followed me like some parasite clinging to my existence. It seemed like I was stuck with all the experiences that had shaped me, including their consequences. I was just as stupid and messed up in the AU as I was in Australia.
"Jenny? Are you okay? You've gone pale."
I took a deep, shuddering breath. "Just feeling a bit sick from the drugs, Mom."
Renee dragged her chair around and put her hand to my head. It felt clammy.
"You feel awful. Maybe we should talk another time."
"No, Mom, it's okay. We need to talk about it." I looked into Renee's worried eyes. "How did you find out?"
"I guessed after they rang me from the hospital. Bella and I had been worried – usually you stayed out late, but never all night. I figured you had been with a boy. It wasn't until the school rang me a week later that I put the pieces together. Mr. Andrews had put in a class transfer request, and they put two and two together. They wanted you to leave…you know, a quiet exit."
"And you never thought to tell me?"
Renee looked at me with wide eyes. "I thought you knew! You were the one who announced that you wanted to go back to Forks. It was convenient for everyone. You couldn't stay at that school, and you were such a mess mentally. Bella volunteered to go with you, and I decided to go touring with Phil. I thought a break would be good… but now we can come back together, Jenny! A new start in a new city, fresh experiences, no baggage from the past! It will be perfect!"
Bella had been intruding on our conversation earlier, but her mind was now closed to me. I didn't have the energy to try to push through.
"Thanks for being understanding, Mom. I'll still need to talk to Bella, though. I can't make that decision right now."
She frowned. "Bella didn't seem enthusiastic about the idea; like I said, there's something serious going on with that boy."
"What if I said they were sort of a package deal?" I asked. "I think we're definitely stuck with Edward now."
"Is that a bad thing?" Renee asked. "You get along with him, right?"
I shrugged. "I guess. We have different ideas of what's good for Bella…but we both care about her. That's the main thing, right?"
"It can't be a bad thing." Renee stood up. "Come on, let's go see Bella. Visiting hours close soon, so we'll have to go stay in our hotel. No stairs, of course." She laughed as we walked towards Bella's room.
Bella's mind had opened up again. At first, I couldn't think of a reason why this would happen, until I heard her thoughts. She was angry.
"Why didn't you let the venom change me?" Bella's voice shook. Her heart monitor began to beep louder.
"I…I couldn't let you become one of us. Not yet, not that way. It's too soon." Edward was pleading with Bella. "What about your family? About Jenny?"
Renee stopped, and I nearly crashed into her. Bella was angry with Edward about sucking the venom out? I hadn't expected her to be upset about it so quickly; I thought she would have been preoccupied with the 'almost dying' thing.
"We're here!" Renee announced. "I'll just let you go in. You can kick Edward out if you want. You have my permission." She winked.
As if Renee's permission would make a difference. "Thanks, Mom. See you soon."
I turned the handle of the door and entered. In the time between my vision of Bella and Edward fighting and me entering the room, Edward had warned Bella I was coming. He sat quite calmly in an armchair, while Bella lay in bed with her eyes closed.
"Bella?" I whispered. "Do you want me to go? I can come back another time…"
Her eyes flew open. "You heard us arguing, didn't you?"
I shrugged. "You broke the barrier you made in your head. I didn't do it on purpose."
Bella read the thought that was forming in my head. "Edward isn't leaving me. He's going to stay."
I bit my lip. "What the hell is wrong with you, Bella? Aren't you happy to see me?"
She looked at her hands. "I guess I am. I'm also mad at you."
Sighing, I said, "It's because I didn't listen to your letter, isn't it?"
"Amongst other things."
Really, I had no idea what kind of jerk mood she had woken up in. Why was she such a raging bitch? Couldn't she be at least a little grateful that we both survived?
"I'm sorry, Jenny. I'm just in a bad mood." Bella winced and put her hand to her head. "My brain still hurts."
She closed her eyes for a second then opened them quickly. "You're okay though, aren't you? I mean you're up and walking, but your arm's in a sling…"
"Shoulder reconstruction, broken arm. Not as bad as you though."
I looked over at Edward, who was glowering at me.
"What's your problem, Edward? You on the rag or something?"
I couldn't help but taunt him. His possessive, angry attitude was pissing me off.
"You let Bella go to James."
I rolled my eyes. "As if I let her! I had to tackle her to the ground, and even broke a couple of ribs doing it, but she still went. Bella's not a child, Edward. She can make decisions on her own."
"I broke your ribs?" Bella asked incredulously.
I waved my hand at her. "I'm okay. The point is, I didn't do anything wrong. I did my best by Bella. So did you. It's not my job to chase Bella around and stop her from making stupid decisions, and it's not yours either."
Edward stood up, his eyes blazing. "Look at you talking about decisions. All you do is chase Bella around, talking about your future knowledge, about what we should do!"
"Please stop talking about me as if I'm not here," Bella murmured.
Edward turned to her. "Bella, love, the deciding reason I didn't let you change into a vampire was because Jen told me not to. She screamed it at me."
"I was in pain, you douchebag! Of course I screamed it! I wanted the pain to end!" I looked at Bella and Edward, exasperated. "It's completely the wrong time! Besides, Edward still wouldn't have let the change happen, regardless of me."
"How do you know that?" Edward asked. "I could have let her change."
"But you weren't going to, regardless of what I said."
"Of course I wasn't going to let Bella change. I could have, but I didn't. Doesn't that count for anything?"
I groaned. "You're so difficult!"
"Edward?" Bella asked quietly. "Can you go for a minute? Go find Alice, or something. I want to talk to Jen."
Scowling, Edward stalked out of the room. I stuck my tongue out as he slammed the door behind him.
Bella sighed. "Jenny, you do realize I came out of a coma today? And that I'm really not feeling up to you and Edward's crap?"
I went and sat carefully on the edge of Bella's bed. I grabbed her cool hand and squeezed.
"We did it, Bella. We survived James."
Bella smiled. "Yeah. I was pretty dumb running away like that. I should have listened to you."
I scoffed. "Are you kidding? I tried to prevent you from going into the studio by standing by the door. It was the stupidest thing I could have done!"
"Well, I was blocking you out, so it's not like you could do anything else. I should have trusted your knowledge." Bella closed her eyes and relaxed back against the pillow. "I don't care, okay? I don't care anymore about how you know everything. I've been around Alice and Edward long enough to know that some magic can't be explained."
I smiled. "That's good, Bella, because it's something I really can't explain."
There was a long silence between us, punctuated by the beeping of Bella's heart monitor. I stared around the room awkwardly.
"I heard what Alice said, you know," she said quietly. Her eyes were on me anxiously.
"You heard? About—"
"About how we both have to change or you'll die? Yeah, that."
"Have you—" I hesitated for a moment, "I—I mean, could that change your mind? Would you still want to change?"
Bella looked down at her hand in my grasp. "I don't know. Edward said that you were the one who insisted on preventing the change, and I'm glad you did now. At first, I was furious that I had come so close to what I wanted, but I hadn't really thought about the consequences."
"Edward won't change you yet. Not until after high school—"
The door swung open and Edward burst in. His eyes were blazing, and I shrunk away from him.
"You are not having this conversation. Bella won't be changed, period."
Bella's lip trembled, and I patted her hand.
"This was a private conversation, Edward. Just because you can hear us doesn't give you the right burst in and add your piece."
"You're overexerting her. The nurse is on her way."
I sighed. "Asshole."
"Jenny?" Bella asked.
"I think you should go to Jacksonville with Mom."
"What?" I shook my head in disbelief. "You don't want me around?"
"I agree," Edward said, obnoxiously.
"Shut up, Edward," I said.
It'll give you a chance to live your life for a while. Get away from thinking about my future, and maybe worry about yours for a bit. I mean…I still have time to decide. I'm not sure about anything any more. Do I want to be with Edward forever? Yes. Am I prepared to give you up? Never. He won't be changing me tomorrow, and there's no rush yet.
There's never any rush, Bella. You don't have to change at all.
Alice said it was set. I've never been one to bet against Alice. Besides, I can see your thoughts too, you know. You want to go to Jacksonville.
I gulped. "Are you sure, Bella? You won't let this creep boss you around while I'm gone?"
She smiled. "He isn't so bad."
I'll be back you know, Bella. I'm not abandoning you.
No, I'm kicking you out! Seriously, have fun in Jacksonville. I've been a crappy sister lately…consider this your reward. We can keep in touch… and it's what you want. It's time for you to get something you want. I've found Edward…and I hope you can find someone for you too.
I briefly remembered my flirtation with Jacob. Could that have a future? Or was there someone in Jacksonville for me?
Edward sighed. "Stop having conversations in your heads."
"It's the only way to keep them private, obviously!" I grumbled.
The nurse bustled in, pushing a trolley loaded up with needles and drugs. Lovely.
"There are too many people in here," she said imperiously. "This girl needs to rest."
"Of course," Edward said smoothly, "Jenny was just leaving now."
I gave him the finger.
"No, you both need to leave. She needs to sleep."
Bella certainly did look like she needed a good night's sleep. She was nodding off as we spoke.
Edward tried to convince the nurse to let him stay, but even Bella insisted that Edward should leave for a bit. This was already a different Bella to the one I read in the book. She wasn't needy or clingy after the encounter with James…she was stronger. That had to be my influence, right?
I left the two lovebirds to say their goodbyes, leaning against the wall outside. The drugs Renee had given me had well and truly kicked in, and my head was spinning a little. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths.
"Jen?" Edward asked. I opened my eyes and just about had a heart attack. His face was right up close to mine.
"Stop being creepy! I'm okay! I just need some food!"
"Sure," he said, stepping back.
I pushed myself away from the wall. "Why are you being so cranky towards me?"
Edward shrugged. "I don't know, really."
"Yes, you do. It's because of what I know."
The nurse poked her head outside the door. "Talking out here still counts as disturbing my patient."
"We were just going to the cafeteria." Edward told her, taking my good arm and steering me away.
As soon as we rounded the first corner, I pulled my arm away.
"What are you doing?" I asked angrily. "One minute you're angry at me, the next, you're fine."
Edward sighed. "I know it's probably difficult to understand, but you're probably the only reason Bella has to stay human. Sometimes, I find myself relying on you to convince her that becoming a vampire is not the right choice."
"Alice said she doesn't have a choice any more. Bella is going to change, whether she okays it or not."
"Not if I can help it," Edward growled. "Her vision can still change, Alice just doesn't want it to. She's obsessed at the idea of having Bella as part of the family."
Just like that, Edward was back to being angry and moody.
I sighed. "Wouldn't it be better if we just worked with the alternatives we've got? You know, try to make sure Bella's transition is smooth instead of…violent?"
"Becoming a vampire is a violent experience." Edward looked into my eyes. "Aren't you scared of what could happen to you? You could be changing your future too."
"I'll take it as it comes." I shrugged my good shoulder. "It seems like staying human isn't a long term option. I think I can deal with that."
"Don't you want to stay human?"
"Yes! Of course. Bella and I are different. There's no appeal in living forever for me. I'm not stupid though. Being around Bella and you has consequences. I'd rather Bella was changed than that she died, and I know she feels the same about me."
Edward shook his head, running his hands through his hair. "I can't believe how close I came to losing her."
"If she was one of you, you wouldn't have to worry."
"I couldn't risk her soul for me," he whispered.
I groaned. "I've had enough of this," I said. "I want to eat, and I want to go to the hotel. Just promise me something, Edward? Promise you won't be a complete douchebag and leave Bella for her own safety. It won't work, and you'll end up hurting each other more."
"I'll leave her if that's what it takes to keep her safe. I love her too much to let her throw her life away for me."
I groaned. "There's just no arguing with you, is there? I'm going now, Edward."
Turning, I started walking towards the cafeteria. Edward didn't follow me, for which I was very grateful.
On my way, I ran into the nurse who had been in Bella's room talking to Renee.
"Oh!" Renee said, "There you are, sweetie! The nurse was saying that Bella has gone to sleep, so we might as well go get some dinner. What do you feel like?"
I grinned. "Mom, I've decided. I'm going to come live with you in Jacksonville."
"Oh, baby!" She threw her arms around me. "It's going to be wonderful, you, me, Bella and Phil—"
"Bella isn't coming, Mom. She wants to stay in Forks, with Edward."
"Oh?" Renee drew back. "That serious, huh?"
"Yeah," I grimaced. "Looks like it is. Besides, we're both seventeen. It's time for me to learn to live without Bella, right? And for her to learn to cope without me?"
She smiled. "Independence isn't a bad thing, you know."
I poked my tongue out. "Also, I feel like McDonalds."
"McDonalds it is."
I wish I could say that was the end of my adventures, that I went to Jacksonville with Renee, and Bella went back to Forks with Edward, and we all got our happy ending. That could never happen though. There were too many events set in motion that hadn't been resolved, and I knew too much to let them happen without trying to stop them. When Alice said I should make the most of my life while I still had it, I listened to her. She also said that I would have to go back to Forks.
She wasn't wrong.
I still have an epilogue that I have written up my sleeve. I'll probably be posting that sometime closer to when I start the sequel. I already have it mapped out in my head, and I'm starting it today. YES I START WRITING THE SEQUEL TODAY.
Thank you to all those who have followed me right from the start. I hope I've answered all your questions. If I haven't (and I know there are a few loose ends), they'll be in the epilogue. I guarantee it. :) Your reviews, support and questions have encouraged me to keep writing even when I've lacked motivation or been sick with the plague. Sequel is coming, don't worry! Thank you.