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From New Moon, page 511

"I won't contest your decision. So don't try to spare my feelings, please—just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I've done to you. Can you?" he whispered.

Chapter 1

The pain on Edward's face was evident as he asked me to finally make a decision for us. Of course I could still love him. I did still love him. Why was I now hesitating to tell him this?

Looking around Edward's bedroom, I was thankful Charlie and Billy had left right after Harry's funeral on a week-long fishing trip to distribute Harry's ashes. Not only would I hate to explain to Charlie where I had been for three days, but I would hate to have this conversation with Edward in my room—where he could see the effect his leaving had had on me. If this was really a dream, it was one I would constantly revisit in my bed. Everything looked exactly the same in Edward's room as it had before he'd left; it was as unchanging as he was. I knew Edward would never change physically, but was it possible for him to change in other ways?

"I don't know." I said it so quietly that I wasn't sure if he heard me, even with his acute hearing. The pain on Edward's face was gone, though, and in its place was the same mask he wore when breaking my heart in the forest.

"Edward, I love you. I have always loved you. My feelings for you have never been up for debate."

"Bella," he interrupted.

"Please, let me finish. You wanted to know how I felt, what I thought. I have waited for months, for days, for hours—waiting every passing second, hoping it might be the one when you returned to love me. Now that we're together again, what if love isn't enough?"

I knew it would tear the hole in my chest wider, but I had to touch him, especially if this would be the last time. I let my hand graze his brow and come to rest on the side of his face, reveling in its cold, familiar feel.

"I do believe you now when you said you lied in the forest. You were trying to do what you thought was best for me. You were trying to protect me. "

"Yes," he breathed while grabbing my hand with his own, kissing it softly.

I gently removed my hand from his grasp and put it in my lap, knowing what I needed to say would be easier without touching.

"I don't want you to protect me. Not in that way. I realize that there are dangers in your world you want to protect me from—that you unfortunately have to protect me from. I get it. I am human and weak, and you've never given me any indication that that might change, not even in Volterra."

"Bella," he sighed exasperated. He was clearly frustrated by this turn in conversation; this topic was still not up for discussion.

"Stop interrupting me!" I jumped off the sofa and started pacing his room, trying to avoid looking at anything of his that would remind me of how we once were. Gone was the choking sadness and emptiness I had felt for so long. Finally, something was filling me up; I was consumed with the rage and anger I should have felt over him leaving. I was not a child to be protected or a plaything to be discarded. All of the words I had waited so long to say came bubbling to the surface.

"You're right. That's not the issue. This isn't about who's a vampire and who's a human; there's another imbalance. I realize that you've been around a lot longer than I have. You've seen things and learned things that I can only imagine. However, when it comes to being in a relationship, we're both starting from the same place. But, you refuse to let us be equals. I don't know if that refusal comes from your age, your ability to read minds, or from some innate, stubborn superiority complex."

I stopped pacing and finally looked at him, but I couldn't tell anything from his expression. "There has to be an even give and take in a relationship. I know you can't hear my thoughts, and that's hard for you, but I can't hear yours either. Instead of letting me see how you feel or telling me, you shut yourself off. You even try to protect me from your feelings."

"Is it so wrong to want to protect you? To want your life to be better?" he asked, standing up and coming toward me but stopping a few feet away.

"No, but it is wrong to not talk with me about it, to not let me have a hand in making decisions about my life. You've apologized, and I accept your apology for leaving me. However, I'm not sure I can excuse your need to make me feel insignificant or you taking your family away as well. What will happen the next time you decide you need to leave for my own good?"

I couldn't tear my eyes away from his. I wanted so much for him to tell me he would never leave. I wanted him to say he would change, he would be better. I wanted him to say he would change me so we could always be together, and we would be equals in every way.

That would never happen.

"There won't be a next time. I know I couldn't physically leave you even if I wanted to," he promised me.

"Oh, Edward," I sighed, closing the gap between us. "I know you believe that now. I don't know if saying that is enough. I need some time to think and so do you. Your eyes are too dark. It's been too long since you've hunted."

Suddenly, all the fire I felt minutes before was gone. Getting everything off my chest was draining, and I just wanted to go back to sleep. I knew this wasn't a dream anymore; there was no way I would ever refuse Edward in my dreams.

"I'll go for now, but know that I'll always come back for you," he said, kissing me on the forehead. I walked toward the sofa and lay down, covering myself with the blanket. I wasn't sure if things would be clearer after sleeping some more or not. I could only hope.

As Edward opened the door to leave his bedroom, Alice was standing there. "Edward, everything will be different when Bella wakes up. Things will be different for all of us." I could barely make out what she said to him.

Edward left the hall so quickly that I didn't even see him go as Alice stepped into the room. "We should talk," she said.