Here we are again! Thanks for being patient with me while I got this one ready to go. I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, whatever you might be celebrating! :) And without any further ado, here is my gift to you, my friends! I hope you like it. ;)
All usual disclaimers apply, of course. I own nothing except a vivid imagination and a rather obsessive love for these characters… everything else is the property of Stephenie Meyer. All recognizable themes, subjects, and dialogue belong to her. I'm just borrowing. But you know that by now. ;)
The sound of the television droned on in the living room. I tapped the remote control rhythmically against my chin, deep in thought, as the reporter spoke of the quickly amassing murders in Seattle. People were dying in growing numbers, in horrific ways. They disappeared in the night, their bodies found later, mangled and broken, carelessly tossed to the side in dark alleys, on deserted streets.
And everyone else in the city was living in fear that they might be next. But no one had any idea what was going on. There was no evidence of the killer anywhere to be found.
When the segment ended, giving way to commercials, I pressed the button to turn the television off. The house was quiet then except for Esme's low humming as she worked over a flower arrangement for the dining room table.
"What do you make of that?" Carlisle asked from the chair across from mine. He'd been typing steadily away on the laptop balanced on his knees, and I'd not been aware that he'd been paying attention to what was on the television.
I heard the hint of worry in his voice, and I didn't even pretend to not know what he was referring to. "I don't know," I said tersely.
What the people of Seattle didn't realize was that, often, when unexplained killings of this magnitude took place, it wasn't the work of a mortal. It was often the ravages of a bloodthirsty monster, a demon, set loose to prowl.
"The signs are there," Carlisle pointed out when I made no other response.
"They are," I agreed quietly, "but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to who was taken victim. There was no common factor between any of them. Whether old or young, male or female, rich or poor. The only thing they had in common was the lush scent of human blood.
I'd seen that many times before.
Many, many times.
"But you don't believe it's nothing. Do you?" Carlisle closed his laptop, turning his full attention to me.
"I don't know enough right now to be certain of anything."
"What do your instincts tell you?" he asked intently.
In the course of my life, I'd learned not to doubt my instincts. It was many times a fatal mistake. And my gut was warning me now that something wasn't right. That we needed to be watchful and wary about this situation in Seattle.
"There isn't anything we can do about it except keep an eye on things," I said, evading his question.
"Keep an eye on what?" Emmett asked as he came lumbering down the stairs. "What's going on?"
"The murders in Seattle," Carlisle said in explanation as Emmett plopped heavily on the couch.
"Those poor people," Esme sighed as she drifted in from the dining room, coming to stand behind Carlisle's chair and draping her arms loosely around his neck. "Their families must be so devastated."
Her sorrow was real and heartfelt as she thought of those left to mourn the loss of family and friend. Carlisle laid his hand over her interwoven ones, pressing a kiss to her wrist.
"It's terrible," he agreed quietly.
"Yeah, I know it's sad," Emmett said, a frown puckering his forehead, "but humans die every day. I don't get why we're worrying over this more than usual… unless…" His voice trailed off, and I could almost see the wheels in his mind turning as he processed. "You think it's one of ours?" he asked, looking back and forth between me and Carlisle.
"I think it's a very real possibility," Carlisle told him solemnly.
"Oh," Emmett said, working things out in his mind now. "In that case," he leaned over and bumped his fist into my shoulder, "Jazz, why don't you and I go check it out. It's not like we have anything else to do today."
"No, Emmett," I told him, shaking my head. "It's not our concern now." Not yet at least, I thought to myself. "If things continue, it might be another story."
"Fine." He crossed his arms over his chest like an overgrown child that had just had a favorite toy taken away.
Rosalie came huffing down the stairs then, rolling her eyes at Emmett's typical eagerness for any excitement, though there was no true annoyance there. Only a loving tolerance. She shoved playfully at the back of his head as she passed.
"I'm going out to work on the Jeep for a while," she told him. "Help me?"
He hopped up eagerly, our earlier conversation relegated to the back of his mind almost immediately by her request. "Sure thing, babe." He took her outstretched hand, and the two of them disappeared into the garage.
Only moments later, I heard the sounds of the Volvo pulling into the driveway. All my nagging suspicions and uncertainties faded away as Alice drew nearer. I could feel her now. She was radiating happiness and contentment, her usual emotional state, and it lifted my sprits every time I felt it. It was almost impossible for me not to be happy around her.
I was smiling when she danced in the door, Edward following not far behind. She flitted to my side, brushing a kiss to the corner of my lips. She was humming happily to herself as she carried her backpack upstairs and changed clothes. This was her ritual almost every afternoon.
Charlie had essentially put Bella on house arrest as soon as she had returned from Italy with Alice and Edward. She wasn't allowed out except for school, and Edward was only allowed at her house for a couple of hours in the evening.
Alice, on the other hand, was another matter entirely.
Charlie regarded Alice with a mixture of awe and reverence. She'd had him wrapped around her little finger since the incident in Phoenix the year before. No matter what had changed since then, that hadn't. She was allowed to come and go as she pleased, and Charlie never said a word.
Alice spent most afternoons now after school with Bella until Charlie came home from the station. She was almost giddy with happiness at having her best friend, and someone she loved as a sister, in her life again. I didn't see her much during the day right now, but I couldn't begrudge her that. She was much too happy. And I knew it was only for a season anyway.
Edward plopped down on the seat that Emmett had vacated just moments before, sighing as Alice flew back down the stairs. He tossed the keys to the Volvo into her waiting hand when she stopped in front of him. I could feel his jealousy, and I knew exactly where it stemmed from, as did Alice.
"You just saw her not ten minutes ago, and you'll see her again in a few short hours. Stop pouting. It's not attractive."
Edward rolled his eyes. "That's very funny, Alice. And I'm not pouting."
"Yes, you are. You're not very good at sharing, you know," she teased. "You don't like it that you can't have Bella all to yourself right now."
"Have I ever told you how annoying you are?" Edward's tone was short, but his eyes were lit with amusement.
"More than once. But you love me anyway," she said with smug assurance, sticking out her tiny, pointed tongue at him for good measure.
Edward bit back a laugh and made a face back at her, crossing his eyes. I shook my head, laughing under my breath at both of them.
Alice and Edward had always had a very unique bond, probably in part because of the complementary nature of their gifts. Often, they acted the most like siblings out of all of us, bantering back and forth like a true brother and sister. And I knew they both loved each other fiercely in their own way. There wasn't much he wouldn't do for her, and she for him.
Alice bent down to kiss me one last time and then darted out the door once again, on her way to Bella's.
Slowly but surely over the last month, we'd been able to pick up the pieces that had been left behind when our family had fallen apart last year. We'd returned almost to a state of normalcy after a while, and all of us were relieved by that.
Deep inside, I'd felt a little bit of a strain with Edward at first when they'd come home from Volterra. There'd been a part of me that had wanted to blame him for Alice's exposure to the Volturi and her close brush with death. I'd wanted to take out my worry and frustration out on him. But I couldn't.
Not when I'd done the unforgivable just months before and been immediately and unquestioningly forgiven by him.
I wasn't a hypocrite.
And I knew it wasn't entirely his fault.
He'd not asked her to go. She'd made that choice of her own free will. And I knew most of us, in one way or another, had played a part in what was almost a tragedy of epic proportions. We'd all made decisions that influenced those events. There had been mistakes made, and wrongs that had needed to be set right.
Edward and Bella, Alice, Rosalie, and I had all ultimately had a hand in what happened. We'd all owned up to our mistakes and, for those of us who needed it, we'd sought forgiveness from the ones we'd wronged.
And, for everyone, forgiveness was granted without reservation – however undeserved it might be for some of us.
"This worries me," Edward said pensively, breaking through my thoughts.
Edward gestured to the newspaper he held in his hands. There on the front page was yet another report about the killings in Seattle. "I wouldn't worry so much, but it's too close to home," he said absently. "And if it is one of our kind, we can't afford to have the Volturi decide to pay a visit to take care of them. Not now."
"We won't let it get that out of hand," I assured him. "The rest of us were just discussing that before you came in earlier."
I replayed our conversation from before back to him in my thoughts. "It's best to keep an eye out, but it's probably nothing."
Edward hummed under his breath. I didn't think he was truly any more convinced of that than I was.
The rest of our conversation that afternoon was of mostly inconsequential things – uncomplicated and easy. Distracted as he was, it was still a source of great relief to have my brother home, safe and sound, and back to himself again.
At exactly twenty minutes after seven, though, he was on his way out the door to Bella's house, passing Alice in the driveway.
Alice was smiling as she tripped into the living room. I took her outstretched hand and met her smile with one of my own as we made our way upstairs. Spending as much time apart as we did during the day now, these hours during sunset and sunrise had been set aside as ours. Everyone else was off engaged in their own pursuits, and we holed ourselves away in our room, enjoying the time we had with just the two of us.
Resting in the circle of each others' arms, we talked about everything and about nothing at all. She told me about her day and I told her about mine. The words didn't always matter. It was enough just to be near her. To listen to the low murmur of her voice. To feel the soft press of her body against my side. Her limbs tangled with mine.
It was perfect. It was right. And, for the space of those few hours, nothing else mattered.
March had given way to April and then April to May as our family had settled back into a routine again. Edward and I had been reenrolled in Forks High School, and Carlisle had resumed his position at the hospital. Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper remained out of sight mostly, keeping up the charade that they were still away at college.
Few questions had been asked about our reappearance. We'd told everyone that Esme just hadn't cared for life in Los Angeles, and that we'd preferred the pace of a small town. That had been enough to appease anyone who thought to question.
My days were filled once again with the relentless monotony of high school classes, but I couldn't resent that. I was truly happy to be back in Forks. I was happy to see Edward back to himself and our family shifting back to normal again.
I missed Jasper during the day, though. That was one of the bad things about passing us off as being in different grades. There was always at least one year that I had to keep going to classes without him. Not that we had many, or even any, classes together anyway, but at least we were in the same building all day.
It was just easier that way, though. There were fewer questions from the humans. People always assumed that Jasper and Rosalie were twins. They never looked very closely. They just saw the same blonde, curly hair and golden eyes. They saw that Jasper and Rosalie were both tall and carried themselves with a quiet, almost aloof, air about them. And that was enough.
It was easiest, and wisest, to go along with their assumptions. But I missed him.
Jasper was doing his best to stay occupied during the day, reading and studying on his own, exercising his mind the best he could. There was a part of me, though, in the very back of my mind, that worried that we might be setting him up for failure again. I wondered if it was really wise to let him go for so long without any real exposure to human blood. He struggled enough with it when he was continually around it. But it had been almost two months now, and he'd not been exposed to it at all.
He didn't seem concerned by that, though. In fact, it had been a long time since I'd seen him so relaxed and content as he'd been recently. And, God knew, he deserved a break from his constant struggles with his bloodlust. I'd never begrudge him that.
I'd seen that Charlie had been toying with the idea of removing Bella's restrictions over the last few days and he'd finally done so just the night before. I knew, since Bella had been given her freedom back, she'd be around the house more and Jasper would be exposed to it again. He'd be able to build his tolerance back up. We'd just have to be cautious in the meantime.
The school bell rang then, interrupting my thoughts. I gathered up my books and made my way to the cafeteria, passing through the lunch line and taking my tray to the table we sat at everyday. Only it wasn't my siblings that I was sitting with this year.
This year was the first that any of us had actually mingled with other students during the lunch hour. And that was all because of Bella. The friends she'd made had somewhat nervously accepted me and Edward into their fold when we'd come back. They'd been reluctant at first, but, over time, they'd come to accept our presence as normal simply because Bella did.
She was bridging gaps that had never been crossed before.
Angela and her boyfriend Ben were already at the table when I got there. They both looked up as I took my seat.
"Hey, Alice," Angela smiled genuinely, though there was a tiredness around her eyes that wasn't normally there. Ben looked up and smiled as well before bending back over the comic book he'd been poring over.
"Hi," I chirped, smiling brightly at Angela. "Are you all right? You look tired," I said, noting her abnormally disheveled appearance.
"I'm stressing out," she admitted, slumping back in her chair and pushing her hair off her forehead. "I've got a million things to do before graduation, and I'm running out of time."
Edward and Bella's arrival then prevented me from responding. Edward pulled out Bella's chair for her, and they both sat down.
I couldn't help my resigned sigh as I bemoaned Bella's usual attire once again. I couldn't understand why she wouldn't pick anything to wear for herself that wasn't blue jeans and a t-shirt. How could she just not care how she looked? Bella was too pretty to hide herself behind such plain clothes. I couldn't understand it at all.
But she couldn't seem to care less what she wore, and Edward didn't give it any thought either.
If she'd only let me help her out…
Bella sighed deeply just then as if she knew exactly what I was thinking. She probably did. It wasn't like we hadn't had that conversation before.
One of these days, though…
"Have you sent your announcements yet?" Angela asked Bella as soon as they sat down.
"No," Bella answered, shaking her head. "There's no point, really. Renee knows when I'm graduating. Who else is there?"
"How about you, Alice?" She turned back to me.
"All done." I smiled at her. It wasn't technically a lie. There just weren't any to be sent.
"Lucky you," she sighed miserably. "My mother has a thousand cousins and she expects me to hand-address one to everybody. I'm going to get carpal tunnel. I can't put it off any longer and I'm just dreading it."
"I'll help you," Bella volunteered quickly. "If you don't mind my awful handwriting."
Relief overtook Angela's face immediately. She actually looked like she might just cry. "That's so nice of you. I'll come over any time you want."
"Actually," Bella said, a small smile playing at her lips, "I'd rather go to your house if that's okay – I'm sick of mine. Charlie ungrounded me last night."
"Really?" Angela asked, genuinely happy and excited for her friend. "I thought you said you were in for life."
"I'm more surprised than you are. I was sure I would at least have finished high school before he set me free."
"Well, this is great, Bella! We'll have to go out to celebrate."
"You have no idea how good that sounds." Bella's smile stretched over her face.
"What should we do?" I thought aloud, my mind whirling with possibilities.
"Whatever you're thinking, Alice," Bella's voice broke into my plotting, "I doubt I'm that free."
"Free is free, right?" I insisted.
"I'm sure I still have boundaries – like the continental U.S. for example," she said drily.
Rats. There went that plan…
Ben and Angela laughed like Bella had told a joke, and Edward's mouth tipped in a crooked grin. He alone knew just how close to home Bella's words had struck, and I fought the urge to stick my tongue out at him. He hadn't been part of the conversation up to that point anyway.
"So what are we doing tonight?" I persisted.
"Nothing," Bella said firmly. "Let's give it a couple of days to make sure he wasn't joking. It's a school night anyway."
She did have a point. "We'll celebrate this weekend, then."
"Sure," she said in a placating tone. She wasn't any fun sometimes.
"We should all go get dinner at the Italian restaurant," Angela suggested. "They have the best breadsticks."
"They've opened up a new boutique across from the mall," I told her. "We could go there." I knew I wouldn't find anything of real interest there, the selection was much too limited, but it was better than nothing.
"I saw that," Angela said, her eyes lighting with an excitement that I never saw from Bella when I mentioned a new store opening up. In fact, Bella had tuned out of the conversation altogether, her eyes distant, lost in her own thoughts.
"We could catch a movie," Ben interjected. "There's a new one out that looks good."
"Is that the one you were telling me about yesterday?" Angela asked tentatively.
"Yeah, that's the one," he nodded.
"I thought you said Austin wanted to go with you when you saw it." Angela's voice was gentle, her face placid. I knew she really didn't want to go see whatever movie he was talking about, but she didn't want to hurt his feelings either. She was much too kind-hearted for that.
Whatever Ben's response to her might have been was lost to me as a flash of red behind my eyes captured my attention, making the sounds of the cafeteria fade into nothingness… I was captive in the world that existed only inside my mind – for the moment at least.
I saw trees – the same trees that I recognized from our hunts in the woods surrounding Forks. Darkness. Night. The flash of red from before. Long, wild red hair, I saw this time. And a face I'd been watching out for weeks prior to this.
It was Victoria.
A sharp jolt to my leg broke me from the vision, but the dread pooling in my stomach remained lodged there. Edward was watching me from across the table, a partaker in the vision I'd just witnessed. His face gave no indication of what we'd seen, however. His expression was calm, a perfect mask of amusement on his features.
Ben and Angela were both watching me with wide, concerned eyes. Bella's eyes were locked on me as well, but they were lit not with concern but with fear. She knew what the vacancy of my expression had meant. She'd seen it many times before.
"Is it naptime already, Alice?" Edward teased for the benefit of the humans sitting beside me.
"Sorry," I shook my head as if clearing my thoughts, "I was daydreaming, I guess."
"Daydreaming is better than facing two more hours of school," Ben said, letting go of the awkwardness just that easily. We picked up our earlier conversation about plans for the weekend right where we'd left off. Only for a moment did my eyes lock with Edward's.
She's coming back, Edward. And it's soon. This weekend maybe, as close as I can determine.
His composure didn't waver for even a moment, but I knew his mind was working furiously to conjure up a plan. He was silent throughout the rest of the lunch hour, toying absentmindedly with a strand of Bella's hair. Bella knew something was wrong. It was obvious in her eyes. But she knew she couldn't ask while there was anyone else around.
And Edward made sure there was someone around at all times for the rest of the day, even deigning to talk to Mike Newton in the parking lot after school in order to avoid giving her the chance to ask. I knew he wanted to protect her from the knowledge, but it wasn't like he could avoid her finding out forever.
Mike was having issues with his car apparently. And, much to everyone's astonishment, particularly Mike's, Edward had offered to take a look at it.
"Er… thanks," I heard Mike say from my place in the backseat of the Volvo. "But I have to get to work. Maybe some other time."
"Absolutely," Edward responded agreeably.
"What was that about?" Bella muttered under her breath as Edward held open the passenger door for her.
"Just being helpful," Edward answered as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"You're really not that good a mechanic, Edward," I told him, helping him out in deterring Bella from asking about my vision. It would be better for them to be alone when they had that conversation anyway.
"Maybe you should have Rosalie take a look at it tonight, just so you look good if Mike decides to let you help, you know. Not that it wouldn't be fun to watch his face if Rosalie showed up to help. But since Rosalie is supposed to be across the country attending college, I guess that's not the best idea. Too bad. Though I suppose, for Mike's car, you'll do. It's only with the finer tunings of a good Italian sports car that you're out of your depth. And speaking of Italy and sports cars that I stole there, you still owe me a yellow Porsche. I don't know that I want to wait for Christmas…"
I kept rambling on about nothing in particular until he stopped at the mouth of the driveway to drop me off as he did everyday. He shot me a grateful look surreptitiously in the rearview mirror as I opened my door.
I threw a glance at him before I stepped out.
You can't put it off forever, you know. She's going to find out eventually. And it will be a lot better for you if you're honest with her up front. Trust me.
His face gave no indication that he'd heard me. "See you later," he said as if nothing was wrong.
Don't do anything stupid, I warned him. Almost imperceptibly, he nodded. But I knew it wouldn't do any good. He was fanatical about protecting her from anything that could even make her worry. He'd find some way out of telling her. I knew that already.
Jasper was in his study upstairs when I walked in the door. I went immediately to find him. He was standing at one of the long lines of bookcases, flipping through the pages of the thick, heavy book resting on his arm.
He looked up with a warm smile when I tapped lightly at the doorframe. "Well, hi there," he said, placing his book back on the shelf and stepping forward to wrap me up in his arms. "I wasn't expecting to see you home so soon." He stooped down to take my lips softly with his.
"Edward's with Bella this afternoon. Charlie ungrounded her last night," I told him when he released my lips, snuggling deeper into his embrace.
"That's good." His eyebrows knit together, sensing that something wasn't right. He cupped my chin gently with his fingers, tipping my head back to look at him. "What is it?" he asked, concerned.
"It's Victoria," I told him. "I saw her today. She's coming here."
Any hint of a smile vanished immediately from Jasper's face. His expression became almost business-like. "Could you tell when?"
"This weekend, maybe. That's about as close as I can pin it down at this point."
He nodded, deep in thought. "We'll be ready for her, then."
The calm assurance of his words eased my mind. He was right – as usual. We'd be ready and waiting for her when she came. We wouldn't let her get close enough to hurt Bella. And it was quite possible that any threat she presented could be dealt with in just a few short days.
"Yes," I nodded determinedly. "We will be. Edward is going to try to convince Bella to go to Florida to see her mom this weekend. I think that's a bit much, but at least she'll be well away from the danger."
Jasper hummed in response. I knew his mind was racing as he plotted every possible scenario, preparing a response for each one. That was just what he did. That was one of the reasons why he was so successful in a fight. Very little took him by surprise. He was much too thorough for that.
"Let her come," he said, unfazed and unafraid. "We'll be ready. And it will be the last mistake she'll ever make."
Jasper's confidence was contagious. And I could only hope he was right.
I'm going to try to have the second chapter out in the coming week, but we'll see how it goes. You never know, this might just be my last post until next year! :P (That sounds bad, huh? LOL) Please take a second and let me know what you thought! I'm ridiculously nervous about this new story for some reason.
Thanks so much for reading!