A/N: Please Read!
First of all I want to thank everyone for their patience with this delay. The thoughts and well wishes I received were overwhelming and much appreciated. For obvious reasons my review replies are backed up, but I am slowly getting to them... If I haven't answered yours yet, I will be soon.
Some of you may be wondering why I've posted other stories and never updated this one... those stories were written before anything happened with J. I can still feel your hugs from here. Love you and miss you always.
I am still dealing with my own family issues and I want to thank DreamingPoet1988, JasperLuver48 and jaydogrut for being there when I need them. *Hugs* You are the very best.
I also want to thank Xavier Willow who has managed to make me smile more in the last couple weeks than I have in a long time. He is a wonderful person and on the way to becoming a great friend. Go visit his profile and check out his stories.
So, that's about it... I'm back and I'm going to try to post more regular updates... Please check out the A/N at the end of the story.
Oh, and I own none of the sparkly vampires in this story... or their acquaintances. They are the property of S. Meyer.
Alice took the book Carlisle offered her. She really didn't care who read after her, she was reading now.
Bella glanced at Edward still wondering at the exchange between him and Alice. Her mind drifted back over the last few minutes. She had no reason to associate with the wolves, but considering the treaty wouldn't it be better if they did try to become friends? Would they rather a friend die, treaty or no treaty? Maybe if they hung out more with the Cullen's they would understand this. She stopped abruptly feeling Edward tense beneath her. His mood swings rivaled Rosalie's. One minute the blond vampire acted like a friend, the next she wanted to tear her head off. She wasn't sure if she would ever become true friends with Edward's oldest sister.
"Chapter two...Evasion," Alice sighed. She wondered briefly who would be doing the avoiding. Most likely it would be Bella. Edward smirked, silently agreeing with her.
I FELT ODDLY BUOYANT AS I WALKED FROM SPANISH toward the cafeteria, and it wasn't just because I was holding hands with the most perfect person on the planet, though that was certainly part of it.
Emmett groaned. 'Here we go again,' he thought.
Maybe it was the knowledge that my sentence was served -Alice ignored Emmett's snicker - and I was a free woman again.
Or maybe it wasn't anything to do with me specifically. Maybe it was the atmosphere of freedom that hung over the entire campus. School was winding down, and, for the senior class especially, there was a perceptible thrill in the air.
'The thrill of a new chase,'Jasper thought even as he heard Edward's low growl. He had no doubt their excitement was not for the same reason as the other kids at Forks High.
Freedom was so close it was touchable, taste-able. Signs of it were everywhere. Posters crowded together on the cafeteria walls, and the trashcans wore a colorful skirt of spilled-over fliers: reminders to buy yearbooks, class rings, and announcements; deadlines to order graduation gowns, hats, and tassels; neon-bright sales pitches - the juniors campaigning for class office; ominous, rose-wreathed advertisements for this year's prom. The big dance was this coming weekend, but I had an ironclad promise from Edward that I would not be subjected to that again. After all, I'd already had that human experience.
Alice's voice that had reached a near squeal dropped to a low growl that had Bella cringing in fear. It's not that she feared Alice herself... no, she feared the consequences of going against Alice.
Jasper laughed at the fear radiating from both Edward and Bella. He knew his wife was a force to be reckoned with if you had the nerve to go against her wishes. And he knew that Bella would be the one to do that.
No, it must be my personal freedom that lightened me today. The ending of the school year did not give me the pleasure it seemed to give the other students. Actually, I felt nervous to the point of nausea whenever I thought of it. I tried to not think of it.
"Why would you be nervous, Bella?" Emmett asked her.
"I thought this was something you wanted?" Rosalie asked, thinking Bella was nervous about the coming change.
"I do," Bella answered with conviction although she knew that Jasper could feel the underlying tension she felt at the thought.
But it was hard to escape such an omnipresent topic as graduation.
"Have you sent your announcements, yet?" Angela asked when Edward and I sat down at our table. She had her light brown hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail instead of her usual smooth hairdo, and there was a slightly frantic look about her eyes.
Esme smiled; glad that at least two of her children were taking the time to get to know Bella's friends. Then Alice was outgoing and she Edward would do anything for Bella.
'Not anything,' Edward amended quietly as he heard her thoughts. He flinched as her thoughts went to Jacob Black.
Bella took pity on her classmate. She was the only one, other than the Cullen's, who truly seemed to be interested in becoming her friend. She would miss Angela dearly after she left. She sighed softly, forgetting that ever vampire in the room could hear her. She would have to offer her help to the girl when the time came.
Alice and Ben were already there, too, on either side of Angela. Ben was intent over a comic book, his glasses sliding down his narrow nose. Alice was scrutinizing my boring jeans-and-a-t-shirt outfit in a way that made me self-conscious. Probably plotting another makeover. I sighed. My indifferent attitude to fashion was a constant thorn in her side. If I'd allow it, she'd love to dress me every day - perhaps several times a day - like some oversized three-dimensional paper doll.
Alice pouted as her sibling's snickers surrounded her. It wasn't really her fault that she wanted her family to look as nice as possible. Why couldn't they understand that? Edward smirked knowing that Alice had finally met her match in Bella. The rest of them, with the exception of Rosalie of course, didn't care. It only saved them the trouble of having to go out shopping. Will, other than when Alice forced them to go with her... which was quite often.
"No," I answered Angela. "There's no point, really. Renée knows when I'm graduating. Who else is there?"
"How about you, Alice?"
Alice smiled. "All done."
Bella smirked. She really doubted anyone in the Cullen's world would care about them graduating high school yet again, but she kept that thought to herself.
"Lucky you." Angela sighed. "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."
"We should help her, Bella," Alice said, bouncing on her feet. Bella nodded her head, happy to help Angela out this little bit.
"I'll help you," I volunteered. "If you don't mind my awful handwriting." Charlie would like that. From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward smile. He must like that, too - me fulfilling Charlie's conditions without involving werewolves.
Angela looked relieved. "That's so nice of you. I'll come over any time you want."
Bella groaned. That would be like Angela to do that but she was sure she would probably want to get out of the house.
"Actually, I'd rather go to your house if that's okay - I'm sick of mine. Charlie un-grounded me last night." I grinned as I announced my good news.
"Really?" Angela asked, mild excitement lighting her always-gentle brown eyes. "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."
Alice pouted. She would have to ensure this didn't happen... it would severely put a damper on their shopping excursions. Edward snickered. He knew Bella, not her father, was the main reason for their lack of shopping.
"Well, this is great, Bella! We'll have to go out to celebrate."
"You have no idea how good that sounds."
"Yes," Alice thought as she began bouncing again. Jasper laughed quietly, his wife acted like a kid in a candy store when it came to shopping.
"What should we do?" Alice mused, her face lighting up at the possibilities. Alice's ideas were usually a little grandiose for me, and I could see it in her eyes now - the tendency to take things too far kicking into action.
"I do not," Alice grumbled, ignoring the snorting and snickering of her family members.
"Of course you don't, darlin'," Jasper said soothingly. She just turned to glare at him, recognizing his attempt to control her emotions.
"Whatever you're thinking, Alice, I doubt I'm that free."
"Free is free, right?" she insisted.
"Not when it comes to Charlie," Bella said.
"I'm sure I still have boundaries - like the continental U.S., for example."
"That's not fair," Alice pouted. 'You better not give us a reason to have to leave here,' she let Edward hear her thoughts.
Angela and Ben laughed, but Alice grimaced in real disappointment.
"So what are we doing tonight?" she persisted.
"Nothing. Look, let's give it a couple of days to make sure he wasn't joking. It's a school night, anyway."
"Bella," Alice whined. "You're spoil all the fun."
"Sure she is," Emmett laughed. "She entertains me all the time."
"We'll celebrate this weekend, then." Alice's enthusiasm was impossible to repress.
"Sure," I said, hoping to placate her. I knew I wasn't going to do anything too outlandish; it would be safer to take it slow with Charlie. Give him a chance to appreciate how trustworthy and mature I was before I asked for any favors.
Bella sighed. Charlie hadn't bothered her after the Phoenix incident, obviously her trip to 'Los Angeles' must have been too much for him after Edwards stunt of leaving her.
Angela and Alice started talking about options; Ben joined the conversation, setting his comics aside. My attention drifted. I was surprised to find that the subject of my freedom was suddenly not as gratifying as it had been just a moment ago. While they discussed things to do in Port Angeles or maybe Hoquiam, I began to feel disgruntled.
It didn't take long to determine where my restlessness stemmed from.
Bella felt Edward tense at Alice's words. She was fairly certain she knew where her thoughts were going in the book and she couldn't help feeling a little irritated at the fact. Even if she did think being friends with Jacob might help them, it was nowhere near what the book made it out to be. It was almost as if she wanted Jacob to be more than a friend to her. She cringed a little realizing Edward's actions were justified; in the book at least.
Ever since I'd said goodbye to Jacob Black in the forest outside my home, I'd been plagued by a persistent, uncomfortable intrusion of a specific mental picture. It popped into my thoughts at regular intervals like some annoying alarm clock set to sound every half hour, filling my head with the image of Jacob's face crumpled in pain. This was the last memory I had of him.
Bella glanced up to see Rosalie's mouth set in a tight line across her face. Just when she thought she was getting somewhere with their friendship, it looked like she was back to square one with Edward's sister.
As the disturbing vision struck again, I knew exactly why I was dissatisfied with my liberty.
Because it was incomplete.
Sure, I was free to go to anywhere I wanted - except La Push; free to do anything I wanted - except see Jacob. I frowned at the table. There had to be some kind of middle ground.
Bella hung her head not wishing to see the faces of the rest of the Cullen kids. She was pretty sure they would be similar to Rosalie's.
Emmett, who had looked decidedly bored up to this point, perked up at the tone of Alice's voice. The others turned their heads warily towards her.
Angela's voice yanked me from my reverie. She was waving her hand back and forth in front of Alice's blank, staring face. Alice's expression was something I recognized – an expression that sent an automatic shock of panic through my body. The vacant look in her eyes told me that she was seeing something very different from the mundane lunchroom scene that surrounded us, but something that was every bit as real in its own way. Something that was coming, something that would happen soon. I felt the blood slither from my face.
"About time," Emmett boomed out, rubbing his hands together and hoping for more action in the book. Edward looked a little pastier at the thought of any danger coming to Forks again. There was no question about it, he would have to get Bella as far away from Forks as he could without her getting suspicious.
Then Edward laughed, a very natural, relaxed sound. Angela and Ben looked toward him, but my eyes were locked on Alice. She jumped suddenly, as if someone had kicked her under the table.
"Yeah, probably Edward," Emmett laughed.
"Don't want people to wonder," Edward said.
"Too late for that," Emmett replied. "They already wonder about shorty here." Alice pouted at his choice of words.
"Is it naptime already, Alice?" Edward teased.
Alice was herself again. "Sorry, I was daydreaming, I guess."
Emmett groaned. They all knew Alice would not elaborate with the other humans around, so they were stuck in the dark until Bella could get Alice, or Edward alone again.
"Daydreaming's better than facing two more hours of school," Ben said.
Alice threw herself back into the conversation with more animation than before - just a little bit too much. Once I saw her eyes lock with Edward's, only for a moment, and then she looked back to Angela before anyone else noticed. Edward was quiet, playing absentmindedly with a strand of my hair.
"Oh," Esme exclaimed, "that doesn't sound good." Carlisle nodded his head in agreement.
I waited anxiously for a chance to ask Edward what Alice had seen in her vision, but the afternoon passed without one minute of alone time.
It felt odd to me, almost deliberate. After lunch, Edward slowed his pace to match Ben's, talking about some assignment I knew he'd already finished. Then there was always someone else there between classes, though we usually had a few minutes to ourselves. When the final bell rang, Edward struck up a conversation with Mike Newton of all people, falling into step beside him as Mike headed for the parking lot. I trailed behind, letting Edward tow me along.
I listened, confused, while Mike answered Edward's unusually friendly queries. It seemed Mike was having car troubles.
"Yep," Emmett snickered, "something definitely going on." Jasper could feel the agitation seeping from Edward's body. They were all worried now. Their brother never purposely spoke to Mike before and to do so now, for no apparent reason, had them all nervous.
". . . but I just replaced the battery," Mike was saying. His eyes darted ahead and then back to Edward warily. Mystified, just like I was.
"Just like the rest of us," Carlisle said. 'It must be serious if you're talking to that young man,' he finished the thought in his head.
"Perhaps it's the cables?" Edward offered.
"Maybe. I really don't know anything about cars," Mike admitted. "I need to have someone look at it, but I can't afford to take it to Dowling's."
"Rose could take a...," Emmett's voice trailed off as he saw the look his wife turned on him.
I opened my mouth to suggest my mechanic, and then snapped it shut again. My mechanic was busy these days - busy running around as a giant wolf.
"I know a few things - I could take a look, if you like," Edward offered. "Just let me drop Alice and Bella at home."
Mike and I both stared at Edward with our mouths hanging open.
"A-voi-ding," Emmett sang out. Bella looked back at Edward beginning to feel uneasy. Edward was clearly going out of his way to avoid her. What had Alice seen?
"Er . . . thanks," Mike mumbled when he recovered. "But I have to get to work. Maybe some other time."
"See ya." Mike climbed into his car, shaking his head in disbelief.
Edward's Volvo, with Alice already inside, was just two cars away.
"What was that about?" I muttered as Edward held the passenger door for me.
"Just being helpful," Edward answered.
The whole roomful of vampires and one human snorted at that. It was very unlikely that Edward was trying to be helpful to Mike Newton of all people. Even Carlisle and Esme joined in knowing the dislike Edward had toward the young boy that tagged behind Bella like a lost puppy.
And then Alice, waiting in the backseat, was babbling at top speed.
"You're really not that good a mechanic, Edward. 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 within 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. . . ."
Bella listened to Alice ramble on with the speech in the book. The young vampire may have been hyper, but she knew enough to recognize when she was being eluded. Alice had seen something more serious than they were letting on in the book.
"You better hope that you decide to talk about whatever this problem is in the book," she said non-chalantly.
"And why would we do that?" Edward asked her, slightly curious now.
"Because if they do not talk about it in the book," she said, "You guys won't find out what's going on." They just looked at her. No one had quite thought about the fact that Bella had to be at least in hearing distance so they knew what was going on.
I stopped listening after a minute, letting her quick voice become just a hum in the background as I settled into my patient mode.
"That's not very nice,"Alice pouted at Bella as her husband snickered quietly beside her.
It looked to me like Edward was trying to avoid my questions. Fine. He would have to be alone with me soon enough. It was only a matter of time.
Edward seemed to realize that, too. He dropped Alice at the mouth of the Cullens' drive as usual, though by this point I half expected him to drive her to the door and walk her in.
The Cullen's all snickered at that. Even Edward couldn't keep the smirk from his face.
As she got out, Alice threw a sharp look at his face. Edward seemed completely at ease.
"See you later," he said. And then, ever so slightly, he nodded.
They all turned to look at Bella. "What? You're really not the inconspicuous you know."
"No, that's not it," Rosalie said, "you just watch us closer. Well, Edward at least."
Alice turned to disappear into the trees.
He was quiet as he turned the car around and headed back to Forks. I waited, wondering if he would bring it up himself. He didn't, and this made me tense. What had Alice seen today at lunch? Something he didn't want to tell me, and I tried to think of a reason why he would keep secrets. Maybe it would be better to prepare myself before I asked. I didn't want to freak out and have him think I couldn't handle it, whatever it was.
So we were both silent until we got to back to Charlie's house.
"Light homework load tonight," he commented.
"Nice distraction bro," Jasper laughed.
"Too bad it won't work with her," Emmett laughed, flicking his thumb in Bella's direction.
"Mmm," I assented.
"Do you suppose I'm allowed inside again?"
"Charlie didn't throw a fit when you picked me up for school."
"Not that you can hear at least," Edward grumbled. He heard many of Charlies fits when he was over at Bella's house.
But I was sure Charlie was going to turn sulky fast when he got home and found Edward here. Maybe I should make something extra-special for dinner.
Inside, I headed up the stairs, and Edward followed. He lounged on my bed and gazed out the window, seeming oblivious to my edginess.
"Don't even think of it, Rosalie," Edward growled at his sister.
"Well if you weren't so protective of her we would know what was going on right now," she snarled back.
"I'm sure we'll find at some point," Esme said, a tinge of worry coloring her voice.
I stowed my bag and turned the computer on. There was an unanswered e-mail from my mom to attend to, and she got panicky when I took too long. I drummed my fingers as I waited for my decrepit computer to wheeze awake; they snapped against the desk, staccato and anxious.
And then his fingers were on mine, holding them still.
"Are we a little impatient today?" he murmured.
"More like ticked off at you," Emmett grinned at his brother. Edward rolled his eyes.
I looked up, intending to make a sarcastic remark, but his face was closer than I'd expected.
His golden eyes were smoldering, just inches away, and his breath was cool against my open lips. I could taste his scent on my tongue.
I couldn't remember the witty response I'd been about to make. I couldn't remember my name.
"Emmett, what are you doing?" Edward asked as his brother leaned over in Bella's face.
"I'm breathing on her to see if she forgets who she is," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Works for you all the time."
"You are such a moron," Rosalie said, shaking her head sadly. Meanwhile Bella just sat there staring at them as if she had indeed been dazzled.
He didn't give me a chance to recover.
If I had my way, I would spend the majority of my time kissing Edward. There wasn't anything I'd experienced in my life that compared to the feeling of his cool lips, marble hard but always so gentle, moving with mine.
I didn't often get my way.
"There's no rush, Bella," Emmett said, seeing Edward smile. "There will be lots of time for that after you're changed." Edwards smile fell into a grim line as he turned black eyes on Emmett.
"EEHHH... the scary vampire is going to get me," Emmett squealed and ran behind his wife. The room was silent for a moment before everyone burst out in laughter. Leave it to Emmett.
So it surprised me a little when his fingers braided themselves into my hair, securing my face to his. My arms locked behind his neck, and I wished I was stronger - strong enough to keep him prisoner here. One hand slid down my back, pressing me tighter against his stone chest.
Even through his sweater, his skin was cold enough to make me shiver - it was a shiver of pleasure, of happiness, but his hands began to loosen in response.
Bella's cheeks flushed a bright red as Alice read this out to the entire family. She had better get used to it though because the entire book was in her point of view.
I knew I had about three seconds before he would sigh and slide me deftly away, saying something about how we'd risked my life enough for one afternoon. Making the most of my last seconds, I crushed myself closer, molding myself to the shape of him. The tip of my tongue traced the curve of his lower lip; it was as flawlessly smooth as if it had been polished, and the taste -
Edward squirmed beneath Bella, if he could have blushed he would have too. He had thought hearing Bella's internal musings would be a welcome change. This however was just providing Emmett with more ammunition for jokes. His speculation trailed off as he heard Emmett thoughts come from across the room.
He pulled my face away from his, breaking my hold with ease - he probably didn't even realize that I was using all my strength.
He chuckled once, a low, throaty sound. His eyes were bright with the excitement he so rigidly disciplined.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Emmett sat up, rubbing his hands together. Edward just rolled his eyes. He knew he wouldn't give into Bella. He had spent more than a hundred years as a vampire, he knew he had the strength to resist. But then he had never been tempted by someone he had wanted so much before either.
"Ah, Bella." He sighed.
"Prude," Emmett grumbled.
"I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not."
"And I should feel sorry that you're not sorry, but I don't. Maybe I should go sit on the bed."
I exhaled a little dizzily. "If you think that's necessary. . . ."
"Ha!," Emmett grinned widely. "It does affect you."
"And you care because...?" Jasper asked him.
"Uhm... I... errr..." Emmett stuttered.
"Of course it affects me, Em," Edward said, rolling his eyes at his brother. "I'm not totally dead you know."
"Could've fooled me," Bella muttered, forgetting the entire room could still hear her.
He smiled crookedly and disentangled himself.
I shook my head a few times, trying to clear it, and turned back to my computer. It was all warmed up and humming now. Well, not as much humming as groaning.
'You should buy her a new one,'Alice's thoughts broke through his own.
"You know she would never accept it," he answered quietly, confusing the others.
"Tell Renée I said hello."
I scanned through Renée's e-mail, shaking my head now and then at some of the dippier things she'd done. I was just as entertained and horrified as the first time I'd read this. It was so like my mother to forget exactly how paralyzed she was by heights until she was already strapped to a parachute and a dive instructor. I felt a little frustrated with Phil, her husband of almost two years, for allowing that one. I would have taken better care of her. I knew her so much better.
Bella sighed. She may have known her mother better but Phil was good for her. And it actually did let her have a chance to be a normal teen. If you could call hanging out with a family of vampires, next door to a pack of werewolves as being normal. Her life had been surreal since she had moved back to this quiet little town. And to think she had always thought of Forks as being boring.
You have to let them go their own way eventually, I reminded myself. You have to let them have their own life. . . .
Esme could sympathize with her. They may not have been hers but she felt the pain, or joy of a mother when any thing happened to the 'kids.' She loved each one of them as her own and wouldn't trade their idiosyncrasies for anything.
Edward smiled warmly at his mother letting her know he heard her thoughts. They had played many rolls in the earlier days, but after Rosalie had joined them they fell quite comfortably into the roll of being adopted. He was her first 'son' in this life, regarding her as a mother in return and he never looked back.
I'd spent most of my life taking care of Renée, patiently guiding her away from her craziest plans, good-naturedly enduring the ones I couldn't talk her out of. I'd always been indulgent with my mom, amused by her, even a little condescending to her. I saw her cornucopia of mistakes and laughed privately to myself. Scatterbrained Renée.
Jasper could feel the remorse rolling off of Bella in waves. He didn't really understand it though, he hadn't come across many human teens that actually felt any sort of guilt over how they treated their parents. But then, being empathic, he had sensed Bella was different than most human teens that surrounded his family.
I was a very different person from my mother. Someone thoughtful and cautious. The responsible one, the grown-up. That's how I saw myself. That was the person I knew.
With the blood still pounding in my head from Edward's kiss, I couldn't help but think of my mother's most life-altering mistake. Silly and romantic, getting married fresh out of high school to a man she barely knew, then producing me a year later. She'd always promised me that she had no regrets, that I was the best gift her life had ever given her. And yet she'd drilled it into me over and over - smart people took marriage seriously. Mature people went to college and started careers before they got deeply involved in a relationship. She knew I would never be as thoughtless and goofy and small-town as she'd been. . . .
"So... what do you care, Bella?" Emmett asked. "You won't be able to have kids anyway," he ignored his wife's growl, "and Edward's not that old fashioned that he will stop you from going to college if you want too. Actually I'm pretty certain he's been trying to get you to go."
"Well, yeah Emmett," Bella started, glancing at Rosalie. She really didn't want to bring that up right now, knowing how Edward's sister felt about it. Alice's eyes flickered back and forth between them, shrugging her shoulders and continuing to read when it seemed Bella had nothing more to say.
I gritted my teeth and tried to concentrate as I answered her letter.
Then I hit her parting line and remembered why I'd neglected to write sooner.
You haven't said anything about Jacob in a long time, she'd written. What's he up to these days?
Bella groaned. Couldn't they just give this whole friendship thing with Jacob a rest? What was it with everyone pushing her into doing things she didn't want, all the while ignoring what she did? Did her opinion of her own life mean nothing to them? She was getting seriously frustrated with it.
Charlie was prompting her, I was sure.
I sighed and typed quickly, tucking the answer to her question between two less sensitive paragraphs.
Jacob is fine, I guess. I don't see him much; he spends most of his time with a pack of his friends down at La Push these days.
"Wonder if they would push you at Jacob if they knew what he really was?" Emmett said absentmindedly.
"Humph," Bella snorted. "If they had any idea about any of you, I'm certain they would get me as far away from here as possible."
"Or lock you up and throw away the key," Emmett grinned. "Who in their right minds would believe that vampires and werewolves existed?"
Smiling wryly to myself, I added Edward's greeting and hit "send."
I didn't realize that Edward was standing silently behind me again until after I'd turned off the computer and shoved away from the desk. I was about to scold him for reading over my shoulder when I realized that he wasn't paying any attention to me. He was examining a flat black box with wires curling crookedly away from the main square in a way that didn't look healthy for whatever it was. After a second, I recognized the car stereo Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper had given me for my last birthday. I'd forgotten about the birthday presents hiding under a growing pile of dust on the floor of my closet.
Bella glanced over at the mentioned siblings. She felt a little guilty at what had happened in the other book. She wasn't one to accept gifts gracefully, but she certainly wasn't into destroying them either. She did acknowledge that though she was clearly devastated to go to this length to remove it, the fact that she didn't ditch it in the garbage meant that she wasn't as ready to move on as she had thought in the book.
"What did you do to this?" he asked in a horrorstruck voice.
"It didn't want to come out of the dashboard."
"So you felt the need to torture it?"
"You know how I am with tools. No pain was inflicted intentionally." Emmett snickered.
He shook his head, his face a mask of faux tragedy. "You killed it."
I shrugged. "Oh, well."
"It would hurt their feelings if they saw this," he said. "I guess it's a good thing that you've been on house arrest. I'll have to get another one in place before they notice."
"Thanks, but I don't need a fancy stereo."
"True," Emmett said, "You need a fancy car."
"I don't need a car, Emmett," she growled at him.
"Doesn't matter," he replied. "You lost the bet, you're getting one anyway."
"I thought it was a motorcycle?" she asked, confused.
"It was until we saw Charlies reaction," Alice said.
"And as much as I want you to have the bike," Jasper cut in, "none of us want Chief Swan angry at us."
"So," Edward said. "We compromised and you get a new car." She briefly wondered if it would hurt very much to hit them.
"At least you wouldn't have far to go for a doctor," Alice grinned. She sighed and rolled her eyes. Sometimes these damn know-it-all vampires got on her nerves, but she conceded, she wouldn't trade them for anything.
"It's not for your sake that I'm going to replace it."
"You didn't get much good out of your birthday presents last year," he said in a disgruntled voice. Suddenly, he was fanning himself with a stiff rectangle of paper.
I didn't answer, for fear my voice would shake. My disastrous eighteenth birthday - with all its far-reaching consequences - wasn't something I cared to remember, and I was surprised that he would bring it up. He was even more sensitive about it than I was.
Bella turned to glare at him. "Yes Edward, why would you bring it up knowing what it reminded me of?" Edward shrugged his shoulders although he had a feeling it was about the vision his sister had at school. The one he was deliberately trying to keep from Bella apparently, so none of them had any idea what it may have been. They leaned forward, anxious to see if Edward would enlighten Bella.
"Do you realize these are about to expire?" he asked, holding the paper out to me. It was another present - the voucher for airplane tickets that Esme and Carlisle had given me so that I could visit Renée in Florida.
I took a deep breath and answered in a flat voice. "No. I'd forgotten all about them, actually."
His expression was carefully bright and positive; there was no trace of any deep emotion as he continued. "Well, we still have a little time. You've been liberated . . . and we have no plans this weekend, as you refuse to go to the prom with me." He grinned. "Why not celebrate your freedom this way?"
I gasped. "By going to Florida?"
"Okay, buster," she yelled at him, causing his siblings to laugh at the look on his face. He clearly hadn't expected that outburst. "You better have a good reason for wanting to drag me out of town."
"But...but...I...," he wasn't sure what to say, clearly still flustered. "Book?" Well, she could go with that.
"You had better explain it in the book," she grated out, once again turning to Alice. Edward looked at his sister. What the hell just happened? Why hadn't she seen it coming? Alice grinned at him, he didn't need to know everything. She turned to the book again ignoring his scowl.
"You did say something about the continental U.S. being allowable."
I glared at him, suspicious, trying to understand where this had come from.
"Well?" he demanded. "Are we going to see Renée or not?"
"Charlie will never allow it."
"Charlie can't keep you from visiting your mother. She still has primary custody."
"Nobody has custody of me. I'm an adult."
He flashed a brilliant smile. "Exactly."
Well, she had clearly stepped right into that one. The only way out now was to say she didn't want to go. But really, if she could get Edward to go to, why not? She was sure her father would have an aneurysm but she was eighteen after all... or she would have been had this come about. Maybe Edward's parents would still give her the tickets for her birthday; she would surely love to see her mother again under better circumstances.
I thought it over for a short minute before deciding that it wasn't worth the fight. Charlie would be furious - not that I was going to see Renée, but that Edward was going with me. Charlie wouldn't speak to me for months, and I'd probably end up grounded again. It was definitely smarter not to even bring it up. Maybe in a few weeks, as a graduation favor or something.
But the idea of seeing my mother now, not weeks from now, was hard to resist. It had been so long since I'd seen Renée. And even longer since I'd seen her under pleasant circumstances. The last time I'd been with her in Phoenix, I'd spent the whole time in a hospital bed. The last time she'd come here, I'd been more or less catatonic. Not exactly the best memories to leave her with.
Bella shivered, the Phoenix incident one she clearly did not want to remember, while her catatonic stage she did not want to even experience. She hoped Alice would agree and not throw her a birthday party, but knowing the pixie she would find some way around it.
And maybe, if she saw how happy I was with Edward, she would tell Charlie to ease up.
Edward scrutinized my face while I deliberated.
I sighed. "Not this weekend."
"I don't want to fight with Charlie. Not so soon after he's forgiven me."
His eyebrows pulled together. "I think this weekend is perfect," he muttered.
Bella narrowed her eyes, watching him closely. He was being quite adamant about it. What was so special about this weekend?
"Hey," he said throwing his arms up in surrender. "You know just as much as I do about what's going on. Being a mind-reader doesn't help when the thoughts are coming from a book." Bella glared for a moment longer then let out a soft sigh. She supposed she couldn't fault him with that. It still bugged her though that he wasn't talking in the book. It would truly help them now if he would just let even a little hint slip.
I shook my head. "Another time."
"You aren't the only one who's been trapped in this house, you know." He frowned at me.
Suspicion returned. This kind of behavior was unlike him. He was always so impossibly selfless; I knew it was making me spoiled.
Edward sighed, even he knew that was the wrong thing to say. As soon as Alice had spoken the words, he knew Bella would be suspicious. He knew it had to be something drastic to make him slip so carelessly.
"You can go anywhere you want," I pointed out.
"The outside world holds no interest for me without you."
"Such a cheesy line, Eddie," Emmett laughed. "No wonder it took you so long to find someone." Edward growled at his brother while Bella turned bright red on his lap.
I rolled my eyes at the hyperbole.
"I'm serious," he said.
"Let's take the outside world slowly, all right? For example, we could start with a movie in Port Angeles. . . ."
He groaned. "Never mind. We'll talk about it later."
"There's nothing left to talk about."
"Oh, I'm sure there will be," Edward said quietly.
"Okay, then, new subject," I said. I'd almost forgotten my worries about this afternoon - had
that been his intention? "What did Alice see today at lunch?"
They all perked up again. Maybe Edward would actually tell Bella this time.
My eyes were fixed on his face as I spoke, measuring his reaction.
His expression was composed; there was only the slightest hardening of his topaz eyes. "She's been seeing Jasper in a strange place, somewhere in the southwest, she thinks, near his former . . . family. But he has no conscious intentions to go back." He sighed. "It's got her worried."
"What?" Alice turned to Jasper, who was wide-eyed himself. He never had any thoughts of ever returning to the south; it had been the furthest thing from his mind. He refused to even go on vacation there. They all turned to Edward, maybe there was a subconscious thought buried deep in his head that he knew nothing about. Edward was shaking his head too. He had never heard anything remotely close to that coming from his brother either. Jasper sighed in relief.
The thoughts of his family were a complete jumble in his mind, though they all centered on one thing. What had Alice seen that would make Edward come up with that cover story? And they knew Jasper enough to know it must be a cover story.
"Well," Bella said, unaware of the turmoil of thoughts around her. "That was a let down. I thought it would be... more... I don't know. You seemed so secretive about it." She turned to see a smile on Edward's face, even if it did look a little forced. "That's not to say that you are not important, Jasper."
"S'kay darlin," he replied, trying to reign in his emotions before Bella knew exactly how the entire family felt. Alice, hearing the strain in his voice, began reading again.
"Oh." That was nothing close to what I'd been expecting. But of course it made sense that Alice would be watching out for Jasper's future. He was her soul mate, her true other half, though they weren't as flamboyant about their relationship as Rosalie and Emmett were.
"Hey," Emmett half between a snicker and a whimper as Rosalie hit him upside the head. It wasn't his fault they were more open than the others.
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"I didn't realize you'd noticed," he said. "It's probably nothing important, in any case."
My imagination was sadly out of control. I'd taken a perfectly normal afternoon and twisted it until it looked like Edward was going out of his way to keep things from me. I needed therapy.
"No, you just need a clue," Rosalie thought. She smiled sweetly as she heard her brother's low growl. It was so easy to get him worked up now it was almost pathetic.
We went downstairs to work on our homework, just in case Charlie showed up early. Edward finished in minutes; I slogged laboriously through my calculus until I decided it was time to fix Charlie's dinner. Edward helped, making faces every so often at the raw ingredients - human food was mildly repulsive to him. I made stroganoff from Grandma Swan's recipe, because I was sucking up. It wasn't one of my favorites, but it would please Charlie.
Bella shuddered. It definitely was not one of her favorites. She didn't like cooking it, but she liked eating it even less.
Charlie seemed to already be in a good mood when he got home. He didn't even go out of his way to be rude to Edward. Edward excused himself from eating with us, as usual. The sound of the nightly news drifted from the front room, but I doubted Edward was really watching.
After forcing down three helpings, Charlie kicked his feet up on the spare chair and folded his hands contentedly across his distended stomach.
"That was great, Bells."
"I'm glad you liked it. How was work?" He'd been eating with too much concentration for me to make conversation before.
Bella really didn't like to interrupt her father while he was eating. While he would be content to live off of pizza and dinner food, she tried to get him to eat more home cooked meals. Interrupting while he ate would only defeat the purpose.
"Sort of slow. Well, dead slow really. Mark and I played cards for a good part of the afternoon," he admitted with a grin. "I won, nineteen hands to seven. And then I was on the phone with Billy for a while."
I tried to keep my expression the same. "How is he?"
"Good, good. His joints are bothering him a little."
"Oh. That's too bad."
"Yeah. He invited us down to visit this weekend. He was thinking of having the Clearwaters and the Uleys over too. Sort of a playoff party. . . ."
Bella heard a low rumble behind her. She turned to see a mask of indifference splayed across Edward's face. Fortunately, for her, she had no wish to hang with the wolves because her boyfriends reaction seemed to coincide with the book. Although, she conceded, it would be solely her choice if she wanted too.
"Huh," was my genius response. But what could I say? I knew I wouldn't be allowed to hit a werewolf party, even with parental supervision. I wondered if Edward would have a problem with Charlie hanging out in La Push. Or would he suppose that, since Charlie was mostly spending time with Billy, who was only human, my father wouldn't be in danger?
I got up and piled the dishes together without looking at Charlie. I dumped them into the sink and started the water. Edward appeared silently and grabbed a dishtowel.
Charlie sighed and gave up for the moment, though I imagined he would revisit the subject when we were alone again. He heaved himself to his feet and headed for the TV, just like every other night.
"Charlie," Edward said in a conversational tone.
"What are you up to now?" Bella asked. Edward ignored his brother's snort and Alice's giggle. What was he supposed to say? He still only knew as much as they did but he hoped it wasn't to drastic to get his girlfriend pissed off again. He'd swear she could give Rosalie a run when it came to her temper; even if she did remind him of an angry kitten.
Charlie stopped in the middle of his little kitchen. "Yeah?"
"Did Bella ever tell you that my parents gave her airplane tickets on her last birthday, so that she could visit Renée?"
"What the heck, Edward?" Bella whined. "Why would you bring it up to Charlie?" Edward shrugged his shoulders. Did it matter if she really wanted to go visit her mother?
I dropped the plate I was scrubbing. It glanced off the counter and clattered noisily to the floor. It didn't break, but it spattered the room, and all three of us, with soapy water. Charlie didn't even seem to notice.
Emmett snickered, picturing them covered with soap bubbles, which in turn caused Edward to chuckle. He shook his head as Bella turned to look at him. She already seemed like she would be upset about the nonexistent plane tickets; she didn't need another reason to be mad at him.
"Bella?" he asked in a stunned voice.
I kept my eyes on the plate as I retrieved it. "Yeah, they did."
Charlie swallowed loudly, and then his eyes narrowed as he turned back to Edward. "No, she never mentioned it."
"Well, it's only understandable," Esme said, trying to control the dismay in her voice but Jasper could detect the underlying disappointment coming from her. They may not have given Bella these things yet, but they all wondered if she would truly treat it as if she didn't care.
"Hmm," Edward murmured.
"Was there a reason you brought it up?" Charlie asked in a hard voice.
Edward ignored the snickering around him. Of course he had a reason for doing it, but it wasn't the one playing through their heads right now. He was beginning to think Bella may just be spending too much time around his sisters.
Edward shrugged. "They're about to expire. I think it might hurt Esme's feelings if Bella doesn't use her gift. Not that she'd say anything."
Bella glanced sheepishly at Edward's mother from the corner of her eye. She never gave it any thought as to how other people felt when she refused gifts from them. She just felt awkward accepting anything from others, being the center of attention; which you certainly were if you had to open a gift in front of them.
I stared at Edward in disbelief.
Charlie thought for a minute. "It's probably a good idea for you to visit your mom, Bella. She'd love that. I'm surprised you didn't say anything about this, though."
"I forgot," I admitted.
He frowned. "You forgot that someone gave you plane tickets?"
Bella sighed quietly, forgetting she could still be heard. If this reality happened plane tickets would be the last thing on her mind. She supposed she would have to graciously accept any gifts they may give her next week. She looked up as Alice's giggling interrupted her reading and rolled her eyes. Of course Alice would have seen her decision.
"Mmm," I murmured vaguely, and turned back to the sink.
"I noticed that you said they're about to expire, Edward," Charlie went on. "How many tickets did your parents give her?"
"Just one for her . . . and one for me."
The plate I dropped this time landed in the sink, so it didn't make as much noise. I could easily hear the sharp huff as my father exhaled. The blood rushed into my face, fueled by irritation and chagrin. Why was Edward doing this? I glared at the bubbles in the sink, panicking.
"Oh, you are in trouble now," Emmett said in a sing-song voice. Even his parents had a hard time keeping the smile off of their faces. Rosalie smacked him on the arm, but she too had a grin across her face.
"That's out of the question!" Charlie was abruptly in a rage, shouting the words.
"Why?" Edward asked, his voice saturated with innocent surprise. "You just said it was a good idea for her to see her mother."
Charlie ignored him. "You're not going anywhere with him, young lady!" he yelled. I spun around and he was jabbing a finger at me.
"Way to give the chief heart failure, Edward," Emmett laughed. "Hope you weren't too attached to your father, Bella." Jasper winced at the look of anguish that crossed Bella's face. They all knew this wouldn't happen but he could feel her panic at the mere thought of losing her father right now. He sent wave after wave of calm at her causing Edward to yell at him to stop before they all fell asleep.
Anger pulsed through me automatically, an instinctive reaction to his tone.
"I'm not a child, Dad. And I'm not grounded anymore, remember?"
"Oh yes, you are. Starting now."
"Because I said so."
"Do I need to remind you that I'm a legal adult, Charlie?"
"This is my house - you follow my rules!"
"Oh, he did not pull the rule card," Bella growled. Edward would have found it rather hot if he wasn't so worried about her getting in trouble with her father.
"Bella, no father wants their daughter running halfway across the country with a teenage boy," Carlisle said softly.
"But you guys don't care," she grumbled to him. She knew it wasn't right, even when they were in Phoenix Carlisle posed as Edward, and Alice's, father so people wouldn't wonder about two teenagers being that far away from home on their own. It didn't stop her from sulking though.
"Seriously, Bella," Rosalie scoffed at her. "Do you know how long it's been since anyone in this family has been seventeen?"
My glare turned icy. "If that's how you want it. Do you want me to move out tonight? Or can I have a few days to pack?"
Charlie's face went bright red. I instantly felt horrible for playing the move-out card.
I took a deep breath and tried to make my tone more reasonable. "I'll do my time without complaining when I've done something wrong, Dad, but I'm not going to put up with your prejudices."
He sputtered, but managed nothing coherent.
"Oh, don't even act like you didn't steer me right into that conversation," she glared at Edward. He held out his hands in defeat, knowing full well that had been his intentions in the book.
"Now, I know that you know that I have every right to see Mom for the weekend. You can't honestly tell me you'd object to the plan if I was going with Alice or Angela."
"Girls," he grunted, with a nod.
"Would it bother you if I took Jacob?"
Bella's eyes grew wide as she heard Alice say Jacob's name. She whimpered when she heard Rosalie give an exasperated sigh and turn her head away.
I'd only picked the name because I knew of my father's preference for Jacob, but I quickly wished I hadn't; Edward's teeth clenched together with an audible snap.
My father struggled to compose himself before he answered. "Yes," he said in an unconvincing voice. "That would bother me."
Bella sighed. Of course her father was going to lie, but she thought he would at least try not to be so obvious about it. It really wasn't helping her case against liking Jacob.
"You're a rotten liar, Dad."
"Just like you, Bella," Emmett laughed. Bella nodded her head, a flush of embarrassment spreading across her face, there was no denying it.
"It's not like I'm headed off to Vegas to be a showgirl or anything. I'm going to see Mom," I reminded him. "She's just as much my parental authority as you are."
He threw me a withering look.
"Are you implying something about Mom's ability to look after me?"
Bella knew the way her mother raised her left a lot to be desired, but her father really shouldn't bring it up after practically saying he wouldn't care if she traipsed across the country with a boy. Besides, she did know how to cook, and look after herself on her own, although she hoped the cooking part wouldn't last much longer.
Charlie flinched at the threat implicit in my question.
"You'd better hope I don't mention this to her," I said.
"You'd better not," he warned. "I'm not happy about this, Bella."
"There's no reason for you to be upset."
He rolled his eyes, but I could tell the storm was over.
Esme sighed. She knew Bella only won because Chief Swan didn't want to lose his only child so after getting her back in his life again. He would probably do just about anything to keep her around.
I turned to pull the plug out of the sink. "So my homework is done, your dinner is done, the dishes are done, and I'm not grounded. I'm going out. I'll be back before ten-thirty."
"Where are you going?" His face, almost back to normal, flushed light red again.
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "I'll keep it within a ten-mile radius, though. Okay?"
He grunted something that did not sound like approval, and stalked out of the room. Naturally, as soon as I'd won the fight, I began to feel guilty.
Bella groaned. Of course she felt guilty; it was a fight she didn't want in the first place but had no other choice to continue. Even though she was pissed off at Edward for starting it, she wasn't about to let her father think he could keep her away from her mother. She was eighteen in the book after all.
"We're going out?" Edward asked, his voice low but enthusiastic.
I turned to glower at him. "Yes. I think I'd like to speak to you alone ."
He didn't look as apprehensive as I thought he should.
I waited to begin until we were safely in his car.
"What was that ?" I demanded.
"I know you want to see your mother, Bella - you've been talking about her in your sleep. Worrying actually."
Bella turned to look at Edward. Was this something she had already dreamt about or did it only start up after talk about her being changed? She really had no proof of her unconscious thoughts, but she didn't think Edward would lie to her about something like this.
He nodded. "But, clearly, you were too much of a coward to deal with Charlie, so I interceded on your behalf."
"Interceded? You threw me to the sharks!"
He rolled his eyes. "I don't think you were in any danger."
"I told you I didn't want to fight with Charlie."
"Nobody said that you had to."
I glowered at him. "I can't help myself when he gets all bossy like that - my natural teenage instincts overpower me."
"Hey, that's another good one," Emmett exclaimed, writing in his notepad. "Will her teenage instincts make her hot headed?" Bella felt a quick flash of anger but quickly tamped it down when Jasper snickered quietly. She would have to warn Edward not to bet against that one.
He chuckled. "Well, that's not my fault."
I stared at him, speculating. He didn't seem to notice. His face was serene as he gazed out the windshield. Something was off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Or maybe it was just my imagination again, running wild like it had this afternoon.
"Does this sudden urge to see Florida have anything to do with the party at Billy's place?"
His jaw flexed. "Nothing at all. It wouldn't matter if you were here or on the other side of the world, you still wouldn't be going."
"You know you sound just like her father now," Alice laughed in her head as Edward saw Bella turn to glare at him.
"I doubt it has anything to do with the wolves either," he said before Bella could speak.
"I think it has more to do with what Alice saw at lunch time," Carlisle said. "It would make more sense with both her and Edward being so secretive."
"And avoiding me all day," she said, her eyes narrowed menacingly at them. Alice couldn't stop herself from giggling at the look on Bella's face.
It was just like with Charlie before - just like being treated as a misbehaving child. I gritted my teeth together so I wouldn't start shouting. I didn't want to fight with Edward, too.
"Told you so," Alice's annoying voice sang through his mind.
Edward sighed, and when he spoke his voice was warm and velvet again. "So what do you want to do tonight?" he asked.
"Can we go to your house? I haven't seen Esme in so long."
He smiled. "She'll like that. Especially when she hears what we're doing this weekend."
I groaned in defeat.
Bella grimaced inwardly at the huge smile on Esme's face. If Esme chose to give her tickets for her birthday, she would have to accept them gracefully; she did not want to be the cause of any dismay to Edward's mother.
We didn't stay out late, as I'd promised. I was not surprised to see the lights still on when we pulled up in front of the house - I knew Charlie would be waiting to yell at me some more.
"You'd better not come inside," I said. "It will only make things worse."
"His thoughts are relatively calm," Edward teased. His expression made me wonder if there was some additional joke I was missing. The corners of his mouth twitched, fighting a smile.
Crap! Bella wondered what the heck Edward had seen in Charlie's mind to have him acting like that. This did not look promising.
"I'll see you later," I muttered glumly.
He laughed and kissed the top of my head. "I'll be back when Charlie's snoring."
The TV was loud when I got inside. I briefly considered trying to sneak past him.
"Could you come in here, Bella?" Charlie called, sinking that plan.
My feet dragged as I took the five necessary steps.
"What's up, Dad?"
"Did you have a nice time tonight?" he asked. He seemed ill at ease. I looked for hidden meanings in his words before I answered.
Bella began to feel a little uneasy the more Alice read.
"Yes," I said hesitantly.
"What did you do?"
I shrugged. "Hung out with Alice and Jasper. Edward beat Alice at chess, and then I played Jasper. He buried me."
Jasper had a smug grin on his face. He was as competitive as the others and he loved winning. Knowing he would win he decided to challenge Bella to a game soon.
I smiled. Edward and Alice playing chess was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. They'd sat there nearly motionless, staring at the board, while Alice foresaw the moves he would make and he picked the moves she would make in return out of her head. They played most of the game in their minds; I think they'd each moved two pawns when Alice suddenly flicked her king over and surrendered. It took all of three minutes.
Charlie hit the mute button - an unusual action.
"Awe, crap," Bella groaned. It was never a good thing when her father muted the TV.
"Look, there's something I need to say." He frowned, looking very uncomfortable.
I sat still, waiting. He met my gaze for a second before shifting his eyes to the floor. He didn't say anything more.
"What is it, Dad?"
He sighed. "I'm not good at this kind of thing. I don't know how to start. . . ."
Having a funny feeling where this was going Alice tried to keep a straight face. Only Edward knew the reason why she was biting the inside of her cheek and sounding like she had inhaled helium.
I waited again.
"Okay, Bella. Here's the thing." He got up from the couch and started pacing back and forth across the room, looking as his feet all the time. "You and Edward seem pretty serious, and there are some things that you need to be careful about. I know you're an adult now, but you're still young, Bella, and there are a lot of important things you need to know when you . . . well, when you're physically involved with -"
"No! Just no...," Bella said, mortified that her boyfriends family would hear Charlie have the 'sex talk' with her. Emmett roared causing Bella to turn an even deeper shade of red. Jasper projecting that humiliation back at her was definitely not helping the situation either. She slouched further in her seat only to slide off onto the floor because Edward couldn't keep his laughter contained any longer.
She hit the floor with a thump at his feet and refused to move. She pulled up her knees and buried her head in her arms, hiding her face away from them. She even heard Esme try to muffle her laughter, unsuccessfully she might add, as she tried to tell her children to leave Bella alone.
"Oh, please, please no!" I begged, jumping to my feet. "Please tell me you are not trying to have a sex talk with me, Charlie."
He glared at the floor. "I am your father. I have responsibilities. Remember, I'm just as embarrassed as you are."
"Oh, I wouldn't bet on that," Emmett choked out, seeing Bella's arms turn red too.
"I don't think that's humanly possible. Anyway, Mom beat you to the punch about ten years ago. You're off the hook."
"Ten years ago you didn't have a boyfriend," he muttered unwillingly. I could tell he was battling with his desire to drop the subject. We were both standing up, looking at the floor, and facing away from each other.
She burrowed further into her arms trying to will away the blush that had taken up permanent residence on her face. She silently prayed that Alice would read faster and get it over with.
"I don't think the essentials have changed that much," I mumbled, and my face had to be as red as his. This was beyond the seventh circle of Hades; even worse was realizing that Edward had known this was coming. No wonder he'd seemed so smug in the car.
No, worse was his whole family knowing what was going on. It hadn't occurred to her that something like this might be brought up in these books. Could it get any worse?
"Just tell me that you two are being responsible," Charlie pled, obviously wishing a pit would open in the floor so that he could fall in.
"Don't worry about it, Dad, it's not like that."
"Not that I don't trust you, Bella, but I know you don't want to tell me anything about this, and you know I don't really want to hear it. I will try to be open-minded, though. I know the times have changed."
I laughed awkwardly. "Maybe the times have, but Edward is very old-fashioned. You have nothing to worry about."
Emmett snorted and shoved Edward who, incidentally, would have been as red as Bella if vampires could blush. His lack of sexual experience was a common joke amongst his siblings but it still bothered him to be teased about it.
Charlie sighed. "Sure he is," he muttered.
"Ugh!" I groaned. "I really wish you were not forcing me to say this out loud, Dad. Really. But . . . I am a . . . virgin, and I have no immediate plans to change that status."
"Oh you have plans to change it," Rosalie snickered at her, ignoring her brothers warning growl. "Your boyfriend just won't go along with them." If Bella could sink any further into the floor she would have but, unfortunately, wood only gives so much... with humans anyway.
We both cringed, but then Charlie's face smoothed out. He seemed to believe me.
"Can I go to bed, now? Please. "
"In a minute," he said.
"Aw, please, Dad? I'm begging you."
"The embarrassing part's over, I promise," he assured me.
Bella peeked out from under her arm to see the Cullen's still trying to hold their laughter in. It wasn't working as giggles and snorts slipped out every now and then. Well, maybe the embarrassing part was over in the book, obviously it wasn't finished here.
I shot a glance at him, and was grateful to see that he looked more relaxed, that his face was back to its regular color. He sank down onto the sofa, sighing with relief that he was past the sex speech.
"I just wanted to know how the balance thing is coming along."
"Oh. Good, I guess. I made plans with Angela today. I'm going to help her with her graduation announcements. Just us girls."
Esme smiled at that, glad that Bella was willing to help out one of her friends. Edward was just glad she still had a friend after everything that had happened in the last book. Spending time with her outside school was a bonus.
"That's nice. And what about Jake?"
"What about the dog?" Rosalie growled, her giggles coming to an abrupt halt.
I sighed. "I haven't figured that one out yet, Dad."
Bella didn't see the glare Rosalie sent her way as she was still seated on the floor, head on her arms.
"Keep trying, Bella. I know you'll do the right thing. You're a good person."
Nice. So if I didn't figure out some way to make things right with Jacob, then I was a bad person? That was below the belt.
Edward rolled his eyes. He knew Charlie was not above pulling a stunt like that to keep Bella away from him. Hopefully if they avoided this future her father would be more open to her being with him. The Phoenix incident aside, of course.
"Sure, sure," I agreed. The automatic response almost made me smile - it was something I'd picked up from Jacob. I even said it in the same patronizing tone he used with his own father.
"Great," Rosalie snapped causing Bella's to look at her. "It's not bad enough to have the mutt talking like it, you have to pick it up too?"
Charlie grinned and turned the sound back on. He slumped lower into the cushions, pleased with his night's work. I could tell he would be up with the game for a while.
"See you in the morning!" I sprinted for the stairs.
"Run before he changes his mind," Emmett yelled. Bella couldn't help but snort at that knowing her father probably would. She rose her head hoping no one heard her but, as usual, there was very little chance of that happening in a room full of vampires with superhearing.
Edward was long gone and he wouldn't be back until Charlie was asleep - he was probably out hunting or something to pass the time - so I was in no hurry to undress for bed. I wasn't in the mood to be alone, but I certainly wasn't going to go back downstairs to hang out with my Dad, just in case he thought of some topic of sex education that he hadn't touched on before; I shuddered.
So, thanks to Charlie, I was wound up and anxious. My homework was done and I didn't feel mellow enough for reading or just listening to music. I considered calling Renée with the news of my visit, but then I realized that it was three hours later in Florida, and she would be asleep.
Bella frowned at this. She knew it would be too late to call her mother but there seemed like something else was going on here.
I could call Angela, I supposed.
"Ah, crap," she thought, glad she had remained on the floor for the time being. She had a funny feeling Edward's sister would not like where this was going to end up.
But suddenly I knew that it wasn't Angela that I wanted to talk to. That I needed to talk to.
I stared at the blank black window, biting my lip. I don't know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons - doing the right thing by Jacob, seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me. Ten minutes maybe. Long enough to decide that the pros were valid while the cons were not. Edward was only concerned about my safety, and I knew that there was really no problem on that count.
The phone wasn't any help; Jacob had refused to answer my phone calls since Edward's return. Besides, I needed to see him - see him smiling again the way he used to. I needed to replace that awful last memory of his face warped and twisted by pain if I was ever going to have any peace of mind.
Yeah, Bella was definitely happy she stayed put. She was, once again, mortified. Edward was her boyfriend and should be given priority over Jacob any day. It may seem like Edward was trying to control her, but he was only concerned for her safety, just as Jacob was. They were just two boys looking for the same thing, but too stubborn to work together for it. Unfortunately she wanted a very different result than either one of them; she wanted to become a vampire like Edward and his family.
She ignored Rosalie, the girl was always growling at her for some reason, and she was afraid to look up at Edward. Afraid she would see the pain in his eyes that always seemed to be present when Jacob was mentioned.
I had an hour probably. I could make a quick run down to La Push and be back before Edward realized I had gone. It was past my curfew, but would Charlie really care about that when Edward wasn't involved? One way to find out.
Of course Charlie wouldn't care. At this point in the book, he wanted Bella no where around Edward so any time she asked to spend with Jacob would be a bonus for him.
I grabbed my jacket and shoved my arms through the sleeves as I ran down the stairs.
Charlie looked up from the game, instantly suspicious.
Bella looked at Alice, hoping she would read the words that would prove her wrong about Charlie, but she didn't think it would happen.
"You care if I go see Jake tonight?" I asked breathlessly. "I won't stay long."
As soon as I said Jake's name, Charlie's expression relaxed into a smug smile. He didn't seem surprised at all that his lecture had taken effect so quickly. "Sure, kid. No problem. Stay as long as you like."
"Oh for the love of...," Bella growled. "At least act like you care." Rosalie looked at her, slightly shocked at her words.
"Well... it shouldn't matter who I'm out with, my curfew should be the same," Bella said. Edward would have agreed with her if it wasn't for the fact that it was Jacob she wanted to be with.
"Thanks, Dad," I said as I darted out the door.
Like any fugitive, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder a few times while I jogged to my truck, but the night was so black that there really was no point. I had to feel my way along the side of the truck to the handle.
Jasper looked at Bella. It wasn't wise to go out alone if they were right about another vampire around, and that seemed to be the best explanation as to why both Edward and Alice would avoid Bella.
My eyes were just beginning to adjust as I shoved my keys in the ignition. I twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the engine just clicked. I tried it again with the same results.
And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump.
"Gah!" I gasped in shock when I saw that I was not alone in the cab.
Everyone except Edward jumped, as he heard from Alice's thoughts that she was going to yell out.
Alice giggled like a school girl as she watched her family members clutch their chests where their hearts should have been. She truly was an evil little pixie.
Jasper looked comical, eyes darting around the room, the fear of five vampires and one clumsy human running through him. He looked as if he were about to bolt any second.
Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, only his hands moving as he turned a mysterious black object around and around. He stared at the object as he spoke.
"What the hell did you do?" Rosalie laughed while looking at her brother. 'Did you kill her truck?'
"Alice called," he murmured.
Alice! Damn. I'd forgotten to account for her in my plans. He must have her watching me.
"She got nervous when your future rather abruptly disappeared five minutes ago."
My eyes, already wide with surprise, popped wider.
Alice smirked. Guess they were all forgetting about her ability to not see the wolves, which essentially meant the person she was searching for was in the presence of one. Guess she had sent out the warning call to her brother.
"Because she can't see the wolves, you know," he explained in the same low murmur. "Had you forgotten that? When you decide to mingle your fate with theirs, you disappear, too. You couldn't know that part, I realize that. But can you understand why that might make me a little . . . anxious? Alice saw you disappear, and she couldn't even tell if you'd come home or not. Your future got lost, just like theirs.
They turned to Alice who just shrugged her shoulders. The only thing she could see is Bella had not made a decision on when to return home, essentially leaving her with the wolves indefinitely.
"We're not sure why this is. Some natural defense they're born with?" He spoke as if he were talking to himself now, still looking at the piece of my truck's engine as he twirled it in his hands. "That doesn't seem entirely likely, since I haven't had any trouble reading their thoughts. The Blacks' at least. Carlisle theorizes that it's because their lives are so ruled by their transformations. It's more an involuntary reaction than a decision. Utterly unpredictable, and it changes everything about them. In that instant when they shift from one form to the other, they don't really even exist. The future can't hold them. . . ."
They all looked at Carlisle who had yet to speak. "I've been tossing the idea around in my mind," he said. Edward figured he must have been very preoccupied otherwise he would never have missed it.
I listened to his musing in stony silence.
"I'll put your car back together in time for school, in case you'd like to drive yourself," he assured me after a minute.
Rosalie groaned, thinking it would be the perfect time to get rid of her decrepit old truck. Edward disagreed. Having it break down while on the way to see a 'friend', he used air quotes in his head, would only result in Bella getting angrier. For a quiet girl she seemed to have somewhat of a quick temper.
With my lips mashed together, I retrieved my keys and stiffly climbed out of the truck.
"Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight. I'll understand," he whispered just before I slammed the door.
"Oh!" Emmett exclaimed. "Do you think she will?" Edward wanted to say no, would love to believe it, but really he had no idea. This book version was totally different from the Bella he was used too. His Bella would never treat him like that...would she?
"I wouldn't bet on it," he answered his brother.
"Oh," Emmett said, slumping his shoulders in defeat. There was no point in a bet then, that's the answer he would have chosen too.
I stomped into the house, slamming that door, too.
"What's wrong?" Charlie demanded from the couch.
"Truck won't start," I growled.
"Want me to look at it?"
"No. I'll try it in the morning."
"Want to use my car?"
Bella sighed. Charlie wanted her to go to Jacob more than she realized. They both knew she wasn't allowed to drive the cruiser and he must be desperate to suggest it at all.
I wasn't supposed to drive his police cruiser. Charlie must be really desperate to get me to La Push. Nearly as desperate as I was.
"No. I'm tired," I grumbled. "'Night."
I stamped my way up the stairs, and went straight to my window. I shoved the metal frame roughly - it crashed shut and the glass trembled.
"Oh..," Alice breathed out. She would not have thought Bella would do that. Not that a closed window would have stopped her brother, but the fact that he gave her a choice would have.
Bella was disliking this book more than the last one, and they were only at the second chapter yet. She vowed that if Edward did leave her, not that she would give him the opportunity, but if he did, she would not go this route knowing where they would end up at.
I stared at the shivering black glass for a long moment, until it was still. Then I sighed, and opened the window as wide as it would go.
"Yes!" Bella hissed out, fist pumping the air. She knew, had hoped, that she wouldn't remain stubborn in the book. Alice giggled at her, but she knew it still hurt her brother that bella would do it in the first place.
"That's the end of the chapter," she said.
"Well, nothing interesting happened this time," Emmett exclaimed, reaching for the book. Alice ducked out of his way. "Hey! It's my turn to read." She danced away ignoring her whining brother.
"Unless you count the fact that both Edward and Alice are trying to keep her vision away from me." Bella said, turning her glare on Alice this time. Alice just giggled. Wouldn't be the first time they kept Bella in the dark on her visions.
"So, what do you think it could be?" Esme asked. Edward heard many different answers run through their minds, vampires being the most prominent.
"Vampire," Jasper said quietly. Being the first to voice it aloud, in front of Edward, they turned to look at him. "What else would they both want to keep a secret from her?" Bella had to agree. It also made the most sense from her point of view. Why else would Edward choose now to get her out of town, when they could have waited and spent a longer time there? Now the only problem was what, if anything, did this mean to her?
"Ha!" Emmett exclaimed, finally getting a grip on the book. He lifted it over Alice's head till the girl let go with a pout. He stuck out his tongue and sat next to his wife. He wanted to waste no time reading this book, they still had a whole other one to get through over the weekend.
A/N: Please Read
Okay guys and girls, once again I am glad to be back. I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter and I hope to get more on a schedule now.
A friend of mine is writing a story on FF. I don't know if any of you are slash readers, but if you are I would very much appreciate if you could just take a quick look over there and you can even tell him I sent you if you want. Oh, leave a review too if possible, he's fairly new to the writing scene.
What You've Done To Me by Xavier Willow
We all know what to do with the dots. If this link doesn't work, just go visit his profile. I'll give you cake... there were 15 of them baked in my house today.
Until next time... Take care