I sat in the meadow for seven days, hardly breathing, barely moving, not even blinking my eyes. I stood as stone still as any statue and felt just as useful. The phone I had destroyed before entering Bella's bedroom was whole and working perfectly, vibrating in my pocket to let me know that my family members were trying to reach me. Sometimes I answered, and most times I didn't. Either way, it didn't change anything. It was the same as when I'd run right after the entire mess had started.
The only difference was that now I knew that my feelings for the girl had grown to the point where it wasn't because I missed my family that I wanted to return back to town—it was to be with her. I just didn't know how to do that without destroying her. Her eyes no longer haunted me. Instead, it was her very soul that sang out, demanding that I be with her, protect her, save her….
It took those seven days for my anger with him to finally wane. I could blame him all I wanted to, but the fact of the matter was that he had only done what he thought was best for our family. He'd been protecting Alice, me, and the rest of them. And then, beyond all of that, Jasper didn't even know about it. None of them knew. Bella was alive and attending her first day at Forks High at that very moment. I looked down at the phone in my hand and realized that she would just be arriving in the lunchroom and sitting down with Jessica Stanley. In a few minutes time she would ask about my family and Jessica would fill her in all of the sordid details.
I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. Simply put, I didn't have anymore ideas. What more could I possibly do? From the way Rosalie had acted, I knew that if I actually did tell Bella the truth about my family, they'd find a way to kill her. Even the potential threat had been enough to spur them into action.
But no matter how confused I was, I couldn't shake the thought that everything had to do with that girl.
Running my thumb over my phone, I stared at it until a few moments later it began to vibrate.
I didn't say anything as I flipped it open and held it up to my ear.
"I know you were going to call. But I don't think I can come out and meet with you until school is done. Jasper is having a really hard day, and I just feel like I should stay here and be supportive. He's had so many close calls."
"Trust me when I say that Jasper will be fine. I need you to come out here. This can't wait."
"Why can't it wait?"
"Because I don't know how long it will take, and my time is limited."
There was a pause then Alice said, "I'll be there in eighteen minutes."
After closing the phone, I dropped it to the ground next to me and waited for Alice to arrive.
Alice paused for a moment before she stepped into my private domain, then she quietly sat down next to me and waited. Moments later I began my story. When at last I finished, I looked up to her and saw the pained look in her eyes. Her expression echoed her thoughts. I'm so sorry, Edward.
"It's not your fault, Alice. Just like I can't blame Jasper. Obviously it wasn't the right path because she's still alive and I'm still stuck in Hell."
"What do you need me to do?"
"Look for my future," I told her simply.
As she searched, I watched as well. And just as she'd described to me before, there was nothing of me beyond today.
That is so strange.
"My theory is that if I choose the right path then the future will realign itself, and I can go forward."
Alice nodded. Seems reasonable.
And that was how the game began. Each choice I made, Alice saw the immediate benefits and consequences, and then she looked forward to see how much of my future she could see. We went at it for hours, only stopping when her husband called and Alice informed him that she and I were out and she thought that he, Emmett, and Rosalie should go south and hunt.
I thought about different ways to approach Bella, a variety of ways of killing her, versions where I kissed her—and did other things that I'd only thought about. For the briefest of moments, I considered going to Alaska and taking Tanya up on her proposition… Alice and I both shuddered at that vision. I thought about telling Bella about my family and even contemplated telling the entire town of Forks about us.
Whether the day ended in disaster or promise, no matter what Alice saw no future for me after that day. Eventually, she encouraged me to move on to other scenarios and choices that would affect people other than Bella.
No matter what, however, the fact remained that there was no resolution that we could foresee.
I wound up doing the activity with Alice for days after I realized that the decision would have to be made before it was done. After all, I couldn't very well decide to show up at Bella's house before classes started six hours after she'd left for school.
"I don't want to be repetitive, Edward."
I laughed at Alice's statement. To me, it was all repetitive. When she didn't begin laughing as well, I tried to search her thoughts. "But…" I prompted.
"Have you considered…."
"What?" I asked as both her words and her thoughts trailed off.
She sighed. Then I got a clear mental image of what she was considering, and I shut my eyes to it in response—wishing that such an action could close out my mind as well. "It's something to think about."
"Why can't I—"
She didn't even let me finish before she was shaking her head at me. "Because you can't consciously decide that right now, Edward. I know you. Besides, it's getting late and now we're just discussing possibilities because unless you plan on going into her bedroom and stealing her away right now—which would cause a lot of screaming by her, I might add—then this isn't an option for tonight anyway."
"Just think about it," was all she said before standing up and leaving me sitting in my purgatory.
I spent what remained of my night thinking over Alice's suggestion, trying to view every possible aspect, every outcome. In the end, however, I knew I'd at least try it. I'd gone through scenarios with Alice that I knew I was committed to, decisions that I could actually make. This wasn't something that I could firmly decide unless I was in the moment. It's something I would have to build up to. I knew that much about myself, and Alice did too.
I went to school that day. My day went as it had most other times up until lunch. I sat down with my tray of food at the table with my brothers and sisters and waited for Bella to ask Jessica about me and my family. Alice left the cafeteria in that hopes that she would make Jasper more comfortable. Then, as soon as Bella was sufficiently curious by Jessica's ramblings, I met her gaze and smiled, bringing a lovely red blush to her cheeks. From my experience with her, I knew she'd follow wherever I led her, but I wanted more than that. I needed her to be curious enough to not question things too much at first.
When she arrived in Biology, I grinned at her, and we talked much like we had in the previous versions of the day. Her scent wafted toward me, and I relished the light flavor as it rested on my tongue, while my throat burned. I introduced myself and enticed her to speak. Subconsciously we both leaned in toward each other as the hour continued. When class was finally released, I whispered, "Follow me."
"Trust me, please." Then I stood up and left the classroom, not even bothering to wait for an answer.
It wasn't the innocence of doing schoolwork and having ice cream that I was interested in anymore, but no matter what I was asking for, I knew that she would comply. She was as drawn to me as I was to her. Insanely curious and oddly comfortable.
I heard her footsteps as she rushed behind me, trying to catch up.
"Where are we going?"
I didn't answer her until we were outside, standing in front of the main building. "We're skipping the last period, and I'm taking you somewhere."
"Because I need to speak with you privately."
She turned her head and looked around at the mostly desolate parking lot. "Umm. Not here?"
"No." I walked toward her truck and once there, opened the driver's door for her.
"How did you know this was mine?"
"Despite its age, it's as new to this parking lot as you are. Come on."
She climbed in and waited for me to get in. "You owe me an answer. Why again are we leaving?"
I smiled. "You're right, I do." Running my hands through my hair, I sighed. "I'd wait until school was out, but I don't want my family to know until I've had a chance to speak with you. As it is, they may already have an idea, and I want to keep you safe."
"Safe? From your family?"
"In a manner of speaking. I just have to tell you something, and I only know of one place where they won't invade my privacy."
Bella seemed reluctant, but after another moment, she nodded her head and started her truck.
I gave her directions, and eventually she pulled the truck up off of gravel road to a stop.
"Here?" she asked.
"Almost. It's a bit off of the beaten path."
She stepped out of the vehicle onto the ground and wrapped her coat around herself more securely in the winter wind. "I can't imagine they'd follow you out here."
I chuckled darkly. "You'd be surprised and at how quickly they could get here." Stepping next to her, I asked, "Do you trust me?"
Slowly, she looked up and stared intently in my eyes. After another moment she nodded her head.
"Put you arms around my neck."
Bella only hesitated slightly as she moved to comply, and I realized that my earlier thoughts were true, she really would follow me anywhere. I felt a heavy burden fall upon me at that.
"Are you going to hurt me?" she asked quietly into my ear.
"Not unless you ask me to. Now, close your eyes."
I waited only another moment, and then I took off at a run. We were five miles deep into the forest within a few minutes. I gently set her down, and she opened her eyes. I felt a sudden pain of regret that I was showing her this place in the desolate winter instead of in the springtime when the flowers would be blooming.
"This is where I come to think," I told her as I took her hand—smiling when she gasped at the thrum of energy as it passed between us at the contact—and led her to a fallen log where we could sit.
"It feels… peaceful."
"It does," I agreed.
"Why did you bring me all the way out here?"
I launched into my story of how I'd lived the last year of my life on a perpetual repeat cycle. Bella listened. I'd expected her to be horrified, to try to move further away from me as I told her how I'd managed to kill her. Instead, she hung on every word, only asking questions for clarification. The only question she didn't ask was the one I thought was the most important: Why had I done it? But it seemed that she was waiting for the bigger picture to reveal itself before delving into that horror.
"So, you're living your life like Bill Murray did in that movie?"
I laughed without humor. "Groundhog Day. Ironic, isn't it?"
Then she asked the question I'd been expecting. "Why would you want to kill me that badly?"
With a sigh, I went into the other explanation about me and my family. Again, I'd expected her to run, scream, cry… but she did none of that, simply sat next to me and listened as I poured out my story to her. Her acceptance was unnerving.
She began rubbing the back of her neck and exhaled loudly. "So, are you wanting me to ask you to kill me now?"
I gave her a puzzled look and shook my head. "No, Bella. I don't want to kill you. It nearly destroyed me to see what my brother did to you."
"Why was that different? Why did it matter whether you took my life or he did?"
"I never wanted to hurt you. My bloodlust simply became more than I could handle, and once I tasted you the first time, it was even more difficult for me to cage up. It almost makes me wonder if I had managed things the right way the first time… corralled the monster and left town like I'd planned if that would have been enough." I shook my head. "It doesn't matter. To answer your question, I hurt you because I could. Eventually it became clear to me that if I made the wrong decision, then I would be on a repetitive cycle and it wouldn't matter what I did. The guilt ate away at me. Once I realized that I wasn't getting anywhere on that path, I started to get to know you. You don't know me at all, I do understand that, but I've fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love with you. But it wasn't until Jasper killed you that I understood that."
"Wow," was all she could manage to say as she fiddled with her fingers and stared out along the deserted field.
And all I could do was wait for her to process my words. My phone had been buzzing in my pocket for the last forty-five minutes, and I pulled it out to see missed call after missed call from Alice. I contemplated calling her back.
"You know I can see it," Bella said softly.
"I'm sitting here trying to decide if I should believe you… if I even could. It's not logical or rational… or within any realm of possibility that I've ever considered. But then I also cannot deny that as you told me this story about how we've talked, how well you know me, how you've watched me sleep—which is creepy, by the way—and how you've killed me and I see flashes… images… like some part of me wants to remember. Either that or I'm going crazy and I want to believe you so badly that my mind is playing tricks on me. I don't know," she said as she scrubbed her face with her hands. Dropping her hands back to her lap and taking a breath, she went on. "I just know that I have to believe you. I can hear you in my head saying, 'But if we're lucky, this will all be some sort of strange dream and you'll awaken again tomorrow morning as if nothing happened,' and I can't not believe you."
I thought for a moment, flipping through the memories of the last year and clenched my fists in anger. "You remember that?" She wasn't supposed to remember. The guilt was back full-force.
"That really happened?"
I stood up and walked toward the largest tree that bordered the clearing, hitting it with my forearm, snapping the thick trunk and felling the tree. A gasp caught my attention, and I looked up to meet Bella's wide-eyed gaze. Of course she was scared. How could she not be? Maybe I'd expected the fear when I spun the tale that was more impressive than those of most mental patients, or when I confessed to her that I was a vampire who lusted after her blood, but after she'd accepted all of that, I'd begun to hope that she could trust me. There is no way she could trust someone who she could remember had crushed her neck and ripped out her throat. We didn't have time for this.
I kicked the fallen tree and watched as it splintered.
"How strong are you?"
I stopped my destructive venting and looked up at her. Bella's head was tilted to the side, and she now appeared merely curious. Glancing down at the ground, I spotted a rock the size of my fist and walked over to her. Holding it out in my palm, I showed it to her, then closed my fingers firmly around it and crushed it into dust.
Her mouth opened and closed several times before she managed to speak. "That was… wow."
Flashing her a grin, I wiped the dust off of my hands and watched her a bit longer. She hadn't flinched or shifted away when I'd approached her, so I sat down next to her on the log.
"When we first got out of my truck you said that you would only hurt me if I asked you to," she said.
I nodded and held my breath in anticipation of her next question.
"Did you bring me out here to kill me again?"
Her use of the word 'again' made me cringe, but I quickly composed myself and shook my head. "Not exactly."
"Then why?" Bella's voice was so soft as she asked her question, rightfully fearful of the answer.
I waited until her gaze met mine, her brown eyes staring intently. "Because I believe that the only way out of this for me—for both of us—is for you to become like me."
I nodded. Now was when the running and screaming was bound to start.
"Does it hurt?"
This time I had to fight back a chuckle when she again caught me by surprise, because this wasn't something to laugh about. Not at all. "Immensely. Worse than anything you've ever experienced in your life."
Bella pondered my answer before she asked her next question. "Would I be able to go back home with my family?"
"No. You'd want to kill them the moment you were even remotely close. We'd have to move away from all people until you gained some control. Then we could go back to live among people. But you won't be able to see your family again."
She sucked her lower lip in between her teeth and began to bite it lightly.
I stared at her and blinked several times. "What?"
"I said okay. Do whatever it is you have to do, Edward."
I shook my head. "How can you be so nonchalant about this? We're talking about something that will affect you for the rest of your existence. You won't ever age. You won't ever be able to have children. Becoming like me will take away your soul and damn you to eternity here. The only thing you'll be able to eat or drink is blood. You'll have to at least kill animals for sustenance, and you'll probably end up killing a few humans as well. Most all of us make mistakes in that area. Can you live with that? Are you sure that's what you want?"
Bella shrugged her shoulders. "All I know is that I believe that you're telling me the truth. I believe that you're living the Groundhog Day from Hell and that you firmly believe that it all has to do with me. If you're right about all of that and you think that making me a vampire, like you, is the only way to get out of that, then do it. If you're wrong, Edward, then the day will simply go back to the start again and you'll know that it wasn't the right decision. But if there is only one way out, then we should at least try that. I told you already that I trust you. It may not make sense, especially with some of the images of you I have, but I feel it deep inside of me. I trust you."
I saw the sincerity and the trust in her eyes and I had to close mine to shut her out. Could I truly do what I had said I would? But she was right, if this was the wrong decision, then the day would likely recycle itself yet again. If it was the right one, then we would continue forward. I took a breath and glanced at my phone again. School had long since been out. People would be looking for Bella soon and if Alice saw my future now, I had a feeling that she would even go so far as to invade my private space to stop me from doing something she thought I would regret later. No matter what, I had to make a decision quickly. Time wasn't on our side.
Running my hands through my hair, I took a breath and opened my eyes and looked at her again. "Okay."
"Okay," she responded with a smile. "How does this work? What do I do?"
"I'll bite you several times and inject you with venom. As the venom moves through your bloodstream, it will change your cell make-up."
"Are you sure?"
Bella swallowed thickly and nodded her head. "Can you… would you kiss me first please?"
The smile on my face formed before I could even stop it. I'd wanted to kiss her before and it pleased me immensely to know that she wanted the same. If this worked, then perhaps we would have our future together. It gave me hope.
Bringing my hand up to cup her cheek, I leaned in to press a gentle kiss to her lips, no longer surprised at the gentle electric current that I could feel generating between us. Her mouth was warm and soft, and I could feel the rapid pulse in the capillaries under her skin. I wanted nothing more than to be closer to her, to kiss her more deeply, and to take every part of her, but that was something that would have to come later.
I prayed fervently that there would be a later.
Slowly, I pulled back from her mouth and trailed chaste kisses along her cheek and then down the long slender column of her neck. When I reached her pulse point, I allowed my tongue to lightly lick her skin. Then, stilling myself and making sure I had control over the raging monster, I sunk my teeth into her skin.
I bit her five more times. With each bite she gasped out in pain louder than the last. It was knowing that she was in pain that helped keep the monster corralled and thereby helped keep her alive. When I finished, I cradled her in my arms as tears rolled down her cheeks. She was trying to stifle the sobs, and I knew that soon she would be fighting back the screams… and that soon after that she would no longer be able to do so.
"I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry," I murmured into her ear.
My phone, which had been silent for the last hour, buzzed again, and I pulled it out and answered.
"We're taking her truck and driving it off a cliff into the river."
"Why did you do it?"
"I'll explain later."
"We'll be waiting for you back at the house."
"I'm not coming back to the house."
"Yes, you are, I see you coming back here with her tomorrow morning."
I paused for a moment and took a breath as I absorbed my sister's words. "Thanks, Alice."
"You're welcome," she said as she disconnected the call.
I put the phone back in my pocket and then turned my full attention back to the girl in my arms. Brushing her windblown hair off of her face, I leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Can you hear me?"
She whimpered and barely moved her head.
"Alice can see both of us tomorrow morning. I think this was the right decision," I said with a smile and kissed her forehead again.
I saw the faintest upturn of her lips before she quietly sobbed again.
"It's all right, Bella. I promise that it will all be all right."
As I'd done many, many times before, I held my cell phone in my hand as the final minutes of my eternal day ticked by. Bella was on the ground writhing and screaming next to me. Either her torture was almost over with and it would become a faded memory, or she hadn't even come close to the worst of it. At that point I didn't know which choice I was hoping for the most. That ache in my chest was back as I witnessed her suffering.
The clock moved to 5:58 am on February 3rd. I swept Bella's hair to the side again and kissed her cheek, her scent had slowly been changing over the last several hours, and she no longer smelled appetizing. She had quieted for a few moments before loud sobs once again shook her body.
Fear gripped me as I considered the thought of having to repeat the day yet again. The last day had been such an upheaval of emotions; it had changed me at my very core. No matter what happened, I would never be the same
I found myself recalling the words of a German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: "Before the effect one believes in different causes than one does after the effect."
I now believed that finding one's soul mate trumped everything. For even if I believed I lacked a soul and had just deprived Bella of hers, I could not deny that if we made past that minute then she was destined for me. Every belief I'd ever held was secondary to the needs of the woman lying next to me. For after all I'd gone through, I believed that she was my everything.
Taking Bella's hand in my own, I held it firmly as I watched the final seconds tick down.
I sighed heavily, releasing my tension in my exhaled breath. Bringing Bella's hand up to my mouth, I kissed it gently as I smiled.
Standing up, I leaned over and picked her up into my arms. She quieted for a moment and opened her eyes a sliver. "It's okay, love, we're going home now."
She couldn't say anything, but she managed to curl closer into my chest in response.
And I took her home.
End Notes: Thank you so much for reading. No, there are no plans for a continuation of this story. I like that it ends on just a hopeful note… it leaves their futures completely open. Yes, Shug & I are working on Contractually Bound. We really are trying to get it finished… we are just both so worried about things feeling right with the characters and it's hard to look past that sometimes. Not to mention the fact that I've been looking for work and I really have tunnel vision sometimes. It's difficult for me to think about much of anything else. Thanks again!