So Tyler's van didn't hit me, but in the days following the accident I almost wished it had.
I was used to physical trauma. You could ask any ER doctor in Phoenix. In my opinion, being the reluctant star of a high school melodrama was way worse.
Kids I'd never even met stopped me in the halls to demonstrate how scared they were when they saw the van headed my way. People who didn't know I was alive a week ago were suddenly eager to tell me how glad they were that I still was. Everybody said I was lucky.
Luck had nothing to do with it.
I tried to put the attention where it belonged – on Edward and his quick actions, but nobody pestered him. It was like he and his siblings had some kind of invisible shield around them that repelled annoyances.
Clearly, I was annoyance number one.
He never spoke. He never looked at me, even though we sat side by side in biology. To him, I didn't even exist, and after two weeks of that, I was beginning to wonder if he might be right.
The fact that I continued to get butterflies when I knew I was going to see him only made matters worse. I still felt his nearness like a magnetic field, and when he happened to answer a question in class, my neurons carried on like he was talking to them.
I was mad at him and madder at myself for caring what he did or didn't do. Awake, I could push him out of my thoughts, but at night the dreams kept coming.
He was always just out of reach, like some unattainable goal that my sleeping self yearned toward with emotions that lingered when I woke up, leaving me embarrassed and grumpy.
Renee picked up on the depression despite my efforts to sound cheerful when she called.
"Honey, I can tell when you're down. Is it school?"
"School's easy, Mom. I've studied a lot of this stuff before."
"Are you bored then? Maybe a small town curriculum doesn't give you enough of a challenge. You know, I was worried about the lack of AP classes."
"No, really. It's kind of nice not to have to study too hard when you're trying to adjust to everything."
"Is that the problem – adjusting? Are you having a tough time fitting in? Nobody's bullying you, are they?"
How could you call it bullying when your tormenter wasn't aware of your existence?
"Of course not. Come on, Mom, you're imagining things. It takes me a while to warm up to people – you know that, but I'm making friends. It's actually easier than I thought it would be."
The relief in her voice was evident. "Well, of course, it is. I'm always telling you that. Just be yourself and everyone will love you."
From the stories she'd shared, I had a good idea what Renee had been like in high school – out-going, carefree. Pretty much the opposite of me.
She tried to relate but she didn't always get it. Just like she'd never really gotten Charlie, whose DNA seemed to have won first crack at my personality.
"Face it, Mom. The weather in Forks . . . well, it's not what anybody has in mind when they think of a day at the beach."
"Don't I know it. You love the sunshine. You've probably got that Seasonal Defective Disorder or whatever it's called. Listen, if this is too hard on you, just let me know. We can rethink the whole situation. You don't have to convince me about the drawbacks of Forks."
"No!" I said. "I don't want to leave here. It's only been a little more than a month. Give me some time to get my bearings."
After we hung up, I asked myself why that "no" had popped out so quickly. It was true. I didn't want to leave Forks. Not yet. I felt like something was unfinished – something vitally important – though I didn't let myself question too closely what that might be.
The anxiety eased up as my brush with death became old news. People stopped being surprised that I was among the living. Tyler quit following me around like the world's first groveler/stalker.
I always parked as far away from the Volvo as I could to minimize the chance of seeing Edward. At lunch I sat with my back to the table where the Cullens typically went through their weird solitary routine.
That only left biology when I really had to deal with his presence, and there were no more surprises there.
It was probably a good thing that Mike usually came over to our table to talk. Otherwise, I might have believed that slipping into my seat in Mr. Banner's class propelled me through a wormhole to the other side of the universe.
My lab partner didn't give any sign that I occupied space in his.
So things were calmer but settling into a gray monotony that felt as if it could last forever. It was a Thursday afternoon, dark, rainy. Forks in February.
Bet there weren't any postcards touting the charms of that scenario.
On the bright side, I'd just survived another gym class – broad-jumping this time. Already a win for me, since it wasn't a contact sport. My incompetence at it could be classified as a victimless crime.
Angela Weber was waiting for me at my locker.
"Hey Bella, some of us are going to stop by the diner. Why don't you join us?"
"Thanks, but I better not." The words came automatically. "There's that English test to study for, and I haven't decided what I'm fixing for supper."
"I know how it is, but we're just going to grab a Coke. We'll only be there an hour at the most."
I really liked Angela. Unlike some of the others, she never seemed to have an agenda hiding behind her words. Besides I was under strict orders from Renee not to become a hermit. I took a deep breath.
"Okay, sure. I'll meet you there."
"Great." She looked genuinely pleased, as she hurried off. It occurred to me that she might be almost as shy I was.
I was undoing the lock, when I noticed a little wing of paper sticking out of one of the vents in the door. A tug revealed a page from a spiral notebook, folded into quarters.
Something made me cautious. Opening the locker, I leaned inward, holding the paper close to my chest. There was no signature and only five words:
I know what Cullen did.
My mouth went dry. I could feel my heart speeding up. It sounded like a threat. But why leave it for me? Why not give it to Edward?
The answer came in a flashback of the murderous stare he'd nailed me with that first day. I could see why no one wanted to take on Edward Cullen.
But what was I supposed to do? The note didn't make any demands. It didn't even say what the writer planned to do with the knowledge.
Quickly, I pulled what I needed from my locker and hurried out to the parking lot, shooting sideways glances at everyone I passed. Did one of them dislike me enough to want to mess with my head?
That girl Lauren clearly wasn't a fan, and once or twice I'd wondered about Jess. She made a point of being friendly, but sometimes I caught her looking at me like she wished I wasn't there.
Paranoia. Just what I needed.
I climbed into the refuge of my truck and sat there staring at nothing. So maybe I was jumping to conclusions. Whoever wrote the message said they knew Edward did "something." Not what that something was.
I tried to imagine what else he could have done that he wouldn't want known – something secret. Well, that was an exercise in futility. Everything about him was a mystery. Besides, the note implied that I knew the truth.
Aggravated, I slammed the truck into gear, one of the last people to leave the parking lot. I was half way home before I remembered that I'd promised to meet Angela.
Idle chitchat didn't fit my current mood. I wanted to be alone to think about that note – what it meant, and what I was going to do about it. Still, Angela was expecting me, and I didn't want her to think I was a flake.
When I got to the diner, I was relieved to find that this was an all-girls gathering, no pesky Mike or Tyler or Eric. They scooted over to let me in the booth, already bubbling over after the restrictions of the day.
I don't think I contributed a single word to the conversation, but I tried to nod and smile in the right places. More importantly, I stored away a few tidbits to use on Renee later – a Hollywood scandal, rumors that one of her favorite hair bands was reuniting, the news that our prim little French teacher had arrived that morning on the back of her boyfriend's Harley.
Proof I had been socializing.
Darkness was closing in when the truck heaved itself into our driveway. I had just enough time to throw together Charlie's favorite tuna casserole and a salad. The dinger on the oven went off as he stepped through the front door, calling my name.
As usual, our dinner conversation consisted mostly of monosyllables. After the kitchen was cleaned up, I headed directly for my room, pleading homework.
There wasn't very much, and I already knew the material that would be on the English test backwards and forwards. I made quick work of it and then took the note out of my pocket, staring at the printed letters in hopes they'd reveal something more about the writer and his intent.
Still, it read like a warning. Whatever Edward was hiding, I was pretty sure his family was in on it. There was the smooth way Dr. Cullen had accepted the explanation for my rescue. The cold flat glances I got from Edward's siblings. If someone was threatening them, they had a right to know.
But who could I tell? The obvious person was also the last person in the world I wanted to approach. He'd made it so clear he regretted saving me at all. If he truly trusted me not to tell, then why was he treating me like a pariah?
I could imagine his reaction if I scooted that note in front of him in biology class. He'd take it as proof that I'd broken my promise, that I'd told somebody what he'd actually done. I didn't even want to guess how he'd treat me under those conditions. His icy indifference was bad enough.
I hadn't met any of his brothers and sisters, though from their expressions when I happened to catch them looking my way, they already disapproved of me on general principle.
It was so unfair. If they insisted on being standoffish, why should I care whether they knew someone was onto them or not?
That argument didn't wash for more than a minute. I cared because Edward had saved my life, and, if I was completely honest, because despite his hostility, I still found him fascinating. The thought of him suddenly disappearing from my life was actually painful.
Proof of how boring Forks was without him, I guessed.
I got nowhere that night on the subject of the note and what I should do about it. Although it remained in the forefront of my thoughts all that next week, I came no closer to deciding on a plan of action.
Each day that passed with no shocking revelation could mean the message was a prank – just some vague accusation to torment the new girl. Or it could mean we were getting closer to the moment when all hell would break loose. I had no idea.
On top of that, I noticed the blond one – Jasper – watching me in the halls between classes, sometimes in the parking lot. What was that about?
On Saturday, I shopped for groceries at the Thriftway, idly noticing that the woman in front of me in the checkout line was buying cleaning products, light bulbs, sketch pads, a package of batteries – not a single edible item.
"You have a nice day, Ms Cullen," the checker said.
My head swerved. I watched as she wheeled her cart toward the door, catching only a profile. She was very pretty with waves of hair the color of crème brulee brushing her shoulders. An older sister maybe?
Not sure what I intended, I helped pack my own groceries in an effort to speed up the process. When I got outside it was raining. My quarry was putting her bags in the trunk of a fancy-looking black car. As if Fate was giving me a push, it was parked right next to my truck.
I hurried across the parking lot, opening the truck door in record time and shoving my groceries across the seat. Then I grabbed my shopping cart and pushed it to where the woman was just closing her trunk.
"I'll take your cart back for you," I offered.
"Why, thank you. Are you sure you can manage?"
Nope, not sure at all, I realized, as I jammed one basket into the other, hoping to steer them both toward the curb. But now that I'd actually spoken to her, there was no backing down.
"I overheard the cashier saying your name was Cullen," I said, trying not to sound like a creepy stalker. "I have a class with Edward Cullen."
She smiled then. Such a warm expression. And yes, she was just as pale as the rest of her family. "He's my son. I'm Esme Cullen. You may have met my husband at the hospital."
Her son? She didn't look much older than her kids.
Apparently, she read my thoughts and chuckled. "Our children are not of the biological persuasion," she clarified. "Most foster parents prefer infants and toddlers, so we decided to focus on the ones who'd been without a family for too long."
"Right. That's really . . . really good of you. I'm Bella Swan, by the way."
"You're Bella!" She said my name with far more interest than it deserved.
Her eyes were golden like his were – sometimes. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn a dozen different thoughts and emotions were reflected in them before she continued. "I heard about your close call at school. It's so fortunate you weren't badly hurt."
"Thanks to Edward," I repeated for the umpteenth time in over a month. Maybe this was one person who would care.
"He's always had good reflexes," she said mildly.
"Could I . . . could I speak to you for a moment?"
There – I'd gone and committed myself to going out on a limb. At the same moment I realized we were both getting soaked. "We could talk in my truck."
Instantly, I could tell she didn't want to do that.
Well, of course, not. A perfect Cullen in my rolling wreck? "Or we could use your car. It will only take a minute."
She didn't jump at that option either. "Let's sit up there under the overhang," she suggested, nodding toward the espresso bar. No one was lingering in the wet outdoors.
She pulled her basket from mine, and the two of us wheeled them up to the supermarket before settling at one of the small sheltered tables.
Now that I had her attention I didn't know where to begin. This could be the worst idea ever, I thought, aware of the flush stealing up my neck.
"It's all right, Bella," she said in a soft, pleasant voice. Her strange eyes held some fraction of that power her son wielded so mercilessly, the one that made it so hard to look away. "I won't share anything you tell me, if you don't want me to."
It was weird how readily I believed her. "Okay. It's just that I'm not exactly sure how Edward did what he did to save me. I swore to him I wouldn't say anything about it, and I won't, but someone put this in my locker."
I pulled the note from my pocket and flattened it out on the little round table. Mrs. Cullen read it in a glance. Neither shock nor worry registered on her face, although she did appear thoughtful.
"I see. So while you can be trusted not to start any irresponsible rumors, someone else hasn't made that promise. Do you have any idea who it might be?"
I shook my head. "I was sure I was the only one who could have seen . . . what he did. And I don't understand why they waited so long to say anything."
"Yes, I see what you mean. Tell me, why didn't you just show the note to Edward?"
This time, I was sure I turned beet red. Mrs. Cullen leaned away in her plastic chair.
"We're not exactly speaking these days. I don't think he likes me very much."
My companion opened her mouth to say something but apparently thought better of it, so I rushed on. "I was afraid he'd think I broke my promise and get even angrier, but I thought someone in your family should know."
She studied me for a moment, and I was afraid she was wondering if I had spilled the beans. After all, it made more sense for her to accept her son's low opinion of me than to believe the protestations of innocence from someone who accosted strangers in a parking lot.
"It was very brave of you to tell me this, Bella," she said at last. "I really appreciate your concern."
Brave? That seemed an odd word to choose, but maybe my awkwardness told her how seldom I put myself out there.
"Why don't you let me worry about this? I may be able to think of an explanation. In any case, try to put it out of your mind. Things will all work out, I'm sure."
She rose, and I did too, folding the note up and putting it back in my pocket where no one else could possibly see it. We walked in silence back to where we were parked, and just before she opened the door of her shiny car, she said, "I can't tell you how very glad I am that I had this chance to meet you, Bella. I wish you only the best."
"It was nice meeting you too," came my rote answer. I didn't realize how cold I was, until I'd climbed into the cab and the truck roared to life, along with my blast furnace of a heater. I did feel better – like a weight had been taken from my shoulders.
Edward's foster mom came across as gentle, but I sensed she had a lot of strength too. If she thought there was nothing to worry about, then I could safely stop feeling responsible for her son – the one who had second thoughts about my appeal as a splotch on the high school parking lot.
I'd done my duty.
The staff and board of directors at Forks hospital, like those at every other place he'd worked, were overjoyed with my husband's presence. Not only did they get a brilliant surgeon with more years of experience than they could possibly imagine, but he was untiring and willing to take over at a moment's notice.
One of the ways they showed their gratitude was by arranging his schedule so that – more often than not – he could be home with his family at the traditional dinner hour.
It was a lovely gesture, one that many a health worker would cherish, and there was really no logical way to turn it down without seeming ungrateful.
I for one was very grateful. The fact that I could expect him to come through the door nearly every evening and take me in his arms was a gift I never took for granted.
True sometimes he went right back again, if the need was there, but I appreciated – as I always have – every moment we spent together.
On this night, we were cuddling on the sofa. He'd told me about his day, which was our routine, and asked about my own. Usually, mine was far less dramatic than his, far less filled with emotional crises that needed a sympathetic ear.
He was always quick to point out that my work added something to the world – a beautiful object or room or building – while his was limited to maintenance, repairing broken humans. He has always been a very generous man.
"Actually, something interesting did happen today," I told him. "I think we should have a quick family meeting to discuss it."
"Right now?" he asked, clearly surprised.
"Yes. This is exactly the right time."
Of course, we could have easily stood in a circle for hours – here in the house, out in the woods – while we considered the issue at hand, but there was something about the formality of gathering around the dining room table that gave weight to the process, a ritual that underscored the importance of our making choices as a family.
Usually, Carlisle sat at the head of the table, but that night he relinquished the spot to me, taking a seat on my right. Emmett and Rosalie, Jasper and Alice joined us.
"Aren't we waiting for Edward?" Emmett looked confused by the change in protocol.
We all knew where Edward had gone. Every day, he'd taken to running all the way to Seattle and back. It was part of his attempt to resist the call of his "singer."
"No," I said. "In fact, I need to be sure he's not close enough to hear what we're thinking. Alice?"
Alice looked a little uncomfortable. I wondered why, but she came to attention – or rather non-attention – to her immediate surroundings, focusing off into the middle distance.
"Mm, no, it's okay. He's in Brinnon."
"All right then. I met someone while I was shopping today – Bella Swan."
"How did that happen?" Carlisle asked on behalf of all the curious faces at the table.
"Actually, she approached me. She told me someone had left a note in her locker, saying 'I know what Cullen did'."
"Terrific. Just terrific." Rosalie's voice fairly dripped with venom. "He's going to screw up everything for all of us. You know that, don't you? He's totally out of control."
"Come on now." Emmett nudged her. "Give the kid some credit. I told you what happened when I ran across blood like that. It goes right to your brain – blam! You can't even think straight, and here he's been sitting next to the girl for what – a month and a half? That's some major control going on there, believe me."
"Emmett's right," Carlisle added. "Edward came back from Denali because he felt he should meet the challenge head on, and he's lived up to that. We were all afraid he'd kill her weeks ago."
"So what?" Rose fumed. "So he didn't kill her. No, he goes to the opposite extreme and saves her life in full view of half the students at Forks! Why is that any better? If somebody saw it, we're still going to have to pull up stakes and start all over again!"
"That's the one thing we can't get around," I reluctantly agreed. "Someone did notice."
"Yeah, but how much could they have seen?" Emmett frowned, and I thought he was probably recreating the chaotic scene in his mind. "The way the cars were angled, even we couldn't tell exactly what happened. The worst they might have noticed was Edward standing one place and then suddenly being somewhere else. They never saw him move, I can guarantee you that. It was way too fast for humans to pick up."
"The timing's odd too." Carlisle shook his head. "Why not come forward weeks ago? Why now, when the whole thing's blown over? What do they hope to gain? There's no explicit threat in the message. And why give the note to the Swan girl instead of Edward?"
Rose was all too ready with an answer. "Are you kidding? Have you been around Mr. Cool lately? He's a time bomb waiting to go off. It's like somebody opened Pandora's box, and everything he's been repressing is fighting to get out. You can feel it coming off of him in waves. No human's going to go near that. He's going to snap and kill her anyway."
"You don't know that, sweetheart," I said to Rose, who had a tendency to get worked up over these things, but I was looking at our other two children, the ones who hadn't said a single word.
Jasper's face was stoic. Alice sat with her hands clasped, her eyes downcast. She was uncharacteristically immobile.
"This is all beside the point." Rosalie slapped the table. "The bottom line is somebody's suspicious. They're going to be watching us, and we all know that's the beginning of the end." She stood up so quickly her chair nearly toppled over."I, for one, am facing the facts. It's time to start packing."
Emmett rose to go with her, when Jasper's voice cut the air like a . . . well, like the saber he'd carried for so long. "Sit down."
It was his military voice, the one he'd used to command men whose instant obedience could mean the difference between life and death. He was usually far more prone to mumbling than shouting, so we all stared at him.
"I wrote that note."
Emmett and Rose sat again without a word. Alice let out a long breath, and whispered a barely audible, "Thank you!"
"It's called flushing out the enemy," Jasper elaborated. "We'd been under siege too long, wondering if the girl was going to blow the whistle. It wasn't doing anyone any good. If she thought there was somebody else ready to back up her story, she might finally get off the pot. We needed to know, once and for all."
"That was taking a very dangerous chance," Carlisle said, his expression grim.
"Not really." Jasper turned to him. "I've been keeping close tabs on her between classes, and of course, there's Alice."
"You knew about this too?" I said, unable to keep the dismay out of my voice.
Alice had the grace to look sheepish. "He tried to keep me out of it, although I don't know why he bothers. Of course, I knew, but that was a good thing. I've gotten better at zeroing in on Bella and her decisions. She never once considered telling anyone."
"She's a stubborn little thing," Jasper added, making it sound like a compliment.
"But you've made her miserable," I said. "Honestly, you two, I'm ashamed of you both."
"You should have cleared it with the rest of us." Carlisle backed me up.
"Well, you would have said no, and I was kind of hoping to avoid that," Jasper said with a wry half-smile.
I wasn't finished with him yet. "You say she's stubborn. In this case, isn't that just another word for trustworthy? I was impressed with Bella in our brief conversation. She has integrity." I turned to Alice. "Did you see our encounter today?"
"No, I only watch her at school where she might talk to somebody. She sticks to herself on weekends."
"Well, she was concerned for us all, even though she seems to think Edward hates her."
Alice snorted. "He so does not hate her."
"Rose is right in one regard," Carlisle cautioned. "Edward's being bombarded by a lot of emotions he's never felt before. The least we can do is hang back and let him sort them out for himself."
"I still say he's going to crack and end up killing her," Rose said.
Alice's tone was deliberately sing-song. "I don't think so." She folded her arms and rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
"Nobody knows better than you how quickly your visions can change," Carlisle cautioned her. "I don't want to see you getting your hopes up about this future friendship with Bella."
"It's more than that," she insisted. "I see her becoming one of us."
"You also see her lying dead," Emmett pointed out with his usual bluntness. "That's a pretty wide range of possibilities."
"I know." Alice sighed. "But that one keeps persisting."
"Probably because you want it to," Rosalie said impatiently.
"Something else to consider, Alice." Carlisle said, and I could tell he didn't want to see her setting herself up for disappointment. "Edward tends to feel things deeply. He has very strong beliefs about certain issues. We know that. If he were to develop feelings for this girl, the last thing he'd want to do is rob her of her human life."
Alice frowned. "I hadn't thought about that. You could be right, but I see it happening . . . somehow . . . well, at least sometimes." Her voice tapered off and she lost some of her enthusiasm.
"Well, I apologize if I put you on the spot, Esme," Jasper said. "I should have made sure we were all on the same page."
"It's Bella I'm worried about. The poor thing's been through a lot, and none of us has made it any easier for her. I'm going to let her know she has nothing to worry about."
"Nothing to worry about?" Rose looked incredulous.
Emmett chuckled. "Yeah, nothing but a vampire who's been on the wagon for nearly 80 years."
"Who thinks her blood is the nectar of the gods," Jasper added.
"Can we have a little more optimism here?" I pleaded.
"Well, it's Edward's game to win or lose," Emmett said.
I wouldn't have put it quite that way, but he was basically right. It was time the rest of us minded our own business – or nearly so.
Charlie had just come in from fishing. When the phone rang, he got to it first.
"It's for you, Bells." He had his hand over the mouthpiece when I came to take the receiver. "Female, but I don't recognize the voice."
"Hi, Bella. It's Esme Cullen."
"Oh . . . hi."
"I just wanted you to know that I followed up on that note. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. It wasn't meant maliciously."
Now, how in the world could she possibly know that? "You mean . . . it was like . . . a joke?"
"A very poor one. I'm not at liberty to say how it came about, and I realize we don't know each other, but please believe me when I say there's no threat to anyone."
"Okay . . . well . . . thanks for telling me."
"You're welcome, and, Bella, please – take care."
"Yeah, you too."
I hung up, puzzled as all get out, as my Gran used to say. Before Charlie could question me, I made for the stairs and closed myself in my room.
How could she have possibly found out anything about the note in the short time between our meeting and that call? And why did her "take care" sound more like a genuine request than a simple cliché?
The only logical explanation was that I'd stumbled on a Cullen family tradition – throw out cryptic comments to innocent bystanders and watch them go nuts trying to figure out what you meant.
I'm pretty sure I would have kept puzzling over the note, even though I was determined to stop worrying about it. After all, if his own mother wasn't concerned, why should I be making any more space in my brain for Edward Cullen?
Famous last words.
That next Tuesday, after six long weeks, Edward suddenly noticed me again. At least that's the way it seemed to me at the time.
I was wrong – about his indifference, about what was real and unreal in this world, about my destiny to live a humdrum existence as an average girl.
From the moment he spoke my name that day, through the heart-pounding weeks that followed, I had to rethink what I knew about almost everything. That spring, I knew more excitement and terror and passion and despair and joy than most people experience in a lifetime.
But mostly there was love, so real it hurt and so all-encompassing that the path ahead was suddenly clear to me, if not to Edward who reverted to stony silence whenever I brought it up.
I wasn't worried. We had time. And every moment we spent together made the minutes we were apart less bearable. I knew he felt it too, so I'd just have to learn patience.
Charlie hadn't exactly warmed to my new boyfriend, especially after what had happened in Phoenix, a fact that frustrated me a lot more than it did Edward.
"You may not like it, but Charlie's in the right," he said reasonably. "He knows I'm not good for you. I told you I wasn't good for you. You're the one who isn't seeing things clearly."
"So why are you still here?"
"Because I have no interest in giving Charlie what he wants. I'd much rather give you what you want."
And he proceeded to do that in a way that instantly made me forget Charlie even existed.
Still, I tried to score points for Edward with my dad, pointing out that he was the one who took me to physical therapy for my leg. Charlie couldn't do it because he was working, and I couldn't drive myself.
"It's the least he can do," Charlie growled. He was maddeningly determined to blame Edward for what had happened to me despite our cover story.
I really didn't have a lot of room to complain. Once school was out, Edward and I were together from the time Charlie left in the morning until he came home, and again almost every night in my room.
The one time of day we cleverly avoided overdoing it was the time Charlie could most expect us to be "dating" – between supper and bedtime. It didn't do much to improve my dad's attitude, but it felt like I was being pro-active.
One August afternoon, we took a blanket into the woods across from the house, just far enough in to be hidden from the road, but still close enough to know when Charlie got home.
Of course, by now I realized we could be a lot farther away and Edward would still sense his arrival. It was a pattern of his – never allowing us to be too isolated. Always there was someone sleeping in the next room, or chaperones with one eye on the pavilion outside, or the possibility of hikers wandering by.
I knew he did it to prevent temptation, but whose and exactly what form that temptation might take, I wasn't completely sure.
I'd brought along one of Charlie's old Pendleton shirts that needed mending, relieved to find I could actually sit cross-legged again without any pain.
Edward stretched out on the blanket, leaning on one elbow, watching me as if I was actually doing something interesting.
"Have you always been this domestic?" he asked, as I moistened a length of brown thread with my lips and squinting, poked it at the needle.
"Well, it's a dirty job . . ." I frowned as the thread slid right past its target. I tried again, jabbing at the hole in hopes a little well-placed violence might make it bigger.
"Here." Long, white fingers shot out and took both needle and thread, returning them almost as quickly, this time happily reconciled to each other.
"How do you do that?" I said. It had become a common, if completely rhetorical, question.
"I'm guessing Charlie's more the fly-tying type."
"Oh, it isn't just Charlie. Renee was never big on repairing things either. She started lots of projects – a few of them even involved sewing – but somehow she'd always get distracted and go on to something else."
"Are you sure she isn't a vampire?"
I laughed. "You met her. What do you think?"
"No. She was completely impervious to your blood at the hospital."
"So were you," I said, my eyes going directly to his. Once again I felt that melting sensation when I considered how hard he must have fought to overcome the defining instinct of what he was.
Not only had he saved me, but he'd stayed with me at the hospital, exposed constantly to my blood, even while the reminder of its potency was still on his lips.
Could he have any concept of how much I loved him?
As usual when we got too close to that subject, he changed it. "Why doesn't Charlie just buy a new shirt?"
I rolled my eyes and resumed darning the torn pocket. "Has a single Cullen ever taken home economics? Because I'm pretty sure it's the one subject you'd all flunk. Do any of you even wear the same thing twice?"
"Humans – so judgmental. You know perfectly well I do."
His gray jacket. I loved it, and he knew it. He'd been wearing it during many of our first tentative attempts to draw closer to each other. The memories were electrifying.
"So you wait till something gets dirty or ripped before you ditch it?"
"Dirty, no. Ripped, probably. It's prudent to purchase more than one of an item you particularly like."
I squelched the urge to burst out laughing. "Well, Charlie likes this shirt precisely because it's old and familiar."
"I'm old and willing to become very familiar," he responded, injecting enough innuendo into his velvet voice to make me drop my needle. "How long will this project take?"
"I thought you liked watching me do random things," I managed to answer despite the heat suddenly pulsing through my veins.
"I do. Everything about you fascinates me."
"That's just because you can't hear what I'm thinking."
"That's definitely a part of it," he admitted.
"So what would happen if I was a vampire?" I began, only to find a long finger pressed gently against my lips.
"Not up for discussion."
"This is hypothetical," I insisted. "Would I automatically be graceful like the rest of you or is there such a thing as a klutzy immortal?"
"I've never seen one." He sighed, clearly annoyed at the subject matter.
"But that doesn't mean there couldn't be one."
"Being able to trip faster and fall farther is not a valid reason to sacrifice your human life."
I shrugged. "Just wondering. I'm so thankful we're not back in school yet. How embarrassing would it be to go hobbling down the hallways with my cane?"
"I told you, my feelings for you won't change when you're frail and hobbling." His manner remained brusque. He still hadn't forgiven me for crossing his annoying line.
I let that go, not wanting anything to spoil our time together. It was then that, for no reason at all, the memory of the disturbing note popped into my mind. "There's something I've never told you."
"I'm sure there are a million things you haven't told me."
"Well, this one I really should."
"Does it mean I get to kill Mike Newton after all?"
"No, it doesn't. Remember last winter, when you weren't speaking to me?"
"You weren't speaking to me either."
"Because I didn't want to have my head bitten off."
"Ah, you were more perceptive than I thought."
"Do you want to hear this, or not?" I did my best to scowl at him, although his rapid mood swings always put me at a disadvantage.
"I'm waiting patiently."
"No, you're not. You're smirking."
"Are the two mutually exclusive?"
"Fine," I said, focusing on my mending. "I won't tell you. Good luck prying it out of my abnormal brain."
He frowned, pretending to scrutinize me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noted that he still looked irresistibly cute while he did it. "Something about a note," he said finally, "in your locker."
I froze, gaping at him. "You heard that?"
"Clear as a bell."
I blinked, and he took pity on my confusion.
"I was teasing you," he said, turning apologetic. "I've known about it for a while."
"Esme told you? Then you know that I'd actually met her before you introduced us. She didn't let on and neither did I. Nothing ever came of it, and with everything else going on it completely slipped my mind until now, but I don't want to keep things from you."
There, I'd spit it all out, but Edward's expression didn't change. He didn't say a word.
I wasn't sure what that meant, and my nervousness kept me talking. "I still don't have any idea who wrote it or why or how Esme could have found out anything about it at all."
"I do," he said finally.
"You do? You mean you knew all along?"
"No, not till some time later." His eyes seemed to be boring into mine, the way they did when he really wanted me to understand something. "Bella, my family can keep some things from me – for a while anyway – if they work very hard at it, but when all of them are in on a secret, it's only a matter of time before I pick the pieces out of their heads and put them together."
"So you know who wrote it?" I leaned toward him, my sewing forgotten, eager to have an answer to the mystery.
"It was Jasper."
"Your brother?" That only thickened the plot past understanding. "Why on earth would he do that? Was he mad at you?"
Edward dropped his gaze, his thick lashes shielding me from any hint of what he might be feeling. "No, not in the way you mean, and yes, he was furious."
"Well, that clears that up."
"What I mean is, he didn't do it to get me into trouble. He did it as a misguided attempt to force your hand. He wasn't sure whether we could trust you not to tell anyone, and if you thought there was someone to back up your story, you might reveal your intentions."
"But you said he was furious with you. Why?" If I didn't know better, I'd almost swear that Edward winced.
He shook his head, "You always go straight for the jugular, don't you?"
"I thought that was your department."
"Allow me to rephrase that," he said dryly. "You always get right to the heart of the matter."
"If that means I can tell which things you're most trying to keep from me, I'm glad. Why was Jasper mad?"
He took a deep breath, which either meant he was stalling for time or had a lot to say. "You have to understand that Jasper is still a soldier at heart. He's instinctively on the alert for weaknesses in our defenses. When I let you see what we were, or at least what we weren't, it made all of us vulnerable to discovery. Jasper was the most adamant about preventing that possibility."
I thought about that a moment, but there was really only one way to interpret it. "You mean he wanted to . . . eliminate me."
Edward reached for my hand. "I wouldn't have let him do it."
"You would have fought with your own brother?"
"Yes, but it wasn't necessary. Alice convinced him to leave it up to me. And it was never a personal decision on his part, just a strategic one."
"He was nice to me when we fled to Phoenix," I said, hurrying to replace the vision of a blood-thirsty Jasper with something more benign. "What about when you found out he'd left me that note?"
"We had a rather . . . intense conversation."
"Intense like in you did fight with him?" I searched his face anxiously. "You said you didn't find out about it till after the fact."
"It was the principle of the thing. He'd made you worry needlessly."
The last thing I wanted was to cause division in Edward's family. I wanted them to like me, to accept me. "Who won the fight?"
His lips quirked up on one side. "That would be Esme."
"Esme broke up a fight between you and Jasper?"
"No. Emmett and Carlisle broke up the fight. Esme merely made us replace three chairs and repaint the whole dining room."
Go Esme! I thought, picturing that petite, pretty woman actually wielding power over a couple of hotheaded males. "Well, good for her."
"It was entirely our fault . . . well mine actually, since I attacked him. We should have taken it outside. Are you finished with your mending?"
Actually, I'd completely forgotten it, but I grabbed it up again and returned to the task. While I worked, Edward ran one finger slowly along my left denim-clad leg. Just the outside. Just the seam. But my body's reaction was ludicrous.
I locked off my stitches and broke the thread, bundling everything together. When I turned to Edward, he was smiling, a sweet, lazy smile, way too sexy to be legal.
With one hand he pulled me down toward him – slowly, so slowly, as if he were recording every millisecond of my approach to view again later.
Anticipation flooded all my senses as I sank into the beauty of his eyes and then his kiss, my heart racing against his marble ribs.
These timeless moments were unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I'd never particularly thought of my body as my friend, since it tended to sabotage me when I tried to do the simplest things, but suddenly it was ablaze with new sensations that left me trembling and aching for more.
I was pretty sure Edward could read my physical cues, even though he couldn't hear my mind. He seemed to know precisely when I'd been pushed to the limit, and he pulled away, tucking me under his arm, as he let out a long unsteady breath.
It was a kind of torture, but if it was all we ever got, I'd be happy to spend eternity being on the receiving end of Edward's kisses. We lay quietly for a few minutes, both of us listening to my heartbeat as it slowed, while he gently stroked my hair.
"I wish this summer could go on forever," I murmured, mesmerized by the sight of our entwined fingers resting on his chest.
"Everything ends," he whispered.
"Not everything. I'm never going to stop loving you."
"No, not that," he agreed, turning to kiss me, softly, briefly. "But there's plenty to look forward to – your birthday, for instance."
"Arghh, don't remind me. I've already warned you – no presents."
"Bella, you're ridiculous."
"Deal with it, okay? Also, I don't want to be older than you."
"That's a scientific impossibility. Besides, it means you only have one more year of high school. You should try to enjoy it."
"It won't be like this, where we can be together all day long." A horrible thought struck me and I sat up, searching his face. "Edward, what if we don't even have any classes together?"
"That's not going to happen."
"You don't know that. We could spend the whole year just passing each other in the hallway like those lame ships in the night."
"You're not listening. I said, that's not going to happen."
I took in his crooked smile, the gleam in his eye. "You know something. You did something! What . . . how?"
"You don't want to know. Trust me."
I didn't really care how he did it. The prospect of sitting next to him suddenly made every class something to look forward to.
He sat up too, reaching over to tenderly coax my hair behind my ear. "Now all we have to worry about is an anal-retentive teacher who insists on alphabetical order. I could lose you to Jessica Stanley."
"I hope not," I said, feeling vaguely disloyal. "I mean, I like Jess, but she tends to whisper a lot in class, and some of it's not what you want a teacher to hear."
"You should hear her thoughts," Edward muttered, but before I could ask what he meant, his expression changed. "The cruiser's just turned off the highway."
Just like that, the minutes we had left together seemed to be loudly ticking away. I hated the way every separation, however brief, felt physically wrenching.
"Maybe we could get away with another date night. You could come over about 7, and we'll say we're going to the movies."
He nuzzled my cheek playfully, but his voice was all business. "No. Tonight you're going to bond with Charlie."
"Ugh. Over what, another baseball game?"
"I thought you liked baseball."
"Only when you're playing."
"It's important that he learns to trust you again."
"Shouldn't it be you he's learning to trust?"
"That's a lost cause," he said with an unrepentant grin. "Better stick to something more realistic."
We stood and I gathered up my things, while Edward shook out the blanket. One swift snap, and it was clean as a whistle. I bet if I put it back in the linen closet Charlie would never even guess it had been outside.
"I'll see you at bedtime, right?" I asked, drinking in the sight of him one more time. It would have to get me through the next few hours.
"Just watch. The stupid ballgame will probably go into triple overtime."
He chuckled and planted a kiss on my furrowed brow. "In that case, explain to your father that your domestic labors have left you exhausted."
"Good idea. I bet he'll buy it too. What he calls 'woman's work' scares him to death."
Edward gave me the blanket, and I tucked it under my arm. "Guess you better go."
"I'm gone," he said.
And he was.
I crossed the road to the house, disappearing through the door, just as I heard the cop car turn the corner. Luckily, there was leftover pot roast in the frig, all ready to pop into the oven.
Glancing at the clock, I calculated there were three, maybe four hours tops to get through before I'd be with Edward again.
I could do this. And afterwards we still had a couple of blissful weeks before school started. Even then, there was nothing to worry about.
This school year was shaping up to be the happiest of my life.