A/N: Happy New Year! Thanks for the reviews and favorites add. Also, I noticed a few new readers, welcome!
I sat in the back seat of the Mercedes with the window wide open. Bella was asleep on my shoulder so the fresh air was a definite plus to counteracting, in part, the burn I felt. We were parked in a deserted, unfinished strip mall parking lot all of three hours into our cross-country trip. Carlisle, Esme and Rosalie had gone to run an errand. What that could possibly be in the middle of New York, I didn't know.
Edward appeared at the side of the car and looked down at me with interest.
"Rough going?" He asked.
"The fresh air makes it easier," I conceded.
"This is an odd time of day for a human to nap, isn't it?"
"I don't recall her ever being a napper," I shrugged the shoulder that Bella's head wasn't on. "A lot's happened in the last few days. Carlisle said she has to deal with it all in her own way. I'm just going with the flow."
"According to Rosalie, you're creating the flow," he smirked. "In fact, you seem to be creating raging rapids."
"Yeah, what's her deal?" I asked him. "Is she always that difficult?"
"Oh, sometimes more," he smiled widely. "Good luck with that, my friend."
"It's very bizarre. She's not really my type, yet, I can't seem to muster up the desire to shake her off. She's hot, controlling if I let her be, a little surly, and not my type at all."
"Vampires don't pick their mates," he attempted to explain. "I don't know much about it, having never found my mate. It's almost like a dormant gene inside and when you find that person, they're the center of your universe."
"Does everyone else fall away in your eyes?"
"You tell me," he countered. "It's never happened to me."
"It must not," I frowned, looking down at my sister. "It's like I have this insatiable need for Rosalie, but it doesn't cloud over my duties to Bella."
"Well, yeah." I looked back up at Edward. He looked confused. "I'm her older brother. That comes with a lot of responsibility; a lot more when you got a sister as tragically klutzy as mine is. But beyond being her brother, I was also the only male in our family. Our dad split early on; our mother was pretty flighty. She was real sweet like Bella, but she was forgetful."
"Your father left you?"
"Yeah. I didn't have a lot of memories of him when I was human; I don't have any of him now. Our mom dated, but she never went out with anyone seriously. Uncle Charlie was really the only positive father-like figure we had. One day, I just sort of realized that I was the man of the house. Bella and my mom looked to me a lot when tough decisions had to get made, which is funny because Bella is much more logical than I am, but that's the way it evolved. When I realized that I would be the only constant male presence in my sister's life, I made sure to take her a lot more seriously, you know?
"I started paying closer attention to who she was hanging out with, and who was sniffing around after her at school. I made sure she got the things that she needed to take care of the household stuff she had taken on. But above all, I made it a point to make sure there would never be any question in her mind that she could depend on me, always, for anything. That's why I had to go back for her, Edward. That's why I have to be safe for her. I made a promise."
"I never had anyone like that," Edward said after a long pause. "I was an only child and my parents had a good, solid marriage. My sisters now, Rosalie and Alice, they definitely don't need me to look out for them. They'd break me in half if I tried. You're very lucky, Emmett."
"Yeah? Everyone else thinks I'm crazy."
"No, they don't. You surprised them – all of us. You're a curious - and admittedly, sort of inspiring – creature."
"Well, no one's ever called me that before," I chuckled. "Make sure you repeat that when my sister's awake."
He leaned against the car while we waited. I didn't know where Alice and Jasper had gone. They took the other car someplace, but it wasn't long before the Volvo returned, followed by a very large RV.
"Oh God, now what did they do?" Edward muttered, pushing himself off the door. The two vehicles stopped next to us. Rosalie got out of the Volvo and Esme and Carlisle emerged from the RV.
"What the hell is that?" I asked, stunned.
"The Winnebago Adventurer," Esme gushed. "Isn't it great? This will be the safest and most efficient way to get the rest of the way to Washington. You're not safe to be around other humans yet, and with this we won't need to make as many stops for Bella either. She can eat, sleep, or do whatever she needs to do right in here. We'll only need to stop for gas. It will also be perfect when you want to go to Phoenix to your storage unit. It will give you and Rosalie a place to lay low and hold anything you bring back with you."
Bella pushed herself up off my shoulder and looked out the window. "What's going on?"
"We're moving to new digs," I said, gesturing to the Winnebago.
"Wow," she breathed.
I opened the car door and climbed out, Bella behind me. Rosalie came over to my side. "You just bought this thing?" I asked.
"It's very practical," Esme said. "Especially now. I imagine by now, the police will be looking for you and Bella. This will ensure you aren't seen before we're ready. We need to get Bella to your uncle. As a police officer, he'll be able to contact the police in New Hampshire and explain the situation as you've explained it to him. Either one of you being seen now will only cause unneeded trouble."
"I'm not arguing with your logic," I replied. "It's just these things don't really come cheap."
"That's not something you need to worry about," Esme smiled. "Money is not a concern for us, only ensuring the safety of our family. We'll either keep it for future use or sell it again. What's most important is keeping Bella safe, and with us, right now."
The BMW tore into the lot then, screeched over to us, and stopped on a dime right next to the Mercedes. Alice popped out of the drivers' seat and retrieved bags from the trunk. Jasper took her side. Some of the bags looked like they were from the supermarket and others were Barnes and Noble bags.
"Cook books," Rosalie said, her voice at vampire speed. "Esme's going to read them on the trip across the country and learn to cook for Bella. She has refused to accept there's some function of motherhood she wasn't instantly perfect at and has taken steps to immediately rectify the situation."
"Would you like to see inside, Bella?" Carlisle offered, sweeping his hand out towards the door.
"Uh, sure," she said quietly.
I followed her inside and the both of us stopped dead. Shit, this thing was nice. It's like the ones NASCAR drivers stay in when they go to races; big, plush, white leather seats, a lounge area, a galley kitchen, private bedroom, the works.
Rosalie, Carlisle, Esme and Edward followed us in.
"It came equipped with a 40" LCD television, a home theater system, satellite system, including a television in the bedroom, Corian countertops, stainless steel appliances in the galley kitchen over there, filtration system, and a queen size bed." Rosalie rattled off the specs. "The bathroom's got skylights and a full shower with a flexible showerhead. The front's got WiFi, cruise control, a work station in the passenger seat dash, GPS, and a backup monitor. The radio has a 6 CD changer, ports for MP3 Players, and the entertainment center has a DVD player and surround sound. As you can see, it's got all the bedding and linens already; the kitchen has all the plates, utensils, and pots and pans. Esme talked them out of their showroom model."
"Bitchin'," I said, nodding my head in appreciation.
Bella walked slowly over to the couch along the wall and sat down. Esme followed her, leaned down to the side, pushed a button, and Bella's seat reclined. Bella looked at me wide-eyed. I knew just how she felt. I asked myself, again, who were these people? Why were they willing to go to such lengths for us? When was I going to get used to it?
Can I drive?" I asked.
"Absolutely not." Esme lost her smile. "Jasper is going to take over driving the Mercedes; Rosalie will take the BMW, and Alice will drive Edward's Volvo. Edward, I would like you to ride with us for now. Carlisle will drive this and I'll ride in front with him."
She had it all figured out; nobody argued, though Edward looked a little surprised. I tried not to pout. I really wanted to see what this sucker had under the hood. I dropped down next to Bella, and reached to the side of the couch and reclined my seat too. I locked my hands behind my head and grinned at my sister. "Not a bad way to travel."
"It certainly seems comfortable."
"If you're still tired, there's that bedroom back there," I said hooking my thumb towards the rear of the RV. "Why don't you go check it out?"
"I'm fine," she said. Carlisle and Esme moved to the front seats. Edward wandered over to the kitchenette table as Rosalie leaned down and trapped me in a very hot, very promising kiss. When she pulled away, she trailed a finger along my jaw. Seriously? I couldn't ride with her? Where's the fairness in this?
She went back outside and I looked over at Bella as we got under way. I thought she'd be blushing from witnessing that little PDA, but she was looking at me curiously.
"You certainly seem to have hit it off with her," she said.
"I know; it's weird. She's not my type."
"She's female, Emmett," Bella countered dryly. "That's exactly your type."
"Yeah, but she's high maintenance," I countered. "When's the last time you saw me with some high maintenance babe?"
"You haven't been with anyone since Kerry," Bella said quietly and dropped her gaze away.
I really wish she hadn't brought Kerry up. Leaving her behind in Arizona hurt more than it should have. Not that Kerry and I were going to get married or anything, but I liked her. I think she was the first girl I loved. I'm not sure now because these feelings I had for Rosalie were pretty intense.
And depending on how you interpreted Bella's statement, she may or may not have been right. It was true that I hadn't had any girlfriends since Kerry, but I have had sex since we moved. My sister gets mortified when she thinks of stuff like that, so I try to keep it off her radar, especially since I didn't really care about any of the girls I slept with in New Hampshire. I admit it; I was a bit of a dog. I was a disenchanted teen acting out like hundreds of thousands of others in America. Sue me.
"I don't want to talk about Kerry," I said and actually squirmed in my seat a bit. "Don't bring her up again."
"Okay," Bella nodded. I know she was a little hurt by that. I just wasn't really comfortable talking about the past like that, at least my past that involved Kerry. For reasons, I couldn't really explain, it just bugged me.
"I was just going to point out that you seemed kind of serious about Rosalie and you haven't known her that long; less than a week."
"It's hard to explain. I love her and it happened almost instantly, like love at first sight. It's like she's everything."
Bella got very quiet. When I looked over at her, she was intently studying her hands which were clasped tightly in her lap.
"Do you love her more than me?"
Well, I wasn't expecting that.
"Love you? Bella, I don't even like you," I smirked, reaching over and tousling her hair.
She shoved it back out of her face. I could see she tried to keep her composure, but her lip began to tremble. "I'm losing you, aren't I?" she whispered. Something inside me broke right in half.
I heard the crack in her voice and immediately put my arms around her. She tried to hold the tears back, but they leaked down her cheeks anyway. "Don't be an idiot. The two of you don't compare. They're very different kinds of love. You will never lose me. I promise."
"How can you be so sure?" She whispered.
"Have you ever known me not to keep my promise?" I growled. I squeezed her tighter, but let go quick when I heard her breath hitch. I didn't want to accidentally break one of her ribs.
"Then let's assume I'll keep this one too, all right?"
"Okay," she said softly and pulled away.
She was getting to be a bit much for me to handle right then. It was an overload on my senses and on my emotions. I sent Edward a distress signal. "Dude, make yourself useful." I waved him over, then leaned down and pressed a kiss to Bella's temple. "I gotta step away for a bit."
I rose off the chair, walked to the bedroom without looking back and closed the door behind me. A few hours of mindless television with open windows would hopefully put me back on an even keel. Staying around Bella was a lot harder than I anticipated it would be.
I sat down next to Bella and tried to keep Emmett's frustrated thoughts at bay. I couldn't blame him; it wasn't easy.
"Maybe I should go talk to him," she said.
"Why don't you let him be for a little while," I suggested. "I'll stay with you."
"I thought you said being around me wasn't easy?"
"It's getting easier," I smiled.
Truth be told, I was glad of Emmett's sudden exit. Bella confused me as much as she intrigued me and all I knew was that I had to be around her. I had to figure this puzzling human girl out. It was becoming an obsession.
"Okay, well, then why don't you tell me about yourself?" she began.
"What do you want to know?"
"Well, what do you do all day?"
"When we get to Washington, Jasper, Alice, and I will enroll in school. It keeps up the façade of us being a normal family. I imagine we'll go to the same school as you."
"Really?" She looked intrigued. "What grade will you start in?"
"Naturally, I'll be a junior."
"Me too," she nodded. "At least I'll have a friend there. It was lonely in New Hampshire and I don't make friends very fast. So that'll be nice."
And it felt nice. No, not nice. It felt good. She would be my friend; and Alice's and Jasper's, as well. We never really made human friends. This was going to be an interesting change of pace. Maybe high school wouldn't be so miserable this time around.
"How old are you really?" she asked, turning towards me and curling her legs underneath her. She looked like she was settling in for a long conversation and that made me feel ridiculously happy.
"And how long have you been 17?" She folded her hands across the back of the seat, rested her chin on her arms, and looked up at me.
Something inside of me unlocked and exploded out like a geyser. Suddenly, I felt need, and it was focused entirely on her. I needed her. I needed to be with her, I needed to be in her presence, see her smile, hear her voice, smell her scent, and listen to her heartbeat. I needed to protect her. I needed to love her. And what was the most surprising to me was that I needed her to love me.
But even if she didn't, if she couldn't, it didn't matter. I just needed her to be. Be safe, be healthy, be happy. Just be.
I now knew what Rosalie and Carlisle experienced; what Emmett was going through. I knew what it was like to be tethered to one person so absolutely. How strange that it took nothing more than that mere look of trust in her eyes just then to trigger such a change inside of me.
I felt like I got hit by a train, yet even that couldn't have impacted me like this. Even being hit by a locomotive could not bring me to my knees the way this one human girl could do with her chocolate eyes and chestnut hair, warm and familiar like a favorite pair of jeans just out of the dryer. Her skin as white as snow; her lips pink as candy. They would taste just like that too, I just knew it. I knew if I ever got up the courage to actually kiss her, it would be new, but feel like coming home at the same time. How could it be any different? How could it be any less?
Looking at me now the way she was, so willing to trust me, interested in what I'd say next, she took my breath away; or would have, if I had been breathing. I stared at her face as she waited for me to answer her. Could she ever see me the way I now saw her?
I struggled to find words to describe what I felt now, but nothing seemed strong enough. How could I explain it? How could I adequately describe how, in one bat of her eyelashes, my existence suddenly became solely about her? Quite literally in the blink of an eye, she became my life.
I loved her. And so I would do anything I had to in order to ensure that she was protected, loved, and happy. I would break any barrier, overcome any hurdle, eliminate any threat, and perhaps most dangerous of all, face her brother.
I shook free of my epiphany and looked at her with new eyes. "Yes?"
"How long have you been 17?"
How long had she been waiting for an answer?
"Awhile," I replied.
She laughed and pushed a hand into her hair, resting her head against it, her elbow on the back of the chair. Was her hair as silky as it looked? It had to be.
"And how long is awhile?" she asked with a smile. Then she suddenly straightened up and a somber look came across her face. "Or is that bad vampire manners? I don't really know my boundaries here."
You have none, my love. I will lay the world at your feet, you have only to ask. She might find that a little creepy now though. A girl the tender age of about 17 couldn't possibly be ready for what I suddenly felt. That was alright though because I had a lifetime to wait, several, as a matter of fact.
And it just might take me that long to get up the courage to tell her how I felt.
"Carlisle changed me in 1917. He found me in a hospital dying of Spanish Influenza. My parents were already gone. I didn't have much longer myself. He wheeled me out of the ward, briefly apologized for the pain I was about to feel and brought me over."
"That doesn't sound so bad. Did it hurt very much?"
"It was agonizing. It was not something you'd ever want to feel. You burn from the inside out. It's an inferno starting at the bite and working very slowly through your body." I was more forceful in my words and delivery than I intended to be, but just the mere thought of her feeling so much as a paper cut suddenly enraged me.
"My brother seemed to endure it alright," she said softly, dropping her hands to her lap.
Oh shit. Did I just cross a line? Had Emmett intentionally been keeping that from her? It was not something I'd ever want her to go through. I would never want her to lose her soul like we did. Her soul was too pure, too perfect.
"He's very strong." I nodded. "So far, he's adapted better than any of us did right after the change, except maybe Carlisle. But make no mistake, Bella, newborn vampires aren't usually like your brother. They are ruthless and blood-thirsty. Had he been anyone else, you'd likely be dead." Had my family not been there when I first saw her, I probably would have killed her myself. My stomach very nearly rolled over at that thought.
"I don't really understand," she frowned. "How is it that I smell so good? Is it just me? Do I smell like this to every vampire? Is everyone suffering around me?"
"Vampires have preferences, Bella, just like humans; a choice of drug, a choice of wine, a choice of food. You're -" I paused trying to think how best to describe it without unintentionally terrifying her.
"Your brand?" she asked.
"Yes, you are exactly my brand, of everything it seems."
"Is it very difficult for you?"
"I've conditioned myself to manage it."
"Is it hard to talk about?"
"Only because it makes me think about killing you," I said with frustration. And that was completely unthinkable to me. Her mortality wasn't something I was able to face just yet; though I would have to soon. Just as quickly as I had found her, I'd have to be start preparing for the day that I would lose her.
"Sorry," she said quietly and dropped her gaze.
"For what?" What could she possibly have to apologize to me for? I'm the one that's tempted to kill her and she's sorry? What sort of ridiculousness was this?
"For making you think about it," she shrugged, not looking up at me. "I don't really understand all of this; what's bad, what's good; what I can talk about, and what I can't." She huffed out a breath and looked toward the closed bedroom door, then whispered, "I didn't mean to make you angry." I wasn't sure whether or not it was directed toward me.
"You couldn't," I said with absolute certainty, at least speaking for myself.
She laughed a bit. "Oh, I could. Emmett gets very frustrated with me, especially since he was…" she swallowed, "…brought over."
"Does it hurt you to think of it?"
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," she confessed. "It's very surreal to me. I feel like I'm going to wake up any second and it'll all be a dream – a very vivid dream."
Slowly, I reached out and hooked my finger under her chin, raising her face so she looked at me. "Is it a dream you'd want to wake up from?"
"Not particularly," she whispered.
Her breath had hitched just a second before she answered me. Could it be she was as affected as I was? Was it possible she could be? I dared not think about it, yet I couldn't think of anything else.
Reluctantly, I pulled my hand back. But my finger was warm where it touched her soft skin. I wanted to touch her again, but at the same time, I was terrified that, if I did, I might hurt her. She was so very fragile, as evidenced by the fading bruises around her neck and the ones her brother unintentionally had given her. I would have to be very careful with her, even with the most casual of touches. I looked forward to the challenge. I looked forward to getting to know my recently acquired love. Would the others notice the change in me?
Alice saw it. I was sure of it. This is what she had been hiding from me. She was certainly smart in doing so. If I had known that this was coming I would have fought it as much as possible. It occurred to me that Alice must have told Esme, as well. That explained her odd thoughts yesterday.
I wished Alice would open her mind more to me and give me some sort of direction on how I was to handle this new development. Would Bella be terrified at the thought of a vampire being in love with her? How did she see us? She loved her brother, that much was clear, but that didn't mean that she liked the rest of us. Of course, she seemed comfortable enough in my presence. Her casual body language, the normal beat of her heart told me that she wasn't scared or nervous now sitting with me.
What was wrong with her? She knew that her blood called to me more strongly than it did to anyone else in my family. Biologically speaking, I was the most dangerous one to her. I could never hurt her intentionally now, but she didn't know that.
Between her silent mind and her obvious ease with me now, I had solid evidence of the fact that her brain quite clearly functioned differently from normal humans.
And wasn't that just my luck?