Disclaiamer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

QUICK RECAP: Edward and Bella are planning their wedding, talking about a house and children, when Jake turns up to say Kim has been bitten by a vampire and has been changed. The wolves need Edward's help and he and his siblings have gone to La Push. Alice stays behind with Bella.

Now, what happens next….this is a loooong chapter, you might want to get a cup of tea. Or a glass of wine. Whichever takes your fancy :)

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"Bella?"

Alice appears in the doorway as I stare at Edward's books on the nightstand. She seems hesitant, wary. "Are you alright?" she asks.

I shrug as the tears roll slowly down my face. "I don't know."

Suddenly I'm embraced by two cold arms and Alice's voice whispers in my ear. "Everything will be okay, it really will. I promise." She hands me a tissue from the box on the dresser and I wipe my eyes.

"What happened, Alice? An hour ago we were putting the bed together, talking about houses and fireplaces and now he's gone…and Kim…oh God…"

"Shh, Shh." Alice makes crooning sounds and hugs me again, rocking me gently; my head rests on her stony shoulder.

"Where is he now?" I ask. "Has he left town yet?"

"Edward and Jasper, Emmett and Rose, they're all on the road. With Edward driving they'll be in La Push soon."

I sniff and wipe my eyes again. "What will happen to Kim?" My heart twists and breaks for her as I think of what she will be going through, and what lies ahead. The tears come again.

"Come on," Alice says and leads me gently into the living room. She brings the tissue box with her and we curl up on the sofa. "Kim will get through this. Things will be rough for a while, but it's not the end, you know that."

"I know."

Alice strokes my hair. "She'll get through it and she'll make a new life." Her hand stills and she sighs. "She has no other choice."

"But that's the point." My voice wavers and cracks. "It wasn't her choice. It's not the life she wanted. And what about Jared? They were going to get married, and…and…"

"It wasn't a choice for any of us, Bella." Alice says quietly, and there's something in her voice I can't quite place.

She passes me a fresh tissue from the box. "Blow," she says and I obey as she continues. "Kim will have all the support we can give her and the sooner we can get to her the better things will be. Edward and Jasper will take her hunting, Emmett and Rosalie too. They'll teach her to channel her new instincts. She'll come through this okay, and from what Edward's said, her bond with Jared doesn't seem to have been broken. They'll find a way if it's what they want. You and Edward did. Now, do you want me to make tea?"

I look at her through blurry, tear-filled eyes. "Wh…what?"

"Tea," she says. "Would you like some?"

"Um…" I shut my eyes and try to make sense. "Why do people always want to make tea when something goes wrong? Like it's going to solve everything? Because right now, it's going to take a lot more than pouring boiling water over dried leaves to make things better, Alice."

"I think it's probably a distraction," Alice says, frowning, clearly puzzling over my question. "And it's something familiar and normal you can hang onto when everything else around you is crazy."

"Everything is definitely crazy right now." I let go a heavy sigh. "Actually, maybe I do want tea."

My decision seems to make Alice happy, so she goes to the kitchen and fills the kettle. I hug my knees to my chest and watch as she searches for cups. Her phone beeps just as the kettle whistles, and my heart skips.

"Edward?"

"Carlisle," she says, looking at the screen. "Checking up on you." She starts typing a message.

"What are you telling him?"

She smiles. "That you're having a cup of tea."

oo

Alice is right. Holding the warm cup in my hands feels good. It feels safe and steady and normal. And comforting. I feel like I can think now. Or maybe it's just the shock wearing off. I take a welcome sip of the hot liquid as she curls up beside me again.

"What happens next?" I ask, and though my mind is a bit clearer, my voice is still shaky. "What happens now?"

"Well, the plan is for Edward and Jasper to go to the cabin where Kim is. Rose and Emmett will set the scene outside La Push to look like an animal attack and then they'll join the others at the cabin. Drink your tea." She nods at my cup. "Edward will be able to get inside her head. Jasper will be able to monitor her mood. Emmett will be extra muscle because a newborn is incredibly strong."

"What about Rosalie? Is she extra muscle, too?" I can't imagine she'd like to be described that way.

"Partly. But mostly she'll just be there for Kim. She'll be another female vampire, someone who can understand a woman's perspective. And Rosalie can be very understanding and sympathetic when she needs to be."

"She's never struck me as the type."

Alice smiles softly. "There's more to Rose than meets the eye. Tea." She nods again at my cup and I sip obediently.

"What sort of animal attack?"

"Probably a mountain lion; they don't hibernate and they use winter to hunt so it's plausible that there could be one roaming around, travelling further afield looking for food." Alice's phone beeps again and she reads from the screen. "It's Jasper. They've arrived," she says. "They've suggested to Sam that Kim be reported as a missing person to the police." She looks up at me, warily.

"Report to Charlie, you mean?"

Alice nods. My already battered heart, crumbles.

"Edward said Charlie would be asking questions soon," I whisper. Suddenly the tea isn't so comforting anymore. I set the cup down on the coffee table. "He'll probably call me to ask if I've heard from Kim, right?"

"Probably, yes," Alice says.

I rub my hands over my face. This is what Edward was getting at. "Why does there have to be a missing person report?" My tears start again. Alice waves the tissue box under my nose.

"Because everything has to be official and above board and accounted for," she says gently. "The missing person report is filed. There's a search party. The evidence is found. An animal attack is proved. The case is closed." She reaches out to stroke my hair. "Every loose end has to be tied up. There can't be any room for suspicion."

"It seems so clinical. So cold."

"I know," Alice sighs.

"What about her parents?" I wipe at my eyes again. "Will they know the truth?"

"No." Alice shakes her head. "They can't."

Of course I know this. And it seems so long ago, but I remember a time when even Jake didn't know the truth. He used to think the legends of vampires and werewolves were just scary stories. I remember how he hated Sam and his gang of 'tough guys'. And I remember something else. Something Sam told me once— the pack is part of the tribe, but not everyone in the tribe is a member of the pack. And apart from the pack and their partners, only members of the council are in on the secret. Most of the La Push population is completely unaware that werewolves, and sometimes vampires, walk amongst them.

"Edward said that it's kinder to fake Kim's death than to let her family hope she might walk through the door one day."

"He's right," says Alice. "It would be worse to leave them always wondering. And hoping." She takes my hand and squeezes it gently. "Are you hungry? I could order take-out?"

"No. Not hungry." I lie down on the sofa. Suddenly I'm so tired. I just want to sleep and when I wake up, discover none of this has happened. Edward will be beside me, telling me more about the house he wants for us. Telling me his plans.

"I'll have to cancel the chaplain," I whisper. "And the flowers."

"Esme and I can take care of that."

"And I'll have to tell my parents the wedding is off."

"That can wait for a day or two." There's something in Alice's voice that makes me look up.

"What?"

She smiles sadly. "You'll need to tell them a reason. Kim's disappearance would make the most sense." I don't understand, and Alice takes my hand again as she explains. "Wait until a bit more information has come through from Charlie, then you say that out of respect for your friend, you'll delay your celebrations."

"Oh…"

I nod dumbly. I guess that makes sense, if anything can make sense right now. I look out the window. The view is the same as it always is, but everything's different. "We were so happy," I whisper. "Edward was so happy. Last night he was teasing me about his suit. He said it was powder blue, with velvet lapels. Tomorrow we were supposed to go shopping for wedding rings." I was planning to have Forever engraved in his.

I'm surprised when a sudden, burning flash of anger spikes through me. I sit up quickly. The tissue box tumbles to the floor and I glare at Alice. "Why did he have to go? Why did it have to be him? Couldn't Emmett and Jasper do this? Carlisle?"

"Bella..." Alice reaches out to me, but I'm on a roll and pull back from her.

"After everything Edward's been through, our break-up, losing his memory, is it really too much to ask that he gets a happy ending? Is it? I mean, you and Jasper got it. Rose and Emmett…"

Alice shakes her head, reaching for me again, but I stand and start pacing as my anger lets loose. I'm yelling now, but I don't care.

"Carlisle and Esme. Everyone gets happily ever after except Edward. And just when it looks like he's getting his turn…"

"Bella…"

"When does he get what he wants, Alice? When does he get his turn? Because if anyone deserves to be happy, it's Edward!" I'm crying again, but this time they're angry tears. Alice grabs for the tissue box. "No!" I yell, and she pulls her hand back quickly. "I don't need tissues and I don't need fucking tea!"

What I do need, is to throw something. My sneakers are on the floor where I kicked them off earlier. I pick one up and throw it at the door. Hard. But with all my effort it only makes a dull, unsatisfying thud. I swear again, under my breath this time, as I sink to the floor.

"I want the happy ending too," I whisper and my burning anger is overcome now by heart-crushing sadness and disappointment. "I've been counting down the days to Christmas eve and we were so close, so close. And I thought, after everything, we were actually going to get there." I look up at Alice. "I wanted to marry him."

"I know," Alice says, and immediately joins me on the floor. "I know you do, and you will." She takes my hand. "Bella, I saw what the last couple of years did to Edward and believe me, I know he deserves to be happy, you both do, but you have to understand, we have a responsibility here."

"What responsibility?" I snap. "To who?"

"Everyone."

"That doesn't make sense."

Alice frowns, like she's trying to get the words straight. "A newborn vampire is dangerous, Bella. A newborn vampire without guidance is catastrophic. With her thirst and strength, Kim could slaughter all of La Push, and Forks, in an afternoon. The wolves have been able to hold her so far, but just barely. They won't be able to hold her much longer. Not without help."

"But Kim wouldn't… she'd never…"

"She would. In a human heartbeat. Without a second thought."

It's a shocking picture that Alice paints, one that I don't want to think about. I crawl back onto the sofa and lie there, eyes closed, shaking my head as she continues.

"It would be wrong, and incredibly irresponsible of us to leave Kim alone, and Edward's gift means that he's the best one to help her. He and Jasper." She comes and gently brushes my hair back from my face. "Kim's been without help for too long already."

A bone-deep weariness creeps through me. I don't think I have the strength even to think right now. I sink deeper into the sofa. There's silence between us, but Alice stays close, sitting on the floor, stroking my arm while I stare at that hole in the carpet.

I remember the last two summers and all the time I spent at La Push. Swimming, bonfires, movie nights, riding motorbikes. Kim was a big part of all that. I have a photo of her, Beth and I, all holding hands, laughing and jumping off rocks into shallow water at the beach. Jared had taken the snap. It was our version of the wolves cliff diving. That had been the weekend they'd announced their engagement.

Kim had been planning a wedding, too.

"Can you see anything?" I ask Alice after a while. "You know, visions?"

"Nothing." She frowns.

"Is that bad?"

"I don't think so. Your future kept disappearing all the time after we left Forks, and you told me you spent a lot of time at La Push then; I've started to think it's something to do with the wolves."

"They interfere with your radar?"

"Maybe." She rubs at her temples, still frowning. "It's very unsettling."

"So you won't know if Edward's in danger? Or any of them?"

"They'll be fine," Alice quickly soothes. "They know what they're doing."

I feel the start of a headache at the base of my skull.

"He said he'll be gone for weeks," I murmur.

"And then he'll come home to you."

"He took my bookmark." My voice breaks. "He thinks I might leave him."

"No," Alice shakes her head. "Why do you say that?"

"Because he told me I really have to think about what I'm getting myself into. And that he'll always love me, whatever I decide." Fresh tears roll down my cheeks. "He thinks this will be too much for me and I'll leave."

"Or maybe he just wanted a part of you with him while he was away."

"Maybe." But somehow I don't think that's all it was. I sniff and reach for the tissue box on the floor.

"But he's right," Alice says. "You do really have to think if this is what you want." She smiles at me sadly. "Because this won't be the last time something like this happens."

"I know," I whisper. "Edward made that very, very clear."

####

Alice fusses in the kitchen, making macaroni cheese I think, while I stay on the sofa, staring. I've moved on from the hole in the carpet and am focused now at a chip in the paint on the wall. My brain has slipped into neutral, I have no thoughts. But when my phone buzzes and vibrates across the coffee table I spring for it like a cat pouncing.

"Edward…"

Alice makes herself scarce, disappearing out into the hall.

"Bella." I can hear the relief in his voice. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. Missing you. I…are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I miss you too." He pauses. "We're about to head for the cabin now. I'll be out of phone range soon."

"Oh…"

"Bella, I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"No, no, I get it. Responsibility, right?"

He sighs, heavily. "Right."

There's silence between us now and I wonder if he can hear me trying not to cry.

"Alice is with you?" he asks after a moment.

"Yeah, she's here." I try to make my voice sound lighter. "She's trying to make dinner."

"Don't let her make macaroni cheese," he says, and I can hear he's trying too. "She'll over-cook it until it's macaroni sludge."

At last, I manage to crack a smile. The first one in what feels like years. "Okay, but I think she's already started."

"That's too bad."

"Maybe I could feed it to Mrs Upshot's cat when Alice isn't looking?"

"No, that would be animal cruelty."

I chuckle softly, and so does Edward. Fragile laughs that fade quickly.

"I love you, Bella."

"I love you, too."

He sighs again, and I can imagine him pulling his hand through his hair. "I have to go but I'll call again when I can. I'm not sure when that will be, though. It'll depend on a lot of things."

As he starts his goodbye I can feel the burn of approaching panic. I remember Carlisle's words about Edward and the newborn that almost killed him. My knuckles turn white as I grip the phone.

"Edward, be careful. Please. I want you to come home to me."

"I will," he says gently. "I promise. I'll come home."

####

I fall asleep on the sofa and don't wake until seven the next morning. But it's not my alarm that drags me from sleep, it's my phone.

"Oh, fuck, it's Charlie."

Alice is immediately by my side, nodding slowly, encouragingly.

"What do I do?"

"You answer," she says.

So I do.

"Dad? Hi." Alice is making lots of hand gestures.

"Ask why he's calling," she mouths silently. "It's early. And unexpected."

I scratch my hand over my hand and try to think. "Um, so, why the early call? Everything all right?"

Alice is nodding again as Charlie tells me that Kim has been reported missing.

"Have you heard from her, Bells? Heard anything at all?" The worry in his voice is heartbreaking. He's known Kim since she was a baby.

"Er, no. I've not talked to her since Thanksgiving." Alice is miming again, telling me to ask more questions.

"Oh. And, um…that's…" My mind has gone blank. What do I say? What would I say if this was all news to me. "Um, where was she last seen?" I wince. That sounded like something out of an episode of CSI. "I mean, what happened?"

I scrunch my eyes closed and grip the phone tightly as I listen to Charlie's weary voice. "Her car broke down on one of the back roads behind the Res. We've found the car, but not her."

Charlie's voice is thick. I feel like I'm going to be sick. I'm shaking so much the phone is vibrating against my ear. Alice takes it from me, hits the speaker button, and places it on the coffee table.

"She's…um…she's probably… oh, Dad I don't know what to say." I take a huge gulp of air and try not to cry. "I really don't know what to say." I can't do this.

Alice is watching me carefully as she grabs some paper from the kitchen and starts writing.

"Well, we're doing everything we can to find her," Charlie says. "There's a search party organized; they're going out in about an hour."

Alice shoves the paper in front of me. It's a script.

"Um…is there anything I can do, Dad?" Shit, of course I should ask that. My mind is such chaos right now.

"No," Charlie sighs. "But thanks."

I read the next line. "How's Jared?" Why didn't I think to ask that myself? Oh, that's right, because I already know how he is. Already the lies are tripping me up. I look at Alice. She's nodding again as Charlie answers.

"He's pretty broken up from what Sam tells me. But I haven't seen him yet; I'll talk to him later this morning. I'll talk to her parents, too." He pauses. "But we're hoping we'll hear from Kim before then."

I bite hard into my lip and shut my eyes again. I open them when I hear Alice rattling the paper in front of me. My eyes blur with tears and I blink hard to focus on what she's written.

"Um...I know…I know you'll do everything you can, Dad. Let me know as soon as you hear anything. And if there's anything I can do…" I sound like a robot.

"Thanks Bells. I'll let you know. "

"And Dad…" I screw up the paper and drop it on the floor. I'm using my own words now. "Please tell Jared everything will be okay. And that I'm so sorry."

"Well, let's not be sorry yet, Bells. But I'll tell him you're thinking of him."

#####

My life is a blur. At first I think there is no way I can go to class, but by eight o'clock I know there is no way I can stay in the apartment, staring at the walls and the floor. So I go to school, but I'm on auto-pilot. Classes. Conversation. Smiling. Saying the right things in the right places. All the time my hand is wrapped around the phone in my pocket.

And all the time, I'm thinking. Like Edward asked me to do. Like I need to do.

From school I go to The Drum, where I arrange a pile of Christmas CD's on the counter and get caught up in Alison's plans for the store's festive decorations. She wants a silver, purple and turquoise theme.

"To be different," she says. "It'll grab people's attention when they walk past the window."

But Scott disagrees. "Nah. People don't like it when you mess with tradition. Stick with red and green."

"What about all white?" Amaranthe suggests. "Just, everything, stark, stark white."

Alison wrinkles her nose very subtly. "Um…interesting. What do you think, Bella? Which theme do you like?"

Why did she ask me? How can I even think of Christmas decorations right now? Doesn't she realise my world feels like it's falling apart? Of course she doesn't. No-one does. Life goes on around me like nothing's happened. And Alison is staring, waiting for an answer.

"Um, red and green is good."

"Yes!" Scott punches the air. "Two for red and green. That's a majority." Amaranthe shrugs and Alison rolls her eyes.

"We weren't actually taking a vote, Scott," she says.

"But I thought we lived in a democracy?"

"Nope," she says, brusquely. "Not in this store we don't."

A customer approaches the counter and I'm glad to get away from the ensuing debate. The store gets busy and I'm glad for some distraction. But when a woman comes through the door pushing a stroller my thoughts go straight back to Edward telling me we can have a family of our own. And as I look at the little boy, holding his rubber truck and grinning up at his mother, I wonder again if I could bring a child into a life of lies and secrets. Could I bring a child into the Cullens' world? Should I? Would it be fair? But I get nowhere with that question, and then my thoughts scatter when the lady with the toddler asks if we stock Wiggly Wiggly Christmas.

Alice is waiting for me when I get home.

"We've heard from Emmett," she says. "The police found the scene he and Rose set up."

"Already?" My heart sinks and I drop onto the sofa. "That was fast."

"It's not good for these things to drag on," she answers and I'm guessing Emmett and Rose somehow ensured the speedy discovery.

"What happens now?"

"The forensic team has moved in."

A cold shiver runs through me. "So I'll probably hear from Charlie again soon."

"And you'll have to be ready for that."

I wouldn't think it possible for my heart to sink any further, but it does. I dump my bag, kick off my shoes, and let the waiting begin.

The night drags on. Alice offers to stay again and I welcome the company, though we talk little. I'm not up to conversation and I'm grateful that she understands that. She sits at one end of the sofa, reading Marie Claire and Vogue, while I try to lose myself in a book. Any book. We play cards and I'm sure she lets me win. We've moved on to Scrabble when the call comes, close to midnight.

"I know it's late Bells, but I thought you'd want to know." My body shakes as Charlie tells me that all available evidence points to Kim being taken by a mountain lion. Even though I knew the words were coming, they're still a shock when I hear them. I can't even imagine how they would sound to Kim's family and friends. "Seems like she left the car after it broke down and she was planning to walk home," Charlie says. "There's an old shortcut through the woods and…I'm sorry, Bells." The waver in his voice and his concern for me makes things worse. I start to cry and Alice takes the phone. She speaks to Charlie while I slump into the corner of the sofa.

"He's glad you have someone with you," she says when the call is over. "And he says there'll be a memorial service. He'll let you know the details when he has them."

A dart of white hot panic shoots through me and I remember Edward saying there would probably be a service.

I look up at Alice. "I can't go," I say. "I can't go and lie to a grieving family. Or my dad." "You've lied to Charlie before," she says, very matter-of-factly. "Remember James?"

"That's not like this." I sit up quickly. "When I lied about James and going back to Phoenix that was about keeping Charlie safe. And okay, I never told him the truth about Edward, but this is completely different. And what about Kim's parents?"

"You'll tell them you're sorry for their loss," she says, gentler now. "It won't be a lie." She reaches out and strokes my hair.

"I can't," I whisper. "I can't." My tears start again.

"You can and you will." Alice cocks her head. "You play your role first, Bella, and then you can do what you want second. Part of being a Cullen is being meticulously responsible. Remember that."

Her words hit me hard. A long silence follows and for some reason I find myself wishing that it was last Thursday, when we pushed back the sofa and Edward taught me to jitterbug. He'd spun me around and lifted me over his head so I felt like I was flying.

"All this…this sadness and pain..." I murmur after a while. "All this grief. All the lies."

"I know," Alice whispers. "I know."

"Does it ever get easier?"

"It's something we accept," she says. "It's part of our world and part of who we are."

Edward's words ring in my ears…This won't be the last time.

"But it won't always be about training a newborn vampire, will it?" "No. It won't."

I sniff and curl my legs beneath me.

"Tell me how it works, Alice. What do you do when one of you…you know?" I can't even say it.

She blinks at me, and I think she's weighing up exactly how much to reveal.

"Well, we have a set routine for when someone slips up. To make the death look like an accident."

"Like with Kim?"

She nods and gets up. She goes to the kitchen and starts making me a cup of tea, even though I've not asked for one and she hasn't actually offered. I begin to wonder if the tea-making is actually to comfort her, as much as me. "We always clean up after ourselves," she says, filling the kettle. "And there always has to be a solid story set in place. It could be an animal attack. Or a fire. Bad car accident. Something that makes the real cause of death impossible to determine. Carlisle, Edward and Rose all have medical degrees. They know how to make it look real so a coroner would never be suspicious."

She reaches for the tea bags while my stomach churns.

"And if for some reason we can't set up an accidental death, we fake a disappearance, but that's a last resort." She looks up at me. "Like I said before, we don't like to leave people with false hope."

I suppose that's something. "What do you do with the, um…"

"A burial. Somewhere that won't be found. Carlisle always says a few words over the grave." She speaks softly, looking down. A shiver ripples along my spine. This is the reality of being a Cullen, when the manners and the clothes are stripped away.

"And then you move away?" I ask.

"It depends." She gets a cup down from the shelf. "It can look far more suspicious if we suddenly leave town at the same time that a human goes missing. And then there are times when we have to get out quickly, so we board up the house and just go. It all depends on the circumstances." She puts a teabag in the cup. "We can be packed and gone in less than an hour and leave the locals wondering if we'd ever really been there. But sometimes it's safer to stay around for a while, act like normal, and then a few weeks later Carlisle gets a transfer to another hospital and we move."

Act like normal. Seriously? "So you'd go to school and pretend…"

"Pretend to be shocked and stunned like everyone else in town. Yes."

The kettle whistles and Alice pours. Steam rises from the cup as she goes to the fridge for milk; moving around the kitchen so normally, making a cup of tea while she tells me how she and her family dispose of bodies.

"So, then you move later?"

She nods.

"Where do you go?"

She shrugs, adds sugar and milk and jiggles the teabag a little too vigorously. "We have several homes. But usually we just disappear, maybe to Alaska, and emerge a while later to start again somewhere else, far away from the last place." She tosses the tea bag in the trash and grabs a spoon. "Do you think it matters if the tea is stirred clockwise or counter clockwise?"

"Er, no. Not really."

She nods, stirs, and then brings me the cup. "Careful, it's hot," she says as I take it from her. Then she sits in the rocking chair. "It doesn't happen often," she says, quietly.

"But it does happen." "Yes."

I sigh and take a deep sip, barely noticing how hot the liquid is. "And one day, it could be me you're covering for."

"Yes."

I close my eyes as my stomach knots. "When was the last time…" I don't finish my sentence, but Alice understands.

"1990," she says and I'm kind of surprised. My eyes pop open. It's more recent than I'd thought. Alice doesn't say which Cullen it was, and I don't want to ask, but I'm assuming it was Jasper. "There were a lot of moves in the 1950s," she goes on, sighing heavily. "That's when Jasper and I joined the family. He's always struggled the most. Before that I know there were a few moves in the late 1930s. That was down to Emmett's early days. In the 20s there were a few slips by Esme. And there was Edward of course. Though his was a conscious decision and he moved away to be on his own."

"It was also a conscious decision for him to stop and come home again." "It was," Alice smiles.

"What about Rosalie? Edward said once that she'd never tasted human blood."

"We've only had to move for Rosalie once. But her story is different."

Alice says nothing more and though her comment makes me curious, I don't push.

"Um, what about you?" I ask.

She grimaces and gives an apologetic shrug. "I wish I could answer differently, but in my early years there were times when I wasn't able to resist, either. But you must have known that."

I nod slowly. Of course I did. I knew, that apart from Rosalie, Carlisle was the only other member of the family who hadn't tasted human blood. But still, to hear Alice confirm it, sends a new chill up my spine.

I set the cup down on the arm of the sofa and hug my knees. Lots to think about. Alice leaves me to my silence. She picks up the copy of Vogue that sits on the coffee table and starts flicking through. She seems so human, licking her fingers to turn the pages. I think if Edward had told me the things she just had, if it was Edward who had just made me confront these truths, I don't think it would have seemed so chilling. But to hear it come from sweet little Alice, my fashion-conscious almost-sister who giggles and laughs and hugs…

But then I remember that night in Emmett's Jeep when we were running away from James and Victoria. How Edward had asked Alice if she could handle looking after me in Phoenix and she'd pulled back her lips in a horrific grimace and let loose with a guttural snarl that had me cowering in terror. That was the same day she'd jokingly asked Edward if he would share me for lunch. And I also remember how she skipped the blood typing class to avoid temptation.

The fact is, I've always known the truth. I just haven't always let myself see it. Not clearly, anyway. Not like now, as I let Alice's words really sink in. It's like lifting a veil that previously I've only peeked behind. I know what vampires do, what they're capable of. James' scar on my wrist is proof of that. But I've always seen the Cullens as different from James, though I realise now their instincts and urges are just the same. It's the Cullens' choice not to give in to those instincts that makes them different.

Alice looks up and finds me staring at her. She cocks her head. "You okay?" she asks.

"Fine."

She frowns. "Have I said too much?" "No. No, I needed to know. Everything."

"Yes you do." She narrows her eyes. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah. I'm sure. Just a lot to…"

"Think about?"

I nod. "Yeah. I seem to be saying that a lot, lately. "

She smiles, and looks back down at the magazine. I take another sip of tea and am about to ask if she can see my future. If my eyes are brown or red. But before I can ask, Alice gives an excited squeal.

"Ooh, look!" She holds up the magazine for me to see. "Cossak hats are coming back in fashion. I've always loved those. I had a white one once. Maybe this time I should get a grey one. Or black. But black might not look right with my hair. Not enough contrast." And I realise I'm smiling as she frowns, rubs an elegant hand over the short, dark strands and asks me my opinion.

####

There will be no memorial service for Kim. Instead her family has decided on a small, private, traditional ceremony.

"It's the way they want it," Charlie tells me when he calls a couple of days later with the news. "It's just for members of the tribe."

"So, you're not going?" I poke at my dinner as I sit at the kitchen counter. "No," he says. "I've already paid my respects to her parents."

A wave of relief washes over me, knowing that I won't have to attend a memorial service and lie to a grieving family, pretending their daughter is dead and gone when she's not. And then I feel selfish for being relieved.

"Um, how is everyone?" I ask.

"Like you'd expect," Charlie says.

He changes the subject. He asks me about school, and work. And Edward. Then he asks about the wedding.

"Um, we've decided to postpone," I say, wincing. "We thought, um, with everything that's happened…"

"Oh." I can hear Charlie's surprise. "Bells no-one would expect you to do that. You were keeping it small anyway, weren't you? Just family?"

"Yeah, I know, but we thought it would be better this way. Out of respect. For Kim." My face is on fire and my throat is dry. "It wouldn't feel right, celebrating so soon after what's happened."

I realise as I say the words, that it truly is how I feel. That initial anger at delaying our wedding is long gone. Even if Edward came back now, today, I'd still want to wait. It wouldn't feel right celebrating our own future when my friends are suffering.

"That's thoughtful of you," Charlie says. "And Edward's okay with that?"

"Er, yeah, he's very okay. It was kind of his idea."

"Well, that's very decent of him," Charlie says, and not too begrudgingly. "Have you told your mother?" "I sent her an email this morning." Coward that I am, I couldn't bear having Renee in my ear when I broke the news. As it was, her written response had brought me to tears with her sadness over my friend, combined with her own brand of philosophy, and her belief in a beautiful future for Edward and me. Let the universe do its work, honey, she'd written. And don't try to understand, because you're not meant to, even if you live for a thousand years, Bella.

"Have you got a new date?" Charlie asks, and his simple question emphasizes the huge difference between him and my mother. "Not yet. I'll let you know."

"Make sure you do," he says. "I've got a suit waiting."

After we say goodbye, I sit staring at the kitchen counter for a long time.

Thinking.

My dinner goes stone cold and when I finally get up my body is stiff from sitting for too long. So I go take a shower, and let the water pound down on my head and over my back.

And I keep thinking.

Alice and Esme arrive a little later.

"Are you all right, Bella?" Esme asks. She's been baking for me again, and sets a plastic container on the kitchen counter before hugging me carefully.

"If it wasn't for the towel on your head I'd say you'd just woken up from a nap," Alice says as she breezes past me into the living room. "No nap," I say. "Just been thinking. And thanks Esme." She smiles as I lift the lid and take a brownie. It's still warm, and though I'm not hungry, I take a big bite. My appetite left the night Jake arrived to tell us about Kim, and it hasn't come back. "Is there any news?"

"We've heard from Emmett," Esme says. "They're taking Kim to Alaska. Carlisle's been making arrangements with our Denali cousins. He left a little while ago to meet the others there."

"Alaska?" I look from her to Alice. "Kim will spend her newborn year there?" Alice nods. "Or however long it takes. It's a good location. Very remote. Lots of prey."

"Is she doing alright?"

Alice shares a quick look with Esme.

"She's not adapting as well as we would hope," Esme says. "But everyone's different. Some will take longer than others." There's something in her tone that puts me on edge.

"And some won't adapt at all?"

Esme frowns softly and sighs. "Our lifestyle isn't for everyone. There are some who will reject it."

A coldness creeps over my skin. This had never occurred to me. I'd just assumed that with the right help any newborn could become a vegetarian.

"She'll be okay," Alice chimes in quickly. "She will. Edward knows what he's doing. He's been through it with Esme and Rose and Emmett. It'll just take time."

I don't know why I'm shocked, but I am. I suppose I'd thought of the Cullens as all-conquering, able to fix anything. The idea that things mightn't always go to plan, is unexpected. And unsettling.

I swallow the brownie without even tasting it. "When did they leave for Alaska?"

"They're on their way now," Esme says. "Jared's gone with them too."

"It'll be interesting for the Denali's," Alice smiles. "Living with a werewolf. Not their usual type of houseguest."

"They've been very accommodating," Esme says. "And then, once Kim is settled in they'll come home. Jared will stay, of course. He says he won't leave her." She hesitates. "And Edward will need to stay a little longer," she says.

"What? No! Why can't he come home too?" I can feel my tears starting again and I'm so sick of crying. I push the heels of my hands into my eyes and take a deep, slow breath, willing the tears to stop.

I feel Esme's fingers on my arm. When I pull my hands from my face, she motions for me to sit on the sofa. I drop onto the cushions while she sits beside me and takes my hand. Alice takes the rocking chair.

"Kim is still very unpredictable right now, and that makes her extremely dangerous," Esme explains. "Edward's gift means right now he's the only one who can help her."

"Jasper's gift can only do so much," Alice says. "It's Edward that's really needed there."

I can see how that makes sense, but it still hurts. I miss him so much. And then I remember that Alice will have been missing Jasper, too. She could probably have gone with the others, but she's chosen to stay here, with me.

"He'll come back as soon as he can," Alice says. "You know he'll be missing you."

"I know," I whisper, although I wonder, vaguely, why he didn't call me himself to tell me about Alaska.

"Do you think Joham will come back?" The unwelcome thought comes suddenly, from nowhere, and brings a sharp stab of panic with it. "Or one of his group? What if they find out about Cornelius and go to La Push for revenge?"

"No," Esme says, voice firm. "Carlisle's made contact with Joham about that. None of them will be coming near us, or La Push, again. You can be sure of that."

The hard certainty in her voice surprises me. "What did Carlisle do?"

She smiles now and her face softens. "What he needed to. Carlisle is a gentle man, but he's not a weak one. And I think Joham realises he and his followers are no match for a solid, strong vampire family. Or an equally strong family of wolves."

"Any news from Charlie?" Alice asks suddenly and my mind takes a moment to change track.

"Hm? Oh, he called a while ago," I say. "No memorial service. Just a private ceremony. And I've told my parents that we've postponed the wedding."

Esme's still holding my hand. She gives it a gentle squeeze. "It must be a relief," Alice says, smiling. "Not having to go and face everyone."

"This will make things much easier for you," Esme smiles too.

I nod slowly. "Yeah. You'd think so, wouldn't you?"

Esme and Alice exchange a look.

"I've been thinking," I say. "If this was real, I'd go back to Forks and see everyone at La Push and pay my respects, even if I wasn't going to the ceremony." I sigh, heavily. "I'd still go. I would have already left, like two days ago, when Charlie first called me. It's what I'd do. So…" I shrug.

Alice's mouth curves into a surprised smile. "You're playing your role," she says slowly. "I guess I am. I'm being meticulously responsible."

"It won't be easy for you," Esme says, frowning softly.

"I know. But I can do this."

I know that now. Life with Edward will be beautiful, but sometimes it'll be hard. Very hard. If I want to be with him I have to accept that, and get used to it now.

But I also want to go to home to Forks to hug my dad. I want to see my friends. I can be there for Sam and Jake and Billy and Sue and the others who are also battling with the truth of what's happened while trying to hide behind a lie.

And I can tell Kim's parents how sorry I am.

And that won't be a lie.

oo

It turns out Edward had called me. At 7:43pm. When I was in the shower with the water pounding over my head. I find the message on my phone after Alice and Esme leave. I hit the message bank and listen. He sounds rushed, almost breathless.

"Bella, it's me. There's been a change of plans and we're moving Kim to Denali." There are noises in the background but I can't make them out. "I'm not sure when I'll be back. Things are, well, things aren't going as smoothly as we'd hoped." Someone is calling him, I can hear it clearly now. "I have to go but I'll call again when I can." I hear his name called again, more urgently this time, and then I hear something that makes my stomach drop.

Wailing. An unnatural soul-piercing howl. But I know the howl of the wolves, and this isn't it. Even through the phone the sound slices through me, chilling me to the bone, turning my blood and marrow to ice.

"Hold her!" Edward yells. "I said hold her! No! Hold her down!" and then, quietly, quickly… "I love you, Bella."

The message ends and I stare at the phone, mouth open, wanting to get that sound out of my head and knowing I never will.

Finally, I shake myself and gingerly put the phone down on the coffee table, like it's something poisonous.

"I love you too, Edward," I whisper, and curl up on the sofa as dark thoughts flood my mind.

Would that be me one day, if I decide to change? Would that be me, wailing and howling like that? Having to be held down?

I shut my eyes and try again to get that sound out of my head.

Lots to think about.

I don't know how long I sit, but when Mrs Upshot's cat appears, meowing at my window, it breaks me from my thoughts and I realise it's almost 11 o'clock. I should go to bed, but sleep is a long way off, and I need a distraction. I've sat staring at walls for far too long, lately. So I put The Chimes on my iPod and clean out my closet. Then I re-arrange the kitchen cupboards, dancing and singing along to U2, and it feels good to do something normal.

I finish my English assignment while Mozart plays in the background.

My first yawn comes around 1.30am. I haven't wanted to sleep in the new bed without Edward, but tonight that's going to change. The sofa has done me no favours. But I do decide to sleep in one of his t-shirts. I go to the drawer that I set aside for him in the dresser and pull it open. Rummaging through the shirts and sweaters, my hand hits something hard in the back corner.

A box. Large, square and flat. Plain and unmarked.

I pull it out slowly and though I know I probably shouldn't, I lift the lid.

"Oh…"

A pair of men's board shorts. Black ones. With blue, stylised waves along one side. And tucked into the pocket are two, first-class plane tickets to Brazil. Departing the US on December 26th.

"Our honeymoon," I whisper. "He told me to pack for the sun." Brazil. How was he going to make that work? "He'd be lit up like a disco ball." A small smile tugs at my lips as I imagine Edward on a beach, in his board shorts. I don't know when I'll get to see it for real, but I know I will, one day, and right now I need to focus on that.

Beneath the board shorts is something else.

"Oh my God, is he serious?" It's a bikini. Deep turquoise, fading into aqua. It's my size and gorgeous. But there's not a lot to it. A few flimsy, silky, barely-there triangles; seriously sexy stuff. "Edward Cullen, what are you thinking?" I'm blushing just looking at it, but the thought that he'd like to see me in this is pleasing.

There's one more thing in the box. A smaller box. Pale blue with a white bow. Unmistakable.

"Tiffany."

I touch the bow. I pick up the box. It sits neatly in the palm of my hand.

"What have you done, Edward?"

I give the box a little shake but it makes no sound. I'm curious, but I don't open it. I'll wait until he can give it to me himself. Whenever that will be.

Fresh tears roll down my cheeks but I dash them away quickly as I put everything back where I found it. Then I take a couple of deep breaths, grab Edward's old Navy Anapolis t-shirt and head for the bathroom.

I've cried enough now.

####

Two days later I find myself, with Charlie, in the living room of Kim's family home. The little house is crowded, full of family and friends who have gathered to give support and help prepare for the ceremony. Emily catches my eye as she comes out of the kitchen, carrying a dish. She nods and mouths hello, and I nod back. Then my teeth are clenched and my jaw is set as I approach Kim's parents, sitting side-by-side on a sofa at the end of the room. My hands shake and my throat tightens as I tell them how sorry I am, and ask if there is anything I can do. The words come more easily than I'd thought, perhaps because they're the truth and not a lie. Faces drawn and dead-eyed, they thank me and say no, there's nothing I can do. Nothing. Their pain is palpable but as I turn away, Kim's mom reaches out and touches my arm.

"We know you've come out of your way to be here, Bella," she says. "And we appreciate that. Thank you for coming."

I wish so much that I could tell them the truth – their daughter isn't gone and their grief is for nothing. This all seems so cruel. But then I catch sight of a photo on the mantle. A smiling, happy Kim, with the wind in her hair and the beach as her backdrop. It's a beautiful picture. Then I think of that phone message from Edward and the sounds in the background and I wonder if maybe there's more cruelty in the truth. Maybe it's better to remember the smile.

Kim's mom lets go of my arm. "I'm so sorry," I whisper. Then I turn away.

Charlie is on the other side of the room, talking with Billy and Sue.

"You okay?" he asks when I reach him.

"That was…" I can't finish the sentence. Sue passes me a tissue while Charlie puts his arm around my shoulder and gives me an awkward but reassuring squeeze.

"Yeah, I know," he says.

He was surprised when I arrived at his front door last night. He'd hugged me – very un-Charlie-like, and then lectured me about the dangers of driving alone and told me to never, ever leave the car if I broke down. He muttered something about Thanksgiving, when my truck got bogged in the woods, and then hugged me again. It wasn't hard to see where his thoughts had gone.

"It was good of you to come, Bella." Billy smiles but the lines in his face seem deeper than usual. His eyes are pained and he looks twenty years older.

"We know you've postponed your wedding," says Sue. Her face is drawn and it looks like she hasn't slept for days. "That was very thoughtful of you. And it's appreciated." She reaches out to take my hand.

"Jacob got back last night," says Billy.

"Oh?"

He nods. "Jared's been gone for a few days…"

"It's the shock," Sue says and I can see the story explaining Jared and Jakes' absence falling into place. "He had to get away for a while."

"And Jake's gone with him," Billy finishes.

"But Jake's back now?" I ask, shooting a quick, wary look in Charlie's direction.

"I'm sure he'd like to see you," Billy says.

"Yeah. Sure. Um, I'd like that, too." I turn to my dad. "I might go and see him now. If you don't mind."

"Just call me when you're ready to leave," he says.

oo

Jake opens his front door and pulls me into a tight hug. "Geez, you look like crap, Bells."

Despite everything that's going on, I laugh. I hadn't been sure what sort of reception I'd get from Jake, considering how things ended the last couple of times we spoke. Considering everything that's happened.

"You always were a smooth talker." "Yeah, that's me." He pulls back and studies me. "Have you slept or eaten at all, lately? The hollows under your eyes…"

I know. Almost a week of little sleep and even less appetite will do that to a person. I'm starting to look the way I did when Edward left me. His ring slid off my finger in the shower this morning and I'd scrambled around on the tiles, panicking, before I'd found it. It's back at Charlie's now, sitting safely in the pocket of my backpack, wrapped in tissue paper.

"Yeah, I get it, I look like crap. But this isn't about me, right now, is it?"

Jake's face becomes serious.

"No. It isn't." He steps back and ushers me inside. I take a seat on the old sofa while he sits in the armchair.

"You've come from Kim's place?" he asks.

"Yeah." My eyes fill again. "I wanted to tell them, but…"

"It's not easy, is it?" Jake says. "Knowing the truth."

"No." I sniff and wipe my face on my sleeve. And though I'm desperate to hear news of Edward, I'm just as desperate to hear about Kim. "How is she?"

Jake drags his hands over his head and blows out a sharp breath. "I don't know. It looks pretty bad to me, but yesterday Edward seemed to think things were improving. She did seem kind of calmer."

In amongst all the stress and sadness, I feel a swift dart of surprise when Jacob calls Edward by his proper name. But I don't mention it; not yet.

"I don't really know anything about newborns," I say. "Except that they're stronger and thirstier than normal. And unpredictable."

"She looks different," Jake frowns. "Not a lot, but enough. The red eyes are freaky. But there is still some of her in there. A couple of times she's almost seemed like her old self, but most of the time…" He stops and shakes his head. "She's wild. Edward says newborns are erratic, but it just looks like crazy, to me." A tear spills onto his cheek and he wipes it away quickly. I reach for him but he pulls away. "He says it's sensory overload with all the heightened senses and everything, and it takes time to get used to it and adjust. But they say Kim's more erratic than usual and Jasper's thing with the moods isn't doing much." He shuts his eyes and winces. "And when she's thirsty it's like nothing I've ever seen. When she hunts there's nothing of Kim there then. Seeing her like that, rolling on the ground feeding on an animal, tearing into it…" He shudders.

I'm kind of shocked, not just by Jake's description, but the fact that he's seen it.

"You go hunting with them?" Jake nods. "Jared and I go out with them, as wolves. It's usually Edward who takes her because he can get in her head and predict what she might do. If she's going to run off. But he's still had to take her down more than once. It's a good thing he's fast."

"Take her down?"

"Grab her. Wrestle her onto the ground to stop her." Jake's face is blank and his voice is empty as he talks. "Jared and I can't do anything because their venom is deadly to werewolves. If we accidentally got bit, then…"

"Oh my God, Jake…"

"So we have to stand there and watch while Edward or Jasper, sometimes both, fight with her."

"Fight?"

He nods. "She wants to get away. From all of us." He looks at me sadly. "I think she's trying to get away from herself."

More tears burn at the backs of my eyes.

"A couple of times it's been Emmett and you'd swear he'd just crush her but she throws him off like he's a toy."

The image Jake is painting is horrific and I realize my hands are shaking.

"I had a message on my phone from Edward the other night. Just before you left for Alaska. I could hear her."

Jake nods. "The car couldn't get all the way in to the cabin, the woods were too thick. So we had to bring her out a little way, near the trails." He grimaces. "She got wind of some hikers just as Edward called you. Things got pretty bad." He looks down and for a moment I think he's going to cry. "It took five of us to get her in the jeep."

"The sounds she was making…" I shiver a little.

"Emmett says it's a newborn thing, when the craving for human blood is still uncontrollable."

"Esme said things weren't going as they'd hoped it would." "We've got nothing to compare it to," Jake says. "We just have to trust what Edward and the others tell us. Edward and Kim have these weird conversations where she's silent and he answers her questions, and he's saying she's got a whole extra layer of stuff to deal with that most people don't."

"Layers?" Jake nods and begins ticking things off on his fingers. "Shock. Over-stimulation. Newborn thirst. Vampire instincts. They're the main things a newborn deals with, but with Kim…" He pauses. "There's also the fact she's become the thing we've all been raised to hate."

I can feel the blood drain from my face. "Shit," I mutter, and Jake nods.

"Yep. That pretty much sums it up." He turns and looks out the window.

"She's become the enemy. Oh God, poor Kim. I never thought of that, but, I mean, she knows none of you see her that way." "She knows. She knows. But I don't think that helps. Her bond with Jared is just as strong, he tells her all the time he still loves her, and she loves him, but she can't deal with what she's become. There's all this…" He scrunches up his face, trying to find the word.

"Self-loathing," I whisper.

"And anger. The anger is making things worse."

Jake's quiet, staring at me while this new realization sinks in.

"She didn't know werewolves or vampires existed until Jared started phasing, but before that she'd been raised on the old stories. All the legends of our tribe. It's ingrained."

"That's why it's not going the way they'd hoped?"

"Yeah, it hasn't been good so far." Jake drags his hands over his head again. "And that's what I was talking about before, when I said she's trying to run away from herself."

"But you said Edward thinks she's improving?"

"Yeah." He sighs. "He said that yesterday. And he might be right. He's been talking to her a lot. They all have. And she seemed different when we got to Denali. He took her hunting after we arrived and it's the first time she didn't try to get away. And she seemed calmer afterwards."

I'm so relieved to hear it. "Esme says everyone's different. Maybe Kim was just taking longer to adjust because of those extra layers Edward talked about, and now things will start to settle down."

"Dunno. Maybe it was getting away from here. Too many memories of who she was. Edward didn't go into it that deep, but I'm sure he has his theories." He frowns. "Bells, do the Cullens live like the Denali's?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know," Jake shrugs. "With proper furniture and stuff? Nice furniture? And lots of light?"

"I haven't been to the Denali's but the Cullens have nice things. And lots of light." A small smile creeps across my face. "You're surprised?"

Jake shrugs again.

"You were expecting coffins and dungeons, right?"

He gives me a sheepish look. "I guess I didn't know what to expect."

"I've tried telling you before, Jake, the Cullens aren't like horror movie vampires. They're not like the vampires in your old scary stories."

"I know," he says. "I know. I get that now. Hey, you want a drink or something?"

We move to the kitchen and Jake makes me a hot chocolate that is way too watery, but at least it's warm.

"How's Jared doing?" I ask as Jake leans on the counter.

"Up and down. His feelings for haven't changed. He even asked Emmett to change him so he and Kim were the same."

I almost spill my cup. "Seriously?"

Jake nods. "Yeah. But he can't."

"Because of the venom."

"Yep."

"But he'd do that for her? The wolf would willingly become a vampire?"

"In a second." Jake cocks his head. "She's his imprint. He'd do anything."

"I guess." My mind races as I take a mouthful of my hot chocolate. "So what happens now with Jared and the tribe?"

Jake yawns and stretches. The circles under his eyes are worse than mine.

"The tribe will treat him no differently, nothing changes for him and he'll be here soon for the ceremony tomorrow, then he'll go back to Denali right after. But it's too soon to work out what else he's going to do. I just know he and Kim will be together."

"But she obviously can't come back to La Push."

"No, she can't." Jake shakes his head.

I shift on my stool and hug my coat around me, tight. Even though Jake's house is warm, I feel chilly.

"Will you go back to Denali too after the ceremony?"

"Nah, I don't think so. Only if Jared wants me to."

And now something new occurs to me. "Jared won't age, will he? Not while he keeps phasing."

"Nope."

"So he and Kim can theoretically be together forever."

"Yep." Jake leans forward again, almost collapsing across the counter as he yawns once more. "That's what he's focusing on right now. He's looking at it as a positive. And Rosalie's pushing that point with Kim, too. Trying to make her see something good in it all." He pulls out a stool and sits. "She's been nice."

"Who? Rosalie?"

"Yeah." Jake frowns, like he's puzzled. "Actually, they've all been nice. And…kind."

My heart swells a little bit.

"Am I hearing you right, Jake?" A small smile curves on my lips. "I mean, I noticed that you're calling Edward and his family by their names, but now you're saying they're nice? And kind?"

He rolls his eyes. "Okay, yes. I guess I've kind of found a new respect for him and the others." He swallows and looks down. "I think we all have. We all owe them a huge debt. It was hard coming to Edward for help but we didn't know what else to do. But if it wasn't for them…" he trails off. "I don't even want to think about it, but I don't think we'd still have Kim. We're all very grateful." I reach out and rub his arm. "It's been a surprise," he goes on. "Finding out that…"

He shrugs, but I feel a small spark of hope.

"Finding out that you might not hate them?"

Jake looks at me and nods, but he seems eager to change the subject. So I ask what the Denali coven is like; wondering about Kate, the vampire Edward almost kissed.

"They've been helpful," Jake says. "I thought with Jared and me being wolves, there'd be a problem but they seem…accepting. And they've welcomed Kim with open arms." Then he looks down at the counter, frowning at it like it's done something to offend him. "Nothing's been like we expected." Then very quietly he adds, "I'm sorry you've missed your wedding, Bells."

"S'okay," I mumble.

"The treaty will be lifted," he says. "The Cullens will be welcome at La Push." He looks up now and smiles softly. "So you can bring Edward with you if you come and visit."

My mouth falls open with a soft gasp. Tears pool in my eyes and Jake gives an exasperated sigh as he climbs off his stool and pulls me into another hug.

"Not again with the tears," he says, chuckling.

He brushes his hand over my cheek.

"I just miss him so much," I whisper.

"I know," Jake says.

"And you've missed Beth." "Yep. And Edward misses you."

"Has he said anything about me?" Jake shakes his head. "No. But that's no surprise. We're not exactly BFF's."

I snort a laugh and Jake smiles. "But sometimes when one of the others is with Kim, he goes off and sits on his own, real quiet, I'm pretty sure he's missing you then."

He lets me go and climbs back on his stool and I stare at him, smiling.

"This is surreal," I say. "I'm trying to get my head around the change in you."

"Well, things change," he says. "And I figure you have to change with them, or..." He shrugs the rest of his sentence. "That sounds very deep for you."

"Hey, I can be deep." He almost sounds hurt. "You just never looked hard enough." He makes a face at me. "Knowing who Kim was, seeing who she is now, and who she's becoming, it makes me see things differently. Makes me see people differently." He pauses and rolls his eyes. "Okay, it's made me see the Cullens differently. Edward's been real patient with her."

I trace some invisible patterns on the counter top.

"Tell me about him?" I say. "How is he?" At last I ask the question I've been aching to ask since I walked through Jake's front door. Jake shrugs. "He seems fine." "That's it?" "What do you want? Every facial expression? Every word?"

Basically, yes. But I don't say that. I tell Jake I want a bit more than 'he seems fine', and I'm kind of shocked with what he decides to share.

"It's chilling, watching him kill."

His words hang there between us and for a second I wonder if he's trying to scare me.

"When he hunts," he continues. "Kim's all over the place when she does it, but Edward…he's almost graceful when he brings down his prey. Then the snarling starts, and the growling, and he throws his head back and bares his teeth just before he bites." His lip curls and he screws up his face. I've often wondered what Edward is like when he hunts, and though the picture Jake paints is disturbing, I don't feel the same revulsion that he obviously does. I find myself fascinated, wishing I could see it for myself.

"At least it's quick," Jake goes on. "And clean. I don't think the animal feels anything, except fear. He's trying to teach Kim to do the same."

"The fear increases the adrenalin," I mumble. "Edward's told me that."

"And the adrenalin makes the blood sweeter," Jake adds flatly. "More satisfying, Rosalie said."

I nod, dumbly. I know it's stupid, but a part of me is jealous that Jake has seen this side of Edward. I suppose, if I do decide to change, my chance will come. And it's almost like Jake has read my mind. His face becomes serious.

"You still going to marry him?"

"Of course! This doesn't change how I feel about Edward. It doesn't change anything." But I wince as I say the words. "Actually, that's wrong. It does change things, I'd be an idiot to say it doesn't."

Jake leans forward, resting his elbows on the counter and cupping his chin in his hands. "What things?"

"Well, I guess I know what being a part of Edward's world really means now. I didn't fully grasp that before, not properly. It's like, I'm out of the bubble. The fantasy has flown."

"What bubble?" Jake asks.

"Nothing," I shake my head. "But I can see now that I'm not just marrying Edward, I'm marrying everything that comes with him, and there are responsibilities that come with that. Expectations."

Jake smirks a little. "Sounds like you're marrying into royalty or something." Then his smirk fades and he's serious again. "Bells, are you still going to change?"

Now I look away to the window. "If you'd asked me a week ago, I would have said yes, but now…"

"Because of what I've just said? About the hunting?"

"No. It's a lot of things." I turn back to him. "Hearing Kim through the phone. Charlie and my mom; seeing Kim's family today, I don't know if I could put them through that." I turn my cup in a slow circle. "Just when I think I've got things all worked out…"

Jake stretches again. I'm expecting a lecture. I'm assuming he'll tell me I shouldn't change, but he doesn't. He yawns instead.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," he says. "Just when you think you know everything…" There's a clap of thunder in the distance. "Rain's coming."

Then Jake asks if Charlie wondered why Edward hadn't come to La Push with me.

"I told him Edward's caught my flu. He's laid up, highly contagious, unable to travel."

Jake nods. "That works," he says.

The back door opens suddenly, surprising me. A greater surprise is seeing Jared standing there. He looks a thousand years old.

It takes me a second to register, then I'm off my stool and hugging him, telling him I'm sorry.

"Thanks Bella." Jared takes my hands as I step back, holding them in his as he offers me a weak smile.

"I'm so sorry," I whisper. "I don't know what else to say. I just wish…I wish I could make things different." I sniff and wipe my sleeve over my face. "No-one should ever go through this." It's such a lame, impotent thing to say, but I think Jared understands.

He hugs me again. "I know."

Billy arrives home a moment later.

"Thought I saw you arrive," he says to Jared, and Jared leans down to embrace him. "We have things to talk about," Billy says gently and I take that as my cue to leave.

####

It's raining and dark by the time Charlie and I get home. Neither of us are very hungry so I just make grilled cheese and we sit and watch an old movie together in silence, eating off our laps like we used to do sometimes for a treat when I was little.

The next afternoon as I get ready to leave, Charlie comes to my room.

"I've checked your truck," he says. "Everything seems good. Tyres have plenty of tread on them. Gas tank's full."

"Thanks, Dad."

"Yeah, well…" He trails off, frowning. "You call me when you get back to Portland. As soon as you walk in the door."

"I promise." I go to zip up my overnight bag, but stop. Instead I throw my arms around my dad and hug him hard. He's surprised by the uncharacteristic display, but after a second he hugs me back.

"I can stay longer, Dad," I say. "I don't have to go today. I can stay."

He pats my back gently. "It's been good having you here," he says. "But it's time for you to go. You need to get back. You've got classes, and your job. And Edward. He'll be missing you, I'm sure."

"But…"

"No." Charlie shakes his head as he pulls back a little. "I'm fine, Bells. And I just want you safe so call me if there's a problem with the truck. If you break down, doesn't matter what time it is or where you are, you call me."

"I will, Dad. I promise. If I need help I'll call. Whatever the time. Or place."

Charlie nods. "And just…be careful." He exhales sharply and looks around my old room. He focuses on the map of the world poster that still hangs on the wall. "Sometimes I wish I could make you ten feet tall and bullet proof, Bells," he says, so quietly I almost don't hear. I wonder if I was even meant to.

Then, in a gesture from my childhood, he touches my cheek – something he hasn't done since I was six years old. "Now get going while you've got plenty of daylight."

####

As I drive past Forks High, on my way out of town, I remember the first time I saw Edward Cullen. I remember the cafeteria and that biology lesson. The horror on his face when I took the seat next to his.

If I'd known then, on that first day, what I know now, would I have done things differently? Would I have stayed away from him?

Edward told me to really think about what life with him would mean.

And I have.

I've thought of little else since he left. This past week has been a shock, but I understand now about the responsibilities of being a Cullen. And the lies. I've really thought about what I'd be giving up to be with Edward, and who I'd be giving up.

As I head for Portland, I keep thinking, and the sound of Kim howling and wailing plays over and over in my head.

####

The manager of The Drum decides on a traditional Christmas theme. With a standard, plastic tree in the front window, decorated with blank CDs that sparkle silver amongst the red and green tinsel. Alison is appalled by the cliche and Scott is victorious.

I've been back in Portland for a week when Alice walks through the shop doors, up to my counter, and asks if we stock the Glenn Miller Christmas Album.

"The one that has Silver Bells on it," she says.

She's smiling hugely, almost giggling, as I lead her over to the newly created Classic Christmas section.

"What's going on?" I ask as I hand her the CD. She wasn't like this last night when we played Monopoly until 11.30 and I wonder if she has news of Edward. I haven't heard from him since that message the night they left for Alaska. No calls. No texts. According to Esme the phone signal isn't very strong where he is. "Very hit and miss," she said. But even so, I take my phone into the bathroom with me now when I have a shower. Just in case.

"They came back this morning," Alice says.

"Oh!" "Not Edward," she adds quickly. "Jasper and Emmett and Rose and Carlisle, but they can tell you all about him, and they say they don't think he'll be gone too much longer." She giggles. "You finish in half an hour don't you?" "Yes." The smile is so wide on my face it almost hurts.

"You'll come over?" "Try and stop me."

oo

Carlisle greets me with a careful hug, tells me he knows all this can't have been easy for me, and asks me how I am and how are things in La Push.

"She doesn't want to talk about all that," Emmett chuckles. "She wants to hear about Edward, right?" I feel the blush roar across my cheeks and Carlisle smiles. "Of course," he says.

"He sends his love," Rosalie chimes in. I wait for more, but there's nothing. Just he sends his love. It sounds so formal. But then I guess he's not likely to pour his heart out to his family and ask them to pass it on.

"He misses you so much it's almost sickening." Emmett pulls a face like he's dying and Rosalie rolls her eyes.

"He does miss you," she says. "But he doesn't look like that."

"He said he misses me?"

"Never said it exactly," Emmett says. "But it's obvious. He's moping."

"He always mopes," Jasper drawls.

"Yeah," Emmett chuckles. "But his Bella moping is different to his regular moping. It's mopier."

Esme motions for me to take a seat on the sofa as Jasper smiles and gives me a polite nod from the opposite side of the room, where he sits snuggled in the wide armchair with Alice.

"But he's okay?" I'm hoping that he's sent me a message or a note, or something. I wait, but no-one pulls out an envelope and says, He asked me to give you this.

"He's fine," Carlisle says. "And now that Kim is starting to settle, it shouldn't be much longer until he's home."

Not much longer. How much is not much? Days? Weeks? I want to ask for specifics, but I also realise there's probably no way of knowing with these things. I'll just have to take it one day at a time.

"Kim's doing okay?" I ask.

"Improving. She's calmer," Carlisle says.

"She's beginning to accept what's happened, instead of fighting it," Jasper adds.

"And having Jared with her helps, of course," says Rosalie.

I nod. "I'm glad she's doing better."

"She's getting there," Emmett says.

"And she knows she can always have a home here with us," Carlisle adds. "When she's ready. We've told her, she and Jared are always welcome."

Sometimes the generosity of the Cullens amazes me. And I realise, as I look around, that their choice to live the way they do isn't just an intellectual decision – it comes from their hearts.

"And Edward should be back by New Year," Emmett says suddenly, smiling. "'Cos you wanted something more specific than 'not much longer', right?"

There's laughter and I join in. My heart lifts. New Year. Okay. I can wait until then. It's not that far away. But still, I wonder why he hasn't made contact.

"It's because of his gift," Rosalie says. "It's beneficial right now. He's using it for good instead of evil."

"Rose!" Esme scolds. "He never uses it for evil."

"Oh, he does," Rose retorts, looking around the room. "We all know it."

"I think evil is too strong a word," Jasper smirks. "Mischief, maybe?"

Rose shakes her head. "Evil. You think I've forgotten 1972?" Emmett laughs. "Yeah, that was pretty evil," he says. "Funny though." Rose glares at him before standing and going upstairs in a huff.

"What?" I ask. "What did he do?"

Emmett leans forward and whispers, very quietly. "The school was doing a stage version of Blackboard Jungle . It was a small school and everyone in Rose's grade had to audition, it was compulsory. Part of the audition was improvisation, you know, making stuff up on the spot, and even though Rose didn't want a part, she didn't want to fail. So she asked Edward to go with her, stand in the wings to read the teachers' minds, and whisper to her what they were thinking so she could give them what they wanted."

"Oh no." Already I can see where this is going. "He told her the wrong information, didn't he?"

Emmett nods. Jasper and Alice are trying to hide their laughs. Even Carlisle's smiling. Esme too. Though they're obviously trying not to.

"He told her they wanted someone who could get in touch with their jungleanimal instincts." He starts laughing so hard he can't speak and Jasper has to finish for him.

"He told her to act like a monkey, swinging from tree to tree." "No!"

"Yes," Alice giggles. "And he told her to make monkey sounds while she did it."

"Seriously? She didn't believe him, did she? She didn't do it?"

"She started to," Emmett chuckles. "She made a couple of ooh ooh noises, and started moving her arms above her head, but then she looked over at Edward and saw him laughing."

"She knew then he was messing with her," Alice says.

"What did she do?"

"Ran off stage, yelling that she was gonna kick his ass." "It's a good thing he's faster than her," Jasper grins.

"She didn't get a part, then?" "Nope," Emmett says. "And she still hasn't forgiven Edward."

"That's because Edward's still an ass!" Rose calls down and everyone laughs.

"But she got her revenge," says Alice. "She dyed all his clothes bright yellow."

"No!"

"Yes," Alice giggles. "He hates yellow."

Rose comes downstairs, smiling smugly as she rejoins the group.

"I told him he needed a little sunshine in his life," she says. "He didn't see it that way though. He was quite upset about his flares, if I remember correctly."

"They were nice ones," Alice nods. "They looked good on him."

"Hang on," I interrupt, wide-eyed. "Edward wore flares?"

"In the seventies, yes," Alice grins. "It was the fashion. Everyone wore them."

For some reason, I find myself looking at Carlisle.

"Even you?" I ask.

He shrugs. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he says, smiling.

Everyone laughs and Alice brings out an old photo album and I see for myself, Edward in his flares – before they were yellow.

"Oh!" He looks so different. Denim flares, a purple paisley shirt. Arms crossed as he leans against the hood of a car I don't recognize. "His hair looks longer."

"It's the way it's combed," Alice says. "It hung over his face more." She flicks to another page. "See here, it's 1957 and his hair looks shorter because its slicked back."

1957 Edward stares up at me in black and white. Unsmiling. In a suit. Tall and dark and very, very handsome.

"Why is he wearing glasses?"

"To look older," Alice says. "This was at a university dinner. He was supposed to be 21."

Edward in glasses is a surprisingly good look. Very good. I find myself wondering if he still has them.

I trace my finger over the image. New Years. It's not that far away. Three weeks. I can be patient. I can wait.

oo

It's late when I get home and I'm so tired I almost forget to check the mailbox. It's only when I notice the catalogue sticking out of the slot that I'm reminded. But the catalogue isn't all I've got. Suddenly I'm not tired anymore. My fingers tremble as I take out the envelope. I'd know the graceful slant of that handwriting anywhere. The letter is from Edward.

I take the stairs two at a time, nearly stepping on Mrs Upshot's cat in the hall as I crash into my apartment, into the bedroom, and collapse on the bed. I swallow hard, trying to catch my breath, then I slowly open the envelope and begin to read.

My dearest Bella,

If I had courted you in my human life, I would have written you love letters. Lots of them. And it occurs to me now that I have been remiss in this. So here is my love letter to you, long overdue.

When we met in Portland I didn't know who you were, but almost from the first moment you captured my interest, and very soon after, my heart. And it wasn't long before I understood that your happiness was the only thing in the world that mattered to me. It is the only thing that will ever matter. I thought I knew that three years ago, back in Forks, when I loved you the first time, but I was wrong. The love I felt for you then is a pale reflection of the love I feel for you now – the love I've discovered quietly and gently, with wonder instead of fear. The love that came with smiles and laughs and bad jokes I'd never told before. The love that lets me accept myself, and lets you be you.

The love that is deep enough to let you go, if that is what you need.

I'm not being noble. This is not a grand gesture. I know you love me too, but I'm a lot to take on, I know that. And if, after all that's happened in these past weeks, you have doubts, or believe my world is not for you after all, I will understand. And I will be the better for you choosing a different path, knowing that you're happy, because that is all that matters.

Yours always,

Edward

I let the page drop onto the bed, and stare, blinking at it blindly.

"What is he talking about?" I snatch the letter back up again. I feel numb, like my feelings are on hold. Is this why he sent no message with his family? Why he hasn't tried calling? "Is he breaking up with me?"

I read the letter again, carefully.

"No, he's not breaking up, he's giving me an out." I read the words again, with a new understanding and my heart just about breaks, overwhelmed now by the depth of love in his message. He's not pushing me away like he did back in Forks, when things got hard. Back when his love then was all about control and calling the shots and thinking he knew best.

I touch the page, feeling the marks in the paper made by his pen. Made by his hand. With this letter he's truly given himself to me. He's truly put his heart in my hands.

He's not pushing me away, but he loves me enough to let me go. If that's what I want.

Looking at his words, and the prospect in black and white of being without him, my future is suddenly, blindingly clear. The thought of living out my human years with him, and then leaving him behind, is unbearable.

My mind races back over a million different things since that moment outside the library, when Edward took the bookmark from my hand. Little things. Moments. Gestures. A smile. Charlie words. Renee's email. Sitting with a family tonight as they shared memories and teased each other and looked at old photos.

A family.

I remember Edward's hand on my belly, telling me what he wanted. I want it too. Our life won't always be easy, but it will be beautiful. There will always be love and laughter. There will always be more light than dark.

A smile grows and spreads across my face. The truth of what I want comes like a sigh of relief. It wraps around me like a warm blanket, and settles in my heart.

Charlie wanted me ten feet tall and bulletproof? Well, five feet four and immortal is pretty close.

But I still don't understand what prompted Edward's letter. The last time we spoke he promised to come home to me. His message a week ago said he'd call again when he could. And now he's writing to say he'll let me go. What could have happened since last week to make him...

"Oh, shit. Jared."

Edward would have seen me in Jared's thoughts when he went back to Denali after Kim's ceremony. He would have seen that I wasn't wearing his ring. He would have heard my words… "I'm so sorry, Jared. No-one should ever go through this."

"He thinks I'm leaving him."

I grab my phone and hit Edward's number but it goes to voicemail. I don't leave a message; not yet. Instead I grab my laptop and look up flights for Alaska. This can't wait for New Years.

####

Two Days Later

12noon

Maybe I haven't thought this through properly. Edward hasn't responded to the text I sent two nights ago and as I board the coach that will take me from Anchorage Airport to the Denali National Park, I get a real sense of how far I am from home. And how alone.

I take my seat by the window, glad the bus is only half full and I don't have to share. I put my earbuds in, close my eyes, tell myself everything will be okay, and settle myself in for the five and a half hour drive.

12.30pm

The glass of the window is cold against my cheek. Outside the scenery is beautiful, a true winter wonderland, but I'm too anxious to properly take it in.

1.00pm

The woman across the aisle is snoring. The guy behind me is tapping his feet in time to some random beat. The air vent above me blows hot and cold. My phone is silent. Still no Edward. I shrug down into my jacket, pull the beanie I bought at the airport over my eyes, and try to sleep.

1.30pm

Still no Edward. Maybe I should have told the Cullens what I was doing. But this is too personal to share. I told them I'm taking a few days away for myself, just to relax. If Alice has seen the truth, she hasn't said anything.

1.40pm

Maybe I should call Alice.

2.10pm

I don't call Alice, but I do re-read the long and slightly rambling text I sent Edward right after I booked my plane and bus tickets. It makes me cringe. It's clumsy and cheesy and I really wish I'd taken longer to think about what I wrote.

Edward, I got your letter. I'm not as eloquent as you, I don't have your words, so I'll keep this simple. You talk about me choosing a different path, well, I choose you. Forever. And I mean forever. Eternity. That's what will make me happy. I love you and your smile and your bad jokes and I'm on my way to tell you this in person. Bus arrives in Denali, 5.30 Thursday. I know you're busy and I'll understand if you can't come, but I have to try. I have a return ticket for Saturday and if I don't see you this trip, I'll see you when you come home to me, like you promised. Love, Bxx

It's a stupid message. I choose you? Geez, Bella, could you have gone with anything more cliché? I shake my head. And busy? I called the situation with Kim busy? I don't think I'd blame him if he decided to ignore me altogether.

3.00pm

My body is stiff and my backside is numb. The guy in the seat behind taps on my shoulder and offers me pretzels. He asks if I'm going to Denali. I tell him I'm going to meet my fiancé. He backs off.

3.15pm

Why hasn't Edward responded? Even just to say he can't meet me? It's almost 40 hours now since I sent my text. Would he really be out of range that whole time?

3.30pm

Maybe he lost his phone while he was hunting.

3.45pm

Does he even carry his phone when he's hunting?

3.50pm

Maybe it broke.

4.00pm

I re-check the confirming email for my two nights of accommodation at the Park Lodge Hotel in the middle of town. If Edward can't come, I can just go sightseeing for a couple of days, right? I've never seen Alaska before.

4.20pm

I read Edward's letter again.

"Stupid vampire," I mutter, wiping my eyes. "How could he think..." The idea that Edward has spent the last week and a half thinking I might have changed my mind, is unbearable.

4.30pm

The bus slows a little as the road curves and winds.

"Hey, what's that?" The guy behind taps me on the shoulder again. "Did you see that?"

I turn to face him. "See what?"

"Out there. Outside."

I look out the window. Clouds. Snow. Trees. Mountains. It's beautiful, but nothing I wouldn't expect to see.

"I don't see anything."

The guy frowns. "I thought I saw..." He shakes his head. "Nothing." He holds out the pretzel bag again. "Sure you don't want one?" "I'm sure. Thanks."

I turn around again, settle back in my seat and rest my head against the window. It shouldn't be much longer now. Only a little while more and then the bus will arrive and hopefully...

I check my phone.

Nothing.

"Probably just the wind," says the guy behind me.

"Hm? Oh, yeah. Probably."

The bus takes another bend. The woman across the aisle snorts in her sleep and stirs. I yawn and stare out the window. It's begun to snow. There's a strange ripple in the tree branches and the leaves, like a wave moving through the trees. I watch closely for a moment, but it stops.

Probably the wind.

4.40pm

What if I misunderstood his letter? What if he's been thinking too, and with everything that's happened he's slipped back into his old Edward ways, decided I'm better off without him, and the letter was his way of telling me?

I hadn't thought of that.

An icy coldness creeps over my heart.

4.45pm

No! I'm being ridiculous. I don't believe that. Not for a second. He wouldn't do that, not now.

But I know that sometimes Forks Edward battles with Portland Edward.

What if this time, Forks Edward won?

4.50pm

Still no message.

4.55pm

What if he's been hurt?

5.10pm

The driver announces that we'll be arriving in fifteen minutes. The woman opposite wakes and stretches. Her bag slides off her lap and falls, spilling its contents everywhere. I help her gather up her things as they roll around on the floor.

5.15pm

The snow is getting a little heavier and the wave in the trees is back again. It's a curious thing, not the usual pattern of movement you'd expect from the wind.

Unless, it's not the wind.

There's flash of something amongst the green and white.

My heart picks up and I peer closely, my nose almost touching the glass.

"Edward?" I whisper.

"You see it too, right?" Pretzel guy is also pressed against the window. "There's something out there."

"Mountain lion," I say quickly. "Probably a mountain lion."

"You think so?"

"Sure. Happens all the time, they go running through the woods. I've seen it a lot."

He pulls away from the window. "They don't come into the towns, do they?" "Not often."

"Oh." He sits back in his seat with a bump.

I try to seem casual. I try very hard not to sit with my face flat against the glass. I glance down at my phone and when it beeps I'm so startled I almost drop it. I fumble with it for a moment, and then my heart crashes out of my chest when I see Edward's name flash on the screen.

I'll be waiting for you.

I turn to the window so quickly I bang my head against the glass.

The leaves and branches are still rippling. He's out there. Edward's out there. Racing the bus. And, as my phone beeps again, apparently texting as he runs.

I like the beanie.

A giggle escapes me, and I try to send a text back but my hands are shaking too much to hit the right buttons. Anyway, I don't really want to look away from the window.

I see another flash of something through the trees.

And I get another message.

I have a lot more bad jokes.

It's Portland Edward!

New Edward.

My heart feels like it might burst. Like it wants to jump out of my chest and run to him because that's where it belongs.

Then the rippling in the trees stops. The bus takes one more turn and slows right down. Gradually the trees disappear and the first buildings of the town come into view. And suddenly Edward's there, somehow appearing from a side street, running through the falling snow, keeping pace with the bus.

"Hey, there's some guy out there jogging! In this weather!" Pretzel guy is pointing.

"There is," I smile. "That's my fiancé."

"Yeah? Well, he oughta be careful of the mountain lion."

I am glued to the glass, grinning and mouthing I love youas Edward grins back. His phone is in his hand.

Another message.

I love you, too. And forever won't be long enough.

And this bus won't stop soon enough.

I grab my bag, scramble out of my seat and stumble my way down the aisle. The bus jerks to a stop and it takes forever for the driver to open the doors. When he does I practically fall down the steps, and into Edward's open arms. He pulls me close, his face buried against my neck as he brings me inside his jacket, wrapping me up.

"Bella..." he whispers. "Oh, God, Bella..."

My face is pressed against the strong expanse of his chest. I'm vaguely aware of the other bus passengers getting off. There's movement and chatter, but I'm a million miles away. Cuddled up with Edward in his jacket.

He takes my face in his hands, smiling into my eyes with such love and tenderness and joy. There are snowflakes in his hair, on his cheek, as he kisses me softly. Slowly. Pulling me tighter against him. Pressing me the length of him. My body feels like it's on fire.

The kiss leaves us both breathless. Edward nuzzles my cheek with his nose. I feel the smile on his lips as they brush over my skin.

"Bella?" he says softly, his voice smooth.

"Mm?" Eyes closed, I sink into him, almost like I'm part of him. "Yes, Edward?"

"How do you make an egg-roll?"

What? That wasn't the I love you I was expecting. I pull back and giggle when I see the mischief sparkling in his eyes.

"I don't know Edward. How do you make an egg-roll?"

He lowers his face, his sweet breath washing over my skin as he whispers in my ear.

"You push it."

It's terrible. I groan. And laugh. "That was truly awful."

"I know," he grins. "And I've got a million of them. Just for you."

He pulls me close again. "Come on," he says. "Lets get out of the snow. I've got a surprise for you."

####

A/N: There will be one more chapter of The Keepsake, and then an epi. I know I said this would be the last chapter, but yeah, I'm verbose :) Thank you all for sticking with me. I know updates have been slow and I appreciate your patience.

* Quote from Eclipse, p.581, copyright Stephenie Meyer 2007.

* Information about the wolf pack, and about the Cullens moving during the 1950's and 1930's, comes from The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide.

A huge thank you to those who nominated and voted for The Keepsake for Fic of the Week on the Lemonade Stand. It won! And I am grateful and appreciate it more than I can say.

Thank you too, to everyone who has left me a review. They make my day and I try to answer as many as I can. If I haven't replied to yours, I'm sorry, but please know that I read them and appreciate them all.

And to the readers who've read and sent me messages about my novel, thank you so much. I truly, truly appreciate your support :) And one more thank you to my friend and beta Edward's Eternal (Melanie). She's always there for me, despite the time difference between our countries. Have you checked out her new story, Copy Room? Her latest Edward is a bit of a surprise.

If you're interested about my novel, Over The Edge, you can check it out on my website… suzannecarroll dot com . It's a love story with a laugh :)

Thanks again!