Thank you for reading. All recognizable parts belong to their owners, not me. Part of this was taken directly from New Moon. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks to SweetishBubble and Woodlily for your help with both grammar and story. Much love to you both. If anyone has not read their writing before, get your butt over there right now. Okay, maybe not now. Please read this OS first.

Also HUGE thanks to solar for running this contest. We are all so grateful.

Loves me some Frost:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost


Diverging Roads

I opened my bleary eyes to greet yet another day—well, early morning as the sun hadn't fully risen. The room, once opulent and beautiful now stood a strict contrast, stark and desolate. The gold carpet had faded into a dusty goldenrod shade; its luster long since gone. The formerly sparkling windows were dirty and dull, the usually verdant woods beyond lifeless and barren.

Then again, maybe it was just me.

Perhaps I was projecting my mood onto the surroundings. That seemed more likely than the fact that anything had changed in my time here. How long had it been? In the beginning, I'd been able to differentiate each day. Time passed, however, and they all blended one into another, as I sat in a cloud of depression and oppression.

One thing was certain. Even with my vision enhancing by the minute, every morning, the world was a little darker than the day before as I fell farther into the chasm of despair.

Of course, this was the rainiest place I'd ever known. Clouds and muted light came along with that fact—the inevitable. So why was I shocked to see clouds each morning? I didn't know, but the dull gloom outside always reflected my emotions. Perhaps it was the feeling of interminable isolation.

For safety's sake, I'd kept myself separate from the rest of the nearby population—the completely humanpopulation—though that wasn't the only reason for my loneliness. I wasn't quite sure what I was but I knew I was neither human nor vampire—though I seemed to get closer to the latter daily. The changes that had been taking place scared me, even if I was well aware what was happening. As I lost more and more control, as my instincts transformed, I knew the possible danger I imposed grew. So it was with a heavy heart that I entered my self-imposed exile, knowing that I'd never return.

I couldn't remember much other than this stupid, little town. And most of that was fading into a haze of green and grey—I couldn't even remember its name. I thought it had to do with something about diverging roads? In a yellow wood? No, that had to be some literature I'd read when I was younger… maybe?

I knew I had a life before I came to the big white house, my prison. There had been family and friends… love. It had been calm, uneventful, possibly even boring, of that much I was certain. However faded my memories were, I could almost make out a dark-haired woman-my mother, I assumed—and a much younger, muscular man. He wasn't my father as he couldn't have been more than a decade older than me, and another man who I knew as Charlie, and father, haunted my last memories, those I could see relatively clearly in my mind's eye. Around my mother and the other guy everything was brown, dry. Were they in a desert?

I wondered if I had ever lived in a warm, dry place. It seemed I should have. Like it was just right, but again, I couldn't have been sure. On top of it all, I wouldn't allowmyself to believe that this dreary existence had been all I had, that this vacant, lifeless mansion was my only home, that this room with the fabric covered walls—for acoustics?—was all I had. My surroundings were as empty as I was though they weren't as worn or threadbare.

Laying on the black, leather couch, which still harbored the most important scent known to man—a mixture of honey, lilac and sunshine—I breathed deeply and moved my arms above my head, stretching my back. I didn't need to; I had not needed such a gesture for some time but I still held onto routine. Same as lying on this sofa with my eyes closed. I rarely slept, and if I did, I was lucky to get more than an hour at a time. I just wasn't sure what to do with my nights other than relive what I could remember, the most painful parts of my life, an almost physical reminder.

The pain, the gaping hole in my chest, the only thing left behind in his absence—other than me—was as constant as the clouds. It ripped through me and left me wishing for numbness, but I couldn't be so lucky. Instead, I was alone in this desolate, barren house, as dead inside as I was. It was an echo of a life that once was, a hint to a life that would never be. He had taken everything with one simple, two-letter word, no—the only answer I'd received when I'd asked if I was wanted.

Though I could no longer see him clearly, hewas still my everything. From what I could remember, he'd had a strange shade of hair that never laid perfectly straight. But what shade I couldn't bring to mind—blue-black? Strawberry blonde? Reddish brown? Had it been long? Short? Somewhere in between?

His eyes had been beautiful and mesmerizing, a peculiar color, different from most of his kind. Again, the color I couldn't picture anymore. Though I knew it meant something significant. Something about a choice he'd made, an important choice.

In the end, it really didn't matter; nothing did. Remembering wouldn't bring himback.

At one point, before I'd come here, I had found a way to bring back a doppelganger of sorts, a wispy image that played before my eyes and taunted my ears. Those were some of the clearest memories I had—other than wandering the forest, searching for something as my hopes drained from my body and few other only slightly less painful memories—and even they were fuzzy, covered by a haze that blurred all the edges.

It had been before my alterations had been noticeable, when I had still been trying to live a semblance of a life. It had been the only way to hold myself together. I'd found that through life-threatening idiocy, I was able to remember himbetter, like he was there, like he still cared about me.

Had he ever?

I turned away from that thought. Negativity wouldn't help me now. Instead, I focused on what I could remember.

When doing things that put my fragile human life in danger, he would appear to warn me of the danger, to try to keep me from doing something hazardous. It never worked; I wouldn't stop. No, that wasn't the truth. I couldn't stop. If I did, I'd have lost the only thing that tied me to him. With each exploit, I found that I had to become more and more daring. I realized that he wouldn't show himself when these activities became commonplace, when the adrenaline wore off.

I couldn't even make my imaginary version of him cater to my whims.

So I became increasingly reckless, even going so far as to hang out with the first "monster" to cross my path, though neither of us knew of his impending change at the time. My best friend, one of the few people I remembered, not only left me to my perilous pastimes, but actually joined in. Perhaps he thought that by being there, he could save me from myself. Perhaps he was an adrenaline junkie, like I had become. Either way, Jacob was there for me then and beyond all comprehension, he was there for me now.

Little did we know that it wasn't my dicey pursuits with him that would risk my life, but something that had happened many months before. I barely remembered the room of mirrors and blood red eyes. The echoes of the pain and the fear were the most prevalent.

The room whizzed by as I flew through the air, finally crashing into a large mirror and coming to rest as a heap on the floor. Quicker than should have been possible, a nondescript red eyed man came into sight. He stomped on my leg, breaking it in the process, then muttered words that were incoherent, yet terrified memory me, so I must have heard them. Somehow, I wasn't frightened for myself, but for someone markedly more important—something that meant the world to me.

"No!" I screamed. "No… Don't." What I was asking for, I couldn't know.

My hand touched the top of my head, a searing pain there. It was coated in something wet and sticky. When I pulled my hand into view, I saw that the sticky substance was red. The smell of copper invaded my senses.

My throat burned at that remembered scent, an odor that had once sickened me but now tempted the very basic part of me.

Fear shot through me. The attacking monster wouldn't be able to control himself with so much blood.

The rest of the vision was blurry, all but the fear and the brown haired man biting me.

I looked down to my hand, the scar still visible even though the pink tint my skin previously held had all but waned—I was almost as pale as the biting man from my memory.

I was sure I had lost consciousness at the point his teeth tore my flesh as there was not much more after that memory than multiple voices screaming and funny colored eyes filled with determination.

It wasn't until months—almost a year—later that the ramifications of that day came to play. Memories of a too small garage made of plastic sheds put together flooded my mind. Though not as clear as they should be, I could still see Jacob sitting with his Rabbit behind him, his too large frame dwarfing the compact car in the background.

After having dessert at Billy's, we'd just escaped the crowded house and were enjoying each other's company.

"Say, why'd your bloodsucker kill that James, anyway?" he asked suddenly, almost out of nowhere.

"James was trying to kill me—it was like a game for him. He lost. Do you remember last spring when I was in the hospital down in Phoenix?"

Jacob sucked in a breath. "He got that close?"

"He got very, very close." I stroked my scar. Jacob noticed, because he held the hand I moved.

"What's that?" He traded hands, examining my right. "This is your funny scar, the cold one." He looked at it closer, with new eyes, and gasped.

"Yes, it's what you think it is," I said. "James bit me."

His eyes bulged, and his face turned a strange, sallow color under the russet surface. He looked like he was about to be sick.

"But if he bit you… ? Shouldn't you be… ?" He choked.

I explained what had happened at that time, how he had saved me.

Saying Jake didn't react well would have been an understatement; he barely contained himself. But he was able to do it… for me. A few days later, we were walking on the beach, hand in hand, like always. Jake was talking to me about the latest in the pursuit of the female who was hunting me—I couldn't remember her name anymore.

"So we chased the red-headed leech down to the ocean again." He paused and squeezed my hand. "She keeps trying to get past our boundaries."

I hated hearing about him and the others putting themselves in danger to keep me safe.

"I swear," he vowed; his voice full of conviction. He placed his finger under my chin and lifted my face to his. His eyes held nothing but certainty. "She won't get anywhere near you."

I gulped. Though the guilt ate me from the inside, I didn't say a thing. How could I when they were the lifesaver I clung to as I bobbed in the middle of an ocean? Without them, I was certain that something would have ended me much earlier.

"You don't know how grateful I am." I smiled half heartedly and placed my hand on his shoulder. "I don't know where I'd be without you… really."

He laughed. "Sitting at home, staring out your window."

I wasn't sure if he knew how right he was. That had been my life before the motorcycles and Jake. At least now, I had some appearance of normalcy. "Have you been talking to Charlie?" I asked in an attempt to follow his lead at jocularity.

"Nope, you're just predictable." He continued to chortle with laughter. I half expected him to drop to the ground.

I raised my hand to slap his arm, and he grabbed my wrist, bringing it closer to him. "Ah, ah, ah. Wouldn't want to hurt yourself, would you? This—" he looked at my hand— "What the…" His laughter died and his body stiffened. The abrupt change had me on edge.

Was she here? Had she finally found me? With only one protector, and him being a new wolf, Jacob's life was in danger, too. I'd sacrifice myself if needed.

"What is it?" I asked, my voice trembling along with my body. "What's going on?"

He took a deep breath through his nose, then let it out slowly through his mouth. "Bella," he said elongating my name. "Have you noticed anything different about this scar?"

His question caught me off balance. "Different? About the scar?" I tried to pull my hand away to glance at it. It looked the same this morning. I hadn't examined it thoroughly, but it was small and crescent shaped and slightly cooler than the rest of my skin. "No." I pulled my arm again, but he held fast. "Come on, Jake. Let go."

His grip increased.

"Ow. Now you're hurting me."

Suddenly he let go, and I jerked away, practically falling.

"Sorry," he said. He gestured to my hand. "But just look at it."

"Okay," I held out the last syllable as I turned my hand over. There was the scar that I would forever carry, a reminder of a time when I was happy, a time when I was loved—or so I believed. It didn't look any different to me. "I see nothing, Jake. You okay?"

"I, um, I guess I overreacted," he said with a small shrug.

"Overreacted?" I rolled my eyes and forced a snicker. "I thought you were going to rip my arm off."

He mumbled something ending with "come to that," but I didn't ask him to repeat himself.

"So…" I delayed trying to come up with the right words, the ones that wouldn't set him off again. "Um, what did you think you saw?"

"Nothing," he answered quickly. Too quickly.

"Come on. Tell me."

"It was nothing, just my imagination."

"We all know you lack any imagination," I joked.

"Sure, sure." His blatant attempt at flippancy was beginning to bother me.

"If you don't tell me, I'm just going to think the worst."

"Fine," he said through a sigh. "It seemed… I don't know… bigger? Like thicker or something."

"Thicker?" I brought my wrist up to examine it closer. Now that he mentioned it, it did seem a little more substantial. How could that be? I vowed to myself that I would pay closer attention. I wasn't sure if anything was happening, but if it was, I knew it wasn't good.

That had been the beginning of the end. If I'd known my future then, I would have changed a few things. However, I was oblivious at that point.

Over the next few days, I didn't notice much change, but I was human and my eyes were weak. So after a week of obsessing and worrying, I finally decided to measure it to be sure that it hadn't been Jacob's imagination—I couldn't argue with cold, hard numeric fact.

It took another week or so—the days melt into one—before I noted that there had been changes in the appearance of the scar. It was larger against all probability, spreading it seemed.

After that realization, the changes began to happen rapidly, each coming more and more quickly as the days passed.

A few days later, bright and early on Saturday morning, I went to Jacob to tell him what I'd found.

"What's so important that you've got me up at the crack of dawn?" he asked, feigning annoyance.

I laughed, though the sound was harsh and strained. His eyes tightened in response. "It's eight, Jake. Hardly the crack of dawn." Now that I was with him, the rush to tell him my problem waned and I found myself trying to delay.

"Fine," he said. "What's up?" Evidently, he wasn't going to let it go.

"Well, you remember a couple of weeks ago…after Emily came over Billy's…" I was frightened to tell him what was happening. Would he abandon me too?

"Yeah," he said, lifting one shoulder. "We were in my garage… talking?"

Clearly he didn't understand my vague explanation. "Yeah. We were. Do you remember what we talked about?" I shook my hand in front of his face. Though he couldn't see the scar because I was wearing gloves, his eyes widened and his eyebrows lifted.

"So…" he sounded as tense as I felt. "What's up?"

"You were right," I whispered. Fear gripped me as I waited for his response. "It's gotten bigger."

He grabbed my hand, and removed the glove quickly. After a quick glance, he gasped, pulling my arm closer to him.

"No, Jake," I begged, futilely attempting pull my hand from his grasp. His grip increased and pain shot up my arm. "Please…stop."

At my plea, he let go and jumped back as if I'd burned him. "No." He shook his head, eyes to the ground. "That can't be right. This can't be happening." He tried to slow his rapid breathing. His shaking stopped.

"It is," I said in a breath. "I don't know what this—" I pointed to my hand and the noticeably larger pale spot—"is, but it's true. I—I don't know what to do. I'm so scared."

He sighed and finally looked up to me. "What can you do? It's not like you can stop it."

I snorted quietly. "I guess not. Doesn't change the fact that I'm scared, though."

He opened his arms, inviting me into a hug. I ran over and relished the feeling of his warmth—so much warmer than the average human—around me. "It's okay, Bells. We'll figure something out. I promise."

"What if we can't?" I asked, tears flowing down my cheeks, staining his dark shirt. "I don't want to become a monster, Jake. I'm already starting to forget stuff." I hadn't acknowledged that fact until then. But, over the previous week, I had forgotten huge chunks of what had happened. Even a few of my teachers and Charlie—a man who was rarely perceptive—had pointed that out to me.

"I won't let you," he said firmly. "It won't come to that."

"You'll help me?" I asked, rubbing my cheek into his shoulder.

He grabbed me by the shoulders and moved me to stand facing him. "Anything for you, Bella. You know that."

We spoke for a while, coming up with a plan. I felt better, stronger, though all hopes were dashed by the beginning of the next week. My entire hand had already become paler and it was spreading up my arm, almost to my elbow. Additionally, I had noticed other spots in various places on my body that seemed lighter.

It didn't take too long to know that I wouldn't be able to hide what was happening much longer. So I came up with a separate plan—a final plan—alone from Jacob, alone from everyone.

I shivered and rubbed my hands up and down my upper arms, even though my chill had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. Uncomfortable, I shifted against the back of the black couch. These recollections always made me feel cold.

Sadly, I only had a few human memories that lingered strongly, that I clung to with all my strength for fear of losing myself. Maybe it was because they were the harshest that they were the clearest. However difficult reliving each one was, I forced myself to do it repeatedly. They were all I had as I was slowly losing my humanity.

After I'd made my decision, I had to put my plan into action. I had to keep those around me safe. Distancing myself was the only way. I had many arguments with Charlie over the next few days, all fabricated by me, in the hope of making the separation easier. I thought it would be for the best if he thought I was unhappy. Of course, I was, but not because of the reasons he believed.

It was strange how I remembered the pain, when the happy times, the real times, had faded into nonexistence.

Charlie was leaving early to go fishing with one of his friends on the day I left. I knew it would be easiest to get away when he wasn't there—less trouble all around, less to hold me back. I couldn't watch his face as I left, knowing I hurt him, even if it was for his own safety. I couldn't quite remember, but it seemed like something I had done before—I wasn't sure how I'd done it that time, and I knew it was impossible now. So I got up early and ate breakfast with him, the last moments I'd have with my father.

The meal tasted like sawdust, as most food did at that point—my appetite had changed drastically. Unfortunately, the scent of the man sitting next to me was far more appetizing than the bacon and eggs he'd cooked.

I forced myself to ignore that fact, to savor the last time I would see him. I'd been too taciturn; I'd never told him enough. He had to know I loved him. I couldn't straight out tell him at that point; a conversation like that would have definitely been too conspicuous. So all I could do was spend my last minutes at home with him.

"Thanks, Dad," I said, then took a sip from the glass in front of me. Even water tasted horrible. "Everything is great." I forced a smile, bitterness on my tongue. I had to make every second important, even if only for me.

"No problem, Bells." He lifted the edges of his mouth in a slight smile. "I'm glad you came down early."

His words were more than they appeared. He was happy that I was spending time with him. Over the last few weeks, I'd kept my distance, and now it would be permanent. Guilt ate at me. How could I do this to him?

I had to. That was the only answer.

"Me too." I shoved another repulsive piece of bacon in my mouth and chewed, the meat feeling slimy and too slippery against my tongue.

We sat and discussed nothing of particular interest. He asked me about the kids at school. I answered as vaguely as possible, considering I really had no news and what I could have, had all slipped through the ever expanding cracks in my mind.

"You can leave the dishes," I said as Charlie stood. "I'll clean them." It's the least I can do.

"Thanks, Bells." He walked to the kitchen doorway, then turned to face me. "I'll see you later?"

"What time do you think you'll be back tonight?" I couldn't answer him; he'd most likely never see me again.

"Probably not until late," he replied, leaning on the door frame. "We were going to watch the game and have dinner after." His face fell. "You okay to fend for yourself?"

"Yeah." I plastered a fake grin on, hoping he didn't notice the insincerity. "That's no problem."

He nodded, then turned and grabbed his coat. "See ya."

"Bye, Dad," I said, choking back tears. It wouldn't be good if I cried now.

I watched his back as he walked through the front door, hoping I could imprint that image forever. How true that came to be. The most prominent image I had of my dad was the back of his head and his navy blue jacket, the front door closing, the ending of my life.

"Love you, Dad. Sorry I couldn't be more." The unbidden whisper flew from my lips.

After a few minutes of staring at the empty hallway, wishing the circumstances were different, I got up from the table. I'd only eaten about a quarter of the food I'd been given but I'd reached my limit, so I stood and dumped the rest into the trash. After that, I cleaned the plates, noting that I moved faster than I had ever thought possible.

The changes were disconcerting but I knew that they were impossible to ignore and even less plausible to stop. I grabbed the pad and pen we used for phone messages and scribbled something nearly unintelligible in a note. My usually messy scrawl was almost beyond recognition and smeared in spots by the tears that dotted the paper.

Charlie,

I just can't take this anymore. I'm not happy here and I'm making you unhappy. I think I should go and live with mom. The sun would be better for me and I can start new with school and everything. Please don't blame yourself. It isn't your fault. Everything here just reminds me of him and I need to get away. I love you.
Always,

Bella

After placing the note on the kitchen counter, I made my way to my room. I flashed around, packing up enough clothes to make my excuse look reasonable. Then I grabbed my toiletry bag and left. I drove my truck to the big white house in the woods, parking it in the garage so no one would see it if they drove by.

As I sat in the truck's cab, I allowed myself to break down. Coming here might have been a mistake. But it was near to all I knew while still being far enough to provide safety to those around. I would finish my painfully slow transformation here, end my human life here—as it should have been.

Long after my sobs had calmed, I finally made my way into the mansion. The second story windows had been unlocked and with my newfound grace, I was able to climb the siding and enter into what should have been an office.

That had been some time ago, though I wasn't sure how long. Everything ran into one big rocky, bubbling blur, like the drops of water gathering at the bottom of a waterfall. All definition mixed into one, so I was left only with the rapids before and the churning mess at the bottom. Even though hope wasn't a luxury I could afford, I still dreamed that I'd find calm waters after.

Not long after I had left, Charlie came to the house looking for me. I guessed that he and my mom hadn't heard from me, so he had gotten worried. He found nothing but an empty shell of a home, of course. I'd fixed it so he couldn't get into the garage and I stayed away from the windows as he circled the perimeter. I was able to keep myself stiller than death, so he never knew I was there. However, he must have still harbored hope. As a result, someone else wound up on the doorstep of my new home.

I'd heard someone approaching, so I went to one of the front rooms to look out of the window. There he stood, wearing only cut off jeans.

"Bella," he called, walking to the bottom of the porch stairs. "I know you're in there." Then he murmured something about smelling me.

I thought about ignoring him. Maybe he'd give up, just leave.

There was a pounding on the door and I could no longer see his figure.

"You'd better let me in or I swear I'll find a way in myself. The back windows are glass, right?"

The image of him leaping through my second story window back at Charlie's house flashed before my eyes. I wasn't sure that had really happened, but Jacob would stop at nothing once his mind was set.

"Okay, I'm coming," I said quietly, knowing he'd hear. "I'll be right there. Don't break the door down."

I was down the stairs within a few seconds, jumping the last few and landing in the great room.

White sheet covered objects surrounded me, creating an eerie furniture mortuary.

When I reached the front door, he was peering through the side window. "Took your time, didn't you?" he joked.

"Yeah, well…" I opened the door and moved aside, allowing him entrance. "You know how it is."

He walked in without saying a word, his nose wrinkling. "Man, it stinks in here. How can you stand it?"

"I don't smell anything that bad," I hedged. "At least not until…" I gestured toward him.

He laughed, the sound reminding me of home even through his apparent strain. "Yeah, I guess you wouldn't." His laughter died abruptly as he really looked at me for the first time. "It's going pretty quickly now, huh?"

I nodded, pressing my lips together to keep from tearing up.

He walked to me and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close in a hug. "What are we going to do, Bells?"

"I don't know," I cried. "I mean, will I be covered by the treaty, or will Sam want to…" kill me … "before I become a problem?"

Even though I had left words out, Jacob understood the gist as his arms tightened around me.

"They won't do anything." He sounded forceful, and I believed his words. "I won't let them."

"Will you have a choice? I mean, I thought that once he gave an order, you had to follow." I sounded hollow.

"I'll never let that happen," he growled. "Never."

I placed my arms around his waist and squeezed. "Thanks, Jake."

"Ow, Bella," he said, removing one of my arms. "You're a little stronger than I expected."

"Oops!" I mouthed, pulling away farther, my eyes on the ground. "Sorry."

He laughed and put his finger under my chin. His skin was so much warmer than I remembered as he lifted his hand to bring my head up. "No worries. I just didn't expect it."

He never flinched, though I was certain he felt the temperature difference as much as I did.

I smiled back halfheartedly. "I'm so lucky to have you."

He shook his head. "I think it's the other way around, Bells." He walked one of the sofas and plopped down, right on top of the dusty sheet. "So… what're we going to do?" he asked through a coughing fit.

"I don't know." I turned away from him towards the kitchen. "But I don't think it'll be safe for me to be near anyone soon."

"No, Bella, you can't s—"

"Yes, Jake, I can. It's the only way. We don't know how I'm going to be. I'm not asking for you to leave me completely alone…" I turned to him again. "You'll have to stay nearby to be sure that I don't go wild or something."

"Bella, stop."

"No, you stop. You're not seeing the truth." I crossed my arms. "I'm going to need you to keep... others safe from me. I'm counting on it."

His bravado left in flash, his shoulders slumping. "So is it goodbye, then?" His eyes betrayed his anguish.

"I think so." I walked over and sat down next to him. "But it can't be forever, right?" I was begging, but I didn't know how I'd survive without something from before.

He stared into my eyes, analyzing me. "You'll always be Bella." He was matter-of-fact. "That won't change, not matter what."

"So you'll make sure I'm safe? For others? You'll come back once you're able to stand being near me?"

He sighed. "Of course. I'll always be fine being near you."

I jumped into his arms, nearly landing in his lap. "Thanks, Jake. Thanks so much."

"So I'm going to have to lie to Charlie, I guess."

I nodded. "Yeah, he can't know I'm here."

We talked over plans, finally realizing that Jacob would have to tell my dad that he'd come to the old house and found nothing. The hope that Charlie would believe him and stay away was fruitless. A few days later, Jacob was at my doorstep again, warning me that Charlie was on his way.

I rushed down the stairs and out the back, thanking Jacob as I made my escape into the woods. I ran a distance, coming to an opening in the trees. It was gorgeous—all green and covered in wild flowers. I marveled how something so ideal could have happened naturally. It was almost impossible for an area surrounded by trees to be a near perfect circle, yet here it was. Though I couldn't place it, the field seemed familiar. I guessed that was just because everywhere around here looked the same.

I walked into the middle of the opening and sat down, waiting for the sun to set, enjoying being out of that house, even if it meant I was running from Charlie. A few hours later, long after it was dark and I was sure it was safe, I returned to the empty mansion, still thanking Jacob for keeping my dad safe. As usual, I made my way up to the room on the third floor, to wallow in what could have been.

I pulled myself from my own thoughts—a terrible place to be—and stood. After reliving my worst moments, I needed a distraction, so I walked to the shelves, housing CD after CD. I couldn't listen to music anymore; that wouldn't help. Even the most upbeat rhythm brought sorrow to my heart. I wasn't sure why, though I would have bet it was something to do with him. Everything was.

Down below, gravel crunched—the sound of an intruder moments before they entered the house. Upon entering, he moved quickly, crossing to the stairs much faster than I could. I had no chance of running, not that I wanted to. Perhaps he could save me from this endless night my life had become.

The words, "You wouldn't believe how tired you can get of nighttime in eighty-odd years," ran through my mind in a melodic male voice. Were they something I had heard before? I couldn't be sure, but they seemed important.

Though the person's footsteps—I could tell it was only one set—didn't frighten me like they should have, I was unable to fight instinct even in my apathy. I backed up and crouched into the back corner of the room, a nearly silent rumble escaping automatically as I heard the footsteps stop just outside the door. I tried to stifle the sound, but failed miserably when the doorknob turned, followed by the sound of creaking hinges.

"I should've known that you'd be in this room."

In the doorway stood a small woman, no a girl, not the man as I had assumed, with short-cropped black hair. She had a confused look on her face as she sniffed and looked around the room.

I straightened up, mystified by her familiarity. She didn't appear like she was going to attack, so I hummed in question, my voice sounding strange to my own ears; it hadn't been used in a long time.

She chuckled. "Bella, where else in this house wouldyou be?" She gestured broadly in my direction. "You can calm down. You know I'm not going to hurt you." She walked further into the room.

"Huh?" I asked.

She narrowed her eyes and sniffed more—was she impersonating a beagle? "What's going on, Bella? Who made that noise and why do you smell…" The girl raced over to the couch, breathing deeply.

I stiffened in response to her quick gesture and moved into the corner closest to the glass wall. "St-stay over there."

"No," she whispered, to herself I was assuming. "This can't be right. I…I don't understand. What's happened?"

I tilted my head in the hope that another angle might help me understand this strange creature. With my next breath, her scent enveloped me, vanilla, pine and leather. I marveled at the combination, strange, foreign and yet, oddly comforting. Its sweetness reminded of happiness, of something safe and right. I shook my head, reminding myself not to fall into this girl's trap. She could be dangerous. She wasdangerous; we all were, given the right circumstances. I remembered hearing of gifted vampires, perhaps knowing some. Maybe she was a lure of sorts.

She focused in on me, closing her eyes until just a small sliver was visible. "Bella, what's going on? I wasn't checking your future—I promised I wouldn't. But I shouldn't have missed something like—" She waved her hand in front of her at me—"like this."

"Like what?" I asked, petulance ringing through the air. "What do you mean?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Do you know who I am?"

I shook my head. "Should I?"

The girl winced, like my words had caused physical harm. "This is going to break him." She took a step closer, and I pressed myself farther against the window. "I'm not going to hurt you, Bella." Her exasperation was clear and I found myself mystified by her sudden mood swing.

"How am Isupposed to know? I don't know you from Eve."

She winced. "I promise, I won't." Her eyes trailed to the floor and then back to me. "If I move slowly and swear not to hurt you, can I come closer?"

I didn't think I had any other option than jumping through the window, so I reluctantly agreed. "Okay."

Slowly she made her way to the middle of the room. "What do you remember?"

"Why should I tell you that?" I knew I sounded rude, but I didn't care. Who the hell was this girl to bother me about my haunting yet mostly forgotten past?

"Okay." She brought her left index finger to her firmly pressed lips. Her eyes stared into the distance and after a few seconds, she lowered her hand. "I see you're not sure you can trust me. But you can. We're in the same boat you and me… well, kind of."

"The same?"

"I can't remember anything of my human life—"

"I remember some things," I cut in. "Just not everything."

"Some things?" she asked, her demeanor perceptively brightening. "Do you remember the people who own this house?"

Well, she certainly knew how to hit a sore spot. I glared at her, willing her on to the next question.

She withered in response. "So I guess not." She gracefully folded herself onto the gold carpet.

An image of her doing the same thing flashed before my eyes. It was fuzzy, but still real. "You?"

She smiled, almost patronizing me. "My family and I, but yes."

"I remember… I remember you talking about… a storm and… baseball?" I was trying to pull all I could from this memory, but that bit of information just seemed impossible. Weren't the two mutually exclusive?

Though it made no sense to me, her eyes lit up again. "Yes, Bella. Yes, that's right."

I shrugged. "Makes no difference. So I knewyou."

Once again, she seemed to crumple before me. "I wish I knew how to make you see… Oh! Maybe that'll work."

"What?" I asked. "What will work?"

"You'll see," she practically sang, then slapped her hands on her legs. "So like I was saying, we're alike, you and me. Maybe we can become friends?"

"Yeah, right." I rolled my eyes. "Friends." But perhaps I should have taken her up on her offer. I didn't have anyone else other than Jacob. And she was one of my own. Possibly she could help me. More of us did mean more protection and I was still vulnerable. "Maybe?"

She smiled, something that looked so genuine for her. "Of course."

Just then, the sound of a car approaching the house and then stopping cut the air. Shortly after, a car door opened and closed and more footsteps made their way to the front porch. These moved even faster than the girl's had, and she shook her head in response, grumbling "stupid boy" under her breath.

"Who's that?" I asked.

"Someone who should learn to keep their distance," she answered curtly. "He'd better stay downstairs until I'm ready to leave. I'm already angry enough with him. As it is, I don't want him messing this up even farther. You'd swear he needs a twenty-four seven psychic to keep himself out of trouble." She left out a short gust of air, almost a laugh after saying her last sentence.

Though it annoyed me that this girl was talking around me and not to me, I didn't have time to voice my opinion because the front door opened, and the person who had just driven up walked in.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the girl said.

"Huh?" I asked. I hadn't planned on doing anything but stay here.

"Sorry," she motioned to the hall. "I was talking to him."

"Oh, Okay. So you seem to know me." I continued after her nod. "But I know nothing about you." I hoped my poor prodding started her explanation.

"Yes, I do."

I was undoubtedly wrong. "How's that?"

There was rustling down below, the sound of one of the sheets rubbing against the material of a couch.

"We met a little over a year ago." She stared at me, eager for me to remember. When I didn't show any recollection, she continued. "When you came from Arizona."

Arizona. So I did come from a much warmer climate. "Okay."

"We were friends, Bella. Really good friends. You really don't remember?"

"No." I looked outside. It had become night again. I'd lost another day, drowning in pain. "I've lost almost everything."

The person downstairs stood from the couch and made their way to the stairway.

"Don't," the girl yelled. "You'll destroy everything."

"Talking to himagain?" I asked bitterly. I must not have been entertaining enough to have a conversation with.

"Yes," she answered. "Regrettably. He can't control himself. But he has to." She inched closer along the floor and I was amazed that I didn't find myself reacting negatively to her. "Who cares about that? I've missed you."

"I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault, Bella." Her words pointed at the fact that she blamed someone. "Youdid nothing wrong. I'm so sorry we left, and I would like to be your friend again… if you'd have me." All throughout her words, she moved closer to where I was sitting. Within a minute, she was in front of me.

"I can try?"

"Great!" She clapped her hands together, causing my body to lock down. She winced in response. "Sorry. Now, as a friend... would you do something for me?"

Shortly after she left, the second set of footsteps—the ones in the great room on the first floor—rushed to the bottom of the stairs, waiting for her, I assumed. I didn't hear a conversation between the two, just small movements—perhaps the shaking of a head or the shifting of someone's weight from one foot to another. I strained, trying to make sense of it all.

I couldn't.

After a few moments, I heard the girl's light footsteps walk to the front door and through it. Not long after, the other person—the one at the bottom of the stairs—breathed deeply and held it for a few seconds before finally releasing it in a huff. Then I heard his footsteps slowly climb the stairs. I was pretty sure this wasn't a human, though their speed seemed to point in that direction.

I sat on the couch, agonizing over whether I should leave—maybe go some place safe, somewhere with less traffic. I had thought that this house was vacant. Perhaps I'd been wrong.

I didn't move though. Fear of the unknown gripped me, but my curiosity won out. I didn't know her from Eve, but I had promised the girl that I would stay to talk to whoever was coming. Her eyes seemed so sincere when she said I was in no danger. But could I believe that? How was I to know if she wasn't just an excellent liar?

After what seemed like ages, the footsteps stopped outside the door. I looked to the wooden barrier, waiting for it to open, but it didn't. Why wouldn't this person just open the door? Was he frightened too?

There was no movement in the hallway. So this was definitely a vampire. No human could stay that still. Besides, if they had been, I was sure I would have heard them breathing and more than likely, their heart beat. As this person stood so close and I heard nothing, I had my answer.

"C-Come in," I said, in barely more than a whisper.

The person in the hall gasped but didn't answer. Slowly, almost unbearably so, the doorknob turned and the door opened, sighing slightly as it did. In the outline of the door, I could make out a tall figure, a man. I could make out his chiseled features clearly; he was definitely a vampire. The night, however, prevented me from telling his exact coloring.

"Bella?" he asked.

I nodded. "Yes."

He inched closer, his movements smooth and sinuous, another mark of his kind. I stayed frozen to the spot, not even breathing until I knew exactly what was going to happen. Usually I would have allowed my enhanced sense of smell to help me in this situation, but for some reason I didn't.

"Do I know you?" I asked him, staring into his dark eyes, noting the circles beneath. It looked like he hadn't fed in some time.

"Perhaps," he said, his tone strange. I couldn't quite understand it. "Maybe in another life."

"Another life?"

He smiled sadly, then ran his hand though his hair. "What happened? What do you remember?"

I didn't want to relive the nightmares that had plagued all my waking hours, so I just shook my head.

He nodded. "You don't want to talk about it. I see."

"No." I didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to think about it, didn't want to remember. Yet I was terrified I'd forget. What could I do when the things I wanted to cling to caused me unbearable pain?

He grimaced. "Too many bad memories."

"Something like that." I turned away. "Do you want me to leave this place?"

"Of course not."

"The girl said it was yourhouse," I explained. "And it smells like you so…"

"I don't want you to leave," He said, though his voice was almost choked silent. "I'd never ask that. Not now."

"Are you going to leave?"

"I won't leave you, Bella." He reached down and grabbed my hand. "I made that decision once before; it was the worst of my life. This time, I won't. I'll stay."

"Stay?" I asked. "Why would you do that? You don't even know me."

"I know more than you think." He wrapped his arms around me. Though the ambient temperature of the house no longer bothered me, his warmth was overwhelming, soothing. I was so comfortable that I snuggled in closer, allowing myself to fall asleep, even though I should have been more wary. But I felt at home with this boy, familiar even without the memories to confirm.

I was in the forest again—alone, afraid and dejected. Just ahead I saw the outline of a figure, a male figure, its back turned to me-a boy, I thought.

"Hello?" I called. "Can you help me?"

The boy began to walk away. I followed.

"Please?" I begged, picking up my pace to catch up to him. The boy sped up to match me, staying the same distance away.

He never turned or acknowledged me.

"Why won't you help me?" I yelled, breaking into a run. Again the boy's speed picked up in time with mine.

"What's wrong with you?" I wasn't just upset because he was ignoring me. I had to talk to him, had to catch up to him, had to have him acknowledge me.

Still there was no answer.

After a few more steps, my right foot tangled with some roots and I stumbled forward a couple of feet before meeting the sodden ground.

"Please," I begged. "Please come back."

The boy disappeared into the trees beyond, leaving me on the damp leaves. I curled into a ball, crying, "come back" repeatedly.

When I awoke, my cheeks were wet and the remnant of a yell was ringing through the air. I wasn't sure how much time had passed, but I was still wrapped in the arms of the strange, but beautiful, boy. His anxious eyes searched my face.

"Hello, again," he said as he squeezed me tighter, pulling me to his chest. "How was the nap?" I assumed he was trying to lighten the situation as I was sure he could pick up on my distress.

"Fine, I guess." There was no need to dwell on the nightmare. I tried to sit up but he wouldn't let me pull away, holding on tighter. "How long was I out?"

His face twisted unexpectedly. "Less than an hour." He paused, narrowing his eyes. "You couldn't tell?"

I shook my head slowly. "Should I?"

"This situation is unprecedented, so no, I guess not." He reached up and wound a stray lock of my hair behind my ear.

The gesture was so familiar, triggering something just on the horizon of my understanding, something that was important. I strained to pull that glimmering object closer, narrowing my eyes at him like it would help.

"Yes?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. That word held more excitement in it than anything I'd heard him say so far.

Unfortunately, the distant ship sailed out of view and I lost it, along with the hope of remembering anything. I sighed, frustrated that I was so close just to fall flat again. "Nothing."

He smiled. "That's fine. At least we know it's still there. It'll come."

I nodded, not fully believing.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

As he mentioned it, my stomach twisted and grumbled. "Yeah, I guess so."

His eyes lit up. "I can make eggs. I bought some. And bacon,"

Though I was grateful or his offer, I couldn't stop the frown.

"Why are you making that face?"

I sighed, not wanting to let this boy down. He seemed so excited at the prospect of cooking for me. "I really… don't like… um, food?" My fingers were very interesting as they intertwined and untangled.

"I understand." He voice was gentle. "But you arehungry?"

I moved my head in assent, unable to look him in the eye. "Yes."

Suddenly, fingers were underneath my chin, moving my face up to his. His thumb pressed against my lower lip. I hadn't realized I'd been so nervous.

"Bella," he whispered. "No one is upset. Why would we be?"

I shrugged.

"How long has it been since you've eaten?"

I thought about it. My last meal had been when I'd forced Charlie's slop down my throat. I hadn't had the strength to get what I really wanted after that. Any wild animal would surely pierce my still vulnerable skin. It had been a while since Jacob had been, and he had last supplied me with my new diet.

"I'm not sure."

He smiled again, but that pained look that never left his eyes. "So, a while ago?"

"Mmmhmmm."

"But you're… thirstynow?"

I looked to him again. "Yes."

He looked me over, his eyes cutting through me. "I don't think that you'll be able to hunt as of yet."

I shook my head at his response.

He paused looking out of the window. "And I can't leave you."

"I'll go," the female from earlier called, her voice coming from outside.

The boy shifted my weight, moving me off of him. I missed his warmth.

"One moment," he said, rising from the couch. "I'll be right back." He walked to the large window at the back of the room, looking toward the backyard. After a quick nod, he turned around to me again. "Alice will get you something." Alice and the girl must have been one and the same. She'd never introduced herself.

"So you're not leaving?" I wasn't proud of the desperate hope in my voice, but I'd been alone for so long.

"I told you before," he said while making his way back to the couch. When he got there, he didn't sit on it as expected. Instead, he knelt on the floor in front of me, leaning his elbows on the couch and tenting his fingers, the posture faintly reminiscent of praying. "I can't leave you." He turned his agonized eyes to me, the emotion even apparent through their flat blackness. "I'm staying."

"Sure, sure."

"You don't believe me?" He shook his head. "I guess I deserve that."

"Everyone leaves in the end," I explained, then looked away, unable to take his penetrating gaze. "Even me."

His hands enveloped mine and squeezed gently. "I swear… I won't leave you again."

"Again?" I asked, turning to face him. "So I do know you?"

He nodded. "We know each other."

"But I forgot," I droned. "Just like everything else."

He pressed my fingers against his lips. "I'll help you. Even if you don't remember, we can make new memories."

"Yeah, I guess so." I swallowed. "But what happens if I don't have a future?" I'd been feeling weak lately. That could have been because I hadn't had anything nourishing in a while, but I wasn't sure. Maybe I was dying. My change was unique. Perhaps it would never fully finish.

"I won't let that happen, either." His words were fervent, like they were a foregone conclusion.

I shook my head.

"I won't, Bella." He put his hands on either side of my face. "There are things I can't live without."

I rolled my eyes. "I wish I could remember you. You seem… important."

He snorted, the sound in contrast to his gorgeous face and usually smooth voice.

"What?"

"You were… are the most important thing to me," he began. "I once told you that you were my life. I was wrong. You are my everything—my life, my world, my everything."

His eyes were honest, completely open. How could I deny the fact that I meant the world to him?

I couldn't, but I also couldn't refute that I had no memory of him.

"Even if you never remember, Bella, that's fine. We'll make new memories."

That sounded nice. "Okay."

He moved to sit next to me. "But…" he prodded.

"I'm still scared." I moved back into his embrace, loving his warmth, fitting perfectly into his arms. "I don't know how this is going to end."

He squeezed me into his side. "It's going to be fine. We have each other. There's nothing that can harm us when we're together."

An unintended smile graced my face at his words as hope filled me. Perhaps he was right. "Do you want to tell me a memory, something that I might know?" I bounced against him as his stomach moved with silent laughter.

"Where to start? Where to start?" he asked absently. "Do you remember the high school?"

I shook my head. "Not really. What was it like?"

He went on to describe a fantastic world where he met, nearly killed, then fell in love with a human me. As he spoke, I tried to remember the events he spoke of. Nothing came back until he mentioned a dance studio.

"Wait, wait!" I exclaimed. "Did that have lots of mirrors? And a wooden floor?" And a sadistic hunter bound on ending my life?

"Yes," he said breathlessly. "Yes. Do you remember that?"

"I mostly remember being frightened… and red, blood red eyes."

He sighed. "Of course you'd remember that. It was difficult for you, something you should have never had to endure."

"But I did." I paused, looking at my wrist, remembering the red eyed man biting it. "That's what started everything," I said softly. "That's why I'm like this." I gestured down my body.

"Most likely."

"What happened after?" I asked, prodding him to move on.

"Well, you went to the hospital, obviously." He rolled his eyes. "You were unconscious for three days before you finally came back to me. You stayed there for quite some time. I refused to leave your side unless it was necessary—not even for the human charade. Some members of my family were angered by that fact, even if they understood it."

"I'm sorry," I replied, guilt flowing through me.

"No need to apologize. It was all my fault." He looked away. "Everything was…is."

I ignored his guilt. "So what happened next?"

He told me about the healing process and our eventual drive back home to the Pacific Northwest, stopping in a gambling town named Las Vegas along the way. I listened to stories of my friends from school and a dance that he forced me to attend. I learned that this boy could read minds—all but mine. As he spoke, he interjected little tidbits of what others were thinking, giving me another view of my past.

He finally came up to a point in time that seemed to bother him, my eighteenth birthday.

"What happened?" I asked. "You don't seem happy."

"No," he said. "It was the beginning of my most stupid mistake."

"Mistake?"

"Yes, but before we get there, I have to explain the circumstances leading to my decision."
He went onto talk about his family, especially his most recent "vegetarian" brother, Jasper. It seemed I had somehow cut myself, tempting his brother beyond his control. This lead to a near attack, and the boy overreacting as I'd gotten hurt more. He decided that to keep me safe, he would pull himself and his family from my life.

"You thought that making a decision like that without asking me was fair?" I asked, confused at his logic.

"I suppose not," he said. "Not knowing the consequences."

"Even before," I said, my voice belying my attempt at composure. "I mean, did you think I was incapable of rational decision? Or was it that you just didn't care? Or did you think I was such a child that you had to act as a parent? In my best interest?"

"No, Bella." He ran a hand through his unruly hair. "Not at all. I was distraught. I should have consulted you. But I knew that if I did, it would upset you more and you'd possibly dissuade me from leaving."

"Probably."

"So I made a unilateral decision. Like I said, the biggest mistake of my life."

"Go on," my voice was cold as anger encompassed my emotions.

"So after a few days of slowly pulling away from you, I finally made the last step."

"You left," I said, images of the forest and running, of roots and tripping, of weeping in the ferns, flashed before my eyes. "I remember that."

"Of all things, you remember that." He was flat, lifeless. "All the things you could be left with and it has to be that."

I sighed in response. "What happened after?"

"I left," he said simply. "I wallowed in misery, trying to find Victoria. To kill her and—"

"Victoria?" I asked. "The red head?"

"Yes, you remember her?"

"Not from before," I started. "But she's been popping up around here, trying to get to me."

"Here?" he exclaimed, shocking me with his volume. "She's been here? And I've been in South America. I'm a terrible excuse for—"

"Food's here," called the female's voice—Alice, I reminded myself.

"We'd better get you fed," the boy said.

My stomach made a gurgling sound as I nodded. I stood up and began towards the door. The boy quickly followed, grabbing my hand before I could make it out of the room.

"Please humor me," he said, pointedly looking at our joined hands. "So Victoria has been here… what has stopped her from hurting you? How have you been safe?"

I swallowed, not sure if I should divulge my friends' secrets. "I've had protectors." I hoped my words answered his question enough without being to precise.

"Protectors?"

"Yes."

We began down the stairs, still hand in hand.

"I can see you're not going to tell me more at this point."

I shook my head.

There was no more conversation as we finished the stairs and walked into the kitchen. With each step, my throat burned hotter as I knew my first meal in ages was moments away. Finally, we reached our destination. There stood the small girl with a container of some sort in her hand.

"It's cooled slightly," she said, pouring some red liquid into a cup, the scent unappealing. "But it will fill you, and make your throat feel better."

I didn't care how it tasted, as long as it helped the burn. "Okay."

I raced over to her and she handed me the metal cup. I sniffed it and began gulping before I could process the fact that it was blood. I couldn't help my nose wrinkling.

"I know," Alice said, smiling. "But it helps, right?"

Now that she had mentioned it, although I was still thirsty, the burn had dulled slightly. "I guess so."

The boy squeezed my shoulder. I'd forgotten he was there and my body reacted exaggeratedly, pulling away and into the corner across the room.

"Sorry," I said, straightening myself into a standing position. "I forgot you were there."

He smiled. "It's fine." He walked to the table behind him and sat in one of the chairs. "So about Victoria…"

"I heard that," Alice said.

"How did you not see it?" he asked her.

"You asked me not to search her future, didn't you?" she retorted, her beautiful face contorted in anger as she rounded toward him.

"Sit, Bella," the boy said. "Please?" He gestured to a chair near him.

I walked across the room while the other two stared at each other in some sort of silent conversation. "So you're a fortune teller?" I guess I could have asked that better.

She laughed. "You could say that."

"So, a mind reader and a psychic… lovely. Is there no privacy with you two?" I rolled my eyes.

"What happened with Victoria?" Alice asked.

"Apparently, she's been here, trying to attack Bella." His mouth twisted in a grimace. "But Bella's had protectors."

"Protectors?" she asked. "What does that mean?"

He nodded his head in my direction.

"Bella?" she asked.

"Um…" I was clearly backed into a corner. I heard a sound in the backyard. If I kept my mouth shut, they'd have their answer very soon. "Hmmm…"

"I'm her protector," Jacob growled from just outside the kitchen door.

"Hey, Jake," I called. "Alice and…" I still didn't know the boy's name. "They're both here."

"I know," he said, opening the door. "I can smell you all." The door opened completely, and he appeared, shirtless as usual. He narrowed his eyes at my companions, his gaze deadly on the boy. "Hello, bloodsuckers. Took you long enough." He looked to me and smiled. "Bella."

"Jake," I warned. "Stop!"

His nose wrinkled even more. "They been feeding you?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Least they could do," he said snidely. "They got you in this mess."

"Yes," the boy agreed, "and we're going to help her through it."

Jacob snorted. "Like you've helped so far?" He walked toward us. "I've been the one to put the pieces you left back together. Just as she was getting better, this—" he motioned to me—"happened."

And she fell apart again,I finished for him.

"I'm here now," the boy growled. "I won't leave her."

"Why change that now? You're good at it."

The boy was out of his seat and in Jacob's face. Though the boy was tall, Jacob was taller and much wider. I worried for the boy's safety.

"Stop," I yelled, standing up from my chair. "Just stop. I can't take this."

They continued arguing.

Alice stood and came to wrap her arm around me. "Enough, boys." She was decidedly louder than me, gaining their attention. "This is helping nothing. Bella needs support, not the two of you squabbling."

They both looked properly scolded; their heads kept low, avoiding our eyes.

"What are we going to do?" Jacob asked.

"Alice and I are going to stay here and help her, dog. I don't care what you do."

"I'm staying," Jacob declared. "Who knows when you'll leave again."

The boy brought his hand to his eyes and pinched the top of his nose.

"Jake, please stop the animosity," I begged. "He's here now. That's what is important."

He sighed. "I guess so." He scowled at the boy. "But you've always been too forgiving, Bells."

"Yeah, right," I said, rolling my eyes. "So… hewas telling me about our past."

Alice looked at the boy, her eyebrows raised.

He shook his head in response.

"Don't you think she needs to know?" Alice asked.

"It's not a lesson I can teach." He sighed and looked to the ceiling. "She has to find out herself."

"What a lesson, Edward," Alice chimed, her face solemn as she faced the boy—Edward, I assumed. "I hope you've learned yours."

"Sometimes a lesson learns... " he began.

"But sometimes it hurts instead," I finished hollowly, echoing the wispy words that were playing in my head in hisvoice, the boy's voice.

Edward turned to me, his eyes wide and mouth open.

I had heard those words before, somewhere, some time. They were sofamiliar. I closed my eyes, covering them with my hand as if that would bring the memory to the forefront, to solidify it. I could feel it just at the edge, like so many other things that had been lost, balancing precariously on a tightrope. I hoped it would finally reach me as I waited, safe on the landing.

Suddenly warm hands engulfed my other one. "Do you remember, Bella?"

"Can you say that again?" I asked, sitting in one of the kitchen chairs-my legs had become unexpectedly weak.. "There's... something."

"Sometimes a lesson learns..."

"Yes, keep going." It was closer, a shadowy image of him sitting on the couch in which I'd taken residence recently.

"But sometimes-"

Clearer, so much clearer the image came. It was definitely him. I could tell that even though my human eyes were half blind. And he was sitting on the couch, speaking... to me. The angle was strange, though. Somehow he was lower than me. Memory me looked down to see that I was on his lap, our hands intertwined.

"...it hurts instead."

I pulled myself to the present, lowering my hand and looking into his too-dark eyes. The black never suited him as the gold had. I sighed, not sure where to start. Even with how happy I was to see him, how pleased I was that he was here, how ecstatic I was not to be alone, I was still angry.

"You came back." I fought to keep my voice even. I didn't want my elation or anger apparent. I wanted to gauge his true feelings first. I wasn't sure if what he said before was out of a sense of obligation.

"I came back," he answered simply, giving nothing away.

The others left the room. Choosing not to focus on their departure, I asked him a more important question. "Why?"

"How could I not?"

My face twisted as I tried to come up with the right words, all the while biting back both my negative and positive feelings.

"Do you remember anything I've said?"

"I remember everything," I replied, my voice holding all the bitterness possible-I'd clearly lost my battle. And I did remember, every lie and then the eventual truth. The memories had bowled me over as easily as an ocean wave crushed a sandcastle.

"No, no, no, no, no." He placed his hands on either side of my face, his fathomless eyes willing me to believe. "The forest, the end, that was all lies, Bella. The worst lies I've ever told. I thought it would kill me to do it. But I did."

"Why did you, then?" How could I believe him now, when he'd been so convincing then.

"It was the only way to save you from my world," he said. "Though I see that was impossible now. But I only did it for you."

I pulled away. "For me? For me? How was anythingfor me?"

"I thought it was too dangerous." He looked to the ground. "You'd already been hurt, and you had so much to lose. Now I see that you were already a part of it-the largest part."

"Yeah." I did nothing to hide my anger, my arms crossed as a scowl set in—all I was missing was a foot stomp. "And I've suffered for it, Edward. Alone." I crossed my arms. "Scared... confused... lost. You left me with nothing-empty memories of you-and in the end, even they were taken away."

I didn't look away, wanting to see his emotions as they played out, my vindictive nature taking over for a brief time, even though I knew I'd regret it later. But maybe I'd actually get the truth. He turned his agonized eyes to me.

"It was the worst time for everyone involved, love."

I cursed my traitor heart as I couldn't shake the thrill that went through me at the familiar pet name, even as I scoffed. "Love."

He ignored my huff. "You've suffered more than you should have," he continued. "All at my hand."

I nodded. "Got that right."

"But I'm here now, if you'll take me back. I was wrong."

"Guilt, Edward? Really?" I set my jaw and spoke through my teeth. "You think I want you back because you feel guilty for getting me into this? I'd rather do it alone then out of some twisted sense of obligation you—"

"Guilt?" he asked, his face giving away nothing but his confusion. "You think I'm here because I feel guilty?"

"Don't you?" Maybe I'd overstepped my boundaries.

"Yes, of course I do." He sounded more defeated with each word.

"Then, why—"

"Bella, it's so much more than guilt." He was up on his feet, pacing. "I should have stayed away from the beginning. I was so selfish. I couldn't. Now look at what's happened—" he gestured broadly toward me—" of course I feel guilty. But I couldn't stay away any longer. Not after I'd gotten to know you, to adore you."

"I don't... understand."

"I thought of you every second I was away." He raced to my side again. "I was barely making through a few hours, let alone days. I was coming back."

"Back?" My previous anger was melting away at his words. I was such a pushover.

"Yes, back to you. I can't describe the... torture being away from you has been... knowing you were out there and all I had to do to ease the pain was come back."

I scoffed and looked away. "Sure, sure."

"Bella, why is it you can believe the lie, but not the truth?"

I turned my glare to him. What wasn't he getting? "You. Me." I pointed to each of us in turn. "It never made sense."

"Youaremuch too good for me."

I rolled my eyes. "It's quite the opposite, I think."

"Bella, I'm not getting into that argument with you. There are so many more important things that need to be said."

"Like what?" I asked petulantly, my annoyance resurfacing.

"He came before me again, kneeling in front of my chair. "Bella, I love you. You're everything to me. The only way I could stay away was to convince myself that it was what was best for you."

"It wasn't," I argued.

"I know that now." His eyes pleaded with me to listen. "I was stupid to believe that I could live without you. I was... useless. I couldn't even track Victoria." He said her name like a curse.

"Victoria," I gasped, my fingers meeting the bare skin of my throat.

"Don't worry." He reached up and grabbed my hands. "She won't touch you. I won't let her. The family won't let her."

"Neither will the wolves," I said in confidence.

"Yes," he sighed. "The wolves. Now there's a discussion for another time."

I snorted. "There's nothing to talk about."

"I don't want to debate that with you now," he said, squeezing my hands. "I want to talk about us."

"Us?" I asked. "What us? There hasn't been an ussince you abandoned me, left me sobbing in the middle of the woods."

He winced.

"You made up your mind and went after your... distractions." The word still hurt to say.

"There was no distraction from the pain, Bella. None. There were never any distractions. All I could think about was you."

"Uh huh." If that was true, he would have been here earlier. He would have never left.

"How do I explain what you mean to me?"

"Let me count the ways," I muttered disdainfully.

"Bella, please."

"Please what?"

"I don't know how to do this if you won't forgive me."

"Forgive you? For what? You didn't want me any more. And somehow my predicament changes everything?"

"No," he acknowledged. "It doesn't. I still feel the same."

"I knew it."

"I have never stopped loving you. Never."

"I wish I could believe that." I turned to him again. "But I don't know how, Edward. So much has happened. So much can't be changed."

He sighed, looking deflated. "No, but we can move forward. I cannot change what I've done, but I can change myself. I'll do anything."

His words were soft, begging me to just glance over the wrongs, but I couldn't, not that easily.

"What about one-sided decisions?" I set my jaw and shook my head. "I can't live where I am not an equal partner. Our relationship has always been one where you set the rules, you set the boundaries, you make the decisions. I can't have that anymore."

"Of course you can't." He agreed hastily. "I shouldn't have done that to you from the start."

"You don't have all of the answers, Edward. Just because you can hear what everyone else is thinking does not mean that you know what I am thinking."

"I know that. You always surprise me."

"It also doesn't mean you know everything, like you think you do."

"I realize that. I know very little... especially when it comes to you."

"You've always underestimated my feelings for you."

"That I have." He smiled sadly. "But you have, too."

"What does that even mean?"

"If you hadn't, you would have known I was lying to you that day. You would have known that there was no possibility that I didn't love you. After how many times I've told you, everything I've done to show you. You would have known."

"Don't put this back on me," I seethed, glaring at him. How dare he.

"I'm not." He raised his hands in submission. "Definitely not. The decision to leave was mine."

"To take not just you, but your family," I began. "How could you do that? If you loved… love me, like you say you did—uh, do... how could you?"

He looked to the ground. "I thought I was doing what was right, keeping you safe."

"Ha!" I snorted. "Safe. I've been really safe." I rolled my eyes at him.

He looked to the door leading to the Great Room. "Motorcycles? Really?"

Damn Jacob for telling—well, thinking—that secret. I nodded, not backing down. "And?"

"You promised not to do anything dangerous."

"You promised a lot of things." I looked to the wall. "And it's not like you were aroundanyway."

"I deserve that," he said quietly.

I returned my gaze to him and tempered my voice. "Arguing isn't getting us anywhere."

"So where do we stand?" He gulped, closing his eyes. "Where do Istand?" His voice broke uncharacteristically.

"I don't know, Edward." I reached down and ran my hand through his hair. "I wantto believe you. I want to think everything will be okay, but I'm scared."

"I know," he agreed. "I swear we'll get through this together."

"What if I die?" I choked. "I mean, who knows what tomorrow's going to bring? I don't even know what to expect an hour from now."

He winced slightly. "I'll be with you every step."

Looking in his eyes, I could not detect any falsehood, but I never had before, even when he'd been lying. I stood and walked toward the large island in the center of the kitchen, shaking my head to clear it.

"I won't leave—"

Suddenly I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I swayed on my feet a few steps from the island, only for Edward to rush to my aid. His arms wrapped around me, comforting and steadying me. How I'd missed this.

"Sorry," I said, attempting to regain my composure. "I don't know what happened. I straightened a tiny bit, only to have the vertigo hit again.

"I think you should sit."

"Yeah, that would probably be best."

He helped me back to my seat, not taking his hands from my arms even after I was stable.

Though I hadn't exerted much energy, I was out of breath.

"Bella?" he asked.

One of the doors flung open.

"Edward..." It was Alice. "She's going to-"

"No." His yell was agonized, terrified. "That can't happen. What can I do?"

My energy drained as my vision weakened and darkened. "What's hap-hap..." I couldn't finish; it took too much to speak.

"This is it, Bella," Alice said calmly, more calmly than I expected. "You have to make a decision."

Decision? About what?

My eyelids were heavy, soheavy. The world went black. There was nothing but sound.

"No!"

"You have to do it, Edward."

"She needs to... she has to... her decision—"

"Will always be you."

"She hates me."

"No... save her. I can't. Hurry."

Suddenly the world was bright; my eyes shooting open as pain ripped through my neck. It spread to my wrist and then my other, then each ankle. The pain became a burning that radiated inward toward my core as I writhed and screamed against the hard floor.

Edward knelt next to me, his face a mix of too many emotions, emotions that I couldn't attempt to decipher in my current state.

Was it all over? Was I dying? Had I survived this long only to have everything ripped away? I'd been so close.

So close.

So close.

Those words chanted ceaselessly while I suffered, keeping time with the speeding beat that surrounded me.

So close.

So close.

So close.

Both sounds tormented me mentally while the fire burned. I could find sanctuary nowhere.

So close.

So close.

So close.

Finally the incessant rhythm picked up, morphing as the words changed as well.

So far.

So far.

So far.

The chant and the beat became a whir, rushing and overwhelming, even as the flames subsided, pinpointing in the middle of my chest.

So far.

So far.

So far.

Abruptly, the sounds changed, stuttering as the flames burned white hot.

S-so. F-far.

There was one strong beat.

So…

And after followed a weak, barely audible sound.

… far.

And it was over—the pain, the fear and most likely, my life as well. I heard the air rush from my lungs, lingering as the last whispers left, a rasping sound that had no other meaning than death.

But I was still here—still lying down, though my pyre seemed to be much softer than the floor should have been. I opened my eyes and took a breath. What I saw and smelled shocked me. Everything was so clear, every scent so defined.

I was back on the black sofa, somehow having ended up in Edward's room. I was alive, feeling better than I ever had before—aside from the burn in my throat.

"Wh-what happened?" I asked after drowning in the sights and sounds.

"I... saved you, Bella," Edward said from my left, his voice softer than usual and sobeautiful.

"Saved me?" I asked, noting the same musical quality in my own voice that I had always attributed to Edward and his family.

"Yes," he breathed. "You were dying, love. I couldn't let that happen."

"So you bit me?" I asked. The pet name didn't bother me as it had before. "You finished it?"

I was reborn, given an opportunity to start over.

He nodded. "Are you angry? I know we hadn't settled anything, but I couldn't let you die." His voice cracked. "I couldn't live without you. I'd gone so long already."

I looked into his eyes, searching for the truth. I searched, even with my anger, hoping for only one outcome. To my surprise, it was only now that I truly saw the pain on his face, realizing that I had also heard it in his voice. He'd been telling the truth since he'd come back. He was as irrevocably altered as I had been. That knowledge swelled through me, making me strong, filling me with hope. My anger and hurt, though not disappearing, dwindled beneath the love I felt for him. We'd both suffered enough. There was no need to delay the start of healing, why prolong the pain?

"No," I said. "I'm... happy." It didn't quite sum up my joy but it was close enough.

"Happy?" He smiled slightly, the perfect grin that always melted my heart. "I know we have a lot to decide, but I'd like to be there by your side to do it... as long as you'll have me. You will need guidance in the beginning—"

I held my fingers over his mouth, shutting him up. I was momentarily surprised by how quick my hand moved. His lips were covered before I even finished the idea.

"I think I get it."

"Get it?"

"Yes, I understand." I looked into his golden eyes; they seemed alive as the darker flecks mixed with the lighter, almost shimmering. "You love me." My conviction burned through my amazement.

"Truly, I do."

I couldn't stop the smile that betrayed my joy. "There's still a lot we have to talk about."

"Yes."

"But for now, I'd like to help this," I said pointing to my throat.

"Of course," he agreed. "I don't want to see you hurting."

"I've had worse." I shook my head, pushing the dark days away. "But I don't want to think about that."

"Let's hunt?" he asked, holding his hand out to me.

I'd always wanted to see Edward hunt; the prospect intrigued me. Now that I had the opportunity, my excitement was palpable. "Okay."

He pulled me up to my feet. "I love you." His eyes branded that truth into me.

"I know." I laughed, feeling buoyant. "I love you, too, Edward."

His kiss was unexpected, his lips warm and soft against mine, so different from what I had been used to, yet just as pleasurable, maybe more so. Unexpectedly, I felt his tongue glide along the seam of my lips and I opened my mouth in response. Quicker than I had expected, his tongue was pushing against mine.

I'd never been kissed like this but I knew what to do. I reveled in the pleasure of his tongue moving against mine, his careful restraint shattered beside us as we got lost in each other. After too short a time, he pulled away.

"I could do that all night, but we've got to get you fed."

"All night?" I asked.

"Probably longer," he confirmed. "Much longer."

"Forever?" I asked, outlining my planned future.

"Forever," he agreed, then released my body only leaving our hands together.

"I'll have to hold you to that," I teased.

"I'd expect nothing less." He pulled me out the back door and we ran towards the woods, jumping the river when we reached it.

"Forever," I breathed when we landed on the other bank, the prospect both thrilling and daunting.

We would have a lot to hammer out: some rules would be new, and some would be shattered. But in the end, we would work it out together. Our destinies were intertwined even if he had tried to take a separate path from me months prior. Our roads had diverged, but they'd come back together in the end. Together we would head toward our future on the road less traveled by…


Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. I appreciate the reviews this story got in the contest.

I kind of took a liberty in thinking of the vegetarian lifestyle as the path less traveled. I mean, isn't there only a small percentage who have taken that route? Anyway, I hope you liked it.

Anyone reading LC, I am working on the next chapter. It seems that the story has gotten more difficult to write as it progresses. But I WILL finish.