The Twilight Saga belongs to Stephenie Meyer, Summit Entertainment and anyone else who may legally claim ownership. No copyright infringement is intended.
I would like to take this time to thank StoryPainter for her brilliant beta-reading. Her work is invaluable.
Bella sat in the cramped plane. Her head was back and her eyes were closed as she hugged her arms around her midriff. One sentence was replaying in her mind. "What have I done?" Even though she wasn't finding the answer she needed to her unvoiced question, she wished for peace to contemplate it. However, that was not to be. She sighed inaudibly, she could feel Jacob's eyes roving her body from the right, along with Ted's fidgeting from her left. She spoke without opening her eyes. "Jacob, eyes front. Ted, there is nothing more you can plan for, just relax."
Jacob closed his eyes and popped in his earbuds as Ted opened his book.
After a few minutes' Bella's thoughts turned to the letter she'd left for Carlisle. The words played in her head as if she had just written them.
I love you. I have to go away for a while, there's something that I have to do. I will be back as soon as I can. I can't stand the thought of being away from you. It's killing me and I haven't even left yet. I'll miss you every second of every day. I miss you already, just thinking about it. I wish I could think of another way, but I can't. I have to do this. Alice won't be able to 'see' me. Please, don't try to follow. I will come back to you as quickly as I can. Stay in Forks, stay safe. I want to think of you healing the sick, saving lives, reading, hunting with Jasper... You are everything to me. You are everything. You always will be. Please understand. I love you more than my own life.
Yours forever, Isabella
Bella woke from a less than restful sleep as the flight attendant instructed them to buckle their seat belts. Her sleep had been filled with nightmares. She'd been so terrified by her dreams of losing Carlisle that she'd been unable to talk or even scream in her sleep. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. She could only pray that Carlisle would understand why she had to do this without him, she had to keep him safe. She hadn't even spoken to him about it, because she knew he would convince her to allow him to come with her. She couldn't put him at risk like that.
She was glad that she had chosen to fly first class. She had wanted the privacy for herself and her unorthodox companions. After about seventeen hours, that included stops in Chicago and Munich, the plane was finally touching ground at its destination.
Bella, Ted and Jacob made it through customs and secured their rental car without arousing suspicion. Bella mentally thanked Jasper for knowing such a talented and discrete forger. He would not divulge their interactions, even to Jasper himself.
Bella looked out the car window as they approached their hotel. It sat high on a hill overlooking the town. Once the valet left with their car, they made their way to the front desk and successfully checked in under their three untraceable identities.
Alone in her hotel room Bella stared at her reflection in the mirror. She had taken her time getting ready. She'd spent hours in the tub thanks to the never ending supply of hot water. She knew she should have slept as Jacob and Ted had, but she simply couldn't. She was too terrified. She shook herself out of her dark thoughts and returned her attention to the mirror. She almost didn't recognize herself. She wore no disguise, but she looked too sophisticated to be Bella. She stood in a chic Chanel dress suit. The deep carmine jacket and skirt set off her hair and eyes beautifully. Her makeup was subtle but effective. She was sure that even Alice wouldn't find a flaw. She held a small bag that matched her low heeled pumps. Her French twist was immaculate, as was her natural manicure. She looked like a force to be reckoned with, but she felt like an accused murderer awaiting a verdict that could mean a death sentence. She slipped her room key into her bag and turned to the door. She was due to meet Ted and Jacob in the lobby so they could head to their journey's end.
Bella smiled as she walked confidently through the doors the receptionist opened for them. Ted and Jacob each walked a step behind, one on either side of her. During the long flight she had taken time to explain to them exactly what she needed them to say and do. She had prepared them for every eventuality she could imagine. She gave them confidence, despite the fact that she knew she couldn't even begin to imagine all the ways this meeting could go. She just kept telling herself that everything would work out fine in the end.
"Mrs. Cullen! How wonderful to see you again, and so soon. You look absolutely radiant, my dear. Marriage to my dearest friend suits you!"
Ted's eyes narrowed infinitesimally at the man who stood and addressed Bella. To Ted, the giddiness of the voice seemed out of place in the formality and grandeur of the room. Ted was surprised to find the childlike man's eyes shrewd when they met his before moving on to Jacob.
"Is Carlisle not with you?"
Bella forced the smile to remain on her face as she responded. "No, Aro, I'm afraid he isn't."
Aro's eyes showed genuine concern for the only being he could call a true friend. "He is well, isn't he?"
Bella nodded. "Carlisle is fine."
A care worn voice spoke from Aro's right. "I am heartened to see that you realized your error in time. Your bond with Edward was not one of mates. I feared that your humanity might keep you from realizing it before you committed yourself to him. Edward was so determined to have you." Marcus sighed.
Bella was surprised out of her fear. "Why didn't you say something?"
"Over the centuries, I have learned that it is best not to try to influence bonds. It is best to let them take their natural course."
"I was drawn to Carlisle all along, I just never knew what it meant."
"How is it that you can bear to be parted from your true mate? Even without Carlisle by your side, I can sense the strength of your bond. In all my millenia I have never sensed a joining of mates as deep as yours and Carlisle's."
Bella looked to Marcus with kind eyes as she answered him. "Being away from Carlisle is endurable only because I know I will be back with him soon.
"Now you understand the depth of a true mating bond. Your bond is so new. I know you must long for him even though you know you will be back with him soon."
Bella took a deep steadying breath. "I do."
A clearly annoyed and angry voice broke into their conversation. "Then why are you here?"
Bella faced Caius and smiled politely. "I am here to speak with you about certain unexpected events that have arisen since you last saw my husband."
"Brothers, please." Aro held his hands up for silence as he moved to stand directly before Bella. He held his hand to her, palm up. "Would you mind if we try again?"
Bella placed her right hand in his. "Of course not."
Aro looked at the Cullen Crest ring on her right ring finger and smiled. He spoke before he tried to read her. "My friend wore this ring for a very long time. It looks much better on you." He covered the top of her hand with his other hand and concentrated. After several moments he spoke again. "Still so silent." Aro shook his head in disappointment. "Ah, well, if you can block our gifts as a human, you will be truly splendid once you are one us, no?"
"It will not be long now." Bella smiled. However, inside she was mourning. She had wanted to give Carlisle a child so badly. She knew there was very little chance that she had become pregnant in the brief time she'd had with Carlisle since Ted had used an abortifacient on her. Now that Carlisle knew it was possible for him to impregnate her, she was sure he would do anything to see that it didn't happen. He would not want to risk her life to an unknown danger. She also knew that he would have have fears even if they could be sure that a pregnancy for them would be typical. His own mother had died in childbirth. A lump began to form in her throat. It frustrated her to no end. She seemed to be crying with the slightest provocation lately. She hated it, she had never been a crier. She took a deep breath to help her regain control of her unusual emotions.
"I look forward to it." Aro turned his attention to Jacob and Ted. "Who are your companions, my dear?"
Bella smiled. She looked briefly at Jacob. "This is Jacob Black."
"Jacob Black." Aro's voice tested the name. "Any friend of my dear Carlisle and his Bella, is welcome here."
Jacob bit back a thousand insolent comebacks, and responded as Bella had instructed him, with manners and as much deference as he could muster. "Thanks."
Bella knew Aro was an extremely polite man. Still, she wondered how, at this close proximity, Aro managed to refrain from questioning how badly Jacob must smell to him. She decided Jacob's smell must be the reason Aro hadn't asked Jacob for his hand. She was relieved. She needed him to touch Ted first.
Bella moved her head to indicate Ted. "And this is Ted Wright." She gave Aro a look that he couldn't understand, until she spoke again. "If you shake Ted's hand, many of your questions should be answered."
Aro seemed to glide as he moved the small distance to stand before Ted. He extended his hand. "I am most pleased to meet you."
Ted hesitated. Bella had explained to him what would happen, that Aro would become privy to every facet of his entire life, every experience, thought and feeling he'd ever had. He knew he owed this to Bella, and if he were to admit it to himself, he owed it to his father, Carlisle, as well. He met Aro's eyes and took his hand.
A myriad of expressions crossed Aro's face. When he finally released Ted's hand his face held a look of utter amazement. He stepped back and turned his attention to Bella. "Brothers." Aro glanced at Ted. "Honored guests." He met Bella's eyes and smiled. "My dear, Bella, let us move this discussion to our soggiorno, so that you and your friends may be more comfortable."
Caius stepped towards Aro. "Brother, is that wise?"
Aro smiled. "Would you prefer to face the wrath that not doing so would incur?"
Caius raised an elegant eyebrow and grudgingly nodded at the wisdom he found in Aro's words.
Aro patted his shoulder and met his eyes. "If you feel the need, by all means invite Alec, Jane and Felix to join us." Aro turned his gaze back to Bella. His smile seemed genuine. "Come, this way."
They traversed hallways lined with rich tapestries and ornately framed works of art. Bella looked with interest as they passed. She wished Carlisle was here and they had time to look at them properly, together. Her attention turned to Aro as his high childlike laugh echoed in the corridors. "Ah, Bella, no wonder you are mated to Carlisle, you are so very different, yet so much alike at the same time. Perhaps someday soon, you and he will come for a social visit. Then you can have all the time you wish to study the artwork throughout the castle." His voice turned inquisitive. "And perhaps spend time in our libraries, as well?"
Bella's eyes lit up. If the artwork in the halls was this incredible, she wondered what their book collections would be like.
Aro's laugh was delighted. "You like the idea of viewing our art and reading our books! My dearest friend is indeed lucky to have found a kindred spirit in his mate. Not all mates are so similar in nature and interests. That is indeed a gift."
They approached an imposing set of doors. Several guards stood in a formation in front of them. Upon seeing the brothers, they nodded their heads in deference and moved aside. Two remained and opened the doors so that they could enter. The company passed through the ornate doors and paused at the foot of a grand staircase. A staircase that wound up so far that Bella's human eyes could barely perceive where it stopped. She knew the vampires wouldn't mind the climb, nor would Ted; she was also fairly certain that Jacob wouldn't get terribly winded. She, on the other hand, didn't think she could make it to the top.
Aro smiled and guided Bella behind the majestic winding staircase. "We're not taking the stairs, dear Bella. Even we immortals find carrying everything up such a vast staircase tedious." They stopped before the wide gilt doors of a freight lift. Aro extended his arm to Bella. She gave him a questioning look as she put her hand through his arm. "This was not installed for humans, I fear you may find the speed at which it travels a bit unsettling."
Bella laughed nervously. "I hope not too unsettling." She smiled, even as she silently prayed she wouldn't embarrass herself in front of the Volturi. When she was young, her mother had taken her to an amusement park where an elevator dropped quickly down several floors, to scare its occupants. She had managed to both vomit all over her mothers new shoes.
When they came to a stop on the top floor and the doors opened Jacob released Bella's free wrist. She gave him a grateful smile as she exited the lift on Aro's arm. Jake had told her when she smelled blood she should put pressure on a certain point on her wrist and it would stop the nausea. She had never remembered to try it. When she became obviously nauseated in the lift, Jake had grabbed her free wrist and applied the pressure himself. It helped. She was sure she would remember that trick from then on.
Aro led Bella into a stunningly regal room. Unlike the rest of the castle, this room was filled with light, and its furnishing reflected that. The heavily gold plated furnishings were upholstered in the purest white silk velvets and white tone on tone jacquards.
Bella hadn't thought she could feel underdressed until her eyes fell on one of the occupants of the luxuriously appointed room. A tall elegant woman sat, reclined on a chaise, her dark rich hair falling in curls past her shoulders to meet her exotic floor length gown. Bella was certain Alice could name the designer, because this gown was clearly not off any rack. Bella's step faltered as she took in the woman's face. Thin eyebrows arched disdainfully over clouded red eyes. Her lips were pinched and she looked like she had smelt something bad. Bella supposed she had, and wondered at Aro's wisdom in bringing Jacob into such an obviously refined and reserved room.
Bella became aware of Felix standing alone in a corner. As her eyes wandered she noticed Jane and Alec who were deep in a discussion too low and fast for her to understand. Jane glanced her way and sneered openly. Bella returned Jane's sneer with a friendly smile. Internally, she grinned as Jane looked momentarily confused. Bella glanced to her side as she noticed that Jacob had looked to see who she was smiling at. Her brows furrowed. She had warned Jacob not to show hostility. Now, he was staring openly at Jane. Bella was concerned as it became apparent that he wasn't going to look away in a polite amount of time.
Bella's attention was soon taken by a slight woman who rushed toward her. An eager smile on her face that reached her sparkling eyes. She looked fragile, as if a brisk breeze might blow her away. She seemed somehow paler than the rest, her fair hair flowed from a center part to frame her delicate features. If it weren't for her blood red eyes, Bella might have wondered if she were a faerie, rather than a vampire.
Her words, although spoken in a high and achingly beautiful voice, were in a tone that left no doubt that, despite her appearance, she was a commanding force. "You must be Bella. I've waited so long to meet you. It was shameful that we weren't introduced on your last visit. I can't tell you how appalled I still am at the way you were treated." During her speech she had grasped both of Bella's hands in hers. "I hear you are mated to our Carlisle. That is such wonderful news." She leaned forward and kissed Bella on both cheeks. "We are sisters now, you and I." Impossibly, her smile grew wider, as she released one of Bella's hands and began to lead her to the couch she had been sitting on. "Come, let's talk. We have so much to learn about each other. I'm Athenodora, but you can call me Dora. I can't wait to know you better. I'm sure we will be-"
She was silenced as Caius placed his hands on her shoulders, leant down and kissed her briefly, but soundly. "There are important matters to be discussed first, dear wife."
She smiled indulgently at Caius. "Fine. I shall wait. You are most lucky that you brought Bella to meet me without delay." She didn't let go of Bella; she continued drawing her to sit beside her as she had intended.
Suddenly, Aro's cryptic words to Caius made sense to Bella. Caius' diminutive wife would have been displeased if they had held their meeting somewhere else in the castle. She was obviously a woman you didn't want to cross.
Aro stood in the middle of a grouping of furnishings and indicated his desire for everyone to sit. Aro easily commanded the rapt attention of everyone present.
Dear ones, as I'm sure you have heard, Carlisle has found his mate. I never thought I'd see the day that Carlisle, my utterly unique brother, would find someone to share his life. Before I speak to you of other important matters, I want to officially congratulate young Bella. She, although still human, has mated with my dearest friend Carlisle.
Felix snorted. "A human Carlisle has mated with lives to visit us? Carlisle must be as boring in bed as he is in life."
The elegant woman that Bella had first seen upon entering the room, the one she assumed correctly was Sulpicia, sniffed and muttered audibly. "Disgusting."
Jane turned to her brother, Alec, and raised a pale eyebrow. "Fickle, isn't she?"
Athenodora stood and commanded as much attention as Aro. "Enough. You are making baseless judgements." She looked at Sulpicia. "We were, each and every one of us, human once. There is no shame in caring for them, or choosing to love one of them." Her attention turned to Jane. "There is nothing fickle about Bella. Marcus has attested to the truth and strength of her bond with Carlisle."
Bella straightened her spine and spoke quickly, to placate Sulpicia and any that might agree with her assessment. "I am to become a vampire next month."
"You see," Alec said, putting his hand on his sister's shoulder. "She will be one of us." Jane must have said something earlier, because in the moment she didn't seem too concerned. She had met, and was holding Jacob's continuing stare.
Marcus spoke into the stunned silence that followed Alec's surprising show of support for Bella. "What Athenodora says is true. Their bond, Carlisle and Bella's bond, is the strongest mating bond I have ever encountered. It is a joy and an honor to behold it. It is something to be admired and supported. The petty jealousy I can sense in this room," his milky gaze fell on Sulpicia, "does not become us."
Aro asked Athenodora to resume her seat with a disarming smile. "Please."
She complied with a smile of her own and took Bella's hand in a show of her support as she sat.
Bella noticed Athenodora was like Carlisle. She didn't feel like ice cold stone. Her touch was one of chilled flesh. Aro's arm had felt like stone when she clutched it as the lift had begun to ascend with alarming speed. She remembered Carlisle had told her that Marcus was like him too. She wondered how many of each kind of vampire resided in Volterra. She tried to concentrate on that thought. She didn't want to hear any more comments on her marriage.
Finally, Aro signaled for silence and began to speak of the reasons she had come to Volterra.
He reminded his coven how preoccupied Carlisle could get with his studies and ideas. He explained that humans saw time differently than they did; and although he agreed it was important that they be informed, he would have been content to wait until Carlisle got around to it. However, he made a point to note that he was very appreciative that Bella understood the importance of sharing information with them, and he was greatly pleased she had done so on Carlisle's behalf.
He told them that he had been in Ted's mind. He went on to explain about how Ted came into existence. He left no doubt that he accepted Ted. There was no room for anyone to question that he believed Ted to be no threat to them in any way. He even went on to say he considered Ted to be like one of them. He informed them that Ted was simply sired in an unusual way. He explained that, although Ted was immortal in the same way they were, Ted was weaker because of his unique parentage and the human traits he inherited. He spoke of his belief that, should there be any more of Ted's kind, they should be protected as their own.
He told them that Jacob and his nation were not a threat to vampires. It was Caius he addressed when he explained that the Quileute shape-shifters were very different from werewolves. He informed him that, unlike werewolves, the Quileute shape-shifters were not slaves to their nature, nor were they a vampire's natural enemy. They merely protected their own, in the same way that vampires did.
He concluded his speech by emphasizing that human-vampire children and Quileute shape-shifters, by their very nature, knew of vampire kind and were no threat to their secrecy as they shared secrecy issues themselves.
He finished by reiterating that neither were of any threat to vampires or their way of life, in any way. His speech was met with agreement from his brothers, making it law that Ted and any others like him were to be treated as equals and that Jacob, as well as any more of his kind, were to be respected and treated well.
As Aro finished and talk began among the vampires present, there was much said about Carlisle's affinity for humans. Bella tried not to flinch when speculation turned to Ted's mother. As the talk became insulting, Athenodora stood again.
"Silence. I will not hear this. You will cease speaking or thinking in such a way. There is no difference between Carlisle taking a human lover before finding his mate than any of us who had vampire lovers before we were lucky enough to find our mates. Anyone who wishes to continue to disparage my friend Carlisle or his new mate, has my personal invitation to leave Volterra; regardless of any unique gifts you may possess or your standing in our ranks.
"Carlisle is a dear friend to all of us. Not only do I reciprocate his friendship, I know that Aro does as well, and we are not alone in that. I expect every member of our coven and our guard to show the utmost respect to Carlisle. Carlisle and his wife will always have a place in our hearts, our home and our coven. They are both to be treated as such."
There were general mumblings of apology and assent as Athenodora sat back down beside Bella. Her voice carried in the quiet that had descended after her speech. "They meant no harm, you know. We vampires can be a tactless lot. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our manners even when discussing dear friends."
"There is no need for thanks, Bella." Atenodora smiled at her with genuine affection. "So, you are to become a vampire next month. Are you excited?"
"I'm excited to be able spend eternity with Carlisle." The love and devotion Bella held for Carlisle shone in her eyes as she spoke of him. "I am excited to experience the world as he does." She faltered. "I'm not so excited about the burning of the transformation, though."
"Oh! But, how marvelous it must be to know what to expect. I don't know of anyone who has had that opportunity. It may not ease the pain, but you will know that eternity with Carlisle awaits you."
"I know how lucky I am in that regard. I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to feel that pain and not know why it's happening."
"That has been the typical experience for our kind." Athenodora moved on to another subject. She didn't want to dwell on the pain Bella would soon endure. "I assume you will follow Carlisle's lifestyle? We were all so relieved to see that it did him no harm. Aro was very concerned that it might, you know. Now we know that is not the case. He is as strong and healthy as any of us."
"If you are asking if I will choose to feed on animals instead of humans, the answer is, of course, yes. As I'm sure you know, Carlisle has never once fed from a human. I want that for myself, as well. I just hope I will be strong enough to do it."
"With Carlisle by your side, I have no doubt that you will be. Come, I have secrets to share about your Carlisle."
Curious, Bella stood and followed Athenodora out to the stairwell and through a door adjacent to the room they left. Athenodora closed the door and slid the privacy lock in place. "Our bedrooms are soundproofed, even for our advanced hearing abilities."
"Not many know, but I, like Aro, consider Carlisle to be my dearest friend. Were it not for Caius, I think I might have fallen in love with Carlisle. In truth, I do love him dearly, in a purely platonic way." Athenodora noticed a shadow cross Bella's expression and hastened to reassure her, in case she had been misunderstood. "My heart has always belonged only to Caius and it always will. I'm sure you feel the same way about Carlisle."
Bella smiled wistfully and nodded. "I do."
Athenodora returned her smile. "I thought so. I'm so glad he found you, dear. He is very special. Do you know that Sulpicia and I are, for all intents and purposes, imprisoned here in this tower?"
"We are. Aro and my sweet Caius want us protected at all costs. This is the safest place in the castle and we are well guarded. Have you met Corin?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Corin was brought into our coven because Aro hoped that the gift she possesses could help Marcus heal and move on after the loss of his mate. She couldn't help him because Marcus declined Corin's gift. He didn't want to be in a state of false happiness without his mate, Didyme. He wanted to honor her with his mourning.
Bella looked confused.
Athenodora smiled. "You see Corin can make anyone feel content, happy, no matter what their situation entails, or how badly they really feel. It's not as good as it sounds. The recipient of her particular gift can become dependent on it. Not everyone gets addicted to Corin's gift, I never did. But, there are those who are addicted. It makes it impossible to for them to leave us, they couldn't get what they believe they need from anyone but Corin.
"But, Marcus is in so much pain. Surly he'd want what small relief she can offer him?"
"Marcus refuses to allow her near him. He really does believe it would dishonor his mate to allow himself a false sense of happiness.
"Corin made me happy for a long time. I was content to be locked in here for eternity. Then, I met Carlisle. He used to come up here to visit with us. One time Corin had accompanied Sulpicia to find Aro. An unusual happenstance, as we rarely leave the tower. That left me alone with Carlisle. He asked me if I'd like to learn to resist Corin's influence, so that I could know that my feelings were my own. I said that I would and begged him to teach me. Carlisle was very regretful to tell me that he didn't know how to resist vampiric gifts, but he assured me that if it were possible he'd find out how, and he would teach it to me. He did. It wasn't easy, not the technique, finding opportunity to be alone with Carlisle so that he could teach me. Eventually, we managed and he taught me. It was liberating to no longer be a slave to the false happiness, to feel my own feelings again. Once I mastered the technique Carlisle taught me, I was not content to remain imprisoned here for my own safety. That feeling had been all Corin's doing. I never let on that I was no longer under Corin's influence. I convinced Caius to allow me to accompany Carlisle on walks through the castle. My sweet Caius assumed it was Carlisle's idea. Caius only agreed because Carlisle was considered more than able to keep me safe from harm. For the years Carlisle was here we took walks together almost daily. We especially loved to admire all the artwork in the castle. No one ever suspected that I had become immune to Corin's talent. They still don't know. I can resist Chelsea as well, now. That, I taught myself, building on the skills Carlisle discovered and taught me."
"But you remain here?"
"I do, it pleases my Caius to think me safe. I would do anything for him. However, I don't stay here as much as you'd think. Did you not notice that my eyes are brighter than most of the Volturi's?"
"Actually, I did notice that. I thought it was just one of those things."
"As does everyone. It's not. It's because I routinely sneak out. I get exercise and sunlight." She smiled conspiratorially. "Sulpicia, Corin and myself are all able to sleep. It is a routine we have carried on for centuries. We take long naps in the afternoons, so that our minds are refreshed when our husbands join us here for the evenings. No one suspects that I am not asleep in my bedroom. I am thought to be content with my lot, thanks to Corin. When we are all in our rooms for our naps, I merely open my bedroom window and scale the tower. I do it frequently, no one is the wiser. I run in the lands outside of the town. I hunt animals, not enough to change the color of my eyes, of course." She laughed. "I peruse the shops and see how the world changes. It's marvelous fun to manage it without detection, and it's all thanks to Carlisle. I thought you'd like to know."
"Yes." Bella was stunned. "Thank you for telling me. It sounds like something Carlisle would do. But, why haven't you shared this with Sulpicia? Doesn't she want to be free too?"
"No, dear. Sharing this with Sulpicia wouldn't be safe. Carlisle recognized that too. She's… she's a dear sister and companion, I love her very much; but, but she's not a very open or accepting person. Not to change or even to ideas. I also believe that she may be one of those who are addicted to Corin's gift."
An electronic bell chimed. "That signal means there's someone at my door. We are probably missed and should get back." Athenodora took Bella's hands and squeezed them gently. "We're going to be such wonderful friends, Bella Cullen, I just know it!" She stood and glided to the door to open it. Before she opened it she turned back to Bella. "We'll talk again, later tonight."
Bella awoke to the rudeness of the bright Tuscan sun on her face. She felt horrible. Her eyes were swollen, her head throbbed, her throat ached, and her stomach turned. She forced an eye open only to be met with a vast expanse of mattress. She had been shown, at Athenodora's insistence, to a guest room in the tower.
It was soundproofed, even for vampire hearing, so she had allowed herself to cry before she slept. She didn't understand it. She wasn't usually a crier. Nevertheless, she couldn't help herself. She cried because she didn't know if coming here without talking to Carlisle had been the right decision. She cried because she feared she had hurt him or disappointed him. She cried because she missed him and longed to have him beside her. To talk to him. To kiss him. To just be in his presence. She cried for longer than she thought possible, until she finally succumbed to her emotional exhaustion and slept.
She wondered what time it was, and if Ted and Jacob were awake. Ted had been given the room to her left, and Jacob the room to her right. She frowned. She knew she should be glad that Jacob had never been far enough away for Alice to see her; but she almost wished the circumstance had been forced upon her. Then, despite her finely honed plans, Carlisle would have been able to find her.
She ungracefully heaved herself to a seated position. She shook her head at the bed on which she had slept. She would swear it was the size of her entire childhood bedroom. Even with a ladder, she doubted she'd be able to reach the top of the ornate headboard. It's massive sized emphasized the lack of Carlisle's presence in it. It was so big, so empty without him. She picked up her mobile and called up Carlisle's contact information, just to look at his photo.
Bella's door swung open an inch.
Athenodora's voice spoke softly. "Are you awake, Bella?"
Bella's voice trembled as she responded. "Yes."
Athenodora's tone was concerned. "May I come in?"
"Of course." Bella sniffed as delicately as she could.
"Bella, what's the matter?"
A lone tear escaped Bella's eye. "Nothing is the matter." She straightened her spine and set the phone she'd been clutching on the bed beside her. "I'm not codependent. I'm not clingy. I'm not needy." Silent tears fell from both eyes now. "I'm… I'm an independent woman."
"Oh, Bella." Athenodora sat beside Bella and drew her into a hug.
The night before, Bella and Athenodora had sat together, in Bella's soundproofed guest room, getting to know one another. They developed an almost instant fondness for each other. A bond formed without the aid of Chelsea.
Athenodora's voice was knowing. "You miss him. It's natural. The bond between vampire mates is different than the love between humans. The love is stronger. The need is deeper. The desire more intense. All of those things only grow as time goes on. The feelings never weaken. There is absolutely nothing negative about that. It's a sublime relationship that should be embraced fully and celebrated. There is no need to declare your independence. Being mated takes nothing away from either of you, including your independence. It brings a new facet to your life without taking anything away. You are an independent woman, that has not changed or been diminished in any way, you are just more now too. How you feel right now is perfectly natural. You are newly mated, the separation is bound to be very painful. Carlisle will feel it too."
"What am I going to do?" Bella sobbed. "I miss Carlisle so much it's tearing me apart and it's only been two days." She cried harder. "What if coming here without telling him was wrong? I believed, I know, I had to do it to protect him. But, what if he doesn't see it that way?"
"Why do you second guess yourself?"
"Carlisle would never tell me what to do. I think he even hesitates to tell me what he wants sometimes. I don't think he understands that I want to make choices that will make him happy too and I'm not sure how to do that." Bella sniffed, it was not a ladylike sound. She realized that she needed to explain. "Edward, he made all the decisions in our relationship. Edward didn't let me even make personal decisions for myself. If I tried, he'd use his vampiric powers to compel me to his will. Carlisle knows that, it upsets him."
"It would. Carlisle is nothing like that."
"I know. I didn't talk to him about my trip here because the whole point was to keep him safe. I had to protect him. It was the right thing to do. But, what if he doesn't understand? What if… what if I've ruined everything?" Bella tears came in earnest.
"You are newly married and you are trying to make everything perfect. That's normal. Many brides are like that when they are newly married, newly mated. You need to stop going back and forth. If you make a decision, stick with it. Trust yourself and trust Carlisle to love you even if you make a mistake. Believe me, that won't ruin your marriage. Nor will a disagreement when you have one. And you will have one. You haven't had your first real argument yet, have you?"
Bella shook her head in the negative.
"So, you are trying to do everything you can to never argue. I remember that stage. I second guessed everything I did too. I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect at all times. That won't work you know. Someday you will disagree about something. You can't prevent it. It's a normal part of any relationship. Second guessing everything you do won't help your marriage."
Unbeknownst to Bella Athenodora chose that moment to interfere. She pushed call on Bella's phone. Athenodora's thumb was over the earpiece, so Bella couldn't hear the ringing before Carlisle picked up. She couldn't hear Carlisle urgently calling her name, hoping to talk to her. She didn't know he could hear her as she began to speak.
Bella's voice was desperate through her tears. "I came here without telling Carlisle, to protect him, to keep him safe. But, I just want him with me. I want to talk to him so badly. I want to touch his hand and look into his beautiful eyes. I love him so much. I love him more than I thought possible. He's everything to me. I only left because I wanted to help him. I miss him. I need to be with him."
Athenodora ended the call. She'd accomplished her goal. Carlisle knew Bella was safe, with a friend, and how she was feeling, even if he didn't know where she was.