Author's Note: This episode is a lot of talk and very little action, but a lot of important things are said. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Now, who's ready for a girls' night?

Chapter Fifteen

The next week proceeded in an unexpected fashion. Somehow, this ragtag gang of freaks and immortals worked well together. Everyone's training was going smoothly, for the most part. Luckily, Carlisle was able to heal from the burns that Rose had "accidentally" given him the first day. Immortality had its perks.

What was most surprising for Bella were the relationships she was allowing herself to form with the others. The hug she'd received from Esme had made her turn a corner. For the first time in a long time, the only thing she wanted was to be happy.

She'd forged friendships with Rosalie, Alice, Jasper and even Emmett, who had shown up on their second day of training. Rosalie had not been happy and had made it known.

When Emmett had walked in the door of Edward's house, the beautiful blonde's fingers immediately begin sparking.

"Happy to see me?" Emmett asked, grinning.

Rose turned to Carlisle. "What the fuck is he doing here?"

"Language," Carlisle softly chided. "He's here to help us. I thought it would be best to have a Justice Seeker here to help us against another Justice Seeker. I thought he might also be of use in helping to hone your power."

Rosalie looked outraged. "He's here to help me? I thought I was supposed to be working on controlling my temper, Carlisle."

Carlisle smiled serenely back at her. "Exactly. Emmett tests your temper. If you can control your powers with him, then surely you can do it with anyone."

Rosalie admitted defeat with her usual grace by stomping outside. Emmett followed after her, whistling.

Edward leaned over to whisper in Bella's ear, "I think that went well."

Her relationship with Edward had taken an interesting turn as well.

He was both infuriating and intoxicating. During that week, he took every chance he had to touch her. His body always seemed to manage to brush up against hers any time he passed by. When he talked to her, he would grab her hand and hold it. And every night when she left to go home, he went with her and left her at her door with a kiss on her cheek.

Along with these moments, she'd also catch him thinking about their first kiss and their little shower moment. Sometimes he was thinking about it on purpose and other times it was quite voluntary. He was clearly up to something and she knew what it was.

He was seducing her. And it was working . . . kind of.

When he touched her, she allowed it. When he thought his little dirty thoughts, she didn't complain. When he made any excuse to spend time with her, she went along with it.

The one thing he didn't do, though, was push her. Each and every one of his actions seemed to be punctuated with a silent, your move. If they were going to be together, it was going to be her decision. She would have to show him that she wanted him.

She was terrified to make that move. The idea of any kind of romance in her life seemed truly baffling. Her heart and mind were both scarred. Edward had made it clear that he would accept her in any way, shape, or form. He hadn't seen the worst parts of her, yet, though. Once he did, surely he would run.

She had a choice before her. It wouldn't be an easy one. She knew she needed help in making it, so she did something she'd never done before: called for a girls' night.

xXx

After a week's worth of hard work and training, both Alice and Rosalie were agreeable to the suggestion of some female-only bonding time. Bella had invited both of them to her apartment for some wine and cheese. She wanted to keep things classy. Simple.

Rosalie made it clear that she had other ideas when she showed up at Bella's door, toting a liter of Grey Goose vodka.

Bella cocked a brow. "And who will be drinking all that, might I ask?"

"You, me, and Alice," Rosalie retorted, ticking each name off on her fingers.

"Good luck with that. I'm not getting wasted."

Rosalie breezed into her apartment and set the Grey Goose down on the kitchen counter. "Well, I sure as hell am not drinking this whole thing alone." She took in her surroundings for the first time and looked impressed. "I have to say, I may come from some serious money, but my parents would never set me up in a place as nice as this."

Bella shrugged, uncomfortable. "I didn't exactly come about the money for this place through honest means. I was stealing things for Aro. He paid me a lot to do so." It felt right for her to confess this to her new friend. She wanted Rosalie to know the worst parts of her. Alice already knew because of her power, but Rosalie was a different story.

Rosalie's reaction surprised her. Her expression remained calm, unbothered. "Bella, I tend to set shit on fire. Important, meaningful shit. Do you honestly think I'm going to judge you?"

Bella looked away from the other woman's gaze. "I don't know. I guess I should also tell you that I didn't just do it for the money. I like to steal things." She held up her wrist for Rose to see. There was an expensive men's watch on it. "I stole this from Edward today. He left it on a counter. It was shiny, so I took it. He hasn't noticed yet."

Rosalie burst out laughing. "You're too funny. Like I said: I don't care. You may have made some shitty life decisions in the past, but you're clearly not now. I'm sure Edward won't mind if you steal from him. In fact, I think he'll like it."

Bella felt her face heating up. "You don't think he'll be mad?"

"Not at all. Things seem to be heating up between you two. I've been meaning to ask you about that."

Before Bella was forced to respond, there was a knock on the door. Bella opened it to find Alice standing there, armed with a package of plastic shot glasses.

"I foresaw a lack of drinking paraphernalia," Alice solemnly intoned.

Bella sighed in exasperation. "Not you too. I bought wine! And cheese! This is supposed to be a classy, quiet night."

Rose looked at Bella as if she'd grown a second head. "Have you ever had a girls' night before?"

Alice answered for Bella. "She hasn't! So we're going to have to show her the ropes." Alice ripped the package of shot glasses open and placed three on the counter next to the vodka. "Now, what are we toasting to?"

xXx

Two hours and several shots of vodka later, Bella was feeling light and airy. Everything was funny.

"Edward is a redhead, isn't he?" she blurted out between peals of laughter.

Alice giggled. "I do believe he is."

Bella frowned. "Oh fuck. Ladies and gentleman, I think I might be head over heals for a ginger."

Rosalie was like a shark scenting blood. "So, are you going to mate with him?"

Bella sighed. "I think I may have to. He's so pretty. And he gets me. His hair is red, though." Bella's voice dropped to a whisper. "And I'm afraid he won't always want me."

The three girls were laying in a circle on Bella's living room carpet. Alice reached out and grabbed both Rosalie's and Bella's hands. "I can guarantee you both that the men in your lives will never leave you. They will be totally devoted."

Rosalie snatched her hand from Alice's and took a swig from the pink vodka concoction she'd mixed up for each of them when they got tired of taking straight shots. "If you're talking about Emmett, then you need to shut the fuck up. It's not happening."

Alice was smug. "Time will tell. For one thing, I always knew that I'd mate with Jasper and it happened last night."

Rose and Bella sprung up in unison. "What?" they shouted.

"Last night. Jasper and I. We mated. It was great. We're, like, one now."

"I'm too drunk for this conversation," Bella muttered. Louder, she said, "So, uh, you guys did it?"

Alice kicked her legs up in the air in girlish excitement. "We did. And now we're mated. And I'm a Protector, too. And Jasper and I are going to be together forever." She pretended to swoon.

Bella found a thread of sobriety in her alcoholic haze. "Wait. What do you mean that you're a Protector now?"

Alice shot up in a panic. "Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. You weren't supposed to find out this way. This is not the good path."

"Tell me, Alice," Bella ordered.

Alice began speaking at a mile a minute. "Well, you see, when a Protector or a Justice Seeker and a super powered human love each other very much, they tend to want to mate. And mates are supposed to be forever. So when the two mate, that human becomes whatever their mate is." Alice waggled her fingers. "Ta da!"

Bella stared back at her, expression blank.

Rosalie snorted. "I don't think that she appreciates your theatrics right now."

Alice sniffed. "And to think I put so much effort into that." She snapped her fingers in front of Bella's face. "Earth to Bella. Don't be mad. Edward didn't tell you because he was afraid you would reject him. He's not experienced much love in his life."

Bella's outrage had been growing, up until Alice's words. She was right. This was as new a territory for Edward as it was for her.

Bella took a deep, calming breath. "This is a big deal. He should have told me. I can understand why he didn't, but I'm not happy about it. It's information that is absolutely fucking vital to any decision I may make about him and me."

Rosalie groaned. "Bella, a hot, bangable guy wants to be your forever-fuck-buddy. Just go for it."

Bella reached over the bottle of Grey Goose and took a swig. "I can't."

Rose grabbed Bella's cellphone off the coffee table and handed it to her. "Here. If you're so interested in getting an explanation from him, then ask him. I have a low tolerance for whining and bullshit, and you're really testing it right now."

A part of Bella knew she should be offended, but she wasn't. It was just Rose being Rose. "I can't call him. I've been drinking."

Rose waved her hand in the air as if she were swatting away a pesky fly. "Oh puh-lease. The best and most honest conversations always involve a bit of alcohol."

Bella looked unsure.

"I'll show you my super speed if you do it," Alice bribed.

Bella grabbed the phone out of Rose's hand and dialed Edward's number.

"Bella," he answered, after the first ring.

"You are a redhead and a liar," she blurted out. The vodka she'd just imbibed wasn't doing her any favors.

Edward was clearly amused; she could feel it across the bond. "Darling, have you been drinking?"

"I will neither confirm nor deny that. You are just trying to distract me. You lied to me, Edward Cullen. You never told me that if I mated with you, I'd become a Protector."

"Fucking Alice," Edward swore. "I was going to tell you when the time was right—when we'd gotten to know each other a little better."

"I should have known right up front! What if I don't want to live forever? Did you ever think of that?"

If Bella was angry, Edward was furious. "There you go again, erecting another wall between the two of us. You'll use anything as an excuse to stop the inevitable from happening."

Bella tried to match his fury and failed. "Oh yeah? Well, you're just a stupid redhead!"

"First of all, my hair is auburn. Second of all, I'm not the stupid one here."

"Hey!" Bella yelped, outraged. "Did you just call me stupid?"

"You are smart in many ways, darling, but when it comes to our relationship, you think some pretty dumb things."

"You're acting like a . . . like a . . . meanie!"

Edward chuckled. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm acting like. I'm just a ginger meanie. Listen, why don't we talk about this in person tomorrow? You should enjoy your girls' night. Goodnight, Bella." He hung up without waiting for a response.

Bella stared at the phone, mouth agape. "Did he just hang up on me?"

Rosalie patted her on the shoulder consolingly. "Yes, he did."

Bella floated her drink over to herself. She was more drunk than she thought because some of the drink splashed over the top as it made its way to her. "He has no right to be angry at me!"

"It's not about who has the right to be angry at who. It's about you two working out your problems like adults. You know, the very thing you've been refusing to do," Rose pointed out.

Bella pouted. "You're not nearly as drunk as I am, are you?"

"Bella," Alice warned, letting her know that neither she nor Rosalie were going to allow her to get their conversation off track.

"Ugh! Fine! I'm terrified, okay? Is that what you people want to hear? Do you want to know how I lay awake at night, wondering if I'll ever deserve him? Or maybe you want me to tell you about how, at the end of the day, the thing that scares me the most isn't being with him forever, but the idea that I'll never be able to have sex like a normal woman?" Bella chugged down her drink and slammed it on the table. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep the tears at bay.

She felt Rosalie and Alice each take on of her hands. She opened her eyes to stare at them. Both were looking at her not with pity, but with understanding. Alice was the first one to speak.

"I had—have—the same fears. Being with Jasper doesn't make me forget them—it helps me to conquer them. Every time he touches me, it heals a small part of me. It lets me know that human contact can be filled love instead of violence." Her eyes were brimming with unshed tears. "Don't you see, Bella? You can have it all. You just have to let yourself."

Rosalie—strong, invulnerable Rosalie—had tears streaming down her face. "What she said," she choked out.

Bella let Alice's words wash over her. She felt them shift something in her. She was ready. She was ready to be happy. She was ready to live. She was ready to let Edward in. Tomorrow, she would tell him.

Tomorrow, her heart and mind told him through their bond.

Tomorrow, his own heart sang back.

Bella burst into tears. Alice and Rosalie wrapped her in their arms. Once her tears dried up, she pulled away, making sure she could look both of them straight on.

"Thank you," she told them fervently. "Tomorrow, I'm going to talk it out with Edward. I'm going to make things work. He and I still have a few things to hash out, but I know we can do it."

Rosalie feigned shock. "You must be drunk."

Bella let out a wet chuckle. "I'm not that bad, am I?"

Alice and Rosalie stared at her for a moment before bursting out laughing.

Bella reluctantly joined along with them. "I guess I'm not exactly a ray of sunshine." She decided a change of subject was needed. She hated having attention focused on her. "So, Alice, any information about the cologne?"

Alice shook her head. "Nope. I should hear something in the next few days. I'm supposed to be sent a list of people who bought it in the area."

"The sooner, the better. I want to find that bastard and gut him." The flames that licked her fingers served to heighten Rosalie's fierce image.

"Settle down there, cowgirl," Bella cautioned.

"Whatever," Rose grumbled. "Let's do more shots! Then Alice can show up her new super powers."

"Yay!" Alice cheered.

The girls spend the rest of the night drinking and laughing. It was the most fun Bella had ever had. These people—they were her family.

xXx

Alice woke Bella and Rosalie up the next morning. She was much more chipper than the other two girls.

"What the fuck, Alice?" Rose groaned. "Haven't you ever heard of a hangover?"

"Now that I'm a Protector, I don't get hangovers!" Alice boasted. "C'mon, I made pancakes. Hangover breakfast of champions!"

"Five more minutes," Bella grumbled, shoving her face further into her pillow.

"Nope. We have to be over the Cullen's in half an hour!"

Bella shot up. Edward. She felt for him through the bond. He was excited, hopeful. Today was their day. And she was going to look hungover for it.

Bella walked into the bathroom without a word, hoping that she could make herself look presentable.

Half an hour later, after the girls rushed around and got dressed, they were ready to leave.

When she opened her door to leave, Bella saw a flyer lying on the ground. "What's this?"

Alice snatched it out of her hand. "Oh goody! It looks like an invitation to a Halloween party." She frowned to herself. "I only have a week to shop for a costume."

"Let me see that," Rose commanded. Once Alice handed it over, she read through it. Her face paled and she began to tremble.

"Rosalie? What's wrong?" Bella asked.

Rosalie stared off into space, eyes wild and face ashen. "No. No. It can't be."

"Rose! Snap out of it!"

Rose looked at Alice and Bella, as if she had just noticed they were there. "The address for the party," she whispered. "It's the same abandoned house I was found in after I'd been raped."