Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street. I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again. Boy, did it scare me. You can't imagine …
Then I started doing something else. Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to Allie. I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Allie, don't let me disappear. Please, Allie." And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him.
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, Chapter 25
I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you are faced with some unthinkable horror and cannot move your feet. The kind where your heart pounds so loudly you're sure the others in the room can hear it. Only in my case… they could. I stared around the room as the man in the suit spoke, his words washing over me.
We know all about the events from last year. We granted her permission…
They had agreed to let me die.
But worse than that, worse than anything I could imagine… they would now decide the fate of another. The life that meant infinitely more to me than my own.
Alice had said there was a good chance we would both die here. Perhaps the outcome would be different if I hadn't jumped. The red-haired woman wouldn't have found me, and wouldn't have then found him. This was all my fault.
But since you are here, we wonder if you have any information about the sudden increase in numbers around your feeding grounds…
"Wait!" I said.
Afterward, I knew it should have been obvious that it had been a dream. There had been so many clues. But, like anyone, I had been unable to see what was wrong until afterward.
At first, I was standing in a bright shaft of sunlight. It was the kind of sunlight that shone on Phoenix, not Forks. It was clear, clean, and dry. It was pure. It was nothing like the damp, filtered light of Forks, which seemed to always be shining through such humidity that it might as well be liquid. There were motes and dust particles that colored any light in Forks. They were gone, now.
So I should have known better.
Instead, it seemed perfectly natural to my sleeping self that the sunlight could be interchanged between the two cities, and I never questioned it. I remembered how I missed my grandmother, but not the reason why.
I looked at Grandma Marie. She had been dead for six years, but I didn't seem to remember that. Instead, I drank in the sight of her. When she was alive, she had been one of my most favorite relatives. She was sweet, charming, and had a surprisingly dirty sense of humor. I had not seen her for a long time.
She had soft, withered skin, the face of a person who had lived a thousand moments of joy, sadness, anger and love. Her skin was bent into creases that clung, gently, to the bone underneath. Like a piece of dried fruit; she had lived what I never would. The puff of thick white hair stood in a cloud around her face.
We smiled at the same time; mine a picture of surprise and happiness, hers a puckered expression of curiosity and welcoming. She hadn't been expecting to see me, either.
I had questions for her. After she had died (I remembered suddenly that she was dead, and that this could only be her spirit), I'd found myself flooded with questions. Things I had never thought to ask while she was alive. What had her childhood been like? What was her best memory? What was it like, growing up in the depression? What were her brothers like? What was school like for her? What were her childhood hopes for her future? What where her hopes for my mom, as her mother? What was it like, when she died? Where had she been? How was Grampy, and had they found each other again after death?
She opened her mouth before I could decide the best question to ask, and I paused. I'd been taught to listen first and ask questions after.
It wasn't Gran who called my name, and we both turned to see the addition to our reunion. I recognized the voice so strongly that I didn't have to look, to know who it was. His voice was in my mind all the time.
I felt my heart jump to my throat – my usual response to seeing him unexpectedly – but my excitement was quickly replaced by concern. He was walking toward us, standing in the clean sunlight.
I panicked. Gran didn't know that I was in love, much less in love with a vampire. What would she think, when the light hit him and the truth of his body was revealed? However alive his mind was, his body was something else. Not dead, not living… something in between. Something with elements that had never been researched, something that would be horrifying for its sheer impossibility to anyone who didn't know what Edward was. What would she think when he stepped into the sun, and his dark veins, filled with lifeless blood, became visible?
Well, Gran, you might have noticed that my boyfriend changes color in the sun. It's just something he does. Don't worry about it.
What was he doing? The whole reason he lived in the northwest was to conceal the fact that direct sunlight painted him like a Jackson Pollock. To allow him to go out during the day without exposing his whole family. But here he was, strolling toward me – with a smile that couldn't be sweeter – as if I were the only one who could see him.
I grabbed my grandmother's wrist, trying to pull her attention away from Edward's sudden change in appearance. Maybe if I distracted her enough, she wouldn't realize what was happening. She wouldn't realize that I was desperately hoping that Edward would unexpectedly discover he could read my mind after all; he would go back into the shade, meet my grandmother without alerting her to what he was. I wished he would realize that I was afraid of what my grandmother would think.
I stared at him as his alienness became evident. He transformed into a creature that I would have fled from, if I hadn't known it was still Edward under the patchwork of blue veins. I turned back to Gran, my eyes wide and fearful. At the same moment, she regarded me with a look of anxiety.
She had seen him.
I looked at his face once more, trying to figure out what was going on. I didn't understand. Edward had never been so oblivious. Edward hadn't been able to show me what he was without a level of trust he didn't have with nearly anyone, much less my grandmother, who he was meeting for the first time. What had turned him into such an ignorant person?
I looked back toward my grandmother, who was giving me an apprehensive smile. I remembered – again – that she had been dead for six years.
This didn't make sense.
I looked down at my hand, which had been gripping my grandmother's wrist. But I wasn't. My hand was outstretched and pressed against a solid surface. Glass? Something that my grandmother was also looking through.
Edward put his arm around me, his hand drifting to my hip and circling there idly.
Then, I saw a frame. Around my grandmother was an archway of gilded metal, ornately designed. Why was she trapped in glass? Who had done this?
Another Edward suddenly appeared in front of me, cradling my grandmother in the exact way he was holding me. My Edward kissed my cheek, and Gran's Edward kissed her cheek.
No. It wasn't Gran, after all. It wasn't her.
It was me.
"Happy birthday," I heard in my ear, watching as Gran's Edward whispered to her.
I was suddenly awake.
There was no grogginess, no heaviness of the hands like I usually awakened to. I was instantly and horrifically lucid. My eyes roamed the room, and I gathered my bearings.
I was in my bedroom, in Forks, Washington. There was light coming through the window, but it was the dense sunlight of the Pacific Northwest, not the glaring light of Arizona.
Edward was next to me, clad in nothing but his underwear. He was still asleep, his chest rising and falling peacefully in my bed. His loveliness was almost too much to take in. His dark eyelashes brushed against his cheek, his mouth partly open as if he were about to speak. His hair was tangled; he had let it grow out some over the summer, after I complimented the length of his hair in photos from when he was still alive. Although he was pale, his lips, cheeks and fingers were rosy, as if he had just come in from the snow. I knew from this that he had recently fed.
In the previous spring, in Phoenix, we had discovered that if Edward shared my bed, he could sleep. Before then, he had not slept in almost one hundred years. I supposed it was something I took for granted… sleepiness had always felt unpleasant to me… and embarrassing when I happened to nod off in class.
But Edward's delight in sleeping – in dreaming – had been remarkable. I'd never thought of sleeping as something one could miss, but I supposed it would be wearing to have your brain turned on every minute of the day, to be unable to check out and refresh yourself in any way. And, as Edward had rediscovered, dreams were truly incredible. His mother had been dead since 1918, but when he dreamed he could see her face again, speak to her, and experience something that was so nearly real. At least three nights a week, Edward had begun staying in my bed with me during the night.
It was strictly secret, of course. My father didn't know. If he did, he would have forbidden all contact with Edward, worried about my chastity. He also didn't know that Edward and I had lost our virginity to each other the year before, and that most nights Edward stayed with me, we reinforced that decision.
I couldn't help but smile at the sweetness of the face sleeping next to me. It wasn't that he was less adorable while he was awake, but there was something innocent about a person who was sleeping. Perhaps it was simply the knowledge of my own dreams… I often dreamt I was still a child. Maybe it was just that I imagined him dreaming the same. Either way, I loved to see him sleep, and it was a rarity because he normally woke before me.
As I absorbed the image of his beautiful face next to me, I remembered something. "Happy birthday," Edward had whispered in my dream. And it was my birthday. I was eighteen years old, today. One year older than Edward was allowed, in his human life.
It seemed unfair, somehow. Edward was so wonderful, and over the summer he had shared more of his human life with me than I could have imagined. Not only was Edward a good person now, but he had been a good person when he was seventeen years old, in 1918.
But he had still died.
How could it be that I, who had surrounded myself with dangerous vampires that could kill me in mere seconds, was still alive? I had even been tracked and tricked by a particularly lethal breed of vampire, and had managed to overcome him. I had survived the inferno that had followed my setting him on fire, even though I'd lost consciousness shortly after my attack. Because of Edward. Because Edward had run into a fire that could have consumed him in a flash, to pull my mother and my unconscious form from the blaze.
So much of it was luck.
I wasn't used to believing in luck. I'd always thought that you could achieve anything, if you worked hard enough. But that wasn't the only factor in the 'life' equation. You could work until your fingers bled, and it wouldn't matter at all if you didn't have luck on your side.
I touched Edward's face, tracing his cheekbone and letting my hand fall into his hair, feeling the fine texture and enjoying the soft sigh that Edward gave at my touch. I relaxed into my pillow as his arms drew around me instinctively. Then, his eyes opened.
They were the deepest of reds, the color of a dark wine. When I'd been in mortal danger some months ago, Edward had drunk a bag of human blood that he'd taken from a hospital. He normally only drank from animals, but the man attacking me was a vampire who fed only from humans, which gave him a debilitating edge over the vampires that valued human life. Ever since, Edward's eyes had shifted from their normal, beautiful amber color to the heavy red that man-eating vampires sported. I knew he was ashamed of his eyes, and I wondered when they would go back to their normal state. It had been months, but that hadn't seemed to change their tint at all. I wanted to ask him how long it would take, but I knew that if I did he would become self-conscious.
Edward stretched, his mind getting more alert.
"It's really something, sleeping." He said, his voice graveled from a night of disuse. "I never get bored of it. When I was a human…" he drifted off in groggy thought.
"What?" I asked.
"When I was a human, I thought it was a waste of time." He yawned. "But I never realized how fulfilling it is. After so long without it… I can't get over how wonderful it is to wake up. First you're hazy, then you feel your body waking up, and then you're up. And you feel amazing."
"Did you dream, tonight?" I asked. It seemed he dreamed every night that we spent together. I only remembered mine sometimes, but Edward was different. He had vivid, colorful dreams that were so real to him that he often woke up with surprise at where he was.
"Yes," he said, his voice sounding oddly distressed. "I dreamt I was back in the hospital. When I caught the Spanish flu, I mean."
I looked at his face for a long moment. "What was it like?"
"Awful." He said. "The regular flu is bad on its own, but this one… as it got worse, I started coughing so hard that my abdominal muscles tore. I bled from my mouth, my nose… even my ears. Carlisle says my skin turned blue because I couldn't breathe."
"A lot of times, people died only hours after their symptoms appeared. I was luckier. I lasted several days."
"Didn't you say that it targeted young people?"
"Yes. People who were very healthy were hit the hardest, they think it caused people's own immune systems to turn on them." He stretched again. "After that, I had another dream. I dreamt Emmett was born as my brother, rather than us both being adopted, and that we decided to sail to the North Pole with Shackleton. Which is silly, because Shackleton went to the South Pole. But when we got there, expecting ice, we discovered that it was a tropical beach. I was disappointed, but Emmett got a tan."
I laughed that such a serious and emotional dream could be followed by something so ridiculous. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. I followed his lead, picking up my hairbrush to work out the tangles in my hair. "Did you dream?" He asked.
"No." I said. Something about the tone I used alerted Edward to my deception. Unlike the rest of the human world, Edward Cullen couldn't read my mind. However, we'd gotten close enough now that he could read me better than most people.
"Are you sure?" He said, a vague smile playing on his perfect lips.
I sighed. "I dreamt that my grandmother was in front of me. We were standing in the meadow, the one you showed me. I was about to talk to her, but you walked out into the sunlight and I was afraid of what she would think when she saw you. I reached out to touch her, and it wasn't her. It was a mirror. It was me. I was an old, withered person and you were still there, looking the same as you always do."
Edward turned his gaze away from me, pushing his hand through his thick hair as if to straighten it out. I knew how he felt about turning me into a vampire. He had refused the last time we'd talked about it, and we'd had an argument. I didn't really want to bring it up again. At least not right now, when he was just getting up, looking so sweet and happy.
I smiled at him, and shifted on the bed so that I faced him.
"That's not going to work, Edward," I said, pulling his hand away from his head. I ran my brush through his hair. Unfortunately, the bedhead wasn't dismissed so easily, his hair springing back into place almost immediately. I grinned at him. "You know, you have the most hopelessly stubborn hair I have ever seen." I said.
"Believe me, I know." He smiled back at me. "I've been fighting with it for a hundred years. That's why I cut it so short, it's easier to maintain. When it's longer… I mean, I may as well just shave my head and put a bird's nest in its place."
I laughed, then stood and stretched. I saw his eyes drop to my stomach, as my skin was revealed where my pajamas had slipped up. "I'm going to go brush my teeth." I said.
When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was almost surprised that my face hadn't aged. I washed my skin and brushed my teeth, pulling my hair back into a loose ponytail and drinking a glass of water. When I returned to my bedroom, Edward was dressed. "Happy birthday! See you later," he said with a smile, before ducking out my window.
I dressed after he left, unable to feel unhappy about my life. I was a year older than Edward, but what did that matter? Esme was 27 when she was turned, and Carlisle only 24. No one questioned their marriage. Rosalie had been turned at 22 and Emmett was only 20, and people didn't even seem to notice. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, to look a little older than Edward.
What really worried me was that, on my 40th birthday, Edward would still look 17. People would see us together and think I was his mother – or worse, think I was some sort of cradle robber. It didn't matter that Edward was really older than most people's grandfathers. People judge on appearance. And I knew that people's judgments would wear on Edward, too, having to listen to their harsh thoughts whenever he was around them. But Edward wasn't thinking in the long-term, in spite of his 'age and wisdom', as he liked to say. He was able to acknowledge that I would age on an intellectual level, but I don't think he really accepted that it would happen. I just hoped he would change his mind soon enough that people wouldn't notice that I was aging and he wasn't.
My dad was in good spirits, when I went downstairs. He hugged me the second he saw me, said "Happy birthday, Bells!" and then guided me toward the kitchen table, which had a small stack of wrapped gifts sitting on it. I felt overwhelmed that he'd bought me more than one gift. He didn't exactly have a lot of extra money for presents, but this was the first year I'd spent with him over my birthday. At least, the first since the day I was actually born.
He set a plate of pancakes and bacon in front of me, sitting to eat his portion of the large meal at the same table. He didn't talk much during breakfast – he never talked much, really – but I knew that he'd made this meal for me. Normally I made myself some cereal or ate a granola bar and a piece of fruit, and often my father was gone before I got up. He was Chief Charlie Swan of the Forks police department, and his responsibilities as the chief of police included very long hours of work.
After I'd finished breakfast and thanked him for making it, I looked to the pile of presents. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, for a moment, and grinned at him.
"I can't believe you got me gifts," I said.
"I always get you a gift!" Dad protested. He didn't look like me, the way my mother did; he had a strong, heavy jaw and dark curly hair. But we were more alike in personality, something that sometimes caused us to argue. We were both very stubborn. The love, though, made up for that.
"I know, but… this is a lot." I said. "Thank you."
He was embarrassed by my thanks, so he gestured toward the pile. "You'd better start opening them, or you'll be late for school."
The first three gifts were books. Dad knew that I liked to read, but it was clear he wasn't entirely certain what type of books I enjoyed. He gave me three novels where the characters were stranded in the wilderness. 'Hatchet', 'The Cay', and 'Lord of the Flies'. They might be good, but I had never read something before that had to do with wilderness survival. I thanked him anyway, because it was a sweet thought. Maybe by next year, he would know my reading tastes better.
It shocked me to realize, suddenly, that I was planning to be here next year. Of course I was, though. Edward lived here.
The next two gifts were DVDs. One of them was Romeo and Juliet, the version from the nineties with Leonardo DiCaprio. It was a surprisingly astute decision on my dad's part, I loved that movie. I loved the play, in general, but this particular adaptation was more endearing to me than any other of the film versions that I'd seen.
The second film was Ghost Busters, a movie that I had watched with my dad almost every year when we vacationed together in Forks and California. I'd seen it for the first time with him, and he'd bought it on VHS because of how much I liked it the first time – when I was five. Now it was tradition, but the old tape player he owned had finally stopped working. I smiled when I saw the cover of the DVD, and looked up at him with delight.
"You know we're watching this, this weekend, right?" I said.
"Of course." My dad said. He smiled. "Open the last one!"
I turned to the final gift, a heavy, square package. I tore the paper off to see a plastic box with clips holding it closed. Confused, I unclipped the box and lifted the lid. Inside the hard case was foam lining that cushioned a gun.
"It's a Smith & Wesson," my dad said. "A three inch 29."
"You bought me a gun..?" I asked.
"You're an adult, now. I taught you how to shoot; I know you have good aim and a good sense about you. It's important to me that you can protect yourself if you need to."
"You want me to carry it around with me?" I asked.
"Well, not at school!" He said. "Use your best judgment. I think you need to have a weapon. I don't want you to be afraid, when you go out. You know how to defend yourself, and you should have the tools to do it."
I gave him another smile. I was puzzled, but also pleased with his decision. He wanted to keep me safe, that much was obvious. But it was so different from what I could have expected from my mother. She was against firearms at all costs, even though I was a good shot. It really illustrated the differences between the two of them, the different ways they looked at the world. Yet Charlie's viewpoint – that I should be ready to fight – had protected me from a couple of drunk men in Port Angeles and had given me the drive to strike James, a tracker vampire who was trying to kill me. I'd begun to come around to his way of thinking.
Maybe the average person didn't need to be ready for attack… but I did. I surrounded myself with vampires, and most of the others in their breed were extremely dangerous. And I had terrible luck, it seemed. Aside from meeting Edward, most of my chance encounters had ended up being violent. It was probably a good idea to have a weapon I could use, if I had to.
"Thanks, dad." I said at last. "After school, I'll try some target practice." I smiled at him.
He smiled back, clapping me on the shoulder. "I'd better get to work," he said after a moment. "I love you, Bells. Drive safe."
Ever since I'd been injured by James the previous spring – something that my mother and Edward had staged into looking like a car crash – my dad had ended any goodbye with 'drive safe'. I understood his worry, even if it wasn't the true nature of my experience. I nodded, and he left.
When I was ready, I got in my truck. I couldn't feel much but anticipation – even though I'd just seen Edward an hour ago – until I pulled into the familiar parking lot behind Forks High School. I spotted Edward leaning motionlessly against his polished silver Volvo, like a tribute to some forgotten god of beauty. He was waiting for me.
Even after half a year with him, I still couldn't believe that I deserved this degree of good fortune. His sister, Alice, stood waiting for me next to him.
Edward and Alice weren't really related. In Forks, the community believed all the children were adopted – which wasn't exactly false – except that Rosalie and Jasper were twins. In reality, Rosalie was Jasper's third cousin; the great grandchild of his cousin Alec. It sounded impossible, until one realized that Jasper was born in 1759 in the British colony of Maryland, fought in the American Revolution, and had a cousin that ended up being Rosalie's grandparent when she was born in 1803. With those facts in mind, the details of their relationship no longer seemed important.
Although none of the Cullen children were true siblings, they had skin of precisely the same color. Most of them had the same, golden-amber colored eyes. Most of them had the same deep bruise-like shadows beneath the eyes. They were all shockingly beautiful.
Edward was different, now. Though his eyes had taken on the deep burgundy of vampires that fed from humans, he was wearing color contact lenses that masked the tint from the wider world, making them look a flat brown that was a thin mockery of his normal eye color. Not all the changes in him were bad, however. The nights he'd spent in my bed, asleep, had removed much of the dark shadows that he'd habitually worn, before. He looked healthier than the others, and I was certain it was because of me and the strange gift I had, that could draw him into sleep when he was unable to achieve it by himself.
As I slammed the door of my '53 Chevy truck, I noticed Alice was holding something. I frowned vaguely at the small, silver-wrapped gift in her hands. I had asked the Cullens not to give me anything for my birthday, even Edward. They had so much money that I couldn't imagine the extravagant things they would get, it seemed to mean so little to them.
"Happy birthday, Bella!" Alice said, skipping toward me, her pixie's face glowing under her spiky hair.
"Thanks," I said softly, and Edward could see my reluctance. He tried to hide his smile, but I knew his face well enough to see it. I gave him a disapproving look.
"Do you want to open your present now or later?" she asked eagerly as we made our way to where Edward still waited.
"I asked you not to get me anything, Alice…" I said.
She shrugged. "Later, then!" She said, missing my point entirely.
We reached Edward, and he held out his hand for mine. I took it easily, falling quickly into the comfort of his presence. My mood quickly improved. His skin was, as always, smooth and cool. He gave my fingers a gentle squeeze, and I smiled up at him.
"Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts," he commented, running his hand through his tousled bronze hair.
Alice laughed, a silvery chime that was unique to her. "Of course you'll enjoy it!" She said as we walked toward the school. "Everyone is supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Bella. What's the worst that could happen?"
"Getting older." I said, giving a pointed look at Edward. His smile faded, eyebrows drawing together. He was troubled by the idea of turning me into what he was, and any time I brought up the practical nature of it and my right to choose my fate, he withdrew into himself. As soon as I saw the look on his face, I felt bad about what I'd said.
"Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said.
"Older than Edward."
Edward sighed, and Alice laughed again. "Sorry, Bella, but whatever you say… you're not older than Edward. And I have the photos to prove it." She grinned wickedly at Edward, who rolled his eyes.
We arrived at the cafeteria, where I knew Alice would separate from us as Edward and I went to our first hour class. We had almost all the same classes this year, something we had meticulously scheduled in order to spend more time with each other.
"What time will you be at the house?" Alice asked.
"Oh, come on, Bella! Don't ruin all our fun!" She was clearly planning a party. I frowned.
"I have work," I said.
"Actually, I called and asked Mrs. Newton to switch shifts with you. She said to tell you 'happy birthday'."
I frowned again. "You've gone to an awful lot of trouble for this, haven't you?" I asked.
"Yep! All for you. And everyone will just be so disappointed… I guess I can tell them you don't want to see them…" she trailed off, her tone heavy. I knew she would do no such thing, but somehow she made me feel guilty even so.
"Oh, fine." I conceded. Alice grinned and pecked me on the cheek, turning and gliding off toward her first class.
Edward smiled at me. "We'd better go, before we're late for class."
We sat at our usual table for lunch. In the previous year, before all the horrifying events in which I left Forks and killed a vampire that was hunting me, Edward and I had begun to share our time between his usual table and the table I'd sat at with my friends before we started dating. They'd never quite warmed up to Edward, who was quiet at their table and had deliberately avoided his classmates before he'd met me.
This year, it was a little different. Although they were not quite at ease around the Cullens, Edward and Alice were the only two still in school. The "older" Cullen siblings had graduated, and as a result the two that remained did not seem quite so intimidating. Alice had joined me and Edward with my other friends, and a strange kind of truce existed between the group. Mike and Jessica (who were in the awkward post-breakup friendship phase) and Angela and Ben (who had started dating over the summer), Eric, Conner, Tyler and Lauren (who didn't like me) all sat with us every day.
The normal students had trouble including Edward in their conversations, partly because of the strange emotional shift that most humans experienced in the presence of vampires (that I was remarkably immune to), and partly because he had made his disinterest in them clear for the last three years. And, to be honest, Edward had some social awkwardness from spending so many years alone. It didn't help that he could hear their thoughts whether he liked it or not, and in such close proximity it was very difficult for him to block out their internal judgments of his behavior.
Alice was another story. Her personality overcame the fact that people felt ill at ease in the Cullens presence, and she often participated enthusiastically with the conversations they had. She never seemed to stop being amazed and delighted by people. She had been born in 1850 and turned into a vampire in 1869, perpetually 19 years old. And much of her second life had been spent in high school and college, around other young adults.
I couldn't imagine that they could tell her many stories that she hadn't heard already. She had to have heard every prank story, every sneaking-out-of-the-house story, every run-in-with-the-police story, and every teen romance story there was. But her vast experience with the world of young people didn't appear to damper her interest at all. She laughed at their jokes, asked for details of their narrow escapes from parental justice, and showed all the appropriate remorse when so-and-so broke up with you-know-who. The other students loved her in spite of their discomfort, which they seemed to attribute to Edward's proximity rather than Alice.
But Edward didn't mind the mild ostracism the way I'd thought he might. He was used to it, I guess, though I didn't know how anyone could get accustomed to being completely aware of someone's instinctive dislike of them. But sometimes it bothered Edward how very comfortable I was with being close to him. He felt it illustrated a lack of self-preservation. Vampires just didn't affect me the way they affected others.
Alice had let it slip that it was my birthday, and my friends immediately started asking whether I would be having a party. Edward shot a warning glance to Alice and I knew what he was thinking. There was no way we could have a lot of humans in the Cullen house without causing trouble. The party was for me and only me.
"I'm not having a party," I said.
"What? Why not?" Jess demanded.
"Come on, I hate birthday parties." I said with a wave of my hand.
"You wouldn't hate a party I threw, brown eyes." Mike grinned at me. I could see Jessica's annoyed glance at him – it was too early after their breakup for him to be flirting with me.
"I don't know, Mike," Eric commented. "Remember the last party you threw?"
"Didn't the police arrest some of your friends for driving on Mr. Berty's lawn?" Alice asked in her melodic voice. The others laughed, and the conversation was diverted from my birthday to Mike's bad luck with parties. Or good luck, depending on how you judged success. Mike's partygoers often found themselves in unfortunate situations, but his parties usually went down as legendary in the minds of his peers. And what kind of party was it if it didn't leave behind a good story to tell?
Edward left me at my house at 3 pm, so that I could get ready for the party in private. The past few weeks especially, he had been a little more distant than when we'd first started dating. It was one of the reasons I had gotten a job (though I certainly did need the gas money), but over the summer he gave me a bit of space. We spent almost every night together, but most of the days I didn't know what he was up to. I assumed he was hunting, trying to quell the thirst. But I was starting to think perhaps he felt guilty about what had happened to me, as if it were his fault that I had been put in danger's way. It was as if he wanted me to decide he wasn't right for me.
But I had no plans to do that. I loved Edward, and I wanted to spend my life with him.
Edward was back in my driveway at 7, ready to accompany me to his house. My mother had sent me a camera for my birthday, so I had Edward drive as I tried my new toy out. Edward pulled faces at me in the car as I snapped pictures of him. Even when he was crossing his eyes or puffing his cheeks, it was impossible for him to hide how handsome he really was.
"And these pictures, you'll show up in them?" I asked.
He laughed as we pulled into his driveway. I took the camera with me, getting out of the car and walking toward the front door. He was still laughing as he opened the door for me.
The Cullen family was waiting in the huge white living room; when I walked through the door, they greeted me with a loud chorus of "Happy birthday, Bella!"
I assumed it was Alice that had covered every flat surface with pink candles and roses. There was a table with a white cloth draped over it next to Edward's piano (he had displayed his musical talents for me many times over the summer, and I never got tired of listening to him play), which held a pink birthday cake and a small pile of silver-wrapped presents.
It was so much more than I had imagined.
Edward's adopted parents, Carlisle and Esme – as impossibly lovely as ever – were the closest to the door. Esme drew a finger across my forehead, brushing my hair out of my face and pressed a light kiss to my forehead. Her soft, caramel-colored hair brushed my cheek as she leaned back and gave me a loving, maternal look. Carlisle placed a cool hand against my shoulder, smiling at me under his wavy blond hair. He was younger than Esme by several thousand years, but somehow they were able to connect and love each other in spite of that difference. It made me hopeful about my relationship with Edward.
"Sorry about the extravagance, Bella," Carlisle stage-whispered. "Alice is a force that can't be stopped."
Rosalie and Emmett stood behind them. Rosalie gave me a tentative smile, her long blonde hair pouring over her shoulders. I had forgotten how stunning she was – it almost hurt to look at her. Emmett, her husband, was stretched into a huge grin next to her. I certainly didn't remember him being so big! They had gone to Africa on vacation, but neither had returned looking any more tan, something that didn't surprise me at all. Vampires didn't tan.
"You haven't changed at all, short-stack," Emmett said. "I thought there might be a difference! A superhero outfit at the least, I mean, you killed your first villain and everything."
I flushed, looking down. I didn't know how I felt about what I had done to James. He had been trying to kill me, so I had acted out of self-defense (and defense of my mother, who he had kidnapped). But I also knew that his breed of vampire had very little free will; once they locked onto a victim, they could not stop until that victim was dead. Edward could have turned me into a vampire, but had chosen instead to doom James. I understood his point… James would have only gone onto the next victim, had he survived. But it was still hard for me to know I ended another creature's life, even one as horrible as James had been.
Emmett had a way of being shockingly flippant about things that tended to upset others. He was very frank and had little tact, but his swagger and buoyant cheerfulness seemed to improve the mood of the people around him.
"I don't think superhero outfits can exist outside of the 80's," I said. "At least, not in the wild. Not without being extremely conspicuous."
Laughter rumbled through the room. Although none of the people standing in the house looked old enough to actually remember the eighties, all of them except for me had lived through them. I was sure they had a lot to say about the things they'd seen people wear, but even I knew that the age of brightly colored spandex was over.
"I have to step out for a second," Emmett said, then, pausing to wink at Alice. "Try not to do anything exciting and adventurous while I'm gone, I'd hate to miss it again."
"I'll try to restrain myself," I said.
Alice let go of Jasper's hand and skipped forward, all her teeth sparkling in the bright light. Jasper smiled too, but kept his distance. He leaned, long and dignified, against the post at the foot of the stairs. Like Edward, he had started to grow his hair out over the summer and it was beginning to wave gently. It looked like it was the same texture as Carlisle's, though it rang with a deeper golden tone than Carlisle's more buttery tint, and since it was now much longer it gave him a regal look. During the days we'd spent cooped up together in Phoenix, we'd gotten to know each other better, but he still kept his distance. He had more trouble than the rest did in sticking to the Cullens' diet; the scent of human blood was much harder for him to resist.
"Time to open presents," Alice declared. She put her hand under my elbow and towed me to the table.
"Let me take pictures of you all, first!" I said. Emmett had returned to the room, and they were polite enough to pose for me several times. I think Alice was somewhat annoyed at the delay, but I was happy to prolong the wait before I had to see the money they'd spent on me.
I'd never had much money, and that had never bothered me. My mother, Renee, had raised me on a kindergarten teacher's salary. My dad, Charlie, wasn't getting rich at his job, either – he was the police chief here in the tiny town of Forks. My personal money came from the three days a week I worked at the local sporting good's store, which belonged to my friend Mike's parents. In a town this small, I was lucky to have a job. Every penny I made went into my microscopic college fund, or toward gas for my car.
Edward's family had a lot of money – I didn't even want to think about how much. Carlisle had survived both of his parents, was an only child, and had kept his family money after being changed by Esme. And Alice had an uncanny ability to predict stock market trends, due to her rare gift of premonitions. They had an unlimited amount of time to let their interest build, and at this point they were so wealthy that money meant almost nothing to them.
I knew that such wealth had taken time to adjust to, at least for Edward. We'd talked about money before, and he'd discussed his own reaction to being changed and suddenly having funds for anything he might want to buy. He had grown up comfortable, at least when he was a young child, before his mother's job at the Everleigh Club had been terminated when the club closed in 1911. But she had made and saved enough to keep him clothed and in school, and with enough to have nice Christmases and birthdays, piano lessons and baseball equipment. It was closer to how I had grown up than any of the others.
Esme, the oldest and the one who'd turned Carlisle, had grown up in the Bronze Age in Wales. She had been a member of the culture that had built Stonehenge (and something on the English coast that Edward had referred to as 'Seahenge'). Her people had not used money the way we did. She had grown up with trade and bartering, and small communities linked together for the goal of mutual survival. Money meant little to her, but it was for a different reason than the rest of them – it just wasn't something she thought about. She handled money only when absolutely necessary, and had no patience for what she called 'tokens', which she firmly believed had 'false value'. It wasn't that difficult to see where she was coming from.
Jasper had grown up in a farming family in Maryland, and had fought in the Revolutionary War. He and his twin brother had been captured by the British and he'd given over rebel secrets to save his brother's life. He'd been recaptured by his own men, tortured, and left to die. Because his brother reported him dead, he was unable to claim anything he would normally have inherited as the oldest son.
Not that there had been much he could use now. As a farming family, they had grown up with enough to eat and all the necessities of life, but little extra. This was compounded by the fact that in addition to Jasper and his twin brother Arthur, he had two younger siblings, and his family also supported his elderly grandfather and his widowed aunt and her son. The common niceties that the well-off enjoyed were rarer to the Whitlock family, who only occasionally had money to spare for things other than everyday life. Even now, I could tell he didn't think of himself as part of the upper class. For him, it was more like winning the lottery – yes, he was rich, but he was entirely outside of the culture of the very wealthy.
Edward told me that Rosalie had been born to an affluent family in 1803, but he didn't think it was his place to share her story without her permission. All he would tell me was that she was the youngest daughter in a family of seven, and that she was married shortly before her death, removing her from any of the money she might have inherited. She seemed the most comfortable with the money the Cullens had for her.
Emmett had also been born into a wealthy family, in 1836, but had five older brothers. Edward said Emmett had felt that they had done all that could be done by a young man in Tennessee, and rather than follow in their footsteps, he had sought adventure and gold out west. At fourteen he'd gotten onto a covered wagon with a few other single men and run away from home. Unfortunately, he had been unable to find any gold and had turned instead to robbing people and general lawlessness. He died on his twentieth birthday, after a lifetime outside the law and having cut all ties with his family. However well-off he may have grown up, there was no way for him to access that money after his death, and he'd lived his adult life on a shoestring, robbing just enough to get women and liquor and, when he had a little extra cash, food.
And Alice… poor Alice. She didn't even remember her human life, but her research had revealed that she was institutionalized on the same date that her parents had reported her dead. There was nothing about the story that made me want to know more; the bare bones of her history was depressing enough on its own.
But I couldn't believe that it was easy for any of them to suddenly step into a life of limitless funds, especially the ones who had lived by the penny, like Jasper and (eventually), Emmett. It just didn't seem to bother them, anymore. They could no longer understand why it made me uncomfortable when they spent money on me. I didn't like it when Edward took me to an expensive restaurant in Seattle, and I had forbidden him from giving me a new car or paying for my college tuition. He thought I was being more difficult than necessary, but as the youngest in his family, he was closest to the sentiments of human life. He was able to understand where I was coming from, at least.
That didn't mean that he could stop his family from spending on me, though.
So I took photos. It was procrastination, but I didn't mind that. It was fun to see them goof around like normal people, making faces and giving each other bunny ears in the photographs. I really hoped Edward's laughter had been an indicator that the idea of vampires not showing up on film was myth, like the idea of them not being seen in mirrors. It would be disappointing if all my photos turned out to be of an empty room.
"Presents, presents!" Alice insisted, clapping her hands together.
"I told you I didn't want anything…" I began.
"I didn't listen." She said defiantly. "Open it!" She took the camera from my hands and replaced it with a large silver box.
It was so light that it felt empty. The tag on top said it was from Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper. Uncomfortably aware of their eyes on me, I tore the paper off and stared at the box it concealed. It was something electrical, with lots of numbers in the name. I opened the box, expecting to find understanding there.
It was empty. It was an empty box, wrapped in silver paper.
"It's just what I asked for." I said, though my confused eyes rose up to the three the gift was meant to be from. Even Rosalie cracked a smile, and I heard Jasper laugh. Jasper laughed so rarely that each time it was amazing that someone could have such a lovely voice, even when the sound being made was involuntary.
"It's a stereo for your truck," Emmett explained with a grin. "I just went and installed it so you can't return it."
I shook my head disapprovingly, though I couldn't prevent the smile of gratitude. It was a nice gift, a thoughtful one; even though I knew it must have cost a lot. "Thanks, guys."
"Open mine and Edward's next!" Alice said, so excited her voice seemed to trill. She held a small, flat square in her hands. I lifted my eyebrow at Edward.
"I didn't spend a dime," Edward assured me.
I took the light package, stuck my finger under the edge of the paper and tried to tear the tape with a short jerk of my hand.
It all happened very quickly, then.
Edward and Jasper were suddenly fighting, sprawled across the floor. My heart pounded at the sound of it, so like a couple of dangerous animals fighting. The rip of their snarls rang in my ears, the harsh crash of their fists slamming into each other filling my mind. I could see their razor-sharp teeth coming very close to each other's skin - snapping shut with millimeters to spare - and they were clearly evenly matched.
I didn't even realize I was bleeding until I looked down and saw the cut from the tape, which had opened my finger widely across the knuckle. In an instant I understood what was happening. Adrenaline surged as their swings and teeth came close to actually hitting me.
Rosalie pushed me behind her, trying to protect me from the viciousness of the fight. The boys were fighting as if to kill each other and my flesh was much more vulnerable to their weapons than any of the vampires were. My shock was such that I didn't even notice that the force of her thrust had knocked me against the table holding the cake, at least not at first. When I felt the searing pain, I looked away from the fight for the first time. When I'd arrived, I hadn't seen the knife. A knife to cut the cake. I was the only one who could eat it, so I had given little attention to the décor on the table.
I saw it now.
The cake knife had sliced into my arm, cutting broadly from my elbow to my shoulder.
I knew Rosalie hadn't meant to hurt me, she had acted in a moment of urgency. The cut wasn't even as bad as some I'd had in the past, but it began to bleed immediately. Heavily. Jasper surged in my direction, almost breaking free of Edward's grasp. Edward thrust him backward, though the wild look he threw in my direction gave me an overpowering rush of fear. Fear I wasn't accustomed to.
He turned his face away from me, and it looked like it took tremendous effort to do. The snarling and ripping sounds increased, and I was clutching my arm, feeling my heartbeat in the wound and quickly getting dazed.
Then Carlisle's gentle hands were on me, guiding me into the kitchen. I heard loud orders from Emmett and Esme in the other room, getting the fighting brothers out of the house, away from the smell of my blood. Away from the temptation to kill me. Edward had fought Jasper's urge to kill me.
But Edward had wanted to kill me, too.