The Evening Dust – AU. Edward finds a silent girl at the edge of a dusty road. A FGB fic.
For averysubtle gift, who so kindly donated and patiently waited for this. There's three chapters in total. I'll post them daily. Please forgive any typos, mistakes and geographical inaccuracies.
When I left Forks it had seemed like the road flew away beneath my tires. The smooth asphalt was wet from fallen rain and the wheels had sloshed through puddles as I sped past lush forests and grey buildings. The further south I had driven, the more the landscape had changed. By time I reached the dusty highways of Arizona, I felt like I was chugging along in a tractor rather than the sleek Mercedes I had borrowed for the trip. The car was a necessity of course, Carlisle's vehicle had tinted black windows and mine did not. Also, and I would never concede this to his face, the SLK was also much faster than my Volvo.
It was almost pleasurable to cruise along the open road in the powerful car with hot sun warming my arm through the window, to have the stereo turned down low and only the occasional stray thought from another motorist or highway patrolman to encroach on my thoughts. If the circumstances had been different, I would have possibly enjoyed the peace and solitude of the Arizona back roads. I didn't risk taking the highways for fear I would be forced to stop. There was nowhere to pull in and hide on those long stretches of concrete. This way was better. Alice wouldn't be able to get a solid read on my direction and I had found some wildlife not far from a rest stop in California where the heat seemed to give the animal blood a certain kick that was missing further North. I tried to focus on this small sense of satisfaction and not the fact that I had hunted to gain strength in case this came to a fight.
When those nomads had turned up in Forks, rudely interrupting a rousing game of baseball I , none of us had anticipated the trouble they would cause. I had cared only for the lost game. Carlisle had worried about the possibility of their presence affecting the security of our position in the community. Esme had worried about their bare feet tracking mud into the house. Not even Alice foresaw what would happen when the leader, James, had revealed his 'special interest' in her.
James was a sly creature, even for a vampire. He hid his thoughts well, pretending to be far more interested in the novelty of our way of life than anything else. The memories of Alice had come in trickles so brief it took me a while to put the pieces together. He had known her from before, possessed knowledge of her human life that no-one else had. To anyone who knew Alice this was precious information indeed. But to James the Tracker, she was simply the one who got away. It made the redhead jealous. It got on the bored one's nerves and he headed north to meet up with the Denali clan. James toyed with Alice for a little bit, a cat to a mouse, feeding information in dribs and drabs until finally Jasper had been about to crack. He couldn't handle the predatory vibes coming off James, couldn't deal with the sadistic pleasure he took in his power over Alice. The nomads were wary of him, his scars had that affect on other vampires and we were all worried that things would get violent. It wasn't our nature.
In the end, it was Rosalie who not-so-politely told them to leave. She had tired of James' games and Victoria's presence and of the two of them screwing with her sister. There were times when Rosalie's tenacity was welcome and this was one of them. The rest of us had been trying to blend into human society for so long; we'd forgotten how to be harsh when necessary. This was a quality Rosalie would never lose; it was part of her armour and she very swiftly ensured their departure.
I thought it would end there. I thought Alice would be satisfied with the information we had gained (James had been mean with the truth and I had to glean some of the murkier aspects of her past from his twisted brain) and we all thought we would get our sister back. But Alice continued to obsess about her human life, wondering and researching and mourning for what she never had. The knowledge cut her harder than we would have imagined. Days turned into weeks and her pre-occupation hadn't let up. It became deeper and darker, overtaking the lightness she was ordinarily filled with. She couldn't move past it, and decided to go to her birthplace to find out more.
The decision hurt Jasper. Alice knew travelling South was not an option for him. He supported her as best he could, but we could all feel the pain, including Alice. The thoughts of her travelling alone, to the South where the vampires were wild and vicious worried us all. Alice was capable but she was so tiny, plus she's ours. She didn't want companionship - this is something I need to for myself, she had told me when I offered, - but her desire could not alleviate my worry. I had seen the darkest recesses of the trackers mind and did not believe he was finished with her yet. And there was always the fear that the further she dug, the deeper the hurt. But she went anyway, bringing a yellow suitcase and too many shoes.
Two weeks passed and she had not returned. I was the one who was sent to retrieve her. Alice insisted she did not need anyone to come; she was fine on her own. I didn't think she could be safe in the volatile South with those nomads on her heels. Jasper had received word from some former friends that Victoria and James had been asking about her, they weren't done yet. She must have seen it, but made no mention of it on any of her phone calls. I took the scenic route, anxious to avoid her visions or running into any undesirables. The road I currently travelled was just outside Phoenix and I'd just filled up the tank with gas at an anonymous gas station, buying some snacks to avoid suspicion. I'd had the car washed too but already the black paint was coated in a reddish brown layer of dust again. I figured a city this size would be a good place to stop and freshen up. My clothes were a little soiled from my hunt; I could feel the desert sand cling to my skin and if the nomads had any interest in my whereabouts they would not venture into a city like this. They would stand out like a sore thumb.
After Phoenix, I would stop only for gas until I reached Biloxi. It wasn't good for her to be there, hanging around her own grave. The thought saddened me, and I picked up the phone to call her.
"Edward," Alice answered on the first ring. "That cherry slushee is going to melt all over Carlisle's upholstery soon. What were you thinking, buying things like that in the heat?"
"Thanks for the info," I replied dryly, knowing she would see me rooting for napkins to put under the cup. I couldn't find it in me to throw it out the window. I was a vampire, but never a litterbug. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, dear brother, as you should know. There's no need for this unnecessary trip you're taking. Think of all those CO2 emissions you're needlessly letting into the atmosphere."
"We don't need to breathe, Alice. The O-Zone layer isn't my top priority right now. Besides, wouldn't you rather a chauffeur and escort back home, then getting a stinking Greyhound bus with a bunch of humans. I'm sure wildlife isn't much down in Missouri." I was doing my very best to keep things light.
"I'm not ready to come home yet," she said in small voice.
"Alice, it's not good for you to be down there, watching in windows and hanging around graveyards. It'll drive you crazy."
Her laugh was laced with bitterness. "I'm already crazy, haven't you heard?"
"Things were different then. You know this. You heard what Carlisle told you about medical beliefs back then. You were never crazy, it was just the human manifestation of your gift," I reasoned.
"What if my gift is the vampire manifestation of my madness?" she retorted.
How could I answer that?
"Regardless, it's not safe. Those nomads are still too interested in you. It's not healthy."
"I'll see them coming," she replied.
"You didn't see them coming in Forks. You didn't see any of this."
"I'm watching more carefully now," she said. "I found someone Edward, a living breathing relative. I have a niece! Her name is Cynthia and she lives in a retirement community with a cat named Skippy. She watches the same daytime TV shows as Esme and she uses this old-fashioned lavender scent, like the one Rosalie uses to keep her clothes fresh. I didn't say anything because I didn't know how to. But if you found this, if you found part of your history, would you be able to walk away?"
Honestly, I knew my answer would be no, so I tried another tactic. "Rosalie, Esme and Emmett all have living relatives that we know of. They've managed to walk away."
"They have memories, Edward. I have nothing. But you'll be able to look inside her mind and tell me stuff. She'll know my parents and my sister and -"
"It doesn't work like that Alice," I interrupted. "Look just wait until I get there and we can sort all this out."
"I'm not going home until I'm ready Edward. I have to go; I need to call Jazz before my battery dies."
Alice hung up and I tossed the phone onto the passenger seat in frustration. That girl could try my patience like no other. I took a moment to listen for other traffic - pedestrians, patrol cars - and hearing nothing, I floored the accelerator. Even as the day drifted into evening, the heat down South was oppressive. The air inside the car was dry and stale, but when I opened the window my lungs and nostrils ended up filled with chalky dust. There were houses here, they popped up sporadically along the road, surrounded by rusty chain link fences and tired dogs lounging under the meagre shade offered by a porch or a spindly tree. Everything was dry and had a transient quality, as if liable to float away on the light breeze at any second.
I glanced at that damn iced drink and saw drop of artificially red liquid drip from the plastic holder and onto the carpeting. Cursing to myself (and admittedly enjoying the luxury of knowing there was no-one around to offend) I dabbed at the spillage with a rough paper towel. Then, something on my peripheral vision caught my attention - a niggling smell, a quickened heartbeat, the reflection of a headlight on shiny hair. There was a girl, young judging by her size, staring after the car with her hand slightly extended. I though it strange that her thoughts didn't alert me to her presence. I looked at her in the side view mirror and had trouble reading her expression.
I turned a bend and she was out of sight and, also, out of mind. My worries drifted back to Alice and I formulated plans and stories for meeting any other vampires. To the best of my knowledge, there were no know settled covens in this city and I wouldn't be overstepping onto anyone else's territory. I planned to avoid Texas, taking a more awkward route to rule out any chance of meeting any of Jasper's old acquaintances. News travelled fast down here and smells lingered in the heat. It was better to be safe than sorry.
My phone buzzed and I answered it without looking at the screen. I figured it was Jasper, since I'd promised (and forgotten) to call him once I'd spoken to Alice. But to my surprise, it was Alice whose voice I heard on the other end.
"Edward!" she practically shouted down the phone. "Wait! Stop!"
Instinctively, I slowed down but I didn't stop. "Jesus, Alice. What's wrong?"
"I changed my mind. I'm going home. I'm going straight to the bus station now."
"Did something happen?" I asked, knowing she didn't make this decision based on my advice.
"No. I just changed my mind. You were right. Jasper is right. He's going to meet me halfway, get a bus too or maybe a plane I'm not sure. He doesn't like enclosed spaces. You can turn around now Edward. I don't need you to go any further."
"Are you sure there's nothing wrong? Is James there? Did you make a mistake?" I pressed, utterly confused.
"I'm fine. Call Jasper and he'll tell you. Just turn around and I'll see you at home."
The phone clicked off. I drifted another few feet in the car, feeling frustrated and a little peeved. Talk about a waste of a journey. All those finite resources wasted on a needless trip. Because I didn't know what else to do, I spun the car into a U-Turn, the tires kicking sprays of dust out behind me, and went back the way I came. The Merc nicked a cactus on the side of the road and destroyed one of its arms. I couldn't bring myself to care. I was fuming; really, because damnit I do my best for my family and still they didn't need me. Back around the bend, past another sand coloured dog with droopy ears, revved the accelerator because it feels good when you're angry.
Then, I slammed on the breaks!
There was that same girl from before, in the middle of the road this time, frozen and about to be hit by my car.
I floored the break, heard the strain of the engine and tires screeched. But there was no way the car could decrease from such speed so quickly.
No way. I had spent too long abstaining from killing humans to let one die due to careless driving. No way in hell was I about to let that happen.
Instinct took over. I pulled the keys from the ignition, opened the car door, angled myself over it and out of the car. I landed in front of bumper just in time to stop it with myself, using my weight to stop it gliding forward, hooking one hand on under the hood to stop it spinning out of control. It stopped as soon as I made contact, the back tires spun out sideways before it stilled completely.
There was a moment of total silence. The car was quiet. The road was empty. I allowed my breath out, my shoulders to relax and turned to the girl whose life I'd almost taken.
Somewhere down the road, one of those ancient dogs let out a whiny bark.
And that was the only sound I heard, bar the dust on the wind and the hammering of the human's heart.
I presumed she was unconscious. So when I looked at the slight figure sprawled on her hands and knees, and saw a pair of wide brown eyes blinking up at me, I was shocked to say the least. My mind - my capable vampire mind - searched to find the right platitude to make to the girl, and found nothing.
"What the heck happened?" she said, in voice that was loud but not shouting.
"I could ask you the same thing," I replied, indignant. "What were you doing in the middle of the road?"
"I was crossing the road, to get the other side. You know, like a chicken? You're the one driving like a madman in your fancy car," she accused.
"I didn't see you. I apologise."
"Of course you didn't see me at that speed," she huffed.
Speed did nothing to hamper my senses. Running through the forest, I could see every pattern in the moss and every indentation in the tree. The reason I did not see the girl (apart from my annoyance over Alice's phone-call) was because I did not hear her.
Her mind was silent to me.
The sun was drooping low over the barren horizon but even so, I stayed crouched in the shade of the car. There was still a slight chance a stray ray would reflect on my skin, and I could not let this insignificant girl see the effects of that. I'd already taken one too many risks with her this evening. But surely my actions to stop the car had been too fast for human sight and minds to process.
"Are you hurt?" I asked, still intent on distracting her from any suspicion there was anything untoward about me. "Can you move your limbs? Wait, don't move your neck. Your back could be injured. What about nausea? Dizziness? Pain? Are you bleeding?" I knew she wasn't bleeding, the scent would have hit me immediately, but still I asked.
"I'm fine." She rolled her dull brown eyes and shook her head, completely ignoring my instructions. "I'm just a little shocked. I can't believe you stopped the car in time, and got here right in from of me..."
"Shock can affect our perception of things," I told her. "I'm sure you've heard people say 'time stood still or sped up or went into slow motion' during traumatic events. How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Three." Then to herself, she muttered. "I oughta hold another finger up at you after you nearly killed me."
Since I clearly was not meant to have heard that, I ignored her insult and figured it was safe to stand up. The sun had all but disappeared below the horizon. As an afterthought, I offered her my hand but she was already scrambling to her feet unaided. This was my first opportunity to really look at my almost-victim. She was older than I first thought, probably the age I appeared to be. Her brown hair hung in a thick braid down her back, the dark colour stood out against her white skin and loose tendrils stuck to the damp, sweaty flesh on the shoulder. Her complexion was pale, unusually so for this part of the country, but there were telltale red blotches on her cheeks and chest indicating that she was embarrassed or at least, worked up. Well, near death experiences would do that to humans.
Her lips were full and there was an unusual depth in her brown eyes. There was the pink spot of an almost healed pimple on her jaw line and patches of oil on her nose and forehead. She wore simple clothes - denim cut-off shorts, white cotton top (the pattern was eyelet, showing tiny peeks of pale skin beneath, and there was faded ketchup stain by the hem) and a pair of white canvas running shoes with dirty laces. They revealed her slender limbs, dusty from the road and mottled with fading blue and green bruises. How colourful these humans are, unlike my own perpetual paleness she was alive with colour. Her clothes were a lot more suitable than the weather than mine, and I wondered if she thought about that. Her expression was still slightly dazed, presumably from the shock, so I couldn't quite tell what she was feeling. And of course, I still was without the extra knowledge reading thoughts gave me. How unusual it was, to rely on the old-fashioned ways of reading people.
I had assessed all this and concluded that she was quite pretty for a human, by the time she had stood up. Then she kicked a stone and looked at the ground, she flexed her feel, wiped her hands off her and did not look at me at all. Preparing to speak, reminding myself to go slowly, I breathed in a gust of dry air.
The girl's aroma, her lifeblood and her humanity, flooded my senses and stunned me.
She smelled good.
Better than good. Better than lions and deer and any number of killers and rapists I had tasted along the way.
Venom pooled and instincts stirred because I wanted her. I wanted this unlucky little girl who'd stumbled onto my path.
Then she looked at me, her heart still thumping and her eyes wary beneath shadowy lashes. And I knew in that instant that I could not have her.
"Where were you rushing off to?" she asked, her eyes narrowed. "Is there a matter of life or death you need to attend to?"
I shook my head. "I'm just going home..."
"Bella," she supplied.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella." I smiled at her, that winning way that made teachers in Forks High forget about my frequent absences. "I am sorry it's not under better circumstances. I'm Edward, by the way."
This was the part where another human would offer their hand. But this Bella just looked at the ground and then peered up and down the road.
"Do you live nearby?" I continued. "Perhaps I can offer you a ride home?"
It really would be best to conclude this matter as quickly as possible.
"I live the other way," she said. "You were driving out of town. I live back that way."
"What were you doing walking in the wrong direction?" The question has left my lips before I had a chance to stop myself. Of course, it was none of my business but I was just so unaccustomed to not knowing the thoughts of my companions that I had to ask.
Bella did not look comfortable with my question. She kicked a random pebble on the ground.
"Um...I was just out walking and I didn't realise how far I had come. I was, um, crossing the road because I thought maybe I might hitch a ride back home," she muttered.
"Don't you know how dangerous that is?"
"Like you're one to talk about putting people in danger," she retorted.
If only she knew how right she was.
"It's getting dark," I said. "I think it would be a good idea for you to let me drive you home, for your own safety and for my peace of mind."
"It's not dark yet," Bella replied, walking towards the car. "It's dusk. The sky is so pretty at this time. You can see the stars and the clouds streak it navy and azure. It feels so safe, there's nothing harsh, nothing scary..."
I wanted to tell her how much I agreed with her as I glanced up at the twilit sky. But what would be the point in that? Instead, I just opened the passenger door and trudged over to my own.
Bella was settling into her seat, looking around and clicking closed her seatbelt when I started the engine. She looked at me in this admiring way, presumably because she was impressed with the car. This silent situation she had was very frustrating. The road was empty, so I swung the car into yet another u-turn, and headed back the direction I came.
"Wow. This is a really fancy car." She looked around appreciatively.
"Did you steal it?"
"No,I did not steal it." I was unable to hide the indignation in my voice. "It belongs to my father, actually."
"Sorry," Bella mumbled, sounding anything but. "It's just...you seem kinda young to have a car this nice. I mean, they are a few kids at my school with really expensive looking cars but you were driving so fast and the plates are out of state and you've got these bags in the back. Sometimes I talk without thinking."
"It's fine." I insisted, secretly pleased with the idea of her talking before thinking it over. If that was her way, or if like Emmett her thoughts matched her words, then her silent mind would be a lot easier to put up with. Not that it would matter for much longer.
I could feel heat radiating from her body, and Bella flicked at her cheeks the way girls wipe away tears, so I turned up the air-conditioning to what would helpfully be a more acceptable level for a human. She smiled, so grateful for such a small gesture, and looked at the melting cherry drink in the cup holder with unbridled longing.
One of us should be able to quench our thirst
"Are you thirsty?" I asked. "You can have that drink if you wish."
Bella's hand shot out, fast for a human, to grab it but then she hesitated.
"Are you sure you don't want it?"
"Positive." I glanced at her and grinned. "It's not really my flavour."
She looked a tad confused as she raised the straw to her pouty lips but thankfully, my phone rang before there was time for her to question me. I raised it to my ear, making a show of looking around and slowing down before I did. It was time for me to play up the human charade after the near disaster with the car. It was only when I answered, that I remembered I should have said something to the girl. Where were my manners?
"Jasper," I said by way of greeting.
"Edward, what did you do?" Jasper replied. I couldn't quite make out the tone of his voice. Bella's slurping noises were distracting me. But he couldn't know about her...
"What do you mean?" I was very aware of Bella's attempts to ignore my phone call and the fact that in this little space, of course she would hear it all.
"Alice, man. What did you do get her to come home? Because I owe you a massive thank you, whatever it was. I'm on my way to the airport now and I'm gonna meet her halfway. Maybe take a trip or something."
I could hear the elation in Jasper's voice and I was truly happy that he and Alice had come to some reconciliation. But my mind was more concerned with ensuring Bella didn't pick up anything strange about the conversation. Risks and all that.
"I didn't do anything," I told him. "She just called out of the blue, and plum changed her mind. She's adamant nothing happened there but I've no idea what spurred the turn around."
"Edward, why are you talking so slow? I can hear the car engine."
"Right." He sounded sceptical. "So listen, I'm real grateful that you went down there like that...when I couldn't-"
"Jasper." I cut him off, unwilling to cause him more frustration over his weaknesses. "I know you are. I felt it before I left. You don't need to tell me."
"That's where you're wrong. I do need to tell you. It means a lot to me, and to Alice, even though she probably won't show it."
"That's what family do, isn't it? I know she'd come after me if need be." I wanted to change the subject, all too aware of Bella's listening ears. "So have you any plans for when you meet her? Do you think she'll be ready to come back to school?"
"Oh, that's the other reason I called you. Is it okay if I take the Volvo? If I drive to meet Alice, we'll have more freedom. I'd like to take her somewhere and I hate being dependent on human transportation."
"Sure, as long as Carlisle doesn't mind using another car. Or you can take the Vanquish if you want," I replied. Bella glanced sharply at the mention of another car but looked away when I caught her eye, concentrating furiously on a loose thread on her shorts instead.
"Seriously?" Jasper's voice was full of disbelief. "You don't mind. That thing is like your baby."
I laughed. "Just a possession is all. Besides, it's faster and the windows are...more suitable for our needs."
"Great. So I'm thinking if I take the I50 east and then head south at the state line I'd get the best mileage. Or maybe cut through..." Jasper continued to speak, planning and tabulating as was his nature. It was his way of coping with the stress over Alice. And I did listen to him; honestly, one section of my brain was listening and processing his words.
And a more dominant part was focused entirely on the girl called Bella.
She was sipping the vibrant cherry drink quietly, not slurping like some humans would. The tendons in her throat flexed as she sucked down the liquid. I heard the ice rattle against plastic and the drink slide down her oesophagus. Her eyes were almost closed, lashes shadowed on her creamy skin. A single drop escaped the side of her mouth, flowing down along her chin and the column of her throat disappearing under the fabric of her top. She half-heartedly wiped it away, stretching cotton in the process and hinting and something beneath.
In that moment something awakened inside me, some long dormant feeling stirred and I had to look away from everything the girl represented. I wanted more than her blood in that instant. I wanted more than I had ever wanted before.
I was also frightfully glad that Jasper couldn't taste my emotions over the telephone.
"...that seems like the best route, do you agree?" Jasper's question pulled me to my senses.
"I think so," I replied. "You can always change if you need to."
"Right. Right. What about you? What way are you heading back? Are you going to make another pit-stop in Vegas?"
"I haven't decided yet," I answered vaguely. "Shouldn't you get going? You'll want to fill up the tank before the gas station closes."
"Right. Thanks again, Edward. I'm sure Alice will call you soon and tell you the same."
The phone clicked off before I could answer him. Bella was looking at me unexpectedly when I tossed the phone onto the centre console.
"Sorry," she said and I couldn't fathom why. Eavesdropping? Existing? Spilling slushee on my leather upholstery? These were the questions usually revealed to me through thoughts.
"For finishing your drink," she clarified. "I didn't realise how thirsty I was until I started drinking. I'll buy you a new one."
"It's fine," I interrupted.
"You're not thirsty?" Her eyebrows pulled together.
"No," I answered simply, unable to stop a smirk. "How long were you out walking for?" Surely humans couldn't stay out that long without needing water to rehydrate themselves. Yet this girl, Bella, had nothing in her possession.
"A while," she replied. "I'm not sure how long. I didn't really plan this."
"I just wanted some time to think you know? Alone."
"I understand." My answer was completely honest. "I go running sometimes when I want to get away from it all."
"Are you running now?" Bella asked, her eyes fixed on the side of my face.
"I just couldn't help but overhear your conversation. Is everything okay?" she asked. I was almost touched by her concern, to think of a human caring about a vampire's well being. Then I realised this girl may be looking for a kindred spirit. She was the one running here.
I decided to tell her a version of the truth to put her at ease. "My sister is having some difficulties. She found out some things she was having trouble adjusting to, and I was on my way to try talk to her about it."
"She changed her mind, decided to go home on her own."
"She ran away?"
"Not exactly," I said. "Alice went to try tracing her roots. She's adopted, we all are, and she was taking too long to come home." I glanced at Bella, sharing what I hoped was a comforting smile. The key was to conceal my teeth. "What had you out walking all alone?"
It was obvious Bella had a lot on her mind, and since I had nothing better to do I decided to listen.
"I just needed to get out of the house. My mom and Phil were fighting and I couldn't take it any more. They argue a lot when he's home and it sucks because Mom misses him so much when he's not there. She mopes around but when he comes home things get weird." Bella's eyes met mine and she seemed to realise her story needed some context to make sense."Phil is a minor league baseball player so he travels a lot. My mom wants to go with him, but she can't because I'm there so it causes some tension."
"How old are you, Bella?"
She began to pick at that damn loose thread again. "Seventeen. I'm a junior, so Mom thinks she just has to put up with this for one more year. Once I'm off to college she can go wherever she wants."
"That doesn't seem very fair," I commented. "To put all that pressure onto your shoulders."
"I've been looking after my mother my whole life." Bella's smile was full of sadness and the emotion seemed to transfer over onto me. "Besides, haven't you heard? Life isn't fair."
"I believe I have heard that somewhere," I replied. "For what it's worth, I understand why you walked out today. I live with three couples and while I love them dearly, listening to the ups and downs of their relationship is far from pleasant."
"And I thought I had it bad." She shook her head and I was pleased to have achieved some common ground with her.
"Won't they be wondering where you are?" I was about to offer to let her use my phone.
"Nah. After the fighting comes the make-up sex. They won't miss me, and really it's mutually beneficial for me to be absent."
This time I laughed a little and shook my head. "I know what that's like too."
It was the loneliest feeling in the world.
During the course of our conversation, Bella had pulled her knees up to her chest leaving dusty footprints on the seat. I could still feel the heat of her body emanating towards me in the most enticing way, but her exposed skin had turned to gooseflesh.
"Are you cold?" I asked.
"A little." She hugged her arms around her. "It can get pretty cold once the sun goes down."
"There's a bag on the backseat," I told her. "There's a sweatshirt at the top you can wear if you want."
Bella turned to look for the bag, stretching to reach it so the seatbelt imprinted red lines into her skin. Blindly, I reached back to get it for her and our hands brushed. I did not feel sparks when we touched, but rather her touch sparked something inside me. Her touch caused a lump in my throat and tugging somewhere in my chest or perhaps my gut. Bella awakened something in me and she was completely unaware. In fact, she recoiled clearly shocked by the icy temperature of my skin.
"Sorry," she muttered. I wordlessly handed her the bag.
She pulled the grey sweatshirt from the top of the tote, disturbing the wallet placed underneath. My instinct was to catch and hide it but it was too late. It had landed open on her lap. Bella picked it up, squinting in curiosity.
"Your name is Edward Knuckle?""
My regret for not concealing that better was immense. The driver's license actually read Edward Nuccel, a joke of a name Jasper had come up with when he took over the maintenance of our family's identification. There are only so many times and variations of the name Edward Cullen and I disliked using Masen.
"Ah,no," I admitted. "That's a false ID. My name is actually Edward Cullen."
"Cullen..."Bella repeated."Edward Cullen. I like that."
"Thanks." How odd it felt, to take credit for a name I had no part in choosing.
Bella was still holding the wallet in her hands, fingers caressing the soft black leather. "You don't look twenty two." Her voice was careful.
"I'm not," I replied, evenly. "That part is false too. What age do you think I look?"
"And what age is that?"
I turned my head to give her a genuine smile. "Bingo."
"We're the same age." For some reason this statement seemed to please her. Bella then went to slip the wallet back into the bag and I heard her gasp. " Oh! That's a lot of cash to carry around with you.
I kept my voice as even as possibly, aware that the cogs in her mind were turning and spitting out the wrong answer. I didn't stop to think that believing the lie was better than knowing the truth. "I stopped in Vegas on the way down."
"You must have gotten lucky," she commented, fumbling in her attempt to re-close the bag.
"It's not about luck," I replied. "It's about knowing to play the game."
"Aren't you worried someone might steal it?" Of all the questions for Bella to ask...
"As if they could get past me." I gave her a sly smile, and that answer seemed to satisfy her. Bella finished zipping the bag and carefully returned it to the backseat. The sweatshirt was bunched in her arms and she pulled it over her head. It was far too big for her and the colour did little to flatter her pallid complexion.
I liked it on her. A lot.
Bella straightened the hood and brought the too-long sleeves to her face. I heard the intake of breath and a small sigh. Humans always did like our scent. It invited them into our hunting ground.
Her face flamed when she saw me looking and she rolled up the sleeves.
"God, I'm a mess," she grumbled to her reflection. Granted, putting on the top had sent her hair into a state of disarray. The messy braid had become completely wild with a large clump sticking up from the back of her head. It resembled something akin to a haystack but I didn't feel an ounce of dislike for it. My enhanced senses were definitely coming in handy for this trip. I could easily observe the girl and drive with due care.
Bella pulled the elastic from her braid, shaking it loose around her shoulders. It wasn't as dull as I'd initially thought. It was quite shiny actually, with rich red and brown tones running through the waves. At her movements, her mouthwatering scent wafted all around me sweet and terribly inviting. My mind raced...how would she smell in the rain, when the breeze blew.
She toyed with the elastic, spinning it around two fingers as if she didn't know what to do with it. I waited for her to put it somewhere logical, in her denim pocket or on the wrist that was swamped by my sweatshirt. Instead, she looked around and slipped it onto the gear stick.
"I'm from Washington ,too, you know," Bella stated, out of the blue.
"How do you know I'm from Washington?" I hadn't told her.
"Your license plates, dumbass. And the drivers license. Unless they're all fake too and this is another thing that seems different to the truth..."
As Bella babbled on, I marvelled at her insult. Did this slip of a thing, really call a vampire a dumbass? Her flippancy confirmed that she held no suspicions about the way I stopped the car.
"I live in Washington at the moment," I confirmed. "But I've moved around a lot. What part do you come from?"
"I was born in a teeny tiny town, but my mom took me and ran when I was only a baby. I haven't spent much time there, apart from two weeks with my dad every summer."
"What's the town called?" I asked. Weren't these the type of humdrum conversations humans thrived on? They revelled in finding common ground and could boast about their roots without fear or shame.
"I doubt you've heard of it. It's barely a dot on the map."
"Try me," I pushed, with a hopefully charming smile. "I know the area pretty well."
"Forks," Bella answered, as if it was something to be embarrassed about.
I could not mask the surprise on my face.
"Are you really from Forks?"
"Yeah. S'where I was born." Her eyes narrowed. "Why do you look so surprised?"
By way of reply, I took my 'genuine' drivers license from its place in the sun visor and handed it to her. Her mouth fell open as she read my address.
"Get out of town!" Bella exclaimed and mock-slapped my arm. The contact made her wince and I hoped beyond hope that she had put little enough force behind it to avoid injury.
"I already did," I replied, relieved that her wrist seemed fine.
"We're practically neighbours! You must know my dad, Charlie Swan."
"The chief? I think everyone knows him." I smiled easily while I dredged up all my memories of the man. It was our duty to ensure I knew enough about the town's law enforcement but other than that, I knew very little about him. He seemed quiet and reserved. I had never heard him think about a daughter. In fact, I had never heard him think much at all. I looked at Bella and compared the image of Charlie Swan in my mind and saw a few similarities. The eyes for one; and the serious expression.
"Did he ever bust you for anything?" Bella asked.
To my knowledge, the only thing he busted was the seam of his trousers but that wasn't a detail I felt Bella would appreciate. "I'm a model citizen."
"Why do I find that hard to believe?"
"You have a suspicious nature?" I guessed. "Do you visit often? I know I haven't seen you around." I would have remembered her of course, her scent if nothing else.
"Maybe you didn't notice me."
"I never forget a face."
"I haven't been in a couple years," Bella admitted. "The town is so...oppressive. Plus, the world's most awkward teenage girl visiting the home of the world's most awkward father? Not a pleasant combination. We've vacationed in California instead. It helped me feel less...disloyal to my mother."
I doubted Bella's mother felt any loyalty when she disrupted her life with this new husband. Again, I knew it was not the right reply.
"Forks isn't so bad," I replied.
"Maybe I'll see it differently now in future."
"Are you thinking of visiting again?" That was not part of the plan. I'd never intended on seeing her again. But the idea did not bother me.
"Maybe I'll give my mom some space..." Bella pulled her knees to her chest again, stretching the sweatshirt down to her feel. This was the picture of a girl with a very unhappy home-life. "It'd be weird to get used to rain and log buildings and all that green." She turned her gaze out the window.
I tried to see her home as she did - the tall buildings and the dusty air and the bright splashes here and there. We were well within the city limits now, and I had to work harder to ignore the swell of thoughts and heartbeats that surrounded us.
"Bella," I said as gently as could be. "You'll need to give me directions to your house." I did not want to take her home, but I could not keep her with me.
Oh!" She blushed rose-pink again. "We kinda already passed the turn for my neighbourhood."
We were in the city proper now and these were not the type of roads I could double back on. I was already dreading the long trip home.
"You can just drop me anywhere," she mumbled.
"You agreed to let me bring you home." It wasn't safe to let a young girl out in the city, unaccompanied and vulnerable. I knew the kinds of minds that lurked there.
"I'm not ready to go home yet." She sighed. "But I don't want to keep you any longer. I'm sure you have things to do."
I hesitated. Bella didn't know that I had all the time in the world and nothing to do but to pass it. It would make no odds to my family if I didn't rush straight home. They wouldn't miss me, not really. What was a little more time with this girl compared to hours alone on the road? When was the last time someone had caught my attention like this?
I lived my life to a schedule, because that was thing that separated us from the others of our kind. The structure made us a family. Being a family made us better. We went to school and we worked. I hunted at certain times. I played piano at certain times. I waited to watch the morning news instead of sourcing it myself throughout the night. I did everything I was supposed to do and after all these years of existing I was bored.
Where was the harm in seeking some amusement?
Was there anything wrong with wanting to live?
Humans were told to seize day. Live every moment as it was your last. They were here for a good time not for a long time.
None of that applied to me. I could seize neither night nor day, but simply hold on by my fingertips in the hopes I wouldn't fall off.
Behind us, someone blew their car horn. Their irritated thoughts really should have alerted me beforehand.
"Edward?" Bella prodded, her face softened by expectance.
"I'm not ready to go home yet either," I stated, and accelerated deeper into the city.
Thanks for reading!