Edward watched and listened from afar as Charlie pleaded with Bella for an explanation.
A rational explanation.
"Listen, Bells, I know there are bears in the woods. Hell, I've warned you about them. But just because you thought you saw one is no reason to go breaking into my shotgun case. That makes absolutely no sense."
He shook his head as Bella stood before him in the house's cramped kitchen.
"What's really going on? You can tell me. I'll understand."
Bella said nothing.
"Does it have something to do with that man? The one at the dance hall? You shouldn't be hanging around him. You know, if you are."
"No. I mean, yes. I mean, this isn't about him, dad. I just wish everyone would leave Edward alone."
Edward tensed up at the mention of his name. It was the first time he'd heard her speak it since he gave her the phone with his name programmed in. The sensation gave him goosebumps. He couldn't remember the last time that had happened.
He heard Bella stalk off, presumably heading for her room upstairs.
"We're not done talking about this," Charlie called after her.
"Yes we are!" she screamed. "I'll see whoever the hell I want to see. Charlie."
Edward heard a door slam. He couldn't see into her room from his spot in the woods. And he couldn't read her mind. He was growing frustrated.
The phone in his pocket rang. It was Bella. He knew he shouldn't do what he was about to do, but he couldn't stop himself. He approached the house and leapt onto her window ledge. He knocked softly.
"Oh my god," Bella said as she slid the window open. "You're fast."
Edward stepped inside.
"Are you here to kill me yet?" Bella said.
"Don't be a ridiculous."
Edward turned away and studied the stack of books on the desk next to her laptop. Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet stood out.
Bella sighed. "Then seriously, why are you here? Why are you stalking me? Why are you the only thing I think about when I'm awake? The only thing I dream about at night? Why have you completely and utterly taken over my life?"
He ran his hand through his hair and scowled. "I have no earthly idea."
He sat down on her bed and put his head between his hands.
"You'll need protection now. They'll send others. I have no way of knowing what they might already have figured out. Even if they don't know anything yet, even if I run, they'll break me when they find me. They have ways of finding out what I know. I won't be able to keep your involvement a secret."
"God, don't you get it, Edward? Or are you as obtuse as you seem?" she said. "I don't want your protection."
"You'll die without it, Bella. You'll probably die with it. I am only one man against many."
"Maybe that's what I deserve."
Bella sat next to him on the bed. She leaned in, put her hand on his leg.
Edward tensed up. He didn't know what to say.
"You can do it, you know," she whispered. She bared her neck.
"No. I can't."
"Why not? You killed Mike, didn't you? What makes this any different?"
"It just is. I don't know why."
"Why didn't you kill me that night? You didn't even know me. You could have done it, easily. It doesn't make any sense."
"I read people's thoughts, Bella. But trying to read you is maddening. I can't do it, and I don't know why. And your smell. It's unlike anything I've ever encountered."
"Wait a second. What did you say?" She took his hand in hers and looked into his eyes. "You can read minds, Edward? Are you shitting me?"
"It's something I've been able to do ever since I became what I am. Some of us have powers, enhanced abilities, whatever. That's mine."
"But you can't read my mind? Has this happened before?"
"No," he whispered. "Never."
They sat on the bed together, their fingers entwined. Neither knew what to say. Edward spoke first.
"If you really want to die, Bella, why haven't you done it yourself? It shouldn't be too difficult. Humans are a fragile species."
"Don't you think I've tried?" she said, releasing his hand and holding out her wrists for him to see. "I can never go all the way. I guess I just can't bring myself to do that to Charlie. He cares so much. It would devastate him."
"And you dying at the hand of another wouldn't devastate him?"
"It's different," she said. "You don't know what it's like to feel responsible for the death of someone you love. To be responsible. I can't let Charlie feel like that."
"Don't be so quick to assume, Bella. Others have suffered sorrows beyond measure, too."
There was silence for a moment. Bella stood and looked down at Edward. "Please. I'm begging you. If you don't do it, those other vampires will. You said so yourself."
She put her hand on his chin and turned his face toward hers. She ran a thumb over his lower lip and waited until he looked into her eyes.
"You don't have to kill me," she whispered. "You could just make me like you."
Edward was momentarily caught off guard. He parted his lips and felt her thumb move slowly over his teeth. He took in her scent, and soon, the boiling began within him.
He stood. He moved her hair away from her neck. He put his cheek to hers and closed his eyes.
He stopped himself. How stupid. He had almost ruined everything. Overcome with rage, he shoved Bella away, harder than he meant to. She fell onto the bed and hit the back of her head on the wall.
"I am sorry," he said. "For everything." He climbed out the window and leapt.
He heard Bella crying softly as he hit the ground running into the night. He was angry. Angry at himself for getting too close to this girl. Angry at her for failing to see what a gift she had, a human life. He was angry at the situation he found himself in, the Volturi after him, the cops looking at him, the newspaper curious. In the span of a week and a half, he'd nearly ruined almost a hundred years of carefully living in the shadows.
He needed to get rid of the anger. Anger was dangerous. Anger could lead to carelessness. Carelessness could get him caught. He decided to try and burn it off. Perhaps a hunt would take his mind off things.
He ran away from the house, steered clear of the burnt area where Bella had dispatched Felix's remains, and within moments found himself back at the highway into town.
That was fast, he thought. He flexed his arms, stretched his neck out. He completely forgot that he was supposed to be hunting. He was feeling stronger than he had in years, and yet the only human blood he'd had in more than a week had been a few drops from Bella's self-inflicted wound. That made no sense. Especially after the beating he took from Felix. Typically, he would need to feed on two or three humans in a single day to feel this strong after such physical trauma.
A sudden rage overtook him. He felt euphoric. His eyes burned bright red, nearly glowing in the dark.
Had Bella's blood done this to him?
A car approached from behind. He ducked into the trees to watch it pass. But as it got closer, Edward lost control. He leapt from his hiding spot and landed on the car's hood as it traveled at full speed. The driver, a middle-aged woman who'd been talking on her cell phone, swerved and hit the brakes.
Edward went flying into the road like a piece of debris. The car came to a stop several feet from him as he stood.
He snarled and hunched his shoulders as he rose into a crouch.
The driver screamed. Her thoughts were jumbled. She thought he was a werewolf, the stuff of local legend. She thought of her daughter, sitting in the back seat.
Edward looked at the girl, nine or ten, long dark hair and pale skin. Her brown eyes shined, as if she were about to cry.
Edward stopped. He felt ... guilty.
That girl could have been Bella only a few years ago.
It was the first time he'd ever stopped himself in the midst of a hunt.
He ran back into the woods, leaving the woman trembling as she searched the vehicle for her phone.
He would have to hunt elsewhere. It was Sunday morning. He knew exactly where to go.
It was still early enough that the church across from the cemetery remained empty. But the cemetery itself did not. A single vehicle, a beat up Ford Ranger pickup truck, sat in the parking lot. The gate was locked, but Edward tore it open without much effort.
He headed straight for the maintenance shack.
"Well, if it idn't the dude in the long black coat," Waylon the maintenance man said as he exited the building. He hitched up his sagging pants, smiled, and waited for a response.
Edward said nothing. He remembered he had wanted to kill this buttcrack Santa the first time he'd met him, but was unable to because of the church crowd. He was disgusted by child molesters more than he already was by the general depravity of man, and this guy's thoughts were worse than most.
He paused and savored the moment. He scanned his surroundings, made sure they were alone.
He picked Waylon up one-handed by the throat, careful not to kill him. He did not want to forego the rare pleasure of sinking his teeth into living flesh.
Waylon struggled. He kicked. He pawed at Edward's face. He tried to scream, but couldn't get air into his lungs.
Edward simply carried him back into the shack and slammed the door with his foot. He dropped Waylon, who scrambled backward until he could go no further, trapped against a workbench.
Edward bent over Waylon and pushed his head to the side as the man tried to resist. He bit, hard, harder than he was used to doing. Blood gushed. It ran faster than Edward could consume it, pooling at his feet, circling toward an overflow drain in the center of the room.
Edward tried to keep up. He sealed his lips against his victim's neck. He closed his eyes and swallowed.
Minutes passed. Waylon's body stopped moving. Its skin drained of color. It began to smell dead.
Edward released the corpse and took in a deep breath.
He paused to consider what he had done. He had no escape plan. He had nowhere to dispose of the body.
He was a fool.
He opened the door to look outside and saw cars parked at the church. The pastor, he supposed, and his staff. The public would begin arriving soon.
He couldn't carry the corpse through town and into the woods, not now. He would have to find some other way to dispose of it.
As he considered his options, he realized he had made a terrible blunder. Bella was at home, unprotected. He did not think the Volturi knew about her yet. But he couldn't be sure. The council frequently recruited new members with untold powers of observation.
He grabbed a power saw from the workbench and mutilated the corpse's neck to hide the bite mark.
Someone would soon discover the body. There was nothing he could do about that now. He had to get to Bella.
He ran through town, faster than he had ever run before. He reached the woods in mere minutes.
He approached the house carefully. There was no activity. No talking. No thoughts that he could read. Maybe Charlie was gone. To work. Or perhaps to church. Maybe Bella was alone. Maybe she had gone with her father, though that seemed doubtful after their fight the night before.
Wait. He paused. He sensed someone nearby. Here. In the woods.
He tensed up and concentrated.
There. He heard someone, maybe a hundred yards to his left. They were having a conversation. About him.
He approached slowly.
Oh no, he thought. They're here already.
Before him stood a group of six vampires, three males and three females. Among them was a monster nearly as large as Felix.
One of the women, short with a pixie haircut, spoke first.
"Hello, Edward," she said. "We're here to help."