Notes: I'm back. I just can't seem to be consistent with updates anymore, sorry. Anyway, the chapter follows right after the last one, and the story continues...

Disclaimer: I own nothing Twilight. I merely play with the characters for entertainment. No copyright infringement intended.

Chapter 41


I felt myself being lifted and I tried to open my eyes to see who was holding me. My lids felt heavy and I managed to do so after blinking a few times. All I saw was darkness at first and it took a moment for my pupils to adjust to the black.

I saw a pair of gold orbs glimmering in the dark and I knew they were eyes, vampire eyes.

"Edward?" my voice called hoarse from sleep.

My body was laid down on something soft that I realized was the bed and I adjusted the covers that had been continually around me.

The mattress gave way slightly to light pressure asserted by the person sitting down beside me.

"It's Carlisle," I heard him say. My eyes finally adjusted to the dark room and I could make out his features, especially his golden eyes and his blonde hair. He raised his arm and reached for my head and I felt his cold hand rest lightly on my forehead. He pulled it back after a second and said, "How are you feeling?"

"Okay," I answered. "Good, great," I stuttered. I realized I needed to be back to good health to be allowed to do things on my own. But my brain was still a little slow from drowsiness.

I saw Carlisle smile a polite doctorly smile. "I'm sorry I woke you. Get some more sleep and I'll check back up on you in the morning." And he stood up and left me to go back to sleep on the bed.

The last thing I needed was more sleep after everything but my eyes disagreed as I drifted off again.

I woke up to a bright day and I took a few seconds to gather my senses. I looked over to the bedside table and noticed the new cell phone. I reached over for it and looked to see the time on it.

It was almost eleven o'clock. On a Monday. I was late for school. Very late.

I jumped out of bed throwing the covers that had been my constant companion the night before and untangled it from me. I grabbed some clothes and hurriedly changed. I ran to the bathroom to wash up quickly.

When I returned to the room, Esme was there with a tray full of plates of food.

"Sorry, Esme, no time for food," I told her. "Do you know where my backpack is?"

"No need to panic, Bella. Carlisle called the school to tell them you'll be out today. Doctor's orders," she smiled.

I stopped in my tracks and looked at her. "Oh." I sat slumped on the bed. I didn't like being absent from school but I figured if I had to take off any day, today would be as good as any. I was a little irritated that no one consulted me first, but I was already hours late and what good would it do now going against my doctor's will.

Esme put the tray down in front of me on the bed and sat down herself across from me. I realized I was hungry and I started nibbling on some French toast and fruit.

Esme spoke while I continued eating and drinking juice. "Carlisle says you can go back to school tomorrow and Alice and Edward are going to return with you." I looked up at her from my food when she said his name. "I'd like to thank you, Bella." I gulped down the food in my mouth and stared in puzzlement. "For bringing back my son safely." I was stunned. "I know he can be stubborn sometimes, but he has the best intentions. And when he decided to go see Aro to ask for your life, we knew we couldn't stop him because he was doing the right thing. But that didn't mean we didn't worry."

"Wait," I interrupted her. My brows furrowed in confusion. I had had a lot on my mind, but I didn't think to question why Edward had been at Volterra when I saw him there. I guess I had just assumed he was summoned like I was. But to hear that he had gone there voluntarily, to plead for my life? This was all news to me. "Edward went there on purpose to ask Aro to spare me?"

Esme's beautiful face knotted in worry. "I thought he would have told you already. Maybe I should let him..."

"Please, Esme. I think it'd actually be better if I heard it from someone else."

"Well, I don't want to overstep..."

"Please," I pleaded.

She let out a breath. I smelled lilacs on her. "Edward had left us by then," she continued. I nodded to show her I understood this part, as Alice had already told me Edward left his family to be alone. "Alice had a vision, or rather a lack of one. She has been keeping tabs on the Volturri. She's looked in on them for a long time, but more so lately after we met you. And so when she couldn't see them anymore, she knew it had to do with you. It was what we were all afraid of, that Aro would somehow find out about you. Alice immediately called Edward. He said he was going to try and reason with Aro."

"That wasn't very smart. I mean, it doesn't even make any sense. It's crazy, really. He would be giving Aro all the power."

"That's what we thought, too, but he was desperate. We tried arguing with him. But we all knew what we would be willing to give up for each other, so we knew it was futile. He asked us to come back to Forks and protect you if it wasn't already too late. When we returned and found you missing, we thought for sure... we thought we would never see either of you again."

She had on the expression of a crying mother, without the tears. I moved the tray over and closed the gap between our bodies to embrace her.

"Edward told us how you bargained with Aro. It was you who ended up saving you both. And I want to thank you for that." She pulled herself back and reached over to brush some hair behind my shoulder. "I'm so sorry we left, dear. And without a proper goodbye. I'm ashamed of myself."

I shook my head. "It's behind us. I understand why you all left. I don't blame any of you." I meant my words. I just didn't know if I could put myself through it again.

Before Esme left with the tray of nearly emptied plates, I politely thanked her for the meal and told her she didn't need to provide room service from now on. She told me I could come down when I was hungry and I agreed. Then I asked her where my things were kept and she let me know it was in one of the rooms downstairs and offered to show me. I told Esme that I would search for it myself from her directions when I was ready.

Since I wasn't in a rush to school anymore, I went to wash up properly, taking a warm shower and changing before I made my way to find my possessions. On my way downstairs, I saw Emmett and Rosalie in the living room.

Emmett rose from his seat opposite Rosalie at the small table designated for chess and walked over to me at a leisurely pace with a great big smile. Rosalie looked mildly perturbed at her disrupted game.

"Hey, Bells," he greeted cheerfully. I couldn't help but smile back. How could anyone not fine his attitude absolutely infectious? "Glad to see you up and about." He playfully slapped my back and I puttered forward from the force. I knew he was being extra fragile with me, yet his leveled down strength was still powerful.

"Gee, thanks, Emmett," I said sarcastically as I tried to rub the spot on my back that tingled. "Rosalie," I greeted with a nod looking past Emmett toward the sullen blonde. She crossed her arms in response.

I looked around to see if there was anyone else in the vicinity I needed to greet.

Emmett saw me glancing around and said, "Edward's gone out."

My mouth opened to say I hadn't been searching for him but decided against it. Perhaps deep down I had been subconsciously looking for him specifically.

"Thanks," I just said. "I'm going to look for my stuff."

"Sure, I'll show you," he offered.

I was going to turn down his offer but decided against it also. I guess I was tired of refusing their generosity. It was nearly a full-time job. I had almost forgotten.

I quickly glanced at Rosalie to check her reaction, but when she didn't show a sign of protest, I took it as a good thing and didn't question my lack of backbone.

I followed him down the hallways till he stopped in front of a door which he opened for me. He allowed me to step inside and I saw some of my old furniture arranged in the room. I was surprised at how well all the pieces fit in the room. Although this room was smaller than my apartment, it wasn't by much, it seemed. I did get rid of a lot of Phil's things, so that probably had a lot to do with it.

I was looking around at my things and tracing my fingers on the old wooden furniture that were so familiar, yet strangely unfamiliar in this new setting, much like myself.

I opened up a drawer in a dresser and saw that it was empty. I searched the other drawers and saw that they were also mostly empty. I found a few odds and ends I had forgotten I had hidden away beneath my piles of clothes, like a couple cards Phil had gotten me. But all of my clothes were missing.

I turned my head towards the door to ask Emmett where else they stored my things when I saw that the doorway was empty. I walked over and peered down the hallway. He had left to give me privacy.

I stepped back in and closed the door. I did some more exploring, rediscovering my own trinkets, trash, and treasures.

I found the bin I had stored all the Cullen related items. I felt a pang of guilt and shame as I realized they must have found all their generous and beautiful gifts tossed away in some bin and stored away in my closet.

I took a deep breath and I opened the storage bin. It somehow contained their scent and I was hit with a faint whiff of it. I unconsciously leaned my nose closer to the opening of the bin and inhaled.

I delicately handled the items in my Cullen related bin, tracing the items with my fingers. I pulled the bin towards my lovely bed so I could sit on it while I sifted through my gifts. I pulled out the black cardigan from Alice and put it on. I took out the iPod and charger with adapter and plugged it into an outlet. Then I went to work looking through the rest of the stuff.

When I went through all of the items in the plastic box, I unplugged the iPod, put the earplugs in my ears and turned it on. I laid back on the bed, listening to the music Edward had selected to put in it for me.

I awoke to movement on the bed beside me. I had dozed off again. I didn't understand how I could fall asleep so easily. I couldn't have been that sick, and I had had plenty of sleep.

I looked over to see Alice had joined me on my bed. I pulled out the white earbuds that had managed to stay in my ears during my nap. "Hey, Alice."

"Hi," she said lying down next to me.

"You wouldn't happen to know where my clothes are, would you? They're not in my drawers."

"I threw them out," she stated bluntly.

I opened my mouth in incredulity, even though I shouldn't have been surprised. "Alice! I know my wardrobe doesn't meet your standards, but I actually liked some of my clothes."

"You'll like your new clothes better. And if you want something in particular, tell me what you need and I'll get it for you. Or better yet, we can shop for them together. But I updated all the pieces you had so I don't think you'll miss anything. You sure had a lot of plain shirts. Unflattering fits, too. You need to show off your figure more," she went on. I moaned in minor irritation. She ignored me. "I put some of them in Edward's room, as you know. But I didn't know if you'd want to stay there, so I kept most of it in my room for when you decide where you want to stay." She looked over to me innocently doe-eyed. "Or you could just let me dress you every day."

I had to chuckle at her persistence. It might actually be easier to let her do what she wanted than to fight her exuberance. Plus, it would be one less decision I would have to make when my life seemed so full of choices all of a sudden. But I knew better than to agree to such an arrangement with Alice so hastily. It might be worth it if she just picked out an outfit for me every day, but I doubted she could just allow me that. She would probably want a fashion show every morning. "I'll think about it," I told her.

"Ohhh," she pouted.

After a moment of silence, I spoke. "Alice, is he home right now?"

She shook her head. "He's been out a lot actually."

"Did he say why?" I asked with quiet curiosity.

"He said he needed to think. That's not unusual. He likes to think in private sometimes. You know, because his head can get a little crowded."

"I see," I murmured. I remembered the meadow he took us to that day we first kissed. He said he liked to go there to be alone sometimes. He certainly would want to be alone in his thoughts, but I had a feeling he was giving me the 'time' I had asked for by giving me my space. Maybe my presence blurred his mind as his presence blurred mine.

I knew I had big choices ahead of me and I had racked my brain over it for so long. But for now, I needed a break. "Hey, how about you show me my new clothes?"

"Yes!" Alice shouted and pulled me up before I knew what was happening. She dragged me, practically carrying me, as we zipped up to her room.

Jasper was sitting on the chair by the desk with the guitar on his lap when we came in.

"Jazz, we need some girl time," Alice cheerfully stated to her husband.

Jazz stood up and placed his guitar on the stand. "Of course, darling," he responded. He stepped toward her and gave her a sweet kiss on her cheek and gave me a friendly smile before he left the room.

Before Alice could go crazy after our long hiatus, I pulled the reins. "How about we start easy? You can pick my outfit for school tomorrow."

She conceded to just showing me the clothes she got for me, and allowing me to forgo all the trying on of them. It was one benefit of recovering from illness.

She did however take my measurements once more as she said I lost weight and she would need to take it into account with any new clothes she got me. But she said she would have to probably adjust that again and take newer measurements as Esme was sure to plump me up.

In the end, we made a deal that she could pick an outfit for me everyday for school, without the fashion show. Those would be saved for a weekend day. Of course, all of this was on the condition that I had final veto power.

I was sprawled out on Alice's plushly carpeted floor as I was once oft to do when she raised a question. "So how did you get along after we were gone?"

I closed my eyes to her question. It raised too many unpleasant memories. But I knew she deserved to know, they all did. To a certain extent.

Whatever my choices were or would be, our lives were inextricably entwined.

Now, with her prompt, would be as good a time as any to start. I just hoped she would pass along the word so I wouldn't have to rehash it again with any one of them again.

I took a big gulp. "It wasn't easy. But I somehow made it. With some help."

"From Jacob?" she asked curiously.

I smiled at her insert. "From Jacob. From Angela and Mike and Eric." I paused before I spoke again. "From my father. From a lot of other people, too."

"I'm really sorry about your father."

"Thank you," I told her. "Jacob really was invaluable to me during that time." I saw sympathy in her light eyes.

I told her about how I had gotten a job at Mike's parents' store pretty soon after they left to keep me busy. That Mike was really nice and patient with me.

"Did he finally ask you out?" she asked nonchalantly.

"What?" I asked incredulous. "Did everyone know?" Even Jake had guessed that Mike had feelings for me.

"Um, yeah," she said like she was stating the very obvious. "You can be so clueless sometimes. Maybe that's where your power comes from. You're not negating our powers, you're just totally oblivious to them it doesn't even register." She chuckled at her own joke.

"Ha ha," I said dryly.

"So let me guess," she went on. "You turned him down and found this Jacob guy."

My mouth gaped open. "How do you know I didn't say yes? Maybe Mike's my boyfriend now."

"Don't be silly, Bella. Mike Newton could never make you happy the way you deserve. You two are all wrong for each other," she stated matter-of-factly.

I guessed she was right, but I didn't like that everyone seemed to know me better than I knew myself. "Well, I still could've said yes," I said like a petulant child.

"Anyway, so tell me about this Jacob guy. What's he like?" she drew out her words like a gossipy friend.

"Let me think," I said, thinking, well, he's a tall, dark, and handsome... werewolf, making him your mortal enemy. Oh, and he's also my ex-boyfriend.

Obviously I didn't want to say all that. But I also knew I probably wouldn't be able to keep it a secret from the inconveniently mind-reading Edward. I had to keep them apart for Edward not to use his little parlor trick on Jacob, but with Edward returning to school for senior year and Jacob giving rides to Vanessa all the time, it was only a matter of how soon.

Perhaps it was better to come clean and get it over now with Alice. I wasn't sure.

"Do you think," I said hesitantly, "hypothetically, that if you guys never had to come back, that if you stayed away and Edward never saw me again, that he would've... eventually moved on?"

I think it was my guilt speaking, but I guess I wanted some confirmation that I wasn't wrong to have dated someone else. And so soon afterward, too.

She paused as she was forming her thoughts. "You'd have to speak with Edward to know for sure. Unfortunately, I can't read his mind, but from the glimpses I got of his future, I don't think so. But I also don't think you should feel any sort of remorse for doing so. Edward did you a great wrong, and he knows it. But he really did think, however stupid, that he was giving you the best option. He wanted you to move on and nobody, especially you, can blame you for doing just that."

"I know," I sighed. "I guess I'd just feel better if I knew he was happy."

"I'm sorry, Bella, but I don't think he'll ever be happy without you."

I kept my eyes low. "Jacob's not my boyfriend. But he was," I finally admitted. I peered at her reaction. She wasn't surprised. "I mean, you've already guessed it."

"Actually," she said looking guilty, "he guessed it, too."

"Oh, God," I muttered.

"He's dealing," she said before I could ask. "But hey," she said with forced cheer, "it could be worse for Edward. You could've still been with this other guy. We weren't sure, but it's looking better for him. I mean, sorry about your breakup, but I kind of have to root for the home team."

I furrowed my brows at her. "Is this you consoling me? 'Cause you suck at it."

"I know, but new to this! I've only seen drama like this on television. It's so human, isn't it great? I love it!" she said with renewed enthusiasm.

"Glad at least someone's enjoying this."

"Love triangles," she sighed as if it needed no further words.

"This isn't a love triangle. It's not even a love line. It's just me, alone. A single dot."

"That's not true," Alice said coming out of her reverie. "We love you, Edward loves you. Very much. And others do, too, some to the chagrin of my brother. You're not alone. You never were."

"I'm not trying to garner pity. I'm just trying to gather as much information so I can make the right decision. I guess when Edward left, all the power was taken out of my hands, and now it seems we get another go with the roles reversed. I don't much like it. I didn't like it when I had no say, and now I don't like it that I pretty much have all the say."

"You could compromise and decide together, something he didn't do for you and look what a bad choice he made," she suggested.

She had a point. She was downright reasonable, but I wasn't feeling reasonable. "Why should I? I already know what he wants, or rather what he doesn't want. And he's so stubborn, he's willing to sacrifice everything to do what he thinks is right."

"He might surprise you."

I glanced at her. I exhaled in defeat. "I don't know." I grabbed at my hair, but decided against actually going the extra step of tearing it out. "I know I'm supposed to be sick and all that, but can I go out? Can we go out? I need fresh air." I pulled at my collar to hammer the point.

She sat up straighter and smiled at me mischievously. "I think we can arrange something."

A few minutes later, she had sneaked me out of the house, sort of, and was driving me away from Forks at high speeds. About an hour later, we were, or rather she was, doing some serious shopping.

"This isn't what I had in mind."

"What did you expect with me? A walk in the woods?" she asked as she held a hanger with dress up to my body scoping me out. "That's more Edward's thing." Then she looked into my eyes and smiled a sweet sisterly smile.

"You're a little devil," I said point blank. She was for all her fashion-obsessed craziness quite savvy and shrewd.

I indeed longed for a walk in the woods with Edward. Alice was a genius. I was beginning to question whether me wanting to come out in the first place was my idea.

"Want to go home already?" she tested me.

I answered no begrudgingly. We had come all the way out here, on my request, though not here shopping specifically, but I couldn't turn tail now. So I tried to pay attention to the clothes Alice was parading before me.

Eventually I started caring enough and giving enough of my opinion to satisfy Alice, and then we finally headed home.


Was that what I thought of the Cullens' house now? Home? My home?

If I closed my eyes, clicked my heels together, and chanted, "There's no place like home," is Edward's house where I would want to wind up? Is wrapped around his arms where I imagined myself?

Sitting in the passenger side of Alice's speeding car, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to where I wanted to be most in the world.

Yes. It was with Edward.

And therein lie the problem. More than anything I wanted to be with Edward and his family again. I wanted to trust Edward and let myself love him, but I didn't want to make myself that vulnerable again. He could hurt me like nobody else could and I couldn't be absolutely sure he would make the right decision for the both of us when the time came.

This was why I had to make the decision. But what I really wanted, I couldn't make him go along with.

I kept my eyes closed while leaning my head back on the headrest.

I had had enough. I made a decision. I committed to it in my mind. Keeping my eyes still shut, I said aloud, "What do you see, Alice?"

She was silent. I didn't know if she understood my question, or was trying to "see" into the future. I suddenly thought it might be dangerous for her to be zoning out searching for the unknown when she should be concentrating on the road, but before I could open my eyes and voice my doubts, she answered, "You know, I'm beginning to feel like a broken magic eight-ball. Is there something specific you wanted me to search for? Because you know I can't see your future. I'm starting to think this is your idea of a joke."

My lips curled up into a smile and I finally opened my eyes to look at my irritated friend. "No, nothing specific," I casually said and let my eyes close again.

When we arrived back at the house, I promptly went to the room with my belongings. I plopped myself down on my bed and let myself relax with the knowledge I knew what had to be done.

A little later, I found Esme near the kitchen and asked for a light dinner and went searching for Alice while Esme cooked.

I told Alice I'd like my clothes to be put into the room with my old furniture. She raised her eyebrows but didn't question my request. She nodded and I went to the dining table for my dinner where Esme and Carlisle were already sitting.

I thanked Esme and began eating silently. The awkwardness was palpable but Esme and Carlisle left me in much needed peace.

When I finished my meal, I rose from my seat and as I tried to pick up my plate, Esme beat me to it. I thanked her yet again, and told the heads of household that I was going out for a walk.

Esme seemed like she was going to protest, but Carlisle put his hand on her back and she swallowed whatever she was about to say.

I went back to my room and discovered Alice had indeed replaced my drawers and the small closet with clothes. I picked a sweater and threw it on over my shirt. Then I made my way to the front door and walked around the house to the back yard.

The night was a navy blue by then and I knew it was a matter of time before he would find me.