AN~Finally! I wanted this to be as perfect as I could make it. I don't feel good about posting things I don't like or think are boring and then expecting other people to read them. Basically, I don't want to waste your time with junk, you deserve better.


The song I listened to most while doing the final edit on this chapter and which I recommend to you is:

Please Don't Let it Go by HIM

YouTube it, yo.

Last chapter! Excited!? Me too.


13

I couldn't sleep. At four am I gave up trying and went downstairs, dragging my comforter with me like the clumsiest, lumpiest cloak ever. I still hadn't eaten anything. And I was still set on not falling apart over this. I was just going to . . . eat cereal.

I saw the light on the answering machine but I ignored it. I calmly got my food and sat at the table with my back to the phone. At least, where it was supposed be. The cordless phone was sitting on the table in front of me. I lifted it and looked at the little digital read out. 22 MISSED CALLS. I pushed the arrow keys before I could stop myself. UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN. Except that I did know of course. I set it back down and continued eating.

I'm not sure how long I stayed there, staring into the slightly pink layer of milk left in my bowl but I think it was far shorter than I would like to admit before I got up and went to the answering machine. A red twelve glowed there. I picked it up and took back to the table. The cord just barely reached and created a nice thigh-high trip wire across the entrance to the kitchen. I shoved my cereal bowl to the side and carefully put the machine in its place in front of me like it was a bomb I was about to defuse. I pushed the button and a robotic female voice came on:

September 13, 8:15pm

Hey, bitch!

It was Jessica. Good to know she was still Jessica.

So, Carlisle says I have to be in here for a few days. I guess they have to do some stupid surgery tomorrow morning so yeah whatever. Hey, tell your boyfriend thanks for bringing me. I'm going to come up with a cooler thing to call him. He's really as nice as you said. Well, call me. Room 225. Lates.

As nice as I thought he was, Jess. It hurt to hear her saying those things about Aro but I couldn't not laugh at her calling her doctor by his first name and at calling a surgery "stupid." I could hear that she was scared. I kept that message and let it go automatically to the next.

September 13, 10:20pm

I tensed. This was it.

Isabella. I wish you had let me explain. I need you to let me explain. Please call me. I love you.

He sounded nervous. Which I used to think was adorable and which only made me paranoid now because she had said he only did it to get what he wanted.

September 13, 11:10pm

I know you must be very upset by what Sulpicia said but it isn't like she said, I swear it. I want to explain but I need to talk to you. I'd like to do it in person but I will settle for the phone if you don't want to see me just yet.

Or ever.

September 13, 11:43pm

I know you aren't supposed to do this, I know people are supposed to act normal and not call someone over and over but I don't know how to do that. I can't be normal, I'm sorry.

September 14, 12:27am

I'm not going to leave Forks until I see you.

September 14, 12:28am

That sounded really threatening. That wasn't what I meant. I just think you owe it to me to let me explain in person before you condemn me to a life that doesn't have you in it. I love you so much . . .

I couldn't believe him. All I could hear when he said he loved me was her mocking me for thinking I was unique to him.

September 14, 1:15am

Bella

A woman's voice. And even though I had only heard it once, it was unmistakable.

This is Sulpicia. I think you—

I pushed the delete button a little harder than I should have so it stuck down on one side. I wasn't about to listen to her. She'd said plenty. But I couldn't stop myself from listening to his messages.

September 14, 1:17am

I know you aren't asleep because I know you. That's why I keep calling. I know there's a chance you really might never agree to see me and I wanted to try to make an impression on you while you still cared before you completely shut off the part of you that loves me and started trying to convince yourself I never existed. Please don't do that yet.

I wanted him to be wrong but I had already started to do that. Every picture of him, of us, that I had on my computer was sitting in the trash bin, waiting to be deleted, removing his face from my life forever. I was thinking about it the entire time I was eating.

September 14, 2:55am

I love you. I know I said that already a few times but I wanted to say it again in case you listen to these more than once before you inflict a violent death on this answering machine. This way it's at the beginning of a message so even if you're skipping through you'll hear it.

September 14, 2:57am

You know me, too.

September 14, 3:40am

I forgot. Sherry told me Andrea's sick and wants you to work tonight. That was last night so you might want to call her if you don't want to work today. This message isn't even romantic in a hardcore stalker way so you can go ahead and delete it right off I think. I hope I hear from you soon.

September 14, 4:10am

Hey, Bella.

Jessica again.

So, I guess I'm going into surgery now. They're making some huge deal about it. I'm really not sure why they woke me up when they're just going to put me back to sleep again. Whatever. Anyway, I want to hear about your birthday. They're talking about transferring me somewhere after I'm recovered enough from this so you should come see me later today. Hey, whoa, you are not cute enough to be touching me there—

I was pretty certain that last part wasn't for me. But it made me smile.

I pushed the play button again. I kept all of them. Even the one about work. It was actually my favorite because it just sounded so ordinary and I could believe none of this had happened yet. I fell asleep with my head on the table, to the sound of Aro saying he knows me and I woke up to the sound of Charlie answering the door. I could see him in profile and I knew it had to be Aro even before he said, "You're brave to come here knowing how many guns I keep in my house."

I couldn't hear Aro's response. I moved closer, plastering myself against the wall so he couldn't see me. Of course, he knew I was there, he could hear our heartbeats, but he couldn't let Charlie know that. I saw Charlie receive one of those large golden envelopes people put legal documents in like—

"Divorce papers . . ." Charlie said, looking down at the first five inches of a thin stack of papers he'd pulled out.

"She was supposed to mail them straight to the lawyer after signing them but she decided to come here and torment everyone one last time while delivering them in person. I filed them the day after I met Isabella. I've just been waiting until she reappeared so she could sign them. She said some unfortunate things to Bella, I'm afraid. They weren't completely lies but the way they were presented made them seem far more sinister—"

Charlie held up his hand. "That's between you and Bella." He fished something small out of his pocket and dropped it into Aro's hand of which I saw just the tips of his fingers. My ring wasn't on the counter. His ring.

"I don't suppose she will talk to me now?" Aro asked hopefully. He sounded so sincere and sad, it tore my heart. But I was also feeling sick now because he'd just said what Sulpicia said weren't lies. He'd done this before.

Charlie glanced at me and I shook my head.

"No. I don't think she's ready for that," Charlie said. He handed the envelope back formally.

"May I wait?"

"What, here?"

"I can wait at the street if you'd prefer."

"No. By all means, wait in the yard," Charlie said like he was telling someone they could take a nap on the train tracks if they really wanted to but it seemed like a stupid plan to him. He closed the door and I peeked around edge of the window to see that Aro was walking back to his car. When he got to it, he put his back against the door and then stayed there.

I tried to act causally when Charlie turned around. I smiled as cheerily as I was capable of but he just stared back at me, obviously unsettled.

"You don't have to tell me what happened but I really feel like it's be a bad idea for you to be pretending you're okay right now. You can't pretend away being in love with someone just because they hurt you."

I could tell it made him uncomfortable to talk about me being in love with Aro and the reality of his words, built on the foundation of my mother's revoked promises, weren't easily ignored.

"I'm not pretending to be okay. I am okay. I mean, I'm sad, but I'll get over it. I've only known him a couple of months so it's not that big of a deal. And he doesn't even live here so in a few days he'll go home and everything will be fine. Normal."

Normal. Boring. Empty . . .

"Bella, when I found you last night . . . you looked . . . it wasn't good. I'm a little afraid to leave you alone to be honest."

"Dad, I'm not going to kill myself."

"Okay. Well, I'd still prefer that you weren't alone today. You need to talk to someone and it's probably not going to be me so you should call one of your friends and have them come over."

"Well, I'm going to see Jessica later and then I'm going to work so, you know, lots of people around. And you'll be home before me tonight . . ."

He looked skeptical but didn't say anything else.

Aro was still there when Charlie went to work an hour later. Charlie waved to him in a way which clearly indicated he thought Aro was a complete lunatic and got into his cruiser.

The house needed to be cleaned but I couldn't do it. I turned on the TV but the channels were a bit limited. Finally, I found a Saved by the Bell marathon and spent the next two hours wondering how they all did their hair like that. I forced myself to only look outside on one commercial break per episode. He hadn't moved any of the times. Of course he didn't need to. He could literally stand out there forever.

I went upstairs and took a shower. I tried not to think about the fact that the last time I was naked, other than when I'd changed into my pajamas as quickly as possible, stuffing my dress rudely into the back of my closet out of sight, it was with him. That seemed like longer ago than just last night. It seemed impossible that experience could have anything to do with right now. It was like I had stepped into another dimension. A cold, flat one with almost no air and very little color.

I did everything as methodically as I could. I got dressed. Dried my hair. Went downstairs and ate a sandwich. I called Sherry and said I could work which is when I found out that Andrea wasn't "sick," she was in jail for pushing her boyfriend through a window. He wasn't seriously wounded in any way and I suddenly liked Andrea a lot better than I had the day before and decided I would be the most flattering character witness ever if asked at to testify at her trial.

I looked at the wall clock thinking it must have been hours since I'd looked outside. An hour and a half.

I decided to do the thing I had been putting off and went upstairs. It was probably better to know this before I saw him again anyway and since I couldn't leave my house without seeing him . . .

I sat down at my computer and opened a new tab on the web browser that was still up, displaying pictures of Volterra, Italy that I had been examining closely every day trying to imagine living there and failing.

What was that name Alice said? Elizabeth something. I typed "Elizabeth" into the search bar and ten suggestions dropped down immediately. None of them what I was looking for. The last name was weird, I couldn't remember it enough to even guess. It started with a "b" or a "v" though I thought. I started with "b." Alphabetical order was as good as any other order. I typed "b" and then, "a" and the list of suggestions morphed with each new letter. I thought that was right but I didn't now where to go from there. Ba, ba, ba . . . Bal . . . Bar . . . Bat, no, Bath. All I had to type was the "t" though and every suggestion changed instantly to information connected to the same name: Elizabeth Bathory. One of the popular searches said "victims" and another said "torture" and trailed off out of sight. I had assumed this wouldn't be pleasant, but I was regretting even starting now.

I shook it off and clicked on the top search, just the name alone without any frightening details attached to the end. Wikipedia was at the top of the results page as usual. Which also meant this was something big. I clicked on the link and watched it turn purple in a way that suddenly seemed very threatening. It was marked as visited now. It couldn't be unclicked to blissful unknown blue.

I saw the picture first. It wasn't an exact likeness but it was close enough. A superior-looking woman in a red dress, with bright red hair and dull, horrible eyes stared at me from a very intricate painting to the side.

Words highlighted themselves in crimson as I scanned the article. Blood Countess. Bathing in blood. Torture. Female serial killer.

Virgins. There it was. Six hundred virgin girls. She killed more than six hundred girls and bathed in their blood. To make herself stay young the article said. Drank their blood more like it. But it was obvious why Aro had said Caius was "still upset" which seemed like a massive understatement now. If this wasn't blatant flouting of "the law" nothing was.

If she had done this, and gotten away with it, it could only be because Aro had saved her. Maybe even because he'd been involved. I saw them sitting together in a bathtub filled with human blood, drinking it from smeared glasses and laughing cruelly, surrounded by the broken corpses of dozens of murdered girls.

I closed the tab and stood. I turned in a circle in the middle of my room trying to decide if I should fight the sudden desire I had to break everything I owned. Especially everything he'd touched. Instead I grabbed my coat. I wasn't going to be a prisoner.

He stood up straight when I opened the door. I went down the steps calmly. I had to pass him to get to my truck.

"Isabella—" he started when I got close.

I dangled my keys so he could see I wasn't out there to talk to him. He sank back against his car. I opened the door to my truck and he still hadn't moved.

"Um, I'm leaving now so you don't need to wait around here, I'll be late."

"Do you still live here?" he asked.

"Yes, of course I do."

"Then I will wait."

"Fine. Suit yourself." I slammed the door a little harder than necessary and was rewarded with a tiny shower of rust on my arm. He turned his head to watch as I drove away and I clenched my jaw and took a deep breath through my nose. I wouldn't cry. I was going to see Jessica. Although, I didn't know what I was going to tell her when I got there. She was expecting some kind of fairy tale night. And I did have that story, it just ended so badly. I considered only telling her the beginning but my face didn't look like a girl who'd just gotten engaged and had her first real sexual experience with a person she was in love with. I deliberately parked on the furthest side of the hospital from the emergency entrance.

I thought she might be sleeping but I when I got there she said, "Thank God." And threw the chunky remote for the TV onto the foot of her bed after turning it off.

"It's so boring in here."

"It supposed to be boring. It looks like you got some books though," I said, putting my hand on a stack of tattered paperbacks on her tray table.

"Ug. Even you wouldn't read those."

I tilted them to see the spines. Four Louis L'Amour novels and a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary.

"Yeah. Those are pretty bad. Sorry. If I had thought I would have brought you some magazines."

"Well, there's still time, they're talking like they're going to keep me forever."

I contemplated sitting on her bed and then chose the chair. I wasn't the touchy-feely type.

"So are you going to tell me what's really going on now?" I asked.

I was waiting for a tart response but instead she sighed and looked at her hands. She didn't answer for a long time and I didn't want to push her so I started looking around her room. There were several vases of flowers on the nightstand.

"These are nice," I said absentmindedly, touching the petals on a large, opulent-looking white flower.

She brightened immediately. "Oh, yeah, your boyfriend totally sent those! They're my favorite flower, too."

Of course he did. "When did he send these?"

"I don't know, they were here when I got back from recovery. Could have been last night. I went to sleep early. Those are really expensive," she said, impressed.

Clearly he had won her over. Well, maybe he'd found another girl to seduce. Ow. A sharp pain had raced through my chest at this thought. I guessed it was a good thing I was in a hospital if I was having a heart attack.

"They're nice."

"They're gorgeous. Now tell me about the birthday.

"It seems like you have some pretty serious things going on here, Jess. Don't you think we should talk about any of that?"

"No. I don't want to think about that stuff. It's depressing and I've been talking to doctors about it since the second I got here. Come on."

She clapped her hands at me like I was a dog she was training.

"Okay. What do you want to know?"

"You are the most boring person to try to extract information from ever. You should be a spy for the government, if you got caught the kidnappers would return you in a day."

"Or shoot me in the head."

"Where was the party?"

"At the coffee shop."

She made a face. "What? Gross. Why was this such a big secret if he was doing something lame like that?"

"He had it remodeled."

"What!"

"Yeah. I guess while we were gone on Sunday. Everything is new. It's really pretty."

"Holy crap! That's amazing! Do you have pictures?"

"Oh, um, no not on me." Or at all. I needed to remember to take my camera to work tonight. Except that I couldn't go home because he was staking out my house.

"Who was there?"

"I don't know. Everyone." I actually couldn't remember.

"What else?"

"You want more than that?"

"Yes."

I sighed. "My mom is here."

"Oh, that's really cool, you guys haven't seen each other in a while yeah?" She was bored now. This was not a sexy birthday detail.

"A year." Wait, why the hell hadn't she shown up at my house this morning?

"Did you know she was coming?"

"Nope. He bought her a plane ticket and had a car drive her here from Seattle." I knew I should stop because it was just making her more excited and making my chest hurt more but I couldn't.

"Oh my God, I hate you."

Might as well I guess. Maybe someone would interrupt us before I got to the sad part.

"We did it."

"I sure as hell hope you put out after all that. Was it good?" I was pretty sure at this point that Jessica knew as little about sex as I did and her bravado was all show.

"It was perfect." It was. Perfect and ruined. "He had like a million candles set up when we got to his house."

"Ech. Gross." But I could tell she was delighted.

"He proposed."

Her heart monitor started beeping and flashing an orange light in a panicked-looking pattern. A nurse came in.

"She's just had major surgery," she said sternly but not unkindly. "Try to keep it down okay?"

She pressed a button on the machine that stopped the light and sound and left with a look at each of us.

"Let me see the ring!"

"I don't have it."

"What? What do you mean? Did he not give you a ring?"

"I gave it back."

Well, Charlie did. I'm not sure she had actually looked at me closely yet but her eyes went straight to my face when I sniffed.

"What happened?" She asked with far more sincerity than I knew she was capable of.

"His wife showed up."

I had stunned her into silence. For a second and a half. "That motherfucker. I will hurt him Bella, I promise. I know right where to hit him."

"Yeah, Jess, everyone knows that. And I knew he was married already. They just haven't been together for a long time."

"Scandal. I'm so pissed you held out on me. Did you get in a cat fight?"

"No. She just said that he always does this with girls and I'm not the first and some other shit."

"Oh. That's harsh. He was too good to be true. Wait, so you did have a ring at some point?"

"Yes."

"Was it before or after the party?"

"Before."

"So everyone knew you were engaged then?"

"Charlie and Renee knew. I think she's probably off with Alice planning my wedding still . . ."

"Okay then, that bitch is lying. He did all of this in front of your friends and told your parents he was going to marry you? Seriously, Bella?"

"He said she wasn't."

"So you talked about it?"

"No. I ran out and Alice took me home. He told Charlie that this morning."

"Why the hell would he tell Charlie he has a string of girlfriends he uses? Was he trying to get shot?"

"I don't know. He just said she wasn't lying but she made it sound worse than it was."

"Okay, so she's just jealous and you totally fucking overreacted, Bella."

"No, I didn't. You didn't meet her or hear exactly what she said. It was horrible."

"So you haven't talked to him at all?"

"I said he could stop hanging out in my yard."

"He's . . . hanging out in your yard? Right now?"

"Yup. He says he's going to wait there until I talk to him."

"How long has he been there?"

"Since about six o'clock this morning."

"Aw."

"No. Not 'aw.' Annoying."

"Did he try to call you last night after you left?"

"Uh huh. I didn't answer."

"How many times did he call?"

"Twenty-two. No wait, two of those were you. So, twenty. Or nineteen I guess because one of them was Sulpicia."

"Who's Sulpicia?"

"His wife . . ."

"His wife . . . called you? What the fuck did she want?"

"It sounded like she was trying to apologize actually but I deleted her message."

"Did he leave messages?"

"Yeah. Nine of them."

"What did he say?"

"That he needs to explain in person and that he knows me and he's worried if I don't let him explain now I never will. And that he loves me."

"Aw."

"Stop saying that. It's not like that."

"Uh, I'm pretty sure it is and you're the one being an asshole at this point."

"I'm not being an asshole, Jessica. I'm humiliated. Everyone said he was too old for me and something like this would happen and they were right and now I look stupid."

"Well, I'm cool with looking stupid for someone like that so if he's still in your yard when you get home, you can send him over here."

"You're not even attracted to him!"

"He remodeled a restaurant for you. In a day. Do you have any idea what that must have cost? And he sent me flowers. That bouquet was seventy-five dollars. I looked online. I'm pretty sure he's the sexiest man I've ever met."

"I will tell him you said that."

"So now you have to talk to him. And you might want to ask about that whole thing where he proposed to you and worships the ground you walk on and wants you to run away to Italy and if he does that with all of his bimbos."

"I'm a bimbo now?"

"No. That's the point, Bella. You're not the kind of girl that gets treated like that. You're the kind who gets proposed to and taken to Italy to live in a mansion. Except he's already married. That's a problem."

"He had signed divorce papers when he came over this morning." I knew they were fake but no one else did. "He said she'd had them for months and he was just waiting for her to sign."

"Get out."

"What?"

"Get the fuck out, go to your house, get your ring back from him and say you're sorry for being an asshole."

"I have to apologize to him now?"

"Yes. He's completely in love with you and has done every possible thing to prove it. You didn't trust him. You just believed some jealous biotch you didn't even know. That was cold, Bella."

"Well, I have to go to work now, so if he's still there after, then I guess I can consider your advice. "

"You're going to make him wait outside in the cold for like six hours?"

"He'll be fine, trust me. And I only work four today. I'll be home by six."

"Whatever. Anyway, they're shipping me off day after tomorrow so you should come back tomorrow and tell me what happened."

"Shipping? where are you going?"

"Somewhere in Florida. Ren-something."

"Renfrew?"

"Yeah, how did you know—"

"TLC. They had a show about eating disorders."

"So you know about that then. Awesome."

"It's okay, Jess. I wish I'd known how unhappy you were though. I'm sorry."

"Well, at least I'll be out of Forks."

"Have you talked to Mike?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yup. I told him everything. It was nice to not hide things anymore."

"Was he really upset?"

"Not so much. He proposed to me. Again. He's an idiot," she said but I could tell she was trying to hide a smile.

"He's sweet."

"He said he'd move wherever I wanted if I didn't want to live in Forks. I told him we'd talk when I got back."

"That's great. So . . . what about the baby?"

She looked down at her hands again. "Major abdominal surgery and general anesthesia don't really mix with, you know. So, that's—"

I may not have been the touchy-feely type but even I know to hug someone after all of that when they start crying. She pulled away and started quickly wiping her face when the nurse came back.

"All right, Miss Stanley, we need you to get up and walk around now."

"What? I just had like ten people sticking a bunch of crap in my guts!"

"That's just how we do things. If you lay around after a surgery like this, you'll get constipated. Would you like a nice bowel obstruction?"

"Gross! Fine," she said shoving her blankets off her legs irritably.

There was a lot of swearing after that as the nurse supported her into the bathroom. I walked back over to the flowers Aro had sent. They were beautiful. Just like everything he'd done and said until last night. But he didn't really do anything then either. I had just believed a lot of things someone I didn't know had said. Why was Jessica suddenly so wise and I was an idiot?

"Hello, Bella."

I turned to find Dr. Cullen standing at the foot of Jessica's bed.

"Oh, hi." I had no idea if he knew what had happened.

"She's recovering well already."

"She's pretty . . . tenacious. So why did she need surgery?"

"That's not information I'm allowed to share with you," he said.

"Aro will just tell me later," I bluffed.

"We had to repair a small tear in her bowel from the laxative abuse and she also turned out to have appendicitis which we didn't know until we were in there. She's lucky you brought her in, it could have been . . . more serious fairly quickly."

"Well, it was Aro. I didn't really know what was going on. I don't think I would have known to take her to the hospital. He saved her life didn't he?"

"Probably."

"It's weird. You know, saving a hu—person. Because of what he does."

"Jessica is important to you."

I was relieved I didn't need to respond to that because Jessica reappeared with the nurse just then.

"I have to get to work so I'll be by tomorrow, okay?"

"Surewhateverbye," she said and I was pretty she was going to break that nurse's arm with how hard she was holding onto it.

"We're going to get you some pain medication here, Jessica," I heard Dr. Cullen say as I went back into the hallway.

"I want morphine."

"That's a little stronger than necessary I think."

"Really? Have you ever been stabbed?"

"Yes, actually, I used to be in a biker gang," he said.

Jessica did not laugh but I was still chucking as I left the hospital into the parking lot. To discover I had exited the wrong side of the building and was suddenly standing under the cover of the ambulance bay in front of the emergency room.

It had been less than a day. I hadn't cried since last night. I was determined I wasn't going to. I had to be okay for Charlie. But Charlie wasn't here. It was just me and the incessant, unforgiving rain that was sheeting down past the overhang.

And I wasn't okay. I was a dumb nineteen-year-old girl who'd had her heart broken for the first time and I was so paralyzed by grief I couldn't think. I wanted to walk out into the rain and just stand there for a very long time but I had to go to work so I didn't do that. I did cry though, sitting in my truck, listening to the raindrops clatter on the windows and roof. It wasn't the same kind of crying as the night before because I wasn't in such an acute state of shock anymore. And I wasn't crying about Sulpicia's words, I was crying about his.

Him asking me to marry him.

Him telling me he loved me.

That I saved him.

And that he would die for me.

It was too perfect. He was too perfect. That was why I believed her so easily. He couldn't be real. What she'd said made more sense. That he was a charming liar who did this all the time. I should have been more cautious from the start but I didn't understand that then.

And he just came out of nowhere. We spoke one day then a week later I was living in this impossible fantasy with him and there wasn't a moment to think about it and wonder if it made sense. I wouldn't have wanted to anyway. All I wanted was to be near him.

I still wanted it but I couldn't believe it anymore. I was afraid to talk to him because she was right about him being so adorable you'd believe anything he said. I would. I did. I wanted to.

I finally stopped crying enough to drive. I rolled the window down part of the way so that the cold air would help reduce the swelling and redness in my face and I thought that as long as I pretended to be super happy and smiled a lot, no one would notice how completely miserable I actually was.

But all of the fake chirpiness turned out to be exhausting and doing my job felt like swimming thorough wet sand.

And everyone seemed to know Aro had been behind the new look. Even people I was sure I didn't know. And they all wanted to talk about it. And compliment Aro. I smiled. That was the best I could do.

Sherry asked where my ring was. I guess Alice and Renee were in earlier, doing exactly what I was afraid they were. I told her I left it at home because I didn't want to lose it at work. She looked disappointed but didn't question it.

Usually, I was anxious for my shift to be over but it went by so fast that when I looked up and saw I was off in ten minutes I actually thought someone had messed with the clock. I offered to stay later but Sherry insisted I go "spend time with that sexy fiance" of mine. Suddenly the town weirdo was the sexiest man alive.

I walked to my truck slowly and then sat with it running for fifteen minutes. I could claim I was warming it up, but it had no heater. I was just delaying going home. I couldn't go see Jessica again and the thought of seeing Jacob and having to explain all of this was even less appealing than just going home and seeing Aro, still in my yard, looking, I'm sure, as pathetic as a sack of abandoned kittens.

I sat through a green light twice on the way home and then accidentally drove through it while it was red. There wasn't anyone around anyway. I turned onto my street and drove about as slow as I could while still touching the gas pedal.

The porch light was on, illuminating the yard as the night crawled in. He was sitting on the hood of his car with his head down. I got out and closed my door quietly. He lifted his head and I forced myself to not look at him as I went by. He didn't try to speak to me but I saw that his clothes and hair were damp like he'd just stayed out there while it was raining.

I forced myself to remember that he could stand outside in a hundred rainstorms and be just fine and I went inside without looking back. Charlie called to me from the living room. I set my keys on the table and sat on the couch.

"Work good?"

"Uh huh."

Two commercial's worth of silence.

"It's cold out there," he said.

"Yup."

"Bella—"

"No."

"Alice called the station today."

"Why?"

"She put a woman name Sulpy or Piecey—I don't know—on the phone. Anyway. She claimed to be his wife—or ex-wife I guess. She said there had been a misunderstanding—"

"She was very clear. There was no 'misunderstanding'," I said.

"She said that she'd said some things that weren't entirely true about Aro."

"Okay."

"Bella, he's been out there for twelve hours without a coat."

"He could have sat in his car," I said in a way that must have sounded insanely cruel to him since he didn't know Aro couldn't get cold.

"I tried to get him to come inside when I got home but he said he wouldn't 'invade your space' unless you requested it."

"You invited him in?"

"Look, I don't know what was said but no guy I've ever met would do what he's doing right now. That's not insignificant. Now maybe you can't forgive whatever was said but you should at least go tell him that so he can go home before he gets pneumonia. I think he's earned that much. Or he's insane. Either way, it's about time for him to get off my lawn. Also it's raining again."

I could see that it was just starting to sprinkle out the window. The drops flashed by like quicksilver bullets, disappearing from view at the window ledge. I stood up and went to look outside. He was still there but now his face was turned upwards, his eyes closed. The rain sped up even in the few seconds I was at the window.

When I stepped out onto the porch he stood and came forward but not too close. He seemed to sense that I was going to talk to him this time.

But I didn't talk and neither did he. We stared at each other. Like in the coffee shop that day when he caught me watching him. But we were strangers then. And I knew that now, whether or not he was a liar, he did know me. He knew me better than any person ever had. So if what Sulpicia said was true, he was the most dangerous person in the world to me. A beautiful, wonderful liar who knew exactly what to say. To make me happy. To make me sad. To make me love him.

But I had told him that he didn't convince me to love him because I had loved him before I knew he was so perfect so if I were to pretend now like I had been tricked into falling for him, I was a liar.

He was just waiting for me to speak, his eyes were—

"Your eyes are brown," I said without meaning to. His contacts should have been gone hours ago.

"I brought extra contacts. I thought it might be some time before I could convince you to talk to me."

"How many extra?"

"Enough for about three days. I figured by then, if you hadn't talked to me yet, it was probably safe to assume you were not going to and that I should go home and try to forget about this life I certainly never deserved anyway."

He was completely drenched now, his hair was sticking to the sides of his face in places and even though they were wet, I could see he was wearing the same clothes as last night.

"So, six hundred virgins, huh?"

With him down in the yard and me on the porch above him, I felt like I was starting the strangest stand-up comedy routine ever.

He grimaced. "She got a little . . . carried away in the seventeenth century after we split up for the last time. She became obsessed with the idea that she might start aging if she didn't get enough blood. The only reason she's not dead is because she's known us for so long. Everyone is a little indulgent with their friends and family, you know. And she is family to us as awful as she is sometimes. Anyone else would have been put to death immediately. But there was no way to undo the damage so she became a legend and Caius decided to settle for punishing her by locking her in a room for a few years with only rat's blood to drink."

"Why isn't she married to him then? They sound perfect for each other."

He laughed in a humorless way. "Caius already has a wife. Who is much too good for him." He paused. "I'm still hoping to return home in a similar situation as that."

I closed my eyes and forced myself to swallow against the terrible ache in my throat.

"You said you wanted to explain, so you'd better do it before you're totally soaked."

It was a stupid thing to say, he couldn't get any wetter if he ran all the way to Quinault and jumped in the lake.

"You had to know I had other relationships before we met."

I kept my face neutral.

"But it wasn't like she said. Do you really think so little of me that you would so readily believe I was like that because someone who is a stranger to you said I was?"

The same thing Jessica had said . . .

"They weren't necessarily flings but not all of them were relationships either. And I didn't treat them poorly. I never promised them anything and they didn't expect it. They knew who I was, it wasn't like I tricked them. And I never proposed to any of them either. I know you won't believe this and I probably wouldn't either but I've never proposed to anyone else."

"What about Sulpicia?"

"I didn't propose to her. She informed me that we were getting married. All I did was not resist. I never proposed to anyone after we split up because I never understood why anyone would want to be married. Especially not after being married to her for twelve hundred horrifying years. But then I met you and suddenly the impulse to want to do everything possible to prove your devotion to another person made sense."

His words were too perfect. Like he was reading from a script entitled: Things That No One Ever Says Because They're Too Good to be True.

"Why did you go to all the trouble to make fake divorce papers for Charlie?"

It had been bothering me all day.

"They aren't fake. Catholics are particularly staunch about record-keeping and preservation of old documents. I had our names found in their new computer system and got some dates altered. I'm as legally divorced now as I ever can be. It's arbitrary but I thought that it would matter to you. And I wanted you to feel . . . safe. From her. For reasons which are obvious now, I think."

Sulpicia's words had poisoned me because now I couldn't believe anything he said if he also looked adorable while saying it which was pretty much always. He was talking louder now because it was raining pretty hard. I knew I didn't have to shout because he would be able to hear me fine.

"So, I saw Jessica."

"Is she well?"

"She will be. She told me I was an asshole and I should come and apologize to you."

"I like Jessica," he said and smiled for the first time. "She could come to visit."

"Unless I'm a really ugly vampire she wouldn't be very happy to see me. She liked the flowers though."

"Did she look them up to see how much they cost?"

"Wow. You really do know her."

"I got the most expensive ones Port Angeles had."

"Well, she loved them. She said you were the sexiest man she's ever met."

"I doubt that. She loves her boyfriend quite a lot. Also she spoke to Ryan Gosling in an airport once."

I forced myself not to laugh. Why was he funny? It was really hard to be mad at a funny person.

"You should take this. It's yours."

He was holding out the ring.

"If you want to just throw it away you can. It's yours to do with whatever you'd like. I need you to take it though and not leave me with something that has your name engraved on it. It's already engraved on much more painful and permanent places in me that I can't just give away."

"Well, maybe you should just stop carving my name on things."

My voice was extremely watery and it made me cringe.

He laughed a little. "Maybe. It's a good thing I cannot have a tattoo, I suppose."

Believing him was a chance but it had been in the first place. Jacob took a chance with me and it ended badly for him because I couldn't love him back. But it wasn't my fault. Taking a chance on someone who already said they loved you was different. If they said it and didn't mean it, they would have to be gaining something worth telling a lie so big and I had nothing to offer him. There was little chance I would have extraordinary powers and it was obvious from Sulpicia's reaction that being with a human was as shocking as he'd said.

I didn't trust myself. I knew I was too in love with him to see this situation as anything but what he said it was and what I wanted it to be.

But I trusted Charlie.

And Charlie had invited him into our house.

I stepped down into the yard, into the rain, once again passing through a storm to reach him. When I got there he said, "You're getting wet. I would have brought it to you."

"Why didn't you?"

"I was afraid you'd hit me and I didn't want you to hurt yourself."

"So are you asking me to marry you again or just pawning off a piece of unpleasant jewelry?"

"I think it's your turn, actually."

I took the ring from his palm but didn't put it on. It glittered redly in the light from the porch which caught the water drops clinging to it.

"Well, I think my mom and Alice are planning what sounds like a really scary wedding based on what Sherry told me and it would be pretty embarrassing for me if you didn't show up at that so—"

He didn't wait for me to say anything else and in a second he was kissing me.

I balled my fist around the ring as I put my arms around his neck so I didn't drop it because I knew he'd never stop making fun of me if I did.

"Didn't we already do this kissing-in-the-rain thing?" I asked, what might have been a very long time later.

"Yes, but it's working for me so we should keep doing it."

"I'm sort of cold though."

"Of course. Will you come with me?"

"Where?"

"I haven't decided yet."

"Sounds good. I should go put on dry clothes first though."

"Right. Well, if you're going to be taking them off anyway, you could do that at my house just as well as here. Because it's nice there. And I'll be there. And I have to change as well so we'd actually be saving time because then I wouldn't have to drive back here . . ."

"That makes a lot sense but I think I have hypothermia so maybe I'm not thinking clearly."

"Then we should definitely go to my house because if you get sick there's a doctor right there and everything. It's very convenient."

But we only made it as far as the edge of the grass before we were kissing again. I was surprised to find that it hurt. I thought making up would seal that wound but I guess it wasn't that easy. It was a different kind of hurt that made me realize that the amount that you loved a person equaled the amount they could hurt you.

I didn't tell Charlie I was leaving. If he saw even a second of us making out the way we were which I'm sure looked completely obscene then he knew exactly where we going and probably appreciated me not making him interact with me beforehand.

Aro stopped the car and started kissing me twice on the way even though it wasn't very far. Just like our first kiss. Except I wasn't concerned about other cars this time because I knew he could hear one coming in plenty of time.

When we stopped at the Cullen's he said, "I can get you a different ring, you know. If that one has bad memories attached to it."

I was still holding it inside of my hand.

"I just didn't want to drop it. It reminds me of you telling me I saved your life. I don't want another ring."

"My sunlight."

"Grumpy sunlight."

"It's the only kind I'm allowed to go near without legally being required to pull my own head off . . ."

"Lucky for you."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Falling in love with me."

"I don't think I really had a choice."

"Not after I used that mind control thing on you."

"I knew it. I hope I have a power that let's me do something really awful to you."

"That's . . . disturbing."

"Guess you'd better be nice to me. That means a lot of biting when I'm a newborn."

"You are going to hurt me . . ."

"Not if you make me happy."

The silly, giddy atmosphere of our conversation vanished like it was a delicate vapor that was sucked from the car by a strong vacuum.

"That was her power. Didyme. She could make people feel happy. Can you imagine how terrible it is to know you have destroyed something not only innocent in itself but also with the ability to create joy from nothing?"

I shook my head slightly. I understood he wasn't really asking me to answer I just wanted him to know I was listening.

"I was disappointed after I turned her and found that that was 'all' she could do. I felt like I had been cheated. I thought it was pointless because it didn't make us—me—more powerful. What happened with you last night was a bit like that."

"You were disappointed that I didn't make you more powerful? I gave you my underwear, what else did you want?"

He laughed even though I could tell he wanted to remain stoic.

"No, Isabella. I mean it was like I had again destroyed a thing that created joy from nothing. Because there was nothing like joy in me in the months before I met you. Maybe even years. Or ever. At least nothing like this . . ."

He grazed my face carefully with his fingertips like he was afraid that if he actually touched me I would pop like a soap bubble and disappear.

"Oh. So that's why you called my house twenty times?"

"I may have panicked a bit."

"Yeah. You're a little melodramatic."

"It's just you went away thinking I had lied to you and I couldn't say I hadn't because I had not told you about the people I had been with before. I should have. But you just liked me so much that I didn't want you to think less of me for having a lot of relationships that could easily be classified as frivolous. And I didn't want you to know anything that might make you think you weren't special to me . . ."

"Now you know why I never told you about that poster of Leonardo DiCaprio I used to make out with when I was thirteen."

He laughed again and kissed me. "I did lie to you once, actually," he said. But he was smiling so I knew it wasn't anything bad.

"Was it the time you told me I still looked pretty when I had that weird rash on the side of my face?"

"Okay, twice. I lied to you twice."

I tried to hit him but he was too fast.

"Do you remember when I said I didn't know how much I liked you until our date? Well, that wasn't entirely true. See, I already loved you. The only thing I discovered that day was that, for me, you had the same ability as Didyme. You made me feel happy, not just 'better' like before when I was only near to you, but actually happy."

"So you hate being happy then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you said you tried to leave still. I don't understand why you would leave something that made you happy . . ."

"Because I killed the last thing that made me happy and I've been thinking about it for twenty-five hundred years. Not leaving immediately was the most selfish and irresponsible thing I have ever done."

"Sound like you owe me . . ."

"For inflicting myself upon you? Yes, I would say that is accurate. It would be a big favor so save it for som—"

"I know what I want."

He smiled in an indulgent way, probably thinking I was going to demand some kind of dangerous-to-fulfill sexual act.

"When we get to Italy, I want you to tell Marcus what you did."

"You . . . want me to commit suicide?"

"I think he'll forgive you."

"But you haven't met him . . ."

"And all you've ever told me is that he is very kind. In your words, 'the kindest person you've ever known aside from Carlisle Cullen.'"

"But that's . . . Marcus is gentle but I don't think that would extend to something like this. I would kill me for this no matter how much time had passed. If I found that someone had done that to you, I would destroy them in the worst way imaginable."

"Well, luckily for you, Marcus is not you."

"Why do you want me to do this?"

"Because you said it, 'eternal regret is a difficult thing,' and you're angtsy enough already without carrying this around any longer. Also you said we can't leave Volterra so I would rather not have to think about this every time I see him. I can't guarantee I wouldn't eventually tell him myself out of the guilt of just knowing about it."

"Will you refuse to return with me if I don't agree to this?" he asked with the sort of numb shock human cancer patients display when they're told their lives will end much sooner than they thought.

"No. I just don't see how I could live there for very long like that. I am also not you."

It sounded a little cruel but it was only the truth.

"So you will leave then?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't want to go without you."

"So the choices are to tell Marcus and stay in Volterra if possible or to not tell him and leave?"

"I would prefer that you tell him either way."

"Isabella, this is . . . I can't make promises about either."

"Just promise that you will consider them both carefully. And seriously."

"All right. About Marcus though. Will you agree to meet him first before asking me to do this thing again?"

"Okay. That sounds fair."

He sighed heavily. "I just want you to be as happy as I am."

"You don't look very happy . . ." I teased gently, pushing on his shoulder. He didn't budge but the gesture was understood. He smiled a little but it was sad.

"I'm just afraid that the life I am bound to will make that impossible."

"I'm happy as long as you are around. I really missed you today. Even though we probably wouldn't have hung out until tonight anyway, I would have spent the whole day knowing I was going to see you at least."

"You did spend the whole day knowing you were going to see me . . ."

"Yes, but I wasn't excited about it. The thought of seeing you made me feel bad. It was the worst feeling I've ever had."

"I'm sorry. I was still excited to see you, even though I thought you hated me . . ."

"Well, I guess you're a better person than me. Congratulations."

"No, I just love you more."

"You have no proof of that, snooty vampire king!"

"I was going to let you stay over last night."

"Damn it."

"I'll let you stay tonight."

"You do love me more!"

"I'll even let you win at Scrabble, which we will be playing all night with our clothes on."

"Hmm, I thought the reason we came here was to take our clothes off, what happened to that anyway?"

"I changed my mind, I'm saving myself for our wedding night," he said airily.

"What if I started taking my clothes off right here?"

"I would close my eyes," he said.

Which he did, facing straight ahead while wearing an exaggeratedly pious look. I climbed over the space between us into his lap, straddling him. He remained still. I moved his damp hair away from his neck and kissed him just under his jaw. He smiled for a second then went back to feigning extreme virtue. I rocked my hips and he lifted his own to meet me. This had become a recurring game we played and it was a game I loved because I always won. I slowly peeled my wet shirt away from my skin and then over my head. I knew he could hear it and he inhaled with a slight smile and then ran his hands up my bare sides and pulled me against him tightly.

"Sinner," he said by my ear, snapping my bra strap.

I gasped and dug my fingers into his hair. I tugged even though I knew it wouldn't hurt him.

"So what are you intending to do with me if I let you into my house this evening?"

"See if it's possible to make you blush."

"It's not."

"How do you know?"

"Because I've never seen it happen and I have no blood."

"But you drink blood . . ."

"Yes, well, it doesn't really work that wa—aaaah."

I had slipped my hand down between us and made a very suggestive movement with just my fingertips.

"That's why I said I wanted to see if it was possible."

"You might be able to surprise me, like you did just now, but if you think you'll be able to shock me, you'll be very disappointed."

"Does that mean you don't want me to try?"

"That just might be an activity we should save for a later time. There is a limit to my control, you know."

"Fine. Can we play strip Scrabble, at least?"

"You'd be naked in five minutes."

"Nuh-uh. You said you'd let me win . . ." I said, grinning smugly.

"You're a trickster."

"You like it."

"I do."

I was about to move off of his lap so I could get my shirt back as it seemed like a bad idea to leave the car without it. It was dark out but that didn't mean much to a house full of vampires. He stayed me with his hands on my hips.

"You know, there are other things we could do that are not as . . . dangerous as what we were doing last night . . ."

The tip of his tongue appeared between his teeth for a second.

"Oh. You mean—"

"Unless you don't want to in which case I will just read in the other room . . . in my underwear."

"We should probably just take a shower first is all. I'm a little cold. And rain-smelling . . ."

"Well that's a good place to get started anyway. Then I can show you—"

"Aro, I'm familiar with how my special places operate, I was a virgin, not a prude."

And the look on his face told me that I had gotten as close as I was ever going to get to making him blush.

"Okay, that's good. I mean, it's good that you're comfortable . . . um, with yourself. That will make things more—"

"God, you are so dorky."

His demeanor changed from flustered to calm and dominant immediately.

"If you're looking to get a spanking sooner then we had planned, you're on the right track, Miss Swan."

"You'll have to catch me . . ."

I opened the door, forgetting about my shirt and dashed out into the rain. He let me get to the end of the driveway before he caught me and spun me around. He put my arms around his neck and then pulled my legs up around his hips.

"This was the other way I could have carried you to the car that day. Now you can see why it wouldn't have been appropriate."

"But you said for the outdoors and we're outside now . . . what if someone comes out here?"

"They won't."

"What about Edward? He's really nosy."

"I think there are probably a finite amount of fucks to be given about things in this world, I'm not going to waste one on Edward Cullen."

"You have a really dirty mouth lately . . ."

He whispered something in my ear that gave me, a human perfectly capable of blushing, a very warm face.

"We should probably go to your house now . . ." I said weakly. I was grateful he was carrying me because I was certain my legs would not have supported me after what he said.

He carried me that way, through the dark, wet woods until we reached the clearing where his house was.

"You know," he said, setting me on my feet again and carefully backing me up until I was trapped between him and the damp wood of the door. "Jessica was right about the way you looked the night you first came here, I totally did want to drink your blood."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because I wanted to marry you more than I wanted to kill you."

"That's either the most romantic thing that has ever been said or the least."

"I didn't say it to be romantic, I said it because it's true."

"Are you saying something can't be both?"

"No, I'm just telling you that if I ever say something you find romantic, it's because I believe it. Like that you are the loveliest girl I know and that if you really wanted me to run away with you, I would. I would probably do anything you asked me to no matter how foolish."

"Anything, huh?"

The smile on my face must have revealed that I was about to do something wicked to him because he looked like he immediately regretted telling me this.

"Within reason . . ." he added nervously.

"Nope! Too late, you said anything."

He exhaled dramatically. "What do you want, brat?"

"I just want us to go inside and get warm."

"Of course. You're cold. I'm sorry."

"Nah, not really. It's just much easier to braid dry hair . . ."

"I love you so much . . ." he said but it sounded more like he was reminding himself he loved me so he didn't give in to the temptation to just go ahead and kill me after all.

I went inside and he followed me sedately, closing the door carefully behind us. I continued down the hallway but he stayed by the door, watching me.

Just as I went around the corner into the bedroom, I heard him say quietly, "Anything . . ."

~FIN~


END NOTES:

Tada! Ripe for a sequel, yeah?

I just love the Jessica scene in this chapter. It's one of the best conversations in the story, I think.

I thought about that "divorce papers are real" thing a lot. It's implausible but I couldn't get over the sweetness of it so I left it in.

I think Aro's sappiest line (there were many) was the one about her name already being "engraved in more painful and permanent places" in him. It's one of the most ridiculous lines I've ever written but again, it was too sweet to erase from the story and I actually love the crap out if it.

I like melodramatic romance. Obviously.

Thank you everyone for all of your lovely feedback throughout this story. And just because it's over, doesn't mean I don't want reviews! Moar reeveeeeeeuess pleees!


"I think there are probably a finite amount of fucks to be given about things in this world, I'm not going to waste one on Edward Cullen."

My favorite line in the entire story.


Gorron: You're adorable, don't worry about it. Your last review made me laugh in an, "Awwww, sweet," way. They did end up together! Hooray!

mkakashi1993: "whats-her-nuts"! Hah! I'm glad my Sulpicia was exactly as unpleasant as she was intended to be but not fic-destroying. The Sulpicia in my stories is insanely awesome generally. You don't get to see her much in this story unfortunately but in others she plays a larger role and her and Aro while not "together" are pretty much besties. It's adorable, I promise.

Penny: Your concept of Aro marrying Sulpicia so he wouldn't be distracted by love is really interesting. Never thought about it that way. You said another thing about her that I want to respond to but I can't because I can't tell you what happens with the Sulpicia in my little TwiUniverse as it would spoil one of my other fics but she gets a lot more development and I love her.


Now, I've gotten a few questions lately about updates for various fics. It's difficult to actually get the information about story progress to people on this site as well as the others I post on so I have created a blog to fill that void. Now if you're following something and following isn't enough and you want a more clear idea of when a story will be updated, you can go there and read the posts tagged with that story title. Hopefully it will be useful.

I've also found a way to trick ffn's no-outside-links thing. So, here is the address for the blog, simply remove the word "dot" in both places and replace with an actual dot (a period) and remove the spaces:

prettyfakefaces dot blogspot dot com


P.S. This final chapter was posted from a hotel in Forks. I ate "lunch" at the real Forks Coffee Shop today and Aro was right about not eating the food. There's a giant mounted animal head in the middle of the restaurant, neon signs in the windows and an odd little sliding door you have to awkwardly negotiate to get into the actual restaurant after you're already in the building. It's generally just the most unlikely place ever for a romance of any kind to blossom. It's too bad there are no rich, sexy European vampires around to remodel it for them . . .

I also went by the hospital. You know you're at the hospital here when you see a sign saying so because it's a tiny blue building that looks like a chiropractor's office and has a parking lot nowhere near big enough to accommodate the excessive amount of talking those two got up to out there. But there was an overhang at the emergency entrance, I was happy to find after much searching (glad I wasn't actively bleeding from anywhere vital at the time).

Wait, did I just say that I went looking for places in real life that I wrote about in my fanfiction? Yes, I did. Because the secret to happiness is not caring what other people think of you enough to do whatever makes you happy.