Title of Story: Test of Time

Word Count: 10,033 (without header)

Type of Edward: 1943, post-rebellion AU

Category: Young Adult

Story Summary: A year after Edward's rebellious period ends, he returns to his childhood home in hopes of reconnecting with his human life. When he befriends a young woman who makes him question his decision to return to Chicago, will he be able to turn away from the one thing he never knew he wanted?

Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.


I woke up from a terrible nightmare when I was seventeen. I had been burning in the fires of hell, and my parents were dead. I was alone and scared beyond anything I'd ever thought possible.

Then, like with any nightmare, I woke up.

The pain stopped, and I truly couldn't remember what I'd been dreaming about. In fact, I couldn't remember much at all, and I couldn't hear any sound aside from the insistent buzzing that filled my ears.

After processing the ceiling above me for several seconds and trying to rub the ringing from my ears, I realized that it wasn't a ringing at all—and it wasn't coming from my ears. Voices filled my head. Thoughts, feelings, images. It was overwhelming, and I huddled in on myself, sheltering my head, praying the voices would stop, and needing desperately to wake up.

My body had a will of its own, and when a comforting hand fell on my shoulder, I jumped across the room before I knew I wanted to get away. Growling, I crouched down. My hands were curled into claws, prepared for attack.

The couple in front of me didn't appear ready to fight. Their hands were clasped, with the female slightly behind the male.

"Poor child." Her voice was so soft and sweet. It reminded me of someone, but I couldn't place it.

"He's probably thirsty." The man's voice was just as gentle and calming.

"I am not a child! I am not thirsty!" My voice boomed in the still room, causing them both to step back. "I want out of here."

The man across from me directed the woman toward the door. "Let me have a moment with Edward, Esme."

She nodded and closed the door quietly behind her, but even though she was gone, her voice was just as clear.

"I hope he's okay. Such a sweet boy. Maybe we shouldn't have changed him after all."

I pressed my hand to my temple as the image of me writhing in pain flashed through my mind followed by the sight of me in a bed in a large room surrounded by other sick people. In this scene, an older woman in the bed next to mine held my hand.

"Stop." I pressed my palms to my eyes.

"Edward?"

I blinked up at the man as another scene flashed out before me.

I was lying on the same bed, but the woman who had been beside me was gone, and I was crying, but no tears were falling.

"He's dehydrated. Try your best to get him to drink something. He's not doing well, and if he continues on like this, he'll die, too."

I stood from my crouch and stumbled toward the bed, sitting down quickly. The frame snapped under the sudden pressure, and I fell to the floor.

"What are you doing to me? I need you out." I pressed my fingers to my forehead.

His voice filtered through again. "Can you hear me? Is this what you mean?"

I groaned as another image bombarded me from the hallway where the woman stood. I leaned against the fallen mattress, and it buckled the floor beneath me. Rolling away, I caught sight of the sunlight filtering through the window and my mind jumped from the woman in the hallway to outside, where I could hear the leaves move with the breeze and birds scratching against the branches as they landed on the tree.

I reached my hand toward the light, thinking if I could get outside the window, I'd find some relief. As a beam of sunlight hit my hand, I closed my eyes against the shimmering sparkle of my skin.

I pulled back and slammed myself against the wall, splintering the wooden panel. I looked back up at the man, taking in his white-blond hair and his warm, burnished gold eyes with a striking ring of red around the edges.

"What have you done to me?"

He didn't answer with words, but in his mind flashed to an old leather bound book—his father's, I knew from his thoughts—with one word burned into the front.

Vampyre.

What followed that moment were years of practice and frustration. I had woken up from intense pain to the real nightmare. I could hear thoughts, I would live forever, I could damn myself more and take human lives to sustain myself, or I could feel the utter dissatisfaction of drinking from animals.

I was sullen most of the time and had a quick temper the rest of the time.

I raged against everything and everyone. I broke so many valuables Carlisle and Esme had collected over the years. They tried to act like they understood what happened, but I knew the truth because they couldn't hide anything from me. No one could.

With that revelation, I packed up my meager belongings and left.

Esme was brokenhearted at the decision and blamed herself for not being understanding enough, all the while hugging me and wishing me luck.

Carlisle shook my hand and bowed his head, speaking in his thoughts. "You are always welcome to come back. No matter what you do or what happens."

For the next ten years, I used my powers to hunt down and rid the world of those predators who hid themselves from everyone else but couldn't do so from me. The world was a better place because of my justice, or so I told myself. I saved lives, countless innocent lives, and I quenched the never-ending burn in my throat with the blood of monsters just like myself. I was judge, jury and executioner.

Until finally I realized how fallible I was.

A man of no more than twenty was chasing a woman down a darkened street. His thoughts were solely on stopping her, making her listen. She'd understand if she'd just stop. He'd make her listen.

Tame compared to the things I'd heard in other men's thoughts. When I caught up with her, I stepped between them and held him against the wall by his throat. His thoughts screamed at the woman behind us and the baby she was carrying but didn't want because her father wouldn't allow her to marry him.

He wasn't thinking of ways to escape from my grasp, but how to draw enough breath to yell for her to run.

I dropped him to the ground and took a few steps back, watching as the young woman ran to his side.

How long it had been since I truly listened to my victims to make sure of their guilt?

I ran and didn't stop until I reached Rochester, New York, where I knew Carlisle had moved.

The next year was spent relearning control. Controlling my bloodlust, controlling my temper and strength, controlling how I read minds in order to give the occupants of our home more privacy than I was used to giving.

In my absence, Carlisle and Esme had added new members to the family. First was Rosalie Hale, two years earlier, and then her mate, Emmett McCarty, just a year later. As I sat at the piano, trying desperately not to split another key, I laughed at how much the situation must have been like dealing with small children. Of course we were learning much different things, but to have two newborns and a reformed vampire under one roof had to be a lesson in eternal patience.

As my eyes changed from blood red back to gold from a diet that consisted only of animal blood, Carlisle told me I needed to learn the lesson of balance. To somehow understand that just because I was vampire didn't mean that I was inherently bad.

I begged to differ. I had the blood of countless humans on my hands to prove my point.

Still, I shuffled through existence—not truly present, but also not truly dead.

"Edward?"

I glanced up from my book as he entered my study. "Yes, Carlisle?"

"I think you should go home."

Placing my book to the side, I angled my head and raised an eyebrow. "Aren't I already?"

"You misunderstand." An image of a beautiful two-story brick home flashed through his mind. "I think you need to go back to your childhood home. Back to Chicago."

"Why would I do that? I remember nothing of my human life."

"Perhaps it would help you understand that you weren't always this way. That you were human and that you have a soul." He finished the sentence in his thoughts, away from the others who were listening intently to our conversation.

I snorted and picked up my book. "I'll consider it. After all, I have nothing but time."

It wasn't a week later that I left Rochester bound for Chicago. Esme left no room for discussion as she had packed a bag for me and told me to rent a hotel room if I wished once I arrived.

I could have run, saved countless hours and had some moments of peace before I reached my destination, but I didn't. I took the train into Chicago and then the 'L' to the neighborhood I had grown up in.

By the time I reached the end of the street, the sun was sinking in the west and the shade of the large oak I stood under provided adequate protection from its rays. I watched as children played together in the street and was overcome with an unfamiliar emotion.

How often had I gotten into trouble for coming home with grass stains on my new long pants? How many adventures had my friends and I put on hold because it had become too dark to continue and our mothers had called us home for the night?

I didn't know.

It was as if my change had created a kaleidoscope out of my memories, and occasionally things would line up perfectly where I could see the right picture, but most of the time, it was a mash of colors, faces, and events.

The only reason I knew the house I was staring at was the one I grew up in was because Carlisle had told me.

I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to imagine what life had been like here. I had been the only child of Edward Sr. and Elizabeth Masen. I had been at the top of my senior class and had run track. I had been an accomplished pianist and died at seventeen. Carlisle said that I had been very interested in medicine and war, and we had originally met when I stopped by the hospital to find out about summer internships that would prepare me for medical school.

I shook my head and looked at the ground. I didn't know who Edward Masen was. I couldn't remember him or what he liked or hated. I didn't know his favorite color or who his best friend had been.

I knew Edward Cullen, though.

He was a monster. He loved the taste of warm blood gushing from a struggling body. He craved the righteous feeling that coursed through his veins as he took another rapist or murderer off the streets with a quick flick of his wrist.

The thing I had become didn't care for war or medicine or the future.

I was at a crossroads, and it would have been easier to flip a coin to decide how I continued my existence. Carlisle and Esme wanted me to try and connect with my past and let that ground me, but as I looked down the street and heard the laughter of children, I felt even emptier.

It had been so long since I'd just stood and watched humans. For the years that I had hunted them, I kept myself separate. I took to the shadows and the alleys. I spent daylight hours in sewers or abandoned buildings. I was dirty and tired.

Now, as I stood dressed in freshly laundered clothes, I attempted to do what the family did—blend in, observe, be a part of the world around them.

Approaching footsteps and a fluttering heartbeat caused me to straighten up and look down the sidewalk. A young woman made her way toward me, and as our eyes met, she sent me a welcoming smile and small wave.

I was tempted to turn around and walk away just as quickly as she was approaching, but my feet were anchored in place; the only thing I heard was her heartbeat. There were no thoughts coming from her to me.

"Hi there! I noticed you seem a bit lost. Are you looking for someplace in particular?"

She had to have been around my age. Well, the age I had been as a human, at least. Her long brown hair was loose with pin curls, and she wore a scarf tied around her head. Her sundress was yellow and cinched around her waist with a thin belt.

I swallowed hard as her scent hit me square in the chest.

She was delicious.

I cleared my throat against the burn and tried to stop imagining how easy it would be to pull her away with me. To feel her soft skin under my fingertips. To not have to hear the private workings of her mind as we surrounded ourselves in quiet.

"Not really." I looked past her toward my old home again. "I found out that some family used to live around here, but it seems they're all gone now."

The girl twisted her fingers together in front of her and her lips turned down. "I'm sorry."

"It was a very long time ago." After a brief pause, I met her eyes again. "I never knew them, anyway."

The truth in that statement caused me to pause and an awkward silence stretched between us. The girl had moved from twisting her fingers to fidgeting with the small belt around her waist.

I watched her hands as she touched her waist. What was she was doing shouldn't have caused my reaction, but I couldn't help the feeling of electricity that buzzed through me. She was a dish. Very natural and sweet. I cleared my throat again as a burning sensation tore down it.

If innocence had a taste, I was sure her blood carried it, and the blood lust I fought to tamp down wanted nothing more than to find out. I had been this was for over twenty-five years, and no one had tempted me the way she was doing.

"I'm Isabella, by the way. I prefer Bella though."

My tongue traced my lower lip as I watched a delightful flush cover her cheeks and stretch down her neck. I wondered if I could just take a small taste without changing her or killing her. I'd never tried before, nor had I heard of anyone else succeeding at it.

How would I stop her from telling people about it once I'd finished?

Questions and scenarios flew through my mind as I tried to work out the precise details it would involve.

"Where did your family live?"

Blinking, I swallowed hard and tried to focus on anything but her pulse or her lovely scent.

I pointed over her shoulder at the house across from the tree where we stood.

"Really?" Edward nodded. "That's my house! We moved here in 1932. My father is such a penny pincher and never trusted banks, so when everything fell apart, we were very well off. He managed to buy this house for a fraction of what it was worth before the crash." She looked appalled. "Not that your family wasn't prepared. He basically stole your family home. Oh, good gracious."

I couldn't help the laugh that escaped as her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open slightly.

"Don't worry. The relatives I was looking for died long before that, in 1918, actually. I came here because the slip of a pen on some records made it appear they were still around. Sadly, I was mistaken. None of them survived."

"It was the influenza, wasn't it?"

I looked at her from under my lashes and watched as her breathing hitched.

It would be so easy to have her.

"Yes, it was. Are you familiar with it?"

Shaking her head, she explained. "A smidge. My father told me stories of his family and how they hid away from everyone as it was sweeping through. He told me that he didn't see a single person that year who wasn't a member of his family. His mother was terrified one of her children would die, so she kept them under lock and key until it passed. As soon as he was given the okay to go into town, he met my mother and the rest is history."

"When were you born?" I couldn't stop the question and cringed at her answer.

"September 13, 1925." Bella glanced away and coyly bit her lip. I had a feeling she wasn't trying to be coy at all. She was merely a young woman attempting to flirt for the first time. "And what about you?"

I could have been her father.

"June 20," he answered evasively.

"Isabella!" At the sound of her mother's call, we both looked toward the house that was home to both of them. "Dinner time, doll!" Mrs. Swan looked curiously at me, her thoughts clearly wondering who I was and why Bella stood so close to me. I took a step back and leaned against the tree. This seemed to please her and she went back inside.

Bella waited for several seconds for me to say something, and when I didn't, she took a small step back. "Well, it was nice to meet you." She gave me another winning smile and turned to walk away.

I wasn't sure what I was feeling or if I should even think of what it meant, but the idea of her slipping away and never speaking with her again made my chest ache. I shouldn't, but I wanted her, and I allowed the selfish creature inside of me to make the decision.

I have never wanted anything. I deserve this.

She was almost to the street when I recovered and said, "Edward."

Bella turned to me, her brows knitted together. "Excuse me?"

"My name is Edward Masen." Why I chose that surname was beyond me.

A smile lit up her face. "Nice to meet you, Edward. Will you be back?"

I didn't give myself time to come up with an excuse and instead answered, "Tomorrow. Right here under this tree."

"I'll see you then."

With that, she walked across the street, up the front steps of her home, and disappeared inside.

I stood in the same spot until the sky was completely dark and then turned and ran north, toward the woods that would offer my dinner that night and away from the walking temptation that was Isabella.

"How was your day?" she asked brightly as she met me under the tree.

I could have told her the truth: that I'd stayed inside the hotel room, avoiding the brilliant sunlight that seemed to have come to town just to cause me trouble, and thought about her intoxicating scent. Or I could tell a small lie followed by the absolute truth.

"It was okay, but it's much better now." This seemed to make her even happier. "How was school?"

She deflated a little at that question and dug the toe of her shoe into the dirt.

"It was okay," she lied; I could tell—after all, it was the same one I just told.

"Are you certain?" I reached out and brushed her hair off her shoulder. The silken strands slid so easily over my fingers. I shivered a little as I pulled my hand back.

"Silly things." She sighed. "I got moved out of honors English because the teacher said there were too many of us and girls are moved before boys. I was the only girl, so–"

I wanted so badly to hug her to me and offer comfort, but it would only raise questions over my physical condition. Those thoughts turned to how easy it would be to break her teacher for causing her so much grief.

"Did you have the lowest grade?"

She only shook her head, and I could smell the tears forming on her eyelashes.

"They're a bunch of knuckleheads, then. It wasn't about too many people in class. It was about a girl outshining a boy in academics." I nudged her shoulder and grinned. "Your brain is much smaller than us strapping young men's, didn't you know?"

She rolled her eyes. "They still treated me horribly, and they all had to use crib notes on the exams anyway. I should be glad to be gone."

"But you're not."

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she answered, "No, I'm not. It's so unfair, and I hate it."

I tensed against the urge to brush her tears so I could have the scent on my hand after she was gone for the evening. In two days, I'd gone from being contained and self-controlled to staving off the desire to toss her over my shoulder and take her with me wherever I went.

I looked down at the ground and let out a slow breath to regain control I spoke. "You should. Have you told your father?"

"No. He wouldn't really understand. He'd think this is a blessing; if I didn't have so much work, I could look into finding a nice young man to date."

I couldn't stop myself as I reached for her hand and brushed my fingers softly over her knuckles. The touch sent a shiver down my spine, and I fought the urge to lean forward and see if her lips tasted like tears.

"I think if you explained how much it meant, he'd be angry right along with you. You're precious to him."

"How do you know that?" She sniffled into small handkerchief she took out of her bag.

"How could you not be?"

Later that evening, long after Bella fell asleep, I scaled the trellis under her window, balanced myself on the narrow window ledge, and watched her breathe . . . listened to her heart as it beat. I didn't go in. Not yet. Not without her knowledge. For some reason, I had set that line, and even the darker side of me wouldn't cross it.

Bella equally mesmerized both parts of my nature, and I wondered why. Admittedly, she was a beautiful girl with a lovely figure, she seemed bright and motivated, her smile would have made my breath catch had I been human, and she appeared to be caring. Having only known her two days, there was no reason why I should feel the need to promise a return visit, let alone follow through, but just the idea of never seeing her again made me ache.

Bella reminded me of what I'd lost, and maybe, just maybe, she could help me figure out who I was now and if it was even possible to balance my long-lost humanity with the growling beast that lurked just below the surface.

The following afternoon, I sat in the shade of the oak tree, feigning sleep, as Bella approached. I waited patiently as she took a seat beside me and reached out softly, brushing my cheek.

"Wake up, sleepyhead."

Warmth I had never known caressed the inside of my chest.

Wouldn't it be nice to be human and really wake up with her? To hold her and feel her body against mine?

Realizing that if I continued down that path, I'd be in a very agitated mood for our visit, I slowly opened my eyes. She was much closer than I'd anticipated, and the angle allowed her to loom over me slightly, causing her hair to create a little curtain around my face.

I blinked and took a shuddering breath, inhaling in her sweet scent as her hand touched my jaw.

"Did you not sleep well last night? I've forgotten to even ask where you're staying."

I pushed myself up to a sitting position, and Bella moved beside me, clutching a small leather journal in her hands.

"I'm in a hotel. It's not too far from here." I scanned her face, thanking God I would have that memory forever. I could feel the heat still on my face from her touch and my body responded suddenly to the sensation. I shifted uncomfortably and wonder what it would take to make her touch me other places then immediately felt guilty.

"How old are you, Edward? Shouldn't you be in school?" She flipped open her book and revealed crisp, blank pages and small piece of charcoal tucked into a flap on the inside.

I watched her hands as he answered. "No, I'm no longer in school. I'm just trying to find my place, I guess."

She had beautiful hands. Long, thin fingers—perfect for playing piano. I wondered what things those hands would do in her lifetime. I imagined that they would help people, they would be held by a husband, and carry babies and grandbabies. Things I would never do, and yet, I could appreciate the beauty in them.

It made no sense to me. That I could be so vicious and then have these thoughts. Carlisle said there was a balance and that they all must find it, but it was confusing and unfair, and though I didn't truly understand at seventeen, I knew now the overwhelming loss of those simple things that were a foregone conclusion for my future as a human.

Bella would grow old, she'd experience the joys and sorrows of a human life, and I'd be stuck in limbo. I was static and the world changed around me at a breakneck pace.

I tore my gaze from her hands and looked at her face. Bella's lips were pursed, and three little lines had formed between her eyebrows as she stared at me. I thought she must be waiting for something, but I wouldn't answer her other question. I didn't like the idea of lying to her, and even though what I'd say would be half-truth, I couldn't bear the half-lie that would come with it.

"Did your father ever speak to the school about your class?"

She snorted and shook her head. "Father thinks that this will be good for me. I don't need the class, after all, and I can read the books in my free time, if I so desire. He's the head honcho at the steel mill and doesn't really have time for these kinds of things, you know?"

I placed my hand on her wrist, stopping her careless squiggles on the page, and leaned down to catch her eyes. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you."

When I moved back to my previous sitting position, she started drawing again. We sat in silence for several minutes before she asked, "Do you mind?" She tilted her head toward the notebook. "It's not that I don't want to talk. I just love to sketch. I can do both though, so don't feel like you have to keep quiet on my account."

The careless squiggles I'd seen earlier had turned into the great tree they were sitting under.

"I don't mind at all. I like the quiet, though." I moved to sit closer to her until our legs were touching.

For the next half hour, we stayed that close. Bella drew and I hummed a tune that I couldn't quite place, but knew by heart.

The next several days passed in a similar fashion. She would draw and I would watch. We would speak about topics of inconsequence, but Bella had noticed that I avoided questions, and even though I couldn't read her thoughts, I knew it upset her. I also knew that she was curious.

She'd watch me closely with a look of determination in her eyes.

I was a puzzle she was trying to solve, and God help her if she did.

After spending all night outside her window and all day thinking about her, I was keyed-up when I finally got to see her again. I touched her more. They were small, innocent touches, but the motivation behind them was anything but innocent.

I could feel myself reaching a point where I wouldn't be able to control myself any longer. I knew she desired me. It was how she looked at me when we talked and how her scent would change if I leaned in close to her. I would hold off as long as I could then I'd need to leave.

There was no way to control the fire that would burn out of control if I had a taste of her.

A month had passed since our first meeting, and Bella was holding my hand as she took her seat against the tree. She had a blanket to tuck around her legs and her sketchbook. Much to my pleasure, she reached for my hand again after she had settled.

"I love autumn." She tilted her face upward and smiled. "It's just perfect."

"Lovely."

Bella leaned back against the tree and turned her head toward me.

"I don't like winter too much. Some days, it feels like I'll never be warm again."

A few seconds passed as I stared at her, unable to look away. Oh, if she only knew how those words resonated within me. Finally, I shrugged and leaned back against the tree. "Snow can be pretty. I would imagine you'd have many subjects to choose from when you draw."

She didn't answer right away, but I could feel her stare on me, waiting, wanting answers. Looking back down at her notebook, she nodded. "I do like to draw the trees in winter. They're so solid, with all this lovely glimmering snow covering them. It changes them completely but for only short amount of time."

"What about in the city? Have you taken the time to draw there? The white snow turns to black slush on the street from the cars. The exhaust creates a fog that covers nearly everything?"

Bella shook her head. "I don't get to go into the city much, especially after it snows. Father doesn't want me to go alone. He worries about the crime in the city."

"What do you do then?"

"I go to school and come home. Occasionally, I'll go to the park and read or draw."

"Don't you want to get out?"

At my question, she dropped her charcoal to the paper and turned her whole body toward me. "More than anything, but just because I don't go against my parents' wishes doesn't mean that I don't want to. I just have to bide my time."

"Where will you go?" I placed a hand on her knee and squeezed softly, making sure no one was watching us.

"I don't yet. I don't imagine I'll know until right before I leave. I've always been waiting, you know? I've never felt like I belonged here."

There was something in her voice that made me hesitate. It sounded like she was challenging me, but by the time I could make myself meet her eyes, she had turned and started drawing again.

"You should wear a jacket, Edward. You don't want to get sick."

"I don't get sick."

"You're awful cold right now. In fact, you're always cold." She glanced up at me and closed her sketchbook. "Isn't that odd?"

Mrs. Swan come out of the front door just like she did every night, and at that moment, I realized that Bella had timed this confrontation perfectly.

"Bella! Dinner time!" This time she waved to me, and I waved back before helping Bella stand. Mrs. Swan thought I was handsome and hoped I'd take Bella off their hands. Her thoughts flashed to the coast and she outwardly sighed.

The rage I felt at her thoughts caused me to snap quietly at Bella. "It's not all that odd, and it's not polite to bring up someone's shortcomings, Miss Swan."

"You can't hide forever, Edward."

Three steps away from the tree, she turned and asked, "Tomorrow?"

"Absolutely," I said without pause.

She surprised me then by backtracking and leaning up on her tiptoes to place a soft kiss on my cheek. She gave me a shy smile before she turned and walked home. I placed my fingertips where her lips had been and cursed softly.

It was going to be harder and harder to stop myself from letting her know everything about me.

"Are you a soldier?" she asked me the next evening.

We were sitting beneath the tree as usual, and Bella had been sketching the tree roots that curled around them. I had expected nothing but questions considering how the previous evening had ended, but it seemed as though Bella wanted to let me stew in my thoughts until I came out with the truth on my own.

I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to tell her. She hadn't asked an exact question, and I wasn't about to spill that secret. I had decided I would answer straightforward questions as best I could from that point on. It would probably be my downfall, but she deserved the truth.

"No. I used to think that I wanted to be, though."

I watched her shade an area on her paper and realized that she was drawing my hand propped against the unearthed root. It felt personal and good, and as I thought about her hands creating something that involved me, I was happy.

It was an odd feeling.

"What made you change your mind?" She looked up briefly and caught my stare on her notebook. She blushed but didn't turn the paper away.

"I romanticized it when I was younger. I wanted to be a hero, but I didn't truly understand all that went into it. That once you've seen and done things that are required of a hero, you don't get to go back to being young and carefree. That it weighs on you and breaks you down, little by little, until you're not who you started out being anymore."

Bella was quiet as she thought about my answer. For the next few minutes, she finished her drawing and I wished she wouldn't question my cold hand if I reached for her.

"It sounds like you've already been to war," she whispered. When I met her eyes, she asked so quietly I almost didn't hear. "Not all wars are fought on battlefields, though, are they?"

I looked away and Bella stood up just in time to hear her mother's call for dinner.

"My mother is very curious about you, and I won't be able to hold her off much longer from coming out here and speaking with you. She sits at the window and makes sure we're behaving, you know."

I knew, but I hadn't even paid attention to her thoughts since her desire to be rid of Bella made itself known. I didn't like Mrs. Swan at all, and Mr. Swan was never home before dark, so I had never heard his thoughts.

"You can assure Mrs. Swan that my intentions are honorable."

This made her laugh out loud. "My mother wishes they weren't, I'm sure. She thinks you're a dreamboat, and she hasn't even seen you up close."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I said nothing, only ducked my head as if embarrassed.

"Tomorrow?" She asked as she dusted her full skirt off.

I stretched my legs in front of me and nodded. "Of course."

She let the paper fall from her hand onto my lap, then she went home.

I sat again until the sky turned black and traced the image of two hands barely touching over the roots of the aged oak tree.

"My mother wants to go to a dance on Saturday. She thinks it would be fun for her and Father and that I need to socialize more. I'm not so sure."

She didn't draw anything I could describe today. Her aggravation had turned her artwork to doodles.

"What does your father think?" I couldn't resist asking even though I knew the answer would cause the rage to burn my chest. Or maybe… maybe it was jealousy.

"He thinks it would be a great place to meet a hardworking, loyal soldier." Bella rolled her eyes and her pencil pressed harder into the paper. "Lots of eligible young men to talk with at these sorts of things."

I attempted to act casual. "It wouldn't hurt to go and see. You might find your soul mate." I added this last part flippantly, but I saw her tense.

In the momentary silence that followed, there was a sharp crack, and I looked down to see that her pencil had snapped under the pressure of her hand. Bella's eyes were wide as she met mine.

"Do you mean that?"

"It wouldn't hurt anything." I was surprised my voice didn't crack under such a lie.

Bella stood abruptly and snatched up the blanket she'd brought to ward off the chill.

"Of course it won't matter. God forbid you show any emotion. What is it you think we're doing here?"

I stood then and stepped toward her. "What do you mean, Bella? We've simply been talking for a few weeks. What do you think this is?" I placed my hands in my pants pockets and leaned against the tree.

With a defiant tilt of her chin, Bella took a step forward.

"I think we've been together every evening for several weeks and developed quite an attachment. I think you're a good person with a lovely singing voice." She lowered her voice and added, "You're terribly cold, you feel like stone, and when you're lost in thought, you don't breathe."

I pushed off the tree and closed the distance between us. Panic flaring inside my chest at her observations and how close she was to figuring out how other I truly had been. I felt exposed and lashed out against her.

"And what exactly do you plan to do with these developments, Miss Swan. No one would believe such outlandish claims; you do realize this? Your mother would brush them off as the ramblings of a lovesick girl who is experiencing her first heartbreak, and your father would list them as just another reason you will fail to find a suitable husband."

I felt her pain as my words hit their mark, and for the first time since I'd known her, she cringed away from me.

"Well?" I asked casually as I swept some hair off her shoulder, lingering just a little too long. If this was the last time I saw her, though, I'd make the most if it.

"Obviously I was mistaken." She took one step back. "You have nothing to fear from me. I'm just a silly girl with a wild imagination who thought she had finally found her place."

She turned from me this time, ran across the street and up the front steps of her home, and slammed the front door.

Against everything that Carlisle had taught me, I couldn't make myself leave. In fact, I wanted to confront her more. I wanted to find out the answers about my life from her. I wanted to push her until she snapped and made me leave because all I really wanted to do was take her away with me.

I had come to Chicago to find out who I was or had been, but all I managed to do was fall for a human girl and tangle everything up in my mind even more.

I waited until the whole house was quiet and I was sure she was asleep before I slipped inside her room.

I had promised myself not to intrude on her privacy, but I couldn't stop, and as the scent of her hit me hard, I staggered. Even though I'd sat outside the window most nights and beside her every afternoon, it wasn't quite the same as being surrounded by her the way I was then. Her clothes were hanging neatly in the armoire with the door cracked open, little perfume bottles littered an aging vanity, the blanket she'd brought out to their meetings was thrown over the back of the rocking chair. What I noticed the most though was how her body was stretched out under a thin blanket with the hint of a foot peeking out and her thick brown hair tumbled over her shoulder and pillow.

She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and the scenes that were playing out in my mind made me hate myself a little more. I could easily seduce her and finally taste the fragile skin that stretched over her delicate neck.

After I reined myself in, I stood beside her bed. Softly I shook her shoulder, easing her awake, and pushing away my less than honorable thoughts. When her eyes opened, she gasped and pressed herself against the headboard.

"What do you want?" she whispered harshly.

"To talk."

"Now you want to talk? After I spent the last three weeks researching in the dusty basement of the public library to find out just what and who you are? I think not. You can see yourself out." She looked around for a moment. "However you got in."

I took a seat on the edge of her bed, ignoring her anger. "Obviously you don't know what I am, or you would speak with more restraint."

"If you wanted to hurt me, you would have by now."

I caught her stare, and as she met my gaze, she paled.

I could feel that my eyes were black with hunger and looked away before saying, "I want to hurt you every day. I want to do terrible things, Bella, but I find I like your heartbeat more . . . for now, at least."

She drew the covers back and moved beside me.

"You're scaring me, but I don't know if that's what you're trying to do or if you don't mean to this time."

"I never want to scare you."

"Then tell me what you want."

"Tell me what you know first."

She stood up and went to the rocking chair in the corner. Bella picked up the canvas bag beside it and pulled several sheets of paper out.

"I doubt you need a refresher with how interesting the information is," I quipped nervously and ran a hand through my hair.

"This is for you." She handed it to me. "It wasn't hard to find out. You could already know everything. You just don't want to."

"How did you come to that conclusion?"

"Why are you here? You wanted answers, right?"

I thumbed through the handwritten pages of notes and caught sight of names and dates, neighbors who had died, yet their homes had been passed down to their family, who now lived there.

She had even painstakingly sketched a picture of what the road looked like back then.

It was the same.

"I didn't come here for this. I didn't want these answers." I spoke fervently.

Bella shook her head in disbelief. "Then why come here at all? Why risk exposing yourself?"

"I don't know why I came. The only thing the last few weeks have taught me is that I'm being tested here more than anywhere else."

"You sure don't show it," she scoffed. "You don't even act like you see me half the time we sit together. Your mind is always off."

I leaned toward her and whispered, "Lower your voice before you wake up your parents. They certainly wouldn't like me in here." I avoided her jab altogether.

"They care about me as much as you do. My parents want me to marry as soon as possible. As odd as it sounds, they never wanted children, and when I'm gone, they'll go west."

I moved past her and sat in the rocking chair. I couldn't tell her I knew her mother's thoughts or they were pathetic parents, so I avoided again. "I find that very hard to believe. You would have mentioned that by now."

Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. "Why? So you could look at me with pity? This is about you, anyway. Why did you come here?"

"To your room tonight or to Chicago?"

"Chicago."

I pushed my feet against the floor and the chair began a smooth rocking motion that calmed me. With no reason left to lie, I answered, "I'm lost. I've spent the last few years in a bit of a haze, testing boundaries, trying to understand how I should spend the rest of my time on Earth.

"I've made some pretty terrible decisions in that time. I took advantage of the physical attributes I now have, and used them poorly. I made choices that weren't mine to make. After that, a mentor of mine suggested I look into my past and see if that could help me balance things better." I gestured around myself. "It hasn't. I'm still making reckless decisions and trying to justify my desires."

"What are you?" She moved across the room and her pale yellow nightgown brushed the wooden floor. She looked ethereal as the moonlight coming through the window caught her shape.

"I can't tell you that." I smiled halfheartedly. "This has gone on far too long, Bella. I haven't learned anything here except that I am weak. I need to leave, and you need to forget me."

"There is no way I can do that." She reached out and touched my arm. "Take me with you. I don't want to be here either. You know that we're here, together, at the same time, for a reason. I'm not meant for this life."

Her words broke the last bit of my restraint.

I stood up and pulled Bella against me, holding her as tightly as I dared. Before she could push me away for answers, I pulled back just enough to move my lips to hers. It took Bella a moment to move with me, but soon our lips moved together in harmony. I gently kissed her bottom lip one last time, letting her heat seep into my skin, keeping the tingling brightness of that moment alive forever in my memory.

I stepped away and took her hands. "I can't do that to you. That decision is one I don't think I will ever have the authority to make. I've taken too much, and if I add you to that list—"

"I want you to," she begged quietly. "I'm yours to take."

I reached out to one of the curls on her shoulder and wrapped it around my finger. "I want to, too, but it can't happen."

In a split second, I was gone. The opened window was the only sign that I'd been there at all.

I overreacted. I shouldn't have run away.

Those thoughts were my first as I cleared the backyard and ran back to my hotel room.

In the time that I'd known her, she'd calmed me. There was no way I'd be able to stay away from her. I hadn't been plagued too much from thoughts of others or what I'd done in my past. She allowed me to live in the present, not the past, and her presence quieted the other thoughts in his mind.

The only decision I struggled with was the selfishness in my staying. I didn't know for sure if I'd made a positive change in her with my presence, but I hoped I had.

Once back in my room, I paced in front of the bed and wished I hadn't woken her up.

How will I get her to speak to me again?

I'd thoroughly pushed her away, and that hadn't really been my goal, no matter how much I knew I should.

Shouldn't I have this one thing?

With a heavy sigh, I sat on the edge of the bed and decided I would keep my distance for a while.

I needed to straighten my thoughts, and Bella needed to make sure that I was what she wanted and she wasn't just settling for the first man who showed interest.

Still, there was no possible way that I'd sit by and watch if her parents finally dragged in a suitor to pawn her off on.

The idea of Bella being given to anyone made me rage.

She was mine.

I let out a short laugh and shook my head.

I'd come to Chicago to find myself but what I'd found was a soul mate.

I'd found balance.

I kept my distance for two weeks before I gave in to the urge to visit her again. I had enough worked out in my mind to know that Bella was what I wanted, and I figured I was saving her from a life of disregard from her parents by taking her with me.

The voice inside my head was telling me she might not want me when she really knew what I was, but I pushed it away.

Hoping to catch her on her way home from school, I waited under our tree much earlier than usual. For once, the weather was cooperating and dark clouds littered the sun, obscuring the sun. I knew that there would have to hours spent discussing things, and we might not work it all out before night fell anyway, but the dark sky would make things easier on my part.

My plan was to apologize for my actions the last time I'd seen her and ask to resume our evening visits. I'd let her set the pace and make the decisions she thought were right for her.

I was logical and rational and going to do everything in my power to sweep her off her feet and make her want to be with me no matter what.

Then I saw her, and she wasn't alone.

A young man walked beside her and carried her books. He made a joke, and she laughed softly and swatted his arm.

He was tall and broad with black hair. He looked like an athlete or one of those flyboys who hung around the dance halls.

I instantly hated him.

His thoughts weren't terrible. He thought she was pretty and sweet. I growled low in my throat when he thought about asking her to see a movie with him, but decided against it.

I fumed, and then I felt stupid because it was my fault she was with this boy.

Or perhaps he'd been walking her home the last few months and I had just not seen it since I came later in the evenings.

I moved on the other side of the tree so that I wouldn't be seen and continued to listen and watch as he walked her up her steps.

When he handed over her books, his fingers lingered a little too long on her hand. The feeling of his hands on her skin through his thoughts was too much. A heavy, dark cloud passed into front of the sun, and I strode across the street, determined to end his life.

My eyes were set on him, but I heard Bella whisper my name as I climbed the steps to her home.

I was tensed for a fight as I stood toe-to-toe with this nameless boy who had filled my shoes.

Or have I been filling his?

"Who are you?" He asked, looking between Bella and me with his brow furrowed.

I looked him over and snorted, ignoring his question and turning to Bella. "Is this an everyday occurrence? Do you have any other men on the line that I don't know about?"

It was a low blow, and when her mouth dropped open, I realized it wasn't in embarrassment or shock, but absolute anger.

The boy backed away and Bella rushed forward, pressing her hands into my chest, I let her push me back so she wouldn't hurt herself against my stone body.

"What is your problem?" Push. "Do you even think before you speak?" Harder push. "How dare you come here and judge me. You're a jerk!" This time I let myself stumble as I move back down the steps.

"You didn't answer my question." I ground out, holding in the fury that was bubbling up inside me. It had been so long since I had a good fight or felt the intense pleasure of a human kill.

Had I pushed myself too far with this trip? All these emotions curling inside my chest were like nothing I'd ever known.

Anger. Jealously. Hurt. Desire. Love.

Love.

At my core, I knew I was questioning my worth to her. My place in her life.

Rational. Logical. I tried to remind myself, but the more upset I became, the less control I had over myself or my ability, and soon voices were blending in to the melee that was my mind.

I pushed the heels of my hands into my eyes and tried to shut everyone out. I could hear her voice in front of me, but I couldn't catch the words. I saw myself in his thoughts and cringed at how psychotic I looked.

"I've got to go." I turned and moved as quickly as I dared toward the sidewalk.

"No, you don't!" Bella shouted. I heard her footsteps race across the grass behind me. "You come here this minute and talk to me. We're going to have this out."

I turned sharply and caught her shoulders. She stared up at me in shock as I leaned down toward her face.

"I need to leave," I whispered harshly. "I can't be here right now."

"He's just a friend, besides he so doll dizzy no girl would take him seriously." She reached out and touched my cheek.

"I still need to leave. I'm sorry. I just—" I looked over her shoulder as the boy approached us. "I'll be back. I promise."

"No. Stay." Her voice was pleading, and I almost gave in, but his scent was coming closer and clouding my mind.

"If you want him to remain unhurt, I have to go."

She let go immediately and stepped back.

With another whispered apology on my part, I turned away, leaving them behind. When I was a safe distance away, I ran toward the forests in the north, hoping desperately to sate my bloodlust.

After several hours of hunting, my rage still bubbled below the surface.

I took the long way back to Bella's, cutting through city streets and finding a car that I could use for the night. I almost felt bad for taking something that wasn't mine, but I had plans.

I was going to get the girl.

Even still, my mind screamed at me to stop and think.

I shouldn't go back tonight.

I might do something I regret.

Even with those thoughts, I found myself walking through the back gate of Bella's home and climbing the trellis.

She lay asleep in her bed, still wearing the same dress she'd been in earlier.

I couldn't help but notice her beauty. She was everything in this life that I'd never known to want. I'd never been interested in the female vampires I'd met in passing. They were lovely in their own right, but it was so loud in their minds, to have any type of attraction was difficult.

With Bella, it was quiet and peaceful, but I had the suspicion that I would have wanted her even if I could hear her thoughts. She had a way about her that made me believe she'd been created just for me.

I took a deep breath and let her essence fill my lungs, igniting a burning hunger inside of me.

I was tighter than a bowstring, and I knew with one wrong move, I could do something terrible. Then as I walked toward her bed, I knew something was going to happen.

She was too perfect.

This life wasn't meant for her.

In my mind, I saw all the things I'd thought of before. How she'd have a family and children and grandchildren. Maybe become a well-known artist.

That's not her.

She was always meant to be mine, and I just had to take her. It's why I was changed in the first place. It's why she was now living in my home.

I cocked my head to the side and stared at the gentle curve of her neck and sighed.

It's why I found her when she was young and in full bloom.

I sat down softly on the edge of the bed, careful not to wake her.

She wouldn't want to be awake for this or maybe I should…

The decisions I had to make seemed so overwhelming, but then she whispered my name in her sleep, and rolled to the side.

I felt something in me snap, and I just knew my eyes were black.

With the little restraint I still possessed, I shook her awake.

Before she could speak, I asked quietly, "Come with me?"

Her eyes searched my face, and she nodded. "You'll keep me safe?"

"Always."

"Can we ever come back?"

I looked around her room and shook my head. "Never." My eyes landed on the picture of her parents on her dressing table. "You can write them if you'd like."

"Maybe once. Just to let them know I'm okay and that they can leave."

I stood and reached out my hand to help her off the bed. "Pack a bag. Bring whatever you'd like to keep."

Several minutes later, we were standing under our tree, staring up at her home. The car that I had stolen was a few feet away, turned off. The noise from the old jalopy was enough to wake-up even the soundest of sleepers had I left it running.

"If you want to change your mind, now is the time." I reached out and took her hand.

"This is the right choice." She looked from the house to me. "It's supposed to be like this." After a brief pause she continued in a whisper, "I'm meant to be with you. Forever."

We locked eyes for moment before I opened the door for Bella. She slid across the seat, and I took my place behind the wheel, resting my right arm over the back of the seat behind her.

"Where are we going?"

"Wisconsin. I have a house there."

She didn't ask, and I didn't offer an explanation.

We drove in silence for a while before Bella fell asleep against my shoulder. I thought I would have been more frightened over what we were doing, but I wasn't. Finally, we arrived at the same cabin I had been taken to during my change.

I pushed that thought away and whispered her name.

She turned toward me as her eyes opened, and I leaned down and touched my lips softly to hers. I moved along her jaw and below her ear. She relaxed against me and sighed softly. Her hands moved up my arms and around my neck.

Before I had the chance to change my mind, I traced my tongue along the artery in her neck.

"You'll do fine, Bella. Be brave."

"Wha—" Her words were cut off as my teeth pierced through of skin.

Her blood slid down my throat. The first pure thing I had ever tasted in my life as a vampire. It was almost like I could taste her soul entering my body.

I took several more large pulls from her neck, not noticing how she clawed and tried to pull away. Finally, and with great effort, I pushed venom into her veins and sealed her wound.

I stared down at her wide, crazed eyes as she scratched at the skin of her neck. "What did you do?" Her voice was hoarse and scared.

I reached and brushed her hair away from her shoulder.

"Exactly what you wanted."