Seducing Miss Swan Chapter1 "Adam," I sighed, "please don't hover in the doorway, come and-" the words

died in my throat as I looked at the figure in the door Seducing Ms Swan I have the sense to recognize that I don’t know how to let you go Every moment marked With apparitions of your soul The sun was setting on the bay, making the vast stretch of water below look like liquid gold. I smiled as I stretched myself out beneath the dying rays, the warm sand of the beach brushing enticingly against my skin. "Enjoying yourself?" his smooth voice whispered in my ear, his breath tickling my neck and causing my nerves to tingle with pleasure. "Mmm," I smiled, rolling into his cool embrace, encasing his hard torso in my arms. He chuckled again and brushed my hair behind my ear with his slender fingers. "I love you," he murmured, before planting a series of delicate kisses along my jaw line. I shivered, despite the heat, and openly clung to his broad shoulders. Slowly, I opened my eyes… Beep Beep. Beep Beep. "No," I groaned, my head burrowing underneath the duvet. "Five more minutes." I was just getting to the good part… Beep Beep. Beep Beep. I swore and reached out from beneath the covers, my arm grabbing wildly for the alarm clock. I heard a deafening crash and felt the floor shake. I sat bolt upright, the duvet falling away and exposing me to a wall of freezing cold air. Bleary eyed and disorientated, I looked around the room in confusion, searching for the source of the noise. My eyes fell upon my bed side cabinet- in my haste to switch off the alarm clock it seemed to have been overturned, causing the many books and CDs piled precariously atop it to tumble to the floor. My eyes zeroed in on the alarm clock, which was now innocently nestled in between Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. Beep Beep. Beep Beep. "Stupid piece of junk," I mumbled, slamming my hand on the OFF button before reluctantly heaving myself out of bed. I stumbled across the room and across the hall into the bathroom, finding at least three things to trip over on my way. It wasn't until I had showered, dressed and had a glass of orange juice- my tolerance for caffeine was embarrassingly low- that I could even think about the day ahead. I swung myself onto one of the stools at the counter in the kitchen of my small apartment and glanced at the calendar that hung on the wall. January 4th. Over six years had passed since Edward had left me in the forest in Forks, during which I had struggled through every single day unable, despite my hardest endeavors, to forget him. I had finished school and gotten good grades, even in calculus; evidently emotional heart break and social isolation can do wonders for a person's work ethic. After that I went to College- not Dartmouth- where I majored in English, before I trained to become a teacher. I got my first job teaching English Literature in a high school in Rochester, New York, and had been living in the city for almost two years.

My life had moved on, even if I hadn't. I groaned again as I wandered to the window and looked out at a city covered in snow. Rochester weather reminded me of Forks- less rainy but just as unfriendly. I turned and glanced at myself in the mirror that hung on the opposite wall. In terms of my appearance, not much had changed. I was still plain and though my body had gained a few extra curves over the years, it was still mainly slim and unremarkable. My hair and eyes were brown and my lips full, but my face had lost all the roundness of childhood as I had transitioned from teenager to adult. I wonder what he would think of me now? The errant thought surprised me and I shook my head, irritated at myself. I normally didn't let myself dwell on those sorts of questions; they led to memories I'd rather forget. I had swiftly learnt over the years that it was easier to distance myself from anything that tied me to my past; it was the least painful way of living. It was for this reason that I had taken a job in Rochester, thousands of miles away from Forks. I may have fought Charlie when he tried to send me back to Phoenix in the months following Edward's departure, but by the time I left school, I realized that being surrounded by memories of him was slowly driving me insane. In truth, this was partly the reason that I'd spent the winter break alone, despite pleas from both Charlie and Renee to go and visit them. I had been in Forks for Thanksgiving though; dinner at La Push had become an annual fixture on my calendar. Jacob and I were still friends. Ah, Jake, I thought wistfully, my eyes drawn to a photo frame sitting on the coffee table. It was a snapshot of us sitting by a bonfire at First Beach five years ago. He had his arm around me, and I was smiling; it was one of the only photos I owned that showed me genuinely happy. In the background you could just make out the figures of Quil, Embry, Paul, Sam and Jared playing football. Emily had taken the photo after we had finished eating. I could still remember how she had said we made such a good couple and the triumphant gleam in Jacob's eyes at the word. That had never quite happened though, despite Jake's wishes. We had tried, for a couple of months during the summer before I left for college; perhaps because I was so tired of having to continually redraw my boundaries around him, or else because I had finally accepted that I did love him in that way. Whatever the reason, we decided to give ourselves a chance. It didn't last. To be honest, I think I was still too broken to have a relationship beyond friendship with anybody, let alone someone as important to me as Jacob. I was too afraid to get too close to him, too afraid to lose him like I had lost Edward. It ended when I left for school in September and neither of us ever made any attempt to rekindle the flames in the following years. He had since met a girl, Carole, and they had gotten married. She was everything I would have chosen for Jake- everything that he needed that I could not give him. She was happy, whole and able to love him without conditions, something which I would never have been able to do. I glanced at the clock; it was time to leave. Carefully picking up my bulging work bag, I threw on my coat and took my keys from the pot on the sideboard. It was even colder on the street than I had expected. I huddled myself against my coat, tilting my head away from the wind. I didn't have a car; I had had to leave my truck behind in Forks and although I still had my motorbike, it wasn't really suitable for driving to work, especially not in the winter. As a result, I travelled almost everywhere by bus. The journey wasn't long and I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I barely even noticed the streets and houses whipping past. I couldn't help but think about the dream I had been having when I woke up. My dreaming about Edward wasn't unusual, but my imaginings were never usually as vivid as they had been this morning. This could only be a bad thing, what would be next, hearing voices? I smirked at my own joke as the bus came to a halt at my stop and I hopped off, feigning a weak smile at the driver. Sycamore Grove High School was big, with just over 2500 students on roll. I mainly taught the upperclassmen, but I recognized some of the younger students from the many extra-curriculars I had run last year. I liked to keep busy and volunteering to help organize some of the many activities seemed like an excellent way to do that. The building itself was your typical High School- large and square with sandy colored bricks and steps leading up to the wide front doors, through which students were currently streaming. On my way up the path I had to be careful not to be caught in a crossfire by one of the many snowballs currently being thrown by what seemed like most of the male student population. I shook my head and rolled my eyes; some things never change. As I reached the door I saw a student that I recognized from one of my classes walking towards me. I groaned half amused half exasperated. It was Adam Carter- a popular junior who was apparently (I didn't really follow the school sport) a bit of a star on the baseball team. He had blond hair and brown eyes and reminded me irresistibly of Mike Newton, in that he seemed intent to follow me everywhere. My colleagues liked to tease me that he had a crush, but I preferred to call it over-friendliness- the attentions of a 17 year old boy was not something I needed. No, you just prefer to dream about them instead. I fiercely dug my nails into my fists and tried to push that thought to the edge of my mind. Like I needed to be reminded of my unhealthy night-time hallucinations- they were taking over my life as it was.

"Hi Ms Swan!" Adam said, his loud voice causing people to turn and stare as he ambled towards me. He made a move to take my bag but I took a step back, trying to cover it up by pretending to stumble. To my misfortune, this didn't seem to deter him. "Um, hello Adam, good Christmas?" I asked, distractedly, looking over my shoulder for an escape route. "Oh sure, me and the guys went snowboarding, it was AW-esome," he rattled on earnestly, his words dissolving into mush in my brain. I faintly registered the use of the vernacular and idly thought how the language nowadays was so much more unattractive than the formal speech of the early 1900s, then scolded myself. It was worrying how great an effect that one short dream had had on me. I interrupted Adam, deciding that it was time to make my getaway. "That's great, but I've got to go and talk to, uh," I racked my brains for a plausible teacher and decided the one whose office was as far away as possible, "Dr Takagi, so I'll see you later." I gave what I hoped would pass for a smile and fled, almost tripping up the steps as I went. "Yeah," Adam called after me, "first period in 12E!" I didn't reply but dove through the nearest door, shaking my head in disbelief as I went. What was it with me and over-enthusiastic teenage boys? And how come they never seemed to get the message that I was really not as interesting as they made me out to be? These musings preoccupied me until I reached the staff room, and to my deep relief I was not accosted by any more pubescent admirers. As I walked into the large, beige coloured staff room however, I managed to twist my ankle and drop my bag on my feet, much to the amusement of several maths teachers standing nearby. Irate, I picked up my things and made my way to the kitchen. Screw the caffeine, I thought to myself, I seriously need a coffee. To my dismay, homeroom eventually came to an end, and I was forced to leave the relative safety of the staffroom and brave the jungle that was the hallways. I glanced at my timetable and realised that Adam had been correct- my first class was indeed in Block 12. That was about a five minute walk away, seven if I counted congestion and snowball dodging into my route. I poured myself another cup of coffee- in for a penny, in for a pound- and exited the lounge hastily, before I could be told off for removing school crockery. The journey was, thankfully, without impediment- unless you counted the breaking up of one fight, the prevention of throwing snowballs indoors and redirecting a confused freshman when she tried to attend her biology class in the janitor’s closet while several 'helpful' sophomores snickered from behind her. When I finally made it to 12E I found half of my class already present, changing seats and lounging on desks as they flirted, swapped post-holiday gossip and took photographs of each other on their cell phones. There was still five minutes to go until the official start of class, so I let them be while I sorted out my materials for the lesson. We were starting 'Pride and Prejudice' today and, provided we moved through it fast enough, we were going to progress to 'Jane Eyre' in a matter of weeks. Six years ago, I would not have been able to read my most favourite of Austen and Bröntes' novels without descending into tears. Now however, I felt nothing but a slight pang in my empty chestuncomfortable but bearable. I dug deep into my bag to find the sheets of paper I was planning on handing out to the class and as I rummaged, my elbow hit my bag. "Crap," I cursed as one of my folders fell to the floor, the entirety of its contents splaying across the lino. I walked around the desk and bent down, coffee still in hand, to gather up the paper. "I'll help you Ms Swan!" an eager voice called out, and I looked up to see Adam again. I hadn't noticed him enter the room and felt a flash of irritation. "No Adam, I'm fine tha-" I protested, but to no avail. He ignored me, vaulting over his desk with the kind of energy only a teenage boy possesses first thing on a Monday morning. He really is like Mike, I thought to myself, as I watched him collect up my papers with so much enthusiasm that he knocked my cup of coffee out of my hand. Or perhaps he's a bit more like me. I winced as the mug landed with a smash on the floor… right at the feet of a man who had just appeared in the doorway. A series of laughs and whistles erupted from the class, as their eyes flicked from my irritated expression to Adam's mortified one. I sighed. What a way to start the semester. The man in the doorway cleared his throat and I looked up to see Patrick Delaney standing there. An almost exhaustingly dedicated teacher, Patrick had been my mentor for my first couple of months of teaching and, despite being nearly a decade older than me, we had struck up a sort of friendship. This year, he had been assigned responsibility for the entire junior class- no mean feat, considering that it currently contained over 600 students.

"Hi Ms Swan," he cleared his throat, amused, "is, uh, everything alright?" "Never better," I said through gritted teeth, painfully aware of the flush beginning to creep up my cheeks. I wasn't worried about Patrick's reaction to the coffee- I knew he wouldn't care in the slightest- but I didn't appreciate the fact that I had just made an idiot of myself in front of a class of unsympathetic teenagers. Patrick grinned at me unashamedly, his dark eyes sparkling behind his glasses, "Well I just came to tell you that you're expecting a new student in your class this morning. He's with the secretary at the moment collecting his timetable, but he should be along later." "Thanks, Mr Delaney," I replied, reverting to the use of his surname for the benefit of our audience. "No problem," he turned his gaze to Adam and pointed at the smashed cup, saying sternly, "I'd get something to clean up this mess if I were you son, before somebody slips in it." He waited long enough for Adam to self-consciously dart out of the classroom, before he winked cheerily at me. "See you later, Bella." With a sigh I turned to face the class, ignoring the last-minute stragglers as they scurried to their seats. It was time to actually get some work done. It was ten minutes into the lesson and most of the stress of the morning had disappeared. Teaching was what I was good at, and I really enjoyed it, especially when it came to discussing novels. When I had left school I had actually toyed with the idea of becoming a librarian before Charlie persuaded me to pursue education as a career. At first I had thought he was crazy; I could barely look at a group of people without blushing. Gradually however, I realized that perhaps it wasn't such a ridiculous idea after all. I had always loved discussing books- now I was getting paid for it. There was also something inordinately satisfying in sharing my love for literature and seeing the students grow to enjoy the books they studied. I soon found that my total lack of confidence wasn't an issue; it was as if by discussing the characters I loved so much, I was shielding myself from any insecurities. Outside the classroom it was a completely different matter, but inside I was in my element. I had just instructed the class to get themselves into pairs when, over the outbreak of noise that ensued, I heard the door open again. Expecting it to be Adam with cleaning materials I didn't look up, but busied myself with distributing handouts to the groups of students and breaking up any squabbles over grouping. It wasn't until I had returned to the front of the class that I realized that Adam had still not entered the room. "Adam," I sighed, "please don't hover in the doorway, come and-" the words died in my throat as I looked at the figure in the door. It wasn't Adam. I felt myself go rigid as I stared, shocked, into his face. No. It couldn't be, not after all this time. No, Bella. You're still dreaming. I shook my head, dazed, as I looked away and then back at him, unable to believe what I was seeing. Wake UP Bella, wake up! But I was awake. I was awake and staring right into the very face I had been trying to forget for years, the face of the first and last person I had ever truly loved. Edward. The world fell away, leaving nothing but him. I couldn't believe that he was here, after six years of nothing, here he was standing three feet away from me. He looked exactly the same as he had always done: tall, pale and of course, devastatingly beautiful. As my eyes raked his face hungrily, I instantly knew that my dreams had been laughably poor in their quality. It was delicious agony; I revelled in each detail, but every glance just tore my heart apart further. "Ed-dward," I stuttered, my hands gripping the edge of my desk to prevent me from falling. I dimly registered that the chattering in the classroom had quietened slightly, and I could sense the curious gazes of the students on the front row taking in my rigid posture and shocked expression with great interest. I knew I should say something, anything, but I couldn't. My mind was swamped as all the memories I had hitherto repressed rushed forward, like water breaking through a dam. Edward laughing as he shook snow from his hair; Edward in the meadow; playing video games with Emmett; listening to music; speeding down the highway in his car; Edward kissing my neck; his hands running down my sides as he murmured against my lips…

I gasped as this last one came to me, such was the force of the sensations it caused. I looked at Edward, my heart pounding. "Bella," he breathed, his velvety voice so quiet that only I could hear. He looked surprised, but much, much more composed than I was, at least, he wasn't shaking uncontrollably. We stared at each other for an eternity until, finally, I was saved. "Ms Swan?" It was Patrick again. He still looked indecently good-humoured, given the emotional turmoil I was currently in. His eyes searched the room before they fell on Edward and, nodding, Patrick ticked a name off of his list. "Ah, there you are Mr Cullen. Were there any problems with your timetable?" And then I realized… It came to me in one, horrific sweep of understanding. Edward was the new student. Edward, my centenarian vampire ex-boyfriend who had, until one moment ago, been absent from my life for over six years was now one of my students. If I hadn't been so appalled, I might have laughed. "No sir," Edward replied, his voice apparently unshaken. Underneath the wave of hysteria rising within me, I felt a stab of hurt indignation. Did seeing me after six years really have no effect on him whatsoever? Judging by his expression, I guessed not. Of course he doesn't care Bella, I wryly told myself. Don't you remember what he said in the forest? I did remember, vividly. The memory of my rejection still had the power to bring me to my knees with the pain it caused. "Excellent. I suggest you take a seat," Patrick smiled, indicating an empty desk two rows back by the wall, before turning to face me. For a split second I thought I detected a flicker of emotion cross Edward's features, but before I could be sure he turned his back on me and moved gracefully towards his seat. Unwillingly, I looked back to Patrick. "Well, I'll leave you to it then," he grinned, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "You shouldn't have any trouble with this one Bella, according to his records he was an honor student back in San Francisco." I just nodded dumbly, unable to bring myself to reply; something which Patrick, in all his cheerful chatter, did not seem to notice. "Have a nice day Bella," he trilled as he swept from the room. A nice day. Sure. I turned to face the now quiet class, trying my best to disguise the fact that I was trembling and making deadly sure that my eyes did not stray to the seat by the wall, two rows from the front. "Okay people, let's turn to chapter three," I managed to choke out. The scene where the would-be lovers first meet; how sickly appropriate, I thought to myself. Then, knowing that the only way out of this nightmare was to just keep teaching until I was saved by the bell announcing recess, I clenched my fists, hardened my resolve and prepared myself for the hardest morning of my life.

Chapter 2 10:15 9:15 … 9:18 … 9:24

… 9:37 My eyes followed the clock as the second hand moved, mercilessly slowly, towards my reprieve. "Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other-" I was hardly even aware of the constant mumbling soundtrack of monotonous narration, as each student reluctantly read a passage of 'Pride and Prejudice' aloud. I willed time to move more quickly, all the while being deadly sure not to let my eyes stray anywhere near Edward's seat. "‘I would not be so fastidious as you are,’ cried Mr. Bingley, ‘for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never-'" Was it possible that the clock had stopped working all together? Could it have, in fact, started going backwards instead of forwards? The idea scared me so much that I surreptitiously glanced at a student's watch. No, although the seconds seemed to draw on like eternities, time was apparently moving perfectly normally. "'Only think of THAT, my dear; he actually danced with her twice! And she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time.'" From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Edward move an infinitesimal amount as if angling his gaze towards mine. I could not look up however; I had no desire to again subject myself to his expression of emotionless indifference. I dug my nails into the palms of my hands as I felt my body tremble. Only twenty-five minutes to go, I thought desperately. Don't let yourself fall apart now, Bella! No, it would not do to break down now; there was plenty of time for that later. Plenty of time to cry, shout and shake later, once I was safely out of the classroom and far, far away from his burning topaz eyes. "She was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit," Seven minutes to go. I hadn't been this excited for a lesson to finish since my last ever calculus lesson before my finals in Forks. Six. Perhaps I can skip classes this afternoon, I pondered to myself, racking my brains for an excuse plausible enough to explain why I was unable to complete teaching on the very first day of term. Five. Four. I furtively began to slide my folders into my black bag, trying my hardest not to make too much noise. Three, Two, One"Okay people," I exclaimed, my heart pounding as I jumped up from my chair and interrupted a skinny girl with short blonde hair mid-sentence, "that's enough for this morning. Homework: make notes on the first three chapters to bring to the next lesson. That's all." Then, to the obvious astonishment of my class, I threw my bag over my shoulder, only slightly fumbling with the clasp and half ran half fell through the door, slamming it behind me as the bell rang. I darted down the corridor wildly, unsure of where to go. I knew that I only had a split second before students began to spill out of classrooms from all directions and blocked my escape routes. I was also acutely aware that, in the unlikely chance Edward wanted to pursue me, he would have no trouble catching up. I had to go somewhere he wouldn't know to follow. I turned left, then right, then another left. I could hear distant rumble of hundreds of adolescents on the move as students poured out from their lessons, their footsteps, whistles and raucous laughter echoing off the polished floors. Then, I saw it: the small office I shared with several other teachers. I went through the doorway and closed it behind me with a thud, pushing my body against the door as I let my bag fall to the floor. The room was cramped and non-descript, the walls painted a gloomy shade of khaki green. An extended desk ran round the walls, on top of which were two whirring computers. The limited floor space was mostly taken up with grey filing cabinets, but in the corner there was a single battered arm chair that had definitely seen better days. The room

was not comfortable; my colleagues and I hardly ever used it, but it was out of the way and as good a place as any for me to privately break into pieces. I slumped against the door and slid to the ground, my arms closing tightly against my chest as the first waves of anguish hit me. For the first time I was finally able to let myself go and cry without fear of detection or observation. The emotions I had been so far restraining: the shock of being reunited with Edward, the nightmarish circumstances under which he had come back into my life and his apathetic reaction to me sprang forward, overwhelming me with their weight. I succumbed to the grief, unable to fight it any more. I don't know how I survived the rest of that day. I moved from class to class as though in a dream, my movements robotic and automated as I tried to maintain a façade of normality. If anybody had bothered to take a closer look it would probably have been blindingly obvious that I was breaking into pieces, but nobody did. As I had learnt in the years after Edward's departure, it is surprisingly easy to fade into the background. I did not see Edward again. Not at lunch, where my eyes raked the crowds of seated students for a flash of bronze; nor between lessons, when I furtively glanced through doorways into classrooms. I tried to persuade myself that his absence was a good thing, but I could not banish the nagging sense of disappointment it caused. The fact that he had not sought me out after our meeting could, I was sure, only be confirmation of his lack of feelings towards me. It was a dismal conclusion, but not a surprising one. He had not loved me for six years- had perhaps never loved me- how could a single hour change that? By the time school finally ended and I had boarded the bus home, I had convinced myself that Edward and his family, who had presumably come to Rochester with him, were probably already long gone. I wondered what explanation he would give them. Would he tell them that he had seen me again? Or would he just leave, as he had done all those years ago after our first Biology lesson, and wait for them to follow him? No, I decided, Alice would have Seen it. She had probably known we would meet days ago. But why hadn't she told him? Maybe she wanted to see me again? Or maybe, the voice of realism remarked as the bus came to a halt at my stop, she just doesn't care. I sighed as I shrugged my bag over my shoulder and got off the bus. I wrapped my arms around the front of my coat and hugged it close to my body, something which both protected me from the cold and eased the aching hole in my chest. I mounted the snow covered steps to my building and then trudged up the long flight of stairs to my apartment. The elevator had been broken for about two weeks, but luckily for me, I only lived on the second floor. I let myself in to the darkened living room, my hands shaking from the cold as I fumbled with the buttons on my coat. I shrugged it off and turned to hang it on the hook by the door, my movements measured and slow. I bowed my head, pressing my cheek against the cool wood and closed my eyes. I was finally alone, with no sound but the quiet purr of traffic from the street below, and no light but for pale yellow pools cast through the windows from the street lights. I expected a repeat of this morning but, to my surprise, I did not cry. In fact, all I really felt was tiredness. I had already journeyed to my emotional limit and back again today and now all I wanted to do was sleep. My bed seeming the most inviting way to spend the rest of my evening, I walked towards my room. I had just reached the door, when the phone rang. I froze. I looked at it, unsure of what to do. Was it Edward? My first reaction was to wonder how he got my number, before I rolled my eyes. It would hardly be difficult for a wealthy, intelligent, well-connected, computer-hacking vampire to procure a phone number. More to the point, did I want to speak to him? What would I say? I had just decided to pick it up, when the answer machine clicked on. Hi, you've reached Bella's answering phone, please leave a message after the tone. I waited with baited breath. "Hi Bella, it's me," a distinctly un-Edward voice emitted from the machine. I let out my breath in a rush as I lunged for the phone and mentally scolded myself for being so silly in the first place. As if he'd call. "Hi Jacob," I gasped, bringing the phone to my ear and crossing back to the wall to flick on the lights. "Bella!" he cried, and I could practically hear him smiling down the phone, "So you are there. Why didn't you pick up?" "Sorry," I replied, flopping onto the couch, "I tripped over the rug." It was hardly even a lie; I fell so often. Jake's chuckle confirmed that he wasn't any the wiser. "You're a liability," he said, "it's a wonder they even let you teach. I'm surprised you haven't inadvertently injured one of the students."

"Oooh, long word Jake," I teased, "where'd you get that one? Has becoming Alpha made you brush up on your vocab?" Jake tutted with annoyance, but spoilt the effect by laughing. Sam had 'retired' two years before, after the birth of his and Emily's first child. This had made Jacob the leader of the pack, something which- although he complained about a lot- he took very seriously. That being said, I knew that he was looking forward to the day he too could step down. "Yeah well, I've clearly spent too much time with you," he joked, "your habits have started to wear off on me." "Sure, sure," I said, grinning. He laughed and I felt my body relax at the sound as Jake launched into a cheery monologue about the recent events at La Push. Jake had always had a talent for cheering me up, and by the time he had finished updating me on the lives and antics of the pack, the memory of my meeting with Edward had faded to little more than an unpleasant shadow at the back of my mind. "…so I said to Quil," Jake continued, "that he should just buy Claire a doll or something, I mean that's what eight year old girls like, right?" "Are you kidding me?" I said, shaking my head at Jacob's typical male unawareness, "Claire isn't really the doll type, Jake. Her favorite pastimes are football and racing werewolves. Tell Quil to get her a basketball net. That way he can nail it to the side of her house and her brothers can play too." "That's an awesome idea Bella!" Jake said. I nodded, forgetting he couldn't see me, and got up off the sofa to get myself a drink, the phone balanced on my shoulder. "I'll tell Quil tonight. He and the guys are coming over to celebrate." I paused, a bottle of soda in my hand, the fridge door hanging open. "Celebrate what?" I asked, perplexed. "Oh, nothing," Jake replied, over-casually. I knew him well enough to detect that he was keeping something from me. "Ja-aake," I whined, closing the fridge door and leaning against the counter top. "Tell me!" "Fine, seeing as you asked so nicely," he snickered and I could hear the enjoyment in his voice. I rolled my eyes and started to unscrew the soda bottle. "Carole's pregnant." I shrieked, ripping the bottle top off in my shock, causing cola to shoot out in a fizzy jet, completely soaking the front of my shirt. I swore and dropped the phone as I lobbed the still-foaming bottle into the sink. Then, I fell to my knees and grabbed the now sopping wet phone, holding it to my ear as my hand searched blindly behind me for a cloth. "Bella?" Jake sounded concerned, "are you still there? Did you hear what I said? Carole's preg-" "I heard," I gasped, "Oh my God Jake, that's fantastic! I'm so happy for you! When did you find out? How far along is she? When is it due? Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" Jake laughed at my barrage of questions. "We found out about a month ago, but Carole didn't want to tell anyone until she was past fourteen weeks. They're due in June sometime and no, we don’t know the sex." "They're due in June?" I said, unbelieving, "you mean…" "Twins," Jake confirmed, his voice reverberating with happiness. I squealed again and wished more than ever that he was standing right here beside me so I could give him a huge hug. For the next twenty minutes I fired questions and grilled him for details, even making him hand the phone over to Carole so I could give her my congratulations. "I can't believe it," I told Jacob after he had come back to the phone; "I can't believe you're going to be a Dad." "Neither can I," he replied, a hint of nervousness creeping into his voice and I was instantly reminded of the fifteen year old boy I had made friends with when I came to Forks. "You'll be brilliant," I said sincerely, "the best Dad in the world! I just know it." "Thanks Bells," he said gratefully. We fell silent for a few moments. I still couldn’t quite process the information. Jake was three years younger than me, only 22, yet he was already married and about to have kids. He was enjoying his

healthy, normal, 'human' life and all the benefits it involved. I on the other hand… I wondered vaguely to myself what would have happened if Jake and I had stayed together. Would we be married? Would I be pregnant with his children? What if Edward had never gotten bored with me and left? We would probably have gotten married straight out of High School in a small, private ceremony. Renee would have blown a gasket- not that that would have stopped me. We could have had a similar story to Jacob's… without the children of course. No, that could never have been possible for me and Edward. In the intervening years, I had often asked myself whether I would have missed that element of my humanity, each time coming to the same conclusion; I did not want children. Even now, when there was no chance of ever being presented with such a choice, I would still choose Edward over having a baby. This realization depressed me. "Bella?" Jacob's slightly irritated voice broke me out of my reverie, and I realized that I had zoned out on him again. "Hi Jake, sorry, I was just daydreaming," I said quickly, before he hung up. I brushed the back of my hand across my eyes, wiping away the tears that I had unwittingly begun to shed. "What was it you said?" "I asked you how things were going, in Rochester-" he trailed off. I waited expectantly for him to end his sentence, but he seemed to already have finished. I ran his question through my head again, wondering how best to answer. "Things are… fine. Yeah, fine, pretty much same as usual." I didn't want to lie, but I couldn't exactly tell the truth. "Been seeing any guys recently?" The question caught me off guard. Define 'seeing', I thought to myself dryly. Dating? No. Unexpectedly running into the ex love-of-my-life in a crowded classroom? Yes, actually, would you like the details? I shook my head. Whatever I said would be repeated back to the rest of the pack, all their wives, Billy, Charlie and, no doubt, Renée. I had long since decided that they were all unhealthily preoccupied with my love life- or the lack of it. "No Jake, I…" "Yes?" he said after a short pause. "Nothing," I sighed. This was ridiculous, how could I even contemplate telling Jacob about Edward? He would go crazy. He had never forgiven Edward for… well let's just say he had never forgiven Edward, period. "Bella," Jacob said, sternly. "Talk to me. There's something wrong, isn't there?" His deep voice was so comforting, so reassuring. It took me right back to Forks; if I closed my eyes I could see him standing before me, his arms wide and welcoming, First Beach in the background. Snap out of it Bella! You can't tell him! "N-no," I stuttered. I sounded pathetically unconvincing, even to my own ears. "Come on Bells, I promise I won't tell anyone." I snorted with disbelief. "I won't! Werewolf promise." I closed my eyes, a small laugh escaping despite myself as I imagined Jacob dressed head-to-toe in Boy-Scout uniform, his huge hands held in a salute. "You'll be angry," I murmured, my resolve wavering. "With you? Never," Jake said, his voice completely genuine. "You're my best friend Bella, whatever you tell me I'll support you." "I-" I stopped again, unable to make up my mind. "Please, Bella," Jake coaxed softly, "let me be here for you." I cracked. "Fine, I'll tell you," the words spewed out in a rush, "but you have to know that I didn't plan this; I didn't even know he was in town until this morning and I didn't do anything; it wasn't my fault and it doesn't mean anything, I didn't even speak to him, so-" "Whoa, slow down!" Jake interjected, "what doesn't mean anything? Who are you even talking about?"

I paused. It was now or never. "Edward," I whispered. "Edward Cullen." There was a second's silence, in which he processed what I had just told him. "What does the bloodsucker have to do with this?" Jacob asked, a harsher edge to his voice. At the mention of the vampire he had instantly become 'Alpha-Jacob'. "He's here, Jake. Here in Rochester," I said, bracing myself for the fallout. I was not disappointed. "WHAT?!" I cringed, my grip on the phone tightening. "WHAT THE HELL IS EDWARD CULLEN DOING IN ROCHESTER?" Jake yelled, his voice so loud that I actually had to move my ears away from the handset. "Jake, calm-" "ISN'T HE HAPPY WITH MAKING YOU CATATONIC FOR FOUR MONTHS? DOES HE WANT TO RUIN YOUR LIFE EVEN MORE?" "Jacob, it-" "WHY CAN'T THE LEECH JUST STAY AWAY? YOU WERE JUST GETTING BETTER FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! WHAT RIGHT DOES HE HAVE TO COME WALTZING BACK INTO YOUR LIFE AFTER ALL THIS-" "JACOB BLACK, LISTEN TO ME!" He fell silent almost at once. I wasn't sure if it was because he cared about what I had to say, or if the hysterical note my voice had taken scared him. I spoke slowly, my breathing heavy. "Firstly, Edward didn't know I was here; he was just as surprised to see me as I was him. Secondly, I'm certain that he doesn't want to get involved with me again, quite the opposite." I paused as the hole in my chest tore slightly wider. I took a deep breath and continued, "Thirdly, I doubt he'll hang around much longer, he'll probably be gone by tomorrow." A short pause followed my words, before Jacob was off again, ranting and interrogating me. I was forced to recount the entire story, from my arrival at school this morning to seeing Edward, to leaving the class. I faltered there, not wanting to admit the extent of my breakdown. Jake must have understood this; he did not ask me any more questions on that subject. He seemed to have calmed down somewhat, but it still took me the best part of half an hour to persuade him not to get on the first plane to Rochester from Seattle. This was turning out to be a long phone call. "It's weird to think that he's six years younger than you now," Jake said thoughtfully, after I had retold our meeting for what felt like the hundredth time. "It must be horrible to always be seventeen." I did not pass a comment; until not so long ago, being permanently seventeen was something I had longed for. "Eeew Bella, you've made out with one of your students! You're like one of those creepy teachers you see on the news, the ones who seduce young, innocent men." Jake said, laughing. I sighed gratefully. The fact that he could joke about the situation showed that he was past the anger he had felt earlier. "Carole is four years older than you," I reminded him. It was true- Carole was a college friend of Rebecca's. "Yeah, but didn't we already establish this? Physically, I'm almost 25…" "…And Edward is actually 112. So really if anyone a Mrs Robinson around here, it's him." Jacob instantly became suspicious. "What do you mean Bella? You can't seriously be thinking about taking the leech back, can you? After all the things he did?" He growled, "After the hell he put you through? Don't you remember what happened your senior year? Remember-" "Yes, I know," I interrupted bitingly. As if I needed any reminder of my hellish senior year and its devastating consequences. I turned away, looking out of the window at the swirling snow. I hadn't thought about it for so long…

Jake seemed to realize he had upset me; he was quiet for several moments. I didn't like the silence, but when he finally spoke again I found myself wishing it had lasted longer. "I went to visit Brady last week," Jake said, haltingly. "I wanted to tell him about Carole." (What is the back story here? The youngest werewolf has been Seth?) I didn’t reply. Brady. The guilt I felt at the boy's name was crushing, even now, after all these years. I despised myself for even being able to think of Edward after what had happened to the youngest werewolf… "He seemed to be okay," Jake continued, seemingly unaware of my anguish, "No better, no worse. But, as I said to Sam, he-" "Please don't," I whispered, by voice broken, "please don't talk about him now. I can't- not after everything-" I paused, my self-loathing increasing with every word, "not now. I'm sorry, Jake." Jake didn't reply, and I winced; I couldn't bear his being disappointed in me. "I'm so sorry Jacob," I whispered. He still didn't say anything, and I moved to hang up the phone, my head bowed. "No, wait," I heard his voice coming from the receiver and put my ear back to it, feeling relief despite myself. "I'm the one who should apologize Bells," Jake muttered, "It wasn't fair for me to bring up Brady, not after the day you've had." I hated the fact that he felt the need to apologize to me, but I was too despicably weak to stop him. Jacob continued. "But you'll have to face up to it someday Bella. You can't run from what happened forever." I did not reply; I couldn't. Tears were already running down my cheeks, marring my vision. "Please be careful Bells," Jacob said, his voice imploring, "don't let Cullen hurt you again. I can't be there to put you back together, not like last time." I was shocked. It was the first time Jacob had ever verbally acknowledged what we both knew: that he had been my reason for living after Edward left. "I-I don't think you have to worry," I whispered brokenly, "he- Edward- doesn't feel that way. He left me, remember?" I didn't quite manage to hide the pain in my voice when I said this last statement, and I knew Jake had picked up on it. "He was mad," Jake said softly, "absolutely insane, to give you up. You're more than any man could ever ask for." "How c-can you say that?" I said, half sobbing, "After everything I've p-put you through? After what I did? After what happened to B-Brady?" "Listen to me Bella," Jake's voice was fierce, "what happened to Brady- that was not your fault. I would never blame you for that. If it was anyone's fault, it was-" he stopped when he heard my intake of breath and redirected his sentence, "-well, you know whose it was. But it was not yours. Do you understand me?" "Yes," I lied. We had had this conversation several times in the last six years, and although he said the same thing every time, I never believed him. He knew this, but that didn't stop him trying nonetheless. He was about to say something more, but I cut him off. "Jake, it’s getting late. You've got the guys coming over later; you don't want to talk to me all night." "I can cancel on them," Jake assured me, calmly. "No, there's no need," I said, "I'm tired anyway; I need to go to bed. I'll speak to you soon." He finally agreed to let me go, after I promised to ring him the minute I needed him. "Night Bells, be careful." "I will. Goodnight Jake," I murmured, slowly hanging up the phone.

I went to my room, wondering to myself whether or not I had been lying. By the time I had gotten into bed, I decided that it didn't matter. I was sure that I wouldn't see Edward again. He and his family were probably already aboard a plane to a far-flung part of the country… speeding away to another 'distraction'. I sunk into the pillows, tears streaming down my face as I let sleep claim me.

Chapter 3 I was lying on the floor of my bedroom, my back sinking into the soft carpet as I surveyed the ceiling above with empty, unseeing eyes. In the background I could hear the murmurs of a household stirring, as night-time engagements were abandoned, showers were entered and wardrobes opened in the monotonous rhythm that made up the Cullen morning ritual. However in the room where I lay, all was still. I would never be able to refer to it as ‘my room’; the space to which that title belonged was still thousands of miles away across rivers and state lines, silent and empty save for painful ghosts of regret-filled memories. The grey light of a snow strangled morning filtered through the windows, assaulting the gloom and causing a faint sheen on the white walls as rainbows ricocheted from my pale skin. Not so long ago such an exhibition of my blatant unnaturalness would have bothered me, but now I found it sickly fascinating. It was one of the two reasons that I had chosen white over any other colour for the walls; now that I no longer had a reason to restrain my abnormality it seemed only right to flaunt and revel in it like the monster that I was. The second reason I had chosen white: it was the colour which held the least associations to her. She had been many colours: brown for hair, eyes and warmth; blue for ribbons and dresses; pink for blushes and red for lips, love and blood… but never white. White was marble, cold and unyielding. White was for the soulless eternities and forsaken dreams that she had yearned for but I had protected her from at all costs. And what costs they were. I now divided my life into two halves; before and after Bella. I winced as I thought the name; even thinking it still had the power to cripple me. I had signed away my life that day, as surely as I had secured hers. Any chance of my future happiness had been destroyed in a flurry of well-meant lies. When I thought of the self-assured way I had argued about heaven and hell, damnation and souls, I almost wanted to laugh. The intervening years since I had left Forks had proven to me that it had all been arrogant nonsense. I had known nothing of Hell; the undying state of agony that the past six years had brought was Hell, living without Bella was Hell, but existing as a vampire? Not even close. I would have welcomed the boredom and moral struggles of my pre-Bella years with welcome arms, if it meant that I never had to feel the despair of losing her ever again. I now knew that I had a soul, for how could anyone experience so much torture without one? Edward! Alice’s thoughts invaded my own with an unexpected alacrity. It still surprised me that anyone could feel cheerful, when I myself had not felt the emotion for so long. I could hear her repeat my name, both vocally and in her mind but I made no attempt to move. There was no rush; an endless amount of time was one of the few things remaining to me. The sound of Alice’s light footsteps echoed down the long hallways of the floors below, as she sprinted through the house, coming to a sudden stop outside my door. I could hear the uncertainty in her thoughts, as she debated whether or not to enter. I wasn’t surprised be her behaviour; my family so rarely entered my presence uninvited anymore and when they did they usually treaded carefully and spoke in hushed tones befitting of visitors to the bedside of a dying person. Of course, it hadn’t always been this way. Whilst my family had always been respectful of my limited privacy, they had never hesitated from visiting me before. Alice had regularly bounded into my bedroom to share her latest vision with me, or else to try and force me into the trophies of her habitual shopping trips. Emmett would wander in when he was bored, usually to challenge me to a game or race of some sort and Jasper would come by to discuss a point from one of his most recently read books. Even Rosalie would drop in from time to time, although her visits were decidedly briefer and more occasional. But that had all changed when we left Forks. For the first two years I had lived alone, existing on a diet of solitude, rage and anguish, unable to relate to anything but my grief. Even once I had crawled back to my family, weakened by months of sporadic feeding and half-crazed with misery, I found it almost impossible to connect with them, especially when they were together in their pairs. Every touch, every gentle caress or whispered word blackened my soul further. They tried to protect me from it and were careful to avoid closeness in front of me, but there was only so much that

could be done. The pain I felt from witnessing such love had not lessened over the years, but I had learnt to ignore and confine it, reducing it to little more than an aching throb in the place where my heart had once been. This is silly, I’m just going to go in and I don’t care if hI opened the door, cutting off Alice’s thoughts mid sentence. “Morning,” I said, my voice husky and rough from lack of use. Alice surveyed me critically and I knew that I must have looked awful. Technically, vampires didn’t need to shower as their frozen pores didn’t produce sweat, but I knew that argument would not excuse my lack of grooming in Alice’s eyes. “Yes,” she said, her eyes narrowed, “it is the morning, so why aren’t you dressed?” I opened my mouth to defend myself, but she cut me off. “That,” she gestured at my crumpled black shirt and cargo pants, “does not count as dressed. Go and put on some suitable clothes Edward Cullen, and please try to remember the fact that you’re starting a new school today and some of us,” she put a deadly emphasis on the words, “still care about first impressions.” I looked at Alice with a mixture of shock and disbelief. She hadn’t been this frank with me since… well for six years. What had changed? And why, I suddenly realised with suspicion, was she now blocking her thoughts from me? I stared at her with new concentration, and I thought I saw a look of smug satisfaction flit across her face. Before I could be sure of what I had seen, however, she turned tail and skipped away down the hallway, only turning around to call briefly over her shoulder: “Outside, five minutes. Rosalie’s driving, unless you get there first.” I watched the empty space where she had just been for a moment, trying my hardest to decipher her thoughts as she flew down the staircase. …verba Ecclesiastes filii David regis Hierusalem vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes vanitas vanitatum omnia… I sighed with frustration; she was reeling off the Old Testament of the Bible in Latin. I retreated to my room in defeat and hastily threw on some clothes, not even bothering to glance at my reflection in the mirror before I sprinted away down the stairs. There was no way I was letting Rosalie drive. The car was quiet on the way to school. It wasn’t a long journey, especially not when you factored in my preferred driving speed and the 550 horse power engine of the latest car to join our collection. The vehicle was only a couple of months old, selected by Rosalie and Carlisle to be our new ‘school car’. It had been silently accepted that we would not be driving the Volvo. Not when every inch of it still held Bella’s scent. As I drove I knew that my siblings were preparing themselves for another start at yet another High School. It was a tedious process for all of us; we had all graduated with honours from University several times over, but I knew that this time the new beginning would be infinitely harder for me. Today would be the first time I had set foot in a school or even voluntarily entered the presence of humans since we had left Forks. I was steeling myself, therefore, for the inevitable onslaught of emotions and memories I would undoubtedly feel the moment I set foot in the locker-lined hallways that would be new, yet so familiar. On my return to the family, we had relocated to Siberia. Drastic maybe, but at least it had been worlds away from Forks, which was something I had craved. Out there in the freezing desert wastes, uninhabited save for bears and snow-leopards, there had been no need to keep up any sort of human pretence. Carlisle and Esme had been unendingly patient with me and would have been prepared to stay in Russia for decades, if doing so helped me come to terms with my loss. However deep down, I knew that I could disassociate myself from society forever and it was clear that Carlisle yearned for his work and the rest of the family missed America. So, by my request, we had returned, choosing Rochester as our new home based on its climate and large hospital. Consequently, Jasper, Alice, Emmett, Rosalie and I had all been obliged to enrol in High School. We arrived with about fifteen minutes to spare before morning classes began. Alice was the first to exit the car, bounding out of the door with the same indecent eagerness she had shown earlier. The others looked at me, slightly perplexed as we more sedately followed her. “Don’t ask me,” I muttered, “she’s keeping me out of her mind.” Rosalie rolled her eyes and allowed Emmett to hold the car door open for her, flashing him a stunning smile as she tossed her curtain of blonde hair over her shoulder. He grinned back and took her arm. “C’mon,” he murmured to her, “better get this over with.” They walked together towards Alice, who was waiting by the front steps of the school, watching the humans throw snowballs with mild amusement.

Edward? I looked away from Alice, to see Jasper still standing next to me with his feet on the curb, his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. He was surveying me with quizzical, but not overly pervasive eyes. Are you okay? He posed the question without words, quiet concern in his mind. We both knew it was pointless; he could sense my emotions and I could hear his findings in his thoughts, but I appreciated his asking all the same. I nodded my head, slowly. “I’m fine,” I replied, my voice too low for anyone but him to hear. He nodded, though it was clear from his eyes that he did not believe my lie. I’m not going to pretend that I've experienced what you’re going through Edward, he thought, because I haven't, at least, not first hand. But I do know what struggling through this, he inclined his head towards the school, is like and I’m here to help you through it, we all are. I felt a rush of gratitude for Jasper’s thoughts. If returning to High School was hardest for me, then Jasper came a very close second; he still fought with his bloodlust on a regular basis. I knew that he still wrongly blamed himself for my separation from Bella and that my constant state of depression hurt him the most, even without his ability. There weren’t words to express the thanks I felt at the fact that he was still here by my side, despite everything. “Thank you,” I finally said. Jasper just nodded and then glanced at our family, who were looking at us impatiently. Let’s go before Alice explodes, he thought, shaking his blond hair from his eyes, and walking just slightly faster than human speed to join our siblings on the snow-covered steps. I followed in his wake, my mind absorbed with memories of another snowy day at another High School, the laughter of that day echoing across six empty years. We walked en masse towards the office, ignoring the predictable gasps and turnings of heads as the humans took in our striking appearances. Their inanely besotted and jealous thoughts were a constant rumble in the back of my mindOh my God, she’s gorgeous! Who does that big guy think he is, Mr Universe? They don’t look young enough to be in High School- but I tried to block them out. This reception was no different to the one we usually received when moving to a new place. At the office, we came across a small queue of new students who were waiting nervously to collect their lesson plans. They fell silent as we took our place in the line, their eyes wide and interested. A tall, thin man with thinning brown hair and circular glasses was hurrying down the line, checking names off of a clipboard. Before he had reached us, however, the bell signalling the start of class rang and he swept out in a flurry of activity. I watched him go, detached from my siblings’ quiet conversation. The line inched forward as students left the office one by one to go to their respective classrooms. Rosalie and Emmett left together for senior Maths, shortly followed by Jasper who had World History. Alice was next to leave, thanking the secretary brightly as collected her schedule. She skipped to the door where she paused, turning her eyes on me. Good Luck, Edward. My eyes narrowed as she pranced out of the room, leaving it empty but for me and the secretary. Good luck? What does she mean by that? I wondered to myself. My thoughts were interrupted by a pointed cough. I turned to face the secretary, a curt middle-aged woman who was eyeing me in irritation. “And this is your schedule,” she said, leaning over the counter to thrust a piece of blue paper into my hands. “Be sure to read it carefully, I haven’t got time to chase you kids around school just because you haven’t bothered to check where your next class is.” She then turned away from me brusquely, busying herself with another of the many piles of paper precariously strewn across her desk. I sighed quietly and walked slowly away, in the direction my siblings had taken. The hallways were now almost deserted, save for a few stragglers hurrying to their classes. I checked my schedule; my first class was English Literature, in 12E. It didn’t take me long to find the right corridor; the ability to mind read does wonders when looking for directions. I had just rounded the corner leading into block 12, when I saw a blonde haired boy exit a room on the left, his face red and his thoughts practically screaming as he rushed past me. Oh my God, you are SUCH an idiot Carter! Way to impress her, klutz! I did not bother listening any further; the fickle intricacies of human teenage boys' flirting techniques interested me very little. As I looked back to the door from which the boy had just emerged, I saw the brown-haired teacher from the office. He stepped from the door, again burying himself in his clipboard as he walked swiftly away down the corridor. As he turned the corner, the door swung closed behind him, causing the air to shift. I froze.

No. It was impossible. My mind was clearly playing tricks on me. For a moment I thought I had smelt… Freesias. I clenched my fists angrily, forcing myself to get a grip. Now was not the time to start hallucinating. But it’s so strong, my mind whispered, hypnotised by the smell. I took a tentative step forward, testing my theory. The scent intensified. There was no doubt about it, I could definitely smell freesias. But what cause would such flowers have to be in the English corridor in an American High School? Unless… but I didn’t allow myself to finish that thought. This was insane, I was cracking up. I turned, about to leave the building- I had been mistaken to think I was ready for returning to school, I couldn’t even walk down a corridor without imagining things- when I heard it: a strain of conversation from the classroom on my left. “-we’ll be studying Pride and Prejudice. Can anyone tell me the period in which the novel was written?” Shock gripped me as I recognised the voice. No, it can’t be. Before I knew what I was doing, I was hurtling towards the doorway through which Carter and the teacher had come, my feet covering the distance in a matter of seconds. The scent of freesias strengthened with every step I took, until I came to a shuddering halt, inches away from the door. A low cry of disbelief ripped from my throat as I stared, transfixed, through the square glass pane in the door, right at the woman who had haunted my heart, mind and soul for every single moment of the last six years. Bella. She was standing half way across the classroom, her back to the whiteboard as she animatedly explained a point to the class in front of her; my Bella, a teacher. I felt an irrational swell of pride at the long brown hair was clipped back from her face, falling in a soft wave over her back. She wore a dark red shirt which contrasted strikingly with her porcelain skin and a black pencil skirt over thick stocking covered legs. She was absolutely breath-taking; still just as beautiful as she had been at eighteen, her looks were now blossomed by adulthood and her body had matured accordingly. My eyes trailed down her form, taking in every curve of her outline… I swallowed, hard. I could hardly believe the fact that she was here, close enough to speak to, to touch, to kiss… I inwardly scolded myself. What on earth was I thinking? There was no way I could even enter that room, let alone interact with Bella in the ways that I wanted to. Although these were the thoughts running through my mind, my body seemed to act completely of its own accord. My hand reached out to turn the door handle, pushing the door open with a loud click. As it did so, Bella’s floral scent hit me like a wall, completely paralysing me where I stood. I watched helplessly, unable to form coherent thoughts as she weaved in and out of students, handing them pieces of paper and firmly but cheerfully bringing order to the class. As she turned she brought her left hand across her cheek to brush some flyaway chocolate coloured strands of hair from her face and my heart leapt as I noticed the absence of a ring on her wedding hand. The joy was short-lived, however, as I reminded myself that Bella had never been one for jewellery. Then, she spoke without looking up from her desk, bringing my outlandish contemplations to an abrupt end. “Adam," she sighed. My eyes glanced over my shoulder before flickering hastily back to her face- I was unwilling to look away from her for even a second- there was nobody behind me, she must have assumed that I was somebody else. "Please don't hover in the doorway, come and-“ The words faded as she raised her gaze to meet mine. I felt myself stop breathing, as I registered the unadulterated shock in her impossibly deep eyes. “Ed-dward,” she breathed and hearing my name in her voice awoke emotions within me that I had not felt for six years. For a few moments- or perhaps they were hours, I couldn’t tell- we just stared at each other as I committed every single detail of her face to memory. I was only dimly aware of the children's thoughts as they watched us, startled by our reactions. Why is Ms Swan staring at him like that? Who is that guy? She looks like she’s going to pass out…

The last one made me stiffen as I looked at Bella with heightened concentration. She did look slightly ill. Perhaps I should go nearer to her, I thought, just in case. I almost laughed at the transparency of my own thoughts; my body was yearning for any excuse to touch her. Then Bella gasped, as if remembering something startling and her lips parted in a sound that drove any rational thoughts straight from my mind. “Bella,” I whispered as I trembled in a way that, although invisible to the human eye, I felt right across my body. I longed to cross the space between us, to take her into my arms and beg for forgiveness, audience be damned, but I was terrified of her response. Surely the look of pure horror contorting her beautiful features was not a sign that she was pleased to see me? I did not know. I was about to speak again, when the door opened behind me again. I heard a man's voice say Bella's name and I turned to see the teacher from before. "Ah, there you are Mr Cullen. Were there any problems with your schedule?" As he spoke to me he ticked my name off of a list on his clipboard, his mind still running off the names of yet to be found new students. -Emily Pope, Laura Ford, James Mitchell, Joe Howard"No sir," I replied politely, cutting off his internal monologue. There certainly hadn't been any 'problems' with my allotted classes; the shock of a life time, perhaps. I turned to look at Bella again, my face now carefully blank as I again took heed of our staring audience. The look in her eyes surprised me; it was a mixture of hurt and mortification. Confused, I automatically listened for her thoughts… before I remembered that I could not hear them. A separation of six years, it seemed, had not been enough to reveal the inner-most workings of her mind to me. I then became aware that I was being addressed and unwillingly dragged my gaze away from Bella. "-suggest you take a seat." My eyes narrowed as the irrational part of me roared in protest at the thought of being ordered away from my Bella, but I managed to silence it. There was nothing I could do now, not in front of a room of unaware humans. And anyway, I thought as I turned to take my seat, even if I could speak to Bella alone, what would I say? If her reaction on seeing me was anything to judge by, she was clearly less than pleased that I was here. She probably hates me for leaving, I thought gloomily. It was a painful conclusion, but not one that surprised me. After all, I had gone back on every single promise I had ever made her when I left Forks. It was beyond foolish to think that she would welcome me back with open arms after such despicable actions. I sunk dejectedly into my seat as I watched Bella stand in front of the class, suddenly extremely self-conscious. She was staring at a spot on the back wall, her eyes determinedly refusing to meet mine. I glanced at the clock; I had about an hour before Recess in which to formulate a plan of action. I sat with a heavy heart, my eyes never leaving Bella's face, as the minutes passed and the lesson inched on towards its inevitable conclusion. Watching Bella teach was delicious torture. On the one hand, it was truly captivating; even though she was clearly shaken by the morning's events, she was a fantastic teacher. As she spoke, the students sat in respectful silence, absorbed in her words. I could tell from their thoughts that even the students who had never read 'Pride and Prejudice' found her lecture interesting and even when Bella told the class to begin reading the novel aloud, a request which usually incurred much protest, the response was surprisingly docile. It was evident that I was not the only person in the room who was entranced by Ms Swan. On the other hand, however, the experience was almost unbearable. To be so close to Bella but have to feign indifference and be unable to speak or interact with her was intolerable. Many times I had to forcibly restrain myself from leaping out of my seat and whisking her from the room, far away from the eyes and inappropriate thoughts of the love-struck teenage boys on the front row. However each time I came close to giving in to such impulses I managed to control myself by looking at Bella. She had not met my eyes since I had first entered the room and hence I had no way of knowing how such advances would be received. With about two minutes to go until the end of the lesson, I saw Bella look at the clock and start to quietly pack her things away, throwing surreptitious glances at the class. I took in the flustered look on her face and the way her eyes kept darting to the door and realized what she was about to do barely seconds before it happened. The bell rang and suddenly Bella was half-way to the door of the classroom. I jumped to my feet, intent on following her but found my way blocked by a crowd of students who were ambling slowly out of the room. My speed constrained by my human façade, by the time I had maneuvered my way to door, Bella was gone. I looked down the hallway hopelessly; there was no sign of her. For a moment I debated whether to track her by her scent, but repressed the urge. What was the point? She clearly did not want to speak to me, and I would not force my presence on her. And anyway, the idea of following her was absurd. I could not even remain in Rochester, not now that I knew Bella was here. I had to leave as soon as possible and preferably before I had had the chance to speak to her; doing so might crumble my resolve altogether. The idea of departing after I had seen her again was excruciating, but I knew that it was the only logical option. I could not, would not subject Bella to the danger of my presence. My plan to protect her had been working so well; I was not going to ruin it all now.

"Hey, Edward!" I heard a voice calling me from down the hall and looked up to see Emmett and Jasper walking towards me. As they drew nearer, a look of surprise crossed Jasper's face. Guilt, lust, pain, excitement, sorrow…Edward, you feel awful… I nodded my head curtly, as I felt my own mixed emotions being projected back at me through Jasper's thoughts. Emmett watched our exchange curiously. "What's going on?" He turned to look at my face, scrutinising, "Edward, are you alright? You look ill." I knew I had no choice but to explain. "It's Bella," I said, my voice labored. They were both silent, but threw each other worried looks; clearly they thought I was hallucinating. "She's here," I continued, "teaching." Emmett's mouth dropped open in shock and Jasper let out a low whistle. What are you going to do? Jasper asked, but I could tell he was already anticipating my response. Leave again? I nodded and closed my eyes as a new wave of hurt swept me, leaning against the wall and clutching my head in my hands. There was silence for a moment, save for the bustle of passing students. And then… "This is excellent!" Emmett grinned happily. I stopped rubbing my temples to look at him incredulously and from the corner of my eye I could see Jasper doing the same thing. "How," I asked bitingly, "is this excellent?" Emmett stared at me as if I was brain damaged. "Edward," he said slowly, "Bella is here. Bella. Remember her? The love of your life?" I growled at him in frustration and turned away, pinching the bridge of my nose as I leaned back against the wall. Jasper took one look at my irate stance and shook his head at Emmett warningly. Emmett's eyes moved between us, his brow furrowed. "Am I missing something here? Bella is back in your life after six years apart. You guys can start over, get back together again. How is this not excellent?" I didn't bother to answer him, knowing he would get there eventually. It didn't surprise me that Emmett could only see the good side of this situation; to him everything was always as simple as right and wrong, black and white and, though I would never admit it, a small part of me envied that perspective. Emmett's eyes widened as comprehension hit him. "Wait a minute," he said, his eyes widening, "you're not going to talk to her? You're going to leave?" I inclined my head in acknowledgment. "Edward, that's insane!" Emmett cried angrily, "What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you ev-" But I stopped listening to Emmett's tirade, as the door opened at the other end of the corridor to reveal…. "Alice," I breathed, and suddenly everything clicked into place. Alice's inexplicable good mood, her blocking her thoughts, her wishes of luck as I'd left the office. She had known. Without thinking, I launched myself in the tiny vampire's direction, weaving through the throng of students as fast as human pretences would allow until I was standing barely inches in front of her. She looked up at me in surprise, her thoughts still blocked, but I could sense a flicker of uncertainty in her otherwise calm face. "Edward, are you al-" "Did you See this?" I snarled, cutting her off roughly. "I-" "I said," I growled, stepping even closer to her, "did you See this?" I could feel my body shaking in anger. Alice looked at me in alarm. I was about to shout at her again, to force her to tell me the truth, when I felt a heavy hand grip my shoulder. I looked up to see Jasper glaring at me, Emmett standing beside him. "Let go of her," Jasper said, a menacing undercurrent to his voice. Surprised, I looked down to see my hands which had unconsciously formed manacles around Alice's wrists. I released her, becoming aware of the relative hush that had fallen over the emptying hallway as the humans had noticed the exchange going on before them. I felt a wave of calm hit me, courtesy of Jasper and I staggered back, dazed. Suddenly the walls of the hallway felt as though they were pressing in on me. My head was pounding as I was overwhelmed by snatches of other peoples' inquisitive and slightly scandalized thoughts, pouring in on me from all angles. I looked at my siblings, who were now watching me.

"Edward," Alice whispered in a voice too low for human ears as Jasper continued to hold on to her protectively, "I knew that your meeting Bella was a possibility, but I wasn't sure when or even if it would happen. I haven't been able to See Bella for years; this vision came from nowhere." She looked at me imploringly and I could hear the truth in her thoughts. However this didn't stop the new rush of anger I felt tugging at the edges of my artificial calm. "Why didn't you tell me?" I asked shakily, my own emotions fighting against the ones Jasper was forcing upon me. "Because I knew you would overreact like this!" She cried, her expression clearly exasperated. I momentarily felt the anger within me come to the forefront again, as I snarled at her, "This is not an overreaction Alice; this is a perfectly legitimate response! You had no right to keep this from me, you-" Alice glared at me, her eyes narrowing. "Edward, when we left Forks you ordered me not to look into Bella's future. I did as I was asked. You told me that I wasn't allowed to visit, write to or contact Bella in anyway. Again, I obeyed your wishes. I effectively left my best friend behind for dead-" I growled angrily at the word, but she continued regardless, "and left my home and my life behind. Don't you dare tell me what I do and do not have a 'right' to do." Without thinking, I took a step towards her again, only to find Emmett blocking my path. He looked taken aback at my aggression, but resolute nonetheless. "Stop it, Edward," he said quietly, "quit taking it out on Alice. This isn't her fault." I looked at him, ready to argue… then felt myself slump; Emmett was right, of course he was. I felt guilty and more than a little ashamed at my outburst, but my anger was still such that I was unable to think straight. "I n-need to get out of here," I stuttered, the words coming out uncharacteristically jarred and awkward. My entire body trembling, I turned, the crowd parting swiftly as I fled from the hallway, leaving my family in my wake. It was in the early hours of the next morning when I finally returned to the house. After I had run out of school, I had taken the car and driven along the highway to the colossal Adirondack Park, a couple of hundred miles away from the city. There I had brooded and prepared myself for the inevitable onslaught I would receive from my siblings on returning home. I knew that they had many reasons to be angry with me, least of all the fact that I had left them stranded at school without a car, but it still took me many hours to prepare myself for their fury. I could hear my family's thoughts and conversation as drove up the driveway leading to the house and it was only once I had shut the car door and mounted the steps into the house that they ceased. I walked into the living room to find them all waiting there in their couples on the various sofas and chairs. As I turned to enter, they all looked at me, their faces annoyed and, in the case of Esme and Carlisle, concerned. I was reminded irresistibly of the time I had returned to the house after saving Bella's life from Tyler's truck; my reception had been similarly mixed then. I turned to face Alice who was sitting on the floor by the couch, leaning against Jasper's legs. "Alice, I'm sorry," I said plainly and sincerely, "I shouldn't have shouted at you earlier, it was inexcusable." I raised my eyes to meet Jasper's and offered my apologies to him, which he accepted charitably. Then I turned so I was also addressing the others. "I'm also sorry to all of you for leaving school this morning, I realize that it was rash and selfish and I hope you can forgive me. Furthermore, I'd-" "Edward," Emmett interrupted, "shut up." "-like to... wait, what?" "I said, shut up. We don't want to hear you apologize and we don't give a damn about the stupid car. All we want to know is whether you've made a sensible," he put a real emphasis on the word, "decision about what to do about Bella." "I… I-" I stuttered, thrown by Emmett's words. "And it better not be that you're going to leave again-," Alice interjected from her spot on the floor. "-because that would come under the category of 'incredibly stupid', not sensible," Emmett completed. I stared at both of them disbelievingly but they just looked back at me levelly. What? Emmett thought, Did you seriously think we were going to stand by and let you screw this up again without putting up a fight?

I scowled and turned away from him. "Leaving is the only option." This sparked a chorus of protest from all my siblings, but Alice was loudest. "It's not the only option you complete piece of-" she completed the sentence with a stream of insults "Alice," Esme murmured reproachfully from the couch where she sat with Carlisle. "Sorry Esme, but somebody needed to say it." She narrowed her eyes and looked back at me. "Edward, you need to think this through properly." I snapped. "Don't you think I have? Do you really think that I'd rather leave her forever than stay here with Bella? I've been running alternate options through my head all day, but this is the one that is best." "Best for whom, you or Bella?" I glared at Alice. "Bella, of course." What was she trying to say? "Really, Edward? In my opinion, your leaving again is anything but good for Bella. From what I Saw, she has barely recovered from our leaving the first time. How do you think she'll react if you leave again?" "But it's too dangerous," I said. She ignored this comment. "Personally," she said, continuing as if she had not heard me," I think that you only want to leave because you're scared." "Scared?!" I exploded, "Scared of what, exactly?" "Of being with Bella again, of admitting that you were wrong in the first place and that you've wasted the last six years of your life for nothing." I grimaced and turned away from Alice, running a hand through my hair distractedly. "You and Bella are meant to be Edward! Haven't you stopped to wonder why, of all the towns in the country, Bella chose to work here in Rochester? Or that your paths crossed again? It's Fate, Edward; you and Bella are destined to be together and sooner or later you'll have to accept that." She sank back against Jasper's legs and folded her arms, unfolding them only to receive a congratulatory high five from Emmett. I turned to face Carlisle. "What do you think?" I asked and everyone fell respectfully silent. He thought over his words carefully before he spoke. "It's up to you, Edward," he said quietly, and I saw Alice open her mouth to protest before Carlisle held up a hand to silence her. "But," he continued, surveying me carefully, "I think that, in a sense, Alice is right. I believe that you should stay, at least long enough to determine how Bella feels about you and establish what her situation in life is." I'm sorry Edward, he thought, but I've watched you suffer for too long. I just want you to be happy. I felt my shoulders fall wearily; I suddenly felt very tired and beleaguered. "But I'm a monster," I said quietly, "Bella is better off without me and I don't even know if she still feels the same way; she probably hates me for leaving." I could hear the thoughts of my family as they objected to these words, but I took no heed. As far as I was concerned, they were the honest truth. Then suddenly Rosalie stirred in her chair and looked directly at me, engaging in the discussion for the first time. 'Oh for God's sake Edward, get a grip," she said tartly, "this isn't the Edward Cullen pity party. Either you leave or you stay, but whatever you do please just stop going on about it; we've had this conversation non-stop for the last six years and I'm bored of hearing the same thing. You aren't a monster and yes, Bella," she said the name with distaste, "probably is better off without you, but she almost certainly doesn't see it that way. She worshipped the ground you walked on; I doubt six years could change that level of devotion." She sighed and looked away from me to examine her nails, "Anyway,I want to stay here; I'm bored of moving house." This pronouncement left a stunned silence, as everybody gaped at Rosalie. She looked up from inspecting her fingertips to see the entire family staring at her and rolled her eyes. "Oh please," she said in a bored voice, "I may have no very cordial feelings towards the girl, but that doesn't mean I want to subject myself to an eternity of Edward's whining." Emmett laughed at these words and kissed Rosalie's

cheek, his eyes dancing as he looked at me. Come on Edward, Even Rose thinks we should stay. I looked from him to Alice and Jasper then back to Carlisle, before my eyes fell on Esme and I felt a jolt. She was staring at me with a pained expression, her eyes pleading. Please Edward, she thought imploringly, please let us stay. I want to see Bella, I want you to be happy, and I want my family to be whole again. Please. I felt my resolve crumble as I realized how much leaving Bella had cost Esme. There was no way I could put her through that again. I took a deep breath. "Fine," I said reluctantly, "we'll stay." I tried to continue, but was drowned out by a loud whoop from Emmett as he punched his fist in the air and Alice springing up to throw her arms around my waist in a tight hug. "Oh Edward!" she exclaimed, "This is the right decision, I know it," she let go of me, screwing up her face in concentration, "I… I can See us going to school tomorrow and… Bella will be there, but…that's all I'm certain of." She sighed, "I think it'll take a while for me to be able to See her properly again, but I'll keep trying." Jasper stood and rubbed Alice's shoulders consolingly. "You've made the right decision Edward," Esme said quietly, coming to my side and stroking my arm consolingly. I tried to reply, but faltered slightly, unsure of how to voice my concerns. "It's just… what if she doesn't want to be with me anymore?" I did not meet any of the others eyes when I said this; I felt embarrassed to even admit how unsure I was. Perhaps Alice was right; I was scared, but only of Bella's feelings towards me. Despite my years, I suddenly felt seventeen again- insecure, vulnerable, scared. My family's thoughts were comforting: Of course she'll still want to be with you- Bella loves you- You are meant to be together- but Emmett was the only one who spoke. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "you'll just have to seduce her." The others laughed and I raised my eyebrows at him. "Seduce her?" "Sure," he continued, ignoring the chuckles from the rest of the family, "Y'know, be charming, show her how wonderful you are, do a bit of dazzling." Emmett grinned as Jasper snorted at the word. I had never lived down the fact that Bella had referred to my supernatural powers of attracting prey as 'dazzle'. "It will work," Emmett said confidently, "Bella loves you and is attracted to you. No matter how she feels now, she's sure to come around with a bit of persuasion." I looked from Emmett's calmly convinced face to those of the others before silently glancing at the clock on the wall. 6.00 am There were two hours to go before I faced Bella again, two hours before I laid my heart on the line in the attempts to win her back. I breathed deeply as watched the clock hands move around. It was time to seduce Ms Swan.

Chapter 4

It was immeasurably hard to bring myself to go to school the next day A/N- We're back to Bella's PoV for this chapter guys. The lyrics at the beginning are from 'Don't Speak' by No Doubt. Don't speak I know what you're thinking I don't need your reasons Don't tell me cause it hurts

When I first woke up next morning, it took me a full minute to remember why I felt so awful. Every part of my body ached as though I had been fighting in armed combat; my eyes stung from the salt of dried tears and my throat was painfully dry. At first I tried to remember what nightmare I had been having that had caused such extreme fatigue, before the previous day's events came rushing back to me with sickening clarity. The Cullens back in Rochester; Edward in my classroom as he took a seat, a student in my class "Ugh," I groaned as I rolled onto my side and screwed my eyes tight in the vain hope that if I kept them shut I would go back to sleep and the day would stop happening. Unfortunately, the lack of sight seemed to give my over-active mind more space to wander and the memories resumed with a heightened fervour. Edward in my classroom, the light glinting off his bronze hair and his honey eyes gleaming as he whispered my name… I wrenched open my eyelids and sat up straight. "Stop it," I admonished myself in a hoarse voice, "stop thinking about him." The pictures ceased and for a fleeting moment I felt triumphant… until I remembered that I was arguing with my own subconscious. Resigned to the fact that I was clearly headed for full-blown insanity, I reluctantly forced myself out of bed and got ready for work. I could not silence my thoughts forever, however, and it wasn't long before I again found them dwelling on Edward. Where was he now? How would he have explained his sudden departure to the school? To his family? And, the question whose answer I cared about the most, was he thinking of me? It was a silly hope and mostly unfounded but one that I could not ignore all the same. Call it wishful thinking, but I thought I had seen a glimmer of emotion in Edward's eyes beyond ordinary surprise yesterday. Not enough to satisfy my desires by any account, but I was sure that Edward had been more affected by our meeting than he had let on. Could it be that he had missed me, even slightly? Or, I hardly dared to even think it, that he harbored regrets about leaving me? I looked at myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, feeling slightly more hopeful. But then I felt my convictions ebb away as quickly as they had come as I looked at my reflection again. My hair was dull and unmanageable; my skin was blotchy and there were dark circles under my eyes that no amount of cover-up could ever conceal. I looked a mess. Of course Edward didn't love me or indeed feel anything towards me; if he did then he would have said something to me yesterday; he would have followed when I left the classroom; in fact, he never would have left in the first place. I was plain and ordinary, painfully so, and it was delusional to think that someone like me could ever be fitting for someone like Edward. The honest truth was that if Edward really loved me then he never would have left. He did not want me; he had said so in the forest and no amount of fantasizing on my part could ever reverse those words. By the time I had reached work, I was completely convinced of Edward's indifference towards me and as I got off of the bus and headed across the snowy parking lot I was idly wondering where he and his family would go next. I had just settled on Canada, when I saw them. Emmett, Rosalie, Alice and Jasper were standing on the other side of the parking lot, engaged in what looked like a serious discussion. I stood gawking on the spot, unable to look away. I was almost as surprised by seeing them as I had been by Edward the day before. What were they still doing here? I had been so certain that they would have left Rochester immediately after learning of my presence; yet here they were, their familiar faces as unnaturally beautiful and eye-catching as ever. However, Edward, I suddenly realized, was not present. I quickly threw a sweeping glance over my surroundings, but there was no sign of him. What does this mean? I asked myself, but I was at a loss to answer. Of course, Edward could have left without his family, but I doubted that that was the case. The Cullens were a united entity; where one went the rest followed. I had learnt that to my peril in Forks. I looked back to the others who were still talking. I dithered for a while over whether I should approach them or simply keep walking, when my decision was suddenly made for me. Their conversation ended abruptly as Emmett looked over Alice's head and saw me. He murmured something to the other three and they too stared at me, silently. My face suddenly felt very hot and I turned away quickly, embarrassed. I didn't feel up to discussing why their brother had deserted them, if that was indeed what he had done. Sure that they would not follow me, I scurried away to my first class which was, thankfully, the other side of campus. The rest of the day passed without sightings of the Cullens. As I moved through my lessons one by one I felt myself settle comfortably back into the swing of school life. This is how the first day of the semester should have gone, I thought as I set assignments and answered questions with surprising ease. Now that Edward was gone I could focus again and I found myself actually able to relax. Even the discovery that I had the juniors- Edward's class- again after Lunch could not put me off and I left the staff room in a comparatively good mood. As I turned the corridor into Block 12, however, I came to a sudden halt. I thought I had seen a flash of bronze by the door into my classroom… but no, that was impossible. I was just imagining things again. I shook my hair out of my eyes, took a deep breath and

walked through the door... only to find myself freeze again. Edward was sitting in the same seat he had yesterday, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, apparently oblivious to the blatant stares he was receiving from every single female student in the room. As I stood there in a state of supreme shock, he looked around and our eyes met. For a fraction of a second it felt as though he was trying to communicate something through his gaze, but before I could be sure he looked away again. I shakily made my way to my seat. I was absolutely dumfounded. I had been so certain that he would leave; not once had it occurred to me that he might stay. What was he still doing here? Why hadn't he left like last time? My mind went into overdrive as I examined every plausible reason for Edward's sustained presence, but none seemed to fit. The only conclusion I could draw was that, for some incomprehensible reason, Edward felt that he had some 'unfinished business' where I was concerned. That did not bode well at all for me and my mind was filled with dread. The lesson passed in another haze. On seeing Edward all my confidence of the morning had swiftly evaporated, to be replaced by a sick feeling of confusion and uncertainty. While I lectured the class on Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcys' love, my thoughts were really focusing on my own feelings for Edward. I continually stole glances at him from the corner of my eye, looking away as soon as he spotted me. The whole situation was becoming almost comical in its childishness. As the last five minutes of the lesson inched past and I gave the class their next assignment, I came to a decision. I would not wait around to find out why Edward had stayed in Rochester; I doubted that I could even speak to him without crying. Without the element of surprise, it would be harder to successfully execute a repeat of yesterday's swift escape from the classroom, but I had to try nonetheless. The bell rang and the entire class suddenly got to its feet. They surged towards the door in an unruly rabble, talking and laughing very loudly. Even without looking, I could sense that Edward, restrained by human speed, was stuck behind the mob. I had to leave before he had the chance to speak to me. I wrestled with my bag, trying to stuff my possessions in as quickly as possible but managing to get my coat caught up in the zip in the process. Hurry hurry hurry! My brain screamed. If I didn't get out in the next few seconds then everything was lost. Edward would undoubtedly corner me and then what would I do? I winced- it was excruciating just thinking about a conversation with Edward; time for a speedy exit. I finally got my bag closed with a triumphant 'Ha!' and I looked up. It was too late. Unnoticed by me in my fight with the bag, the entire classroom had emptied of students… except one. Edward was standing by the door, his body hard and rigid like he had been carved from stone. I instantly felt my heart rate speed up and cursed myself; he would be able to hear every beat. I glanced at the door and then back at his still figure, judging my chances of escape. Perhaps if I just strode past him without looking him in the eyes, he would let me go without comment. Deciding it was my only hope, I steeled myself and walked towards the door, my eyes set firmly upon the corridor ahead. For a few incredulous moments, it actually seemed to be working. I was almost three feet from the door and he hadn't spoken yet. With a thrill of relief, I speeded up my pace. Three steps, two, on"Bella," his voice murmured. I felt my hope shatter into pieces. Unwillingly, I let my eyes drag to meet his and was again struck by the unadulterated perfection of his appearance. It was just so unfair that anyone could be so incredibly good-looking, I thought to myself, as my eyes gorged themselves on every minute detail of his beautiful form. "Hello Edward," I breathed as I tore my eyes away from him. There was no way I could avoid a conversation with him now; my only hope was to make it as brief as possible. There was an awkward pause, before he broke the silence. "How have you been?" he asked, hesitantly. I stared at him, incredulity etched over every inch of my face. How did he think I had been? Either he was just being polite, or he really had no idea about how he had destroyed me. Or perhaps it was just more comfortable for him to pretend that I had never really been that obsessed. He cleared his throat quietly and I suddenly realized that I still had not answered his question. AWFUL! I wanted to scream, I want you, I love you, why did you have to leave me? "Fine," I answered. Basic manners forced me to extend the question to him and he replied similarly. Our stilted conversation continued for a couple more minutes as we enquired after each other's families. My embarrassment coupled with the chaotic emotions I felt when I looked at Edward made it very hard for me to engage in the conversation. To make it even more difficult he was constantly gazing searchingly at me with unnervingly intensity and I found it very hard to meet his eyes for longer than a few seconds. It was not until the topic changed and I asked him where he had been living before Rochester that I forgot to feel awkward.

"Siberia?!" I exclaimed, astonished. That was definitely not one of the answers I had been expecting him to give. I immediately began to wonder why he had chosen somewhere so very far away… until, with a feeling of mortification, I understood. Siberia is the furthest place away from me. The thought that Edward was so desperate to put distance between us that he felt the need to travel half way across the globe was nearly enough to send me into another nervous breakdown. I did not trust myself to speak again lest I descended into tears and therefore determinedly refrained from looking at him, instead choosing to play morosely with the corner of my sleeve, all the while internally wondering when Edward would let me go, ending this ordeal. Unfortunately however, he seemed unable to take a hint. "Uh, Bella," he said, his velvety voice halting, "I… well, what I mean to say is…" Against my better judgement, I looked up at him curiously. Edward had never had difficulty in expressing himself before; even in the tensest of moments words had always come easily to him. I wondered what had changed. I watched as he took a deep breath and tried again. "Well, basically Bella, we need to talk." I felt my body shut down at once at his words; they reminded me forcibly of the ones he had said that night in Forks before he had discarded me forever. And then suddenly, with a rush of dreadful certainty, I made the connection; he was going to do it again. For whatever reason, leaving Rochester to get away from me had not been a viable option for him and now he was going to resort to the only other way of protecting himself from me: reiterating the sentiments he had left me with six years ago. I knew he was just seconds away from reminding me of his lack of feelings… and suddenly, I realized that I didn't want to hear it. Not now, not after all these years. I knew he didn't love me; I didn't need to hear him confirm it. Hearing the words again would be infinitely more painful than just accepting them and surely there was only so much damage one heart could take, before I broke into pieces altogether? "Please Edward," I said, not quite managing to hide the pleading tone of my voice, "don't do this." His eyebrows knitted and he looked at me, perplexed. “But Bella, I have to-“ "No, you don't." Why was he so determined to break my heart again? Did he really think that I could have forgotten his parting words of rejection? The very idea was ludicrous. "But Bella," Edward continued with a confused but determined look on his beautiful face. His resolute countenance told me that I couldn't fight him forever and racked my brains for words that would persuade him that I was not going to try and rekindle our relationship. "Please Edward," I implored, my chest aching with anticipation of the seemingly inevitable agony of being rejected, again, “I know what you’re about to say and I don’t want to hear it. I can’t honestly say that I feel the same way and I’m truly sorry for that, but I accept that it’s how you feel and I’ll try my hardest not to make things awkward for you,” I paused slightly, before adding, dishonestly, "It's been six years and I've moved on, so can we please just put it all behind us?" The lie rolled off of my tongue with shocking ease. It made no difference if I had six years or six hundred; I would never move on from Edward. "Bella, I don't think you understand me," he persisted, his low voice harried. I started to feel a slight flush of irritation. Of course I understood him, did he really feel the need to spell out his repulsion syllable by syllable? "On the contrary," I replied, "I understand you perfectly." He did not immediately reply and I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. However when I looked back to his face the emotions there surprised me. Whilst I had expected him to look relieved at my words, his reaction made absolutely no sense to me. He was staring at me with a mixture of frustration and- if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn it was- hurt? But that was absurd; how could anything I had to say possibly have that sort of effect on Edward? He continued to stare at me relentlessly and I began to feel very uncomfortable. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea whether my mental 'barrier' to his abilities was still in effect; he could be listening to my thoughts at this very moment. I had to find out- I had nothing to lose; if he could hear my thoughts then he would have already learnt of my continued longing for him. Edward, I thought, slightly hesitantly; I had never communicated with him like this

before; I still love you. I always have and always will and I wish with all my heart that you felt the same away. I held my breath, scrutinising his face to see whether he had heard me. There was no reaction. My relief was tinged with a faint feeling of disappointment as I came to the conclusion that my thoughts were still as indecipherable to him as they were when I was a teenager. Edward spoke again, forcing me to meet his eyes once more. “Are you sure this is how you really feel?” he asked. His velvety voice was restrained, but his eyes continued to bore into me with a strange sort of urgency. The question surprised me. Why did he care whether it was true or not; surely his only concern was that I would not attempt to pursue him now our paths had crossed once more? However although I didn't understand his reasons behind the question, I knew one thing for certain concerning my answer: I had to set him free. I had to assure him, once and for all, that I had absolutely no expectations of him. Forcing myself not to cry, I stared him doggedly in the face and spoke, my voice slow and measured. "Yes, it is." As soon as the words had left my lips I felt the familiar ripping pains through the fault line in my chest. I hunched slightly and wrapped my arms tightly around my torso, but despite the consequences I felt no desire to retract my statement. It was done; there was no going back. The agony in my chest was placated slightly by the fact that I had given Edward a chance at happiness because I valued his contentment more than anything and, although it killed me, I was glad that he at least didn't seem to have gone through the hell I had for the past six years. However although my feelings may have been the height of benevolence, my body did not react accordingly and I felt my eyes fill with the hot tears I had so far been repressing. Damn you Bella! I berated myself, you can’t cry in front of him; it’ll ruin everything! I couldn’t stand it any longer; I had to get away. Not daring to spare him another glance, I sidestepped Edward and walked hurriedly past him, heading for the door. In my haste I managed to catch the heel of my shoe on the leg of a desk; I prepared myself for the inevitable crash… but it didn’t come. A deliciously familiar pair of strong arms stopped my fall and snaked around my waist, encasing in me in a protective embrace. I spun around to see Edward looking slightly surprised at his own actions, as though he had acted without thought. I expected him to release me immediately, repulsed or at least be slightly embarrassed by our sudden proximity. I was shocked, therefore, by the look on his face. For a second, it almost looked as though he was making some sort of internal decision. Then his brow smoothed, the corners of his lips curled up in his lusciously familiar crooked smile and his eyes began to smoulder. I could feel my body freeze as he took another step towards me, completely closing the distance between us and causing our bodies to press against each other. Oh my God. I couldn’t think, I could hardly breathe; all I could see was Edward. His chest and shoulders, so perfectly defined; his scintillating skin, the wayward locks of his bronze hair falling casually into his eyes… oh my God, his eyes. Even if my mind had been able to form sentences, there weren't words to describe the way he was currently looking at me. If it hadn't been for his support I surely would have collapsed, melting into a blithering pool of liquid on the floor. Deep inside me I felt an impulse, from the only rational part of my mind that was still functioning, telling me to get away. This is wrong Bella, he's your student, you'll lose your job, you'll get arrested! The last one registered the most strongly. Hard as it was to believe, to the human eye, Edward was underage and therefore most definitely 'off limits'. It was unwise for me to spend any length of time alone with him outside class, let alone in such exceedingly compromising positions. The sensible part of me was screaming for me to run… but it was incredibly hard to do anything when he was looking at me in such an erotic way. I cringed; hoping the words 'erotic' and 'student' would never again occupy the same thoughts in my mind. The jeopardy of the situation was just beginning to fully dawn on me and my excitement was giving way to terror, when things were suddenly taken completely out of my hands. "Bella," Edward whispered, his sweet breath caressing my face. And then it was all over. Something inside of me snapped and I leaned in even closer as though magnetically drawn to him. Through my shirt I could feel a low rumble building up in his chest, making my entire body buzz. Our faces were now nearly touching; it would be so easy to close the distance, bringing my mouth to his to claim those perfect lips once more… I breathed in his heady scent and closed my eyes, leaning even closer in the search of breathtaking oblivion…

Without warning, Edward ripped from my grasp with a bone-shattering force and sped across the room, coming to a halt by the window. I felt the rejection as hard as if I had been hit by a speeding truck. My muscles locked into place as I tried to fight the feeling of my insides being ripped apart. I staggered to my desk, gripping the side for support to prevent me from falling over. YOU IDOT, my thoughts screamed, what the HELL were you THINKING? He doesn't love you Bella! I should have known and I wanted to slap myself for being so damn ridiculous. I was nothing to Edward anymore; I was just an inconvenient reminder from his past, an embarrassing mistake he'd rather forget about. How desperate must I look to him now? I felt the tears begin to fall the shame and horror of what I had just done washed over me. I brushed them away furiously and turned my face away from Edward. In fact, I was so busy trying to ignore him that I didn't hear the banging on the door until the fourth or fifth knock. "Y-yes?" I stuttered, blinking back my tears as I turned to see the door open. It was Emily Demarco, a leggy senior with brown eyes and long black hair. "Uh, hi Ms Swan," she began in her thick Bronx accent, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I've got a question about today's assignment…" her voice trailed off as her eyes began to trace Edward's profile appreciatively. Despite my prior humiliation, I still felt a flash of unreasonable jealousy at the way she was looking at him. I cleared my throat and Emily turned back to face me immediately, slightly embarrassed. "You aren't interrupting anything Emily," I said, my voice cold and my gaze firmly away from Edward, "Mr Cullen was just about to leave." From behind me I heard him begin to protest. "No, wait, I-" "That will be all, please close the door on your way out," I said to the air, without looking at Edward. The steely attitude I had suddenly adopted was just a front- a coping mechanism to deal with the pain of his rejection- but it was necessary in order to conceal my despair from Edward. I could hear him pause behind me, as though making a decision, and then I felt him sweep past me silently. He stopped again in the doorway and I could feel his eyes upon me but I continued to stare unseeingly at the floor. After a few seconds he turned and left, slamming the door behind him. I winced at the noise and saw my grip tighten on the edge of the desk until my knuckles were white with the strain. With a deep breath I forced myself to look up to face Emily, who looked at me with astonished eyes. "So Emily," I said jerkily, each word a supreme effort, "how can I help you?"

Chapter 5 Set me free, leave me be Disclaimer: Twilight and all its associated characters, places and events belong to Stephenie Meyer. This is just a work of fanfiction and no copyright infringement is intended. The short extract in italics towards the beginning is taken from p.285 of the British version of Twilight. Chapter Song: Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet by Relient K No, I don't hate you don't want to fight you know I'll always love you but right now I just don't like you cause you took this too far My encounter with Edward in the classroom had proved many things; most importantly that I was incapable of being in his presence without completely losing my head. It was blatantly obvious that because of my embarrassing lack of self-control, any contact whatsoever between us was unwise. Therefore I had to make the only logical decision available to me in order to keep my job, sanity and integrity; I had to keep as far away from Edward as possible. And so began the first of several weeks of purposefully avoiding Edward. Whereas before I had rarely entered the staffroom, preferring to spend my breaks outside, it soon became my refuge as the only place I could be sure of not seeing Edward. When I was forced to leave my sanctuary to attend lessons I took unpredictable routes across the school, sticking to the corridors which I suspected Edward was least likely to use. I even went so far as to procure a copy of Edward's timetable, surreptitiously downloaded from the school system, so that I could plan my journeys around his location on campus.

If I was determined to steer clear of Edward, however, it was nothing compared to his apparent yearning to get me alone again. Despite all my carefully planned movements, he attempted to corner on several occasions in between classes. Each time I managed to get away- usually by darting into the staffroom or surrounding myself by people, rendering all real conversation impossible- but my escapes were getting narrower with each passing day. I was even cautious at home. I wasn't sure if Edward's determination to contact me would extend to cornering me outside of school, but I took extra precautions nevertheless. I ensured that my windows were permanently kept locked and shut and I rarely went out of the house except for absolute essentials, such as groceries. I spent a lot of time sitting in my living room peering out of the window, diving for cover if I saw the glint of a silver car turn the corner onto my street. More often than not it turned out to be nothing more than your usual run-of-the-mill businessman on his way for work, but a couple of times I thought that I saw the flash of an exceptionally shiny sports car as it charged, extraordinarily fast, past my apartment and down the road. And then there were the phone calls. The first time it happened was at ten thirty at night, after a blissfully Edwardfree sunny day at school. I was in the shower when the phone rang and by the time I had got out, almost falling and cracking my head open against the hand basin in the process, the call had clicked on to the answering machine. At first I thought the machine had broken; the red light was flickering, indicating that a message was being left, but there was no voice coming from the speakers. When I listened harder, however, I realised that I could hear the telltale sounds that signified a person on the other end. The machine continued to record for about five minutes until the caller eventually hung up. I tried to tell myself not jump to conclusions and decided that it could just have been a malfunction… until it happened again and again; every single night at the same time, the phone would ring and ring, finally clicking onto the answering machine. The caller never spoke or left any real message, he just waited in silence. Of course, I had no real way of knowing that it was Edward. It could have been anybody and, had I been anybody else, I would have been slightly freaked out by the silent messages. After all, for all I knew they could have been from a prospective burglar trying to find out if the apartment was empty. And yet I wasn't afraid. I actually got some comfort out of thinking that Edward rang me every night; if I tried hard enough I could even delude myself that he was ringing for reasons other than the fact that he wanted to re-break up with me. My powers of delusion were not quite strong enough to persuade me to speak to Edward, however, and I didn't once pick up the phone. I got into the habit of always letting it go to the answering message before I answered it, something which drove Jacob to absolute distraction. Since Edward's return he had taken to ringing me three or four times a day. He tried to convince me otherwise, but it was transparently obvious that he was checking that I wasn't reengaging in a passionate love affair with Edward Cullen. Indeed, after the first couple of days he even stopped bothering to provide phoney reasons for the incessant calls and began to ask straight-out whether I had spoken to Edward. About two and a half weeks after the start of term, on a Monday night on the thirty-eighth time this happened, I finally lost my temper. "Jacob Black, I swear if you ask me that question ONE MORE TIME I'm going to come back to Forks and ram this phone-" "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Jacob replied hastily, "Sheesh woman, I'm just looking after you!" "I don't need looking after!" I growled, moodily kicking the wall and then regretting it as pain shot up my leg. "I'm twenty..four..years…old," I gasped, wincing against the pain, "and I don't need to be baby-sat, least of all by an overgrown puppy-dog who lives thousands of miles away!" There was a silence and I immediately felt a pang of guilt. "Sorry Jake," I mumbled, "that was harsh, but for once I just want you to let me fight my own battles. This is just Edward we're talking about-" "-Yeah, a bloodthirsty, deserting, heart-breaking, life-ruining vampire-" "-who has never been a danger to me," I completed, choosing to forget about our first ever meeting in Biology. Jacob snorted; clearly he didn't agree. "Please Jacob," I sighed, "my life is stressful enough without having this same argument ever single day. Just trust me when I tell you that I'm staying well clear of Edward, okay?" He grumbled some more but finally agreed to "tone down the phone-calling; Embry reckons I'm a stalker," and hung up. I sighed exhaustedly and turned away from the phone, massaging my temples as I headed for my room. Before I had moved three steps however, the phone rang me. I swore loudly as I lunged for the handset. "SERIOUSLY Jacob, I wasn't joking about the phone! WHAT DO YOU WANT N-" I froze, mid-sentence. My eyes had just fallen on the digital clock on the answering machine-22.30.

Oh no. A feeling of absolute horror wound itself in an icy grip around my throat as I heard a velvety voice speak startled, from the other end. "Bella?" Without thinking, I slammed the phone down on the hook with such force that the machine fell to the floor, nearly ripping the plug from the wall. Shakily, I bent down to replace the handset to its original place and took a couple of steps backwards, my eyes never leaving the phone. Well at least you know it isn't a burglar, a voice inside of my head said. I was slightly shocked by my own reaction; my body had acted as though by reflex. As I stared at the phone, it began to ring again. I backed away from it, stopping only when my path was obstructed by the sofa, which I fell on with relief. After what felt like an eternity, the ringing stopped and the red RECORDING light flashed on. I waited with baited breath, unsure whether he would speak again or just continue to breathe. I strained my ears, searching for some sort of sound. And then I heard it. Playing very faintly in the background was a familiar piece of piano music… I gasped in shock and fell forward off of the sofa onto my knees, transfixed, as I stared at the small black answering machine. Strains of a melody I had not heard for years came filtering from the box and suddenly I was transported through miles and years to a cold, misty day and a beautiful boy with a piano… The music slowed, transforming into something softer, and to my surprise I detected the melody of his lullaby weaving through the profusion of notes. "You inspired this one," he said softly. The music grew unbearably sweet. I felt a sob rip from my chest as the tears I had not noticed build began to fall down my cheeks in earnest. My lullaby, he's playing my lullaby. I couldn't believe it; it was like I had wandered into a dream. The notes spiralled from the speakers and blossomed into the room, simultaneously ripping apart my heart and soothing my pain. I hadn't heard my lullaby since I had listened to the CD he had made me for my 18th birthday, just hours before he had left me forever. Yet here I was sitting on the cold floor of my apartment as the music filled every corner of the otherwise silent room with its sweet tones. I felt a sudden yearning to hear Edward's voice again, to speak to him and tell him how much I loved him. I tentatively leant forward to take the phone, but just as my fingertips brushed the cord the song came to an end, breaking me from my trance. I stayed still, barely daring to breathe, waiting for him to say something, anything, which might explain his actions. There was a long pause, before the answering machine finally clicked off. I sat there in the sudden screaming silence. Edward played my lullaby. What did it mean? Why, of all the songs in the world, did he play my lullaby to me? Could it mean… but no, I didn't even dare to let myself think the words. I couldn't bear to, not after the way he had shirked from my embrace two weeks ago. He did not care for me; that much was certain. But then why was he going to such lengths to imply the otherwise? Why does he have to make this so hard? Perhaps Edward had no idea of the significance the lullaby held for me; perhaps it was just another song to him among thousands of such compositions. That must be the explanation; none other made sense. My mind was full of questions as I undressed for bed and, when I finally got to sleep, I slept troubled dreams that were haunted by music and gleams of topaz. Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, which was a comfort to my nerves, which were already in tatters after the events of the previous night. I made my way into school feeling more confident than usual; I had high hopes of the sun lasting right through to the afternoon and thus eliminating the chance of an awkward meeting with Edward. By fourth period, however, it became clear that this particular Wednesday was not destined to be my lucky day when the sunshine was replaced by fat, grumbling thunder clouds. Fantastic, I thought resentfully as I walked across campus to my lesson with the juniors, using my folder to shield myself from the rain. It was clear that there was to be no evading Edward today and, sure enough, I reached class to find him and most of the other students already present. I ignored the inevitable pain in my chest that the sight of Edward incurred and, in a sequence that had become numbingly familiar over the last couple of weeks, I did not pay him anymore attention whilst I set the class their work. Today they were doing a timed essay on the character of 'Lady Catherine De Bourgh' and her importance in the novel- a task which, considering the amount of preparation they had had, should have been simple. However, judging by their frantic looks and panic-stricken expressions, most of the class did not share my view. I was sure that Edward would be an exception, but I did not allow myself the luxury of surveying his face to check. Instead, I cleared my throat to silence the outbreak of anxious chattering and addressed the class. "Alright everybody, settle down. You have one hour to complete this task, after which I will collect in your

essays for grading, so give it your best shot and no talking please. There's paper on the front desk if you need it; you may start now." There was a feverish rustle as pens were uncapped, notepads recovered and texts thumbed through. Then the room fell silent except for the scratch of pens and occasional cough. I settled into my chair and prepared myself for a quiet lesson of marking homework assignments. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw someone move. I looked up to see Edward getting to his feet and pushing his chair underneath his desk before he padded towards me, silent as a cat. I stiffened in my chair, my pen freezing in mid air, the ghost of a 'B' grade hanging from the nib as it hovered over the paper. I drew a deep breath and tore my eyes from Edward, jerkily beginning to write again. Perhaps he's just getting some paper, I thought hopefully, ignoring the unopened notepad sitting on his desk. I kept stared at the paper, not really seeing a word as I waited for something to happen. I could feel Edward focus his eyes on me as he positioned himself with his back to the rest of the class and leant forwards in the pretence of taking a sheet of paper from my desk. In the process his hand brushed mine and I recoiled, again feeling the familiar surge of electricity that signified his touch. I had to fight my hands as they attempted to reach out and touch him, as though magnetised. With great effort, I pushed my chair away from the desk in the futile attempt to create distance between us. There was nowhere for me to run now; I was well and truly cornered. My only hope lay in the twenty silent working students before us. Surely Edward would not be so crazy as to create a scene in front of so many witnesses? I suddenly felt extremely uneasy. "What are you doing?" I hissed, internally praying that none of the students would look up from their work. "I need to talk to you," Edward replied in a purr so low it was barely comprehensible. I looked at him incredulously. Had he never heard the phrase 'time and place'? Apparently not. "Not now, Edward," I whispered frantically, failing to keep the panic out of my voice. If I wasn't careful I would start hyperventilating. He looked at me angrily. "Then when? You've been ignoring me in class, you haven't answered my phone calls and you run away every time I approach you. When am I supposed to talk to you?" I looked at him, wordlessly; I could not believe we were having this conversation. We had already talked, and look how that had turned out. He had run away from me, not the other way around. "There's nothing more for us to talk about," I finally managed to choke out. I had already said that I wouldn't pursue his affections, what more could he possibly want from me? "Yes there is Bella, if you would just listen to me!" His voice got louder as he finished the sentence and I noticed a few students glance up at us. This bad situation was about to become horrendous; I had to take control. "Sit down, Edward," I said, attempting to keep my tone to that of a teacher reproaching a student. "No," he said, equally calmly, his eyes unflinching. They were darker than usual- a toffee brown as opposed to light honey; he obviously hadn't been hunting as much as he should have been. "I said, sit down," I spoke through gritted teeth as I felt my hands clench into fists. Edward looked me straight in the eyes, his gaze unflinching and said slowly, as though relishing each letter, "N-O." I felt my cheeks flash an angry red with a mixture of shock and embarrassment. I was hyper-aware that our conversation had got progressively louder with each reply and that we now had an audience of at least half the class. The meagre power that I had originally had was slipping right through my fingers. "Mr Cullen, if you don't sit down right now-" I began, clutching at straws. Edward laughed and the sound shocked me; it was not the seductively rich sound I had come to love. This laugh was cold and bitter and it sent shivers up my spine. "What are you going to do?" he asked, the mirthless laughter ringing in his voice, "give me detention?" There was an outbreak of guffaws and gasps as the class processed his words. None of them were even pretending to work now; they were all far too absorbed in the drama unfolding before them. As my eyes darted from my students' entertained faces to Edward's unsympathetic one I felt something change inside of me and a new emotion gripped my heart. For the first time since Edward's return, I was mad. This was not just anger; no, I was more than just angry, I was royally pissed. How dare he come into my classroom and challenge my

authority like this? What right did he have to come strolling back into my life at all, if it was only to rip any kind of happiness I had built for myself to pieces? As if it wasn't enough that I had to go through the excruciating agony of seeing him every single day and knowing that he didn't love me, he had to make things even harder by actively trying to get me fired. Just when I had thought I was through the dark, just when I was beginning to recover from Edward's rejection he had to come back and make everything a hundred times worse. I was seething; I would not let him get away with this. I stuck out my chin and looked him squarely in the face, my eyes blazing with cold fury. "Leave the room please," I said quietly. "What?" Edward asked, although we both knew he had heard perfectly. "Please leave, now." Edward rolled his eyes and lowered his voice so that the rest of the class could not hear, "Come on Bella, don't be so-" I cut across him in a loud, carrying voice. "You do not have the right to undermine my authority Mr Cullen; it is not up to you to dictate how I run my class and I will not tolerate you making a mockery of my lesson. Now, I suggest that you leave my classroom and report to Mr Delaney's office before I send for someone to forcibly remove you." A stunned silence followed my words as the class stared, shell shocked at me; I had never got so angry at a student before. I lowered my voice so only Edward could hear. "I don't know what your game is, but for the record- I'm not playing. I-" I felt my breath catch slightly as the next words got stuck in my throat. I considered swallowing them down, and then decided against it. What more did I have to lose? I looked up through my eyelashes into his shocked eyes. "I won't be one of your 'distractions', Edward." He stared at me for a few more impossibly long moments and then turned slowly to leave, not bothering to retrieve his things. I wasn't surprised to see him go (after all, what choice did he have?) but I still felt a sore sense of loss as he disappeared through the door. I turned back to a classroom of silent students, all of who were eyeing me half excited, half wary as they waited to see who I would turn on next. I left them disappointed, however, when I sat down in my seat and pulled my work towards me, glancing up only to give them a time-check. "You have 45 minutes left to complete your essays." I knew that my handling of Edward would not go without comment, especially seeing as I had actually sent him to Patrick's office, but I could not have anticipated the level of curiosity it generated among the students. My colleagues' reactions were mildly sympathetic if they heard of the incident at all- they had all dealt with an overly cocky student in their time- but they generally found the news that I had ejected Edward Cullen from my classroom as underwhelmingly uninteresting. With the students, on the other hand, it was a completely different matter. They all appeared fascinated by the fact that I had reprimanded Edward Cullen, with his G.P.A. of 4.0 and model good-looks, and the subject became a regular topic for hallway gossip. I felt like I was followed by their whispers whenever I ventured out of the safe haven of the staffroom and it was incredibly unnerving. "-Yeah, Ms Swan and Edward Cullen, that's what I heard-" "-they HATE each other-" "-You should've seen it Kate, I swear I thought she was gonna KILL him-" Perhaps I was just being paranoid- after all, teachers punished students all the time and nobody batted an eyelid- but there did seem to be an extraordinary amount of interest surrounding my apparent dislike of Edward. Maybe it was down to his newness in the school (and, in the case of the female students, his devastating good looks) or maybe owing to my famous aversion to conflict, but for several days it really did seem that the only thing anyone could talk about was our quarrel. Luckily for me, the brief sunny spell was set to continue until the weekend when extreme storms were suspected and Edward was not present in class over the next couple of days, something which considerably eased the tension. By the time I got to Friday, however, I had more pressing things to worry about. At Sycamore Grove High School, it was school policy for teachers to hold a progress meeting with new students and their parents several weeks into their first term. This semester, it was to be held Friday evening in this, the third week of January, a scheduling decision that won the office no friends amongst the teaching staff. Personally, I was not really bothered by the loss of my Friday evening- it wasn't like I had a social life to miss- but I still wasn't looking forward to three hours of talking to parents in the school hall. Progress evenings were usually something I dreaded; my lack of confidence, while not a hindrance in the classroom, became woefully disadvantageous when addressing parents. So it was with a pervading sense of gloom, therefore, that I collected my list of assigned students and their parents from the school office at six o' clock on Friday. As I walked towards the hall where the meetings were to be held, my eyes scanned down the list of standard questions we had to ask parents. They were all pretty general; I would not be appearing as an English teacher tonight, but as a representative of the school. After the instructions were the names

of the new students with whose families I would be conversing. There were about eight on the list, from all four grades. I read the names carelessly in my head, linking names to faces as I went. When I got to the eighth name, I almost choked on thin air. Oh you have to be kidding me. But no, there it was, printed in bold, black ink. EDWARD CULLEN Either it was just an extremely unlucky coincidence, or someone in the office, having heard of the incident with Edward earlier in the week, was playing a rather amusing joke at my expense. Either way, I was dismayed. Why did the whole world seem to be conspiring to force me to see Edward on a regular basis? For a few moments I debated whether to just skip the meeting altogether, but I knew that wasn't a feasible option. After the events of Tuesday's class with Edward, I was keen not to draw any more unnecessary attention to myself and our questionable relationship. Purposely missing an appointment with his parents would most definitely come under that category. That said, I wasn't sure if Carlisle and Esme would even come. It wasn't like Edward's progress needed to be discussed; he had gone through High School countless times and had flawless grades. I was certain that he would not want to see me, not after Tuesday's lesson, so I was doubtful to whether the Cullen family would even show up. I took my seat in the school hall, where I was joined by a dozen other teachers, all doing the same thing. The evening inched by agonizingly slowly, frequented by my glances at the door and the clock. , the Cullens allotted time slot, finally rolled around with no sign of them. I sat on edge at my desk, pretending to be sipping a cup of coffee but really searching the room for a sign of Edward and his parents. Then as my eyes swept over the door for what felt like the hundredth time, I saw them. They looked exactly the same as they had done six years ago. Still beautiful, still impossibly young; I realised with a jolt that I was now a year older than Carlisle had been when he was changed. They were standing hesitantly in the doorway of the hall, unsure of whether to go. Carlisle's hand rested lightly on the small of Esme's back and he murmured something into her ear which made her incline her head in agreement as she surveyed the room, taking in the little clusters of teachers and parents dotted around it. Then her eyes fell upon me. There was a pause in which we just looked at each other, and then a slow, warm smile spread across her face, causing her soft eyes to light up. I wasn't aware of making the decision to go to her, or even beginning to move, but in no time at all I had crossed the room in several quick, long strides and thrown myself into her waiting arms. They wrapped around me tightly in an embrace that vibrated with affection as I leant my cheek against her shoulder, breathing in her delightfully familiar scent. I felt safe and content for the first time in ages; it was like coming home. "Oh my child," she whispered as she stroked my hair caringly, "how I've missed you." "I've missed you too," I replied quietly as I eased myself from her arms and stepped back, smiling, "both of you." I looked up at Carlisle who was beaming genially down at me in a smile which made his face look more attractive than ever; I rather thought I heard some of the teaching assistants several tables away swoon at the very sight. "Hello Bella," he murmured, shaking my hand amiably, "it's good to see you." "And you," I grinned back at them both. It was true; I had missed Edward's family almost as much as I had him. Carlisle and Esme were as good as parents to me, albeit much younger and better-looking than convention would dictate. As my eyes moved between their faces, I saw a third figure emerge from where he had been lurking in the door. Edward. I was not surprised to see him, the evening was for parents and students after all, but it was an awkward moment nonetheless. I cleared my throat, forcing myself to keep up pretences for the benefit of any humans who may be watching. "Good evening Edward," I said formally, nodding my head slightly at him before I looked back to Carlisle and Esme. They were watching us with identical expressions of wary concern on their faces- something I was determined to get rid of. "So," I said brightly, plastering a mask of fake cheeriness on my face, "I suppose we better get back to business." Carlisle quickly glanced from Esme to me before hastily interjecting in a low voice, "That isn't necessary Bella, you don't have to do anything if-" I shook my head firmly. "Yes I do Carlisle, it's my job; this way please." I indicated towards my desk and walked towards it swiftly before anyone could object again. I sat down and watched expectantly as Carlisle and Esme exchange brief looks, before slowly seating themselves opposite me, Edward following closely in their wake. He still hadn't spoken save for a curt "Hello", but I knew it was only a matter of time before the onslaught began. Sure enough, he opened his mouth just as I began to speak. "Bel-"

"So," I said loudly, cutting him off before his lips had even formed my name, "I'm here with you this evening to discuss Edward's progress here at Sycamore Grove," I looked innocently at Esme and Carlisle, completely ignoring Edward. "Before I start, do either of you have any issues you'd like to talk about?" Esme did not reply but surveyed me with a pained expression as Carlisle shook his head, a faint smile struggling to mask the worried furrows in his brow. "No, there haven't been any problems with his classes; his English teacher is excellent." I smiled briefly at the joke, weak as it was, and moved briskly on to the next point, ignoring Edward's protestations. "This is getting utterly ridicul-" "So," I said loudly, "I presume Edward hasn't had any trouble settling in academically? I see that he was an honour student back in San Francisco." Carlisle's smile had faded by now as he looked at me with a frown. "No, he's settled in fine," he said slowly, looking sideways at Edward, who was now swelling with frustration. "Dammit Bella!" Edward growled threateningly "Stop talking about me like I'm not even here, I-" "In terms of his grades, he has been doing remarkably well," I continued as though deaf to Edward's words, "we usually expect a slight fall in our new students' achievement in the first couple of weeks owing to their having to familiarise themselves with new surroundings, but your son has proved to be a notable exception to the rule; he has been getting consistently high grades in all of his classes. Would you like to see some of his results?" Esme just shook her head, her expression sorrowful. It hurt me to cause her pain, but I still could not bring myself to look at Edward who had begun to hiss at me again. "Are you finished now? Are you ready to act like a mature adult again?" "We have had a few problems with Edward's discipline-" I continued, my voice getting louder with every word in an attempt to drown him out. "Why won't you even listen to me?!" Edward raised his tones accordingly until we were practically shouting at each other across the table. "- but he has had talks with Mr Delaney and I hope that we can iron out those matters without too much trouble. Meanwhile-" "You're being absolutely pathetic Bella, do you realise that?" "-I hope that he'll involve himself in some of the many extra-curriculars that our education enrichment program has on offer-" "FOR GOD'S SAKE!" Edward exploded, kicking his chair back and moving forward, fast as lightning, until his face was level with mine. His eyes were absolutely terrifying; they were jet black and alive with passionate rage. "Won't you even listen to yourself? What the HELL is your PROBLEM?" I sat frozen from shock, my mind barely registering the staggered hush that had fallen upon the room as I stared at Edward in alarm. "Edward." I was startled out of my fear as a foreign voice broke into mine and Edward's highly charged bubble. It was Carlisle, and he looked ominously steely as he addressed his adoptive son. "I will not tolerate you speaking to Ms Swan in that manner; please step outside and cool down." Edward glared at him incredulously. "Is this some kind of joke, Carlisle? Did you hear the way she was speaking to-" he broke off as he noticed the way that the entire hall was now watching him in shock. Reluctant understanding crossed his face and he begrudgingly straightened up. "Yes, father," he said stiffly, turning to leave the room. As he went his eyes held mine for one final glance of hard to read emotions. There was resentment and anger there, to be sure, but there was something else which was harder to interpret. Was it regret? Before I could decide he had stormed from the room, leaving a ringing silence in his wake. After a few moments, however, the noise level gradually began to pick up as the witnesses to our little drama put their heads together to gossip unashamedly.

I suddenly realised that my body was trembling as though I had been punched and I shakily put my head in my hands, my breathing shuddering and slow. I could feel Esme and Carlisle's eyes on me and I felt sick at the thought of their pity; I didn't deserve it. I had asked for that reaction; I had willingly sought it, provoking Edward until breaking point. He was right, I should be ashamed of myself; even as a girl of seventeen I had been above inciting public spats. "You'll forgive my son," Carlisle's soft words seeped through my despair, "he doesn't always comprehend the effects of his actions." The sorrow in his voice was resonated in the empty space around us and I knew he was referring to more than just Edward's preceding behaviour. I forced myself to look up into the faces of the parents I had once been so close to having. There was so much I wanted to say, but I couldn't find the right words. "I- I'm sorry Carlisle," I whispered. My throat felt constricted and tight as it ejected the admission of guilt and I could feel tears burning the backs of my eyes. He shook his head. "No, it is I who should apologise; we never should have left. I should have stepped in in the first place. Maybe if I had none of this would have ever happened." I didn't see how that would have made much a difference; Edward would have got bored of me eventually, no matter what Carlisle did, but I did not want to talk anymore; it was too painful. Carlisle sighed, getting up to leave. He looked down at Esme, but she didn't budge, instead putting her hand on his arm and saying quietly, "I'll join you in a second go and find Edward; he'll probably need someone to calm him down. I want to speak to Bella." Carlisle nodded, patting her hand tenderly before gracefully leaving the room, causing besotted sighs from the still-watching TAs. I looked warily back at Esme. As much as I loved her and respected her opinion, I had no desire to talk about Edward, especially after the evening's disastrous events. She studied me with motherly concern, worry etched across her flawless features. "Are you really okay?" My first instinct was to lie, fully aware that Edward would be able to read whatever I said from her thoughts. Esme seemed to understand my reluctance to tell the truth and she grimaced. "Listen to me, I promise that I won't let Edward hear what you say. I'll do whatever it takes to block my thoughts from him; even if I have to recite Einstein's theory of relativity in my head, so help me I'll do it." Even in my tearful state, I had to crack a wan smile at her fierceness; she was like a lioness guarding one of her cubs. It melted my heart that she was still so protective towards me, even though all obligations between us had gone. I decided I owed it to her to tell the truth- or, at least, part of it. "No," I said sadly, "I'm not really okay. How could I be?" Esme narrowed her eyes, her suspicions confirmed. "I knew it; I could tell from the way you reacted to him, though of course he," her voice grew angry, "is currently being too typically pig-headed to see it. I told him so many times; we all pleaded for him not to leave Forks, but did he listen?" She paused for breath crossly, her caramel curls bouncing on her shoulders. I watched her in confusion for a second, until it dawned on me that she had misunderstood my words. "No wait," I said hastily, eager to correct her, "when I said that I wasn't okay, I only meant because of that argument with Edward. That's all." It was all lies of course, but she didn't have to know that. I couldn't let her believe that I was still in love with Edward, regardless of her promises to keep my words secret. It was too risky to divulge the extent of my feelings to anyone, least of all to someone with a mind so vulnerable from invasion. Esme looked at me taken aback. "That's… all?" she asked, the look of distressed anxiety creeping back into her eyes. "Yes," I said firmly, hoping against hope that she would not see through my assurances. I felt a pang as I took in her growing expression of stricken disappointment and I looked away, hurriedly changing the subject. "Look, I, uh, still have some more parents to see tonight, so I'm afraid I…" I let my words trail off, ignoring the uncomfortable ache of guilt I felt as I prayed that she would get the message and leave. Luckily for me it wasn't a complete lie; there was a small queue of patiently waiting parents forming a polite distance away from my desk. "Oh! Of course, I'm so sorry to keep you Ms Swan," Esme said, adopting her most gracious voice as she too eyed the parents. "I… I hope to see you again," she said levelly, turning back to face me. I let my eyes flicker to hers for a fraction of a second, before I looked away again, ashamed. She paused for a second longer and then turned to leave; as she went I could just detect the dissatisfied expression on her face. I looked down at my papers uncomfortably, not even bothering to look up as the next student and his parents came to sit in front of me. As I again reeled off the standard questions about progress, the only thing that really registered in my mind was a question of my own: What have I just done?

Chapter 6 "Smooth," snickered Emmett I’ve got lyrics from two songs for this chapter, because I’m indecisive. The first set is from ‘Feel’ by Robbie Williams, the second is from ‘Over My Head (Cable Car)’ by The Fray. I don’t wanna die, But I ain’t keen on living either. Before I fall in love, I’m preparing to leave her. I scare myself to death, That’s why I keep on running. And suddenly I become a part of your past I'm becoming the part that don't last I'm losing you and its effortless I burst through the double doors at the end of the hall and ran unseeingly down the corridor. Anger pounded through me like fire as I swept through the school, my mind reeling. I couldn’t believe what had just happened; that Bella, my Bella, could be so cold towards me was unthinkable. Visions of her face flooded through me, of her indifference as she ignored me and spoke to Carlisle, as she treated me like a stupid child. I growled at the memory and threw back another door with an almost deafening force. I detected a slight change in the temperature and realised that I had just left the building, entering the central courtyard around which the school was built. It was dark and silent, deserted save for a few snow-covered tables and benches. I took a step away from the door and rolled sideways until my back made contact with the solid wall. I slid down it, my head in my hands. What have I just done? I had almost certainly just sacrificed any chance of ever getting Bella back, not to mention drawn a lot of unwanted human attention towards myself. She had just made me so angry. She had been avoiding me for weeks, and then she gave me a detention when I tried to talk to her and now she was actively refusing to listen to a word I said. I swore angrily, my shoulders slumping back against the wall. I knew staying in Rochester was a bad idea; we should have left straight away. I had been a fool to believe there was even the faintest hope that Bella still harboured feelings for me; it was crystal clear that she resented my renewed presence in her life. But then on my first and last attempt to ‘seduce’ her after class, three weeks ago, I could have sworn she had felt differently. At first I had intended just to talk to her, but when she had tripped and fell into my arms I decided that maybe, just maybe, following Emmett’s advice was a good idea. Indeed, for a few blissful moments I had hoped my attempts to kiss Bella were reciprocated… However it seemed I had been wildly wrong. After the arrival of a student had brought an abrupt end to my advances, Bella had seemed absolutely furious and she hadn’t spoken to me since, despite my best efforts to contact her. My family had all offered to help me, especially Alice, but I had ordered them to stay away, mainly because I was too proud to admit that I was failing in my attempts to get Bella back. I was now on the edge of absolute despair; I felt rejected and embarrassed. But even worse was the supreme level of anger I felt: towards Bella for her actions, towards my family for persuading me to stay in Rochester in the first place and mostly to me for believing their assurances that Bella still loved me. I let out a long frustrated growl as my mind was again inundated with memories of Bella’s eyes, so uncharacteristically filled with anger. “Edward?” My eyes snapped open to see Emmett coming through the door, an expression of surprise in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked, “Why aren’t you with Carlisle and Esme? Weren’t you supposed to be seeing Bella?” I just nodded, unable to bring myself to answer. I was already close to breaking point; the last thing I needed was Emmett’s incessant questioning. Emmett walked over to the nearest bench, where he sat down, still watching me curiously. “So what happened?” he asked. “I got thrown out,” I said through gritted teeth. Emmett raised his eyebrows, grinning. “You got what?”

“I got thrown out,” I repeated, irritation flooding through me. He had heard me perfectly well the first time; he just wanted to add to my humiliation. I got to my feet and began to pace, attempting to clear my mind. “Who threw you out?” he asked, watching me, his grin getting even broader. “Carlisle,” I said curtly. I was quickly losing patience with this conversation. “Why did he-” “Because I was shouting at Bella,” I snapped crossly, “she wasn’t listening to what I was saying so I got frustrated and began to shout at her, some of the humans heard and Carlisle told me to leave.” "Smooth," snickered Emmett, his gold eyes sparkling. In my highly charged state, the one comment was more than enough to set me off. I rounded on him, seething. "Shut UP," I growled, glaring at him. "This is already all your fault, even without the juvenile comments." Emmett widened his eyes incredulously. "What the hell?!" he cried, jumping up from his seat, "How is it my fault?" I narrowed my eyes. "It was your idea to stay here in the first place!" I changed my voice, mimicking him in mocking tones, "'you'll just have to seduce her Edward, Bella loves you Edward she's sure to come around with a bit of persuasion'. What stupid advice!" I spat bitterly on the ground, expelling the rage induced venom that had pooled in my mouth. "It was NOT stupid advice," Emmett replied hotly, "you hardly even tried!” I growled angrily. “In case you haven’t noticed it’s been near impossible for me even to get near her, let alone-“ “Oh don’t give me that Edward!” Emmett scoffed, “you’re a vampire! You could’ve gotten her alone if you wanted to. Admit it; the plan hasn’t worked because you have about as much experience in seduction as a 10 year old-“ “The plan hasn’t worked because it was an asinine, childish suggestion!” I snarled, interrupting his sentence, “which isn’t really surprising, considering you were the one who came up with it.” It was a pathetic reply and one that was based in hardly any truth; Emmett was anything but stupid. It was a misconception among strangers that Emmett was a fool, caused by his huge muscles and friendly demeanour, but in truth he was just as intelligent as Jasper or Carlisle and twice as practical. Emmett’s eyebrows knitted in an offended, angry scowl. “Funny,” he said slowly, walking towards me until he was unbearably close, his gaze piercing, “that even though I’m so stupid I’m not the one who is too scared to speak to the woman I love-” “I have spoken to her, and look where it got me- absolute NOWHERE!” I shouted, anger bubbling through ice-cold veins, clouding my mind. All the rage and frustration I had been feeling for weeks was coursing through me, magnified a hundredfold in its intensity by the confrontation with Bella. The rational, much smaller, part of me knew that none of this was really Emmett's fault, but I was beyond caring. I needed someone to blame for the emotions of self-hatred, heart ache and rejection I was currently feeling and it was much easier to target him than admit that I had been wrong. Emmett has no idea what he’s talking about, the angry part of me hissed, this whole conversation is ridiculous. “I was right and I never should have listened to you or your useless ideas,” I said, “None of this would have happened if we had just left three weeks ago. I’m not going to make that mistake again- I’m leaving.” I turned to go, my body still trembling, but Emmett stopped me. “Oh of COURSE you’re leaving!” He bellowed, his eyes flashing. “That’s what you do best, isn’t it Edward? The minute the going gets tough you decide to leave.” I narrowed my eyes and clenched my fists. “Stop it, Emmett,” I uttered in a deadly whisper. He ignored me, however, raising his voice above my growls. “All your life you’ve been running from your problems, pretending they don’t exist, preferring to meddle with other people’s business and play God in other people’s lives, just because you can. But the minute you start to find a reason to exist, the minute you find a girl and experience love for yourself, instead of like a voyeur in other peoples’ heads, you get so bloody scared that you start to run.”

“STOP IT NOW!” I yelled, my entire body shaking. I could feel the last vestiges of my self control slipping away with every word Emmett uttered. I wanted him to stop, leave, die; anything to silence him. His accusations surged into me like poison, crippling my heart and blackening my soul. It was as though I had been stripped naked, with all my most suppressed secrets and deepest insecurities laid bare for the world to deride. The worst thing was that, deep down, I could feel the truth behind his words; I knew that he was right and it killed me. You can’t do this to Bella again you coward, Emmett’s thoughts screamed at me. “I’m sure you think you were being so noble, don’t you?” Emmett asked his voice ringing with bitterness, “It’s obvious that you’ve been wallowing in self-pity all this time; it’s obvious that you love feeling self-righteous in this way, that you get some sick, twisted thrill from it. Well guess what Edward? We might not be able to read your mind, but we can all see through you. Everybody knows that you were wrong and that you’re nothing but a Grade A, first class, winan-Olympic-fucking-medal, life-ruining IDIOT!" There was no stopping it. The minute Emmett’s tirade ended I felt a barrier inside of me break as though blown to pieces and, before I knew what I was doing, I lunged at him. Anger emanated from every area of my body as I flew in a blur of savage snarls and violent slashes towards him. I waited for the impact, my hands already outstretched to wrap around his throat, but he was too fast, moving with lightning speed three feet away from where he had just stood. As I spun to leap at him again, I saw a flash of blond from the corner of my eye. Jasper had come on to the scene, his hair flying behind him as he ran blindingly fast across the courtyard towards Emmett and me. I tried to escape but it was useless; I instantly felt Jasper flash to my side, simultaneously pinning my arms behind my back with enough force to crush human bones and barraging me with calming emotions. Such was my anger, however, that the attempts just rolled off of me with no effect whatsoever. "For God's sake Edward, what do you think you’re doing?!" Jasper hissed, struggling to restrain me as I thrashed furiously against his grip. I gnashed my teeth in aggravation and writhed in his grasp, guttural growls ripping from my throat. I wasn't me anymore; the uncontrollable creature of anguish and wrath that had invaded my soul was feral and monstrous, wild and untamed- the last thing on earth from polite, upright Edward Cullen. I glared at Emmett from underneath Jasper's arms, my eyes burning as I took in his crouched, combative stance- a mirror image of my own. He flashed me a challenging look that was full of danger. "What are you going to do Edward?" he growled, a chillingly menacing undercurrent rumbling through his low voice, "Kill me? Go on then; give it your best shot. We'll see who's still standing at the end of it, shall we, brother?" The word sent a shock through me, and the tiny fragment of my mind that was still independent from the monster broke through the haze for the first time. This is Emmett, it pleaded, not an enemy; family. Think of the others; think of Carlisle. And then, think of Esme. Visions of my parents shocked and devastated as they supported a sobbing Rosalie flooded into my mind and I faltered. My moment of uncertainty was all Jasper needed to overcome my anger, and I felt his power slam into me like a wall, sending me reeling backwards. I stopped and swayed disorientated on the spot, as though awoken from a trance. Then, weakened, I sunk to the snow covered ground, falling forward onto my knees as I clasped my temples. What was I thinking? I asked myself, horrified. Disbelief and shame gripped me as they had done when I had threatened Alice three weeks earlier, but a hundred times worse. What have I become? I was afraid of the answer. This was more than simple aggression; I had actually tried to attack Emmett. What if I had hurt him? Killed him? Even in the non-existent chance that any of my family would have left me unpunished after such an act, I would never have been able to live with myself. I would have set the plans I had never followed into action and gone straight to Volterra. The thought of the possible repercussions my moment of madness could have had was enough to make me sick. I could see that Jasper had approached Emmett, placing a soothing hand on his shoulder. Emmett received it gratefully, clasping it with his own, letting his breathing slow gradually before he eventually let go. “Thanks,” he said to Jasper, who nodded wordlessly. Then they both turned to watch me where I sat, shaken expressions on their faces. I could hardly bring myself to meet their eyes. Throughout all my heartache the support from my family had always been constant; now I didn’t even deserve to be in their presence. Jasper’s voice broke the silence. “He’s fine now,” he murmured to Emmett, “he doesn’t seem to be feeling any anger anymore, only guilt.” “But he tried to kill me, Jasper!” Emmett replied, shock ringing through his voice, “he might have done it, if you hadn’t…” he trailed off, stunned. There was a long pause, during which Jasper scrutinised me piercingly. “No,” he sighed finally, “no… I don’t think he would have. He was already rethinking his actions when I intervened; a minute longer and he would have seen sense.” Emmett made a disbelieving sound; clearly he didn’t find this news very reassuring.

Is he right, Edward? He thought, Would you have stopped yourself? Do you even feel remorse now? “Y-yes,” I rasped immediately, struggling to my feet, “Emmett I’m…. I don’t know what just happened, I couldn’t… God, I swear… I’m so sorry,” the last word has barely left my lips before I felt a broken sob heave through my body. I tensed, fighting to keep it at bay. I was sure that I had never felt so guilty in my entire existence. Emmett held my gaze for what seemed like an eternity, his eyes, uncharacteristically devoid of humour, the most serious that I had ever seen them. “Sure you’re sorry now, but what happens when I say something else you don’t like? Will you kill me then?” he said finally. “No!” I cried, repulsed at the very idea. “I was only trying to help you Edward, that’s all any of us have ever tried to do. Bella was like a sister to me; I want her back in our lives almost as much as you do.” He shook his head sadly, disappointed in me. “You have to get a grip on your emotions; Jasper can’t always be here to calm you down. And if you lose your control around Rose or Alice…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence; Jasper’s low growl said enough. “I know,” I said quietly, my voice pained, “I won’t hurt… I wouldn’t ever let myself hurt either of them.” There was another long silence as Emmett considered me. Finally he nodded slowly and I knew that I was, for the most part, forgiven. Not that I deserve it. There was a long silence and then: “I need to talk to Carlisle.” I said shakily, turning to Jasper, “Do you have any idea where he is?” “He’s with Rosalie,” Jasper said, “he met us after he left the hall and we were coming to find you, but they got waylaid by one of Rosalie’s teachers. Carlisle sent me to come and find you instead, seemed to think you’d need ‘calming down’.” He raised an eyebrow at me and I looked away ashamedly. Emmett narrowed his eyes at me. “Wait a second, why do you need to talk to Carlisle?” I paused, unwilling to reply. I didn’t want to start another fight and I wasn’t sure that I trusted myself not to lose control if Emmett challenged me again. On seeing Emmett’s expression, however, I knew I had no choice. “I want to talk to Carlisle because… because I need to tell him that I’m leaving.” “WHAT!?” Emmett bellowed. He moved closer to me, his eyes furious again. “Didn’t you hear anything I just said? How can you still think that leaving is a good idea?!” He glared at me and took a step forward. Jasper hastily positioned himself between us again, placing a calming hand on Emmett’s shoulder. “Yes Emmett,” I said, “I heard everything you said, and you were right. I should never have left Bella in the first place; I did more harm than good and I will never forgive myself for losing her.” I paused again, inwardly steeling myself against the pain I would feel at my next words. “But the fact remains that I did leave, and I won’t ever be able to undo it. It happened, Bella’s moved on and there’s no point in me staying here. I can’t ‘seduce’ her and I can’t force her to love me. I have to leave, it’s just too hard to constantly be around her but be unable to be with her.” “But how do you know she doesn’t love you?!” “Because she said so!” I growled, feeling some of my anger push back through Jasper’s muffling calm. “What else am I supposed to do?” Seduce her! Emmett’s thoughts retorted. I growled again. “If you even think the word ‘seduce’ on more time Emmett, I swear I’ll-” I was cut off mid-threat by Jasper who sent another wave of calm around the room. Emmett and I immediately relaxed where we stood; we had both unconsciously become tense again as though preparing for another fight. Once satisfied that we had both sufficiently composed ourselves, Jasper addressed me. “What Emmett is trying to say, Edward, is that you need to reconsider your tactics.” I looked at Jasper incredulously. “Tactics? This isn’t a game!” “Isn’t it? I thought you wanted to win her back,” Jasper said, eyebrows raised. “I do, but-”

“And clearly your methods of doing so have not been effective thus far,” he interrupted me. “Ha! You can say that ag-” Emmett began, but he was silenced by the looks Jasper and I shot him. I turned back to Jasper warily. “What do you mean? I’ve been doing everything I can.” It was true; I had tried to talk to Bella, I had rung her every night, I had played her lullaby to her. I had even tried, albeit poorly, to ‘dazzle’ her after class but to absolutely no avail. I didn’t think there was anything more I could have done. However it was clear from the way Jasper was looking at me that he didn’t agree. “Following her around? Harassing her with phone calls? Purposely disrupting her lesson and then verbally attacking her in front of her colleagues?” I inclined my head very slowly. When he put it like that it did sound bad, but I still couldn’t quite comprehend where this chain of thought was going. Jasper shook his head in exasperation. “Honestly Edward, based on the way you’ve been behaving recently I’m surprised Bella hasn’t assaulted you, let alone rejected you.” I ran a hand through my hair, distracted. “Well what am I supposed to do? She hates me Jasper, she was absolutely livid after the only time I tried to ‘seduce’ her and then she avoided me for three solid weeks. She doesn’t want to know!” Jasper rolled his eyes. “Is that really any surprise? Consider the situation from her point of view; you left her in Forks and haven’t made any attempt to contact her since.” “That’s because-” I began heatedly, but Jasper raised a hand to silence me. “I’m not questioning your actions; I understand why you left, even if I don’t agree with it. But that’s not the point, what I’m trying to say is that Bella undoubtedly didn’t feel very cordial towards your leaving to ‘protect’ her. God knows she had absolutely no sense of self-preservation; don’t you remember the way she went after James? Bella loved you Edward; the intensity of her emotions around you used to make it overwhelming to even be in the same room with you two when you were together. You hurt her when you left and she’s had six years to dwell on that pain. You can’t possibly expect her to just welcome you back with open arms.” I did not reply, suddenly uneasy. The truth was that Jasper didn’t even know the half of it. He, like the rest of my family, believed that I had simply told Bella that we were leaving for her own safety. They had no idea what the exact details of our conversation had entailed, nor did they suspect that the version I had related to them was anything other than the truth. At the time, I had never believed the fact that I had lied about my feelings towards Bella was important; it was only now that I was starting to suspect differently. I doubted it made a huge amount of difference to her; after all, one word couldn’t possibly have been enough to negate months’ worth of declarations, but I was still reluctant to divulge to my family the extent of what had happened in the forest. I tried to compose my face so that I would not give myself away to Jasper and Emmett, but there was no stopping the creeping feeling of guilt and regret winding itself around my heart. Jasper looked at me in surprise and then furrowed his brow in suspicion. “That is all you told her, right? You didn’t say anything else, anything that might explain why she’s so angry now?” “No, of course not,” I said quickly, but it was obvious that Jasper was not convinced. “Edward,” he growled warningly. Why are you lying? He thought, what did you say? I hedged his question, trying to bide my time. “When I told her I was too dangerous, it wasn’t enough,” I said, trying to justify myself, “she wouldn’t let me go; she wanted to come with us…” I trailed off feebly, cringing slightly under my brothers’ unflinching gazes. “So what did you say?” Emmett asked slowly, his eyes wide. I shut my eyes, wincing against the pain as I was gripped by memories of that fateful night. “Bella, I don’t want you to come with me.” I spoke the words slowly and precisely, willing her to believe the lie, ignoring the voice inside my head that was screaming the truth. This was it; I was committing the blackest kind of blasphemy and there was no way I could escape hell now. Her brow furrowed as she mulled over the words. “You… don’t… want me?”

I ignored my heart, tightened my resolve and uttered the single syllable that would destroy my life: “No.” I shuddered and dragged my mind back to the present. Jasper and Emmett were still staring at me expectantly. There was no avoiding it; I had to tell them. “I… I told her that I didn’t want her to come with me,” I said falteringly, my voice barely above a whisper, “she asked if I wanted her and… I said no.” A ringing silence followed my words, broken after what seemed like an age by a dumbfounded Emmett. “You… lied?” he asked, completely taken aback, “you told her you didn’t love her?” I bowed my head in acquiescence. He gaped at me, thunderstruck. Even his thoughts were astounded. Then, finally, one broke through. You absolute IDIOT! “EDWARD!” he shouted, “What the hell were you THINKING?! It’s no WONDER Bella won’t talk to you; she still believes that you don’t love her!” I shook my head, tearing my eyes away from his fuming face. “No, you’re wrong. How could she still think that? After all the times I told her I loved her, how could she possibly let one word break her faith in me?” I could understand why the lie would make her angrier with me now, but I didn’t honestly think she still believed it; it was too transparently false. As if I could ever stop wanting her. Surely six years was long enough for Bella to see through such nonsense? I looked up to see Emmett and Jasper staring at me with identical looks of speechless enragement on their faces. Finally, Jasper choked out, “Alice was right; you really are a brainless piece of-” Edward! The rest of Jasper’s sentence was lost to me as I heard somebody thinking my name behind me. I turned around to see Carlisle sweeping towards the three of us from the same direction from which Jasper had come, his handsome face deadly serious. Uh-Oh. He did not look happy. As soon as he got within ten feet to me, the diatribe started. What on earth were you thinking Edward? His thoughts asked, How dare you speak to Bella in that manner? And in front of a room full of humans? You could have exposed us all, it was foolish and reckless. I hung my head in shame. “I know Carlisle, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” He looked at me with displeasure for a few more moments, before he sighed, his anger diminishing to be replaced by a weary look of fatigue. “Honestly Edward,” he exhaled, “you need to be more careful.” I nodded dutifully; he was right, my behaviour in the hall, though perhaps not uncalled for, was thoughtless to the extreme. “And son,” Carlisle continued, regaining my attention, “just as a general tip here, but if you wanted to, ahem, ‘seduce’ her, that,” he gestured towards the hall on the word, “was not the way to go about it.” I groaned. Not this again. “Well that doesn’t matter anyway because-” I began, but I was interrupted by the arrival of Esme. “Carlisle!” she cried as she walked quickly through the door I had emerged from, her soft face alight with worry. When she reached Carlisle she clung to him, her brown eyes wide as she gazed into his which were suddenly full of concern. “Carlisle, something awful just hap-” she broke off when she realised the way Emmett, Jasper and I were all curiously listening. To my surprise, her frantic expression escalated into a look of sheer panic. I immediately focused in on her thoughts. Such was her distress that, despite her best efforts, she was unable to block me out. An image of Bella swam into my head. I watched as she as good as told Esme she didn’t love me. The words didn’t come as a surprise, but they were still excruciatingly painful to hear. I looked at Esme, whose pained expression almost mirrored my own. Oh Edward. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. But she could have been lying… I shook my head curtly, refusing her words. This declaration, coupled with Bella’s recent behaviour towards me, was all I confirmation I needed of her dislike. I turned slowly to face Carlisle and the others who were watching us with expressions of apprehension. “Bella just told Esme that she didn’t love me. Is that enough proof that it’s futile to remain here? Now can we leave?” “No!” Emmett said, “We can’t leave until you tell Bella that you lied!” “Lied about what?” Esme asked Emmett confusedly. “When we left Forks Edward told Bella that he didn’t love her,” Emmett said, his narrowed eyes still fixed on me. Esme and Carlisle both let out noises of shock and disbelief. They turned to look at me, their eyes wide.

Oh Edward! Esme thought despairingly. “Is this true?” Carlisle asked seriously. I sighed, stressed. “Yes,” I finally begrudgingly said. This prompted another round of exasperated sighs and groans from my family. “Look,” I said, raising my voice to be heard above them, “none of that matters, it’s in the past. Regardless of what I said to Bella six years ago, it’s obvious that in the here and now she doesn’t love me. My agreement to stay in Rochester hung on the condition that I’d wait to determine Bella’s feelings for me; it’s painfully clear that she does not love me, therefore there is absolutely no point in staying.” “I already told you, she’s probably just-” Emmett began, but I cut through him. “That’s my final decision; I don’t wish to discuss it any further.” I looked at Carlisle. “I presume we can leave tonight?” He paused for a minute, as though deliberating. What can I tell him? He thought. I frowned, trying to understand his jumble of thoughts. “Actually,” he said hesitantly, “we can’t leave, not for a while, anyway.” “What?! Why?” “I’m sorry Edward,” he said evenly, “I was so sure we were going to be here long-term that I haven’t even warned the hospital of our departure.” “So what?!” I cried, “You didn’t give them any warning in Forks! Ring the hospital now, what does it matter?!” I couldn’t believe that Carlisle was using the hospital as his excuse to stay; it was obvious that his decision had nothing to do with that. “I can’t do that-” “Why not?” “-because I don’t want to,” he finished simply. I gaped at him, and he carried on. “Leaving Forks was a terrible mistake with far-reaching consequences for all of us; I have no desire to make the same error again.” I roared, clasping my head in frustration. “SHE DOESN’T LOVE ME! When will you all accept that?!” Carlisle looked at me levelly, his calm face a polar opposite of my own. “Judging by what Emmett has just told us, you can’t be certain about that until you and Bella are both on the same page in terms of your feelings. I suggest that you remain in Rochester long enough to speak to her properly, preferably in a conversation that does not involve shouting.” I just gawked at him wordlessly. Why were they all so determined to work against me? I was utterly helpless. I couldn’t leave on my own without upsetting Esme and I couldn’t force my family to come with me. “And anyway,” Carlisle continued, seemingly oblivious to my dazed state, “it would be incredibly rude to leave now we’re expecting a visitor.” The word ‘visitor’ broke me straight out of my trance. We were expecting a visitor? Who would possibly want to visit us? We didn’t have any acquaintances who would visit us except for… my eyes widened in horror as I glimpsed Carlisle’s thoughts. “No!” I gasped, disbelieving. No way, he couldn’t possibly mean- “Why Carlisle?!” I shouted desperately, “How could you possibly think inviting her to stay was a good idea?!” Carlisle looked at me and I was only slightly comforted by the fact that he had the grace to be abashed. “I didn’t so much invite her as she invited herself…” he said guiltily. It was obvious from her expression that Carlisle had always divulged this crucial bit of information to Esme, but Edward and Jasper watched us in confusion. “Who’s coming to visit?” Jasper asked. “Tanya,” Carlisle and I said in unison, his voice calm, mine a horrified wail. This was not just bad; it was awful, terrible, CATASTROPHIC. Emmett burst out laughing.

I whipped around, glaring at him with eyes that screamed ‘drop dead now’. “How in hell is this situation funny?” Emmett raised his eyebrows, as if the answer was obvious. However once he had glanced from my livid expression to the others’ puzzled ones, he seemed to realise that nobody else got the joke. “Oh come on, can’t any of you see the humorous side of this?” he asked. We all continued to stare at him, nonplussed. “It’s funny because Tanya and Bella are both your exes-” “Wrong, but carry on,” I growled. Tanya was never my ‘ex’; we’d hardly even had a relationship; it had been more of an embarrassing misunderstanding. Emmett looked at me with a smirk. “Well can you really not see the irony in the fact that at 112 you’ve never been laid, yet you have two exes and the one that you detest is the one who wants to get into your pants?” Emmett Cullen: king of inappropriate comments. I sent him a glare that could shatter stone, before turning back to face Carlisle. “When does Tanya arrive?” Perhaps I can make an unexplained disappearance… “Tomorrow,” Carlisle said, halting all plans of escape in their tracks. “And I expect you to mind your manners and remember the way you were brought up, Edward. I don’t want you displaying anything but the utmost civility towards our guest. Now as far as Bella is concerned…” I groaned; this evening was turning from bad to worse. “…I recommend that you speak to her as soon as possible, if only to prove that you are capable of being a gentleman. Forget ‘seduction’, how about we try for a little bit of basic courtesy first?” Carlisle said, a slight smile haunting his features. I scowled. “Come on, haven’t we already established that this is pointle-” “You can start right away,” Carlisle said, ignoring my protestations. He wasn’t looking at me; instead he was focusing on something over my shoulder. I spun around, to see Rosalie round the corner into the courtyard from the paved pathway that skirted past the M block, followed at a distance by Alice and Bella. At first I felt angry- I had warned Alice not to talk to Bella- but then I felt my body stiffen, as my eyes drank in Bella’s appearance. She was listening calmly to an animated Alice, smiling warmly occasionally. She was so beautiful; even after all this time the sight of her still took my breath away. She looked stunning in the moonlight with her brown hair falling in soft waves to her shoulders, the deep chocolate colour a striking contrast to her radiantly pale skin. It dawned on me that all this talk of leaving Bella was worthless- there was no way I would ever be able to tear myself away from her again; I was still irrevocably in love with her. The air felt magnetically charged as my body yearned to close the distance between us, to touch her, to hold her and kiss her perfect lips… As she and Alice drew towards us, Bella looked up and caught sight of us, letting out a little gasp, her lips parting in a small ‘o’. It took all my self control not to grab her then, I gripped my hands into fists and forced myself to look at the floor; I had no desire to catch Jasper’s smug smile at my reaction. “Go to her now Edward,” Esme said softly, too quietly for Bella to hear, “we’ll wait for you in the parking lot.” “No, wait, I-” I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want them to leave me alone with Bella; in truth, I was terrified of her rejecting me again. “What do I say to her?” I finally asked feebly, suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable. Esme smiled. “Just be polite, Edward. You can be very charming you know- when you’re not shouting, that is. Just apologise to her and try not to lose your temper again.” She gave me a consoling hug, before turning on her heel to leave, the others following her. I tried to call after them, but before I could find the right words they had melted into the shadows and through a door back into the main part of the school. I was suddenly hyper aware of how quiet the courtyard was; it was silent except for the soft rush of passing cars on the street outside and the occasional whisper of the wind. Slowly, I turned around. Part of me was surprised to see Bella still standing there; I had half expected her to flee again. It had started to snow again; a few flakes had already collected on her eyelashes and the end curls of her hair. I realised with a slight smile that I was now jealous of snowflakes. Bella was watching me uncertainly and the blush that I knew and loved so well began to creep up her neck, caressing her cheeks. The familiar sight caused my body to react and before I could stop myself I was walking towards her as though drawn by a magnet. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, only that it was crucially important that I didn’t mess this up again. Whether she loved me or not, I simply couldn’t afford to lose Bella again. I loved her with ever inch of my being; without her, I was incomplete. I needed her like a fish needed water; our connection was permanent, binding and irreversible. I had to win her back. I was feet from her now and she was watching me with wide brown eyes. This was it; perhaps it was the only chance I would have to make things right. “Hello Bella,” I said, and my quiet voice seemed to ring around the empty courtyard. She looked at me breathlessly for a few moments, her wide eyes unsure. Tentatively, her perfect lips curled into a very small smile. “Hello Edward.”

Chapter 7 The evening continued to tick by, with each appointment seeming to drag on even longer than the last. I tried to stay focused, but despite my best efforts my attention started to wane and everything- the students, their parents, the questions- all blurred into a meaningless haze. By the time nine o’ clock had rolled around, I had misspelt two students’ names, mispronounced three more and even called a burly male football playing sophomore ‘Katherine’. It was official; I was cracking up. Therefore I was severely relieved when the bell finally rang at 9.30pm, signifying the end of appointments. I said an eager goodbye to my last student and her parents, who looked taken aback at my sudden animation, and ushered them towards the exit. Once they were safely through the door, I returned to my desk and flopped exhaustedly into my seat. What a night. I had been wrong when I had predicted the evening would be unpleasant; it had been much, much worse; the word ‘disaster’ wasn’t nearly strong enough to describe it. My behaviour towards Edward had been appalling and I felt sick with guilt at the way I had lied to Esme. My only consolation was that at least I hadn’t really lost anything; it wasn’t like Edward had had many warm feelings towards me in the first place, now he would just have considerably less. No, my most pressing problem was not Edward; rather it was the serious matter of my colleagues. As I looked around I noticed that nearly all of them were either watching or talking about me. So much for my decision to attempt to stay inconspicuous following my public argument with Edward in the classroom; in a mere couple of moments I had managed to make the whole situation ten times worse. The few people who hadn’t been aware of any ‘issues’ surrounding me and the attractive new student now certainly would be. I could feel the panic rise in my throat and I suddenly became hyper conscious of the way that everybody’s eyes were boring into me; it was like being under an extra bright spotlight. I have to get away, I thought to myself. I quickly began to gather my papers together, ignoring the whispers and heads flicking in my direction as I did so. My cheeks were on fire as I jumped to my feet and pushed my chair underneath my desk. I was just embarking on the walk to the doorway- since when had it been so far away?- looking determinedly at the floor, when a shadow fell across my path. I looked up to see one of the Teacher’s Assistants- a short, curvy woman with blonde curly hair and big blue eyes; her name was Leanne, I had worked with her in my Junior classes last year and she clearly thought that meant we were on speaking terms. She was currently eyeing me with a daring expression and as I glanced behind her I saw that her friends were watching us breathlessly from a couple of desks away. I felt as though my insides had been drenched in ice. What does she want? Is she going to ask something about Edward? Would she do that in front of all these people? My mind went into overdrive and I braced myself for the absolute worse-case scenario. “Who was that guy?” Leanne asked breathlessly. I felt my body stiffen. What could I say? ‘Oh, he’s my 112 year old vampire ex-boyfriend, why do you ask?’ I cringed; this whole situation could have been entirely avoidable were it not for my rash actions. “He’s a student here…” I said cautiously, trying to act as though her question meant nothing to me. She looked at me confusedly for a second, before suddenly letting out an irritating, high-pitched laugh. “Oh my Gawd, I didn’t mean the kid! I meant that guy with him!” At first I was distracted by the fact that she had just called Edward a kid- something which was both amusing when I pictured his reaction, and mortifying when I remembered the age gap between us. After a few moments, however, I managed to process the rest of the sentence. “You mean Carlisle?” I asked, startled. I watched with disbelief as she practically swooned right there in front of me. “Is that his name?” she asked eagerly, “I should’ve known it’d be just as hot as him. He’s gorgeous isn’t he?” I just looked at her open-mouthed. Carlisle? Hot? Sure, I’d always known he was extra-ordinarily attractive- I wasn’t blind, after all- but I’d never thought of him as ‘hot’. It was just too weird; he’d almost been my father and, although I knew he was only in his twenties, he’d always come across as much more mature. It felt very strange to be having this conversation and I suddenly felt a bit nauseous. “So, why was he here at a parents’ evening? He’s like, what, twenty-six?” Leanne asked, bringing me back to Earth. “Um, yeah, about that age,” I said quickly, glancing longingly towards the door, “He’s Edward’s father- adoptive father, that is. Him and Esme adopted Edward and his siblings a few years ago,” I explained. “None of them are related, well, the blond ones are, but the others aren’t. They’re all kind of together though, but it’s okay, ‘cause they’re not really brothers and sisters.” What had happened to me? It was like I had verbal diarrhea. I clamped my mouth shut, noticing Leanne’s nonplussed expression.

She stared at me oddly for a moment, before asking, in disappointed tones, “So Carlisle and the brunette are married then?” “Uh-huh,” I said, unwilling to allow myself to go off on another nervous tangent, “very happily married, have been for years; the perfect couple. Will you excuse me?” Without waiting for an answer, I walked hastily towards the exit, ignoring Leanne’s cry of “Wait, does he, like, have a brother?” and darting out of sight, letting the heavy double doors slam closed behind me. The corridor was quiet and empty- an excellent improvement on the noisy hall. Most of the students and their families seemed to have already left the building; no doubt they still had hopes to salvage their Friday night. I glanced out of the window and saw that at least another inch of snow had accumulated on the ground outside in the three hours I had been in the hall. I cursed bad temperedly. I was riding my motorbike home tonight; extra snow was the last thing I needed. I hardly ever got the bike out in winter anyway, but I had been forced to tonight by Rochester’s erratic and unhelpful Friday night bus scheduling; my choice had either been to ride my bike home or wait for an hour and a half in the cold bus shelter. I was starting to wonder if the bus shelter hadn’t been a better idea; although I had special tyre chains, they were limited in their effectiveness, especially in deep snow. One thing was for certain; it would not be an enjoyable ride. It was with a heavy heart that I turned away from the window and began to walk down the corridor to my office which was, typically, the other side of the school. As I turned the corner, I froze. There was somebody sitting on a chair at the end of the hallway, but it was too dark for me to identify them. Unwilling to speak to any of my colleagues again I started to turn, intending to make a quick exit, but then the figure stood and stepped into the light and I realised with a shock who it was. “Alice!” I cried involuntarily. The minute I said it I wished I hadn’t. Unlike her brother, Alice had made no attempt to contact me since her arrival in Forks; I had barely even seen her, except for rare glimpses at lunch or on my way to class. At first I had been very upset by her silence, but I had gradually accepted it. I couldn’t lie and say it didn’t hurtit did, awfully, - but I decided that it was much better in the long run if Alice didn’t want to be friends. That way, when the Cullens left as I knew they inevitably would, I would only have to suffer the pain of losing Edward again. All of this made me certain that Alice would not appreciate my speaking to her. But I was surprised. Instead of merely acknowledging me with a nod and then hurrying away, Alice took a few tentative steps towards me, before stopping uncertainly halfway down the corridor. She opened her mouth as though to speak then paused doubtfully again, as if apprehensive of how she would be received. Finally she spoke, “Hi.” It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the reason for Alice’s uncertainty was that she was worried about my reaction to her. It was a ridiculous idea, but one that seemed all the more likely as I took in her anxious expression. If that was what she was thinking I had to put her straight immediately, regardless of what it did to me later. I smiled at her with all the strength I could muster. “Hey Alice,” I said softly, “how’ve you been?” Without warning she bounded gracefully towards me, throwing her arms tightly around my neck. “Oh, Bella,” she breathed into my shoulder, her sweet scent enveloping me. “I’ve missed you so much!” She broke off and let out a tearless sob, holding me tighter. I patted her back lamely, unable to do anything else; it was now becoming extremely difficult for me to breathe; I’d forgotten just how constricting vampire hugs were. She seemed to notice my discomfort because she suddenly loosened her grip on me and leant back a little, surveying my face with sorrowful eyes. “I’m so sorry Bella,” she said mournfully, “for everything, for leaving, for not saying goodbye,” she shook her head sadly “I never should have agreed to it but he made me.” I baulked at the mention of Edward and immediately tried to steer the conversation back to safer topics. “Um, It’s okay Alice,” I said and, as the words left my lips, I realised that I really meant them. Just as I had been with Carlisle and Esme, I was thrilled to have Alice back in my life. She was still the best friend I had ever had and I couldn’t honestly say that I was anything but delighted to see her again. However it seemed that Alice wouldn’t be deterred and she continued to apologise. “I wanted to come and see you, to explain, but Edward said I couldn’t, he was so anxious to leave,” I winced slightly at this inadvertent confirmation of Edward’s indifference towards me, but Alice carried on obliviously, “and then when we got to Rochester, he said that he wanted to talk to you on his own, so-” I grimaced. More talk of Edward. “It’s okay,” I repeated, “I completely forgive you; there’s hardly even anything to forgive.” She looked at me anxiously before continuing, “Are you sure? You’re really not mad? Because if you are, I can totally get down on my knees and beg for forgiveness; I had it all planned out and everything, I even wore scruffy jeans

tonight!” I had to laugh as I gazed at Alice’s perfectly fitting, beautifully distressed jeans which looked like they had come straight off of an Italian catwalk. Only Alice could call such a stunning garment ‘scruffy’. “No,” I assured her, “I don’t want you to beg. I completely accept your apology.” An expression of greatest relief crossed her features. “Thank God,” she exhaled, “I was so worried that you’d never want to talk to me again. Which I would have completely deserved; I acted horribly.” She wrapped her arms around me again, “thank you,” she said, her words muffled by my shoulder. “You’re welcome,” I replied, hugging her back for a few moments. As I released her, however, something struck me. “Hang on a second,” I asked perplexedly, “didn’t you see my acceptance coming? I mean, couldn’t you see that I’d be fine with it?” An odd, slightly embarrassed expression crossed Alice’s face. “Well… no, I couldn’t,” she replied reluctantly, “I haven’t been able to see you for… well for about six years, actually.” I looked at her, amazed. Six years? So basically since“Since you left, then?” I asked, in need of clarification. Never in the year that I had known the Cullens in Forks had any of them ever indicated that Alice’s visions concerning a certain person could just stop altogether. I wondered grimly what that said about my future in relation to her and her family. “Not exactly, I could see you for a few months after we left…” Alice trailed off and I realised she must be thinking of my zombie like state that had encompassed most of the Fall semester of my Senior year. I felt my face flush with embarrassment; it had never occurred to me at the time that Alice might have been witness to my pain. “But then sometime in February, everything to do with you just disappeared,” Alice continued. “I couldn’t see you at all, not even little glimpses; it was terrifying for me- I’d never felt so blind in my life.” She shuddered slightly, her expression haunted. “I started to panic; I didn’t know what had happened to you, I started to wonder if maybe you’d died. So I came back to Forks.” On hearing these words I gasped, and moved backwards slightly to get a better look at her. “You did what??” I asked, disbelieving. She came back without telling me? “I came back,” she repeated ashamedly, “it was during the day, you were at school. I lingered in the parking lot watching you through the window, just long enough to establish you were still alive…” “…then you left again,” I said hollowly. To think she had been there watching me, and I never knew. What would I have done if I had seen her? Cried? Laughed? Shouted? Perhaps it was better that I hadn’t; in February I had barely started to recover from Edward’s desertion and I was still incredibly fragile emotionally. Who knows how I would have reacted to seeing Alice, only to have her leave again? “I didn’t want to!” Alice assured me urgently, “Honestly Bella, if I’d had it my way we never would have left at all, but Edward made me promise not to look for your future or contact you. He convinced me it was for the best but…” she hesitated slightly, before continuing more cautiously, “well, after what I saw in those first few months… I’m not so sure I agree.” There was a long silence after that, in which we both dwelt on thoughts of my prolonged catatonia. “I’m sorry,” she said finally in a very small voice, “I’m sorry for everything we put you through; you would’ve been better if you had never known me.” This apology snapped me out of my reverie and I looked at Alice fiercely. “No Alice, don’t you dare apologise for that of all things. I will never regret befriending you, not once. The time I spent with you and your family the summer after my Junior year was the best time of my life and nothing can ever change that. I… I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re back and I’m determined to make the most of it.” Before you leave again. The last part of the sentence was unspoken but I knew that she could sense it hanging there in the air. There was another long silence in which I smiled tentatively at Alice, whilst inwardly wondering if I had been too forward. I was reassured however when she finally broke the awkwardness by a big, beaming smile. “I really have missed you,” she said, flashing her perfect teeth at me, “we have so much to catch up on. I want to know everything that’s happened to you since we left.” That won’t take very long, my mind said wryly, but I tried to paste on a convincing smile. “Sounds great,” I said as enthusiastically as I could. In truth, I was a little wary of canvassing any topic of conversation with Alice that could potentially move onto Edward. If Alice noticed my reluctance, however, she showed no outward sign of it.

“What are your plans for this weekend?” she asked brightly. “Um…” Somehow, I didn’t think that, as far as Alice was concerned, reading reams of depressing poetry and consuming half the contents of my fridge would count as ‘plans’. “Excellent,” she interjected, “you can come shopping with Rosalie and me.” Woah, back up. “Rosalie?” I questioned Alice incredulously, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I knew that Rosalie had always had the most difficulty accepting me into her family and I had hardly even been on speaking terms with her, even at the absolute best of times. She had generally treated me like traffic jams in rush hour: irritating but unavoidable. I secretly thought it was because she resented the fact I had been unable to even vaguely measure up to her standards of perfection. I had never voiced these beliefs, however; I had always known that Alice loved her sister dearly and would not take kindly to disparaging remarks about her. I had no desire to break my own rule now. “Oh come on now,” Alice said gaily, “you and Rosalie were friends too!” There was a silence as I surveyed Alice with a look that said ‘have you gone utterly insane?’ “Well, okay,” she finally conceded begrudgingly, “that’s not strictly true-” “Not strictly true?!” I asked in amazement, “Alice, this is me and Rosalie we’re talking about!” “-but there’s no reason you can’t be friends now!” she finished, ignoring my assertion. “Besides, I’m almost certain that she missed you too. For one thing, life has been a lot less interesting without you-” I snorted; it was nice to know that she counted my being stalked halfway across the country by a psychotic vampire as ‘interesting’, “- and for another, she thinks you have a good influence on Edward.” I felt my stomach lurch; we had somehow gotten back onto the topic of Edward again. Was there any escaping it? Such was my displeasure that I hardly noticed the small grin that crossed Alice’s face on her words, as though she was recalling a particularly amusing memory. However before I could question her about it, she had fixed me with a determined gaze again. “So will you come tomorrow?” Her eyes widened and she looked at me, her face full of hopeful pleading. “I don’t know…” I said noncommittally. I did want to catch up with Alice again like old times- I could even put up with a day of shopping and Rosalie- but I was still reluctant to subject myself to unnecessary ‘Edward talk’. “Pleeease,” she wheedled unashamedly. I sighed; somewhere there were some puppy dogs who wanted their eyes back. I shook my head at my own weakness. “Fine,” I caved. “Yes” she squealed, hugging me quickly again before clapping her hands in delight. “You won’t regret this Bella, it’s going to be brilliant.” “Sure, sure,” I said tolerantly, “but it’s just shopping with you and Rosalie, right? There won’t be anyone… anyone else there?” I knew I was being ridiculous, but I still couldn’t bring myself to say his name when I could possibly avoid it. Alice immediately knew who I was talking about- or rather, who I wasn’t talking about. Her smile faded slightly, but she tried to cover it up. “No, it’ll just be us girls; we’ll make a full day of it! I haven’t had a chance to check out the malls here yet, but I’ve heard they’re quite passable. Of course, we could take a day trip to New York…” I sighed with relief and relaxed, half tuning out, as Alice went off on a monologue where she seemed to analyse every single shopping mall she had visited and gave each one points out of ten in over five different categories. As she talked we walked towards my office, where I picked up a bulging rucksack. I had traded it in for my usual bag for the night because I required extra space for my leather motorcycle jacket and helmet. I had only recently begun to wear safety equipment- it was mainly Charlie’s endless threats and pleas, culminating in a promise that he would write me out of his will if I didn’t, that had persuaded me- and even now I didn’t remember to wear it as often as I should. Alice didn’t ask why my bag was so large and I didn’t tell her; I didn’t need to be psychic to guess that she would be less than impressed at my new preferred means of transport. As we made our way back through the building to the parking lot, we came across Rosalie. “There you are,” she said, very fast, to Alice, “where have you been? Carlisle told me to come and get you, the others are-” she stopped abruptly as she noticed me standing next to Alice. “Oh,” she said briefly, a look of irritated understanding crossing her face. “Bella and I have been having a little chat,” Alice said quickly, as much to fill the sudden uncomfortable silence that had descended upon us.

“Really?” asked Rosalie and she sent Alice a piercing glance before saying something to her at vampire speed. I only caught the phrases ‘told you’ and ‘not allowed’, but her meaning was clear enough. I looked away, my cheeks burning again. It was embarrassing enough that Edward had felt the need to set down such ‘rules’, let alone that everyone had to keep referring to them. Depressed, I didn’t even bother to try and decipher Alice’s short reply, instead preferring to play dejectedly with the straps on my bag. A frustrated “Fine!” from Rosalie signified the end of their conversation and I looked up to see her throw us both a displeased glance, before turning on her heel and walking briskly down the corridor. I looked helplessly to Alice, who was watching her discontentedly. I rolled my eyes; sure, Rosalie and I could be friends. “Come on,” Alice said in a low voice, “we better follow her.” I just nodded dumbly and began to walk, only vaguely listening as Alice half-heartedly resumed her shopping talk. We passed through a door and stepped outside into a wall of ice cold air. I shivered and instantly wrapped my arms around myself; in the few hours since school had ended the temperature must have dropped by at least ten degrees. I forced myself to pay more attention to Alice in order to distract myself from the temperature. Why on Earth did I choose to work somewhere so cold? Alice was just making some amusing comment about the shop assistants in a mall in Connecticut, when we turned a corner into the central paved courtyard of the school. I laughed freely; I felt happier than I had done in months. I usually only felt like this when I was with Jacob. I was suddenly noticed that Alice had stopped walking. “Oh crap,” she swore quietly, her eyes fixed on something at the other end of the courtyard. I followed her gaze, confused, and gasped loudly. All of the Cullens were there, standing in a closely knit group among the snow covered tables. My blush returned in full force as I felt seven pairs of golden eyes fall upon me. I looked away with embarrassment but from the corner of my eye I saw Edward’s head flicker towards Esme. This is bad, I thought, this is really, really, really“Bella?” Alice whispered quickly at me, “Bella, are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I said, my breathing reaching near hyperventilation. “Don’t panic,” Alice said in a comforting voice, so quietly that I only I could hear her, “everything will be fine, just relax.” Something about her sentence didn’t quite make sense. What was going to be fine? As I looked back to where the Cullens had been standing, I noticed with horror that they had all gone, leaving only… “Alice!” I hissed frantically, whipping around to face at her. But she too had disappeared. The courtyard was now completely deserted apart from Edward and me. VAMPIRES! My mind screamed with aggravation. I was now completely helpless; running away was not an option, no doubt my vampire friends would retrieve me immediately. My heart filled with dread, I watched through the snow that had now begun to fall in slow flurries as Edward turned around to face me. I was expecting a renewed slur of angry attacks and braced myself for more shouting, but it didn’t come. I took Edward’s expression in with open-mouthed surprise; he was practically unrecognisable from the infuriated creature I had seen earlier that evening. What’s going on? I wondered with confusion. I was even more shocked as I saw him smile- actually smileand walk towards me. I was so shocked that I couldn’t do anything but stand there, gormless as a lemon, watching as Edward approached me. He was now mere feet away from me and I swore that I could feel the air crackle between us as though charged by static electricity. “Hello Bella,” he breathed, his voice gentle voice echoing slightly in the silence. My eyes took in every inch of his expression. It was calm, repentant and warm. What on earth had gotten in to him? I wondered, dumbfounded. It was hard to be hostile when he looked so welcoming. Very, very uncertainly I half-returned his smile. “Hello Edward.” “Will you walk with me?” he asked politely. I could see from his face that it really was a request; he seemed to think I was perfectly entitled to turn him down if I wanted to. I was still so shocked by the turn of events that I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say, so I just nodded dumbly. I shifted the rucksack on my back slightly; it was heavy and all this standing around had started to take its toll. Edward noticed my discomfort immediately and instantly stuck out his hand. “May I?” he asked. For one insane moment I thought he was actually asking to hold my hand, until I realised he was looking pointedly at my bag. “Um, sure,” I said doubtfully, trying to shrug off the rucksack. In a typical display of my rampant clumsiness, I managed to twist the straps and get one of them caught on the back of my belt. “Oh shoot,” I said in frustration as craned my neck to look over my shoulder and flapped helplessly like a turtle stuck on its back, trying in vain to disentangle myself. My cheeks were now tomato red as I thought of what I must look like to Edward. Then I froze, as I felt Edward’s cool hand touch my shoulder.

“Allow me,” he murmured, his voice smooth as velvet. My heart rate instantly increased by a hundred beats a minute as I realised how close he was; his slow breathing was actually tickling the back of my neck, causing goose bumps to break out on my skin immediately. I held my breath, not daring to move, as I felt his hands trace across my shoulder blades, lingering slightly at the base of my neck. Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God my thoughts blithered incoherently. Was he trying to make me faint? If so, he was doing very well; I doubted I would be able to keep standing for longer than a minute if he continued to touch me like this. Slowly, he moved his hands to the straps and began to untwist them gently, his face still mere inches behind me. I let out an involuntary gasp as he moved his hands again, this time to brush them down along my spine, coming to a halt just below my waist where the bag’s strap was caught in my belt loop. “Edward,” I choked hoarsely, my breathing ragged. He had to stop this now; if he didn’t I would jump on him again. If only he knew what kind of affect his touch was having on me. “Yes?” he asked innocently, a hint of a chuckle lacing his honeyed tones. He leaned even closer and his scent washed over me, causing me to forget what I had been going to say. I wasn’t sure I would’ve even been able to answer if he had asked me my own name, I was so stunned. As he disentangled the clips his fingertips brushed the hem of my shirt and for the briefest second, his hands came into contact with my bare skin. My entire body convulsed as I felt electricity surging through my veins. Edward’s hands froze at my reaction and I closed my eyes, mortified, waiting for him to get angry again at my blatant display of how obsessed I was with him. After a few seconds, however, he wordlessly resumed the removal of my bag. I let out my breath in a low whoosh, bewildered to the supreme. Seriously, what IS going on? To my utmost relief, he finally released me from my rucksack and I instantly put a safe amount of distance between me and those wicked hands. Edward and I just stared at each other for a couple of moments, before he broke the silence. “I’ll carry this to the parking lot for you,” he said courteously gesturing towards the door through which his family had disappeared. I just nodded, still too dazed to say anything. His unexplained gentlemanly behaviour continued as we reached the door, with him holding it open for me. This was starting to freak me out; it was like I had accidentally wandered into a very odd, but not necessarily unpleasant, dream. We walked through school and all the while I was waiting for the moment when Edward would suddenly realise that he was walking with me, Bella- the same Bella who he had previously found so repulsive- and go back to his frustrated, angry self. So when he abruptly came to a stop by the large front doors in the entrance hall, I mentally prepared myself for the shouting. But it didn’t come. Instead, Edward said in a level voice, “Before we go out there, I’d like to apologise.” I gaped at him. What? “Apologise for what?” I asked, nonplussed. “For the atrocious way that I’ve treated you over the last few weeks,” he said earnestly, “I’ve been obnoxious and abrasive and I’m truly sorry if I hurt you; I assure you that was not my intention.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Although it was true that he had made life difficult for me, especially in the classroom, it wasn’t like it had been entirely his fault. To some extent I was just as much to blame as he was for the disastrous events of the past weeks and, taking in to account my behaviour tonight, much more so. I noticed that Edward was still staring at me apprehensively and realised that I hadn’t responded to his words. “Um,” I began, before inwardly cringing at myself. He was so eloquent yet I, who usually fancied myself as rather articulate, became completely tongue-tied whenever he looked at me. “That’s, uh, fine. I accept your apology.” What else could I say? How could I tell him that the thing that hurt me most was the fact that he didn’t love me? I could put up with a thousand petty fights if it meant things could go back to how they were six years ago, but that was impossible- Edward didn’t feel the same way, so even mentioning my love for him was pointless. It was far safer to just pretend, as I had done to Esme, that I had merely been offended by his disruption and rudeness. I looked back at Edward who seemed to be watching me with a certain amount of dissatisfaction on his flawless features, but before I could begin to wonder why, he flashed me a dazzling smile. “Thank you,” he said genuinely, his eyes a mesmerising liquid topaz, “would you like to show me where you’re parked?” He held up my bag, my favourite crooked grin crossing his face. I stared at him dazedly for a few seconds before blinking rapidly, trying to force myself to focus. “Yeah, sure,” I said, slightly disorientated, “it’s, uh, this way,” I pulled at the door handle, my hands shaking slightly. Nothing happened. I continued to pull with a renewed force, putting all my effort into it. “Bella?” “Yes, Edward?” I said through gritted teeth as I glared at the insubordinate door handle.

“The sign says ‘Push’.” “Oh. Thanks,” I cringed, pushing it open, my cheeks flaming again. Again with the humiliation, I thought, what is with you tonight? It was freezing outside. I instantly hunched my shoulders and bowed my head against the snowflakes that were still falling. There was just a smattering of cars left in the parking lot, including two very-fast looking cars that I instantly would have guessed as belonging to the Cullens, even if the entire family minus Edward hadn’t all been sitting inside them. I vaguely recognised the one on the left as Carlisle’s Mercedes, but I was sure that the second one was new. “Do you drive that to school now?” I asked Edward, my voice muffled by the cold wind. He glanced at the car offhandedly. “Yes, Carlisle and Rosalie chose it.” “It’s nice,” I said blandly. Really, I had no idea whether it was or not- I didn’t know enough about cars- but it certainly was shiny. Edward looked at me with a raised eyebrow and then chuckled; the sound sent pleasant shivers down my spine. “You don’t have to pretend, Bella, I know you don’t care much for cars.” “I liked the Volvo,” I corrected him, “at least, I did when you weren’t driving it at five hundred miles per hour. Have you still got it?” Edward was silent. I looked at him curiously and was surprised to see that he was staring at me with a pained expression. I racked my brains for what I could possibly have said to upset him, but I couldn’t think of anything. “Yes,” he finally said, very quietly, “I still have it.” “But you don’t drive it?” I began, confusedly, “Why no-” “So where am I taking your bag?” Edward interrupted me loudly. I was watched him in confusion, wondering why he had changed the subject, before it dawned on me that perhaps he was just getting tired of this small talk. I instantly felt embarrassed for exploiting his simple apology by engaging him in nonsensical conversation. I hadn’t intended to do so- it was just far too easy to forget everything that had happened when I was around him. He was like balm for my wounds, which was ironic since he had been their cause in the first place. “I’m parked over there,” I said, pointing to a spot a couple of spaces away. Parked there were a silver Mondeo, a battered blue Ford and a large dirty white van, beyond which, concealed from view, was my motorbike. Edward took one glance at the motley collection of vehicles before heading straight for the Ford. “I see your taste in cars is still just as poor,” he commented, running a disdainful hand over the car’s dented bonnet and pausing to peer disparagingly through the windows at the dingy interior. “Is there a particular reason that you repeatedly seek the slowest forms of transportation available to you?” I rolled my eyes. Men and cars; they were all exactly the same. Show them something with wheels and an engine and they instantly used it as an opportunity to bore everyone with their superior knowledge. Maybe Jacob and Edward wouldn’t get on so badly after all. I eased my bag from Edward’s grip, ignoring his continued comments about the car, and squeezed past him through the gap between the Ford and the van, coming out on the other side. There sat my motorbike. Red and shiny, it was almost unrecognisable to the rusty pile of parts I had saved from the Markse family’s scrap heap. Over the years Jacob had tweaked and modified it to his heart’s content and it was now a pretty respectable piece of machinery. Its engine and top speed might not have impressed the likes of Edward, but it suited me perfectly well. I placed my rucksack on the floor next to the bike and began to unzip it. From the corner of my eye I saw that Edward had emerged from the other side of the van. He stood there watching me rummage through my bag, a look of wary mystification on his face. “What are you doing Bella?” he asked, as I pulled my leather jacket from the depths of my rucksack and shrugged it on. “Going home,” I replied, pulling out my helmet and clipping my hair back from my face before donning it too. Then I zipped closed the bag and put my arms through the straps, key in hand. Edward’s eyes narrowed. “But what about your car?”

“It’s not my car,” I said, swinging my leg over the saddle. “But you-” “No I didn’t, you just assumed,” I replied, sticking the key in the ignition. The bike immediately roared to life. I smiled slowly. I love that sound. It brought back memories of hot summers and rainy autumns, of hours spent in Jacob’s garage with no sound but the hiss of opening soda cans and the clink of tools, the heat rolling off of his bare chest in waves as he worked tirelessly away at the engine of his old Rabbit. If I tried hard enough, I could still hear the rain pounding against the iron roof, Jacob’s infectious laughter and the far off beating of paws on the track outside which always announced the arrival of Quil or Embry. I miss it all so much. I thought wistfully. Maybe it was a time for a change; perhaps once the Cullens left I should start looking for a job back West. I looked back to Edward to see he had moved inhumanly fast to stand in front of the bike, blocking its path. His eyes were flashing like fire and his mouth was curled down into an angry scowl; he looked almost as menacing as he had done earlier that evening. Oh look, I thought wryly to myself, angry Edward’s back. “You are NOT riding that,” he growled warningly. “I think you’ll find I am,” I said, revving the engine loudly to prove my point. “NO!” Edward shouted. His beautiful voice was blissfully furious and I realised with a slight chill that he sounded just had he always had done in my hallucinations when I had first started riding my motorbike. It was hard to pretend that I didn’t find his anger more than a little bit attractive, but it was also rather irritating. I was cold, it was late and I wanted to go home. I didn’t have time for this. “Edward, you’re being ridiculous.” I sighed. “I’M being ridiculous? Bella, you can hardly walk over a flat surface without tripping and now you’re telling me that you’ve taken up riding motorcycles, MOTORCYCLES?! Of all the stupid, reckless, insane things to do-” Why do you care? I thought wistfully, What’s it to you if I hurt myself on this bike? I wanted so badly to pretend that he was worried about me and wanted to keep me safe, but I knew that was delusional. It was more likely that he was doing this just out of habit; it was just an irritating hang-over from the days where he had been protective of me. “-do you know how many people get KILLED on these death-traps a year? Is that what you want- to become a statistic?” He was still ranting at me. I noticed from the corner of my eye that the rest of the Cullens had got out of their cars and were walking towards us, no doubt wondering what the hold up was. I groaned; there were only so many ‘scenes’ I could take today. “Look,” I said hastily, “whether or not I choose to ride a motorbike is up to me. I’m an adult now and I’m fully capable of making my own decisions.” “Well you clearly AREN’T if you choose to do something as ludicrous as ride a motorbike!” Edward yelled at me, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!? Have you actually gone INSANE?!” That was it; I was angry again. So much for apologies and truces, now I just wanted to fight back. How dare he treat me like an idiot? “Stop it Edward, this has nothing to do with you.” “Yes it does!” He shouted, apoplectic with rage. “No it doesn’t!” I snapped, irritated, “It’s no concern of yours what I do with my life; you made that pretty clear when you left. Now out of my way please!” I knew Edward would refuse again, but I didn’t wait for a response. Trusting that the element of surprise would play to my advantage, I revved the engine again and span the steering wheel, causing the bike to turn sharply, facing the opposite direction to Edward. Then, ignoring his outraged roars, I slammed my foot down on the acceleration pedal with all the force I could muster, making the bike shoot forwards like a bullet from a gun. Within seconds I was already twenty metres away from an astounded Edward. I was going so fast that I only just had time to steer away from the Cullen family who were all standing, staring open-mouthed at me, in the middle of the parking lot. “See you tomorrow Alice!” I cried over the roar of my engine and Edward’s howling profanities. “You can pick me up at 11.00!” And then I sped off towards the open road, not even bothering to conceal my wide grin. Who ever said Bella Swan couldn’t be cool?

Chapter 8 “Stop it Edward, this has nothing to do with you Uh-Oh, We're In Trouble Something's Come Along And It's Burst Our Bubble Yeah, Yeah! Uh-Oh, We're In Trouble “Stop it Edward, this has nothing to do with you.” Bella said angrily, her eyes flashing. I felt myself swell with anger. “Yes it does!” “No it doesn’t! It’s no concern of yours what I do with my life; you made that pretty clear when you left. Now out of my way please!” Her words hit me like lightning. You made that pretty clear when you left. Did that mean… could that mean what I thought it did? Could it be that maybe Emmett and Jasper were right, that Bella still believed my parting words of rejection? But that was so stupid! If she loved me and I loved her then the only thing keeping us apart was a huge, awful misunderstanding. I opened my mouth, but before I could form words Bella had swerved the bike unexpectedly and was speeding full-pelt across the car park. “BELLA COME BACK!” I shouted desperately. She didn’t stop and my eyes instantly zeroed in on the motorbike. Perhaps if I ran at it from just the right angle, I could stop the confounded thing and pull Bella off of it without hurting her. My feverish plans were interrupted by Esme’s thoughts. Don’t you DARE touch that bike Edward! She ordered me, It’s far too dangerous- what if you missed and sent her flying to the ground? I swore with frustration. I knew Esme was right, but I couldn’t bear to just stand here and watch Bella speed away from me, still believing that I didn’t love her. I tried to shout at her again, but it was obvious she wasn’t listening. I caught the end strand of what she was saying to Alice. “- can pick me up at 11.00!” she shouted, her words almost lost to the deafening sound of the motorcycle’s engines. I came to a stuttering halt next to Alice, still roaring at Bella to stop but to absolutely no avail. She flashed us all a winning smile, before whipping past of us and shooting out of the car part out onto the road, where she was quickly swallowed up by Friday night traffic. My family stood in a stunned silence, staring wide-eyed at the space where she had just been. Emmett whistled appreciatively. “Damn!” he said, very impressed, “Since when did Bella become such a badass?” There was a silence for a second and then my siblings exploded into laughter. Carlisle and Esme, on the other hand, continued to watch the spot where Bella had disappeared onto the road, shocked. Finally, Carlisle spoke. “What… what just happened?” he asked, confused. “Well it would seem that Edward managed to screw up yet another perfect opportunity to make up with Bella, so we will all have to endure this drama for a bit longer,” Rosalie sighed looking at me with irriation, “It would also seem that, despite all the odds, Bella Swan finally grew a backbone.” Rosalie raised her eyebrows as though the very concept was unbelievable. The others laughed again. “Will you stop?!” I growled angrily at them all, “Can’t you see how serious this is? Bella was just riding a motorbike-” “-very well, by the looks of it-” Alice inserted “- and none of you can see how dangerous that is?” I challenged them, ignoring Alice’s comment. “Yeah sure,” Emmett said, “it’s dangerous, but are you seriously telling me that you weren’t slightly turned on by that? She was wearing leather! It was hot, wasn’t it Jasper?” We all turned to look at Jasper, who looked slightly taken aback at suddenly being shoved under the spotlight. “Don’t you DARE answer that-” I began warningly.

“Uh yeah, it was from where I was standing,” he said, causing Emmett to laugh loudly again. I growled at them both, but Jasper just shrugged sheepishly at me. Well what am I meant to say? It was. “Alright boys, that’s enough drooling over foxy Bella,” Alice said, but we could all see she found the situation deeply amusing. Her words suddenly reminded me of something. “What did Bella mean ‘you can pick me up at 11.00?’” I demanded. “Rosalie and I are taking Bella shopping,” she said smoothly. I gaped at her. “I thought I told you to stay away from her!” Alice narrowed her eyes at me and she suddenly looked positively dangerous. “And since when did you have full control of what I do and who I see, Edward Cullen?” “Since it involved Bella!” I said angrily. “Oh get over yourself Edward, she’s my friend too! You don’t have sole ownership rights to her you know! She’s not an object!” “I know that, you’re the one who always treated her like some sort of overgrown doll!” Carlisle cleared his throat and we both looked up. “What?!” we asked, irritated. “Children please, stop bickering,” Esme sighed. We both ruffled at the use of the word ‘children’, but Esme raised her eyebrow as if daring us to correct her. We both sighed. “Sorry Mom,” we said in unison, hanging our heads like seven year olds. “That’s better,” she nodded, satisfied. “Now, unless any of you have any objections, I suggest that we go home; we still have a guest to prepare for.” I groaned again; I had almost forgotten about Tanya’s impending visit. Both Carlisle and Esme shot me reprimanding looks. You promised to behave, Edward, Esme admonished me. I sighed, frustrated. “Okay fine,” I said reluctantly, “but can I go and check on Bella first? I want to make sure she got home without crashing.” I looked away embarrassedly; I knew Emmett would scoff at my sentimentality and Esme would glow smugly. I decided Carlisle was the safest bet in terms of keeping his expression neutral, so I focused on him. Don’t be embarrassed Edward, he thought, I’m glad that you’re acting responsibly again. Perhaps next time you’ll be able to have an entire conversation with Bella without raising your voice. He added, slightly amused. I winced, but before I could respond Carlisle spoke out loud. “That’s fine, but you’ll need to take someone in the car with you; there’s only space for five in the Mercedes,” he said, before turning to survey the family. He was clearly deciding which one of my siblings I was least likely to start a fight with. He did not consider Esme because we all knew she wanted to get home and prepare for Tanya’s arrival, although how you could ‘prepare’ for a guest that didn’t eat or sleep, I had no idea. “Jasper can go with you,” Carlisle finally said. It was the most sensible choice; Jasper was the sibling I argued with least and if I did get angry he could just calm me straight down again. Jasper nodded dutifully and leant down to kiss Alice, before heading off towards my car. “See you later,” I muttered to the rest of my family, following Jasper. As I opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat, Bella’s parting words were running through my head again. It’s no concern of yours what I do with my life; you made that pretty clear when you left. Was I right in assuming that she was still under the delusion I didn’t love her? It would certainly help to explain her erratic behaviour towards me. Or was I, as I had been so many times of late, just misinterpreting the signs again and imagining things that were not there? I groaned, slamming my foot down on the pedal and reversing out of the space at top speed. “Tonight,” I said to Jasper, turning and exiting onto the road, “was an absolute disaster.” I was following the familiar route to Bella’s apartment that I had already haunted so many times since we had come to Rochester. Well yeah, Jasper thought, having returned to our usual means of conversation now that we were alone, it wasn’t great. But it wasn’t a total failure either.

“How did you figure that one out?” I asked, racing through the lights just as they went red and turning right at the crossroads. Well at least we can be sure of one thing now, Jasper replied. “And what’s that?” I asked despondently as I turned on to Bella’s street, bringing the car to much slower speed so that I could peer through her window. How Bella feels about you. “What do you mean?” I questioned, not really listening as I strained to catch a glimpse of Bella. I had just seen her walk past the window, apparently unharmed, when Jasper spoke out loud, distracting me completely. “She loves you Edward,” he said simply, a smile on his face. “What?!” I gasped, “How could you tell??” Jasper rolled his eyes at me. “Just because your and Alice’s powers aren’t working on Bella doesn’t mean mine doesn’t.” “You mean-” I said, hardly daring to believe what I was hearing. “Yep,” he grinned, “her love for you was coming off in waves; it was so strong I could even feel it from the parking lot when you were both still in the courtyard. Speaking of which, I though you told us you were going to stop trying to seduce her?” he looked at me with a smirk. “I did!” I said, surprised, glancing back to her window, “I was just talking to her.” Jasper shook his head, amused. “Well whatever you were doing, you did it well; at one point she could hardly keep from throwing herself at you.” “Really?” I felt a huge smile crossing my face. That must have been why she reacted so violently when I freed her from her rucksack. I suddenly felt ecstatically happy, more so than I had done for years. If Jasper was correct, if what he was saying was true then I was only one simple conversation away from being with Bella again. “I’m not saying that you won’t have your work cut out winning her back,” Jasper said hastily, “you hurt her really badly Edward and she’s still in an awful lot of pain emotionally. Plus she’s got a lot of anger towards you- something which isn’t helped by the way you keep losing your temper with her.” I nodded seriously, but it was hard to feel too downhearted; Bella loved me! “There was something else though,” Jasper said, interrupting my inner celebrations, “it was weird; I could hardly even tell what the emotion was at first, I’ve never detected it from her before. In fact the only person who ever normally feels that way is you.” “What was it?” I asked, suddenly alarmed. What could Bella possibly be feeling that was foreign to Jasper? “Guilt,” Jasper answered, frowning, “and self loathing,” he added, almost as an after-thought. “She absolutely detests herself Edward. It was so strong; it was painful for me to just be around her. But the weirdest thing was the nature of it; she was feeling it all the time, yet it didn’t seem to cause her too much pain. It was almost as if she’s so used to hating herself that the emotion has sort of just faded into the background. It’s normal for her now.” I stared at Jasper, stricken. “But why?” I asked, my chest tight; the thought that my angel, so perfect in every single way, could possibly feel so horrible about herself was excruciating. I was different- I was a monster and had taken innocent lives- my self-hatred was unavoidable, but for Bella to feel the same way? What did she even have to feel guilty about? She had never sinned in her life. It was insane. Jasper just shook his head, worriedly. “I have no idea; I can only tell you what she’s feeling, not why. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that she feels guilty over a single event; the emotion seemed too concentrated for several. But whatever the reason, I can tell you now that it’s not something which will change quickly. The guilt is so embedded in her now- it’ll be near impossible to rip it away. When you do finally get back together, it’ll still take months- maybe even years- to heal her completely.” “I don’t care,” I said instantly, “I’ll be here for her for eternity, and whatever it takes to make things better, I’ll do it.”

Jasper looked at me quizzically. “For eternity?” he asked, “do you realise what that means Edward? What you’ll have to do?” “Yes,” I said, bowing my head. Bella would have to become a vampire. I had been mulling the concept over ever since we had returned to Rochester and although my mind still told me it was wrong to take away Bella’s life, my heart pleaded otherwise. I had already experienced what it would be like to lose Bella and I was certain that I could not cope with that again. I did not want to steal her soul, but I was resigned to the fact that I could not, would not let her go again. I wanted to be by her side forever… if she’d have me. I looked back to Bella’s window; the drapes were drawn. She must have closed them unnoticed by me during my conversation with Jasper. I wondered whether she had seen us and then, with a heavier heart, I wondered whether she was still angry at me about the motorcycle. The happiness I had felt at Jasper’s initial information had deflated to be replaced by an ominous sense of foreboding. I took one last glance at Bella’s covered window and sighed dejectedly, before pulling away from the curb and driving back down the street. “We better get back to the house,” I murmured to Jasper, “Esme will kill us if we’re not there to greet Tanya.” Even as I sped into the snow covered driveway that led to our secluded mansion on the south bank of Lake Ontario, just outside Rochester, I knew I was too late. Not only could I hear the rest of the family’s voices, but their thoughts were ricocheting around inside of my head like particles of over-excited gas, making it ache. A quick glance at Jasper’s pained expression showed me that their emotions were similarly hyperactive. I drove the car to the front of the house and cut the engine, causing the lights to go out. Jasper and I sat there silently in the dark for a few moments, both unwilling to leave the sanctuary of the car. We’d best go in, Jasper thought, without making any motion to move. “Yes,” I nodded, staring unseeingly out of the windscreen. There was a long pause as both of us just sat still, reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the quiet vehicle. Come on, Jasper finally thought decisively, we can’t put it off forever. Let’s go inside before she comes out heThe car door suddenly swung open with a loud WHOOSH. Too late, I thought wryly. Standing with her hands on her hips, framed by the light that was flooding from the open front doors of the house, was a slim figure with long strawberry blonde hair and mischievous eyes. Tanya. “Hello boys,” she said wickedly, an impish smile stretching across her ruby red painted lips. Jasper and I uncurled from our seats immediately and abandoned the car which, until two seconds ago, had been a safe haven. Tanya raised an eyebrow teasingly at me. Oh Edward, she thought coyly, you’re that eager to greet me? I should drop by more often. “Good Evening Tanya,” I said stiffly. My patience with Tanya was even shorter than usual after all my confrontations with Bella and I knew that I was going to have be extra careful if I didn’t want to disappoint Esme and Carlisle by being ‘unpleasant’ to our guest. Tanya let out a low, sultry laugh. “Feeling a little formal tonight, are we Edward? Never fear; I’m sure we’ll straighten that out soon enough. The night is still young you know…” she let her sentence trail off suggestively. My hands clenched into fists and she laughed delightedly again, before turning her gaze to Jasper. “I see you still have your work cut out with this one Jazz,” she said, nodding at me amusedly, “keeping him calm must be a full time job.” “Something like that,” Jasper said. His eyes were already searching over Tanya’s shoulder frantically for Alice, hoping that she’d come to save him. “Let’s go inside,” I said to Tanya, as politely as I could. If I was forced to spend time with her then I wanted to do so in front of lots of witnesses; that would hopefully reduce the chances of anything undesirable happening. “As you wish,” Tanya purred at me, taking hold of my hand and pulling me up the steps so fast that I barely had time to protest. We entered the hallway where Emmett, Rosalie, Alice, Carlisle and Esme were waiting for us. I immediately pulled my hand from Tanya’s grasp, but not before I got a glance of Emmett who was practically doubled up in silent laughter. Having fun, Edward? He grinned. I glared at him. Alice jumped up from where she had been sitting on the wide staircase and ran over to wrap her arms around Jasper’s waist. “Hi,” she smiled, standing on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. He smiled back and fingered her short black locks lovingly.

“Missed you,” he murmured back, linking his fingers through hers and bringing them to his lips, kissing them softly. From the corner of my eye I saw Tanya edge towards me and I instantly put more space between us. Don’t you dare get any ideas, I thought uselessly at her, ignoring the fact she wouldn’t be able to hear a word of it. “How was Bella?” Alice asked Jasper, oblivious to the fact that everybody else was watching them. “Bella?” Tanya interjected instantly, her eyes suddenly alight with curiosity. I groaned, glaring at Alice. “Nice one,” I whispered bitterly. Alice looked stricken. Sorry Edward, I didn’t think! “Bella,” Tanya said, rolling the name across her tongue like it belonged to some sort of odd food, “wasn’t that the name of Edward’s human?” Nobody answered at first; instead they all just looked at me with baited breath. I didn’t say anything; I was trying too hard to stop myself from attacking Tanya for the casual way in which she had referred to Bella. Finally Carlisle spoke for me. “Yes,” he said to Tanya, “Edward met Bella back in Forks six years ago-” “I remember…” Tanya looked at me smugly and a knowing grin crossed her face. She was the one you ran away from, wasn’t she Edward? Do you remember the way you came running to me after you first met? What an interesting visit that was… I growled involuntarily at her as memories of the time she had tried to seduce me came flashing into her head. “Stop.” I ordered her curtly. She glanced at me, her eyes smouldering, before turning to face Carlisle again. “But isn’t the girl history? I thought you left Forks to escape her?” I was now so tense that I felt like I was going to explode; Jasper gave me an alarmed look and sent me a reinforced wave of calm. Keep it together, Edward, his thoughts cautioned me. Rosalie stepped forward to address Tanya. “We did leave,” she said, “but she’s turned up here in Rochester. She’s teaching at the school we’ve been attending.” Tanya’s smile grew even wider. “Really?” she asked, turning an entertained gaze on me, “she’s your teacher?” I jerkily inclined my head in acknowledgement, inwardly preparing myself for the insinuations Tanya’s mind would conjure from that piece of information; her grin grew even broader at my reaction. And you still have feelings for her? She thought, her smile turning devilish. Well, well, who knew Edward Cullen could be so very kinky? I was immediately assaulted with scandalously inappropriate mental pictures of myself dressed in nothing but a school tie and boxers as Tanya pushed me up against a wall, kissing me passionately… I felt my hands convulse as they darted out to throttle her, but I stopped myself just in time and staggered backwards, reaching out blindly for Jasper’s calming touch. He gripped my arm again, sending sedating waves through me. “Edward!” Esme cried, shocked. “Oh it’s okay Esme,” Tanya said, laughter rumbling in her low, rich voice. I like it when you get angry Edward, she thought seductively, go straight ahead; punish me if it gives you a release. I cringed again and clutched my head in my hands. Make it stop! Make the innuendos stop! “So Tanya,” Carlisle said hastily after anxiously noting my distress, “would you like to see the rest of the house?” He gestured towards the stairs and Esme, understanding his aim, immediately walked towards them. Tanya looked from Carlisle to me, clearly seeing the motive behind his question. “Sure, why not?” she replied, There’ll be plenty of time to play with you later, she thought and winked at me unashamedly before following Esme up the stairs. As soon as she was out of sight I let out a deep breath, sinking to the floor. I could feel my siblings’ eyes on me, half amused, half sympathetic. “Are you okay?” Alice asked, cautiously. I just moaned and shook my head. I could still hear Tanya’s thoughts from upstairs; she kept randomly sending me new imaginings of me in various states of undress, each one more creative than the last. I felt like I had walked into a low budget porn film.

“Oh come on Edward, it can’t be that bad,” Emmett said, rolling his eyes. I couldn’t even growl at him; I was too busy focusing on not killing Tanya. “Trust me, it really is,” Jasper said, wincing as a new wave of Tanya’s lust mingled with my repulsion hit him. Emmett’s eyes widened as he looked at Jasper and me, both of us wearing similarly nauseated expressions. “Okay, that’s it,” I choked out, as I an image of Tanya whipping me with my own tie floated into my head, “I’m getting out of here.” “She’s only doing it to get a rise out of you Edward-” Rosalie said, clearly unimpressed by my weakness. I squirmed at her choice of words; five minutes’ worth of Tanya’s thoughts had caused me to see innuendos everywhere. Jasper sensed my embarrassment and couldn’t help but laugh, which caused Emmett to cotton on and begin to guffaw loudly. “What?” Rosalie asked, irritated, “why are you both laugh-” she paused and a wicked smile crossed her face as it clicked. “Oh.” “I’m leaving now,” I said quickly, not wanting this to continue. “Coming, Emmett?” He grinned, clearly wanting to join in on the ‘Edward humiliation’, “I don’t know, are you?” This caused all of them to break out into laughter again, including Alice and Rosalie. I groaned again. “Hilarious Emmett, your originality astounds me,” I said bitingly, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m going hunting, enjoy yourselves.” “Oh, we will,” Emmett replied, waggling his eyebrows at me. I growled, frustrated, and ran through the door, unwilling to listen to any more of this. “Oh don’t be like that Edward, it’s just a joke!” Emmett called after me over the others’ laughter. “We better go with him,” Jasper I heard Jasper chuckle, “c’mon Emmett.” In the distance I faintly heard both of my brothers say farewell to their wives, before chasing after me, spouting catcalls and provocative comments the whole way. I sighed. “This is going to be a long night,” I muttered to myself, skirting the lake as I darted towards the woods where we usually hunted. “That’s not the only thing that’s long Edward!” Emmett cried, guffawing and I flinched. There laughter rang into my ears as I charged into the cover of the trees. Why me? It was the early hours of Saturday evening before I finally felt ready to return to the house. In the intervening hours my brothers and I had killed enough animals to create a considerable dent in local wildlife statistics and drunk so much blood that our eyes were the lightest they had been in weeks. Our only interruption had been when Alice had rung to request the usage of Emmett’s jeep; even more snow had fallen overnight, causing road conditions that were less than suitable for a Porsche. I was thankful for the opportunity to calm myself down, but it had come at an extreme cost- mainly Emmett and Jaspers’ incessant teasing and by the time I got back to the house I was sure that I had heard enough dirty jokes to last me an eternity. All was quiet as we walked through the front doors; there was no sign of the rest of the family. “Where is everybody?” Jasper asked, perplexed. I glanced back out to the driveway, which was mainly cast in shadows by the setting sun. Emmett’s jeep had gone- and presumably Rosalie and Alice with it- but the other vehicles were still there. “Well Rose and Alice must still be with Bella,” Emmett said, sauntering through to the living room and throwing himself down on the couch, where he grabbed two games console controllers, tossing one to Jasper. “Wanna play?” he asked me, but I just shook my head. My stomach had clenched at the mention of Bella; Tanya’s arrival had blown almost all thoughts of her from my mind. I instantly began to wonder whether Bella had enjoyed her day out with my sisters and then, more pressingly, whether she had said anything to them about me. I doubted that Alice would have said much to her- she knew that I wanted to sort things out with Bella on my own- but I wasn’t so sure about Rosalie. I started to feel very uneasy; the last thing I wanted was for Bella to get some garbled second-hand version of my apology from Rosalie. Suddenly I heard voices from the backyard and I looked out to see Carlisle and Esme walking towards us hand in hand, their skin sparkling slightly in the sun’s dying rays. They looked like they were coming from the lake,

which was all very well, but still left Tanya missing. Then I felt something move three floors above. I narrowed my eyes; the only room on the fourth floor was… “TANYA!” I bellowed, “GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” I bolted up three flights stairs at lightning speed, bursting through my bedroom door to find her sitting on my bed, dressed in a shamefully low-cut top and a garment so short it hardly even resembled a skirt. That’s right, get an eyeful. She smiled wickedly. “Nice of you to join me darling,” she drawled, her eyes dancing. This is going to be fun… she thought. “Get. Off. Now.” I growled at her threateningly. She raised her eyebrows at me challengingly, before a devious smile crossed her face. Make me. I gritted my teeth; the knowledge that she thrived on my anger only served to make me even more irate. “Tanya, if you don’t get the hell out of my room RIGHT NOW-”. Suddenly, my phone rang. I checked the caller info- it was Alice. I shot Tanya a ‘this isn’t over’ death look, before flipping the cell open. “Hello?” I asked brusquely. “Edward?” “What do you want Alice? I’m kind of busy at the moment,” murdering Tanya, I added in my mind. “I’m just ringing to tell you that Rose and I are on our way home… and we’re bringing Bella,” Alice trilled happily down the phone. I froze, shocked. “S-she’s coming here?” “Yep!” Alice practically sang, “tell Esme not to worry, I’ve already bought human food. See ya in five!” “Alice wait, I-” I shouted down the phone, but she had already hung up. I stared at it in my hand, thunderstruck. I hadn’t expected to see Bella so soon after our argument and I was suddenly doubtful, despite Jasper’s assurances that she loved me the night before. What if he had been wrong? What should I say to her? Would she still be too angry over the motorcycle incident to even talk to me? “So, Bella’s coming here!” a voice from behind me said and I whipped around to see Tanya watching me from my bed. I was surprised to see that she wasn’t affronted or irritated in any way- just slightly amused. Tanya had always found the fact that I was ‘in love’ with a human as vaguely interesting- a reason for curiosity, but not exactly a huge deal. She was certain that my feelings for Bella were nothing more than an odd crush, stemming from the fact that I was fascinated by her humanity. It had definitely never been reason enough for her to stop all her advances towards me. “Yes,” I said shortly. I had absolutely no desire to talk to Tanya about this subject, least of all when I was so stressed. I didn’t wait for her to ask my questions, but exited the room and began to run downstairs. “Carlisle? Esme?” I called, not even bothering to look back for Tanya. They both appeared almost instantly at my side. I briefly filled them in on the situation and their resultant exclamations of delight caused Jasper and Emmett to come curiously out of the lounge. “What’s going on?” Emmett asked. “Bella’s coming!” Esme smiled widely. Emmett whooped and Jasper sent me a significant look. This is your chance, Edward, he thought to me. I nodded very briefly at him, before turning back to Esme, who had already launched into full ‘Mom mode’. “Emmett, you can go warm up the oven for Bella’s food, Jasper and Carlisle can move the cars into the garage and I’ll go tidy up the lounge.” She paused for breath and turned to look me up and down critically. “Edward, go and change.” “What?” I asked distractedly, my thoughts still on Bella. “Go and change out of those clothes; you look an absolute sight,” Esme tutted. I looked down at scuffed jeans and slightly ripped shirt- results from a day’s hard hunting. I opened my mouth to protest, but Esme and the others had already whisked from the room in a hurry of preparation, leaving just me and Tanya standing alone in the hallway. She

was still smiling slightly. All this for a human! She thought curiously, I wonder what she’s like? Then she noticed me watching her and her face cracked into another coquettish smirk. “So Edward,” she purred, “would you like help getting out of those dirty clothes?” I scowled at her. “I’m not going to put on new clothes,” I said petulantly- like I could think of clothing at a time like this. “Who said anything about putting on new ones?” Tanya provocatively, “I was just asking whether you wanted to take those ones off.” I growled at her and she grinned innocently, “What? I’m just trying to help!” “Sure, very helpful,” I muttered angrily, turning away. “Oh don’t be like that,” she said, putting her arm around my waist and drawing herself in towards me. I looked at her with narrowed eyes; she was planning something- I could tell by the way she was purposefully blocking her thoughts. “Tanya, what are you doing-” I began, but before I could complete the sentence I felt her grab the material of my shirt and rip it away from me with full force. The seams snapped and the poor garment tore completely away, leaving me standing topless in the middle of the hallway. “Tanya!” I hissed, livid, “What the hell did you do that for?” “Would you like help removing the rest too?” she said, leaning in, her voice low and sultry. I swelled with anger about to roar at her, but before I could even form words, there was a quick gasp from the other side of the room. We both spun around, I half naked and Tanya holding the tattered remains of my shirt, her hand still resting compromisingly on my bare chest. Unnoticed by either of us, the front door had swung open to reveal… Oh shit. "Bella!"

Chapter 9 Chapter Song: ‘Tourniquet’ by Evanescence. I tried to kill the pain But only brought more I lay dying and I'm pouring crimson regret and betrayal I'm dying praying bleeding and screaming am I too lost to be saved am I too lost? I awoke on Saturday morning to an icily cold and very silent apartment. It took five minutes, three extra layers of clothing on top of my pyjamas and very fluffy slippers to persuade me to leave the relative warmth of my duvet and go and investigate the reason as to why I was currently living in sub zero temperatures. On my way over to the kitchen, I glanced out of the window and paused. The street was absolutely deserted; it was completely devoid of the usual melee of cars, buses and pedestrians that made up Saturday morning traffic in Rochester. Snow covered everything in sight, from rooftops to driveways to lampposts. I groaned; it looked like at least two feet of new snow had fallen overnight. That explained away the silence, but it didn’t give me any clue as to why my apartment had suddenly become akin to a fridge freezer. Shivering, I entered the kitchen and flung open the cupboard that housed my boiler. My heart sank; it clearly wasn’t working and the red ‘seek assistance’ light was flickering on and off. There was no way that I’d be able to get a technician to come out and fix it in this sort of weather; by the looks of it the roads hadn’t even been gritted yet. I rang the boiler company, only to have my worst fears confirmed when I was told they would be unable to send someone until Tuesday at the earliest. Incensed, I collected more blankets from my bedroom and created a makeshift cocoon on my couch, glowering at the clock. It was 9.30 am; I had about an hour and a half until Alice and Rosalie showed up. If they’re still coming, I thought doubtfully to myself. Even if the awful weather didn’t dampen Alice’s fervour for shopping, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my stunt with the bike would

cause her to change her mind. Last night it had seemed like a clever thing to do, but once I had arrived home and come down from the high I had felt at outsmarting Edward, I began to feel uneasy. I knew from experience that Edward’s anger had far reaching consequences within his family. What if he had been so enraged by my behaviour that he had forced the family to leave Rochester? I had to admit that that scenario, although so desirable to me a few weeks ago, had now become most unappealing. Whether I liked it or not, I now depended on seeing Edward every day. He was a drug and I was an addict who hadn’t had a fix for years; my craving for him was inevitable. If the Cullens left now… I didn’t even want to think about what it would do to me. Jacob had been right; this time I was alone. With nobody to put me back together, how could I possibly survive the pain of Edward leaving? I shivered again, but this time it had nothing to do with the cold. I flicked on the television in an attempt to distract myself and after a few minutes I came across the weather forecast. “The very low temperatures in the state of New York look set to continue, but hopefully the winds will pick up by next Tuesday and blow the clouds in a more northerly direction. In Rochester there are more snow storms expected tonight and motorists are reminded to watch out for-” I turned the screen off abruptly, unwilling to listen to more of the same. Great, I thought to myself, it’s going to be cold everywhere. Why did I choose to live here, again? I didn’t know the answer, but relocating out of Rochester was becoming more and more appealing by the hour. For a long time I just sat in silence, staring unseeingly into space. It was ironic that, although I had initially detested the idea of moving to Forks, it was there that I had experienced the happiest time of my life. I had so many memories of the small town, both good and bad, whereas here I had none; unless you counted those that concerned Edward. He had been in Rochester for less than a month and already every recollection I had of the place had somehow become related to him. It was crazy- I loved him so much my heart ached, yet at the same time I still felt so much anger towards him. On one level it seemed as though thinking about my love for Edward was a betrayal of the worst kind- to me, to Jacob and… to Brady. I winced as the name came rushing to the fore-front of my mind and I felt my ever-present emotions of guilt and self-loathing magnify a hundredfold. Yet another reason to go back to Forks. I hadn’t seen him for years, not since I had left home six years ago; there had always been a reason or an excuse to prevent my visiting him, but really it was because I was too much of a coward to go. I sighed. Jacob was right; I couldn’t keep running from the past forever. I was distracted from my thoughts by the beeping of a clock and I was surprised to see that an hour had passed already. Very reluctantly, I dragged myself off of the couch and into my bedroom to change. In the event that Rosalie and Alice did show up, I knew they’d be less than impressed to find me wearing pyjamas. I changed as quickly as possible into clothes similar to those worn by early Arctic explorers. Forget fashion, my main objective today would be not freezing to death. I was just zipping up a huge woolly jacket when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a vehicle coming down the street outside. The noise grew louder until it was just outside my window and then cut out. I waddled over to my bedroom window- my movement was impaired by all the layers I was wearing- and instantly burst out laughing at what I saw. Parked on the curb directly below my window was Emmett’s jeep, but as I had never seen it before. Its massive waist-high tires were contained within snow chains thicker than my wrist and there were even more spotlights attached to the crash bar, all of which were blazing brightly, their electric light making the snow sparkle like a vampire’s skin. But the best part- or worst, depending on your outlook- was the industrial sized snowplough that had been nailed to the front of the jeep. It at least four feet wide and painted a shiny red which matched the car’s hardtop perfectly. I shook my head incredulously; I had been an idiot to think that Alice would let a little thing like a snowstorm get in the way of a shopping trip. The aforementioned tiny vampire had already leapt out of the jeep and was waving frantically at me. “COME ON BELLA!” she mouthed at me, beaming. I smiled back and nodded, before retreating into the flat and getting my things. Within five minutes I was outside on the sidewalk with Alice. “Hi Bella!” she said perkily, flashing a winning smile at me. “Whatdya think of the jeep?” “It’s… very inventive,” I grinned at her, taking in the monstrous vehicle, “where did you get the plough?” “Oh that little thing?” Alice smirked at me, her eyes sparkling merrily, “it was just something Emmett had lying around.” I rolled my eyes. “Sure it was.” It was obvious that the jeep had been modified for my benefit. In the old days I would’ve been irritated that Alice had gone to so much trouble for me, but now I was just thankful that she cared. Funny how my perspective on things like that had changed as I got older; perhaps it had taken experience of life without the Cullens to teach me that I had been foolish, and more than a little rude, to constantly reject their attempts to please me. I accepted Alice’s help as she opened one of the rear doors and hoisted me effortlessly up into the back seat, where I was instantly hit by a wall of inviting warmth from the heater. Rosalie was sitting in the driver’s seat, her eyes fixed determinedly on the snowy road in front of her. As I fought with the many buckled seatbelt her gaze flickered briefly towards me, before turning straight back to the road. I shook my head sadly; clearly that was the extent of greeting I was going to get. Alice jumped into the seat in the front next to Rosalie.

“So,” she said happily, turning around to face me, “where do you want to go?” “Um,” I said, distracted by the roar of the engines as Rosalie turned the key in the ignition and pulled back into the street. Even despite the plough and all the snow it was collecting, she managed to maintain an above average speed. What was it with vampires and cars? “I don’t know Alice, will anywhere even be open in this weather?” Alice rolled her eyes at me. “Silly Bella, anywhere is open if you’ve got one of these.” She flashed her credit card at me, grinning. I shook my head. Same old Alice. “Well I haven’t exactly been shopping much in the city; I’m sure you’ve got a better idea of where to go.” That was putting it mildly. Apart from visits to school, the library and the groceries store, I was pretty much a recluse. “Okay!” Alice said delightedly and turned to Rosalie before launching into a series of directions. It was obvious that she had already anticipated my response and planned accordingly. I settled back into my seat and let her words wash over me as I enjoyed the sensation of being properly warm for the first time in hours. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed our shopping trip. We targeted one of the more ‘upmarket’ malls to the North of the city (Alice’s decision) and although I didn’t exactly relish the way I was forced to constantly try on very expensive clothes, I had a lot of fun watching Alice and Rosalie dress up. They were just so beautiful, it was hard not to be entranced by them and it was clear that the shop assistants felt the same way; we all watched them in awe as they giggled and went through outfit after outfit- all designer, of course. They shone like dancing flames, and we mere mortals were all just moths desperate to bask in their glow. But humans who play with fire always get burnt, a voice whispered at the back of my mind and I looked at them both with different eyes. I alone of all the humans present knew the sorrow that was ever present behind their outward shows of happiness and the price which came with their beauty and youth. Did I want to be a part of that? The obvious answer was YES, but when I thought about it more seriously, I wasn’t so sure any more. My desire to become a vampire had always hung on the fact that I would be with Edward eternally, but now that that was no longer an option, I had begun to pay more attention to the drawbacks of immortality. To be constantly stuck in a body that could not age or develop, to be unable to stay in contact with any of my friends or family and to drink blood… I inwardly shuddered. Perhaps Edward had been right- it was stupid to wish away something as precious as humanity. We continued to shop, flitting from boutique to boutique, collecting more shopping bags as we went. Despite my reluctance to try on clothes, Alice seemed determined to supply me with an entire new wardrobe and by the time we stopped for lunch at 2.00pm, I was lugging nine shopping bags filled with an array of different garments. Once we sat down to eat, however, I started to wish we could continue shopping. We decided that I would eat- obviously the other two had no desire to consume human food- at the Italian bistro situated in the centre of the mall and once I had finished ordering Alice fixed me with a determined gaze and I suddenly knew what topic she was going to talk about. Edward. I had so far managed to steer blissfully clear from that subject, but I had a feeling that my luck was about to run out. Desperate to delay her questioning as long as possible, I pretended to become fascinated by the menu and insisted on having the waiter translate every single dish from Italian into English. He eagerly obliged, but I suspected that was mainly so he could eye up Rosalie in the process. If he had been expecting to be successful, however, he was sorely disappointed- she spent the entire performance staring moodily into space and he eventually left with a look of dissatisfaction on his face. As soon as he was out of earshot, Alice began to speak. “So Bella,” she began, her voice over-casual, “you and Edward seemed to be getting on better last night.” I just looked at her silently. Really? I mean really? Was this in real life, or was this in Alice’s imaginary world where everything was glittery and fluffy and perfect? Alice seemed to detect my scepticism, because she instantly elaborated on her words. “Well, you were until that thing with the bike- which was totally awesome, by the way.” That surprised me. “Wait, you thought that was awesome?” “Sure!” she smiled, “It’s about time you took control of your relationship with Edward.” “I’d hardly call it a relationship,” I muttered darkly, moodily taking my hot chocolate from the tray of drinks the waiter had just delivered. “More like a prolonged feud.” Alice rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure,” she said sarcastically, “there’s absolutely nothing between you and Edward whatsoever- he’s only pretending to be madly in-” “Alice,” Rosalie cut in warningly. I looked at her with surprise; I had almost forgotten she was there- I had been so focused on Alice. Alice seemed to have forgotten her too, because she suddenly looked sheepish as though she had

been caught doing something forbidden. She changed the subject at the speed of light. “Uh, where do you think the waiter is with your food?” But I wasn’t letting her get away with that. “What were you going to say?” “Who, me? Nothing, I-” Alice feigned innocence. “Don’t play that game with me Alice, what were you going to say about Edward?” “I-” she trailed off. I continued to watch her with narrowed eyes. “Yes?” Rosalie sighed. “Well done Alice, Edward is going to be delighted.” I shot her a look of confusion. ‘Delighted?’ What did that mean? Suddenly something clicked and my eyes widened. “Wait, Edward told Alice she wasn’t allowed to talk to me?” I instantly felt a swell of anger towards him- he wasn’t even here and he was STILL trying to control my life. “Only about certain topics,” Alice clarified hurriedly. “Like what?!” “Like, uh…” she floundered for a couple of moments, her loyalties clearly vacillating between Edward and me. “He said I couldn’t… that I wasn’t allowed to… talk about how he…” Alice trailed off again, looking helplessly at Rosalie. The blonde vampire looked up from the menu she had been surveying with distaste and rolled her eyes impatiently. “Oh, come on Bella; it’s not that hard to figure out,” she said snappily at me. I gaped at her; I couldn’t remember Rosalie ever addressing me by name before. What did she mean? Rosalie watched my confusion and sighed. “I thought she was supposed to be intelligent…” she muttered darkly to Alice, before fixing me with narrowed eyes. “Edward doesn’t want us to talk to you about certain topics that he would rather discuss with you himself. Have you really got no idea what those topics might be?” I stared at Rosalie, nonplussed. Certain topics? But Edward and I had already discussed everything- what we had both done since Forks, what we were doing now and- I cringed at the memory- my new liking for motorcycles. There was nothing left to talk about, unless… I suddenly thought of what Alice had just said: ‘…about time you took control of your relationship with Edward’. If I hadn’t known better I would’ve thought that the word ‘relationship’ implied… but no, it was ridiculous. I knew that Edward didn’t love me and nothing Alice said could override my certainty. Why would he? I was plain, pathetic, boring and unattractive and even in the slim chance that Edward saw past all those failings, he had already made it crystal clear that he no longer cared for me. If he did, he would have told me by now, he would have let me kiss him in the classroom. He never would have left in the first place. And yet, I couldn’t truthfully say that the news that Alice and Rosalie believed otherwise wasn’t slightly encouraging. If they, who knew Edward so well, truly thought that he still had feelings for me, then perhaps there was some truth to Alice’s words. Edward and I were nowhere near lovers, but maybe we could eventually be friends. I suddenly felt confidence creep through me, warming my heart and making my cheeks glow. It was a nice but unfamiliar feeling. I didn’t follow much of the conversation after that. Both Alice and Rosalie seemed to think they had pushed their luck to the absolute limits, because neither of them mentioned Edward again. Instead, Rosalie fished a magazine out of her bag and began to read, whilst Alice focused on the much safer topic of clothes. Unfortunately for me, she wasn’t quite satisfied with my share of the morning’s spoils, which mainly consisted of very pretty, but very conservative clothing that I could also wear to work. I had downright refused to even try on anything more outlandish, but Alice had still managed to sneak a couple of questionable items into my bags. Once the food had been cleared away I discovered one such garment for the first time- it was a rectangular piece of denim so miniscule it resembled a dishcloth, yet the manufacturers had had the audacity to label it as a skirt. “I am not wearing this,” I spluttered as I pulled the offending piece of material from one of the bags. “Why not?” Alice asked, a faint look of surprise crossing her flawless features, “it’s your size.” “It’s tiny!”

“That’s the style,” she maintained calmly, going back to looking critically through the clothes I had chosen. I just gaped at her, my eyes flicking from the stonewashed travesty masquerading as a skirt to the pixie like vampire in front of me. Finally, I said, “Alice, I just don’t wear things like this.” She frowned, her otherwise smooth forehead creasing momentarily as she looked back to me. “But why, Bella?” Because I look like an idiot? “Because it doesn’t suit me!” “Rubbish,” Alice scoffed, turning back to my bags. “You’re beautiful Bella, when are you going to start seeing it?” Huh. Me, beautiful. Yeah sure. I looked back to the skirt and a voice whispered in the back of my mind, You don’t wear clothes like this because you have no one to wear them for. It was true; I couldn’t remember the last time I had dressed to impress a guy. I certainly hadn’t been on a date for years; in fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had even properly spoken to a guy who wasn’t a student or a colleague outside of a work environment. And as for anything further… well let’s just say that my experience of sex had begun and ended with Jacob on a single excruciatingly awkward night in the summer after my senior year. The word ‘disaster’ didn’t quite cover it, not least because I started crying half way through when I realised that the hot skin I was touching couldn’t be further from the cold skin that I craved. Jake had been as understanding as a teenage boy can be in such a situation, which is to say far more than I deserved. He had stopped immediately, we hadn’t tried again and he had never pressured me to do so, but it was the penultimate event in a series of many which forced us to break up. The last straw had been Brady’s ‘accident’ several months later… “Bella?” Suddenly I realised that Alice was talking to me and I dragged myself from my thoughts. “Yes?” “I mean seriously, you dress like an old woman,” Alice said despairingly, as she pulled a pair of clunky loafers from the depths of one of my carrier bags. I had snuck them when she hadn’t been looking, guessing that she wouldn’t approve of my choice in footwear. It was obvious from her disgusted expression that I had predicted correctly. “What are these?! Really?? Why do you insist on buying clothes that look more at home in an old persons’ hospice?” “Well I am older now Alice-” I began noncommittally. The truth was that I liked those clothes because they allowed me to hide; If I made myself as undesirable to men as possible then I didn’t have to suffer their advances and be reminded of Edward. Alice snorted, a sound that was as un-vampire as it was possible to get. “Twenty-four is NOT old.” “But it’s older than you and Rosalie- it’s even older than Carlisle!” and almost seven years older than Edward, my subconscious completed. “Yes Bella, in human years. But we’re vampires! To us, anything below thirty is practically pre-pubescent. And anyway, you barely look a day over twenty.” “I look older than you.” Alice rolled her eyes. “Everyone looks older than me, I’m 4 foot 10!” I laughed, despite of myself. “Okay, point taken,” I said resignedly. Alice’s eyes lit up. “Really?” she asked excitedly, “Does that mean you’ll let me choose whatever you buy from now on?” “Um…” would I regret this? Most probably, but experience had taught me that it was far easier to just agree than to argue with Alice’s schemes. “Sure, I guess,” I finished lamely. This resulted in a lot of excited squealing from Alice, so much so that Rosalie actually deigned to look up from her magazine. Alice decided that it was time to leave the restaurant, so we paid the bill to the disgruntled waiter who hadn’t been impressed by the way two of our party had completely ignored their plates of food, took our bags and went back to the mall. “Ten shops down, only twelve left to go!” Alice cried happily over her shoulder. I groaned and, if I hadn’t known better, I could’ve sworn that Rosalie had too.

Four hours, twelve bags and several thousand dollars later, we left the mall. The roads had been salted since the morning and were effectively free of snow, rendering the jeep’s plough even more ridiculous than before. As we pulled into my street I was uncomfortably aware of the way passers-by were staring at us. I suddenly realised how this would look to outsiders; Bella Swan the hermit had gone out shopping with two of her students from school- two students who just happened to be the sisters of the one she apparently hated. I sunk lower in my seat so to hide my face from the people on the street. I sure had a knack for attracting gossip. As soon as the jeep came to a halt, I jumped out of the passenger door, grabbing my stuff as I went. “Well girls that was fun!” I said quickly, my eyes darting around anxiously for eavesdroppers, “we should definitely do it again sometime. I have to go now, okay bye!” I tried to turn tail and scurry up the steps to my apartment but, weighed down as I was by shopping bags, I managed to lose my footing on the ice and skid comically. Before I fell flat on my face, however, Alice caught me and effortlessly stood me upright again. “Bella,” she said as she took some of my bags and carried them up the steps for me, “Rosalie and I have been wondering whether you’d like to… to come back to our house this evening. We’ll buy lots of human food, so you don’t have to worry about that. Carlisle and Esme and the boys all really miss you- none of them can wait to see you again and so we thought that maybe…” she trailed off hopefully. I stared at her. What could I say? Although my day with his sisters had boosted my confidence as far as Edward was concerned, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to spend an entire evening with him. I was still angry towards him for the way he had responded to my motorbike and I didn’t want to give him the chance to start another argument. But I couldn’t deny that spending Saturday evening with my favourite family in the world- the Cullens- was more appealing than shivering alone in my freezing apartment. “Well I-” I began, still unsure about what answer I would give. “Please, Bella?” Alice said imploringly. As I looked into her eyes, the solution suddenly came to me. I would go to the Cullens’, but only if I was allowed to ride my bike there. That way, I would have a quick and easy means of escape if things got too awkward. Edward would probably get angry again, but I decided that inciting his wrath was a chance I would have to take, and anyway, I was tired of him telling me what to do. I would never usually volunteer to ride my motorcycle outdoors on such a cold day, especially with the roads in such poor conditions, but I would have to sacrifice my comfort for convenience. I quickly shared my plan with Alice. At first she wasn’t at all keen on the idea, but after a bit of pleading, she seemed to come round. “- and anyway,” I added, “there are so many bags in the jeep that I can hardly fit in there as it is and once we stop to buy food it’ll be even worse…” I waited with baited breath for her response. “Okay, fine,” Alice finally said huffily, “but if Edward asks, this had nothing to do with me, okay?” “Of course!” I cried happily, hugging her. Together we took the shopping bags up to my apartment where I exchanged them for my leather jacket, helmet and keys. Then we came back to the street outside to find an annoyed Rosalie waiting outside the jeep. Alice filled her in on the situation and after a single ‘Edward is going to FREAK’ she agreed to drive more slowly than usual so that I could follow them to their house. We set off, Rosalie and Alice in the jeep with me following behind on the bike. The icy wind whipped against me, chilling the few uncovered section of my skin to the bone and I was thankful for the protection of the helmet. The drive was easy, but the condition of the roads meant that it took longer than I had expected and once we had stopped to buy food, it was about 7.30pm when we finally arrived at the Cullen mansion. I was struck by an irresistible sense of déjà vu as we turned up the long driveway leading from the highway. Lined by tall trees, it was very similar to the one they had had in Forks. The similarities continued once we came into view of the house, which was very large and surrounded by snow-topped trees. However this house was made from beautiful red brick instead of white and my knowledge of local geography told me that it must back onto the lake, instead of a river. I came to a slow stop on the edge of the drive in front of the house and cut the bike’s engines. I jumped off onto the hard packed snow with a soft thud and waved at Alice who was just getting out of the jeep. “This house is gorgeous,” I said admiringly, as I walked towards her. “I thought the one you had in Forks was amazing, but this is just… wow.” Alice held the jeep door open for Rosalie whilst she unloaded the shopping bags. Once they were all out, she closed the door and smiled at me wickedly. “You know what else is amazing, Bella?” she asked innocently. “What?”

“Snow!” she giggled, and before I could form a response, she had hurled a handful of it at me. The snowball smashed into the side of my face, sending shivers down my spine. I shouted in protest and immediately began to form snowballs of my own. Before long, Alice and I were engaging in a full blown snowball fight, giggling and shouting as we pelted each other and used the cars to hide behind. Rosalie took cover in the garage the minute she saw the snow flying- she obviously didn’t want her hair to be ruined- leaving just Alice and I. Alice’s vampire speed and strength were proving to be a huge advantage and within minutes it became clear that I would be unable to fight her off much longer. Giving up, I ran laughing towards the house in an attempt to find cover. I was just stumbling up the porch steps when I heard Alice shout from behind me, her voice suddenly serious. “No Bella, wait! Don’t open the door-” “What, so you can throw more snow at me? No chance!” I scoffed teasingly. Sure, like I’d fall for that one! Grinning, I pushed the door and it swung open effortlessly at my touch. Standing in the entrance hall, directly in front of the doors, were two figures. I recognised the first immediately- it was Edward. For a split second, I didn’t register anything but his beautiful face, but then I felt my heart stop as I took the entire scene in. Edward was standing, half naked, in the middle of the room with a breathtakingly beautiful woman draped all over him. Oh my God, she’s actually HOLDING his shirt my mind blithered.I couldn’t help myself- I gasped loudly in shock. They both turned around to face me, similar expressions of surprise on their faces. Within a couple of seconds, the woman’s ruby painted lips had stretched into an amused smile. She really was stunning; she possessed the sort of looks that could only be rivalled by Rosalie’s. I felt my insides disappear as I took in her tumbling strawberry blonde curls, her eyes the colour of purest honey and her perfectly proportioned figure. So this is what Edward meant by ‘distractions’. My cheeks began to burn in mortification- how could I have dreamed even for a moment that Edward would still love me? As if I could ever be in the same league as him or women like the strawberry blonde. Of course he would choose her perfection over my mediocrity. “Bella!” Edward choked out, his topaz eyes wide with shock. He brushed off his companion’s hand and took a step towards me. I tried to focus on his face, but the small matter of his muscled chest- which, to my defence, I had never seen fully uncovered before- was distracting me. Then, as my eyes my eyes raked over his perfectly defined abs, I heard the blonde woman laugh quietly. The heat rose in my cheeks as I realised what I had just been doing. I just ogled a student. God, kill me now. It all became too much. “I-I’m s-sorry to interrupt,” I stuttered, averting my eyes from the couple in shame. “No wait, Bella!” I span around and lurched back through the door, ignoring Edward’s words from behind me. I didn’t want to hear his apologies or explanations- they meant nothing to me. I knew what I had seen with my eyes; Edward had clearly been very ‘busy’ with his blonde visitor and I had no desire to intrude. I all but fell out onto the porch, right at the feet of Alice, who had sprinted up the steps in a blur. She stared at me, horrified. I pushed past her and walked as quickly as I could down the steps. “Bella!” Alice called after me, whizzing in front of me to block my path, “it’s not what you think, he-” she tried to explain, hurriedly. “Did you see that happening?” I whispered as quietly as I could, hyper-aware of the fact that Edward would be able to hear every word. “Yes, but-” Alice continued. It suddenly all made sense; that must have been why she had warned me not to go in the house. She had had a vision of me walking in on Edward and his ‘companion’ and had wanted to prevent it happening, but why? So she could continue telling me that he loved me? I felt a flash of anger towards her. How dare she lead me on like that? “Listen,” I said, interrupting her, “I don’t care. No seriously, Edward is perfectly entitled to spend time with whoever he likes. Now if you excuse me, I have to get going.” I side-stepped her again and started walking towards my motorbike. “But Bella!” she again appeared beside me, a very hurt expression on her face, “You said you’d stay tonight, you said you wanted to see the others!” I felt a twinge of guilt beneath my embarrassment and anger. “I know I did, but… well, I don’t think it was the best idea. I just can’t…” I trailed off, unable to put my pain into words. It was just so hard to be around Edward and to know that he was happy without me; it hurt so much to see

that he had been able to move on whereas I was still as addicted to him as I had been at eighteen. Before I could voice any of this, however, I heard a male voice call me from behind. “Bella!” Alice and I both turned around to see Carlisle sweeping from the garage across the snow-covered drive towards us. Several paces behind him was Jasper, who was staring intently at Alice in his usual form of silent communication. Even further behind Jasper I could see a now fully-clothed Edward wincing on the porch as he was chastised by a severely angry Esme. Oh God, I cringed, she’s telling him off! For my sake! Could this be more mortifying? My blush darkened as I turned back to face Carlisle who, judging from his unruffled expression, had no idea what had just occurred. He opened his hands in a welcoming gesture, but I sensed him glance confusedly at my flustered face. “It’s wonderful to see you Bella,” he said kindly, “we’re delighted that you could come this evening.” “Uh, thank you Carlisle,” I said uncomfortably. “I understand you’ll be staying for dinner?” “Oh,” I said hastily, “oh that doesn’t matter, it’s probably too inconvenient for you. I should go home.” I was hoping that he would agree; I suddenly wanted to be as far from the Cullen household as possible. “Not at all,” Carlisle said graciously, “it’s a pleasure to have you here. Would you like to come inside and warm up? It’s very cold out here.” I knew he was only saying it for my benefit- as a vampire the temperature was immaterial to him. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be rude, but neither did I want to go inside and be subjected to more public displays of affection between Edward and his blonde. “Well,” I said, still deliberating. From the corner of my eye I noticed Alice shoot a pointed glance at Jasper and I instantly felt overpowered by a wave of calm confidence. I scowled at him, but he just grinned at me apologetically, before reinforcing the emotion with an even stronger dose. I struggled to fight it for a couple of seconds with absolutely no effect. Finally I exhaled, intelligent enough to recognise defeat. “Okay,” I said quietly to Carlisle, “I suppose a couple of drinks couldn’t hurt…” “Excellent,” he beamed. “If you’d like to-” he was interrupted by a jubilant whoop. We all looked around to see Emmett darting out of one of the mansion’s many side doors. “YEAH! Bella’s here!” he shouted happily, appearing by my side in a second and wrapping his arms around me in a huge bear hug. “Thanks Emmett,” I gasped, my chest constricted by his grip, “it’s great to see you too.” He let go of me and grinned hugely. “D’ya wanna see the inside of the house?” “Um, sure,” I replied, trying to sound as enthusiastic as I could. “Lead the way.” I followed him back inside, my eyes fixed determinedly on a point several feet wide of the bronze haired figure on the porch. Just because I was spending time with Edward’s family, didn’t mean I had to acknowledge him. I sensed him take a step towards me and murmur my name as I passed, but I just walked past with my head held high. Perhaps if I acted like nothing had just happened then none of the rest of the family would have to learn of my embarrassing discovery. Once I had stepped inside I was greeted warmly by Esme, who seemed very keen to make me as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, my plan to feign nonchalance was ruined when the blonde stranger sashayed back into the room. “Oh,” Emmett said, glancing at her, “Bella, this is Tanya, she’s a good friend of ours, isn’t that right Edward?” He turned good-naturedly to his brother, obviously wanting to include him in the conversation. Edward had just slunk silently through the doors, but as Emmett spoke he stopped dead in his tracks and sent him what could only be described as a death-glare. Emmett looked back at him astounded. “What?” he asked incredulously, “all I said was-” “Emmett, stop.” Alice ordered quickly, her eyes darting from me to Edward. Then she said something far too quickly for my human ears to understand, but it was obvious from her tone that she was explaining what had just happened. I shuffled self-consciously and then felt my cheeks flame red as everybody looked at atmosphere in the room had suddenly become very tense. Nobody spoke, instead preferring to watch me intently. I did not meet their eyes, unwilling to see their pitying expressions. Thanks Alice, I thought bitterly, like I need more people feeling sorry for me. There was more silence for a few seconds, as I tried to find a way to change the subject. However just as I was opening my mouth to speak, I felt something vibrate in my jacket pocket. It was my cell phone. I looked at it in surprise for a couple of seconds; I had forgotten I even had it on me.

“Excuse me,” I said to the room at large, “I better go take this.” Relieved to have a legitimate reason to escape the excruciatingly awkward silence of the hallway, I quickly opened the doors, taking great care not to touch Edward on my way out. Once outside, I flipped open the lid of my phone to see that I had a total of five missed calls. I checked the caller ID and felt my stomach drop as I saw Jacob’s name spelt out in block capitals. Why would he have called me five times? Was it possible he knew that I was at the Cullens’? But no, that was ridiculous, how could he know? He was thousands of miles away in Forks and although he had many extraordinary talents, being psychic was not one of them. As I cleared the screen, I realised that Jake had also left me a voicemail message. I dialled the number to my inbox, an unexplainable feeling of foreboding creeping through me. I waited impatiently as the automated welcome message informed me of the time and date of my message; Jacob had called whilst I was driving, no wonder I hadn’t heard it. Then the message came to an end and there was a loud beep, followed by Jacob’s deep voice. “Bella!” I immediately knew something was very wrong. Jacob sounded frantic and on edge; his voice was fraught and there was a lot of background noise to his call which meant I had to concentrate to understand his next words. “Bella I’ve been ringing you again and again, where the hell are you? I’ve tried your house phone too, I even tried ringing the school for Christ’s sake, before I remembered it’s a Saturday,” Jake said heatedly down the phone. “Why aren’t you at home? You never go out on a weekend, why the fuck did you have to choose this one?” My eyes widened as I heard how angry he was. What’s going on? I couldn’t think what could have made Jacob so stressed that he was taking his anger out on me. I walked to the edge of the veranda and leant against the fence, urging myself to stay calm. “Bella, I need to tell you something bad- What, Sam?” Suddenly Jacob broke off and his voice became fainter as though he was holding the receiver away from his face while he spoke to someone else. I strained my ears even harder to hear what he was saying. “Yeah I know, I’m just leaving her a message… well tell them that that’s not fucking good enough! Do I need to… no…. yeah, sure…. Okay, I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” There was a pause, before Jake’s voice came back much louder and clearer. “Hey Bella it’s me again, I’m sorry about that- I had to talk to Sam. Look as I was saying, something bad has happened and I had to ring you to tell you. I… well, it’s… it’s not good.” He broke off again and all I could hear was his heavy breathing. It was more ragged than usual, like it only got when he was really, really worried. “Yeah, so it’s not great, but don’t freak out ‘cause that won’t help anything. You understand me Bella? Don’t panic, okay?” It seemed like he was trying to calm himself down as much as me. My hands gripped the wooden rail so tightly that I began to feel splinters of wood dig into my skin. What had happened? Was someone hurt? Billy? Carole? Charlie? “And… ah, shit, I didn’t want to tell you this on voicemail,” Jacob said shakily, before taking a deep shuddering breath, “But I knew you’d want to know. It’s…it’s Brady, Bells.” No. The world disappeared, to be replaced by an empty, howling void. No. God, please no. I felt my body go into lockdown. Not again. Please, don’t let anything more happen to him. I was barely even aware of the cold anymore or of the pain that shot through my hands as splinters dug into my skin. Not Brady, I thought desperately, Please, I begged, he’s been through enough. And then: I’ve been through enough. Through my shock and anguish I heard Jacob’s words continue, as though he was speaking from far, far away. “Brady’s sick Bella,” he said hoarsely, “he’s really, really sick. He had a heart attack this morning in his room on the ward and now… n-now he’s in a coma and the doctors don’t know… they don’t know if he’s going to wake up. I’m at the hospital now with the rest of the pack and Brady’s parents.” He stopped again as in the background I heard a woman begin to cry; I suddenly realised my own eyes were hot with tears. “G-God,” Jacob said shakily, “I- I’m so sorry to call you like this, I know it’s so unfair, there’s nothing you can do- you’re in Goddamn Rochester for God’s sake- but I thought you had to know, I know I’d want to know if it were me. Not that this is in any way your fault Bella, you know it isn’t. He might’ve had this heart attack regardless of what happened that summer, so don’t b-blame y-yourself for this, ‘cause I know that’s w-what you’ll do.” He was really losing it now. I could tell from the way his voice was shaking, from the inflections in his vowels and the long, drawn out breaths. Jacob, my Jacob, was falling apart. Breaking from inside because of what had happened to Brady, resulting from a monstrosity that I’d caused six years ago- something which, whatever Jacob said, would have been so avoidable if I hadn’t been so damn stupid. Brady never would have got sick, if I hadn’t… if I hadn’t… “That’s not what I wanted at all, for you to blame yourself,” Jacob continued to say, interrupting my thoughts, “it’s just I-” he trailed off again, before forcing himself to choke out the words, “it’s j-just that I’m so… I’m so scared, Bells. I don’t… want… him to die.” The tears were coming thick and

fast now; I felt them streak down my cheeks and trickle hotly down my neck. “I have to go back inside and talk to the doctors; I’m not allowed to use the phone inside the hospital. I’m so sorry Bella, I love you. I’m sorry. Bye.” The message came to an end. I instantly tried to ring Jacob back, but there was no answer; his phone was switched off. I stood, paralysed by pain as the full horror of his news clutched me. Unbidden, unwanted, yet with terrifying intensity, visions of the catastrophic night six years ago came flooding back into my mind: Me running blindly to the edge of the woods in Forks and stumbling painfully across a tree stump; Brady in his wolf form, his huge limbs shaking with fearful excitement as he jumped protectively in front of me, creating a human barrier between me and my attacker; a flash of fiery red and white gleaming teeth; the stench of death and revenge and fear on the wind as screams of triumph and howls of pain ripped through the silence; pools of blood, so unnervingly red, despite the traitorous new moon; an evil black night fading to absolute darkness as I finally passed out… I dropped the phone; it landed with a loud thud in the snow as I fell to my knees, clutching my chest. He’s going to die, my mind screamed, Brady’s going to die and it’s all your fault. I suddenly felt a piercing pain and, as I looked wildly at my hands, I realised that I had managed to cut myself on the wooden railing as I fell. I brought them to the ground and in my fevered, grief-stricken mind it was not my blood that stained the pure white snow, but Brady’s; it dripped freely from my damned soul as a sign of my sins. A sob ripped from my throat as a word burned through my mind like fire. Murderer.

Chapter 10i Time passed. It shifted and twisted back on to itself, contorting into increasingly confusing shapes and coils as seconds seemed to distort into hours and minutes to years. I stayed frozen in my position on the snow, completely oblivious to my surroundings as one name blazed through my mind like a poisoned mantra. Brady. It must have only been moments later, but it could have just as easily been a century, when I sensed someone kneel beside me. Strong arms pried my hands away from the reddened snow and gently leant me back into a sitting position. I complied sluggishly as though drugged, but made no real attempt to move of my own accord. Through the screaming in my mind I could hear voices, but the words made no sense to me; it was as if the sentences had been cut up and rearranged, losing all their meaning. I sensed people moving around me, thought I heard somebody arguing, then a door slam shut… “It’s all right Bella, you’re going to be fine,” the person beside me spoke in a calm, soothing voice and they were the first words that actually got through to me. I felt my companion carefully take my hands in his own, turning them over and examining the damage. “I’ve brought your bag, Carlisle,” a softer, more feminine voice called from behind me and I supposed that another person must have joined us. I kept my eyes closed tight. Perhaps if I pretended to disappear then the world would follow suit. “Thank you. It’s just a shallow cut,” I heard the first voice say; “I’ll dress and bandage it to be safe though.” “Will you do it out here?” “Yes, there’s no point in spilling blood inside the house unnecessarily. On that note, has Jasper gone?” “Yes, he and Alice went almost straight away. I don’t think… I don’t think he would have actually done anything to hurt Bella. He still feels awful about what happened on her eighteenth…” “I know, Esme, I know. I’m very proud of him; his control has improved so much over the last six years, but you know we can’t take any chances when it comes to Bella’s safety. I’ll be sure to let Jasper know that my request for him to leave was merely a precaution.” The owner of the male voice- it was Carlisle, I decided through the fog of my mindthen cradled me in his arms, picking me up in one fluid motion and carrying me effortlessly away from where I had been crouched. I watched numbly as the snow covered wooden boards slipped away below me, to be replaced by dryer ones in a more sheltered area of the veranda. I felt Carlisle let go of me as he gently lowered me down onto a

bench, before turning his back on me again. Even though I was still staring blindly into space, I could sense another figure by the door, surveying us both. Esme.“Speaking of precautions,” Carlisle said to her, “please remind Edward that he is not to come out here under any circumstances. He can stay in the house with the others, unless I call him.” At these words I thought I heard a loud, frustrated growl from inside the house, but before I could be sure the sound sparked off another round of vivid memories within my mind. Nursing my injured leg where I had fallen at the edge of the trees, I watched horrified as Brady’s huge wolf form quivered in front of me, almost blocking my attacker from view… but still allowing me a glimpse of her white skin and blood-red eyes; the sound of my choking screams as the two creatures twisted and launched towards each other, vampire and wolf meeting in mid air in a blood curdling cacophony of snarls, growls and, most chillingly, maniacal laughter… “Bella?” Carlisle’s voice acted like a magnet, dragging me immediately from my recollections. I opened my eyes, slightly disorientated, taking full stock of my surroundings for the first time since Jacob’s voicemail message had ended. It was now dark outside and the sun had fully set, the only light source being the electric lamps that were situated on the corners of the decking. From this artificial yellow light I could just make out the white flakes that were falling gently onto the drive way; it had begun to snow again. I looked away from the snow and turned my attention to Carlisle. He had sat down next to me on the bench, his black doctor’s bag resting on the floor by his feet. As I saw it I remembered my hand and looked down to find that he had relinquished it. I stared at the now bandaged cut in surprise; I hadn’t even noticed him working on it, I had been so preoccupied by my visions. “Th-thank you,” I said, still surveying my hand as I turned it over. “I-I did it a-again, huh? I’m sorry Carlisle, I swear I c-can come to visit you without getting blood all over the place…” I trailed off, aware that Carlisle had not laughed at my lame comment or even spoken at all. I looked up, to see his ochre eyes boring into me with almost frightening intensity. There was no shadow of laughter there, only serious concern and worry. It unnerved me and I tried to fill the silence. “Um, so thanks for cleaning me up, I’m sorry about, uh, the snow…now it’s pink and all…” what was I saying? Was I really talking to Carlisle about the snow? He must be wondering whether my brain had also sustained serious damage. I hoped he wouldn’t insist on sending me to hospital; I had a long list of things I needed to do, and spending a night in emergency room was not one of them. In fact, it was ridiculous for me to be still sitting here at all- every second I squandered here on this porch another moment of Brady’s life might be slipping away… I needed to get to Forks, fast. I would have to call the airport and try to get onto the next flight to Washington, preferably tonight. No doubt it would be horribly expensive and use up almost all of my meagre savings, but there was no other way. Oh well, I thought bleakly, who needs food anyways? After I had booked a flight I would need to contact the school concerning my absence… that was a phone call I was dreading. I didn’t know what excuse I would come up with, only that there was no way I could tell the truth. I also had a feeling that my disappearance the day after I had had a public argument with my least favourite student would not go uncommented on… maybe I would get fired. If I did, then it was no more than I deserved. After what I had done six years ago, after the consequences my actions had had on Brady, I almost craved to be punished. As far as I was concerned, my constant pain and self-hatred weren’t nearly sufficient justice for my actions. I was about to tell Carlisle that I had to leave, when I realized that he was still staring at me. I was now beginning to feel really self-conscious. “What?” I asked, confused. For a moment, Carlisle looked as though he was deciding whether or not to speak. After a few seconds though, he had clearly made up his mind because a determined expression crossed his face. “Bella,” he began very seriously, not once breaking his gaze, “none of this is your fault.” I gaped at him, thunderstruck. How does he know about Brady? Was he a mind-reader now too? I felt the heat of shame and embarrassment cross my cheeks and blushed deeply. “You’re wrong; it’s all my fault, if I hadn’t-” “No it’s not,” he said consolingly, his tone soothing and slow, as though he was coaxing a suicidal person down from a tall building. “I can see that you blame yourself for the deterioration of your relationship with Edward, but you have to know that you are in no way responsible for the problems you are both experiencing.” I just stared at him, not quite comprehending his words. He was talking about me and Edward? How was that even relevant? Of course, I did blame myself for my break-up with Edward; if I hadn’t been so plain and boring perhaps he never would have left, but that still didn’t explain why Carlisle was bringing it up now. Either I was missing something here, or he had severely misunderstood the situation. “Um, I don’t think you-” I began, but Carlisle had already continued speaking. “And no matter what you’re feeling Bella, you must realize that to actually hurt yourself is both extremely reckless and uncalled for. What would your parents think? You have to take care of yourself; you mean so much to so many people, none more so than our family. We all love you Bella, you’re a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman and it’s time you started to acknowledge that fact, instead of running yourself down all the time. If you’re having problems you should speak to somebody, but self-harm is never the answer.”

What?! Self-harm? What on earth was Carlisle talking about? Had he lost his mind? I stared at him in utter bewilderment, his words running through my head. Then, in one fell swoop, understanding came to me, making my eyes widen in shock. Now it all made sense: Carlisle’s hushed tones and cautious glances; the way he treated me like he would somebody who was extremely disturbed; the way he had ordered Edward to stay inside. He thought I had cut my hand deliberately because I was so upset about Edward and Tanya. It was so absurdly off the mark- in fact, considering what had happened to Brady, it was almost ironic- that I laughed, despite of myself, then stopped once I saw Carlisle tense. Oh great, I thought to myself, now he thinks I’m hysterical too. “No,” I said hastily, trying to exude positive ‘I am not crazy’ vibes, “you don’t understand; I didn’t do this myself. Well I did, but not on purpose,” Excellent work Bella, now you’re arguing with yourself. Way to prove you don’t have problems. “It was a complete accident,” I continued earnestly, “I was listening to a message on the phone and… and I heard some bad news,” I faltered when I remembered the horror I had felt at Jacob’s words. Then I shook my head sharply, snapping myself out of it. I had plenty of time to dwell on Brady’s situation on the plane; right now I had to focus on persuading Carlisle that there was nothing wrong with my mental health. “S-so while I was on the phone I was holding on to the railing too hard,” I continued, “and then, klutz that I am, I tripped and it splintered and I was cut. Purely accidental, I swear.” Silence followed my words, as Carlisle watched me sceptically. Even I had to admit that my speech had been wholly unconvincing. “Really, I’m telling the truth,” I said imploringly, “believe me Carlisle, I wouldn’t do it on purposeI didn’t do it on purpose. I promise.” I waited with baited breath for Carlisle’s response. He looked at me searchingly for a few moments, clearly trying to find a lie in my eyes. Then after a few seconds he sighed, seemingly accepting that I was telling the truth. “Well that’s certainly a relief. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to insult you, but Esme and I were both worried, especially after what Edward said-” “Wait, Edward toldyou that’s what happened?” I exclaimed in disbelief. “Well he only assumed. After the way you fled the room earlier, and when he heard you crying, then came out of the door to see you bleeding on the ground… he just thought that after what you saw with Tanya earlier…” he trailed off, slightly alarmed at my expression, which I was sure must have suddenly become murderous. I was actually speechless with rage. Just who the fuck did Edward think he was? How DARE he tell his family that I was so depressed by his leaving that I was cutting myself? Of all the egocentric, arrogant, self-obsessed bastards- “and when Edward added that on top of your feelings of self-hatred, it seemed to make sense,” Carlisle continued, his face again troubled. “Huh?” I asked distractedly, still preoccupied by the way my mind was snarling insults at Edward. Carlisle looked at me cautiously. “Jasper told Edward that you’re perpetually in a state of self-loathing and that you’re feeling extremely guilty about something,” he explained, his features fraught with fatherly worry, “which, regardless of how you hurt your hand, is a very unhealthy way to live. Whatever it is that is troubling you, I’m sure that you’re blowing it all out of proportion. You know you can always talk to Esme or me about your worries, and if you don’t feel comfortable enough for that, considering our proximity to, uh-” he paused and we both knew he had just stopped himself from saying Edward’s name, “then there are plenty of other places for you to find help.” I didn’t answer; I was too startled by what he had said. I hadn’t once given thought to the fact that Jasper knew exactly how I was feeling, let alone that he would be able to detect my emotions about Brady. This realization also led me to a much more worrying one- if Jasper knew how I felt about Brady, then surely he had detected my feelings towards Edward? In which case, my attempts to persuade Esme and Alice that I no longer loved him had been completely futile. Edward must have known all along that I was lying. My cheeks flushed with humiliation as I thought of all the times Edward must have been laughing with his brothers behind my back, making fun of the way the pathetic little human hung to her foolish dreams of her love being requited. I forced myself to blink back tears as I looked back to Carlisle, who was still speaking. “If you want, I could arrange an appointment for you with one of the psychiatrists at work; they’re truly excellent.” Even through my shame and hurt, I wasn’t insensible to the fact that I was being told to see a shrink by a five hundred year old vegetarian vampire patriarch married to a woman four hundred years his junior with four incestuous adopted children. What did that say about me? I answered politely as I could, trying my best not to be offended by his suggestion. “No thank you, that really won’t be necessary.” I already had my own personal support system; his name was Jacob Black. And anyway, I might not have been an expert in psychoanalysis, but I was pretty sure that the patient had to be at least fairly honest with their doctor, which, in my case, would be completely impossible. Even if I wasn’t perceived as crazy from the outset, I definitely would be once the words ‘werewolf’ and ‘vampire’ passed my lips. I didn’t have time for this; Brady was in Forks, dying, possibly already dead and I was wasting time on this cold veranda. It was time to bring this conversation to an end. “I’m sorry Carlisle, but I really need to get going. The message on my phone- the one I was listening to before I fell- it was from a friend back in Forks. He…” I paused, unwilling to divulge the full details of what had happened, but knowing that I owed Carlisle an explanation, I started again, careful not to go into specifics. “He told me that one of our friends had… had a heart attack. He’s been in the hospital for years with…problems, but he was generally stable. Until tonight…” I cast my eyes downwards, not wanting Carlisle to see me cry. “I need to get to

Washington as soon as possible. I have to be there, you see… well it’s sort of my fault that he was in hospital in the first place…” There was no ‘sort of’ about it, of course, but I didn’t want to come on too strong for fear of worrying Carlisle again. I knew I had been exceedingly vague and I braced myself for a barrage of questions, but they did not come. Instead, Carlisle took my hand comfortingly and looked me directly in the eyes. “You need to get a flight back to Forks?” “Yes, as soon as possible.” “Then a flight is what you’ll have. Leave everything to me, Bella. I’ll ring the airport immediately.” “Wait, no!” I protested hurriedly. I didn’t want to be more of a burden to him; I had already been troublesome enough tonight. “You don’t need to do that, I can ring them. I’ve already caused you enough problems.” Carlisle just waved a silencing hand at me. “Don’t be ridiculous Bella, you’re like my daughter. It’s only right that I should help you.” His voice was full of so much earnest affection that I again had difficulty blinking back my tears. Carlisle seemed to realize this and stood up, gently helping me do the same. “Let’s go inside,” he said kindly, “it’s far too cold to stay out here. I’ll make arrangements for your flight and you can sit in the lounge and warm up.” He stopped suddenly and I guessed that he was thinking about how I would react to seeing the others. “Unless you would prefer waiting somewhere else?” He looked at me expectantly. I wanted to accept his offer; I didn’t like the idea of being subjected to more humiliation by seeing Edward again, especially when I was still so angry with him. On the other hand, I knew that if I did avoid him then everyone would immediately assume that I was too overcome to even be in the same room as him and Tanya. As much as it hurt me, I would have to put on a brave face and confront them. At least my emotions were private from Edward now that Jasper had left the house. “No, it’s fine,” I said with as much conviction as I could muster, “I’ll go and join the others.” Carlisle nodded silently and I followed him towards the front door, stepping aside to let Esme out. She was carrying a shovel and smiled apologetically at me as she went to the patch of bloody snow and shovelled it into a bag, then turned; presumably to go and dump it in the lake. I sighed. Of all the places for me to spill blood, I had to choose the one where it was a practically banned substance. Carlisle and I walked to the huge living room. Rosalie and Emmett were talking quietly to each other by the fireplace, while Tanya and Edward were standing at opposite ends of the room, both glaring into different directions with their arms folded. I wondered whether they had rowed because of me, then decided that I didn’t care. As soon as the door opened, everyone looked up. I looked at each of them. Emmett looked concerned and upset; Rosalie was, predictably, annoyed, but as I concentrated on her expression I realized that she didn’t seem to be angry at me- her eyes kept flickering accusingly at Edward. Tanya was watching me in a different way than she had before; it was as though she was weighing me up, trying to find answers in my eyes. I saved Edward to last, and as I looked at him I felt myself falter. There were so many emotions in his eyes: worry, frustration, fear, anger and sorrow. I wanted to believe that there was something stronger than just guilt behind his emotions, but the realistic side of me stopped me from fantasizing. Don’t get your hopes up Bella, he’s just guilty because he thinks he was the reason you hurt yourself. I noticed that Carlisle was staring at Edward, and I immediately recognized the signs of a silent conversation between them. Edward’s eyes widened, and I knew that Carlisle must have relayed my explanation to him. Good. I thought viciously, It’s about time he realized he wasn’t centre of the universe. Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself. Edward was the centre of my universe, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that fact; it was too pathetic. Carlisle turned to face me, “I’ll go make that call,” he said, before sweeping out of the room. Everybody watched me quizzically, wondering what Carlisle had meant. “A friend of mine is ill; I need to go back to Forks to visit him,” I said weakly, trying to produce an acceptable explanation, “Carlisle’s booking me a flight.” I wondered whether they would believe me, or whether they would chalk it up to trying to get away from Edward. Nobody said anything, just watched me. There was a long, awkward silence as I stared at my feet. Then, Emmett spoke. “So Bella,” he said hesitantly, walking very slowly and carefully towards me, “how are you, uh, feeling?” He was looking at me like I was a bomb that was about to go off. “Can I get you anything? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you want to watch T.V.? Or are you okay just sitting here? Because that’s totally okay too, just say the word-” “It was an accident.” I said quickly, cutting him off. I didn’t want them to be treading on eggshells around me for the rest of the night. Emmett looked at me taken aback. “What was?”

“My hand. It was an accident, wasn’t it Edward?” I turned on him, my eyes narrowed in a coolly challenging glare. He looked back at me for a few seconds, his expression unreadable, before he slowly inclined his head. “Yes,” he said very quietly, “it was an accident.” The room seemed to relax at his confirmation. Rosalie shook her head exasperatedly and flopped onto the couch, switching on the television. Tanya’s calculating expression was immediately replaced by one of amused satisfaction and Emmett let out a long whistle of relief. He beamed at me and punched me- very lightly- on the shoulder. “You had me really worried for a moment there, lil’ sis!” he said good-naturedly. I tried to smile, but it was hard considering everything I had already been through that night. “So what do you want to do now? I’ve got a really awesome new games console if you’re interested…” he grinned wickedly, “we could see if you’re still as awful at video games as ever.” “I wasn’t awful,” I protested half-heartedly. Emmett laughed and started listing the many times I had lost to him, but I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy ignoring Edward. I could tell that he was trying to make me look at him, but I wouldn’t; I didn’t want to. I was getting so tiredof all these games between us. Every time I believed that we were close to making up, something would happen to make things worse than ever. It was like some perverse board game; every time we took a step forward we immediately took four backwards again. Well, I had had enough. I wasn’t going to let myself be hurt anymore; I was finally going to accept that we couldn’t be friends and certainly couldn’t be lovers. I had to stop even trying to talk to him; it was just making everything worse. There was no point in even pretending that he had feelings for me, now that I knew he knew that I was still in love with him. Therefore, I continued to stare determinedly into space, even when he said my name quietly. I could sense everyone in the room waiting for me to reply, but I did not. Finally, I heard Edward growl in frustration and storm past me, through the wide archway that lead to the next room, causing my hair to ruffle slightly in the breeze. I turned, curious to know where he had gone. I saw him sitting far away at the other end of the adjoining room, having taken his place on the bench at what I instantly recognized as his grand piano. As I watched, he glanced up and caught my eyes in a long, piercing gaze full of emotions I was unable to read. Then, he slowly began to play. A dark, haunting melody began to flood the room. It was both captivating and agonizing; it was as though Edward had poured all the sorrows in the world into his music. Then, just when I thought that I would scream from the pain of it all, the music changed, bursting into a furious exchange of spiky notes and a pounding undercurrent of angry chords. I felt the music affect my own emotions and I turned away slowly, my fists clenched. I won’t let him break me apart,I told myself firmly, I can stand this. I looked at the others. Rosalie’s only response to the music had been to turn up the television, whereas Emmett was staring at Edward dissatisfiedly. Then he turned to look at me, clearly trying to act as though nothing had just happened. “So what do you want to play? I’ve got ‘Mega Mutant Zombies IV’ or-” “Oh don’t be silly Emmett,” an unfamiliar voice interrupted him, “I’m sure Bella doesn’t want to play your childish games.” We all looked around, shocked, to see Tanya standing at my elbow, her lips stretched in a dazzling smile. “She’d much rather have a chat with me, wouldn’t you Bella?” I just gaped at her disbelievingly. She pouted with hurt innocence. “Well I hardly even got introduced to you! I’ve been just dying to know more about the famous Bella Swan. How about we sit down here and you tell me a bit about yourself?” “Um, sure,” I said, dazed. What else could I say? I could hardly respond the way I wanted to; I knew from experience with Jacob that punching immortals was never a good idea and usually resulted in several broken bones. “Excellent!” Tanya cooed, her eyes lighting up as she grabbed hold of my wrist and sat down, pulling me with her, on a couch. I could tell from the way they were exchanging glances that Emmett and Rosalie were just as staggered as I was. I could even hear Edward quiet his playing somewhat next door as he watched Tanya with narrowed eyes. “So, where do I begin?” Tanya asked brightly, swinging her silky hair carelessly behind her shoulder. It fell in ripples, shimmering like a rainbow on the mist, each faultless strand falling perfectly into place. Judging on looks alone, she and Edward were the perfect couple; they were both unfairly beautiful. “I know all about how you met Edward of course, I’ve heard that story many a time.” She winked winningly at me and I had to clench my fists again, this time to stop me clawing those pretty eyes right out of her pretty head. That’s it, rub in the fact that Edward still talks to you. “What I don’t know though,” she continued innocently, “is anything about your life after the Cullens. What have you been doing with yourself these past years?” I couldn’t believe this. I had barely gone into depth with my postEdward years with any of them, and yet she seemed to expect me to bare all for a complete stranger- the same stranger who I had just found draped all over my ex-boyfriend. Bitch. “There’s nothing to tell,” I said passively. There was no way I was going to give her details. “I lived in Forks until I graduated High School, then I went to college in Arizona and I finally got a job here in Rochester. I’ve been teaching here ever since. That’s it.” She raised her eyebrow and it was obvious that she didn’t believe me.

“That’s all? Not one little story about graduating? Not one eensy anecdote about those crazy college parties?” I shook my head, my teeth gritted. “Well how about teaching, then?” Tanya asked, “Surely you must have had naughty students over the years…” she glanced through the archway at Edward and flashed him and wicked grin, which he ignored by again increasing the volume and complexity of his playing. I could sense that Tanya was trying to engage him in the memory of some sort of personal joke, but I decided that I really didn’t want to know. “Nope,” I said, “they’re generally pretty well behaved.” I resisted the urge to also glance at Edward on these words; just because she was being childish didn’t mean I had to stoop to her level. She looked disappointed, both at Edward’s reaction and my refusal to comply with her game. She was quiet for a few moments, seemingly racking her brains for another way to involve Edward in our conversation, when suddenly her eyes lit up in triumph. “And what about your love life?” “W-what?!” I choked, thunderstruck. Oh no she didn’t! I couldn’t believe she had actually asked me that; surely she must realize that all her question would do was remind everyone of the way I had been unceremoniously dumped by Edward? And I had thought Lauren Mallory was evil. Edward’s piano playing suddenly increased tenfold, becoming even louder and angrier, as though he was trying to block our conversation out. He’s probably just embarrassed, I thought bitterly. I could feel Emmett and Rosalie staring at me apprehensively. “Um,” I stalled, not sure how I was going to get out of answering this question. “Oh come now,” Tanya said, patting me patronisingly on the arm, “there’s no need to be embarrassed Bell- may I call you Bell?- we’re all truly desperate to know.” I stared at her, utterly at a loss for what to say. Why was she playing this game with me? She had already won; she had Edward, so why this intricate charade? What was her motive? If it was to remind Edward that he had chosen her then there was no need- we all knew that he didn’t love me. If, on the other hand, she was trying to humiliate me to death then she was definitely succeeding; my cheeks were absolutely flaming with embarrassment. Tanya was still waiting for a response. Oh well, I suddenly thought to myself, it’s not like there’s much to tell anyway. Perhaps it’s better this way- maybe Edward will think that Jasper was wrong and that I really am over him. “Well, there was one guy,” I said slowly, trying to sound as offhand as possible. Rosalie and Emmett both tensed and as I looked at them I noticed Esme standing in the doorway. She was blinking at me in shock as though I had just slapped her. I stared at her in confusion. What was going on? Had she seriously expected me to disassociate myself from society for the rest of my life, simply because Edward hadn’t wanted me? Wow, I seriously need to stop acting like such a pushover, I thought. I was even more surprised by Edward’s reaction; his piano playing had now become almost deafeningly loud, the grim, heart-wrenching notes spilling from his instrument in a stampede of emotion and echoing off the wooden floorboards in the room next door. I wondered what was going through his mind, but I was distracted by Tanya’s sultry laugh. “I knew you were holding out on us!” She cried delightedly. “So who was this mystery man? Or should I be speaking in the present tense? Does he still feature in your life?” She wasn’t even bothering to hide her rampant curiosity now. “No, we… well, we’re still friends, but we aren’t…” I was intending to explain that it was a relationship that had never really got off the ground, but a sudden impulse stopped me. Why should I tell the truth? It was clear that Edward, his whole family and even Tanya were convinced that I had been an emotional wreck for the past six years and that I was still hopelessly infatuated with him. To be fair to myself, this impression was only partly true, because, while I hadn’t had much of a life since Edward left me, it had been a life. I had made lifelong friends in the wolf pack, I had excelled at school and I was good at my job. I had moved across the country to an entirely new city and I was living on my own independently. True, I had been mainly unhappy, but there had been bright moments. I had survived and I had been healing, albeit erratically. The rebellious part of me wanted to show Tanya and the Cullens that I wasn’t just Edward’s shadow. I could think for myself, talk for myself and fend myself. I was tired of constantly being seen as the fragile damsel in distress, waiting for the prince to wake her from her slumber. For once, I wanted to prove people that I was perfectly capable of waking up on my own. As I looked into the Cullens’ faces and took note of their pitying glances, I made up my mind. “Well,” I said in a stronger, more certain voice, “Jacob and I had our differences, so we aren’t technically ‘together’ any more, but we’re still very good friends.” I put emphasis on the ‘very’ in the hope that they wouldn’t see through the lie in the first half of our sentence. I had absolutely no romantic feelings towards Jake anymore; I wasn’t even sure if I had ever really had them to begin with, but they didn’t need to know that. Tanya was clearly thrilled with the direction the conversation was going in. “Is he good-looking?” she prompted me. She had to raise her voice to be heard above Edward’s playing, which was getting louder and angrier by the second. “Yes,” I said, secretly enjoying the fact that I was making Edward so angry. In my mind I could pretend that it was jealousy which caused him to slam the piano keys with such anger, not irritation at the way I had snubbed him earlier. Or perhaps he was just angry because he was dating Tanya. I know I would’ve been- the woman was impossible. “Yes

Jacob is extremely… hot.” I giggled despite of myself at her reaction. If only she knew what I really meant, she probably wouldn’t be grinning like that. Tanya looked set to ask me more questions, but Carlisle walked in, ending our little party. I felt my smile vanish as I remembered where he had been, and what his return meant. “Bella, I’ve got you onto a flight to Seattle first thing tomorrow morning. I’ve booked a car to pick you up from the airport and take you to the hospital. It would have been sooner, but the snowstorms have grounded all aircraft out of Rochester for the night.” Snowstorms? I thought to myself, perplexed. Sure enough, when I glanced out of the window I saw what had been a few gentle flakes earlier had now escalated into a full blown blizzard. Great, I thought, I’m riding home in that. “Thank you so much for your help Carlisle.” I got to my feet, grateful for a reason to get away from Tanya’s questions. It had been fun to play with her, but the sensible side of me knew it was time to stop; I doubted Edward’s piano would last much longer. If I had thought he would stop playing, however, I was wrong; music continued to spill from the piano, acting as a background to my words. “I’ll pay for the ticket, of course,” I assured Carlisle, but he immediately shook his head, telling me that there was no need and that he was happy to help. I thanked him profusely; I hadn’t been looking forward to going without food for two months in order to pay the rent. “I better try and get through to Jacob again,” I sighed, checking the clock. “Jacob?” Carlisle asked, furrowing his brow. “Oooh, you’re still in touch?” Tanya interjected, her voice a sickly sweet coo. “Yes, he was the one who told me that Brady was sick,” I said distractedly, as I patted my pockets in the search for my cell phone. “He and his brothers are supposed to be at the hospital now, but maybe he’ll have turned his phone back on...” Maybe I had left the damn thing outside on the veranda… yes, that must be it. “He has brothers?” Tanya clucked, at the same time as Carlisle asked: “Jacob as in Jacob Black?” I paused in my search for the elusive phone, looking at Carlisle in surprise. “Yes, do you know him?” He shook his head, frowning. “I’ve never met him- I knew his great-grandfather though.” I was shocked; Carlisle knew Jacob’s great-grandfather? Then, as I was going to question him further, something stirred in the back of my mind- strains of a memory of a conversation I had had with Jacob long, long ago... “Did you say Jacob was with his ‘brothers’?” Carlisle asked, his voice sharpening, distracting me. “Well they aren’t really his… his…” I broke off; out of the corner of my eye I had noticed the flickering flames of the hearth. Like someone had flicked a switch in my mind, everything came rushing back to me. The bonfire. It had been the first time I had spoken to Jacob, when I had tried to flirt with him in order to gain information about the Cullens. “There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land… In my great-grandfather’s time they already knew of the leader, Carlisle.” I gasped as comprehension flooded through me. Of course Carlisle knew Jacob’s ancestors; it had been he who had signed the treaty with Jacob’s great-grandfather Ephriam Black in the first place- the very same treaty which had allowed the Cullens and the tribe to coexist peacefully for all those years. Carlisle must know all about the workings of the pack and the tribe’s werewolf bloodlines. I realized with a thrill of anxiety that by my mentioning Jacob’s ‘brothers’, Carlisle must have just worked out what they were. And if Carlisle knew, then it wouldn’t be long before“WEREWOLVES?!”

Chapter 10ii I gasped as comprehension flooded through me. Of course Carlisle knew Jacob’s ancestors; it had been he who had signed the treaty with Jacob’s great-grandfather Ephriam Black in the first place- the very same treaty which had allowed the Cullens and the tribe to coexist peacefully for all those years. Carlisle must know all about the workings of

the pack and the tribe’s werewolf bloodlines. I realized with a thrill of anxiety that by my mentioning Jacob’s ‘brothers’, Carlisle must have just worked out what they were. And if Carlisle knew, then it wouldn’t be long before“WEREWOLVES?!” There was a thunderous crash of jarring chords as Edward’s music ceased and he slammed the piano’s lid down with wood-splintering force. Before I had time to blink, he had re-entered the room and was grabbing hold of my shoulders, his face inches from mine, features twisted with rage. “YOU DATED A WEREWOLF?! WHAT THE HELL HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU?! FIRST MOTORBIKES, NOW WEREWOLVES! ARE YOU TRYING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED?” I was so taken aback by the ferocity of his outburst that I actually stumbled back a few steps, falling right into Carlisle. “Edward,” he said in a placating voice to his son, setting me upright again on my feet. “NO Carlisle,” Edward roared, “didn’t you HEAR what she just said? WEREWOLVES!” he spat the word as though it was profane, his eyes blazing. I watched in alarm as his entire body shook with anger. This was worse than the progress evening last night, worse even than his reaction to the motorcycles. I had never seen him so livid, not even at James. “E-edward,” I stuttered slightly, frightened, “why are you getting so worked up? It’s okay-” “NO, Bella, it is NOT okay. I thought your riding a motorbike was beyond reckless, but that was nothing- nothingcompared to this-” I rolled my eyes. Not this again; I had had enough of ‘controlling Edward’ last night. “Look, I don’t have time to listen to this again, I need to tell Jacob about my flight-” I turned my back on Edward and headed towards the door, but he darted in front of me and blocked my path still in mid-rant. “- of all the filthy, dangerous, volatile, foul creatures for you to put your faith in you choose werewolves?! What the hell were you THINKING?!” I bristled at that comment. “Those are my friends you’re talking about!” I said hotly, glaring up at him. “FRIENDS?! Some friends!” he shouted, “It makes me sick to even think of you associating with such vile creatures. You don’t have any idea what kind of danger you put yourself in-” “Oh, and I suppose you do?” I cracked, yelling back at him, taking a step towards him. “You know, because you were there with me, every single step of the way, weren’t you? You were there when I first realized that Jake was a werewolf, you were there when I first dated him, and you were there when… when…” when Brady suffered a fate worse than death in the attempt to protect me. I was silent for a moment as I fiercely blinked back my tears, before glaring at Edward again. “So you were there the whole time, were you? Oh, no, I guess you weren’t. You were too busy with your distractions.” There was a ringing silence at my words. Notice how he doesn’t even deny it, I thought bitterly. I raised my eyes to meet Edward’s and hoped that he could see the full extent of the betrayal, anger and pain I felt towards him. He didn’t say anything, seemingly too taken aback by my words. “I’m leaving,” I muttered quietly, ducking under his arm and through the lounge door out into the hallway. “Thank you for everything Carlisle, Esme.” Then, suspecting that Edward would follow me, I ran for the front door, flinching slightly as I flung it open and came out into the freezing cold night. The snow really was falling in earnest now; almost three inches had accumulated already. I set my eyes on my bike; I had no idea how I would get it home in this weather, but I had to try. I had only made it as far as the second porch step, however, when I heard Edward’s voice behind me. “Bella, don’t leave, I didn’t mean it like that. I know I wasn’t there and I’m eternally sorry for that, but you can’t be so careless about your safety-” I had only really paid attention to the end of his sentence and I whipped around, seething. “Let’s get one thing straight once and for all, Edward, it is up to me how I behave. You don’t own me, you don’t control me, you play no part in my life; that’s how you wanted it, so don’t you dare tell me what I can and cannot do.” I began to run away again, trying my hardest not to slip down the icy steps as I left the cover of the porch and came out into the sheets of snow. Even as I tried to run, I knew it was pointless; I could feel him following me. He took hold of my shoulder and pulled me round to face him, until we were standing together, our feet practically touching in the deep snow. Behind him I could make out the figures of people standing on the veranda and I knew that his family must have come to watch the show. Roll up, Roll up, front row seats to see Bella Swan’s heart breaking. I was already shivering it was so cold, and I felt the snow that had collected around the collar of my shirt begin to melt against my skin, sending wet trickles down my back. I looked up at Edward and yet again I was struck by how perfect he was. How could it be that even though every word I was saying to him came straight from the heart, I was still desperately in love with him? My

chest was aching with want and loss as I stepped away from him. I didn’t want to prolong this agony any further. “This conversation is over Edward, I have nothing more to say to you,” I whispered, trying to turn away. “Don’t you remember what you said to me in the forest?” Edward suddenly said as he pulled me around again, his eyes imploring and full of emotion. “Don’t you remember the promise you made? You promised to keep yourself safe! You promised not to do anything dangerous, or reckless-” I gasped and my entire body tensed. How could he use that night against me? How could he twist this around so that I was the one who had done wrong? “And what about your promises to me?!” I replied, tears brimming over my eye lids and beginning to fall from my lashes. “You told me you loved me, you told me ‘forever’! You promised never to leave, do you remember that!? You revoked your rights to me when you broke those vows!” I wiped the tears angrily from my cheeks, willing my voice not to break, “When are you going to finally get it, Edward? You can’t have everything both ways-” “But-” “But NOTHING!” I shouted at him, “You can’t LEAVE me and then tell me what to do, it doesn’t WORK like that!” “Bella, listen to me!” “NO Edward, you listen to me!” My entire body was shaking now; I could feel myself unravelling before him. The legs of my jeans were soaked through with melted snow and my hair was tangled and dripping; there were tears streaking down my cheeks and I knew that I must look half-crazed, but I suddenly didn’t care. Memories of all the times I had cried over Edward, all the hours I had spent longing for him and all the years I had wasted waiting for him to return were taking hold of my mind, causing every bitter thought I had ever had towards him to come spewing out of my mouth. “You are not part of my life anymore! It’s nothing to do with you, whether I ride motorbikes, jump off cliffs or make out with werewolves!” “But you could be killed,” “WHY DO YOU CARE?!” I exploded at him, screaming at the top of my voice, “WHY DO YOU EVEN GIVE A SHIT?! You LEFT me, you REJECTED me; you said you didn’t want me, you left me in the forest!” I turned to face the house and through the wall of violently falling snow, I could just make out the silhouette of Edward’s family. “HE LEFT ME!” I shrieked out to the night, knowing that they would hear me even through the howling icy wind, “After all the times he told me he loved me, he DUMPED me, said that he was BORED of me!” “I LIED!” Edward roared, “BELLA, I LIED! I LOVE YOU!” My heart stopped. No. How could he? How could he play with me like that, when he knew how I felt about him? “D-don’t,” I croaked, ripping my eyes from his face and trying to feign him off with my hands, “don’t lie to me like that, it’s not fair!” My voice cracked as more tears poured down my cheeks. I loved him so much and yet here he was, toying with me for his own enjoyment. I felt my heart shatter and the hole in my chest rip wide open; I had to fight not to scream out in pain or fall over. “This might be a j-joke to you Edward but it’s n-not to me!” I choked at him, “How c-can you be so c-cruel?” I staggered back from him, my arms flailing blindly behind me for my bike, my only chance of escape. “No Bella, I’m not lying!” He followed me, a look of desperation on his face as he spoke. “I love you with all my heart; you’re my life, my soul, my reason for existence-” “S-STOP IT!” I screamed, clasping my hands over my ears, “STOP s-saying t-that! H-haven’t you h-hurt me enough?” I tried to run away from him, but I couldn’t move in the snow and I fell hard onto the ground. I lay there, shivering and sobbing, and curled my entire body into a protective ball. Pain was running through me, electrocuting my veins and making my head ache as I rocked back and forth, trying my absolute hardest to hold myself together. I felt the snow sink slightly, as Edward knelt down next me. Slowly, hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around me. “You left me,” I whispered weakly, over and over again, clinging on to him with all my might “you left me on my own, you said you didn’t love me.”

“I know,” he murmured into my ear, stroking my hair, “God, I know, Bella, I am so sorry. I wish with all my heart that I could undo what I did. I’ve spent every single second regretting it, ever since I uttered those lies, ever since I left you in that forest.” I could feel his body shaking- or was it my own? Either way, we were both moving together like trees in a monsoon, desperately trying to keep hold of each other. The world could end, the universe could explode and none of it would matter, because at least I was with him, touching him. Edward turned me around so that he was looking me straight in the eyes. “Bella Swan, I love you more than anything in the world. Without you, life is meaningless; like a blank canvas in a sea of white. Every day since I left you I have been wishing that I could return, longing to see you, to touch you, to kiss you.” I looked away from him, unable to comprehend his words. He must be lying… and yet, was he? He looked so sincere; I couldn’t detect a ghost of a lie in his eyes, but his words made no sense. If he loved me, then why did he ever leave? Why didn’t he come back straight away? “You…love me?” I asked disbelievingly, testing the words out in an order that had become so unfamiliar over the years. “Yes,” he said, gripping me as though he never wanted to release me. HE’S LYING, my mind screamed, don’t listen, he just wants to hurt you again! It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. “If you love me, then why… then why did you leave?!” I whispered, my eyes wide and full of tears. “I wanted you to be safe,” he murmured, “I wanted you to have a chance at a normal, happy, human life. I could see that I was risking your life every moment that I was with you, that I was constantly putting you in danger and preventing you from living in the world to which you belonged. After what had happened with James I knew that I had to do something to protect you from the horror of my kind… yet I was too selfish, too weak to leave you.” He paused, as he stroked my cheek. I was too engrossed in his words to even react. “But then after what happened on your birthday, after your blood was spilt yet again on my account… I knew I had no choice. Leaving was the only way to make you safe- the only way for you to live the life you were supposed to have, had you never come across my kind.” I was speechless. He left to keep me safe? “You lied?” I asked, still unable to register his words. “Yes, my love. I thought it would be better that way- a clean break for you. I thought that maybe it would make it easier for you to move on, to heal…” “What?” I asked, suddenly squirming out of his embrace as I stared at him in incredulity. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Was he crazy? “Do you have any idea what your lie did to me?” I asked him, my voice unconsciously becoming slightly louder. I suddenly realized that I was still sitting in the snow and I scrambled to my feet, my eyes still fixed on Edward. He looked taken aback, as though he had not at all anticipated this response. “I…” “You broke my heart, Edward!” I shouted. I could feel the anger from before bubbling up inside of me again. I had lost six years of my life, and for what? So Edward could keep me ‘safe, happy and normal’? He looked pained by my accusation. “Bella I’m sorry!” he cried, leaping to his feet and stepping towards me. “I was trying to do what’s best for you-” “Oh, so I don’t get to have a say in that?” I retorted, glaring at him. How dare he? Would he ever stop treating me like a child? “I wanted to protect you, I wanted you to be safe,” he repeated again, his voice weakening; it was obvious that he knew his excuse was sounding feebler by the second. He seemed to decide on a change of tact and stepped towards me, lowering his voice to a murmur, his eyes like liquid gold. “Bella,” he crooned in the velvety voice that had always managed to drive me crazy with lust, “I love you.” He watched me, waiting. For a moment, I was like a snake caught by his charmer, transfixed by his beauty. Then, I noticed the small smirk curling around the corners of his lips. It was as though something had snapped in my mind, adjusting my perspective. I loved Edward, of course I did, but I was not going to allow him to charm his way out this situation. No amount of ‘dazzling’ on his part could let me forget what he had done, or the pain he had caused me. I wasn’t going to be as forgiving as I would’ve been at eighteen; in fact, the more I thought of his reasons for leaving, the angrier I became. “You wanted me to be happy, Edward?” I shouted at him, taking steps back through the snow, “You wanted me to be normal? Well here I am!" I was crying again now; huge trembling sobs were building up in my chest, threatening to consume me. "Here I fucking am, living my normal, happy, healthy life. Isn't it just great? Doesn't it look perfect?" The snow was still falling thick and fast, freezing me half to death. I was soaked all over my body from where I had

fallen on the ground and I could feel my hair clinging to my back and water streaming down my face, the melted remains of the snow mingling with the salty warmth of my tears. The snowfall was so heavy that I could no longer see the Cullens standing on the porch, but I knew that they would be able to see me. I could imagine the looks of pity upon their beautiful faces and I knew I looked ridiculous, pathetic and weak, but I couldn't care. It didn't matter, none of it mattered anymore. "Is this what you wanted Edward?" I screamed at him again, "For me to still feel this much pain after six years? Are you happy now?! I really hope so, because one of us should be happy with the way things have turned out and it sure as HELL isn't me." I shook as I stared wildly into his eyes, my emotion at such a level that I couldn't even be comforted by the anguish I saw there. “I never meant to hurt you, all I ever wanted was you to be happy-” he half choked at me, his face desperate. "I was happy before!" I cried, my shoulders heaving, "I was happy with you, with my life the way it was. Why did you have to ruin it? You took everything from me. I can't live, without being reminded of you. I see you everywhere, in my dreams, my memories and my nightmares. I fall asleep and I all I think about, all I dream about, is you. I can't even look into another man's eyes, without feeling like I'm betraying you!" I let out a bitter, mirthless laugh, "how ridiculous is that? I feel like I betrayed you, when we all know that it was the other way round! Does that make you proud? Do you like the fact that I haven’t been with a guy in years? That at the age of twenty-four I’ve had sex once, and that I cried the entire way through?” Edward winced and I pounced on the reaction immediately. “Oh, I’m sorry, does it bother you to think of me with Jacob? Of our hot, sweaty, writhing bodies as he tried to give me what you always-” “Enough, Bella,” Edward begged. I could see that I had really hurt him, but I was too far gone to feel anything but a sick sort of satisfaction. “WHY?” I screamed. “Why the fuck should I stop? It’s just SEX, why does the topic disgust you so much? You’re clearly having lots of it with your slut of a blonde, so why do you hate talking about it? Or is it just me who repulses you?” “No! It’s not like that, Tanya and I aren’t-” “You know what? I don’t want to know. I don’t care what you say anymore Edward, I don’t give a damn. Either way, you lied to me. I don’t know if you ever loved me in the beginning, but you sure as hell don’t anymore, because if you did you would have returned before now. You tear me apart, you screw up my life and effectively leave me for dead, and now you come back after six years- six years- and try to act like everything is just going to be okay? Well it’s not. You can’t heal that kind of hurt, and even if you could, you’d never ever be able to repair what happened to… what happened t-to… Br-rady.” I was so close now- so close to being claimed by the colossal tidal wave of grief that threatened to engulf me. I had never spoken about that night to anyone but Jacob, and even with him I had avoided it as much as possible. It was as though I had been walking along a precipice for the last six years, knowing all the while that if I lost my balance and fell I would finally have to fully confront what had happened that night. “What? I don’t understand-” “No, of course you don’t understand, because you weren’t there. If you had been, maybe none of it ever would have happened.” That’s what Jacob thought; he had maintained from the beginning that it was all Edward’s fault. That it was the Cullens who had put me in danger in the first place. I had never agreed with him, but in this moment and time when I was so angry with Edward, it was simply so much easier to blame him. Doing so couldn’t make me any more of a terrible person than I already was. I shook my head, the tears still falling. “You know what’s so ironic about it all? That your plan completely backfired.” “What do you mean, ‘my plan’?” He looked at me in distress as confusion at my words crept into his eyes. “Your plan to keep me safe and happy and ‘normal’- you might as well have left me for James to finish off.” Edward flinched as though slapped and his entire body became tense. “What do you mean?” he asked, and I noticed that he looked slightly scared for the first time. I closed my eyes, willing myself to have the strength to say her name- the name which had tormented my nightmares for the past six years. Even saying it out loud still had the power to terrify me. “Victoria,” I finally managed to utter, in a voice so low that the words were immediately snatched away from me by the howling wind. Edward’s entire body convulsed at the name, his fists clenching as he stared at me in horror. “Victoria?” he hissed disbelievingly.

I nodded slowly, trying to ignore the way my throat was constricting with panic. “She came back for me,” I whispered, remembering the first day I had seen Victoria’s flame-red hair skimming the waves at La Push. “The summer after you left. She wanted vengeance for James’s death and she thought the best way to do that was by killing me- to hurt you like you had hurt her; a mate for a mate.” I winced as yet more recollections of the night tried to overpower me, but I forced them back. I had to tell Edward what had happened; I had to make him understand the consequences of his leaving. “She teamed up with Laurent- it turned out that he never even went to Denali- and they stalked me for weeks, trying their best to kill me. It didn’t seem to matter to Victoria that you had left; it just served to make her even angrier. She couldn’t bear that you had destroyed James to protect me, only to toss me aside months later.” Edward tried to interrupt me but I just shook my head fiercely. “No! Don’t say you’re sorry; I don’t want to hear it! No matter how many times you apologize, it will never undo what happened. So just don’t.” He opened his mouth again, but shut it firmly, his expression tortured. “Victoria and Laurent followed me for weeks. It didn’t matter where I was, whether it was school, work or home, they would always be there- a shock of flame red hair and pale white skin lurking in the trees. But they didn’t attack me; they couldn’t attack me. Everywhere I went, I was guarded by the werewolves.” I narrowed my eyes at Edward. “How does that make you feel? Whilst you were enjoying your distractions and staying away ‘for my own good’ the wolf pack were risking their lives to protect my own; the same ‘filthy, dangerous, volatile’ werewolves that you hate so much.” I didn’t wait for an answer, pausing only to take a breath before I finished my story. “It continued for almost a month; the werewolves and vampires playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, with me always in the middle. I couldn’t go out anymore; I was too terrified to visit anybody in case I put them in danger. I wouldn’t let Charlie out of my sight; I was so scared that Laurent and Victoria would hurt him as a way of getting to me. But then it all stopped; Victoria and Laurent just disappeared. We couldn’t believe it at first; we were all so sure that it was just a trick, that they would reappear within days, but another month passed with absolutely no sign of them. I became certain that this time they had gone for good, that I was finally free. I tried to persuade the wolves that there was no need for them to guard me so vigilantly anymore. I already felt guilty that they were spending so much time protecting me; they were all exhausted and Jacob had hardly been home for months. They refused at first; they didn’t share my belief that the danger had passed. “But then… one of the pack elders died. Of course the wolves wanted to go to the funeral, but they were scared to leave me. I begged Sam- the alpha- to let the guys go; I told them that I wasn’t in danger anymore, that I would be fine for one night.” I shook my head with self-loathing. “I was such a fool,” I whispered. Edward was still watching me, pain and sorrow in his eyes. “After hours of persuading, Sam agreed to reduce my guard for a night. He left me with one of the youngest of the werewolves… Brady.” I winced. “He was only 13 at the time; he wasn’t expected to attend the funeral anyway. So he stayed with me.” I let out my breath in a long whoosh, casting my eyes up to the snowfilled night sky. Brady’s fate had been entirely my fault; if I had never made Sam leave him with me, none of it would ever have happened. “At first everything was fine; Brady waited at the edge of the woods outside my house while I got ready for bed without even a sign of danger. As I fell asleep I was satisfied that I had been right in thinking that Victoria and Laurent were long gone. “But I woke up at midnight and I instantly knew something was wrong. Everything was just so quiet… like somebody had frightened the world into silence. I looked up and she was there, in my room.” Edward let out an angry snarl and I shivered at the memory. Victoria’s blood-red eyes and deathly white skin sparkling in the moonlight as she leered at me from my broken window; her amused laughter as I screamed and tumbled out of bed, running for my door and practically falling down the stairs… “She seemed to enjoy watching me try to run, like she knew that there was no way I would escape her in the end. I sprinted outside and from somewhere in the woods I heard the sounds of Brady battling with Laurent, their snarls deafened me as I tried to run away from Victoria. I was screaming the whole time, terrified that no one would hear me but even more scared that they would come running and be put in danger too. I tripped and fell and knew that it was the end- that the game was up. I was going to die.” I paused, absorbed by the memory. “Then Brady came out of nowhere to save; he had managed to kill Laurent and the victory of his first kill had made him feel invincible. He launched himself at Victoria and began to fight her, but he underestimated her skill.” I remembered the way she had twisted and turned, uncontrollable as fire, with hands like claws and gleaming, razorsharp teeth. Brady had seemed tiny in comparison, despite his colossal size. I shivered. There had been so much blood. “It was obvious that Brady was going to lose; he was badly injured and I knew that it was only minutes until Victoria killed him and turned on me. I tried to get up and do something, anything, to distract her from hurting him, but the minute I took a step towards them Brady growled, warning me to stay away. But it was like my movement had reminded Victoria that I was there; she whipped around and advanced on me, I staggered backwards and fell down, hard, smashing my head against a rock. The next thing I knew, everything had gone black.” I closed my eyes, remembering how I had been awoken, minutes later by Jacob’s panicked shouts. “Bella?! BELLA!” Jake’s terrified voice shattered the night, pulling me sharply from the depths of my unconsciousness. His impossibly warm hands gripped my shoulders, shaking me sharply awake as he continued to sob brokenly into the otherwise terribly silent night. “BELLA! Oh God, Bella please wake up!” I felt my eyes wrench open to see him hovering inches above me. “Jake…” I rasped.

“Bella!” “Jake, Victoria came after me, she was in my room! She attacked me while I was sleeping, I couldn’t-” “I know sweetheart, I know-” “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have told Sam that it was safe, I shouldn’t have put Brady in danger,” I stopped, horrorstruck. “B-brady! Jake, where is he?!” I started to cry hysterically, my eyes searching around wildly. They fell on a group of figures standing in the darkness between the trees. Some were on their knees, some standing; all had identical looks of grief on the shadowy faces. I tried to see the thing they were standing around, but it was too dark. Jake, however, had perfect vision. “Oh, God…” he choked, launching forward and hitting the ground running as he sprinted towards the group. I squinted after him as he ran and saw him join the rest of the pack, pushing his way through the others. As they moved I finally managed to get a glimpse of the thing they were standing around- a mis-shapened heap of ragged fur and oozing blood. I screamed as I realized who it was and did not stop, even when Charlie came running out of our house. Brady. I opened my eyes again and was almost surprised to find myself shivering outside in the Rochester snow instead of by the forest in Forks. I tried to explain what I had just remembered. “The rest of the wolves realised what was going on and came running. Once the entire pack was there, Victoria didn’t stand a chance; they killed her within seconds. But Brady…” I let out a painful sob and looked up to see Edward watching me, aghast. “He was killed?” I shook my head, tears of shame trickling down my cheeks. “No, it was far worse.” “Worse?” I nodded, my throat almost to dry to speak. “At first it looked like he’d be fine; werewolves heal quickly and once his injuries had righted themselves he was able to phase back into human form. The pack were so proud of him; for a week they treated him like a hero, amazed that he had managed to kill Laurent and fend off Victoria until they arrived. They tried to ignore the fact that something about Brady had changed, sure that he was just shaken up by the whole thing and that he would get better. But it soon became apparent that some wounds are just too deep to heal.” Edward’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.” “He lost his mind, Edward,” I replied, biting my lip to stop myself sobbing again. “He was too young and inexperienced; he had no idea how to cope with the horror of Victoria’s attack. She all but tortured him, both mentally and physically and it was just too much for him to take. He became unresponsive and wouldn’t talk to anybody, not even the pack; it was like he didn’t recognize them anymore. He wouldn’t phase, he wouldn’t even move. Most days Jacob and the others would go out in the morning and come back twelve hours later to find him sitting in exactly the same place, just staring blankly into thin air. He was catatonic; he wouldn’t speak, he didn’t eat.” I shivered again, “The pack was distraught. They didn’t know what to do or what to tell his parents, who were beside themselves with shock and grief. They tried to get him medical help, but nothing worked. And then, on the three month anniversary of Victoria’s attack, they came downstairs in the morning to find him gone. The entire tribe was sent out looking for him; they searched for hours but with no luck. It was almost nightfall when they finally found him- on top of one of the highest cliffs in La Push, standing right on the edge, just staring into the waves. “Of course, there was no way that he could stay at home after that. His parents couldn’t watch him 24-7, so they had no choice but to admit him into the psychiatric ward at the hospital. He’s been there ever since.” I had barely noticed that Edward had closed the distance between us during my last speech. His hair was flecked with snow; there were flakes on the ends of his eyelashes, framing his golden eyes. He was like a statue in a snow-covered garden, so beautiful it hurt to look at him but with a cold, unreal air to his appearance. I looked up at him, my heart aching. “Bella, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…” he leant down to take me into his arms but I pushed him away, fiercely trying to blink away my tears.

“No, Edward! You can’t just touch me and make everything okay again; maybe that might have worked when I was eighteen, but not now; not after everything that happened. Not after Victoria, after Brady. I was so in love with you…” my shoulders slumped, and I knew there was no use in pretending, “I still am. I hate you because you left and because you didn’t come back; I hate you because your reasons for leaving were so stupid, because I spent the last six years of my life crying over you and because I broke Jacob’s heart when I couldn’t get over you. Most of all, I hate you for you not realizing Victoria would come after m-me and for Brady d-dying and for you not being there to s-save m-me like you always said you would be,” yet again, I was losing the battle against my tears, “But, despite all of that, I still love you so much that it hurts. I’d still trade anything to be with you, for it to be like you’d never left, for us to be together again. And I loathe myself for being that way, for being so weak and dependant and-” Without words or warning, before I could do anything to stop him, Edward pulled me to his chest, crushing me against him and smashing his lips against my own. I was so surprized by his action, so shocked to actually be touching him in this way after all the times I had yearned for it, that at first I could do nothing but respond. I deepened the kiss and wrapped my arms around his neck, clinging onto him like I would never let go. His kiss was not at all like the careful ones I remembered; it was desperate and intense, setting my insides on fire and making me feel more alive than I had done in years. But after a few seconds, once the shock had passed, I began to take note of the way the rational part of my mind was screaming in protest. NO! This isn’t right, this isn’t how it should be. Everything about this kiss was wrong; the time, the place- all of it. I hadn’t even decided whether I wanted to forgive Edward yet, let alone kiss him. I had to put my feelings aside and end this, before I lost my nerve. Exerting all the strength I could muster, I pushed my hands hard against his iron chest. He released me almost immediately, his eyes alight with conflicting emotions. I stared at him, my cheeks red and my breathing heavy; no doubt I looked a sight. I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t have words to express the way that my heart was pounding and my entire body trembling as though electrocuted. He kissed me, he kissed me, he wants me despite everything I said! My mind blithered incomprehensibly as I stood, frozen. “I…” I stopped, unable to voice how I was feeling. I’m not ready for this. I needed time to think, time to process the entirety of the night’s revelations. I suddenly felt like the world was condensing, trapping me. “I have to go,” I gasped, averting my gaze from his face, “I-I’m sorry… I…” I didn’t finish the sentence; I didn’t know how to. Without another word or glance backwards I turned and covered the last few steps to where my bike sat waiting for me, covered in snow. I hardly paused to brush it off, merely scraping the handlebars before I swung myself onto the seat and fired up the engines. If Edward was calling me, then his words were immediately lost under the noise of the bike and the crying of the wind. I did not look back at the house as I pulled away, nor did I see Edward as I swerved erratically towards the highway. Thanks to the tall trees that lined either side of the road, my path was relatively snow-free and I was able to drive at top speed, leaving the house and Edward far behind. Memories of everything that had occurred that night flashed through my mind: Jacob’s phone call; the news about Brady; cutting my hand; talking to Carlisle; being questioned by Tanya; Edward’s furious piano playing; letting slip about the werewolves; fighting with Edward; running outside; him shouting he loved me; my doubt and then my tears and accusations; recounting Brady’s story and finally that kiss… It was all like a hallucination now; a mixture of the worst nightmare and most perfect dream. I tried to ignore it and focus on the road but I couldn’t banish the memory of Edward’s face as he told me that he loved me, or the feel of his lips on mine… Distracted, unthinkingly, I veered sharply out of the slip-road onto the main freeway. For a split second, it seemed empty; there were a few cars on the other side of the road, but nothing ahead of me. Then, everything began to happen at once. The screech of a horn cleaved through the snow covered air and as I turned I saw a monstrous cargo truck skidding towards me with terrifying ferocity. My heart stopped as I tried to swerve the bike out of the vehicle’s path, but to no avail; unnoticed by me I had turned sharply into a patch of thick black ice, made worse by the fresh coating of unsalted snow. The bike squealed under my hands and did a sharp pin wheel, leaning heavily to one side and toppling over, with me trapped painfully underneath. As I smashed my head against the cold, hard surface of the road, I knew I was a goner. Blinded by the truck’s bright floodlights I could feel my consciousness slip away. From far off as though through a dense cloud, I heard a cacophony of sounds: the squeal of the truck’s horn, a chorus of yells and screams, the screech of tires, a desperate roar, a deafening, screaming crunch… and I knew no more.

Chapter 11 Chapter Song: Here I Stand by Madina Lake My hands shake ‘cause today I know you're gonna break my heart and my life without you in it is a life that’s not worth living. I'll be strong but I wish I was someone else anyone but me tonight

EPOV From the moment I was reborn as a vampire, I had struggled with my conscience. As a human I had never knowingly harmed another person in my life and had always prized myself on my unflinching sense of morality and ethics. But then, two months before my eighteenth birthday, I awoke in a hospital riddled with death to find myself staring into a pair of anxious yellow eyes and I knew my life would never be the same again. On learning of Carlisle’s identity and, in turn, discovering what I myself had become, I believe my reaction would be comparable only to that of a man awakening to find himself in the very deepest circle of hell. Over the passing years I fought with my instincts, riddled by shame and disgust at what I was and what I had to do to survive. I was incessantly haunted by a pervading sense of paralyzing self-loathing, a poison which I soon found I could expel only when I directed my anger towards the one person who deserved it least: Carlisle. He always used to tell me that the strength of my guilt was subjective to my personality and compassion and he forever maintained that it was a symbol of the purity of my soul. Our discussions- where I would shout and he would stay unflinchingly calm, just serving to increase my ire- would sweep from the literal to the meta-physical in a matter of seconds, always ending on the point of my soul, or lack of it. We had had endless arguments on the subject in which I, in true teenage fashion, twisted every single word he said and barraged him with a mixture of insults and accusations, every utterance just causing me to detest myself further. And yet… as much as I had abhorred my actions then, despite the gut-wrenching feelings of shame and disgust that had racked me every time I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror, they had been nothing, nothing, compared to how I felt tonight. Here I was; standing in this snow covered driveway as I watched my reason for existence break apart before me. Bella was shin deep in snow, her clothes wet and ragged and her shoulders heaving with grief-stricken sobs. She had stopped trying to fight the tears and they were falling in earnest now; not unlike the snowflakes that surrounded us as they tumbled from her eyelids and left glistening streaks on her skin, marring her otherwise perfect complexion as, in shuddering breaths, she forced herself to recount the rest of her devastating story. Brady. I had never met the child, yet hearing his name brought me almost as much guilt as the sight of this distraught, broken Bella. He saved her. Werewolf or not, he had done what I hadn’t, he had protected Bella from- I baulked at even thinking the name- Victoria. How could I have been such a fool? I berated myself as I heard more and more of Bella’s story. How could I have thought, even for a second, that she would be safe? Since when had Bella ever been safe? But no, I could not even think of blaming this awful turn of events on her. It was entirely my fault. None of this would have happened had I not been so arrogant and headstrong. I could have saved Bella so much heart-break if only I had listened to the protests of my family when they tried to stop me from leaving. In the words of Bella’s most favourite heroine- “How despicably I have acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment!” Never had those words held so much significance for me as they did now. All the time I had been sure that what I was doing was right, yet it turned out that not only had my actions put Bella in more danger than ever but that I had completely broken her heart in the process. “-of course, there was no way that he could stay at home after that. His parents couldn’t watch him 24-7, so they had no choice but to admit him into the psychiatric ward at the hospital. He’s been there ever since.” Bella looked up at me, her eyes still full of tears. I realized that I had walked towards her, but I didn’t remember making the conscious decision to move. I could feel the human heat radiating from her body, made all the more obvious by the coldness of our surroundings and it drew me in like a magnet, every nerve in my body screaming out for contact with her own. She looked up at me, her big brown eyes flooded with sorrow and pain- of my infliction- and I felt my resistance dissolve. “Bella, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…” I murmured, reaching down to wrap my arms around her. It was, of course, exceedingly presumptuous of me- after all the things she had said to me that night, all the accusations she had thrown my way, I should have known that she would reject my advances. “No, Edward!” her voice was loud against the silence as she brought her arms up, shielding herself from my embrace. Had the situation not been so devastating, her action would have been almost comic in its futility. As if she, with all her frailties and weaknesses, could ever fully protect herself from one of my kind. I watched Bella, the pain in her words piercing my heart like barbed wire. “You can’t just touch me and make everything okay again; maybe that

might have worked when I was eighteen, but not now; not after everything that happened. Not after Victoria, after Brady. I was so in love with you…” The use of the past tense almost made me double up in agony. I was so in love with you… If only I could escape from her as easily. I had already told her how I felt- shouted it out into the night, even- but she had so far failed to respond directly to my declaration, instead focusing on reproaching me in the way I so deserved. Was this the moment where she would crush my ineffectual hopes of our reconcilement forever? I watched her, my body tensed as though ready to go into lock down at the inevitable words of finite rejection… “I still am.” Shock, incredulity and joy swept through me. She still loved me, despite everything I had done to her? Despite all that she had said, all the pain that I caused her? I opened my mouth to say something, but realized that Bella wasn’t finished yet. “I hate you,” she whispered and I recoiled at the words. “Because you left and because you didn’t come back; I hate you because your reasons for leaving were so stupid, because I spent the last six years of my life crying over you and because I broke Jacob’s heart when I couldn’t get over you.” I wanted to interrupt but I couldn’t; all I could do was stand, helpless, as Bella listed the ways I had torn her apart, breaking both our hearts in the process. Her words and tears were falling like knives, cutting me open and making my body shake with shame. “Most of all,” Bella continued, her eyes fixed on me through her tears, “I hate you for you not realizing Victoria would come after m-me and for Brady d-dying and for you not being there to s-save m-me like you always said you would be.” I would never, could never forgive myself for what I had done to her. I would never atone for the pain I had caused this wonderful creature, no matter how many eternities I endured. “But, despite all of that,” she took a deep breath, attempting to steady herself, “I still love you so much that it hurts. I’d still trade anything to be with you, for it to be like you’d never left, for us to be together again. And I loathe myself for being that way, for being so weak and dependant and-” And it was then, on hearing the sentiments that so echoed my own, that I lost all vestiges of self-control. Without thinking, without taking even a moment to consider the consequences of my actions, I wrapped my arms around Bella and pulled her towards me, almost crushing her soft body as I kissed her with feverish passion. It was insane, outrageous, disgraceful behaviour- against everything that I had ever been taught- but I suddenly didn’t care. All that mattered was Bella- the heat of her kiss, the feel of her hands as they clung to my neck and the beautiful, pounding march of her heart. I barely even had time to brace myself against the inevitable rush of bloodlust, but when it came I found that it was easy, almost laughably so, to resist. If only I could say the same for other types of lust… I felt Bella deepen the kiss, instinctively pressing her hips against my own and I groaned, my hands moving fluidly across the curves of her waist. I had thought that my memory was flawless, yet this was better than I ever could have remembered; Bella was better than I remembered. But then, barely seconds after it had begun, my moment of heaven was cut short. I felt Bella’s hands pressing against my chest in an attempt to push me away. I may have thrown most rules of etiquette to the winds in the last few seconds, but even I wasn’t so base as to force myself upon a woman against her wishes. I let go immediately and took a step back, wondering whether my rash actions would incite another round of shouting. Bella was staring at me with flushed cheeks, bright eyes, swollen lips and looked so utterly beautiful that I had a hard time not throwing myself at her again. What’s happened to me? I thought incredulously. I lived a life of abstinence for over a century yet one kiss after six years apart from Bella and I lose all sense of propriety. Bella was staring at me with an expression akin to someone who had been clubbed over the head. “I…” she stuttered, her voice shaking. Look what you’ve done! My thoughts accused me, she didn’t want that Edward, but you forced yourself on her! I felt renewed shame rise within me, this time tinged with mortification. My parents would have been ashamed of me. “I have to go,” Bella breathed, dropping her eyes from my face, clearly to upset to meet my gaze. “II’m sorry… I…” she didn’t even try to finish the mumbled apology, merely spun on her heel and stumbled away from me across the snow to where her motorbike lay waiting. I was so preoccupied with chastising myself for my reprehensible actions that I didn’t even think to prevent her from climbing onto the bike until she had revved up the engines. “No, Bella, wait,” I called out. I couldn’t let her ride home in this weather, especially after what had just happened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-” It was no use. Even if she had been able to hear me above the engines of the bike, I was sure that she wouldn’t reply. I just watched, helpless, as she drove away from me, speeding out of my driveway and life, perhaps forever. My life would now lose all the little meaning it had gained in the past few weeks- the temporarily sun-filled skies would return an eternity of blackest night. To lose Bella again, after having had the chance to regain her trust, was unbearable. I stood in the snow, unable to move as the magnitude of what had happened swept over me. Edward! What are you doing? Go after her!

I heard the thoughts and shouts of my family as they ran towards me, but their words were as ineffectual at moving me as raindrops on stone. I just stared with unseeing eyes into the falling snow, the singular flakes blurring into an expanse of meaningless white. White walls, white skin, white snow… -Edward, I know you’re upset but I really think you should – For God’s sake, stop being such a douche and go after her – She was distraught, you can’t possibly letI continued to ignore them, their thoughts buzzing through my brain like so much worthless mush. What could I do? I was powerless. Bella had gone; taken from me not by death or heroics but as a result of my own idiocy. I could not exist without her now- that much was certain. That left me with one, dreadful alternative; the same alternative that I had flirted with all those years ago, when it had seemed that we were fighting a losing battle against time to save Bella from James… But then, just as my thoughts began to sink to darker, previously forgotten schemes of self-destruction, a terrified scream pierced through the silence, ripping me from my reverie. “EDWARD!” It was Alice- her terror-stricken voice sliced through the night like a dagger, plunging the others into a shocked silence. I couldn’t hear her thoughts- a sure sign that she was miles away- but we could all hear the sound of her and Jasper running towards us- their footsteps pounded against the snow covered ground like funeral drums at an execution. “EDWARD, EDWARD!" My family’s thoughts echoed my own; what on earth had happened? Then, as Alice came nearer, her thoughts suddenly snapped into range and I was hit by the full force of an incredibly detailed, extremely recent vision. Bella riding her motorbike, not paying attention to the road as she sped through the trees; racing around the bend out onto the highway; her human eyes not spotting the oncoming cargo truck through the thick snow fall; it swerving erratically towards her; the squeal of the bike as she tried to escape; the crunch of metal against ice as it fell on top of her; Bella, trapped, pinned to the ground and losing consciousness mere metres from death… It was a full tenth of a second before I realized that I had started running. Another tenth and I had covered almost thirty feet. There was no time for words- no time to listen to Alice’s words or take note of my family’s shouts of confusion. Alice could deal with them. Only one thing registered in my mind as the snow covered ground flew beneath my feet. Bella My Bella Oh God, Bella. I could hear my family in pursuit, but they had no chance in all of hell, heaven or earth of matching my speed. I was running faster than I ever had before, my insides raging like fire, feet barely touching the ground as I raced towards... what was I running towards? Damnation, catastrophe, disaster? Or salvation, forgiveness, a chance to repent? I did not know the answer. Run, Edward, for Christ’s sake, run. I was so close to the road now. Alice’s visions kept flickering and changing direction in and out of clarity with every step I took: -Bella being saved; Bella being battered by the truck; Bella with blood pouring down her face; the bike bursting into flames with Bella still underneath it“NO!”

I did not feel the roared word leave my lips; instead I only heard the sound as it exploded through the air, ringing through the trees and deafening everything, even the sound of the squealing truck in the distance. I was temporarily dazed by another vision from Alice- this time a close-up of the truck driver’s face, confirming what I had already guessed- he was bleary eyed and intoxicated, his alcohol infused mind barely processing the destruction that was about to unfold before him. Good, I thought savagely, I won’t feel as guilty about killing him. FASTER. I put everything I had into the last fifty feet, my ice cold muscles screaming in protest as I pushed myself harder than I ever had before, soaring out of the slip-road and onto the highway on the wings of some previously hidden vestiges of frenzy-induced strength. There, on my right, was the colossal truck, its huge wheels skidding and sliding across the ice at a tremendous speed and there, on the ground about ten feet from its wheels, was Bella. She was trapped beneath the motorbike, her head unmoved from where I had seen it slam down on the ice and her face covered by her long hair. The road mercifully devoid of any other traffic, I launched myself forward at the vehicle. In the fraction of a second that I had paused to look at the truck, my family had caught up with me and from their thoughts I knew that Carlisle, Jasper and Emmett were mimicking my actions. Our bodies hit the truck with the collective force of a freight train, causing it to lurch and topple over. “EMMETT, JASPER, GET ROUND THE OTHER SIDE AND CATCH IT!” By the time I had shouted the order, however, it was too late. The truck had crashed down onto the middle guard rail that separated the two sides of the road, causing twisted fragments of metal, cement and brick to go flying in every direction. My immediate instinct was to dive towards Bella, but before I could move more than three feet the crumpled truck burst into flames. I heard Emmett swear profusely. Fire. The only thing vampires were afraid of except, of course, other vampires. In theory, the flames alone could not penetrate our skin but that didn’t stop them from being painful, sometimes agonizingly so. It was enough to make any normal vampire avoid fire like the plague. But I wasn’t any normal vampire, and it was no secret that I was a masochist. Before anybody could stop me, I dove towards the inferno, aiming for Bella. She was lying on the ground perilously near to the blazing remains of the truck, her body still and lifeless. I ran forward to lift her into my arms, but as I came close to her, something within the wreckage of the truck exploded, firing out a twisted mass of burning metal which landed right between Bella and myself. I clenched my fists. Now there really was no other way. “NO EDWARD!” I heard Alice’s yell seconds before I moved, but ignored it- there was no time for rationality now. Without another second’s pause, I plunged through the flames. Even at the incredible speed I was travelling, I felt the pain as the fire came into contact with my skin. My clothes were instantly set alight as the flames licked across my body like forked tongues, leaving a trail of singed destruction in their wake. It was barely a second before I was through the fire and out the other side where Bella was lying, crumpled on the ground. My clothes were still burning and the pain was mounting with every second, but I paid it no heed as I dropped to the ground and heaved the motorbike off of Bella. It was barely recognisable anymore- just a twisted hunk of metal, partly melted from the heat of the earlier explosion. I lifted it with one hand and hurled it away; it somersaulted through the air and landed 100 yards away in the middle of the road. Then I dropped to my knees in front of Bella, tearing off my still smouldering shirt and flinging it away too, so as not to let it burn her. I shakily brought out my hand and brushed her hair away from her face as gently as I could. Her helmet had come askew after the impact of her fall, leaving her right cheek uncovered. Bella’s eyes were closed and her face was deathly pale. She was almost completely still, but I could still detect the very faint rise and fall of her chest that showed me she was breathing and, below the noise of the burning truck and my family’s shouts, I could hear a pulse. I let out a low oath of relief- only to stop dead mid-word, when I took a breath and realised something. I could smell blood. Bella’s blood.

I felt panic rise within me as I searched for the source of the now almost overpowering smell of freesias. How had I not noticed it before? The answer was simple: I had been too busy checking that she was alive to even breathe. My senses told me that she was bleeding on her right side, but I could not see any obvious signs of wounds… until I noticed something on her arm which almost made me choke in dismay. Her layers of clothes had been torn right down to her skin and, through the tear I could see a long gash running from her forearm to her elbow which was currently oozing blood at an alarming rate. Most seriously, however, there was a shard of metal, several inches thick, lodged deeply in the gash, right where my medical experience told me it would be seriously near to one of the major arteries. I let out a strangled cry of anguish as my hands reached out wildly for Bella, but before I could touch her I felt a hand grip my wrist, stopping me from making contact. “No, Edward! You mustn’t touch her arm; we need to get her to hospital!” It was Carlisle. He was kneeling right next to me, firmly pushing me away and trying to move closer to Bella. When did he get here? I looked up, dazed, taking in my full surroundings for the first time in minutes. The wall of fire through which I had run to get to Bella had gone; from the corner of my eye I could see Alice guiding Emmett in his jeep as he ploughed the fiery chunks of burning metal away from Bella and me, towards the centre of the road. Several hundred yards behind him, racing up the opposite side of the highway, was a fleet of fire engines, police cars and ambulances, all their sirens blaring. Esme and Rosalie were standing in the middle of the road, ready to greet the emergency vehicles, the first of which had already begun to come to a stop. I looked back to Carlisle, who was kneeling beside Bella, methodically feeling for the extent of her injuries. Next to him, with an uncharacteristically serious expression on her face, was Tanya. At first I was shocked, but then I realised how much sense Carlisle’s choice of an assistant made. Tanya, at over a thousand years old, had more experience than any of us at resisting human blood and this experience, coupled with her countless degrees in every discipline under the sun, made her more than capable at treating human injuries. Tanya caught me looking and her brow contracted, all trace of teasing gone. Edward, I’m so sorry, this is my fault… I jerked my head sharply. No. No apologies, no words of sympathy. They were not necessary- they were not for my ears. They held connotations of death and loss and Bella was not going to die. Please, God, don’t let her die. I crossed to where Bella was, Tanya quickly moving to make room for me as I took Bella’s hand, bringing it to my lips. I love you; I love you, forever, forever. I replayed the mantra again and again in my mind, as though the repetition of the words would buy us time. From the edge of my vision I could see humans in uniform rushing around, putting out fires, barking orders, shouting questions at Carlisle as they tried to appear in control of the situation. But for all I cared, they did not exist. All that was important in the world was Bella and her fingers in my own and the weak, but still resolutely present, beating of her heart and the fact that she would not die. Not here, not now, when we had just found each other again. Not on my watch. Not before I’ve had a chance to atone for what I’ve done wrong. Then, something cut through the confusion of the scene and into mine and Bella’s bubble- the roaring of an engine. I looked up to see an ambulance speeding through the crowds of humans. Almost as soon as the vehicle came to a stop, I found myself surrounded by overall-clad humans. They lifted Bella up onto a stretcher and strapped an oxygen mask to her face, all the time exchanging hurried words with Carlisle as he filled them in on the situation. “-several cracked ribs, concussion with possible trauma to the skull, some severe lacerations on her right arm containing a foreign object-” A young emergency worker tried to muscle me out of the way in the attempt to get closer to the action and it took all my self-control not to knock him down where he stood. Instead, I merely shot him a glare so menacing that he almost fell over in shock. I turned back to Bella. She was now firmly in place on the stretcher and being loaded into the back of the ambulance, Carlisle issuing more orders to a medic who was clinging anxiously to his every word. As I jumped in after Bella and some paramedics, Carlisle spoke to me in his thoughts. She’s going to be fine Edward, don’t panic. I’ll drive with the others in the Mercedes; we’ll see you at the hospital. I nodded. Oh, and put this on, Carlisle added, shrugging off his jacket, people are staring. I took the jacket in confusion, before glancing down at my bare chest; I had forgotten that I had ‘lost’ my shirt. I mumbled words of thanks and threw the jacket over my

shoulders, before slamming the double doors of the ambulance shut behind me. A glance over the humans’ heads through the clear divider into the front of the vehicle told me what I had already guessed; Alice was sitting in the driver’s seat. Dressed head to toe in swiftly stolen green overalls, she was indistinguishable from the paramedic beside her who, it was clear, had no idea that his companion was not who she seemed. It’s okay Edward, Alice thought, her eyes meeting mine in the mirror as she cranked up the engines, we’ll be there soon. Then, as an afterthought, Bella will be fine. She then fixed her eyes on the road, flicked on the sirens and slammed her foot down on the acceleration. I watched as the speedometer ticked steadily up to over 80 miles an hour. I tried to believe Alice’s words. I had to. For the next ten minutes, they were all I had.

Chapter 12 EPOV Alice drove like a demon; that much was certain. The twenty minutes it should have taken to reach Strong Memorial Hospital- which I had mentally halved when calculating in Alice’s usual driving speed- soon became eight and a half minutes, and then shrunk down again to a mere seven and three quarters as Alice pushed the aging ambulance to limits I never would have believed possible. The paramedics still hadn’t noticed that she was not one of them- dressed head to toe in overalls as she was- and I thanked God for it; no one could match her speed at the wheel. Up ahead I could see the road flashing past through the windshield as snow covered trees thinned out to be replaced by more and more densely packed buildings, the relative hush of the suburbs merging in to the blaring, jarring sounds of the city. But all I really cared about was what was happening inside the ambulance. All I really cared about was Bella. I was crouching by her stretcher with my hand clasped tightly around her own, as the paramedics fussed around us, checking and rechecking Bella’s oxygen mask and administering pain killers. We all knew that they were just finding things to do; trying to appear useful and on-task, while really just waiting anxiously to arrive at the hospital so that the real work could begin. They were soon granted their wish, as the ambulance veered around the corner into the hospital complex and everything suddenly went into overdrive. Alice slammed her feet on the brakes, causing the ambulance to come to a deafening, screeching halt outside the Trauma Unit, the squeal of the wheels against the ice drowning out even the blaring of the sirens. In the time it took for me to throw open the ambulance doors, the Mercedes had pulled up alongside us, its doors bursting open as the rest of the family leapt out of the car. The paramedics and I carefully unloaded Bella’s stretcher as Alice, still dressed head to toe in overalls, sprinted inside the hospital to raise the alarm. Meanwhile, Carlisle took his place leading the stretcher and began shouting, pushing it hurriedly along, carrying on where he had left off back at the crash site, taking total control of the situation as he ordered the hospital staff in to action. Some of Carlisle’s colleagues were seemingly taken aback by the way Dr. Cullen had burst in to the hospital pushing a young woman on a stretcher with his entire family in tow at eight thirty in the evening on his day off, but they soon recovered from the shock and swung into action, surrounding Bella’s stretcher as Carlisle and I pushed it down the hallway as fast as human constraints would allow. Flanked by surgeons, nurses and general hangers-on, we all but flew through the hospital and into the Intensive Care Unit. Entering the operating room was like being plunged into another world, one populated by strange, green scrub clad creatures and bulky, frightening looking machines which beeped and whirred ominously from their stainless steel stands. The second we were through the doors, Bella’s stretcher was wrenched from beneath my hands and I was pushed out of the way as several surgeons and their assistants rushed forwards, shrugging on scrubs as they went. I suddenly

realized what would happen if somebody noticed me. The panic and confusion surrounding Bella’s shock arrival and degenerative physical state had so far prevented any humans from realizing that I had gained access into the rooman area which was strictly out of bounds to the public- but it could surely only be so long before I was spotted and ordered away. The fact that I was Carlisle Cullen’s son was irrelevant; I had no authorization to be in this part of the hospital. I had to think fast. Using the general level of distraction in the room to my advantage, I darted with vampire speed towards the corner, grabbed a set of scrubs from the wall and dragged them over my head. Within seconds, I had effectively made myself unidentifiable to anyone apart from Carlisle. My intention was, of course, to pass myself off as one of the doctors and so be able to stay in the room and ensure Bella was adequately taken care of; perhaps even perform some of her surgery myself. I couldn’t bring myself to go, leaving her with these strangers touching her, cutting her open, causing her pain… I baulked at that idea and hastened forward, desperate to get involved. There was an instinctive impulse running through me; a need to help, not just offer emotional support but to actually physically do something. I couldn’t bear to watch this. I had barely reached Bella however, when an overalled figure blocked my path. I didn’t need to meet his eyes to know who it was. “Get out of the way!” I tried to dart to the left, but again found myself obstructed. “Edward.” Carlisle’s tone was firm, and I instantly knew what was coming. “Let me through,” I ordered him, ignoring his words. Over Carlisle’s shoulder I could see the humans preparing to move Bella from her stretcher to the operating table. I instinctively tried to move towards them, but Carlisle grabbed my shoulder, holding me back with surprising strength. I swore at him. “What are you doing?! Let go of me!” No, Edward. Carlisle’s thoughts were calm and soothing. He seemed totally unfazed by my hostility. “What do you mean, ‘no’?! I want to help-” Don’t be ridiculous. “Ridiculous? Who’s being ridiculous?!” I gaped at him. Ridiculous?! “This is Bellawe’re talking about!” Exactly, he thought. You can’t possibly expect me to let you perform surgery on her- you aren’t in a fit state to treat anyone, let alone your own mate. There’s going to be blood; lots of it. We have to remove the metal from her arm, and to do that the area around the wound will have to be opened up, the blood vessels clamped and then the veins and arteries sewn back togeth“I have been to medical school, father,” I snarled, a tad too loudly. A couple of heads flickered in our direction, before snapping back to face Bella as a machine let out a loud series of urgent beeps. Scared, I tried make towards the bed again but Carlisle just pulled me even further from the group, whispering out loud to emphasise his words. “I know you’ve been to medical school, but that doesn’t change a thing. Your practical knowledge is limited at best and, as you never completed a residency, you have very little experience in emergency surgery. Now is not a time to test your skills or self control by subjecting yourself to Bella’s fresh, flowing blood!” “She was bleeding in the ambulance!” I protested, ignoring what he had said about my experience. It was true, but I didn’t want to admit it. “Yes, but that was for a short amount of time and from a fixed number of wounds,” Carlisle reasoned. “In order to treat Bella we are going to have to make several more incisions and give her blood transfusions.” I faltered, trying to find a flaw in the argument.

“Please, Edward,” Carlisle implored me, “The longer we argue about this, the worse her chances become. I love both you and Bella too much to allow you to put yourself through the trauma of trying to treat her. Please, just do as I say and go and join the others in the waiting room.” “But…” My eyes flickered from Bella, sprawled on the cold operating table, surrounded by humans as she was given a blood transfusion. Deep down, I knew that Carlisle was right, but I could hardly bare to leave Bella. That said, every moment that I stood here arguing I was preventing Carlisle from treating her, and he was obviously the absolute best person for the job. I trusted Carlisle with Bella’s life, of course I did. “Okay,” I muttered finally, exhaling in a long ‘whoosh’ of breath. Thank God, Carlisle thought and I could see the relief wash through him. He clapped me briefly on the shoulder, before saying in a voice no louder than usual speaking volume: “Alice.” The doors burst open, and Alice was at my elbow. She must have been hovering right outside the doors to the room. “Take Edward away, please.” Carlisle ordered, meeting my eyes in an intent gaze one more time. I’m proud of you, son. Then, clearly unwilling to spend any more time away from Bella, he turned on his heel and moved swiftly to her side, the humans parting like the Red Sea to let him through. I stayed still, watching for a few moments, until I felt something touch my wrist. It was Alice. Come on, Edward, she thought took hold of my hand and pulled me towards the door. After one last pained glance at Bella- she was almost blocked from view now- I turned and reluctantly followed Alice towards the doors, out of the room and down the corridor. I had barely moved ten feet when I began to have regrets, but Alice persuaded me on, all the while speaking with the soothing, reassuring tones one might adopt when trying to coax a suicidal person down from the rooftop of a twentyfour storey building. By the time we reached the waiting room, I had threatened to go back three times, shouted at Alice twice and come to a complete unexplained halt more often than I cared to count. As we came to the door, I stopped again. “Bella,” was all I said, stupidly. Call it a delayed reaction, but the enormity of everything that had just happened was beginning to sink in. I felt myself turning blindly around. “I can’t leave her,” I muttered to Alice in a hoarse voice, unrecognizable from my own. “Edward,” Alice said firmly, tugging my arm with renewed force. “We’ve been through this.” Bella’s with Carlisle; she’s in more than capable hands. There’s nothing you can do now. Please come inside. I closed my eyes, as if trying to block out the rationality of her thoughts. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. You need to take a step back, slow down and calm yourself down. She continued. You walked through FIRE earlier, remember that? Fire! And you haven’t stopped since. So please, just come in so you can calm down.. Alice didn’t wait for an answer, but opened the door into the waiting room and pushed me through in front of her. I complied with her movements, if only because I felt too mentally exhausted to cope with any more arguing. Inside were the rest of my family and Tanya. Even without Jasper’s power it was easy to detect their unrest; the hospital chairs sat forgotten as they stood in various groups around the room, speaking quickly in worried, hushed tones. As Alice and I entered everybody fell silent, turning to us with looks that were full of apprehension. “What’s going o-” Emmett began, but cut off abruptly when he was elbowed sharply in the ribs by Rosalie. She was surveying my expression with a scrutinising air and clearly did not think I was up to answering questions. For once, I couldn’t have been more thankful. My eyes cast downwards; I walked slowly to the window, not speaking to anyone. As I gazed out into dark, their inquisitive and anxious thoughts swirled around my mind, mirroring the snow outside. Poor Edward-Oh God, he’s cracking up again-I feel so helpless-Please let Bella be okay… I leaned forwards, closing my eyes as I pressed my cheek against the cool window pane. I tried to focus on memories of Bella in happier times in order to block out the buzz of other peoples’ thoughts. Random images flickered forwards.

…Bella swathed in sumptuous satin as I helped her out of the car on prom night, the ugly cast on her leg at a total juxtaposition to her beauty; us sitting together on the piano bench back at the house in Forks, tears rolling from the corners of her eyes as I played her lullaby; running through the forest with Bella on my back… Some time later, I heard Emmett whisper, apparently to no one in particular: “Should we try and talk to him?” Nobody answered. I was glad; conversation would just get in the way of my daydreams. … Bella laughing in the cafeteria at one of Emmett’s jokes, totally unaware of her own exquisiteness as I watched, mesmerized; kissing her for the first time; lying on her bed; her watching me uproot trees, sparkle in the sunlight and run rings around our meadow as I tried to prove how much of a monster I was… “I’m going to see if there’s any news,” Esme murmured, much later into the night. I could hear her thoughts focus on me, then, as if she was waiting for me to ask to be let out too. I knew it was pointless; if there was news then Carlisle would come and find us. I buried myself back in my memories, where I found that darker recollections were beginning to creep into my mind, tainting thoughts which had originally been happy. …the first Biology lesson, where I was convinced that Bella was both demon and angel sent to taunt me; the second lesson, when I found myself electrocuted by her mere touch; all the ones that followed, when I tried to ignore her but just made myself more and more miserable; the raging, uncontrollable jealousy I felt whenever Newton so much as looked at her; playing baseball; Bella in the snow; Tyler’s[TW2] van careening unstoppably towards her across the ice… More hours must have passed, because the sky was beginning to lighten; I could faintly detect a hint of pink far off on the horizon. Why was Bella’s surgery taking so long? The only answers I could produce to such a question were too horrible to contemplate, so in true self-delusionary fashion I ignored them, pushing them back into the nether regions of my mind and focusing on the safety of dreams once again. …the way Bella smelt in the rain; the way she looked at twilight; the first time I ever caught sight of her across the cafeteria; watching her sleep, captivated by the sound of her beating heart; carrying her out to the nurse’s office after blood-typing; introducing her to my family for the very first time; buckling her up in Emmett’s jeep the night we ran from James; the betrayal and devastation in her eyes as I told her I didn’t love her; Bella at my house; Bella in the woods; Bella in her garden; Bella; Bella; Bella… *~*~* It was early morning by the time I next surfaced. Dawn had just broken and pale slithers of sunlight were trickling through the window, causing faint shimmers to bounce off of my skin reflect onto the surrounding walls. The composition of the people in the room had changed since before. Tanya had gone as, I realized after a few moments, had Esme. Rosalie was sitting by the door, her eyes staring unseeingly at the closest bit of wall. Emmett sat by her side, hunching slightly as he tried to fit his large frame into one of the uncomfortable blue plastic chairs that was to be found in waiting rooms the world over. His expression was that of passive distance, and one glance at his mind told me that he was focusing all his efforts on counting the floor tiles. I could only assume that the mundanity of the activity served as a type of escape from the frustrations and stress of the past twenty-four hours. Alice and Jasper were sitting together on a low, battered couch closer to me and the window. Alice’s eyes were closed, her head lying hopelessly on Jasper’s lap. Jasper’s body was stiff, but apart from that there was no visible indication that he was stressed or worried. He was toying gently with Alice’s hair, his hand caressing the black locks slowly and deliberately. I have to admit that the fact he was able to keep his bloodlust under total control in a hospital was shocking to me; had I not been so distracted over the last few hours I would have commented on it. Unfortunately, I was not in a suitable state to congratulate my brother on his new found self-restraint. Now that I had ‘awoken’ from my contemplative trance (which, now I thought of it, had almost certainly been of Jasper’s creation) I was in total emotional turmoil. I jumped to my feet and let out a low exclamation that was half way between a curse and a cry. I all but flew to the door, only to find that it was locked. I really did swear then. Whipping around, I glared at my siblings. “What the fuck?” I growled, causing Jasper to send a hasty wave of calm around the room, but I fought it. “Why is the door locked?!” I demanded, wrenching it. I heard the metal buckle slightly as the door began to give way under my strength. It was fireproof and therefore reinforced; otherwise I would have been through in seconds. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that nobody had answered my question in words, but they didn’t need to- it was clear in their minds.

They’d locked the door to stop me getting out and running to find Bella while she was still in surgery. Enraged, I swore at them all again and battered the door again, causing it to let out a deafening CRUNCH. “Um,” Jasper said, eyeing the door apprehensively, “you probably shouldn’t do that.” The language I used on him then would have made my mother turn in her grave. Even Emmett seemed slightly shocked. With one final WHAM, I hit the door, my fist punching a clean hole through it, before making the entire thing go crashing to the floor. “Edward!” Rosalie and Alice cried in unison in admonishing, slightly scandalized tones. “Good one,” Emmett muttered sarcastically. “Now we have to come up with a cover-story for the door too.” I ignored him, darting out in to the corridor…where I came to a dead stop before Carlisle. Our eyes met, gazes collided- and as we stood just over a foot away from each other Carlisle’s thoughts were relayed over to me in a series of images and words at lightning speed. Bella lying on the operating table, receiving a blood transfusion- I had to battle the venom rising in my throat at the sight of her open veins, despite the fact that I was just seeing them through Carlisle’s memories. He had clearly been right beforehand; even second-hand it was hard to confront her blood. The memories continued. Carlisle was surrounded by medical staff, all of whom were watching breathlessly as he leaned over Bella’s damaged arm. The shard of metal was lodged in a long gash, which was pumping out blood at top speed. Carlisle moved his hand with great care, making a new incision close by so that he could safely remove the metal. I shook my head suddenly, banishing the recollections. I could dwell on the specifics of Bella’s surgery later; all I cared about in the here and now was whether or not she was okay. “Just tell me how she is,” I ordered, unable to cope with the suspense any longer. I watched his face breathlessly, my throat tight. And then, Carlisle’s face cracked in to a weary, but joyful smile. “She’s going to be fine.” At his words, my siblings all let out exclamations of relief, but I could not accept his statement so easily. “H-honestly?” I continued, croakily. I could hardly believe it; I had to make absolutely sure. “She isn’t going to die?” “No,” Carlisle smiled, “she isn’t going to die.” Relief washed over me in waves and my legs shook slightly as I felt myself almost overcome by emotion. I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths to try and steady myself. I felt my family converge around me, their thoughts jubilant, but I held up my hands to resist them. I couldn’t process their happiness and support when I had barely even registered what had happened. Bella isn’t going to die, I thought, she’s going to be fine. She isn’t going to die. Unless she becomes a vampire. The last thought came to my mind completely unbidden, startling me. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought Alice had put it there. It shocked me that I was now thinking in that way. And yet... it shouldn’t have. I had already made up my mind on the subject of Bella’s change; I had even told Jasper my intentions two nights ago after the Parents’ Evening, when we had followed Bella back to her house. I had thought that it was the best plan of action; the most logical one. But then why was I now so unsure? What had changed, to make me lose all my convictions? Was it that I now fully understood how I had broken Bella’s heart? Perhaps it was because now I knew deep down, that her becoming a

vampire would not make her happy. We both had a long road to travel before that could happen and turning her would not make it any shorter or easier. I had to heal her heart before I could take away its beat. I suddenly became aware that I still hadn’t responded to Carlisle’s assurance. I opened my eyes. I could dwell on the future at a later date; all that was important right now was Bella healing. “I want to see her,” I said to Carlisle quietly. “Of course,” he nodded, but I thought I detected some of the contentment in his eyes slip away at my sombre expression. I tried to pull myself together for his benefit, and cracked a watery smile. “Thank you, Carlisle. Thank you for taking care of her.” He inclined his head in silent acquiescence, before taking me in to a strong embrace. I suddenly felt a lot younger than my 112 years; like a teenage son being comforted by his father, as opposed to a vampire by his maker. After Carlisle released me, he turned silently to the door and I followed, pausing briefly only to throw a glance of wordless thanks to the others. *~*~* Not long afterwards, I found myself following Carlisle down a long hospital corridor and then following suit as he came to a halt outside a blue door. We’re here, he thought, turning his amber eyes watchfully upon me. I stood very still, frozen to the spot, my eyes staring at the blue wood of the door. What was this feeling I was experiencing? It seemed so out of place, so unusual. Then I realized- it was fear. I was scared of the room and what it might hold. That was a shock in itself because, unlike most people, I am not usually scared of hospitals. When I was a med student I always found it difficult to understand why so many of the patients and their relatives that I dealt with were afraid. To me, they are just buildings like any other- walls, floors, doors and ceiling. I suppose that I have more reason to fear hospitals than most- after all, they have been the setting for some of the worst moments of my life- but I find it hard to attach hatred to long corridors and a team of people whose sole motivation is saving lives. Despite all this, however, I suddenly found myself unable to enter Bella’s room. Even though Carlisle had said everything was going to be okay, I couldn’t quite believe it. Carlisle must have detected this, as he opened the door for me, before putting a hand on my shoulder and gently guiding me into the room. And there was Bella. She was lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the room, her body connected up to an assortment of machines and monitors by wires and tubes which crisscrossed and coiled across each other like something out of a bad science fiction film. I crossed to Bella’s side in seconds, kneeling down and clasping her hand in my own. “Bella,” I whispered her name, before brining my free hand up to brush a stray lock of hair away from her closed eyes. Her skin was clammy to touch and as I made contact with her face she turned restlessly in her sleep, her breathing hastened and laboured. I let go of her immediately, frightened by the way the beeps from the machine monitoring Bella’s heart-rate had suddenly sped up. Sure enough, it calmed once I moved my hand. I watched her for a moment or two, before straightening up and turning to Carlisle. Now I was ready for details. “Tell me everything,” I told him, looking back to Bella. “How badly was she hurt?” Carlisle nodded his head and walked forwards, coming to stand beside me at Bella’s bedside. “Three of Bella’s ribs were broken and her left shoulder was dislocated when the motorbike fell on top of her,” he said quietly. “She sustained some deep lacerations to her arm when the truck exploded, which meant that she lost an inordinate amount of blood; we had to give her several transfusions. She also has a few second degree burns and there’s some bruising across her body.” I winced at the severity of Bella’s injuries. When Carlisle had said she was going to be fine, I hadn’t expected it to be with so many exceptions.

“Has she been unconscious all this time?” I asked. Carlisle shook his head, “she regained consciousness once- about twenty minutes after arriving in the operating room, but she was put under general anaesthetic almost immediately afterwards so that we could begin surgery.” “And she hasn’t opened her eyes since?” I asked, a note of alarm creeping into my voice. “No, Edward, but that’s nothing to worry about- it’s to be expected. Bella’s been through an awful lot; her body needs to rest. After that, she should make a full recovery.” He paused, and then continued. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but Bella really was unbelievably lucky.” I turned to face Carlisle, outraged. “Lucky?! You call this lucky?” I gestured at Bella’s comatose form on the bed. “Broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, a partially destroyed arm, burns and bruises across her body and you think Bella was lucky?!” “Yes I do, because it could have been so much worse,” Carlisle replied. And then, unspoken: she could have died. I winced and nodded curtly. Carlisle was right; I was forgetting myself. Bella was alive. She was alive. And even if she hadn’t died, Carlisle continued, things could have been much more serious for Bella. I looked up sharply. “What do you mean?” Carlisle motioned towards Bella’s right arm, now covered in bandages. “The shard of metal from the truck was embedded barely inches from Bella's right brachial plexus.” I gasped at Carlisle’s words. Years of Med school meant that I recognized the ‘brachial plexus’ as the technical term for a group of five critical nerves that control feeling and movement in the arm. If these nerves were damaged in any way, the results could be disastrous. I focused back onto what Carlisle was saying. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you,” he said seriously, “that had the metal moved even slightly, those nerves would have been totally ruptured. They never would have worked properly again, and Bella’s right arm would have been completely paralyzed.” It took me a few moments to realize that I’d stopped breathing. Carlisle was watching me, waiting for a response. When I finally spoke, it was in an odd voice that sounded nothing like my own. “Paralyzed?” was all I managed to say. “Yes.” I felt as though something dark and terrifying was closing in on me, pinning me to the spot where I stood. Bella could have been paralyzed. Her life could have been ruined. All because of me I could sense that Carlisle was still watching me and, judging on his next words, I could have sworn that he could read minds too. “Edward, stop blaming yourself.” “What?” “There’s nothing you could have done to stop this; indeed, it’s a testament to swiftness of your actions and your courage that Bella was not killed. If you hadn’t been there to save her, she almost certainly would have died.” “If I hadn’t been there, she never would have gotten into the crash in the first place,” I corrected. “She never would have been driving a motorbike along an icy road in the dark in a blizzard. She wouldn’t have been at our house in the first place, she would have been at home; dry, warm, safe.” Happy. If only she had never known me.

It was clear from Carlisle’s thoughts that he did not even begin to agree with me, but I did not want to hear his protestations; I knew in my own heart that the mess Bella was in now was entirely of my own making, and the knowledge killed me. “Please can I be alone with Bella for a while?” I asked quickly, cutting off Carlisle’s words. He creased his brow at me, as though trying to read my expression, before sighing heavily and inclining his head in assent. “Okay,” he said. “If you need anything…” “I know who to call,” I completed. “Thank you.” And with one last concerned look, Carlisle exited, leaving me alone with nothing but my guilt-ridden conscience and plenty of time to dissect, examine and list all the many ways in which I had failed Bella. Carlisle’s words rang in my mind. “There’s nothing you could have done to stop this…if you hadn’t been there to save her, she almost certainly would have died.” To an extent, he was right. Even I could recognize that, this time at least, Bella’s accident had been just that. This was not the same as the time she had been attacked by James. Last night, she had met her match in a drunken driver and icy roads, not a murderous vampire on a quest for her blood. Her adversary had been a natural one, of the sort that she could have met at any time in her life. The accident had been inevitable, out of my control. Not my fault. Only of course that wasn’t true. I was to blame in every way. No matter how I tried to explain the event away, the fact remained that, yet again, Bella’s blood had been spilt on my account. She was driving away from my house when she was hit and she was trying to escape me; no one else. She had been nearly paralyzedbecause of something I had done; or rather, had not done. Yet again, she had suffered pain as a result of my neglect and yet again I had not done enough to save her. I sighed and ran my hands hopelessly through my hair. What would happen to us now? Bella had already had more than enough reasons to detest me and now with this latest development, I would not be surprised if she refused to let me within her sight ever again. How could I possibly make things up to her then? While I was lost in these musings, Bella’s eyelids fluttered slightly, the tiny movement alerting my attention immediately. I stared intently at her for a few seconds, wondering whether she was about to wake up. Although I wanted to see her eyes open more than anything, I had to admit that I was terrified of how she would react on seeing me. After a few moments, however, she let out a weak sigh and I settled back into my chair, knowing that she was still asleep. I sank back in to my chair and closed my eyes, letting time pass me by. For the next hours, it seemed to vary between rushing forward in great swathes to inching by in seconds that stretched on interminably. My thoughts drifted back to Bella’s words outside my house; to her tears, her accusations, her love, hatred and heartbreak, the heat of her kiss… I stopped breathing for a few seconds, lost in sensation, before I heard the sound of the door opening. I knew instantly that it was Esme. I sat up, my eyes snapping open. I had almost forgotten that my family were in the hospital with me. They had so far been giving Bella’s room a respectfully wide berth- no doubt at Carlisle’s request. I glanced at the clock on one of the machine screens by Bella’s bed. It was ten minutes past nine. The room was now almost completely washed in wintery sunlight, giving Bella’s pale skin an unearthly, almost translucent appearance… The feelings of self-hatred and guilt that had been kept at bay whilst I had day-dreamed for the last couple of hours came rushing back with renewed strength as I watched her sleep. She lay inert, looking shattered, fragile, broken… I heard the light tap of footsteps on linoleum as Esme came to sit next to me. How are you feeling? Her thoughts were kind and soothing, which bothered me- I did not deserve her pity. I acted as though I had not heard her question, keeping my eyes fixed on the regular pattern of the line on Bella’s heart rate monitor. But my hands gave away my emotions; they dug hard into the arms of the chair, causing my fingers to indent the plastic. But before I could inflict too much damage on the furniture however, I felt something touch my wrist. I jerked my head and looked around to see Esme, her hands on my own. Her eyes were troubled, a sense of real sorrow ingrained into the gold irises. Don’t Edward.

“What?” I asked, though of course I already knew what her answer would be. It was strange to speak; I was shocked by how deadened and flat my voice sounded. It felt like years since my conversation with Carlisle, although I knew it had barely been a couple of hours. Stop torturing yourself, Esme replied, this isn’t your fault. I brushed off her hands immediately at those words and got to my feet, pacing towards the window. I stood there in the light; looking at the dull sparkling sheen it gave my skin. “You’re wrong, Esme. You have no idea.” Then tell me. She was still sitting on the chair, watching me with pained eyes. I could feel the despair in her thoughts and I felt yet another pang of remorse as I reflected on how much this situation was affecting her. Yet something else to add to my list of regrets, I thought. “No,” I whispered, shaking my head and closing my eyes, “you wouldn’t understand, because you’re too good a person. You could never feel this guilt, because you would never hurt anyone this badly.” Even to my own ears, my words sounded like those of a spoiled, hormonal teenager- Nobody can understand my pain, nobody knows how I feel; the clichéd angst-ridden lament of adolescents across time. Yet in this case, it was as close to the truth as possible. Esme was so compassionate, kind and loving… it was surprising she wasn’t tarnished by my mere presence. I had so much to be ashamed of as far as Bella was concerned. I had devastated her emotionally six years ago, and I had almost succeeded in physically destroying her last night. There was a long pause, in which I continued to stare out of the window with unseeing eyes. I could feel Esme’s gaze boring into me, but I pretended to ignore her. I knew she was waiting for me to speak, but I couldn’t. Finally, she broke the silence. But you aren’t going to leave again. It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. I knew that there was no way I could avoid sharing my thoughts with Esme. A small part of me even relished the opportunity; perhaps it would help me expel a small amount of my grief. “No,” I sighed, turning to face Esme, taking in Bella’s sleeping form as I did so. She was still so beautiful, despite the ugly mass of machines and straps confining her frail body. “I couldn’t leave Bella again; I can’t believe I ever did.” My eyes met Esme’s. “I love her,” I said simply. “I love her with all of my heart; more so now than ever, even though I wouldn’t have believed that possible. She’s everything to me. She holds me without touch, without words or chains; one look, one breath is all it takes. I can’t exist without her… I know that now.” I paused and looked away, aware that my hands were visibly shaking. I felt as though the walls were closing in, trapping and enslaving me. When I finally continued, I could barely stop my voice from trembling. “How can I live without her?” I said, more to myself than anyone else. There was a long silence, in which Esme just watched me. “Tell me how to leave her, Esme,” I eventually whispered. “Tell me how I can save her,” my voice rose slightly, with a note of desperation… before fading down again into almost nothing: “Please…” She did not reply; I had not expected her to. “I can’t exist without her.” I sighed, after an almost interminable pause. “And yet I don’t know… I don’t know how I can ever repair the damage I’ve done to her. I failed her in so many ways; hurt her physically and emotionally to an extent that I’m only just beginning to comprehend. I want to stay with Bella forever, but I can’t see how… h-how things can ever be the same between us after what I’ve done.” My voice shook and I choked back a sob, raising my eyes to the ceiling as though trying to prevent the build up of tears in a subconscious and compellingly human movement- one of the few habits I retained from my previous life. It spoke volumes about the young man I had been; the one who had yearned for approval from his father and recognition in a world where composure, strength and bravery were the qualities prized above all others; the teenager who had dreamt of starched uniforms, shining medals and fanfares. That boy would never have shed tears if he could help it and, despite the fact that I no longer had to fear such displays of weakness- being unable to cry at all- I had inherited the impulse to prevent them at all costs.

“Oh Edward…” Esme sighed, and in one fluid movement she had moved towards me and enclosed me in a tight, compassionate hug. I leant into her arms and tried to return her embrace, but almost felt too numb to really reciprocate her touch. “You don’t have to leave her,” Esme murmured into my shoulder, “Bella doesn’t want you to leave her. She loves you and needs you; weren’t you listening to what she said last night?” “Yes, and she said that she hated me,” I choked, withdrawing from Esme’s arms slightly. “Yes, but she still loves you,” Esme replied soothingly. “She feels betrayed, Edward. Betrayed and hurt and- I wouldn’t be at all surprised- more than a little embarrassed. She spent six years believing that you did not love her, that you had moved on from her. Can you imagine how painful that must have been?” I opened my mouth to respond; of course I knew what she had gone through- I had felt it too- but Esme pre-empted me. “Oh, of course I’m not devaluing your suffering,” she continued quickly, “I know that…that you barely survived without Bella.” Her eyes tightened and in her mind I saw memories of me at my most grief-stricken and unresponsive. Esme shook her head slightly, her hands stiffening on my forearm at the memory and for the thousandth time I found myself again inwardly cringing at how much I had hurt her. After a few seconds Esme’s grip loosened and she slowly continued. “I…I saw you struggle through every single hour… and it broke my heart to see you in such… agony. But- and this is a big ‘but’, Edward, - you, at least, had the advantage of knowing that Bella still loved you. You had never had to go through the misery of hearing her reject you, or believing that she had outgrown you. “But Bella did. As we saw last night, she truly believed your lies; she never knew they were just to protect her; she never stopped believing them. And yet, despite all of that, she has never stopped loving you. That’s why she’s angry, Edward, not because she hates you or wants you to leave[TW3] .” I couldn’t answer; I didn’t know how to. Esme’s words made so much sense that it felt churlish to oppose them, yet at the same time I could barely dare to let myself believe I hadn’t ruined everything with Bella. I wanted to know that Bella still loved me; I wanted to believe that she would continue to do so even despite this accident, but it was so hard after everything that had happened. “I can’t promise that things are going to be easy from now on,” Esme continued softly, rubbing my arm consolingly, “especially after the accident. Nor do I really think they ought to be completely straightforward; love is not love that does not suffer from impediments or difficulties. It may take months or even years for your relationship to be as it was… but it will get to that point eventually, I promise you. And who knows? Perhaps you and Bella will even be stronger for it.” She came to the end of her speech quietly, with no flourish or great conclusion; just unassuming honesty and gentle sympathy. “Thank you,” I murmured to her, kissing her on the cheek; I didn’t need to say what for. Esme knew, as she always did, exactly what I needed to hear. Call it motherly instinct, or else just years of practice and observation of my moods; whatever the cause, she had proved time after time that she was my rock. Esme just shook her head with a smile that said: ‘don’t mention it’. She squeezed my hand once more, before letting go and looking towards the door. “Go,” I said, waving my hand encouragingly; I could see she wanted to return to Carlisle. She hesitated, but I just nodded at her. “I’ll be fine,” I assured her, “I’ll see you in a while.” She silently thanked me, before swiftly exiting the room, leaving me to evaluate everything that had just been said. I was still scared and guilt-ridden; I still regretted my actions and blamed myself for almost all that had happened between Bella and me. I knew that in many respects our future was a most dark and undecided place. However speaking to Esme had made me certain of one thing, and it was this: that I would not let myself lose Bella ever again. I needed and craved her more than I had ever craved anything in my life; more than war, humanity or blood even. A future without her was unthinkable- life without her unliveable. This left me with just one option. I would spend the rest of my existence trying to atone for what I had done. I would do whatever it took to persuade Bella that she could trust and love me again. I had been so wrong before; my goal should not have been to change

Bella, ‘win’ her back or seduce her, but to make myself worthy of her. Never again would I see her as an object to be won; I should have listened to my own words when I told Emmett that Bella was not a game. There were still so many things Bella and I would have to work through, but at least now I knew there was a glimmer of hope; a flicker of light in what had previously been blackest dark. I got up from my chair and walked towards the window, welcoming the faint heat of the winter sun light on my cold skin. For the first time since the accident I noticed that my body ached somewhat and, sure enough, there were faint marks on the uncovered portions of my skin from where I had run through the fire to get to Bella. Nothing serious, of course; they would probably be gone by tomorrow. And then, something happened outside to catch my attention. Out of the window I saw a dirty grey vehicle spin around the corner into the hospital parking lot. Even from my position three storeys up, I could read the blue writing on the circular sign on the side of the car: Rochester Airport Taxi-Limo 247-7678. That struck me as odd. What was a taxi which transported airline passengers to and from the airport doing in the parking lot of the hospital? Furthermore, why had it entered through the back entrance- the one reserved especially for emergency vehicles? I could think of only three solutions; the driver was lost, he was carrying someone injured, or he was in such a hurry that he simply didn’t care about the rules. Intrigued, I continued to watch, intending to see who exited from the taxi’s passenger door. But before the car could come to a complete stop I saw a member of hospital staff run up to the driver’s door and begin shouting and gesticulating at a nearby ‘EMERGENCIES ONLY’ sign. I saw the driver stick his head out of the taxi window and protest, only to be beaten down by the medic. Chagrined, he stuck his had back inside the cab and reversed at top speed. I could just make out his grumbling thoughts as he did so: Like I’m the one who wanted to come this way…I’ve got no problem with coming through the main entrance, but he wanted to come this way… made me do 80 all the way from the airport… not worth the extra cash… if the firm hears about this they’ll take my licence… I withdrew from his mind, thoroughly confused. It appeared that the driver had been paid double by his passenger to bring him to the hospital as quickly as possible, regardless of the danger or risk. I tried to search for the passenger’s ‘voice’; by now I had become engrossed in the little drama unfolding before me and was interested to learn more. It was hard to locate his thoughts; partly because he was a total stranger to me but also because he was by now out of sight range. I could tell that he was very distressed, which undoubtedly contributed to my difficulties. Frustrated, I concentrated all my efforts on penetrating the elusive mind, but just as I thought I succeeding, the door to Bella’s room burst open behind me. I whipped around, wrenching my mind from the search for the stranger. Alice was standing in the doorway, her expression taught with anxiety. I had been so absorbed in my antics that I had not heard her footsteps or her thoughts as she ran towards Bella’s room. “What’s wro-” I began to say, but before I could finish my question I was plunged into Alice’s mind; consumed by an unfathomable web of thoughts, memories and visions. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced; it was as if Alice’s powers had been thrown into overdrive. Her mind was working so fast that I could barely keep up with what she was trying to tell me. It was almost as though her brain was trying to convey every single thought and vision it could as quickly as possible, as though it knew it had only a short amount of time left in which to do so. But how could that be? Past: us arriving at the hospital; Present: “Edward, we have a major problem”; Future: the sound of shouts as a faceless person runs up the stairs to our corridor; Past: me sitting motionless, waiting for Carlisle to return from surgery; Present: “You have to stay calm”; Future: someone coming towards me, darkness descending around us with each step, as though the world was being dismantled piece by piece… My mind was recoiling under the pressure being exerted upon it; I tried to stem the flow of images attacking me in an attempt to understand what I was being told. “Alice, I don’t…” Past: A nurse sitting in front of a computer running through a database of details, clicking on ‘BELLA SWAN’; the sound of a phone ringing; Future: Shouts of outrage; snarls; the sounds of fighting; and THEN…

Faster than a heartbeat, everything stopped. It was as though someone had pulled the plug on Alice’s visions. I clutched the window-sill, panting slightly as I tried to recover from the onslaught. From the corner of my eye I could see Alice dropping to her knees, clutching the side of her head. I could still hear her thoughts, but all hints of the future had disappeared, replaced by a seemingly endless void of nothingness. I could feel panic rising in my throat. “Wh-what just happened?” I asked, still shaking. Alice did not look up from where she was crouched, her small frame trembling as though she was having a fit. “I ddon’t k-know,” she rasped, “I’ve never… felt… anything like it.” She coughed violently and I felt the urge to comfort her, but first it was vital that I understood what was going on. “What did you mean earlier, ‘we have a major problem’?” I demanded, “What does that mean? Why did you show me those memories?” Alice’s eyes met mine in a frantic gaze of sheer desperation. “One of the nurses rang Bella’s father,” she said hoarsely. Had I been human, my heart would have skipped a beat. “She rang Charlie?!” I asked, aghast. Alice nodded, her shoulders heaving. “Nobody thought to change Bella’s details, and Charlie’s her next-of-kin. He was rung almost immediately after Bella was admitted, but Carlisle only just found out.” Now it was my turn to be thinking in over-drive. If Charlie had been rung then he would know Bella was injured, he also would have told her mother and… and… “Oh, God,” I said, as comprehension swept over me. Exactly, Alice replied. The taxi from the airport. The unreadable stranger. The faceless figure whose very presence caused Alice’s visions to explode into oblivion. It could only mean one thing. We were about to be paid a visit by Jacob Black.

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