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Chapter 1: Cliffs

I steadied myself at the edge of the cliff, ready to take the plunge into the swirling icy water below, when suddenly, a hand shot out and grabbed my arm to pull me back. I stumbled backwards and found myself pressed up against a very warm and very bare chest. Jake! You scared me! I said, but my voice was muffled as my face was plastered against his burning hot skin. For a moment, our sudden closeness left us both paralyzed. I had seen him shirtless countless times before and I was used to touching him too holding his large capable hands when I needed reassurance or snuggling into his welcoming embrace when I needed comfort - but never this way, with every inch of my body pressed up against him in a way that had nothing to do with comfort. I couldnt stop my hand from pressing slightly into his chest, marveling at the contrast between the warm velvety skin and rock hard muscle underneath. Jake shuddered at my touch. Then he sighed as he placed his hands on my arms and set me an arms length away from him. His face was grim as he stooped down to look me directly in the eye. Bells, please tell me you werent thinking of doing what I thought you were doing just now, he said. His voice was gentle but firm, just like his grip on my shoulders. I My voice trailed off under his stern gaze. Suddenly, it all seemed so stupid. So careless. So unlike me. What had I been thinking? Its suicide to cliff-dive alone and during a storm, you know that right? Jacobs hands tightened around my arms, refusing to let me escape his gaze. I stared back into his intense brown eyes so dark brown that they were almost black fascinated by the light golden brown flecks that formed the inner rim of his iris. I had never noticed them before. His gaze never faltered despite my stare and suddenly, I had to look away. My eyes swept downward, taking in the familiar angular planes of his face in an attempt to avoid his piercing gaze. He had always been able to read me like a book. I could never hide anything from his all-knowing eyes. Jake finally squeezed my arms gently to prod me to respond. You said you would take me, but you were late so I just thought I said feebly, the words sounding lame even to my own ears. He let out a loud sigh. Yes, I said I would take you. But not on a day like this. His mouth was set in a grim line as he tilted his head slightly to look over me at the menacing clouds rolling in across the ocean. A storm is coming in. A bad one. See the way the waves are hitting against the cliffs? Look. I reluctantly turned to look where he was pointing. I shivered as I watched the icy black water pummeling the rocky cliffs, the hard clapping sound of their contact almost drowning out

everything else. That could have been me, being thrown helplessly against the gray shale rocks, if Jacob hadnt stopped me just in time. Suddenly, the enormity of what I had been about to do rushed through me like hot air deflating from a balloon. I collapsed against Jacobs warm chest and began to cry. Before I realized what had happened, I was sitting in Jacobs lap, sobbing wetly against his neck. His arms held me tenderly but loosely not enough to be confining but just enough to be comforting. And I cried. As I hadnt cried since that first night that he left. I had been too numb to cry for a long time. Pretending that I was okay. Pretending that I was over it. Pretending that my life could move on. All of the pain from the past few months rushed out of me in an avalanche of tears. Finally, as my tears drained themselves dry, leaving me a red-nosed hiccupping mess, I noticed that Jacob had carried me over to a fallen tree log, where he was sitting with me in his arms as if I were a child. I continued to sit there, too comfortable to move, when Jacob whispered my name hoarsely, Bella. Yes I replied, not bothering to turn my head to look up. I knew he was staring at me, but I couldnt bring myself to meet his honest gaze. Not right now. Please tell me his voice cracked suddenly. I felt him swallow deeply before continuing. You werent thinking of killing yourself just now ... were you? No, no! I almost jumped out of his arms in response. No! I insisted adamantly, but then I found myself unable to continue. What could I say? It was true. I hadnt been thinking about killing myself. I hadnt been thinking about anything except hearing his voice again. But the consequences of my behavior never registered in my head. In some ways, I had been so reckless that I might as well have been trying to kill myself. Suddenly, I felt Jacobs too warm hands on my face, turning my head to meet his gaze. His eyes were intensely focused on mine. Bella. What were you thinking?! How could you?! He demanded, his anger evident but tightly leashed. He never let go of my face and I could feel his hands burning up as his anger gave way to fear. Do you know what that would do to people CharlieRenee ... His voice cracked as he finished with a hoarse whisper.To me? Im sorry I mumbled as tears ran down my face. I just wasnt thinking I just wanted to hear him again Hear him? Jakes voice was calm, but I could tell by the way the tendons in his neck pulsed that he was holding himself tightly in check. Burying my face in his neck, I refused to answer. I was angry at myself for letting the secret that I had been carrying inside me for so long slip out. But I also felt relieved too. It was like I was finally able to put down a heavy burden that I had been carrying on my shoulders for so long.

Tell me. After everything weve been through He pressed on as he buried his face in my hair. Surely, I deserve the truth I couldnt deny him that. Jacob has saved me, in every way it was possible to be saved. He had put me together again, piece by piece, emotionally after he left. And I was beginning to lose count of the number of times he had saved me physically. Today was just one more to add to my tab. I wanted to hear Edwards " I choked slightly as I said his name aloud for the first time in months. I felt Jacobs arms tighten too at the sound of his name. -his voice. My voice was muffled into his neck now as the words tumbled out. When he left, he took everything with him that would remind me of him. It was as if he never existed. And I found that by doing dangerous things I was able to see him again and hear his voice again. So you did crazy reckless things so you could hallucinate that he was near you, Jacob whispered, neatly summing up the past few months of my life. His voice was soft, but I could feel his entire body quivering with anger. I looked up at him. Jake had a pretty firm leash on his temper most of the time, much better than the other wolves, but I knew that I could always count on my craziness to push the edges of his control. Jacobs lips were pressed together and his forehead was smooth, but I wasnt fooled. I could tell he was barely holding it together by the way he wouldnt meet my eyes. Stupid, huh? I muttered softly as I tentatively reached my hand up to touch Jacobs cheek. He grabbed my hand before I could touch him and held it in his for a few moments. Then he abruptly put me on my feet as he got up and strode away from me. I could see his entire body shaking though I couldnt tell if it was from anger or his exertion in controlling his anger. For a second, I thought I could almost see the lines around his body blurring. I started to back away. Then suddenly, it stopped. Jake took a few deep breaths and his shoulders relaxed. I walked over to his side and we both stared out at the ocean for a long time without speaking before he finally sighed. So I guess I see why you wanted to hang out with me so much then, he said softly. And then his tone changed, into a mocking, biting, sardonic tone that I hated hearing from him. Good old dumb Jacob. He'll let you do whatever crazy stupid thing you want to do. Heck. Hell even help you do them! No! No! I cried out as I tugged at his arm to try to get him to face me. It wasnt like that! I swear it wasnt. He chuckled bitterly before turning to look at me. Seeing the naked pain in his eyes was like a sucker-punch to the gut. I had never seen Jake like this. And to know that I was the one who had done it to him made my skin crawl.

You dont have to lie to me, Bella. Its okay. I understand. Jake quirked his lip in a rueful smile. I always understand. No, no, youve got it wrong, Jake. I swear. It was like that at first maybe. I found the bikes and wanted to fix them up so that I could ride them, which is why I thought of you. Thats true. I completely admit it. But then we started hanging out and you I stuttered, looking at him helplessly, unable to find the words that I wanted to say. Seeing the doubtful and defiant expression on his face forced me on. You were like this safe harbor for me. I couldnt help but want to be around you. I needed to hang out with you because you made me happy again. You made me whole again- -Bella- -No, no. I need to say this. Im sorry. Im so sorry. I know that Ive used you. And youve been amazing. Im sorry that I couldnt that we I just need some time, Jake. Im so sorry. Bells. Its okay, he smiled softly. He tipped his finger under my chin and lifted it up. Im still here. And well work things out. But then his eyes darkened. But you never answered my original question what were you thinking with your crazy stunts? Didn't you think of the impact it would have had on Charlie or me if you had gotten hurt? Or if you had died? I looked at him and shrugged. I had no defense. Because let me tell you something, he continued on angrily. The Bella that I know wouldn't do that. The Bella I know is the most incredibly caring and thoughtful person that I know. Shes the one who would move to Forks even though it made her unhappy so that her mother could be happy. She's the one who would watch baseball with her dad for hours on end even though she hates baseball because it made her father happy. But let me tell you that now, Im wondering whether the Bella that I know still even exists. I stared at him, stung by his angry accusations. Jake, that's not fair... No, it is, Jake's eyes bore into me. The intense gaze would have been frightening, if it wasn't tempered by the love and affection that I knew was buried deep in his eyes. I need to say this. I've stood by patiently and watched you alternate between the person I know you are and the person you become whenever you think of him. This empty broken shell of a person that is unable to function. Unable to think of anything or anyone but him forget about me or Charlie or Renee what about yourself? Who are you? You act as if you don't exist without him. But that is not you. Don't let it become you. You are so much more than what he has made you. My eyes began to smart even though I could have sworn ten minutes ago that I had entirely cried myself out. But these were now tears of shame. Jake's honest words seemed to have woken me out of a trance that I had been in for months. I saw the faces of the Charlie, Renee, Phil, Jake all of whom I loved and cared about deeply but had been nothing more than shadow puppets in the back of my mind in a mind that was taken over entirely by him. Who had I become? Jake

was right. I didn't even know if I recognized myself anymore. I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. Hot tears of shame and frustration spilled out of my eyes instead. Sh*t. I didn't mean to make you cry! Jake cursed as he pushed his hands through his hair in frustration. I'm being a jerk, aren't I? No no, you're right. I've been one of those girls that falls apart when a guy dumps her. The type of girl I would have made fun of before this, I acknowledged. It's just he I we ... You don't have to tell me, Jake muttered morphing immediately from intense angry werewolf to awkward confused boy at the sight of my tears. No no, it's just that it was an intense relationship. My first one too, I admitted with shrug. So I'm trying to figure it out. Please don't give up on me, Jake. Never, he said as he pulled me into his arms tightly. Too tightly in fact. He was crushing me in his embrace as he ground out, Please don't do that to me again either. I don't know if I could take it a second time. For a moment there, I thought I wouldn't get to you in time ... I felt his whole body shaking in response. I promise, I whispered. 'I'll try harder. We'll both try harder, he amended as he let me go. I nodded in agreement and then we both turned and slowly headed back towards the trail to avoid the incoming storm.

Chapter 2: Mourning
When we returned to Jacob's house, we knew immediately that something was wrong. Charlie's cruiser was parked haphazardly in the driveway, as if he had arrived in a rush, and the driver's side door was hanging open. The front door to the house was also open and we could hear commotion as Charlie helped Billy maneuver his wheelchair out onto the porch. Their faces were grim and drawn. What's going on? Jake asked, speeding up so he could circle around the car to help Billy get into the passenger seat. Harry just had a heart attack. He's at Forks Hospital, Charlie replied as he waved at us to get into the backseat of the cruiser. Jake and I hopped in and Charlie took off quickly, turning on his cop-car lights, not that he really needed it. Traffic was never exactly an issue in either La Push or Forks. How bad is it? I asked. We all knew Sue, Harry's wife who was a registered nurse, had been trying to get Harry on a low-fat low-cholesterol diet for years with little success.

It's not good. We got the call from Sue to come by ASAP. The doctors don't think he's going to make it, Billy trailed off, his normally steady baritone voice was almost unrecognizable from the strain. I felt my jaw drop. I turned to look at Charlie who was staring straight ahead at the road. His face was impassive, but I could see that he was clutching the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white and the rest of his hands were an ugly mottled purple. Harry, Billy, and Charlie had been best friends for most of their lives. Harry was at our house at least once a week to watch a baseball game or to go fishing with Charlie. I couldn't imagine what this would mean for my dad. We rode the rest of the way to Forks in silence. Jake and I looked at each other occasionally. We didn't say anything but I knew that we were both worried about the same thing. We didn't get there in time. When we arrived, we saw Sue, and her two children, Leah and Seth, sobbing silently in each other's arms in the hallway. I felt my eyes begin to smart with tears as I witnessed their loss. I felt my hand slip unconsciously into Charlie's and he squeezed it gratefully. I turned to give him a hug, but he waved me away, clearly not ready to mourn yet. His eyes were glassy with unshed tears, but his expression was vacant, shell-shocked, as if he were still processing the news. The sight of Charlies pain broke my heart and for the second time that day, I realized how callously I had been behaving for the past few months. Jake was right. I hadn't been thinking clearly about how my reckless antics would impact the people that I loved the most. For the first time, I saw the glints of gray that flecked Charlie's temples, which was striking in its contrast against his dark brown hair which I had inherited. I saw the deep weary bags under his eyes, the grayish pallor of his skin, and the lines across his otherwise youthful face none of which had been there a few months ago. It was evidence to how much strain and stress I had put on him in the past few months. I felt my tears begin to flow then. I was crying as much for Charlie and for myself, as I was for Harry. It was like waking up from a dream and finding that the world had changed, but not for the better. The next week passed in a blur. The funeral itself was ghastly. Watching your parents who you once thought of as superhero strong and infallible break down helplessly was a terrible thing. And watching Harry's family in their grief was just as terrible. I stopped by Sue's house one afternoon with some casseroles and other easy-to-heat meals that I had prepared for their freezer. When I walked up to the back door, I could see Sue in the kitchen sitting alone sobbing at the kitchen table. Unabandoned reckless sobbing. The kind you do when you think no one is around to see your pain. The kind you do when you think you have nothing left to live for. I was quite familiar with that type of sobbing.

And yet, somehow, it struck me now as strange and silly almost that I had mourned my sixmonth relationship with him the same way that Sue mourned the death of her husband of almost 25 years. It surprised me that I could think this way now a little more logically, a little more rationally about him. I never would have thought that a few weeks ago. And yet, here I was. Not surprisingly, Jake was everyone's rock throughout the difficult time helping Billy and Sue with the funeral arrangements, being an older brother to Seth in his grief, and running double patrols to protect me from Victoria who was still on the loose and trying to hunt me down. Jake was so good at being everyones shoulder to lean on and if anyone were to mention it to him, he would have brushed it off matter-of-factly. A week or so after the funeral, I found myself unable to sleep. I tiptoed out of my room to look out of the hallway window, which faced the backyard and had a good view of the forest behind the house. I knew that Jake was out there somewhere in wolf form as he was any night when he didnt run patrol. And I desperately wanted to talk to him. To feel his solid dependable presence next to me. To have him make me laugh by cracking the perfect joke to get me to relax. And most of all, to get reassurance that everything was going to be alright. It had been a tough day with Charlie. Even though he was handling the grief well outwardly burying himself in work and spending most of his free time helping Sue get her affairs in order I knew that the grief was eating him up on the inside. On the rare night that he was home, I would look in on him from the dining room table where I did my homework most nights only to find him sitting in the living room staring blankly at the baseball screen, watching the game for hours but seeing nothing. On a whim, I grabbed my hoodie from my room and tiptoed down the stairs, agonizing every time the steps creaked that I would wake up Charlie who was sleeping poorly these days. I slipped out the back door and crossed the porch quickly. It was a beautiful spring night, brisk without it being cold, with skies clear enough to see every star in the Western Hemisphere. I reached the edge of the backyard and was surprised that Jake hadn't come to meet me already. With his supersonic hearing as a wolf, he could usually hear me coming from miles away. I stood there awkwardly, playing with the strings on my hoodie, before I finally whispered loudly, Jake, are you there?! I stood and waited, but nothing. Jake? I whispered again, a little louder this time. A few more moments passed and I was about to give up when finally, I heard some rustling in the dense wooded area about 20 yards in front of me. The air seemed to shimmer just then, blurring my vision, which wasn't that good at night to begin with. There was a few more minutes of rustling then, louder this time. I blushed as I tried not to think about Jake putting on clothes. He had explained to me once that when the pack shifted in and out of wolf form, they did it in the nude, which was why they always had to carry their shorts with them tied to a black cord on their right ankle. I was feeling my cheeks grow warm when he finally appeared, stepping out from behind a tree.

Jake was wearing cutoffs his usual uniform these days and he was barefoot. He waved as he approached me. He had grown into his height in the past few months, bulking up in a way that just seemed unfathomable if I hadn't seen it happen before my very eyes but he was still light on his feet, making no noise as he approached me. When he got closer, I saw that he looked uncharacteristically grim, the planes of his jaw were tight and his brow was furrowed. Feeling bad that I had probably interrupted him from something important, I motioned for him to go back as I whispered, It's okay! You can go back. It was nothing! He shook his head and motioned for me to come meet him half-way, so I turned to make sure Charlie's light was still off, before I tiptoed my way into the forest. No need to give Charlie a heart-attack at the sight of Jacob half-dressed meeting me in the middle of the night. Jake came forward to give me a helping hand his large warm hand closing over mine and he pulled me easily through the brush where we would be hidden by the trees. What's up? Is everything okay? he asked finally as we reached a mini-clearing with a mossy half-overturned tree that was the perfect height for sitting. He gestured to it but I shook my head. I was feeling too restless to sit. I'm fine, but what's up with you? You look worried, I asked, reaching out to smooth the lines that were furrowed across his brow. He chuckled and swatted my hand away lightly. Same old, same old. Still can't find any sign of her. Jake sighed as he slumped down on the mossy overturned tree. Sam is convinced that she's given up, but I'm not so sure. No scent? Not even on the beach? Nothing. Not a peep. Jake thumped the tree stump with his fist in frustration. I know she's out there. She's not the type to give up. She's trying to figure out a way around us, but I can't figure out what the heck it is. Sam doesn't agree? Sam agrees that she's not to be underestimated, but he's had other things on his mind recently ... we've uh ... Jake's face faltered as his lips quirked up in a grim smile. We've had a new addition to the pack recently. Ten bucks says you can guess who it is. Quil? That was no surprise. Jake had told me a few weeks ago that he thought Quil was close to changing. It was pretty obvious that this was a tough issue for him. As much as the pack needed more help, Jake wouldn't have wished this fate onto anyone. Yeah, he snorted. The guy is thrilled. Thinks it's the best damn thing that has ever happened to him. Stupid idiot. The sound of an angry yelp came just then from deeper within the forest. I swiveled my head in the direction of the noise, but Jake didn't budge. That's him. I'm teaching him to run patrol so he was with me out in the woods. I forbid him to come out to see you, but he can hear us. He was never that good at controlling his temper and now its just worse.

The angry yelp had turned into a plaintive whine now. Jake just rolled his eyes. I laughed before I could help myself. I'm surprised he's actually listening to you, I remarked knowing the testy but affectionate friendship between the two guys. He has to, Jake admitted sheepishly. I'm the pack's Beta. Second in command after Sam. So he has to do what I say. I heard Quil give a disgusted snort which as a wolf came out as a weird howling sound. I laughed again and I could almost feel him laughing with me. If I squinted hard enough in the distance, I could almost make out his dark shape hidden in the trees just out of sight. I'm surprised you haven't abused your power over him, I teased giving Jake a nudge in the ribs to try to get him to lighten up. He chuckled. Oh, I will. I will. I'm making him stand guard outside your house every night for the next month. That's hardly fair to him. Don't feel too bad for him. He's thrilled by all of this. It's good that one of us is at least enjoying the wolf thing. Jake sighed deeply. I could see the strain of the past few weeks etched plainly on his face in the moonlight. Normally, he hid it so well trying so hard to always be there for everyone - but now, in the middle of the night, the mask was slipping and he looked exhausted. His normally sharp eyes were blurring over from the lack of sleep. I felt the sudden urge to tuck him into bed and watch him as he slept and finally got the rest he so richly deserved. God, I was so confused. I didn't know what the heck I wanted to do about my best friend. I loved him deeply as a friend. Of that, I was a 100% sure. But did I love love him? I didn't know. I had only loved one person before and it had ended traumatically. I didn't know if I could risk it again. Especially not with my best friend. The one person who understood me enough to wait patiently in the shadows while I figured myself out. I'm sorry, Jake, I whispered as I reached out to tenderly stroke his cheek. He turned his face into my hand and smiled in apology. No, I'm sorry, Bells. I'm tired and cranky and I'm taking it out on you. It's okay. No it's not, he replied as he stood up and shook himself awake. He turned to me with a smile again. You should get some sleep. Don't worry. He jerked his thumb back towards the forest. Quil will be out here all night, so you can relax. Victoria wont get through him. Get some sleep. Thanks Quil, I said in the direction of the woods. I got a short howl in response. I laughed softly.

Jake patted my hand as we headed back towards my house. And then he watched me from the trees as I crossed the backyard and slipped into the house.

Chapter 3: Deja Vu
The rest of the spring passed by quickly. I was buried under an avalanche of schoolwork as we headed into the last month of the school year and I had a ton of catch-up work to do around applying to colleges. I sent out a bunch of late applications to local schools University of Washington, Washington State hoping that my good grades and test scores would make up for my late entry. Not that I knew what I wanted to do with myself once I got there, but it just seemed like a logical next step. And after spending half a year unable to see beyond the end of each day, it was nice to be planning for the future again. It was like exercising a muscle that had long atrophied. I was an organizer and a planner by nature I had to be given that my mother was Renee so it was soothing to click back into that role. Everyone at school was excited about our imminent graduation. Making arrangements for prom, buying a graduation dress, and planning a summer graduation trip in that order was all that Jessica and Lauren could talk about at lunch these days. I was tacitly allowed to resume my seat at the lunch table after my many months of self-imposed exile. But the lunch table was clearly divided between those who were happy to welcome me back Mike, Angela, Ben, Eric and those who were less so Lauren and Jessica. I was surprised a bit by Jessica's thinly veiled animosity towards me, but it was just as well. I preferred Angela's company any way. I had been so focused on losing him the past few months, that it wasnt until now that I realized that I also missed Alice too. I missed having a girl-friend to hang out with. And Angela was an easy - if not perfect replacement. She welcomed me back with open arms, she was patient with my quirks, and most of all, she was understanding of my reluctance to talk about anything that had to do with the Cullens. I went to her house one afternoon the first time in many months - so I could help her handaddress her graduation announcements. Angela's mom was a bustling energetic woman whose shoes always matched her handbag, whose fingernails were always perfectly manicured, and whose house was done up in coordinated mono-chromatic shades of beige. She was a teacher at the elementary school, a pillar of the Forks Presbyterian church, and she would have been entirely intimidating given her OCD nature if she weren't also such a fabulous mother. It was clear that she doted on Angela, her youngest and only daughter. Spending time with her always made me want to call Renee when I got home. We were sprawled out in Angelas kitchen, eating some cookies that were still warm from the oven as we tackled the stack of a hundred plus cards and envelopes. Angela wrote up personalized messages in each card while I was assigned the task of addressing the corresponding envelopes. I marveled at how normal I felt at that moment. I could have been any girl across America who was looking forward to graduating from high school, as opposed to a girl who had been dumped by a vampire and was in an ambiguous relationship with a werewolf.

So Angela paused as she expertly flipped open another card to begin the personalization. We had been chatting away lightly about homework and our upcoming AP exams, but I could tell that she was restraining herself hard from asking me the question that I knew the others were curious about but were too shy to ask me themselves. So who do you want to go to prom with? Angela looked up at me just then with a twinkle in her gray eyes; eyes which used to be hidden behind thick wire-framed glasses before she got contacts last month. I chuckled softly, not the least bit offended. I knew this conversation would be inevitable when I agreed to come over to help. I don't know. I dont think I'm even going. Its not really my thing, you know? That's cool, she said with a nod as she looked back down at the card. Her easy acceptance took me by surprise. That's it?! No interrogation? Do you want one? I could see her smiling wryly as she carefully signed her name to another finished card. I'm happy to oblige, though I could also just tell Jessica and let her harp on you about how this is, she raised her hands to make quotation marks as she mimicked Jessica's voice, the 'best night of your life' and how you'll 'regret it forever' if you dont go! We both snickered slightly. I know, I know. You're taking it easy on me. Seriously, though, you're definitely not going? I was just wondering because my mom wants me to get a group together to rent a limo, she rolled her eyes as she said that. It did seem sometimes as if her mom was more excited about Angelas graduation than she was. And if you don't go, I can just tell her that I couldn't find anyone to share one with me. I don't know, I'm not really a prom kind of girl. You went last year, Angela pointed out Yeah, well that was because of ... my voice trailed off. We had reached the forbidden topic. I never talked about him if I could help it. I could barely say his name still. I avoided it if I could help it, not wanting to deal with the gaping hole that still opened up inside me despite all the outward progress I had been able to make. Right, Angela said softly, looking down suddenly at the table. She played with the pen in her hand a little, twirling it between her fingers, before she finally looked up. I know you don't want to talk about him. I nodded once, not meeting her eyes. So I won't mention it again after this. But I do think it might be nice for you to go again you know, have a prom experience without him so that's not the only prom memory you have. Point taken, I said softly, still not looking up at her. I'll think about it.

Okay. Angela picked up another card and began writing in it. But decide soon, please, because it would also ease some of the tension at our lunch-table if you could announce your decision. Huh? I had no idea what she was talking about. She rolled her eyes affectionately. Mike and Eric have both been hinting pretty heavily about prom to you, but you clearly haven't noticed. I think they're waiting to see if you want to go before they ask you. And Jessica and Lauren are waiting for Mike and Eric to ask them. So lunchtime has been a bit awkward lately. Wow, I had no idea. Yeah, I know. That's why I thought I would mention it. If you want my two cents, you should ask Jake to go with you. Jake? But he's a sophomore ... I sputtered, coming up with the first excuse I could, even though I knew I wasn't fooling Angela by the way she grinned at me. So? The guy is bigger than all the seniors we know. And he's head over heels in love with you. He's not ... He is, Angela said pointedly. I've only seen him with you a handful of times, when he's come by after school to pick you up. And trust me, he's besotted. Ben agrees with me. You and Ben are just so happily in love that you think everyone else is too. Angela had a goofy expression on her face as she tossed the card she just finished signing into the pile. My heart wrenched suddenly. The sight of someone so ridiculously happy in love hurt. It hurt a lot. It felt like a mockery of my own naivete. That was how I looked last year, foolishly thinking that he and I would be together forever. Beyond forever. And now, here I was. My eyes began to smart with tears. Angela looked up in alarm at the sound of my choked whimper. Her face fell immediately and her eyes were filled with concern as she reached out to me. Are you okay? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. We don't have to talk about this anymore. No, no, it's okay, I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and swallowed deeply, blinking away the tears that had been about to rush forward. I'm sorry, I don't mean to be so ... I gestured helplessly at myself. Don't shoot me for saying this, Angela said tentatively, but I think this is a good sign. It's the first time I've actually seen you cry over Ed- She saw me wince. -him. Up until now, you've just been this indifferent shell. You refused to talk about him, much less show any emotion over

him. I think it's a sign that you're beginning to get over it. It's the next step in the mourning process. I nodded, more to assuage Angela's earnest face and entreaty than anything else, but maybe she was right. In some ways, I felt as if I was thawing out after a long winter of being frozen up inside, afraid to feel, afraid to think, afraid to live because I didn't know if I could handle the thought of a life without him. And now, I was letting myself open up again. Just a little. But it was something. Please think about it. I do think it would be good for you to go. And selfishly, Angela continued with a wistful smile, I want you to be there. Ben will be there, I pointed out. Yes, but he's a guy. It'll just be Jessica and Lauren and you know how ahem worked up they get over these things. I'd love for you to come so that I'd have someone to make snarky comments with. I laughed, I'll think about it. Really, I will. My mom's taking me prom dress shopping in Seattle next weekend. Do you want to come along? Itll be a fun to have you come even if you dont need to buy a dress Sure, I agreed readily. I had been feeling a bit claustrophobic lately it was the first time in a long time that I had wanted to do anything but wait around in Forks - so it would be nice to have get out of town for a day. I told my mom that we should go to Seattle, since our trip to Port Angeles was such a bust last year, Angela commented as she started matching the personalized cards to my addressed envelopes. I froze suddenly as I flashbacked to our prom dress shopping trip last spring. I hadn't thought about it or any really any memory that included him - in ages. I hadn't let myself think about it. It hurt too much. But now the memory flooded through me with the force of a tidal wave. I closed my eyes as scenes flashed through my head the out-of-the-way bookshop where I had bought the book on the Quileute legends, the drunk frat guys who had harassed me, the shock that went through me when his silver volvo skidded to a stop in front of me, that first dinner together mushroom ravioli and coke at La Bella Italia - and the drive home to Forks where I learned what he truly was. It was the night when everything began Bella? Bella? Angelas voice broke through my trance. I opened my eyes and looked at her in shock. The flashback had been so vivid, it felt as if I was there once again, with him in the car. And it was painful being ripped out of that moment. To be reminded, yet again, that it was just a memory and was no longer my reality.

But I had survived it. It was possible to think back on all of that and not completely fall apart. A few months ago, this episode would have put me into another downward spiral followed by my retreat into a state of numbness that was my only defense against having to relive the pain of his leaving. But this time, the moment passed not easily but it passed. And I wasn't sure what to make of it other than relief. Bella, are you okay? Angela asked me again as she grabbed my arm forcefully. Yes, yes, I'm fine, I assured her as I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. I gestured to the empty box next to me. I think I'm done with addressing the envelopes. Okay, Angela said slowly, looking unconvinced. Are you sure? Yes, I am. I really am, I said as I reached over to grab the stamps. Let's finish up. I glanced up at the clock on the wall. I need to head home to make dinner for Charlie in half an hour. Angela opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it just as quickly. I gave her a pleading look. She nodded once. We didn't talk about anything of consequence for the rest of the night and we finished stuffing envelopes shortly after. I said my goodbyes and headed home through the misting rain.

Chapter 4: Confusion
Charlie was late for dinner that night, which was good because I had a late start in preparing it. I made a ton of food since I wasn't sure if Jake was swinging by too. He often came by in the evenings with his homework to spend a few hours before he had to run his patrol and since he was a bottomless pit these days, I always had to be well-stocked if he did show up. Charlie's arrived just before eight o'clock. I heard the door open and his footsteps as he stomped into the foyer and pulled off his wet boots and jacket. The misting rain from the afternoon had turned into a torrential spring downpour. I used to hate the rain but now, I was used to it and I found the rhythmic pattering of the rain against the roof soothing. The table was set and the food was ready to go by the time Charlie toweled himself off and came into the kitchen. He sniffed appreciatively and gave me a half-hug in greeting as he reached around me to grab a beer from the fridge. Good day, Bells? he asked as he flipped off the lid of the bottle and took a long swig. Yes, I replied as I steered him towards the dining room table. I spent the afternoon with Angela helping her with her graduation announcements. Good, good. Glad you got to spend some time with the girls, he replied as he settled himself in. We passed the dishes around and served ourselves silently. That was the nice thing about Charlie. He didn't pry. And I never had to explain anything if I didn't want to. We finished eating

in silence, then we stood up at the same time to begin clearing the plates. We had our routine down pat. So Angela's mom is driving her to Seattle next Saturday to go prom-dress shopping. I think I'm going to with them, I said as I started sudsing up the dishes. Prom? Charlie asked with a half-smile, I didnt think you were the prom-type-of-gal. Im not. Im just going to hang out with them. You know, get some girl time. Okay, he chuckled. He was about to head out of the kitchen when he suddenly paused and turned around. Did you say you were going to Seattle? Yeah, why? Charlie frowned as he leaned against the doorway, still nursing his beer. There have been a bunch of murders well both murders and disappearances actually - the past few months in Seattle. I dont know if its a good idea for you to go. Dad, please. I think I'll be fine with Mrs. Scott. I barely refrained myself from rolling my eyes. It was tough sometimes being the daughter of a cop. Plus, I don't think murderers really hang out at the mall in broad daylight. I should be safe. I don't know, Bells, Charlie continued with a frown. He had put his beer down on the countertop and was now standing with his arms crossed. It was his thinking pose. Its been happening all over town, even in some of the nice places in the city. Twenty people in the last month or so. They were only able to find a handful of bodies too. The rest just disappeared into thin air. That's why the police haven't made any progress on cracking the case. Dad, we'll be fine, I said emphatically as I stacked the cleaned dishes onto the rack that I had emptied just moments before. We'll have lunch, hit some stores, and come back. Seeing that he still looked unconvinced, I decided to play my trump card. Do you want to call Angelas mom to make yourself feel better about the trip? You can tell her that you don't think it's a good idea for her to be taking me ... No, no, Charlie said, quickly back-pedaling. He and every other male in Forks was scared of Janet Scott. She was a formidable fixture in the community and a force to be reckoned with. I'm sure it'll be fine. Just promise me that you girls won't go off on your own. I tried to hide my smile as I patted him on the shoulder. I promise, I said as I turned off the light and we walked out of the kitchen. Charlie headed to the living room to watch the ball game and I headed upstairs to find my books so that I could start my homework. But I got sidetracked when the prom invitation, which I had hastily stuffed in my bag after receiving it in homeroom, fell out of my backpack and onto the floor. I picked it up and finally read it through mentally mocking the pink ruffly frilly card that had Jessica's name written all over it. She was, no surprise, one of the chairs of the prom committee.

June 16th. Three weeks away. I had plenty of time to make a decision, I rationalized to myself. Not that I was thinking about going. I definitely didn't want to go. As I said to Angela, I was not a prom kind of girl. Even Charlie knew that. And I hated prom last year. Well I didn't totally hate it, but it was only because of him. So why was I even considering the possibility of going? Damn Angela for putting all sorts of thoughts into my head about going with Jake. I didn't know if I was ready for that. I didn't even know if I wanted it. It was too soon. It felt too soon. And yet, prom last year also felt like a million light-years away. I flipped the card over and read the details again. I was so caught up sorting out my jumbled emotions that I jumped when somebody spoke over my shoulder. So, who are you going with? I swiveled around so quickly that I lost my balance and had to grab the side of my desk to steady myself. Jake was standing a few feet behind me, grinning widely. I felt myself relax. I hadn't realized that I had been waiting all evening for him to show up until now. How did you get in?! I didn't hear you come up the stairs! He shrugged. I knocked and everything. Charlie said I should just go up, so I did and your door was open. It's my superhero stealthiness, he added with a teasing wink. I'm pretty sure that's not a word. When you're a superhero, you can make words up, he replied, his face was solemn but his eyes were twinkling. I rolled my eyes and mock-punched him. He expertly side-stepped me and instead, swiped the prom invite from my other hand. He looked it over quickly before he gave it back, It's very pink. Yes, I know, I said with a sigh. What can I say? Girls like pink. Thank God you don't though, he said as he ruffled my hair and then collapsed on my bed with a loud yawn. He had been up in my room a few times now. Charlie trusted him to be alone up with me. Which was saying a lot in some ways since Charlie wouldn't trust any other guy to be in my room alone with me. But in other ways, it didn't say much because everyone trusted Jake. That was just who he was. But it was strange to see him lying on my bed like that. In the past, he had perched on the edge of my bed a number of times, but he had sprawled out comfortably like this, his arms behind his head, his feet sans shoes kicked up. He yawned again and smiled apologetically, Sorry, long day running patrol. I'm beat. I was still standing there staring at him. For a moment, it just all felt too much. The last guy no scratch that the only guy that had ever laid down in my bed had been him. Edward. I forced myself to say his name. And the contrast between the two of them couldn't have been any greater.

When Edward laid there, he had always held himself slightly rigidly, always in control and guarded, his arms and legs held tightly in line with the rest of his body. Even when he held me in his arms, I could always sense that he was keeping a barely perceptible distance between us in case he ever lost control. He never looked at ease the way Jake did right now, his large body taking over the entire bed, his arms and legs sprawled out casually and unconsciously. The countless nights that Edward had spent in my bed, he had always been in control, strategically watching and waiting, but never at ease and never as if he belonged. Jake sprawled across my bed comfortably as if he belonged there and for a starting moment, I thought that maybe he did. So ... Jake's voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up startled. I felt my face begin to flush as I realized what I had just been thinking. About Jake. About my best friend. About my hot best friend. Because come on, I wasn't blind. I had told Jake once that he was sort-of-beautiful, but that wasn't quite the word to describe him. Edward had been beautiful with his perfect features, but Jake was hot. I couldn't think of any other word to describe him. From the chiseled body due to his werewolf duties, I had seen him shirtless so often that I was beginning to forget that not all guys looked like him to his handsome face with it strong jaw, blunt cheekbones, and intense eyes there was no doubt that Jake was hot. And he also currently lying in my bed actually he was taking over my entire bed - with his tshirt riding up his stomach, showing off his ripped abs, and his cut-off shorts sitting snugly over his hips. My cheeks were now burning hot. It's not that I hadn't noticed all of this in the past. I had, in sort of an indifferent cursory way, the way you noticed that the woman sitting next to you had blonde hair or that the bus-driver had a funny moustache. But now I noticed. Boy did I notice. But I didn't know how I felt about it. I would give everything I own to know what you're thinking right now, Jake said suddenly with a husky voice. I looked up to see him staring intensely at me, his dark eyes had turned the deepest coal black, and the look on his face sent shivers down my spine. My head was awash with confusion and emotion. Just this afternoon with Angela, I had almost lost it when reliving a memory about Edward. And now, here I was, staring at Jake, with a million conflicting thoughts running through my head. None of which made sense. None of which I knew what to do with. We stood there staring at each for a while, before Jake finally looked down. He was laughing softly to himself and then stretched himself out lazily, at ease again, before asking, Okay, how about we go back to my original question. Who are you going to the prom with? You, if you will ask me, I blurted out before I realized what I was saying. My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe I had said that. I didn't know what the hell had gotten into me. I didn't think it was possible for my face to burn up even more, but it did. My whole face was aflame with embarrassment and confusion. Jake tensed slightly at my words, his eyes turning dark again but this time they were alert and watchful, and he looked at me for a long moment. Then he grinned. I'd be happy to ask, but technically, it's not my prom. It would take some cojones for me to ask you to your prom, no?

True, I said, as words continued to just tumble out of my mouth. So will you? You know? I looked away from him now, too embarrassed to see his response. As friends, I amended quickly before he got the wrong idea. Not that I knew which was the wrong idea going as friends or going as more than just friends. As friends, Jake repeated slowly after me, drawing out each syllable. I nodded mutely, still not looking at him. Finally, the silence got to me so I tentatively lifted my head to catch his gaze. He was still lying there, looking comfortable in my mess of pillows and comforters, and he was watching me through hooded eyes that were unreadable. Suddenly panicked that he was going to refuse me, I was racking my brain for some way to try to salvage the situation when he finally answered matter-of-factly, Of course, I will. You will? I felt my voice crack with relief that this wasn't going to become a big deal. Of course. As friends, he teased with a mocking grin as he sat up again. I caught my breath worried that he was taking this the wrong way, but he waved away my frown. Chillax, Bella. I understand. Just as friends. But as best friends, right? He looked at me earnestly now, his hair rumpled from lying down. He looked very childlike suddenly. Despite his size, he looked vulnerable for the first time in a long time. Of course, I replied with a warm smile. The very best. Good, he said as he got up and rumpled my hair to match his. We laughed and any awkwardness in the moment passed. But something had changed between us that night. I just couldn't put my finger on what it was.

Chapter 5: Disappearance
The last week of classes passed by quickly. I could hardly believe that I was this close to being done. I had turned in all my final papers and now I only had two final exams to take next week calculus and physics - and then I would be done with my high school career. I studied hard all week and was ready for a break when the weekend rolled around. Angela and her mom who insisted that I call her Janet- came by to pick me up bright and early on Saturday morning. They had stopped by the bakery on the way over and the inside of car smelled like my favorite cafe back in Phoenix, with the smell of warm roasted coffee beans mixed in with the cinnamony goodness of fresh-baked donuts. The three hour ride passed by quickly as I listened to Angela and her mom chat away. I couldn't help but think that Renee would have loved to come along. I resolved to take some pictures to send her. I had never gotten around to filling that scrapbook that she had gotten me for my birthday. I figured now was as good of a time as any. When we arrived, we hit Nordstrom first, which was way out of our price range or at least my price range but Angelas mom said it was good to check out what was stylish before we officially started our search. After a nice lunch at their cafe, one of the few things I could afford in the entire store, we made our way to an outlet mall that was located in the middle of nowhere

down by the ship docks. It was an odd location, but Janet vouched that it was the best place to find good deals, so we went with it. We struck out at the first two stores. I was beginning to lose steam. I was never much of a shopper to begin with, but I agreed to hit one more store before calling it a day. The last store, which was located at the far end of the mall, was surprisingly empty when we arrived given that it was Saturday afternoon during prime prom dress shopping season. There was just one other girl who looked to be about 15 or so browsing the racks when we showed up. The cashier desk was empty and there was no salesperson in sight. Hmph! Janet frowned as she took in the deserted store. They're not working too hard for our business, are they? It's alright, Mom. Let's just look around. They have some nice stuff, Angela said as she wandered off to the 'tall girl' section. At five foot eleven, which she had clearly inherited from her mother, Angela towered over me as well as almost everyone else at school, including her boyfriend, Ben. But she didn't slouch or hunch. She wore her height proudly, her shoulders back, her head held high a reflection, no doubt, of the confidence that Ben had fostered in her over the past year. I saw her make her way over to some pretty pink Grecian-style dresses that I knew would be perfect on her. I, on the other hand, wandered over to the petite section. Surrounded by giants, I was rapidly beginning to feel inadequate about my perfectly respectable five foot four. I flipped through the racks half-heartedly, dismissing most of the dresses as too frilly and too girly for me. To be honest, I wasnt even sure what I was looking for. I still couldnt really believe that I was actually going to prom. That I had actually asked Jake to go with me. That whole sequence felt like an out-of-body experience for me. There was a dress that I almost wanted to get as a joke. It was made out of a bright pepto-bismol pink shiny fabric with a heart-shaped necklace that was liberally trimmed with matching lace. The skirt had tiers of more frilly fabric which must be fashionable right now since I saw the style on a number of other dresses and it was topped off by a bow right at the waist. It was the perfect dress to match our prom invite, and Jake would crack up at the sight of me in it. My eyes widened when I realized what I had been doing. I had been thinking about dressing up for prom and what Jakes reaction would be. That seemed very unfriend-like behavior to me. Did this mean that I was interested in being more than just friends? Is that what I wanted? My mind began to swirl. I didnt know. I really didnt know. I had no idea what I wanted to do with him. Suddenly, I wished desperately that things didnt have to change. I wished that we could stay as we were best friends forever. I wished that I didnt have to be forced to make a decision that would change things forever. Because that was really what I was afraid of. What if we changed things and then it didnt work out? Who would help me pick up the pieces this time? How would I be able to survive that again without the one person I had counted on to always be there for me? With Edward, there was always a part of me that had never quite believed that he was really meant to be a part of my

life. I didnt see how he who had everything and could choose anyone could be interested in me. It had never made sense to me. And so when he left, there was always a part of me that said I told you so! How could you have thought this was meant to be? But Jake was different. He was as much a part of my life as I was his. Our families were connected. Our lives were connected. And if things didnt work out, he would still be a part of my life through Charlie. And then, what? With Edward, I had to go to extreme lengths to try to keep some part of him in my life to still see him, to still hear him, to still know that he existed. With Jake, I would have to go to extreme lengths to keep him out of my life. I just didnt know if I could deal with that. I turned the aisle quickly, lost in my thoughts, and walked smack into the only other girl who was shopping in the store with us. Oh, I'm sorry! she exclaimed as she reached out with her right hand to steady herself against the rack. Her left hand was weighted down by about twenty dresses in a variety of shades and styles including the pink monstrosity that I had just mentally mocked. She noticed me looking at all of them in awe and she flushed slightly, I'm just really excited about prom. I want to get the perfect dress. Oh no, no, I wasn't saying anything, I apologized immediately, hoping that my face hadn't betrayed my thoughts just then. The girl smiled prettily in response and I couldn't help but smile back. She was clearly so excited about prom that it was almost contagious. What do you think about this? she asked as she nudged a navy blue dress hanging off the end of the rack. She frowned slightly as she examined it, It doesn't seem dressy enough. It's the cut and the fit that matter, I said as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. But all that matters is that you like it, I added anxiously before she thought I was criticizing her. Well, I really want him to like it, she said matter-of-factly. I mean, I'm just a sophomore and I got invited to the prom by this senior football player. I'm so excited! I'll probably be the only sophomore at the prom! My friends are so jealous! I'm taking a sophomore, too, I added before I realized what I was saying. I flinched. I couldn't believe that I was just sprouting stuff left and right. It was unlike me to feel so comfortable sharing stuff with people. You are!? That's cool... I guess, the girl said, clearly shocked. I guess she wasn't into the whole cougar thing. I had to laugh. Even though Jake was technically a year younger than me and two grade-levels below me, he didnt feel younger at all. In fact, lately, it felt like he was surpassing me in maturity daily with all of his responsibilities to the tribe and pack.

The girl continued to look at me awkwardly, unsure of how to respond. She finally stuck out her right hand and introduced herself, My name is Bree. I reached to shake her hand. I'm Bella. And that's my friend, Angela, over there with her mom. You're lucky you have someone to shop with, Bree said with a wistful smile. My mom came but went off to do her own shopping and left me to make my own decision. She nudged the navy blue dress again. It was the perfect color to offset her porcelain skin, gray-green eyes, and brown hair. I really do like this one, but it's a bit pricey, she sniffed as she bent over to glance at the price-tag again, as if magically hoping that it would have gone down in price since the last time she checked. Go for it, I encouraged. Just try it on. What do you have to lose? Seeing that she had no hands left to carry the dress, I picked it up for her with a nod and followed her into the surprisingly cushy dressing room area in the back of the store. There was a circular skylight that was letting in a few late afternoon rays of sunshine, a sitting area with a blue couch, and three little rooms cordoned off along the back wall. The last room was twice the size of the others, designed to accommodate a wheelchair, and just beyond that last dressing room, there was a door to a closet. The rooms were empty, or at least I thought they were when we entered. Bree dumped her stuff down in the first dressing room. I was about to hand her the navy blue dress when I saw something out of the corner of my left eye. A glimpse of sparkling diamonds against an icy white background. I started. And then I stared hard at the partially closed door to the third dressing room. I could have sworn that I saw something there. Not just something but someone. Bella, what's wrong? I heard Bree ask but I waved at her with my right hand, which was still holding on to the navy dress tightly, to hush her. My heart started pounding so hard that I couldnt hear Brees continued questions beyond the pulsing roar in my ears. I took a deep breath and took a few steps towards the partially open third dressing room door. I still couldn't see anything. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply as I took the final step. With my heart thumping in my ears, I reached out and swatted the door open with a loud bang. But there was nothing there. Just a white dress that someone had left behind, swinging back and forth on the rack from being hit by the door when I slammed it open. The dress sequined bodice was sparkling from the faint rays of sunlight coming through the skylight. I almost keeled over in shock and relief. I didn't know what the heck I had been thinking or what I thought I saw, but this wasnt it.

I walked back and handed Bree the dress, the skirt now crumpled from my tight grip. She gave me a weird look; she obviously thought I was crazy. I made my apologies and took off, wanting to put some distance between me and whatever the heck it was that had just happened. Angela and her mom were at the far corner of the store. I made a beeline for them as I wasn't in the mood to shop anymore. Angela looked like she wanted to ask me what was wrong, but she got distracted when she and her mom got into a heated debate over whether a strapless dress was appropriate or not. I settled myself into a chair nearby as I waited for them to finish. My knees still felt weak and my heart was still pounding in my ears as I tried to take stock of what had just happened. It was nothing, I told myself, nothing. I didnt see anything. But I knew better than anyone that just because I didnt see anything, didnt mean that someone wasnt there. I knew what I saw. I didnt think it was ever possible for me to forget the sight of Edwards sparkling skin in the sunlight. And I wasnt hallucinating this time. I was sure of it. Or was I? It scared me that I couldnt be sure either way. Twenty minutes or so passed by before I felt my pulse finally returning to normal. A large heavy-set woman with stiffly permed brown hair and heavily mascara-ed eyes showed up around then carrying a bunch of shopping bags. Bree? she called as she looked around the store. She frowned when she saw that we were the only ones there. She's in the dressing room, I pointed helpfully. The woman gave me a friendly nod and lumbered over. Angela and her mom came over to me then, their arms full of dresses for Angela to try on, ready to head to the dressing rooms too. And thats when we heard the woman scream.

Chapter 6: Danger
I burst into the dressing room area, followed closely by Angela and her mom who were weighted down by all of the dresses that Angela had wanted to try on. Brees mom was standing by the door of the first dressing room. Shes gone! she said, gesturing wildly behind her with one hand, as she frantically pushed some buttons on her cellphone with the other. I pushed past her to look in. All of the dresses that Bree had wanted to try on were still hanging neatly on the rack, except for that pepto-bismol pink dress. An empty hanger, along with the cutoffs and tank-top that Bree had been wearing, were laid out on the bench, so she must have been trying it on. Next to her clothes was her dark green purse. Nothing looked disturbed. Nothing was out of place. Except that Bree wasnt there anymore.

Thats weird. I know we didnt see her leave. Angela muttered as she and her mother put all of their stuff down on the blue sofa in the waiting area. Brees purse began to vibrate as the call from her mom came through. I reached over and opened it to find her cell-phone and wallet completely untouched inside. Our faces blanched. It seemed unlikely that she would have left without her phone, money, or ID. Our heads turned, almost simultaneously, as we felt a slight breeze waft into the dressing rooms just then. Thats when we noticed that the door behind the third dressing room was ajar just slightly there was a faint sliver of light coming through the crack where the door hadnt been completely closed. The light coming through clearly illuminated some scuff marks on the shiny white linoleum floor right in front of the door. Bella, dont! I heard Angela cry out as she saw me turn, but I ignored her as I walked towards the door. I didnt care how stupid it was, but I had to know. I could feel the eyes of the other three women staring so intently as me, that it felt like they were drilling holes into my back. I was holding my breath. I was pretty sure the others were holding their breaths too. When I reached the door, I paused just slightly, before slamming it open with a heavy thud. Fresh air flooded the stale dressing rooms. It wasnt a door to a closet, as I had originally thought, but a service-entrance that opened up to the back parking lot. I leaned over to look outside. There was a dark reddish stain on the asphalt in front of me. My stomach lurched. It was blood. I could tell by the way the rusty salty smell made my head spin. I motioned weakly to the others, but Angela had already come up behind me. She shrieked when she saw the blood over my shoulder. I scanned the parking lot, hoping to catch a clue about what had happened, but I knew even then that it was pointless. Whoever had done this was long gone. We were on the far end of the mall, the side that backed right up against the shipping docks along the bay, and the parking lot was deserted. Not a person in sight. Not a car in sight. It didnt even look as if the employees parked here. It was early evening now, practically twilight. Janet took charge, as Brees mom was clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Janet steered her back to the couch in the dressing room and instructed her to start calling all of Brees friends, before dispatching me and Angela to find a store manager or a mall security guard immediately. The store was a madhouse the rest of the afternoon. A bunch of store clerks who all happened to be out on break at the same time loitered nervously as they folded, refolded, and re-racked clothes. A harried looking middle-aged man in a bad suit, who was the store manager, paced the floor as he answered calls from corporate headquarters. Half a dozen or so security guards and cops were gathered, taking us each in turn to the store managers office to question us about Brees disappearance. I told them everything that I could remember about my two-minute interaction with Bree, except for what happened in the dressing room. What was I going to say? Sir, I think there was a vampire in the dressing room? Right. Like that would work. I could tell that they were hoping that I would say something they could use to peg Bree as a teen runaway. The last thing they

wanted was to add her name to the growing list of serial murder victims, but the pool of blood outside the service door was pretty damning. After an hour or so of questioning and turning over all of our contact info, we were allowed to go home. The three-hour drive back was mostly silent with the three of us lost in our own thoughts. Bree's disappearance made the 10 pm news that night, which Charlie was watching when I got home. He was nearly apoplectic when they showed footage of me, Angela, and Janet being detained in the store as witnesses. I tried to calm him down, but without much success. I was afraid that he was going to ground me for the rest of my life. But I had to admit that I was unnerved by what happened too. One minute she was there and then the next, she was gone. It was like . I didnt want to finish that thought. We watched the evening news together silently. Bree marked the 21st case in the last two months in Seattle. There were 15 murders and 6 victims who had disappeared but were presumed to be murdered. The first disappearance was a guy named Riley Saunders, a senior at UW and the starting quarterback of the football team. The TV station kept flashing up his picture. He was the epitome of the clean-cut boy next door, tall and blonde with a winning smile. He had been a popular guy on campus and the university had put up a substantial reward for any information that would help crack the case. But the others were a motley crew who ranged in age, gender, race, and class. That was what stumped the police, according to the news reporter, since there was no obvious pattern or relationship between the victims, except that all of them were upstanding citizens who had no reason to disappear or run away from their lives. I didnt feel like sleeping just yet and so I sat up in the living room long after Charlie had gone to bed. The whole Bree disappearance had shaken me. Mostly because I couldn't shake off the thought that I had seen something in that dressing room. For a moment, I had thought that it was him. That Edward had come back for me. But the rational side of me told me that it could just as likely have been another vampire. One that was significantly less friendly to humans, like Victoria, for example. I knew that the pack hadnt been able to find any trace of her near Forks in months, but I couldnt understand why she would have given up so suddenly. Unless she somehow found out that Edward and I well that I was no longer important enough to kill. A sharp rap at the window startled me, but I let out a sigh when I saw that it was just Jake checking in as usual before his night patrol. He waved at me with a cheerful grin and I felt myself relax, the way I always did, in his presence. I waved back and walked over to the door to let him in quietly. The minute the door opened, Jake's face froze - his nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed he grabbed my arm tightly and yanked me closer to him. What happened? Where have you been?

Shocked by his reaction, I stammered, I was in Seattle. Dress shopping with Angela and her mother. I told you that ... He didnt seem to hear me at all. Jake what is it? His grip grew tighter as he leaned in so that he could better smell my hair. I froze. There was only one thing that would cause this type of a reaction in him. I looked up, afraid of what I would see, but my worst fears were confirmed by the expression on his face. Vampire ... he ground out. He sniffed again as he continued, It's faint though. You were probably near one without knowing it. What happened today? he asked, not relinquishing his tight grip on my arm. I quietly filled him in on the details. If I thought he had looked angry before, it was nothing to what he looked like now. Jake had gotten really good at controlling the terrible rage that afflicted all the werewolves, but somehow, this controlled tightly-leashed anger within him seemed far more deadly to me than the screaming rip-roaring anger that Quil or Paul were known for. My voice faltered under his intense eyes when I got to the part about the weird dressing room incident. When I finished, Jake let go of my arm and pushed past me into the house. Without saying a word, he grabbed the remote to flick on the television. He turned the volume down so we wouldnt wake Charlie and then flipped through the channels until he found a 24-hour news station that was covering the Seattle Serial Murder story. We watched for about half an hour until they moved on to something else, and then Jake turned off the TV. We sat there in silence for a few more minutes. Jakes head was lowered in thought, his fingers steepled against his chin. I could see the gears churning, but I didn't know what to make of it. Finally, I couldn't stand the silence anymore and I nudged his arm. He raised his head and looked at me expectantly. So what are you thinking? I asked. He sighed. Im not sure what to think, except that maybe Sam and I should go check out the situation in Seattle. We were quiet for a few moments before he asked me, What are you thinking? I did a palms-up. Something the news reporter had said was bothering me, but I couldnt figure out what it was. Then, just a suddenly, a thought flashed into my head. Wait a second.... What? The news report said that Bree was the 21st case in the past few months Right. Fifteen murders. Plus another six who have disappeared but are presumed dead. All in the last two months. Presumed to be a serial murderer. Victims unrelated, Jake briefly recapped.

Don't you think that's odd? For there to be so many bodies that were never found? I said slowly, a terrible realization dawning over me. Jake sat up tensely as he watched my expression change. What are you saying, Bella? Jake turned and put his arms on my shoulder. Then suddenly, as if the same terrible thought had just occurred to him too, his grip tightened so hard that I was sure it would leave bruises. I winced and he let go immediately, but his eyes were harsh in the dim light. Its not just some vampire killing humans. It could be a vampire His voice trailed off. creating new vampires, I finished. Thats would explain why bodies havent been found. There are no bodies left theyre theyre Jake nodded thoughtfully. The violence has been escalating recently. Which would make sense if there are more new vampires in search of blood. Seeing my horrified reaction, he patted me on the shoulder. Dont worry. Sam and I will go check-it out tomorrow. Figure out whats going on. No! I almost shouted. Just the two of you? Its not safe. There were at least 6 disappearances. And those are just the ones that the police know about. Were not going to fight them. Just see whats going on, he cut me off matter-of-factly. But he softened as he continued, Look. Im not stupid. I dont have a death wish. If theyre there. Well know. We dont even have to get close, remember? He tapped his nose. But Don't worry. I just think we need to find out if our suspicious are correct. Even if they are, Im not sure theres much we can do. Seattle is far away. He shrugged apologetically. Sams the Alpha and I know what hes going to say. Our job is to protect the tribe. We cant go out trying to rid the world of vampires. Seeing my horrified face, he amended. Nor would you want us to. Theyre not all bad I mumbled, knowing that we were venturing into dangerous territory with this conversation. We sat in silence for a bit before Jake spoke again, Can I ask you something? Sure, I replied hesitantly. I knew more or less what he was about to ask me. How did you how could you stand being so close to one of them? He flicked his hand as he referred to the Cullens. His voice was low and tense. Weren't you scared that they would ... that they could They're humans. Just like us, I interrupted him. No, they were humans. Not any more.

But that doesn't mean they've lost their humanity. Is that what he told you? No, but they were good people. Really, Jake. Carlisle is over five hundred years old and he's never touched a drop of human blood. And despite the fact that you guys call him Dr. Fang, Jake winced when I said that -hes an amazing doctor. How could he not be a good person? Point taken, Jake acknowledged. But hes an exception. What about the others? You can't tell me that they're as clean as he is. I knew exactly who he was referring to. No, they aren't, I said sadly. But they are trying now. That should be worth something, right? Jake shrugged, but he looked unconvinced. They aren't that different than you and the pack really, I said, the words tumbling out before I could stop them. I saw Jake tense up immediately, his protests ready to spill out, so I continued quickly. They didn't have a choice. They were all turned against their will. And now they're trying to do the best that they can. Jakes brow was knotted with frustration as he tried to find the words to respond. Yes, but sometimes doing your best isn't enough. He could have lost control at any moment and you would have been ... Lunch? I supplied. He rolled his eyes, but chuckled at my lame attempt to lighten the mood. I took the opportunity to lean into him then, craving the comfort and warmth that I had always been able to find in his arms. He smiled as he felt my snuggle in. I could feel the deep reverberations in his chest as he finished laughing. There was a long pause before I continued. Yeah, I guess I could have been. But you could lose it at any moment and the consequences would be about the same, right? Jake's arm around me tightened and he got that weary expression on his face, the one he always had when confronted with the reality that he could hurt me at any time. He nodded curtly without saying anything. It was clear that he didn't want to talk about it anymore and so we sat there, comfortable in our shared silence, until I finally fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Chapter 7: Confrontation
The next day, Jake and Sam took off before dawn. Sam wasnt thrilled about going. He thought that Seattle was too far away for the pack to worry about. In his mind, the packs primary responsibility was to protect the tribe from vampires who came to the area. The fact that vampires existed and killed beyond the borders of reservation was just a fact of life, but Jake was able to convince him that it would be best for the tribe if they at least checked out the situation.

Paul and Jared were left in charge while they were gone, but Jake insisted that Charlie and I spend the day at La Push until he and Sam returned. This was easily achieved when Billy called Charlie to ask if we could come over to help Sue clear out all of Harrys things so that they could be donated to charity. We spent the morning packing and boxing. I tried not to worry too much, but I was secretly glad that Sam was going too. He wouldnt let Jake do anything too rash. I knew it was pointless to worry - if anything happened, the pack here would know instantly because of that mindconnection that Jake once told me about but I couldnt help it. Even though packing and boxing kept me physically busy, my mind was an emotional mess. We finished sorting through all the things shortly after lunchtime. Billy and Charlie kicked back to watch the baseball game in the Clearwaters living room, while Sue kept them company as she knit. I didnt know what to do with myself. Neither Seth nor Leah were home. Not that it would have mattered much if they were. Leah was not exactly friendly with me, or with anyone else for that matter, but Seth was a nice kid. He reminded me a lot of a younger Jake - he had the same easy-going confidence and good-natured warmth which made it easy to hang out with him. The sky outside was overcast. It was the perfect afternoon to curl up with a book. I had forgotten to bring one with me so Sue suggested that I grab one of Leahs. I headed to the other side of the house where Leahs room was. I was right in front of her bedroom when the side door at the end of the hall, which opened to the driveway, opened and Leah tip-toed in silently. She was barefoot and wearing a pair of ragged denim cut-offs and a faded brown tank-top. I hadnt seen her since her fathers funeral over two months ago and my jaw almost dropped at how different she looked now. It wasnt just her outfit, which was a far cry from her usual style, but her face was make-up free and it looked grimy, as if she had been rolling in the dirt. Her shinning silky black hair, which I had never seen anything but perfectly blown-out, had been cropped short and was frizzing slightly from the humidity. Her face had changed too it was still model beautiful with the high cheekbones, a delicate nose, and almond-shaped eyes that tilted up slightly at the edges giving her otherwise pixie-ish face an exotic other-wordly look to it but she had lost the softly rounded features of girlhood and matured into a stunning woman. All in less than two months. Leah started when she saw me standing in the hallway. Then she rolled her eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh before she spoke. Great. Its you. Just what I need right now. Stunned and unsure of how to respond, I stood frozen in my spot in the hallway as I watched her slip past me into her bedroom. The room looked pretty much like my own room bed, dresser, desk, small closet decorated predominantly in various shades of blue. No pink in sight except for the fragrances and scented body lotions scattered across the top of the dresser. The bottles looked dusty though, as if Leah hadnt touched them in a while. She started rummaging through

her drawers, pulling out a pair of skinny jeans and a black graphic t-shirt of some indie rock band that I wasnt familiar with. Suddenly, Leah looked up at the door and saw me still hesitating awkwardly in the hallway. What? she snapped at me, her eyes narrowed with annoyance and something else that I couldnt exactly put my finger on. Nothing, I stammered, flinching from the waves of hostility that I could feel rolling off of her. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay Leah snorted as she gave me a non-too-subtle once-over. I guess lover-boy didnt tell you, huh? What? Now it was my turn to snap at her. Hearing Jake described as lover-boy was just weird. Almost as weird as hearing that he had been keeping something from me. Shocker, Leah muttered as she shook her head in mock dismay. They pretend to be men, but theyre just a bunch of overgrown frat boys. What are you talking about, Leah? Her attitude was rubbing off on me. I didnt know what it was, but Leah seemed to have the ability to rub everyone the wrong way. Im talking about the latest addition to the pack, she said with a sardonic smile. Then her face contorted, taking on a pained defiant expression, as she muttered darkly, The second latest addition. What are you talking about, Leah? I asked again as I cast around trying to think of the names of the other guys around Jakes age that I knew of. I looked down for a moment and thats when I noticed the black cord that was dangling loosely off of Leahs slim right ankle. My eyes flew to her face. She met my gaze evenly with a condescending smirk on her face. It couldnt be. I took in the ratty cut-offs and tank-top, the female equivalent of Jakes uniform these days, the closely cropped hair and most damning of all, the faint hazy sheen of energy that seemed to shimmer just above the surface of her skin, lending her lean but well-muscled arms and legs a glow that no amount of self-tanner could accomplish. I felt my jaw drop. Yeah, tell me about it, Leah said with another eye-roll as she turned back to fumbling through her dresser. But but youre a girl! I finally managed to say. She cut her eyes to me then. Your point being?

I didnt know that it happened to girls, thats all, I replied lamely. I mean, its not that I didnt think that girls were every bit as capable. It was just that the pack was so so macho and testosteroney (for the lack of a better word) that it just didnt occur to me that it could happen. Yeah, none of us did either. It was a bit of a nasty surprise, trust me, Leah replied curtly. The girl clearly had a big chip on her shoulder. She had never been the friendliest person to begin with - in all the time that I had spent at La Push the past year, we had barely spoken more than handful of times but her voice had acquired a new biting sardonic edge to it that automatically put me on the defensive. So youre the first girl First and only. Billy thinks that all the vamps trolling the area caused the gene to trigger in all descendents of the original pack. Im the only girl lucky enough to qualify. Leah paused then from fumbling through her drawers to look at me with a thoughtful expression on her face. I guess I have you to thank for all this, she finally said. My eyes widened. From what I can tell, youre the one drawing all the vamps here. Otherwise, we wouldnt need a pack this large. I blanched. She was right. Leah, Im sorry, I stumbled over my words. I didnt mean to hurt you I didnt know Yeah yeah, she waved me off as she turned her attention back to her dresser. With a sigh, she slammed the drawer back in place. She seemed to give up on her search because she started to pull her tank-top over her head. She looked at me pointedly, Do you mind? Oh yeah, I muttered as I turned my back to her while she changed. Not having to look her in the eye gave me some courage to try again. Listen, Leah. I really had no idea. Jake didnt say anything. Im not surprised. I dont know who was more freaked out, me or the guys. They never thought that theyd have a girl crashing their little macho pack. And if they did, I was the last girl they would have wanted. I heard her fumbling around again. Im done, she remarked casually. What do you mean? I asked as I turned around. Even though she was dressed in her normal Leah clothes now, she still looked different. She had that look that all the wolves had the almost arrogant swagger in how they carried themselves - which exuded confidence, strength, and vitality. Leah gave me a long look before responding. I guess lover-boy does keep his lips zipped about some things, huh? What are you talking about, Leah? I demanded, feeling my frustration beginning to rise. She crossed the hall into the bathroom and washed her face before she answered me. Im talking about how Im Sams ex-girlfriend? The one he dated all throughout high school? The one he dumped for Emily?

My face fell. I had forgotten about that. Charlie had mentioned it to me a long ago, but Jake had never said anything. Plus, Sam and Emily seemed so perfect together that it was hard to remember that Sam might actually have had a past. Suddenly, everything about Leah started to make more sense. Leahs lips quirked as she took in my reaction. She started deftly applying some mascara as she continued, Not to mention the fact that I can be a bit of a bitch at times. I almost choked with laughter, but stopped when Leah raised her right eyebrow at me in the mirror. I know what I am. And I know what Im not. And Im not the kinda girl who wants to be hanging around her ex-boyfriend forced to hear his every thought and follow his every command. There was no mistaking the bitter edge to her voice now. I realized that Leahs chip on the shoulder was actually a heavy layer of armor. Armor designed to protect her from the pain of having lost Sam, and now finding herself stuck inside his head and back in his life again. I swallowed. I could only imagine how tough that would be. Dont look so sad. Ill deal, Leah commented as she finished her makeup with an appraising look at herself in the mirror. Then she flipped off the light and turned to me. But what about you? What are you planning to do? What do you mean? I asked, shrinking back now that she was directly facing me again. She cut such an imposing figure that I forgot that she wasnt actually that much taller than me. But she was stronger than me, by a lot, there was no mistaking that. Leah raised her right eyebrow. About lover-boy? What are you going to do about him? I wish you would stop calling him that, I retorted testily. Leah chuckled. Feisty, huh? And here I thought you were this timid little mouse. Glad to see theres some fire in you. Seeing that I still looked confused and annoyed, she gave a big sigh and leaned against the frame of the bathroom door with her arms crossed. Look. Im tired of watching you yank his chain around. Do you want him or not? Make a damn decision. If you dont want him, cut the boy lose. Its getting old already. I just stared at her. I couldnt even begin to process a reply to that. She frowned. I figured it would be like this. Look. Im pretty sure Im speaking for the pack when I say that were sick and tired of hearing all of Jakes thoughts about you. Hes a good guy. Not like the others, her frown darkened then. And I want you to treat him right. Make a move. Or get a move on it. But I dont know what I want, I sputtered finally after I got over the shock.

Thats a lie. We all know what we want deep down. Its just a question of whether or not were willing to risk it, she said matter-of-factly. Look, its no skin of my nose. Im just saying that its getting old listening to him mooning over you. I flushed then but didnt protest. I knew there was no point. Fine, she said as she pushed past me and went back into her room. She grabbed a jacket and a purse from the closet. Its smarter this way. I wouldnt get involved either. No matter what he promises now, he wont be able to keep it. Its not in their nature. What are you talking about, Leah? I felt like that was the question of the day. I didnt know how many times I had asked her that, only to feel my head spinning even more at her response. Lover-boy really is keeping it close the vest, huh? She smirked as she pushed past me to head back down the hall to the side door. Im talking about imprinting. Thats how I lost Sam. You should ask Jake about it. Leah paused to tug on her shoes. My mind was now swimming in overdrive with all the emotions that Leah had stirred up, but there was something she had said earlier that struck me. Wait! I exclaimed. You said before that you were the second latest addition to the pack. Whos the latest? Leahs head flashed up and if looks could kill, well, Id have been dead by now. She stormed down the hallway in a few fluid steps, stopping with her face just inches from mine. My baby brother, she responded angrily, her eyes practically burning me with their red-hot intensity and rage. Thats why hes not here. He only phased a few days ago. My heart fell. Seth Clearwater. Gangly little Seth who was only 15. He was too young for this. They all were. Leah scoffed at the expression on my face. At least you can show some remorse for what you did. I didnt do anything I protested weakly. No? Leahs voice was as icy cold as her eyes were blazing hot. You mean that were trying to track down some red-haired leech because weve got nothing else to do with our time? She was right. I knew she was right. My eyes smarted with frustration, anger, helplessness. She rolled her eyes. Pathetic. Youre lucky I promised Sam and Jake that I would be nice to you. She paused and waited for me to look her in the eye before she continued. But hear this - if anything happens to my baby brother because of this half-cocked scheme to save your puny ass, youll answer to me.

I nodded mutely. She gave me a hard look before turning on her heel. Tell my mom Ill be back late, she called over her shoulder as she slipped out the door, leaving me standing alone again in the hallway.

Chapter 8: Rain
I stumbled back into the living room and gave Sue the message from Leah. I must have looked as confused as I felt, because she gave me a concerned look and asked me if I was okay. I nodded my head quickly when I saw Charlie and Billy both look up from the game in alarm. I told them that I just wanted to get some fresh air before dinner. I mean, what the heck was I supposed to say? That Sues daughter had just threatened me? That I was confused about what I wanted to do about Billys son? I headed out the door and blindly turned left from the driveway. Dark clouds were rolling in overhead and I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. A storm was coming in and it was coming in fast, but I didnt care. I needed space to think. To figure out what I wanted to do with the tangled emotions that Leah had stirred up inside me. I wished I could pretend that what was getting me worked up was the knowledge that Seth and Leah had joined the pack. Or the fact that I had put them all in danger because of Victoria. But the only thoughts that were ping-ponging around inside my head had to do with what Leah had said about Jake. About me and Jake. Or rather, about the fact that me and Jake didnt technically exist yet. Her throwaway comment annoyed me - that we all knew what we wanted, it was just a question of whether or not we wanted to risk it because I knew deep-down that she was right. I was scared about opening myself up again, because I knew first-hand the kind of pain that being in love could bring if things didnt work out. And the fact that the guy in question was Jake just made it a thousand times scarier. I couldnt imagine how I could have survived the last few months without him and I definitely didnt want to think about having to. Thunder rumbled loudly overhead and then, as if on cue, the rain arrived too, coming down in heavy icy cold sheets despite the fact that it was June. I could see Jakes red house through the trees just up the street. It took me a few minutes to make it down their long driveway, so I was completely soaked by the time I reached the cover of their front porch. I tried the doorknob, knowing that they left it unlocked most of the time, and let myself into the empty house. I stood awkwardly in the living room. I knew that neither Billy nor Jake would mind my being there given the circumstances, but it still felt strange to be in someone elses house when they werent there themselves. Noticing that a puddle of water had pooled around my feet, I took off my shoes and tip-toed to Jakes room to look for something dry to change into. Jackpot. There was a faded blue t-shirt folded neatly on his bed. I took it with me into the bathroom and hastily stripped off my wet clothes. The blue t-shirt, despite being freshly laundered, still smelled like Jake woodsy, musky, and much too alluring. When I pulled it over my head, I was barely able to focus as his scent seemed to swell around me. My knees went soft

as a rush of heat flooded through me leaving me momentarily dazed. Maybe this wasnt such a good idea. Get a grip, I told myself. Jake was attractive. Alright, he was hot. I had always known that though it was only recently that I had begun appreciating it. But letting that newfound appreciation confuse me right now was just going to make things more complicated. And I didnt need more complication right now. Forcing my mind back to the task at hand, I shook the excess water from my wet clothes before placing them carefully on the shower rod to drip dry. I was about to head out of the bathroom when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Jakes blue shirt was absurdly big on me. It made me look like a little girl playing dress-up. I frowned as I examined myself critically in the mirror. My skin was always so noticeably pale against my dark hair, but at least both features were both good independently - my skin was clear and got some color during the summer months and my hair was thick with a slight wave, which allowed me to just wash and go most days. The rest of my features were pretty non-descript though a straight nose and brown eyes that had neither Edwards mesmerizing golden-toffee hue or Jakes smoldering dark gaze - I was really just the average girl next door. Nothing too amazing. Unlike the men I seemed to be attracted to. With a sigh, I flicked off the light and stepped back into the hall. The rain was still coming down hard. I could hear it pounding against the roof of the house. I stood in the hallway, trying to decide where to go, before heading into Jakes room. It used to be his sisters room*, which explained the mauve-colored walls and the double twin beds, but the rest of the room was all Jake. Minimalist to the point of bare. His clothes barely took up half of the closet. His bookshelves were mostly filled with his sisters old books I chuckled when I saw a few Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte books there it was weird seeing them in his room. The handful of books that actually belonged to him were propped up against his deck. I flipped through them absentmindedly. A few books on cars, a few more on working out, a couple of paperback mysteries, and a book about college scholarships and financial aid. I grinned as I pulled out one of the paperback mysteries. It was actually one of my books that I had leant to him months ago. I flipped it open wondering if he had read it. Probably not. He had enough going on as it was. I sat down on the bed since it looked far more comfortable than the chair at his desk. I unconsciously straightened out the patched blue cotton comforter and the two matching pillows that were scattered across the unmade bed. The room felt cold to me and the thought of curling up in bed was just too darn tempting. Oh to hell with it. I slipped under the covers and felt another surge of warmth trickling through my limbs as I snuggled into the sheets that smelled just like him. This was almost as good as getting a hug from him. Almost.

I grabbed one of the paperback mysteries that I hadnt read and started thumbing through it, but it was no use. After half an hour, I realized that even though I had made it through the first few chapters, I couldnt remember anything that had happened. With a frustrated sigh, I let the book slide to the floor. I stretched lazily as I let my mind wander. Graduation was coming up next week. It seemed hard to believe that my last year of high school had gone by so quickly. And yet in some ways, September when I celebrated my 18th birthday with the Cullens - felt like a lifetime ago. Since then, I had survived Edward leaving, not one but two attacks by blood-thirsty vampires (Jasper and Laurent), a pseudo-attack by an angry werewolf (ahem Paul!), my own attempts to learn how to ride a motorcycle without killing myself, a mental mishap that caused me to do crazy stupid things for the sake of lost love including a botched attempt at cliff-diving, late college applications that luckily came through, and now this. As if the Jake situation werent complicated enough, I had a big decision looming overhead. I had until the end of June to decide if and where I was going to college. I had been putting off thinking about this for as long as possible. I didnt even bother to celebrate when I got my University of Washington and Washington State acceptances a few weeks ago. I was grateful because I had literally gotten my applications in on the last possible day for the last round of admissions but I had pushed any thinking about this aside as I wasnt quite ready to make decisions about the future. I had spent too long mired in the past that I just wanted to enjoy the present, but worries about the future kept creeping up on me. Not that there really was much of a decision. UW was in Seattle and closer to Forks. WSU was across the state. Both had given me about the same amount of financial aid and I could swing the rest with the college fund that Charlie and Renee had set up for me. So it was a done deal really. Plus Angela and Ben were going to UW too, so it would be nice to know people at school. But somehow, I couldnt pull the trigger and send out my acceptance letter. Instead, I had shoved the entire acceptance packet underneath my bed and hadnt looked at it since. Jake wondered, but didnt pry. I guess he didnt want to think about it much too. I mean, in two months, Id be moving to Seattle. Three hours away. A big city. And Jake would still be here. In high school. Still responsible for protecting the tribe. I had a hard time imagining what that would be like. Would my new-found peace of mind and sensibility desert me if I wasnt around him as much? I shuddered at the thought. Of course, there was always the possibility that I didnt go to college. I could postpone for a year. I think Charlie or Renee might have had an aneurysm if I said I wasnt planning on going ever, but deferring for a year posed its own set of problems. What would I do? Live with Charlie? Work at the sporting goods store? See Jake whenever he had free time from the pack? What would I accomplish by waiting around for another year? And so I guess I was still stuck, unable to move forward and yet unwilling to stay here. And now this Seattle vampire situation was only adding more drama to the mix. I heard the roar of a bike coming up the street just then. I felt my shoulders slump with relief, all the tension draining out, as I registered the sound of Jake pulling into the driveway. Nothing had

happened to him and Sam while they were in Seattle. I hadnt realized how heavily that fear had been weighing on me until they returned. I was so caught up with my relief that I barely remembered that I was curled up in Jakes bed wearing just a t-shirt. I threw off the covers and dashed to the bathroom to grab my still damp clothes. But he was too quick. I was in the hallway, clothes in hand, when the back door opened and Jake stepped in. He looked tense. His eyes were stormy and his mouth was set in a grim line, but then he saw me. The corners of his mouth began to curve up, first in surprise and then in amusement, as he took in the situation. I could almost see him shaking with silent laughter. I knew I probably looked a mess. I was still in his rumpled t-shirt that was at least two times too big for me and the humidity had caused my hair to turn into a wild frizzy bushy mess. I frowned, ready to give him grief for what I was sure to be some snappy remark about how I looked like a drowned cat, when his eyes dropped to the t-shirt that I was wearing. His t-shirt I should say. His eyes widened as they continued to sweep downward, lingering at where the tshirt ended mid-thigh on me. And then, all traces of amusement disappeared from his face. In its place was a look that sent a searing burst of heat through my body, making my fingers tingle and my mind go blank. Bella? His voice was unsteady as he looked up to catch my eye. Youre back, I responded equally unsteadily. I looked down. I had to. It was too un-nerving. It was like my brain had stopped functioning. All I could think about was the fact that I suddenly felt more alive than I had every felt before. Then I remembered what it was that he had been trying to do today and it shook me out of my daze like a cold hard slap to the face. So youre okay? Nothing happened? Did you see anything? He blinked a few times as if he were pulling himself out of a daze too. He shook his head slightly and then, as if my questions had triggered a reset button in his brain he was Jake, the responsible Beta-wolf again, tense, frustrated, and very worried about how I would react to his news. Jake came over to me, his bare feet not making a sound against the hardwood floors. He took my arm and steered me into his room. My skin started to crawl as I wondered how bad the news could be for him to act this way. He stumbled slightly when he took in the rumpled sheets on his bed, evidence of my having spent the better part of the afternoon snuggled in them, but he didnt say anything. I saw the determined look of forced concentration on his face. This Jake was allbusiness and he wasnt going to let anything distract him from it. I perched myself on the edge of the bed, primly pulling the edge of the t-shirt to cover my knees, and waited. When it was clear that he wasnt going to start first, I jumped in. What is it, Jake? He stood in front of me with his arms crossed and took a deep breath. I dont know how to say this, but we smelled Victorias scent in Seattle.

I felt a sickening pit in my stomach open up. When the pack hadnt caught sight of her in months, I had secretly hoped that she had given up. That she had realized that I was no longer important to Edward. That she was wasting her time by hunting me. But I had never truly believed it. I had been living the past few months on borrowed time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it looks like it just did. Jake gazed as me steadily as he continued. We also smelled a few other vampires. We couldnt figure out how many we didnt want to get too close but from the intensity of the scent, maybe 3 or 4 others close to the area by the mall you went to. I thought there might have been more elsewhere in the city, but Sam wouldnt let me venture further after we caught Victorias scent. I nodded. The sickening pit had now grown into a gaping hole. I could barely stop myself from shivering in fear. Victoria was back. And she had others with her. What did this mean? Were not sure what her plans are, Jake continued, as if he had read my mind. Sam thinks that shes just starting over. You know, creating some new vamps to replace her mate and the one we killed. He thinks its a sign that shes over what the Cullens did. He doesnt think shell bother to come back now that shes got a new family. But you dont agree, I deduced from Jakes tone. He shrugged. I dont know. Something doesnt feel right about it. I nodded. I agreed with Jake, but the alternatives to Sams theory were too horrifying to discuss out loud. But I couldnt stop imagining them. My brain was overwhelmed by memories of Victoria, Laurent, and James the fear of what they were individually and of what they had been like as a group cruel, ruthless, and exceptionally dangerous. I relived the memory of James attack, something I hadnt done in ages, and I shuddered helplessly as I thought about Victoria creating a new and perhaps improved version of him. Jake sat down on the bed next to me as he continued gently, The pack is assembling here in a few minutes to discuss. I wanted to give you a heads-up. I didnt want you hearing the news for the first time in front of everyone. His warm strong arms came around me then, as I knew they would, and I felt some semblance of sanity come over me again. Suddenly, nothing seemed impossible. We could figure something out. I forced myself to calm down and get a grip. I had to stop behaving like a child. Jake had enough stuff to worry about, without thinking that I might go to pieces again at the thought that Victoria might be back. Why arent you at the Clearwaters? Jake asked once I seemed to be breathing normally again. Oh Leah um gave me an earful.

I felt Jake flinch. Sorry I forgot to tell you about her his voice trailed off awkwardly. It was a bit of a shock when it happened. Ill say. Seth too, I hear. Yeah, that only happened a few days ago. And two more are coming up. Sam told me that Collin and Brady looked like they were close, even though theyre just 14. Now it was my turn to flinch. Two more young boys who were going to risk their lives for me. I let out a deep sigh and Jake gave me a squeeze to let me know he understood how I felt. He turned his head to the window suddenly, his supersonic wolf senses picking something up in the distance. The guys are almost here, he said as he stood up quickly. And Leah too, he added guiltily. I felt a surge of sympathy for Leah. I knew Jake was trying harder than the others guys, but even he was tripped up over having her in the pack. Yeah, I guess I should I gestured to the t-shirt that I was wearing. Yeah, yeah, Jake grinned as he headed towards the door to leave me alone to change. I wouldnt want them to get the wrong idea. You know how Quil is. Jake laughed then. A rich rumbling sound from deep within his chest. Yeah, I know. He paused as he stepped over the threshold. Then he turned to look me, all traces of amusement had been wiped from his face, and his eyes looked stormy again. Are you sure its the wrong idea? I flushed, but my voice was surprisingly steady when I responded. No, Im not. He nodded and turned to head out of the room, but not before I could see his whole face light up with a wolfish grin.

Chapter 9: Meeting
Most of the pack had already assembled in Jakes living room by the time I slipped out of the bedroom. I had tried to straighten up a little smoothing down my bed head and crinkled clothes - but there wasnt a mirror in Jakes bedroom so I didnt know how successful I had been. Probably not that successful if Quils smirk had anything to do with it. He gave me a friendly if somewhat cheeky - grin as I entered the room, while at the same time giving Embry a not-at-all subtle jab to the ribs. I chuckled to myself. It was hard not to be amused by Quils antics. He was just such a guy about things. It was nice to see that the werewolf stuff hadnt put a cramp in his style so to speak. Though it was probably a good thing that Jake hadnt seen it he was in the kitchen helping Emily unload the food that she had brought over - otherwise, he and Quil would have gotten into it for sure.

I stood awkwardly at the entrance to the living room, unsure of where to place myself since Jake wasnt in the room. Without his reassuring presence, I suddenly felt like a party-crasher. And it wasnt just because I was about to attend my first ever tribe meeting. I just never quite realized how much I depended on Jakes solid presence next to me, making me feel like I belonged no matter where we were. Quil and Embry were leaning against the table on the far side of the room. Jared and Paul were sprawled on the floor next to them, deep in discussion as they gestured wildly with their hands. Leah sat in the corner chair, keeping herself slightly distanced from the rest of the pack. Based on the cast of her mouth, it looked like this impromptu pack meeting had cut short her evening plans and she wasnt happy about it. She hadnt missed my entrance either. She took in my rumpled state with a raised eyebrow. I flushed and looked away as the corners of her mouth began to tug up into an amused smile. I wasnt sure if I was ready to deal with another round with Leah just yet. Sitting in the middle of the room on the blue faded couch was an old man that I had never met, but recognized by sight as Quils grandfather, a.k.a. Old Quil. He was a frail looking man, with his thinning white hair, leathery skin, and slight frame, but one look at his eyes told me that he was as mentally sharp as ever.. Sitting next to him in his wheelchair was Billy. I wondered suddenly what had happened to Charlie and how Billy had managed to get him to leave so they could have this meeting. Billy looked up as if he had heard my thoughts. He smiled fondly at me, but there was a noticeable strain in his usually warm smile. I wondered if he was beginning to regret my being a part of Jakes life. He noticed me standing awkwardly at the doorway so he waved me into the room. Charlie took Sue to run a bunch of errands and then theyre going to drop off the boxes at the Salvation Army in Hoquaim. Theyll be back in about an hour. I nodded and was about to find a place to perch along the edge of the room, when old Quil spoke suddenly. So this is the girl causing us so much trouble. I froze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leah sit up straight, her mouth twisting in a wry smile as she waited for my response. Quil and Embry were both looking at the floor awkwardly, unable to meet my eye. Jared and Paul hadnt heard Old Quil so they continued talking away loudly about some upcoming baseball game until Quil gave Paul a swift kick with his foot. Hey man! Paul protested before realizing that the whole room was silent around him. He ducked his head and shot Quil a questioning look. Quil just shrugged and inclined his head towards me. Paul looked over his shoulder at me and rolled his eyes, but he had the sense to keep his mouth shut. Yes, I guess thats me, I replied weakly after too much silence had passed.

Old Quil looked at me intently then. His expression was stern but thoughtful and his deep-set brown eyes radiated the wisdom gained from a long tough life. I had to remind myself not to cower under his stare. I had nothing to be ashamed of. At least I didnt think I did. I didnt want to put the pack in danger. I didnt want Victoria to be hunting me. It wasnt my fault no matter what Leah had said. A niggling little voice deep inside reminded me that none of this would have happened if I hadnt been with Edward, but I just shoved that thought away. I couldnt think about that. Not now. Just when I felt the tension around me straining to a breaking point, old Quil cracked a wide smile. I guess theres no point in living without some trouble to spice things up. I hadnt realized I was holding my breath until it whooshed out of me in a heady sense of relief. Old Quils smile softened and he patted the space on the couch next to him. I sat down gingerly, unsure of what we would have to talk about, but he just patted my hand and turned to Billy again to resume their conversation in Quilleute. Just then, the door opened, and Sam and Seth came in. They both had clearly just phased back into their human form, because their skin had that strange reddish glow that was more noticeable when they had just phased. Plus, they looked dirty and disheveled, with faint mud and grass stains across their bare chests. Seth even had a few leaves stuck in his hair. The rest of the pack jumped up and surrounded Seth high-fiving him and each other in a flurry of macho activity. I realized that this was probably the first time that Seth had phased back into human form since he had become part of the pack. Even though I knew that all the guys would hit a growth spurt to coincide with the phasing, it still shocked me to see little Seth Clearwater standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other guys. Though it was clear that he still had some growing to do as his shoulders and arms had yet to fill in, giving him a gangly uncoordinated appearance. Leah held back until the guys finished their male bonding routine and then she made her way over to her little brother with a softness on her face that I had never seen before. She examined him critically from head to toe and seemed satisfied when she didnt see any overt injuries. She leaned up to pluck the leaves out of his hair, but Seth turned beet red and swatted her hand away as he pulled at his hair, trying to straighten himself out. Leah flushed slightly in return but didnt say anything. Satisfied with her inspection, she returned to her seat, leaving the rest of the guys to stand around to continue their testosterone-fueled back-slapping and guffawing over Pauls jokes. Sam came into the living room and greeted both Billy and Old Quil with a ritualistic looking handshake and a half-bow. He nodded to me with a grave smile and then headed towards the kitchen to find Emily, who must have been cooking dinner based on the delicious smells wafting into the room. A few seconds later, both Sam and Jake returned. Jake raised an eyebrow when he saw me sitting next to Old Quil, but he didnt say anything. Alright, lets start, Sam said, looking pointedly at the guys who were still chatting and goofing off. They immediately turned to take their seats, but not before Paul did a funny imitation of

Sams alpha stance when his back was turned. The rest of the guys muffled their chuckles and Quil winked at me as he walked to his seat. Old Quil cleared his throat with frown at Paul. This time, all the guys piped down immediately. So tell us, Sam. What happened today? he asked, mincing no words as he jumped right to the heart of the matter. We scoped out the area that Bella described and we did detect the scent of a few cold ones. There was one fresh scent, the scent that Jake smelled on Bella yesterday, and a few other scents that were too old and faded for us to distinguish how many vampires they represent. But the one thing we could tell was that the scent of the red-head was mixed in among the scents. Sam paused. The rest of the pack had already heard this news through their mind-sharing, so the only people who were surprised were Billy, Old Quil, and Emily, who was leaning against the doorframe where she could keep an eye on the timer in the kitchen. I saw fear flit through her eyes before she composed herself. Old Quil tensed up next to me as he inclined his head to indicate that Sam should continue. Based on the mix of the scents, I would guess that there may be 2-3 others in addition to the red-head. Jake stiffened beside Sam. It was clear from the look on his face that he disagreed, but wouldnt or perhaps couldnt say anything to contradict Sam. Sam sighed before he continued. Of course, we cant be sure of the number. The scents were too degraded for us to really know. If we hadnt been chasing the red-head for so long, Im not sure we would have been able to distinguish her scent among the others. Old Quil raised a grizzly eyebrow and turned to Billy, who was nodding as he processed Sams report. When Billy spoke, his voice was somber and his eyes were grave. What do you propose, Sam? I dont believe that they pose an immediate threat to the tribe. The red-head seems to have created a new family for herself. New companions. She hasnt been seen around here in months. I think that shes decided to move on with her life. Shes no longer tracking Bella- he inclined his head in my direction but didnt look at me, -in vengeance for her old family. Shes moved on. Jacob had been pacing silently next to Sam, practically vibrating with the force of holding his comments in check. Sam continued, This doesnt change anything. We will still run border patrols to protect to the tribe. If we find evidence that she may think about returning with her new family, then we can reassess the situation. But for now, I dont think we have anything to worry about. For a moment, Sams deep measured baritone lulled me into a sense of security. But then I remembered that it was Victoria that he was talking about. Out of the corner of my eye, I could

see some disagreement among the rest of the pack. Jared, ever loyal to Sam, and Paul, who just did whatever Jared did, were clearly on Sams side. Quil and Embry looked skeptical - Jake must have explained his thoughts to them earlier. Seth looked dazed and confused, as if he were still processing the fact that his life had changed forever. Only Leahs face remained impassive and unreadable. Old Quil nodded as Sam finished saying his piece, and then he turned his towards Jake, who at this point, was barely restraining himself from saying something. Jake? You have something to say? Yes, I do. No disrespect intended. Jakes words tumbled out like a flood. He turned to acknowledge Sam, but Sam just nodded for him to continue. We dont know exactly how many are in this new family of hers. The scent was too degraded. It could have been 3 vampires 3 days ago or 30 vampires 30 days ago. Its lucky that we were able to even detect her scent. There could be others hidden somewhere else in the city. Its not as if we searched every corner. Sam frowned at this point. Jake continued hastily, All Im saying is that it seems unlikely that she would give up. She spent months tracking Bella. Why stop now? She stopped cause we scared her sh*tless! Paul guffawed loudly, as he and Jared gave each other a loud high-five. Old Quil raised his eyebrows and Paul shut up immediately, looking down as his feet with a flushed face. He does have a point, Embry pointed out thoughtfully. Sam and Jake scoped out the waterfront area. We know that vampires can swim well and that being in water masks their scent. How do we know how many vampires there are exactly in Seattle? True, Sam conceded. But how many vampires there are in Seattle doesnt concern us. Who knows how many of their kind exists out in the world? Until they come to this area and pose a threat to our people, theyre not our business. But they could be our business, Jake insisted. Seattle is not that far away. What if they decide to come here? Seattle is far enough. And if they will leave us alone, then we will leave them alone. We cant become vigilantes so far away from our land. Sam gestured towards the rest of the pack, There are 8 of us now. Two more once Collin and Brady turn. If they come here, we should be able to take them. What if there are more than we think? Jake asked pointedly. What if there are 10? 20? Everyone in the room gasped slightly at the thought. What if were out-numbered? Shouldnt we go pick off some of them first to try to even the numbers? No. I dont want to pick a fight with them. What if they had no intention of coming back? If we attack, theyll definitely seek revenge. We cant risk that, Sam countered.

It felt like we were watching a verbal tennis match. Every head in the room swiveled back and forth between the two of them as they argued, but no matter how heated Jakes words were, it was clear that there was a tremendous amount of respect between them. Does anyone else have thoughts? Billy asked suddenly, turning his eyes to the rest of the pack. Quil shrugged. Embry shook his head. Paul smirked it looked like he had plenty to say but it probably wasnt appropriate to be said here. Only Jared responded, I agree entirely with Sam. While I understand where Jake is coming from- he acknowledged with a nod in a direction, hes forgetting that our one and only responsibility is to protect the tribe. Were protectors. We defend against attackers. We dont attack ourselves. And we dont seek them out. Billy looked at Jake thoughtfully. Their argument is pretty compelling. None of us want to provoke a battle for no reason. It was pretty clear that almost everyone in the room was on Sams side. Jakes eyes were stormy with frustration, but his voice was steady as he responded. Okay, but can we at least run double patrols for the next month just in case? And maybe Sam and I can head to Seattle again in a few weeks just to keep tabs on the situation? Sam shook his dead. Double patrols stretch us pretty thin, Jake. You know that. The guys are exhausted already. Speak for yourself, I heard Paul mutter under his breath before Jared smacked him on the side of his head. Jake pressed on, We dont have a choice Sam. I just dont believe that shes given up. And I dont want us to be caught unawares. We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. And how do you propose that we do that? Leah stood up suddenly from her chair as she sauntered over casually to where Sam and Jake were standing. Huh? So say worst-case, Victoria has 20 vamps with her. And they decide one day to come and kill us all. What chance do we stand? Even if we had double-patrols going, we wont know that theyre coming until they arrive at our borders! Leahs words were like a Molotov cocktail. The entire room burst into a cacophony of arguments. From Paul, calling Leah some un-nice names, to Jared, protesting that Leah was underestimating the pack, to Quil and Embry, who had started arguing amongst themselves about Leahs remarks, the chatter around me was deafening. Silence! Old Quil shouted over the clamor. The boys quieted immediately. What do you propose, Leah? My point is that we cant do anything except just continue what weve always done. Going to pick a fight would be stupid. Running ourselves ragged just in case of a worst-case attack is equally stupid. It wouldnt give us an advantage and it would just exhaust us before the fight

even began. We should just do what weve always done run patrol on the boundaries, train for battle, plan for what we would do in case an attack happens, and then just hope for the best, she finished with a dismissive wave at the room. The room fell silent as they processed her words. Finally, Billy spoke, Jake? What do you think? She has a point, Jake acknowledged, his voice steady despite the frustration written all over his face. He could tell that he was on the end of a losing battle. I was probably the only one in the room who agreed with him that there was no way Victoria had given up on all of this. Sam? old Quil prompted. Of course, Sam said as he turned towards Leah with a warm smile and gave her a courtly halfbow. Leahs right. As she always is. Even though he meant it as a compliment, the interaction between the two former lovers was awkward at best. Leahs chin came up a notch and a flash of annoyance flickered through her dark eyes, but she didnt say anything. Okay, so then were agreed, Old Quil pronounced, bringing our attention back to the point at hand. We continue our work as planned. And we reconvene if we obtain new information. Jake looked like he wanted to protest. His mouth was half-open, but Billy caught his eye and gave him a subtle shake of the head. Jake sighed deeply, but closed his mouth, his entire face darkened as he looked towards his feet. Emily seized the opportunity to break up the tension and announced that dinner was ready. The rest of the guys were up and out of their seats immediately, crowding into the tiny kitchen. Sam pushed Billys wheelchair into the kitchen followed closely by old Quil. Leah slipped out the door without acknowledging anyone. In five minutes, everyone and everything had returned to normal, as if the tribal meeting that had just ended hadnt spelled out the potential end of the Quileute pack. The only two left in the room were me and Jake. Jake was still standing in the middle of the room staring out the window. Even from here, I could tell that his eyes were dark and stormy, fixed at a distant point in misty forest as he mulled through his thoughts. When he felt my eyes on him, he turned and fixed his piercing gaze at me. He raised an eyebrow in question. I just shrugged. I didnt know what more there was to say. If no one else believed us, at least he and I were on the same page. Wed figure something out. Jake seemed to understand. He dropped the grim expression and gave me a wide grin instead. I flushed when I realized that his eyes were raking over me, taking in the rumpled bedhead and clothes that hadnt fooled Quil earlier either. I rolled my eyes as I pushed past him towards the food. He chuckled. And with that, we joined the rest of the pack and also forgot for a moment about the danger that was unfolding around us.

Chapter 10: Talk

Charlie and Sue returned from Hoquaim while we were eating dinner. I guess Billy had filled Sue in about the whole werewolf thing, because she was so overwhelmed at seeing Seth back in human form that she almost let the wolf out of the bag in front of Charlie. Poor Charlie. He was the only one in the room that had no idea about the supernatural world that had taken over Forks. Though technically, the supernatural stuff predated the founding of Forks by hundreds of years, but either way it was probably a good thing that he didnt know. If not good, then at least, easier for him and for me - that he didnt know the danger looming over all of our heads. Something about the way he looked that night worried me. I watched as he picked at his dinner before coming over to make his goodbyes. The grayish pallor on his face alarmed me, but he shook his head when I asked if he wanted me to go home with him. Going through Harrys things had exhausted him as much mentally as it had physically. He said he just wanted to just head home and hit the sack. I promised to be home by midnight, but my words barely seemed to register with him as he slipped out the front door into the night. The evening was damp with that heavy moisture and thick mist that rolls off the Pacific ocean in advance of a summer thunderstorm. But the storm clouds were still far off in the distance, so Jake and Quil lit a small fire in the backyard and the gang settled around to enjoy the warm summer evening. It was as if nothing had happened that day. It was just another beautiful summer night on the reservation. The guys were animated and lively. Though, I guess, things couldnt be anything but lively with Quil and Paul in the mix, but somehow, I couldnt get into it. I sat stiffly, just outside of the circle around the fire, and watched as Jake laughed and joked with the rest of them. But I wasnt fooled. He was too cheerful. Too joke-y. The others actually believed that things would be okay. That the danger in Seattle was no danger at all. And that they would be able to take on whatever arrived at their boundaries. But not Jake. He knew what we could be up against. I could see it in his eyes for all of his light-hearted bantering and teasing that night. Finally, the fire began to die out leaving only the glowing embers that created spooky shadows on the faces of the people sitting around it. It wasnt that late, probably just after nine, but folks began to scatter. Jared and Paul headed towards town, trailed by Quil and Embry, to go to some Forks High School party on the beach. Embry glanced at Jake before leaving, but Jake just shook his head as he nodded towards me. I flushed. Old Quil and Billy went back into the house to watch a documentary on the history channel. Sam and Emily strolled off, hand-in-hand, deep in conversation. My heart lurched at the sight of them. It must be nice to have that sense of absolute security that comes from being in love. If the two of them werent the epitome of what it meant to be soul mates, than I didnt know what was. I felt Jake turn his head to watch them too, as they reached the end of the road and disappeared around the bend. And then, it was just the two of us. I stared idly at the remaining embers as they burned themselves out. I could hear the faint drone of the television through the back door, the soft

chirping of crickets coming from deep within the woods, and the even sound of Jakes breathing next to me. But otherwise, there was just silence. A deep heavy silence. And finally, for the first time since the Seattle trip, I felt my shoulders slump and my body relax in relief. No more pretending that things were okay. No more pretending that I wasnt scared. I could just be. I looked up to see Jake watching me with a strange expression on his face. I wished suddenly that I could read him as well as he could read me. He always seemed to know exactly how I was feeling at any given point, but with him, there were times, like right now, that I really had no idea what was going on behind his controlled expression. His eyes were dark and intense not intense in that way (I recognized that look by now) but intense in a bittersweet poignant way, as if he knew something that I didnt. I couldnt take it anymore. I stood up suddenly, feeling the need to move, to walk out all of the frustration bubbling over inside me. I stalked off towards the direction of the trail that cut through the woods towards the beach. I didnt look back to see if Jake would follow. I knew he would. The evening was beautiful and the trail was beautiful. The spicy ferns, the freshly green trees, and the briny ocean breeze, mingled to create the heady scent of a summer forest in bloom. But despite how beautiful it was, or perhaps because of it, there was a primeval edge about the wild untamed forests out here in La Push. If I were alone, I might have been scared of all the things that went bump in the night here. But I was with Jake. And well, he was probably the scariest thing in the forest. Maybe. We finally made our way through the woods and ended up on the north edge of First Beach. To the south of us, was the beautiful half-moon sandy cove that made the beach such a tourist attraction. But there was a roaring bonfire in the distance, probably the party that the guys were headed to, so I turned right instead and headed north towards the cliffs. I walked blindly, determinedly, as if I could shake off everything that was bothering me just by putting one foot in front of another. I didnt know where I was going. But when I arrived at the bleached driftwood log, the place where everything began between the two of us, I knew thats where I had been heading all along. I slid down onto the sand and leaned my back against the tree trunk. It was the perfect height. I curled my knees up against my chest and wrapped my arms around them, hugging them close for warmth and security. Jake sprawled next to me, close enough that I could feel his every breath and every move, but not close enough that we were actually touching. We sat like that for a while before he finally spoke. Whats wrong, Bells? he asked as he reached over to take my hand in his large warm one. Even though the night was relatively warm, there was still a bit of a chill in the air. I shrugged as I slid over, closing the few inches between us, to nestle in next to his warm body. I was so used to turning to Jake for comfort that it didn't even register anymore. It was something that I just did. He pulled his arm up so that he could wrap it around me. He tilted his head back to lean against the tree and closed his eyes, his whole body relaxing as he settled in. I snuggled in too, in

the crook under his arm, and felt myself relax, my body easing into that warm limp state that happened whenever I was around him. Shell come back. I know she will, I finally admitted softly. Id like to believe Sam, but I just cant I dont it either, he replied softly as his fingers stroked my upper arm sending tingles through my right side. Unless well Its just . His voice trailed off. I knew then that this was what he had been thinking about earlier. Its just what, Jake? Maybe she found out somehow that you and him arent together anymore. So there would be no point in killing you, he blurted out. His eyes were on me then, watching my reaction like a hawk. I took a deep breath to compose myself before I lifted my head to reply coolly, Thats possible. But I doubt it. She and the Cullens werent exactly friends. And I didnt get the impression that they knew anyone in common. So you dont think that she found out somehow? I sighed. I almost wish that she had. It would be so nice to believe that something as simple as that would end this nightmare that had taken a hold of my life for months. Our lives. I know it sounds vain but somehow even if she did know I dont think it would stop her. Jake frowned, I guess youre right. But it seems odd she would continue holding a grudge against you a human - unless He was quiet for a long time before he spoke again. Do you think its possible that maybe she found out the opposite? What do you mean? I asked, turning towards him in confusion. Jake looked down, not meeting my eyes, which was a rare thing for him. Maybe she knows that he still cares. Even if hes not here. So it still would be revenge on him if she were to kill you. I laughed. I couldnt help it. No, trust me, Jake. Its over. Hes over it. He was pretty clear about that. I dont think hes going around the vampire world mooning over me or anything. Jake smiled a little, but didnt say anything. We sat there in a comfortable silence. I still couldnt believe I was speaking so casually of Edward and of what we had been, but somehow, here, in Jakes arms, it was all okay. So what are we going to do? I asked. About Victoria, I clarified quickly when I realized my question could be interpreted in many ways.

I dont know. Jakes body stiffened in frustration next to me. Well just have to stay vigilant. Keep tabs on the news. See if any info comes up that might help change their minds. But until then, Sam is the Alpha. So its his call. You sound bitter about him being the Alpha. Not bitter, he corrected with a sigh. Just frustrated. Ive never wanted to be the Alpha, even though I could have been. But now, I dont know. I could call the shots differently. I turned to look at him in amazement. Alpha? You never told me that you could have been the Alpha. Its in my blood, he quipped with a wry smile. Im the only direct descendent of the last Alpha Ephraim Black so that means I should be Alpha by lineage. Sam offered to hand it over, but I didnt want it. He was older. He had more experience. I didnt want the responsibility. I was worried I couldnt live up to it. But now Well you cant do anything about it, I said gently seeing that he was getting too worked up over this. He growled as he pounded his left fist hard against the tree. I was surprised the old dried log didnt splinter under the impact. No, we could do something. We could run extra shifts! Put some more wolves on guard at your house! No, Leahs right, I insisted, not wanting to side with her, but her logic was unquestionable. Ive seen you guys when you run double shifts. You get totally exhausted and run down. Shes right. You need to be well-rested and ready when when she . for whatever may happen My voice broke off as my eyes filled with tears. I couldnt pretend anymore as the raw emotion of the evening swept through me. I had spent most of the spring knowing that my life was hanging in the balance. That Victoria could come get me at any time once she figured out how to get past the pack. But I had at least had the comfort of knowing that if it did happen, it would only have impacted me. If she got past the wolves, she would take me out, and then vanish. She wasnt stupid enough to pick a fight with the pack. And so in the end, the only casualty would be me. But now if our fears were right and she had created these vampires to help her come get me then I was bringing death not just to myself, but to the people that I loved the best. To Billy, Sue, and the rest of the Quileutes, who had taken me in when I needed them and protected me with no complaints well except maybe from Paul as if I were one of their own. To Charlie, who if Victoria didnt kill outright, would live through a pain worse than death at the loss of his family and friends in one fell swoop. To the boy sitting next to me, who had been willing to ask nothing of me that I wasnt able to give. Who gave me everything he had, and more, just to see me smile again. All of their lives

could end soon because of me. And the numbing horror of that thought which I had tried to cage up in the back of my mind all evening flooded through me. Now it was Jakes turn to soothe me - to pat my arm and whisper words of comfort in my ear. Don't worry, Bells. We'll figure it out. I don't see how that's possible given what we know, I muttered. But I regretted it instantly when I saw the anger and stress in Jakes eyes dial up ten notches. I blinked away the few hot tears of anger and frustration that had leaked out and refused to let myself totally succumb to a crying fit. I knew that it would only make him worry even more, seeing how much this was preying on me. And that was the last thing I wanted to do. He had enough on his plate as it was. No, youre right. Im being a baby. Well figure something out, I said as I gave him a soft smile, but he just chuckled softly. Not very convincing, Bells, he teased with a mock eye roll. I laughed softly as I said with more conviction, I said, Im sorry. Youre right. Well figure it out. Im sorry, but did you say that I was right? Can I get that in writing? he teased again as I jabbed him in the ribs. And just like that, I did feel better. Jake worked his magic, as he always did, managing to make me smile, no matter what the world was throwing at us. So, what do you think we should do? I can ask Charlie to look into the police files about the missing Seattle victims to get some leads and Let's not think about it now, he cut me off, his arm tightening around me. We'll face reality tomorrow and think about it then. But for now, let's just pretend that it's not happening. That it's just us. I chuckled then. It was such a Jake response. He smiled and squeezed me again. Okay so what do you want to talk about? I asked softly, not daring to look up at him. I dont know, he whispered back, with an unmistakable tone in his voice. I caught my breath as a chill went down my spine. This was it. Was I ready? Did I know what I wanted to do? No yes I dont know, damnit! No wait. I was done with pretending tonight. Done with pretending not to be worried about Victoria. Done with pretending that I didnt know what I wanted to do with Jake. Because while I wasnt sure if it was a good idea, I definitely had a good idea of what I wanted to do.

We sat there quietly, both looking straight ahead of us as the ocean waves pummeled the sand in the distance. But it wasnt a comfortable silence because we were both waiting for the other to say something first. Finally, Jake spoke

Chapter 11: Imprinting

Finally, Jake spoke. Bells about what happened earlier today I just thought well maybe Hearing the uncertainty in his voice gave me an inexplicable rush of faith in what I was about to do. I pulled myself away slightly so that I could turn to face him, but Jake misread my actions and backtracked hastily, ... Nevermind. Forget it. Im sorry. Youre right. Its better this way. I dont- -No, I cut him off, unable to watch the pain of rejection continue to spread over his face. Suddenly, words were tumbling out of my mouth, I mean, no, dont wait. I mean, you dont have to wait. If you dont want to. Because I want this I want you I finished lamely as my burst of confidence petered out. Jake stared at me for the longest time. His face entirely immobile except for a vein that was throbbing in his left temple. I reached out to touch it, to try to smooth it down, but he grabbed my hand and held it between us, suspended in mid-air, as he continued to stare at me as if nothing else existed in the world. Then, just as suddenly, he dropped my hand so that he could cup my face, and I felt his lips come down onto mine. It was like no kiss I had ever had before. It started off sweet and tentative, as we explored this new ground for the first time, but a rush of tangled heated emotions soon overwhelmed the initial shock and somehow my arms ended up wrapped against his neck, my fingers enmeshed in his hair, as I pulled him closer towards me even though it felt as if he could never be close enough. The heat was unbelievable. Unlike anything I had ever experienced with him. I wouldnt think his name just now. In fact, I couldnt think of him. My brain wouldnt let me. I couldnt think of anything except Jake and the insane warmth that radiated from every inch of his body. The warmth drew me in and made me never want to let go. I dont know how much time had passed eons maybe when just as suddenly, Jake pulled away. My arms were still wrapped around his neck and his hands were still cupped around my face so he couldnt go far. His brown eyes deepened now to an inky-black stared into mine, searching, penetrating, hoping for something, I stared back, in a slight fog, the only thing registering in my head was that something didnt feel quite right. Mixed in with the raw hunger and longing written all over his face was a touch of worry. And fear. Jake what is it? I asked slowly when I finally found my voice. Im sorry I didnt mean to No, no, he whispered immediately, leaning back in to nuzzle his face into mine so that our noses touched. It was perfect. Beyond perfect. I never dreamed its just I have to tell you something

I shivered at his touch, but I forced my brain to click back into gear so that I could take a better look at him. And when I did, I read fear in his eyes. And I also saw guilt. Something I had never seen before in Jakes eyes. My spine went cold. What could he have to say that would make him look so uncomfortable? Suddenly, Leahs words from earlier today popped into my head. Does this have something to do with imprinting? I whispered hesitantly, not sure that I should be bringing up something that Leah probably told me just out of spite. What?! Where did you hear about that? Jake pulled back in shock, dropping his hands from my face as if my skin had burned him. Just today, I stammered. Leah she said I should ask you about it. I didnt know. I just saw your face and thought of it, thats all Jake pulled away from me then, reaching up behind his neck to unclasp my hands as he sat back against the tree with a heavy sigh. The vein in his temple was now beating wildly as he tried to find the words to respond. Watching his hesitation scared me. Suddenly, for the first time with Jake, I felt insecure. He was and had always been the dependable fixture in my life, the one person I could count on in a crazy crazy world. But now I wasnt so sure anymore. When Jake finally turned back towards me, I found myself unable to look up for fear of what I would see, so I fixed my gaze at his neck as he prodded me gently, What did Leah say about imprinting? Just that it made Sam break all his promises to her Its not that simple, Jake muttered with a sigh. I watched as he swallowed deeply and then looked away to stare out at the ocean waves that were pummeling the sandy beach. Imprinting, according to Sam, is what helps the wolves find their mates. Their mates, I said stumbling over the word in shock. I didnt know what I expected to hear, but this wasnt it. As in, soulmates? Jake grimaced. Thats what Sam would call it, as he went into a mock imitation of Sams voice, Imprinting helps us identify our perfect mate, the person who will best help us pass on the werewolf gene and produce stronger werewolves in the next generation, he voice dropped back to a bitterly frustrated sigh. Its some f*d up version of werewolf Darwinism if you ask me. How does it happen? I asked mechanically, my voice sounding strange even to my own ears. According to Sam, you imprint on your soul mate the first time that you see her after you complete the werewolf transformation, Jake explained. Thats what happened to Sam with Emily. The first time he saw Emily after phasing, he imprinted on her, even though he had been with Leah for years. It was a force stronger than him and it made him break every promise that

he made to Leah, Jakes voice faltered now, his eyes closing, but not before I saw the genuine fear reflected in them. Im guessing based on your reaction that Im not that you didnt My mouth was as dry as sawdust but somehow, I managed to get those words out. Jakes face clouded over as he shook his head curtly without meeting my eye, still staring blankly at the rippling ocean waves ahead of us. Now it was my turn to close my eyes and look away. I felt shaky and numb as I replayed his words in my head. I didnt seem possible that five seconds ago, I had been so thrillingly close to everything that I thought I wanted. And now, it was slipping through my fingers before I even had a taste. Jake pressed on now, a fresh sense of resolve on his face, even though he still refused to meet my eyes. When Sam first told me about it a few months ago, I didnt know what to think, so I just tried to ignore it. But now that Leahs joined the pack, I see and hear the pain that Sam has caused her every day My eyes widened as I realized exactly how much Leahs life sucked right now, to be stuck sharing her every thought and emotion with a pack of teenage boys, including her ex-boyfriend. so I decided that I had to tell you about it. You had a right to know. Because it wouldnt fair. Damnit! Jake slammed his left fist against the tree trunk with such force that the entire log shook behind us. This whole thing is f*ing unfair. I know I love you. And yet, theres some crazy thing out there thats supposed to happen to me that will override what I feel? What the hell is that? Something in his words penetrated the thick layer of shock. Without thinking, I blurted out, Did you say that you love me? Jake stopped short as he turned to look at me with undisguised confusion in his eyes. Yes, of course, I do more than I can say I thought it was obvious. I think I always have I just God, I suck at this, Im sorry, he finally muttered, his face turning a deep red, the way it used to do in the pre-werewolf boyhood days. I felt my face turn equally red as I looked away, elated, despite everything. Even though I had known that to be true deep down, somehow, hearing it made a huge difference. I didnt realize how much time had gone by when Jake spoke again. Bells please say something I looked up in alarm as I realized that I didnt know what to say back. Did I love him? Yes. Did I love him the way he loved me? I didnt know I think I did. But it wasnt the same way that I felt about him. So what did that mean?

I felt panic set in as I worried about saying the wrong thing, but as always, Jake knew me far too well as he shook his head dismissively, No, not about that I know that youre still figuring stuff out but about what I said earlier. About imprinting? I blanched as he said the word again. I dont know what to think I admitted slowly, struggling to find the words I needed. Does it happen to everyone in the pack? Jake sighed in frustration. I honestly dont know. Sam thinks so. He says the legends say so. Im not so sure. So far, its just been Sam and Jared. But Jake swallowed deeply as he forced himself to continue. I had to tell you. I didnt want to make any promises that I couldnt keep. I promised you once that I would never hurt you not the way he did and I want to try to keep that promise as best as I can. But youll leave me one day. The way he left, I whispered, my voice choking over, as the enormity of what imprinting meant finally washed over me. An unimaginable ache of loneliness spread through me making me feel hollow to the core. I never realized how much I had always taken Jakes presence in my life for granted. I had always been sure that he of all people would never leave me hurt and vulnerable. And now, it was just a question of when. Maybe not. Maybe Ill be the exception Jakes voice broke as he said that, his eyes glossing over with unshed tears of pain and frustration. I dont know. I cant promise you that I wont- Jake turned and cupped my face in his hands to pull me towards him as he continued, his eyes glowing more fiercely determined with every word. -I cant promise you anything, except this: If it happens to me, it will be against my will. The same stupid supernatural genetic quirk that forced me to become a werewolf may force me to imprint, but it has nothing to do with me. I want, more than anything, for our lives to be normal. No supernatural sh*t messing up everything. If it were up to me, I would just want you. I love you. No matter what happens, I want you to know that. He crushed his lips to mine again and I melted. In his kiss, I saw everything as it should have been in a world where crazy horror stories didnt come to life. We would be the childhood friends who grew into high school sweethearts, we would get married and raise a family of black-haired brown-eyed toddlers, and we would grow old together, sitting on a porch swing in our old age surrounded by friends and family. But just as quickly, I saw it all fade away from me, as the shadows crept in, surrounding our embrace and pulling Jake away from me into the darkness. The intensity of the vision made me cling tightly to him, as if I could hold him to me by sheer force, but finally, I couldnt take it anymore so I pulled away, putting space between us. Tears began to flow as I watched the pained understanding flash through his eyes. We sat there in silence for a long time, a million conflicting thoughts swarming my head, as we stared silently at each other, wishing desperately for a solution to this seemingly unsolvable problem. Youre right. Its better this way. Theres no point if one day, I might I understand, he said finally, his voice hollow and his eyes empty.

Its just Im scared I whispered brokenly, feeling as if I were twisting the knife I had plunged into him more with every word. I couldnt have survived his leaving with you. I dont know how I could survive your leaving me I just need time to think about what to do Its okay, Bells I understand. Take as long as you need Jake whispered as he pulled me close, wrapping his long arms around me and tucking my head underneath his chin. I closed my eyes and let myself melt into him, luxuriating in the warmth and comfort that I always found in his embrace. This was my safe harbor. The place that I came to be reassured that everything would be okay. But one day, his arms would no longer be my safe haven. They would belong to someone else. My breath hitched as the pain of that future loss echoed through me, but I resolutely forced it away. For now, this was still mine. He was still mine. And I would think about all of that tomorrow. I dont know how much time had passed before we heard a bunch of footsteps coming towards us in the dark. Jake stiffened suddenly, but then sighed in resignation as he sat up and pulled away from me. Yo, you two! Keep your hands where we can see them! I recognized Quils booming voice as well as the sound of Pauls braying laugh and Embrys sympathetic chuckle, and I quickly patted my cheeks to wipe away any traces of tears and straightened myself out while Jake thoughtfully blocked me from their direct view. I guess we can see why they didnt want to join us more privacy up here, Paul teased, slapping Quil on the back as the two of them dissolved into a fit of laughter where they had stopped a few feet in front of us in the moonlight. Embry smiled wryly but didnt join in. Instead, he continued to walk towards us with a serious expression on his face, Its almost midnight, guys. Im sure Charlie will be wondering where you are, Bella. I jumped up, tripping slightly over my feet, but Jake grabbed my arm to steady me. Jake got up more casually, unfolding his arms and legs easily as he stood up from the sand. His face was an impenetrable mask again, no trace of the tumultuous events of the evening, unless you took a hard look at his eyes. Embry watched us carefully and I felt sure that not much was escaping his thoughtful gaze, but I tried not to think about that now. I had no idea how much time had passed. After the day that Charlie had, the last thing I wanted to do was worry him more. Plus, I desperately needed some space to think about everything that had happened between me and Jake that night. What happened to the party? Jake asked casually as he gestured for all of us to head towards the trail that led back to his house. Same old, same old, Embry replied as he followed Jake onto the path just ahead of me.

Tell me about it. We need some new girls to mix things up. You got any friends for us, Bella? Paul asked in all seriousness as he and Quil fell into step beside me. Im not sure theyre your type, Paul, I replied with a light chuckle. You had to hand it to the boys. No matter what, they always managed to make me laugh. Theyre all his type, Quil drawled lazily as he draped his arm protectively round my shoulder. Hes not exactly picky if you know what I mean. Not like me. Im still holding out hope that youll forget about that lump over there- he jerked his thumb at Jake who turned around to roll his eyes -and let me comfort you instead. Im not sure youre my type, Quil, I replied demurely trying hard to hide the smile on my face. What? You dont like them tall, dark, and handsome? he replied with mock amusement. Fine, fine. I did promise my boy that I wouldnt poach Like you had a chance I heard Jake mutter from up ahead where he was leading the way. so seriously, whatever happened to the senior girls that you promised youd introduce me to? Quil continued with a cheeky grin. Bellas graduating soon, Embry reminded Quil. Next week right, Bella? Thats right, I replied. So they wont be senior girls any more - -Even better! Theyll be college chicks! Quil whooped as he and Paul gave each other a hifive. They continued to laugh and banter the whole way back to Jakes house. It made everything that had happened by the beach seem like a distant dream. I almost wondered if I had imagined it, until I saw Jakes eyes and the way he watched me. When we finally arrived at the house, the guys loitered by the porch as I hopped into the truck to head home. The windows were rolled down and Jake put his hand on my arm as I turned on the engine. I knew what he wanted to know. Ill think about it and let you know, I said softly, unable to meet his eyes. Okay but be careful, he reminded me, reaching into the car to place a few fingers underneath my chin and gently turned my face towards him. No matter what you decide. Im still me. And Ill still be here. No matter what. I nodded mutely, reassured by the steadfastness in his dark brown eyes, and he pulled back and patted the door of the truck.

Embry will follow you home and camp outside your house tonight. I dont care what Sam says, well all take shifts to make sure you and Charlie are safe. I nodded again as I pulled out of the driveway and drove off without looking back.

Chapter 12: Waiting

I couldnt sleep that night so it was lucky that I didnt have much on my plate at school the next day. My calculus and physics finals were back-to-back on Wednesday. I knew that Id need to do some serious studying the next two nights if I wanted to do more than just pass, but somehow, with everything else going on, I just couldnt focus. I felt like my brain was overflowing with so much stuff that it made me unable to do anything but exist in a persistent state of worry and fear. The whole imprinting thing had thrown me for a loop. I didnt know what to make of it. Jake was everything that was dependable and constant in my life. And now to find out that he was predestined to be anything but dependable and constant. I sat up half the night wondering which was worse - having a boyfriend break up with you because he wanted to or having a boyfriend break up with you because he was forced to. The first would probably hurt more in the beginning I knew enough about what that felt like - but at least there was some resolution to it. With the latter, there would always be this false sense of hope that it wasnt really his decision, that maybe one day hed snap out of it - at least thats what I suspected Leah would tell me if we were ever close enough to be confidants. And then, of course, there was all the stuff about Victoria and what might or might not be going on in Seattle. Despite Sams brave promises or old Quils reassuring words, I knew that the pack was in tremendous danger because of me. I felt like we were sitting ducks, waiting for the day if and when - she decided to pounce. I tried to remember Sams confident tone when he said that he thought that Victoria had moved on, but then my mind would blur over with the memory of James attack - except instead of James, the blurred figure had a mass of orange-gold curls and moved with a feline grace that made it hard to predict her next move. I was so out of it that it took Jessica three tries to get my attention at lunch. Earth to Bella?! What? I stuttered, looking up in a daze from my yogurt, which I had been stirring and restirring obsessively as I let my brain race through all the worst possible outcomes of the situation with Victoria. Im glad you could join us, Jessica drawled with a glance at Lauren who was barely hiding her smirk behind Tylers yearbook which she was signing. I was just asking if you wanted to come to my post-prom party on Friday? Prom? I repeated stupidly. Oh my god, is prom this Friday? With everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten about it.

Umm yeah, I thought Angela said you were going, she replied as she raised an eyebrow at Angela who was sitting across the table from me with a wide-eyed innocent expression on her face. Oh yeah, right yes, I am going, that is. I blurted out before I had too much time to dwell on it. I didnt even know if Jake still wanted to go given well given what happened yesterday. Alright, well Im throwing a party afterwards so youre invited. You know where my house is, right? Jessica spoke slowly, enunciating each word as if she were talking to a small toddler. Yes, yes, I replied as I tried harder to gather my scattered thoughts. Ill be there well be there, I tacked on as an afterthought. So .. Mike interjected smoothly from the other side of the table where he had been pretending to be absorbed in perusing the class superlatives in the yearbook. Who are you going with? I blushed fiercely. I couldnt help it. My friend, Jake, I replied as casually as I could despite the fact that my ears were flaming red. You know, the one that went with us to that movie that time. Yeah, I remember, Mike snorted as he turned back to his yearbook without another word. I looked up just in time to see Jessica giving me for the lack of the better word the stink-eye from across the table as she and Lauren abruptly got up and left to attend the last prom committee meeting. Mike and Eric didnt seem to notice as they got into a heated debate about why Eric hadnt been voted class clown. I turned to Angela with a quizzical look on my face. Angela shrugged as she leaned in so that the guys at the end of the table couldnt hear. I dont know. They broke up a while ago, but I guess shes not over it even though shes going to prom with Scott, this new guy that shes been seeing. I hear Mike is going solo. She smiled wistfully as she continued, I hope its okay that I badgered her into inviting you. I just figured that if you were going to prom then- -Im not sure if Im going, I cut her off before she got too invested in the idea. But I thought that you and Jake were good I flushed. I didnt know what to say. The truth? Which truth? That I might be dead scratch that, we both might be dead - by Friday because I was being stalked by a murderous vampire. Or the other truth? That Jake might imprint on his supernaturally predestined soul mate by Friday and taking me to prom would probably be the last thing on his mind then. Angela reached over to pat my arm. Its okay. I understand if you dont want to go.

Its not that I dont want to go, I replied truthfully, I just dont know whats going with us right now Spill. Angela said automatically as she scooted in closer to me and adjusted her trendy purple glasses to sit better on her nose. It sounds theres actually something going on I sighed, Its complicated. I think I can follow Angela replied with a gentle smile. I chuckled. I know. I just dont know if Im ready to talk about it All right, Angela said with an unconvinced frown. But if you do Yes, yes, I laughed. I know, youll be anxious to get the latest scoop. I just want you to be happy, Bella, Angela said soberly as she refused to laugh at my offhand joke. It seemed like you were for a while these last few months with him - but now Im not sure anymore. I sighed. If only she knew. ******* When I pulled up to the house after school, Charlies cruiser was in the driveway, which I dont think had ever happened in the year and a half I had lived with him. He never came home before 6 pm most days and I suspected that was mostly because I had come to live with him. If I werent around, I was sure that he would be a bona fide workaholic, grabbing dinner at his desk most nights. I tore into the house, panicked that something was wrong, only to find Charlie laid up in bed with a headache and a slight fever. He refused my offers of food and medicine and insisted that he just wanted to get some rest. My heart wrenched as I watched him sleep, knowing that the last few months of strain and grief over Harrys death had finally taken its toll on him. I set up my stuff in the dining room, diligently lining up my calculus textbooks for some hardcore studying, but I found myself spending most of the late afternoon staring unseeingly through the window that looked out over the back yard, lost in uncomfortable and unpredictable thoughts, which was why I almost jumped out of my seat at the sound of a sharp rap on the back door. I padded over silently in my bare feet, wondering why Charlie had never bothered to install a peephole, and hesitated for a long time before realizing that I was being stupid. The people er the beings that I was afraid of wouldnt be stopped by a door. I grasped the handle and flung the door open with a false sense of bravado. It was Jake.

Shouldnt you have a peephole or something? he asked with a wry smile as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the side of the doorway. He was wearing his usual cutoffs along with a gray shirtless tee that was a smidgen too tight it looked like he had outgrown his clothes yet again which served only to further accentuate the perfectly molded contours of his chest. I smiled wanely but didnt say anything. I didnt know what to say, so I just stared resolutely at his chest, too rattled to meet the questions that I knew I would see in his eyes. Finally, Jake chuckled softly as he teased, Well I guess that answers my question about whether or not things will be awkward I laughed outright this time and it seemed to cut the tension. Jake reached out to grab my hands as he stepped into the house. Look. I know that were trying to figure this out, but Im still me and youre still you. Theres no reason things have to be weird while we figure us out. Im just worried that there wont be an us, I replied honestly, looking up in time to see him flinch slightly at the painful truth of what I was saying. There will always be an us, he replied steadfastly, his dark brown eyes glowing more intensely with every word. I thought you didnt want to make promises you couldnt keep, I reminded him. Im not, Jake countered quickly. There will always be an us because I will always be your best friend. Even if I cant if Im not damnit He cursed fluidly then as he pulled his hands away to run them through his hair. Hey its okay, I said. This time it was my turn to grab his hands. Youre right. Well figure it out. He smiled weakly as he slipped one arm over my shoulder and used the other hand to close the door behind him. We headed to the living room where we slumped down on the blue couch, comfortably close but not so close so that we would be crossing any boundaries that we hadnt decided for sure whether or not to cross. I just came by to check-in. I just swapped with Quil. Itll be my turn to watch over you guys tonight. Quil said that Charlie came home mid-morning? Yeah, hes got a bad headache and a bit of a fever. Hes been sleeping all day. I think he may be coming down with something, I said with a frown as I gestured towards the stairs.

Its not good that hes sick, but its good for us. Seeing the startled expression on my face, he continued hastily, Itll just be easier for us to guard the two of you if hes at home most days. Im worried that shell try to use him to get to you. Oh, I said as I weighed a new possibility that I hadnt even considered before. Wait are you having someone follow me during the day? What about when Im at school? Jake frowned as he replied. No, youre unprotected then. Im not happy about it, but its only a few more days and then youll be done. Forks is west of our boundary lines so she or any other leeches couldnt get to town unless they got by us first. I just well, weve got finals too and Sam isnt exactly happy about us doing additional shifts around your house at nights. No, no, I understand. You really dont have to do shifts at our house. As you said, if were beyond the boundary, they cant get to us without you guys knowing ... No, he said in a hard tone. I dont want to leave anything to chance. Its bad enough youre unprotected during the day, but Im thinking that she wouldnt risk anything in broad daylight with lots of witnesses. At night though, theres no reason why I cant crash here just in case she did manage to sneak by somehow. Crash here? Where? I said, my cheeks growing warm, as I imagined him spending nights here in my house in my bed Jakes mouth dropped open when he realized what he had said and then it was his turn to blush, his cheeks turning a flaming tomato red. No, I just meant not like here here you know, Ill crash out in the woods in wolf form ... You could crash on the couch, I suggested anxiously, my face equally red in embarrassment, but I didnt want to think that I didnt want him here. I just didnt know if I was ready for that. No, no I know Charlie likes me, but I dont think hed be down with me camping out here even if I spent the night out here I mean, I wouldnt be in your room or anything His voice trailed off as his face turned an even brighter red. It was hard to tell who was more embarrassed as neither of us could really look at each other. Okay change of topic Yes, please, I latched on gratefully, wanting to talk about anything other than Jake staying over that I ended up blurting out the first thing that I thought of. So are you still coming to prom with me? Great. Embarrassing Topic #2. Jake turned to look at me in surprise. Yeah, I said I would. Friday, right? Unless you dont want me to go anymore No, no, I do, I replied quickly, I just didnt realize it was so soon. The last few weeks have been a blur.

Understandably so, Jake said with a gentle smile as he settled back into the cushions now that we were out of embarrassing territory. I only remembered because Jessica you remember her, right? Brown curly hair? Overly peppy and judgmental? he teased. Yeah, that one, I said smothering my smile at how accurately he summed her up. She invited me well she invited us to her after-party. Sure, sounds good. I was just planning to wear a suit, Jake said casually. But I could rent a tux if you wanted me to No, no, suit is fine. Its pretty low-key. I mean, it is being held in the gym. Yes, I remember, Jake said watching me carefully. I was there last year, remember? I looked up in shock. I had completely forgotten about that until now. I could hardly believe that was less than a year ago. It felt like a lifetime ago. In so many ways, it was. The Bella I was then was a far cry from the Bella that I was now. But this time you actually want me there, right? Jake teased, but I could see the vulnerability lurking just beneath the easy-going demeanor. For the first time, I realized how hard the imprinting thing was on Jake too. He was such a good guy. And it killed him to know that despite his best intentions, he might one day hurt me, and there was nothing he could do about it. Yes, I really do want you there, I said slowly, making sure that every word was sinking in with him. Jake just grinned in response, with a very Jake-from-the-old-days type twinkle in his eyes, as he reached over me to grab the remote to flick on the TV. I relaxed into the cushions further, close enough to feel his heat but not close enough to touch it, as we lost ourselves in mindless entertainment for the rest of the evening.

Chapter 13: Prom

Jake stayed through dinner and even pulled out some books to study alongside me that evening. I raised an eyebrow, since I thought that the guys were pretty much foregoing formal education these days due to the demands of being in the pack, but Jake just shrugged and said that he wanted to stay on track to graduating a year early. I blushed, since I knew exactly why he wanted to graduate early, but I couldnt bring myself to say anything in response. After watching the 10 oclock news, which reported no new disappearances or murders from the Seattle serial killer, Jake took off, saying that he wanted to do a quick patrol of the neighborhood before he hit the sack. It also allowed us to avoid any awkward conversations about where he was going to sleep. I didnt trust myself to make smart decisions right now, so I was glad that he

just took it out of my hands entirely. At least the weather was perfect pleasantly warm with a balmy breeze so it wasnt such a bad night to be sleeping outdoors. We continued the same routine for the rest of the week except on Wednesday when Embry had to take the shift while Jake ran patrol with Sam. Charlie had come down with a bad case of the flu and stayed home for a miserable few days. He was feeling better by Friday, but I was able to convince him to stay home one more day to fully recover. I stayed home that day too. It was the last day of school a half-day - most of which was scheduled to be a rah-rah pep rally that I had no interest in being a part of, so I stayed home to keep Charlie company. My final exams had come and gone and I had somehow managed to pass all my classes respectably. Now, there were just two things left in my high school career: prom tonight and graduation on Sunday. Sometime in the craziness of that week, I mailed in my acceptance card and my first semester tuition check to the University of Washington. It was stupid, but planning for a future as a typical college freshman somehow made it easier to pretend that my life was in fact that of a normal high school senior. The same thing could be said for tonights big event. Prom was a celebration of youth and of life at least for those who lived a normal life - something that I wished, more than anything right now, that I could have. Unlike last year, which Alice had made into such a big production with the expensive dress, the elaborate party, the fancy car; tonight, was going to be a low-key affair. I had decided to wear an old dress of Renees that I had in the back of my closet. A simple silk dress that was icy-blue in some lights and silvery gray in other lights. It had a sweetheart neckline and was tight in the bodice, but flowed out into a soft swirly swishy skirt. The dress was comfortable to wear and easy to dress up, with an old pair of silver sandals that Renee had bought for me years ago, pearl earrings and necklace an early graduation present from Charlie, simple make-up, and my hair down, loose and flowing against my bare back. I was putting the final touches on my makeup when the phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was Jake. You better not be standing me up, I teased as I picked up the phone. His warm hearty chuckle echoed through the receiver sending a thrill through me. No, not exactly, but Im afraid I will be late uh something unexpected just happened and I need to take care of a few things before I can head over. Im really sorry. What happened? I asked, my heart thumping wildly, as I ran through a list of all the bad things that could have happened in La Push this afternoon. Unfortunately, there was a lot on that list. Ill tell you about it later, Jakes voice was low and soothing. Nothing to worry about. Its good for the long run, just a bit of a nuisance right now. Im really sorry Youre not hiding something from me, are you? I demanded anxiously.

No, I promise. Ill tell you tonight. I really have to go. I should be there by 8. Do you want to just go and Ill meet you there? Yes, thats fine, I said automatically, responding to the urgency in his voice. Ill see you there. Bells, Im so sorry. I really am. Ill explain tonight, I promise. Jake said again just before he hung up. I sat there, staring at the phone in my hand for a few minutes as I realized that I had just agreed to show up at my prom solo. I was considering calling him back to tell him to come get me when he was ready, when the phone rang again. It was Angela calling to ask my opinion about whether she should do her hair up or down. When she found out about Jake, she insisted that she and Ben would come by and get me on their way to the prom. I wish I could say that the first part of the night was enjoyable, but it really wasnt. I had never been much of a dance-kind-of girl to begin with and being solo while enduring Jessica and Laurens smirks, dealing with the hopeful look in Mikes eyes, and participating in the endless social chitchat about peoples post-high school plans was exhausting. I was ready to call it a night when I saw Jake coming in through the door earlier than expected. I swallowed hard as I took in the sharp grey suit that he was wearing along with the light blue shirt and tie that perfectly matched my dress. I was so used to seeing Jake in ratty cutoffs and tshirts that I forgot how well the boy cleaned up when he wanted to. Unlike some of the other guys in the room who looked awkwardly immature in their suits and tuxes, Jake wore his clothes with a careless grace that was wildly attractive. Jake still hadnt seen me yet so he paused when he reached the edge of the dance floor to look through the crowd. The boy was completely oblivious to the fact that almost all the girls in the room were checking him out, but I wasnt. Suddenly, my heart wrenched because I realized that at any moment, Jake could look at one of those girls and imprint, and then we whatever it was that we were right now - would be over. Done. Over before anything had even really started. In that one moment, I undid all the progress I had made this past week in convincing myself that the imprinting thing wouldnt be an issue. But then, Jake saw me, and the way that his face lit up took my breath away. His eyes widened slightly as they flickered over my dress in appreciation, but it was his smile which seemed to start from deep within him - that made my heart beat just a teensy bit faster as he made his way over to me through the crowd. If he could look at me that way, how could he possibly imprint on someone else? Finally, Jake was in front of me and thats when I noticed a box with a corsage in his hand. I didnt remember telling him what color my dress would be or what my favorite flowers were, but he had managed to guess correctly on both a cluster of delicate delphiniums beautifully arranged with a pale blue ribbon.

Did I say I was sorry for being late? he asked softly, his warm hands engulfing mine as he slipped the flowers over my right wrist. Yes, but you can always say it again, I teased as I brought my hand up to admire the flowers. Jake grabbed my hand and he brought it to up to softly kiss the inside of my palm, sending shivers down my spine. Im really really really sorry, he punctuated each really with a kiss which officially turned my knees to jelly Did I also mention how amazing you look? You look like moonlight in that dress. Moonlight? I teased lightly. Thats very poetic of you. What can I say? Im a man of many talents, he laughed as he pulled me onto the dance floor so that we could sway slowly to the music. I dont remember you being this smooth last year, I said as I tried not to make a fool of myself on the dance floor. Lets just say that I got some coaching from Quil, Jake waggled his eyebrows in response and we both burst out laughing just as he dipped me expertly. I hated dancing. I always felt so awkward and self-conscious on the dance floor, sure that everyone was watching and mocking my clumsiness, but somehow with Jake it was easy. I forgot that we were surrounded by people. It was just him and me. And all I had to do was follow his lead. It felt so good to just be normal for once. And right now, it was easy to pretend that everything was normal, that I was just another girl enjoying her prom with a guy who gave her butterflies in her stomach. Angela and Ben danced by us then; Angela gave me a discreet thumbs-up, while giving Jake a welcoming smile. We said hi briefly, but didnt bother to stop dancing to chat. There would be plenty of time for that later. Right now, the moment was too nice to lose. I sighed as I moved in closer, laying my head on his broad chest as we swayed to the music. I could feel the heat of his body through the smooth sheen of his cotton dress shirt and it felt comforting in the heavily air-conditioned room. I turned my head to one side so I could lay it against his chest, smiling as I heard the steady dependable thrum of his heartbeat. Everything was perfect right now. Even the shabby old gym, which the prom committee had done their best to disguise with its Monte Carlo themed decorations, seemed like a comfortable haven from the unpredictable world outside. Jake seemed to feel the same way as he shifted slightly so that he could wrap his arms tighter around me. We were barely moving at this point, just swaying to the beat of the song, a song that I would associate with this perfect moment the calm before the storm for the rest of my life. I wished I could just stay in this moment forever feeling loved, secure, and safe but the moment couldnt last.

Try as I might, the fear that lurked on the edges of my mind began to creep in. Damnit. It wasnt fair. Why me? Why couldnt I be like Angela who could dance happily in the arms of the boy who loved her without worrying about being hunted by a murderous vampire who would be willing to destroy everything and everyone just to make a point? And dont even get me started about the imprinting thing. I lifted my head suddenly, So you never told me why were you late? Jake looked down at me. His face looked tired all of a sudden. Colin and Brady turned today. Sam was away doing border patrol with Paul, so I had to do the whole welcome-to-the-pack thing until he got back. Oh, wow. I replied. Theyre just 14, right? Yeah, Jake said shortly. There arent that many of us with the gene, so they just get younger and younger. So thats ten of you now, right? I asked as I mentally tallied up the pack members in my head. Yeah, he replied shortly. I could read the ambivalence in his tone. As much as he wanted more help in dealing with Victoria, he wouldnt have wished this fate on anyone. I guess itll help in case, you know My voice trailed off. I was running out of ways to skirt talking about the Victoria issue. Jake felt me tense up and he pressed his lips to my head in a soft kiss. Dont he admonished gently, I know its hard to forget reality. But lets enjoy this we may never have it again. I smiled into the folds of his shirt and he pressed me to him as we continued to sway to the music. The boy knew me too well. I felt myself relax again. I dont know how long we stayed like that, lost in the moment, when Jessica, without her date, and Lauren, with Tyler in tow, interrupted us. Well well Jessica said archly, Dont you guys look adorable? We broke apart as I dutifully made introductions all around. Laurens eyes were wide as she took in Jake in his sharply tailored suit. Tyler, who was no chump in the height and shoulders department, suddenly looked very awkward and ungainly beside him. So, I guess this means the two of you are together, right? Lauren asked with a flirtatious smile directed at Jake. The girl looked like she was ready to eat him up with a spoon. The blatant invite in her eyes as she coolly appraised him just ticked me off. Yes-I said, before I could help myself.

-No Jake had jumped in anxiously to save me from an awkward moment, but he turned to me in shock, a faint glow of hope filling his eyes as he registered my yes. I stared back, unsure of what I had just said myself. Somehow, that just seemed like the right answer. Whatever the lady says, Jake finally said with a wide grin. He squeezed my arm slightly while turning back politely towards Lauren. Lauren pouted prettily as she looked up at Jake from beneath her thick lashes. Well we cant let her keep you all to herself. That just wouldnt be fair. Jake smiled politely in response but didnt respond, giving me another gentle squeeze. Lauren and Jessica, seeing that Jake wasnt going to play ball, soon left us alone. But not before Lauren reminded Jake, her hand on his arm, that he should definitely stop by Jessicas post-prom party so that they could get to know him better. I had never thought of myself as a jealous person, but at that moment, I thought I could have easily clawed her eyes out. I didnt know what it was. With Edward, somehow, I had never quite believed that he and I actually belonged together. He was so divinely perfect, that I had never felt that I could claim ownership over him. Not that Jake wasnt unbelievably perfect in his own way, but somehow, it was different. I wanted him to be mine. I just didnt realize quite how much until I saw Lauren blatantly sizing him up. The rest of the evening was pretty non-descript after that. Somehow, every girl I had ever met during my brief stint at Forks High School, stopped by to say hi and to gush about the end of our high school life together. But I wasnt fooled. They all just wanted to be introduced to Jake. The poor boy had no idea of his appeal. It wasnt just the good looks and ridiculous body. It was the endearing blend of the earnest warm-hearted boy that he had once been, with the intense brooding swagger that came from his new life as a member of the pack. The boy next door, but with an edge. We dutifully made our way to Jessicas post-prom party afterwards with Ben and Angela, but it was pretty much a bust. Most of the others were so trashed that their drunken shenanigans were just painful to watch. The four of us slipped away, sure that our absence wouldnt be missed, and hit up the diner instead for a late night food-fest. Jake fit in easily, he and Ben striking up their own guy-bond, while Angela and I had fun running down the events of the evening. It was the perfect end to a night of normal everyday fun an interlude from my real life - so I was sad when Jake pulled his car up to my driveway. The light were out, so Charlie must have gone to bed already, not bothering to wait up for us. Jake cut the engine to the Rabbit immediately so that he wouldnt wake Charlie. We sat there for a few moments in silence. Neither of us had referenced the moment with Lauren again for the rest of the night, and I felt awkwardly tongue-tied about it. I was worried that if we talked it out, I would manage to talk myself out of it. I mean, that was the rational and logical thing to do in my situation, but my gut was telling me to do something totally different.

Finally, Jake took a deep breath as he straightened his shoulders and turned towards me, Bella about earlier when you said- I cut him off as I put my hands on his warm cheeks and pulled him towards me, fusing my lips against his. It was better than I had remembered. Jake froze at first, in shock, but he quickly got over it as he eagerly wrapped his arms around my waist to pull me towards him. I felt the gear shift digging awkwardly into my side as Jake half-dragged me over it while he fumbled with the seat latch with his left hand. The seat pushed back from the dashboard suddenly, causing me to lose my balance, and I tumbled into his lap as we heard a loud rip from my skirt being caught between the gear shift and the passenger seat. We broke apart at the sound and turned to look at my skirt and then back at each other before bursting out laughing. I felt myself crumple up against Jake in a fit of laughter, though I wasnt the only one. Jakes entire body shook from laughing so hard. This is what happens when you cant keep your hands off of me, Jake teased when he finally was able to find his voice. What can I say? Youre irresistible, I replied jokingly though irresistible really was the only word I could use to describe him. Despite every logical rational part of me that told me that getting involved with him was a terrible idea given the whole imprinting thing, I just couldnt stop myself. I know, I know, he replied with a mock sigh as he leaned closer to nuzzle the side of my cheek. I rolled my eyes as I tried to pull away to give him a mock punch. All the girls think so. I cant believe you didnt notice. At prom, they werent coming over to talk to me, thats for sure. He chuckled, a deep hearty rumble in his chest, as he grabbed my hand and brought it up to kiss it. All that matters is that you find me irresistible. I laughed and sighed at the same time. How was I supposed to keep my head straight when he said stuff like that. Im glad Charlie is sleeping, Jake continued with a cheeky grin. You dont think hell come out here with a shotgun for me, will he? Well maybe we should try to defog some of these windows so that it doesnt give him the wrong idea, I teased as I gestured to the heavy condensation that had built up on the inside of all the windows. It felt like it was about 100 degrees in the car, so I manually rolled down the drivers side window a crack. I sniffed appreciatively as the deliciously cool crisp night air flowed into the car. I turned back to Jake, ready to continue where we had left off, when he sat up abruptly, his face suddenly harsh, his eyes alert, and his nostrils flared. He put his hands on my waist and tossed me back into the passenger seat as he reached over me to lock my door.

What? I sputtered in confusion, Whats going on Vampire, Jake ground out, as he threw open his door and pulled himself out of the car, slamming it shut behind him with a resounding thud.

hapter 14: Visitor

My fingers were numb as I fumbled with the lock to throw open the door. Stay in the car, Jake ground out without turning to look at me. He was frantically scanning the property, looking for any sign of the intruder, but nothing looked out of place. I ignored him as I scrambled around the car to stand next to him. I wasnt a total idiot. I didnt know who or what was out there, and staying as close to him as possible was my best bet for survival. Seeing that I wasnt going to obey him, Jake pushed me behind him so that I was wedged between him and the Rabbit. Quil! Jake hissed towards the woods by the left side of our house. Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then we heard some rustling in the trees as Quil emerged from the woods a good distance away from us. I could barely see him in the darkness, just the glint of the buttons and rivets on his cutoff jean shorts when they caught the moonlight. You party animals are back early. Couldnt find something better to do? Quil drawled as he stretched lazily and let out a loud yawn. Quil! Jake hissed again, the veins in his neck throbbing as he kept his anger and fear tightly leashed. Sheesh. Whats with the tude, man? Quil asked as he picked up his pace and jogged over towards us. Seriously His voice trailed off when he got within twenty feet of us and picked up the same scent that was freaking Jake out. Sh*t, Jake. I had no idea. Im sorry- What the hell have you been doing? Jake spat out angrily. Im sorry, man. I showed up at 10 to relieve Embry and there was no scent, I swear. I looped around the place and didnt see anything, so I went back to the woods to hang out. Didnt want to freak out the locals. But I fell asleep- Jakes eyebrows raised-Im sorry man, Im exhausted. Weve been pulling double shifts for weeks now. I didnt hear anything. I didnt see anything. I didnt smell anything until I got out here. Theres no scent back in the woods, I swear. Quil turned to me in agony; his face wrought with guilt, Bella, Im sorry. I really am. Its okay, Quil-I started to say. No, its not, Jake snapped, Just stay with her while I go into the house to check.

Charlie. You dont think they ... My voice trailed off as I felt all the blood draining from my head as I finally connected the dots. Jake grabbed my shoulders to keep me upright. The scent isnt strong enough for two. Its just one of them. But it leads to the front door, he replied curtly, though his hands were gentle as he leaned me against the side of the car. Jake turned to Quil and spoke quickly, As the Beta, Im ordering you to protect her. No matter what happens. If you hear me in trouble, take her and go to the rez immediately. Do not leave her to help me. Quils face faltered as he turned to look at me and then back at his best friend. Do you hear me?! Jake snarled as he pulled off his jacket and tie, which would constrain his movement too much, and threw them onto the hood of the car next to me. Let me go in with you. Quil stuttered, She may still be in there Do you hear me?!?! Jake snapped again as he stepped closer to Quil so that he was inches away from his face. I thought Quil might melt from the laser-like intensity of Jakes eyes. Yes, yes, I promise, Quil whispered softly. Be careful, man. Its not her. Its a different scent, Jake dismissed as he turned towards me. Do what he says, he ordered as he took off down the driveway towards the house. When he reached the door, I realized that he didnt have a key and so I began fumbling with the door handle to get my purse with the keys, but I looked up in shock as Jake just turned the knob and silently let himself in. The door was unlocked. The door was never unlocked. Something was definitely wrong. Oh God. If something happened to Charlie because of me, I would never be able to forgive myself. My knees went weak and I felt myself slumping against the side of the Rabbit. Quil reached out in alarm, but I shrugged off his assistance and slipped to the ground. I wrapped my arms tightly around my legs as I willed away the tears that were on the point of overflowing. Breaking down right now wouldnt help anything. I had to get a grip. It wasnt Victoria, so that was good, I reminded myself. And Laurent was dead. So maybe Charlie was okay. Maybe it was one of the Seattle vampires or a random traveler who came through the area. I couldnt think of any other vampire that had any reason to be in Forks. Another possibility flitted through my head, but I shut down that thought quickly. It wasnt possible. He wouldnt come back. He had no reason to. I turned to see Quil watching the house; guilt and fear written all over his face. It seemed hard to believe that a few minutes ago, I was a girl flushed with happiness in the aftermath of a perfect evening. And now, I was curled up in a tattered prom dress, surrounded by darkness and God knows what else was lurking out there, waiting to find out if two of the most important people in my life had been or would be killed by a deranged psychotic murderer. It seemed like ages since

Jake had entered the house, but we hadnt heard a sound so either nothing was wrong or something was terribly wrong. Just when I thought I was going to pass out from hyperventilation, Jake rounded the corner of the house, having come out the back door, and gave us a thumbs-up sign as he jogged over silently. I dropped my head in relief and tears did flow now. Silent tears of relief. Thank God. Charlie was okay. For now. Jake came to my side and I let him pull me to my feet, though I was still somewhat wobbly, so he kept his arm around me to help steady me as he gave us the debrief. Charlie was asleep on the couch. It was odd. The scent went a few steps into the living room where Charlie was sleeping my eyes were wide in alarm but no closer. I followed it straight up the stairs to Bellas bedroom where the scent was the strongest. It think the leech spent a few minutes in there before leaving through the front door. I checked the rest of the rooms and around the back. No scent anywhere. Thats really weird, Quil stammered, still reeling over the shock and guilt, Youre telling me a vamp walked into the house, checked out Charlie sleeping, didnt do anything, went up to Bellas room, and then left again. Yes, Jake replied with a frown. How the hell did he get by our border patrols? I thought we were running the boundaries down through the Forks town line. Sams been tied up getting the two new ones up to speed. Maybe the vamp came through on a blind spot. Were trying to cover hundreds of miles. Something is bound to slip through, Quil pleaded in defense of the pack. Then well need to step it up. Someone got through. Someone could have died! Jake argued back in a violent whisper. Yes, but no one did. It sounds like it was a friendly vampire. I mean, who else would leave Charlie alone? Maybe it was, you know, the Quils voice trailed off awkwardly as he looked at me. The Cullens, you mean? I asked, my voice sounded tighter and higher than normal. Jake stiffened beside me. Its a possibility, but I dont see why they would be here. Maybe he wanted to talk to you, Quil replied matter-of-factly, though he avoided Jakes eyes. We broke up almost a year ago. Im not sure theres much to talk about, I said honestly, trying to lean into Jake a little more to reassure him and myself, but he stayed stiff and unyielding, holding himself tightly in check next to me.

Umm Last I heard, exes still do talk to each other, Quil replied. A weird growling sound seemed to come from Jakes throat, though he hadnt visibly moved. Quil put up his hands in surrender. Look, buddy, its a possibility. Im just saying. Right now, I dont care who he is, I just care about how he got here without us knowing about it, Jake ground out. Go summon Embry and report to Sam. Quil obediently took off for the woods to presumably shift into wolf form to pass on the message. Jake turned to me with an impassive expression on his face. Embry will stay with you while Quil and I track down the scent to figure out how the leech got in and out without us seeing. Jake, its okay. I can be here by myself, I replied feebly, but I stopped when I saw the look in his eyes. Okay fine Embry can come. Jake pulled me into a tight bear hug then, losing his tough-guy exterior for a moment. Im just glad that youre okay, he muttered brokenly into my hair. And that Charlie is okay. For a moment there I thought that this was you know I know, I whispered softly, my words muffled into his chest. I dont know if he heard me, but it almost didnt matter. I was so flush with relief. Relief that Charlie wasnt hurt. Relief that it wasnt Victoria. Relief that Jake wasnt going to get all hung up on the whole Cullen thing. Quil coughed slightly as he re-emerged from the woods, so we broke apart reluctantly. Hell be here in five. Sams coming with him. He cant believe the vamp got through either. Jake nodded as he slung his arm around me and walked with me towards the house. Quil stayed outside to give us some privacy, which was so unlike him, that I figured the guilt from not catching the vamp was still weighing on him heavily. We let ourselves into the front door quietly. I sniffed around, trying to figure out if I could smell the scent that was driving them all crazy, but nothing. I remembered the Cullens smelling amazing, like the most tantalizing elusive perfume that you could never hope to be able to bottle, but I didnt detect any of that now. Just the pleasantly normal smell of our house. I peeked into the living room and saw Charlie snoring away on the couch. My eyes misted over as I watched him sleeping peacefully, unaware of all the tumult around him. Thank goodness he was such a deep sleeper. Though the boys moved so silently these days, despite their size, that they probably wouldnt have woken him up anyways. Jake motioned for me to head upstairs to my room. I started to limp towards the stairs, partially because my feet were killing me in the high-heeled sandals that I was wearing and partially because I felt the adrenaline draining out of me now that I knew that Charlie and I were safe for the time being. My shoes were making too much of a clicking sound against the hardwood floor, so Jake picked me up and carried me up the stairs effortlessly. He let me down on my bed and then stepped back to stand in the doorway, his arms crossed as he leaned against the doorframe. I wanted to just lie down and pull the sheets over my head and pretend that none of this had just happened, but I figured that was too cowardly. Instead, I pulled

off my shoes and reached over to grab my pajamas which I usually hung on the footboard of my bed. They werent there. I frowned as I got up and started feeling around the edge of my mattress where it met the footboard to see if they had fallen through. Nothing. I got up to peer at the floor around my bed and found the pajama bottoms an ugly pair of plaid lumberjack-esque pants that I had stolen from Charlie years ago and loved precisely because they were so ugly - but I didnt see my shirt anywhere. Whats wrong? Jake asked as he saw me surveying my room with a frown. My pajama top. Its gone. Its weird. I always hang it over the foot of the bed, but I dont see it, I said as I started searching the rest of the room, flipping through the clothes in the hamper and pulling open drawers even though I knew there was no way that I had put the shirt there. What does it look like? Jake asked as he pushed himself from the doorway to come help. Its just a plain red shirt. Cotton. Long-sleeved. Nothing special, I said with another frown as I exhausted all the possibilities in my room. My room wasnt that big and I was relatively neat, so there werent that many places for a shirt to hide. It was just my favorite sleep shirt because it was so comfortable, I explained as I turned back to him. Jake lifted up the mattress from the bed frame so that we could peer around underneath. Nothing. We swatted around the pillows and the sheets. Still nothing. Are you sure its not downstairs? Jake asked dubiously. No way. I swear, I put it there. I like having my stuff organized, I dont leave things lying around, I muttered as I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jake stiffen. I looked up to see him staring at me in horror. What? Whats wrong? Thats why he was here he said slowly as the gears began to click into place. Why who was here? I asked stupidly. The bloodsucker just now. If it was some random leech, he would never have passed on Charlie. The vamp he or she or whatever the heck they are - he was here for a reason. He wanted something of yours. Something that- Something that would smell like me, I finished for him, feeling my heartbeat racing as I finally caught on. Thats it! This explains everything, Jake almost shouted, before remembering that Charlie was sleeping downstairs. He lowered his voice and continued, They knew wed be watching. So

they were careful to avoid the forests where we would be hiding. They came in the front and made a quick beeline to your room to get the shirt and to get out without us noticing. I guess this means you were right, I said numbly, the full weight of what Jake was saying landing with the force of an anvil on my shoulders. Its her. It has to be her. Shes the only one who knows about the pack. Shes still hunting me, but shes got others to help now. Jakes face was suddenly tight as the elation over having solved the puzzle faded and the implications settled in. He swallowed hard and we stared long and hard at each other. Even though we had suspected all along, knowing it was a different thing. I think there was a secret part of us that had been hoping that maybe Sam was right. That maybe she had moved on. But here was proof that she wasnt done with us yet. Proof that the odds were stacked against us. Well figure it out. We have to, Jake said hoarsely as he reached out to me. I stepped into his arms, my ultimate safe haven in a scary scary world, and wished desperately for that to be true. Jake stiffened suddenly and turned towards the window. Theyre here. I should go. We need to figure out how he snuck past our border patrols. I nodded mutely as he let go of me and turned to leave. He paused at the door, Embry will be camped out in front of the house until we get back. Dont- Dont worry? How can I not? I asked softly, with everything that I felt for him but was unable to say in my eyes. Jake took it all in for a long moment. And then he nodded and disappeared down the stairs.

Chapter 15: Idea

I finally dozed off around sunrise. The fact that someone had been in my room, touching my stuff, tracking my scent, hunting me, creeped me out big time. I got up a number of times in the night to look out my window to make sure Embry was still sitting up by the tree in the front lawn. Every time I checked on him, he looked up to give me a cheerful wave. I couldn't even bring myself to feel bad that I was depriving him of yet another night of sleep. I was just happy that he was there. When I woke up the next morning well the next afternoon really - there was a yellow post-it on the pillow next to me. I'll be back at 4. Pack meeting tonight. Don't worry. We're all okay. It wasn't signed, but Jake's scrawl was familiar. I flushed when I realized he must have stopped by while I was sleeping and left it there. I hoped that he was sleeping now. He needed his rest. Now more than ever. I dragged myself into the shower to make myself presentable for Charlie. I heard him moving around downstairs, probably making lunch given that it was just past noon. I was proven right

when I dragged myself into the kitchen twenty minutes later. Charlie had heated up some tomato soup and made grilled cheese sandwiches and was just settling into his chair when I came in. Afternoon, Bells, he said with a wry smile as he gestured towards the empty chair opposite from him. I gratefully sank down, filled my soup bowl and snagged a slightly burnt sandwich that was oozing cheese from its sides. I was starving. Late night, huh? I nodded. I had just taken a bite of the sandwich so I couldn't exactly respond. I didn't hear you guys come in. I was out like a log. Jake get home, okay? he continued chatting away cheerfully. I nodded again, looking down at my soup. I didn't trust myself not to respond to that question. Had a good time? I nodded again, blushing, not sure if I wanted to be giving Charlie the lowdown on the night. You gonna talk or you just gonna eat? Charlie teased, the edges of his eyes crinkling up as he grinned at me. I rolled my eyes and pointedly held out the sandwich that I had just taken a big bite of. Charlie just chuckled as he took a big bite of his own sandwich. We finished eating in silence and piled our dishes into the sink. I figured it was my turn to wash since Charlie had actually cooked if popping the lid off a can of Campbell's could be counted as cooking so I sudsed up the dishes while Charlie grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat back in his chair with a deep sigh of satisfaction. I take it you're feeling better, I commented over my shoulder. He was looking good. More like his old self, with the twinkle back in his eyes and the color back in his cheeks. Fit as a fiddle, he proclaimed. I'm even thinking of going fishing later with Mike. Mike was the deputy at the station and his new fishing partner now that Harry had passed away. Where are you going? I asked with a frown. Probably La Push. The trout are biting pretty well out there I hear. I nodded as I turned back to the sink, thankful that I didn't have to ask the pack to patrol yet another area of town just to keep Charlie safe. So, Jake's coming by this afternoon? Charlie asked suddenly.

I dropped the plate I was rinsing with a loud clang. Had Charlie seen the post-it note on my pillow? Did he think that Jake had stayed overnight or something? And was he pissed about that? I mean, Edward had stayed over all the time, but Charlie hadn't exactly known about it. Something, wrong? he asked, his beer paused at his lips. No, nothing, slippery plate, I stammered. How did you know? I asked as casually as I could even though I could feel my face growing warm in embarrassment. Jake called earlier while you were sleeping. He was the one who suggested that Mike and I head out to La Push for the trout. Oh, of course, I mumbled as I let out a quick sigh of relief at Jakes ingenuity. What have you guys got planned for the day? Charlie pressed on. Graduations coming up tomorrow. Its a big day for you Bells. You should get out and celebrate. Not much, well probably hang out at La Push, I said quickly as I finished up and wiped my hands on the dish towel. I badly wanted to get out of here. I dont know what had come over me, but I was suddenly afraid that I would break into tears at the strain of pretending that everything was normal. Everything okay? Charlie asked, staring at me critically, with a frown playing at the edges of his lips. Yeah, just tired, I said lamely with a shrug. I think I'm going to lie down until Jake comes. Charlie didn't look convinced but he nodded as he watched me leave. As I made my way up the stairs, I heard the scrape of his chair as he got up and headed into the living room where he busied himself assembling his fishing gear. It was a beautiful day outside so I pulled my bedroom window wide open. Embry was gone from his perch in my front lawn, but that didn't mean he wasn't out in the woods somewhere. Having him hanging outside our house in broad daylight might have been hard to explain to Charlie. I flopped down on my bed in frustration. I hated this waiting game. I hated knowing that they were out there putting themselves in danger to protect me. I hated feeling helpless; sitting around while the pack ran around trying to fix all the problems that I had caused. I hated feeling like I was the only weak link in a world of superheros and supervillains. I reached over to my bookshelf and aimlessly pulled out something to read. I stared at the bluecover hardcopy in my hands. It was the book that I had bought last year in Port Angeles about Quileute Legends; the book that had started it all. After reading it that one time, I had stuffed it to the back of my bookshelf and never looked at it again. Until now.

I opened it up gingerly and started flipping through the pages. Reading it now after all that I knew about the Cullens and the Quileutes sent shivers down my spine. I wondered how many people would read these stories innocently, thinking they were just tribal legends passed down through the generations. If only they knew. As I leafed through the section about the Cold Ones, the story of the Third Wifes Sacrifice caught my eye. It told of a vampire attack a few hundred years ago that came close to decimating the Quileute Tribe. With only one werewolf left to defend them, the chieftains wife, whose name was never recorded, sacrificed herself, distracting the vampire with the scent of her blood, which gave the lone werewolf the chance he needed to attack and finish the vampire off. I marveled at her bravery or was it stupidity? Either way, I doubted that I had that type of courage in me. I turned the page and an illustration caught my eye. It showed an attack on the tribe by a newborn vampire, whose eyes were bright ruby-red compared to the darker maroon-hued eyes of the older vampires in the other etchings in the book. The footnote on the page said that not only were newborn vampires insatiable, but because they were still full of human blood due to their recent transformation, they were also much stronger than older vampires. I felt the book slip through my fingers and crash to the ground as the events from this past week, from last night, finally pierced through the thick wall of denial I had vainly put up in my mind. New vampires were stronger than normal vampires. Who knew how many new vampires Victoria had created. The morning newspaper had reported another handful of unexplained disappearances. The total had to be at least 20 now. Not only was the pack hopelessly outnumbered, but these vampires were a lot stronger than any of the vampires they had ever encountered before. Stronger than Victoria. Stronger than Edward. Stronger than even Emmett. My brain couldnt even process what that meant. I felt the hot tears of frustration spilling over as I let myself indulge in the crying fit that I had been holding back all week so that Jake wouldnt worry. I curled up in my bed and pulled the sheets over me as I felt myself sob uncontrollably and helplessly. It was all my fault. I was dooming the pack to die because of me. I was the one that Victoria wanted. If she had gotten me this past spring, then none of this would have happened. Jake and the others would be safe. But now, to protect me and to do what they believed was right, they would fight her and whatever army she had raised, even if they knew it meant certain death, because it was the right thing to do. Suddenly, the story about the third wifes sacrifice popped into my head. It was as if a cartoon light-bulb had gone off above my head. I stopped crying as I realized that I did have a choice. I could do something. I could go seek out Victoria and end this. She had no reason to take on the pack if she got her revenge. If I went to Seattle and let her take me out, this would be over. I just had to figure out a way to get to Seattle without Jake knowing, which was easier said than done. But I had to figure out a way. It wasn't fair for me to do this to them. To Quil, Jared, Embry, and to Paul who despite their rough and tumble frat boy antics had hearts of gold and would fight

to their last breath for me. To Sam who would always look after the tribe's interests but still would not have the heart to sacrifice me for the pack. To Jake the best friend that I didn't deserve but somehow had. Him especially, I could not sacrifice. I let out a choked sob as I burrowed deeper into the bed, desperately seeking some warmth and reassurance. I had done this before I reminded myself. I had made the decision once before to go to James to save Renee. Couldnt I do the same thing now for Jacob? Yes, yes, I could. I had to. I couldnt let this happen. I did have the power to stop it. And I was going to use it. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I pulled the sheet down slightly so that I could glance at the clock. It was 4 pm. I sat up hastily, trying to wipe away the evidence of any tears before Jake saw me like this. But I knew my eyes would still be red and my skin blotchy no matter what I did. The door opened as I pulled the rest of the sheets down from over my head. Oh great, you're having a meltdown. It was Leah. And she looked as unhappy to see me as I was surprised to see her. Where's Jake? I asked without bothering to be polite. It would be wasted on Leah anyway. No point in having him come out since I was already here, she rolled her eyes. I figured that I'd give him an extra hour of sleep. Were you visiting friends? I asked curiously, taking in Leahs ratty tanktop and shorts. Uh, no, Leah replied curtly. She was staring at me as if I were crazy. I was outside, hanging out in your woods, watching for bloodsuckers? My eyes widened. I hadn't realized that Leah was also taking shifts watching over us. Leah blew out a sigh as she rolled her eyes. Alrighty then. Glad someone can live in la-la land while the rest of us do all the work. I thought it was Embry, I apologized profusely, tripping over my words as they tumbled out of my mouth. I didnt realize you I appreciate your help I thought- Leah waved me off. -Embry had to run patrol so he called around. I, unfortunately, was the one who picked up the phone. She raised an eyebrow as she looked around my room, which didn't look that dissimilar to her own. Her eyes fell on the post-it on my pillow, which I hadn't bothered to remove; somehow I liked seeing it there next to me. Her lips quirked as she looked up to catch me blushing. Better put that away. Don't want to give Charlie any ideas, she drawled lazily. I snatched it up and jumped up to put it into my desk drawer. I pulled an elastic out to tie my hair back. When I turned around, Leah was flipping through the Quileute Legends book that she had picked up off the floor. It was open to the story of the Third Wife Sacrifice. She looked up at me with an odd expression on her face.

I looked at her blankly, wiping my face smooth of any emotion, I couldn't let any of them know what I was thinking. Jake would go ballistic if he knew. Leahs dark brown eyes bore into mine as she stared me down. Doing some light reading? she asked raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. Just wanted to do some research, I shrugged casually, trying to keep my tone light. Read up on the enemy and all that. She looked unconvinced but she shrugged as she pivoted on her heel to head out of my room. She paused at the door before turning back, Youre not planning anything stupid, are you? No, I try to avoid stupid things at all costs, I replied lightly with a small smile. Right, Leah said with another careful look at me. Then she tossed her head and headed back down the stairs without another word.

Chapter 16: Plan

Leah and I drove out to La Push that afternoon in Leahs old baby-blue Chevette, followed by Charlie and Mike in the cruiser. They honked and waved at us through the window when they turned off the main road to follow an old dirt road that led down to some popular fishing spots along the Quilayute River. When we pulled up to Jakes house, I could see Billy and Old Quil sitting in the living room talking to Sam. Quil and Paul were sprawled on the front porch steps and raised their hands in greeting as we pulled into the driveway. I didnt see Jared or Embry or Jake, for that matter. Leah and I hopped out of the car at the same time. We hadnt said a word to each other on the way over. Leah had turned up the alternative rock station as soon as we got into the car, so I figured she wasnt in any mood to talk. Which was fine because I wasnt either. Quil and Paul got to their feet - they had clearly been waiting for us to arrive - but the boys remembered to stand politely to one side of the front door to let us into the house first. Where is everyone else? Leah asked as she walked into the living room and plopped down on the faded blue armchair in the corner. Embry and Jared are running patrol. Seth is watching over Collin and Brady they still havent been able to successfully phase back, Sam replied as he stood up to greet me. Bella, Im sorry the vampire got through. Its our fault. We promised to protect you and Charlie. No, its okay, I stammered awkwardly, my face warm with embarrassment. Its not your fault. You guys cant do everything. And nothing happened, so theres no need to apologize

Its kind of you to say that, Billy replied gravely as he patted the couch next to his wheelchair. I sat down obediently, grateful to be out of the limelight. I heard a door in the hallway open as Jake appeared, with a serious case of bed-head and his eyes still fuzzy from sleep. He ambled into the room and greeted everyone with a wave before plopping down on the couch next to me. Jake wrapped his arm around my shoulders casually, bringing me in close for a moment to nuzzle my neck, before pulling back to lean his head against the couch and close his eyes to catch a few more moments of rest. I tensed up at first, suddenly aware that this was the first time that he and I had been together together in front of the pack, but it didnt seem to faze anyone. Im not even sure anyone even noticed. So, we have a new development, Old Quil announced gravely as he launched right into the meeting. Quil and Paul, who had been idling around by the front door, quickly settled against the far edge of the room, leaning against a table that looked like it would be crushed by their collective weight. Yes, Sam said as he reported out what happened last night, more for my, Billy, and old Quils benefit, since the rest of the pack had already heard all the details. Last night, a vampire made it into Forks and into Bellas house without being detected by our patrol. He allegedly took an article of clothing from Bellas room- Jake snorted at this as he lifted his head, opening his eyes, now fully awake -and left without harming Charlie or anyone else as far as we know. Jake, Quil, and I tracked the vampires scent. He left his car parked at the far side of the Wildlife Preserve, along the southeast edge of the county line, which is way beyond our patrol grounds since no lives out there. Well, technically, the Cullens used to live there. Sam nodded at me then, I guess because I was the only one who had ever been to the Cullens house, before he continued. The terrain there is pretty rugged, full of peaks and valleys, so it took us a while to trace his route. He crossed into our patrol area undetected by swimming upstream in the Forks River. His scent disappeared into the river out in the Wildlife Preserve, only to emerge five miles upstream, well within our patrol borders, by the old rock quarry field. The what field? Paul asked loudly. The old rock quarry field. The one with the big cliff on one end and all the random rock formations around the edges. Its the one where the Cullens used to play baseball back in the day. I knew exactly which field he was talking about. I had only been there once in my life, but I would remember every detail of that field forever. It was in that field that James, Victoria, and Laurent entered my life and changed everything forever.

The vampire then entered Forks through the west side, arriving at Bellas house, and then leaving exactly the way he entered, Sam paused as he turned to Jake. Anything else you want to add? Jake stood up stiffly. Just that all the signs point to the redhead being involved. This vampire knew about us. Knew that we would be patrolling the boundaries and figured out a way to slip in without being seen. The leech didnt hurt Charlie, who would have been easy prey, and instead, took something that smelled like Bella. If it wasnt to bring back something that would make it easier for them to hunt for her, what was it for? Old Quils eyes were thoughtful as he looked at me, but he didnt say anything. Billy, however, jumped right in, I can think of at least one other explanation for this, son. Jake looked puzzled as did most of the others in the room. But suddenly, I knew what Billy was going to say and the words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Its not him. Trust me. He wouldnt come back. He has no reason to. Are you so sure? Billy asked quietly. The Cullen boy would know about us. He would know how to slip in and out of your house unnoticed. And he would have no interest in harming Charlie. But he might have considerable interest in taking something of yours for old times sake? Am I wrong? Yes, you are. Believe me. He doesnt have any feelings for me anymore. Its over. He was pretty clear about that My voice faltered as I could see that my protests werent convincing anyone. Even Jakes eyes looked doubtful and pained - as he considered this new theory. I believe her, Leahs voice suddenly pierced the silence. My jaw almost dropped to the floor as I turned to look at her. Leah had unfolded herself from the armchair and was standing, with her arms crossed defensively in front of her chest, as she faced the rest of the pack. Plus, I assume that Sam should be able to confirm whether this is true or not. He smelled the Cullen boys scent that time back in the fall when he searched the woods for Bella. He would know if this were the same scent. I marveled at Leahs sharp recall. Sam grinned in appreciation too as he nodded slowly. Shes right. I had forgotten about that. This scent was new. Im sure of it. I havent smelled it before so it cant have been the Cullen boy. I could be one of the other Cullens though. They stayed off our territory and we stayed off theirs, so we never learned all of their scents. I doubt it, Leah dismissed. I cant imagine any of the others coming back for her. No offense, she added belatedly as she realized what she had said. I shrugged. Being offended was the last thing on my mind right now. So what do you suggest, Leah? Old Quil asked, speaking for the first time since the start of the meeting.

The way I see it, theres a 95% chance that it really is the red-head and her band of followers, looking to take this one down, she jerked her thumb at me. In which case, were in a lot of trouble. Sure, theres a small possibility that its not them and its one of the Cullens, but I dont think we want to bet on it. Agreed. This was probably a trial run of sorts, Jake mused as he continued Leahs train of thought. To see if he could sneak in and out undetected. He probably thought he was successful too. Though I guess he was successful- Jake grimaced as he corrected himself Im betting this is the route they take when the rest of them come. The last thing they want is to fight out by the border and give us time to sneak Bella off to a place where they couldnt find her. So lets set up an ambush by the old quarry field. Its the perfect place. Theres that sloping meadow that comes up from the river and tons of rock formations that we can use strategically, Sam joined in. Yeah, we can totally take them by surprise, Paul chortled with a high-five to Quil. Theyll never know whats coming, Quil laughed as he slapped Pauls hand. Of course, we dont know when theyre coming, Leah rolled her eyes as she spoke over the boys comments. Or how many of them there will be. If the newspaper reports are to be believed, theres been at least twenty-something disappearances in the last few months and who knows how many more have yet to be reported. Everyones face was grim as Leah finally brought up the pink elephant in the room. Even Paul and Quil, never the sharpest tools in the shed, didnt look quite so gung-ho now. Some of the disappearances are probably unrelated, Jake suggested, though he didnt look all that convinced himself. Not all will have successfully turned. Many new vampires die in the process or in the early days, Billy offered weakly, a departure from his usually reassuring demeanor. Still, Sam acknowledged what we were all thinking but were unwilling to say out loud. No matter what. Well be heavily outnumbered. Plus, theyre so much stronger than normal vampires, I blurted out in a blind panic, worried that they might have forgotten that one crucial thing The pack seemed confused by my response, except for Jake, who was used to my random outburst. What do you mean? he asked calmly. I leaned down to grab my bag so that I could pull out the book. It was in this book about Quileute Legends that I read. The newborn vampires have more human blood in them because of their recent transformation, so theyre a lot stronger than older vampires.

Sam took the book from my hand and opened it up to the illustration that I had flagged. Jake learned over his shoulder and read the description aloud to the rest of the room. Old Quil chuckled softly when he finished. Shes right. I had forgotten about that. Theres just that one story about a newly created cold one. The tribe has never encountered one since so we never knew if it was true or not. So what youre saying is that were doubly screwed, Leah commented calmly as she took the book from Jake to check out the illustration. Leah! Quil protested, Youre such a joy kill! No, Im just practical, she replied emotionlessly as she handed the book back to Jake. You dont think we can take them? Paul asked indignantly, as he jumped up from the table where he was perched, his hands balled into firsts. I recognized frustration when I saw it. Paul knew the pack was in trouble. But it was easier for him to pick a fight with Leah than to deal with it. Umm. Lets see, Leah replied sarcastically without even the slightest hint that she was worried about Pauls posturing. There are 20 of them and 10 of us. Lets just say that I dont like our odds. We do have the element of surprise, Jake commented as he stepped between them and gestured for Paul to back down. Paul frowned but he settled back down against the wall. Uh so do they, Leah replied, If you recall, we have no way of knowing when theyll come. So well just have to be ready at any time, Jake retorted, assuming his Beta voice and stance of authority. Well continue to run our patrols, but well make the field our home-base from now on. We can easily sleep out there. The cliff on the north side is the perfect vantage point to scope out the field and the river. We can start tonight. Well scope out the area and plan a strategy for greeting them when they do arrive. You know what would help? Sam said thoughtfully as he took in the exchange between Jake and Leah. If Bella were there. Theyre hunting for her, so her scent will distract them. Im game, I said immediately, but my voice was drowned out by Jakes roar. Absolutely not! he yelled at Sam. Are you crazy? No, Jake, I want to be there- I protested as I made an attempt to grab at his arm.

Out of the question, Jake growled as he stepped in front of me to block me from Sam. His eyes were glowing defiantly as he pulled himself to his full height and stared him down. I didnt want to know what would happen if Sam, as the Alpha, were to order Jake, to let me be there. No, I want to be there! This is all my fault. I should be there, I protested again, but Jake wouldnt budge, even when I tried to push him aside Oh please, Leah cut in. Like that will help. All that will do is distract Jake. Hell be too busy trying to make sure youre okay that hell be useless to us. Leah is right, Sam was calm as he directed his words at Jake. It doesnt make sense for her to be there. But if she could spend some time there in the next few days, her scent will linger, even if shes not there in person. Jakes nod was barely perceptible, but Sam seemed to have taken it as a sign of cooperation because he continued briskly Okay, so its settled. Well scope out the site tonight, figure out where we want to place Bellas scent to lure them into an ambush, and then Bella youll go with Jake tomorrow morning to place your scent? Of course, I replied automatically before I remembered that I was supposed to be graduating from high school tomorrow morning. Oh umm is it okay if we do it tomorrow night? Everyone in the room stared at me as if I had grown three heads. We had just talked about the imminent danger looming over our heads and here I was asking for a delay. Its just its graduation tomorrow and I dont know how Ill explain it to Charlie if I didnt and he made dinner reservations too, I stammered awkwardly, feeling stupid even as the words left my mouth. Its okay, Bella, Billys deep baritone was reassuring. Tomorrow night is fine. We cant let this take over our lives. If it does, they win anyway. So celebrate tomorrow. We still have time. I nodded mutely, but I couldnt bring myself to look into any of the others eyes, least of all Leahs. Billys pronouncement seemed to be the end of the pack meeting. Quil and Paul gathered around Sam as he gave them some softly-spoken commands before they made a beeline for the front door. Sam said a few words to Jake, before motioning to Leah to follow him as he headed towards the front door too. Leah paused on the threshold before turning to look at me with a strange expression on her face. Then she walked back to pick up the Quileute Legends book that had been placed onto the coffee table, flipped it open to a page half-way through before giving it to Jacob. She muttered something underneath her breath that I couldnt quite make out and turned to give me a nonsubtle glance before she headed out the door. What the heck was that about, I wondered, but I didnt have to wait too long to find out, because Jakes eyes grew wide, first in alarm and then in frustration, as he skimmed the page that Leah

had opened for him. He looked up with a sigh and then held the book out to me. It was open to the story of the third wifes sacrifice.

Chapter 17: Argument

Is there something that you want to tell me? Jake asked, his voice rough with emotion, as he gestured towards the book that he held in his hand. No, I replied defiantly as I made the move to head out the back door. I didnt exactly want to do this in front of old Quil and Bill. I heard Jake stomping after me as we exited the house and made our way to his garage. I learned against the front hood of the Rabbit and turned to face him, ready for the confrontation. But Jake didnt say anything as he stood there, his arms crossed in front of his chest, as he watched me under hooded eyes. I dont know what Leah said, but she doesnt know anything, I retorted finally when I couldnt stand the silence anymore. She just said that I should keep an eye on you since youve been doing some reading, he replied as he brandished the book. I hope you arent thinking of doing anything stupid I scoffed as best as I could, given that I was thinking of doing something pretty damn stupid, but I could tell that Jake wasnt convinced. He narrowed his eyes as he took one step closer to me. Because you know that it wouldnt help, right? He continued as his eyes darkened to a pitch black. It would make it worse. First of all, youd never succeed. Ill watch you every minute of the day if I have to, to make sure you dont try to do something stupid like sneak off to Seattle yourself, I scowled but Jake just raised an eyebrow as he continued And if by some chance, something did happen to you, do you really think that would stop all this?! That all of this would end? Yes! I blurted out before I could stop myself. She has nothing against you. Its me she wants. Ha! Jake shouted angrily as he threw the book onto his workbench with a loud thump and grabbed my shoulders. She wont stop with you. Its not just about you anymore. Weve gotten in her way one too many times. Shell want to take us down too. Victoria wants to create pain and destruction all around her, Jake paused to take a breath And you know the twisted thing about all of this? I actually understand where shes coming from! What? I stuttered as Jakes big hands closed painfully around my shoulders. Because she lost him. The only person in the world that mattered to her. And nothing she does will ever be able to bring him back. Nothing! And so she wants the rest of us to feel the despair and the pain that she feels every day, Jakes voice cracked as he continued in a broken whisper. And to be fair, if I lost you, I cant say I wouldnt want to do the same thing.

My insides melted as I saw the pain and torment in his eyes. For a moment, I couldnt hear anything except my heart thumping loudly inside my chest. Then Jake continued, If something did happen to you if she succeeded in, Jake swallowed deeply as he struggled to find the words, -to kill you, do you think Id be able to just walk away from her? That I wouldnt want to tear her from limb to limb? Make her suffer as much as possible? Kill every person in the world that she might still care about? Believe me, I would. Im not that good of a guy, he muttered softly as he let go of my shoulders to pull me to him and bury his face in my hair. The tears were flowing now freely from my eyes. I hadnt thought about that, what Jake would do if I had managed to confront Victoria alone. I realized now how stupid I had been in thinking that was the best solution. It was the easiest solution, because it would relieve me of the guilt that weighed heavily on my shoulders, but it would only hurt them more in the long run. We stood there for a long time, wrapped up in each others arms, until finally Jake broke away with a wry expression on his face. Did I freak you out there? I snorted as I reached up to pat down his hair, which was still adorably tousled from his nap earlier in the day. Hardly. I know what a good guy you are, I replied softly. A good guy?, Jake protested as he grabbed my hand to get my attention. Didnt you hear me? I said I would I know, I said as I pulled my hand away to press my fingers against his mouth. I heard. And its precisely because youre such a good guy that you would do that. Jake looked like he wanted to protest, but I kept my fingers pressed firmly against his lips. He finally shrugged as he spun around so that he was sitting against the Rabbit next to me. My head was spinning. Jake was right. It was a stupid idea. I didnt know what I had been thinking. Especially since it wasnt the only way I could help. There was another way I could help. And it was something that would actually help. The option had always lurked in the back of my mind, but I hadnt really considered it. Until now. I turned to look up at Jake, taking in the strain that was etched in the lines across his forehead and around his eyes. His eyes were dark and brooding as he stared off into the distance ahead of him, completely lost in his thoughts. I mentally prepared the words I was going to say. I didnt know how he would react. Part of me felt that he would be logical and rational about it, as he had been about everything so far. But then another part of me whispered that he might not be so rational about this. You know, Jake, I cleared my throat as I tried to steady my nerves. There is another option that we havent explored. Something that could help the pack. Yeah? Jake blinked as he shook himself out of his trance. He turned to partially face me, his eyes wary but hopeful.

Yeah, I said with more confidence than I felt. I turned to face him. We dont know how many Victoria has with her, but its definitely more than ten. And I dont know if Collin and Brady even count. Theyre so new. So there are really only 8 fighters in the pack. You need help. The pack needs help. Jake tilted his head to one side, but he didnt argue with me. Instead, he motioned for me to continue. Well, I know where we can get the help, I said, pausing as I worked up the courage to force the next few words out of my mouth. I could contact the Cullens. Jakes head snapped up and he opened his mouth to speak, but I put my hand over it as I stumbled on. Just listen, Jake. It makes sense. Youre outnumbered. We need their help. There are seven of them. And they would help. I know they would. They started the problem by killing James. Well, I guess, I technically created the problem by existing- I felt Jakes mouth moving under my hand, so I just clamped it over his mouth tighter until he stopped trying to talk -Look, its an option. One we havent talked about. But we should. Because I know you know that were out of options. I looked up at him expectantly waiting for him to speak. Thats when I realized my hand was still over his mouth. I blushed as I pulled it away and gestured for him to reply. But he didnt. Not for a long time. He stared at me, his stare penetrating deep into me, until I couldnt stand it anymore and I had to look away. I didnt know what he was looking for, but apparently, he didnt find it. When he did speak, his voice was uncharacteristically low and defeated. I should have known it would come to this. Come to what, Jake? I asked with a frown. I didnt like the look on his face. Him, he said simply as he raised his hands, palms-up in surrender. You want him back. Yes I replied slowly. Because I want him to help. You need him. You need them. The minute those words came out of my mouth, I knew I had said the wrong thing. We dont need his help! Jake exploded as he backed away from me hastily putting a few feet between us. We can take care of this! Yeah? You werent arguing with Leah before about being outnumbered, I shouted back, stung by how angry his response was. You know its true! You know that the pack is grave danger! They can help! Help?! Theyre the ones who caused this mess in the first place, Jake spat out as he spun around in frustration and began pacing the length of the garage. This is all their fault. If they hadnt existed, none of this would have happened!

Oh right, because if the Cullens hadnt existed, James and Victoria probably would have killed me a long time ago, I retorted sarcastically, my cheeks mottled an angry purple. Hardly, Jake shot back. They wouldnt have had any reason to kill you if the Cullen hadnt flaunted you in front of them as their human plaything or chewtory or whatever- -Thats not what they did, I ground out between clenched teeth. Thats what it sounded like to me. The Cullens? They know better than anyone how dangerous their kind is. How on earth could they have put you in that kind of danger? And then leave you without protection? What if we didnt exist, huh? What if the pack didnt exist? What would have happened to you? Jake continued, on a roll now, his eyes blazing in a fiery rage. You would have died months ago! Died, Bella! But he doesnt care about that, does he? Because if he did, he wouldnt have left you unprotected from that murderous leech! Thats not what happened, I protested angrily, wanting to give Edward some benefit of the doubt. He didnt know that she would be back. He thought that she was over it. He should have known, Jake retorted just as angrily. If he knew anything about his kind, he should have known how vindictive they are. Ruthless predators that will do anything to get what they want. He should know that. Hes one of them! He didnt know, I repeated, more to reassure myself than to reassure Jake. He doesnt know. Because if he did know, he would be here. I know it. He may not love me anymore,-I tried not to trip over the words too much-But hes a good guy. I know it. A good guy, huh? Is that what he is? Leaving behind his messes for other people to clean up? My jaw dropped as I felt my eyes begin to sting. Is that what you think of me, Jake? my voice broke up. Is that what I am? A mess you have to clean up? Damnit, Bella, you know thats not what I meant, Jake muttered as he pushed his hands through his hair and clutched at his head angrily. Forget I said that. You know thats not what I meant. I couldnt help the tears that were overflowing now, but Jake didnt see as he had taken a few steps back to put more distance between us. I cant believe this. The first sign of trouble and you want to call him and ask him to come back to protect you, Jake continued angrily as he began to pace back and forth, refusing to look at me. Its hardly the first sign of trouble! I wouldnt ask if we werent in a desperate situation, I shouted now through my tears. Damnit, Jake! Do you think I want this? To call him up to ask for a favor no, no, not just a favor, to ask him to come and risk his life for me even after he told me he never wanted to see me again? You think this is easy for me?

Jake didnt respond for a long time. I was beginning to think that he wasnt going to respond when he finally stopped pacing and turned to look at me, his eyes filling with pain as he spoke. It might not be easy, but I think this is what youve secretly wanted all along, he said slowly. What youve wanted all along, but could never bring yourself to admit. What? That I want him back? I choked out. I wanted to wring his neck. The boy was so damn stubborn sometimes. And so damn wrong sometimes too. You think that Ive been waiting for the perfect opportunity to call and beg him to come back into my life? I dont know, Bella, Jake said as he threw up his hands. All I know is that the first idea you come up with is to call him to ask him to come back and save the day. You idiot! I shouted as I took three steps towards him to try to close the gap between us. I dont want him to save the day! I want him to save you! Me? Jakes eyes widened as he took in my words. I dont need his help. Thanks for the vote of confidence though, he said as he started to push past me to leave the garage. Damnit, Jake, I reached out to snag his arm to prevent him from leaving. He didnt turn around, but he didnt move either. Im scared. I dont want you to die. I dont want any of you to die. But shes coming. I know she is. And I need to do something to try to help. This is the only thing I can offer. More bodies. The numbers will almost be even if they come. Maybe you would stand a chance. I cant let you just walk into Victorias trap without knowing that Ive done my best to help. I cant I couldnt I dont want you to die I let go of his arm so that I could wrap my arms around myself as the tears flowed freely now. But still Jake didnt move. Shes after you, he replied hoarsely, his back still to me, And yet, youre worrying about me dying? Yes, I said through the tears. Because its okay if she gets me. But its not okay if she its just not fair to you you didnt ask for any of this its not fair. Neither did you Jake pointed out, still facing away from me.. I know, but you REALLY didnt ask for this. You deserve more than this, I said helplessly gesturing to the world around us even though his back was still to me, You deserve more than this life than dying because of me Oh Bells, Jake said suddenly as he turned around with a loud sigh. Dont oh Bells me, I retorted curtly now that I was cried out and the tears had been replaced with a growing sense of frustration. I couldnt believe we were fighting over this and that Jake was still looking at me as if I had stabbed him in the back.

Suddenly, a short high-pitched howl pierced the air followed by a longer lower-pitched one. Jakes head turned automatically to look out in the direction of the forest. Look, Im sorry, but I need to go, he said uncomfortably, Thats the call that Embry uses for me. Its probably my time to swap patrol shifts. Fine, I said as I waved my hand dismissively. I didnt know if I could take arguing with him any more right now. Go. And I want to be there when they strategize about the quarry field. I would stay otherwise, but its important that I be there, Jake continued awkwardly as he stared down as his feet. Go, Jake! Its fine, I practically shouted as I motioned for him to head towards the door. Jakes face was still uncertain but he made the move to leave. Then he shook his head and turned back suddenly. Are we ok? he asked hesitantly. Of course were not okay! I said in exasperation, We had a fight! What makes you think were okay? Jake blanched as I said that, but he persisted, I know. Our first fight, he quipped with a wry smile on his face. I rolled my eyes as I used the back of my right hand to dry off the few remaining tears that were rolling down my cheeks. It was hardly our first fight, but I didnt think it was worth pointing it out to him right now. But were okay, right? I mean, you and me I sighed. I knew what he meant and I couldnt believe he would be worried. Yes, well be okay, Jake. I cant believe you would think that one argument would end our relationship, I said as shook my head in mock dismay. You cant get rid of me that easily. Jake smiled softly then as he cupped his overly large and overly warm hands around my cheeks and bent down to drop a kiss on my forehead. I know, I know, it was stupid. But- his face darkened as he said this -I never know when it comes to him. Hes the one thing that I cant ever be sure about with you. And with that parting shot, he turned and left me standing in the garage by myself.

Chapter 18: Decision

I couldnt sleep and sat up that night for a long time. On one hand, the fight had left me sick to my stomach. Jake was right. It really had been our first real fight. We had fought once before, when Jake had disappeared after his transformation, but that wasnt quite the same as what happened yesterday. And yet, on the other hand, the fight didnt end so badly. We hadnt exactly made up, but it was clear that we would at some point. So there was an overwhelming sense of relief mixed in with a healthy dose of uncertainty, since I still didnt know where that left us on the Cullen thing.

It didnt matter where that left us, I decided suddenly, as I pulled myself out of bed and padded over to my desk to turn on my computer. I was going to contact them. I didnt care if Jake was going to flip out when he found out. I had to do this. I had to help in the only way I could help. I wouldnt let him die if I could do anything about it. I turned on the desk lamp and turned to make sure that my door was firmly closed. The last thing I needed was for Charlie to be woken up and wander in wondering what the heck I was up to in the middle of the night. The computer booted up and I opened the internet browser. But then I paused, staring aimlessly at the Google homepage, as I wondered how I was going to do this. Contacting him had sounded so easy when I suggested it to Jake. But it was easier said than done since I no longer had their contact information. Edward had made sure of that when he left. I knew this for a fact because in the first few months after our breakup, I had tried to email Alice just to see how things were going, only to find that her email address and all of their email addresses had been disconnected. And their cellphone numbers had been changed to. I didnt even know if they were in the country. Their cover story had been a move to California, but I knew there was no way that they were hanging out in sunny L.A. I stared aimlessly at the screen as I pondered my options. And then, as if another cartoon lightbulb went off above my head, I started to search on Carlisle Cullen. After all, there was no way he wouldnt be practicing medicine. He was too good of a doctor and a person - to not want to be helping people. So he had to be working somewhere in the United States. And doctors were licensed and accredited so there had to be a record of him working somewhere. Plus, every hospital in the nation had a website nowadays. It only took me ten minutes to find him. Dr. Carlisle Cullen, adjunct professor at Cornell Universitys School of Medicine, and practicing physician at the local community medical center which served the low-income farm workers and immigrants that worked the farms that dotted upstate New York. It was so easy. I couldnt believe how easy it had been. I also couldnt believe that I hadnt thought of doing this before, back in the days when I was so distraught and so desperate to find any trace of him. I secretly wondered if perhaps I had known all along that I could have tracked him down if I wanted, but some sense of self-preservation or self-dignity had prevented me from doing it. I continued googling and found a year-old property sale record to a Carlisle and Esme Cullen. It was for a historic house in Newfield Hamlet that was located right on the edge of the Hill State Wildlife Preserve. When I pulled up the location on Google Maps, I knew I had hit jackpot. The house was way out in the forest with no neighbors, but the wildlife reserve would offer a lot of animals for hunting. And aerial shots of the house showed a huge compound that had recently gone through some extensive renovations - exactly what I would have expected from Esme. I jotted down the address and began googling to try to find an associated phone number. No luck. I would have to try the hospital. I looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost 2 am. There

was no point in calling now, so I decided to go to bed and try first thing tomorrow morning before I left for graduation. I hibernated my computer, but not before scribbling down all the information that I had found on Carlisle. I felt bad for a moment that I was doing this even though I knew Jake would be upset, but I pushed that thought away as I slipped back into my bed, the sheets now cold from the brisk night air flowing through the window. No matter how warm the summer days got around here, the nights were always cool. I snuggled into my sheets deeper, trying to will myself to get some sleep. Renee had called earlier tonight while Charlie and I were having a late dinner. She hadnt been able to come up as planned to attend my graduation because Phil had broken his leg. I was secretly relieved since it was just one less person that I had to worry about getting hurt. Renee had made us promise to take a million photos for her. I vowed to get some sleep so that I wouldnt be too puffy-eyed in the photos the next morning it was the least I could do for Renee - but I kept tossing and turning, until finally, I got up again and padded over to the desk drawer. I pulled out the post-it that Jake had left me last night and placed it back onto the pillow next to me. The post-it was losing its adhesive power, but seeing it there made me feel better. And finally, just before dawn, I slipped into a deep but restless sleep. ******* I woke up the next morning with a start. There was a knocking sound and for a moment, my heart was in my throat, before I realized that it was just Charlie knocking on my door to make sure that I was awake and that I wouldnt be late for graduation. I flopped back down on the pillow with a sigh. My dream had seemed so real that I was sure it had been. Edward had been in my bed, the way he used to hang out there, watching me as I slept. In my dream, I had been sleeping and I woke up to find him lying there, with Jane Eyre propped in his lap as he tried to read it for the tenth time unsuccessfully because it was one of my favorite books. I had barely wiped the sleepyness from my eyes when he had turned to me and smiled, that brilliant dazzling overwhelming smile of his. Then he kissed me softly, his lips cold and unyielding against mine, and whispered, Happy Graduation! My dream self had smiled as I snuggled into his chest deeper, cradling into the crook of his shoulder where my head fit so perfectly, holding on to the moment as long as it would last. We heard Charlie begin to make noise in his bedroom just across the hall, but I continued to lay there, content and comfortable in his arms, even though I knew that any minute, Charlie might be knocking on my door to wake me up. Edward seemed just as content to lie there. And so we stayed there happily until Charlies knock the real knock had woken me abruptly from the dream. I looked around me in confusion as if I half-expected him to actually be there. It was so weird. For almost a year, I had been unable to conjure up his voice or his image without resorting to crazy things. I used to have dreams for nights on end where I chased him through the forests, but

could never see his face. And now, for the first time in months, I dreamed about him. As if he were back in my life again. I didnt know what to make of it. But a quick glance at the clock told me that I didnt have any time to waste if I wanted to make that call to Carlisle before the graduation festivities started. I heard the shower in the bathroom turn on. Perfect timing. Charlie would not be poking his head into my bedroom any time in the next fifteen minutes. I grabbed the phone, a purple plastic one with white stars all over the receiver that Charlie had bought for me when I was ten, and dialed the number that I had jotted down the previous night for Carlisles office at Cornell. I didnt think he would be there. It was Sunday after all, but it wouldnt hurt to try there first. The phone rang a few times, but then went to voicemail. Youve reached Dr. Carlisle Cullen at the . I slammed the phone down. Hearing Carlisles voice after so long was like a caffeine jolt of biblical proportions. My blood was racing through my veins now and I could barely hear myself think over the pounding in my head. I had been so intent on finding him that I had no idea what the hell I was going to say once I did. I forced myself to breathe. It was just Carlisle. I called back and this time, left what I thought was a calm and professional message, explaining that I had an urgent situation in Forks that I needed their help with and asked that he call me back ASAP. My hands were shaky as I put down the phone, but at least that was done. Now it was time to try the hospital. I hadnt expected to find him at the office on a Sunday, but knowing his workaholic nature, I thought there was a good chance that he might be at the clinic on a Sunday. I dialed the number and it rang twice before someone picked up. I asked for Dr. Carlisle Cullen and waited as I was transferred to the East Wing. The phone rang a few times again before someone picked up. It was a nurse this time who redirected me to the Emergency Room, which is where Dr. Cullen was actually staffed as an ER surgeon. All of this waiting frayed my already over-wrought nerves. I was sure that any minute, Charlie would come barging through my door wondering what I was up to even though he had never done that in his life before or Jake would come through the door after finishing his patrol early and would freak out about what I was doing in. I was so jumpy that I almost toppled off my chair when a pleasant female voice answered the phone on the second ring, Emergency clinic. How may I help you? Oh hi, I mumbled trying to get my bearings, Im looking for Dr. Carlisle Cullen. Is he in today? There was a slight pause before she answered. Im afraid hes not here today. Can I ask why you need to talk to him?

Umm, its a personal matter. I knew Dr. Cullen from his old job, I lied glibly. Well, Im afraid youve got some bad timing, the woman continued, Dr. Cullen left just a little while ago on an unexpected leave of absence and Im not sure when hes expected back. Leave of Absence? For how long? I stammered, unsure that I had heard correctly. Honestly, I cant tell you more than that. Dr. Cullen informed the Clinic Director this morning that he needed to take an immediate leave of absence. Youve got impeccable timing I must say. I just got back from his house they sent me out to collect some paperwork that he forgot to turn in - but the place was empty. Empty, I said as I felt myself slumping over like a hot air ballon that had suddenly been deflated. This meant they must have moved on. Maybe they had gotten bored. Maybe something had happened. Either way, it might take a few weeks for them to resettle and for me to track down his new place of employment. We didnt have weeks. We had days. If even. The Cullens had been my last hope. Yes, Im afraid so. It was very strange. It was like they disappeared into the night. Right, I said stupidly as I wondered what to do next. Would you like to leave a message for him in case he checks in? the woman asked affably. No, no, I replied mechanically, Its okay. It doesnt sound like hell be back in time. Well honey, if its an emergency, you can always talk to another doctor on staff the woman continued, her voice worried now as she took in my robotic responses. No, its okay, I responded more firmly now. Thank you for your help, I said before I hung up and dropped the phone to the floor with a clang. So much for that plan.

Chapter 19: Graduation

I wish I could say that my graduation from high school was memorable. But it wasnt. It was just a blur of hugs and warm wishes from kids that I barely knew. The only distinct thing that I remembered from that day was the bright blue tassel that hung off my graduation cap, which swung back and forth no matter how I placed it, impairing my peripheral vision and giving me a headache. The other thing that I remembered was the crushing sense of defeat. I didnt quite realize how much I had been banking on the Cullens to come and save the day, until the possibility was snatched cruelly away from me. My only hope had been to track down Carlisle. He was the one who was the most findable via the sources available to me namely Google. The others were impossible. I had searched for

them frantically all morning, but found no trace of them on the web. Not that I even had an email or a screenname or anything to go on for any of them. And so I had to resign myself back to Plan A. With just the pack. A pack of 10. Against a newborn army of 20 or more. Luckily, half the girls around me were crying from joy at graduation, so the tears that stung my eyes didnt look so out of place. I almost broke down completely when they called my name and I walked across stage, as if in a dreamlike trance, to get my diploma, and I looked out to see that Jake had crept in late and was now seated next to Charlie in his sharply tailored charcoal suit. His eyes met mine and he smiled tentatively, unsure of where we stood given our recent fight, but he clapped his hands broadly and hooped and hollered for me as if he were just another normal boyfriend cheering on his girlfriend at graduation. I swallowed deeply, unsure if Id be able to keep it together. But I did manage to hold it together, even through my celebratory dinner at the Lodge, where Charlie and I were surrounded by just about every other family in Forks that had a graduating senior. Thankfully, Jake had made his excuses about not wanting to intrude. He would be back later that evening to accompany me to all the graduation parties. At least thats what Charlie thought we would be doing. In reality, wed be scoping out the old quarry field trying to strategically place my scent in a way that would help the pack ambush the newborns. Dinner was fine. It was all that I could do to try to keep up a normal conversation with Charlie with all the other stuff running through my head. He looked a little relieved too when we got home. Formal fancy dinners werent his thing. I would have been happier if we had just grabbed something at the town diner, but Renee wouldnt hear anything of it. She had made the reservation at the Lodge back when she thought shed be in town and we felt obligated to keep it since we knew shed ask about it. I could at least report that the food was good, if a bit too rich for me, and the view over the lake was beautiful. Charlie plopped himself down in front of the TV when we got home, but he didnt turn it on. He was like me an introvert at heart and he needed some alone time to recharge after a long day of mingling and small-talking with all the other parents. He smiled at me and gently patted my hand as I reached over to grab the tie and jacket that he had discarded immediately upon returning home. Good day, Bells? he asked with a wistful smile. Yeah, not bad, I said softly as I sat down on the footrest in front of him, folding the tie and jacket neatly in my lap. Id hang them back in his closet where they would stay for another decade before he wore them again. You? Not bad. Hard to believe youre grown up already, he said with a frown as he examined my face, as if he were seeing me for the first time in a long time. Hardly, I teased as I reached over to grab his hand and hold it in mine. I still feel like Im ten most days.

I feel like you should be five most days, he retorted with a low chuckle. Thats how old youll always be to me. He paused then, his eyes suddenly sad and empty, Im going to miss you, Bells. It wont be the same here without you. I wont be far just in Seattle for college, I said with a brave smile. It was a braver front than I actually felt deep down. Who knew what this summer would bring? Who knew if I would even make it to college? And Ill come back for vacation and weekends and stuff. You havent lost me yet. Charlie chuckled then as he patted my hand, which he still held in his warm ones. I guess youre right. Your old man is just feeling nostalgic, thats all. Thats okay. As long as you dont get too down about it, I replied as I got up from the footrest and scooted it over so that he could prop his feet up. Jake will be here soon. Dont forget that Im staying over at Leahs tonight? Oh right, Charlie replied, wrinkling his forehead with a bit of skepticism. I didnt know you girls had gotten to be such good friends. We werent. But I needed a cover story for why I wouldnt be coming home tonight. Jake wasnt sure how long wed be out at the quarry fields, so we figured this was a better story for Charlie. Well after Harry died my voice trailed off. I knew I didnt need to elaborate further. Charlies face tightened at the sound of Harrys name and he just nodded quickly. Plus, Leahs interested in Mike Newton a total lie but part of the cover story of why she would be hanging out here in Forks so much in the next week so I promised she could come with me to his graduation party. Gotcha, Charlie nodded with a grin. Well have fun. Ill probably be at the station by the time you wake up so just give me a call when you get back from Leahs tomorrow morning. I nodded as I leaned in to kiss him lightly on the forehead. Be safe, Charlie admonished as I turned to head up the stairs. I smiled sadly at him. If only he knew. ******* Jake and Leah showed up about an hour later. Leah had tagged along to keep up the pretense with Charlie, but she definitely didnt look too thrilled about it. I thought we were pretending to go to a party, she asked as soon as I opened the door. I am dressed for a party, I responded with a blank look. I had changed out of the sundress that I wore to graduation (for the pictures that we would send to Renee) into my favorite jeans and tshirt, but I suddenly felt underdressed next to Leah, who was full-out rocker chick with her skinny jeans, tight black sequined t-shirt, and dramatic make-up.

Right, Leah said with a smirk as she pushed me aside to enter the house and greet Charlie. Jake was left standing uncomfortably at the front door. We hadnt talked since our fight, beyond a few uncomfortable polite exchanges in front of Charlie that morning at graduation. Hey, he said softly as he raised his hand to wave at me, before catching himself doing it and lowering his hand clumsily. Somehow his awkward gesture made me melt a little on the inside. Suddenly, I couldnt be mad at him anymore. Hey yourself, I replied with a soft smile as I motioned for him to come in. He stepped in politely, but then we bumped into each other as we both reached to close the door at the same time. You okay? he asked with a smile as he reached out to touch my arm that had gotten caught between him and the door. I nodded, but didnt respond, aside from shivering at his touch. We stood there staring at each other in the foyer for a few minutes before Leahs voice interrupted us. Where are you guys? she called, her voice coming from the living room where she had been chatting with Charlie. Right here, I called back as Jake and I broke away suddenly and made our way into the living room. Jake had to duck his head to enter the room and I noticed that his face was flushed red. I was just saying, Leah said, turning over to gesture to me, That my mom was thinking of doing a girls trip to celebrate our graduations. Leah had graduated from La Push HS only a few weeks ago herself. She was also bound for University of Washington in Seattle, but as she told me snottily a few weeks ago, it was a big school and we probably wouldnt have to see each other at all. Whats wrong with hanging out with the guys? Charlie teased Leah with a twinkle in his eyes. He always had a soft spot for Leah, especially now that Harry had passed away. He told Sue that she had raised a little spitfire who was the spitting image of Sue at her age, which Sue took as a compliment. Nothing, Leah rolled her eyes dramatically, I just dont think you guys would be up for getting mani-pedis, going shopping, and watching chick-flicks, thats all. Ill pass, thanks, Jake replied with a smile. My cuticles look pretty good. Charlie chuckled, but I looked up at Jake with slightly raised eyebrows. They hadnt mentioned any of this to me before, but I assumed this was all part of the elaborate scheme to prevent Charlie from finding out the truth.

Exactly Leah drawled out with a wink at Charlie. Anyways, mom was thinking of maybe a day or two in Seattle. Take us shopping. Get acquainted with the stores around the university. Just something to help us look forward to college. Charlie smiled and nodded. I knew we were golden. There was no way hed turn down Leah and Sue. Especially Sue. She and Charlie had grown much closer in the months since Harry passed away and I wondered sometimes how he really felt about Sue. But I knew better than to bring it up. Charlie would have sputtered in outrage at the thought of anyone thinking that he might harbor something other than friendship for his best friends wife. Even if his best friend had passed away months ago. Good! Leah said with a cheeky grin, Ill tell my mom you agreed. Were not sure exactly when well go. Moms still checking into the hotel and stuff, but sometime in the next few days. Youre free, right Bells? Yes, yes, I am I stammered, startled me to hear Leah using Jake and Charlies nickname for me. Perfect, Leah continued. Well we better take off. We dont want to be late to the party. You kids have fun, Charlie said with a smile. Then he winked at Leah, As for you, take it easy on the boy. Dont break his heart too much if you can help it. What boy? Leah asked with a surprised look. Oh you know, Mike Newton, I replied quickly. I might have let it slip to my dad thats why you were interested in tagging along tonight. Is that so? Leah said with a forced smile at me. I guess my secret is out then. Alrighty, girls, Jake interrupted as he made the move to herd us out the door. We better head out now and leave Charlie to his game. Charlie grinned at Jake in appreciation as he flipped on the TV to the Mariners game that had just started. We scampered out the front door and pulled away in the Rabbit, me in the back seat since Leah had left her backpack with her change of clothes in the front seat. Blech! I cant believe you told him I was into Mike Newton, Leah scowled as she pulled a box of face wipes from her bag to begin toweling off her makeup. Whats wrong with Mike? I asked with an innocent expression as I caught Jakes amused glance in the rearview mirror. I almost cracked up. Please. Im not into puppy dogs. I like them a bit tougher, she scoffed. Jake and I burst out into laughter, but Leah just rolled her eyes.

Thanks for doing all of this, Leah, I said when I could finally speak again. Seriously, Im really grateful for your Leah waved me off. Its fine. Show me your gratitude by helping us kick some vampire butt. I want to survive this summer and get to experience college. Her voice was flippant, as was her expression, but her words werent. And just like that, the mood in the car sobered up. A few minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot just south of the hiking trails that would lead us to the quarry fields. It was time.

Chapter 20: Ride

Leah hopped out immediately and ordered us to stay in the car while she ducked behind a tree to change. She emerged in her ratty shorts and tanktop and waved at us to come out. She stuffed her nice clothes back into the backpack, which she tossed onto the front seat of the car before turning to Jake with an expectant look. Alright oh mighty Beta, where to now? Jake scowled at her, which just made her laugh. Okay, fine, fine, she said as she backed off. Ill head to camp myself and give you two some alone time. Just make sure to do a good job spreading her scent around. Ambushing them is about the only advantage that weve got. Leah shrugged as she jogged into the woods and disappeared into the night. Then it was just me and Jake in the deserted parking lot lit only by the moonlight. Jake looked over at me with a wry expression as he gestured towards the start of the hiking trails, Shall we? Yeah, sure, I mumbled as I took the little flashlight that he handed me. I hated how awkward things felt between us. We stumbled along the trail for a few minutes in silence, until I couldnt even see the parking lot or the Rabbit anymore; we were just surrounded by the never-ending darkness of the forest. I could barely see the trail ahead of me that was illuminated by the flashlight. I shivered, scared suddenly by emptiness that surrounded me, and I stopped abruptly in my tracks, causing Jake to almost barrel into me. Whoa! Whats wrong? he asked as he reached out to steady me. No, nothing, I stammered. Its just, wont it take a while to get there? Yeah, its ten miles, Jake admitted. Its five miles to the river, then we cross over, and then well follow the river upstream for another five miles or so to get the quarry field. We can take breaks though if you want. Or I can carry you part of the way.

Wouldnt it be easier if you carried me on your back while youre in wolf form? I asked tentatively. You would be okay with that? Jake asked, with surprise written all over his face. Yeah, why wouldnt I be? I replied wrinkling my nose in confusion. No, I guess I just thought you might think it was weird thats all, Jake said. It would definitely be faster, if you didnt mind. No, of course not, I said as I turned to face him. He stared at me for a few seconds before he realized what I was waiting for instructions from him about what to do next. Oh right, okay. Ive got to go shift Jake blushed and so did I at the thought of him stripping naked a few yards away And then Ill come back. Youll just need to hop onto my back, as if I were a horse, and hold onto my fur. Dont worry. It wont hurt me or anything. Just hold on tightly. I nodded as he disappeared from the pool of light provided by flashlight. I didnt know how far he had gone since it was pitch black, but I could hear the rustling sound as he shed his clothes. Then there was an eerie silence, followed by a quick gust of wind, and then I heard the sound of paws coming toward me. Even though I knew what was coming - I had seen him in wolf form the time he and the other wolves rescued me from Laurent - I had to remind myself not to scream when the outline of the gigantic russet wolf came into view between two trees. He was huge. I had forgotten how huge the wolves actually were. And how menacing they looked, with their razor-like teeth which glinted in the moonlight and their grizzled rangy build that gave them unparalleled strength and speed. The wolf seemed to sense my fear because it hesitated before approaching, moving its paws slowly one in front of the other, so that I wouldnt be taken by surprise. When the wolf finally came within a few feet of me into the light of my flashlight, it took everything that I had to fight my natural instinct to run away. My hand quavered as I held up the flashlight so that I could see better. The shaking light cast funny shadows around us intensifying the strange eerie feeling of the night. Finally, the wolf leaned its head down so that it could look me in the eye and suddenly, everything was okay because it was Jakes eyes looking out at me. I would know them anywhere. So dark brown that they were almost black, but with light golden brown flecks that formed the inner rim of his iris. They looked at out me knowingly, even in wolf form, and I felt the same sense of calm flow over me that always happened when I looked into Jakes eyes. Hey, Jake, I said tentatively as I reached my hand up to pat the space between his ears. Jake closed his eyes in contentment as he nudged his head closer to my hand. I laughed suddenly, as I

scratched him between the ears, watching as he made a humming noise of appreciation in his throat the way a cat would. Youre not scary at all, are you? I teased suddenly as I realized that he was really just a big overgrown puppy. A dangerous puppy with scary teeth and gynormous paws, but an adorable one all the same. Jake raised his eyebrows, if wolves even had eyebrows, to look at me skeptically, but I just smiled and continued to pet him. He finally rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at me. It was such a funny image that I couldnt help burst out laughing. The sound of my laughter echoed endlessly into the night. I watched as Jake lowered himself on his front paws so that I could climb onto his back. It was like riding a horse. A really furry horse. I settled in just behind his front legs and crouched down to wrap my arms around his neck they barely fit. Is this too tight? I asked anxiously as I tried to get a good grip on the fur around his neck so that I wouldnt fall off. Jake just shook his head as he slowly brought himself up to his feet and began to move. Even though I knew that Jake wasnt going fast for him it was scary at first and I held on probably more tightly than was comfortable for him. But then I remembered that I was probably making it harder for him than necessary by being so tense, so I tried to relax, let myself go, allowing myself to move with his motion instead of fighting rigidly to hold on. And then it was magic. It felt like I was flying through the forest. Jake moved so quickly through the trees that it was almost dizzying. But I didnt have time to feel nauseous. The dark and menacing night had suddenly become an adventure-land under the stars. I was no longer afraid of the darkness, wrapped tightly around Jake who was radiating warmth even in wolf form, as we made our way effortlessly through the dense woods. The river appeared soon ahead of us and I looked around for a bridge or some stones or something to help us cross. But I didnt see anything. And thats when I realized Jake was speeding up. No, dont! I said, but before the words were halfway around my mouth, we were flying. Really flying. Jake had catapulted us off of one bank of the river and I could see the water crashing loudly below us. I had a half-moment of panic when I wondered how well he could swim, when suddenly, the other side of the bank appeared beneath his feet as Jake landed lightly. Show-off, I muttered in Jakes ear, but he just made a braying howl, which I assumed was his wolf version of laughter. Jake was more playful now - hopping on logs, skipping around stone just trying to show me what he could do. And it was amazing especially for someone who had never been remotely coordinated or athletic in her life. All too soon, we reached the clearing ahead which signaled the start of the quarry fields and I felt Jake slow down underneath me. The ground cover was less dense here so I could hear more

clearly now, the sound of his paws hitting the ground as he made his way into the field, finally stopping on the edge by a patch of wildflowers that were a startling shade of silver-blue in the moonlight. I patted Jakes head as he crouched down to let me slide off. The moon was high overhead and it was so bright that I could see all the details of the field around. Jake turned his head and looked up at the rocky cliffs that overlooked the field and the river just behind us. I could just make out the shape of another wolf in the distance, a smaller grey one. That must be where the pack was camping out these days. Jake nodded at me before dashing back into the cover of the woods. I heard the now familiar rustling wind sound as he phased back, and then louder rustling as he dressed. I had barely noticed his clothes tied around his right leg using the black cord. Finally, I heard the sound of footsteps and I turned just as Jake emerged from the trees, fully dressed again, with a sheepish grin on his face. That wasnt so bad, was it? he asked. No, it was scary at first. But then it was amazing, I replied with a genuine smile. Yeah, the speed is amazing, right? Ill be youve never gone that fast before, he said enthusiastically with a boyish grin until he caught sight of my face. I had gone that fast once before. With Edward. Oh right, he stammered as he looked away from my face. I forgot. You have. So this was nothing. It wasnt nothing, Jake, I said softly as I remembered why things had been awkward between us just now. We had had a fight. About me contacting the Cullens. Which I did, but with no luck. Look, Jake, about the other night. Im sorry that- Jake cut me off with a wave of his hand. No, Im sorry. I over-reacted. I was a jerk, Im sorry, he insisted as he took a step closer to me with a look of determination on his face. Youre right. We do need their help. I was just being stupid. You werent being stupid, I scoffed as I reached out to take his warm hand in mine and pull him closer towards me. Yes, I was. I was also jealous too, Jake admitted as he let me pull his arms around me. He rested his head gently on top of mine before he continued, I cant help it. He was this perfect guy well except for the whole vampire thing and Im just well Im just me. I tried to lift my head to look up at him in protest, but he wouldnt let me move as he continued on, I know what youll say. That youre with me now and thats all that matters. But I cant quite get over the fear that maybe maybe its just because Im here and he isnt. Jake-

No, dont deny it, Bella. You would never have looked my way if he had never left. You know that. I saw the way you looked at him, Jake said softly. I was quiet for a long time, unsure of how to respond. Because he was probably right. Would I have looked at him if Edward had never left? Would I have looked at anyone? Probably not. I had been so dazzled by Edward that Im not sure I would have been able to seen anything beyond him. I looked up to see Jake watching me with a sad knowing expression in his eyes. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I didnt know what to say. Dont worry, Bella, he said finally with a pained grin. I understand. I always understand. He paused then as he pulled away, reaching up to touch my cheek softly with his right hand. Then he sighed as he turned and started towards the north side of the field. He didnt look back as he gestured for me to follow. Come on. We better get started.

Chapter 21: Night

Jake, wait! I called as I stumbled after him, snagging his arm before he could pull away. Jake stopped but he didnt turn around. I dont know what to say, Jake, I admitted, Because I dont know what would have happened. Maybe youre right. Maybe I would have been with him forever if he hadnt left I paused to catch my breath-But maybe I wouldnt have. Im not the same person now that I was then. I know you better now than I did then. I cant tell you what might have happened, because I really dont know. Please dont get upset. Im not upset, Jake said with a sigh as he turned around. Im really not. Just a little sad. Its okay, really,- he said as it was his turn to put his hand over my mouth to prevent me from speaking-Im really not upset about it. I cant help that you met him first. I cant help that maybe you would never have been with me if he hadnt left. Its just a little unsettling to have to settle for second best. The consolation prize. But Ill get over it. I frowned and Jake pulled his hand away to let me speak. I called him, I blurted out, wanting to come clean. Jakes face didnt move as he waited for me to continue. I called him. Well I dont have their contact info anymore so I called Carlisle he was the only one I could find on Google being a doctor and all Okay, so what happened? Jake asked, his face still impassive. Wait, youre not upset? I asked in confusion. He shrugged. I figured you were going to do it after last night. Im more interested in finding out when theyre showing up at this point.

My face fell. Theyre not. I couldnt get a hold of him. I called him at the hospital that he was working at in upstate New York. They said he had taken a leave of absence and they had no contact information to reach him during that time. I tried looking for a way to contact the others, but nothing. Jake closed his eyes abruptly then as he pulled away. He whirled around and slammed his hand against a slender tree sapling, the force of his blow snapping it in two. I thought you would have been happy that they werent coming, I stuttered as I took a step back, shocked by the violence of his reaction. I was an idiot last night. A jealous idiot, he scoffed as he turned to face me again. But Im not stupid. I knew you were right. We need the help. We need it desperately. I knew you would call them anyway so I could be stupid about it. He shrugged ruefully, I guess I shouldnt have gotten my hopes up. I was willing to take any drama that might have happened if he returned, if it would mean that I could guarantee that you lived. Jake sighed then as he put his hands around his face suddenly, as if to wipe to all the weariness and strain from his face. Youre really scared, arent you? I asked, suddenly seeing through his mask fully for the first time. He looked up surprised. Scared? Yeah, I guess I am. We all are. Theres at least 20 of them. Maybe more. We can put up a good fight. But were not stupid. The numbers arent good. It was my turn to sigh as I reached up to grab one of his warm capable hands. I could never tell. You guys were so good at keeping to the whole macho we-can-do-anything party-line. Jake snorted. Thats Quil. And Paul. Ive never thought that I could do anything. Forget about anything. I cant even do the only thing that I care about, which is to protect you from them. Its not your fault, Jake, I replied as I patted his hand. Youve done everything. Well just have to see what happens. He gave a bitter laugh. Well, were not quite done yet. Maybe well pull off an underdog miracle. Jake stretched then, before pulling me towards the huge stones that dotted the north side of the field. Come on. Weve got work to do. Whats the plan? I asked as I looked around me, marveling at the size of the huge boulders that formed a craggy perimeter around the north edge of the field. I could see why Leah had suggested an ambush. The rocks were the perfect hiding place for the pack. When they come out of the river, we want to draw them up towards this side of the field. Ideally, wed want them to separate into small groups so if we can place your scent interspersed across all the rocks it will cause them to scatter, making it easier for us to tackle

them. The goal is to be able to take out half of them upon the first ambush, which isnt unreasonable given that well have the element of surprise. So then itll just be 10 of them left for the 10 of you, I said, finishing his thought. Thats almost doable. He snorted. Who knows how many there really are. But yeah, thats the idea. Alright, I said as I straightened up. Im ready to begin. I fumbled in my coat pocket to fish out the swiss army knife that I had swiped from Charlies desk earlier today. Jakes eyes were wide as he watched me flick open the knife attachment. What are you doing? Spreading my scent, I replied and I cut off a small chunk of my hair with a swift flick of the knife. I figured that I could embed the strands within the boulders which would help the scent last for a few days. Oh okay, I thought you were going to Jakes voice trailed off when he jumped up to grab my arm. I had brought the knife to my finger and was about to make a small cut. What? I asked as I looked up at him in confusion. We need my blood. Jakes face contorted. I dont want you to hurt yourself for this. I raised an eyebrow. Youre kidding right? You guys are about to fight to the death and you dont want me to give up a few drops of blood. I pulled my arm from his and finished making the small cut to the fleshy part of my pinky finger. I flinched a little from the pain and my head spun a little at the salty rusty smell of the blood, but I refused to let Jake see it or any other sign of pain or discomfort. The cut was deep enough to draw blood, but not enough that it was gushing out. I started walking around the boulders, leaving my hair wedged between the rocks, and smearing my blood everywhere that I could find, favoring little crevices that would be protected from the wind and the rain. I didnt want my scent to be diminished in any way. As Leah said, surprise was the only advantage they had. It took longer than I thought it would, since I was trying to do as thorough a job as I could. Jake followed me, keeping a few feet away the entire time, never speaking but watching me like a hawk the entire time. I finally finished and we stepped back together to look around. Can you smell it? I asked curiously. Jake nodded. Its hard not to. Youve bloodied up half the field.

Good, I said with a pleased smile. Is there anywhere else? No, I think this is good for now. Lets take a break. Im worried youll get light-headed from all the blood loss. I rolled my eyes but decided not to argue. We had all night after all. I followed him to a grassy patch that was illuminated by the moonlight and plopped down on the ground. Jake laid down on his back with a deep sigh and I followed, snuggling my head into the crook of his neck, as he wrapped one arm around me. His other hand was playing with the shortened strand of hair that I had cut earlier. It was a beautiful summer night. The air was warm, but with a slight breeze the perfect temperature for sleeping outdoors. Way out here in the fields, there were no lights to compete with the night sky, and the stars were spread out endlessly above us. Look! Jake reached up to point at the sky. A shooting star. Make a wish. I did. I wished that the pack would survive and be okay. It was worth a shot. Let me guess, Jakes voice interrupted my thoughts. You wished that I would be okay. I smiled into the crook of his neck and teased, How did you know? Because I know you, he chuckled, the sound rumbling deep inside his chest as he pulled me closer. Thats all right. I wished that you would be okay, so we both should be covered. Jake my voice trailed off since I still wasnt certain exactly what I wanted to say. Hmmm? I was silent for a bit, debating whether or not to bring up the conversation from earlier. I finally decided to press on. Who knew when Id have a chance to say it. You know I dont think youre second best, right? I believe that you think that way now because hes not here. Im your only option, he replied gravely. Yes, but even if he were- I stopped when Jakes hand tightened around me. Dont say things you dont mean, Bella, he said in a low voice. You owe me that. If nothing else. We owe each other the truth. I wasnt going to lie. You assume that if he were here, that I would choose him. All Im saying is that I dont know if thats true.

I felt Jake shrug beneath me. Lets not talk about this. Whats the point? Itll just get us all riled up. Then he shifted suddenly and smoothly, pulling me on top of him, my face now looking down into his. His eyes were laughing now as he teased, Plus, I can think of a million other things Id rather be doing right now then talking about him. I shivered as I felt his hands running up and down my back. One hand found the edge of my shirt and pushed it up slightly so that it was touching my bare skin. Yeah? I teased, even though my voice was shaky, A million things, huh? Maybe just one, he grinned before pulling me down for a kiss. I felt as if I could do this forever, laying in his arms on the perfect balmy sunny night, letting his warmth flow through me, liquefying my bones and turning all my insides into mush. Jake had both his hands now underneath my shirt, stroking the bare skin on my back, stimulating a million and one sensitive nerve endings that I never knew I had. My arms were propped awkwardly on his shoulders as I tried to hold myself up so that I would crush him entirely, but with a swift move, Jake had swapped our positions so that I was flat on my back and he was looming over me, all without breaking the kiss. I felt free to return the treatment now, easily pulling off the ratty tanktop that he had pulled on after phasing, so that I could feel the silkiness and the roughness in some places of the skin on his chest and back. My fingers caressed every ridge and plane of his well-muscled back. I could tell Jake liked it because he shuddered at my touch and seemed to sink more deeply into the kiss if that was even possible. I dont know how long we were like this minutes, maybe even hours - when five short highpitched howls sounded in quick succession high above us followed one long plaintive howl. Jake ripped himself away from me and was on his feet before I could even react. Whats going on? I stuttered as I sat myself up at his feet, patting down my disheveled hair and clothes. Jake didnt bother to respond. Instead he hauled me to my feet and swung me into his arms as he took off for the forest, running at full speed. I looked up to see the grey wolf who had been pacing at the edge of the cliff that overlooked the quarry field and the river downstream let out another set of five short howls followed by a long one, before the wolf turned and dashed into the forest. And then, I knew. They were here.

Chapter 22: Surprise

Jake had me in the cover of the forest before I even fully realized what was happening. I heard the sound of paws as nine wolves came through the forest and skidded to a thundering stop ahead of us in the moonlight. The large black one in lead morphed immediately into human form. It was Sam. And he was buck naked. I averted my eyes quickly. Then I chastised myself for even being embarrassed. It was hardly the time. I could barely see the others in the dimmed moonlight within the forest, but I could see enough to know that if seeing one of them at night was scary, seeing the whole pack together was terrifying. But I wasnt afraid right now. In fact, their collective size was making me feel better about the upcoming battle. I didnt have time to reflect more as Sam was shouting commands. Leah saw some movement coming up the river a few miles off. It looks like there are only a handful of them. Maybe an advance party. Brady will take Bella back to La Push. Its a good thing her scent is out there, well use the ambush attack as planned. Theyll be here in minutes. Jake nodded and briskly moved to put me onto the back of a smaller tawny brown wolf, who had loped out from the pack when Sam called him. Brady turned his head to give me what I think was a friendly grin and then took off, before I barely had a chance to get a good grip around his neck. I held on desperately as I tried to turn my head to catch one last glimpse of Jake over my shoulder. But he had already phased and all I saw was the giant russet-colored wolf in its place, its dark brown eyes watching me, glowing even in the darkness of the night. I clung to Bradys neck tightly as the smaller wolf made his way through the dark forest. He wasnt as coordinated as Jake had been so the ride was jerkier and there were a few times I felt sure that I would fly off. He also hadnt filled out quite as much either so his frame was rangier and skinnier, so each leap that he took was a bit more jarring for me. The miles raced by and I recognized the markings that indicated our entrance onto La Push Reservation land. Take me to third beach, I shouted at Brady, wondering if he could hear me over the thundering of is paws. If Victoria was going to come get me, there was no way I would sit in Jacobs house endangering Billy, Sue, and all the other people living in La Push. Not that I hadnt already ruined their lives already given that their children were out there back on the field fighting for me. But Brady just ignored me as he continued towards Jakes house. He must have been given orders by Jake or Sam, and there was no way that he was going to disobey them. I was beginning to get the hang of holding on when suddenly, Brady screeched to a grinding halt, practically pitching me over his head in his haste to stop. He stood there for a few minutes, as if he were listening to something. Thats when I realized that he probably was. Listening to something in his head. I didnt know if he was getting new orders or if he was hearing the chaos from the fight through the minds of the other wolves.

What? What happened? I shouted, freaking out now, but Brady just whined at me, which I had no idea how to interpret. Did something bad happen? Was it a false alarm? Then, he turned around and began running full speed back towards the quarry field. I didnt know whether to panic or not. Surely, if the fight had been bad, he wouldnt take me back. Unless, it had gone so badly that he wanted to be back to help. My mind was racing with possibilities until I felt like my skull would burst open. I saw the quarry field coming up in the distance and I strained to hear something over the sound of Bradys paws hitting the ground. I didnt hear anything. No sounds of fighting, howling, banging, ripping, or yelling. Nothing at all. I was suddenly optimistic. Maybe nothing had happened. Maybe it was a false alarm. Brady skidded to a stop again in the cover of the forest. I knew better than to ask. He was following orders and nothing I could say would sway him. I made the move to slide off his back, but he shook his head vehemently and shifted his weight so that I stayed on. Frustrated, I sat up straight and tried to peer over the boulders to see what was going on, but despite the added height of being on Bradys back. I couldnt see a thing in the darkness. I could barely see the field itself that was illuminated only by moonlight. Finally, Brady must have been given the order to approach, because he started to move. Slowly this time. Instead of climbing up and over the boulders, which I assume he would have done if he didnt have me on his back, he took the long way, skirting around the edge of the rock formation so that he could enter the field more easily. We rounded the curve as Brady stepped out into the fields, into the moonlight, and I caught my breath. It was him. It was all of them. They were here. Edward was here. For a moment, he was all I could see, standing in the middle of the field, with the rest of the Cullens flanked behind him. It was like seeing a mirage in the desert and I didnt dare breath or blink for fear that he would disappear. I felt numb with shock at seeing him again after so long. Even my most vivid memories or hallucinations had never quite captured him in all of his perfection. He was even more beautiful than I had remembered. The gleaming bronze hair, the Adonis-like features and build - it was both familiar and yet alien at the same time. I had long ago accepted that I would never see him again. And despite what Jake had said, I had accepted that. Seeing him in front of me now was as if the world had tilted on its axis. I didnt realize that Brady had continued to walking, until we came close enough so that Edward was able to catch my gaze. And then I stared, marveling at the amber golden hue of his eyes that I didnt think Id ever see again. He returned my stare evenly, but his face was impassive and was as devoid of emotion as the marble that it seemed carved out of. I couldnt read anything in his reaction. I was glad suddenly that I was the only persons head that he couldnt get into. I had never had anything to hide from him before. Until now.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and I turned to see Alice waving at me with a small flutter of her fingers. I stared at her in shock too, taking in her dainty features and pixie-esque hair that was still perfectly and artfully spiked despite whatever trip they must have just taken to get here. My shocked eyes moved then to take in the rest of them, Jasper, who was standing behind Alice, with his arm fully wrapped around her, Carlisle nodding with a grave smile, Esme with her warm eyes, Emmett who was standing just in front of Rosalie, whose golden beauty was glowing lushly in the moonlight. Brady had come to a stop and before I realized what I was doing, I had slid off his back and taken a few steps towards Edward. He didnt react as he watched me come towards him. Suddenly, I felt shy. Stupid. And so I stopped in my tracks, still unable to take my eyes off him. A sound behind me broke my concentration and I turned to realize that the entire pack in wolf form were flanked on the other side facing the Cullens, but watching me and my reaction. I looked to the middle to see Jake and Sam standing side by side at the head of the formation, and the pain in Jakes eyes was too much to bear. I realized then that he had watched every moment of my reaction to seeing Edward again for the first time. Jake didnt meet my eyes as he turned to glare behind me at Edward, who gave a slight nod that was barely perceptible. Then Jake turned and took off for the cover of the forest. Jake! Wait! I cried out as I watched him disappear into the trees. Hes just going to phase, Edward said. Hell be back. I turned to look at him again, the sound of his velvety voice for the first time in months, making my knees shaky. I didnt say anything. I couldnt say anything. And so I just nodded. We waited for a moment before I realized that Sam had disappeared too. They both must have gone to phase and change. The rest of the wolves hadnt budged though and they looked out at the Cullens with distrustful though not quite hostile - glares. Brady had deserted me to stand next to Collin, so that I was left literally in no-mans land between the Cullens and the pack. In the distance, there was the sound of some rustling, followed by footsteps as Sam jogged into view. A few feet behind him, walking slowly, was Jake. His head was up and his eyes were defiant, but he wouldnt look me in the eye. Instead, he kept his gaze fixed firmly on Edward, his eyes glittering with hostility. Finally, he met up with Sam as they stood to my right, in front of the rest of the pack, who had gathered to form a tighter circle around their Alpha and Beta. Jake didnt bother to wait for Sam to speak. What are you doing here, bloodsucker? The hostility and anger rolled off of him in waves and I flinched at the hardness in his voice. Edward didnt seem fazed. He continued to stare at Jake for a few moments before he replied, Im here for Bella, of course.

Chapter 23: Reinforcements

Youre here for me, I stammered once I finally found my voice. Edward turned to look at me, his face impassive and his eyes giving away nothing of what he was feeling or thinking. Alice had a vision last night. She saw that the Volturi had made the decision to come deal with the newborn situation, but she saw them on this field in Forks and we couldnt figure out why they would be here, so we came back to find out. I frowned. The Volturi? Theyre the governing body for our kind. Our police if you will. They lay down the rules and enforce them when they get broken, Edward explained, his eyes never leaving my face. And theyre coming here to Forks? I reiterated as the impenetrable glow of his golden eyes made me stumble over my words. Tomorrow morning in this field to be exact, Alices clear bell-like voice chimed in as she stepped up next to Edward. But why here? Weve been tracking the newborn situation, but that seems contained to Seattle, so why would they come here? Maybe because the newborns are trying to kill Bella, Jake interjected, his voice harsh and unyielding, as he stared down Edward. His face was also a blank impassive mask. Kill Bella? Edward sputtered, the first time I could ever remember seeing him flustered, as he pulled his eyes from me to look at Jake. Yeah, thanks to that red-head leech you ticked off. Shes been hunting Bella for months now. She would have killed her by now if we werent here, Jake continued, his voice was biting in its unabashed sarcasm and hostility. Victoria is here? Edward said slowly and stupidly, as if he couldnt process what he was hearing. I could see Carlisle and Emmett exchange uneasy glances out of the corner of my eye. Yeah, so was her friend, but we took care of him, Jake sneered. Her friend? Are you talking about Laurent? Edward stammered, still completely disoriented, as he stepped forward as if to demand more info from Jake. Jake dropped his arms, which had been casually crossed in front of his chest, to his sides and stepped forward to meet him. They were only a few feet from each other now and I could feel the animosity radiating in waves from both of them. I didnt know whether to step in between them or get the hell out of the way. Hold on, hold on, Carlisle interrupted as he put his arm out to pull Edward - who seemed ready to fly off the handle back in line with the rest of the Cullens. Jake reluctantly took a step back too. Are you telling us that Victoria and Laurent are here? Right now? In Forks?

No, Sam interjected before Jake could respond. He placed his hand on Jakes shoulder as he spoke, as if to try to calm him down. The one with dreadlocks is dead. We took care of him back in the spring. But we didnt catch the redhead. She was here, but shes in Seattle now. Shes the one creating all those newborn vampires. The Cullens stared at Sam as if he had grown three heads. Jasper made a move forward, but Emmett grabbed onto his arm with an iron grip. Rosalies beautiful face was still defiant, though markedly less so than it was a few minutes ago. And Edwards warm golden eyes had turned a fiery hue from the swirling emotion that I could read in his face. Only Carlisle kept his calm, taking a measured sigh before continuing, Start from the beginning. It sounds like theres a lot we didnt know. Thats for sure, Jake muttered under his breath but he cooled it when Sam gave him a sharp look. Sam was no fool. He wasnt a fan of the Cullens, but he knew that their arrival here was the best thing that could have happened to the survival of the pack. Victoria, the redhead, was in Forks for much of last spring. We didnt realize at the time that she was trying to get to Bella, Sam paused to gesture towards me and I felt my face turn red at the look of horror that Edward gave me as he pieced together what Sam was sayingWe tried many times to track her down, but were never successful. We did take down her friend, the one with the dreads, moments before he would have killed Bella. Laurent, Carlisle stumbled a little over his name. Are you sure? We talked to him last year after the James incident. He said he was leaving Victoria. He promised Im sure, I interjected suddenly, my voice coming out much stronger than I was actually feeling at the moment. He told me that he was scoping out the area for Victoria. She wanted to kill me in revenge for James. Edwards mate- I stumbled over those words and cursed myself as I felt my face turn hot in embarrassment- in exchange for her mate. He said that she would be mad at him for killing me first, but he couldnt resist because I was too mouthwatering. I barely managed the choke out the end of that sentence as both Jacob and Edward were staring at me intensely, their eyes snapping with rage. After that, we didnt see much of the red-head, Sam continued as he then described the past few months. His voice was coldly clinical as he related the packs short-lived celebration when they thought Victoria had left, the unexplained murders and disappearances in Seattle, the disappearance of Bree and their subsequent reconnaissance work, the discovery of a visiting bloodsucker who had taken my red shirt. I could see Edwards eyes growing more and more alarmed every second as he realized the full extent of what we had been through the last few months. I couldnt help watching him, even though I knew that Jacob was watching my own face just as intently.

Edward, who was usually so impassive and in control, looked close to coming unhinged his eyes burning with an intensity that I had never seen before - a fiery anger and hatred that made me suddenly scared of him. What was he thinking? How did he feel? After all this time? Was he unhappy to be forced to come back to deal with an ex-girlfriend that he thought he had left behind long ago? Or was he happy to see me? I couldnt tell. He was so entirely focused on the task at hand figuring out what the heck was going on with Victoria - that he barely seemed to notice that I was there. When Sam fell silent, Edward finally turned his full attention towards me, a mix of anger, profound sadness, and something else that I couldnt quite figure out in his gaze. But he still didnt speak. Instead it was Carlisle who gave a deep sigh as he turned back to look at his family. Their faces were equally contorted in a mix of disbelief and frustration. Im sorry, Bella, Carlisle said suddenly, coming over to put his hands gently on my arms. We had no idea. We would never have left if we thought she would come back. Edward was actually tracking her for a while, she was seen in the Phoenix shortly after we left Forks, but we found no trace of her there. Alice couldnt see anything in her visions. We really thought that you were safer with us gone. I nodded numbly as I mumbled, Its okay. I didnt know how else to respond. After all this time, for them to be here, when I never thought Id see any of their faces again, was too surreal for me to be able to think clearly. All I could do was marvel at their presence, trying to convince myself of the fact that they were actually here and not figments of my overactive imagination. No, its not okay, Carlisle responded as he turned back towards Sam. But its a good thing we came back when we did. It sounds like there will be a big fight at dawn. And its our fight too. We want to help. I would be lying if I said we didnt need your help, Sam responded gravely with a nod. It was impossible not to hear the relief in his voice. Okay, its settled then, Carlisle said as he reached out to shake Sams hand. The two men shook once, briefly, and for a moment, I was able to recognize the significance of that gesture. It was probably the first and only time in their lives that they would ever be teaming up. So your daughter said that the Volturi are coming tomorrow? What about the newborn army? It would be helpful if we knew when they are arriving too, Sam asked with a nod towards Alice. I dont know, she replied with a deep frown. Her beautiful golden eyes darkened in frustration. I cant see anything related to Victoria. Its like shes intentionally not making decisions, because she knows that Id be able to see the decisions if she did.

I thought you could see the future, Jake interjected with a frown. What does it matter if shes making decisions or not? Alice quirked her lips, but tried not to look too annoyed. She hated being asked this. The future is always changing. When people make a decision, I can see the course that their life will take. They can change their mind at any time and the future I see for them will change too. But if they cant make decisions, then I cant see what will happen at all. But Victoria is killing innocent people and turning them into vampires, Edward interrupted suddenly, turning to face Alice, having found a new place to vent his frustration. How could you not see that?! Shes clearly making decisions there! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jasper take a step forward to defend Alice, but then I saw Emmett keeping a strongmans grip on his wrist. Jaspers eyes flared but he didnt move. Dont you think Ive tried? Ive tried and tried again to see her. But nothing. Just like with Bella, Alice retorted as she threw her hands up in the air in frustration. Me? Youve been watching out for me? I blurted out before I could help it. Yes, of course, Alice stated with a half glance in Edwards direction. Just to make sure that everything was okay. But I couldnt see you. I couldnt see anything that you were doing. It was weird. Maybe my powers are weakening or something. Jasper snorted, but Edward wasnt appeased. Maybe youre not trying hard enough, he ground out. You were supposed to watch to make sure Bella wasnt in danger. How could you have missed out on the fact that Victoria trying to kill her?! You were supposed to be watching both of them! And youre telling me that you couldnt see ether of them? I told you! Alice retorted angrily. I dont know why! Maybe Victoria isnt the one actually creating the newborns. Maybe she has someone doing her dirty work for her. That would explain why she isnt any making any decisions that I can track. Yeah? What about when she was in Forks herself hunting down Bella? Why couldnt you see that? Edward demanded, refusing to back down. He looked so angry that I wanted to reach out and put a hand on his arm to calm him down, but I stopped myself in time. I was no longer his girlfriend. I no longer had that right. Edward, Edward, Carlisle interrupted, his voice was soothing, as he stepped between the two siblings. Its not Alices fault. Shes been trying. I cant help but feel that there has to be something blocking her view of things in Forks His voice trailed off suddenly as he turned to look at the pack. His eyes were thoughtful as he took in all the wolves who had been watching the interchange between the two vampires with watchful eyes.

What if its them? Carlisle asked suddenly and cryptically. Who? Alice asked as she scrunched her nose and turned towards the pack. Jake wasnt kidding when he had told me that there was bad blood between the Cullens and the pack. Alice, the nicest person I knew, was looking at the pack with unabashed disgust and distrust. The pack, Carlisle continued as he met Sams questioning eyes. Ill be that you cant see the wolves because their phasing makes them too unpredictable. Ill bet they impair your vision. Theyre the ones causing blind spots in your vision around Forks. Thats why you couldnt see Victoria here. Or Bella, because I gather shes been spending a lot of time with the pack. Carlisle said that last line as neutrally as possible, but it was impossible to miss the way that Edwards body tightened up when he heard it. His eyes were now blacker than I had ever seen them and he stared at Jacob with unmitigated fury for a moment, before he relaxed again. Jake wasnt backing down either, he stood there with his arms crossed again, looking deceptively casual and nonchalant, until you got a good look at the fire in his eyes. Alice didnt seem to notice at all as she moved past Edward to take a few reluctant steps closer towards Jacob and Sam. She was about two feet away from Sam when her mouth dropped open into a perfect O. Jasper broke out of Emmetts grasp to stand behind Alice. It was clear that he still didnt trust the pack, despite their recent truce, but Jake just rolled his eyes at him. I cant see them! Alice said suddenly, her eyes alight in amazement. This has never happened to me before. Its like my mind is blank. I cant see anything in their future. Usually, its a battle trying to keep all those images out. This is amazing! Jake raised an eyebrow but Sam put his hand out to stop him from jumping in. Youre saying that you can see the future of everyone else, but not us. Yes, that must be it, Alice marveled. Thats why I didnt see what Victoria was doing here in Forks, or why I didnt see Bella being saved from Laurent, or why I cant see what happens leading up to the Volturis visit. When the pack is in the mix, it scrambles my vision so that I cant see anything. This is perfect! It wasnt me! Its hardly perfect. Itll be tricky tomorrow. The only thing we know for sure is that the Volturi wont honor our truce with the Quileutes, but we can deal with that later, Carlisle commented, logically and practically, But at least now we know the truth. There was a lull as the two groups of former enemies, now reluctant allies, stared at each other, unsure of where to start. Jake finally broke the silence. Now what? My son, Jasper, has some experience with newborns, Carlisle explained as he gestured towards Jasper. He can tell us a little about what to expect and strategies that will work for them. You picked a good place to stage the fight, he said as he looked around admiringly at the rock formation.

Good job on the blood trail, shorty, Emmett joked with a loud guffaw as he winked at me. We could smell you miles away. Itll drive them crazy. I blushed a deep red, which only made Emmett laugh louder, until Rosalie glared at him coldly. She still hadnt said a word. Neither had Esme, who looked distinctly pale and worried in the moonlight. She was no lover of violence. I had a hard time imagining her fighting and killing, but I would learn soon enough that there was nothing like a mother fighting to protect her children and her way of life. Sam nodded curtly as he explained, Surprise was our only advantage, so we knew we needed to draw them here and ambush them. But now, well almost be evenly matched. Well be more than well-matched, Jaspers deep Southern drawl seemed to hang in the air as he deftly pulled Alice back in line with the other Cullens and positioned himself on Carlisles left-hand side. Newborns are strong, but they arent smart. With just a little strategy, well be more than ready for them. Emmett chortled as he came up to high-five Jasper. They wont know what hit them! Its about time we had a good fight. I rolled my eyes. He sounded just like Quil and Paul. In fact, the three of them probably would have been best friends if they werent sworn enemies. Jake must have thought so too, because his face lightened up suddenly, as he took in Emmetts lumberjack build and frat-boy antics with amusement. So? What are we waiting for? Jake asked as he gestured towards the field in front of all of us. Show us what youve got.

Chapter 24: Preparation

That night before the newborn army attack was surreal. I didnt know what was stranger. Seeing Edward again, after resigning myself to the idea that I would never see him again, or seeing Edward again and being unsure of what I felt for him. There was a time in my life when the answer would have been simple. He was it. He was everything. But now, I wasnt so sure anymore. Luckily, or unluckily, neither he nor Jake seemed to want to pay any attention to me right now. The danger was too real and too imminent. They seemed to have agreed to a temporary truce when it came to me. They still didnt know when Victoria and her army would arrive. They didnt know how many they were facing. They didnt know whether they would win. And so their singular focus - for now - was to ensure our collective survival. Everything else could wait. The same was true for the rest of the Cullens. Aside from a few warm smiles from them well except for Rosalie, but I hardly expected a warm reaction from her they were all as intently focused on the preparations for the mornings battle. I was the only useless one in the clearing.

The only one who could only watch Jaspers demonstrations, the ensuing mock practice fights, and the strategy planning, but do nothing to actually help. The strain of watching all of this finally became too much and I found a half-hollow rock that I could crawl into that would protect me from the brisk winds and the sounds of the mock fighting back in the meadow. I curled into a ball, hidden away from the others, and let the tears of fear, frustration, and confusion flow. I dont know how long I stayed there, sheltered in my little cocoon, when I finally heard Jakes low voice calling me as he slipped between the rocks to reach me. Bella? Whats wrong? he asked gently, his eyes warm and loving, despite having watched my confused and conflicted reaction to seeing Edward again for the first time. Nothing, I muttered softly, thankful that my tears had long dried off. Just feeling helpless, thats all. No ones expecting you to do anything, he reminded gently. We just want you to be safe. I nodded, because I knew there was no point in arguing. Speaking of which, he Edward wants to discuss where were going to stash you during the fight, Jake said in a low irritated voice as he pulled me to my feet and helped me climb back up the rocks to head back to the clearing. During the fight? I asked stupidly, Oh I see. I guess I cant stay here, huh? Absolutely not, Edwards voice rang loudly from across the other side of the field. I was suddenly sick and tired of all the supernatural power going on around me. Jake wasnt too pleased either as he threw him a sharp look for eavesdropping on our conversation. That was never a possibility, Jake shot back. I dont see anything wrong with our original plan, to stash her in La Push with Collin, Brady, and Seth as guards. Edward frowned. He looked unsure of what to say. Jake scoffed. I need some help here. I dont exactly have your mind-reading abilities. Im just worried. Can you guarantee her safety in La Push? he asked skeptically, with a look at the three younger wolves, who admittedly looked smaller than the rest of the pack. They yelped at him angrily, probably insulted by his lack of confidence in them. I can guarantee her safety better there than anywhere else, Jake retorted. What can you offer? Edwards face was stony as he stared back at Jake. Jake wasnt fazed as he continued, We need as many here fighting the newborns as possible. Collin, Brady, and Seth will guard the rez and be a lifeline to Bella. Well know if something happens.

It sounds like a good idea, son, Carlisle interjected, seeing that Edward was still unable to respond. As long as youre here, Jake continued, The red-head will fight. Sure, she wants Bella. But really, she wants you. Youre the one that killed her mate. Fine, Edward replied shortly, still looking unhappy. But I hold you responsible if something happens to her. Jake snorted, Right, like Im going to care about that if something happens to Bella. He turned then to Alice, How much time do we have? At my look of surprise, he explained, The Magic8 ball here with a nod towards Alice finally saw Victoria making the call for her team to head to Forks. She was right that the redhead was holding off on making a decision to try to evade her. But she finally pulled the trigger. Theyll be here by dawn, so we have a little over an hour, Alice chimed in helpfully, her eyes glowing with satisfaction now that she could feel comfortable in her powers again. Okay, then its time for you to turn into a pumpkin, Jake said as turned to me. Ill phase while you talk, he finished awkwardly as he waved at Collin, Brady, and Seth to follow him. Then it was just me and Edward standing alone in the moonlight. The rest of the pack had resumed their watch up on the cliff overhead. I could see that a few of them were sprawled out catching a few last moments of rest before the battle. And the rest of the Cullens were nowhere to be seen. Theyre hunting, Edward said in answer to my question. I wrinkled my brow in confusion. Can you read my mind now? He chuckled softly to himself. No, but your face was easy to read just then. You used to have trouble reading my face, I reminded him. I couldnt help remembering how Jake could always read me easily, while Edward, never could, always needing me to explain how I was feeling. Edward shrugged slightly. It was obvious what you were thinking then. There was another long pause before he continued, You look well. Yes, well I . my voice trailed off. I had no idea what to say to that. The truth? Or did I want to hold onto some shred of dignity? So you and Jacob? Edward asked point-blank, watching my face carefully for a response. How did you know? Is it that obvious? I blushed. I couldnt help myself.

Yes, he replied shortly. It also helped that I could see everything in Jacobs mind. Oh, right. I blushed even more. I didnt even want to know what he was able to discover from Jacobs head. This was so awkward. And yet, did I ever expect that it would be anything but awkward? We had broken up. He was adamant that he felt nothing for me. And I didnt know what I felt for him anymore. How could it have been anything but awkward? Trust you to pick out the second most dangerous person for you to be with, Edwards voice interrupted me. He had a wry expression on his face. Jakes not dangerous, I protested. I wondered how much Jake could hear in the woods where he was shifting. Oh who was I kidding. I knew he was listening to the entire thing. Oh? Edward looked at me skeptically. Youre telling me hes never lost his temper? Not with me, I lied through my teeth defiantly. It was partially true. He had lost his temper a number of times and had come close to phasing, but it had never actually happened yet. Well, thats good, at least, he replied, sounding sincere. You were supposed to be with someone normal, Bella. Hes not normal. What does it matter who Im with? I retorted suddenly, color coming into my cheeks no longer from embarrassment, but anger. You left, remember? You have no right to come back and tell me what to do with my life. I would have never have left if I had known how much danger I was leaving you in, Edward replied urgently, his golden eyes pleading with me now. Danger from Victoria? Or danger from Jake? I asked shrewdly. Both, he replied. How can you know that he wont ever lose his temper with you? If I recall, Sams girlfriend suffered a pretty bad fate when Sam lost control of himself one day. I blanched. I had seen first-hand the damage caused to Emily, but I wouldnt back down. I dont know. All I can do is trust him. Trust him to do whats right for me. Trust him to never leave me. Edwards beautiful face was shot with pain as I said that last sentence. When he spoke, his voice didnt sound like his own. Even if it would be better for you if he left? What are you talking about? I frowned, confused suddenly at the direction that the conversation was taking. Nothing, nothing, Edward finally said, looking down in his hands. Its better this way. He can give you what I cant.

And what is that? I demanded angrily. I was surprised at how angry I felt over all of this. I had always thought that the first time I saw him again, I would be overwhelmed with delirious happiness at being with him again. Instead, all I felt was anger. Anger at him for leaving me the way he did. Anger at myself for still feeling something for him deep down despite everything that had happened. A normal life, he said hollowly without looking at me. Growing old. A family. Everything Ive always you wanted to have. What are you saying? I sputtered. That you left so that I could have all of those things? Edward didnt say anything, but he didnt have to. I could read it in his eyes. I felt my head spinning. I replayed that scene with him from last September. I remembered how deliberately he spoke about his reasons for leaving. How he no longer felt anything for me anymore. How I wasnt right for his life. How I was holding him back. I could hardly reconcile that to what I was seeing before me now. I didnt know what to say. I didnt know what to think. Umm... not that I want to interrupt this lovers quarrel here, Leah commented as she sauntered over, looking nonchalant in her ratty shorts and tank top. But she needs to go into hiding soon. Maybe you could resume this after weve killed off the newborns? Yes, yes, Edward said, straightening up suddenly, I should never have brought this up. Were not done yet, I said, before I could stop myself. You owe me an explanation. If nothing else. Edward nodded mutely before turning and taking off into the woods to put some distance between us. I couldnt help watching him as he took off, my heart thudding loudly in my heart, as he disappeared into the trees. I didnt know if it was because I was scared that Id never see him again or if I was worried about what would happen when we did see each other again. Leah was watching me shrewdly when I looked up at her. You better figure out what you want. And you better do it fast, she said bluntly. I know, I acknowledged, my face turning pink again, but this time from shame and guilt. Dont get me wrong, Im glad theyre back and all, Leah continued as she ran her hands through her hair, straightening out some tangles. But dont make it worse for everyone involved by dragging it out. Just make a decision and go with it. How do I know which one is the right one? Youll know, she said with a dismissive wave. And if you dont, then you dont deserve either of them.

I sighed. Typical Leah response. Blunt but always right. Because secretly, deep down, I knew what I wanted. I just didnt know if I had the courage to act on it.

Chapter 25: Battle

Leah left me alone as I waited for Jake, Collin, Seth, and Brady to reappear. It took them longer to phase than I thought it would, but I didnt think anything of it. I was just glad that Jake was in wolf form. I didnt know if I was ready to talk to him just yet. I climbed onto Jakes back and we were off, running through the forest at top-speed, flanked by Collin and Brady, who stayed close to Jakes heels. Seth followed behind. Even though they were in wolf form, I could tell that they were growing more tense as the first rosy rays of sunlight began to show over the horizon. It was almost dawn. It was almost time. We finally got to our destination, ten miles away, the deserted fields up by where Jake and I used to practice riding our bikes. The layout was similar to the quarry field that we had left behind, the rock formations were just on a smaller scale. I slipped off Jakes back and stumbled unsteadily to my feet. I had no more energy left in me. I had been up for 24 hours at this point and the strain and worry over what would happen in the hour to come was getting to me. Jake stood silently, in the middle, facing the other wolves. It looked like he was giving them some instructions through their mental mind-connection. They all nodded as he finished. Then Seth took off into the forest, probably to run patrol; Collin and Brady made their way back to the entrance of the field. Then Jake turned to look at me. Even in wolf form, I could read the uncertainty on his face. I knew that he was wondering whether he should phase or not. He seemed to make up his mind as he walked over in wolf form, stopping just a few feet in front of me. Dawn was breaking; I could feel the first faint rays of sunlight shimmering through the trees and warming my skin. It was time for him to leave. We stood there looking at each other for a long time. Then Jake lowered his head, his deep familiar brown eyes stared out at me and then I understood why he didnt need to phase. After all, what more was there for him to say? He had said everything already. He had never had anything to hide from me. I knew everything that he was and everything that he felt. But what about me? Did he know how I felt about him? Did I even know? Jake nudged me gently, affectionately, before turning to leave. But I couldnt let him go like that. Jake, wait! I shouted as I stumbled over my feet to put my hands up around the giant wolfs head. I brought it down so that we were looking each other in the eye again. I could read the uncertainty in his eyes. Be safe, I whispered. I couldnt bear it if something happened to you.

He snorted as he rolled his eyes, but this wasnt time for any macho-ism. I shook my head as I stared deeply into his eyes again. I mean it. I couldnt bear it if something happened to you. Jakes eyes grew solemn as he watched me. And then they grew hopeful as he read my face. He nodded and leaned forward to nudge me gently with the side of his head. I smiled and leaned into him, reveling in the warmth, strength, and comfort that I always found in him. A panicked howl suddenly pierced the air, sending shivers down my spine. It was Seth. It had to be. Collin and Brady, who had been loitering a good distance away from us to give us some privacy, came tearing towards us across the field, the panic evident on their faces even as wolves. Jake whipped around and pushed me towards the rock formation similar to but much smaller than the ones back at the quarry field - that rimmed the back edge of the field. I dashed towards the rocks and found a good-sized opening between two boulders that I could hide between. It was just dark enough that I couldnt be easily seen, but would allow me an unobstructed view of the field. I watched as Brady, Collin, and Jacob quickly concealed themselves behind some of the other random boulders that dotted the center of the field. It was eerily quiet now. The wolves made no sound as they waited. All I could hear was the thumping of my heart in my ears. I had no idea what was happening. Had Alice made a mistake? Maybe she had seen them in this field instead of the other one. They looked very similar. Was it possible that we were about to be outnumbered while the others waited aimlessly miles away for an enemy that would never come? I didnt have to wait long for answers. Seth came tearing into the field just then, stumbling to a stop in the middle of the open field before turning around to face his pursuers. He looked seriously scared as he scanned the woods that he had just come out of anxiously. Thats when I really began to panic. What the hell? Why was he alone out in the field like that? Didnt he know that the others well only 3 others, but still that was better than nothing were also in the field with him? A slight movement caught the corner of my eye. I turned slightly to see Collin, whose sandy tan color blended so easily into the tall grass and shrubs of the field, crouching silently in wait. Thats when I realized that Seth was acting. This was part of the plan. The plan they must have put together in the few seconds they had just now thanks to their mind-connection. Seth was the lure, to bring them into the field, where the other wolves would pounce. My heart was pounding so loudly in my ears that I couldnt hear the sound of anyone approaching. Not that I could have. I knew from the Cullens how softly their kind could move. I closed my eyes to offer up a quick prayer. When I opened my eyes, they were there.

It was Victoria. And Riley. Just the two of them. They appeared as if out of nowhere, standing now maybe twenty feet in front of Seth. My stomach lurched at the sight of Victoria. Her bright orange hair and mocking eyes seemed to see right through the rocks at me. I shuddered as I drew back further into the darkness. She had found us. She had found me. But then her eyes glanced past the rocks and scanned across the field. Was it possible that she hadnt seen me? That I had just imagined her eye contact? Shes here, I know it, Victoria said suddenly to her companion with a sneer. Riley nodded as he turned to scan the field. I recognized him from all the media coverage. His beautiful blonde All-American college quarter-back good looks were intensified by his new life at a vampire. His hair gleamed even brighter in the sun, his athletic build was even more imposing, and his formerly blue eyes were now a fiery red hue that was matched only by the color of Victorias eyes. They both were completely ignoring Seth who was putting on an Oscar-worthy performance in front of them. Even though I knew he was faking it, I couldnt help holding my breath as I felt the waves of fear rolling off every inch of his furry lanky body. Seth whimpered suddenly and shrunk back, seemingly asking for mercy, but I could see from behind, that he had merely shifted his weight to his hind legs, ready to spring and attack at a moments notice. Relax, puppy, Victoria said dismissively with a wave of her hand. Im not here for you. Just keep your mouth shut and dont alert the rest of your litter. Seth whined again softly as he continued to glance at them fearfully. On the other hand, Victoria said suddenly, as she turned the full force of her blood-red eyes onto Seth. You may know something. Tell me. Where is she? I know shes here. I can smell her. I cant smell much beyond the mangy wet dog smell, Riley snarled as he nodded dismissively at Seth. Her scent was stronger back at the other field. Maybe we were wrong Shut up, Victoria cut him off coldly. That was a fake out. I know shes here. I can feel it. I can almost taste it Then suddenly, as if I had suddenly grown a bulls-eye on my forehead, her eyes fell on the opening in the rocks where I was hidden. I was paralyzed as I watched her glowing red eyes fix onto mine. I wasnt dreaming this time. She had seen me. Well well, Bella. Ive been looking for you, Victoria purred, her eyes now bright in sadistic delight and fierce hunger.

Riley scanned the rocks where I was hiding, trying to see what Victoria was seeing, but he didnt dare interrupt her. Victoria took a tentative half step towards me, which only made Seth whine more. She turned to glare at him, but he just continued to whimper. Finish him off, she said to Riley with a dismissive wave of her hand. Ill take the girl. And then, everything became a blur. I saw Victoria make the motion towards me, but then all I could see was a blur of fur, as Jake, Collin, and Brady launched their ambush, catching the two vampires completely unawares. Seth had gotten a good hold of Riley, who hadnt expected the terrified whimpering wolf to pounce on him, and Collin was quickly ripping Riley to pieces. All I could see were marble-like chunks of his body flying around the field. Jake and Brady had taken on Victoria, who was clearly a much better fighter. She must have sensed their attack a moment before it happened because she had managed to evade Jakes ambush. Brady took the counterattack, but Victoria swatted him away as if he were an annoying fly. The force of the impact sent Brady flying halfway across the field and he landed hard against some rocks. He let out a low moan and was unsteady as he tried to stand up. Give up now, Victoria taunted Jake. It took five of you to kill Laurent. You think that youll take me down single-handedly? Jake growled angrily, not rising to her bait. They continued to circle each other like prizefighters in a boxing ring, both waiting for the other to take the first punch. I shuddered. My nails were digging so hard into my arms that I was practically drawing blood. I looked around quickly. Brady was still disoriented by the impact and would be no help. But Seth and Collin had managed to dismember Riley quickly and efficiently. Collin was now watching over the pieces to ensure that they didnt reconnect, while Seth had silently looped around the field so that he could ambush Victoria from behind. Victoria seemed to have forgotten all about her companion. I guess he didnt mean much to her, because she didnt even glance over to see if he was okay. Though maybe she underestimated Seth, thinking that Riley had taken him out already. I realized then that the last thing we wanted was for Victoria to notice that Riley was gone. If she did, she might run. What did Jake say about her? That she had a talent for escaping? I didnt want her to escape again. This was it. The odds werent bad. 3-to-1 with Seth and Collin freed up. 4-to-1 if Brady could get himself together. If she escaped now, she would just come back again. She would never rest until she had gotten me. It was time to end it. To end her. I didnt want her to harm anyone I loved again. But what could I do? I only caused problems. I couldnt solve them. I was just human, unlike all the supernatural heroes that surrounded me. Except suddenly, I knew what do to.

I reached my hands to grab the Swiss army knife that I had used earlier. The blade glinted in the rising morning sun, almost blinding me for a moment, but I could still see, out of the corner of my eye, Jake and Victorias eerie dance of death as they continued to circle each other waiting to pounce. I could also Seth assume his position behind the rocks to attack. It was time. I brought the blade down onto the side of my arm and I watched as the rosy drops of blood began to drip out. I felt no pain. All I could see was Victoria, paused midstride, her blood red eyes distracted as they stared towards me with an undeniable hunger. And then she was gone. Covered in a blur of fur as Jake and Seth tore her apart. I saw her head, with its distinctive orange curls go flying towards Collin, who added it to the pile of Rileys parts that he had created. The rest of Victorias body parts quickly followed suit. Jake shifted suddenly back into his human form. My eyes were wide and I felt slightly faint as I took in his naked body, through I attributed that more to my blood loss than anything else. He pulled a lighter out of the black pouch that he carried around on the string tied around his right ankle. He threw it into the pile of dismembered bodies and we all stood in silence for a moment as we watched Victoria and Riley burn to ashes. Before I had a chance to react, I saw Jake shift back and take off into the forest. Thats when I remembered the newborns. There was still another battle going on.

Chapter 26: Battle Part Two

I pulled myself out of the rocks where I had been hiding. Seth had shifted back into human form and had the presence of mind to pull on some shorts. Collin was patrolling the edges of the forest. Brady had disappeared into the forest after Jake. Where did they go? I asked, my voice coming out hoarse and raspy. I cleared my throat and asked again, The battle is still happening, Seth confirmed my suspicions. Jake went to help out. Brady is doing border patrol for us. As long as Collin is in wolf form, well be able to hear whats going on you know in case others come here. Right. In the elation of seeing Victoria burn to pieces she was still burning in fact as I watched the bonfire continue to create a gigantic smokestack in the sky I had forgotten that there were still a bunch of other vampires out there that wanted to kill me. Dont worry, Seth said with a cheerful grin. It sounded like the battle was going well. No one was hurt or anything. And the newborn vampires were distracted by your scent, as we expected them to be. Good, I said faintly as I slumped down to the ground, to hug my knees to my chest as I leaned my back against the nearest rock. Seth gave me a grin as he sat down next to me.

Dont worry. Brady is running a wide loop around the field. Collin is running a tighter patrol. Theyll let us know if anyone is coming at us. I figured Id phase to keep you company. I can phase back in an instant if needed, he said with a proud little boy grin. I could still barely believe that Seth was old enough to be a part of this. Now, in his cutoffs and bare-chested, he still looked like a 15 year old boy. A freakishly tall 15 year old boy with gigantic hands and feet, but he definitely hadnt quite filled out into his body the way the older wolves had. I nodded, but he must not have been convinced because he chuckled as he continued, Dont look so worried, Bella. Weve got it under control. I just dont want anyone to get hurt, I replied softly in my best older sister voice. Theyll be okay. Especially now that the Cullens are here. Man, you should have seen the stuff that Jasper showed us. Hes got some major fighting skills, Seth marveled, with unabashed hero worship in his eyes. Arent you guys supposed to be mortal enemies or something? I teased with a half-smile, appreciating how he was taking my mind off things. Seth looked surprised. Yeah, I guess so. But not all vampires are bad. The Cullens are pretty decent if you ask me. I never understood why Sam harshed on you so much for being err friendly with them. I shrugged. Im just glad they came back in time. Yeah, tell me about it. We would have been toast otherwise, Seth replied matter-of-factly. I cringed which made him back-track. I mean, not really, we could have put up a good fight. Really. We could have. Then seeing that I was unconvinced, he muttered, Nevermind. No point in putting up a brave front. We totally would have been toast. So its good that your boyfriend showed up. Hes not my boyfriend anymore, I replied automatically. Seth didnt say anything, but his face turned beet red as he looked away from me. He isnt, I insisted. We broke up. He left if you recall. But hes back now, Seth replied, still looking away, his cheeks a flaming tomato red in embarrassment. Yes, but not because he wants to get back together, I said without looking at him either. Theyre just here to help. Thats not what he said, Seth pressed on, He said he was here for you.

I dont think thats what he meant, I said slowly, trying hard to squelch the faint tide of hope that I could feel rising up within me. Was it hope? Or was it fear? Fear of what his being back might mean for me? Fear of making the wrong choice? Fear of hurting people I cared about? Thats what Jake thought, Seth said bluntly, looking up to meet my eyes now for the first time. What do you mean? I stumbled over my words under his friendly but direct gaze that reminded me so much of Jake. Wolf mind-connection, remember? I couldnt help overhearing, Seth acknowledged with a sheepish grin. I just thought you should know, thats all. Hes a good guy. All of you Clearwaters seem to feel the need to tell me that, I said with a wry smile as I thought back to Leahs admonishment at the quarry field. Because its true, Seth said simply with a shrug. Of course, my sister thinks that shes always right. Suddenly, a new thought zinged through my head. Do you think she I stumbled, unsure for a moment about what I was going to ask its because she has feelings for Jake? Jake? Seth snorted. God no! Youve got to be kidding me! She just seems to be very protective of him I just thought maybe No way. Theres no way, Seth replied emphatically. Hes like a little brother to her. Theres no way. Alright, I said with a smile, but I was secretly unconvinced. Seth probably wouldnt be the most perceptive person on this anyways being Leahs little brother and all. So, what are you going to do? Seth asked. About what? I looked at him in confusion. About Jake and Edward? he said smoothly, his eyes wide and innocent. I narrowed my eyes at him. Did Leah put you up to this? Seth laughed but shook his head. Did Jake? He laughed again and shook his head again. Not, not exactly. What do you mean not exactly? I asked shrewdly.

Seth shrugged as he ignored me to press on, So what are you going to do? What did Jake tell you? I demanded through gritted teeth. Tell me. He just wanted me to distract you. So that you wouldnt worry about what was going on out there, Seth said as he jerked his thumb. Now that we had stopped talking, I could hear a faint rumbling sound in the distance. My jaw dropped when I realized that for a few minutes, I had forgotten about the battle going on. What kind of terrible person was I? Theres no reason for you to worry. Our odds are good Seth continued as he saw the panic rising in my eyes, Seriously. Were in good shape last I heard. Apparently the redhead and her boyfriend came in advance of the rest. The newborns showed up right on schedule in the field. Were just executing our strategy now. Seth, I said with an unsteady voice. I appreciate what youre doing Jake made me promise to do what I could do get you to not worry, he continued anxiously. So he told you to ask me about Edward? I said, my voice sounding unnaturally high and squeaky. No no! Seth replied in a panic. That was my idea! I just figured that would be a good thing to talk about, because it would distract you. I laughed bitterly. Well it worked. I guess I just am that selfish. Not selfish, Seth said encouragingly. Just . He didnt finish as he whipped his head in the direction of the quarry field. I felt my stomach drop when I realized that it was silent. There was no faint thundering sound anymore. It was just silence. I looked up at Seth to ask him what was going on, but he had gotten up and moved quickly to the middle of the field. Then, I heard the rustling of trees and the thundering of paws coming closer. The wolves. They were coming here. What did it mean? Was there a retreat? Did something happen? A few seconds later, Collin and Brady burst into the field. I let out a huge sigh of relief. They were celebrating. The two of them jumped up and gave each other a high-five, which was a frightening sight actually, seeing two such large wolves tackling each other. They were practically grinning in excitement, if wolves could grin. I felt the air pumping through my lungs again and a huge weight lift off my shoulder. Seth let out a whoop and he pulled me into a bear hug as he swung me around in a full circle before putting me back to my feet.

What did I tell you? You didnt think we could do it, he teased with a cheeky grin, but even I could see that the strain had left his eyes now. Its not that I didnt think you could do it, I replied weakly. I was just Im just teasing, Bella, geesh! he said with a wink as he leapt forward to greet Brady and Collin who were now rolling around on the ground in a friendly game of wrestling. As Seth approached, he instantly shifted into a wolf, his clothes and sneakers shredding into pieces during the process, but he didnt care. He leapt into the fray and the three of them celebrated. I felt the warm morning sun flow over me now, feeling its warmth in every pore as I soaked it all in. It was over. The long months of worry. Terror. Fear that I would cause the death of the people that I loved the most. It was all over. That slightly sweet burned smell from the pile of ashes behind me was the sweetest thing I had ever smelled. It was the smell of freedom. The three wolves rolled around in the sunshine happily, when suddenly, they stopped. Seth, who had been wrestling with Brady, stopped so suddenly that he was thrown onto his back near me. I made the move to see if he was okay. When he rolled over and stared at me, his eyes blank and unseeing. The other two were equally immobile, their eyes staring in the distance as if they were watching some invisible TV screen. Then all three wolves flinched at the same time, as if they were watching the same action sequence in their head. What happened? I demanded, my voice a near-screech, as I knew that nothing good could come from that look. All three began to whimper suddenly, looking at each other with frightened eyes. What? You told me it was over! Is it over? I demanded as I moved to stand right in front of Seth to force him to look up at me. Seth nodded quickly. Its over. The battle is over. Seth nodded again, but his eyes still looked out at me sadly. Okay, so its over. But what just happened? The words stumbled out of my mouth in a flood. Are there more of them? Are they coming here? Seth shook his head abruptly. I felt the dread rising over me. Suddenly, I knew exactly what had happened.

Did somebody get hurt? I choked out as I felt my skin begin to prickle all over as if I were being prodded by invisible scalding hot pins from the inside out. Seth nodded then, his eyes pained as he met my gaze. Was it Jake? I heard myself ask. I didnt even recognize the sound of my own voice. Seth nodded. And then I couldnt feel anymore. The world went black as I crumpled to my feet.

Chapter 27: Confession

When I opened my eyes, the first thing that struck me was that I didnt know where I was. I was lying on a sea of pristinely white bedding. The room around me was simple but elegantly furnished, with cream-colored walls and a few pieces of furniture that even I could tell cost a fortune. There was a large balcony window to my left, but the pale blue curtains were drawn closed. Based on the strength of the sunlight being filtered through the filmy fabric of the curtains, it was probably around noon. I propped myself up on my elbow and looked blearily around, struggling to get my tired eyes to focus. And then I remembered. Newborns. Battle. Jake. Injured. I bolted upright in a panic. Thats when he spoke. Its okay, Bella. Hell be okay. I paused, halfway off the bed, but I didnt turn my head. I didnt need to. No one else said my name the same way - with the faintest hint of an accent on the E the way it would be pronounced in Italian - but then again, everything he said had been mesmerizing to me at one time. Are you feeling alright? I composed myself before turning around. Edward was sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room. He had his elbows resting lightly against the armrests and his hands steepled underneath his chin. His face was a smooth impenetrable mask of calmness. Im fine. How long was I out? I asked quietly. A few hours. You hit your head on a rock when you went down, Edward replied with a nod toward my forehead. I reached up, shocked to realize that I had a small soft bandage covering part of the left side of my forehead. Putting pressure on the wound made me wince slightly.

Thats quite a scar youve got, Edward continued as his eyes moved to the other side of my forehead. I felt my hand automatically move over to touch the jagged scar that was left behind from the nasty cut that I got the first time that I went biking with Jacob. It looked far worse than it actually had been, even though the redness had faded over time. It wasnt a big deal. Edward didnt say anything at first, but when he did, his eyes were dark. Was it him? No! I practically shouted when I realized what he was asking. Then, before I could help it, I muttered, It was more your fault than anything else. My fault? Edward raised an eyebrow. Forget about it, I replied, feeling my face growing warm in embarrassment. I didnt know that I was ready to let him know what a mess I had been in the days after he left. Wheres Jake? At La Push, Edward replied with a carefully neutral expression. Carlisle is there working on him. I jumped off the bed in alarm. For Sam to waive the treaty to allow the Cullens to step foot onto La Push territory, Jake had to be in pretty bad shape. Hes fine. Carlisle is just monitoring his recovery. The wolves heal pretty quickly. As you probably know better than I do. Edward added as an afterthought as he looked away suddenly. I choose to ignore that comment. How did he get hurt? Our plan worked well, the newborns had no idea what hit them. We were just finishing up the last few stragglers when Jacob showed up Edward paused here as he looked back at me, his eyes flashing brightly,. though it sounds like it was good he was with you. I heard he and the other wolves made short work of Victoria and her companion. Yes, shes dead, I said woodenly, still hardly able to believe that those words were actually true. Good, Edward said softly with a distant expression in his eyes. I wish it had been me, but as long as shes really dead. I didnt respond and continued to watch him, because I honestly had no idea what I would say. We finished up with the newborns pretty soon after Jacob arrived. But the girl-wolf. -Leah, I interrupted, annoyed suddenly.

Yes, thats right. Leah. There was a newborn vampire a big guy who had been hiding behind a rock formation. He came out of nowhere and went for Leah. Jake pushed her out of the way and took the hit himself. The newborn broke all the bones on the right side of Jacobs body before Sam and one of the other wolves were able to get there. I felt my knees get wobbly so I backed myself up against the bed again and sat down weakly. It was okay, I reminded myself. He would heal. Bones could heal. Hell be fine. The wolves took him back to La Push right away. It was just as well, because we didnt want the pack to be there when the Volturi arrived anyways. Why not? Edward paused with a grim face. The Volturi dont honor truces with werewolves. Or anybody for that matter. I thought you said they were the vampire police. Theyve been the police for a long time. That kind of power can be intoxicating. Its just good that Aro, their leader, didnt make the trip himself. We want to avoid him as much as possible, particularly now that Edwards voice trailed off as he looked up suddenly, as if he were surprised by how much he had said. Now that I tried to prompt him. Nevermind, he said with a shake of his head. Carlisle went to La Push as soon as the Volturi left. Carlisle had to reset all of Jacobs bones, but he called an hour ago to say that Jacob will be in critical shape for the next few days, but should make a full recovery in a week or so. I nodded silently, feeling air pumping into my lungs again, as I closed my eyes in relief. I hadnt realized that I had been holding my breath all of this time. He means that much to you? I didnt look up right away. When I did suddenly glance up, I saw Edwards golden eyes watching me with a raw pain in their depths, before he quickly blinked and looked away. What does it matter to you? I asked quietly. He didnt respond, but just continued to look away with a wry expression on his face. Why are you here, Edward? I asked suddenly. He looked up at me in surprise. I we- came back because of Alices vision of the Volturi and the newborns. I told you that.

No, no, I know that, I dismissed with a frown. But why are you here now? Why did you bring me to your house? You could have left after the battle was over. The pack could have taken care of me. You didnt need to stay. I wanted to make sure you were okay, he replied stubbornly. Do I mean that much to you? I asked with a half-grimace half-snort. Of course, he said, raising his eyes in wonderment, looking at me as if he didnt understand how I could doubt that, and something just snapped in me. Because the last fall, you told me that I didnt mean anything to you. Why would I mean anything to you now? I didnt say that, Edward replied quickly as he straightened himself up cautiously. Trust me. I was there. You said it. I didnt mean it that way, Bella Very original, I couldnt help retorting with a slight snort. Edward looked at me in surprise, as if he hadnt quite expected me to be so so feisty. I couldnt help but think that Jake would have just laughed at that even if we were in the middle of an argument he would have had a sense of humor about things. I might as well -what is the expression you use nowadays - come clean? Edward replied, stumbling a bit over the modern expression. When he got agitated, his speech reverted to that of the early 1900s. He paused before turning to fully face me. I had a feeling that I was about to hear something that I wasnt prepared to handle. Last fall, when Jasper on your birthday Edward looked pained as if he couldnt bring himself to say the words so I just nodded to show that I understood where he was going- My worst fear had come true. And Im not blaming Jasper. It is just what we are. Were predators. It was foolhardy to think that we could ever be together. I thought I was over it. I thought I was over feeling anything about him and about us, but hearing him say that last sentence was like a sucker punch to the gut. Suddenly, it was as if no time had passed. I was still that same girl, standing in the middle of the forest, listening to him tell me the words that had caused my world to crumble to pieces around me. And so I left. I left because it was the right thing to do for you, Edward continued. Being with me wasnt good for you. You said it was the other way around. That I wasnt good for you, I replied brokenly, feeling a wave of emotion flooding through me as I repeated the words that had once shattered my heart and my soul.

I had to say it, Edward said sadly, looking past me, his beautiful amber eyes glowing with an otherworldly pain. Otherwise, how would you let me leave? How would I have had the strength to leave you? If you started pleading with me I would have broken down. And I knew that my leaving was the right thing for you. The right thing, I repeated slowly, as I felt parts of me beginning to click back into place, now that I had had time to absorb the reopening of this emotional scar. Shouldnt I be the one to decide what is right for me? You didnt know the risks I did know the risks, I replied with a strangled voice as I held up my arm and pulled up my sleeve. The sight of the half-moon scar from James attack made Edward wince. I knew the risks. It should have been my choice about whether the risk was worth it. Not yours. But I knew you would have made the wrong choice. My leaving was the right thing for you. The right thing? I asked, my voice suddenly choked up. The right thing to do was to lie to me? To make me doubt everything about myself? I believed you. I loved you. I trusted you. And you made me think that I wasnt good enough for you. That I had been wrong for thinking that we had something special. Your lying to me made me doubt my judgment, my sense of self, everything that I had once thought I knew for sure! How was that the right thing for me? I had gotten to my feet and was shocked at how violently I was shaking. Edward made the move to get up from the armchair to come over to me, but he stopped at the look in my eyes. I finally composed myself enough to continue. I knew the risks of what it meant to be in a relationship with you. You treated me like a child. A simple child who couldnt make informed decisions, so you had to step in and do the right thing. Edward closed his eyes, his face contorted in pain. Thats not what I meant, Bella. You know thats not what I meant. Thats what it sounds like to me. Im sorry, Bella, Edward replied, opening his eyes and getting to his feet to cross the room to take my hands into his. I stiffened at the cool touch of his icy hands. Even after being apart for so long, my body recognized his touch and I couldnt help but feel myself drawing closer to him. At least believe that my intentions were good, even if my execution wasnt. I wanted to protect you- -by lying to me. By treating me like an idiot who couldnt be trusted to make smart decisions. Edward sighed. I knew you wouldnt make the right decision. You wouldnt break up with me.

Youre that sure of yourself? He flushed slightly, though it must have been my imagination, since he had no blood in him to flush his ivory pale face. But he had the decency to at least look embarrassed. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant fool, yes. Im sure you wouldnt have broken up with me. God, what is it with you men? I retorted as I pulled my hands away from his and stepped back and pushed my fingers through my hair. The whole lot of you. Thinking that you know everything about me. Thinking that you know what I would do. Im taking it that Jacob doesnt like being second-fiddle, Edward said suddenly, his eyes glowing with a newfound hostility. Dont talk about him like that, I snapped. You have no idea what Jake has what he has been what he has done for me. I have some idea, Edward replied, his eyes losing the hostility and becoming melancholy again. You forget. I could read his mind. And hes got quite a good memory. Yes, well, I mumbled. It was my turn to flush now that I realized that Edward already knew everything. He knew about what a mess I had been when he left. And how Jake and I had it was just too much to take in to realize that there was nothing private about my life. I took another step back to clear my head. Hes not right for you, Bella, Edward said suddenly, moving with lightening speed, and appearing in front of me. I jerked back in surprise. I hated being taken off guard. Werewolves are very dangerous. They have no control over themselves. They could shift at any point. Here you go again telling me what you think I should do, I said putting my hands up as I took another step away from him. Im not trying to tell you what to do, he replied passionately, also holding his hands up, but his were palms-up in surrender. Im just trying to protect you to make sure you dont get hurt. Youve seen Emily. Youve seen what happened when Sam lost control. You were supposed to be with someone normal. Have a normal life. Jacob is not normal. Whos normal? Mike Knewton? Hes not my type, I replied sarcastically. No, your type has to be a guy who could maul you or kill you by accident. Jake wouldnt hurt me. He might not intend to, but he cant control himself.

The way Jasper couldnt control himself? I retorted. Edward took a step back as if I had slapped him. His eyes were wide and filled with pain. Im sorry, I replied quickly. I shouldnt have said that. That wasnt fair. I just I dont I just dont know how to feel now that youre back and saying all these things. I had gotten my life back on track. Maybe not the track you think is right for me. But it was on track for me. And now youre here and Im confused and I I put my hands up helplessly as I closed my eyes and took another step back from him. Look, I just I still dont know why youre here. What do you want from me, Edward? He looked surprised that I would ask such a direct question. It took him off guard for a moment as I watched indecision, fear, and finally resolve flitter across his eyes. It was funny that I used to find him so inscrutable and mysterious. He was pretty easy to read now that I could see him clearly, no longer dazzled by the fact that he had chosen to be with me. Edward squared his shoulders slightly as he closed the space between us. We were so close that we were practically touching. The sudden intimacy felt both strange and yet familiar, from the sweetly intoxicating smell of his skin to the coolness radiating through his shirt. He reached down to grab my hands and brought them up between us. Then he stooped slightly to look at me, the burning intensity in his eyes taking me by surprise. What do I want? I want you back. I should never have left. I love you.

Chapter 28: Revelation

I probably would have collapsed from shock if Edward hadnt been holding onto me so tightly. My mind was a swirling vortex of emotions. I had wanted to hear those words for so long. I had dreamed about them. I had hoped for them. There was a time when I would have given up everything and everyone that was important in my life just to hear those words from him again. And I wasnt immune. God, I would have given anything to have been immune. To have those words leave me cold, instead of firing up a maelstrom of mixed emotions that I didnt know how to deal with. When I finally could speak, the only word I could get out was, Why? Because I couldnt live without you. I tried. For months. I tried to stay away. But you were all I could think about. I traveled the world tracking Victoria obviously unsuccessfully, but no matter where I was in the world, everything made me think of you. The only thing that kept me away was the knowledge that you were safer and happier with me gone, Edward paused here and leaned in to look at me meaningfully. I was obviously wrong on both accounts. For both of us. The separation made us miserable. And it left you unprotected. It didnt work for either of us. Edward paused as he lifted one hand to place a finger under my chin and tilted my head up.

When Alice called to tell me that the Volturi were coming to Forks, I cant describe what I felt. Sheer and utter panic. Why would they be confronting the newborns in Forks? Had the newborns killed near Forks? Were you a victim? And what about the Volturi? Would they want to hurt you? Why would the Volturi hurt me? I asked, the shock of hearing that statement jarring me out of my confusion. One of the laws they enforce is that we keep our existence a secret. That no humans know of our existence. If they had somehow found out that you knew about us, they would not have been pleased, Edward said with a grim expression. Oh, I see. Well then Im glad that I fainted and missed out on seeing them. Yes, he replied shortly. Thats why we have to avoid Aro, the leader, at all costs. His mindreading skills put mine to shame. He can hear every thought that youve ever had just by touching your skin. I shuddered, Thats creepy. Everything? Yes, everything. If he were to ever touch one of us Edward gestured towards the rest of the house where presumably the rest of the Cullens were -he would know all about you and our relationship. He would not be happy. At the very least, he would be very curious about you. I nodded mutely, not sure how to respond to that beyond sending a quick fervent prayer to whatever God was up there to make sure that never happened. I was terrified. I realized in that moment that as dangerous and as wrong as I am for you, no one can protect you and keep you safe better than I can. I opened my mouth to protest, but wisely decided not to say anything. Edward continued, not having noticed my reaction. We caught the first flight out. I was terrified we wouldnt get here in time. When I smelled the scent of your blood in the air as we pulled into Forks, I thought for sure that something had happened. We raced through the forest to the quarry field. I was sure that I would see you dead at any moment Edward paused as his eyes clouded over with tears not that I knew if vampires could actually cry before he composed himself and continued. I couldnt believe it when we got there and were met by the pack. Sam was trying to inform us about everything that had happened with Victoria and the newborns, but all I could hear were Jacobs thoughts as his head began spinning at the sight of me. Thats when I found out the full extent of what had happened between the two of you and I I felt

Yes? I prompted. Jealous. Furious. Profound sadness. Pretty much the whole gamut. And then you showed up, and all I could feel was happiness. You are the most precious thing in the world to me. Seeing you safe and alive just solidified for me the fact that we belong together. Edward pulled me to him now, his hands holding my face gently as he pressed feather-light kisses on my forehead. I stiffened at first, but then I couldnt help but melt into him, the gentle cool touch of his hands and kisses bringing back a flood of pleasant memories. I know that I hurt you when I left. Im sorry. Im so profoundly sorry, he continued between soft kisses around the contours of my face. But Im back now. Fate has brought us back together. I know that it wont be easy. Im still me. Im still dangerous. My family is still dangerous. Well have to take a lot of precautions, but we can make it work. We have to. My life isnt worth living without you. And then, his cool lips were on mine, and I felt myself transported back to a year ago, when this was all that I ever wanted. There was something so familiar about this moment kissing the first guy that I had ever kissed the feel of cool marble beneath his shirt, the intoxicating scent of his skin, the gentle but firm touch of his hands. I felt like I was in a trance, as all of these familiar emotions and sensations swept over me, separating me from the here and now. Before I could even figure out what I was feeling, Edward pulled away, ending the kiss with a chaste peck at my forehead before he pulled me into his arms. This felt familiar too, this sense of disappointment at how controlled he always was with me, how disciplined and clinical he often was when it came to me I had forgotten about that until now. I laid my head against his chest gingerly, shivering slightly at the coolness of his touch. Everything felt so familiar, and yet, it didnt feel quite right. We stayed that way for a while before Edward spoke again. We will need to figure out what to say to Charlie. I gather that he is not my biggest fan right now. And he wont like me any more when I take you away from Forks. I pulled myself away from him abruptly, his words jarring me out of my trance. What? Leave to go where? I dont care. Anywhere. As long as were together. Youre done with high school. Youre 18. A legal adult now. We can go anywhere. I can show you the world. There are so many places that I want to share with you. You can go to college if you want. You could go anywhere you want. You dont have to just go to the place that offered you a scholarship. But I belong here I said slowly, realizing only as I said those words how true they felt. My life is here. Charlie. My friends oh god, Jake. I need to go see him. It was like I had suddenly been electrocuted with a live wire which restarted my brain and my pulse. I had been in such a trancelike state, watching Edward as he said and did all the things that

I had dreamed about for so long, that it was as if I was having some out-of-body experience. And only now was I being shocked back into reality. I need to go, I insisted as I pulled away from Edward and headed towards the door. Edward utilized his speed to get to the door before me. Where are you going? he demanded, not angrily, but with a definite edge to his voice. To see Jake, I replied. Im such a terrible person. Hes hurt because of me. I need to see him. Youre choosing him, Edward said slowly, his face full of hurt and confusion. Im not choosing anyone right now. I just need to see that hes okay, I said as I tried to push my way around him. It was like pushing a concrete wall. Youre choosing him, he repeated, refusing to budge. Im not choosing him! Im not ready to choose anyone right now! How do you even know if hell choose you in the end? Edward asked, his face now determined and intense as his amber eyes stared down at me. What do you mean? I asked in bewilderment. Has he told you about the whole imprinting thing? Hes going to imprint on someone else one day. The person hes destined to be with. And his imprint is not you. I know it. It flittered through his mind when he saw you and me together in the field last night. In fact, he has doubts that the two of you were meant to be together. He thinks that it was inevitable that you would leave him for me. Youre lying, I said, despite being stung by the knowledge that everything he said was true. I knew Jake felt that way, because I had never given him a reason not to. Im not, Edward replied calmly. I saw it. It was there in his head. Hes always wondered if he was your second choice. If you only choose him because I left. And I think you answered that question for him last night. Thats not true, I replied as tears began to spill out in frustration. I was just shocked to see you. I havent chosen anyone. You belong with me. I know it. Even he knows it. I could see it in his head. Hes never really believed that the two of you would end up together. Hes always doubted that. But I never have. Ive always known that you were the one for me. Even when we were apart, I knew there would never be anyone else but you.

Seeing that I was weak with indecision, Edward continued pressing his case. Bella, hes destined to leave you one day. He will fall in love with someone else and leave you. Hes not the one for you. I would never leave you. You already have, I replied stubbornly as I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I didnt leave because I fell in love with someone else. I left to protect you. But I learned my lesson. My leaving made us both miserable and unsafe. Weve learned the hard way that that strategy wont work for us. Ill never leave again. Especially not for anyone else. You know that, Edward replied urgently, bringing his hands to my face and using his fingers to wipe away my tears. You believe me, right? And strangely enough, I did believe him. Despite all of the conflicted feelings I was having at the moment, I could feel his sincerity. I nodded as he pulled me close into a hug again. But I still need to go see him, I replied, my voice muffled against his chest. Hes fine, I told you, he replied as he pulled away to look at me in confusion. Carlisle had to give him so much morphine that I doubt hell even be awake. I just need to see him, my voice faltered. I stepped away from his arms and looked him in the eye. I need time. I need to ... to think about all of this, I waved my hand at him and at me. Edward looked confused and then pained. I thought you said you believed me. I would never leave you again. I do believe you, I replied, my brain beginning to hurt as I tried to parse out my jumbled thoughts. I have no idea why, but I do believe you. But thats not enough for me. How can it not be enough? Ill always be here for you. Literally. Ill be here forever, Edward responded with a wry smile. He wont. You have no idea how much longer hell be with you. A day? A week? A year? Its my decision to make, I replied softly but resolutely. Im not saying that I choose him. Im just saying that my fear that he will imprint on someone else and leave me, isnt enough reason to automatically choose you. I survived when you left. I could survive if he were to leave too . Not if. When he leaves. I nodded mutely, knowing that he was saying the truth but not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing it. I had no idea you and he that he had come to mean so much to you, Edward finally said, his voice sounding hoarse and uncertain for the first time ever. I saw his feelings, of course, I knew how he felt. But I just assumed that you I thought that well, since I was gone and with

Victoria it made sense for you to gravitate towards him for protection. I just didnt think that you really lov-that you really cared for him. I stared at Edward, not seeing him, as images of Jake from the past year played through my head. His smile the first time I came over with the bikes, all the fun times we had in his garage fixing then up, when he was able to make me laugh even though I hadnt laughed in months. I had cried on his shoulder, I had found comfort, safety, and unconditional love in his arms - things I had never expected to find again. It was certainly the last thing on my mind when I showed up at his house that fateful day with the broken bikes, wanting to just take advantage of his mechanical skills. The past few months with Jake had changed me. More than I had ever realized or appreciated until just this moment, when I was given the chance to relive the past again. To step back in time. I could see it all so easily in my head. The part of me that had loved Edward so desperately was still there inside me, waiting to be reactivate, and it would always be there because it was a part of my past and who I used to be. It would be easy to just pull my old self out from the attic. Dust off the cobwebs and resume that life again. I could say yes right now to Edward and soon enough, the painful memories of the past year would just fade in the distance, and I could spend the rest of my life reliving the short brief period of my life with Edward that had been more exhilarating and exciting than any life that I could ever have imagined for myself in my wildest dreams. It was all within my grasp. And yet, I couldnt seem to bring myself to take it. Because it wasnt me. Not really. My life with Edward would be an amazing thing. Immortality. Eternal youth. Power. Money. Love. Everything that we, as humans, are naturally dazzled by and gravitate towards. But I knew how hollow those things could be when they were forced on you, like they had been with the Cullens. I was different. I had a choice. And I realized that in the end, I knew what that choice would be. I opened my mouth to speak, but Edward put out his hand, his eyes glittering intensely. Just think about it, Bella. Im not asking for an answer now. I have all the time in the world. And I can wait for your answer. I can see now that he is important to you and that maybe I am too late, he acknowledged with a deep sigh. I did what I thought was right and I have to live with my decision. Im just asking you to think about it. Its been a long few days. I sighed. Im sorry, Edward. You have no idea how sorry I am. And maybe Ill wake up tomorrow and think that Ive gone crazy. But for right now, my answer is- -please, just think about it. Dont say something now that we may both regret, Edward insisted, his eyes pleading and desperate. I made the move to shake my head, but seeing the pain in his eyes made me pause. Then I finally nodded in agreement. It wouldnt hurt to think about it more. And I had more important things to do right now.

Chapter 29: Girl Talk

I made the move to push past Edward to get to the door, but he sidestepped me, with a resolute face. Bella, I cant let you go to La Push without one of us to protect you. The werewolves are too dangerous for you to be around. I stared at him in disbelief, unsure of what I was hearing. Theyre my friends. They wont hurt me. Ive been around them for months and nothing happened! He frowned, but he didnt move. I just dont think its a good idea, Bella. The werewolves really are dangerous. Its not just Jake. I need to see my friends. They put their lives on the line for me. I need to see that theyre okay. Please, Bella. Im just looking out for your welfare, he insisted, his golden eyes warm and pleading. For a moment, the power of his gaze and his voice, seemed to weaken me. I remembered how I used to be powerless to resist him and anything he wanted. But I wasnt that girl anymore. Edward, I said slowly but emphatically. I need to see Jake. I need to see my friends. Please dont stand in my way. Ill come with you then, he replied as he turned to open the door. I dont need a bodyguard. Plus, youre not allowed at La Push, I replied with a frustrated sigh. Is this what I was like when we were together? Letting you tell me what I can and cant do, who I can and cant be friends with? Edward flinched at my accusation and he held himself stiffly as he responded, You used to trust my judgment. I trust mines more now. Please let me go, I said calmly, feeling myself standing up straighter as I tilted my face to look him squarely in the eye. For a moment, I thought he wouldnt let me pass. Then he stepped away from the door with a resigned sigh. Carlisle is there. Ill call him and tell him to stay for as long as youre there. I rolled my eyes as I passed him on my way out the door. I couldnt believe this. Had he always been this controlling? This possessive? I didnt remember that. But then again, I dont know if I would have thought those were bad things back then.

As I walked down the hall, I recognized that I had been in the Cullens guest bedroom. I was walking down the stairs when I realized that Edward was following silently behind me. He noticed me glance back at him. Ill drive you over. I can drive myself, I said as I threw my hands up in exasperation. Ill drive her, Alices clear bell-like voice chimed in. She appeared suddenly at the bottom of the stairs, flanked by Jasper. I tensed unexpectedly at the sight of him. Here in the Cullens house, I couldnt help remembering the last time I was here, when he attacked me. He seemed to realize that I was feeling agitated because I could feel him trying to exert his soothing power to calm me down. It infuriated me that it was working. Ill go too, Rosalie said, suddenly appearing next to Alice. I looked at her in shock. I wasnt exactly Rosalies favorite person. It didnt seem possible that Rosalie had been involved in a fight to the death that morning. Her golden beauty was immaculate, every hair in place, her makeup perfect, her clothes pressed. Even though she was offering to come, she was looking at me like I was something she found on the bottom of her shoe. Fine, Edward said. You can take her as far as the border. Ill call Carlisle to tell him that you guys are going. The girls nodded as they headed towards the garage. I made a move to follow them, when Edward put his hand on my shoulder. Bella, please. Just think about what I said. I love you. I want you to be happy. And I know I could make you happy. For a moment, I was mesmerized again by the sincerity and intensity of his eyes. The eyes that I once thought reflected everything that was in me. Eyes that were now looked at me with pain and profound sadness. My heart wrenched. Was I really going to do this? Was this really what I wanted? Before I could speak, he stepped away with a half smile and worried eyes. I got into the car and looked back as we drove away, watching him until I couldnt see him anymore, my cheeks wet with tears. So it sounds like you wont be joining us, Rosalie said suddenly, breaking the silence in the car, as Alice pulled out onto the main road. I looked up at her and caught her eyes in the rearview mirror. They were so like Edwards golden eyes that it made my heart wrench again.

Behave, Rosalie, Alice chimed in as she glanced up at me, her eyes warm with concern but with a hint of sadness. Its okay, I said with a soft smile back at her in the mirror. In the tumult of seeing Edward again, I had forgotten how happy I was to see Alice too. And even Rosalie. I had loved being a part of their large loving family. Im glad I got to see you guys again. I didnt think youd ever return. Well that was the plan until Victoria got involved, Rosalie replied dismissively. Then she turned in her seat to fix her gaze directly at me. Dont think that Im criticizing you. I think youre making the right choice. For once. I havent made a choice yet, I replied automatically even though I knew it was a lie. Yes, you have, Alice said sadly, as she glanced at me again in the mirror. I looked away then, unable to meet the pained eyes of my good friend. You can see my future? More importantly, I cant see your future, Alice replied keeping her eyes straight on the road ahead of her. She was driving at a normal speed, in no rush to deliver me to the pack. I see, I replied with a quirk of my lips. I took a deep breath before continuing, Im sorry, Alice. And Rosalie. I really am. I just I cant not anymore You should never have been forced to make the decision in the first place, Rosalie replied coolly. You never belonged in our world. Seeing me flinch in response, she rolled her eyes as she continued, I didnt mean it that way. Edward should never have brought you into our world. It did nothing but bring your danger and heartbreak. Thats all it has ever brought to any of us. Rosalies beautiful eyes glittered with the pent-up anger and frustration that I used to think was directed specifically at me, but I realized for the first time, that it was actually directed at her fate in life. You arent happy with your life? I asked tentatively, glancing at Alice for approval, but Alice stared ahead resolutely, not wanting to get involved in this conversation. Happiness is a human obsession. It has little meaning when you live forever. But I guess, by your definition, I am happy. I have Emmett. Who is more than I deserve. I looked away to hide my smile, but Rosalie didnt notice as she continued talking, her beautiful golden eyes staring off into the distance. And of course, I have a family, she nodded towards Alice who love me more than my real human family ever did. So I have a lot to be happy for, I guess. But I will also never have a lot of the things that I want.

Like what? I asked, in amazement that there was anything lacking from her perfect life. She was gorgeous. She had more money than I could even conceive of. She could literally do anything and everything. If she wasnt the embodiment of perfection, then I didnt know what was. Like having a family of my own, she replied coldly looking back at me, fixing her startlingly direct gaze back at me again. Ill never have children. Ill never age. Im stuck in this moment in time forever. Never moving forward. Never getting better. Never getting worse. After a while, youre just existing. You stop feeling. You stop caring. Its not the same as living. Its the same reason why youre going to leave Edward. I dont know- I stopped myself before I finished what I said, because Alice looked up at me in the rearview mirror then, her eyes tinged with sadness. I had to stop lying. I needed to be brave enough to make the right choice for me. I envy you, Rosalie said suddenly, her eyes turning glassy with unshed tears. I wish I had your choice. She rolled her eyes then as she turned to look at me, See? I cant even shed tears. We cant shed tears. We have no fluid in us. So I want to cry, but I cant. Do you know how hard that is? To never be able to fully express your emotions? Watching the raw pain and honesty in her beautiful face scared me for a moment. I had never seen someone quite so tormented. Oh dont worry your pretty little head too much about me, she said dismissively as she took a look at my face. Ill survive. And I guess, my human life didnt do much for me either. Rosalie gave me a few quick details about her life before Carlisle turned her. My face fell as I realized how much this beautiful girl had suffered in her life. It made me feel shallow. Hollow. To have agonized so much over my petty problems in comparison. Youre really lucky, you know? Rosalie said as she looked back at me. You have a boy who loves you. Who will be good to you. Who will make you happy. Youll have a normal life. With kids. With love. With progress. I dont blame you for choosing that life. I would too. I nodded mutely, looking out the tinted windows, which made it seem much gloomier outside than I knew it actually was. I finally worked up the courage to ask, Will Edward Hell be fine, Rosalie said with a shrug. He was very unhappy this past year. But a year in our lives is like a drop in the bucket. You dont have to worry about him. There are plenty of our kind who would be happy take your place in his heart. Alice frowned then, but she didnt say anything. We had pulled up to the La Push border and we could see a Volkswagon Rabbit parked on the side of the road. I guess they were still observing the boundary treaty despite letting Carlisle come to help Jake.

Alice pulled over a good distance from the boundary line. I opened my mouth to thank her, but she slid out the door and slammed it shut behind her. I looked down with a sigh. Shell get over it too, Rosalie comforted me in a surprisingly soft voice. She was just really hoping that you would you know, join us. I know. I never meant to hurt any of you, I replied sadly feeling the pain hit me fresh again. I know, Rosalie said with a half smile. Good luck, Bella. I have a feeling I wont be seeing you again. Ill need to talk to Edward. We never- but I didnt finish, as Alice knocked on the window. Bye, Rosalie. I slid out of the car and was standing next to Alice. I had forgotten how tiny she was. She was wearing flats today, which might have been a first, and she barely came up by my shoulder. Alice please, I I reached out to touch her arm, which was cool under my fingers. I know, she said with a sigh as she turned to pull me into a tight hug. I was just hoping that I know, I was hoping too, but I just I know, she said as she pulled away. I told him not to leave last fall. I told him that he was overreacting. And that it would cost him. He wouldnt believe then So you saw that this would happen? I asked in surprise. Well, not this exactly, Alice replied with a frown. I didnt know that the wolves created a black hole in my vision. I just knew that when he decided to leave last fall, that I could no longer see you anymore. I wasnt sure what that meant. I even thought you might do something to yourself thats why I tried to keep tabs on you. I did a lot of stupid things, I replied with a wry smile. But luckily, I had someone to stop me from doing the really stupid things. You know how clumsy I am. Alice chuckled lightly, before she sobered up with a sigh. So a werewolf, huh? Thats going to be hard to get used to. Im not going to lie. I laughed a little. I dont know what the beef is between you guys. You seemed to work well together today. Were natural born enemies. Its hard to get over that, she replied with a shrug. Well its hard for you not to want to drink my blood, but you get over it, I pointed out.

Touch, Alice replied with a half smile. She paused before continuing, Itll just take me some time. Does this mean Ill be seeing you again in the future? I asked unable to keep the hopefulness out of my voice. Alice had been a good friend. One that I would dearly like to keep if possible. Well see. It may be complicated with Edward and with the Volturi, Alice acknowledged. So probably not on a regular basis. But maybe I can drop by from time to time. I would like that, I replied truthfully. And please believe me, I am really sorry -I choked up again as my tears began to flow-believe me, this is not how I wanted this to end. A year ago, if you had asked me, I would have he was everything to me, but when left, I had to find a way to live again. And I did, and now Im I cant go back. Im not the same person anymore. I understand, Alice nodded another sad but gentle smile. Ill look after him. I nodded with a sad smile of my own. We hugged quickly. Then she slid back into the car and drove off, at lightning speed this time, and disappeared around the road in a blink of an eye.

Chapter 30: Girl Talk - Part Two

I turned, feeling strangely numb inside, and walked towards the Rabbit. I felt like I had just cut out part of my heart. And I realized that was exactly what I had done. I had cut out a part of me that would always wish I had made a different choice. A part of me that would always love him. Love them. Im sorry, Bella. I looked up in shock to realize that Leah had slipped out of the drivers seat to greet me. She looked terrible, her face was ashen grey and her eyes were bloodshot. Sorry for what? I asked stupidly. Jake got hurt because of me. I was an idiot. I knew that leech was there. I tried to take him on myself. To prove that I could. It was all my fault. He never would have had to- Leah stumbled over her words as her eyes filled with tears. I suddenly panicked, Hes okay, right? Edward told me that he would be okay! Yes, yes. Dr. Fang- Leah flushed as she caught herself, -Dr. Cullen said that hell be fine in a few days. I just it should have been me. Dont beat yourself up over this, I said as gently as I could. Its not your fault. And hell be okay, so thats all that matters.

Leah nodded silently as she motioned me towards the car. I slipped into the passenger seat and we were silent as she turned on the engine and pulled back onto the road. So how is he? I asked quietly. Leah paused before responding. Didnt they tell you? Yes, they did. Well, Edward did. But I dont tell me, how is he? Hes not great. Leah admitted. When he jumped in to save me, he was so focused on getting me out of the way that he wasnt able to protect himself. The leech got his arms all the around Jake and well theyre pretty strong. Leah looked over at me, but I couldnt meet her eyes just yet. The scene she had described was still playing all too vividly in my mind. Dr. Cullen said he looks much worse than he actually is, Leah continued with a grimace. Which is good, because he looks pretty bad. Prepare yourself. My mind now spun with images of Jake in pain, but I took a few deep breaths and forced myself to calm down. If Carlisle said he was okay, then he would be okay. There were only a few things that I was sure about in life and one of them was the infallibility of Carlisles medical expertise. How are the others? I asked quietly, feeling guilty that I hadnt even bothered to ask until now. Everyone else is fine. Just some minor scratches and bruises. Though you should hear the boys whine, Leah said with a return of her trademark snarkiness. Paul broke his left pinky but acts like he brought an arm. Quil isnt much better, howling about this little cut on his cheek. As if he isnt thrilled that hell finally have a battle scar to brag about to girls. I chuckled. Good, Im glad. It was a good thing the Cullens came back when they did. It would have been pretty bad without them, Leah continued solemnly. I didnt respond, but nodded as I kept my eyes straight ahead of me on the road. So what are you going to do? Leah asked, when she saw that I wasnt going to respond. About what? Leah whipped her head around and glared at me. I smiled slightly. It was good to see that her sweetly apologetic persona was short-lived. I kinda liked her better like this anyways. She was honest. Brutally so. And it was refreshing.

Leah just rolled her eyes as she continued, If youre coming here to break that boys heart, then Im turning around right now. Hes got enough broken things to be worried about right now. Leah, can I ask you a question? I said softly. Maybe? she replied with a cryptic glance in my direction. Do you have feelings for Jake? I asked quickly, amazed at my own brazenness. Leahs eyes widened for a moment, before she chuckled. I guess it might look like I do on the outside, but I really dont. Not in that way. I mean, the boy is hot as hell, Ill give you that. I know I seem very protective and territorial about him. Its more that well hes the only guy in the pack who doesnt treat me weirdly about being Sams exgirlfriend. I raised my eyebrow, but Leah just rolled her eyes then as she continued. The others are too afraid to deal with me afraid of the drama - but Jake has always been a gentleman. He doesnt treat me weirdly and hes respectful of my space. And I know how he feels about you. I can hear his thoughts. He loves you. He REALLY loves you. Its about as pure and as devoted and as unconditional a love as Ive ever seen. Its the same way that Sam feels about Emily Leahs voiced cracked now, as she fought back the tears. And I guess, Im jealous. I cant help but feel that if Sam had ever loved me the way that Jake loves you, that he would never have imprinted on Emily. You know he didnt have a choice when it came to Emily, I said soothingly. It was my turn for my voice to crack as I thought about how one day, this could very well be me crying after Jake imprinted on someone else. Yeah, but I also know he never loved me the way that Jake loves you. She turned to look at me with a wry smile. You forget. I can see into Sams mind too. Trust me. Hell is being in the mind of your ex-boyfriend. Seeing yourself through his eyes. Seeing your relationship through his eyes. Especially when you still Leahs voice broke off now as she continued to stare straight ahead for a few minutes before she composed herself. So my answer is no. I dont have feelings for Jake. Not in that way. I just I guess Im just envious of you that you have someone who loves you that much. I just dont want you to blow it. I gulped. I didnt know how much more shocked I could be. First Rosalie tells me that shes envious of me. And now Leah.

So you never answered my question, Leah asked suddenly. Should I be turning this car around? What do you think? I asked softly as I turned to really look at her for the first time. Her eyes widened as she took a look at me. Then her face softened and her voice was gentle as she asked, Are you sure? Even knowing that he might - Yes, Im sure. She nodded slowly as she looked back to the road. Well you know where to find me if it ever happens. I nodded, but didnt speak. Instead, I turned to look out my window as we crossed the Quilayete River and pulled onto the last stretch of road into La Push. It was the perfect summer day and the reservation was gorgeous. A million shades of green extending away as far as the eye could see. The road veered suddenly to the right and the endless green broke apart to reveal the glittering blue Pacific Ocean. It was a truly breathtaking sight. I had been on this road dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times in my life, but that sight always managed to take my breath away. First Beach was crowded with vacationing families who were taking advantage of the warm sunshine and gentle waves. It was hard to reconcile the sight of such normalcy given everything that had happened in the last 24 hours, but that was the magic of La Push. Things could be both ordinary and extraordinary here. So does this mean that youll stay here? Leah asked suddenly. I dont know, I replied honestly. I mean. We have to go to college first and stuff, assuming that nothing else happens. Leah nodded. We had both been accepted to the University of Washington in Seattle and were supposed to start our freshman year this fall. Though of course, that plan had been in flux for the past few months given the Victoria situation. I cant believe were actually going, Leah said, barely able to contain her excitement. For a while, I thought Id be stuck here but anyways, its over. And I think were overdue for some peace and calm around here. Just think, well be able to start new. Reinvent ourselves. Leave all this behind. I smiled. I could see the attraction for her. And I once would have been just as excited, but I was going to be leaving an important part of me behind. Jake still had two years of high school to finish. Leah noticed my silence and continued.

I guess you didnt hear that Jake managed to pass all of his classes this spring despite everything that was going on with the pack and Victoria. I looked at her in surprise. I mean, I had been afraid to ask, since I had just assumed the worse. I didnt know how he could have passed. He had barely had time to sleep, much less study, given all the patrols he had been running. He actually did a lot better than just pass. The principal is a friend of Billys and agreed to turn a blind-eye to Jakes continued absence from school if Jake could pass his finals, which he did with flying colors. Leah continued with a hint of a smile. In fact, Jake has enough credits that if he does some summer school work, hell be able to graduate a year early. So he may be joining us in Seattle soon enough. I grinned suddenly as I felt the good news wash over me like a warm ocean wave on a hot summer. I wonder why he didnt tell me this. Probably because he didnt want to put any pressure on you, Leah said with a shrug. I only know because Billy told my mom. I chuckled to myself because it totally sounded like something Jake would do. Hes amazing, I marveled. He never said anything. Never so much as hinted about it. I cant believe he did all of that work just in case we did end up together. Thats Jake, Leah said wistfully. Hes a good guy. A REALLY good guy. I looked at her sharply. I knew she had just denied being in love with him, but there was something in her voice when she talked about him that didnt quite convince me. I opened my mouth to say something, but the look on Leahs face made me shut me my mouth as I realized that she had said all she wanted to say. So I just sat back and looked out the window again as we rode in silence the rest of the way to Jakes house.

Chapter 31: Home

Billy, who looked like he had aged about ten years in the past day, let me into the house with a grim expression. How is he? I asked tentatively. He gave us a good scare, but Carlisle says hell be okay, Billy replied gruffly.Hes been asking for you ever since he woke up. I flushed. Can I see him now?

That depends, Billy said, still watching me with guarded eyes. Hes in critical condition. The next few days are important to his recovery. I dont want anything upsetting him. Neither do I, I replied calmly, looking at Billy in the eye. But Ive heard that good news will often speed up a recovery. Billy raised both his eyebrows in surprise. So youre not No, I said with a slow nod. This is where I belong. Billy smiled suddenly, one of his old happy grins, as he reached over and patted my hand. The door to Jakes room opened suddenly and a tired looking Carlisle, bag in hand, slipped out and closed the door gently behind him. He smiled warmly when he saw me. How is he? Billy asked anxiously. Pretty good. The bones have been reset properly, and hes already healing quickly. I think Ive got the medication dosage right finally - he was burning through it so quickly before so that should help with the pain. He just needs to take it easy and he should be fine in a week or two. Carlisle looked towards me anxiously then, Jake does need to rest now. The first few days are critical. I dont want to upset- -Bella wont be upsetting him, Billy said softly. Carlisles eyes widened for a moment, before he nodded sadly. I see. He looked away for a moment with a sad smile playing at the edges of his mouth before he turned to look at me again. Well, then Bella may be just what he needs right now. But try to get him to sleep. He really needs it right now. Billy wheeled himself over to Charlie and extended his right hand. Thank you for everything. Please thank your family too. If you hadnt returned, who knows what might have Billys deep baritone broke off. We created the problem, Carlisle replied with a half nod in my direction. It was our responsibility to help fix it. If something like this happens again, I hope you will call on us. We will, Billy replied. And we expect that you will too. Carlisle nodded as the two men shook hands heartily, then he walked towards me and reached out to take both of my hands in his steady cool ones. Im sorry, Bella. About everything that we put you through- I shook my head frantically, as tears began to stream down my face. The last thing that I wanted to do was cause this gentle man pain, but Carlisle just smiled sadly as he moved his hands to cup my face

I am sorry about how things turned out. I would have loved to have you as family, but at least we part as friends, he said as he dropped a gentle kiss on my forehead. I nodded mutely. Carlisle paused at the door. Ill be back tomorrow morning to check on Jacob. Call me if anything changes, but he should sleep for the next day or so. I watched through the window as Carlisle crossed the front porch, his pale iridescent skin sparkling in the sunlight, before he slipped into his car with the heavily tinted windows and drove away. Ill let Jake know that youre here, Billy said softly behind me. I nodded as I followed him towards Jakes room. I heard him go in and murmur a few things. Then he came back out and motioned for me to go in behind him. I walked into Jakes little bedroom, unsure of what to expect. What I saw brought a fresh flood of tears to my eyes. Jake looked terrible. His entire right side was bandaged in a full body cast from his right shoulder, arm, chest, down to his right leg. The skin on his left side that was exposed was covered in dark red, almost purplish, bruises that had swollen up in a painful way. I look that good, huh? he teased with a wry grin, which only made me burst into tears at the sight of the gashes and bruises mottling up his handsome face. Bella, dont Im alright Jake said softly, his eyes pleading with me. Its not that, its just I dont . I sobbed, barely able to get my words out, as the tears were pouring out of me. I was trying to tell him that I was crying because I was just so damn relieved that he was okay. That he would recover. I didnt care how bad he looked. As long as he would be okay. But Jake misunderstood me, because his face fell. He squeezed his eyes shut before looking down with a pained expression. I see. No, Jake, I muttered when I realized that he had completely misunderstood me. Its not what you think. I No, no, Bella, before you tell me. Just let me just let me say what I have to say, Jake pleaded. How can you say no to a guy in a body cast, right? He teased with a wry grin. I snorted through my tears. This was why I loved him. He could always make me laugh. No matter what. Jake looked out the window, composing himself, before he turned back to me to continue.

I practiced all afternoon for this, he acknowledged with a rueful grin. And now, I cant remember any of the things I was going to say. I had all of these arguments prepared about why you should choose me- - But, Jake! I tried to interrupt, but he just waves his free hand at me. Please, just let me say this. I had all these arguments prepared. I was ready to try to convince you any way I could. But not anymore. What? I said feeling my heart drop into the pit of my stomach. He didnt want us? Trust me. It wasnt easy to get here. But I thought about it all day. It was the only thing that got me through the bone resetting. My God, that was painful. Jake winced suddenly, so I moved towards him in alarm, but he just waved me off with his good arm. I realized that at the end of the day, that I have nothing left to say, Jakes eyes were glowing intensely as he spoke. You know how I feel. You know who I am. And if you well, if you if hes the one Jake looked down now, swallowing hard, as he squeezes his eyes shut tightly. When he opened them again, he was blinking back tears, as he muttered, Damnit, I told myself I wasnt going to Jake, please. Let me- I pleaded, reaching out to touch him, but he pulled away from me. -No, just, one more thing. Bella. I love you. I want you to be happy. And if he makes you happy. If he truly makes you happy. Then Im not going to stand in your way. I dont . the whole vampire thing I cant pretend that I understand or that I approve, not that its my place to approve, or anything I dont get it and I cant deny that I think its crazy for you to be with a vampire. Maybe when the morphine wears off, Ill feel differently. But Dr. Cullen hes a good man and I guess his son would be too so Im just Jake shook his head in frustration I know Im rambling, its the drugs, I swear. What Im trying to say is that I love you enough to let you go. I promised to never hurt you. I promised to always to do everything I could to make you happy. And I will keep that promise. And if he . If he is if he is the person that makes you happy, then what Im just trying to say really badly obviously is that I understand. Its your decision to make. I just want you to be happy. And I accept whatever you decide. There. Im done. I swear. No more painkillers for me. Theyre obviously turning my brain to mush. I started laughing. I couldnt help it. The unconditional love and support radiating from his deep brown eyes as he said what was probably the hardest thing in the world for him to say filled every part of me with a joy that was uncontainable.

You idiot, I muttered softly as I put my hands on his face. Jake looked up at me in confusion as I leaned in and gave him a soft gentle kiss on the lips. The look on his face after the kiss was priceless. I wish I could have taken a photo to carry it with me always as a reminder of how lucky I was to have someone love me that much. Then Jake broke out in a teasing grin. Idiot, huh? I thought I was being quite romantic, you know, being all self-sacrificing and stuff. You were, I acknowledged with a smile as I sat down on the bed and leaned in for another gentle kiss. It was a very touching speech. But you wouldnt have had to make it, if you had just let me say what I wanted to say. These damn drugs. Making me say a bunch of sappy things that Ill deny ever saying when Im not high, he joked as he reached his good hand up to pull me in for a few more kisses. Yeah, yeah, blame it on the drugs. Jake pulled back suddenly, his eyes now serious and dark, as he used his free hand to tilt my head up to look at him. Are you sure? Yes, Im sure. Why? I laughed at the skeptical expression on his face. I dont know how to explain it. I have some drugs that might help with that, he teased as he gestured towards the medication drip on his right side. I just laughed. Because you let me just be me. Because being with you makes me feel strong and alive. Because you help me be the best version of me. I dont know. This all sounds so stupid and clich. I mean, how do you know you know, about me? It was his turn to chuckle as he brought his free arm around to try to pull me to his chest. It was a little awkward at first, trying to find a spot that was comfortable for me but wouldnt hurt him, but we finally settled in. I guess I dont know either. Youre just you. Thats a much better answer than mine, I teased back. A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. We lay there comfortably in silence for a few moments before Jake spoke again.

I dont want to make any promises that I cant keep, he said sadly, his arms tightening around me. I dont know what will happen with the imprinting thing. And I dont know if when I know, I interrupted him, patting his arm with my hand gently. And youre okay with it? he asked, the surprise evident in his voice. Its not like theres some guarantee when it comes to relationships. You could leave me because you fall in love with someone else all on your own no imprinting needed. I doubt that. Dont make promises you cant keep, I admonished lightly. Who knows what will happen in the future. So maybe youll imprint on someone and leave. Maybe youll fall in love with someone else and leave. Maybe Ill fall in love with someone else and leave. Who knows? Jakes chest rumbled with laughter. Point taken. All I can promise is to do my best to make us work. And thats all that we can do. As for the future well see. I had no idea you were this philosophical, Jake teased as he squeezed me slightly with his arm. Its kinda hot in that sexy librarian way. Now thats definitely the drugs talking, I laughed. What? Jake said in mock protest. I cant say that my girlfriend is hot? Girlfriend, huh? I said with a soft smile. It was a long time coming, but somehow, it sounded so right. Yeah, he replied with another affectionate squeeze. Sounds pretty good to me. But lets not tell Billy just yet or else he might not you stay here overnight. Youre in a body cast and doped up on morphine. What could he possibly think is going on? I said with a deep belly laugh. Let me show you, he laughed as he used his good arm to pull me onto him. I wasnt quite expecting it and so I flopped onto him, jamming part of his cast with my elbows, causing him to wince in pain. Jake reached up with his arm to help me right myself immediately. Maybe youre right for now. For now, I chuckled as I rearranged myself into a better position. Are you good? Am I hurting you?

No, Im good, he sighed in contentment, as he pulled me just a smidgen closer, and reached over to stroke my hair. Are you good? Im good, I replied with a smile as I snuggled in just a bit closer. And I really was.

Chapter 32: Epilogue - Ten Years Later

Jake was running late, so I waited for him at the clearing on the cliffs just north of first beach at La Push. Im not sure how this came to be our spot, but it was the place where all the main turning points of our life happened. And I had a feeling that today would probably be another. I sat down against a rock to enjoy the warm June afternoon. The sun was out in full force and I pushed back the sleeves of my shirt so that I could enjoy its warmth. The ocean in front of me was a sparkling blue sea of calmness, with mild waves crashing against the cliffs in a gentle rhythmic thud. It had been ten years since that day. The last time I saw any of the Cullens. The last time I saw him. It seemed like a lifetime ago. I never saw Edward again after that night. I had written him a farewell letter, where I was able to write the things I could never be able to say in person. I received only a brief note in response. An ivory card with stark black cursive handwriting that said, If you ever change your mind, and an email address. I still had it, buried somewhere in my files, more as a keepsake than anything else. I never saw Alice again either. I had thought that maybe she would have been able to stop by periodically. After all, Forks was their home too. Or at least one of their many homes. She emailed me occasionally, a brief newsy update about where she was and how things were going. She never mentioned him and each email ended with a note saying that she would try to make it to Forks soon. But it never happened. And that was okay, too. I guess ten years is just a drop in the bucket when you live forever. We didnt experience any more vampire troubles after Victoria. There may have been a straggler coming through from time to time, but no one was killed near La Push or Forks. I didnt know if perhaps the Cullens had something to do with keeping vampires away from this area, but I was grateful either way. It made it easier on me. And on the pack. The guys were able to go back to leading pretty much normal lives at this point. Well somewhat normal. They still ran patrols, but there were enough of them that they could take shifts and still go about their daily lives. Leah left La Push entirely. After going to college in Seattle, where we occasionally hung out, she decided to stay there. She had made a new life for herself and was more than happy to leave her pack life behind her, though she did go for a run occasionally in her wolf form whenever there was a new moon. Leah was the only one who left permanently. The other guys scattered to college and jobs, but all came back eventually to settle down. A few of them did imprint. Embry on new girl from the Makah tribe, Julie. Quil on Emilys niece, Claire, a toddler - which I cant explain except to say that it wasnt as weird as it sounded. It just turned him into a glorified babysitter most days.

But Jake never did imprint on anyone. He doesnt know why. And neither do I. But I dont care. Im just grateful. It was always there, in the back of our minds, wondering, waiting, worrying. Maybe our faith in each other was enough to override it. Or maybe our decision to be together altered the course of his life such that he would never meet his imprintee. Well never know. All I know is that Jake was now old enough to phase out of the werewolf life permanently. In an extreme emergency, he could probably phase back if needed to defend the tribe. Otherwise, he had done his duty and was released from his responsibility. He was free now to choose. The sound of footsteps coming up the trail behind me made me smile. Happy to see me, huh? Jake teased as he rounded the corner and approached the clearing where I was sitting. Youre late, I pouted in mock-protest as I got up to my feet to greet him. I know, Jake replied with cheeky grin as he pulled me to him in one quick motion. You can punish me for it later. Dont think I wont, I replied as sternly as I could even though I could feel myself melting into his kiss. Then I forgot everything as he pulled me close to him, wrapping his strong arms around me, as if he could never get enough of me. This last year of living in different states had been really tough. We somehow managed to pull ourselves apart and we leaned back, grinning at each other stupidly. I ran my fingers through his thick black hair that was curling around his neck. He desperately needed a haircut. And a shave too, as the rough stubble along his jawline had scraped the hell out of my face. He reached down to touch the faint red irritation on my jaw tenderly. So? I asked with a smile as I took in the happy glint dancing in his eyes. I got the job, he said barely able to contain his excitement. Im moving back! I knew you would get it, Jake! I laughed triumphantly as he picked me up for a celebratory whirl. Though I guess I should be calling you Dr. Black, huh? Im not exactly a real doctor, he said, his face flushing a little in embarrassment. He was so cute. Right, just a Doctor of Rocks, I teased. Jake had turned out to be something of a brain, following me to UW in Seattle and finishing his Ph.D in geology in record time. He had just finished a post-doc year at Denali in Alaska, and was now returning to work with the Washington State Department of Natural Resource to do conservation work and testing out in the Olympic Peninsula.

I had moved home last year to become the guidance counselor at Forks High School, after working in Seattle for a few years while Jake finished school. I thought that moving back would have felt more like coming home, but it never felt quite right. Something had been missing until now. Jake laughed again as he crushed me to him, the wind whipping my hair so that it surrounded us like a dense brown cloud. I savored the moment, taking in Jakes woodsy musky scent, blended with the fresh summer scent of the forest and the tangy breeze from the ocean. It all brought back a storm of memories. Do you I asked tentatively, unsure of myself suddenly, Do you remember the first time we were here? Yes, he said shortly, his arms tightening around me. I was so mad at you. I dont know if Ive ever been that mad at you again. I deserved it, I replied, my voice muffled into his shirt. I never thanked you for what you did and said that day. I have this feeling like my life would have been totally different if you hadnt stopped me in time. Who knows what would have happened if you had jumped, he murmured softly. I could feel him smile as he brought his head down to nestle against mine. But Im pretty happy with how things turned out. I just laughed, feeling a chuckle rumbling deep within his chest too. Then Jake stilled, tensing his body slightly. I pulled away to see his normally laughing brown eyes looking worried. Whats wrong? I asked. Jake just took a deep breath. I dont know how to say this, so Im just going to come right out and say it. I went for a hike this morning around Denali. I figured I would get one trek in before my flight home. And while I was there, I ran into Suddenly, I knew what he was going to say. There was something about this spot that brought back all of those memories and made them feel real again. What happened? I asked quietly. Nothing much, Jake replied honestly. He did most of the talking. I guess he had been keeping tabs on us. He just wanted to make sure that I hadnt imprinted. That you were still happy with me. Oh, and what did you tell him? Jake looked down, his cheeks turning a dull red, as he replied, Well I told them that I hadnt imprinted obviously. And that I thought you were still happy with me. Was that right?

Not far off, I said with a teasing smile as I leaned up to give him a peck on the cheek. Even though I had chosen him, Jake would always feel insecure about the whole Edward thing. I guess I couldnt blame him. He also congratulated me, Jake continued awkwardly. Congratulated you for what? I asked in surprise. I guess now that Im not able to phase anymore Alice can see my future, he paused suddenly before correcting himself. Our future. Oh? And what did she see? I asked, feeling my own face begin to flush hotly. Jake looked me in the eye and I felt myself tingling all over at the intensity of emotion that I could feel radiating from their depths. He reached his hands up to cup my face as he brought his lips down for a soft kiss. Bella, he said hoarsely, his voice rough with emotion, as he pulled away. Will you marry me? I felt the tears begin escaping down the side of my cheeks. I had known this was coming and yet still, I couldnt help being swept up in the moment. I smiled at him stupidly through the tears and we stared at each other for a few moments, content to stay in this blissful moment, before I was able to compose myself enough to respond. On one condition Jakes lips quirked with a smile. Anything. You promised to take me cliff-diving once. You never fulfilled that promise, I said with an arched eyebrow. Jake threw his head back and laughed heartily, before he leaned forward to kiss me again. Youre right. And I always keep my promises. He turned towards the edge of the cliff, pulling me with him. Wait! You want to do it now? I asked in shock. I had mostly said it as a joke. Mostly. Its a perfect day, Jake grinned as he gestured out at the calm ocean waves that were glittering under the sun. Why? Are you scared? Please, I rolled my eyes as I marched up to the edge of the cliff next to him. I felt my knees shaking a little as I looked down and saw how far down the water was. I heard Jake chuckle beside me.

Im not scared, I protested as I jutted out my chin a little more. I am sometimes, Jake said suddenly in a serious tone. About what might happen. About whether you made the right choice. So what I guess we just need to take a leap of faith? I teased as he rolled his eyes and mockpunched my shoulder. I could never resist a good pun. He learned over to kiss me again and I felt myself leaning into him, the warmth between us making the warmth of the sunlight against my skin feel like childs play. We broke apart reluctantly and I grinned when I saw Jakes rakish grin and playful look in his eyes. Ready? he asked as he squeezed my hand. Ready, I replied with a smile. And then we jumped.

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