A Quiet Fire~Prologue September 7, 2010 Hurrying down 58th street, I catch and ignore strange looks from passers

by²there's only one thing on my mind²late. I'm late. Again I curse my stupidity for not double-checking that the alarm clock was set for a.m., not p.m., the night before. The move had taken it out of me . . . I hadn't slept well, and I'm a bundle of nerves, a reality made worse by the fact that I am LATE for my first graduate class at the University of Chicago. What a way to make a first impression. As I skid to a halt in the front of the Humanities Building, I hope against hope that Professor Riordan will understand. She is the reason I'm here, a specialist at the top of her field and mine, and if I screw this up, I'll have no one to blame but myself. Panting and sweating from the unseasonably warm September heat, I finally locate the classroom where my Early Romantic Poets class is being held, stopping for a minute before making my entrance. Since I'm already late, there's no use sense barging in before composing myself. My breathing calmed to a normal rate, I pat my hands over my hair to tame any flyaways before pushing open the door. About a dozen students are seated around a large round table, and Professor Riordan stands by the dry erase board, marker in hand. She turns when the door opens, her eyes flicking over me to take in my appearance. I'm wearing a long grey skirt that probably makes me look like a country bumpkin, out of place in the city. Professor Riordan seems quite casual and cool in ripped jeans and a tank top²a far cry from the professors I'd encountered at Washington State. "You must be Isabella Black," she says, finally smiling as I nod dumbly. "Please take a seat." I hate that I can't find my voice in moments like these. I do as she asks, relieved she doesn't appear angry at my tardiness. I find the closest available seat near the door and slouch into my chair, gathering my skirt to cover any skin that might have become exposed with the movement. My shyness inhibits me from checking out the other students, some of who I can see glancing at me curiously in my peripheral vision.

"To return to the question at hand. Does anyone know why William Blake is considered a Romantic? He is, after all, quite different from those he is now grouped with . . . Wordsworth, Coleridge . . . " Professor Riordan trails off, looking to us for a response. I feel the telltale familiar thumping in my chest, a flutter in my stomach²symptoms of the nervous energy produced whenever I get ready to speak in front of people. I know the answer to this question, and I know it well. William Blake is the reason I'm here. Before I can work up the courage to reply, someone beats me to it²it's a blonde girl, breathtakingly gorgeous, seated right across from me. "Ms. Hale?" Professor Riordan responds. The blonde girl clears her throat. "Well, Blake represents a new era of humanistic inquiry²a break from the obsessive rationality and reason of the 18th Century. He was greatly influenced by the French Revolution, although he was older than many of his Romantic contemporaries." "Excellent, Ms. Hale," the professor commends. "And of course our classifications of literary time periods are relatively arbitrary²there's always cross-pollination between generations of writers." "Precisely." Ms. Hale says, smiling and looking pleased with herself. I'm impressed with the exchange and more than a little annoyed with myself for not speaking sooner. The blonde certainly knows her stuff, but I would have added that Blake is bound to the younger poets by the shared belief in the supremacy of the human imagination, a celebration of the body, too² which made him much more like Byron and Shelley than the more conservatively-minded Wordsworth. Of course, all of this sounds so much more articulate in my head. Still, I make a promise to myself that the next time an opportunity like that arises, I won't miss it. Just then, the door opens again. Professor Riordan now looks more than a little miffed as I, along with the rest of the class, turn to inspect the latest arrival. A shock of coppery hair pokes in through the door. It's a guy. I hear one of the girls to the left of me whisper something to her neighbor but I can't make out what she's saying. His face turns to the front of the room and a

deep velvety voice quietly asks permission to enter. The voice stills my heart. No. It can't be. He enters and turns, his gaze sweeping around the room to find a seat. His eyes alight on mine almost instantly and I am frozen, frozen in time . . . The green eyes, those eyes have traveled with me. And the face, so much beloved . . . older now, but unmistakable. A slight dimple in his chin, a jaw stronger and more defined, the stubble a telltale sign of several days without a shave. The fingers on my right hand instantly worry the ring on my left as the face morphs before me into the boy I knew. Ten years disappear and I am lost. "Edward?" The word leaves my lips before I can stop it . . . a ghost . . . a whisper. His face pales as he steps closer, his expression a shock of disbelief. And suddenly we are no longer in a classroom full of strangers. We are in his living room after school and he is teasing me, prodding me. My mom is in the hospital again and I'm staying with the Cullens, but no one's home now except for me and Edward. "Have you ever been kissed, Bella?" I am shaking my head, blushing. He makes me nervous now in a way he never has before. He's only 15²soon to be 16²but he seems like so much more of a man to me, the two-year age gap between us expansive. I bite my lip and realize I'm still shaking my head. He chuckles. "Would you like to be?" I almost gasp . . . is Edward asking me . . . if he can kiss me? My throat is dry as I nod, the word struggling to make its way from my brain to my mouth. Yes. YES. And when his lips meet mine it's nothing like how I thought it would be. His mouth is soft and gentle; he brings his hand to my face and cups my cheek

softly. It is brief but when he pulls away I am left with a strange sensation, a longing that I've never felt before. Almost without volition, I touch my finger to his lips. Mine tingle. "I wanted to be your first," he says, smiling as he kisses the tip of my finger. "Me too." The words finally come and I know they're true. Now, with his too-pale face only feet from me, it's too much . . . the years of missing him . . . too much. I hear a roaring surge in my ears and then see only blackness. "Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself."²Mark Twain Chapter 1: October, 1998 "Bella?" I cringe as I hear my mother call to me from her room at the top of the stairs. I had hoped she wouldn't hear me coming home after school before I could slip out again and over to the Cullens.' Alice is expecting me in ten minutes²Esme promised to take us down to get ice cream at Bill's and I don't want them to go without me. Then I'm supposed to spend the night over their house²it's become our tradition on Friday nights. Over the past few weeks my mother's voice has been changing« It's sounding more and more like that time when she took me away to Canada because she thought they were coming to take me away from her. And that scares me. I don't want to be taken away, but I don't want her to either. That was over year ago, and she's been so good since then . . . but now maybe it's happening again. "Bella?" she calls once more. "Can you help me? I can't get this«" Filled with dread, I climb the stairs to the second story. As I do I notice how dusty the stairs are; I'm definitely going to have to clean again soon. Especially if Alice or Edward want to come over. They don't usually, but still, they might want to. And I have to be prepared. The first time I met Alice was when the Cullens moved to our neighborhood three years ago. I was out playing and I saw this little girl with short dark hair wearing a really pretty red dress. Since I'd never seen her before, I stared. She noticed but, instead of making fun of me or running away, she asked me to come and play with her. So I did, and we've been best friends ever since.

It embarrasses me when they come to my house. Theirs is so perfect compared to ours. Even though it's old, our house used to be nice when we first moved to Elgin from Forks Washington when I was five. But then my dad was killed in Chicago while he was on duty and things got worse. Mom says we don't have the money to do upkeep, because dad's pension isn't big. So now our house sticks out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood, that's what I overheard our next-door neighbor Mrs. Crawford say one day to another woman I don't know. Mrs. Crawford didn't think I was listening but I was playing near the fence. When she saw me she shut right up. I love hanging out with Alice and Edward at their house. Everything is so neat. Their walls aren't covered with old peeling wallpaper. They don't have cracks in their windows held together with heavy tape that looks like metal. Their carpets are clean. And their family is so nice. Esme always looks pretty, and she smells good when she hugs you. I love the way she does her hair²it's light brown, curly. She always wears dresses. I feel proud when I am out with the Cullens for dinner, so glad to be friends with Alice and Edward. Edward is the nicest boy I know. He plays with Alice and me even though sometimes he gets annoyed with us. When we were young we used to play house and, since I was older, and since Alice said it would be weird for her to be married to Edward 'cause he was her brother, I was always the wife and Alice was the little girl. But now that I am eleven and Edward is a teenager we don't play that game anymore. I still want to, and I think Alice does too, but Edward says it's for babies. Alice gets so mad when he says stuff like that because she knows he is talking about her, since she is only ten. I don't know if he is talking about me, too. Now, Edward wants to play video games on his Nintendo 64. I like it, but Alice doesn't, so when Edward and I play Mario she'll pout and then I'll have to stop and go do something with her instead. She loves to play dress up with Esme's clothes, but I'm beginning to think that game is for babies too. Edward just laughs at us when he sees what we're wearing. He usually agrees to judge our fashion show, but only if the neighborhood boys aren't around. I think they tease him for being so nice to us. Esme's dresses are way too big for us, especially Alice since she's so tiny. One day a few weeks ago Alice chose a nice white dress for me to wear while Edward waited in the living room for us to come down. I took my shirt and pants off, leaving on only my underwear that said Monday when it was really Sunday. They didn't make Sunday.

The dress didn't have a zipper, and Alice lifted it over my head as she giggled. "What's so funny?" I asked her. "Bella . . . I think you're getting boobs!" "What?" I was shocked, looking down at my chest. There were two small lumps there²I hadn't really noticed them before. But they weren't that big. Still, they were bigger than Alice's. She lifted her shirt to show me. We looked at ourselves in the mirror. Yes, there was definitely something there. Alice poked one and I flinched. "See? Boobs! I'm so jealous. I can't wait till I get mine. You're so LUCKY! Now you can wear bras!" I was so embarrassed pulling the dress down over my head. I didn't feel like parading in front of Edward now. Why should I be different than Alice? She was my only friend and now I had boobs and she didn't. The boys at school treated the girls who were getting chests differently, teasing them . . . there was one girl in my class who had such big ones the boys stared at her ALL the time and she even stayed home once because Ryan Kinney teased her so much. She had to wear a bra now. And I didn't have a bra. Suddenly I was filled with fear; I didn't want to have to ask my mom to take me to the store and get one. She always made such a scene in front of the salespeople, and her voice was so loud. My eyes started tearing at the thought of it. Alice was laughing, chattering away about the girls in her class that were starting to develop, and one who even had her«period. That thought filled me with fear too. Would it happen to me soon? Finally, she noticed that I was quiet. "Bella, what's wrong?" "I don't have a bra," I choked and ran from the room, and down the stairs. I almost made it to the front door before Edward stopped me. "Bella? Where are you going?" He blocked my way, holding the door shut as I tugged uselessly at the handle. Alice appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Alice, what did you do to her?" His green eyes were angry and he shook his head, his hair flopping. It was way too long and Esme always complained he needed a haircut but since he was thirteen now he said she couldn't tell him what to do anymore. But I knew that was a lie and he'd definitely be getting one soon. "I didn't do anything!" Alice whined. "I was just telling her how jealous I was that she's getting boobs and she needs a bra!" I shrank away, hiding my head in mortification. I just wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. Edward was looking at me and still blocking my way. I sighed in frustration. "Can you please let me go?" "Wearing that?" he asked. I looked down. I was wearing Esme's white dress and it hung from my shoulders. I couldn't leave the house with it on. Alice skipped down the stairs, adjusting the straps around my shoulders. "Don't leave; you look so beautiful. I'm sorry if I upset you . . . I don't know what I said. I'm sorry you don't have a bra." "It's nothing, just let it go," I mumbled, still unable to look at Edward. "Don't be embarrassed," he said softly. "But you should listen to Alice. She's right. You do look beautiful." "I don't want to be different." I said in a whisper, crossing my arms selfconsciously over my chest. I looked at Edward and he smiled. "Well, you are." A week later, Esme called me to come upstairs when Alice and I were watching TV. I was nervous because I thought she was mad that I had worn her white dress since it was one of her favorites. But she wasn't, and instead she said she had a present for me. It was a white box that said "Macy's" and when I opened it up I saw it was three white cotton bras. Esme said they were training bras and even though I was shy I let her help me put one on 'cause I had never done it before. She smiled and kissed the top of my head telling me how wonderful it was that I was growing up, and I felt just a little bit proud. Before I left to go downstairs again she told me it would just be our little secret, and she winked.

That was a month ago and since then it seems like something's changed between Edward and me. He looks at me differently, and I'm not sure if I like it or not. ~QF~ At the top of the stairs I see my mother in the hall standing on a chair and reaching for the fire detector. She can't really reach it and is straining on her tippy-toes. She looks at me, blinking several times. But she doesn't look right. She looks like she did before«all those times before. "Bella," she whispers as she gets down from off the chair. She pulls me to her, whispering in my ear. "I need you to help me . . . help me with . . ." She gestures upwards. "That." "With the fire detector?" I ask, confused. "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . they'll hear you," her voice is fierce but quiet in my ear, almost a hiss. And my stomach drops. I was right. She's not okay. And I don't know what to do. "Mom, it's just a fire alarm . . . You know? To let us know if there's smoke or something." "Do you see that?" She points. "That red light?" I look at the fire alarm and notice a periodic red flash . . . I know that it's the battery light. We need to change them. "Yes, mom. It's the batteries. They're dead and it needs new ones." She grabs my arm, digging her fingers into my arm tightly. "That's what they want you to think! It's a recorder . . . they're listening to us." I feel sick, an angry knot forming in my throat. I know that there's no one listening to us«but I know there's no way she'll believe it. Her panicked face mirrors mine, but we are scared for very different reasons. "Mom. There's no one there." "Bella . . ." she looks suspicious. "There is. Who have you been talking to? Is it them? The Cullens?" she sneers. "I know they want you . . . want you to

be their daughter. But you're mine. And you always will be." Her voice softens and she strokes my hair. "My beautiful girl. You'll always be mine." I try hard to find my voice. Her eyes are still darting between the detector and me. "Mom?" I begin. She doesn't seem to hear me. "Mom? I told you yesterday. Mom?" I say again, finally getting her attention. "I'm supposed to go to the Cullens' tonight. Alice invited me over. Esme's taking us for ice cream first. You know, like we do every Friday?" She looks at me blankly. "No. I need you here tonight." "But mom«" "No. You've spent enough time with the Cullens. Now go to your room." "But..." "Go to your room!" She is suddenly authoritative again and I know there's no use arguing with her, so I stomp to my room and slam the door. Twenty minutes later the phone rings, and rings, and rings, until finally it stops. I cry into my pillow. I must've fallen asleep. When I wake my face is sticky. It's hot in my room and I realize I need to open the window. There's a 'pinging' sound to my left and I started up from my bed, my heart racing. After I recognize my surroundings it slows down. But then there's that sound again: something small hitting the pane of glass. I had only heard that sound once before, but I know what it is. Edward. I push open my window and lean out. Looking down at the street I see him pacing below. When he hears the sound of the window he looks up. "Bella," he whispers. "Edward?" I clamber out onto the roof still dressed in my school clothes.

But I want to go down to meet Edward more than anything." "I'm fine. He's only one story down but it feels so far away. leaving it a little open since I won't be gone long. I want to be at his house. "Yeah?" "Do you think you can come down?" I think about it. "Bella. I think. ." I whisper and my voice sounds strange. with him. . I creep down the stairs." I reply. and I tell him I'll meet him at the corner of our street in a minute." Now he's looking up at me and I can see he's nervous by the way he runs his hands through his hair." he says softly. I nod to him. I just nod. "Are you?" I hesitate. "My mom didn't want me to come over. My heart is pounding loudly in my chest as I open my bedroom door. "I. Alice was worried about you. Now I'm on the edge of the roof. tears choking my throat. I worry that she'll find out I've left." His voice is tense. He sees me nod and smiles. I want to be with my friend. I'm far from fine. ." He pauses. "Shhhhhhh. with Alice and Esme and Carlisle . "Get away from the edge. not sure if I actually am. Once downstairs. We didn't hear from you. That's what I figured. . she's out. ." "Yeah. Ignoring my doubts. I ease the door open and slip outside." "Oh. laying so that my weight is evenly distributed and my head hangs over the edge. But she was extra-mad today. pausing to make sure my mother hasn't woken up. avoiding all the squeaky spots that could give me away at any moment. Mom's a heavy sleeper and once she's out."Yes. "Hey?" It's a question. Satisfied once I hear her steady snore.

"I wanted to see if you were okay. "Just down the street. but I trust Edward." he says to the ground. more aware than ever that I'm doing something wrong. I gasp as I approach and see he's smoking. "You know that stuff isn't good for you. my legs dangling. I had. He's leaning against a lamppost watching me. . Actually. I'm still overwhelmed by the fact that he's here and that he's smoking. ." He scoffs. thing?" I shrug.A. pulling out the pack and lighting another cigarette." He grips my hand in his and pulls me along. I'm terrified. and he seems strange. dangerous. . "Where did you get those anyway?" Edward is only thirteen. I've never snuck out before.The street is bathed in a low yellow light. "You wanna go for a walk?" he asks. I wonder how late it is for a second. I hate the smell of it on her clothes.E. but then I see Edward. His eyes land on me. "Edward?" I say hesitantly. He ignores my question. My mother smokes and I hate it. He takes a quick drag of the cigarette in his hand and stifles a cough as he approaches me.R. taking another and lighting it. "Who the hell cares? Oh. He chuckles to himself. our suburban neighborhood quiet. There's the swing set and Edward lets go of my hand. I sit down beside him on the swings. If we get caught who knows what my mom will do. His hair is wilder than I've ever seen it. We walk in silence for a few minutes until we come to our park. "Where are we going?" I whisper. after all. It's familiar«the one we've played at for as long as the Cullens have lived here. handing it to me. He dismisses me and pulls out a pack from his pocket. The smoke is curling around him and it makes him look sort of . I nod as he takes my hand in his and leads me down the road. don't tell me you've bought into the whole D.

When it finally goes out I throw it to the ground. but he doesn't say anything about it. sucking on the caramel-colored filter and coughing violently when the harsh smoke enters my lungs. It's clear he hasn't been doing it for that long because he doesn't hold the cigarette like I've seen the older boys do. is everything okay with your mom?" He finally asks the question I've been dreading. It was really gross when he showed us pictures of what your lungs look like after you've smoked for a long time.I take it tentatively." "Oh. Super gross. I glimpse at him from the corner of my eye." I consider it. The last time was the worst. In the last three years my mom has been in the hospital twice. I don't want to inhale again but I also don't want to offend Edward. . He even came to the school once and gave a presentation. I think about this and how it's incredibly brave of him to come over at night because if Carlisle and Esme find out they're gonna be so mad. "Whenever. and he's one of the ones who is always warning us about how bad it is to do what Edward's doing now. dragging deeply on his. still recovering from my first inhale. We're quiet for a while as he sits and smokes. His room is in the basement and there's a small ground level window above his bed. especially since we started playing Nintendo 64 together. "How did you get out of the house?" I ask. Since my dad is dead and there's no one to take care of me I stayed with Edward and his family when she was away. I know he's just putting on a tough-guy front. . "Window. Carlisle is a doctor. He had snuck out to come over once before. "Since when do you smoke?" I sputter. but I never asked how he had done it. I know because I've been in there a lot. ." he says. Edward watches me without talking. The cigarette he gave me is still in my hand and I just hold it as it burns down to the filter. The night is cool but he's only wearing his black Ramones t-shirt²he wears it so much I know there are little holes in it but I can't see them since it's so dark. "Um .

But by this time I was sure that there hadn't been any man. "Please don't tell. From what had happened tonight I'm sure that she's not taking the pills anymore. But she got better and they let her go and she was so good for so long! So it made me angry that it was happening again. A man came to the house looking for me. Please. I should have known that he would know anyway. and she was crying. She's fine. I know all of her fears are about keeping me safe. I love my mom. I don't want them to take her away again either. If I tell him what happened today he'll get really angry and. I want to tell Edward everything but I'm so terribly embarrassed about my mom. "I can take care of her. but I don't want to tell Edward. that my mom was having one of her episodes. But I can't hold back the tears even though I try. that's when she would get worse. even when she was at her absolute worst. I look away." I'm so full of conflicting emotions it's overwhelming." "No. My mother would never raise a hand to me. I want her to be better but I don't want them to take her to the hospital. "I think you should come home with me. The police came to our house and took my mom away to the hospital and I went to stay with the Cullens. my voice cracking. even if it means I get to stay with the Cullens again. His tshirt is all wet where I've been crying into it. Really. I don't want Edward to think she's a monster." I lie. "NO!" I almost shout.She picked me up from school on the last day of 4th grade and we just started driving. and Edward jumps up and puts his arm around me and we just stay there like that with me sitting on the swing and him standing next to me while I cry. When we came back to Chicago it was summer. knowing that if he saw my face he'd know the truth. despite the fact that seeing my mom like this scares me." I beg. which made me really happy even though I was scared for my mom. . I got really scared because I thought he might come back and I didn't want anyone to take me away. she said. I'm so embarrassed. She didn't want him to take me away and she was sure he was going to. We drove to Canada and stayed at a hotel for a long time until she thought it might be safe to go back. We need to tell my parents. "Did she hurt you?" he asks seriously and I lift my head in surprise. I knew she had to take pills that stopped her from being sick and when she didn't take the pills.

He looks nervous too." I reply. "She would never hit me. The only good thing about being in middle school is that Edward is in 8th grade and he goes to the same school as me.He sighs in relief and pats my head." Benjamin Disraeli Chapter 2: February 1999 I'm in sixth grade and it's the absolute worst because Alice is only in fifth grade and she still goes to our old elementary school. at least as far as I can tell. then turn and run back up the porch steps. pulling it back to his chest. "Goodnight." He shrugs and stands. relieved to be home undetected. "Courage is fire." I point out. It's so weird because we've always been good friends. "You need to tell me if it gets worse. you know. Renee hasn't gotten up. "Goodnight Edward. Edward goes back to his swing and lights another cigarette. My heart is pounding and I'm not sure if it's from the running. . Edward and I stand awkwardly. opening the door quietly and closing it behind me. so that means I don't have anyone to really hang out with during recess or lunch. I can't believe he's smoking so much. When we get to my house I see the door is still ajar and I breathe in a sigh of relief. I lean back. "You stink." he says shuffling his feet. Finally my tears stop falling and my breathing calms. "You're gonna get caught. pulling me off the swing and leading me back home. but now he knows my secret I feel strangely exposed and nervous standing with him there in the dark. and bullying is smoke. But I hardly ever see him because 8th grade recess is later in the day than our recess and we go to lunch at different times too. which is weird because Edward is never EVER nervous." I plead. Edward." "Promise me you won't tell Carlisle and Esme." I nod in agreement even though I know I probably won't." "Okay.

There is a clique of popular 6th grade girls who are really mean. even when it gets really bad. and that would only make matters worse.None of the kids in my class want to hang out with me and I know that it has to do with my mom. I don't have red hair like Anne. Anne doesn't like him at first because he teases her. ." it makes me think of the way that Alice and me are. They're not good students. but he does it because he likes her. We don't have the money for the right clothes either. they'll become an outcast too. I never do because my good grades are one thing I'm very proud of. I usually try to avoid them. and even they roll their eyes at her. She comes to school all the time and makes a fuss at the teachers. For some reason when I read the story I imagine Edward as Gilbert. This is the last thing I want to do because it will be so obvious that they're not the right kind. and the worst of them all is Jessica Stanley. The other girls in my class aren't as mean to me. but they won't talk to me either because Jessica and Lauren don't like me. I like the way Anne calls Diana her "kindred spirit. Most of the time I'll take the book I'm reading and go sit under the bleachers in the back field until the bell rings. I don't tell my mom how the kids tease me because if she knew she'd go to the school even more often. So I just hold my tongue and deal with it. And then of course there's Gilbert Blythe. I tell her to stay away but she never listens. and they tell me that studying too much is for losers. but that we can go to the Salvation Army to look for a used pair. While other people dread report card time. My teachers all praise me for being a good student and I get straight A's in every class except math. and then people will make fun of me more. I ignore them. knowing that even though I don't have friends at school I still have Alice. Esme gave it to me for my 11th birthday in September and since then I've read it three times. I love reading²it's my favorite thing to do. and it makes me feel really bad because even though she's my mother I hate her during those times because I'm so embarrassed. but it's hard during free time because they always seem to find me. All of the boys love them with their blonde hair and blue eyes. and my favorite book is Anne of Green Gables. This is another reason that Jessica and Lauren don't like me. but I understand how she feels when she's a lonely orphan²the popular girls don't like her either at first until she meets Diana. She's the leader and Lauren Mallory is her sidekick. so if anyone does. They become best friends. so when I beg my mom to buy me a new pair of the overalls everyone is wearing she tells me I can't have them.

but I was really fast and already had a head start. but I know he knows that things aren't right. and she didn't go to our school anymore because she got in one too many fights. I knew the girl he was talking about²she had really curly red hair. When I go over to the Cullens' he usually has a friend over²his friend's name is James. but I didn't stop running and I didn't look back. It's so hard to lie to him. so I had to stay there at least until they left. but he was so much quieter than James I couldn't make out what he said. Since then I've kept my mouth shut when Edward asks me how she is. I felt a little bad to be doing it but I was really curious about Edward's new friend. I crept after them and hid behind a tree. The thought of Edward doing that to Victoria made me sick. I don't like James much because I think he's the reason that Edward started smoking. because I heard footsteps coming up behind me. "Bella!" Edward called after me. but what James said shocked me. Obviously they did. We haven't talked as much since the night he came to my house. Soon I burst out of the woods and onto the sidewalk. and suddenly I didn't want to be sitting there under the tree anymore. I was close enough to hear James say that he was going to get Edward another pack from his dad's stash. he could make Victoria show Edward her boobs too.It's February and five months since I first noticed my mom was getting sick again. James was really loud and I heard him mention a girl named Victoria who he said was his girlfriend. no longer caring if they saw me or not. After about a mile I felt like my lungs would . James was laughing and he told Edward that Victoria had let him see and touch her boobs! I couldn't hear what Edward said next. My feet were getting tired and I slid down the trunk of the tree and nestled in the dried leaves. One day in the fall I was walking home I saw the two of them sneak into the woods in the back of the school and I decided to follow them to see what they were up to. He promised Edward that if he wanted to. so she had to go to 7th grade at another school for kids with problems. and maybe he'd let Edward touch them as well. James took out a pack of cigarettes and he gave one to Edward. Not wanting them to see me. I picked up my bag and ran off. So that's where Edward got those cigarettes! Now I was stuck behind the tree because if I moved they'd see me. I heard James call for Edward but I kept going. trying not to make too much noise. I strained to hear Edward's reply.

But I'm pretty sure I don't look beautiful now in the ratty coat I'm wearing. Not that I'm a tom-boy or anything«I have long hair that Esme once told me was the color of mahogany. because then this never would have happened. But of course she follows me." Attempting to ignore her." Lauren chimes in. "Hey Bella. so I'm wandering around the playground aimlessly trying to blend in. Since that day I don't know what to say to Edward when I see him. I feel awkward. "Where'd you get that coat? It's sooooooo pretty. and my ears are cold. "Goodwill is like my faaaavorite store. Jessica is wearing a pink jacket with white fur trim around the hood with matching pink gloves that have little fuzzy pom-poms on them. which is this really rare and expensive kind of wood. I start walking the other way." she says with a raised voice. her eyes latched onto me. and I turn and notice that Lauren is with her too. "Yeah. Edward told me I looked beautiful in Esme's white dress. The funny thing is I don't actually care a lot about clothes²I just don't want to look different from everyone else. February is really cold in Elgin and I'm standing during recess bundled in the most ridiculous outfit²an old blue coat and a mismatched scarf and gloves. I wanna get one just like it. I don't have a hat on. And even if I didn't really believe him. it's comforting knowing he understands. I also feel bad for eavesdropping on him in the first place. sniggering." . There was no one there. especially since he's the only one who knows that my mom is sick. I hope she doesn't notice me but that's exactly what happens. Her blonde head is snugly tucked in a furry pink hat. I miss playing with Edward and talking with him. and I am also upset thinking about whether or not he's done what James had promised with Victoria. I look down at the red and orange scarf I'm wearing²it's all pilly from being washed one too many times. There's snow on the ground so I can't go to my usual place under the bleachers.burst so I slowed to a walk to catch my breath and finally looked behind me. I really like your scarf too. Bella. Even though I'm embarrassed that he knows and I don't want to talk about it anyway. All of the other girls have new coats from expensive stores.

. one of them dumps a pile of snow on my head and some of it goes down the back of my jacket. wouldn't it Bella?" Jessica adds. I try to turn away but Jessica is quicker." I answer softly. that would be so fun. "What'd you say?" "I said 'no. I take a step back from her. I know that he intimidates them because he's in 8th grade and they're in 6th. "You better watch what you say to me. I feel a sudden jolt as she shoves me forward. just barely hitting Jessica. I look up." Suddenly there's an angry voice in front of me²one I know well. I grab for it but Lauren kicks it out of my way. pushing me hard so that I fall back into the snow. The girls move back and away from us and Edward spits on the ground near their feet. looking from Edward to me and then back again. I feel wetness begin to seep through my pants as the snow melts against me. "Watch where you're going!" Jessica says angrily. He holds my hand as I stand behind him and I blink back tears. "No." His voice is low. "Get away from her." I repeat. . Edward. it almost sounds like a growl. The students who have gathered around into a semi-circle start to drift away and soon it's only me and Edward standing there." Jessica is louder now and in my face." I'm brushing myself off and feeling more embarrassed than ever. I'm so happy he's here. "Yeah. I don't tell her that Lauren pushed me because it's just part of the game and she already knows. laughing. Other kids are noticing and gathering around us. "If you ever touch her again you'll be sorry. His eyes follow the retreating crowd. brushing the snow off my head. In a flash he is next to me pulling me to my feet and stepping between Jessica and Lauren and me."Maybe next time we can all go shopping together . "Are you okay?" he asks. Jessica glares at me and takes a step forward. His face is fierce²I've never seen him look so mad before and the girls back away slowly. a little more forcefully this time. but now Lauren is behind me. dropping my book and landing on my behind. . Now they're hovering over me and as I duck.

"You sure?" He looks at me seriously but I can't look him in the eye. a weird look on his face. Lauren and Jessica were nothing compared to this. Martin even though she's losing her hair and all of the other kids make fun of her because she had a bald spot. I shuffle my feet and mumble something about getting home on time. He looks angry. No one says anything. James is looking at me strangely and he whispers something in Edward's ear. I walk up to them shyly. The words blend on the page and I feel like I've lost a friend. I'm still mad about Lauren and Jessica but I'm also excited to be walking home with Edward. To me she's funny and I love her accent. like he doesn't want to be here. All of a sudden I hear Mr. Benson yelling from the school building. since that day at the back of the school I haven't really seen James and I know he knows I was spying on them. When the bell finally rings I grab my bag and my homework from my locker and head down the hall to the front door. They try to bug me during the rest of the day but I ignore them. Edward's never asked for me to wait for him. It's my present and it's ruined. I start to back away. The pages are wet and have started to curl. Spanish class is one of my favorite subjects and I love Ms. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Edward looks tense. Esme gave it to me. Edward shoves his arm and says something back but ." I say. He smirks and makes a gesture that I don't understand. "I gotta go. and I can see Mr. He's with James. I feel tears appear even though I've tried to hold them off. The sixth grade lockers are red and the eighth grade lockers are blue and I'm looking for Edward at his² number 202. He's going to get in trouble. But he's not there and I figure maybe he's outside since he never said where he'd wait for me. Thanks. He's yelling at Edward because it's not his lunchtime yet and he's out here. I wonder if he's touched Victoria. "Wait for me after school?" I nod. As soon as the cold air hits my face I see Edward standing near the front of the school. but from Edward's reaction I know it's something rude and it's meant for me. "Yeah. something he doesn't want me to hear. She's from El Salvador. He's not alone though. Edward stands staring at the book in my hands." he says and seems sorry. He turns and jogs back to the open door. leaning to pick up my copy of Anne of Green Gables. Benson talking.

I hate that Edward is friends with James. "I said I'd walk with you and that's what I'm doing. and when he gives me a smile that lights up his face I almost give in." I attempt to ignore him but he's making it pretty difficult. What'll you give me?" "Hot chocolate?" "With marshmallows?" "Hmm . not slowing my pace. "I'm sorry Bella. The sidewalks around school are pretty well shoveled. Do you forgive me?" Edward's walking backwards in front of me. I hate that he's smoking and probably doing things with girls and it's all because of James." . "What do you want?" My tone is as cold as the ground we're standing on. "Jeez. I try to focus on the crunch of the snow under my feet. I feel hurt and stupid because I was looking forward to walking with Edward since recess. and now I see that I've been excited for nothing. if you'd rather walk with James that's fine. wait. I know you can." His voice sounds behind me and I scowl. He doesn't mean anything by it.I don't hear because by this time I'm already walking away from them. turning to face him." "Damn Bella. Edward. grabbing at my arm. . I'm not running away from him but he'd made me feel unwanted and I don't want him to walk with me out of pity. and I stop myself from forgiving him so easily. aren't I?" "Well. will you wait a second?" I huff. I can get home by myself. that seems like a pretty tall order. "Bella. . Edward is fast though and soon he is right alongside me. Listen. I'm sorry about James. no deal." "Well then. "I don't know." "Oh yeah? Great. but sometimes they still have black ice on them and the last thing I want to do is fall on my butt in front of Edward and James. He's a good guy but he can be a jerk sometimes. But I'm stubborn.

" Edward nods seriously and we walk for a minute in silence. But it seems like Edward wants me to come over now. but when he gives me an angry glare I get louder. But I can't stay mad at Edward for long. He stands quickly. I think they can tell there's something wrong with her and she's not getting called in as much. . He sits sputtering in the snow bank for a second and I can't help but laugh. His hair is messy and sticking up in all directions and the cold has made his cheeks look pink. I haven't bothered to ask her if I can go over tonight.Edward is still walking backwards and grinning at me. I've never seen Edward look anything but graceful. Her car is parked in the driveway which means she didn't work . . I have to ask my mom. "I'm just surprised. Alice is at gymnastics until five anyway. a dark watermark on his black jeans. wiping the snow off his pants and when he turns around I can see that his bum is wet. . his arms flailing at his sides. Renee works at the Laundromat but recently they cut her hours back. and embarrassed. The panicked look on his face just before he falls is funny. can you come over?" he asks hesitantly. . I can see the air mist in and out of his mouth as he breathes. This only makes me laugh harder." "What? Fall on my ass?" "Yeah. When we get to the front of my house he waits with his hands in his pockets. At first it's just a giggle. I've never seen you do anything like that before." "Well. My mother's behavior has become really unpredictable²sometimes she lets me go over to the Cullen's for my Friday sleepover. "Well. . " I try to catch my breath. at least you're smiling again." I snort. and in this moment he looks awkward . "Thanks a lot. But he's not paying attention and when we get to the street corner he misses the curb. "I don't know. . I. but more and more often she's been making me stay at home. It's not long before we're nearing our neighborhood. and I figured I'd have plenty of time to go home first. "You still owe me hot chocolate. tripping and falling backward into the snowdrift on the side of the road." "I'm sorry ." His grin is back and I suck in the side of my cheeks to try to contain my own.

He shakes his head." "Edward. I guess I'll go ask her." Internally I'm screaming "No!" The last thing I want is for Edward to stay over for dinner at my house with my unpredictable mother. She's acting pretty normally right now. if she won't let you. I was expecting you for dinner. baby. And Edward. let's go. Some days she's not bad at all. I came to see if I could go over to the Cullens' for a little while. come in. disgust. I pick up my book bag again. . It'll be even worse if I make a scene. of course. but if Edward notices he doesn't acknowledge it. We walk up the worn wooden steps and open the front door. Come on. I don't think that's a good idea." My heart beats so loudly I can almost hear it. It'll be ready in about an hour.today after all. "Ummm . I can never predict how she'll be from day to day. She's still wiping her hands. There's a strange smell wafting from the kitchen and I realize that Renee is cooking." Her face immediately falls. but I can sense that at any moment she might change. Renee hears the door open and comes to the front door. It would be funny if it wasn't something else I was embarrassed about. a movement that becomes more insistent and noticeable. Mom. "I thought I could come in. She's all smiles and I'm shocked²I certainly wasn't expecting this! "Bella! You're home! I've been cooking. pity. wiping her hands on an apron I didn't even know she owned. "Um. please. Are you gonna wait out here?" I silently pray that he'll go home and I can meet him there. It's like I can see through his eyes and imagine what he must feel . "It's a good idea. Even though Edward's already seen what it looks like. maybe I could help convince her. You kids must be freezing!" Her face is plastered into a grin but she's still wiping her hands on her apron. She's a terrible cook. Edward can stay. sweetie." He nudges me forward and I can't help but do as he says. . my embarrassment is fresh every time. and Edward and I wrinkle our noses in unison. "But I've been cooking all day. and that means she's probably in a bad mood too. I hate having anyone in my house. . . .

unable to think of a reason that won't give away my true feelings. I just have to call my mom. willing him not to look to closely at his surroundings²the peeling paint. the dangerously rusty nails that hold it in place. The one I have shows a lion. Thanks. "You can't stay for dinner. almost so you're cross-eyed. I have an optical illusion poster that is really cool²if you blur your eyes." my mother says brightly. by sheer will. I try not to look at the dingy carpet on the stairs. "You two kids go play and I'll call you in a little while. "Okay then. Edward?" I whisper. and I hope." This is not how I wanted this afternoon to go. you can see shapes and pictures." Go play. The only other furniture I have is a bed and a dresser. . " Because I'm so embarrassed. Swan. we go upstairs to my room. and I have a small table for homework. Because I don't want you to see how I live. Dim light floods my room and I'm suddenly shy. I nudge Edward. . It's only four o'clock but by this time in the year it's already getting dark. Because I'm afraid of what my mom might do. I'm silently thankful that Alice and I took down all of the little kid posters I'd had up the summer before and replaced them with things that seemed more grown up." "Why not?" "Because . ignoring me. in my room. and I watch him to try and see what his reaction will be. "Because nothing. that Edward will ignore it too. When we're in my room I turn on the light. After he calls Esme. . Edward flops down on my bed with a familiarity that thrills and frightens me. I sigh and turn towards Edward as she walks away. but only if you look really hard. I want to insist that he go home right now. Because I don't want you to taste what's sure to be a horrible dinner. Sheesh. trying to be discreet. the cobwebs dancing in between chipped railings on the stairs."I'd love to Mrs." I nod. but he just keeps smiling. But I don't say any of these things. She thinks I'm still five years old. "What are you doing. I've never had Edward. or any boy.

"That seems pretty stupid to me. I can't understand why someone with such a perfect family would ever want to sneak out and do things that could get him in trouble. closing his eyes and stretching his arms overhead. Maybe you're visiting someone. strangely enough. "Why won't you tell me?" "You wouldn't understand." He runs his hands through his hair and shifts on the bed so that he's looking at me." "Who?" He's curious now." "Where do you go?" "Oh. "I don't know. Bella. around. sitting down tentatively on the edge of my bed near Edward's feet. "Man. "Oh. " he exhales. I don't know. "Try me. you know. I don't care. "Sometimes." He's not telling me on purpose and I find it really annoying." "Maybe there's no real reason. . Maybe I just like the feeling." I say. teasing me. haven't been sleeping much. "Are you sneaking out a lot?" I ask. "Are you sure there's not another reason?" "What's that supposed to mean?" "I don't know. Edward."Ahhh ." I have a feeling this has something to do with James." I grumble." "Why are you so tired?" I ask. ." "Did you sneak out last night?" "Yeah. He's on my bed with his shoes on and. I'm beat. The excitement. ." He's right.

or you wouldn't have said it. The sight of him holding it makes me want to cry for some reason. but I didn't know what to say. the pages now dried and stuck together." "I like reading. Edward seemed to be in a teasing mode. I don't know much about what happens with boys and girls. "Can you imagine having to hide like that? I mean . never knowing if today is the day the Nazi's are gonna find you?" I shudder." Edward nods thoughtfully. He picks one up and holds it in his hands gingerly. It's the Diary of Anne Frank."You obviously have some idea. I'm NOT going to say what's going through my mind. Some of them had even let boys touch them under their clothes. He's flipping through the pages. searching until he pulls out Anne. I have a lot of books that were past my grade level and I was pretty proud of my collection." "That book that you dropped today. I've heard enough around school to know the basics²adults would be shocked if they knew how much we knew. . "This is a really depressing book." he tells me. The thought seemed strange to me. but I don't. with your whole family . "I guess so. who did. . challenging me. But I blush thinking about it." I reply. I didn't have any personal experience but I'd heard older girls. "That would be awful«I can't believe it really happened. I didn't like the idea of Edward doing those kinds of things with anyone. He suddenly stands up and moves to my bookshelf. That maybe Edward is visiting Victoria. thinking how horrible that would be. "We read this in class this year. Bella. is it ruined?" He goes to my bag and unzips it before I can say anything. I decided I'd change the subject. . But still. "You have a lot of books." ." he says. . It is ruined. but I'm not completely clueless. Suddenly my life doesn't seem so bad after all." "Yeah. I know. girls in Edward's grade.

is your mom okay? I mean. "You don't have to. I tell him so. I nod. Well. They're probably terrible. "Why do you let those girls pick on you? Why don't you stand up for yourself?" "What's with all the questions?" I'm suddenly annoyed." "I doubt that. Finally he turns to me. I try fighting back. I haven't really shown anyone. hoping he'll get the message." Suddenly I really want to read something that Edward has written. and they're jealous. but that only makes it worse. Why would they be jealous of me?" . "Those girls are bitches." He smiles broadly. "What! Jealous? You're crazy. but I like reading. "Cool. Bella. I had no idea that Edward was a writer. You're better than them. ." It's silent for a minute and I have no idea what Edward's thinking. but I'd love to read your stories. "Bella. They don't mean anything. "What kind of things do you write?" He shrugs and sits back down on the bed. I bite my lip and look away. Not really anything spectacular. it's not like I let them do anything. how are things going?" This is exactly the conversation I don't want to have right now. He doesn't understand."My mom gave you this. if you want. But it's fun. He's still holding the ruined Anne of Green Gables. I like writing too. maybe sometime. . "Stories." "Really?" I'm impressed. "Do you like reading?" "Yeah." I laugh. Not these kind of books. You really like this book?" He looks at it as if it contains the answer to some secret riddle. I don't know." I say. "Will you show me?" "Maybe .

You're fun. And nice. As he speaks he looks down at the ground. sitting back on the edge of the bed. though. grabbing his hand. it smells like burning. Renee moves to the side. for one thing. Swan. you're smart. Dinner's ruined.He's thoughtful for a minute." Edward stops. I want to know what he's going to say. "You're more than that too. giving us room to pass." She's talking to me even though he's sitting right there. and I notice she's not smiling anymore. can Bella come to my house for dinner? If you're not having it here?" He smiles hugely and his whole face lights up. stopping in front of her. Just then my mother comes in. "Would that be all right with your mother?" "Of course. . Jessica and Lauren are dumb as bricks. wouldn't it be cool?" "Not if they're not smart²then being smart is uncool. since they're the ones who make the rules. . "Mrs. "Umm. smiling back. "What happened?" I'm relieved because that means Edward doesn't have to stay for what I'm sure would be a horrible dinner. she would love it. Edward looks uncomfortable so I stand up quickly. and I'm alarmed by the unfocused look on her face." She looks at Edward and then back at me and I just know she's about to say something weird. Bella. She seems to respond to that. It makes me feel strange and I turn away. "Edward needs to go. but suddenly I notice he's blushing. Then from the open door I can smell something . "Well. . I know you get good grades. But he surprises me. Whatever. . And ." I shrug. ." He tightens his grip on my hand." "Who cares? It's not cool to be smart²if they wanted to be smart so bad. I don't know.

but to me. Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night. I won't be having a party. I go and look through the chest and it's like discovering a treasure every time. it's everything. she whispers in my ear. "Let's go. Esme promised that me and Alice could stay up late and watch movies²maybe even a PG-13²and that sounds perfect to me. . "Come on. things she doesn't know I know about." Once she's released me I look to Edward. Because of Edward. Sometimes when I come home from school and she's still at work. "Okay ." Suddenly everything that seemed bad just a minute ago is right again. Giving me a big hug. He doesn't give anything away. trying to figure out if he heard her or not. . . Bella. I'm sorry. Since it's Monday and a school night.Renee eyes me tentatively. It doesn't matter because on Friday I'm going to spend the whole weekend over at the Cullens' house. I remember she told me she'd be working late today and probably wouldn't be home 'til around seven or eight. Bella." Then she pulls me away from him. . Today is my 12th birthday and when I get home from school mom's out. because other than Alice and Edward and my new friend Angela. I don't want one anyway. . "Someone burned the dinner. "The Tyger" Chapter Three: September 1999 There is a secret place in my mother's room²a chest she keeps in her closet." he says. there's no one I'd want to invite. they wouldn't think much of it . What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare seize the fire? ±William Blake. And in this secret place are secret things. If most people saw the things in there.

Renee's wearing a simple white dress with her hair pulled back. but I love it. there's an ashtray filled with cigarette butts on her nightstand and I grimace. . . then removing the clothes that my mother has strewn over the chest and lifting the lid. My mother's bed is rumpled²she never makes it²and there are dust bunnies on the wooden floor that drift and roll as the air from the door disturbs them. It shows my mom and dad on what I assume is their wedding day. After I grab an apple from the kitchen and drop my school bag off in my room. but even so I look at them one at a time. they're the same as mine. I have no idea what they stand for or why my mother has this beautiful object in her secret place. I stare and stare. since if she found me I'm sure she'd be angry. trying to remember his face. I think. afraid that maybe they're supposed to be in order . his other arm wrapped around my mom. I open the closet door and settle down on the floor. I creep to my mother's door and push it open gently. Almost as much as I love the photographs that I take out next. But all I can remember is this picture. I lift out the delicate bone china teapot. He has a dark moustache and kind eyes . my eyes. She looks tired but happy. . We're in the hospital and I imagine that it was my father who took this photo. She looks beautiful and she's got her arms wrapped around my dad Charlie. I decide this is the perfect time to go exploring in the treasure chest. They're not arranged in a photoalbum or anything. At least she doesn't smoke in the rest of the house. admiring its decoration of fine gold filigree and painted birds-swallows. .But that's days from now and since I don't feel like doing my homework. some method I'm not aware of. But then she'd know I was in here and I'd probably get in trouble. . I read the initials: EIR. my treasures. Turning it over carefully. Her room smells like smoke. . . . . He's dressed in a brown suit and holding a paper in one hand. her treasures . . his face . I'm always a little nervous doing this even when she's not here. so I just deal with it. . The picture at the top of the pile is my favorite. Her hair is braided to the side and tied with a white ribbon and I'm a tiny baby in her arms with a small scrunched red face. I stare and try to remember this face . taking a bite of my apple. They're so young²my mother has told me how they got married just after high school. . There they are . wishing I could throw them away and open a window. The man in the photograph is smiling and you can see his perfect white teeth. . The next one is of my mom and me. First.

"Oh. and sometimes I'll get a small present on my birthday. She's staring out at the water with a faraway look in her eyes. Pop-pop Swan is next. Just as I shut the door I hear her footsteps on the stairs and whip around quickly. other unknown friends. sure that my indiscretion is written all over my face." . my dad's best friend. Why can I remember all of these people but not Charlie? Why can't I remember his face? Then there's a picture of my mom and she's all alone. unaware she's being photographed." Trying to look nonchalant. I remember him too. But none of my mother's parents." she says. "Yeah. and racing out of the room as fast as I can without making too much noise. Pop-pop and Gran. Billy's my godfather and he still lives in Forks with his son Jacob. calling me. guiltily. no homework on your birthday! Come on. . This time with a man in a wheelchair. Just getting ready to do some homework. . . That's all I remember. closing it. I know because they send us Christmas cards. re-covering it with the clothes. I hear the front door open and I freeze²it's only five and she's already home.More pictures of my dad. My mother's voice sounds through the hall. I kiss the photo and hold it to my chest before looking through the rest. A memory comes²the smell of a wood fire burning and playing cars with Jacob on the rug. I know who this is: it's Billy Black. of Billy. He's smaller than me and cries when I take his red car away and then I have to sit in a corner. because I remember being at Billy's house when I was little. "There you are!" she exclaims. baby girl. There are tall pine trees around her and a mist that makes her appear almost like a ghost²she's so pale and she seems like a lost angel. more pictures of my parents. of me. her voice excited. "I have a surprise for you. who died before I was born. hugging me and then pulling me along. Near the bottom of the pile is another picture of my dad. and we're both laughing. This time I'm sitting on his shoulders. I take another bite of my nearly forgotten apple. hastily stowing the rest of the pictures and the tea pot back into the chest. Suddenly. sitting by a lake. I know that they didn't like her marrying my dad and I think that's probably why. gripping his hair in my fists. I'm flooded with relief since she doesn't seem to notice I've just come out of her room. but he died a couple years after my dad was killed. It's funny. He's looking up at me and I'm looking down at him. I pocket the picture of me and Charlie. Impulsively. I must be about three years old.

" she urges. . "Perfect! I'll get plates!" We cut large slices of cake and I pour milk into tall glasses and we sit in the dining room at the dusty table. sweetheart. I know she'll get really mad. And if I mention it. I haven't told her that they've invited me to join the new Gifted and Talented program. I sweep my finger across the side of the cake and bring the icing to my lips."I thought you were working late. a little nervous about the surprise. to give in and let her mother me. I know it's whipped cream frosting. but it sounds like the idea of a child. I stand. she'd never start it again on her own. and I worry I'm wrinkling it²but there's nothing I can do about it right now. "Taste it. and it's big enough to feed twenty people. Next to the cake is a small wrapped box. It's so tempting to trust this. The photograph is still in my back pocket. So you wouldn't know!" She's smiling now and seems completely fine. and if she does. "Go ahead. I wonder if she's begun taking her medicine again. I'll go to South Elgin High once a week for advanced classes. But there's one thing I do need to bring up. it could be anything. I listen as Renee chats about her day. and even more so because I'll be at Edward's school. Knowing Renee. and a slow smile creeps across my face as she claps her hands together. my favorite. She doesn't believe there's anything wrong with her. There's a permission slip that she needs to sign." I venture. I'm excited for the challenge. stunned. Renee leads me to the kitchen and I gasp when I see the giant strawberrycovered cake on the table . . and so I nod my head. For the past few days she's been doing well. But I don't want to ruin this. not a mother. "I fibbed. is fine by me. What do you think?" I think it does sound like a good idea. Delicious rich cream coats my tongue. But a part of me knows better than that . . darting my tongue out to taste. Since he's started ninth . "Not on my baby's birthday!" she exclaims." Hesitantly. which again. "I thought we might have some cake tonight instead of dinner. . And once again I'm back in her place. She tells me about annoying customers and doesn't ask me about school.

I shake the box gently.grade I haven't seen him as much. It's beautiful." I try to reassure her. then quickly unwrap it. the cake is really good. I like it. "For my special girl. "I saw it in the window and I thought it was perfect. we can't afford it. at school they've asked me to join this special program. I push my uneaten cake around with my fork and she notices. "It's just. this Gifted and Talented program. "Come to think of it. She's rustling in the kitchen and opening cans. "What do you mean? What kind of a program is this?" I tell her about it and her face lightens again. "it does taste a little funny to me. Sometimes she gets like this. You'll go far. "I think it's better for us to have something else. "No." Her face is serious. If she says no I'll be devastated. "What's wrong. but I have no idea where she got the money to buy this . taking one last look at the photograph before hiding it under my mattress and returning with the slip and a pen. She runs her fingers through my hair and smiles." There's a worried frown on her face and now she's not eating anymore either. "Do you like it?" . and I really want to do it. baby girl? You don't like the cake?" She looks at it strangely. my baby girl. "I'm so proud of you. She signs and I hug her. . I want to join the program so bad that it scares me. asking for the permission slip. Bella. okay?" Her smile is strained and I know she has the idea in her head now that the cake is bad." she says. and I know whatever she's preparing it won't be as good as the cake. It tastes great. she comes back in with the present. gasping when I find a small gold heart pendant dangling on a very fine chain. My heart soars as I race to my bedroom. even though South Elgin is right next door to Kenyon Woods. . You'll go far." She's smiling again. handing it to me." she says." I sit down to finish my cake but she picks up our plates before I can do it. A few minutes later. Mom. I'd almost forgotten about it. You're so smart.

it's in the garbage. Mom. I certainly don't Edward to see me like this. but I have a feeling. . We sit for a while but Renee's much quieter now. To me. Thanks.My eyes tear up . Edward gave me their new CD over the summer and I listen to it all the time. But I'm tired. . The conflicting emotions are overwhelming. my secret hope growing stronger. Some of the songs are really sad and some are louder. She gets up and goes to the kitchen and comes back with a bowl of canned soup. that she wouldn't understand. I open the window as quietly as I can and see the figure below. I turn the light of and sit in silence. It makes me so angry. She nods absently and I traipse to the kitchen to wash the bowl. "I love it. and then retreat to my room. but we have a routine. . My favorite band right now is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm suddenly furious and I want to rip the gold chain from around my neck. and I don't know whether to cry or scream. tip-toeing down the hall and stairs to the front door. it's almost like poetry. At school the girls like the Back Street Boys and Britney Spears. For the rest of the evening I listen to music and read on my bed. I know where to look. the guilt I feel for accepting it . I love the lyrics. a hope. knowing I can't say no. I'm not really hungry anymore and she's not eating. A sinking feeling settles over me. Edward looks up and waves at me. I remember the huge delicious cake and decide to bring him a piece. ." She helps me with the clasp and I thank her again. But before I go outside. I can't find it. At around nine Renee checks in and tells me to go to sleep²I hear her in her room after that and turn off the music. When I get to the kitchen and look in the fridge. It's after eleven now and our street is quiet except for some dog . feeling slightly uneasy. and I find myself dozing slightly until I'm startled by a pinging sound. instead. but I can't stand that music. I grab my sneakers and open my door quietly. . more angry. I don't bother shouting down to him. But he's waiting for me. Sure enough. the way she's looking at me . even though I'm sure that would sound stupid to most people. the beautiful necklace . It all sounds the same to me. . but I manage to finish about half of it before asking to be excused. down in my gut. I know I should go to bed since I have to get up early. but that's not the only reason I like it. so I slip my sneakers on and head out the door. . He doesn't come over too often²maybe once every other week or so. .

His hair is sticking out from underneath it and he looks . "it's nothing really. . probably cause he knows I don't like it. it was pretty good. Edward is pacing around with his back to me. taking the book. trying to be happy about it and forget those other feelings. "Here. I feel my face redden at the thought and am thankful for the darkness. I haven't seen him in over a week and he seems . a book we're reading in my English class. "It's pretty." I can't believe Edward brought me a present and the thought that he has thrills me. and I notice he has something in his hand. "It's for you." Suddenly things are weird." "Thanks." "You have a good day?" "Uh ." "I'm sure I'll love it. He smells like cigarettes but he's not smoking." he pulls the hat off and runs his hand through his hair. He eyes the necklace and then looks back at my face. He's got to be a good six inches taller than me now. giving me a hug. .I ummm . grasping the necklace for a second before dropping his hand. . "What's that?" "Oh this .it looks like two figures . . "That's nice. when it used to be only an inch or two. . It's kind of chilly out and he's wearing a hat.barking nearby." he says. . A present?" "Yeah. "Thanks. . but turns when he hears me approach." I release it and Edward reaches out. cute." I finger the gold necklace. Edward. It's a thin book and there's an unusual illustration on the cover. . Alice was teasing that he had a growth spurt during the summer and for the first time I realize it's true. "Well?" I tease. from my mom." he mumbles. tall. .." I say. . "Happy birthday. I thought you'd like it.. raising my eyebrow.

but it's funny. There's a poem that accompanies the picture. I've never heard of it before. I don't feel like he's that much older than me. . "So. It's a little strange now that Edward's at high school. but it's in an old-fashioned script that's hard to read. I'm taking algebra and it's awful. "They're okay.how do you like your classes?" I ask. but I instantly like it. anyway. But now he's considered a genius. "Our teacher says everyone thought William Blake was completely crazy. Math is my worst subject too. The hat is back on his head." he repeats. He has friends that I don't know about²I know he still hangs out with James. I feel older than he is sometimes. ." I'm flipping through the pages and can already tell I'll love it. I can't wait to get upstairs and look at it in the light." "This is really cool. there's another illustration ." "You really didn't have to. even though I know that I'll never be Edward's girlfriend. it's a strange kind of drawing of a Tiger. . But I wonder if he thinks of me as a kid. He wrote in the 19th Century and he illustrated all his poems. I can't really make out the colors in the dim light of the street.crouching low hiding from a vibrant banner of fire²Songs of Innocence and Experience is the title. I don't really want to be anyone's girlfriend . "It wasn't anything. Really. . "I thought it was better than a lot of the crap we've been reading. thanks. I'm only in seventh grade and he's in ninth. Probably. He printed all of his own books. breaking me out of my thoughts.. the thought is somewhat frightening to me. but I don't want to leave Edward either. and he kind of made up his own personal religion or something.. What exactly is expected of a girlfriend? Does that mean you have to kiss the other person? How do you know when to do it? Or how to do it? Edward replies. He might even have a girlfriend." Now we've started walking and he has his hands in his pockets." I nod in understanding. "Who's William Blake?" "He's a poet. That thought makes me mad. See?" Edward takes the book and opens it to a random page. most of them. .

"'Cause of the smoking?" "Yeah." He kicks a stone on the ground. of course I will." "Really? Wow. Bella." I say. ." "Come on. I'm sure you'll be separated from the high-schoolers anyway. Is it scary to be in such a big school?" "A little at first maybe. ." My heart sinks . anyway. I'm actually gonna be doing some more advanced classes this year." he says." "Well. he's probably right. "Why do you like James. anyway?" I ask. among other reasons. "Thanks. "I'll stop by and harass you. starting next week. you're my friend. "Well. but you'll get the hang of it. you won't have to worry about it for a couple years. But still. "Why don't you like him?" he asks." I know he's teasing me. Good for you." "Yeah. Suddenly I'm embarrassed. I guess so." "But you'll have to tell me where your classroom is." I haven't told Edward yet about the Gifted and Talented program. grinning and pulling my hair."I'm not looking forward to that. Bella. . I don't want to sound like a know-itall." I scoff. but suddenly I want to know more. barely able to hide the disgust in my voice. "You won't want to be seen with me. . "I . but you're in high school now. now that you mention it." "Oh please." "What other reasons?" . I'm pretty sure I'll be doing some more advanced math as well as language and literature. I want to tell him. That's great. I'll be coming to the high school on Tuesdays. I'm sure you have more interesting friends. "Yeah.

." . challenging him. Edward. I don't know. "Whatever. .that someone of course being Victoria. Suddenly I feel bad about acting so immaturely²he's trying to be nice. Bella." I'm still remembering our conversation from months before ." he says thoughtfully. I forget that sometimes. "I think I know what the reason is. "Well if you're so smart why don't you tell me?" "That day. and ever since then you've been weird about James. the one where I accused him of visiting someone out at night . You're embarrassed or something? Why?" He's stopped walking and is looking at me. "Oh really?" I ask. I try and avoid his gaze." "But you have a reason you won't tell me. I think you heard something you didn't like. I've come to depend on him even more than on Alice." "Okay." "Well." I huff. I know you didn't mean anything by it. We turn back to my house after Edward says he has to get back home. "It's true. just don't believe everything you hear. "I just think he's a bad influence on you. When we're a little ways from my house he turns to go. "I didn't mean to upset you. . "You're so sensitive. still unconvinced."Oh." I mutter. isn't it?" "Maybe. I was just teasing. "It's okay. and I don't say anything. alright?" Neither of us is comfortable having this conversation." he says. and I have no idea why he brought it up in the first place. And he's one of my only friends. behind Kenyon Woods you heard us talking and you ran away. . and I don't want to leave things like this." He has it right and I'm too flustered to think of a lie.

Finally Friday rolls around and I rush home from school to pack. "It's pretty awesome. I read each and every poem. so if I hurry. but she's been pretty distant this week. "Night. so you better be prepared. Although we've been walking together since Alice started middle school." I say." He tugs a strand of my hair again and I wonder if that's a new thing of his. of course." Back up in my room I open up the book and pour over it greedily even though it's already after midnight. I'll let you play on my new PlayStation." "Night. I avoid mentioning it to my mother in case she changes her mind and decides I can't go. and I fall asleep with the book in my hands. "And you're coming this weekend." "Well. right? Alice is all excited. grinning. It makes me smile. so I'm not too worried." "You're welcome." "Lucky me. The day after my birthday I . "You're damn right. including the book of poetry Edward gave me. until I'm so drowsy I can't hold my eyes open anymore." "Ugh. not missing a beat. because I'm so excited for the weekend. Thanks again for the book. but I leave her a note telling her I've gone to the Cullens'. "And maybe if you're nice to me. ~QF~ The rest of the week drags by." I groan. I stuff my backpack with clothes and a few books. Esme picks her up right after school for gymnastics on Friday. I guess we'll see if Alice lets me." He rolls his eyes. I'll be able to spend some time with Edward and maybe play PlayStation with him before she gets back."Good. I'm going to be tired for school in the morning but I don't care. Can't have you sad on your birthday." If he only knew." he replies. "She's planning makeovers or something. Renee's not home yet.

Bella!" he exclaims. turning and going up the stairs to his study on the second floor. ." "I know. and he opens the door. "you're of course welcome to stay and wait for Alice in the TV room. The walk to their house takes about ten minutes and I feel like skipping. then back at me." He says the last few words with strong emphasis. Happy Birthday. following the Cullen house rule." he says. "Oh. "Edward is to stay in his room. "I'll be in my study if you need anything.was shocked to discover he'd written something in the front. but I'm not really . or will I? At the last minute I decide to take the photo of my dad and me. He usually works late on Friday night. I pass through the kitchen and the door to the basement and Edward's room fighting the desire to go down there. But I don't want to get him in more trouble. taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. and I know that's his way of asking me to cooperate. even though I'm too old for that. It said: "To Bella. What does "always" mean? Always what? I know I'll never have the courage to ask him . . Finally. . he's supposed to show me his new PlayStation. No visitors. I came early 'cause I thought Edward might be here. and pad down the hallway to the TV room. my bag in my hand. Carlisle's black SUV is in the driveway when I get there. Always. . I ring the doorbell and Carlisle answers. and I'm instantly disappointed. But then my selfish desire gives way to sympathy and worry . . I hesitate for a moment. and I think maybe I'll show Alice and Edward. Flopping down on the overstuffed sofa. but Edward's being punished. "Well. Mr. I don't want to leave it behind for some reason." I reply." It's a short message but I've thought about it all week long. It's tuned to HBO and some movie I've never seen. . I take off my shoes. I nod and he closes the door." Carlisle looks over his shoulder. I grab the remote and turn on the TV. and I'm surprised. "Alice isn't home yet. Cullen. Okay?" His voice is severe and he looks at me with a raised eyebrow. the angry look on his face dissolving when he looks down and sees me. Edward. I look at it again and again to make sure it's really there." he says. why is he in trouble? Did he finally get caught? "Okay .

. Edward's favorite band. "I guess you could say that. Carlisle is upstairs." Edward swears. He'll never know if I go down just for a minute or two. He's upstairs. Royally fucked. I snuck down. The music is deafening. "What's wrong? What happened? You got in trouble?" "Yeah. sneaking out?" "No. and if I can hear it up here it must be pretty loud. At the bottom of the stairs I look around." My stomach drops. just to see if Edward's okay. "Does my father know you're down here?" he asks. What could be worse than that? . And Esme and Alice won't be back for at least another half hour. ." "Would you just tell me what happened?" "I got caught. wiping his face with the back of his hand and looking away. But I should stay here . The lights are dim and I can't see Edward. worse. He clearly doesn't want me here. More like fucked. "Edward?" I ask. "No. but he rarely uses that word.. Bella. okay?" "Caught what. I steel myself and open the door. He doesn't acknowledge my presence as I come closer." "Good.you don't want to get involved in this. Maybe I shouldn't have come down. I stand still for a minute. looking away awkwardly. Then.paying attention. There's music playing downstairs. My heart is thudding in my chest as I waver indecisively." he scoffs. sitting next to him. suddenly very unsure. you should go. I pick up my bag and make my way back to the kitchen. and when I look back I'm shocked because he's crying. Of course I'm fighting a losing battle. probably more.. "Edward?" I say again. It must be pretty bad. I recognize it as the Smashing Pumpkins. at least around me. I notice that he's sitting on his bed with his back against the wall and his knees drawn up into his chest.

. and we were in the back of the school smoking . When it comes to me. scared to do it. And now I'm fucking suspended. but I don't want them to think I'm . "I was with James and some seniors at lunch . And I try telling them that it wasn't mine. and then one of the guys pulls out a joint and starts passing it around. . "That's so unfair. "Yeah. . . . A whole bunch of them scatter and it's me holding the joint. "And just now before you came over he told me what a disappointment I was to him . So I pretend. wiping his nose on the back of his arm. They search my locker of course and find the cigarettes . to comfort him. . "I tried to tell him I wasn't smoking pot. It makes me so mad that his father doesn't believe him. I don't know . you know that?" he says. but no one believes me. Maybe even expelled. And dad's talking about sending me away to fucking boarding school. and my dad's standing right there. I don't know why. I guess. And yeah. And he comes to school so mad. so fucking mad. "No one else will believe me. . . and I don't want to do it." I say. you know? And she looks at me with this look. the cigarettes must have looked bad. whichever happens first." He's crying again but he's angry. He just doesn't believe me. . I believe you. . Sure. so I'm surprised when he starts talking. but I know Edward's not lying about the drugs. but you do. "You believe me?" he asks. and a whole bunch else that I won't even repeat. Why would you lie to me?" "You're unbelievable. Why?" I shrug. I just kinda fake it." "You pretend?" "Yeah. with my arms. . but he just doesn't believe me. . I want to do something with my hands. but I'm not sure how or if he'd even want me to. It's kinda gross. and he wipes his face. I'm grounded for life or until I turn 18. looking away. But just then one of the teachers comes out looking for us and she sees me. that I wasn't doing it. but for some reason it doesn't bother me 'cause it's Edward. ."Smoking?" He's silent for a minute. and I don't expect him to answer me. "And before I know it I'm in the principal's office and they're calling my dad.

"This is you. . . I could get mad at him and tell him he's an insensitive moron . so I just nod my head and pat his back." Edward's eyes are wide as he watches me. "And you were right. He's hurting. "It's one of the only pictures I have of my dad. I don't even know how it happens but suddenly my arms are around Edward and now he's crying into my shoulder. I'm so sorry. I unzip my bag and pull out my picture." he whispers. I didn't mean it. "He's just angry. I think maybe I'll never wash this shirt again. no one should ever say such a thing about their child." My heart lurches and suddenly I hate Carlisle. pulling my hand away." This is not the time for I-told-you-so's. I'm happy that I can be here for him. He'll cool down." I can't help but smile. by me. . He seems awed for some reason." His words are spoken without thinking. Your mother will. When he pulls away and my shirt is wet but of course I don't care. About James. as he's always been there for me. ." "He said he was . and for a minute I think what to do. That bastard just took off and left me there. . and I immediately stiffen. It wasn't right. Even though I know I'm right and he doesn't really mean the things he said. and my mom doesn't even know I took it." I say softly. "Shit. "I wanted to show you this. . ." "Yeah. but he's not. Oh shit. his hand darts out to grab my shoulder. Bella. and studies it for a minute without speaking. "Sometimes I wish I didn't have a father. Bella." his voice is bitter." He takes the photo carefully. disgusted . he just ran off. Edward. Instead. . Didn't even stand up for me ." "But not my father. . "I'm an asshole."Alice will believe you. It's a little wrinkled from where I sat on it and from being under my mattress and I try to flatten it out with my palm before passing it over.

like yours." "Well."No. "Hey. . . . ." "You're a great friend. "You're really an amazing person." "Okay. "You'll see. but I hear his soft reply. She's standing at my locker while I gather my stuff to go to the high school. That's not why I wanted you to see it." ~QF~ Two months later "I hate Tuesdays. "Forever. ." I tell him." he says softly. I'm just being a friend. "I better go upstairs. "You're not at lunch and ." I say. We sit for a while until the CD stops." "It'll be okay." "No. I've forgotten all about time and the fact that if I get caught down here we're both probably going to be in trouble. ." he jokes." "Yeah. "you're not. ." Alice complains. But before I do I pause on the stairs." "Oh please." He hands the picture back to me. Edward?" "Yeah?" "What does 'always' mean?" I can't see his face in the darkness." "Thank you. . I just wanted you to see that once I had a family . we can't have that. "Or Carlisle will probably think I dragged you down here to my lair. suddenly feeling bold." . uhhh . it sucks to have to sit with Erick Yorkie and Mike Newton . and then we don't even get to walk home together." He cracks a small smile as I turn to go.

reattaching the lock and picking up my bag. Mrs. It's so lucky that Angela was selected for G&T too²now I have someone to talk to and hang out with at lunchtime. "Hey. at least at school. I'm even hanging out with other kids in my class²I'm even thankful for Newton and Yorkie." she says. "I walk alone on Fridays. And I need to get to the front of Kenyon Woods before the rest of the kids in the program leave without me. It's hard." Before I can respond the bell rings and Alice has to hurry off to class. But I miss you at recess. "Right in here. Luckily." I tease. Alice grimaces. "Yeah. thought it was too advanced an idea. and I've decided that I'm writing a paper on the book Edward gave me for my birthday." I give Alice a small smile as I close the locker. She just recently moved to the area. which we take in the high school cafeteria. "I think Yorkie likes you. I only ever see him on the days I go to South Elgin for the G&T program. "Gross! Bella. I think Mike Newton likes you. You're right. and she stands by me when Lauren and Jessica pick on me. "Hey!" "Did you bring your portfolio?" "Yeah.I of course don't say what I'm thinking: that I love Tuesdays because that's the day I get to see Edward. Carlisle's threat to send Edward to boarding school was an empty one. although they are a little annoying. Angela doesn't treat me different from anyone else. and having her in seventh grade with me has made all the difference. This year is so much better than last year. I don't feel like such an outsider anymore. Besides Angela and Alice." I pat my bag. but I wouldn't let her convince me otherwise." I remind her." We've been working on individual projects. William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Well. but I really want to do it. since I still don't understand a lot of the poems. Ever since he's been grounded. the program coordinator. Eeew. as I've come to call it. At the front of the school. Angela Webber greets me with a smile. . Johnson.

Angela gives me a knowing glance. Johnson hands me the hall pass without a question. "Ohhhh. What about you?" He groans.Angela sighs. his face briefly appears. sitting on the teacher's vacant desk. it's past ten. What about yours?" Angela was into science." "We're just doing independent work today. we still have time. I guess." he says. A HUGE crush. In the past couple months something has become clear to me. I turn the nob and there's Edward. huh?" "Not too bad. I have a crush. anyway?" "Um. So it's pretty okay. "Yeah. so she was working on an experiment on plant biology. I won't freak out until it's absolutely necessary. his telltale bronze hair a flash by the window." "Class that boring. past the girl's room and to room one-oh-three. hopping down from the table. you're lucky I was looking at the clock." "I'm sure it will be great. but Mrs. "I thought you might not see me. believe me." "Doesn't sound too interesting. His smile is so bright and my stomach feels funny. At quarter 'til eleven." "It's not. Pretty good. I really could care less about mitosis or meiosis. it's awful. just like always." By the time we get settled in and down to work. "Not great. and I ask to go to the bathroom. Ang. Seriously. "How's your project going. My eyes glance every once in a while towards the small window in the door. on my friend Edward Cullen. I hurry down the hall." "We'll see. But. well. to be honest. trying to control the hammering in my chest." .

"Sure. Edward has stopped hanging around with James and sneaking out at night. too?" "Not yet. but I know it's for the best." I reply shyly. Could it be that he likes me too? "Love is friendship set on fire. . I feel like it will probably be fine. Well. Instead." he reveals. swinging my legs and trying not to think about the fact that we only have a couple of minutes before we'll both have to get back. Our hands are nearly touching. I have good news. it would graze his. I nod enthusiastically. "Cool." In the months since he was caught "smoking" pot." His mouth is set in a hard line. We're sitting so close. I can finally show you some of my new games. I sit beside him. Good behavior and all that. since she's been working more often." ±Jeremy Taylor Chapter 4: May 2001 . That would be fun." All of a sudden. he has some friends now that seem to be nice guys." Edward sits back up on the desk and gestures to me. If I just moved my pinky a little bit. I miss our late night visits. Saturday?" I think about whether my mom will let me and. before propelling himself off the desk once again. "just a book project. But I don't."What are you working on?" "Oh. . But this seems different. I better be getting back. I'm working on it. . I know I like Edward. Emmett McCarty and Jasper Whitlock are both sophomores. "So. And plus. Even Carlisle and Esme approve. . he turns and leaves and I'm filled with a warm feeling . I can have friends over now. He smiles at me and tugs my hair." Edward looks over at me hopefully. "My parents are lightening up. "Okay. both of us grasping the edge of the desk. It's not like Edward has never asked me to come over before. but from what Edward says they're not at all like his old friends. "That's great! Are they letting you out. I'm crazily nervous. With one final smile. "But if you wanted to come over this weekend." I reply dismissively.

Edward Cullen isn't my boyfriend. Though they're still awful to me. but I don't really know what he is to be honest. I already know which electives to pick. . and I feel the blood rushing to my face. but I know that Angela is relieved for another reason altogether. but then other times he treats me more like a kid. but at least we'll be together. and so does Lauren. Hanson. stressing the last word a little too loudly. Mr. this classroom has become a sort of safe haven for us both. since she's only in the 8th grade next year."I can't wait 'till next year. Thanks to Edward. I'm so confused by the way he acts. glad that the terrible twosome won't be attending South Elgin and are instead headed off to Trinity Academy²a private school on the other side of town." I say." she teases. "And you'll be in the same school as your boyfriend. "Yeah. for instance²the shop teacher who's missing two fingers²is to be avoided at all costs. isn't it? Oh my God! I knew it!" She's loud and some of the other kids turn around. "Oooh! Bella! You have a high school boyfriend? Oh my God! Is it Edward Cullen? It is. even though we'll still be in this building next year. I ignore Jessica and Lauren for the most part. you know?" She gestures around and I know exactly what she means. Sometimes it really seems like he wants to be more than friends. "Sounds like heaven to me. "I'll miss this. Bree Tanner turns around and looks at me and it's obvious she's been eavesdropping. "And we'll be out of Kenyon Woods. He's the Shortstop for the South Elgin ." It's so hot today and there's apparently something wrong with the air conditioning system. so we're all sweltering in the classroom. Angela! "I don't know what you're talking about." Angela says. She has a thing for Ben Cheney . Of course Alice hates me bringing this up. "We'll be here every day and we won't have to deal with Jessica or Lauren anymore." I mumble. slumping down into her chair next to me in the G&T classroom. or a sister. For the last two years. and I've shared my knowledge with Angela and our other friends." I nod. it won't be the same. though. . grinning. I shift in my seat and my legs stick to the chair below me. so I try not to talk about high school when we're hanging out." Angela and I are planning to sign up for the same classes next week when registration begins. And since he started playing baseball last spring. he's hanging out more with Jasper and Emmett and the team.

nothing. and being disappointed when nothing happens. And it's way less traumatic than I thought it would be. . since I was just over at the Cullens' on Sunday. In the past two years. But by eleven. since I ask at the same time every week. I raise my head. At around ten I begin glancing towards the door. the only time he's missed our weekly date is when he's been sick. Maybe. I've been to a lot of his games." I shrug. Dejection washes over me and I drag my feet back to G&T. raising her eyebrows. Johnson hands it to me." Angela whispers. I could've been distracted for a second and missed him. and then we'll be done. her eyes are full of apology. There's only two more weeks. he's not here. feeling awful. hurrying down to our room . so it's no longer a surprise. I've been getting my period for about a year now. Back at home that afternoon. I have cramps and I know what's coming. returning my attention to my aimless drawing as Mrs. I'm relieved that my mom isn't there. "It's okay. trying to think of why. I stand up and ask for the hall pass and Mrs. especially since Alice just got hers too for the first time. "I'm sorry Bella. I'm staring down at my notebook. Edward hasn't passed by. almost all of them. My stomach sinks into my feet and I stand with my hand on the doorknob. But maybe he did while I was looking away? It was possible.Ramblers and it's amazing how fast he is. even though he's only a sophomore²and I know he has a lot of female admirers. I take the pass and enter the empty hallway. and he's so good that he's become one of the most popular boys at South Elgin High. . By this time I think she knows something's up." she mouths. Johnson enters and starts talking about our end of the year activities. doodling absentmindedly to distract myself from thoughts Edward and high school girls. and I know he's not. . He could've gotten sick yesterday. How can I compete with high school girls? Bree looks disappointed and hesitates a minute before turning away. But it doesn't stop me from gluing my eyes to the door for the rest of the day. "Sorry. but she hasn't ever denied me.

her pictures. Since it's been a while and I decide maybe now is a good time to go and look at my pictures . . fragments . pictures and porcelain . . looking for anything to save. . I reach my hand into the box and pull out nothing . and it's still so hot. . . Hurrying to my room.She came to me for advice and I felt kinda proud²like I could help her with my experience. to shake her. I frantically claw. For some reason I just feel like crying. no more. But I don't. gone. He loves anything with blueberries. I know he's at practice today and now I won't see him until the weekend. . Once in her closet. It's so quiet in my room. . . She's been working a lot lately. Most of the time she stays in her bedroom with the door shut. digging through the remnants. destroyed. not bothering even to come out for dinner. and the desire to clean up after her is overpowering. . broken . . Of course my thoughts immediately drift to Edward . . Billy . then take two ibuprofen for the pain before lying down on my bed. Even though Renee's never been much of a chef. . now she doesn't cook at all. . I get a pad and change my underwear. I stagger out of the closet and back to my room. and when she's here she's in a terrible mood. . nothing . of course Edward ate almost all of them. . I want to scream. there's only the tick of my alarm clock . . Her room is in quite a state²dirty clothes everywhere. I study my ceiling²the cracks and water spots²until boredom overcomes sadness and the aching in my abdomen fades. I crouch down to unearth the small chest. torn scraps . . But now I'm not sure if I'm still invited. slamming the door even though no one is home. She's ruined it all. Ripped and shattered. Nothing too complicated. to run . but right away I see something is wrong. . dust . . Charlie . . . all mixed together. sure enough. but I'm pretty proud of myself. But I don't. . nothing. I even baked a batch of blueberry muffins for the Cullens. there's a small spot of blood. . . . . . all the pictures . But nothing has been spared. . . And it makes me happy that we're the same again. . Instead. The beautiful teapot with the unknown initials . He promised I could come along on Saturday²he's got his driving permit and Carlisle's giving him a lesson. The clothes that usually cover it are gone-the chest is open! And inside . Pop-pop . Sobbing. so I've started learning how. . It always makes me feel better. . . I go to the bathroom and pull down my shorts. . . . her life before me . . Renee's not home. . everything . She's ruined it all .

A baseball from his first game. A card he gave me one day when I wasn't feeling well. and of course I teased him. . I know she did. hate. . He was joking and signed it. "always. That must mean she's really bad. If Edward knew I had this stuff he'd probably think I was weird . I unclasp it and put in into the box before stowing it away again. I read Edward's inscription . . tucked just inside is the picture of Charlie and me. or worse. I hate. and I'm sweaty as I roll onto my side. All I want is Edward. Time passes and the shadows in the room morph and shift. Sitting up. But I can't help it. Maybe we can watch a movie or something up in my room?" . The necklace that my mother gave me for my twelfth birthday is still around my neck. I hold the photo gently in between my fingers then replace it safely inside the book. I touch the cover and open it." Does he remember writing it? There're also some CDs. The heat in my room becomes intolerable and I decide to go downstairs. It's Alice.away and never come back to this place. I'm standing in the kitchen twisting the phone cord around my hand." "Well. almost two years ago. not daring to admit how happy I was when he then tossed it to me. It's getting later but it's still daylight. My own treasures² most of them gifts from Edward. can you come over? Edward. Now it's all that's left. My chest feels empty as I think about what this means. hate. Emmett and Jasper are watching a game and I'm so bored. . hate. Then. "Not much. A note card from a test I helped him study for. as always. I reach under my bed and pull out a shoebox. what are you doing right now?" she asks. There's no breeze coming from my window and I'm not crying anymore because I feel like all my tears have dried up. Renee loved those things. A bottle cap from a soda he once left in room one-oh-three. The book he gave me. Sinking to the floor I hug my bare knees to my chest as I cry. Then sillier things. when I open the door I hear the phone ring. but he's not here. "Hey.

. "You're so lucky you don't have a brother.. And God." When we enter the house." I insist. I immediately agree. .It's a school night but there's no homework²we only have two weeks left of classes and the teachers have been pretty lenient." I shrug. "What's wrong?" "Ugh! It's just. "Awesome!" she says. you're not gonna go ditch me and hang out with Edward and his band of idiots. "I'm just curious. Bella.. Jasper calls her "short stuff.. Gross!" Alice is huffing away. "I'll meet you at the oak. are you?" "No. and they just eat like pigs. not saying what I'm thinking. we immediately hear hollers from the TV room. I'm still sore that Edward missed our chat today without even telling me why. Emmett eats like a freaking horse. The air conditioning is a relief. Since Renee's not home to object. Her arms are crossed and she's frowning a little. I kick off my sandals just as Esme comes to greet us. "What?" "The Cubs.who're they playing?" Alice looks at me as if I've grown three heads. Bella. "I have no idea. I need to get out of this house.. They just bother me! And Esme's got them all this snack food. I don't even care if she's mad at me. "Who're they playing?" I ask. that all that doesn't sound too bad to me. and Alice is leaning against it when I arrive.and that Jasper Whitlock is so annoying." There's a tree halfway in-between our houses where we always meet. Oh God." and the name drives her crazy.Edward and his stupid friends have taken over the whole downstairs to watch the Cubs game when they can just go down to Edward's room. it sounds fun.. In fact.

"Are you girls hungry?" Esme asks. . "That sounds good. okay then. Bella. How's you're week going? Getting ready for the summer?" "Definitely. sweetie. but it's fun to pretend all the same. still dressed in his grass-stained uniform. Well. "I have some chips and dip. and there's some pizza. I take a slice of the mushroom and a handful of potato chips and Alice wrinkles her nose." At the mention of food my stomach gurgles. "Are you sure that's all you want?" Esme smiles and I nod." I nod. Instead. answering for me." Edward saunters into the kitchen. "Yeah. mushroom and pepperoni. well Bella and I will be upstairs."Bella! So good to see you. come on in the kitchen and fix yourself a plate then. Sometimes Alice and I help her make selections from the large sample books of materials and colors." Alice says. tugging at my arm impatiently. "The boys are excited tonight. at least we pretend to help. if you want a snack. I guess it's a big game. "Okay. Esme turns her head. she grabs a bag of carrot sticks from the fridge along with a bottle of ranch dressing. . "Bella. ." Another roar erupts from the room down the hall. There're two large pizzas on the center island . Cheese is the best thing in the world. Suddenly I'm not hungry anymore." Esme is an interior designer and she works from home. I'll be upstairs. His hair flops down over his eyes and he rakes his hand through it when he sees me standing there. "Well. shaking it and laughing. I'm not sure she actually uses our suggestions. I ignore Alice's sigh of exasperation and follow her mother down the hall towards the kitchen and the TV room. his mouth dropping open just a little. trying not to appear too interested. "Well. which to me is crazy. She's decided she doesn't like cheese. ." . I didn't know you were coming over ." Esme encourages." I reply shyly.

irritated that he seems so startled and embarrassed. Well. widest person I've ever seen up close and personal. . his eyes focused on the screen." Alice confirms. I kinda like it . Where were you today Edward? "Oh. but I really like him. but he's really sweet. "Little Bee!" Emmett exclaims. You have to get in here. see ya." "Yeah. "What's the score?" Edward asks." Edward nods. Alice invited me. This is news to me. He's a lot quieter than the rest. We're gonna watch Clueless. Cool." Alice whispers so that only I can hear. Emmett comes barreling into the kitchen. Though he appears built more for football than baseball. "Holy shit. still staring at Alice and me. man. I decide I like this and turn to Alice." I turn to go. Emmett takes a piece of pepperoni. but it's the Cubs! Come watch with us. but before we can make our escape. . and he nods to us when we come in." There's an angry groan from the other room and the sound of something heavy being thrown. His nickname for me doesn't bother me the way that Jasper's bothers Alice. "We're going to watch a movie. Edward. "Just for a minute. "Well. Duncan's on fire with the fastballs. he's like a big brother. Jasper is lounging on the sofa sipping a Coke. Alice and Edward close behind. "Where are you running off to?" Emmett is maybe the tallest. he's an amazing hitter. Ali. . "Ugh! That's what you always say!" I take my plate and follow Emmett into the TV room. folding it in half and consuming nearly a third of the slice in a giant bite." "Awww." My eyes dart between Edward and Emmett and Edward suddenly looks very uncomfortable. "Gross. dragging me along."Yeah." I reply.

" "Damn.Jasper sighs. "Do you have a date for the prom yet. Everyone is chatting except for me and Edward²why is he so quiet? I try to focus on the TV. Even though I don't know a lot about baseball. "2-3 Reds. short stuff. His face is red and he's focused on the TV. placing my plate in front of me. ." The E-man? I stifle a laugh. and things lighten up. "This is news to me! What the heck. . taking a measured sip of his soda." I take a seat on the floor next to Alice. I want to sink into the ground." Suddenly my body runs cold and I turn to Edward. "Who's the girl?" Alice asks excitedly. so the atmosphere in the room is tense as the game progresses. "What?" Alice shouts. I enjoy watching. Alice shakes her head. He won't meet my eyes. During a commercial break Jasper leaves for the bathroom. "It's only the fifth. The Cubs are Edward's favorite team. She squeals angrily and bats his hand away. The ladies can't get enough of the E-man." Alice remarks. Emmett takes a huge swig of his soda and belches loudly." says Emmett. "Sure do. But the score settles in their favor during the sixth inning. so that means only one thing . And he's said yes. Edward! You're only a sophomore. My appetite is completely gone now. "Yep. I'm doubling here with my man Edward and his lady. an older girl has asked him. it's a miracle you guys can find anyone to go out with. messing with Alice's hair as he passes by. so I just pick at the mushrooms on my pizza. and he's told me they've been on a losing streak. We still have time. "You know. Emmett?" He grins and takes another bite of pizza." The prom was only for juniors and seniors. .

My mother is getting really bad. like I've lost my best friend. Edward just sits there. And for the first time ever. "Bella. "I gotta get going. . ~QF~ The next week passes by in a slow blur. Johnson answers it. I need to go. . and I have no one. there's a knock on and Mrs. "Bella. I feel betrayed. I don't answer. She goes into the hallway and shuts the door. and she's the subject of a lot of ogling whenever the males in G&T catch a glimpse. not even glancing up at the clock. but I don't look back. like there's no place I belong now. Tanya's a junior. and it really scares me. sweetie. I shake my head and start heading out the door just as Jasper returns. and when she returns she walks to my desk." Edward's voice startles me." Emmett says. for the first night in a long time. I need out of that room. But I don't tell anyone. hitting Edward's arm playfully. leaving my plate behind. Your brother is a lucky man. saying nothing." . you promised!" Alice's whines just make me more embarrassed. Strawberry blonde hair. "Where're you off to. At around 10:30. Tall. you're wanted in the front office. On Tuesday in G&T I don't bother looking at the door. I stand up on unsteady legs. . Bring your things. and man. I feel sick. supposed to be home by eight." I stammer. "Tanya Denali ." "But I thought we were gonna watch the movie! Bella. It's only now I realize how much I've come to depend on Edward. I intentionally keep my head down. Little Bee?" he asks. "I'm . Renee talks to herself in her room at night. is she hot. In fact.Emmett answers for Edward again. . there's a pinging sound at my window. And I don't care if it's obvious. But I know exactly who he's talking about. That night. Because suddenly I feel completely lost.

When I get to the front office two women greet me with concerned looks on their faces." "Oh. . Renee. My body feels stiff with dread. her office. "Your mother has bipolar disorder? Is that correct?" She's looking at a folder on her desk and shuffling papers when she asks the question. The door is open to Edward's chemistry class as I pass by.My stomach drops as I think about what this means . . presumably." The material is scratchy on my bare legs and my eyes drift around the dull yellow office. sitting down on a bright green couch across from her desk. and my head turns against my will. I try to hurry. my legs are leaden. "Bella. sometimes none at all. I nod. but all I can think about is when I can get out of here and where I'll go when I do. "Would you please come with me?" I follow her down a short hall to what is. "Bella Swan?" One of them asks. the guidance counselor here. my life at home. She asks me more questions about Renee. "I'm Mrs. a short round woman with cury grey hair. and I give her short answers. Something's happened to Renee. It seems there was an incident today at the grocery store. looking away quickly and continuing on my way. One of our spelling words last month was "euphemism." she says softly. Angela gives me a worried glance as I gather my belongings and walk to the door." says the other. but I can't. "Your mother has been taken to the Elgin Medical Center. surprised that I'm crying. probably feeling my gaze. 'An incident. and they had to alert the police. . I blush since he's caught me staring. school. Cope. She murmurs things and writes them down." that's what it is. I keep expecting someone from child services to appear and take me away.' such a vague phrase to describe what probably happened. I don't answer. There's something warm and wet on my face and I wipe it away. He's bent over his desk and I pause just a beat too long because he lifts his eyes.

" he says softly." he says. . so I don't say anything. then. "Well. His jaw is clenched and he looks . I'm not going. mad . spared from answering any more unwelcome questions. . A strange mix of feelings overwhelms me²it is possible that I could be happy at a time like this? When my mom is in the hospital? We don't talk for the rest of the ride. . right? He shakes his head. standing behind Esme. but I need him." "What?" My voice sounds funny. He's not going to the prom? That's what he means. . but he never lets go. She hugs me and it feels so nice. or the prom. He sits in the back seat with me and I don't resist when he takes my hand." I whisper faintly. I lean against his shoulder. "Bella. "I know it probably doesn't matter right now. . If Esme notices she doesn't say anything. "Why?" "Later. Just then I notice that Edward's there too. and I know it's because of Esme in the car. looking worried. She nods and stands to open the door. and as soon as she does Esme appears.After a while the phone buzzes and Mrs. ." she says. or my mom. "Would you like to come and stay with us for a little while. I can't tell. but I still wanted to tell you . I'm still mad at him. I don't know what he's sorry about. . shall we?" Edward comes back with us even though it's only half way through the school day. . I feel safe again. . or the future. But his face is intense and I have to look away. I'm so relieved no one is coming to take me. too. hoarse. "I'm so sorry. then pulls me over as far as the seatbelt will allow. sad . I don't want to think about Tanya. Cope answers it. I just want to think about the warmth of his hand holding mine. until your mom is better?" "Yes. let's go.

"Not really. He sits down next to me on the couch. It's embarrassing. I've wondered about Edward's words. He smells nice. ~QF~ After school the next day Alice has a doctor's appointment." That's easy for him to say. His chest looks broader²probably from all the workouts he has to do for baseball. He comes back ten minutes later." "What?" "Lately. Ever since yesterday's car ride." "I'm glad you're here. I fall asleep to the sound of her voice. He nods in understanding and Alice and I go to her room. I might as well be honest. it's like we're not friends. sweaty and flushed. I don't know . And reading the same line over and over again before I shut the book in frustration. I'm gonna go take a shower . I do. Edward. . just like we're having a normal sleepover. I'm reading a book when he comes into the living room. Our lives are just different . "It hasn't felt like it. but not tonight. Tonight. freshly showered and wearing jeans and a tee shirt. after I go home and pack my bag. ." he says. so I find myself home alone when Edward arrives after practice. We chat for a while and I can tell she's trying to take my mind off of things." "Why didn't you tell me how bad your mom was getting?" "God. "Are you okay?" I shrug. it's like I don't know you anymore. Carlisle asks if I want to call the hospital to talk with Renee." "You really don't have to be embarrassed. and I'm glad. . .That evening. You know you can tell me anything. . . I just need to sleep. wait for me?" Before I can reply he's out the door again and I'm sitting nervously. "Hey. . "Hi.

to our room. . ." So he felt sorry for me . . I'm just the same. away from him. I felt weird. not now." "Do you like her?" "I thought I did. There's a funny feeling in my stomach. . I really. It's a nervous habit he's always had. I don't want to go. But then. . "Yeah. Bella. . . "Don't call off your date because you feel bad for me." "And you said yes." he says softly. remembering my hasty departure. that was the day Tanya asked me. Talk about being an idiot." "You have the team now. ." "You're my best friend. I just new I'd been an idiot. And I . "I know ." I accuse. and Emmett and Jasper. "Why?" His knee is bouncing around. and I just said yes. . I'm sorry. About the prom. later. I didn't even think about it. you didn't come last week. When you left so fast." "You're not hearing what I'm saying. . shaking the couch.He lowers his gaze and I can see how long his eyelashes are because we're sitting so close. and all those other friends." He shakes his head. You should go. that's what this is about. "She asked me in front of everyone. really don't want Edward's pity . I realized I made a mistake. Really. "Because . ." My breath catches and I move back." I blush deeply and turn away." "When did you realize it?" "I saw the look on your face when Emmett said that stuff. . I can't believe it. . "Well.

." he gives a forced laugh. like me?" I don't answer. . I tried to tell you that night I snuck out." he says gruffly." "I didn't feel like talking. very aware of his body next to mine. And yesterday when I went by G&T you didn't look up. Didn't you hear me?" "Yeah." I admit. "Nothing is worse than not talking to you. . But do you LIKE me. "I know." "I do."I'm not going. but then he's quiet again. like me. His next words are near my ear and his breath tickles. "But you don't LIKE me. "I hated it. "Bella?" "Yeah?" "Do you like me?" "Of course I do. they're mesmerizing." "You do?" His hand is running over my back. "Me too." Before I can even stop them the words are out of my mouth. dummy. "You do. Suddenly I'm too warm. and I don't say anything. "But you didn't come down. "I like you." I'm still not able to look at him. He brushes the hair away from my shoulder and lets his hand linger at the back of my neck. don't you?" He's a little cocky. He nods quickly and his green eyes are so close to mine ." "I figured." he says." I'm unwilling to admit it but my heart is hammering. You're my friend. I threw enough damn rocks at your window. I told her the next day.

" he says. "Me too." "Why didn't you?" Edward laughs nervously and runs his hand through his hair. He makes me nervous now in a way he never has before. "I didn't think it was a good idea. "Would you like to be?" I almost gasp. But now. Is Edward asking me . It is brief but when he pulls away I am left with a strange sensation." "I've wanted to kiss you for a long time.." "What's that supposed to mean?" "You're so young." The words finally come and I know they're true. "You're not that much older than me. And when his lips meet mine it's nothing like how I thought it would be. blushing. to actually participate this time. the word struggling to make its way from my brain to my mouth. He's only 15²soon to be 16²but he seems like so much more of a man to me." I'm instantly hurt and I turn away from him." he says wistfully. My heart is thudding and I want to lean in and kiss him again. the two-year age gap between us expansive. Mine tingle. I bite my lip and realize I'm still shaking my head. Bella?" I am shaking my head. if he can kiss me? My throat is dry as I nod. "Well. Bella."Have you ever been kissed." I remind him. "I wanted to be your first. "You did?" "Um.yeah. smiling as he kisses the tip of my finger. People might think it was weird. a longing that I've never felt before. he brings his hand to my face and cups my cheek softly. Almost without volition. Yes. YES. a little defensive. His mouth is soft and gentle. Part of me doesn't believe this is happening. "Do you think it's weird?" . sitting back. .. I touch my finger to his lips. He chuckles. . not if we were older.

. and I find myself wondering why this feels so natural and just . It lurches in my chest. . . he'd been the one to say those words. My poor heart can't take anymore. Our noses miraculously disappear. "Until then. keep what a secret? The fact that he kissed me? That he likes me? "Keep what a secret?" "The fact that you're my girlfriend. I look up worriedly. let's just keep it a secret. almost unconsciously. But other people might. Edward kisses me back and his lips are so soft. you said you wanted to kiss me." "Ahh. Edward makes the decision for me and tilts his head. now." I'm not happy about it. but this time I move my lips against his and I wrap my arms around him. but I decide to tease him. fearful I've done something wrong. if I'll do it right." he says." "I don't recall anyone asking me to be their girlfriend. I didn't." I don't even know what I'm agreeing to . pressing his mouth against mine. After a few seconds he gently pushes back on my shoulders. you said you LIKED me." As right as he was. and my friends." "No. and that's the same thing. It's the same thing. my parents probably would. grinning widely. . and that same unfamiliar tingling feeling erupts inside me. liked me." "I said I liked you and I wanted to kiss you. I imagine Alice's eyes popping right out of her head if she was ever to find out Edward and I kissed. . Definitely Alice. "Well." "Like who?" "Well. am I?" "Well."No. "I am."' "Is it?" Now our faces are close together again and Edward licks his lips." he says emphatically. good. but he's probably right. I want to kiss him but I'm not sure how. "But you'll be in high school next year and it won't matter anymore.

but I need his friendship." I say sarcastically. really nice. . "I'm afraid. . What I have with Edward is much different than that. "Are you sure you've never kissed anyone before?" "Yeah. . hugging me." he says. "That was . . . how for years he's been my support. Edward and I have always been friends. "Right. I have no idea what I'm doing or what these new feelings mean . You know." He's embarrassed and I don't really know why. or we break up . He's the only one I can really talk to. ." He's right. I think I'd remember." His eyes look strange and his face is a little flushed. . . dropping my arms. the only one I don't feel . It's all so shallow. Okay. "What if something bad happens?" "What do you mean?" "I don't know ." "We'll never not be friends."Umm . . and then we're not friends anymore." he says. and it also feels confusing. But now that there's something more I don't want anything to change between us." The thought brings tears to my eyes. . I like kissing him. He's breathing heavily and he shifts around on the couch like he's uncomfortable. . "But you'll be my girlfriend. so much more. It seems like a competition. I turn away and hug my knees to my chest." That label seems wrong to me. I imagine my life without Edward in it . "Of what?" "I don't want to stop being friends. I can't live without it. . "Don't be like that." I admit. take it slow. "I'm sorry." I say. . . But I just think we should . and they talk about all sorts of silly things. . all I know is that it feels good to be near him like this. Bella. whoa. A lot of girls at school have boyfriends. I mean. . you like someone else or something .

2001 "Are you sure? You're sure you don't mind me reading this?" We're sitting on Edward's bed after school and he's just handed me a bright blue notebook filled with his latest story. That way. a little sad. . before. "I'll always be your friend. But you have to promise too." ±William Shakespeare Chapter 5: October. I have no idea what Edward's writing will be like. I want you to. or anyone else. My girlfriend." "I promise." "The rest is silence. No. I mean. "I want to." To be honest. I don't know how I'd survive." "Promise?" "Promise. "I'm sure it's not bad. "Bella. I wonder what it's about since he won't even give me a hint. I mean." he says." . "Bella. but he's picked this one to share. . he's never shown me. no matter what happens. he can't take it back either. you have to tell me. There's a stack of them under his bed. I want to reach out to still it but he's too far away. If I lost that. ." Edward says. . so I hastily stow it in my book bag. I hug him tighter. eyeing the book in my hand.judged by. But I want you to be honest. And I know that Alice will be annoyed that he's chosen me to read it if she finds out. He's a little hesitant as he runs his hands through his hair. okay?" Now his knee is bouncing. I haven't had a good night's sleep in a few days. pulling me into a hug." He's so cute when he sounds unsure . if it's really bad. the only one I can trust. shaking the bed. . and I feel him kiss the top of my head. . "Um . "But if it is ." We sit there for a while like that and I feel myself drifting off. if you don't want to. "You don't have to be.

The main reason is we don't want our parents to know. I'm not worried about any of that. moving back to lay with his head on his pillow. "Well." His hand is on my face and I know he's about to kiss me. I curl up beside him and put my head on his shoulder and my skirt rides up a little more. and it's already in my bag. I can't even remember what we were talking about." I edge a little closer to him and lean against the wall. "And how may I ask. I'll tell you and make sure you never write again. Alice was the one who made me wear it. He's been staring all day."If it is. the only one who knows is Alice. His lips are soft and delicious and his breath smells like peppermint because of his green tic-tac addiction. But when he looks at me like he's doing right now. and she only found out by accident. His eyes are dark and his chest rises and falls rapidly." "You're in my room. Up to this point all we've done is kiss. My bag's private property. My black skirt is a little on the short side and it rides up my thighs. I'll tell you. I sigh and lean into him and we're like that for a few minutes before he pulls away with a groan. I wouldn't mind going a ." "Guess I'll have to go then. sticking my legs out. . "You will. "I'll take it back. will you?" Now he's smiling. which isn't anywhere near enough. I just might not let you read it then. inching closer still and pretending not to notice he's looking again." "You can't. but I can't say that it doesn't make me a little uncomfortable at school since Edward's such a hot commodity. "Umm . but seeing Edward's reaction on our walk to school this morning changed my mind." I tease." "You already gave it to me." "What if I don't want you to go?" Now he's moved closer so we're sitting right next to each other." I say. Even after months and months my heart still goes crazy whenever it happens. I was a little uncomfortable at first. . I turn my head and his eyes are serious. Since we've decided to keep our "status" under-wraps. will you do that?" "I have my ways.

but from the label on the bottle she wasn't due a refill for ." "Just don't do it everyday then . "Because it just might kill me. "Better?" I ask. I find myself wondering if I love her anymore. I love our after-school routine this fall. but Edward always stops us from going too far. because most of the time. And then. even though it's a little frustrating at times." he mutters. Nothing major. A lot of the time I stay over for dinner before heading home. . things are still strained between us. . "Or on second thought.little bit further." he says quietly." he laughs. or I won't. I need you to live. a little. . And I know he's right. and for a minute I forget about the other fears that have been worrying me. I've noticed that she's starting to act a little strange again. He's always saying there's no rush. don't. I come over to the Cullen's most days now to "study. It's like I can no longer separate my feelings from my mother from the feelings I have about her illness and sometimes it scares me. For the past few weeks. and I know that I've been trying to goad him. but just little things. I'll never forget or forgive her for ripping up those pictures of Charlie. that we have plenty of time. but they're not gone for long." I laugh but I know there's a little bit of truth to his words. the scariest thing: an empty bottle of pills. nuzzling into my hair. His voice sounds the way dark rich chocolate tastes. I pull my skirt down just a little. . I found a perfectly good carton of milk and a loaf of bread in the trash the other day. "Well. When I asked her about it she said she'd finished them." "Why?" I ask innocently. I'm angry with her." which we do . and I have a feeling it's difficult for him to pull away. "Not really. It's nice how safe that makes me feel. especially since she's been back. I like to spend the least amount of time there that I possibly can. In the past few months I've learned more about his reaction to our kisses. Am I a bad daughter? A bad person? Edward hugs me closer and I kiss him again. "You really should wear skirts more often. but he never says anything about it. Even though Renee's been out of the hospital for almost four months.

her face scrunched up in mock-disgust. He's a good kisser. "Nothing. But it's really not funny . it's amazing. . and it's wet but not too wet. . . muttering something under his breath. my hands still in his hair. And for once I just want to be a normal girl with a normal mother. she's said before that she doesn't feel like herself when she's taking the medicine." "I'm not lying. I just know it. flinging ourselves to opposite ends of the bed. That's why she stopped before . but there's a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that won't go away. I haven't said anything to Edward and I know he'll probably be mad at me. tracing his finger over my tense forehead. . I try to relax. Still. Sometimes I think about how funny it is for our tongues to be touching each other and I laugh. happy with my boyfriend. . . I want it so badly. "Fine. He closes his eyes contentedly. Once I even laughed while Edward was kissing me. I never feel like Edward's biting my head off like they do in some movies I've seen. She hasn't done or said anything too weird yet . I was thinking about your hair." "Liar. . I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and Edward groans again. which he didn't think was all that amusing.another two weeks. .. Who knew! "Five second warning!" Alice shouts from the top of the stairs and we instantly separate. and he says I am too. . "Absolutely nothing. and they make her gain weight . A few seconds later Alice appears.. . "What're you thinking about?" Edward asks. my actions must give me away. This is exactly how she found out about Edward and me over the summer." "What's wrong with it?" I reach out and tousle the soft strands and scratch his head. I know Renee hates the pills because they make her a little slow. But I know the next time that Renee is hospitalized child services is going to take me away ." He gives me a look. ." Edward kisses me again and this time his mouth opens and so does mine.

" "Please." "You guys are too much. Thanks. so I'm not lying. Alice and I have seen less and less of each other. "What are you doing home anyway? Don't you have practice?" Alice is on the gymnastics team this year and she's busy most days after school. I'm glad you're home early." Edward states the obvious. Edward smirks and raises his eyebrow. I hit him. Edward. . "What's wrong with you?" I ask."God. "I don't think so. Alice. "No. well maybe you should go take a nap. Alice leans her tiny black head against the top of the chair and closes her eyes." Alice complains. She sighs again." Alice says. There are circles under her eyes. turning to me." "God. and you're in it. were you guys making out again? Get a room!" "Ummm . "Oh shut up. ." Since we've started attending different schools again. have one. "I'm fine. dramatically placing the back of her hand on forehead. "Kinda. sighing loudly. Am I bothering you?" Alice pouts and falls backwards into Edward's black beanbag chair." Edward replies. "how do you put up with this crap?" The game in question is Edward's latest acquisition and he's pretty much played it nonstop for a week. there's enough of me to go around." Edward quips. Sorry. obviously not Ali. "We were just about to play Resident Evil when you came down. "Coach sent us home early today. Bella. leaning back again and yawning. Bella's getting pretty awesome at zombie killing. Bella was my friend first." "Maybe by about five minutes." I joke." "Yeah. so Edward and I have gotten used to having the place to ourselves. Esme's often out meeting clients and Carlisle usually doesn't get home till at least six. Just tired. clambering off the bed and over to her. .

come rushing back. "Ali." All those zombies. It's so quiet. The comforting sounds of classic rock fill the air as I unpack my schoolbag. I like that music too. and the coward in me decides to let it be. The man's senile. What if she's bad again? When I enter the house something immediately feels off. All of the worries I had earlier. it's scaring me." It's the age-old Alice and Edward argument." I reply. I've been getting into The Beatles. I turn on the hall light. He insists Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins are the best bands that have ever walked this earth. so it's pitch black. Roberts has no idea what he's talking about. I don't hear anything coming from her room. everyone knows Mr. which I do gladly. Renee's door is shut and I debate whether or not I should see if she's okay. and to be honest it freaks me out. but I like teasing him more. "Mom?" I call softly. and anyway. my science teacher told us that video games cause seizures." ~QF~ Esme insists I stay for dinner. Edward laughs at her. especially when Edward turns the lights off "for added effect. Maybe a lot too gross. frowning. but then I tell him that grunge is dead. I'm actually terrible at it. a little more loudly." "I hope you're right. with Pearl Jam close behind. When I head back home later that evening. "Mom?" I say. my stomach drops when I see Renee's car. it's not so bad. I turn around quickly. The curtains are all drawn in the living room and all of the lights are off. all that blood . The Rolling Stones. "But don't say I didn't warn you. that's only for the ones that have flashing lights. it's just a little too gross. . things I'd so easily pushed aside when I was with Edward and the Cullens. . . "Well. I go into my room. even though it's my least favorite game. Instead. creeping behind me. Edward calls me a hippie and tells me I should have lived 30 years ago. Even though I know it's stupid. Suddenly my mind conjures visions of Edward's stupid video game and I imagine zombies lurking in corners."Oh. but it's like I can sense it. No answer. turning the light on and switching on the radio. I can't put my finger on it. She's not in the kitchen either. Recently. Of course there's nothing there." she says. Edward.

Thinking about writing makes me remember Edward's story. People are so afraid. but I like having the notebook in my hands. swinging my foot in the air to the music as I begin my essay. Ninth grade work is not much different from the assignments we had in G&T. I get passionate. why is he so worried about people finding his stories and reading them? If I wasn't so used to his horrible handwriting. but I know that things will never be the same again. so I know he worked on it for a long time. But I can't help it. if I feel strongly about something. I'm completely surprised. . When I read the first line. I lounge on the floor. washed. I'd never be able to decipher it. my fourteenth birthday wasn't exactly a cause for celebration. Edison's decision to assign it. . Opening the cover. I smile at Edward's crinkly writing . I grab my bag and pull out the blue notebook. so I don't know what the difference is. Usually writing comes easy to me. That doesn't stop me from wearing it to bed and feeling close to him. . Some of the parents are upset about it." Soon the music makes me feel calmer. but he also says his thoughts come easier when he's writing by hand. but the school is standing by Mr.. I don't know how to start. It's about September 11th and what we think it means to America. I can't help but wonder what we've done to them to make them do something so horrible back to us. "On the day I died.I take out my American History homework and consider the essay topic that's due next Friday. but I've been told I'm far too opinionated for my own good. I can't believe I forgot it! Casting my essay aside. but he did give me his baseball jersey.. It seems like in the last month the whole world is going crazy. Only Edward of course made a big deal about it. People from the Middle East attacked America because they don't like what we stand for. "Love. It's about privacy. I left home earlier than usual . We don't even have a computer. but I'm afraid that if I ask the questions I want to ask that I'll get a bad mark. unfortunately. . There's something so cute about the fact that he writes in notebooks and not on his parent's computer. I made him promise not to buy me anything. It's well-worn." . Love me do! You know I love you! I'll always be true!. I don't really understand the whole thing. . . and he didn't . Coming only two days afterward September eleventh.

and so some of the details. It's not too long. Reading his story. but it's so much more. but I decide I'm going to keep it for at least a little while. It's swelling and making me lightheaded and as I hold the notebook to my chest. like the doctor's work in the ER.. There's so much in my heart for him . maybe 30 pages. My blood runs cold.that she's destroyed my things the way she destroyed hers. He'll probably want the notebook back. My eyes adjust and I realize my reach is futile.Edward's story is serious and sad . Slowly. my William Blake poems. who is now a ghost. Finally. there's nothing there. unsure of what to do. I reach again. Aside from a few rolled up socks and some dust. . that he's trusted me with. I wipe the tears away.. he's writing about an experience he's never had. I feel so privileged. but he's always working. and there's a collision on the commuter rail. love. but I'm afraid I'll find out something even worse. . His whole life is about helping other people. It's not overly emotional.you can see his life flashing before his eyes in that last moment before the crash. not wanting to smudge the ink if they fall on the page. This is definitely remarkable for a sixteen year old. Thinking maybe I pushed it a little too far under the bed. He's coming home to surprise her. So I reach under my bed to feel for my box of treasures. If she's found the box she's also found notes from Edward. In some ways. . knowing there's nothing wrong with the things in that box. trying to make out the shape of the box in the darkness. it's so well-written. It has to be. further this time. but is at the same time so sad that I'm crying by the time I'm finished. I don't know what I was expecting it to be about. There's this feeling that can't be anything else. . Renee. I don't know much about creative writing. like I'm seeing a side of Edward no one else has seen. thinking about what this means. The plot is centers on a doctor who dies in an accident while coming home early from work one day for his daughter's birthday party. but you can feel what the doctor is feeling. . but it's not this. There are some problems. but the talent is there. for one. the picture of Charlie. he's realized it. All of it is told from the point of view of the doctor. it's like I'm hugging Edward. but I've read a lot of books. My rational mind tells me to go and confront her. surprised when my hand meets empty air. I know this story is about Carlisle. I rise from my crouching position and stand. this thing that's so important to him.. seem a little forced..

" I say at the door. . "I came home about an hour ago. "Hmmm?" "A box. I swear it. It makes me feel stronger. The necklace you gave me. You have to tell me. I realize I'm still holding Edward's notebook. "Renee. A box. Mom. There was a box under my bed and it's gone now. "Bella?" Her voice filters faintly through the door paneling. "A box?" Now I'm getting angry. . like a little girl." She doesn't respond. And I want it back if you did. You didn't take it?" Her head lifts a bit and her eyes latch onto me. A book . I asked you if you took it. so there's no way she's asleep yet. it's only past nine. and it's always there. "Renee. Did you take it?" Her face is turned to the side. She sounds sad and lost." I come closer and she looks so small. It makes me cough.This thought churns until I'm full of hot anger. "Renee?" I knock heavily. She doesn't lift her head when she answers. With things in it. resting on the pillow. Renee is huddled under blankets with the bedside light on. "Yeah. "Bella? I didn't hear you come home. The room is thick with smoke and I realize she's probably been chain-smoking. I turn the handle. Special things. some notes. It's not there." "I didn't take anything from your room. Without another thought I march to her room. No answer." .

." "Wha-" "Shhhhhhhh!" she hisses. but none of it is mine. I can't stop what I say next."Well who did. examining the room to see if I might locate the missing items. Or maybe when you're away at school . She draws the blanket up around her body and her eyes are darting around the room. But I want my things now." I reply dismissively. And I know she has my shoebox. too. . She's paranoid again ." she says sadly. I'll die if I don't find it. barely containing the rage that's bubbling up. cutting me off. but the sad thing is she probably thinks she's telling the truth. this is proof. . I don't know what to say to that so I just stay quiet." I say in a shaky voice. I'm so mad because I don't want to be crying over this. "Whatever. and anyway my mother doesn't seem to notice. She gestures for me to come over to sit. "Oh yeah? Well some mother you are! You're sick! You need to take your medicine and you're not doing it!" I'm screaming. then? Who would take something like that? Why?" "Bella . It feels good and terrible at the same time. She's not been taking her pills. . She looks far gone. She probably doesn't even remember taking it. her voice more of a whisper." Now she's sitting up. "I think someone's been coming in the house at night. There's a lot of stuff everywhere. worse than I've ever seen her. "Things are missing from my room. . I'm your mother. The picture of Charlie is the only one that's left. but I don't. "Do you want to go back to the hospital and have them take me away? Is that what you want!" . "Bella." she whispers. "I think we're going to have to get new locks. . don't talk to me like that. Renee. Angry tears fall hotly from my eyes. It's useless to argue with her." I can't take this anymore. so I'll just have to sneak into her room when she's not home and hope I'm not too late. I can't seem to stop it. "There's no one listening to us.

I want Edward. "Bella . I'm late.I've never yelled at her like this but the words keep coming. She's not home when I go for my morning shower. but I don't." As soon as the words leave my mouth I want to take them back. I feel empty and horrible and sick. her car is gone from the driveway. and by the time that I am. I'm exhausted. I clutch his story to my chest and run from the room. I peek into her room. it's her illness talking. "The only one I need protection from is you. I'm so confused and conflicted about what to do now. wanting to look for my shoebox but realizing if I do it now I'll be late for school. His hair is messy and flops on his forehead as he approaches me. I half-heartedly wave back. trying to block out the sound of Renee's voice behind me as she calls me to come back. It's heavy and I don't think I'll make it the whole mile and a half to school. and I can't be in this room anymore with her like this. I wish I was never born. reaching out her arms. ~QF~ The next morning I'm up at seven thirty after only an hour or two of sleep. When I come out he looks up and waves. "Baby girl. which I gladly give him. Renee can't help herself. not saying anything. . . My legs feel weak. barely able to appreciate how cute he looks wearing my favorite green army jacket and a pair of grey cargo pants. . hug her." I'm shaking. . I wish you weren't my mother . so badly. sure he'll say something about the dark circles under my eyes that I've tried to cover up with concealer." her face is white as she looks at me. I just want to protect you. reaching out to take my bag. Edward waits for me outside at eight. Edward's outside already. I haven't decided if I should tell him about Renee yet. I'm out of control. I'm like a zombie getting ready. and I feel terrible for what happened the night before. but I can't. . She's staring at me in shock. crying and screaming and unable to catch my breath. and I drag my feet. I love you. "I'm so SICK of this. I HATE you. Renee crumples before me and I should go to her. but I just go on. I wish you didn't exist!" I want to run from the room and slam my door shut and never come out again.

" We start walking and I don't know what to say. I was just trying to think of how to describe it. his stubbly chin grazing my jaw. grabbing his hand out from his pocket. and it was so sad. waiting for me to go on. again. If I didn't like it I'd tell you. Remember? You made me promise." His face lights up and he looks beautiful. "I'd like to read some more. and I kiss him back. Like I felt I really learned something. When I don't say anything for a while he gets impatient. It was amazing. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. almost. He grabs his arm in mockhurt." He knows exactly what I'm talking about and he grunts. giving me a kiss on the cheek." "YES!" I say. . You're an awesome writer. ." "You did?" His answers are full of disbelief." "No. "Yes. I'm trying to find the words to say what I'm feeling. You have to say that. huh?" "Bad?" I stop for a minute. "You really liked it. I'm sorry. My heart swells again. . "That bad. I was running a little late myself. But then I remember his story. "No. I feel heavy both from my tiredness and from the turn my life has taken." This finally seems to convince him. "Really?" "Really. I read it." "But you're my girlfriend." he says. if you want me to. stupid. "Hey. I love it. just a minute or so. . honestly. "Edward. but in a good way. I don't. dropping his hand and hitting him. and I feel almost normal . It was so real ." "Good."Hey." . Were you waiting long?" "Nah. I smile at the feel of his warm lips.

. All of my earlier anxiety comes flooding back." "It's not that. .okay. . "Bella. .. ."Umm. There's no way we can afford that stuff. And now. I nod slightly. well. and he pulls me to the side to allow a jogger to pass." I consider what he's proposing and what it will mean for my life at the high school. "So. "It might be fun. I've been thinking about it and I want to go . and I bite my lip so hard it hurts. for people to know that you're with me. crumpled up in her bed . It will certainly give the popular girls more reason to hate me. . dropping my hand and lifting my face." he says. with Renee getting bad again. . maybe if you wanted to go?" This catches me off guard. . dropping my gaze." "A 'thing?" "The harvest dance at the end of the month. But it will also keep their claws off of Edward. I don't care." he says." I don't know if I should tell him." He's smiling again as we start to walk and suddenly the world feels lighter. . If you want that. "There's this thing . Then Edward takes my hand. "It's Renee. I really want to go. I'm not ashamed of you. "We don't have to go if you don't want. The air is clear. you're scaring me. "What's wrong?" Edward is concerned. I'm not sure she's even going to be working anymore. . shoes. . Honestly. . I was wondering. the awful things I said come flooding back." "Bella. but I want to. . isn't it?" He knows me so well it's kind of funny. giving me a kiss. Jas and Em are going.. And who knows?" he rambles on nervously. "Hey. What is it?" His eyes are probing my face and they're so intense I can't look away. We stop on the sidewalk just about a block from school. "A dance? But I thought you didn't want anyone to know about us. especially the older ones. and I don't have anything appropriate to wear. Visions of Renee. "It's just . and I think there's a party afterwards that maybe we could go to . But then I think of a dress . the sky is so blue with only a hint of clouds." I affirm.

"A couple of days?" "Just a couple of days. touching my face. but at this moment in time." I need to think of what to do." "Fine. and I couldn't take them back. He sighs and I can feel his frustration. and for me. I have to at least try." "This can't go on. Maybe I can convince her to go voluntarily . Edward. But I'm worried about my mom." "But she's my mother. . And this morning. please. I need to make things right. "You know that. We need to do something about it. now. I'm sure by lunchtime the gossip that Edward Cullen is dating a freshman girl will be all over the school. I can't just betray her." I hug him tighter. well aware that people are probably watching us." he says. I open my eyes for just a second and see his long lashes closed on his cheeks. He smiles and kisses me so sweetly. Please. I promise." He sounds so bossy. it's so traumatic for her. You should have heard the things I said to her last night."We have to tell someone. Please. Please. I shouldn't have told him." I hate the thought of the police coming to take my mother away again." "But they'll take me away." he says firmly." he says. I just know it! Please. Let me try to reason with her. "Fuck school. wrapping his arms around me. . Thank you. but that's it. I don't care at all. We're going home to talk to my mom. I love seeing his . she was gone. Please. I wanted to. and I promise. I'll tell someone. . Not yet. "Okay." "I'd never let that happen." he says. put me in foster care or something. Edward. My worst fear is being put in some horrible foster home far away. "You know I can't deny you anything. I can't let that happen. . I'll give you a couple of days ." "NO! No. "My parents will let you live with us. I kiss him on the lips. Just give me a couple of days. "You wouldn't have a choice. his voice rough with emotion. but I know he's just worried about me. not after what I'd said. Come on.

"What do you have in here anyway? Bricks?" "Yep. making me giggle.face like this. anyway. I want to tell him right then that I love him. Back in my house. Apparently. kissing my hand before taking it again. I secretly watch him walk off towards his house before going inside. I love to torture you. my mood lifts again. but I'm definitely receiving my fair share of death looks. My sleepless night has definitely caught up with me. it's quiet. but I really want to take a nap. piles of clothes. cigarette . Edward reluctantly agrees and kisses me again in front of my house before he says goodbye. I love the little bounce in his step that makes me recognize him even from a distance. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid of what he'll say. and I waste no time running up to Renee's room. and I try to explain why it was necessary. I don't tell him the other reason I want to go home is to check Renee's room for my things while she's out." Angela complains. and the rest of our lunch passes quickly as she drills me for details. but I don't. "I can't believe you never told me. Edward offers to join us. I blow him a kiss and he catches it. so I promise I'll call him later. and so by noon it seems like the entire school's talking about it. but I tell him to go ahead and eat with Em and Jasper. She seems pretty satisfied with my explanation. He must feel me watching because he turns around and waves. What if he doesn't feel the same way? "We better get to class. so close. there's stuff everywhere. ~QF~ I'm right about the gossip. especially from the junior and senior girls I pass in the hall. shrugging his opposite shoulder." "I know you do. So for lunch I decide to sit outside with her on the picnic tables rather than face a cafeteria full of staring faces. taking a bite of her tuna sandwich. We're so dumb. He groans. I'm sure Angela wants to give me an inquisition. Edward wants me to come over to his house. ripped up papers. I'm exhausted by the end of the day." he says finally. Padma Ray saw Edward and I holding hands." And just like that. Angela's good moral support." I feel bad keeping it from her.

But I can't find anything . I frantically search through the pile where I found the book. It's the William Blake. I won't think of the picture. no picture. Back in my room.butts on the floor. We're standing in a field. trying not to remember the rest of my lost belongings. It burns. I've overturned her entire room. It's a gorgeous summer day and it smells like grass and forest. nothing.. but suddenly the earth cracks . Soon. under her bed. I'm just about to give up when something catches my eye-a little burst of red and orange. I set to work. I'm struggling so hard to breathe. a place I've never been. I reach out. but horrified when I open it . ~QF~ I'm having the most beautiful dream of Edward. my head resting above Edward's books.nothing else from my box is there. sticking out under a pair of Renee's old sneakers! I grab it frantically. Edward's on the other side of the widening chasm. For now on. changing into my long flannel nightgown. and I try desperately to quell the panic rising in my throat. her closet. I take the book of poems and Edward's short story and put them under my pillow. It's not even five o'clock. I reach out . I shut my door and lay down on my bed. I'm thankful I at least have Edward's present. I know it. . . The air tastes horrible and makes me choke and sputter. I know my things are here. holding his hand out to me. the distant sound of water. my exhaustion returns. our hands just grazing each other before we're ripped apart. . She's taken the picture of Charlie. . Edward's wearing his Ramones shirt. rummaging through the things on her floor. . And when I close my eyes I'm instantly asleep. I won't. I'm exhausted. . . I'll just have to take them wherever I go. An hour later.. and haven't had any more luck. There's no sound at all except for the humming of bees. It's dusty and I sneeze. but I decide to get comfy and take a nap. I wonder if I'll ever get them back. . . relieved that it's still intact.

inhaling deeply. swallowed up by the hole and black air. but there's a primal. . I should be . I reach and feel the metal door handle. My mother. He's gone . . the fire. I could turn away. he's disappeared. it's a thick. For a second. but nothing's recognizable in the darkness. The air is filled with smoke. . I know I'm in my room. run to the window and never look back. "MOMMMMMMM!" . I crouch down and immediately feel the difference. My mother. "EDWARD!" I scream. "EDWARD!" I wake up gasping for breath. Suddenly I have a thought . the pain in her voice. "Mom?" I croak. I hear her again. I'm pure fear.the roof! I'm just about to crawl toward it when I hear a scream that shatters my heart.the window . Fire. Too warm. . in the hallway . I feel lightheaded and dizzy-completely disoriented. . She's screaming my name. burning hot. . Pure panic. Just to check. but the air isn't clean . "MOM!" I'm screaming and screaming and my free hand is reaching for the door handle. It's there. Almost without thinking. My mother. I back away. . It's dark in my room but the air is heavy and sour . My eyes burn and the air smells horrible. I don't know what to do. Finally I understand what it is. . living thing. But this is my mother. . . . . Now that my eyes have adjusted to the darkness I can see smoke pouring from the crack under the door. and it's warm. I know I've inhaled too much smoke already. horrible. I cough to clear my lungs. instinctive fear that pushes me up out of my bed. It's hot. black. I can't breathe. . I know I'm not supposed to open the door. but my head is pounding. . . But then I remember what they taught us in school. It's pulsing around me . trying to make sense of my surroundings. . then I crawl to my bedroom door. I reach under my pillow and take my books in one hand. It's horrible. it's smoke..It's not air anymore.. I know that the air will be cleaner the closer I am to the floor.

It sounds like a man . that I don't like their hands on my head. . Nothing. "So. There are flowers and I bend down to pick one. It hurts. I want to cough but I can't . I try . it's in my head. Somewhere. he's saying words I don't understand . It's too quiet and I wish I could open my eyes but I can't. but the fire is loud. . 7 2010 It's dark and I'm so heavy. There's no more screaming. My arms are heavy and there's pain. . But I can't . . Someone does something to my arm and it stings. . . It's so hot. The sound of something whirring near my head. all around me people are talking. like a forgotten fire.I try to bat it out . I can't comprehend what I see. I want to tell them to stop. There's no voices . There is a sound and it's horrifying. floating somewhere else near a field and a waterfall."-Gaston Bachelard Chapter 6: September. I'm floating. just the beeping. .I open the door and it singes my hand. I look down and it's my nightgown. . When I pick it I draw it up to my face.it hurts. . the red . somewhere lower . I can't know this. . I want to open my eyes but I can't . . I feel my chest rise and fall . I take one step outside my door before recoiling. I register the sound of voices. . . I don't know how long I've been here. More voices. It's so hot and I know I . . a childhood can always flare up again within us. I can't do anything. . . . Flames are everywhere. but I still can't see. I can't breathe . I can't see anything but I can hear noises . . refusing to acknowledge the sight in front of me. . . I want to swallow but I can't move. . . Then something happens and the pain melts away. I can't know this. there's pain down lower. . . I don't recognize the voices. . My mind blocks it out. The tickling is burning . I can't think anymore . And then silence. a whooshing sound. The screams in my head are loud. Suddenly. . I'm not prepared for what I see. medical words. . There's something in my mouth-a tube? Something in my chest. The screaming is back . . . beeping. something is tickling my leg. . . . Someone touches my head and their hand is cold and clammy. Nothing is coming out of my mouth.

twirling around and the red ribbon flies wildly around her head. after her. Mom? Bella. I reach out for the ribbon. The pain is awful. a hole in my chest that hurts so much. Mom? Mom? She's got her back to me but I know it's her . . breathless and laughing. If she would have just given me that ribbon. it's too late. I love you. MOM? I cry again and this time she whirls around. I know once she jumps I won't see her again. Don't come any closer. she's laughing. it feels smooth in my hand. and she holds her hands out to me. Run! I don't want to see what I see. . . I know that red ribbon in her braided hair. so beautiful. I run to her and she picks me up like I weigh nothing. . I love you. We collapse on the ground. and then we are twirling. I want to take the pain from her but she's running away. like a girl. She's beautiful. The flower scalds my hand and I cry out. She's burning. MOM! I feel utter panic. I can't see what I see. Bella. She stands and runs away from me but I'm up.blossom is so bright. Mom? I'm screaming now and she's flying towards the waterfall. She smiles and touches my face. wearing a white dress. She looks young. The ribbon in her hair is a flame and she's burning. Bella? I turn around and there's Renee. I pull the end and Renee sits up quickly. . I don't want her to go. but then it erupts into flame and I drop it .

please. An IV. ." A woman's voice. More darkness. "Her eyelids just moved. I imagine how cold it must be. . It's metallic and horrible. I taste something on my tongue. Then finally . The nurse bends over me with a concerned look on her face. . something deep inside me. I think she's waking up . please . Someone is touching my hand. . I want this out of my throat. Suddenly. I love you. I'm so sorry. She's gone. "Isabella? Isabella? Can you hear me?" The nurse is talking again. It's a nurse. Just beyond her. My eyes tear up. Bella.. . so sorry. Pain. . She bends over me. I nod but I can't speak. light. Someone is touching me and this time I want it. the swirling eddies as the falls empty into crystal blue . Crying. Blood. Mom? I open my eyes. And it aches . it feels weird. I look down. I know that voice. looking down into the deep pool. . I cough and it's excruciating. . I'm back in a dark room. . I lift my arm to my throat and I feel something in it. I see a figure. but I know it. I know that touch. I want to move but I can't. I gesture to my mouth and I try to speak but it comes out more like a grunt.She never looks back. Please . I'm so. . A sliver of light. . I know the feel of his face against mine. I run after her. A red ribbon floating is on the water and I reach down to snatch it up. I can't form any words. A dull thud in my head. I know his name. I can't focus but it looks like a boy. I'm all too aware of the thing in my throat. there's no one. More pain. . . And she jumps into the water. Wetness on my cheek. Don't I? I can't remember his name. Bella. Whispers. My head is pounding and my throat is so raw.

His hair is long and black. it's a boy. The boy. Threeee.. My throat burns and I can barely swallow. Jacob. not understanding. Can you do that?" I nod." I shake my head. confused. I'm going to remove the tube in your throat. Bella. sweetie. just around my age. I'm going to get you some water. The nurse leaves and a man I think I recognize steps forward. It will get better. Why is he here? Just then. "Bella? I'm Billy Black. dry. ." I exhale and there's a bit of pain. Who is that behind her? Edward? I want Edward. streaked with grey. his eyes kind and dark. your lungs were damaged because of smoke inhalation." I nod again. gravelly. and comforting. All done now.. My throat is so raw and my lungs hurt with the effort. I can close my mouth. and when he speaks his voice is low. I wonder what I look like."Isabella. Jacob. but just small sips. I want my mother. okay? We're gonna get you back on your feet in no time. Two . still unable to comprehend why they're here. . but then relief as the obstruction is removed. okay?" I don't care what she's saying. but everything's gonna be all right. smiles at me but he looks nervous. I make a sound to tell them but no words come out. That's why you feel some discomfort. "One. the same deep brown skin. My mother. desperate for the tube to be gone. before your folks moved you all to Chicago. "This here is my son. . . Do you remember me?" I nod my head. I just need you to blow on the count of three. but right now you need to relax. "You did good. but you kids used to play together when you were little. "I know this is probably pretty confusing for you. . someone else approaches . you probably don't remember. He has short hair and isn't as tall as Billy but he has the same dark eyes. but the edges feel cracked.

I try and think of what to do. "I'm so sorry. I fainted when he entered the room. mine is visibly shaking.. It's just the heat. Professor Riordan is standing next to me. maybe.m." I say. you're more than welcome to leave early. I try not to look around the room. . When my eyes focus I realize with a flood of embarrassment that I'm in class. her haughty demeanor from earlier seemingly gone. . I have to get myself together. .. I don't know what it was . it was about time we had a break. my reasoning that of a child or scared animal. the room is hot. I'm not. struggling upwards in my seat. For the love of God. I'm Rosalie Hale. "Hi." "It is terribly hot in here.. Bella. "Are you okay.... once. . I'm still staring straight at the table."M. "Isabella.a. I sit up straighter and fix my skirt. Students are staring and talking . "I'm sorry. . Your mom didn't make it. Black?" she asks. shall we?" The class gives murmurs of approval and slowly begins filtering out into the hall. I'm really not. "I think so. looking concerned." "Well.m. I'm sitting with my head leaning uncomfortably on the back of a chair . I blink. "No. The blonde is standing next to my chair. he can't see me." The Professor leans down towards me." Billy's face falls as he comprehends my meaning. I think I'm all right. . "Let's take fifteen. Her long dangly earrings pull her earlobes taut and for a split second I fear they'll rip through. I can feel him standing somewhere behind me and all I want to do is run out of here before I have to face him. my heart hammering in my chest.. attempting a smile." She extends her hand and I take it. If I can't see him. If you'd like." Professor Riordan says." ~QF~ "Is she okay?" My mind struggles to catch up. . anyway. Ms. I feel nauseous. twice. there's the blonde goddess across the table. She meets my eyes and I look away. I know that Edward is in this room and I have no idea how or why. the heat." comes a voice from beside me. I'll be okay.

" . His hair is a little shorter. But is there a ladies' room nearby?" "Sure there is. since I'm only 5'4. I try not to meet his gaze but as soon as I step out the door I know he's watching. And all of the calm I was able to muster before in the classroom vanishes because I have to look at him. My stupid eyes don't listen to me when I tell them to look away. Black pants. She's wearing a formfitting grey pencil skirt. . I'm okay. He already knows. who has his back to me. His eyes . even from this distance I can see their brilliant green. The bathroom isn't that far down the hall. Outside of the classroom. "I'm fine. I shake my head. Are you sure you're okay?" No. A pretty impressive getup all around. which is a relief. how much he's still the same." "It's nice to meet you. Rosalie's already a few steps ahead of me and I look away. "Yes. Edward's face is impassive."Isabella Black. which isn't a feat. My face is hot. Rosalie holds the door open for me and I go immediately to the sink. surprised at Rosalie's height²she's quite a bit taller than I am. . you fainted when he walked in the door. Edward doesn't seem to be paying any attention to him. I make out a snippet of their conversation²something about a reading²but I don't understand the context. I can't let him know how affected I am." I stand up on uncertain feet. "No. I can't believe how much he's changed. It's the heat." I clear my throat. The other boy is gesticulating vehemently and talking. It's like I don't even have a choice. a blue blouse. He's much taller than the other boy. I just need a little water. probably the name of a band I don't know. a grey tee shirt with some symbol on it. "Do you want to sit?" she asks. and heels. he's regarding me carefully. I wonder what he sees. my expression guarded. I'll show you. Edward is standing with another boy. you idiot.

of course I wouldn't be lucky enough to have the connection go unnoticed. But it seemed pretty obvious. . I'll be right back. It's cold and should be delicious.. After all of this time . Rosalie's abrupt return distracts me from my thoughts. . I never thought I'd see them again. . "So. There's a chance no one heard. taking a seat as she exits the bathroom. His green eyes . "How do you know Edward Cullen?" It's the question I've been dreading." I try to remember what happened before I fainted. so I try not to grimace as I swallow again. I need to raise my blood sugar and I don't want to be rude. And if I did. Thanking her. "Why don't you go have a seat.okay. some lie. and you have no reason to tell me your business. allowing me to collect myself as I turn on the faucet and wet a fistful of paper towels with cool water. I don't want my past exposed here. . trying to figure up something. . . My mind is running on loop." The word catches in my throat and I walk over to the chair woodenly. She twists the cap off of the bottle of orange juice she's holding. Still. I think I remember saying Edward's name. I'm alarmed by how pale my face has become. I know you don't know me. nearly ten years. "Are you sure you don't want to sit down?" she asks. . I can't get his face out of my mind. "Who's Edward Cullen?" "Umm. I nod. I wrack my brain. Rosalie is eyeing me carefully.Staring in the mirror. It's not possible. arching her eyebrow slightly. There's a random chair near the window and Rosalie gestures towards it. but it makes me want to gag." The lie rolls off my tongue naturally. How can he be here? How is it possible? It's not possible. passing it to me. just a whisper. bringing them to my face. "I don't." she says. . This is a fresh start. That actually doesn't sound like a bad idea after all." "Okay. I promised myself not to be affected this way. Rosalie stands at measured distance. My hands are trembling and I still feel a bit lightheaded. .. but not loudly . I take a large swig. I get it. traitorously replaying the events of the previous twenty minutes. It's not possible.

." she continues. .well. you're wrong." She says the last part softly. how about I ask you a bunch of less invasive questions?" Rosalie asks. "So. . ." "It's okay. . not all the time. both Jake. I sigh. you'll never believe this.. . but I'm getting a little irritated now. I'm sure you've never heard of it. "Anyway. catching my arm as I rise. I put the cap back on the juice and prepare to stand up." "Nope. South Dakota. or is there some other reason? "I could have sworn you said his name when he walked in the door. arms crossed. before you passed out. But I see we only have five minutes before we need to get back . I reach into my bag and take out my cell to check. I can't believe she's come from such a rural place. really?" Rosalie is leaning against the stall. When did you move?" . "I'm not trying to be a pain. I was just curious. Flipping it open I see two missed calls from that morning. one ankle in front of the other. She looks like she means business and I find her hard to read. Why does she care? Is she just nosey. "Well. I'm from."Oh." I answer. I'm sorry. re-stowing my phone. "So yeah. anyway." She smirks. "I know all about being from somewhere no one's ever heard of." I consider the ultra-fashionable Rosalie before me and conclude that she's right. a little begrudgingly. He always worries about me and I'm sure he was calling to remind me to go to class. "I'm not usually a nosey bitch. ." "Look." she says. Too bad my ringer was on silent. a little concerned about the time. though I've heard it's nice. Never been to Washington myself. before ." I say. It seemed like maybe he was the reason you fainted. where you from?" "Washington State . a little town called Forks. "In my down time I'm actually pretty okay. It was just heatstroke." "It's fine.

"Just a couple days ago. I've been crazy, getting settled. That's why I was late. Luckily I'm not living too far away or I never would have made it." "Grad student housing?" "Yep." "Me too. I wanted to get an apartment in one of the neighborhoods this year, but I hate the long commute, and the "El" is so unreliable in the mornings. So yeah, I'm living in Sylvan Arms." Rosalie makes a face, as if this is a terrible thing. "That great, huh?" "I waited too long to get put on the waiting list and it's awful. But, it's close. What about you?" "I'm at Blackstone," I reply, trying to get into the conversation and forget, just forget, what's about to happen. "Holy crap! That's so close to me-just a couple blocks away. Girl, you lucked out!" "It is pretty nice," I say, feigning enthusiasm. My studio apartment is small, but it's in a beautiful old Hyde Park building. Luckily, it came furnished; I'd packed my old pickup lightly since the drive was so long. "And you're here for Romantic?" "What?" "Poetry . . . Romantic poetry. That's what I study. I was just wondering if that was your specialty. Usually first years won't take Peggy's class unless it is." "Right. Yeah. I'm studying Blake." "Blake," she says, wrinkling her nose, "well, Peggy will love you, then." "You don't like him?" She hesitates, "No, I do. I just prefer the later Romantics. So many of his books are incredibly opaque, you know? To be honest, I don't understand some of his more esoteric works. The Book of Urizen . . ." Rosalie shudders.

I shrug. "But that's what I find so fascinating . . . the mystery . . . trying to understand the worlds he created with his mind . . ." "You sound just like Peggy. Speaking of, we should get back. If you couldn't tell from before, she actually abhors lateness," Rosalie smiles and offers her hand to help me up. Once I do, I feel a little more composed. The orange juice has helped immensely. I drop the empty bottle into the recycling bin outside of the bathroom and follow Rosalie back to the seminar room. "What other classes are you taking, by the way?" she asks as we walk. "Lit theory." "That it?" "Yep." "You TA-ing?" "Not this semester. I got a fellowship, actually, for this year," I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but Rosalie seems pleased for me. She's TA-ing for a large Modern Lit lecture and apparently it's terrible, since she's never read half of the novels they're studying. It's like taking another class on top of her grad work. The door to the room is open and I force myself to maintain my calm. I can do this. I can do this. As long as I don't look at him, I can do this. "Talk later, okay?" Rosalie whispers just before we enter, taking her seat across the table from me. I find my chair and quickly sit down. When I look up I notice Edward is sitting in the seat next to her. He whispers something and she gives him a look, then sweeps her hair over her shoulder and ignores him. Edward smirks and leans back in his chair. Shit. He's caught me looking. I glance back to the head of the table where Professor Riordan is sitting. She smiles warmly at me before calling the class back to order. "Now that we're all here," she says, "maybe this is the best time for introductions. Let's just go around the table and give your name, your year, your focus, and, I don't know . . . a random fact about yourself. "I'll start. I'm Peggy Riordan, and my one true love is William Blake." A couple students titter and Peggy smiles good-naturedly. "Hmm . . . and a

random fact: my favorite band is Depeche Mode. And before you start, yes, I'm a child of the eighties. And please, call me Peggy. 'Professor' makes me feel terribly old." I decide at that moment that I love Peggy Riordan. She's simply wonderful. After Peggy, the student to her left introduces herself . . . Marjorie Elms, second year, focus on the Victorian novel. She can't cook. Then a boy. Riley something or other . . . he's the one Edward was talking to. I'm not really listening because I'm dreading my introduction. I'm trying to think of something to say, but my mind is blank. I need to redeem myself so my professor doesn't think I'm a complete idiot, but I'm paralyzed with fear. Finally, it's my turn. I clear my throat and try to sound confident but, like always, my voice is quiet. "I'm Isabella Black. First year. I came to study William Blake. I love him, too." Peggy smiles at me encouragingly. "And . . . let's see . . . random fact. I apparently faint in the heat. I feel very Scarlet O'Hara today." Some people, including Rosalie, laugh and I smile, blushing despite my intentional joke. I feel a little bit better about earlier. Maybe I can put it behind me. The girl sitting next to me is another first year with a spiky short black haircut named Rue Jones. She studies feminist theory and rides a Vespa. But soon the calm that had washed over me once I'd finished my introduction vanishes as I anticipate Edward's response. I don't allow myself to look at him, but I wonder if my avoidance is obvious. I decide I'll allow myself the occasional glance, just casual, but of course when I look up Edward is staring right at me. His jaw is tense and his eyes . . . he looks . . . angry. His eyes are cold. I don't see anything that reminds me of the boy I knew. When Rosalie introduces herself, her confident, strong voice is loud and I see Edward roll his eyes. This bothers me somehow; despite her somewhat brash exterior, I think I like Rosalie. Edward clearly doesn't. He's next. "I'm Edward Cullen. I'm a second year MFA in fiction. Random fact . . . I only write in notebooks. Oh. And no offense, Professor, but I'm not terribly fond of William Blake." He's looking right at me and his beautiful voice has a hardness I've never heard there before. He sounds cynical. I don't like it.

"Well, Edward, I appreciate your honesty," Peggy says graciously. "Hopefully we'll change your mind by the end of this course." I can't believe he just told a poetry professor²a well known, published, and above all, very sweet professor²he dislikes her subject of inquiry, and I'm sure my shocked expression is clear on my face. She dealt with it so smoothly. I'm impressed. But all of a sudden it hits me: he meant that comment for me, not her. I feel like I've been punched in the gut. On top of that, I'm completely floored by his revelation. So Edward is a fiction writer, after all . . . he still has his notebooks. Notebooks filled with things I never got to read, will never get to read. My throat feels tight and for some God-awful reason I feel something hot and undeniably wet well in the corners of my eyes. More people introduce themselves but I'm not listening. I'm far away in another world, where I was Bella and this man in front of me was a sweet boy, not the arrogant prick he so clearly is now. Why does he hate me so much? Once introductions are finished, Peggy passes around the syllabus and reviews the course policies. We'll have one seminar paper due at the end of the semester, which I expected, and, along with a partner, we'll also lead one of our class meetings. This requirement alarms me immediately. I'm not even comfortable speaking in front of people for a short time; how will I lead an entire two and a half hour class? Peggy explains that she likes to give all of her students the opportunity of teaching a graduate class, since this looks good to hiring committees once we're on the job market. It makes sense, but still, I'm uneasy about it. Rosalie looks over at me and gestures surreptitiously . . . she wants to work together. That sounds fantastic to me, since with Rosalie, co-teaching won't be that bad. I'm sure I won't even get a word in edgewise. After a little more chatting, Peggy excuses us for the day. Next Tuesday we'll be starting with Byron, since she's arranged the course thematically rather than chronologically. Interesting. Rosalie is already at my side as people begin to file out, and I'm incredibly grateful because this way I won't have to speak with Edward. Not that he wants to talk to me anyway. I hurry to collect my things. "Where you off to now?" Rosalie asks as we file out of the room.

"Home, I guess. I need to go grocery shopping, then probably to the book store." "Well, I'm off home too. I'll walk with you." "Okay, sounds good." I smile. She's forceful and bossy, but yes, I think I do like Rosalie Hale. Once we're a little ways down the hall, she whispers lowly, "Can you believe what an asshole Edward is? I mean, honestly, I can't believe he said that, and on the first day." I shake my head, not wanting to give my feelings away. "Peggy is amazing. He's lucky to be in that class, really." "So why's he taking it?" "The MFA's have course requirements like we do. They have to take poetry, Shakespeare, lit theory. And then their own b.s. writing seminars, of course." "Oh." Oh crap. Does this mean Edward will be in my other class, too? Then I remember he said he was a second year; he's probably already taken it. "Yeah, it's annoying." She sighs in exasperation. "They always feel like they're better than us 'cause they write and we theorize. You know, the whole, "those who can't do, teach," thing. It's utter bullshit, if you ask me. But today, wow, I'm just blown away." "Is he always like that?" I ask hesitantly, not sure I want to know the answer. "Pretty much. I mean, he's usually not that big of a dick, but he's a pretty cocky bastard." "So, you guys aren't friends," I venture. "Yeah, that's an understatement. And hell, I'm probably the one girl in the grad department that hasn't slept with him." "Oh." Why did I even ask? I feel incredibly stupid. "I mean, the guy can write, don't get me wrong. But, aside from that, I don't get what everyone else sees in him."

A throat clears behind us and I freeze, turning round. Edward's not three feet behind us. Of course he is. Of course. "Can we help you?" Rosalie asks archly. Did he hear our conversation? Oh God, I want to sink into the floor and/or die . . . whichever is quickest. Edward ignores her. "Isabella," he stresses my name as if it's a foreign word on his tongue. "I think you left this behind." He's holding my notebook. "Right. Yeah, that's mine," I reply dumbly, extending my left hand. And in that moment I see him . . . just sixteen, carrying my books for me. It's a gesture he's performed so many times. But now he's like a stranger, not my Edward at all. Our eyes meet and then his drift to my hand. He passes it to me quickly, as if the book itself is on fire. "Thanks," I say, but Edward is already walking away, his hands slung in his pockets. I recognize that walk, the little lilt in his step, and for just a second, I can imagine going after him. Just for a second. "What a gentleman," Rosalie remarks sarcastically as I stow my notebook into my bag, trying to control the beating of my heart. After all this time how can he affect me like this? It's maddening. "Do you think he heard us?" I ask once I'm sure he's out of earshot. "Maybe. I wouldn't worry about it, though. He already hates me, and I'm sure his ego will survive. Isabella..." she pauses, "are you sure you don't want to tell me how you know Edward Cullen?" My eyes still follow Edward. He's walking away, just like my last memory of him. The last day of my old life. "I told you. I don't know him. I don't know him at all." I ripped your heart out from your chest Replaced it with a grenade blast Incinerate Incinerate Incinerate Incinerate The firefighters hose me down I don't care, I'll burn out anyhow

It's four-alarm girl, nothing to see Hear the sirens come for me You doused my soul with gasoline You flicked a match into my brain Incinerate Incinerate Incinerate Incinerate Lyrics: Sonic Youth "Incinerate" Chapter 7: September 7-September 14, 2010 Rosalie leaves me at the corner of 56th and Blackstone, but not before we exchange cell numbers and make plans to meet up later during the week. As I watch her walk away, I smile a little to myself. This is the first time I've ever made a friend so fast. Well, maybe not the first . . . It hurts to think of Alice, so I don't. I haven't . . . not in a long time . . . I haven't thought of either of them. But now they're, well, at least HE, is back in my life . . . What is she doing now? Does she live in Chicago, or someplace far away? Will I see her again? These thoughts and questions aren't welcome, and I don't want to think about Edward or what happened today in class. The surreal experience is already fading and soon, hopefully, perhaps, it won't seem real at all. And I can live my life like it never happened, like he never existed . . . But you'll see him next week, fool. And did you ever really stop thinking about Alice? About Edward? The grey sandstone building looms immensely. I fiddle a bit, turning my key in the wrought iron fence that guards the entrance, and when I enter and hear the inevitable clank I feel a certain sense of calm. Nothing can follow me in here. At first, even though Billy was worried about intruders, I'd insisted on a first floor apartment. But then I learned that all first floors in the city have bars on the windows, and I readily agreed to live on the second floor. An added bonus is it's a bit quieter, even though I'm near a common area. In general the graduate students who live here keep to themselves, which is fine by

me. As I make my way up one flight of stairs and then hang a right to my room, I exchange nods and cursory greetings with other residents, but no one really looks at me²there's comfort in anonymity. My apartment is warm when I enter, and I kick off my shoes, going right to the window and opening it wide to let air in. It's not enough, so I settle my box fan in the open space, turning it on full blast. It's a little better with the warm breeze, and after grabbing a glass of water from the fridge, I settle down on my futon and consider the mess before me. Boxes, boxes, and more boxes . . . suitcases . . . bags. There's a lot of unpacking to be done and the task is daunting. This doesn't feel like light packing. This feels like baggage. For a split second, I wish I'd left it all behind. Especially one box. A box I never open. But here it is, and something needs to be done with it all. I know I need bookcases, since many of the boxes contain my collection and as of now I have no place to store them. The genius who furnished this room only provided one small bookcase that won't even fit a fourth of the books I've brought, so I make a mental note to pick some up sometime this week. I also have to go grocery shopping, to the campus bookstore. I have my Theory class tomorrow. There's so much to be done, I won't have time to think. This is a good thing. I check my phone again and see two more missed calls from Jake. Sighing, I consider whether or not I should call him now or later. Later. I decide on later. He'll ask me how the first day of class went, and I'll have to lie. There's no way I'm telling him that Edward is here . . . it's just too weird . . . and right now I can't face all the questions. It would just make him unnecessarily jealous. And with a flash my thoughts are transported again, back to class, back to Edward's face as he handed me my notebook . . . the way he said my name. I need to get to work. And so, after I feel a little cooler from the water and the fan, I open box after box, piling and sorting my books into categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary theory. I unload kitchen utensils. Put away clothes. Hang pictures. But there is one box I won't unpack; I'll stow it under my bed, as I always do. Funny how even though it's out of sight I know it's there, always there, waiting for the one day I work up the courage to open it. Not often. Maybe only once a year, when I can't resist its lure anymore. The itch will

begin, a slight inclination. But then the thought will catch and grow, and soon, no longer able to fight it, I'll give in, open it, and shatter again. Not yet. I should have left the damn thing at home. The rest of the day passes, and before long I find myself in a relatively decent looking apartment. It still needs a bit of work, but for now, it's satisfying. I perform the rest of my errands perfunctorily, and by the time I've shopped, picked up my books for class, assembled a bookcase, and eaten dinner, it's already after ten. Realizing I can no longer avoid the call, I dial Jake's cell. He answers on the first ring. "Isabella, where've you been? I've been calling all day." He sounds irritated, and I know I've been wrong to delay this. "I know," I say apologetically, "I'm sorry Jake. I had so much stuff to do, I completely lost track of time." It's not a total lie. "Well, I've been worried, Dad too." "I'm really sorry, Jake. I just wanted to wait to call you, till I had some free time, you know?" "Okay," he says softly, a little placated. "But don't make me worry like that again, please." "I won't. I'm sorry." "So, how was the first day of class?" He sighs and my heart thrums nervously, the fingers on my right hand automatically going to the ring on my left, the ring that's marked me as his. There's no way I can tell him, but I don't want to lie. Still, knowing Jacob, he won't want to know details. So I summarize. I tell him about how I was late, Professor Riordan, Rosalie, course assignments. He grunts and murmurs on the end of the line, not really saying much. When I proudly tell him about the bookcase I assembled, quite an accomplishment as far as I'm concerned, he snorts. "This is ridiculous," he says. "You doing all this stuff. I should have come with you on the move. I should be with you right now."

too. but the left . the end result of countless surgeries and grafts. . and eventually we'd decided that it would be best for Jake to stay behind for my first year. Large eyes and pale skin. . he'd just partnered with Sam at his garage in Forks. And I'll be home for Christmas break. even beautiful. Jake. Belly. I catch a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror I bought on impulse at Target." "I miss you. Perhaps delicate. as I undress for bed. but it's strange. Who is this woman staring back at me? A catalogue of parts. but passable." Suddenly. especially the calf. Pale skin on the body too. for me or for him? Later. They define me more than any other part. Legs. a bit on the small side. Isabella. really. They seem to belong to someone else. The once angry burned skin is now a webbing of pink and red. "I'm doing fine. decidedly too skinny." "I can't believe my fiancé is a graduate student. and the money was good.It was of course the source of many arguments between us whether or not he should move with me before the wedding... From far away. But now.. soft but flat.. but tonight I stand and impassively consider myself. I feel a pang of guilt lying to him about Edward. . . as I predicted. Maybe.arms. and I knew I'd be insanely busy with course work. That's only three months from now. Perky. There was no guarantee he'd find a suitable job in Chicago. Who would've thought? I'm so proud of you. It's horrible. the knee." "I miss you. hips full but not too wide. so much better. he was regretting giving in. I reach down and touch the raised flesh. Long hair. I never look at my body unclothed. I squint my eyes in the already dim room. . but it's better than it once was. Not to mention how Billy was uncomfortable with us living together. A face some have called pretty . Defined collarbone. in the right lighting. because in a way they are my essence. . before the ceremony. maybe you wouldn't notice. and for a second I wonder why I'm doing it . . Breasts. alone. The right one isn't so bad.

grateful for even such a small plan. She's telling me about her family. smiling at her enthusiasm. He wants to go to medical school but the family can't afford it. a decidedly awkward number. It's pretty amazing. "There's this awesome bar called The End. The nervous flutter in my stomach increases with each step. I find my eyes automatically sweeping the sidewalk. my 23rd birthday. my latest addiction. I see questions in her eyes. because she'd probably think I was weird.I stand tall again and look again at the girl in the mirror. in fact. It's a bit cooler today and I'm wearing jeans and a . I haven't been able to explore much yet. . how are you liking Chicago? What have you been up to?" Rosalie asks as we make our way to class. . Not that I did much there either. living their own lives. but it is. I'd never thought it could be lonely in such a big city. Why?" Billy is not big on alcohol. but all of them are strangers. I murmur sympathetically. it's just a random year. That was good enough for me. until I'm barely aware of the things Rosalie is saying. Do you drink at all?" "Umm. her older brother. Marcus. But it's not like 23 is a milestone . but I don't know how to answer them. And now here I am. "That would be fun. "Well. Still. I try to focus. a little. I haven't seen her since the first day because we'd both been so busy. one of these days I'll have to take you exploring. but it's great. "I do like it. They have a huge selection of international and specialty beers. All too soon we arrive at the Humanities building and I follow Rosalie's finely dressed figure inside. doing homework. I know exactly what that's like. which is why I really haven't drunk that much since I've been out of college." Rosalie is a talker. Of course I'd immediately said yes. but she'd called on Sunday to see if I wanted to walk over together. ~QF~ "So. scanning the faces we pass. and she keeps me distracted as we make out way down 58th street. Why draw attention to it? I'd talked to Billy and Jake and treated myself to Chicago-style pizza. Maybe you want to go sometime?" I nod. Out of The Loop and out to some of the cuter neighborhoods." I don't tell her that I spent the day before. There are so many people. he forbids it in the house.

I feel incredibly dowdy. I try to reign myself in. His lip curls slightly and his eyes are hard again²the stranger is back. Rosalie.button down blouse. .. thinking back to the previous week's encounter. "Something like that. He's filled out." he mutters. A couple more students filter in. Edward is already seated in the otherwise empty classroom. then hot. paging through the selections we've had to read for today. How does she afford these clothes? My stomach drops as we climb the stairs . "Writing the great American novel. sitting down beside me at the opposite end of the table. And I'm shocked by what I see there. scrawled in crinkly handwriting I know so well . when we enter the room ten minutes early. more than a week's worth from the look of it. I pull out my notebook as well. "I'm glad to see the weekend hasn't dislodged the stick up your ass. I take out my poetry anthology and flip to the section on Byron. Edward had written in my notebook before giving it to me. This will be easier. which he hastily closes. Since I hadn't taken any notes last week. . and his eyes look tired as they meet mine again. looking away. He lifts his head at the sound of Rosalie's voice and I am struck once again by his face-how much older he looks. Edward?" Rosalie asks sarcastically. . I hadn't bothered opening it. For just a second. . I'm determined to speak in class." Rosalie ignores his comment. Unfortunately. then back to a notebook on the table. Edward or no Edward. opening up to the first page. There's a thick growth of stubble on his jaw. saving the three of us from the awkward silence that ensues. recognition passes between us. Isabella? Don't you know me? My blood runs cold. I've faced him once before already. no longer the lanky teenager I knew." and I've made lots of marginal notes to help prepare me for class. I can do this. Edward's eyes dart from Rosalie to me. It's the first time I've read "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" or "Don Juan. next to Rosalie's tailored tweed pants and silk top. His faded black tee shirt emphasizes his arm muscles and I think I detect a hint of black ink peeking out from under his sleeve.

" "I agree. there's a depth to 'Childe Harold' that's missing in the other poem. but in 'Childe Harold. a whirlwind of curly hair and dangly jewelry. So I'll just open the floor. how angry and confused I am. Of course he knows I know who he is. by posterity. hellbent on shocking and undermining what he saw as the hypocrisy and restrictiveness of contemporary morality . yes." "Maybe more honest?" Peggy offers. .' I don't know. and I don't understand my reaction. His status as a lothario is obviously very much part of that persona. . He's been glamorized. She settles into her chair at the head of the table as the class quiets. Not a great answer." "It's like you can sense that he's looking for something.A glance in his direction tells me he's otherwise occupied.' I really felt there was a deep cynicism in both. I look back at the note. but he wants to know why I'm not acknowledging him." She pauses. more profound. and really the brilliance of it. Isn't it obvious? And why does he care now? Is he just trying to get a rise out of me? I don't understand his motivation. even deified. He's texting someone. "But I think that all of this mythology around him really occludes the depth of his art. especially from those of you who haven't read much Byron before. uttering curses aimed at Chicago's mass transit system and distracting me from my thoughts. "Even though the speakers in both of the poems are jaded. "It was interesting to read "Childe Harold" in tangent with 'Don Juan. Byron is known as the quintessential Romantic poet.. Peggy rushes in. The thought infuriates me. if you will.. She's so entertaining and dramatic. "I'd like to start today by just going over some of our initial impressions." Alison says. He has no right. taking a deep breath. not after everything. considering it." Rosalie interjects. It seems like a rhetorical question. Obviously. he's got his phone out and his brow is furrowed as he presses the keys. "That's what I mean. and in his lifetime he was. A minute or two later. it was offset with something greater.anyone want to start? What are some of the things you noticed?" A short freckly second year named Alison speaks up. But I'm interested to hear from all of you. but who am I to talk? .

"Well. If human society is corrupt. "Well. but I know I have to continue." Riley suggests. nature is volatile in a different way. but there's a persistent dread underlying . the words clear. Peggy addresses me. and I know it's now or never. and he's not finding it in human society. including Edward. but I don't think he finds what he's looking for there. My nerves are rattled. Man marks the earth with ruin ² his control Stops with the shore. thou deep and dark blue Ocean ² roll! Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain. I try not to look around the room. Everyone is turned expectantly toward me. I think it's incredibly sad. It might provide some solace. "To me." Peggy smiles and cocks her head. Finally. So he turns to nature. "we haven't heard from you. I clear my throat. Black.." I take a breath and look around. he says: 'Roll on. You can tell he's searching for something. disillusionment.There's this melancholy spirit that comes from world weariness. "Isabella?" she asks. sure my face is flaming. The pressure builds. "Maybe that's what you're sensing?" More students offer their opinions and readings. Ms." I consider her point. and soon I'm the only one in the seminar who hasn't spoken. But before I can speak. What do you think? What's your take on Byron's relationship with nature in the poem?" My stomach lurches and I surreptitiously wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans as I consider what to say. nature is indifferent to our suffering. all of the thoughts I had just seconds ago vacating my head. 'Don Juan' is much more comic. staring at the page before me. like he's aware that it's really not the cure-all he'd like it to be. "An interesting reading. Many critics have seen Byron's relationship with nature in a much more positive light²that it is indeed the antidote to corruption in the human world.. it's as if he's trying to convince himself that nature is the antidote. . Like towards the end of the poem in stanza 179. when he's speaking about the ocean. either. for a while. . drumming her pen on the pad of paper before her. but in the end. .

We're all just tiny drops in the ocean . . . 'Thou glorious mirror. The ocean is powerful. without anyone remembering you. too close. . . "Sure. And human life is fragile. The currents. Peggy looks like she's about to say something. . An anonymous grave is perhaps the most honest one . but this time it's from anger. waiting for his response. or the divine. /Without a grave. uncoffin'd. He's all too aware of the humbling power that the ocean has over mankind²and he relishes how that reality puts us humans in our place. is a tension that's underlying a lot of his writing about nature. I brace myself for the coming onslaught. But then there's the line. . So nature can provide escape from politics. . . "Do you really believe that? That lives aren't worth remembering? Do you think that's what Byron thought?" Edward seems a little taken aback by my outburst. but he's celebrating that fact. It can mean oblivion. so insignificant." he says. . are a reflection of God . The rest of the class is silent. Really. gesturing to his open book. none of our lives are remembered. and when I look up Edward is staring at me with the strangest look on his face. See." For some reason he seems slightly hostile. . even the destructive ones. staring down at the table in front of me. Edward speaks. when he mentions the dead sailor: 'He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan. "That's interesting.' Those last three words²especially 'unknown. whatever.' The storms." I finish. but it's true .' there's something disconcerting there . I should be reining myself in."He's praising the ocean for its power. . how powerful and unyielding the sea is. the tides." I feel my face flame again. to die unknown. society. . but this topic hits close to home for me . a little further on. not really. especially in the 19th century. not condemning it. storms . I think. Byron's aware of how insignificant man is. Any attempt to dominate the ocean is futile. Rosalie murmurs approvingly in my ear. not in the long run. but it's also unfeeling. it inspires his awe. He even compares the ocean's power to God's. . "The fact is that we can't control everything. but even today. There's this sense that mankind has no control over it²it's the one thing we're subject to. . And that. That's just the reality of life. but it's also dangerous. where the Almighty's form/Glasses itself in tempests. and he takes comfort in the ocean's power. In the heat of it I cut him off. and unknown. . unknell'd." Edward says. but before she can. "But I have to disagree.

"And he was a well-known poet. "But I just wanted to tell you. not real life. Rosalie wanders down the hall a bit and I enter the first stall of the bathroom. So really. "It's a mistake to assume that anything an author writes is true to his life. I can't believe the first conversation that Edward and I have had in almost ten years is about Byron's vision of the sublime. so complex. and all poems about the Kant's sublime." I interrupt. not bothering to wait for Rosalie or anyone else. It's this combination that inspires the sublime. and died a national hero. in any case. And it's well-known that Byron himself identified with the speaker in 'Childe Harold. I think you're giving it a fundamental misreading. not the dead-" "But Byron went to fight for Greek Independence. when you think about it. . ." Peggy glances at her watch and suggests a break ." Edward fires back. There's beauty and awe in the power of nature. But I think there's truth to what both of you are saying. and would be almost humorous if I wasn't so agitated. Rosalie appears beside me as I make my way down to the ladies room." Edward's eyes bore into mine and for a second I forget we're in class. You put Edward in his place. "I think we're getting a little off topic. And."Well." she says. Before he can answer me. That's what makes this poem. I'm still keyed up as I stand and walk into the hall. annoyed with myself that my hands are shaking as I fumble with my fly. "What do you think inspires art? Real life. gravestones are really for the living. Surely he knew his name would live on even in death. so I want to steer us away from discussing the authorial fallacy. but her phone buzzes and she gives me an apologetic look. but there's also the fear and threat of death. . but I try to control my tone. you did great in there." Is that what happened? I'm not so sure. Well done. It's incredibly strange. "I have to take this. Peggy intervenes." "Maybe. but we're discussing the text of the poem. I think we have to see both of your readings in this poem." Now I'm livid.

I walk a little ways down a side hall and pretend to look at the course descriptions outside of the English grad office. Rosalie comes to find me. We settle in for the last half of the class. not wanting to face him. That means that Rosalie and I probably won't be working together. I'm on edge entering the room again. The fact is. I can't see the whole thing but I notice it's rather large. He looks at me with that unreadable expression and this time I don't avert my gaze. the things he said. and I quickly turn round. The cuff of his shirt has ridden up further and. . this time focusing on 'Don Juan. my only friend is still on the phone and the rest of the class is loitering in the hall." "Thanks. I half expect Edward to come look for me. and once in a while I catch myself watching him out of the corner of my eye. It was awesome. . Edward is a few meters away near the door speaking with Riley and Rue. but I don't let them linger. he most certainly has a tattoo.Back outside. . shaking her head knowingly. it's inevitable we'll run into each other. And seriously. even though it might be true. My thoughts drift to my mother. We're stuck with each other for at least the next few months. but I can't stop thinking of our debate . I don't want him to see how affected I've been by this whole thing. What does it mean? The rest of the hour passes uneventfully. maybe longer. I've worried for nothing. I can't run away from him.' Neither Edward or I say anything. not here. Instead. But he doesn't come and soon the break is over. we're in the same class." Even with Rosalie's reassurance. it's ridiculous. You dominated that discussion. and it provides a good distraction. which is incredibly disappointing. . "You can't hide from him. and I'm caught in a panic wondering what I'll say if he does . Peggy ends with a reminder that we're going to begin with the student-run classes in three weeks' time²and she's partnered us up based on field and interest. from what's visible it appears to be a series of interlocking black squares. yes. you shouldn't. Finally. . each corner extending and morphing into the other. There's a bulletin board advertising summer internships and teaching opportunities.

and I'll be seen as an immature fool.She reads our names off her list and when she gets to mine I'm sure I've heard her wrong." Rosalie nudges me. I take a sharp left and walk quickly down the stairs and into the noon air of Chicago. somewhere with people. Something's come up and I have to run. But then I see him pull out a small stack of white papers and pass her one²the bold lettering indicates it's an advertisement for something. "Next week. I'll have to work with Edward outside of class unless I ask to switch partners. get a drink?" I nod dumbly at her. But then everyone will know. inhaling deeply and pausing before I decide what to do. I always welcome volunteers for earlier in the semester. If I look at him I'll die. people will think it's because of our disagreement. "You should probably exchange contact information with your partner and discuss what course material you'd like to present." Peggy concludes as we begin to pack our belongings. Of course." she says. . Now I'm alone. my stomach lurching as she turns to go. Edward." Edward lifts his head. Since there're only six pairs. we'll be signing up for dates. The reality of the situation has finally hit me. "I'd love to hear you read. He looks in my direction. Are you kidding me? Rosalie gives my side a slight poke and I try not to flinch. just as shocked as I am. it shouldn't be a problem to present on the day of your choice. "I'm sorry. Out in the hall. Yes. but I keep my eyes on Peggy. Somewhere I won't be able to think. "Isabella. but I'm no longer listening. I'm there." He smiles and runs his hands through his hair. Is he asking to switch partners? The thought crosses my mind with a fleeting sense of panic-the last thing I want is to make a big deal about this in front of my professor. Call me later. glancing at it. "Isabella Black and Edward Cullen. My bag feels incredibly cumbersome as I heave it over my shoulder. okay? We'll go out. and that's when I lose all my nerve and decide to make a quick getaway. and when." She continues on saying something else. "If I can get away from family duties. saying something lowly before stowing the rest of the white sheets into his shoulder bag. I'm sure. I could go back to my apartment or I could go to a coffee shop. I can't face him right now. and my heart feels even heavier. Edward is talking to Peggy and she's listening intently to him.

standing with his arms crossed. we'll have to get in touch somehow." I lie. anyway?" He looks at me incredulously. Edward. if we're supposed to work together on this project. "Me? What are you doing here?" "I'm obviously in graduate school. shifting on his feet and looking across the street before turning back to me. and anyway. I need to do well in this class. I'm only eye level with his chest." he mutters. "But. stressing the last word." he says. and I had to go." "So do I. don't let me keep you from your. "Well. He's just about two feet from me. I cross my arms and take a step backward.obligations. Edward's eyes dart down to my left hand and this time it occurs to me what he's looking at²my simple gold engagement ring. and I can't believe how tall he is."Bella?" No one calls me by my nickname anymore. "What are you doing here. isn't it?" "What are you saying? That I planned this? Incredible!" I turn on my heel but Edward reaches out and grabs my shoulder. "Why did you pretend you didn't know me last week?" ." I huff." "Oh really?" "I saw you were talking with Peggy. Oh shit. His jaw clenches. Shrugging him off. "Running away from me again?" I turn around and face him. it's so familiar I stop dead in my tracks. it's none of your business. "But it's a little weird you end up here. in Chicago. I won't let him intimidate me. I have somewhere to be.. but said in Edward's voice. in my class." "That much is clear. I came here to work with Peggy. "I'm not running away.. I back away again.

"Yes. wondering if this is who Edward was texting in class. "Because it's easier. now the awkward third party. "You too.okay? I don't want people to know about my past.. "I need your number." "But you fainted. And I don't want people to know.. I hate the Killers. converse. "We're in the poetry class together. Fine. Edward's eyes focus behind me. Edward gives her a quick nod.His direct question catches me off guard and I'm at a loss for a second." he says. "You ready?" "Yeah." She rolls her eyes." "Nice to meet you." I snap. "Isabella.." "It was the heat." he replies." His tone is dismissive and I'm relieved he's not pursuing this line of inquiry anymore. and he gives a small wave. turning back to me. using my full name again." I say.." I'm standing there. thin. We'll be late. blonde girl approaches. Her hair is closely cropped and she's wearing tight black jeans. She extends her long thin arm to me and I shake her hand. trying to ignore the sharp cut of his jaw as he clenches it again." "Sounds good." he says. He obviously has plans with her. I turn my head as a tall. and you know how Garrett is. and a red Killers t-shirt. Just then. "is Carmen coming?" "She's meeting us there. as sweetly as possible. Really." she says." . her smile faltering just for a second. I'm sure. this is Isabella. "Edward. they're an awful band. we have to get going." she says. addressing Edward with a smile. Short nails with black polish. "Kate." "Okay. "Hey. "Are you sure about that?" The corner of his mouth turns up in a little smirk.

I gotta run." she chants. "and we'll set up a time to meet for the project. so I just nod. in class . You misunderstood me. . but is now looking at Edward with impatience. his eyes distant. "Carmen. late. Edward smiles and shakes his head²it's the first time I've seen him smile. did I?" I'm not convinced. Kate's phone rings and she answers it. She's still on the phone." "Seems like it. laughing loudly and walking a few feet away. I think so." he says with a clipped tone. before . "Have fun with that. then. "Hey." I pick up my bag and Kate gives a halfhearted wave. "Alright. late. "Late. "See ya. "Oh. really smile. Bella?" "Yeah?" What does he want now? "I just wanted to tell you. pulling at him." he replies. "See ya. rattling off the digits by route as Edward punches them into his phone. I take out my phone and do the same. grabbing Edward's arm.Kate arches her eyebrow but I pretend not to notice. which I return equally unenthusiastically. . since he's come back into my life." he says. . I think." His voice is a little softer now." I can't keep the sarcasm from my voice. . Well. I sound like an idiot. Okay. and his face is so beautiful. picking up my bag again." "Right. And before I can reply. I don't know what to say to that. "I'll call you. . I will. Kate is off the phone and bounding over to us." "Oh." I say. I didn't mean that lives aren't worth remembering. Sounds good." God. "Yeah." she mouths to Edward. "And don't you have somewhere to be?" I remember my earlier fib and nod vigorously.

As I've been living without him. But now. all of them engaged in various combinations of studying. I'm so confused by my own behavior.We say goodbye once more and as I walk away I'm proud of myself. He didn't mean them. Suddenly the milk from the coffee weighs heavy and thick in my stomach. Then why do I feel so empty inside? Why do I regret acting so coldly towards him? At the time I felt nothing but annoyance and fear. like it's no big deal. . and I decide I have to go. Chapter 8: September 14th. My traitorous mind replays our encounter again. With other people. I don't know what to think. I pull out my headphones to block some of the din and turn on my iPOD to some Chopin. that's exactly what I need. wondering what Edward is doing right now. 2010 My coffee shop is crammed full of students when I enter. but still I find my mind drifting from the pages of Das Kapital after only a few minutes of reading. it's none of my business.his bare arm. But he left you. That maybe he had something more to say . my nerves on edge from the caffeine. I can't even begin to fathom Edward's.. analyzing. I settle in with the other students. they live. Like it's the easiest thing in the world. but it helps me concentrate. and right now. I don't know what I feel. I don't look back. Who is this Kate to him. only that it had been too short. People don't just freeze in time when they exit your life. Drink in hand. they continue on. and procrastinating on Facebook. And anyway. . but I find an empty seat at the large communal table in back and drop my bag in the chair before heading over to order a cappuccino from the barista. just stored there in my phone. nothing's getting accomplished. After all of these years I have his number. isn't helping my productivity. That we'd been interrupted. He said those horrible things in class. maybe I did. Visions of the long-limbed and attractive Kate pulling on Edward's arm. . he's existed without me. they grow and change. God. listening to music. and with whom. dissecting. and it's strange. with a hundred pages of Karl Marx to read for my theory class.. and who are the other people that were mentioned? Garret and Carmen? All of this time. Marx's prose is pretty clear. faced with this reality. It's not my favorite.

There's only another month or so for this. I pull out my phone and hit the speed dial. They've found a new one. Her father helps her into the back of his boat and hands her a paddle." A couple women jog by. Promontory Point isn't too far from where I live now. and a young girl. the wind whips her hair around her face as she smiles. I remember how my mom and I visited once. I head down east on 55th street towards the tunnel under Lake Shore drive. The breeze over Lake Michigan has picked up and there are seagulls careening overhead. and I never understood as a child. and then it'll be much too cold out here for family outings." she says. I realize he's probably working. More people are out enjoying the cool September afternoon. or caring if they do. The muscles in my legs still ache from time to time.I don't know. it's just like the ocean. I slide out of the hard wooden chair and stand up gingerly.I remember running after the seagulls down on the rocks where the Point meets the lake.. . Jake. and now they think it's their home. My best friend. Maybe call Jake. If I'll ever stop noticing if people look at me.. "Mom. smiling." "Do they miss their home?" "Well. and I wonder if I'll ever get to the point where I'll be comfortable wearing shorts like they're wearing. Their cries sound forlorn.. But I know now it was because of Charlie. My fiancé. It's around two o'clock. one of the few times we ever went to downtown Chicago. so I have to take it a little easy.. "It's so big that the seagulls got confused. but Jake doesn't pick up. and I decide to stow my things back at my apartment and take a walk to the Point. so I leave a message instead. I must have been six or seven. There's a group of kayakers embarking off the revetment²getting closer I see it's a man and woman. wrapping my sweater more tightly around my body as I arrive near the water.Packing up my things again. and I love walking here. maybe eight or nine. still plenty of daylight. talking and laughing. She didn't like going into the city. why are they here and not near the ocean?" "Because this lake is so big.

I quickly grab my coat and bag to join her. We just exchanged numbers and I guess he's gonna call me . well. I've been in a couple classes with her and her close reading skills are next-to-nothing. but I'm pleasantly surprised." Rosalie answers. Though I'm not a big drinker. How did it go with the emo hipster?" Laughing a little at her apt description. getting a beer doesn't sound like a terrible idea. So it went a little longer than I thought." "I like the way you think. Sounds like a plan." "It's fine. and we don't have to wait long for a train. if it makes you feel any better." ~QF~ The atmosphere in my apartment is too quiet. Isabella. Isabella. and so when Rosalie buzzes the intercom at just a little after eight. Maybe two. I listen gladly. When we get to the bar. Fine. . so we take a seat for the ten-minute ride. At least Edward is smart. so are you up for a drink tonight? Say at around 8?" "Definitely. "And the other TA was late. I feel a bit lighter." she explains. Perhaps Rosalie is done with whatever it is she had to do." "At least. I see it's nearly four. so when she prattles on about neighborhoods like Buckwood and Wicker Park. The sun's lower now and glancing at my phone." "Sorry for running off before. "Hey. Rosalie doesn't know that I lived in Elgin as a child. the call of the box under the bed too loud." Rosalie murmurs in sympathy. working with Alison is no picnic. We're just a couple blocks away from the blue line. but I'm not too familiar with the city proper. "I was just about to call you. and then loop around on one of the interior trails. . I had a meeting with Professor Finley. really. It's not too crowded. It's a miracle she's survived her first year of grad school. . very late. "Um. I'm immediately struck by how casual it is. not exactly what I expected from Rosalie. "Yeah. we still have to pick an author and all that." "Hey.I wonder around near the shore.

I do miss him. you can still hear the throaty strains of Leonard Cohen in the background. . my first two years." I say as we enter the warm oak room." Rosalie says. Jake's still back in Forks."I would have seen you as more of a cocktail or wine kind of person. Rosalie seems familiar with the woman behind the bar and orders for us while I stand by. but not many from English. leaning back and taking a long sip of her beer. according to Rosalie. "I'm guessing from that ring on your finger that's not something that interests you. it was just taking up too much time and I wasn't getting the work done the way it needed to be. just recently. it's slightly musty and smells of beer and pub food." "That must be hard. but he's planning on moving out here at the end of the year. like it holds the edge of a secret. "Oh." My hands are wrapped around my pint and I sip tentatively. once we're married. How come he didn't move with you?" The way she puts it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. anyway?" I ask as we settle in a cozy corner nook with two tall pints of dark beer²milk stout. "A lot of graduate students come here. and the walls are decorated with old faded maps and other traveling memorabilia. I needed the money. well . What's your story?" "I'm engaged. The place is pretty crowded. . It's actually a great place to meet guys from other departments. I haven't had much time to think about it. in fact. I'm not nearly as pretentious as I look. ." Rosalie answers. "Being away from the one you love for so long." "Really?" "Yeah. though. "I used to work here." "Oh. since I know nothing about beer and I trust her judgment. Her voice seems wistful. finding the taste of the dark brew surprisingly sweet and pleasant. But I had to quit for this year. it's true. There're over one hundred taps on the far wall. But I've been so busy. "How did you find this place. but it's not too loud.

I really have foot-in-mouth disease. old-fashioned about those things. Even though Jake and I had only become romantically involved a couple of years ago. I've already developed a slight buzz and my head feels a little fuzzy. I'm not religious. "Pretty much every one is where I'm from. but I hated it. "Oh. and Jacob's. "Any guys in your life?" There's a flicker of something in Rosalie's eyes. but not like his dad. Isabella. what is he." she sighs. And no. eager to change the subject. you know. Just smack me when I say shit like that. but I was internally. But I respected his views. And as my godfather. focus on school. I'd seen too many things in my life . okay? You're probably religious too and now I've gone and offended you." I stop myself before explaining further. his dad wasn't pleased about the idea. too many things for it all to make sense. that would only lead to questions there's no way I'm answering. he's Catholic. He's pretty religious. honestly. "Jake's pretty religious."We agreed it was best for me to get settled. . resistant. a little embarrassed now. "I did. Billy felt obligated to lead me in that direction." I take another sip of my beer. He's just a little." "I'm not offended. ." I say." "Oh really? Why? You don't get along?" "No! Nothing like that. "So. . My parents are Baptists. I was born Catholic." "No one in the department interests you?" . like a born again Christian or something?" "No. "I'm not seeing anyone at the moment. the last thing I want her to know is that I grew up with Jacob and Billy . and anyway. I love Billy to death. what about you?" I ask. . if not externally. God. relishing the creamy taste. It's nice." Renee had certainly never taken me. but I never really went to church as a kid." "Shit. but it's gone before I can register the meaning. she might not understand. But really conservative. To even believe in God.

"The MFA's are man-whores . She's actually not that bad. There's Kate Edgewood. since you're new. but I hold my tongue. the department is so incestuous. Steer clear." The dramatic irony of her words is too much. That's another downfall of sleeping around in the department . but I have a feeling they've both been sleeping around. . they've been hooking up on and off. And I don't like that I know I won't like the answer. but they broke up last year. nothing's secret." And before I can stop myself. there's a lot of dating in the department?" "I'll give you the scoop. well." I manage once I've swallowed and cleared my throat. already being committed." God." I desperately want to ask about Kate. "Yeah. It's hard to meet people outside of English. giving my back a light pat. Man. all trendy shirts and indie rock. why did I ask? What's wrong with me? "Yeah. . . Rosalie continues. Bella. I guarantee it." she leans forward conspiratorially. You okay?" Rosalie asks concernedly. . And then there's Carmen Alexandra-she was dating Eleazar Stein²he's in dramaturgy. It's kind of distracting. And it's not just the MFA's. I guess she and Garrett have an open relationship or something. you've already met him. They're your typical writerhipsters. Anyway. you have to see the person all the time. though they're the worst. since those are the people you see every day. But yeah²she and Riley. Really. the words are already out of my mouth² "So. I'm envious of you." "Sorry. "Jesus. And then. Because I know I probably won't like the answer. "They came as a couple last year. "Being in graduate school is like being in suspended adolescence. now she's dating Garrett Stowe. and I slightly inhale the huge mouthful of beer I've just sipped." . I swear. But as if reading my mind. Carmen. No thank you. Just went down the wrong pipe. I'm fine. don't be dying here on me. They're both uber-annoying if you ask me. "Girl. well shit. if something goes badly. so you've said. She's got a huge rack. Kate's always all over Edward."Well. and whore-whores. Everyone knows. and the other girl they were going to meet.

"What is it?" "Edward and company just came in." I'm replaying her words in my head. "It's the hipster bar. and I'm feeling the effects. and Edward. I sense that she's a sweet person underneath and that she too has her secrets. And from the looks of it. and from the sounds of it." "Tell me about it. Good to know. I just want to get out of that bar. scanning the back of the bar for a rear entrance." Rose glances over my head towards the door. "Please. they're all wasted. Ugh. It's more beer than I'm used to. "Oh shit. What the hell are they doing here? This is my bar. Garrett. They drink PBR and act ironically. which is a good thing. I down the rest of my pint in one gulp. A gust of cool air hits my back and wisps my hair." I murmur. "Kate. I've consumed two and a half pints and it's after eleven." I look at her quizzically and she clarifies." It's only Tuesday night. followed by a man's. "Who?" I ask. but I'm substantially buzzed. The drinks and the conversation have brought me out of my head. Riley. A loud female laugh comes from behind me. I don't want to see Edward with his friends. a few blocks down. My heart is hammering in my chest and I can't concentrate on what Rosalie's saying." Suddenly I feel completely sober. The way Kate looked at me when Edward and I exchanged numbers makes sense now. this is killing my buzz. I'm not drunk." . Oh man. She has her sights on him. "Another?" Rosalie asks. "I can't believe they're here."Right. and I know I should be home reading. They must have gotten kicked out of Eclipse. "No. don't turn around!" she hisses just as I'm about to. None is readily apparent. and while she comes off a bit harsh and abrasive. but before I know it. the feeling is probably mutual. Rosalie's great company.

She's the owner of this fine establishment." "Oh. His green eyes focus on Rosalie and me. come on. You know you drink for free here. His back is to me. but I'd know him anywhere. "Come by again. I turn my head slightly and see Edward standing with a group of people near the far corner of the bar. He's seen me." I say." "Edward's been kicked out before. "Well. "Well. "Oh. Unlike some people." "Nonsense." . it's too much. really want to look behind me." I nod in agreement. But you never introduced me to your friend here. it's nice to meet you. this is Isabella. We should probably get going. anyway. Kate is standing next to another boy. it is getting late. Now there's no chance of an unobserved escape. "Please. withdrawing my hand. Rosalie and I approach the bar at the other end and I try to keep my head down and my gaze averted as she asks for the bill. We'll have to at least acknowledge them or we'll seem rude. Immediately. not really knowing if it's true. then he comes over here and harasses me. "we actually have work to do." she says with a wave of her hand and a smile. and it's too late. but she's smiling at Edward. and a black knit cap covers his hair."Oh. "On the house." "No. Rosie." "Pleased to meet you. with a beard and black rimmed glasses." "No." I say. I really. leaving the rest of my beer undrunk on the table and standing up to put on my coat." she says pointedly. As we shake I see Edward turn. Isabella. I'm fine." "Shel. Shel. I glance back at Shel. Shel." Shel says." "Maybe we should get the tab? You don't look so good." the short woman behind the bar says. extending my hand. presumably Garrett.

But how should I act? I have no idea if our dynamic is shifting. "Oh . He nods abruptly. . Rosalie. though she glances over the instant that Edward approaches. "Hey Kate. But now Edward and his friends are stationed at a high top table right next to the exit." . . Lucky us. and I'm stupidly shocked by the sound of his voice and his sudden proximity. "Quick. Let's make a fast getaway. Another look at his face tells me with hooded eyes and a slight smirk that he's quite drunk." "You?" "What?" "You make your appointment?" I nod towards Kate and his friends." We make introductions and all the while I'm so conflicted about what to do. "That's good." "That's good. We're partners now. Rosalie is talking to Riley. taking a swig of his pint. but I can see he's not too steady on his feet."Oh. "Hey. moving to stand next to me. Edward's weaving a little." he says. "Did you take care of your errand?" "I'm sorry." she whispers in my ear after we've said our goodbyes to her former boss. "getting to see you two twice in one day." Rosalie directs her comments to Edward and Riley. I don't know how to respond to him. "Isabella." I promise while Rosalie dons her coat and hat." Kate says as we approach. yeah. I will. it's not very perceptible. Garrett. what?" I'm momentarily confused by his question until I recall our earlier conversation. and Kate and Garrett seem to be having a secret conversation. or what our dynamic even was in the first place.

I recognize him. that old bitterness creeping back into my voice. . "Forget it. They're engaged in some sort of debate over whether publishing or student teaching is more important on a C. . could a conversation be more painful? I'm furious with Rosalie for talking with Riley." "Oh really?" I ask. . it was your birthday."I was thinking ." Edward replies. . husband . "Hmmm . . to say to end this awkward silence. ." "What? Why?" He's getting a little louder now and Kate's watching us closely. "We're going to have to meet or something.V." I offer. ." he says. anything. The change in his demeanor is disarming. "I was thinking yesterday." "You were thinking it was my birthday?" "I thought about you . ." Edward says. It's the old Edward peaking through. What's you schedule like?" Nothing. "Did your ." "Engaged?" Edward's confused face is only inches from mine. . and it's like he's not even listening to me. . . his words slightly slurred. I'm engaged. "Um. "Did you have a good birthday?" Edward asks lowly. She's a little drunker than I thought. on your birthday." I mumble. "We should probably decide on what we want to do for our class.God. turning away from him to grab Rosalie. "But your name?" "I changed it." "Ahh. why isn't he with you?" He spits the last five words and I flinch. There's a flicker in his eyes. I'm not married yet. I was busy. "It was good. It's a shock he remembered at all. trying to think of something.

But people change. emptying it. Of course he remembers the book he gave me ." "Apparently. "Why don't you take an educated guess." "Really? Are you an expert?" "Something like that. Or at least that's what you said."Edward. . which are hooded and a little unfocused. "What?" "That's what we should present. I don't really feel like discussing this right now. but it doesn't reach his eyes." "Thank you." "That doesn't work. of course. but next summer. when's the big day?" He asks and his voice is different again." "I see. When?" "When I turned 18." I retort." "Why?" he asks again. "I used to. . "Seems like you wanted to leave your past behind. even though I've already told him no." I cover for my internal cringe at his suggestion. Sitting down with Edward and reading the poems that remind me of him doesn't sound like a great idea. I can't keep up with him." "You changed your name. So." "Songs of Innocence and Experience." "Maybe I did. ." He acts as if he hasn't heard me. Congratulations. He drinks deeply from his glass. "We don't have a date yet. Probably July. don't you think?" He's smiling now.' he says suddenly. "I thought you didn't like Blake.

'Kubla Khan." "I'm trying to be." "I always thought . Now the spell is broken."I was thinking maybe we'd do someone else. Sorry. "Edward.." Why do I offer him this? "Right.. not understanding his drunken non sequitur.wa. an English professor isn't exactly a doctor. Edward grabs my arm." I suggest. reminding me that I've been waiting for her.. ." "If I make it. I've been engaged in a non-hostile conversation with Edward Cullen and I haven't even realized it." He's off again on another track. not writing a doctoral thesis." "But you will be. and anyway." I wave goodbye to the rest but before I'm out the door.. "Nothing. "What's that supposed to mean?" For the last couple minutes. ." "Hmmm." "And you're a writer.' what is there to say about it that hasn't been said?" "We're just leading a class discussion. you ready to go?" Rosalie says." "Hey. "Yeah.. "What? "Writing one." he mutters. maybe Coleridge. ." he scoffs. You'll be a doctor. you'd be a great writer someday. "You did?" I shake my head and furrow my brow. "Oh.

just as I turn to go. and it's close to Forks. for a change." ~QF~ I'm quiet for the train ride and. . they weren't sure I'd . so is Rosalie." I reply. Rosie. Edward hasn't been to see me." Billy's voice is kind but I hate his words. feeling heavy and sleepy from my waning buzz. not you too!" she groans. Doctor Cullen was in and said that Edward wasn't feeling well and he thought it best for him to stay away. That sounds fine with me. and that's where we're going to be living. and my phone vibrates. Flipping it open. . "Oh. I'm surprised to see a text from Edward." she says. . ~QF~ "You're being transferred to a hospital in Seattle tomorrow. Isabella. "Thanks. but it's been four days since I woke up. it's so nice to see you again. She hugs me at the gate to my building and promises to get in touch during the weekend. "You bet. Goodnight. using my nickname with an irritating familiarity. . "Shel's going to Hell for this. . How sick can he be? They said I was in a coma for three days . I think as I read the message filled with typos." I turn to go inside. That's where Jacob goes to school. When I'm upstairs turning the key in my door. then snap my phone shut. "Bella.He releases my arm as Kate sidles up. . when we work togther. remembering the term of endearment I'd heard before. . There's a skin specialist there. Another message from Edward. it vibrates again. "But my name is Isabella." I tease. since I was so liable to infection . Maybe it's for the bst if we dont talk about the past.

" I reply. . I know. touching my head. Doctor Cullen has arranged for your transfer. She didn't tell me why Edward wasn't with her. it's even worse. "I know this is hard. I must look hideous. . They're going to take real good care of you. "But Edward . Jacob doesn't say much. I'm in so much pain. and it hurt my throat. Jacob. When she left she was crying. Billy sighs and sits down in the chair next to my bed. I don't know if it's because he doesn't know where Edward is or because he's saying 'no.Alice came to visit yesterday and stayed for an hour. You want to heal properly. keeping his eyes trained on the TV. I've noticed that he has a pronounced limp. My voice has improved just a little. but I haven't asked about . you're going to need surgery before your wounds heal too thoroughly.' All this time I'm aware of another presence: Billy's son. And the pain of leaving my friends . but she hugged me and told me she loved me. he knows one of the doctors there. I snuck a piece. but it still hurts to talk²I can't manage to make much sound come out. but the doctors say it will get better. the constant morphine drip is the only thing that alleviates it. using his cane to lower him." I protest weakly. Why isn't he here again? Billy just shakes his head." he says. I try and sit up in the bed. "But I want to stay in Elgin. But Isabella. and the burn care unit at Harborview is the best in the country. the tears welling hotly. "I know. She brought me a comfy sweatshirt and some candy. The audience claps and cheers. but the thought of moving anywhere is awful. but find the movement difficult. ." I struggle to wrap my mind around what Billy's saying. . I couldn't taste it really. "But it's necessary. Isabella. Billy sees what I want and uses the remote control switch to help me. tuned to some game show." My head is so confused. . The television is on. and. . but he's there in the room and somehow his presence is comforting. even though I'm not allowed to eat it yet. don't you?" "Yes. Edward . her face as white as a ghost.

I remember from my mom's pictures that he was once in a wheelchair. He was a good father. before or since. that he'd died. . he adds. I'm not trying to take the place of your dad. I was in a wreck-a pretty bad one. I knew your dad for fifteen years. like it's painful to continue. . "Shhhh. . Renee . But I hope you'll consider Jacob and me here as family. and I took that vow seriously. I'm seeing him now in a whole new light. "But when you were a little girl. He loved you and your mom." He stops again. when I was very young. I prayed. but he was always a loyal friend. Your dad was the first one on the scene . Isabella. Even though there's grey in his hair. But I prayed. Renee never really . when I found out what happened to Charlie .. . I've never met a better man. and he's wiping my face with a tissue. Once. and in all my life. "My dad?" Billy smiles and chuckles. That's how close me and your folks were back before they moved away. And just in time too. and do the best thing by you. . Billy's face is young. . pulled me out of the car. your dad was there during all that time.but he has the voice. and then again when I found out your father . "You see. . . And I promise. "All right now. . if the doctors think this is the best thing. adjusting . I know it's going to be hard. He saved my life. when I was sixteen. I'm going to stay true to my word. Isabella. I can't help but wonder what happened to him. The doctors said I might never. "There have been times in my life where I found myself questioning His will." This is the most I've heard of Charlie. .it. not much older than you. ." Billy's voice trails off. very much. . and. but you'll like Forks. "Sometimes the ways of God are difficult for us to comprehend. . "I couldn't walk. or your mom. "We had some disagreements over the years. Mom never really . "Well." After a second. and I want more. just a baby. then so be it. So." Billy says. well. all right now. . He was a hero. Isabella." he says. ." "What was he like?" I ask hoarsely. . It's a contradiction I can't quite understand. "Did you know that you and Jacob used to be the best of friends?" . A good husband.. and the attitude of someone much older. Did you know that?" I shake my head. I agreed to be your guardian if anything should happen to your parents.

I don't really remember. Those are not my legs. . even unrecognizable under a char of blistering red and black. no. that it looks this way. rooting there. but they are. . but nothing. not even to get better. Then sleep. as seek to quench the fire of love with words. I won't leave them. But I already have friends. there's a nurse . I can't breathe. not even if I do somehow trust and like this man and his son . Friends . ." ±William Shakespeare Chapter 9: September 21. My hand claws at my throat. My legs are covered but I remember catching a glimpse when the nurse changed the dressing and vomiting. . She's so still. her long hair spilling down her shoulders and over her white nightdress. How could someone ever love this body? It hits me with startling clarity even in the fuzz of my drug-altered mind. It's wrapped in bandages. No.another injection. Hello? My mouth forms the word. but I am suffocating. 2010 A woman stands with her back towards me. . and I know with certainty why Edward hasn't come. but a breeze I cannot feel ruffles her garment. "Isabella?" Billy asks.I shake my head. . And I vomit again . Vomiting because there's no way this is my body .I don't want to leave . . . . . . The woman doesn't stir. She cannot hear me. ."are you alright?" No. willing air in. . . gauze. . She looks cool. Edward. peaceful. . no. Someone else's body. They are because I can feel them. "As soon go kindle fire with snow. but no sound comes out . I look down at my body. Why isn't he here? Does he know I'm leaving? Does he care? An ache settles deeply in my chest. No . . . I won't leave Edward. Alice. making it even harder to breathe.

curling. ." ." Billy's gravelly voice is a welcome sound in my ears." I reply.All around is darkness and there is no sound.. noting the time on my alarm . and without bidding. No sound but the growing roar. more than anything else in my life. MOOOOOOOMMMM! I awake panting. They're stuck. "Hey sweetheart. the dull crackle and pop and hiss. But the remnants of the dream stay with me like poison as I shower and start my day. "I'm okay. I don't want to worry him. anything to hold on . And suddenly I'm petrified of that sound. I take a step towards the woman. I don't sleep. . drenched in a cold sweat. trying to control the quiver in my voice. tears well in my eyes. Realizing with a panic that I'm slowly sinking into them mire. . shaking. Mom? The woman does not turn. a red ribbon. she begins to walk away and I feel my feet lose whatever purchase they have. . . are you okay?" "Yeah. immobilized in some filthy. 9:00. it makes me feel at home. and now I've slept way later than I wanted to. "Hey Billy. since class is in an hour. The inky blackness of the sky is interrupted by something falling. except for something low and growling in the distance . . vile substance. I must've forgotten to set it. but still no sound. You know me. ." "It's early. I reach my hand out to catch it . MOOOMMMM! Without turning her head. you know you can call anytime. I try again to lift my leg. it's growing. . as inch by inch I'm drawn into the dark depths of sludge. Sunlight is peeking in through the blackout curtains and I reach over to flip on my bedside light." "Well.. but my feet won't move. I scream with force that wells and bubbles. I just wanted to hear your voice. and I know there's only one thing that'll shake it.

." "Ahh. fine. "So how are you? Is Jake there?" "You just missed him. someone's stuck out on 41 and needs a tow. "She's good. pull me under."I know. If you don't sleep." "Awww." "That's good. Old Gertie. that thing is creeping in . fine. Isabella. I'm so proud of you. that thing that comes at night. getting my books ready for class. It's been pretty busy. unfortunately. "Sure isn't the same around here without you. ." he says wistfully. that sounds real good." And this time my voice does choke up. but I try not to think of that as I wander around my apartment. I haven't really had to drive much. Jake misses you. how's that old truck of yours holding up?" Since I've moved. but I've got my stuff unpacked. "Well. you don't dream. He got a call from Sam. ." "Speaking of tows." "He says your classes are going real well." "Thanks. threatening to take hold of me. It's already the third week of graduate school. Billy. we miss you. Billy always knows the right thing to say. but sometimes I'm jealous. kid. My apartment's starting to feel a little lived in." There's so much I'm omitting." "And how're YOU getting settled in?" "Oh. and I haven't seen Billy or Jake in almost a month." Billy's insomnia has plagued him for years. Now that the stress of the initial move has worn off. Your dad and your mom would be. so far . She's settling in. sits parked in a monthly lot about a block from my apartment." "I miss you too." "They are. . as I affectionately call her. too. picking up discarded clothes from the night before and placing them in my hamper. ." "Well.

When she asks what Edward and me are doing and I tell her we haven't chosen yet. especially because I'm supposed to be concentrating on schoolwork. Bye. the sooner the better." "Alright. . Rosalie and I make small talk as we hurry on the way to class. She's been in touch with Alison. I wonder if he expected me to. Do I reply? Answer him in class? Ever since the night at the bar last week. but then I really have to go. just as I'm about to slip my phone in it vibrates-probably Rosalie downstairs telling me to hurry the hell up. . Yes.'" It's almost 9:45. but he hasn't until now. That boy doesn't know what to do with himself without you around.We talk for another couple of minutes. or I'm going to be late again. Jogging down the stairs towards the door. or to call. The problem is we haven't decided on an author or presentation date yet. I've half-expected him to text again. so I punch out a quick message before I lose my nerve. and today's the day we'll be signing up in class. Can I handle doing it? And if I refuse. and I grab my bag. My heart pounds in my chest as I consider what to do." Billy says. and Rosalie figures no one else will want that date. and they've chosen to present on Christina Rossetti²she's on the syllabus for October 5th²only two weeks away. Hi. "I'll tell Jacob you called. I wonder if he remembers suggesting Songs of Innocence and Experience . We need to get this over and done with. how will Edward react? Will he think I'm refusing out of spite. . it's becoming a little tiresome. "You should give him a ring later. I will. Can you meet today after class? It's a text from Edward." "Bye darlin. Indecision is only making me later. or because I really can't handle it. during lunch. I can. Why the hell does he want to do it anyway? To torture me? To send some kind of message? These are the same thoughts that've been swirling around in my mind all week.

" "Yeah." His voice is terse."Well. yes?" We sign up counter-clockwise. "you got my message. and now there's only one next to Edward. my lungs a bit constricted. "Hi. The table's not suited for 13 people. Rue and Riley have signed up for Coleridge. so by the time the list gets to Edward and me. Edward turns to face me. and my defenses kick in immediately. "What? Why?" Peggy interrupts his reply. Edward holds the sign-up sheet and considers it carefully. Keats and Wordsworth left. As I watch him. Everyone will have more time to prepare." By the time we arrive. But I hope you understand. trying to ignore how close we are to each other. since we'll need time at the beginning of the semester to get into the swing of things before studentled discussions." he murmurs." I'm a little out of breath. Rosalie quickly takes the one next to Alison. "So. and I wonder just for a split second if Edward put him up to it. I know. You should talk to him before class." I hear Rosalie sigh a little and I know she's upset she won't get to do Rossetti. whirling into the room in that way she has. I'll ask that you select one of the last eight weeks of class. you better! You have about five minutes. there are only three dates left. so space is limited." "I know." "I didn't think you'd respond. taking out her folder and holding up a copy of the syllabus. and I'm sorry. there're only two seats left. I think it'll be better this way. "I know I told you to pick any week you wanted. dropping his pen and closing the notebook he's writing in. . I round the table quickly and drop into it. He puts his pen to his lip. "Hi. "The first thing we're going to do is sign up for presentation dates." he says. There's just Blake.

.casting a side-glance at me before scribbling our names down next to Keats. . There's no longer the necessary element of fear required to inspire the emotional outpourings of the Romantics. A flood of remembrance . we've read Edmund Burke." Her eyes dart to the two of us for a second. "Well. and then pass the list over to Peggy on my left. The movement is almost imperceptible. I'm ready. I nod and Peggy smiles." Our class is scheduled for October 19th. and I actually have to grab a hold of my own leg to stop myself. I want to refute him. Riley's a city boy. . but I can see it sitting this close to him. Looking forward to it. Or a fire . then sliding it over to me with a raised eyebrow. but suddenly I'm incredibly nervous. just a little over a month away. I have this incredible impulse to reach out and still it. We open up our anthologies and Peggy starts asking some leading questions. a slight smile on his face that fades quickly as he looks away. "Interesting. even though he's my specialty? Does she think I capitulated to Edward? "Everyone happy with their choices?" she asks. He's looking for my approval. I nod slightly. Isabella and Edward will be the first to go. Edward's eyes are still on me when I turn back. The class emits a few murmurs of acquiescence and Edward's eyes meet mine." Peggy says. There's something in the way he looks at me . along with some poems by one of my favorite Romantics. I don't know what it is . and I wonder what she's thinking . This time. sealing our fate. Today. Peggy tucks the list away. He's obviously never been cliff diving or caught in a snowstorm during a mountain hike. clearly. glancing over the list. then. . . and directs us to today's topic. is she wondering why we're not doing Blake. if Edward wants to bring it. Percy Bysse Shelley. Riley launches in immediately to some nonsense about how the sublime is dead because we're no longer in awe of nature's power. and the table's vibrating slightly. . we're continuing our discussion of the sublime. I hadn't even considered the fact that we'd be presenting first. but I'm distracted by Edward's bouncing leg. since it featured heavily in my undergraduate thesis. just like I used to do when we were young. . His poem 'Mont Blanc. . "Alright.' is one I'm thoroughly familiar with.

I'll tell you. What he means is not being able to comprehend the vastness of something. She's speaking with enthusiasm. sitting in his room after school. It's too great for the human mind. they must be in the middle of an argument. Mont Blanc was the ultimate embodiment of Burke's sublime. And perhaps there is something to be said for Riley's earlier point. I'll tell you and make sure you never write again." Peggy affirms." "Exactly. I can see Rosalie trying to control the rolling of her eyes. trying to wipe the memory from my mind.. vastness. is he nervous? I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. Looking down the table. . Something dead lurches and stutters inside of me. But it's so tenacious. But that doesn't mean you have to agree with the poet's vision. Why does he have to be here? Make me remember these things? "But for Shelley and the rest of the Romantics." "You will. it encompasses all of the aspects that Burke writes about in his treatise²the power. . "But if it is. and his eyes are focused on the text in front of him. . I chastise myself for not paying attention. Is there a . Rosalie. at once so endearing and so infuriating. Edward's nervous habit." Rosalie's voice shakes me out of my near stupor. "That's what Shelley's trying to get across in his poem. Minty. . will you? And how may I ask.. It won't let go. ." There's a hot clenching in my chest and I force myself back to the present. . It's the highest peak in the French Alps. and even the obscurity of nature. For me. flickers of a conversation from long ago . He's so close I can feel his warmth and smell his smell. .overcomes me . infinity. listening to music . It doesn't mean you can't see-it's that conflict between seeing something and not being able to process what you're seeing. His jaw is clenched and smoothly shaven. I try to calm my racing heart and focus on her remarks. Does he still eat those green tic-tacs? I used to tease him 'cause he always had a pack in his pocket. will you do that?" "I have my ways. He said he liked to keep his breath fresh. A little spicy. "That's not what he means by obscurity. "Obscurity? But it's a mountain. Very Edward." "If it is. It's so visible." Alison replies. .

. a mountain perhaps. "Well. Good. he makes it clear he's speaking about 'the everlasting universe of things. and earth. video. the incomprehensible. It's Shelley trying to come to grips with his own perception of the divine. the way I see it.." "Really..sense. Isabella? How?" Peggy asks amusedly. as incomprehensible?" Suddenly. that he sees embodied in it. nature is just a blank canvass that's filled in by human thoughts. He's outlining his poetic vision and the mountain itself is only a muse. If to the human's mind's imaginings Silence and solitude were vacancy?' "If we weren't able to see meaning in 'silence' and 'solitude. "And he's staking a claim for his importance as a poet. I have a thought.' isn't really about the mountain at all. for the importance of all poets²it's only those who 'deeply feel.' This is what the mountain inspires in him²thoughts about what lies beyond human understanding. and stars." .. 'Mont Blanc. inhabits thee! And what were thou. that with photography. It's all subjective. And Shelley sees it as the job of the writer to do just that.] The secret strength of things Which governs thought. that we're no longer able to see something. Even in the first line. she's not offended. And before I can stop myself." Peggy murmurs and nods. "I think that's almost besides the point.' who are able to harness the powers of their imagination to see beyond the visible. encouraging me to continue. Really. There's no meaning inherent in anything unless we put it there. all of the technology we possess now. to make us feel.that's what he means by the final lines: "[.' then the mountain would signify absolutely nothing. and sea. and to the infinite dome Of heaven is as a law. the words are out of my mouth.

You'd be shocked at how little effort some of these kids put into it." Her eyes drift off to the side. my friend. "You." "Sounds like fun. since I'd been certain Edward would find something wrong with my analysis. I'm supposed to be meeting with Edward. raising his head and leaning back. First quizzes. You need to develop your sense of selfimportance. his brow a little tense." "Well. believe me. I see. As we filter out into the hall. Peggy seems a little surprised too." "It's terrible. anyway. we're reading Heart of Darkness and they think Africa's a country. I have no idea what to make of him. Blech." He's still in the classroom talking to someone. I know. "Ohhhh. He's so confusing . you're in academia now."Someone's been reading their Derrida in the first year Theory seminar." he says. . She laughs. "Edward? Did you have something to add?" I glance at Edward and he's looking down at his anthology. Rosalie comes up behind me. poking me in the side. Okay. "I agree with Isabella's reading. I have a ton of grading to do. are one smart cookie. "Actually. "Anyone else?" The rest of the class passes by in a blur as I try to make sense of Edward's ever-changing attitude towards me." I blush a little bit and shake my head. . "Very perceptive. . or you'll never survive. Isabella. So." Peggy jokes." "I know. It's never been one of my strong suits." I'm shocked. no. I mean. I can't." She shakes her head. "You also need to learn how to take compliments. Sounds good. you wanna go grab lunch?" "Actually.

damn it. It's horrible. sister. "So. if I even should." Rosalie says as he approaches. . where should we go?" I ask." "It's nothing."Kids these days." After Rosalie's departure." Edward's finally making his way to the door. He's a real charmer. "So. "Pretty quiet in class today. okay?" "Okay. "I figured you were doing enough talking for us all. zipping up his hoodie and glancing over at me. I didn't really want to do the Blake either. "Yeah. I think that'll be good." "Coffee sounds good. It's another beautiful day with a clear blue sky . Once upon a time our relationship was as easy as breathing. and the library probably isn't the best idea if we're going to be talking. as I usually do in his presence. not missing a beat. How different things are now. they're his. I doubt I'll be able to eat with Edward. it's just Edward and me. His green eyes." . and my stomach clenches again . foreign yet familiar. But the silence between us is deafening and I don't know what to do to bridge the gap. "I don't know. they're so strange. and now I can't think of a thing to say. ." he remarks." Somehow. We start to walk without talking. ." I play along. ." "Then why did you suggest it?" He shrugs. Call me later. you're okay with the Keats?" he asks. Thank you. "You said it. Isabella. Edward. "Good luck with this one. I feel incredibly awkward. One moment they're a stranger's and the next. a day I'd normally enjoy very much. Rosalie rolls her eyes dramatically and sighs. I was drunk. "Coffee? Lunch? We could go to the library.

What's the question?" "Are you . Okay? And then we'll be done with it." I say quickly. even though I know it's true. And Edward is standing so close to me I can see the rise and fall of his broad shoulders as he breathes. "And I know you don't want to work with me. . "I agree with you. either.. "Can I just ask you one question?" We're in the middle of the sidewalk outside the coffee shop and people are passing by. a hurt expression marring his features." "Hmmm. I don't know what to say to you. It's getting longer again. even as I attempt to rein it in. that's why I sent you that text message the other night. I don't ." I confess. trucks rattling along with their cargo." "Don't. alright?" His voice is low and a little shock runs through me when he reaches out and touches my arm. I know. Not a lot. "And you think it's not weird for me?" "I never said that. ." "Look." I don't want to hear him confirm what I've just said. okay?" His pace quickens a little. I flinch back instinctively and he removes his hand. . running his fingers through his hair agitatedly. . We'll just keep it professional. if you can't tell. I know she's been telling you shit about me.." I can't keep the hurt from my voice. She doesn't like me. . "It's just weird for me. . Not that you like me either. and I find it hard to keep up with his long strides. . more like I remember it. I know you don't want to do this project with me. The years have proven that well enough. please? Let's just not do this. "That depends."Do you get that way a lot?" "Sometimes." "Bella." He pauses on the sidewalk. "Bella. I just. I don't really care what Rosalie says. I . You won't have to talk to me anymore. Cars are honking.

" He leaves the rest unsaid. . We've tacitly agreed to a truce. You don't have to answer me. an undeniable sadness in his voice I don't know how to read. so thankful. I'm talking about the present." We enter. No one wants to set the bar. "Do you want some?" he asks. Bella. Blueberry." ." he says. "Shall we go in?" I ask. they're quiet." "I'm surprised no one else signed up for him." I comment. finding a seat near the door. and Edward asks what I'd like. He sits and washes down a bite of cake with a sip of coffee. but when the words come out. he returns with our drinks and a muffin on a plate." "You sure? There's different stuff up there. I insist on giving him cash for my tea. taking out my course materials and settling down to work. it's the first presentation date. he'll never really see me. Thanks. And whose fault is that? I want to snap at him. His eyes dart down. Okay? See?" I spread out my arms. Scones. Keats."I thought you didn't want to talk about the past. I'm fine. "Sure. hugging my arms around my body and securing my bag." I whisper. and I'm thankful." "Okay. but he waves it off. "I don't. clearing his throat. Soon. "I'm fine. ." he says. tearing my eyes away from his moving mouth. His favorite. croissant?" "I'm fine. It's just that I never thought I'd see you again and I . "No. "So. and I decide it's better just to go along with it. And all I can think of was how he once downed an entire tray of my blueberry muffins in one sitting. "Well. His absence gives me a minute to reestablish my equilibrium. probably noticing the way I'm staring at him. stepping back. Does he want to see scars? Horrible disfigurement? What does he want to see? "Okay.

or high?" "What do you think?" "High. Edward takes another sip of his coffee.like a PowerPoint or something. where do we start?" "Well. and I've always wanted to go to Europe. You know. It was just after college. and my eyes widen." He smiles widely." "That's not a bad idea. Stayed in a cheap room in Trastevere." he says..." "So. That's great. The Edward I knew had no interest in foreign languages." I'm impressed despite myself. Something to get people's attention. yet here he is speaking like a native." The words roll of his tongue in a fluent Italian. or if he had friends there. "Wow. I've never been out of the country.unforgettable. "That's amazing. to gain some experience for my writing. Are we going to lead a roundtable discussion like Peggy. I did a little traveling in Spain and Portugal as well. "Learned a little Italian." "It was.." His humility indicates he didn't mean to show off."Should we set it low. And the house where he died near the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti. I guess first we need to decide what we want to talk about.. "I even have some pictures of Keats's grave in Rome we could use. but his eyes seem far away. "I spent a summer in Rome.with your writing?" .. "Definitely. "And did it help.. "How did you afford that?" "I kinda worked illegally." The atmosphere seems heavy again." he explains." I wonder if he was alone. or are we going to use some other format?" "I was thinking we could maybe bring in some other media. somewhat sheepishly.

saving all of the money to help pay for other college expenses." I say. and we figure both of us have to do some close readings before we talk again. Bronze hair shining. despite some initial awkwardness. . and how much of that was just Jake being Jake." "That makes sense. The only reason I was able to was because I had grades good enough to give me a scholarship. Edward and I talk about some of the ideas we'd like to discuss and the format. and when we part it's not as tense as it's been. in my memory. "The University of Pennsylvania. I'd never know. But instead of feeling relief. Charlie's pension had transferred to me when my mom died. but Jake insisted he didn't want to go anyway. "We'll use some of your pictures to set the scene. walking away. I just figured I needed to get outside of the U. He says he understands but sometimes. a clawing melancholy settles over me. He gives a crooked smile and a little wave before turning round and walking down the block to catch his train. not elaborating further. the meeting hasn't gone as badly as I expected it to. We decide to meet at the same time next week after class. I've always wondered if Jake resented me about the college thing. I need to be here. "So. Billy didn't have the money to send Jake to school. Long stride. since he didn't go. it seems like maybe he doesn't. and I'd received it until I was 18.S. I hate that it's my fault. Jake's called and his voice does sound sad. bringing the conversation back to the topic at hand. Hands in pockets." He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. ~QF~ Back at my apartment."Yeah. Where did you go to college?" My curiosity is getting the better of me. How much of that was the truth. Always. All in all. but we still have to decide on what poems to focus on. Any other interactive media? Wasn't there a movie about Keats that just came out?" For the next hour. It was only three months. To some extent. I check my messages.

like there's someone else living in my body. I'm just a little out of it. school. will you?" "I will.I call him back and catch him on his lunch break." I whisper to the air. Sorry. "I love Sam like a brother. I'm reading Keats and I'm thinking of someone I shouldn't be thinking of. At all." "You sound a little weird. but my talk with Jake hasn't improved my mood." "Yeah. I'll let you get to it. but he just really messed up this time. you know? And with her own cousin. I have so much work. It's fine." "Oh right. and we chat for a while about work. changing the topic. My mind's just on school. He tells me that Billy's back is bothering him again. "Only 90 more days. But she'll pull through. "I love you." "Bye babe. well." "Okay. "That's insane! I always thought they were so in love. the cheese cloying. Bye. Is everything alright?" "Yeah. I love you. she's having a rough time. Of course! Don't mind me. okay?" "Okay. And that Sam Uley left Leah Clearwater for her cousin Emily. silly." he says." "That must be horrible for her. Call me if you need anything. the garage." "Jake?" I ask." "Hmm?" "Ninety days till you're home for Christmas. I still feel strange. but he's already hung up." "Leah's devastated. then. The crackers are fresh but seem stale on my tongue." "Give her my love. though. But he keeps waltzing into my thoughts with his strange moods and . I make myself a little snack of crackers and cheese and settle down to read. Hey!" he says. She's strong.

I asked and Billy pulled to the side of the road. hazy . He didn't come to see me . . a trick of light . all those years I cried and waited for him. A piece of me missing. Billy's house is on the Quileute reservation. my burden. For one thing. though I bring it with me wherever I go. For the life of me I can't fathom why. and vice versa. . those would've been the answers I'd have received. It looked like a woman's figure. It looked a lot colder than I imagined it would . close to the sea. I sit down on my bed to read. Maybe the Blake would've been better. There is some farmland here. Songs of Innocence and Experience. I open the box and finger the two books inside. Today. but I didn't say anything about it. . What I've always loved about it is how Blake manages to blend these two states of being in his poetry²so that the poems of the "innocent" suggest experience. he never contacted me . . It's so weird. I pressed my palm against the cold. "Here lies one whose name was writ in water. her dress and hair wild in the wind. . Isn't that the truth of human life? There is a box under my bed. So far I've only seen it once from the backseat of the car on the way home from my latest operation. Just the foaming of the waves. the paper yellowed from time and slightly charred at the edges. . . there're a lot more trees. I haven't opened it in over a year.. dying slowly. I've never lived near the ocean. My treasure. like he's holding a grudge against me for some reason. . The last thing I want to read right now are love poems. making it even harder to see. Damn Edward. . misty .enigmatic words.. It's a blue notebook. The only thing I have left from the fire. Picking up one of them. 2010 Forks is nothing like Elgin. Edward's writing. the real ocean. cold glass as my breath fogged it. I give in. and damn Keats."²John Keats Chapter 10: September 28th. .what an apt title. but otherwise it's nothing like Illinois. I thought there was something white floating above the water in the distance. . . and now that's all that's on my mind. .

I don't want to fall behind. but that I remember our promise to always be friends. Instead. It's like he never even existed at all . or that I've stopped existing. being home schooled. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today is Friday and Jake has a half-day of school since it's the day before spring vacation. He's in the ninth grade. I'm sitting in the living room with my notebook on my lap. But he doesn't remember it. Anyway. I know that term. and I'm more than a little curious. That's another thing I've started noticing: people talking about me like I'm not even in the room and can't hear them. Only I won't be back at school for a while. and what's happening to me isn't in the past. far too late . Post means past. out in the waiting room. and the rest of the time I work on my own. I'm glad to be out of the hospital. About my new friend Jake. Later. since Billy works at the pawn shop in Forks and Jake goes to school.But I believe in ghosts. that I love and miss them. It's not so bad. trying to save me. It's nicer here than in Seattle. and the doctors say it's necessary since my legs are liable to infection as they're still healing. I'm tired of people treating me like a child and an invalid. Dear Alice. I heard her talking to Billy. and I don't complain. and I just sat quietly. I see my mother burning. I try to save her. . if I ever did. what it's like here. He never replies. hoping she'd go away. every day. I tell them everything. I write to Edward and Alice almost every day. even when I don't feel like it. and I'm writing a letter to Alice. but I don't have it. but letters. just like me. I tell him that I understand he doesn't want me to be his girlfriend anymore. She started asking me questions about my mom and the fire. another kind of doctor came in the room to see me²a psychologist. But I'm too late. Letters and letters. . though. when I don't feel like a child anymore. . I tell Edward that I still have his notebook and that I'll keep it for him in a safe place until I see him again. and why. . Not stories. not once. It's here. He said he had a surprise for me. I'm alone a lot. The last time I went for a checkup at Port Angeles General. and so I work really hard. I write. a tutor comes three times a week. it hurts to walk even five months afterward. she says. .

. he snatches one up." He sits down next to me. But even in my agony I stick up for my friends. His eyes dart from me to the crumpled sheets on the ground. crumpling it in my hands and tossing it on the floor. and it's so frustrating I start to cry. Alice? I thought we were best friends. I'm tired of crying over people who don't give a damn about me. looking at me sadly. But he reads it anyway. "Don't!" I protest. trying to catch my breath from the crying. and I sit up on the sofa. It hurts for me to say this. He must've peaked in." he says." I whisper. "You don't know that. you don't. wiping my face with the back of my hand and reaching for my cane. . what day would you choose? There are a lot of days I'd like to change. and I tear the sheet from the notebook. I start again but that letter meets the same fate. A minute or so later Jacob appears with a huge grin on face that falls the minute he sees mine. Just like Billy's." "No. I'm not doing anything. I'm crying again and I wish he'd go and leave me alone. Mostly because I know they're true. . I miss you guys so much. . It's a terrible letter. But I don't understand. and before I can stop him. Why won't you write me. . And anyway.If you could go back to any day and have a do-over. "Yes. But .they cut deeply." His words are shocking . Some days I wish I never met you. I can't think of anything to say anymore that doesn't end in bitterness. they don't want you anymore. "Bella . I sit back down. no! Don't get up!" Jacob calls from the other room." "I need to do this. "You can't keep doing this to yourself. You are. The sound of the door opening startles me. I have to write to them. "No. He doesn't say anything else for a . . You don't know anything." "That wasn't yours to read.

There's an assignment due in my Lit theory class. "you want your surprise?" I nod and he gets up and retreats to the hall. I'm mad at him. Jake. "So. but I can't bring myself to shrug it off. and I hear something rustling in the hall. and I reach my finger out tentatively. "I'm sorry. but the teacher got sick. My tears have slowed a bit and Jacob grabs me a tissue. . you know. "This is Finch ." he says. He regards it carefully. I figured you might like a little company. I wonder if he knows there's a wider world out there. or if he's happy in his small prison. . but is seemingly unalarmed. Jacob places the cage on the side table next to me. and I'm finding the reading a little more difficult than I expected.while." ~QF~ For the rest of the week after my meeting with Edward I try to buckle down and do my work. No one. My curiosity is peaked again. sticking it through the narrow bars of the cage. I hole myself up in . clearly startled by the movement. So." Jacob tells me. Inside is a tiny brown bird with black eyes and an orange beak." Finch rustles his feathers and chirps again. A few seconds later he comes back holding a square silver cage. I blow my nose wetly. "Do you like him?" "I love him. She's retiring. Jacob is smiling again." he says. It flutters. except the doctors and occasionally Billy. and lets out a small chirp. when Dad and I aren't around. Thank you." It's quiet in the room. "It's okay. smiling a little again. has touched me in so long. that huge grin that shows all of his perfectly straight white teeth. and the little bird settles down on its perch. he was looking for a home. but he reaches out his hand and puts it on my shoulder. It cocks its head rapidly from side to side. "He used to live in one of the elementary classrooms. the finch.

I feel strangely unmoored. I was fourteen years old. But I won't.my apartment to read and write. What will be waiting? There was a point in my life when it hurt to breathe. . and his letters. Not only because I'm afraid. as I think of him." she says. Behind the beautiful words and imagery of "Ode to a Nightingale. but also because it no longer feels like home." I see a man wondering what death must be like. a crisp fall day. that hurt. to concentrate on something other than the awaking of a familiar strangeness inside of me. It sounds like a good idea since there's no food in my apartment. A half an hour later. though I am. and intensified that day I left Elgin General in the transfer vehicle. I looked out the window upon nothing. like any other . and that's it. There's a beautiful white cashmere scarf wrapped around her pale neck. I can work with Edward. but reading the poetry for our project isn't helping. that he'd never be able to marry the love of his life. She smiles as I approach. how she affords such luxuries. is crowding my chest again. in some ways it was like a homecoming. that he'd die before he'd reached his fullest potential. Keats' tragic death haunts me²the premonitory aspects of his poetry. if he ever thinks of me. although that hurt too. I do. I wonder if he's reading the Keats. And when Jake calls I take comfort in his voice. It started on the day that I awoke to fire. When I decided to return to Illinois. A day in October. I won't let it this time. and it wasn't because of smoke inhalation. On Tuesday morning." . I can do this. and I wonder. He knew his end was near. are unsettling. I meet her outside. And so I read. and that fierce longing. and when Rosalie asks me to study or order Chinese food. I can go at any time to see the neighborhood where I grew up. as I am. "Hey yourself. but something about it seems sad. "Hey. and the absence reflected in my shallow inhales. I haven't felt much like cooking lately. once again. Rosalie calls and asks if I want to get breakfast before class. Elgin is just an hour away. leaving behind the only life I'd ever known. But all the same. And it didn't get better for a long time. I can do this. . and Billy's.

well. After class. but it seems like there's something really bothering her. or stuck up. or whatever. actually. She shakes her head. "No. . it's coming. they don't like me. I guess they think I'm a bitch. "Do you want to talk about it?" "I don't want you to think less of me. I'd rather get a good grade than leave it up to her." "That's good. they're idiots. And for the first time since I've known her. What about you?" "Not too bad. so far. trustworthy somehow." "Oh. but you're a good friend." "I won't. but Rosalie's not eating much. I think you're great. I'm always wary of asking intrusive questions. "Hey. As long as you don't have to do most of the work. You seem . . Not really. with something of a shock. Her eyes meet mine and I notice. letting out a trembling sigh. beans and tortilla into my mouth." "How's the project coming?" "It's good . Alison's a dimwit. you're meeting with Edward again?" "Yeah. I suppose I'm not the easiest person to get along with. they're filling with tears. ." "Well. which admittedly isn't all that long.We have about an hour." A tear falls and she hastily wipes it away. I'm talking more than her. I don't have many friends. "So." "I know we haven't known each other that long. Are you okay?" I finally ask. it's delicious and just a block away from class. but other than that. It's just." . and I instantly fork a bite of eggs." By the time the food arrives I'm starving. The girls in the department. We chat for a bit. I don't mind. so we decide to go to Roberto's for huevos rancheros. .

I don't mean anything to him. I was so drunk. . It started at the end of last year. It was just our little secret. "Listen. My expression must register my confusion. and it was so exciting. so I'm momentarily speechless. meetings . He started telling me about his marriage. . How unhappy he was." All of a sudden." she sighs. "A few months. God." This isn't at all what I was expecting. setting down her fork. I didn't even know you were seeing someone." I nod and murmur encouragingly for her to go on." "Wait." "I thought I was pregnant. Have you seen him?" I shake my head no. honestly. The look on her face tells me she's deciding whether or not to share whatever is burdening her. You can tell me anything. "Professor Finley?" She nods. I have a sneaking suspicion I know who it is. We were at the year-end grad party. "I'm not. I took a test this morning. Just a hunch. Anyway." She leans back in her chair. "No one did. I remember secret phone calls. but I don't have many friends either. And anyway. mostly." she scoffs. Has two kids with his wife. I've always had a little crush on him. because she starts to explain. emphasizing the last three words. her eyes searching mine." I confess." "And that's not a good thing?" "No. "He's an older man²married. How long has this been going on?" I ask her. do you swear you won't say a word . Same stupid lines than men have been using for millennia. . "How did you know?" "I didn't. Before I knew it we were back at my apartment and he was undressing me. to anyone?" "I don't know if you've noticed. he's quite attractive. You can trust me. went for a cup of coffee."Thanks. and he was there. . we stayed late. . I'm sorry. I'm relieved. "Well. "it is a good thing. remembering our conversation at the bar.

" "Oh. And you probably think I'm disgusting. And I needed the money. I am. three times a week. Rosalie. "You're not a whore. I release my hold." She pauses for a minute." "He told me he couldn't get enough of me . It's a little strange. "You know. He said he was sorry. you need to get going to class." she says thoughtfully. "I've always hated that nickname. So that explains Rosalie's wardrobe. that name suits you. I told him I wouldn't accept them. I've been such a fool. He came just a couple of days ago to tell me he had to break it off." She's started crying now in earnest and I push my chair back." "You can call me Bella. and it's disconcerting²she's such a vibrant person. Since I got assigned a TA-ship for his lecture it's been almost every day. And you're not. checking her watch. "It's so ridiculously typical. if you want. I'll send Peggy an email. and some credit card statements. he'd just leave them anyway. brought me gifts. the worst one of all. but I don't mind when you say it ." I reply impulsively. I'm a home-wrecker. but not bad. . I'm sorry this happened to you Rosie." ." "No. don't you? And a hypocrite. After all the things I said about our slutty department. sitting back down as she continues."We started seeing each other pretty regularly." "I am what I am. . I haven't asked anyone to use my nickname in years. After a few seconds. clothes. found some of our correspondence. going to her and wrapping my arms around her slim shoulders. like so many other women. money." "Can I ask you something? Do you love him?" She looks at me seriously for a minute. "Listen." she sighs." she smiles. here I am. I've never seen Rosalie look so despondent. but that doesn't make me feel like less of a whore. and then she nods her head. but he wouldn't listen. "Okay. it's kind of nice. She'd opened his email account. I don't. . Bella. I don't think I can bear it today. "It's funny. then it was as often as twice." "Yes. . "His wife got suspicious.

but this time the seats next to him are occupied. so by the end of class I'm ready to go. But one time he catches me looking and holds my gaze. Once in a while I sneak a quick glimpse at Edward. seriously. I push aside thoughts of Rosalie and Edward and try to concentrate. Edward sits in the same seat as last week. He's sitting directly in my line of sight so my behavior isn't obvious. I check my messages."No. I decide that I'll be the best. He doesn't smile. He looks up from his notebook when I enter and gives a small smile. I have confidence in what we're preparing. and a professor. I'll entrust her with some of my secrets as well." We part ways on the street corner and I walk the rest of the way to class on my own. no. There's one from Rosalie thanking me for listening. As class begins. before looking down again and resuming his writing. During the break. Edward waits for me as I pack up my stuff and we walk together to coffee shop. but his eyes are thoughtful. I should stay with you. I'm eager to get our project more solidified. I'll be fine. still. But I feel melancholy. "did you have a chance to read the Keats?" . and again asking me to keep it between us. I don't think. Everyone is working hard on their teaching presentations. For just a second. I just need a little time. just perhaps. It was foolish for her to get involved with a married man." I begin once we've settled at a table with our drinks. "So. You need to go to class. though. I know that we'll have to do an excellent job to set the standards high and impress Peggy and the rest of the class." "Please. but she already knows this. at least from me. but she has nothing to worry about. most supportive friend I can be for her and perhaps. I also talk with some of the other girls in the class about the course requirements. I understand her unease. Yes. which I return. Rosalie's situation seems typical. in many ways. but I take thorough notes for Rosalie's sake as well as my own. I'm disappointed. The conversation today centers on some lesser known poets that I'm not terribly interested in.

"Here. "We can use this. "I like this one with the turtles. but still managing to look majestic. though? Should we do something unusual?" Edward shrugs and starts ferreting through his bag. they're treasured glimpses into his life. Did any poems stick out to you?" "Yeah." Edward confesses." I remember he'd said he'd bring the pictures today to see if any were suitable for our PowerPoint. Ruins overrun with tourists. "Yeah. What is it?" I say. I think we should focus on the Odes."Yeah. "I don't know ." . "Me neither. since I've seen pictures of it before. "I don't know if you wanna use any of these . I love the inscription on the otherwise marked tomb: "Here Lies One Whose Name was Writ in Water. Of course there are some of those as well. A few." Edward replies. From Rome. "That's the Fontana delle Tartarughe in the Jewish Ghetto. Most of them highlight landscapes and buildings²beautiful Rome streetscapes and historical monuments. . holding up the picture. it's one of the best of Rome's fountains." I say. We should talk about the most interesting poems. "and the next couple are of the house where he died near the Spanish Steps. ." Edward explains. I recognize his gravestone in the foreigner's cemetery in Rome." I open the envelope and begin flipping through the photographs. You don't wanna just do something unexpected to do something unexpected. right?" "Wouldn't that be expected. . I hadn't read him in a long time." It's a simple and beautiful way to remember his transitory life. "Yeah. I think it's from the 16th century. He's looking a little morose today as he pours a creamer into his coffee." He pulls out an envelope of pictures and slides them over to me with a small smile." I'm surprised he's letting me see the pictures that aren't related to Keats." "Incredible. holding up a picture of one a fountain. . I did. Edward is incredibly talented with the camera and I savor them slowly.

though." Edward has pictures of the exterior of the house as well as the interior and museum inside. Well. Without another word. Maybe we can do that on our own time and meet back up in another week or so. Let's definitely include these. it's clearly not a place either of us is willing to go. "I've also done some research about Keats' life. He obviously wants to leave and it hurts²almost as bad as the revelation that I don't want him to go. I'm surprised when he continues. and I'm surprised to one of the last is of Edward. He looks so much younger. His hair is long and he's holding a rucksack on his left arm. His hand brushes mine and the shock of his warm skin jolts me. "If you think it'd be relevant." and "To Autumn. finally deciding on "Ode on a Grecian Urn." I add. shimmering and beautiful in the golden light. Did you know he had an affair with a woman named Isabella Jones." "Right. I think we should do some pretty thorough close readings of the poetry. even as my chest constricts. We'll begin with the PowerPoint presentation and a short introduction to the poetry." he says offhandedly. and then pose some leading questions to get the discussion going." "Ode to an Nightingale. but he's silent. but his face seems distant. which of the Odes do you want to do?" For the better part of a hour. but I look away quickly." he says. I glance up at him expectantly. But they'll do for this. He's standing at the top of a hill with the city behind him. more like I remember. if conversation lags. I restore the pictures to the envelope and pass them back." "Yeah. "It's important we have something to say. and I feel the sting of his dismissal. Our eyes meet for a second." Neither of us brings up any of the love poetry." I agree. "Those were beautiful. Thank you. He's watching me carefully. "Definitely. we're all business. and that some of his poems were possibly inspired by her?" He leans . "Okay. I wonder who's taking the picture. Nothing personal. I'm not a professional."Great. They'll be perfect. What is he thinking? I can see he's not going to explain. There are a few more photographs after those. Right. well.

I look across the table at the boy I loved. I feel sick . even though he's the one who's hurt me." We're entering dangerous territory here. Edward's collecting his things as I stare at my half-drunk cup of tea. Strangely. For some reason I feel compelled to defend their relationship. . ." "Yeah. "Hey. but I don't know. "Yeah. I can't help it." Edward points out as my heart beats more rapidly. or talk to her. Okay. but his comment seems pointed." "Sometimes people say things they don't mean in letters. I try not to show my unease." "He never consummated his relationship with Brawne. . Well. I don't even know what she's doing. startled to see green eyes dark with pain staring back at me. I want to comfort him. not least because of the name." He stands. we don't know anything for sure. Is he insinuating that I didn't mean what I'd written all those years ago? I meant every word. . But I like to think most of the time people are honest. Isabella. "You'd be foolish to think Keats died a virgin. Bella. slinging his bag over his shoulder. Every damn word. his face wearing a bitter sneer. "Alice is dead. I'll see you around." Edward says coldly. And does it really matter? From his letters you can tell how much he loved her. and I don't know what he's playing at. "I gotta get going." I reply defensively. Edward whips around. and I'm flustered. will you tell her I say 'hi'?" My voice cracks a little. I'd know about this. I miss Alice terribly. "When you see Alice. He emits a harsh laugh. I miss him." Well you can stare all day at the sky But that won't bring her back That won't bring her back You say you're waiting on fate . I prefer to think he always stayed loyal to Fanny Brawne . Edward?" I call just as he turns to go. "You can't always believe what you read." "Maybe sometimes. where she is right now. 'I've heard that.back and eyes me.

"No." "Edward . All I see is Alice. But even in the midst of my pain. . Turns around." I whisper as the blood drains from my face. My hands clutch the table before me. "I can't. No. He reaches his hand out and I hold fast. Full of life. They're not angry anymore. . squeezing and tearing. I'm sorry. I want to reach out to him. It doesn't make sense. its stability. It can't be true. Beautiful." I say again. I can't . "It's true. . my hand is empty again. but I can't look at his face. He's out the door and I'm still sitting with questions I don't want answered bubbling on my tongue." His voice calls me back from the past and his familiar eyes hold me. -Tori Amos "Bouncing Off Clouds" Chapter 11: September 28-October 8th." he chants hollowly. Steps back. hit him. Bella." Edward stands before me. blurry like mine." "Yes. my voice catching in my throat. sweet Alice. . "No. feel his arms wrap around me.. but I'm unraveling.. No. "Edward. Riding bikes. I know his is more. 2010 No.But I think fate is now I think fate is now Waiting on us. There is desperation in his grip and I'll do anything to make it better. Teasing Edward and me when she finds us kissing on his bed. Teaching me how to wear makeup. and tell him he's lying. A cup of cold tea I want to smash against the wall. I feel its hardness. I want to yell. . She can't be gone." There's a fist closing around my heart. The word vibrates repetitively in my head. "No. But then. scream.

because?" . I search for his back. "This is Edward. "Yes. the manager knows me. I have his number. I don't. Gone. For how long? I don't know. What can I say? There are also missed calls from the usual suspects. She says something else but I just nod absently and thank her. Luckily. She must think I'm insane and maybe I am. lying voice keeps telling me that it's not true. My mind remains strangely blank except for an image of a girl with short dark hair and a red dress. . sweet. and the vibrating sensation seems strange on my tongue. his quick step on the street. there're too many reasons. His beautiful voice. Leave a message. I reach out for it. Like mother like daughter. "Um . I know. Back in my room. Until now. there's a curling inward. holding up my shoulder bag. but he's already lost in the throng of pedestrians." Not knowing what to say. Everything's missing. But I know.How can she be dead? How did this happen? Why did no one tell me? What the fuck is going on? That persistent. I want to blot it out. . Making my way back to my apartment. But after a while I realize I've left all my belongings at the coffee shop. including my laptop computer. I lay on my bed feeling the blood pulsing through my limbs and listening to the sounds of traffic outside. ~QF~ "Why do you like my brother?" It's a couple of weeks since Alice found out about us. But when I call it goes straight to voicemail. I wander futilely in the direction I think he went. And anyway. My legs start to move but it's too late. I fumble for my cell phone. Everything's neatly stowed away. It's impossible to put into words. All I want is to be alone. not even caring to check if anything's missing. A darkening. but I ignore them. she hasn't asked me much about it. "You looking for this?" she asks." It's the first word I've spoken in what must be hours. so her question takes me off-guard.

"Uh ."Because why? Come on. . you do." "Oh yeah? How do you figure?" I shrug. looking up." she protests. glaring at me. I cast it aside and sigh. So many boring-looking skinny girls wearing revealing outfits. yeah. the desire to share with my friend overwhelms my resistance. "Yes." "What do you mean? How?" Her eyes are wide and curious. don't you think?" "That won't matter so much someday. flipping though one of her many fashion magazines." She sits up and begins painting her toes. I want details. He's a little old for me. "I don't know. You like Jasper. Bella. "It's the best thing in the world." "Not as old as Jasper. I blush." Finally. She's painting her nails on her bed and I'm sitting on the floor." "I do NOT. ." "Whatever. "Edward's older than me. But I can tell by the twinkle in her eye that she's lying." "Who?" "No one in particular." "That's a lie." "Come on! You can tell me! Jeez! Don't be so prude. Haven't you ever liked a boy before?" "Well. . "What's it like kissing?" Alice asks me suddenly." Alice and I are lounging in her room after school.

Anyway. if you marry Edward." "Oh yeah?" "Sometimes. She ducks and squeals." "Coincidence. . A glance at the alarm clock tells me it's three in the morning."I know what's gonna happen before it does. I was thinking of this song. Marry Edward? We've only been dating a few months." "Thanks. . but then I remember. I'm glad you guys like each other. At first it feels strange. floating. It's good. . I know you guys are gonna get married and have ten bazillion babies. And you don't want to stop. ." "I don't. "You know. Ali." "HEY!" Alice's sudden exclamation startles me." "K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love²" Deep. . ."Well. it's . rolling thunder awakens me. I doubt it. . Flashes of lightening fill the room and rain drives in through the open window. we'll be sisters!" Now my face is definitely redder than a tomato. Bel-la and Ed-ward sitting in a tree . But the other day. and when I turned the radio on it was playing." she leans forward secretively. "It's kinda creepy you're talking about Edward. I look up expectantly. And I'm fourteen! "Yeah. Your stomach feels jittery. psychic-ness. Whatever." "Hmm. "So what? Are you like a psychic or something?" "I don't know. . But it sounds nice. Sorta like being in warm water . but then it's like the most familiar thing." She considers what I've said. For a minute it's peaceful. I can't describe it ." I laugh and chuck a stuffed animal at her. I don't know. "Shut up. . well." I throw another animal. I know it. Isn't that weird?" "I think it's called coincidence.

" She's here in five. There's just . "Can you come over?" "I'll be there in ten. There are many missed calls on my phone. Rosie. My clothes are still damp and I look up at the blue sky. I lean outside. I don't feel like going. "Of course not. but instead of closing it. but I thought that maybe you decided you didn't want to be friends with me after all. Briefly I recall my theory class is today. . Straight to voicemail. It's the last of my bread and I lick the melted cheese from the inside. I call him again. . . Please. I answer on the third day. Please call me. Edward. Her hug is so comforting that I sob.I move towards it." "What is it?" I can hear her fear." A nervous laugh at the end of the line. I was worried about you. Hey. ~QF~ Another day. Rosalie does. pick at the crust. I know I don't sound very well. I make a grilled cheese sandwich and burn it. I'll take it. mothering. The silence in my apartment is becoming oppressive. but I delete all the messages without listening to them. This time I leave a message. ~QF~ When I wake again it's morning and I am on the floor near the window. needing the sound of her voice. I'm sorry. so I don't. concerned. "Bella. I don't feel like reporting in. Um. ~QF~ He doesn't call back. I buzz her in and she swoops down upon me. letting the downpour of the early fall storm soak through my shirt and put the fire out. something happened. Not a cloud in sight. There is no pleasure in food. I need to talk to you.

A friend from home?" I nod speechlessly. When I get to the fire there are tears in her eyes. don't feel sorry for me. . especially about my mom. I did know him. "Tell me from the beginning. I think you're an incredibly strong person. no wonder you fainted in class that first day. They drift to my legs tucked underneath me." Once I start talking I can't stop. Just speaking it out loud. and I know she's wondering what they look like. but I tell her enough to understand." Rosalie leans back against the couch. and once they start my tears are unstoppable."Jesus. releasing me." "Please. You've been through so much." "I thought as much. It's strange how easy it is even though I've only known Rosalie for a short time. it sounds like someone else's life. "God." It's the first time I've really cried. "When did this happen?" "I d-d-don't know. we grew up together. Rosalie rocks me and lets me cry. "Holy shit." "She's dead." she says softly. "Jesus. People are always curious. We're quiet for a minute as Rosalie absorbs the whole bizarre tale." "I don't. . taking me with her. Alice." "I lied to you before about Edward. but I can't go on. And then I tell her about the move and how I never saw either of them again until now." "But she died? How did you find out?" "Ed-w-ward told me. Perhaps that's why it's easy. I can't blame her. We . I don't tell her everything." she says softly. I feel detached. "Tell me what happened. "I don't understand." I nod wearily. resting my head . what happened?" "My friend. not really." Through the haze of my tears I can see her confusion.

but he didn't tell you how or when?" "No." Now she's moving about the apartment. This is ridiculous. It's not right." . I can't believe it. When's the last time you've eaten?" "Ummmm . but he can't just drop a bomb like that and then take off without another word. I can see Rosalie has many questions. He really is an asshole. Bella. "I guess. ." Rosalie stands up and collects a blanket from my bed. You need to talk to him. "You guys have seriously not talked about anything? How the hell have you worked together? That must have been awkward. I think you deserve to know. so were you. How could I? "He was upset. "there's no food in here." I haven't told her about the strange. I know she was his sister. I don't realize I'm shivering until I feel its warmth." "Don't you want an explanation for everything. "Bella. well. Edward told you about Alice. accusatory nature of his revelation²how he seemed so angry with me. muttering as she puts things in order." "Goddammit! I can't believe he just left it like that. "So." she calls. still. . though? I mean.against the back of the couch. don't you want to know why he hasn't even tried to contact you all these years?" My head throbs and I shrug. There's a horrible thought in the back of my mind that maybe he blames me for some reason. I don't even want to consider why. I'm just too much of a coward to ask. But it was almost like he expected I'd know for some reason. "Well." Rosalie goes to the fridge and rummages around. it's been weird. draping it around my shoulders. I²" "And after not writing to you. probably because I already know what the answer will be." "Well. Of course I've wondered. Don't make excuses for him. I'm exhausted. I can't even imagine . ." "Yeah. And he won't answer his phone. . I can only watch helplessly.

" she says. We don't talk . "I don't suppose you want me to call Edward and yell at him?" she asks hopefully." "That's what friends are for. We watch stupid TV and she forces me to eat and take a shower." "That's all right. . "Look. Your secret is safe with me. open-mouthed. just when I thought they'd all gone. before turning away to collect myself. I know it's none of my business. I just ." "I'm getting pizza. ." She sits back down on the couch. . I ask her how she's dealing with her breakup. I know you're engaged." Stupid tears start again. But do you still have feelings for Edward?" Her direct question floors me and I gape. "I'm ordering. I can't help but wonder . . her right on her hip. I don't think that's a great idea. Mushroom?" I nod. "I'm sorry. sitting silently as she places the order. "It'll be here in thirty." She rubs my arm and I smile for the first time in days. . huffing loudly. I appreciate it. "No. I don't know how to answer you. I wipe them furiously with my sleeve-covered knuckle. "Thanks. ." Rosalie stays with me for the rest of the day. I completely understand." "It's okay. but now that you've told me all this. . I'm an ass. What do you want. and listen . "I . . You probably know by now that I ask highly inappropriate and invasive questions and I'm best ignored.She returns with her cell in her left hand. pizza? Burrito?" "Whatever is fine. but she waves the question off as if it's unimportant. echoing the words I'd spoken the other day when she'd shared her own. Forget I asked. okay?" "Yeah. I'd rather we just keep this between us. right?" "Right.

"You can't let this get in the way of your dream. During break. and that meant telling them about Edward. I wanted to ask Billy about Alice but I knew that if I did. There's no way he could have known. I'm surprisingly not relieved by his absence. making conversation with the men who had become my family strained. Rosalie chats animatedly. None of the professors are invited. So come to class. It turns out she needn't have bothered. though they're never far from my thoughts. Still. but I haven't worked any more on our project. You're gonna get your PhD and be a fucking awesome professor someday. avoiding me. obviously trying to distract me. the lies sliding easily off my tongue. why had he kept it from me all these years? I refused to believe that Billy would intentionally keep something so important from me. I'm strongly tempted to stay home so I don't have to face Edward for the first time in a public setting. I'd have to explain how I'd found out. Yesterday I'd finally gotten the nerve to call Jake and Billy. I haven't met . ~QF~ It's Tuesday. "Remember what you're here for. it's a time to get to know people who are farther along in the program and no longer in coursework. Did he know she'd died? And if so. Since I'm not TA-ing like most first year students.much more about Edward or Alice. it weighed on me. I've done most. gathering my things together sluggishly. Bella. I doubt we'll meet after class since I haven't heard from him all week. Rosalie calls in the morning. he still hasn't shown. though I'd wished for it. And I know that once she's gone the clouds will descend again. There's no way I was ready for that. Is he sick. or something worse? Remembering the look in his eyes as he'd backed away makes me feel uneasy. of the reading for this week. I'll be there for you. Apparently. I'd justified my lack of communication with busyness. and by the time Peggy begins. Edward's not in class when we arrive." she tells me. though not all. On our way down 58th street. there's a huge welcome party on Friday at someone named Erin's apartment. I stand talking to Rosalie and a few of our classmates. They'd both been put out that I hadn't called in a few days. Okay?" Not entirely convinced. as if sensing my reticence. the thought persisted. Still. I agree.

"I think we should go to the party. Next week I'll have to do better. Rosalie needs this. "Okay. Only now it seems that's not . Peggy seems to understand that something isn't quite right with me." Rosalie declares once we're back at her apartment having lunch. and I realize that this isn't just about me. coasting through is not acceptable. " "Listen. Even though I never though I'd see her again. . I wouldn't . . I'll go. "Maybe it'll be good for us. . I decide on a pair of snug fitting jeans that I've only worn once before and a cream vee-neck sweater. just like Edward and the rest of the Cullens. But I don't think I'm the best company. do you?" "I'm not really sure. "You wouldn't let that stop you. . If Alice were here . I leave my hair down and put in simple earrings." I hesitate as an idea occurs to me. Nothing has changed and everything has. ." She gives me a look. and if it sucks we'll leave and go get trashed at The End. "Hey. we'll just go for an hour or so. I nod. For the past few days she's taken it upon herself to make sure I'm eating properly. you don't think he'll be there. . would you?" "No. Finally. I just . which I'm actually grateful for. What d'ya say? Please. since my wardrobe is long-sleeved by default. too. apply minimal makeup. but I can't work up any enthusiasm. The rest of class passes incredibly slowly." "Still no word from Edward?" "No.any of them outside of the classes I'm taking. The beginning of October has been pretty cold. I always knew she was somewhere out there living her life. so she doesn't pressure me to speak." ~QF~ I'm staring at my meager wardrobe at seven o'clock on Friday and wondering what the hell I should wear to this party. you know? Go and be social?" "Maybe. The others are pretty excited about it. but you never know. . He didn't go last year. . if she were here . Bella? For me?" She's sitting looking at me hopefully.

" I say. The action speaks volumes. and I immediately recognize Rue and Alison from class." she informs us. the party is already well underway. Tears come again and I have to reapply mascara. There are around fifty people in the living room and in the kitchen. grateful to have something to do with my hands. I'm surprised she's wearing jeans. But probable. joining us. By the time we arrive at the somewhat shabby brownstone.true. like me. . I hope you're hungry . The department totally cheaped out and gave me a hundred bucks. I liked to think they finally found each other once she got older. red-haired girl warmly greets us near the door. there're chips." "Oooh. suddenly nervous. So why is it so hard to do? At 8:30. Riley's in the far corner speaking to a tall. Su. "It's just two-buck Chuck. but it strikes me the last few times I've seen her. pudgy." Rosalie jokes and Erin laughs. hey. She shows us a place to stow our coats and ushers us into the living room. She'd partner with Esme in her interior design firm. too. and Rosalie introduces her to me as Erin. Rosalie and I walk to the "El" together. she was always going to college. and a casual coat. She's a medievalist. extending my hand. "Well. I don't see Edward anywhere. I know this. have a couple of beautiful babies. . Only the finest for the English department." another girl that I don't recognize says. She still looks amazing. and I glance around. When I imagined what she was doing. passing each of us a glass of red wine. sure. A short. I take another large sip. at least it's free. All fantasies. "But there's more in the kitchen. Not anymore. though I'd never ask about it. she'd want me to go to this party." "Nice to meet you. she hasn't been wearing her fine clothes. curly haired boy. If Alice were here. so it takes a while to get there. . this is one of my roommates. "Isabella. getting married²maybe to Jasper. I sip it immediately. The house that Erin shares with a few other grad students is across town.

accepting another refill of wine as Erin comes around. listening as they regale us with tales of terror. For someone who doesn't really socialize within the department much. I knew it wouldn't be a picnic. Some of the younger students have turned on Hip Hop and started an impromptu dance party in the center of the living room." she reprimands." More laughter." Peter pats my knee and a girl to his right elbows him. "Medieval History has a grand total of three. "You guys are scaring the first years. I start mingling with people on my own. The night wears on and I've lost count of how many glasses of wine I've had. to be young and idealistic." "Why are we doing this again?" Peter asks. "Right! I forgot!" Peter slaps his hand to his forehead. "For the perpetuation of Humanistic inquiry in an increasingly profit-driven and materialistic culture?" Erin offers with a grin. "Well. "Yeah. grad student humor. "No fucking clue. "I'm out of funding. I smile." says Peter. "Don't be a jerk. so next year it's Burger King for me. sighing and sinking back in his chair." "That's nothing." she agrees." Rosalie complains. Peter. I guess I'm hoping in a few years things'll get better?" "Ah. an 18th century specialist.After about an hour. My field only has twenty openings in the entire fucking country. don't listen to these jaded fools. I'm pretty screwed. "And there're probably about 200 candidates for each of them." She rolls her eyes. "Ah. We've settled into a corner of the room with a few people who are currently on the job market. and everyone bursts out laughing. "Bella. . So yeah." someone says dryly. I'm relaxed and onto my third glass of wine. People are getting loud and drunk²this party is definitely rowdier than I expected it would be. Rosalie knows everyone and takes it upon herself to introduce me around." Su says.

I'm in the kitchen with Alison when Rue joins us. sadness. I'm not going to let him see how much he's hurt me. "Is Garrett here?" "I don't know who that is. "Bella?" I whip around. My nervous stomach rolls. always the first part of my body to feel fear. and to do that I'll have to go into the living room and probably face Edward and his date. Must be Kate. My eyes dart again to the hall. The two of them continue to talk. My mouth is set in a hard line. startled. Edward stands about two feet away from me. she's straight. but Edward and Kate have gone. "Edward's here with a blonde girl. The residual taste of wine is caustic in my mouth. I'm frozen in place. though. But still." she says. but he's holding two empty glasses. and they're wasted. or anger. I pour myself a half-cup of the shitty wine. fearful? Kate's not with him. Rue. completely oblivious to my turmoil." "Sorry. . Why did I come to this stupid party? I know I'm going to have to hunt Rosalie down to tell her I'm leaving. I can just barely make out Edward and the tall girl next to him. I'm left standing in the kitchen alone and indecisive. . He can't answer my phone call but he can come to a party with Kate. The girl is cute. probably moved to another room. but they came alone. I figured that from the way she was slobbering all over Edward. gulping it down with a grimace. . even if I need liquid courage. I can look!" Rue laughs. Over Alison's head." Alison moans. The two girls I'm with pour themselves more drinks and decide to go dance. My friend. but I'm so hurt and so angry that he could just show up when I've been worried about him all week." "Yeah. "Ugh. I don't want him to think I'm leaving just because he's here. his cursedly handsome face surprised and .At around eleven. The music is loud but I hear voices in the hall raised in greeting.

. I can't talk about her. Wait a second . . At the coffee shop. ." he says lowly. How could you do that?" "I . . . "Are you afraid your girlfriend wi²" "She's not my girlfriend." I seethe. I can tell from the look in his eyes he's been drinking. really? Why?" I ask. Edward's expression has become unreadable. Don't cry. Good. . furious again. . "But I deserve to know what happened. . . Edward's shifting on his feet uncomfortably. "I'm an asshole? That's all you have to say to me?" "You told me Alice . You think you're the only one ." Despite my anger." he says. glaring at him. "Whatever. both at a loss for words." I say. "You're an asshole. "How could you just tell me something like that and leave? All week I've been . . I blink furiously. "Oh. so have I. looking like he'd rather be any place else. my beautiful friend. okay. As if he's the only one allowed to go to a department function. And you didn't even tell me how . "Not to you. glancing behind him. I can't get it out. my eyes fill with tears just thinking about her. I react instantly. I feel emboldened²all of the emotions I've been dealing with the past week mix with the alcohol in my system. . "I don't think we should do this here.We stand for a second. Let him be angry. heavily. Someone comes in to get a refill but quickly retreats when she sees our confrontation. His hands clench the glasses in his hands. "I didn't think you'd care. . . I know the answer to that already. my tears are falling freely." "No. Suddenly. she ." he cuts me off. His confused expression makes me angry. but hell. . Like he's surprised to see me at a party." "I couldn't. Bella?" ." "What? How can you say something like that?" Despite my efforts to staunch them. it doesn't matter. "You left me." My voice chokes on the last word." His green eyes harden.

Was it that bad?" "Bad? Nah! It was awesome! I'm sure a lot of people would like to tell off Edward Cullen. Rosalie's arm wrapping around me as she leads me from the room. Now the entire department thinks I'm a freak. I'm livid. I push him. Well. Rosie?" My Edward would never be so cold and unfeeling." "No. always quiet. Her arms are braced on his shoulders but his head is craning after me. I'm sure of one thing. Glasses fall. I won't give him the satisfaction. Kate following on her heels. Even in my drunken state. . unsure. you know? He was acting like I didn't deserve to know about Alice. I can't understand this stranger who's re-entered my life. The look in his eyes is frantic and I'm sure he wants to come after me and tell me off. . "I loved Alice! I still love her. I don't even know who you are. It was so unlike me. I glare back and see Edward and Kate arguing." I guess I did. . We walk for a few minutes toward the train stop as I try to make sense out of what just happened." "I just ." she says.Not care? That does it." "But now everyone will know. I'm immediately filled with embarrassment. "Yeah . like I didn't care. You're like a national hero. we're out in the cool night air and Rosalie is helping me on with my coat. The blonde waif glares at me and I imagine I could take her. . struggling in his grip. A couple of minutes later. I snap. God. You . . His hands wrap around my wrists and I'm still yelling. Meek little Bella. Well. You only care about yourself! You never cared about me!" Edward's eyes are wide in surprise. Then I'm free. . Did I really do that? "Well. How could he think that. I don't think anyone knows what you were talking about. . and you've gone and done it. "Do you know what you've done? You think I could just forget about you? Are you insane? All of those letters!" Before I can stop myself. "You sure know how to make a dramatic exit. I just couldn't deal with him. "All of those letters!" "Bella!" he shakes me just as Rosalie enters. shatter.

okay?" "Okay. It starts again and somewhere my mind registers what it is." . Rosalie helps me into bed and tucks me in. not even glancing at the caller ID as I mumble a greeting. So late. What's that terrible noise? It stops." I don't think she even makes it out the door before I pass out. ." she assures me. I'm roused from my sleep by a horrible noise . "You'll need this in the morning.. it can't. "Please don't hang up." "Well. I reach out blindly towards the bed stand and grab it up. "No..M'kay. What is that stupid noise? I'm definitely still drunk and my alarm says it's 2:00 in the morning. it's after midnight. Can I come up for a second?" "But it's two in the morning. All too soon." ". "Can't this wait?" My mind is reeling. Phone." I protest. I begin to drift once more." Once we're back at my apartment. "Bella?" the voice on the end of the line is Edward's. Relief. My head is pounding and all I want is quiet. which I notice has become incredibly loud."I don't know. call me tomorrow and we'll talk. ." she murmurs." "You want me to stay?" "No. I don't reply but he must hear my breathing. "Drink a lot of water. I'll be all right. I'm outside. "I don't know. I'm completely drained. trying to figure out what the hell he wants. it's so annoying and loud. placing a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin on the bed stand. I sit up in my bed. now completely awake. It's my phone.

Can I come up for a second?" "But it's two in the morning. ." "Please. . Edward stands in the hall with his hands in his pockets. "Can I come in?" Without a word. I flip the light on and glance around the room. "No. I'm not dreaming. When his eyes meet mine. "Hi. "Bella. I grab my robe from the closet and quickly don it before opening the door. I realize how bloodshot they are. clambering out of my bed and buzzing him in. I'm completely floored. Realizing I don't have a bra on and I'm wearing my pajamas. To say I'm surprised would be an understatement . A minute later he knocks." Against my better judgment. I have to talk to you. . really. It makes no sense for him to be here right now. leaning against it for support while I get my bearings. I'm outside. 2010 From Chapter 11: "Please don't hang up." Henri Frederic Amiel Chapter 12: October 9th. "Can't this wait?" My mind is reeling. Is he still drunk? My buzz is completely gone now. Edward nervously taps his foot. trying to figure out what the hell he wants."The fire which enlightens is the same fire which consumes. it can't. I can't blame him. looking over my shoulder.. Edward's downstairs and he wants to come up. since . I give my assent. leaving me with a pounding headache to match the furious pace of my heart." I protest. I move slowly at the sound of his voice.. His hair is disheveled and his expression is intense." he says softly. I shut the door slowly. Bella. ." ~QF~ There's a sigh on the end of the line. I'm afraid to turn around." he says. "I don't understand . I step aside and allow him to enter.

just under three hours ago I pretty much attacked him. Remembering our encounter I'm ashamed, embarrassed, and angry all over again. "How did you get my address?" I ask. As far as I know, I'd never given it to him when we'd worked together. "Does it matter?" "Kind of," I grumble, closing a little of the distance between us. "Rosalie." "What?" Oh, she is in such big trouble. Why in the world would she have given it to him? "I called her . . . I had to see you. Tonight." "I can't believe she told you," I murmur to myself. He smiles sadly, glancing around the room. I feel strangely exposed with him here like this, looking at my things. This is my safe place, my inner sanctum, and his presence here is unsettling. For a second I'm nervous, worried that I've left some memento out for him to see . . . His books! But no, they're carefully stowed under the bed, as always. "Believe me, there was a lot of . . . convincing required." "I don't understand," I confess. "To tell you the truth, I have no idea why you're here. I mean, I pretty much said everything I had to say at the party." Of course that's not entirely true. But I'd said enough . . . definitely enough. "And you won't answer my questions. So what is there left, Edward? What couldn't wait?" I say tiredly, walking over to the couch and flopping down. After a second, he follows suit, sitting at the far end, obviously uncomfortable being close to me. Don't worry, Edward. I won't hit you if that's what you're thinking. An awkward silence ensues, punctuated only by his foot taps. Finally, he turns his body, making a steeple with his fingertips as he leans forward with his elbows on his knees. "Before. At the party²"

"I made an ass out of myself," I say, completing his thought. "No. Please," he says, holding up his hand. "You said something . . . about letters." My face flushes hotly with embarrassment over how I'd exposed myself by mentioning the desperate, pleading correspondence I'd penned as a child² sentiments he'd not felt it worth responding to. I pull my robe protectively across my chest. "Yeah." I reply, shrugging. He moves a little closer. "Well, I was wondering. What did you mean?" Even though I want to look away, his eyes are deep and they hold mine, just like always. Him, here, asking these questions²it's a form of slow torture. My breath quickens as the cavern in my chest threaten to implode. "What do you mean, what do I mean? My stupid letters." "What letters, Bella?" He's closer now, just a foot away, and his voice is urgent, demanding and fierce as his eyes. I instinctively want to back away, but there's no place to go. I shrink back into the couch cushions, drawing my knees to my chest. "My letters," I whisper, not understanding. "The letters I wrote to you and Alice." Why is he doing this to me? "What letters?" he asks again. "I never got any letters." "What?" I shake my head in disbelief, not able to comprehend what he's telling me. How can that be? Impossible. "What do you mean?" "I never got letters," he says again, pain and anger cracking his voice. I look into eyes welling with tears . . . No. It can't be. "But . . . I wrote you. I wrote you for months . . . for over a year. You never replied." All of those days of disappointment, filled with tenacious and terrible hope that today would be the day I'd hear from them, come flooding back. "I wrote to you. For a long time. I never got any reply."

"What?" My voice is louder now. "Impossible." "I'm telling the truth. I swear to God I did," he says fiercely. He's looking directly at me and I know he's not lying. "But if you wrote to me, I never got any. Alice never got any." His confession hits me squarely in the chest. I can't breath. I can't think. All of these years . . . And Alice never read a word I wrote. And now she's dead, and she'll never know! "I did! I wrote even though I never heard from you. I waited . . . I wanted . . ." I choke out, gasping. "And you, you thought I didn't . . ." He doesn't finish his sentence, burying his face in his hands with a groan. "I thought you . . . I didn't think you . . ." Loved me, wanted to be my friend. Anything. My hand clutches my chest, willing the air in. I'm very close to hyperventilating now. It's happened before; my lungs haven't been the same since the fire and they never will be. They're damaged, irreparably. Edward lifts up his head, alarmed, and I can see his face is wet... it's too horrible. I wonder why he's looking at me like that, when somehow it registers I'm making small, wounded noises. "Bella? Are you okay?" I nod frantically, looking away²at anything but Edward. There's an inhaler I haven't needed to use in years, but I don't know where it is or even if I've packed it. Stupid Bella. All of a sudden, I feel his arms around me. "Shhh," he whispers, pulling me from my position at the edge of the sofa very nearly onto his lap. I'm helpless to do anything but try and breathe. In and out. In and out. His arms feel so warm, so strange, and after a minute I feel myself calming as the pain in my lungs recedes. "Take a deep breath, okay?" I nod against his chest, feeling the rapid beat of his heart there. He's touching my hair and shushing me, and it's only after I've started breathing more fluidly that I realize he's shaking. "Edward?" He buries his head into my shoulder, murmuring. Instinctively, I wrap my arms around him, holding tightly around his ribcage and feeling the movement of his body. When I inhale I smell his aftershave mixed with stale booze and mint. The hug reinforces my previous observations²he's so much firmer and broader than I remember. Because he's all grown up. And I've missed it.

I start to cry. I didn't think there were any tears left, but they come streaming and impossible to staunch. Edward rocks me and for a while we just cling together. I don't know or care how much time passes. "I can't believe this," he whispers in my ear, his voice cracking. "I can't believe it. I thought you didn't ever want to talk to me again. After a while, I just stopped writing." He grips me tighter and I know from a feeling of wetness on my cheek that he's been crying too. "I thought you didn't. But I don't understand . . . You never came to the hospital . . . I thought you hated me. Or that you were disgusted . . ." I can't believe I said that last part out loud. Did I? "Disgusted?" he asks, pulling back and holding me at arm's length. "No, Bella. Never." "Then why?" "I did come. On the first day . . . You were unconscious..." I wrack my brain trying to remember, but there's nothing, no memory of him. Still, why didn't he return later, once I was awake, if he'd wanted to see me so bad? "But I woke up. Alice visited. I saw Carlisle, Esme. Why didn't you come again with them?" Edward releases my arms and the blood begins to flow again; I hadn't realized he'd been holding so tightly. Tight enough to leave bruises. "I have no excuses," he says bitterly. "I always knew you'd hate me for that. It's one of the reasons why you never writing made sense." I cock my head, looking at him quizzically. I can see his features harden again²is he angry with me, or himself? "So you didn't want to come." Edward sighs and runs his hands through his hair, his face downcast. "I was a coward, Bella. I couldn't face you. When I saw you in the coma, wrapped up in bandages, so fragile . . . I overheard Carlisle talking to one of the residents and he said you had a 50/50 chance of pulling out of it. I was so fucking angry."

"Angry?" I'm struggling to understand him, but it's difficult after so many years of lost contact. There's so much that's still unclear. "Angry, yeah," he scoffs, "At myself, at the whole damn thing." "Why would you be angry with yourself?" I ask in disbelief. "You didn't start the fire." "I didn't stop it either, Bella," he says, turning to me again. His eyes have that haunted look again. "I should never have listened to you when you told me to keep out of it. I should have taken you home to my house immediately and told my parents. But I didn't, I fucking didn't." "But you . . ." "Don't you see? None of this would have happened if it wasn't for me." "I was the one who stopped you, Edward," I protest, unthinkingly placing my hand on his arm. I can feel the tension radiating from him. "I made you promise." "I know," he says darkly. "I was mad at you, too." "It was my fault," I whisper, fat wet tears dropping again. I can't even look at him. But he's right. It was my fault and mine alone. And I'll never be able to take back those hateful things I said to Renee. All I'd wanted to do was say I was sorry. I'll never be able to tell her I loved her. Or Alice. Edward shakes his head emphatically. "No, that's not what I mean. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't. You were just a kid. You were worried about your mom. Anyone in your position would have done the same thing. You're not to blame." I nod to appease him but inside I know the truth. It was my fault. Only I'd known how bad she was. Not even Edward knew the extent of it. Even though the fire was ruled accidental, it never would have happened if she'd been in her right state of mind. If I'd told someone. "But I couldn't see you in the hospital . . . not like that. You couldn't even breathe," he chokes out the last word. "Then, my parents told me your guardian was coming to take you away, back to Washington. I had a chance to come and see you, with Alice²to say goodbye. And I didn't. I couldn't."

What Edward's telling me does nothing to contradict my feelings of abandonment; he's just admitted he made the intentional choice not to visit me. "I needed you, Edward." "I know." "It was . . ." "I have no excuse. I was a coward. If it makes you feel any better, Alice hated me for it." Thoughts stumble around in my mind. I'm trying so hard to understand the motivations of people I've long misunderstood. "But Esme and Carlisle... they just let me go. It was so easy for you all . . . It was horrible, horrible for me." I can't keep the bitterness out of my voice. "Alice wanted to keep you²wanted my parents to fight for custody. But they thought being with Billy would be the best thing. He was legally bound as your guardian through both of your parent's wills. Esme and Carlisle met with him and he seemed to care for you so much²he was the closest thing you had for family. Carlisle didn't think they had any legal recourse . . . and then . . ." he trails off for a moment. "They didn't treat you badly? God, please don't tell me . . ." "No! No. Nothing like that! Billy's a wonderful person and so is Jake. They've been very good to me." Edward nods and swallows but I can see his hands gripping his knees. "What about you?" I ask. "What?" "You said Alice wanted your parents to keep me. Did you?" "At first . . . I didn't know what I wanted. I thought my parents might be right, that you'd be better off . . ." "How could you²" "I don't know! I wasn't myself," he says, cutting me off. "Once the anger wore off . . . by the time I'd realized what a mistake I'd made, you'd already gone."

Even after all these years, it hurts to know he'd doubted my place with him when I never had. Edward looks stricken. "I'm so sorry," he says, his hand reaching out to touch my hair tentatively, then dropping quickly back down to his lap. "Can you ever forgive me?" For a long time, I felt I'd already forgiven him . . . forgiven and moved on. How foolish I was. It's clear the resentment is still there, unwanted and roiling in my stomach. Even understanding his motivations, or at least hearing his explanations, it doesn't feel like enough. But at the same time, strangely, I don't want to cause him any more pain. "I think so." "Well, I don't deserve it. I broke our promise." "To always be friends." "No matter what happens," he says softly. "But you said you wrote letters." "Yes," he sighs. "I started a couple days after you'd gone. It was like I finally realized you weren't coming back. I knew you probably hated me." I shake my head. I'd never hated him. I just wanted my friend. "I had to do something to make it up to you," he continues, "But I was afraid you wouldn't talk to me. So I got your address and started writing. I was always better at getting my thoughts down by hand, anyway. But you never replied." "I did . . . I would have . . ." He shakes his head sadly. "I thought I could convince you to forgive me. When you didn't write back my parents said you needed time. But you never answered Alice, either. I tried to talk to them about it, but by then they had other things on their minds . . . Alice . . ." his pauses again, rubbing his hands over his face in a gesture of weariness. "Please," I say, putting my hand on his leg. He stiffens for a second but then seems to relax. There's an internal struggle inside of me²one side wants to know and the other side longs to hide from the truth. Edward had seemed so angry with me before and I'm afraid to know why.

When he speaks again his voice is emotionless. "She was diagnosed about four months after you left. Acute Myeloid Leukemia." "Cancer?" I gasp. I don't know why, but that'd been the furthest thing from my mind. I sit, struggling to remember if she'd ever appeared sick, tired maybe, but never sick! "By the time they caught it, her white blood cell count was low . . . very low. She was . . . unresponsive to treatment." I don't know much about cancer, but I know that leukemia has something to do with bone marrow. That siblings and sometimes parents can act as donors. "What about a transplant?" Edward looks at me with dead eyes. "No donor match." Which means that he wasn't a match. "Oh, Edward," I whisper, and he glances away. The pain he must have felt over not being able to help his sister. I know what it's like to not be able to save someone you love. He shifts out of my reach, clearly not wanting to be touched. Now my hands are empty. "My parents were separated for a while. My mom took Alice to a treatment hospital in Philadelphia and I stayed behind in Elgin with my dad. He couldn't leave his practice, or there would have been no way to pay for Alice. "I wanted to go with them, but mom thought I should stay behind, look after dad, finish school. I'd go and visit over vacations, sometimes on weekends." Edward's eyes are far away and I wonder what he's remembering. "She held on for a long time, a little over a year. She was the one always trying to comfort us," he says wistfully. "Even at the end." "Were you with her . . . when it happened?" Edward nods imperceptibly. "After that things went downhill. My father . . . he blamed himself. He didn't recognize her symptoms²thought she was just depressed . . . because of . . ." The force of it hits me with cold, starling clarity. The fire. Carlisle thought she was depressed over the fire, over my leaving.

"Oh my God. No. No!" It's even worse than I'd imagined. It can't be true. I don't want to know this. I don't. I draw my knees up to my chest again, but it does nothing to stop the horror. I can't even cry . . . there's nothing . . . nothing left. Edward's embrace catches me off-guard, but I push him away. How can he even want to be in the same room with me? After all this? And before he'd asked if I could ever forgive him for what he'd done²how could he ever forgive me? "No wonder you hated me," I whisper, almost to myself. "I wondered why² how you could." "I never hated you," he says gruffly. "You did. You must have thought I was a terrible person. It's . . . oh God." I can't stop shaking. "Bella, it's not your fault. You didn't know. It wasn't my father's fault, either. The doctors said that, even if they'd caught it a couple months earlier, she still . . ." His words are meant to comfort me, but they seem almost absurd given the situation. "You say that but you think it's your fault, don't you? Because you couldn't donate for her." He doesn't answer me and I don't press him, but I know it's true. "You said they were separated, your parents." "They're back together now. It took a while, though. I thought they'd get divorced." His voice is quiet. "There was a lot of anger after she died." I try and imagine Carlisle and Esme, who'd always seemed so in love and happy together, on the brink of ending their marriage. It seems impossible. But at least they found their way back together again. "When did you stop writing me?" I ask, not really wanting to know the answer. "A few months before Alice died," he says. "But by then I was writing more for me, than for you. I don't really want to talk about it, right now, if that's okay." So he wrote to me for a year, maybe longer. What horrors did those letters describe?

I'm startled awake by Edward's voice. leached to the bone. smiling a little at the memory. his lanky legs awkwardly stretched out in front of him and his head angled in a way that looks uncomfortable.. Or that Renee would find out." "Yeah. but sometimes I'd come over even when you were sleeping. Could it be? But no. closing his eyes. How excited I'd get when I heard the ping of a pebble at my window. I consider waking him up. There's faint light coming now from the window. We did.And where are they? That's the unspoken question that's now hanging between us. Maybe mine were lost." he says. He's completely conked out. "You never knew." Edward sighs and leans his head against the back of the couch. "Do you remember when I used to sneak out and come to visit you at night?" "Of course. "What?" No answer. I don't know what to do or say to bridge this gap of time and space between us. sadness. I used to freak out thinking that Esme and Carlisle would catch you." "We used to have some good talks. but that . Everything seems lost. I know I haven't even begun to deal with the repercussions of this. Impossible." This surprises me and I straighten up a little. The one neither of us wants to consider." I say. trying to make out his face in the darkness. I must have fallen asleep. Just to check and see everything was okay. and I don't need to look at my alarm clock to know that dawn is breaking. A bit later. My body feels devoid of anything. "This reminds me of that. and the waste of lost time. Maybe he had the wrong address. unsettled and unsettling. final midnight talk. and I'm drifting again without anchor.. The room is heavy with exhaustion. "Really?" "Mmm-hmm. I shift on the couch.

he unconsciously draws them up by himself. "Hands Remember" Chapter 13: October 9th. I decide to try and shift him to a better sleeping position. friend. Seabear. . but I can't quite put my finger on whose it is." I sit quietly for a minute until his grip relaxes and his breathing evens out. Do you remember What things looked like when you were young The voice of an old friend Or the notes to your first song It's been a while now Since you asked me to be Your cat.. and I think about the ironies of fate . it's a terrible thing. Satisfied he's resting comfortably. your owl. I move to stand. or bumblebee Lately I've been feeling like the day has come You'll walk up to me and erase my memory Can't wait to feel brand new I can't wait to meet you again. life . since he's so heavy. Before I can move his legs." he whispers. your dog. The action is a bit difficult. 2010 "Bella?" A nice familiar voice edges its way into my consciousness. Whatever it is guiding us. . I touch his face once before returning to my bed. but surprisingly he doesn't wake up. "Bella?" Such a nice dream. his mouth slightly ajar.seems cruel. "Please. . . Moving cautiously. I take him by the shoulders and guide him gently so that he's lying with half of his body on the couch.. his face looks so peaceful. . "Don't go. but Edward's hand reaches out and grips my wrist. In the early morning light. Instead. the divine. I don't want to wake up.

I wasn't talking about the couch." Edward says softly. "Hey. yeah. In so many respects he's a stranger to me." "I know. The night before comes rushing back in a blur²a blend of emotions. nodding his head. . . he's actually here. He laughs a little. Carlisle and Esme." "That's okay. exposing part of my stomach. Alice. ." he says. Edward's hands on my arms.I open my eyes slowly when the voice speaks again. How much of the Edward I've seen in the last few weeks has replaced my old friend? Or was he acting strangely out of hurt. looking back at me once I'm settled." I admit. I don't know where we go from here. I was glad I was still here. All of those things are true." An awkward silence settles between us as both of us try to process what this means. rubbing my arms through the thin cotton material." "I'm sorry. "You were?" . "Considering the circumstances. confused when the face I see matches the one in my mind in everything except age. The letters. It's only now that it sinks in . "Sorry. "When I woke up. trying to orient myself. words. I blink rapidly." "Yeah. . I did too. sitting on the foot of my bed. That couch isn't very comfortable. confused. how to act around him. Last night really happened. almost shyly. It was really late. all swirled together. They do feel like they might be bruised. "I didn't mean to fall asleep." he says. Edward smiles and looks away as I tug it down and sit up. Or at least that's what I'm doing. and gestures. the same as me? "Did you sleep okay?" I ask. There's cool air on my skin and I blush when I realize my shirt has ridden up in the night. "Edward?" I murmur. even though in some ways I feel like I've never known anyone better." "It was fine .

his expression is so intense. Most of my meals have been eaten either with Rosalie or out on the way to school. I glance in. everything else. ."Yeah. "Believe me." He sniffs at his armpit. "You can stay." "I think there's more to talk about. I've definitely lost weight. Edward picks it up and makes a face. It's like if he goes now. I think back to the last time I went grocery shopping²it's been a while." I make a motion to turn back the covers but Edward has already beaten me to the kitchen by the time I've pulled on my robe. September 15th?" "I've just been busy. There is a half-empty carton of eggs and some milk that I'm sure has gone off. Bella. Edward turns and opens the fridge." He's obviously noticed my reticence. "but you probably want to get dressed." I say. I'll never see him again . "Okay. I hope you weren't planning on drinking this. standing up slowly." His expression of concern echoes in the tone of his voice. Edward glances down at his clothes with a shrug. "I'd consider these clean. . there's no food in here. I draw the covers up over my chest. "Yeah." he says. "I'll make some coffee. . I'm gonna run down to the store for a second and pick up something to eat. . There's no excuse for not eating and I know I'm not taking care of myself. feeling a little self-defensive and foolish. But since I found out about Alice I haven't had much appetite. I've gone longer. unreadable ." . ." he says." he says. The clothes he's slept in are rumpled and his hair is a wild mess. "I'm just can't believe this. but I'm immediately worried. turning to me with a sigh. "Me neither. "And ." He rubs his hands on his thighs. not sure if I should get out of bed." I reply. "Listen. or I'll wake up for real and discover that this was a dream. Bella. cocking his head to the side. and I'll be back in fifteen?" "Don't you need to change?" I ask. "Um . I feel utterly exposed. . He's rooting through my cupboards like he owns the place." When he looks at me again. . I think you're out of coffee. Why don't you do what you need to do. .

" He grabs my keys on the counter." . I'm still here. Edward is busy and either doesn't notice or doesn't acknowledge me. Banal activities like showering and getting dressed aren't enough to keep intrusive. after all these years of healing. "You still like them scrambled?" he asks. still focused on his task. . He's put something else in them. the word slipping off my tongue without a thought." He smiles. a sound which seems foreign and out of place in this context. Scrubbing my skin under the hot water. . Now that he's removed the long sleeved shirt he was wearing. Toweling off. "Bacon it is. I spring into action.I laugh. . "Then we know at least some things never change. I want to ask him about it. . Eggs sizzle in the remnants of the hot grease. I approach the kitchen quietly. I try not to think of letters." I say. As soon as he's gone. Edward grins at me. He removes the bacon from the skillet. for even in their imperfection they're still me . but I can't put my finger on it. but still I stand and watch. turning his head slightly. turning toward the door. Even though I'm not really that hung-over. but he'd never seen what it looked like. legs that had once been long. "Any special requests?" "Bacon. his tee shirt sleeves reveal a bit more of the tattoo I'd detected on his left arm²a black web of right-angled intertwined lines. adorned in comfortable yoga pants and a tee shirt. I feel a bit caught off-guard with the awareness he's known I've been watching. turns and stirs something in a bowl. Edward said he hadn't been disgusted by what surely lay beneath the bandages and gauze. smooth and white are marked by trauma. I wipe the mirror with my towel before brushing my hair. I nod and he pockets them. I try not to think of scars . draining the extra grease into a mug before emptying the contents of the bowl he's been stirring back into the pan. alive . how could he not be? Even now. Of course I feel instantly guilty. giving off an amazing smell. of his pity. A half hour later. If he did. worrisome thoughts at bay. "My favorite. . The coffee pot begins making gurgling sound indicating its doneness. . holding them up and raising his eyebrows in question. bacon seems necessary. I leave the steaming bathroom and enter a room filled with breakfast smells. He hums softly as he flips individual pieces of bacon." "Good.

just like Esme used to do on the mornings after I slept over their house. I pass him his mug. The salty taste of the crisp bacon is delicious and I murmur appreciatively." I nod. swallowing thickly past the lump that's formed in my throat. "Since when do you know how to cook?" Almost instantly his features darken again. Edward nods and follows me. "It appears that way. I could say I'm sorry. "I had to learn once my mom left with Alice. He doesn't answer for a second. no. but I know that's not what he wants. Necessity compelled us both to fend for ourselves when our parents couldn't. I don't really have a dining area. . "Mmmmm. I wait for him to go on as I pour us both mugs of hot coffee. and so I suggest we adjourn to the couch. ." He smiles at the praise. express sympathy. "Or bake?" . And I'm starving. we're silent as we eat²clearly both of us are famished. How strange that our circumstances came to mirror one another so closely. The little smile is back." I say. coming closer. "Do you still cook?" he asks. "You like?" he asks. He chuckles and takes another bite of eggs. I can't believe he's remembered after all these years." I gesture toward the eggs and the bacon draining on the counter. My father wasn't big on hot meals and I got tired of eating cereal. which he takes in the hand not holding the spatula. "At first. It's not what I would want."Well some things do. For a little while. my mouth full once again. But over the years. He's put some cheese in the scrambled eggs. I was a mess in the kitchen. I retrieve a couple of plates and we both help ourselves to the food. or wouldn't. "This looks great Edward. or on second thought. you should have seen it ." "Oh. except for a couple of stools that slide under the kitchen counter." he says with a touch of pride. turning the heat off and giving the eggs a final stir. I've gotten pretty decent." I reply dumbly. Instead. care for us.

And then there's the gnawing fear that maybe he had something to do with all of this . I actually share an apartment with Em." Over the years I'd wondered what had happened to Edward's teammates and friends. I'm not doing anything wrong. Jacob isn't conniving²he's one of the most honest. sweetest people I know." Edward says as if reading my mind. It's just been so hectic with the move and all and starting school. Suddenly my mind is filled with thoughts of him²would he be hurt if he knew I was sitting here with Edward having breakfast? Of course he would.I flush a bit. I do. And Jasper? Where does he live?" It's slightly painful to ask. I turn my attention back to him. especially for you guys. There must be another explanation. . actually. He's a photographer. like I've had Billy and Jacob. My parents are still living in Elgin. I know she liked him when we were kids. Grad school is tough. He couldn't have. but it's confusing. chewing lightly. "They've been great friends. Realizing Edward is still speaking." "Wow." "The MFAs have it easy?" "Well." He pauses a minute. so he's gone most of the year. after Italy. And some of my friends are still around ." I smile sadly. The guilt hits me hard. glad Edward has had someone to rely on all these years. He works in PR for the Chicago Bulls. "easier. . I haven't been able to really. and I wonder if Edward knew about it. But when he's home he crashes at our place. "You'll be surprised. "He travels a lot." ." "When did you move back to Chicago?" "A couple of years ago. "He's actually been dating your old friend Angela Webber. . I get that. "Yeah. Through everything. You remember Jasper and Emmett?" "Of course. I'd had such hopes for him and Alice. Probably not." he smiles. But no. "Well. when I get a chance. remembering his enthusiasm for my food. Jacob. ." "Yeah.

. . As if sensing my embarrassment over the whole thing. Something else occurs to me and I set my now empty plate on the floor before curling up on the sofa again. except for Rosalie. I had to tell someone. She's gone." Edward goes on to tell me how the two met at a human rights convention in Boston. . I honestly thought I was hallucinating." "Um. I was the one who fainted. it's this. but it makes sense that he hasn't told them. she's in Chicago. . . "No ." "Oh." he continues. after all. It's stupid. You didn't want to have anything to do with me. when you didn't acknowledge me. "that day when I walked into Peggy's class. I'm a little jealous for Alice. . "And then. To be fair. I haven't told my parents yet. "You're upset. "Did you tell them about me being here? Or your parents?" I finally ask. even though I know it's pointless. "When I saw you. "I didn't know what to think. I haven't told them because . . like Jasper. Not surprisingly. it was like it just confirmed everything I'd feared. I haven't told anyone either. I don't know . "What! Really? Does she live around here?" "Yep. But no. but she travels a lot for her job. . where they'd instantly recognized each other from school. I haven't thought of Angela in years. They've been together for a while now. yeah. Edward smiles but doesn't mention it. we'd lost touch after the move. "Just Emmett." There's a little stab of sadness and disappointment. it would have been like reopening a wound. ." he says softly. Bella. Despite my happiness for my old friend and Edward's." I feel myself blushing at the memory." There's a little crack in my voice that gives my real feelings away and I curse myself for my inability to hide anything from him. Edward takes a sip of his coffee and turns to me. but I nod. She's a journalist with the Tribune." .If anything could have rendered me speechless." He doesn't say whether this applies to them or him. still trying to understand.

" "A do-over?" "Yeah. So many times I imagined seeing you again . but perhaps that's appropriate. . but it was weird.. and he looks down at the empty plate on his lap. I thought you were ignoring me. I'm not mad." I laugh a little at the thought. ." Touching him like this in the light of day seems much more intimate than the comforting embraces we'd shared the night before. my heart constricting as I remember his coldness. My thoughts are drawn back to Jake and I release him." I say. It's like our hands remember each other. "You know that. gasping a little when his warm. we have to shake on it." he says. "If you agree. You wrote that note and I was so confused. It reminds me of being kids again." The emphasis in my statement is not meant to blame. But instead I think we should call for a do-over. "We could spend all day talking about how the last month could have gone differently . I know. We stay like that for a minute. It's just not the best memory." "I know the feeling." I say. neither of us speaking or acknowledging what we're doing is more like holding hands than "shaking on it." "No.. . Edward smiles and extends his hand and I stare at it confusedly. I mean. it was never like that." he says. "Well. but to help him see where I'm coming from. Tentatively." "I know. neither of us had any idea. A do-over. "That's not true. sighing. right? I was feeling the exact same way.There's a hurt edge to his final statement. looking away from unreadable green eyes. I honestly didn't see it 'til the next week. I reach out. not sure what he's asking for. taking the plate from him and placing it on top of mine on the floor. though. "I didn't know what to say. I still wanted to talk to you. . raising his eyebrow. large hand envelops mine. I was pissed. .

. not admitting that I'm also scared." He smiles and I know that whatever transpired between them has changed her opinion at least enough for her to give him my address. I'd like to get to know you again. For a second I contemplate showing him. I do want to be his friend. but then I imagine going over and getting it²the exposure²and I decide to wait. Most people do. . I brush them away. but I have to be honest. My face remembers his hand." There's that sadness again²why does this have to be so difficult? Yes. recovering my equilibrium. If you want. What if we find out that there's nothing left to salvage? I think of his story. "It's just a lot to process . . But maybe we can be something else. Edward. "It's okay." . shocked into silence by the familiar gesture." I say. He must sense my surprise. anyway?" I'm a little nervous about the two of them talking. "I'd like to be." "But ." "I don't think we can ever go back to what we were. tears welling again. but Rosalie wouldn't divulge our conversation. Edward reaches over. I mean²and now it turns out all that wasn't true. wiping a drying tear with the pad of his thumb. is still here in this man before me. "Just that I wanted to make things right." His voice is hesitant and sad. think of me. . I do. "That's true. ." I protest. hidden in a box under my bed. "I'd like to show you I'm not a complete and total asshole."Do you think we can be friends again?" he asks softly. or did. for both of us. What will he think of the new me? "I'd like that. angry that some things are irretrievable. "What did you tell her." "So you don't think . I mean." "I don't think that. we're different people now." I say. She'd promised. I thought of you one way²and so did you. my Edward. because he pulls back with a rueful smile. It's just that I don't know what that means anymore. . . . but I've seen enough to know that the Edward I knew. Rosalie does . I'm twelve again.

. which you've probably already gathered." The admission makes me feel dishonest. I can't be sure. No one else. you might have taken it as a compliment. Jacob had been my confidant for years before he became my boyfriend. huh?" "Well. "You don't want to know. People must think I'm insane." Now he's really piqued my curiosity. I kinda figured. It wasn't far from the truth. . ." "No." "So now. aren't people going to think it's a little weird? I mean." "That bad. His expression becomes serious again. or inappropriate . . one night you're saying rude ." "When you said that last night about the letters at the party. "Did the Blacks . Have you?" "I told Rosalie . . it all clicked. I'm glad you did. "I just hate everyone knowing my business. ." he says with a grin." "Nope. what. "What about you? You asked me before if I'd told anyone. "Did they know about me? About the letters you sent?" Know about him? Yes. just tell me. if we're trying to be friends. . they don't. . running my hands through my hair in frustration." "What did you tell them you said?" He wrinkles his forehead. I'd known that he'd harbored romantic feelings . jeez. I'm so embarrassed. "Oh. "I told everyone I said something rude to you and you reacted accordingly. ." he grinds out. but still I'm not prepared for his next question. things to me and the next day we're chums?" "I really don't care what people think." "I'm gathering that." I say."Well. you know?" "Yeah. . God. your fiancé ." I reply wryly.

I can't believe that they would do that." "Impossible? Think about it. No. I shake my head furiously. "I just . . . I nervously worry my hands in my lap.toward me. "I'm sorry . my whole life with them a lie. Bella?" he asks softly. ." Edward makes an angry sound of disbelief. "Do you really think my parents would withhold your letters from Alice knowing how much she loved you? How much it hurt her not to hear back from you? How much I . or Esme . Part of that was because of Edward. They wouldn't. Would there be any reason for either of them to intervene like that? Did they have anything to gain?" "Gain?" The need to defend Billy and Jacob overwhelms me. "It's impossible. Billy. "I can't ." "Time is what we lost. . making them real. Don't you think?" He's so insistent." "Can't what? Try to figure out the truth? After all this time you deserve²we deserve²to know. imperceptibly. . not sending mine. I can't imagine them betraying me like this . It's just not possible." . "They wouldn't have done that. . even worse. . . voicing the concerns that had been worrying me since last night. . . . my voice small in my throat. . . "What about Carlisle . but I'd been unable to admit or acknowledge my own until I was a senior in college. He's inferring that the Blacks²either Jacob. . . I nod. I shouldn't have said that. Edward sighs." "Well." He stops abruptly. his jaw clenched and tense as he looks away. I feel myself shrinking back against the couch again." "Who else. "What do you think happened to the letters?" The way he says it gives away his meaning plainly." I say. Time is what's owed us. or both²are somehow responsible for withholding his correspondence or. who else then?" "Edward. . I need time .

thinking. ." . Edward gathers his things. . I know how this must feel to you. but Edward nods. Both of us are so easily wounded. I have to get going." I whisper." There's a hint of reluctance in his voice. "I'm sorry. "But don't forget we need to get this Keats thing sorted out. but he doesn't say where. He's right but my heart can't take it." There's that look again . but I don't ask him where. . I say "okay" and stand. picking up the plates and bringing them to the kitchen. It's just hard. the lost one from the coffee shop. . . "Shit. I'm letting him down again. . I nod. and Edward's expression softens. and Jake . . He takes back his hand and I immediately feel the loss. I'm afraid once he leaves pieces of me will scatter on the breeze. I wish I could make it easier. I understand. "It's okay." "Okay. I'm sorry. of dust. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do." "Thank you. well you stood me up last Tuesday. . "Take the time you need. My body is a gathering of feathers. But I promise ." "I'm sorry I have to run. and I know it." "Yes. But we need to find out what happened to those letters. "Listen." "I'm sorry about that. "Yeah. and only his presence here is keeping me together. I have to treat him with care." he says as I walk him to the door. . I don't say any of this. knowing . so I don't ask. . of course." Thinking of our project. really."I know. Instead. I can't lose anyone else. you're right. Edward appears about to respond when his cell phone vibrates in his pocket." Billy's the closest thing to a father I've ever known. I will. . He reaches out and touches me. I'll see him again. Of course I instantly think back to Kate . Bella. For understanding. . I smile a little. is that who he's going to meet? Or another girl? I don't want to know. his hand warm on my shoulder." My voice is hollow." Again. He pulls it out and groans. It's after two.

Good. moments from only an hour ago flicker at the edge of my consciousness like vulnerable candlelight.William Shakespeare Chapter 14: October 9th. Edward. ." "Something else we have in common. Maybe play some video games. I smile back and his broadens. did I just feel his lips brush against my cheek? "And where two raging fires meet together. "we can ."I thought it would be easier to avoid you. Before I can respond." Edward says with a small smile. ." "Hang out?" I tease. There's a fierceness about it that leaves me breathless . . or at least my memory. I don't even have time to hug him back. . I'm released." he whispers in my ear." Then his arms are around me again in a tight hug that catches me by surprise. I'm thoroughly practiced in the art of avoidance myself. "Yeah. I struggle to replay our conversation from the night before and from today² as it always is with memory. "And maybe ." "Okay. ." He's so serious and ashamed. Hang out sometime. As I rinse and dry. . I don't know. It's only the things I want to forget that I remember with ease." he offers tentatively." He winks. I turn my attention to the dishes. Do something fun. His grin flourishes in a way that makes him look sixteen. they do consume the thing that feeds their fury. Already last night has begun to fade. Twenty-five. I stare at the open door and wonder . . I decide to lighten the mood. "Believe me. could it be . the harder I try to recall specific words or moments the more impossible they are to grasp. . . "Thank you for letting me in." . right?" "I'd like that. He's twenty-five. It was pretty stupid of me.12th Once Edward's gone. and he's gone. . "We're friends now. .

who I haven't seen in almost ten years. My apartment feels empty now. But there was nothing that suggested he wasn't telling the truth . . along with a package of something that. his tears over Alice²that was real. . over Jacob and Billy. I pick up a red apple. I put the apple back and slowly close the door. He did all this for me. There's no reason to doubt him . . feeling its smooth weight in my hand. and I don't know how or if they'll change the future. . Care about. Butter and cheese in the bottom drawer. Edward shopped for me. And he didn't say anything about it before he left. I pour myself another cup of coffee and sit back on the sofa. . Can I let him back into my life? Can we be friends again? Scanning the now clean kitchen. Edward. Why should I trust Edward. My stupid eyes sting again. Such a strange concept. . changed. but the action fatigues me. Why? There's a hot welling sensation in my throat. I just can't. It hurts my head to doubt so many people I care about. . sinking back into the softness and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. and one I'll have to get used to. upon closer investigation. his grief. I strip the bed mechanically for laundry day. the bed still rumpled from sleep. He bought all of this. Cared about. But is it my wishful thinking making me so easily believe him? My confusion returns. I realize is deli turkey. I notice the milk still sits on the counter. Once everything is sorted. The change in his demeanor towards me appears genuine. bread. Fresh milk. For some reason this simple gesture just affects me so .Edward wants to be friends. . is there? For just a second I wonder if he could be lying to me about the letters. . The past twelve hours completely and irrevocably altered the way I've thought about the last nine years of my life. The persistent ring of the phone forgotten. yogurt. My phone starts ringing and I hurriedly open the fridge to stow it. fruit neatly stowed away. but I almost do a double take when I see the inside. who've been supportive and loyal to me for just as long? What if he's right about them? I try and come up with reasons for why they'd be motivated to do something so horrible .

You really shouldn't have. but I don't figure it'll hurt for me to suggest the same. until I finally understand what he means. I pick up my cell phone and send him a text message. But it takes me a little while to get up the nerve to send the next one. But for what? I sigh. For one." Edward had said. . He's teasing . . And I know that Edward is brave. If only it were that easy. And for two? What? I look through our previous messages. I think. Not long after I hit send. You would've done the same. I have another reply. after class? His one word answer puts a smile on my face: Definitely. But it was nice. I don't know how to begin. He'd said he'd call me to set up a time to meet. For taking a chance. Thank you. I should've known Edward would want specifics. It's a statement of fact. You're welcome. A couple minutes later my phone buzzes in my lap. He seems so certain of my reaction. As if it were that easy. This doesn't feel like a conversation to continue via text. unbidden. Keats. Because I am thankful that he came last night²even with the still-nebulous outcome. so I change the subject quickly. It's all I can think to write²I hope he'll understand what I mean. . the food. Tuesday.A "do-over. I was glad to do it. But would I? Something that feels like cowardice creeps into my mind. but I decide to start small.

I summarize the night's events . . A quick look at my call history tells me Rosalie called earlier. You're not mad at me for the address thing?" "No. "Hello?" she answers." I reply. Though I was. standing and running my hands through my hair. . ." I say. "You don't?" "No. The letters. before I knew what he wanted. I do want to know what the heck he said to you to make you give it to him. "Oh don't hate me! Pleeease. "And you don't believe him?" "No. Bella! Tell me what happened!" Without rehashing the most horrible revelations or talking about the more intimate details. It's just a lot to think about. you know?" "Yeah.I don't send a reply and nothing comes from Edward either." "I don't hate you. and you never got the letters?" "That's what he says. "Well don't leave a woman hanging. "So he wrote back to you . I ." I pause for a second and she huffs on the end of the line. . . If I know her. But it was just the way he said it. I dial her back and she picks up on the first ring." "What do you mean?" ." "Is that all?" "Pretty much. there's one thing she immediately latches onto. she's frantic to know what happened last night and I'm sure she also thinks I hate her for giving Edward my address. So." She sighs a little. I can imagine. I do. her voice a little fearful. of course. Bella. "He said he made a mistake and he wanted to set it right. .

Going to Rosalie's sounds like just the thing I need." "I have a washer and dryer!" We don't have much reading for Peggy's class on Tuesday since we'll be watching a movie. but I've never heard anyone sound that desperate before. Are you gonna find out what happened to them?" she asks. he wanted to know the truth even more than I did . . . it makes sense. He was so sweet. . . . whoa . ." "You must be just like ." Desperate? Was that what he was? Thinking back to last night. our conversations on the weekend are the only time we can really talk. He must have seen Alice suffer so . Every time I tried to make the words leave my throat they got lodged there. Yes. I wonder if he'll ask me about the letters again. . so happy to talk to me . I'd called Jake on Sunday. right now. but as we continued to speak I completely lost my nerve."I actually feel a little bad saying this. My first attempt was a complete failure. . stuck and unspeakable. I couldn't imagine he'd had anything to do with it. ." "So. so I didn't get the chance to talk to him either. "Yeah." "That just about sums it up. Billy was out fishing with Harry Clearwater. . "Oh. And he'd want to know why I hadn't told him about Edward. . . . so I immediately agree." "Well do you wanna do something? Maybe come over here?" "I kinda have to do my laundry. I remember the look in his eyes. At first. I planned to just blurt it out. ~QF~ Rosalie has a new therapy appointment before class²she's trying to work out her residual feelings about Finley²so on Tuesday I walk alone. It gives me a little time to sort out my thoughts before I see Edward . Since he works such long hours and goes to bed early during the week. I will.

just insane ramblings. Then I re-read it later and I want to toss the whole thing. his coloring more alive." . I can hear whispering. A lot of writing.Today I'm no closer to the truth. I remember about half of the people in my class were at Erin's party and witnessed the great kitchen debacle. and I can almost feel Edward's disappointment already. Rosalie isn't here yet. He looks different for some reason and I finally figure out why²today he's replaced his usual grey or black tee with a green one. actually." he says. But probably not." "Why do you say that?" "Ah. indicating this isn't a comfortable topic of conversation for some reason. It suits him. okay. tapping the book on the table with his pen. He smiles and waves me over. I can't write them down quickly enough. "Maybe. "It was ." I say. I shrug and turn my attention back to Edward." From the other side of the room. I hope so. indicating the seat next to him while Rue and Alison look on with disbelief." "Did you have a nice weekend?" I ask casually. So I'm surprised when he goes on. Edward closes the one he's been writing in and turns his head to me. "Hey. . I join him and quickly take out and open my notebook." I offer. When I enter the classroom. feeling suddenly shy. but Edward sits at the far end of the table. It makes his eyes even more vibrant. "Hi. . I glance up and Rue gives me a "What The Fuck" look. "It's just some days the words come out so fast." He sighs and shifts a little in his chair. "Sounds interesting. "What're you writing about?" "Oh. I don't know. Such a stupid question.

starring him as Dr. She seems pretty nice. he too seems focused. taking the seat to my right. My own experience with therapy hadn't exactly been positive." eyeing Edward warily. But so far. strangely. A second later Riley comes over and strikes up a conversation with Edward." "That's good. It was mostly introductory stuff. The seventh circle of hell must have frozen over for Rosalie and Edward to behave civilly to one another. selfdestructive path once his mother dies unnaturally early in childbirth. Once in a while. So today we're doing things the old-fashioned way. Victor's obsessive love of knowledge-his fascination with the potential power of science to overcome and eradicate death-leads him on a dangerous. Though a little melodramatic at points. The story enthralls me immediately and I find myself swept up in the film. so good."You don't think it's good?" He must be getting constructive criticism back from his workshops." he says again. "And I've made an idiot of myself more than once. His body heat radiates the measured distance between us. She offers a tentative "hello. Victor Frankenstein and." The class titters a little as she plugs in the TV and dims the lights. isn't that what the MFA's do? "I don't know." I almost ask if he'd like me to read it when Rosalie comes in. though. "How was it?" I ask her." I smile. turning his attention away from Rosalie and me. lost in thought." she says. Never having seen it myself. His war . Rosalie had assured me over the weekend that it's a pretty respectable adaptation of the novella. "We'll see. but I know it does help some people. The film in question is Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein. I glance at Edward out of the corner of my eye. Peggy comes in wheeling a geriatric looking TV/VCR combo and muttering apologies. She quirks her mouth and shrugs. Robert De Niro as the monster. He replies similarly and I'm sure the rest of the class is about to die from curiosity. I have no idea how to use the newfangled contraption up there. "You'll have to forgive me. "It could be. gesturing to the overhead data projector. Branagh's captured the story's pathos.

A few seconds later. at the same time trying not to draw attention to myself. and I know I have to get out of the room. burns herself. But the end. and fast. The stall door pushes open slightly and Edward peeks in. I slouch over the toilet. He stills. but also the depth of his grief and suffering. When the monster insists Victor make him a mate to share his solitude.against death. The door opens and I flush the toilet. suggests not only his misplaced hubris. . He looks stricken and I immediately think of Alice²his own self-perceived failure to save her. reanimates her. ultimately reflected in his creation of the monster. That would be bad enough. I pull back and refocus my attention on the movie. my footfalls echo through the empty hall as I speed to the bathroom. I make it just in time to lose the remnants of my breakfast in one of the stalls. I won't have to explain. Enraged. maddened by her loss. Once outside. heaving and ill. I feel my breathing quicken. on the night of their honeymoon. glancing at me quizzically before I realize what I've done. Elizabeth. his eyes wary with concern. . then refuses. Embarrassed. I tear my eyes off the screen and hurry to the door. bile burning my throat as I try to erase the images of burning from my mind. His jaw clenches. I glance at Edward. the nausea rising. Blindly groping my way to standing. waiting for whomever it is to find me. all I can see is my mother's body lurching. the monster murders Victor's longtime love. Branagh takes a certain liberty with the storyline. horrified by the monstrosity she's become. my stomach lurches again and I choke up the remaining contents of my stomach. I'm not prepared. Elizabeth comes to life and. but of course Victor. I feel dizzy and weak and utterly humiliated. "Bella?" Edward calls²I'm so glad it's him and not someone else. . And when the monster murders Victor's young brother in retribution for his abandonment²my hand somehow finds itself settling on Edward's jumping knee. the doctor begins to comply. As she's engulfed in fire. During the scene where Victor tries desperately to revive his mother to no avail. standing quickly and bracing myself against the wall. grotesque and alive with flames.

"A little too much for me." he says. But when I see things like that. Without saying a word reaches out his hand and takes my arm. though. . ." I say. I just remember. breaking the silence. Once I'm as fresh as I'm going to be." he replies softly. I never saw that movie before . I think. ." "It's not stupid. I'd almost forgotten his reaction to certain parts of the film. . Neither of us is stupid. for God's sake. Look at me. ." "You're not stupid. I shake my head."Are you okay?" he asks." I whisper. . gently guiding me out of the stall and over to sink. looking away to presumably give me privacy. I just ." he replies with a little smile. My face slowly turning from green to its normal color." ." "Then neither are you. Glad we cleared that up. ." "I know it's stupid. The day he walked back into my life." "I know what you mean. . considering the irony. "Very. I can't even watch a movie. "The movie was. "God. The last time I was here like this was on the day I fainted. He turns on the water and I cup my hand under it. grimacing with the bitterness of vomit on my tongue. "Okay. "Alice. I never would have. Now he's the one tending to me. I turn off the tap with a shaky hand and look at myself in the mirror. that was . I shouldn't have reacted like that. . it was too close to home. I'm so sorry. Edward stands a little to the side. In my preoccupation. ." "Good. my logic faultless." "It's okay . "Bella. giving my mouth several rinses." I murmur in agreement.

like he doesn't know whether to stay or go." "Yeah. Remember. Really. "I'll just be outside then?" "Okay. Rosalie puts her hand on my forehead." she says. I'd like to get things finalized. really." She smiles a little at that and we join Edward in the hall. all I'll do is think. "Peggy's decided to let us go early since she has another faculty meeting." "Bella. You want me to take you home?" Rosalie asks. I know I should probably eat something. but he seems to have a new-found obsession with my food intake. Rosie. I want to forget. Are you sure you don't want to go home? Edward's right. What a shitty movie." Once Edward's outside. "I completely forgot about the ending. "Lunch?" Edward suggests. I'd never expected to find such a friend. Edward and I already settled on that verdict. "If you're not up for it. Honestly." I appreciate her concern." she explains. he looks unsure. I'm feeling perceptibly better but still a little on edge. But thanks." I shake my head firmly. The three of us walk outside into the early afternoon sunlight and Rosalie hugs me goodbye before we part ways." "I'm fine. You have a week to get it done. "That's nice of you. "I'm so sorry. When I came to Chicago. Bella.The door opens again and Rosalie enters carrying my bag. Edward and I start to walk without a destination. stepping back. Bella. "It's over. Edward nods and looks at me. We still have a week. but if I go home. "I'm fine. but Edward and I have some work to do." she whispers." he says. "Call me if you wanna talk. surprise evident in his voice. "Is it like your mission in life to get me to eat?" . She doesn't seem surprised to see Edward in the ladies room." "Okay." he says. "You're freezing. it's fine.

He looks a little sheepish. we chat a bit about inconsequential things. moaning in appreciation as the juices dribble down his chin. I just thought you might be hungry after ." he replies. "He always made sure we had coke in the house when either Alice or I had a stomach thing. ." "Actually. "Mmmmhmmm. he takes a huge bite. It's not exactly conducive to studying. We can do something else if you want. I try not to dwell on it. no mayo. Once we're seated at the booth. My plate looks downright empty compared to Edward's double cheeseburger and fries. A UC undergrad haunt. and I gradually relax. Though thoughts of the movie remain on the periphery. the place pulsates. "Good?" he asks." "Sorry. Edward quickly orders cokes for us both. . damn him. patting down his errant hair. After swamping the two meat patties with more ketchup than most doctors would recommend." I admit. but it smells awesome. "Who says?" "My dad. he's right. The knots in my stomach begin to untie themselves." Edward suggests a place and we make our way towards his favorite diner a few blocks away. . My appetite returns just as my meal arrives²a plain grilled chicken sandwich. When the cokes come I take a sip and. "lunch sounds good. But it's good for the stomach. Instead. "What?" "Please don't order for me. I give him a look of consternation. crowded and loud." I guess I can't argue with that. His hair stands up with the static electricity and I raise my hand to stifle a laugh." he informs me." He smiles." I grudgingly answer. Edward doesn't bring it up either. "No. "Best burger in Chi-Town. It certainly looks like the greasiest. removing his hoodie with a flourish.

What were you thinking?" "I wanted to ask you a question. Ha. Sure." . Today's the first day I have. thinking of the tense few meetings. but his gaze doesn't falter. "Yeah."Chi-Town?" I repeat." I joke. "So you'll take care of the PowerPoint. he picks up on some things that I didn't notice. "You know." "Sorry. we get down to work sharing the close readings of the poems we've done over the past week and a half. though I'm still a little nervous about presenting in front of the group. his hands busily knotting his straw wrapper." "Yep. He shrugs and grins and goes back to eating." he says." "Not anymore. He must read the nervousness in my eyes." "That's a stretch. not anymore. "And you'll do the discussion handout. Edward's critical eye surprises and impresses me. the major components of our presentation are in place and both of us feel pretty confident. we'd gotten work done. I was thinking." he echoes." "Okay. Even though he says poetry isn't his thing." I reply." Alarm bells go off and I know what's coming²he's going to ask about the letters. "What?" "You don't have to answer if you don't want. Us working as partners." "See? This isn't so bad. but I'd never felt at ease. After about a half-hour. "Ha. Once we're finished." "Perfect. laughing at gangsta Edward.

" "No. "Yeah. You know? I thought it would mean a lot to him. as if willing it true with his very conviction. thinking back to that time in my life." "That won't happen. But it still scares me sometimes. How can I explain so that he'll understand? "A lot of reasons. "Of what?" he asks hoarsely." "You're not." Edward nods slowly. it was my mom. I know. I know that intellectually. Billy never formally adopted me. Like I could start fresh without looking back. kind of a symbolic break. of course. . but you didn't answer me. . For a long time I was afraid . But why did you . . And it did. It doesn't make the fear go away. I can't explain it. Remembering a lot of stuff. I decide to go on." he says. long enough to consider them my family. Edward lowers his gaze. but he's listening intently." "Probably not." "It won't. but seems to understand there's more to it. I know it's pretty unlikely at this point. I couldn't sleep well. But it's different. . . but he's like my father. "I'd been living with Jacob and Billy for some time ." . I was going through a hard time. "Of being like her."I asked you before." "Are you still afraid?" "Sometimes. I understand why now. "When I get anxious or nervous. . "And then . "I thought of it like ." I admit. I've read a lot about it. taking another sip of soda. . change your name?" I sigh." My eyes meet his and for a second I don't remember what I'm talking about. I mean. ." I begin." Sometimes I still can't. or something. . like maybe one day I'll wake up and I won't even notice I'm sick. .

"What's that mean?" Edward hesitates for a second. I begin to wonder if maybe it holds some truth. can I ask you a question?" He looks a little unsure but nods his assent." he says dismissively. after the movie and all. Edward smiles ruefully and leans back in his seat and I feel the gap widen again. what happens in the past affects the present. to find you. and the present. I don't want to make you uncomfortable. . "I didn't think anyone would look. "While we're at it.He nods and tears at the straw wrapper." I say. I was drunk at the time. "Thank you. displaying the entire cuff wrapped around his finely muscled arm. then rolls up his sleeve. "It's the Endless Knot. ." He thinks I changed my name to hide from him. "I thought maybe you didn't want anyone . his skin warm beneath my finger. shredding it to bits and gathering them into a little pile with his long fingers. ." "I like it. But these things need to be spoken. Its supposed to mean all things are interwoven . actually. The design is uniform throughout: interlocking black squares." Tattoos are like scars. . I don't know. "Just some impulse I had in college. the future. Without thinking I reach out to tentatively trace one of the lines. "It makes sense." It feels surprisingly good to talk about it. . His forehead furrows deeply as he speaks again. But there's obviously something still on his mind. Now's my chance. For telling me. though a little strange. The hurt. I gesture to his tattoo. I think. It's Buddhist. "Does it?" I nod slowly in realization." I reply." "You're not." he says softly. Scars that never go away or heal. While this first strikes me as absurd. covering it again. "I'm sorry.

and I know how much it hurts him²but I've told him time and time again. Do I want to go back there? "Hey!" he says. "Hey. tell that to your boyfriend when the closest school you're applying for is a seven-hour drive away. "What's wrong?" "It's . It's just what I wanted. I've hardly had any time to spend with Jacob.Edward's been holding onto his past and I've been running from mine. it's not for forever. The University of Chicago. wants to work with me. Of course. and of course he understands. I consider hiding the letter under my leg. a little less enthusiastically. My old home. one of the most prestigious scholars in my field." I say. The irony isn't lost on me. He knows how much I want this. And I know he's not going to like it when he sees what's clasped in my hands: An acceptance letter to my number one choice. but he spots it almost immediately. Peggy Riordan. I've wanted to be as thorough as possible. He always has. gesturing towards it. hey! I'm up here! For the past couple of months I've been so busy with graduate school applications. more specifically. "Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight" ±African Proverb Chapter 15 April. 2010 "Isabella?" "Yeah." . I never thought I'd go back there. pushing the door open. though. . . William Blake. "What's this?" he says. It's also close to home. What a pair we make. There aren't any universities nearby that focus on what I want to study: Romantic literature and.

" I say. "Isabella. . I know you haven't always . felt that way about me-" He trails off for a second." "What!" he exclaims. I shake my head and my reply is almost a whisper. "Will you marry me. . dropping down on one knee and leaning against the bed where I sit. How can I say goodbye to my best friend? I don't know why. "That's amazing. happy?" "Yeah. . with Jacob doing so well at the garage²he's trying to save enough to buy into Sam's business. my leaving. You know that. aloneness. But I've loved you since you first came to live with us. Right?" "Right. . "I know this is probably crazy . concern on his face." he says suddenly."You didn't get accepted?" he asks hesitantly. jumping up and pulling me into a hug. . "Jacob?" I ask. not at all like him. I am. and even now. still holding my hand as I consider . Like you said. . I'm afraid. 2010 Are you nervous? . And you'll come home for holidays. I am. . . not daring to mention how unlikely it is either of us will be able to do much visiting. my voice starting to crack. We don't exactly have a discretionary income with Billy's salary. I'll miss you . babe! Congratulations!" When I don't reply he holds me out at arms length. it's not forever. . But I don't say anything right now." I say. but now that it's become real. and you'll probably say no." "But?" "I'm nervous. . Jacob. "I'll miss you too. . then turns my hand over in his palm. His voice is so strange and intense . I did. Isabella?" ~QF~ October 19th. . "No. And . I just sit back down on the bed. But I can visit. "Aren't you . kissing it. . . and he sits next to me.

and I need to be at the top of my game. I forgot to reply. We'll do fine. . rather than scrambling to get out the door on time. I fling the box open and slide them on my feet. and the two-inch black heels nicely elongate my legs. fitted button down²a recent purchase²looks sophisticated without being stuffy. A little. I do. I'll see you in a few. The purple. With the makeup and my hair done up in a French twist. turning to look at myself in the mirror. But then I'd be nervous and out of it. . I look startlingly different from my usual self. My phone buzzes again. and finally made a long-overdue appointment to visit her office hours. Edward's message. I'm sure Edward will stroll into class wearing his hoodie and jeans. I only wore them once-the day I graduated from college-but today I want to feel and look professional. I know once we get underway it won't be so bad²anticipation always makes everything worse. Hah! I think²easy for him to say! Edward's always been at ease talking in front of people.Edward's text message momentarily distracts me from my desperate search for the only high heels I own. I'd met with Peggy after she sent me an email wondering about my hasty departure from the film. It's a blatant lie²my nerves are on edge and I almost wish I had a Valium. I should have gotten up earlier. Our talk had gone wonderfully²she agreed to serve as my graduate advisor and told me my performance in the class so far had been exemplary²but now I feel added pressure to do well today. like always. . Now where are those damn shoes? Maybe they're in one of the boxes in the corner . If you say so. I'd assured her I was fine. My charcoal grey wool trousers sit smartly on my hips. Ah-ha! Finally. even when we were kids. Earlier in the week. Oh. Okay. I locate the shoes in a long-forgotten hidden corner of my closet. I type out quickly. No worries. worn over an off-white cami. Not too bad.

So much. Peggy suggested I begin reading journals in my field to familiarize myself with the discourse. I just feel so bare with him. . I haven't seen Edward since our meeting after class last Tuesday. I told him about the dream and it sounded so silly. I want that. right now I'm incredibly thankful we're in the same boat. . And that's not the only reason. not a suit. but close enough²dark jeans and a brown blazer. I found myself pulling back a little when he asked me about my weekend plans. and so I immediately logged in to the library database after our meeting. irrationally so. I can do this. A belt? I'm nearly speechless. intense. Ever. He'd seemed a bit disappointed when I told him I wanted to stay in to work. Do I detect a belt? I'm pretty sure I've never seen Edward dressed like this. I put on Peggy-approved silver dangly earrings and a bit of lipstick before grabbing my coat and bag and heading out the door. It was years after the poor thing had died a natural death. Even though he hadn't done it²my mind had²the anger took a while to dissipate. Doing outside research will only help me later once I begin dissertation writing. I'd assured him I wasn't having second thoughts about trying to be friends. Well. . What if one day you woke up and you realized your life was a dream? How much laughter would it take to make it disappear? I'm so deep in my thoughts I almost don't recognize Edward standing outside the Humanities building as I approach. . but when I woke up I found I was angry²stupidly. He's wearing a suit. fearful of falling behind. We laughed about it and my unhappy feelings vanished. Our revelations then had been somewhat . Finch. when he asked what was wrong. . really. and I knew what he feared. A little voice inside me wonders if concern over scholarship is the only reason I've been so diligent. but still. Even though someday we'll be competitors on the job market. Once I had a dream that Jacob killed my bird. And the shirt underneath . And I wasn't lying. Rosie and I have agreed to read and discuss one article per week outside of our normal coursework. it's tucked in. but I find the reading difficult. To make it easier.As a final touch. This is why I'm here. Later that day. For the past week I've thrown myself into my studies.

my face heating at the compliment. professional." My hand hovers between us for a second before I reach out and yank the tag. ." "Well. He fakes a frown but his eyes are alight with suppressed laughter." "Thanks. You have ." I say. No! It's great. . "No." Edward grumbles. gesturing toward the door. a crooked grin on his face." So maybe that's why Edward was asking about my weekend plans? Did he want me to come out with them? Well. We went out on Friday. You look so . I just never . Bella. . What an experience. "This is what I get for going shopping with Angela and Jasper. He pockets it quickly with a shy smile. I try to bite the smile that's forming on my lips as he looks at me perplexedly. "So do you. This is new. ." I reply. "Oh. Wow." "Is it too much?" he asks a bit warily. I can't promise that." I joke." "So I gathered. "You look ." He chuckles a little selfconsciously." "Shall we?" Edward asks. my mind still dissecting Edward's possible intentions. . "Consider it set. it gives with the force and Edward's eyes widen as I hold it out to him. "Yeah. why didn't he tell me? "Wow." he says once I'm in earshot. He must've just bought the jacket. . I nod. . you know. "Yeah. really nice. Jasper's in town?" I ask casually as we continue up the stairs. He just got back from covering the elections in Sudan actually." "Never speak of this again?" he asks hopefully. . . "Oh. setting the bar high and all."Hey. "Um. through Thanksgiving. but then out of the corner of my eye I notice a tag hanging from under his arm.

Edward. the incident long forgotten. so you should . "Did you tell them ." I say softly. but nervous. Now that we're at the top of the stairs I can see people milling around outside of the classroom. But they want to see you. ." Edward steps back. But I did say we'd lost touch due to a misunderstanding. . Angela. Back at home. We usually go . Later Alice joins us and we eat ice cream outside on her front steps. my stomach queasy from the sight of raw flesh. especially . Angela and Jasper ." "Oh. Once we're at a safe distance. She swerves on some gravel and falls. her mother dabs the wound as I turn away. . he leans toward me with serious eyes. . leaning against the wall next to me. . She smiles bashfully and gives me a sideways glance . Anyway. skinning her knee." I'm just thinking about all the people I haven't told about Edward²and wondering what exactly he told them about me. Not the whole story. . I hope you're not mad. . . We're thirteen and riding bikes at her house." "I'm not mad. I had to explain some way. We still have a few minutes until class. a look only I would understand. . Edward glances towards them and motions silently for me to follow him down the opposite hall. Angela. He looks hopeful. . ?" I ask. In school." he starts." "No. waiting for my response. I don't think they'll ask too many questions."He said it was incredible. . The others are planning on coming . I catch a waft of mint on his breath as he sighs. "I'd like to see them. Ben Cheney tells her he likes when she wears braids in her hair. You should²" "I should . . . urging him to go on. "I told them . "Well." "I was drunk. . His pictures are²unbelievable. I'm sorry. . that you were here. if you feel up to it. . "I'm doing a reading this weekend with a few other MFA's down at Odyssey Books. . . about why . raising my eyes to meet his.

What might they think of me showing up? The idea of hanging out with them isn't very appealing. . Seeing people again. surely Kate. But Edward's presence calms me²I know we're in this together. too." I agree. we're presenting on John Keats's poetry and work. . sweating a little from all of the eyes focused on my task." "So. I need to make a decision but I can't right now. I'm supposed to go first with the introduction. thankfully it's not as intense. But Edward had said "the others. I glance up and meet Rosalie's kind eyes. "Hi everyone. Edward takes a seat next to where I stand. I finish up connecting the requisite wires. Another glance down the hall tells me class is starting soon. Peggy beams at us and relinquishes her spot at the front of the room while I set up my laptop for the PowerPoint. shall we go 'wow' them?" "Let's do it. and the rest will be there too. okay?" I tell him. . and you can join us if you want . "I'll think about it. Garrett. When he finds the handout he passes a stack of them to Alison. so I clear my throat. I can't remember what to say. "I understand." "I will." if other MFA's are at the reading. His voice holds a trace of disappointment even as he maintains his smile. as you know. She smiles warmly and gives a slight nod. It's just a big step for me. shuffling through papers in a folder. "Today." he offers. Kate obviously dislikes me." And socializing with your new friends." He's rambling a little as I try to imagine what the encounter would be like . Edward and I are the last to enter the room and I feel the nervous flutter again . urging me to go on. seated to his left. "You can bring Rosalie. . I'm going to begin with a PowerPoint just to set the . but just as I'm ready to speak my mind goes blank. "Just let me know. . "I want to see you read. But I do want to hear Edward read." I begin. . the thought of seeing old friends is exciting but unnerving." he says.out afterward.

" Edward nods as I speak." I smile and blush-now everyone in the class probably hates us. After a short break. before I know it class is over and we haven't even covered half of the assigned readings. . we move onto the critical reception of the poetry. This indicates our preparedness²another good sign. "In fact. one of his last letters to Fanny Brawne reads: 'I have left no immortal work behind me ² nothing to make my friends proud of my memory ² but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all things. "it also poses an interesting question²do we in some ways fetishize him because he died so young? How does his position as the quintessential Romantic poet shape the discourse itself?" I smile a little at Edward's effortless transition to our discussion handout. and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd'. shall we?" I begin the PowerPoint and Edward and I take turns discussing the slides-I focus on Keats's early years and he explains a little bit of his history in Rome." I conclude as we transition to more open-ended discussion. both then and now. using some of his own pictures to provide visuals. It's exciting. "I'm impressed by your technological prowess. "Some of the questions we'd like you to consider are on the handout. but he's focused on a paper in front of him." Edward adds. People are packing up but her comment was clearly audible. From then on. Keats never lived to see the height of his fame. Time passes quickly. and every once in a while I cast a sideways glance at Peggy. conversation flows like wine." Peggy remarks from a few seats away as I shut down my computer. but of course those are only guidelines. and more than once discussion becomes heated²but not in a bad way. but we'd like this class to be as interactive and focused on discussion as possible. The conversation moves fluidly between us. "Since he died so young." "But. leading class like this.scene. and of course the poetry itself. Let's get started. jotting down some notes. I start to relax again and the words flow more easily. She's observing us carefully with a thoughtful look on her face that I hope is a good sign. People clearly have a lot to say about the topics we've raised. Black. "Ms. He also believed he never reached his full potential. being at the center of it all.

"Thanks," I mumble, trying to accept the compliment gracefully. "I always feel bringing multimedia into the classroom really aids with learning, with graduates as well as undergraduates. Well done, both of you." She nods at Edward beside me. We chat for a few more minutes as the rest of the class files out. Rosalie has a TA meeting with the bastard Finley, so I give her a quick wave and a concerned smile before she departs. She's wearing her game face, but that doesn't stop her from giving me a "thumbs up" sign. I try not to laugh because Peggy is still talking. "Your reading of 'To Autumn,' was especially smart, I thought. Good consideration of how Keats uses imagery and stanza formation to show how death can be a sort of renewal. Your close-readings were spot-on." "It was all Isabella," Edward says firmly. "It was both of us," I amend, giving him a look. I don't want or need all the credit. "I'm sure," Peggy says with a little smile. "In any case, it was very interesting." Peggy congratulates us again before she leaves. As soon as she's gone I flop down into a conveniently located chair, sighing loudly. "Whoa. That was intense." "You can say that again," Edward agrees. "How do you think we did?" Edward smiles a little cockily. "I think we kicked ass," he says, reaching out for a high-five. I slap his hand. "Peggy seemed to like it." "Definitely." I feel a little giddy. The relief of everything going off so well, coupled with Edward and I here, together, just talking, makes me laugh. It feels to good to be true. "What's so funny?" he asks.

"I don't know!" I say with a giggle. He considers me with an amused expression, shaking his head. "You're in hysterics." "Maybe." "I think this calls for a celebratory drink." "But it's only noon." "It's five o'clock somewhere," Edward rationalizes. "Come on. We deserve it." "All right," I agree. Why not? I wasn't planning on doing work today anyway. "Where do you wanna go?" "I know just the place." "Is it far?" I ask as I stand up, remembering my shoes. They're not the most comfortable things to walk in. "Maybe we can stop by my apartment first so I can change and drop off my computer?" "We'll take a cab." Edward says, glancing at my shoes. "Unless your feet hurt now." "No, they're fine." "Good. Then, let's go!" "All right! Pushy, pushy." Edward grins and we finish gathering our things. Before I can stop him, Edward takes my laptop bag and casually hoists it across his shoulder²just as he used to do. I almost say something but think better of it, instead following him out of the door. Out on the street, we're not long in getting a cab. Edward gives a Delaware Street address and the driver assents with a nod. It's one of those beautiful fall days where the air seems especially clear and crisp²no trace of the sweltering humidity that you find in summertime Chicago²and so I roll down the window a bit, letting the breeze swirl around me. Edward watches the street quietly from his seat as we drive, his knee bouncing. My phone buzzes in my bag and I pull it out: a text message from Jacob.

How'd it go? Really good. Call you later? I reply. If Edward is curious about who I'm texting, he makes no indication. Ten seconds later: Congrats babe! Sounds good. So like him. Happy. To the point. He has no idea I doubt his honesty like this. That just by being here right now . . . I am dishonest too. Ten minutes or so later we're disembarking at the curb, as I shake off my slight misgiving. Edward pays quickly, dismissing my attempts to retrieve my wallet from my bag. "It was my idea," he explains as we start to walk. "Fine," I huff. "But I'm getting the drinks then." "Sounds like a deal." "Where are we going anyway?" We're down on the Magnificent Mile, surrounded by skyscrapers, stores, and restaurants. I rarely come to this part of town. "We're here." "What?" Edward gestures towards the building in front of us²I hadn't even noticed we were standing in front of the Hancock Center. "Have you been here before?" I shake my head, a little alarmed²does he want to go to the top of the center? I know there's some sort of observatory up there but I've never been. The truth is I'm not exactly fond of heights. Edward must read the hesitation on my face because his smile falters. "You're afraid of heights," he says, matter-of-factly. "Just a little."

"We don't have to. It was just a stupid idea." I hate when he says things like that²he can be so dismissive of himself²his writing, the tattoo, even this well-intentioned impromptu plan. "No." I firmly reign in my own fear. "It's an awesome idea. I'd love to check it out." "You're sure?" he asks skeptically. Despite the fact my palms have already begun to sweat, I nod with an emphatic "yes." Edward's answering smile is so sweet I know I've done the right thing. Once we're inside, the elevator speeds us to the top so rapidly I don't have time to change my mind. I have to steady myself on Edward's arm when the elevator lurches to a halt, and he reaches his hand to my hip automatically. The doors open. He removes his hand quickly and I let go of his arm, both of us slightly embarrassed at the contact. It reminds me of the unconscious way I'd touched his knee in class during that horrible movie. Or hugging the night he came to my house. Familiar gestures, but different. For some reason they stand out more clearly than the most intentional embrace. Edward pays our fees and we follow the other guests out into the observatory, forgoing the "audio tour" one of the employees tries to foist on us. I gasp as I realize how high up we are²definitely higher than I've ever been. Edward follows close behind as I make my way towards the tall windows² the place is so open, affording a spectacular 360-degree view. It's a breathtaking sight²the city is bathed in afternoon sunlight, shadows from the shorter buildings dipping and twisting in sinuous paths around their neighbors. The clear day makes visibility extend for miles, probably beyond the borders of Illinois. I reach out and touch my hand to the thick glass. Everything is so far below it seems surreal, more like a movie than real life, which provides a sort of comfort. My vertigo seems contained for now, at least. "What do you think?" Edward asks cautiously. "Do you like it?"

"I do. It's incredible, Edward." I can't tear my eyes away. So many people. I imagine myself back down on the ground, in another life, inhabiting another body. "I thought you would. Well, maybe that you would have liked it. When we were kids." "I still like it now," I say, turning to him with just a hint of a smile. I'm not prepared for the pain in my chest that wrenches and pulls when my eyes meet his. I'm not expecting to see sadness there, matching mine, but I do. For the first time in nine years it feels like we're friends²real friends. It shouldn't be sad, but it is. I want to speak these things out loud, but I don't know why my heart hurts. My mind grapples with reasons, but my thoughts speak only in pictures, images. The tender growth of new skin. Sometimes it hurts when skin knits together, each side seeking its wholeness. But how to describe this to him? Perhaps it can't be put into language. Perhaps we all have our own ways of envisioning pain. I clear my throat and look away, self-protective instincts kicking in. Today we should be happy. Edward seems to follow my train of thought. "So. We came to celebrate, right?" he asks. "Right." "A drink then?" "Definitely." There's a relatively well-stocked café and Edward lets me buy him a beer and a sandwich. I select a glass of white wine and a grilled chicken salad, and we choose a small table near the windows and away from the throng of Midwestern tourists that teem the place. We sit and chat while we eat. Edward points out a few landmarks and swears he can see his apartment building from where we sit. We talk about Peggy's class and school in general. I tell him more about my life since I've moved here, though there isn't much to say. But I'm happy to be officially working with Peggy and Edward seems proud of me too.

He tells me about Emmett²he's apparently single and looking²and I immediately think about Rosalie. I suggest it and Edward laughs dismissively. It is kind of a silly idea, I suppose, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. I don't ask him about Kate or if he's dating anyone at the moment, and he doesn't offer any information on that front. I don't talk about Forks, Jacob and Billy, or letters and Edward doesn't mention those things either. But once I catch him looking at my left hand and I control the sudden, strange impulse to move it from the table. Somewhere my mind guiltily registers it's not the first time I've done so. Jacob had been embarrassed about the modest engagement ring, but it was all he could afford. As if I would have wanted more. I'd never been big on jewelry, even as a kid. The necklace my mother had given me had been the only one I'd really ever owned, and that was lost in the fire along with everything else. Well, almost everything. Edward looks back to my face and flushes a little at being caught staring. To break the tension, I offer to buy another us another round of drinks. Two hours later, we're finishing our third, and I'm feeling quite fine. I'm not used to drinking in the daylight, but night is rapidly falling. When I glance at my cell phone, I can't believe it's gotten as late as it has²we've talked for so long. Edward drains the rest of his beer and wonders if I'm up for one more. A fourth. Why not? He sets off on his errand and I sit, watching the spectacle unfold before me. The setting sun is alive. Vibrant, fiery, oranges and pink hues light up the October sky, almost blinding in their brilliance. It reminds me of something Blake would have illustrated. It reminds me of something Renee once said when she was well, when I was a very little girl. Mom? Why does the sky turn colors when the sun sets? Every day, God works so hard keeping track of what happens on Earth, so in the evening he relaxes by painting the sky. He chooses glorious colors, but he's never satisfied with his picture. He erases it with night and tries again the next day. That's why the sunset is different each night. But I thought God was perfect? Wouldn't he paint a perfect picture the first time?

Sometimes you're too smart for your own good, baby. Like so many of my memories, I'm not sure if it happened quite like that, or if I'm remembering and fusing several different moments together. But it feels so real. So real I can almost imagine her here with me right now. "Bella? Are you okay?" Edward's back at the table and I'm startled from my reverie. "Yeah. I was just thinking. I'm sorry." "Don't be sorry. You want to talk about it?" he asks. "No," I shake my head, not wanting to bring down the moment by being a sentimental drunk. "It's just so beautiful." "It is," he replies, but he's not even looking outside. "Edward," I say, taking another sip of wine. "Can I ask you a question?" "Uh-oh," he says, "another one of those?" "Yep." "Okay. What's your question?" "My question is . . . what's the best thing you ever ate?" I giggle a little at his wide-eyed expression²obviously he wasn't expecting such an easy one. He smiles slowly, taking another sip and leaning back in his chair. "My mother's beef stew." "Ah-ha!" I exclaim, "I thought you'd say my blueberry muffins, just to placate me." "Well, they're second place, of course," he says with a grin. "What about you?" That's easy. "The cake my mom bought me on my twelfth birthday." I think for a second, wracking my brain for another innocuous question. "What's your favorite non-90's band, and if you say The Killers I'll puke."

"What? The Killers suck," he replies with a frown. I can't contain my smile, remembering Kate's shirt. He scrunches his forehead and looks up at the ceiling like he's trying to figure out the meaning of life. Finally, he exhales with a triumphant, "Sonic Youth." "I said non-90's!" "They formed in 1981, Bella," Edward replies smugly. "I should have known." "What about you?" "Easy. The Beatles," I say. Edward rolls his eyes. "Still a hippie, I see." "Of course." Edward grins at me and we continue our game, covering everything from places we'd like to visit to favorite cartoons. "Worst game show ever?" "Wheel of Fortune." "Wrong! The Price is Right." "That's entirely subjective," I complain. "The Price is Right is moderately entertaining while Wheel of Fortune has been proven to actually kill brain cells." "Oh has it?" Edward asks, arching his eyebrow. "Yep. Scientifically." "I see. Fine. After a few more rounds, we're bordering on total nonsense arguing over the best Saturday Night Live character. I laugh as Edward does his best Wild and Crazy Guys impression, trying to convince me. I'm strongly loyal to Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, however, and cannot be dissuaded. "Give me one good reason," Edward insists.

"They're from Aurora. They're locals." "Is that your only defense?" "No! Two hilarious spin off movies? I'd say that beats your crappy sketch." "Well, what's Mike Meyers done lately? Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd are legends." "I think you're forgetting Dana Carvey," I say. "Garth is key." "Oh, his career is in the toilet." "I don't recall seeing Ackroyd in any decent films, I don't know, in the past decade," I tease. Edward rolls his eyes. "He's currently filming Ghostbusters 3," he says with hopeful shrug. "You've got to be kidding me. That's all you've got? Pathetic. No one likes Ray." "Do you remember," he says with a little grin, "the day we played Ghostbusters?" I groan²how could I forget. It was one of Edward's favorite movies when we were kids, and he'd convinced Alice and I to play along one day. He'd of course gotten to be Peter, the coolest Ghostbuster, and I quickly snatched up Egon, leaving Alice to choose between Winston and Ray. "Alice was not happy." "And the game lasted about a half an hour before she went crying to mom." "Bella and Edward are being mean!" "It wasn't our fault she was being held hostage by ghosts!" "Definitely not," I agree, laughing at the memory. It feels good to talk about Alice like this. We reminisce for a little while²at one point I'm in such a fit of laughter that I grab his hand on the table. I don't know if it's the alcohol, or what, but it doesn't feel weird at all. Until he covers my hand with his. Then something strange happens . . . my mind feels fuzzy and confused. I pull away slowly,

." he says with a sigh. because it completely disproves your point. ." "Hmm ." Edward says. It comes easily. there are two days. Well ." "Do you wanna know or don't you?" I nod." I reply." "Not fair!" "The original question asked for 'happiest day. okay. I take another sip and try to clear my head. Edward. Edward's hands stay on the table. throwing his hands up. "You're just upset I'm right. "Do you want me to tell you the truth." "I don't." he says quietly." . . but something about his demeanor makes me nervous. "I don't know why you're bringing this up. trying to think of a good one. "Agree to disagree." "Okay. I want to know." "But you just said you had two! I hate when people say they're gonna tell you something and then they don't." I laugh. "The night of Erin's party." I tap my chin. "One last question. "What was your happiest day?" Edward's face slowly becomes serious. "You might." "Fine. Even a nine-year-old knows better than to choose Ray. . Still. She picked Winston.returning my hands to the stem of my wine glass.' singular. "When you told me about your letters. It's your turn. "Okay. palms up as if in supplication." he says. or a lie?" "Why would I want you to lie?" "I don't know. But I'll just tell you one.

But I can't tell him. He doesn't seem happy. and he picks that one. They're searching for something. but what can I say? So I remain silent. his eyes dart from my hands on the table to my eyes. I can't think of anything else to say . . either. . .I don't know what I'm expecting. Bella? It's not the day it should be. my mind drifts back to the look on his face as I exited the cab. He's looking at me so intently and I can barely speak. I don't know." Edward says." I lie. . yes.fire. "Ah. but it's certainly not that. I don't think it's happened yet. His voice holds a trace of coldness . but it doesn't even sound convincing to my ears. The most tangible of all visible mysteries . In general. . Out of all of the days. He's misunderstood me. Edward and I had shared a taxi back from the John Hancock and as I speak to Rosalie. . . I can't believe it. . 2010 "How'd it go?" On the day after our presentation I lay in bed nursing a bit of a hangover²I definitely drank too much wine last night. Not just last night. watching the last glimmer of light fade from the sky. Have you ever been kissed. . My mouth immediately goes dry ." I whisper. any untruth that would sound convincing. and when I look up again. looking down at my hands on the table to avoid his gaze. Your wedding. "Oh. I'm sure that will be a very happy day." "No. looking away. ~Leigh Hunt Chapter 16: October 22. "See? You'd rather I lied. "What's your happiest day. "Really?" He nods slowly. Bella?" One day comes to mind immediately and it's shocking .

" she replies. leaving out. We chat for a while and Rosalie asks what Edward and I did after class. I tell her about the visit to the John Hancock Center and how much fun we had. "He fucking better. of course. . "I know you guys are trying to be friends²I'll be good. I don't even want to relive it. That's really nice. I don't want to share it. well. But just suffice it to say that it was enough to make me wonder what the hell I ever saw in that guy." "No. Edward's confession about his favorite day." Her words sting just a little. . I just don't want him to hurt you. anyway. but TA positions are hard to come by and it's too late at this point in the semester. Just pragmatic. He's a fucker. Old habits and all. If Rosalie gives up her job. it was a shit show. she's amazing. do you think he'll treat you fairly?" I'd encouraged my friend to ask for another assignment given the situation. I have a pair of his underwear and I'm not afraid to bring them to the administration. "Yeah. Yesterday was the first time she'd met with Finley in a professional capacity since they'd broken up. her doubting him bothers me now. sorry." "So . "Wow." "Do you think you can keep working for him? I mean. and I feel bad for my wandering attention. It was nice. Maybe a lot. if it comes down to it. "Honestly Bella. "Sorry." For some reason." Rosalie replies. "What happened?" Rosalie sighs on the end of the line. of course." Rosalie murmurs. and he knows it. she's out of funding. It hadn't before. I didn't know Edward had it in him." "Yeah?" ." In my book." "You're amazing. "Don't be like that. I promise."Oh.

" "Whoa. . "Exactly." "Are you gonna go?" "Um." "So I guess this isn't the best time to bring it up." "Aaaand?" "It seems people are talking about you and Edward." "What?" "That you guys are an item or something. I mean. but Edward asked if I'd go to his reading on Friday." My heart skips a beat²and all I can think of are four letter words. The upcoming reading. . I was thinking about it. stretching and thinking of Edward and Kate. I told her it's not true²it's just that people have noticed how you guys have started acting differently around each other." "It was for class." "Down at Odyssey?" "Yeah. completing each other's sentences . It was just a . one second you're mortal enemies and the next you're working together. Edward's friends ." "You don't have to defend yourself." "Unless you're an MFA. some people I knew when I was a kid . they'll be there too. . "I met with Alison yesterday evening. . "We live vicariously through other people. . Relax. I told you from day one academics are the worst sorts of gossips. And we didn't . Don't listen to what people say. But it's gonna be weird. ." she says with a dismissive laugh. . .There's a sharp inhale on the other end of the line. . You know the truth and that's all that matters. . What the hell did she say?" "Whoa! Bella." I sigh. "Well that's just crazy. And you haven't seen them yet?" .

I thank God for the cold night. We do." "Well. "Yes. I can see the illuminated sign of the bookstore beckoning." For the last couple of days. Aside from the fact I'll be seeing my long-lost friends for the first time. not since I was 14. clutching onto my arm for support. Here. I was kinda hoping you'd come with me. I'm also a little nervous about how Edward's other friends will react to my presence." "We do?" "Yes. oxygenated air of Forks. At least focusing on tonight has kept my mind off of one thing. I will!" And this is another reason I love Rosalie²she's always game." "And do you want to?" I think back to my conversation with Edward²how much he'd wanted me to go. "You ready to do this thing?" Rosalie asks. . making everything clearer²sharper. 'cause we need to go shopping. I don't wait long. what's the problem then?" "Weeellll . Only about a block away. then nothing. only the cold provides that same clarity of mind. She's wearing heels the likes of which I have never seen." ~QF~ On Friday as Rosalie and I hop off the "El" and onto the platform. I've been in a perpetual state of dread and excitement." "Oh good. All I know is that I don't want Kate to know about my history²I don't trust her one bit. I miss air that fills your lungs and refreshes. "Hell yeah. waiting for her response. Sort of. "What are you doing right now?" "I have some work to do for class tomorrow." I pause. I can't pass it up. I think I do. brown riding boots. . I'll stick with my flat. "Yeah. . Chicago air is not like the verdant. thank you very much."No. And now that I have the chance to see Angela again.

of course. "Oh God. I have grown used to. the same wide. stealthy beast. But every year it creeps up like a slow-moving." Rosalie says playfully with a poke to my side. How could I not have remembered? "Bella?" Rosalie asks as we approach the building. . then. . It's a used bookstore. mill around the store. He's just how I remember him²older. his eyes searching till they alight on Rosalie and me. Just a date. Just a date. hipster people. A glance at the calendar on the kitchen wall shocked me." Rosalie whispers lowly in my ear. I nod and she gives me a supportive smile.I hadn't even realized it until yesterday." I giggle a little at her ancient movie reference²Rosalie is a master at using humor to diffuse tension. "Who the heck is that?" Rosalie asks with interest. but the same broad shoulders. This year. atmosphere. Edward says something else and Emmett nods. "There's your bud. but I've already decided I better not drink tonight. written in black ink like any other day. Emmett McCarty swivels his head. Others begin to fill the rows of folding chairs. but then I notice his telltale hair. Edward looks up and over at us. Candlelight. it's pounced quickly. but when we step in I instantly love it. Holy crap. some who I recognize from campus. a table displays a modest array of cheese and wine. Towards the back of the room. coupled with the fact he stands about a half-head taller than most people. taking me unaware. That. albeit pretentious. At first I don't see Edward among the crowd of people gathered at the front of the room. one of those places with hidden corners you can get lost in. The musty smell of well-worn leather bindings and yellowing pages mingles in the air with another comforting aroma²a few candles burn. October 24th. lighting the reading area and creating a warm. A few people." I've never been inside Odyssey before. "I see . makes him conspicuous. sincere smile. . a grin spreading over his face as he turns to speak to the dark-haired man next to him. "All right. Let's go in.

Emmett's button down shirt and black trousers look much more formal by comparison. I was fourteen the last time I saw him. "Thanks for coming. My heart thrums nervously as I glance at them. . "Little Bee. "It's so good to see you . People want to know how I am but they're afraid to ask. Emmett. he envelops me in a tremendous hug. releasing me. And I had a boyfriend ." "Yeah. "When Edward told me I just couldn't believe it. "Here they come. ." I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of this tonight. but Angela and Jasper aren't here yet." he says. . patting her hair as they start making their way towards us. Bella. I wonder if he's waiting for me to bring it up." "Are you . He's back to wearing his usual clothes-a black Sex Pistols shirt and jeans with a chain hanging from his pocket. my scars. We have yet to talk about my treatment or my time in the hospital. handsome. . and very much like an author with his notebook in hand. Though I can't see him. "Here I am. Even with Edward. and then behind. Maybe both. Before I can answer." he says. . nearly lifting me off the floor. "Emmett. and this kid. It's the elephant in the room²the fire." I trail off. elbowing Edward." she grits through her teeth. Edward looks scruffy. "has been sooo²" Before he can finish." I whisper. And here you are. closing the distance between us with a hug. . well." he whispers in my ear. He told me after the presentation he wasn't going to shave for a week and the thick growth of stubble along his jaw proves it. ." Emmett says with a grin. I can hear Edward's throaty chuckle. Edward cuts him off with a "Fuck off. or if he just doesn't want to know." He shoves Emmett aside." "I'm okay. blinded as I am by Emmett's shoulder."Emmett." "You didn't tell me he was fine. Edward's roommate²he's the one I told you about.

oh my God. And I'm glad for them. For the moment. "Emmett. Angela follows suit. ." she replies. She's in the program with me. I'm with you on that one. but I don't want to lie. slapping Edward on the back again. letting go of Jasper and rushing over to me." "Very nice to meet you. "Yeah." Just then the door chimes again and we all turn round. I immediately recognize Angela's petite frame."Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss it. I allow myself to just revel in seeing this girl. "I can't believe it! I just can't believe it!" We stand and hug and cry and I don't care there are so many people watching. her long straight hair parted at the side. now a woman²one of my only friends from home. taller and blonder than I remember. "Any friend of Little Bee's is a friend of mine." "I'd say the same about Edward's. finally alighting on us as a warm smile spreads across his face. I hug Jasper too. before they notice us. Rose. Emmett laughs at that. anyway?" My stomach lurches uncomfortably²I know immediately he's talking about Kate. Her arm is looped through his and they're laughing about something. Jasper's gaze sweeps the room." I say. happy he's here even though I never knew him very well." she says. stepping away from Edward. Jasper ushers her in the door. "this is my friend Rosalie." Rosalie smiles and a very transfixed Emmett takes her hand. Where is your shadow. It's only confirmed when Edward grumbles. I can tell they're happy together. her eyes widening in disbelief as they meet mine. "Bella." Rosalie clears her throat and I turn my head and to find her watching us expectantly. "She's not my shadow. Edward sure has some interesting friends. It's so good to see her. In this moment.

and I'm sure he can read mine. what I'm studying. but there's not much time for serious conversation. how I ended up at Chicago. The last time we were all together like this Alice was alive. ." I murmur. In that one moment I can read his mind. "I think it's wonderful! Who's the lucky guy?" I tell her about Jacob. turning back to me. Five minutes before the reading. . Luckily. another girl arrive. But ." she says. I'm engaged. "What's this!" "Um . he's deep in conversation with Emmett and Rosalie. Such an intimate gesture of comfort and familiarity²I feel another one of those pangs. "You're engaged! Edward. the reunion isn't half as awkward as I feared²until Angela notices the ring on my hand and snatches it up with an exclamation." she scolds. Riley. I wish it could be easy. Happily. Angela wants to know what I've been doing. I wish it didn't make me feel uncomfortable to talk about Jacob in front of Edward. "Well. Edward looks on pensively. She tells me a bit about her job. . "You didn't tell us Bella was engaged!" "It wasn't my news to tell. not really joining in the conversation until I catch his eye. But while the words coming out of my mouth make Angela smile." he replies with a shrug. their hands finding each other surreptitiously. One is missing. I haven't been able to forget what Edward said about his favorite day and what I felt but didn't say. who Edward introduces me to as Carmen²she's stunning with black hair and eyes to . they feel strange on my tongue. The guilt weighs heavily and uncomfortably in my chest. She grins over her shoulder at Jasper. Kate. Just friends. I feel like I've been unfaithful to Jacob even though Edward and I are just friends. .Rosalie introduces herself and the six of us stand catching up for a few minutes as more people filter in. averting my eyes from Edward.

my heart beating more quickly for him. It's the story of a young unmarried couple moving in to their first apartment together and Edward really captures their hopefulness. Of course she immediately gravitates toward Edward. who sits on her other side. both very different in tone and subject. and people begin to take their seats. I settle down in-between Rosalie and Angela. excitement and the fear²he enters both of their heads. The first story surprises me²it's incredibly funny and smart in a way that reminds me almost of a young Philip Roth." Edward says. and so proud of him even though he's barely begun. "Wasn't that good?" Angela whispers in my other ear. she waves as we pass. The audience claps. the entire audience is laughing and cheerful. Perhaps there might be a love connection there after all. "I'm a little nervous. but it won't." Edward whispers as we trail the others towards our reserved seats. Kate greets me civilly but I detect an icy undercurrent to her tone. the things that they desire. but that's one of the best I've heard. The two of them speak lowly together during the short pause between stories and I smirk to myself. "Why?" "Because it could be crap." . the things that irritate them. shy voice. "Most of Edward's stories are. I investigate his face to see if he's joking²he seems serious." I notice Peggy seated next to a handsome grey-haired man. It's really well done." "It could be. squeezing my arm quickly before taking his place at the front of the room. he tells us.match and a soft. wide-eyed smile before returning her attention to Emmett. the audience immediately stills to listen. Edward has two pieces to read. "I'm glad you came. Edward has an incredible stage presence and a beautiful reading voice²so why wouldn't you? I'm transfixed. and by the end of the story. At the sound of his voice. But I'm spared from anything else as the bookstore owner calls us all to attention. It's really quite exciting. I decide that I like her much better than her more gregarious and irritating friend. Rosalie gives me a quick. giving us a glimpse at the things that make them nervous.

"On this particular day. seemed keen on his meeting her. immediately setting a more melancholic tone." is all I can reply because Edward's getting ready to read again. "This is a story about a journey. he had an errand²an unusual one. By all accounts. his Adam's apple bobbing. modern prose of the first. Her niece. and she had never been to the city before. the story begins just after the Armistice is signed and before the rise of Fascism. not an active participant in the life around him. and when he begins again his voice is firmer. This time. old-fashioned narrative style²it's much different from the jaunty. was coming to visit. Set in 1918. His landlady had requested he pick up a bouquet of flowers at a negozio di fiori on the other side of town. comic. the expected visitor was quite beautiful. and while he was vaguely intrigued by the prospect. I glance around me and notice everyone. in rapt attention. "He went to the same café every day. hoping for a glimpse of his real life through his fiction. Because he was an American. The story is of a young. I like the formal." Edward pauses. But still the proprietariolistened patiently every time the young man placed his order." Edward begins quietly. ordered the same cup of coffee²a double espresso. recently discharged American soldier abroad in Rome. you can tell the trauma of the brutal war . That night. bent consonants foolishly. but tripped over vowels."It was awesome. he would get it right. dinner would be served at seven. is adrift. he tried hard to speak the language. a young woman from the countryside. The landlady. Once Edward begins reading. he met the day with no real excitement. and so I automatically listen for signs of Edward. the rest of the world melts away. who is never named. especially the women. describing the soldier's journey through Rome on a spring day²he sees the beauty and wonder of the city but as an observer." Edward continues on. his voice is much more subdued. There is a sense that the soldier. The story recounts several stops he makes on his way to get the flowers²several mishaps and encounters with denizens of Rome²but still he remains impassive. He takes a deep swig of water from a bottle. During our first in class argument he'd insisted I was misguided for doing so²but I can't help it. Just under the surface of his character. though still that familiar velvet. He was a consummate foreigner waiting to be absorbed by an ambivalent country. especially. before he returns to the lectern. confident that one day.

designed by a famous American sculptor for his wife. he leaves them for the Angel of Grief. . "But one tomb in particular. Such an understated story²so filled with emotion without melodrama. reading names and marveling that the most beautiful and peaceful place in Rome was a place of death. It's devastatingly sad. Edward smiles a little shyly at the applause before retreating to his seat at the end of our row. her body prostrate and weeping. I blink back tears. everyone else is." The piece ends perhaps a little predictably. Though I'm not drinking.has had a lasting and devastating impact. Still. in the foreigner's cemetery. A glimpse of Edward's life in Rome. he would wander through the narrow paths. a bouquet of lilacs. Here. I can't shake off the impact of Edward's second story. I feel like I've learned something about him. ~QF~ An hour or so later. I find myself at Eclipse. Some days he would visit the Il Cimitero Acattolico for no reason other than to marvel at the tombs. The Angel of Grief. appears unsettled. and we're left wondering where his journey will end. The surrender of the Angel's down-turned wings recalled a memory he could not let go. waiting in the calm between two storms. Instead of taking the flowers. There's a pretty sizable crowd of us. glancing over at me. after another MFA has read stories that in no way compare to Edward's. but beautifully. The unnamed soldier never returns to his lodging. but I'm still trying to figure out what it is. seemed the most perfectly executed expression of loss he'd ever seen. and everyone wants to talk to Edward² I can barely congratulate him before he's swept away into a sea of people who want to know more. He wrote it beautifully. back to his accommodations in fulfillment of the landlady's request. When Edward finishes. the infamous hipster bar down the street from the bookshop. He. and soon the room is filled with voices. particularly captivated him. This is the cemetery where Keats is buried² the pictures of his grave flash before my eyes. like the city itself." Edward pauses. "There was one place he felt entirely comfortable. He loved its inhabitants well.

. We share a knowing smile²I'm so happy they seem to be getting along so well. Maybe you have to drink to have fun here. Jasper's working freelance right now. finally giving in to Jasper's insistence and having a beer. I smile at her. . . Rosalie whispers something in my ear about being right back and I turn round to see her move off with Emmett to a recently vacated table. over at the other end of the bar with his MFA friends. . She tells me about her job in investigative journalism and how she and Jasper had met." "Oh. leaving Angela and I alone. If you were okay. sometimes you'd come up in conversation. I couldn't do anything. filled with kitschy memorabilia from the 80's²including a Ms. but I don't want to be treated like a child. They seem pretty serious. she says that Edward warned them from asking too many questions." "I just .The place appears intentionally grungy. I thought maybe you didn't want to talk to us. Angela is hesitant at first. I was just so out of it after the fire . resting her hand on my shoulder. I can see why Edward likes it here. Jasper's wandered off to where Edward is. "It's okay." She bites her lip hesitantly. I think. "I thought about you a lot over the years. I was in the hospital for three months and then when I got out. but I never got through. When I ask her why. it was just so weird. Everyone did. Bella. I always wondered where you were. . Packman video game. though both of them travel quite a bit. I don't suppose I was a very good friend. but I feel a little slighted and out of place." she says. "You don't have to be afraid to ask. like it's trying just a little too hard to be cool. I'm so sorry we lost touch. but somehow it seems fake to me. . When it comes to my life. It's nice to talk to Angela without an audience. too." . The irritating sound of Kate's loud laughter filters over." I tell her. . . trying to convey I'm not angry. The music is too loud and it's difficult to carry on a conversation. For the better part of an hour. and I glance over to see her standing next to Edward. "It was my fault." "Did Edward . It's a little irritating²he's trying to make me more comfortable. I couldn't walk . And then when I met Jasper again. and is currently in the midst of negotiating a book contract for his African photography. I did try to call a couple of times. Of course. Angela and I have a chance to catch up.

which are curled into a smile. It's Kate. But it's not so bad anymore."He didn't like to talk about you. "If you don't mind my asking." At the mention of her name. Instead. "Is that so?" "Yes. . "He thinks very highly of your opinion." The insincerity of her words is almost shocking. Our eyes meet for a second before Angela recalls my attention." comes a singsong voice from beside me. . . what did happen? Why didn't you write?" "I did. I glance over Angela's shoulder towards Edward." she pauses." I reply. not wanting to delve into the subject right now. I take another sip of my beer." "He was always so protective of you . and Alice." I reply. "Even before you dated. laughing. knowing you used to be such good friends and all. shocked. . I never got his letters." And I am caught in a web of my own lies²how do I explain why I haven't told him? Anything I say will sound horrible . but I'm not in the mood to be bullied. but he's looking over at us." I sigh. well. Angela seems to understand. ." she continues." "Yeah. "Is he okay with you and Edward hanging out? He must be a pretty awesome guy. She wears black eyeliner around her huge blue eyes and red lipstick on her plump lips. And I think it's just so sweet for him to invite you. not missing a beat. "Is it weird? Seeing Edward again?" "Yeah. "How in the world . "It's sooooo nice to see. We're trying to be friends. This girl considers me some kind of threat. as if considering whether to go on. Well." "Yeah. . Someone I don't know is talking to him. it was really weird at first. "He never got mine." "What!" she exclaims." "I don't know. It was too hard for him." She speaks with authority and . I wouldn't have missed it. "What does your fiancé think of the whole thing?" she asks. "Isabella." "You guys were always so close." she reminisces. "So nice of you to come to Edward's reading.

I'm sorry. Unlike some people. taking a sip of her drink. Well. thoughts of him with Kate making me sick.condescension and my stomach drops. nothing." he says. I can't even look at him. "Yeah. "I have to go. his hand on my shoulder. "So nice of you to join us Kate. my throat dry as tears prick the backs of my eyes. Angela. Now the rest of the department is sure to find out." She looks at me pointedly. now the wide-eyed innocent. she's marking her territory. "And I'm tired. "Please. . . don't let her run you off. "What? Don't go." "Bella . you're busy. "It was so good to see you. I hardly got a chance to talk to you." I whisper. "What's wrong?" . I feel stupid for running away. telling me to back off. nothing. "Okay. ." Edward says." she whispers back. well." Angela looks a little bewildered at my sudden change of plans." Angela says equally condescendingly. I actually was just leaving. Is she insinuating I came here to stalk Edward? The way she's acting confirms there is something between them . "Hey." I reply. Edward's clearly filled her in on our relationship²and I don't like it one bit. ." she says noncommittally. but I just can't deal with this. but she gives me a fierce hug." he says with disbelief. "Perfect. "I don't keep track of my exes. "Yeah. Her nastiness just cheapens it² everything. I'll call you. too. his whisper an near hiss." Kate says. "And where's Garrett this evening?" Kate rolls her eyes. . I feel completely betrayed. I'm sorry. ." I tell her. When Edward approaches. Angela clears her throat. "What's that supposed to mean?" I ask. And I can't believe Edward told her about us²I don't like not knowing how much she knows. angry now." I tell him. how could he want to be with a person like this? "Oh. "is everything all right?" I cringe away from his touch. But .

"What's wrong?" "Edward. but before I can his hand clutches my arm. ." -Vincent Van Gogh From Chapter 16: "Bella . Edward. . Let her go. His expression is a combination of confusion and anger as his gaze darts between the two of us." Edward says."Edward. "Goodbye. ." "Stay out of it." he growls at her. . that's all that matters. He grabs our coats on the way out the door and I catch a confused glance from Rosalie that I can only meet with a weak smile as Edward ushers us into the cool night air. Your friends are here." Kate replies soothingly. "I'm going now. reaching out." I say. Let her go. But I don't want to make a scene²not again. "I'm going now." "Stay out of it. he thinks I mean forever. 2010 Suddenly Edward's expression changes to fear . reaching out. mustering my strength to look him in the eye." I say. guiding me away from the other two women." he growls at her. "There may be a great fire in our hearts. yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it. "Goodbye. Chapter 17: October 22. "She's tired." I say softly. His expression is a combination of confusion and anger as his gaze darts between the two of us. that's all that matters. his whisper an near hiss. I give him a pleading look before retreating. "She's tired." I say softly. ." Kate replies soothingly. and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. But I don't want to make a scene²not again. Edward. mustering my strength to look him in the eye. Your friends are here. I shake my head²tonight's events have utterly confused and bewildered me and I don't know what to say.

My thoughts flash back to a younger him. ." "Bella. a younger me standing in the hallway near his locker. "Can you please just tell me what's going on? What the hell happened?" His proximity distracts me for a second. "She acted like she knew everything about us. Even in the fresh air I can smell him-Edward. "Goddamn it."Bella . "How could you. "She basically just accused me of coming tonight to keep tabs on you. "Will you just wait a second? Jesus. she's lying. holding me close once we're on the sidewalk." "What? That's crazy. his long strides allowing him to overtake me easily despite my best attempts to hurry. ." He smells like home. walking quickly²and perhaps cowardly² away." He grabs at my arm but I whirl around. . "The only thing I told her was that we were old friends." I say." he says." he growls lowly." . "Maybe." he says. . If she says she knows anything else. I wish there was a snow bank for him to fall into." "Well. walking in front of me in that annoying way he has. You're always running away from me. girl about me?" "What are you talking about? Tell her what?" He appears genuinely confused. walking again. "Is that a picture of me?" I ask. his clear green eyes dark and intense with emotion. that's what she said. the hinged door swinging shut with a clank. Edward? How could you tell that . my anger returning. She looked at me like she knew everything. How could he have told her? I shrug my arm out of his grasp." he says again. But then my thoughts return to Kate and her insinuations. "You have a picture of me in your locker?" "Maybe.

Edward jostles with the keys in his pocket as I wait on the short. conflict plainly written on his face. I glimpse at his profile: jaw clenched. The anger I'd felt just a little while ago dissipates as I try and keep up with Edward's lilting steps. and the wind has picked up quite a bit. probably sounding as catty and immature as Kate herself. "This is all yours?" I ask in disbelief as we finally enter and Edward flips on the light. Though the exterior is surely turn-of-the century. and so am I." "Why are you friends with her then?" I ask with a huff. I don't want to hear this. He leads me down a quiet street. inside is a modern wooden interior." he says. no longer sure what my reaction to him should be. "I think we should go someplace to talk. Not at all." He groans in frustration. I find myself standing in front of a beautiful three-story brownstone²from the lights shining out through the darkness I can make out wrought iron filigree decorating the upper story windows. mulling things around in his head. The walls are a creamy off-white and I suspect a couple of the original rooms have been gutted and extended to create a wide-open space for the living room to the left of the entryway. encouraging me to wrap my coat more tightly around my body. Will you come over for a little?" Edward's house is about ten minutes from the "El" stop. I can tell he's thinking. "What do you want to talk about?" I ask stubbornly. his voice serious. "Kate's manipulative. "You don't have to tell²" "I do. squat landing behind him. and . we've reached the "El" stop²I place my hand on the railing and begin climbing the steps to the platform. the boys shouting out rude remarks. The place is huge. decorated by a couple of tastefully placed Persian rugs. "Not here. My place is nearby. Whatever she said was just to get a rise out of you. "Give me a chance to explain to you. Soon. Finally. The truth." he says. An L-shaped leather sofa and imposing flat screen TV feature prominently."She seemed to know more. By now. Edward still hasn't spoken. please. A crowd of boisterous teenagers jostle each other around. I want to tell you about Kate." Oh. and we walk there mostly in silence.

"That's horrible. but it's too dark to tell for sure. looking away. . But that's not the most impressive thing to me²a set of handcrafted copper cookware dangles from an iron holder over the center island. . He leads me forward and confirms that the darkened room ahead is the kitchen. . a steamer-trunk side bar. Edward smiles tightly and takes my coat to stow in a hallway closet." I murmur. But it's a kitchen right out of my dreams²all of the fixtures are beautiful muted steel." "They have real jobs. slicing through the room like an invisible force. But I feel his pain stab out. but Edward obviously hears me." I whisper. I turn to look at Edward²nothing about this place reminds me of him. "Wow. They must have a cleaning woman." "Must be. "And Jasper." "Oh. "How did it happen?" "Pancreatic cancer. Straight ahead." The comment isn't meant to be spoken out loud. They did the decorating. do you want the grand tour?" he asks. I nod my head in assent to prolong the inevitable. filled with numerous unknown bottles.the room incorporates other masculine elements²some modern paintings." I say." Edward confesses sheepishly. "Well. glancing around." Edward nods curtly." "Poor Emmett. "He also got a pretty sizable inheritance when his dad passed away last year. or something²it's far too nice in here for three bachelors. automatically moving towards them and reaching out my hand to touch." Edward replies. too. I think I detect the kitchen. The stairway to the other floors rises to the right. before he pulls it back inside. "Emmett pays a good portion of the rent. substantial. "These must have cost a fortune. And Emmett²lets just say his paycheck is .

he tells me. I'd always been self-conscious being in other people's homes. when all you really want is the person back. the fact that he remembers comforts me. I instantly think of Angela²it must be her doing. You remembered?" "Of course. It irritates me. stately mahogany table sits flanked by two equally fine benches²very old school. "The others will probably be home soon. An unframed rectangular mirror hangs lengthwise on the right hand wall. I couldn't help comparing them to mine² and unfortunately that old habit hasn't worn off. shocked. He leads me through the kitchen and to a simply furnished dining room. I turn back to him. nothing remained of our old house when it burned²when Renee. Shall we?" I follow Edward back out through the kitchen and up the stairs." Growing up in the neighborhood I did. Bella. to still feel somehow unworthy of being in a space like this²like I'm in some sort of museum or something and not a real home. "A lot of this furniture²was Emmett's parent's. and Jasper's when he's at home. "Funny." Edward says softly. staring at each other. Somehow. There's a vase of fresh cut flowers on the center of the table. understanding passing between us. placed on a deep red table runner." I run a finger over the smooth. "Yes. holding out his hand. From my parents when I graduated college. He nods and for a minute we just stand there." Of course. like a King's mead hall." Edward says. reflecting the entire room. The second floor. . His mom moved out of their house about six months ago. there's another set of stairs leading up to the third floor. varnished wood. I'm sorry. is Emmett's."They were a gift. Every year. Down the hallway. took an apartment in the city. how things like that²inheritances²work. You get these material objects. I told you I got into cooking." "They're beautiful." "Thank you." I whisper²I can't believe it. "Two days. A long. . "Come. .

running his hands through his hair. . A smaller flat screen TV stand rests on a glass stand. Next to it along the wall a couple of bookcases teem over capacity²some rest on their sides on top of their upright neighbors. "She's beautiful." I say. Alice lays half-reclined. he doesn't have anyplace else to sit. which. He notices the direction of my gaze and laughs along. Other than a desk chair. I wonder how many women Edward's entertained up here. "Those are classics. I glance at Edward and he nods his assent before I pick it up. Her eyes are luminous. There are some emotions that are too strong for tears. Edward chuckles nervously. but I push that unwelcome thought away. pens. .Edward's room is a converted attic space and as soon as we enter I feel a wave of relief. I notice with an unwanted blush. framed photo of toddler Edward holding a tiny baby Alice. before gently restoring it to its place on the shelf. notebooks. There's a desk strewn with papers.. drinking in the image. swaddled in a pink blanket on a narrow hospital bed. Except the bed. my breath catching when I spy a small. a sort of resigned wisdom reflected in their depths. "I don't usually have company . . He looks overwhelmed. so . A foot rub. ." I whisper." he says hoarsely. memorizing it. glancing around. hanging on the far side of the room. teenaged Edward sits holding her small white feet in his lap. "Yeah. I allow myself to drift closer. is huge. a couple of pictures. and closed laptop computer." he says. At the end of the bed a tired. staring with wonder at the small bundle on his lap while she regards the camera steadily. She's bald and far too thin²but her eyes. This²this I recognize. video game consoles tucked neatly away inside. And along the shelves are knick-knacks. . framed now. I stare at the photo for another minute. lit from within. "That was two weeks before she died." he drifts off and both of us remain standing." I sit down on the edge of the bed a little self-consciously. I laugh when I recognize a couple of Edward's old band posters. And then another photo. "That's okay. My mom threatened to throw them away. As if sensing my thoughts.

who you sleep with. . you know. I was totally surprised when she agreed. "We were all first years. Jacob and I have done certain . . . . since high school. . but he wanted to see other people. I was drunk. "The way I see it. and we started hanging out. Edward scoffs a little. willing myself to remain seated. horrid." He picks nervously at the light blue carpeting. but figured if that's what they both wanted. . "so she crashed on our couch for a few days. He wanted her back. it became pretty clear she wanted something more with me. Garrett was sleeping around on Kate and she didn't know about it. Kate is just so . Then Garrett called. trying to control the tremor in my voice. it was fine." "Oh. feeling sick. "Oh? That's all you have to say?" he asks. They'd been together . He dated a little here and there. but nothing serious. right?" His tone is more than a little accusatory and I realize my selfishness. She went out with a few other guys. I try to remain impassive. bending his knee and leaning forward. Edward. After a while I realized they weren't happy. Was it here? On this bed? I almost make a move to stand up but think better of it. "It's none of my business. gauging my reaction. I thought it was a little weird. it is. So they have been together²the thought makes my skin crawl."I met Kate and Garrett last year. If you're my friend. well. Garrett was pissed off and Kate. I should be able to hear these things. "She'd been a good friend to me. nervous energy radiates from his body." Edward pauses and glances at me. this summer. both of us for different reasons. if he wants to share. When she found out. . stretching his long legs out in front of him with a sigh. that's how it was. Anyway. taking a seat on the floor a couple feet away and leaning against the wall. . it happened. . It was fucking stupid. doing readings together. but we'd planned to wait till we were married." he continues after a beat. So. Kate and I . "Anyway. ." he begins without warning. A jittery." He pauses again. and I immediately regretted it. Talking about sex with Edward makes me uncomfortable²I feel inexperienced and foolish. Bella." I reply. she was pissed. Friends tell each other things. "But then. things ." I say. .

I'm not stupid. Nothing more. Go on. I know she's your friend." "But she's not giving up?" "Apparently she thinks I'll come around." "Don't you?" "No ." I raise my eyebrow." I tell him. And yeah. She's a friend. . I asked her to come tonight to keep the peace. you're wrong. She could have heard something. I'm sorry for whatever she said to you."I'm sorry. she doesn't know anything about you. but I think she's given you the wrong idea about me." I think about what he's said²it is true that Kate didn't actually give any concrete details about what she knew. "I know what the department gossip is. It doesn't become you. I can see it in your face when you lie. "What do you mean?" "Like I said they would. I know Edward's telling me the truth. "People are talking about us. even though I told her I wasn't interested. At least not from me. And of course Rosalie told me people have been gossiping about us anyway. . But I swear to God. Bella. "Will you?" "No." "She broke things off with Garrett completely about a month ago. or she could have been bluffing. Bella." he says darkly. On campus." . we haven't been hanging out much lately anyway. which seems to piss him off." "Don't listen to everything Rosalie tells you. I have gone out with a couple of people²so what? But if you think I'm some sort of man whore. And to be honest." "I don't think that. I²" "Don't lie to me. Bella. Rosalie told me.

. Having it confirmed that Billy or Jacob . He's right. where the boundary is. but my answer seems inadequate." "Of what?" "Knowing." "You're right." "About?" "Don't be obtuse. . . . . do I? "I'm sorry. . "I'm afraid . ." "Can I ask something?" "Yeah. I doubted Edward so quickly when Kate accosted me. betrayed me like that. . But now I'm so confused. the delicate veins visible through translucent skin." His voice is quiet and serious. Just give me a chance. not anymore. I did believe Rosalie. . . . "Why haven't you tried to find out about the letters?" I expected the question. . Bella. trying to figure out stuff. What if they knew about Alice? That she was sick? I could have . . . "I don't know . . Or at least you think you don't. but I understand. It's frustrating. glancing again at the photo of Alice and Edward in the hospital. But I think part of the problem is you don't know me . I still don't." he says with some exasperation. I think there are some things we need to talk about." "I know you don't trust me . . what's okay to tell people and what's not.I flush. About who you are in my life. looking away. He cradles her feet so gently. Why? I'm looking for any reason not to trust him . And I don't know what's okay with you . said goodbye. . . not yet. . please." I choke out the last words." "I know we're still .

About Alice. I want to lean into him but I don't . Instead. slow burn. tentatively placing his hand on my left knee. I feel the weight of his words and know he's right." he says. ." "Oh Edward. she was so sick. I know how much those letters mean to you. I feel so cold. I stare at his hand. . . ." I whisper. I nod abruptly. But then. I've been holding back so much²he's been trying to reach out to me. I swear to you I will²when I go home. not knowing?" He stands and comes to sit next to me on the bed. scooting a little closer. "I'm so sorry for making you feel like that." He sighs when he sees my confused expression. I'm sorry . You never replied and I . I had no one else to talk to. . A part of my mind screams for Jacob-for him. but I'm afraid. But I didn't because I was too fucking afraid. "Do you think it's better. "I don't know. I know you lost something. the tears still spilling." "Well. . here." I whisper.Edward considers me stoically. Every day I was in the hospital. . I hate how confused I am. "I care so much! I'm so sorry about what you must have went through." "You're going to Forks for Christmas?" he asks softly. . "Back when you went away. But I promise. You think you're the only one that was alone?" "I don't think that. But I lost something too. I thought about you. the words just spilling out. "I thought you might forgive me for abandoning you. . I'm a fucking hypocrite anyway. "I can't do it over the phone. to anchor me. "I'll be honest and tell you how that makes me feel. I thought you'd just hang up on me and that would . I imagined you'd get those letters and maybe . When Alice was dying. I wrap my arms around my body. Edward groans dejectedly." he says. help me. writing to you was the only thing that kept me together . The gesture elicits a warm. I could have called you. . how strange I feel right now with him sitting beside me. "Please forgive me. Like you don't care. "Please don't cry. Edward. I don't because I want it too much. I do care!" I say vehemently. They mean the same thing to me! But it's just not something I can do over the phone²I've tried!" Now I'm crying and I don't know what to say. rubbing my hands up and down.

I'd never have gotten the message." "I didn't know if you wanted to talk about it." I whisper. had been purposefully kept from me. I have . "I stole my mother's car and got picked up on the Illinois border." he says. returning moments later with a wad of toilet paper." . he stands and disappears into the adjoining bathroom. The operations." "You never asked." Edward inhales sharply and I look away." "Thank you. ." "That's not true. "It's all I have. 'Taken into custody. there's not one day I don't regret not picking up the phone. . surprised. not exactly arrested. his light touch barely grazing my arm. But I know there's more to it." I take it gratefully. then. "No." My thoughts immediately flash to Angela²what she'd said about trying to call and not getting through. It was just about two months after you left. I understand his regret.be that." he reaches out. And the days went by. But once I started and you didn't reply . . Could Billy have done such a thing? And why? It's becoming increasingly plain that even if Edward had tried to call. Not many visitors. . But I just nod." he says. I'd never received any phone calls²just another confirmation that my old life. I do. I got it in my head that I'd just drive to see you. . wiping my face. . then I really couldn't call.' is more like it. horrible scars. "Like I said. I don't want to see the pity in his face. . So I started writing. My dad put me under lock and key. my old friends. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. "But you don't want to hear about that. "But Bella. A lot. "You're beautiful. ." "What?" "Well. "Bella ." he laughs mirthlessly. "I'm not saying this to make you feel bad." "Are you kidding?" I ask." "I was so lonely. But it hurt. "I never told you ." With a quick movement. but I got arrested.

"I do want to tell you." "What did you like about it?" I think for a second." "I don't need to see to know that." He sighs." "It has been a little ." he whispers to himself. . . Edward." I sigh in agreement. "Don't feel sorry for me." "I²" "No. rough." "Don't." "Yeah. . I liked both of them." "Really?" "Yes. I loved it. and I'm afraid right now he'll take anything I say as more blame. "Can I ask you what you thought? About the reading?" "I loved it. stifling a yawn. urging me backwards towards the head of the bed. But the second one . I mean. ." I choke. really. . Edward fluffs up a pillow and pats it. "This was supposed to be your night. But not tonight. Please." "I'm a bastard." I reply with a wry grin. . but when I look up I see his face contorted with guilt. And I had to go and ruin it. Kate ruined it by being a bitch." "Yeah. It's not. I'll listen to anything you have to say. He's suffering too. "I want to know about what happened. ." The prospect of telling him about what my life was like after the fire²it seems too much of a burden." "No. scrubbing his hands over his face. and while I do. I don't know what he's talking about ."You haven't seen. If you want to tell me. but I listened to her. "It's not your fault.

grabbing another pillow and reclining against it. you know? I mean. something." I comply shyly. . ." he says." "Why would I get annoyed?" he asks. "But yeah. "Umm . remembering with a light chuckle."I can't stay. but there was more to it than that . crossing his arms in back of his head. sitting back down near my feet. what you were feeling when you were in Rome. that's one thing. Just rest. Edward." he says. tell me why you liked my stupid story." "Ahh." . but I felt like it gave me a glimpse into your life . at least a part of it²whether it's the emotion. staring at the ceiling to get my bearings. I think it's impossible to write about something you have no experience with. suddenly incredibly aware of our proximity to one another²I should definitely go. the action. watching the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes." "The girl in the story. watching cautiously as Edward scoots over to the other side of the bed. "I liked her quite a bit. . The dinner guest." I say. But I can't move²I'm frozen in position. "Well. "What else?" he asks. I clear my throat. I felt pretty disconnected²from a lot of things. Was she real?" "I did meet someone²Maria. . too close to death. . maybe I just said that to throw you off my trail. . . feel that way?" Of course he did²how could he not have? "Yes." "That makes sense." "The writing was beautiful. I know you'll probably get annoyed. "I could identify with your protagonist. That's not to say I didn't enjoy my time in Rome." I say. you were talking about the authorial fallacy²how it's wrong to assume a writer always incorporates their own life experiences into their work. ." "Okay. "Now." he says wistfully. . . "That day in class. I loved how understated the emotions were²and it was so sad. Did you ." "I know. How he seemed stuck in limbo . leaning back against the pillow while he covers me with a soft white throw. You look exhausted.

turning on his side to face me. "I'm glad you liked it. My face heats when he lingers just a beat too long. it wouldn't be much of a mystery. he smiles." "What is it?" "She never believed it. Why lilacs?" "Hmm?" he murmurs distractedly." "Keep trying. She never hated you." Edward says." he says. "Fine. Jacob. I'm trying to get it published." I whisper. his hand reaching out to brush a strand of hair off my face. rolling over to his back again. we just lounge and talk. about my mom. everything. "Bella." "But her letters ." His statement rouses me and when I turn to face him with a worried expression. even when I did. Do they have any special meaning?" "Well. Be that way." "Really? That's amazing. Edward. Have you had any luck?" "Not yet. I forget that I should feel weird about laying in Edward's bed²I forget about Kate. I'm sleepy and warm listening to the sound of his voice. It's something good. if I told you." he says. That you didn't want to talk to us anymore. "Don't worry. But persistence is the name of the game." . . the soldier leaves lilacs on the grave. I'm sure some magazine will snap it up. "In the story. . . "Any more questions?" "Just one. "Actually ."What happened?" I ask. I definitely think it's good enough." For a while. would it?" he teases. . "I wanted to tell you something about Alice. "I realized I didn't love her.

Where am I? The soft red illumination of an alarm clock provides minimal light. rendering me fully awake. At first. . Without thinking. A couple of days before she died . Memories of the night before come flooding back²we'd talked so late into the night. and flare up bodily. But soon we moved to touching. . it was an unspoken embarrassment. I should move away. it was wishful thinking or something. sometimes." "Girls blush. grinding onto each other needily. Jacob used to sneak into my room sometimes when Billy was asleep. really nice. But I don't dare to stir lest I wake him. I snuggle backward into the source of the comforting heat behind me. The sudden blush devours them. I don't know. like gnats. Somehow during the night the distance between us has dissolved. . 2010 My eyelids flutter open onto the hazy contours of an unfamiliar room. his own probably abandoned on the other side of the bed."I'm not going to lie and say she wasn't hurt. . wings and all. she said . Move. And his other arm . and Jacob was adamant about not going "all the way. I'd find you again. I notice his head rests on his arm next to my pillow. someday. I must have just fallen asleep in my clothes. wrapped in the same blanket he covered me with hours before. Once we started dating." "Really?" "Yes. And it feels nice . . I would never let him see me without my clothes in those moments. neck and brow. I know it's not good that it feels nice but it does. And see? She was right." but on occasion he would . but she always said there was a reason. is around me. both of us aware but not daring to acknowledge what was happening. his erection sandwiched between us. . My heart stutters in my chest. . half wishing they were dead to save the shame. Heat? Edward. because they are alive. What then? Who's sorry for a gnat or girl?" -Elizabeth Barrett Browning Chapter 18: October 22-24. I thought. and he's now laying flush against my back. They have drawn too near the fire of life. I'd awake in the night with his body wrapped around mine. .

Would we have stayed together? Would we have wound up here. but this at least. for me. what he would look like in this new. . If I never left Elgin and Edward and I had finished growing up as a pair. older body if I could see all of him. while he was embarrassed of his pleasure. Eating Chinese takeout on the floor then making love on a mattress with no sheets. allow myself to think of it. as most teenaged couples do? . Only rarely did he allow me to do the same. He was protecting me. eventually. like this? I am beset by images. we were children then. what his hands would feel like if they drifted over me. Lying here. Me cleaning cobwebs out of long-forgotten corners. I now understand that I'd misread his desire for me as discomfort²the way he'd pull away when things got too intense. a collection of tickets to all the movies we've seen together. I see the two of us sharing an apartment like the couple in his first story² Edward carrying boxes and cursing when he bashes his shin against a misplaced coffee table. or would we have drifted apart. his fingers searching. Laughing at the silly belongings each of us has brought along to our new home²for him. . what would it be like? Until now. body or mind. soft and gentle. with us? Would we have survived. but when he did I was surprised and pleased by how his body reacted to my fumbling touches. rough and demanding. trembling and unsure at first and then. who he considered much younger and more vulnerable. old band posters. I still am in many ways. here in this dark cocoon. Edward's warm breath on my hair sends chills through me as I imagine it . I try to remember what Edward's lips felt like on mine. I've stopped myself from indulging in visions of what might have happened if the fire never did. I was so innocent. He was the only man I'd ever seen in that way and. if he were still mine.sneak his hand down my pajama bottoms. But today. I found it fascinating. I know. from himself. But could it have. my body molded to his with no scars on either of us. becoming more confident. I know that such is the stuff of fairytales²it doesn't happen like that in real life. Yes.

Just this once. his eyes begin to move under closed lids. trying not to make too much noise in the process. I'd rather keep it perfect. impulsively leaning down to kiss his cheek. A good man. He's breathtaking. Moving very slowly. He smells like sleep and blankets and unwashed hair. I memorize everything²the way the mist rises and settles in the alleys. Someone as sweet and good and kind as he is. and I take my time. I feel strangely calm. I draw the blanket up around him and look down his face. I turn on my side to regard Edward. The smell of warm bread . Even in sleep. wary look before returning to his hunt. You'll always be my friend. fathomless sleep that only comes after dreams. And so carefully. like a child. How hypocritical and unfair of me. As I study him. He doesn't stir. so carefully. giving me a skeptical. His eyelashes softly fringe dark circles I hadn't noticed until now. caring. It's time for me to leave before he wakes and feels guilty or awkward about this moment.But the fact remains the fire did happen²it did. I allow myself the indulgence. who doesn't deserve this. just where smoothness meets stubble. I slide myself out from under his arm and down onto the floor. even when we were young and he was my most trusted confidant. But that longing is followed by a swell of bitterness and resentment toward whomever that girl might be. Not Kate. But his face is so peaceful. He doesn't hold anything back and he needs someone to do the same for him²someone who can give them her whole heart without any reservations. I think as the early morning light begins to filter in through the windows of his attic space. he'd grow into such an honest. swirls around streetlights. A certain resigned melancholy settles over me as I walk through the early morning Chicago streets. A scraggly looking tomcat appears. stopping for a cup of coffee at a bakery just opening for business. probably not even aware of his position²he's still fully clothed and no doubt unconsciously sought my warmth in the night. It's cold but not mind-numbingly so. he doesn't rest. My heart fills with longing for him to be happy. and his eyes return to their resting state²that deep. I silently promise him. Still. loyal man. What does he dream about? I never knew. whatever he may have done. He's sound asleep. And I've promised myself to another man.

In Rome. usually served with either chocolate or jam. but I was also relieved. This morning seems particularly busy. they're called cornetti²a favorite breakfast. I don't want to be sad anymore. He was always so strong. and soon winter will bring the cold. I'd just recently learned to walk again without my cane. there will be brunch²waffles and omelets and granola with yogurt and honey. I'm healthy. getting their morning papers. My mind is peaceful. I'm pursuing a degree in a subject that I'm passionate about. I've survived. just once . drinking my coffee and eating as I weave through neighborhoods I don't know. When I was strong enough.assaults me as I enter. I remember the day I told him about what I'd said to my mom the day before she died. it was a relief to hear. I was so fragile then²the year after the fire²and Billy and Jake were extremely protective of me. Edward says. Billy finally told me about how the fire had started: a careless cigarette in her littered bedroom. down at La Push. In a very short time. It feels tiresome and self-indulgent. but still I leaned on Jacob for support. . . Only Jacob knew the depths of those feelings. after I've finished my coffee. I was so angry. and people that I love. I feel like walking. But still. and the two of us were walking down on our beach. It was my sixteenth birthday. Even though I must've only slept a few hours. People must sense that the relatively pleasant weather will only hold for so long. Of course my memory of her trying to save me completely contradicted this fear. I came to depend on them for everything. It allowed me to mourn her with my whole heart. but just barely staving off the sadness that always haunts me this time of year. . but it didn't erase my grief or my guilt. for being an ungrateful child. I love seeing people begin their routines²jogging or bicycling. Weekends in Chicago are the best. I smile thinking of him in a café with his espresso and morning pastry. . arousing my hunger. that I loved her. driving wind Chicago is famous for. so I buy a croissant as well. And later. Finally. But what I wouldn't give if I could just tell my mother . watching as the city wakes up. . I seek out an "El" stop to wait for the train. So I do. fearful of slipping on the wet rocks. when I know I'm one of the lucky ones. walking their dogs. I have people in my life that love me. For there'd been a horrible dread festering somewhere in my mind that whispered she'd done it on purpose for what I'd said to her. on a pathway to a fulfilling career.

or what to do. part of me wants to just call and be done with it. I wanted to take you to breakfast. especially when I talk to Jacob." "And?" "Well." "How can you be so sure?" "From the things you've said." he'd told me. Sorry. but his words were my only comfort. But that whatever Seth did. no matter what. I didn't want to wake you. he'd always be her son. And she loved you. I'm doubting my trust in him. It's a text from Edward. "your mom knew you loved her. and that's why they let him go to juvie. Seth was saying something about his parents not caring or giving a damn. You know Seth?" Seth Clearwater was a good friend of Jacob's. I hop off the train a couple blocks from my house and am almost there when my cell vibrates in my pocket. I didn't want to go in. This strange limbo I'm in is horrible. Always trying to get me to eat. but I didn't know what to do. His reply makes me smile. and I hate it." I didn't know whether to believe him. I reply quickly."Bella. but troubled. Oh. These missing letters weigh so heavily on my heart. "Yeah. He'd been in and out of juvenile detention recently²he was a good kid at heart. It's not something I can do on the phone. She'd always love him. so I just stood there for a second. But today I wonder if that's the only reason. But I know what I told Edward was true." "Well." "Do you think that's true?" "I know it is. one day I was going over there and I heard him fighting with his mom through the door. Now. And Sue said that she didn't know how to help him. But also because I've seen parents and kids fight before. Rain check? The contrition in his voice is almost audible. Where'd you go? Lots of work. .

' or even 'a little. Doubting Jacob's honesty²imagining his betrayal. I notice two missed calls²Jacob and Rosalie. Well. but I decide it's high time I took a shower. and I wonder how she feels about it. my fantasy seems more like a betrayal. We could continue on like this. No you're not. I lather my hair. And I've just spent the night in another man's bed. . . I'm not expecting the next message. . If I say 'yes. sniveling mess. and I feel the horrible sting of guilt. I decide to go with just a simple "No. Emmett had dubbed her Rose.' he'll feel bad.Definitely. then I guess it smells like you. knowing the anniversary is tomorrow. Okay. Edward's text . He'll want to talk about Renee. Don't mind me. I re-stow my phone. . A few minutes later. surprised at how long it's grown. Here under the spray of the shower and bright light of the bathroom. fiddling in my bag for my keys with shaky hands. I'm an idiot. Confused tears mingle with angry ones in the water²my weakness disgusts me. . How easily I devolve into this crying. just as I enter my apartment. I quickly discard last night's clothes and hop under the warm water. feeling simultaneously light and heavy. Like your perfume. there's another message. I'm not wearing any. My one comfort is that there are no witnesses this time. My pillow smells good. Now out of my shower. preparing myself for my Saturday call from Jacob." even though it's a complete and total lie. I like it. conjuring up a life with him instead. I can't stop thinking about it. his arm around me this morning . Was that weird? Never have I had such a fraught internal debate over what to reply.

of course. my hands sweaty and nervously wiping at my yoga pants. I have a lot of things on my mind. . He picks up on the first ring." he laughs nervously." I lie. I guess that's good. at home. I was with Rose." "Yeah. "Oh. ." I say. Did you have fun?" "Yeah. I'm a little tired today. I guess I wouldn't know." I reply." "Um . He's right." he says bitterly. right?" "Of course. though. . It was pretty good. present lately. "And anyway. That's how functions are. . A couple of people from our class were giving a reading. "Isabella?" "Hey Jake. You were never like that here." "I hope you didn't get too crazy. . ." . I just didn't know he'd noticed. it's graduate school." "I'm so glad to hear your voice. I dial Jacob back immediately. "Me too. Everyone has a glass of wine or a beer or two. "We went out. . ." I sit down on the edge of the bed." "Seems like you're drinking a lot lately. "You're being careful. an awkward pause ensuing." What a horrible person I am. "Where were you last night?" he asks. "I called pretty late and I didn't get any answer. everything is.Though I'm eager to hear how her night went after I left." "I'm not drinking a lot. "What? What's that supposed to mean?" "You just haven't been very ." he says. I haven't been able to negotiate this terrain²how to talk to him like nothing's wrong when . "I'm sorry. I don't know ." I say defensively. "I just had a beer.

you're my fiancé. . he brightens quite a bit. fearful that my guilt. our conversation turning to lighter topics. I hope it's not. you never call me. I'll be better about the phone thing. okay? I mean. "That would be nice." "It might not be. When we're together." he says with exasperation." I tell him. "Okay. His voice sounds so bleak. While we're on the phone." We speak for another half hour." My heart is thrumming in my chest. I was looking at my call history . . He sighs deeply. I can tell the hurt isn't completely erased though . it's like you don't want to talk to me. . "Of course I do. Even when we are on the phone. I finally purchase my plane ticket for December 15th. . will cross the expanses between us. the day after my essay for Peggy's class is due." "Jesus. like an alive and slithering thing." "I told you. "I know. not yet. . This seems to appease him to some extent . And you know. We're supposed to be planning our wedding." "Have you bought your ticket yet?" "Um . I'd rather do it over break. The last time we'd spoken a few days before. . . like you have something better to do. no. Jacob." "That's not true. sounding more like my Jacob." "I'm sorry. But it's weird. "The flights are just getting more expensive the longer you wait. I was planning on doing it today. I'd promised to buy it straight away. Isabella. it hurts my heart. he's so bad at keeping things to himself. but still the early part of our conversation lingers in my mind. . Isabella." I had completely forgotten about my ticket. But I'm just telling you what its felt like to me." "Do you want to come home?" he asks. ."That's what you always say.

It varies year to year. and I'm pleased for her²she needs a good guy like Em in her life. she's good enough not to pressure me. I take a long walk down by the water. but in my heart there's only one person I want to see. "So. just as I suspected they had. Some years I don't want to speak to anyone. What if they knew about Alice? I never got to say goodbye. I tell her about the anniversary." When we hang up. Jacob calls. "Okay. but I gloss over it." she says. "Oh Bella. If she suspects something more. This year seems like one of the former. she doesn't show it. I'll talk to you tomorrow then. more heinous. as promised." I text him immediately and he responds a minute later. She asks me about my encounter with Kate and Edward. . but in the context of our conversation. I listen when Rosalie describes her night²she and Emmett hit it off. I decide to go with the latter. "I love you. but it still feels strange. I finish up the work for my classes. or do you want to be left alone?" he asks softly. Just for good measure. he finally brings up Renee. I realize it's the first time neither of us has said. ~QF~ On the day of my mother's death. "Do you want some company tomorrow?" I tell her no. but something doesn't feel right." "Okay. gratefully losing myself in the beauty of Wordsworth's poetry. and I speak to him and Billy. and they plan to go on a "real date" in a couple of days.Just as we're hanging up. I can tell how excited she is. other years I need to surround myself with people. Their potential deception seems more brutal today. I go about the rest of my day feeling hollow. And if she's hurt when I tell her I don't feel like having dinner that evening. Well. do you want me to call tomorrow.

"So do you?" . and I'm engulfed by the scent of leather and spicy aftershave. The sky is darkening. . anger and love. "Edward?" At the sound of my voice his snaps up. "Hey. for awhile. . "No." He grabs me up into an embrace. "Did you call?" I murmur. just to be hugging him. tough guy. so he doesn't notice me at first. I . "That's . busily scribbling in a small notebook with his hair in his eyes. Uh. . Edward. and even wearing his brown leather bomber jacket his face is ruddy with cold. . and it feels so good . these warring impulses²trust and doubt. I'm utterly surprised by the sight of Edward standing by my building's gate." He looks sheepish ." I say incredulously after he releases me. actually I got here just as you were leaving. "What are you doing here?" I ask him. I don't know how to reconcile them." he says with a wink. . and I'm sick of thinking by the time I approach my apartment. nice of you. gladness blossoming under my initial confusion.It's so tiresome. From a distance." "But I've been gone for nearly two hours. He's leaning against the iron gate." "You know it. I'm warm and safe despite the chilly air. "I thought . His face is smooth on my cheek. you might want to be alone . . I saw you walking off and I thought I'd wait. I was waiting for you. It's cold out here. Like he's afraid I still don't want him here. . . . nervous. a little smile playing on his lips. "I'm fine. He tucks the book into the inside pocket and steps forward hesitantly. . . We haven't spoken since our text messages the day before. But you should have called. ." "Oh." He shrugs it off.

tugging on my arm. The way he uses them left and right." "Give me one good reason you shouldn't go bowling with me right now. Edward answers with a vindicatory grin and steps out into the street to hail a cab. I've been thinking . "How do you feel about bowling on a scale of one to ten?" "Are we talking playing." "Do I?" I ask. "But . Once we're settled in the backseat. . Come on. maybe like a five?" "Five's good enough for me. ." "I don't know . remembering the other night." he says. I become hyper-aware of Edward's widelegged straddle. "Playing. I've had enough of that." "No." I say. flushing and looking out the window. His knee brushes against mine and I'm suddenly shy. giving up. . . "Are you still weirded out by my text message?" . . smartass. you'd think he was made of money." I shrug. or just the concept in general?" Edward rolls his eyes." "But what?" "Um ."Do I what?" "Want to be alone. . . ." "Don't hurt yourself. "What?" he asks. "Hmm?" "You have a funny look on your face. indulging in one of our old jokes. You want to come up?" "Actually.

" "You lie like a dog. But the Quileutes call it Two Moon." "That must have been special. Bella Swan. But the picture was . "I always feel closest to her near the water." I grumble." I agree with a murmur. and when I look back at him he's watching me carefully. Out of all of the places in Chicago." "I'm not lying. and Jacob."No. that's the place that reminds me of my mother. . . visiting a place where she lived before I knew her. Of course. Maybe I do. 'Cause of the way the moon reflects on the water. "Just down the lake. When I moved there . "Edward?" "Yeah?" "When did ." I smile a little at the memory." I say. looking at my hands. She was next to a lake. ." "What's the name of the lake?" "It's more a pond than a lake. . I don't know that it has an official name. I finally got to see it. It was neat . . We used to go trout fishing there. For a little while. actually. There was this picture of her that I loved. "It was. But it's more than that. . . . . I don't know. "It's nice down there this time of year. "Yes. in Forks. Or . I wasn't weirded out." he replies. glancing away. ." I reply. . lost. Alice die?" . "Where did you go today?" he asks quietly. Edward is quiet. . we'd gone there together once when I was a child. They're Quileute?" I nod. "I don't know why." "Billy . How I used to look forward to those trips.

in Elgin. trying to calm my stupid heart. It's what she wanted. My heart stops. shaking his head." His hand skitters unmoored on the fake leather seat of the cab. ." he laughs. "Hey." "He did?" "Yup." I muse aloud. tracing his finger over the back of my hand absentmindedly." "The first day of spring. did you know Alice liked Jasper?" Edward asks. . I allow mine to drift over to where our fingers are just grazing each other. just a couple of weeks before she died." ." "Oh. grasping my hand firmly and threading our fingers together. swallowing deeply. but I have such a fierce need to touch him. she confessed to me." "Oh my . I think he thought I'd probably kick his ass. did Jasper?" "He kissed her. She said she didn't want to die without ever being kissed." Edward grins. I think he might have liked her too. She . "I think Jasper . but I knew she was a liar. "And you know what's funny?" he asks. She died at home. "Yeah. I can't bring myself to go the whole way. if Alice was older. . "By then we were back home. Alice. well. . "she played the whole 'last request' angle. ." "Did he tell you that?" "Not in so many words. forcing me a little closer to him on the seat."March 21st. She always denied it to me. when she came back to Elgin." I murmur. "She told you that!" I exclaim with an exhalation. It's so horribly sad and beautiful at the same time. So she got her kiss. . not waiting for me to respond. "I can't believe it. then beats again in a staccato rhythm as he pulls it onto his lap. He nods.

I really see him. We both turn our heads at the same time. but he makes a show of it. there's no more talk of dead loved ones. Instead. and I realize with some embarrassment that I'm squeezing his hand too tightly. For the rest of the night." "But still. releasing him. it either consumes or purifies. By the time we pay our check and make our way outside. glancing down."You would have. and even though I'm onto him²I know exactly what he's trying to take my mind off of²it actually works. His green eyes crinkle a little at the sides as he smiles. Our faces are so close together I . It would be nice to see them after all these years. we lose ourselves in the game. but even I'm better than Edward." "Yeah. and I see him. if they want to see me." "But still. The water hurtles against craggy rocks. He grins. I haven't bowled much in my life. He tells me funny stories." I say. He asks if it's okay with me for him to tell Esme and Carlisle that I'm here. cursing at errant gutter balls and doing silly victory dances when he so much as knocks down one pin." Chapter 19: October 31. frothing and foaming. I'm pretty sure that this day has gone from one of the worst to one of the best of my life. Edward pays and helps me out of the car. Truth be told. We're high up on a rocky cliff looking down at the sound below. we adjourn to the cheesy bowling alley bar for pizza and a pitcher of beer. 2010 My mother stands with her back to me. and I agree. because we've pulled up at the bowling alley. . certain Esme especially will be thrilled. of missing time. but I only hear the howl of the wind. "Sorry. . neither of us fares very well. "Love is the Fire of Life." he echoes. I don't have much time to be self-conscious. and after two pretty dismal games. I know. He's terrible. .

this is the only time I'll ever get to see you dressed up as a literary character. But he hasn't given up and I've run out of excuses. "there's no way back up. "What do you mean?" "If you fall . . "That doesn't make any sense. since we're English graduate students and that's what's expected of us." "Uhhhggghh. ~QF~ "I don't do Halloween parties. She can't mean to jump? "It will hurt. Gone. Why are you trying to get me to go then?" "Because. and all week long I've been deflecting. .Why are we here? All I see is the wide expanse of stormy grey-green water. I'm unconvinced. Rosalie's decided to forsake all Halloween festivities to go out with Emmett and I don't have any other plans. a small. I don't want to go alone. enigmatic smile playing over her lips. she's gone. Edward's been harassing me to go with him to this stupid party at Riley's house." She turns to me." I sigh. Riley apparently thought it would be and ironic to throw a costume party with a literary theme. Her eyes are focused on the water and rocks below." Before I can stop her. "Neither do I. "But it will be worth it. barely able to hear my own voice. A couple of gulls wheeling on gusts of air. Bella. "Mom?" I call. All week long. "It's powerful." Since when does he care about doing things by himself? I smell a rat." she says. ." "Perhaps. So he's attempting to thwart that expectation by doing exactly what's expected." she says." She gestures downwards." Edward replies on the end of the line." I protest. No. over the edge. "Please.

See you then!" he replies. I'm already uncomfortable enough with the gossip about us. I'd been hesitant at first since it seemed too much like a "couples" costume. we return to my apartment with a pair of black." "I don't have anything to wear. bomber jacket." "I don't. feathered wings. smooth. Bella. Though the selection was pretty picked-over." "Ahh. an hour later Edward arrives at my apartment wearing a ridiculous-looking mustache. since I already own black jeans and a mock turtleneck to make up the rest of the costume." I reply stubbornly. we'd finally gone to a cheesy costume shop. The price was right." "Hold off on your judgment. It's crookedly attached under his nose and I laugh. Well." "We won't stay for long." An hour and a half later. hanging up before I can protest again. shiny. After we'd struck out several times at second-hand stores."Then don't go. I really don't. "We haven't picked yours up yet. "You know you want to come. gesturing to his face." "I'll be by in an hour to go costume shopping." he says with mock-indignation as I skeptically regard his holey t-shirt. True to his word. and jeans. "Huh?" "This is only part of my costume. Edward had spied the wings and in a burst of inspiration suggested I dress as the raven from Poe's famous poem." he replies with a laugh. But the wings are pretty cool²dark. "What the heck is that?" "My Edgar Allen Poe costume. too. . "The rest is in here." He swings his bag around and shakes it at me. I was going to say that's pretty much the saddest costume I've ever seen.

I definitely need something else. and it's not mine²probably one of my old college roommate's. The dark clothes make me look too pale. and I look in the mirror. I fish out some black eyeliner and smudge it around my eyes. thick waves around my shoulders. It rarely bothered me. . even go home with them²though I'd never have done that. I didn't allow it to. . but he didn't pressure me. to meet boys. Finally. sometimes I'd tag along with a roommate or two. my excitement about the party increases as I get ready . but luckily they button. I decide to leave my hair down. I did sometimes envy how easy it seemed for the other girls . I decide. Sorry. It's ancient and smells a little funky. it falls in long. The cell extended in his hand momentarily forgotten. it seems easier. It's deep red. We order Indian takeout and share a bottle of sweet white wine before I hop in the shower. The shirt comes next. It's thick and cakey. In college. . so I have to apply some chapstick and rub my lips together to make the color uniform. To have fun. but beggars can't be choosers. I answered for you.Edward could sense my reticence. Parties make me uncomfortable²at least they used to. Why should I let stupid people influence me? They can think what they like. I can't account for the difference . "Rosalie's on the phone. . From the bottom of my bag I excavate an ancient tube that I don't recognize. I decided to go for it. Putting on my costume in the steamy bathroom proves difficult. . but when I'm finished. For some reason. . . I stare. to get ready. Or at least." Nothing prepares me for how handsome he looks. all week long I hadn't wanted to go. But this year . Or I went home to visit. . smearing some on my lips. I apply a couple of thick coats of mascara and search for lipstick. "Bella?" Edward knocks on the door. I like getting to know people in the department. but generally I stayed in my room on the weekends to study. Turning to my mediocre makeup supply. but finally I wriggle myself into the jeans²they fit a little tighter than I remember. I barely recognize the girl in the mirror. .

I want to hear all about it tomorrow. "I'm a little nervous." "Oh." I pause. Edward's at your place?" "Yeah. "Well. looking bashful." "Oh my!" . He shrugs and grins. . your date?" Rosalie lets out a great gust of air." I turn around and catch Edward watching me before he looks away. a high-collared white shirt and a black necktie. . Sneaky." "Exactly. and why shouldn't she? I'd been adamantly "not going" all week. bringing the phone to my ear. "So ." "He said you guys were going to Riley's. "Bella?" Rosalie says. "What?" I mouth silently. . Without the mustache on. You getting ready for your date?" "Um . Emmett sent a bouquet of roses today . . His eyes widen and I wonder if I look weird." "Most definitely." I hate being reminded of this²the last time I saw her was such a disaster. . Only taller.He's wearing a black suit. or the equally silly-looking wig. "Yeah. ." "Yeah. he looks like he just stepped out of the 19th Century. I get it." She sounds surprised . . deflecting to a safer topic. "Can you say anything but yeah?" "No. Your company. Much taller. . "Hi." "Kate will probably be there.

" "Blue or purple?" "Blue. "Okay. turning to look in the mirror. "Okay. now sitting on the couch with his wig in his hands. that's what I was calling for." I confess. ." she says breathlessly. what're you going as?" "Tomorrow. but the way he's looking at me . Objectively . He's incredible. you know?" Anyway. . Skirt or dress?" "Hmm . . I hear the sound of hangers being dragged along the metal bar of her closet. I guess I do look kind of hot. but trendy." he says. I need your advice. that's for sure. okay. I don't have the wings on yet and I feel self-conscious and very Goth. don't know . I just want this to go well." "This might be the first time anyone's ever called me for fashion advice." Hot? Really? "I do?" I ask uncertainly. where are you going again?" "Di Violeta. "No ." I whisper. "Wow. "Speaking of fashion. this time his eyes traveling down and then back up again. ." "You're so right. . . . makeup. glancing down. "Skirt. . . . He glances up at me again. I don't look like me. ."Yeah. With my black heels. ." "You too. ." It's one of the most expensive Italian restaurants in town. Have a good time. . jeans and form-fitting shirt. So right. um . You look hot." I click the phone shut and glance back at Edward. Got it. I . "What? The lipstick? Is it too much?" I ask. .

Alison and Marjorie on the other side of the room. a silent wall between us. "That's great . It makes my stomach drop. ." His voice resounds deeply. ~QF~ Almost everyone from my classes is at Riley's. . Rue looks especially intimidating as Alex in her top hat and long eyelashes. "You look amazing. it seems. "You make a beautiful raven ." she says. along with some other people I recognize from the department. And just like that." I don't bother to mention it wasn't my idea. the raven. shall we?" he asks gruffly. "Nevermore?" I offer as a second hint. the spell is broken. Very clever. His firm hands linger on my shoulders. . fitting the straps around my arms. When he speaks. People are already getting pretty drunk and it's only nine o'clock. what are you?" I turn around. an inadvertent shiver runs down my spine. his eyes locked onto mine in the mirror." "Thanks. a smile playing upon his full lips. you do. Bella. Um . He stands. I almost don't recognize him. . Even so. They've dressed up as characters from A Clockwork Orange. A few MFA's I don't recognize. . . It doesn't seem to dissuade her. "You guys have become pretty tight. The way he's looking at me is not friendly at all." I reply dismissively. Isabella Sw²" The half-spoken word hangs in the air. ignoring her knowing look. "Did I see you come in with Edward?" Alison asks. Edward clenches his jaw and looks away. displaying my wings. certainly. but not before I see the look of pain there. I hold my breath as he helps me secure them to my back." . Suddenly it hits me. "Well. I feel warm. Edward goes off to find us some drinks and I spy Rue. his voice resounds lowly in my ear. "Yeah."Yeah. Stalking over to me with my shimmering wings in his hands. "Whoa.

Rosalie would say. Out of the corner of my eye I spy Kate with another girl I don't know. I can't help thinking it was a mistake to come here dressed like this." Marjorie chimes in. . probably an MFA. Everyone knows she's full of it. "You're just as bad as Kate. I stand trying to keep my cool while the topic of conversation changes to something else ." My eyes drift automatically to where Kate stands with Riley. Edward returns with a glass of red wine for me. fiddling with his fake facial hair. Edward gives me a warning look. "Liar. . "You having fun?" he asks. They're engaged in a fierce political debate and don't seem to notice. I see where they alight²on Edward. so she's at the bottom of the rumors. I glance around nervously . . . Her eyes meet mine. Typical hipster. ." Marjorie says in a whisper. . it's just . How could I have been so stupid? I refuse to look back at Edward and his "friend. . the stupid thing has obviously lost its adhesiveness. She slips his arm around his waist and leans her head against his arm. ." "No. cold and hard. She's wearing a 20's style flapper dress and holding a long. . "Kate . . she's just been talking shit." The irony almost makes me laugh. . . "Oh Kate? Fuck her." "What?" I ask. diverting my attention from the girls. Alison. In a flash. and I'm instantly nauseous. I nod in my best attempt to look convincing. He looks so cute . I am ."Oh shut up. I instantly recognize the look she's going for² Daisy from The Great Gatsby. thin cigarette holder. before flickering away. . she abandons her companion and saunters over to where he stands talking to Riley." A couple of minutes later.

. She hasn't²not in so many words." "I will . I guess that's good."Bella . . I forget about Kate and start enjoying myself. He sighs a little and shrugs. "Come on. but I can tell her feelings have changed. I shake my head half-heartedly and Edward chuckles. . Edward never leaves my side. she's kept her opinion to herself. I want you to meet someone. . for you." "Come on. His wig looks a little crooked and I reach up to fix it. Edward watches me as I re-stow my phone. Just got home. Emmett is. . So there. "Home so soon?" he asks. she's not that bad. "Rosalie. "Just give her a chance." "She did. did she?" I can hear the skepticism in his voice. taking a measured sip of his beer. Some people have spent an inordinate amount of time on their costumes." I explain. . Whether or not she believes me. so possessive." he says with a smile. are you?" I can't get the image of her arm around him out of my head . basically defeating all attempts at irony. I get a text from Rosalie at around midnight that makes me smile." ~QF~ For the next couple of hours. about the exaggeration of Edward's reputation. But it seems like it went well. "I know what you're trying to say." I resist the impulse to childishly stick my tongue out at him. she admitted she was wrong about you. not in full detail. He bends down to give me better access. I'd told her. you're not going to let someone like her ruin your night. Fantastic. Edward. . but just in general strokes. "Well. And she's stopped speaking badly of him. And anyway.

" Rue says sincerely." "Of course. "Noooo. why? They'll be fucking ecstatic." "Well. but they'll be back in another week or so. As the night draws on."So. but will they understand . "So. "It'll be okay. gesturing to our costumes." "Okay. . . . "You're the shit. girl. Edward nods in agreement and Rue stands up with her hands on her broad hips. I'm glad you did. touching my arm lightly." "The shit?" I ask with a laugh. about why . I prefer his natural hair so much more. straightening up. smoothing the waxy plastic hairs as much as possible." "Yeah. "Aww. pointing at Edward. I forgot to tell you." A bunch of the other girls from our class are on out on the floor dancing to a song I don't recognize. have you talked to your parents?" I ask the top of his head. I'll make them." I say." she says." I protest. Feeling a little tired and tipsy. come on and dance." he says. "Yeah. Edward had removed his wig about an hour ago. Hey. shaking my head. "My dad hasn't taken a vacation in forever. "Not yet. I find myself sitting with Edward and Rue on Riley's overstuffed sofa. I want to rip the thing off. dancing begins in earnest. "So whose idea was it?" "His. . claiming it was too itchy. even though it interferes with the "authenticity" of his costume." he says. come on!" . but for the first time in weeks I feel free. And if not. you guys look pretty awesome." I don't know if it's the wine or something else. "I wasn't even going to come tonight. They're actually in France right now." "Hey." "Do you think they'll be upset?" "Bella. Isabella.

almost everyone at the party is on the floor and it gets a little hard to move.I look at Edward indecisively and he gives me an encouraging nod. "No. reaching out to steady herself on Edward's arm. none of the guys dance. breathless from the exertion. And there's no sign of the stupid mustache. trying to disguise my desire to lean back into him. do you?" . very angry looking Kate. I shouldn't be doing this. "You're having fun. Alison's quizzical glance shatters the illusion." he murmurs in my ear." She weaves a little on her high-heels. "Oh. I step forward. Of course the three glasses of wine don't hurt either. I mutter something about poking someone's eye out. finally allowing Rue to drag me along out to our classmates. gently removing his hands from my body. and soon we've formed our own little circle on the side of the room. who I am. after all. I'm sorry. "You don't mind. . We begin to sway together. After a few songs. I feel familiar hands on my sides and I turn my head." The crowd surrounds us thickly. "Sorry. his voice a warning. . I discard my cumbersome wings and lose myself in the rhythm of the music: this kind of dancing isn't so hard. It's just swinging your hips to the beat. He shrugs her off. Something about the way he holds me feels so safe. I smile and squeeze his hand to let him know we're okay. "Hey. isn't it?" I ask with a nervous laugh." he says softly. and I imagine no one can see. At first. "Kate. it's not. Am I interrupting your little dance? I just wanted to come to talk to Isabella here. Don't they? Almost immediately. resting his chin on my shoulder. His hands stay firmly in place and I can feel his breath tickle the side of my neck. Alison and Marjorie squeal at our approach. but eventually some begin to join in." "A miracle. But it's just for a few seconds. Eventually. remembering where I am . Don't be like that. From the looks of it. "Well isn't this cozy?" comes a voice from beside me. He looks happy and tired. I whirl around to find myself face to face with a very drunk. his front just barely grazing my back. Edward's had a couple more drinks since I last saw him. Edward. Friends dance together." Edward says.

"I don't know what you're talking about." she glares in my direction. Edward guides Kate over to the corner of the room while I trail behind. you can say to me. "You don't know what you're saying. "What does your fiancé think about you being such good friends with Edward here? Yeah. glancing around. Even so." I say. Don't think it's some big secret." "No. Luckily." I say sharply." he says coldly. standing my ground. . "I have every right²" "Kate. His face remains impassive." "Fine. Isabella. recovering myself. but Kate shrinks back like she's been slapped. But I can't believe you're choosing her. her blue eyes clouding with tears. Edward. Just leave it. though?" she says." Edward snaps at her." I say. drawling out my name. "Funny. It's terrible to love someone when they don't love you." Edward interrupts me." "So what if I am? At least I have the decency not to screw around behind someone's back. nearly spitting her words." she says. I see how it is. "You're drunk. I feel sorry for her. "Isn't it. "You just do it in front of them." "Why you little bitch!" "Don't you dare talk to her like that. I've seen that ring on your hand. his eyes livid now. especially if that person is engaged?" I flinch back immediately from her suggestion." he says firmly." "There isn't any choice. "Isn't it my business who fucks around with my good friend here. She stumbles a little and Edward helps her to right herself. that's right." "That's none of your business. I would have thought that would be a job for her fiancé. "over me. And I know at that moment. she truly cares for him. "Really? How protective of you. the rest of the party is so loud no one seems to be paying much attention to us. but I can see he's angry. Maybe he's not so drunk after all. This whole public confrontation thing is getting out of control."Anything you can say to Bella.

" "I . I'm afraid .But Kate's quick on her feet: she doesn't stay silent for long." Is that the right answer? Is it true? Yes. . My eyes fill with tears of shame and embarrassment. and so guilty. I can't even speak or look at Edward. no longer caring if he sees. We were having a good time. Edward. it is! I'm going behind Jacob's back. I shouldn't have come. Bella." "But it is Edward. . . can't. "Come on. . . "That may well be. . "Please. . don't you see? I haven't told him anything. . I just. Kate's venomous words keep replaying in my head. Not . leaving me dumbfounded . . "I'm afraid ." Once we're outside. and stalks away. you see how she is! Nothing she says is true. you should have. . . If he found out. her drink in hand." The stupid tears start falling and I let them this time. he won't want me to be . talk to me. any other reasons?" Edward asks quietly. . . confused . . "Let's go. . it would kill him. friends with you. A second later her eyes narrow through her tears. Who will Bella choose? You or her fiancé?" She turns on her heels. the realization dawning that I've left my wings behind. I don't want to hurt anyone. yet. Edward keeps his hold as we begin to walk." "Then tell him. "Why? Because of the letters?" I nod. his hand at my waist. For you." "Yes. . ." "But Kate²" "Don't listen to her. But just ask yourself something. that's for sure. God. "Are there . "I ." Edward says softly. I'll take you home. . I'm not going back to get them. ." he says.

As long as you want me. kicking at fallen leaves on the sidewalk. But easier would break my heart. . easier. I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. I haven't thought that far ahead. "if we weren't friends?" "What! No!" I turn on him." My voice breaks a little at the end and I realize I'm gripping Edward's shirt in my fists. drawing out each word. . his chin resting on the top of my head. what then?" "I don't know. But I know what that means . blinking through my tears. But if I had to perish twice. . He's always comforting me. "Do you think it would be easier. don't say things like that to me! Please! I . . perhaps easier." I say honestly. I just . ." Some say the world will end in fire. He brushes my hair back from my face and pulls me against him. The moon shines brightly above us. But nothing is clear anymore. but I realize I have to. He hasn't answered my question. I can only nod into his chest. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. "Always. "I'll always be your friend. reflecting on pavement damp from a late night rain shower. Who will comfort him? I wrap my arms around his back and hug tightly. Yes. "But when you ask about the letters. found you again." he says softly. Bella. ±Robert Frost Chapter 20: November 6. "Do you think that it would be easier? Would it be better?" I whisper. 2010 . Some say in ice." he says. . "Please.Edward sighs deeply.

"The 'rents are coming home tomorrow." "Really? That's great," I murmur. "Did they have a good time?" The two of us are lounging around in my apartment on a Saturday afternoon. He's reading Coleridge for Peggy's class while I work on an annotated bibliography assignment for theory. "I think they did. My mom sent me an email yesterday with some pictures of Paris. Shit made me jealous." "Have you ever been?" "Nope. But I'd love to go." I sigh, wondering if I'll ever be able to afford Europe. "Me too." "We'll go together one day," he affirms. "We will?" I ask with a smile. "What are you, psychic?" "Runs in the family." I chuckle at him and shake my head, returning to the task at hand²wading through about fifty articles on my subject. Since Halloween, Edward and I have seen each other almost every day. Mostly, we hang out at one of our apartments and work, since it's getting to that point in the semester where both of us are swamped. With only five more weeks of class, and two, twenty page seminar papers to write on top of my regular course assignments, I've been dedicating at least five hours of each day to research and reading. The night before, I'd met up with Edward, Angela, and Jasper for dinner at Edward's place. He prepared a simple meal of pasta and salad, apologizing for not having had time to make anything fancier. But when I took a bite of the Bucatini all'Amatriciana, the tang of the zesty tomato sauce and the Romano cheese was shockingly good. Such a simple dish, but it was one of the best things I'd eaten recently. Edward brushed off our compliments, though I could tell they secretly pleased him. It was nice, slowly getting to know Jasper and Angela again. They seem so well suited, anticipating each other's needs wordlessly in that way some long-term couples have. And I like the way they are with Edward. They're so

supportive and enthusiastic about his work²I can tell that Jasper thinks of him like a brother. He needs good friends like them in his life. Soon our conversation drifted to Emmett and Rosalie. Edward still isn't entirely at ease with their new romantic attachment, but he's trying. I smiled a little to myself, thinking of my friend off with Emmett again on another date. A few days before the dinner with Jasper and Angela, Rosalie and I finally had a chance to catch up regarding both of our weekends. She nearly glowed with happiness as she relayed the details of her night with Emmett. He's smart, but not in an overbearing or pretentious way²a relief after Finley. Not only that, he's down to earth, funny, and (according to Rosalie) a helluva kisser. For the past week, he's sent flowers every day. Roses for a Rose. She wanted to know everything I remember about him. I told her I didn't remember him being so romantic, that's for sure, but I did recall his gargantuan appetite. Rose laughed²apparently this is something he still possesses. I've never seen two people fall for each other so quickly. I just hope it works out for her. Emmett's such a nice guy, there's no reason for it not to. And she deserves it. Rosalie was eager for details about the Halloween party, and I'd given her plenty, including a brief synopsis of my confrontation with Kate. "I underestimated Edward," she said, clearly surprised over his reaction. "He really cares about you." "I know." "I asked you a question once about your feelings for him." "Yeah." "You said you didn't know." "Rosie . . ." "Don't make a mistake, Bella. That's all I'm going to say. Just don't make a mistake." Rose's comments replayed in my mind during dinner at Edward's. After we ate and spent a couple of hours playing cards and drinking wine, I decided to

call it a night. Angela suggested coffee the following week and I agreed, excited to catch up with her on our own. Then, Edward walked me to the "El" stop. When the train pulled away, leaving him behind on the platform, I felt strange. Don't make a mistake, Bella. "I just love this. Listen to this," Edward says, interrupting my reverie. I swivel around in my chair and smile as he scrambles up to a seated position, his expression becoming serious as he begins to read: "Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee, Whether the summer clothe the general earth With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall Heard only in the trances of the blast, Or if the secret ministry of frost Shall hang them up in silent icicles, Quietly shining to the quiet Moon." "Frost at Midnight?' I ask with a smile. It's one of my favorite poems² Coleridge's meditation on his lonely childhood and his hopes for his newborn son to have a happy one. "Right again. Damn, you're good." "Well, I already did the reading this week." "I'm sure you'd have known it anyway," he replies with a laugh, placing the book on the floor and sinking back down onto his elbows. "Yeah, well. Maybe," I confess, watching as he studies the page with a frown of concentration.

"That phrase, 'the secret ministry of frost,' it's great," he murmurs. "I love the last line." "The repetition of 'quiet.' It's perfect," he agrees. With a swift movement, he rolls over on his back and clasps his hands under his head. "See," I tease, remembering our encounter at the bar weeks ago, "There's more to Coleridge than 'Kubla Khan'." That night at The End seems so distant now²he'd been such a stranger to me. But I hadn't seen him clearly. Not at all. "You're right. You know, sometimes I wish I could've been a poet." "Why can't you?" "Writing chooses you." "Okay, so then, why a poet?" "Because . . . poetry just does something that fiction can't. The way a good poet can appeal to all of the senses simultaneously²like in this passage. Sound, smell, taste, touch, sight²and thought²all there at the same time. You're surrounded by the moment. It's so hard to capture that in a short story, or even a novel." "But fiction does that, too," I insist. "What about Proust? Joyce?" "Yeah . . . that's true. But it's one thing I've been working on lately²how to represent sensory experience." "Give me an example." "Like for instance: right now. I'm lying here on your floor. I feel the hardness along my back. My hands under my head. But there are other things happening. My foot itches." "So scratch it," I joke, throwing a pen cap at him. It glances off his side and lands a couple inches away. "That's not the point. My foot itches at the same time I feel the floor underneath here. And it smells." "Thanks," I say with mock-offense.

"No . . . like coffee. And you." I make a show of sniffing myself. "I showered today." "Everyone's home has a particular smell. Your smells like . . . cinnamon and laundry and fresh water. Old books. When I come in here, I think of you." "I never noticed," I say softly. "That's because it's your smell." "Oh." I blush at his words. How can he say he's not a poet? "Umm-hmm. So there's that. Then taste. My mouth tastes like the coffee we just had, a little cream. It's a little sour. I could use a mint," he chuckles, fishing around in his pocket. "And of course sound²the click of your keyboard as you type, the traffic outside. Shuffling of pages as we both read. You humming." "I am not," I object, but he turns his head to me and nods. "You're not even aware of it, but you are." "I didn't know that." "I know." "Okay . . . what else?" "Well, sight, of course²that's the big one. So important. My eyes take in this whole room, but focus only on one or two objects at a time. We see everything and nothing at once. We forget about things, take them for granted. Like this book here," he says, glancing upwards with his eyes and scrunching his forehead. "I know it's here even when I'm not looking at it. But I forget about it, too." "What else do you see?" "It's late afternoon²see the sun coming into your window over there?" "Yeah." "It reminds me of the Dickinson poem." "There's a certain slant of light," I say with a smile.

"Exactly. But that's only one thing . . . I see your ceiling . . . a couple of cobwebs up there, Bella," he teases. "Hey, now. I'm too short to reach." "This cap," he says, picking up the pen cap and throwing it back at me. I catch it with my right hand and set it on the desk. "And there's you." "Me?" "You fill up this space . . . even when I'm not looking at you." My breath catches in my throat, and I glance down at the theory book in my lap. But Edward doesn't seem to notice how his words affect me. He goes on. "When a writer picks details²sensory details²to include in whatever he's writing . . . " "He?" "Or she," he says, correcting himself and raising his eyebrow at me. "It has to be for a purpose²to set the scene, give the reader insight into the characters²and so they're carefully selected. You can't put too much in." "Or you'll overwhelm the reader." "Or lose his . . . or her . . . interest." "Right." "But, to me²I don't know. I'd like to be able to capture it everything on paper. All of those things²and my thoughts²but it's impossible. Language is so linear²one thing follows the next. Poetry is the closest way, I think, of capturing what I'm talking about. There are some moments . . . that shouldn't be lost," he says quietly. "But you are a poet," I say. "What you described to me just now? That's poetry. And your writing has some very poetic qualities." Abandoning my work on the desk, I move to sit on the floor next to Edward. He smiles a little and rolls to his side, propping his head up on his arm.

"Do you really think so?" "Yeah. I do. I've . . . always thought so." "I always forget about that silly story I gave you once. I was so proud when you told me it was good," he laughs. "I was so afraid you'd hate it." "It was amazing," I whisper. My heart begins to pound. "I hardly remember it, honestly." My eyes drift over to my bed where the book in question resides, my teeth worrying my lower lip. "You know, about that . . ." I say softly. It's now or never . . . I either show him . . . or I don't. "What?" Edward asks with a smile. "Close your eyes." "Hmm?" "Close them." Edward obliges with a chuckle, rolling onto his back again and draping his arm across his face. I see him peek out from underneath deviously and I reprimand him with a poke to the side. "Hey! I see you!" "Sorry, sorry." He removes his arm and scrunches his eyes closed dramatically. "Is this better?" "Yes. Now keep them shut." Before I lose my nerve, I tiptoe over to the bed, angling my head to ensure Edward's not cheating. It's weird enough I've saved the story all of these years, I don't want him to know where I keep it. But I want him to know I'm invested in it . . . our friendship. I feel for the box, sliding it out and removing the cover cautiously while Edward hums a familiar tune. "Is that Claire de Lune?"

"Yep. It's what you were humming before." "Was not." "Were too." Edward shakes his foot impatiently. "Can I look yet?" he asks. "No. Just relax." I remove his notebook, then the Blake. The pages of both are yellowed, singed with acrid smoke and the telltale lick of fire. It's a miracle they survived at all. My heart picks up speed as I re-stow the box and clutch the books, returning to Edward's side on the floor. Once I show him, I can't take it back. "Bella?" Edward asks, his hand groping blindly before landing on my knee. "What's wrong?" "Um. Nothing. Just . . . I wanted to show you something. Something special. You can open your eyes only if you promise not to laugh or make fun of me." "I promise," he says with a smile. "I would never do either of those things." "Okay." Edward opens his eyes and looks at me. I feel shaky and unsure, still holding the books tightly against my chest. His gaze drops down and I slowly expose the cover of his blue notebook. Almost instantaneously, his expression shifts from curiosity and concern to shock. He sits up quickly as the blood drains from his face. "Oh my God," he whispers. "Is that what I think it is?" he gestures to the notebook. Takes it from me. Then the other. A look of discovery as he opens the cover, sees his inscription. Ghosts his fingers over the delicate, discolored paper. "The pages . . . " "They're a little burned," I murmur. "But I can't . . . I don't . . . How?" he asks incredulously.

"I had them with me . . . when they found me . . . I got them back when I was discharged. No one knew what they were. Billy thought it was stuff for school," I laugh halfheartedly. "Jesus, Bella." "It's stupid, I know." "It's not stupid." "I don't remember what I was thinking. It was one of those weird things when you just automatically do something." I say, trying to put my motivation into words. "I know what you mean," he replies. Edward waits for me to go on, turning the books over in his hands. "I . . . could've gone to the roof. But I heard . . . something. I went back for her. The doorknob was hot, but I opened it anyway." "My brave girl," he says, touching my face. But I'm caught in the memory² burning hair, flesh²I shudder. "No. I was foolish. It was too late. It was horrible. I . . . saw her." Edward's eyes flash with pain, anger, something else. He puts the books down and pulls me onto his lap. I go willingly, nestling my head in the crook of his neck and inhaling his comforting smell. He's right. Everyone has one. I just never knew what mine was until he described it to me. "She was trying to get to me," I whisper. "God." "If I . . . wasn't . . ." "She was your mother. She would've tried to protect you no matter what. It's not your fault." I lose myself in Edward's gentle rocking, feeling small in his arms²almost like a kid again. But it doesn't erase the memory of her flaming hair. Edward listens as I tell him what I remember. Waking up in the hospital. Moving to Seattle, then to Forks. Surgery upon countless surgery. Being

"You brought them here to Chicago with you? Why?" "I . . leaning back against the couch." I say again. Because I don't think . When I finish. How my lungs won't ever be completely normal. to do that." he says." he whispers against my cheek. . "The Blacks took good care of you. awaiting the inevitable expressions of pity. I don't think . the strength of his arms. . "Yes. But I can't." "Why. I steel myself. . . I feel everything. . Bella?" His voice is soft and serious.alone." he says simply. It's not easy . He must be thinking of my scars." I say." "It's funny . The way his warm thighs support my weight. . but I can't. he's silent. . I'd like to hate them . his chest . All I had left . . Telling me. I'm still in his lap. "Thank you. Everyone does. . "Bella. "For what?" "Trusting me. of Elgin. My pet bird and how I cried when it died. of my mother. "And you kept these? All this time?" "They were all I had left. I don't have another explanation. . "They must really love you." "No. . let him go. ." I know he's speaking from experience as much as I am. . it's not. what they look like. His body is so much more than a comforting embrace. I don't want to. What it was like to walk again without a cane. ." I know I should get off of him. They kept you safe. Of him." "Yes. My mind fumbles in confused inarticulate sentences that I can't vocalize. . I ." "Yes.

" he says. But the thrumming of his heart under my ear is my undoing. the place where he touched my lips. I²" I don't know what to say. now? Or is he just remembering the girl I was? "Shhh.and the heart beating there. I let myself be swept away by this dangerous dream. . As long as I don't look into his eyes I'll be safe. His hand moves again through my hair. but I give it away with every shaky exhale. So strong and fragile. swirling eddies of color²green and grey and blue with flecks of brown and gold." he says hoarsely. . . One arm still holds me and the other moves. A feather-light movement over closed eyelids that I think might be his lips. "I would give anything . a pulsing. Edward brushes away a tear from my cheek and rubs it into his palm. "Do you know what you mean to me. I turn my head and close my eyes as he touches my face tenderly. He looks down at me. Stopping now to cup my chin. "See? This moment. my last thoughts will be of him. Bella?" he whispers. . . I know. . His eyes. something flickering in his eyes. . This. . . gently playing across my lips. Can he . And I know with certainty that when I die. placing his finger over my mouth to silence me. . to be able to kiss you right now." he says. . . I close my eyes and lean into his touch. He whispers my name again and I do it. . Now his hand moves up through my hair and cradles my head. But he doesn't²it's impossible. before his thumb moves down. to learn what it's like to live in his body. want me . His question remains unanswered. I could drown there and do it gladly. tracing and retracing. I long to sink into him. They're like the sea. so softly. scratching lightly against my scalp. How I long for his lips. touch my cheek. I think. quiet energy. He tastes the place on his palm where my tear dried. It's there in my lungs and all around me . They're too much . brushing my lips again with his thumb. those sea-eyes. "Edward. I can almost see their color expand . I attempt to focus my jumbled thoughts but I can't. His hand leaves a burning trail on my skin. I look.

a crackling." In all of the many times I've spoken to him on the phone. okay? I'm thinking maybe instead of me moving to Chicago. . I . I've been thinking about how wrong it is without you here. You can write your dissertation from home. . Then it happens. "You're everything to me. you can come back here once you finish your coursework. need you right now. guilt twisting my stomach as I fumble for my phone on my desk. it's me. "Yeah. "God. . I can't even look at Edward as I bring the receiver to my ear. where both of us belong. "What's wrong?" I ask. He can't know what he's saying. ." "Jacob . Isabella. I need you to come back. alarmed. "Hello?" I ask. . I just ." I hear Edward shuffling papers behind me. I don't want to move back. And his voice² . I like Chicago. His voice sounds strange. shaky with adrenaline. . Where are you? I can't hear . Jake. . Something doesn't seem right. Too many noises. I don't want to finish my degree in Forks. Yes. my heart beating in my ears. I feel his lips on the side of my face and nothing has ever been sweeter. "Just hear me out. "Isabella? Hello?" There's some feedback on the line . Jake's voice. . . "It's just ." He buries his face in my hair and inhales. My telephone rings. I don't know." "Isabella?" "Jake? The interference subsides and I can finally hear him. bringing reality with it." His words confuse me²they feel so wrong. It's where you belong. stupidly. My body is still warm from Edward's. how it shatters me completely. it's Jacob. Jacob's Saturday call. Here to Forks. . he's never been like this-desperate. I don't even know who I am anymore. Isabella. . Edward drops his hand immediately as I shoot out of his lap.I shake my head foolishly. .

"I love you. I'm gonna be busy this coming week. "I can't talk about this right now. Eight months. trying to stay out of Edward's earshot. I know . I miss him so fiercely my heart can't contain the longing. "Okay. But I'll give you a call on my lunch break. I'm getting a little ahead of myself. "Okay. a voice inside of me whispers. July." "Okay. Okay. when I've already been faithless in my heart. how had I not seen it until now? "Jacob. How can you deny it? I think of the past few weeks . But it's also not true. Jacob is still talking." he jokes. "Yeah. okay?" He rambles on for another minute or two." I reply roughly. work in all. And even though he's here with me now. Sounds good. It wells up and seeps out and fills the room. you fool. But it was just a thought. A cake and dancing. after the wedding. because it's true." I say softly. I get it. Yes." The wedding. Edward. I²I have to go." The forced cheerfulness of my words echoes hollowly in my ears. I envision it ." "I miss you. . babe. . How stupid I am. I've never really lived without Edward. I love another."Jacob. but I feel faint. You know. but all I can think of is Edward. . But the summer is not far away. ." I'm sorry for so much. so palpable it must be visible. . the one who told me stories and made me laugh. . ." I whisper. Jacob in a tuxedo. The one I could confide in. I'm a liar. all thoughts of our marriage remained nebulous²a hazy prospect looming in the distant future. I miss you. I think we should consider it." I say. Vows to remain true to him for the rest of my life. . I miss my friend. I can live without Jacob. too. it's another person speaking. It's not me. a white dress. Until now. I am faithless because . "I'm sorry. "So. I'm doing it now. I've always loved another. trying to maintain the calm in my voice. .

He's not in the kitchen. . And blaze the thoughts away. "Will do." "Bye. 2010 Panic rises in my throat as I inspect the room. . No reply. and Dad says 'hi." "Bye. The speech an accident. My heart stops beating. papers.".Rumi Chapter 21: November 6th. Jacob. coat² gone. His books. I run over my conversation with Jacob in my mind . My apartment is empty." I whisper. very slowly. . Light up the fire of love inside. Too many for me.' too. Slowly. . . How many phrases will you speak. I turn." I close the phone and set it down on my desk. The bathroom door is open. For the heart is all the substance. Clearly he's not intending to come back. burning will you feel. . ." "Tell him I say 'hi. "Edward?" I call."Oh. Thought the words be higher still. I'd said I missed him . How much burning. You're everything to me. just after Edward . Be friendly with the fire. enough for me. He's gone. sweetheart. lowly it may be. The room is unnaturally silent.' He's watching the game now though so he can't talk. "I gaze into the heart.

I know that. I tap my foot restlessly on the dirty floor. Disappointment tinged with hopelessness. but for some reason the cold isn't bothersome. my heart hammering in my chest. . He couldn't have more than a three or four minute lead. I steel myself before ringing the bell. my gaze darting from person to person. Finally. but I look eagerly behind his shoulder. I immediately call him and it goes straight to voicemail. Instead. the one time I'd been here I'd explored many of the nearby streets. It's very likely he doesn't want to speak to me. What if something happens to him? It's not likely." I whisper to no one before I take off towards the stairs and the lobby. . It occurs to me I should have worn a warmer coat. so it doesn't take too long before I'm on the right track. There are only a few people on the sidewalk and none of them are Edward. I just hope he came right home. I'm just about to turn around when the door opens. "Little Bee?" Emmett stands at the top of the stairs looking disheveled. I'm in Edward's neighborhood trying to remember how to get to his house. his copper hair. I don't bother leaving a message. . I feel bad for disturbing him. I already feel better. I ring again. My hand shakes as I retrieve my phone from my pocket and check for messages. . or at least put a sweater on over my thin t-shirt. His sweats and matted hair tell me he's just woken from a nap. . He could be anywhere. I arrive at Edward's house. Twenty minutes and one transfer later. But when I get to the street in front of my building. Nothing happens. I search vainly for his tall frame. As I walk.I grab my coat without thinking. He's not in the hall. My eyes move restlessly over passersby as I try not to think about how Edward must have felt ." station. the evening falls quickly and so does the temperature. Luckily. closer to him. willing the train to move faster. "Edward. I know sometimes you don't get to tell people what they mean to you until it's too late. The ride is excruciating. More than anyone. It keeps me alert. checking quickly for my wallet and keys before bolting out the door. But I can't help the dread creeping over me . for him to left that way. out of breath and afraid. I think. I walk to the closest "El. Nothing.

at home. imagining I'm there with them in the hospital. I've been sleeping. At least Alice died in peace. a book tented next to it. His room is a little messier than last time. She stares back at the camera²at me²with her wise." "That's fine." "Thanks. "No problem. . He could've come home. Ali. being in here like this without him knowing." he says with a large yawn."Hey." When I get to the third floor. It's not difficult to recall the smell of bitter antiseptic. The photo doesn't even come close. "Yeah. Is Edward here?" "I thought he was at your place. Emmett. At least she had that. Dylan Thomas. laced with undertones of bleach." Emmett looks concerned. rumpled sheets. "I miss you. I might just wait. Sighing resignedly. Perhaps this is one moment that Edward has tried to capture in words. my intuition is confirmed. unable to sit still. Sounds of whooshing machines and the low hum of mindless TV no one's really watching. I kick off my shoes and pace the room. knowing eyes. I feel a bit like an intruder. "If he's not." "Thanks. "Well. There's a strange intimacy. I flip the light switch and blink. Will he be upset? The photo of Alice calls to me from the bookshelf. I close my eyes." . A half-drunk cup of coffee sits on the nightstand. Em. Absentmindedly I run my hand over the soft. opening the door wider and waving me in. absorbing the scene. The bed isn't made. Um. I am an intruder. it's a long story. The stale air. You can go check if you want. I ." I hesitate on the bottom of the stairs. What's ours is yours or whatever. ." But somehow I already know he's not home. the comforter nearly half on the floor. he was.

his plea for me to come home. I ball the sheets up in my hands. In fact. but I resist. could I blame him? I bury my head in his pillows. I pick the photo up and kiss them both. eyes focused on the doorway. Instead. I pretty much keep reading the same sentence over and over again. I just wanted to tell you I'm headed out. His bed smells like green. There's no guarantee he'll come home tonight and do I want to live with that knowledge? A little while later. "Little Bee?" Emmett calls as he enters. I pull the comforter up around my body. How will I stand hurting him? I don't know how much time passes. Rose and I have a date. Is that okay?" "Of course. not bothering to wipe the trace of my lips from the glass frame before returning it to its perch overlooking the room. My mind drifts to Kate. back to Forks. how warm he was. an ache in my chest that longs for something I've never had. but I don't get very far in the book I've picked. It takes more than a little willpower not to open them and read." I haven't seen much of Rose lately²both of us have been busy. . propping up his pillows against the wall and leaning against them." He grins. enveloping myself in his scent. The jealousy. inhaling deeply. "That's great. He wouldn't.The picture of Edward holding her feet makes my heart hurt. trying to put his scent into words as he did mine. But I miss her. The sadness and strange desperation in his voice. But even if he did. Then my mind returns to Jacob. "You still here?" I flush to be caught in Edward's bed and look down at the book in my hands. All I can think of is green. I can imagine he's here right now and not wandering around Chicago doing God knows what. once it emerges. "Yeah. No. I grab a book from the shelf and retreat back to Edward's bed. trying to sort through the insane mess of my life and not think about Edward's whereabouts. If I close my eyes I can recall the feel of his arm around me. I hear footsteps on the stairs and I start up rigidly. A few of Edward's notebooks are stacked next to his opened laptop. Say 'hi' for me. is almost impossible to repress. My voice threatens to crack.

Bella. I haven't even considered that Edward might be hurting. Once he loves something." I nod. drifting off. These past few weeks I've been so self-absorbed with my life. And he thinks I've picked Jacob. He's writing a lot more. Just keep that in mind. . Another phone call goes straight to voicemail. ." I say. "I'm not really hungry. "He'll turn up sooner or later. Emmett nods. He seems happier. Kate's words from Halloween return." "Oh." "Really?" I grasp onto the insinuation with both hands. He smiles a little and slaps the side of the wall. "I don't know how to describe it. "This is gonna sound weird. Whatever happened with you guys wasn't your fault. "Look. . But there's food downstairs if you're hungry. He gets like this sometimes." "Less so recently. She was right. More hours pass. It's after ten now and I've been waiting for nearly six hours." I whisper." "Okay. Wants to be alone. Little Bee. he loves it forever."Will do. but it is." he pauses. "I gotta get going. "That's why I'm here. ." he says. Edward has all sorts of weird Italian shit. you've lived your life or whatever. my stomach plummeting." His voice sounds thoughtful as he leans against the doorframe. But Edward's not like other people. If what Emmett's saying is true . and things have happened since then." He turns to me with a serious expression." "You still haven't heard from him?" I shake my head despondently. I want to leave and go . but thanks. "I know this is none of my business. We have tons of cereal . . But Edward . . You take care. It's not really an accusation.

I still don't know if that's true. . That self-doubting part of me refuses to believe Edward would really want me if he saw my body. I smile at a pair with cartoon characters on them. My body told me what my mind refused to acknowledge. I go Edward's dresser. I dated very little in college. more than a little disappointed it smells clean and not like Edward. Demetri. I insisted he not buy one. Another drawer contains socks. Enjoyable. and I'd finally given up and gone out with him a couple of times. than any fantasy love. He said he wanted to do things right. It's more like a dress than a shirt." Billy was so happy. Glancing down at myself in the full-length mirror on his wall is pretty funny. cautiously opening the top drawer. Anything would be better than this horrible waiting. I don't even know if I'm good . I told myself that our relationship was more stable. but when I finished I'd cry into my pillow because I knew I'd . On an impulse. suddenly chilled and wishing I'd worn a long-sleeved shirt. and I didn't know enough about sex to tell if he was right. Finally. Not the way I am now. I justified that strangeness because it was the first ring I'd ever owned or worn. like how his kisses felt. thoughts of Edward intruded. but I'm afraid I'll miss him if I go. Laundry day underwear. He could have any woman he wanted. I hated him. maybe at Eclipse. But when I did. I hated my scars. was especially persistent. I attempt to read again but give up in frustration. That love based on friendship is bound to stand the test of time. T-shirts. worn it proudly. That no one else would ever²could ever²love me. My ring. I find the drawer that contains what I'm looking for. I couldn't stand his touch or the feel of his lips. Jacob brought it home for me a couple of days after we got engaged. in that way. I remember how it felt on my hand²a foreign object I couldn't quite get used to. When he tried to kiss me on our second date I pulled away. He called me a tease and a prude. boxer shorts. But I don't even notice it anymore. but he didn't listen to me. I wasn't afraid to touch myself. Other things. I select a random grey sweatshirt and pull it over my head. One guy.look for him. Thinking back on it now. Before Jacob. But never more than that. messily folded. and by right he meant "traditional. more realistic. I shudder. shouldn't that have come as a warning sign? I should have been ecstatic about the ring. Nice. I felt pleasure. . and I hated myself for being so ashamed. A glint on my hand catches my eye.

Edward's handwriting curls over the first page. would I be so readily removing his ring? Another question I can't answer. but not enough to stop myself from flipping open the cover. even as my hand gently touches the binding of the top notebook. Jacob deserves so much more. That's such an invasion of privacy. It hurts to feel the tenuousness of our bond now. If found. I don't like the frantic state of my mind. Surely just one little taste won't kill? But I know how this story turns out. But no fierce desire. he would show me. but my hands feel lighter. But I don't want to let him go. . More minutes pass and my unease increases. And so I didn't do it often²it only heightened the feeling of lack. either. but he hasn't offered so much as a hint. But they call to me seductively. of pain. I slip the ring into my jeans pocket and it weighs there heavily. Is comfort enough to build a life on? Just to see how it feels. But inside the top right-hand corner of the cover neat. I'm circling the notebooks like a shark in the water. tempting me with knowledge.never see him again. please return to 32C Hawthorne. If I hadn't doubted Jacob about the letters. The Biblical ramifications of this moment are not lost on me. IL. The longer I wait without seeing Edward. My attention returns to the neat stack of notebooks I'd observed earlier. too. I wriggle the ring off my finger²the first time in seven months. Chicago. Emmett said Edward was writing more frequently²I've noticed it. the more confused I become. no pain. to focus on. nearly illegible. and I look for something. I'm disappointed in myself. With him. anything. And then there was Jacob. I shouldn't read them. decisive letters clearly indicate: Property of Edward Cullen. He's always scribbling away in one of those notebooks. Comfort. If he wanted me to see what was written there.

Even though the plot had been razed and grass had long since covered the ash. . It's about you. . exhaling deeply. How I love him. My heart clenches painfully. a quiet fire burning. I shouldn't have read any part of it. "I'm sorry. which I realize²shamefully²is what I expected. trying to disguise the shakiness of my voice. Words choke in my throat. So cute. He watches me remove my hand guiltily. but he's already seen. sneaky. "Bella?" Edward's voice materializes out of nowhere. and immovable even in flames." . He walked past the familiar spot. "You might as well. I want to run and throw my arms around him. . But you already know that now." My mind is still reeling from what I read." he says softly. I didn't read . but he doesn't look drunk. He runs his hands through his hair. "I'm sorry. Oh my God. My eyes drift to his wild cursive²I'll only allow myself one sentence. . but there's a wariness about him that stops me." "I didn't²I²" I stammer. His face is flushed from the cold. I only just opened it. his face cast in an unreadable expression. "Don't lie. He comes further into the light so that I can see him. still. not knowing how to defend myself. and awful.Reward. Silent. I feel untrustworthy. just a sentence. in his mind her house still stood there. I hastily flip the notebook closed. startling me." I say. "Okay . Maybe two." he says carefully. "Are you surprised?" "About what?" "What you read.

." he says. "I was waiting for you. Bella?" He starts removing his coat to throw it on the bed. "I got cold." he answers a little snippily. I know you have ." he says. And you had a call. "I'm not mad at you. "What are you doing here?" His tone isn't angry. Maybe I shouldn't have come after all. holding his hand up." There's such pain in his voice. I'm ashamed that the thought had crossed my mind." "Edward²" "I can't do this right now." I explain. . It makes me want to cry and beg his forgiveness. . ." "Not to fuck Kate. . "Where do you think I went?" he shoots back. "Keep it. From this moment on. His eyebrow quirks up and I see the hint of a smile on play upon his lips as he glances down. About us. I'm . It cuts to the bone. . So many expressions dance over his features²but the predominant one is fear. . I'll never think the worst of him again. There's no way I'm worthy of him. "It's okay. To think. if that's what you're wondering. can I just say something?" I move towards him. If this ends badly. his green eyes serious. The thing nearly reaches my knees. when you showed me you'd kept my story . shaking my head stiffly. . . okay? We're still friends. He thinks so highly of me and I doubt. moving to take it off." I say. and just then seems to notice I'm wearing his sweatshirt. it will be my fault. I just . A long one. You left . "Please. It's tired. but nor is it happy.I don't know how to reply." "Where did you go?" I ask." He nods. responsibilities . and the Blake. ." "Of course. . . "I needed some space. so I stand there dumbly. I can't believe it. I always doubt him. "I went on a walk. My eyes widen as he continues. I thought that . "I don't know. "What do you want. just for a second. He's writing a story about me.

Realize so many things. "I shouldn't have taken that call today. I wasn't. glancing around the room like a caged animal. He nods. We take a seat on the side of the bed for lack of any better arrangement. Don't apologize. I don't know how to begin. don't. the things you said. I'm sorry for making you feel that way. You made me feel something today I haven't felt in years. What you said²" "Was stupid." I say." "I shouldn't have. "No. There aren't enough words and they all sound wrong in my head. "I saw it in the way you looked at me when the phone rang." "Don't I?" "Well. You can't help how you feel. Because . I was trying to escape. more forcefully. You're a poet. and I'm so sorry. I was startled. But neither can I. you were right to. You are." I reply fiercely." "How do you know what I feel?" I ask. "It was beautiful. . "You were right to." he sighs. I play with the long sleeves of the sweatshirt nervously." "You have no reason. Edward. but I don't stop my advance.afraid too. I felt guilty. . "Please?" I ask again. It's been far too long since I was honest with anyone. noticing the little tears on the end." "You didn't. "It was me. and it doesn't escape my notice that he sits at a safe distance. He always wears his clothes until they're rags. even myself. willing him to look at me." I trail off. How like Edward." "I wasn't thinking clearly. I don't want him to feel cornered. I dig my nails into my hands to keep from touching him." I say." "No. I²I'm sorry if you felt I was dismissing you by talking to Jacob. realizing I'm not making any sense at all. ." "Bella.

"I don't. . I pick listlessly at the pills on his sweatshirt just to have something to do. "When I came over here."Because?" "I was afraid. Suddenly." "Why?" he asks. . I can hear the fear and hesitation in his voice. useless. love Jacob. "Did you . . you know what I did?" "Besides go through all my stuff?" he jokes. ." "I haven't washed these sheets in awhile." "You don't?" "No." ." I say softly. "I don't care. When I saw you left . Not enough to marry him. I shake my head and his expression rapidly falls. . but there's also something else. "I'm sorry." I say. I don't think I ever did. Edward grabs my left hand." "Bella." I say. my face reddening again. "Okay. . what did you do?" "I climbed right into your bed. "Your ring?" "I took it off. "You don't understand." I say shyly. I just wanted to be close to you. I look up into green eyes filled with confusion and hope. I realized today I don't ." "You stupid." I know he's about to ask whether I've broken off my engagement. what are you trying to say?" My hands rest my lap.

I can't bear to be so far away. His sweet breath on my face. Anything to get closer. I try to memorize the instant before he kisses me. "It's windy outside. His eyes are like the sea: green. And he does. his other hand in my hair. I gasp at the current that passes through my body. Billy. a final question. No longer tentative. everything."Is it because of the letters? Because he might have had something to do with it?" I shake my head and he looks at me and I try to convey with my eyes the words that still stick in my throat. . deeper into him. I can only stare and pray he saves me. and again. then at my neck. He always does. because I've never reached the surface. I angle my head. And it was like drowning. I stare and stare as lips move closer. Full." I whisper. I feel him smile against me as he cups my cheek. We're desperate and greedy and I realize I may be crying. feeling the grit. velvet and pliant and demanding at the same time. I want to feel. And when my mouth opens and he moans as his tongue touches mine." he says. and again. "There's sand in your hair. drawing me nearer. I close the distance between us. Then his lips are everywhere. my lips hesitant at first. delicious lips that make my stomach curl with want before they even meet mine. Alice. pouring out everything I am into this moment. and unfathomable. I tangle my hands in his hair. And so I kiss him again. He whispers my name and it's like I've never heard it before. Kissing Edward is like coming home. breaking away to answer me. When I was thirteen. he kissed me and I fell in love with him. Edward is a writer and a poet. Because of him. voiceless. breathing his air as he breathes mine. The way his eyebrows furrow gently in concentration. I want him to make me forget²Jacob. a pebble pinging off a pane of glass is my favorite sound in the world. His eyes flash. Not able to bear it another minute. I hate the little distance between us. rubbing at his scalp. hopeless. Edward taught me some moments can't be captured by words. depthless. I want him to erase everything in my mind but him. just ghosting over his.

but I can see he's not convinced." "It's okay. "Until today. "Yes. The feeling of his hand fumbling with the fly of my jeans makes me freeze." he pants. I can feel his hardness on my thigh and I unconsciously grind my hips up into it. shifting the arousal that's so evident now. "I'm sorry." he whispers." "I don't want you to ." I say. straining against his jeans. He moans and grinds back harder. "I think I got a little carried away. ." "I'm not confused. wet kiss and I revel in the pain. his hand gently caressing my face. I thought for sure you were going to marry him. . and he's pressing into me with his whole body. stilling and rolling off me to the side with a groan. shifting to his side." "Edward. you are. Suddenly my mind catches up to my body²this is happening too fast." he says. Edward reaches his hand into his pants. And I'm petrified for him to see my scars. his hands running over my shoulders and down my sides and all thoughts and sanity have fled. The sight makes the ache between my legs nearly unbearable. His scruff scratches my chin with each hot. like mine." I say. get into something just because you're confused about Jacob. . My desire still courses hot and thick and being pressed against him isn't helping. I'm confused. I ache so much and I love how he feels and I want more. "We can't do this. I²" He reaches out and pulls me into his arms. "I'll confess I'm confused. How can I make him understand that this is real? . and we're lying on his bed.Somehow arms and legs become tangled. "Bella. but I can't bear to pull away. my eyes tearing." I say. ." "I'm not." "I know. Edward notices immediately. my breath coming in short spurts. I had no idea your feelings for me might be .

"No need to be sorry. Happy and sad at the same time. No other people in our way. Bella." Edward doesn't reply. I need to be sure you're not just doing this because you're scared to lose me. I take it and slide slowly off the bed and into his arms. ." he says. . My stomach takes this inopportune moment to growl and Edward smiles. despite our predicament. Edward loves me."I don't want you to. just kisses my forehead again. . . . patting it through his sweatshirt. I promise. I can't stop replaying the words in my mind. He clambers off the bed and reaches out his hand. I want you to feel it with your whole heart. gesturing between us." "I'm sorry." he says softly. Bella . "Well. . You have no idea how much that idea kills me. With no regrets." "I had to. He loves me. "Touch my hair. He sighs and strokes my hair and. I close my eyes and blink back tears. Why should he believe me." I whisper. You like meatballs?" "You make meatballs?" . "My mom used to do that when I couldn't sleep. . Maybe I'm expecting too much . I promise. I haven't taken his feelings into account. But he's right. trust me with his heart when I've yet to earn it? "I love you. rest my head on his chest. "I'm glad you came after me. this. "But when . let me make you some." I wrap my arms around his torso. I feel calmer. you tell me the same ." I say. "I bet you haven't had dinner. I just want you to be sure. My chest hurts at the thought of leaving him now." he says. Even if you marry someone else. kissing my forehead. you coming here. . again." I shake my head shyly. Okay?" His words are so sincere but I can't help my frustration. if . "It's more than I ever could have hoped. Because that will never happen. . love. . But I don't want to push you either.

Bella. "No one serious. "Why Italy?" I ask. all delights." "Mostly I was drawn to the history."Secret recipe. all passions. "Me too. our arms just seem to fit together. well. Then I took Italian in college and just . I was . All thoughts of food are forgotten. All are but ministers of Love. "That's not an answer. I hug him from behind and rest my head on his back as he boils pasta to feed me at midnight. pretty fucked up. The art. And feed His sacred flame. Even though I'm so much shorter."-Samuel Taylor Coleridge November 6th-9th." "So. 2010 There are some things time can't erase. giving me a smart-alecky grin. "Well. trying to keep my inquiry casual. . Like how easy it is to hug Edward. twirling the strands around my fork. did you like college? Did you have a girlfriend or anything?" I ask." My voice is wistful and Edward places his hand on mine. "Why not?" he answers back. I vow to make this right. . ." "I wish I could've gone. Whatever stirs this mortal frame." "Like fucked up how?" . It's so incredible how many of the cities are relics in themselves²each building a masterpiece. . how can I resist?" And as I follow him out and down the stairs. it was where I needed to go." he grins playfully. "All thoughts.

For Edward's sake I hope it's not true."I was angry²with my parents. . . . And it drove me crazy . And you. "Yesterday evening." I say. Just the thought that if I had the right fucking marrow. She might've . horrible." he says quietly. I partied a lot. as it is a flame. . . ."²Henry David Thoreau Chapter 23: November 9th. . "What did they say? Did you talk to Esme?" "Yeah. Myself. "I didn't . date much . But I'm getting ahead of myself. 2010 "What do you mean?" He looks away. ." I blush "Love must be as much a light. . The hope that blooms. He swallows and takes another sip of water and I feel kind of creepy for staring. if I could've been a match for her. and I'm mesmerized. . "You drank a lot." . Of Alice. I need to know more. going back to his pasta. though less so when he's with me. feels like a betrayal of Edward." He trails off. but the Cullens too? Esme? I can't believe it. turning my head and forcing him out of his cocoon. . "Edward. stubbornly burying his face in my hair. The Cullens knew? So does that mean they were the ones who kept us apart all those years? Maybe it wasn't Billy or Jacob after all . "Because of Alice?" "Of course. And for mine. There's no way to catalog or make sense of the questions running through my head. forget you. I didn't write. hesitant and shy." I eye the tattoo on his arm and think about what he'd told me about how he'd gotten it. It's bad enough thinking Billy and Jacob might have . before Jacob. I couldn't . His jaw muscles work tensely. ." He nods. What a horrible thought that while she lay dying her parents . . . . I don't know. taking another bite. . I don't bother to mention that he seems to drink a lot now. "What about you?" he asks.

that's for sure. she was surprised you were here. He grunts with disapproval. . But there doesn't seem to be any anger there. A couple holding hands walks by. "And . fuzzying my mind. Distractions. . taking my hands from his face and folding them together under his chin. . even though nothing he's said so far seems to warrant how upset he is. His moan against my ear electrifies my spine all the way down to my toes. How did he learn to kiss like that? Right on my pulse point.Getting him to talk is like pulling teeth. knew anything about it." I say. hey. . pulling at my flesh with his lips and making my eyes roll back in my head. cutting off his access. I turn my head. desperation." The corner of his mouth turns up and it takes nearly all of my willpower not to kiss him. He's trying to distract me. "Tell me. "Hey. so I can feel his tongue laving the beat of my heart. and I told her no. taking his face between my hands. . We have to get to the bottom of this thing. Seems like a reasonable response. Gradually. "That doesn't sound bad. if it's true it's terrible. That we'd been getting to . I asked her if she ." I say. he becomes more insistent. gently kissing my neck. "Well. know each other again. sweet on my collarbone." Edward sighs in resignation. hey. that you were waiting for Christmas to ask him in person. then higher. My head nearly lolls. . "I told her you were here. held only by his hands. Gently. ?" "And that we'd talked about what happened after the fire. just defeat. "From the beginning. not wanting to stop him but needing to. But the situation has just become more complicated." "What did she say?" I whisper. ." Just then I realize I haven't yet told Edward about my intent to get my ticket transferred to Thanksgiving. demanding. He murmurs something and moves my hair aside. The first pecks are light. His green eyes are feverish with grief . giving us a curious glance and distracting Edward." . She asked if you'd talked to Billy. I don't quite understand his reaction²yes. . How you wrote to me just like I wrote to you. His eyes follow them for a moment before returning to mine.

us meeting again and all. willing him to look at me. kissing my forehead. Until now it's been an ambiguous thing²I'll go in the future." I say. His eyes gaze across the open water. Something about what he's saying feels . and I wrap my arms around his neck. She tried to call back but I didn't answer." . After I told her about the letters and wanted to talk to him again. . Sea green and troubled. . it wasn't like her at all. And the strangest part was she didn't sound surprised that you'd written. . "It was the way she asked ." he whispers finally." He says nothing." "So then what happened?" "I got pissed off and hung up on her. maybe she was just in shock. I don't know if I'm ready to do it. I don't want to fucking know. and she was evasive. she said he'd gone out. The prospect looms before me. I wish I could take it away. "I'm so fucking sorry. if anyone. so carefully . I could tell there was something she wasn't saying. But I know now. It is kinda weird. I've lived it too. . but it was before I talked to her. I asked her again if she knew anything about it." He doesn't answer. but the wheels are turning in my head. it was like she knew. All he has are his parents. I didn't understand why you didn't want to know. I don't know if that was the truth or not. what you felt like. Not now. We need to go back to Elgin. Bella. ." "Well. Someday." "Edward . I understand his silent battle . And me. . Back to where I lived. And Edward. . where my mother died. "I don't think I understood before. . . "I'll go with you. ."Her tone was off. off. Not knowing who you can trust. I know it as surely as I know my name. Not yet." "Did you talk to your dad?" "Briefly.

An aching pull. "I want you too much. "I wish it . He needs sleep. opening his mouth and slipping his tongue against mine. Then. It is mine. It's thrilling. But I can't help it. He sucks my top lip and my whole body feels alive with wanting pain. "I'll come with you. it's too soon. tired eyes meet mine. . The fear of losing him. "Where did you go last night?" "Out." "Never. Bella." . inhaling his musky scent." Edward's stormy. I'm hungry and wanton. The mint just masks the stale alcohol on his breath. using the words he's so often used on me. not when everything is so raw. I know it's wrong. Anything. It always has been." There's no use arguing with him over this. . resting his hand lightly over my breast as if to still it. full lips. or if he will. "We'll go together. still lingering from our earlier encounter. It only makes the flapping more furious. "We don't know . just under his ear. make his pain mine. but nothing is sweeter than his soft. God." I'm breathless and embarrassed for getting so carried away. heats my blood and makes me desperate.All I can do is nod into his shoulder. He sighs and turns his head. wishing there was a way I could get closer. giving him access to everything. "It'll be okay. I stop at the edge and wonder if I should go on. how much he's affected too. Edward shifts beneath me and I can feel him though our pants." I say. He lets out a little moan that spurs me on. My heart beats its wings against the cage of my chest and Edward slips his hand into my coat. and on a park bench no less." he says." "I'm sorry." I tell him again. I kiss his neck. some undisclosed emotion simmering there. that I still have Jacob on my conscience. "I'll never forgive them. . My lips travel across his cheek to the corner of his mouth." he groans. pulling his mouth away. .

If he's completely innocent. You drinking like that. But. sliding off his lap slowly and back onto the bench. Then he left and I stayed out a little longer. I don't love him the way I should. hypnotizing me with their long lashes.Stupid insecurity makes me ask the next question. The weather begins to change. "I'm sorry. Jacob. I see contrition. . Bella. . I'm a horrible. oh. He thinks I'm judging him." I try not to be hurt he didn't think to call me. I shake my head. "With Jasper for a while. Still. I bite my lip and look away. "That scares me. ungrateful person. and when I turn again to look at him." "I didn't go home with anyone. his eyes blinking once. I'm more worried about him than anything else." he says softly. In my heart I know that this changes nothing²even if it was the Cullens. looking down at his tented fingers." His eyes narrow perceptibly and I worry I've said the wrong thing. It reminds me so much of another beach. . I need you to come back. the guilt returns. . I try to think of a way to put it that won't rile him. I've been so caught up in our conversation I've barely noticed how the wind has picked up. Threatening looking clouds move in from the west. "Alone?" He sighs little. Isabella. It's not . "You're right. Here to Forks. And then home. "No. he doesn't understand. my hair falling as a curtain between us. "I just want you to take care of yourself." He nods. where both of us belong. That fills me with even more fear²his denial. making me feel it in every inch of my body. It's where you belong. I don't know how to handle this if he does have a problem. Edward's hand rubs lightly on my shoulder. I love the way the fiercer wind riles the water of the lake. . good ." His voice is hoarse. but I am. twice. foreshadowing rain." he says. Even though that thought is enough to make the bile rise in my throat.

standing and reaching for him. I ignore the blinking of my cell phone. surprised at my possessiveness. Tiny noodles in alphabet shapes to make him smile. but I'm so aware of his presence next to me. Long legs stretched out. He looks up. mussed hair and light stubble. examining my hand with wonder before taking it. Once I've brought the soup to a boil. but I shoo him away out of the kitchen. I haven't cooked in so long and it feels good. I wash my hands quickly and dry them. My need to speak to him nearly surpasses my need to care for Edward. "It's a surprise. He doesn't even notice when women pass him. Nothing else makes any sense. his other hand finding mine again. Soon. He shakes his head. and I try not to be too curious about what he's written. The crowd is thick and he doesn't notice me at first. understanding it never will." I say. "What did you get?" he asks. scribbling away as always." I murmur. For the last few weeks I've doubted his honesty²even while something has told me he knows nothing about any of this. . I swallow thickly. reaching to take the bag from me automatically. the worried creases still there.I have to talk to him. A smile appears on his face as he pockets the notebook. I think to myself. He doesn't want to be in the crowded store. When we arrive back in my neighborhood. Yet it doesn't. says he'll wait. Back in my apartment. soothing. I'm lost in the easy rhythm of peeling and chopping. He's still sitting in the same alarming way. and garlic. Inside I select carrots and celery. My heart stutters when his face lifts at my approach. my eyes scanning to find him leaning against the side of a neighboring building. Our walk back to my apartment is mostly silent. "Come with me. Out in my room I catch a glimpse of Edward sitting on my couch with his head in his hands. pulling Edward along. so I take a moment to admire him. chicken. parsley. some even turning their heads for another glimpse. their eyes widening with shock and wonder at his beauty. still wearing his coat. Edward pokes around the shopping bags curiously. but I don't know what to say. I pay quickly and return to Edward. wanting to know the thoughts swimming around in his head. Mine. I make a quick stop for groceries. but fading.

Something that sounds like hail pelts the window. removing it carefully and setting it on the counter to cool. not wanting to disturb him. I drape a blanket around him and curl up by his side cautiously. people without heat. knowing your family has betrayed you. .He lifts his head and attempts a smile. I stand and slide my hands between his coat and his shirt. To have survived. meeting his eyes. Might it not be better just to accept the lie and move on? Sometimes truth comes at the expense of great pain. homeless people. . he's out like a light. I hear the storm begin²a distant rumble of thunder." I whisper. . When I come back a couple of minutes later. especially with the storm raging on outside. I ignore his protest as I lift one into my lap. vast conspiracy. "It smells good. I try to push thoughts of Jacob away. kissing his brow before going back to check on the soup. The appealing contrast reminds me again of Forks. I felt so sorry for them and so glad to be alive. What this will mean for us all . but sometimes the rain would come down torrentially. He nods and leans back on the couch. surprising for November. Jacob and I would spend all day playing games in his room and I'd think about the people who had nothing . I can't have both worlds-Jacob's friendship and Edward's love. feeling the heat and strength of his arms as I tug it downward. untying the knotted lace of his shoe and removing it. "Stay a while. But I can wish. then the other. which makes me smile. . Cautiously. resting his head while I return to the kitchen. His socks don't match. for Edward and me? I can't help but fear we're involved in some sort of strange. We never would get much snow. The chicken has cooked through and I turn off the heat. I squeeze his feet gently. He leans forward. letting me drag it away and toss it to the side. but why? I wonder if it's worth it." "Are you hungry?" He nods shyly as I kneel on the floor by his feet. I add a little more parsley to the broth and skim some of the fat. . The kitchen is warm and deceptively pleasant. Edward makes a sleepy sound and I sweep back the hair from his face. Outside. For a while I watch him sleep as I try to decide what to do. Being wrapped up in a blanket always made me feel so safe and content.

I missed my coffee date with her to make you soup. Edward is awake. I'd hoped it wasn't true. "Don't be like that. If I'd just asked Billy in the beginning. but I feared it was. something big. "Angela. smiling at the way his hair is plastered to the side of his face. but I promise I'll explain soon. Once the chicken has cooled. Will I forgive Billy? Or Jacob? It's clear now I'd already condemned them in my heart. I could go. Oh no! I completely forgot about our coffee date during her lunch break." I say." I say. but there was conviction there." he says coldly. He thought I was making a secret call to Jacob. In some ways I've already come to terms with it. too. Or at least it would have come quickly. . but my appetite has flown. I'm so sorry. . I'm sure I've missed calls from Jacob. I ignore my churning stomach and flip it open. . getting her voicemail. not with slow drawn out torture. as Edward said. I pull it apart and chop up the meat. I step outside into the hall to apologize. And in such terrible weather²she must be so irritated. relieved to see one missed call from Rose and one from Angela. he was speaking out of anger . This whole thing has gotten so out of hand. returning that to the pot and adding some salt along with the pasta. Yes." . perhaps we could've saved ourselves so much heartache." Back in my apartment. He doesn't smile back. I can't talk about it right now. I don't understand the hurt gaze he's leveling at my hand until I realize I'm still holding my phone. My cell phone blinks madly and accusingly on the kitchen counter. And I know likely the answer lies somewhere in-between. "Something came up . It smells good. "If you wanted privacy. I didn't want to wake you and I had to call Angela.Edward said by the lake he'd never forgive his parents if they were involved. moving to stand. and I know I'm partially to blame. Dialing her back quickly. Edward's still dealing with the shock of possibility. "Hey. . Call me.

" "What did you think I was saying?" He shrugs and I put my hand on his knee. . my voice rising in pitch. Do you know what a hard .He sinks back again with a sigh. Jesus. "I'm not going to lie and say it had absolutely no impact. . I'm being an asshole again." He takes my hand and kisses the sensitive space in between my knuckles. . all I've been is hesitant . . He has every reason to doubt me ." I say. except for his heart. ." "You still think I'm doing this because of the letters?" I demand. But I'm not willing to change the subject so quickly. . The way he's acting is just too strange . Running. . you need to talk to me. the feverish kisses in the park. I'm up on my feet and pacing the room. "Edward." I can't even finish my sentence. ." "What?" "You can't tell me you haven't thought about how this changes things. . He still doesn't trust my feelings for him." he says darkly. . "What. If he's completely innocent. . the letters . "This will change your mind. sitting next to him. scared. "So who did you think I was calling?" "Bella . "I told you that wasn't true. "Sorry. Can I even be angry with him for these thoughts? I haven't told him about Thanksgiving yet . . . Jacob ." "But if you hadn't doubted him to begin with²" I interrupt him with a flash of my palm. . My God. . Suddenly. . . How long was I asleep?" "Just about an hour. Edward. his behavior starts to make sense . . . if it was your parents that kept the letters? I'll change my mind about what?" "Breaking it off with him. But you must think very little of my feelings if you think I'm just reacting because of the letters.

lifting me off the floor like I weigh nothing." "Yeah. then deeply. . I don't know what to think. I'll give him anything. I can't help the way my hips lift up into his hand as he rubs. One hand cups my face. "Well. Happiness."Fuck. nodding. peppering it with kisses. alarmed by my agitation. . "BellaBellaBellaBella. his mouth is on mine. Edward doesn't seem to have any objections. wrapping my legs around him as he staggers towards the bed. gathering my hands together and holding my arms gently over my head while his other hand continues to rub me over my jeans. we had coffee this morning." Edward's smile widens further²he looks more like himself. all of me. either. He can take what's his. This time it's so much more intense. I can go back to Forks for Thanksgiving. And then he's hovering over me. And I was thinking. . "Yeah." I say. know this. I feel myself softening a little. the other roves down my body to rest where I'm burning. I reach out." he murmurs into my hair. kissing me lightly. his knees buckling as they hit the edge." I whisper. "I want you to believe me. . I talked to Rose and she had an idea . transfer my ticket. A surprised sound escapes my mouth and I automatically wrap my arms around his neck. stealing my breath away. pressing there firmly with a groan. "You're serious. All sane thoughts have fled. . not until Christmas. I feel myself growing damp. right now. Edward evades my grasp. curling his long fingers between my thighs and cupping me. I can't go on like this . Instead I moan and bring his mouth to mine. I feel almost certain the wetness is seeping through them but I can't find it in myself to be embarrassed." He moves so quickly I can barely register his movement before his arms are around me. Bella. "I am. It's almost impossible to be mad at him with that bewildered look on his face. mirrored in his expression. For the third time today." he mutters." "You told Rosalie?" There's a touch of disbelief in his voice. wanting to feel him so badly. I turn on my heel and face him with my hands on my hips. I wish he'd rest his whole body on mine.

. "Please." Edward's hand stills. "Yes. not knowing how to ask for what I need." I close my eyes. "The only one to take you here. "You're so precious to me. kissing my eyelids. I'll take care of you. I want to be sexy." "I can't. .Our tongues thrust together in a rhythm that makes me crave more . . forcing me to meet his gaze. He chuckles. "What?" I blush ferociously. "God. He pulls them away gently. . "Don't be embarrassed. the bastard. You are. not having the sanctuary of my hands to hide behind anymore. this is so embarrassing." "I know. "I don't want to be precious. You are. . "I wish I was the first one. It makes my heart stutter." he growls into my ear. You're both. His voice is so soft and full of care. . Edward's stopped touching me and I ache . . Of course he won't let me. I'll make it good for you." he says. silly girl." "I fail to see that. covering my face with my hands. His face is filled with love." "You are." He sighs and I dare to sneak a peek at him." Without thinking I pant. his eyes snapping to mine." I stick my tongue out at him and try to turn away. "Look at me." I feel his lips move lightly along my temple but still I don't look. "Do you mean you've never ." I whisper. more. ." he trails off. longing. so much. "I promise . but it does nothing to alleviate my embarrassment." .

and I know I'm playing a dangerous game. then down. It's not just because I want to forget. As if I didn't have enough guilt about Jacob." The pain is back in his eyes. crumbling his resistance." "It's not your fault. He chuckles again." "I'm free. he moves my hand down between his legs. . I'm an idiot. and I squeeze his hand tighter. I should never have ." I gasp at the feel of his erection under his jeans. His reaction makes me ache even more I move my hand again. He covers his eyes with his arm. caressing my face. I still don't know what we're going to do about the letters. . I already am a cheat. Not like this. I don't want my relationship with Edward to be tainted by cheating even more than it already is. I move my hand away and Edward sighs. "This. then up. Now his breathing is coming harsher. Pressing his hand against the back of mine. Instantly. the width. gesturing between us. I can hear the regret in his voice and I know if I don't stop . . more darkly this time. And Jacob is perhaps completely innocent. he moves it up. I'm drawn back. But I'm fascinated. . but under Edward's stare. I press more firmly and he groans again. Never in my life have I felt sexy or desirable. . His eyes roll back into his head and he mutters something before he moves my hand away. "This can't happen again . My breath hitches as I realize his intent. I should have known I . . taking my hand and guiding it down." he says." he says. But then his words from Saturday come back to me . I do. "If you only knew what you do to me. It's so . up and down. this. you have to stop. Of course that's hypocritical of me. . long. it shouldn't be like this. neither of us speaks. so I feel the entire length of him. . . With eyes blazing into mine. not until. he won't. Wow. "What?" I ask. ." His voice sounds rueful. "But I want to forget. I do it again anyway. down his chest. wanting to hear it. .My eyes widen further and he smiles. . For a while. I know. grabbing my hand and kissing it. . "Bella.

"Of course. "Where no wood is." ±Biblical proverb November 13th. He started again with the idea of me coming back to Forks to complete my . my mind drifts back to our conversation from the day before²Jacob's voice still held that intense edge. . I feel such a flutter of panic at the thought of him leaving. "Okay. Some people look down on mechanics. So many memories." "Chicken soup." His arms wrap around me again and I realize with a shock that. With vegetables. it's never given me a problem. 2010 My truck. . He smiles and touches his hand to my face." I scramble to sit next to him. despite our intimacy moments ago. alone. will you come with me to Elgin?" "Yes. ." "Bella . He holds me at arms length and looks at me seriously. and when it comes into sight in the long term lot I get a little choked up. but they don't understand the artistry behind the work. moving in for another hug. the strife ceaseth." I pop up from the bed excitedly. . I haven't driven it in over two months. Edward's hand is on my arm. the fire goes out. "Bella. but before I can move toward the kitchen. adjusting my rumpled shirt. full of plans for us. the skill required to take bits of metal and create something so solid and dependable. Please. "But I made soup. drawing me back to him. I don't know what he'll do. so where there is no tale bearer. Although it's over twenty years old. I hadn't once thought about my scars. Jacob rebuilt nearly the entire engine as a gift for my eighteenth birthday. With a little pang. I should go." He lifts himself up and swings his legs around the bed." I nod."It's too tempting to be here with you .

I²" "I'll fight for you. How different he is from the boy I knew when we were children." He cuts me off with a wavering voice. You'll come back for Thanksgiving and we'll make it right again. In some ways I guess I can't blame him. Apparently. But once you're back home." I hadn't bothered to press further. "Please. "This yours?" Edward's voice beside me brings me back from my reverie. but his determination alarmed me. Until now. I don't know what else I expected. . at Port Angeles Community? It irritated me that he hadn't taken what I wanted into account at all²or just assumed what I wanted was what he wanted. don't say it. That's what's pulling us apart. he became very quiet. but what then? Where did he expect me to teach.degree after my coursework . I've never really asserted myself. I don't love you enough to marry you. I've felt it. . This isn't going to work out. . it . his easy acquiescence? For him to accept it all with a lighthearted smile and a hug? He's not going to let me go. When I told him that we needed to talk and that I was changing my ticket for Thanksgiving break. or lack thereof . . There's a lot. I promise. we're meant to be. you'll know . Or could I just be seeing a side of him I've never acknowledged before? I run my hand over the edge of the flatbed in contemplation. you²" "I've been expecting this. I didn't have to. but no words seemed right. Please." "But you don't understand. I haven't told him about my conversation with Jacob. I knew I needed to tell him right then. . too. I've met someone. It's over. "What do you want to talk about? Can't we do it over the phone?" "No. It's this distance. . Jacob.

Perhaps Esme. surreal like a movie set. "Are you ready?" I ask. But I know him well enough to understand that despite the seeming placidity of his demeanor. I nod and watch his face as he takes it in. . but it's enough time to think over all the possible outcomes of our meeting. Will that matter to Edward. It's one of the reasons I love him so. I'm worried. if it does? I don't want him to ever have to choose between his family and me. rubbing into the coiled muscles there. didn't feel the same way. since his father usually got off early on that day and we wanted to ensure both of them were at home. relieved when the engine instantly roars to life. from the hard set of his jaw to the uncharacteristic stillness of his legs. why would they want us together now. what will they think of Edward and me together? If they wanted to keep us apart as children. His eyes flicker to mine²and there it is.won't do anything but upset him. Soon. just under the surface: dread. once his anger with them dissipates. But now that we're on our way to see them. I inhale sharply when I notice a faded billboard for the Ramblers. but even now I can feel the tension radiating off his body. It looks much smaller than I remember. an old restaurant where I'd sometimes go to dinner with the Cullens. Over past couple of days. Here and there. familiar landmarks come into sight²McCabe's. expecting some sort of comment about the way it looks. But he doesn't say anything. Perhaps the Cullens cut me off from their family. their mashed potatoes. Edward's initial resistance had given away to a quiet resignation. A glance over at Edward tells me he's lost in thought as well. Edward loved something . He already knows the history. it won't take much to shatter it. . After we'd eaten. We settled on going to Elgin on Saturday. as adults? The ramifications of the situation start to sink in. . The ride to Elgin is only forty-five minutes. . On Tuesday Edward stayed late. signs and street names long forgotten pop up. Oh Edward. we talked for a long time about what we should do and finally decided to confront his parents as soon as possible. My hand drifts and settles on his leg. If they did have something to do with it . Edward's old baseball team. He feels everything. He's fearfully calm. Esme has left Edward several messages begging for him to answer so that she 'can explain'. He gives a curt nod and I turn the key in the ignition. . who I loved fiercely.

so thankful he's with me. I'm sorry. I know we do. feeling helpless and weak and needy." I whisper as he starts the truck. "Bella . I steer to the side of the road as the panic crushes my chest. Alice. blackness encroaching on my field of vision. Edward is out of the truck and around by my door. How did I think I could manage this? I feel so fragmented. I'm okay. "I'm sorry. but there are just so many memories. But inside I'm wondering if I'm really ready to do this." I glance at Edward quickly and I know he sees it. I feel his lips against my hair but I'm far away. I'm not. . "I think so. after I've calmed. and why? Will they even tell us the truth? A few minutes later. "I'm okay. My grip on the steering wheel tightens as the fluttering in my stomach increases. I feel dizzy as the blood roars in my ears." He murmurs soothing things and I try to let myself be calmed. I cling for dear life with all of my limbs as tearless sobs wrack my body. as if a piece of me could break off with just the slightest breeze." I say again. But when we pass South Elgin High. I fall into him. holding me close to his side. remembering. opening it and unbuckling my seatbelt. I don't want to see my old neighborhood." "Do you want me to drive?" "No. I rest my head on the steering wheel. Before I can register it in my dazed state. . My body starts sending warning signs²my breath comes more rapidly. I can't. Just in time. my mom. I'm sorry. Edward. The last day he walked me to school and kissed me. I wish I could have gone to the dance with him and seen how handsome he looked in his tux. especially here. not caring if anyone knew that I was his girl. So much has been lost. Edward slides into the driver's seat and wraps his arm around me. willing the faint away." I respond automatically. I shouldn't have asked you to come. as does my pulse."Are you okay?" His brow furrows with concern as he reaches over to stroke my hair. "The clutch sticks. It's always been impossible to hide from him. . So many. We need to do this. but so.

But I'm okay now. It's incredible² just the same. We pull up in front of the Cullen home at around five o'clock. . We have to." Edward sighs and I can sense his reluctance. Still." "But Bella²" "Listen. I can't believe it's still there. . Edward. I didn't know I'd react like that. The well-kept lawn. Please. dim now in the oncoming darkness." He pulls away from the curb and into a three-point turn. I can almost hear Alice's squealing laughter as Edward pushes her 'higher." All I know is if we don't do this now. very carefully. I promise.' Even the tire swing hanging from the venerable old oak tree on the side of the house. "My father's home. . We need to go. I swear." . Esme's rose bushes. "Are you sure? You're really sure?" "Turn around. love. Well. I'm strangely calm. we never will."Okay. How lovely they are in full bloom-red and pink and yellow. Alice and I used to. I was just a little overwhelmed for a second . "No! We have to go see them. Edward wisely avoids taking the route that runs by my old house. I'll have to make myself be fine. Black shutters and white siding. I'll be fine. his arm tightening around me." "Good. My eyes widen in alarm when I realize what he's about to do. higher'! Edward stiffens at the sight of an expensive-looking car in the drive. If I close my eyes and imagine. I guess that's why we came. Please. he loves me not. All of the emotion has been leeched out of me. right in the middle of the deserted road. but he complies nonetheless. I'll be fine. When we finally enter our old neighborhood. steal the occasional bloom to play 'He loves me. Please. or the place where it used to be. It's only a little farther . I don't recognize it but he clearly does. . cut back for the winter.

turning to me with a serious expression²there it is again. and once we arrive Edward hesitates with his hand on the knob. It irritates me that they can just go on with their lives while Edward and I hover in this painful limbo. I know he doesn't want me to say it back. but still. The other one grips mine firmly. .The window of Esme's second story office is illuminated. . this is it. His jaw clenches as his hand changes tacks and rings the doorbell instead. he must know. searching for his mouth. Even though he's said so before. I'm with you. I give him a squeeze. The walk up to the front door seems interminable. "I love you. Okay?" I say when we finally break away. but insistently against my lips and sliding softly inside. the words send a secret thrill through me. but he must feel it. down to my toes and up my spine. and while I'm sorely tempted. I lean into him." he murmurs against my cheek. happiness. We have enough to deal with today. My pulse quickens automatically. "I talked to Jacob yesterday about Thanksgiving. I vow to stay strong for him today when he needs me. "Do you want me . too. both of us seeking reassurance and comfort. About a half a minute later. "I have to do it by myself. It's not settling well with him but he's good enough not to pressure me. I know if I told him what Jacob said he'll get upset. . My sweet Edward. nods. I know I need to go alone. so I just nod. his mother has been calling him incessantly since their phone call days before. Edward pauses with his hand on the door. If I lived forever I'd never get tired of kissing him." Edward's face is awash with emotion²fear. concern. True. He smiles ruefully as if to say. the door swings open." He swallows. to go with you?" From the look on his face I know he wants to. "Whatever they say in there. I feel his tongue press gently. that fear right under the surface. not until I've officially broken things off with Jacob. She must be home.

but the same. taking in Edward and then me. then pulls back. Edward doesn't release my hand and I watch him regard his mother impassively. I assume Carlisle is there in his study. so I suppose it makes sense. Still. Her eyes widen immediately. Though still fit. . Bella. I ." "Can we come in?" he asks quietly. not sure if I want her to touch me." . his hand still clutching mine . her figure is a little thicker now around the middle. . . Just. Once we're inside. Then her arms move hesitantly²she reaches out. "So beautiful. The last time she saw me I was swaddled in bandages in the intensive care unit.I think I gasp when Esme emerges²she's so different. her gaze alighting on the stairs once more. Now that we're inside I can see just how much the years have changed Esme. She nods and widens the door. He either hasn't heard the doorbell or doesn't care to know who it is. a bird about to take flight." she murmurs. "You're all grown up. Coupled with her pleading look at him. his hand is my only support and I'd never let it go. . "Is he home?" Edward's voice is cold and Esme starts. Her demeanor radiates discomfort. I . I notice her hair. The lines around her temples and forehead tell the story of time. What is she expecting to see? A damaged girl? Her eyes immediately begin to glisten with unshed tears as they move to Edward. "I've been so worried about you. She certainly looks older. but I offer a small smile. I don't make any move toward her and she fists her hands at her side. it is a confirmation of sorts. "Bella?" Just a faint whisper from in-between fingers as her eyes rake up and down my body. . her hand darting to her mouth to cover her shock. I feel awkward openly outing ourselves here before knowing how much. Watching a child die is a terrible thing. I was so worried . Illumined from the hall light behind her. then to our clasped hands. shows streaks of grey. . contact they've maintained with Billy. then to me again. . if any. . sweetheart. . "Yes. Esme shuts the door and glances up the stairs . . we've been calling you. "Yes. . Edward moves first. If you could understand how hard . neatly swept up in an elegant bun. It's so unlike him. She seems nervous. From behind her the smell of food cooking wafts into the early evening air." I choke out." I don't know what to say to that. .

shall we?" Edward says. something about him always intimidated me. not involved in his children's lives except to dole out punishment. His once blonde hair has lightened considerably²it's nearly white. "Who's there?" "Please come downstairs. playing a little with the gold buttons on her cardigan. ." Carlisle replies." "Esme?" Carlisle's voice sounds from the top of the stairs before Esme can reply. "Bella and I came for answers. But I didn't expect . Edward pulls me closer to him. ." ." There's nothing for a moment." I can't help but cringe a little at the way he's speaking to her²how angry he is. There's none of the same surprise there. "Likewise. as with Esme." he says. When Carlisle comes into view." she calls back. he freezes on the stairs. Just like in Edward's story. though he never seemed to be around much. "Edward. then the thumping sound of footsteps on the stairs. less from the desire to be rude than from being entirely overwhelmed by the situation. We've been trying . please. I don't take it. How I hated him when he refused to listen to Edward about the pot. His green eyes. "Your mother told me you'd spoken. When we were young." I manage. "What a small world. are unreadable."Save it." His words break off as he notices our hands for the first time. Always working. "I guess so. How good to see you. "Bella. smiling now and extending his hand. "Sweetheart²" "Let's just cut the crap. "It's Edward. Of course he has every right to be if what we fear is true. measured calm to his voice²too practiced to be real. I almost don't recognize him." There's a calculated. accentuated even further by the crisp white button down he's wearing. . rounding the banister. so like Edward's. they stay trained on us while he completes his descent. When his eyes land on Edward and me. You know why we're here. Esme nods and swallows.

everything always clean. With my stomach roiling and all the tension I couldn't eat a thing." I add. we're not. Esme's design sense is impeccable. my voice a whisper. It's so quiet now. .His demeanor falters for a second and he pauses. "Son." "Come into the living room. The setting would actually be quite lovely if it wasn't for the task at hand. Would you like anything? Are you hungry?" "No. "Esme tells me you're a student at Chicago. filled with life. despite the delicious smells in the air. "There's something you're not telling us and we want the goddamn truth!" "Please. But it was more than that²it was a home. I don't recognize any of the furnishings. Esme glances at Carlisle but I can't read their silent communion. ." Esme says in a pleading tone. . Plush beige carpeting gives softly under my boots and I momentarily wonder if I should've taken them off." Edward answers for us both. Bella. and nice. The room itself is cast in a soft yellow glow from an overhead hanging light fixture²almost. As always. I look hesitantly at the twin deep red sofas facing one another before Edward moves toward the one on the left. a chandelier. Esme upstairs drafting plans. glancing between the three of us. A family. For a second. "Will you? Just come and sit down for a minute. new." "How fascinating." "Yes. She gestures at the door to the living room. sweetheart." he murmurs. save for the ticking of a handsome pendulum clock hanging on the far wall. did you?" Edward's sharp interjection causes Carlisle to flinch visibly. please . but not quite. How I loved coming here as a child. Edward and Alice bickering." "You never expected it. "After all this time. A solid dark wood coffee table bridges the gap between them. In Edward's class. the air is thick with weighty silence.

rubbing his hands over his face. "Son. Carlisle. A suffocating silence ensues. Carlisle sighs. "They're going to find out. When Carlisle speaks next his voice is tired. He lets go of my hand and leans forward in a challenging posture. I understand you're upset. I'm a whole helluva lot more than 'upset' right now. "Can I just ask that you hear me out?" Neither of us replies." I'm surprised by her authoritative tone . "I swear to God you better tell me what the hell is going on. I'm actually surprised they appear willing to talk²I feared that once we got here we'd only get more lies. Then Carlisle speaks again. "Where are the letters?" Edward demands. "Tell them." Esme says with exasperation." Esme begins. Carlisle stands for a second before sitting next to her. "I was only trying to do what I thought was right. so I sit on the backs of my hands to keep them from trembling."Edward. his eyes livid." "Don't tell me. or else Bella and I are walking out that door and never coming back. Her obvious. "From the beginning." Esme's already pale face blanches at Edward's statement." Carlisle's eyes widen infinitesimally and Esme gives her husband a hard stare. But perhaps they understand their cause is lost. not much like the sweet and docile Esme I once knew. which he takes as a cue to go on. and I have to remind myself to breathe. quiet desperation makes me feel sorry for her despite everything. settling down across from us. ." Edward snaps. But²" "Upset?" Edward snaps. It's difficult to determine which one of them looks more uncomfortable. or hate us either way. . "Tell your son. I immediately regret the loss of my anchor." So there is something they've been hiding." "Well someone better start talking. .

but suffice it to say it has to do with how horribly the mentally ill were once treated in this country²locked away by their families with no legal recourse. The irony of it all is too much²if a person doesn't want to be treated they have every right not to be²I know all too well the burden and stress this places on families. my deepest fear. . more protective laws²and of course this is generally a good thing. ." This is something I've learned²once I was in college. a child in a bad home environment. But in some cases. as they should be. these same laws have made it more difficult to get people like your mother treatment. Another irony. both to better understand it and to determine if I had any of the symptoms." Yes. unfortunately." I nod and swallow. most are very protective of patients' rights. All I wanted was for her to take her medicine and be all right. children slip though the cracks every day. What I didn't know was they'd tried to help her." Carlisle turns to me with a grave expression. feeling ill. Esme and I were very . "I could get into the history of why this is the case."Bella. . but we tried on several occasions to get her help. From this angle he looks so much like Edward . leaning back in the chair. The reality is that with parental rights and the strict mental health laws. As a doctor I've heard terrible things. But state laws are designed to shield the rights of the mentally ill. She just wouldn't. . Though laws vary state-to-state. but she wouldn't. I became obsessed with researching Bipolar disorder. Edward takes my hand again and squeezes softly and I move more closely to him on the couch. I can't suppress a sarcastic smirk. but I see Alice. concerned for you and your mother. "But then there was you. Carlisle smiles sadly and runs his hands along his thighs. It's very difficult to get someone involuntarily committed unless they're a danger to themselves or others²and proving that it nearly impossible unless the person makes an attempt on their life or threatens someone else. . . and there it was . I'm not sure if you know this. So advocates lobbied for stricter. To be taken away to foster care and never see Edward again. At this moment I don't know whether to be grateful or to scoff at their failed efforts. there's always the chance a child will be placed in a living situation even worse than the one they were removed from. And added to the fact the foster care system is already overburdened. . too. "When you were a little girl.

Please please please don't make me relive this. She wanted you to come to live with us. "Of course once you were injured. the situation became more complicated. involved. Thankfully. When I glance up I notice both parents watching us with careful expressions." I say to the floor. ." Edward sneaks his arm around my waist. My heartbeat picks up and Edward rubs my arm lightly. . "We waited too long." Carlisle says." "I'm so sorry. how I made Edward promise." "I was ashamed. Ever. Carlisle hesitates before continuing. but I wasn't sure. . Bella. giving them even more confirmation that what's past is present. "Esme and I discussed it. and really no legal way of finding out. "You have no reason to be. We didn't know you had a guardian or any other family. but not a kiss. Esme's face is all concern. and he was eager to do it. "We also had no idea that you and Edward were . .in both of them. Hand-holding can always be explained away. Well. Now the burden of guilt lies distributed across all of our shoulders. I knew he'd be a good caretaker. We had no idea the situation had gotten out of hand again." I blush at the intimate gesture and Carlisle clears his throat. many times. he doesn't dwell on the events of that fateful night. it's probably pretty obvious now. Edward presses a kiss against the side of my head and murmurs in my ear. they're still trying to figure out what we are to each other now. "You could have come to us. . How differently our lives might have turned out if she had lived. I met with him on several occasions and those meetings put my mind at ease." Esme whispers. thinking of how I'd wanted to keep it secret . He told me all about his friendship with your father. And then your mother seemed to be doing better. "The authorities alerted Billy Black and he flew in immediately with his son. "I thought there might be something going on. Bella." I cringe. I didn't say anything to Carlisle." Esme confesses. and disagreed.

. He said he couldn't bear to come back to the hospital after that first day²a betrayal that still stings. "We were so worried. . . I . inconsolable. Edward squeezes my shoulders and from his profile I can discern the pulsing of his jaw. I had to do what was best for my son. you were just barely fourteen. He saw me as damaged goods² perhaps he still does. And I'm sorry if this sounds callous. but a relationship with a much younger. seriously injured young lady wasn't in his best interest. . And your relationship. But yes. "Edward blamed himself for the fire . That's when my suspicions were confirmed that he had a romantic attachment to you. to be honest I disapproved²Bella. "Billy would have taken her whether or not we consented²he was granted the legal right. I know that now. "We should have." he grits out between clenched teeth." Attachment. "Alice was so adamant we fight to keep you." Carlisle's words cut me to the quick. "That wasn't your decision to make. . I remember our conversation in my apartment that first night he'd come. both of you. . for yours. If I'd been in his position at that time in my life ." Carlisle focuses his gaze on his son." Carlisle says. not a goddamn child. . though I understand it now. Oh Edward. After the fire. "It was. . Edward . I'm your father." No state to . what happened to you? He's about to reply but Carlisle cuts him off." I have a feeling he's leaving something out as Edward stiffens beside me. "I was worried for Edward's sake. The word seems hardly sufficient to describe what he was to me. her eyes seeking mine out." "But you were so young. "Edward was ." she whispers."But I'm getting ahead of myself." "That very well may be. . Afraid that your treatment would put too much of a strain on him²I didn't know how he'd deal with it if it didn't go well. but you were in no state to make decisions. ." Esme interjects. and I was doing what I saw fit." "I was sixteen.

Carlisle's eyes soften as they consider his wife. I didn't find out until just before ." I remember him well²his kind smile and perfect white teeth. Just before Alice died. "But both of us knew that would be impossible if communication between the two of you continued. . She's forgiven him. Carlisle nods. "I didn't know any of this." Of course Billy would have been completely freaked out by Edward and me. . Billy and Carlisle talking. but I don't know. He places his hand tentatively on her shoulder and she covers it with her own." She trails off and looks down at her hands. who knows how often. this confirms all of my worst fears. and I confess I thought it was a good plan. Poor Esme. Still my mind is reeling from Carlisle's words. . They won't see me cry. casting a hard glance at Carlisle. Bella needed time to heal away from Elgin. We decided a fresh start for both of you was the right thing to do for everyone involved. Not anymore. I haven't seen him in years but I've often thought about him. by your relationship. He was quite alarmed. . Hot tears prick at the corner of my eyes but I fight them. a top reconstructive surgeon. It's out . I never thought to ask. without all of the memories of this place. only a phone call away.discussed the situation with Billy. "Then what?" I ask hoarsely. He wanted an immediate end to it. Billy had the idea of intercepting any letters and screening any calls that might come through. Probably not. . I wonder if he knew about any of this." So it was the two of them working together! "Billy has the letters?" I choke out . much more so than even I was. and I haven't spoken with him in quite some time." Esme says. He's kept them from me all these years. From his perspective." It hurts so much-the thought that all of those years the Cullens were so close. . "So I arranged care for you in Seattle with a friend. "I agreed to let Bella go. "I assume he disposed of them. there's no going back to the way things were." "Doctor Banner. but your father never told me about this no contact agreement. while I suffered and suffered for my own good. .

Just like Renee. that the plan wasn't working . He said the psychologist she was seeing thought she was dangerously fragile. . . . "I can't fucking believe this! Why didn't you tell me and Alice?" I lift my head again. Richard is one of the best. and I kept deflecting. but her concern does nothing to allay the ache in my chest . Esme presses her hand to her face. . surprised at the strength in my voice. wanting to see Carlisle's reaction. even though I'd rather block him out. But I underestimated you. . It was Billy . sweet Alice. I squeeze my eyes tighter. I must say I admired you both for your perseverance. Let me finish. Bella wasn't doing well . . and that my daughter was very ill. . bringing my head to his chest. "But Billy was firm." Edward seethes. . startled when I feel the eruption of anger from Edward's chest. and asking us about her. and I saw neither of you were giving up . the ache she helped put there. I told him I'd made a mistake. . So he said no. Eventually I saw how wrong I'd been²neither you nor Alice gave up so easily. but I think I might detect a faint blush of shame. and I ." No no no." Carlisle's voice infiltrates my thoughts and I force myself to listen. "Shhh. So you were transferred. . Oh. I never got the chance to say goodbye. "I talked to Billy. "How could you have kept us apart? She died thinking I never wanted to talk to her again. ." "What about when Alice got sick?" I ask. I close my eyes." Edward whispers in my ear. and even though my children were upset. . she was so upset about her mother. "Please. ."Yes. The tears come whether I want them to or not." Just like Renee. "When Alice got sick. I figured we'd all move on in a couple of months when they didn't hear from you. His face is studiously impassive. You proved me wrong. I'm so embarrassed to be reacting like this. I can't control them anymore. He didn't want to add to her burden. hoping you'd eventually give up. You kept writing. Billy who kept me from saying goodbye? Oh no. The words echo in my ears." "How dare you. Bella.

but they were talking . "You would have gotten arrested. your mother was beside herself." "The separation . wavering slightly. . You didn't want us to know you'd fucked up." "Yes. Bella. I should have known better. you didn't even tell Mom? God. You were covering your own ass. alarmed by Carlisle's next statement." Edward whispers in my ear. . . but he's livid. " "I would have found you." "Is it wrong that I didn't want to lose my family?" Carlisle shoots back. "I overheard your father talking to Billy one day. all these fucking years. "I almost did as it is. isn't that it? I mean. what a fucking coward. . If I told you that. . ." "That's bullshit and you know it." "I couldn't believe he'd done it." He stands up suddenly and runs his hands through his hair. I can't fucking believe it. it was just before Alice . When you took the car to drive cross-country. his eyes cast in a steady glare. I can't believe it. "That's how she found out. I want to reach out towards him. but he's pacing the room." Esme's voice is soft. Edward mutters something under his breath. He didn't want her to know about Alice." "And then what? Stolen her away? Be reasonable. I thought you'd moved on with your life. "The two of you lied to me . . . pulling at it. the original betrayal or the fact they'd kept it a secret all this time. Edward. . looking between the two of them. but I was so caught up with Alice ." "I would have gone to her. I nod. All that time. I can barely make out her words. I'd picked up the phone to make a call. it was when we brought her home. I can't decide what's worse. You were always so impulsive as a child." Edward questions."What good would it have done? He didn't want you to see her. . I'm sorry. Esme frowns a little and rubs her forehead. I can't get a good look at his face. . you never would have gotten over it." Carlisle says again. I felt something wasn't quite right.

"What the hell am I saying? Yes I can. I was a little nervous about this chapter. so I'd love to hear from you! Perhaps now is a good time to check out the Twilighted forum? http:/www(dot)twilighted(dot)net/forum/viewtopic(dot)php?f=44 &t=13373&start=1060 Voting for the Inspired Awards is now going on. His words come in fragments. anything. Too worried I'd be pissed at you to see what you were doing was far worse. You already did. . You're my reminder that people in this fandom are awesome." A/N: Whoa. . Alice. All those fucking years and the two of you were so caught up in your own shit you didn't notice what was going on with me." "I already lost my daughter. "You thought it was just some teen romance. About Bella. And you were so goddamn selfish. "Too late. choppy bits of rage and sorrow." His voice gets louder and for a second I worry that he'll actually strike out at his father. That fear seems to resonate with Carlisle as well. "And Bella . well fuck you. "I thought Bella hated me for leaving her there in the hospital. "Edward. My heart breaks for Edward but there's nothing I can do. and read this story. it was all . I didn't want to lose my son. . You obviously never gave a damn about how I felt. rec. I knew. turning on Carlisle again. Thank you for your patience in sticking with me during this whole letters debacle and for continuing to pimp. . . I loved her. but I knew. Esme sits with tears streaming down her face as her son's words²angry and full of pain²sink in. He flinches backwards as Edward approaches. . I can't even follow some of what he's saying. But I could care less at this moment how she feels." Carlisle whispers. I wrote her those letters . You never said so. I still fucking love her. you were disappointed in me for not being able to donate for Alice. AQF is nom'd for Best Rosalie: Check it out and vote! http:/inspiredfanficawards(dot)blogspot(dot)com/?zx=b971b48538 3099a0 ." he says. no!" Esme says in shocked wonderment.

I could be martyr'd for my religion Love is my religion And I could die for that. I will be out of town next week and without internet access." So so sorry. I breathe deeply and try not to think. even worse than my pain. please. Esme's words ring in my ears as I drive through the thickening darkness. Maybe it's the first time in his life he really listens. It never lets me forget. Edward. He hasn't spoken a word since we got back in the truck and I don't know how to reach out to him. Thanks for your understanding! "I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion I have shudder'd at it. how to deal with any of this. but my mind has always been a traitorous organ. Bella. Carlisle's face²ashen when he hears Edward's parting words. and the quiet in the cab only encourages remembering. I have to get us home in one piece. so updates for both this story and Strange Brew will not post until next weekend at the earliest." . My heartbeat won't settle and I can't bear to look at Edward in the passenger's seat. It hurts too much to see him like this. 2010 "Don't go. I turn the windshield wipers on and focus on the road ahead." -John Keats Chapter 25: November 13th. I'm afraid if I say the wrong thing he'll snap²perhaps the silence is the only thing keeping him together. I shudder no more. "I'm sorry.Last. He'll talk when he's ready. Stay calm. I'm so sorry. a slight drizzle obscuring my view. I could die for you. son. Calm. Bella.

" He's only middle-aged. His words. "You don't mean that. the disappointment and sadness they've caused." Esme calls after us. All of the lies." He turns on his parents. Damaged. The rage he feels is for Alice too²I wonder if it will ever be surmountable. impassive stare. "It's too late. "Edward. More sorry than you'll ever know. "It's too late for apologies. Esme clutches at his sleeve and Edward pulls back as if he's been burned. I didn't know what to say." Esme's hand flutters to her heart and she buckles over. her tears flowing freely now." "I know you don't believe me." Edward nearly spits out the words and in that moment. standing in the doorway. And they're right. Hurt flashes briefly before it disappears. I feel sorry for them. all of the deception²and what was at the heart of it? Me. are like ice. The finality of Edward's statement hangs resolutely in the air as we walk down the brick path towards my truck. despite what they've done. And anyway. too. "Too fucking bad. despite the historical connection between our families. but in this moment he seems an old man worn by time and guilt. The Cullens didn't want to deal with me. Edward hasn't seen my scars. Edward's hand grips mine tightly as I trail after him. leaving them both behind. They felt I was bad for their son²bad enough to send away to live with people I didn't know. How will he react when he does? He says I'm beautiful to him. You don't. you're only sorry because you got caught. trying to get a handle on all that's happened. Too young. I didn't even get a chance to say anything to them. Carlisle moving quickly to steady her. Will I survive seeing revulsion replace love in his eyes? . but how can that not change when he sees? How will I ever know he's telling the truth and not just saying he doesn't care to placate me? Or worse²pity me. Damaged goods. but I am. replaced with a cold.Edward stands in the doorway. not blinking when Carlisle says the words.

my eyes memorizing every tendril of hair. He himself had never known his mother. It was all a lie. I try to push the poisonous thoughts away. thankfully. A twisted. the two women created a lovely study in contrasts. but the former seems worse. As the sounds of the Stone Temple Pilots fill the silent cab. but I know he always felt that lack too. Billy's betrayal hurts so acutely. The two of us are seated on his bedroom floor after school looking through old photo albums. Hot tears threaten to blind me. more so than it did before. Would he? Jacob had always been my confidant. "She's lovely. only to have equally virulent ones replace them. I remember meeting with the therapist and telling her about my friends and how much I missed them. the one who listened to me when I needed to talk about Renee. even if it was a poor and unworthy substitute. I drink her in eagerly. Edward. Something in me still refuses to believe he had a hand in all of this. since she died in childbirth. A child so desperate for love that I clung on to any affection that was thrown my way. but I wipe them away. A lot of that time is a blur. meant for me but never received²how could he? And Jacob. side-by-side. There are many pictures of my parents that I've never . perverse manipulation of lives justified under the guise of parental concern. He knew she was dying. She listened sympathetically but I knew even then she thought it was a lost cause. All the guilt I've felt about doubting Billy has vanished²now I'm sick at myself. It was always Billy who mailed my letters when he went to town for work. Surely Billy wouldn't have included Jacob. Jacob. Mary Ann was Quileute and beautiful with dark hair and complexion distinct from Renee's fairness. The thought that Billy could have been privy to all of Edward's secrets. but I can't tear my eyes away from my own mother. both so young. in such a deception. He showed me a picture once of our mothers together. let him fill the place in my heart left vacant by Renee. How easily I'd trusted him. tuning it to an alternative rock station that I know Edward likes. and who picked up our mail from the post office in town. only four months younger than me. and Alice. feeling anger build in my chest. all of Alice's. It was one of the reasons we bonded so easily. And what of our letters²had he read them? Thrown them away? Either option is unforgivable." I say. He knew and he forbade me to see her²my best friend! I try to recall how I was after the accident.I fiddle with the radio.

even after all these years. . Jacob smiles wistfully. but it's enough to unleash all the tension in my body. "For what? You have nothing to apologize for. I can feel his eyes trained on my face. He turns and looks at me with red-rimmed green eyes." "I'm so ashamed of them. "I'm sorry. fucked up. but his face is turned away. I'm so fucking sorry. nearly drowning out my whisper. For them." "This is so . A few minutes later I pull up into my lot and still the engine. "I wish I knew her. He's so quiet. extending his hand to my face. wanting so much for him to speak to me. It's only eight o'clock but every joint in my body aches with tiredness. "Edward?" Rain drums steadily on the roof of my truck. he still loves her. have hinted at things I'm not sure I want to know about." . he couldn't have known. I pull off just as the rain begins in earnest. Just a soft touch against my cheek. What happened to him after the fire? Both he." "It wasn't your fault." "I do. leaning my head back on the stiff fake leather upholstery and gazing at the ceiling. I can only imagine the state of his mind right now. willing them to be true. I sag against the seat. Thankfully. our exit finally appears. Billy never looks at the pictures or speaks of her. . What they did. No. both together and with Billy and his wife. For what they said. and now his parents. waiting for my response. but I don't know what to believe anymore. I think." he says softly. I repeat the words like a mantra. What's startling is that all of them are not much older than we are now.seen before. I chance a glance at him. I realize suddenly that's why he's been looking away²he didn't want me to see him cry. too." I wish that for him. but he must hear. He wouldn't have done that to me. his leg bouncing again with nervous energy. And Edward.

it's okay for him to tell me. if you want. His comforting smell surrounds me. . soothing away some of the tension. but I feel his body tense underneath me. my smile quickly fades when I remember what Carlisle intimated. When he speaks again. Edward was . . surprised when he goes on. . I don't want to make him feel worse. you don't have to tell me . inconsolable. "Can I ask you a question?" He nods. . so I stay silent. And her. I feel dampness on his shirt when I lean my head against his chest and the warmth of his breath in my hair. . . I nod. . noting the discomfort in his expression. But I'm ashamed." Edward sighs and tightens his hold.Edward lets out a staccato laugh at my language²I rarely swear." "You don't have to be. I can't believe she kept his fucking secret and took him back. though I couldn't tell Edward that at this moment. Then Edward leans over and unfastens my seatbelt. It must have been such a difficult decision with Alice dying²how horrible it would have been to find out that her father had lied to her for over a year? But there's no excuse for not telling Edward or for neglecting him when he clearly needed his parents." I turn to face him. after the fire. . Despicable. I don't know if he'll tell me or not. but I want him to know it's okay . She could have told me. but you can. "What really happened . with you? It's just . However." In some ways I understand Esme's actions. bracing for it. burying his face in my hair. "I'd like to tell you. "I can't believe him. smiling despite the situation when his warm lips press to my forehead. pulling me across the seat into his lap. But there's no other way to describe this situation. ." "I'm not proud of it. the words rumble from his chest. . It really is fucked up. .

too. One day. shaking his head. The conversation conjures memories of my mother. I felt so fucking weak and useless. . That's when I learned I had to hide it. her resistance to undergo treatment for her illness. "My grades slipped."I was fucking depressed. I felt responsible. Alice knew there was something wrong. knowing I was to blame. be around me anymore. "So I started going out again. . but I can't help how I felt. but the guilt is written all over him. But it killed me." "But it wasn't²" "I know we've been over this. but I dropped out of baseball. Right or wrong. Hearing that me so sad ." "Hid what?" "You're not gonna like it." he trails off. that you shouldn't . I can understand his fear to some extent. . his voice heavy and tired. but he needed help. He sighs before continuing. I overheard my parents talking." "Tell me. Then I took the car to go find you and my parents flipped." "You don't still feel that way. he'd loved being on the team. ." "What do you mean?" I ask hoarsely. . I went to school. . . Bella. do you?" I whisper. just before we found out about Alice. I'd end up in . "I mean I realized if I didn't. I pretty much didn't do anything but sit in my room like a fucking zombie. . They tried to get me to see a shrink but I wouldn't. acting more normally. I should have protected you. My parents bought it. And then when you left and there was nothing I could do to make it right . "So yeah. but after she got sick I hid it from her. . I couldn't bear it. but I didn't. They were discussing options²even hospitalization. I thought you should go. ." "Do you remember James?" ." He pauses. Seeing you like that . He doesn't answer me directly.

I wrote some pretty horrible stuff." "Oh. along with my allowance. the one we used to meet in. booze for starters. Then he scoffs." "Did your parents ever find out?" "I got pretty good at hiding it. . feeling sick. I saw our classroom. "Well. . . Remember that?" "Of course. And I wrote you. . you. My father was working." How could I forget? I looked forward to those meetings more than anything else. "I thought I was losing my mind. Edward. looking away. I was . "Don't. It was . "You know what? It's probably for the best you never got those letters. my mother was gone with Alice. the horrible way he treated Edward. I stayed clean when they tested my blood for the marrow donation. . I had no idea it was that bad. awful." "With what?" I ask. And every corner I turned I saw . He gave me money for food and I used it. I couldn't donate and she was so fucking weak. and he had no fucking clue. my surprise giving way to anger and revulsion. People knew what happened and they treated me differently. well. Later. He started hooking me up. And by then James was pretty much dealing. but I did it to cope. I couldn't get by in school. I knew she was going to die. looking pretty shitty. . And then other drugs²mostly prescription. but he doesn't want my sympathy. How could Esme and Carlisle have been so blind? "I couldn't handle Alice being sick .I nod. I'll never forget his sneer. "Yeah. My parents. It was stupid and cliché. but I dabbled in a lot of shit. I ran into him one day. . well ." he says hoarsely. ." I try to take his face in my hands to kiss him. I think they might have suspected something. but they were so caught up in their own shit they didn't really notice." My breath catches in my throat and I try to control it²I don't want him to see me panic.

"Do you still . about the solider . but when I try to clamber off him he won't let me go. Bella. They knew what was going on and they called me out. . The soldier leaving lilacs by the grave has always felt autobiographical. until last year. . "Why didn't you tell me before?" He shifts underneath me again and I worry his legs are falling asleep. I realized that I had to keep living for Alice ." "No. perhaps even me." . Kept my grades decent. cutting me off. . ." "Don't even say it. I shouldn't drink to hide from my problems. What you said the other day about my drinking hit a nerve. And that scares the hell out of me. . I guess. You would think twice about being with me. "Your story. as if considering how to continue. but then I went to Italy. He looks so lost and I'm scared²scared I can't help him. . I don't know." He trails off. . And I was halfway across the country most of the time. Like right now? I really want a fucking drink. but I read it more as Edward's mourning his dead sister . It was kinda like a turning point. it was metaphoric for how I felt. . At first I was pissed. I won't blame you if you don't . They just fed into it. "I don't want to be like that anymore. Maybe a little self indulgent." he says with a light chuckle." Edward replies emphatically. "Jasper and Emmett finally knocked some sense into me. "I didn't even drink for a while. I don't know the first thing about alcoholics." I can't help thinking about Kate and the others²they didn't see Edward had a problem. . Sensing my fear." I tell him. but I need to know what I'm dealing with. A choice²life over death. I'm sorry I didn't tell you. hugging tighter. "I knew you'd be upset but I thought . Don't even think it. ." I dread the answer to my next question. You're right . . I hadn't even considered that it might have other valences. he kisses the side of my face." "Yeah. . . . if that is indeed what Edward is. I guess I kinda got caught up in it again. once I went to college.functional. either.

but even I know that's easier said than done. His lips move against the top of my head and suddenly I'm so aware of his body under me." he whispers against my neck." I want to tell him not to make promises. "I'm not going to be like that anymore. He says he doesn't want to be like that. I moan quietly. My mind has gone completely blank except for the feel of his hands and mouth and the firmness under my thighs that I know is his answering response to mine. groaning and slipping his hand inside against my skin. I'm terribly afraid he'll leave tonight and go do something reckless. pressing against him insistently for more. how alive he is. The rain continues to fall steadily. My skin comes alive when his warm palm rubs across my abdomen." His voice wavers. "Okay. He rubs my beaded nipple. firm and strong under his ribs. I can't even complete the thought. He takes my chin gently and turns my head up. kneading lightly. I imagine what it would feel like for him to kiss me there. The sounds of need he makes flood my body with desire until soon I'm gasping for breath. More lips. then up to cup my breast over my thin lace bra. but I can hear Edward's heartbeat. I meet his kiss eagerly. trying so hard to deal with all of today's revelations. leaning into his chest. "You already are." My mind is spinning. "So soft. I want to believe him. I'll prove I'm worthy of you." "I'll show you. more. not knowing whether to arch . sucking and nipping at the skin under my ear. . Edward not existing . and I can hear the anxiety there²his fear of rejection. How thankful I am for that. what starts gently soon gains intensity. If you stick by me. with such determination. I want him to be okay. I'll show you. I feel my nipple harden under his touch and Edward does too. His hands rove down my sides." I assure him. our tongues meeting each other in a frantic attempt to erase the past few hours. rubbing. resting it back on the crook of his arm. . pulling at my shirt and sliding under. but he's looking at me so seriously. when apparently it could've gone much differently. Edward's mouth is simultaneously soft and forceful as I open to him."Okay. this time on mine. heightening my desire.

twirling and extending her hands to the sky. He groans." he groans in between kisses. pressing my hand against him more firmly. . I don't care what this makes me . I breathe him in deeply. Surrender. the sensation recalling a memory that hits me with startling force. Just Edward. He likes that and I do it again. Without another word we spill out of the truck onto the wet pavement. leaning into my neck and placing fluttering kisses there. come out!" . I can feel his need radiating. The windows have completely fogged and I'm reminded for an instant of that scene in Titanic²a ridiculous thought that exits my mind as soon as it enters. and fear²and so much love. seeking friction and without thinking." Alice laughs. Neither of us has an umbrella and the wind whips the rain against our bodies. "God. This day." I say again. It hurts. wanting both. unable to keep from squirming in his lap. absorbing the short bursts of air he pants. My whisper hangs in the air of the cab under the hum of the lightening rain. His eyelids flutter closed and I kiss his mouth again. I see it happen. I make a move to release him but before I can he covers my hand with his own. Edward surreptitiously adjusts himself then grabs my hand as we run through the downpour. Please. wanting him never to stop. I don't care about anything else anymore. Stormy sea-green. . "Please. I run my hand down between my legs to where his hardness lies trapped against his thigh. running my hands through his hair and tugging lightly." But he doesn't move my hand away when I squeeze him firmly through his jeans. "Come out. His hips lift against mine. his surrender. His eyes dart down with a hungry look to where our hands rest against him. not caring about anything else. His eyes flicker darkly and he licks his lips. straining and hard. but something seems to have shifted. Edward removes his other hand from my shirt and raises my chin to meet his eyes. I want to keep him with me always.upwards into his hand or downwards against him. I see desire there. I'm surely a bad person but I don't care. mingling with mine. this moment²I don't want to wait anymore. "Bella. Bella. "Come upstairs. "We have to stop. "Bella." he says again. so lowly. I'll die if he doesn't quell the ache building in my belly and flaming out through my entire body. almost a growl." I don't know what's come over me.

"Come on!" Alice calls again. He grunts. but with anticipation. nipping at my collarbone. wet kisses against my rain soaked skin. dropping them with another curse. I wonder if he remembers that long ago summer day. smiling wider as I hear Edward's deeper chuckle beside me. . Finally. not daring to land because I want to touch all of him. Edward shakes his head. but I can see his head moving. My hands run over the planes of his chest and the light smattering of hair there. hands clasped again. soon the jacket is discarded and so is his shirt. Then I see Edward a little ways off . Now he's the frenzied one. My eyes are cloudy and the room is dark. His mouth returns to mine . My secret boyfriend. I want this. Edward's eyes are focused on me and I feel warmer still. I have to release him to find my keys. his thigh anchoring me as he kisses down my neck to the vee of my shirt. The warm summer rain instantly wets my skin²it seems so decadent and forbidden to be doing this. I run down the stairs to meet my friends. all restraint gone. both of us are giggling and soaked through. . my hands trembling not with nervousness. a mischievous smile on his face. Without any more hesitation. I try to blot out everything but the feel of his lips on my body. When we're outside of my apartment I fumble with the keys again. Our sneakers squeak against the linoleum as we hurry up the stairs. I let out an exultant laugh as my feet smack against the wet pavement. making quick work of the lock and pulling me inside. feel his hot. he releases my hands and I slip them down in between the collar of his shirt and his jacket. all at once. I want this so much. He seems to understand what I want and helps me. Edward laughs as he bends to retrieve them. But my mom's not home. By the time we reach my building. She'll never have to know. pressing me against the door with one swift movement and trapping my hands above my head. I'm afraid to speak lest I break the spell between us and let the outside world in. running his free hand through his wet hair.I peek my head out from the door before taking a tentative step outside. he's standing with his hands in his pockets.

letting other people control my destiny. "I won't look. I know on some level that doing this is wrong. I want him to look. I squeal out involuntarily and I see the flash of Edward's teeth as he smiles. "Mmm. Unable to help myself. each movement a pleasurable torment. . I'm cold from the rain and I welcome the press of his warm body. He swivels his hips again." he says softly. Edward pulls out a fresh. so softly. holding me so gently despite his fervent kisses. With a little smile. We'd vowed to wait. The press of Edward's hips against mine brings me back to the present moment.and I turn my head for a better angle. he respectfully turns away. . His parents are out and Alice is in the bathroom. Now that my eyes have adjusted to the darkness. firm. I'm tired of denying myself things that I want. and strong. not knowing where I should change. . He strides to the bed with sure steps. I've waited for him forever. It's weird. wrapping my arms around him as his lips return to mine. my heart stuttering a nervous rhythm as my legs kick helplessly in the air. I blush with the garment in my hands." I sigh. straining for contact. I whimper and arch up. His arms are so beautiful. that I shouldn't be here with him like this. clutching at his back. and then backs off. Later that day Edward and I are down in his basement room. I close my eyes and yank the wet shirt over my head. my pulse firing rapidly. and I moan when I feel his erection trapped between us. kicking off his shoes and climbing until he rests above me. but it doesn't feel wrong to me. dry t-shirt and tosses it over to me. I can see him more clearly. surprised when I'm suddenly weightless. He sets me down softly. The memory returns .

" "I'm sure. Please . I can still detect the pain in his voice²nothing can blot it out." I pant. "I don't want to hurt you. But I don't think I can if we go much further. please. I struggle to help him lift it over my head. Bella. but I know it. I want a future. making it stand up in gooseflesh as he pulls my wet shirt up over my belly. A future with him. Someone is touching me and this time I want it. It's Edward. ." His voice reverberates against my skin. so sorry. I'm not alone anymore even in the darkness. I want him to be happy. Bella. . . I know the feel of his face against mine. I love you. Wetness on my cheek. . desire plain there. Then I'm bare before him from the waist up. unable to bear the sight of his beauty. flinging it away before I can catch my breath. please ." he murmurs near my ear. I know it is. I'm not ashamed of this part of my body. He cradles my head softly between his hands. . he unfastens my bra deftly. "I can stop now. When it's discarded. He draws my skin into his mouth in sweet. He's holding my hand. "I love you." He smiles and I have to close my eyes again. Someone is touching my hand. his expression so intense it takes my breath away. Edward. I want to try. I know that touch. It's okay. Please. licking and nipping lightly. sucking kisses. I'm so. I'm so sorry. Don't I? I can't remember his name." he whispers hoarsely. I love you. loving the feel of his tongue on my neck. How can this man love me? I remember a dream I once had . and so when his eyes rake over my breasts and stomach. bending to kiss my cheek with a sweet exhale. planting featherlight kisses as he goes. "You won't. a dream that was apparently real. . . I know his name."Bella?" he whispers. I don't want to think of the past anymore. I love you. I know that voice. to feel pleasure and not pain. Crying. I revel in it. I'm sure. "Tell me you're sure about this. I open my eyes and Edward's face is so close.

sincere. His hands move over my body. delighting in the feel of solid muscle under my palms. "Don't be afraid. I love you. He pulls off my underwear too. that nagging fear that won't go away. I nod my acquiescence. they're painful for me to hear because I'm surely at the point of no return. warming me as his tongue swirls each peak taut. My jeans fit snugly because of the rain. . lightly kissing the concave curve of my belly. "Don't be." Edward says breathlessly." I can tell that the last few words are painful for him to say. I have to trust him. tossing the wet clothes somewhere into the darkness. His eyes are wide. knowing that even in the dark my scars will be visible. so I have to move to help him slide them off my hips. Trust me and let me love you. wet pulling sensation. we have no future anyway. just under my ribs. "So beautiful." Just the tips of his fingers slide under the waistband of my jeans and I gasp with desire. . It's a ticklish spot. bending his head to do what I imagined before. I keep my eyes shut. if only for a second. turning my head to the side and closing my eyes.But I'm nervous. Then." He cups my face in his hand. I freeze.. then lower. Edward's mouth returns to my left nipple. His full mouth takes my nipple inside and I groan at the soft. slowly lowering it. leaving a trail of hot. forcing me to look at him. The awareness that we're both fully naked makes my whole body blush despite the cool air of the room. If I don't. But still that fear . and full of longing. It drives me to distraction so that I barely notice when he returns to my zipper. I don't want to see that look in his eyes²that look of disgust that will surely flit across his face. he curses and I feel the bed move underneath me as he fumbles with his belt. I want to hide under the sheet before he goes farther. though. "We don't have to do this. then cold wetness. If nothing else. I want to make him promise not to look at the rest of me. "I'm afraid for you to see. but I gasp when his mouth opens and his warm tongue sweeps out." Edward murmurs. When he reaches for my zipper. wanting them lower despite my fear. I clutch at him and bite my lip. wanting him to say .

I've never been open like this before and I worry momentarily about how I look. Whole. and I bite my lip. vulnerable. I gasp. then again. shocking the heated skin of my inner thigh and leaving a tingling. the top of my sex. His hands are so warm. He's nearly perfect. and his mouth so soft I feel myself relaxing. just a moan of pleasure as he kisses again and again. running his hand down along my side. I feel whole. paying equal attention to my scars and the rest of me." he murmurs. but Edward seems to have other plans. I open my eyes just as he moves in between my legs. A couple drops of water fall from his wet hair. . anything. Some instinctual desire makes me long to touch and stroke him. breathing lightly over my sex before planting a light kiss there. his eyes dancing with mirth and desire. feeling his mouth there. but safe at the same time. He murmurs against my skin and the pleasant vibration ripples through my body. how I smell. juts thickly from between them. And then he's touching me everywhere. and I feel the light tickle of stubble even through the nerve damage. sweeps his tongue out. all the time teasing with small kisses at the crease of my thigh. afraid I'm too wet and that he'll be disgusted. My breath quickens as I finally allow myself to see his entire form. He wants me to look. at least to me²I greedily drink in his broad shoulders and chest. narrow hips and strong thighs. I feel exposed. its size both daunting and fascinating. placing his hands on my inner thighs and bending down to kiss me again. a devilish grin on his face. but there's nothing. "You're so beautiful. parting my legs and kissing the inside of my thighs . spreading them with a look of intense desire. But he doesn't pause for long. cool trail that he follows with his tongue. cocking his head and I blush. and I know it's okay. I wait for him to pull back. He kisses. He nudges my knees wider. I lift my hips and whimper when he pulls away. I know that even in the darkness he'll see the irregular flesh on my left knee. And that part of him I've never seen²only felt and wanted to feel. . so lightly. embarrassed to be caught staring. the mottled skin on my calf. He chuckles lightly. Maybe I should have shaved? . for him to make a sound that indicates disapproval.something. Edward smirks a little. his mouth trailing down my abdomen to my hipbone. just where smoothness meets scar tissue. He doesn't though. reveling in the fact that he's neither ignoring nor focusing on my damaged parts. sure that my pulse is visible everywhere but still afraid to open my eyes. and lower. instead he moves lower.

. everything until I clamp my thighs around his head. his mouth covering mine. he won't let me go. There's so much sensation everywhere. I want to touch him. But I want more. Edward whispers comforting words. Trying to express my desire. I don't want to know why . but he ignores me. "Umm . "I don't have any condoms. wetter and hotter than I've ever been before. I pull uselessly at his hair. kissing under my ear again. I can touch him the way I want. his head. working them further apart. so close. . loving the contrast of softness and hardness. I'm not on the pill and I certainly don't have any condoms. I can only hope to God that Edward has one. Never in my life have I felt such intense pleasure²all worries and fears instantly flee and there's nothing but Edward's mouth and his hands. And then he moves over me again. his hands gently caressing my thighs. I feel utterly and completely consumed by him. enjoying his solid weight and the way his chest hair tickles my body. seeking and searching pathways both familiar and . but it's strange how I want to feel it stretch me . tucking the foil packet neatly under the pillow." Edward nods his understanding. this is us. I wrap my arms around his body and pull him tightly against me. his long finger lightly teasing my entrance before sliding inside. I'm all too aware of his erection between my legs. Frankly.Seeming to sense my nervousness. Whatever happened in the past now. the way he groans into the side of my neck as I rub him again. . "I have one. I reach my hand down and slide my hand over his silky skin. As I come down. wanting more. awash in the sensation of his fingers and his mouth still rubbing me lightly. sliding up my body to lay over me. he's merciless. Finally." I say hesitantly. . Our hands are greedy. who he was planning on using it with. This is us. making me give him everything. I gasp and lurch off the bed again when his mouth finally covers me. He's back in a flash." he admits. I pull on him again and this time he relents. how much I want it inside." he murmurs. his warm lips sucking and pulling and driving me out of my mind. I realize I'm chanting his name incoherently. I try to clear my mind as he rolls of the bed to retrieve it. thrusting his hips lightly into my grip. "That feels good. not letting me completely relax. crying out as my release overtakes me. his size intimidates me. bucking my hips against his face wantonly as he secures me with his other hand pressing lightly on my belly. But of course there's the matter of protection. so intent on his task. . . I feel that pull from deep inside my belly. I take it easily.

But he touches me again and I feel how wet I am. smiling as he kisses the tip of my finger. He whispers sweet words into my hair. when I touch his pleasantly fuzzy bum. "Me too. is Edward asking me . . I whimper and arch into him as we writhe together. The kisses he plants on the underside of my bicep send chills up my spine. His mouth is soft and gentle." The words finally come and I know they're true. It is brief but when he pulls away I am left with a strange sensation. if he can kiss me? My throat is dry as I nod. a longing that I've never felt before. YES. I love when he presses into me. Edward is quicker. . blushing. the word struggling to make its way from my brain to my mouth. His eyes seek mine out. reaching toward the pillow. Mine tingle. "Have you ever been kissed. My eyes widen again. Almost without volition. on my belly. I watch fascinated as he removes the condom and rolls it down his length. letting me feel his hardness on my leg. I bite my lip and realize I'm still shaking my head. He makes me nervous now in a way he never has before. He chuckles. Yes. And when his lips meet mine it's nothing like how I thought it would be. I nod. Some of the things we do make us laugh²there are ticklish places that we learn and then respectfully avoid. half of which are incomprehensible. asking permission. how ready. fiercer than it was before. he brings his hand to my face and cups my cheek softly. "I wanted to be your first. . drowned out by his trademark soft. . It doesn't take long before the need is back. Bella?" I am shaking my head. He's only 15²soon to be 16²but he seems like so much more of a man to me. "Would you like to be?" I almost gasp .foreign. wet kisses. wanting to know if I'm okay. the two-year age gap between us expansive. . I touch my finger to his lips. wondering how he'll fit inside. I discover he likes it when I run my nails over his back. He doesn't laugh when I take his length into my hand again." he says.

. Edward groans and bites softly at my neck. one hand moving down between us to where we're just barely joined. I feel myself stretched and full while he's groaning." I move then. to relax. The hand that stopped moving when he pushed inside starts again and I feel myself grow wetter. I immediately feel the stretch and will myself to relax. The discomfort returns but Edward doesn't stop moving his hand. Edward is inside me. the need to keep going. I run my hands along his back. "I think so. "God. "Are you okay?" he asks. His eyes meet mine again. expanding around him. telling me how good I feel. He pauses." He presses in just a bit further and the pressure builds. letting out a soft moan as his head drops to my shoulder. to feel him rub against me. The pain recedes until it is only a dull memory. full of intense concentration and desire. testing it out." he pants again. with a growl from deep within his chest. I swivel my hips lightly. I just want to be inside you so bad. Love. Please. bracing himself with one arm. replaced by a need to move. he doesn't move. welcoming the comfort of his kiss. . wanting him inside. Just ." He nods kissing my mouth slowly. go easy. his voice strained. "Do it. Blessedly." I can hear the pain and the pleasure in his voice. glad he's unable to see my face because at this moment it hurts."I love you. to let him do it. The pain is sharp as I feel something give way inside me and he's there. With restraint that makes his neck muscles strain. he begins to push forward. His eyes search my face for any sign of fear or discomfort but I can only nod and push up into him. all concern and care. he pushes again. He rubs my clitoris lightly and I feel my desire begin to build. All movement ceases. I nod against his shoulder. "This is hard. taking him in more fully. catching him by surprise. . please. His eyes focus on my face. My whole body stills in anticipation as I feel just the tip press against me." he whispers gruffly as he positions himself in the darkness. becoming somewhat uncomfortable. his face only inches from mine. giving me a chance to accommodate him. Then. "I don't want to hurt you.

triumphant smile and kisses me and I know it's all right. muffling our noises of pleasure. It's incredible how effortless it is. He brushes my hair back from my face and kisses my neck and the pressure of him inside of me is too much. pleasant pain. In this position. I look at his face. He seems to know what I need. his eyes feverish and wild. Today has changed things and for better or worse there's no going back. But then he smiles a large. Suddenly. holding my hips gently and swiveling his pelvis against me with every downward thrust. trying to indicate that the tears are happy ones. Gradually. he withdraws and moves us back into the original position. spurred on by the sound of our bodies coming together.I can't control the welling of emotion²the stupid tears that fill my eyes. the emotions playing over it²I'm worried I said the wrong thing. At first. He helps me." he groans again. His eyes roll back into his head as he pumps erratically. it's just us. but then he quickens his pace. He touches me again where we're joined and I feel the pulsing throb. There will be consequences. Our mouths find each other. guiding my hips up and down as we gradually build rhythm again. holding me to his chest as my orgasm begins to build. rubbing that part of me against his public bone. I learn the rhythm. so pleasurable it's almost a pain. But it's a strange. without warning. the noises of desire he makes. I don't care if he wanted me to wait to say it. He touches my face reverently before kissing me again. I nod. . I can only murmur an incoherent response. pulling me on top. embarrassed and needy but unable to stop myself from writhing. I come again with a cry that Edward absorbs into his mouth. I lay down and he slips back inside with ease. When he begins to move it's with a mutual groan. "I love you so much. but I'm not sure what to do. but I'll deal with them tomorrow. but I shake my head and smile. I find myself grinding down onto him. "You feel so good. Right now. how much I crave him inside when he withdraws. "Bella?" Edward's eyes widen in alarm. Edward withdraws and flips over on his back. moving with more force." I whisper. I feel it so acutely I can't stay silent anymore. "Do you feel good?" he pants. building again. how to move in a way that feels good for us both. Still fluttering around him. he's quite gentle. I feel so much more. so deep it's nearly painful.

. humanly beautiful. I can't help smiling over his unnecessary concern. I'm . . . . . And when he pulls away his eyes shimmer in the darkness. "Yes. a languid. Because another voice. his or mine. The thought brings a smile to my face. and then he's kissing me again. A beginning for us. . I'm so fucking happy. "Did I hurt you?" He wipes at the wetness under my eyes with the pad of his thumb. a more optimistic one. feeling wetness on my cheek that might be sweat or tears. his expression lightening. I kiss his face all over. so softly. seemingly satisfied. which reminds me again that he was inside. He's always been inside me. running his hands over my neck. my arms." He kisses me again. I can't tell and it doesn't matter. A nagging voice tells me that this won't last. so sweetly. urging him to find his release. . I'm better than okay. "I'm okay. his brow creased with worry." He sighs. slow kiss that leaves me quivering. rolling down my face. God . .The happy tears come again." "Me too. holding me tightly to him. My heart feels so stretched and full I can barely contain it. . . I arch against him. I can't believe that only hours before everything seemed so bleak. His expression contorts with pleasure and I've never seen him more hauntingly. "I'm just happy. drawing me to his chest and rolling us over so we're facing each other. "I'm . There's so much joy . . The movement causes him to slip out of me." "Are you sure?" he asks again. He pants and shudders. but I push the intrusive thoughts away. Because we're the same. "No. "Are you okay?" he asks. says this is just the beginning. gonna ." I whisper. silly. "What?" Edward regards me curiously. as if trying to account for all my parts." he moans a final time and thrusts and I feel him²I actually feel him throb inside of me.

gazing out over the water. but I don't know what. . What is it else? A madness most discreet. I can't tell if they've come from the still figure before me or from inside my own head. I take another few steps . she's turned away from me. feeling the cold slickness of the stone under my legs. As always. It is then that I see her. My breath fogs the air as I approach cautiously. The words surprise me. Come sit. This is just a dream. wisps of hair stirring lightly in the slight breeze. Then why do I feel so cold? Come sit. being vexed a sea nourished with lovers tears. I'm wearing shorts and my skin is completely smooth. I suddenly realize. . not wanting to disturb her solitude but at the same time needing to. A choking gall and a perserving sweet."Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs. stroking myself in disbelief." -William Shakespeare Chapter 26: November 14-16th 2010 The waters of Two Moon obscured by mist. I'm dreaming. Shocked. Perfect. Being purged a fire sparkling in lovers eyes. I know I'm supposed to be looking for something. My mother sits on a large rock overlooking the water. My footfalls break the silence. baby girl. arriving at the boulder and clambering on. I do as she asks. How I've missed this place. It must be fall. It's been so long since I've seen her face. snapping twigs underfoot. . white. I look down. or as my mind encourages. The air is crisp and the needles of the fir trees are crystallized with frozen dew. I reach out.

. She reaches out. so slowly. clutch at her arm. Bella. My mother turns to face me. No. Her voice is so sad. I don't want you to go. Her eyes seem different² lighter than I remember. a small smile drawing up the corners of her mouth. I have someone waiting for me. . it's enough to distract me from the flawless skin of my legs. wrapping her shawl around me. It brings tears to my eyes. I cling on tighter to the shawl. . baby. I tuck myself under gratefully. You'll be all right. warm² alive. I . Is it . . baby girl. Dad? Her smile grows wider and she blushes. and I'm overcome by her beauty. looking so young. She's wrapped in a warm-looking. . she gently pries herself away. I miss you. Mom? Mom? You'll be all right. I know. so full of longing. I miss you too. lonely where you are? She tilts her head to the side. Or she'll take me with her. Come. curling up by her side as her arm settles around my back. yet delicate red shawl. extending the material with her arm.It's cool today. Mom. If I hold tight enough. she won't be able to leave. You should wear warmer clothes. Slowly. Mom.

. I'm not exactly sure about the protocol. I shrug. I pull away immediately. The emotions it invoked linger even while the images fade. . I stretch out my hand. . probably everywhere else too. I move my legs. but I know I was dreaming . "Edward?" "You scared me. the pain and then the incredible euphoria. are intertwined with Edward . . I have no idea where I am . An answering pull stirs in my belly and I move my legs again. Tentatively." "No . . love? Bella?" I blink rapidly at the sound of Edward's voice. . replaced by Edward's concerned gaze. His face when I told him I loved him. I was in the middle of the most beautiful." ." he sighs with relief. and bare. A slight ache in between them confirms what I'm now remembering in vivid detail²the feel of him pressing me down." His chest hair feels rough and delightful against my cheek. worried that I'm invading his personal space or something. luxuriating in the delicious sensation of the way we fit together. "You were having a nightmare. they. ."Bella." "You were crying. but I've certainly never woken up with it. drawing me to his shirtless chest. a feeling . . . "I don't remember. feeling the firm muscles of his stomach. but chasing dreams is always a futile enterprise. . . entering me . For a second. like the rest of me. sad dream. . focusing on his face. rubbing my cheek against his chest again. surprised when my hand grazes his erection. I know about morning wood. really?" "I hope it wasn't about me. But I don't think it was a nightmare. Edward chuckles and wraps his arms around me more tightly and when I chance a glance at his face again his eyes are full of laughter and . my awareness of his body helping me shake off the last remnants of sleep. . something darker. "Was I?" A blush I can't control erupts on my face. . I try to grasp onto it. "What were you dreaming about?" His question evokes a memory.

"Okay." "That's creepy. good. you know?" "Mmm-hmm. poking him lightly in the side. drawing it up to kiss it and then holding it captive so I can't tickle him. . I don't know whether I should press him or not. "did you figure anything out?" "One thing." How does he know how to say those things²those perfect things that just make me love him more? I scoot up on the bed a little. Edward. so that we're face to face. "Do you want to talk about it?" I ask finally. He looks lonely. Wherever I go. luckily I was here with you. . ." "So." "Did you sleep all right?" "A little. "Maybe so. . though I know his sleeplessness probably more to do with yesterday's dramatic confrontation than anything else." His hand runs though my hair lightly. and I know it's not for Edward either. green eyes. Mostly I just watched you sleep. I want it to be with you. ."No . . giving him a chance to say no. He flinches away with a laugh and covers my hand with his. not about you. ." I start hesitantly." His revelation makes me smile." It's not the first time in my life I've faced this question . . But I couldn't help it." He releases my hand and runs his hands through his hair. His confession last night proved that. "You're probably the only one who does. making it stick up even more crazily. I was wondering where the hell I go from here. . "So you stayed up all night just to watch me?" "I don't think I would have slept no matter what . looking into his sad." I joke. "I just . Oh. But I already knew it anyway. He sighs a little then kisses the top of my head. Edward.

. . . . we could stay at a hotel. He'll probably never want to see me again." "But this is different. "I don't think²" "You came with me. "Bella . My guilt flares up again²I've betrayed him and he has no idea. " "What?" "I want to come with you to Forks. but I'll go crazy . . I hadn't given much thought to it²but how can I stay in their house. We kiss for a couple of minutes before Edward pulls away again. "I don't think you realize²there's one hotel in Forks and it's a dive. . determined expression. I don't. . ." "Edward. And the thought of Edward and Jacob together . closing the distance between us. . it's alarming ." "I don't mean I'd come with you when you go to talk . I have to talk to Jacob . But bringing Edward to Forks would just prod Jacob's wound. Not even truck drivers want to stay at The Lodge." I whisper. not even able to say his name. all the while hoping my morning breath isn't too horrible. it's not something I want to put either one of them through." My eyes widen in disbelief as he regards me stoically. "Listen. looking at me with a serious. and comforting. You can't . stay at a hotel nearby. . I know you can do it." "You can't mean to tell me you really plan on staying with the Blacks?" I consider his question for a second²he's right. But can I regret it? No. Jacob. But I won't feel right if you go on your own. I can't be that cruel. to him. His lips find mine. I know this is uncomfortable for you. he probably won't want me there anyway. . But I know I have to do this on my own. . ."I want that too. Edward coming with me . . . ." Edward says. . "But I could fly with you. just worrying. warm and gentle." "About what? You don't think I'm going to break it off?" . knowing what I know? And after Jacob and I have our discussion. We ." I say with a snort. .

I know he does have every right to hear Billy's account first hand. . His words sting. ." "I know it did. Jacob had been very adamant on our phone conversation about making things work. But in some ways I understand . but while I'm not afraid for my own safety. I should have shaved. His face moves closer. at least of Billy." We lay quietly for a minute as I grapple with Edward's request." he replies softly. and that hurts. I know that Jacob has a jealous streak and the thought of them getting into a fight . "Just think about it. even Jacob²if he didn't know. And remember that Billy's . I swallow thickly as worstcase scenarios play in my head² but none of them include physical violence. How can I tell him now without him completely flying off the handle? "No. I know a part of him is worried about that very thing. ." "They already have. I'm afraid for Edward's." he apologizes. even after last night. "Can we just not talk about it now?" "Yes . how dare they make these unilateral decisions about our lives? "I'll think about it. "Sorry. . they would never hurt me. Edward kisses me again. . And in some ways.Guilt flashes over his face for a second before dissipating. . the skin there still tender from our kisses the night before. About your safety. Okay? That's all I ask. but they're true. choice affected me too. And Alice. and I wince back. ." "Edward. hugging him again. just be with Edward in our warm blanket cocoon. But why should I make things easier for Billy? He betrayed both of us. . his stubble grazing my chin. "You're so soft. . But Edward doesn't know that. for now. I can't imagine either of them actually hurting me." I want to forget about all of this. The anger that had started growing as the Cullens told their side of the story returns ." . . thumbing the area lightly." I say finally.

I inhale sharply as his lips barely graze it. . causes the skin to pucker instantly. here. well. . moving up and between my legs . "Or this place. touching just above the crease of my arm. My hips lift unconsciously and Edward chuckles. . "I'll just have to concentrate on . The sensation is intense. "Umm . then up to nibble at my ear. barely able to speak. ." His words send a chill through my body as he rolls me over. now I can definitely feel him. ." His mouth moves lower. . and then brushes his cheek against me. . "What about here?" he asks. . I flush. . . . Edward lightly restrains my hands. tingles. . the look on his face making my heart pick up speed. firm against my belly." he says. and more like a teenager than I've felt . even when I was a teenager. raising his eyebrows as his fingertips lightly tease my nipple. my hands automatically moving to cover my breasts. so sexy." I manage. I feel stupid and girly. But I am ."It's okay. pulling some chord deep within my stomach. . "Yes. "Like this place." "Bella . Wherever his lips touch. and yes. . and that we could do it again. combined with the coolness of the room. I can't believe we actually did it ." His voice is hoarse and needy . kissing the hollow at the base of my throat. "What are you thinking about?" I don't know why I'm suddenly shy. forcing them down by my sides so he can see. . kissing again. He runs his mouth over my chest again. "Do you like that?" he asks. And lower." He presses his lips to mine again. I close my eyes and breathe him in. . surprising and smooth. Equally unexpected is the way he pulls back the sheets so that I'm exposed from the waist up. "I don't think this place got enough attention. ." His tongue darts out. then again. That. other places. then sucking it into his mouth. his warm breath washing over my skin.

"This is so not a good idea." he groans. my eyes widening. I know this is wrong but all sanity has fled." "Why not?" I ask." he says panting. strangely primal. begging him not to stop. I can only feel tongue and lips and his warm. I gasp against his mouth. I cry out and come. Please. I whimper. I know it. Here. I know it's a terrible idea to even consider not using protection . . . . his movements become so frenzied that he slips inside . it's incredible how much I crave him. But then he removes it and I whimper . "Please . A little moan escapes me and I writhe against his hand. pulling back even as I lift my hips to draw him in deeper. . . He slides one in and I gasp." "Are you sore?" He touches his hand to me and I open my legs further. But I can't help myself from imagining what it would feel like for him to be inside with nothing between us . He makes a guttural sound and allows his erection to rub between my legs. feeling the need build. He watches with a heated expression on his face as I shake. I want him to keep going and I don't care. . . Please. . far more painful. baby. but the ache of wanting him is far. . We need to be careful. . My entire body is stretched and begging. so warm."I want you. I feel him start to stretch me before he catches himself with a moan." he murmurs. Is he rejecting me? "I don't have any more condoms. loving the feel of his fingers on me. wanting more. He doesn't. sliding his fingers back inside. his head dropping into the crook of my neck." "God . At one point. raising my hips. Another finger curls inside. and it feels so good. clinging to him with all of my limbs. murmuring sweet and wicked things in my ear. Yes. heavy body covering mine as he passes over me again and again. . don't tempt me. . just a tiny bit. kissing my neck. struggling to press against him. . . "Beautiful. my body relaxing after a final pulsing shudder. "Jesus . clenching wildly around his fingers. There's a slight soreness." He touches me again. . bucking into him. . . holding tightly as his fingers move. sliding and creating a delicious friction as he kisses me with a mind-numbing passion. I want all of him . until I feel him against me.

moving to the bottom. Suddenly. . and I reel back. feeling the straining. both of us unsure . . I . taut muscles against my palm. but filled with longing." he gasps. . but even though I have no idea what I'm doing. grasping him and moving from base to tip slowly. gives a hesitant smile. "Show me. He thrusts against my hand. . He has more experience than me. I want to learn. I don't feel bad. his expression. placing a kiss on the head of his penis. I catch on pretty quickly. "Sorry. "Yeah. He gazes me with hooded eyes. how he seems to grow even more as I stroke him. then again. . With eyes that never leave mine. Without breaking rhythm. seeing how hard he is. yes. a faint blush coloring his cheeks. how his hips move almost without volition. afraid I'm doing something wrong. . squeezing harder than I thought was okay. looking at me with questioning eyes. Edward curses. . stroking around the top. "Jesus." He's losing control and it's a heady feeling. I kiss his chest and I touch his stomach. this place we're in now. . I look at him with wide eyes. I gain more confidence. I lean forward. . . This is new for us and I'm not ashamed²I feel safe. Just a whisper . demonstrating how to use the wetness from the tip to make the gliding easier. I reach out and take him in my hand." I whisper. and I drink it in.The covers fall around his waist and I look down. stroking more boldly. "Am I doing it right?" I ask him. just like that. uh liked it. how solid and warm he is underneath. It's strange. He flops over onto his back and puts his hands behind his head. how hard he is. my tempo faltering. he covers my hand with his. "Don't be . A sigh in the air. throaty sound. . I have an idea. pumping lightly as he groans a low. Just like that." There's something so incredibly endearing about his crooked smile. After a minute or two he releases my hand and clenches his fists by his sides. I try again. loving it when his eyes roll back in his head. I want to touch him how he likes to be touched. He bites his lip and I grow bolder." I say. tentative. There's nothing more erotic than the sight of both of our hands moving together .

he's pulling my mouth off of him. Bella. I can smell myself on him. I love the sounds he makes. but it's not nearly as weird as I thought it would be . Edward doesn't seem to mind. Are you really gonna make me answer that question?" I shrug. I feel incredibly powerful and elated²I'm making him feel good. careful to release him gently. He grunts into my mouth." Taking pity on him. . my neck. my arm. . I look up at him through my lashes. Seconds later. the most carnal. "Faster." I comply. Not wanting to risk it. watching him as he watches me. almost as if in pain. . working my hand around the rest. He sweeps my hair back from my face. ."Do you want me to do it again?" His blush grows and he throws his arm over his face . "You won't hurt me. I want to see him come in the daylight like this. He moans. "Not really. He grunts and moans and I love it . afraid my teeth will scrape him. Jesus." he whispers. I can feel his heart pounding under my other hand. I lean forward again. and I know whatever I'm doing is okay. You're killing me. his hand resting on my shoulder gently. I concentrate on just the top couple of inches. I try take him in further but I'm not sure what to do. scratching the back of my head. I'm teasing him and he knows it. shudders. sucking harder²just the tip. . I feel myself growing wet again and Edward reaches out. Silky smooth. but it's the sexiest thing I've ever seen. . which makes me feel good. . and I give him a final squeeze. . letting him slip inside my mouth as my hand continues to move. "God. He groans again and laughs. "Is this funny?" I ask. He tastes salty and musky and so like Edward . dragging me upwards. . smiling deviously. mumbles my name. Better than okay. the beat gradually slowing along with his breath. . . fists the sheets with his hands. I feel the warm liquid on my hand as he pulses. His skin seems so delicate despite the hardness-so easily breakable. and caressing my cheek. my hand working more quickly while I suck and lick . desperate look on his face. touching me wherever he can² my breasts. I do it again.

exposed." "Not in the daylight." I whisper." "I wanted to." he replies with a boyish grin. alone. I giggle." "That sounds like fun. he'll be able to see . I have the overwhelming urge to take a shower and brush my teeth. "I've already seen you naked. . . kisses my shoulder. I stand and walk to the bathroom. "Of course. "You didn't have to do that. I kiss him then with a fierceness that takes him by surprise." I move to sit up." "If you don't want me to look." "Well that's awesome. my eyes darting around the room to consider how to make it from here to the bathroom. . . touching my face. yeah. I'm just not used to being so . . resting my head on his chest again."Bella . without another word. I . Suddenly. . . and now that it's light out. He blinks rapidly as. My clothes are pretty far away . He has already seen ." he murmurs. my hand still sticky and wet. . just tell me. I won't." he says. . . but I've never walked naked in front of anyone before . "Are you okay?" "Yeah. I just . If that's okay. . . . I could wrap myself in this sheet . . but nods." he replies cheekily. "Bella?" Edward touches my shoulder. I liked it. "Yeah?" I turn to him. "And how unfortunate is that?" "Edward . He smiles. I'd like to take a shower. . . . ." He shrugs and I know I'm being stupid. . . . "Um . . feeling sheepish. "Hey." Edward looks a little disappointed. .

" . I'll be with Edward. ." Her voice is so loud I'm sure it's nearly audible. This is just the beginning. ." she nearly shouts in my ear. "No. We read. shit." I admit quietly. reality. . But Tuesday comes all too quickly and with it. are you?" "No. but I know it's inevitable. cook. girl. . all too aware that Edward is shamelessly eavesdropping. I cast a glance over at Edward who is currently standing on one leg. . Edward and I don't leave my apartment for three days." I haven't told Rose about our trip to Elgin. huh?" "Something like that. I don't want to leave our bubble. and spend a good deal of time in bed. I guess you can't really talk right now. struggling into his jeans.~QF~ After a run back to his apartment to get some things. and a quick stop at the grocery store for food and . Both of us turn our phones off. . looking up and smiling when he catches me staring. "You're not alone. fifteen?" "Oh my GOD. I want to hear all about it! Did you tell Jacob? Are you still going to Forks? Oh. "Were you listening to me?" "I . He buttons the pants and brushes them off. . after all. . And I keep telling myself it will be all right . still blushing. All holed up in your love nest. Shirtless and sockless Edward might just be my favorite. "No WONDER Edward wasn't home at all this weekend. I was wondering where the heck you disappeared to. but I figure that's a conversation for another day. other supplies. "Well. "Bella? So meet you in fifteen?" "Hmmm?" I say. Um . When Rosalie calls in the morning to see if I want to walk to class. yes.

you know that?" I chide with a grin. pulling away. "Bye. "Or woman. . Okay. I tilt my head up and he kisses me softly." he says." He takes a strand of my hair and tugs it. William Wordsworth waits for no man. According to the weather it's a freezing cold day. "Okay. well soon. Jesus.Edward is pretending to look at the books in my bookshelf. . I'm pretty sure I'll never have enough. coming closer. ignoring Edward when he laughs at me." I flip my phone closed and Edward turns to me." . Okay. I'll see you in class then?" "Yeah. ." Rose laughs at my slip." Edward says. his eyes light." He smiles and kisses my nose and we finish gathering our things for class. I'll see you then." "What am I going to do with you?" "Kiss me?" he suggests hopefully. I think you've had enough kissing. yes. "Shut up. so I grab a wool hat from my closet and pull it on. and I'm pretty sure I'll never have enough either. . referencing the reading we've had to do for this week. smiling mischievously before pulling his shirt over his head. We'll . "You're so cute. "I don't know ." I say finally. "You're an incredibly nosy person. I pick up one of his socks from the floor and throw it at him. "We're going to be late. "Where you're concerned. "Okay." "Nope." "Bye.

I sigh and tuck my legs under the afghan we're sharing. I've missed my friend. knowing in all probability Kate would be there. imagining how the conversation will play out. and I've been talking her ear off for the past hour and a half. waiting for my answer. I don't trust her. "Love is a sweet tyranny. the thought of him meeting with her still bothers me. Even though she and Edward have ceased all regular communication. I'm sure. But only now is so much better. I roll my eyes and bat his hand away." ~Proverb Chapter 27: November 20-24. today's the first chance we've had to really catch up. Rosalie takes another sip of her tea and leans back against the couch. Though I wouldn't have traded the past week with Edward for anything. I'm nervous to face the class. 2010 "So what are you going to say to him?" Rosalie asks. her wide eyes focused on my face. feeling the oncoming rush of nervousness²it's been growing more and more acute as the date of the trip approaches. Just like he used to. ignoring my protests and slinging my bag over his shoulder. On a much different scale. I have to . And since Edward had to meet up with Riley and a couple other MFAs to discuss next semester's fiction reading." And we walk to school together. the other side effect of my somewhat irrational worry has been a newfound understanding of how Edward feels about me meeting with Jacob." He pulls the fluffy green pom-pom on the top of the hat. But it's for school. What will I say to Jacob? Last night I barely slept for worrying about it. The two of us are sitting in my apartment after a late Friday afternoon lunch. Obviously I have to talk to Jacob first. Of course. just like we used to. It's a good question. I figured I better distract myself somehow. and he doesn't really have a choice. With both of our busy schedules. "Let's go. because the lover endureth his torments willingly. certain that the past few days are written all over my face. Edward assures me it will be fine."Like a little Eskimo.

. yes. Maybe it's just me being cowardly. But I don't think he needs to know all the details . about us . . but I was afraid of what might happen if I left. And the idea of leaving him alone on Thanksgiving is awful. ." Edward had finally convinced me to come along on the trip. ." I sigh. . . . . you know . babe. she turns it back on me. Edward wants to talk to Billy. I'd thought long and hard about it. especially given what just happened with the Cullens and his history of turning to alcohol when things go badly. I don't know how he'd deal with it. thinking about the last few days. What do you think?" I watch her thoughtful expression as she considers my question. "What do you want to do?" . Luckily. Billy's involvement . but will he even believe me? Will I find out he's known all along? "I have to tell him the truth. I don't know. "Well. but in this case ." "Cowardly or not.tell him about Edward and the letters." I nod. . but that's what Edward wants me to do." "I know. ." "Are you going to tell him . "I guess I'm going to drop Edward off at the motel first. The way you're blushing right now is a dead giveaway. about you and Edward?" She raises her eyebrow to convey her meaning and my face heats. it doesn't feel right to do it in public. I'd say he doesn't need to know details. He hasn't been drinking at all this week. . . he was able to buy a ticket since my flight from Chicago to Port Angeles wasn't fully booked. "But you're going to talk to Jacob alone. but realized what he said was true²he deserves to hear from Billy firsthand. if Jacob knew about Edward and I having sex . I mean. it's plain I need him with me. But you better work on your reactions. "I'll have to. But the question is where to go for the talk. picking at the fuzz on the blanket. And even if that wasn't a factor. "And are you going to tell Jacob Edward's with you?" "Yeah." I've never been a good liar. in typical Rosalie fashion. . Of course. .

She reaches down to retrieve it from the floor. I almost cried. You need to do what makes you feel most comfortable. but you seem so much stronger than you were a month ago. Edward is just being protective. "I don't mean to say that it won't be difficult. so eager to see me. wanting to agree but unable to be terribly optimistic. when he passed the phone on to Billy. and I don't either. . both of us aware of what he wouldn't let me say. smiling sadly. Whatever suspicions or fears Jacob has." "You think so?" "I do. I think it's going to be okay." When I spoke to Jacob the day before and told him my plan to rent a car at the airport in Port Angeles and drive out to Forks. he's kept them to himself. you know? Forks is such a small town and the gossips can be pretty cruel." I shake my head. though I could tell he wasn't entirely happy about the idea. and he's working. beaming when she notes the caller ID." "Nothing about this situation makes me comfortable. the way you're dealing with this is really admirable. I have to hand it to you . "I don't want to make a scene. but you're doing the right thing." Rosalie says." She nods just as her phone starts ringing." "But Edward's worried?" "He thinks Jacob might get violent or something. he hadn't been pleased. Later. "I don't know. He was so excited I was coming home for Thanksgiving. I'm sure Jacob won't want all of this broadcasted. I smile and gesture for her to answer. I know the situation is beyond horrible." she mouths to me. . "Well. But girl. I think it would be best to be alone. "Sorry." I can't help the pleading tone that creeps into my voice at the end²I want her to believe me." "I know. I mean.I shrug. Bella. But he won't. "You know him. Since I'm arriving on Wednesday. I persuaded him it was for the best. Jacob might not be perfect. He's not like that. . Our conversation in general had been stilted. but I say go with your gut. but he's not a violent person. Rosalie sighs and rubs my arm.

Edward thought I should go to establish my presence in the department." She turns to me and squeezes my hand. it makes it even more important I attend. A few seconds later. . . "I was just leaving." The way she's blushing and smiling. I'll talk to you later about tonight. smiling pleasantly. forceful movements that he's angry."Hello? . seven? . she joins me. "I think so. "Yeah. okay?" . It's amazing the progress the two of them have made in the past few weeks. I'm excited too. Since Peggy's my advisor. references Edward's sour mood. . I stand up and grab our now empty mugs and take them to the kitchen to give her some privacy. He seems surprised when he notices Rosalie's still here. leaning in for a hug. . tossing his bag on the floor and ripping off his coat. Maybe we could meet up with you guys there and then go do something?" Before I can answer her. but I'm certain I look and sound exactly the same way when I'm thinking about Edward." he mutters. we'll probably stop by for a second just to congratulate her. "Uh-oh. I know the voice on the other end of the line is Emmett's. . . actually. the door opens and Edward walks in. . . but quickly composes himself. Yes! Of course . She'd announced it on Tuesday and invited the whole class² even though I'd rather stay home to be with him alone." Rosalie says. but they're getting along better than I ever thought they would. "Emmett?" I ask with a knowing smile. "You better sort this out. I'm at Bella's now. . We're going to dinner later. "Hey. "You guys coming tonight?" Edward and I had briefly discussed whether or not to go to the release party for Peggy's new book. Yeah." She sighs contentedly and I almost want to roll my eyes. Politics is just as important in graduate school and academia as it is in the business world. am I interrupting?" "Hi Edward. "Sorry ." she whispers in my ear. I know it's out of necessity. Are you going with Emmett?" "Yeah. . . I can tell by his quick.

" With one hand on my hip. I fill the sink with soapy water and wash our plates. wondering silently what could have happened to make him so upset. He turns on the cool water and takes my . I'll call you. which he returns with a half-hearted grunt." "Are you mad at me?" "No. . I know when he gets like this he doesn't like to be interrupted." "It's okay. picking up the rest of the dishes left over from mine and Rosalie's lunch and returning to the kitchen. In any case. we all have our own ways of dealing with things and this is his. preoccupied. scribbling something maniacally in his notebook. I lean back against the warmth of his body and revel in the feel of his stubbled jaw nuzzling the side of my face. I want to hug him but stop myself when I remember my sudsy hands. I'm so pleased it's not alcohol. I just didn't want to bother you. "Yeah. he cups my jaw with the other. "I'm sorry. I turn my head and notice his rueful expression."Sounds good. I regard Edward warily. Edward interrupts my thoughts." He kisses my temple and I can smell coffee on his breath. I just had to get something down. "Hey. I shouldn't have stormed in like that." he whispers." I reply. We'd decided that while we're no longer trying to downplay or conceal our relationship. his strong arms wrapping around me from behind. After my momentary surprise abates. his arms caging me between his body and the sink. his attitude seems to confirm Kate was there after all. . You looked . Edward gently releases my face and moves behind me. She releases me and says her goodbyes to Edward. sweet kiss. noticing Edward's already flopped down onto the sofa. but we're not going to discuss it in public either² it's the only way to keep the nosy people in our department out of our business. so I leave him to it. drawing my lips to his in a slow. I should have greeted you properly. He's been writing a lot these last few days. As soon as Rosalie's gone.

And you can see it in their work. not the art." he sighs. let's just say we don't always see eye to eye. a tender gesture that leaves a lump in my throat. "It was fine. some of the people in this department. they have this perception of writing that just . . more than the writing itself." "You mean they don't take it seriously?" "They do. honestly. Now clean and dry. "Yeah. ." Edward nods emphatically." "They don't want to improve?" ." "Such as?" He rests his chin on my head for a second and I feel completely safe and surrounded by him. I don't know if that makes any sense. in some ways it's even worse than college because we're older and should know better. "I do . I lean into him. I think what you're saying is they're here more for the glamor and prestige of being a writer. It's like they're here because of the lifestyle. . his expression thoughtful. But it's more of an image to them. Grad school offers this extended adolescence. I'm just irritated with myself. in their own way.hands in his. "Well. exactly. the way they respond negatively to constructive criticism. my arms wending around his back. rinsing them off and drying them with a nearby dishtowel. "I'm just realizing some things that I guess I didn't see before or didn't want to see. Garrett and Kate have this idea of what a writer is²and at the heart of it is snobbery." "Why?" "Because." I think about what Rose has said about the posturing hipsters and I nod. "I take it didn't go well?" Edward grimaces and shrugs. .

It's not to say everyone in the department is like that. not at the moment. she's really good. ." I think about the beautiful girl with the dark eyes and kind smile. . ." He kisses me again. ." "You know you can ask me anything?" "I do. not caring where. Then again. trying to figure out if there was more to the situation. I wonder foggily if he'll decide to take me here or in the bed. his lips warm with reassurance. his hands are sliding under my shirt and I'm shivering²but not from cold." "Is that the only reason you were upset?" I'm fishing. unbuttoning his jeans and sliding my hand down the front. Carmen isn't . "It's not worth it. "You're thinking about Kate?" Edward of course sees right through me. too."They can dish it but they can't take it. he's pulling at my clothes with determination. I'm equally eager." he replies. pressing me up against the counter. "I hardly spoke to her. Before I know it. "So did you guys have a fight or something?" "No. "Um . and I blush to be caught so blatantly jealous. wondering how she could ever be friends with someone like Kate. . smiling devilishly when my nipples pucker at his touch. "Do you have any other questions?" he murmurs. Edward once considered her his friend as well. pinching my flesh between his thumb and forefinger. It's amazing how quickly he grows hard against my hip. Soon. That thought is not at all welcome. just needing him. rubbing my shoulders lightly. honestly Bella." "Okay. I trust you. feeling the now familiar pull of want between my legs." He breathes lightly against my cheek before he covers my mouth with his. When his fingers pull down the cup of my bra and graze my nipple I inhale sharply.

Always. The position on our sides lends itself to the leisurely pace. a throaty. deep strokes. "I agree. When he finally pulses. . Edward hitches my leg up and over his thigh. his hand covering mine. "So good. letting his tongue plunder my mouth softly." he mutters breathlessly. running my fingers through his hair as he licks and sucks at my neck." he whispers against my ear. the love I see there. I clutch at him as best I can. He sees it all and gives back himself. seeking more. drawing my hand down to where we're joined. but he draws it out. Never have I felt so utterly adored. swirling his fingers between my legs until I'm moaning. I have no idea how much time passes. He moans with each thrust. I'm shocked by the intensity of his expression. his hardness inside my wet. "Feel this. entering me from behind with long." He takes me to the bed. though secretly pleased at his admission. I want him to move faster. it shatters something²some final barrier between us." he groans. a pleasure so acute it overtakes all my senses. wanting to tell him everything. When I open my eyes." I'm teasing. Edward cradles me in his arms. "You were only gone a couple hours. guttural sound that makes me writhe against him. things about me that I don't even know. filling me again and again. I come apart. I feel him sliding inside me. only that I never want him to stop. Seeming to understand. but it doesn't give me the friction I desire. slipping between my fingers and it's one of the most intense sensations I've ever felt. making it last much longer than ever before. I feel him in me and I know that's where he belongs. moving his hips lightly as I wrap my hand around his erection. closing his eyes and running his hands down my now naked sides to grasp my hips."I missed you." he pants. I gasp. I whisper those words to him. "It was too long. turning my head to kiss him. holding my hips to him as he comes deeply inside. nearly frightening me with its intensity. We make love slowly.

The way I see it. The feeling of his warm skin on mine is heightened in the places with sensation. Like there. But first. "I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. But I love you. the sweat from our exertion slick between us. "I hate what happened to you." Edward rolls me towards him. "Not anymore. "Every day I wish I could change it." he says gruffly. returning to his position behind me and pulling up the blanket over us. startled when I feel his hand move down my leg to stroke my knee. Honestly. At all.It's nearly a minute before it subsides and I'm finally able to relax against his body. . "Does it hurt you?" he whispers. All of you." "You haven't. wondering how he'll answer." . though. "I can feel that." "Of course it matters to me. Edward disengages and goes to discard the condom. . your scars are part of your history. I feel ready to broach the question that's been on my mind since we first made love. I don't have much surface feeling in some places." I can't help the way my eyes tear up at his words. I don't know how you feel. Bella. . "It feels nice. He murmurs contentedly and I feel ready for an afternoon nap. How come?" I trace the musculature of his arm with my pointer finger. down my calf." "I don't know . . "You haven't said anything about my scars. I thought . his green eyes serious. I love that you trust me enough to show me. I just . but he's back quickly. ." "I know." "And here?" His hand rubs lightly against the sensitive spot behind knee. ." "How about here?" His hand drifts towards the inside of my leg. If it matters to you.

munching on his sandwich. And we don't leave the bed again until it's time for Peggy's party. Despite the upcoming confrontation." We decide on breakfast sandwiches and grab some coffee as well before heading to our gate. Everyone is traveling for tomorrow's holiday. this is the first time I've flown since I was a baby and everything is new to me. "We should eat something. the traveler in him eager to visit a place he's never seen before. sticking in our hair and reminding me of being twelve. smarty pants. but just enough to remind us that winter is rapidly approaching. his hand running up again to cup me between my legs. There's a young family²parents and two young children²sitting across from us." he suggests as we make our way through the bustling holiday crowd. sits staring at Edward. but despite that the lines at the airport are horrific and it takes us almost two hours to pass through security. wet flakes fall silently. coating the parked cars and the trees on his street. Nothing severe enough to impede travel." "Okay. holding his hands up in surrender as he walks through the body scanner. and the terrorist threat has been raised to orange." he whispers. no. I want Edward to see the place I grew up after I left him. And I am too. Large. ."Bella. I laugh at the noticeable hole in his sock and he grins and shrugs. Edward sits beside me as we watch planes taxi on the runway. I missed this. I can't believe how big this place is. When we exit Edward's apartment to hail a cab for O'Hare. "Don't they have food on the plane?" "Ha!" he laughs. probably no more than four or five. He flew a lot when Alice was in treatment. Neither of us checks a bag since we're only staying three days. mostly alone. Edward has never been to the west coast. which I don't. and I can see little peeks of excitement underneath his unease. ~QF~ It snows on the morning we leave for Forks. the cold flushes his cheeks. Somewhat embarrassingly. The little girl. making sure I'm all set before doing the same. but he doesn't seem to notice. Edward shows me how to take off my shoes and place them in the plastic bins for screening. "Unless you count pretzels as food. but Edward navigates it with ease.

and I wonder if he's been thinking the same things as me. I can do this. making ridiculous whinnying sounds. "Lila. is full of uncertainty. auburn hair. inciting another fit of laughter. But now I can't stop myself from imagining what it would be like to have a child with Edward. especially a woman. We're going to be okay. who claps her hands and attempts to do the same. especially Alice. surprised when she hugs him around his legs." The girl holds the toy out to Edward as I watch with rapt attention. The life of an academic. smiling fondly. "Is she bothering you?" "Not at all. I almost forget about why we're here until they call our flight. The parents notice what's happening and look over and smile at us. "She was cute." he says." He smiles and I detect a faint blush on his cheeks."I think you have an admirer. "What's your name?" Edward asks as the girl approaches with a toy²a tiny horse that looks like it might have come from a kid's meal. A little girl with long. Edward glances in the direction I indicated and waves at her. Edward says goodbye to his new friend before we head to the gate. I figured we'd probably end up with one or two. "You were good with her. ." I whisper in his ear. then the tenure process²I hadn't thought much beyond that. wondering whether he wants a family someday. This gains him much admiration from Lila. nodding my head at the girl. Jacob had wanted children very badly. I rest my hand on Edward's knee." her mother replies. but I wanted to focus on my career first. causing her to giggle and hide her face behind her hands. one more wave. First graduate school. but I've never been overly enthusiastic about the prospect. She laughs shyly but doesn't answer. She peeks out again and Edward makes a funny face. The parents chuckle and call her back over and with. And as we board the plane. I remember when we were kids he was always so patient with us. He takes the toy and gallops it along the arm of his seat. we're on our way. I feel much lighter than I expected to.

Where?" "I haven't decided. I start to relax as we reach smooth cruising altitude. Don't worry. ." He puts his arm around me and I lean into him. my stomach sinking when turbulence shakes the relatively small craft. You need to trust me on this. "So . . but he gets most of the answers. I've never been good at them. "It'll even out. Come on. the nervous flutters in my stomach return." he begins." "Then what?" "I . "I don't know." "So where?" His green eyes are troubled. I still haven't decided where to confront Jacob. I know he won't like my plan. you don't know Jacob. his expression serious. gripping tighter after a particularly strong shake. But when the flight attendant announces we're nearing our destination. biting the inside of my cheek. But honestly. "I'll have my cell phone. . . "Is it always like this?" I whisper." "A walk? Jesus. Maybe we'll take a walk. Five minutes later. Edward." "Why don't you stay at the garage?" "In front of all the people he works with? I couldn't do that. The rest of the flight passes by relatively uneventfully.I hold Edward's hand as the plane ascends." Edward says. I think we'll probably go somewhere to talk. and I can see the tension on his forehead. closing my eyes." . "You're going to go straight to the garage?" I nod. Down at the beach?" "I don't like it. "Yeah. Edward and I do a crossword puzzle together.

" "I will. "I love you. The tension between us is thick and uncomfortable. kissing my knuckles softly. I have to stand a step higher than him to reach eye level. He rubs my shoulders soothingly and plants a light kiss on my lips. I promise. the fear. I hate it." He mutters something to himself. As we make our way through the sparsely populated terminal towards the rental car agency in the baggage claim. "You have to call me immediately . But I'm firm in my resolve. knowing our separation is imminent. my voice choking a little. Rain mists the windows. his eyes darkening." It's all I can say. I cling closely to Edward's side. Neither of us speaks as the plane completes its descent into the small Port Angeles airport. . Edward turns to me." I whisper. Please don't worry. It hurts to see him like this but I have to do this on my own²I owe it to Jacob to do it privately. bringing my hand to his lips. But then I'd be as cruel as Carlisle and Billy. Bella . . Just as the captain turns off the seatbelt signs and passengers start collecting their belongings. We disembark with the weight of the visit hanging heavily in the air. the grey sky mirroring my mood. I touch his smoothly shaven cheek with my other hand. How I wish I were one of those people who could just cut ties without explanation. "It'll be okay." he murmurs. . smiling a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. so much like those days when we first met again in Chicago. . hooking his free arm around my shoulders as we ride the escalator down toward street level. . . "Nothing is going to happen. He seems to feel the same way. . "I love you. Although he doesn't release my hand." I squeeze his hand. I can tell he's angry with me."I swear to God if anything happened to you . " he trails off and I can see the panicked look in his eyes.

a bunch of red roses in hand. And the stricken look on his face tells me he's seen everything. but I'm taking a little creative license here. is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Edward nods and grabs both of our bags. giving me a quick kiss on the cheek before stepping off the escalator. stands Jacob. nothing that could have prepared me for what happens next. Just a few feet away from the bottom of the escalator. if either your sails or your rudder be broken. "Jacob. stands Jacob. For reason. Just a few feet away from the bottom of the escalator. And the stricken look on his face tells me he's seen everything." I warn as we reach the bottom. is a force confining. but I can't turn . "Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. a bunch of red roses in hand."-Kahlil Gibran Chapter Twenty Eight: November 24. nothing that could have prepared me for what happens next. Edward's hand squeezes my shoulder. 2010 From Chapter Twenty-Seven: But there's nothing. But there's nothing. and passion. unattended. I have no idea whether or not there's a Port Angeles airport. A/N: Eeep! Please review and let me know your thoughts? Have I told you lately how wonderful you are? So pleased that you're enjoying this story and letting me know. a gesture of support."Watch out." I whisper. as all the blood drains out of my head in a dizzying rush. ruling alone. or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. you can but toss and drift.

Isabella. "You don't understand!" I say.to look at him. They're smeared with grease and engine oil. and Edward's presence beside me only intensifies it. and totally my fault. his fist tightening around the rose stems. wearing his coveralls from the garage. running his free hand over his neatly shorn hair. . . His hand drops down. That's not²" "How could you do this to me?" "I didn't want²" "Save it. I'm not blind. I see regret and anger there. There's no way I can handle this. I momentarily fear he'll cut himself on the thorns. My eyes focus on Jacob's. . Jacob cuts me off. "This is why you wanted to come home so soon. Edward draws closer. How could I have been so stupid? In my attempt to spare him. evidence he probably came straight here to greet me. . but the predominant emotion is pain: raw. I see what's going on. "No. Please I²" Before I can continue." He nearly spits out the last words. I need to think. hoarse with emotion. I've done the worst thing imaginable. I want to tell him I didn't mean it . throwing the roses down with a sigh of disgust and turning on his heel. I'm subconsciously aware of Edward trailing behind. My whole body vibrates with tension." He grimaces. . "Isabella?" Jacob's familiar voice tests my name. that I don't know what to do." I whisper to Edward. I take a step away from him. his hand moving to my back in a possessive gesture. shaking my head slightly. and I catch a glimpse of the worry and hurt marring his brow. Not anymore. Jacob follows the motion with his eyes. "Don't. huh?" he mutters. I . . crossing the distance between us before he can get too far. "You want to rub this in my face? After every . clenching at his side. Some petals detach and scatter across the linoleum floor. real. "Jacob. but I . abandoned. He's the same as I remember.

Jacob ignores my approach. his gaze lethally trained on Edward. neither one giving any sign of backing down. you don't understand. . who meets the coming onslaught with stoicism. . It's a small airport. Jacob is a good deal more muscular. but I'm suddenly fearful for Edward . . Disbelief. advancing on Edward. huh? How did you weasel your way back into her life?" . Jacob's eyes snap away from my face to his. He's worried about Jacob's escalating temper. .need to talk to Jacob. and you. After the way you abandoned her. Me. "Don't ." "Stay out of this. "How DARE you. . anyway?" "I'm Edward Cullen. and passersby gawk at us openly." I approach the two of them and Edward gives me warning look. thumbing his chest for emphasis. the thought of anything happening to him drives me into a near panic. "You never intended to what Isabella? Come home with some guy and rub it in my face? I see what's been going in Chicago. "Please let me explain." We need to get out of here before someone calls security. why you . glancing between them." Jacob says. but I need to do something to diffuse the situation. My stomach sinks as I watch the two of them face off. How many times have I cried on Jacob's shoulder. While Edward easily surpasses him in height." Suddenly he seems to remember we're not alone. . mere inches from each other." Jacob says. . ." His voice gets louder. years of heavy lifting adding to his body's natural propensity for bulk. turning around before I can continue." His features change in dawning realization . "You broke her. and soon "You have some nerve." Edward's voice rings out from beside me. casting his hard stare to my right. And I was there to pick up the pieces. I never intended . . "Just listen. This wasn't supposed to happen like this. Isabella. . coming back into her life. . Shock. Or before someone gets hurt. Both of their eyes glint dangerously. what did you do. . "Cullen . . We were wrong. . Rage. tell me what to do. "Jacob. you need to listen. "She might not have even. I was . that very name on my tongue? "How dare you?" he growls. . ." I say." "What?" Jacob barks. "Who is this guy.

his green eyes livid. he's too keyed up to have a conversation about this here." "And what do you think that would do to Bella?" Edward shoots back." I'm proud of Edward for not getting rattled. feeling the frantic thrum of his heart." I shout. Jacob. but I know how much it hurts him to think about my suffering." Edward snaps. "Jacob²" "Or did you forget about all that when you saw his pretty face?" The words are a knife to my gut-to think I'd throw him away for such superficial reasons." Edward replies evenly." "As far as I'm concerned she's just narrowly escaped it. He'll never believe me about Billy. . "YOU don't know the whole story. shame cracking his calm façade. But you don't know the whole story. stepping between them and pushing back lightly on Jacob's chest. "Why you²" "Stop it. "Save her from making the biggest mistake of her life. Just stop! Both of you."You're right. "Don't be like this." Jacob seethes. "Did you tell him. "I have half a mind to tear you limb for limb for what you did to her. ." The expression on Jacob's face is purely feral." Breathing heavily. He doesn't know. This isn't you. he finally relents against my hand. "Don't talk to her like that. and then away. "Bella suffered a great deal. not with Edward present. But I'm struck by something else . . his expression serious but calm. but I understand Jacob's confusion and anger. Isabella? Did you tell him what you went through. not unless I can get him somewhere to calm him down. Jacob mentioned the letters. all the pain? How you couldn't eat? Sleep? About the surgeries and the letters you wrote that they never answered?" Edward's eyes latch onto mine. Clearly. and some of that was my fault. stepping backward a few paces before turning to me. We've been through this before.

There's no reason the rest of the day can't go on as planned." Edward says." I say. obviously worried about how I'm handling this. trying to explain away the kisses on the escalator. swallowing deeply. want to hurt you." "Dad? Why?" Jacob demands. . "It wasn't supposed to happen like this. . I'm not handling this. "Jacob!" I cry out." "I'll explain everything. his eyes darting between the two of us. gritting through his teeth. not when he hasn't let me explain. and I need to start." He turns slowly to me. strengthening my resolve. . Edward's possessive behavior. dark eyes flashing. "I wanted to speak to you first. the hopefulness in his voice makes me cringe. Please. and so do I. you'll let me have the chance to explain. "We very much are. When his eyes meet mine again.Jacob takes another step toward him. He needs to talk to Billy.?" I can see the wheels turning in his mind. "Don't tell me how to talk to my fiancé. When he speaks again. "You did." ." The finality in his statement fills me with panic. The ring that he gave me is tucked away in my luggage. as if trying to escape that ultimate proof. I didn't bring Edward here to hurt you or rub anything in your face. . anything at all. "So you're not . tell me what's going on. I'm not. "I don't know what more there is to say. all the fire has gone out of them. He inhales sharply and staggers backwards." "Bella." Edward's jaw clenches and I can tell he's doing everything in his power to hold back the obvious retort. I can't let him go like this. If I mean anything to you. I didn't . His gaze shifts to me. "Is there somewhere we can go to talk?" Jacob's seems confused. Then his eyes trail to my bare hand. Jacob's expression hardens again. "Don't go.

We need a plan. causing it to stand up on end. . "We were just leaving. specifically eyeing the two men. The two of them couldn't be more different. . Like oil and water. "Is everything all right here." Without another objection. he turns and goes. "I have to do this ." Edward reassures him. I'd known it wouldn't be long before someone reported us. and anyway." "What's he going to do?" "Please. "Jacob. . almost rigid posture so different from Edward's relaxed gait . "I don't like this." Before I can respond."I'm sorry . Thank you. wearing a mistrustful expression. his straight. this was part of the plan. "Bella. I was a fool to think they could mix. . "Yes. Every nerve in my body cries out to comfort him. . folks?" he asks." "You lied to me Isabella. This is probably the most excitement he's had to deal with in the Port Angeles airport for some time. to make him understand. I need to talk to Edward for a second. a middle-aged. . portly security guard approaches us." . you driving with him while he's upset." Edward hisses as soon as we're alone." With that. He sucks his teeth and stands with his hands on his hips." "Well see that you do. . what are you thinking? Where are you going?" He pulls desperately at his hair. Is your truck here?" He nods slowly. Jesus. remember? I'll never get through to him if you're around. casting a small frown over his shoulder. Jacob strides away. just do this. ." "But things are different now . "Go pull up and wait for me. and fast.

He does. I need you to understand. . "I love you." . Please." he murmurs into my hair. "I love you. "Get the car and take our stuff to The Lodge. Just listen." he says harshly. I don't trust him." "Don't be mad at me. drawing it to his mouth and kissing it softly." he replies with defeat. . running my hands under his leather jacket and across his back. People do stupid things when they're angry. Don't do this to me." "How can you be sure? You've never been in this situation with him before. I'm pretty sure doesn't have any idea about the letters." "I don't care. "I don't want you in any danger. It would kill him. I don't want to take that risk." And then his arms wrap around me. and then I'll call you. Bella. We'll go to a coffee shop or something. Please?" "A coffee shop?" "Yeah." "He's upset. He's not going to hurt me. Jacob has been my best friend for nine years." he admits grudgingly. it's going to devastate him. Please. hugging me to him with an intensity that literally takes my breath away. "It seems I don't have a choice. It won't be more than a couple of hours. I love you. but his expression is guarded. ."Yeah." "Don't do this. and he captures my hand in his." I tug uselessly at the front of his shirt willing him to meet my eyes. Someplace public. "A little. Will that make you feel better?" "Yes. Edward. I reach up an attempt to smooth the wrinkles from his forehead. I inhale deeply. This news about Billy . feeling his strength. You can't be around for that. His face is still worried. I'll need it to get through this." I whisper again before pulling away. the worst is over. "Be careful. The way he got in my face . .

" "I know. I'm not having this conversation in front of all of Forks. and now I'm going to the most private beach on the peninsula. the quiet affords me a chance to get my thoughts in order. trying to think of the best way to begin. trying to calm myself as I approach the passenger's side. I don't know where we're going." he says warningly. "Don't start talking now. the cool. At first. I sigh and look out of the window. I inhale deeply. . His eyes glance away from me almost immediately as he shifts into first and begins to drive. but I don't have a choice." is his short reply." I squeeze his hand one last time. Isabella. If that's what you want you can get out of the truck now. either. watching as we leave Port Angeles behind. but I can't see what I can do about it right now. it becomes unbearable. I suppose I expected it." "A coffee shop? No. I'm greeted with nothing but Jacob's silent stare. "I just wanted to know where we're going. "I thought maybe we could go to Judy's . I've dug myself into this hole."I will. "Jacob²" "Don't. But after a few minutes. Crap." "La Push. and I'm the only one that can get out of it. which makes me nervous. damp peninsula air greeting me like an old friend. I'm so sorry. Once I've climbed inside the cab. turning before he can see the tears welling in my eyes. I told Edward someplace public. I won't be long. Edward will be so angry. . . not while I'm driving." I hear what he's not saying²he doesn't want to get angry behind the wheel. I hate hurting him. Jacob's black pickup idles by the curb as I exit the terminal." "I hate this." While his ultimatum irritates me. I promise.

The beach is deserted now. He freezes. at least. kicking a rock with his steel-toed boot. I know exactly where he's headed²Whale Cove. With a shock. but he stares straight ahead. Once in a while I cast a sidelong glance at Jacob. He flinches away. wary of the notoriously slippery rocks. "Have you slept with him?" he asks. wrapping my coat more tightly around me as protection from the wind. the cold November day causing my breath to fog the window as I wearily rest my head against it. But not enough to want to stay here. he jumps out of the truck and starts walking. And Edward. back still turned as I approach. "Fuck!" "I²" . rural landscape I've missed in the city. I can see the tiny muscles working overtime in his jaw²that's one trait he shares with Edward. after a little over an hour. the question taking me completely off guard. automatically reaching out my hand to steady myself on his arm. I hurry to follow. Still silent. I let myself become lost in the passing greenery. Jacob pulls off the side of the road to the place we've parked so many times before. I can only imagine the bent of his thoughts. my voice drowned out by the sounds of the surf. Finally. Jacob easily navigates the terrain. his face cast to the side. He's probably going crazy wondering what's going on. "Jacob. quickly outpacing me as I pick my way carefully. only the waves and a few lonely seabirds wheeling in the air. The tall trees give way to plunging coastline and rocky shore. My eyes freeze in a widened stare and he grimaces. I love this place. we arrive on the opposite end of the coast." I say breathlessly. with not even the radio on to provide distraction. the thickly wooded. "Wait.The rest of the ride passes by in uncomfortable silence." I call. I realize he's crying.

and in all probability he views me as nothing but a lowly. All of these weeks I've been pulling away from him emotionally. The wind carries my voice out to sea and dries the tears that have begun falling softly on my face. He doesn't move but I can feel the coiled tension in his muscles. . He turns away and continues walking. I don't know how to answer him." Instinctually. still looking at the ground. "I love you. I gather my courage to speak the truth. And for just a second. "How?" he asks. I won't let Jacob make me dirty about our relationship. even if his view of it is inevitable given the circumstances. I love him. Whale Cove. I loved him. I know how he feels about sex outside of marriage. all of it. But Edward is not a mistake. if we'd remained friends this never would have happened. cheating whore. Isabella. By the time I wind my way around the familiar corner. shrugging my hand off before it can rest firmly. it still hasn't prepared me for the realization I've lost my friend forever. "Did you ever love me?" he asks. years of love and friendship driving me to comfort him." I whisper. And now it's ruined. He kicks another stone. more lightly this time. even from a foot away. Yes. his pace just as rapid as before we stopped. A simple question. is just a small inlet set back from the rest of the beach and sheltered from the wind by large boulders. "I'm in love with him."You couldn't wait for me? Is that it?" He won't look at me. careful not to sit too close. so loaded with meaning. I reach out to touch his arm." he says hoarsely. "Don't. Jacob's already perched on our rock. I never should have said yes to him. so dubbed by Jacob and me when we came here to watch the migrating Humpbacks when we were young. that's exactly what I am. looking out at the sea with vacant eyes. The reality hits me with crippling force. I settle down beside him. But not with the sort of love that makes a marriage.

." "From the first day?" He mutters something that sounds like a curse. ." "Well. "You should have told me." he repeats. I'm sorry. I can't accept that apology right now. Jacob so rarely swears. What a lie. everything became so confusing. . . So I do." My silence confirms it. . . He was in my class on that first day. the way we were forced to work together. . full of dread and resignation. the position makes him look so young." He utters the words with the attitude of a man going to the guillotine." He sighs deeply. wrapping his arms around his bent knees. oh . it wasn't like that at first. I thought he hated me." "So you lied. and this is the second one today. ." "Tell me from the beginning. I'm so sorry. Despite his sizable frame. "You should have told me. I try to search for the words to explain." We're both quiet for a while. The truth is I was trying to protect myself. I tell him about how horrible our initial meeting was. "I didn't want to do it over the phone. I didn't want you and Billy to get angry or worry about me. ." "But I . how confused I was over his hostility towards me. My Jacob. . "I didn't . "I understand. "So then what happened?" "But then . ."Edward goes to the University. how strained those first few weeks in class were." I was trying to protect you." "Why didn't you tell me?" "At first I didn't want to tell you . which rattles me.

. ." . Hot tears prick at the corner of my eyes. . . . but his words are insidious. The guy. He won't leave me. "Yes. pain constricting my throat. serious eyes. . Jacob snaps." I swallow deeply. but he doesn't say anything. I don't mention how Edward came to me that night. How could you think I'd have kept something like that from you?" "I don't know! After Edward told me he'd written to me and that he never got my letters. how Carlisle explained his and Billy's plan to separate us . abandoned you? Because of your burns?" "He didn't . "Bullshit. All of me. My father wouldn't do something like that. and I need you to answer me honestly. Did you know anything about . but when I get to the part about Billy keeping Alice's death from me despite Carlisle's change of heart. Carlisle or whatever. Edward and Alice's letters?" He shakes his head at me. . looking at me with dark. it wasn't him . . "Billy and Carlisle kept them from us. obviously absorbing the impact of my words. I didn't know who to trust. I'll tell you how I know." "How do you know he won't leave you again?" "He won't. but I wipe them away quickly. "No. How? How can you trust him after he . But first I need to ask you a question. he's lying." "I know. Edward loves me." "What?" he snaps. picking away at my tentatively established security." "What? But you never got letters. "So what about these supposed letters?" I tell him about our confrontation with the Cullens. Jacob's eyes widen in disbelief. Jacob. . . "They did write to me." I say it firmly." "But you trusted him. I didn't. but I know I have to tell him about the letters.When I come to the part about Alice's death.

"But Edward . brushing his pants off. You ever think of that?" He pauses before changing topics." he says angrily." My mind races frantically. It'll prove these Cullens are full of it. Edward isn't lying about writing to me." "Edward can wait. cheating on me with a new boyfriend ." "You lived with us for ten years." "I'm sorry I thought that . ." "I didn't know. "What do you mean?" "Let's go home and ask my dad. But for all I know the whole lot of them are liars. . But after I found out about Billy ." I sigh in frustration. God. I didn't know. "And you thought I had something to do with it? All this time? No wonder you could barely stand to talk to me. . Why would they make this up knowing they had so much to lose?" "I don't know. Maybe to save themselves. I need to talk to my father. And Carlisle and Esme. I don't even know who you ." With a groan." "It seems like this guy is trying to put most of the blame on my father to save his own skin."I don't think he is. Not anymore. Edward's not lying. . Jacob. Bella. . "I don't know. . He's a good person." He stands up quickly. He won't even speak with them now. I need proof and I'm sorry. my defensiveness rising. "They're not lying. they admitted lying to him. "You come home with these accusations. How could you believe all this stuff?" "Because it makes sense." "Well." "You don't believe me?" I ask. But we're going to get to the bottom of this. . . "That hurts. it's like talking to a brick wall. You know my dad. but your word doesn't cut it. he rubs his hands over his face.

"Let's go. I sensed it. it's a little late for that now." "I know. He'd created a version of me in his mind. Lying to you was. "So you admit he was a mistake?" "No. Jacob pulls away from the curb and starts heading home. What if he denies it? What if Jacob's right and the Cullens were lying about Billy to mediate the blame? It's almost humorous how badly wrong our plan has gone. I knew if you went away to Chicago you'd change. . shoving his hands into his pockets. unless he's at the Lodge." he grunts. When we pull up to the house. "I made mistakes. still berating myself for not checking my cell phone battery before we left the airport. Jacob. And now I have no way to reach him . In a flash. "Hmmph. But I'm still the same. picking up a rock and tossing it at the sea. I immediately pull my cell phone out of my bag and turn on the power.are anymore. I see that now. his eyes crinkling in a smile. My humanity must come as a startling disappointment. a perfect girl²innocent and weak and dependent on him. who? Someone I never knew at all. . After a few seconds. Shit! It's dead and Edward has my phone charger. and I'm sorry. I follow behind much less enthusiastically." He curses again." He scoffs." I whisper. I can call him there when we get home. He never really knew me at all. glaring when nothing happens. His head lifts at the sound of the engine. ." The disgust in his voice makes me cringe away from him. while I stare at the black screen. Jacob is out of the truck. I think darkly. Edward wanted to . willing it on. I press the button again. it still hasn't powered up. The man I thought of as a father-now. it's all too clear now." When we get back to the truck. . Edward is not a mistake. But the upcoming confrontation with Billy quickly overshadows my relief. Billy is seated on his rocker on the porch. reading the newspaper as always. I watch as grabs his cane and struggles to stand. "Well .

"I'm not sure Isabella is staying." I say finally. "Is something wrong?" "Yes." I say hoarsely. Billy quickly changes topics. . "Aren't you going to hug an old man?" he finally asks. "Where're your things Isabella? You are staying the weekend." I say. but at this moment I don't even want to know. He squeezes lightly with one arm before stepping back. I've missed him so much . finally noticing the tension. his eyes darting between the two of us. resting on his cane. but I realize with trepidation I don't have a bag. Even his hair is grayer. Billy. it's been over three hours and he's probably frantic by now." A quick glance between the two men tells me they've been keeping me in the dark about something. and I know he's going to be angry that I came here without telling him. Billy waves off Jacob's concern and straightens himself." Jacob says. I'm shocked by how much he seems to have aged in only a couple of months. Dad. his eyes drifting over to me. I'm okay. . finding my voice. Even though I'm supposed to be furious with him. He feels thinner. his back hunching over as he presses weight into his good leg. but he's betrayed me. I've come to find out why. don't trouble yourself. I can't help feeling worried about how frail he looks. "Haven't been sleeping much. He must notice my perusal. aren't you?" He's joking." Jacob says as Billy limps down the steps." . probably wondering why I'm standing there staring. wrapping my arms around his back. "Dad. "I need to ask you some questions. feeling such conflicting emotions.be here for this. because he smiles half-heartedly. On top of that. But does it even matter if it looks suspicious? Before I can reply Jacob does it for me. "Billy. "Yeah. "What?" he asks.

May the Lord forgive me. but having it confirmed ." Billy whispers."About?" Billy's face pales considerably . . I can only stare at him. I watch him warily as he describes the situation in general strokes. Isabella. "It's true?" Jacob's voice fills the silence. I want Edward. I think I see a flicker of something in his eyes. and it shows. I'd known it was. I stand awkwardly in the foyer like an uninvited guest. Billy looks between the two of us. Again. . his expression of guilt confirmation enough. It's so quiet. . I can almost hear my blood beating thickly through my veins. . . They spun some story that has her all backwards²some hogwash about you taking some letters that the Cullen kids sent. "Dad. Billy?" I ask him. His legs seem to tremble beneath him. When we enter the house. Isabella has been in touch with the Cullens. "Why?" "Come inside. makes his way back up the stairs. Son. Jacob's head snaps to his father's face. It just feels like additional torture for everyone. Is he protecting Billy? Does he want me to have the honor of describing my betrayal? He doesn't believe my story at all. Says he never got hers either. not giving anything about our relationship away. "My day of reckoning has come." Jacob keeps his tone light." He turns and. "What?" Billy's face has gone from pale to ashen. tears spilling over my cheeks. his expression confused. Jacob beats me to the punch. I smell the familiar smell of home²pine and Billy's pipe tobacco²only now it feels foreign. with Jacob's help. "Is it true. it's nothing like I thought it would be. She met up with one of them in Chicago. crying tears I don't want to shed. Edward.

his slow gait impeding his process. "I don't know. . please. Billy makes his way toward his bedroom. Not anymore. the irritation in his voice growing. I use the opportunity to grab the phone book from under the coffee table and look for the number to The Lodge. Somehow I find myself in Billy's bedroom at the rear of the house. On another day."Dad? What's going on?" Jacob asks. his expression pure dread. Edward's going to be so pissed at me. papers? Billy's not moving. but I suppose there's nothing I can do about it now. At his feet. "What the heck is he doing in there?" he huffs. "Billy?" I whisper. but I can tell from his profile he's having a hard time dealing with this. . Jacob's form is crouched over his father's crumpled body. back to Billy. Jacob turns to me." Without another word. Billy looks away." Without another word. Not today. "An ambulance! Now!" His head turns away. "Go sit. Nothing he could tell me can erase the lies now. But then I remember Edward. my eyes widening in horror at the scene. startling me just as my finger alights on the number. sinking onto it gratefully. I see a bundle of something . we'd find comfort in each other. probably going to check on Billy. My stomach churns. I'm just about to reach for the phone when Jacob sighs with exasperation. "Isabella!" Jacob bellows from the other room. "Call an ambulance!" "What?" The book drops from my hands. . feeling for a pulse at his neck. he stands and leaves the room. Jacob won't look at me. Eventually I find my way to the sofa.

but I can't stop shaking. my hands trembling so violently I can barely flip the thin pages." "Hang on a second. Lodge. "There's no one by that name. the voice returns. The only sounds in the house are Jacob's voice and the ticking of the clock over the mantle in the corner. Billy's life could be slipping away." "Sweetie. No one's checked in. . "Please hurry. maybe an hour ago. I've been here all day. "Hello. this is 911. Isabella Black?" "Nope. Every second that passes. ." I hang up the phone." "Maybe it's under mine. Stay with me. It's going to be all right."Dad. I need the phone. where are you? . "Edward Cullen. Dad." I whisper before the line goes dead. "Hello. then." A minute or so later. I don't know what room he's in." "Are you sure? He would have just checked in. Phone. Dad . my mind numb. what's your emergency?" I give them the address quickly and the operator asks me a couple of questions. Phone. I flinch." "Name?" She snaps her gum casually. Oh Edward." I say hollowly. I dial the number with shaky hands but the damn buttons won't press fast enough. a sharp. "Hello. "I need to speak with one of your guests. I'm nauseous as I retrieve the fallen phone book." I stumble out of the room." A nasally female voice answers the phone. unwelcome sound.

who art in heaven . . The quiet. still with us. I know. I'm a spirit. the only parent I've known for nearly ten years. Would you believe this is the last one? I promise not to leave you hanging for long. bodies obscuring our view of the man on the stretcher²the man who's been my father. His face is frozen in worry. everything feels surreal. there's no comfort I can offer. the reality of the past few hours is set aside²a temporary truce dictated by need and fear. I know. another cliffy. ghost-white and fearful. a physical anchor that reminds me of my corporeality. "Will he be all right. Isabella?" I don't know why he asks me this." ± Mahatma Gandhi Chapter 29: November 24-28. His father. only grounded to earth by the unyielding grip of Jacob's hand on mine. I listen closely under the dull roar of the engine. With eyes wide as a child's. Thanks to DeeDreamer for her awesome review of AQF on RAoR this past Sunday! http:/robert-pattinson(dot)ca/2011/04/10/in-the-smutlight-grandjete-and-a-quiet-fire/#more-15939 Spanglemaker wrote another fabulous review for AQF on the Twilight Awards: http:/reviews(dot)thetwilightawards(dot)com/2011/03/whatwriters-are-reading-rec-from_30(dot)html Thank you so much ladies! xox "The weak can never forgive. urgent murmurings of the EMTs offer no comfort. They attach an IV drip. detecting faint wisps of prayer. I don't want him to die. Yet with this question.A/N. . 2010 Seated in the back of the ambulance next to Jacob. . for now . Jacob's lips are moving. . . Our father. I didn't want him to die. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Please review and yell at me. Jacob turns to me.

Perhaps he tried to follow us . Acrid smoke stinging my eyes and burning my throat. his eyes misting over again. My day of reckoning has come. but I can't. I feel myself slipping. One of the EMT's moves to the side. Please let him be somewhere and be okay . . the digits flit through my mind." But I know how fragile and useless a thing like hope can be. . Where is he? A bar? No. the pale hand on the stretcher doesn't move. not when there's already so much around me. . I don't let my mind wander into that darkness. limp hand. Would he? Perhaps his anxiety about Jacob was too great. . Regret. gone before I can grasp them and string them together in any meaningful way. "I hope so." Jacob whispers. Her hair on fire. he wouldn't do that to me. Still. giving us a glimpse of Billy's still. . making a quick right turn. Renee. I rub his arm and lean my head against his shoulder while he mumbles a Hail Mary. Still. remembering another loss. 4-2-7-3-1 . . . Whatever has happened between us. What if he left? No. "Dad. That was the emotion I heard in his voice. . upturned as if in supplication. The ambulance lurches. He's already clenching so tight.I attempt to squeeze his hand in reassurance. 4-2-7-7-3 . I clutch my useless phone in my other hand and try to remember Edward's cell number. . Jacob inhales sharply. I need to be strong for him.

R. It's quieter than I recall. Time always runs out. . I imagine Edward bleeding out just beyond the swinging doors in the O. there's no time. a doctor or technician passes through the double doors and my head lifts mechanically. Once in a while. My hands twist over my cell phone. braving the increasing annoyance of the nasally desk clerk. ~QF~ Jacob and I sit side-by-side in the tiny E.R. . spidery cracks in the dull white ceiling. I can't bring myself to read a magazine or the theory book in my bag since my attention darts hummingbird-quick between thoughts of Billy and Edward. For one terrifying second. What if something happened? What if he . my eyes tracing the thin. . It's well after four hours now since I've seen him. The only other person in the room is an elderly woman. He's fine. hope and fear battling for supremacy in my chest. It even smells familiar. Why does time drag so stubbornly? I rest my head against the back of my chair. Edward still hasn't checked in. we are silent. knitting and nodding asleep on the far side of the room. trying to conjure those damn numbers. What is it Lear said? O. Somehow all the hospitals I've been in feel the same² a longing to be somewhere. He's fine. more sophisticated facility. I've already called the Lodge twice more. While the seriousness of situation dictates a larger. What began as a small worry has metastasized into a coiling and potent dread. A TV in the corner relates the day's news on low volume. adding to another half hour. Save that. I remember the hospital well from my monthly check-ups once I moved to Forks from Seattle. More minutes pass. waiting room.Luckily. He'll find me. that way madness lies. anywhere else. the ride to Forks Community Hospital is not a long one. or perhaps I'm remembering wrong.

Thankfully I'm able to reel in the childish impulse. but fear his reaction." he grimaces. would things have gone differently? His frailness indicates he's been feeling ill for a while . No one seems to be watching anyway. I want to ask Jacob about it. "You were right about him keeping your letters. . standing and kicking the leg of his chair in frustration." "It's not your fault. Jake. He lets me. This hospital is so small and they can't tell us anything? This is ridiculous. ." Jacob says quietly. "I don't know. . starts grating on my nerves. . ." I reach out and pat his knee. ." "I should never have confronted . squinting his eyes and looking away. I decide to chance it. sitting down with such force the back of his chair hits the wall. I long for the easy way we used to be. Jacob. That's what we came to find out. . resting my hand there for a second. I almost²almost²want to say I told you so. louder than the regular broadcast." "Why?" "I don't know. Now that the tension and anger radiating from his body is no longer directed at me." Is this my fault? If I hadn't come here to confront Billy like this. "What's been going on with Billy?" . and if . Jacob goes to consult the nurse at the desk and comes back wearing a dark expression. . . "Maybe he wouldn't have . it's almost easy to become complacent. ."Why won't they tell us anything?" Jacob asks. A string of useless advertisements. "She says the doctor will come when there's more information. "Yes. Billy survives. Instead I stay quiet. so I get up and turn the TV off." He almost seems ready to talk. There'll be time for questions later once .

There are pills he's supposed to take. . I'm weightless. "Bellababybaby. lifting me off of my feet. . burying my face in the crease of his neck.Jacob scratches his arm absentmindedly. . But can I really chastise him for keeping me in the dark? My lies and omissions don't make me a saint. I inhale sweet mint and sweat and Edward." I scoff. "You two both think I can't handle anything. his mouth turning down in a pensive frown. I ." "Why didn't you tell me?" I remember his increasingly panicked phone calls. I don't know why he wouldn't . shaking my head." "Has he been taking them?" "I thought he was. "I guess I just got used to protecting you." He pauses. All the while I'm babbling and rubbing my cheek against his. "Edward!" His eyes flash with recognition. . but now I see them in a new context. heaving a deep sigh from within his chest. he hasn't been doing well since around Halloween." At least he does me the favor of looking a little sheepish. "He's . A cool breeze wafts in along with bronze hair and a brown bomber jacket I'd recognize anywhere. he thought it would be better. . Jake. . but I only see them for a second before I'm engulfed in his embrace. I'd thought it was just his fear of losing me. . But you know Billy." "Oh. I leap out of my chair. . "I didn't want to scare you. He's supposed to exercise. touching him everywhere my hands can reach. I hear the whoosh of opening mechanical doors. Far from it." he croons. . You were away at school and all . eat right. "It's heart disease." Just then. and quit the pipe.

" "Shhhh. I thought . . Edward probably hypnotized the poor woman with one of his smiles. I came right here. "Sam was at Billy's?" I ask. still confused. He told me there was an ambulance . I figured that's where you must have gone. "It's okay." "I'm so sorry we went to the beach and my phone didn't work and Jake wanted to talk to Billy so we left and I tried to call you and you weren't at the Lodge and Billy's sick and I thought you were . and he leans into my palm. It's okay. ." His voice cracks. So I went to the diner in town and got Billy's address from the waitress there." One good thing that can be said of this small community-everyone knows everyone. baby. . and I know exactly what he thought. more slowly this time." All the tears I've been holding in threaten to release at the sound of his voice. "God. Sam Uley? Where did you see him?" "I waited for as long as I could. pulling away a fraction. Slow down." "Who? Who told you?" I ask." he says. I was so worried. "A guy named Sam." "I'm here." I don't know how long we cling to each other before I remember what we were talking about. ." I touch his cheek. Those terrible images were in my mind too. . you're here. "I'm so sorry. Edward shakes his head. the creases between his brows deepening. whispering. . but you didn't call and I got worried. "What happened?" I tell him again. . whispering."You're here. "Wait. "You're okay.

He wraps his arms around me more tightly." He kisses the side of my face again. What happened?" "Billy had a heart attack. I channel all of my love and regret into my kiss. and to the third presence in the room. "He didn't know any details." I can still see traces of despair in his eyes. Taking his face between my hands. it's okay. a doctor emerges from the swinging doors." "Is he going to be all right?" Edward asks. I guess it was a little bit before I got there. But before I can dwell on it for two long. but I thought the worst. I never should have left you at the airport. "I tried to call you but my stupid cell was dead and you weren't at the hotel. it makes sense he would've seen the ambulance leave the house and come to investigate when Edward showed up. his eyes darting to our hands and then away again. "Jacob." I whisper against his lips. I glance to the left." My use of the plural pronoun brings us back to the present. threading our fingers together. I'm so sorry. but I grab his hand. Jacob gives a curt nod." "Sweet girl. I'm not ready to let him go again."Apparently he'd just gotten home from work when he saw the ambulance pull away. "I'm so sorry for making you worry. closing his eyes and humming against my ear. Everything about his position screams discomfort. to where Jacob sits alone. running his fingers thorough my hair with one hand while holding me against him with the other. It's okay." Edward says in acknowledgment. concern overshadowing his dislike. Edward responds with a quiet moan. his head turned awkwardly away from our intimate embrace." Since Sam lives just down the road from Jacob. his expression . I'll have time to be mad later. Edward slowly relaxes his hold. "You're not mad at me?" "I'm just so fucking relieved you're not hurt. "They won't tell us. We've been waiting.

Billy's son. clearing his throat." the young doctor states. his heavy footfalls dissipating down the hall." "He's alive. he shouldn't require surgical intervention at this point. Merchant gestures towards the doors." "I'm Doctor Merchant.unreadable as he turns to us. "We've located the clot that caused the attack and we're administering thrombolytic drugs to break it up. Once they've gone. and then turns to address Jacob. Dr. At least there's reason to hope." "Is he going to be okay?" Worry resonates in Jacob's voice. "Do you want to come?" "You go. Right now we're trying to stabilize his heartbeat. not more than thirty by the looks of it. drawing closer to Edward." I say aloud. indicating we should follow. "Right now our main concern are the arrhythmias. Jacob stands. If it does. He seems to know what he's doing. "Are you the Black family?" he asks. but we're not out of the woods yet. . I sag against Edward's shoulder." "Can I see him?" Dr. but so far he's been responsive to treatment. which is a great relief. Jacob passes through the swinging doors. He's surprisingly young and handsome. My entire body feels weak from the stress and anxiety of the past few hours²and now the relief that Edward is here and Billy seems to be pulling through. What brought such a bright young doctor to Forks? Jacob starts to follow. worry and hope playing over his face. We have reason to be optimistic. Without another word. Merchant nods at me." I say. "I'm Jacob Black. "Your father has had an myocardial infarction²in layman's terms a heart attack. stopping after a pace and glancing at me.

." "I know. "It wasn't my plan. That's why we went straight to the house²Jacob wanted to talk to him." . I wouldn't have gone if there was any danger. "Where did you go? Obviously not to the coffee shop like you said you would." "Going off with him when he was angry like that ." I detect a hint of resentment in his tone.Edward wraps his arm around me and guides me over to the chairs. I wanted to. "Oh." he says. He's upset." I laugh softly. but he's trying to keep it at bay." "I wish you would have waited for me. but I can see the seriousness in his eyes. Jacob didn't want an audience and I didn't really feel like I could argue with him at that point. He wanted to go La Push. . It wasn't the best idea. There's that haunted look." "So." Edward sighs and I feel his body tense beneath me. Just for a second I allow myself to luxuriate in his warmth before the inevitable questioning begins. serious again." I agree. I'm sorry. But I told you Jacob would never hurt me. I didn't want to lie to you. "What are you going to do. there because of me. "I know. but Jacob wasn't exactly in a reasonable state. He sits and pulls me into his lap. did it?" "You can say that again. "So this really didn't go well. holding his coat open so I can snuggle against his chest." "That's it. I'm getting a tracking device." He says it as a joke. obviously. "How did he react?" "A lot like I expected. I know. so we did. When I told him about the letters he didn't believe Billy could've done it. It's like once the ball started rolling I just got caught up." "I know. microchip me?" "Maybe. Edward.

" he says with a sexy smile. When we got there I could tell he wasn't well ." I tell Edward how our conversation had gone²how Billy's initial excitement at seeing me had quickly evolved into cryptic statements and behavior. I blush." "I wouldn't do that to you. taking the wrist in question and bringing it to his lips. Both of us have had our moments of doubt." "That reminds me. he turns his head. I should have written down your phone number before I left." He hesitates. Said something about his 'day of reckoning'. I'm also going to have my number tattooed on your wrist. . Forgive me. "Maybe just for a second. so back to Billy.He's silent and I stroke his tightly clenched jaw. There's something else bothering him. culminating in his collapse on the floor. I don't know. "Okay. "Micro chipped and tattooed? Any other ways you plan on marking me Edward?" I tease." How could I ever live without him again? "I know." "Did he say why?" "We never got that far. feeling just a tad bit guilty about how happy I feel given the circumstances. "I could think of another one or two. But when you didn't call I couldn't help thinking of all the possible scenarios. "Did you think I was going to change my mind?" "Not really . It was weird. . trying to loosen the muscles there." I kiss him on the cheek once. Just as my lips brush against his skin a second time. letting him know there's nothing to forgive. I know he's forgiving me too. Technology is not to be trusted." "You don't trust me?" "Of course I do. Ever." he grumbles. . he basically admitted it. kissing me back so sweetly. . "I'm so stupid. Bella. . "Actually Jacob did. You got to the house and then what? You asked him about the letters?" I shake my head.

You were thinking about your mom?" "Yeah. We occasionally stop by the hospital to check in. . wishing my happiness didn't have to come at his expense. Over the next couple of days. I think bitterly. Stay until I get back?" "Of course. I don't know. I've treated him terribly and I . And Jacob." I don't remember anything immediately following the fire since I was unconscious. you know?" "Oh. . gazing at the floor." "Okay. You want anything?" he asks." "Oh thank God. . I'm worried about Billy. "But I had to be there for Jacob. No one should have to suffer like that. Jacob reemerges from the swinging doors looking weary. I start to scramble off of Edward's lap. "No." "What about you?" "I feel sort of numb. it just brought back such bad memories. but I'm mad at him too." "I'm going to grab some coffee. but I do remember those feelings of doom. . . Jacob and Edward establish an uneasy truce."You must have been scared. We're fine. "Billy?" "He's not awake. but Jacob holds up his hand." I watch him go with a lump in my throat. baby. I don't think he's ever going to be able to forgive me. The bleak permanence of loss. But they think the anticoagulants are working. averting his gaze again. He can't even bear to look at me." Before Edward can respond. but we never stay for long." "I was shaking .

"I can't believe you didn't know how to spell ursprache. Edward finally gets his tour of Forks. Even though he's awake and talking. my Pop-pop." . was a proud and longstanding member. though I enjoy pointing out landmarks like Forks High and the Elks Club. Jacob takes the news particularly badly. "Anyone who's anyone knows how to spell ursprache. more like a tourist viewing the Taj Mahal than a run-down convention hall. Like you would have done much better. the letters have begun to feel like a curse. Doctor Merchant informs us that the coronary artery disease is unusually advanced for someone so young and that surgical intervention might be the only way to assure a long-term solution. Because there are little pieces of you here. Even Jacob hadn't understood the severity of the situation. It just doesn't seem right. run-down room at the Lodge. I'm wondering if it will be possible at all. the atmosphere borders on painfully uncomfortable. Doctor Merchant is optimistic about Billy's recovery from this particular attack. though they're keeping him under observation for a few more days just to be sure." "Shut up. trying not to think about all of the people in our lives that are missing. On Thanksgiving Edward and I eat take-out Chinese chicken in our small. and I haven't bothered to mention the bundle of papers on the floor of Billy's room. but he predictably turns me down. they want to keep his heart rate down. More and more. opting instead to spend the holiday with Billy at the hospital. I still haven't seen Billy. When I ask why. It only takes a grand total of two hours. I'm pretty sure he's only left long enough to sleep. Out of courtesy I invite Jacob over. His primary care physician is away on vacation. It's not enough to keep him from teasing me relentlessly when I relate how I came in second in the regional spelling bee when I was sixteen. but there's little I can do to ease his pain. and I don't want to risk having the inevitable conversation until he's more stable. his answer makes me blush. Edward takes it in with wide-eyed wonder. But there's no denying Billy is very ill. of which my father's father. More and more." he jokes.When we do. but according to his charts Billy has known about his illness for some time.

"I was cheated. Despite the cool air. I look out over the water and think of my mother. stretching my arms up overhead into the sun. Edward drops me off so I can spend some time with Jacob alone. I dream strange dreams²not nightmares." He loves the forest. sunny days in Forks that come after days of drear and rain. It's one of those rare. a sore loser after all this time?" "It's not even English. Edward lifts his head and lets the rain course over his face. soaking us through to the skin." Jacob says as I sit down. aware that Jacob's watching. okay?" Edward says. I can't resist kissing the cool water off of his lips. and I know we both have things left to say. He never minds if I wake him up." I grin and bat his hand away. I lead Edward along the well-worn path to Two Moon. When we get back to the Lodge. On Saturday it pours. He's sitting outside on a bench waiting for me when we arrive. and hop out of the car. We stand shivering on the bank as the rain leaves millions of tiny ripples on the surface of the pond." I kiss him quickly. "Hey. it's pleasant. grateful Edward is always there. leaning over for a kiss. my little second place speller. I'm not naïve enough to believe that everything can be mended now. Green-grey November light filters through the trees along the trek I've made a hundred times with Jacob and Billy." "Come here. "Not until you spell ursprache." I grumble. but we still go on a walk through the woods. once again stubbly and rough. "Okay. "Hi. How is he today?" . "I'll be back in an hour. I awake trembling in the night. We haven't spoken in private since our talk at the beach. we make love frantically on the lumpy. Still. uncomfortable bed."Oh. but unsettling all the same. The day before we leave.

" "She was." "What did you guys. The hesitation in his voice . . well. "I haven't been completely fair to you. scuffing his feet against the gravel below the bench." We sit silently for a minute." I trail off even as Jacob nods." "That's good. "Billy wants to see you. Isabella. You said she was pretty torn up about it. The doctors say he'll be released tomorrow." "Dad asked for him as well. when I told you about Sam and Leah breaking up?" "Yeah." "Are you sure it's a good idea?" "Not really." "And you're headed out. Jacob seems different today²softer." "What do you mean?" I ask." He sighs. "Remember a while back. Well. it begins to dawn on me²the nervous way he's shifting on the bench. "Yes ."Better. I don't know. "All this stuff with Dad. The doctors think it's okay. you know?" "I want Edward to be there. . . But it might be more stressful for him if you don't. . too." he says with resignation." "Oh. but he needs to keep calm. I've thought about a lot of things. I haven't spoken to her in a couple weeks. I don't feel nervous sitting next to him for some reason. like get in a fight or something?" All of a sudden. trying to imagine what he might mean." "Is she okay?" "Yeah. .

I don't know. You know how close she and Emily were²she took it pretty hard." . it wasn't like that." he trails off. She needed someone to talk to. And I didn't want to drag Leah into something like that." he says. And I mean. I felt awful. "Do you think she has feelings for you?" I ask gently." His voice takes on a bit of an edge. "How does Leah feel?" "She was upset when I said we shouldn't hang out as much. I'm not angry²far from it²but I can't wrap my mind around this new development. "You're human. I didn't. you told her you couldn't be friends anymore?" He nods. . for us to be talking like this. So what. "No. I started feeling like maybe it was more. "Did you tell her?" "No. but I couldn't be sure if it was just her trying to get over Sam or not. but this is much more than I ever expected. . "I think so . "It shouldn't be like that. I got scared because of you and ." "You can love more than one person at the same time. is there something going on with you and Leah?" My disbelief rings out over the sparsely filled parking lot. I didn't want to lose you. like I was breaking her heart all over again. But when I said goodbye. ." I laugh." "What was it like then?" "We got pretty close after her break up. "But that's wrong. Dealing with Billy and the guilt over Leah²no wonder he'd sounded so frantic on the phone the last few weeks. and it all makes sense now. she knew how much I loved you. . But recently."Jake. Not like you're thinking." I can't believe I'm sitting here having this conversation with Jacob of all people. It's human. So we became good friends. Sometimes he seems so much more than four months younger than me. gazing into the distance and looking like he might want to run away. I told her you might get the wrong idea. shaking my head.

but sincere. not seeing her?" "Hard. my voice cracking." "She probably won't even want to talk to me. tell her how you feel." The words are simple." His eyes sweep over my face and for the first time since I saw him at the airport. I just couldn't admit it to myself. He smiles ruefully. As soon as I saw him in class that day. I save him the trouble and take it in mine. listening to the breeze rustling the nearby pines. We sit quietly." "You never know until you try. but it's true." he admits. "You're happy now. I see some of the old tenderness there. "You deserve it." It's a trite expression." "What are you going to do now?" "I don't know." "You should talk to Leah. I knew. "You've never looked at me like that before. "You've always loved him." I say." He still can't say Edward's name without cringing. the way you are with him. "And how has it been." I reply hoarsely. the way he says her name suggests the feelings he harbors run much deeper than simple infatuation. There are secret places in . his hand hovering over my knee.How ironic²the parallels between our lives these last couple months. "I miss her. haven't you?" "Yes. "I want something real." "That's good. Isabella. not sure of whether or not to land." "I am." Even as I say the word I remember the years of denial. "I see you. Even though he's not being very vocal about it. It's more than I could have hoped for." "I'm so sorry Jacob.

" He almost laughs." I say. can I come? I'd like to hear it for myself." "Of course." I say with a grin. not for someone like me. I know you'll do great things." "Whatever the reason for what Dad did. But you? You're so smart Isabella.my heart where Jacob has never been. it's a fact. I don't know if that's true. Whatever Billy did for my own good. he turns and approaches us. You've always been meant for something more than this town. it doesn't make it right. too. When he speaks again." I sigh." He smiles back." The two men consider one another warily before Jacob clears his throat." "No. "Nope. "You're back. if indeed that's why he did it." "Well. gangly and graceful at the same time. not sure if I enter into this territory with him. . wasn't. Seemingly satisfied. but in this moment I feel closer to him than I have in a long time. that remains to be seen. our rental car pulls into the parking lot and Jacob releases me. He really does. he loves you. his voice is quiet. I watch as he straightens and pats his pockets²the notebook check. I wonder if it's the last time I'll ever hold his hand. But . even if I didn't want to admit it. It's your story." A few minutes later. Jacob seems to understand my reticence and doesn't press further. "Always. Edward emerges from the car. "Hey. . "I said before you were a different person. . blushing at the compliment. I knew it. "When you go in there to talk to him." "Thanks." "It's my story too." "This town isn't so bad. "I guess it is.

obviously asleep. Under the sterility of the air. The movement becomes more pronounced." Jacob speaks the words quietly so Billy can't hear." he says in his gravelly. 2010 When we enter Billy's room. till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern. and his skin has a sallow. . going and taking the remote from his father's hand. Billy has always been so proud. the figure on the bed shifts and murmurs. For man has closed himself up. I'm struck by the starkness of it all²not so much as a vase of flowers decorates his bedside. "He's been asking for you." I can't hear the rest of the whispered conversation. startling me with a full view of his frailty. the smell of sickness lingers. Dad. Infinite." "I need . He looks thinner. Billy turns his head." "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is. "Dad?" he says again. "Let me help you. I give Jacob a nod before my eyes alight on Billy again."Let's go see my Dad. who at the moment is fumbling to raise the mechanical bed to a more comfortable seated position. . familiar voice. not wanting to see him in this vulnerable state." ² William Blake Chapter 30: November 28. as does the silence. At the sound of Jacob's voice. The lack strikes me immediately. unhealthy hue. "Isabella. his head turned towards the opposite wall." Jacob leads the way as Edward and I trail close behind. Billy lies on the reclined hospital bed. . my hand lightly clutching his middle and ring fingers. "Dad? We're here. Edward's fingers thread between mine and I feel momentarily embarrassed about my sweaty palm. Jacob notices his father's struggle. but I turn my head away as Jacob helps Billy with the blankets.

if I can forgive him. And so now begins the delicate balance of trying to maintain a calm atmosphere while also getting the answers we need. Billy looks more like himself. I'm okay. Just as Edward had taken the lead with his parents. I like hearing his heart beat under my ear with nothing between us. Jacob stands to the side. nothing will change between us. . No matter what Billy has to say." "Probably that he was protecting you." Edward's hand rests more firmly on my hip." he finally says. I turn around to face Billy and Jacob. I know it. I move close toward him. "Soon. He's thinking of Esme and Carlisle. His bare chest is scratchy where my cheek settles. I'll never forget. "Do you think you'll forgive him?" Edward asks quietly. Billy's heart attack has changed things to some extent." "I don't know." More sounds come from behind²Billy raises his voice in objection to something Jacob's doing. He cocks his head to the side. Yes. But at the same time. "Yeah. I have no idea what he'll say. The vibration is so comforting it takes me a while to answer. this moment is mine. watching the situation guardedly. "I just want this to be over." His eyes drift over my shoulder and he gives a faint nod in that direction. I mean. studying me. I want to go home. Now sitting with more composure on his bed. "I don't know. After a final squeeze. I don't want to hold a grudge for the rest of my life." I whisper. but the reality of the situation remains the same. "Yeah."Are you okay?" Edward touches my side with his free hand. still heavy with sleep. I think how our lives depend on a strong." Edward sighs and I can feel his breath flutter my hair. "I know what you mean. I hope I haven't said the wrong thing. but I like it. But my feelings remain conflicted²a moment from our conversation comes back to mind. but small fist sized organ. a sympathetic smile drawing up the left corner of his mouth.

"Come sit. becoming thoughtful." Billy says unexpectedly. while he hasn't spoken about it in detail. He looks at Edward skeptically." I can tell from the strain in Edward's voice he's having a hard time keeping his composure. Then his eyes squint. . ." Edward stands taller for a moment and Billy sits up in bed. that is his son. please. . "You resemble your father. "Indeed we have. and I don't need to be a mind reader to tell he disapproves. I look at him. Both of the men are sizing each other up." "How is Carlisle these days?" "We're not speaking at the moment. "That's a shame. "But I don't imagine he's doing too poorly. The guilt of not responding to them is starting to weigh on him. grateful when Edward follows. wanting to know what he's thinking. "You've discussed the situation with your parents." "So I've been told. It's Jacob. His warm hand comes to rest on my shoulder and squeezes lightly. both Esme and Carlisle have attempted to contact Edward on several occasions. "This is Edward Cullen." Edward says. "Your father's a good man. I take it?" Billy asks."Is this ." Billy nods at Edward and me. not that I blame him." Edward doesn't reply. These last couple weeks have been difficult. but I'm not sure what they're looking for. From what Jacob has told me. For some reason I'm filled with an all-encompassing need to show Billy that Edward's good for me²that he did wrong to keep us apart." Edward says from beside me." Billy gestures towards the vacant chair next to his bedside and I move towards it hesitantly. Billy already knows the basics of our breakup." Billy repeats. after all. "Edward. But I suppose that's to be expected." "Hello.

. A strange expression flits across his face before being replaced by a grim smile. Billy nods resolutely. Billy seems to make up his mind." "She wasn't in her right mind. "Tell me what you know of your parents meeting. Isabella." "Tell me now. Billy's face remains inscrutable. And when she was taking her medication. You know that. But there's a reason for that."Where to begin?" Billy says with a sigh. but I catch his quick glance at Edward's hand. "After Charlie died. "I know I haven't told you much about your history." I'd almost forgotten Jacob was in the room. but I give him a grateful smile. And Edward. When you were younger I didn't think it was appropriate. As a child I became so well versed in reading her that I could tell when she was unwell. I know there's more you haven't told me. "I think Isabella deserves to know. "No one did. It's a rhetorical question. but I there's so much I want to know²and I'm afraid this might be the only time I can get the answers I seek. I promised your mother that if anything ever happened to her." I say. . keeping my voice even." . at least to outsiders. Not until it was too late. I wouldn't tell you about her past. Billy. comforting gesture. I hear movement and feel him come to stand behind my chair. She managed to . Except me. placing both hands on my shoulders in a protective. Dad." I reply hoarsely." I remember how she could appear very stable for long lengths of time. Even after all these years I'll never forget how much I wanted her mothering during those good times." "I'm afraid I didn't know how bad Renee was doing." He seems to consider my request. sound much more composed on the phone when we spoke. He looks away just as rapidly. but she had a way of disguising it for others. she actually was normal. "I want to know about my parents.

Though she was beautiful." "I was a year older than your dad. She. and Charlie could've had his pick. When Renee came. whose eyes are latched onto his father's face with vivid attention. her and Charlie's early relationship actually sounds like Edward's and mine. "But . . but they married anyway. And how my eyes looked just like his." "I remember you telling me he was on the football team. Just little things once in a while." Like how he liked strawberry jam on toast." "Yes. She never spoke about him to me." Aside from the difference between me and my mom. . Only what you told me²that they fell in love and her parents disapproved. . I wonder if the man behind me is thinking the same thing. unpredictably. There had been a scandal with Renee the year before at her school. Isabella. "Some of this is going to be difficult for you to hear. and when I look into his eyes. but he was my best friend. ." he pauses. My stomach drops as implications I've never imagined tendril in my mind like dangerous weeds. Billy reaches for the glass of water at his bedside and takes a small sip before continuing. Very well off. You knew that. Billy sighs and looks up to Jacob. his hands clenching the covers. She sometimes acted . "Your mother transferred to Forks High school when we were all sophomores. "Tell me."Not much. she wasn't popular. I can see the truth in his words. From the tension in stance." His voice is quiet and serious. Renee." "She'd attempted suicide the previous year. I can tell this is the first time he'll be hearing any of this himself. right?" "Yes. "Her parents were important people in Seattle." . Your mother had some problems at school." Billy remarks with a fond chuckle. He was quite the athlete. he was instantly taken with her.

He takes another sip of water before going on. When I was young." My throat feels dry and I swallow deeply. "Don't go. I'd naively thought my mother's life before Charlie's death was happy and uncomplicated." I swallow deeply. . concerned. trying to deal with this new. When I turn back to Billy." Edward's hands leave my shoulders and I feel the loss instantly. "What?" he asks. Renee was a sweet girl with problems and a rich family. . Billy nods in affirmation. But there was more. I just want him to keep touching me." "Ashamed."How?" I whisper. "Of course I only later learned about this from your dad." His hands settle back on my shoulders immediately. He wasn't exactly from a wealthy family. dark and focused on Billy. Was she ill even then? And why didn't her parents do something? "The family had decided a move to a smaller." I don't even know why I say this. As far as I knew at the time. . troubling information. "But they started dating. I see he's been watching our exchange with a curious expression." "Oh my God. more intimate school would help her. "Never. he gazes down at me. But they were also ." I complete the sentence. and that was part of it. I glance up at his green eyes. "With pills. Edward's hands rub soothingly. but even they can't offer comfort now. I believe. How lost she must have felt to have attempted to take her own life at such a young age. When he notices my movement. Renee's parents disapproved of the relationship and Charlie couldn't understand why. imagining with horror the thought of my fourteen-year-old mother in such a state. Now I see the illusion of that belief.

rubbing his leg. "Yeah." I'd always known that Billy hadn't finished high school." "Mom?" Jacob asks. in the most unlikely of places. actually. Your dad was following with Renee in the car behind mine." Billy says. but it didn't take long before I was head over heels with her. She looked so beautiful. "By that time I was seventeen. within a year I was walking again. I wouldn't have gotten out of that car alive. If it wasn't for him. He's always blamed himself for his mother's death." Jacob smiles." "And with her confidence in me. "Son. already finished high school. At first I didn't know why she kept coming around. It was in the fall." "What happened?" "It was a head on collision . no matter how many times Billy insisted it wasn't his fault. a slight blush coloring his cheeks. This hospital. I got in that car accident. . Maryanne was a daughter of one of the nurse's at the hospital." Jacob's smile becomes embarrassed. as you know. when school started. the other guy driving was drunk. but I'd never realized it was because of the accident." "Did he live?" Billy shakes his head. she was so happy to have you. too. Your dad was my best man. It all makes sense now. The next year. "and Charlie's support. She was a couple of years older than I was."The summer before our junior year. "I couldn't walk for a long while. Your mom and dad were pretty serious about each other. "Yes. Maryanne and I got married soon after I turned eighteen. . And I knew God had sent her to me." ." Billy turns to me. And I was lucky enough to meet someone special. You were a blessing for us both. I didn't go back. your mother. of course. "I was hurt badly. yeah. but there's pain behind it.

"Well. Even though it was so long ago. and it's not exactly the story I'd imagined. Isabella. "Charlie wanted to marry your mom. I know as well as anyone that the past never dies. We had a falling out over it. struck dumb with shock. let's see. "Renee got pregnant around Christmas time. Billy's voice takes on a low tenor. This is the part of the story I'm not too proud of. noticing the same expression on his face." I sit. Said if she didn't. but her parents wanted her to get rid of the baby and end things with him. But eventually I recognized that it was not my sin to forgive. They married a year later. It's the first I've ever heard of my conception. Please let me finish. "You know my feelings about such things." I say. Her parents were furious." "Assholes. I notice with a smile Jacob's nod of agreement." "Okay." "She was pregnant with me in high school?" I ask." I relent. they'd cut her off without a red cent. She was still in high school. Billy allows it to pass without comment. It was wrong of them to be having relations outside of marriage. And Billy's sense of righteousness over the whole situation irritates me. disbelief coloring my voice. nervousness unsettling my stomach again." I hear Edward mutter under his breath. it doesn't feel like history." "Tell me what happened. "Not you. Isabella."And my mom and dad? Didn't they get married around then?" I knew my parents had married right out of high school. Jacob stiffens and I notice how conflicted he looks. Isabella. "You thought of me as a sin?" I say. you see²only seventeen. unable to keep my resentment out of my tone. . My brow furrows and I glance up at Edward.

Isabella. now I'm going to tell you something that might bother you." "Is it about my mom?" He smiles sadly. . son." Edward says. "A terrible sin was committed against your mother. Sympathy and love are the only things I see. God rest their souls." He raises his eyes to the heavens and mutters something indecipherable. "Her father . his eyes latching onto mine for a moment. .Billy clears his throat. obviously. "So what did she do?" "She went to live with Charlie and his dad. . Right until she met Charlie. "Whatever you seem to be thinking is probably better than what happened to your mother." I whisper. My own personal peanut gallery. she never spoke to them again. "She didn't do it. he ." "Good for her. And it seems that the abuse had continued for many years." "What happened?" I whisper." "My grandfather?" "Yes. ." "And her parents?" "As far as I know." Jacob nods. Only a handful of people knew. your Pop-pop. my stomach twisting. I wonder if he's talking to Charlie or to God. "Once your mom was free from her parents she confided in Maryanne. "Isabella. who by that time was carrying you. Thank the good Lord." "No. Billy's eyes say what his words can't. may the Lord forgive the man who harmed her." . and most of them are dead now.

aimless indignation rises with the bitter bile in my throat. ." Edward calls after me. How could anyone do such a thing? "Bella. Perhaps if she'd had a different life . I barely get inside before I'm heaving into the toilet. My mother. I flush the toilet and wipe my mouth. How could her own father .Righteous. so sick. I know enough about bipolar disorder to understand that while genetics factor in to some extent. If I had known . . But she hated Renee for it. ashamed." "And her mother?" "It seems her mother had been covering up the abuse for years. . I see her lying prostrate." I mumble. Your mom was scared to tell anyone and. Mom. holding my hair back as I vomit again. Edward wedges himself into the small space. environmental factors also contribute hugely. gathering me into his arms. He's kneeling down next to me. All I know is that your mother wanted you as far away from either of them as possible. A vision of my mother appears and I can't erase it. . "Bella. shrugging off Edward's hands and standing up unsteadily. Mom. I put my hand up. I'm going to be sick." In my sickness I hadn't even noticed Edward come into the bathroom. helpless at the hands of a faceless monster. of course. . not wanting anyone to follow as I quickly make my way into the adjoining bathroom. "Excuse me. "Are they alive?" "I don't know. So I guess in some ways she was just as bad as the father. I feel sick." What an insidious web. slumping back against the wall. . Just a child. I want to kill a man I've never met. Mom. Quickly. how could I ever have doubted my love for her? I want to cover my ears and run from the room. .

I feel a little sick myself." he mutters. "I feel stupid. Billy and Jacob stop talking." "What can I do?" he asks. "I need to go back." "Okay." He nods and pets my hair as the sickness abates. Shit. "I'm sorry if it upset you." The emotion in his voice matches something in his eyes²it makes me feel stronger." Jacob grumbles something under his breath. which I take gratefully. hand in hand. but you wanted²" "I wanted to know. Or close to someone you love. "Do you want to go?" "No. It's horrible to hear about something like that happening. When we reemerge from the bathroom. "He doesn't think I should have told you that. "I'm okay. you know?" "Yeah. It just took me by surprise." "Don't."I can't believe it. Jacob looks angry." "You do?" "Definitely. especially to someone close to you. rinsing my mouth." Edward helps me up and grabs a cup to fill from the tap." Billy says cautiously. "Are you okay?" he asks. I'm okay." . "Just stay here with me.

" "Okay. no matter what. EIR. his arm wrapping around my shoulder. didn't they?" So she didn't get help. "What was her last name. lost in destruction." Edward says. "Charlie was a good man. that following September. Could my mother's grandmother have painted it? "Bella. now they had secrets to keep. The doctors in Seattle wanted to put your mother into treatment. but I can't be sure. He stood by your mom. strong voice. They both managed to finish high school and then." A painter. more guarded then before." I whisper." I whisper.Seated back in the chair. I think maybe it was Renault." Billy's eyes are on me again. Billy?" "I don't remember." Golden filigree and swallows-I remember the delicate hand painting and the initials. child. "The only one in the family that stood by her was her grandmother. you came into this world. I hardly know where to begin again. "It turns out it was one of the reasons they moved to Forks. The teapot. Well. Billy shakes his head sadly. She was French. "Oh God. "I'll tell you later. I never met her but I heard she was a wonderful artist²a painter. She gave Renee and Charlie some money to start out. and I decide I need to get a hold of myself." "So they got married after I was born?" . "Renee's mother covered it up?" Edward asks. Elaine. Isabella. but her parents. I can tell he's having second thoughts about telling me. "What is it?" "I'm just remembering something. taking over for me with an indignant.

Hearing the story of his relationship with Maryanne and my parents doesn't make his motivation any clearer." Jacob reaches out and puts his hand on Billy's shoulder. . You already know that." Billy's parents both died peacefully of natural causes a couple of years back." However misguided Billy has been. It's almost impossible to comprehend getting married so young. it should have shown him how important the ties of friendship can be. Apparently her labor had onset hemorrhaging the doctors couldn't staunch. If anything. Something I always took seriously. I realize I've gotten so swept up in hearing my parent's history. like their son. of course I had my parents too. I've only heard the story once. I've nearly forgotten the letters. Said you were her miracle baby. "Those four months after you were born were some of the best of my life. "I don't want to talk about how she died." I nod. They were staunchly religious. The four of us sit quietly for a minute. Despite my sympathy for Billy's loss. Billy regards me carefully. I need to know what drove him to separate me from my friends. even once your family moved away. your mother loved you something fierce. "Your mom and Charlie were my life support. She never regretted you. ever. but kind-hearted." "Yes." I shake my head in disbelief. "When you were born. I was happy. it's clear from his narrative that he truly loved my parents." Billy says. but I remember them fondly. I have at least that to thank him for. Maryanne and I had just celebrated our one year anniversary."About a month afterward. Billy pats his son's hand and forces a smile. "Maryanne was pregnant and happy. Maryanne died in Billy's arms just minutes after Jacob was born. And I had the honor of becoming your godfather.

How could you not see that I needed Edward and Alice?" "You're right." I say." I feel Edward stiffen behind me." "I've done you a wrong." I say. that their friendship got you through Maryanne's loss. but they weren't my concern. It almost makes it worse. And I knew that my job was to protect you. that's true. Billy. But I suppose that's pretty obvious. my anger returning." "Wrongly? Billy. "They didn't. I must say it came as a shock to me for you to have found out. You should have known better. then nods. At the time Carlisle and I agreed a clean break would be best for all involved." "I see that now. The ease of his admission doesn't sit well with me for some reason. "I'm sorry. They had their own parents. You say you're a Christian. child." I choke out." Edward shifts and I can feel the warmth of his body. I went about it wrongly. I lean my head back against him." "It has nothing to do with the Lord. I thought with time things would get easier. Carlisle was worried about his son."You want to know about those letters. though of course I would have fought for you even if he had. "It was cruel." he says simply. you kept all of our letters. That much the good Lord has made clear to me." "But Edward? And Alice? You didn't even think of them. I missed them so much. You said you loved my parents. . The reality is simple. "So why?" "I wish I had a better answer for you. And it was clear to me he wasn't interested in being your caretaker. "Things didn't. gesturing to the machines that surround him. "It has to do with me! With real people whose lives you tampered with. I thought I was doing the right thing. Billy. How Christian is that?" Billy winces. "I don't care what your reasoning was. You lied to me." He laughs mirthlessly. I disapproved of your young relationship. Isabella.

Please. handing Billy his meds. I'd give them to you. her eyes darting to the heart monitor. Before I can answer. remembering the things Edward has told me about his struggle during Alice's treatment. but not in the way you mean. "I think it's about time we wrapped up this visit." "Alice. He's trying to establish a sense of authority to persuade her." "Ha! What? When were you going to do it? Because it seems like never. . He takes them and washes them down quickly as she checks his vitals. . The tension in the room is thick. Against the memory of my parents. right? Just like my mom." I start to choke up." I correct him. ." he murmurs. a nurse comes in with some medication in a small plastic cup." Billy says in a calm voice. he was . She regards the scene warily. but so is my anger. You do realize I never got to say goodbye to Alice. That Edward was suffering and thought I hated him ." "I²" "No. "Five minutes. crossing her thick arms over her full bosom. . "Just a few more minutes. "Did you read them?" "No. disapproval growing. Billy exhales." Jacob agrees."It was a sin. "We don't have much time. . The nurse stands impassively. ." His face grows paler and I see the shame in his eyes. "Five minutes." "Yes. . I kept them with the thought that maybe ." Once she leaves. Against love." "Okay. I have more to say." she says. . When Carlisle contacted me about the little girl's illness . . "I thought I was doing it for the best. I was concerned with your mental state. It was a sin against me.

but she made it clear that all large shocks should be avoided. but so is my anger. If you could just see her²really see her for who she is and not as the product of some fucked up history. And I know you might never forgive me. I was afraid of your recovery being set back. "Listening to you." I reach up and squeeze Edward's hand gently. Isabella. Yes. his resonant voice capturing all our attention. I didn't know if you'd be able to handle it. Isabella. And I'm not talking about your physical recovery. Mr. but I don't. Bella is stronger than you've ever given her credit for." Edward speaks from behind me. She's not like her mother. I can see you care about Bella. "And so you lied to me?" "I make no excuses for myself now."Alice." "You were both wrong. You and Carlisle. . wanting him to know he doesn't have to fight my battles for me. but I was worried for you. And there's another crime here that I think maybe you don't recognize. Not at all. I have my answers. You tampered with lives that weren't your own. I never told her about my deceit." His shame is apparent. Black." I don't know what to say." "You were afraid I'd turn out like my mom?" "I confess I was." "Yes. I'm grateful for that. I was horrified by the news. you'd know that too. "But you and my father did more than just hurt us²you hurt my dying sister. but appreciating it all the same. but nothing seems settled. It seemed like you might break at any moment. his hand lightly brushing the nape of my neck. You were doing so poorly. I'll never forget that. I wish I had a better answer. Nothing feels better. And the therapist expressed some concern. I'm sorry." He pauses for a second. "If I could say something.

" Billy says gruffly. "If I didn't think that God had a plan. I never would have gotten over my wife's death. "But I don't want that anymore. Billy. . He has his own way of setting things right. "You seem to be a good man." I clear my throat. For Isabella's sake. And I'm never losing him again." I say. and I get no pleasure from seeing other people in pain. Revenge doesn't change anything. Now he clears his throat. I believe in free will. "I'm sorry." During this time."I confess I came here wanting answers. to be honest. child. fate. twisted desires of a father towards a daughter." "I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you. I can't believe it was God's plan to take your wife." He sighs. readying myself to voice thoughts that I know will come as a shock to him. Billy's pulse rate climbs higher still and I glance up at Edward nervously. or just dumb luck. and it had consequences. You've told us your reasoning and it's not for me to forgive." He looks between Edward and me. looking displeased. And at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. "I don't want to live in the past." Billy nods in understanding. "I want you to have your letters. "But. but I don't feel the same way." "Edward . . chance. . "I realized something. It's between you and Bella now. Edward." "Clearly God has a plan for you. I really wanted revenge. "Okay." His eyes start to tear and I have to look away²it's too much. Edward came back into my life. you acted on it. but when it comes to the choices we make. I want a future. I wanted to see you suffer the way that we have. and my future is with Bella. You made a choice to do what you did. Jacob has remained silent. holding his hand at the sound of his softening voice. The Lord has a way. And there's no reason behind a disease like cancer or in the sick. but He gave me Jacob." . He took her. I was going to get them for you when . I'm glad of that. because whether it was God. They're at the house. Diseases and untimely deaths are tragedies." Edward continues. . shaking my head.

till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern. somehow. as does the silence. "Dad? We're here. He looks thinner. Billy lies on the reclined hospital bed. and his skin has a sallow. familiar voice." he says." "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is. startling me with a full view of his frailty. and I'm just not ready to forgive him. I feel another hand touch my back and I look over my shoulder. his head turned towards the opposite wall." he says in his gravelly. Someday. confused at first. I'm struck by the starkness of it all²not so much as a vase of flowers decorates his bedside. "Jacob. my hand lightly clutching his middle and ring fingers. "Dad?" he says again. that I will. Jacob stands next to us. Not yet. obviously asleep. For man has closed himself up.I blink back tears. and he's speaking softly into my hair. "Isabella." "Let's go get those letters. but it's useless. They've already begun falling. The movement becomes more pronounced. the smell of sickness lingers. Billy turns his head. unhealthy hue. My heart aches being pulled in so many directions. Edward's arms are around me then. but I also feel anger and hurt." Jacob leads the way as Edward and I trail close behind. At the sound of Jacob's voice. I love Billy. "I'm sorry. 2010 When we enter Billy's room. . Isabella. Infinite." ² William Blake Chapter 30: November 28. The lack strikes me immediately. But I know. his face sad and sweet. Under the sterility of the air. the figure on the bed shifts and murmurs.

Billy's heart attack has changed things to some extent. but the reality of the situation remains the same. but small fist sized organ. I'll never forget. a sympathetic smile drawing up the left corner of his mouth. But at the same time. The vibration is so comforting it takes me a while to answer. but I like it. I move close toward him. Edward's fingers thread between mine and I feel momentarily embarrassed about my sweaty palm. He cocks his head to the side. I have no idea what he'll say. He's thinking of Esme and Carlisle." "Probably that he was protecting you. if I can forgive him. going and taking the remote from his father's hand." Edward's hand rests more firmly on my hip." "I need . still heavy with sleep." I whisper. But my feelings remain conflicted²a moment from our conversation comes back to mind. "Yeah. "Let me help you. I think how our lives depend on a strong. I give Jacob a nod before my eyes alight on Billy again. not wanting to see him in this vulnerable state. ." I can't hear the rest of the whispered conversation. "Do you think you'll forgive him?" Edward asks quietly. Yes. I know it. I want to go home." Edward sighs and I can feel his breath flutter my hair. Jacob notices his father's struggle. I don't want to hold a grudge for the rest of my life." "I don't know. I hope I haven't said the wrong thing. I like hearing his heart beat under my ear with nothing between us. I'm okay. His bare chest is scratchy where my cheek settles. "Yeah. who at the moment is fumbling to raise the mechanical bed to a more comfortable seated position. I mean. "I know what you mean. ."He's been asking for you. "I don't know." Jacob speaks the words quietly so Billy can't hear. Billy has always been so proud. Dad. but I turn my head away as Jacob helps Billy with the blankets. No matter what Billy has to say." . studying me." he finally says. "I just want this to be over. nothing will change between us. "Are you okay?" Edward touches my side with his free hand.

These last couple weeks have been difficult." "Hello." Billy repeats." His eyes drift over my shoulder and he gives a faint nod in that direction." I can tell from the strain in Edward's voice he's having a hard time keeping his composure. both Esme and Carlisle have attempted to contact Edward on several occasions. "Soon." "How is Carlisle these days?" "We're not speaking at the moment. ." "So I've been told. "Your father's a good man. "You resemble your father. wanting to know what he's thinking. Billy looks more like himself. while he hasn't spoken about it in detail. He looks at Edward skeptically. this moment is mine. From what Jacob has told me. I look at him. Jacob stands to the side." Billy nods at Edward and me." Edward doesn't reply. Then his eyes squint. becoming thoughtful. It's Jacob. . "But I don't imagine he's doing too poorly." Edward says. . Billy already knows the basics of our breakup.More sounds come from behind²Billy raises his voice in objection to something Jacob's doing. And so now begins the delicate balance of trying to maintain a calm atmosphere while also getting the answers we need. But I suppose that's to be expected. watching the situation guardedly." Edward says from beside me. "Edward. Now sitting with more composure on his bed. that is his son. "Is this . "That's a shame." Billy says unexpectedly. not that I blame him. Just as Edward had taken the lead with his parents. and I don't need to be a mind reader to tell he disapproves. "This is Edward Cullen. The guilt of not responding to them is starting to weigh on him. after all. After a final squeeze. I turn around to face Billy and Jacob.

" I'd almost forgotten Jacob was in the room. grateful when Edward follows. "I think Isabella deserves to know. but I give him a grateful smile."You've discussed the situation with your parents. please. keeping my voice even. She managed to . but I there's so much I want to know²and I'm afraid this might be the only time I can get the answers I seek. Isabella. For some reason I'm filled with an all-encompassing need to show Billy that Edward's good for me²that he did wrong to keep us apart. "Where to begin?" Billy says with a sigh." He seems to consider my request. but I'm not sure what they're looking for." Edward stands taller for a moment and Billy sits up in bed. But there's a reason for that. "Indeed we have. When you were younger I didn't think it was appropriate. He looks away just as rapidly. It's a rhetorical question." I say. I know there's more you haven't told me. His warm hand comes to rest on my shoulder and squeezes lightly. Billy. "I know I haven't told you much about your history. but I catch his quick glance at Edward's hand. Billy's face remains inscrutable. Both of the men are sizing each other up. sound much more composed on the phone when we spoke. Not until it was too late." Billy gestures towards the vacant chair next to his bedside and I move towards it hesitantly." "She wasn't in her right mind. Billy nods resolutely. . . You know that. I wouldn't tell you about her past. A strange expression flits across his face before being replaced by a grim smile. "After Charlie died." . "Come sit. I promised your mother that if anything ever happened to her. "I want to know about my parents. Dad." "Tell me now." "I'm afraid I didn't know how bad Renee was doing. I take it?" Billy asks.

" "I remember you telling me he was on the football team. And how my eyes looked just like his. Your mother had some problems at school. You knew that. her and Charlie's early relationship actually sounds like Edward's and mine." "Yes." Like how he liked strawberry jam on toast. I hear movement and feel him come to stand behind my chair. . And Edward. at least to outsiders. unpredictably. She never spoke about him to me. she actually was normal. but he was my best friend. but they married anyway." "I was a year older than your dad." Billy remarks with a fond chuckle. . "Your mother transferred to Forks High school when we were all sophomores. Even after all these years I'll never forget how much I wanted her mothering during those good times. He was quite the athlete. Renee. placing both hands on my shoulders in a protective. I wonder if the man behind me is thinking the same thing. Except me. I can tell this is the first time he'll be hearing any of this himself. When Renee came. "But . he was instantly taken with her. Billy seems to make up his mind. Billy sighs and looks up to Jacob. As a child I became so well versed in reading her that I could tell when she was unwell." I reply hoarsely. whose eyes are latched onto his father's face with vivid attention. Just little things once in a while. Only what you told me²that they fell in love and her parents disapproved. And when she was taking her medication. . comforting gesture. She sometimes acted . "No one did. . ." Aside from the difference between me and my mom. "Tell me what you know of your parents meeting. right?" "Yes. and Charlie could've had his pick. Though she was beautiful.I remember how she could appear very stable for long lengths of time. she wasn't popular. From the tension in stance." "Not much. but she had a way of disguising it for others.

Was she ill even then? And why didn't her parents do something? "The family had decided a move to a smaller. "Tell me. Renee was a sweet girl with problems and a rich family. "Some of this is going to be difficult for you to hear. When I was young. But they were also . ." I complete the sentence. Billy nods in affirmation. Edward's hands rub soothingly. But there was more. "Her parents were important people in Seattle." His voice is quiet and serious. his hands clenching the covers. "With pills." My throat feels dry and I swallow deeply. My stomach drops as implications I've never imagined tendril in my mind like dangerous weeds.Billy reaches for the glass of water at his bedside and takes a small sip before continuing. more intimate school would help her. There had been a scandal with Renee the year before at her school. and that was part of it. As far as I knew at the time. Very well off." "Oh my God." I swallow deeply. He wasn't exactly from a wealthy family. . but even they can't offer comfort now. She." "How?" I whisper. Now I see the illusion of that belief." "She'd attempted suicide the previous year. and when I look into his eyes. How lost she must have felt to have attempted to take her own life at such a young age. trying to deal with this new. imagining with horror the thought of my fourteen-year-old mother in such a state. "Of course I only later learned about this from your dad. I can see the truth in his words. troubling information." "Ashamed." . Renee's parents disapproved of the relationship and Charlie couldn't understand why. "But they started dating. Isabella. I believe." he pauses. I'd naively thought my mother's life before Charlie's death was happy and uncomplicated.

the other guy driving was drunk. When I turn back to Billy. rubbing his leg. concerned. in the most unlikely of places. And I knew God had sent her to me. . This hospital. "The summer before our junior year." "Mom?" Jacob asks. He takes another sip of water before going on. of course. Your mom and dad were pretty serious about each other. but I'd never realized it was because of the accident. At first I didn't know why she kept coming around. "Don't go. "I couldn't walk for a long while. "By that time I was seventeen. I got in that car accident. I see he's been watching our exchange with a curious expression. actually. as you know. I didn't go back." . when school started. "Never. your mother. And I was lucky enough to meet someone special. I wouldn't have gotten out of that car alive." Billy says. "I was hurt badly. "What?" he asks. Maryanne was a daughter of one of the nurse's at the hospital. I just want him to keep touching me." I'd always known that Billy hadn't finished high school. The next year. "Yes. dark and focused on Billy." I don't even know why I say this. When he notices my movement. If it wasn't for him. . It all makes sense now. too. Your dad was following with Renee in the car behind mine. he gazes down at me. but it didn't take long before I was head over heels with her." "Did he live?" Billy shakes his head. already finished high school. She was a couple of years older than I was. I glance up at his green eyes." "What happened?" "It was a head on collision ." His hands settle back on my shoulders immediately.Edward's hands leave my shoulders and I feel the loss instantly.

We had a falling out over it. She looked so beautiful. yeah. struck dumb with shock. Your dad was my best man. He's always blamed himself for his mother's death. and it's not exactly the story I'd imagined." "And with her confidence in me." "Tell me what happened. disbelief coloring my voice. "Well. It's the first I've ever heard of my conception. "and Charlie's support. nervousness unsettling my stomach again. but there's pain behind it." "She was pregnant with me in high school?" I ask. "You thought of me as a sin?" I say. It was wrong of them to be having relations outside of marriage. Her parents were furious. a slight blush coloring his cheeks. Billy's voice takes on a low tenor." Billy turns to me. They married a year later. it doesn't feel like history. within a year I was walking again. But eventually I recognized that it was not my sin to forgive. It was in the fall." I sit. she was so happy to have you." I say." . You were a blessing for us both. "Not you." Jacob's smile becomes embarrassed. Jacob stiffens and I notice how conflicted he looks. And Billy's sense of righteousness over the whole situation irritates me. My brow furrows and I glance up at Edward. let's see. Please let me finish. Maryanne and I got married soon after I turned eighteen. Isabella. This is the part of the story I'm not too proud of. no matter how many times Billy insisted it wasn't his fault. Isabella." "And my mom and dad? Didn't they get married around then?" I knew my parents had married right out of high school. "You know my feelings about such things. "Renee got pregnant around Christmas time. "Yeah. Even though it was so long ago. "Son. Isabella. noticing the same expression on his face. She was still in high school.Jacob smiles. I know as well as anyone that the past never dies. you see²only seventeen.

" I hear Edward mutter under his breath. but her parents wanted her to get rid of the baby and end things with him. I notice with a smile Jacob's nod of agreement. "Isabella. his eyes latching onto mine for a moment. Only a handful of people knew. unable to keep my resentment out of my tone. your Pop-pop. and most of them are dead now." Jacob nods. I wonder if he's talking to Charlie or to God. "She didn't do it. "A terrible sin was committed against your mother."Okay." He raises his eyes to the heavens and mutters something indecipherable. Billy allows it to pass without comment. "Her father . . Sympathy and love are the only things I see. God rest their souls. My own personal peanut gallery." "And her parents?" "As far as I know. who by that time was carrying you. ." "Is it about my mom?" He smiles sadly. now I'm going to tell you something that might bother you. Thank the good Lord." "Good for her. ." Edward says." . Said if she didn't. son. obviously. "Charlie wanted to marry your mom. "So what did she do?" "She went to live with Charlie and his dad. he . Billy clears his throat. ." "Assholes." I relent. she never spoke to them again. they'd cut her off without a red cent. Isabella." "What happened?" I whisper. "Once your mom was free from her parents she confided in Maryanne.

And it seems that the abuse had continued for many years. "Whatever you seem to be thinking is probably better than what happened to your mother. Just a child. I see her lying prostrate. I feel sick. Billy's eyes say what his words can't. But she hated Renee for it. I put my hand up." What an insidious web. shrugging off Edward's hands and standing up unsteadily. "Excuse me." "And her mother?" "It seems her mother had been covering up the abuse for years." Righteous. I barely get inside before I'm heaving into the toilet." Edward calls after me. Right until she met Charlie. "Bella."No. All I know is that your mother wanted you as far away from either of them as possible. So I guess in some ways she was just as bad as the father. helpless at the hands of a faceless monster. I know enough about bipolar disorder to understand that while genetics factor in to some extent. how could I ever have doubted my love for her? I want to cover my ears and run from the room. so sick. aimless indignation rises with the bitter bile in my throat. . . I want to kill a man I've never met." I mumble. . A vision of my mother appears and I can't erase it." "My grandfather?" "Yes. . "Are they alive?" "I don't know. If I had known ." I whisper. I'm going to be sick. not wanting anyone to follow as I quickly make my way into the adjoining bathroom. of course. Perhaps if she'd had a different life . ashamed. How could her own father . environmental factors also contribute hugely. may the Lord forgive the man who harmed her. . . My mother. . Your mom was scared to tell anyone and. my stomach twisting.

holding my hair back as I vomit again." "What can I do?" he asks. "Do you want to go?" "No. hand in hand. It just took me by surprise.Mom." "You do?" "Definitely. Mom. . Or close to someone you love. When we reemerge from the bathroom. especially to someone close to you. rinsing my mouth." "Okay. you know?" "Yeah. He's kneeling down next to me. Jacob looks angry. How could anyone do such a thing? "Bella. I feel a little sick myself. slumping back against the wall. It's horrible to hear about something like that happening." Edward helps me up and grabs a cup to fill from the tap. which I take gratefully." He nods and pets my hair as the sickness abates. gathering me into his arms. Billy and Jacob stop talking. Quickly. I flush the toilet and wipe my mouth. Shit. "I can't believe it. "Just stay here with me. "I need to go back." he mutters. Edward wedges himself into the small space." "Don't." The emotion in his voice matches something in his eyes²it makes me feel stronger." In my sickness I hadn't even noticed Edward come into the bathroom. Mom. "I feel stupid.

Billy?" "I don't remember. "Renee's mother covered it up?" Edward asks. "I'll tell you later." Billy says cautiously. "What was her last name. She was French. but you wanted²" "I wanted to know." "Okay. child. now they had secrets to keep. She gave Renee and Charlie some money to start out. "It turns out it was one of the reasons they moved to Forks." Edward says." Jacob grumbles something under his breath. Could my mother's grandmother have painted it? "Bella." . I'm okay." A painter. "I'm okay. lost in destruction. The teapot." I whisper. I hardly know where to begin again. EIR. The doctors in Seattle wanted to put your mother into treatment. his arm wrapping around my shoulder. Elaine. I never met her but I heard she was a wonderful artist²a painter. "The only one in the family that stood by her was her grandmother. taking over for me with an indignant. "Oh God. strong voice." I whisper. "What is it?" "I'm just remembering something." Golden filigree and swallows-I remember the delicate hand painting and the initials." Seated back in the chair. "He doesn't think I should have told you that. but her parents. Well. Billy shakes his head sadly."Are you okay?" he asks. didn't they?" So she didn't get help. "I'm sorry if it upset you. I think maybe it was Renault. but I can't be sure.

She never regretted you.Billy's eyes are on me again. I can tell he's having second thoughts about telling me." I shake my head in disbelief. like their son. "Charlie was a good man. of course I had my parents too. I have at least that to thank him for. "I don't want to talk about how she died. that following September. Something I always took seriously. your mother loved you something fierce. Apparently her labor had onset hemorrhaging the doctors couldn't staunch. Maryanne died in Billy's arms just minutes after Jacob was born. You already know that." "Yes. and I decide I need to get a hold of myself. Isabella. I was happy." However misguided Billy has been. It's almost impossible to comprehend getting married so young. Said you were her miracle baby. Billy pats his son's hand and forces a smile. "Your mom and Charlie were my life support. "When you were born." I nod. . And I had the honor of becoming your godfather. "Those four months after you were born were some of the best of my life." Billy's parents both died peacefully of natural causes a couple of years back. He stood by your mom. you came into this world. They both managed to finish high school and then." "So they got married after I was born?" "About a month afterward. but I remember them fondly. I've only heard the story once. it's clear from his narrative that he truly loved my parents. "Maryanne was pregnant and happy. ever. Maryanne and I had just celebrated our one year anniversary." Jacob reaches out and puts his hand on Billy's shoulder. more guarded then before. even once your family moved away." Billy says. but kind-hearted. no matter what. They were staunchly religious.

" I say. child. Billy. gesturing to the machines that surround him. I thought I was doing the right thing." I say. that their friendship got you through Maryanne's loss. "You want to know about those letters. "It has to do with me! With real people whose lives you tampered with. But I suppose that's pretty obvious. that's true. I must say it came as a shock to me for you to have found out." I feel Edward stiffen behind me." "I've done you a wrong. It almost makes it worse. You should have known better. "So why?" "I wish I had a better answer for you. I realize I've gotten so swept up in hearing my parent's history.The four of us sit quietly for a minute. Isabella. I've nearly forgotten the letters. Hearing the story of his relationship with Maryanne and my parents doesn't make his motivation any clearer. Carlisle was worried about his son. I missed them so much. And it was clear to me he wasn't interested in being your caretaker. I thought with time things would get easier. it should have shown him how important the ties of friendship can be." "I see that now. If anything. How could you not see that I needed Edward and Alice?" "You're right. "They didn't. I disapproved of your young relationship. At the time Carlisle and I agreed a clean break would be best for all involved." I choke out. The ease of his admission doesn't sit well with me for some reason. though of course I would have fought for you even if he had." . Billy regards me carefully. Billy. my anger returning. "I don't care what your reasoning was. "It was cruel. The reality is simple. I need to know what drove him to separate me from my friends. "Things didn't." he says simply." He laughs mirthlessly. That much the good Lord has made clear to me. You said you loved my parents." "It has nothing to do with the Lord. Despite my sympathy for Billy's loss.

. The tension in the room is thick. That Edward was suffering and thought I hated him ." "I²" "No. The nurse stands impassively. . I kept them with the thought that maybe . . Against the memory of my parents. He's trying to establish a sense of authority to persuade her. You do realize I never got to say goodbye to Alice. I lean my head back against him. Against love. How Christian is that?" Billy winces. "I think it's about time we wrapped up this visit. disapproval growing. . He takes them and washes them down quickly as she checks his vitals." His face grows paler and I see the shame in his eyes. "Just a few more minutes. I have more to say." "Wrongly? Billy." "Ha! What? When were you going to do it? Because it seems like never. You lied to me. "I'm sorry. remembering the things Edward has told me about his struggle during Alice's treatment. "Five minutes. but not in the way you mean. . And I knew that my job was to protect you. She regards the scene warily. I'd give them to you. handing Billy his meds. I went about it wrongly. They had their own parents." "Yes." Edward shifts and I can feel the warmth of his body. "Did you read them?" "No. It was a sin against me. . a nurse comes in with some medication in a small plastic cup." she says. "It was a sin."But Edward? And Alice? You didn't even think of them. crossing her thick arms over her full bosom. her eyes darting to the heart monitor." I start to choke up. Before I can answer. but they weren't my concern." . You say you're a Christian. right? Just like my mom. Please. then nods." Billy says in a calm voice. you kept all of our letters. but so is my anger. he was .

Nothing feels better. And the therapist expressed some concern. but she made it clear that all large shocks should be avoided." "Yes. I was concerned with your mental state. It seemed like you might break at any moment. Isabella. I'm grateful for that. I wish I had a better answer. "Listening to you. "And so you lied to me?" "I make no excuses for myself now. I'll never forget that." "Alice. I didn't know if you'd be able to handle it. "Five minutes. And I'm not talking about your physical recovery. I can see you care about Bella. I was horrified by the news. but I was worried for you. . And I know you might never forgive me."Okay. but nothing seems settled." His shame is apparent. but so is my anger. ." Once she leaves. "But you and my father did more than just hurt us²you hurt my dying sister. "I thought I was doing it for the best." I correct him." he murmurs." "You were both wrong. but I don't. And there's another crime here that I think . Yes. "If I could say something. I'm sorry. When Carlisle contacted me about the little girl's illness . his resonant voice capturing all our attention." "You were afraid I'd turn out like my mom?" "I confess I was. I never told her about my deceit." Jacob agrees. Billy exhales. his hand lightly brushing the nape of my neck. You and Carlisle. "We don't have much time. You tampered with lives that weren't your own. Black. "Alice. Mr. Isabella." He pauses for a second. You were doing so poorly." Edward speaks from behind me." I don't know what to say. I was afraid of your recovery being set back. I have my answers.

"You seem to be a good man. I really wanted revenge. "If I didn't think that God had a plan. She's not like her mother. I wanted to see you suffer the way that we have. but appreciating it all the same. Not at all." Edward continues." I clear my throat. "I confess I came here wanting answers. Billy's pulse rate climbs higher still and I glance up at Edward nervously. He took her. you'd know that too. . but He gave me Jacob. Bella is stronger than you've ever given her credit for. "But. I never would have gotten over my wife's death. and I get no pleasure from seeing other people in pain." "Clearly God has a plan for you. It's between you and Bella now. ." Billy nods in understanding. "I realized something. and my future is with Bella. "I don't want to live in the past." His eyes start to tear and I have to look away²it's too much. wanting him to know he doesn't have to fight my battles for me. You've told us your reasoning and it's not for me to forgive. For Isabella's sake. "I want you to have your letters. "Okay." During this time. The Lord has a way. . I was going to get them for you when ." "Edward . readying myself to voice thoughts that I know will come as a shock to him. Edward." Billy says gruffly." He sighs. Jacob has remained silent. . If you could just see her²really see her for who she is and not as the product of some fucked up history. Revenge doesn't change anything. child. Now he clears his throat. holding his hand at the sound of his softening voice. looking displeased. He has his own way of setting things right. I want a future." He looks between Edward and me." I reach up and squeeze Edward's hand gently. to be honest. I'm glad of that. "But I don't want that anymore." "I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you.maybe you don't recognize." I say. They're at the house. shaking my head. .

man will have discovered fire. but it's useless. or just dumb luck."I'm sorry. And at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. startled by the handwriting I see. Jacob stands next to us. Edward's arms are around me then." -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Chapter 31: November 30. Not yet. 2010 The bundle of letters lies on the floor next to Billy's bed. the waves. and it had consequences. but I also feel anger and hurt. his hand lightly resting on the small of my back. And I'm never losing him again." he says. because whether it was God. "Isabella?" Jacob says as he emerges from the nearby closet. Billy. you acted on it. And there's no reason behind a disease like cancer or in the sick. that I will. somehow. "Jacob. A quick glance assures me they're unopened. partially obscured by the covers that had fallen off during his collapse. "I'm sorry. confused at first. but I don't feel the same way. fate. his face sad and sweet. after mastering the winds. twisted desires of a father towards a daughter. Edward stands silently beside me. Someday. and then. Mine. I believe in free will. and I'm just not ready to forgive him. for a second time in the history of the world. we shall harness for God the energies of love. They've already begun falling." . I can't believe it was God's plan to take your wife. and he's speaking softly into my hair. My heart aches being pulled in so many directions. the tides and gravity. but when it comes to the choices we make. But I know. Isabella. You made a choice to do what you did. chance. I love Billy. I feel another hand touch my back and I look over my shoulder. I reach down and pick them up. Diseases and untimely deaths are tragedies." "Let's go get those letters. "Here." I blink back tears. Edward came back into my life." "Someday.

Edward extends his hand and Jacob takes it. still staring at the letters in his hands. I touch his shoulder and he looks over at me. All together there must be over seventy of them. We pass by the photos framed on the wall²there is one of Charlie and Billy I've always loved. I pause for a second. Billy always treated me as his. well. I pass by the familiar rooms and silently say goodbye. "Edward. ." I nod. "Okay. . The shake is brief. startled out of his contemplation. weighted with lies and the wrongs of the past. turning to him. especially toward the end." I reply softly. "Of course. feeling a hot constriction at the back of my throat. I feel a little twinge of pain and love when I notice the painstakingly legible addresses.He extends another bundle²Edward and Alice's letters. but I know I said some bitter things. "I guess we should go. no. The paper feels so fragile in my hands. "I want to say goodbye to Jacob. "So many. So many memories in this house. . and Alice's. . Once we're in the foyer. While a part of me longs to tear open the envelopes and finally read the words that have been intentionally kept from me. . Edward clears his throat and takes my letters from me." I say. I hardly remember what I wrote anymore. another part is afraid. Edward nods automatically. better to wait. Can I meet you in the car?" His eyes latch onto the bundle in my hands . breaking the silence in the room. I'll never forget that." Jacob says. trying to memorize how they looked when they were young. Edward's letters must contain much of the thought of reading them now . but firm." Jacob starts to move and we follow him back out through the hallway and down to the front door. his letters. but also heavy.

" I pass the letters to Edward and he gives my hand a subtle squeeze before going. "I'm afraid I misjudged you. "It was understandable." "Yeah." "I will." "No. . We've all misjudged each other in some way or another. I should have been honest from the beginning. I guess I misjudged you too. "Jacob. You're not. It's time I start holding myself accountable for my actions. I always thought I was protecting you from them because they didn't want you." "I'm sorry that my father kept you from your friends. "I'm so sorry for what I've done. here. but still they're surprising. All I was ." I say quietly after we're alone." There's a touch of resentment in the words." Jacob nods." Finally. I can't imagine not having you ." I say. Edward puts his hands back in his pockets and shuffles awkwardly." Edward says. That wasn't right. shaking my head. "Please don't think that. "Take care of her. So much. "I'll need some time. was just a poor substitute. I'm so sorry for hurting you. . ." Even as I protest I wonder with sickening realization if he's right. glancing away for a second. well." "I know. he looks me in the eyes. ." He nods and swallows deeply. He sighs and mutters something under his breath. ." "I'd like that."Thank you for always being there for Bella. "But I want you to be in my life. He's always been second best and that's not fair.

think about it?" ." "It's not entirely your fault." "Maybe we should just put them away for a while ." "Will you tell Billy I said goodbye?" "Sure. breaking the silence as we pull onto the main highway that will take us back to the hotel for our final night. Edward stares straight ahead." he says gruffly. . It's like he's trying to memorize me. "What do we do with these?" I ask finally." he says. "Honestly. it's as old friends." He grasps the small object. his face pensive. pressing it into his palm. I can tell he's trying hard not to get emotional. The bundles of paper in my lap infiltrate the air of the car with their musty smell. "Goodbye. You're my friend and I love you. I just hoped . plastering a forced smile onto his face. too. That's all water under the bridge now." When we hug. But please believe me when I tell you my feelings for you are real. I don't know. "I'm sorry I never deserved this." ~QF~ Edward waits for me in the idling rental car. shutting the door behind me. inclining his head to the left. Well. . . "Take care of him. pulling away. "Take care of yourself. You shouldn't be anyone's second best. As he pulls away I watch the small house under the pines recede from view. I move the letters from their place on the passenger's seat and climb in. There's only one thing left to do. I'm sorry Jacob. I knew it all along."God. Then he quickly pockets it. I reach into my pocket and pull out the simple gold ring. . I only hope she understands what a great man he is. I have high hopes for him and Leah. holding it between his thumb and forefinger with a look of pained regret.

"I think we've had about enough drama for one day. Or maybe he's still thinking about the things Billy told us this afternoon. relief palpable in his voice. "It's like . glancing at me curiously before retuning his focus to the road ahead. if you want to talk about your mom. . I'm certainly not ready to dwell on those revelations too thoroughly yet. soothing after the day we've had. you know?" Edward smiles. but somehow it doesn't reach his eyes. Perhaps he feels guilty after meeting Jacob and having his theory about him disproven. I wonder if it might be a good idea to talk to someone²a therapist."That sounds like a good idea. grateful for his support but not really feeling up to it at the moment. I don't know how else to sort out the mess in my head. maybe. I decide to ask Rosalie about the person she sees when I return to Chicago. ." he says. stroking the skin of my palm with his finger. "But you know what?" "What?" he asks. you can talk to me. there's nothing standing in our way now. okay?" "Okay. ." I say. . Even though I didn't have a good experience in the past. We're free." "We've had enough drama to last years. "Bella ." . "Agreed. It tickles but it feels nice. "I appreciate that. it's done. Once we're back in the room at the Lodge." The heaviness of his voice undermining the attempted joke. Edward lies down beside me and takes my hand. He doesn't seem as happy as I thought he would be seeing I've just broken off my engagement. I immediately stow the letters in my suitcase before collapsing on the horrible lumpy bed. I snuggle into his side and sigh when his arms encircle me." We're silent again for a while. And I wasn't exactly the most cooperative patient during those early sessions. I mean. At the very worst I go to a session or two and it doesn't help.

Edward takes the empty chair on my other side and opens his book. He hasn't done all of the reading for this week. I try to occupy myself by completing the reading for the week's upcoming classes." "How did it go?" she asks. "I love you." I say. He barely speaks a word on the drive back to Port Angeles. Rosalie leaps out of her chair and hugs me. noticing only a couple other students are in the room and none of them are paying any attention to us. hunching down over it. Edward is quiet as we get ready to leave. Rose. sitting back down and patting the seat beside her." That night I sleep soundly and without dreams. wishing Judith Butler was as interesting to me as Edward's busy scribbles. but if she were. and he writes a lot on the flight. hugging her back. I glance around. Shamed by my nosiness. When Edward and I walk into class together about five minutes early. I return to my theory reading. protective smile. else she would never have kept that beautiful teapot hidden away in her nest of treasures. guarding his work with a small. Of course Edward is onto me.He kisses the top of my head. but clearly this woman meant something. "It's good to be back. but I can't keep from glancing occasionally over his shoulder. What was her middle name? Did she know of the abuse? Could she still be alive? Since my mother had me so young. . I know it's possible that my great grandmother could still be out there somewhere. "Oh my God! I've missed you!" "I missed you too. My mother's grandmother²the only one who stood by her decision to leave home and marry Charlie. Elaine. ~QF~ Peggy's class on Tuesday comes as a welcome burst of normalcy. I decide she's one person I'd like to learn more about. The others²Renee's parents²I would be happy to never hear of again. I find my mind distracted. The next day. wouldn't I have heard of her? My mother wanted to cut off all contact with her birth family. It feels good to be back to work. Still. drifting to thoughts of EIR.

" "You survived?" "Barely. Soon. Peggy picks that time to sweep into the room along with Rue. I poke him in the side and Rose smiles. I've come to see the depth inherent in even the most seeming uncomplicated verses. not sure of what to say." As a child I thought I understood these poems. "Did he have the letters?" I nod slowly. . "The Songs of Innocence and Experience. thinking about what they'd say if they heard about Edward's and mine. My favorite. crazy. But as I've grown older and experienced more. . He hasn't shaved in a few days and his face is very scruffy. the whole class is present and the room fills with the voices of people asking each other about their Thanksgivings. he was appalled by the hypocrisy of seemingly devout people who turned their backs on the suffering of the poor. . I roll my eyes. "Songs of Innocence and Experience" are written simply." Edward grunts from behind me. When Rue inquires. focusing their readings on the easiest poems to understand. Riley and Alison. "So?" "Um."It was . and while he was a very spiritual man. Today is the day I've been waiting for all semester²we're discussing William Blake. I just smile and say "nice. We still haven't figured out what we're going to do with them. but they contain great truths. Marjorie Elms and a boy I don't know very well lead the discussion for the first half of the class. smiling as I watch Edward lift his head. . clearly eavesdropping. . Really crazy. Peggy calls us to attention and I lean back in my seat. I haven't ." Ha." Luckily. growing fat off of the enslavement of others. Blake lived in a time of strict moral codes based on religion. I loved the book Edward gave me and it's colorful illustrations.

. "Um. And tomb-stones where flowers should be: And Priests in black gowns." she says." I read it over again. Do you have anything to add?" I clear my throat. obviously a reference to Eden. out of keeping with the natural surroundings ." . There's no way I can help reading these words in light of my recent experiences. And the gates of the Chapel were shut. Where I used to play on the green. and the speaker remembers the Garden as someplace he used to play as a child. Well. the Chapel dominates the landscape. It's a man-made structure. That so many sweet flowers bore. And saw what I never had seen: A Chapel was built in the midst. I try to gather my thoughts. were walking their rounds. It's idyllic. But now." I trail off. "Do go on. . my joys & desires. I'm deep in thought when Peggy calls on me.As the presenters give their own analysis of "The Garden of Love. Peggy nods. Blushing nervously. writ over the door. So I turn'd to the Garden of Love. not sure if I'm rambling. "We haven't heard from you today. And Thou shalt not. "Isabella. not really paying attention to what they're saying. And binding with briars. I think that this poem is allegorical for the corruption of natural innocence. You notice that the Garden of Love is capitalized. I went to the Garden of Love. my heart pounding as it always does when I'm called out. And I saw it was filled with graves.

"That's one of the trends we see throughout the poems."Blake was very against the exploitative way that adults treat children to get them to behave. Binding 'briars' are metaphoric for repressive teachings. I think what Blake was saying is that we are born free. how can we learn morality?" "Blake believed people should be able to do whatever they want. gesturing towards the color plate. I breathe a little more easily knowing she's pleased. Tombstones replace flowers. right? It's symbolic of the way the church controls their natural playfulness. that's not what he means. "Blake did believe that organized religion was life-denying. is contrasted with the shut gates of the Chapel and the prohibitive phrase 'Thou shalt not. as well." "I agree with Isabella. That's not what God intended. "That's pretty cool." Rosalie says. Everything is silent for a second before Peggy smiles and nods." Marjorie chimes in. He's critiquing the way humans use organized religion to repress others and stifle natural freedom. "The three figures are kneeling and praying²obviously one is a priest and the other two are children. it's essential to the interpretation of the poem. Since Blake always included watercolor print illustrations with his verse." Riley says with a laugh. and their faces are downcast." she says." My heart is thumping so loudly by the time I finish I'm sure it's audible in the room. We're born with God in us²playing in the garden²the way we were meant to be. filled with flowers. "But without religion. "No. And it's true there was a lot of corruption in secular and religious education. and inherently good. natural.' The imagery confirms this. Isabella." "I get what you're saying. rather than affirming. the way that children internalize the corrupt ideologies of church and state-" . And the image Blake included is important here. "Well spoken. Their postures are rigid." I sigh with frustration and Edward's hand drifts lightly to my knee." I say. What was once a free garden.

you're human. My friend is especially impressed by the way Jacob has dealt with this entire thing²and I confess my shame at having wronged him so badly. but old habits die hard. Edward wasn't a mistake. I should have told Jake right away. If I had known then what I know now. I feel very protective of my mother's history. but it still doesn't change what I've done. "You're amazing. though. But no. I would have gone about things much. Hearing his voice makes me realize how much I've missed it. much differently. the tone of my voice betraying my interest. . right? Being honest is always the best way to go." She laughs. "You can't beat yourself up over it. "This whole time I thought I was the one being lied to and betrayed and I think I justified what I was doing with that . I wonder if reading the poem made him think about Billy. telling her as much as I feel comfortable relating. absentmindedly adjusts the blue scarf around her neck. it's helped a ton." "Well. "So you'd recommend this person you're seeing?" I ask. She's saying what a friend should say. . Bella." She smiles sadly and touches my shoulder. ." "Ha! Tell that to my therapist. I should know that better than anyone. Edward has some errands to take care of so I walk home with Rosalie. too. "You mean to tell me Edward was a mistake?" "No. After class. You'll learn from it." Edward whispers in my ear." she says just before leaving me at the front of my building. "You seem to really have it together lately. This whole thing basically blew up in my face. He's been so quiet since we've gotten back." I smile at the irony of her statement. Just being able to talk to someone who doesn't know me personally and can call me on my bullshit. I'm irritated at myself for getting so nervous about speaking in class even after all this time.Rosalie continues and my heart slows down. really. so I don't divulge specifics.

rolling my eyes in irritation. not when he's been so open with me recently." I say from my position at my desk. working his jaw furiously. It suddenly feels like we're regressing and I don't like it." "What kind of stuff?" I ask casually." he says quietly. "Yeah. but still. There's something bothering him but he won't tell me. Worry gnaws in the pit of my stomach. we've only been back for one full day. I don't bother to offer to heat it for him. coming back into the room with the bowl of pasta I left for him in the fridge. Sounds like fun. "You cooked?" he asks."Definitely. ~QF~ ." "Anytime." "Bella . I've spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get back into research for my final seminar papers. Siobhan is awesome. I thought you'd be back earlier. Granted." he says in his warning voice." Edward doesn't get back to my apartment until late. "Hi. I don't know how to deal with this closed-off Edward. I know I should have patience and let him come to me or work it out on his own. He kicks off his sneakers and sets his bag down on the floor. ." he says before turning to the kitchen. and when he does he's more sullen than before. Don't tell me. but his moodiness doesn't seem to be abating. "I had some stuff to do." "Thanks. "Fine. and it's starting to drive me crazy. "Just stuff." "Just stuff?" I ask. I go back to my work and try to concentrate as he moves around my apartment like a familiar stranger. He sits down on the floor and stretches his legs out. unable to mask my hurt. . Rosalie. since he obviously doesn't care. "Great." I answer testily. He takes a bite of cold noodles." "Sorry. "Hey. babe. I'll email you her contact info.

"What is going on with you?" I ask. his fingers probing my wetness. "I'm sorry. Just give this to me first. twice. Forgive me. A moan escapes lips that are supposed to be protesting. pressing his erection against my entrance. nothing between us. "I need you. drawing him inside. In spite of my irritation. slipping his hand into my underwear. She's escaped. I start to grow wet at the feeling of him moving against me. If I drop them. But how can I think when he's touching me like this? When I want him so much? "I need you. But then I remember I'm mad at him. I groan and wrap my legs around his waist. "You've been so weird today. still fighting off sleep. "Please. they'll incinerate and I will too." he says again. I gasp as his hand immediately moves between my legs. I feel his erection pressed against my thigh and instantly want to wrap my hands around it." I continue to writhe against hand while the other cups my breast and tweaks the nipple gently." "Edward?" I ask. There's feverishness in his kisses. nipping at my throat. I want to feel it like this. . . I'll tell you. But where's my mother? She's not here. I start to turn away but he pulls me back against him. Before I know it my pajama bottoms are off and Edward is moving between my legs. warm touching my hip. "Don't say no. I could stop him but I don't want to ." he breathes into my ear. Mom? Warm on my throat.The flames are so hot but I don't let go of the books." he says. I drift slowly back to consciousness at the feeling of Edward's insistent hands tugging at the thin material of my pajama bottoms. just his warm flesh filling me." he groans. . the way our tongues twine together. A guttural moan erupts out of chest as he pumps into me once. I hold them against my chest protectively." "I'm sorry. He starts to push inside and I feel²I know²he's not using a condom.

lapping and licking and bringing me back to the brink. I've never felt him lose control like this before but it brings out something similar in me. I think. I clutch at him desperately. I lift up and writhe against him. the warmth of his ejaculation streaking my abdomen." he says. " his breathing is harsh and I feel the covers fall down around our bodies." I beg. he's between my legs. . . I arch off the bed with a moan as he teases my clitoris with his fingers." "Oh baby. I cry out as he hits a spot deep inside I never knew existed. suddenly embarrassed. I instantly feel the lack. . I shouldn't be doing this." "You feel so fucking good." He moves faster. He draws my legs up and back and rears up on his knees as his thrusts become more erratic. . withdrawing quickly. aching flesh. so we're safe. panting and spent. I decide to be honest. "We . . He flops down beside me with a sigh. but not fast enough. He hits it again and again. . "What?" I ask. finally crying out as my orgasm hits with splendid force." he grunts. unashamed and groaning. I . chasing my own orgasm. . his mouth covering my wet. "No." Before I can protest or even figure out what he's doing. I know from the sounds he's making he's very close and there's no way I'm going to get there in time. So fucking . digging my fingers into the curve of flesh at the top of his butt. sucking. knowing that this is unwise but not caring. When I finally come down. "But I can't stop. I think. "You didn't come?" he asks huskily. With little care for decorum. urging him on. oh God. God. I feel so full and stretched with him. He moves his hands under me and whispers delicious things." he pants against my mouth. my body still writing as he pumps himself. Edward chuckles lightly. I'm expecting my period in a day. my heart and my body aching each time he withdraws. "Please."Oh. I thread my fingers through his hair and press against him. "You're so beautiful. "Shit. his hands coming to rest on my hips as he presses me down into the bed." "Don't stop.

"I'll get you something to clean up. But it also reminds me of the desperation that drove Edward to me in the night. . brushing my hair back from my forehead. We shouldn't have done it like that. In the darkness I can't see his features." he admits. Our future. What if he wants kids sooner? "That's fine with me." "I did. I mean. I'm sorry. . "Someday." He sighs and sits up. . was going to call my parents." Suddenly it strikes me with pleasure ."Oh. I know. "But someday ." I say the last part with reticence." Now that the sex is over. but I know he's still chastising himself. But then I went home I . But I wanted it. ." . not knowing if Edward is willing to wait that long." he says. . Bella. though. . I don't want him to think he took advantage of me. shit. But we both vow not to be so foolish in the future. we're talking about our future together. . once I finish and get tenure. I'm annoyed with my weakness for giving in so easily. the last thing we need is a baby on our hands. I smile against his chest. "I'm in no hurry. Probably at least ten years. I mean. Even so. "Will you tell me where you were today?" "I was back at my house. I should probably go on the pill. it will take a while." Fifteen minutes later we're back in bed and I've managed to convince Edward that our carelessness wasn't his fault. Yeah. and that the likelihood of a pregnancy is minimal given the time of the month. would you ever want one?" he asks quietly." "Still . "Yeah." "Stop apologizing. ." "I think that's probably a good idea. "I thought you were doing errands. hopefully. Kids. I'm sorry." "God.

I don't want you to get mad. I sit up further in the bed to get a fuller view of him. you were being a miserable ass. I do. . hoping I'll be able to keep my word. I don't think you're stupid for what you just told me. "I spent all fucking day trying to work up the courage. But I'm sorry about the way I treated you." I promise. you know? But I don't hate them. "While we're at it. . "Anyway." he says thoughtfully. there's something else." "That's not a bad idea. . "See? Look at us working this out. ." he admits. I can just barely detect the defeated look on his face." "I won't. Have a little faith. that's why I didn't tell you. feeling the muscle beneath as it flexes with movement. I'm sorry. especially my father. I'm fucking mad at them still." I lean over and kiss him softly on the lips. Now that my eyes have adjusted to the darkness. Bella. "Maybe you could just call when you know they'll be out and leave a message or something? That way they'd know you still needed some space. I felt ridiculous. his hand gently framing my jaw. . figure out what I was going to say to them. I have no idea how you put up with my miserable ass. if anything happened and they thought that . but they'd also know your feelings." He's agitated again and I rub his arm soothingly. I mean.My curiosity roused. . "You didn't?" "I couldn't get the fucking nerve up." He smiles against my lips. like you were keeping some big secret from me. . I mean. I don't want them to think that . I didn't like the way it made me feel. But yeah." "What were you going to say?" "So many things. sitting there with the phone in my hand all day ." "I get it." "I do.

focused on mine. . Then I pretty much accepted you never would. I left those here. Some of the things in there . I said some good things."I don't want you to read my letters. I wish I'd never met you. He nods warily." He says the last few words softly." I nod in understanding. "Not yours. "How come?" His green eyes are tired. "When I wrote those things. I'll live with that. Jesus. But I don't want you to think of me like that²as that boy. I'm afraid if you read my letters that picture will always be a part of the way you see me. "I said some terrible things in those letters. half the time I was out of my mind. Both of us blink as our eyes adjust. But then Alice got sick and I got angry. Bella. I was fucked up. I promise. It's not who I am now with you. "But I leave it up to you." I don't know what to say²I hadn't even considered how reading the letters might affect our relationship now. If you want to read them. . . "I read some today. They're your letters." "Did you read them?" I ask." My eyes widen in surprise." His words surprise me. desperate for you to forgive me. I don't want you to think of me that way. But he's right. I started sad. and some of the things I wrote were horrible. I don't want to hurt you. "I didn't even remember writing a lot of them. . too. I couldn't believe how I could write you about her and how much pain I was in and you never responded. remembering my own anger. but I can still hear the anxiety in his voice. But I took mine and I started reading . I was resigned to it. realization dawning. I sit up in bed and reach for the light so I can really see his face. .

I make some toast and put the coffee on. which doesn't alarm me since Edward had an early meeting on campus." His voice swells with emotion. There's no way I can imagine resisting the temptation to read her last words to me. Still in my pajamas." I snuggle against Edward again. I won't read them if you don't want me to. His troubled expression eases." "Okay. noticing with surprise it's already after ten. But it might be hard. ." "I love you so much. stretching and feeling deliciously sore from the previous night. "I thought about that. "What about Alice's?" I ask quietly. ."Edward. Edward sighs." "Do you feel better now?" "Much better. even if they're bitter and angry. listening to the quiet thrum of his heart. The aches serve as reminder to make an appointment with health services later in the afternoon." "And what did you come up with?" "I don't know . . ~QF~ In the morning. It's one thing to agree not to read our own letters. gentle touches and whispers of assurance passing between us. But yeah. Sounds good. not really. Bella. "And I'll tell you more. But I'd rather we do it this way than by reading letters we wrote as sad." "We don't need to decide now." "I'm glad. making my heart feel lighter." I agree. kissing his sweet face. I think. He grunts in surprise. but Alice isn't here. They were all based on a lie. I wake up alone. "I love you. I'd like to see what she said." I say. angry kids. They don't matter anymore. anything you want to know. "Okay. throwing my arms around him. We're together. I blink rapidly as I sit up." "Okay. let's think about it." We hug for a while.

Always. . I'd love to wake you up and kiss you and see those eyes. I fumble in my desk until I find what I'm looking for-my favorite pale yellow stationary. I think you were frightened of me. I could see my own reflection in them. . I thought I had never seen someone so beautiful. a letter. with love. dark eyes. P. I open the unsealed envelope and remove the paper inside. Today I have to leave you for a few hours. Would you like to meet for lunch today? I know a wonderful little diner just around the corner . I wanted to kiss you. hanging off your shoulder dangerously. Edward. Bella. The last thing I recall of that particular day are your wide. but I won't. . the telltale frost etched across the glass makes me smile. unfolding it as hastily as possible. I'll let you rest. until I'm sure my face isn't broad enough to contain it.I boot up my computer and stare at the black screen as it loads. When you ran downstairs. E. but also an extremely cold one. see you there at one? My smile grows wider and wider with each word. . It's a gorgeous. For some reason I'm looking forward to the winter. sunny day. since until that day I'd only seen you as my kid sister's friend. sipping my coffee and gazing out the window to the street below. . To Bella. Confused. upset at something Alice said. Thank you for being everything to me. Still holding Edward's note. It's dated from this morning. Of course this was strange for me. Do you know the first day I knew I loved you? It was a day Alice dressed you up in some white dress of our mothers. I didn't want to let you out of the house or out of my sight wearing it.S. That's one of my favorite memories of you. Then I notice an envelope on my desk . If I remember correctly the dress was far too big for you.

" -Percy Bysshe Shelley Chapter 32: November 30th-December 24th.I pick up my pen and start to write. When you're high. Love. This is a good thing for us. 2010 Bella. but I trusted you. The best and worst thing about doing drugs is the forgetting that comes with it. to think that you might have loved me even then makes me smile. But there came a moment when I started to feel strange when you were around. Alice too. weep not for the past. but especially you. Retrospectively. But hearing the little stones you pinged at my window was the best sound in the world. You don't think . You gave me one and I pretended to smoke it²I'll never forget that. I was always afraid you'd get in trouble because of me and then I'd never get to see you. 2010 Edward. "Fear not for the future. Now. I didn't like the way it made you smell. How in the world did you sneak out so many times without getting caught? Although I loved it. it must have been the night you came over to my house smoking like a chimney. Maybe we should get rid of our old letters altogether and eradicate temptation completely? All I know is the only thing I want to read are the words you write for me now. Of course I was horribly embarrassed. you're completely in the moment. I don't remember the first time I realized I loved you. I'm glad we've come to the decision we have. I think. You were always so kind and protective of me. 2010 November 30th. because I didn't know it at the time. Oftentimes I wondered what you really thought about my mother and my situation. Bella December 2nd.

shy. I could have sworn I saw you there on several occasions. I didn't. like near my locker at school . I would have forgiven you for every hurt I (wrongly) thought you inflicted. I could see the perfect picture of your face. but in a good way. I started to forget your face. I started to forget you. I thought it was one of those moments at first. I couldn't differentiate between the two. . With time. When I heard your last name. waiting with your back to me. of course. Then there'd be moments when I'd remember something so clearly it shocked me. and strong. But I started to forget. but your face was older. thinner. Your blush was the same. how different and how familiar. at least. And that was what scared me. . But there was one good thing about it: in those moments. E . . Because I realized that I still loved you. but it didn't work. so smart. I tried to put you out of my mind again. all memories fade if there's no one there to share them with. any at all. kind.about anything but who you're with and what feels good. If you had given any indication. and when I saw that ring on your finger . Your eyes were unchanged. is infinitely better than any half-remembered fantasy. The disappointment I felt every time was unbearable. I know. When I saw you again in Peggy's class. But it didn't take me long to understand the person you are now. Your lips seemed fuller. . I'm glad now. but at the time it was torture. That doesn't make much sense. I felt your loss all over again. That's one of the reasons I wrote you. I couldn't believe how beautiful you were. because even though I wanted to forget. You. or your memory. I'd walk over to the girl I thought was you and probably freak her out by calling your name. those days were some of the worst of my life. Love. that you knew me that day.

But don't get cocky. He was a good man. . you were right. December 7th. In some ways she reminds me of Rosalie. . I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw you again. If so. but I laughed at that designation. Of course my fainting will live forever in infamy now . Perhaps it was more friendship than anything else. probably why they get on so well together. I'm supposed to write down all my feelings about my mother. I told Siobhan about our letters²the old ones and the new. She thinks this is a good exercise. apparently. She even gave me a homework assignment. I slip short notes into his backpack before he leaves for school. tucking them away carefully where I know they'll be safe. I feel good. It's so much more than that. but I enjoy writing them all the same. I'm still embarrassed about it. I'm making you a special surprise for dinner. afraid of starting a life without him. The love I felt for him was never the same as it is with us. but I did love him in my own way. You must have thought you were quite handsome to evoke such a response. :-) Today I went to therapy for the first time. One day I find one tucked in between the leaves of my theory book. In my sock drawer. You want to know why I agreed to marry Jacob. I keep each of Edward's letters in my box of treasures. This week.Edward leaves notes for me in unexpected places. under my pillow as I sleep. But it feels good. 2010 Edward. The woman doesn't waste much time getting to the heart of things. They're never as eloquent as his. And I was a coward. I told her to expect a Ulysses length novel by next week. I liked her quite a bit-she's very feisty and smart. And I can't wait to see you tonight. Bella . so come home early! Love. He cared for me. as you know.

In 1927. I'm grateful you were spared that. Good riddance. I'm sorry you never got to say goodbye to your mom. Elaine Isabella Renault. which I will relate to you now. died just last year. don't you agree? And. 2010 Bella. though her husband. the horrible man who hurt my mother. my mother's mother. you'd have had to be as a single mother in those days. she married another Frenchman. daughter of two French immigrants. 1989. What a comely name. . . (Apparently Frances still lives.December 8th. protracted death has its own horrors. at least. her work is quite highly collectible. somewhat unexpectedly. she'd be so proud. . by some miracle they had a daughter. is . Frances. I must confess I love the idea of having her history behind me.) Back to Elaine. an artist. . how could she not be? You're the most amazing person I've ever known. 2010 Edward. She was also. two years after I was born. Tragically. If she could see you now. E. Her obituary dated October third. in 1939. For a long time they were childless. I'll always take care of you. I hope she knows that. December 10th. She was born in Seattle in 1900. even though you don't really need it. Pierre died as an enlisted man in 1943 somewhere in the South Pacific. Elaine raised her daughter on her own and took a job at a factory in Seattle making ladies' shoes. The one luxury I had when Alice was dying was being able to say that²but an unhurried. It comes so slowly and leaves everyone exhausted. though I have no actual proof. nee Chenard. . then. The child's name was . tough woman. I can imagine she was a hard working. Pierre Renault. it seems like too much of a coincidence for me not to have been named after her. Very late in life at the time. Today I learned about my great-grandmother.

I told him maybe it wasn't a great idea. I've finally finished up both of my seminar papers. I'd like to find some of her work. In other news. for I have a terribly hip image to uphold. the only thing I want from you is to wake up with you on Christmas morning. It looks like it'll be the six of us after all. Love. Emmett plans on getting the chimney cleaned so we can use the fireplace for the first time since . I finally mailed the letter to my parents this morning. It would mean so much to me. imagining what parents I could've ended up with really puts things into perspective. which wasn't much. The teapot I've told you about²the one my mother kept²was one of these pieces. Angela is excited about the dinner she's planning. She left everything that she owned. beautiful story. because a part of me thinks if it weren't for that course. . besides writing and mailing the letter of course. Don't feel obligated to get me anything. She never remarried. who at the risk of sullying this page I won't name here. Frances' husband. There. . we wouldn't be here today. What a sad. Please don't quote me in public. Will it bother you? Please be honest. if we can. I can't believe the semester is ending so soon! Only one class left with Peggy. But I still don't feel like I can trust them. 2010 Bella. I'll miss it so much. Maybe I'm being dramatic over this whole thing. together. . We'll see. was from a quite well off family. my father especially. Bella December 15th. well. Edward. but just know it might be Christmas related. and lived the rest of her days modestly. I said it. I love you. since Jasper isn't flying out until after New Year's. It would make a lovely novel. to my mother.though not well known. . I can't tell you. I don't know. ever. . You might be wondering what I was doing today. I mean. It felt good slipping it in the mailbox and walking away .

as we discussed. 2010 Edward. we'll have all the time in the world. You always know just what to do. If our ancestors hadn't mastered fire. The last piece of the puzzle. but my favorites are. or not. Our lives are bound to and dependant on fire. That means the world to me. Those are the ones I read again and again. Then. 2010 Bella. I wished you were there. and not just assuming I'd be okay with it. I'm afraid. the human population would never have been able travel beyond the warm places of the world. December 16th. And so now all we have are Alice's. But thank you for asking me. . A symbolic act. but it was late and cold. But when it was over I felt strangely the same. I'd appreciate it. but understood why you couldn't be. I've taken the letters and burned them. I'm surprised I wasn't arrested down by the beach. So it's done. and the fire was quick. They're not always long and filled with love-thoughts or memories. Someday I'd love to be able to snuggle in front of a cozy winter fire with you. but that day hasn't come yet. To be honest. perhaps. Those are the ones I blush over.E. People have fires all the time and nothing happens. So. if you'd tell him 'no' for me this time. Sometime we talk about what we've written in our letters. which gives life even as it destroys. -B December 19th. sometimes not. I don't know how I feel about a fire at Christmas. Some are very private. But it makes me nervous.

still my favorite band. maybe not. . some things just don't make sense. And then my Dad told me you were moving and you didn't want to see us . I don't know where to start²there are so many²but finally we decide to start at the end. I think Edward has started to believe it. it's strong. I stopped. but something won't let you. trying not to feel hurt. In my dream it's just like this big. I was so upset because Edward wouldn't come and I knew you were upset about that. cloudy black thing. I don't want to sound like a broken record! Maybe I really am crazy and you hate us. I pick up the envelope with the latest postmark. but I doubt it. But I've said all this before. but I'm afraid I'll never find out what. I begin to read out loud while Edward stares at the cup in his hands. Whatever it is. the good and the bad. my hands tremble. Edward quietly tells me he's ready to read Alice's letters. . you were happy to see me. "I mean. there's no time for that now. I really do. but I never will. that day when I went to visit you in the hospital. I don't know if it's because of the pain medication or not. "Hey Bella. As I tear open the paper and feel for the letter inside. I know why he stopped. too. and I know that we'll have to deal with whatever it says. She could have written anything.Love. and you didn't want me to leave. In my dream you're trying to get home to us. But even though you couldn't really talk. Edward ~QF~ A couple days before Christmas. like a fog. I keep having these weird dreams. . Nothing my parents say makes sense. but they seem like they might mean something. It just doesn't make sense why you wouldn't want to talk to us. Something weird happened after you were hurt in the fire. Like I said. We're sitting in my apartment in our pajamas drinking tea and listening to the Beatles. I know he finally stopped writing to you. dated only two weeks before she died. Maybe they do." I swallow deeply. In a shaky voice.

My body is so tired like it just wants to give up. "But that's not the only reason he's sad." My voice wavers as I read the last few sentences. Wherever I am. (ha ha) So I want to say goodbye. I get a little choked up." The picture of the two of them in the hospital springs immediately to mind. if that ever happens. even for my favorite foods. . absorbing her words with astonishment. you'll do just the opposite. So if I'm wrong. but I know he misses you so much. Your friend. fabulous wedding with lots of guests and presents. I love you. Neither of us seems willing to break the quiet settling between us. but knowing you and my brother. It kind of sucks. I'm dying now. He doesn't talk to me about you anymore. And I'm not hungry. It will be nice for all this pain to be over. Finally. It would be good for him to hear from you when I'm gone. you should wear a strapless dress. He must really feel bad because he rubs my feet even without me asking. Alice" I read the letter again. He sets the cup down on the floor and rakes his hands through his hair. silently this time. and you really are getting and reading these letters (then I'm mad at you). no matter what kind of wedding you plan. even though it never was to begin with. you'll still be my sister. Edward reaches for the letter. I hope you have a really huge. please make sure to call him. And tell him my dying wasn't his fault. but I don't know. Anyway. I continue: "Anyway. I'm tired of living when I can't really live. After a brief pause to get my bearings. nodding for me to go on. he doesn't listen. This cancer is no one's fault. okay? Maybe he'll listen to you. I really think that someday you and Edward will be together again. I blush shyly. you know? Please don't be sad for me. It's so tiring to write now. I let it slip from my grasp. and I'm afraid my penmanship isn't very good. Bella. You were my best friend. thinking of his careworn face. afraid to look at Edward.So here's what's happening. I see him beating himself up over it everyday. Edward shifts a little on the couch beside me. but even though I tell him it's not his fault. I can feel it. I have no idea why. in the hopes that someday you get this. but it's just a feeling I have. You have very nice shoulders. this might be my last letter. My brother thinks it's his because he couldn't help me.

"It'll fit. "She knew this would happen." Rose says. His arms tighten around me. and then I notice Edward turning away." he says huskily. "I wish I could have had the faith she had. let's get it. "she knew. If you want it. "It's okay. still doubtful." "I wish I could have." The silence descends again." I nod again. I know from the tone of his voice he's talking about us. ten-foot tall spruce that Emmett and Edward are struggling to hold up. willing him to believe me. See? Alice knew that. "It wasn't your fault. cumbersome tree back to their house on Christmas Eve. gesturing to the near-empty lot. "No. It wasn't."She never believed it. By the time we've made it the fifteen blocks." "It's not like there's much left to choose from. too." "It wasn't?" "No. I press my face against his wet cheek." "It wasn't?" he asks. "Okay. both of them ." I object. holding him with all of my strength." Edward adds. Rosalie giggles from beside me. "Yes. shaking my head at the imperial. climbing into his lap. "How will we get it in the house?" "Have you seen the ceilings at our place?" Emmett says." Rosalie and I laugh and shout words of encouragement as we watch Edward and Emmett carry the massive. It wasn't your fault." I say with a smile. running his fingers over the paper. embarrassed." he whispers. "It's your funeral." I say." ~QF~ "It's too big. warming my ear with his breath.

and holds up one of his hands. besides the trees. but he shakes his head at me. Edward stands and glides his hands once over my torso. coming toward me with a sly smile. Edward turns the shower on and comes back from the bathroom. "And cold. Edward's shower is tiny." These days. I stand fully clothed and somewhat shamelessly staring. "So sexy. pouts. Steam starts billowing from the open door as he unzips his hoodie and removes the tee shirt underneath with one swift movement." He kisses me again before leading me toward the warm. "Poor baby. now replaced by four p. m. that either of us actually likes. . I lift my arms and let him undress me. sunsets. it takes the two of them plus Jasper to get the thing situated in the tree stand. Gone are the long evenings of early fall." I murmur half-seriously." he says. Edward groans. And at this time of year. kicking off his shoes as he goes. a tight squeeze for two people.are covered in sticky sap. He smiles and gives me a kiss on the forehead." he says. They cast a soft yellow glow on the wall and make it possible to see in the rapidly encroaching darkness. wet room. gripping the hem of my sweater. I smile at the compliment. "Help me get cleaned up?" "Of course. showing me the needle-inflicted battle wounds. And once we're inside. his eyes lowered appreciatively to take in my form. shivering once I'm stepping out of my pants and underwear. lightly touching my nipples and kissing me. the third floor loft feels cozier. But there's also something nice about it. Edward let me hang up some white Christmas lights²the only decorations for the holiday. there's more time for being cocooned up here with Edward. wrapping my arms around his strong shoulders and pressing myself to him for warmth. "Off. it seems like it's dark most of the time.

" "Bed. "Too damn slippery. leaving me breathless. my throat. Soon. He presses back against me. sex is so much better . . and we're a tangle of wet. After we spend a few minutes recovering. flushing with anticipation as I feel him ready himself. running the soapy washcloth over his back. cool water dripping from his hair onto my back. my own release rips through my body. and more frequent. ." "In such a hurry. Edward whirls me around. even though I'm just as eager. and I wrap my arms around him from behind. "This okay?" he asks. And then Edward turns and presses me against the cold tile wall and all thoughts of bathing are forgotten. legless. I giggle. "That's what these are for."It's a good thing I like you so much. I rub my hands over his chest and I can feel the vibration of his contented murmur. showing me the position he wants to try. We barely make it to the bed in question. his erection hard and straining against my thigh. pressing his erection into me with a groan. my shoulders and neck by his lips and his teeth. urgent limbs. I guess shower sex only works in the movies. still laughing. And when he finally stills and pulses inside me. tracing his tattoo with my fingers. impeding my movement. despite his groans of protest. Now that I'm on the pill. ." he growls with frustration. kissing my neck and the side of my face." I protest. I reluctantly begin disentangling myself from Edward. "Yeah. tickling as it travels down my spine. though I can't hear anything but the sound of the spray." I tease." he pants. we've set up a rhythm that has both of us crying out." I joke. shutting off the water. I feel so incredibly filled²almost painfully so²but soon adjust to the depth as he rocks forward. and numb. finally my mouth. His lips travel over my collarbone. I smile and nod. He steps out of the cubicle and throws a clean towel at me. My hips feel loved by his hands. "But we're wet.

The rest of the gang is downstairs playing cards and drinking wine. the very movement making me wish we didn't have social obligations."We should join the others. Right now he's set on staying alcohol free. "Presents now. taking the proffered gift and giving it a gentle shake. or tomorrow?" I ask. "We always used to open one on Christmas Eve." I say. after we've decorated the tree and eaten Angela's delicious roast beef. smiling at the memory." Edward says. Inside. "Angela will kill us if we miss dinner. tradition is tradition. a decision I quietly support. "It feels like five minutes." "Who first?" "Me first!" I say. "I hope you like it. "We've already been up here an hour." "Has it been that long?" He chuckles and glances at the clock. "Well. foil covered box and skip back to the bed. remembering how much she loved gifts²both giving and receiving." he chuckles. Edward and I return to his room. He flops down next to me and puts his hands behind his head. curling up on the bed and pulling the comforter over me. sleepy and full." He stretches languidly before sitting up." Of course she did. "I suppose you're right. I think. pulling me onto his naked lap for one final kiss. We don't make it downstairs for another half hour." he agrees. I quickly locate the rectangular." I reach out my hand and he takes it. "Alice insisted. "You're excited. which made Edward a little uncomfortable. Later that evening." . leaping up with renewed energy and grabbing my bag from the floor.

. footed bowl." he murmurs. He examines it closely and smiles. then leans forward to kiss me." "I do. "Don't shake it. The sides are decorated with a woodland scene²intricate tree branches twine around the circumference. I tear the wrapping paper. "Bella. about a foot wide." "And look. He touches my cheek."I'm sure I will. "My turn. When he finally looks up at me. I love it. So thoughtful. "I got it engraved. "I'm glad you like it. "This is perfect. When I open it. . is a delicate porcelain. Inside. returning with a square box." He places the pen back carefully into the box. My curiosity instantly piqued. with small." I say with a whisper." I take the package." he warns. unveiling a cardboard box. burying my face into the crook of his neck. which is very charmingly wrapped by Edward's unpracticed hand." Our initials are discreetly carved on the clip." He's so visibly awed I feel a blush color my cheeks." Edward tears open the paper and lifts the cover of the box. I can see he's pleased. weighing it between his fingers. nestled amongst Styrofoam packing." I blush further. my heart nearly stops. I love it. worrying he'll think it was too much. picking it up carefully. "Sweet girl. finely detailed . then sets it down and climbs off the bed. his eyes widening when he sees the black resin and gold Meisterstuck Montblanc pen. "I can't believe .

I'm okay." "I looked everywhere. "Yes. "I can't believe it. EIR. "Professor Swan?" . wiping my face with the back of my sleeve." I lift it out and turn it over.. . . . I think I contacted every antique and art dealer in the Pacific Northwest." He's rambling nervously." he confesses. waiting for my response. It's lovely. I didn't even know what it looked like until it arrived yesterday. . . Thank you. "Are you okay?" I nod. There's no way I can even comprehend the goodness of the man sitting in front of me as I hold the proof of his love in my hands. It's the most thoughtful. . is this . "Thank you. and best gift in the world. sweetest. I guess most of her pieces are held in private collections. "Bella?" he asks. yet extremely elegant. because right now all I want is him. But I hoped you'd think it was pretty . I just ." And then I set the bowl back into its safe nest. tears welling in my eyes. Thank you so much. and you'll never guess where." I say. "And I was starting to lose hope. this is the most wonderful thing. Always. And I know you said you wanted something of hers . "I can't believe it. But then I lucked out.sparrows flitting between them. and words could never express what I feel right now." I whisper. I hardly know what to say. . . There was a guy in Port Angeles who just got this in from an estate sale a couple of weeks ago . . The entire effect is rustic. gasping when I see the initials I know will be there. . staring at the precious object in my hands.. "Edward. Nine years later.

I have an engagement right now. "That would be great. he seems the most ill at ease discussing literature. his work is actually quite good. It's pretty rough. It's already past four. For not being an English major. laughing students²some on their cell phones." "Of course. I glance to the clock on the far wall. my room. Bring it along when you come. I love it. Professor Smiley. giving him a warm smile. zipping it quickly and slinging it on my shoulder. but you can come to office hours on Monday. I'd be happy to." I smile again and nod. "Good. "Yes?" I ask.I pause from collecting my things. The halls of the Humanities building are filled with talking. though he doesn't need to be. a nervous first year named Matt. given the recent change in my circumstances. I cast a quick glance behind me at the room before I go. and I'll need to hurry if I'm going to make it to the bookstore by five. one of the English department's more prestigious faculty members." He smiles and wishes me a good weekend. disappearing out the door after the last of his classmates. Out of all of my students this semester. some rushing to class. "I was wondering if we could meet to talk about my final paper sometime." As I speak. Matt. And tonight is important-so important-for more reasons than one. and I know that he's worried about his final grade. . I finish collecting my lecture notes and shove the folder into my briefcase. I'm afraid. I recognize several familiar faces and give the requisite perfunctory greetings as I make my way down the hall to the front door. I'll see you then." "That's okay. knowing that my position as an assistant professor is tenuous. I sigh inwardly. I need to do everything I can to assure the department that I'm dedicated to the job. The rest of the class has already begun filing out. if you'd like. And. flags me down before I can escape. My students. and that maintaining congenial relations is essential since I'm up for tenure at the end of the year. looking up to see one of my students. standing on the other side of the desk. Do you have a draft?" "Yeah.

I pause and try to settle my nerves. but Edward joked that one more couldn't hurt. ." "Oh yes! That's right. excited flutters as I make my way into town. He complains most of them are too stuffy to associate with anyway." he says warmly. fine. we have made quite a few friends among the younger faculty. Once outside. However. Finally. My time is so filled with committees as it is." He smiles. Well. Stephen. in our department. I smile and give him my thanks. unlocking the door and flinging my bag on the passenger's seat. My stomach fills with anxious. Not that Edward cares." I say as I turn and beeline for the door. "Well. I'll make sure we take the matriculation rate of the 18th Century students into consideration. he'd be there as well. At a red light. my hand drifting to rub my still flat belly."Bella. probably." "Fine. Still flat for now. It's about a twenty-minute drive from the campus at the University of Santa Barbara to the bookshop where Edward has chosen to have the launch and reading of his third book and second novel." I lie. Tell him congratulations for me." "I will. when it seems like he's given me the most important of what he considers insider information. I'm looking forward to it. but soon ." "Yes. "Going somewhere?" "Edward's book release is tonight. "I really appreciate that. I breathe the cool air and hurry quickly to the lot where my car is parked. "I hear you're going to be working on the graduate admissions committee this year. starting to get nervous about the time. . But one thing I've learned is the divide between the critics and the MFAs continues after graduate school. the older literature professors rarely mix with the writers in residency. and then seems to notice for the first time my fidgetiness. which is nice. grumbling internally that if he really cared. you better hurry on then. how long will it take for me to show? Another couple of months. if I could make a recommendation²" He drones on and I nod. .

some of Edward's writing students stand milling around. I bite my bottom lip. but with my busy schedule I hadn't really given it much thought. and so fitting. emerge from flame-like swirls of color. after all. reborn. This is the novel that will solidify his reputation as one of America's most important rising new authors. I just know it. But this morning. I suddenly feel very wary. This is our story.For the past week or so. again thinking of my little pea. A couple of the girls give me sour looks. Cullen The abstract images that adorn the book cover are reminiscent of Blake. A novel Edward A. What will Edward say? My face heats with the secret knowledge. Positive. it is a special occasion. It's beautiful. a boy and a girl. but I didn't want to distract him before his big night. my husband is certainly the youngest. but more modern. My little pea. pressing the gas pedal cautiously when the light turns green. smoking. I can't wait to tell him. neither of us thought it would happen so quickly. if that. I notice the poster advertising the book launch. but today I leave my heels on. making room for me to pass. When we made the decision for me to go off the pill three months prior. most attractive professor at UCSB. There's a small lot just a block or so away from the store. feeling victorious when I spy one last vacant spot. . Just as I open the door. but he's all mine. which I note with good-humor and just a touch of smugness. I'd stopped at a drug store on my way to campus and picked up a test. and I pull inside. We're going to have a baby. They recognize me and smile. I'd been feeling odd. I try not to inhale. Two winged figures. protective of the life inside of me²even if now it's probably only the size of a pea. Usually when I meet Edward downtown after work I change into more comfortable shoes. Outside the bookstore. after all. At thirty-five. on a whim. Phoenix.

the critiques served as a wake up call. He slaved over it for years. Through it all. Edward was censured for losing the vigor and forceful writing he'd achieved in his first volume. unrelated things. . Instead of discouraging him. more importantly. I'd seen it as an opportunity to reverse the mistake I'd made when I was eighteen. When Edward finally completed the novel he was working on based on our lives. whether anyone would care. He embarked upon a final re-write. since I was soon to be a published author. teaching during the day and writing at night. but Billy was unfortunately too ill to travel. while the novel was well written. was met with a fervor of critical praise. frustrated and at a seeming impasse. Jacob came with Leah and their twin boys. at war with himself whether or not it was too self-indulgent. however. igniting a desire to prove himself. I decided to change my name back to Swan after we were married. but the novel which came two years later unfortunately received mixed reviews²many negative. it was far too raw and personal to publish. Finally. Edward was offered the writer's residency the following year. Just after I graduated. feeling the smooth coldness. abstracting the text more from our real lives but keeping the ethos and essence the same. a final gesture of loyalty and love to my parents. a compilation of short stories he'd written in graduate school. His first book. But. Edward didn't entirely disagree. Most academic women keep their own names when they marry. After we moved to California so I could accept the tenure-track position in Romance Literature at UCSB. it was too commercial. and when Esme saw me wearing the strapless dress. The New York Times Book Review suggested he'd betrayed the independent voice and vision of those stories. Smiling. often times despondent.Partly. she cried. partly to differentiate myself from Edward. too self-conscious and trendy. Such a perfect cover for his book. too. he put it aside and wrote other. Time and Space in Blake's Mythologies. drafting and redrafting. I completed my course work and my dissertation. we had a small wedding in Chicago with just those closest to us. Carlisle and Esme generously paid for the whole thing. We'd shared Alice's letters with them long ago. I press my palm against the glass. Edward agreed wholeheartedly.

wishing desperately I could tell her about my joyful secret. "Bella?" comes a familiar voice from beside me. By now. She nods. "It's so fucking good to see you. only to find Edward slumped outside in the hallway. "Rose!" "Hey!" she exclaims. And I'd had the chance to tell him I loved him. he shyly handed me the manuscript." "Where's Emmett?" "Parking the rental. and with a clear conscience. I hug her again. Unfortunately that happy news was tempered with sadness the following week when Billy passed away. I wonder if the pregnancy hormones are already starting to kick in. Without a word. reading until the early morning. I emerged from my selfimposed exile at around five. "We just got here. despite fertility treatments. She and Emmett have been trying to get pregnant for over three years now with no luck. girl." "So do you! I can't believe you're here." Rosalie never did end up going into academia." she says. Lately.I'll never forget the day he finally finished Phoenix. she decided to accept a job at a respected academic publishing house. fast asleep. Edward's going to be so happy to see you guys. hugging me tightly. rather than chance the highly unpredictable job placement associated with our field. He'd gone peacefully. I've missed my friend. When Emmett proposed. though. Startled from my reverie. I turn. I kissed him awake and told him with the tears in my eyes that he'd done it. dropping my hand and blinking back the tears that have started to form at the memory. I realize that people are waiting and we're blocking the door. I locked myself away in my study. You look amazing. where they still live. He'd finally done it. kissing me on the cheek. but knowing how bittersweet the news will be. biting her lip. I haven't been much of a crier." We haven't seen Rosalie and Emmett since we left Chicago. "I wouldn't have missed it. Ten hours and about twenty cups of coffee later. .

Even though we just had dinner last night. Jasper and Angela are with her. eyeing me shyly as we approach. watching the scene contemplatively. mostly colleagues and students. I smile. as always. they're getting better. apparently I'm still a scary stranger. "Heya pumpkin." I say." "You're not so bad yourself. Even though things have never been completely easy between Edward and his parents." The store is filled with people. a tiny bit jealous that our friends have maintained this close connection over the years." Emmett says. "So good to see you. "Nervous. their profiles visible. Edward is nowhere to be seen." . "Hey guys. wrapping one arm around my waist and kissing my forehead. I smile and wave as they take seats near the back. I love living in California." I say giving everyone hugs." "We've been here for forever and there's no other kids. Looking fine." Emmett grins. The door chimes again and I glance over my shoulder just in time to notice Carlisle and Esme enter along with Emmett. releasing Angela's thigh. "I've been working out. showcasing his dimples and flexing his other arm. but then the storeowner calls us to attention. They flew in the day before with their daughter Anna. "Little Bee. let's go in. "Emmett will find us inside. I knew a certain breakthrough had been reached when they were the first people Edward called to tell his book was finally getting published. but I miss them." Jasper motions over his shoulder. "Autie Rosie. She clings to her mother's side. then picks her up with some effort. I immediately notice Edward's agent Stephanie standing near the front of the room." For a second I contemplate whether or not I should go to him." Anna shrieks."Come on. "Where is he?" "In the back. now four years old. signaling the reading is about to start." Anna complains. Rosalie bends down and gives her a kiss on the cheek.

" He says the last sentence with a touch of irony. pausing before he continues. But it's my eyes he searches out. Bella. my heart starts pounding erratically. especially you. making my breath catch in my throat. "You've been there through everything. to be exact. "Many of you have been there through this whole process. I'm struck by his handsomeness. picking up a copy of his book from the side table. He walks to the front. He smiles briefly. glancing to our friends in the front. Anyway. My eyes focus on the back of the store. Edward stands to the side of the podium while the owner gives a short introduction. wearing dark jeans. When he finishes. and unbuttoned grey blazer. where I know Edward is waiting. maybe more loudly than necessary. When he finally emerges. his features mature. taking a sip from his water bottle. following her lead to the reserved seats in the front row. "First. So thank you all. then he steps forward. Emmett laughs. He smiles and whispers something in return. "So I bet you're relieved that it's finally finished. and you know that this is a book that's taken me many years to write. I couldn't have completed it without your support. before I start." His eyes glance to the back of the room and I can tell by the recognition in his eyes he's seen his parents. and the audience response is thrilling. his long. no longer boyish. setting Anna back down. I press my hand against my stomach again." I mouth silently. Eleven.Rosalie rolls her eyes good-naturedly. I'd like to thank you all for coming out tonight for this. This book is for you. bouncy stride eliciting a titter of excited giggles from his fan club behind me. I know some of you have come a long way. . I've never been more proud." she suggests. I nod." ~QF~ As I watch him read. "We should sit. but I can't quite make it out. "Good luck. a white shirt. He's more confident than I've ever seen him. I know I am." His voice gets quiet and serious as he looks at me. He clears his throat.

to which Edward shyly agrees." "Edward. giving me a fake sad frown. when we're alone. allowing myself to be hoisted up. Edward knows me too well. but I don't want to complain." He turns around.everyone erupts into applause." he says. It would be humiliating. Please? For me?" "Fine. Of course. He's happy." I want to tell him so much more. ." "Here." "Why not?" "I'm too heavy. once the congratulatory crowd has finally begun filtering out. "You're just saying that because you're my wife. it's likely this will be broadcasted through the English department by this time tomorrow. "You're not heavy or old. I'm not climbing on your back." I say with a laugh. You're amazing. I'll tell him later tonight. baby?" he asks." I whisper." "Hey. "Do your feet hurt. I love seeing Edward happy and carefree like this. "Just a little. Are you accusing me of nepotism?" A block or so later I start to regret not bringing a change of shoes. but it doesn't seem like the right time. and far too old. In a town this size. his face lit up in the widest smile. "You did so good. giving him a kiss once the others are in the lead. "Hop up. "I'm a well respected literary scholar." I grumble. refusing to look lest I see any of my students. "You think so?" "It was amazing. I'm fine. My feet are a little tired and my back aches. But I start having fun despite myself. An hour and a half later. the rest of us head over to one of our favorite sushi places for a celebratory dinner. pausing on the sidewalk and turning his back to me. calling for an encore. I close my eyes as he carries me. It's just these heels.

I eye it skeptically. Esme and Carlisle sit across the table from us. smiling when he reads the inscription. raising his eyebrow as I munch on my vegetable rolls. which I happily agree to host on the following day. fighting back emotion. so I figure no one will notice." I quickly try to come up with an excuse. putting a couple of pieces on my plate but not eating them. Stephanie dings her fork against her glass. his voice concerned.By the time we arrive at the restaurant." she says. I take more than my share. I've successfully avoided alcohol. with love. though. Is it safe to eat raw fish when you're pregnant? Isn't there mercury or something in some of the fish. They raise glasses of champagne as we enter. a variety I don't particularly care for. We all turn our heads as she continues. And when Carlisle asks his son to sign his copy of Phoenix. Edward. I panic. "Okaaaay. Edward sticks to water and tea. Rosalie passes me a glass. Edward watches me curiously. The publisher wants Edward to do a . toasting Edward as we take our seats. Esme and I exchange a knowing glance as we look on at our men. I see Edward swallow deeply. everyone else is already seated. as usual. "I'm not hungry?" It comes out more like a question than a declarative statement. "The early sales of the book are higher than expected. Finally the food arrives and everyone remarks upon the gorgeous presentation. "Why aren't you eating?" he finally asks. So far. To Dad. I've never been a big drinker. We think this is the big one. They've only been to visit once before. "Um. A few minutes later. giving us all a chance to catch up. When some avocado rolls come around next. like tuna? When a platter of my favorite sashimi is passed around. and Esme is eager to do some sightseeing. He takes the proffered book I peek over his arm as he signs the title page. which I take and discreetly set to the side. not wanting to draw anyone's attention. Carlisle accepts the book back." He's obviously not convinced. "Attention everyone. but when it comes to the sushi. I have some exciting news.

Stephanie. concerned. "Edward?" I ask under my breath." he says in a whisper. ." She blushes. Big mistake. Miami. "Of course." "Hmm." As she speaks. As I follow him out of the restaurant. obviously chastised by his tone. either. I'll be majorly pregnant . Philadelphia. "This the first I've heard anything about a tour. a little testily. "When did this happen?" Edward asks Stephanie. Edward slides his chair back and reaches for my hand. we find a quiet bench on a side street. trying to control my emotions. This summer? I count the months. I take his hand and rise. "I didn't know. I stare at it dumbly for a second. But I don't want him to go. my stomach drops. He means now? "Bella?" his eyes are soft. I know that look." His eyes narrow a bit." Edward says tersely. .ten-city tour this summer²Boston. Something about the cast of our faces makes the table quiet rapidly. Oh." he says. "I could see that." . he looks just as surprised as I am. Once we're outside. Houston²maybe even a couple of live talk show appearances. New York. ten cities? How long will he be gone? And why didn't he tell me about this? I glance at Edward's profile as he listens. I rest my hand on his thigh and squeeze gently. I thought you'd be excited. "I just heard from the publisher yesterday. By then. I feel so conflicted²I don't want this pregnancy to get in the way of his dream." "I know. and when he finally meets my eyes." I reply. "I honestly didn't know. "I have to talk to Bella. leaving our friends and family behind.

. "No." I confess. "Yes. really. I just know. Without another word." "Baby. "Oh my God. hormonal tears." I manage. I've never seen him like this. kneeling down suddenly in front of me and pressing his ear against my belly. And I know. . . he stands and pulls me into his arms. "In here?" he asks. I nod like a maniac. and his smile²pure joy. smiling through the stupid. Our mouths find each other. I'm pregnant. "Really. His eyes widen in surprise." He rests his hand on my forehead and I close my eyes. ." I nod along. Finally. running his hands through his hair. "I just . "Yeah. that things will be okay." I thought I'd seen every version of Edward. Bella." "Really. "You don't seem happy. the exposure would be good for the book and all. "Pregnant?" he repeats. But in more than twenty years." "I am. I'm not sick. whispering tender words of happiness into my hair. right? I mean." "When?" "I just took the test today." He sighs. He's beautiful. leaning into his touch." . "It's probably a good thing."I don't know what to think . smiling and laughing. feeling the blood drain from my face. what's wrong? Are you sick? You hardly ate. as if the slightest pressure might cause harm. finally opening my eyes. Edward trails off. covering his hand with mine." I say brokenly. really?" "Really. really?" He touches my abdomen so tenderly. His eyes gleam in the low lamplight.

" I run my fingers through his hair lovingly." "We'll work it out." Edward shakes his head. "Maybe I can come with you. Do four or five instead and come home inbetween. Or maybe I can talk them down from ten cities. For your career. no more worrying. "I want you to know that you're my first priority. It's nice to hear though." "Well." "I'm not leaving you alone." He nods." He kisses my stomach before standing again. I can't be more than a few weeks now. "This. Fuck it. just wanting to hear it." I say. "You do realize I'm not going on that tour. "You're happy?" I ask. all the same. I feel the vibration all through my body and I wonder if our little pea can feel it too. "The happiest I've ever been. Depending on how far along I am." "But Edward. I was worried." "Well. "This is my big night. taking both of my hands in his." Edward says. feeling so much calmer and more levelheaded about it now. it's important for you. his forehead furrowed in thought. and he closes his eyes and hums. okay?" I stretch up and kiss his cheek." he whispers against me. right?" "I know." . "Okay. "You know that." "Me too. my mind working frantically." I say."Why didn't you tell me right away?" "I didn't want to distract you on your big night. "Maybe.

I'm sure. "I'm going to be a dad?" "Yes." I say with a laugh. It quickly fades when I imagine it² Edward with a little girl or boy in his arms. no doubt in my mind. "So you're sure?" he asks again. taking my hand. "Do you think I'll be good at it?" I nod in affirmation. "You'll be the best.We hug for a few more minutes before both of us realize we better get back to the others before they send a search party." . And I'm not willing to share this with anyone yet.