"Can I ask just one more?" I pleaded as Edward accelerated much too quickly down the quiet street. He didn't seem to be paying any attention to the road.
"One," he agreed. His lips pressed together into a cautious line.
"Well... you said you knew I hadn't gone into the bookstore, and that I had gone south. I was just wondering how you knew that."
He looked away, deliberating.
"I thought we were past all the evasiveness," I grumbled.
He almost smiled.
"Fine, then. I followed your scent." He looked at the road, giving me time to compose my face. I couldn't think of an acceptable response to that, but I filed it carefully away for future study. I tried to refocus. I wasn't ready to let him be finished, now that he was finally explaining things.
"And then you didn't answer one of my first questions..." I stalled.
He looked at me with disapproval. "Which one?"
"How does it work - the mind-reading thing? Can you read anybody's mind, anywhere? How do you do it? Can the rest of your family... ?" I felt silly, asking for clarification on make-believe.
"That's more than one," he pointed out. I simply intertwined my fingers and gazed at him, waiting.
"No, it's just me. And I can't hear anyone, anywhere. I have to be fairly close. The more familiar someone's... 'voice' is, the farther away I can hear them. But still, no more than a few miles." He paused thoughtfully. "It's a little like being in a huge hall filled with people, everyone talking at once. It's just a hum - a buzzing of voices in the background. Until I focus on one voice, and then what they're thinking is clear.
"Most of the time I tune it all out - it can be very distracting. And then it's easier to seem normal" - he frowned as he said the word - "when I'm not accidentally answering someone's thoughts rather than their words."
"Why do you think you can't hear me?" I asked curiously.
He looked at me, his eyes enigmatic.
"I don't know," he murmured. "The only guess I have is that maybe your
mind doesn't work the same way the rest of theirs do. Like your thoughts are on the AM frequency and I'm only getting FM." He grinned at me, suddenly amused.
"My mind doesn't work right? I'm a freak?" The words bothered me more than they should - probably because his speculation hit home. I'd always suspected as much, and it embarrassed me to have it confirmed.
"I hear voices in my mind and you're worried that you're the freak," he laughed. "Don't worry, it's just a theory..." His face tightened. "Which brings us back to you."
I sighed. How to begin?
"Aren't we past all the evasions now?" he reminded me softly.
I looked away from his face for the first time, trying to find words. I happened to notice the speedometer.
"Holy crow!" I shouted. "Slow down!"
"What's wrong?" He was startled. But the car didn't decelerate.
"You're going a hundred miles an hour!" I was still shouting. I shot a panicky glance out the window, but it was too dark to see much. The road was only visible in the long patch of bluish brightness from the headlights. The forest along both sides of the road was like a black wall - as hard as a wall of steel if we veered off the road at this speed.
"Relax, Bella." He rolled his eyes, still not slowing.
"Are you trying to kill us?" I demanded.
"We're not going to crash."
I tried to modulate my voice. "Why are you in such a hurry?"
"I always drive like this." He turned to smile crookedly at me.
"Keep your eyes on the road!"
"I've never been in an accident, Bella - I've never even gotten a ticket." He grinned and tapped his forehead. "Built-in radar detector."
"Very funny." I fumed. "Charlie's a cop, remember? I was raised to abide by traffic laws. Besides, if you turn us into a Volvo pretzel around a tree trunk, you can probably just walk away."
"Probably," he agreed with a short, hard laugh. "But you can't." He sighed, and I watched with relief as the needle gradually drifted toward eighty. "Happy?"
"I hate driving slow," he muttered.
"This is slow?"
"Enough commentary on my driving," he snapped. "I'm still waiting for your latest theory."
I bit my lip. He looked down at me, his honey eyes unexpectedly gentle.
"I won't laugh," he promised.
"I'm more afraid that you'll be angry with me."
"Is it that bad?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
He waited. I was looking down at my hands, so I couldn't see his
"Go ahead." His voice was calm.
"I don't know how to start," I admitted.
"Why don't you start at the beginning... you said you didn't come up with this on your own."
"What got you started - a book? A movie?" he probed.
"No - it was Saturday, at the beach." I risked a glance up at his face. He looked puzzled.
"I ran into an old family friend -Jacob Black," I continued. "His dad and Charlie have been friends since I was a baby."
He still looked confused.
"His dad is one of the Quileute elders." I watched him carefully. His confused expression froze in place. "We went for a walk -" I edited all my scheming out of the story "- and he was telling me some old legends - trying to scare me, I think. He told me one..." I hesitated.
"Go on," he said.
"About vampires." I realized I was whispering. I couldn't look at his face now. But I saw his knuckles tighten convulsively on the wheel.
"And you immediately thought of me?" Still calm.
"No. He... mentioned your family."
He was silent, staring at the road.
I was worried suddenly, worried about protecting Jacob.
"He just thought it was a silly superstition," I said quickly. "He didn't expect me to think anything of it." It didn't seem like enough; I had to confess. "It was my fault, I forced him to tell me."
"Lauren said something about you - she was trying to provoke me. And an older boy from the tribe said your family didn't come to the reservation, only it sounded like he meant something different. So I got Jacob alone and I tricked it out of him," I admitted, hanging my head.
He startled me by laughing. I glared up at him. He was laughing, but his eyes were fierce, staring ahead.
"Tricked him how?" he asked.
"I tried to flirt - it worked better than I thought it would." Disbelief colored my tone as I remembered.
"I'd like to have seen that." He chuckled darkly. "And you accused me of dazzling people - poor Jacob Black."
I blushed and looked out my window into the night.
"What did you do then?" he asked after a minute.
"I did some research on the Internet."
"And did that convince you?" His voice sounded barely interested. But his hands were clamped hard onto the steering wheel.
"No. Nothing fit. Most of it was kind of silly. And then..." I stopped.
"I decided it didn't matter," I whispered.
"It didn't matter?" His tone made me look up - I had finally broken through his carefully composed mask. His face was incredulous, with just a hint of the anger I'd feared.
"No," I said softly. "It doesn't matter to me what you are."
A hard, mocking edge entered his voice. "You don't care if I'm a monster? If I'm not human!"
He was silent, staring straight ahead again. His face was bleak and cold.
"You're angry," I sighed. "I shouldn't have said anything."
"No," he said, but his tone was as hard as his face. "I'd rather know what you're thinking - even if what you're thinking is insane."
"So I'm wrong again?" I challenged.
"That's not what I was referring to. 'It doesn't matter'!" he quoted, gritting his teeth together.
"I'm right?" I gasped.
"Does it matter?"
I took a deep breath.
"Not really." I paused. "But I am curious." My voice, at least, was composed.
He was suddenly resigned. "What are you curious about?"
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," he answered promptly.
"And how long have you been seventeen?"
His lips twitched as he stared at the road. "A while," he admitted at last.
"Okay." I smiled, pleased that he was still being honest with me. He stared down at me with watchful eyes, much as he had before, when he was worried I would go into shock. I smiled wider in encouragement, and he frowned.
"Don't laugh - but how can you come out during the daytime?"
He laughed anyway. "Myth."
"Burned by the sun?"
"Sleeping in coffins?"
"Myth." He hesitated for a moment, and a peculiar tone entered his voice. "I can't sleep."
It took me a minute to absorb that. "At all?"
"Never," he said, his voice nearly inaudible. He turned to look at me with a wistful expression. The golden eyes held mine, and I lost my train of thought. I stared at him until he looked away.
"You haven't asked me the most important question yet." His voice was
hard now, and when he looked at me again his eyes were cold.
I blinked, still dazed. "Which one is that?"
"You aren't concerned about my diet?" he asked sarcastically.
"Oh," I murmured, "that."
"Yes, that." His voice was bleak. "Don't you want to know if I drink blood?"
I flinched. "Well, Jacob said something about that."
"What did Jacob say?" he asked flatly.
"He said you didn't... hunt people. He said your family wasn't supposed to be dangerous because you only hunted animals."
"He said we weren't dangerous?" His voice was deeply skeptical.
"Not exactly. He said you weren't supposed to be dangerous. But the Quileutes still didn't want you on their land, just in case."
He looked forward, but I couldn't tell if he was watching the road or not.
"So was he right? About not hunting people?" I tried to keep my voice as even as possible.
"The Quileutes have a long memory," he whispered.
I took it as a confirmation.
"Don't let that make you complacent, though," he warned me. "They're right to keep their distance from us. We are still dangerous."
"I don't understand."
"We try," he explained slowly. "We're usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you."
"This is a mistake?" I heard the sadness in my voice, but I didn't know if he could as well.
"A very dangerous one," he murmured.
We were both silent then. I watched the headlights twist with the curves of the road. They moved too fast; it didn't look real, it looked like a video game. I was aware of the time slipping away so quickly, like the black road beneath us, and I was hideously afraid that I would never have another chance to be with him like this again - openly, the walls between us gone for once. His words hinted at an end, and I recoiled from the idea. I couldn't waste one minute I had with him.
"Tell me more," I asked desperately, not caring what he said, just so I could hear his voice again.
He looked at me quickly, startled by the change in my tone. "What more do you want to know?"
"Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people," I suggested, my voice still tinged with desperation. I realized my eyes were wet, and I fought against the grief that was trying to overpower me.
"I don't want to be a monster." His voice was very low.
"But animals aren't enough?"
He paused. "I can't be sure, of course, but I'd compare it to living on tofu and soy milk; we call ourselves vegetarians, our little inside joke. It doesn't completely satiate the hunger - or rather thirst. But it keens us strong enough to resist. Most of the time." His tone turned ominous.
"Sometimes it's more difficult than others."
"Is it very difficult for you now?" I asked.
He sighed. "Yes."
"But you're not hungry now," I said confidently - stating, not asking.
"Why do you think that?"
"Your eyes. I told you I had a theory. I've noticed that people - men in particular - are crabbier when they're hungry."
He chuckled. "You are observant, aren't you?"
I didn't answer; I just listened to the sound of his laugh, committing it to memory.
"Were you hunting this weekend, with Emmett?" I asked when it was quiet again.
"Yes." He paused for a second, as if deciding whether or not to say something. "I didn't want to leave, but it was necessary. It's a bit easier to be around you when I'm not thirsty."
"Why didn't you want to leave?"
"It makes me... anxious... to be away from you." His eyes were gentle but intense, and they seemed to be making my bones turn soft. "I wasn't joking when I asked you to try not to fall in the ocean or get run over last Thursday. I was distracted all weekend, worrying about you. And after what happened tonight, I'm surprised that you did make it through a whole weekend unscathed." He shook his head, and then seemed to remember something. "Well, not totally unscathed."
"Your hands," he reminded me. I looked down at my palms, at the almost-healed scrapes across the heels of my hands. His eyes missed nothing.
"I fell," I sighed.
"That's what I thought." His lips curved up at the corners. "I suppose, being you, it could have been much worse - and that possibility tormented me the entire time I was away. It was a very long three days. I really got on Emmett's nerves." He smiled ruefully at me.
"Three days? Didn't you just get back today?"
"No, we got back Sunday."
"Then why weren't any of you in school?" I was frustrated, almost angry as I thought of how much disappointment I had suffered because of his absence.
"Well, you asked if the sun hurt me, and it doesn't. But I can't go out in the sunlight - at least, not where anyone can see."
"I'll show you sometime," he promised.
I thought about it for a moment.
"You might have called me," I decided.
He was puzzled. "But I knew you were safe."
"But I didn't know where you were. I -" I hesitated, dropping my eyes.
"What?" His velvety voice was compelling.
"I didn't like it. Not seeing you. It makes me anxious, too." I blushed to be saying this out loud.
He was quiet. I glanced up, apprehensive, and saw that his expression was pained.
"Ah," he groaned quietly. "This is wrong."
I couldn't understand his response. "What did I say?"
"Don't you see, Bella? It's one thing for me to make myself miserable, but a wholly other thing for you to be so involved." He turned his anguished eyes to the road, his words flowing almost too fast for me to understand. "I don't want to hear that you feel that way." His voice was low but urgent. His words cut me. "It's wrong. It's not safe. I'm dangerous, Bella - please, grasp that."
"No." I tried very hard not to look like a sulky child.
"I'm serious," he growled.
"So am I. I told you, it doesn't matter what you are. It's too late."
His voice whipped out, low and harsh. "Never say that."
I bit my lip and was glad he couldn't know how much that hurt. I stared out at the road. We must be close now. He was driving much too fast.
"What are you thinking?" he asked, his voice still raw. I just shook my head, not sure if I could speak. I could feel his gaze on my face, but I kept my eyes forward.
"Are you crying?" He sounded appalled. I hadn't realized the moisture in my eyes had brimmed over. I quickly rubbed my hand across my cheek, and sure enough, traitor tears were there, betraying me.
"No," I said, but my voice cracked.
I saw him reach toward me hesitantly with his right hand, but then he stopped and placed it slowly back on the steering wheel.
"I'm sorry." His voice burned with regret. I knew he wasn't just apologizing for the words that had upset me.
The darkness slipped by us in silence.
"Tell me something," he asked after another minute, and I could hear him struggle to use a lighter tone.
"What were you thinking tonight, just before I came around the corner? I couldn't understand your expression - you didn't look that scared, you looked like you were concentrating very hard on something."
"I was trying to remember how to incapacitate an attacker - you know, self-defense. I was going to smash his nose into his brain." I thought of the dark-haired man with a surge of hate.
"You were going to fight them?" This upset him. "Didn't you think about running?"
"I fall down a lot when I run," I admitted.
"What about screaming for help?"
"I was getting to that part."
He shook his head. "You were right - I'm definitely fighting fate trying to keep you alive."
I sighed. We were slowing, passing into the boundaries of Forks. It had taken less than twenty minutes.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" I demanded.
"Yes - I have a paper due, too." He smiled. "I'll save you a seat at lunch."
It was silly, after everything we'd been through tonight, how that little promise sent flutters through my stomach, and made me unable to speak.
We were in front of Charlie's house. The lights were on, my truck in its place, everything utterly normal. It was like waking from a dream. He stopped the car, but I didn't move.
"Do you promise to be there tomorrow?"
I considered that for a moment, then nodded. I pulled his jacket off, taking one last whiff.
"You can keep it - you don't have a jacket for tomorrow," he reminded me.
I handed it back to him. "I don't want to have to explain to Charlie."
"Oh, right." He grinned.
I hesitated, my hand on the door handle, trying to prolong the moment.
"Bella?" he asked in a different tone - serious, but hesitant.
"Yes?" I turned back to him too eagerly.
"Will you promise me something?"
"Yes," I said, and instantly regretted my unconditional agreement. What if he asked me to stay away from him? I couldn't keep that promise.
"Don't go into the woods alone."
I stared at him in blank confusion. "Why?"
He frowned, and his eyes were tight as he stared past me out the window.
"I'm not always the most dangerous thing out there. Let's leave it at that."
I shuddered slightly at the sudden bleakness in his voice, but I was relieved. This, at least, was an easy promise to honor. "Whatever you say."
"I'll see you tomorrow," he sighed, and I knew he wanted me to leave now.
"Tomorrow, then." I opened the door unwillingly.
"Bella?" I turned and he was leaning toward me, his pale, glorious face just inches from mine. My heart stopped beating.
"Sleep well," he said. His breath blew in my face, stunning me. It was the same exquisite scent that clung to his jacket, but in a more concentrated form. I blinked, thoroughly dazed. He leaned away.
I was unable to move until my brain had somewhat unscrambled itself. Then I stepped out of the car awkwardly, having to use the frame for support. I thought I heard him chuckle, but the sound was too quiet for me to be certain.
He waited till I had stumbled to the front door, and then I heard his engine quietly rev. I turned to watch the silver car disappear around the corner. I realized it was very cold.
I reached for the key mechanically, unlocked the door, and stepped inside.
Charlie called from the living room. "Bella?"
"Yeah, Dad, it's me." I walked in to see him. He was watching a baseball game.
"You're home early."
"Am I?" I was surprised.
"It's not even eight yet," he told me. "Did you girls have fun?"
"Yeah - it was lots of fun." My head was spinning as I tried to remember all the way back to the girls' night out I had planned. "They both found dresses."
"Are you all right?"
"I'm just tired. I did a lot of walking."
"Well, maybe you should go lie down." He sounded concerned. I wondered what my face looked like.
"I'm just going to call Jessica first."
"Weren't you just with her?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes - but I left my jacket in her car. I want to make sure she brings it tomorrow."
"Well, give her a chance to get home first."
"Right," I agreed.
I went to the kitchen and fell, exhausted, into a chair. I was really feeling dizzy now. I wondered if I was going to go into shock after all. Get a grip, I told myself.
The phone rang suddenly, startling me. I yanked it off the hook.
"Hello?" I asked breathlessly.
"Hey, Jess, I was just going to call you."
"You made it home?" Her voice was relieved... and surprised.
"Yes. I left my jacket in your car - could you bring it to me tomorrow?"
"Sure. But tell me what happened!" she demanded.
"Um, tomorrow - in Trig, okay?"
She caught on quickly. "Oh, is your dad there?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Okay, I'll talk to you tomorrow, then. Bye!" I could hear the impatience in her voice.
I walked up the stairs slowly, a heavy stupor clouding my mind. I went through the motions of getting ready for bed without paying any attention to what I was doing. It wasn't until I was in the shower - the water too hot, burning my skin - that I realized I was freezing. I shuddered violently for several minutes before the steaming spray could finally relax my rigid muscles. Then I stood in the shower, too tired to move, until the hot water began to run out.
I stumbled out, wrapping myself securely in a towel, trying to hold the heat from the water in so the aching shivers wouldn't return. I dressed for bed swiftly and climbed under my quilt, curling into a ball, hugging myself to keep warm. A few small shudders trembled through me.
My mind still swirled dizzily, full of images I couldn't understand, and some I fought to repress. Nothing seemed clear at first, but as I fell gradually closer to unconsciousness, a few certainties became evident.
About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was part of him - and I didn't know how potent that part might be - that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.