Post Reply chapter 2: EVASION
Posted 12/5/08
I FELT ODDLY BUOYANT AS I WALKED FROM SPANISH toward the cafeteria,
and it wasn’t just because I was holding hands with the most perfect person
on the planet, though that was certainly part of it.
Maybe it was the knowledge that my sentence was served and I was a free
woman again.
Or maybe it wasn’t anything to do with me specifically. Maybe it was the
atmosphere of freedom that hung over the entire campus. School was
winding down, and, for the senior class especially, there was a perceptible
thrill in the air.
Freedom was so close it was touchable, taste-able. Signs of it were
everywhere. Posters crowded together on the cafeteria walls, and the
trashcans wore a colorful skirt of spilled-over fliers: reminders to buy
yearbooks, class rings, and announcements; deadlines to order graduation
gowns, hats, and tassels; neon-bright sales pitches — the juniors
campaigning for class office; ominous, rose-wreathed advertisements for
this year’s prom. The big dance was this coming weekend, but I had an
ironclad promise from Edward that I would not be subjected to that again.
After all, I’d already had that human experience.
No, it must be my personal freedom that lightened me today. The ending of
the school year did not give me the pleasure it seemed to give the other
students. Actually, I felt nervous to the point of nausea whenever I thought
of it. I tried to not think of it.
But it was hard to escape such an omnipresent topic as graduation.
“Have you sent your announcements, yet?” Angela asked when Edward and
I sat down at our table. She had her light brown hair pulled back into a
sloppy ponytail instead of her usual smooth hairdo, and there was a slightly
frantic look about her eyes.
Alice and Ben were already there, too, on either side of Angela. Ben was
intent over a comic book, his glasses sliding down his narrow nose. Alice
was scrutinizing my boring jeans-and-a-t-shirt outfit in a way that made me
self-conscious. Probably plotting another makeover. I sighed. My indifferent
attitude to fashion was a constant thorn in her side. If I’d allow it, she’d
love to dress me every day — perhaps several times a day — like some
oversized three-dimensional paper doll.
“No,” I answered Angela. “There’s no point, really. Renée knows when I’m
graduating. Who else is there?”
“How about you, Alice?”
Alice smiled. “All done.”
“Lucky you.” Angela sighed. “My mother has a thousand cousins and she
expects me to hand-address one to everybody. I’m going to get carpal
tunnel. I can’t put it off any longer and I’m just dreading it.”
“I’ll help you,” I volunteered. “If you don’t mind my awful handwriting.”
Charlie would like that. From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward smile. He
must like that, too — me fulfilling Charlie’s conditions without involving
werewolves.
Angela looked relieved. “That’s so nice of you. I’ll come over any time you
want.”
“Actually, I’d rather go to your house if that’s okay — I’m sick of mine.
Charlie un-grounded me last night.” I grinned as I announced my good
news.
“Really?” Angela asked, mild excitement lighting her always-gentle brown
eyes. “I thought you said you were in for life.”
“I’m more surprised than you are. I was sure I would at least have finished
high school before he set me free.”
“Well, this is great, Bella! We’ll have to go out to celebrate.”
“You have no idea how good that sounds.”
“What should we do?” Alice mused, her face lighting up at the possibilities.
Alice’s ideas were usually a little grandiose for me, and I could see it in her
eyes now — the tendency to take things too far kicking into action.
“Whatever you’re thinking, Alice, I doubt I’m that free.”
“Free is free, right?” she insisted.
“I’m sure I still have boundaries — like the continental U.S., for example.”
Angela and Ben laughed, but Alice grimaced in real disappointment.
“So what are we doing tonight?” she persisted.
“Nothing. Look, let’s give it a couple of days to make sure he wasn’t joking.
It’s a school night, anyway.”
“We’ll celebrate this weekend, then.” Alice’s enthusiasm was impossible to
repress.
“Sure,” I said, hoping to placate her. I knew I wasn’t going to do anything
too outlandish; it would be safer to take it slow with Charlie. Give him a
chance to appreciate how trustworthy and mature I was before I asked for
any favors.
Angela and Alice started talking about options; Ben joined the conversation,
setting his comics aside. My attention drifted. I was surprised to find that
the subject of my freedom was suddenly not as gratifying as it had been
just a moment ago. While they discussed things to do in Port Angeles or
maybe Hoquiam, I began to feel disgruntled.
It didn’t take long to determine where my restlessness stemmed from.
Ever since I’d said goodbye to Jacob Black in the forest outside my home,
I’d been plagued by a persistent, uncomfortable intrusion of a specific
mental picture. It popped into my thoughts at regular intervals like some
annoying alarm clock set to sound every half hour, filling my head with the
image of Jacob’s face crumpled in pain. This was the last memory I had of
him.
As the disturbing vision struck again, I knew exactly why I was dissatisfied
with my liberty. Because it was incomplete.
Sure, I was free to go to anywhere I wanted — except La Push; free to do
anything I wanted — except see Jacob. I frowned at the table. There had to
be some kind of middle ground.
“Alice? Alice!”
Angela’s voice yanked me from my reverie. She was waving her hand back
and forth in front of Alice’s blank, staring face. Alice’s expression was
something I recognized — an expression that sent an automatic shock of
panic through my body. The vacant look in her eyes told me that she was
seeing something very different from the mundane lunchroom scene that
surrounded us, but something that was every bit as real in its own way.
Something that was coming, something that would happen soon. I felt the
blood slither from my face.
Then Edward laughed, a very natural, relaxed sound. Angela and Ben
looked toward him, but my eyes were locked on Alice. She jumped
suddenly, as if someone had kicked her under the table.
“Is it naptime already, Alice?” Edward teased.
Alice was herself again. “Sorry, I was daydreaming, I guess.”
“Daydreaming’s better than facing two more hours of school,” Ben said.
Alice threw herself back into the conversation with more animation than
before — just a little bit too much. Once I saw her eyes lock with Edward’s,
only for a moment, and then she looked back to Angela before anyone else
noticed. Edward was quiet, playing absentmindedly with a strand of my
hair.
I waited anxiously for a chance to ask Edward what Alice had seen in her
vision, but the afternoon passed without one minute of alone time.
It felt odd to me, almost deliberate. After lunch, Edward slowed his pace to
match Ben’s, talking about some assignment I knew he’d already finished.
Then there was always someone else there between classes, though we
usually had a few minutes to ourselves. When the final bell rang, Edward
struck up a conversation with Mike Newton of all people, falling into step
beside him as Mike headed for the parking lot. I trailed behind, letting
Edward tow me along.
I listened, confused, while Mike answered Edward’s unusually friendly
queries. It seemed Mike was having car troubles.
“. . . but I just replaced the battery,” Mike was saying. His eyes darted
ahead and then back to Edward warily. Mystified, just like I was.
“Perhaps it’s the cables?” Edward offered.
“Maybe. I really don’t know anything about cars,” Mike admitted. “I need to
have someone look at it, but I can’t afford to take it to Dowling’s.”
I opened my mouth to suggest my mechanic, and then snapped it shut
again. My mechanic was busy these days — busy running around as a giant
wolf.
“I know a few things — I could take a look, if you like,” Edward offered.
“Just let me drop Alice and Bella at home.”
Mike and I both stared at Edward with our mouths hanging open.
“Er . . . thanks,” Mike mumbled when he recovered. “But I have to get to
work. Maybe some other time.”
“Absolutely.”
“See ya.” Mike climbed into his car, shaking his head in disbelief.
Edward’s Volvo, with Alice already inside, was just two cars away.
“What was that about?” I muttered as Edward held the passenger door for
me.
“Just being helpful,” Edward answered.
And then Alice, waiting in the backseat, was babbling at top speed.
“You’re really not that good a mechanic, Edward. Maybe you should have
Rosalie take a look at it tonight, just so you look good if Mike decides to let
you help, you know. Not that it wouldn’t be fun to watch his face if Rosalie
showed up to help. But since Rosalie is supposed to be across the country
attending college, I guess that’s not the best idea. Too bad. Though I
suppose, for Mike’s car, you’ll do. It’s only within the finer tunings of a good
Italian sports car that you’re out of your depth. And speaking of Italy and
sports cars that I stole there, you still owe me a yellow Porsche. I don’t
know that I want to wait for Christmas. . . .”
I stopped listening after a minute, letting her quick voice become just a
hum in the background as I settled into my patient mode.
It looked to me like Edward was trying to avoid my questions. Fine. He
would have to be alone with me soon enough. It was only a matter of time.
Edward seemed to realize that, too. He dropped Alice at the mouth of the
Cullens’ drive as usual, though by this point I half expected him to drive her
to the door and walk her in.
As she got out, Alice threw a sharp look at his face. Edward seemed
completely at ease.
“See you later,” he said. And then, ever so slightly, he nodded.
Alice turned to disappear into the trees.
He was quiet as he turned the car around and headed back to Forks. I
waited, wondering if he would bring it up himself. He didn’t, and this made
me tense. What had Alice seen today at lunch? Something he didn’t want to
tell me, and I tried to think of a reason why he would keep secrets. Maybe
it would be better to prepare myself before I asked. I didn’t want to freak
out and have him think I couldn’t handle it, whatever it was.
So we were both silent until we got to back to Charlie’s house.
“Light homework load tonight,” he commented.
“Mmm,” I assented.
“Do you suppose I’m allowed inside again?”
“Charlie didn’t throw a fit when you picked me up for school.”
But I was sure Charlie was going to turn sulky fast when he got home and
found Edward here. Maybe I should make something extra-special for
dinner.
Inside, I headed up the stairs, and Edward followed. He lounged on my bed
and gazed out the window, seeming oblivious to my edginess.
I stowed my bag and turned the computer on. There was an unanswered email
from my mom to attend to, and she got panicky when I took too long.
I drummed my fingers as I waited for my decrepit computer to wheeze
awake; they snapped against the desk, staccato and anxious.
And then his fingers were on mine, holding them still.
“Are we a little impatient today?” he murmured.
I looked up, intending to make a sarcastic remark, but his face was closer
than I’d expected. His golden eyes were smoldering, just inches away, and
his breath was cool against my open lips. I could taste his scent on my
tongue.
I couldn’t remember the witty response I’d been about to make. I couldn’t
remember my name.
He didn’t give me a chance to recover.
If I had my way, I would spend the majority of my time kissing Edward.
There wasn’t anything I’d experienced in my life that compared to the
feeling of his cool lips, marble hard but always so gentle, moving with mine.
I didn’t often get my way.
So it surprised me a little when his fingers braided themselves into my hair,
securing my face to his. My arms locked behind his neck, and I wished I
was stronger — strong enough to keep him prisoner here. One hand slid
down my back, pressing me tighter against his stone chest. Even through
his sweater, his skin was cold enough to make me shiver — it was a shiver
of pleasure, of happiness, but his hands began to loosen in response.
I knew I had about three seconds before he would sigh and slide me deftly
away, saying something about how we’d risked my life enough for one
afternoon. Making the most of my last seconds, I crushed myself closer,
molding myself to the shape of him. The tip of my tongue traced the curve
of his lower lip; it was as flawlessly smooth as if it had been polished, and
the taste —
He pulled my face away from his, breaking my hold with ease — he
probably didn’t even realize that I was using all my strength.
He chuckled once, a low, throaty sound. His eyes were bright with the
excitement he so rigidly disciplined.
“Ah, Bella.” He sighed.
“I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not.”
“And I should feel sorry that you’re not sorry, but I don’t. Maybe I should
go sit on the bed.”
I exhaled a little dizzily. “If you think that’s necessary. . . .”
He smiled crookedly and disentangled himself.
I shook my head a few times, trying to clear it, and turned back to my
computer. It was all warmed up and humming now. Well, not as much
humming as groaning.
“Tell Renée I said hello.”
“Sure thing.”
I scanned through Renée’s e-mail, shaking my head now and then at some
of the dippier things she’d done. I was just as entertained and horrified as
the first time I’d read this. It was so like my mother to forget exactly how
paralyzed she was by heights until she was already strapped to a parachute
and a dive instructor. I felt a little frustrated with Phil, her husband of
almost two years, for allowing that one. I would have taken better care of
her. I knew her so much better.
You have to let them go their own way eventually, I reminded myself. You
have to let them have their own life. . . .
I’d spent most of my life taking care of Renée, patiently guiding her away
from her craziest plans, good-naturedly enduring the ones I couldn’t talk
her out of. I’d always been indulgent with my mom, amused by her, even a
little condescending to her. I saw her cornucopia of mistakes and laughed
privately to myself. Scatterbrained Renée.
I was a very different person from my mother. Someone thoughtful and
cautious. The responsible one, the grown-up. That’s how I saw myself. That
was the person I knew.
With the blood still pounding in my head from Edward’s kiss, I couldn’t help
but think of my mother’s most life-altering mistake. Silly and romantic,
getting married fresh out of high school to a man she barely knew, then
producing me a year later. She’d always promised me that she had no
regrets, that I was the best gift her life had ever given her. And yet she’d
drilled it into me over and over — smart people took marriage seriously.
Mature people went to college and started careers before they got deeply
involved in a relationship. She knew I would never be as thoughtless and
goofy and small-town as she’d been. . . .
I gritted my teeth and tried to concentrate as I answered her letter.
Then I hit her parting line and remembered why I’d neglected to write
sooner.
You haven’t said anything about Jacob in a long time, she’d written. What’s
he up to these days?
Charlie was prompting her, I was sure.
I sighed and typed quickly, tucking the answer to her question between two
less sensitive paragraphs.
Jacob is fine, I guess. I don’t see him much; he spends most of his time
with a pack of his friends down at La Push these days.
Smiling wryly to myself, I added Edward’s greeting and hit “send.”
I didn’t realize that Edward was standing silently behind me again until after
I’d turned off the computer and shoved away from the desk. I was about to
scold him for reading over my shoulder when I realized that he wasn’t
paying any attention to me. He was examining a flat black box with wires
curling crookedly away from the main square in a way that didn’t look
healthy for whatever it was. After a second, I recognized the car stereo
Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper had given me for my last birthday. I’d
forgotten about the birthday presents hiding under a growing pile of dust on
the floor of my closet.
“What did you do to this?” he asked in a horrorstruck voice.
“It didn’t want to come out of the dashboard.”
“So you felt the need to torture it?”
“You know how I am with tools. No pain was inflicted intentionally.”
He shook his head, his face a mask of faux tragedy. “You killed it.”
I shrugged. “Oh, well.”
“It would hurt their feelings if they saw this,” he said. “I guess it’s a good
thing that you’ve been on house arrest. I’ll have to get another one in place
before they notice.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need a fancy stereo.”
“It’s not for your sake that I’m going to replace it.”
I sighed.
“You didn’t get much good out of your birthday presents last year,” he said
in a disgruntled voice. Suddenly, he was fanning himself with a stiff
rectangle of paper.
I didn’t answer, for fear my voice would shake. My disastrous eighteenth
birthday — with all its far-reaching consequences — wasn’t something I
cared to remember, and I was surprised that he would bring it up. He was
even more sensitive about it than I was.
“Do you realize these are about to expire?” he asked, holding the paper out
to me. It was another present — the voucher for airplane tickets that Esme
and Carlisle had given me so that I could visit Renée in Florida.
I took a deep breath and answered in a flat voice. “No. I’d forgotten all
about them, actually.”
His expression was carefully bright and positive; there was no trace of any
deep emotion as he continued. “Well, we still have a little time. You’ve been
liberated . . . and we have no plans this weekend, as you refuse to go to
the prom with me.” He grinned. “Why not celebrate your freedom this
way?”
I gasped. “By going to Florida?”
“You did say something about the continental U.S. being allowable.”
I glared at him, suspicious, trying to understand where this had come from.
“Well?” he demanded. “Are we going to see Renée or not?”
“Charlie will never allow it.”
“Charlie can’t keep you from visiting your mother. She still has primary
custody.”
“Nobody has custody of me. I’m an adult.”
He flashed a brilliant smile. “Exactly.”
I thought it over for a short minute before deciding that it wasn’t worth the
fight. Charlie would be furious — not that I was going to see Renée, but
that Edward was going with me. Charlie wouldn’t speak to me for months,
and I’d probably end up grounded again. It was definitely smarter not to
even bring it up. Maybe in a few weeks, as a graduation favor or
something.
But the idea of seeing my mother now, not weeks from now, was hard to
resist. It had been so long since I’d seen Renée. And even longer since I’d
seen her under pleasant circumstances. The last time I’d been with her in
Phoenix, I’d spent the whole time in a hospital bed. The last time she’d
come here, I’d been more or less catatonic. Not exactly the best memories
to leave her with.
And maybe, if she saw how happy I was with Edward, she would tell Charlie
to ease up.
Edward scrutinized my face while I deliberated.
I sighed. “Not this weekend.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to fight with Charlie. Not so soon after he’s forgiven me.”
His eyebrows pulled together. “I think this weekend is perfect,” he
muttered.
I shook my head. “Another time.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s been trapped in this house, you know.” He
frowned at me.
Suspicion returned. This kind of behavior was unlike him. He was always so
impossibly selfless; I knew it was making me spoiled.
“You can go anywhere you want,” I pointed out.
“The outside world holds no interest for me without you.”
I rolled my eyes at the hyperbole.
“I’m serious,” he said.
“Let’s take the outside world slowly, all right? For example, we could start
with a movie in Port Angeles. . . .”
He groaned. “Never mind. We’ll talk about it later.”
“There’s nothing left to talk about.”
He shrugged.
“Okay, then, new subject,” I said. I’d almost forgotten my worries about
this afternoon — had that been his intention? “What did Alice see today at
lunch?”
My eyes were fixed on his face as I spoke, measuring his reaction.
His expression was composed; there was only the slightest hardening of his
topaz eyes. “She’s been seeing Jasper in a strange place, somewhere in the
southwest, she thinks, near his former . . . family. But he has no conscious
intentions to go back.” He sighed. “It’s got her worried.”
“Oh.” That was nothing close to what I’d been expecting. But of course it
made sense that Alice would be watching out for Jasper’s future. He was
her soul mate, her true other half, though they weren’t as flamboyant about
their relationship as Rosalie and Emmett were. “Why didn’t you tell me
before?”
“I didn’t realize you’d noticed,” he said. “It’s probably nothing important, in
any case.”
My imagination was sadly out of control. I’d taken a perfectly normal
afternoon and twisted it until it looked like Edward was going out of his way
to keep things from me. I needed therapy.
We went downstairs to work on our homework, just in case Charlie showed
up early. Edward finished in minutes; I slogged laboriously through my
calculus until I decided it was time to fix Charlie’s dinner. Edward helped,
making faces every so often at the raw ingredients — human food was
mildly repulsive to him. I made stroganoff from Grandma Swan’s recipe,
because I was sucking up. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but it would please
Charlie.
Charlie seemed to already be in a good mood when he got home. He didn’t
even go out of his way to be rude to Edward. Edward excused himself from
eating with us, as usual. The sound of the nightly news drifted from the
front room, but I doubted Edward was really watching.
After forcing down three helpings, Charlie kicked his feet up on the spare
chair and folded his hands contentedly across his distended stomach.
“That was great, Bells.”
“I’m glad you liked it. How was work?” He’d been eating with too much
concentration for me to make conversation before.
“Sort of slow. Well, dead slow really. Mark and I played cards for a good
part of the afternoon,” he admitted with a grin. “I won, nineteen hands to
seven. And then I was on the phone with Billy for a while.”
I tried to keep my expression the same. “How is he?”
“Good, good. His joints are bothering him a little.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.”
“Yeah. He invited us down to visit this weekend. He was thinking of having
the Clearwaters and the Uleys over too. Sort of a playoff party. . . .”
“Huh,” was my genius response. But what could I say? I knew I wouldn’t be
allowed to hit a werewolf party, even with parental supervision. I wondered
if Edward would have a problem with Charlie hanging out in La Push. Or
would he suppose that, since Charlie was mostly spending time with Billy,
who was only human, my father wouldn’t be in danger?
I got up and piled the dishes together without looking at Charlie. I dumped
them into the sink and started the water. Edward appeared silently and
grabbed a dishtowel.
Charlie sighed and gave up for the moment, though I imagined he would
revisit the subject when we were alone again. He heaved himself to his feet
and headed for the TV, just like every other night.
“Charlie,” Edward said in a conversational tone.
Charlie stopped in the middle of his little kitchen. “Yeah?”
“Did Bella ever tell you that my parents gave her airplane tickets on her last
birthday, so that she could visit Renée?”
I dropped the plate I was scrubbing. It glanced off the counter and clattered
noisily to the floor. It didn’t break, but it spattered the room, and all three
of us, with soapy water. Charlie didn’t even seem to notice.
“Bella?” he asked in a stunned voice.
I kept my eyes on the plate as I retrieved it. “Yeah, they did.”
Charlie swallowed loudly, and then his eyes narrowed as he turned back to
Edward. “No, she never mentioned it.”
“Hmm,” Edward murmured.
“Was there a reason you brought it up?” Charlie asked in a hard voice.
Edward shrugged. “They’re about to expire. I think it might hurt Esme’s
feelings if Bella doesn’t use her gift. Not that she’d say anything.”
I stared at Edward in disbelief.
Charlie thought for a minute. “It’s probably a good idea for you to visit your
mom, Bella. She’d love that. I’m surprised you didn’t say anything about
this, though.”
“I forgot,” I admitted.
He frowned. “You forgot that someone gave you plane tickets?”
“Mmm,” I murmured vaguely, and turned back to the sink.
“I noticed that you said they’re about to expire, Edward,” Charlie went on.
“How many tickets did your parents give her?”
“Just one for her . . . and one for me.”
The plate I dropped this time landed in the sink, so it didn’t make as much
noise. I could easily hear the sharp huff as my father exhaled. The blood
rushed into my face, fueled by irritation and chagrin. Why was Edward
doing this? I glared at the bubbles in the sink, panicking.
“That’s out of the question!” Charlie was abruptly in a rage, shouting the
words.
“Why?” Edward asked, his voice saturated with innocent surprise. “You just
said it was a good idea for her to see her mother.”
Charlie ignored him. “You’re not going anywhere with him, young lady!” he
yelled. I spun around and he was jabbing a finger at me.
Anger pulsed through me automatically, an instinctive reaction to his tone.
“I’m not a child, Dad. And I’m not grounded anymore, remember?”
“Oh yes, you are. Starting now.”
“For what?!”
“Because I said so.”
“Do I need to remind you that I’m a legal adult, Charlie?”
“This is my house — you follow my rules!”
My glare turned icy. “If that’s how you want it. Do you want me to move
out tonight? Or can I have a few days to pack?”
Charlie’s face went bright red. I instantly felt horrible for playing the moveout
card.
I took a deep breath and tried to make my tone more reasonable. “I’ll do
my time without complaining when I’ve done something wrong, Dad, but
I’m not going to put up with your prejudices.”
He sputtered, but managed nothing coherent.
“Now, I know that you know that I have every right to see Mom for the
weekend. You can’t honestly tell me you’d object to the plan if I was going
with Alice or Angela.”
“Girls,” he grunted, with a nod.
“Would it bother you if I took Jacob?”
I’d only picked the name because I knew of my father’s preference for
Jacob, but I quickly wished I hadn’t; Edward’s teeth clenched together with
an audible snap.
My father struggled to compose himself before he answered. “Yes,” he said
in an unconvincing voice. “That would bother me.”
“You’re a rotten liar, Dad.”
“Bella —”
“It’s not like I’m headed off to Vegas to be a showgirl or anything. I’m
going to see Mom,” I reminded him. “She’s just as much my parental
authority as you are.”
He threw me a withering look.
“Are you implying something about Mom’s ability to look after me?”
Charlie flinched at the threat implicit in my question.
“You’d better hope I don’t mention this to her,” I said.
“You’d better not,” he warned. “I’m not happy about this, Bella.”
“There’s no reason for you to be upset.”
He rolled his eyes, but I could tell the storm was over.
I turned to pull the plug out of the sink. “So my homework is done, your
dinner is done, the dishes are done, and I’m not grounded. I’m going out.
I’ll be back before ten-thirty.”
“Where are you going?” His face, almost back to normal, flushed light red
again.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I’ll keep it within a ten-mile radius, though.
Okay?”
He grunted something that did not sound like approval, and stalked out of
the room. Naturally, as soon as I’d won the fight, I began to feel guilty.
“We’re going out?” Edward asked, his voice low but enthusiastic.
I turned to glower at him. “Yes. I think I’d like to speak to you alone.”
He didn’t look as apprehensive as I thought he should.
I waited to begin until we were safely in his car.
“What was that?” I demanded.
“I know you want to see your mother, Bella — you’ve been talking about
her in your sleep. Worrying actually.”
“I have?”
He nodded. “But, clearly, you were too much of a coward to deal with
Charlie, so I interceded on your behalf.”
“Interceded? You threw me to the sharks!”
He rolled his eyes. “I don’t think you were in any danger.”
“I told you I didn’t want to fight with Charlie.”
“Nobody said that you had to.”
I glowered at him. “I can’t help myself when he gets all bossy like that —
my natural teenage instincts overpower me.”
He chuckled. “Well, that’s not my fault.”
I stared at him, speculating. He didn’t seem to notice. His face was serene
as he gazed out the windshield. Something was off, but I couldn’t put my
finger on it. Or maybe it was just my imagination again, running wild like it
had this afternoon.
“Does this sudden urge to see Florida have anything to do with the party at
Billy’s place?”
His jaw flexed. “Nothing at all. It wouldn’t matter if you were here or on the
other side of the world, you still wouldn’t be going.”
It was just like with Charlie before — just like being treated as a
misbehaving child. I gritted my teeth together so I wouldn’t start shouting.
I didn’t want to fight with Edward, too.
Edward sighed, and when he spoke his voice was warm and velvet again.
“So what do you want to do tonight?” he asked.
“Can we go to your house? I haven’t seen Esme in so long.”
He smiled. “She’ll like that. Especially when she hears what we’re doing this
weekend.”
I groaned in defeat.
We didn’t stay out late, as I’d promised. I was not surprised to see the
lights still on when we pulled up in front of the house — I knew Charlie
would be waiting to yell at me some more.
“You’d better not come inside,” I said. “It will only make things worse.”
“His thoughts are relatively calm,” Edward teased. His expression made me
wonder if there was some additional joke I was missing. The corners of his
mouth twitched, fighting a smile.
“I’ll see you later,” I muttered glumly.
He laughed and kissed the top of my head. “I’ll be back when Charlie’s
snoring.”
The TV was loud when I got inside. I briefly considered trying to sneak past
him.
“Could you come in here, Bella?” Charlie called, sinking that plan.
My feet dragged as I took the five necessary steps.
“What’s up, Dad?”
“Did you have a nice time tonight?” he asked. He seemed ill at ease. I
looked for hidden meanings in his words before I answered.
“Yes,” I said hesitantly.
“What did you do?”
I shrugged. “Hung out with Alice and Jasper. Edward beat Alice at chess,
and then I played Jasper. He buried me.”
I smiled. Edward and Alice playing chess was one of the funniest things I’d
ever seen. They’d sat there nearly motionless, staring at the board, while
Alice foresaw the moves he would make and he picked the moves she
would make in return out of her head. They played most of the game in
their minds; I think they’d each moved two pawns when Alice suddenly
flicked her king over and surrendered. It took all of three minutes.
Charlie hit the mute button — an unusual action.
“Look, there’s something I need to say.” He frowned, looking very
uncomfortable.
I sat still, waiting. He met my gaze for a second before shifting his eyes to
the floor. He didn’t say anything more.
“What is it, Dad?”
He sighed. “I’m not good at this kind of thing. I don’t know how to start. . .
.”
I waited again.
“Okay, Bella. Here’s the thing.” He got up from the couch and started
pacing back and forth across the room, looking as his feet all the time. “You
and Edward seem pretty serious, and there are some things that you need
to be careful about. I know you’re an adult now, but you’re still young,
Bella, and there are a lot of important things you need to know when you . .
. well, when you’re physically involved with —”
“Oh, please, please no!” I begged, jumping to my feet. “Please tell me you
are not trying to have a sex talk with me, Charlie.”
He glared at the floor. “I am your father. I have responsibilities. Remember,
I’m just as embarrassed as you are.”
“I don’t think that’s humanly possible. Anyway, Mom beat you to the punch
about ten years ago. You’re off the hook.”
“Ten years ago you didn’t have a boyfriend,” he muttered unwillingly. I
could tell he was battling with his desire to drop the subject. We were both
standing up, looking at the floor, and facing away from each other.
“I don’t think the essentials have changed that much,” I mumbled, and my
face had to be as red as his. This was beyond the seventh circle of Hades;
even worse was realizing that Edward had known this was coming. No
wonder he’d seemed so smug in the car.
“Just tell me that you two are being responsible,” Charlie pled, obviously
wishing a pit would open in the floor so that he could fall in.
“Don’t worry about it, Dad, it’s not like that.”
“Not that I don’t trust you, Bella, but I know you don’t want to tell me
anything about this, and you know I don’t really want to hear it. I will try to
be open-minded, though. I know the times have changed.”
I laughed awkwardly. “Maybe the times have, but Edward is very oldfashioned.
You have nothing to worry about.”
Charlie sighed. “Sure he is,” he muttered.
“Ugh!” I groaned. “I really wish you were not forcing me to say this out
loud, Dad. Really. But . . . I am a . . . virgin, and I have no immediate plans
to change that status.”
We both cringed, but then Charlie’s face smoothed out. He seemed to
believe me.
“Can I go to bed, now? Please.”
“In a minute,” he said.
“Aw, please, Dad? I’m begging you.”
“The embarrassing part’s over, I promise,” he assured me.
I shot a glance at him, and was grateful to see that he looked more relaxed,
that his face was back to its regular color. He sank down onto the sofa,
sighing with relief that he was past the sex speech.
“What now?”
“I just wanted to know how the balance thing is coming along.”
“Oh. Good, I guess. I made plans with Angela today. I’m going to help her
with her graduation announcements. Just us girls.”
“That’s nice. And what about Jake?”
I sighed. “I haven’t figured that one out yet, Dad.”
“Keep trying, Bella. I know you’ll do the right thing. You’re a good person.”
Nice. So if I didn’t figure out some way to make things right with Jacob,
then I was a bad person? That was below the belt.
“Sure, sure,” I agreed. The automatic response almost made me smile — it
was something I’d picked up from Jacob. I even said it in the same
patronizing tone he used with his own father.
Charlie grinned and turned the sound back on. He slumped lower into the
cushions, pleased with his night’s work. I could tell he would be up with the
game for a while.
“’Night, Bells.”
“See you in the morning!” I sprinted for the stairs.
Edward was long gone and he wouldn’t be back until Charlie was asleep —
he was probably out hunting or something to pass the time — so I was in
no hurry to undress for bed. I wasn’t in the mood to be alone, but I
certainly wasn’t going to go back downstairs to hang out with my Dad, just
in case he thought of some topic of sex education that he hadn’t touched on
before; I shuddered.
So, thanks to Charlie, I was wound up and anxious. My homework was done
and I didn’t feel mellow enough for reading or just listening to music. I
considered calling Renée with the news of my visit, but then I realized that
it was three hours later in Florida, and she would be asleep.
I could call Angela, I supposed.
But suddenly I knew that it wasn’t Angela that I wanted to talk to. That I
needed to talk to.
I stared at the blank black window, biting my lip. I don’t know how long I
stood there weighing the pros against the cons — doing the right thing by
Jacob, seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making
Edward furious with me. Ten minutes maybe. Long enough to decide that
the pros were valid while the cons were not. Edward was only concerned
about my safety, and I knew that there was really no problem on that
count.
The phone wasn’t any help; Jacob had refused to answer my phone calls
since Edward’s return. Besides, I needed to see him — see him smiling
again the way he used to. I needed to replace that awful last memory of his
face warped and twisted by pain if I was ever going to have any peace of
mind.
I had an hour probably. I could make a quick run down to La Push and be
back before Edward realized I had gone. It was past my curfew, but would
Charlie really care about that when Edward wasn’t involved? One way to
find out.
I grabbed my jacket and shoved my arms through the sleeves as I ran
down the stairs.
Charlie looked up from the game, instantly suspicious.
“You care if I go see Jake tonight?” I asked breathlessly. “I won’t stay
long.”
As soon as I said Jake’s name, Charlie’s expression relaxed into a smug
smile. He didn’t seem surprised at all that his lecture had taken effect so
quickly. “Sure, kid. No problem. Stay as long as you like.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said as I darted out the door.
Like any fugitive, I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder a few times while
I jogged to my truck, but the night was so black that there really was no
point. I had to feel my way along the side of the truck to the handle.
My eyes were just beginning to adjust as I shoved my keys in the ignition. I
twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the
engine just clicked. I tried it again with the same results.
And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump.
“Gah!” I gasped in shock when I saw that I was not alone in the cab.
Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, only his hands
moving as he turned a mysterious black object around and around. He
stared at the object as he spoke.
“Alice called,” he murmured.
Alice! Damn. I’d forgotten to account for her in my plans. He must have her
watching me.
“She got nervous when your future rather abruptly disappeared five
minutes ago.”
My eyes, already wide with surprise, popped wider.
“Because she can’t see the wolves, you know,” he explained in the same
low murmur. “Had you forgotten that? When you decide to mingle your fate
with theirs, you disappear, too. You couldn’t know that part, I realize that.
But can you understand why that might make me a little . . . anxious? Alice
saw you disappear, and she couldn’t even tell if you’d come home or not.
Your future got lost, just like theirs.
“We’re not sure why this is. Some natural defense they’re born with?” He
spoke as if he were talking to himself now, still looking at the piece of my
truck’s engine as he twirled it in his hands. “That doesn’t seem entirely
likely, since I haven’t had any trouble reading their thoughts. The Blacks’ at
least. Carlisle theorizes that it’s because their lives are so ruled by their
transformations. It’s more an involuntary reaction than a decision. Utterly
unpredictable, and it changes everything about them. In that instant when
they shift from one form to the other, they don’t really even exist. The
future can’t hold them. . . .”
I listened to his musing in stony silence.
“I’ll put your car back together in time for school, in case you’d like to drive
yourself,” he assured me after a minute.
With my lips mashed together, I retrieved my keys and stiffly climbed out
of the truck.
“Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight. I’ll understand,” he
whispered just before I slammed the door.
I stomped into the house, slamming that door, too.
“What’s wrong?” Charlie demanded from the couch.
“Truck won’t start,” I growled.
“Want me to look at it?”
“No. I’ll try it in the morning.”
“Want to use my car?”
I wasn’t supposed to drive his police cruiser. Charlie must be really
desperate to get me to La Push. Nearly as desperate as I was.
“No. I’m tired,” I grumbled. “’Night.”
I stamped my way up the stairs, and went straight to my window. I shoved
the metal frame roughly — it crashed shut and the glass trembled.
I stared at the shivering black glass for a long moment, until it was still.
Then I sighed, and opened the window as wide as it would go.
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