"I don't know how much we should tell Renee about this," Charlie said, hesitating
with one foot out the door. He stretched, and then his stomach growled.
I nodded. "I know, i don't want to freak her out. Better to protect her. This stuff
isn't for the fainthearted."
His lips twisted up to the side ruefully. "I would have tried to protect you, too, if
I'd known how. But I guess you've never fit into the fainthearted category, have
I smiled back, pulling a blazing breath in through my teeth.
Charlie patted his stomach absently. "I'll think of something. We've got time to
discuss this, right?"
"Right," I promised him.
It had been a long day in some ways, and so short in others. Charlie was late for
dinner – Sue Clearwater was cooking for him and Billy.That was going to be an
awkward evening, but at least he'd be eating real food; I was glad someone was
trying to keep him from starving due to his lack of cooking ability.
All day the tension had made the minutes pass slowly; Charlie had never relaxed
the stiff set of his shoulders. But he'd been in no hurry to leave, either. He'd
watched two whole games – thankfully so absorbed in his thoughts that he was
totally oblivious to Emmett's suggestive jokes that got more pointed and less
football-related with each aside – and the after-game commentaries, and then the
news, not moving until Seth had reminded him of the time.
"You gonna stand Billy and my mom up, Charlie? C'mon. Bella and Nessie'll be
here tomorrow. Let's get some grub, eh?"
It had been clear in Charlie's eyes that he hadn't trusted Seth's assessment, but
he'd let Seth lead the way out. The doubt was still there as he paused now. The
clouds were thinning, the rain gone. The sun might even make an appearance just
in time to set.
"Jake says you guys were going to take off on me," he muttered to me now.
"I didn't want to do that if there was any way at all around it. That's why we're
"He said you could stay for a while, but only if I'm tough enough, and if I can
keep my mouth shut."
"Yes... but I can't promise that we'll never leave, Dad. It's pretty complicated..."
"Need to know," he reminded me.
"You'll visit, though, if you have to go?"
"I promise, Dad. Now that you know/usf enough, I think this can work. I'll keep
as close as you want."
He chewed on his lip for half a second, then leaned slowly toward me with his
arms cautiously extended. I shifted Renesmee – napping now – to my left arm,
locked my teeth, held my breath, and wrapped my right arm very lightly around
his warm, soft waist.
"Keep real close, Bells," he mumbled. "Real close."
"Love you, Dad," I whispered through my teeth.
He shivered and pulled away. I dropped my arm.
"Love you, too, kid. Whatever else has changed, that hasn't." He touched one finger
to Renesmee's pink cheek. "She sure looks a lot like you."
I kept my expression casual, though I felt anything but. "More like Edward, I
think." I hesitated, and then added, "She has your curls."
Charlie started, then snorted. "Huh. Guess she does. Huh. Grandpa." He shook
his head doubtfully. "Do I ever get to hold her?"
I blinked in shock and then composed myself. After considering for a half second
and judging Renesmee's appearance – she looked completely out – I decided that
I might as well push my luck to the limit, since things were going so well today...
"Here," I said, holding her out to him. He automatically made an awkward cradle
with his arms, and I tucked Renesmee into it. His skin wasn't quite as hot as hers,
but it made my throat tickle to feel the warmth flowing under the thin membrane.
Where my white skin brushed him it left goose bumps. I wasn't sure if this was a
reaction to my new temperature or totally psychological.
Charlie grunted quietly as he felt her weight. "She's... sturdy."
I frowned. She felt feather-light to me. Maybe my measure was off.
"Sturdy is good," Charlie said, seeing my expression. Then he muttered to himself,
"She'll need to be tough, surrounded by all this craziness." He bounced his
arms gently, swaying a little from side to side. "Prettiest baby I ever saw, including
you, kid. Sorry, but it's true."
"I know it is."
"Pretty baby," he said again, but it was closer to a coo this time.
I could see it in his face – I could watch it growing there. Charlie was just as
helpless against her magic as the rest of us. Two seconds in his arms, and already
she owned him.
"Can I come back tomorrow?"
"Sure, Dad. Of course. We'll be here."
"You'd better be," he said sternly, but his face was soft, still gazing at Renesmee.
"See you tomorrow, Nessie."
"Not you, too!"
"Her name isRenesmee. Like Renee and Esme, put together. No variations." I
struggled to calm myself without the deep breath this time. "Do you want to hear
her middle name?"
"Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together."
Charlie's eye-creasing grin lit up his face, taking me off guard. "Thanks, Bells."
"Thankyou, Dad. So much has changed so quickly. My head hasn't stopped spinning.
If I didn't have you now, I don't know how I'd keep my grip on – on reality."
I'd been about to saymy grip on who I was. That was probably more than he
Charlie's stomach growled.
"Go eat, Dad. Wewill be here." I remembered how it felt, that first uncomfortable
immersion in fantasy – the sensation that everything would disappear in the light
of the rising sun.
Charlie nodded and then reluctantly returned Renesmee to me. He glanced past
me into the house; his eyes were a little wild for a minute as he stared around the
big bright room. Everyone was still there, besides Jacob, who I could hear raiding
the refrigerator in the kitchen; Alice was lounging on the bottom step of the staircase
with Jasper's head in her lap; Carlisle had his head bent over a fat book in
his lap; Esme was humming to herself, sketching on a notepad, while Rosalie and
Emmett laid out the foundation for a monumental house of cards under the
stairs; Edward had drifted to his piano and was playing very softly to himself.
There was no evidence that the day was coming to a close, that it might be time to
eat or shift activities in preparation for evening. Something intangible had
changed in the atmosphere. The Cullens weren't trying as hard as they usually did
– the human charade had slipped ever so slightly, enough for Charlie to feel the
He shuddered, shook his head, and sighed. "See you tomorrow, Bella." He
frowned and then added, "I mean, it's not like you don't look... good. I'll get used
Charlie nodded and walked thoughtfully toward his car. I watched him drive
away; it wasn't until I heard his tires hit the freeway that I realized I'd done it. I'd
actually made it through the whole day without hurting Charlie. All by myself.
Imust have a superpower!
It seemed too good to be true. Could I really have both my new family and some
of my old as well? And I'd thought that yesterday had been perfect.
"Wow," I whispered. I blinked and felt the third set of contact lenses disintegrate.
The sound of the piano cut off, and Edward's arms were around my waist, his
chin resting on my shoulder.
"You took the word right out of my mouth."
"Edward, i did it!"
"You did. You were unbelievable. All that worrying over being a newborn, and
then you skip it altogether.'7He laughed quietly.
"I'm not even sure she's really a vampire, let alone a newborn," Emmett called
from under the stairs. "She's tootame."
All the embarrassing comments he'd made in front ofmy father sounded in my
ears again, and it was probably a good thing I was holding Renesmee. Unable to
help my reaction entirely, I snarled under my breath.
"Oooo, scary," Emmett laughed.
I hissed, and Renesmee stirred in my arms. She blinked a few times, then looked
around, her expression confused. She sniffed, then reached for my face.
"Charlie will be back tomorrow," I assured her.
"Excellent," Emmett said. Rosalie laughed with him this time.
"Not brilliant, Emmett," Edward said scornfully, holding out his hands to take
Renesmee from me. He winked when I hesitated, and so, a little confused, I gave
her to him.
"What do you mean?" Emmett demanded.
"It's a little dense, don't you think, to antagonize the strongest vampire in the
Emmett threw his head back and snorted."Please!"
"Bella," Edward murmured to me while Emmett listened closely, "do you remember
a few months ago, I asked you to do me a favor once you were immortal?"
That rang a dim bell. I sifted through the blurry human conversations. After a
moment, I remembered and I gasped, "Oh!"
Alice trilled a long, pealing laugh. Jacob poked his head around the corner, his
mouth stuffed with food.
"What?" Emmett growled.
"Really?" I asked Edward.
"Trust me," he said.
I took a deep breath. "Emmett, how do you feel about a little bet?"
He was on his feet at once. "Awesome. Bring it."
I bit my lip for a second. He was just sohuge.
"Unless you're too afraid... ?" Emmett suggested.
I squared my shoulders. "You. Me. Arm-wrestling. Dining room table. Now."
Emmett's grin stretched across his face.
"Er, Bella," Alice said quickly, "I think Esme is fairly fond of that table. It's an antique."
"Thanks," Esme mouthed at her.
"No problem," Emmett said with a gleaming smile. "Right this way, Bella."
I followed him out the back, toward the garage; I could hear all the others trailing
behind. There was a largish granite boulder standing up out of a tumble of
rocks near the river, obviously Emmett's goal. Though the big rock was a little
rounded and irregular, it would do the job.
Emmett placed his elbow on the rock and waved me forward.
I was nervous again as I watched the thick muscles in Emmett's arm roll, but I
kept my face smooth. Edward had promised I would be stronger than anyone for
a while. He seemed very confident about this, and Ifelt strong.That strong? I
wondered, looking at Emmett's biceps. I wasn't even two days old, though, and
that ought to count for something. Unless nothing was normal about me. Maybe I
wasn't as strong as a normal newborn. Maybe that's why control was so easy for
I tried to look unconcerned as I set my elbow against the stone.
"Okay, Emmett. I win, and you cannot say one more word about my sex life to
anyone, not even Rose. No allusions, no innuendos – no nothing."
His eyes narrowed. "Deal. I win, and it's going to get alot worse."
He heard my breath stop and grinned evilly. There was no hint of bluff in his
"You gonna back down so easy, little sister?" Emmett taunted. "Not much wild
aboutyou, is there? I bet that cottage doesn't have a scratch." He laughed. "Did
Edward tell you how many houses Rose and I smashed?"
I gritted my teeth and grabbed his big hand. "One, two – "
"Three," he grunted, and shoved against my hand.
Oh, I could feel the force he was exerting. My new mind seemed pretty good at all
kinds of calculations, and so I could tell that if he wasn't meeting any resistance,
his hand would have pounded right through the rock without difficulty. The pressure
increased, and I wondered randomly if a cement truck doing forty miles an
hour down a sharp decline would have similar power. Fifty miles an hour? Sixty?
It wasn't enough to move me. His hand shoved against mine with crushing force,
but it wasn't unpleasant. It felt kind of good in a weird way. I'd been so very careful
since the last time I woke up, trying so hard not to break things. It was a
strange relief to use my muscles. To let the strength flow rather than struggling to
Emmett grunted; his forehead creased and his whole body strained in one rigid
line toward the obstacle of my unmoving hand. I let him sweat – figuratively – for
a moment while I enjoyed the sensation of the crazy force running through my
A few seconds, though, and I was a little bored with it. I flexed; Emmett lost an
I laughed. Emmett snarled harshly through his teeth.
"Just keep your mouth shut," I reminded him, and then I smashed his hand into
the boulder. A deafening crack echoed off the trees. The rock shuddered, and a
piece – about an eighth of the mass – broke off at an invisible fault line and
crashed to the ground. It fell on Emmett's foot, and I snickered. I could hear Jacob's
and Edward's muffled laughter.
Emmett kicked the rock fragment across the river. It sliced a young maple in half
before thudding into the base of a big fir, which swayed and then fell into another
"It's not going to wear off that fast," I told him. "Maybe you ought to give it a
Emmett growled, flashing his teeth. "Tomorrow."
"Hey, whatever makes you happy, big brother."
As he turned to stalk away, Emmett punched the granite, shattering off an avalanche
of shards and powder. It was kind of neat, in a childish way.
Fascinated by the undeniable proof that I was stronger than the strongest vampire
I'd ever known, I placed my hand, fingers spread wide, against the rock.
Then I dug my fingers slowly into the stone, crushing rather than digging; the
consistency reminded me of hard cheese. I ended up with a handful of gravel.
"Cool," I mumbled.
With a grin stretching my face, I whirled in a sudden circle and karate-chopped
the rock with the side of my hand. The stone shrieked and groaned and – with a
big poof of dust – split in two.
I started giggling.
I didn't pay much attention to the chuckles behind me while I punched and
kicked the rest of the boulder into fragments. I was having too much fun, snickering
away the whole time. It wasn't until I heard a new little giggle, a high-pitched
peal of bells, that I turned away from my silly game.
"Did she just laugh?"
Everyone was staring at Renesmee with the same dumbstruck expression that
must have been on my face.
"Yes," Edward said.
"Whowasnt laughing?" Jake muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Tell me you didn't let go a bit on your first run, dog," Edward teased, no antagonism
in his voice at all.
"That's different," Jacob said, and I watched in surprise as he mock-punched
Edward's shoulder. "Bella's supposed to be a grown-up. Married and a mom and
all that. Shouldn't there be more dignity?"
Renesmee frowned, and touched Edward's face.
"What does she want?" I asked.
"Less dignity," Edward said with a grin. "She was having almost as much fun
watching you enjoy yourself as I was."
"Am I funny?" I asked Renesmee, darting back and reaching for her at the same
time that she reached for me. I took her out of Edward's arms and offered her the
shard of rock in my hand. "You want to try?"
She smiled her glittering smile and took the stone in both hands. She squeezed, a
little dent forming between her eyebrows as she concentrated.
There was a tiny grinding sound, and a bit of dust. She frowned, and held the
chunk up to me.
Til get it," I said, pinching the stone into sand.
She clapped and laughed; the delicious sound of it made us all join in.
The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, shooting long beams of ruby and
gold across the ten of us, and I was immediately lost in the beauty of my skin in
the light of the sunset. Dazed by it.
Renesmee stroked the smooth diamond-bright facets, then laid her arm next to
mine. Her skin had just a faint luminosity, subtle and mysterious. Nothing that
would keep her inside on a sunny day like my glowing sparkle. She touched my
face, thinking of the difference and feeling disgruntled.
"You're the prettiest," I assured her.
Tm not sure I can agree to that," Edward said, and when I turned to answer him,
the sunlight on his face stunned me into silence.
Jacob had his hand in front of his face, pretending to shield his eyes from the
glare. "Freaky Bella," he commented.
"What an amazing creature she is," Edward murmured, almost in agreement, as
if Jacob's comment was meant as a compliment. He was both dazzling and dazzled.
It was a strange feeling – not surprising, I supposed, since everything felt strange
now – this being a natural at something. As a human, I'd never been best at anything.
I was okay at dealing with Renee, but probably lots of people could have
done better; Phil seemed to be holding his own. I was a good student, but never
the top of the class. Obviously, I could be counted out of anything athletic. Not
artistic or musical, no particular talents to brag of. Nobody ever gave away a trophy
for reading books. After eighteen years of mediocrity, I was pretty used to being
average. I realized now that I'd long ago given up any aspirations of shining at
anything. I just did the best with what I had, never quite fitting into my world.
So this was really different. I was amazing now – to them and to myself. It was
like I had been born to be a vampire. The idea made me want to laugh, but it also
made me want to sing. I had found my true place in the world, the place I fit, the
place I shined.
due to some circumstances this account is mine now...