It has been six years since the Volturi failed to battle the Cullens at the baseball field. Edward and Bella have been raising Renesmee, while attending Dartmouth. Jacob stays with them to help and protect, but also allows Renesmee to home school him.
Carlisle and the rest of the family have remained in Forks, leading relatively easy, low key lives. But recently, Alice has been getting visions she doesn't understand, and they are making her ill. Edward and Carlisle have been trying to help her, communicating long distance. Finally, they decide it wouldn't hurt to have Alice visit New Hampshire for a while, theorizing that perhaps the problem is externally located in Forks.
The Cullen Mansion in New Hampshire is just as large as the Cullen Family Mansion in Forks and just as secluded. This house has been in the 'family' for decades. Alice and Jasper have their 'regular' suite, and Renesmee occupies Rosalie's room on the same floor. Bella and Edward have been living in Carlisle and Esme's suite on the top floor.
It is the Friday before St. Valentine's Day - a day Edward always looks forward to, because Bella allows him to spoil her in honor of the holiday. This year, Edward has planned to drive her to a mountain ski resort, where he's reserved a private Chalet...
"I don't know, Jazz. She just looked so...devastated." Alice stared out the window of the 747 airliner, into the dusk falling over the tarmac.
"It's the only thing to do, darlin'. You know you can't go on like this. Edward's the only one who might be able to help," Jasper whispered reassuringly into her ear. His breath was like a soothing tonic to her.
"But the look on Mom's face was just..." She was shaking her head slowly back and forth, as if trying to banish the memory.
"Esme will be all right. Carlisle will keep her safe, and Rosalie will keep her occupied until we get back. You have to focus now on yourself ... on getting better." Jasper traced the line of her cheek with his fingertip, emphasizing the dark purple hue of the skin surrounding her eyes, black with hunger.
She lifted her chin to smile weakly back at him as she felt his calm wash over her in a fresh wave of concern. "You know that Edward's not the only one who can help. I may need..." Her voice choked off.
"They're family, Alice. Of course they'll help, you know they will..."
"No, Jazz. I don't. I can't see, I can't know. Being blind like this is frightening. I'm scared silly."
"You know, it's like that all the time for the rest of us..." Jasper smiled back at her.
"It's a hard life," she sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. His cool hand on her forehead helped the headache a little bit. She breathed deeply, trying to relax as much as she could while the plane lifted off from SeaTac Airport.
"Aw, c'mon Nessie, when am I ever gonna need to know this stuff?" Jacob pleaded as he stepped back from the chalkboard where Renesmee had just finished putting up a basic problem in Calculus. The large and handsome library they studied together in took up half of the second floor of the mansion. The Cullen library was as well stocked as any library in New England. Not that it mattered anymore, now that the internet had overtaken printed material. But Nessie's father was extremely old fashioned, and insisted on the power of paper.
She turned to him, slapping her hands together, dusting the chalk off of her fingers. "That's what you said about Geometry, too, remember?" She had hoped the chalkboard would help Jake with the learning process; he was not too keen on computers.
"Okay, baby. I got the spatial relationships between math and carpentry; it helps knowing. I get it. But this? This stuff is crazy..."
"If we're ever going to be able to discuss scientific methodology, you need to know this 'crazy stuff'." She winked back at him slyly, teasing him with her smile, the tilt of her head. She put her finger lightly underneath his chin, lifting his eyes to hers.
Jacob took in a deep breath as her touch sent a physical shock through him like never before. He stood there, silently taking in her beauty-her bottomless brown eyes, her long, thick, coppery curls, her pale, flawless skin. So very much like her mother, a little taller perhaps, a little rounder, and yet, even more appealing, somehow. His heartbeat began to speed up and the electric shock of her touch was still coursing through every part of him. He swallowed hard and took a step backward, retreating from her warily.
Renesmee's eyes narrowed for an instant, her face contorted into a look of hurt and confusion. "What's wrong, Jake?"
He took another slow step away from her, his heart racing in his chest. Get a grip on yourself. She's only six and a half years old, he told himself. But even as he gazed at her, he knew this was no six year old he'd ever known... In fact, Nessie was not a human six year old, he reminded himself, as he gazed at her standing before him. Her body more resembled a young woman of seventeen years than a child of six. Suddenly, he realized there was the hint of a new scent on his tongue, something so faint, only he could've detected it with his attuned sense of smell. Something he remembered from long ago... blood, her blood. But she wasn't hurt; she couldn't be cut... His confusion lasted only seconds. Deep in his core, he realized what was going on. She didn't even know it herself, yet. He looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. Her very proximity singed every molecule of his body.
She wrinkled her face into a frown of concern. "What?" She stepped toward him, reaching for his face with both hands. "Are you all right? You look..."
In that instant, Jacob was overcome by her scent; his eyes went black with desire. He was moving forward then, closing the space between them, pulling her against himself gently by her waist. Jake stared into her eyes while she held his face between her hands, examining him as if looking for signs of illness. Images of Charlie when he caught a cold last year, a dying little girl Carlisle was treating in the hospital when Nessie had visited him there one day, and Sue Clearwater when she had accidentally burned her hand in the kitchen while making dinner last Christmas danced before his eyes as she flashed through them quickly, changing from one to the other in a continuous cycle as she worried.
Slowly, as if in slow motion, his face fell towards hers. She looked deeply into his eyes, only understanding at the last moment before their lips met. Her protest was only an instant of surprise and instinctual hesitation. Jake pulled back slightly, barely touching his lips to hers so their breath intermingled and washed over both of their faces as they exhaled together.
Renesmee's hands were still on his face. Suddenly, images of him holding her hand, picking her up, hugging her, touching her in every loving, caring way flew through his mind as she sifted them, looking for anything that could fit what she was feeling, when the last image of her father planting a passionate kiss on Bella imbedded itself with finality, and he felt her pull on his cheeks. Moaning in exultation, he covered her mouth with his instantly. Their bodies pressed tightly to each other, they swayed together with the passion of love's first kiss, all else forgotten. Time lost all meaning as they fell deeper and deeper into each other's arms. They didn't hear the approach of swift footsteps, or the whooshing air of an opening door.
Renesmee was startled by the nearness of the familiar voice, and Jacob responded to her momentary distress instantly, releasing her and turning toward the sound, defiant, ready for battle.
"What's going on here, guys?" Edward asked lightly, turning to look Jacob in the face, one eyebrow raised.
Realizing the inappropriateness of his stance, Jake relaxed, and his expression changed quickly from fierce to abashed. "Nothing," he said clearing his throat. "Nessie was, ah, just trying to explain the, uh, usefulness of calculus."
Nessie's not a baby anymore. She's... she's a woman...she's menstruating! he thought to Edward.
"Really?" Edward's tone clearly conveyed his annoyance at both answers.
"Really, Dad. We were just about to knock off for today anyway." Nessie started to turn away from her father, but he quickly reached out to wrap his arm around her shoulders. Not only foiling her attempt to escape, his motion caused her to awkwardly stumble backwards into his supporting grip.
"That's good, because I have something I'd like to talk to you about, young lady," Edward said, as he firmly guided her toward the library door. Looking over his shoulder at Jacob, he said, "Stay here. It'll be your turn in a minute."
Jacob grimaced as he nodded assent, acknowledging the threat.
C'mon, Dad, are you going to be a Neanderthal about this?
"If I am, it's certainly my right. You're my only child, and I'm not going to stand by and watch while you mangle your future in utter ignorance."
What are you talking about? It was only a kiss...
"Today, it was only a kiss. But you need to understand much that we haven't had the heart to impress upon you yet, Nessie. We love you, and we want the best for you, sweetheart. Please be patient and allow us to help you as you take this step into womanhood."
What in the world do you mean? Womanhood?
Edward opened the left half of the double doors before them that led to Esme's suite. Bella stood there, a vision of pale and perfect beauty, expectantly smiling at her daughter. "Come in, darling. It seems we have a few things to discuss..."
Edward gently pushed his daughter forward and closed the door of the bedroom suite behind her, as he turned and headed back down the stairs toward the library.
Jacob looked up warily as Edward opened the door and approached him.
Did you, did you...tell her?
"She's with her mother upstairs. I told Bella what was going on before I left her to come here and interrupt the two of you."
I, I didn't know, I mean I didn't expect... she really caught me by surprise...
"Apparently." Edward moved past him to sit at the table in front of the now forgotten chalk board. "So things have to change again, Jacob. What do you intend to do now?" He motioned for Jacob to have a seat at the table across from him.
Well, gee... I suppose it's time to ask her to marry me, see if she'll have me, don't you think?
"No. I don't - and I don't think you're thinking, either! You're jumping the gun, Jacob. Renesmee's body may have matured, but in many ways, she's still a child. You need to go slower, for her sake."
Well, then, what about a promise ring - a sort of pre-engagement?
"Fine, if Renesmee agrees, a pre-engagement will be all right for now. As long as you realize how emotionally young she still is. As the man, and hopefully, the master of this relationship, you must promise me to take responsibility for the two of you keeping your physical bonds chaste. I know from my personal experience in these matters, that will naturally make this the highest priority in your relationship with Nessie."
Jacob stared with a blank expression at Edward, so he further stressed, "This you cannot deny." Realizing Jacob was still looking at him in confusion, Edward continued, "I know that you, of all people, know the importance of having special medical options in place before you consummate your relationship. Understand?"
You mean that you think Nessie and I might have problems like...?
"I mean that there's never been a couple like you and Nessie before, and we can't be sure what physical consequences the two of you are going to face."
Jacob hung his head in despair, and finally sank into the chair Edward had indicated. You don't really think it's going to be as rough as... His head was shaking at his memory of the horror show that was Renesmee's birth.
"We don't know, Jake. All I'm saying is you need to go slow here. Have you thought about any formal education for her and for you?"
Well, if Nessie is done with her growth spurts, I guess we can consider enrolling somewhere. I'm sure she's going to be bored out of her mind with high school, though. Does she look old enough for college?
Edward smiled. "Yes, I think we can enroll her at U. Mass under their advanced high school program. Do you think you could qualify to go there with her?"
I think so, if she'll agree to tutor me.
"That's good, then. Let's plan on summer school for the both of you, okay?" Edward stood up. "I'll arrange the paperwork; it won't be a problem."
Oh God, Edward, I couldn't bear it if she has to endure that because of, because of... you know. Jacob bowed his head and covered his face with his hands.
"Don't go there yet, Jacob. All I'm saying is go slow with her, one thing at a time." Edward zipped around the table and put his hand on Jake's shoulder, empathizing. "It's all up to you. I'm trusting you with her safety, with her life. As long as you understand how dangerous this could be for her, I know you'll be cautious."
Oh God... Jacob crumbled, laying his head down on his arms crossed on the table top. Edward patted his back to comfort him, but knew there really was no comfort to give him.
Jasper had one arm around Alice's shoulders as he steered the rental car up the winding, rural road toward the Cullen Mansion. Alice rested her head on his shoulder, with her eyes closed tightly, in an effort to block everything out. It wasn't working. The vision kept replaying itself in bloody detail; she couldn't stop it. If vampires could get sick, this would be how she would describe it.
"How you doing, darlin'?" Jasper's lips brushed her forehead as yet another wave of calm washed over her.
"The same, I'm afraid."
"We're almost there. I wouldn't be surprised if Edward can hear us by now."
"If he can, I can't see it," Alice whimpered.
Jasper kissed her lightly again. "It's going to be all right. Just try to relax." The gray, overcast skies of New Hampshire gave him some hope. At least the weather was cooperating with them. He worried silently about his soul mate. She hadn't been able to keep down any nourishment for almost a month now. Everything Carlisle had tried had failed, and steadily, Alice had gotten worse. Edward would have readily come home to help, but Carlisle thought that wasn't the best approach. After all, he'd theorized that perhaps Forks, or more accurately, something or someone in or around Forks, was the cause of the problem. If that were the case, it was a better idea for Alice to go to see him in New Hampshire.
Edward and Carlisle had spent countless hours on the phone, trying to isolate Alice's malady. But Alice's gift was unique, and this illness was related inextricably to her abilities. They were guessing, and so far, they'd been guessing wrong. If only Alice hadn't hidden her pain from them for so long, until it was no longer possible for her to hide it. Now, they weren't sure how much longer she would be able to take it. Something had to work and work fast, or the pain would drive her mad.
Jasper sighed as the long drive was suddenly lined on both sides by evenly spaced evergreens, and the wide, ornate, black metal gate across the road in the distance began to open wide as they approached.
Alice lifted her head in anticipation. "Edward hears us," she whispered.
Jasper nodded in agreement.
"He Hears Us!" she exclaimed.
"You see him?" Jasper questioned tentatively.
"Yes!" She smiled back at his relieved expression. "Thank God!" she said as she kissed Jasper quickly on the lips and nestled against his shoulder once more. He didn't see that as soon as she relaxed against him, her eyes glazed over, and a new vision appeared to her.
Jasper hugged her tightly and relaxed just a little with the relief a husband feels when his long-suffering wife finally succumbs to a pain reliever. He had every confidence that Edward would be able to help; coming here was definitely the right thing to do. His smile widened when he drove up to the circular driveway, to find Edward and Jacob standing there, waiting to greet them. Just a few short years ago, he would never have imagined the presence of a werewolf to be a welcomed sight, but Jacob was family now. He pulled around the circle, to stop the car right in front of them. He turned off the engine and pulled Alice out the driver's side door with him. They flitted to the other side of the car and were instantly being hugged and punched and generally made welcome at home.
"Hey, bro! It's about time!" Edward laughed.
"Yeah, what'd it take us? Maybe half an hour to get here from the airport?" Jasper looked to Alice.
Grinning back, she gave Edward a smug look. "It would have been half that if I had my Porsche here."
"Well, dog, looks like life in the country is treating you well!" Jasper mused.
Jacob patted his flat stomach. "Yeah, some things never change, Jazz...especially you. What did you rent here?" Jacob looked around them to check out the new Mustang convertible.
Alice shrugged. "It's the best they could do on short notice. The only thing it has in common with my Porsche is the color." They all laughed and headed inside.
No sooner had the front door closed, than a voice rang from the upstairs suite. "Auntie Alice!"
Jacob felt a slight breeze of air stir around him, and then saw Bella already in Alice's arms, while he heard Nessie's footfalls still on the stairs, but not very far behind. Soon, the girls were twirling each other around in joy at their reunion, and the guys watched, enjoying their glee. Especially Jasper, who hadn't felt this good since Bella had left Forks with Edward.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're here, Alice! I've missed you sooo much!" Bella crooned.
"Me, too," Alice agreed heartily.
Once the hugging and touching toned down, Bella looked at Alice with worried eyes. "You don't look so good, sis."
"I know. That's why we're here, sis."
"Edward brought something home for you. I know it's not kosher, but we all think it's worth a try."
Alice's face went blank for an instant. "Oh, I don't think that..."
"I do, though, Alice," Edward broke in. "Human blood has the most power to heal our kind, and you need healing. There's plenty for you and Nessie, and plenty more where that came from. It's all donated, no one dies, vampires heal; it's all good." He smiled down at her with that compassionate but firm smile he seemed to have finally inherited from Carlisle.
Bella was already in the kitchen, preparing a warm cup for Alice.
"Oh, all right," she sighed in a resigned tone. "But you guys have to promise to stay very close next time we hunt, deal?" Alice was worried about her ability to abstain after partaking so freely.
"No problem, sis," Edward promised.
Jasper hugged her reassuringly around her waist as they followed Bella into the kitchen.
"How're you doin', Jazz?" Jacob asked, well aware of Jasper's weakness when it came to the warm aroma of human blood in the air.
"I'll be fine. Even better when Alice is back to her old self again." Jasper acknowledged Jacob's intent. "I could use a hunting trip sometime soon, though," he admitted. "It's been hard to find time for that lately."
Edward nodded. "I could use a hunting trip soon myself. How about you, Bella?"
"I'm fine. I'd just as soon stay with Alice for the time being. You guys go ahead. We'll be okay here." But she was at Edward's side immediately, gazing into his eyes, even as she spoke.
"We won't be long, love," he said softly, kissing the tip of her nose and smiling wistfully.
Alice gave Jasper a playful push. "Go on, then, you two. Leave us some handsome bucks for later."
Edward lifted his head to gaze meaningfully at Jake. "You comin?"
"Naw," Jacob slurred. "I'd better stay here and make sure all this blood drinkin' doesn't go to their heads." He grinned back at Edward.
"Fine," Edward said curtly. "Just make sure you behave yourself."
Jacob raised his eyebrows in innocence, a wide smile on his face.
"Don't worry, Edward," Bella said in a subdued tone. "We're all fine here. You and Jazz go bag yourselves some dinner." She threw her arms around his waist. His chin was on the top of her head. Edward winked at Alice as he gave Bella one last squeeze. Then, he and Jasper were out the front door and in the Mustang, leaving a dust trail in the circular drive out front.
Edward pulled the Mustang into a rest stop that was nestled into the side of the mountain they'd been driving up. It was the only vehicle there. He and Jasper got out and sat on the picnic table put there for tourists to spread out their picnic lunches on. The air was clean and cool, but Edward knew this place had promise. A herd of deer would be by soon to drink from the mountain spring that was just around the bend up ahead. In the meantime, he had questions.
"So, Jasper. Tell me what's going on with Alice that she's hiding from me," Edward pressed.
She's hiding from you? Tell me, and we'll both know, bro. I hate to hear that she didn't open up to you immediately. I thought once we got here, that you would know...
Edward was shaking his head. "No, she's deliberately hiding from me. I don't know how long she'll be able to keep it up in her weakened condition, but it saddens me to think she's spending what's left of her energy to keep me out."
Why would she do that, though? I mean, we came all this way to be by you. She has all her hopes on you... Jasper shook his head in disbelief and confusion. I don't know how much more of this she could have taken, Edward. It was driving us both insane. Thank goodness she's finally getting some relief at last.
"She did look just a bit stronger. When did she start feeling better?" Edward questioned.
Just as soon as we got through the gates and she started 'seeing' you... Didn't you know?
"No, I was er, a little distracted. I'm glad she's better, but I have no idea why, unless Carlisle was right about the influence of Forks..."
I don't think that would account for it. She was still pretty weak on the plane and on the drive here. Like I said, she didn't actually perk up until we got onto the estate.
"Hmm..." Edward stood up resolutely and clapped his hand down on Jasper's shoulder. "What do you say we hit those bucks coming up on the waterfall over there?" he encouraged.
Jasper nodded, and they disappeared into the cool night air.
Alice sipped the warm liquid slowly, cautiously, as if she wasn't convinced she'd be able to keep it down, although she had to admit, it tasted wonderful. Her eyes were glazed over as she stood staring at the tiled kitchen floor.
Bella stood in front of her, leaning unnecessarily against the kitchen counter, a worried look on her face. "You're a mess, Alice. We've been so worried..." Bella leaned over and snapped her fingers low, between Alice's eyes and the flooring.
"I'm sorry." Alice looked up at Bella, and then leaned forward to peek out at Jacob and Renesmee, who were watching TV in the living room just around the corner. "I've been worried about you, too, sis."
"Me?" Bella didn't keep the surprise out of her tone. "What do you mean?"
"These visions, the ones that are attacking me... in a way, they're about all of us, but I believe they're mostly about you, Bella. I've been doing my best to hide it from Edward, because we all know how insanely over protective he can be, and I've been afraid of what he'll do when he sees."
"Oh no, not again."
"I'm afraid so. It's the Volturi."
"But Alice, why would you hide this from the family? Don't we need to prepare..."
"No, no!" she hissed quietly. "If we do that, it's all over. It has to be you, just you, Bella, or we're all dead. You're the only one who can successfully sneak into Volterra and get back out again. Edward will never allow you to do this alone if he finds out, and if you don't, it's over for all of us."
"Tell me, Alice."
"You know Aro wants me and he wants Edward. You also know he's afraid of you, but what you don't know is that even more than Edward and me, he wants you or he wants your ashes. The more time that passes, the more obsessed he becomes. It's bad enough already, but Caius is goading him on constantly, hoping Aro will act and give him a chance to wage another war." Alice watched as Bella's face folded into a horrified frown.
"Does Edward know this?"
"Yes, he's always known, ever since Aro refused the battle. You're a major threat, Bella. He can't control you, and that means he knows he can't control the Cullens, which, in his view, also means he's no longer in control of North America. He just won't stand for that." Alice took another small sip from her cup.
"So if this has been going on for five or more years, then, why are these visions just now attacking you, Alice? What's changed?"
"Aro's acquired a new talent. His name is Peridot. He's the one attacking me, sending these visions halfway across the planet in endless wave after wave of excruciating bloody detail. Bella, even though he's incredibly powerful, he's being persuaded to serve Aro by Chelsea. Over the years, Chelsea's power has increased to such an intensity that those under her spell are virtually prisoners. It's not Peridot's idea, or even his nature to behave like this. He's a virtual slave, like so many of Aro's people are. Bella, you must destroy Chelsea and free him. It's the only solution that will weaken the Volturi long enough to give us Cullens any peace."
Bella stared at Alice in complete terror. "Alice... I don't know how to... if I can do that," she stammered.
"You must, Bella. Chelsea is the key. She's very old, and her power over the Volturi is formidable, but she's no fighter. You can do this.
"Aro and Caius are going to visit Amun a week from this coming Thursday. They'll take the twins, Renata, Felix, and Demetri. Marcus and the rest of the guard will remain at Volterra. It will be your best chance to get to Chelsea."
"What does Aro hope to accomplish with this attack on you, Alice, do you know?"
"I think so. Aro's trying to hide his intentions from us. He's planning something he doesn't want me to see. My guess is that this visit to Amun's Coven probably has something to do with Benjamin, but he hasn't made his decision yet, so I've no way to be certain of that.
"The blocking vision is always the same, but it's getting more and more powerful as Peridot's attack becomes stronger and stronger. And as I weaken, he finds it easier and easier to assault me." Alice frowned into her cup.
"Can we warn Amun?"
Alice's face relaxed for a split second. "Did Edward keep a contact number for Benjamin?"
"Of course; you know Edward."
"We could warn Tia or Benjamin, they would take us seriously. But..." Alice's face clouded over.
"What is it?"
"If we do that, Aro will be even more incensed. He'll know we interfered. Bella, if we warn them, you have to eliminate Chelsea. He'll use every power at his disposal to take us out. Whatever happens after we warn Amun, the Cullens and the Volturi will be enemies forever."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend..." Bella mumbled.
"What?" Alice tilted her head in a question.
"Nothing. Alice, the Volturi are already our enemies. Edward knew this before they ever came to our door with an army ready to destroy us. Exactly what is this vision he's using to attack you with?"
Alice sighed, hesitating.
"C'mon, sis. I can take it."
"All right, but you absolutely cannot tell Edward. He would try to prevent it, and that would lead directly to his death. Got it?" Alice stared into Bella's eyes soberly, pausing for effect as Bella nodded slowly in agreement. "It's the Volturi sneaking up on each member of our family when they are alone or vulnerable, and then slaughtering them one by one over the course of time, until you are the only one of us left standing, holding Renesmee's bloody, lifeless body in your arms and screaming as loudly as your voice can manage."
Bella gasped in horror. "Oh my God!"
"I don't know if these visions are in any way prophetic or not... All I do know for sure is that I can't see past them, and..." Alice leaned forward, touching her forehead to Bella's, and whispered so low, not even the sensitive ears in the TV room would be able to hear. "I haven't had a single attack since we got here. Bella, are you protecting me now?"
"I suppose I am," she admitted.
"You have to stop."
"I've seen what I needed to see, and now, if you don't stop shielding me, they'll know where you are, and I'll have led them straight to you. You have to stop protecting me now."
"No, Alice, don't be silly. If they wanted to find me, there are lots of other, easier ways to do it."
"Maybe that was true, once, but not anymore. Your shield has become more powerful and subtle than even you seem to be aware of, Bella. Your loved ones here are always shielded now. The Volturi had no way of finding you through them once you left Forks. I'm certain that's the other reason why they attacked me like this, to find out where I'd go and lead them to you."
Bella stared back at Alice, as though she were looking up from the bottom of a grave. Terror set in, and all her fears were centered around her family. "What do we do, Alice?"
"Well, if you don't stop shielding me, our only other choice is to run. That means we have to tell Jasper and Edward, and as I said before, as far as I can see, that never turns out very well for any of us."
"What if we tell them only part of what's going on?"
"What are you suggesting?"
"What if we tell Edward and Jasper only about Aro's plan to visit Amun? Let them make the decision to warn Benjamin?"
Alice nodded slowly, as her eyes glazed over. "Yes, I see where you're going. Edward will want to go back to Forks immediately."
"Only, I can't go back to Forks, I have to finish up things here..."
"He'll want you to stay with him..."
"But he has to protect Renesmee, take her home with Jacob."
"Yes, but it will be hard for him to do that..." Alice countered.
"Still, I think he can be convinced, especially if..." Bella swallowed hard and whimpered as she nodded with understanding. "At least finish your meal," Bella said, indicating the cup.
Alice tilted it back and finished it with a brave face, and then put it empty on the counter.
Bella choked out, "Sis, I'm so sorry..." and then like a light switch turned off, Alice crumpled helplessly into Bella's waiting arms.