The afternoon sun streamed through the window, casting a rainbow of shimmers as it hit the ring in my hand. My mother's wedding ring - someday soon, Bella's engagement ring. I had gotten into the habit of carrying the ring with me at all times, awaiting the perfect opportunity to present it to her. Much to my chagrin, the closer we neared to the graduation deadline, the more anxious she became. I feared that she was planning to accept Carlisle's offer, putting my attempts to garner more time to an end.
Sighing, I looked up at the clock on the wall. Since Bella's return from Italy and her subsequent betrayal by Jacob, she was relegated to her house when not at school or work. I was only permitted to visit her from the hours of seven to nine-thirty, under the scrutinizing watch of her father, of course. The mid-afternoon hours were the most agonizing hours of every day. Since losing Bella once, I found it increasingly difficult to tolerate any sort of separation from her. I craved her presence like a desert yearns for water.
Tap, tap, tap.
I looked up to see the curious eyes of my sister. Alice glided over to my side and took a seat beside me on the leather sofa.
"May I?" she asked, holding out her hand.
I carefully placed my mother's ring in her tiny palm. She brought it up to her face and twirled it in her fingers, sending a shower of sparkles across her face.
"It's very pretty, Edward. Bella will love it," she offered.
"Is that a prediction based on a vision...or just a woman's intuition?" I teased.
Her eyes flitted from the ring to my face and back to the ring. Her thoughts were clouded.
"What is it Alice?" I asked, an edge of concern creeping into my voice.
She bit her lip before opening her mouth to respond, a habit she had picked up from Bella. "I just don't want you to be disappointed," she murmured.
"And why would I be disappointed? What have you seen that you're not telling me?"
"Well -" she hesitated. "I'm afraid that one of my visions has become more prevalent than the other."
My jaw clenched as a wave of tension came over me. I was afraid of this. By the look on her face and the way she gazed at the ring, I could only deduce that the likelihood of the vision I preferred was waning in the shadow of the other.
I closed my eyes and asked the question I already knew the answer to. "Which vision Alice?"
"Maybe you should talk to Carlisle."
"Why would I need to talk to Carlisle? He's already consented. If you have seen something other than the two dueling visions we've been watching for weeks, Alice, you need to tell me right now." Her vague answers were beginning to worry me.
"It's not necessarily the vision that's changed, but there's something about its sudden prevalence that bothers me," she admitted.
"And...?" I asked, becoming impatient.
She took a deep breath and placed the ring back in my palm, closing my fingers over it, and clasping my hand in hers. "For the past several weeks, I saw Bella in a wedding gown almost daily. The vision came to my mind so often that its certainty was almost undeniable."
"But something's changed. There may be several factors, but the vision of Bella with Carlisle has taken over and I'm afraid that one of the reasons may be you."
"Me?" I gaped at her.
"You keep pushing Bella to apply for college. You keep prodding her along, encouraging her to plan a future that you know will postpone her change, but she can see that as well. Your subtle hints are not so subtle and she's started to pick up on it."
I shook my head. It was a very thin line that I was forced to walk daily - seeming supportive of whatever Bella decided to do with her future and persuading her as best I could to seek an alternative. But I couldn't stop. I was pressed against a daunting deadline; graduation looming less than a month away. Each day moved Bella closer and closer to her death, closer to immortality. Although I would have her with me for always, I would mourn the loss of her blushing cheeks, the sweet aroma of her blood, the beautifully resounding palpitations of her heart.
She may be changing her mind, but I had to press on. What did I have to lose? As time dwindled, the urgency to persuade her only intensified. Perhaps I should make her another offer. What else could I offer her in exchange for her agreement to remain human for a little while longer?
"Alice?" I asked, bringing my mind back to the present.
"You said that I was one of the factors. What is the other?"
She lowered her eyes. Don't be angry, Edward.
"Why would I be angry? What have you done, Alice?" I hissed.
"Nothing, I swear!" she nearly shouted, raising her hands up defensively. "It's nothing that any of us have done, but something we should be concerned about. You know the situation in Seattle that Jasper has been monitoring?"
"Well, we all know that the most important rule is to protect the secret, right?"
"Right..." I was drawing out my words, trying to determine where this conversation was going.
"I think it would be prudent that we not allow the situation to escalate any further, unless we want someone to come to Seattle and clean it up - someone who would undoubtedly come here and check up to see if a certain promise has been kept."
A hiss escaped my lips. I, too, had been keeping a watchful eye on the headlines coming from Seattle. It was unmistakably the work of a newborn vampire. All the evidence was clear - well, clear to another vampire, at least. The humans were baffled by the slayings. But if it was a newborn vampire, one who had obviously been left unattended by its sire, then their reckless actions would certainly pose a risk of exposure. And when the law was broken...a shiver ran up my spine at the thought of the Volturi coming to visit so soon after our last encounter. I had proposed a plan to thwart them, but making a plan and putting it into action were two entirely different prospects. I didn't want Bella anywhere near those monsters.
Without a word, I rose from the couch and left to find Carlisle, Alice following closely behind.
Patients with 17-hydroxylase deficiency have alterations in their CYP17 gene, which encodes the P450C17 enzyme. This enzyme plays a central role in steroidogenesis, being essential for the production of ...
Carlisle looked up from his text as he heard me approaching. Nearly six weeks had passed since my return home, yet Carlisle breathed a sigh of relief every time our eyes met. He kept his thoughts of that time well hidden, but I shuddered every time I thought about the strain I had put him through.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, setting his book down.
"Carlisle," I began. "Do you think it will be necessary for us to intervene in Seattle?"
His eyebrow arched. We've never gotten involved before. Why now... His eyes grew wide as he realized exactly why I was asking. ...ah, Bella.
"You spent quite some time with them, Carlisle. What is their procedure? At what point to they make the determination to intercede?" I asked.
He furrowed his brow as he thought for a moment. "In the past, they would act as soon as any evidence of exposure was garnered. They've become lax as of late, but I would venture to guess, due to recent events and the proximity of this situation to our home, that they will act more quickly."
"Do we need to be concerned that they will come here?" I asked, my hands beginning to clench at my sides.
"Well, of course it's a possibility..."
"I can see them coming," Alice interjected. "I can keep watch and we will know as soon as a decision to come here is made."
"See," Carlisle said, smiling. "We will have fair warning if they decide to come here and that will give you ample time to hide Bella. We won't let any harm come to her, Edward, we can promise you that. For that matter, Bella has made it perfectly clear that she wishes to be changed. If the Volturi do intend to come here, we can fulfill the promise that was made and there will be no reason for them to cause us any trouble."
"But..." I opened my mouth to protest.
Carlisle raised his hand. "I know that you hope for something more for her, Edward, but this was her decision. I will honor the promise I made to her."
I lowered my eyes, unwilling to argue with my father. The time for protests and negotiations had passed. Everything was now up to Bella. I glanced at the clock over Carlisle's desk and my worries were abruptly calmed as I realized the time. I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind, focusing instead on the peace I would feel once Bella was in my arms again.
Carlisle nodded, seeing the look in my eyes as I turned to leave. Alice smiled sweetly - a little too sweetly.
"What is it, Alice?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing," she replied, batting her eyelashes.
"You'll see," she teased as she turned to skip from the room, humming to herself.
Argh, how exasperating! I didn't have time to deal with Alice now; I had more important things to attend to. Bella would be waiting for me.
"Go get her, Tiger!" Emmett called as I ran to the garage.
I chuckled lightly as I eased into the leather seat and started the ignition. It was amazing how just the thought of Bella could dispel every concern, every bit of gloom. The brilliancy of Bella's love chased away all the shadows - brought the light back into my life.
I listened intently to the conversation between father and daughter as I pulled in front of the Swan home. Choosing not to heed Alice's warning, I gathered the envelope of college applications and roll of stamps in my hands. As far as evening activities went, Charlie certainly couldn't object to this.
"Some of these places are pretty pricey, Bells. I want to help. You don't have to go all the way to Alaska just because it's cheaper," Charlie reasoned. I knew full well why she had chosen to apply to the University of Alaska, and the price of tuition had very little to do with it.
"I've got it covered," she replied. "Besides, there's lots of financial aid out there. It's easy to get loans." Again, something she wouldn't need.
"So..." Charlie hesitated.
"Nothing. I was just..." Why does this have to be...Remember, Charlie, don't push too hard. You don't want to lose her. "Just wondering what...Edward's plans are for next year?"
"Oh," Bella sighed. She knew full well that my plans revolved completely around her. I would follow her anywhere. Our lives were intrinsically linked, inseparable until she ordered me away.
"Well?" Charlie asked.
Saving Bella from the awkwardness of trying to lie to her father, I knocked on the door. I could hear the sound of her chair skidding across the floor as she pushed herself from the table.
"Coming!" she called. Her steps grew louder as she ran to the door.
"Ugh, just go away," Charlie mumbled under his breath. When will she see that this guy is not right for her? There's something about him that I just can't put my finger on. He seems nice enough, but there's just something about the way they hover around each other that doesn't sit right with me. It's not healthy, if you ask me.
I could hear the beautiful sound of Bella's heart racing as she neared. The door flew open and there she was - my angel. The light cast from the kitchen formed a glow around her, highlighting the red accents in her hair. I couldn't hold back the smile that spread across my face. Her eyes slowly made their way to mine and as our eyes met, her breathing stopped. Her knees wobbled slightly as she reached for my hand. My fingers interlaced with hers, hot and cold meeting and the result was pure ecstasy.
"Hey," she smiled, her cheeks blushing slightly as I lifted our joined hands to brush her cheek. She closed her eyes briefly and leaned into my touch.
"How was your afternoon?" I asked.
"For me, as well," I replied. She had no idea how agonizingly long a few hours could seem to a vampire. I lifted her hand to my face, her ivory skin lightly caressing my own. I closed my eyes, breathing deeply, allowing the scent of freesia to completely envelop me. The slow burn in my throat was nearly undetectable and a satisfied smile crept up the corners of my mouth.
Okay now, let's not stand in the doorway all evening. Either come in or get out, Charlie huffed as he pushed his chair away from the table. I lowered Bella's hand as he peeked around the corner. I saw his eyes flit briefly from my face to his gun belt that hung on the wall and back to me.
"Good evening, Charlie," I greeted calmly.
Charlie grumbled in response and crossed his arms, making it quite clear that I was an unwelcome guest in his home, not that his reaction was unexpected. Ever since our altercation upon my return, Charlie had done nothing but make it abundantly clear that he did not want me anywhere near his daughter. Bella, on the other hand, made it plain that he had no choice in the matter.
"I brought another set of applications," I smiled at Bella and held up the thick envelope. She responded by rolling her eyes and letting out a sharp breath. "There are still a few open deadlines," I reassured her. "And a few places willing to make exceptions."
She made a face and I chuckled lightly. At least Charlie could approve of my efforts to get Bella into college, even if Bella herself was less than enthusiastic. I gathered that she would rather put off the entire concept of continuing her education in order to accept Carlisle's offer of immortality. Little did she know that Carlisle had actually sided with me on this matter, agreeing that her continued education was important. She didn't have to know that Carlisle was secretly calling in favors to all the universities he had tenured in the past.
"Shall we?" I asked, tugging her arm slightly as she followed me into the kitchen. Charlie shadowed my movements, keeping a watchful eye. My hand felt perceptibly cooler as Bella released her grasp to stride past me. She picked up her weathered copy of Wuthering Heights from the table and moved it to the counter. Why did she continually read that novel? What was it that she found so fascinating? It was one of the many peculiarities of Bella's mind that puzzled me.
"Speaking of college applications, Edward - Bella and I were just talking about next year. Have you decided where you're going to school?" Charlie asked. Preferably somewhere very far away.
"Not yet. I've received a few acceptance letters, but I'm still weighing my options."
I'll bet you are. "Where have you been accepted?"
"Syracuse...Harvard...Dartmouth...and I just got accepted to the University of Alaska Southeast today." I turned, winking at Bella. Her face flushed and she brought her hand to her mouth as she tried to hold in her laughter. I could hear Charlie's blood pressure begin to rise.
"Harvard? Dartmouth?...Well, that's pretty...that's something," he stumbled over his words, clearly trying to hide his surprise. "Yeah, but the University of Alaska...you wouldn't really consider that when you could go Ivy League. I mean, your father would want you to..." Please don't tell me that I'm going to have to have another conversation with Carlisle. Sending Bella away to college was my last hope of getting her out on her own...away from you.
"Carlisle's always fine with whatever I choose to do," I replied.
"Hmph," he re-crossed his arms and lowered his eyes; mentally forming the conversation he would have with my father about my education.
Bella's voice broke the awkward silence. "Guess what, Edward?" she smiled brightly.
She grinned as she pointed to an envelope on the counter. "I just got my acceptance to the University of Alaska!"
"Congratulations! What a coincidence!" I smiled at her conspiratorially as Charlie continued to fume in the corner.
"Fine," he mumbled before leaving the room. "I'm going to go watch the game, Bella. Nine-thirty." He shot me a glare before turning toward the living room.
I saw a brief flash of puzzlement on Bella's face. "Er, Dad? Remember the very recent discussion about my freedom...?" she asked. My ears perked up and I looked from her to Charlie, taking note of the chagrin on his face. Could it be? Had he finally released Bella from her punishment? I was surprised that I hadn't picked up on it in his thoughts. I had kept watch, waiting for any indication that he would re-establish her freedom, but his decision had not wavered. Esme would be thrilled to see her again...and Emmett too.
Charlie sighed in defeat, "Right. Okay, ten-thirty. You still have a curfew on school nights."
"Bella's no longer grounded?" I asked, failing to conceal my sudden burst of excitement.
"Conditionally," he responded. "What's it to you?" I didn't do it for your benefit! I may not have read that note from Jacob, but after talking to Billy, I have a pretty good idea what it said. Jacob really needs her right now - I hope she realizes that.
"It's just good to know. Alice has been itching for a shopping partner, and I'm sure Bella would love to see some city lights."
Absolutely not! You're not going anywhere near Seattle - it's far too dangerous. Charlie's blood pressure began to rise again and his face turned an alarming shade of violet. "NO!" he bellowed.
Bella's jaw dropped at her father's sudden outburst. "Dad! What's the problem?"
"I don't want you going to Seattle right now."
"Huh?" she asked, seemingly confused.
Does she listen to anything I say? He sighed dramatically. "I told you about that story in the paper - there's some kind of gang on a killing spree in Seattle and I want you to steer clear, okay?" I absently picked up the discarded newspaper, scanning the headlines. It was nothing new to me, but I felt the need to demonstrate to Charlie that I wasn't completely unaware of the danger.
"Dad," she whined, "there's a better chance that I'll get struck by lightning than that the one day I'm in Seattle -"
"No, that's fine, Charlie," I interrupted, glancing up from the newspaper to meet Charlie's eyes. "I didn't mean Seattle. I was thinking Portland, actually. I wouldn't have Bella in Seattle, either. Of course not." I returned my gaze to the paper, seemingly engrossed in the article.
"Fine," he grumbled before sauntering off to the living room. Bella stared after him, biting her lip until the sounds of the television began blaring.
"What -" she began.
"Hold on," I whispered, holding up a finger to halt her question. My eyes remained trained on the newspaper, avoiding Bella's stare. I stealthily reached my other hand out and slid a stack of papers across to her.
She glanced briefly at the college application in front of her and back at me, opening her mouth once again to voice her protests.
"I think you can recycle your essays for this one," I interrupted once again. "Same questions."
She blew out a sharp breath, but grabbed a pen and began filling out the application. I suppressed the urge to grin as I pretended to remain focused on the newspaper article. Bella's hair fell down across her eyes as she hunched over the table. She chewed on her lip as she focused on the task at hand. Satisfied that her concentration was on the college application, I abandoned my ruse and instead began gazing absently out the window.
The moonlight glinted off the rain-spattered window, reminding me once again of my mother's ring. The tiny gold band felt like a lead weight in my pocket, an anchor weighing me down, constantly reminding me that I had not yet officially asked Bella for her hand. My silent reverie was interrupted as Bella huffed and shoved her papers aside.
"Be serious, Edward. Dartmouth?" She arched an brow and shook her head.
"I think you'd like New Hampshire," I encouraged, pushing the application back in front of her. "There's a full complement of night courses for me, and the forests are very conveniently located for the avid hiker. Plentiful wildlife." I smiled broadly, putting every ounce of energy into winning her over.
"I'll let you pay me back, if that makes you happy. If you want, I can charge you interest," I smirked.
She rolled her eyes at me. "Like I could even get in without some enormous bribe. Or was that part of the loan? The new Cullen wing of the library? Ugh. Why are we having this discussion again?"
You keep pushing Bella to apply for college. You keep prodding her along...Your subtle hints are not so subtle and she's started to pick up on it. Alice's warning rang in my ears.
"Will you just fill out the application, please, Bella? It won't hurt you to apply," I encouraged.
Bella squared her shoulders and I could see that she was not going to cooperate. Too quick for her to see, I slid the papers back into the envelope at my side.
"You know what? I don't think I will," she replied, reaching for the papers that were no longer there. She glanced around the table briefly before her mouth set in a determined frown. "What are you doing?" she demanded.
"I sign your name better than you do yourself," I replied smugly. "You've already written the essays."
Her heart rate escalated and her cheeks flooded with color. "You're going way overboard with this, you know," she hissed. "I really don't need to apply anywhere else. I've been accepted in Alaska. I can almost afford the first semester's tuition. It's as good an alibi as any. There's no need to throw away a bunch of money, no matter whose it is."
So, Alice was right. Of course she was! It was glaringly obvious which path Bella was on at this moment. She had no intention of waiting, of granting me more time. If college was merely an alibi, as she put it, then it was painfully clear that she had chosen to accept Carlisle's offer. Only one month left! One month of heartbeats. One month of feeling her warm skin against mine. One month enjoying the beauty of her chocolate brown eyes and the enrapturing blush of her cheeks. One month. It's not enough!
I could not hide the pain in my eyes. "Bella -"
"Don't start," she interrupted me, raising her hands in exasperation. "I agree that I need to go through the motions for Charlie's sake, but we both know I'm not going to be in any condition to go to school next fall. To be anywhere near people."
"I thought the timing was still undecided," I hedged. "You might enjoy a semester or two of college. There are a lot of human experiences you've never had." I was suddenly overcome with the irrational fear that I may lose her. I knew it was silly to think that I could lose this angel who had professed her love and was willing to sacrifice her soul, but I couldn't shake the feeling. Perhaps it was her reluctance to accept my proposal.
"I'll get to those afterward," she insisted.
I shook my head. "They won't be human experiences afterward. You don't get a second chance at humanity, Bella."
"You've got to be reasonable about the timing, Edward. It's just too dangerous to mess around with."
"There's no danger yet," I reminded her.
I watched her features transform as a series of emotions flitted across her face - anger, concern, hesitation, worry, and finally, sadness. She wasn't ready. I could not allow her to rush into a hasty decision about her mortality merely because she feared the Volturi. Had she not listened to me when I promised to protect her? Did she not realize that Alice would give us fair warning before they decided to visit? What concerned me more than the fear was the sadness. She would be sacrificing everything, leaving everything and everyone behind. She wasn't ready for that.
"Bella, there's no hurry. I won't let anyone hurt you. You can take all the time you need." I reached across the table for her hand. Her warm fingers laced in mine as she looked up at me and smiled.
"I want to hurry," she whispered. "I want to be a monster, too."
If that was her idea of a joke, it was far from amusing. She had no idea what she was asking for. After all she had seen, how could she not understand the ramifications of this decision? I gritted my teeth, forcing the level of my voice to remain low. "You have no idea what you're saying."
I released her hand and grabbed the paper, flinging it in front of her and forcing her to read the headline.
DEATH TOLL ON THE RISE,
POLICE FEAR GANG ACTIVITY
She read the words and looked up at me, puzzled. "What does that have to do with anything?"
So naïve. "Monsters are not a joke, Bella," I murmured, staring deeply into her eyes.
She read the words again and whispered, "A...a vampire is doing this?"
"You'd be surprised, Bella, at how often my kind are the source behind the horrors in your human news. It's easy to recognize, when you know what to look for. The information here indicates a newborn vampire is loose in Seattle. Bloodthirsty, wild, out of control. The way we all were." She stared blankly at me as I emphasized my last sentence, hoping that some small portion would sink in. She needed to understand the gravity of what she had asked for. She needed to completely grasp the depth of her commitment before it was too late.
"We've been monitoring the situation for a few weeks. All the signs are there - the unlikely disappearances, always in the night, the poorly disposed-of corpses, the lack of other evidence...Yes, someone brand-new. And no one seems to be taking responsibility for the neophyte..." I paused, reigning in my anger. Was I disclosing too much? Would this new information increase her level of anxiety regarding the Volturi and encourage her to move up the date? I tried my best to hide my concern and sound apathetic, praying she would not see through the charade.
"Well, it's not our problem. We wouldn't even pay attention to the situation if it wasn't going on so close to home. Like I said, this happens all the time. The existence of monsters results in monstrous consequences."
She refused to meet my gaze. The quiet between us was deafening and I longed to hear what she was thinking. Finally, her quiet whisper broke the silence.
"It won't be the same for me." She reluctantly raised her eyes to focus on mine. There was no timidity there, she was resolved in her decision and unwavering in her trust. "You won't let me be like that. We'll live in Antarctica."
I couldn't stifle my low chuckle. "Penguins. Lovely."
She joined in the laughter, her shoulders relaxing with the sudden break in tension. "Alaska, then, as planned. Only somewhere much more remote than Juneau - somewhere with grizzlies galore," she smiled. When did we make this decision? She was back to ignoring my pleas again. Very well - best not press the issue tonight.
"Better. There are polar bears, too. Very fierce. And the wolves get quite large." At that, her breathing hitched and her heart rate began to escalate. Her hands clenched into tight fists on the table.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
As I watched her face, I immediately regretted my last statement. Well, almost... I could not hide my distain for the creatures she insisted on calling her friends. Filthy mongrels!
"Oh. Never mind the wolves, then, if the idea is offensive to you."
She lowered her eyes and began chewing on her lower lip again. "He was my best friend, Edward. Of course the idea offends me."
This was an issue on which we would have to agree to disagree. She knew very well how I felt about the wolves. They were an unwelcome presence in our lives, and Jacob Black was the worst of all. Alice may not be able to see his future, but judging by his thoughts at our last encounter, he was going to be a thorn in my side. His adolescent crush made him believe he had some sort of claim over Bella. We would see about that.
"Please forgive my thoughtlessness. I shouldn't have suggested that."
"Don't worry about it," she replied glumly.
She was angry with me. Stupid! Controlling my jealousy was something I would need to practice. It ripped me apart inside to see her in any pain. I reached across the table and placed a finger under her chin, coaxing her to look up at me.
"Sorry. Really," I apologized, my tone sincere.
"I know. I know it's not the same thing. I shouldn't have reacted that way. It's just that...well, I was already thinking about Jacob before you came over." She paused, waiting for my reaction. When I didn't respond, she continued, "Charlie says Jake is having a hard time. He's hurting right now, and...it's my fault." She lowered her eyes again.
"You've done nothing wrong, Bella," I assured her.
"I need to make it better, Edward. I owe him that. And it's one of Charlie's conditions, anyway -" My jaw clenched reflexively as I remembered Charlie's thoughts of the note from Jacob. How dare he cause her pain! How dare he make her feel that his pain was her fault! He doesn't know the meaning of pain...
"You know it's out of the question for you to be around a werewolf unprotected, Bella. And it would break the treaty if any of us cross over onto their land. Do you want us to start a war?"
"Of course not!" she nearly shouted.
"Then there's really no point in discussing the matter further." I lowered my hand from her face and looked away, unwilling to continue the conversation about the wolves. My eyes flitted to her worn copy of Wuthering Heights lying on the counter.
"I'm glad Charlie has decided to let you out - you're sadly in need of a visit to the bookstore. I can't believe you're reading Wuthering Heights again. Don't you know if by heart yet?" I teased.
"Not all of us have photographic memories," she spat. Either she was still sore with me for the prior conversation or I had struck a nerve. It still intrigued me how she could adamantly defend literary characters that had no true merit.
"Photographic memory or not, I don't understand why you like it. The characters are ghastly people who ruin each other's lives. I don't know how Heathcliff and Cathy ended up being ranked with couples like Romeo and Juliet or Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It isn't a love story, it's a hate story."
"You have some serious issues with the classics," she retorted, her lips curving in a determined scowl.
"Perhaps it's because I'm not impressed by antiquity," I replied. I could no longer hide my satisfied smile. I had successfully diverted her attention from one topic to another, and judging by her reaction, she had all but forgotten my comments about the wolves. I pressed on, eager to hear her explanations.
"Honestly, though, why do you read it over and over? What is it that appeals to you?" I reached across the table once more to caress her face with my hand. She was momentarily dazed.
"I'm not sure," she replied. "I think it's something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart - not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end..."
She was right about that. No matter how miserable the two characters were or what horrid people they were, they were destined to be together. Just like Bella and I were destined for each other...but I would certainly not compare Bella to Cathy and I would sincerely hope that she would not think me to be anything like Heathcliff.
"I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality," I teased.
"I think that may be the point," she argued. "Their love is their only redeeming quality."
"I hope you have better sense than that - to fall in love with someone so...malignant."
She smiled as she leaned her cheek into my palm, lightly brushing my cool skin with her lips. I shivered in response. "It's a bit late for me to worry about who I fall in love with," she teased. "But even without the warning, I seem to have managed fairly well."
"I'm glad you think so," I laughed. Her responding smile was dazzling.
"Well, I hope you're smart enough to stay away from someone so selfish. Catherine is really the source of all the trouble, not Heathcliff." There was no cause for worry there. Bella was the polar opposite of Catherine - selfless, devoted, compassionate - Bella was everything I wanted, everything I needed.
"I'll be on my guard," I smiled. She sighed softly as she placed her hand over mine, holding it against her blushing cheek. She closed her eyes briefly, enjoying the sensation of my cool skin on her face. I felt the hum of electricity traveling through my fingertips as my thumb gently stroked her bottom lip.
She opened her eyes and looked intently into mine. "I need to see Jacob."
I closed my eyes, once again trying to maintain my calm. "No," I replied simply.
"It's truly not dangerous at all," she pleaded. "I used to spend all day in La Push with the whole lot of them, and nothing ever happened."
She was lying. I could hear it in her voice. And if her voice didn't give her away, her galloping heart certainly did. "Werewolves are unstable. Sometimes, the people near them get hurt. Sometimes, they get killed."
I couldn't live with myself if I allowed anything to happen to her. I had allowed enough damage in my absence and I would be damned if I would stand idly by and allow any harm to come to her now. Protecting Bella was my utmost priority. Without her, I had no reason for being. I watched her expression intently, waiting for her retort. She sat in silence for a moment before whispering softly.
"You don't know them."
I wouldn't be so sure about that. "I know them better than you think, Bella. I was here the last time," I reminded her. I wondered to myself if she had had this same conversation with Jacob regarding me. Did she defend my honor as vehemently as she defended his?
"The last time?" Had she already forgotten?
"We started crossing paths with the wolves about seventy years ago...We had just settled near Hoquiam. That was before Alice and Jasper were with us. We outnumbered them, but that wouldn't have stopped it from turning into a fight if not for Carlisle. He managed to convince Ephraim Black that coexisting was possible, and eventually made the truce.
"We thought the line had died out with Ephraim. That genetic quirk which allowed the transmutation had been lost..." I paused, glancing up at Bella. There was sadness in her eyes - the pain she felt for her friend. I could not help but wonder if it was something about her that drew them out. Bella's affinity for supernatural creatures and unexplainable attraction made me question whether or not she had some latent power, not unlike the powers that manifest when a human is turned. I made a mental note to discuss this with Alice later.
"Your bad luck seems to get more potent every day," I continued. "Do you realize that your insatiable pull for all things deadly was strong enough to recover a pack of mutant canines from extinction? If we could bottle your luck, we'd have a weapon of mass destruction on our hands."
She frowned. "But I didn't bring them back. Don't you know?"
"My bad luck had nothing to do with it. The werewolves came back because the vampires did." What? Is she serious? I thought about what she said, but quickly dismissed the notion. It must be something Jacob had told her, some story they conjured in order to place the blame for their transformations on their enemy.
Undeterred by my silence, she continued. "Jacob told me that your family being here set things in motion. I thought you would already know..." Just as I thought.
"Is that what they think?" I smirked.
"Edward, look at the facts. Seventy years ago, you came here, and the werewolves showed up. You come back now, and the werewolves show up again. Do you think that's a coincidence?" I could see in her eyes that she believed the theory without question. I had to admit, her points were valid, but how did they explain the sudden explosion in their numbers after our departure?
"Carlisle will be interested in that theory," I replied.
"Theory," she scoffed.
I ignored her irritation. "Interesting, but not exactly relevant. The situation remains the same." Regardless of why the werewolves decided to make their reappearance, they were still too dangerous for Bella to associate with.
Bella sat silent for a moment before getting up from the table. Her body angled slightly and I could see the impression of folded paper in her back pocket, no doubt the note from Jacob. My curiosity flared, but I dared not ask her what the note said. She approached me and I gladly opened my arms for her as she climbed onto my lap. I closed my eyes, nestling my nose in her hair. She clasped my hand, turning it over in her own and tracing light patterns on my palm. A low hum echoed in my chest, not unlike the contented purr of cat.
"Please just listen for a minute," she asked, still caressing my palm. "This is so much more important than some whim to drop in on an old friend. Jacob is in pain. I can't not try to help him - I can't give up on him now, when he needs me. Just because he's not human all the time...Well, he was there for me when I was...not so human myself. You don't know what it was like..." My hands reflexively tightened into fists and my jaw clenched. I closed my eyes, reliving the visions of Bella's pain in my absence, of everything I had put her through by leaving. If I had never left, we wouldn't be having this discussion. I could not deny that her relationship with those mongrels was my fault.
"If Jacob hadn't helped me..." she continued. "I'm not sure what you would have come home to. I owe him better than this, Edward." What would I have come back to? Would she still have flung herself off of that fateful cliff, yet for very different reasons? Would anyone have been there to save her? I shuddered at the thought, reliving the very real memory of her death.
"I'll never forgive myself for leaving you," I whispered, my voice strained with the agony of the truth of those words. "Not if I live a hundred thousand years."
She turned to face me and laid her hand on my cheek. I opened my eyes to meet her loving gaze. There was no judgment in her eyes, only understanding.
"You were just trying to do the right thing. And I'm sure it would have worked with anyone less mental than me. Besides, you're here now," she smiled. "That's the part that matters."
"If I'd never left, you wouldn't feel the need to go risk your life to comfort a dog." She flinched at the term.
"I don't know how to phrase this properly. It's going to sound cruel, I suppose. But I've come too close to losing you in the past. I know what it feels like to think I have. I am not going to tolerate anything dangerous." I looked into her eyes, awaiting the angry response that was sure to follow.
"You have to trust me on this. I'll be fine," she tried to assure me.
"Please, Bella," I begged.
"Please, for me. Please make a conscious effort to keep yourself safe. I'll do everything I can, but I would appreciate a little help."
"I'll work on it," she muttered, clearly not taking a liking to my request.
I placed my hand on the back of her head and pulled her into my chest, wrapping my arms tightly around her. I closed my eyes and rested my chin on her head, breathing in her intoxicating aroma, reveling in her warmth. "Do you really have any idea how important you are to me? Any concept of how much I love you?"
Her lips pressed against my neck and the skin beneath them blazed. "I know how much I love you," she replied.
"You compare one small tree to the entire forest." She couldn't fathom the depth of my feelings for her. She was my hope, my life, my everything. She was the air that I breathed, the light in my eyes, the warmth in my cold heart.
"Impossible," she murmured.
I placed a kiss on the top of her head, once more pleading with her. "No werewolves."
"I'm not going along with that. I have to see Jacob."
"Then I'll have to stop you," I replied. She had no idea how serious I was. I would do everything in my power to keep her safe, and if that meant forbidding her from visiting her friend, then so be it. She could hate me for it, but that didn't matter. I could not allow her to endanger her life.
"We'll see about that," she countered. "He's still my friend."