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O, Lost

Fast.

I'm very fast, even among others of my kind.

Superhuman.

That is to say, not human at all. So why can't I outdistance the single weapon hurled in my wake? I've left a border or two behind me, and still it bears down on me - unrelenting, threatening to split me into a million brittle pieces.

A word.

A single word launched by a human voice.

My name.

The name she once spoke so lovingly in her dreaming that it stopped time, rearranged the universe into something I'd never imagined, a place where I wasn't a monster, or not only a monster, but a man with the right to hope and love.

The ecstasy of that moment numbed me to the truth. I've dazzled my fair share of humans in my time, but I doubt any of them was as thoroughly undone as I was on that night, in that modest bedroom, in the dreary little town of Forks.

But this time - the last time - the sound was ragged with my betrayal, desperate for the fulfillment of a promise I'd had no right to make.

I slow, aware that there's been no sign of human habitation, not even any public roads for some time. It's as good a place as any to stop, to stay, to practice facing the truth, starting with the fact that the sound of her calling my name faded from my ears hundreds of miles back. All that's left is an echo embedded in my brain.

Inoperable.

And that's how it should be; it's what I want and need. I never want to forget the sound of her voice. I need it as a reminder that for all my grandiose ideas of giving her the world, my sole legacy to her was misery.

I can only hope it fades as quickly as my physical presence in her life.

Above me, barren crags rip at the cloudless sky; below I catch a hint of bright water through the branches of lodge pole pines. They give way to ponderosas as I descend to an arid valley floor. This explains the lack of animal life. A small lake, still as a mirror, reflects a perfect blue. You don't have to be immortal to be distracted by surroundings like these. Humans, too, must marvel at so much untouched wilderness.

That's my excuse for studying the scenery at length, even while I recognize my own stalling tactics. The numbness, encasing me like armor, has been here for hours now, days.

I know what's going to happen when I shed it, and instead I strip off my clothes, anchoring them to the sandy soil with a rock in case the wind builds. They are, after all, the only ones I've got.

Diving into the icy tarn should be shocking, but of course, it's not. Cold is cold. I slice downward and glide through the clear waters, thinking of nothing, cultivating a fragile peace. Deeper and deeper.

Streaks of silver scatter in the muffled silence, until the bottom is visible, strewn with pebbles, pieces of mountains from foreign lands brought here eons ago when this was a terminal moraine.

Without the need to breathe, I lose track of time, surprised when I emerge to find shadows folding down the canyon walls in long, inky pleats.

In minutes the warm September air has me dry enough to dress again. I lie down on the sloping shale with an unobstructed view of the sky, waiting for the stars to provide distraction.

Coward.

Fingers digging into the gritty soil, I drag my attention back to the events that brought me here. Face them. Come to terms. That's the only option.

What happened - or something like it - was inevitable. Part of me knew that from the very beginning, yet I never had the courage to step away. Selfishness is so easy to justify when you haven't indulged in it for nearly a century.

I took up residence in a dream world months ago, only to be jolted awake in a split second, sent back to the nightmare existence that is the rightful home of all monsters. I can see myself standing there, numb as any human survivor of a disaster - useless, irrelevant.

On my right is the brother I care for, thrown aside like trash. He'll recover. I was fond of the piano too. It won't. To my left is the fragile human who gave me everything. I would gladly die to spare her any degree of suffering, and yet there she is at what was supposed to be a party in her honor, hurt, bleeding.

I did that.

Not Jasper, lost in the grip of an instinct he still struggles to master.

Me.

And what's worse, I can't do a thing to make it better. That's left to a better man, to Carlisle, who is neither a slave to instinct nor a selfish prick.

He'll heal the wound, but she'll have a scar. From my perspective a million miles away, looking down on a scene I should not be a part of, I wonder how many this will make now, most of them directly attributable to me.

Carlisle's words travel light years to reach me where I stand, pinned by the monstrous gravity of the new planet I inhabit. Movement is laborious here, but I master it enough to turn away from the nightmare scene I've concocted and slowly make my way outside.

Everyone has scattered, shamed by the knowledge that the blood smell in our home is every bit as alluring to them as it is to Jasper. Only their greater practice at resistance and a swift departure keep them from reacting exactly as he did.

That doesn't include Carlisle, of course. At a different place and time, his dedication to virtue would have long since made him a candidate for sainthood. He is the exception to the rule of our species and the only help I can offer her at this moment.

The night is ironically clear. Even a smear of moonlight rides on the river where Jasper's thoughts draw me. He doesn't acknowledge my presence and neither of us speaks. What would be the point? We could exchange excuses and apologies and forgiveness all night long, and nothing would change.

Water laps gently at the smooth stones, a few night birds call and somewhere in the distance a wolf howls. After a long while, my brother speaks through gritted teeth.

"I really thought I had everything under control."

"There's a lot of that going around," I answer, and we lapse back into silence.

Sometime later I hear Alice leaving the house. I turn, meeting her half way up the back lawn. She reaches out her hand about to speak, but I push on by. She doesn't try to stop me.

For everyone else the worst of the night is behind us. For me, it only escalates. Driving Bella home is the kind of bad dream that makes me glad I never have to sleep. She's determined to minimize what happened, blood and stitches and all, as reckless for her own safety as ever.

I want to shake her. I want to make her see sense the way I've been forced to see it, despite my months of willfully ignoring it.

Instead, I kiss her.

I hadn't planned on that. There's only so much I can take, but she asked, and I can refuse her nothing.

From the beginning our kisses have been an exquisite mixture of passion and pain, for me at least, and sometimes I wish she could share that discomfort. Without it, she feels only the longing and lust that cast her as the aggressor.

The venom rises and her scent envelops me with a power that would obliterate most other desires, but not that one. Each time we kiss, my mastery grows stronger, because nothing could equal the ecstasy of her taste, the cold fire consuming my body.

But that last one - I knew it had to be the last - burned with its own special agony. I wanted to memorize every movement of her lips under mine, every sigh I coaxed from her willing mouth, and yet the finality of it was sheer torture.

Bella isn't stupid. Her "I love you" was tinged with desperation, mine with a fatalism I failed to banish from my voice. That was the worst night of my existence, because the pretense was still there, along with the awareness that even she sensed on some level, the realization that it was all over.

From there, I simply moved through the mechanics. No one doubted the situation had reached its crisis point. The whole family was gathered when I returned to the house. My opening gambit was such a foregone conclusion that no one challenged it except for Esme, and I would have expected nothing less.

"I know how devastating this has to be for you but, sweetheart, more than ever you need to be with people who love you and understand the situation."

Fortunately, Carlisle was in my corner. He knows that these last decades have made solitude my natural habitat, despite a loving family. I'm the odd one out, the one who needs to analyze everything to the point of tedium, and that's best done alone.

"This is my problem," I said, as the negotiations moved on. "There's no need for all of you to pull up stakes if you'd rather stay."

"Oh, sure." Rosalie's sarcasm was as predictable as it was irritating. "So what do we do when Bella comes crying to us wanting to know what your problem is and where you've gone? She's damn near as stubborn as you are."

"Yeah, don't forget, her old man's a cop," Emmett added. "If he gets pissed about you dumping his little girl, he could come around asking questions and stirring up a ton of trouble."

"It's best if we all leave."

Although he respects the democratic process, it's easy to tell from the tenor of Carlisle's voice when he's made an executive decision. "This has been on the table since last winter. We've all had plenty of time to come to terms with the possibility."

He paused for a rebuttal, but none came.

Right. I'd set this in motion the moment Bella walked into that classroom. All my behavior since then had merely delayed the inevitable. Nobody said it, but I was the reason for their exile. Me and my mishandling of the situation.

"I've been laying the groundwork at the hospital for some time," Carlisle continued. "The staff is aware of my contacts with Cedars-Sinai and the fact that they're doing some innovative procedures I'm impatient to learn. My departure won't come as a total shock."

"Yes, but surely they expect you to return," Esme murmured.

"And who knows, maybe that will be possible. The important thing right now is to leave here. I know it's not the ideal location for our lifestyle, but it's an immediate solution, and it's only a temporary assignment."

"In the meantime, we just hole up inside?" Rosalie's expression was as sour as her voice. "Isn't it always sunny in L.A.?"

"Ah, that's just chamber of commerce stuff, babe," Emmett offered sagely. "The air's so full of crap down there, we probably couldn't sparkle if we wanted to."

"Sounds delightful," she grumbled.

I'd been standing apart from the others, and now I turned my back to stare out at the darkness. Their plans had nothing to do with me. Already a distance had been established. They might have been discussing nuclear physics or baseball statistics for all the difference it made.

I had only one task before me, the coup de grace that would end once and for all the tragic opera I'd dragged us all into. And then I would be connected to nothing and no one.

I was only dimly aware of Esme siding with Carlisle.

"If there's something to be gained from going to Los Angeles, then I'm sure we can make the best of it for a few months."

"That's why I suggest we travel light, leave most of our things and disappear immediately."

"Uh, Carlisle, hold up. There's a lot of valuable stuff here. Soon as word gets out we're gone, it's gonna get ripped off, unless Bella's dad would like to do us a favor and keep an eye on the place."

"Not funny, Em," Alice flared. She was more discouraged than I'd ever known her. About me. About Bella. About Jasper who'd been in a black funk all night.

"You know," Rosalie said, brightening, "if we could stick it out in L.A. until Bella leaves for college, we could just move straight back here."

"A lot can happen between now and then," Carlisle cautioned her. "We'll have to play it by ear."

"Unless Alice can help us out," Esme ventured.

She was hopeful. I could hear it in her voice, see it in my mind's eye - the way she looked to her youngest daughter, hoping to draw Alice out of her sadness, hoping for a glimpse of a cheerier future. Neither was going to happen.

"I can't help," Alice said bleakly. "It's all such a mess. Everyone's so confused."

"Of course, you can't." Carlisle's voice again - soothing, certain. "And as for your concerns, Emmett, you're right. We'll need to rely on Mr. Jenks to secure the house in whatever way his experts recommend - high tech or a watchman on the property. Make sure he understands we'll require phone access to him at all times for bank transfers etc. Jasper, can you get on that, please?"

"Surely, it can wait," Esme objected. "A phone call at three in the morning could be frightening to a human."

Through the others' eyes I saw Jasper raise his head for the first time, his mouth curling slyly. "Three A.M.'s the perfect time to call him. A scared Jay is a highly cooperative Jay."

So Mr. Jenks was about to feel the terror of all Jasper's pent up frustration. Why shouldn't he? There was plenty of misery to go around.

I wondered if Bella was sleeping peacefully, or had the events of this evening left her restless? I couldn't allow myself to find out. Not tonight.

Not ever.

Endless talk was followed by a flurry of packing, and a group effort to tie up loose ends. I stood paralyzed during much of it, not helping, not caring, not feeling.

By sunrise, a convoy of vehicles was lined up in the driveway. I kept my goodbyes short, though Esme held onto me as long as she could.

"Good luck with the breakup thing," Emmett said in parting. He had his doubts that I'd go through with it.

"And please stay in touch," Alice said, kissing my cheek. "We're going to be worried about you."

Jasper gave me a quick nod, still knotted up with guilt, and Carlisle kept his distance, letting his thoughts speak for him. He knows me so well.

The surprise was Rosalie, who touched my arm and with something bordering on sincerity said, "You're finally doing the right thing. I'm really proud of you."

Yeah, fuck you too, Rose.

I had no desire to go back into the house when they'd gone. My work there, as some kind of destructive force, was done, with far worse to follow. I roamed the woods on that endless morning, alternately imagining what Bella was feeling and stockpiling my mental ammunition for the last battle.

Was she still uneasy about last night, or had she swept it all under the rug in an effort to hold onto her fantasies about me? By now, she'd know I wasn't in school, that none of us was. It was sunny enough to rationalize that too.

Just before noon, I entered her house, determined to erase the last reminders of my existence. The numbness I'd used to shield myself nearly crumbled when I saw the picture Alice had taken of us at the party, folded to obscure Bella, taped so that I alone occupied the page like the master manipulator I am.

So I'd failed even at this. All my efforts to convince her of her beauty, her strength, the profound uniqueness of her thinking and honesty - had come to nothing. What had been the use of my loving her, if I couldn't sow that one seed of truth?

I left feeling worse than when I'd arrived. Even knowing I had to say goodbye, I'd hoped to leave her with some little bit of good out of the whole experience, some confidence in her own worth.

I think my self-loathing reached its peak at that moment. All my passion, all my hard-fought control and I hadn't succeeded in doing one decent thing.

But I was about to.

Finally.

The one thing that would annihilate every selfish desire left in me. My logic had to be airtight, my emotions totally out of the equation. And I had to be ready with the right words to wound, if that became necessary.

Still, I was desperate enough to hold out hope for one possible reprieve. After all, when had I ever been right about what she was thinking?

It was entirely within the realm of possibility that she'd taken this time to mull over the unfairness of the situation. With a little luck she could be feeling outrage at what I'd put her through. She might preempt my entire plan.

It was a feeble hope, gone the moment she spotted me standing by the edge of the forest. Her first reaction was relief. I turned, and she followed me into the trees like a lamb to the slaughter.

Even now, I can't relive that conversation without short-circuiting my thought processes, getting lost in the sheer agony of it. The upshot was that once again she didn't react the way I'd expected.

I'd expected anger. After all, she'd never been the least bit shy about berating me before, sometimes over things I didn't even understand. If someone spoke to me that way, I'd go off on them in an instant. Where was the name-calling, the righteous indignation?

Far more astounding was the quickness with which it was over. I'd prepared an hour or more of arguments, putdowns and other irrational weapons to use as needed, but no more than a volley or two had been fired when she deflated right in front of my eyes.

Clearly, she had no clue of her own power over me or her passionate defense would not have faded so quickly into a wistful plea.

So apparently I'd also failed as a lover.

How she could have missed the intensity of my devotion, something I thought was expressed in everything I said and did, is beyond me. Yet with one ridiculously transparent lie, all of that was forgotten.

Maybe it's impossible for a human to grasp the depth of an immortal's feelings, no matter how hard we try to convey them. More evidence that our relationship never stood a chance, that ending it was the only rational decision I could have made.

A pebble is dislodged somewhere above me. I tense and take a deep breath, scenting a bighorn sheep. Am I hungry? I can't even tell, but feeding would interrupt the horror film playing in my head.

Instantly, I'm on my feet, flying up the rugged wall. Even in the darkness, it's an easy kill. The taste is bland, the few minutes of oblivion insufficient. I leave the carcass for the scavengers that will surely follow.

Because I was dead wrong about the lack of wildlife.

In the following days of meandering through endless cliffs and meadows, I spot mule deer, wolverines, elk, coyotes, grey wolves, a lynx, and two black bears. Even a mountain lion, sunning himself on an outcropping, doesn't stimulate enough interest to stop the memories from parading through my head.

Still, I haven't succeeded in feeling much of anything other than what I already felt - hopeless, alone, a failure at everything I've cared about most. Where's that sense of satisfaction that's supposed to come with a selfless act?

Not feeling it. Not feeling it at all.

Carlisle built an entire career on that payoff, rigidly controlling his instincts to help others, taking deep pleasure when it worked.

Well, I did it. I set my own desires aside for the sake of another, but that was hurt I saw in her eyes, so how can I feel anything but more of the same?

Time.

That's the part of the formula that hasn't yet come into play. When she's had time to get past the shock and move on with her life. When I'm not there to interfere, she'll find happiness. That's all I ever wanted for her, and if I can be sure of that, I'll have peace.

During one of my swims through utter silence, I notice a dull bluish stone on the riverbed. I bring it with me when I dress and polish it with my hands, so rapidly smoke rises from my grasp like breath in chilly air.

In the sunlight, it glows with a cobalt gleam, reminiscent of the dress she wore that magical night when so many things seemed possible. I could openly hold her in my arms. She could dance.

Probably not something it's a good idea to keep. Reminders are unwise, but also unavoidable. I drop it in my pocket. After all, it's only a stone.

And that's when I rediscover my cell phone, like an artifact from some forgotten civilization. I turn it on, surprised when a single bar flashes feebly despite a nearly depleted battery.

That's nothing to the surprise I feel when, shortly after stuffing it back in my pocket, the thing starts to buzz.

I take it out, and in the few seconds between the time I read the name on the screen and actually answer it, I've got the picture.

Carlisle and Esme are hesitant to call for fear I'll take it as parental meddling. Jazz is fighting his own demons. Emmett is probably busily adapting to his new environment, and Rose could care less what I'm doing. That leaves the obvious person.

"Hello, Alice."

"Edward, where in the world are you?"

I scan the surrounding scenery. "I don't know. Why don't you tell me?"

"I can't see any identifying landmarks," she complains. "Just trees and rocks and water."

"Accurate as always."

"You mean you honestly don't know where you are?"

"I mean I honestly don't care where I am."

"Well, that's just crazy. I've been having trouble catching your decisions - at least until you decided to turn on the phone."

"I haven't been making any. Look, I explained before - I need time by myself to come to terms with . . . things."

"We get that," she said, her irritation matching my own. "But you also promised to check in."

"And I intend to. It's only been a few days."

"Edward, it's been over three weeks. Are you sure you're all right?"

Really? Three weeks?

"I didn't pack a calendar. How are you settling in there?" I add, ignoring her question.

"Pretty well. We rented a furnished place not far from the hospital with an ocean view which is nice for a change, but the furniture is hideous. Esme and I are replacing all of it."

"And Carlisle?"

"He's stoked about all the research they do here. Forks Hospital must have been pretty dull in comparison. Oh, and Emmett and Rosalie are living on their own again - just a mile or so away, farther back in the canyon where it's woodsier. Emmett's already built a basketball court in their driveway."

"You and Jasper aren't thinking of leaving too, are you? There's a direct correlation between Esme's worrying and how many of her chicks aren't in the nest."

"Oh, I'm aware. No, we're fine here. Jasper's doing better. It helps that you forgave him."

"He needs to forgive himself."

"I'm working on it, but enough about us. What's going on with you?"

I want to hang up now, and worse, I want to ask something that would be better left alone. "My phone's dying, Alice."

"Wait, wait, wait! I need to know where you are, Edward."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do," she insists plaintively. "You know it makes me nervous when I don't know things. What was the last road sign you remember seeing?"

I sigh, willing the battery to die already. It seems a long time ago, but my memory is prepared with a photographic image, partially obscured by branches. "Frank Church - 52 miles."

"Is that a person or a place?"

"Not many people have distance markers."

"Okay, just a minute." I can hear her tapping away on her laptop. "Here it is - Frank Church Wilderness Area," she announces triumphantly. "You're in Idaho - the northeastern part."

"Great. That's just great, Alice." But it's too late. Unless the battery picks this second to give up the ghost, the question is going to get asked. "What about her?"

"Edward, you're the one that told me to leave it alone."

"But I knew you wouldn't."

There's a lengthy silence. Alice may be thinking this call's gone on a moment too long as well. "Bella's not making any decisions either," she says at last. "Really, I don't sense anything going on there at all, and before you accuse me of losing my touch, I'm having no problem monitoring the Volturi. They've made a lot of decisions lately - all of them ugly and none of them to do with us."

"I seldom doubt you."

"Then please, Edward, take my advice. You should come here, where you have people who care about you to talk to. You get too broody by yourself and -"

I hang up.

Whether she blames it on me or the battery, I don't really care, and she's dead wrong. I don't need to talk to the people who care about me. Just this short phone call has pulled me back into a world where Bella exists, and the pain burns brighter because of it, the emotional equivalent of someone probing at an open wound.

I have a new subject to obsess over, and I waste no time in doing it. What does it mean that Alice is having trouble reading Bella? Her visions only require a choice or two.

I turn the question over every which way but conclude that all it really proves is that Bella hasn't decided on some radical new path. She's not doing anything reckless, and that's good news.

Slowly, I'm building a case against my own despondency. Bella's free now to have the life she deserves, and she's not reacting irrationally to my betrayal.

A decent man would feel more than a cerebral satisfaction at the success of his plot. He'd feel joy. My egocentric nature refuses to go that far. In fact, self-pity gnaws at my gut like a vicious sharp-toothed parasite that I'm powerless to pluck out. All I can do is keep moving, keep enduring the reruns in my brain until they lose their sting.

A distant rumble draws me one day to the largest canyon yet, still dominated by the pounding river that created it. I like watching the swells explode into froth around the rocks that try to impede its progress, the flashes of bright fish suspended briefly in the air. I admire the river's determination to reach its goal.

Maybe, I'd be better off if I had a plan, but everything I ever wanted is behind me now. There's nothing worth reaching for.

Besides, I think wryly, without a plan Alice can't keep tabs on me, and I much prefer to remain as lost to the others as I am to myself.

The next thing I see almost makes me laugh out loud - a raft full of screeching, orange-clad humans tumbling around the bend. So much for solitude, and every time I reach in my pocket to touch the blue stone, I encounter the cell phone, dead and useless.

It's a reminder that people do exist and that I feel a certain responsibility to some of them, so I better get the blasted thing charged.

Following the river brings me back to some semblance of civilization and eventually proof of which way I'm headed, which is mostly east.

Just north of Kalispell, there's a sprawling store that may have the charger I need. I enter without one moment of preparation.

It's a huge mistake.

Our resistance to the lure of human blood fades the longer we're away from it, and the aroma of the crowded store slams into me, igniting a flow of venom I can barely suppress. As if that wasn't disorienting enough, running towards me down the aisle is a black-caped vampire sporting a pair of ludicrous fangs.

A witch, a princess and assorted superheroes are also scattered among the shoppers, leading me to conclude that I don't need a calendar; it's obvious what day it is.

Theoretically, I should feel less conspicuous with so many humans in costume, but the truth is, some of the clothing is so bizarre I can't figure out which ones they are.

I find the adaptor and get out of there as fast as I can, my next mission - find somewhere to plug it in. I forego the strip motels for a shabby jumble of "vacation cottages" on the outskirts of town - more room to breathe - and make a mental note not to shift gears from solitude to the huddled masses so abruptly in the future.

The room is dull and claustrophobic. I turn on the television but none of the programming engages my interest. Instead, I'm taken back to wild videogame battles with Jazz and Emmett, Charlie Swan's flat screen humming downstairs, the TV in Bella's hospital room with its surreal images of a ravaged ballet studio.

I'm fairly sure I imagined that part.

At the time, I was barely holding it together - worrying about Bella, charming her mother, politely deflecting her father's murderous looks. Her blood was in the room and in my veins. I was still dizzy with it and gripped by the certainty that I had to let her go. Hallucinations wouldn't have been all that surprising.

Still, the memory is enough to make me turn off the set. Out of sheer boredom, I find a Gideon Bible in the nightstand and read it - again, so slowly that the sun's coming up when I finish. I could have used a happier ending. Why do so many epic stories conclude with total annihilation?

My eastward trek resumes. Determined not to wallow in depression, I pose a philosophical question: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

All right. It's more like banging myself over the head with a blunt cliché, but I'm surprised how easily the argument is won. Usually, I can debate either side of an issue with some degree of persuasiveness, but the answer is obvious.

Of course, it is - for me anyway. The prospect of living a long, lonely eternity without those moments Bella gave me is unbearable.

Lying beside her in our meadow, the nights spent in whispered conversation about anything and everything, that first tentative kiss, when I learned there was a passion in me stronger than the ever-present thirst. Her adoring looks and soft warmth, our dance in the gazebo when we didn't give a damn who saw us.

No price is too great to pay for those experiences. That conviction does a number on the self-pity, and my depression lifts a little. There's nothing much to look at on the great plains of Montana, so I concentrate on remembering the good times, welcoming the illusion of warmth, even as the winds grow stronger and colder.

Coming upon a stream one evening, I spot a bear - a grizzly, I'm almost certain - helping himself to salmon. It's the first thing that's piqued my interest in a while. I remember Emmett talking about the grizzly's position on the food chain, that other predators will typically abandon their kill if one approaches, but that he once saw a mountain lion refuse to back down.

Emmett said the match went on a long time, size against speed, until one of them gave up and simply walked away. He didn't say which one, and the temptation to find out propels me out of myself at last.

I invade the bear's space before he's even caught wind of me, causing him to rear back in momentary fear, but it's short-lived, quickly replaced by rage, and he's lunging toward me, teeth first. I dodge and dodge again as a lethally clawed paw narrowly misses my head.

There's not much I can do but hope to wear him out, and there I've got the advantage. I won't tire of this, and sooner or later he will. The dance goes on while sunlight fades and a three-quarter moon clears the horizon.

The creature's frustration increases his blood lust but not his coordination. I feel like I could do this all night. The biggest danger to me is a slip on the wet bank that might allow him to pin me long enough to cause real damage, but I circle back to higher ground.

At one point it looks as though the bear may actually give up. Instantly, I'm in front of him again, blocking the way. Wherever he turns, I cut him off, daring him to attack. Why I'm doing this, I'm not completely sure.

If he leaves, the lion wins.

In his rage, he changes tactics and with a loud roar charges me, head lowered, like a bull. I step aside, aware suddenly of a whispered monologue somewhere in my head.

If the bear wins, he will tear you to pieces in his frenzy. The pain will stop. The aloneness will stop. And all the hopeless longing will vanish as if it never existed.

For a split second, I'm frozen where I stand. I actually watch the massive arm swing toward my head, connecting with the impact of a freight train, and I'm flying through the air, landing in the middle of the stream. I hear my skull crack against a flat rock before everything goes black.

I come back to consciousness expecting 700 pounds of fury to land on me any minute. When it doesn't, I lift my head from the water to find my opponent pacing the riverbank, growling softly to himself. He lifts his nose to the wind, snorts once, the vapor briefly visible in the moonlight, and lumbers off.

Blinking the water from my eyes, I stand up, only knee deep. What just happened here? It's not clear who won the battle or even who I was fighting against.

That one seductive moment when death was an option. Was that what humans mean when they talk about standing on the edge of a precipice and feeling the urge to jump?

I clamber up the riverbank, water streaming from my clothes. There's no way they're going to dry tonight with a frigid wind blowing down from Canada. But I've got more important things on my mind.

Everything my subconscious said was true. The relief of total and eternal oblivion is more appealing than any other future I can envision, and yet I'm suddenly certain it's not what I want. It would be wrong in some indefinable way that has nothing to do with religion or morality.

It has to do with the pact I made when I told Bella goodbye. Never mind that most of what I said was a blatant lie. I told her she wasn't good for me, that I was moving on without her, and she believed me. She needed to accept that I was seeking a life without her in order to go forward with her own.

I can't turn that into a lie, and I won't. What if she found out some day that I had managed to destroy myself? It would change the balance I'd tried so hard to restore. In some way I can't fully explain, my willingness to accept a dark future feels like the price I have to pay to ensure her bright one.

I'm aware of a singular lack of logic in this argument, but I don't care. Maybe it's what people call faith. I only know it's one of the few things I've felt certain about in a long time.

I'm equally sure that my cell phone is history.

When I take it from my pocket, it drools like a Saint Bernard. Terrific. I'd just as soon not have it to begin with and yet I obviously have to replace it. It's the only thing tethering me to the people I care about, and as much as I'd prefer not to talk to them right now, I need to be reachable in an emergency.

A few days later I cross the boundary into North Dakota. It's as invisible and mythical as most of the other lines we cross in life for good or bad. On the outskirts of Williston, I pass a school with paper pilgrims and turkeys pasted on the windows. Nearly Thanksgiving then.

Who needs a calendar?

I toss my phone in the first trash basket I see and find a small, uncrowded shop to buy a new one, along with a waterproof case. The room I take is in an old hotel with a view of the main street. That way I can get used to seeing people again without putting up with the smell.

Even so, the walls start closing in. As soon as the battery's charged, I leave, staying a good distance north of the major highway. That's when the blizzard hits, and from the look of things, I'm following in its footsteps.

A world blanketed in white is a simpler world, far fewer distractions to disturb the memories I'm trying to reconcile in my head.

My original intention had been to turn north at this point, and to continue in that direction until it wasn't north anymore. Now that strikes me as needlessly melodramatic. It's hard to imagine the Arctic Circle being any more desolate than the endless stretch of nothing around me.

The single sound here is the keening wind. Visibility:  zero. Temperature:  something less than that. The only movement:  a squall of snowflakes, blown erratically by disputing winds. Like the man without a country, they never come to land.

I move off across the hard-packed snow in no particular direction, with no other goal in mind than to exhaust my regrets and feel as worthy of my sacrifice as I'm supposed to.

Carlisle maintains I have an exaggerated sense of responsibility, that I accept guilt too easily. He's wrong about that. I spend half my time fending it off, and the other half battling boredom. Sometimes I think I'm the most easily bored creature on the planet.

Why else would I read so much, learn so many languages and disciplines I'll probably never use? When I find something that fascinates me I want to devour it - like Bella.

And that's my quandary right now - whether to continue my endless musings on how I could have loved her better or die of sheer boredom.

The only object that mars the landscape proves to be a burned-out snowmobile, its driver gone long before the most recent snow storm, but it gives me an idea.

A scavenger hunt.

The simplest imaginable. Just find something - anything - besides endless snow. After an hour or so, I decide I'll be satisfied with just seeing something else. I don't have to acquire it or touch it. Another hour and I've collected the remains of an old oil derrick on the horizon and a wind-tossed hawk. I decide to count the yip and howl of an unseen coyote just before a few black dots shape themselves into bison.

I check which of the warring winds is in my favor and move close as I dare, intrigued. I wonder if Emmett's ever sampled one of these, knowing that he'd relish the novelty. After so many days in no man's land, I've lost track of my last kill.

If I had a way to check my eye color, I'd know if I'm supposed to be hungry by now, but I don't. It would be a waste to take out one of these magnificent animals if I don't really need it, so I just watch until they startle at some shift in the breeze, carrying a sound or a scent - possibly mine - and melt into the whiteout.

In the darkest hours of the night, the snow turns to sleet, and the clouds pulse with lightning. I add the phenomenon to my mental scavenger list. A minimum of distractions seemed like a good idea for dealing with the turmoil in my mind, but not if I can't get some new perspective on the constant replays.

The only vertical structures for miles around are myself and that dilapidated oil derrick, and you can't count on lightning to choose its target with any degree of compassion, so I lie down and let the sleet freeze where it will.

After a while, it turns back into snow, but I remain motionless, envisioning the layers piling up, blanketing me like a shroud. There's no weight to it and no cold. Of course, if I needed to breathe, it would be a different story.

Humans in my parents' day had a morbid fear of being buried alive, even going so far as to place bells on their graves in case the occupant needed to sound an alarm. I suspect modern embalming techniques put an end to that practice.

Will Bella someday rest in a grave? I can't help it. Every thought eventually leads me back to her, and I'll have to let it until I find some semblance of peace.

Either she will or she'll be cremated, not so differently than we immortals who meet our end. It will be up to whoever loves her then and has her trust to carry out her final wishes. I hope that day is many decades away, after a long and fulfilling life.

I'd opened that door again for her, after plastering myself against it for far too long, like the selfish being I am. My solution to our impasse had been a life together with her as a human, but I'd never really pinned down the specifics of what that might entail.

Was I prepared to keep her from ever marrying and having a family of her own? No, I honestly wasn't. The life I wanted for her was the one she would choose for herself with me relegated to whatever corner was left. It would have been enough.

Here in my cryogenic chamber, there's no one else to lie to and little point in lying to myself. Though I hadn't examined the details at the time, I'm fairly certain I'd hoped that what we had together would be enough, that she wouldn't care about marrying or having children.

But how could she know? She was so young. And what if she decided she did want that? What was I planning to do while she dated other men? I'm not sure if humans can love more than one person at a time. I know it isn't inmy nature, but humans have such messy brains. It might be possible.

Then there's the question of what kind of man would allow a third wheel in his relationship? Bella deserves complete devotion. To me that includes a certain level of possessiveness, but how much of that is me and how much my vampire nature, I can't say.

Maybe we would have gone away somewhere, lived a solitary existence, and maybe that would have been enough for her. I know it would have been for me.

A life based on maybes, but a life nonetheless.

Academic anyway. I've done it. I've stopped toying with her as if she was some particularly enticing prey, more intriguing to stalk than to kill. She's free.

Feel good about it, I command myself. Accept the virtue of doing something right for a change.

I'm not sure I'm capable of that. My selfishness encases me more tightly than this pseudo-grave I've fashioned for myself, and all I can feel is the hurting. I wait it out. If time heals all wounds, then an immortal should stand an excellent chance of full recovery.

Gradually, there is a change.

The misery doesn't lessen, but it's joined by a more physical ache. I am hungry, after all. I let it build for a long time, willing it to eclipse the deeper torment, until I remember that game is not exactly plentiful in this wasteland, and I'm growing weaker by the minute.

The first thing I see, when I burst out of my icy tomb is a pair of yellow eyes staring at me. A red fox. The only living thing I've encountered in days. It streaks away like a flame across the frozen snow.

Gray clouds still swell close to the earth, but the air is clear and visibility good. Despite the favorable conditions, it takes me longer than it should to find a meal. Towards dawn, I come upon a river, too swift moving to be iced over, though a white flotilla bobs along its surface, and protruding from its midst is a welcome sight.

The antlers of a large moose.

No doubt he's been foraging along the river bottom for food too scarce on land. I dive almost soundlessly into the frigid water in pursuit, amazed at how fast such a big animal can swim, but even with the help of the current, he hasn't a chance.

I encircle his thick neck and make for the far bank, where I win the brief struggle without a single flailing hoof making contact. It's a leisurely, satisfying feast, obliterating my persistent thoughts for a few precious minutes and making me strong again.

I'm scrubbing my face with snow beside a spreading pool of scarlet, when it hits me. This is what I never wanted Bella to see. Could I have prevented that if we'd spent her human life together?

As much as I like to think I could have managed, I really wonder. Already in our brief time together, she'd asked to watch me hunt, and she was so stubborn in her belief that nothing about me could ever change her feelings.

I'd be vigilant against it, knowing the disgust that would overwhelm her at the sight, but she's persistent. She might have found a way, and that would be the end.

Always an end, to everything.

Well, it never happened, and now it never will. That realization brings something distantly related to happiness. Relief, maybe. I add it to the meager score in the plus column, along with the fact that she's free and not being reckless.

It's enough to improve my mood considerably for a few days until my persistent analyzing turns the whole argument upside down.

Because the truth is I should have shown her the horrendous reality back in the beginning. That day in the forest when I tried to intimidate her with my strength and speed and talk of killing, when I tried to shock her with my alien skin, which she, in her confounding Bella way, decided was "beautiful."

What I should have done was catch Bambi's mother on the fly and drag her, panicked and thrashing, to where Bella could get a good look at my table manners. That would have put an end to the extraordinary suspicion I had that she wanted me to kiss her.

So why didn't I opt for the horror show? Aside from the obvious fact that I was pulling her toward me just as consistently as I was pushing her away, it had to be my ego.

She was attracted to me. Most females are. It's a vampire thing. How else are we to get close to the most delectable prey? My brothers accuse me of being unfairly good at what Emmett calls the "dazzlepalooza" moves, but with Bella I sensed her fascination was different.

Everything was different.

And I wasn't willing to give up the one power I had over her by revealing the monster at his bloodiest. Even now I'm grateful that when she looks back, if she ever does, she'll see me as the idealized object of first love.

I strike the "Bella never saw me feed" points from my mental report card. Not a good thing after all, just more proof of my entrenched self-interest.

Making a plan is still beyond me. My movements are as random as my thoughts. The only sense of order comes from my determination to relive every single moment we spent together, every priceless expression in her depthless eyes, every look and gesture and word.

I'm no more obsessive than any other zealot building a shrine. It's important that those details, too precious and extraordinary for extinction, continue to exist somewhere in the universe, and the obvious place is within me.

For Bella, they're human memories that will fade. I wonder how quickly. Will they still mean something to her for a time or will she take my advice - for once - and pretend they never happened?

It doesn't matter. They'll live in me, the non-living. I'll take them out periodically and experience both the warmth and the burn.

I can almost hear Carlisle cautioning me not to give the past too much power. I'd like to give the same warning to Bella, but there's a reason I can't come up with a plan. The future is as blank as the landscape - no possibilities to choose from.

I'm like those amputees who feel phantom pain in their lost limbs, only I've lost half of myself, the part that had a soul. It doesn't leave much to work with.

I falter, frowning, so that I feel the ice crystals cracking on my face. Is that what I was doing - attaching myself to her soul like a parasite, because I don't have one of my own?

It never felt like that. What she gave she gave freely. She infused me with so many new insights and desires, such a passion to be worthy of her, that it was almost like having one. An illusion.

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

The exhilaration that usually accompanies speed evaporated some time ago. My movements are almost human now, dull and imprecise, and all my senses blunted. When I hear the approach of some sluggish piece of machinery, I don't bother to disappear.

There are no telephone poles or other indications of a road nearby, but apparently there is one somewhere under the frozen crust, as a bulky snow plow has slowed just a few yards away.

"Hey, you need some help there, buddy?"

The sound of a human voice in this wasteland is startling and a little bit interesting. The speaker, an older man - salt and pepper hair, a weathered face - is even more surprised by this encounter than I am.

"Where's your vehicle - your car, jet ski . . .?"

I shake my head. He's thinking I'm nuts or injured or both. He may be right.

"Well, look, you can't just stay here."

Of course, I can, but he's genuinely concerned. He doesn't know what to do with me. I don't know what to do with me either, so when he suggests I climb aboard and warm up, I go with the flow.

As soon as I'm in the cab, he reaches across to adjust the vent, flooding me with a blast of hot air. It's irritating, but he means well.

"How the hell did you get yourself into this fix?" he asks, as the truck lurches forward.

Well, I could tell him that it all started when this girl walked into my biology class, but I don't think that's what he wants to hear.

Suddenly, I appreciate how bizarre I must have appeared to him, standing around in sub-zero temperatures, no hat, no gloves or boots, my only protection against the elements the jacket I wore to Bella's birthday party.

I shake my head again. This guy's truly a good Samaritan to risk being alone with a lunatic, never mind a vampire.

"You sure you're not frost bit?" He glances at my hands and draws the conclusion that I must not have been out there for more than a few minutes.

Maybe dumped by his frat brothers, all of ‘em high on something, he thinks. Got no idea how quick a man can freeze to death out here.

"Name's Andy," he says aloud. "This is kind of a hobby for me. It's a crying shame how the county neglects these back roads."

My disused voice finds its way out of where it's been languishing. "Edward."

"Well, Edward I can drop you at the nearest town. You can get . . . help there."

"Thank you. How far is it?"

He's relieved to find I can talk and not like a character out of The Exorcist. "When the road's clear, 25 minutes, but we got some heavy lifting to do along the way."

I put my head back, closing my eyes, always a good way to discourage human questions, and try not to smile at the thoughts going on in his head.

Fool kids, think they're indestructible. Not used to the Badlands, that's for sure. Probably from some city where it never snows.

"Chicago," I say, and realize I've grown so unaccustomed to companionship that I've answered an unspoken question. "I've just remembered - that's where I'm from."

He's only briefly taken aback, not expecting me to make much sense.

"Well, as I recall, it gets awful cold in Chicago from time to time. You oughta have a better coat."

Yes, I oughta, I silently agree, if I don't want to attract attention. He's a kind man, a conscientious man, the sort of man I hope Bella finds some day, and I'm off again in my own thoughts.

It's slow going, and it gets worse as we start to ascend. Good to know this state wasn't totally short-changed when topography was passed out.

I don't do well with slow. The urge for speed is a hard instinct to repress, so I picture myself barreling through the trees with a slightly terrified Bella on my back. She has no problem with slow.

I open my eyes just as we reach a sharp bend in the road. Dusk has given way to darkness, and despite the plow's huge headlights, my companion has not noticed what I have - the chaotic patterns in the snow, the wrenched and broken guard rail.

"Wait!" I order. "Pull over."

If he's startled to hear commands from his spacey passenger, he doesn't show it; he immediately obeys.

Most people do.

"Do you have a flashlight? Get it." I'm out of the cab and peering over the edge of a steep precipice when he joins me.

"Holy shit," he says, training the beam straight downward, "there's a car down there. See the tail lights?" I see a lot more than that. A small SUV nose down, precariously wedged between two trees. "No telling how long the poor bastard's been down there. If the impact didn't kill him, the weather probably did."

"Not necessarily." Not at all, actually. The scent of freshly flowing blood is not something I'm likely to miss.

"I got no way to get down there, much less get folks out."

I yank the cell phone from my pocket, but Andy shakes his head. "You won't get service up here. Only thing to do is go on into town and send the patrol."

"Fine," I say. "Leave me the flashlight. I'll flag down anyone who looks like they can help and make sure nobody else goes over the edge."

Exasperation joins the anxiety on Andy's face. "Damn, kid, how come you're so hell bent on freezing your ass off?" But he returns to the cab and pulls a Mylar blanket from behind the driver's seat. "At least wrap yourself up good in this thing," he says, tossing it to me, before he hops back in, and the engine roars to life.

I wait until the snow plow disappears around the bend, shaking my head.That's got to be the slowest vehicle humans have ever invented. When it disappears, I drop the flashlight and blanket and clear the rim of the cliff, skidding to a diagonal stop next to the trapped car.

The good news is there's only one person inside. The bad news is the driver's door has been neatly folded by the trunk of a huge Bur Oak. I leap onto the roof, noting that the car is solidly stuck between the oak and an equally hardy elm (no danger of tumbling the rest of the way down the cliff), set far enough back that the passenger door is unobstructed.

I grab a branch and swing out, wrenching the door easily from its hinges. Several seconds pass, in which I take in a last deep breath of clean air, before it clatters to the rocks below, and then I'm inside.

The driver, in his mid-thirties, is pinned just above the knees by a deformed steering wheel. The smell I'm fighting comes from a gash in his forehead. It's bleeding profusely. That's what head wounds do.

I press a cold palm against the wound in an effort to stop the flow, and his eyes flutter open. "Hurts," he mumbles.

"What does?"

"My head . . . legs."

I release him long enough to scoop a handful of snow from the roof and crush it into a ball of ice that I press into his left hand, lifting it to his forehead. When I let go, the arm flops back down.

I raise it again. "You're going to bleed to death if you don't hold this steady. Keep it there. Where else does it hurt?"

"Is-nit . . . isn't that enough?" he manages. "Who . . . who're you?"

"EMT," I say briskly. "Do you remember what happened?"

"Lost control . . . airborne . . ."

"What about your name - do you remember that?" I need to know how badly he's injured. I need to keep him awake and distracted from what I'm doing, but he seems too woozy to focus, as I release his seat belt and bend the steering wheel up and away from his legs.

"Parker," he gasps. "Doug . . . Parker. Wass . . . whass yours?"

I doubt he cares, but in his stupor he's reflexively polite, so I answer him anyway.

"Emmett."

I have reflexes, too. One is to lie, and the name can be easily confused with my so-called occupation, plus my brother would get a kick out of being introduced into this problematic situation. "Can you move your legs?"

"Ouch, yeah, hurts though."

The scent of flowing blood is gone; the bones intact. "That's just the circulation returning. Keep moving them - gently. They'll feel better soon."

I don't know how Carlisle does it. Even the dried blood is playing havoc with my instincts. Venom surges in my throat.

Time to get out of here. The cut isn't deep. The rescuers will find it easy to retrieve the victim from the wreckage. I'm pushing inconspicuousness to its limit, but an image pops into my head - not Carlisle - but Bella. She's fragile and perfect with that adorable crease between her brows that she gets when she's ticked off about something.

She wouldn't approve of my leaving this guy, alone and battered, hanging on the side of a cliff. I wish I could argue with her - point out how insanely reckless it would be to do something that humans deem "impossible."

But she isn't here, and I can't.

With a sigh, I pull my albatross across the seat, half expecting him to cry out from some undetected injury, and sling him over my shoulder. I grasp a branch with my other hand, maneuver till I'm behind the car and give it a swift kick.

There's a screech of metal and ripping bark before it comes loose and tumbles to the bottom of the ravine. From there it's a graceless journey back to the top where I prop my burden against an undamaged portion of the guard rail.

"Are you still with me?" I ask, as I wrap the emergency blanket around the victim and prop the glowing flashlight beside him. "Try to stay awake. Someone will be here soon."

"Damn," he mumbles. "My wife's going to kill me. How bad's the damage to the 4Runner?"

I'm capable of telling the unvarnished truth as well. "Totaled," I say, which under the circumstances is probably an understatement.

"Ah, hell." His voice is getting stronger by the minute. "Say, Emmett, could you do me a favor and get the insurance information out of the glove box?"

I'm not sure why I've been playing superhero for the benefit of a woman who will never even know about it, but I am sure I'm nobody's errand boy.

"No."

And I take off into the trees alongside the road, heading uphill. Wow, what an inconsiderate bastard Emmett is. I'm grinning, as I pick up speed.

Not long after houses start to appear, I'm passed by a flatbed tow truck and an ambulance, siren blazing. Well, one of those will come in handy. For whatever reason, my energy's back. I feel better than I have in a long time. Maybe it's the thrill of running again.

I bypass the town. Can't risk bumping into Andy, though there's a twinge of guilt about returning his kindness with the gift of bafflement. Still, a brief period of wondering whether he's losing his mind is surely worth a human life.

I don't stop till I'm deep in Minnesota. There are Christmas decorations everywhere. No way to avoid calling my family now. I buy a down jacket in a half-assed bid to blend in but balk at replacing my entire wardrobe.

I was wearing these clothes the last time I held Bella to my silent heart. They stay. Besides, everything I'm wearing has been soaked through so many times, they've got to be clean, if decidedly rumpled.

In a generic motel room, I juice up the phone and dial the person who will appreciate it most.

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

"Oh, honey, it's so good to hear your voice! We think about you all the time. How are you doing?"

"I'm getting there. What's everybody been up to?"

I get an earful. Sounds like they're keeping busy, Carlisle in particular.

"The work's been so stimulating for him," Esme says, "although between you and me, he's chafing at the regimentation. It's time we were moving on."

"Where to?"

"Back to upstate New York. We've always been comfortable there, although I think we all developed a fondness for Forks. It may be a long time before that's a viable choice again."

It will never be a viable choice for me, but I don't say so. To return to the site of the happiest memories in my long existence, only to find them turned into vengeful ghosts, constantly goading me with what I've lost, what I've thrown away. I don't think so.

"You just missed everyone," Esme continues. "They've gone to get a Christmas tree."

"They're not buying one, are they?" I ask, jumping on the change of subject.

"Heavens, no. Emmett wants to ‘pick' one - literally. I just hope the others can control him enough that it fits indoors."

She makes a few more attempts to get past the vague answers about my own activities before I ask her to give my love to everyone, insisting I have to go.

I keep the room during the holidays, venturing out to buy a slew of books, and binge reading until the restlessness gets intolerable. Then I'm off again for some place not so infested with humans.

It's not hard to find in the dead of winter, particularly as I push north where spring will be slow in coming. In the eastern corner of the state, there are trees again, along with warnings posted about black bears and a possible mountain lion sighting.

Days later, I've enjoyed the bear cuisine but decided the cougar report was bogus. If there had been one within a hundred miles of here, I would have found it.

Once more I lose track of the date, vaguely aware that I must be nearing an anniversary of sorts - the day I first laid eyes on Bella. Our time together went so quickly that it's hard to believe a year has passed. On the other hand, nothing can shake the sense that she's been part of me forever. That she always will be.

As the memories parade through my mind in exquisite detail, I can only hope that someday they'll no longer be accompanied by a litany of regrets and an abiding sorrow. That day clearly hasn't arrived.

What has arrived are wilderness campers. I've come across evidence of several of them, intrepid humans challenging themselves against nature at her worst. Unfortunately, they're succeeding. I cheerfully wish them all to hell.

I'm perfectly capable of evading them but resent the fact that I have to. It could be that I'm feeling a little territorial about my hunting ground, but I endure it for the better part of a month before deciding that if I'm going to be around humans, I'd prefer it to be by choice.

That's when I succeed in actually making a conscious decision. It may be the wrong one, but if it doesn't work out, there's always the Arctic Circle.

A week later, I'm in the city of my birth, which I haven't visited in a long time. A perverse bout of sunshine keeps me inside the day I arrive, but as soon as night falls, I follow the wind blowing off the lake through the old neighborhoods. I already know the house I was born and raised in is long gone, but I walk the length of Kimbark Avenue anyway, noting how some of the remaining homes have been bastardized beyond recognition.

A few have been lovingly maintained or restored, stirring dim human memories of childhood friends and walking to school. Our house was probably considered too small or too dated with its white gingerbread trim and wrap-around porch to be worth saving.

It's just as well. The idea of a mere building surviving my vibrant, loving parents is distasteful. The hospital where Carlisle found me still exists, at least nominally, but it's a huge, modern medical facility now, progress at its best.

I head north again, back to the Loop. As the streets empty, the racket in my head diminishes, until only one conversation is bidding for my attention, growing more strident by the second.

It's nothing I haven't heard before - a man and woman arguing - on the next block.

I ignore it until genuine fear enters the equation, and although I tell myself it's none of my business, my steps turn naturally in that direction. The deserted street is lined with shops, closed and gated for the night. In a doorway, halfway down the block, a couple is flailing at each other.

They don't see me, standing opposite them, so intent are they on their struggle. The man is very drunk, slurring his angry words and so unsteady on his feet, that the much smaller woman is actually holding her own, pummeling him with her purse, twisting out of his groping hands.

I even think she might win, as she brings a stiletoed heel down on his foot and he bellows in pain, but then he backhands her and suddenly it's as if I've been transported back in time to those years I spent apart from Carlisle. Rage rises in me like it's never been repressed, venom floods my mouth and I shoot across the street.

My hand is on his throat when I shove him against the store window. The glass shudders ominously but doesn't break. I can smell his hotly throbbing blood - and hers - so close, so absolutely mine for the taking.

My whole body is electric with anticipation - the taste, incomparable to anything I've known in close to a century, the transcendent thrill of perfect bliss that will banish all pain and sorrow.

My lips have curled back from my teeth, and I lean in luxuriating in the primal, scarlet scent, aching to relinquish everything to the monster. My tongue tastes human flesh.

In that long, rapturous run up to the kill, which lasts only seconds in human terms, I correct myself. This would not be an incomparable feast. I've sampled the epitome, the most seductive and satisfying taste on this earth and somehow managed not to drink it all.

Do I really want to ruin decades of abstinence, move one step further away from the man Bella loved, just for a fleeting escape into second-rate indulgence?

I don't.

As if a switch has been thrown, I'm back in control. I reduce the pressure on the man's Adam's apple, just enough to let him breathe. The woman has scuttled away, sobbing. When I look around the corner, she's running up the street, shoes in hand.

I slide my prey up the vibrating glass, still with one hand. It's a move that never fails to impress already terrified humans. "See this face," I say, giving him my blackest stare. "You're going to see it in your nightmares and every time you think of pulling something like this again."

He groans, his eyes bugging out - from fear now - not suffocation. He's trying to speak, and even if I couldn't read his thoughts, I'd know what he's about to say: Who are you?

The same predictable, boring question every time, and I can't understand why they ask it. If you're about to die, what difference does it make who's killing you? Humans are truly ridiculous.

I check the street again in time to see the woman getting into a taxi at the next intersection. As soon as it's sped off, I relax my hand and wind up with a whimpering, groveling slime ball at my feet.

His terror as he glances up at me, finally infuses him with enough coordination to get to his feet and stumble away. I watch him weave his way to the corner, feeling a little let down. This evening has been far more eventful than most lately. I'm almost sorry it's over.

On second thought, there's no reason it has to be. In fact, it might be prudent to see that the fun continues. I follow as he makes his erratic way a few blocks, once turning completely around and going the other direction, as if he's forgotten where he lives.

At last, he thinks he's arrived home. I have my doubts, since it takes a good 15 minutes for him to find a key that works, but finally he disappears inside. I take advantage of the fire escape to track him to the eighth floor, where I sit down and prepare to wait outside his apartment.

His thoughts are incoherent, but following his actions is easy. Once inside, he tries to fix a drink in the dark, but his hands are shaking and the bottle shatters on the floor. He's cursing as he makes it to the bed before falling on his face. Almost immediately he's unconscious.

I let myself in, surprised to find an expensively furnished loft with a killer view of Lake Michigan. Diplomas on the wall tell me he's had an expensive education. The artwork beside them tells me it didn't take.

A fully stocked bar dominates the living space. Is that an amenity or the source of all his problems? Maybe he's simply a mean drunk. No matter. I amuse myself by pouring the contents down the drain.

The gesture's purely symbolic; he'll probably go out and replace it all as soon as his hangover wears off, except possibly for this, a bottle of Dom Perignon that I'm about to dump when I notice the vintage - 1962.

I set it aside.

I try browsing through his book collection (banal) and his music CDs (unforgiveable). He may have been raised by wolves.

It becomes clear that the only thing worth looking at is outside the window, so I watch the sunrise. It's past ten when he wakes up to find me sitting beside him on the bed.

The look on his face is worth the wait. "Who . . . ?" he splutters again.

"We've been through that," I say impatiently. "In case you were too inebriated last night to remember, I wanted to remind you that I've taken up residence in your head."

I lay my hand on his chest, and he snatches at a blanket, trying to pull it up to his quivering chin, like Scrooge confronting the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. "Go ahead, you can get up now," I say smiling, but of course he can't.

That discovery causes him to squeeze his eyes shut, hoping I'll vanish like a bad dream, and I oblige, picking up the wine bottle and exiting through the front door like any human guest.

That was fun in a childish sort of way, so why not continue the theme by revisiting some of the places I enjoyed long ago? The museums alone will take days.

Anticipation nudges my mood upward. After so much aimless wandering, the fact that I'm making a conscious choice, while it may not constitute a full-blown plan, seems like a positive step, a sign that I might become a participant in my own life again.

I leave the Dom Perignon at a Goodwill drop-off - no reason the poor shouldn't enjoy a good glass of champagne - and decide to begin at the Art Institute.

When I was a boy, this building was my notion of a palace, made all the more romantic by my father's tales of watching it rise on the ruins of the Great Fire. Its mystique was intensified, when I was about 12, by a show that shocked and outraged the city with the strangest examples of so-called art that most had ever seen.

I loved the rebellious nature of the Armory Exhibition, even though I secretly thought my own scrupulously executed Zeppelin drawings were better than some of the works on display.

It's just cloudy enough that I can walk the streets without causing double takes, and I almost bound up the steps to the Institute, already wondering how I'm going to visit old favorites and check out all the new additions before closing time.

No wonder a surreal quality seems to envelop the city when, less than an hour later, I descend those same steps, feeling like I can't get enough air, knowing I don't actually need any. I return to the hotel on automatic pilot and sink onto the bed, digging my fingers convulsively through my hair.

Conflicting emotions make it impossible to think. I don't even question the wisdom of pulling out the cell phone, pressing a speed dial button.

"What's the matter?" she answers. "Edward, what happened?"

"Nothing. I'm fine. It's just that . . . I don't know if I can do this. Are you alone?"

"I'm taking the phone outside right now." Her footsteps echo on hardwood half a continent away. There's the whispered opening and closing of a door. "I saw you decide on Chicago. You were going to the places you always liked there. It seemed like a really good idea."

"That's what I thought, but I see something beautiful, and all I can think about is that I want to share it with Bella. I want her to love what I love, hate what I hate. I want her to love what I hate and argue with me in that way she has of seeing things from a perspective I never imagined, until I see it too. She opened a whole new world to me, and without that none of it has any meaning anymore. I don't know how to deal with what's left."

"Oh, Edward," she says softly, and there's real grief in her voice. "I'm so sorry."

Here I go, spreading gloom again. This wasn't my intention.

"I don't want you to feel bad, Alice. I was wondering . . . My start in life - the human part - was enviable; yours was obscene, and yet you manage to stay positive. How do you do that?"

"Oh, it's amazing what you pick up living in an insane asylum," she says lightly. "I learned to hold onto the good things, however few and far between, but it's not like I don't get discouraged. Sometimes I look at how long Jazz and I've been together and how hard I've tried to make him comfortable in our world. He simply isn't all the way there yet, and it feels like my fault."

"Maybe you do belong in an asylum," I say with a snort. "Taming an immortal with Jasper's background should be impossible, but you did it all by yourself."

"Well, I try to focus on the two steps forward, not the occasional birthday-party-slash-massacre step back."

"Very wise," I say dryly. "The problem is finding anything positive I ever did for Bella."

"How can you say that? You gave Bella her life."

"If you mean, I saved hers after putting it repeatedly in jeopardy, I doubt that's anyone's definition of a ‘gift'."

"What I mean is, you gave it to her the day you met. By rights, she should have died then and there. You've heard Emmett's stories. Does it sound like he really wanted to kill that poor woman who was just hanging out her laundry? He had no choice. He couldn't fight it. That's the way it is when a vampire crosses paths with that one fatal temptation, but there you were in a room with Bella and her irresistible scent, and you didn't do it. And you kept on not doing it no matter how close you two got. Really, Edward, I don't think you've ever given yourself enough credit for that."

"If you say so. It's not easy to be positive about a negative."

"How about this?" she says, undeterred. "What is it you want for Bella? Be honest now."

"I want her to be happy."

"Okay, I believe you. So why not concentrate on the fact that every day that goes by - no matter how shitty it is for you - puts her one day closer to finding whatever it is that will give her happiness?"

I mull that over a minute. It has possibilities. That wish is the purest motivation in my heart, and it doesn't require me to overcome my own sorrow, which seems like a lost cause. "That could be doable."

"Good! Just don't go imagining specifics, because I know you, and that could cause all kinds of trouble."

"I have enough headaches without dreaming up new ones, Alice."

"Well, I really think it may be years before she gets . . . interested in someone again."

I jump on that like I have no self-control whatsoever. "Why? Have you seen it?"

‘No," she says sharply, "I haven't, and don't go there, Edward. If you start bugging me about checking on her, it won't be good for any of us."

I hear in her tone a thread of wistfulness for her own friendship with Bella, which she once saw as inevitable. "Believe me, I won't." I want her happy, but the details of how she gets there could finish me off.

"All I'm saying is Bella was never that into dating in the first place. She might have gone to her grave without ever showing up at a prom if it weren't for you and your dazzlepalooza routine."

"Don't go there, Alice," I growl, but her tinkling laughter is a welcome sound after all this time.

She's quiet for a moment, and I sense she's weighing whether to say more.

"I'm going to tell you something, Edward, because it might help, but this is the last time. Remember how I said I couldn't see Bella making any decisions at all? Well, that's changed recently. I don't know why, and it's nothing major, but she does make plans to hang out with the other kids. She's socializing. I mean, when she first came to Forks, she really kept to herself, and it's hard to find your destiny if you never leave the house."

"Right," I say quietly. "Thank you for that. I apologize for crying on your shoulder."

"Don't be stupid. You know I miss you like crazy."

"Yeah, me too. Thanks for the advice. Oh, and please-"

"I know what you're going to say," she interrupts, "and no, I won't mention this to anyone else. I mean, I'll tell them you called, because they're always concerned about that, and that you're - how did you put it - "fine," but not the other stuff."

"Perfect. You know, if I could have only one sister, Alice, I think I'd pick you."

"Damn skippy, you would!"

Her laughter is the last thing I hear before hanging up, and once again my emotions have done a 180. I remember Bella complaining that my mercurial moods gave her whiplash.

Well, now I'm apparently giving it to myself.

I feel okay right now, armed with a perspective I can live with. If I can just avoid the other extreme - those psychotic moments, usually in the dead of night, when I desperately want to chuck the whole thing and go back to Forks.

If I can focus solely on the privilege of living in a world where Bella exists . . .

Civilization is encroaching from the east, so I backtrack in search of solitude, taking refuge in places too inhospitable to humans, still reexamining every element of my past with Bella.

There's a universal truth I've never acknowledged. Teenagers fall desperately in love and out again repeatedly. Even Romeo did. It would be foolish to equate her love for me with my own immortal passion. She'll love again.

Good.

Unbearable.

What's wrong with me?

The phone rings, and I hope it's a wrong number. It isn't but the identity of the caller surprises me, so that it's my turn to answer with a tense "What's the matter?"

"I know you don't want us hassling you," Jasper greets me, "but I talked to Peter today, and he mentioned a strange vamp - a redhead - in their territory."

"In Texas?" I ask sharply.

"Yep, down near San Antonio. He didn't have a name, but the description fit Victoria. Thought you might be wondering if she was tracking you."

"If she is, she's not doing a very good job."

I hadn't crossed paths with a single vampire these last months and had barely given a thought to James' girlfriend. I'd been so thoroughly focused on him during our encounter that she hadn't made much of an impression, which I could see now was an oversight on my part.

We're a vengeful breed. Laurent had made a gesture of peace but not the woman. She was a loose end I'd be happy to eliminate.

"I asked if she was with anybody. He didn't think so, but he didn't actually see her himself."

"I'm going down there," I say abruptly. "Give me Peter's number."

He does and adds, "It's good to hear your voice, bro."

"You too, Jasper. I appreciate this."

Finally, I have a purpose in life besides merely occupying the same planet as the woman I love.

Within hours I'm on a plane. Peter and I have met before. We number him and his mate Charlotte among our few friends due to their long history with my brother. Like members of opposing political parties, we simply avoid the subjects that divide us.

Peter's at the airport, dark glasses concealing his crimson eyes, though dusk has fallen. The map he gives me shows the place where the red-haired vamp was spotted, and I waste no time, speeding through the darkness on foot to the area indicated.

The sense of purpose, so long missing, makes me hyper, and I crisscross the hundreds of acres at invisible speeds, until my senses snap to attention.L'odeur du vampire. And a few minutes later, a distinctly different one.

Forcing myself to slow to a more methodical pace, I keep checking throughout the night. No, definitely only two, a lucky break for me, since I have no clear impression of Victoria's scent. Again I curse myself for paying so little attention the one time I saw her.

One smell is much more prevalent; the other must be Peter's informant who was merely passing through. I follow the Victoria traces in circles, coming across the remnants of a recent kill, a human hunter. The one track that continues beyond the trees leads to a clearing and a derelict barn.

Inside the odor is stronger. She may have taken refuge here on a sunny day, but vampires travel light. The only sign of recent habitation is a magazine, heavy with that same scent. Useless as clues go, but when I rifle through it, a brochure falls out. A travel brochure with a photo of Corcovado.

It's not much. It's nothing. But it's all I've got to give me some direction. When the exit track dead-ends at a highway a mile away, I don't hesitate. I head back to San Antonio and the airport.

I head for Brazil.

Two long flights later, I still have no idea how to begin. It would be lunacy to try to pick up a trail among the thousands of scents left by travelers through the international airport.

I do it anyway - with predictably frustrating results. I'm making my way into the city via sweeping circles when my phone rings.

"South America, Edward?" Alice says.

"What gave it away? The plane to Rio or the fact that I'm thinking in Portuguese?"

"I assume you're still working on the tip from Peter, but do you even know what Victoria smells like?"

"Either I do now, or I'm on a wild goose chase. I'm not sure it matters."

I can sense her suspicion of my glib manner before she even speaks again. "I'm beginning to worry about you, Edward."

"Don't."

"Please, you're scaring me a little."

I'm sorry I answered this call. It may be time to chuck the cell phone altogether. "I can't spend every moment trying to be happy about the thing that's tearing me apart. I have to do something, and right now, this is all I can think of."

Alice tries to argue, but I tell her goodbye. Rio's a big territory to cover, assuming Victoria stayed in the city - or came here at all - or has anything to do with the vampire whose scent I've been tracking.

Yes, Alice, I know I'm losing it.

I spend the next two weeks roaming the streets 24/7. A few immortals come to my attention, but they're of no interest. At last, I check into a hotel (shabby like what's left of my clothing) that nonetheless offers a great view of Christ the Redeemer. I waste long hours standing in the window, pretending to gaze at it.

Somewhere out there beyond the beaches and the bay is Carlisle's most romantic gift to Esme - a tropical island for them alone.

Pure grief wells up, unexpected, and it nearly staggers me where I stand. If only I could have made one such sweeping gesture for Bella before the inevitable parting. I had it in my heart to do it, just not the right.

The next evening I go out to Ipanema and take the bright blue stone from my pocket. Souvenirs are redundant when she lives in every cell of my body - the closest thing I'll ever have to a soul.

Ordaining the Atlantic my wishing well, I toss the stone far out with the fervent prayer that someday, someone will love her with the reverence she deserves.

Back in my room, the walls are closing in.

I can't do this.

I can't stay so far away from where her brief existence is playing itself out. She'll be gone before I know it, and so will I, but in the meantime I have to be where I can bear witness to the happy life she's meant to lead, no matter how torturous the jealousy my selfish nature conjures up.

I can stay out of sight, protect her, revel in her very existence, and she'll never know how weak I really am.

Is that even possible?

Well, I guess I'll find out. All my noblest intentions of the last months vanish in a surge of joyful anticipation I can neither justify nor resist.

My phone rings.

Hadn't I meant to trash this thing? I can't think of a single reason this person would be calling me . . . unless it's a family emergency.

"Hello, Rosalie."

"Edward! Something's happened. Alice says Bella killed herself, that she jumped off a cliff! I'm sorry if that upsets you, but it just shows how unstable she really was - even for a human, and how smart you were to end the relationship. The important thing is we can all go back to Forks! I've actually mis-"

In my hand, Rosalie's voice crumbles to dust. In my head, the lights go out like fireflies. In my heart, there's nothing.

All that's left is . . . a plan.

 

but  �{or�$�/'t.

 

That discovery causes him to squeeze his eyes shut, hoping I'll vanish like a bad dream, and I oblige, picking up the wine bottle and exiting through the front door like any human guest.

That was fun in a childish sort of way, so why not continue the theme by revisiting some of the places I enjoyed long ago? The museums alone will take days.

Anticipation nudges my mood upward. After so much aimless wandering, the fact that I'm making a conscious choice, while it may not constitute a full-blown plan, seems like a positive step, a sign that I might become a participant in my own life again.

I leave the Dom Perignon at a Goodwill drop-off - no reason the poor shouldn't enjoy a good glass of champagne - and decide to begin at the Art Institute.

When I was a boy, this building was my notion of a palace, made all the more romantic by my father's tales of watching it rise on the ruins of the Great Fire. Its mystique was intensified, when I was about 12, by a show that shocked and outraged the city with the strangest examples of so-called art that most had ever seen.

I loved the rebellious nature of the Armory Exhibition, even though I secretly thought my own scrupulously executed Zeppelin drawings were better than some of the works on display.

It's just cloudy enough that I can walk the streets without causing double takes, and I almost bound up the steps to the Institute, already wondering how I'm going to visit old favorites and check out all the new additions before closing time.

No wonder a surreal quality seems to envelop the city when, less than an hour later, I descend those same steps, feeling like I can't get enough air, knowing I don't actually need any. I return to the hotel on automatic pilot and sink onto the bed, digging my fingers convulsively through my hair.

Conflicting emotions make it impossible to think. I don't even question the wisdom of pulling out the cell phone, pressing a speed dial button.

"What's the matter?" she answers. "Edward, what happened?"

"Nothing. I'm fine. It's just that . . . I don't know if I can do this. Are you alone?"

"I'm taking the phone outside right now." Her footsteps echo on hardwood half a continent away. There's the whispered opening and closing of a door. "I saw you decide on Chicago. You were going to the places you always liked there. It seemed like a really good idea."

"That's what I thought, but I see something beautiful, and all I can think about is that I want to share it with Bella. I want her to love what I love, hate what I hate. I want her to love what I hate and argue with me in that way she has of seeing things from a perspective I never imagined, until I see it too. She opened a whole new world to me, and without that none of it has any meaning anymore. I don't know how to deal with what's left."

"Oh, Edward," she says softly, and there's real grief in her voice. "I'm so sorry."

Here I go, spreading gloom again. This wasn't my intention.

"I don't want you to feel bad, Alice. I was wondering . . . My start in life - the human part - was enviable; yours was obscene, and yet you manage to stay positive. How do you do that?"

"Oh, it's amazing what you pick up living in an insane asylum," she says lightly. "I learned to hold onto the good things, however few and far between, but it's not like I don't get discouraged. Sometimes I look at how long Jazz and I've been together and how hard I've tried to make him comfortable in our world. He simply isn't all the way there yet, and it feels like my fault."

"Maybe you do belong in an asylum," I say with a snort. "Taming an immortal with Jasper's background should be impossible, but you did it all by yourself."

"Well, I try to focus on the two steps forward, not the occasional birthday-party-slash-massacre step back."

"Very wise," I say dryly. "The problem is finding anything positive I ever did for Bella."

"How can you say that? You gave Bella her life."

"If you mean, I saved hers after putting it repeatedly in jeopardy, I doubt that's anyone's definition of a ‘gift'."

"What I mean is, you gave it to her the day you met. By rights, she should have died then and there. You've heard Emmett's stories. Does it sound like he really wanted to kill that poor woman who was just hanging out her laundry? He had no choice. He couldn't fight it. That's the way it is when a vampire crosses paths with that one fatal temptation, but there you were in a room with Bella and her irresistible scent, and you didn't do it. And you kept on not doing it no matter how close you two got. Really, Edward, I don't think you've ever given yourself enough credit for that."

"If you say so. It's not easy to be positive about a negative."

"How about this?" she says, undeterred. "What is it you want for Bella? Be honest now."

"I want her to be happy."

"Okay, I believe you. So why not concentrate on the fact that every day that goes by - no matter how shitty it is for you - puts her one day closer to finding whatever it is that will give her happiness?"

I mull that over a minute. It has possibilities. That wish is the purest motivation in my heart, and it doesn't require me to overcome my own sorrow, which seems like a lost cause. "That could be doable."

"Good! Just don't go imagining specifics, because I know you, and that could cause all kinds of trouble."

"I have enough headaches without dreaming up new ones, Alice."

"Well, I really think it may be years before she gets . . . interested in someone again."

I jump on that like I have no self-control whatsoever. "Why? Have you seen it?"

‘No," she says sharply, "I haven't, and don't go there, Edward. If you start bugging me about checking on her, it won't be good for any of us."

I hear in her tone a thread of wistfulness for her own friendship with Bella, which she once saw as inevitable. "Believe me, I won't." I want her happy, but the details of how she gets there could finish me off.

"All I'm saying is Bella was never that into dating in the first place. She might have gone to her grave without ever showing up at a prom if it weren't for you and your dazzlepalooza routine."

"Don't go there, Alice," I growl, but her tinkling laughter is a welcome sound after all this time.

She's quiet for a moment, and I sense she's weighing whether to say more.

"I'm going to tell you something, Edward, because it might help, but this is the last time. Remember how I said I couldn't see Bella making any decisions at all? Well, that's changed recently. I don't know why, and it's nothing major, but she does make plans to hang out with the other kids. She's socializing. I mean, when she first came to Forks, she really kept to herself, and it's hard to find your destiny if you never leave the house."

"Right," I say quietly. "Thank you for that. I apologize for crying on your shoulder."

"Don't be stupid. You know I miss you like crazy."

"Yeah, me too. Thanks for the advice. Oh, and please-"

"I know what you're going to say," she interrupts, "and no, I won't mention this to anyone else. I mean, I'll tell them you called, because they're always concerned about that, and that you're - how did you put it - "fine," but not the other stuff."

"Perfect. You know, if I could have only one sister, Alice, I think I'd pick you."

"Damn skippy, you would!"

Her laughter is the last thing I hear before hanging up, and once again my emotions have done a 180. I remember Bella complaining that my mercurial moods gave her whiplash.

Well, now I'm apparently giving it to myself.

I feel okay right now, armed with a perspective I can live with. If I can just avoid the other extreme - those psychotic moments, usually in the dead of night, when I desperately want to chuck the whole thing and go back to Forks.

If I can focus solely on the privilege of living in a world where Bella exists . . .

Civilization is encroaching from the east, so I backtrack in search of solitude, taking refuge in places too inhospitable to humans, still reexamining every element of my past with Bella.

There's a universal truth I've never acknowledged. Teenagers fall desperately in love and out again repeatedly. Even Romeo did. It would be foolish to equate her love for me with my own immortal passion. She'll love again.

Good.

Unbearable.

What's wrong with me?

The phone rings, and I hope it's a wrong number. It isn't but the identity of the caller surprises me, so that it's my turn to answer with a tense "What's the matter?"

"I know you don't want us hassling you," Jasper greets me, "but I talked to Peter today, and he mentioned a strange vamp - a redhead - in their territory."

"In Texas?" I ask sharply.

"Yep, down near San Antonio. He didn't have a name, but the description fit Victoria. Thought you might be wondering if she was tracking you."

"If she is, she's not doing a very good job."

I hadn't crossed paths with a single vampire these last months and had barely given a thought to James' girlfriend. I'd been so thoroughly focused on him during our encounter that she hadn't made much of an impression, which I could see now was an oversight on my part.

We're a vengeful breed. Laurent had made a gesture of peace but not the woman. She was a loose end I'd be happy to eliminate.

"I asked if she was with anybody. He didn't think so, but he didn't actually see her himself."

"I'm going down there," I say abruptly. "Give me Peter's number."

He does and adds, "It's good to hear your voice, bro."

"You too, Jasper. I appreciate this."

Finally, I have a purpose in life besides merely occupying the same planet as the woman I love.

Within hours I'm on a plane. Peter and I have met before. We number him and his mate Charlotte among our few friends due to their long history with my brother. Like members of opposing political parties, we simply avoid the subjects that divide us.

Peter's at the airport, dark glasses concealing his crimson eyes, though dusk has fallen. The map he gives me shows the place where the red-haired vamp was spotted, and I waste no time, speeding through the darkness on foot to the area indicated.

The sense of purpose, so long missing, makes me hyper, and I crisscross the hundreds of acres at invisible speeds, until my senses snap to attention.L'odeur du vampire. And a few minutes later, a distinctly different one.

Forcing myself to slow to a more methodical pace, I keep checking throughout the night. No, definitely only two, a lucky break for me, since I have no clear impression of Victoria's scent. Again I curse myself for paying so little attention the one time I saw her.

One smell is much more prevalent; the other must be Peter's informant who was merely passing through. I follow the Victoria traces in circles, coming across the remnants of a recent kill, a human hunter. The one track that continues beyond the trees leads to a clearing and a derelict barn.

Inside the odor is stronger. She may have taken refuge here on a sunny day, but vampires travel light. The only sign of recent habitation is a magazine, heavy with that same scent. Useless as clues go, but when I rifle through it, a brochure falls out. A travel brochure with a photo of Corcovado.

It's not much. It's nothing. But it's all I've got to give me some direction. When the exit track dead-ends at a highway a mile away, I don't hesitate. I head back to San Antonio and the airport.

I head for Brazil.

Two long flights later, I still have no idea how to begin. It would be lunacy to try to pick up a trail among the thousands of scents left by travelers through the international airport.

I do it anyway - with predictably frustrating results. I'm making my way into the city via sweeping circles when my phone rings.

"South America, Edward?" Alice says.

"What gave it away? The plane to Rio or the fact that I'm thinking in Portuguese?"

"I assume you're still working on the tip from Peter, but do you even know what Victoria smells like?"

"Either I do now, or I'm on a wild goose chase. I'm not sure it matters."

I can sense her suspicion of my glib manner before she even speaks again. "I'm beginning to worry about you, Edward."

"Don't."

"Please, you're scaring me a little."

I'm sorry I answered this call. It may be time to chuck the cell phone altogether. "I can't spend every moment trying to be happy about the thing that's tearing me apart. I have to do something, and right now, this is all I can think of."

Alice tries to argue, but I tell her goodbye. Rio's a big territory to cover, assuming Victoria stayed in the city - or came here at all - or has anything to do with the vampire whose scent I've been tracking.

Yes, Alice, I know I'm losing it.

I spend the next two weeks roaming the streets 24/7. A few immortals come to my attention, but they're of no interest. At last, I check into a hotel (shabby like what's left of my clothing) that nonetheless offers a great view of Christ the Redeemer. I waste long hours standing in the window, pretending to gaze at it.

Somewhere out there beyond the beaches and the bay is Carlisle's most romantic gift to Esme - a tropical island for them alone.

Pure grief wells up, unexpected, and it nearly staggers me where I stand. If only I could have made one such sweeping gesture for Bella before the inevitable parting. I had it in my heart to do it, just not the right.

The next evening I go out to Ipanema and take the bright blue stone from my pocket. Souvenirs are redundant when she lives in every cell of my body - the closest thing I'll ever have to a soul.

Ordaining the Atlantic my wishing well, I toss the stone far out with the fervent prayer that someday, someone will love her with the reverence she deserves.

Back in my room, the walls are closing in.

I can't do this.

I can't stay so far away from where her brief existence is playing itself out. She'll be gone before I know it, and so will I, but in the meantime I have to be where I can bear witness to the happy life she's meant to lead, no matter how torturous the jealousy my selfish nature conjures up.

I can stay out of sight, protect her, revel in her very existence, and she'll never know how weak I really am.

Is that even possible?

Well, I guess I'll find out. All my noblest intentions of the last months vanish in a surge of joyful anticipation I can neither justify nor resist.

My phone rings.

Hadn't I meant to trash this thing? I can't think of a single reason this person would be calling me . . . unless it's a family emergency.

"Hello, Rosalie."

"Edward! Something's happened. Alice says Bella killed herself, that she jumped off a cliff! I'm sorry if that upsets you, but it just shows how unstable she really was - even for a human, and how smart you were to end the relationship. The important thing is we can all go back to Forks! I've actually mis-"

In my hand, Rosalie's voice crumbles to dust. In my head, the lights go out like fireflies. In my heart, there's nothing.

All that's left is . . . a plan.

 

 

Chapter End Notes:

 

A/N:  The quote: O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again. is from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.

 

 

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