Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

January 14th

Summary:



Bella got everything she wanted, but what about the people she left behind. Sequel to “August 13th” and “September 13th”


Notes:
You asked -- here it is, the sequel to “August 13th” and “September 13th” Reading those stories first would probably be helpful.


1. January 14th

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5844   Review this Chapter

* * *



She grinned inwardly, watching the goosebumps pucker along the flesh of the other women. Wearing gowns in winter was one of those beauty before comfort type of things. But not for her; not for Bella Cullen. She wore the strapless, navy blue gown with elegance, her bare arms and shoulders white and creamy against the satin and the moonlight. The cold January air didn’t bother her; not anymore. Edward smiled as he came up beside her, linking her arm through his. She grinned again, as the shivering, goose-bumped women watched her glide up the steps with envy, her voluminous skirt swirling around her, on the arm of the most handsome man in attendance that evening and without a glimmer of discomfort at the weather. It was nice that such human inadequacies didn’t bother her. She was a little bit wicked, a bit more coy since she’d become a vampire. It hadn’t come immediately, but rather over time. Edward suspected part of it was maturity. Though she hadn’t aged, Bella had grown up a bit in their time together. Edward didn’t mind; in fact, he rather enjoyed it. She was much less petulant than she used to be. A little wiser to the ways of the world. And more confident in her own appearance. Of course, she had grown more beautiful after her transformation – and now that her eyes were a deep, ochre color – like his – she had started flaunting her looks a little bit more. She wasn’t quite as bad as Rosalie or even Alice, but she enjoyed her looks. And Edward had always wanted her to enjoy her natural gifts, beauty among them.



He was happy that she finally felt adequate beside him; like they finally fit together.



It certainly had that appearance to the people watching them ascend the front steps into the glittering banquet hall. They walked in together swiftly and silently, without making a fuss – but the grandeur of their combined appearance (only enhanced by their formal wear) was enough to draw attention. They ignored the watching eyes and found their place cards and went about their business and soon enough, they were just another extraordinarily beautiful couple in the crowd.



They set their place cards at the appropriate table – Mr. and Mrs. Cullen placed side by side with a handful of other couples – but left without sitting down. They would surreptitiously be absent for the dinner portion of the evening and planned to join their guests after the meal.



In a shadowed corner, Bella grinned up at Edward, beaming with pride. She hadn’t lived long enough to accrue so many accolades – so to her, the award he was being presented that night felt like a real accomplishment. She was proud of her husband. President’s Honors for Outstanding Achievement in the field of Hematology, Graduate Level. She was doing well enough in her own studies – now two years into her first undergraduate program for English at Lewis & Clark. Schoolwork certainly came easier as an immortal – she had plenty of time for studying and homework since she didn’t need to sleep; couldn’t sleep – but it was still her first time going through college. Edward already had two medical degrees and a collection of other assorted diplomas from his various turns through the higher education system – though he found this particular field of study (Hematology) especially amusing. It just so happened that the administration at Oregon Health & Sciences University was unaware of his previous PhDs.

Still, his years of experience – plus his tutelage with Carlisle – did not dampen the pride Bella felt for him. And it didn’t matter that Alice knew he would win this award; she’d foreseen this awards ceremony more than five years ago – back when Bella had only recently become a vampire. After all, it was this very occasion for which Alice had purchased the navy blue ball gown as a birthday present for Bella’s 19th birthday; that was the year she didn’t actually turn 19. Bella had not known the dress was for an awards ceremony at the time; she’d only worked out the gown’s purpose after finding the invitation and congratulations letter in the mail two weeks earlier. Edward had forgotten, or had planned not to mention it. But when she saw that he was being given honors, she insisted.



“I’ve gotten awards before,” he’d said, sighing. He’d gotten so many awards it was almost routine.



Bella had glared at him, one eyebrow quirking higher than the others. “Well I wasn’t there to see you get them,” she’d argued. “The novelty hasn’t worn off for me yet. Besides,” she’d added, tapping the invitation against her palm thoughtfully, “I do have that ravishing blue dress your sister gave me for my birthday …”



The dress had been the kicker. Edward had given in when she’d mentioned the dress; after all, he’d seen how she would look in it based on Alice’s vision. And that was really only a mental image. He’d been anxious to see her in the gown for real, and Bella had always refused to try it on for any superfluous occasion. The awards ceremony, she had decreed, was not superfluous – it was just cause.



So they stood, arms wrapped around each other, in the shadows outside the banquet hall. The sound of cutlery and porcelain clinking together drifted down the corridor, the clamor of mixed conversations turning into a dull roar of incongruous sounds. The noises fell away in the background. Edward played with the soft curls of Bella’s hair as they fell about her shoulders and cascaded down her back. He felt the curve of her hip through the layers of satin. The fabric whispered against their bodies as he pressed her against the wall, pushing his legs into the sweeping skirt. He touched his lips to hers and the combination of ice upon ice ignited inexplicable fire.



All too soon, dinner was over. “Tonight,” he whispered into her ear. “Later.” It was a promise and she would hold him to it.



Bella shook her hair out behind her and smoothed her hands over her skirt and that was all the straightening her appearance required. Once recomposed, she linked her arm through Edward’s once again and let him lead her back into the banquet hall, where the dull roar of conversation still hummed. They found their places at the table – other honorees from the graduate program were seated with their dates, wiping daintily at their mouths. The plates had already been cleared and condensation had begun forming on the water glasses. They made small talk – brushing off comments about their tardiness with inconsequential excuses – and cleverly steered the conversation towards their tablemates. What they were studying; how long had they lived in Portland. Were they married? Engaged? What were they being honored for?



The exchange of words was shallow and trite, but it did not last long. A tapping on the microphone and a brief shrill of feedback interrupted the buzz of conversation in the room. The murmur fell away as all eyes turned to the man now standing at the podium. He introduced himself – one of the Deans – and prattled on about the challenges and wonders of studying medicine. He praised those smart enough and bright enough and brave enough to practice; to save lives.



Bella squeezed Edward’s hand under the table. She’d seen the flicker of doubt and self-hatred cross his features; seen the grimace form tight on his lips. She knew that he undermined his own worth because he was unable to practice medicine. Unlike Carlisle, Edward did not possess enough self-control to immerse himself amongst the bleeding patients of a hospital. At least, he didn’t trust his self-control – though he’d proven capable of resisting when he’d met Bella. He just didn’t trust himself to stay in control around others that he did not care so much about. Knowing he could never practice medicine, meant Edward could never save lives – like the Dean had said. That’s what he told himself.



Bella leaned into him and whispered in his ear, so only he could hear: “You saved my life, remember? You’ve saved plenty of lives.”



He nodded, still glum – though his face relaxed slightly. Edward was always his toughest critic; Bella only wished he could see himself more clearly; to see himself as she saw him. As his family saw him.



When the Dean had finished, he introduced another man who began handing out the awards. Each presentation included a short speech and a round of polite applause. It was over and done with rather quickly. Bella thought it odd that the university would make such a big to-do about something that was over so swiftly – something Edward had tried to explain to her beforehand, to no avail. She’d seen the invitation – despite the brevity of the awards ceremony itself, the evening was by no means meant to be brief – there were pre-dinner drinks, dinner itself, the ceremony, of course, and then dancing. That was the reason for the ball gown, after all. It was only after watching the actual presentation of awards that Bella realized just how brief the actual ceremony was. She was proud of her husband for earning this accolade; she’d expected at least a bit more fuss over it. But, then again, Bella’s perspective on time had changed considerably in the last five years.



Edward, on the other hand, was happy when the awards had been given. It meant that the attention was no longer on him. It meant that he could accompany his dazzling wife into the next room and whisk her onto the dance floor.



Edward had always enjoyed dancing; it was part of growing up in the early 20th century. And he’d tried to share his enthusiasm with Bella before – at their prom junior year; at their wedding. She’d always been rather horrified at the idea, however, due to her natural clumsiness. That, however, was no longer an issue. Having discovered shortly after her change that she could not only move gracefully on her own two feet, but that she could do it well, Bella also developed a taste for dancing. In particular, she developed a taste for dancing with Edward.



He was only too thrilled.



So there were no protests when he accompanied her to the adjoining ballroom and asked her to dance. She moved gracefully into the circle of his arms and moved across the wooden floor in time to the music, following his lead as if they had been born to dance together like this.



Even after several years together, Bella still found herself lost in her husband’s arms. His smell still left her dizzy at times; the taste of his mouth still mesmerized her. The feel of his hands against her body, against her skin, still left her tingling and weak. United on the dance floor in a twirl, their eyes locked together and his promise from earlier – his promise for tonight – was reignited. Suddenly, neither cared to continue dancing. Neither cared to remain in public any longer. Edward didn’t care how ravishing his wife looked in her dress – he would much rather take her away and ravish her himself. And Bella, herself, felt ripe for the plucking.



They paused in unison on the dance floor and Edward pressed her interminably against his chest, his hand burning against the small of his back, and breathed into her ear. “Now.”



He pulled away from her regrettably, and led her by the hand swiftly from the room, struggling to maintain a relatively human pace.



They sped down the hallway and were mere steps from the front doors, when both skidded to a halt – stopped by a small, but achingly familiar voice behind them.



“Bella?”



She and Edward turned – Edward already hearing the girl’s thoughts and bracing himself for what was about to come. He was not surprised when Bella gasped at the sight before them.



Tall as ever, brown hair pulled back in loose curls for the evening. She was wearing a crimson red dress – much simpler than Bella’s, though still elegant – strapless, with an a-line skirt that fluttered in layers of chiffon to the floor. Her eyes were wide and shocked, a ghost of hurt lingering in her expression. “Is that really you, Bella?”



“Oh my god,” Bella whispered. “Angela.”



Edward was too focused on the onslaught of thoughts rushing through Angela’s mind – the one normal, human friend that Bella had truly regretted cutting ties from – so he missed all the signs and, therefore, had no time to warn Bella until it was too late. So he stood silent and stoic by her side, secretly terrified of the repercussions and watched as the large, ambling figure tumbled into the hallway, calling, “Ang? Angie? Oh, there you … are …” The man’s voice dropped off as he took in the two figures besides Angela.



“Oh my god,” Bella said again, with more volume this time. Her step faltered. Edward caught her arm and steadied her, his reflexes from before – from her human days – still sharp and quick. It was only after that he realized it was the first time Bella had stumbled since becoming a vampire.



Bella’s eyes flickered from her old friend to the figure beside her, taking in his shape first – before finally settling on his face. “It finally happened, didn’t it?” she said, locking eyes with Jacob Black. “You found her.”



“Hi Bella,” Jake said, ignoring her question. His voice was tight; strained.



Edward’s eyes narrowed as he noticed Jake’s fists pumping open and shut at his sides. He opened his mouth to warn Jake to control himself – but was beaten to the punch.



Angela pressed one delicate hand against Jake’s chest and shushed him softly. “Calm down, it’s okay.”



“You don’t understand,” Jake protested feebly.



“What’s wrong?” Angela pressed, her hands reaching up to caress his face, as if to smooth away his anxiety. She wasn’t used to this type of behavior from her companion; normally, he responded to her soothing words and touch. She’d brought him back from the brink before. Why wasn’t it working this time?



But Jake just shook his head and took three steps backwards – away from Edward and Bella.



“Jake?” Bella said, noticing the slight quivering running up and down his spine. “Jake, don’t do anything stupid.”



“Said the pot to the kettle,” he muttered.

“What’s going on?” Angela insisted, looking curiously back and forth between her companions in the hallway. The tension was tangible in the air. Their bodies did not crowd the hallway, but the hostility was stifling. Angela alone felt isolated in the space – cast out from some clandestine world – a world she thought she was a part of; a world she thought should be kept secret from others – from people like Bella and Edward Cullen. And now, suddenly, she was the one in the dark.



“Don’t you know?” Bella said. “Hasn’t he told you?”



Angela’s eyes were wary, but she did not respond. Her lips pressed tightly together. Clearly, Bella knew something … but the extent of her knowledge was a mystery to Angela and she did not wish to reveal anything new. She was good at protecting secrets – especially this secret. It was too precious to her.



Of course, she didn’t know that Edward could hear her thoughts – or that he would share them immediately with his wife. He murmured to Bella,” She knows about the Pack, but she doesn’t know about us. Or our family.”



Bella’s eyes crinkled in hurt and confusion. She glanced up at Angela, before turning her gaze to Jake. “You didn’t tell her?”



“And hurt her more than you already had?”



The accusation in his voice stung, but Bella pressed on – more resilient then the last time Jake had spoken to her. Back then, she was still human. Not so anymore, though of course, that was the very reason for the animosity between them now. “I never meant to hurt anyone,” she said. “And you know that Jake. You know that better than anyone.”



Another quiver ran up Jake’s spine and Angela took a step away from him instinctively, frightened now by his extreme lack of control. It was subtle, but she’d known him long enough to recognize the signs. Jake was the most restrained of his brothers and his lack of willpower at this moment alarmed her more than anything she’d experienced in the last five years.



“Watch yourself,” Edward warned Jake. “Don’t go popping into your fur coat now.”



Angela’s head snapped towards him immediately, horrified by the implications of his words and the animosity behind them; the derogatory insinuation of fur coat. She knew what Jake was – and she knew the honor he took in fighting against nightmares. Who was Edward Cullen to insult him, and why did it seem like he knew more than he should? She narrowed her eyes at him accusingly. “What did you just say?”



Edward resented the thoughts in her head – about nightmares and leeches – and snapped back, “I told him not to go turning into a damn dog right now.”



“But … you … “



“It’s okay, Ang,” Jake said, breathing carefully. He was getting himself under control again. “They know.”



“They know?” she pressed.



He nodded, recomposed. He took her hand in his again. “They know.”



“But how –?”



Bella took a step forward cautiously, watching Jake’s reaction as she did so. He appeared to still be in control. She glanced behind her to Edward, seeking his more intimate knowledge of the situation. He nodded in acquiescence. Bella sighed, turning back to face her old friend. Friends, she corrected herself mentally. “Angela … Jake imprinted, didn’t he?”



Angela nodded.



“And I assume he told you about the Pack … about werewolves and the legends.”



“Yes.”



“And did he also tell you about the other creatures that go bump in the night … did he tell you about the cold ones?”



Angela nodded again. “The vampires, yeah. He said that’s why they changed – there used to be a coven of vampires living near La Push, so the werewolves came back. He said the cold ones are gone now, though.”



“Yes, they are,” Bella said. “They moved immediately following my wedding.”



“Your … wedding?”



“Yes, well,” Bella continued, dropping her gaze reluctantly. “It wasn’t really a good idea for us to stick around, since I was about to really join the family. I assume Jake’s told you about the dangers of newborn vampires … I needed time.”

“But … you …” Angela’s eyes darted back and forth – from Bella, to Edward, to Jacob and round again – until finally widening in shock and horror. She glared at Bella accusingly. “You? You’re the vampires that did this to the Quiletes? You did this to them?”



Edward growled, stepping in front of Bella protectively. “It is their own heritage. And they knew that when they signed the treaty.”



Angela narrowed her eyes. “What treaty?”



Edward tipped his head towards Jacob, Angela following his movement with her eyes. “Jacob?”



He sighed. “Look, Angela …”



She shook her head abruptly. “No,” she said. “No, I really don’t want to hear your excuses. I don’t want to hear anyone’s excuses. Just … leave me alone.” She brushed past them, moving through the wide open doors and out into the cold.



Bella, Edward and Jake watched her go – knowing better than to follow. Outside, Angela tromped down several steps before plopping down halfway and pulling her knees to her chest. She shivered as she looked up at the sky, dark clouds gathering ominously in the darkness overhead. It was unusually cold out; the weatherman said it might snow. One of those rare, winter blasts that enveloped Portland with a blanket of white stuff every few years. Feeling the tears stinging the corners of her eyes, Angela hoped for rain instead.



Without turning her gaze from the only human among them, Bella spoke softly to Jake. “What are you doing here?”



He breathed heavily and the air from his mouth reached the bare skin at her shoulder blade; it felt like burning and the scent that wafted towards her nostrils stung. Jacob fought to ignore Bella’s reaction – the way she cringed away from him faintly; the wrinkle of her nose – and replied with too much control in his voice. “Angela’s in med school here,” he said softly. “Her professor wanted her to come; he said it would be good for her to meet some of the other students in her department. But we were late; we missed the awards. We only just got her a few minutes ago.”



Bella nodded, then asked the more pressing question. “When did … when did it happen?”



“About a year after you left. She came home for summer vacation from college and got a job tutoring summer school kids down on the res. That’s when we met.”



“When you imprinted?”



“Yes.”



Bella nodded minutely. “I told you so …”



Beside her, Edward stifled a chuckle. Atta girl, he thought, and relaxed as her hand slipped back into his, their fingers entwining. She knew that even after all this time – after everything that had transpired – he still felt unsure of himself and his place in her life where Jacob Black was concerned. He still wondered that she might change her mind.



Jacob grumbled incoherent curse words. He hated admitting Bella was right – especially now that she wasn’t his Bella; wasn’t warm and soft and human – but she’d been right all along. He did imprint, just like she’d said he would. At some point, the right girl finally caught his eye. He didn’t bother explaining to her that part of his heart would still always belong to her, when it seemed so obvious to him that all of hers now belonged solely to Edward Cullen.



Edward, hearing this thoughts, did not bother to correct them. He didn’t want to give Jake the satisfaction of knowing that even now, Bella still cared for him with a small part of her heart. He would not stop Bella from confessing this, if she wanted to. But Edward was not generous enough to offer up the information on his own.



“Edward?” Bella asked, turning her gaze from Angela’s shivering form to meet his eyes.



He nodded. “Yes, it’s okay now.”



She took a step forward, but stopped when Jacob’s hand slapped around her wrist. She yanked herself away immediately – the heat of his flesh stinging – and wheeled on him. “I’m just going to talk to her.”



“She looks cold,” Jake retorted. “You can’t warm her up.” He pointed a jabbing finger at her bitter, elegant body.



Much to Edward’s amusement and delight, however, Bella cocked her hip and placed her hands on her waist. “Then you should give me your coat to lend to her.” She raised one eyebrow at him delicately, waiting for his reaction.



Jacob looked between Bella and Edward several times, before groaning and rolling his eyes. He slipped off his tuxedo jacket and passed it over to Bella – careful this time not to make physical contact. “I’m watching you, bloodsucker.”



Bella flinched at the slang, but nodded. “I won’t hurt her.”



Outside, Bella breathed deeply – gulping in the fresh scent of werewolf-free air. She understood now all of Edward’s grumblings from before. Had she really once thought Jacob smelled good? She shook her head and stepped lightly down the steps to where Angela now sat. She held the jacket out in front of her as a peace offering. “Jake thought you might be cold.”



Angela looked up slowly, eventually acknowledging Bella’s presence. Gingerly, she took the jacket from Bella and wrapped it around her shoulders – slipping her arms into the too-big sleeves gratefully. She inhaled deeply as she pulled the lapel up around her face.



Bella rolled her eyes and plopped down gracefully beside her, keeping a safe distance to protect the human from her inhumanly cold body. “Of course, it reeks of werewolf, but if you don’t mind the smell …” Bella shrugged.



Angela looked at her carefully, giving the stranger that looked so much like her old friend a more than cursory glance. “Jake says vampires smell bad …”



Bella shrugged again. “I guess we do … to him. Just like werewolves stink to us.”



“No one smells bad to me …” Angela muttered.



Bella laughed, the sound ringing like bells in the night air. “I used to say the same thing.”



“You mean …” Angela couldn’t bring herself to say the words.



“When I was human, yes,” Bella replied. “Look, I want you to know – I wanted this. I knew what I was doing before I married Edward. That was part of our agreement, actually. I knew I was going to hurt people – people like Jacob; like you – but I cannot live without Edward. I want to spend eternity with him; now I can.”



Angela was staring at the steps below her, listening intently but unable to make eye contact.



Bella continued. “I’m sorry for hurting you. I hope you can understand now why I never told you; why I couldn’t tell anyone.”



“I … I’ll get over it, Bella, but …” Angela turned, finally, and looked at her. She still couldn’t make eye contact, instead settling for focusing her attention on the soft purple bruises under Bella’s golden eyes. “But I think maybe you should call your dad.”



“My … Charlie?”



Angela nodded, turning away again and focusing her gaze once again on the steps below. It was too hard to look at Bella for very long; too painful and frightening. “He’s not doing great and he really misses you.”



“But I haven’t spoken to him in … more than three years.”



“I know.”



“I ran out of excuses.”



Angela sighed, almost exasperated. “Well, Charlie thinks he did something to upset you – he thinks you hate him and never want to speak to him again.”



Bella’s hands fluttered in her lap, a visible sign of her sudden distress. “I had to. I didn’t know what to say any more. I’ve been avoiding him for years because of what I am now … I couldn’t see him when I was a newborn. And I can’t see him now. I mean … look at me … I’m not the same. And eventually, he’s going to start wondering why I never age; why my husband doesn’t age; why we don’t bring him fat grandchildren. I don’t know what I could possibly say to him.”



“Just … tell him.” Angela turned back to Bella, hoping the gesture would help make her point.



“Tell him?”



“Yeah, just tell him the truth.”



“But …”



Angela cut her off, not caring for further excuses. “I know you’re worried about putting him in danger. But who would ever find out that he knows? Charlie’s smarter than you think. And he loves you and he deserves to know the truth. Just tell him.” Angela shrugged, as if it were a very simple thing to do.



And that’s when Bella realized … it was. It would not be easy; but it would be simple. She laughed suddenly at this epiphany. “Oh, god,” she said, running her fingers through her hair. “It’s really good to see you again, Angela. You always did have a knack for insight on situations like this. Even when you didn’t understand the full scope of things.”



Angela smirked. “I’m still mad at you,” she said. “But it’s good to see you, too, Bella. I really did miss you.”



She reached out suddenly to embrace Bella, and that’s when it happened.



Edward darted forward from the doorway and shouted from the top of the stairway, one arm extended in horror towards them. Beside him, Jake lunged forward, growling. And as Angela reached to her old friend, Bella hissed and stood and darted across the steps suddenly.



Edward’s arms wrapped tightly around Bella and yanked her away – while at the same moment, Jacob lifted Angela into his arms and loped down the stairs. He stared back up at the Cullens, glaring and snarling.



“Jake, what are you doing?” Angela demanded, dizzy and confused by the sequence of events and how swiftly they had all transpired.



Jake growled again and hugged her to his chest. “I’m protecting you from those filthy bloodsuckers.”



“What are you –“



“Just look at her!” Jake demanded.



Startled by his rage, Angela shrank in his arms, but obeyed. Slowly, she turned her head and stared up. At the top of the stairs, Edward held Bella tightly in his arms. Angela could see, even from a distance, that he struggled to keep her within the confines of his arms. He exerted all of his strength to hold her back. And even as she fought back against her husband, Bella looked beyond him – past him – her eyes focused on Angela like a predator focused on its prey.



That’s when Angela realized what had happened. She’d moved just wrong; the breeze had caught her scent too swiftly and Bella had been tempted.



Bella wanted to kill her.



Slowly, the world came back into focus. Angela heard Edward pleading, “Bella, please, Bella!” She watched Edward drag her farther away still, closer to the doors where warm light from the foyer spilled out onto the stoop. He shook the girl in his arms – she looked so fragile, yet she did not break. “Bella!” he shouted again, then pressed her against the wall vehemently and forced his lips onto hers. For a moment she continued to struggle, but then she recognized his mouth and his taste and began kissing him back. Her resistance faded, and instead, she pulled him more tightly to her body – grabbing fistfuls of his tousled bronze hair and clutching at his lapel.



They kissed as if time had no end, or so it seemed to Angela – a human for whom time passed so quickly. Bella, however, took comfort in her lover’s touch – in the grounding he provided. When she pulled away finally, she ran her fingers down his cheek. “I knew you’d keep me safe,” she whispered. “I knew you wouldn’t let me go.”



He turned his face into her hand and kissed her palm. “I’ll never let you go.”



Slipping regretfully from his arms, Bella turned to Jake and Angela. She walked to the top of the steps and looked down at them, Edward still clasping her hand both for comfort and as a precaution. This second reason gave Bella a twinge of regret, though not for her choice – simply for her own weakness. She understood now, more than ever, how much Jasper must have struggled before; how he must have felt after that disastrous 18th birthday – the day which she could now think upon without regret or fear or sadness. It was just another day of her human life; her life that was no longer her life. It was a memory that would fade soon enough until she knew of the event only from what the others would tell her of it.



“I’m sorry,” she said to Angela, meaning it. “Jake was right. I should have stayed away.”



“No,” Angela said, pulling herself from Jacob’s arms clumsily. She took two steps forward and would have continued, if not for Jake’s hand on her shoulder. She turned back to him and stopped when she saw the pleading in his eyes. At the top of the staircase, Bella’s face held a similar expression. She sighed. “I’m sorry, too.”



“We’ll go now,” Edward said, pulling Bella with him to the far side of the staircase. Edward and Bella made their way carefully down the steps – as Jake and Angela moved up along the opposite side of the staircase. “We were on our way out, anyway. Enjoy yourselves.”



The couples watched each other warily as they passed on the steps, each exceptionally aware of the delicate balance between them.



When they had passed and stood in opposite places – Bella and Edward now at the bottom of the staircase; Jacob and Angela now at the top – they stared back at each other once more.



“I am sorry, Angela,” Bella said again.



Angela wanted to tell Bella that she had nothing to apologize for, but she knew that would be a lie and she did not insult Bella by saying so. Instead, she told her the truth. “Just … stay in touch this time, okay? My e-mail still works, you know.”



Bella smiled back sadly. “Okay.”



“And Bella? Don’t forget what I said about Charlie.”



“I won’t.”



She and Edward turned to leave, but she paused. “Bells?” Jake said, his voice sounding small and young – like the Jake of her fondest memories; the Jake from before – from before heartache and werewolves and everything.



Bella turned back to look at him; whatever he had to say to her, she owed him this much.



“I still … I still love you, you know. Right?”



She smiled back at him genuinely. “I do. I’m glad you finally found the right girl, Jake.”



“Sure, sure. But … does it hurt at all, like you thought it might? Are you at all jealous?”



Bella resisted the urge to snort or roll her eyes. “A little,” she lied, hoping he would not see through the deceptive words. “But I’ll get over it.” To prove her point, she twined her fingers with Edward’s and followed him into the darkness.



* * *



Later that night, after Edward had fulfilled his promise of later twice over, Bella stood on the back porch of their home overlooking the Willamette River. It was a clear night – the clouds having dissipated sometime after midnight – and the moonlight reflected on the ripples of water below. The crisp, winter air felt good in her lungs – even if she did not actually need the oxygen it provided.



She dialed the achingly familiar number on the small silver phone in her palm and then pressed it against her ear, fighting the urge to hit “end” and fling the phone into the river. She knew it was late, but if she waited any longer, she would never make the call. She would talk herself out of it and the last thing she needed was something else to regret. That list was already long enough.



A sleepy voice picked up after five rings, mumbling incoherently into the receiver.



“Dad?”



“Bella?” Charlie’s voice sobered.



“Sorry to call so late. But, we need to talk …”



* * *

The End

* * *