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Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


10. The Truth

Rating 3.8/5   Word Count 13093   Review this Chapter

Time passed. It shifted and twisted back on to itself, contorting into increasingly confusing shapes and coils as seconds seemed to distort into hours and minutes to years. I stayed frozen in my position on the snow, completely oblivious to my surroundings as one name blazed through my mind like a poisoned mantra. Brady.

It must have only been moments later, but it could have just as easily been a century, when I sensed someone kneel beside me. Strong arms pried my hands away from the reddened snow and gently leant me back into a sitting position. I complied sluggishly as though drugged, but made no real attempt to move of my own accord. Through the screaming in my mind I could hear voices, but the words made no sense to me; it was as if the sentences had been cut up and rearranged, losing all their meaning. I sensed people moving around me, thought I heard somebody arguing, then a door slam shut…

“It’s all right Bella, you’re going to be fine,” the person beside me spoke in a calm, soothing voice and they were the first words that actually got through to me. I felt my companion carefully take my hands in his own, turning them over and examining the damage.

“I’ve brought your bag, Carlisle,” a softer, more feminine voice called from behind me and I supposed that another person must have joined us. I kept my eyes closed tight. Perhaps if I pretended to disappear then the world would follow suit.

“Thank you. It’s just a shallow cut,” I heard the first voice say; “I’ll dress and bandage it to be safe though.”

“Will you do it out here?”

“Yes, there’s no point in spilling blood inside the house unnecessarily. On that note, has Jasper gone?”

“Yes, he and Alice went almost straight away. I don’t think… I don’t think he would have actually done anything to hurt Bella. He still feels awful about what happened on her eighteenth…”

“I know, Esme, I know. I’m very proud of him; his control has improved so much over the last six years, but you know we can’t take any chances when it comes to Bella’s safety. I’ll be sure to let Jasper know that my request for him to leave was merely a precaution.” The owner of the male voice- it was Carlisle, I decided through the fog of my mind- then cradled me in his arms, picking me up in one fluid motion and carrying me effortlessly away from where I had been crouched. I watched numbly as the snow covered wooden boards slipped away below me, to be replaced by dryer ones in a more sheltered area of the veranda. I felt Carlisle let go of me as he gently lowered me down onto a bench, before turning his back on me again. Even though I was still staring blindly into space, I could sense another figure by the door, surveying us both. Esme.“Speaking of precautions,” Carlisle said to her, “please remind Edward that he is not to come out here under any circumstances. He can stay in the house with the others, unless I call him.” At these words I thought I heard a loud, frustrated growl from inside the house, but before I could be sure the sound sparked off another round of vivid memories within my mind.

Nursing my injured leg where I had fallen at the edge of the trees, I watched horrified as Brady’s huge wolf form quivered in front of me, almost blocking my attacker from view… but still allowing me a glimpse of her white skin and blood-red eyes; the sound of my choking screams as the two creatures twisted and launched towards each other, vampire and wolf meeting in mid air in a blood curdling cacophony of snarls, growls and, most chillingly, maniacal laughter…

“Bella?” Carlisle’s voice acted like a magnet, dragging me immediately from my recollections. I opened my eyes, slightly disorientated, taking full stock of my surroundings for the first time since Jacob’s voicemail message had ended. It was now dark outside and the sun had fully set, the only light source being the electric lamps that were situated on the corners of the decking. From this artificial yellow light I could just make out the white flakes that were falling gently onto the drive way; it had begun to snow again.

I looked away from the snow and turned my attention to Carlisle. He had sat down next to me on the bench, his black doctor’s bag resting on the floor by his feet.

As I saw it I remembered my hand and looked down to find that he had relinquished it. I stared at the now bandaged cut in surprise; I hadn’t even noticed him working on it, I had been so preoccupied by my visions.

“Th-thank you,” I said, still surveying my hand as I turned it over. “I-I did it a-again, huh? I’m sorry Carlisle, I swear I c-can come to visit you without getting blood all over the place…” I trailed off, aware that Carlisle had not laughed at my lame comment or even spoken at all.

I looked up, to see his ochre eyes boring into me with almost frightening intensity. There was no shadow of laughter there, only serious concern and worry. It unnerved me and I tried to fill the silence. “Um, so thanks for cleaning me up, I’m sorry about, uh, the snow…now it’s pink and all…” what was I saying? Was I really talking to Carlisle about the snow? He must be wondering whether my brain had also sustained serious damage. I hoped he wouldn’t insist on sending me to hospital; I had a long list of things I needed to do, and spending a night in emergency room was not one of them. In fact, it was ridiculous for me to be still sitting here at all- every second I squandered here on this porch another moment of Brady’s life might be slipping away… I needed to get to Forks, fast. I would have to call the airport and try to get onto the next flight to Washington, preferably tonight. No doubt it would be horribly expensive and use up almost all of my meagre savings, but there was no other way.

Oh well, I thought bleakly, who needs food anyways? After I had booked a flight I would need to contact the school concerning my absence… that was a phone call I was dreading. I didn’t know what excuse I would come up with, only that there was no way I could tell the truth. I also had a feeling that my disappearance the day after I had had a public argument with my least favourite student would not go uncommented on… maybe I would get fired. If I did, then it was no more than I deserved. After what I had done six years ago, after the consequences my actions had had on Brady, I almost craved to be punished. As far as I was concerned, my constant pain and self-hatred weren’t nearly sufficient justice for my actions. I was about to tell Carlisle that I had to leave, when I realized that he was still staring at me. I was now beginning to feel really self-conscious. “What?” I asked, confused.

For a moment, Carlisle looked as though he was deciding whether or not to speak. After a few seconds though, he had clearly made up his mind because a determined expression crossed his face. “Bella,” he began very seriously, not once breaking his gaze, “none of this is your fault.” I gaped at him, thunderstruck. How does he know about Brady? Was he a mind-reader now too? I felt the heat of shame and embarrassment cross my cheeks and blushed deeply.

“You’re wrong; it’s all my fault, if I hadn’t-”

“No it’s not,” he said consolingly, his tone soothing and slow, as though he was coaxing a suicidal person down from a tall building. “I can see that you blame yourself for the deterioration of your relationship with Edward, but you have to know that you are in no way responsible for the problems you are both experiencing.” I just stared at him, not quite comprehending his words. He was talking about me and Edward? How was that even relevant? Of course, I did blame myself for my break-up with Edward; if I hadn’t been so plain and boring perhaps he never would have left, but that still didn’t explain why Carlisle was bringing it up now. Either I was missing something here, or he had severely misunderstood the situation.

“Um, I don’t think you-” I began, but Carlisle had already continued speaking.

“And no matter what you’re feeling Bella, you must realize that to actually hurt yourself is both extremely reckless and uncalled for. What would your parents think? You have to take care of yourself; you mean so much to so many people, none more so than our family. We all love you Bella, you’re a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman and it’s time you started to acknowledge that fact, instead of running yourself down all the time. If you’re having problems you should speak to somebody, but self-harm is never the answer.”

What?! Self-harm? What on earth was Carlisle talking about? Had he lost his mind? I stared at him in utter bewilderment, his words running through my head. Then, in one fell swoop, understanding came to me, making my eyes widen in shock. Now it all made sense: Carlisle’s hushed tones and cautious glances; the way he treated me like he would somebody who was extremely disturbed; the way he had ordered Edward to stay inside. He thought I had cut my hand deliberately because I was so upset about Edward and Tanya. It was so absurdly off the mark- in fact, considering what had happened to Brady, it was almost ironic- that I laughed, despite of myself, then stopped once I saw Carlisle tense. Oh great, I thought to myself, now he thinks I’m hysterical too. “No,” I said hastily, trying to exude positive ‘I am not crazy’ vibes, “you don’t understand; I didn’t do this myself. Well I did, but not on purpose,” Excellent work Bella, now you’re arguing with yourself. Way to prove you don’t have problems. “It was a complete accident,” I continued earnestly, “I was listening to a message on the phone and… and I heard some bad news,” I faltered when I remembered the horror I had felt at Jacob’s words. Then I shook my head sharply, snapping myself out of it. I had plenty of time to dwell on Brady’s situation on the plane; right now I had to focus on persuading Carlisle that there was nothing wrong with my mental health. “S-so while I was on the phone I was holding on to the railing too hard,” I continued, “and then, klutz that I am, I tripped and it splintered and I was cut. Purely accidental, I swear.” Silence followed my words, as Carlisle watched me sceptically. Even I had to admit that my speech had been wholly unconvincing. “Really, I’m telling the truth,” I said imploringly, “believe me Carlisle, I wouldn’t do it on purpose- I didn’t do it on purpose. I promise.”

I waited with baited breath for Carlisle’s response. He looked at me searchingly for a few moments, clearly trying to find a lie in my eyes. Then after a few seconds he sighed, seemingly accepting that I was telling the truth. “Well that’s certainly a relief. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to insult you, but Esme and I were both worried, especially after what Edward said-”

“Wait, Edward toldyou that’s what happened?” I exclaimed in disbelief.

“Well he only assumed. After the way you fled the room earlier, and when he heard you crying, then came out of the door to see you bleeding on the ground… he just thought that after what you saw with Tanya earlier…” he trailed off, slightly alarmed at my expression, which I was sure must have suddenly become murderous. I was actually speechless with rage. Just who the fuck did Edward think he was? How DARE he tell his family that I was so depressed by his leaving that I was cutting myself? Of all the egocentric, arrogant, self-obsessed bastards- “and when Edward added that on top of your feelings of self-hatred, it seemed to make sense,” Carlisle continued, his face again troubled.

“Huh?” I asked distractedly, still preoccupied by the way my mind was snarling insults at Edward.

Carlisle looked at me cautiously. “Jasper told Edward that you’re perpetually in a state of self-loathing and that you’re feeling extremely guilty about something,” he explained, his features fraught with fatherly worry, “which, regardless of how you hurt your hand, is a very unhealthy way to live. Whatever it is that is troubling you, I’m sure that you’re blowing it all out of proportion. You know you can always talk to Esme or me about your worries, and if you don’t feel comfortable enough for that, considering our proximity to, uh-” he paused and we both knew he had just stopped himself from saying Edward’s name, “then there are plenty of other places for you to find help.” I didn’t answer; I was too startled by what he had said. I hadn’t once given thought to the fact that Jasper knew exactly how I was feeling, let alone that he would be able to detect my emotions about Brady. This realization also led me to a much more worrying one- if Jasper knew how I felt about Brady, then surely he had detected my feelings towards Edward? In which case, my attempts to persuade Esme and Alice that I no longer loved him had been completely futile. Edward must have known all along that I was lying. My cheeks flushed with humiliation as I thought of all the times Edward must have been laughing with his brothers behind my back, making fun of the way the pathetic little human hung to her foolish dreams of her love being requited. I forced myself to blink back tears as I looked back to Carlisle, who was still speaking. “If you want, I could arrange an appointment for you with one of the psychiatrists at work; they’re truly excellent.” Even through my shame and hurt, I wasn’t insensible to the fact that I was being told to see a shrink by a five hundred year old vegetarian vampire patriarch married to a woman four hundred years his junior with four incestuous adopted children. What did that say about me?

I answered politely as I could, trying my best not to be offended by his suggestion. “No thank you, that really won’t be necessary.” I already had my own personal support system; his name was Jacob Black. And anyway, I might not have been an expert in psychoanalysis, but I was pretty sure that the patient had to be at least fairly honest with their doctor, which, in my case, would be completely impossible. Even if I wasn’t perceived as crazy from the outset, I definitely would be once the words ‘werewolf’ and ‘vampire’ passed my lips. I didn’t have time for this; Brady was in Forks, dying, possibly already dead and I was wasting time on this cold veranda. It was time to bring this conversation to an end. “I’m sorry Carlisle, but I really need to get going. The message on my phone- the one I was listening to before I fell- it was from a friend back in Forks. He…” I paused, unwilling to divulge the full details of what had happened, but knowing that I owed Carlisle an explanation, I started again, careful not to go into specifics. “He told me that one of our friends had… had a heart attack. He’s been in the hospital for years with…problems, but he was generally stable. Until tonight…” I cast my eyes downwards, not wanting Carlisle to see me cry. “I need to get to Washington as soon as possible. I have to be there, you see… well it’s sort of my fault that he was in hospital in the first place…” There was no ‘sort of’ about it, of course, but I didn’t want to come on too strong for fear of worrying Carlisle again. I knew I had been exceedingly vague and I braced myself for a barrage of questions, but they did not come. Instead, Carlisle took my hand comfortingly and looked me directly in the eyes.

“You need to get a flight back to Forks?”

“Yes, as soon as possible.”

“Then a flight is what you’ll have. Leave everything to me, Bella. I’ll ring the airport immediately.”

“Wait, no!” I protested hurriedly. I didn’t want to be more of a burden to him; I had already been troublesome enough tonight. “You don’t need to do that, I can ring them. I’ve already caused you enough problems.” Carlisle just waved a silencing hand at me.

“Don’t be ridiculous Bella, you’re like my daughter. It’s only right that I should help you.” His voice was full of so much earnest affection that I again had difficulty blinking back my tears. Carlisle seemed to realize this and stood up, gently helping me do the same. “Let’s go inside,” he said kindly, “it’s far too cold to stay out here. I’ll make arrangements for your flight and you can sit in the lounge and warm up.” He stopped suddenly and I guessed that he was thinking about how I would react to seeing the others. “Unless you would prefer waiting somewhere else?” He looked at me expectantly.

I wanted to accept his offer; I didn’t like the idea of being subjected to more humiliation by seeing Edward again, especially when I was still so angry with him. On the other hand, I knew that if I did avoid him then everyone would immediately assume that I was too overcome to even be in the same room as him and Tanya. As much as it hurt me, I would have to put on a brave face and confront them. At least my emotions were private from Edward now that Jasper had left the house. “No, it’s fine,” I said with as much conviction as I could muster, “I’ll go and join the others.” Carlisle nodded silently and I followed him towards the front door, stepping aside to let Esme out. She was carrying a shovel and smiled apologetically at me as she went to the patch of bloody snow and shovelled it into a bag, then turned; presumably to go and dump it in the lake. I sighed. Of all the places for me to spill blood, I had to choose the one where it was a practically banned substance.

Carlisle and I walked to the huge living room. Rosalie and Emmett were talking quietly to each other by the fireplace, while Tanya and Edward were standing at opposite ends of the room, both glaring into different directions with their arms folded. I wondered whether they had rowed because of me, then decided that I didn’t care. As soon as the door opened, everyone looked up. I looked at each of them. Emmett looked concerned and upset; Rosalie was, predictably, annoyed, but as I concentrated on her expression I realized that she didn’t seem to be angry at me- her eyes kept flickering accusingly at Edward. Tanya was watching me in a different way than she had before; it was as though she was weighing me up, trying to find answers in my eyes. I saved Edward to last, and as I looked at him I felt myself falter. There were so many emotions in his eyes: worry, frustration, fear, anger and sorrow. I wanted to believe that there was something stronger than just guilt behind his emotions, but the realistic side of me stopped me from fantasizing. Don’t get your hopes up Bella, he’s just guilty because he thinks he was the reason you hurt yourself. I noticed that Carlisle was staring at Edward, and I immediately recognized the signs of a silent conversation between them. Edward’s eyes widened, and I knew that Carlisle must have relayed my explanation to him. Good. I thought viciously, It’s about time he realized he wasn’t centre of the universe. Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself. Edward was the centre of my universe, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that fact; it was too pathetic. Carlisle turned to face me, “I’ll go make that call,” he said, before sweeping out of the room. Everybody watched me quizzically, wondering what Carlisle had meant.

“A friend of mine is ill; I need to go back to Forks to visit him,” I said weakly, trying to produce an acceptable explanation, “Carlisle’s booking me a flight.” I wondered whether they would believe me, or whether they would chalk it up to trying to get away from Edward. Nobody said anything, just watched me. There was a long, awkward silence as I stared at my feet. Then, Emmett spoke.

“So Bella,” he said hesitantly, walking very slowly and carefully towards me, “how are you, uh, feeling?” He was looking at me like I was a bomb that was about to go off. “Can I get you anything? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you want to watch T.V.? Or are you okay just sitting here? Because that’s totally okay too, just say the word-”

“It was an accident.” I said quickly, cutting him off. I didn’t want them to be treading on eggshells around me for the rest of the night.

Emmett looked at me taken aback. “What was?”

“My hand. It was an accident, wasn’t it Edward?” I turned on him, my eyes narrowed in a coolly challenging glare. He looked back at me for a few seconds, his expression unreadable, before he slowly inclined his head.

“Yes,” he said very quietly, “it was an accident.” The room seemed to relax at his confirmation. Rosalie shook her head exasperatedly and flopped onto the couch, switching on the television. Tanya’s calculating expression was immediately replaced by one of amused satisfaction and Emmett let out a long whistle of relief. He beamed at me and punched me- very lightly- on the shoulder.

“You had me really worried for a moment there, lil’ sis!” he said good-naturedly. I tried to smile, but it was hard considering everything I had already been through that night. “So what do you want to do now? I’ve got a really awesome new games console if you’re interested…” he grinned wickedly, “we could see if you’re still as awful at video games as ever.”

“I wasn’t awful,” I protested half-heartedly. Emmett laughed and started listing the many times I had lost to him, but I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy ignoring Edward. I could tell that he was trying to make me look at him, but I wouldn’t; I didn’t want to. I was getting so tiredof all these games between us. Every time I believed that we were close to making up, something would happen to make things worse than ever. It was like some perverse board game; every time we took a step forward we immediately took four backwards again. Well, I had had enough. I wasn’t going to let myself be hurt anymore; I was finally going to accept that we couldn’t be friends and certainly couldn’t be lovers. I had to stop even trying to talk to him; it was just making everything worse. There was no point in even pretending that he had feelings for me, now that I knew he knew that I was still in love with him. Therefore, I continued to stare determinedly into space, even when he said my name quietly. I could sense everyone in the room waiting for me to reply, but I did not. Finally, I heard Edward growl in frustration and storm past me, through the wide archway that lead to the next room, causing my hair to ruffle slightly in the breeze. I turned, curious to know where he had gone. I saw him sitting far away at the other end of the adjoining room, having taken his place on the bench at what I instantly recognized as his grand piano. As I watched, he glanced up and caught my eyes in a long, piercing gaze full of emotions I was unable to read. Then, he slowly began to play. A dark, haunting melody began to flood the room. It was both captivating and agonizing; it was as though Edward had poured all the sorrows in the world into his music. Then, just when I thought that I would scream from the pain of it all, the music changed, bursting into a furious exchange of spiky notes and a pounding undercurrent of angry chords. I felt the music affect my own emotions and I turned away slowly, my fists clenched. I won’t let him break me apart,I told myself firmly, I can stand this. I looked at the others. Rosalie’s only response to the music had been to turn up the television, whereas Emmett was staring at Edward dissatisfiedly. Then he turned to look at me, clearly trying to act as though nothing had just happened.

“So what do you want to play? I’ve got ‘Mega Mutant Zombies IV’ or-”

“Oh don’t be silly Emmett,” an unfamiliar voice interrupted him, “I’m sure Bella doesn’t want to play your childish games.” We all looked around, shocked, to see Tanya standing at my elbow, her lips stretched in a dazzling smile. “She’d much rather have a chat with me, wouldn’t you Bella?” I just gaped at her disbelievingly. She pouted with hurt innocence. “Well I hardly even got introduced to you! I’ve been just dying to know more about the famous Bella Swan. How about we sit down here and you tell me a bit about yourself?”

“Um, sure,” I said, dazed. What else could I say? I could hardly respond the way I wanted to; I knew from experience with Jacob that punching immortals was never a good idea and usually resulted in several broken bones.

“Excellent!” Tanya cooed, her eyes lighting up as she grabbed hold of my wrist and sat down, pulling me with her, on a couch. I could tell from the way they were exchanging glances that Emmett and Rosalie were just as staggered as I was. I could even hear Edward quiet his playing somewhat next door as he watched Tanya with narrowed eyes. “So, where do I begin?” Tanya asked brightly, swinging her silky hair carelessly behind her shoulder. It fell in ripples, shimmering like a rainbow on the mist, each faultless strand falling perfectly into place. Judging on looks alone, she and Edward were the perfect couple; they were both unfairly beautiful. “I know all about how you met Edward of course, I’ve heard that story many a time.” She winked winningly at me and I had to clench my fists again, this time to stop me clawing those pretty eyes right out of her pretty head. That’s it, rub in the fact that Edward still talks to you. “What I don’t know though,” she continued innocently, “is anything about your life after the Cullens. What have you been doing with yourself these past years?” I couldn’t believe this. I had barely gone into depth with my post-Edward years with any of them, and yet she seemed to expect me to bare all for a complete stranger- the same stranger who I had just found draped all over my ex-boyfriend. Bitch.

“There’s nothing to tell,” I said passively. There was no way I was going to give her details. “I lived in Forks until I graduated High School, then I went to college in Arizona and I finally got a job here in Rochester. I’ve been teaching here ever since. That’s it.” She raised her eyebrow and it was obvious that she didn’t believe me.

“That’s all? Not one little story about graduating? Not one eensy anecdote about those crazy college parties?” I shook my head, my teeth gritted. “Well how about teaching, then?” Tanya asked, “Surely you must have had naughty students over the years…” she glanced through the archway at Edward and flashed him and wicked grin, which he ignored by again increasing the volume and complexity of his playing. I could sense that Tanya was trying to engage him in the memory of some sort of personal joke, but I decided that I really didn’t want to know.

“Nope,” I said, “they’re generally pretty well behaved.” I resisted the urge to also glance at Edward on these words; just because she was being childish didn’t mean I had to stoop to her level. She looked disappointed, both at Edward’s reaction and my refusal to comply with her game. She was quiet for a few moments, seemingly racking her brains for another way to involve Edward in our conversation, when suddenly her eyes lit up in triumph.

“And what about your love life?”

“W-what?!” I choked, thunderstruck. Oh no she didn’t! I couldn’t believe she had actually asked me that; surely she must realize that all her question would do was remind everyone of the way I had been unceremoniously dumped by Edward? And I had thought Lauren Mallory was evil. Edward’s piano playing suddenly increased tenfold, becoming even louder and angrier, as though he was trying to block our conversation out. He’s probably just embarrassed, I thought bitterly. I could feel Emmett and Rosalie staring at me apprehensively. “Um,” I stalled, not sure how I was going to get out of answering this question.

“Oh come now,” Tanya said, patting me patronisingly on the arm, “there’s no need to be embarrassed Bell- may I call you Bell?- we’re all truly desperate to know.” I stared at her, utterly at a loss for what to say. Why was she playing this game with me? She had already won; she had Edward, so why this intricate charade? What was her motive? If it was to remind Edward that he had chosen her then there was no need- we all knew that he didn’t love me. If, on the other hand, she was trying to humiliate me to death then she was definitely succeeding; my cheeks were absolutely flaming with embarrassment. Tanya was still waiting for a response. Oh well, I suddenly thought to myself, it’s not like there’s much to tell anyway. Perhaps it’s better this way- maybe Edward will think that Jasper was wrong and that I really am over him.

“Well, there was one guy,” I said slowly, trying to sound as offhand as possible. Rosalie and Emmett both tensed and as I looked at them I noticed Esme standing in the doorway. She was blinking at me in shock as though I had just slapped her. I stared at her in confusion. What was going on? Had she seriously expected me to disassociate myself from society for the rest of my life, simply because Edward hadn’t wanted me? Wow, I seriously need to stop acting like such a pushover, I thought. I was even more surprised by Edward’s reaction; his piano playing had now become almost deafeningly loud, the grim, heart-wrenching notes spilling from his instrument in a stampede of emotion and echoing off the wooden floorboards in the room next door. I wondered what was going through his mind, but I was distracted by Tanya’s sultry laugh.

“I knew you were holding out on us!” She cried delightedly. “So who was this mystery man? Or should I be speaking in the present tense? Does he still feature in your life?” She wasn’t even bothering to hide her rampant curiosity now.

“No, we… well, we’re still friends, but we aren’t…” I was intending to explain that it was a relationship that had never really got off the ground, but a sudden impulse stopped me. Why should I tell the truth? It was clear that Edward, his whole family and even Tanya were convinced that I had been an emotional wreck for the past six years and that I was still hopelessly infatuated with him. To be fair to myself, this impression was only partly true, because, while I hadn’t had much of a life since Edward left me, it had been a life. I had made lifelong friends in the wolf pack, I had excelled at school and I was good at my job. I had moved across the country to an entirely new city and I was living on my own independently. True, I had been mainly unhappy, but there had been bright moments. I had survived and I had been healing, albeit erratically. The rebellious part of me wanted to show Tanya and the Cullens that I wasn’t just Edward’s shadow. I could think for myself, talk for myself and fend myself. I was tired of constantly being seen as the fragile damsel in distress, waiting for the prince to wake her from her slumber. For once, I wanted to prove people that I was perfectly capable of waking up on my own. As I looked into the Cullens’ faces and took note of their pitying glances, I made up my mind. “Well,” I said in a stronger, more certain voice, “Jacob and I had our differences, so we aren’t technically ‘together’ any more, but we’re still very good friends.” I put emphasis on the ‘very’ in the hope that they wouldn’t see through the lie in the first half of our sentence. I had absolutely no romantic feelings towards Jake anymore; I wasn’t even sure if I had ever really had them to begin with, but they didn’t need to know that.

Tanya was clearly thrilled with the direction the conversation was going in. “Is he good-looking?” she prompted me. She had to raise her voice to be heard above Edward’s playing, which was getting louder and angrier by the second.

“Yes,” I said, secretly enjoying the fact that I was making Edward so angry. In my mind I could pretend that it was jealousy which caused him to slam the piano keys with such anger, not irritation at the way I had snubbed him earlier. Or perhaps he was just angry because he was dating Tanya. I know I would’ve been- the woman was impossible. “Yes Jacob is extremely… hot.” I giggled despite of myself at her reaction. If only she knew what I really meant, she probably wouldn’t be grinning like that. Tanya looked set to ask me more questions, but Carlisle walked in, ending our little party. I felt my smile vanish as I remembered where he had been, and what his return meant.

“Bella, I’ve got you onto a flight to Seattle first thing tomorrow morning. I’ve booked a car to pick you up from the airport and take you to the hospital. It would have been sooner, but the snowstorms have grounded all aircraft out of Rochester for the night.” Snowstorms? I thought to myself, perplexed. Sure enough, when I glanced out of the window I saw what had been a few gentle flakes earlier had now escalated into a full blown blizzard. Great, I thought, I’m riding home in that.

“Thank you so much for your help Carlisle.” I got to my feet, grateful for a reason to get away from Tanya’s questions. It had been fun to play with her, but the sensible side of me knew it was time to stop; I doubted Edward’s piano would last much longer. If I had thought he would stop playing, however, I was wrong; music continued to spill from the piano, acting as a background to my words. “I’ll pay for the ticket, of course,” I assured Carlisle, but he immediately shook his head, telling me that there was no need and that he was happy to help. I thanked him profusely; I hadn’t been looking forward to going without food for two months in order to pay the rent. “I better try and get through to Jacob again,” I sighed, checking the clock.

“Jacob?” Carlisle asked, furrowing his brow.

“Oooh, you’re still in touch?” Tanya interjected, her voice a sickly sweet coo.

“Yes, he was the one who told me that Brady was sick,” I said distractedly, as I patted my pockets in the search for my cell phone. “He and his brothers are supposed to be at the hospital now, but maybe he’ll have turned his phone back on...” Maybe I had left the damn thing outside on the veranda… yes, that must be it.

“He has brothers?” Tanya clucked, at the same time as Carlisle asked:

“Jacob as in Jacob Black?”

I paused in my search for the elusive phone, looking at Carlisle in surprise. “Yes, do you know him?”

He shook his head, frowning. “I’ve never met him- I knew his great-grandfather though.” I was shocked; Carlisle knew Jacob’s great-grandfather? Then, as I was going to question him further, something stirred in the back of my mind- strains of a memory of a conversation I had had with Jacob long, long ago...

“Did you say Jacob was with his ‘brothers’?” Carlisle asked, his voice sharpening, distracting me.

“Well they aren’t really his… his…” I broke off; out of the corner of my eye I had noticed the flickering flames of the hearth. Like someone had flicked a switch in my mind, everything came rushing back to me. The bonfire. It had been the first time I had spoken to Jacob, when I had tried to flirt with him in order to gain information about the Cullens.

There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land… In my great-grandfather’s time they already knew of the leader, Carlisle.”

I gasped as comprehension flooded through me. Of course Carlisle knew Jacob’s ancestors; it had been he who had signed the treaty with Jacob’s great-grandfather Ephriam Black in the first place- the very same treaty which had allowed the Cullens and the tribe to coexist peacefully for all those years. Carlisle must know all about the workings of the pack and the tribe’s werewolf bloodlines. I realized with a thrill of anxiety that by my mentioning Jacob’s ‘brothers’, Carlisle must have just worked out what they were. And if Carlisle knew, then it wouldn’t be long before-

“WEREWOLVES?!”

There was a thunderous crash of jarring chords as Edward’s music ceased and he slammed the piano’s lid down with wood-splintering force. Before I had time to blink, he had re-entered the room and was grabbing hold of my shoulders, his face inches from mine, features twisted with rage. “YOU DATED A WEREWOLF?! WHAT THE HELL HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU?! FIRST MOTORBIKES, NOW WEREWOLVES! ARE YOU TRYING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED?”

I was so taken aback by the ferocity of his outburst that I actually stumbled back a few steps, falling right into Carlisle. “Edward,” he said in a placating voice to his son, setting me upright again on my feet.

“NO Carlisle,” Edward roared, “didn’t you HEAR what she just said? WEREWOLVES!” he spat the word as though it was profane, his eyes blazing. I watched in alarm as his entire body shook with anger. This was worse than the progress evening last night, worse even than his reaction to the motorcycles. I had never seen him so livid, not even at James.

“E-edward,” I stuttered slightly, frightened, “why are you getting so worked up? It’s okay-”

“NO, Bella, it is NOT okay. I thought your riding a motorbike was beyond reckless, but that was nothing- nothing- compared to this-”

I rolled my eyes. Not this again; I had had enough of ‘controlling Edward’ last night. “Look, I don’t have time to listen to this again, I need to tell Jacob about my flight-” I turned my back on Edward and headed towards the door, but he darted in front of me and blocked my path still in mid-rant.

“- of all the filthy, dangerous, volatile, foul creatures for you to put your faith in you choose werewolves?! What the hell were you THINKING?!”

I bristled at that comment. “Those are my friends you’re talking about!” I said hotly, glaring up at him.

“FRIENDS?! Some friends!” he shouted, “It makes me sick to even think of you associating with such vile creatures. You don’t have any idea what kind of danger you put yourself in-”

“Oh, and I suppose you do?” I cracked, yelling back at him, taking a step towards him. “You know, because you were there with me, every single step of the way, weren’t you? You were there when I first realized that Jake was a werewolf, you were there when I first dated him, and you were there when… when…” when Brady suffered a fate worse than death in the attempt to protect me. I was silent for a moment as I fiercely blinked back my tears, before glaring at Edward again. “So you were there the whole time, were you? Oh, no, I guess you weren’t. You were too busy with your distractions.” There was a ringing silence at my words. Notice how he doesn’t even deny it, I thought bitterly. I raised my eyes to meet Edward’s and hoped that he could see the full extent of the betrayal, anger and pain I felt towards him. He didn’t say anything, seemingly too taken aback by my words. “I’m leaving,” I muttered quietly, ducking under his arm and through the lounge door out into the hallway. “Thank you for everything Carlisle, Esme.” Then, suspecting that Edward would follow me, I ran for the front door, flinching slightly as I flung it open and came out into the freezing cold night. The snow really was falling in earnest now; almost three inches had accumulated already. I set my eyes on my bike; I had no idea how I would get it home in this weather, but I had to try. I had only made it as far as the second porch step, however, when I heard Edward’s voice behind me.

“Bella, don’t leave, I didn’t mean it like that. I know I wasn’t there and I’m eternally sorry for that, but you can’t be so careless about your safety-”

I had only really paid attention to the end of his sentence and I whipped around, seething. “Let’s get one thing straight once and for all, Edward, it is up to me how I behave. You don’t own me, you don’t control me, you play no part in my life; that’s how you wanted it, so don’t you dare tell me what I can and cannot do.” I began to run away again, trying my hardest not to slip down the icy steps as I left the cover of the porch and came out into the sheets of snow. Even as I tried to run, I knew it was pointless; I could feel him following me. He took hold of my shoulder and pulled me round to face him, until we were standing together, our feet practically touching in the deep snow. Behind him I could make out the figures of people standing on the veranda and I knew that his family must have come to watch the show. Roll up, Roll up, front row seats to see Bella Swan’s heart breaking. I was already shivering it was so cold, and I felt the snow that had collected around the collar of my shirt begin to melt against my skin, sending wet trickles down my back. I looked up at Edward and yet again I was struck by how perfect he was. How could it be that even though every word I was saying to him came straight from the heart, I was still desperately in love with him? My chest was aching with want and loss as I stepped away from him. I didn’t want to prolong this agony any further. “This conversation is over Edward, I have nothing more to say to you,” I whispered, trying to turn away.

“Don’t you remember what you said to me in the forest?” Edward suddenly said as he pulled me around again, his eyes imploring and full of emotion. “Don’t you remember the promise you made? You promised to keep yourself safe! You promised not to do anything dangerous, or reckless-

I gasped and my entire body tensed. How could he use that night against me? How could he twist this around so that I was the one who had done wrong? “And what about your promises to me?!” I replied, tears brimming over my eye lids and beginning to fall from my lashes. “You told me you loved me, you told me ‘forever’! You promised never to leave, do you remember that!? You revoked your rights to me when you broke those vows!” I wiped the tears angrily from my cheeks, willing my voice not to break, “When are you going to finally get it, Edward? You can’t have everything both ways-”

“But-”

“But NOTHING!” I shouted at him, “You can’t LEAVE me and then tell me what to do, it doesn’t WORK like that!”

“Bella, listen to me!”

“NO Edward, you listen to me!” My entire body was shaking now; I could feel myself unravelling before him. The legs of my jeans were soaked through with melted snow and my hair was tangled and dripping; there were tears streaking down my cheeks and I knew that I must look half-crazed, but I suddenly didn’t care. Memories of all the times I had cried over Edward, all the hours I had spent longing for him and all the years I had wasted waiting for him to return were taking hold of my mind, causing every bitter thought I had ever had towards him to come spewing out of my mouth. “You are not part of my life anymore! It’s nothing to do with you, whether I ride motorbikes, jump off cliffs or make out with werewolves!”

“But you could be killed,

“WHY DO YOU CARE?!” I exploded at him, screaming at the top of my voice, “WHY DO YOU EVEN GIVE A SHIT?! You LEFT me, you REJECTED me; you said you didn’t want me, you left me in the forest!” I turned to face the house and through the wall of violently falling snow, I could just make out the silhouette of Edward’s family. “HE LEFT ME!” I shrieked out to the night, knowing that they would hear me even through the howling icy wind, “After all the times he told me he loved me, he DUMPED me, said that he was BORED of me!”

“I LIED!” Edward roared, “BELLA, I LIED! I LOVE YOU!”

My heart stopped.

No.

How could he?

How could he play with me like that, when he knew how I felt about him? “D-don’t,” I croaked, ripping my eyes from his face and trying to feign him off with my hands, “don’t lie to me like that, it’s not fair!” My voice cracked as more tears poured down my cheeks. I loved him so much and yet here he was, toying with me for his own enjoyment. I felt my heart shatter and the hole in my chest rip wide open; I had to fight not to scream out in pain or fall over. “This might be a j-joke to you Edward but it’s n-not to me!” I choked at him, “How c-can you be so c-cruel?” I staggered back from him, my arms flailing blindly behind me for my bike, my only chance of escape.

“No Bella, I’m not lying!” He followed me, a look of desperation on his face as he spoke. “I love you with all my heart; you’re my life, my soul, my reason for existence-”

“S-STOP IT!” I screamed, clasping my hands over my ears, “STOP s-saying t-that! H-haven’t you h-hurt me enough?” I tried to run away from him, but I couldn’t move in the snow and I fell hard onto the ground. I lay there, shivering and sobbing, and curled my entire body into a protective ball. Pain was running through me, electrocuting my veins and making my head ache as I rocked back and forth, trying my absolute hardest to hold myself together. I felt the snow sink slightly, as Edward knelt down next me. Slowly, hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around me. “You left me,” I whispered weakly, over and over again, clinging on to him with all my might “you left me on my own, you said you didn’t love me.”

“I know,” he murmured into my ear, stroking my hair, “God, I know, Bella, I am so sorry. I wish with all my heart that I could undo what I did. I’ve spent every single second regretting it, ever since I uttered those lies, ever since I left you in that forest.” I could feel his body shaking- or was it my own? Either way, we were both moving together like trees in a monsoon, desperately trying to keep hold of each other. The world could end, the universe could explode and none of it would matter, because at least I was with him, touching him. Edward turned me around so that he was looking me straight in the eyes. “Bella Swan, I love you more than anything in the world. Without you, life is meaningless; like a blank canvas in a sea of white. Every day since I left you I have been wishing that I could return, longing to see you, to touch you, to kiss you.” I looked away from him, unable to comprehend his words. He must be lying… and yet, was he? He looked so sincere; I couldn’t detect a ghost of a lie in his eyes, but his words made no sense. If he loved me, then why did he ever leave? Why didn’t he come back straight away?

“You…love me?” I asked disbelievingly, testing the words out in an order that had become so unfamiliar over the years.

“Yes,” he said, gripping me as though he never wanted to release me.

HE’S LYING, my mind screamed, don’t listen, he just wants to hurt you again! It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. “If you love me, then why… then why did you leave?!” I whispered, my eyes wide and full of tears.

“I wanted you to be safe,” he murmured, “I wanted you to have a chance at a normal, happy, human life. I could see that I was risking your life every moment that I was with you, that I was constantly putting you in danger and preventing you from living in the world to which you belonged. After what had happened with James I knew that I had to do something to protect you from the horror of my kind… yet I was too selfish, too weak to leave you.” He paused, as he stroked my cheek. I was too engrossed in his words to even react. “But then after what happened on your birthday, after your blood was spilt yet again on my account… I knew I had no choice. Leaving was the only way to make you safe- the only way for you to live the life you were supposed to have, had you never come across my kind.”

I was speechless. He left to keep me safe? “You lied?” I asked, still unable to register his words.

“Yes, my love. I thought it would be better that way- a clean break for you. I thought that maybe it would make it easier for you to move on, to heal…”

What?” I asked, suddenly squirming out of his embrace as I stared at him in incredulity. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Was he crazy? “Do you have any idea what your lie did to me?” I asked him, my voice unconsciously becoming slightly louder. I suddenly realized that I was still sitting in the snow and I scrambled to my feet, my eyes still fixed on Edward.

He looked taken aback, as though he had not at all anticipated this response. “I…”

“You broke my heart, Edward!” I shouted. I could feel the anger from before bubbling up inside of me again. I had lost six years of my life, and for what? So Edward could keep me ‘safe, happy and normal’?

He looked pained by my accusation. “Bella I’m sorry!” he cried, leaping to his feet and stepping towards me. “I was trying to do what’s best for you-”

“Oh, so I don’t get to have a say in that?” I retorted, glaring at him. How dare he? Would he ever stop treating me like a child?

“I wanted to protect you, I wanted you to be safe,” he repeated again, his voice weakening; it was obvious that he knew his excuse was sounding feebler by the second. He seemed to decide on a change of tact and stepped towards me, lowering his voice to a murmur, his eyes like liquid gold. “Bella,” he crooned in the velvety voice that had always managed to drive me crazy with lust, “I love you.” He watched me, waiting. For a moment, I was like a snake caught by his charmer, transfixed by his beauty. Then, I noticed the small smirk curling around the corners of his lips. It was as though something had snapped in my mind, adjusting my perspective. I loved Edward, of course I did, but I was not going to allow him to charm his way out this situation. No amount of ‘dazzling’ on his part could let me forget what he had done, or the pain he had caused me. I wasn’t going to be as forgiving as I would’ve been at eighteen; in fact, the more I thought of his reasons for leaving, the angrier I became.

“You wanted me to be happy, Edward?” I shouted at him, taking steps back through the snow, “You wanted me to be normal? Well here I am!" I was crying again now; huge trembling sobs were building up in my chest, threatening to consume me. "Here I fucking am, living my normal, happy, healthy life. Isn't it just great? Doesn't it look perfect?" The snow was still falling thick and fast, freezing me half to death. I was soaked all over my body from where I had fallen on the ground and I could feel my hair clinging to my back and water streaming down my face, the melted remains of the snow mingling with the salty warmth of my tears. The snowfall was so heavy that I could no longer see the Cullens standing on the porch, but I knew that they would be able to see me. I could imagine the looks of pity upon their beautiful faces and I knew I looked ridiculous, pathetic and weak, but I couldn't care. It didn't matter, none of it mattered anymore. "Is this what you wanted Edward?" I screamed at him again, "For me to still feel this much pain after six years? Are you happy now?! I really hope so, because one of us should be happy with the way things have turned out and it sure as HELL isn't me." I shook as I stared wildly into his eyes, my emotion at such a level that I couldn't even be comforted by the anguish I saw there.

“I never meant to hurt you, all I ever wanted was you to be happy-” he half choked at me, his face desperate.

"I was happy before!" I cried, my shoulders heaving, "I was happy with you, with my life the way it was. Why did you have to ruin it? You took everything from me. I can't live, without being reminded of you. I see you everywhere, in my dreams, my memories and my nightmares. I fall asleep and I all I think about, all I dream about, is you. I can't even look into another man's eyes, without feeling like I'm betraying you!" I let out a bitter, mirthless laugh, "how ridiculous is that? I feel like I betrayed you, when we all know that it was the other way round! Does that make you proud? Do you like the fact that I haven’t been with a guy in years? That at the age of twenty-four I’ve had sex once, and that I cried the entire way through?” Edward winced and I pounced on the reaction immediately. “Oh, I’m sorry, does it bother you to think of me with Jacob? Of our hot, sweaty, writhing bodies as he tried to give me what you always-”

“Enough, Bella,” Edward begged. I could see that I had really hurt him, but I was too far gone to feel anything but a sick sort of satisfaction.

“WHY?” I screamed. “Why the fuck should I stop? It’s just SEX, why does the topic disgust you so much? You’re clearly having lots of it with your slut of a blonde, so why do you hate talking about it? Or is it just me who repulses you?”

“No! It’s not like that, Tanya and I aren’t-”

“You know what? I don’t want to know. I don’t care what you say anymore Edward, I don’t give a damn. Either way, you lied to me. I don’t know if you ever loved me in the beginning, but you sure as hell don’t anymore, because if you did you would have returned before now. You tear me apart, you screw up my life and effectively leave me for dead, and now you come back after six years- six years- and try to act like everything is just going to be okay? Well it’s not. You can’t heal that kind of hurt, and even if you could, you’d never ever be able to repair what happened to… what happened t-to… Br-rady.” I was so close now- so close to being claimed by the colossal tidal wave of grief that threatened to engulf me. I had never spoken about that night to anyone but Jacob, and even with him I had avoided it as much as possible. It was as though I had been walking along a precipice for the last six years, knowing all the while that if I lost my balance and fell I would finally have to fully confront what had happened that night.

“What? I don’t understand-”

“No, of course you don’t understand, because you weren’t there. If you had been, maybe none of it ever would have happened.” That’s what Jacob thought; he had maintained from the beginning that it was all Edward’s fault. That it was the Cullens who had put me in danger in the first place. I had never agreed with him, but in this moment and time when I was so angry with Edward, it was simply so much easier to blame him. Doing so couldn’t make me any more of a terrible person than I already was. I shook my head, the tears still falling. “You know what’s so ironic about it all? That your plan completely backfired.”

“What do you mean, ‘my plan’?” He looked at me in distress as confusion at my words crept into his eyes.

“Your plan to keep me safe and happy and ‘normal’- you might as well have left me for James to finish off.” Edward flinched as though slapped and his entire body became tense.

“What do you mean?” he asked, and I noticed that he looked slightly scared for the first time.

I closed my eyes, willing myself to have the strength to say her name- the name which had tormented my nightmares for the past six years. Even saying it out loud still had the power to terrify me. “Victoria,” I finally managed to utter, in a voice so low that the words were immediately snatched away from me by the howling wind. Edward’s entire body convulsed at the name, his fists clenching as he stared at me in horror.

Victoria?” he hissed disbelievingly.

I nodded slowly, trying to ignore the way my throat was constricting with panic. “She came back for me,” I whispered, remembering the first day I had seen Victoria’s flame-red hair skimming the waves at La Push. “The summer after you left. She wanted vengeance for James’s death and she thought the best way to do that was by killing me- to hurt you like you had hurt her; a mate for a mate.” I winced as yet more recollections of the night tried to overpower me, but I forced them back. I had to tell Edward what had happened; I had to make him understand the consequences of his leaving. “She teamed up with Laurent- it turned out that he never even went to Denali- and they stalked me for weeks, trying their best to kill me. It didn’t seem to matter to Victoria that you had left; it just served to make her even angrier. She couldn’t bear that you had destroyed James to protect me, only to toss me aside months later.” Edward tried to interrupt me but I just shook my head fiercely. “No! Don’t say you’re sorry; I don’t want to hear it! No matter how many times you apologize, it will never undo what happened. So just don’t.” He opened his mouth again, but shut it firmly, his expression tortured.

“Victoria and Laurent followed me for weeks. It didn’t matter where I was, whether it was school, work or home, they would always be there- a shock of flame red hair and pale white skin lurking in the trees. But they didn’t attack me; they couldn’t attack me. Everywhere I went, I was guarded by the werewolves.” I narrowed my eyes at Edward. “How does that make you feel? Whilst you were enjoying your distractions and staying away ‘for my own good’ the wolf pack were risking their lives to protect my own; the same ‘filthy, dangerous, volatile’ werewolves that you hate so much.” I didn’t wait for an answer, pausing only to take a breath before I finished my story. “It continued for almost a month; the werewolves and vampires playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, with me always in the middle. I couldn’t go out anymore; I was too terrified to visit anybody in case I put them in danger. I wouldn’t let Charlie out of my sight; I was so scared that Laurent and Victoria would hurt him as a way of getting to me. But then it all stopped; Victoria and Laurent just disappeared. We couldn’t believe it at first; we were all so sure that it was just a trick, that they would reappear within days, but another month passed with absolutely no sign of them. I became certain that this time they had gone for good, that I was finally free. I tried to persuade the wolves that there was no need for them to guard me so vigilantly anymore. I already felt guilty that they were spending so much time protecting me; they were all exhausted and Jacob had hardly been home for months. They refused at first; they didn’t share my belief that the danger had passed.

“But then… one of the pack elders died. Of course the wolves wanted to go to the funeral, but they were scared to leave me. I begged Sam- the alpha- to let the guys go; I told them that I wasn’t in danger anymore, that I would be fine for one night.” I shook my head with self-loathing. “I was such a fool,” I whispered. Edward was still watching me, pain and sorrow in his eyes. “After hours of persuading, Sam agreed to reduce my guard for a night. He left me with one of the youngest of the werewolves… Brady.” I winced. “He was only 13 at the time; he wasn’t expected to attend the funeral anyway. So he stayed with me.” I let out my breath in a long whoosh, casting my eyes up to the snow-filled night sky. Brady’s fate had been entirely my fault; if I had never made Sam leave him with me, none of it would ever have happened. “At first everything was fine; Brady waited at the edge of the woods outside my house while I got ready for bed without even a sign of danger. As I fell asleep I was satisfied that I had been right in thinking that Victoria and Laurent were long gone.

“But I woke up at midnight and I instantly knew something was wrong. Everything was just so quiet… like somebody had frightened the world into silence. I looked up and she was there, in my room.” Edward let out an angry snarl and I shivered at the memory. Victoria’s blood-red eyes and deathly white skin sparkling in the moonlight as she leered at me from my broken window; her amused laughter as I screamed and tumbled out of bed, running for my door and practically falling down the stairs… “She seemed to enjoy watching me try to run, like she knew that there was no way I would escape her in the end. I sprinted outside and from somewhere in the woods I heard the sounds of Brady battling with Laurent, their snarls deafened me as I tried to run away from Victoria. I was screaming the whole time, terrified that no one would hear me but even more scared that they would come running and be put in danger too. I tripped and fell and knew that it was the end- that the game was up. I was going to die.” I paused, absorbed by the memory. “Then Brady came out of nowhere to save; he had managed to kill Laurent and the victory of his first kill had made him feel invincible. He launched himself at Victoria and began to fight her, but he underestimated her skill.” I remembered the way she had twisted and turned, uncontrollable as fire, with hands like claws and gleaming, razor-sharp teeth. Brady had seemed tiny in comparison, despite his colossal size. I shivered. There had been so much blood. “It was obvious that Brady was going to lose; he was badly injured and I knew that it was only minutes until Victoria killed him and turned on me. I tried to get up and do something, anything, to distract her from hurting him, but the minute I took a step towards them Brady growled, warning me to stay away. But it was like my movement had reminded Victoria that I was there; she whipped around and advanced on me, I staggered backwards and fell down, hard, smashing my head against a rock. The next thing I knew, everything had gone black.” I closed my eyes, remembering how I had been awoken, minutes later by Jacob’s panicked shouts.

Bella?! BELLA!” Jake’s terrified voice shattered the night, pulling me sharply from the depths of my unconsciousness. His impossibly warm hands gripped my shoulders, shaking me sharply awake as he continued to sob brokenly into the otherwise terribly silent night. “BELLA! Oh God, Bella please wake up!”

I felt my eyes wrench open to see him hovering inches above me. “Jake…” I rasped.

Bella!”

Jake, Victoria came after me, she was in my room! She attacked me while I was sleeping, I couldn’t-”

I know sweetheart, I know-”

I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have told Sam that it was safe, I shouldn’t have put Brady in danger,” I stopped, horror-struck. “B-brady! Jake, where is he?!” I started to cry hysterically, my eyes searching around wildly. They fell on a group of figures standing in the darkness between the trees. Some were on their knees, some standing; all had identical looks of grief on the shadowy faces. I tried to see the thing they were standing around, but it was too dark. Jake, however, had perfect vision.

Oh, God…” he choked, launching forward and hitting the ground running as he sprinted towards the group. I squinted after him as he ran and saw him join the rest of the pack, pushing his way through the others. As they moved I finally managed to get a glimpse of the thing they were standing around- a mis-shapened heap of ragged fur and oozing blood. I screamed as I realized who it was and did not stop, even when Charlie came running out of our house.

Brady.

I opened my eyes again and was almost surprised to find myself shivering outside in the Rochester snow instead of by the forest in Forks. I tried to explain what I had just remembered. “The rest of the wolves realised what was going on and came running. Once the entire pack was there, Victoria didn’t stand a chance; they killed her within seconds. But Brady…” I let out a painful sob and looked up to see Edward watching me, aghast.

“He was killed?”

I shook my head, tears of shame trickling down my cheeks. “No, it was far worse.”

Worse?”

I nodded, my throat almost to dry to speak. “At first it looked like he’d be fine; werewolves heal quickly and once his injuries had righted themselves he was able to phase back into human form. The pack were so proud of him; for a week they treated him like a hero, amazed that he had managed to kill Laurent and fend off Victoria until they arrived. They tried to ignore the fact that something about Brady had changed, sure that he was just shaken up by the whole thing and that he would get better. But it soon became apparent that some wounds are just too deep to heal.”

Edward’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”

“He lost his mind, Edward,” I replied, biting my lip to stop myself sobbing again. “He was too young and inexperienced; he had no idea how to cope with the horror of Victoria’s attack. She all but tortured him, both mentally and physically and it was just too much for him to take. He became unresponsive and wouldn’t talk to anybody, not even the pack; it was like he didn’t recognize them anymore. He wouldn’t phase, he wouldn’t even move. Most days Jacob and the others would go out in the morning and come back twelve hours later to find him sitting in exactly the same place, just staring blankly into thin air. He was catatonic; he wouldn’t speak, he didn’t eat.” I shivered again, “The pack was distraught. They didn’t know what to do or what to tell his parents, who were beside themselves with shock and grief. They tried to get him medical help, but nothing worked. And then, on the three month anniversary of Victoria’s attack, they came downstairs in the morning to find him gone. The entire tribe was sent out looking for him; they searched for hours but with no luck. It was almost nightfall when they finally found him- on top of one of the highest cliffs in La Push, standing right on the edge, just staring into the waves.

“Of course, there was no way that he could stay at home after that. His parents couldn’t watch him 24-7, so they had no choice but to admit him into the psychiatric ward at the hospital. He’s been there ever since.” I had barely noticed that Edward had closed the distance between us during my last speech. His hair was flecked with snow; there were flakes on the ends of his eyelashes, framing his golden eyes. He was like a statue in a snow-covered garden, so beautiful it hurt to look at him but with a cold, unreal air to his appearance. I looked up at him, my heart aching.

“Bella, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…” he leant down to take me into his arms but I pushed him away, fiercely trying to blink away my tears.

“No, Edward! You can’t just touch me and make everything okay again; maybe that might have worked when I was eighteen, but not now; not after everything that happened. Not after Victoria, after Brady. I was so in love with you…” my shoulders slumped, and I knew there was no use in pretending, “I still am. I hate you because you left and because you didn’t come back; I hate you because your reasons for leaving were so stupid, because I spent the last six years of my life crying over you and because I broke Jacob’s heart when I couldn’t get over you. Most of all, I hate you for you not realizing Victoria would come after m-me and for Brady d-dying and for you not being there to s-save m-me like you always said you would be,” yet again, I was losing the battle against my tears, “But, despite all of that, I still love you so much that it hurts. I’d still trade anything to be with you, for it to be like you’d never left, for us to be together again. And I loathe myself for being that way, for being so weak and dependant and-”

Without words or warning, before I could do anything to stop him, Edward pulled me to his chest, crushing me against him and smashing his lips against my own. I was so surprized by his action, so shocked to actually be touching him in this way after all the times I had yearned for it, that at first I could do nothing but respond. I deepened the kiss and wrapped my arms around his neck, clinging onto him like I would never let go. His kiss was not at all like the careful ones I remembered; it was desperate and intense, setting my insides on fire and making me feel more alive than I had done in years. But after a few seconds, once the shock had passed, I began to take note of the way the rational part of my mind was screaming in protest. NO! This isn’t right, this isn’t how it should be. Everything about this kiss was wrong; the time, the place- all of it. I hadn’t even decided whether I wanted to forgive Edward yet, let alone kiss him. I had to put my feelings aside and end this, before I lost my nerve. Exerting all the strength I could muster, I pushed my hands hard against his iron chest. He released me almost immediately, his eyes alight with conflicting emotions. I stared at him, my cheeks red and my breathing heavy; no doubt I looked a sight. I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t have words to express the way that my heart was pounding and my entire body trembling as though electrocuted. He kissed me, he kissed me, he wants me despite everything I said! My mind blithered incomprehensibly as I stood, frozen. “I…” I stopped, unable to voice how I was feeling. I’m not ready for this. I needed time to think, time to process the entirety of the night’s revelations. I suddenly felt like the world was condensing, trapping me. “I have to go,” I gasped, averting my gaze from his face, “I-I’m sorry… I…” I didn’t finish the sentence; I didn’t know how to. Without another word or glance backwards I turned and covered the last few steps to where my bike sat waiting for me, covered in snow. I hardly paused to brush it off, merely scraping the handlebars before I swung myself onto the seat and fired up the engines. If Edward was calling me, then his words were immediately lost under the noise of the bike and the crying of the wind. I did not look back at the house as I pulled away, nor did I see Edward as I swerved erratically towards the highway. Thanks to the tall trees that lined either side of the road, my path was relatively snow-free and I was able to drive at top speed, leaving the house and Edward far behind. Memories of everything that had occurred that night flashed through my mind: Jacob’s phone call; the news about Brady; cutting my hand; talking to Carlisle; being questioned by Tanya; Edward’s furious piano playing; letting slip about the werewolves; fighting with Edward; running outside; him shouting he loved me; my doubt and then my tears and accusations; recounting Brady’s story and finally that kiss…

It was all like a hallucination now; a mixture of the worst nightmare and most perfect dream. I tried to ignore it and focus on the road but I couldn’t banish the memory of Edward’s face as he told me that he loved me, or the feel of his lips on mine… Distracted, unthinkingly, I veered sharply out of the slip-road onto the main freeway. For a split second, it seemed empty; there were a few cars on the other side of the road, but nothing ahead of me.

Then, everything began to happen at once. The screech of a horn cleaved through the snow covered air and as I turned I saw a monstrous cargo truck skidding towards me with terrifying ferocity. My heart stopped as I tried to swerve the bike out of the vehicle’s path, but to no avail; unnoticed by me I had turned sharply into a patch of thick black ice, made worse by the fresh coating of unsalted snow. The bike squealed under my hands and did a sharp pin wheel, leaning heavily to one side and toppling over, with me trapped painfully underneath. As I smashed my head against the cold, hard surface of the road, I knew I was a goner. Blinded by the truck’s bright floodlights I could feel my consciousness slip away. From far off as though through a dense cloud, I heard a cacophony of sounds: the squeal of the truck’s horn, a chorus of yells and screams, the screech of tires, a desperate roar, a deafening, screaming crunch… and I knew no more.