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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.


3. White Walls

Rating 3.7/5   Word Count 7321   Review this Chapter

Lithium, don't want to lock me up finside.
Lithium, don't want to forget how it feels without...
Lithium, I want to stay in love with my sorrow.

*~*~*~*

EPOV

I was lying on the floor of my bedroom, my back sinking into the soft carpet as I surveyed the ceiling above with empty, unseeing eyes. In the background I could hear the murmurs of a household stirring, as night-time engagements were abandoned, showers were entered and wardrobes opened in the monotonous rhythm that made up the Cullen morning ritual.

However in the room where I lay, all was still. I would never be able to refer to it as ‘my room’; the space to which that title belonged was still thousands of miles away across rivers and state lines, silent and empty save for painful ghosts of regret-filled memories.

The grey light of a snow strangled morning filtered through the windows, assaulting the gloom and causing a faint sheen on the white walls as rainbows ricocheted from my pale skin. Not so long ago such an exhibition of my blatant unnaturalness would have bothered me, but now I found it sickly fascinating. It was one of the two reasons that I had chosen white over any other colour for the walls; now that I no longer had a reason to restrain my abnormality it seemed only right to flaunt and revel in it like the monster that I was. The second reason I had chosen white: it was the colour which held the least associations to her. She had been many colours: brown for hair, eyes and warmth; blue for ribbons and dresses; pink for blushes and red for lips, love and blood… but never white. White was marble, cold and unyielding. White was for the soulless eternities and forsaken dreams that she had yearned for but I had protected her from at all costs.

And what costs they were. I now divided my life into two halves; before and after Bella. I winced as I thought the name; even thinking it still had the power to cripple me. I had signed away my life that day, as surely as I had secured hers. Any chance of my future happiness had been destroyed in a flurry of well-meant lies. When I thought of the self-assured way I had argued about heaven and hell, damnation and souls, I almost wanted to laugh. The intervening years since I had left Forks had proven to me that it had all been arrogant nonsense. I had known nothing of Hell; the undying state of agony that the past six years had brought was Hell, living without Bella was Hell, but existing as a vampire? Not even close. I would have welcomed the boredom and moral struggles of my pre-Bella years with welcome arms, if it meant that I never had to feel the despair of losing her ever again. I now knew that I had a soul, for how could anyone experience so much torture without one?

Edward!

Alice’s thoughts invaded my own with an unexpected alacrity. It still surprised me that anyone could feel cheerful, when I myself had not felt the emotion for so long. I could hear her repeat my name, both vocally and in her mind but I made no attempt to move. There was no rush; an endless amount of time was one of the few things remaining to me. The sound of Alice’s light footsteps echoed down the long hallways of the floors below, as she sprinted through the house, coming to a sudden stop outside my door. I could hear the uncertainty in her thoughts, as she debated whether or not to enter. I wasn’t surprised be her behaviour; my family so rarely entered my presence uninvited anymore and when they did they usually treaded carefully and spoke in hushed tones befitting of visitors to the bedside of a dying person.

Of course, it hadn’t always been this way. Whilst my family had always been respectful of my limited privacy, they had never hesitated from visiting me before. Alice had regularly bounded into my bedroom to share her latest vision with me, or else to try and force me into the trophies of her habitual shopping trips. Emmett would wander in when he was bored, usually to challenge me to a game or race of some sort and Jasper would come by to discuss a point from one of his most recently read books. Even Rosalie would drop in from time to time, although her visits were decidedly briefer and more occasional.

But that had all changed when we left Forks. For the first two years I had lived alone, existing on a diet of solitude, rage and anguish, unable to relate to anything but my grief. Even once I had crawled back to my family, weakened by months of sporadic feeding and half-crazed with misery, I found it almost impossible to connect with them, especially when they were together in their pairs. Every touch, every gentle caress or whispered word blackened my soul further. They tried to protect me from it and were careful to avoid closeness in front of me, but there was only so much that could be done. The pain I felt from witnessing such love had not lessened over the years, but I had learnt to ignore and confine it, reducing it to little more than an aching throb in the place where my heart had once been.

This is silly, I’m just going to go in and I don’t care if h-

I opened the door, cutting off Alice’s thoughts mid sentence.

“Morning,” I said, my voice husky and rough from lack of use. Alice surveyed me critically and I knew that I must have looked awful. Technically, vampires didn’t need to shower as their frozen pores didn’t produce sweat, but I knew that argument would not excuse my lack of grooming in Alice’s eyes.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes narrowed, “it is the morning, so why aren’t you dressed?” I opened my mouth to defend myself, but she cut me off. “That,” she gestured at my crumpled black shirt and cargo pants, “does not count as dressed. Go and put on some suitable clothes Edward Cullen, and please try to remember the fact that you’re starting a new school today and some of us,” she put a deadly emphasis on the words, “still care about first impressions.”

I looked at Alice with a mixture of shock and disbelief. She hadn’t been this frank with me since… well for six years. What had changed? And why, I suddenly realised with suspicion, was she now blocking her thoughts from me? I stared at her with new concentration, and I thought I saw a look of smug satisfaction flit across her face. Before I could be sure of what I had seen, however, she turned tail and skipped away down the hallway, only turning around to call briefly over her shoulder: “Outside, five minutes. Rosalie is driving, unless you get there first.”

I watched the empty space where she had just been for a moment, trying my hardest to decipher her thoughts as she flew down the staircase.

…verba Ecclesiastes filii David regis Hierusalem vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes vanitas vanitatum omnia…

I sighed with frustration; she was reeling off the Old Testament of the Bible in Latin. I retreated to my room in defeat and hastily threw on some clothes, not even bothering to glance at my reflection in the mirror before I sprinted away down the stairs. There was no way I was letting Rosalie drive.

*~*~*

The car was quiet on the way to school. It wasn’t a long journey, especially not when you factored in my preferred driving speed and the 550 horse power engine of the latest car to join our collection. The vehicle was only a couple of months old, selected by Rosalie and Carlisle to be our new ‘school car’. It had been silently accepted that we would not be driving the Volvo. Not when every inch of it still held Bella’s scent. As I drove I knew that my siblings were preparing themselves for another start at yet another High School. It was a tedious process for all of us; we had all graduated with honours from University several times over, but I knew that this time the new beginning would be infinitely harder for me. Today would be the first time I had set foot in a school or even voluntarily entered the presence of humans since we had left Forks. I was steeling myself, therefore, for the inevitable onslaught of emotions and memories I would undoubtedly feel the moment I set foot in the locker-lined hallways that would be new, yet so familiar.

On my return to the family, we had relocated to Siberia. Drastic maybe, but at least it had been worlds away from Forks, which was something I had craved. Out there in the freezing desert wastes, uninhabited save for bears and snow-leopards, there had been no need to keep up any sort of human pretence. Carlisle and Esme had been unendingly patient with me and would have been prepared to stay in Russia for decades, if doing so helped me come to terms with my loss. However deep down, I knew that I could disassociate myself from society forever and it was clear that Carlisle yearned for his work and the rest of the family missed America. So, by my request, we had returned, choosing Rochester as our new home based on its climate and large hospital. Consequently, Jasper, Alice, Emmett, Rosalie and I had all been obliged to enrol in High School.

We arrived with about fifteen minutes to spare before morning classes began. Alice was the first to exit the car, bounding out of the door with the same indecent eagerness she had shown earlier. The others looked at me, slightly perplexed as we more sedately followed her.

“Don’t ask me,” I muttered, “she’s keeping me out of her mind.” Rosalie rolled her eyes and allowed Emmett to hold the car door open for her, flashing him a stunning smile as she tossed her curtain of blonde hair over her shoulder. He grinned back and took her arm.

“C’mon,” he murmured to her, “better get this over with.” They walked together towards Alice, who was waiting by the front steps of the school, watching the humans throw snowballs with mild amusement.

Edward?

I looked away from Alice, to see Jasper still standing next to me with his feet on the curb, his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. He was surveying me with quizzical, but not overly pervasive eyes.

Are you okay?

He posed the question without words, quiet concern in his mind. We both knew it was pointless; he could sense my emotions and I could hear his findings in his thoughts, but I appreciated his asking all the same. I nodded my head, slowly.

“I’m fine,” I replied, my voice too low for anyone but him to hear. He nodded, though it was clear from his eyes that he did not believe my lie.

I’m not going to pretend that I've experienced what you’re going through Edward, he thought, because I haven't, at least, not first hand. But I do know what struggling through this, he inclined his head towards the school, is like and I’m here to help you through it, we all are.

I felt a rush of gratitude for Jasper’s thoughts. If returning to High School was hardest for me, then Jasper came a very close second; he still fought with his bloodlust on a regular basis. I knew that he still wrongly blamed himself for my separation from Bella and that my constant state of depression hurt him the most, even without his ability. There weren’t words to express the thanks I felt at the fact that he was still here by my side, despite everything.

“Thank you,” I finally said. Jasper just nodded and then glanced at our family, who were looking at us impatiently.

Let’s go before Alice explodes, he thought, shaking his blond hair from his eyes, and walking just slightly faster than human speed to join our siblings on the snow-covered steps. I followed in his wake, my mind absorbed with memories of another snowy day at another High School, the laughter of that day echoing across six empty years.

We walked en masse towards the office, ignoring the predictable gasps and turnings of heads as the humans took in our striking appearances. Their inanely besotted and jealous thoughts were a constant rumble in the back of my mind-Oh my God, she’s gorgeous! Who does that big guy think he is, Mr Universe? They don’t look young enough to be in High School- but I tried to block them out. This reception was no different to the one we usually received when moving to a new place. At the office, we came across a small queue of new students who were waiting nervously to collect their lesson plans. They fell silent as we took our place in the line, their eyes wide and interested.

A tall, thin man with thinning brown hair and circular glasses was hurrying down the line, checking names off of a clipboard. Before he had reached us, however, the bell signalling the start of class rang and he swept out in a flurry of activity. I watched him go, detached from my siblings’ quiet conversation. The line inched forward as students left the office one by one to go to their respective classrooms. Rosalie and Emmett left together for senior Maths, shortly followed by Jasper who had World History. Alice was next to leave, thanking the secretary brightly as collected her schedule. She skipped to the door where she paused, turning her eyes on me. Good Luck, Edward. My eyes narrowed as she pranced out of the room, leaving it empty but for me and the secretary. Good luck? What does she mean by that? I wondered to myself. My thoughts were interrupted by a pointed cough. I turned to face the secretary, a curt middle-aged woman who was eyeing me in irritation.

“And this is your schedule,” she said, leaning over the counter to thrust a piece of blue paper into my hands. “Be sure to read it carefully, I haven’t got time to chase you kids around school just because you haven’t bothered to check where your next class is.” She then turned away from me brusquely, busying herself with another of the many piles of paper precariously strewn across her desk. I sighed quietly and walked slowly away, in the direction my siblings had taken. The hallways were now almost deserted, save for a few stragglers hurrying to their classes. I checked my schedule; my first class was English Literature, in 12E. It didn’t take me long to find the right corridor; the ability to mind read does wonders when looking for directions. I had just rounded the corner leading into block 12, when I saw a blonde haired boy exit a room on the left, his face red and his thoughts practically screaming as he rushed past me.

Oh my God, you are SUCH an idiot Carter! Way to impress her, klutz!

I did not bother listening any further; the fickle intricacies of human teenage boys' flirting techniques interested me very little. As I looked back to the door from which the boy had just emerged, I saw the brown-haired teacher from the office. He stepped from the door, again burying himself in his clipboard as he walked swiftly away down the corridor. As he turned the corner, the door swung closed behind him, causing the air to shift.

I froze.

No.

It was impossible. My mind was clearly playing tricks on me. For a moment I thought I had smelt…

Freesias.

I clenched my fists angrily, forcing myself to get a grip. Now was not the time to start hallucinating. But it’s so strong, my mind whispered, hypnotised by the smell. I took a tentative step forward, testing my theory. The scent intensified. There was no doubt about it, I could definitely smell freesias. But what cause would such flowers have to be in the English corridor in an American High School? Unless… but I didn’t allow myself to finish that thought. This was insane, I was cracking up. I turned, about to leave the building- I had been mistaken to think I was ready for returning to school, I couldn’t even walk down a corridor without imagining things- when I heard it: a strain of conversation from the classroom on my left.

“-we’ll be studying Pride and Prejudice. Can anyone tell me the period in which the novel was written?”

Shock gripped me as I recognised the voice. No, it can’t be. Before I knew what I was doing, I was hurtling towards the doorway through which Carter and the teacher had come, my feet covering the distance in a matter of seconds. The scent of freesias strengthened with every step I took, until I came to a shuddering halt, inches away from the door.

A low cry of disbelief ripped from my throat as I stared, transfixed, through the square glass pane in the door, right at the woman who had haunted my heart, mind and soul for every single moment of the last six years.

Bella.

She was standing half way across the classroom, her back to the whiteboard as she animatedly explained a point to the class in front of her; my Bella, a teacher. I felt an irrational swell of pride at the thought.Her long brown hair was clipped back from her face, falling in a soft wave over her back. She wore a dark red shirt which contrasted strikingly with her porcelain skin and a black pencil skirt over thick stocking covered legs. She was absolutely breath-taking; still just as beautiful as she had been at eighteen, her looks were now blossomed by adulthood and her body had matured accordingly. My eyes trailed down her form, taking in every curve of her outline… I swallowed, hard.

I could hardly believe the fact that she was here, close enough to speak to, to touch, to kiss… I inwardly scolded myself. What on earth was I thinking? There was no way I could even enter that room, let alone interact with Bella in the ways that I wanted to. Although these were the thoughts running through my mind, my body seemed to act completely of its own accord. My hand reached out to turn the door handle, pushing the door open with a loud click. As it did so, Bella’s floral scent hit me like a wall, completely paralysing me where I stood. I watched helplessly, unable to form coherent thoughts as she weaved in and out of students, handing them pieces of paper and firmly but cheerfully bringing order to the class. As she turned she brought her left hand across her cheek to brush some flyaway chocolate coloured strands of hair from her face and my heart leapt as I noticed the absence of a ring on her wedding hand. The joy was short-lived, however, as I reminded myself that Bella had never been one for jewellery. Then, she spoke without looking up from her desk, bringing my outlandish contemplations to an abrupt end.

“Adam," she sighed. My eyes glanced over my shoulder before flickering hastily back to her face- I was unwilling to look away from her for even a second- there was nobody behind me, she must have assumed that I was somebody else. "Please don't hover in the doorway, come and-“

The words faded as she raised her gaze to meet mine. I felt myself stop breathing, as I registered the unadulterated shock in her impossibly deep eyes. “Ed-dward,” she breathed and hearing my name in her voice awoke emotions within me that I had not felt for six years. For a few moments- or perhaps they were hours, I couldn’t tell- we just stared at each other as I committed every single detail of her face to memory. I was only dimly aware of the children's thoughts as they watched us, startled by our reactions.

Why is Ms Swan staring at him like that?

Who is that guy?

She looks like she’s going to pass out…

The last one made me stiffen as I looked at Bella with heightened concentration. She did look slightly ill. Perhaps I should go nearer to her, I thought, just in case. I almost laughed at the transparency of my own thoughts; my body was yearning for any excuse to touch her. Then Bella gasped, as if remembering something startling and her lips parted in a sound that drove any rational thoughts straight from my mind.

“Bella,” I whispered as I trembled in a way that, although invisible to the human eye, I felt right across my body. I longed to cross the space between us, to take her into my arms and beg for forgiveness, audience be damned, but I was terrified of her response. Surely the look of pure horror contorting her beautiful features was not a sign that she was pleased to see me? I did not know. I was about to speak again, when the door opened behind me again. I heard a man's voice say Bella's name and I turned to see the teacher from before.

"Ah, there you are Mr Cullen. Were there any problems with your schedule?" As he spoke to me he ticked my name off of a list on his clipboard, his mind still running off the names of yet to be found new students.

-Emily Pope, Laura Ford, James Mitchell, Joe Howard-

"No sir," I replied politely, cutting off his internal monologue. There certainly hadn't been any 'problems' with my allotted classes; the shock of a life time, perhaps. I turned to look at Bella again, my face now carefully blank as I again took heed of our staring audience. The look in her eyes surprised me; it was a mixture of hurt and mortification. Confused, I automatically listened for her thoughts… before I remembered that I could not hear them. A separation of six years, it seemed, had not been enough to reveal the inner-most workings of her mind to me. I then became aware that I was being addressed and unwillingly dragged my gaze away from Bella.

"-suggest you take a seat." My eyes narrowed as the irrational part of me roared in protest at the thought of being ordered away from my Bella, but I managed to silence it. There was nothing I could do now, not in front of a room of unaware humans. And anyway, I thought as I turned to take my seat, even if I could speak to Bella alone, what would I say? If her reaction on seeing me was anything to judge by, she was clearly less than pleased that I was here. She probably hates me for leaving, I thought gloomily. It was a painful conclusion, but not one that surprised me. After all, I had gone back on every single promise I had ever made her when I left Forks. It was beyond foolish to think that she would welcome me back with open arms after such despicable actions. I sunk dejectedly into my seat as I watched Bella stand in front of the class, suddenly extremely self-conscious. She was staring at a spot on the back wall, her eyes determinedly refusing to meet mine.

I glanced at the clock; I had about an hour before break in which to formulate a plan of action. I sat with a heavy heart, my eyes never leaving Bella's face, as the minutes passed and the lesson inched on towards its inevitable conclusion. Watching Bella teach was delicious torture. On the one hand, it was truly captivating; even though she was clearly shaken by the morning's events, she was a fantastic teacher. As she spoke, the students sat in respectful silence, absorbed in her words. I could tell from their thoughts that even the students who had never read 'Pride and Prejudice' found her lecture interesting and even when Bella told the class to begin reading the novel aloud, a request which usually incurred much protest, the response was surprisingly docile. It was evident that I was not the only person in the room who was entranced by Ms Swan.

On the other hand, however, the experience was almost unbearable. To be so close to Bella but have to feign indifference and be unable to speak or interact with her was intolerable. Many times I had to forcibly restrain myself from leaping out of my seat and whisking her from the room, far away from the eyes and inappropriate thoughts of the love-struck teenage boys on the front row. However each time I came close to giving in to such impulses I managed to control myself by looking at Bella. She had not met my eyes since I had first entered the room and hence I had no way of knowing how such advances would be received.

With about two minutes to go until the end of the lesson, I saw Bella look at the clock and start to quietly pack her things away, throwing surreptitious glances at the class. I took in the flustered look on her face and the way her eyes kept darting to the door and realized what she was about to do barely seconds before it happened. The bell rang and suddenly Bella was half-way to the door of the classroom. I jumped to my feet, intent on following her but found my way blocked by a crowd of students who were ambling slowly out of the room. My speed constrained by my human façade, by the time I had maneuvered my way to door, Bella was gone. I looked down the hallway hopelessly; there was no sign of her. For a moment I debated whether to track her by her scent, but repressed the urge. What was the point? She clearly did not want to speak to me, and I would not force my presence on her.

And anyway, the idea of following her was absurd. I could not even remain in Rochester, not now that I knew Bella was here. I had to leave as soon as possible and preferably before I had had the chance to speak to her; doing so might crumble my resolve altogether. The idea of departing after I had seen her again was excruciating, but I knew that it was the only logical option. I could not, would not subject Bella to the danger of my presence. My plan to protect her had been working so well; I was not going to ruin it all now.

"Hey, Edward!" I heard a voice calling me from down the hall and looked up to see Emmett and Jasper walking towards me. As they drew nearer, a look of surprise crossed Jasper's face.

Guilt, lust, pain, excitement, sorrow…Edward, you feel awful…

I nodded my head curtly, as I felt my own mixed emotions being projected back at me through Jasper's thoughts. Emmett watched our exchange curiously. "What's going on?" He turned to look at my face, scrutinising, "Edward, are you alright? You look ill."

I knew I had no choice but to explain.

"It's Bella," I said, my voice labored. They were both silent, but threw each other worried looks; clearly they thought I was hallucinating. "She's here," I continued, "teaching." Emmett's mouth dropped open in shock and Jasper let out a low whistle.

What are you going to do? Jasper asked, but I could tell he was already anticipating my response. Leave again?

I nodded and closed my eyes as a new wave of hurt swept me, leaning against the wall and clutching my head in my hands. There was silence for a moment, save for the bustle of passing students. And then…

"This is excellent!" Emmett grinned happily. I stopped rubbing my temples to look at him incredulously and from the corner of my eye I could see Jasper doing the same thing.

"How," I asked bitingly, "is this excellent?" Emmett stared at me as if I was brain damaged.

"Edward," he said slowly, "Bella is here. Bella. Remember her? The love of your life?" I growled at him in frustration and turned away, pinching the bridge of my nose as I leaned back against the wall. Jasper took one look at my irate stance and shook his head at Emmett warningly. Emmett's eyes moved between us, his brow furrowed. "Am I missing something here? Bella is back in your life after six years apart. You guys can start over, get back together again. How is this not excellent?" I didn't bother to answer him, knowing he would get there eventually. It didn't surprise me that Emmett could only see the good side of this situation; to him everything was always as simple as right and wrong, black and white and, though I would never admit it, a small part of me envied that perspective. Emmett's eyes widened as comprehension hit him. "Wait a minute," he said, his eyes widening, "you're not going to talk to her? You're going to leave?" I inclined my head in acknowledgment. "Edward, that's insane!" Emmett cried angrily, "What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you ev-"

But I stopped listening to Emmett's tirade, as the door opened at the other end of the corridor to reveal….

"Alice," I breathed, and suddenly everything clicked into place. Alice's inexplicable good mood, her blocking her thoughts, her wishes of luck as I'd left the office. She had known. Without thinking, I launched myself in the tiny vampire's direction, weaving through the throng of students as fast as human pretences would allow until I was standing barely inches in front of her. She looked up at me in surprise, her thoughts still blocked, but I could sense a flicker of uncertainty in her otherwise calm face.

"Edward, are you al-"

"Did you See this?" I snarled, cutting her off roughly.

"I-"

"I said," I growled, stepping even closer to her, "did you See this?" I could feel my body shaking in anger. Alice looked at me in alarm. I was about to shout at her again, to force her to tell me the truth, when I felt a heavy hand grip my shoulder. I looked up to see Jasper glaring at me, Emmett standing beside him.

"Let go of her," Jasper said, a menacing undercurrent to his voice. Surprised, I looked down to see my hands which had unconsciously formed manacles around Alice's wrists. I released her, becoming aware of the relative hush that had fallen over the emptying hallway as the humans had noticed the exchange going on before them. I felt a wave of calm hit me, courtesy of Jasper and I staggered back, dazed. Suddenly the walls of the hallway felt as though they were pressing in on me. My head was pounding as I was overwhelmed by snatches of other peoples' inquisitive and slightly scandalized thoughts, pouring in on me from all angles. I looked at my siblings, who were now watching me.

"Edward," Alice whispered in a voice too low for human ears as Jasper continued to hold on to her protectively, "I knew that your meeting Bella was a possibility, but I wasn't sure when or even if it would happen. I haven't been able to See Bella for years; this vision came from nowhere." She looked at me imploringly and I could hear the truth in her thoughts. However this didn't stop the new rush of anger I felt tugging at the edges of my artificial calm.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked shakily, my own emotions fighting against the ones Jasper was forcing upon me.

"Because I knew you would overreact like this!" She cried, her expression clearly exasperated.

I momentarily felt the anger within me come to the forefront again, as I snarled at her, "This is not an overreaction Alice; this is a perfectly legitimate response! You had no right to keep this from me, you-"

Alice glared at me, her eyes narrowing. "Edward, when we left Forks you ordered me not to look into Bella's future. I did as I was asked. You told me that I wasn't allowed to visit, write to or contact Bella in anyway. Again, I obeyed your wishes. I effectively left my best friend behind for dead-" I growled angrily at the word, but she continued regardless, "and left my home and my life behind. Don't you dare tell me what I do and do not have a 'right' to do."

Without thinking, I took a step towards her again, only to find Emmett blocking my path. He looked taken aback at my aggression, but resolute nonetheless. "Stop it, Edward," he said quietly, "quit taking it out on Alice. This isn't her fault." I looked at him, ready to argue… then felt myself slump; Emmett was right, of course he was. I felt guilty and more than a little ashamed at my outburst, but my anger was still such that I was unable to think straight.

"I n-need to get out of here," I stuttered, the words coming out uncharacteristically jarred and awkward. My entire body trembling, I turned, the crowd parting swiftly as I fled from the hallway, leaving my family in my wake.

*~*~*

It was in the early hours of the next morning when I finally returned to the house. After I had run out of school, I had taken the car and driven along the highway to the colossal Adirondack Park, a couple of hundred miles away from the city. There I had brooded and prepared myself for the inevitable onslaught I would receive from my siblings on returning home. I knew that they had many reasons to be angry with me, least of all the fact that I had left them stranded at school without a car, but it still took me many hours to prepare myself for their fury.

I could hear my family's thoughts and conversation as drove up the driveway leading to the house and it was only once I had shut the car door and mounted the steps into the house that they ceased. I walked into the living room to find them all waiting there in their couples on the various sofas and chairs. As I turned to enter, they all looked at me, their faces annoyed and, in the case of Esme and Carlisle, concerned. I was reminded irresistibly of the time I had returned to the house after saving Bella's life from Tyler's truck; my reception had been similarly mixed then. I turned to face Alice who was sitting on the floor by the couch, leaning against Jasper's legs.

"Alice, I'm sorry," I said plainly and sincerely, "I shouldn't have shouted at you earlier, it was inexcusable." I raised my eyes to meet Jasper's and offered my apologies to him, which he accepted charitably. Then I turned so I was also addressing the others. "I'm also sorry to all of you for leaving school this morning, I realize that it was rash and selfish and I hope you can forgive me. Furthermore, I'd-"

"Edward," Emmett interrupted, "shut up."

"-like to... wait, what?"

"I said, shut up. We don't want to hear you apologize and we don't give a damn about the stupid car. All we want to know is whether you've made a sensible," he put a real emphasis on the word, "decision about what to do about Bella."

"I… I-" I stuttered, thrown by Emmett's words.

"And it better not be that you're going to leave again-," Alice interjected from her spot on the floor.

"-because that would come under the category of 'incredibly stupid', not sensible," Emmett completed. I stared at both of them disbelievingly but they just looked back at me levelly.

What? Emmett thought, Did you seriously think we were going to stand by and let you screw this up again without putting up a fight?

I scowled and turned away from him. "Leaving is the only option." This sparked a chorus of protest from all my siblings, but Alice was loudest.

"It's not the only option you complete piece of-" she completed the sentence with a stream of insults.

"Alice," Esme murmured reproachfully from the couch where she sat with Carlisle.

"Sorry Esme, but somebody needed to say it." She narrowed her eyes and looked back at me. "Edward, you need to think this through properly."

I snapped. "Don't you think I have? Do you really think that I'd rather leave her forever than stay here with Bella? I've been running alternate options through my head all day, but this is the one that is best."

"Best for whom, you or Bella?" I glared at Alice.

"Bella, of course." What was she trying to say?

"Really, Edward? In my opinion, your leaving again is anything but good for Bella. From what I Saw, she has barely recovered from our leaving the first time. How do you think she'll react if you leave again?"

"But it's too dangerous," I said. She ignored this comment.

"Personally," she said, continuing as if she had not heard me," I think that you only want to leave because you're scared."

"Scared?!" I exploded, "Scared of what, exactly?"

"Of being with Bella again, of admitting that you were wrong in the first place and that you've wasted the last six years of your life for nothing." I grimaced and turned away from Alice, running a hand through my hair distractedly.

"You and Bella are meant to be Edward! Haven't you stopped to wonder why, of all the towns in the country, Bella chose to work here in Rochester? Or that your paths crossed again? It's Fate, Edward; you and Bella are destined to be together and sooner or later you'll have to accept that." She sank back against Jasper's legs and folded her arms, unfolding them only to receive a congratulatory high five from Emmett.

I turned to face Carlisle. "What do you think?" I asked and everyone fell respectfully silent.

He thought over his words carefully before he spoke. "It's up to you, Edward," he said quietly, and I saw Alice open her mouth to protest before Carlisle held up a hand to silence her. "But," he continued, surveying me carefully, "I think that, in a sense, Alice is right. I believe that you should stay, at least long enough to determine how Bella feels about you and establish what her situation in life is." I'm sorry Edward, he thought, but I've watched you suffer for too long. I just want you to be happy. I felt my shoulders fall wearily; I suddenly felt very tired and beleaguered.

"But I'm a monster," I said quietly, "Bella is better off without me and I don't even know if she still feels the same way; she probably hates me for leaving." I could hear the thoughts of my family as they objected to these words, but I took no heed. As far as I was concerned, they were the honest truth. Then suddenly Rosalie stirred in her chair and looked directly at me, engaging in the discussion for the first time.

"Oh for God's sake Edward, get a grip," she said tartly, "this isn't the Edward Cullen pity party. Either you leave or you stay, but whatever you do please just stop going on about it; we've had this conversation non-stop for the last six years and I'm bored of hearing the same thing. You aren't a monster and yes, Bella," she said the name with distaste, "probably is better off without you, but she almost certainly doesn't see it that way. She worshipped the ground you walked on; I doubt six years could change that level of devotion." She sighed and looked away from me to examine her nails, "Anyway,I want to stay here; I'm bored of moving."

This pronouncement left a stunned silence, as everybody gaped at Rosalie. She looked up from inspecting her fingertips to see the entire family staring at her and rolled her eyes.

"Oh please," she said in a bored voice, "I may not have very cordial feelings towards the girl, but that doesn't mean I want to subject myself to an eternity of Edward's whining." Emmett laughed at these words and kissed Rosalie's cheek, his eyes dancing as he looked at me. Come on Edward, Even Rose thinks we should stay. I looked from him to Alice and Jasper then back to Carlisle, before my eyes fell on Esme and I felt a jolt. She was staring at me with a pained expression, her eyes pleading.

Please Edward, she thought imploringly, please let us stay. I want to see Bella, I want you to be happy, and I want my family to be whole again. Please.

I felt my resolve crumble as I realized how much leaving Bella had cost Esme. There was no way I could put her through that again. I took a deep breath.

"Fine," I said reluctantly, "we'll stay." I tried to continue, but was drowned out by a loud whoop from Emmett as he punched his fist in the air and Alice springing up to throw her arms around my waist in a tight hug.

"Oh Edward!" she exclaimed, "This is the right decision, I know it," she let go of me, screwing up her face in concentration, "I… I can See us going to school tomorrow and… Bella will be there, but…that's all I'm certain of." She sighed, "I think it'll take a while for me to be able to See her properly again, but I'll keep trying." Jasper stood and rubbed Alice's shoulders consolingly.

"You've made the right decision Edward," Esme said quietly, coming to my side and stroking my arm soothingly. I tried to reply, but faltered slightly, unsure of how to voice my concerns.

"It's just… what if she doesn't want to be with me anymore?" I did not meet any of the others eyes when I said this; I felt embarrassed to even admit how unsure I was. Perhaps Alice was right; I was scared, but only of Bella's feelings towards me. Despite my years, I suddenly felt seventeen again- insecure, vulnerable, scared. My family's thoughts were comforting: Of course she'll still want to be with you- Bella loves you- You are meant to be together- but Emmett was the only one who spoke.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "you'll just have to seduce her." The others laughed and I raised my eyebrows at him.

"Seduce her?"

"Sure," he continued, ignoring the chuckles from the rest of the family, "Y'know, be charming, show her how wonderful you are, do a bit of dazzling." Emmett grinned as Jasper snorted at the word. I had never lived down the fact that Bella had referred to my supernatural powers of attracting prey as 'dazzle'.

"It will work," Emmett said confidently, "Bella loves you and is attracted to you. No matter how she feels now, she's sure to come around with a bit of persuasion."

I looked from Emmett's calmly convinced face to those of the others before silently glancing at the clock on the wall.

6.00 am

There were two hours to go before I faced Bella again, two hours before I laid my heart on the line in the attempts to win her back. I breathed deeply as watched the clock hands move around.

It was time to seduce Ms Swan.