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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.


9. Bloody Hands

Rating 3.3/5   Word Count 7950   Review this Chapter

I tried to kill the pain
But only brought more
I lay dying
and I'm pouring crimson regret and betrayal
I'm dying praying bleeding and screaming
am I too lost to be saved
am I too lost?

I awoke on Saturday morning to an icily cold and very silent apartment. It took five minutes, three extra layers of clothing on top of my pajamas and very fluffy slippers to persuade me to leave the relative warmth of my duvet and go and investigate the reason as to why I was currently living in sub zero temperatures. On my way over to the kitchen, I glanced out of the window and paused. The street was absolutely deserted; it was completely devoid of the usual melee of cars, buses and pedestrians that made up Saturday morning traffic in Rochester. Snow covered everything in sight, from rooftops to driveways to lampposts. I groaned; it looked like at least two feet of new snow had fallen overnight. That explained away the silence, but it didn’t give me any clue as to why my apartment had suddenly become akin to a fridge freezer.

Shivering, I entered the kitchen and flung open the cupboard that housed my boiler. My heart sank; it clearly wasn’t working and the red ‘seek assistance’ light was flickering on and off. There was no way that I’d be able to get a technician to come out and fix it in this sort of weather; by the looks of it the roads hadn’t even been gritted yet. I rang the boiler company, only to have my worst fears confirmed when I was told they would be unable to send someone until Tuesday at the earliest. Incensed, I collected more blankets from my bedroom and created a makeshift cocoon on my couch, glowering at the clock.

It was 9:30 am. I had about an hour and a half until Alice and Rosalie showed up. If they’re still coming, I thought doubtfully to myself. Even if the awful weather didn’t dampen Alice’s fervour for shopping, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my stunt with the bike would cause her to change her mind. Last night it had seemed like a clever thing to do, but once I had arrived home and come down from the high I had felt at outsmarting Edward, I began to feel uneasy. I knew from experience that Edward’s anger had far reaching consequences within his family. What if he had been so enraged by my behaviour that he had forced the family to leave Rochester?

I had to admit that that scenario, although so desirable to me a few weeks ago, had now become most unappealing. Whether I liked it or not, I now depended on seeing Edward every day. He was a drug and I was an addict who hadn’t had a fix for years; my craving for him was inevitable. If the Cullens left now… I didn’t even want to think about what it would do to me. Jacob had been right; this time I was alone. With nobody to put me back together, how could I possibly survive the pain of Edward leaving? I shivered again, but this time it had nothing to do with the cold. I flicked on the television in an attempt to distract myself and after a few minutes I came across the weather forecast.

The very low temperatures in the state of New York look set to continue, but hopefully the winds will pick up by next Tuesday and blow the clouds in a more northerly direction. In Rochester there are more snow storms expected tonight and motorists are reminded to watch out for-”

I turned the screen off abruptly, unwilling to listen to more of the same. Great, I thought to myself, it’s going to be cold everywhere. Why did I choose to live here, again? I didn’t know the answer, but relocating out of Rochester was becoming more and more appealing by the hour. For a long time I just sat in silence, staring unseeingly into space. It was ironic that, although I had initially detested the idea of moving to Forks, it was there that I had experienced the happiest time of my life. I had so many memories of the small town, both good and bad, whereas here I had none; unless you counted those that concerned Edward.

He had been in Rochester for less than a month and already every recollection I had of the place had somehow become related to him. It was crazy- I loved him so much my heart ached, yet at the same time I still felt so much anger towards him. On one level it seemed as though thinking about my love for Edward was a betrayal of the worst kind- to me, to Jacob and… to Brady. I winced as the name came rushing to the fore-front of my mind and I felt my ever-present emotions of guilt and self-loathing magnify a hundred-fold. Yet another reason to go back to Forks. I hadn’t seen him for years, not since I had left home six years ago; there had always been a reason or an excuse to prevent my visiting him, but really it was because I was too much of a coward to go. I sighed. Jacob was right; I couldn’t keep running from the past forever.

I was distracted from my thoughts by the beeping of a clock and I was surprised to see that an hour had passed already. Very reluctantly, I dragged myself off of the couch and into my bedroom to change. In the event that Rosalie and Alice did show up, I knew they’d be less than impressed to find me wearing pajamas. I changed as quickly as possible into clothes similar to those worn by early Arctic explorers. Forget fashion, my main objective today would be not freezing to death. I was just zipping up a huge woolly jacket when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a vehicle coming down the street outside. The noise grew louder until it was just outside my window and then cut out. I waddled over to my bedroom window- my movement was impaired by all the layers I was wearing- and instantly burst out laughing at what I saw.

Parked on the curb directly below my window was Emmett’s jeep, but as I had never seen it before. Its massive waist-high tires were contained within snow chains thicker than my wrist and there were even more spotlights attached to the crash bar, all of which were blazing brightly, their electric light making the snow sparkle like a vampire’s skin. But the best part- or worst, depending on your outlook- was the industrial sized snow-plough that had been nailed to the front of the jeep. It was at least four feet wide and painted a shiny red which matched the car’s hardtop perfectly.

I shook my head incredulously; I had been an idiot to think that Alice would let a little thing like a snowstorm get in the way of a shopping trip. The aforementioned tiny vampire had already leapt out of the jeep and was waving frantically at me. “COME ON BELLA!” she mouthed at me, beaming. I smiled back and nodded, before retreating into the flat and getting my things. Within five minutes I was outside on the sidewalk with Alice.

“Hi Bella!” she said perkily, flashing a winning smile at me. “Whatdya think of the jeep?”

“It’s… very inventive,” I grinned at her, taking in the monstrous vehicle, “where did you get the plough?”

“Oh that little thing?” Alice smirked at me, her eyes sparkling merrily, “it was just something Emmett had lying around.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure it was.”

It was obvious that the jeep had been modified for my benefit. In the old days I would’ve been irritated that Alice had gone to so much trouble for me, but now I was just thankful that she cared. Funny how my perspective on things like that had changed as I got older; perhaps it had taken experience of life without the Cullens to teach me that I had been foolish, and more than a little rude, to constantly reject their attempts to please me.

I accepted Alice’s help as she opened one of the rear doors and hoisted me effortlessly up into the back seat, where I was instantly hit by a wall of inviting warmth from the heater. Rosalie was sitting in the driver’s seat, her eyes fixed determinedly on the snowy road in front of her. As I fought with the many buckled seatbelt her gaze flickered briefly towards me, before turning straight back to the road. I shook my head sadly; clearly that was the extent of greeting I was going to get. Alice jumped into the seat in the front next to Rosalie.

“So,” she said happily, turning around to face me, “where do you want to go?”

“Um,” I said, distracted by the roar of the engine as Rosalie turned the key in the ignition and pulled back into the street. Even despite the plough and all the snow it was collecting, she managed to maintain an above average speed. What was it with vampires and cars? “I don’t know Alice, will anywhere even be open in this weather?”

Alice rolled her eyes at me. “Silly Bella, anywhere is open if you’ve got one of these.” She flashed her credit card at me, grinning.

I shook my head. Same old Alice. “Well I haven’t exactly been shopping much in the city; I’m sure you’ve got a better idea of where to go.” That was putting it mildly. Apart from visits to school, the library and the grocerie store, I was pretty much a recluse.

“Okay!” Alice said delightedly and turned to Rosalie before launching into a series of directions. It was obvious that she had already anticipated my response and planned accordingly. I settled back into my seat and let her words wash over me as I enjoyed the sensation of being properly warm for the first time in hours.

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed our shopping trip. We targeted one of the more ‘upmarket’ malls to the North of the city (Alice’s decision) and although I didn’t exactly relish the way I was forced to constantly try on very expensive clothes, I had a lot of fun watching Alice and Rosalie dress up. They were just so beautiful, it was hard not to be entranced by them and it was clear that the shop assistants felt the same way; we all watched them in awe as they giggled and went through outfit after outfit- all designer, of course.

They shone like dancing flames, and we mere mortals were all just moths desperate to bask in their glow. But humans who play with fire always get burnt, a voice whispered at the back of my mind and I looked at them both with different eyes. Of all the humans present, I alone knew the sorrow that was ever present behind their outward shows of happiness and the price which came with their beauty and youth. Did I want to be a part of that?

The obvious answer was YES, but when I thought about it more seriously, I wasn’t so sure any more. My desire to become a vampire had always hung on the fact that I would be with Edward eternally, but now that that was no longer an option, I had begun to pay more attention to the drawbacks of immortality. To be constantly stuck in a body that could not age or develop, to be unable to stay in contact with any of my friends or family and to drink blood… I inwardly shuddered. Perhaps Edward had been right- it was stupid to wish away something as precious as humanity.

We continued to shop, flitting from boutique to boutique, collecting more shopping bags as we went. Despite my reluctance to try on clothes, Alice seemed determined to supply me with an entire new wardrobe and by the time we stopped for lunch at 2:00pm, I was lugging nine shopping bags filled with an array of different garments. Once we sat down to eat, however, I started to wish we could continue shopping. We decided that I would eat- obviously the other two had no desire to consume human food- at the Italian bistro situated in the centre of the mall and once I had finished ordering Alice fixed me with a determined gaze and I suddenly knew what topic she was going to talk about. Edward.

I had so far managed to steer blissfully clear from that subject, but I had a feeling that my luck was about to run out. Desperate to delay her questioning as long as possible, I pretended to become fascinated by the menu and insisted on having the waiter translate every single dish from Italian into English. He eagerly obliged, but I suspected that was mainly so he could eye up Rosalie in the process. If he had been expecting to be successful, however, he was sorely disappointed- she spent the entire performance staring moodily into space and he eventually left with a look of dissatisfaction on his face. As soon as he was out of earshot, Alice began to speak.

“So Bella,” she began, her voice over-casual, “you and Edward seemed to be getting on better last night.” I just looked at her silently. Really? I mean really? Was this in real life, or was this in Alice’s imaginary world where everything was glittery and fluffy and perfect? Alice seemed to detect my scepticism, because she instantly elaborated on her words. “Well, you were until that thing with the bike- which was totally awesome, by the way.”

That surprised me. “Wait, you thought that was awesome?”

“Sure!” she smiled, “It’s about time you took control of your relationship with Edward.”

“I’d hardly call it a relationship,” I muttered darkly, moodily taking my hot chocolate from the tray of drinks the waiter had just delivered. “More like a prolonged feud.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure,” she said sarcastically, “there’s absolutely nothing between you and Edward whatsoever- he’s only pretending to be madly in-”

“Alice,” Rosalie cut in warningly. I looked at her with surprise; I had almost forgotten she was there- I had been so focused on Alice. Alice seemed to have forgotten her too, because she suddenly looked sheepish as though she had been caught doing something forbidden. She changed the subject at the speed of light. “Uh, where do you think the waiter is with your food?”

But I wasn’t letting her get away with that. “What were you going to say?”

“Who, me? Nothing, I-” Alice feigned innocence.

“Don’t play that game with me Alice, what were you going to say about Edward?”

“I-” she trailed off. I continued to watch her with narrowed eyes.

“Yes?”

Rosalie sighed. “Well done Alice, Edward is going to be delighted.”

I shot her a look of confusion. ‘Delighted?’ What did that mean? Suddenly something clicked and my eyes widened. “Wait, Edward told Alice she wasn’t allowed to talk to me?” I instantly felt a swell of anger towards him- he wasn’t even here and he was STILL trying to control my life.

“Only about certain topics,” Alice clarified hurriedly.

“Like what?!”

“Like, uh…” she floundered for a couple of moments, her loyalties clearly vacillating between Edward and me. “He said I couldn’t… that I wasn’t allowed to… talk about how he…” Alice trailed off again, looking helplessly at Rosalie.

The blonde vampire looked up from the menu she had been surveying with distaste and rolled her eyes impatiently. “Oh, come on Bella; it’s not that hard to figure out,” she said snappily at me. I gaped at her; I couldn’t remember Rosalie ever addressing me by name before. What did she mean?

Rosalie watched my confusion and sighed. “I thought she was supposed to be intelligent…” she muttered darkly to Alice, before fixing me with narrowed eyes. “Edward doesn’t want us to talk to you about certain topics that he would rather discuss with you himself. Have you really got no idea what those topics might be?”

I stared at Rosalie, nonplussed. Certain topics? But Edward and I had already discussed everything- what we had both done since Forks, what we were doing now and- I cringed at the memory- my new liking for motorcycles. There was nothing left to talk about, unless… I suddenly thought of what Alice had just said: ‘…about time you took control of your relationship with Edward’. If I hadn’t known better I would’ve thought that the word ‘relationship’ implied… but no, it was ridiculous. I knew that Edward didn’t love me and nothing Alice said could override my certainty. Why would he? I was plain, pathetic, boring and unattractive and even in the slim chance that Edward saw past all those failings, he had already made it crystal clear that he no longer cared for me. If he did, he would have told me by now, he would have let me kiss him in the classroom. He never would have left in the first place.

And yet, I couldn’t truthfully say that the news that Alice and Rosalie believed otherwise wasn’t slightly encouraging. If they, who knew Edward so well, truly thought that he still had feelings for me, then perhaps there was some truth to Alice’s words. Edward and I were nowhere near lovers, but maybe we could eventually be friends. I suddenly felt confidence creep through me, warming my heart and making my cheeks glow. It was a nice but unfamiliar feeling.

I didn’t follow much of the conversation after that. Both Alice and Rosalie seemed to think they had pushed their luck to the absolute limits, because neither of them mentioned Edward again. Instead, Rosalie fished a magazine out of her bag and began to read, whilst Alice focused on the much safer topic of clothes. Unfortunately for me, she wasn’t quite satisfied with my share of the morning’s spoils, which mainly consisted of very pretty, but very conservative clothing that I could also wear to work. I had downright refused to even try on anything more outlandish, but Alice had still managed to sneak a couple of questionable items into my bags. Once the food had been cleared away I discovered one such garment for the first time- it was a rectangular piece of denim so miniscule it resembled a dishcloth, yet the manufacturers had had the audacity to label it as a skirt.

“I am not wearing this,” I spluttered as I pulled the offending piece of material from one of the bags.

“Why not?” Alice asked, a faint look of surprise crossing her flawless features, “it’s your size.”

“It’s tiny!”

“That’s the style,” she maintained calmly, going back to looking critically through the clothes I had chosen.

I just gaped at her, my eyes flicking from the stonewashed travesty masquerading as a skirt to the pixie like vampire in front of me. Finally, I said, “Alice, I just don’t wear things like this.”

She frowned, her otherwise smooth forehead creasing momentarily as she looked back to me. “But why, Bella?”

Because I look like an idiot? “Because it doesn’t suit me!”

“Rubbish,” Alice scoffed, turning back to my bags. “You’re beautiful Bella, when are you going to start seeing it?”

Huh. Me, beautiful. Yeah sure. I looked back to the skirt and a voice whispered in the back of my mind, You don’t wear clothes like this because you have no one to wear them for. It was true; I couldn’t remember the last time I had dressed to impress a guy. I certainly hadn’t been on a date for years; in fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had even properly spoken to a guy who wasn’t a student or a colleague outside of a work environment.

And as for anything further… well let’s just say that my experience of sex had begun and ended with Jacob on a single excruciatingly awkward night in the summer after my senior year. The word ‘disaster’ didn’t quite cover it, not least because I started crying half way through when I realised that the hot skin I was touching couldn’t be further from the cold skin that I craved. Jake had been as understanding as a teenage boy can be in such a situation, which is to say far more than I deserved. He had stopped immediately, we hadn’t tried again and he had never pressured me to do so, but it was the penultimate event in a series of many which forced us to break up. The last straw had been Brady’s ‘accident’ several months later…

“Bella?” Suddenly I realised that Alice was talking to me and I dragged myself from my thoughts.

“Yes?”

“I mean seriously, you dress like an old woman,” Alice said despairingly, as she pulled a pair of clunky loafers from the depths of one of my carrier bags. I had snuck them when she hadn’t been looking, guessing that she wouldn’t approve of my choice in footwear. It was obvious from her disgusted expression that I had predicted correctly. “What are these?! Really?? Why do you insist on buying clothes that look more at home in an old persons’ hospice?”

“Well I am older now Alice-” I began noncommittally. The truth was that I liked those clothes because they allowed me to hide; If I made myself as undesirable to men as possible then I didn’t have to suffer their advances and be reminded of Edward.

Alice snorted, a sound that was as un-vampire as it was possible to get. “Twenty-four is NOT old.”

“But it’s older than you and Rosalie- it’s even older than Carlisle!” and almost seven years older than Edward, my subconscious completed.

“Yes Bella, in human years. But we’re vampires! To us, anything below thirty is practically pre-pubescent. And anyway, you barely look a day over twenty.”

“I look older than you.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Everyone looks older than me, I’m 4 foot 10!”

I laughed, despite of myself. “Okay, point taken,” I said resignedly. Alice’s eyes lit up.

“Really?” she asked excitedly, “Does that mean you’ll let me choose whatever you buy from now on?”

“Um…” would I regret this? Most probably, but experience had taught me that it was far easier to just agree than to argue with Alice’s schemes. “Sure, I guess,” I finished lamely. This resulted in a lot of excited squealing from Alice, so much so that Rosalie actually deigned to look up from her magazine. Alice decided that it was time to leave the restaurant, so we paid the bill to the disgruntled waiter who hadn’t been impressed by the way two of our party had completely ignored their plates of food, took our bags and went back to the mall.

“Ten shops down, only twelve left to go!” Alice cried happily over her shoulder. I groaned and, if I hadn’t known better, I could’ve sworn that Rosalie had too.

Four hours, twelve bags and several thousand dollars later, we left the mall. The roads had been salted since the morning and were effectively free of snow, rendering the jeep’s plough even more ridiculous than before. As we pulled into my street I was uncomfortably aware of the way passers-by were staring at us. I suddenly realised how this would look to outsiders; Bella Swan the hermit had gone out shopping with two of her students from school- two students who just happened to be the sisters of the one she apparently hated. I sunk lower in my seat so to hide my face from the people on the street. I sure had a knack for attracting gossip.

As soon as the jeep came to a halt, I jumped out of the passenger door, grabbing my stuff as I went. “Well girls that was fun!” I said quickly, my eyes darting around anxiously for eavesdroppers, “we should definitely do it again sometime. I have to go now, okay bye!” I tried to turn tail and scurry up the steps to my apartment but, weighed down as I was by shopping bags, I managed to lose my footing on the ice and skid comically. Before I fell flat on my face, however, Alice caught me and effortlessly stood me upright again.

“Bella,” she said as she took some of my bags and carried them up the steps for me, “Rosalie and I have been wondering whether you’d like to… to come back to our house this evening. We’ll buy lots of human food, so you don’t have to worry about that. Carlisle and Esme and the boys all really miss you- none of them can wait to see you again and so we thought that maybe…” she trailed off hopefully.

I stared at her. What could I say? Although my day with his sisters had boosted my confidence as far as Edward was concerned, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to spend an entire evening with him. I was still angry towards him for the way he had responded to my motorbike and I didn’t want to give him the chance to start another argument. But I couldn’t deny that spending Saturday evening with my favourite family in the world- the Cullens- was more appealing than shivering alone in my freezing apartment. “Well I-” I began, still unsure about what answer I would give.

“Please, Bella?” Alice said imploringly.

As I looked into her eyes, the solution suddenly came to me. I would go to the Cullens’, but only if I was allowed to ride my bike there. That way, I would have a quick and easy means of escape if things got too awkward. Edward would probably get angry again, but I decided that inciting his wrath was a chance I would have to take, and anyway, I was tired of him telling me what to do. I would never usually volunteer to ride my motorcycle outdoors on such a cold day, especially with the roads in such poor conditions, but I would have to sacrifice my comfort for convenience.

I quickly shared my plan with Alice. At first she wasn’t at all keen on the idea, but after a bit of pleading, she seemed to come round. “- and anyway,” I added, “there are so many bags in the jeep that I can hardly fit in there as it is and once we stop to buy food it’ll be even worse…” I waited with baited breath for her response.

“Okay, fine,” Alice finally said huffily, “but if Edward asks, this had nothing to do with me, okay?”

“Of course!” I cried happily, hugging her. Together we took the shopping bags up to my apartment where I exchanged them for my leather jacket, helmet and keys. Then we came back to the street outside to find an annoyed Rosalie waiting outside the jeep. Alice filled her in on the situation and after a single ‘Edward is going to FREAK’ she agreed to drive more slowly than usual so that I could follow them to their house.

We set off, Rosalie and Alice in the jeep with me following behind on the bike. The icy wind whipped against me, chilling the few uncovered sections of my skin to the bone and I was thankful for the protection of the helmet. The drive was easy, but the condition of the roads meant that it took longer than I had expected and once we had stopped to buy food, it was about 7:30pm when we finally arrived at the Cullen mansion. I was struck by an irresistible sense of déjà vu as we turned up the long driveway leading from the highway. Lined by tall trees, it was very similar to the one they had had in Forks.

The similarities continued once we came into view of the house, which was very large and surrounded by snow-topped trees. However this house was made from beautiful red brick instead of white and my knowledge of local geography told me that it must back onto the lake, instead of a river. I came to a slow stop on the edge of the drive in front of the house and cut the bike’s engine. I jumped off onto the hard packed snow with a soft thud and waved at Alice who was just getting out of the jeep.

“This house is gorgeous,” I said admiringly, as I walked towards her. “I thought the one you had in Forks was amazing, but this is just… wow.” Alice held the jeep door open for Rosalie whilst she unloaded the shopping bags. Once they were all out, she closed the door and smiled at me wickedly.

“You know what else is amazing, Bella?” she asked innocently.

“What?”

“Snow!” she giggled, and before I could form a response, she had hurled a handful of it at me. The snowball smashed into the side of my face, sending shivers down my spine. I shouted in protest and immediately began to form snowballs of my own. Before long, Alice and I were engaging in a full blown snowball fight, giggling and shouting as we pelted each other and used the cars to hide behind. Rosalie took cover in the garage the minute she saw the snow flying- she obviously didn’t want her hair to be ruined- leaving just Alice and I. Alice’s vampire speed and strength were proving to be a huge advantage and within minutes it became clear that I would be unable to fight her off much longer. Giving up, I ran laughing towards the house in an attempt to find cover. I was just stumbling up the porch steps when I heard Alice shout from behind me, her voice suddenly serious.

“No Bella, wait! Don’t open the door-”

“What, so you can throw more snow at me? No chance!” I scoffed teasingly. Sure, like I’d fall for that one! Grinning, I pushed the door and it swung open effortlessly at my touch.

Standing in the entrance hall, directly in front of the doors, were two figures. I recognised the first immediately- it was Edward. For a split second, I didn’t register anything but his beautiful face, but then I felt my heart stop as I took the entire scene in. Edward was standing, half naked, in the middle of the room with a breathtakingly beautiful woman draped all over him. Oh my God, she’s actually HOLDINGhis shirt my mind blithered. I couldn’t help myself- I gasped loudly in shock.

They both turned around to face me, similar expressions of surprise on their faces. Within a couple of seconds, the woman’s ruby painted lips had stretched into an amused smile. She really was stunning; she possessed the sort of looks that could only be rivaled by Rosalie’s. I felt my insides disappear as I took in her tumbling strawberry blonde curls, her eyes the colour of purest honey and her perfectly proportioned figure. So this is what Edward meant by ‘distractions’. My cheeks began to burn in mortification- how could I have dreamed even for a moment that Edward would still love me? As if I could ever be in the same league as him or women like the strawberry blonde. Of course he would choose her perfection over my mediocrity.

“Bella!” Edward choked out, his topaz eyes wide with shock. He brushed off his companion’s hand and took a step towards me. I tried to focus on his face, but the small matter of his muscled chest- which, to my defense, I had never seen fully uncovered before- was distracting me. Then, as my eyes my eyes raked over his perfectly defined abs, I heard the blonde woman laugh quietly. The heat rose in my cheeks as I realised what I had just been doing. I just ogled a student. God, kill me now. It all became too much.

“I-I’m s-sorry to interrupt,” I stuttered, averting my eyes from the couple in shame.

“No wait, Bella!”

I span around and lurched back through the door, ignoring Edward’s words from behind me. I didn’t want to hear his apologies or explanations- they meant nothing to me. I knew what I had seen with my eyes; Edward had clearly been very ‘busy’ with his blonde visitor and I had no desire to intrude. I all but fell out onto the porch, right at the feet of Alice, who had sprinted up the steps in a blur. She stared at me, horrified. I pushed past her and walked as quickly as I could down the steps.

“Bella!” Alice called after me, whizzing in front of me to block my path, “it’s not what you think, he-” she tried to explain, hurriedly.

“Did you see that happening?” I whispered as quietly as I could, hyper-aware of the fact that Edward would be able to hear every word.

“Yes, but-” Alice continued. It suddenly all made sense; that must have been why she had warned me not to go in the house. She had had a vision of me walking in on Edward and his ‘companion’ and had wanted to prevent it happening, but why? So she could continue telling me that he loved me? I felt a flash of anger towards her. How dare she lead me on like that?

“Listen,” I said, interrupting her, “I don’t care. No seriously, Edward is perfectly entitled to spend time with whoever he likes. Now if you excuse me, I have to get going.” I side-stepped her again and started walking towards my motorbike.

“But Bella!” she again appeared beside me, a very hurt expression on her face, “You said you’d stay tonight, you said you wanted to see the others!” I felt a twinge of guilt beneath my embarrassment and anger.

“I know I did, but… well, I don’t think it was the best idea. I just can’t…” I trailed off, unable to put my pain into words. It was just so hard to be around Edward and to know that he was happy without me; it hurt so much to see that he had been able to move on whereas I was still as addicted to him as I had been at eighteen. Before I could voice any of this, however, I heard a male voice call me from behind.

“Bella!” Alice and I both turned around to see Carlisle sweeping from the garage across the snow-covered drive towards us. Several paces behind him was Jasper, who was staring intently at Alice in his usual form of silent communication. Even further behind Jasper I could see a now fully-clothed Edward wincing on the porch as he was chastised by a severely angry Esme. Oh God, I cringed, she’s telling him off! For my sake! Could this be more mortifying?

My blush darkened as I turned back to face Carlisle who, judging from his unruffled expression, had no idea what had just occurred. He opened his hands in a welcoming gesture, but I sensed him glance confusedly at my flustered face. “It’s wonderful to see you Bella,” he said kindly, “we’re delighted that you could come this evening.”

“Uh, thank you Carlisle,” I said uncomfortably.

“I understand you’ll be staying for dinner?”

“Oh,” I said hastily, “oh that doesn’t matter, it’s probably too inconvenient for you. I should go home.” I was hoping that he would agree; I suddenly wanted to be as far from the Cullen household as possible.

“Not at all,” Carlisle said graciously, “it’s a pleasure to have you here. Would you like to come inside and warm up? It’s very cold out here.” I knew he was only saying it for my benefit- as a vampire the temperature was immaterial to him. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be rude, but neither did I want to go inside and be subjected to more public displays of affection between Edward and his blonde.

“Well,” I said, still deliberating. From the corner of my eye I noticed Alice shoot a pointed glance at Jasper and I instantly felt overpowered by a wave of calm confidence. I scowled at him, but he just grinned at me apologetically, before reinforcing the emotion with an even stronger dose. I struggled to fight it for a couple of seconds with absolutely no effect. Finally I exhaled, intelligent enough to recognise defeat. “Okay,” I said quietly to Carlisle, “I suppose a couple of drinks couldn’t hurt…”

“Excellent,” he beamed. “If you’d like to-” he was interrupted by a jubilant whoop. We all looked around to see Emmett darting out of one of the mansion’s many side doors.

“YEAH! Bella’s here!” he shouted happily, appearing by my side in a second and wrapping his arms around me in a huge bear hug.

“Thanks Emmett,” I gasped, my chest constricted by his grip, “it’s great to see you too.” He let go of me and grinned hugely.

“D’ya wanna see the inside of the house?”

“Um, sure,” I replied, trying to sound as enthusiastic as I could. “Lead the way.” I followed him back inside, my eyes fixed determinedly on a point several feet wide of the bronze haired figure on the porch. Just because I was spending time with Edward’s family, didn’t mean I had to acknowledge him. I sensed him take a step towards me and murmur my name as I passed, but I just walked past with my head held high. Perhaps if I acted like nothing had just happened then none of the rest of the family would have to learn of my embarrassing discovery. Once I had stepped inside I was greeted warmly by Esme, who seemed very keen to make me as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, my plan to feign nonchalance was ruined when the blonde stranger sashayed back into the room.

“Oh,” Emmett said, glancing at her, “Bella, this is Tanya, she’s a good friend of ours, isn’t that right Edward?” He turned good-naturedly to his brother, obviously wanting to include him in the conversation. Edward had just slunk silently through the doors, but as Emmett spoke he stopped dead in his tracks and sent him what could only be described as a death-glare. Emmett looked back at him astounded. “What?” he asked incredulously, “all I said was-”

“Emmett, stop.” Alice ordered quickly, her eyes darting from me to Edward. Then she said something far too quickly for my human ears to understand, but it was obvious from her tone that she was explaining what had just happened. I shuffled self-consciously and then felt my cheeks flame red as everybody looked at me.The atmosphere in the room had suddenly become very tense. Nobody spoke, instead preferring to watch me intently. I did not meet their eyes, unwilling to see their pitying expressions. Thanks Alice, I thought bitterly, like I need more people feeling sorry for me.

There was more silence for a few seconds, as I tried to find a way to change the subject. However just as I was opening my mouth to speak, I felt something vibrate in my jacket pocket. It was my cell phone. I looked at it in surprise for a couple of seconds; I had forgotten I even had it on me.

“Excuse me,” I said to the room at large, “I better go take this.” Relieved to have a legitimate reason to escape the excruciatingly awkward silence of the hallway, I quickly opened the doors, taking great care not to touch Edward on my way out. Once outside, I flipped open the lid of my phone to see that I had a total of five missed calls. I checked the caller ID and felt my stomach drop as I saw Jacob’s name spelt out in block capitals. Why would he have called me five times? Was it possible he knew that I was at the Cullens’? But no, that was ridiculous, how could he know? He was thousands of miles away in Forks and although he had many extraordinary talents, being psychic was not one of them.

As I cleared the screen, I realised that Jake had also left me a voicemail message. I dialed the number to my inbox, an unexplainable feeling of foreboding creeping through me. I waited impatiently as the automated welcome message informed me of the time and date of my message; Jacob had called whilst I was driving, no wonder I hadn’t heard it. Then the message came to an end and there was a loud beep, followed by Jacob’s deep voice.

“Bella!” I immediately knew something was very wrong. Jacob sounded frantic and on edge; his voice was fraught and there was a lot of background noise to his call which meant I had to concentrate to understand his next words. “Bella I’ve been ringing you again and again, where the hell are you? I’ve tried your house phone too, I even tried ringing the school for Christ’s sake, before I remembered it’s a Saturday,” Jake said heatedly down the phone. “Why aren’t you at home? You never go out on a weekend, why the fuck did you have to choose this one?” My eyes widened as I heard how angry he was. What’s going on? I couldn’t think what could have made Jacob so stressed that he was taking his anger out on me. I walked to the edge of the veranda and leant against the fence, urging myself to stay calm.

“Bella, I need to tell you something bad- What, Sam?” Suddenly Jacob broke off and his voice became fainter as though he was holding the receiver away from his face while he spoke to someone else. I strained my ears even harder to hear what he was saying. “Yeah I know, I’m just leaving her a message… well tell them that that’s not fucking good enough! Do I need to… no…. yeah, sure…. Okay, I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” There was a pause, before Jake’s voice came back much louder and clearer. “Hey Bella it’s me again, I’m sorry about that- I had to talk to Sam. Look as I was saying, something bad has happened and I had to ring you to tell you. I… well, it’s… it’s not good.”

He broke off again and all I could hear was his heavy breathing. It was more ragged than usual, like it only got when he was really, really worried. “Yeah, so it’s not great, but don’t freak out ‘cause that won’t help anything. You understand me Bella? Don’t panic, okay?” It seemed like he was trying to calm himself down as much as me. My hands gripped the wooden rail so tightly that I began to feel splinters of wood dig into my skin. What had happened? Was someone hurt? Billy? Carole? Charlie?

“And… ah, shit, I didn’t want to tell you this on voicemail,” Jacob said shakily, before taking a deep shuddering breath, “But I knew you’d want to know. It’s…it’s Brady, Bells.”

No.

The world disappeared, to be replaced by an empty, howling void.

No. God, please no.

I felt my body go into lockdown.

Not again. Please, don’t let anything more happen to him.

I was barely even aware of the cold anymore or of the pain that shot through my hands as splinters dug into my skin.

Not Brady, I thought desperately, Please, I begged, he’s been through enough.

And then: I’ve been through enough.

Through my shock and anguish I heard Jacob’s words continue, as though he was speaking from far, far away.

“Brady’s sick Bella,” he said hoarsely, “he’s really, really sick. He had a heart attack this morning in his room on the ward and now… n-now he’s in a coma and the doctors don’t know… they don’t know if he’s going to wake up. I’m at the hospital now with the rest of the pack and Brady’s parents.”

He stopped again as in the background I heard a woman begin to cry; I suddenly realised my own eyes were hot with tears. “G-God,” Jacob said shakily, “I- I’m so sorry to call you like this, I know it’s so unfair, there’s nothing you can do- you’re in Goddamn Rochester for God’s sake- but I thought you had to know, I know I’d want to know if it were me. Not that this is in any way your fault Bella, you know it isn’t. He might’ve had this heart attack regardless of what happened that summer, so don’t b-blame y-yourself for this, ‘cause I know that’s w-what you’ll do.”

He was really losing it now. I could tell from the way his voice was shaking, from the inflections in his vowels and the long, drawn out breaths. Jacob, my Jacob, was falling apart. Breaking from inside because of what had happened to Brady, resulting from a monstrosity that I’d caused six years ago- something which, whatever Jacob said, would have been so avoidable if I hadn’t been so damn stupid. Brady never would have got sick, if I hadn’t… if I hadn’t…

“That’s not what I wanted at all, for you to blame yourself,” Jacob continued to say, interrupting my thoughts, “it’s just I-” he trailed off again, before forcing himself to choke out the words, “it’s j-just that I’m so… I’m so scared, Bells. I don’t… want… him to die.” The tears were coming thick and fast now; I felt them streak down my cheeks and trickle hotly down my neck.

“I have to go back inside and talk to the doctors; I’m not allowed to use the phone inside the hospital. I’m so sorry Bella, I love you. I’m sorry. Bye.” The message came to an end. I instantly tried to ring Jacob back, but there was no answer; his phone was switched off.

I stood, paralysed by pain as the full horror of his news clutched me. Unbidden, unwanted, yet with terrifying intensity, visions of the catastrophic night six years ago came flooding back into my mind:

Me running blindly to the edge of the woods in Forks and stumbling painfully across a tree stump; Brady in his wolf form, his huge limbs shaking with fearful excitement as he jumped protectively in front of me, creating a barrier between me and my attacker; a flash of fiery red and white gleaming teeth; the stench of death, revenge and fear on the wind as screams of triumph and howls of pain ripped through the silence; pools of blood, so unnervingly red, despite the lack of light coming from the traitorous new moon; an evil black night fading to absolute darkness as I finally passed out…

I dropped the phone; it landed with a loud thud in the snow as I fell to my knees, clutching my chest. He’s going to die, my mind screamed, Brady’s going to die and it’s all your fault. I suddenly felt a piercing pain and, as I looked wildly at my hands, I realised that I had managed to cut myself on the wooden railing as I fell. I brought them to the ground and in my fevered, grief-stricken mind it was not my blood that stained the pure white snow, but Brady’s; it dripped freely from my damned soul as a sign of my sins. A sob ripped from my throat as a word burned through my mind like fire.

Murderer.