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Edward's Eclipse

Summary:
For True Edward Fans. An in-depth, accurate portrayal of the heart,
mind, and soul of the beloved Edward Cullen as he deals with the complex
themes and events taking place during Eclipse. Canon. Rated T for intimacy. Eddie's and Bellie's Twilight Fiction Award winner for "Canon that's better than Canon", TwiFic Indie Award Nominee for "Best Indie Story by and Established Author We Know and Love".


Notes:
Eclipse: Edward's Story I do not own Twilight, nor do I own any of Twilight's characters. All characters and themes referenced in Eclipse: Edward's Story belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any quotations from Eclipse are purely for reference and are in no way an attempt at any copyright infringement. For me, Edward Cullen is one of the most fascinating fictional characters in postmodern literature. In my imagination, Edward's existence is a constant existential crisis. The elements of conflict, duality, and desperation embodied by his character are all so fascinating. I hope I've done him justice. Feedback is appreciated. I love critics. Enjoy.


2. Theme from Chapter 1 - Ultimatum

Rating 5/5   Word Count 7966   Review this Chapter

Thick droplets of heavy rain littered my windshield, partially diminishing my ability to focus visually on the little house, but I could still hear everything. Nevertheless, I cast another quick glance around the dark, wet street and chuckled to myself. I probably looked like a stalker of some sort sitting in the complete darkness, immobile and watching. Still.

Being observed in such a manner by any human would be unwise, though. So, I focused again on the low hum of thoughts, the steady heartbeats, and the light discussions emanating from the other houses on the street, looking for any indication that my presence had been detected. I found nothing that deserved my attention.

Except Bella. Not her thoughts, of course, but her footsteps and her strong little heart. Closing my eyes, I leaned the back of my head against the headrest and focused on the soothing rhythm. Often, I felt as if it was the only sound in the world. At least the only sound that mattered. Thump-Thump…Thump-Thump…

Bella Swan…

Automatically, I turned my head in the direction of the words. A few yards from Bella’s home sat the small home of her neighbor Mrs. Dawes. I listened closely as Mrs. Dawes continued her conversation with her daughter, providing her with names of young ladies in close proximity. Apparently, Bella was a consideration for baby-sitting duties for Mrs. Dawes’ visiting daughter. I pictured Bella, bouncing a plump toddler on her knee and smiled. The image was fantastic…

But, it faded much too soon for reasons far too frustrating. And it would do no good to focus on those reasons now; my warring morality and pervasive sadness were the last emotions that should have my current attentions.

I held my hand up to myself, gesturing needlessly, demanding that my mind stop the onslaught. No, I could not agonize about that now. There would be plenty of time later. An eternity, I thought darkly.

…Edward…it’s about time someone said something and it might as well be me. I won’t have it anymore. If she gets angry I’ll remind her she’s living in my house with my rules…no, I can’t police her…reason with her…

Charlie’s thoughts broke through mine and I was grateful, but even that appreciation was short lived. I listened with chagrin again as I observed the varying degrees of contempt he held for me in his thoughts. He despised me, as he should. Perhaps it was his instinct as a father truly surfacing; did he sense that I was dangerous? He must on some level. Of course, the inexplicable truth was that I did unequivocally deserve his distrust. Beyond mere suspicion. I'd earned it.

Despite his love for Bella, Charlie was not blind; he’d seen her devotion to our relationship and her commitment to me very early on. Before I'd even left Forks, he constantly worried about the intensity of our connection. And, ultimately, as he frequently pointed out in his own mind, I had proven that his concerns were valid. I'd destroyed her life, I'd abandoned her, I'd left her in the woods. The woods…

And yet, despite the contempt he felt for me, and my sadness at the realization that I would probably never regain his trust, I'd still developed a very sincere admiration for Charlie. In truth, our aspirations for Bella were identical. His concerns for Bella, her future, and her happiness were for both of us, a longing. Although he’d said little to her about his true feelings, he worried constantly, just the same as I did. Only, the difference between us rested in the reality of my relationship with Bella.

Unlike Charlie, I was aware of the particularly impossible variables at work, such as the fact that my involvement in Bella's life was tragically ironic. We could not be apart, nor could we remain stationary and to pursue either course would equal the destruction of our lives, or in my case, my existence. And it was my involvement in her life that placed all of our dreams at risk. Everyday.

But, it was also very true that since Italy, things between Bella and I had changed. I knew all too well that the future was not set in stone. Somehow, it felt now as if our lives were directed towards some irreversible course. I couldn't quite pinpoint the source of that feeling or premonition, but it was true that we were inseparable now.

Yet, the essential question was: would our course be ruinous and lead to inevitable destruction? Of that, I wasn't certain. I’d tried to rationalize that we'd been on that course of inevitable destruction once and survived; Italy truly had changed everything in many ways. Yes, we had survived...

It was a feeble consolation and yet reassuring.

I bounced that thought around again, struggling to make sense of the feelings of satisfaction encouraged by the very reminder of Volterra. I wasn't certain why I'd felt it, but it was too strong to ignore. It seemed so ridiculous to feel satisfied at the notion that surviving the Volturi once somehow meant that we were past some kind of obstacle. If we were passing obstacles, what was truly the end result? I knew the answer to that. But, I was too cowardly to face it.

The end result was the death of Bella's soul.

Of course, Bella would hear none of it. I'd stopped trying since my return, anyhow. Even though I did not broach the subject with here again, I still couldn't wrap my mind around the intensity she dedicated to the pursuit of her goal.

I was convinced that she simply did not understand the ramifications of her request; so naturally, the entire issue was beyond her comprehension. And she was fiercely stubborn, completely intent on taking matters into her own hands. Her intensity terrified me. What would Charlie think if Bella were to suddenly ‘disappear’ by way of obtaining her immortality? The loss of his daughter would devastate him. He would never recover.

I sighed deeply, angry with myself for ruminating over these issues yet again at such a time. It always left me with such a profound sense of hopelessness. The only consolation I found in our situation was the reminder of my willingness to employ all methods necessary to delay her. I would not resign her to the fate she so willingly marches toward.

I would fight for her, even if she rebelled against my attempts.

It was a fact that Bella wanted me to change her, so I had refused, utilizing my trump card: she would have to marry me first. Despite Alice’s visions, I knew Bella’s aversion to marriage would force her to wait much longer. I was a little smug, but I couldn't help myself. Quite simply, through my clever manipulation, I'd placed one very successful obstacle in her path. The impossible situation was at least delayed. And, even though he would never know of my efforts, I'd bought Charlie time, too.

Yes, admittedly, it was an excellent plan. And, it was the least I could do for Charlie.

-

Her voice broke through my thoughts. “Did I miss something,” she asked. “Since when do you make dinner…or…try to make dinner, I should say?”

“There’s no law that says I can’t cook in my own house,” Charlie said. He was testy. He was nervous.

“You would know,” she teased.

I closed my eyes and settled against my cool leather seat. I pictured her little, mischievous grin in my mind and her bright, deep eyes. I knew she was wearing that grin. Her tone was light and playful. How long would that last once Charlie began his discussion? Surely this was the time…

Could he be more prepared?

“Ha! Good one,” he replied. He was anxious now, but only I heard it. Human ears could never have detected the minute strain.

She seems like she’s in a good mood…probably because he’s coming over soon…I won’t wait too long, just in case…this might actually be a good point…

I leaned my head forward again, tightening my hands into a closer grip around the steering wheel. All of my faculties trained on the house in the hope that he would finally begin. The sooner the better. My morbid curiosity was not going to ebb.

No, I will wait…let her eat first and then we’ll have a little more time. He’s not allowed in until seven anyhow…it’s only six-thirty…

I let out a begrudging growl. Beyond tedious! Charlie’s thoughts were usually so direct, although he rarely verbalized what he was actually thinking...

He reminded me of Emmett, only Charlie was capable of keeping his mouth shut. To my astonishment, I'd never imagined he could be such master of procrastination. He was intentionally taking an exorbitant amount of time to run through the motions of finishing preparations for their dinner. He was stalling, vacillating, and prolonging this inevitable conversation for what seemed like a dreadfully unnecessary amount of time. I heard the clanging of a kitchen utensil and the continual murmur of his thoughts, but nothing else.

I rolled my eyes and briefly contemplated starting my car, driving to the curb, getting out, walking up the drive, and timing my arrival so that he would lose this opportunity. Patience, Edward, I told myself.

If I acted now, I would be too early. The rules were clear. I was not to enter the house until seven o’clock. Besides, stopping Charlie this evening would probably resolve nothing. He was intent on having this discussion about Jacob Black…

Almost as if he’d read my mind, Charlie began to run through his reasons for supporting Jacob Black, as if he were ticking off a list. Jacob Black. I grimaced at his name and sighed at my own resignation. I settled comfortably again in my seat, waiting. Still.

The list continued…

...practically family...such a good kid...he was only worried about her...

This would have been amusing if it weren't infuriating.

Charlie was unaware of a critical detail. His list was completely unnecessary. I was not blind. I knew that she cared for him and she trusted him unwaveringly. Her eyes lit when she said his name, she murmured it in her sleep, and even in my arms, with his betrayal fresh, she’d reached for his hand, his touch, and his embrace. Of course, she’d still been wild with anger about the bike, but anger is merely a secondary emotion. She was deeply hurt by Jacob Black.

Charlie was aware, however, of the tension in their relationship. He'd sensed the affection Jacob held for Bella, of course, but he was unaware of the depth and the intensity. And, so, tonight, Charlie was intent on broaching the subject of Jacob and Bella's strained situation with her tonight.

Although - he did not intend to verbalize his views explicitly, he was planning to present his point of view in some way this evening. Was this were the list would come in? He kept changing his mind, so I wasn't sure. His thoughts were scattered and uncertain. He'd been planning this discussion for quite some time, which is the only reason I was even aware of his intentions. But, did I really need to be here? Shouldn't I be more secure in the depth of our connection.

I should have, but I wasn't. It wasn’t that I distrusted Bella. But, despite the secrets of her mind, I knew her nature well.

Bella was too kind, too loving, and too good. She could have room for us both in her heart. And, I hated the very thought of it. I had no right to, but I couldn't escape it.

The hatred was irrational and beneath my dignity, but it was also very powerful. It drew its strength from so many other intense emotions: regret, jealousy, resent…

In fact, before I could stop myself tonight, I'd found myself driving here much too early, ready to hear the truth – anxious to listen. Curiosity, or desperation, had forced me to park and wait, hoping to discover her true feelings. Even now, I was unsure as to what I would actually do with this information; I only hoped it would help me prepare and strategize.

It wasn’t entirely scandalous…

Italy had changed everything. I knew now that Bella was essential to my existence.

...Jacob does not want to talk to her… could have called him over and let them talk it out…Charlie was rambling...Jacob and Billy could both…

I blocked him. Jacob Black. Jacob Black. Jacob Black. Was it truly necessary to continually repeat his name? This brutal trigger for my feelings of inadequacy.

Inadequacy. Yes, that's exactly what it was. Hatred rooted in inadequacy as well…

I considered my adversary. Essentially, he was a good person and I knew that. His thoughts were irritating, juvenile, and hormonal, but he was a very genuine young man.

And yet, sincerity aside, it was also true that he was irrevocably in love with Bella. The mixture of emotions that fact stirred was frightening. This was not entirely my fault. His thoughts had revealed too much of his desperate love.

The evening he'd betrayed her trust, he'd been in a highly emotional state. Images, many of the most intimate nature, flew from his mind in a near constant stream of agony, jealousy, pain, frustration, longing, and sadness. Of course, he'd gotten them under control long enough to torment me with the image of her in the woods...the woods...the image was unbearably painful. Whether intentional or not, he’d left me with the distinct knowledge that we shared one common desire and love: Bella.

And yet, the essential question was not whether he loved Bella. This was certain.

The essential question was whether she loved him.

Was my presence in her life the only force that stood in the way of her true happiness, distracting her from her true feelings for him? The words rang false in my own ears even as I thought them, but I still could not shake the feeling that I was an obstruction, an unnatural hindrance, one that should not otherwise exist. Stop it...

I’d been through this thought process before. It ultimately lead to Volterra.

I sighed. I needed a distraction.

My eyes opened the moment I considered my new need. In an attempt to distract myself, I focused once more on determining the security of my present station. I assessed the hums and sounds in the vicinity. Remarkably, I was still undetected.

I leaned my head back against the cool leather, closed my eyes, and began to visit Bella in my mind. She was the only distraction from the tedium of the tedious.

I entered into a wonderful vision. I imagined her response when I would eventually arrive at seven o’clock. In my imagination, I focused on her warm, calming eyes that always smiled at me in their own way. Her lovely mouth curved into a shy, yet radiant smile that felt as if it was meant just for me. The warmth of her sensually delicate frame…

The image was beautiful.

And strong.

So strong, in fact that I could almost feel her palpable temperature…

Although wonderful, that contrived vision awoke in me a renewed irritation. I wanted her. I wanted to see her. I needed to touch her…

I opened my right eye and looked at the clock on my dashboard. Six twenty-seven.

He still had time.

So, with a resigned grimace, I resumed my Bella fantasy, only this time I tried to focus on the memories I had of visiting her in her room.

Her window was open for me. Through the space, open air carried her soft, inviting scent through the invisible, tiny air particles, bringing her to me long before she's aware of my arrival. I entered her room and her scent still hit me with a resounding cloud of her tantalizing aroma. I gained control as it teased my senses and pulled me, and my venom-coated mouth toward her…

The venom pooled and I forcefully wash it down.

Even in my memory, my technique is efficient and impressively refined. The moment the venom sinks to my throat, I immediately swallow again. One down, one thousand to go...

Suddenly, Charlie’s thoughts broke me from my memory as new thoughts began to enter his mind.

…the poor kid won’t forgive me if I don’t at least warn her…one day she’ll understand…maybe I will just read the paper until she’s done eating…yes, that’s a good idea…wonderful, more murders. "Chief of Police for the City of Seattle, John Davis released a comment on Thursday…

Excellent. This could take all night. Well, at least another twenty-eight minutes. After all, I knew that my cue was seven o’clock. I did not want to be late.

I needed another distraction.

I quickly turned over the key still hanging from my ignition. I needed something soothing and distracting. A little Chopin might just do the trick.

I clicked the appropriate button, anxiously waiting as the CD player whirred to life. I laid my head back again and tried to concentrate on the notes. In the distance, I could hear with perfect clarity the one reliable sound that I could have isolated even if I were miles away. Her heartbeat, again. Thump-Thump...Thump-Thump...Thump-Thump...

Steady, constant, beautiful, magnificent…reliable. Chopin’s finest compositions could not compare…nothing could…

Rustle…thump-thump...

“I don’t know why, you read the news, Dad. It only ticks you off.”

I’ll tell you what ticks me off…all that man power and no one to help those people….you’re damn right it ticks me off…this is…

“This is why everyone wants to live in a small town! It is just… Ridiculous!”

Oh, Charlie. If you only knew the depths of ridiculousness, I mused. Your daughter’s one hundred and eight year old vampire boyfriend is waiting outside your house dreading a confession that could possibly indicate that she is secretly in love with her post-pubescent werewolf friend…

I chuckled at my liberal cynicism.

“What have the big cities done wrong now?” Bella asked.

It did not sound like genuine inquiry in her voice. Was she mocking him? Did she know he was stalling? Did she know he was somehow preparing this dinner to set the tone for some proposition? What was she thinking? Perhaps I have underestimated her again, it certainly would not be the first, or last time I would probably make such a mistake.

“Seattle’s making a run for murder capital of the country. Five unsolved homicides in the last two weeks. Can you imagine living like that?” Charlie asked.

I truly anticipated the answer to his question. I wanted to take her to Alaska or New Hampshire. In premature excitement, my head spun a little at the thought of Bella attending Dartmouth with me. In my wildest dreams, I’d entertained the thought that she would come with me and become my wife. I hoped to show her that, in time, a semi-normal life was possible for us. Of course, New Hampshire was beautiful and I was certain that she would enjoy it, but I knew we would not be near a big city…

“I think Phoenix is actually higher up the homicide list, Dad. I have lived like that,” Bella remarked.

“Well, you couldn’t pay me enough,” Charlie said.

I listened to her defense. Who would have ever thought she would be in more danger here in Forks, Washington, population 3000? I shuddered at the obvious distinction in the circumstances.

...Now is the time. This shouldn't be so difficult. She will listen, and that’s all I need from her. She’s smart and she can make her own decisions. When he leaves again, she will see… if she can’t understand now…

He was preparing again. Hopefully, he would leap this time. I opened my eyes and glanced at the clock again. He had approximately twenty-four more minutes...

I heard Bella’s light walk from the kitchen to the little table accompanied by a scraping noise. It was the sound created by her depositing onto a plate the contents of the pot I’d smelled boiling as I approached the block.

...I owe this to Jacob, anyhow. He is a good kid and he’s done nothing wrong. I doubt He would have ever told me about…well, maybe, but still…

He was ready. No…he was still thinking. Where was Bella? Was she eating? We had spent too much time apart. I could not bear to be away from her gaze, her warmth, her touch. Unfortunately, that included lunchtime. I had to remind her to eat during our hour lunch periods and today had been no exception.

Here goes nothing…“Hem-hem…” Charlie started.

I tensed. I turned the music off and positioned my hands on the steering wheel, bracing myself against the steering column. I felt ridiculous as I considered the silly gesture. The column could snap so easily.

“You’re right. I did have a reason for doing this. I wanted to talk to you.” Charlie began.

Anxiety washed over me. I'd known this was coming, but I suddenly felt as unprepared as Charlie. How could he possibly phrase the words he was thinking in a way that would elicit a response from her? She would never bare her soul to Charlie, of course, but I wanted...no, needed...to listen. Her unguarded heartbeats, her breath, and her feet and any other compulsory responses to his words would be my only source of confirmation, or...denial. Bella moved and set something down. Was it her plate? I was sure she had not taken more than a bite or two. I felt a sudden surge of irritation at her willful disregard for her health.

“You could have just asked,” she said.

“Yeah. I’ll remember that next time. I thought taking dinner off your hands would soften you up.”

His feet shuffled and I could hear the unprecedented silence of his thoughts. It was deafening. Was he going to wing it after all of this preparation? Bella laughed. It sounded more like a giggle, only...it was unsteady. I replayed the slight vibrations, listening intently. She was nervous.

Would she speak freely if she were this nervous? Of course, she would...that could work out well. Her human nerves gave her away more times than not. Rarely did they cease to expose her deepest feelings. They made her cheeks blush whenever I kissed her soft, pink lips. Her nerves were the force behind the quickening thumps of her heart in sensual anticipation. Because of her nerves, I was certain she wanted me as much as I wanted her.

“It worked, your cooking skills have me soft as a marshmallow. What do you need, Dad?” she asked.

“Well, it’s about Jacob…”

I shuddered at the actual verbalization of Charlie’s thoughts, even though I was aware of what was coming. Her feet shifted. Petite and soft on the floor, but I practically felt the tension in her movement.

“What about him?” she asked tersely, too quickly.

Perhaps this would not bode too terribly for me after all…

Maybe, just maybe, if she indicated at some point that his suggestion was unwelcome, I could spare her the pleading from Charlie and time my arrival a little early!

No, I wanted to be sure. Patience...

“Easy, Bells. I know you’re still upset that he told on you, but it was the right thing. He was being responsible.”

“Responsible…right,” her tone was promising. “So, what about Jacob?”

...she’s still angry…won’t go well….She will …shut down, just like her mother…

“Don’t get mad at me, okay?” he asked, almost with a plea in his tone.

“Mad?” she asked.

Something creaked under the stress of movement. It sounded as if one of them was shifting uncomfortably in their chair. Her heart continued its pace, which had only quickened once. She did not seem angry, only mildly irritated.

“Well, it’s about Edward, too.”

I stiffened, again, waiting. Her heart began speeding up just the tiniest bit again. Did she scowl just then? I caught myself stifling a small grin at the vivid image of her pout and the small crease between her brows when she scowled.

“I let him in the house, don’t I?” Charlie said.

...She’s lucky I don’t shoot him and bury him the woods for leaving her the way he did out there, all alone...

I automatically frowned as Charlie remembered the image of Bella leaving the woods with assistance. I unsuccessfully struggled to push it away, but the image hit me despite my attempt to shut it down. It felt no stronger than my current version from Jacob's mind, but it was different. It was clouded with feelings of anger. Anger for me…

Then, suddenly, something snapped. Somehow, I’d missed a detail before…

In the vision from Charlie, a minute smudge of dirt was caked above her right cheek as she stumbled from the woods. I couldn’t believe I’d missed that before. What had she done then to get that smudge in such an unlikely position? She looked so cold, so white, and so broken. I shuddered again, trying to block him out of defense. I was partially successful then as my attentions diverted to the sound of Bella’s voice.

“You do, for brief periods. Of course, you might let me out of the house for brief periods now and then, too. I’ve been pretty good lately,” she said.

Little liar. I chortled and quickly remembered our fiasco from just last night. The sensational memory of our touching and breathing was soaked into my mind. She’d laid against my chest as I’d cradled her warmth towards me. My hands were relentlessly tangled into her thick hair as she’d rested. She was fighting sleep at first, but she began to lose the battle as soon as I’d began to hum her lullaby.

And then, I'd heard Charlie’s thoughts. In a split second, he’d decided to check on Bella.

Before he’d turned the handle to her door, I had found myself hidden in her closet. I'd stifled my breath and she pretended to sleep, throwing in a light toss and turn for the effect. We’d waited carefully until Charlie was satisfied enough to shut the door and trudge off to his room. In three swift steps, I'd been snuggled up against her again. I had noticed then that her cheeks were a beautiful high color. Eventually, she’d admitted she’d been scared and we'd quietly laughed together until I’d resumed the humming of her lullaby and she drifted off to sleep…

Even now, I was surprised at how strong the memory was. As I recalled the warmth of her body next to mine, I selfishly let the remembered sensations fill my head. I indulged completely until her remembered scent became too uncomfortable to ignore. Just the memory of her spurred a fresh wash of venom. I disposed of it down the back of my throat of in a fraction of a second, ignoring the searing pain. Two down, one thousand to go.

My focus shifted to the human conversation.

“Well, that’s kind of where I was heading with this…” Charlie said.

“I’m confused, Dad. Are we talking about Jacob, Edward, or me being grounded?” she asked.

“Sort of all three?”

“And how do they relate?” her voice was unsteady, wary even.

“Okay!” he sighed. “So, I’m thinking maybe you deserve a parole for good behavior. For a teenage you’re amazingly non-whiney”

“Seriously? I am free?” she was cautious, yet just as surprised I was...

Yes! A thousand possibilities sprang forward. I wanted to take her to our meadow, again. We could have at least three hours alone there. Was she thinking the same thing? I felt some magnificent, strange sensation flowing through me a that thought. Was it joy? Joy at the prospect of having her with me, in the sunshine, alone, watching the clouds pass and speaking freely with no interruptions…did she feel the same way? I felt warm for once as the sensation passed through me. I hoped it was joy and I hoped she felt it too. I wished I could see her face, but…wait…I didn’t see this coming...

This must be his ploy…I thought quickly about Charlie’s new offer. The reasons he’d provided for his leniency were shaky at best. Surely, he would set in place some provision?

Ah. In a stroke of inspiration, I understood. Ever the angler, Charlie was using this leniency as bait. It was simple, yet effective. I was impressed.

“Conditionally…I…well, I am hoping you will use some of that freedom…judiciously,” he said.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

Bella, it means conditionally and judiciously, as in, unequivocally with Jacob Black…

“I know you’re satisfied to spend all of your time with Edward…” he started.

I heard his feet move. His thoughts sounded harsher with the very mention of my name. I grimaced at the reminder that I would probably never convince him that I love her.

“I spend a lot of time with Alice too…”

“That’s true, but you have other friends besides the Cullen’s, Bella. Or, you used to. When was the last time you spoke with Angela Weber?” he accused.

"Cullen’s" had now taken on a new tone simply by its association with me. Of course, Alice was probably excluded from this, and perhaps my father Carlisle.

“Friday at lunch!” she answered, too quickly.

“Outside of school?” he probed.

“I haven’t seen anyone outside of school, Dad. I’ve been grounded, remember? Angela has a boyfriend, too. She’s always with Ben. If I am really free maybe we could double,” Bella added.

“Okay. But then you and Jake used to be joined at the hip, and now…” Charlie said.

Her heart stammered a bit at that. Was it in response to his name? I felt my frown forming.

“Can you get to the point, Dad? What’s your condition, exactly?”

“I don’t think you should dump all your other friends for your boyfriend, Bella. It’s not nice, and I think your life would be better balanced if you kept some other people in it. What happened last September…” he trailed off.

I flinched. I heard her feet shift again and a small sigh escaped from her probably carefully masked expression. Did it hurt her as much as it hurt me? No, perhaps even more. She was the victim. I was the perpetrator in that situation. In every situation.

“Well, if you’d had more of a life outside of Edward Cullen, it might not have been like that,” he defended.

Edward Cullen. The image of her stumbling from the woods floated from his thoughts again, branches in her hair, her eyes, and the smudge. I successfully blocked him this time and felt a wave of relief.

“It would have been exactly like that,” she mumbled.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Charlie admitted.

“The point?” she asked.

“Use your new freedom to see your other friends, too. Keep it balanced.”

“Balance is good. Do I have specific time quotas to fill, though?”

“Particularly Jacob…” Charlie added.

I listened. Her heart made one leap that was out of its routine, but nothing else. No quick breathing. No shifting. What did that mean?

“Jacob might be difficult…” she trailed off.

Difficult. This was torture. What did that mean? Bella and Charlie were both silent for longer than appropriate. And then I understood…

Here it comes, Charlie. She’ll take the bait. She’s too good natured, just like you. Easy prey.

“The Blacks are practically family, Bella. And, Jacob has been a very, very good friend to you. Don’t you miss him at all?”

What? Why was he being so forward? Where was the list? Where was he really going with this? What would she say?

Suddenly, I regretted this. I regretted my choice, my lack of trust, my insolence. Charlie was now asking the question I’d desperately wanted answers to, or at least I’d thought I did.

Did I really? What had I been thinking then? This eavesdropping was desperate and dishonorable…

I shook my head in disgust at my audacity. Hearing thoughts with no effort of my own was one thing; intentionally stalking the woman I loved was another.

She was going to answer. I took one quick, sharp intake of breath and held it, bracing myself, cautious of my hold on my steering wheel. My body tightened further in anticipation of her answer.

“Yes, I do miss him. I miss him a lot,” she responded.

My mind went blank for a fraction of a second until it begun its inevitable tailspin. Was it longing, sadness, or despair in her voice? I rapidly assessed her words distinguishing between the small tone inflections human ears would never detect; it was a combination of all three. I turned my head sharply to the street, rejecting her words, focusing on nothing in particular. Brutal images of her holding out for his hand flashed in front of my eyes, the sound of her voice mumbling his name in her sleep flooded my mind…’my Jacob’

I winced in pain as that hollow,the dreaded hollow I hadn’t felt since Volterra, returned with an ache in the middle of my chest. I focused my mind on overcoming it.

I needed to think. I needed to leave. I needed to compose myself and prepare. She was expecting me in less than twelve minutes.

I watched my own movements as if from a distance as I started my vehicle. I did not fail to notice the unnatural pallor of my glowing white hands as they clutched my steering wheel.

They radiated a sickening white light that was intensified further by my dark leather. My personal reminders of an accidental existence.

I needed another distraction. I pulled away from the curb and opened my mind to the thoughts around the neighborhood, letting the inanities of humanity fill my mind.

I did not want to look in or hear the house as I passed it. I tried to chastise myself as I considered what I’d heard. Not only had my behavior been beyond disgraceful, but I'd blatantly violated an implied trust. Trust that would have been respected by any honest gentleman…

The moment I’d cleared her street, the shame invaded. Her admission was ringing around in my head, dizzying me with desperate realization. Although I had suspected as much, the confirmation still seemed surreal. She’d said that she missed him.

My face fell. That was very strong evidence. Could it be that despite her love for me...despite our connection...Bella loved Jacob Black? My Bella...My Bella loved Jacob Black…

The despair was suffocating. If it was the case, then it was my fault. My mistake would jeopardize everything. The prospect of losing her was all the more painful as potential became possibility.

As if intent on making their case, my eyes drifted back to my bright white hands yet again. I sneered a little at their peculiar, monstrous glow. I’d always considered the unnatural tone to my skin in relation to humans, but for some reason now they were more curious.

I watched them with interest, but eventually, morbid curiosity morphed into disgust.

I looked away toward the road.

Of course, she loved him. Whether her conscious, human mind understood it or not, her instincts could compel her to seek him. Life has a strange way of mutating variables to suit its needs. Was there a primal instinct that he was triggering?

If Charlie were susceptible to his triggered instincts in response to me, could the same situation happen with Bella? Did Bella’s life crave Jacob because he could create it? All I could do is take it away. By choosing Jacob, she would choose a future. I would not stop her for my own happiness. This realization pushed defeat through me…

I knew it was impossible to know for sure.

As if right on cue, Alice’s vision that was lingering in the back of my mind since I'd seen his thoughts that day in the woods flashed forward:

A smiling, radiant, slightly pregnant Bella sitting on a sandy beach. She was still pale, but with a perfect blush on her cheeks, her long dark hair swinging as she bent down to pick up something. In the vision, she smiled sweetly, her eyes tired from the strain of pregnancy.

When I’d seen the vision for the first time, it had hit me so hard I nearly stumbled. The possibility of her choosing Jacob Black and life was legitimate, possible. Of course, very quickly, the vision had disappeared. Alice had immediately resumed her recitation of the first twelve tenets of Hammurabi’s Code, but I had still seen it.

I tried to push the memory away now. That was hardly what I needed at the moment if I hoped to retain any shred of sanity. If I were to show up flustered, she would know. How could I face her? How could I explain myself? No, it was too shameful. I took a left turn down the main street. The driving helped as I considered my options.

I knew that I was still prepared to love her for the remainder of her human life. I would eventually lose her to death, disease or old age, but if she chose Jacob Black, I knew she would live fully. If she chose Jacob, I could still fulfill that plan. I could always be here, waiting, perhaps watching her life through Alice’s mind. This solution didn’t feel like rationalization thought, it felt like acceptance.

Jacob’s image of the two of them sharing a smile in his garage flew into my mind. I winced as grief and unfathomable frustration began to swarm in.

I passed the first set of buildings, which preceded the town square, and felt my mind buzz with the overwhelming pull of my emotions. I pulled over. Sliding onto the shoulder, I parked and focused on the large, green, moss-covered rock that was directly in front of my headlights.

I took a deep breath and quickly cleared my thoughts.

The hollow returned.

I was momentarily dazed beyond comprehension.

I needed control. Stop. Control yourself.Starting over with this thought process would be best. Too much emotion, these are not decisions to be made too hastily. Rational thought is fundamental. Utilize the last remaining nine minutes wisely…

I rolled down my window to let the fresh, rainy air permeate the interior of my car. The air was clarifying, but I still thought of her. I couldn’t resist. A floodgate of images sprang forth, bombarding my senses with all things Bella. Her face, her eyes, her skin, her laugh, her scent, her bravery. Specific memories crowded the images as if a floodgate had been opened. I saw it all again, Bella gliding on my back through the forest, her eyes as I held her cheek in my hand and kissed her warm lips for the first time, the image of her body pressed against mine as she slept.

The strength of the images was startling. I reeled again as another strong memory rushed back to me:

Bella and I on her bed. Me, pleading with her, explaining my abandonment, begging for forgiveness. She was beautiful, capable, understanding.

“Is it because I am too late? Because I’ve hurt you too much? Because you have moved on, as I meant for you to? That would be quite…fair. I won’t contest your decision. So, don’t try to spare my feelings, please – just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I’ve done to you. Can you?”

“The way I feel about you can never change, Edward. Of course I love you - and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

“There is nothing you can do about it.”…

I exhaled and opened my eyes, training my eyes back to the mossy green rock, my new, temporary life support. I felt forced to consider the images, which showed me the instances in which she’d conveyed to me the depths of her affection, her love, and her dedication. As they whirred into my mind, I noticed a string of similarities. Bella, in her own way, had frequently sensed my conflict. She’d tried to reassure me in every way she knew how that her feelings for me were absolute, unyielding, and eternal. She wanted to sell her soul for me.

I sucked in a long breath, forced my eyes shut, leaned over my steering wheel, and tried to clear my thoughts. I must be stronger. My ability to think through this and not overreact was essential. Control your emotions and your mind.

With shaky self-possession and clarity, I tried to process several things at once.

I knew that Bella expected me to trust her love for me; particularly after all we had been through. She had even pursued circuitous measures to secure an eternity with me, and although she had not necessarily agreed to marry me, she had agreed to give me more time, a year of college or two, time that I intended to press along much further. I also knew that Bella did not possess a talent for self-preservation, this was obvious, and thereby any promises of...life...that Jacob held might not be tempting.

It would be logical to conclude that if she were to choose Jacob Black, it would mean that she loved him more, desired him more, and felt the need for him more than she did for me. If this were the case, then the feelings she’d expressed for me would have been disingenuous on some level.

Impossible. I was absolutely certain that Bella did truly have a firm will. She was honest. She did not always truly grasp her decisions until they were made, but once she made them, she was unshakably loyal to her cause.

I was also forced to consider the other evidence lingering around in my mind: “miss” did not equate “love”. Alice's visions were open to interpretation…

Alice had also seen Bella gazing at my eyes as she took in the rich scent of a bouquet of roses, wedding roses to be precise.

Alice had seen Bella awaking to immortality, Bella in Alaska, Bella hunting with me with her eyes a red glow. Those visions could change, yes.

But for now, I allowed myself to be invigorated by hope. As soon as I’d reached my conclusion, I felt ashamed to have been so easily discouraged.

“The way I feel about you can never change, Edward. Of course I love you - and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

I took another deep breath and steadied myself.

So many emotions still invaded my mind; relief, uncertainty, shame, and understanding. How could I have been so incredibly weak? Italy changed everything. Italy. The remembrance of her warmth as she slammed into me appeared in a rush of conflicting feelings. Her scent as it swirled in the air, her frantic words fraught with fear, determination, and concern. Concern for me. Concern for us, our future.

She had not given up on me, even after I’d abandoned her.

My eyes shot open as I processed the enormity of the image.

Bella had never given up on us, my life, our love, or our existence together. Was it even right to consider this? To doubt her? No, it was not. It was ridiculous even. I could fight. I could not give her up so easily, either. If I had never left her, Jacob Black would be a friend and nothing more. The future was still undetermined. I had a place in her heart. One that I would not vacate easily. She’d chosen to love me by her own volition. I would fight for her and for my survival. Italy changed everything. She’d chosen me…

I felt suddenly affirmed. I sighed in resigned annoyance as I did my best to ignore my already blooming regret.

Instead, I intently concentrated on my strategy.

I wanted to be strong for her now. I could not fail her, again. I continued to reason with myself, feeling a wash of reassurance move through me as I considered my various options.

The feeling was so profound; I turned my head to search for Jasper. I felt almost giddy now.

I took another deep breath again and rolled up my window. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head at the thought of how any human could keep up with my or any vampire’s, vast ranging, frequently changing moods and emotions. It was ludicrous. Rarely, if ever, had a human had the opportunity to try before now, before Bella. Bella! I glanced at the clock. It was six fifty-seven. Three minutes.

Observing my surroundings, I whipped off the shoulder onto the dark road heading back to her home. It was raining again and the wet grass spattered thick mud against my bumper. I would have to clean that later...

Thankfully, I had not traveled too far. Pulling down her road, one minute to spare, I slowed my speed carefully. I didn’t want to drive too recklessly on Chief Swan’s street.

I stopped at her house with a sense of new energy.

I loved her now and I would always love her as much as I could. I had a strategy. We would make plans. We would leave this place and start a life together.

If she came with me, I could win her heart forever.

I parked carefully and cut the ignition. It was time. Quickly, I snatched the manila envelope of Bella’s college applications from my storage compartment. As I held it and felt the thickness of the envelope, I grinned.

She would probably whine about the applications - and I would love every minute of it.

It didn’t mean she didn’t want to go, it was just a reminder of her humble college fund. There was so much she still didn't understand…

I opened the door, shut it quietly, and breathed deeply to prepare for her the force of her scent. I listened for the stutter in her heartbeat that always accompanied the realization of my arrival, but I got nothing right away. Her heart was just steady, reliable, and beautiful.

I caught the end of their conversation as I approached.

“Nothing. I was just wondering what…Edward’s plans are for next year?” Charlie asked cautiously. He was probing.

“Oh,” Bella said.

“Well?” he prodded.

I’d had enough of Charlie, but I still felt that nagging guilt. I renewed my vow to myself to show Charlie the man that I truly was, the man that was madly in love with his daughter, the man that would never hurt her again. In two quick movements, I was at her door, knocking. I heard it then. Thum-thum-Thump

I closed my eyes for a split second to appreciate the beauty of even her most automatic features. And, just as I had experienced so many times, as she made her way from her chair in the kitchen, the floral scent of her blood and her body preceded her. The air was still cool and damp. Her scent was heavier in the air. I had a full second to both enjoy it and fight the urges it provoked in me before she cheerfully sang in response to my knock. I forcefully swallowed back a fresh coating of venom that washed through my mouth. It was worth the pain. She was worth the pain. Three down, one thousand to go.

...Of course…perfect timing...at least I got her to admit she needed others in her life…not healthy…ridiculous…

I caught the last fragments of Charlie’s thoughts before he let out an audible grumble informing me to “go away”. Not yet, Charlie.

In another second, the door flew open and she was there, her eyes alight with their sparkle and her mouth slowly carving itself into that beautiful, wistful smile meant only for me…

She was glorious. If I could have blushed, I would have. I felt even more embarrassed for reacting the way I did.

I smiled back at her as she stood there before me. She had not changed from her soft yellow shirt since this afternoon, but somehow, standing there in the light of her dining room, she beamed an elegant beauty that left me yearning to touch her, hold her, kiss her, and feel her. Fight for her.

Our eyes locked on each other and I could not look away again. I noticed her heart speeding up. She was not breathing, again!

I was about to say something to remind her, despite how that might have sounded to Charlie, but she immediately grabbed my hands and held them in her warm fingers. It was pure joy, just touching her. There was an incredible sensation in the warmth and feel of her hands that was unbelievably comforting. She exhaled a sweet, relaxing breath when our hands were fully enveloped into one another, swirling her scent.

I ignored it and the venom that I quickly discarded down the back of my throat. Four down, one thousand to go.