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Survival of the Soul

Summary:
The trauma suffered by Bella for three years has left lasting mental scars. Surrounded by the support and love of the Cullen family, Bella begins to grow and finds out there is more to life than simply surviving. sots banner


Notes:


12. Chapter 12

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5187   Review this Chapter

Survival of the Soul

Chapter 12

By: Lady Saffir

Story Rating: R/NC-17

Chapter Rating: PG

DISCLAIMER: I’m not Stephenie Meyer. Wish I was, but I’m just me.

Thanks go out to Megami for being an awesome beta. J Again, for those on ff.net, you review, you get a sneak peek at the next chapter when I reply to your review. I prefer to look at this as an incentive rather than a bribe. ^_~ I also post teasers and answer questions over on the Alternate Universe tab of the Twilighted forums. Come play with us!

“The mother loves her child most divinely, not when she surrounds him with comfort and anticipates his wants, but when she resolutely holds him to the highest standards and is content with nothing less than his best.” Hamilton Wright Mabie

"Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death.” Earl Wilson

***************

Jasper knew he couldn’t handle a car ride to school with Bella. Not because of her scent and how powerful it would become in such a small, enclosed space, but rather her emotions. He had already had to soothe her fears during the night enough so she could sleep. He could only imagine the added strain she would be under if she started school without being well rested.

Alice appeared out of nowhere, swooping down to plant a firm, lingering kiss on his mouth. His own curled up at her enthusiasm even as he raised one eyebrow in question.

“For being a wonderful husband,” his wife stated, seating herself on his lap. “And for everything you’re going to do today to help Bella. You’re a sweetheart.”

“I’m made of pure sugar,” he drawled, smiling as Alice giggled.

“So that’s why I like to-“ Alice started, only to be cut off by an aggravated Edward.

“Can you please stop that thought? It’s bad enough with Emmett and Rosalie cooing at each other like love birds. Must you also?” Edward asked, frowning when Alice merely stuck out her tongue.

Alice looked at her watch, a frown marring her face. “What’s taking Bella so long? Why don’t you three go on ahead; we’ll be right behind you,” she directed at Rosalie.

Rosalie tossed her hair over her shoulder, linking hands with a grinning Emmett and dragging him out to the garage.

“Are you sure you want to ride with them, Jasper?” Edward asked. “If they’re feeling anything at all like what they’re thinking….” He trailed off.

Jasper grimaced. “I’ll risk it today. Maybe tomorrow,” he promised Alice, leaning down for a quick kiss even as Rosalie impatiently honked her horn.

***********

Bella eyed herself critically in the cheval mirror. She had picked her first day of school outfit on her own, Alice merely lending a suggestion here or there. She had finally settled on a deep blue t-shirt layered over a gray long sleeve shirt, topping a pair of nicely worn jeans. A pair of brown slip on shoes completed the outfit.

She looked like a normal teenage girl, didn’t she? Bella was afraid that the other kids at school would somehow know that she was different, that something was wrong with her. What would she do if they asked questions about her past? She knew the teachers had been given advance warning, but what if that information leaked out somehow? What would the boys think and expect?

The honking of a car horn coincided with Esme appearing in her doorway.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m holding everyone up. I’m sorry. I’m ready to leave, I promise,” Bella knew she was on the verge of babbling, but the thought of not only leaving the safety of the house for several hours but also knowing she would be surrounded by strangers had her even more on edge. What if she messed up and did something to tip the residents of Forks off that something was different about the Cullens? What would she do if it was her fault they had to move before they were ready?

“It’s okay, Bella,” Esme murmured, moving to stand beside her daughter. “You’ll be fine. Alice will be with you most of the day and will be looking out for any trouble. No one will let anything happen to you, I promise,” she vowed, gently pulling Bella to her in a tight hug.

Bella accepted the comfort willingly. Esme thought it was going to be okay, but still….

“What if I do something that embarrasses you?” she whispered.

“Like what?”

“What if I’m not smart enough, or didn’t learn enough this summer. What if I’m such a klutz that everyone wonders why you took me in? What if-“

“What if you have a perfectly normal first day of school?” Esme asked gently, pulling away to look at Bella. “You’ll be new there and thus the topic of some talk, but that will fade in time once the novelty wears off. You are so strong and so brave, Bella,” the force of her words drove themselves into Bella’s heart, “I know you can do this. But if it gets to be too much, tell one of the others and they’ll bring you home, I promise. But please, try. You’ll never know unless you try,” Esme said, placing a swift kiss on Bella’s forehead.

“Okay.”

The tone was less than steady, but Esme would take it.

“Good. Now, I believe it’s time you left for school.”

*****************

Bella stared up at the brick building before them. Forks High School was multileveled, and she was told, broken into several smaller buildings behind the main building. There was a light rain falling, enough to necessitate an umbrella, for which she was grateful. Umbrellas meant fewer people would be able to see her walking across the parking lot with the rest of the Cullen family. Soon enough they would get a look at her and realize she stuck out like a sore thumb from the perfection of the Cullens and Hales. She swallowed hard, not wanting to leave the confines of the car.

The door beside her swung open and Emmett’s cheerful face appeared in the opening.

“Come on, Bella. Don’t wanna be late for your first day of school now, do you?” he asked, stepping back and holding the door open.

Yes, Bella thought, sliding over the leather seat regardless. She fingered her charm bracelet once she was out of the car, the two words burning through her mind in a continuous loop.

‘Courage and hope’ she thought. ‘Courage and hope.’

Bella stepped underneath the umbrella Alice was holding and the two women followed Edward to their English class.

*************

Even with her head down Bella knew she was being stared at, could hear the whispers. One boy had already tried to approach, but one look from Edward had him back-tracking to his desk. She was seated in the far row of chairs, Alice beside her and Edward behind her. They were also in the back corner which helped keep the gawking down, but still, Bella knew she was the focus of attention and not the teacher who was going over the semester’s syllabus.

The class was wrapping up, the teacher having handed out one last sheaf of papers when the girl in front of Bella turned around, her smile hesitant.

“You’re Isabella?”

“Bella,” she corrected automatically, wincing at her tone. The girl seemed not to notice anything was wrong.

“I’m Angela Weber. Welcome to Forks,” was all she said, turning back and neatly tucking her papers into her backpack before standing and heading out the door.

“Bella? You ready? I’ll show you where your history class is,” Alice offered, smiling and linking arms with her sister as they left the classroom.

***********

It was worse in History. With no Alice or Edward there to run interference, the other students didn’t hesitate to approach her. The girl that had introduced herself in English was also in this class, taking a seat next to Bella casually. The next person was a bouncing, overly friendly girl who introduced herself as Jessica Stanley and then proceeded to try to interrogate Bella as to her past and why she was living with the Cullens.

“So how long have you been with Dr. and Mrs. Cullen?” Jessica’s question sounded casual but Bella could see she was dying for as much information as possible.

“A few months.”

“Where-“

“Miss Stanley, I am ready to start class. Do you think you’re ready to listen?” The teacher – Mrs. Hammock, Bella recalled – broke in, her gaze stern as she watched Jessica retreat to a seat a few rows away.

Bella took a deep breath, fingering her charm once more.

**************

Remind me to do something unpleasant to Jessica Stanley

Alice’s thoughts startled Edward from his reverie. He had been staring sightlessly at the front board, trying to block his classmate’s thoughts from his own. The tenor of Alice’s thoughts was rather dark, he noted, automatically sifting through the minds in the school until he zeroed in on Jessica.

She was in Bella’s history class, he saw. Her thoughts had his fist curling in anger. How could a human being be so childish?

I don’t get it; there must be something wrong with her, Jessica thought, flicking a quick look over at Bella. Alice Cullen escorted her to class and she jumps at every little sound. What’s her deal? I’ll try talking to her after class, see if I can get the inside scoop. Oooh, I wonder if she’s seen Edward without a shirt on yet. I bet-

Edward jerked out of her mind, not wanting to see what she could possibly be fantasizing about him.

“What’s she going to do?” Edward whispered, knowing only Alice could hear him.

Try and trap Bella after history. Which reminds me that we should also do something nice for Angela Weber. She and Bella are going to become good friends.

Angela was a good person, Edward knew, and just the sort of friend Bella could use. He settled back in his seat and listened in on Angela’s thoughts for the rest of the period.

**************

Bella had a feeling that Jessica was going to try and talk to her again when class ended. She had Trig next with Alice but had no idea where the class was, or if Alice was going to show up to guide her. The minute hand on the clock continued its onward trek despite Bella wishing time would slow. She didn’t want to have to talk to Jessica again.

Ignoring Bella’s plea, the bell sounded. Sighing, Bella took her time gathering her things, hoping if she was slow no one would bother her.

“Do you, like, need help finding your next class?” Jessica’s overly cheerful voice sounded to Bella’s left.

Before Bella could even think of a reply another voice was chiming in.

“I already told Bella I’d show her to where our next class is,” Angela lied smoothly. “Ready, Bella?”

Grateful she wouldn’t have to deal with Jessica, Bella gladly followed Angela out into the crowded hallway, shuddering as other students pushed past her, brushing against her and forcing her to stumble.

“You okay?” Angela asked, stopping in a little alcove.

Bella gratefully leaned against the wall, her breath coming easier now that she wasn’t completely surrounded by other students.

“I’m okay.”

“Um, Bella…what is your next class?” Angela asked sheepishly. “I didn’t want to leave you to Jessica’s not so tender mercy. I hope you don’t mind,” she added.

“It’s okay,” Bella replied. “I have Trig next,” she continued.

“Shoot. I’m going the complete opposite direction. I should have time to show you where that class is, though,” Angela offered.

“I can show her.”

Jasper’s deep voice startled both teenagers, Bella whirling to stare, her breath catching. Calm spread rapidly through her, thanks to Jasper’s talent.

“Thank you,” Bella muttered to Angela before moving to Jasper’s side. She suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that Jasper had been manipulating her emotions throughout the morning, but she had no idea if he was capable of doing so over a distance. She didn’t want to ask, afraid of insulting the man next to her. She rather hoped that she had been able to handle things on her own, even though she knew it was unlikely.

Shame and embarrassment swept through her as she concluded that Jasper had been helping her. So much for her ability to handle things, she thought bitterly. Esme would be disappointed to find out she had needed help for something as silly as talking to another person.

“What’s wrong, Bella?”

Jasper’s low tone had Bella jumping, flushing as she realized he knew how she was feeling.

“Thank you for helping me this morning,” Bella mumbled, keeping her eyes focused on the tiled floor in front of her.

“You think I’ve been monitoring and bolstering your emotions throughout the morning?” Jasper asked. They were stopped by now, standing next to a bank of lockers. Students swirled past them, unconsciously avoiding stepping too close to the vampire in their midst.

“Yes,” Bella admitted.

“I have been checking up on you,” Jasper started, raising one hand to halt Bella when she opened her mouth. “But I haven’t done anything to affect your emotions beyond what I did just now when I startled you.”

“What…but…I,” Bella stammered. That wasn’t possible, she thought. There’s no way she could have handled everything without help, regardless of how much she wished that were true.

“There were a few times were I almost stepped in,” Jasper allowed. “But you calmed yourself down and handled everything just fine. Just remember you can do it and you’ll make it through the rest of the day without a problem.”

Tears shimmered across Bella’s vision, making Jasper go blurry.

Jasper cast a panicked look down the hallway. He knew Alice was about to turn the corner and she would not be happy with him about Bella crying. He should have kept his mouth shut, he thought, quickly doing what he could to calm Bella.

He was happy to see that she settled quickly, sniffing once before turning to look at Alice as she appeared at their side.

“Ready for math, Bella?” Alice asked.

Bella simply nodded, following Alice into the classroom. She missed the quick wink and blown kiss the petite vampire sent her husband.

********************

Math passed all too quickly, in Bella’s estimation. It wasn’t her favorite subject by any means, but the end of Trig meant that she had Spanish, which meant a class without Alice or any of the others with her. Jasper met her and Alice outside of the math room and escorted them to the next building over that held the foreign language classrooms.

“I’m just next door in French,” Alice assured her. “I’ll meet you right here and we’ll go to lunch together.”

Alice waited for Bella to go into the classroom before turning back to Jasper. Her eyes went blank for a moment as she looked ahead, sighing to herself when she came back to the present.

“Alice?” Jasper murmured.

“Will you ask Mr. Banner if he minds if we have lunch in his room today?” Alice asked. “I don’t see lunch going well for Bella if she goes to the cafeteria today.”

“Of course,” her husband promised. “Anything I need to say to get him to agree?”

Alice bit her lip, considering. “Let him know that you’re concerned about how Bella’s doing, that you want to give her a little bit of time to relax with just the family present.” She searched ahead. “I don’t think you’ll need to give him a push,” she added, bouncing up to place a kiss on his cheek. “That’s for earlier,” she explained.

“I like my reward, but it isn’t necessary,” Jasper said. “I would have done it nonetheless.”

“I know.”

***************

Bella saw with dread that Jessica was in her Spanish class. Hoping the other girl wouldn’t see her she quickly slid into a seat in the back and bent down as if she were rummaging around in her book bag. Luck was against her. The other girl had been keeping an eye on the door, hoping the newest student to Forks’ High would be in her class.

Jessica moved to sit next to Bella, not seeing the cringe and sigh Bella let out when she began speaking.

“Hi! So, what’s the rest of your schedule? Do we have any more classes together? I could, like, show you around,” she offered, continuing. “You can sit with me at lunch and I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

Jessica was looking at her with such expectation that Bella didn’t know how to decline. She didn’t want to meet anyone else. Wasn’t it enough that she had talked to Angela Weber a couple of times today? What did Jessica want from her?

“Hello, Earth to Bella! So, what do you think?”

“I, um…I’m supposed to eat with the others,” Bella rushed out, blushing and looking down at the desktop.

“What, they won’t let you eat with anyone else?” Jessica criticized.

“No, I …I want to eat with them.”

“Well-“

Mrs. Goff, having monitored the conversation, interrupted. She could see that Bella was becoming more flustered and upset the more Jessica questioned her and moved to stop the line of inquiry.

“Miss Stanley, the bell has rung.”

The tone more than the words had Jessica closing her mouth with a snap.

*************

“Are you sure you don’t want to eat with me instead?” Jessica tried again as the bell signaling the start of the lunch hour sounded.

“I’m sure,” Bella replied. She took her time loading her book and syllabus into her bag, hoping Jessica would get the hint and leave without her. She kept her head down, dawdling until the other girl finally left with a sigh.

Sighing herself, Bella stood, passing through the doorway to find Alice waiting for her.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t mean to take so long. I’m sorry I’m cutting into your lunch hour.”

“No worries, Bella,” Alice replied. “We’re going this way,” she corrected, as Bella turned towards the cafeteria.

“Oh, but I thought-“

“We’re eating lunch in the biology room,” Alice explained. “I saw you getting a little stressed if we ate in the cafeteria so we’ll skip that today; give you some time to unwind. The guys always pile the food on their trays, so you’ll have a buffet to choose from.”

Relief flooded through Bella as she followed Alice through the now deserted corridors. She hadn’t been looking forward to lunch at all. The thought of being surrounded by that many students was just too much. Grateful Alice had looked ahead, Bella re-adjusted her book bag and hoped she’d be able to eat something.

**************

Lunch passed all too quickly. It had been wonderful to simply to focus on only five people and already know where you stood with them. Bella had felt wasteful for the amount of food she hadn’t been able to eat, but her stomach was still tied in knots. She managed a few bites of pizza and a half a container of vanilla pudding before giving up and playing with her drink lid.

Around her, the others compared and bemoaned their classes and classmates. Emmett teased Edward, asking what new fantasies the girls had thought up involving themselves and Edward. Jasper sat back, one arm draped lazily over the back of Alice’s chair as he watched the banter exchanged between brothers. Rosalie announced she had overheard Lauren Mallory say that she was the prettiest girl in school, not Rosalie, and had been laughed at for such a statement.

It was almost like being home and having the others keep her company while she ate dinner, Bella thought. The image was ruined by the sound of Mr. Banner in his office, his keyboard clicking as he checked email and read the news. Maybe they could eat lunch in here every day, she thought, wishing this could happen but knowing she would eventually need to face the crowded lunch room.

When the bell rang everyone but Edward stood, tossing their goodbyes over their shoulder as they left. The silence that followed was deafening. After spending the time with Emmett’s booming voice and Alice’s trilling soprano in the small classroom, Bella felt anything she had to say would come out sounding stupid and childish.

“Why don’t we sit back here?” Edward suggested, picking up Bella’s bag and moving to the back middle table. Bella followed, still mute, making Edward worry. While she had other classes without one of the family, this was the one period that the only other person she knew was a male vampire. Given her history, Edward was afraid she would be even more tense and almost offered to sit at another table.

Mike Newton made Edward’s mind up for him when he walked through the door and saw Bella.

Score! She’s in my class. Maybe I can talk to her, see if she wants to go to the football game with me Friday. Ugh, she’s next to Cullen….

Edward watched with narrowed eyes as Mike placed his bag on the table next to them, closest to Bella.

“Hey, I’m Mike Newton. We have English together, remember?”

Edward watched from the corner of his eye as Bella flinched, staring up at the boy standing next to her. Her heartbeat increased, her cheeks flooding with color. Edward bit back a growl. If Mike so much as made Bella twitch in a way he didn’t like, Newton was dead.

“Um, not really,” Bella replied. She cast her mind back to first period but was unable to match the face before her to one in her memory.

“Oh. Well, um, I – I thought I would, uh, just stop by and say hi,” Mike stammered.

Edward chuckled to himself. Bella’s tone had been cool and collected, sounding dismissive of the boy before her. In reality, he was sure, she was ready to bolt.

Mr. Banner called the class to order, cutting any more chance Mike thought he had of starting a conversation with his new classmate.

************

Edward walked Bella to her final class even though he was sure she could figure out how to get to the gym by herself. Newton was still coming up with ways to talk to Bella and try to ask her out and he wanted to give him no opportunity to do so. He was annoyed to find that Mike trailed behind them, his last class also gym, for which the teen was thrilled.

Excellent! She’ll be able to see how awesome I am at basketball Mike thought. Edward jumped from his mind at that point, trying to refrain from turning around and pulling the boy behind a building and ripping his head off. He had degenerated into a fantasy land where an awestruck Bella was praising his court prowess while draping herself all over him.

Not likely, Edward thought. And poor Mike was going to be in for quite the surprise when he found out Bella’s big brother shared the class with them.

*************

Emmett listened to Edward’s fast recount of Mike’s thoughts as they watched Alice and Bella enter the gym.

“I’m going to make that little punk wish he’d never seen Bella,” Emmett growled.

“Easy,” Edward cautioned. “I want to scare him off too, but you have to be careful. Don’t let Bella know what you’re doing.”

Emmett was suddenly cheerful, slapping his brother on the back before heading into the gymnasium.

Don’t worry, bro, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

Edward listened in to his brother’s plan as he headed for Spanish, a chuckle escaping.

************

Bella sat between Alice and Emmett on the bleachers as they listened to Coach Clapp explain the breakdown of class time.

“Alright, folks, here’s how it’s going to work. The first half of the semester will be physical activity. We’ll be doing different sports every few weeks and you must participate. You don’t have to be good at it,” he added, ignoring the student’s groans and protests. “You just have to try. You’ll need to bring either shorts or sweats and a shirt to wear every day. You don’t dress, you don’t get points for that day.

“Now, for the second half, we’ll switch to the health portion. You will have a paper due by the end of the semester on a topic of my choosing. Again, daily participation is required. Any questions?” There was a beat of silence, then the older man clapped his hands.

“Alright then! Today’s open gym. You can play basketball, volleyball, or walk around the outside of the court, but I expect to see you moving.”

*************

Emmett kept an eye on Mike Newton as they played basketball. The typical human aversion for spending any time near a vampire kept Mike leery, but Emmett had a feeling he was more aware of the fact that Bella’s big brother was on the same court and so kept his distance.

Emmett was aware that most only took in his physical appearance, assuming that he was rather lacking in the brains department, his brothers being forced to assist him with homework. While it was true that Emmett did not enjoy the pursuit of knowledge to the extent of Jasper and Edward, but he fancied himself to be very observant of other’s behavior. He enjoyed betting and gambling and thus was always on the look-out for other’s tells.

The quick glances Newton would shoot towards Bella and Alice as they paced about the perimeter of the court, followed by a guilty flushing and equally quick look towards Emmett had him smirking. Tomorrow's gym class would prove most amusing.

***********

The final bell rang, freeing Bella from the torment of high school. She wanted no more than to bolt for the car, Alice’s restraining hand the only thing keeping her from suiting action to thought.

“Steady, Bella,” Alice murmured, shooting her husband a quick look as he joined them. “You just need to get to the car and round the first bend of the road. One minute and fifty-eight seconds, that’s all.”

Bella took in a shuddering breath. “No, let me do it on my own,” she shot a quick, pleading look at Jasper, trying to smile and failing when he inclined his head in agreement. She turned to focus on the Volvo, her vision narrowing to the silver car parked on the edge of the lot.

One foot in front of the other, Bella narrowed the remaining distance, not hearing the shouts of the other students around her or even noticing when Edward and Rosalie joined them. She didn’t hear the worried questions from Rosalie regarding her state or the continued stream of encouragement Alice whispered in her ear.

There. The rear passenger door of the Volvo was before her, opening easily and allowing her to slide into the comforting confines of the car. She barely noticed Alice sliding in next to her, or Edward and Jasper entering the front of the car.

“We’re out of sight, Bella,” Alice’s words broke through the tight concentration Bella was maintaining. “It’s okay now. No one will see.”

Bella shook her head tightly, forcing the words around the tight stricture of her throat.

“How long till we’re home?” She whispered.

“Go, Edward,” Alice commanded.

Bella felt the car leap beneath her, the throaty growl of the engine fading away as she focused on holding everything together.

************

Esme made it a point to be home all day, her phone always on her. She checked the screen half a dozen times an hour, afraid she had somehow missed a call from the school. Unable to maintain her concentration on any one project, she flitted about the house, re-arranging furniture here and swiping at non-existent motes of dust.

As the time drew closer to the children being home, Esme found herself unable to decide where she should be when everyone arrived home. In her office, appearing to be hard at work? In the living room calmly watching T.V.? At the door? Esme was afraid that whatever her decision, it would be the wrong one. What did Bella need? Did she even need her?

A short beep signaling a text had Esme grasping for her phone.

“In the kitchen,” she read, thanking Alice silently for providing her with an answer. She moved to the kitchen, intent on appearing as if she had just happened to be working when they arrived home.

*******

They were taking the driveway too fast, Esme noted, her fear growing. Edward wouldn’t drive like that with Bella in the car. What had happened?

She waited for the two cars to pull into the garage, giving up any pretense of working. Rosalie and Emmett were through the door first, their worried faces only heightening Esme’s dread. Edward was behind them, running his hands through his hair in frustration.

There. Alice and Bella appeared in the doorway, the petite vampire keeping one supporting hand under Bella’s elbow as she mechanically walked into the house. Jasper followed, his gaze centered on Bella.

What had happened? What was wrong with Bella? Her name slipped out before Esme could stop the word, the worry more than evident in her voice.

“Bella?”

*************

Bella was faintly aware of the fact that they were taking the hairpin turns of the drive at a dangerous speed but she was beyond complaint at this point. She wanted to urge Edward to go even faster. The tires screeching to a halt in the garage had her blinking once.

“We’re here, Bella. Come on, let’s go inside,” Alice urged, pulling her gently from the car. “We’re home, it’s okay.”

Bella felt her head move, a sharp shake negating Alice’s words. They weren’t home quite yet. Jasper had told her she could handle the rest of the day on her own, and she would. The distance to her goal narrowed, each step taken just a bit faster than the previous.

They stepped into the kitchen, and she was faintly aware of the others fanned out, all turned towards her. She was almost there, so close….

“Bella?”

Esme’s voice broke through. With a sob Bella launched herself into the waiting woman’s arms. There. She was finally home and it was okay. She didn’t have to be strong right now. Esme would keep her safe.

************

Edward unabashedly monitored the emotions in the room through Jasper. The sharp spike in worry and fear from Esme abated as she wrapped her arms about Bella, her thoughts only of providing comfort. From Bella herself there was only sudden, extreme relief as she allowed Esme to pull her into a tight embrace.

So that’s what she was waiting for, Jasper mused. Home isn’t so much a place for her as a person.

**************

Esme pulled Bella into the living room, tucking them into the loveseat, her hand continuously stroking Bella’s hair. Almost half an hour passed before Bella’s shudders lessened, prompting Esme to speak.

“Was it that bad?”

Bella raised one shoulder in a half shrug.

“Did something happen?”

A shake of the head was her answer.

“Alice?” Esme pleaded.

“I don’t think it was any one thing, Esme,” Alice began slowly. “I think it was a slow accumulation of the day.”

“Sweetheart, why didn’t you say something?” Esme half-heartedly scolded. “You don’t have to endure something that pains you. Let us know and we’ll do what we can to help you.”

At her words Bella jerked up, her eyes wide.

“No! I-Jasper said I could make it through the day on my own, so I did,” she explained.

“Jasper!”

“No!” Bella interrupted Esme. “I-I wanted to make it through on my own.”

Esme had no words for this. She instead settled for hugging Bella to her once more, only remarking, “we’ll watch a movie before dinner. What would you like to see?”