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Before sunset

Bellie Award Nominee for best one-liner. This was wrong. Her heart belonged to another, to Jacob. It was wrong to want him: want his blood, want his soul, want his kiss. But how could Renesmee refuse, when Mathias was offering himself to her so willingly, in anyway she was willing to accept him? And if Moira really could save the Cullens, Mathias was part of the package. Besides, wouldn't Jacob want her to be happy until they could be together at last? Rated R for language, mature themes (lightly lemon in later chapters)


1. It tolls for thee

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Wednesday, May 14th, 10:33 AM.

In that moment, without detail or explanation, I knew the last thread had just been cut. There was no compelling reason to stay any more. We had not had a compelling reason for years. What we had were rationalizations. Every month longer, though, I knew put us more in the way of heretofore idle gossip. Already there were whisperings that those Cullens must have discovered the fountain of youth. Lying low had afforded us a little more time than we could have hoped for. Not that any Cullen ever tried to garner the limelight, but some people just attract attention.


When I had come to school at the start of my freshman year at Forks High, they regarded me as just another case of Dr. and Mrs. Cullen’s sympathy; yet another foster child. I was presented as a distant cousin of their adopted son, Edward. My “family” were members of a small universalist compound and had fallen on hard times. I had written my cousin who then was able to convince his adopted family to take me in. Our commune, I told my classmates, lacked of most modern conveniences: tv, radio, computers, ipods. This would explain to them why I lacked in so much of their cultural capital. I didn’t remember when South Park was new. I didn’t remember when Ledger died. I didn’t remember PBS kids and pizza Fridays in the junior high cafeteria. And also, I was Canadian: a foreigner in every way and not possibly reconcilable to their expectations.

This inability to find common ground had created the situation as intended: they were reluctant to talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to them either, I would tell myself. Talking would lead to friendships. Eventually, friendships would lead to discovery. I had decided that although it left me incredibly isolated and lonely during the drudgery of school it was best to be considered the outsider.

But there were downsides to being a grateful social outcast. It was never my intent to make enemies or invite ridicule. Yet, this is all I seemed to do. The reality was hard for me to understand: never had I said a cross word or taken a later-regrettable action. And yet, they seemed to despise me. Labeled behind my back as Sullen Cullen, they interpreted my self-induced solitude as a social ineptitude.

“What’s your real name, anyway?” one leggy co-classman had asked me one late September day with a certain air of accusation.

“I’m…sorry?” my voice had come across soft, sincere, but concerned. Was she implying my name was fictional? Or that I had a selection of aliases that I sorted through at random?

“I mean, you’re a foster kid, right? Even if they adopt you, it’s not like you’re anything more than a tax write off for them. So what’s your real name? What the heck does Renesmee mean anyways?”

I did not answer. I just turned away and walked towards the parking lot to wait for my father. I don't like to lie, but quite often the truth gave away too much. Silence is my symbolic third path, but I felt that I had somehow let down my family by not rising to their defense. But how could I tell a little without telling them a lot? As I saw my father’s car pull into the parking lot, I imagined the impassioned speech I would offer up the next time:

I am not a tax write off. I am the daughter of Edward and Bella Cullen, and I am their joy. I am loved by many with a passion and understanding born of centuries of discipline, determination, and self-sacrifice, and I am protected by a wolf that would sooner bit off his own paw than to cause me pain. You, on the other hand, would be a nice little toy for him to play with.

Or better, you could be a nice little snack ...

“Nessie!” Edward rebuked me. Of course he would have seen the image that had just passed in my mind. I saw myself cornering her in the girls’ bathroom. I would make sure to lock the door behind me so we wouldn't be disturbed. She would look at me with disgust at first, as they all did. Why did they all hate me so much? But, she would see my eyes closing in on her. I would come at her with such force as to allow her no chance to scream. Her body would panic. Her heart would race, warming her skin as my teeth tore at her flesh. She would suddenly come to realize I what I was, as her blood began to flow warmly down my throat.

Two short honks from the car horn broke me from my reverie.

“Snap out of it, Nessie.”

Edward sat in the car glaring at me. I took a deep breath as I opened the passenger side door and threw my bag in the back seat.

What was that? A fantasy about killing a human? I had never had such a day dream before. True, I did have the occasional thirst for human blood. I would pick up a scent as I passed someone in the hall where my throat would burn momentarily, but I had never wanted to kill anyone. I felt my body shudder at the thought of what it would be like to actually rob someone of their life. The repulsion made my stomach flip. This was not like me.

My father could sense my momentary conflict. He understood. Of course, he understood. How long did he feel that way about Bella before he was able to overcome it? He squeezed my trembling hands in his icy fingers.

“Perhaps you weren’t as ready for this as we thought,” he suggested. “Are you sure you’re okay doing the whole high school thing?”

I leaned my face down into the lapel of my shirt and breathed in the fumes. Their tempting scent had leached into my clothing. No, stop it, Nessie. I didn’t want to breathe any deeper. The burning in my throat had not completely subsided. I freed my hand from my father’s grasp, and turned the air conditioning vent on full blast.

“Is that how all teenagers act?” He grimaced with concern and confusion. He should not get the wrong idea. I quickly replayed in my head the images of the various insults and verbal jabs I had endured in the last few weeks.

“Oh, well, not all. They get better with age.”

Edward remained silent. He was waiting to see if this would be a comfort to me. But it wasn’t.

Edward… Dad… I would never hurt them. You know that. But I don’t understand why they’re all so … vindictive.”

“They feel threatened by you. I’m sure fathers don’t like to admit this about their daughters, but they see as a rival.”

“A rival?” I pondered aloud. A rival to what? Did they really value their class rankings so much that they couldn’t take a little competition?

Edward smirked the way he always did when he found my thoughts tracking in the wrong, but ultimately endearing, course.

“Not grades, sweetie. They see you as a rival to their … um, dating possibilities. They’re gauging your temperament, to see if you’ll go after anything they consider rightfully theirs. They’re trying to see if you’re with them or against them.”

So, that was it. How silly. “I see. It’s pack mentality. Surround the animal that’s wandered into your range. Bite at her heels and see if you can get her either to run or fall in with the rest of the pack.”

“A little too much with Jacob lately, I think,” Edward laughed. “But, yes, that’s about it.”

Is there any such thing as too much time with Jacob?”

I heard his teeth clench shut, before he regained his composure and continued. “You can quit at any time. We’ll just say your Canadian parents got their act together long enough to reclaim you.”

“Just when I perfected my Canadian accent so exactly?”I could barely make out his suppressed chuckle. “No, I’m going to tough it out. It’s good practice I think. Who knows how many times I’ll have to go through this charade?”

I had expected that only patience as a defense was needed. Jacob had taught me that much: if an animal doesn’t attack within moments of confronting you, it’s not really looking for a fight. It’s waiting to see if you’ll engage. It will only take a step forward if you do so first. But, stay the same distance and circle, and it’s just a question of who gives up and walks away first. They got tired first, and no one paid me much attention after October.

Of course, back at home, at the house we had jokingly come to call Cullenwood, I was the apple of every eye. To Rosalie, I was a stand in for the child she was never destined to carry. To Alice, I was the symbolic representation of the great gifts the future could hold. Esme embraced me in blankets of love rarely experienced by the human heart. My boys, as I called them, Emmet, Jasper and Carlisle, treated me like their best girl, letting me get away with way more than I should, and spoiling me with every opportunity.

And with near constant vigil, my Jacob stood in the foreground. While he didn’t live at Cullenwood, he might as well have. Edward made occasional suggestions that a respectable man who spent as much as Jacob did with us would at least make an offer to pick up some of the rent. These comments, while never sincere, had spurred Jacob to take some action to make him feel as though he was contributing to the family. He appointed himself the mechanic-in-residence, and kept the Cullen fleet in superb condition. This had the unanticipated result of earning him some credit in Rosalie’s eyes when he retooled her engine to an even higher standard of performance.

“Just in case you ever decide to race against Eddie, you know, car to feet,” he had joked to her. “Now he’s pretty fast, but I figure on the open highway, this could maybe pull 150.”

The next week, a hastily arranged trip to the outback of the Montana wilderness in an area of springtime light traffic in the wee hours of the morning had proved him right. The opportunity to gloat had temporarily earned him some reprieve from the otherwise constant sting of Rosalie’s dog remarks. Except one.

“What a good boy you are,” she had returned from the race cooing, scratching him behind the ears. Jacob, seeing me out of the corner of his eyes with a smirk, curled up his hands and panted like a puppy.

Jacob stayed nearly every night at our little stone cottage nestled in the woods behind Cullenwood with Edward, Bella and I, sleeping wolf form on the floor at the end of my four-poster. In any other home, our odd foursome would seem ill-fitted, crowded, or even bizarre. With the Cullens, abnormal was the normal. Our evenings were spent in the one main gathering room of the house, which my mother referred to as her parlor. My father would sit at his piano, fiddling out the melodies that ran through his head. My mother would repose on the overly stuffed armchair, her face in one college text or another, trying to gain some understanding of bioengineering for her master’s degree.

I would usually be sprawled out on the floor over a bear skin rug (“He had it coming,” Emmet had joked when presenting us with the gift a few winters before), studying whatever my overachieving father thought I should learn next. He would occasionally look over as he would see different thoughts running through my mind, either of confusion or revelation, and make comments or clarifying details. Jacob, having finally come to see the value in an education after some firm lecturing by my mother years before, had completed high school on the reservation, and was working on a degree through distance learning at Washington State in Autocad design.

The predictability of these evenings was quite a comfort to me during those first years of public human life. No matter how isolated I felt at school, I would come home to our shut in evenings where there were no glaring coeds or scent of human blood. We would pass hours each night together, until it was time for me, the only Cullen who slept, to do so. I had learned to recognize when it was time to retreat to my room. Around ten or eleven each evening, my mother would close her eyes as if concentrating on something far off and consequently my father’s ability to maintain his playing would start to lack. After almost six years, they were still like newlyweds.

But a change had come to my tender tedium in mid-April, and one that I still had not completely understood. I was at my usual post on the rug, reading Chaucer, absent-mindfully twirling locks of my hair with my fingers. Jacob on this night sat on the chaise next to my mother’s chair. He was using a pen-enabled laptop to move different design elements around the screen. Something had seemed to be frustrating him, like he just couldn’t get a particular piece to fit in its place. He gave a a little frustrated growl and then a deep sigh. I raised my head to meet his gaze and give him a reassuring look, as if to say, “Don’t worry, take a moment and try again, it will work itself out.”

The corners of his mouthed arched up and the tension in his muscles eased a little, as though he understood the message I was trying to convey. And, then his smile sank into something more sincere; not a frown, but more to a state of awe. He looked at me in a intense manner I had not seen him do so before. It simultaneously excited and worried me. I didn’t quite understand what it was that was different.

“Jacob,” Edward interrupted. He had more or less leapt off his piano bench and landed between Jacob’s gaze and mine. Classic dad, though, he seemed nonplussed despite the seemingly urgent speed with which he moved.

My mother looked up from her textbook, as confused as I was. My father was not angry. What was there to be angry about? We were just sitting here one moment, and then the next?

“Jake,” Edward said through clenched teeth, but his voice still smooth as velvet. “A word with you outside, if you please.”

Jacob took a moment to take a clearing breath. He tossed his laptop aside on the chaise. The two stepped out on the front porch, Edward closing the door behind them. Of course, my father would know that this door would make a little difference: both Bella and I would hear just fine. He knew, also, we would only hear my father’s voice. Jacob wouldn’t need to say a word. Quite often, around my father, one felt as though they were eavesdropping on one side of a telephone call.

“It’s not that I’m surprised, really, Jake, it was just a matter of time,” His voice started, a combination of understanding and fatherly concern. “No, I know that... I’m not angry, but you can of course understand my concern. She’s still so young… Of course, you wouldn’t, but realistically, there are still so many unknowns in this situation… I’ve considered that, but I’m not prepared to say anything yet. When the time comes, I will respect her decisions, but I want to know that she has had a chance to decide otherwise if…

I heard a muted grunt of Jacob’s frustrations. “It’s just that…” but his voice tapered off, as Edward continued to respond to his stream of consciousness.

“We all agreed not to tell her… She is still half-human, and I don’t want to deny those things to her that come with that… Probably not, but just as precaution, I think it would be best if you don’t sleep over anymore. No point in throwing caution to the wind. Of course, if you want to stay nearby, Carlisle probably wouldn’t mind giving you a room up at Cullenwood… Of course, I knew you would understand, and I appreciate your willingness to see if from my perspective…”

The door opened, and Jake reentered, chagrined. My mother and I stared at him as he passed by us wordlessly to the couch, collected his computer and book, stuffed them into his bag, and turned to leave the cottage. At the door, he turned back to my mother and me, still taking turns casting our gazes between him and my father, and gave a slight nod of his head. His eyes pierced through me, and I felt my heart flutter. My father’s teeth clenched.

“Goodnight, Bella, Nessie.”

Jacob hadn’t slept in the stone cottage after that. Instead, he slept at his home back on the reservation, and came into Forks each afternoon to pick me up from school and take me home. But things had changed between us. His words to me were more measured than before. It was almost as if he were throwing up a block between us; not necessarily to distance us, but to reestablish our boundaries. He no longer hugged me the moment we saw each other. He no longer held my hand as we climbed steps or walked side by side. And Edward, who had a tendency to treat Jacob as a thing in the room, neither good nor bad but present, began to be much more conscious of his movements.

It was upsetting to me, but I wasn’t really sure why. Something my father had seen in Jacob’s thoughts had caused this change on my behalf, but what could Jacob possibly be thinking that my father would interpret as a threat to me? Did he really think that Jacob could ever do anything to cause me pain?

My mind flashed back to their little behind-closed-doors discussion. It had told me something I had suspected all along: there was something about me that I didn’t know, something they were hiding. Suddenly, the light in which I saw my parents shifted. I didn't want to believe there was malicious intent. But, why would they keep secrets from me? In the absence of knowledge, my mind began to race with misconceptions about what they didn't want me to know? And it involved Jacob, but how? Ridiculous thoughts ran through my head: My Jacob's really my father? No, that can't be. I know that Bella and he did have a temporary romance when she was still human, but I was definitely half-vampire. Maybe Bella wasn't my mother? Except that I did have her exact eyes and my grandfather's hair.

Urgh, not knowing was so frustrating. They should not be keeping secrets from me, no matter how critical they may feel it necessary to do so. I already felt like such an outsider at school, now was I to feel that way at home?