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Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


12. Chapter 12 - Struggle

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Chapter 12—Struggle

I was angry and sullen that evening at home, waiting for my chance to go back and watch Bella sleep. My mind was whirling around the possibilities of what was happening at Bella’s house. I was sure that Jacob Black would be only too eager for whatever crumbs of attention Bella might throw his way. I was pacing around the living room, back and forth in front of the piano. The night had made the windows of our house into mirrors and I could see myself multiplied, wearing a path in the wooden floor.

Edward, you’re getting on my nerves, Emmett thought as he sat watching the game on TV. Something you want to say, brother?

I stopped short, realizing that the older Quileute had been coming to visit Bella’s father to watch the game, probably the same one that Emmett was watching. He obviously wanted Bella to stay away from me, and I wondered if he was coming to warn Charlie. Since Bella and I had ‘gone public’, maybe word had gotten down to the reservation and he was coming up to break the treaty in order to save their family friend from the bloodthirsty vampires. My rage burst forth anew, and I started pacing again.

Seriously, Edward, stop the pacing, or I’m going to have to do it for you, Emmett thought again. I growled at him and kept pacing. I couldn’t imagine that they would really break the treaty, after decades of peace. But the older Quileute clearly knew who, and what, I was. Would he tell Charlie? If he did, would Charlie believe him? What would Bella say?

And then there was Jacob Black. He clearly wanted to see Bella, obviously was infatuated with her, although he knew there was nothing but friendship between them…yet. He certainly had the opportunity tonight to change that. I growled again and Emmett shot me another warning look. Jacob was the one who originally broke my secret to Bella, whether he realized it or not, during her temptations at the beach. I stopped short again. Could this be the friend that she did not want to share with me?

Aagh. Jealously was tearing through me now. I clenched my fists, pacing more furiously, the need for action rising in me. I realized I had no control over what was happening at Bella’s house and had half a mind to go over there to eavesdrop, when suddenly Emmett and Jasper were by my side and a feeling of warm butter spread through me. I stared wide eyed at Jasper. I wanted to yell at him to leave me alone, but all that came out was “Oh.”

“I don’t know what you’re planning Edward, but whatever it is, it would be better if you made your decision calmly,” Jasper said in a soft, soothing voice. Emmett was staring hard at me, at the ready in case I tried anything. I wanted to protest, but that warm butter feeling seemed to sap all my motivation.

“Okay, fine, Jasper. Really, I’m fine,” I mumbled, defeated.

Emmett glared at me, unsure, but slowly went back to watching his game.

“Are you ready to talk about it now?” Jasper asked, still sensing the turmoil beneath the warm blanket of emotion he had laid on top of me.

“Not really,” I said, sighing, trying in vain to shrug off his influence.

“Listen, I don’t know what’s causing this jealousy raging through you,” he said as I glared at him, “but there’s something you should know.” Jasper thought back to yesterday’s lunch, and focused on the warm feeling of love, devotion and…intense desire that surrounded Bella and I, tightly focused on our private conversation in the cafeteria. There were other flavors of emotion floating around our personal halo of affection—guilt, jealously…and self-loathing? That one struck me strangely, but overall I was getting his point.

“Whatever your jealousy is about, Edward, I don’t think you really need to worry,” Jasper said aloud. “The bond between you two…well, it’s stronger than most I’ve seen.” He smiled at me and the relief that I felt had nothing to do with the smothering blanket of calm Jasper had sent my way. I smiled weakly at him.

“Thanks,” I said. Anytime, he replied, slowly lifting his emotional damper.

“Okay?” he asked. I nodded wearily. Jasper glided over to watch the game with Emmett, but I could tell he was keeping an eye on me. I’m not sure what I would have done, had my brothers not stopped me in my fit of jealousy, but I was pretty sure it would not have gone well. Whatever the Quileute were saying to Bella or Charlie, there was not much I could do about it. I had to trust her, as I had all along.

I decided I needed something else to distract me until I could go see Bella this evening, in my usual nocturnal run to her house. I hadn’t played her lullaby in a while, consumed by the recent chaotic events of the past few days. I could certainly use that calming feeling now, my own personal antidote to the jealous rage I felt still frothing deep inside me. I sat down and started to play that lilting song that I had composed just for her. Emmett growled, shooting me a dirty look, and put on the wireless headphones so he could enjoy his game without my moping intruding. Jasper just smiled at me as he ghosted off to find Alice. I kept playing.

That night, when I was sure she and Charlie were long asleep, I stole into Bella’s room again. No hiding in the closet tonight. Her sleep was restful—a balm to my weary soul, if I had one. There was no moon to illuminate her room and it felt unnaturally still in the dark. No matter—I could see her ethereal face well enough, eyes closed and face untroubled. Her cadenced heartbeat was like a metronome, with her lullaby playing in the back of my head. I watched for a long time, breathing with her, and thinking of all the unanswered questions I would ask tomorrow. I wanted to know her—her hopes and thoughts, at least those she would willingly share with me. To understand what made her the unique and lovely creature that she was—this was what I most desired. Then, perhaps, I could be that confidant, that friend that she so missed and could no longer have—now that she was trapped in this secret, strange universe with me, where vampires were real.

The morning came quickly, a pearl gray color, same as every other day in Forks. I lingered around the corner again, waiting for Charlie to leave. There were no undue thoughts of alarm in his head—in fact, he seemed rather cheerful this morning, having enjoyed his visit with his friend the night before. Perhaps last night had just been a social call, after all. He was thinking that he would have to have Billy and Jacob over more often—last night was apparently a reconciling, of sorts. I grimaced, not enjoying the prospect of more visits by the Blacks. Breakfast passed quickly, and as soon as Charlie pulled away in his cruiser, already thinking ahead to the day’s events at the police station, I was in her driveway with my silver Volvo. I waited for her, windows down to capture the slightly warm breeze that was blowing in the good weather for the weekend.

She was out the door almost as soon as I parked, climbing quickly into the passenger side. I grinned at her, hearing her heart and breathing stutter, which only made my grin grow in pleasure—she was happy to see me too. Her hair was pulled back into a barrette, revealing her neck, from her earlobes peeking out from under the loosely held auburn tresses, to the gentle curve of her shoulders. I wondered if she realized I was gaping at her.

“How did you sleep?” I asked, trying to keep my mouth from hanging open.

“Fine. How was your night?”

“Pleasant,” I said, slightly amused. It had turned out agreeable, after spending it with her, even if it did not start out that way.

“Can I ask what you did?” she asked.

“No,” I said, grinning even more. “Today is still mine.”

She sighed, and I started in as we drove to school. “Tell me more about Renee. Why is she such a bad cook?”

She frowned. “She’s not so much bad, as unpredictable. At times, she succeeds more wildly that I would have expected. But there were a lot of take-out pizza nights when dinner went bad. I just took over the cooking after a while. It was safer.”

“So you like to cook?” I guessed that I knew this already, based on Charlie’s pleasantly expectant thoughts on the way home from work, looking forward to Bella’s dinners.

“I guess I do. I make a mean enchilada,” she smiled. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“I don’t suppose that I do,” I smiled back. “If your mother doesn’t cook, then what does she like to do?” I added, wanting to know more of what she shared with her mother—what made them best of friends.

“Whatever strikes her at the moment, mostly. For a while it was tap-dancing classes, then macramé,” she made a face at that one. “It’s usually harmless, but when she decided to raise llamas, I had to intervene.” She rolled her eyes at the memory, but I could tell she missed the whimsical side of her mother.

I was still intent on quizzing her as we arrived at school, but I was distracted for a moment by the other students who were arriving as well, chattering away. We were gathering less stares and shocked thoughts today—the newness of Bella and I seemed to be wearing off in the Forks High community. It was the Friday before the dance, and most of the students were too busy with their own thoughts and plans to be concerned with us. It was a pleasant feeling…almost normal, as if that word could ever apply to us. We walked in momentary silence to her class.

“See you at lunch,” I said warningly, letting her know I was not done with my questions yet. The morning passed quickly as I thought of more questions that would help me discern the details of Bella’s life—past and present. I realized I couldn’t possibly get to all the questions I wanted to ask and than I needed to be more selective to get the answers I wanted before tomorrow. Again I met her outside of Trig, and questioned her on the way to lunch. She had had only one grandmother, that she had known, and just a few special friends in Phoenix, but none especially close. We had made our way through the cafeteria line and were seated before I started in on the most pressing relationship question I had.

“So, have you had many admirers—in Phoenix, I mean. I think I’m well aware of the ones that are here,” I started, watching her reaction closely.

“Um…no, I really never dated in Phoenix,” she replied, that familiar blush rising in her cheeks. I hadn’t hunted in some time. The closeness of our lunch conversation, combined with her blush, gave a rush of burning in my throat. I ignored it.

“Really? No one? That doesn’t seem very likely,” I said, seriously. She shook her head. “So you never met anyone you wanted?” I ventured, along Angela’s earlier hypothesis that Bella was simply a very discerning girl, not interested in the likes of Newton and his kind.

“Not in Phoenix,” she answered grudgingly, and I thrilled to the implication that I was the one she found of interest here. I paused while she took a bite of her bagel. Alice’s thoughts intruded on our conversation, I’m going to meet Bella today, Edward. I couldn’t think of anyway to forestall the inevitable Alice any longer, and I realized I had made a mistake.

“I should have let you drive yourself today,” I said, changing subjects abruptly.

“Why?” she demanded.

“I’m leaving with Alice after lunch.”

“Oh,” she said, seeming bewildered and disappointed. “That’s okay, it’s not that far of a walk.”

She could be so ridiculous sometimes. “I’m not going to make you walk home,” I said, frowning at her. “We’ll go get your truck and leave it here for you.”

“I don’t have my key with me,” she sighed, ever practical. “I really don’t mind walking.” She still seemed very disappointed, and I hoped it was because we wouldn’t be spending the rest of the day together, but that really couldn’t be helped.

I shook my head. “Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition—unless you’re afraid someone might steal it,” I said, laughing at the possibility.

“All right,” she agreed, not looking happy, and not terribly confident in my ability to find her key and return with her truck. I smirked.

“So where are you going?” she asked, trying to sound casual, but mostly sounding like she was missing me already.

“Hunting,” I answered grimly. “If I’m going to be alone with you tomorrow, I’m going to take whatever precautions I can.” I was despairing that she would see the danger of tomorrow and the benefits of at least letting Charlie know where she was. “You can always cancel, you know,” I added, hoping she would and she wouldn’t in equal measure.

“No,” she whispered, glancing at me. “I can’t.”

My heart sank a little, feeling the inevitability of the confrontation that tomorrow would bring. I could no more stop myself from going, if she was willing to come, than I could make myself leave her entirely—even if that were the right thing to do. “Perhaps you’re right,” I murmured.

“What time will I see you tomorrow?” she asked, seeming to feel the dark mood as well.

“That depends…it’s a Saturday, don’t you want to sleep in?” I offered.

“No,” she said, quickly. I tried not to smile. There was a part of me that couldn’t wait for tomorrow as well.

“The same time as usual, then,” I said. “Will Charlie be there?” One final try.

“No, he’s fishing tomorrow,” she smiled, pleased at how her deceptiveness had paid off. Charlie was still none the wiser. I was not impressed.

“And if you don’t come home, what will he think?” I asked sharply.

“I have no idea,” she said, too coolly. “He knows I’ve been meaning to do the laundry. Maybe he’ll think I fell in the washer.”

I scowled at her dark joke, finding it terribly unfunny. She scowled back, looking like an angry kitten—it was almost too cute to stay angry. Almost.

“What are you hunting tonight?” she asked, giving up the scowling contest.

“Whatever we find in the park. We aren’t going far.” It always seemed faintly ridiculous to be talking about hunting in the cafeteria.

“Why are you going with Alice?” she asked.

“Alice is the most…supportive,” I said, frowning at the still angry thoughts coming from my family’s table, although they were mostly in the form of mental curses from Rosalie.

“And the others?” she asked, shyly. “What are they?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to put this. I didn’t want her to be concerned about them. “Incredulous, for the most part.”

She peeked at my family’s table. “They don’t like me,” she guessed.

“That’s not it,” I disagreed. They couldn’t dislike her—they didn’t even know her. “They don’t understand why I can’t leave you alone.”

She grimaced at me. “Neither do I, for that matter.”

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. I could not understand how she could be so oblivious to the obvious. “I told you—you don’t see yourself clearly at all. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever known. You fascinate me.”

She glared at me, apparently not seeing the compliment in that. I smiled. “Having the advantages I do,” I murmured, discreetly tapping my forehead, “I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you…you never do what I expect. You always take me by surprise.”

She looked away from me, back at my family again, seeming…embarrassed? Undoubtedly thinking there was something wrong with her, that she was so different, rather than realizing how special that made her to me.

“That part is easy enough to explain,” I continued, wanting her to know she was much more than interesting to me. I gazed at her face, wanting her to look at me, so I could convince her of my sincerity. “But there’s more…and it’s not so easy to put into words—“

Suddenly Rosalie focused her considerably negative thoughts on Bella. She was glaring at Bella—I could see Bella through her eyes as something small and dangerous, something worth attacking. Bella was captured in that cold stare, and I could see the fear and confusion in Bella’s eyes…I hissed at Rosalie under my breath. Rosalie broke off her stare, releasing Bella. Rosalie was lucky we were in public—otherwise there would have been some consequences for that little stunt. Bella looked back at me, fear still widening her eyes. Painfully, I apologized, “I’m sorry about that. She’s just worried. You see…it’s dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you so publicly…” I looked down, not wanting to voice the rest. We were taking a horrible risk.

“If?” she said.

“If this ends…badly.” My head was aching with the torment of that thought, what it would mean for both of us. I dropped my head into my hands, rubbing the heels of my hands against my forehead, trying to drive out the mental image that had sprung into my mind of a cold, lifeless Bella in my arms. Rosalie’s angry thoughts pushed at the barrier I had constructed to ignore her. It was hard to imagine that this wasn’t some kind of terrible mistake, just as she thought.

“And you have to leave now?” Bella asked, bringing me out of my anguish.

“Yes,” I replied, seriously. Then I thought of Biology next period, and how we still had not finished the movie—and that I hadn’t hunted in some time. “It’s probably for the best. We still have fifteen minutes of that wretched movie left to endure in Biology—I don’t think I could take any more,” I said, smiling, thinking of the delightful torment of our time in Biology.

Bella jumped. Alice had moved, too quickly, to our table. She had sensed her opportunity, apparently wanting to make up for Rosalie’s hostility. She was standing behind me, off to the side, still as a statue. She never quite mastered moving like a human, probably because she didn’t really remember what it was like, and didn’t much care to learn.

“Alice,” I said without looking, sighing at their impending introduction.

“Edward,” she answered, her high soprano voice almost singing my name. She was quivering with excitement again, although I doubted that Bella would notice that small motion on her.

I took a deep breath. “Alice, Bella—Bella, Alice,” I introduced them, gesturing with my hand and smiling at Alice’s eager enthusiasm. She already felt protective of Bella, much as I did. I would take her immediate love of Bella over Rosalie’s reaction any day.

“Hello, Bella,” she said, percolating with friendliness. “It’s nice to finally meet you.” I flashed a dark look at her, hoping she wasn’t planning on unnerving Bella with some strange proclamation of eternal friendship.

“Hi, Alice,” Bella answered in a shy voice.

“Are you ready?” Alice asked me. Now that she had her introduction, I wanted her to leave me with my last few moments with Bella.

“Nearly,” I said coolly. “I’ll meet you at the car.”

She left, walking unnaturally fast in that fluid way of hers that should be a dead giveaway to anyone paying attention that there was something different about her, and us.

“Should I say ‘have fun,’ or is that the wrong sentiment?” Bella asked.

“No, ‘have fun’ works as well as anything,” I said, smiling.

“Have fun, then,” she said, trying to sound enthusiastic.

“I’ll try,” I said, still grinning. “And you try to be safe, please.”

“Safe in Forks—what a challenge.”

“For you it is a challenge,” I insisted, not liking the light way she dismissed her near constant ability to attract danger. “Promise.”

“I promise to try to be safe,” she said, mechanically. “I’ll do the laundry tonight—that ought to be fraught with peril.”

“Don’t fall in,” I mocked her sad assessment of her greatest peril.

“I’ll do my best.”

I stood up somewhat reluctantly, and Bella rose too.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Bella said, sighing and clearly not wanting to part. That guilty pleasure I always felt when I knew she wanted to be with me was coursing through me again.

“It seems like a long time to you, doesn’t it?” I asked softly. She nodded glumly.

“I’ll be there in the morning,” I promised, smiling to assure her that I meant it. I couldn’t resist reaching across the table to touch her one more time, lightly brushing my fingertips along her cheekbone, the familiar fire a delightful burn on my fingers. It was getting easier all the time. I turned and walked away.

Alice was delighted that we were going to stop at Bella’s house first, to retrieve her key and her truck. I had to nearly forcibly restrain her from coming into the house with me as I went to get the key. It didn’t seem right for her to be in Bella’s house without her knowledge, even if Alice was convinced that they would be best friends. That future could still change, especially hinging on the events tomorrow.

I left Alice shaking her head and glaring at me in the car. Luckily Bella’s room was near the back of the house, facing the forest, so I could enter without the neighbors thinking I was a robber in broad daylight. It was easy to deduce the location of her car key, given that she had not driven the monster truck since we returned from Port Angeles on Tuesday. She had not expected me to pick her up on Wednesday morning, thus she would have had her key in her pocket at that time. I remembered that she wore jeans that cold morning without her jacket, the ones with the small piping on the back pocket. She had mentioned it was laundry day, ergo there was a pair of jeans, waiting to be washed, in which could be found one truck key. Laundry room or bedroom? Laundry room, I decided, and sure enough it was there. I smirked as I skipped back out of the house, silently closing the window behind me.

Driving the truck back to school was an extremely loud, very slow process. I began to realize how painful our ride in the beast was going to be tomorrow. I left a small note (“Be Safe”) on the seat for her, and left the key in the ignition.

Alice drove even faster than I usually do. We flew down the interstate, creating a green and brown wall of trees whizzing past. I guess her radar is as good as mine, I thought ruefully. She was sharing her thoughts with me again—between her evasions and my ignoring her, we hadn’t really connected in a while. She breezily went through the snippets of visions that she saw beyond Saturday…Alice putting Bella’s hair up…Bella and Alice driving Emmett’s outrageous Jeep…Alice sharing some secret laugh with Bella as they relaxed at Bella’s house…Alice bringing a tray of snacks out to Charlie…

That last one caught me off guard. “Charlie?” I asked, skeptically.

She’s my best friend, Edward. Of course I’m going to hang out at her house.

This made me uneasy again—even I didn’t hang out at her house…well, at least not when anyone was awake. Alice’s visions continued, this time much shorter snippets…running through the forest…Bella complaining about something…Bella lying face up in the middle of the meadow…

“Is this tomorrow?” I asked.

I can’t be sure. It is very unclear about Saturday…there are so many different decisions that have yet to be made…but I don’t see you hurting her, Edward.

We were pulling off the interstate now, making our way in the forest preserve. I doubted we would go as far as the miner’s cabin. We would probably just hunt the local deer and not bother to venture farther into the wilderness. The sky was lightening, but the sun had still not broken through.

“Is the weather still expected to be sunny tomorrow?” I asked, receiving a withering look from her. Alice’s predictions of the weather were never wrong. I guess human decision making didn’t have an impact on that. She showed me…glaring sunlight in the meadow, flowers dancing in the soft breeze…the shock of sunlight as we came out of the dark forest into the meadow…

What is it you are most worried about? she asked.

“You know what I’m worried about,” I replied, coldly.

I mean specifically. I don’t see you hurting her, Edward…

“That can change in an instant—you know that,” I retorted. She had stopped the car. I climbed out, slamming the door a little harder than necessary. I took off running through the forest, eager to start preparing for tomorrow. I crossed several scent trails, but none fresh, so I kept moving. Alice easily caught up with me.

You won’t hurt her, Edward…

“You DON’T know that,” I practically shouted at her, weaving through the trees, following a slightly fresher deer trail. She leapt in front of me, landing suddenly and blocking my path. She was a picture of pixie fury, her spiky black hair shaking with the intensity of it.

“You WILL NOT hurt her, Edward. I will not forgive you for it,” she shouted at me. That, and the fact that she was obscuring my path, stopped me. It was difficult sometimes to imagine Alice as threatening in any way, with her small, graceful body and her impish ways. But if there were any member of our family that I actually feared, that I would not want to have to fight, it would be Alice. Knowing what your opponent is thinking definitely gives you an advantage in a fight—knowing the future gives you a devastating advantage. She would have me before I started. She stared at me, teeth bared like some fiendish fairy.

I started laughing, charmed by her protectiveness of Bella, and wryly amused by the thought that not being forgiven by Alice would concern me once Bella lay lifeless in my arms—my having brought her to a bloody end by my own hand, through my own fiendish nature. I stopped, and not just because my laughter was really starting to make Alice mad.

“Alice, if this ends badly…I want you to—“ I stopped. Could I ask this of her? She certainly was capable of shredding me to pieces, should she wish. I wouldn’t be able to stop her. “I want you to help me…help me end my agony…please,” I said, ending softly, pain etched on my face.

Alice’s eyes went wide with understanding. What are you saying, Edward??

“I won’t be able to go on without her, Alice,” I said simply.

Her face went from shock, to realization, to a broad smile. Ah, don’t you see, Edward? That is why you will not hurt her, she thought, with a triumphant grin.

I gave her a bewildered look, thinking perhaps she had misunderstood what I was saying.

“You won’t hurt her, Edward,” she said out loud, now supremely confident in her assessment, “because you would rather die than do so.” Apparently satisfied with this conclusion, she pirouetted around and danced long loping jumps along the scent trail I had been following. I stared after her, even after she had vanished in the forest. I wished I could be that confident about it. Alice hadn’t lived through those agonizing hours and minutes of maddening thirst that made me feel the fiend inside was ready to climb out and ruin my life. She didn’t hear the insane thoughts in my own mind that contemplated, with relish, drinking Bella’s blood. She didn’t know that I could very well end up dead, one way or the other, at the end of all this—all because I couldn’t control the monster within.

I sighed. I needed to hunt, and the animals weren’t going to come to me as willingly as some human females that needed a better sense of self-preservation. I loped after Alice, committed to drowning my thirst in the blood of as many animals as I could find before tomorrow morning.

A thin, cottony layer of clouds veiled the sky. Alice had said they would break early in the morning, leaving plenty of time for us to have the full glory of the sun before we arrived. I dressed mechanically, unsure if I was dressing for a celebration or a funeral. Somehow, the more I thought about the possibility of a bloody ending to the day, the closer those demonic thoughts that cherished that possibility came to the surface. Anxiously, I pushed those thoughts away and focused on meeting Bella this morning.

I ran through the woods, taking my circuitous route to her house, just in case there were early morning travelers on the roads. I waited until Charlie was gone and then lingered outside her doorstep. Waiting for our appointed time, I could hear her knocking around the kitchen, probably getting breakfast. I could walk away – turn around and never come back—but I knew that was never a possibility, not since the first day I saw her. I would give her a chance to leave, to back out – but I knew she wouldn’t take it. We were locked on this path, both unable to break away. When I heard her coming down the stairs, I decided it was time to start our day. I knocked quietly on the door.

She seemed to have a little trouble getting the door open, but then there she was, looking radiant in the early morning light and melting my heart just at the sight of her. Her warm, dark hair was falling in soft waves over her light tan sweater, with her white collared shirt just poking out and brushing against the smooth, pale skin of her neck. Her dark eyes seemed to dance when she smiled at me. When I realized she was wearing jeans as well, I smiled.

“Good morning,” I said, chuckling.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, noticing the way I had looked her over, and glancing down to see what I had been looking at.

“We match.” I laughed. I had also worn a tan sweater, with a white shirt underneath, and blue jeans. She laughed with me and that sweet sound washed away some of the anxiety that I had felt waiting for her.

She locked the door behind her, while I went over to that beastly truck of hers. I stood by the passenger door, feeling very sorry for myself, having to tolerate this mode of transportation.

“We made a deal,” she reminded me, a bit too smugly, and climbed into the driver’s seat. She reached over and unlocked my door.

“Where to?” she asked as I climbed in with a pained look on my face.

“Put your seat belt on—I’m nervous already,” I said. She gave me a dirty look, but complied.

“Where to?” she repeated.

“Take the one-oh-one north,” I ordered, feeling like I was giving directions to an execution. I watched her, studied her face as she drove. I tried to memorize it, as if this was the last time I was going to see her. She seemed to be driving unnaturally slowly, even for her. With virtually no one on the road this early, it seemed as if we were crawling along the streets.

“Were you planning to make it out of Forks before nightfall?” I asked wryly.

“This truck is old enough to be your car’s grandfather—have some respect,” she retorted. We slowly inched our way out of town, the forest quickly taking over where the sleepy town ended. The clouds were starting to thin, making me wonder if we would make it to our destination before the sun broke out.

“Turn right on the one-ten,” I instructed. She continued driving without speaking, looking as if she was afraid she might run off the road. I was a little concerned myself, she was so nervous behind the wheel. At least I was free to gaze at her while she drove, enjoying the way she was determined not to look at me and keep her eyes on the road.

“Now we drive until the pavement ends,” I added, smiling. I had a feeling this might make her a little anxious, which was only fair given that I was tormented with anxiety about what this day would hold for us. She seemed mostly concerned about driving her truck off the road.

“And what’s there, at the pavement’s end?” she asked.

“A trail.” I had a feeling she wouldn’t like that either.

“We’re hiking?” she asked.

“Is that a problem?” I said, smirking even though she wasn’t looking at me, enjoying the look of anxiety clouding her face.

“No,” she lied, and I nearly laughed. I was sure she would now worry about tripping over tree roots, or something equally ridiculous.

“Don’t worry, it’s only five miles or so, and we’re in no hurry,” I said, smiling, looking forward to at least that part of the day. I always felt at home in the forest, and it felt…right, to share that with her.

She was strangely silent after that. I was concerned that maybe I had overdone the drama about the hike—it was really the least of her concerns today. Keeping the fiend boxed within me was going to be our greatest challenge.

After several minutes, when she still didn’t say anything, I asked, “What are you thinking?”

“Just wondering where we’re going,” she replied, but her voice seemed…strained?

“It’s a place I like to go when the weather is nice,” I said, glancing out the window. The clouds were definitely thinning now, just as Alice had said. The sun would be beating down on us soon, and I hoped to get us into the forest before it broke through the clouds.

“Charlie said it would be warm today.”

“And did you tell Charlie what you were up to?” I asked, hopefully.

“Nope.”

“But Jessica thinks we’re going to Seattle together?” I asked, having just recently remembered that she had shared our weekend plans with her friend. At least I would have that motivation to bring her back.

“No, I told her you canceled on me—which is true.”

What? Now she was intentionally trying to make this more difficult than it needed to be. “No one knows you’re with me?” I replied, angrily.

“That depends…I assume you told Alice?” she asked.

“That’s very helpful, Bella,” I snapped. Didn’t she realize it was going to take all I had not to end this today? Did she want it to end badly? Had she gone insane?

“Are you so depressed by Forks that it’s made you suicidal?” I was really angry now. She could at least help me, but she seemed determined to make it as easy as possible for me to kill her.

“You said it might cause trouble for you…us being together publicly,” she reminded me.

“So you’re worried about the trouble it might cause me— if you don’t come home?” I said acidly, bitingly sarcastic…and just a little panicked. How was I to have any hope of containing the monster, when she practically offered herself up to me on a silver platter, alibi intact?

She nodded, keeping her eyes on the road. I cursed, under my breath, quickly and furiously, hoping she had not heard my rude language. I was angrier at her than I had ever been. Foolish, foolish girl! Maybe we were fated to end this way. I could hardly avoid it, could I? I was a fiend after all—it was who I was—and all this pretending didn’t make it any less true. We were silent for the rest of the drive.

When the road ended, it narrowed to a thin foot trail with a small wooden marker. She pulled over and parked on the narrow shoulder, stepping out of the car. I got out too, slamming the door on the way, still angry. It was warm now, almost muggy. She was removing her sweater because of the heat. Years of mimicking humans, our best form of camouflage, prompted me to pull off my sweater and throw it into the back of the truck. I was determined to get started on this doomed expedition, anger still brewing inside me. I stood, facing the forest, pointedly not looking at her, and said, “This way.”

I glanced over my shoulder, flashing her a quick glare, and started into the forest.

“The trail?” she said, a strange quiver in her voice as she hurried around the truck to catch up to me.

“I said there was a trail at the end of the road, not that we were taking it,” I said sharply, still refusing to look at her.

“No trail?” she repeated, sounding more desperate.

“I won’t let you get lost,” I said sarcastically, finally turning to face her. I stared at her. She had removed her sweater, but I hadn’t realized that the white collared shirt she had underneath was sleeveless. She had unbuttoned it down a few buttons exposing her delicate collarbones and the smooth, pale skin of her chest. I caught my breath, and felt a little dizzy panic. I had never seen her with so much exposed skin before and the scent and sight of it were overwhelming me. I grappled with the demon inside who wanted so very much to dive into the feast that lay before me.

As I stared at her, I realized that she had the strangest look on her face. She looked devastated. Belatedly, I realized she must finally understand the torment inside me. Finally, now, on the edge of the darkened forest, standing in front of the monster, she was afraid. It broke my heart.

“Do you want to go home?” I said quietly, pain saturating my voice.

“No,” she said walking forward until she was close beside me. The beast within purred at her nearness, but I ignored it. She was hurting somehow, but I didn’t understand it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, gently.

“I’m not a good hiker,” she answered dully. “You’ll have to be very patient.”

This hike? Was that truly what was paining her? I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t like this look on her face and would do anything to erase it. I smiled and tried to catch her eyes with mine. I wanted to lift her out of her unexplained misery.

“I can be patient—if I make a great effort,” I said softly. She smiled half-heartedly, and I was afraid that she was simply persevering out of some strange stubbornness. She had a choice here, and I would not make her choose to be with me.

“I’ll take you home,” I promised, so she would know it was not too late to turn back.

“If you want me to hack five miles through the jungle before sundown, you’d better start leading the way,” she said, acidly. I frowned, completely confused. She seemed determined to continue with our plans, but horrified at the prospect. It didn’t make any sense. But, she clearly did not want to leave. Hesitating, looking back at her, I turned and led the way into the forest without another word.

The way was mostly flat, as I noticed now that I was looking at it through Bella’s disaster-prone perspective. I held the ferns, still damp from the morning dew, aside to clear the way for her. We walked in silence. Occasionally, we would come across a fallen tree or boulder blocking our path. I lifted her up by the elbow, taking care not to touch too much of that deliciously exposed skin. I would quickly help her over whatever obstacle there was and then release her as soon as she was safely on the other side. Whenever I touched her, her heart would sputter, and I tried not to smile that guilty smile I felt creep up. The guilt was even worse today, knowing that any attraction she had toward me was simply the demon’s way of bringing in his prey.

After a while, her mood seemed to lighten slightly. I hazarded a few questions about her past—what kind of birthday parties she had, what her grade school teachers were like. I was still intensely curious about how she had become this amazing person that I was in love with.

“What about childhood pets?” I asked.

“Well, we tried that,” she answered, somewhat evasively.

“Tried? Did something happen?” I asked, wondering if I would have to drag another sordid tale out of her.

“After the third fish, we decided that we weren’t really pet people,” she grudgingly admitted. I laughed out loud at the vision of Bella repeatedly flushing goldfish down the toilet. My laughter echoed through the silent forest.

The hike took most of the morning due to Bella’s determined steps to avoid injury, but I was happy to be here with her, in the moment. It was relaxing—she was not close enough to rouse the monster within, and we could comfortably share the beauty of the ancient forest together. We wound our way through the gradually lightening forest as the day brightened over the dark canopy of the trees.

“Are we there yet?” she teased, pretending to scowl.

“Nearly,” I smiled, glad to see her in a better mood, the strange misery she had before apparently washed away by the streaky green light filtering down through the branches. “Do you see the brightness ahead?”

“Um, should I?” she asked, peering into the thick forest.

“Maybe it’s a bit too soon for your eyes,” I teased.

“Time to visit the optometrist,” she muttered, and I smiled.

After another hundred yards of hiking without a trail, the forest ahead began to glow yellow instead of green, something surely her human eyes could discern as well. She seemed eager to get there, walking faster. I was eager too, filled alternately with dread and an excited anticipation. I let her pass me, taking the lead, letting her fragrance waft over me as she passed and watching her dark hair swing with each step as she pressed ahead towards the meadow. It seemed natural to have her here, as if she belonged in the sun drenched meadow of my private escape.

She reached the edge of the meadow and stepped through the last fringe of ferns, halting just into the circle of sunlight. The meadow was in its full glory, bursting with wildflowers and enough water in the stream to make a tinkling background music to accompany the slight breeze. The sun shone brightly, clouds banished from the sky, filling the meadow with a haze of buttery sunshine.

She walked slowly away from the edge of the meadow, clearly taken in by its beauty and drawn to it. She was more beautiful than I had ever seen her, sun shining on her pale skin. The breeze blew lightly through her sleeveless shirt and ruffled her long, dark hair into tendrils of heavenly scent blowing my way.

The fiend inside me licked his lips at the sight of this beauty in the meadow— unprotected, luscious, and mine for the taking. I shrunk back slightly into the forest. It was right for me to lurk in the shadows, like the evil creature that I was, while beautiful Bella glowed in the sunshine.

Bella had reached the center of the meadow and turned, apparently expecting me to be there—not realizing I had remained behind, haunting the forest. When she realized I wasn’t there she spun around, searching for me, seeming alarmed. I moved forward, sensing her panic, but stopped at the very edge of the forest, still in the shadows. I watched her, to see what her reaction would be—did she see how different we were? She would realize it soon enough.

She took a step back toward me, eyes bright with expectation. I hesitated, not wanting to reveal yet another part of my monster nature to her. Yet, this is what we were here for today. So she would finally know me, everything about me. And if the demon won out today, either in destroying my precious Bella or driving her away from me, then it would finally be done.

She smiled encouragingly and beckoned me with her hand, taking another step toward me. I did not want her so close, so I held up a hand to stop her. She stayed where she was, still looking at me expectantly. She was so trusting, like a fawn in the forest unaware that the wolf intended to eat her—until it was too late. I loved her even more intensely than before, if that was possible.

I took a deep breath and stepped out into the bright glow of the midday sun.