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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.


5. Chapter 5 - Thoroughly

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Chapter 5 – Thoroughly

The morning passed in a haze, my mind consumed with rehashing our conversation in the parking lot. I delighted in her agreement to have me accompany her to Seattle in two weeks, irrationally relieved there was no other person waiting in the wings for her. I smiled at the memory of the sound her heart made when it fluttered, hoping that meant she was excited about spending that time with me, not subconsciously terrified. I realized how much I depended on reading people—with Bella, it was as if I was blindly feeling my way through looks and sighs, heart flutters and hidden meanings. This trip would give me a chance to know her better—discern how her mind worked—even if I couldn’t read it outright.

The danger of spending so much time with her did not escape me. I couldn’t stay away from her any longer, but getting close to her—well, that was a different matter altogether. The rain started again, running small rivers down the window next to my desk. Thoughts around me buzzed about a possible trip to the beach this weekend, should the weather break and the sun come out. That meant a hunting trip for my family, as we usually did when the weather was sunny. Fortuitous extra hunting would help, if I was to spend an extended time with Bella. My thirst needed to be well under control to spend an entire day with her.

My family, with the exception of Alice and possibly Carlisle, were aghast that I was…well, involved with Bella. They thought I had just increased the danger to our family again. They were probably right, but I was already risking everything because of her. Our fate was already in her hands. I decided I might as well make the most of it. I didn’t have much choice about it. I could no longer bear to be away from her.

Time ticked agonizingly by as I waited for lunch to arrive—my chance to see her again. I wondered what she thought about my offer and if she had discussed it with her friends. I quickly scanned the thoughts of the nearby classes and minds that I recognized, but there was nothing but talk of the beach. Newton was ecstatic about a chance to have Bella join him. He was really beginning to get on my nerves.

Finally, lunch arrived. I chose a table far away from my brothers and sisters, trying to ignore their mostly disparaging thoughts. I waited for her, anticipation building inside me. Being away from her for even short periods of time was quickly becoming difficult for me. This seemed entirely crazy to me, except that it was simply true.

She walked in with Jessica, who chattered about her plans for the spring dance. Apparently all her friends had dates for the dance, with the exception of Bella. I waited for her to see me. She was looking at our regular table—I hoped she was looking for me. She didn’t see me. I was beginning to think I would have to go and get her when Jessica said, “Edward Cullen is staring at you again. I wonder why he’s sitting alone today.”

Her head snapped up, and she looked at me. I smiled and motioned for her to sit with me. She just stared, so I winked at her—might as well get the rumors off to a good start.

“Does he mean you?” Jessica asked, astonished. I tuned out Jessica’s negative thoughts. It wasn’t hard—somehow when I concentrated on Bella, the rest of the world faded into the background.

“Maybe he needs help with his Biology homework,” she said. “Um, I’d better go see what he wants.” Jessica just stared as Bella walked over to me. I stared back…at Bella. Somehow the way she moved made me think of something completely out of place, like fine china in a rustic cabin. She didn’t seem like she belonged here with the rest of the students—there was something extraordinary about her, something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. When she reached my table, she stood behind the chair, hesitating. She held only a bottle of lemonade for lunch.

“Why don’t you sit with me today?” I asked, politely, smiling.

She sat down, seeming wary. I couldn’t stop smiling, excited at the prospect of talking to her, my head a hazy blur of anticipation.

“This is different,” she said.

“Well…” I paused, not sure how much to say, but then it sort of tumbled out. “I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

She looked at me like I was crazed, which I clearly was. I waited for her to say something…anything. The hum of voices and thoughts from the other inhabitants of the cafeteria rose in our silence, but all I could hear was the empty space where her thoughts should be. The seconds ticked by.

Finally, she said, “You know I don’t have any idea what you mean.”

“I know,” I said, sighing in relief and smiling. Jessica’s aggravated thoughts jumped at me. Her furtive discussion with Bella’s friends at the table about what it meant, Bella being here with me, was going to generate all kinds of gossip. “I think your friends are angry with me for stealing you.”

“They’ll survive,” she replied.

“I may not give you back, though,” I said, immensely enjoying this. It was delicious to not have to pretend any longer.

She gulped, and I laughed. “You look worried.”

“No,” she said, “surprised, actually…what brought all this on?”

“I told you—I got tired of trying to stay away from you. So I’m giving up.” It was the simple truth. Perhaps she would hear it this time.

“Giving up?” she repeated, seeming confused.

“Yes—giving up trying to be good. I’m just going to do what I want now, and let the chips fall where they may.” My smile faded as I heard the angry thoughts emanating from my family at our usual table on the other side of the cafeteria. Rosalie was particularly explicit in her thoughts about the mistake she thought I was making. I was going ‘public’ with Bella, and it would not end well, she was convinced. Well, she would have to get used to it—I ignored her. It’s going to work out, Edward, thought Alice. Thank you, Alice.

“You lost me again,” she replied.

“I always say too much when I’m talking to you,” I smiled again. “That’s one of the problems.”

“Don’t worry—I don’t understand any of it,” she said wryly.

“I’m counting on that.”

“So, in plain English, are we friends now?” she asked.

“Friends…” I said, wondering, was that even possible now? What I felt for her went way beyond friendship. But, maybe that was all she wanted from me—not that I really had much more to offer.

“Or not,” she muttered.

I smiled. “Well, we can try, I suppose. But I’m warning you now that I’m not a good friend for you.” Said the spider to the fly.

“You say that a lot,” she noted.

“Yes, because you’re not listening to me.” It was one thing for me to be hopelessly in love with her, but another thing entirely for her to unknowingly put herself in danger. It was only fair to warn her. “I’m still waiting for you to believe it. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid me.”

“I think you’ve made your opinion on the subject of my intellect clear, too,” she narrowed her eyes at me. I smiled at her, trying to apologize without changing my point. She really would be better off away from me. I just didn’t know if I could stand it.

“So, as long as I’m being…not smart, we’ll try to be friends?” she summed up this ridiculous conversation we were having.

“That sounds about right.”

She looked down at her hands wrapped around the lemonade bottle. What did she think about my sudden apparent change of heart? She didn’t seem to want to look at me, and it was difficult to read her face when she wasn’t. It was incredibly frustrating not to know what was going on in her head.

“What are you thinking?” I asked, beyond curious.

She looked up into my eyes and said, “I’m trying to figure out what you are.”

I kept smiling, but my stomach lurched a little. “Are you having any luck with that?” I asked, trying to sound casual. I was fairly certain if she had any idea what my true nature was, she would running screaming from the room, as any sensible creature should.

“Not too much,” she admitted.

Laughing and relieved, I asked, “What are your theories?”

She blushed, that beautiful crimson shade so fresh on her cheeks. It gave me a rush just watching, never mind the fresh wave of perfume it sent my way. I felt myself being drawn in. Who was the spider and who was the fly, again?

“Won’t you tell me?” I asked with my most persuasive smile.

She shook her head. “Too embarrassing.”

“That’s really frustrating, you know.” Impenetrable mind and immune to my charms—it was going to drive me insane.

“No,” she disagreed, giving me a look of anger. “I can’t imagine why that would be frustrating at all—just because someone refuses to tell you what they’re thinking even if all the while they’re making cryptic little remarks specifically designed to keep you up at night wondering what they could possibly mean…now, why would that be frustrating?”

I grimaced. Of course she was right. I was being terribly unfair, downright ungentlemanly if you got down to it. She deserved the truth—it just wasn’t safe. However, she was making this difficult, demanding to know the very things I couldn’t tell her.

“Or better,” she went on, clearly annoyed, “say that person also did a wide range of bizarre things—from saving your life under impossible circumstances one day to treating you like a pariah the next, and he never explained any of that, either, even after he promised. That, also, would be very non-frustrating.”

“You’ve got a bit of a temper, don’t you?” I said, my anger rising a little. I really couldn’t help the impossible situation we were in.

“I don’t like double standards.”

We stared at each other, unsmiling. You better not hurt her, Cullen! So help me, I’ll… Newton’s thoughts interrupted our tense repartee. I glanced at him and snickered.

“What?”

“Your boyfriend seems to think I’m being unpleasant to you—he’s debating whether or not to come break up our fight.”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” she said coldly. “But I’m sure you’re wrong, anyway.”

“I’m not. I told you, most people are easy to read.”

“Except me, of course.”

“Yes. Except for you.” It kept coming back to that. I didn’t understand why the one person I wanted to understand so much, was completely closed to me. I looked deeply into those soft brown eyes, getting lost in the mystery there.

“I wonder why that is.” She looked away from me, working on unscrewing the lid of her lemonade. She took a drink, staring at the table, avoiding my gaze.

“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked, just realizing that she didn’t have any lunch.

“No,” she replied. “You?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” I grinned slightly, thinking of the extensive hunting I did last night to prepare for today…with her.

“Can you do me a favor?” she asked.

“That depends on what you want.” She seemed to always ask for what I couldn’t give—the truth.

“It’s not much,” she promised. I waited, curious but wary.

“I just wondered…if you could warn me beforehand the next time you decide to ignore me for my own good. Just so I’m prepared.” She continued to avoid looking at me as she spoke, playing with her lemonade bottle.

“That sounds fair,” I said, suppressing a laugh, relieved it wasn’t something more serious. She simply enchanted me sometimes, always the unexpected. After 90 years of much of the same, her differentness was as attractive to me as…well, the entire rest of her being.

“Thanks.”

“Then can I have one answer in return?” I asked earnestly.

“One.”

“Tell me one theory.”

“Not that one.”

“You didn’t qualify,” I insisted, “you just promised one answer.”

“And you’ve broken promises yourself,” she reminded me. Ouch.

“Just one theory—I won’t laugh.” I really wanted to know what she thought.

“Yes, you will,” she replied, certain. I looked down and then looked back up at her with my most persuasive look. Smiling, I leaned in closer and said, “Please?” Surely this would work.

“Er, what?” she asked, dazed. Finally, I was having some effect on her. It gave me a small thrill, so I pressed on.

“Please tell me just one little theory.” I gazed into her eyes, putting as much honey in my voice as possible.

“Um, well, bitten by a radioactive spider?” she blurted out. Ah, finally—and not too close to the truth, either.

“That’s not very creative,” I scoffed, beginning to wonder why I was going down this path.

“I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve got.” She seemed a little tense.

“You’re not even close,” I teased.

“No spiders?”

“No.”

“And no radioactivity?”

“None.”

“Dang,” she sighed.

“Kryptonite doesn’t bother me, either.” A smirk was curling up my lips.

“You’re not supposed to laugh, remember?”

Oops. I tried to keep my face straight.

“I’ll figure it out eventually,” she said, warningly. Oops again.

“I wish you wouldn’t try,” I said seriously. Why did I ask her about this? Was I pathologically bent on putting us both in danger?

“Because...?”

“What if I’m not a superhero? What if I’m the bad guy?” I asked playfully, starting to get nervous, wondering how much of this she had already guessed.

“Oh,” she said, suddenly appearing to figure something out. “I see.”

Oh no. “Do you?” What in the world was I doing? I talked far too much, too easily, around Bella, and here we were stumbling around the one thing she couldn’t know about.

“You’re dangerous?” she guessed, and I could hear her heart speed up. She knew. She knew and she was afraid. This was the point where she was going to run screaming from the room, and I would lose her. I just stared at her, horrified about what she would do.

“But not bad,” she whispered, shaking her head. “No, I don’t believe that you’re bad.”

“You’re wrong,” I whispered, knowing how desperately bad I was. I put her in danger, my family at risk, all because…all because I selfishly wanted to be with her. I looked down, taking the bottle cap and spinning it on its side between my fingers. I couldn’t look at her. Despair gripped me again.

While we were locked in our intensely private bubble, the cafeteria had emptied out. Thankfully, my family was long gone, and probably did not overhear the last part of our conversation. The bell was going to ring for class at any moment, but I made no motion to leave, mired in my misery.

She jumped to her feet. “We’re going to be late.”

“I’m not going to class today,” I said, continuing to twirl the lid and not look at her.

“Why not?”

“It’s healthy to ditch class now and then,” I said, smiling up at her, but still despondent. Even though I couldn’t attend class today, even though just talking to her seemed a risky business, I was going to miss sitting by her for the next hour. What kind of pathetic fiend was I?

“Well, I’m going,” she said.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I said, staring at the spinning top again. I stayed seated while she hurried out the door as the bell rang. You’re dangerous? Oh yes. More than you know, sweet Bella. I sighed. I needed some distraction. I slowly dragged myself up from the table. I turned, checked that the cafeteria was truly empty, and pitched the bottle cap in a perfect arc clear to the other side of the cafeteria. It fell neatly into the open trash can with a soft plink.

Outside the rain had turned into a soft mist, which also seemed to be fading. I would wait out the rest of the next period in my car, maybe catch Bella at the end of school. The hallways were empty, my painfully slow footsteps echoing off the lockers. I was alone, as if the school were empty. Some music would fill some of the hole, I thought. I should still have that Debussy CD in my car. Perhaps it would take my mind off this dangerous path I had started down and seemed unable to stop.

The mist formed beads of water in all shapes and sizes on my windshield. The melancholy music didn’t do much to lift my mood, but fit the hopelessness of my situation with Bella. Somehow throwing caution to the wind, simply sharing lunch, had only reminded me how impossible it was to be with Bella. The drops grew, joined with nearby drops, and became indistinguishable from one another. They slowly cried their way down the windshield…

I had only been in the car for a few minutes, when I saw Newton slowly towing someone across campus, coming around the corner of the cafeteria. When she lifted her head, I saw it was Bella. She sat down—something was very wrong. I searched Newton’s mind as I flew out of the car…something went wrong in class. She slumped over, face against the cold sidewalk, eyes closed.

“Wow, you’re green, Bella,” Mike was saying nervously.

“Bella?” I said, still far away, near the parking lot. What had happened? I leave her alone for a few minutes…I flew across the school grounds.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded from Newton, having nearly reached them now. “Is she hurt?”

I could tell from his thoughts that it was just a reaction to the blood typing they had been doing in Biology—the very reason I was sitting in my car, rather than attending class today. “I think she’s fainted. I don’t know what happened, she didn’t even stick her finger,” he said, stressed.

“Bella,” I said, relieved, bending down beside her. “Can you hear me?”

“No,” she groaned. “Go away.” I chuckled.

“I was taking her to the nurse,” Mike insisted, “but she wouldn’t go any farther.”

“I’ll take her,” I said. “You can go back to class.” I smirked. Newton was not going to like that.

“No,” Mike protested. “I’m supposed to do it.”

Ignoring him, I scooped Bella up from the sidewalk. I easily carried her in my arms, light as a feather as I walked away, leaving Newton behind. I held her as far away from my body as possible—she literally radiated heat and felt deliciously warm in my hands. Holding her closer was very tempting. Her eyes flew open.

“Put me down!” she protested.

“Hey!” Mike called, already yards behind, thinking daggers. I continued to ignore him.

“You look awful,” I said grinning at Bella, and truly she had a terrible green cast to her face. “So you faint at the sight of blood?” I asked, highly amused.

She closed her eyes again and, looking worse.

“And not even your own blood,” I continued, teasing her further. I carried her through the door into the warm office.

“Oh my,” Ms. Cope, the receptionist, said.

“She fainted in Biology,” I explained, walking past the front counter to the nurse’s door. Ms. Cope held the door open for us and the nurse seemed astonished as I swept in and gently placed Bella on the paper covered brown vinyl mattress on the cot. I moved to the far end of the room and watched.

“She’s just a little faint,” I reassured the nurse. “They’re blood typing in Biology.”

The nurse nodded. “There’s always one.” I suppressed a laugh—yes, that one would be Bella.

“Just lie down for a minute, honey; it’ll pass,” she continued.

“I know,” said Bella, sounding better.

“Does this happen a lot?” the nurse asked.

“Sometimes,” Bella admitted. I had to cough to hide my laughter.

“You can go back to class now,” the nurse said to me, not approving of my amusement.

“I’m supposed to stay with her,” I said, with all the seriousness and authority I could muster while trying not to laugh. She didn’t seem to like it, but she didn’t argue any further with me.

“I’ll go get you some ice for your forehead, dear,” she said to Bella and then left the room.

“You were right,” Bella moaned, eyes closed. I grinned. There was something very pleasing about hearing those words from her.

“I usually am—but about what in particular this time?”

“Ditching is healthy.” She was trying to breathe evenly. Listening to her breathe, heart beating steadily and radiating warmth, she reminded me of my flash of fear.

“You scared me for a minute there,” I admitted, all joking aside. “I thought Newton was dragging your dead body off to bury it in the woods.”

“Ha ha.” Her eyes were still closed, but her color was better.

“Honestly—I’ve seen corpses with better color. I was concerned that I might have to avenge your murder.”

“Poor Mike. I’ll bet he’s mad.”

“He absolutely loathes me,” I said, cheerfully, very much enjoying that fact.

“You can’t know that,” she argued.

“I saw his face—I could tell.” And his thoughts on the subject were pretty explicit as well.

“How did you see me? I thought you were ditching.” She was returning to her normal feistiness.

“I was in my car, listening to a CD,” I said. The door opened and the nurse came back in with a cold compress for Bella.

“Here you go, dear.” She laid it across Bella’s forehead. “You’re looking better.”

“I think I’m fine,” Bella said, sitting up. Just then the door opened and Ms. Cope stuck her head in.

“We’ve got another one,” she warned. Bella hopped down from the cot, handing the compress back to the nurse.

“Here, I don’t need this,” Bella said, and then Newton staggered through the door, now helping Lee Stephens, who looked almost as sick as Bella had a few minutes prior. Bella and I drew back against the wall to give them room. I could smell the blood on Stephens’ finger, still fresh from when he had poked it in Biology.

“Oh no,” I muttered. ”Go out to the office, Bella.”

She gave me a bewildered look. “Trust me—go.”

She caught the door before it closed and darted out of the nurse’s office. I trailed right behind her.

“You actually listened to me.” I said, stunned, wondering where the feistiness had gone.

“I smelled the blood,” she explained.

“People can’t smell blood,” I argued.

“Well, I can—that’s what makes me sick. It smells like rust…and salt.”

I stared at her. Was there no end to the surprises with this one? She can smell blood, which no human ought to be able to do, and yet it makes her sick. When I smell her blood, it makes me…

“What?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” I said, not wanting to finish that thought. Newton came through the door and glanced at Bella and I. The loathing look he gave me was very satisfying. He looked glumly at Bella. “You look better,” he accused.

“Just keep your hand in your pocket,” Bella warned him again.

“It’s not bleeding anymore,” he muttered. “Are you going back to class?”

“Are you kidding? I’d just have to turn around and come back.”

“Yeah, I guess…so are you going this weekend? To the beach?” Newton glared at me. He wanted to make sure I was not included in his little beach party. I pretended to stare off into space, but was intensely curious as to whether she would agree to go with him.

“Sure, I said I was in,” Bella replied.

“We’re meeting at my dad’s store, at ten.” Newton glanced at me again. Don’t worry, Newton, I won’t be crashing your party. I would much prefer if Bella didn’t go either. Not that I had any right to that.

“I’ll be there,” Bella promised. My heart sank. I was hoping she would find a reason to turn him down.

“I’ll see you in Gym, then,” Newton said, hesitating, moving toward the door. He clearly did not want to leave Bella with me. My anger flashed. If Newton loathed me, it was nothing compared to the resentment I had that he had gym with her—and now the beach.

“See you,” Bella replied, and Newton finally left, shoulders slumped.

“Gym,” Bella groaned after Newton was gone.

I moved quickly to Bella’s side and whispered in her ear, “I can take care of that. Go sit down and look pale.”

Amazingly, she did as I said, again, and sat in one of the creaky folding chairs of the office, resting her head against the wall with her eyes closed. Back at the counter, I called sweetly to the receptionist. “Ms. Cope?”

“Yes?”

“Bella has Gym next hour, and I don’t think she feels well enough. Actually, I was thinking I should take her home now. Do you think you could excuse her from class?” My gaze locked with the receptionist, voice all sweetness and light.

“Do you need to be excused, too, Edward?” Ms. Cope asked, easily persuaded. How I wished my charms worked as easily on Bella.

“No, I have Mrs. Goff, she won’t mind.”

“Okay, it’s all taken care of. You feel better, Bella,” she called to her. Bella nodded weakly and I tried not to laugh and break the pretense.

Smiling wickedly at Bella, with my back turned to the receptionist so that she could not see, my voice was all innocence, “Can you walk, or do you want me to carry you again?”

“I’ll walk,” said Bella, eyeing me.

I held the door for her, laughing with my eyes. As we walked out, the cold mist started to fall again. We started walking towards the parking lot, with plenty of time before school ended. This was turning out much better than I had hoped.

“Thanks,” she said. “It’s almost worth getting sick to miss Gym.”

“Anytime,” I replied. Anytime I can keep you out of Newton’s grasp.

“So are you going? This Saturday, I mean?” she asked me. She was inviting me? With Newton clearly not wanting me there? It shocked me how good that made me feel. If only I could go—but a sunny beach…filled with humans…no.

“Where are you all going, exactly?” I asked, keeping my expression neutral. At least I could find out where they were going to be, maybe keep an eye on Newton, maybe keep her out of the trouble she always seemed to find.

“Down to La Push, to First Beach,” she said, watching me. Or maybe not.

“I really don’t think I was invited,” I said, smiling wryly.

“I just invited you,” she sighed.

“Let’s you and I not push poor Mike any further this week. We don’t want him to snap.” I very much enjoyed that thought.

“Mike-schmike,” she muttered, making me grin.

As we approached the parking lot, she moved left toward her truck. What was she thinking? I caught her jacket and pulled her back.

“Where do think you’re going?” I asked, outraged. I planned on driving her home, and was very much looking forward to being alone with her. This was my last chance to see her for the rest of the weekend. Besides, she was in no condition to drive.

“I’m going home,” she said.

“Didn’t you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I’m going to let you drive in your condition?” She made it very difficult to keep her safe.

“What condition?” she protested. “And what about my truck?”

“I’ll have Alice drop it off after school,” I said, towing her toward my car. I wasn’t taking no for an answer on this one.

“Let go!” she insisted. I ignored her and continued dragging her until we reached the Volvo. When I released her, she stumbled against the passenger door.

“You are so pushy!” she grumbled.

“It’s open,” I said, and slipped into the driver’s side.

“I am perfectly capable of driving myself home!” She stood next to the car, refusing to get in. The rain drifted down and started soaking her hair—which I knew she didn’t like, but looked quite attractive in a soaked kitten kind of way.

I rolled down the automatic window and leaned toward her, across the seat. “Get in, Bella.” When she hesitated, I added, “I’ll just drag you back.”

She finally got in the car, looking miffed. “This is completely unnecessary,” she whined.

I started the car so I could turn up the heat for her. She had to be freezing. The music blared forth from the speakers, set high from before, when I was alone in the car. I turned it down. She silently fumed as I pulled out of the parking lot, but at least she was safe. Well, as safe as she could be when alone with me.

“Clair de Lune?” she asked suddenly, surprised.

“You know Debussy?” I asked, surprised as well.

“Not well,” she admitted. “My mother plays a lot of classical music around the house—I only know my favorites.”

“It’s one of my favorites, too,” I said, staring at the rain and the road. I listened to this when I thought about…her. It was sad and sweet—and reminded me of the long empty nights, my time alone. The town flashed by as I drove, too fast, as usual. I wondered what she thought about when she was alone. Did she think about me? Did she miss her family?

“What is your mother like?” I asked her suddenly, realizing how very little I knew about this lovely creature that I had just rescued, again.

She glanced at me. “She looks a lot like me, but she’s prettier,” she said. I had a hard time imagining that. “I have too much Charlie in me,” she continued. “She’s more outgoing than I am, and braver. She’s irresponsible and slightly eccentric, and she’s a very unpredictable cook. She’s my best friend.” I stared at her. I heard a sad longing in her voice. I didn’t like it.

“How old are you, Bella?” I asked, having a hard time believing that this wise mind inhabited a seventeen year old body, and wishing once again I could see what else lay in that mind. I stopped the car—we had arrived at her father’s house. The rain sheeted the windshield, blurring our view.

“I’m seventeen,” she responded, confused.

“You don’t seem seventeen,” I said, wondering if there was something more I should know about. This girl whose mind I could not read.

She laughed. “What?” I asked, wondering why that was amusing.

“My mom always says I was born thirty-five years old and that I get more middle-aged every year.” She laughed and then sighed. “Well, someone has to be the adult.” Then she looked at me, a little suspiciously, and said, “You don’t seem much like a junior in high school yourself.”

I grimaced. Dangerous topics lurked at every turn with her. I changed the subject. “So why did your mother marry Phil?”

After a moment she said, “My mother…she’s very young for her age. I think Phil makes her feel even younger. At any rate, she’s crazy about him.” She shook her head.

“Do you approve?” I asked.

“Does it matter?” she retorted. “I want her to be happy…and he is who she wants.”

“That’s very generous…I wonder,” I thought out loud.

“What?”

“Would she extend the same courtesy to you, do you think? No matter who your choice was?” I stared into her eyes, hoping she would answer me honestly. I don’t know what I was thinking, that somehow we could…be a couple. A real couple—where I introduced myself to her parents, and could expect them to possibly accept me?

“I—I think so,” she stuttered. “But she’s the parent, after all. It’s a little bit different.” It was ridiculous. For an instant, I imagined introducing myself to her mother. “Hello, Mrs. Swan. So very pleased to meet you. I’m Edward Cullen, the vampire, and I very much love your daughter.” It was absurd.

“No one too scary then,” I teased.

She grinned. “What do you mean by scary? Multiple facial piercings and extensive tattoos?”

“That’s one definition, I suppose.”

“What’s your definition?” Not what you’re thinking.

“Do you think that I could be scary?” I asked, teasing again.

She seemed to think it over and then said, “Hmmm…I think you could be, if you wanted to.”

Why did I keep leading her down these paths, to places I couldn’t go, things I couldn’t explain. It was almost as if I wanted her to know. Perhaps I had gone insane after all.

“Are you frightened of me now?” I said, all teasing gone, and a little of that fear clutching at my stomach, certain at some point she was going to figure all this out—and then she would be gone, running in terror from the monster that I was.

“No,” she answered quickly. I smiled again, relieved.

“So, now are you going to tell me about your family?” she asked. “It’s got to be a much more interesting story than mine.”

Dangerous territory, again. “What do you want to know?”

“The Cullens adopted you?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to your parents?”

“They died many years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

“I don’t really remember them that clearly,” I said, which was true. My human days were so long ago, they were a hazy memory. “Carlisle and Esme have been my parents for a long time now.”

“And you love them,” she stated.

“Yes,” I smiled, loving that we could talk so openly about my family. ”I couldn’t imagine two better people.”

“You’re very lucky.”

“I know I am.” Well, at least in that regard.

“And your brother and sister?”

I glanced at the clock. “My brother and sister, and Jasper and Rosalie for that matter, are going to be quite upset if they have to stand in the rain waiting for me,” I said, especially when they find out I was with you.

“Oh, sorry, I guess you have to go.”

“And you probably want your truck back before Chief Swan gets home, so you don’t have to tell him about the Biology incident.” I grinned.

“I’m sure he’s already heard. There are no secrets in Forks,” she sighed.

I laughed heartily at that one—the absurdity of it all. I glanced at the pouring rain outside. “Have fun at the beach…good weather for sun bathing.” I hoped that maybe they would have to cancel, after all, but Alice’s predictions of the weather were never wrong.

“Won’t I see you tomorrow?” she asked, and I thought I heard a little of that same longing in her voice that I felt.

“No. Emmett and I are starting the weekend early,” I said. I would be hunting, so I could come back and spend more time with Miss Bella Swan. Emmett was still hoping for a bear of some kind and had asked me to start early with him. I wished now that I had turned him down.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, tentatively.

“We’re going to be hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, just south of Rainier.”

“Oh, well, have fun.” She didn’t sound like she wanted to leave. I felt uneasy about having a whole weekend away from her, with Newton hanging around, and who knew what trouble she might get into next…

“Will you do something for me this weekend?” I asked with a smile, catching her eyes with mine, hoping to sear one last look in before I left. I could hear her heart skip a little, hopefully caused by that same feeling that would make my dead heart skip, if it could. She nodded. “Don’t be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So…try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?” I smiled playfully at her.

She glared at me. “I’ll see what I can do,” she snapped and jumped out into the rain. She slammed the door, but I was still smiling as I drove away, hoping that heart skip was enough to keep her mine until I could see her again.