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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.


8. Chapter 8 - Port Angeles

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6796   Review this Chapter

Chapter 8 – Port Angeles

The infallible Alice predicted sunny, sunrise to sunset. My family would not come home until after dark, leaving me alone in the house for another day. My solitude perfectly fit my mood, but my typical distractions had lost some of their appeal. My impressive music collection, lining the walls of my room, seemed empty of anything new. I had perfected Bella’s lullaby, but it was too melancholy to match my keyed up mood of anticipation for this afternoon—the meadow then.

It took some time to get there, but the run released some of the agitation that I felt so that when I arrived I was calmer. The sheer beauty of it on a sun-filled day always gave me a rush. Perfectly round, filled with early spring flowers swaying in the breeze, it was my hazy retreat from the world. The gentle splashing of a stream nearby provided a musical backdrop to the symphony of colors and scents of the meadow. I took a great leap, landing in the exact center of the meadow. Laying down, enveloped in the rich smell of earth and wildflowers, I stared up at the cloudless sky and felt my mind emptying of the anxiety I seemed to always feel when I was not with her.

In the many decades of my inhuman existence, and the many places my family and I had lived, there was nowhere that quite matched the serenity of this small meadow. The rightness of Bella and I seemed to make perfect sense here. The worries about how easily I could kill her, without even trying, and how I longed to touch her, but would horrify her if I did, seemed to just wash away in the sun-drenched meadow breeze. That there could never be a future for us that didn’t involve ending her life, seemed unimportant here—it was eternally now in this meadow. Just the moment. And there, in the moment, the love I felt for Bella seemed all that mattered. I drank it in and held unnaturally still, trying to keep hold of it. If someone chanced upon the meadow then they would have thought a brilliant diamond statute had been toppled and left—frozen and inert—but with an expression of bliss that belied the coldness of my long-dead heart. I felt more alive in that moment than at any time since I had actually been human. This is what Bella meant to me—she was simply my life.

In time the moment passed and I realized I should head back if I was going to follow Bella and her friends to Port Angeles. The sun would make it tricky to follow them unseen, but I could keep a reasonable distance since I knew where they were going.

Jessica followed Bella home from school in her old white Mercury. From Bella’s house, they stopped at Angela’s to pick her up and then were on the interstate on their way to Port Angeles. Jessica’s mind was easy to follow from a distance and I kept the Volvo on side roads to keep from being seen. She was prattling on and on about her date with Mike and how she hoped he would kiss her on Saturday at the dance. Clearly Mike had a better chance with Jessica than I had with Bella, I thought ruefully. Angela’s mind was a calmer, more pleasant place to listen, so I concentrated on her instead. She also was looking forward to the dance, but wasn’t so enthused about her date Eric. Jessica was relentless in grilling Angela about her feelings for Eric. Angela was grateful when Bella changed the subject, sparing her the indignity. Bella seemed to have a bond with Angela, and I imagined that Bella’s mind must be more of the quiet, gentle place that Angela’s was.

Port Angeles was a tourist trap, with boardwalks by the bay and trinket shops. Jessica and Angela planned to head straight to the one large department store in town where the locals went to shop, a few streets away from the boardwalk. I lingered at the edge of town, parking down a long unused side road, and tracked their movements through Angela’s thoughts. They were heading towards the department store when Angela seemed shocked to find out that Bella had never been to a dance in Phoenix. I guessed that she really didn’t enjoy dancing, certain that she had had numerous offers. Angela thought Bella was beautiful, and kind, but perhaps had not met someone who would meet her qualifications. She didn’t think of Bella as pretentious, or that she had overly high standards, just that she hadn’t yet met the right person. Angela could understand that—she was waiting too. Angela hoped that maybe Bella had found that person, perhaps in Edward Cullen?

It was strange to hear myself in Angela’s thoughts—I didn’t think she had ever given me a moment’s notice before. Although she thought I was unnaturally attractive—as many of the Forks High girls had seemed to think until their subconscious side understood the danger I was to them—she wasn’t sure if I was right for her friend Bella. She thought Bella deserved someone who was her equal. I couldn’t agree with her more, not at all sure that that person could be me. Angela didn’t seem to know that Bella had agreed to ride with me to Seattle on Saturday, so Bella must have kept that from her friend. I wondered why, but realized that Bella was a private person just like Angela.

Bella was now trying to convince Jessica and Angela that she had never had a boyfriend, or anything close to it. She claimed she didn’t go out much and that no one asked her. Jessica frankly did not believe this, and thought Bella was lying for some strange reason. Angela thought that confirmed her suspicions that Bella was very selective.

Jessica seemed skeptical. “People ask you out here,” she said, “and you tell them no.” They were scanning through racks of dresses.

“Well, except for Tyler,” Angela added quietly, wondering if Bella knew Tyler’s intentions.

“Excuse me?” Bella gasped, clearly not. “What did you say?”

“Tyler told everyone he’s taking you to prom,” Jessica said suspiciously.

“He said what?” Bella choked out.

“I told you it wasn’t true,” said Angela to Jessica. She guessed that Tyler had made up some fantasy about Bella, maybe because of the accident—he simply wasn’t Bella’s type. She briefly thought about what Bella’s type would be. He would be someone handsome, of course, but quiet, thoughtful—someone intelligent enough to keep up with her brilliant friend. I wondered if Angela thought I would fit those criteria. But they were heavily into the dress selection process now and I let my attention wander.

Bella’s life was a complicated web of friends, family, and relationships I really didn’t know anything about. How had I come to love someone I didn’t really know? I resolved to be more deliberate in my questions the next time I had the chance to talk to her. Now that I was able to tolerate her overwhelming perfume more easily, I should be able to spend more time with her. Next Saturday would be the perfect time to talk, but I didn’t want to wait until then. Perhaps tomorrow at lunch…

The sun was starting to sink into the ocean and the brilliance of the day began to fade. Soon I would be a little freer to move around, more able to closely follow Bella and her friends. I searched again for Angela’s thoughts, finding they had moved on from the dress shop. They were taking a walk down by the bay, slowly winding their way toward an Italian restaurant on the boardwalk where they planned to have dinner.

Soon they had finished their window shopping and lingered outside the restaurant. Jessica continued her search for details about Angela’s relationship with Eric—how she must be delighted that Eric was taller than her, and that she could actually wear those cute, pink strappy heels she had found at the store, and did she think that they would start dating seriously, and…my attention was about to wander again, not having much tolerance for Jessica’s endless interrogation, but I stopped short when Angela said, “Don’t you think we should wait for Bella, before we eat?” What? Bella wasn’t with them?

Angela was really just interrupting Jessica, hoping to dissuade her from this line of constant questioning, but she was also wondering why Bella was taking so long at the bookstore. The bookstore. I stole an image from Angela’s thoughts of Jessica pointing out a small bookstore down the street from the dress shop. How long had she been gone? I threw the Volvo in reverse and skidded out of the dirt road I had been hiding on.

I told myself there was no reason to worry, that someone had certainly seen her. Someone would notice the lovely dark haired girl walking by herself in the backwaters of Port Angeles. I drove faster. I started scanning, listening into any stray thoughts I could find, looking for anyone who saw or noticed her. I found the bookstore almost by accident, driving right past it on my way into town. I parked my car on the side of the street under the lengthening shadows from the setting sun. As I neared the bookstore, I caught her trail. She had been here, but she had kept going down the street, heading farther into the industrial part of town. The older woman who kept the shop had seen her, but Bella had not entered the shop.

I followed her scent down the street, toward a repair shop and an abandoned store, at which point she turned the corner and went further into the business part of town. It was closing down for the day. What was she doing? I went back to the Volvo to remain in the shadows until the sun had fully set and listened for others who had seen her. A businessman on his way to his car, talking on his phone…a waitress on her way to her shift…a pair of tourists heading to a restaurant on the boardwalk…none had noticed a seventeen year old girl walking the streets by herself. Two warehouse workers getting off a shift, looking for some entertainment…one of them was a low-life looking for some fun.

I noticed the clouds were starting to return. Coupled with the setting sun, it was safe for me to move about the street. It would be easier to follow Bella’s trail on foot. I started to get out of the car. The low-life and his friend were waiting for someone—waiting for their other two friends to meet up with them…and something else. I recognized the excitement, the anticipation in the low-life’s thoughts. I knew a predator when I felt one—and he was hunting. He was waiting for his prey and his friends were herding…her toward them. I saw the image of Bella in his mind and panic gripped me. No time to go on foot. I turned on the car, and gunned it as I headed in the direction that her trail pointed. I desperately searched through the predator’s friend’s minds – where were they? A doorless alley…a row of industrial buildings…but where?

The predator was thinking about her, relishing the thought of having her in his control. He would let his friends have her first, and then he would be the one to finish it. A red haze of fury welled up inside me and I could barely see the buildings as they flew past the car. He was excited to see that first look of fear, when she realized what was going to happen to her—and then the screaming would start. I growled out loud in my frustration—where were they??

She had come around the corner into the alley where the predator was waiting. I could see she was trapped between the low-life and his accomplice at one end of the alley and the other two friends, the ones that had been following Bella, at the other end. Through their eyes I could see…streetlamps…cars…a shop I recognized. I spun the Volvo around and headed back toward the bookstore. Anger and panic threatened to overwhelm me, but I kept looking for the turn…it had to be here somewhere…

The predator was enjoying the look of fear that had gripped Bella. She had stopped, halfway between the two sets of men, gripping her purse with one hand.

“Stay away from me,” she said in a soft voice, body rigid, concentrating on something.

“Don’t be like that, sugar,” the predator said, prompting vicious laughter from his thugs. He was eyeing Bella up and down, imaging all ways he would like to hurt her before he was done. A furious growl erupted from my throat. Suddenly, there was the alley—I spun the Volvo around the corner and nearly hit the predator with my car, forcing him to jump back toward the sidewalk. I fishtailed around, skidding to a stop so that the passenger door was just a few feet from Bella. I whipped open the door and choked out “Get in.” Bella jumped into the seat and slammed the door shut behind her. I wanted nothing more that to get out of the car and shred those animals into small pieces…but I didn’t want Bella to see that, and more importantly I needed to get her to safety. I was so enraged I was shaking. I spun the car back around to the north, accelerating quickly, and swerving toward the men on the street. They dove for the sidewalk, scattering like the rats they were, as I straightened out the car and sped toward the harbor.

I knew they had not touched her, but she must be terrified—she was gripping the seat with both hands.

“Put on your seat belt,” I commanded, trying to keep the trembling anger out of my voice. I took a sharp left and blew through several stop signs without stopping. I needed to get away before my anger completely overwhelmed me and sent me back there, intent on killing them all.

It was dark in the car. Bella was quiet, staring at me.

“Are you okay?” she asked, hoarsely.

“No,” was all I could manage to say, still trying to control my murderous rage.

I stared straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel, and she just continued staring at me. We were outside of town, far enough away from the human fiends we had just left behind that I could no longer hear their frustrated, disgusting thoughts. I stopped the car.

“Bella?” I asked, barely in control of my voice.

“Yes?” she answered, voice still rough. She cleared her throat.

“Are you all right?” I asked, still not looking at her, thinking if I did I might lose what small amount of control I had.

“Yes,” she said softly.

“Distract me, please,” I ordered, trying to think of what to do next—something, anything to keep me from going back and becoming a murderer in front of Bella’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, what?” she asked.

I exhaled sharply, trying to keep my wits about me. “Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down,” I said, a little more calmly, closing my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger. Just hearing her voice, knowing she was okay should help. Her scent was starting to fill the car and that didn’t help keep the fiend inside me at bay. If I lost control tonight, though, it wouldn’t be her blood I would be spilling.

“Um…I’m going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?” she said.

My eyes still closed, I smiled slightly. “Why?”

“He’s telling everyone that he’s taking me to prom—either he’s insane or he’s still trying to make up for almost killing me last…well, you remember it, and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we’re even, and he can’t keep trying to make amends. I don’t need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though. If he doesn’t have a ride he can’t take anyone to prom…” she babbled on, and it helped. I could feel my sanity coming back within sight.

“I heard about that,” I interrupted her.

You did?” she asked in disbelief. “If he’s paralyzed from the neck down, he can’t go to the prom, either,” she said, further refining her diabolical plan. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes.

“Better?” she asked.

“Not really.” I still wanted to go back and inflict some of the torture those cretins had planned for Bella on them. Especially the predator—Bella was not his first victim. He richly deserved to die, slowly. I leaned my head back against the seat, staring at the ceiling of the car. I couldn’t be a murderer in front of Bella—I didn’t want to be a murderer at all.

“What’s wrong?” she asked in a whisper.

“Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella.” I was whispering too, staring out the window. “But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” Just talking about it was bringing my anger back to full boil. “At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.”

“Oh,” she said quietly. We sat in silence for a moment. I wondered what she could possibly be thinking of all this…

“Jessica and Angela will be worried,” she murmured. “I was supposed to meet them.”

Jessica and Angela—those animals might still be lurking around looking for fresh victims. I started the engine, turned around and sped back towards town. Searching for Angela’s thoughts, I quickly found they were fine—just finishing dinner. We weren’t far out of town. Weaving quickly through the cars slowly cruising the boardwalk, we soon arrived at the restaurant. I parked the Volvo next to La Bella Italia just as Jessica and Angela were leaving. They were worried about Bella and were walking anxiously in the opposite direction of our car.

“How did you know where…?” Bella started, but then just shook her head. I opened the door of the car and she asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m taking you to dinner,” I said, smiling slightly. There was no way I was letting her out of my sight tonight. I stepped out of the car and waited for her on the sidewalk. “Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too. I don’t think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again,” I said darkly.

“Jess! Angela!” she yelled after them, waving when they turned. They rushed back over to us, relief on their faces changing to surprise as they saw me. Jessica thought Bella had pre-arranged some kind of meeting with me.

“Where have you been?” she asked with suspicion.

“I got lost,” said Bella sheepishly, “and then I ran into Edward.” She gestured toward me. I was wrong—Bella was very good at dissembling when she wanted to.

“Would it be all right if I joined you?” I asked in my persuasive voice, honey dripping on the sidewalk. Of course, there was no option of Bella leaving without me. I needed make sure she was safe, and at this point she was the only thing keeping me from murdering four men. Jessica was easy to persuade. I must have overdone it, because she seemed to think I wanted to spend some time with her.

“Er…sure,” she breathed at me.

“Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting—sorry,” Angela confessed. She was much quicker than Jessica and had already figured out that I wanted to stay with Bella. She wanted to help her friend, and was looking for a way to pry Jessica out of the scene. I silently thanked Angela and decided that I needed to have a higher regard for her in the future. She was a good friend to Bella.

“That’s fine—I’m not hungry,” Bella said.

“I think you should eat something,” I said softly, but with no room for argument. Giving Jessica my full stare, I said, slightly louder, “Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight? That way you won’t have to wait while she eats.”

“Uh, no problem, I guess…” She bit her lip, trying to figure out if Bella really wanted to stay with me or not. She wanted to stay and figure out what was going on between Bella and I. Something in Bella’s expression told her it was okay to leave. Angela once again came to my aid.

“Okay,” said Angela. “See you tomorrow, Bella…Edward.” She grabbed Jessica’s hand and pulled her toward the car, which was parked nearby across First Street. As they got in, Jessica turned and waved, dying of curiosity to know what we had planned and how we had “chanced” to meet each other in Port Angeles. Angela was smiling and overly happy for Bella to have time alone with me. Bella waved back to them as they left, waiting for them to drive away before she turned to face me again.

“Honestly, I’m not hungry,” she insisted. Of course not, she was in shock.

“Humor me,” I said flatly, turning to the restaurant. I walked to the door and held it open, again allowing no option for her to refuse me. She walked past me into the restaurant with a sigh.

The off-season in Port Angeles meant there were few customers in La Bella Italia. As the hostess approached us, I asked, “A table for two?” She led us to a table big enough for four in the center of the most crowded area of the dining floor. Before Bella could sit, I shook my head at her.

“Perhaps something more private?” I insisted quietly to our host, handing her a tip to ensure there would be no objections.

“Sure.” She was surprised, but did not protest. I could only imagine the questions that were running through Bella’s head and the things she would ask me once we were alone. I didn’t want to chance being overheard, and…I simply wanted to have Bella alone. Our hostess led us around a partition to a small ring of booths—all of them empty.

“How’s this?” she asked.

“Perfect,” I said, smiling briefly at her.

“Um, your server will be right out,” she replied and left us alone.

“You really shouldn’t do that to people,” Bella objected. “It’s hardly fair.”

“Do what?” I asked, perplexed. Was it not proper to ask for a private table any longer? It had, admittedly, been a long time since I was in a restaurant.

“Dazzle them like that—she’s probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now.”

What was she talking about? The hostess had gone to the kitchen and was excitedly telling the waitress about us. She thought the waitress was very lucky to be serving our table. I couldn’t understand why.

“Oh, come on,” Bella said dubiously. “You have to know the effect you have on people.

I tilted my head and wondered if Bella noticed the unnatural attraction humans felt for us, like she noticed everything else. I had thought she was immune to that, since all my concerted efforts to persuade her usually failed miserably.

“I dazzle people?” I asked, very curious what she meant by that.

“You haven’t noticed? Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?”

“Do I dazzle you?” I asked, leaning in slightly. This was a possibility I had not considered.

“Frequently,” she replied. I stared at her, pondering the options this opened up. I dazzled her. Of course, dazzle didn’t approach what she did to me. But the possibility that I could have that kind of effect on her was taking my breath away.

Our server had arrived, wanting something. I couldn’t take my eyes off Bella, wondering what exactly it would take to turn Bella as breathless as I was.

“Hello. My name is Amber, and I’ll be your server tonight. What can I get you to drink?”

“I’ll have a Coke?” Bella said.

“Two Cokes,” I added, still staring at Bella. I had a hard time imagining what kind of effect I could have on her. She always seemed preternaturally calm. Tonight—in spite of the radical danger she had just survived—she showed no signs of shock. The waitress said something, and left.

“What?” she asked.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, trying to read her reactions.

“I’m fine,” she replied.

“You don’t feel dizzy, sick, cold…?”

“Should I?” she asked puzzled.

I chuckled. “Well, I’m actually waiting for you to go into shock,” I said, smiling at her. She seemed to hold her breath for an instant. Did I cause that? Once again, I was horribly inept without the ability to read her.

“I don’t think that will happen,” she said. “I’ve always been very good at repressing unpleasant things.”

“Just the same, I’ll feel better when you have some sugar and food in you,” I said.

The waitress appeared and delivered our drinks and a basket of breadsticks.

“Are you ready to order?” she asked.

“Bella?” I asked.

“Um…I’ll have the mushroom ravioli.”

“And you?” The waitress turned to me.

“Nothing for me,” I replied. I was still staring at Bella, wondering what she meant by “unpleasant things”—maybe that was why she was able to tolerate being with me? That alienness that always drove sensible humans away—somehow that didn’t bother her and allowed her to get…close to me. The waitress said something else, and left again.

“Drink,” I ordered. She complied, drinking deeply, finishing the coke quickly. I pushed my glass to her. Even if she didn’t have the good sense to act shocked, at least I could make sure she forestalled any of the physical effects.

“Thanks,” she muttered, and then shivered.

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“It’s just the Coke,” she explained, shivering again.

“Don’t you have a jacket?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said looking down at the bench, and then, “Oh—I left it in Jessica’s car.”

I took off my leather jacket and handed it to her. She was staring oddly at my chest. Did she find me attractive, in just my turtleneck sweater? The possibility gave me a surge of pleasure.

“Thanks,” she said, sliding her arms into the jacket. I’m sure it was cold, like my body, not providing much immediate relief to her chills. She shivered again. The sleeves were too long, so she shoved them back to free her hands. For the first time since rescuing her tonight, I really looked at her, softly lit in the muted light of the restaurant. My tan jacket covered her periwinkle blue sweater, her dark hair falling in cascades over them both, lightly touching her bare neck and collarbones slightly showing under the sweater. Her pale skin was an even more dramatic contrast to her warm eyes in the low light.

“That color blue looks lovely with your skin,” I said, gazing at her. She seemed surprised and looked down, flushing that beautiful color as the blood pooled in her cheeks. I held my breath for just a second, glad that I had hunted so much over the weekend that those cheeks only caused a small flare of fire in my throat. I had that aching feeling again—I so wanted to reach out and touch her cheek. Needing to do something with my hands, I pushed the bread basket toward her.

“Really, I’m not going into shock,” she protested.

“You should be—a normal person would be. You don’t even look ashen.” How could she be so immune to the abnormal events all around her? Her eyes captured me, as if I could see the mystery of her in them. She stared back at me.

“I feel very safe with you,” she said suddenly. I frowned, shaking my head. She had it completely backward. I was dangerous to her—but apparently not the only danger. I was beginning to realize that I needed to be on constant watch or I would lose her to some dangerous force of nature other than myself.

“This is more complicated than I’d planned,” I murmured.

She picked up a breadstick and nibbled at it. “Usually you’re in a better mood when your eyes are so light,” she said.

My eyes went wide. “What?”

“You’re always crabbier when your eyes are black—I expect it then,” she went on. “I have a theory about that.”

Dangerous territory, again. “More theories?”

“Mm-hm,” she said, still chewing.

“I hope you were more creative this time…or are you still stealing from comic books?” I smiled, but my stomach lurched. She was so observant. Angela was right—she was brilliant. She was going to figure out what I was—and then she would run. My time with her would come to a sudden end. I wasn’t ready for that—no, not yet…

“Well, no, I didn’t get it from a comic book, but I didn’t come up with it on my own, either,” she confessed.

“And?” I prodded, afraid of what she had found. Was this what the computer research was all about? Had she Googled “strange boys that stop cars with bare hands”?

The waitress suddenly appeared around the partition with her food. We had both been unconsciously leaning toward each other across the table, and automatically straightened up as the waitress approached. She set the dish in front of Bella and turned to me. “Did you change your mind? Isn’t there anything I can get you?”

“No, thank you, but some more soda would be nice.” I gestured to the empty cups in front of Bella.

“Sure.” She took the cups and walked away.

“You were saying?” I asked, wanting to know and afraid of the answer.

“I’ll tell you about it in the car. If…” she paused.

“There are conditions?” Always she asked for something I couldn’t give her.

“I do have a few questions, of course.”

“Of course.” I steeled myself.

The waitress returned with two more Cokes. She sat them down and left. Bella took a sip—she was stalling. The anxiety ate through me.

“Well, go ahead,” I insisted.

“Why are you in Port Angeles?” she asked. Of course, the one I couldn’t answer. I looked down, folding my hands on the table. What could I tell her? It seemed like she would insist on knowing the truth, or figure it out herself. If somehow I could keep her just guessing, not truly knowing, she might still choose to stay with me…I looked up at her and smiled slightly.

“Next.”

“But that’s the easiest one,” she objected.

“Next,” I repeated.

She looked down, frustrated. She unrolled her silverware, picked up her fork, and carefully ate a ravioli. She was still looking down—stalling again. What was she thinking? She took another sip of Coke before she looked up and glared at me.

“Okay, then. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that…someone…could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know—with a few exceptions.”

“Just one exception,” I corrected, “hypothetically.” I breathed an internal sigh of relief. Mind-reader. That was something that, perhaps, was not too horrifying. Perhaps all could be explained by that, and she would still be willing….to stay.

“All right, with one exception, then. How does that work? What are the limitations? How would…that someone…find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know she was in trouble?”

“Hypothetically?” I asked, wondering how much of this I could explain without sounding insane myself.

“Sure.”

“Well, if…that someone…”

“Let’s call him ‘Joe’,” she suggested.

I smiled. “Joe, then. If Joe had been paying attention, the timing wouldn’t have needed to be quite so exact.” I shook my head and rolled my eyes. “Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know.”

“We were speaking of a hypothetical case,” she reminded me, frostily. I laughed at that, strangely relieved to be talking about this to her.

“Yes, we were. Shall we call you ‘Jane’?” I said, laughing.

“How did you know?” she asked, suddenly intense, and leaning towards me. I had already said too much to go back, but how to make this mind-reading seem innocuous, not terrifying? What would she think when she knew even this part of me? I looked into those warm brown eyes and I realized that I wanted her to know me, just as much as I wanted to know her.

“You can trust me, you know,” she murmured. She reached forward to touch my hands. I instinctively pulled them back slightly, not wanting her to feel my icy flesh—she stopped and pulled back without touching.

“I don’t know if I have a choice anymore,” I said, my voice dropping to a whisper. “I was wrong—you’re much more observant that I gave you credit for.”

“I thought you were always right.”

“I used to be.” I shook my head. Nothing had made any sense ever since I had met Bella. My entire world was upside down. “I was wrong about you on one other thing, as well. You’re not a magnet for accidents—that’s not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten-mile radius, it will invariably find you.”

“And you put yourself into that category?” she asked.

Oh yes. “Unequivocally.”

She reached her hand across the table again. I pulled back again, afraid of what she would guess—what she would instinctively know—if she touched me. But the part of me that was dying for her touch hesitated; just long enough for her hands to reach me. She ran her fingertips across the back of my hand and felt the stone hard coldness there. It felt like a trail of deliciously warm fire had been painted across the back of my hand. I felt the breath go out of me.

“Thank you,” her voice was soft. “That’s twice now.”

Did she not feel the coldness? How could she not with the radiant warmth of her fingers still lingering on my hand? The aching to touch her surged in me again, and combined with the closeness to her that had been building in the booth while we sat. It was too much.

“Let’s not try for three, agreed?” I said breathlessly.

She scowled and nodded. I slowly, unwillingly, dragged my hands away from hers and placed them under the table. I leaned in closer to her. I was completely lost now—she had touched me and not run screaming from the room. All my pretenses were broken. The truth just started tumbling out in a rush.

“I followed you to Port Angeles. I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before, and it’s much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that’s probably just because it’s you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes.” I paused. Would she be alarmed that I had been following her? Would she think I was some strange stalker? I stared at her, apprehensive. She smiled slightly.

“Did you ever think that maybe my number was up the first time, with the van, and that you’ve been interfering with fate?” she speculated.

“That wasn’t the first time,” I said, my voice somehow suddenly lost. I couldn’t look at her. “You number was up the first time I met you.” I looked up to see what she thought of those monstrous words. Would she know what they meant? Is this when she would run? “You remember?” I asked, terrified.

“Yes.” She was calm.

“And yet here you sit.” And you’re not running…I couldn’t quite believe it.

“Yes, here I sit…because of you,” she paused. “Because somehow you knew how to find me today…?”

I was quiet. I wanted to share everything with her, but I felt I was walking on a razor’s edge—at any moment she would realize the truth and that would be the end. I looked down at her plate and realized that she wasn’t eating as we were locked in our tense revelations.

“You eat, I’ll talk,” I bargained. She quickly scooped up another ravioli and ate it.

“It’s harder than it should be,” I paused, watching her response, “keeping track of you. Usually I can find someone very easily, once I’ve heard their mind before.” She froze, and I stopped, waiting. Anxiety ran through me. She swallowed and took another bite of her food, so I kept going.

“I was keeping tabs on Jessica, not carefully—like I said, only you could find trouble in Port Angeles—and at first I didn’t notice when you took off on your own. Then, when I realized that you weren’t with her anymore, I went looking for you at the bookstore I saw in her head. I could tell that you hadn’t gone in, and that you’d gone south…and I knew you would have to turn around soon. So I was just waiting for you, randomly searching through the thoughts of people on the street—to see if anyone had noticed you so I would know where you were. I had no reason to be worried…but I was strangely anxious…” I stopped, recalling the horror of those moments before I realized they were stalking her. I could have so easily been too late.

“I started to drive in circles, still…listening. The sun was finally setting, and I was about to get out and follow you on foot. And then…“ I stopped, the red fury rising up inside me again. This was an entirely different kind of bloodlust. I tried to be calm, looking past her. I didn’t have the luxury of giving into my vengeance…at least for now.

“Then what?” she whispered. I couldn’t look at her.

“I heard what they were thinking,” a growl escaping my throat. “I saw your face in his mind.” I covered my eyes with my hand trying to drive the thought out of my head. If I thought about it too much, I wasn’t going to be able to stop myself from hunting them down…

“It was very…hard,” I continued, head still in my hands, unable to look at her. “You can’t imagine how hard, for me to simply take you away, and leave them…alive. I could have let you go with Jessica and Angela, but I was afraid if you left me alone, I would go looking for them,” I admitted in a whisper, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t see the monster that I was. I couldn’t look at her. I was frozen, waiting to see what her reaction would be. Knowing I was a potential murderer, would she still want to stay? Would she feel safe being alone with me?

I looked up at her. Her hands were lying limply in her lap and she was leaning back against her seat. “Are you ready to go home?” I asked, anxiously.

“I’m ready to leave,” she qualified.

The waitress appeared—she had been watching our tense conversation.

“How are we doing?” she asked me.

“We’re ready for the check, thank you,” I said quietly, a little rougher than I meant to, still not sure what Bella was thinking about all of this. The waitress just stood there, so I looked up at her expectantly. I knew she had the check in her pocket.

“S-sure,” she stuttered. “Here you go.” She pulled out a small leather folder from the front pocket of her black apron and handed it to me. I already had my money ready. I slipped it into the folder and handed it right back to her.

“No change,” I said, smiling and getting up to leave. Bella rose up as well, looking a little unsteady. I wanted to hold her hand, take her arm, support her on our way to the door—or just gently put my arm around her to comfort her from the horrors of the evening. I couldn’t do any of those things, so I just moved to walk close to her. The waitress said something. I thanked her again and walked close beside Bella towards the door, careful not to touch her, but feeling that radiant heat coming off her body nonetheless. It almost felt as if we were touching, but then I remembered the blazing touch of her fingertips on my hand. This was just an echo of that pleasure.

She sighed, seeming to read my mind. I looked down at her, curiously, as we exited the restaurant. Was I affecting her, the same as she did me? Did my proximity make her want to touch me as I longed to touch her? She looked down at the sidewalk, hiding her face. Perhaps…

I opened the passenger door, holding it for her as she stepped in, and shut it softly behind her. I walked around the front of the car and got in. Starting up the engine, its low purring sound a distraction from our silence, I turned the heater to high. The temperature was dropping and she only had my thin jacket to keep her warm. She seemed huddled down in the oversized jacket, probably shivering.

I pulled out of the parking space and headed toward the freeway.

“Now,” I said, “it’s your turn.” I had to know everything she was thinking—her theories about me, my mind-reading ability and my murderous rage at her attackers. I had perhaps only another hour with her—then she would be home, safely away from me. If she realized the truth of what I was, I would lose her then—she would never want to be with me again. I was terrified.